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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Professor Norma Esparza and the Cold-Case Murder of Gonzalo Ramirez

     Norma Patricia Esparza grew up in southern California's Orange County. On March 25, 1995, the 20-year-old Pomona College student, while in Santa Ana visiting her sister, went to a bar where she met Gonzalo Ramirez. The next morning, accompanied by her sister and a friend, Esparza met Ramirez at a restaurant. Following breakfast, Ramirez drove her back to her dormitory in Claremont.

     On April 15, 1995, during a meeting in Costa Mesa with her boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van at a transmission shop owned by his friend Kody Tran, Norma Esparza revealed that Ramirez had raped her in her Pomona College dorm room after she met him that morning for breakfast.

     The day following the meeting in the transmission shop, a police officer in Irvine, California found Ramirez's body along side of a back road. It looked as though someone had hacked him to death and chopped off several of his fingers. Detectives questioned Norma Esparza who repeated her rape allegation. She said she had no idea who had killed Ramirez.

     In 1996, Esparza and Gianni Van were married. That year, without promising leads in the Ramirez murder case, Irvine detectives shelved the homicide investigation.

     Norma Esparza graduated from Pomona College with a degree in psychology. In 2004, she divorced Gianni Van and moved to France. Five years after moving to Europe, Esparza moved to Geneva, Switzerland where she taught psychology and counseling at Webster University, an American accredited school with campuses in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

     As Esparza pushed ahead with her academic career, the authorities in California, after re-activating the Ramirez case in 2010, were making progress. Using advanced DNA science, a crime lab analyst was able to identify traces of blood recovered from Kody Tran's transmission shop in Costa Mesa as the murder victim's. Because Esparza had admitted being at the transmission shop on the night before the discovery of Ramirez's body, homicide investigators considered her a suspect in the 15-year-old murder.

     Ramirez case detectives believed that on April 15, 1995, after Esparza informed her boyfriend and Kody Tran that she had been raped three weeks earlier by Ramirez, she and the two men drove to a bar where Esparza pointed out Ramirez. As Ramirez drove home from the bar, Gianni Van intentionally rear-ended Ramirez's pickup truck at a red light. When the murder target climbed out of his truck to inspect the damage, Kody Tran and Gianni Van started punching him. Ramirez fled on foot but his attackers caught up to him and forced him into their van.

     After arriving at Tran's Costa Mesa transmission shop, Tran and Van hacked Ramirez to death with a meat cleaver. While detectives didn't think that Esparza had participated in the actual killing, they believed that she had been the chief motivating force behind the murder.

     An Orange County prosecutor, in February 2012, eighteen years after the Ramirez murder, charged Esparza, her ex-husband Gianni Van, and Kody Tran with murder. A short time later, during a stand-off with SWAT team officers, Kody Tan committed suicide.

     In October 2012, police in Boston, Massachusetts arrested Professor Esparza at Logan Airport where she had a layover on her way from Geneva, Switzerland to a Webster University related meeting in St. Louis. After her extradition to California, Esparza gained release from the Orange County Jail by posting her $300,000 bond.

    Two months after her arrest, Esparza signed a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Scott Simmons in which she would remain free on bail as long as she, as a future trial witness, cooperated with the state. As part of the deal, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Otherwise, she would be prosecuted for murder, a crime that could bring a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

    In November 2013 the Ramirez case took a sudden turn when the 39-year-old college professor told reporters that she had decided not to plead guilty. At that point, Orange County Judge Gerald Johnson revoked her bail and sent her back to the Orange County Jail.

     Esparza's current husband, Jorge Mancillas, called the bond revocation "an injustice." To reporters he said, "I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent."

     On September 15, 2014, Norma Esparza, having changed her mind, entered a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court in exchange for a six-year prison sentence and the promise to testify against Gianni Van. Her attorney, Jack Earley, told reporters that "there is inherent risk in going to trial. The question is, do you take that risk.  Esparza and her husband Jorge Mancillos have a 4-year-old daughter." According to attorney Earley, his client's decision to plead had a lot to do with the child.

     On July 10, 2015, following a short trial, the jury found 43-year-old Gianni Anthony Van guilty of special circumstances murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced Van to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Sheetal and Rajesh Ranot Child Abuse Case: No Protection For Maya

     In January 2011, Rajesh Ranot gained custody of his 9-year-old daughter Maya. A family court judge in Queens, New York, at Rajesh's request, issued a protection order against the girl's mother and her 20-year-old brother. The father, of Indian descent, accused his former wife Ramona Roy of abusing Maya.

     Maya moved into the top floor of an Ozone Park, Queens duplex with her father, his second wife Sheetal, and her four children. The family resided on a block inhabited by other families of Indian descent by way of Guyana and Trinidad. Mr. Ranot drove a taxi and worked most nights until four in the morning.

     Neighbors began to notice that Maya's stepmother treated her differently than the other children in the family. While Sheetal watched TV, Maya cleaned the house, cooked, swept the front porch, and did other household chores. Moreover, unlike her step-siblings, Maya wore dirty clothes and looked malnourished. In the winter, she wore flip-flops and often didn't have a coat.

     Someone in the neighborhood alerted the New York City Administration For Children Services which led to regular visits to the Ranot home by social workers. A neighbor from Guyana would later tell a reporter with The New York Times that in India, stepmothers didn't like their stepchildren and treated them like slaves. The fact that Maya was more like a maid than a daughter was, under the cultural circumstances, normal. But Maya lived in the U.S., not India.

     In December 2012, Maya's teachers and classmates noticed that the girl had lost so much weight it looked as though she was being starved. She also came to school with bruises and scratches on her arms and face. A social worker continued to visit the Ranot home. The child protection agents were told by Sheetal Ranot that Maya stole money from the family to give to her biological mother. The stepmother also claimed that the girl was crazy, and giving the family all sorts of problems. When asked by social workers how she had gotten her scratches and bruises, Maya claimed to have fallen. To her friends, however, Maya revealed that her stepmother regularly beat her and locked her in a room.

     On April 16, 2014, the 12-year-old, now weighing 56 pounds, was taken to the Jamaica Hospital Center in Queens with a badly bruised and swollen face. At the hospital, Maya and her stepmother told the doctor, a detective, and a child protection worker named Ruby Perez, that the injuries had been caused by her falling off a ladder.

     Social worker Perez had visited the Ranot home many times and expressed concern that Maya was being abused. The detective at the hospital told the social worker that he didn't have enough proof to establish an abuse case. As a result, the girl went home with her abusive stepmother.

     On May 6, 2014, Sheetal Ranot took her now 46-pound stepdaughter to the emergency room with a deep cut on her left wrist and a laceration on her right knee. According to the stepmother, Maya had tried to commit suicide in the kitchen with a large knife. Although Maya went along with this absurd story, the doctor called the police.

     Finally, after three years of abuse, Maya was sent to live with an aunt. She also began to reveal the details of her ordeal. She had not fallen off a ladder. Her stepmother had beaten her with a rolling pin. Three weeks later she was beaten in the kitchen with a broken metal broom handle. She had not tried to kill herself.

     A prosecutor in Queens, on July 29, 2014, charged Sheetal Ranot with several counts of first-degree assault. In convicted as charged, the stepmother faced up to 25 years in prison.

     Rajesh Ranot, at the time of Sheetal's arrest, was in India visiting relatives. Three days after his wife's arrest, he returned to the U.S. where at the airport he was met by detectives who took him into custody. Charged with lesser assault related and child endangerment offenses, the father faced up to 7 years behind bars.

     When the news broke about Maya Ranot's three-year ordeal, New York City Commissioner Gladys Carrion thanked the Administration For Children's Services and their social workers "whose diligence and professionalism saved the life of a young girl."

     Investigative journalists with The New York Times looked into the Maya Ranot case and wrote a different story. Social workers, instead of interviewing Maya's teachers, classmates, neighbors, and others familiar with the family, simply took the word of the stepmother. As a result, the girl almost died from abuse and neglect.

     Ruby Perez, the 29-year-old social worker who in April 2014 expressed concern regarding Maya's wellbeing, posted the following message on her Facebook page in 2010: "I want to quit my job. Now. I can't take it." Perhaps Perez didn't like working for a child protection agency that didn't protect children.

     On July 29, 2016, following a three-week trial, a jury in Queens, New York found Sheetal Ranot guilty as charged. She will be sentenced later. Ranot's attorney, Mahmoud Rabah, told reporters that his client maintains her innocence and will appeal the conviction.

     Rajesh Ranot's trial is scheduled for a later date. In all probability, he will enter a guilty plea for a lesser sentence. 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tracey Richter: One Scheming, Dangerous Woman

     Tracey Richter's adversarial and bellicose history with her husbands could be viewed as a cautionary tale for professional men trolling for wives. Her story is a real-life "Play Misty for Me" horror film featuring an attractive, sociopathic, revenge-oriented protagonist willing to do whatever it takes to dominate, humiliate, and defeat her male antagonists. In Richter's case, her enemies were her estranged husbands. To stand between this woman and what she wanted, to incur her wrath, was like stepping in front on an oncoming train.

     In 1992, the Chicago native lived in Virginia with her first husband, a plastic surgeon named Dr. John Pitman. That year, Tracey Richter, then 27, pleaded no contest to the charge of discharging a firearm during an argument with him. In return for her plea, she received a probated sentence. Before they were divorced in 1996, Richter accused Dr. Pitman of sexually abusing their 3-year-old son, Bert. A judge eventually dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Following the divorce, Tracey Richter and her son moved back to Chicago.

     In 1997, Tracey Richter met and began dating Dr. Joseph La Spisa, a Chicago based oral surgeon. That relationship soured when, pursuant to an attempt to extort $150,000 from the doctor, she accused him of sexual assault. Although later exonerated, the scandal cost Dr. La Spisa his dental practice.

     About the time she was making life miserable for Dr. La Spisa, Richter met a man online from California named Michael Roberts. Shortly thereafter Tracey and Mr. Michael Roberts were married, and by 2000, the year they separated, the couple had two children, ages one and three. At the time of the separation from her second husband (Roberts), Richter was battling Dr. Pitman for custody of their 10-year-old son, Bert. If she lost this fight she would lose her son and the $1,000-a-month child support payments.

     In 2001, Tracey Richter, now 35, resided with Bert and the two younger children in Early, Iowa, a small town 100 miles north of Des Moines in the eastern part of the state. On December 31 of that year, Richter called 911 to report that she had just shot an intruder to death who, along with another man, had broken into her house and tried to strangle her with a pair of pantyhose.

     Upon arriving at the dwelling police discovered, in Richter's bedroom, the body of 20-year-old Dustin Wehde. He had been shot nine times with a pair of handguns Richter had retrieved from her home safe. The other man, she said, had fled the scene when she opened fire on Wehde. (The other intruder was never identified because he didn't exist.)

     Detectives identified Dustin Wehde, a resident of Richter's neighborhood, as a depressed computer nerd who lived in his parents' basement. He had no criminal record, and as a timid type, was an unlikely candidate for home burglary and assault. Investigators also found it strange that Wehde had parked his car in Richter's driveway.

     In searching the dead man's vehicle, police officers made a bizarre discovery. They found, on the front seat, a pink notebook in which Wehde had written that a "mysterious fellow" named John Pitman had hired him to kill Tracey Richter and her 11-year-old son. While the passage was in Wehde's handwriting, it didn't make any sense. Detectives couldn't find any evidence that Wehde and Richter's first husband had ever crossed paths, and the young man didn't come close to fitting the profile of a contract killer. Because the whole setup looked fishy, the police never considered Dr. John Pitman as a murder-for-hire mastermind. While detectives didn't buy Richter's account of the shooting, the Sac County prosecutor didn't bring charges against her and the case went into the books as a self-defense homicide.  Dustin Wehde's parents had to live with the fact their son had been murdered as part of the killer's plot to frame an ex-husband. Their son was dead and their lives were ruined.

     Shortly after shooting Dustin Wehde to death in her bedroom, Tracey Richter and her children moved to Omaha, Nebraska. In the meantime, the authorities in Iowa kept the existence of the pink notebook secret because to publicize it would have, among other things, scandalized Dr. Pitman. In 2002, Richter appeared on "The Montel Williams Show," a daily afternoon talkfest not unlike what Ophra Winfrey was doing on television. In response to softball questions in front of a sympathetic studio audience, Richter told the horrifying story of how she had no choice but to take this intruder's life to save herself and her children. She came off as a hero. (I don't know if she used this opportunity to accuse her first husband of trying to have her murdered.)

     In 2004, after Richter and Michael Roberts were divorced, she told the police that her second husband had been a part of Dr. Pitman's conspiracy to have her killed. The authorities still weren't buying into this murder-for-hire business and never considered Mr. Roberts a suspect in Dustin Wehde's homicide.

     While residing in Nebraska, Tracey Richter ran afoul of the law. In 2009, among other accusations of criminal deceit, she was convicted of welfare fraud and sentenced to probation.

     In 2010, Ben Smith, the new Sac County prosecutor, took office. As he had promised in his campaign for the job, Smith asked the Iowa Division of Criminal Justice to investigate the almost ten-year-old Dustin Wehde homicide. As part of that investigation, a forensic ballistics expert determined that Wehde had been shot three times in the back as he lay on Richter's bedroom floor. This comprised, in the prosecutor's opinion, circumstantial evidence inconsistent with Richter's claim of self-defense.  

     At the conclusion of the state investigation of Dustin Wehde's suspicious death, prosecutor Ben Smith charged Tracey Richter with first-degree murder. Under Smith's theory of the case, Richter had lured the young man to her house, forced him at gunpoint to write in the pink notebook that her first husband, Dr. John Pitman, had hired him to kill her and her son, fired nine shots into his body, then planted the notebook in his car in an effort to frame her former husband for solicitation of murder. Pursuant to this scenario, Dustin Whede had been nothing more than a sacrificial pawn in Richter's evil scheme to win the custody battle she was having with the father of her first-born child. If this was what happened, Tracey Richter was one cold-blooded sociopathic killer. A dangerous woman, indeed.

     Granted a change of venue, Tracey Richter's murder trial got underway on October 23, 2011 in the Webster County town of Fort Dodge, Iowa. The defendant, now 45, and living in Omaha, had the support of her 20-year-old son Bert and the man she was currently engaged to marry. On November 7, 2011, the jury of six men and six women, in rejecting Richter's self-defense/contract murder version of Dustin Wehde's death, found her guilty as charged.

     Following this stunning verdict, Mr. Michael Roberts, Richter's second husband and father of her two younger children, praised the jurors. He told reporters that Richter had once tried to murder him through drugs and suffocation. Mona Wehde, Dustin's mother, in speaking to reporters on the day of the verdict, said that her son's murder had destroyed her marriage and after the divorce her ex-husband committed suicide. She called the jury's decision "a blessing."

     In January 2012, shortly before Judge Kurt L. Wilke sentenced Richter to life in prison, she sent a letter to a Wisconsin prison inmate named James Landa. Landa, who had been convicted of sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl, had written to Richter following her conviction offering his moral support. (Whatever that meant.) Richter's letter to Landa contained personal information about her second husband, Mr. Michael Roberts. Among other pieces of information, Richter revealed his Social Security number, date of birth, physical description, and home address. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of this letter he suspected Richter of soliciting Mr. Roberts' murder. To reporters, Smith said, "I fear for Michael and his kids."

     In June 2012, Tracey Richter appeared on a "Dateline NBC" two-hour special on the Dustin Wehde murder case. To correspondent Dennis Murphy, she stuck to her story of self-defense. Her son Bert appeared on the show to back up her account of the shooting. Her lawyer announced that the convicted killer had filed an appeal.

     From her cell at the Mitchelville, Iowa prison, Richter launched a child custody battle with second husband Michael Roberts over her two younger children, now ages 12 and 14. Roberts had the children with him in California and planned to escape Richter's reach by moving his family to Australia.

     On September 13, 2012, Iowa Judge Nancy Whittenburg, the judge who presided over this child custody fight, ruled that notwithstanding Richter's murder conviction she had not lost her right to regular visits with the children. This meant that Mr. Roberts, to satisfy the judge's decision, had to make visitation trips from California to Iowa and back. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of Judge Whittenburg's ruling, he called it "mind-boggling."

     In July 2014, investigators in Iowa searched Tracey Richter's mother's computer on suspicion that Anna Richter and her daughter had harassed and defamed Dr. John Pitman and other prosecution witnesses, people who had helped put Tracey behind bars. According to the search warrant affidavit, the suspects accused these former witnesses of theft, perjury, fraud, computer hacking, and child molestation.

     In August 2014, Anna Richter's attorney, Julie Ofenbakh, argued that her client's computer contained attorney-client privileged communications, and asked the court for an in camera hearing to review the contents of Richter's computer. As of this writing, this aspect of the Tracey Richter criminal saga remained unresolved.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The David Wise Spousal Rape Case

     In 2008, Mandy Wise kicked her husband, David Wise, out of their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then filed for divorce. After eleven years of marriage, she had discovered, on his cell phone, video recordings of him having sex with her. She was unconscious. The tapes revealed to Mandy that she had been surreptitiously drugged and raped by her husband.

     When confronted with the tapes, David responded with the following email: "I was taking advantage of you in your sleep and you kept coming to me and telling me it was not okay. I needed to stop." He did not admit to drugging her, and they never, according to Mandy, discussed the matter prior to her discovery of the videotapes.

     In January 2010, not long after the finalization of the divorce, Mandy, now going by her maiden name Boardman, complained to the police that her ex-husband had been harassing her with repeated phone calls and text messages. She also claimed that David Wise had threatened to kill the man she was then engaged to. A judge granted her a protection order, but Wise was not charged with any crime.

     In 2011, two years after the divorce, Mandy reported the rapes to the police. As evidence, she submitted a DVD copy of the sex tapes. When asked to explain the delay in reporting the rapes and submitting the evidence, Mandy said she didn't want their two children to grow up without a father.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Wise with one count of rape, and five felony counts of criminal deviate conduct. If convicted as charged, he faced a maximum sentence of forty years in prison. After spending 24 days in the county detention center, David Wise made bail and was released to await his trial.

     The David Wise spousal rape trial began in April 2014 in Indianapolis. Mandy Boardman's testimony for the prosecution comprised the principal evidence in the three-day proceeding. She took the stand and told the jury that on numerous occasions she had awaken with the feeling that her body had been "messed with." One time she woke up with a pill still dissolving in her mouth. She had also discovered, in the bedroom, eyedroppers that were not hers.

     Following two days of testimony, the case went to the jury. After a brief deliberation, the jurors returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The judge set May 16, 2014 as the sentencing date. On that day, the prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Wise to twenty years in prison. The convicted man's attorney argued for two years of house detention.

     Marion County Superior Court Judge Kurt Eisgruber, on May 16, 2014, sentenced the 52-year-old rapist to twenty years, with twelve of those years suspended. David Wise would serve the remaining eight years wearing a GPS monitoring device in his home. Following the house detention, he would serve two years of probation.

    Following the sentencing hearing, Wise's attorney, Elizabeth Milliken, told reporters that she planned to appeal her client's conviction.

     On Monday, May 19, 2014, Mandy Boardman, in speaking to a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, said, "I was very pleased with the conviction. The sentencing was a punch in the gut by the justice system. During the reading of the sentence the judge looked at me before he gave the final decision. I was told that I needed to forgive my attacker and move on. I received zero justice on Friday."

     Boardman, to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, added: "I never thought he [Wise] would be at home, being able to have the same rights and privileges that I do."

    On July 24, 2014, Judge Eisgruber put David Wise behind bars for five years after the rapist violated the terms of his house arrest by letting his GPS tracking device's battery go dead. He also failed to maintain contact with correction authorities. Mandy Boardman responded to her ex-husband's incarceration with the following statement to a local reporter: "Now that I know that he will be in prison for the next five years, I think I can finally get some peace" 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Who Tried to Murder Gary Melius?

     Born in 1945 in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York, Gary Melius began his career as a plumber, became a builder, and eventually made his fortune in real estate. In 1984, he bought a decaying 1919 French-style chateau on Long Island's Gold Coast. The Huntington, Long Island property, called Oheka Castle, was featured in the classic film "Citizen Kane." Melius turned the 109,000-square foot chateau into a luxury hotel, catering facility, and wedding venue. He also resided there.

     A close associate of former U.S. Senator Alphonse D'Amato and contributor of hundreds of thousands of dollars to republican and democrat politicians, Melius was a force in Long Island politics. In 2010, the Oheka Castle hosted the wedding of the disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide.

     Like most rich and powerful men in politics, Gary Melius has cultivated enemies. In February 2014, he conferred with law enforcement officials regarding evidence he had acquired involving political bribery and witness tampering. Melius claimed to have proof of corruption that would send several high ranking government officials to prison.

     In 2013, Melius was at the heart of a political scandal that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

     Mr. Melius also had enemies in the business world. He was caught up in a legal battle over control of a company called Interceptor that manufactured ignition locks designed to curb drunken driving. On February 21, 2014, at a company shareholder's meeting, Melius announced that he planned to name a new board of directors.

     Melius has accused the company's founder, John Ruocco, of mismanagement and financial improprieties. Ruocco responded by calling Melius a "political fixer." In December 2013, a judge, siding with Melius, stripped Ruocco of much of his ownership of the company.

     At half past noon on Monday, February 24, 2014, just after Mr. Melius sat down behind the wheel of his Mercedes in the valet parking lot at Oheka Castle, a masked gunman approached the front driver's side window of the vehicle. The assailant fired a shot that hit Melius in the forehead. As the gunman fled the scene in a get-away car, the wounded 69-year-old climbed out of the Mercedes and stumbled  back into his house.

     The injured man's daughter drove her father to Syosset Hospital. From Syosset, he was transferred to the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset. It was there he underwent emergency surgery. Mr. Melius survived the shooting.

     In speaking to reporters shortly after the assault, Deputy Inspector Matthew C. Lewis, the Commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's Major Crimes Bureau, said, "This looks to be a targeted crime." In other words, Mr. Melius may have been the victim of an attempted assassination, and perhaps the target in a murder-for-hire plot.

     In August 2014, Mr. Melius told a reporter that the police had investigated his adopted son as a possible suspect in the shooting. Thirty-four-year-old Thomas Melius, just days before his father was shot, had gotten out of prison after several months of incarceration related to a drug case. The father pointed out the lack of physical evidence connecting his son to the assault. Mr. Melius said he believed that one of his political enemies was behind the shooting.

     In February 2015, on the one year anniversary of the case, the Suffolk County Police Department raised its reward for tips leading to the arrest of the assailant to $100,000.

     On the two year anniversary of the unsolved attempted murder, February 24, 2016, the Suffolk County Police released portions of a surveillance video the day Mr. Melius was shot. The video depicts the victim walking to his car in the parking lot of the castle when the gunman exits his vehicle and fires through his target's driver's side window. The Suffolk Police also announced that the FBI had entered the case.

     Regarding the release of the surveillance video, Mr. Melius told reporters that it was about time, and that he hoped the publicity would cause someone to come forward with the shooter's identity.
     

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Steve Nunn Murder Case

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political has-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.

   

     

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Annette Morales-Rodriguez and the C-Section Murders

     In October 2011, Annette Morales-Rodriguez, a 34-year-old mother of three, lived with a boyfriend who was expecting her to give birth to their baby within a matter of days. But that wasn't going to happen because she had been faking her pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez had lied to this man twice before about being pregnant, and in the past, to avoid exposure as a liar and a fake, had falsely reported a pair of miscarriages. Running out of time and desperate, Morales-Rodriguez decided to kidnap a woman about to give birth, and steal the fetus by performing a crude Caesarean section using knowledge she had acquired from watching a show on the Discovery Channel.

     In search of a victim and her baby, Morales-Rodriguez showed up at a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee where she encountered 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz who was in her 40th week of pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez lured her intended victim into her car by offering her a ride home. Along the way, Morales-Rodriguez stopped at her house to change her shoes while the unsuspecting Ramirez-Cruz waited outside in the car. When Morales-Rodriguez didn't make a timely return to the vehicle, her passenger walked up to the house, knocked on the door, and asked if she could use the bathroom.

     Shortly after inviting the pregnant woman into her home, Morales-Rodriguez smashed her in the head with a baseball bat, then choked her until she passed out. After binding the victim's hands and feet with duct tape, and covering her nose and mouth with the tape, Morales-Rodriguez sliced into the pregnant woman's body with a X-Acto knife exposing the fetus. After removing the baby boy from his dead mother, Rodriguez realized she had killed the newborn as well.

     After she deposited Rameriz-Cruz's blood-soaked body in her basement, Morales-Rodriguez called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had just given birth to a baby that wasn't breathing. Paramedics who rushed to the scene confirmed that the infant was dead. At this point, the emergency responders had no reason to suspect foul play. They cleaned off the infant, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to the woman who had just murdered it.

     When the medical examiner performed the autopsy, it became obvious that the baby had been removed from its mother's body by an amateur. This crude procedure had caused its death. A police search of Morales-Rodriguez's house resulted in the discovery of the disemboweled corpse with the duct tape still in place. According to the forensic pathologist, Ramirez-Cruz had died of blood loss and asphyxiation. The baby had been stillborn.

     Following her arrest, in a videotaped interrogation at the Milwaukee police station by detective Rodolfo Gomez, Morales-Rodriguez explained in Spanish how her boyfriend's expectations had caused her to kidnap and home-C-section the young pregnant woman. In other words, she had murdered a pregnant woman to save her relationship with her boyfriend.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Morales-Rodriguez went on trial in early September 2012. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charges on the ground it had not been her intention to kill the mother and her baby.

     On September 20, 2012, the jury of six men and six women found the defendant guilty as charged. Because Wisconsin didn't have the death penalty, Annette Morales-Rodriguez faced a mandatory life sentence. It was up to the judge to determine if she would be eligible for parole.

     Given the fact this woman had brutally murdered a total stranger, and killed the victim's baby through a crude C-section, Judge David Borowski, on December 13, 2012, sentenced Rodriquez to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave Teleka a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Teleka entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson emplyee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel schuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Taleka returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Taleka's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in the disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Teleka surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in Teleka's apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Teleka, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made….If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation, and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the body recovery, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

     

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Sylvie Cachay Bathtub Murder Case

     Sylvie Cachay grew up as the daughter of a Peruvian-born physician who practiced in Arlington, Virginia. She studied fashion design in New York City, and worked for clothing designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfinger, and Victoria's Secret. In 2006, Cachay started her own swimsuit line called Syla. She resided in a So Ho apartment in Manhattan's meatpacking district.

     Early in 2010, the 33-year-old swimwear designer met 24-year-old Nicholas Brooks, a college dropout and unemployed party-boy with a history of patronizing prostitutes, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Nicholas Brooks' father, Joseph Brooks, achieved a bit of fame by writing the 1970s hit song, "You Light Up My Life." The songwriter supported his son's party-boy lifestyle until 2009 when the elder Brooks was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting several women, most of whom were aspiring actresses. (In 2011, Joseph Brooks, facing the chance of a long stretch in prison, committed suicide.)

     Because of Nicholas Brooks' debauched lifestyle, funded by Cachay's credit cards, the couple had a turbulent relationship. They frequently broke up and then got back together again.

     On the morning of December 8, 2010, Cachay sent Brooks an email that read: "Nick, for the past six months I have supported you financially and emotionally. I am speaking with my credit card company and the police and I am going to tell them that I never allowed you to use my card. I don't care. Have fun in jail."

     Later on the day of Cachay's angry email, at her So Ho apartment, the couple made up. That night, just after midnight, the couple walked to the SoHo House, a luxury hotel not far from Cachay's apartment. They checked into their room at 12:30 AM.

     Shortly after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a hotel employee heard a man and a woman arguing loudly in their room. Thirty minutes later, Brooks left the suite and was seen eating a steak in the hotel's dining room. Upon finishing his meal, Brooks and a man who had come to the lobby to meet him, left the hotel. A short time later they were having drinks at a nightclub called Employees Only.

     At three in the morning of December 9, 2010, about two and a half hours after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a guest on the floor below complained to the front dest about water leaking through the ceiling. Hotel employees entered Cachay's room and found her dead in the overflowing bathtub. One of the stunned hotel employees called 911.

     New York City homicide detectives, when they arrived at the hotel, found the swimsuit designer in the bathtub wearing a sweater and a pair of underwear. The officers didn't notice any signs of physical trauma on the dead woman's body. At five-thirty that morning, while the death scene investigators were still in the hotel room, Nicholas Brooks returned to the suite. He agreed to be questioned at a nearby NYPD precinct station.

     Brooks admitted to his questioners that he and his dead girlfriend had been arguing in the hotel room before he left to eat his steak. After that, he and a friend went out for drinks at a nearby nightclub. He said that when he left the hotel room Sylvie was alive.

     Following the autopsy, a forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Sylvie Cachay had died of asphyxia due to strangulation and drowning. The manner of death in her case: criminal homicide.

     New York City detectives arrested Nicholas Brooks on January 4, 2011 on the charge of first-degree murder. At his arraignment hearing, the magistrate denied the murder suspect bail. Brooks entered a plea of not guilty.

     The Cachay-Brooks murder trial got underway in New York City on June 7, 2013. In his opening remarks, the assistant district attorney laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: the unemployed, playboy had been using the victim to fund his taste for prostitutes, alcohol, marijuana, and expensive nights out on the town. When she threatened to cut him off and report him to the police, he strangled or drowned her to death in the hotel bathtub.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office forensic pathologist took the stand early in the trial. According to the pathologist, "Bruises on the victim's neck, bleeding in her eyes, and abrasions inside her mouth...were injuries consistent with [homicidal] asphyxiation."

     Through several prosecution witnesses, the assistant district attorney presented the jury with emails in which Cachay had complained to her friends about Brooks' drinking, drug use, and late-night partying. In these emails, she referred to the defendant as "the kid I'm dating," as her "man-boy," or as a "stoner" who had quit his job at a cupcake shop.

     The Brooks defense, through a forensic pathologist from Syosset, New York, presented evidence that Cachay's death had been accidental. According to Dr. Gerard Catanese, the victim had drowned in the tub because she had sedatives, anti-depressents, and muscle relaxers in her system. "That combination of drugs," Dr. Catanese said, "could account for her falling asleep, losing consciousness...and sinking under the water and ultimately dying."

     On July 11, 2013, the jury, relying solely on circumstantial evidence, found Nicholas Brooks guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, friends of Sylvie Cachay, from their seats in the courtroom, cheered loudly. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Did Hannah Overton Murder Her Son?

     Andrew Burd was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on July 28, 2002. The 16-year-old girl who gave birth to him had used, during her pregnancy, meth, crack cocaine, LSD, and marijuana. The expectant mother had also consumed alcohol, took Xanax, and smoked cigarettes. The baby's 17-year-old father worked for a traveling carnival. This infant should have been taken from his unfit parents at birth.

     Andrew was a year old when his mother took him to an emergency room with a broken arm. A doctor suspected child abuse and called Child Protective Services (CPS). Nothing came of the CPS investigation, and the baby was returned to his mother. Eventually, after repeated evidence of child abuse, CPS agents, on the grounds that Andrew was in "immediate danger," took him from his young parents. The agency placed the two and a half-year-old toddler into foster care where he was shuffled from one home to another.

     In 2006, Corpus Christi residents Larry and Hannah Overton heard about Andrew Burd through their evangelical, nondenominational church, Calvary Chapel of the Coastlands. The couple resided in a modest ranch-style house with their four young children. Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah was six months pregnant at the time. Although the family struggled financially from what Larry Overton earned as a landscape lighting installer, the couple expressed interest in adopting Andrew.

     In 1984, when Hannah Overton was seven-years-old, her father, Bennie Saenz, an evangelical preacher, was arrested and charged with murder. Convicted of bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death, then dumping her body along the shore of Padre Island, the Corpus Christi preacher went to prison for 23 years. (I presume he was released in 2007.)

     Before her marriage to Larry, Hannah had worked as a volunteer in an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico across the border from Corpus Christi. As a married couple, Larry and Hannah had performed missionary work for their church. By all accounts they were decent people, loving parents who had never been in trouble with the authorities. Moreover, neither Larry or Hannah had a history of mental illness.

     In the spring of 2006, Andrew Burd joined the Overton family on a six-month probationary basis. On October 2, 2006, not long after the official adoption, the four-year-old became suddenly ill. He began vomiting and struggled with his breathing. Hannah, instead of immediately calling 911, telephoned Larry at work. He rushed home. When Andrew became unresponsive, the Overtons rushed him to a nearby urgent care clinic. When nurses at the clinic failed to revive Andrew with CPR, paramedics transported the boy to Corpus Christi's Driscoll Hospital.

     Medical personnel at the urgent care clinic, suspicious of child abuse, notified the police shortly after Andrew was admitted to the hospital. Within hours of Andrew's hospitalization, police with the Corpus Christi Police Department searched the Overton residence.

     In the evening of October 3, 2006, Andrew Burd died. Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, finding some bleeding of the brain, external scratches and bruises, and twice the level of sodium in the dead child's blood, ruled the manner of death homicide. Dr. Fernandez identified the boy's cause of death as "acute sodium toxicity with blunt force trauma as a contributing factor." (Dr. Fernandez did not acknowledge that the brain hemorrhaging could have been caused by the sodium content in Andrew's blood.)

     Child Protection Services agents took the other Overton children out of their home and placed them with relatives. (Eventually the children would be placed under the care of Hannah Overton's mother.) A few days after Andrew's death, Corpus Christi detective Michael Hess, an investigator who specialized in child abuse cases, interrogated Hannah Overton at the police station. She had agreed to be questioned without the presence of counsel.

     Detective Hess made it clear that he believed that Hannah, feeling overburdened with so many young children, had murdered her adopted son. "I don't see," he said, "what caused the trauma to the brain. I don't see what caused the salt content. Did you at any time strike him?" (At this point, Hannah Overton should have asked for an attorney.)

     The five-hour grilling at the police station ended without a confession. In his report, Detective Hess wrote: "It should be noted that during the entire conversation (conversation?), Hannah Overton showed no emotion." Notwithstanding Hannah Overton's insistence that she had done nothing to harm her adopted son, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, a child protection crusader, charged the mother of five (she had since had her baby) with capital murder. Under Texas law, if convicted as charged, Hannah Overton faced life in prison without the chance of parole.

     The televised Hannah Overton murder trial got underway in Corpus Christi in August 2007. Prosecutor Eastwood, in her opening remarks to the jury, said, "We don't know precisely how she [the defendant] got [the salt] down Andrew, but we know that he [the child] was very, very, obedient."

     Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner testified that he had seen "burn-like scarring" on Andrew's arm that had likely been caused by "contact with a hot surface." (Judge Jose Longoria did not allow Dr. Fernandez to state that blunt force trauma had contributed to Andrew's death. The judge, due to insufficient scientific evidence to back up this part of the pathologist's testimony, ruled it inadmissible.)

     Dr. Alexander Rotta, a pediatric critical care specialist from Indianapolis, Indiana, testified that "There were so many bruises and scratches [on Andrew's body] that it would be difficult to describe them all." Dr. Rotta told the jurors that the sodium content in Andrew's blood amounted to six teaspons of salt. In the doctor's expert opinion, Andrew Burd's death had not been accidental.

     After Detective Michael Hess played a video of the defendant's interrogation, one of the nurses who had performed CPR on Andrew at the urgent care clinic testified that the defendant, during the emergency, had not behaved like a panic-stricken parent. In fact, she often had a smile on her face. Two other urgent care clinic employees took the stand and gave similar testimony. One of these witnesses said that she had heard the defendant tell someone at the clinic that the boy had stopped breathing after he had been "punished." (While children are "punished" all the time, jurors probably interpreted this comment as evidence of child abuse.)

     At the close of the state's case, defense attorneys David Jones and Chris Pinedo brought Harvard educated forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek to the stand. Dr. Melinek identified the sores on Andrew's body as being consistent with mosquito bites that had been excessively scratched. The witness, on the issue of  how all of that sodium had entered Andrew's system, said that in all probability the child suffered from a rare eating disorder called pica. Children with this malady have an uncontrollable desire to consume inappropriate substances such as salt.

     Hannah Overton, who took the stand on her own behalf, did not come off as a convincing or even sympathetic witness. (Her attorneys, given the accusations in the case, had no choice but to put her on the stand.) At this stage of the trial, given the testimony of the medical examiner, the pediatrician from Indiana, and the urgent care clinic personnel, the jurors had probably made up their minds.

     The three-week trial came to an end when the jury, after deliberating eleven hours, found Hannah Overton guilty of capital murder. (She would eventually be sent to the maximum security women's prison outside of Waco, Texas.) Overton's attorneys, shortly after the verdict, polled the jury. The defense attorneys were stunned to learn that all of the jurors had found the defendant guilty for intentionally not getting Andrew immediate medical help. None of the jurors had been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had poisoned her child with salt.

     Two days after the guilty verdict, Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency room physician on duty at Driscoll Hospital the day Andrew arrived, and the pediatrician who had resuscitated the patient before he was sent to the intensive care unit, wrote a letter to the Overton defense team. Dr. Cortes informed the lawyers that while he had been scheduled to testify for the prosecution, prosecutor Sandra Eastwood never called him to the stand. The doctor wasn't called because in his opinion, Andrew Burd's death had been accidental. Dr. Cortes, had he taken the stand, would have testified that Andrew had been a hyperactive child who suffered from an autism spectrum disorder. (Dr. Cortes had studied Andrew's medical records.) This would account for the boy's inappropriate eating habits, obsessive scratching and picking, and head banging.

     In the months following the guilty verdict, three prominent appellate attorneys--Cynthia Orr, John Raley, and Gerry Goldstein--took an interest in the Overton case. The attorneys filed an appeal alleging newly discovered exonerating evidence, ineffective legal representation at trial, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense by prosecutor Sandra Eastwood.

     In 2009, the Texas Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the Overton capital murder conviction. The justices found no proof that the state had known of Dr. Edgar Cortes' cause and manner of death opinion. The appellate judges also rejected the newly discovered evidence and ineffective counsel claims.

     In the spring of 2010, the Overton appellate team petitioned for the right to have access to the prosecution's file on the case. Prior to the trial, prosecutor Eastwood, when asked by defense attorneys for access to documents related to Andrew's stomach contents, claimed that such a report didn't exist. The appellate attorneys, when they were given the opportunity to examine the prosecution's file, found the gastric contents report. Not only did they find the report, according to this document, Andrew's stomach contents did not reveal elevated amounts of salt when he arrived at the urgent care clinic.

     Hannah Overton's appellate team also learned that prosecutor Eastwood had scheduled, for testimony, Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Moritz specialized in children's kidney diseases, and in 2007, had published a paper on accidental child salt poisoning cases. Dr. Moritz had found that a vast majority of these cases involved boys between the age of one and six. Moreover, they had all had been in foster care, or were from abusive homes. All of these boys suffered from the eating disorder, pica.

     Dr. Moritz told the appellate team that he had waited days in the Corpus Christi court house for his turn to take the stand. When the doctor told prosecutor Eastwood that he had to return to Pittsburgh, she arranged for a video deposition that because of time, was not completed. Had he taken the stand, Dr. Moritz would have testified that in his expert opinion, Andrew's death had been accidental.

     Appellate attorney Cynthia Orr, about the time of the Dr. Moritz revelation, received a letter from Anna Jimenez, the former Nueces County prosecutor who had worked on the Overton case with Sandra Eastwood. Regarding whether Eastwood had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Jimenez wrote: "I fear she [Eastwood] may have purposely withheld evidence that may have been favorable to Hannah Overton's defense.

     In April 2011, Cynthia Orr petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for an evidentiary hearing on the Overton case. Ten months later, in February 2012, appellate judge Cathy Cochran ordered the Corpus Christi trial court judge to hold such a proceeding to entertain the appellate team's assertion that Hanna Overton, an innocent person, had been wrongfully convicted of murder.

     The evidentiary hearing began on April 24, 2012. Chris Pinedo, one of Overton's trial attorneys, took the stand. Pinedo testified that he had asked prosecutor Sandra Eastwood for a sample of Andrew's gastric contents that had been acquired by Driscoll Hospital personnel. Attorney Pinedo wanted to have an independent scientist analyze this evidence for sodium content. The defense attorney was told that such evidence did not exist. Because he had acquired photographs of the stomach contents  that had been taken at the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office, attorney Pinedo knew that he had been lied to.

    Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek testified that because Neuces County medical examiner, Dr. Ray Fernandez, had failed to adequately analyze Andrew's hypothalamous and pituitary glands, his cause and manner of death conclusions were questionable.

     Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency medicine pediatrician who had attended to Andrew at Driscoll Hospital before the boy's death, took the stand and described how he had waited at the court house to testify as a prosecution witness. "I told Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, 'I hope you're going to come forward with some other [homicide] charge than capital murder because I don't think this was capital murder.' " When asked by attorney Orr why prosecutor Eastwood hadn't put him on the stand, Dr. Cortes said, "I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened." (That is fine as long as the prosecution's theory is backed up by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.)

     Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of the nation's leading experts on salt poisoning, took the stand on day two of the Overton evidentiary hearing. Dr. Moritz said he believed that if Andrew Burd had ingested a lethal dose of salt, he had fed it to himself. The doctor testified that intentional, force-fed salt poisoning was extremely rare.

     Day three of the Overton hearing featured the testimony of former prosecutor Sandra Eastwood. In 2010, Eastwood had been fired from the Nueces County District Attorney's office after she had informed the district attorney that she had been romantically involved with a sex offender. During the Overton trial in 2007, Eastwood, an alcoholic, had been functioning under the influence of alcohol and prescription diet pills. Her responses to Cynthia Orr's questions were vague, confusing, and often contradictory. The witness said that her drinking and pill taking had destroyed her memory of the Overton case. As a witness, Eastwood came off more pathetic than evil.

     Eastwood's former assistant in the Overton case, Anna Jimenez, followed her to the stand. According to Jimenez, Eastwood had made the following comment to her: "I will do anything to win this case." Jimenez testified that in her opinion, Sandra Eastwood's behavior during the Overton murder trial was "so far out." The witness testified further that she believed that Hannah Overton should have been charged with a lesser homicide offense. Regarding Eastwood's claim that the boy's gastric contents evidence did not exist, Jimenez said, "She is not truthful."

     On the sixth and final day of the Overton evidentiary proceeding, David Jones, one of Overton's trial attorneys, broke down on the stand. "I failed miserably," he said. "There's probably not a day since this verdict that I don't regret spending more time on this case. I should have done more."

     On June 1, 2012, a month after the conclusion of the Overton hearing, District Court Judge Jose Longoria issued his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a 14-page opinion, Judge Longoria explained why he saw no new evidence that would have altered the outcome of Overton's murder trial. "The court," he wrote, "concludes that all of the supposedly newly discovered evidence actually was clearly known and discussed at the time of the trial."

     Hannah Overton's appellate team, as well as a large group of people who believed she was an innocent mother who had been railroaded into prison by an overzealous prosecutor, were stunned by Judge Longoria's opinion. The imprisoned woman's fate rested with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In making their decision on whether or not to grant Overton a new trial, the appeals court justices were not bound by District Court Judge Longoria's recommendation.

     On September 18, 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 7 to 2 to grant Hannah Overton a new trial. The appellate judges cited problems associated with prosecutor Sandra Eastwood and criticized Overton's trial attorneys for not calling to the stand a salt poisoning expert.

     The Nueces County District Attorney, after losing the appeal, had four options. He could charge Overton again with capital murder, file lesser charges against her, offer a plea deal, or simply dismiss the case. The prosecutor chose to try Overton again for capital murder.

     On December 16, 2014, a Nueces County judge set Overton's bond at $50,000. She posted her bail and was released from prison to await her second trial.

     In February 2016, Hannah and Larry Overton appeared on a episode of the Dr. Phil Show. The couple, in response to pointed questions by the host, denied intentionally poisoning Andrew or delaying his emergency medical care. They also denied abusing the boy. The show featured portions of the video taped police interrogation of Hannah that showed her laughing several times during the detective's questioning. She explained that it was nervous laughter. In defending what appeared to be examples of harsh treatment of Andrew, the couple pointed out that he had been an extremely difficult child to raise. Dr. Phil did not seem convinced the Overtons had been good to the boy, asking them if they had treated him worse than their biological children.

     As of this writing, no trial date has been set for Hannah Overton's second murder trial.

Note: This account of the Overton case would not have been possible without the original reporting and excellent journalism of Pamela Colloff. In 2012, Colloff wrote several articles about the case for Texas Monthly. 

   

     

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story like this was the stuff of fiction. The advent of DNA technology, however, has made scenarios like this one not only possible, but fairly common.

     In the old days (in the context of DNA science), when a murder investigation petered out, and the trail grew cold, detectives shelved the case, and, except for the victim's family, it was forgotten. Maybe the detective who had tried but failed to solve the murder thought about it every so often. But with dead witnesses, failed memories, lost documents, and no leads, the old murder remained as dead as the victim. With the passage of enough time, even the killer might forget the killing, or pretend it never happened. It used to be said that murder will out, but that was a lie.

     Thanks to the developing science of DNA fingerprinting, old murder cases involving biological evidence such as hair follicles, saliva traces, bloodstains, and semen residue, can now come back to life and haunt killers who thought they had escaped detection. Yes, it's justice delayed, but it's a lot better than no justice at all.

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     At noon, on September 1, 1979, Peter J. Caltury, Sr. entered the duplex in Monaca, Pennsylvania where his 23-year-old daughter, Catherine Janet Walsh, lived by herself. He found her dead, lying face-down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back with a bathrobe cord. Dressed in a nightgown, and partially covered by the bed sheet, the victim had a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. When Mr. Caltury called the Monaca Police Department, Officer Andrew Gall responded to the scene.
   
      It became apparent that robbery hadn't been the motive for the Walsh murder. The doors to the house had been locked when the victim's father checked in on his daughter, and there were no signs of a struggle. Based on these conditions investigators assumed the victim had known her killer.

     Murder was (and is) rare in Monaca, a Beaver County town on the eastern bank of the Ohio River 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fact Catherine Walsh had been sexually assaulted and murdered in her own bedroom shocked the residents of this small, tight knit community.

     Catherine, a year out of Monaca High School, married Scott E. Walsh in August 1976. In December 1978 he filed for divorce on the grounds she had "violated her marriage vows." Catherine had moved into the duplex after the separation. At the time of her death, however, she was still married to Scott Walsh.

     The Beaver County coroner determined that Catherine Walsh had been strangled to death, and ruled the case a homicide. Detectives questioned, as the obvious suspect, Scott Walsh, the estranged husband. Investigators also interviewed a man named Gregory Scott Hopkins from the nearby borough of Bridgewater. Hopkins admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the married victim, but said it had ended a month before her death.

     Although detectives worked hard on the Walsh murder case, they were unable to acquire the evidence they needed to arrest a suspect. Years passed and the case went dormant. Detectives worked on other crimes and the Walsh case suspects went on with their lives. Gregory Hopkins became a successful building contractor, and in November 2010, was elected to the Bridgewater Borough Council. He married his first wife in 1967 and divorced her in 1980. He married again in 1983, divorcing this wife in 1999. In 2001, he married Karen L. Fisher.

     In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police, working off a federal grant, re-opened several old homicide cases that featured biological evidence that could be linked to murder suspects through DNA analysis. One of these cold-case investigations included the September 1979 murder of Catherine Walsh. In December 2011, a state forensic scientist took DNA samples from several people, including Gregory Hopkins. After comparing biological trace evidence from the victim's nightgown, the bathrobe cord, and the crime scene bed sheet to Gregory Hopkins' DNA sample, the scientist declared a match.

     On January 29, 2012, detectives arrested Gregory Hopkins at his home for the murder of Catherine Walsh. They booked the Bridgewater Councilman into the Beaver County Jail. Six days later, James Ross, Hopkins' attorney, asked the judge to grant his client bail. The judge, ruling that Catherine Walsh's murder was a non-bailable crime, denied the defendant's request.

     Hopkins' attorney, promising a "vigorous" defense, told reporters that "Mr. Hopkins is a very reputable man in the community, has been in business for 40 years, served on the borough council and I think the arrest comes as a shock to many people." (I'm sure the arrest came as a shock to Mr. Hopkins. He may have been a reputable man before his arrest, but a DNA match in a murder case can suddenly erode a man's respectability.)

     On November 5, 2012, Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc ruled that the state could not use a report by the well-known Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. According to Dr. Wecht, the murder scene DNA evidence revealed that Mr. Hopkins had been in the victim's bed lying on top of her when the murder took place. Judge Knafelc, in ruling Dr. Wecht's analysis inadmissible as evidence, cited insufficient scientific data to back up his expert opinion.

     The Hopkins murder trial got underway on November 10, 2013 in the Beaver County Courthouse. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smith, in her opening statement to the jury, placed the defendant at the murder scene through his DNA found on the bed sheet, nightgown, and the bathrobe cord tied around the victim's wrists.

     Defense attorney James Ross told the jurors that his client's DNA was at the murder scene because he and the victim had engaged in sex the summer before her death.

     Defense attorney Ross, in his cross-examination of retired state trooper Richard Matas, got the prosecution witness to concede that when he processed the Walsh murder scene, he had not seen semen stains on the body, the bed, or the nightgown. Attorney Ross showed the witness a photograph depicting a bedroom trash can with a piece of tissue beside it. Ross asked the witness why the tissue hadn't been collected as potential evidence. "In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake," replied the former officer.

     Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrol officer, testified on cross-examination that he had not worn gloves at the site of the Walsh murder.

     At the close of the prosecution's case which featured the expert testimony of several forensic scientists, the 67-year-old defendant took the stand and testified that he had not been in the victim's apartment when she was murdered. According to Hopkins, the last time he visited her apartment was several weeks before her death.

     On November 22, 2013 the jury of five men and seven women found Hopkins guilty of third-degree murder. Judge Henry Knafelc, on February 26, 2014, sentenced Hopkins to 8 to 16 years in prison.

     In the Walsh case, crime scene mistakes made by the police did not diminish the prosecutorial power of DNA evidence.

     The Walsh case, in a television episode called "Never a Cold Case: Beaver County's 32 Year Long Investigation," was featured on the Discovery network's series "On the Case With Paula Zahn."


     

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Seth Mazzaglia Murder Case

     In 2011, after graduating from  high school in Westborough, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Marriott attended Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. Following her freshman year in Manchester, she transferred to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The 19-year-old marine biology major commuted to the university's main campus from her aunt and uncle's home in Chester. To help pay for her schooling she worked at the Target store in the neighboring community of Greenland.

     Elizabeth, who went by "Lizzi," walked out of class at nine at night on October 9, 2012 with the intent of visiting friends at an apartment in Dover, a town of 30,000 in the southeast corner of the state not far from the university. Her friends notified the authorities when Lizzi didn't show up in Dover and couldn't be located elsewhere.

     Three days after Marriott's disappearance, detectives questioned 29-year-old Seth Mazzaglia, a resident of Dover. The 2006 graduate of the University of New Hampshire had earned a bachelor's degree in theater. Over the past ten years, Mazzaglia, more of a character actor than a leading man type, had performed in plays and musicals around southeast New Hampshire. According to his Facebook page, he had a black belt in karate, instructed others in the martial arts, and liked to juggle. Mazzaglia also professed to have a special interest in stage-craft fighting.

     Mazzaglia told detectives that he met Lizzi Marriott in the summer of 2011 when they worked at the Greenland, New Hampshire Target store. At the time of the interview he was employed in the video game section of the Best Buy store in Newington, New Hampshire.

     Mazzaglia informed his questioners that he and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Kathryn McDonough, a high school dropout, had invited Marriott to join them in his apartment on October 9, 2012 for three-way, bondage sex. Mazzaglia said that Marriott did not show up at his apartment that particular evening.

     When questioned again later in the day, Mazzaglia changed his story. He said he had gone out for a run and upon his return to the apartment found Marriott dead with a ligature mark around her neck. He explained that earlier in the evening Kathryn McDonough and another man had engaged in bondage sex with Marriott. Later in the interrogation, Mazzaglia reluctantly admitted that he was the man who had participated in the threesome that evening.

     Mazzaglia said that he, McDonough, and Marriott had played strip poker that night. That activity led to sexual intercourse involving a rope-restraint used to limit Marriott's ability to breathe. During that voluntary activity, Marriott suffered a seizure and died. The death, according to Mazzaglia, was an accidental event in the course of consensual but rough sex.

     Instead of reporting the death to the authorities, Mazzaglia tied a grocery bag over the dead woman's head. At eleven o'clock that night, McDonough's friend, Roberta Gerkin and her housemate, came to the apartment at McDonough's request. Gerkin, according to a statement she gave the police, said she saw a white female lying on the floor with a grocery bag covering her head.

     Gerkin told detectives that when she used a box cutter to remove the sack, it exposed the victim's bluish tinted face. Meanwhile, according to Gerkin, Mazzaglia and his girlfriend engaged in a discussion of how they would dispose of the body.

     During his session with detectives, Mazzaglia said he used Marriott's Mazda to haul her body to Pierce Island in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where and McDonough dumped the corpse into the Piscataqua River. The pair then drove Marriott's car to the University of New Hampshire where they left it in a student parking lot. The couple discarded Marriott's clothing in trash bins on campus.

     Police officers and volunteers searched for Marriott's body in the Piscataqua River around the 27-acre Pierce Island. They found no trace of her remains. Notwithstanding the absence of a body, a Strafford County prosecutor charged Mazzaglia with first-degree murder. Police officers arrested him on October 13, 2012. The judge denied the murder suspect bail.

     On December 24, 2012, detectives arrested Kathryn McDonough on the charges of conspiracy and hindering prosecution. She posted her $35,000 bond and walked out of jail on the condition she stayed with her parents in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 2013, McDonough pleaded guilty to the charges. The judge, aware that McDonough had agreed to help the prosecution against Mazzaglia, sentenced her to 18 months to three years in prison. Given her role in Lizzi Marriott's death, this depraved young woman had gotten off light. Because the prosecutor in the no-body case needed McDonough's testimony to establish the murder and the defendant's role in it, McDonough had escaped a stiffer sentence.

     The Seth Mazzaglia murder trial got underway in Dover, New Hampshire on Monday, June 2, 2014. Two days later, Kathryn McDonough, the prosecution's star witness, took the stand under government immunity from the charge of first-degree murder. The witness said that on October 9, 2012, she had lured Marriott to Mazzaglia's apartment with the promise of watching a movie or playing a video game. In reality she had wanted to please Mazzaglia with a new sex partner.

     Following a game of strip poker, Mazzaglia said he wanted Marriott and McDonough to kiss. Marriott refused. Mazzaglia next suggested that Marriott watch as he and McDonough had sex. Marriott said she wasn't interested. Unaccustomed to not getting his way, Mazzaglia strangled Marriott with a soft cotton rope used in bondage sex. After witnessing the murder, McDonough went into the bathroom and when she returned, saw her boyfriend having sex with the corpse.

     McDonough testified that she and Mazzaglia stuffed the victim's body into a large suitcase and drove to the Piscataqua River where they knew the currents were strong. The couple tossed the corpse over a railing but the five-foot-five, 130-pound body landed on the rocks short of the water line. McDonough climbed down and dragged the victim's body into the river.

     On cross-examination, Mazzaglia's attorney, Joachim Barth, proposed that McDonough had killed Lizzi Marriott when the victim refused to have sex with the defendant. Barth reminded the witness that when she first spoke with the police she had taken responsibility for Marriott's death. The defense attorney suggested that the witness had changed her story in return for government immunity and a light sentence.

     Defense attorney Barth also grilled the witness about her claim to have alternative personalities--different characters she used as a "coping mechanism." McDonough responded that she was not controlled by the voices. During the cross-examination, McDonough revealed that Mazzaglia believed that he had been a dragon in a past life. Being around the defendant had strengthened her own beliefs in the supernatural.

     On June 27, 2014, following 19 days of testimony that did not include the defendant taking the stand on his own behalf, the jury found Mazzaglia guilty of first-degree murder by strangulation. The jury also found him guilty of first-degree murder while committing a felonious assault. The panel of seven women and five men also found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to tamper with evidence as well as the destruction of physical evidence.

     On August 14, 2014, at the Mazzaglia sentence hearing, the victim's mother, in addressing the convicted murderer, said, "I want you to know that I unequivocally hate you. You are a cowardly, despicable person. You stole our smart, vivacious, beautiful daughter from us. You murdered Lizzi, raped her lifeless body, and then threw her away because Lizzi had the self-confidence and self-esteem to say no to you."

     When it came his turn to speak, Mazzaglia said, "I did not rape and murder Elizabeth Marriott. However, I do understand the Marriott family's pain and I did play a part in covering up her death, a mistake I tried to correct when investigators came to me and I showed them exactly where I left Lizzi's body. Unfortunately, they were unable to recover her and for that I am truly sorry. My heart goes out to the Marriott family and I am sorry for their loss."

     Judge Steven Houran sentenced Seth Mazzaglia to the maximum penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Christopher Vaughn Murder Case

     Christopher Vaughn, a 32-year-old former private investigator who specialized in cyber-crime detection and computer security, lived with his wife and their three children in Oswego, Illinois, a suburban community of 30,000 west of Chicago. His 34-year-old wife Kimberly had just earned a college degree in criminal justice administration. In preparation for a weekend excursion to a water park in downstate Springfield, the couple and their children--Abigayle 12, Cassandra 11, and Blake 8--had arisen early on June 14, 2007.

     That morning, at 5:40, Christopher Vaughn, stood bleeding near his vehicle parked on the shoulder of Interstate 55 in Channahon Township, Illinois. He waved down a motorist who discovered that the wounded man had been shot in the left wrist and left thigh. Vaughn's wife Kimberly and his three children were inside the 2004 Ford Expedition. They had been shot to death. The motorist called 911.

     Christopher Vaughn's gunshot injuries turned out to be glancing bullet wounds that were minor. After being treated and discharged from a hospital in Joliet, he submitted to questioning by officers with the Illinois State Police. Vaughn said that his wife had asked him to pull off the road because she was feeling ill. After bringing the car to a stop, he climbed out of the vehicle to check on the luggage tied to the rack on the roof of the SUV. When he got back into the vehicle, she shot him twice with a pistol. Wounded, he managed to get out of the Ford without being hit again. Once out of her line of fire, he heard the gun go off several times from inside the vehicle. When he returned to the SUV to check on his family, he found that his wife had murdered the children and had turned the gun on herself.

     None of the detectives questioning Vaughn bought the murder-suicide scenario. They were convinced he had murdered his family, then strategically shot himself. The officers didn't know why this seemingly rational but emotionless man had committed mass murder, or how they would be able to prove it without an eyewitness, or a confession. This case looked like a cold-blooded mass murder committed by a killer with nerves of steel.

     According to the Will County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, Kimberly Vaugh had been shot under the chin. The killer had shot the children in their chests and heads. Their deaths were ruled homicides.

      On June 20, 2007, members of the Illinois State Police seized, from the Vaughn home in Oswego, three computers and several boxes full of personal items. Included in the things removed from the Vaughn family dwelling that day was a magazine containing an article on how to make a murder look like a suicide. Detectives had also learned that the suspect had purchased the handgun used in the killings in the state of Washington, and that on the day before the murders, he had practiced shooting it at a firing range.

     In the days before the quadruple murder, Christopher Vaughn had spent $5,000 at a suburban strip club where he had confided in a pole dancer that he was having marital problems. Vaughn had told friends that he dreamed of escaping the rat-race by moving into a remote cabin in Canada's Yukon Territory. He also stood to inherit $1 million in life insurance benefits. Investigators believed that Vaughn had murdered his family because they stood between him and his desire to start a new life.

     On June 22, 2007, the Will County States Attorney's Office charged Christopher Vaughn with four counts of first-degree murder. The next day, he was taken into custody in St. Charles, Missouri when he arrived at the funeral home where services were being held for his wife and three children.

     In late August 2012, more than five years after the shooting deaths of his family, Christopher Vaughn went on trial for mass murder in Joliet, Illinois. The heart of the prosecution's case consisted of the testimony of forensic ballistic and blood spatter experts. According to these analysts, the physical death scene evidence did not support the defendant's version of a murder-suicide. What the bullet and blood evidence did suggest was this: once Vaughn had pulled off the interstate, he got out of the car, walked around to the front passenger's door, opened it, and shot his wife under the chin. He then shot each of this three children twice, climbed back behind the wheel of the SUV, wrapped his jacket around the muzzle of the gun to mitigate its effect, then grazed himself in the left thigh and wrist. Before leaving the vehicle to flag down a motorist, Vaughn placed the murder weapon at his wife's feet to make the shooting look like a murder-suicide.

     On September 20, 2012, following a five-week trial featuring six hours of closing arguments, the jury, after a 50-minute deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty on all four counts.

     On November 26, 2012, Will County Judge Daniel Rozak sentenced Christopher Vaughn to life in prison. Before imposing the sentence, Judge Rozak said he was "very frustrated" with the state's decision in 2011 to abolish the death sentence. State's attorney James Glasgow, in speaking to reporters about the case following the sentencing, said, "There isn't a punishment that fits this crime. You could lock him up for 500 lifetimes and it would not compensate the victims in this case or the family members."

     

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Eli Weaver/Barbara Raber Murder Case

     In 2009, Eli Weaver, his wife Barbara, and their five children resided in central Ohio's Amish heartland. He owned a gun shop near his Wayne County farm near Apple Creek. Over the past several years, leaders of the Amish community had thrown him out of the church for running around with English women he had met online. Eli would ask for forgiveness, be accepted back into the fold, then get into trouble again with the same un-Amish behavior.

     The 23-year-old Amish man, in 2003, met Barbara Raber, a woman who had grown up Amish but had left the church. The 33-year-old from Millersburg, Ohio made extra money driving Amish people from place to place. The relationship between Eli and his driver eventually became sexual.

     Beginning in the fall of 2008, Weaver and Raber began discussing how to murder his wife. In 2009, they exchanged a series of text messages in which they discussed various plans on how to pull off the crime.

      At seven on the morning of June 2, 2009, one of the Weaver children ran to a neighbor's house with shocking news. Someone, during the night, had shot and killed his mother in her bed. Eli, at that moment, was fishing on Lake Erie. The neighbor and the boy entered the Weaver house where Barbara  Weaver lay in her blood-soaked bed with a gaping gunshot wound in her chest.

     At 11:30 that morning, Wayne County Coroner Dr. Amy Joliff pronounced Barbara Weaver dead at the scene. Dr. Lisa Kohler, the Summit County Chief Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. According to the forensic pathologist, the victim had been killed by a single shotgun blast to the right side of her chest. Several shotgun pellets were removed from the corpse. Dr. Kohler estimated the time of death as sometime between midnight and three o'clock that morning.

     John Gardner, a firearms expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation identified the death scene pellets as number six shot. While this ammunition could have been fired from shotguns of four different gauges, the firearms identification expert believed the murder weapon was a .410-gauge shotgun.

     Detectives with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office seized two .410 shotguns from Eli Weaver's gun shop. Officers also recovered a box of .410 shells with one round missing. Investigators in the murder house found an amount of cash sitting on a table suggesting that robbery had not been the motive in this killing.

     Questioned by detectives upon his return from the Lake Erie fishing trip, Eli denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     On June 10, 2009, detectives arrested Eli Weaver after he confessed to helping Barbara Raber murder his wife. She had pulled the trigger while he was fishing.

     That day, pursuant to a search of Raber's house in Millersburg, officers found a notebook in which she had written out a list of various poisons. At the police station following her arrest, she denied knowledge of the murder. She explained the incriminating text messages to and from Eli as nothing more than joking around.

     The day after Raber's arrest, upon further questioning, the suspected trigger woman admitted going to the Weaver house around four in the morning armed with a .410-gauge shotgun. Eli had left the basement door unlocked for her. She said her intent was merely to frighten Barbara Weaver, but when she entered the bedroom, the gun discharged accidentally. Raber's interrogators didn't buy the accidental shooting story, but asked her to sign a written statement to that effect. She refused and asked to see a lawyer. The interrogation, at that point, came to an end.

     On August 17, 2009, Eli Weaver agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. As part of the plea deal, he promised to testify for the prosecution at Barbara Raber's murder trial.

     The Raber murder trial got underway on September 16, 2009 in Wooster, Ohio with Judge Robert J. Brown presiding. Wayne County prosecutor Edna J. Boyle, following testimony from the county coroner, the medical examiner, and several police officers, put Dena Unangst on the stand. Unangst had been the defendant's cellmate at the Wayne County Jail. According to this witness, Raber admitted to her that she had purchased a .410 shotgun after Eli Weaver, on numerous occasions, begged her to murder his wife. Raber also asked Unangst if she knew how long a fingerprint could last on a gun. (Under ideal conditions, 50 years or more.)

     Gun store owner Larry Miller took the stand and testified that the defendant had purchased a .410 on November 15, 2008.

     On September 30, 2009, prosecutor Boyle put the shunned Amish man on the stand. Elie Weaver, now 29, testified that when he mentioned getting rid of his wife, a woman he didn't love, Raber "ran away with the idea." At one point, during one of their homicide planning conversations, she gave him a bottle of what she called "poison pills." Eli said he rejected poisoning as a way of killing his wife.

     On the day before the murder, Eli informed Raber that at three the next morning he would be leaving the house on a fishing trip. He'd leave the basement door open for her. Shortly after he left the house that morning, Raber sent him a text in which she asked how she was supposed to see in the dark. "It's too scary," she wrote. Eli advised her to take a flashlight.

     At 3:25 AM Raber texted, "I'm scared, where are you?" Texting that he was in Wooster, Eli cautioned Raber not to leave anything behind at the murder scene.

     According to the prosecutor's star witness, on June 9, 2009, the day before Eli and his trigger woman were arrested, they had a conversation in his barn. She described the night she killed Barbara Weaver and said she was "sorry for everything." Before parting company, Raber asked Eli how to clean a gun so it looked like it hadn't been recently fired.

     Assistant public defender John J. Leonard tried to convince the jury that Eli Weaver, not his client, had murdered the victim. The defense attorney described Raber's incriminating statement to detectives as the product of fear and confusion. Leonard rested his defense without putting Barbara Raber on the stand.

     On October 1, 2009, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Judge Brown sentence the 39-year-old woman to 23 years in prison. Eli Weaver had been sentenced by this judge the day before to 15 years to life.

     Weaver's light sentence illustrates, from the point of view of a guilty murder mastermind, the value of pleading guilty and testifying against an accomplice. Raber's sentence, given the cold-bloodedness of the killing and the innocence of the victim, was also extremely lenient.