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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. 

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.
     

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. 

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.

     

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."
           

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Did Jeffrey Pyne Murder His Mother?

     On the surface, it looked like 22-year-old Jeffrey Pyne had a great life with a promising future. He had graduated from the West Highland Christian Academy in Milford, Michigan as class valedictorian. After high school, he attended the University of Michigan-Flint where he majored in biology. But at home, in Highland Township, Jeffery had serious problems with his 51-year-old mother, Ruth.

     In 1998, when Jeffrey was 8-years-old, Ruth Pyne was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Over the next decade, she became increasingly difficult to live with, and violent. For some reason, Jeffery had become the prime target of his mother's wrath which had subjected him to physical and verbal abuse. In July 2010, after the police arrested Ruth for trying to manually strangle her son, Jeffrey's father, Bernie Pyne, filed a petition with the court to have his wife institutionalized. In the commitment petition, Mr. Pyne wrote: "She has invented a religion that deems all medication a form of sorcery and will not take her medication for that reason."

     Ruth Pyne's refusal to take her bipolar medicine, the cause of her bellicose behavior, created most of the friction between mother and son and led to many heated arguments. Following in-patient treatment at a Michigan mental health facility in 2010, Ruth Pyne returned home. But nothing changed. She refused to take her medication and continued to torment her son.

     On May 27, 2011, at 2:30 in the afternoon, Bernie Pyne and his ten-year-old daughter Julia came home to find Ruth dead in the garage. She had been bludgeoned and stabbed. Because nothing had been stolen from the garage or the house, and the victim had not been sexually assaulted, it didn't seem likely that this woman had been murdered by a stranger.

     According the the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Ruth Pyne had received at least 12 vicious blows to the head from a two-by-four. Her attacker then stabbed her in the neck 16 times. It was possible that the stab wounds were postmortem. The overkill nature of the assault led investigators to believe the victim had been murdered by someone who knew her well, and hated her guts.

     Crime scene technicians found traces of the dead woman's blood on faucet handles in the laundry room where they believed the killer had washed his or her hands. The crime scene investigators found no blood on the inside knob of the garage man-door which was standing partially open. Had the killer left the garage through this doorway, the door operating knob would have contained traces of the victim's blood. Inside the dwelling, crime scene technicians found no signs of blood or other physical evidence of the killing. Detectives speculated that the killer felt he or she had enough time after the murder to clean up the house before Mr. Pyne and his daughter returned home and discovered the body.

     Since Ruth Pyne's murder appeared to be an inside job, suspicion immediately fell on Jeffery Pyne who had been, as far as anyone could tell, the last person to see his mother alive. On the day of the murder, detectives with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office questioned Jeffery at police headquarters. The suspect, when asked to account for himself that afternoon, said, "She got home from grocery shopping. I helped her bring the groceries in." According to Jeffery, his mother was alive when he left the house at one-thirty that afternoon to plant lilac bushes at the home of one of his former high school teachers. After working at the teacher's house, he drove to his part time job at Spicer Orchards.

     Crime scene investigators, on the day of the murder, combed Jeffrey Pyne's car for physical traces of the murder. They found nothing. A forensic analysis of Jeffrey's clothing also produced negative results.

     When officers questioned Jeffrey at the sheriff's office that afternoon, detectives noticed fresh blisters on both of his hands. When asked about the blisters, Jeffrey said he had gotten them earlier in the day planting lilacs at the teacher's house.  In response to a question about his relationship with his mother, Jeffrey said, "I've never had a problem with her. The only issue I had is I wanted her to take her medicine." At the conclusion of the interview, detectives were certain Jeffrey Pyne had fatally bludgeoned and stabbed his mother.

     In October 2011, five months after the murder, Oakland County District Attorney John Skrzynski charged Jeffrey Pyne with first-degree murder.

     The Pyne murder trial got underway in Pontiac, Michigan on November 16, 2012. In his opening statement to the jury, prosecutor Skrzynski said, "This was an angry killing that was the result of years of living with a difficult person who was bipolar." The defendant's attorney, James Champion, pointed out that the state could not link his client to the murder through physical evidence, and that all of the prosecution's proof was circumstantial, and weak.

     The strongest witness for the prosecution turned out to be the school teacher who had hired Jeffrey to do odd jobs around her house. According to her testimony, Jeffrey had planted the lilacs four days before his mother's murder. This was a credible witness who broke the defendant's alibi.

     The testimony phase of the Pyne murder trial came to a sudden close on December 14, 2012 when defense attorney Champion announced that he did not have any witnesses to present. In Champion's mind, he didn't need any witnesses because the prosecution had failed to carry its burden of proof.

     On December 18, 2012, the jury found the defendant guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. Judge Leo Bowan had the option of sentencing  Jeffery Pyne to up to 60 years behind bars. He could also hand down the minimum sentence of seven years in prison.

     Jeffrey Pyne  maintained his innocence. The bloody clothes he would have worn when he killed his mother were not recovered. Those who believed Jeffrey Pyne innocent argued there were no bloody clothes to recover.

     On Saturday January 12, 2013, the CBS crime series "48 Hours," in an episode called "The Perfect Family," aired an account of the Pyne case. The segment featured interviews of Ruth Pyne's sister and Jeffrey's father.

     Judge Bowan, on January 29, 2013, sentenced Jeffrey Pyne to a minimum of twenty years in prison.

     

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Anthony Taglianetti Love Triangle Murder Case

     In 2010, Anthony Taglianetti and his wife Mary resided with their four children in Woodbridge, Virginia. Anthony, a former Marine, worked at the Marine Museum.  Later that year, the couple separated. Mary and the children moved out of the house in Virginia and relocated in Saratoga Springs, New York.

     Shortly after taking up residence in Saratoga Springs, Mary signed up with the online dating site Match.com where she met Keith Reed Jr. She did not tell the 51-year-old superintendent of the Clymer, New York school district that she was married. After Mr. Reed and the 40-year-old woman exchanged a few emails, they met for dinner. After that they became romantically involved. Keith Reed still did not know that he was dating a married woman.

     Keith Reed, the father of three college age daughters, lived alone in the farming community of 1,500 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The school superintendent had been divorced for several years.

     In 2011, Mary Taglianetti, after reconciling with her husband, moved back to Woodbridge, Virginia. But in 2012, while still living with him and their children, she began exchanging sexually explicit emails and telephone calls with Keith Reed who still wasn't aware that she was married. The online relationship came to an end when Anthony Taglianetti discovered one of the lurid email messages Mary had forgotten to erase from her computer.

     A furious Anthony Taglianetti sent several angry emails to Keith Reed who insisted he had no idea the woman he had been swapping erotic emails with was married. Mr. Reed made it clear he wanted nothing more to do with Mr. Taglianetti or his dishonest wife.

     On September 23, 2012, Edward Bailey, the principal of Clymer Central High School, reported Keith Reed missing after the superintendent didn't show up for a conference in Saratoga Springs. Mr. Bailey went to Reed's house where he found his dog locked in the garage. Mr. Reed was not in the dwelling.

     Deputies with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office questioned the missing man's neighbors who reported hearing gunshots coming from the vicinity of Reed's house around 9:30 PM two days before. On September 24, 2012, a deputy sheriff found Mr. Reed's body amid a row of thick shrubs about 150 feet from his house. He had been shot three times.

     Detectives working the case caught their first break when Mary Taglianetti, on September 26, 2012, told them she suspected that Keith Reed had been murdered by her angry and jealous husband.

     Investigators learned that on September 21, 2012, Anthony Taglianetti drove 350 miles to Clymer, New York where the detectives believed he shot and killed Keith Reed. According to these homicide investigators, Taglianetti, after murdering the victim, drove straight back to Woodbridge, Virginia. The next day he took one of his children to a local museum.

     A Chautauqua County prosecutor charged Anthony Taglianetti with second-degree murder. On September 30, 2012, U.S. Marshals and local police officerrs pulled the murder suspect over as he drove along a rural road in the Shenandoah Valley National Forest in Virginia. Inside Taglianetti's vehicle officers found a .367-Magnum revolver wrapped in one of his wife's offending emails.

     Through DNA analysis, a forensic scientist identified Keith Reed's blood on the suspect's handgun. Ballistics tests revealed that this .357-Magnum had fired the death scene bullets.

     The Taglianetti murder trial got underway on October 31, 2013 in Chautauqua County, New York. District Attorney David W. Foley, in his opening statement to the jury, emphasized the physical evidence pointing to the defendant's guilt.

     Public defender Nathaniel L. Barone, in his opening remarks, said, "This is not a story of an affair gone wrong or a crazed husband seeking justice. It's not as simple as Mr. Taglianetti driving up and killing Keith Reed because of an email. That's not what happened. The defendant is innocent. Mr. Taglianetti did not murder Keith Reed Jr."

     The defense attorney, after declaring his client innocent, attacked Mary Taglianetti, one of the prosecution's star witnesses. He characterized her as a "master manipulator" and urged jurors to weigh her testimony carefully. "Mary Taglianetti is a liar," he said.

     On November 9, 2013, following the testimony of 46 witnesses over a nine day period, the jury of five women and seven men, after three hours of deliberation, found the 45-year-old defendant guilty as charged. On February 24, 2014, the Chautauqua County judge sentenced Anthony Taglianetti to 25 years to life in prison. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The John Raymond Sterner Suicide-Murder Case

     Ocean City is a resort town on the southern tip of Fenwick Island off the coast of Maryland. In the summer the population swells to 300,000. In 2003, Reverend David Dingwell, his wife Brenda, and their three sons moved to Ocean City from the Canadian Province of British Columbia where he grew up. Father Dingwell came to Maryland to become the priest and rector of St. Paul's By-The-Sea Episcopal Church. He soon became known to his parishioners as Father David.

     Just before ten in the morning of Tuesday, November 26, 2013, a man engulfed in flames stormed into St Paul's Shepherd's Crook Building where volunteers were in the pantry preparing to open that day's food distribution service. The man on fire, John Raymond Sterner, a 56-year-old resident of Ocean City who had been a regular beneficiary of the food service and the church's used clothing outlet, bear-hugged church volunteer Jessica Waters.

     From the pantry Sterner ran into one of the ground floor church offices where the flaming man encountered parishioner Bruce Young who tried in vain to knock him to the floor where he could smother the fire. As John Sterner lay dead in the Church's ground floor office, his burning body started a fire that produced a lot of smoke in the building.

     Ocean City firefighters doused the church fire before it destroyed much of the structure. In the second-floor rectory office, they found the 51-year-old priest. Paramedics rushed Reverend Dingwell to Atlantic General Hospital where he died from smoke inhalation.

     Jessica Waters, the pantry volunteer who had been embraced by the flaming Sterner, received treatment at John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Bruce Young, the parishioner who tried to help the human torch, received minor burns.

     Twenty-five minutes before he ran into the church in flames, Sterner, at a Shell station a quarter mile from the church, was recorded on a surveillance camera pouring gasoline into a red container. Detectives presumed that just before running into the church building, Sterner doused himself with the accelerant and lit himself up.

     The autopsies of Father Dingwell and John Raymond Sterner were performed by the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland.

     The man who started the fire that killed Reverend Dingwell had a history of crime dating back to June 1994. Over the years, Sterner had been convicted of breaking and entering, malicious destruction of property, disturbing the peace, and numerous offenses related to alcohol intoxication. The police had arrested Sterner in July 2013 on the charge of second-degree assault. Police officers had taken Sterner to the Peninsula Regional Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation after two of his arrests. According to police reports, the suspect showed signs of "emotional and mental crisis."

     Sterner was just the kind of person Reverend Dingwell and his parishioner volunteers helped every day.

     The fact Sterner bear-hugged the pantry volunteer suggested this was a case of suicide by fire followed by the intent to kill others. Unlike most murder-suicide cases, this killer died before his murder victim.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ali Syed's Killing Spree

     Ali Syed, an unemployed, part time student at Saddleback Community College, lived with his parents in Ladera Ranch, an affluent suburban Orange County community 50 miles south of Los Angeles. The pudgy 20-year-old spent most of his time in his parents' beige and white stucco condo playing video games. He had never been arrested, and had no known history of illicit drug use. Ali did possess a .12-gauge shotgun his father had given to him in 2012.

     At 4:45 in the morning of Tuesday, February 19, 2013, Syed's mother called 911 from the Ladera Ranch condo. "I think somebody was shot," she said. "I heard a gunshot." Deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office found, in Syed's room, 20-year-old Courtney Aoki. (There were reports she worked as a stripper.) Aoki had been killed instantly by three shotgun blasts to the head and upper body. Syed had fled the murder scene in his parents' black GMC Yukon before the deputies arrived at the dwelling.

     From Ladera Ranch, Syed headed north on Interstate 5 where, 20 miles from his home, he exited the interstate and drove into the town of Tustin. Driving with a flat tire, Syed pulled into a Denny's parking lot alongside a man sitting in an older model blue Cadillac. Syed pointed his shotgun at the man and yelled, "Get out!" Instead of complying with the order, the driver of the Cadillac drove off. He didn't get far. Syed raised the shotgun and blew out the fleeing driver's rear window, wounding him in the back of the head. The victim, who managed to escape on foot to a nearby hospital, survived the shooting.

     Syed approached a man pumping gas at a Mobile station. "I don't want to hurt you," he said. "I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day." Syed climbed in behind the wheel of this man's Dodge pickup truck and headed north. On Interstate 5, he drove five miles before merging onto a southbound lane which took him to Freeway 55. He pulled the stolen truck to the shoulder of the highway, stepped out of the vehicle, and began shooting at motorists commuting to work, wounding three of them.

     After firing randomly at passing vehicles, Syed climbed into the Dodge pickup, pulled back onto the highway, proceeded to the Edinger Avenue exit from where he drove into Santa Ana. Shortly after pulling into town, he approached a man sitting in a BMW. Syed ordered 69-year-old Melvin Edwards of Laguna Hills out of his vehicle. As the victim stood at the side of the street, Syed executed him with three shotgun blasts.

     Driving Melvin Edwards' BMW, Syed returned to Tustin. In the parking lot of a computer store, he murdered Jeremy Lewis. Lewis, a plumber from Fullerton, was walking to a construction site at a nearby Fairfield Inn. A construction supervisor saw the shotgun-armed Syed chasing Lewis across the parking lot. The supervisor drove his pickup truck onto the lot in an effort to rescue Lewis, but Syed shot him in the arm, and stole his vehicle. It was 5:45 in the morning.

     Just before six o'clock, at an intersection about 25 miles north of Ladera Ranch, officers with the California Highway Patrol caught up with Syed. This video-game playing college student, after killing three people and wounding three others in the course of his 75-minute suburban shooting spree, jumped out of the stolen pickup truck while it was still moving. Syed pressed the muzzle of his shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. He became his seventh victim.

     For reasons that remained a mystery absent a suicide note or some kind of manifesto, Ali Syed shot six innocent strangers. There was no way to know if he had been inspired by Christopher Dorner's rampage in southern California, or any of the other high-profile mass murder-suicide cases. If suicide was his ultimate goal, why did he murder the young woman in his room and the two men he encountered as they went about their daily routines? This was a question that will never answered.

     In the wake of homicidal crime sprees, people also ask if there were any indications that this person was capable of such mayhem. These events are almost always impossible to predict because it's impossible to know what is going on inside the mind of a mentally disturbed person. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The John Mallett Stabbing Spree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Miami Beach Check-Out Line Murder Case

     On Monday December 1, 2014, at the M & L Market in Miami Beach, Florida, 58-year-old Mohammed Hussein found himself standing in the express check-out line behind a man with a basket overloaded with groceries. Mr. Hussein, the father of two, complained to this shopper that he was in the wrong line, that he had far too many items to check out. The express line violator ignored Mr. Hussein and continued to unload his grocery basket.

     When Mr. Hussein again objected to what the shopper in front of him was doing, the man told him to mind his own business. This led to an exchange of angry words. In the midst of the argument, the offending shopper, without warning, delivered a vicious backhand that knocked Mr. Hussein off his feet.

     The unconscious victim fell backward and his head bounced off the grocery store floor. Blood immediately began pooling around his skull. As the man who struck him fled the store an employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Hussein to the Ryder Medical Center where he slipped into a coma with a fractured skull and severe bleeding on the brain. Back at the M & L Market, detectives viewed surveillance camera footage of the assault.

     On Thursday night December 11, 2014, officers with the Miami Beach Police Department arrested 53-year-old Roger Todd Perry at his home in Palm Beach County. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Perry with felony battery of Mr. Hussein. Shown the surveillance camera footage and informed that several witnesses had picked him out of a photo line-up, Mr. Perry confessed to striking Mr. Hussein in the grocery store check out line.

     Two days after officers arrested Roger Perry, Mohammed Hussein passed away. His autopsy revealed that he had died of "complications of blunt force head injury." Perry was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

     On December 15, 2014, the Miami-Dade County prosecutor upgraded Roger Perry's felony battery charge to second-degree murder. At his arraignment on the murder charge, Perry asked the judge, "Did that man pass away?"

      Mr. Perry's attorney, public defender Elliot Snyder, in arguing for a bail amount the defendant could afford, told the arraignment judge that his client was mentally unstable. According to the defense attorney, Roger Perry suffered from two disorders: bipolar and post-traumatic stress. Attorney Snyder also cited a 2002 Broward County case involving two elderly men who got into a fight at a movie theater. The victim hit his head and died. The prosecutor charged the 74-year-old suspect with manslaughter. The defendant pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for a six month jail sentence.

      The judge ordered an evaluation of Perry's mental condition and denied him bond.

     Residents at Roger Perry's apartment complex told reporters that the murder suspect had indicated that he had been a member of the Marine Corps.

     On September 30, 2016, Roger Perry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to seven years in prison.