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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Dr. Thomas Dixon Love Triangle Murder-for-Hire Case

     The casts in murder-for-hire plots feature three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide; the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role); and the victim, the person targeted for death. While these cases, in terms of the principal actors, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-economic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the specific motive behind the murder plots.

     On July 11, 2012, someone broke a window and climbed into the Lubbock, Texas home of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, the 57-year-old chief pathologist of the Covenant Health System in that city. The intruder shot Dr. Sonnier to death. The victim lived alone, and because nothing had been taken from the house, police ruled out robbery as the killer's motive.

     Later on the day of the murder, Lubbock detectives questioned Dr. Sonnier's girlfriend in an effort to determine who may have had a reason to kill the doctor. When she mentioned she had been having trouble with her former boyfriend who insisted on seeing her even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier, the detectives had a suspect, and a potential motive. Their person of interest was a 48-year-old prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon who practiced in Amarillo, Texas, a panhandle city 120 miles north of Lubbock. Because the homicide detectives didn't think that Dr. Dixon had climbed into Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and personally shot him, they considered the possibility of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. But who was the hit man?

     Less than a week after the murder, detectives caught a break. A longtime friend and former business associate of Dr. Dixon's told investigators that David Neil Shepard had killed Dr. Sonnier. According to the informant, Shepard, who had attempted suicide two days after Dr. Sonnier's murder, told him Dr. Dixon had given him three bars of silver worth $9,000 as an advance on the hit. (On June 15, 2012, Shepard sold one of the bars for $2,750.) Shepard told the informant that after watching Dr. Sonnier's house for weeks, he broke in through a window and murdered him.

     Because the suspected hit man revealed to the snitch information only known to crime scene investigators, the tipster's story rang true. (Shepard had described, for example, how he had muffled the sound of his gun, and  how many times he fired the weapon.)

     The 51-year-old accused hit man had a crime history of two convictions for theft and burglary. Detectives believed David Shepard and the plastic surgeon had met on the day before Dr. Sonnier's murder. The fact Shepard had sold the bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop tended to support a piece of the informant's story.

     On July 16, 2012, police in Amarillo arrested Dr. Thomas Dixon and David Shepard on charges of capital murder. The suspects were booked into the Lubbock County Criminal Detention Center under $10 million bond each.

     This murder-for-hire case was especially newsworthy because the accused mastermind and his victim were physicians. The case was also unusual because David Shepard was much older than the typical hit man. But the love triangle motive was fairly common.

     In April 2013, the mother and sons of Dr. Sonnier filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Dixon. However, before the civil action could proceed, the murder case had to be resolved within the criminal justice system.

     The suspected hit man, David Neal Shepard, in September 2013, pleaded guilty to breaking into Dr. Sonnier's home and stabbing and shooting him to death. The judge sentenced him to life.

     Lubbock County prosecutor Matt Powell announced in November 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Dr. Dixon, the accused mastermind behind Dr. Sonnier's murder.

     In November 2014, at the conclusion of Dr. Dixon's three-week capital murder trial, the jury of six men and six women, after eight hours of deliberation, were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judge Jim Bob Darnell declared a mistrial.

     Doug Moore, the jury foreman, in speaking to the media following the mistrial, said that although the case against Dr. Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as being not very bright. "For me the evidence of guilt seemed very clear," he said.

     Shortly after the mistrial, the judge denied the defendant's request for a reduction of his $10 million bond. However, in September 2015, the judge reduced Dixon's bail to $2 million. A few days later the accused murder-for-hire mastermind paid $200,000 and was released from jail pending the disposition of his second trial.

      On November 19, 2015, the jury in Dr. Dixon's second trial found him guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

      

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ruby Klokow Murder Case

     In 1957, 21-year-old Ruby Klokow, a resident of Sheboygan, a Michigan Lake town of 50,000 in southern Wisconsin, physically abused and murdered her 6-month-old daughter, Jeaneen. Following the baby's suspicious death Klokow told the police the child had fallen off the sofa. Although the autopsy revealed two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung, and three scalp bruises, injuries inconsistent with a fall from a couch, the Sheboygan County Corner ruled the baby's death accidental. As a result of this bogus manner of death ruling, the police did not conduct a homicide investigation. This stunning example of criminal justice incompetence (or indifference) was particularly tragic because the dead child had a two-year-old brother, and Klokow would give birth again.

     In 1964, Ruby Klokow's infant son Scott died mysteriously in his crib. Given the suspicious death of her daughter Jeaneen seven years earlier, it's hard to understand why the authorities in Sheboygan didn't investigate the passing of this child. (Had there been an autopsy there would have been signs of past injuries caused by abuse.)  Instead of putting this homicidal mother away for life, local criminal justice personnel made it possible for this woman to continue practicing her sadistic style of parenting.

     Finally in 2008, Klokow's 53-year-old son James who was two-years-old when his mother murdered his sister Jeaneen, came forward with his own story of parental abuse. According to James Klokow, his mother repeatedly beat him as far back as he could remember. At school he would lie to his teachers regarding how he had collected all of the bruises on his body that included choke marks on his neck. His mother frequently made him stand in a corner all day long during which time she threw knives and scissors at him. She also blinded him in one eye. When he turned thirteen, James, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, ran away from home. After that he was abused by a series of foster parents until the age of eighteen.

     After James Klokow came forward with his story of child abuse, Judy Post, Ruby Klokow's younger sister, told the authorities that Ruby had physically abused her when they were children. Post also reported having seen Ruby throw her infant daughter Jeaneen to the ground.

     In February 2011, a Sheboygan County prosecutor charged the 74-year-old Klokow with second-degree murder in the 1957 death of Jeaneen. A forensic pathologist took the stand at a preliminary hearing and testified that the infant's autopsy revealed injuries too severe to have been caused by a fall off a sofa. Klokow's attorney, after getting her released on bail, delayed matters by claiming that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 25, 2013, the day Ruby Klokow was scheduled to go on trial for the murder of her daughter, she entered a plea of no contest to the second-degree murder charge. Klokow, who had admitted killing Jeaneen, was scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2013.

     Sheboygan County Judge Angela Sutkiewicz, pursuant to the plea-bargain agreement worked out between the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor, sentenced Klokow to 45 days in jail and ten years probation.

     To reporters following the no contest plea, Klokow's attorney Kirk Obear said that trying his client for murder after all of these years would be "unfair" because so many witnesses have died. The defense attorney went on to say that Klokow was "dealing with a lot of heartache." (Give me a break--serial child abusers don't experience heartaches--they give them.)

     District Attorney Joe DeCecco, in explaining to the media why he signed-off on the plea deal, mentioned Klokow's age and poor health. (Who cares about this woman's health?) The prosecutor also said that because the statute of limitations did not allow him to charge Klokow with the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter he had to prove a case of murder which, under the circumstances, may have been difficult. (So what?)

     It's not that the prosecution in this case didn't have evidence. In addition to the defendant's confession, the district attorney had her sister's testimony and a compelling witness in her son, James Klokow. In my opinion this prosecutor, in the name of justice, should have pushed forward with the trial. What did he have to lose? What was the point of 45 days in jail and ten years of probation?

      Had the jury found this woman guilty of second-degree murder she would have died in prison where she should have been all along. No contest? What kind of plea is that to child abuse and murder? In this case justice was denied in 1957, and after 56 years, denied again.

   

     

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dr. Arnold Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Greenwood, Mississippi, attorney Lee Abraham got wind of a murder-for-hire plot against him by two husbands of women he had represented several years before in a pair of divorce cases. The attorney had reason to believe that a local physician, 70-year-old Dr. Arnold Smith, and a 54-year-old brickmason named William Paul Muller, were the masterminds behind the plan to kill him. Apparently these men still hated the lawyer who had won settlements for their wives. Instead of moving on with their lives, they wanted revenge.

     On Saturday night, April 28, 2012, two agents with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office who were investigating the case were in Abraham's office talking to him about the alleged murder plot. That night, 23-year-old Keaira Byrd and his 25-year-old accomplice Derrick Lacy burst into the law office. (According to some reports, the agents knew the hit men were coming and were waiting for them.) Byrd, armed with an assault rifle, and wearing a ski mask, fired the first shot. The agents returned fire, killing Byrd on the spot. Derrick Lacy was shot in the lower back. One of the attorney general agents received a minor wound. Attorney Abraham, the target of the hit, escaped injury.

     Derrick Lacy, as he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told an investigator that he had overheard Dr. Smith offer Keaira Byrd money to kill the lawyer.

     The day after the shootings, a Leflore County prosecutor charged the oncologist and the brickmason with conspiracy to commit murder. The arraignment magistrate denied Dr. Smith bail. William Paul Muller paid his $250,000 bond and was released. On his Facebook page, Mr. Muller proclaimed his innocence.

     Following Dr. Smith's arrest, his attorney arranged to have him evaluated by a mental health expert who concluded that the physician was not mentally competent to stand trial. In January 2013, in response to the prosecution's request, Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ordered Dr. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     Because of institutional overcrowding, a hospital bed for Dr. Smith didn't become available until June 4, 2013. (Mississippi must have a serious problem with mental illness.)

     On October 8, 2014, Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Dr. Arnold Smith mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that the 71-year-old physician be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     As of December 2015, no trial date had been set regarding suspects William Paul Muller and Derrick Lacy. Another man, Cordarious Robinson, had been charged with conspiracy to murder attorney Abraham. Prosecutors believe that Robinson helped hire Keaira Byrd for the hit.

     In November 2016, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ordered that Dr. Smith be transferred from the the state hospital to a private facility, the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, where he would receive treatment as an out patient. The transfer was based on the diagnoses of a pair of Tulane University psychiatrists. As an out patient, Dr. Smith would be allowed to live in his Jackson home with his current wife.

     The alleged murder-for-hire target, attorney Lee Abraham, filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Smith that is scheduled for trial in March 2017.

     The criminal case against the alleged murder-for-hire hit man and his accomplices has not, as of December 2016, gone to trial. The same is true regarding the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind Dr. Arnold Smith who is presumably mentally fit to face conspiracy to murder charges as well as a felony-murder doctrine charge related to Kearia Byrd's police involved shooting death.   

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Karen Sharpe: The Grandmother From Hell

     Karen Sharpe, a 54-year-old resident of New Straitsville, Ohio in the southeastern part of the state, was as far from Norman Rockwell's version of a grandparent as you can get. Sharpe, who strikingly resembled a hungover Winston Churchill in a long, ratty wig, had custody of her daughter's two girls, ages 13 and 11. A person like grandma Sharpe having custody of her granddaughters meant that the girls' mother must have been dead, homeless, in drug rehab, or in prison.

     The oldest of Sharpe's granddaughters had a metal plate in her head as a result of abuse from another family member. This fact did not deter grandma Sharpe, on January 19, 2014, from punching the 13-year-old in the face. Ten days after that assault, this monster grandparent took out her rage--perhaps drunken--on the younger sister. Unbeknownst to Sharpe, the 13-year-old recorded that assault on her cellphone.

     When the 11-year-old granddaughter accidentally stepped on Sharpe's sore foot [she probably hurt it kicking a Golden Retriever], grandma forced the girl to the floor and stuffed a pair of heavily soiled men's underwear into her mouth. [Whose underwear?] Grandma Sharpe added to the girl's misery and horror by taping the disgusting garment into place, then ordering the child to swallow the fecal matter. [If you are eating breakfast stop now because it gets worse. Sorry.]

     The domestic depravity continued. When Sharpe removed the tape, the girl vomited on the floor. The sadistic grandmother responded by ordering the child to lick up the mess.

     The victim's sister, after secretly recording her grandmother's obscene cruelty, called the police. Police officers, after reviewing video, immediately arrested Karen Sharpe. Child services personnel placed the girls into temporary foster homes.

     A Hocking County prosecutor charged Sharpe with kidnapping (a felony which includes confinement), and misdemeanor counts of assault and child endangerment. The thoroughly disgusted officers booked the suspect into the Southeastern Regional Jail. The judge set her bond at $1.1 million.

     The next day at the Hocking County Municipal Court, Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted of kidnapping, she faced up to ten years in prison.

     Hocking County sheriff's deputy Ed Downs told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that the crime was the "most disgusting, heinous" case of child abuse he'd ever seen."

     On June 3, 2014, Karen Sharpe was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of endangering children. Hocking Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace sentenced the degenerate to three years in prison.

     The public officials responsible for this guilty plea should be thrown out of office. For a crime against nature like this there are no mitigating circumstances. A case like this makes a mockery of our criminal justice system.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Randall Dale Adams: An Innocent Man

     In June 2011, a 61-year-old man who had been living a quiet life in a central Ohio town, died without much notice. His name was Randall Dale Adams, and in the history of 20th Century criminal justice--or rather injustice--he was a towering figure. The Adams case perfectly illustrates the doleful saying: "Any prosecutor can convict a guilty defendant, it takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent one."

     On November 27, 1976, Adams, a 27-year-old manual laborer with no history of crime or violence, while walking along a street in Dallas, Texas after his car had run out of gas, met 16-year-old David Ray Harris. Harris, a kid from Vidor, Texas who had aleady been in trouble with the law, was driving a car he had recently stolen. Harris offered Adams a ride.

     After getting into the stolen car with Harris, Adams and his new acquaintance drank some beer, smoked marijuana, and took in a movie called "Swinging Cheerleaders" at a drive-in theater. Shortly after midnight, on November 28, Harris, while driving the blue sedan with its headlights off with Adams in the front passenger's seat, was pulled over by two officers in a Dallas patrol car. As patrolman Robert Wood approached the driver's side of Harris' vehicle, Harris, using a handgun he had stolen from his father, shot officer Wood five times, killing him on the spot. The dead officer's partner, Teresa Turko, fired at the car as Harris sped off. None of her bullets hit the fleeing vehicle. Officer Turko was certain the man who had shot her partner was the only person in the car.

     After dropping Adams off at his place of residence in Dallas, Harris drove southeast 300 miles to his parents' house in Vidor. During the next several days Harris bragged to his friends that he had "offed a pig" in Dallas. This drew the attention of the local police who recovered the pistol Harris had stolen from his father. Through ballistics analysis a firearms expert identified this gun as the murder weapon. Detectives also gave Harris a polygraph test which he failed. At first Harris denied any knowledge of the shooting, but after the ballistics report, and the lie detector results, he fingered Randall Adams, a hitchhiker he had picked up in Dallas, as the cop killer.

     Following a police interrogation in Dallas in which Randall Adams identified David Harris as the police shooter, he passed a polygraph test with that account. The Dallas County District Attorney, Norm Kinne, decided not to prosecute Harris. Kinne didn't want to prosecute David Ray Harris because, at age 16, he was too young for the electric chair.

     At Adams' May 1977 murder trial, prosecutor Kinne manufactured incriminating evidence in the form of three eyewitnesses who testified they had ridden by the shooting scene just as officer Wood approached the blue car. Although it was dark and the inside of the stolen car was unlit, the three witnesses identified Randall Adams as the driver of the stopped vehicle. These identifications were patently ridiculous and obviously motivated by something other than the truth. Two of the eyewitnesses, a husband and wife team, were looking for a piece of the $21,000 reward. The other witness had a daughter in trouble with the law. After the Adams trial the charges against her daughter were dropped. All three of these prosecution witnesses, bought for and coached, committed perjury. Officer Turko took the stand, and while admitting she hadn't seen the shooter clearly, said his hair was the same color as the defendant's.

     Randall Adams took the stand on his own behalf and proclaimed his innocence. The prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments and the case went to the jury. Without taking much time to deliberate the jurors found the defendant guilty of murdering officer Robert Wood. This led to the penalty phase of the trial which involved the determination of whether or not there was a probability that the convicted man would, if given a life sentence, commit future acts of violence.

     District Attorney Norm Kinne put two expert (so-called) witnesses on the stand who testified that Randall Adams was still a dangerous man. The fact that Adams was innocent and had no history of violence proved that both of these psychiatrists were bogus prosecution hacks. The first of these thoroughly corrupt experts to take the stand, Dr. John Holbrook, had been the chief of psychiatry with the Texas Department of Corrections. (This alone should have disqualified him as an unbiased witness.) The second, a creepy shrink named Dr. John Grigson, after having spoken to Randall Adams fifteen minutes, told the jurors that Adams was qualified to be electrocuted. Dr. Grigson's testimony was so predictably prosecution friendly--he had testified in more than 100 trials that ended in death sentences--defense attorneys around the state called him "Doctor Death." (According the American Psychiatric Association, then and now, future dangerousness is impossible to predict.)

     Relying on corrupt and erroneous psychiatric testimony pertaining to an innocent man, the Dallas County jury voted to sentence Randall Adams to death.

     In January 1979, the Texas Court of Crimminal Appeals affirmed Adams' conviction and death sentence. A judge sentenced Adams to die on May 8 of that year. On May 5, three days before his date with the electric chair, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay of execution. The governor of Texas, Bill Clements, decided to commute Adams's sentence to life in prison.

     While Randall Adams sat in prison, David Harris, the man who had murdered officer Wood, joined the Army. While stationed in Germany, Harris committed a series of burglaries that led to a stretch in the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas. After his release from Leavenworth, Harris moved to California where he committed several kidnappings and robberies. In 1985, Harris was back in Texas where, in Beaumont, he murdered a man. A year later, a jury sentenced Harris to death. Had Harris been convicted of killing officer Wood, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to kill the Beaumont man.

     In 1988, producer Errol Morris made a documentary about the Adams case called "The Thin Blue Line." In the film, Morris exposed the prosecution's eyewitnesses as liars, and Dr. John Grigson as a courtroom fraud. A year later, following the airing of the documentary, Dallas District Court Judge Larry Baraka, following a 3-day hearing on the Adams case, recommended to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals that Randall Adams be granted a new trial.

     On March 1, 1989, the appeals court, in an unanimous 27-page opinion that cited gross prosecutoral wrongdoing, ordered a new trial. Three weeks later, the Dallas County District Attorney (not Kinne) dropped all charges. Randall Adams, after twelve years behind bars, walked free. Because he had not been pardoned by the governor, Adams was not eligible for the $25,000 he would have otherwise been awarded.

     In 2004, the state of Texas executed David Harris for the 1985 murder in Beaumont. Before he died, Harris admitted shooting officer Wood to death.

     Except for the occasional reairing of "The Thin Blue Line," the Randall Adams case is almost forgotten. But it shouldn't be forgotten because it reminds us of how much damage "a great" prosecutor can do.    

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Cracker Barrel Murders: No Escaping Kevin Allen

     In June 1995, the day he received word that he and his first wife were divorced, 35-year-old Kevin E. Allen assaulted his girlfriend, Janice Koerlin. A few months later, the diagnosed manic-depressive from Kirtland, Ohio, a town 20 miles east of Cleveland, married Koerlin. In September of that year, police arrested Allen after he tried to suffocate his new wife with a pillow. This was a man who obvioulsy had no business being around women. This was a man who needed to be locked up.

     In 2004, Allen filed for personal bankruptcy for the second time. (He had filed for bankruptcy in 1991.) Four years later, the police in North Royalton, Ohio arrested him, now married to his fifth wife with whom he had fathered two daughters, on charges of theft and burglary.

     In March 2011, Kevin and his fifth wife Katherina, who went by Kate and was ten years younger than him, lived in Strongsville, Ohio with their daughters Kerri and Kayla. That year Kevin and Kate filed for personal bankruptcy. They were in debt $60,000. Although Kevin Allen, with his short, thinning gray hair and his trimmed white beard looked like a friendly guy, he continued to be a bellicose, bad-tempered husband. People went out of their way to avoid him. In 2011, Allen went several months without paying his gas bill, and threatened to shoot anybody from the utility company who came to his place to shut if off. A gas company employee did go to the house, but with a police escort.

     In early April 2012, the domestic abuse had gotten so intense and frequent, Kate and the girls moved into a friend's house. On April 12, Kate decided to take Kerri and Kayla to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in nearby Brooklyn, Ohio to celebrate Kerri Allen's tenth birthday. Kate had invited her estranged husband, and in the relative safety of a crowded restaurant, planned to inform Kevin that she wanted a divorce.

     After the late dinner, while still at the Cracker Barrel, Kate broke the news that she was leaving him. Infuriated, Kevin stormed out of the restaurant, but instead of driving home, he circled the parking lot in his silver Jeep Liberty. Worried that Kevin might become violent, Kate, at 8:40, called 911. "I'm having some spouse problems," she said.

     Kate informed the 911 dispatcher that she had just told her estranged husband that she was leaving  him, and he hadn't taken it very well. At that moment, Kevin Allen was outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant driving around the parking lot. A few minutes later, as Kate spoke to the 911 dispatcher, Kevin re-entered the restaurant and approached her and the children carrying a single barrel shotgun. The local police rolled up to the scene just as Kevin disappeared inside the building.

     The police officers, aware that Kevin Allen had gone into the restaurant armed with a shotgun, decided to remain outside. They were afraid that if they went in after him, innocent bystanders could get shot in the cross-fire. The police were also worried that Allen, if confronted inside, might take a hostage.

     When Kevin Allen got to his wife's table, without saying a word, he aimed his shotgun and fired on her and their two children. The transcript of the 911 call, just before the shooting went like this:

DISPATCHER: "Wait in the lobby for the officers. Do not go outside. Let them talk to him, okay? "

KATE: "He's here and the police are here, too. I have to...." (Gunfire could be heard on the dispatcher's end.)

DISPATCHER: "Ma'am?"

     After murdering his wife and his daughter Kerri, and seriously wounding Kayla, Allen walked out the front door of the restaurant where he encountered the police. When he refused to drop his shotgun, the police opened fire, killing him on the spot.

     When Kevin Allen strode into the Cracker Barrel carrying the shotgun, bedlam broke out with patrons running for cover. The manager helped many diners exit the place through a rear door. None of the customers were injured.

     Medics  rushed Kayla to a nearby hospital where she survived her wounds. People have criticized the officers for not immediately entering the restaurant. But they were faced was a difficult dilemma. Had the police gone in, more people could have been killed. In reality, there is only so much the police can do. They cannot always save families from abusive, murderous husbands. There was no escaping Kevin Allen.

     

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Emani Moss: The Brutal Life and Death of a Girl Georgia Failed to Protect

     In 2004, prosecutors in Gwinnett County, Georgia charged Eman Moss with assaulting the biological mother of his one-year-old daughter, Emani. Because Eman attacked his girlfriend in front of their daughter, the prosecutor also charged him with second-degree child cruelty. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Eman Moss to probation.

     Six years after the domestic assault, Eman and his daughter resided in Lawrenceville, an unincorporated suburb of Atlanta. Eman's new girlfriend, Tiffany Nicole Brown, lived in the apartment with them. In March 2010, the six-year-old told a teacher at Cooper Elementary School that she was afraid to go home with her bad report card.

     Emani's extreme fear of being punished at home prompted an inquiry by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. After finding evidence of abuse, the child protection agency turned the case over to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

     Gwinnett County investigators determined that Tiffany Brown, the girlfriend of the Emani's father, had repeatedly beaten the girl with a belt. On Emani's body doctors found scars, abrasions, scabs, and bruises on her chest, arms, back, and legs. A Gwinnett County prosecutor charged Tiffany Nicole Brown, an elementary school teacher, with first-degree child cruelty. Eman, the girl's father, was charged with child cruelty as well.

     Pursuant to an agreement with the prosecutor, Tiffany was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree child cruelty. Because he and his girlfriend promised to take parenting classes, the charges against Eman were dropped. (The child services agency had signed-off on the plea bargain.) Everybody came out ahead in the deal except Emani who remained exposed to abuse. (I don't know if Tiffany Brown kept her teaching job.)

     In July 2012, Gwinnett County detectives opened another child abuse case on Eman and Tiffany whom he had since married. When investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to back up Emani's claims that she was being beaten and denied food as punishment, the police closed the case. Shortly after being abandoned again by the government, the nine-year-old ran away from home. After finding Emani, the authorities not only returned the child to her private hell, they charged her as a runaway juvenile.

     At four in the morning on Saturday, November 1, 2013, Eman Moss called 911 from the Coventry Pointe apartment complex in Lawrenceville. Moss told the 911 dispatcher that his daughter had consumed some kind of poison and died. He said her body was in the apartment and that he was thinking of committing suicide. (Unfortunately this turned out to be a hollow threat.)

     Gwinnett County police officers encountered Eman outside the apartment complex standing in a breezeway. The 30-year-old led the officers to a trash can in the recreation area. Inside the garbage bin officers discovered the badly burned body of a girl. The girl in the trash was ten-year-old Emani Moss.

     The county medical examiner's office ruled the girl's death a homicide. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Emani had died of starvation. Her body had been burned postmortem. The medical examiner did not believe she had been poisoned.  (A toxicology report would later confirm the lack of poison in the girl's system.) According to the pathologist, the dead girl had endured periods of up to twelve days without food. She had been dead about three days.

     Eman and Tiffany Moss, charged with first-degree murder, cruelty to children, and concealing a body, were booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The magistrate denied them bail.

     On June 8, 2015, Eman Moss pleaded guilty to the charge of felony-murder. As part of the plea bargain deal, he agreed to testify against his wife, Tiffany. Detectives believed that Tiffany had been the driving force behind the murder. Mr. Moss, according to investigators, had played a passive role in his daughter's torture and death. He had failed to protect her. In return for his plea, Eman Moss was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tiffany Moss, if found guilty as charged, could be sentenced to death.

    In November 2015, Tiffany Moss pleaded guilty to first-degree child cruelty and was sentenced to five years probation under the state's First Offender Program.
     

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The William Keitel Murder Case

     William Keitel and his wife Michele were married in 1989. The couple resided a few miles north of Pittsburgh in Ohio Township, Pennsylvania. In October 1996, following a tumultuous marriage and two children--William, 5 and Abbee, 3--William and Michele separated. Shortly after the split, Michele, 35, became engaged to Charles Dunkle, a 34-year-old from nearby Moon Township.

     In the evening of New Year's Day 1998, 45-year-old William Keitel sat in his Mercedes in the parking lot of the Stop 'N Go convenience store on Mount Nebo Road. He and his father, William Keitel senior, were waiting for Michele to arrive with the children pursuant to an a prearranged exchange. As on numerous occasions in the past, Michele had either forgotten about the exchange or was late.

     At nine-thirty that night, after William called the police, Michele, accompanied by the children, her father, and her fiancee, pulled into the convenience store lot.

     As William pulled out of the Stop 'N Go parking lot with his children in the car, Michele saw that he was armed with a handgun. (William had been issued a permit to carry the .38-caliber revolver.) Screaming that he had a gun, Michele ran after the Mercedes as it eased back onto Mount Nebo Road.

     William, realizing that his estranged wife was chasing his car, pulled into a neighboring beer distributorship parking area and climbed out of his vehicle with the gun in his hand. As Michele, her father--Mr. Charles Walker--and Charles Dunkle rushed him, William shot Dunkle in the chest at close range. With Michele on her knees next to Dunkle's body, William placed the barrel of the .38 to her forehead and pulled the trigger. When Mr. Walker tried to disarm William, the father-in-law was shot in the stomach.

     Michele Keitel and Charles Dunkle died on the beer distributorship's parking lot. Charles Walker survived his bullet wound. The Keitel children witnessed the mayhem a few feet away from their father's car.

     Charged with first-degree murder of Michele Keitel, third-degree murder of Charles Dunkle, and the aggravated assault of Charles Walker, William Keitel went on trial in Pittsburgh in October, 1998. His attorney, William Diffenderfer, presented a case of self defense that included putting his client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. Allegheny County prosecutor Edward Borowski, in the murder of Michele Keitel, sought the death penalty.

     The jury, following the one-month trial, found William Keitel guilty as charged. The jurors, however, rejected the death sentence by an eight to four vote. In January 1999, Common Pleas Judge Jeffery A. Manning sentenced Keitel to life in prison without parole. Three months later, prison administrators assigned him to the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

     In 2010, William Keitel's 18-year-son, a high school senior, died when his car collided with a telephone pole.

     At one in the afternoon of August 2, 2013, after returning to his cell following a work assignment, William Keitel's 43-year-old cellmate beat him severely. The 59-year-old convicted murderer was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania where, nine days later, he died from the beating.

     The federal appeal of William Keitel's conviction and sentence pending before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia died along with him. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Marissa Alexander Stand Your Ground Assault Case

     Marissa Alexander, when she married Rico Gray in June 2010, was six months pregnant with their child. She had two children from a previous marriage and Gray had five with five other women. One of his sons, and two of Marissa's children, lived with them in their rented Jacksonville, Florida home. She was 30 and he was 35.

     Rico Gray had physically abused his former partners and was beating up Marissa. In July 2010, he had thrown his pregnant wife across the room, then given her a black eye with a head butt. Marissa and her children moved out of the house and into her mother's place. She also filed for an order of protection against her husband.

     At the domestic violence injunction hearing, Rico Gray reportedly said this to the judge: "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking...or what I might do...hit them, push them." The judge granted the order of protection.

     Marissa had the baby on July 23, 2010, and on August 1, returned to the rented house to gather up more of her clothes. While there, she showed Gray a cellphone photograph of their baby. After she entered the bathroom, Gray looked through her cellphone and came across text messages she had sent to her former husband that suggested she planned to leave him permanently and get back with her ex-spouse. Enraged, Gray stormed into the bathroom and allegedly said, "If I can't have you, no one can." He put his hands on her throat, threw her against the door, and threatened to kill her.

     Breaking free, Marissa ran into the attached garage and from her car grabbed her handgun. (It was licensed.) She returned to the house (She claims she couldn't exit the dwelling through the garage because the automatic door opener didn't work.) and encountered Gray standing in the kitchen next to his two sons. Fearing for her life, she (according to her account) fired a warning shot into the air. (Ballistics analysis, however, suggested that the bullet hit a wall and ricocheted up into the ceiling.)

     Rico Gray called 911. In reporting the shooting to the dispatcher he sounded more angry than frightened. A short time later, the house was surrounded by a SWAT team. Marissa was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. (Three counts because she had allegedly endangered three people.) Under Florida's so-called 10-20-life law, any person convicted of aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm is subject to a mandatory 20 year sentence.

     A few days after her arrest, Marissa was released on bail under orders from the judge to stay clear of her husband. But four months later, Marissa, in violation of the judge's order, went back to the house and punched Gray in the face. (She would later plead no contest to domestic battery.)

     With the approach of Marissa's aggravated assault by handgun trial, prosecutor Angela Corey, explained to the defendant that if convicted she would be sentenced to 20 years. The prosecutor offered her a deal: if she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the judge would sentence her to three years in prison. Marissa rejected the plea bargain offer.

     In defending Marissa Alexander, her attorney planned to rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law that was in the news as a result of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin  murder case. (Angela Corey, the state's attorney in Marissa's case was the leading special prosecutor in the February 2012 Sanford, Florida shooting.) Under the "stand your ground" self-defense doctrine, a person who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury in a place where he has a right to be, has no duty under the law to retreat and can meet force with force.

     In a pre-trial hearing on the stand your ground issue, Judge James Daniel  ruled that the law didn't apply to Marissa Alexander because she had no reason to fear for her life in that confrontation with her husband. The defendant could therefore not rely on self-defense and the stand your ground doctrine.

     On March 16, 2012, a jury found Alexander guilty of the three aggravated assault counts. The judge, bound by Florida's 10-20-life law, sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

     Critics of mandatory sentencing laws, along with anti-domestic violence advocates, expressed outrage over the outcome of the Marissa Alexander case. Other than winning an appeal, Marissa Alexander's only other legal remedy involved a grant of clemency by Florida Governor Rick Scott. For that to happen, a member of the state clemency board would have to initiate the action. Marissa could only make application herself after she has served half of her sentence.

     In the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, on July 13, 2013, the jury found defendant Zimmerman not guilty of second degree murder. He was also acquitted of the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter. In this case, the jury of six women found that because Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life during a fight with Trayvon Martin, the neighborhood watch leader was legally justified in standing his ground and eventually using deadly force against the 17-year-old. The jury had accepted the defense theory that at the time of his death the 17-year-old was on top of the defendant, banging his head against the sidewalk. Following the February 2012 shooting, Zimmerman had told police officers that he had been afraid the attacker would get control of his handgun.

     In 2013, an appeals court overturned Marissa Alexander's conviction on procedural grounds. The prosecutor immediately announced a second trial that was later scheduled for December 1, 2014. Marissa Alexander remained in custody pending the outcome of the second trial.

     On November 24, 2014, after spending 1,030 days behind bars, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal that consisted of two years probation during which time she would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

P.J. Williams and the Florida State University Football Hit-And-Run Cover-Up

     At two-forty in the morning of October 5, 2014, in Tallahassee, Florida, Florida State University cornerback P.J. Williams and two passengers in his Buick Century drove into the path of an oncoming Honda CR-V driven by 18-year-old Ian Keith. Keith was returning home from his job at a nearby Olive Garden. Williams and his friends, one of whom was a teammate, had been celebrating the previous afternoon's football victory.

     Both vehicles in the accident were totaled. Keith's Honda sat in the street leaking fluid with its front end crumpled amid auto part debris. Bruised and cut from his deployed airbag, the teen climbed out of his car and waited for the police.

     P.J. Williams, the 21-year-old football star who had been named the most valuable defense player in last season's national championship game, fled the scene on foot with his friends. The accident had clearly been his fault, and he had been driving on a suspended license. He had also been drinking.

     Officiers with the Tallahassee Police Department responded to the scene. They asked Ian Keith where the occupant or occupants of the other vehicle had gone. Keith said the three men in the Buick had run off. A check of the Buick's license plate revealed it was registered to P.J. William's grandmother in Ocala, Florida.

     Twenty minutes after fleeing the accident scene, Williams returned with several friends and teammates. He apologized to the officers for leaving the scene of an accident, explaining that he "had a lot on the line." As the local football star rambled on incoherently, a female friend told him to stop talking. "You sound like you've been drinking," she said.

     The Tallahassee officers did not give Williams a field sobriety test or even ask him if he had been drinking or using drugs. Instead, they called two ranking officers with FSU security (no doubt ex-cops) and the director of the athletic department. Because the accident was off-campus, the security officers had no jurisdiction in the case and no business being there.

     At three-thirty that morning, the director of football player development came to the scene and drove Williams home. Ian Keith rode home in a tow truck.

     The FSU campus police officials did not write up a report on the accident. The Tallahassee officers, without conducting an investigation, submitted a report stating there was no evidence of alcohol or drug use associated with the accident. The crash involving the football star went unreported in the local media.

     Rather than being charged with hit-and-run, the police issued Williams a ticket for making an improper left turn and a ticket for driving on a suspended license. His fines totaled $392. Had Williams not been a Florida football star, the officers would have placed him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail where he would have been tested for alcohol and drugs. He would have been charged with hit-and-run, driving under the influence, and driving without a license. He would have been in big trouble.

     Two days after the accident, Williams paid $296 in overdue fines related to an earlier speeding ticket. I wonder who gave him the money for that. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The John Mallett Stabbing Spree

 
     As a teenager growing up in New York City, John Mallett spent time in the juvenile wing of the jail on Rikers Island. He had stabbed a boy in a fight over a girl. As a young adult, Mallett, a paranoid schizophrenic, continued to have problems with the law. He served three years in prison for robbery. Mallett's family tried to get him help through the courts and public health, but were ignored. They learned that the criminal justice system is of no help to a family of a violent, mentally ill person until that person commits a heinous crime. Then, of course, it is too late.

     In 2002, Mallett moved to Nashville, Tennessee where his mental illness continued to lead him into trouble. In March of that year, he was convicted of resisting arrest, and in July 2010, for criminal trespass. In February 2011, just before moving to Columbus, Ohio, the authorities in Nashville charged Mallett with the unlawful possession of a weapon. (That charge was later dismissed.)

     In Columbus, Mallett moved in with his aunt. He became such a problem for her she asked him to move out. This may have placed the mentally ill man under considerable stress. On March 14, 2012, while in downtown Columbus a few blocks from the state capitol, Mallett entered the 25-story Continental Centre building carrying three knives, one of which came from his aunt's kitchen. The office building housed, on the first floor, a for-profit trade school (criminal justice, security, investigation, and court reporting) called Miami-Jacobs Career College. The school, owned by the Delta Career Education Corporation headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, consisted of 37 campuses and 16,000 students around the country.

     In the trade school's admissions office, Mallett, carrying a knife in each hand, repeatedly stabbed two employees and a criminal justice student. Back outside, he knifed an attorney who worked for the state attorney general's office, also housed in the building. Several bystanders tried but failed to disarm Mallett. One of the witnesses dialed 911.

      Within minutes of the 911 call, Columbus patrol officer Deborah Ayers pulled up to the building. The 15-year veteran of the force confronted Mallett near the building's entrance. "Sir," she yelled, "you need to put the knife down. Sir, please put the knife down!" Instead of complying with the officer's command, Mallet lunged toward her with his knife. Ayers fired 11 shots at Mallet, hitting him several times. Before he collapsed to the pavement, a second officer shocked him with a stun gun.

     The 37-year-old Mallett and his four victims were rushed to a local hospital. They were expected to survive their wounds. The fact Mallett lunged at the officer with the knife suggested a suicide-by-cop attempt.

     On Thursday, March 15,2012, he day after the rampage, the local prosecutor charged John Mallett with four counts of felonious assault.

     A battery of psychiatrists appointed by the court to examine Mallett concluded that he suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia. On June 10, 2013, Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft found Mallett not guilty by reason of insanity.

     A few weeks after the verdict, corrections officials assigned the schizophrenic to a Columbus area forensic psychiatric facility where he was to remain incarcerated until his doctors declared he was sane enough to rejoin society. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Team Stomping and Kicking: The Football Player Assault Case

     California University of Pennsylvania, one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Learning, sits on 290 acres in California Borough 35 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. A good number of its 8,600 students come from southwestern Pennsylvania.

     Shortly after midnight on Thursday October 30, 2014, California University student Shareese Asparagus, a 22-year-old from West Chester, Pennsylvania, walked out of a restaurant on Wood Street in the college town. She was with her 30-year-old boyfriend, Lewis Campbell, also from West Chester. He did not attend California U.

     The trouble started outside the restaurant when a California University football player, accompanied by four of his teammates, said something to the young woman that offended her. This led to an exchange of angry words that prompted Lewis Campbell to step in to defend his girlfriend.

     The football players reacted to the situation by punching and kicking Mr. Campbell to the pavement. As he lay injured on the ground, the assailants kicked and stomped him into unconsciousness. As the teammates strolled away from their battered victim, they chanted, "football strong!"

     As paramedics loaded Mr. Campbell into a medical helicopter, they noticed a shoe print on his face. Emergency personnel flew the unconscious man to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh where physicians determined that the lower part of Mr. Campbell's brain had shifted 80 degrees. The beating had caused the victim serious brain damage.

     Later on the day of the gang assault in front of the off-campus restaurant, as Mr. Campbell lay in the intensive care unit, police officers showed up at football practice armed with arrest warrants for five California University players. Taken into custody that afternoon were: James Williamson, 20, from Parkville, Maryland; Corey Ford, 22, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jonathan Jacoma Barlow, 21, from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh; Rodney Gillin, 20, from West Lawn, Pennsylvania; and D'Andre Dunkley, 19, from Philadelphia.

     Police officers booked the five college football players into the Washington County Correctional Facility on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, harassment, and conspiracy. The judge set each man's bail at $500,000.

     On Friday October 31, 2014, interim California University President Geraldine M. Jones issued the following statement: "California University does not tolerate violent behavior, and the five student-athletes charged in connection with this incident [incident?] will face university sanctions, along with any penalties imposed by law. The police investigation is continuing and the rights of these accused will be upheld. But in light of these allegations, I asked Coach Keller to cancel Saturday's game [with Gannon University]. Behavior has consequences, and all Cal U students, including student-athletes, must abide by our Student Code of Conduct if they wish to remain a part of our campus community. [Aggravated assault hardly falls into the category of a college code of conduct violation.] At the same time, it must be clearly understood that the actions [crimes] of a small group of individuals are not representative of our entire student body, nor of all Cal U student-athletes. [Then what do these "actions" represent?] I ask our entire campus community to recommit to our university's core values, and to demonstrate through their words and their actions the best that our university can be."

     Good heavens, what a mealy-mouthed public relations department response to a vicious attack worthy of a violent street gang. Where is the outrage in this statement?

     The charges against James Williamson were dropped after surveillance footage revealed that he had not participated in the beating. In response, Williamson filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, the police and the borough.

     Corey Ford, on June 7, 2016, pleaded no contest to assault. He received, in return, a sentence of one to two years in prison. (Ford had earlier pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run that killed a bicyclist in Washington, D.C. In that case the judge had sentenced him to 36 months in federal prison.)

     In July 2016, Rodney Gillin and D'Andre Dunkley, in return for their guilty pleas, received sentences of probation.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dr. Nirbhay Singh: The Consultant Who Helped Make Mental Hospitals in California More Dangerous

      If you live in California, are seriously mentally ill, and have been accused of a violent crime, do not plead not guilty by reason of insanity. If you do, and succeed, you'll end up in a state mental hospital. It's a lot safer in prison, and you'll get better treatment.

     In 2002, in an effort to improve services in California's mental hospitals that treat the criminally insane, the state hired a private consultant to reform the system. The reformer, a professor of psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University named Dr. Nirbhay Singh, had come to the United States in 1987 from New Zealand. Having specialized in research on the developmentally disabled, Dr. Singh had no experience treating seriously mentally ill patients with sociopathic and predatory tendencies. He had published articles about Buddhist-inspired mindfulness (whatever that means), and alternative treatments such as the herb kava as a calming agent. Dr. Singh, in reforming California's state mental institutions, among other things, replaced individual therapy with group classes on anger management.

     Notwithstanding Dr. Singh's "reforms," the U.S. Department of Justice stuck it's long nose into the problem by suing California on the grounds the state was violating patients' rights by heavily drugging and improperly restraining these extremely violent and dangerous people. The state, rather than fight the case, agreed to a court-supervised improvement plan at four hospitals with more than 4,000 criminally insane patients. (State hospitals in Norwalk, San Luis Obispo County, San Bernadino, and Napa.)

     According to the plan, overseen by Dr. Singh, these four hospitals reduced the use of restraints, isolation rooms, and heavy drugs. The reformer dismantled several behavioral programs, and placed greater importance on bureaucracy, and the production of documentation in support of compliance with the federal mandate. Many health care workers complained that the red tape came at the expense of patient care. Much of the paperwork, according to Dr. Singh's critics, was redundant, and clinically useless. Employees, under Dr. Singh's system, had to fill out 300 new forms every month. Staff members said they no longer had time to play cards and chat with patients, activities that the patients missed.

     While he worked as the chief consultant in California, Dr. Singh also worked with mental health systems in Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee. In January 2011, two weeks after the Los Angeles Times published an interview with a top State Department of Mental Health official about the effects of Dr. Singh's reforms, Dr. Singh abruptly resigned. Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists which represents California's mental hospital's psychiatrists and medical doctors, complained that Dr. Singh's reforms did "very little to create a healthy and safe environment for patients and staff." In fact, according to studies conducted in the four hospitals involved in the federally mandated reforms, three of them had become much more dangerous places for patients and mental health workers. The ban of heavy drugs, restraints, and isolation rooms had tripled the incidents of patient-on-patient and patient-on worker assaults in three of the institutions.

     While, according to his critics, Dr. Singh didn't know beans about how to run a place for the criminally insane, he did know how to make a buck. During his nine year tenure as a California mental health consultant, he charged the state $2,500 a day. His total bill came to $4.4 million. No wonder California was broke.

     Dr. Mubashir Farooqi, a psychiatrist at one of the pilot hospitals, called the reform program a "huge, very expensive, very idiotic experiment that failed badly." But in December 2011, notwithstanding the increased violence in the three California mental hospitals, the Department of Justice asked a federal court to extend the oversight, and continue along the same reform path. According to an assistant in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, California's reforms had not succeeded in improving mental health "outcomes" (bureaucrats love that word) at the four institutions. "Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not," he said in an interview. In the meantime, while the federal government dabbled in the care and treatment of California's criminally insane, mental hospitals in the state were dangerous places for patients, and the people trying to help them.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Emmanuel Rangel-Hernandez Murder Case

     In 2001, 5-year-old Mirjana Puhar and her family, in the midst of the Kosovo War, fled to the United States from their home in Stremska Mitrovica, Serbia. The family settled in Charlotte, North Carolina where Mr. Puhar worked as an electrician.

     Mirjana, in the middle of her sophomore year in high school, dropped out. She had been hanging around with the wrong crowd and had gotten involved with drugs.

     At eighteen, Mirjana started to turn her life around by enrolling in a GED program at Central Piedmont Community College. Around this time she became seriously interested in starting a modeling career. She acquired local modeling jobs and worked part time jobs at McDonald's. She also worked in several retail clothing stores as a sales clerk. In the fall of 2013, she earned her high school degree.

     Puhar's first big break in modeling came when she was selected as one of 14 contestants on the television reality show "America's Next Top Model" hosted by Tyra Banks. The 21st cycle of the show premiered on August 18, 2014. (It had been filmed in March and April of that year.)

     Before Mirjana Puhar was eliminated from the TV modeling contest on October 21, 2014, she had an on-screen romantic relationship with a fellow contestant named Denzel Wells. The show featured the fact she, at that time, had a boyfriend back home. That situation defined her character on the program. She finished eighth in the competition.

     On Tuesday February 24, 2015, in a one-story house on Norris Avenue in Charlotte, police officers discovered the bodies of three people who had been shot to death. Mirjana Puhar was one of the murder victims. The other corpses belonged to Jonathan Cosme Alvardado and Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia. Investigators believed the triple murder was drug related.

     Police officers, on Friday February 27, 2015, arrested 19-year-old Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez and booked him into the Mecklenburg County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder in the case. According to the authorities, Rangel-Hernandez was a known gang member with a history of violent crime.

     It also appeared that Rangel-Hernandez, as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had applied for and had been granted immunity in 2012 under President Obama's executive order-created program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under this program, children brought to the U.S. by illegal alien parents can not be deported. Moreover, they are entitled to government benefits.

     The triple murder in Charlotte involving the aspiring model and the gang member who had been granted DACA status raised the obvious question of why this man, instead of gaining amnesty, hadn't been deported.

     On the day of the murder suspect's arrest, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Homeland Security Department asking for documents related to Rangel-Hernandez's immigration status and his application for DACA immunity from deportation.

     On April 28, 2015, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson admitted to members of Senator Grassley's Homeland Security Committee that Rangel-Hernandez "should not have received DACA." The head of Homeland Security also said that notwithstanding this "tragic case," DACA was a good program. Pressed by Senator Grassley who wanted to know how Rangel-Hernandez acquired immunity under Obama's program, Secretary Johnson said, "the entire workforce that deals with these cases has been re-trained to make sure they identify trouble signs, such as suspected membership in criminal gangs."

     The Rangel-Hernandez case is yet another example of why most Americans no longer trust that government bureaucrats will protect them.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Aaron Jackson Murder Case: The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony

     The ideal eyewitness is a person with excellent eyesight who is unbiased, honest, sober, and intelligent. Unfortunately, most eyewitnesses are not sober, intelligent, unbiased, honest, or sure of their identifications. Moreover, they can be bribed, misled, and intimidated. Eyewitness misidentification has caused thousands of wrongful convictions. In the 1930s, pioneers in the field of forensic science hoped that the scientific interpretation of physical clues--fingerprints, bullets, blood, and the like--would make this form of direct evidence unnecessary. That day hasn't come. Police and prosecutors still rely heavily on eyewitnesses, and often at their peril.

The Aaron Jackson Murder Case

     In 2001, police in Springfield, Illinois arrested Aaron "Chill" Jackson, a 36-year-old ex-con who had served 6 years in prison for armed robbery. Charged with the shooting death of 27-year-old Durrell Alexander, Jackson, a vicious and dangerous criminal, was held on $1 million bond. A pair of eyewitnesses said they had seen the defendant shoot Alexander in the chest and abdomen. A year later, just before the trial, the eyewitnesses took back their identifications. Without this testimony, the state's attorney in Sangamon County had no choice but to drop the case. Investigators believed that Jackson had threatened these witnesses.

     In Washington Park, Illinois on April 1, 2010, at 5:47 in the morning, a passenger in John Thornton's 1998 Buick Regal shot him three times in the chest, causing the car to crash. John Thornton, the mayor of Washington Park, had been cracking down on local crime. Two women who saw the 52-year-old's car go off the road, told a detective they had seen Aaron Jackson climb out of the wrecked Buick and limp to a vehicle waiting nearby. Police arrested Jackson that day.

     The state's attorney, in addition to the eyewitnesses, Nortisha Ball and Gilda Lott, could link the suspect to the scene of the shooting in three ways: a latent fingerprint on the Buick's outside rear passenger door; a trace of his blood on the passenger's side deployed airbag; and a speck of the victim's blood on the suspect's left pant pocket. While this last piece of physical evidence was too small for a complete DNA profile, the state DNA analyst determined that the suspect was among a small population of black people--one in 4,200--who could not be eliminated as the donor of the blood speck.

     In October 2010, the Jackson trial blew up in the prosecutor's face when one of the eyewitnesses, Nortisha Ball, testified that a police detective named Kim McAfee, who had since been convicted in federal court of 39 white collar felonies, had forced her to pick Jackson's mugshot out of a photograph line-up. Another witness, Lequisha Jackson (no relation to the defendant) testified that Detective McAfee had offered her money to testify that he had not been at the scene of the shooting. (Apparently McAfee had initially been a suspect himself in the Thornton murder case.) The judge declared a mistrial.

     On April 12, 2012, Jackson's second murder trial got underway. The prosecutor, Steve Sallerson, put eyewitness Nortisha Ball back on the stand. Now serving time on a burglary conviction, the 23-year-old had led the prosecutor to believe she would identify the defendant as the man she had seen limping from Thornton's Buick after it had crashed. Instead, she threw him a curve ball by testifying she did not get a good look because it was dark that morning. Moreover, she was 150 yards away from the car, and was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. On cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas Q. Keefe III got Ball to say that Detective McAfee had forced her to pick the defendant's photograph out of the spread of mugshots.

     Nortisha Ball, perhaps under threat from the defendant, became a prosecutor's worst courtroom nightmare. The other eyewitness, Gilda Lott, a witness with a history of drug related convictions, wasn't much better. She contradicted herself, acted confused, then broke down on the stand. The judge had to threaten her with contempt of court to get her to respond to the prosecutor's questions. At best, as a prosecution witness, Gilda Lott was useless. It seemed the defendant had gotten to her as well.

     While the two eyewitnesses were a complete prosecution disaster, the state DNA analyst, Jay Winters, identified the blood spot on the airbag as the defendant's. Using a more sophisticated DNA analysis on the speck of blood found on Jackson's trousers, Winters placed the defendant in a one in 46,000 population of black people who could not be excluded as the donor of this crime scene evidence.

     State fingerprint examiner Melissa Gamboe testified that the latent print on the rear passenger door of the mayor's Buick had been left by the defendant. 
     On April 27, 2012, the St. Clair County jury took just 5 hours to find Aaron Jackson guilty of murder. The judge, on August 27, 2012, sentenced Jackson to 35 years in prison. 
     The Jackson case is a good example of the value of physical evidence over eyewitness testimony. Because most jurors have seen TV shows like "CSI," they tend to have faith in forensic science and forensic scientists. 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

John McAfee And The Gregory Faull Murder Case

     In 1994, 49-year-old John McAfee, a computer tycoon who developed anti-privacy software and helped pioneer instant messaging, sold his Silicon Valley company for $100 million. About this time, following twenty years of drug abuse, he suffered a heart attack. In 2007, after losing all but $4 million of his fortune on bad investments, McAfee moved to Belize, a small Central American Country south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Atlantic coast. McAfee moved into a house in San Pedro's Mata Grande subdivision.

     According to media reports, John McAfee had slipped back into a lifestyle of hallucinogenic drugs like crystal meth and bath salts that made him erratic, paranoid, and according to his neighbors, dangerous. In April 2012, the Belize police raided his home looking for drugs and guns. Although some weapons were seized and he was taken into custody, the police quickly released him. No charges were filed. (Later, McAfee donated handcuffs, tasers, batons, firearms and other law enforcement items to the police department.)

     A few months after McAfee's arrest, a group of residents of the Mata Grande subdivision submitted a written complaint against him to the authorities in San Pedro. McAfee's neighbors complained about his security guards who "walked around with shotguns at night and up and down the beach." According to the complainants, the guards "shine spotlights right into peoples' eyes at night and act aggressively with their guns, chambering a bullet [a round] and nonsense such as this. People are scared to walk down the beach at night as a result. The tourists are terrified." The neighbors also didn't like the taxi cab and delivery truck traffic to and from McAfee's house at all hours of the night. (According to reports, the cabs often delivered prostitutes to his home.) In addition, McAfee's four security dogs frightened and harassed residents of the subdivision. One of the dogs supposedly bit a tourist.

     On November 7, 2012, one of McAfee's neighbors, Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old builder from Florida, filed a formal complaint with the San Pedro mayor's office. Faull accused his 67-year-old neighbor of recklessly firing off his guns and exhibiting "roguish behavior." Faull also complained about McAfee's loud and aggressive attack dogs.

     There was no question that McAfee's neighbors considered him, if not insane, an unstable, drug-addled gun nut in the mold of the gonzo journalist, Hunter Thompson. Photographs surfaced showing McAfee posing with a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. One of the photos depicts the skinny, bearded, and bare-chested millionaire pressing the muzzle of a pistol to his temple.

     On Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, Gregory Faull's 39-year-old Belizean housekeeper, Laura Tun, found him on the second floor of his house lying face-up in a pool of blood. Someone had shot him in the back of the head. The police found a 9 mm shell casing on the floor near his body. There was no sign of forced entry and the dead man's iPhone and laptop computer had been taken. Mr. Faull had been murdered the night before.

     John McAfee immediately emerged as a suspect in his neighbor's murder. The police went to his house that Sunday to question him. He wasn't home and no one knew his whereabouts.

     Two days after the murder, McAfee was still at large. A spokesperson for the Belize Ministry of National Security publicly urged him to come in for questioning. Not long after that, McAfee, in a telephone interview with Joshua Davis, a writer for Wired Magazine, said he was in hiding. According to McAfee, "they [the police] will kill me if they find me." The so-called person of interest in the Faull murder case told the journalist that his four dogs had been poisoned by the Belizean authorities as part of a vendetta against him. He claimed that he was unarmed, accompanied by a young woman, and had to move from place to place to stay ahead of the police.

     On November 16, 2012 McAfee told a reporter for CNBC that he had spent six days hiding from the police at his compound on Ambergris Caye, a stretch of island just off the Belizean coast. When the police searched his property, he hid by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head that allowed him to breathe. He denied any knowledge of Mr. Faull's death.

     On December 5, 2012, the authorities arrested John McAfee in Guatemala, but a week later, a Guatemalan judge ruled his detention illegal and released him.

     Deported from Guatemala, John McAfee, on December 12, 2012 arrived in Miami aboard an American Airlines flight.

     In May 2013, McAfee was living in Oregon working on a book and a film project about his troubled, turbulent life. That month his house in Belize went up in flames. In speaking to a Fox News reporter about the fire, McAfee said, "I believe that there are a few with great power in Belize that will go to great lengths to harm me. This fire was not just a strange coincidence."

     In speaking to a reporter with the huffingtonpost in July 2013, McAfee, in reference to Gregory Faull, said, "I never killed anyone, it's not my style."

     Gregory Faull's daughter, in November 2013, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against McAfee in an Orlando, Florida federal court. The plaintiff, in a press release, stated: "The Faull family intends to pursue all possible avenues to ensure the individual or individuals responsible for the death of Gregory Faull are brought to justice…The true facts will come to light as to how and by whom Gregory met his end."

     In September 2015, McAfee announced that he was running for president under his own creation, the Cyber Party. According to McAfee, as president of the United States, he would address the problem that "national leaders have little or no understanding of the cyber science upon which national finance, military systems and every aspect of social systems to television and automobiles are based." 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Senseless Murder of a Toddler

     In 2016, 31-year-old Veronica Rene Castro lived in a travel trailer in Bellevue, Texas, a remote Clay County community near the Oklahoma border 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Castro resided with her three-year-old son, Dominic Tra'Juan Castro and the boy's 18-year-old stepfather, George Coty Wayman. Wayman, a violent dimwit with a facial tattoo, had a criminal record that included a recent stretch in prison.

     Shortly after three in the afternoon on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, someone from the Castro dwelling on Buffalo Springs Road called 911 to report a shooting. When deputies with the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene, they found the Castro toddler shot once in the back of the head.

     Emergency personnel airlifted the seriously wounded boy to the United Regional Health Care System in Wichita Falls, Texas. At ten-forty-five the next morning, Dominic Castro died.

     Wayman, when questioned at the scene of the shooting by the police, said the boy had been accidentally shot when he jumped on the bed where a 9mm handgun had been placed. The physical evidence at the scene failed to support this scenario. Moreover, several people in the bedroom who had witnessed the shooting had a different story.

     According to the eyewitnesses, Wayman, angry at the toddler who had refused to stop jumping on the bed, aimed the gun and shot him in the head.

     A Clay County prosecutor, on May 18, 2016, charged George Wayman with capital murder. (In Texas, the intentional killing of a child under six constitutes a death penalty offense.) The accused murderer was booked into the Clay County Jail under $550,000 bond.

     In my mind, this crime is a justification for capital punishment. Some people just don't deserve to live in civilized society.  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Assailants Who Attack Their Victims With Acid

     In December 2012, a female employee of a company in Gotemba, Japan, a city 120 miles southwest of Tokyo, burned her feet in acid that had been poured into her shoes. The victim worked in a laboratory that produced carbon-fiber products. (In Japan it is customary for employees to remove their shoes when entering controlled areas.)

     The victim's feet were severely burned by hydrofluoric acid, a highly corrosive chemical. After gangrene settled into the assault victim's left foot, doctors had to remove the tips of five of her toes.

     On March 28, 2013, a prosecutor in Gotelmba charged Tatsujiro Fukazawa with attempted murder in the acid attack. The suspect worked in the laboratory with the victim. According to the police, Fukazawa had feelings for the woman who had rejected his romantic overtures. The acid planting was in revenge for that rejection. Although Fukazawa pleaded not guilty to the charges, he was convicted of the assault in 2015, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

     In 2013, two British girls were doused with acid while doing volunteer work in Zanzibar. Two years later, a South African teenage girl poured acid on her boyfriend's private parts. "I was just angry," she said "and all I wanted to do was to make him feel the pain I was feeling."

     According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, 1,500 people are attacked with acid every year. In addition to Japan, India has a long history of horrific acid attacks against women. In Afghanistan, Islamist extremists have thrown acid on girls' faces to scare them away from attending school.

    Anyone familiar with the annals of crime is aware that the ways people have found to be cruel to each other, to inflict pain and suffering, has no limit. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Brenda Delgado Murder-For-Hire Case

     At quarter to eight on the night of Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 35-year-old dentist, Dr. Kendra Hatcher, parked her car in the garage of her upscale Dallas, Texas apartment complex. As Dr. Hatcher did so, a man hiding in the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee driven by a woman, jumped out of the vehicle and approached her. It was at that moment the assailant shot the dentist one time with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol, killing the victim on the spot. After stealing two of Dr. Hatcher's purses, the shooter climbed back into the Jeep and was driven off by his driver.

     On Friday, September 4, 2015, detectives with the Dallas Police Department arrested 23-year-old Crystal Cortes on suspicion that she had been the person behind the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee. Cortes, during her interrogation, confessed to her role in the robbery-murder. She also identified the shooter as 31-year-old Kristopher Love.

      After a week or so into the Hatcher murder investigation, detectives came to believe that robbery had not been the motive behind the killing. The officers suspected the slaying had been the culmination of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by a 33-year-old dental hygiene student at Stanford-Brown College named Brenda Delgado.

     Two months before the murder, Delgado, a Mexican citizen, and her boyfriend, 38-year-old dermatologist Dr. Ricardo Panigua, had broken up following a two-year relationship. After the split, Dr. Panigua began dating Dr. Kendra Hatcher. Detectives suspected that Delgado had the dentist murdered out of jealousy and rage.

     When questioned by investigators, the murder-for-hire suspect admitted lending Crystal Cortes the Jeep Cherokee, and meeting with Cortes and the suspected hit man, Kristopher Love. She met with the murder suspects at a Dallas apartment complex a few days before the killing. Delgado, however, denied being the mastermind behind a plot to have her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend murdered. That, she claimed, had been Love's idea.

     On September 11, 2015, a Dallas County prosecutor charged Crystal Cortes with capital murder. Police officers booked her into the Dallas County Jail under $500,000 bond. Cortes' attorney, George Ashford III, told reporters that his client, before what she believed was just going to be a robbery, had tried to call and warn Dr. Hatcher of the hold-up plot. The lawyer said that after the killing, Mr. Love had threatened to kill Cortes' 6-year-old son if she went to the authorities.

     According to Cortes, Brenda Delgado had promised her and the hit man free prescription drugs if they robbed Dr. Hatcher. Also, Delgado had allegedly paid Cortes $500 to drive Kristopher Love to the robbery scene. Just before Love climbed out of the Jeep in the victim's parking garage, Cortes asked him how much money Delgado had paid him to commit the robbery. Love replied, "That's none of your business."

     On October 3, 2015, Dallas detectives arrested Kristopher Love on suspicion of capital murder. At the time he was taken into custody, Love was still in possession of the murder weapon. A magistrate set his bail at $2.5 million. In Texas, a capital murder conviction can lead to the death penalty.

     About the time Kristopher Love was arrested, a Dallas County prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Brenda Delgado. At that time, the murder-for-hire suspect's whereabouts were unknown.

     In speaking to reporters regarding Delgado, Major Max Geron of the Dallas Police Department, said: "Ms. Delgado was involved in the planning and the commission of Kendra Hatcher's murder."

     On April 7, 2016, a spokesperson with the FBI announced that murder-for-hire fugitive Brenda Delgado had been placed on the bureau's "Ten Most Wanted" list. A day later, the authorities in Torreon, Mexico took the fugitive into custody.

    Before Delgado can be extradited back to Texas, the U.S. prosecutor would have to agree not to pursue the death penalty against the suspect. According to the Mexican authorities in charge of the case, it could take up to a year to complete the extradition process. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor Haley Barbour And His Pardons of Dangerous Criminals

     In January 2012, in his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those released were inmates who had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Five of the freed men had been working at the governor's mansion as trusties. Two of them had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. These were not white collar criminals, they were dangerous men. And none of them had been pardoned because they had been wrongfully tried, or were innocent.

     News of Barbour's puzzling and disturbing show of clemency to so many violent criminals stunned the families of the people these inmates had victimized. That shock soon turned to outrage. People were asking why convicted murderers were working at the governor's home in the first place, and why Barbour had felt compelled to set so many of them free. Didn't he have any regard for the nature of their crimes, and the feelings of their victims? Southern conservatives were supposed to be tough on criminals. Had this politician lost his mind? Mississippi legislators were now looking into restricting the governor's pardoning powers.

     One of the inmates Barbour pardoned, David Glenn Gatlin, had good reason to believe he would never walk free. In 1994, a jury found Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. Gatlin had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her in the head as she held their 6-week-old child. She died on the spot. Gatlin then turned his gun on Randy Walker, and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault, but is still dealing with the consequences of the head wound.

     The trial judge, who obviously wanted Gatlin to spend the rest of his life behind bars (and not working a cushy job at the governor's house), sentenced him to life on the murder verdict, plus 20 years for aggravated assault on Randy Walker. The judge added another 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from the bullet Gatlin had fired into his head, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death sentence. Modern medicine, and a skilled emergency room surgeon, had saved Gatlin from death row, and a future lethal injection.

     David Gatlin not only didn't feel bad about murdering his wife and trying to kill Randy Walker, he promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker. Thanks to Governor Haley Barbour, Gatlin would get the chance. If he actually carried out this threat, it would be appropriate to send Governor Barbour to prison to finish out Gatlin's sentence. Perhaps Barbour would end up back at the Governor's mansion where, instead of pardoning dangerous killers, he'd be trimming the shrubbery and cutting the grass.

    After the release of documents from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, it became clear that Governor Haley Barbour had done more than just release killers back into society. He and his wife Marsha had made sure that two of them, David Gatlin and another mansion trusty, could drive away from prison in their own cars.

     On the morning of January 6, 2012, two days before Gatlin and a trusty named Charles Hooker were scheduled for release, Marsha Barbour called a nearby car dealership to arrange the purchase of two used cars for the inmates. A member of the governor's staff had already helped the men acquire their driver's licenses. That afternoon, a staff member drove Gatlin and Hooker, in a state car, to the lot where Hooker purchased a 2007 Ford Focus, and Gatlin a Chevrolet HHR. The inmates used certified checks drawn on Bank Plus to purchase the vehicles. Two days later, the inmates' cars were delivered to the governor's mansion.

     The documents pertaining to the preferential treatment of these murderers did not reveal how these men obtained their bank accounts. Moreover, there were no documents showing who actually paid for the cars. Governor Barbour and his wife, as well as members of the former governor's staff, were not talking, except to say that no laws had been broken.
     

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Tong Shao Murder Case

    Tong Shao grew up as the only child in a middle-class family in Dalian, China, a coastal city of 7 million 300 miles east of Beijing. Her parents saved up $100,000 for her college education in America. In the fall of 2012, she enrolled as a chemical engineering major at Iowa State University in Ames. As one of 5,000 Chinese students in the state, her parents thought she'd be safe living in central Iowa.

      In the summer before she started her junior year, Shao completed an internship in Kentucky where she had purchased a gold-colored, four-door 1997 Toyota Camry.

     On September 6, 2014, Shao drove to Iowa City to visit her boyfriend Xiangnan Li. Xiangnan also attended Iowa State University as an international student from China. Shao had met Li in the summer of 2011 in Beijing where they took English prep classes.

     Xiangnan Li was from Wenzhou, China, a city of 9 million on the country's east coast 300 miles south of Shanghai. He had transferred to Iowa State University from Rochester Institute of Technology to be closer to Shao.

     In the U.S. Li resided in Iowa City at an apartment complex called Dolphin Lake Point Enclave. He also stayed in the Ames apartment Shao shared with her roommate Jean.

     Two days after Shao left Ames, a message sent from her cellphone to a friend said she was driving to Minnesota to visit someone there. Her college friends didn't hear from her for more than a week after that September 8 text message. On September 17, her roommate Jean reported Tong Shao missing to the Ames Police Department.

     On Friday September 26, 2014, police in Iowa City, at Li's apartment complex along U.S. Highway 6, found Shao's Toyota parked in the parking lot. After smelling the odor of death coming from the trunk area of the vehicle, officers acquired a warrant to search the car.

     Inside the trunk of Shao's vehicle, officers found the decomposing body of the 5-foot-2-inch missing college student. Next to her body lay a 15-pound barbell. According to a resident of the Dolphin Lake Point Enclave, the 1997 Toyota with the Kentucky plates had been parked in that spot for a couple of weeks.

     Xiangnan Li's blue 2009 BMW was also parked at the Iowa City apartment complex. He, however, was gone. On September 8 he had flown back to China. (He had boarded the plane in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and had a layover in Chicago.) Iowa City police officers, on September 27, 2014, searched his car. Inside the vehicle they found Li's flight information.

     In November 2014, a forensic pathologist with the Johnson County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Tong Shao's remains. A medical examiner's office spokesperson, however, didn't announce the postmortem results until January 2015. According the autopsy report, the college student had died from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. (I don't understand the dual causes of death. She was either strangled or bludgeoned to death. How could she die from both?)

     According to homicide investigators, the text message from Shao's cellphone had been sent on September 8 from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where Li was laid over en route to his home in China.

     Karen Yang, a friend of Li's, told detectives Li had been jealous over Shao's interest in another man. Li had overheard Shao complain to this man over the phone that she was not happy with her current relationship. This had made Li extremely angry.

     Detectives with the Ames Police Department learned that on September 5, 2014, Li and Shao checked into room 218 at the Budget Inn in Nevada, Iowa. Hotel surveillance camera footage showed Shao walking alone in the lobby the next afternoon. She was also seen in the town of Nevada driving a gold-colored car believed to be her Toyota. According to hotel records, the couple checked out on September 7, 2014. They had stayed at this place in 2013 and earlier in 2014.

     Detectives believed that Shao had been murdered by Li during the early morning hours of September 7 at the hotel. The walls in room 218 were stained with "splatter and drips of various dried liquids." Crime scene investigators also found dried blood behind the headboard of the bed.

     When police discovered Shao's body in the trunk of her car on September 26, 2014, they discovered that her head had been wrapped in a towel with the tag "Premium Quality," the same kind of towel used at the Budget Inn and Suites.

     On March 23, 2016, in eastern China, Li Xiangnan pleaded guilty to murdering Shao Tong. Since the Chinese do not extradite its citizens, Li will remain in China where, if not sentenced to death, will be sentenced to life.

     

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Forensic Pathology: A Profession in Trouble

     Forensic pathologists are physicians educated and trained to determine the cause and manner of death in cases involving violent, sudden, or unexplained fatalities. The cause of death is the medical reason the person died. One cause of death is asphyxia--lack of oxygen to the brain. It occurs as a result of drowning, suffocation, manual strangulation by ligature (such as by rope, belt, or length of cloth), crushing, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Other causes of death include blunt force trauma, gunshot wound, stabbing, slashing, poisoning, heart attack, stroke, or a sickness such as cancer, pneumonia, or heart disease.

     For the forensic pathologist, the most difficult task often involves detecting the manner of death--natural, accidental, suicidal, or homicidal. This is because the manner of death isn't always revealed by the condition of the body. For example, a death resulting from a drug overdose could be the result of homicide, suicide, or accident. Knowing exactly how the fatal drug got into the victim's body requires additional information, data that usually comes from a police investigation. When the circumstances of a suspicious death are not ascertained or are sketchy, and the death was not an obvious homicide, the medical examiner (or coroner) might classify the manner of death as "undetermined."

     The autopsy, along with the crime-scene investigation, is the starting point, the foundation, of a homicide investigation. If something is missed or mishandled on the autopsy table, if the forensic pathologist draws the wrong conclusion from the evidence, the investigation is doomed.

     Up until the 1930s, before the English forensic pathologist Dr. Bernard Spilsbury glamorized the profession through a series of high-profile murder case solutions, forensic pathology was called "the beastly science." Today, in the U.S., there are about 400 practicing forensic pathologists. For medical examiner and coroner systems to work properly, we need at least 800 of these practitioners. On average, about 35 of the 15,000 students who enroll in medical school every year graduate to become forensic pathologists. Recently, 12 of the nation's 37 forensic pathology programs had no students.

     Forensic pathologists in the United States are overworked. Given the nature of the job, they are under constant pressure from politicians, prosecutors, homicide investigators, families of the deceased, and the media. The pay is relatively low, they often work in unsanitary morgue conditions, and in many jurisdictions, have run out of space to store dead bodies. Many forensic pathologists have burned out, and more than a few have had mental breakdowns.