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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brittany Murphy's Cause and Manner of Death: Homicidal Poisoning?

     In 2003, 26-year-old film actress Brittany Murphy purchased a house in West Hollywood that had been owned by Britney Spears. Four years later, she married a British writer/director named Simon Monjack who moved into the multi-million dollar mansion.

     At eight o'clock Sunday morning on December 20, 2009, Brittany Murphy's mother Sharon called 911 to report that her daughter had collapsed in the shower. Paramedics found the 32-year-old actress unconscious. Two hours later, at a nearby hospital, Brittany Murphy died. 
     Shortly after her death, Murphy's husband Simon Monjack told a People magazine reporter that Brittany had been suffering from laryngitis and flu-like symptoms. He said she had been taking antibiotics and was on herbal remedies that wouldn't speed up her heart. Monjack insisted there were no substances in the house at the time of her death that could have harmed her. "There was prescription medication in the house for her female time and some cough syrup. That was it," he said.
     In February 2010, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office released Murphy's autopsy report that revealed she had died of "multiple drug intoxication, pneumonia, and iron deficiency anemia." According to a toxicological analysis of her blood, Murphy possessed elevated levels of hydrocodine, acetaminophen, and chloropheniramine, ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter cold medications. 
     As a result of the autopsy and toxicological findings, Murphy's manner of death went into the books as natural caused by a weakened state of health made worse by an accidental overdose of cold medications. According to the coroner, Brittany Murphy's death could have been prevented by a visit to her doctor. If the Los Angeles Coroner's Office's cause and manner of death determinations were correct, the young actress had contributed to her own demise. 
     In the months following the film star's sudden death, stories appeared in the tabloid press suggesting that she had died from anorexia or from an accidental drug overdose. Rumors were also circulating that she had committed suicide. 
     On May 23, 2010, at nine thirty at night, someone called 911 requesting medical assistance at the West Hollywood home still occupied by Simon Monjack. Emergency responders found the dead body of the 40-year-old once married to Brittany Murphy. He had been scheduled that fall for triple-bypass surgery. 
     According to the forensic pathologist who performed Monjack's autopsy at the Los Angeles Coroner's Office, he had died a natural death caused by pneumonia and anemia. The toxicology report showed he had been taking prescription medication. 
     In response to rumors of foul play in Murphy's and Monjack's deaths, assistant coroner Ed Winter told reporters that "at the time of their deaths both of them were in very poor health. I don't think they ate correctly or took care of themselves. They didn't seek medical attention."
     Brittany Murphy's father, a man named Angelo Bertolotti who had served three stretches in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta for various racketeering offenses, had never been a factor in Murphy's life. But after her death, he became involved by filing a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Coroner's Office and the Los Angeles Police Department. 
     Bertolotti brought the legal action in an effort to force the coroner's office to test his daughter's hair for traces of heavy metal poisons. Bertolotti believed that additional toxicological testing would prove that she had not died from pneumonia, anemia, and a lethal mix of cold medications. 
     The Los Angeles Coroner's Office defended its decision not to test Murphy's hair follicles for traces of heavy metal poison on the grounds there was no indication that she had died from arsenic poisoning. (Professional death investigators, rather than basing their conclusions on personal assumptions, apply forensic science to unravel the mystery of sudden, unexplained deaths.) 
     In July 2012, a judge dismissed Angelo Bertolotti's lawsuit. However, as a consolation, Bertolotti acquired, from the coroner's office, samples of his daughter's hair, blood and tissue for independent toxicological testing. He promptly sent the samples to a private lab in Colorado for analysis. 
     The private laboratory, in November 2013, reported high levels of ten heavy metal poisons in the submitted Brittany Murphy samples. According to the toxicological report, Murphy's system contained, among other poisons, aluminum, manganese, and barium, poisons found in rat poison, pesticides, and insecticides.  According to the private crime lab, presence of these poisons strongly suggested the possibility of a homicidal poisoning. 
     Armed with the private toxicological findings, Angelo Bertolotti demanded that the Los Angeles Police Department re-open its investigation into Brittany Murphy's death. He also wanted the Los Angeles Coroner's Office to change its manner and cause of death rulings to homicidal poisoning. 
     Speaking to reporters after the release of the private toxicological report, Bertolotti said, "Vicious rumors, spread by tabloids, unfairly smeared Brittany's reputation. My daughter was neither anorexic or a drug addict." 
     A few days after the new revelations in the case, Bertolotti appeared on the TV show "Good Morning America." Bertolotti said, "I have a feeling that there was a definite murder situation here. It's poison, yes, I know that." Bertolotti pointed out that the Colorado forensic lab was an accredited facility that "cannot be ignored."
     Los Angeles Chief Coroner's investigator Craig R. Harvey, in response to the private laboratory's toxicological findings, said this to reporters: "The Los Angeles Coroner's Office has no plans to reopen our inquiry into the [Murphy] death. We stand by our original reports."

     In speaking to a reporter with Fox News on November 20, 2013, addiction specialist Dr. Damon Raskin said the private toxicology results made him suspicious of foul play. Moreover, "other than lab error, there is no other good medical explanation for these abnormal levels of heavy metals. Therefore, some type of poisoning is clearly a possibility."

     Fox reporter Hollie McKay also questioned Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, a Los Angeles based physician who said it was extremely unlikely that Murphy had elevated levels of the heavy metals in her system without being given supplements or unintentionally ingesting them.

     Dr. Michael Baden, the famed forensic pathologist, had a different interpretation of the new toxicological findings. He said this to a Fox News reporter: "The grouping of heavy metals is more suggestive of hair product use--dyes, soaps, heat, etc. than of rat poison….When hair samples are stored for so long, the increased sensitivity of new chemical tests will pick up whatever was in the hair's container. Was the container tested?"
     Rather than defend a premature conclusion, the Los Angeles Coroner's Office should have acknowledged the new toxicological evidence and opened an investigation. As of this writing, the case remained closed. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dr. Van H. Vu and Prescription Painkiller Drug Deaths

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In another, more recent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mitchelle Blair Murder Case

     On Tuesday morning March 24, 2014, Wayne County court bailiff Lee Gordon and her crew entered an apartment in Detroit to evict the family and clear the property. The subjects of the eviction, 35-year-old Mitchelle Blair and her four children by two men resided in the Martin Luther King Apartments, a low-income housing complex on the city's east side. Neither of the children's fathers lived in the dwelling and both owed thousands of dollars in child support.

     Shortly after 36th District Court bailiff Gordon and her crew entered the vacant apartment, someone lifted the lid to a freezer that sat just inside the property. In the deep freeze, the eviction crew member discovered, inside a black plastic bag, the frozen body of a girl. Court bailiff Gordon called 911.

     Responding police officers and emergency personnel found, beneath the girl's frozen corpse, the body of a boy, also inside a black plastic container. The girl had on a pink jacket and the boy had been wrapped in a white sheet.

     A neighbor of Mitchelle Blair's told police officers that the mother of the dead children was babysitting a friend's baby in a nearby apartment. When taken into custody, Mitchelle said, "They're both dead. I did it." At the police station, Blair confessed fully to killing her 13-year-old daughter Stoni Blair on May 25, 2013. The suspect said she later murdered her 9-year-old son, Stephen Berry. The mother said she made her 17-year-old daughter place the bodies into the home freezer.

     When asked by a detective why she had murdered her two children, the suspect said she had killed them because they had sexually molested their 8-year-old brother.

     Officers booked Mitchelle Blair into the Wayne County Jail on suspicion of child abuse and murder.

     Social workers took the other two Blair children, the 17-year-old and her 8-year-old brother, into protective custody. Neighbors told investigators that they rarely saw the home schooled children outside of the housing unit.

     A spokesperson for the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said the bodies would have to thaw before autopsies could be performed. The process would have to occur slowly to preserve potential evidence.

      A few days after the shocking discovery in the freezer, detectives learned that over the years all four of Mitchelle Blair's children had been repeatedly beaten with a two-by-four board, burned with an ironing rod, whipped, and choked with a belt. The bodies all bore scars of prolonged physical abuse.

     Autopsies determined that the children in the freezer had died from multiple blunt force trauma and burns. The medical examiner ruled their deaths as homicide. The forensic pathologist found physical evidence of prior physical abuse.

     On March 29, 2015, Alex Dorsey, the father of the murdered 13-year-old girl, told a reporter that he hadn't seen his child in two years. Every time he showed up at the housing complex to visit his daughter, Mitchelle told him the girl wasn't home. Efforts by Dorsey to gain custody of his other child were contested by the county's child protection agency.

     On March 30, 2015, Mitchelle Blair's attorney, Wyatt G. Harris, told reporters that his client was being held in isolation at the Wayne County Jail. In a statement that was outlandish even for a defense attorney, Mr. Harris said, "She realizes she has some challenges to work through. I met with her, and she's doing okay, but there are things she needs to get through, and she'll get through them."

     Challenges? Doing okay? Good heavens. How could this child abuser and double murderer be doing okay? And who cared how she was doing?

     At Blair's arraignment on Apri 2, 2015, the district court judge, on the defendant's behalf, entered a plea of not guilty to the charges of murder. The judge also ordered a team of state and private psychiatrists to evaluate the defendant to determine if she was mentally competent to understand the criminal charges against her.

     A few days after her arrest, Wayne County Jail officials took Blair out of isolation and placed her into a cell with another person. Blair, shortly after the transfer, assaulted her cellmate.

     On July 17, 2015, Wayne County Judge Dana Hathaway, following Mitchelle Blair's guilty plea, sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Hickory Street Four Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Professor James Aune Chose Death Over Disgrace

     Dr. James Aune, the holder of a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Northwestern University, joined the faculty at Texas A & M in 1996. He published a book about Rhetoric theory and the First Amendment in 2003, and eight years later, was named head of the university's Department of Communication. He lived with his wife in College Station, Texas. The short, pudgy academic with the full beard, long, unruly hair and glasses, cut the figure of the stereotypical college professor.

     In December 2012, a 37-year-old man from Metairie, Louisiana named Daniel T. Duplaisir, under the email address pretty-gurl985@yahoo.com, sent sexually explicit photographs of one of his underage female relatives to Dr. Aune and several other men. The 59-year-old professor took the bait, and with the girl, who called herself Karen McCall, set up a website on MocoSpace.com. Over the next five or six weeks, the professor and the girl communicated online. These exchanges included the transmission of sexually explicit photos of each other.

     On January 7, 2013, Duplaisir, holding himself out as Karen McCall's outraged father, sent Professor Aune a message demanding $5,000 in hush money. The extortionist wrote: "If I do not hear from you I swear to God Almighty that the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET--ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent. And if by some miracle you get away with this, I will use every chance I get to make sure every place or person associated with you knows and sees what you have done. Last chance, you better make the right move." Duplaisir demanded the money by January 8, 2013.

     Shortly after he received the extortion demand, the professor transferred $1,000 to Duplaisir. In an email to the girl, he wrote: "I answered and said I would do whatever he wanted....I sent him $1,000 and then promised more in January. I am scared shitless about this, and can't figure out how to come up with more money."

     At ten-thirty in the morning of January 8, 2013, 90 minutes before Dulpaisir's extortion payoff deadline, Professor Aune sent him the following email: "Killing myself now, and you will be prosecuted for blackmail." One minute after sending the message, the 59-year-old professor jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a campus parking garage.

     On March 26, 2013, FBI agents arrested Daniel Duplaisir in Metairie, Louisiana, an unincorporated community within metropolitan New Orleans. The suspect was charged with the federal crimes of using a phone and the Internet to extort money. At his arraignment in a federal courtroom in Houston, Duplaisir pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge denied him bail.

     In 2011, the authorities in Louisiana had charged Duplaisir with aggravated incest and oral sexual battery for allegedly abusing the girl Professor Aune thought was Karen McCall.

     In the immediate aftermath of the professor's death, his family, friends and colleagues were baffled by the suicide. (Had the extortion plot not been uncovered, I'm sure there would have been suspicions that Dr. Aune had been murdered.) What's truly hard to understand in this case is why a man of Professor Aune's intelligence and stature would establish a sexual, online relationship with a young girl. As a professor of communications, didn't he realize that his exchanges with this Internet personality were quasi-public?

     In November 2013, Timothy Duplaisir pleaded guilty to extortion in a downtown Houston federal courtroom. At his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, professor Aune's wife Miriam testified that her husband had confessed to her a week before he killed himself. She said she found it absurd that a man who was so brilliant could have fallen for a blackmail scheme by a so-called father who was supposedly outraged but would take $5,000 to keep silent. She conceded there was a side to her husband she did not know. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been changed by a bout with prostate cancer. Miriam Aune said she regretted not trying to help her husband raise the rest of the blackmail money. Because of the expense of caring for their two sons with autism, that would have been difficult. There was just no money, she said. (Had they paid off this degenerate, he would have asked for more.)

     Regarding her feelings toward the man who caused her husband's suicide, Miriam Aune said, "I truly wanted to hate him, I tried very hard to hate him. How much sadness there must be in this man's life. How much anger there must be in his heart."

     Prior to the sentencing hearing, Duplaisir, who had been behind bars eight months, wrote Judge Hughes two letters asking for mercy. "Please do the right thing for everybody," he wrote. (It was too late to do "the right thing" for the dead professor.) "Put me in a mental hospital so I can begin longterm care. I need to stop being so twisted up and lost in my own mind."

     Judge Hughes, noting that Duplaisir had not been charged with causing professor Aune's suicide, sentenced him to one year in prison.

     Professor Aune must have gone through hell between the period of Duplaisir's extortion demand and his suicide. It's tragic that a low-life like Daniel Duplaisir could exploit and destroy a man who was, by all accounts, an outstanding professor. Some people pay dearly for their weaknesses and flaws.

     

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stefan Sortland: A College Kid Takes a Walk on the Wild Side

     On Sunday morning, November 2, 2014, paramedics in a Poudre Valley Hospital ambulance responded to an emergency involving an intoxicated student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. When the paramedics rolled the student out of the building, they found that someone had stolen their ambulance. (The patient had to be transported to another hospital in a backup ambulance.)

     Through GPS technology, the police located the missing ambulance 12 miles away in Loveland, Colorado. Officers found the vehicle, its doors wide open and its front-end badly damages and leaking fluid, sitting in the middle of Highway 34. The officers also encountered the ambulance thief, 18-year-old Stefan Sortland standing thirty yards from the wrecked vehicle. The Colorado State University sophomore, decked out in an EMT safety vest, was holding a blanket, a cellphone, and a box of Wheat Thins.

     According to witnesses, the ambulance hit the raised median, jumped the curb, struck a highway sign, careened the wrong way and crossed back over the median before coming to a stop.

     When the college boy refused to obey the police-issued commands, they stunned him with a Taser. Referring to the police vehicles surrounding him, Sortland asked, "Why are those lights flashing on those cars?" On his way to the Loveland Police Department, Sortland informed the officers that he and the stolen ambulance had been en route to Vail, Colorado. For the most part, however, the college student rambled on incoherently.

     At the police station, Sortland said he had taken the drug molly along with some cocaine at a Halloween concert where security officers had kicked him out of the event. He also said that his friends and roommates, having all committed suicide, were dead and in heaven.

     While awaiting his transportation to the local jail, Sortland kicked a police department bench and a wall then started masturbating. (Apparently he wasn't handcuffed behind his back.)

     At the Larimer County Jail, while in the booking area, Sortland attacked two jail employees who had brought him lunch. He punched one of the deputies in the face. A short time later officers booked Sortland on charges of aggravated vehicle theft, obstructing emergency medical personnel, reckless driving, hit-and-run, criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and assault.

     Stefan Sortland's father told detectives that his son had no history of mental illness and was not on medication. His father did say that on Halloween his son had sent him some odd text messages.

     On May 17, 2016, Stefan Sortland pleaded guilty to the felony counts of motor vehicle theft and second-degree assault of a police officer. Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski punished Sortland with a four-year deferred sentence. That meant that if Sortland remained law abiding during this period, he would not be sent to prison. According to his defense attorney, the 20-year-old started taking anti-psychotic medication. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Suge Knight Hit-And-Run Murder Case

     Marion "Suge" Knight was born and raised in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton. In 1984, he enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on a football scholarship. Following college, he played briefly for the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive lineman. His stint as a bodyguard for singer Bobby Brown provided him an inside look at the music industry that led to his co-founding, in 1991, Death Row Records. His roster of performers included Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur.

     In 1995, one of Knight's employees, Jake Robles, was shot to death at a party in Atlanta, Georgia. Knight, who attended the event, blamed the murder on rapper P. Diddy's bodyguard. The shooting marked the beginning of the so-called east coast/west coast rap war.

     In 1996, Knight was behind the wheel of a vehicle in Las Vegas with rapper Tupac Shakur riding in the passenger's seat. An assailant fired a bullet into the car killing Shakur. On the night of Shakur's murder, police arrested Knight for assaulting a man in a Las Vegas hotel room. That lead to a five-year stretch in prison.

     Knight returned to prison in 2002 after violating the terms of his parole by associating with a known gang member. The following year police arrested him for punching a parking lot attendant outside a Hollywood, California nightclub.

     In 2005, Knight became the victim of a crime himself when, while attending a party in Miami in honor of Kanye West's appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, a gunman shot him in the right leg. The following year, his legal problems and the departure of his top rapper forced him to file for bankruptcy.

     At one-thirty on the morning of August 25, 2014, while attending a MTV Video Music Awards party in West Hollywood hosted by singer Chris Brown, a gunman shot Knight six times. Two other partygoers were wounded in the shooting spree. No arrests were made in that case.

     In October 2014, Beverly Hills police arrested Knight and comedian Micah "Katt" Williams for allegedly stealing a camera that belonged to a female celebrity photographer. They pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 29, 2015, Suge Knight's association with crime and violence came to a head in his hometown of Compton, California when he showed up unwelcome on a movie set where rappers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were working. The intruder ignored security personnel who asked him to leave. After fighting with two members of the film crew, Knight drove off in his red F-150 Ford Raptor, a very large pickup truck.

     Not long after leaving the movie set, at three that afternoon, Knight got into another fight with two men in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant called Tam's Burgers. The fight ended with Knight running over the men with his truck. He killed 55-year-old Terry Carter, a man he knew, and injured "Training Day" actor Cle "Bone" Sloane, 51.

     Police later found Knight's truck in a West Los Angeles parking lot.

     According to Lieutenant John Corina with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, "It looked like Mr. Knight drove backwards into the victims then lurched forward and hit them again. The people we talked to say it looked like it was an intentional act."

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Knight with criminal homicide and hit and run. On Friday night January 30, 2015, Knight, accompanied by his lawyer, turned himself to the sheriff's office. He smoked a cigar and smiled at photographers as though this was not a big deal. Later that night, after questioning him, Officers booked Knight into the Los Angeles County jail. The judge set his bond at $2 million.

     James Blatt, Knight's attorney, told reporters that his client had accidentally killed a friend and injured another man as he fled from being attacked. The lawyer did not explain the hit-and-run aspect of his client's behavior. "We are confident," he said, "that once the police investigation is completed, Mr. Knight will be totally exonerated."

     On March 20, 2015, after the prosecutor upped the charge against Knight to first-degree murder, the judge raised the defendant's bond to $25 million. Upon hearing this, Knight fainted, hit his head on the defense table, and knocked himself out. Paramedics rushed him to a nearby hospital where he recovered quickly and was sent back to jail. (The bail was later reduced to $10 million.)

     Because Knight fired his first four lawyers, his murder trail remained on hold and he remained in jail. At one point, Knight claimed that he was being tortured in jail by inmates. In January 2016, Knight's fifth lawyer, former prosecutor Stephen L. Schwartz, announced that the boxing champion Floyd "Money" Mayweather had agreed to post his client's $10 million bond. If this were true, Mayweather did not come through on the promise, and Knight remained behind bars.

     As of this writing, Knight has not posted his bail, and no date has been set for his hit-and-run murder trial.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lee Kaplan And The Stoltzfus Girls

     On Thursday, June 16, 2016, officers with the Lower Southampton Township Police Department, operating on a children-in-danger tip, visited the home of 51-year-old Lee Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan resided in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Feasterville located in Bucks County twenty miles northeast of Philadelphia. When the police officers entered the Kaplan dwelling they encountered twelve girls, ages six months to eighteen. Several of the children responded by running about the house in panic searching for places to hide.

     When questioned by the police, Lee Kapan explained why the girls were living in his house. In 2012, a former Amish couple from the Lancaster County town of Quarryville named David and Salvilla Stoltzfus, in return for money from Kaplan to help the couple keep their farm, gave him their 14-year-old daughter. Mr. Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses were partners in a metalwork business in Quarryville.

     According to Mr. Kaplan, since 2012, he and the Stoltzfus teenager had produced two children. Their daughters were six-months and three years old. The other nine girls in the house were also Stoltzfuses.

     Mr. Kaplan was the only adult living in the Feasterville house. None of the girls had birth certificates or social security numbers.

     Police officers booked Lee Kaplan into the Bucks County Jail on numerous offenses that included statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors. The twelve girls were placed into protective custody.

     David and Savilla Stoltzfus were also taken into custody on charges of conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Kaplan and the ex-Amish couple were all held on $1 million bond. Mr. Stolzfus told the police that when he gave up his children, he had no idea he was breaking the law. In fact, after researching the issue online, he was convinced the transfer was legal.

     On Saturday, June 18, 2016, one of Kaplan's neighbors told a local reporter that she had complained about Lee Kaplan to the authorities three years ago. Kaplan's windows were boarded up and his yard was overgrown with uncut grass and weeds. According to this neighbor, the children were occasionally let out of the house, and when she did see them, "They were so sad and fearful. That's what made me call. I've been telling my husband for years that 'something isn't right.' " (This neighbor saw something, said something, and nothing happened.)

     Another one of Lee Kaplan's neighbors in Feasterville told a reporter that Kaplan seemed "weird" and that the neighbor now wished he had called the police.

     On June 18, 2016, police officers executed a search warrant at the Kaplan house. Officers also searched a greenhouse on the property where the long-haired, bearded resident grew Avocado trees. As officers searched the property, several chickens wandered about the place. Inside the house, officers discovered several air mattresses, a large catfish tank, and an elaborate and expensive model train layout. Following the search, the authorities impounded Lee Kaplan's two vehicles, a blue conversion van and a white sedan.

     According to another neighbor, the girls were occasionally seen working in Kaplan's vegetable garden. He also took them to a nearby Dollar Store and a local hotdog restaurant. Kaplan and the oldest Stoltzfus girl, according to this witness, had been seen in public holding hands.

     According to the Lower Southampton Township Public Safety Director, "We don't know if maybe there were babies born that were destroyed or whatever, but that's not the case as far as we can tell."

     An investigation of the Stoltzfuses revealed that in 2001 Mr. Stoltzfus borrowed $300,000 from an Amish run institution called the Old Order Amish Helping Program. At the time, Mr. Stoltzfus operated a scrap metal business in the small Lancaster County town of Kirkwood. Eight years after taking out the loan to keep his business going, Stoltzfus lost the property to foreclosure. At this point he left the Amish faith, became a born again Christian, and sued the Old Order Amish Helping program for initiating the foreclosure and forcing him out of business. In his lawsuit, Mr. Stoltzfus claimed that the Amish wanted to close him down because they didn't approve of him doing business "with an individual of the Jewish faith named Lee Kaplan." A judge dismissed the Stoltzfus lawsuit a few months later.

     The scrap metal business was sold at a sheriff's auction for $342,000. The Stoltzfuses, in 2011, filed for bankruptcy.

     In digging into Lee Kaplan's past, investigators learned that he had graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1983. In 1994, he and his wife Virginia bought a house in the Melrose Park section of Cheltenham for $110,000, a place they worked hard to refurbish. Kaplan and his wife rented rooms in the house to students at a local university.

     According to a Cheltenham man who had lived next door to the Kaplan and his wife from 1994 to 2003, Kaplan was "born again, but not as a Christian. He was a born again Jew--a Jew for Jesus."

     In 2003, Lee Kaplan sold the house in Cheltenham for $250,000. Around this time he and his wife got divorced. After that, Kaplan drastically changed his looks by letting his hair and his beard grow out.

     

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Christina Schumacher's Marital Hell And Involuntary Commitment To a Mental Hospital

     In 2011, Ludwig "Sonny" Schumacher lived in Essex, Vermont with his wife Christina and their son and daughter. They had been married 17 years and their marriage was falling apart. The couple also had problems with their professional lives.

     After retiring from the Vermont National Guard as a Colonel and a F-16 pilot, Schumacher accepted an executive position with the Timberiane Dental Company in South Burlington, Vermont. Christina worked as a financial officer with the GE Healthcare Corporation, a company she had been with for more than twenty years.

     In July 2011, Christina petitioned a family court judge for an order of protection against abuse from her husband. In support of her request, Christina claimed that their 15-year-old daughter was afraid of her father. "My daughter," she wrote, "is fearful and has said if I do not file this petition she will file her own. She is now staying with friends." According to the protection order petition, Mr. Schumacher had struck Christina in the face in front of the girl. He had also abused his wife by grabbing her arm and pulling her hair. The family court judge denied the protection request.

     In 2012, after Christina's job at GE Healthcare was eliminated, she landed a position with an Internet firm called, MyWebGrocer. A few months later, she quit that job. Ludwig Schumacher ran into employment problems himself that year. Officials at Timberiane Dental fired him.

     In July 2013, a judge granted Christina a temporary order of protection against her husband after he tipped his 14-year-old son Gunnar's bed upside down with the boy in it. According to the court petition, Mr. Schumacher kept the boy pinned to the floor by pressing his knee against his back. When Gunnar broke free, the father allegedly threw him to the floor. Christina cited this and other incidents of her husband's out-of-contral rage to illustrate a "pattern of abuse which causes fear" for her and her son.

     Ludwig Schumacher appealed his wife's protection of abuse order and won. The family court judge ruled that the description of events in Christina's petition did not constitute domestic abuse by a parent as defined by Vermont law.

     Christina, on September 3, 2013, filed for divorce on grounds that her 49-year-old husband had been unfaithful, abusive, and mentally ill. Shortly after the divorce filing, he moved out of the house and rented an apartment in Essex. In cross-filing for divorce, Mr. Schumacher described Christina as mentally ill, noting that during the summer of 2013, she had received intensive mental health treatment at the Senneca Center at the Fletcher Allen Health facility in Burlington.

     Ludwig Schumacher, on Tuesday, December 17, 3013, called Essex High School stating that his son Gunnar would be absent two days due to "a family situation." A day later, at two in the afternoon, a friend of Gunnar's went to the Schumacher apartment where he found Gunnar and his father dead.

     The 14-year-old boy had been strangled and his father had hanged himself. Mr. Schumacher left behind a long suicide letter explaining why he had murdered his son and killed himself.

     On the day after the discovery of her dead husband and son, a doctor informed Christina that if she didn't check herself into a psychiatric ward at the Fletcher Allen Health Care facility in Burlington, she would be taken into custody by the authorities and put into the hospital without her consent. Because Christina had once told her sister that if anything happened to her children she would kill herself, the doctor felt he was acting in her best interest. Christina insisted that she did not need mental health treatment. All she wanted to do was grieve with her 17-year-old daughter. The doctor followed through on his threat by having Christina involuntarily committed to the mental ward.

     On December 30, 2013, Christina called the Burlington Free Press and asked the newspaper to investigate her situation, saying that the state had no basis to hold her against her will in the mental facility. While Vermont law did not require a prompt judicial review of involuntary mental health commitments, the publicity Christina received from newspaper stories prompted a judicial hearing.

     On January 22, 2014, after three hours of testimony before a Superior Court judge in Burlington, the judge said he disagreed with Christina's mental illness diagnosis and the assessment that she was a danger to herself and others. The judge ordered her release after five and a half weeks in the psychiatric ward.

     Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell, whose office had argued for Christina's continued hospitalization, had no comment for the press.

     I have no trouble believing that Ludwig Schumacher had abused his wife and children. Moreover, if Christina Schumacher did have mental health problems, they were probably caused by the domestic turmoil in her life.

     

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Unraveling of Dr. Timothy Jorden

     Dr. Timothy Jorden, a 49-year-old trauma surgeon at the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York, lived in a suburban luxury home overlooking Lake Erie. After high school, a stint in the U.S. Army, and college, the clean-cut ex-military weapons specialist graduated from the University of Buffalo Medical School. In 2004, he was certified by the American Board of Surgery. His colleagues at the Erie County Medical Center considered Dr. Jorden a gifted surgeon who had saved several lives. Dr. Jorden epitomized achievement and success.

     Dr. Jorden's grip on reality and the good life began slipping away after his live-in girlfriend, 33-year-old Jacqueline Wisnieski, an administrated assistant at the hospital, moved out of his house in Lake View, New York. Believing that Dr. Jorden was having affairs with other women, Wisnieski broke off the relationship. The doctor refused to accept this new reality.

     Dr. Jorden, following the break-up, began stalking Wisnieski, and at one point, held her hostage at knife point in her home for a day and a half. (She apparently didn't report this assault and kidnapping to the police.) The obsessed and disturbed physician attached a GPS tracking device to Wisnieski's car to keep tabs on her. At this point, Wisnieski confided to another doctor that she feared for her life. This was probably the reason she didn't notify the authorities. Who would believe this woman over the word of a successful surgeon?

     By June 2012, Dr. Jorden, uncharacteristically unkempt, sporting a shaggy beard, and 75 pounds lighter, was showing physical signs that he was slipping into some kind of dementia. To his friends and fellow employees, he seemed depressed, preoccupied, and distracted. On Wednesday, June 13, 2012, the doctor arrived at work carrying a shotgun and a .357-Magnum revolver. He somehow lured Wisnieski into the hospital basement where, in the stairwell, he shot her five times at close range.

     After killing his ex-girlfriend, the deranged physician drove home, arriving at the Lake View house 30 minutes after the murder. Four minutes later, he came out of his house and entered a path that led into the woods behind the dwelling. (This was caught on his home video surveillance system.) It was here, in a patch of thick brush, that the surgeon put his .357-Magnum to his head and pulled the trigger.

     Back at the hospital, police combed the complex for the doctor, unaware that he lay dead in the woods overlooking Lake Erie. The next day, a SWAT team and a canine unit searched the doctor's property without finding his body. On Friday morning, June 15, 2012, police officers, acting on a tip from one of Dr. Jorden's neighbors who said he had heard a gun go off Wednesday morning behind the doctor's house, found his body. Dr. Jorden did not leave a suicide note.

     Dr. Jorden's acquaintances recalled how in the days preceding the murder, he had given away personal belongings to friends and family. On the day before he killed Jacqueline Wisnieski, Dr. Jorden had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account.

     In cases where prominent, respected people shock the community by committing murder, the media focuses almost entirely on the killer. The reportage is usually laden with quotes from friends and colleagues who can't believe this person was capable of such an act. While the victim's friends and family are also wondering how this has happened, most of the media angst is about the lose of this special person to the community. The victim's story is often left untold. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Delvin Barnes' War on Women

     Delvin Barnes, despite the fact his father was a minister, and he was raised by loving parents, turned into a predatory sex offender and an abusive husband. In 2005, the 26-year-old's wife kicked him out of their house in Philadelphia and acquired a protective order against him. As is often the case, the protective order did not protect.

     Barnes' estranged wife, at ten-fifteen on the night of November 28, 2005, was getting ready for bed when he shocked her by jumping out of her bedroom closet. She threatened to call the police if he didn't leave. He said he had no intention of leaving. When she tried to dial 911, Barnes grabbed the phone, punched her in the face, kicked her, and threatened to choke her to death.

     The husband-intruder ordered his wife to undress. He then spent the night sexually abusing her. The next morning, she talked him into letting her call her mother, someone she spoke to every day. In speaking to her mother in earshot of her captor, the battered wife managed to hint that not all was well at her house.

     Barnes' wife hoped that her mother would get the hint and call the police. Instead, her mother, accompanied by her father who was armed with a baseball bat, showed up at the house to check on her. Barnes expressed his rage over what he considered a betrayal by again assaulting his wife. When her father came to her aid, Barnes wrestled the bat from him and headed for the kitchen to grab a knife. The victim and her parents used this opportunity to run to a neighbor's house where they called 911. By the time the Philadelphia police arrived at the scene, Barnes was long gone.

     The next day, police officers found Barnes in Philadelphia and took him into custody.

     A year after the home invasion, assault and rape, a jury found Barnes guilty of aggravated assault, criminal trespass, false imprisonment, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. The jurors, however, acquitted him of two felonies: rape and burglary.

     The judge sentenced Barnes to three years behind bars. That meant he was back on the street before serving what was to begin with a sentence that did not fit the seriousness of his crimes.

     In Virginia, a young woman, in July 2014, accused the 37-year-old Barnes of threatening to blow her up with a bomb. A prosecutor charged him with the lesser crime of trespassing, a misdemeanor. Eventually the prosecutor dropped that charge.

     On October 1, 2014, in Chalres City County, Virginia, Barnes abducted, off the street, a 16-year-old girl who didn't know him. Two days later the victim showed up at a Charles City County business with third-degree burns. She told detectives that her abductor had doused her with bleach and gasoline and set her on fire. The victim had walked two miles from the home where she had been held against her will and raped.

     Investigators in Virginia identified Delvin Barnes as the Virginia girl's rapist by finding a DNA match in a national databank. The victim also identified Barnes from a past mug shot. A local prosecutor charged the suspect with attempted capital murder, abduction, forcible rape, malicious wounding, and malicious wounding with a chemical. At the time these charges were leveled, Barnes' whereabouts were unknown.

     After graduating from high school in California, Maryland, Carlesha Freeland-Gaither worked at a Factory Barn. In 2012, she moved to Philadelphia where she took up residence with her grandfather. Two years later, the 22-year-old, a certified nursing assistant at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, moved in with her boyfriend.

     At 9:30 at night on Saturday November 2, 2014, while Freeland-Gaither walked home from a family party in the Germantown section of the city, Barnes came up behind her and pulled the screaming and kicking woman into his four-door Ford Taurus. A witness to the abduction called 911.

     At the scene of the kidnapping, detectives found the victim's eyeglasses and cellphone on the street next to shards of auto glass. Surveillance camera footage showed a man in a knit cap and dark coat abduct the victim off the street.

     Shortly after the kidnapping, the FBI, city of Philadelphia, Fraternal Order of Police, and the Citizen's Crime Commission jointly raised a $42,000 reward for information leading to the identify of the abductor.

     On Tuesday November 4, 2014, the authorities published a photograph of a man using Freeland-Gaither's ATM card at six o'clock in the morning in Aberdeen, Maryland. The next day, around noon, U.S. Marshals, ATF and FBI agents pulled Delvin Barnes out of his car that was parked on the side of the road in Jessup, Maryland. Inside the vehicle they found the kidnapped woman--alive.

     Following treatment at a local hospital for minor injuries, the agents transported Freeland-Gaither home to Philadelphia where she was greeted by family and friends.

     The suspect's uncle, Lamar Barnes, in speaking to reporters about his nephew said: "Some men grow up having problems with women. So they take it out on women. Apparently Delvin is one of them."

     In September 2015, Barnes pleaded guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom to abducting Carlesha Freeland-Gaither the previous fall. Barnes informed the judge that he had kidnapped the victim to raise money to travel back to Virginia. "It was an act of robbery in the beginning, and it turned into other things," he said. In January 2016, the judge sentenced the 37-year-old to 35 years in prison. (I do not know the disposition of the rape and assault of the 16-year-old girl in Virginia.)
     

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Pamela Phillips Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1986, Gary Lee Triano, a well-known real estate developer in Tucson, Arizona, made the mistake of his life when he married 28-year-old Pamela Phillips. Triano had made millions investing in bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California. He made his fortune before Congress authorized Native Americans to open full-blown gambling casinos.

     In 1992, when Triano was broke, his wife of six years divorced him. The couple had two children together. Shortly after the breakup, Phillips took out a $2 million insurance policy on her ex-husband's life. She moved to Aspen, Colorado where she began working as a real estate agent. It was there she met and began dating a 44-year-old man named Ronald Young.

     In 1994, Gary Triano filed for bankruptcy. He was $25 million in debt. He told his girlfriend in July 1996 that someone had been following him.

     At 5:30 PM on Friday, November 1, 1996, after playing a round of golf at the Westin La Paloma Country Club with his friend Luis Ruben, Triano climbed behind the wheel of his 1989 Lincoln Town Car . Eight minutes after pulling out of the country club parking lot, the vehicle exploded and burst into flames. The blast killed Triano instantly.

     Investigators determined that someone had wired a large black powder pipe bomb to Triano's car. Detectives had no idea who this person was. They questioned his ex-wife but didn't consider Phillips a suspect in the bombing. Without promising leads, the case quickly went cold.

     In November 2005, nine years after the car bombing murder of the ex-millionaire, Tucson detectives caught a break in the form of an anonymous tip. According to the tipster, Pamela Phillips had paid Ronald Young $400,000 to murder her ex-husband. The hit man had been compensated out of the $2 million life insurance payout that had gone to Phillips.

     FBI agents in Florida uncovered information connecting Young and Phillips in the Triano murder plot. The evidence included incriminating emails between the hit man and the mastermind, detailed records of their business transactions, meetings, and even recorded telephone calls in which the two discussed the murder plot.

     Ronald Young, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, went into hiding and became a fugitive.

     In September 2006, FBI agents raided Phillips' house in Aspen, Colorado. On her computer, agents found evidence of her involvement in her ex-husband's murder. However, before she was taken into custody, the murder-for-hire suspect fled the country and took up residence in Austria.

     Gary Triano's two children, in November 2007, sued Pamela Phillips and Ronald Young for the wrongful death of their father. (The plaintiffs were awarded $10 million in damages two years later.)

     On October 2008, FBI agents, after Ronald Young was featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted," arrested him in California. The suspected hit man was now 66-years-old. Upon his extradition to Arizona, the authorities booked him into the Pima County Jail. The judge set his bond at $5 million. Young pleaded not guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder.

     A jury, in March 2010, found Ronald Young guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

     In December 2010, government officials in Austria agreed to extradite Phillips to the U.S. on condition she would not, if found guilty, be sentenced to death. Prosecutors in Arizona agreed to this condition and the fugitive was sent home to face trial.

     The Pamela Phillips murder-for-hire trial got underway in February 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. Prosecutor Nicol Green portrayed the defendant as a cold-blooded gold digger who hired a former boyfriend to kill Mr. Triano for the life insurance money.

     Defense attorney Paul Eckerstrom painted his client as a victim of overzealous law enforcement. As a successful real estate agent in her own right, the lawyer claimed his client didn't need Triano's insurance money. Regarding the $400,000 she had paid Ronald Young, Eckerstrom characterized the transaction as payment for Young's help in various business ventures.

     In speculating who may have bombed Triano's Lincoln Town Car, attorney Eckerstrom said, "Gary Triano lived on the edge, the financial edge….He borrowed a lot of money from all sorts of people, many people who might be connected to organized crime."

     On April 8, 2014, the jury found Pamela Phillips guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On May 22, 2014, the judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Upon hearing her fate, Phillips turned to the gallery and said, three times, "I'm innocent!" 

Did Terri Horman Murder Her Stepson Kyron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

The MS-13 Gang Double Murder Case

     In 2010, 17-year-old Juan Elias Garcia, a resident of the Long Island community of Central Islip, New York, belonged to the street gang MS-13, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha Gang. This violent, criminal organization, with ties to several Mexican drug cartels, had a strong presence on Long Island with more than a dozen chapters. (The gang also flourished in other areas of the U.S. with substantial Salvadoran populations such as in southern California, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.)

     The five-foot-four inch Garcia, nicknamed "Cruzito," dated 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta. A problem developed in their relationship when Garcia learned she had ties to two rival gangs, the Latin Kings and the 18th Street Gang. Pursuant to gang culture, Argueta's association with the rival groups amounted to "disrespecting" MS-13.

     To save face, Juan Garcia acquired permission from a gang leader named Heriberto Martinez to have his girlfriend murdered.

     On February 4, 2010, Garcia, as part of the murder plot, invited Argueta to dinner in Central Islip. She accepted his invitation and arrived with her 2-year-old son. From their meeting place, Garcia forced Argueta and the boy to accompany him to a nearby wooded area where they were met by a pair of gang assassins, Rene Mendez Meja and Adalberto Ariel Guzman.

     Meja shot the mother to death in front of her son, then, as the boy cried in terror, shot him in the head as well. The bodies were discovered the next day. To avoid arrest, Garcia fled to El Salvador.

     In 2012, Heriberto Martinez, the gangster who sanctioned the murder, was convicted for his role in the assassinations. The judge sentenced him to life plus 60 years. A year later, Meja and Guzman were found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They each received the same sentence.

     Juan Garcia, the gang member behind the killings, remained at large in Central America.

     In February, 2014, one day after the fugitive turned twenty-one, a federal grand jury sitting in Central Islip indicted the fugitive Garcia for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The FBI, on March 26, 2014, placed Garcia on its Top Ten Most Wanted List. Two days later, Garcia turned himself in to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua. After being briefly detained at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, FBI agents took Garcia into custody. He was immediately extradited to America.

     A U.S. District Court judge, on March 31, 2014, ordered Garcia held without bail. Speaking through an interpreter, the suspect entered a not guilty plea.

     In October 2014, Garcia changed his plea to guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (In researching this story, I could find no mention in the press regarding whether or not these cold-blooded killers were in this country illegally.)  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Talking Parrot Murder Case

     In 2015, Martin "Marty" Duram and his wife Glenna resided in Sand Lake, Michigan, a village of 500 people in the southwestern part of the state. In their mid-forties, the couple had been married 15 years. They each had children from previous marriages.

     According to their children, and people who knew them, the Durams, both quick tempered types, argued a lot over money. They had a so-called love-hate relationship.

     Glenna Duram liked to gamble at local casinos. In 2010, she lost $75,000 to the slot machines. In April 2015, Mr. Duram learned to his shock and dismay that their house was in foreclosure. Glenna Duram, instead of paying their bills, had gambled the money away.

     On the night of May 13, 2015, police and emergency personnel were summoned to the Duram house following a shooting. Officers found the couple in their bedroom lying next to each other. Mr. Duram had been shot five times, once in the head. He lay dead among six shell casings. Mrs. Duram had a superficial head wound and was conscious.

     When asked by the police who shot her and her husband, Glenna Duram said she didn't know. She also became combative when paramedics tried to take her out of the house for medical treatment. She kept yelling, "Why are you doing this to Marty."

     Police officers at the scene found no evidence of forced entry, and nothing had been taken from the house. Mr. Duram was found clutching a clump of hair. Officers also discovered, in the living room, three manila envelopes containing suicide notes signed by Mrs. Duram and addressed to her children. In these notes she apologized for being such a disappointment.

     The dead man's parents, Lilian and Chuck Duram, told the authorities they believed Glenna Duram had murdered their son during a violent argument. At this point the police suspected a failed murder-suicide. When questioned again by the police after she had fully recovered from her head wound, Glenna Duram claimed to have no memory of the shooting.

     Soon after the murder, Christina Keller, Mr. Duram's ex-wife, took custody of Bud, the former couple's 20-year-old African Gray parrot. In late May 2015, Bud began squawking in voices that sounded like a man and a woman arguing. In the man's voice, Bud said, "Don't f…ing shoot!" Christina Keller video taped the parrot's crime scene re-creation for the police.

     As of June 2016, no one has been charged with Martin Duram's murder. Christina Keller, in the wake of the killing, established a Facebook page titled: "Justice For Marty Duram."

     If Glenna Duram had shot and killed her husband, there should be plenty of physical evidence pointing to her guilt. The authorities in charge of the case have been tight-lipped about the status of their investigation. As a result, there are a lot of unanswered questions such as: were Glenna Duram's fingerprints on the murder gun? Did gunshot residue indicate she had recently fired a handgun? Was the hair clump in the dead man's hand from his wife's head? What did the crime scene blood spatter analysis reveal? Has Mrs. Duran been given a polygraph test?

     If Glenna Duram didn't kill her husband, who did, and why didn't the shooter finish her off? And finally, is the talking parrot video tape legally admissible evidence of Glenna Duram's guilt?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Teacher William James Vahey: The Life And Crimes Of An International Pedophile

     In 1970, 20-year-old William James Vahey pleaded guilty in California to child molestation. Notwithstanding the sex crime conviction, he graduated from college in 1972 with a degree in education. Facing arrest for not registering as a sex offender, the pedophile fled to Tehran, Iran where he landed a job teaching eighth grade history at a private school attended by American and European children.

     From 1973 to 1975, Vahey taught at the American Community School in Beirut, Lebanon. A year later he was in Madrid, Spain teaching at another private American school. After working one year in Spain, Vahey returned to Iran, this time teaching at the Passararod School in the city of Ahwal.

     In 1978, the itinerate pedophile taught eighth grade students at the American Community School in Athens, Greece. Two years later, Vahey turned up in Saudi Arabia at the Saudi Aramco School in Dhahran. After teaching in Saudi Arabia, Vahey moved to Jakarta, Indonesia where he taught at the Jakarta International School for ten years. After a decade in Indonesia, Vahey ended up in Caracas, Venzeluela working at the Escuela Campo School.

     Vahey's wife Jean (yes, many pedophiles are married), the former superintendent of the Esceula Campo School, was, in 2009, the executive director of the European Council of International Studies. This may explain why he had been able to land so many private school teaching jobs around the world.

     After a year in Venezuela, Vahey was in London, England teaching at the Southbank International School. He taught English boys ages eleven to sixteen, most of whom were offspring of foreign business executives and diplomats. During his three year tenure at Southbank, Vahey took students on numerous overnight field trips.

     In August 2013, administrators at the American Nicaraguan School in Managua hired Vahey to teach ninth grade history. Two months later, Vahey accused his house maid of theft and fired her. In February 2014, the maid went to the principal of the American Nicaraguan School with a thumb drive she had taken from Vahey's computer. The memory stick contained at least 90 images of boys between the ages 12 to 14 who were either asleep or unconscious.

     William Vahey, when confronted by school authorities in possession of this evidence, confessed to drugging and sexually assaulting male students. Fired on the spot, the traveling teacher fled the country to avoid being arrested by Nicaraguan police.

     A federal judge in Houston, Texas, on March 11, 2014, ruled that FBI agents could lawfully search Vahey's thumb drive. Two days later, in a Luverne, Minnesota hotel room, the 64-year-old pedophile committed suicide. During his tenure as a middle school teacher, Vahey had taught at ten private schools in nine countries. He also coached boy's basketball and took students on hundreds of overnight field trips.

     At the time of Vahey's death, he owned a home in London, England and a house in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (I do not know if he was still married or if he had any children of his own.)

     On April 23, 2014, a FBI spokesperson issued a statement that read: "This is one of the most prolific and heinous sexual predator cases we have seen. It appears Vahey was able to perfect his crimes in such a way that his victims were unable to report them. He has been teaching overseas the entire time. We strongly believe there are more victims."

    Most of the dead pedophile's former employers were not eager to admit the commission of his sex crimes under their noses. As is so often the case, when suspicions of this nature arise, education administrators simply pass the trash--the suspected pedophile--to another school. Teacher William James Vahey, with a resume full of employment recommendations from former employers, was a piece of trash passed around the world from one country to the next.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Geraldine Cherry: Natural Born Killer

     Born in 1962, Geraldine Cherry grew up in western New Jersey outside the Philadelphia metropolitan area. As a kid, she was aggressive and bellicose, often frightening her siblings, and even her mother who felt the need to lock herself into her bedroom at night. In 1974, when Geraldine was 12, social workers broke the family up, sending the 15 children to various institutions and foster homes.

     Shortly after Geraldine turned 14, the authorities, following a series of assaults and disruptive behavior, sent her and one of her sisters to the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Camden County, New Jersey. At one point, Geraldine threatened to choke her sister to death while she slept.

     In 1978, at age 18, after assaulting a woman, the judge sentenced Geraldine Cherry to two years at a juvenile detention institution in Burlington, County. While living at the medium security facility, Geraldine was accused of assaulting 72 inmates and correctional workers. (One would think, that after the 71st assault, someone in charge would isolate this woman from the rest of the inmates.)

     In August 1980, shortly after her release from the juvenile detention facility, Cherry, while standing on a platform at the Voorhees, New Jersey train station, pushed a woman she didn't know onto the high-speed railway tracks. Following her conviction for assault in this case, the judge, before sentencing, had Geraldine evaluated at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. The doctor who conducted the examination diagnosed Cherry as having an antisocial personality disorder. This meant she wasn't mentally ill, just a cruel, violent person. People with rotten personalities like this can't be fixed with drugs or psychotherapy. Besides being aggressive and dangerous, these antisocial types (what a stupid name for this) tend to be serial liars who exploit the people who try to help them. The best way to deal with violent sociopaths is to isolate them.

     Although the train station victim only received scrapes and bruises, the judge gave Geraldine Cherry 10 years, the maximum sentence for the assault. She served her time at the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Camden County.

     While doing time at Clinton, Cherry was stabbed in both eyes with either a pencil or a shard of glass. Because she was a pathological liar, her account of what happened--a prison guard had tried to gouge out her eyes in a fight--wasn't credible. The wounds were either self-inflicted, or the result of an altercation with another inmate. The matter remained unresolved.

     In May 1986, correctional authorities accused Geraldine of starting a fire in the prison. Because it was quickly extinguished, no one was hurt. Three years before completing her 10 year sentence, Geraldine Cherry, in 1988, walked out of prison. (She certainly didn't get out early on good behavior. Perhaps the arson hastened her departure.) During the next several years, Cherry lived in various group homes and institutions in Illinois and New Jersey.

     In 2012, Geraldine Cherry and a 70-year-old woman named Kathleen McEwan shared living quarters at the Parker Place Apartments in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. The complex was owned by a Philadelphia-based, nonprofit social service agency called Resources for Human Development (RHD). McEwan, a former waitress who for years had struggled with schizophrenia, had suffered a series of strokes that had rendered her incapable of feeding or dressing herself.

     At six in the morning of June 10, 2012, fire rescue medics responding to an emergency call from the Parker Place Apartments, found Kathleen McEwan lying face up in her bed. She had died sometime during the night. Due to her age and medical condition, the medical examiner ruled that McEwan had died a natural death.

     Jeff Thompson, the mortician at the John J. Byers Funeral Home in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania who had the job of embalming McEwan, made a gruesome discovery. Someone had stuffed a 10 inch length of rope down the dead woman's throat. Because there hadn't been an autopsy in this death, the medical examiner had made a bad call. Thompson, instead of finishing his job, called the medical examiner's office.

     Kathleen McEwan's autopsy produced further evidence of foul play. The person who had inserted the rope into the woman, had stuffed other things down her throat that included a bottle of  hand lotion, a diaper fragment, and a quantity of Chex Party Mix. This time the medical examiner ruled McEwan's death homicide by suffocation. (Had Cherry smothered McEwan with a pillow, she would have gotten away with murder.)

     Shortly after being charged and arrested for murder, Geraldine Cherry suffered a series of seizures which required the 50-year-old's hospitalization. A judge ordered another psychiatric evaluation. Although a mental health expert would never say this, Geraldine Cherry was a natural born killer. She should not have been living with another person, particularly one so helpless as Kathleen McEwan.

     In October 2012, following a 60-day mental health evaluation, Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield ruled that Geraldine Cherry was mentally incompetent to stand trial for murder.

     Kathleen McEwan's children, in March 2013, filed a lawsuit against the RHD. According to Nancy Walker, the plaintiff's attorney, the social service agency had "failed Kathleen and McEwan and her family, and they also failed Geraldine Cherry. Both of these women needed care, and they needed to be in different types of facilities. Because of Geraldine Cherry's violent history, she should have never been placed in a room with Kathleen McEwan."

     It is doubtful that Geraldine Cherry will ever be adjudicated competent to stand trial. She will never be free either. Too insane to be punished or rehabilitated, this woman will simply have to be warehoused, in isolation, until she dies.

     

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Brock Allen Turner Sexual Assault Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bath Salts and the Hannibal Lecter Syndrome

     At five in the evening on Saturday, June 2, 2012, 21-year-old Brandon De Leon, accompanied by three other homeless men, walked into a Boston Market fast-food restaurant in North Miami Beach, Florida. High on marijuana, Xanax, and a bath salt called Cloud 9, De Leon had also consumed a bottle of rum and an alcohol and caffeine-laced drink called Four Loko.

     The moment De Leon entered the restaurant, he became belligerent. Cursing loudly, he challenged one of his homeless companions to a fight. As it happened, two uniformed police officers were eating there. As the officers approached the manifestly intoxicated and unruly man, he swore at them. De Leon was asking for trouble, and he got it.

     Although De Leon resisted, the officers hustled him out of the eating place and onto the ground outside. Once handcuffed behind his back, and seated in the patrol car, De Leon began bashing his head against the glass divider between the back seat and the front interior of the police vehicle. As he slammed the glass with his head, De Leon yelled, "I'm going to eat you!"

     At the police station, De Leon continued to behave like an animal intent on eating its prey by baring and gnashing his teeth. Several officers wrestled him to the floor, then carried the squirming, spitting, growling, and snapping maniac to a holding cell where De Leon tried to bite one of his captors in the hand as they put him in leg restraints. Once they had the prisoner physically under control, officers slipped a Hannibal Lecter-type "bite-mask" over his head.

     Following drug testing procedures at Aventura Hospital, police officers transported the chained and masked De Leon to the Miami-Dade County Jail where he was held on $7,500 bond.

     Because of the recent rash of cases involving cannibalistic behavior, Brandon De Leon's Hannibal Lecter act became more than a local crime story. The intense interest in these type cases brought a gruesome homicide, committed in 2009 by a San Antonio woman named Otty Sanchez, back into the news. Sanchez was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing and eating parts of her 3-week-old baby. The schizophrenic said the devil made her do it.

     In December 2010, Stephen Griffith, a Ph.D. student in England, murdered three women and ate the body parts of two of them. (He killed one of his victims with a crossbow.) In Russia, a chef, in August 2011, lured his victims to his apartment through a gay-dating website, then killed them with a butcher-knife. He made meatballs and sausages from their corpses.

     More recent murders of this nature include Miami's Rudy Eugene who chewed the face off a homeless man, and Alexander Kinyua, the Morgan State University student who allegedly ate a portion of his victim's heart and brain. In Sweden, a professor, in a fit of jealous rage, cut off and ate his wife's lips. He was charged with attempted murder, and was undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

     Perhaps the most disturbing cases involving cannibalistic behavior have unfolded in Japan and Canada, countries we normally don't associate with violent crime. In May 2012, a man named Mao Sugiyama advertised a meal where five diners each paid 100,000 yen to eat, in a banquet setting, Sugiyama's surgically removed genitals. Sugiyama and the five diners who ate his flesh were not charged with a crime. In Japan, consensual cannibalism is not illegal. (I'm not sure if it's a crime here.) The Canadian case involved Luka Magnotta, the porn star snuff-video maker who ate parts of his dismembered victim, then mailed four of Jun Lin's body parts to two addresses in Ottawa and two in Vancouver.

         The use of designer drugs was linked to 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, the Miami causeway flesh-eater, and Brandon De Leon, the homeless man transported to the Miami-Dade County Jail in the Hannibal Lecter mask. In De Leon's case, he was under the influence, among other substances, of the bath salt Cloud 9 (also called Ivory Wave), a synthetic form of cocaine. Legal in the United States, Cloud 9 can be purchased online, in smoke shops, convenience stores, and at gas stations. (It is illegal in the United Kingdom and Australia.) Cloud 9 comes in 500mg packets containing instructions on how to add it to bath water for a soothing and relaxing soak. There is also a warning not to sniff or inject the product. (I once saw a warning on a curling iron that read: "Not for internal use.")

     Cloud 9 users snort, smoke, and eat the bath salt. The drug produces an euphoric ecstasy-like sensation combined with an amphetamine-like high. Cloud 9 has been known to produce violent and bizarre hallucinations, extreme paranoid delusions, acute agitation, and thoughts of suicide. When the drug wears off, users suffer painful hangovers.

     Do Cloud 9 and other designer drugs turn people into Hannibal Lecter types? According to Deborah Schurman-Kauflin in a 2011 Psychology Today article, "Most cannibals are extreme loners. They do not have friends and they are bitter about it. Killing and eating a victim ensures that the offender is never alone." Jack Levin, author and co-director of the Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, in discussing America's most infamous cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, points out that Dahmer was a loner. Levin theorizes that Dahmer, who killed and ate parts of 17 young men, consumed his victims out of "affection." According to Levin, this was Dahmer's way of physically possessing the objects of his love.

     While cannibalism has been in the news here and around the world, it is still an extremely rare form of deviant behavior. It is tempting to associate the trend in bath salts abuse with the recent rash of cannibalism cases. The De Leon incident provides a good case in point, but in all probability, notwithstanding increased drug abuse, cannibalism, although freakish and newsworthy, will remain a rare form of deviant behavior.