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Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Rise And Fall Of Judge G. Todd Baugh

     Police in Billings Montana in 2008 arrested 49-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, a teacher at the local high school. Rambold stood accused of having a sexual relationship with Cherice Morales, a 14-year-old student. A Yellowstone County prosecutor charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. (By law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult. In some states the crime is called statutory rape.)

     In 2004, administrators at Billings Senior High School had warned Rambold against touching or being alone with female students.

     Cherice Morales, just before her 17th birthday in 2010, committed suicide. At the time of this troubled girl's death, the criminal case against her former teacher was pending. The girl's mother, Auliea Halon, sued the the school district for wrongful death. The case was quickly settled for $91,000.

     The Yellowstone County prosecutor, as a result of Morales' suicide, offered Stacey Rambold a deal. If he confessed to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, and promised to enter a sex offender treatment program, the charges would be dropped. Rambold accepted the offer.

     In August 2012, Rambold began skipping meetings with his counselors, and didn't tell them about unsupervised visits he was having with girls. In November, the head of the sex treatment facility kicked him out of the program. When Deputy Chief Yellowstone County prosecutor Rod Souza learned that Rambold had violated the terms of their agreement, he refiled the original charges against the former teacher.

     Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, told reporters that the girls Rambold had visited without supervision were members of his family. Moreover, his client had enrolled in another sex treatment program.

     On August 26, 2013, the Rambold case came before 66-year-old District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh. Before being elected to the bench in 1985, Baugh had served as a federal magistrate. Prior to that, he practiced law in Billings. The judge was currently running, unopposed, for his fifth term on the bench.

     In September 2011, Judge Baugh had sentenced a 26-year-old defendant to 50 years in prison for the rape on an 11-year-old girl. A year later he sent a man to prison for 25 years for possessing child pornography. Judge Baugh did not have a reputation for going easy on sex offenders.

     At the Rambold hearing, Judge Baugh dismissed the refiled charges against the defendant. The judge said that Rambold's being kicked out of the sex program did not justify the refiling of the 2008 sexual intercourse without consent charges. The remaining issue before the judge involved Rambold's sentence based upon his 2010 admission of guilt on the single count of sexual intercourse without consent.

     Yellowstone County Chief Deputy prosecutor Rod Souza proposed a 20 year sentence with 10 years suspended. Defense attorney Jay Lansing suggested that because Rambold had lost his job, his license to teach, his house and his wife, he had been punished enough. Attorney Lansing asked Judge Baugh to suspend all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence. The attorney pointed out that Mr. Rambold had continued his sex rehabilitation program with another treatment facility.

     Judge Baugh said that he had reviewed the videotaped police interviews of Cherice Morales. From this he had concluded that even though the victim was 35 years younger than her teacher, she was "as much in control of the situation" as the defendant. Judge Baugh said that the 14-year-old was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     Judge Baugh suspended all but 30 days of Rambold's 15-year sentence. After spending a month in jail, the former teacher would be on probation for 15 years. He would also have to register as a sex offender.

     Upon hearing this sentence, the dead girl's mother, Auilea Hanlon, stormed out of the courtroom. When she spoke to reporters after the hearing, Hanlon said, " I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you can blame the victim, even if she was only fourteen."

     In a matter of  hours following the sentence, local citizens were signing an online petition that called for Judge Baugh to resign. Marion Bradley, the director of the Montana National Organization for Women, told reporters that "Rape is rape. She was 14-years-old, and she was not an age where she could give consent, and he groomed her like any pedophile. Unless we show our outrage, none of our children are safe."

     On the day following his controversial and extremely unpopular sentencing of the former high school teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape. I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy. No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."

     The next day, Judge Baugh conceded that he deserved to be criticized for his "chronological age" comment. He apologized for that but it was too late for apologies.

     Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, in responding to Judge Baugh's sentence, said, "I have no legal authority whatsoever to appeal a sentence handed down by a judge."

     As of August 29, 2013, the day hundreds of anti-Baugh demonstrators gathered in Billings to protest the sentence, the online petition calling for the judges' resignation had collected 26,350 signatures.

     Stacey Rambold was released from jail in September 2013. He would be on probation until August 2028.

     In July 2014, the Montana Supreme Court censured Judge Baugh for the remarks he made about the 14-year-old rape victim.

     Having decided not to run for a fifth term, Baugh, at the end of his term in December 2014, retired from the bench. He told a skeptical media that his retirement had nothing to do with the Rambold sentence and the state supreme court censure.

     In April 2015, the former judge's critics, and there were many, were stunned to learn that the Yellowstone Area Bar Association had awarded G. Todd Baugh a lifetime achievement award.
     

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Donna Scrivo Murder Case

     In 1999, Ramsay Scrivo graduated from De La Salle Collegiate High School in St. Clair Shores, a suburban community just east of Detroit, Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University four years later. After working briefly as an accountant, Ramsay quit after a supervisor criticized his work.

     After employment in the building trade, Ramsay, in the spring of 2013, started a lawn maintenance service. About that time his parents, Daniel and Donna Scrivo, helped him buy a condo in St. Clair Shores.

     Notwithstanding the support he received from his parents, Ramsay had serious problems. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered depression and bouts of uncontrolled anger when he was off his medication. Ramsay, when he wasn't on his anti-psychotic meds, thought people were trying to poison him. Moreover, he believed that someone had implanted a tiny microphone in one of his teeth. Following a simple assault conviction, the judge placed Scrivo on probation.

     Ramsay Scrivo's troubled life took a turn for the worse when his father died of an illness in May 2013. After threatening to hang himself, a judge granted Donna Scrivo, a registered nurse, guardianship of her son. Ramsay agreed to mental health treatment at St. John Hospital in Detroit. After 90 days of treatment, he was released from the medical center. As long as he took his medication he wasn't dangerous. But almost all schizophrenics, at one time or another, quit their medication because of the side effects.  Donna Scrivo moved into Ramsay's condo in St. Clair Shores.

     On Sunday, January 26, 2014, Donna reported Ramsay missing. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, January 30, a motorist in China Township 50 miles northeast of Detroit, saw a human head that had rolled out of a garbage bag that had been dumped along the side of a rural road. Inside three more garbage bags found nearby, police officers discovered body parts, items of clothing, and charred documents.

     Just before five in the morning of Friday, January 31, 2014, a motorist saw a garbage bag alongside an Interstate 94 ramp in nearby St. Clair Township. Inside the bag officers found more body parts.The FBI, through fingerprints, identified the remains as coming from one person, Ramsay Scrivo.

     A neighbor reported seeing Donna Scrivo carrying several garbage bags out of the condo shortly before she reported Ramsay missing. Crime lab technicians found traces of blood in the dwelling as well as in Donna's SUV. There was also evidence in the house that someone had used bleach in an effort to scrub away bloodstains.

     A gas station surveillance camera recorded Donna in her 1990s Chevy Blazer near one of the dump sites.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discoveries, deputies with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office arrested Ramsay's 59-year-old mother on charges of mutilation of a corpse, a felony, and the removal of a dead body without permission from a medical examiner, a misdemeanor. If convicted of the former offense, Donna faced up to ten years in prison. The misdemeanor came with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

     On February 3, 2014, at her arraignment, the judge appointed Donna an attorney and set her bail at $100,000. If and when she was bailed out of the Macomb County Jail, she would undergo random drug and alcohol testing and would not be allowed to leave the state. The judge also ordered a mental health evaluation of the suspect.

     At a press conference following the arraignment, a Macomb County prosecutor said that further charges could be filed in the case depending upon the medical examiner's cause and manner of death findings. Not long after that statement, the prosecutor charged Donna Scrivo with first-degree murder.

    Donna Scrivo went on trial in May 2015 for the murder and dismemberment of her son. The defendant, as a witness on her own behalf, told the jury that a masked man had entered the condo, pointed a gun at her head, murdered her son, then cut up the victim's body with a saw. The prosecutor, on cross-examination, ripped her story to shreds.

     The jurors, following a short deliberation, found Donna Scrivo guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. On June 23, 2015, the Macomb County judge sentenced the 61-year-old to life in prison without parole.
     

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Sex Scenes

There are no sex scenes in my novels. I'm not a prude, nor against sex, I just don't know how to write them. There's nothing more pathetic than badly written sex. For me, it's a lot easier to have good sex than make it come alive on paper. I suspect that some writers who compose good sex are better on the page than in bed. Would I rather have good sex or write it? That's a tough one.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Dr. Pamela Fish: DNA Expert From Hell

     In 1990, prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois charged John Willis with several counts of rape in connection with a series of sexual assaults committed in the late 1980s on Chicago's South Side. Willis, a petty thief, and illiterate, denied raping the women even though several of the victims had picked him out of a lineup.

     The only physical evidence in the Willis case was a scrap of toilet paper containing traces of semen. Police took this evidence to the Chicago Police Lab where it was examined by Dr. Pamela Fish. Dr. Fish had come to the lab in 1979 with bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from Loyola University. Ten years later, after taking courses at night, she earned a Ph.D in biology from Illinois Institute of Technology. According to her handwritten lab notes, Dr. Fish determined that the secretor of the semen had type A blood. John Willis had type B blood thereby excluding him as the rapist. Dr. Fish reported, however, in contradiction to her lab notes, that the semen on the tissue possessed type B blood. She testified to this at Willis' 1991 trial. The jury, in addition to believing in Dr. Fish, believed eleven prosecution rape victim/eyewitnesses that identified the defendant as the rapist. The jury found Willis guilty and the judge sentenced him to 100 years in prison.

     Eight years later, a south Chicago rapist confessed to these sexual assaults after being linked to the crimes through DNA analysis. An appeals  judge set aside the Willis conviction and he was set free. On the day of his release, Dr. Fish, now the head of  biochemistry testing at the state crime lab, spoke at a DNA seminar for judges. (The Chicago Police Lab had been incorporated into the Illinois crime lab system in 1996.)

     The Willis reversal led to a 2001 review of Dr. Fish's cases by the renowned DNA expert from Berkeley, California, Dr. Edward Blake. Dr. Blake studied nine cases in which Dr. Fish had testfied that her blood-typing tests had produced inconclusive results. Dr. Blake found that Dr. Fish's test results had actually exonerated the defendants involved and that she had given false testimony at those trials. Dr. Blake characterized Dr. Fish's work as "scientific fraud."

     In the summer of 2001, a state representative at a legislative hearing on prosecutorial misconduct suggested to the head of the Illinois State Police that Dr. Fish be transferred out of the crime lab into a position where she could do less harm. (In the public sector this is considered harsh employee discipline.) The police administrator ignored the recommendation.

     In 2002, three more Illinois men, in prison for rape since 1987, were exonerated by DNA. Dr. Fish had testified for the prosecution in all three cases. Two years later, after the state paid John Willis a large settlement for his wrongful prosecution and incarceration, the state refused to renew Dr. Fish's employment contract. Rather than firing Dr. Fish, the state reluctantly refused to rehire her. (I would image that Dr. Fish's forensic misbehavior did not keep her from enjoying her government retirement benefits.)

     In 2008, Marlon Pendleton, two years after his release from an Illinois prison where he'd been wrongfully incarcerated thirteen years on a rape conviction, sued the Chicago Police Department and Dr. Fish in federal court. The plaintiff accused Chicago detectives Jack Stewart and Steven Barnes, of manufacturing a false line-up identification against him. (These cops were notorious for this kind of  behavior.) He charged Dr. Fish with perjury in connection with her DNA testimony at the trial, testimony that convinced the jury he had raped the victim.

     As of 2015, Dr. Fish was employed as a biology teacher at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois.

     Pendleton's civil suit in which he sought punitive damages for malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and emotional distress, had not been resolved as of December 2017.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On How To Start a Crime Novel

I like stories that begin with a young man or woman walking alone on a moonlit, deserted road in the middle of nowhere. Or, it could be an empty street in the city. Either way, you know that something bad. really bad, is about to happen.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Stephen Cooke Jr Murder-For-Hire Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Times Square Cookie Monster Case

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, 3-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably think of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists are hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing goes on in Los Angeles as well. Where I live, if some guy dressed up like Superman walked around town engaging kids, he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators compete against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by kids. They pose and mug it up for the children whose parents are supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When little Lester returns to West Virginia he can impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman. (The street performers are not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this is called "aggressive begging.")

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid is harmless enough. It certainly beats having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner 3-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition, things get out of hand. Some of the impersonators have slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights break out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen, a Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, AKA Osvaldo Oviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the terrified boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

Thornton P. Knowles On His Dreams

I don't know any of the people in my dreams. They are all perfect strangers to me. So, I not only write fiction, I dream it as well. Does that make me a bit crazy? Probably, but what the hell, if I were sane I wouldn't be writing novels.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Darrin Campbell Murder-Suicide Case

     In the mid-1980s, Darrin Campbell, a business major at the University of Michigan, met his future wife Kimberly, a student at Central Michigan University. They both worked in Lansing as aides in the Michigan state legislature. She graduated from college, and he went on to earn a master's degree in business administration.

     In 2004, the couple and their son Colin and daughter Megan moved from San Antonio, Texas to Tampa, Florida where Darrin had an executive position in finance with a large corporation. In 2012, Darrin and Kimberly sold their house for $750,000. They moved into a $1 million rental mansion owned by a former professional tennis player named James Blake.

     The Blake-owned estate featured a 6,000-square foot, five-bedroom house, a swimming pool and spa, and several tall palm trees. Located in Avila, a gated community known for its resident sports figures and CEO's, the mansion rented for $5,000 a month. At this point in his career, Darrin Campbell worked as a business executive for VASTEC, a Tampa based digital records company.

     Darrin and his family settled into the lavish lifestyle expected of residents of this exclusive community. They drove fancy cars, the children attended an expensive private school, they bought all-year passes to Disney World, and spent a lot of money decorating their home for Christmas.

     While on the surface, the Campbell family represented prosperity and the American dream come true, Darrin had plunged them deep into debt. He owed back taxes on a vacant lot in Odessa, Texas that he had purchased for $294,000 in 2006. The tuition cost of sending Colin and Megan to the Carrollwood Day School amounted to $37,000 a year. Darrin had maximized his credit card limits, and couldn't see a way out of the financial hole. The stress of living a lie had broken him down. His American dream had become a nightmare.

     In July 2013, Darrin purchased a .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun from Shooters World, a gun store and shooting range in Tampa. Less than a year later, on May 4, 2014, he purchased $650 worth of fireworks at a Tampa area Phantom Fireworks outlet. He told the fireworks clerk he was filling out his Fourth of July shopping list. Shortly after picking up the fireworks, Darrin bought several gasoline containers.

     At five-forty-five on the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014, a resident of the Avila community called 911 to report a fire and explosion at the Campbell home. The fire and subsequent explosion almost completely demolished the structure. In the course of determining the cause and origin of the blaze, investigators discovered the charred remains of two adults and two children. The bodies were presumed to be Darrin and Kimberly Campbell and their 18-year-old son Colin, and their 15-year-old daughter, Megan.

     The Hillsborough County medical examiner, a few days after the fire, confirmed the identifies of the victims. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, all of the victims had been shot to death.

     On Friday, May 9, 2014, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski held a press conference in which she characterized the four Campbell deaths as a case of murder-suicide. According to officer Lusczynski, Darrin Campbell, after murdering his wife and two children with the Sig Sauer handgun, had placed fireworks around the house, poured gasoline on the bodies, then lit a match. At that point he shot himself to death. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Dialogue

Dialogue that jumps off the page sounds nothing like the way real people converse. A transcript of an everyday conversation is devoid of coherent, memorable, rhetoric. Ordinary talk, when read aloud, comes off as boring, repetitive, and at times, idiotic. Sparkling, rhythmic dialogue is difficult to write, and requires a great deal of training, experience, and talent. Many novelists just don't have the ear for it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, December 25, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Television

Many people used to refer to television as the "boob-tube." At first, TV watching was not something a lot of people wanted to admit to. "Oh, I don't watch much TV," they'd lie. So, who were the boobs, the people who watched TV, or the people who were on TV? While the folks in the television business were beginning the process of lowering standards of good taste, they were at least getting paid for contaminating American culture. Novelists Truman Capote and Gore Vidal sold their books by becoming television personalities. It apparently didn't bother either writer that they made public fools of themselves, and made it difficult for novelists unwilling to become media whores. I don't find much on television, including sports and the news, interesting or useful. But that's okay, I'm used to being an oddball. I'll say this, though: television will change America, and the world, and not for the better.

Thornton P. Knowles    

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery of Literary Humor

One of the great literary mysteries involves how some writers can make us laugh, and other writers, regardless of how hard they try, can't. It gets down to the inability to identify the core elements of humor itself. Fortunately, there is no formula for funny.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thornton P. Knowles On Why Novelists Write

Writing fiction is a form of escape from the mundane realities of life. The same is true for those who read fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Shrien Dewani Murder-For-Hire Case

     On November 13, 2010, 30-year-old Shrien Dewani and Anni, his 28-year-old wife of two weeks, were on their honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa. The couple, of Indian decent (she was born in Sweden), resided in the southwestern English town of Bristol where he was a businessman.

     Shortly after midnight on November 13, 2010, Shrien Dewani reported to police authorities that a gunman had commandeered the taxi he and his wife were riding in near the Cape Town suburb of Guguiethu. The kidnapper ordered the cab driver and Shrien out of the taxi in the town of Harare then drove off with Anni.

     Later that night, police officers found Anni's dead body in the abandoned taxi in the town of Lingelethu West. She had injuries to her head and chest, and had been shot in the back of the neck at short range. Officers with the Western Cape Town Police Department launched a manhunt for the killer.

     Shrien Dewani returned to England where he was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

     On November 14, 2010, Western Cape Town officers arrested 26-year-old Xolile Mngeni, the suspected gunman, on the charge of murder. Two days later, police officers arrested a suspected accomplice in the murder named Mziwamadoda Qwabe.

     Detectives arrested the cab driver, Zola Tongo, on November 20, 2010. According to the suspect, Shrien Dewani had offered him 1,400 pounds to find a hit man willing to kill his wife Anni. Tongo reached out to his friend Qwabe who brought Mngeni, the trigger man, into the murder-for-hire scheme.

     On December 8, 2010, at the request of the South African government, police in England arrested Dewani for conspiring to have his wife murdered. Two days after being taken into custody, Dewani posted his bail and was confined to house arrest. He denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     Zola Tongo, the cab driver, pleaded guilty to his role in the murder-for-hire plot in January 2011. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison. A month later, Mziwamadoda Qwabe decided to cooperate with the police. He said that after the kidnapper let Dewani and Tongo out of the taxi that night, Mngeni drove off with the victim. Qwabe admitted that for his role in the murder, he received the victim's jewelry.

     In February 2011, back in England, Dewani swallowed a cocktail of 26 pills that included the drug diazepam that had been prescribed to him for anxiety. Following a period of hospitalization, he returned home to house arrest.

     In November 2011, a TV station in England aired a documentary about the case called, "Murder On Honeymoon." The producers of the segment presented evidence pertaining to Dewani's alleged motive for having his new wife murdered. According to the documentary, investigators were working on the theory that Dewani had been living a secret double life as a gay man. Witnesses stated that he had been a regular visitor to a south London gay fetish sex club. When Anni found out he was gay, she threatened to end the marriage and expose him.

     On March 30, 2012, judges sitting on London's High Court ruled that it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite Dewani to South Africa until he overcame his problem with mental illness. The authorities in South Africa were convinced he was faking mental illness to avoid extradition.

     Miziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced in South Africa to 25 years in prison. Three months later a jury found Xolile Mngeni, the hit man, guilty of premeditated murder. The judge sentenced Mngeni to life behind bars.

     The fourth South African involved in the case, a hotel clerk named Monde Mbolombo, had avoided prosecution by testifying against Qwabe and Mngeni.

     The BBC, in September 2012, aired another documentary about the Dewani case called "The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?" Featuring forensic experts and others who had reviewed the evidence, the show cast doubt on Shrien Dewani's guilt.

     The widely viewed BBC documentary portrayed Monde Mbolombo, the hotel clerk who was granted immunity for his prosecution testimony, as the true mastermind behind the murder. According to the documentary, Mbolombo put the cab driver in touch with Mngeni, the trigger man. The motive was theft.

     About the time the BBC broadcast the documentary, the English tabloid Daily Mail published text messages the victim had sent to family members shortly before her big wedding. "I'm going to be unhappy for the rest of my life," she had written. "I hate him. I want to cry myself to death."

     On January 2014, a panel of three judges sitting on England's Supreme Court ruled that Shrien Dewani could be extradited to South Africa to be tried for his wife's murder. The extradition, however, was conditioned on the promise that if the defendant were adjudicated mentally unfit for trial, South African authorities would send him back to England. Dewani was expected to arrive in Cape Town in April 2014.

     South African Judge Jeanette Traverso, on December 8, 2014, dismissed the case against Dewni on the ground that no court would convict him unless he took the stand and incriminated himself. The judge noted that the prosecution witnesses against the accused murder-for-hire mastermind were not credible because they had been involved in the killing themselves. The judge's decision ended the case against Dewani because prosecutors in South Africa can only appeal a case when the judge had made a mistake in applying the law. This case, however, was dismissed based upon what this judge considered the crown's lack of evidence to support a conviction. The decision meant that Shrien Dewani was a free man and could not be charged again.

     A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, in response to the dismissal, told reporters that the judge misunderstood the case.

     In the United States, many murder-for-hire cases are predicated upon the prosecution testimony of the hit man and various accomplices. Getting a conviction pursuant to this South African judge's standards would be, in the United States, almost impossible.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Armed With A Stun-Gun

If I were a cop, I couldn't be trusted with a stun-gun. I'd zap every jerk I encountered. Give me lip? Zap. Give me the finger? Zap. Walk away when I'm questioning you? Zap. I'd be a real Thomas Edison out there.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thornton P. Knowles On Why Johnny Can't Write

Johnny can't write because Johnny can't think. Half of his brain has been sucked out of his head into his television set.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, December 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles On Ben Hecht

While 1940s and 50s screenwriter Ben Hecht is largely forgotten, few writers today can hold a candle to his gift for expressing himself in such a colorful and memorable way. For example, in describing the writer in Hollywood, he wrote: "I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-bye to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-bye to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with the stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight." In today's stifling culture of political correctness, even writers born with Ben Hecht's gift aren't allowed to write like this.

Thornton P. Knowles


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On The Presumption Of Innocence

The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that mandates, in a criminal trial, that the government carries the burden of proving the charges against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. Because Lee Harvey Oswald was never tried and convicted, he is presumed innocent. O. J. Simpson, tried and acquitted of double murder, is also presumed innocent under the law. The presumption of innocence, however, is not a substitute for common sense. For example, would you allow an accused pedophile, a person presumed to be innocent, to babysit your child?

Thornton P. Knowles

Dr. Roy Meadow and His Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Doctrine

     In 1977, a pediatrician from England published the results of an investigation he had conducted into the cases of 81 infants whose deaths had been classified either as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or natural death. The study, by Dr. Roy Meadow of St. James University Hospital in Leeds, covered a period of 18 years. His article, "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: The Hinterlands of Child Abuse," which appeared in the journal Lancet, was shocking in its implications. Dr. Meadow claimed that these 81 babies had, in fact, been murdered, and that the forensic pathologists who had performed the autopsies had ignored obvious signs of physical abuse in the form of broken bones, scars, objects lodged in air passages, and toxic substances in their blood and urine. He came close to accusing some of these pathologists of helping patients, mostly mothers, of getting away with murder.

     The Munchausen Syndrome, a psychological disorder identified in 1951 by Richard Asher, described patients who injured themselves, or made themselves sick, to attract sympathy and attention. Asher named the syndrome after Baron von Munchausen, a man known for telling tale tales. Dr. Meadow added "by proxy" because the people gaining sympathy and attention from illnesses and injuries were not hurting themselves. They were getting sympathy and attention by injuring and sickening their infants and children.

     In his landmark article in Lancet, Dr. Meadow profiled some of the pediatric cases that had puzzled him in the early 1970s. For example, he was treating a young boy who had extremely high salt levels in his blood that adversely affected his kidneys. Because there was no way the boy could have eaten this much salt, Dr. Meadow came to suspect that the mother, a nurse, was force-feeding salt into the child through a nasal tube. When Dr. Meadow voiced his hypothesis to his colleagues at the hospital, they ridiculed him. In this case, however, the boy's mother confessed to exactly what Dr. Meadow had suspected. Her intent had not been to kill her child, but to use him as a way to make herself a center of attraction at the hospital, an environment she found exciting and romantic.

     After the publication of Dr. Meadow's shocking article, physicians all over the world sent him accounts of cases similar to the ones he had described in his Lancet piece. Even Dr. Meadow was shocked by some of these stories--cases that involved punctured eardrums, and induced blindness, as well as inflicted respiratory problems, stomach ailments, and allergy attacks. Years later, Dr. Meadow would design a controversial experiment involving hidden cameras in hospital rooms where suspected MSBP victims were being treated. Of the 39 children under surveillance, the cameras caught 33 parents creating breathing problems by putting their hands, bodies, or pillows over the victim's faces. Staff members monitoring nearby television screens quickly entered the hospital rooms, causing the abusers to discontinue their assaults. In England and the United States, some of these videotaped episodes were later shown on commercial television. After that exposure, MSBP was no longer an obscure psychological disorder.

     In the years that followed Dr. Meadow's initial research into these child abuse and infant death cases, he came to believe that the vast majority of MSBP perpetrators were women, and that one-third of them were either nurses, or women who worked in some other capacity within the health care industry. His research also suggested that many of these mothers were married to men who were cold and indifferent, and that at least part of the motive behind making their children ill was an attempt to emotionally energize their spouses. According to Dr. Meadow, many MSBP women also enjoyed the attention and sympathy they received from physicians and nurses.

     Because of his groundbreaking work on behalf of helpless and endangered children, Dr. Meadow received a lot of attention himself. He was in great demand as an MSBP consultant, was asked to give speeches and presentations all over the world, and testified as an expert witness in dozens of high-profile murder trials. In England, he received a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to the fields of medicine and forensic science. As a result of his testimony in homicide trials involving multiple SIDS deaths in the same family, his comment that "one [SIDS death] in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder," became widely known as Meadow's Law. (In the United States it's referred to as "the rule of three.")

     In Great Britain, in a handful of homicide trials between 1996 and 1999, Dr. Meadow's theory that three SIDS cases in one family equals murder, was challenged by the defendants. As a result, Meadow's Law is no longer a court recognized doctrine in England. (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in Great Britain is now called, "fabricated illness.")

     In the United States, a new version of this personality disorder emerged. Called Munchausen Syndrome by Internet, mothers seek sympathy and attention by faking their own illnesses--mainly cancer--online in support groups and other social networks. At present, this version of the syndrome is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. While there is no known cure for the Munchausen Syndrome generally, the virtual form of this disorder does not involve actual self-harm, or the abuse of children.

       

Thornton P. Knowles On The Suicidal Rhetoric Professor

I once met a Rhetoric professor who, before he killed himself, spent three weeks laboring over the wording of his suicide note. I guess "Good-bye cruel world" wasn't good enough for him.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Your Life Away

V. S. Pritchett once wrote, "The professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing." This may be true, but in the end, we all become nothing. So, if you've got nothing better to do, go ahead and write your life away.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Police Sexual Misconduct: The Adam Skweres Case

     Let's say two women, in separate cases, accused a police officer of sexual misconduct. Should that cop, while these allegations are being investigated, remain on duty, or be placed on administrative leave? According to Ocean City (Maryland) Police Chief Bernadette Di Pino, a member of the executive committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), there are no national guidelines or policies dealing with this question. In Maryland, an uncharged officer can be taken off the street if the allegations seem credible. In most jurisdictions, however, accused officers stay on the job until they are charged with a crime. That's how cases like this are handled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

     Adam Skweres, after graduating from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, joined the U.S. Army Reserves and served a tour of duty in Iraq. In 2005, after taking a few college courses, the 29-year-old applied for a job with the Pittsburgh Police Department. As part of the hiring process, city psychologist Dr. Irvin P. R. Guyett, in determining if Skweres was psychologically fit for police duty, reviewed the results of the candidate's background investigation. Based on polygraph test results, what neighbors and others said about the applicant, his financial history, and the psychologist's interview of the candidate, Dr. Guyett concluded that Skweres was "not psychologically fit for police work." (Dr. Guyett had been evaluating police candidates for 20 years.)

     Unwilling to take no for an answer, Skweres appealed Dr. Guyett's findings and the rejection of his application to the civil service commission. In 2006, the city appointed another psychologist, Dr. Alexander Levy, to re-evaluate the candidate. Dr. Levy, after presumably looking at the same data available to Dr. Guyett, found Skweres "psychologically suited for police work." Based on this second expert opinion, the city allowed Skweres to join the next available police academy class. Upon graduation from the police academy the new officer was assigned to the Zone 3 station on Pittsburgh's south side.

     In June 2008, a woman filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Officer Skweres. After this woman had testified as a victim in one of his cases, Skweres, as he escorted her out of the courtroom, asked to speak to her privately. Skweres said he knew that this woman and her husband were dealing with the county office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). If she agreed to give him oral sex, Skweres would write the CYF a positive letter on their behalf. If she refused, he would write the agency a negative letter. He allegedly said that he just needed 30 minutes of her time. The woman refused, and filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department.

     Two weeks later, Officer Skweres told a woman who had been in a minor traffic accident that he was writing her up, but the ticket would disappear if she gave him oral sex. According to this woman's complaint, Skweres looked at his sidearm and told her that if she told anyone about his proposal, he'd make sure she never spoke to anyone again.

     Although presented with two credible citizen complaints of coercion and sexual misconduct against one of its officers, supervisors at the Pittsburgh Police Department, because they didn't have sufficient cause, did not remove Officer Skweres from active duty. Pursuant to regulations enforced by the local Fraternal Order of the Police, this officer, until charged with a crime, would stay on the job.

     In December 2011, Officer Skweres entered a home in the Belthoover section of the city where the girlfriend of a man he had recently arrested lived. After asking her how much she loved the arrestee, Skweres allegedly offered to help the boyfriend if she stripped and performed oral sex on him. In making the proposal, which was more of a demand, he unclipped his holster to intimidate her. This woman filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Officer Skweres remained on duty.

     Officer Skweres, on February 11, 2012, showed up at the home of a girlfriend of another man he had arrested. Indicating that he knew he was being surveilled, and didn't want to be recorded, Skweres communicated with the woman by writing messages on a notepad. He instructed her not to talk, and told her to lift her skirt to show she wasn't wearing a wire. (He was not being watched.) When Skweres did speak, he did so in the kitchen where he had water running in the sink to cover his voice.

     After offering to help this woman's incarcerated boyfriend, Skweres allegedly forced the victim to give him oral sex. He cleaned himself off with a towel, put it into his pocket, and left the house. This victim reported the crime to the FBI.

     Five days later, at 5:15 P.M., officers with the Pittsburgh Police Department arrested Officer Skweres at his home. Charged with official oppression, indecent assault, rape, and criminal coercion, Skweres was placed into the Allegheny County Jail where for his protection he was isolated from the other inmates. A judge set his bond at $300,000. The department suspended Skweres without pay.

     On February 21, 2012, detectives searching Officer Adam Skweres's house and SUV found marijuana and crack cocaine. His lawyer told reporters that his client would be pleading not guilty to the sexual misconduct and criminal coercion charges.

     In defending the police department's decision not to remove Officer Skweres from active duty after the 2008 complaints, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it wasn't until the fourth alleged victim filed her complaint with the FBI that the department had the "hard evidence" they needed to make the arrest and take this officer off the street. The head of the police union told the same reporter that officers can't be taken off duty simply because a civilian makes a complaint. "If we remove someone every time an accusation was thrown at an officer, we wouldn't have any officers on the street who are hardworking and aggressive." (Really? Are there that many citizen complaints?)

     Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, a nationally known author and scholar on the subject of policing, said the following to a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Common sense would say if you have suspicions about this person's conduct, you take [him] off the street, period. If there were two [complaints] back in 2008, that raises the significance of it even further. There should have been something done."

     On March 11, 2013, Adam Skeweres pleaded guilty to 26 counts of sexually assaulting five women he encountered while on duty. The judge sentenced him to three to eight years in prison followed by ten years of probation. The judge also ordered the former police officer to register as a sex offender.

Thornton P. Knowles On George Orwell

George Orwell was one of the finest writers of his generation. While dodging World War II bombs in London, he wrote: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me."

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Sierra "CeCe" Sims Kidnapping Hoax

     High school basketball standout Sierra "CeCe" Sims, in August 2008, arrived at Alabama's Auburn University with a full athletic scholarship. As a high school player in Brentwood, Tennessee, CeCe had led her team to three regional titles. The five-foot-seven inch point guard, a former Teen pageant contestant, also played the guitar. (Her father, Tommy Sims co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World.")

     The 18-year-old college freshman, once a member of the Auburn Tiger's women's basketball team, a powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference, had to deal with being away from home, academic life on the university level, and living up to expectations on the basketball court.

     Shortly after arriving at the university, CeCe began drinking heavily every night. In late September 2008 she called her mother Kathie and said she wanted to come home. Kathie told her distraught daughter to talk to coach Nell Fortner. Taking her mother's advice, CeCe called the coach. When CeCe hung up the phone after their chat, the coach felt that everything would be fine for the freshman prospect.

     The next morning, when CeCe failed to show up for the six o'clock practice, Fortner became concerned. When the coach made inquiries regarding CeCe's whereabouts, her roommate said at 2:30 that morning she had stormed out of the dormitory and rode off into the night on her bicycle. None of her acquaintances had seen her since.

     Not long after campus searchers couldn't find CeCe, university officials asked the authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Eighteen hours later, a parol officer looking for the missing student almost hit CeCe with his patrol car. When the officer approached the girl, she said, "I'm CeCe Sims."

     Questioned at the local police department, CeCe told detectives she had been kidnapped by a man and a woman who pulled up alongside her in a pickup truck. After being dragged into the vehicle, the abductors forced her to drink alcohol and take pills. As a result of being drugged, she couldn't recall in detail what had happened to her.

     Under close questioning by detectives, CeCe's story didn't hold up. In an effort to get the student to reveal where she had been since leaving the dorm at 2:30 the previous morning, officers threatened her with the possibility of being charged with a crime. Notwithstanding that threat, she stuck to her highly implausible story.    

     The police did not open a kidnapping investigation, and CeCe was not charged with false reporting. She dropped out of school and returned home to Brentwood, Tennessee.

     In 2014, CeCe Sims, now 23, posted a video on the Internet acknowledging that she had indeed made up the kidnapping story in September of 2008. When she left the dormitory that night she had ridden her bike to a nearby Walmart where she hid for almost eighteen hours.

     According to CeCe Sims, the pressure at Auburn had been too much for her. "I didn't want to disappoint my parents," she said, "so I thought, what better way to say I was kidnapped? That way I wouldn't have to quit and be known as a quitter."

     When the story broke regarding CeCe and the kidnapping hoax, former Auburn coach Nell Fortner described to an ABC reporter the pressure student/athletes are under at schools like Auburn. "Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or to Hawaii. They are going to get a great education….But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at five in the morning, and they don't get to bed until eleven at night."

     Following the scandal, Sierra CeCe Sims moved in with her parents while she pursued a career in the music business. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Pedophile Teachers in California

     On January 30, 2012, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested 61-year-old elementary teacher Mark Berndt on 23 counts of lewd acts against minors. The third grade teacher at the Miramonte Elementary School in Florence Firestone, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County, stood accused of photographing 6 to 10-year olds in bondage positions, some with live bugs crawling on their faces. A few of the girls were shown holding spoons containing a white liquid up to their mouths. Children were also pictured about to eat cookies topped with the teacher's semen.

     Because of the influence of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and other education unions in the state, school administrators couldn't fire anyone, including teachers like Mark Berndt. In the Miramonte school, because parents were so outraged, and held protests, school administrators managed to get Berndt out of the classroom by paying him $40,000 to retire. That's how bad it was in the Golden State where it was truly golden for pedophiles working in the state's education system. (You can see why in California the firing of a merely incompetent teacher was unheard of. The unions simply did not allow the firing of crappy teachers. Teachers so rotten they managed to get dismissed from their jobs in other states could always find a home in the California system. The pay was outstanding, benefits were out of this world, and it didn't matter if the teacher was no good. And for pedophiles, California's classrooms were heaven on earth.)

     In 2012, in the wake of the Miramonte school scandal (Berndt wasn't the only pedophile working there), a group called Democrats for Educational Reform, introduced legislation in the state senate (S.B. 1530), that made it easier to dismiss teachers accused of sex, violence, or drug offenses against children. That bill, with vast public support, passed the Senate on a 33-4 bipartisan vote.

     In the California Assembly, when the Senate-passed legislation came before the Assembly Education Committee, committee members, by refusing to vote on the bill, killed the proposed law in committee. (These politicians didn't have the courage to vote "no.") That meant the bill did not reach the Assembly floor for a vote. If it had, it would have passed by a wide majority.)

     The committee members who killed this child protection legislation had bowed to the state's powerful teacher's unions, including the CTA. All of the state politicians who killed the bill through their abstentions, had been beneficiaries of large CTA political contributions. The fact that the CTA could stop legislation favored by a vast majority of California voters showed who was really running the show in that state. Democracy be damned. Moreover, the undermining of this needed legislation revealed what most citizens of the state already knew--that in California it was unions first, teachers second, and students, parents, and education third--and a bad third at that. It was no wonder the state had one of the worst public education systems in the country. For a sexually perverted school teacher, except perhaps for West Virginia, there was no friendlier place to work and abuse children than California.

     In California, the CTA, backed by an army of 325,000 teachers, and plenty of money to bribe and control state politicians, was in reality the fourth branch of government. As the biggest political spender in the state, its influence dwarfed other special interest groups. From 2000 through 2009, the CTA alone shelled out more than $211 million in political contributions and lobbying expenses. That was twice the amount given to politicians by the second largest bribery machine, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Since 2009, the CTA had pumped another $40 million into the state's political community. The union also played a major role in putting Governor Jerry Brown into office. So the teacher's unions owned him as well.)

     The fact that teacher's unions in California and other states were destroying the quality of public education in the country was bad enough. Even worse, they were enabling and protecting classroom child abusers. If school administrators couldn't protect students from the likes of Mark Berndt, California classrooms were not safe for children. This was as good a reason as any for home schooling or moving to a state where educating  students had a higher priority than protecting teachers from being fired for cause.

      As for Mark Berndt himself, he pleaded no contest in November 2013 to 23 counts of lewd acts on children. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. A year later, the Los Angeles United School District agreed to pay out $170 million in court settlements related to the Berndt pedophilia case. The settlement involved more than a hundred students.

     If all the zookeepers in the state of California belonged to the CTA, the animals would be starving in their cages while their custodians sat around gorging themselves, complaining about their jobs, and threatening to strike.          

Was O. J. Simpson Innocent Of Double Murder?

     William C. Dear, the owner of a private investigation agency in Dallas, Texas, had over the years published a handful of nonfiction books featuring his adventures as a larger-than-life PI. A master of self-promotion in the mold of Allan Pinkerton, William Burns, and J. J. Arms (remember him?). Mr. Dear was in the news following the release of his 2012 book, O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It. (A bold, if not artistic title.)

     As if exonerating one of America's most hated men is not enough, William Dear was accusing O. J.'s son Jason of the June 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. When revisionist true crime writers exonerate celebrated criminals by incriminating others, they usually accuse dead people who can't sue them for libel. Jason Simpson, who was 24-years-old when the Los Angeles police arrested his father, was alive at the time of the accusation.

     In the other twentieth century "crime of the century," the state of New Jersey, on April 3, 1936, electrocuted Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the 1932 murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. In the 1980s and 90s, a half dozen hack true crime writers produced books that exonerated Hauptmann, and incriminated Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, John F. Condon, Ellis Parker, and a host of others. At least three of these books make the case that the Lindbergh baby wasn't even murdered, that the authorities had misidentified the corpse (wearing the Lindbergh baby's clothing) found two miles from the Lindbergh estate. In reality, the evidence against Hauptmann had been substantial while the "proof" against the literary suspects turned out to be flimsy, and in many cases, bogus. Readers familiar with the history of the Lindbergh case, including several serious Lindbergh biographers, saw the revisionist books for what they were--fiction passed off as nonfiction. Nevertheless, these "Hauptmann is Innocent and I Can Prove It" books attracted a lot of attention, and drew more than a few dedicated followers.

     Unlike real investigative journalists, the authors of revisionist true crime books start with a theory and point of view, and ignore or try to explain away any facts that do not support, or conflict with, their thesis. In making the case against their suspects, true crime book revisionists frequently present negative evidence as either incriminating or exonerating. For example, in the Lindbergh case, Hauptmann must be innocent because the police didn't recover his latent fingerprints from the crime scene. In this genre of nonfiction crime writing, a revisionist's suspect can be guilty simply because he didn't have an alibi. That's how they do it. When you break these books down, there's nothing there but conjecture, speculation, wishful thinking, and the authors' beliefs. And quite often, evidence is presented that is simply fiction.

     True crime revisionists get away with their literary tricks because we live in an era where facts and knowledge get little respect, and there is no such thing as objective truth. Today, what one believes is true trumps what one knows is true. People who want criminals like Bruno Richard Hauptmann and O. J. Simpson to be innocent eagerly go along with the joke.

     For me, what's written (or not written) on the dust jacket of William Dear's book revealed it was not a work to be taken seriously. For example: "Once Dear established in his own mind that O. J. Simpson was innocent, he focused his attention on six possible suspects." I believe that Dear began with a single suspect, then cleared away the debris that conflicted with his case. If O. J. was in fact innocent, and his son was guilty, then the evidence against Jason Simpson should be much stronger, and more convincing than the evidence that was presented against his father. In my opinion, it was not. Here was William Dear's "startling new evidence that is certain to change everyone's perception of O. J.'s guilt:"

     In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Dear found a hunting knife. (This knife, however did not contain a mixture of Jason's and the victims' DNA or any other evidence to establish it as the murder weapon.)

     After the murders, Jason Simpson retained an attorney.

     Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi.

     Jason was depicted in a photograph wearing a knit cap similar to the one discovered at the crime scene. (If the crime scene hat contained hair follicles from Jason's head, and bore traces of the victims' blood, that could be incriminating. It didn't.)

     Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. According to a criminal profiler, Jason's personality was more homicidal than his father's.

     According to William Dear, while O. J. was present at the crime scene, he did not commit the murders. (This was helpful because it explained away the physical evidence connecting O. J. to the victims.) According to Mr. Dear, O. J.'s only crime was that he took steps to cover-up the fact his son had killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. So, why did Jason Simpson kill Nicole? He murdered her because she had decided, at the last moment, not to dine at the restaurant where he worked as a chef. This was, therefore, a double murder motivated by injured pride. Give me a break.

     In reality, William Dear's revisionist version of the O. J. Simpson case doesn't offer enough evidence to indict the proverbial ham sandwich. Patterson Smith, the antiquarian bookseller from New Jersey who knows more about the literature of true crime than anyone, wrote the following about this true crime revisionist genre:

     "Of all crime books published, those posing revisionist theories tend to attract the greatest media attention. They are 'news.' Far from merely adding to our knowledge of a past event or re-embellishing a tale previously grown stale in the retelling, they say to us, 'You've been wrong about this case.' And if someone is thought to have been unjustly convicted and executed, the news is all the stronger.

     "It has, after all, been observed that Americans have a greater sense of injustice than of justice. (Perhaps O. J.'s acquittal is an example of this.) When a revisionist account reaches reviewers, the arguments put forth by its author can seem extraordinarily compelling, for very often the book does not aim for balance but selects only those facts that support its divergent thesis.

     "Moreover--and this is very important--the reviewer of a book on crime written for the general public often has little or no background in the case which could help him weigh the author's novel contentions against countervailing evidence. The reviewer sees only one side of the story, and it usually looks good."

     I don't think O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It contained nearly enough evidence to convince many readers that O. J. was innocent, and that his son was the guilty party. The evidence presented against Simpson in the 1997 wrongful death civil trial was overwhelming. If one had any doubts regarding who murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman, reading Vincent Bugliosi's book, Outrage, would erase those doubts.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Easy Money: Three Quick and Simple Con Games

Case l

     A man and a woman, both well-dressed and in their mid-forties, approached an 86-year-old woman at a busy intersection in the Forest Hills section of Queens. The man showed the elderly woman a wallet fat with cash. "We just found it," the man said. "Look at all the money that's in it. Hundred dollar bills."

     Having interested the victim in the money, the man proposed they take the lost wallet to the local police precinct house. If the wallet was not claimed in 30 days, the three of them could divide up the cash. They could deposit the lost wallet with the police in the old woman's name. At the end of the waiting period, the police would release the wallet and its contents to her.

     But wait. How could the couple trust that a complete stranger will give them their share of the money? How about this? The woman could withdraw $10,000 from her bank account, money the couple could hold until the police release the wallet. If the wallet is claimed within the 30 day period, the couple will return the woman's good faith money.

     After the victim took $10,000 out of her bank account and handed it to the con artists, they asked her to wait on the street until they returned with the receipt from the police station. They of course disappeared with the scam victim's cash.

Case 2

     An 82-year-old man received a disturbing phone call regarding one of his grandsons. According to the caller, who identified himself as an officer with the New Jersey State Police, the young man had been arrested and needed $3,500 to get out of jail.

     To spare his grandson the horrors of criminal incarceration, the old man, from a Western Union Office, sent $3,500 to the con man. The good news, of course, was that the kid was not in jail. The bad news: the victim ended up $3,500 poorer and was left feeling like a sucker.

Case 3

     A con man impersonating an IRS agent informed a 35-year-old woman by telephone that she owed the government $2,000 in taxes. According to the faker, her problem was this: if she didn't pay up immediately, agents would come to her home and haul her off to prison.

     The terrified victim (the three most feared letters in America are IRS) rushed to a 7-Eleven convenience store where she purchased four $500 prepaid debit cards. The con man withdrew the $2,000 after the victim, using her cellphone at the store, read him the card numbers. With one phone call this scam artist stole $2,000. Easy money. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Johnny Lewis Murder Case

     During his teenage years, actor Jonathan "Johnny" Lewis landed roles in various television series such as Malcolm in the Middle, Drake & Josh, Judging Amy, Boston Public, American Dreams, and The OC. In 2007 he appeared in the movie AVPR: Aliens vs Predator Requiem, and three years later in the film The Runaways. More recently, he played a series character in a motorcycle-gang drama called, Sons of Anarchy. In the final episode of season 2 his character was killed off. (He said because he wanted out of the contract.) At one time Lewis dated an actress named Katy Perry.

     In January 2012, a pair of residents of a town house in Northridge, California came home to find the 28-year-old actor inside their dwelling. (Lewis had once lived in the complex.) Before leaving the scene of his burglary, Lewis, out of his mind on drugs, beat the town house occupants with an empty Perrier bottle. Charged with burglary and assault, Lewis spent some time in the Los Angeles County Jail before being released on bail.

     Six weeks later, while out on bond, Johnny Lewis punched a man in the face at a Santa Monica yogurt shop. A week later, police arrested him while attempting to break into a home in that city. Once again he posted bail, and was released from custody. But in March, when Lewis failed to show up at a court hearing, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Police took him into custody a short time later, and put him back in jail.

     In preparation for his sentencing hearing on the Santa Monica attempted burglary case, a probation officer, in a report dated May 17, 2012, wrote: "The defendant suffers from some kind of chemical dependency, mental health issues, and lack of permanent housing. Given this, [Lewis] will continue to be a threat to any community [in which] he may reside."

     On May 23, 2012, Judge Mark E. Windham, relying on the above report, sentenced Johnny Lewis to 30 days of mental health and drug abuse treatment at the Ridgeview Ranch in Altadena, California. After completing the program as an outpatient, the judge presiding over the two assault cases sentenced Lewis to a period of probation. Not long after that, Lewis was put behind bars for some other offense. He made bail again, and on September 21 was back on the street abusing drugs and causing trouble.

     Johnny Lewis was renting a room in a sprawling, two-story house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Felix Hills. His 81-year-old landlady, Catherine Davis, rented rooms in the Spanish-Style, bed-and-breakfast-like facility to young Hollywood actors. At ten o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, September 26, 2012, just five days after he had been released from jail, Lewis hopped a fence and attacked a painter working on the house next door. The owner of the home got into the fray, but Lewis was so high on drugs, there was nothing they could do to subdue him. The two men, fearing for their lives, took refuge in the house while Lewis tried to break into the place to continue the assault.

     When the mad actor returned to the Davis home, he broke into her living quarters, ripped her cat to pieces with his bare hands, smashed and ransacked the place, then beat the old woman to death. Neighbors who heard Catherine Davis screaming for her life, called 911.

     At 10:40 AM, when the police arrived at the scene, they found Johnny Lewis sprawled out dead on the driveway to the Davis house. Investigators believed that under the influence of drugs, he had fallen off the roof of the hillside dwelling. Inside, they found the beaten and strangled landlady, and her dismembered cat. Based on the dead actor's recent history, and the nature of his violence, detectives believed that Johnny Lewis had been high on PCP, crystal meth, or a new designer drug called "smiles," a psychedelic substance sold in the form of powder and pills.

     Jonathan Mandel, Lewis' attorney, told reporters that "Johnny Lewis had a lot of problems. I recommended treatment for him but he declined it. I give a lot of credit to his parents, they were really strong in trying to help him out. They really went to bat for him, but I guess they just couldn't do enough."

     Johnny Lewis' father, Michael, was a Scientologist who ran a Scientology clinic out in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Lewis once wrote a screenplay with L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology founder, about the practice of Dianetics. After Johnny Lewis' arrests for burglary and assault, and the drug-crazed murder of Catherine Davis, Scientology officials distanced themselves from the young actor, claiming that he left the church years ago. His image, and references to him, disappeared from the church's various websites.

     Members of the Church of Scientology are forbidden from consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists, or from taking psychotic medication. L. Ron Hubbard considered psychiatrists pill-pushing charlatans, and established his own programs for members suffering from mental illness, emotional problems, and drug and alcohol abuse. In lieu of modern psychiatry, Scientologists are treated with one-on-one counseling sessions, the ingestion of large amounts of vitamins, and sweating out their demons in high-temperature saunas.

     In 2004, Johnny Lewis went through a Church of Scientology drug program called Narconon. He spoke publicly about his treatment, and appeared on Narconon related websites. (These images were scrubbed from the Internet.)

     Critics of the Church of Scientology, and there are millions of them around the world, accused church officials with contributing to the deaths of mentally ill Scientologists by denying them modern psychiatric medication. The media generally refrained from emphasizing the Scientology connection to Catherine Davis's drug-crazed murder.

Thornton P. Knowles On Death As The Writer's Nightmare

You wait all your life to die. And when you do, you can't write about it. This is the writer's nightmare.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, December 15, 2017

Donte Johnson: Playing the Stupid Card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Defense Attorneys

In the world of the defense attorney, half the country is either insane or disadvantaged. When a street thug with an extensive criminal record commits a serious crime, this poor defendant, through no fault of his own, was disadvantaged. In other words, society was to blame. Whenever a upper middle class defendant commits an atrocious crime, that defendant was insane and therefore not responsible for his or her act. Defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves, and the really good ones are quite good at that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Children Die From Abuse and Neglect as Child Protection Services Look On

     According to the Associated Press, at least 786 children died of abuse and neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities. Many of them were beaten, starved or left alone to drown while these agencies had good reason to know these children were in danger…

     To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia and branches of the military…Many states struggled to provide numbers. Secrecy often prevailed. Most of the 786 children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect or violence or other troubles in the home…

     Many factors contribute to the child abuse problem nationwide: The child protective services system is plagued with worker shortages and a serious overload of cases. Budgets are tight, and nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protection services hotlines are "screened out" and never investigated. [This sounds a lot like our VA Hospital situation.]

     Also, insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to reports being misclassified, sometimes with deadly consequences; a lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database allows some abusers to avoid detection by moving to different states; and a policy that promotes keeping families intact can play a major role in the number of deaths.

     Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of children who already were being overseen by child welfare caseworkers, the information compiled over the course of the AP's eight-month investigation represents the most comprehensive statistics publicly available….

"AP Impact: Abused Kids Die as Officials Fail to Protect," Associated Press, December 30, 2014
    

Talking Versus Writing

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even whey they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Thornton P. Knowles On Judging a Book By Its Author

A chain-smoking reporter once asked me if I could enjoy a book written by a bigot. I asked the reporter if he could enjoy a cigarette made by a company that knew it was killing people.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thornton P. Knowles On Living Before Writing

It's against the law to drive a car before you're sixteen. There is a reason for that, so how about this: You should not publish a novel until you're thirty-five. Although this rule won't save lives, it would improve the quality of book-length fiction. One of my favorite crime novelists, Ross H. Spencer, a blue collar guy who, like me, was born in Nitro, West Virginia, didn't start writing until he was 58. That's why his books are so full of life and so funny. He lived before he wrote.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

More Fun and Games in Whackademia

The Phantom Professor

     Venetia Orcutt, an assistant professor in George Washington University's department of Physician Assistant Studies, went AWOL from class in two of her courses. She just didn't show up. Students who signed up for these teacherless courses, however, all received As. This went on for two semesters. After someone finally came forward, the dean of the medical school fired Orcutt and announced that the students who had not attended her classes would still get credit for the teacherless courses.

     In college, grades are a form of currency. Being a professor is a lot like being able to print money. Like money, grades can be used by academic slackers to buy the silence of  students in a conspiracy of fruad against parents, taxpayers, and alumni contributors. Professor Orcutt, had she not reached for the moon, might have gotten away with her scam indefinately. I'm sure many professors have.

Students or Guinea Pigs?

     Oklahoma University placed assistant professor Chad Kerksick on leave of absence following accusations from his Health and Exercise Students that, as a part of his research, he injected them with substances that caused pain and bruising. The university removed Kerksick from his duties. After the professor challenged the school's right to remove his tenure-track position, the university agreed to pay Kerksick $75,000 and give him one year of unpaid leave during which time he could look for a teaching position elsewhere.

     The above story made me think of my own career as a criminal justice professor, I who worked at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for thirty years, and actually showed up for class and didn't taser my students for a paper on nonlethal force. I now realize I was working at the wrong university. I should have been in Oklahoma.

Publish or Perish

     Emory University Professor Mark Bauerlein, in a recent paper, argues that professors who teach English Literature spend far too much time writing books, essays, reviews, and dissertations, stuff that nobody reads. According to the Modern Language Association, the number of these scholarly works published every year in the fields of English and foreign languages and literature has climbed from 13,757 in 1959 to 70,000 a  year. This glut of dense, arcane babble is not only killing innocent trees, it's keeping the writers of this unreadable stuff from teaching classes and interacting with students. Unless academic administrators eliminate publication as a prerequisite of academic advancement and tenure, trees will continue to fall and students will be taught by graduate assistants. (And English departments will continue to be called "Anguish" departments.)

No Snacks, No Class

     At California State University at Sacramento, students in professor George Parrott's Psychology 101 lab class, were required to bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory. If the professor didn't get his snacks, a policy he established in the early 1970s, he canceled the class. Over the years, the professor's students went along with the joke without complaint. But a few weeks ago, when students in the professor's morning section of Foundations of Behavorial Research failed to bring muffins, professor Parrott walked out of the lab.

     Members of the Psychology Department ruled that professor Parrott's decision to walk out of class because his students had violated his homemade snack rule, was unacceptable. So, the dean told professor Parrott, who is retiring at the end of the year, to teach without snacks. (It's hard to image all of this was news to Parrott's teaching colleagues.) Since I didn't major in psychology, I am not equipped to figure out what in the hell was going on with this teacher, or his department.