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Monday, October 31, 2016

Stacie Halas: Teacher During the Day, Porn Actor at Night

     In 2000, Stacie Halas, a tall blonde who lived as a child in Florida, graduated from Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks, California. Four years later, with a degree in education, she graduated from California State University at Monterey Bay located on the Monterey Peninsula. In February 2005, Stacie worked in four Ventura County school districts as a substitute teacher. Ten months later, Stacie began moonlighting as an actress in explicit, hardcore porn films.

     Between December 2005 and June 2006, Stacie, under the stage name Tiffany Six, appeared in dozens of porn videos for which she was paid $1,500 per sex scene. In a film in which she engaged in group sex with four men, she was interviewed in a behind-the-scenes clip at the end of the video. When asked by the interviewer if being a porn actor was for her a risky career choice, she said, "It is risky, very risky for me because I am a teacher." The interviewer asked Tiffany Six if she'd get fired if caught. "Questionable, probably," she answered. If this was such a risky business for her, why was she doing sex scenes on film? "Money, and it's fun, it's exciting," she replied. "It's just the excitement, doing something different that you're not supposed to do."

     In June 2006, when Stacie began teaching science at Ventura County's Simi Valley High School, she quit the porn industry. In the fall of 2009, Stacie started teaching 7th and 8th grade biology at the Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, a coastal city of 200,000 in the greater Los Angeles area. (On her professional resume, under the heading, "the biography of human sex," she could have listed her real-life experience in pornography. She didn't. Had Stacie been applying for a cultural studies professorship at the University of California at Berkeley, her adventure in porn might have been an academic plus.)

     Stacie Halas' past came back to haunt her in March 2012 when students discovered her pornographic body of work on the Internet. The school placed her on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. (No pun intended.) After school officials forced themselves to watch her videos, the Oxnard School District Board of Trustees did something extremely rare in California--they fired a teacher! Stacie, of course, appealed her termination to the California Commission on Profession Competence. (Seeing the words "California" and "competence" in the same phrase is a bit startling.)

     Stacie, represented by Attorney Richard Schwab, presented her case before the commission at a hearing that got underway on October 22, 2012. In an emotional plea (she had been an actor) to the commissioners of competence, Stacie admitted that she had let herself down by performing in porn films. But she had been desperate. In 2005, when her boyfriend abandoned her, she owed $100,000 in student loans and credit card debt. Attorney Schwab, while conceding that the porn industry is not well respected, reminded the commissioners that it's not against the law to have sex on film for money. (Although she did it for free, look how a sex tape launched Kim Kardasian's career.)

     Attorney Natasha Sawhney, in representing the Ventura School District, argued that Halas would become a distraction if let back into the classroom. Six days after the hearing commenced, following the testimony of twenty witnesses and some erotic exhibits, the commission ruled unanimously to uphold Halas' termination. Her attorney announced that he planned to appeal the competence commissioners'  decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. In speaking to a TV report after the hearing, Stacie Halas said, "I think most of us have something in our backgrounds. And I ask anybody to cast the first stone." (At this point, many stones have already been cast at her glass house.)

     On January 11, 2013, the panel of three administrative law judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings issued a 47-page report justifying the panel's unanimous decision that Stacie Halas was unfit to teach in the California school system. (Not many teachers in California have been so dishonored.) In the opinion of the judges, because the videos showcasing Halas' work in porn continue to be available online, she could never be an effective teacher. According to the lead judge, Halas had "...failed to establish that she can be trusted as a role model for children." The judges, by setting this administrative law precedent, hoped it would deter other California teachers from moonlighting in the porn industry.

     So, in California, one of the worst school systems in America, being a teacher won't hamper a porn career, but porn acting will kill a teaching gig. I guess if you're the kind of person who can act in porn flicks, you're the kind of person who can teach a class full of lusting boys who have seen you in action. In California, the powerful teacher's union will defend virtually any teacher for any reason except teachers who moonlight in porn. They are on their own.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Celina Cass Murder Case

     In July 2011, eleven-year-old Celina Cass lived in West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a village of 800 in the northern part of the state not far from the Vermont/Canadian border. She resided in an apartment with her mother Louisa, her stepfather Wendell Noyes, her 13-year-old sister Kayla, and 22-year-old Kevin Mullaney, the son of her mother's former boyfriend.

    Luisa Cass, on July 26, 2011, reported Celina missing. The mother last saw her daughter at nine the previous night before Celina and Kayla slept over at a friend's house. (Details of what happened that night and exactly when Celina went missing are sketchy.)

     Celina's disappearance triggered a massive search that involved 100 police officers, hundreds of searchers, police dogs, and thousands of missing person posters. The FBI posted a $25,000 reward.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of August 1, 2011, a person spotted a body at the edge of the Connecticut River about a half mile from Celina Cass' apartment. The corpse, found at a popular fishing spot near a dam and a railroad trestle, turned out to be the missing girl. (For some reason, emergency personnel did not pull the body out of the river until ten-thirty that night.)

     The medical examiner, without revealing the cause of death, ruled the case a criminal homicide. Following the autopsy, a mortician cremated the corpse.

     Within a few months following the murder, Louisa Cass and Wendell Noyes, her 47-year-old husband, separated. In 2003, psychiatrists diagnosed Noyes with paranoid schizophrenia and committed him to a state mental facility. The diagnosis and commitment took place after Noyes broke into the home of an ex-girlfriend and threatened to hurt her. After that commitment and release, Noyes was in and out of several psychiatric wards.

     On January 10, 2012, police arrested Kevin Mullaney, the son of Louisa Cass' former boyfriend. The 22-year-old stood accused of a variety of crimes that included forging Lousia Cass' signature on a $250 check. Officers booked him into the Coos County Jail on charges of receiving stolen property, reckless conduct, and possession of a weapon by a felon.

     A jury, on June 12, 2012, found Mullaney guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to two to six years in prison.

     In December 2013, with the Cass murder still unsolved, the apartment she and her family resided in went up in flames. No one was hurt. (The cause and origin of that fire was not publicly revealed.) Louisa and her daughter Kayla moved in with Kevin Mullaney's father.

     Residents of the New Hampshire community were frustrated that the Cass murder case remained unsolved. New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young told an Associated Press reporter in July 2015 that the case was still being actively investigated. However, Marcia Laro, the victim's paternal grandmother, told that reporter that she hadn't spoken to an investigator for well over a year.

     The New Hampshire Attorney General's office, on June 20, 2016, announced that detectives working on the Cass case had arrested Wendell Noyes, the victim's stepfather. Louisa Cass, the girl's mother, in speaking to a local television reporter, said, "I hope he rots."

     As of October 2016, no trial date had been set in the Cass case. The 52-year-old murder suspect remains in custody awaiting his trial. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jill Hansen: The Hawaiian Road Menace

     Jill Anjuli Hansen, a 30-year-old blonde with a figure that made Barbie seem bloated, aspired to become a professional surfer. A resident of Honolulu's Maunalani Heights neighborhood, Hansen also claimed to be a model and owner of a swimsuit line. But in her community, if Hansen was known for anything, it was for being a violence-prone woman who drove like a maniac.

     In 2010, Hanson was convicted twice for speeding. A year later, police caught her driving without a license and car insurance. Local officers arrested her three times in 2014 for speeding, including driving 72 in a 35-MPH zone. The Maunalani Heights Neighborhood Watch Group's 500 members were alerted to Hansen and her reckless driving habit. A representative of the group reportedly said: "We need everybody to be on the lookout for her, it's that scary. Two people were almost run over by her. One person had a head-on collision with Hansen."

     On April 18, 2014, Honolulu police arrested Hansen on a charge of third-degree assault. The judge in that case ordered her to undergo mental evaluation. (According to Hansen's father, she had solicited someone to murder him on Facebook. As a result, he obtained a restraining order against her.)

     On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in the Diamond Head section of Waikiki, 73-year-old Elizabeth Conklin got out of her BMW 328 Wagon in the parking garage to her apartment complex. As Conklin walked away from her vehicle, Jill Hansen, who had followed her into the parking area, slammed her gray Volkswagen Passat into the woman, knocking her twenty feet.

     Following the impact, Hansen climbed out of her VW and walked over to the injured woman who was writhing in pain on the garage floor. Instead of calling 911, Hansen returned to her car, climbed in, and was about to take another run at the downed woman when a building employee named Chris Khory grabbed a crow bar and smashed out Hansen's back window.

     Mr. Khory's timely intervention caused Hansen to exit the Volkswagen and flee the scene on foot. Paramedics rushed the victim to a nearby hospital where doctors treated Conklin for numerous cuts and bruises.

     At the hospital, the victim told police officers that the attack was not the result of an earlier road-rage incident. She believed her attacker had followed her home with the intent of stealing her car. "I parked in my normal parking place," she said. "I got out and all of a sudden woke up in an ambulance. She saw my car, it was the car she wanted. She followed me and was going to kill me to get the car."

     An hour or so after running down Elizabeth Conklin in the Waikiki parking garage, Jill Hansen was on her computer updating her Facebook page with a photograph of the victim's BMW. She also informed her Facebook friends and readers that she had just been accepted into the Association of Surfing Professionals. "I am becoming a professional!" she wrote. "I have worked soooo hard to get to where I am today. I am so grateful for the support of surfers and the ASP."

     Police officers arrested Hansen at her apartment seven hours after she intentionally plowed into the 73-year-old victim. Officers booked the suspect into jail on the charge of attempted murder. The judge set her bail at $1 million.

     In August 2014, the authorities charged Hansen, while awaiting trial at the Women's Correctional Center in Kailua, with violating the protection order acquired by her father. (I'm not sure how she managed this while in custody.)

     Circuit Judge Richard Perkins, on September 25, 2014, following a series of psychiatric evaluations of Hansen, found her mentally unfit to stand trial. The judge ordered her to undergo treatment at a local mental health facility.

    After regaining her connection to reality through anti-psychotic medication, Jill Hansen went on trial in Honolulu on the charge of second-degree attempted murder. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a so-called bench trial where the judge determined issues of law and fact.

     The principal witness during Hansen's 4-day trial on August 23, 2015 involved three mental health experts brought to the stand by the defendant's attorney, Victor Bakke. The psychiatrists, pursuant to Hansen's insanity defense, testified that she had injured the victim while suffering from a psychosis that had rendered her incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. She had therefore been incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent.

     On August 27, 2015, Judge Richard Perkins found Hansen, due to her state of mind at the time of the assault, not criminally responsible. Instead of prison, she was sent to a state hospital where she will remain until her doctors determine she can be safely released back into society. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Lucious Smith Murder Case: The Dangerous Job of Helping Dangerous People

     Stephanie Ross, after graduating in 2009 from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in psychology, landed a job as a counselor at a central Florida high school. In September 2012, the 25-year-old began working for a firm that according to its corporate literature, provided a "...comprehensive approach to managing the health needs [for insurance companies'] most costly and complex members." Ross' employer, Integra Health Management Company, arranged health care for clients diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Ross had been hired as a service coordinator which involved visits to the homes of disabled people.

     One of Ross' mentally deranged clients, 53-year-old Lucious Smith, lived in a one-story, cement-block apartment complex in Dade City, a town thirty miles north of Tampa. Smith, an anti-social person who was seriously mentally disturbed, paranoid, and violent, embodied the kind of man nobody wants as a neighbor, co-worker, relative, customer, or mental health patient. Residents of the neighborhood perceived Smith as more than just a bellicose pain-in-the-neck, they considered him physically dangerous. Because association with this man brought trouble, he was a person to avoid.

     Since 1981, Lucious Smith had served four separate stints in Florida's prison system for committing various crimes of violence. In 2005, after doing seven years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, Smith moved into the small apartment in Dade City. (Since he didn't have a job, he must have been on the public dole). Over the next six years, police were called to investigate 60 criminal complaints against Smith that included assault, trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. Smith constantly fought and threatened his neighbors, and as a result of his bad behavior, had been banned from the local convenience store.

     As part of her job, Stephanie Ross had to visit Lucious Smith in his apartment. After three house visitations, Ross placed a notation in Smith's file that this man had made her "very uncomfortable."

     On the morning of December 10, 2012, Stephanie Ross was in Dade City delivering insurance paperwork to Mr. Smith. Shortly after entering Smith's apartment, neighbors and other witnesses saw Lucious Smith chasing a young woman down the street. Stephanie Ross was yelling, "Help me! Help me!" As she ran, Smith stabbed her in the back with a butcher's knife. Smith grabbed the fleeing victim by her pony-tail and threw her to the ground. He climbed on top of his bleeding victim and plunged the knife several more times into her body.

     As people ran to Stephanie Ross' aid, Smith got up and casually strolled back to his apartment. A motorist pulled up to the bloody scene and drove Ross to a nearby hospital where she died a few hours later.

     Not long after the fatal knife attack, police officers found Smith waiting for them outside his apartment. They arrested him without incident and hauled him to the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. A local prosecutor charged Smith with first-degree murder. Shortly thereafter, a grand jury indicted him on that charge.

     In February 2013, two psychologists hired by Smith's defense attorney testified at a preliminary hearing that Mr. Smith was still mentally ill and therefore not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by the state disagreed. As a result, the judge ruled the defendant mentally competent. However, in May 2013, after further examinations of Mr. Smith, the state mental health expert changed his evaluation. This led the judge to change his mind and rule the defendant incompetent for trial. Judge Pat Siracusa ordered that Mr. Smith be treated at a state mental hospital until doctors there determined he was competent to stand trial.

     On June 11, 2013, the U. S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Integra Health Management with two workplace safety violations. According the the agency's news release, "A serious violation has been cited for exposing employees to incidents of violent behavior that resulted in death." The second violation involved the company's failure to report the workplace fatality.

     In February 2014, Stephanie Ross' family filed a wrongful death negligence suit against her former employer, Integra Health Management and several other firms including the owner of Smith's apartment complex and his insurer. According to the plaintiffs, Ross' Integra Health Management supervisor, aware of her documented concerns about Mr. Smith, "took no action whatsoever." The plaintiffs' attorney, Bradley Stewart, argued that the employer violated its duty to protect Ross from violence.

     Who knows how many ticking time-bombs like Lucious Smith live among us. Social workers like Stephanie Ross whose work puts them in touch with people like Smith are more vulnerable than the police who are armed and wear bullet-proof vests. Violent, out of control mental cases should not be living in open society and social workers and others who try to help them do so at great risk to themselves.

     As of October 2016, no trial date had been set in the Smith/Ross murder case. The resultant civil suit also remained pending.
     

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gabe Watson and The Honeymoon Murder Case

     On October 11, 2003, 26-year-0ld David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson married Tina Thomas, the human resources manager for a small, southern department store chain. The couple met while students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Shortly before getting married, Tina, in anticipation of her honeymoon, took beginning scuba diving lessons that included eleven dives in a flooded Alabama quarry. Gabe, a more experienced diver, had taken advanced courses. He had also made a total of 55 dives, 40 of which had been in the quarry. In 1999 he became certified as a rescue diver.

     Ten days after the wedding, Gabe and his 26-year-old wife began their Australian honeymoon. In Sydney, they visited the Taronga Zoo and attended a Shakespeare play at the Sydney Opera House. On October 22, 2003, the honeymooners began a 7-day dive expedition on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Day one of the adventure involved being taken, on the Townsville Dive Company's vessel "Spoilsport," to the historic Yolonga shipwreck, 48 nautical miles southeast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Gabe and Tina were accompanied by rescue divers Dr. Doug Milsap and Dr. Stanley Stutz, an emergency room physician from Chicago.

     Shortly into the dive, Dr. Stutz saw Watson swim to his wife and embrace her. When they separated, Gabe began swimming to the surface as she sank to the sea bed where she drowned. Rescuers recovered Tina Watson's body not far from the shipwreck.

     When asked to explain what happened to his wife, Gabe said he and Tina, shortly after going into the sea, had encountered strong currents. She panicked, and as he approached to help, she knocked off his mask and air regulator. He couldn't hold her. She floated away and began to sink. Because of an ear problem, Gabe said he was unable to go after her. As she drifted to the bottom of the ocean, he swam to the surface to summon help.

     On October 27, 2003, five days after the drowning, detectives with the Townsville Police Department questioned Gabe Watson. He said that during the struggle he had tried but failed to activate his wife's buoyancy control vest. "I remember," he said, "shouting through my regulator, 'Tina, Tina, Tina.' In the back of my mind I was thinking these people [the other divers] could see us, or at least think something odd was going on. I pretty much lost it."

     Members of the Australian State Dive Squad assisted in the investigation of the drowning by conducting reenactments of Tina's dive. Several members of the investigation team had problems with Gabe Watson's explanation of the drowning, and suspected foul play. In the meantime, the tabloid press in Australia, England, and the United States called Tina's death "The Honeymoon Murder," and by implication, portrayed Gabe Watson as a cold-blooded killer motivated by his wife's life insurance.

     Four years passed with nothing happening in the case. Then, on November 13, 2007, the story jumped back in the news when the authorities in Australia held an inquest into Tina Watson's death. (I'm not sure why, after four years, the authorities decided to re-open the case. Perhaps it was pressure from Tina Watson's family.) Back in the U.S., on August 15, 2008, Gabe Watson married a woman named Kim Lewis. Three months after his second marriage, an Australian grand jury indicted him for murdering his first wife in October 2003.

     Watson, in May 2009, returned to Australia on his own accord to face the murder charge. A month later, in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter. While he had not intentionally killed his wife, Watson was admitting that he had been criminally negligent in not saving her. The Australian judge, believing that the defendant had not murdered his wife, that he had loved her, and felt guilty that he hadn't saved her, sentenced Watson to one year in prison. The judge criticized the media he believed had journalistically convicted Watson of murdering his wife.

     The one-year prison stretch infuriated Tina Watson's family, and prompted the Australian prosecutor to appeal the sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeals. In September 2009, the three-judge appeals panel hardened Watson's punishment to 18 months behind bars.

     If Gabe Watson thought the matter of his first wife's 2003 death was behind him, he was wrong. In October 2010, a grand jury sitting in Birmingham, Alabama indicted him on charges of murder for pecuniary (monetary) gain, and kidnapping by deception--allegedly luring her to Australia so he could drown her. A month after the Alabama indictment, Watson, having served his 18 months in the Australian prison, was free. Sort of.

     On November 25, 2010, the Australian authorities deported Watson back to America. Before they did, however, the U.S. Attorney General gave them assurances that if convicted, Watson would not be sentenced to the death penalty. As soon as he got off he plane in the U.S., Watson was taken into custody. The prosecutor in Alabama asked the judge to deny Watson bail, but in December a judge set his bond at $100,000. Watson made bail and was able to help his attorneys prepare for his trial.

     Watson's defense team lost two key legal arguments. First, that the United States did not have jurisdiction in a death that occurred in Australia; and second, that trying him twice for the same drowning amounted to double jeopardy. The prosecutor in Alabama argued successfully that he had jurisdiction because, according to his theory of the case, Watson had planned to kill his wife in Alabama for the travel and life insurance benefits. (As it turned out, Watson was not the beneficiary of his wife's life insurance policy, her father was.) Double jeopardy didn't apply in this case because Watson's first conviction was in another country.

     Gabe Watson's attorneys were prepared to argue that Tina Watson's death had been a tragic accident caused by her inexperience as a diver and a previously diagnosed heart problem. On the other side, the prosecutor hoped to convince the Alabama jury that Watson had switched off his wife's air supply, held her in a bear hug until she died, turned her air back on, then let her sink to the ocean floor.

     Colin McKenzie, a diving expert involved in the original Australian investigation had concluded that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up." But after reviewing Tina's and Gabe's diver logs certificates and her medical history, McKenzie changed his mind. Based on this new information, the expert concluded that Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the sea with a woman with no open water scuba diving experience.

     The Watson murder trial got underway on February 13, 2012 in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the jury of eight women and four men were empaneled, the prosecutor, Don Valeska, and defense attorney Joe Basgier, made their opening statements.

     On February 21, after Valeska had presented the bulk of his case, the trial took a bad turn for the prosecution. Valeska had put funeral director Sam Shelton on the stand and was directing his testimony toward how, at Tina Watson's funeral, the defendant had asked about retrieving his wife's engagement ring from the casket. The prosecutor intended this line of questioning to establish the monetary motive behind the killing. Judge Tommy Nail, from neighboring Montgomery County, did not like what he heard. Interrupting the prosecutor's direct examination, the judge said, "I took my grandmother's engagement ring when she was buried. I think it's quite common." Turning to the witness, Judge Nail asked, "Is it common?" In response to the judge's question, the funeral director answered, "It's quite common."

     Still fuming, Judge Nail excused the jury, then spoke to prosecutor Valeska: "You mean to tell me that [Gabe Watson] bought the engagement ring, married her, he and his family paid for a wedding, he planned and paid for a honeymoon half way around the world, all so he could kill her to get an engagement ring he had bought for her in the first place?"

     Although the jurors didn't hear Judge Nail rip the heart out of the prosecutor's case, it became clear where the judge stood on the issue of the defendant's guilt. Suddenly a conviction, a risky proposition from the beginning, looked like a long shot.

     Judge Tommy Nail, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, directed a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor rested his case. In the judge's opinion, viewed in a light most favorable to the state, there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case of guilt against Gabe Watson. As a result, there was no need for a defense. The trial was over.

     Only Gabe Watson knows if he killed his wife. In my view, the Alabama prosecutor should have left well enough alone after Watson's 2009 guilty plea and his 18 months in the Australian prison. There was simply no hard evidence in this case of a premeditated murder. Moreover, this weak case cost the state of Alabama a lot of money. Several of the prosecution's witnesses had been flown over from Australia. Sometimes prosecutors, attracted by the limelight and the chance of convicting a big-fish defendant, go too far. Both of the judges in this case--the one in Australia, and Judge Nail--did not believe Gabe Watson had murdered his wife. The prosecutor knew this, but went ahead with the case anyway.

     A book about the case called A Second Chance for Justice by a pair of Australian criminology teachers came out in February 2013. Dr. Asher Flynn lectured at Monash University. Dr. Kate Fitz-Gibbon taught criminology at Deakin University. According to the authors, the Australian authorities accepted Watson's guilty plea to save money. The authors believe Gabe Watson murdered his wife.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Andrew Steele Murder Case: A Unusual Defense

     Andrew Steele, in June 2014, a month after being diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), had no choice but to resign his position as a deputy sheriff with the Kane County Sheriff's Office in Wisconsin. The 39-year-old resided in Fitchburg, Wisconsin with his wife Ashlee and their two children, ages 10 and 13.

     The ex-law enforcement officer's wife, following the ALS diagnosis, organized dozens of "ice bucket challenges" that raised $23,000 for his medical expenses.

     Ashlee Steele's recently married sister, 38-year-old Kacee Tollefsbol, visited her sister and brother-in-law in August 2014. At one in the afternoon on August 22, 2014, Kacee Tollefsbol called 911 from the Steele's basement recreation room. She said she had been shot by Andy Steele.

     Police officers arrived at the Steele house shortly after the 911 call, but did not enter the dwelling until the arrival of a SWAT team. At 2:20 PM, from the basement of the house, officers heard a woman screaming, "I am dying, I am dying."

     Kacee Tollefsbol had been shot in the torso and died an hour later at a nearby hospital. Before she died she identified the shooter to police officers as her brother-in-law, Andrew Steele.

     The interior of the Steele house was filled with a haze of smoke that had activated a carbon monoxide detector. In the laundry room, officers encountered Andrew Steele lying on the floor next to a 9mm pistol. The officers recognized this man as a former law enforcement colleague.

     The laundry room was extremely hot from burning charcoal briquettes in an outdoor grill. The dryer was running and had been vented back into the room instead of outside.

    When the police tried to pull Andrew Steele out of the room he surprised them by vigorously resisting. The officers had to subdue him before paramedics could transport him from the attempted suicide scene to a nearby hospital.

     In the upstairs master bedroom, police officers found Ashlee Steele tucked into her bed with a sleeping mask on her face and a pillow on her chest. She had been shot once in the head and appeared to have been strangled with a black zip tie. She had also been bound by her wrists with zip ties. The victim's sundress had been pulled up to her thighs.

     The tableau in the master bedroom caused detectives to believe that the killer, for some reason, had posed the body.

     On Andrew Steele's iPhone, investigators discovered a long, rambling message written the day before the murders. The message had been edited at six o'clock on the morning of the killings. In the note, Andrew Steele spoke of having had numerous sexual threesomes with his wife and dead sister-in-law. He also said the three of them had agreed to a suicide pact. "We had a great run and I wanted to go out with a bang so to speak," he wrote. "Please use all donation money for the kids' needs. Mom and dad, stay in the house, retire and focus on the kids' needs…See you all on the other side."

     The Dane County prosecutor's office charged Andrew Steele with two counts of first-degree murder. The defendant, through his attorney, pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. The arraignment magistrate set his bail at $1 million. A few weeks later, at the urging of the prosecutor, the judge raised the bond to $2 million.

     The Andrew Steele murder trial got underway on Monday April 6, 2015 in the Dane County Courthouse. In his opening statement to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Anthony Jurek accused the defendant of premeditated double murder. According to the prosecutor, Mr. Steele had lied to investigators, and had staged his wife's murder scene to fit his story of having kinky sex with her and her sister. (I have no idea why the defendant felt the need to push this story.)

     Defense attorney Paul Barnett had changed his client's initial not guilty pleas to not guilty by reason of mental disease. Because ALS is not a psychiatric disease and the defendant had been early in the diagnosis, this was a highly unusual and legally inappropriate defense.

     Attorney Barnett told the jury that the defendant had kinky sex with his wife, an encounter that had gone terribly wrong, Although the defendant killed his wife, he had no memory of committing the act.

     The lead detective on the case took the stand for the prosecution and testified that physical signs of struggle throughout the house were not consistent with the defendant's story of a three-way suicide pact. Crime scene photographs revealed that the suspect had given detectives different false accounts of the killings. Moreover, the bedroom scene looked staged. According to the detective, on the day before the murders, the defendant had purchased two 8 pound bags of charcoal and a can of lighter fluid.

     The deputy medical examiner testified that Ashlee Steele's body contained several defensive wounds and did not contain evidence of recent sexual activity.

     A state psychiatrist testified that in his expert opinion Andrew Steele and his wife had not engaged in unconventional sex. A DNA expert said that blood on the defendant's 9mm pistol came from the defendant and Kacee Tollefsbol.

     After the prosecution rested its case, attorney Barnett put the defendant's parents on the stand who said their son had never been a violent person. A defense neurologist testified that there is a connection between ALS and a tendency toward violence. On cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the doctor, "Do many ALS patients commit homicide?"

     "No."

     "Are there many cases of violent acts?"

     "No, again," said the witness.

     Dr. Douglas Tucker, a forensic psychiatrist, testified how ALS deteriorates the brain.

     On April 20, 2015, following ten hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict. Ten of the twelve jurors found the defendant guilty by reason of mental disease. The judge committed Andrew Steele to the State Department of Health Services for the rest of his life.

     There is a lot about this case I do not understand. I don't understand the insanity plea as well as the verdict. Mr. Steele was not psychotic when he murdered his wife and sister-in-law. He knew exactly what he was doing. His behavior was deviant, yes, but he had the necessary criminal intent. I also don't know why the defendant went to the trouble of staging his wife's murder. And what was behind all the business about a suicide pact? There is something missing here. What an odd and tragic case.

     

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Diane Staudte and the Power of Poison

     In 2012, 62-year-old Mark Staudte resided with his wife Diane and their four children in a modest neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri. The couple had met years ago at a small Lutheran College in Kansas. While active in the church, Diane and Mark kept to themselves. A man with strong political opinions who regularly wrote letters to the editor, Mr. Staudte had never been very good at holding down a steady job. He eventually stopped trying and devoted most of his time to family matters and playing in a band he had formed called "Messing With Destiny."

     Mark Staudte's 51-year-old wife Diane played the organ at church and unlike her husband, never had much to say. The couple's oldest child, 26-year-old Shaun, suffered from a mild form of autism. Sarah Staudte, 24, was having a hard time finding a good job. Rachel Staudte, two years younger than Sarah, was a dean's list student at Missouri State University. (At least according to her Facebook page.) She played the flute at church. The youngest member of the family was an eleven-year-old girl.

     On April 8, 2012, Easter Sunday, Mark Stuadte died suddenly at home. To the emergency personnel who rushed to the house, Diane explained that her husband hadn't been feeling well. He had recently experienced three seizures. When asked if her husband had a history of this kind of thing, she said he had not suffered seizures in the past.

     The Greene County Medical Examiner, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without conducting an autopsy or ordering toxicological tests, ruled Mark Staudte's manner of death as natural. The forensic pathologist did not identify specifically what had caused this man to die. Pursuant to Diane Staudte's instructions, her husband's body was cremated. At his memorial service, friends and family couldn't help noticing that Diane's demeanor bordered on jubilant.

     On September 2, 2012, almost five months after Mark Staudte's sudden and mysterious passing, tragedy once again raised its ugly head at the Staudte house. This time it was Diane's oldest child Shaun who became ill and suddenly died at the age of 26. Once again, Dr. Douglas Anderson, without the aid of an autopsy or toxicological tests, ruled the death as natural. The medical examiner did not, however, identify the disease that had taken the young man's life. Diane made sure that Shaun's body, like his father's, was consumed by fire. For a woman who, within a period of five months had lost her husband and her oldest child, Diane seemed unfazed by the unexpected deaths. Indeed, her spirits seemed to have been lifted.

     On the day after Shaun's passing, the Springfield police received an anonymous tip from a man who said he was a friend of the Staudte family. According to the caller, Mark and Shaun Staudte had been poisoned to death by Diane. The police, however, did not act on this tip. According to the medical examiner, both men had died natural deaths. Without a finding of homicide, there was nothing to investigate.

     Sarah Staudte fell ill on June 10, 2013. Paramedics came to the house and rushed her to a nearby hospital. The next day, as the 24-year-old fought for her life, the Springfield police received a second anonymous tip in which the caller accused Diane Staudte of poisoning the third member of her family. This time the Springfield police sent a detective to the hospital to question doctors and nurses.

     According to hospital personnel who were caring for the young woman, her mother had visited the patient briefly during which time she joked around with the medical staff. One of the nurses informed the detective that Diane Staudte told hospital personnel that she wasn't going to let her daughter's illness ruin a Florida vacation she planned to take in the near future. A physician described Sarah's condition as "very suspicious." The doctor told the investigator that in his opinion, this patient had been poisoned.

     On June 20, 2013, after being asked to appear at the Springfield Police Department for questioning, Diane Staudte, following a short interrogation, confessed to poisoning all three members of her family. Over a period of days before the deaths of her husband and son, she had spiked their drinks with the sweet taste of antifreeze. Diane had poisoned her husband's Gatorade simply because she "hated" him. She had laced Shaun's Coke with the poison because she considered him "worse than a pest." Diane told her interrogators that she had poisoned her oldest daughter Sarah because the girl "would not get a job and had student loans that had to be paid." Diane insisted that in murdering Mark and Shaun, and attempting to kill Sarah, she had acted alone.

     When detectives questioned Rachel Staudte, the 22-year-old college student, she admitted that she had helped her mother commit the crimes. The two of them had used the Internet to research how to administer antifreeze as a poisoning agent.

     On June 21, 2013, a Greene County assistant prosecutor charged Diane and Rachel Staudte each with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. The judge denied both women bail.

     According to doctors, while Sarah Staudte survived her poisoning, she would suffer the neurological effects of the antifreeze for the rest of her life. The eleven-year-old Staudte girl was living with relatives. With her father and brother dead, her mother and one of her sisters charged with murder and assault, and the other sister permanently disabled, this girl's family no longer existed. Such is the power of poison.

     In May 2015, Rachel Staudte pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. She agreed to testify against her mother in the event her case went to trial. The judge sentenced the 25-year-old to two life prison terms plus twenty years. Under the terms of this sentence, she wouldn't be eligible for parole until she served 42 years.

     On January 20, 2016, Diane Staudte pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in the death of her husband and one count of first-degree assault in the poisoning of her daughter, Sarah. Pursuant to the plea deal she avoided the death penalty, but was sentenced to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

     In May 2016, ABC News acquired video tapes of the police interrogation of Diane Staudte and her daughter, Rachel. As part of her confession, the mother said, "I'm not a perpetual killer. I'm just stupid. I regret doing it. I really do. I've screwed up everybody. I've screwed up my whole family."
   
     

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. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Terry Bean Sexual Abuse Case

     Terry Bean, the 66-year-old Portland, Oregon real estate developer, co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and a prominent member of an organization called the Human Rights Campaign, had friends in very high places.

     Bean had friends in positions of power because he was a big-time fund raiser (bundler) for politicians in the democrat party. Bean raised $500,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election and shoveled money into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Bean also gave Obama $70,000 of his own money.

     Bean's political money funneling resulted in several visits to the White House, a trip on Air Force One, and photograph-taking sessions with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

     At a 2009 Human Rights Campaign dinner, the President thanked Mr. Bean, calling him a "great friend and supporter." (The best way to make friends with a dog is to give it bacon. The best way to make friends with politicians is to give them cash. Dogs are a lot cheaper and make better friends.)

     In 2013, Terry Bean and his 25-year-old boyfriend, Kiah Lawson, were photographed together under a picture of George Washington in the White House library. Not long after that, the couple experienced a nasty break-up. The fractured relationship would cause both men a lot of problems, problems money can't fix.

     In 2014, investigators in the Portland Police Department's Sex Crime Unit began looking into allegations made by Kiah Lawson that Bean had secretly made video tapes of men having sex in his bedroom. When questioned by detectives, Bean returned the favor by accusing Lawson of using these videotapes to blackmail him for money.

     The Bean/Lawson sex/extortion investigation took a darker turn when Lawson confessed that he and Bean had used the iPhone app Grindr to arrange a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old boy, a tryst that took place, according to Lawson, on September 27, 2013 at a hotel in Eugene, Oregon.

     In late November 2014, a Lane County grand jury indicted Bean and Lawson on counts of third-degree sodomy and third-degree sexual abuse. Following their arrests, the suspects made bail and were released from custody.

     One of Bean's attorneys, Kristen Winemiller, told reporters that her client was the true victim in the case. She said, "Over the course of several months in 2013 and 2014, Terry Bean was the victim of an extortion ring led by several men known to law enforcement. His current arrest is connected to the ongoing investigation of that case in which Mr. Bean has fully cooperated. No allegation against Terry Bean should be taken at face value."

     On September 1, 2015, Terry Bean offered the alleged victim $225,000 as a civil court settlement. In return, the San Diego teen agreed not to cooperate with the prosecution. Lane County Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman told the judge that without the boy's cooperation, the state could not go forward with the prosecution. Shortly thereafter, Circuit Judge Jay McAlpin dismissed the case against the prominent gay activists.

     In speaking to reporters, prosecutor Hasselman said, "I think this result offends justice."

   
   

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Dillon Taylor Shooting: Suicide by Cop

     At seven in the evening of August 11, 2014, in South Salt Lake City, Utah, a 911 caller reported that "some gangbangers" who "were up to no good" near a 7-Eleven convenience store had "flashed" a gun. The three suspicious persons, described as young white males, turned out to be 21-year-old Dillon Taylor, his 22-year-old brother, and their 21-year-old cousin.

      When Salt Lake City police officer Bron Cruz responded to the call he immediately called for backup. As two other officers arrived at the scene, the three young men walked into the 7-Eleven. The officers, not wanting to confront the suspects inside the store, waited outside. When Taylor and the other two came out of the store, officer Cruz yelled, "Let me see your hands!"

     Dillon Taylor's brother and his cousin immediately complied with the officer's command by raising their hands. Taylor ignored the order, turned from the officers, and walked off. After a few steps he placed both of his hands into his waistband as he walked away. "Get your hands out now!" shouted officer Cruz.

     Upon being told for the second time to show his hands, Taylor turned and faced the officers. "Show your hands!" officer Cruz demanded. Instead of complying with the officers command, Taylor said, "Nah, fool." At that critical moment, Taylor made a move police officers interpret as a gun-drawing motion. The suspect suddenly hoisted his shirt with his left hand and then quickly removed his right hand from his waistband.

     Officer Cruz responded to Taylor's hand action by opening fire. Hit in the chest and stomach, Taylor collapsed to the ground.

     Immediately following the shooting, officer Cruz rolled Taylor onto his stomach and handcuffed him behind the back as witnesses screamed, "They shot him!"

     "Stay with me buddy," officer Cruz said to the downed man as he rolled the body to its side and applied gauze to one of the bullet wounds. "Talk to me, buddy. Talk to me. Medicals are on the way, man, okay?"

     The shot, handcuffed man on the ground remained unresponsive as officer Cruz put on a pair of latex gloves and began searching Taylor's pockets and rummaging through his clothing. "What the hell were you reaching for, man?" Officer Cruz asked. The officer shook Taylor's arm and said, "Stay with me, man. Come on." To no one in particular the officer said, "I can't find a weapon on him!"

     Paramedics pronounced Dillon Taylor dead at the scene. The police chief placed officer Cruz on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. According to the medical examiner's office, Dillon Taylor, at the time he was shot, had a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent, well above the .08 percent required for driving while intoxicated.

     When questioned by district attorney's office investigators, officer Bron Cruz said, "I was scared to death. The last thought that went through my mind when I pulled the trigger was that I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed."

     Following the police killing of Dillon Taylor, friends and supporters put up a Facebook page called "Justice for Dillon Taylor." The site attracted 3,300 followers. Kelly Fowler, the attorney for the Taylor family, blamed the fatal shooting on a police culture that has become paranoid and hostile to the public.

     In mid-August 2014, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed the Taylor case in connection with the Michael Brown shooting that occurred a couple of weeks earlier in Ferguson, Missouri. In comparing the two cases, Mr. Limbaugh was offended that the media covering the Taylor shooting didn't mention that officer Cruz was black and the man he shot was white. "They are referring to the officer as 'other-than-white,' " he said. In analyzing the two cases, Limbaugh pointed out that unlike Michael Brown, a black who was shot by a white officer, Dillon Taylor, a white kid, "didn't resist arrest. He didn't hit the cop. He didn't flee and yet he was shot dead."

     On September 30, 2014, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, based upon an investigation that relied heavily on officer Cruz's body-cam footage, announced that his office has ruled the shooting of Dillon Taylor legally justified. In a letter to Police Chief Chris Burbank, the prosecutor wrote: "By the time Dillon Taylor drew his hands from his waistband, officer Cruz's belief that Taylor was presenting a weapon was reasonable." This officer, in the district attorney's opinion, reasonably perceived a threat to his life.

     Officer Cruz had shot Dillon Taylor because a 911 caller had reported seeing a gun on a person who matched Taylor's description. When this possibly armed suspect refused to show his hands after being given simple and understandable law enforcement commands, then made a gun-drawing move, the officer shot him in self defense. This raises the obvious question: why did this young man behave in such a reckless manner, virtually inviting the officer to shoot him? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Facebook postings made by Taylor just days before his death.

     On August 7, 2014, just four days before the incident, Taylor had written: "I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmares are telling me. I'm gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon…All my family has turned and snitched on me. I'll die before I go do a lot of time in a cell. I'm trying to strive and live but I litterly (sic) can't stand breathing and dealing with shit. I feel like god (sic) cant (sic) save me on this one…"

     Two days later, on August 9, 2014, Taylor posted the following on Facebook: "I finally realize I hit rock bottom. I'm homeless and I haven't slept in two days. Yesterday all I ate was a bag of chips and today a penute (sic) butter and jelly sandwich. I can't go to my brother's…I'm not welcome at any family members' [house] or they call the cops. I'll kick it with a friend until they go to bed and I have to leave…Its (sic) about my time soon."

     When young men and women enter the law enforcement field, they probably don't envision being used by people like Dillon Taylor to end their misery though suicide by cop. Police officers who are involuntary accomplices to suicide should not be charged with criminal homicide.
     

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ronald W. Brown: The Child Porn Puppeteer

     In 1992, puppeteer Ronald Wilson Brown started his entertainment enterprise, Puppets Plus. (It's the "plus" part of his act that turned out to be disturbing.) Brown performed with his hand-puppets for thousands of kids at shopping malls, schools, churches, and birthday parties throughout the Tampa Bay area. (Serial killer John Wayne Gacy entertained children with his clown act.) Beginning in 1997, Brown, through his so-called Kid Zone Ministry, hosted weekly gatherings at the Gulf Coast Church in his hometown of Largo, Florida. Ronald Brown also worked for the Christian Television Network, using his puppets to warn kids against viewing pornography. (Here's a simple rule: When some clown or guy with puppets wants to talk to your kid about pornography, even if it's in a church, get the hell out of there. If it's on TV, turn it off.)

     The outgoing puppeteer, a resident of the Whispering Pines mobile home park in Largo, regularly invited neighborhood boys and girls between the ages 5 and 12 to his trailer for pizza and candy. (Brown lived in an area populated by young families as evidenced by all the playgrounds near his home.)  He was also Facebook friends with several of the local kids who knew him as the "Cotton Candy Man." This neighborhood comprised an excellent hunting ground for a pedophile.

     In 1998, when a police officer pulled Brown over for a traffic violation, the cop noticed several pairs of boys' underwear in the car. When asked why he had children's undergarments in his vehicle, Brown explained that the clothing belonged to his puppets. (Puppets need underwear?) Whether or not the officer bought Brown's story, nothing came of the traffic cop's observation.

     In 2012, agents with the Department of Homeland Security were conducting an international child pornography investigation that led to 40 arrests in six countries. The child pornography ring, headquartered in Massachusetts, centered around an online chat room where sexual degenerates from around the world could communicate with each other. Ronald Brown, the 57-year-old puppeteer from Largo, Florida, was a regular presence on the pedophile site.

     In one conversation with a man from Kansas named Michael Arnett, Brown wrote that he wanted to kidnap a child, tie him up, lock him in a closet, then eat him for Easter dinner. "I imagine him wiggling and then going still," he wrote. Brown also mentioned a female toddler he knew who made his mouth water, describing how human flesh tastes when prepared in various ways. Michael Arnett sent Brown a photograph of a strangled 3-year-old girl. Turned on by the sight of a dead toddler, Brown replied that this was how he'd "do" the young boy he wanted to kill and consume.

     On July 19, 2012, Homeland Security agents, pursuant to a search of the puppeteer's Largo mobile home, seized CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, micro disks, and VHS tapes containing images of nude children in bondage positions. Some of the youngsters had been posed as though they were dead.

     The day following the search, the federal officers took Ronald Brown into custody. When interrogated, he identified the boy he said he wanted to kidnap and eat as a 10-year-old he knew from church. Brown referred to his Internet musings as being "in the realm of fantasy."

     On July 24, 2012, at Ronald Brown's arraignment, the Assistant United States Attorney informed the defendant he had been charged with conspiracy to kidnap a child and possession of child pornography. The judge set a date in August for Brown's bond hearing. Two days later, federal agents and deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office returned to Brown's mobile home where they removed more evidence from the dwelling. Agents and deputies were seen walking out of the place carrying boxes and bags containing who knows what.

     In July 2013, following his guilty plea in federal court, the judge sentenced the 58-year-old Brown to twenty years behind bars. The sentence also included probation for life if he ever got out of prison alive.

     

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Frederick Harris III Murder Case

     In 1987, when he was 20-years-old, Pittsburgh area (Penn Hills) resident Frederick Harris III joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology. In 1996, Harris left the National Guard and the Army Reserve with the rank of first lieutenant.

      From December 1997 until May 2000, Harris worked as a correctional officer at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania. In May 2000, he trained as a case worker for Allegheny County Children and Youth Services, but didn't stay beyond his six-month probationary period.

     Despite his college degree and military background, Harris' life began to unravel due to mental illness that included bipolar disorder. In 2001, he was treated at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh where the psychiatrist prescribed a mood stabilizer. By 2004, he was living on a disability payment of $800 a month. In December 2004, at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Harris participated in group therapy sessions that lasted until November 2005.

     In 2009, Harris pleaded guilty to insurance fraud after he lied to his insurance company about how his motorcycle had been stolen. The judge sentenced him to six months probation.

     Harris pleaded guilty in April 2011 to criminal trespass in a bizarre case. After a real estate agent showed him a $500,000 home in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Harris moved into the vacant house without permission. He stocked the refrigerator with food and slept in a sleeping bag. When police officers came to evict him, they found Harris hiding in a closet. The judge sentenced the house squatter to probation, the terms of which he quickly violated.

     In May 2012, an assistant Allegheny County prosecutor charged Harris with the assault and harassment of his sister Angela in her home. Harris put her into a headlock and dragged her into a bedroom where he punched her several times. That day, police officers arrested him at a Pittsburgh area homeless shelter. Declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, the judge sent Harris to Torrance State Hospital for treatment. Upon his release from the mental institution, Harris pleaded guilty to the assault and harassment charges. The judge sentenced him to seven months in the Allegheny County Jail plus seven years of probation. Upon his release from the Allegheny County Jail, the authorities incarcerated Harris at a state prison in Westmoreland County in connection with his probation violation in the criminal trespass case. He remained behind bars in Westmoreland County until March 2013.

     Harris' father, in 2014, kicked his son out of his Forest Hills home after the 47-year-old tried to choke him. The homeless man's mother, Olivia Gilbert and her husband Lamar, had allowed Harris to move in with them at their home in Penn Hills, a suburban community a few miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, at two in the afternoon, Harris' sister Angela called the police to report that she hadn't heard from her mother and stepfather since Saturday December 13. Officers, in response to the welfare check call, met Angela Harris at the Gilbert house.

     From the outside, the Penn Hills residence looked normal. Because the house was locked and the officers didn't have probable cause to force their way in, Angela Harris kicked open a back door.

     Olivia Gilbert, 73, and her 76-year-old husband Lamar didn't seem to be home. A police officer, finding the master bedroom door locked, jimmied his way into the room to find Frederick Harris III lying under covers on the bed. While Harris was breathing and didn't appear injured or sick, he didn't move or speak.

     Paramedics removed Frederick Harris from the Gilbert house on a stretcher and took him to the Forbes Regional Hospital where doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him physically.

     From the hospital, deputies with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office put Harris in a patrol car and drove him to downtown Pittsburgh to be questioned at the department's homicide unit. The officers transported Harris from the police vehicle to the interrogation room in a wheelchair. When deputies asked him questions, Harris closed his eyes and refused to speak.

     Back at the Gilbert residence, detectives made a series of gruesome discoveries. In the garage deputies found three trash cans containing knotted garbage bags. One trash can contained two heads. Another bag held human arms, legs, feet, hands, and Mr. Gilbert's torso. The third trash can contained a section of a blood-soaked blue carpet that had been cut from an area near the basement laundry room. This bag also held five bloody knives. (A latent fingerprint expert would later connect the suspect to one of the garbage bags.)

     In the laundry room, officers found dried blood spatter and three bottles of bleach. They also recovered a bottle of anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner. Although parts of the laundry room had been scrubbed, a crime scene luminol test revealed the presence of blood.

     Detectives at the murder site found a receipt that showed that the three garbage cans had been recently purchased at a Home Depot store in nearby East Liberty.

     Back at the Allegheny County Sheriff's office, deputies found, in one of the suspect's pockets, a handwritten note signed "Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert" that thanked Frederick for house sitting while they were on vacation. The note contained a PS that read: "Don't answer the door for anyone."

     While questioning Harris his interrogators noticed a relatively fresh laceration on the palm of his right hand.

     On December 17, 2014, an Allegheny County assistant district attorney charged Frederick Harris III with two counts of murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, Mr. Gilbert had died from a stab wound to his torso. The forensic pathologist found that Mrs. Gilbert, whose torso was missing, had died  "by sharp instrument." (Investigators suspect Mrs. Gilbert's torso and other body parts were picked up by refuse workers and taken to a landfill.)

     In September 2016, in an Allegheny County court room, the jury found Frederick Harris III guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The defendant's attorney had failed to convince the jurors that someone else had committed the murders. The judge sentenced Harris to life without parole.

     

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Michelle Byrom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1999, 42-year-old Michelle Byrom lived in Luka, Mississippi, a small, rural town in the northeastern part of the state. She resided with her abusive 58-year-old husband, Edward Byrom Sr. and their 25-year-old son, Edward Byrom Jr.

     On June 4, 1999, Edward Byrom Sr. was found dead in the bedroom of his house. He had been shot in the head at close range. Sheriff David Smith of Tishomingo County brought young Edward in for questioning. According to Edward Jr., his friend Joey Gillis had committed the murder on behalf of his mother, Michelle Byrom. The dead man's son said that after the shooting, he went to the hospital where his mother was being treated for double pneumonia. When he informed her that Gillis had shot Edward Sr. as planned, Michelle instructed him to return to the house to make sure his father was dead. If in fact the shot had been fatal, young Edward was to call 911 and report the homicide.

     Edward Byrom Jr. told Sheriff Smith that his mother had promised to pay Gillis $15,000 from her husband's $150,000 life insurance policy.

     Joey Gillis, when questioned by the sheriff, denied any involvement in the murder case. A test to determine if he had recently fired a gun proved negative. (A gunshot residue test on Edward Jr., however, turned out positive. The dead man's son also led deputies to the murder weapon, a World War II 9 mm handgun that had belonged to his grandfather.)

     After interrogating Edward Byrom Jr. for several hours, the sheriff questioned Michelle Byrom at the hospital. The heavily medicated patient, after being told that her son had confessed to the murder-for-hire plot, made statements interpreted by the authorities as incriminating.

     A Tishomingo County prosecutor charged Joey Gillis with capital murder. Edward Jr. and his mother were charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder. If convicted as charged, they each faced the possibility of being sentenced to death.

     In early 2000, Edward Byrom Jr., while incarcerated in the Tishomingo County Jail, wrote his mother four letters in which he exonerated her and confessed fully to his father's murder. According to his revised account of the shooting, on the day of the killing, his father had slapped him in the face and called him a no good bastard. After brooding awhile in his bedroom, Edward Jr. found the 9 mm handgun and used it to shoot his father in the head.

     According to young Byrom, when he was interrogated by the sheriff, "I gave him one BS story after another to save my ass….I was scared, confused, and high. I just started spitting out the first thought that turned out to be this big conspiracy theory. It was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories."

     In October 2000, Michelle Byrom went on trial for conspiracy to kill her husband for his life insurance money. While Joey Gillis, the supposed triggerman, did not testify, Edward Jr., having recanted his jailhouse confessions to his mother, took the stand for the prosecution.

     Michelle Byrom's attorney decided to withhold the introduction of her son's jailhouse letters until Edward Jr.'s cross-examination. But when it came time to enter the letters into evidence, the judge ruled they could not be introduced mid-trial. While the defense attorney was allowed to grill Edward Jr. about the contents of his confessions, not having the actual letters as exhibits hurt the defense.

     On November 18, 2000, the jury found Michelle Byrom guilty as charged. On the advice of her attorney, she waived her right to a jury-determined sentence, instead putting her fate into the hands of the trial judge. This turned out to be an unwise decision. The judge handed Michelle Byrom the death sentence.

     In 2001, Joey Gillis, the alleged triggerman, in return for a lighter sentence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact. Upon his release from prison in 2009, he denied having any involvement in Mr. Byrom's murder.

     Edward Byrom Jr. also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Rewarded for his testimony against his mother, he walked out of prison in August 2013.

     In the meantime, death row attorneys working on Michelle Byrom's behalf had appealed her conviction on the grounds she had not received adequate legal representation. In 2006, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in a five to three decision, ruled that Byrom's trial attorney's performance had not prejudiced her case. Bryom's appeal for a new trial was denied.

     In March 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court took up the Byrom appeal again. This time the justices ruled in her favor by reversing the murder-for-hire conviction and remanding the case back to the state circuit court for a new trial. The 57-year-old had been on Mississippi's death for more than thirteen years.

     Following the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling, a local prosecutor re-charged Byrom with conspiracy to murder her husband.

     On July 15, 2015, Michelle Byrom, while maintaining her innocence, pleaded no contest to the murder conspiracy charge. As part of the plea deal, the judge sentenced her to time served. For the first time in 16 years, she was free.

   

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Ryan Walton Double Murder Case

     Real estate developer Michael Walton and his wife Lynda resided with their 18-year-old daughter Shelby in a $1.4 million mansion a few miles from downtown Katy, Texas, a suburban community of 14,000 outside of Houston. Residents of the Lake Pointe Estates gated community referred to the two-story Walton house as "the governor's mansion" because the 54-year-old entrepreneur had developed the subdivision.

     Mr. Walton and his 52-year-old wife had three other children who didn't live with them. Their daughter Shelby, who had just finished her senior year at Katy High School, was planning to attend college in the fall.  Donald Walton, the oldest, was 28. His brother Derrick Walton was 24, and the youngest son, Ryan, had just turned twenty.

     At five o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday, May 29, 2014, 24-year-old Derrick Walton entered the mansion to find his parents dead on the first floor of the dwelling. He called 911.

     When deputies with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office responded to the 911 call, they discovered that Michael and Lynda Walton had been shot to death. Near their bodies, deputies found spent shell casings from a small caliber pistol. Because the gun was not in the house, the officers ruled out murder-suicide.

     While deputies found evidence of a forced entry, the interior of the dwelling had not been ransacked, and nothing appeared to have been stolen. From neighbors, investigators learned that the couple had been last seen alive at seven that morning.

     A surveillance camera at one of the subdivision's exits showed 20-year-old Ryan Walton driving out of the community in his mother's blue BMW. He was seen leaving the enclave at nine o'clock Thursday morning, two hours after his parents were seen alive.

     Shortly after the 911 call, homicide investigators questioned Ryan Walton's three siblings. Ryan's whereabouts, however, were unknown. Estranged from his parents over some unidentified conflict, Ryan had moved out of the house three weeks earlier. He had also dropped out of Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi. (In 2011, the Walton's youngest son had been arrested for possession of marijuana.)

      On Friday, May 30, 2014, the sheriff of Fort Bend County declared Ryan Robert Walton a person of interest in the Walton double murder case.

     An off-duty Fort Bend sheriff's deputy, at thirty minutes past noon on Saturday, May 31, 2014, spotted Ryan Walton behind the wheel of his mother's stolen BMW. The officer pulled the car over in the town of Rosenberg, a community twenty miles from the murder scene.

     That Saturday afternoon, officers booked Ryan Walton into the Fort Bend County Jail on two counts of murder. The judge denied him bond.

     On July 3, 2014, a Fort Bend grand jury indicted Ryan Walton on two counts of capital murder. In Texas, that meant he was eligible for the death penalty. Six weeks later, at an arraignment hearing, the defendant's court-appointed lawyer pleaded his client not guilty to the murder charges. More than a dozen of the suspect's family and some of his friends attended the hearing. None of them agreed to talk to reporters.

      On September 21, 2016, Judge James Shoemake, pursuant to a plea bargain deal, sentenced 22-year-old Ryan Walton to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years in prison. Because there was no trial, and very little news coverage of this case, the motive behind the murders remained a mystery. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives have linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Mr. Smith legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van  that he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     As of October 2016, no trial date has been set in the case.

     

Friday, October 14, 2016

Adam Lee Brown: The Pedophile Who Tried to Infect His Victims With HIV

     When 27-year-old Adam Lee Brown was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1990, he was HIV positive. The married military computer technician, while serving in southern California, had picked-up the virus after having affairs with homosexual men. Furious that he had contracted the disease, Brown told his estranged wife that he would somehow get revenge. He didn't say how, or who would be the target of his fury.

     In 1992, Brown was living in the logging town of Roseburg, Oregon. The son of a pastor, Brown became the lay preacher at the Fair Oaks Community Church in nearby Sutherlin. That year, over a six-month period, Adam Brown sexually molested, and tried to infect, dozens of 5 to 10-year-old boys he met through friends and a women he knew who babysat in his neighborhood. Once he had lured a boy to his home, Brown would either drug the child or force him to drink alcohol. He also showed his victims pornographic videos, and after raping them, promised to stab them with knives and scissors if they told anyone. He also assured the boys that if they informed their parents what he had done to them, they would burn in hell. A 5-year-old boy, told his parents, and then the police, that Brown had smeared semen into a scratch on the victim's arm. (The boy obviously didn't use the term semen.)

     In the fall of 1993, Douglas County District Attorney William Marshall charged Adam Brown with 49 counts of rape and attempted murder. This was the first case in the country involving a pedophile who had tried to kill his victims by infecting them with HIV.

     For some reason, District Attorney Marshall allowed Brown to plead no contest to only 4 of the 49 counts. After Brown pleaded no contest to 3 counts of sodomy, and one count of child endangerment, the judge, in December 1993, sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

     On October 5, 2004, after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, Oregon's corrections authorities released Adam Brown on parole. The freed pedophile was ordered to register as a sex offender, and was barred from frequenting places where children regularly congregate. His parole expired in 2020. (Parole, in my opinion, is a stupid idea designed to provide a lot of useless government jobs. The federal government got rid of it years ago.)

     At two in the afternoon of Sunday, July 1, 2012, Adam Brown, now 49 and still a pedophile, was loitering around the entrance to the men's room at a Wendy's in Portland, Oregon. When an unaccompanied 10-year-old boy approached the restroom, Brown grabbed the child, pulled him inside, and locked the door. As the abductor stabbed the struggling boy, the victim's father heard his screams and ran to help. But the frantic parent couldn't save his boy because Brown had locked the door. When a Wendy's  supervisor unlocked the men's room, Brown pushed the wounded boy out of the restroom and locked himself inside. A group of employees held the door closed so Brown couldn't escape until the police arrived.

     As paramedics rushed the badly injured boy to a nearby hospital, patrol officers with the Portland Police Department spoke to Brown through the men's room door. Brown refused to come out, and claimed to possess a gun. A hostage negotiator, following a two-hour standoff, coaxed Brown out of the restaurant. When taken into custody, the pedophile had a knife, but no firearm.

     The district attorney in Multnomah County charged Adam Lee Brown with attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and assault. The subject was held in the Multnomah County Jail on $2 million bond. The injured child underwent emergency surgery and recovered.

     Adam Lee Brown pleaded guilty in October 2012 to sexual abuse and kidnapping. Judge Julie Frantz, before sentencing the 49-year-old to 33 years in prison, said, "The crimes you committed are horrific and absolutely unspeakable."

     It's hard to understand why a pedophile who had raped and tried to infect his victims with the HIV virus was allowed, in 1992, to plead no contest to such a small number of reduced charges. Prosecutors are put in office to protect the public, not to go soft on sexual predators. Offenders like Adam Brown should be imprisoned for life. The notion that pedophiles will not re-offend, or be prevented from victimizing vulnerable children through legal restrictions on where they can live or go, is stupid and irresponsible. Under the terms of Brown's parole, was he allowed to patronize fast-food restaurants popular with children?

     The Adam Brown case reveals why the only place for a pedophile is in prison.       

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cop Killers Rafael Jones and Chancier McFarland

     In October 2009, a Philadelphia judge sentenced Rafael Jones, a 21-year-old street thug, to four years in prison for a variety of crimes involving firearms. As a juvenile, Jones had a record of drug dealing, auto theft, and gun possession. He lived in a North Philadelphia neighborhood with his grandmother, Ada Banks. After serving two years behind bars, Jones walked out of prison on parole. He returned to his high-crime neighborhood where, early in 2012, he was shot and wounded by another North Philadelphia criminal.

     Early in July 2012, police arrested Jones on a parole violation related to the illegal possession of a gun. While incarcerated in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Jones' state parole officer asked his grandmother, Ada Banks, if Jones could live with her, under house arrest, following his release from prison. She said no. Banks didn't want Jones back in his old neighborhood where he had gotten into so much trouble. She suggested that prison authorities send Jones to his aunt's house in a better part of the city. The parole officer, rather than make the arrangements with the aunt, instructed Jones' grandmother to send the parolee to his aunt's house when he got out of jail and showed up at her place.

     On July 25, at Jones' parole hearing, Common Pleas Judge Susan Schuman set August 8, 2012 as Jones' release date. The judge emailed prison officials to instruct Jones to report directly to his grandmother's house where someone from the state board of probation and parole would outfit him with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. (The judge wasn't aware that the grandmother was supposed to send Jones on to his aunt's house.) Signals from Jones' electronic device would be monitored in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. If Jones left the dwelling for an unauthorized reason, the parole office in Philadelphia would either receive an email or telephone alert from Harrisburg. Jones, although under house arrest, could leave the premises to look for a job, to complete his GED, or to do community service work.

     On August 8, 2012, the day Jones got out of jail, the state parole officer didn't escort Jones from the prison directly to his aunt's house where he was supposed to be outfitted with the electronic equipment. Instead, the parolee walked out of prison unsupervised. The fact he didn't report to his grandmother's house, or check in to his aunt's place, should not have shocked anyone. As one would expect, he returned to the streets in North Philadelphia where he wasted no time getting his hands on the tool of his trade, a handgun.

     At six in the morning of August 18, just ten days after leaving prison, Rafael Jones and 19-year-old Chancier McFarland, an associate with a long juvenile record of crime and violence who was currently out on bail in connection with a drug case, were prowling the North Philadelphia neighborhood in search of someone to rob. (Job hunting, thug style.) The two robbers in search of a victim came upon Moses Walker, Jr., a 40-year-old Philadelphia police officer. After completing his night shift at the 22nd district police station in North Philadelphia, the 19-year veteran of the force had changed into his street clothes and was walking toward the bus station.

     When confronted by Jones and McFarland who had been stalking him for robbery, Walker reached for his sidearm. Before the off-duty officer could protect himself, the two muggers shot him in the chest, stomach, and arm. Officer Moses Walker died on the street where he was shot.

     Following officer Moses Walker's murder, the city of Philadelphia and the police union posted a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the identification of the cop-killers. Several people came forward with information that led to Jones' arrest on August 24, 2012. Charged with murder and robbery, he was placed in custody without bail. On Sunday August 26, Chancier McFarland was arrested in Alabama.
 
     In June 2014, Chancier McFarland pleaded guilty to third-degree murder to avoid going to prison for life. He also agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Rafael Jones. The judge sentenced McFarland to 20 to 40 years.

     On December 13, 2014, after a four-day nonjury trial, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart found Rafael Jones guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy, and three firearm offenses. The first-degree murder conviction carried a mandatory life sentence.

     Several of Jones' relatives were in the courtroom as the judge announced his verdict. "We love you," they said. "This too shall pass."