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Monday, June 27, 2016

The Hickory Street Four Murder Case

     On the night of January 9, 2013, 24-year-old Joshua Miner and his girlfriend, Alisa Massaro, 18, were drinking and doing drugs at a house in Joliet, Illinois, a town of 150,000 forty miles southwest of Chicago. They were partying in Massaro's Hickory Street home where she resided with her father, Phillip. Bethany McKee, an 18-year-old who lived in Shorewood, Illinois was at the booze and drug party as well. Adam Landerman, a 19-year-old whose father worked as a sergeant with the Joliet Police Department, rounded out the group. Mr. Massaro, the father of the host, was in the house that night.

     Joshua Miner, the oldest partygoer, possessed a serious criminal record. When he was sixteen he pleaded guilty to filming a child pornography video. In 2010, a jury convicted him of residential burglary. Instead of prison, the judge enrolled the heavy drug user into a boot camp program As the oldest and most criminally experienced member of the party group, Miner assumed the role of leader.

     Later that evening, Joshua Miner invited two more people to the Hickory Street house. These young men, Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin, were acquainted with the party attendees. The 22-year-old men no idea what lay in store for them.

     On Friday, January 11, 2013, Bethany McKee's father, a resident of Shorewood, Illinois, reported to the police that his daughter had just called him with a disturbing request. She and her friends needed help in disposing of the bodies of two men murdered a day or so earlier in the house on Hickory Street.

     When the Joliet police stormed into the Massaro home, they found two of the original partygoers, Minder and Landerman, still boozing it up, snorting cocaine, and playing video games. Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin were in the house as well, but they were dead. Both men had been strangled, and someone and had tied plastic bags around their heads.

     Bethany McKee had left the house before the police stormed into the dwelling. Police officers picked her up a short time later in Kankakee, Illinois. Alisa Massaro's father, the owner of the dwelling, was at the murder scene when police joined the party.

     Not long after being taken into custody, the four partygoers opened-up to detectives about the double murder. Joshua Miner informed his interrogators that he had lured Glover and Rankin to the party by giving them the impression they would be having sex with Massaro and McKee. Once in the house, Miner and Landerman strangled the victims to death. The victims were killed for their cash and drugs.

     Miner said he planned to dismember the bodies and dump the remains in a river or lake or put the body parts into trash bags and curb them in another town on garbage day. Landerman, in furtherance of the garbage disposal plan, had purchased rubber gloves, bleach, a saw, and a blow torch. Police arrested the men before they had the chance to dismember the victims for disposal.

     Joshua Miner, in spilling his guts to detectives, painted Alisa Massaro as a woman as depraved and sexually deviant as himself. According to the 24-year-old child pornographer, Alisa had fantasized about having sex with a dead man. (I'm not sure how that would work.) After Miner and the police officer's son strangled the victims, they lined-up their bodies side-by-side and covered them with a blanket. Miner and Massaro then engaged in sex on top of the corpses.

     Bethany McKee, the 18-year-old who had asked her father for help in disposing of the bodies, told detectives that Joshua Miner had planned to save the victims' teeth as trophies. After helping Miner murder Glover and Rankin, Adam Landerman, according to McKee, danced around the room and speculated about how much money the dead men carried in their pockets. Miner and Landerman then drove off in Eric Glover's car to score cocaine from Miner's drug supplier.

     On Monday, January 14, 2013, a Will County prosecutor charged the four suspects with two counts each of first-degree murder. The judge set bail for each defendant at $10 million. Fortunately for these defendants, Illinois did not have the death penalty. In the the local media, the accused killers were referred to as the "Hickory Street Four." The sensational nature of the case led to a court battle over how much information the authorities were allowed to share with reporters. Not long after the arrests, a judge issued a gag order in the case.

     In May 2014, Alisa Massaro, the daughter of the man who owned the Hickory Street house, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and two counts of concealing a homicide. Will County Judge Gerald Kinney sentenced her to ten years in prison. Given time served and other factors, Massaro could be out of prison in less than four years. As part of the plea deal, Massaro agreed to testify against the other three defendants at their upcoming murder trials.

     Joshua Miner and Bethany McKee, in separate murder trials in November 2014, were found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. The jury, in June 2015, found Adam Landerman guilty as charged. The Will County judge sentenced him to life without parole.    

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Did Terri Horman Murder Her Stepson Kyron?

     In 2000, 26-year-old Kaine Andrew Horman, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, married Desiree Young. The marriage did not work out. Within a year the couple discussed separating. But in January 2002, when Desiree learned that she was pregnant, she and Kaine decided to give their marriage a second chance. But it still didn't work. In August 2002, Desiree filed for divorce and moved in with her parents in Medford, Oregon.

     A month after the separation, Desiree gave birth to Kyron. The divorce became final in 2003, and a year after that, Desiree moved to Canada where she received treatment for a kidney ailment. When she returned to the U.S. two months later she relinquished custody of 2-year-old Kyron to Kaine.

     The toddler, in 2004, began living with his father in a house on Sheltered Nook Road in a rural section of northwest Portland. Because of Kaine's demanding job at the Intel Corporation's Jones Farm Campus in Hillsboro, the father arranged day care for Kyron. For that job, he hired a friend of his ex-wife's named Terri Moulton.

     Terri Moulton grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, a town three hours from Portland. After graduating from high school in 1988, she attended Umpqua Community College where she met Ron Tarver. Terri and Ron were married in 1991 and three years later had a son named James. A year after the birth of their son, Terri and Ron divorced.

     In 1996, Terri married Richard Ecker in Springfield, Oregon. Four years later she graduated from Northwest Christian University with a bachelor's degree in education. From March 2001 to June 2002, Terri worked as a substitute teacher in the Hillsboro School District. In 2002 she divorced Richard Ecker.

     In 2004, Terri moved into the home on Sheltered Nook Road with Kaine and his 2-year-old son. She had been taking care of the boy for more than a year. Kaine's divorce from Desiree Young had been finalized a year earlier.

     In April 2007, Kaine and Terri were married. Their daughter Kiara Horman was born in 2009.

     Kyron, in 2010, was a second grade student at Portland's Skyline Elementary School two miles from his home. On most days Kyron rode the bus to school, but on June 4, 2010, Terri drove her stepson to class. That day Kyron wanted to set up his Red-Eyed Tree Frog exhibit at the school's science fair.

     Terri and the boy arrived at the elementary school at eight in the morning. They were last seen together fifteen minutes later near Kyron's science exhibit. That day Kyron's teacher marked him absent. At 3:45 in the afternoon of June 4, 2010, Terri Horman reported Kyron missing after he didn't come home from school.

     Students and teachers at the school told detectives that no one had seen Kyron after the 8:45 AM bell. According to Terri, she left the school just before the morning bell. She told detectives that Kyron told her he was leaving the exhibit site en route to his classroom. That's the last time she saw him.

     Teachers and staff described the three-foot, eight-inch 50 pound boy as too timid to have left the school on his own. That morning he was dressed in a black T-shirt with "CSI" in green lettering and an image of a handprint. The boy with the metal rimmed eyeglasses wore cargo pants and sneakers trimmed in orange.

     In the week following Kyron's disappearance, police officers and others searched the school building, its grounds, and the surrounding neighborhood. It seemed the 7-year-old had vanished into thin air.

     From the start, detectives, operating on the theory that Kyron had not been abducted by a stranger, focused on Terri Horman's activities on the morning of his disappearance. The police became particularly suspicious when a search of her cellular phone records revealed that she wasn't where she said she was that morning. In fact, her cellphone showed she had been on Sauvie Island five miles from the school. This led to a massive search of the island for the missing boy. Again, no trace of Kyron.

     Interrogated by detectives as a suspect in the case, Terri maintained her innocence. She reportedly took and failed two polygraph tests. Detectives, looking for physical evidence of foul play, seized and searched her car. They found nothing incriminating.

     On June 26, 2010, 22 days after Kyron's disappearance, detectives approached the boy's father with startling information about his wife Terri. According to these investigators, Terri, five months before Kyron went missing, asked a landscaper named Rodolfo Sanchez to kill her husband.

     Sanchez, in reporting the murder solicitation, claimed that Terri told him that Kaine Horman physically and mentally abused her. The would-be hit man's compensation was supposed to be the $10,000 in cash Kaine always carried on his person. To help facilitate the murder-for-hire scheme, Terri allegedly provided Sanchez details regarding her husband's daily routine. She suggested that Sanchez make the hit look like a mugging.

     On the day he learned of the alleged plot against his life, Kaine kicked Terri out of the house. Two days later he filed for divorce and served his estranged wife with a restraining order. Terri moved back into her parents' house in Roseburg, Oregon.

     In 2011, with her son still missing and no charges filed in the case, Desiree Young posted missing person's fliers around a strip mall in Roseburg not far from Terri's residence. She also asked the reclusive suspect's neighbors to grill Terri about Kyron's disappearance. Desiree told the Roseburg neighbors that Terri had blamed her failing marriage on Kyron, that she had grown to hate her stepson.

     The Oregon legislature passed a law in 2011 inspired by the Kyron Horman case. The new legislation required school officials to notify parents by the end of the school day if their child had an unauthorized absence.

     On June 1, 2012, Desiree Young filed a lawsuit against Terri Horman claiming that the defendant was "responsible for the disappearance of Kyron." The plaintiff sought $10,000,000 in damages. On July 30, 2013, Young dropped the lawsuit. She said she didn't want the civil action to jeopardize the continuing police investigation into her son's case.

     Desiree and a small group of supporters, in November 2013, staged a demonstration outside of Terri Horman's house in Roseburg. Terri's mother called the police who came and disrupted the demonstration.

     On December 31, 2013, a Multnomah County judge finalized the divorce of Kaine and Terri Horman. The couple still had to resolve the issue of who would get legal custody of their daughter Kiara who was now 5-years-old.
   
     According to Terri Horman's attorneys, she was not the last person to see Kyron alive. Moreover, they believe the murder-for-hire allegation against their client was bogus. According to her neighbors, Terri seldom left the house in Roseburg. A lot of people reviled this woman and a few supported her. But for most people familiar with this case, it was hard not to suspect that Terri Horman was somehow responsible for her stepson's disappearance and presumed death.

     In June 2014, the missing boy's mother told reporters that Horman, when asked by a polygraph examiner if she had knowledge of the disappearance, failed the lie detector tests. That month, a family court judge granted Kaine Horman custody of 5-year-old Kiara Horman. Terri Horman, after her daughter received counseling to facilitate a relationship with her mother, would be able to visit the girl under court-ordered supervision.

     Terri, in August 2014, petitioned the court to change her name to Claire Stella Sullivan. She wanted to make the change to avoid what she called the stigma of the Horman name. In addressing the judge, she said, "Kyron Horman is missing. He needs to be found. I love my stepson, I want him home more than anything." She also reminded the judge that she had not been the last person to see Kyron alive. She said her attorneys could prove that. The judge denied her request.

     In December 2014, the head of a residential care facility for mentally ill adults hired Terri Horman as a Mental Health Support Specialist. The Eugene, Oregon company, the Shangra-Law Corporation, hired Horman with full knowledge of her status as a suspect in her stepson's disappearance. According to Shrangra-Law Chief Executive, "Terri was hired because she has the skills and training that enables her to provide excellent support in the critical area of need."

     On February 20, 2015, Terri Horman petitioned a Lane County judge to issue a temporary protective order against a person named Stacy Green. Horman objected to the 35-year-old's posting of missing child posters outside her place of employment. The petitioner claimed that Green and her associates had been obsessively stalking her for four years. "They are now escalating in this behavior to where I fear they will kill me," she claimed. The judge denied Horman's request for the protection order.

     Terri Horman, on February 21, 2015, quit her job at Shangra-Law. She said the denial of her anti-stalking order was the reason she left the job.

     In a January 2016 interview with a correspondent with the television show "Inside Edition," Terri Horman said, "I never harmed my son. I'm speaking now because nobody is looking for my son anymore. I want Kyron home. I love my son." She admitted to the reporter that she had failed the polygraph test, explaining that because she was deaf in one ear, she didn't hear the questions properly.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Brock Allen Turner Sexual Assault Case

     During the early morning hours of January 18, 2015, in Palo Alto, California, two Stanford University students came across a man lying on top of a woman near a fraternity house dumpster. The man and the woman had passed out from excessive alcohol consumption.

     The Stanford student on top of the partially clad woman was 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner, an all-American high school swimmer from Dayton, Ohio. He had met the woman found beneath him at a fraternity party that night. (Her identify, as of this writing, has not been made public.)

     Turner had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The 23-year-old woman was three times over the legal limit for intoxication.

     After being examined at a hospital in San Jose, a deputy sheriff told the woman she may have been the victim of a sexual assault.

     Brock Turner, when questioned by the police, admitted that he had sexually fondled the unconscious woman but did not rape her.

     Shortly after being questioned by detectives, a Santa Clara County prosecutor charged Brock Turner with three felonies that included the sexual assault of an unconscious woman and assault with the intent to commit rape. If convicted as charged, Turner faced up to 14 years in prison.

     Following his arrest on the three felony charges, Brock withdrew from the university.

     The Turner sexual assault case went to trial in Palo Alto in March 2016. Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci, in her opening remarks to the jury, called the defendant the "quintessential face of campus assault." The victim had consumed four shots of whisky before attending the party as well as a quantity of vodka at the fraternity house. As a result of her intoxication, she had been unable to consent to having sex. Lack of consent constituted the legal basis for the prosecution.

     Brock Turner took the stand on his own behalf and testified that the woman had been a willing participant in the sexual activity. Following his testimony, and the closing arguments, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged.

     At the convicted man's sentencing hearing on June 2, 2016, his defense attorney asked Judge Aaron Persky to sentence his client to probation. The defendant's father, Dan Turner, took the stand and said, in reference to his son spending 14 years behind bars: "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

     The female Santa Clara County probation officer who had conducted Brock Turner's pre-sentencing investigation, took the stand and said: "When compared to other crimes of similar nature, this case may be considered less serious due to Mr. Turner's level of intoxication." The probation officer also pointed out that the former Stanford student did not have a criminal record, was young, and unlikely to re-offend. The county agent concluded her testimony by saying that Mr. Turner had "expressed sincere remorse and empathy for the victim." The probation officer recommended a short jail term followed by a period of probation.

     Prosecutor Kianerci, in her pre-sentencing statement to the court, noted that Mr. Turner experienced a run-in with the police in November 2014. He had, according to police reports, run from an officer after the officer spotted him and other young men drinking on campus. Turner also admitted to possessing a fake driver's license. The prosecutor wondered out loud how the defendant could be so remorseful and empathetic when he had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutor Kianerci asked Judge Persky to sentence the defendant to six years in prison.

     The most dramatic phase of the pre-sentencing hearing occurred with the victim took the stand and read from her lengthy victim impact statement. She read, in part: "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, and my own voice, until today. The damage is done, no one can undo it. And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it and head on: I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on."

     Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to six months in the county jail followed by three years' probation. Turner would also have to register as a sex offender. With good behavior, the convicted man was expected to serve three months behind bars.

     Judge Persky's sentence in the Turner sexual assault case created a firestorm of protest from an angry and vocal segment of society that considered the sentence a mere slap on the wrist. Others more sympathetic to the offender believed that making the young man register as a sex offender was, by itself, severe punishment. This group argued that the sexual assault conviction had essentially ruined his life.

    Judge Persky's sentence immediately prompted a movement to recall him from office. Under California law, the California Assembly could impeach Judge Persky after which he could be removed from office on a two-thirds vote in the state senate. Moreover, the State Commission on Judicial Performance could censure or remove the judge from the bench. This action would be subject to a review by the state supreme court.

     Those outraged by the Persky sentence called for Stanford University to apologize for the sexual assault. The activists also demanded that the school bolster its effort to prevent campus rape and other sexual offenses. In response, the university issued a statement that deflected criticism of its handling of the Turner case.

     Following the national uproar over the judge's sentence, a group of prospective Santa Clara County jurors refused to serve in Judge Persky's courtroom. The judge and members of his family also received death threats.

     The national publicity associated with the Turner case prompted several politicians, including Vice President Joe Biden, to express concern over the sentence and the problem of campus rape and other sexual crimes.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

Victim Blamed in Rape of Female Prison Staffer

     In 1996, 18-year-old Omar Best, a product of the mean streets of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to indecent assault and attempted rape in return for a light sentence. Fourteen years later, after being linked to the 1999 abduction and rape of another Philadelphia woman, a judge sentenced Best to 7 to 15 years in prison.

     Best, in 2011, pleaded guilty to raping yet another woman in Philadelphia. This conviction brought him a sentence of 15 years. A year later, while serving time at the State Correctional Institution called Grateford in southeast Pennsylvania, Best sexually assault a female prison worker. Following that crime and breach of prison security, state corrections authorities transferred Omar Best to Rockview, the State Correctional Institution near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in the central part of the state not far from Penn State University. Best was later convicted of that crime.

     At Rockview, notwithstanding Best's history as a serial rapist, he had access to the prison's central office where a 24-year-old female employee performed clerical duties. On July 17, 2013, the young prison clerk complained to her supervisor that whenever the 36-year-old rapist came into the office on the pretext of emptying the trash can, she felt threatened and endangered. The young woman's complaint fell on deaf ears. Best, who had no assigned duties in the central office, continued to have access to the premises.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of July 25, 2013, Omar Best entered the central office and grabbed the young clerk from behind, preventing her from alerting security with her distress whistle. He choked her until she passed out then sexually assaulted her for 27 minutes before prison guards subdued him.

     In May 2014, a jury found Best guilty of rape. Four months later, the judge sentenced the inmate to life in prison under the career criminal three-srikes doctrine.

     Following an investigation into why this prison employee had been exposed to such danger, the head of the state corrections department fired Rockview superintendent Marirosa Lamas. Seventy Rockview corrections officers were transferred to other prisons. Rockview administrators moved the central office to a more secure location within the institution.

     The Rockview prison rape victim, in April 2014, filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department of Corrections, the victim's former supervisor, Best's cellblock manager, and former Superintendent Lamas. The civil action defendants were accused of administrative negligence that resulted directly in the plaintiff's prison rape.

     The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office had the responsibility of answering the suit on behalf of the state. In his written defense brief, a senior deputy attorney general claimed that the "plaintiff had acted in a manner which in whole or in part had contributed to the events." [Events?] In other words, the rape victim, through her contributory negligence, was responsible for her life-threatening ordeal.

    The rape victim's attorney, Clifford Rieders, reacted sharply to the state's defense strategy. He said this to reporters: "It's victim shaming at its worst. It's total bunk. It's throwing something out there so they can have it on record. They have no evidence of that. It has no substance, but it's just the way some lawyers litigate. It's insulting to women generally who face rape cases only to be told it's their fault." The local district attorney who had prosecuted Best for the prison rape agreed with the plaintiff attorney's claim of victim bashing.

     Following a firestorm of criticism, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office responded with a written statement that in part read: "This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning the [contributory negligence] defense will be pursued throughout the entire case." The attorney general's office spokesperson also said that Attorney General Kathleen Kane had not been aware her senior deputy had included that particular defense in his answer to the rape victim's suit. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Michael Mendez and the Woman In The Locked Room

     The English writer John Fowles published a horror novel in 1963 called The Collector. Fowles' protagonist, a neurotic butterfly collector, wins the British Football Pool which allows him to buy an country estate. The former city hall ribbon clerk, after converting his cellar into comfortable living quarters, kidnaps a beautiful young art student he has secretly admired. His purpose is not to rape or ransom, but to "collect" this desirable specimen. The girl he has added to his collection of beautiful objects takes ill and dies. Following her death, the collector reads her diary and is shocked to discover that she had not fallen in love with him. The novel closes with the protagonist planning to abduct and imprison another young woman who has caught his attention. (The film version of the book came out in 1965.)

 The Mendez Case                                                              

     One could describe law enforcement as peeking under rocks in search of criminals and evidence of their crimes. Every so often the police turn over a rock and are surprised by what they find. On August 9, 2012, members of the New Jersey State Police Street Gang Unit, while searching an apartment in Paterson for drugs, discovered something they hadn't anticipated. They found a woman who may have lived ten years locked inside a bedroom. The apartment belonged to a 42-year-old suspected drug dealer and member of the Latin Kings street gang named Michael Mendez.

     Most of Mendez's public housing neighbors had not been aware that the woman, 44-year-old Nancy Rodriguez Duran, had been living in the former roofer's apartment. (Mendez, because of lung problems and bipolar disorder, has been on disability for several years.) Over the past decade, only a few of his fellow apartment dwellers had seen Duran outside of the three-story brick complex. Even those sightings were rare. Mendez had resided in the third floor apartment for more than twelve years.

     Inside Duran's small bedroom, padlocked from the outside, officers found a pail used as a chamber pot, a bed, a television, and a telephone. Searchers also discovered, in Mendez's possession, 4,200 prescription pills, 190 grams of marijuana, and $23,000 in cash. The pills alone had a street value of $100,000.

     New Jersey State Police Officers took Michael Mendez into custody at the Paterson apartment and hauled him to the Passaic County Jail. Charged with possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and criminal restraint, Mendez was held on $l million bail. The authorities transported Nancy Rodriguez Duran to a nearby hospital for medical evaluation. While Mendez had two previous convictions for aggravated assault, he had only served three months behind bars.

     On August 14, 2012,  before Mendez's preliminary hearing in Paterson, Nancy Rodriguez Duran, in speaking to reporters, denied having been held in Mendez's apartment bedroom against her will. "He padlocked the door with my consent," she said. "I like being inside, I don't like to go out. It's not that he was keeping me there....Why would he keep me in a room for ten years? How could I be so healthy? I should be dead by now."

     The New Jersey State Attorney General's office took charge of the case. The central legal question involved whether or not an adult can consent to being locked in a room for the better part of ten years. And in a case like this, what constitutes "consent?" Perhaps Duran had been abducted against her will, then over the years, developed the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological state in which the prisoner develops empathy for her captor. This woman may have been the victim of what psychologists call "traumatic bonding."

     In March 2013, Mendez pleaded guilty before Superior Court Judge Greta Gooden Brown in Paterson, New Jersey to third-degree criminal restraint and possession of marijuana and prescription pills with intent to distribute. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     Five years behind bars for keeping a woman locked in a room for ten years seems awfully lenient.

   
     

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."