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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Ryan Ferguson Murder Case: A Conviction Based on Perjured Testimony

     During the early morning hours of November 1, 2001, a person or persons attacked sports editor Kent Heitholt as he approached his car in the parking lot next to the Columbia Daily Tribune office in Columbia, Missouri. Around the time of the assault two young white men were seen in the vicinity. The attackers had beaten Mr. Heitholt with their fists then strangled him with his own belt. His watch had been stolen but his wallet was still in his car.

     In the months following the Heitholt murder, detectives with the Columbia Police Department ran down thousands of leads but came up empty handed. As time passed and the case remained unsolved, local criminal justice leaders felt building pressure to solve this brutal murder of a prominent citizen.

     In an act of investigative desperation, the authorities, in November 2003, published a composite police sketch of the two men seen near the newspaper office that night. (Police sketches are not only useless to crime investigators, they make things worse by generating false leads and false hopes of a case solution.)

     In March 2004, an anonymous caller to the crimestopper's hotline in Columbia reported that a 19-year-old local man named Chuck Erickson had been telling people that he may have been involved in the Heitholt murder.

     Chuck Erickson, in March 2004, had just come off a probated sentence related to a drug conviction. When Mr. Heitholt was beaten and strangled to death, Erickson would have been seventeen. Detectives assigned to the case were thrilled to have such a promising lead.

     At police headquarters, detectives put Erickson through an intense and prolonged interrogation that was only partially recorded. Erickson told his questioners that because one of the men depicted in the police sketches looked like him, he started wondering if maybe in a drug and alcohol blackout he had been involved in Mr. Heitholt's violent death. Perhaps he and his friend since childhood, Ryan Ferguson, had committed the murder. They had been drinking that night in a bar not far from the crime scene. Maybe they had robbed the newspaper man in order to keep drinking.

     Had the detectives grilling Erickson not been so desperate to solve the Heitholt case, they might have recognized several indications that Erickson and his friend were not good murder suspects. The robbery motive didn't hold water because Mr. Heitholt had been murdered one hour after the bars had closed that night. Moreover, Erickson had to be told that the victim had been strangled with his own belt, and shown exactly where in the parking lot Heitholt had been attacked.

     When detectives brought Ryan Ferguson in for questioning, he insisted that he had nothing to do with Mr. Heitholt's murder. He maintained that position throughout the interrogation. Not only did Ferguson strongly deny any involvement in the homicide, investigators didn't have a single piece of physical evidence linking him to the crime scene.

     Notwithstanding having nothing but the word of a former drug addict who had no memory of what he had done that night, detectives continued to press their case against both suspects.

     In the months that followed, Chuck Erickson, in return for the promise of a relatively light sentence, agreed to testify against his friend. This meant that Erickson's memory, colored by heavy coaching, would have to significantly improve. And of course it did.

     In October 2005, in Columbia, Missouri, Ryan Ferguson went on trial for the Heitholt murder. When prosecutor Kevin Crane put Chuck Erickson on the stand, he testified that he and the defendant had attacked the victim that night in the newspaper office parking lot. Prosecutor Crane also produced a witness, a janitor named Jerry Trump, who said he had seen Erickson and the defendant that night not far from the murder scene. For some reason Mr. Trump had waited several years before coming forward with his information.

     Two men--a drug addict with a remarkably improved memory, and a witness who came forward at the last minute--comprised the sum total of the prosecution's case. In the name of justice, the trial judge should have directed a not guilty verdict based on the fact the government had not carried its burden of proof. But instead, the case went to the jury and Ryan Ferguson was found guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to forty years in prison.

     In 2010, Missouri's Western District appellate court heard arguments regarding the Ferguson conviction. While the justices questioned the star prosecution witness' credibility, they declined to rule on the case. Instead, the appeals court judges recommended that the case be reviewed before a different lower court judge.

     The lower court hearing on the Ferguson conviction took place in April 2012. At this proceeding Chuck Erickson admitted under oath that he had lied at Ferguson's murder trial to save his own skin. Jerry Trump, the prosecution's miracle witness, took the stand and confessed that he had committed perjury as well.

     The lower court review judge, after hearing from Erickson and Trump, ruled that Erickson's testimony at Ferguson's 2005 murder trial was indeed credible. In other words, he was telling the truth then but lying now. Although the janitor's testimony was not reliable, the judge said it was an inconsequential factor in Ferguson's conviction. (This judge must have been really stupid.)

     On January 13, 2013, the Ferguson legal team appealed the review judge's ruling. In September justices with the Western District Appeals Court considered the revised testimony of Chick Erickston and Jerry Trump. On November 5, 2013, the Missouri appeals court vacated Ryan Ferguson's murder conviction. After spending almost ten years behind bars, Mr. Ferguson was a free man.

     

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Dan Markel Murder-For-Hire Case

     Raised in Toronto, Canada by well-to-do parents, Dan Markel, in 1995, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in philosophy. Upon earning his undergraduate degree, he studied political philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and continued his studies at the University of Cambridge in England. In 2001, he graduated from Harvard University Law School.

     After practicing law in Washington, D.C., Markel, in 2005, joined the teaching staff at Florida Statue University Law School in Tallahassee. A year later, he married Wendi Adelson, a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of Miami Law School. After acquiring her law degree in 2005, Florida State University hired her to run their public outreach program. They were married in 2006.

     In 2010, Markel, now a tenured associate professor making $193,000 a year, resided with his wife and their two young sons in the upscale Betton Hills community in Tallahassee. He had become a renowned author, teacher and scholar in the field of retributive justice, the study of punishment in proportion to the crime. He also published a popular academic law blog called, "PrawlsBlawg" that helped recent law graduates find careers in the field.

     In January 2012, Professor Markel's life took a turn for the worse when his wife Wendi blindsided him with the news she wanted a divorce. Moreover, she wanted to take their sons, 3 and 5, with her to south Florida. This led to a bitter child custody battle. The divorce became final in September 2012.

      In 2012, Professor Markel became the target of derision on a blog called "Insidethelawschoolscam," a site devoted to the proposition that law schools, by promising applicants jobs in the field, were knowingly lying about the dwindling career opportunities in law. The followers of the blog were mostly recent law school graduates saddled with huge education debts and no prospects of finding positions in the field.

     Visitors and contributors to "Insidethelawschoolscam" idolized a like-minded University of Colorado law professor named Paul Campos. Campos and his admirers believed that law schools, through false advertising and misrepresentation, were swindling students.

     "Insidethelawschoolscams" enthusiasts considered Professor Markel and his blog part of the problem. In defending his good name, Markel began to engage his detractors by posting messages on the blog. In return, he received responses like this: "Do you have the empathy to compare the terror that goes through a 26-year-old's life when a student loan bill comes due and you can't pay it? When he can't even get a job at Walmart because the education you sold him under false pretenses is so worthless that it won't even advance his candidacy at retail? Now compare that terror, the terror of having your life and financial future pass before your eyes, to the minor annoyance you felt at having your "name" sullied. Get over yourself."

     Over time, name-calling on "Insidethelawschoolscam" turned to the posting of messages that caused Professor Markel to feel under threat of physical harm. He had become the face of the problem and the target of his detractors' wrath.

     Many of Professor Markel's FSU law students considered him abrasive, arrogant, and unhelpful. They complained online that they couldn't find him in his office. When they did find him he was difficult to talk to.

     The year 2012 had been a tough one for Dan Markel. He had been through a bitter divorce, had developed enemies in the blog world, and incurred the anger and frustration of some of his students. What had been a sweet life had turned sour.

     At eleven in the morning of July 18, 2014, Professor Markel pulled onto his driveway and into his garage while talking on his cellphone. The moment he stopped his vehicle, a person who had followed him into the garage shot the 41-year-old in the head through the driver's side window. The killer then drove off in a white or silver Toyota Prius-type vehicle.

     A Betton Hills neighbor heard the gun go off and called 911. When police and paramedics arrived at the scene, Markel was still alive. A few hours later, however, he died at a nearby hospital.

     Homicide detectives believed that the killing was not a random murder. The killer had marked the professor for death and had carried out the murder plot.

     On May 25, 2016, detectives with the Hallandale Beach Police Department arrested 34-year-old Sigredo Garcia for Markel's murder. Officers booked Garcia into the Broward County Jail on charges of first-degree murder and possession of cocaine. Garcia had a criminal history that included strong arm robbery and burglary.

     According to a police spokesperson, the murder of the law professor is being handled as a murder-for-hire case. Up to six more arrests in the case are anticipated. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ethel Anderson: The Unrepentant Child Molester

     In 2011, Ethel Anderson, a 29-year-old teacher at the Mango Elementary School in suburban Seffner, Florida outside of Tampa, resided in Riverside with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. Anderson had recently been named the Diversity School Teacher of the Year.

     In December 2011, Teacher of the Year Anderson began tutoring a 12-year-old math student in her home. Over the next three months, she and the boy exchanged 230 pages of test messages in which she described, in vivid language, her lust for the child. Anderson also expressed her anxiety over feeling unattractive because of her weight. In these exchanges, the boy used the name Dirty Dan. No one reading this material would have guessed that Dirty Dan was a 12-year-old kid communicating with one of his public school teachers. The online exchange between teacher and student, while a bit puerile, was pretty raunchy.

     In February 2012, the teacher-student affair ended following a lover's spat. The angry kid got his revenge by telling his mom everything. It's hard to imagine what was going through the mother's mind when her son described receiving oral sex from a woman paid to teach him math. The couple, according to the boy, also simulated various sexual acts while fully clothed. The boy's tutor also fondled him.

     The mother, perhaps worried that school officials and police officers would take the teacher's word over her son's, confronted Anderson before alerting the authorities. During that meeting, the teacher admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The student's mom, having clandestinely audio-taped the conversation, went to the police with the evidence. (The mother may also have seen the texted messages between her son and Anderson.)

     Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, in March 2012, charged Ethel Anderson with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Following the teacher's arrest, the school suspended her without pay. Eight months later, Anderson resigned.

     The child molestation trial got underway in Tampa on September 18, 2013. The boy, now 14, took the stand for the prosecution. "I felt she was like my real girlfriend," he said. "She said I was her boyfriend and she loved me. I was thinking, 'I'm living a guy's dream...dating my teacher.' "

     According to the young prosecution witness, Anderson told him she planned to leave her husband because he wasn't a good father, and didn't communicate with her. As time went on, however, the student began having doubts about the relationship. "I'm dating a girl I'm in love with and she thinks of me as a kid. It didn't feel right."

     On the third and final day of the trial, defense attorney William Knight, in a bold move, put his client on the stand. Rather than plead some kind of emotional breakdown, drinking problem or addiction to drugs, the former school teacher denied having physical contact with the boy, essentially calling him a liar. Claiming that the 12-year-old had tried to instigate a sexual relationship, Anderson said, "He attempted, at one point, to grab me in an inappropriate manner. He attempted to kiss me and I pushed him off."

     Regarding her sexually vivid text messages, the defendant said they were nothing more than "sexual therapy" tools to get the boy to focus on his studies. "I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy," she said. "He was going through puberty. He couldn't connect with his family. He was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention."

     Prosecutor Peters, in a blistering cross-examination of the defendant, asked, "You want the jury to believe that you were in fantasyland to help the boy? Was that part of your training as a teacher? So by giving in to these sexual fantasies he did better in school?"

     "Sometimes, yes," Anderson replied.

     Defense attorney Knight, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the prosecution had not presented one piece of physical evidence proving any kind of sexual contact between his client and the student.

     When it came her turn to address the jury, the prosecutor called the former teacher's attempt to explain herself "remarkable," and "amazing in its audacity." The state attorney told the jurors that "everything the defendant told you defies logic and common sense."

     On December 19, 2013, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, calling Ethel Anderson a parent's worst nightmare, sentenced the former teacher to 38 years in prison.

     Judge Tharpe was Anderson's worst nightmare.

 
 
     

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Beth Carpenter Murder-For-Hire Case

     When Kim Carpenter met Anson "Buzz" Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a 22-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents' house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a 26-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse's assistant in the a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant with his baby.

     Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim's parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim's daughter Rebecca. They had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of their daughter, would not be suitable parents. Richard and Cynthia wanted Rebecca back under their roof.

     In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz was abusing their granddaughter, went to court to to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought  to retain custody of Rebecca. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz's child, and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim's parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn't  care for her and a man they believed was abusive. The grandparents felt helpless, and were on the verge of panic.

     On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist exiting the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95 saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. It was Buzz Clinton. He had been shot five times, then driven over by a vehicle as he lay dead on the road.

     Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning, someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he was selling.  Because investigators were unable to identify this caller, the case stalled. Whoever had murdered Buzz Clinton had not done it for his wallet, or anything else of value. Without a motive or a suspect, detectives quickly ran out of leads. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca, and the two children fathered by Buzz Clinton, moved in with the Carpenters in Ledyard.

     On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the Connecticut State Police received a call that shot life back into the investigation. The caller, who didn't identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton's murder. The anonymous caller named the principals, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, 40-year-old Joseph Fremut and and a biker dude from Deep River Connecticut named Mark Dupres. The caller didn't say why Buzz Clinton had been killed. Both suspects had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton.

     Detectives looking into Mark Dupres' background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the murder victim. Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim's sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by detectives, Joseph Fremut, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide, but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another attorney who worked at the New London law firm.

     A few days after his initial interview, Mark Dupres confessed to detectives with the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being the person who had called Buzz Clinton to inquire about the tow truck he was selling. Accompanied by his 15-year-old son Chris, Dupres, on the morning of the murder, had driven to Buzz Clinton's house. From there, Dupres and his son, in their Oldsmobile Cutlass, followed Clinton to the place where he kept the vehicle for sale. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver's side of the Oldsmobile, Dupres got out of the vehicle to meet him. When he was between the two cars, Dupres pulled his revolver and shot Clinton five times.

     As Dupres pulled away from the murder scene, with his son Chris still in the vehicle, he drove over Clinton's body. Detectives asked the suspect why he would kill a man in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn't get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that the boy hadn't done anything wrong.

    Mark Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton on behalf of his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres would receive $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein only paid the hit man an additional $500.

     Detectives learned that Haiman Clein, who didn't know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The 53-year-old attorney had allegedly arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young attorney in the New London law firm. Carpenter was the murder victim's sister-in-law. Clein and the 30-year-old blonde were having an affair.

     Mark Dupres told detectives that he had met with Beth Carpenter in Clein's law office. On that occasion, the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres acquired a photograph of the murder target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Buzz Clinton dead because he had been abusing her niece Rebecca. The young lawyer said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That's when Beth, without her parents' knowledge, began planning Clinton's murder. It was all about Rebecca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

     Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, promised to testify against Attorney Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres' case, the prosecutor, under the agreement, would recommend a prison sentence that didn't exceed 45 years. The triggerman's son Chris, having been granted immunity from prosecution, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

     Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London that Mr. Clein had been the mastermind behind the contract murder. Claiming total innocence, Beth denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the missing Clein who every so often called her from a public telephone. In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

     Following his arrest, Clein insisted that he was innocent. But sixteen months later, he accepted a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpenter, he identified her as the mastermind and himself nothing more than a middle-man in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Beth Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. No longer living in England, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November 1997, the Irish police took her into custody.

     Claiming that she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty. They were each sentenced to 45 years in prison.

     In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, the Irish authorities sent Beth Carpenter back to the U. S. to face charges that she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent 19 months behind bars, the judge in Connecticut released her on $150,000 bail. The defendant was allowed her to await her trial under house arrest in her parents' home.

     The televised murder trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer's car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim's mother, Dee Clinton, described how the defendant's parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between her son and the Carpenter family. This provided the motive for the murder-for-hire killing.

     The hit man's son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place, he had no idea what his father had planned to do. As they left the murder scene that morning, the car rolled over the victim's body. Ten minutes after the killing, his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

     Haiman Clein, now 61-years-old and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive, Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Eventually Beth came right out and asked if Clein would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn't sure she was serious, but when Beth kept bringing up the subject, he realized that she really wanted Buzz Clinton dead.

     According to Clein's testimony, in late January 1994, he brought Beth, his colleague and lover, and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discuss the murder. A month before Dupres was to perform the hit, he got cold feet and called off the murder. A couple of weeks after that, the contract killing was back on his schedule after Beth came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had just locked Rebecca in the basement and burned her with a cigarette.

     At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Haiman Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment, she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had bugged the place.

     Haiman Clein testified that when Mark Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit, the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked, they'd all end up in prison. Now Clein had something to worry about.

     Mark Dupres, the prosecution's most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hit man's testimony, the state rested its case. As murder-for-trials go, the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter's attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

     Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca, he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for Beth and her niece. After she found out what he had done on her behalf, she didn't turn him in because, "I needed to be with him. I wasn't a whole person." Shocked by what he had done, she said to him, "Only someone who is crazy would do something like this." To that Clein had allegedly replied, "Don't you see? You don't have anything to worry about anymore."

     On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty as charged. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life in prison without parole.

     

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Alan Goodman Murder Case

     Alan and Lois Goodman, in 2012, had been married 50 years. In the early 1960s, Alan started an auto parts business in Los Angeles. Lois, who in 1979 became a tennis referee (or line umpire--I don't know the first thing about this sport), had risen to the top of her profession, and at age 70, was still officiating matches. She and her 80-year-old husband lived in a condominium in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles out in the San Fernando Valley.

     On April 17, 2012, Lois called 911 to report the discovery of Alan Goodman lying on his bed either unconscious or dead. LAPD officers from the Topanga station responded to the scene. According Lois, she had been away from the condo six hours during which time she had been refereeing tennis matches at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

     Upon entering the dwelling, Lois said she noticed a broken coffee mug on the floor with blood on it. From the mug, she followed a trail of blood into Alan's bedroom where she found him unresponsive with a bloody wound to the right side of his head.

     Lois Goodman informed the police officers that her husband, a diabetic with high blood pressure, must have had an heart attack, fallen down a flight of stairs, then somehow made it to his room and climbed onto his bed. Because of Mr. Goodman's age, the LAPD officers had no reason to suspect criminal homicide.

     Two fire department paramedics pronounced Mr. Goodman dead at the scene. While neither of the medics were trained homicide investigators, they possessed enough common sense and death site experience to interpret an oddly shaped wound to the right side of the dead man's head as possible evidence of foul play. As evidence of their suspicion, the medics took care not to disturb the body on grounds it might be part of a murder scene. Although the police officers should have been cautioning the paramedics not to handle the corpse, the cops, relying on Lois Goodman's death narration, allowed the body to be transported to its place of future cremation. In a situation that cried out for, at the very least, an autopsy, Mr. Goodman's corpse, and perhaps evidence of murder, were headed for the furnace.

     Whether or not a homicide had occurred in the Woodland Hills condominium, the initial phase of the Goodman case was not how situations like this should be handled in the second largest police department in the country, or for that matter, anywhere else.

     On April 20, 2012, three days after Alan Goodman's death, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who had been dispatched to sign Mr. Goodman's death certificate, noticed several deep cuts on the dead man's head and ear that seemed too severe to have been caused by an accidental spill down a flight of steps. This death investigator's rather basic observation led to an autopsy of Mr. Goodman's body. The coroner's office had literally pulled this case out of the fire.

     The next day, a forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Mr. Goodman's cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a sharp object. The pathologist found shards of the broken coffee mug imbedded in the victim's wounds. Moreover, Mr. Goodman had not suffered a heart attack. Instead of a flight of stairs, Mr. Goodman had been killed by being struck in the head with a coffee mug. As a result of the autopsy findings, the coroner's office ruled the manner of this death a homicide.

     Had Mr. Goodman's body been cremated, the cause and manner of this man's death would have remained a mystery. On the other hand, because the autopsy had been delayed three days, the forensic pathologist could not pinpoint the time of death.

     Los Angeles detectives, on April 21, 2012, searched the Goodman condominium in Woodland Hills. The searchers discovered heavy blood staining on the carpets, on the refrigerator door, inside the linen closet, and on a wall near the inside door to the garage.

     In general, an analysis of the blood spatter patterns in the condo did not support the theory that Mr. Goodman had fallen down a flight of stairs. (I don't know if the police had collected the broken coffee mug and its pieces from the crime scene. If they didn't preserve what turned out to be the murder weapon, that would be a problem. And even if they did retrieve it later, there would be a chain of custody problem.)

     Shortly after the search of the Goodman condo, detectives questioned Lois Goodman, this time as a suspect in her husband's murder. According to published police documents, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had observed upon entering the dwelling that day. At one point, she described the scene as "violent," and suggested that someone may have "positioned" Mr. Goodman's body in his bed.

     Over the next four months, Los Angeles detectives, with Lois Goodman as their prime suspect, thoroughly investigated the murder. This led to the discovery of emails she had exchanged with a man who may have been a lover. In one email, Lois Goodman referred to "terminating" a relationship. Investigators suspected that Goodman had murdered her husband for another man. The fact there were no signs of forced entry into the condo, and that nothing had been stolen from the dwelling, comprised more circumstantial evidence that Lois Goodman had been responsible for her husband's violent death. Moreover, when speaking to the responding officers that day, the dead man's wife had gone out of her way to establish her whereabouts at the time of his death, behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

     In mid-August 2012, after a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Lois Goodman with the murder of her husband, detectives followed her to New York City where she was scheduled to officiate at the U.S. Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows. On August 21, on the eve of the Open, New York City officers went to her Manhattan hotel room and arrested her on the California murder warrant. That evening, Los Goodman found herself in the Rikers Island lock-up under $1 million bond and awaiting her extradition hearing.

     Back in Los Angeles on August 29, 2012, at her arraignment hearing, the judge, assured by Goodman's attorney Alison Triessl that the tennis line umpire was not dangerous, or a candidate for flight, reduced her bail to $500,000. In speaking to reporters, attorney Triessl, in making the case that her 70-year-old client was physically incapable of killing her husband, pointed out that she had received two full knee replacements, and a shoulder replacement. According to the attorney, Lois Goodman was "wearing two hearing aids, and had rheumatoid arthritis."

     On September 3, 2012, Lois Goodman, after spending two weeks in jail, was released on bail.

     The FBI announced, on October 10, 2012, that Lois Goodman, when asked by a bureau polygraph examiner if she killed her husband, answered no--and passed the test. The polygraph expert, Jack Trimarco, said there was "no significant reaction" when Goodman answered "no" to the payload question. He asked that question several times. If you believe in the polygraph technique, and trust the FBI, this was an important development in the case.

     On November 30, 2012, the Los Angeles prosecutor, due to insufficient evidence, dropped the murder charges against Lois Goodman.

     In April 2015, a federal judge dismissed Lois Goodman's false arrest lawsuit against the LAPD. The plaintiff had claimed the murder accusation caused her "public humiliation." In setting out his rationale for the dismissal, Judge John A. Kronstadt wrote that the LAPD homicide investigation had produced "substantial details sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest Lois Goodman."

     As of May 2016, there have been no other arrests in the case.

       

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Connie Villa: A Sick and Dangerous Woman

     Adam and Connie Villa were married in 2005. She had a 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He was a member of the Arizona National Guard. The couple and the child, Aniarael Macias, resided in Casa Grande, a suburban community 50 miles south of Phoenix. In 2006, Adam Villa served a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit. By 2010, the couple had three children of their own.

     Adam and Connie Villa were divorced in 2012. Following the break-up, the battle over legal custody of the children began.

     On Christmas day, 2013, Adam Villa called 911 to report that his wife had stabbed him in the chest and that he was driving himself to the hospital. Police officers rushed to the Villa residence where they encountered Connie Villa holding a knife to her chest. Officers subdued the distraught 35-year-old woman and called for an ambulance.

     The three younger Villa children, ages 3, 5, and 8, were in the house when the police arrived. The youngsters informed the officers that their mother had forced them to consume what turned out to be a narcotics-based prescription drug.

     In the bathroom, officers discovered the body of 13-year-old Aniarael Macias. Because there were no marks on her body, officers assumed that Connie Villa had poisoned the girl with prescription drugs.

     While 33-year-old Adam Villa remained in stable condition at the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, physicians at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix treated Connie Villa for superficial, self-inflicted knife wounds. The three children, although there were traces of opiates in their bodies, were fine. The siblings were placed into the custody of relatives.

     On Sunday, December 29, 2013, upon her release from the hospital, detectives took Connie into custody. When questioned at the police station, she admitted stabbing her husband and poisoning their three children. In the bathroom, after being unable to force Aniarael to ingest the prescription drug, Connie suffocated her to death with her bare hands.

     Detectives asked Connie why she had killed her oldest child, stabbed her husband, and tried to poison the little ones to death. She said she was afraid the judge would grant custody of the children to her ex-husband. (This explains why she tried to kill her husband. But why did she want to murder her four children?)

     On January 8, 2014, Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles charged Villa with premeditated first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, and four counts of child abuse. The suspected, through her public defender attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges. She was held in the Pinal  County Jail without bond.

     In June, 2014, a Pinal County Superior Court judge approved the prosecution's request to seek the death penalty in the case.

     The Villa murder trial date was postponed several times due to procedural issues. As of May 2016, the case remains unresolved.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Grace Anne Hall's Strange And Suspicious Death

     Twenty-three-year-old Grace Anne Hall was last seen at eight o'clock on the evening of March 20, 2013. She was driving her 1997 silver-gray Toyota Camry in the Serra Mesa section of San Diego, California. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound blonde with tattoos on her upper back was reportedly on her way to an unknown location in the Los Angeles area city of Sherman Oaks for a job interview.

     According to detectives with the San Diego Police Department, Hall used her credit card in the Mira Mesa part of San Diego one week after her disappearance.

     On April 18, 2013, at nine-thirty in the morning, a San Diego patrol officer spotted Hall's Toyota parked in front of the Grab-n-Go Sub Shop in the Kearny Mesa community. According to witnesses, the vehicle had been sitting there for a week.

     When homicide investigators opened the Toyota's trunk, they discovered Hall's body. An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office revealed no sighs of external trauma on Hall's body. In other words, she had not been bludgeoned, stabbed, or shot.    

     Pending the results of toxicology tests, detectives began to consider the possibility of suicide. According to Hall's father, the victim had been unemployed and was despondent. At the time of her disappearance, she had been living with him. According to Lieutenant Jorge Duran of the San Diego Police Homicide Unit, "The more we discuss the case the more it seems this was not a homicide."

     On June 30, 2013, the San Diego County Medical Examiner announced the cause of Grace Anne Hall's death as acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Because she had ingested a quantity of automobile antifreeze, the medical examiner ruled the manner of death in this highly suspicious case as suicide.

     According to suicide experts, it is extremely rare for a person to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

People Murdered Over Nothing

     Just because murder is a serious criminal offense does not mean that murderers always have equally serious motives to kill. In the world of criminal homicide, the motive does not always match the crime. Authors of detective novels give their fictitious murderers good reasons to kill such as sweet revenge, big money, passionate sex, jealous love, and burning hatred. In the victimology of crime fiction, the killer and the killed usually know each other well. In novels, murderers are, if not nice people, fascinating folks with interesting reasons to commit the ultimate crime.

     In real life, people who commit criminal homicide are often wildly insane, drug-addled, or just plain stupid. Nonfiction killers are frequently uninteresting people who kill for trivial, idiotic reasons. Quite often, in real life, the murder victim is as insane, drug-addled or stupid as the person who killed him. In the more tragic cases, these mindless murderers take the lives of decent people who simply had the misfortune of crossing their lethal paths. If there is anything interesting in these under-motivated murder cases, it is the fact they are real. The advantage of writing about nonfiction crime is that these cases do not have to make a whole lot of sense. They just have to be true. Fiction, on the other hand, has to be believable. Fiction has to make sense.

The Trigger-Happy Mr. Dunn

     At 7:40 in the evening of November 20, 2012, Michael D. Dunn and his girlfriend pulled into a service station in Jacksonville, Florida. That day, the couple had attended the wedding of Mr. Dunn's son. The 45-year-old software developer and his girlfriend were en route to Dunn's home 160 miles away in Satellite Beach, Florida. Dunn parked his vehicle and waited behind the wheel as his girlfriend entered the gas station's convenience store.

     Mr. Dunn had pulled into the service station alongside a SUV occupied by three teenagers who were listening to music Dunn considered much too loud. He asked the boys to lower the sound level. The kids didn't take kindly to his request which led to an exchange of angry words. Suddenly, Michael Dunn picked up a handgun and fired eight shots into the car. Two of the bullets struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was sitting in the back seat. The high school junior, who was about to start his first job at McDonald's, died in the SUV.

     The shooter's girlfriend ran out of the convenience store, and as she climbed into Dunn's vehicle, asked, "What's going on?"

     "I just fired at those kids," Dunn replied as the couple drove away.

     The next day, police officers arrested Michael Dunn at his home in Satellite Beach. (A witness had written down his license number.)  Dunn told his police questioners that he had fired his pistol in self-defense after one of the kids in the SUV pointed a shotgun at him. Dunn's self-defense justification suffered a blow when investigators failed to find any weapons in the SUV. (There were no drugs in the car, and none of the boys had ever been in trouble with the law.)

     In May 2013, a grand jury sitting in Jacksonville, Florida, indicted Michael Dunn of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. On October 17, 2014, after a jury found Dunn guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole.

James Pak: The Angry Landlord

     In 2006, James Pak sold his Korean Yankee Landscape Company, a Biddeford, Maine business he had owned since 1964. In 2012, Mr. Pak was living with his wife in a cape cod-style home in the town of Bedford located 15 miles south of Portland. He rented out an apartment attached to his house to 44-year-old Susan Johnson who lived there with her son, 19-year-old Derrick Thompson. Derrick worked as an auto detailer at a nearby car dealership. His girlfriend, Alivia Welch, worked as a waitress at a local coffee shop. She was eighteen.

     Around six o'clock in the evening of Saturday, December 29, 2012, Bedford police officers responded to a call to defuse a dispute between Mr. Pak and his tenants. The 74-year-old landlord was upset because Derrick Thompson and his mother had parked their cars in his driveway. (The town had banned overnight parking on the street to clear the way for snow removal crews.) After speaking with Mr. Pak and his renters, the officers left the scene without taking anyone into custody.

     At seven that night, shortly after the police thought they had resolved the dispute, they were called back to the Pak house on reports of shots being fired in the rented apartment. Upon their arrival, the officers discovered that Mr. Pak had shot Derrick Thompson and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, killing them both. He had also shot and wounded Derrick's mother, Susan Johnson.

     Following a three-hour police stand-off at his home, James Pak surrendered to the authorities. Among other crimes, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. After pleading guilty on February 3, 2016, the judge sentenced Pak to two life sentences.

Street Gang Killings

     Drug dealers and members of street gangs regularly murder each other over minor slights, petty arguments, and even disrespectful looks. For these habitual criminals it's their chosen way of life. Unless some innocent bystander goes down in the cross-fire, the general public couldn't care less about these deaths. One violent crook is dead, and his killer is off to prison for life. From a societal standpoint, these cases are hardly tragedies.

     Michael Dunn and James Pak were murderers who weren't career criminals, or even drains on society. Because they are not stupid men, their homicidal behavior makes even less sense. These men ruined their lives over nothing. And their victims did nothing to deserve their sudden and violent deaths. That is what makes these spontaneous homicides so tragic, and hard to understand.

    

Monday, May 23, 2016

The No-Body Murder Case

     Many missing persons cases involving young woman turn into homicide investigations when the victims are found dead. However, there are thousands of cases in which the missing women are not found but presumed dead. Many women who disappear without a trace were murdered by killers who did a good job of disposing of the their bodies. It's no secret that if the police don't have a corpse they probably won't be able to arrest anyone for murder. Notwithstanding disappearances that are highly suspicious, it generally comes down to this unpleasant reality: if there's no body, there's no homicide case.

     There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Prosecutors have pressed charges in homicide cases that do not feature a body. In these so-called no-body cases, prosecutors work without an autopsy report, have no time of death based upon postmortem biological changes, or physical evidence establishing the victims' exact causes of death. Moreover, there are no death scene photographs in no-body cases.

     Based on his research of no-body cases, Thomas A. Di Biase believes that in the United States, from 1843 to 2013, 380 homicide cases have gone to trial without the victims' remains. According to Di Biase, a former federal prosecutor, the conviction rate pertaining to these prosecutions is 89 percent.

     In a homicide case, the corpus delecti of the crime--the body or main element of the offense-- consists of proof that an unlawful death has occurred. The best evidence of an unlawful death is the corpse itself.

     So, without a body, can a prosecutor, by law, acquire a homicide conviction? That legal question was settled in a 1960 California appellate case titled, U.S. v. Scott. The state appeals court justices decided that a homicide defendant in a case without a body can lawfully be found guilty if the prosecution presents circumstantial evidence of an unlawful death that excludes other reasonable hypotheses regarding the missing person's fate. The prosecutor must also present sufficient evidence that the defendant was the person who unlawfully killed the missing person.

     Because juries understandably are uncomfortable with no-body homicide cases, prosecutors need strong circumstantial evidence that the missing person is dead, and that the defendant is responsible for that death. In establishing the necessary proof, it helps if detectives have located a probable killing site. Such a place might be a bed soaked in a large quantity of blood. The crime scene might also feature other types of physical evidence that suggests the occurrence of lethal violence. This evidence of course must be linked to the missing person, ideally through DNA analysis.

     It's also better if the prosecutor can place the defendant at the scene of the violence through fingerprints, hair follicles, semen, blood, shoe impressions, handwriting, or fiber evidence.

     The no-body case prosecutor will be helped if the defendant possessed a strong motive to kill the victim such as jealousy, lust, money, or revenge. If the defendant offers an alibi, the prosecution must be able to break that alibi. The presence of physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene will sometimes have that effect.

     Other circumstantial evidence against a homicide defendant in a no-body case might include conflicting statements by the defendant to the police, or a history of violence between the defendant and the missing person. Secretly recorded death threats by the defendant against the victim would also be relevant.

     If the no-body prosecutor doesn't have physical evidence from a probable crime scene to work with, a conviction won't be possible unless the defendant confesses to the police, a friend, or to a jailhouse snitch. The confession of an accomplice that implicates the defendant is good.

     Attorneys representing defendants in no-body cases usually portray the murder evidence as circumstantial, and therefore weak. Defense lawyers often remind jurors that they cannot convict the defendant if they have any reasonable doubt regarding his or her guilt.

     While the conviction rate of no-body cases brought to trial is high, only a small percentage of no-body suspects are charged with criminal homicide. Without a body, there is simply too much reasonable doubt to overcome.


   

     

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Senseless Murder of a Toddler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Kenneth Markman: The Fall Of A Drug Dealing Defense Attorney

     Kenneth Markman, after graduating from UCLA and Loyola Law School, began practicing criminal defense law in 1991. Between 2000 and 2010, the State Bar Association of California suspended him twice for not paying his membership dues. It was during this period that the attorney went from representing drug addicts and dealers to becoming one.

     On October 21, 2011, Markman was in the attorney's room on the 11th floor of the Criminal Justice Center in downtown Los Angeles. He had scheduled a meeting with his client, Jorge Zaragoza. Zaragoza, a drug-dealing gang member with a history of violent crime, had been convicted of attempted carjacking. In a few days a judge would be handing down Zaragoza's sentence.

     Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office suspected that Markman had smuggled narcotics to his clients who were incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail. As the attorney waited for his opportunity to speak with Zaragoza, a sheriff's deputy accompanied by a drug-sniffing dog, entered the room. The dog immediately "alerted" to the presence of drugs on Markman's  person and in his briefcase.

     From the inside pocket of the attorney's suit jacket, the deputy removed a package wrapped tightly with electrical tape. The bundle contained twenty-six balloons of heroin and methamphetamine. Markman's briefcase contained a quantity of marijuana and three mini-hypodermic syringes. (This reminds me of a scene right out of the TV show "Locked-Up Abroad.")

     Charged with seven drug-related felony counts, the attorney was booked into the county Inmate Reception Center. The judge set his bail at $145,000. If convicted of trying to smuggle $30,000 worth of narcotics into the Los Angeles County Jail, Markman faced up to four years in prison.

     The accused attorney posted his bond and was released from custody. On November 8, 2011, a security officer screening visitors to the Antelope Valley Court House noticed something suspicious as Markman's briefcase passed through the X-ray machine. After the attorney grabbed his wallet out of the tray and tried to flee, a Los Angeles Sheriff's deputy caught up to him before he got out of the building. In his wallet the officer found two bundles of rock cocaine. The attorney's briefcase contained several pieces of drug paraphernalia.

     After being booked again for trying to smuggle drugs to an incarcerated client, Markman made his $25,000 bail.

     In February 2013, Kenneth Markman pleaded no contest to the October 2011 drug smuggling charges. Pursuant to a plea deal, the judge, a month later, sentenced the suspended attorney to a year in the Los Angeles County Jail. That sentence included three years of probation which involved one year of drug treatment.

     The State Bar Association of California, following a hearing in August 2013, disbarred Mr. Markman. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Short History of the FBI Crime Laboratory

     Shortly after becoming the FBI's fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the innovative chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department and John H. Wigmore, author and professor at Northwestern University Law School.

     August Vollmer and Wigmore had pioneered the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab formed in Chicago in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. These practitioner scholars believed that the developing fields within forensic science, coupled with highly trained criminal investigators, would someday bring victory over crime. Hoover had already made the image of the latent fingerprint the unofficial logo of the FBI. A FBI crime laboratory would advance Hoover's goal to create the ideal crime fighter--an highly educated, well-trained scientific crime detection professional.

     In April 1931, Hoover sent Special Agent Charles A. Appel, Jr. to Chicago to enroll in a short course sponsored by the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory that at the time was a private, fee-charging lab partially funded by the university. Most of the lab's cases consisted of forensic document examination, firearm identification (then called forensic ballistics), and research and development in the polygraph, a newly developing field of scientific lie detection. (In 1938 the Scientific Crime Detection Lab would be taken over by the Chicago Police Department.) Hoover also sent agent Appel to police departments in St. Louis (in 1906 the first police department to establish a fingerprint identification bureau), New Orleans, and Detroit, the only law enforcement agencies besides Berkeley and Los Angeles that operated crime labs.

     The FBI Technical Laboratory, with Charles Appel as its head, opened its doors on November 24, 1932 (in 1942 it was renamed the FBI Laboratory) in a nine-by-nine foot room in the Southern Railway Building at Thirteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Special Agent Appel, its director and only employee, performed firearm identification work. Appel used the newly invented comparison microscope and a device designed for the examination of gun barrel interiors. To produce forensic exhibits of bullets, Appel utilized basic photographic equipment. The FBI Lab, as advertised by Hoover, provided evidence analysis and testimony for the bureau as well as for any local law enforcement agency that requested forensic analysis. Hoover also promised research and development in the various forensic science fields. Hoover's ambitious undertaking eventually made the FBI an indispensable and highly visible cog in the nation's crime fighting machine.

     By 1940, the laboratory, now located at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, employed firearm identificaton experts, questioned document examiners, forensic chemists, physicists, metallurgists specializing in tool mark identification, forensic geologists (soil examinations), hair and fiber analysts, forensic serologists (blood and bodily fluids examinations), and latent fingerprint identification experts. The laboratory, employing over a hundred people, had gotten so large Hoover divided the lab into three sections: questioned documents; physics and chemistry; and latent fingerprint identification. At this time, only fifteen police departments and sixteen states operated crime labs. The FBI Lab continued to grow. By 1958, it employed two hundred scientific, clerical and administrative personnel.

     The FBI Laboratory, by the end of the 1980's, had grown into the busiest and most famous crime lab in the world. It had also become one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC. But even in its heyday, because of the quantity of forensic examinations and laboratory hiring criteria, there were problems with the quality of some of the work. The FBI Lab was the biggest and the most famous, but not the best. Overwhelmed by a staggering caseload, Hoover did not hire top-rate scientists. Moreover, there was not time for research and development. This led to some bad science and a problem with scientific objectivity.

     The FBI lab had to compete for personnel with a growing number of city, county, and state crime labs.  Because the FBI only hired lab employees who also met the criteria for the position of special agent, not all of the lab personnel had sufficient scientific backgrounds.  All FBI Lab personnel (except clerical employees) were first sent into the field to work as agents for three years. Many of these agents  had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to DC to work inside the lab. some of these agents had used their degrees in science to get into the FBI to become investigators, not bureau crime lab criminalists. Moreover, the close identification with law enforcement created by three years in the field worked against scientific objectivity. (The FBI has since changed its crime lab hiring criteria.)

     J. Edgar Hoover died in office in May 1972. By 1990, there was nothing left of his reputation and status as an American law enforcement pioneer. The mere mention of his name on a TV sitcom or a late night talk show brought instant laughter. Once a powerful and innovative man, Hoover, like so many other American historical figures--Charles Lindbergh for one--had been reduced by a tabloid culture and hack journalism into a character you might find in an underground comic book. The post-Hoover image of the FBI agent, while having lost some of its luster, did not go down with the Hoover ship. Notwithstanding his fall from grace, Hoover's most profound contribution to the art and science of criminal investigation, the FBI Crime Laboratory, is still considered the gold standard of forensic science in America.

    

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Alexis Kahn: The Babysitter From Hell

     In 2012, after Benjamin and Hope Jordan moved to Charleston, South Carolina, they hired 21-year-old Alexis Kahn to regularly babysit their 7-month-old son Finn while they were away at work. Kahn had never been arrested, and came with references.

     Five months after bringing Alexis Kahn into their home to care for their most precious possession, the Jordans noticed that their dog, an otherwise friendly black lab, disliked the babysitter. According to Mr. Jordan, "He [the dog] was very aggressive towards her and a few times we actually had to physically restrain him from going towards her."

     Worried that the dog's behavior revealed something sinister about the babysitter, the Jordans hid an iPhone under the couch to record what went on between Kahn, the dog, and the baby in their absence. That evening after work, the couple checked the iPhone and were shocked by what they had recorded. The Jordans heard Kahn tell the baby to "shut up." Next came cussing followed by sounds of the baby being slapped. The baby's cries of distress became cries of pain. "I just wanted to...go back in time and just grab him up," said the father.

     The Jordans fired the babysitter and reported the suspected assault to the Charleston police. Officers arrested Kahn a few weeks later. Confronted with the iPhone evidence, the suspect confessed to assaulting the Jordan baby.

     On September 8, 2013, Alex Kahn pleaded guilty to one count of assault and battery in a Charleston County Circuit Court. The judge handed down a three-year sentence. The ex-babysitter had to spend a year behind bars before being eligible for parole. And her name was added to the state's child abuse register which meant she could never work with children. (Unfortunately, this did not prevent her from having children.)

     According to the baby's parents, Finn had no lingering effects from his abuse at the hands of the abusive babysitter.

     Suggestion: If your dog doesn't like your babysitter, keep the dog and look for a new sitter.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Stephen Cooke Jr. Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, Heidi Louise Bernadzikowski, a 24-year-old employee of a health insurance company, lived in a Dundalk, Maryland townhouse with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Stephen Michael Cooke Jr. Baltimore County police officers, on April 20, 2000, responded to a 911 call made from the townhouse by Cooke. Upon arrival, officers found Cooke sitting on the living floor holding his girlfriend in his arms. They were both covered in blood.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski had been murdered. The killer had strangled the victim then slashed her throat. There were no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no evidence that anything had been stolen. The victim had not been sexually assaulted.

     Detectives in search of a motive for the brutal murder became suspicious of the victim's boyfriend when they learned that a month before her death he had purchased a $700,000 insurance policy on her life. Because Cooke had an alibi that eliminated him as the killer, detectives suspected that he had hired a hit man to do the job. But without proof, they could not arrest him.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski's parents, in 2004, sued Stephen Cooke Jr. under the so-called "slayer's rule" for the $700,000 life insurance payout. The slayer's rule prohibits anyone who intentionally caused the death of the insured to collect life insurance benefits. The civil action was settled out of court when Cooke agreed to pay the plaintiffs $575,000. Detectives working on the murder case considered the settlement a tacit admission of guilt.

     In January 2012, a Baltimore County prosecutor charged Alexander Charles Bennett, a 32-year-old resident of Greeley, Colorado, with the murder of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Three months earlier, Bennett had been connected to the Bernadzikowski murder scene through a DNA match. Moreover, detectives had placed Bennett, a man with a history of burglary and car theft, in Baltimore the month before the murder.

     While homicide detectives theorized that Bennett had been hired by Cooke to kill the victim, the investigators had no evidence linking the hit man to the suspected murder plot's mastermind. In January 2012, police officers booked Bennett into the the Baltimore County Detention Center on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspected hit man bail.

     Early in March 2014, just hours before the commencement of his murder trial, Bennett, pursuant to a plea deal, confessed to murdering Heidi Bernadzikowski. According to the hit man, he and a friend from Denver, Colorado named Grant A. Lewis had been hired over the Internet by Stephen Cooke Jr. who wanted someone to murder his girlfriend. Bennett said he flew to Baltimore in March 2000 to meet the murder-for-hire mastermind during which time Cooke offered Bennett and his accomplice a piece of the life insurance payout.

     According to the murder-for-hire plan, Grant Lewis would play the role of intermediary between Cooke and the trigger man. That March 2000 meeting would be the last time Bennett and Cooke communicated with each other directly.

     Alexander Bennett's version of the murder went like this: On April 20, 2000, the day of the killing, Bennett let himself into the Dundalk townhouse with a key left for him by Cooke. On that day, Cooke dropped Heidi off at the townhouse knowing that the killer was inside waiting for her. The moment Bernadzikowski walked into the dwelling, Bennett ambushed and choked the victim until she either passed out or died. To make sure she was dead, Bennett slashed her throat with a knife.

     A Baltimore County prosecutor charged Stephen Cooke Jr. with conspiracy to commit murder. On March 20, 2014, fourteen years after Bernadzikowski's violent death, detectives booked the Pasadena, Maryland suspect into the Baltimore County Detention Center. At his arraignment hearing, Cooke's attorney urged the judge to grant his client bail. The judge denied the request.

     On March 20, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested Grant A. Lewis, the 35-year-old murder-for-hire middle-man. Officers booked Lewis into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Although Lewis had not bloodied his hands in the case, the judge denied him bail.

     On October 30, 2014, a jury found Grant A. Lewis guilty as charged. Baltimore County Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly-Cox, on February 2, 2015, sentenced him to life in prison.

     On June 18, 2015, a Baltimore County jury, after hearing the testimony of hit man Alexander Charles Bennett, found Stephen Cooke Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In August 2015, the judge sentenced Alexander Charles Bennett to 30 years. Had the hit man not testified for the prosecution against Cooke, he would have been sentenced to life.

 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Emily Dearden: The NYPD Psychologist And The Love Triangle Attempted Murder Case

     In 2013, 46-year-old Kenneth Dearden, a prominent real estate developer, resided with his wife Emily in a house they had purchased in 2000 for $562,000 in Yonkers, New York. The couple's two daughters lived with them in the house at 82 Ponfield Road West.

     Mr. Dearden, originally from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, had served in the Air Force. He had a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and a masters from Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands. He and his wife were married in July 1996. He had founded his company, DW Capital Associates and was president of the Yonkers Downtown/Waterfront Business Improvement District.

     Emily Dearden, originally from Englewood, New Jersey, had a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern University and master's degrees from Columbia University and Widener University. The 45-year-old held the position of senior psychologist for the New York City Police Department.

     At three-thirty in the morning of November 14, 2013, Kenneth Dearden awoke with a searing pain in his jaw. His pillow was soaked in blood and his wife Emily was not in bed with him in the master bedroom. Mr. Dearden made his way to the first floor where he found Emily lying on the family room floor with her eyes closed. After being quickly revived, she said an intruder had hit her in the head.

     At a nearby hospital, doctors determined that Mr. Dearden had been shot. The bullet had entered his head near the base of the skull and lodged in his left cheek after passing through one of his carotid arteries. (He spent eight days in the hospital and underwent three operations.) Mrs. Dearden did not seek medical attention.

     Later that morning, when detectives showed up at the Dearden house to investigate the shooting, they were surprised to find Mrs. Dearden washing her nightclothes instead of being at the hospital with her husband. Apparently unemotional over the fact an intruder had struck her in the head and shot her husband, she asked the officers if they had a warrant to search the dwelling. (Because it was a crime scene, they didn't need a warrant.)

     In the basement of the house, officers found four pistols, including two derringers, that were consistent with the caliber of the attempted murder weapon. The handguns belonged to Mrs. Dearden. She said they had been given to her by her father. (Forensic ballistics tests to match one of these firearms to the slug removed from the victim's head were inconclusive.)

     Detectives, from the onset of the case, questioned the home invasion theory. There were no signs of forced entry, the family Rottweiler who slept in a doggie bed outside the master bedroom had not awakened Mr. Dearden, the home intrusion alarm had not been activated, and nothing had been taken. In other words, Emily Dearden's story didn't make sense to the investigators.

     Detectives were also suspicious of the fact the victim's wife had waited until the next day to visit her husband at the hospital. Moreover, on the day of the shooting, she had met David Warren Roudenbush, a Texan with whom she had been having an on-and-off again affair with since early 2011, at a restaurant in Yonkers. Investigators wondered why she had chosen to meet with Roudenbush instead of visiting her husband in the hospital.

     The investigation into the attempted murder stalled. Detectives did not identify an intruder, and no charges were brought against the victim's wife. She remained a suspect, however.

     In August 2014, Emily Dearden filed for divorce. About this time NYPD officials relieved her as the department's senior psychologist. They reassigned her to "administrative duties."

     Kenneth Dearden, on November 14, 2014, in a Westchester County Court, filed a civil suit against his estranged wife. According to the lawsuit, the shooting had been a "sadistic attack by an adulterous wife on her husband." As for the motive behind the assault, the plaintiff accused the defendant of shooting him so she could keep the marital home, avoid a contentious divorce, and never have to admit her infidelities to her family and friends.

     According to Mr. Dearden's version of the case, David Warren Roudenbush, after divorcing his wife, had pressured Mrs. Dearden to leave him. As a result of the shooting, the victim claimed he suffered mental anguish and the fear of being attacked again.

     On November 21, 2014, the district attorney of Westchester County announced that Emily Dearden had been charged with attempted second-degree murder. Later that day the accused turned herself in to the authorities. At her arraignment hearing, the judge set her bail at $150,000 which she immediately posted to avoid going to jail. The judge ordered Emily Dearden to stay away from her husband and their children.

     Following the criminal charge, the suspended Dearden handed her NYPD identification card over to an Internal Affairs Bureau official. Her attorney told reporters that his client had not shot Mr. Dearden and that the lawsuit had been filed as retaliation for her having filed for divorce.

     Following her May 2015 indictment for attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon, Emily Dearden pleaded not guilty at her arraignment hearing in Yorkers. Her attorney, Paul Bergman, told reporters that "Dr. Dearden is confident she will prevail in this case." If convicted as charged, the defendant will face up to 25 years in prison.

     

Monday, May 16, 2016

Judge Goes Easy On Man Who Sodomized a 3-Year-Old Girl

     On June 14, 2014, Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto was playing a video game in his parents' garage in Santa Ana, California. A three-year-old girl, a relative visiting the home with her mother, wandered into the garage and encountered Rojano-Nieto.

     Sexually aroused by the toddler, the 20-year-old Rojano-Nieto pulled down her pants and began sodomizing her. He stopped and put his hand over the victim's mouth when the girl's mother, calling for her, jiggled the handle to the locked garage door. When the concerned mother left the house to search for her daughter at a neighbor's place, Rojano-Nieto continued the sexual assault.

     When finished with the little girl, Rojano-Nieto unlocked the garage door and let her back into the house. After her daughter complained of pain shortly after the sexual attack, the mother figured out what happened and called the police.

     On December 3, 2014, a jury found the defendant guilty of one count of sodomy of a child under ten and one count of lewd acts upon a child under fourteen. (Rojano-Nieto had forced the little girl to touch his penis.) The conviction meant that the guilty man would receive the mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life.

     On April 3, 2015, Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly shocked everyone familiar with this case by ignoring California's statutory minimum punishment for this man's sex offenses by sentencing Rojano-Nieto to just ten years in prison.

     The judge, perhaps aware that his ruling would create an angry backlash, carefully laid out his sentencing rationale in writing. According to this southern California judge, "The facts [of this case] don't support there was any violence or callous disregard for the victim's well-being."

     Huh? No violence? Did this girl consent to being sodomized? Did she participate in her own victimization by flaunting herself in the garage? Good heavens.

     Judge Kelly noted that the defendant had not sought out or stalked his victim. Moreover, he now felt  really bad about what he had done to her. Sure he did, but so what?

     The judge, in defending his sentence, wrote: "He [Rojano-Nieto] reacted to a sexual urge and stopped almost immediately." According to Judge Kelly, while the little girl was sodomized by a 20-year-old man, she had not been seriously injured and was therefore "headed for a normal life."

     Judge Kelly has been on the bench in Orange County for fifteen years. How could that be?

     Not content to blame the toddler for her victimization, the judge tried to illicit sympathy for this sex offender by revealing that he had grown up in a "dysfunctional" family with "disruptional abuse." What the hell does that mean? "Disruptional" isn't even a word. This upbringing, according to the judge, had made Rojano-Nieto "insecure, socially withdrawn, and extremely immature." This background had also turned him into a dangerous sexual pervert who should, for the rest of his life, never be around children.

     Orange County Deputy District Attorney Tony Rackauckas responded to Judge Kelly's disturbing decision by announcing his office will appeal Rojano-Nieto's sentence. Referring to the defendant, the prosecutor said, "He's a grown man. He knowingly [actually intentionally] committed this terrible crime and should pay the price."

     Public outrage over the pedophile's light sentence led to a grass roots effort to recall the judge. On December 31, 2015, the bid to have Judge Kelly removed from the bench failed when the recall supporters were unable to collect the minimum 90,829 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

     District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' sentence appeal before the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court, as of May 2016, was pending.

      Rojano-Nieto is too dangerous to be placed back into society. Anyone who thinks someone like him can be rehabilitated is a fool.



Sunday, May 15, 2016

Joseph L. Miller: A Murderer Brought to Justice Too Late

     In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on June 12, 1959, 23-year-old Joseph Lewis Miller blasted John and Donna Lumpkins with a 12-gauge shotgun. Mr. Lumpkins died of his injuries on July 4 of that year. Donna Lumpkins, his wife, survived her wounds.

     On January 22, 1960, Joseph Miller pleaded guilty to the John Lumpkins murder and the attempted murder of the victim's wife. The judge sentenced Miller to life in prison. Throughout the late 1960s, Miller made several requests to have his life sentence commuted. On February 9, 1971, Miller got his wish when Governor Raymond P. Shaffer granted his motion. After serving 11 years and 6 months behind bars, Miller began his life as an ex-con on lifetime parole.

     Governor Shaffer's decision in this case would end up costing another man his life. (Whenever a politician commutes a sentence in a case that did not involve injustice, the politician is saying that he knows better than the judge who issued the original sentence. Politicians are not that smart, or wise.)

     On January 15, 1981, Miller, at age 45, shot Thomas Walker to death in the parking lot outside a Harrisburg bar. After being charged with murder and several firearms violations a month later, Miller was nowhere to be found. He became a fugitive from justice.

     In 2010, in the northeastern Texas town of Mineola, Miller, a deacon in the New Life Family Baptist Church, married a 58-year-old member of the congregation named Gennell. He was 74-years-old and living under the name Eugene Eubanks. Miller, a wanted killer, had established himself as a pillar of the community. But he was a man with a secret.

     In the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, a team of U.S. Marshals showed up in Mineola with a warrant for the longtime fugitive's arrest. The marshals took Joseph Miller, aka Eugene Eubanks, into custody and booked him into the Wood County Jail where he awaited his extradition back to Pennsylvania. According to Miller's wife Gennell Eubanks, Eugene suffered from early stage Alzheimer's Disease and arthritis. He also had been having problems with his heart.

     After the marshals hauled her 78-year-old husband off to jail, Gennell Eubanks told a reporter from Pennsylvania that she had not known her husband's real name. Regarding the shooting death of Thomas Walker in 1981, she said, "Eugene said it was an accident. He was trying to protect his brother, because a man was trying to kill him. I believe my husband. He wasn't trying to kill that man; it just happened. He isn't going to lie to me," she said, "because he is a deacon. He was trying to do what's right." As Miller was being taken out of his house in handcuffs, he said this to his 62-year-old wife: "Take care of yourself, and trust in the Lord. He will see you through."

     Miller had not told Gennell Eubanks about his 1959 murder of John Lumpkins and the shooting of the victim's wife. Gennell had no idea her husband of four years had spent more than eleven years in a Pennsylvania prison.
   
     This deacon knew how to keep a secret. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Johnson Family Mortuary: The Funeral Home From Hell

      On July 15, 2014, James Labenz, the owner of the building in east Fort Worth, Texas that housed the Johnson Family Mortuary, went to the funeral home to evict the tenants. Dondre Johnson, 39, and his 35-year-old wife Rachel Hardy-Johnson, owed the landlord $15,000 in back rent. The place looked vacant so Mr. Labenz entered the building. What he saw and smelled caused him to quickly exit the premises and call 911.

     In his report, the police officer who responded to the 911 call noted that he detected the odor of decaying flesh from the funeral home's parking lot. Inside, he found the unrefrigerated remains of several corpses in various states of decomposition. The officer called the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.

     Police detectives accompanied by a medical examiner's office crime scene technician encountered a scene right out of a horror movie. But unlike its fictional counterpart, the funeral home tableau featured insects, maggots, leaking body fluids, and the overpowering stench of death.

     That day, the medical examiner's office took possession of the remains of two stillborn children and five adults. The partially mummified corpse of an adult lay in a casket inhabited by swarms of flies and other bugs. In a small container, the crime scene technician discovered a tiny skeleton. The funeral home's flooring was wet with draining bodily fluids.

     A Tarrant County prosecutor charged the mortuary owners with seven counts of abuse of a corpse. If convicted and sentenced on each count, the couple faced up to seven years behind bars. On July 18, 2014, police officers arrested Rachel Hardy-Johnson at the couple's home in Arlington, Texas. The next day, Dondre turned himself in at police headquarters in Fort Worth. After putting up their $10,500 bonds, the suspects were released from custody.

     The day after he walked out of the Tarrant County Jail, Dondre Johnson said this to a reporter: "This is a funeral home, you can expect to find bodies." True, but one would expect not to find corpses that were decomposing and being consumed by insects.

     Rachel Hardy-Johnson told reporters that she had been absent from the funeral home due to the birth of her child. Dondre, who wasn't very good at keeping up with the paperwork associated with either burying or cremating bodies, had been in charge. (Forget the paperwork, how about actually burying and burning the corpses?) She said that Dondre was all about the pomp and circumstance and show associated with the funeral service.

     Dondre Johnson's lack of administrative skills landed the couple in jail and cost his landlord $8,000 in cleanup fees. Moreover, the macabre publicity associated with the building had significantly lowered its real estate value.

     Following the gruesome discovery of the results of Dondre Johnson's gross mismanagement and callous disregard for the postmortem dignity of the deceased in his care, the Texas Funeral Service Commission revoked the Johnson family funeral license. Angered by the revocation, the couple petitioned the state to get their license returned.

     Dondre and Rachel Hardy-Johnson, already in trouble with the law, were indicted on four counts of fraud by a federal grand jury in September 2014. The couple stood accused of obtaining food stamps, a housing subsidy, federal education funding, and Medicare benefits without revealing their income and other personal assets. The alleged government fraud took place between April 2010 and July 2012. If convicted on each count, the former funeral home owners faced up to 20 years in prison.

     Federal fraud investigators determined that Hardy-Johnson had in 2011 received government benefits while claiming to be an unemployed single mother living alone with her children. During that period she purchased a 2006 Hummer H2 for $26,000 and a 2008 Mercedes-Benz CL S500 for $41,700. The next year, while still representing herself as an unemployed single mother, she bought an expensive Land Rover.

     On January 20, 2015, a Tarrant County grand jury indicted Dondre Johnson and his wife for stealing up to $20,000 from families who had paid for and did not receive funeral services in 2014. If convicted, they faced maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

     Rachel Hardy-Johnson, on January 27, 2015, pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of food stamp benefit fraud involving $6,000 in payments from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Stamp program and its successor, SNAP. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

     In February 2015, reporters with the CBS television affiliate in Fort Worth discovered that Dondre Johnson and his twin brother Derrick were conducting funerals in Sherman, Texas. Travis Mitchell, the owner of Serenity Chapel Funeral Services, told the reporters that he handled the business aspects of the operation while Donde and Derrick performed the funerals. According to Mitchell, Dondre Johnson's attorney had advised his client to avoid the media until the theft and abuse of corpse cases in Fort Worth were resolved.

     On September 24, 2015, a jury in Fort Worth found Dondre Johnson guilty of two counts of felony theft. The judge sentenced Johnson to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Johnson still faced possible prosecution on seven misdemeanor counts of abuse of corpse. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Donte Johnson: Playing the Stupid Card

     At one in the morning, after watching a movie at a friend's house, 20-year-old Sabina Rose O'Donnell borrowed a bicycle to ride to her north Philadelphia apartment a few blocks away. She never made it home. Later that day, June 2, 2010, police discovered her body in a trash-littered lot behind her apartment building. At the scene, investigators found jewelry, a camera, and an uncashed paycheck made payable to the victim. With her bra wrapped tightly around her neck, the victim had been raped, beaten, and strangled to death. He killer had left his bloody undershirt near her body.

     According to video-tapes from neighborhood surveillance cameras, police were able to place 18-year-old Donte Johnson in the area at the time of the murder. After two Philadelphia officers arrested Johnson on June 10, 2010, he admitted biking around the neighborhood that night, but denied any knowledge of the murder. His interrogators explained to him how DNA analysis of his sperm could link him the the dead woman's body. Upon hearing this, Johnson said he and the victim had consensual sex two days before her death. When the detectives questioned that story, Johnson tried another way of neutralizing the DNA evidence: he said that after stumbling across her body, he had masturbated over the corpse. The interrogators explained that this didn't explain away the bloody undershirt. At this point, Johnson confessed to the rape and murder.

     Assistant District Attorney Richard Sax charged Donte Johnson with first-degree murder, rape, and robbery. Soon after Johnson's court-appointed defense attorneys entered the case, the suspect took back his confession, and turned down a negotiated guilty plea. The defense challenged the reliability of the DNA evidence linking Johnson to the body and the murder site, and made the argument that the prosecution couldn't use his recanted confession. Johnson was now claiming that at the time of Sabina Rose O'Donnell's rape and murder, he was at home with his family.

     At a pre-trial hearing on April 30, 2012 to determine if the prosecution could introduce Johnson's confession, defense attorney Gary Server put a private forensic neuropsychologist on the stand. Dr. Gerald Cooke testified that Johnson, with a damaged brain and an IQ of 73, had the mental capacity of an 11-year-old. Because the suspect was almost retarded, his interrogators could have easily manipulated him into confessing to a crime he didn't commit. (So what's the solution to this? Using stupid interrogators to make things fair?)

     In arguing for the exclusion of Johnson's confession, attorney Server said, "The detective speaks to Mr. Johnson and he thinks he's talking to an adult, when in reality he's speaking to a child." The defense attorney also noted that when questioned by the police, his client had been drunk and high on drugs.

    The police officers who had arrested Johnson took the stand and testified that the suspect, sober and coherent, knew exactly what was going on when they took him into custody. According to the police officers, Johnson did not act or speak like an 11-year-old child. The judge, after hearing both sides of the argument, ruled that the prosecutor could introduce Johnson's confession at his trial. The defense attorneys could make the false confession claim to the jury.

     On May 1, 2012, after opening statements to the jury from both sides, the prosecutor presented the state's case. Surveillance cameras placed the defendant in the vicinity that night, Johnson had confessed to the rape and murder, and DNA linked him to the bloody shirt and the victim's body. From a prosecutor's point of view, as murder cases go, this was about as good as it gets.

     By comparison, the defense--that DNA analysts made mistakes, the confession was false, and Johnson's family said he was at  home with them that night--was weak.

     To convince the jury that police interrogators had taken advantage of Johnson's feeble mind to wrangle a false confession out of  him, the defense showed the video-taped testimony of the neuropsychologist, Dr. Gerald Cooke. According to Dr. Cooke--who earned $9,300 for his I.Q. testing and testimony--Donte Johnson has trouble solving problems, reasoning, and thinking quickly. His mother had given birth to Donte when she was 16; early in his youth he had suffered some kind of brain damage; and since turning 14, he has been using drugs and binge drinking. According to the psychologist, this simpleton never held a job, and had sex with scores of women. (Great.)

     Donte Johnson's attorneys chose not to put their client on the stand. Perhaps they didn't want to risk a witness box confession like in one of those old Perry Mason TV episodes. Moreover, having tried to make the jurors feel sorry for the defendant, the attorneys wanted to keep him under wraps. Following the closing arguments, and the judge's instructions, the case went to the jury.

     Jurors, after deliberating 4 hours, found Donte Johnson guilty of first degree-murder and rape. The judge sentenced him to life plus 40 to 80 years. In speaking to the judge after receiving his sentence, Johnson said, "How can you clearly say I did anything? If I did something I would take responsibility."

     If stupidity ever becomes a successful criminal defense, our prisons will be half empty.