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Monday, May 22, 2017

The Diane McDermott Murder Case

     Americans have enjoyed detective fiction since the 1930s. The early police detectives of literature and film were far more impressive than their thick-skulled, real-life contemporaries. In the U.S., criminal investigation, as practiced by the police, didn't become anything resembling a profession well into the 20th Century. The first widely read criminal investigation textbook didn't come out until 1958. (Criminal Investigation by Charles O'Hara) Colleges and universities didn't start criminal justice programs until the early 1970s, and most of them were puerile.

     As late as the 1950s and 60s, police detectives, instead of employing interrogation techniques to acquire confessions, simply beat the hell out of suspects until someone broke down and confessed. In the 1940s, Fred Inbau of Northwestern University Law School, developed a set of interrogation techniques designed to psychologically induce admissions of guilt without the use of force. As a polygraph examiner in the Chicago Crime Lab, he knew that confessions beat out of people by the Chicago Police were unreliable, not to mention inhumane. Inbau's methods, however, weren't universally practiced until after the 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. Cops loved the third-degree, and old habits were hard to break.

     During the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, police detectives didn't routinely conduct professional crime scene investigations, take detailed notes, write case reports, or submit physical evidence to crime labs. Crimes were not systematically investigated and solved, and if a case didn't present an obvious suspect, detectives quickly closed it. Crime novelists and their readers loved murder mysteries, cops didn't. Homicide detectives regularly ignored or bungled murder cases, no one knew how to investigate arsons, and burglars were rarely caught because these crimes did not produce eyewitnesses. Most rape complaints received no investigation whatsoever. Cops who wore suits and carried gold badges were detectives in name only. (The word "detective" wasn't introduced into the English language until 1853 when Charles Dickens coined the term in his novel Bleak House.)

     Today, police detectives are well-paid and have access to cutting edge forensic science. They also can avail themselves of all sorts of relevant education and training. Still, in some big cities, small towns, and suburban communities, criminal investigations are regularly bungled due to indifference, laziness, corruption, and a shortage of qualified personnel. Modern law enforcement is principally focused on street crime, anti-terrorism, and the war on drugs. Criminal investigation has taken a backseat to these law enforcement priorities, and is becoming a lost art. (The nation's crime labs are also underfunded and understaffed.) In the history of criminal investigation, we are coming full circle.

The Diane McDermott Case

     A murder ignored by the police in 1967 drew attention in the spring of 2012 because the victim's son, a TV actor named Dylan McDermott, prevailed upon the authorities to take a second look at his mother's violent death. The Diane McDermott case is one of thousands of suspicious deaths in the past 100 years never investigated seriously or competently by the police.

     In 1967, Diane McDermott lived in a Waterbury, Connecticut apartment with her 5-year-old son Dylan, her 7-month-old daughter Robin, and John Sponza, her 27-year-old boyfriend. In February of that year, Sponza shot Diane McDermott in the head at point-blank range, placed a handgun next to her body that wasn't the firearm he had shot her with, then called the police. Sponza, a heroin addict with organized crime connections, told detectives with the Waterbury Police Department that Diane had picked up the gun he had been cleaning and accidentally shot herself in the head. Only an idiot, or cops on the take, would buy this story.

     Police interviews of Dylan McDermott, neighbors, and friends of the victim contradicted Sponza's claim that he and Diane rarely argued. Dylan said he had seen the boyfriend, who had once locked him out of the apartment, point a gun at his mother. Moreover, the two of them were often heard yelling at each other.

     Following a cursory investigation, the Waterbury Police closed the McDermott case as an accidental shooting. Four years later, police in Waltham, Massachusetts found Sponza's body in the trunk of a car parked in front of a a grocery store.

     The fact Sponza had murdered Diane McDermott in 1967 before DNA and other forensic science breakthroughs does not excuse the bungling of this case. (I don't know if McDermott's body had been autopsied, or if a forensic pathologist had recovered the fatal bullet. Media coverage of the case has focused on the actor's angst.) Even if the fatal slug had been too damaged for microscopic comparison with a test-fired bullet from the death scene handgun, a forensic firearms identification expert could have determined if the two projectiles were the same caliber. The victim's hands could have been tested for traces of gunshot residue, and the firearm next to her body could have been processed for latent fingerprints.

     In June 2012, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, reviewed the McDermott case file and concluded that the gun next to the victim's body was too small a caliber to have fired the fatal shot. In his report, Dr. Carver wrote, "The wound also showed that the murder weapon had been pressed to the back of the head." (This suggests the victim had been autopsied, and photographs had been taken.)

     Since people don't accidentally shoot themselves in the back of the head, Diane McDermott had obviously been murdered, and the last person to have seen her alive was John Sponza.

     While it's possible the detectives in charge of the McDermott case were either extremely stupid, lazy, or indifferent, I think they were corrupt. While the Connecticut criminal justice system failed to do its job in this case, John Sponza ended up where he belonged, dead in the trunk of someone's car.

      

George Orwell and C.S. Lewis

If you want to learn how to write, the best way to start is by imitating C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. These two Englishmen, born five years apart, never used a pompous word if a short and plain one would do. Orwell was a master of the welcoming first sentence. He wrote an essay called "England Your England" while sheltering from German bombs during World War II. Here is his opening: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

David Brooks, "Really Good Books, Part I," The New York Times, May 22, 2014 

The Screenwriting Workshop

There comes a time in every screenwriter's career when he feels the need to cease a solitary existence and enroll in a class or workshop. Before you jump in, be aware that many of these classes are taught by petty people. Of course not all workshops are evil. [I'm not so sure about that.] In fact, there are many wonderful workshops and teachers across the country. Just make sure the instructor of your workshop promotes constructive, not destructive, feedback, and the other students seem talented, supportive and serious. [My idea of good advice from workshop instructor: If you have real talent, get the hell out of this class. Movies today are crap, written by teams of hacks. Write a genre novel or get into nonfiction. Or better yet, get a real job.]

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011

Estranged Husband Sets Self on Fire

     At noon on Sunday, March 24, 2013, a 46-year-old Vietnamese man walked into the Creative Nails & Spa salon in the Orange County town of Costa Masa, California. He carried a bucket and began screaming at his estranged wife Lina who worked in the shop as a nail technician.

     Five months earlier, Lina had moved out of the house with the couple's three sons. She had filed a restraining order against her spouse after he had threatened and harassed her with phone calls.

     The angry, drug-addled husband sat cross-legged in the center of the salon. He lifted the bucket and soaked his body in gasoline. Using a lighter, he set himself on fire. As he sat on the floor engulfed in flames, one of the horrified onlookers threw towels on him. A bystander doused the burning man with a fire extinguisher. Another employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed the charred man to the Western Medical Center where he was treated for third degree burns over 70 percent of his body. He is listed in critical condition.

     In the United States, self-immolation by fire is an extremely rare form of suicide. 

Forensic Firearms Identification

     In the past called forensic ballistics, forensic firearms identification concerns itself with the comparison of crime scene bullets and firing pin impressions on shell casings with the marks on test-fired rounds in the crime lab. If the marks left on the bullet as the projectile passed through the test-gun barrel are identical to the rifling (grooves inside the barrel) scratches on the crime scene slug, the crime site weapon has been identified. If the firing pin impressions on the known and crime scene shell casings match, an identification has been made as well. (Semi-automatic weapons also leave ejector marks on shell casing that can be compared and identified.)

     Forensic firearms identification is a science grounded on the principle that no two guns will leave the same marks on the ammunition. Bullet scratches (called striations) and firing pin impressions are as unique as a person's fingerprints.

     Firearms identification also includes restoring filed-off serial numbers, tracing projectile flights, identifying the various types of bullet wounds, and determining the range of close shots through muzzle produced powder-stain patterns.

     Experts in the field apply the sciences of metallurgy, chemistry (gunshot residue analysis), microscopy, and ballistics. A knowledge of the gun smith trade is also useful. Like forensic document examiners, forensic firearms experts are trained on-the-job in crime laboratories.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Glenn Taylor: The Boy Scout Leader From Hell

     In mid-October 2013, Boy Scout leaders Glenn Taylor and David Hall took members of their troop on a tour of Goblin Valley State Park in southern Utah. Advertised as "a showcase of geologic history," the park, surrounded by eroded sandstone cliffs, features boulders (called goblins) perched atop slender stone pedestals. These unique formations were created over a period of 170 million years by wind and water.

     Glenn Taylor, a beefy man in his mid-thirties, with his son and other Boy Scouts looking on, and David Hall videotaping him, pushed a boulder roughly the size of a small car off its ancient pedestal. It took just fourteen seconds to destroy something nature took millions of years to create.

     The geological destroyer, flexing his muscles and beaming with pride over his achievement, laughed and high-fived the kids. Behind the video camera David Hall cheered Taylor on. "Boom!" he shouted when the boulder toppled off its point. "Yeah! We have now modified Goblin Valley!" Hall yelled triumphantly. Then, in a burst of absurd justification for this act of sheer idiocy, Hall said, "Some kid was about to walk down here and die, and Glenn saved his life by getting the boulder out of the way. It's all about saving lives here at Goblin Valley." Sure. This is like draining Lake Erie to keep swimmers from drowning. This is what clinical psychologists call, "a load of crap."

     Sometime after the state park desecration, a friend of Hall's published the video on YouTube. From that site it was linked up to Facebook. Eventually the video came to the attention of state park officials and the local prosecutor's office.

     In January 2014, the prosecutor charged Glenn Taylor with criminal mischief. The prosecutor charged David Hall with aiding criminal mischief. If found guilty of this third-degree felony, the men faced up to five years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. (It's too bad prison inmates are no longer forced to break rocks all day. These guys would be good at it.)

     Following his arraignment, Glenn Taylor, absent his hero persona (remember he saved lives) but still full of crap, said, "It was wrong of us to be vigilantes. We thought we were doing a good deed. We should have alerted a park ranger."

     Utah state parks officer Eugene Swalberg, in speaking to a reporter about the case, was not in a BS-accepting mood. "The destruction gives you a pit in your stomach," he said. "There seems to be a lot of happiness and joy with the individuals doing this, and it's not right. This is not what you do at a natural scenic area."

     Officials with Boy Scouts of America didn't think much of Mr. Taylor's vigilantism either. They kicked him and David Hall out of the organization.

     In March 2014, the defendants were allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses. The judge, pursuant to the plea bargains, sentenced them to one year probation. The former Boy Scout leaders were also ordered to pay fines and restitution. They got off light. 

Forensic Anthropology Certification

Most professional disciplines, including those that deal with evidence, crime scene investigation, and the human body, have certification boards to ensure that each practitioner meets and maintains certain standards in his respective field. For example, when we go to the doctor, we feel reassured when we look at the professional certificates and degrees hanging on the office wall. There's the American Board of Surgeons for many physicians and the American Board of Forensic Odontology for dentists. For those of us who deal with human remains for the police, medical examiners, and the FBI, there's the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Anyone who wants to sit for the board of examination in forensic anthropology must have a Ph.D. in physical anthropology (the study of bones), and three years' experience with skeletal cases performed for law enforcement agencies. Best of all, there is a four-hour written test and a four-hour practical (hands-on) qualifying examination.

Robert Mann, Ph.D., Forensic Detective, 2006   

E. M. Forster on Literary Critics

[The literary critic's] constant reference to genius is a characteristic of the pseudo-scholar. He loves mentioning genius, because the sound of the word exempts him from trying to discover its meaning. Literature is written by geniuses. Novelists are geniuses....Everything [the critic] says may be accurate but all is useless because he is moving round books instead of through them. He either has not read them or cannot read them properly. Books have to be read...it is the only way of discovering what they contain....The reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of its author, or to the events it describes.

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, 1927 

Sherlock Holmes on Rural Crime

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautified countryside.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Copper Beaches."

Anti-Stalking Laws

     Most anti-stalking laws around the country discuss threats or threatening behavior. Most anti-stalking laws require, at minimum, that the victim feel threatened by the stalker's actions. In these states, the stalker may explicitly threaten the victim, but the law does not require that such a threat take place. As long as the stalker's other actions create a threatening climate for the victim, the law can be applied.

     In other states, however, repeated harassment or following must be accompanied by an explicit threat. Most states that require a threat also require that it be "credible." In many states that require a credible threat, the defendant must have the "intent and/or apparent ability" to carry out the threat. Someone who clearly could not carry out the threat would not fit this requirement.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995 

Selling Out

The Devil comes to the writer and says, "I will make you the best writer of your generation. Never mind the generation--of the century. No--this millennium! Not only the best, but the most famous, and also the richest; in addition to that, you will be very influential and your glory will endure for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your kids, your dog, and your soul." "Sure," says the writer, "absolutely--give me the pen, where do I sign?" Then he hesitates. "Just a minute," he says. "What's the catch?"

Margaret Atwood, novelist

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Teenagers Charged With Murdering a Boy in a Car They Stole

     At two-thirty on the afternoon of Thursday, May 18, 2017, Ebony Archie pulled into the Kroger supermarket parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi. With her 6-year-old son Kingston Frazier asleep in the back seat of her running Toyota Camry, the mother entered the store to purchase some medicine.

     According to a parking lot surveillance camera, shortly after the mother entered the grocery store, two men in a two-door Honda Civic approached the Toyota. One of the men climbed out of the Honda, got behind the wheel of Ebony Archie's car and drove off with the 6-year-old still in the back seat.

     When the mother came of the supermarket and discovered her car and her son missing, she reported the theft to a Hinds County sheriff's deputy on patrol on the lot. She did not, however, initially mention that she had left her son in the stolen car.

     At 4:30 that afternoon, when the distraught mother informed the police of her missing son, the authorities broadcast an Amber Alert.

     Sometime during the early morning hours of Friday, May 19, 2017, a citizen reported seeing the stolen Toyota parked alongside a dirt road outside the Madison County town of Gluckstadt, Mississippi. In the back seat of the vehicle, police officers discovered the corpse of Kingston Frazier. The boy had been shot at least once in the head.

     At ten o'clock that morning, Madison County District Attorney Michael Guest announced at a press conference that within hours of the discovery of Kingston Frazier's body, three local teenage suspects had been taken into custody and charged with capital murder.

     The murder suspects were: Dwan Wakefield, 17, D'Allen Washington, 17, and Bryon McBride, 19. (In Mississippi, 17-year-olds accused of capital murder can be charged as adults. They could also face the death penalty.)

     According to media reports, Dwan Wakefield was a senior at Ridgeland High School where he had played football until he was thrown off the team for an unspecified reason. At the press conference, the district attorney did not reveal the roles each suspect had allegedly played in the boy's murder. The suspects were due in court for arraignment on Monday, May 22, 2017. 

Say Goodbye to Paul Goodwin

     A Missouri inmate was put to death early Wednesday December 10, 2014 for fatally beating a 63-year-old woman with a hammer in 1998…Paul Goodwin, 48, sexually assaulted Joan Crotts in St. Louis County, pushed her down a flight of stairs and beat her in the head with a hammer. Goodwin was a former neighbor who felt Crotts played a role in getting him kicked out of a boarding house.

     Goodwin's execution began at 1:17 AM, more than an hour after it was scheduled because Supreme Court Appeals lingered into the early morning. He was pronounced dead at 1:25 AM. He declined to make a final statement.

     Efforts to spare Goodwin's life centered on his low I.Q. and claims that executing him would violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for the mentally disabled. Attorney Jennifer Herndon said Goodwin had an I.Q. of 73, and some tests suggested even lower…But Goodwin's fate was sealed when Governor Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down legal appeals--one on the mental competency question and one concerning Missouri's use of an execution drug purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy.

"Missouri Executes Inmate For 1998 Hammer Death," Associated Press, December 10, 2014


The Nonfiction Hardback Bestseller

     The most popular nonfiction authors of our day might be characterized by a certain overconfident swagger, the modern prerequisite for mattering in a mixed-up, insecure world. More often than not, these "authors"aren't authors at all, in the strict sense of carefully pondering their ideas and diction and lovingly crafting an argument sturdy yet supple enough to carry their work over to a mass readership. In place of the William Whytes, Vance Packards, and Betty Friedans of earlier, more confident chapters of our national bestsellerdom, we have promoted a generation of alternately jumpy and anxious shouters. Generally these public figures fall into one of two categories: television personalities who have hired hands to cobble together their sound bites; and middling non-writers suffering from extended delusions of grandeur. When it comes to hardcover nonfiction, a realm in which books are physical objects, plunked down on coffee tables as signifiers or comfort totems, Americans don't seem to be looking for authors or writers or artists so much as lifestyle brands in human form: placeholder thinkers whose outrage, sense of irony, or general dystopian worldview matches their own, whether it is Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Chelsa Handler.

      It's a glum corollary of such market forces that these very popular nonfiction books aren't books in the traditional sense of the word so much as aspirational impulse buys. They imbue their owners with a feeling of achievement and well-being upon purchase, a feeling that crucially does not require the purchaser to actually sit and read the book in question. Substantive, thoughtful books might pervade other lists (e-book, trade paperback, etc.), but when it comes to the top position on the hardcover nonfiction roster, accessory books by high-profile bloviators typically dominate from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to Ann Coulter's Godless to Edward Klein's The Amateur to Dinesh D'Souza's America. 

Heather Havrilesky, "Mansplanation Nation," Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Searching for Missing Children

When you're searching for missing or abducted children, you have to look in any place where a child might fit. Not any likely place, but any possible place, which means kitchen cabinets, trash cans, the refrigerator, the freezer, and the oven, all locations where children have been subsequently located, alive or dead.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Biography As The Unwanted Genre

Between history and the novel stands biography, their unwanted offspring, which has brought a great embarrassment to them both. In the historian's view it takes ten thousand biographies to make one small history. To the novelist biographers are simply what Nabokov called, "psycho-plagiarists."

Michael Holroyd, Works on Paper, 2002

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Meth-Crazed Murders of Britny Haarup and Ashley Key

     Sisters Britny Haarup, 19, and Ashley Key 22, lived together in a house in Edgerton, Missouri, 35 miles north of Kansas City. Ashley Key, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, had been running with a bad crowd, and had sought her sister's help in  turning her life around. On Friday afternoon, July 13, 2012, Britny Haarup's fiancee, Matt Meyers, stopped by the house and found the sisters missing, and Haarup's 6 month and and 18-month-old daughters alone in the same crib. Because Haarup would never leave the infants alone in the house, Meyers suspected foul play. She had left her cellphone and purse behind, and in the living room Meyers found Ashley's handbag and a pair of her shoes. And most troubling of all, a comforter on the couch contained blood stains. (Police later learned that several guns had been taken from the house.)

     On the afternoon of the disappearances, deputies with the Platte County Sheriff's Office spoke to witnesses who had seen a white, 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck parked near the sister's house at 9:30 that morning. The next day, a deputy found a truck meeting that description several miles from the sister's house parked near the Platte-Clay County line. The vehicle, registered to a Clifford D. Miller, bore no evidence of a crime, inside or out.

     On Sunday morning, July 15, Platte County detectives questioned Clifford D. Miller, "a person of interest," at his girlfriend's house in Parksville, a suburb of Kansas City. Miller, from Trimble, Missouri in southwest Clinton County, confessed to murdering Haarup and Key, and agreed to lead the police to the field where he had dumped their bodies. Following the confession, the officers took Miller into custody.

     The sisters' bodies were recovered that Sunday, and transported to the Medical Examiner's Office in Jackson County for identification and autopsy.

     When interrogated at his girlfriend's house, Miller said he had been smoking methamphetamine on Friday, July 13. With the intent of having sex with Britny Haarup, (they knew each other but had not engaged in sex) he drove his 2002 Dodge pickup to her house in Edgerton. When he walked into the dwelling through the unlocked front door, Ashley Key, asleep on the sofa, woke up and confronted him. Miller punched her several times, struck her in the head with a hard object from the coffee table, then smothered her with the comforter on the couch.

     Still thinking about having sex with Haarup, Miller walked into her bedroom. When Britny screamed, he hit her with a blunt object, then smothered her with a pillow.

     After murdering the sisters in their own home, Clifford Miller hung around and smoked more meth. High on the drug, he wrapped his victims' bodies in bedsheets and carried them to his pickup truck. After depositing the murdered women in a field several miles from their house, he abandoned his vehicle and called his girlfriend in Parksville.

     The Platte County prosecutor charged Clifford Miller with two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he faced a sentence of life without parole or death by injection. He was incarcerated in the Platte County Jail under $500,000 cash-only bond.

     In April 2013, Clifford Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole. While the death penalty would have been too good for this man, it's a shame he was allowed to live. 

Novelist Gore Vidal on Fame

Recently, I observed to [an interviewer] that I was once a famous novelist. When assured, politely, that I was still known and read, I explained myself. I was speaking, I said, not of me but of a category to which I once belonged that no longer exists. I am still here, but my category is not. To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker, or speedboat designer.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012), Screening History, 1992

Forensic Psychology

The profession of forensic psychology, a recent fusion of psychology and the law, is practiced by a minority of licensed psychologists in the United States and taught in a handful of graduate programs....I use the traditional tools of my trade--trained observation, clinical interviews, detailed history-taking, and psychological tests--combined with the street smarts I've gained as a narcotics parole officer and by interviewing hundreds of murderers. But sometimes I must rely on psychological guerrilla tactics, like agreeing with a psychotic's delusions, entering his hallucinations, or stoking a defendant's enthusiasm about drugs, sex, or guns. In these ways, I cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Movies About Writers

     Writers like watching movies about themselves. It gives us something to do. My doctor father used to scoff at movies about doctors because he was always finding fault with some diagnosis or treatment. I don't know how cops or lawyers feel about their portrayals. Politicians are usually shown as corruptible. Teachers as sad. Writers are variously crazy (Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"), reckless (Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys"), cranky (Van Johnson in "23 Paces to Baker Street"), self-destructive (Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend"), without principle (William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard") and/or flailing (Paul Giamatti in "Sideways"). Nothing to argue with, really.

     What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in "Pollock," one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft....I suppose there's nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.

Roger Rosenblatt, 2013   

How Arsonists Set Fires

Arsonists hardly ever simply strike a match to light a fire, using any combustible material at hand such as a piece of paper or a curtain. Such a course of action is too uncertain, since a fire lit in this way may burn itself out very quickly. Usually, an accelerant is used. A flammable liquid such as kerosene [or gasoline] is poured over a wide area of carpets and furnishings, before the match is applied. This ensures that a hot fire will follow and that the building be ablaze long before any firefighters arrive. However, what most arsonists do no know is that traces of such accelerants can be detected, even after the fire has destroyed the building. Small amounts of accelerant will seep into carpets, floorboards, plaster, brickwork and other materials and will not be consumed by the fire. The cooling effect of the water used to quench [extinguish] the fire will slow down the rate of evaporation of the accelerant and enough will usually remain to be detected.

Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu, Forensics, 2012 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pennsylvania Constable Shook Down Amish Families

     Just when we think that elected officials have come up with every possible method of swindling the people who put them into office, some corrupt politician comes along and proves us wrong. Petty public corruption cases involving local officials--embezzlements, payroll padding, feather-bedding, unauthorized use of government credit cards, per diem fraud, and bribery--are such common occurrences they have become events that get little attention in the media. Most citizens, while disgusted by politicians in general, are no longer shocked by this kind of behavior. Maybe that's why so few of these bums are ever voted out of office. But every once in awhile, one of these government crooks get caught doing something so outrageous it catches, for the blink of an eye, the public's attention.

     Recently, a constable in western Pennsylvania named Glenn Young, Jr. allegedly pulled a stunt that qualifies as a new low in public service. Even so, the story was picked up in a handful of area newspapers, and got mentioned on a couple of local TV stations. Although a news item like this cries out for some in-depth reporting, and perhaps some editorializing, the story appeared for a day, then was gone. What follows is my tribute to this elected official's unique form of pubic service depravity.

     In Pennsylvania, in addition to law enforcement officers who work for police departments, sheriff's offices, and the state police, there is the little known, county-wide office of constable. These uniformed peace officers, elected to six-year terms, usually work directly for judges and district magistrates on minor civil matters. While they carry guns and have badges, and possess full arrest powers, most constables serve court papers and collect court-ordered fines. In a few jurisdictions, they provide courtroom security, and transport local prisoners. In Pennsylvania, constables are on the bottom of the law enforcement hierarchy.

     In October 2011, John Young, Jr., a 63-year-old constable from Beaver County, less than an hour north of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, was up in Springfield Township, Mercer County investigating vandalism to an Amish school house. (Why Constable Young was working in Mercer County, some 60 miles north of his home in New Brighton, is a mystery. Mercer County doesn't even border Beaver County, and lies outside the constable's normal geographical jurisdiction. Also mystifying is why Young had taken it upon himself to investigate minor vandalism at the Indian Run school house. This is where some professional news reporting would have been helpful.)

     The eager constable (Barney Fife on steroids), after pulling over several Amish buggies to search for whoever knows what, met with a group of local Amish leaders. According to Constable Young, he had identified the 21 Amish lads who had vandalized the school house. Although it had only cost the Amish $92 to replace the broken windows, and fix the broken desks, the constable informed the Amish elders that the youngsters had inflicted $4,000 damage to the school. This meant, according to Young, that the kids had committed a serious crime that could lead to big fines, and possible jail time. This of course, was a load of crap.

     Because he was a nice guy, and had the best interests of the Amish people in mind, Constable Young would save the vandals a lot of money by simply collecting smaller fines from the family of each perpetrator. And this is what he allegedly did, collecting a total of $2,450 in fines that had not been levied by a court or any other governmental body. At some point in what can only be described as a shakedown, someone in the Amish community suspected a swindle, and notified the state police.

     Charged with theft by deception, official oppression, and impersonating a public servant (not to mention a decent person), Constable Glenn Young was taken into custody by state troopers on August 29, 2012. At his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to all charges. (Young later pleaded guilty in return for a sentence of probation.)

     Compared to the average public corruption case, Constable Young's breach of public trust didn't amount to much. But why would a man risk his reputation and livelihood by committing such a petty crime against decent Amish people? (Maybe to take advantage of their trust and good nature.) The shear stupidity of this boneheaded swindle was jaw-dropping. The fact Constable Young possessed a badge and a gun, and had been invested with full arrest powers, was more than a little disturbing. Cases like this should remind us of the kinds of people who run for office, and manage to get themselves elected into positions of public trust. What this little case represents, to me, is something important, and worthy of exposure.

       

The Trigger-Happy Constable

     On November 2, 2011, at 3:30 in the afternoon, Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, while shopping in a Louisville, Kentucky Walmart where he worked off-duty as a retail security officer, received a call on his cellphone regarding a possible shoplifter. Constable Whitlock approached the suspect, Tammy Lee Jamian, aka Tammy Ortiz, as she sat in her car in the parking lot. When Whitlock reached the vehicle, the suspect started to drive away. Her car ran over Whitlock's foot so he shot her in the arm and hand.

     In Kentucky, constables were elected under the state constitution that gave them powers of arrest in the enforcement of traffic laws. They also served certain types of warrants. Whitlock, in 2000 and 2002, had been charged in a couple of theft cases. Other law enforcement officers had criticized him for carrying a gun without the proper firearms training. In Kentucky, constables were not required to undergo special law enforcement instruction. Whitlock claimed, however, to have taken 122 hours of deadly force classes. According to a Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy, Whitlock failed the shooting portion of the course and was sent home.

     In a newspaper interview following the Walmart shooting, Whitlock told the reporter he spent 20 to 25 hours a week writing citations for illegal parking in fire lanes and handicapped spots. He also patrolled Louisville making sure addresses were visible on buildings as required by law.

     Tammy Lee Jamian, who has an arrest record for burglary, theft, and prostitution, claimed she was not shoplifting in the store and that Constable Whitlock, when he confronted her in the parking lot, did not identify himself as a police officer. She drove off because she thought she was being mugged. Referring to Whitlock, Jamian's attorney told a reporter "This cowboy shot an unarmed woman for shoplifting. He didn't know if she was Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde or Sister Teresa. He just shot her."

     On November 11, Louisville Councilman Rick Blackwell called for the state legislature to remove Whitlock as a Jefferson County Constable. According to the councilman, Whitlock violated three state laws: deputizing staff members, failing to file monthly reports to the county clerk, and using oscillating blue lights on his car.

     In October 2012, pursuant to his guilty plea to charges of wanton endangerment and second-degree assault, Whitlock agreed never to work in law enforcement again. After he completed a diversion program, the prosecutor dropped the charges against the former constable.

     In Louisville, on January 27, 2014, David Whitlock announced his plan to run for a seat on the Metro Council. He lost.

    

In Writing, Having an Idea For a Book is the Easy Part

Most anyone can have a great idea. A smaller group might get it onto paper in some form. A fair number of those will be able to revise parts of it until it is very good. Yet to take all the elements such as character and themes and place, and to think about voice, style and language, just doesn't happen in one fell swoop. Only a few writers can take what first comes out on the page and work it until every bit of it is right, until all of its parts become a beautiful whole. True talent--perhaps even genius--lies not in coming up with the idea but in being able to do the hard, dogged work that brings that idea to fruition.

Carole Burns, Off The Page, 2008


One Less Baby-Killer in Ohio

     On the night of September 29, 1988, in the northern Ohio town of Mansfield, 31-year-old Steve Smith walked into his live-in girlfriend's bedroom carrying her six-month-old daughter. Smith was nude and had been drinking. The lifeless infant in his arms bore bruises and cuts.

     Kesha Frye took her daughter to a neighbor's house where she called 911. At the hospital doctors tried for an hour to revive Autumn Frye before pronouncing the baby dead. An autopsy revealed that the infant had been raped.

     A year after his arrest, Steve Smith went on trial for aggravated murder. On the advice of his attorneys, the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to death.

     On April 2, 2013, after living twelve years on death row, Smith appeared before the Ohio Parole Board that was considering his petition to reduce  his sentence to life. Smith admitted raping the infant, but said he hadn't intended to kill her. The parole board and Governor John Kasich denied Smith's motion for a life sentence.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2013, the Ohio executioner at the state prison in Lucasville injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into the body of the 46-year-old prisoner. Steve Smith's 20-year-old daughter and a handful of others watched him go. If the baby-killer made a statement before the pentobarbital got into his system, his last words have not escaped the prison. 

Forensic Botany

One thing I tell police frequently is this: If you get a call of somebody breaking into a house, and you see somebody walking down the street as you pull up, as you question him, ask to see the cuffs of his pants. If he's climbed through a hedge or walked through a yard--most people have weeds around. Weeds get around in lots of clever ways; they often have little sticky parts that adhere to you shoes, or your shoelaces, or your pants cuffs, or they land in a pants cuff. If the suspect says, "Oh, I got those in my grandmother's yard," those particular weeds may not be there. So we've hooked people to certain crime sites though what kind of weeds have gotten stuck to them. Almost no one can lie about plant evidence.

Forensic botanist, in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

B. R. Myers on The "Literary" Novelist

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002
[This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.]

People Who Work With Criminal Offenders Burn Out

The greatest occupational hazard to people working with criminals [counselors, social workers, and parole agents] is not physical attack. More serious is a rapid burnout of enthusiasm, commitment, and interest. Mention the word "burnout" to people in corrections, and they will solemnly nod. Increasing numbers of idealistic, genuinely concerned young Americans are entering corrections, eager to do a good job. Almost immediately, they confront a huge array of obstacles for which they are poorly prepared. Despite the fact that their clients are the most difficult anywhere, they think they are expected to accomplish what parents, teachers, employers, clergymen, and others failed at for years.

Dr. Stanton E. Sanenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Have We Become a Nation of Sociopaths?

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book Fatal Vision, who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behavioral Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiatrist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief one is smarter than everybody, and the belief one is above society's rules of behavior and laws. (In other words, the American politician.)

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, business and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Maybe it started with Mr. Rogers and his you-are-special message. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want. (Have you noticed that on reality TV, people can't talk about themselves for more than a couple of minutes without breaking down in tears? What is that?)

     Tens of thousands of people will show up in a city to audition for TV shows like "American Idol." They all have this pathological need to share their unique talents with the world, and are inspired by former winners who all say the same ridiculous thing: "Don't give up your passion, your dream. If I can make it, so can you." This of course is a load of crap. The odds of getting rich and famous are one in a million. And if you do get rich and famous, it probably won't last. You'll end up like one of those has-beens who say things like, "You might remember me as the janitor in the 1975 sitcom, "Barney Meets Betty." Winners of "American Idol," instead of encouraging fools like themselves, should say: "I'm stupid like you but I got real lucky. Instead of chasing an impossible dream, prepare yourself for real life."

     It seems we're raising generations of young people who, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame, become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

     Several years ago I investigated a swindler who operated as a literary agent and publisher. A typical sociopath, she believed she was smarter than the people she bilked. This wasn't the case and the woman ended up in federal prison. I wrote a book about her called, Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell. As an epigram to the book, I wrote: "As a nonfiction crime writer, I have come across more than my share of sociopathic personalities. As one who feels guilty about everything, I find these people fascinating. When sociopaths end up in jail, neurotics like me end up writing about them."

     If I were writing this book today, I would leave out the part about finding sociopaths fascinating. I now find them annoying, depressing, and harmful to the future of this country.

The Book Editor

   There was a time in book publishing when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a manuscript ready for publication. Today, editors still evaluate manuscripts and make suggestions, but get much less involved in shaping the book for publication. In the 1960's, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript: "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche...lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly....I reaally don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in its present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity."

     A lot of writers think of book editors as failed novelists who take out their frustration on authors. This view is expressed in a quote by David A. Fryxell: "Most of them [editors] grew up wanting to be writers. Now they hold the power of professional life or death over people who are doing what they would probably still rather be doing--writing." I disagree. Literary editing is an art form in its own right, and great editors are talented people. A great editor can turn a good manuscript into an excellent book.

     What follows are what authors say about book editors and the editing process:

Editors in publishing houses can be perceived as basically performing three different roles, all of them simultaneously. First they must find and select the books the house is to publish. Second they edit (yes, Virginia, they still do edit,...). And third, they perform the Janus-like function of representing the house to the author and the author to the house.
Alan D. Williams

Although they're skittish and sometimes blind to real talent, they [editors] are often ambitious idealists; they would like nothing better than to discover and publish a great book--or even a moderately good one.
John Gardner

Often the editing talent is not the writer's own. An outside eye and hand is usually essential.
Dr. Alice W. Flaherty

The successful editor is one who is constantly finding new writers, nurturing their talents, and publishing them with critical and financial success. The thrill of developing fresh writing makes the search worthwhile, even when the waiting and working becomes months, sometimes years of drudgery and frequent disappointment.
A Scott Berg

Master editors taught me how to break books down and put them back together. You learn values--the value of tension, of keeping tension on the page and how that's done, and you learn how to spot self-indulgence, how you don't need it. You learn to become very free and easy about moving things around, which a reader would never do. A reader sees a printed book and that's it. But when you see a manuscript as an editor, you say, well this is chapter twenty, but it should be chapter three.
E. L. Doctorow

Good editing is one of those laborious invisibile jobs, like housekeeping, that are apparent only when they aren't done.
John Jerome

Readers give as much credit to an editor for the books they read as pitchers pay tribute to the horses whose hides encase baseballs.
John T. Winterich

You know I'm not the sort of editor who pesters authors [of children's books] and artists. I love creative people, and I never want to do anything to make life harder than it is for creative people.
Ursula Nordstrom

Nobody remotely interested in the role of editors or their relationship to writers should fail to read Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell Perkins, edited by John Hall Wheelock. With their warmth, eloquence, total empathy with authors, and gentle but keenly persuasive suggestions, these letters stand alone as lasting beacons to those who would follow.
Alan D. Williams

A good editor is a man who understands what you're talking and writing about and doesn't meddle too much. A good editor can put his finger on weakness...without trying to tell you how to repair it.
Irwin Shaw

The job of editor in a publishing house is the dullest, hardest, most exciting, exasperating and rewarding of perhaps any job in the world.
John Hall Wheelock

When I was an editor, nothing turned me off quicker than reading a presentation that stated the author's book was suitable for every man, woman, and child in the U.S.A., and therefore the book had a potential sale of more than 200 million.
Oscar Collier (Oscar became a well-known literarary agent in New York City. I'm proud to say that he represented me until he passed away in 1998.)

Writers work under constant threat of public ridicule and rejection. Editors are protected by a shield of public anonymity
Ralph Keyes

Criminal Suspects Are More Likely to Confess in Private

The principal psychological factor contributing to a successful interrogation is privacy--being alone with the person under interrogation. This we all seem to instinctively realize in our own private or social affairs, but in criminal interrogations it is generally overlooked or ignored. For instance, in asking a personal friend or acquaintance to divulge a secret, we carefully avoid making the request in the presence of other persons; we seek a time and place when the matter can be discussed in private. Likewise, when anyone harbors a troublesome problem that he would like "to get off his chest," he finds it easier to confide in another person alone rather than in the presence of a third party....In criminal interrogations, where the same mental processes are in operation, and to an even greater degree by reason of the criminality of the disclosure, interrogators generally seem to lose sight of the fact that a suspect or witness is much more apt to reveal his secrets in the privacy of a room occupied only by himself and his interrogator than in the presence of an additional person or persons.

Fred E. Inbau and John E. Reid in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1962

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Memo To Armed Robbers: You Can Be Legally Shot

     At five-thirty Tuesday evening November 12, 2014, 18-year-old Adric White and Tavoris Moss, 19, walked into a Family Dollar store in Baldwin County, Alabama outside of Mobile. White entered the premises carrying a handgun he intended to use to rob the place.

     This was not the first business establishment White  had held-up. A month earlier, after he robbed the nearby Original Oyster House, a judge allowed him to post bail despite the fact the Original Oyster House was not White's first robbery.

     In the back of the store White put his gun to a Family Dollar employee's head and ordered the hostage to the cash-out area where a customer saw what was happening. This customer, who was also armed, pulled his firearm as White forced the terrified clerk to get on his or her knees.

     The armed shopper yelled at White not to move. White, rather than lower his gun, turned the weapon on the customer. Fearing that he would be shot, the armed citizen fired at White who collapsed to the floor.

     Police officers took the suspect's companion into custody as paramedics rushed White to the USA Medical Center. Although hit five times, White survived the shooting and received treatment at the hospital while under police guard. The judge revoked his bail on the Original Oyster House hold-up.

     The day following the Family Dollar robbery and shooting, a local television reporter spoke to a relative of White's who said the family was furious with the vigilante who had shot and almost killed their loved one. "If the customer's [shooter's] life was not in danger," said the robber's relative, "if no one had a gun up to him, what gives him the right to think that it's okay to shoot someone? The [armed customer] should have left the store and went wherever he had to go."

     The same TV correspondent spoke to the man who had used his gun to stop the robbery and perhaps save the store clerk's life. The shooter, referred to in the local media as the Good Samaritan, said he had no choice but to take the action in the case. When the robber raised his gun the customer fired in self defense. "I didn't want to shoot him," the shooter said.

     According to the Good Samaritan, "Criminals tend to think they are the only ones with guns. I've been legally carrying my firearm for a little over four years now, and thank God I've never had to use it until last night. It just shows it's good to have a concealed carry permit. You never know when you're going to need it."

      Gun rights advocates and their opponents will argue over the merits of this case. But one thing that is not up for debate is this: If you rob someone at gunpoint there is a good chance you will be shot by a police officer or a fellow citizen. And if you are, the cop who shot you will be hailed as a hero. Moreover, most Americans will call the civilian shooter who brought you down a Good Samaritan.

     As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword. 

The Journalist as Con Artist

     Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction writing learns--when the article or book appears--his hard lesson.

     Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and "the public's right to know"; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

     The catastrophe suffered by the subject is no simple matter of an unflattering likeness or a misrepresentation of his views; what pains him, what rankles and sometimes drives him to extremes of vengefulness, is the deception that has been practiced on him. On reading the article or book in question, he has to face the fact that the journalist--who seemed so friendly and sympathetic, so keen to understand him fully, so remarkably attuned to his vision of things--never had the slightest intention of collaborating with him on his story but always intended to write a story of his own.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett produced work so stark, yet so complex, that any attempt to dismiss him as a mystery writer would be a glaring error. In Red Harvest, 1929, he deals with mob control and mob wars in a town called Personville, nicknamed Poisonville. The bad guys are bad, and the good guys are bad in a good way, and the whole book is a morality play. Forces of light and dark run through the actions of tough guys. The value of traditional male ideals is enhanced because even some awfully cynical people can still hold them.

Jack Cady, The American Writer, 1999

The Meaning of Literary Awards

In the literary world there are far more awards for "serious" fiction than championship title belts in the field of professional boxing. While boxing fans and pundits lament the glut of prize fighting titles, the boxers who hold these belts have at least proven themselves to be superior athletes. Literary awards, on the other hand, warn us that these award-winning novels are virtually unreadable works of pretentious, show-off fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

The Need for Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014



The Role of Popular Music in Mass Shooting/Suicides

School shootings, like other mass murders and suicide clusters, reflects the culture of the times. The role of the media takes many forms in such events, but perhaps nothing rules and mirrors the culture of adolescents the way music does. Yesterday's swing and jazz, as remembered in bebop, the Lindy, the shimmy, and the Charleston, have evolved into the music that fills our world today: Rock and roll. New wave. Punk. Heavy mental. Grunge rock. Hip-Hop. Gangsta rock. Death rock. The beat, lyrics, groups and individual artists are held in high regard. Rock-star look-alikes are everywhere. And the fashion follows the music in more than clothing. Attitudes and beliefs systems are born from the messages communicated or reinforced through teen music.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Selena Irene York Poisoned Smoothie Case

     Selena Irene York, and her teenage daughter, after falling on hard times, were taken in by 79-year-old Ed Zurbuchen who let them live in his Vernal, Utah home. On September 29, 2008, his 33-year-old house guest gave him a peach smoothie. Shortly after drinking it, the old man was taken to the hospital complaining of dizziness, numbness of the face, and speech difficulties. At first, doctors thought he had suffered a stroke. After four days in the hospital, Mr. Zurbuchen underwent a series of liver and kidney tests that revealed he had ingested ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze.

     Although Selena York had given Mr. Zuburchen the drink that had made him sick, had made herself the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and had taken control of his bank account, he didn't want to press charges against her. Without the victim's cooperation and testimony, the Uintah County prosecutor didn't have a case. In 2009, the suspect and her daughter moved to Eugene, Oregon. Although the authorities in Utah believed York had tried to murder the old man, the investigation went cold.

     On April 2011, the poisoning case came back to life when the Uintah County prosecutor received a letter from Joseph Dominic Ferraro, Selena York's former boyfriend, and the father of her child. Ferraro, who was in jail for sexual assault, had been living with York and his daughter in Eugene, Oregon. According to Ferraro, York had bragged to him about poisoning an old man in Utah in an effort to kill him so she could take over his estate. Since York had drained Ferraro's bank account, and sold both of his cars while he sat in jail, he believed her story. And so did the authorities in Utah.

     In June, police arrested York in Eugene on the charge of attempted murder. After being extradited back to Utah, York, in exchange for the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery, confessed to poisoning Mr. Zuburchen. She said she had purchased the smoothie at a nearby store, dumped out half of its contents, then poured in the antifreeze. After his death, she planned to gain power of attorney over his estate. Before she had left Utah after the failed homicide, York forged a check on the victim's bank account for $10,000.

     In December 2011, Selena York was allowed to plead no contest to the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery. Two months later, the judge sentenced her to three consecutive five-year prison terms. (It's doubtful she will serve 15 years behind bars.) Had Mr. Zubuchen died of poisoning, York would have been eligible for the death sentence. Had she not ripped-off Mr. Ferraro (who was convicted of 21 felony sexual abuse counts), she would have gotten away with attempted murder. This woman was a cold-blooded killer, a sociopath who should never get out of prison.

     Mr. Ferraro, the father of York's child who informed on her, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the sexual abuse case. However, he won an appeal that led to the overturning of his conviction. The trial judge had improperly denied Ferraro's motion to postpone his trial in order to acquire more time for his attorney to prepare his defense. The Lane County prosecutor, rather than schedule a second trial, allowed Ferraro to plead guilty to a single count of second-degree sodomy. Sentenced to three years on that charge, the sex offender walked free because he had already served four years on the multiple felony conviction. Because of a legal technicality, this sexual criminal got off light.

     Because our criminal justice system is overwhelmed by criminality, it is distorted and ineffective due to the need for plea bargaining which keeps the whole system afloat. Without it, the entire mess would collapse. While certain politicians would like to empty our prisons, I think society would be better off with a much larger prison population. This case makes a good argument for that proposition. 

Jim Thompson's True Crime Writing Tips

True crime stories must be post-trial, with the perpetrators convicted and sentenced at the conclusion…Use active writing, avoid passive constructions. Remember that detectives probe, dig up, determine, deduce, seek out, ascertain, discover, hunt, root out, delve, uncover, track, trace, and inspect. They also canvass, inquire, question, and quiz.

Jim Thompson in Savage Art by Robert Polito, 1995

Supernatural Fiction

More than other genres, supernatural fiction is defined by atmosphere and characterization. By atmosphere I mean the author's ability to evoke a mood or place viscerally by the use of original and elegant, almost seductive language. The most successful supernatural novels are set in our world. Their narrative tension, their very ability to frighten and transport us, derives from a conflict between the macabre and the mundane, between everyday reality and the threatening other--whether revenant [a ghost that returns], werewolf, or demonic godling--that seeks to destroy it.

Elizabeth Hand in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002

Literary Critics in England Versus the U.S.

     Book reviewing in England is and always has been somewhat differently arranged than in the United States. Most often, in the United States, writers review one another's books and there is some sense of generosity born of shared time in the novel-writing trenches. It is more common in England for a novel to be reviewed by what you might call professional book assessors…

     It is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, in England for a reviewer to show off his talent for eloquent invective at the expense of the author--desirable because it's fun for all, and if a novel is entertainingly killed, that's one less author who will be pulling his chair up to a crowded table.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel, 2005

     

Types of Criminal Behavior

It is conventional to draw a line between property crimes, crimes against the person, morals offenses, offenses against public order, and regulatory crimes. Social reactions depend on the type of crime. Typologies are not very systematic; but they can be illuminating. For example, there are what we might call predatory crimes--committed for money and gain; usually, the victims are strangers. These are the robberies and muggings that plague the cities and inspire much dread. There are also lesser and greater crimes of gain: shoplifting, minor embezzlements, confidence games, cheats, frauds, stock manipulations in infinite form. There are also what we might call corollary crimes--conspiracies, aiding and abetting, harboring criminals; also perjury, jail break, and the like. Much rarer are political crimes--treason, most notably; also sedition, and, in larger sense, all illegal acts motivated by hatred of the system, and which strike out against the constituted order. There are crimes of desperation--men or women who steal bread to keep from starving, addicts who steal or turn a trick to support their habit. Some crimes are thrill crimes--joyriding, shoplifting at times, acts of vandalism, and the like; some of these, too, can be little bursts of petty treason. There are crimes of passion--violence generated by thwarted love, jealousy, hatred that rises to the level of obsession. There are also crimes of addiction--crimes that arise from failure of control; crimes that stem from what some of us might consider flaws of character, or overwhelming temptation; this can be as minor as public drunkenness, or as horrific as rape. Lastly, there are what we might call subcultural crimes--acts that are defined as crimes of the big culture, yet validated in some smaller social group; Mormon polygamy in the nineteenth century, for example.

Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, 1993

Mafia Violence

The history of the Mafia is a history of bloodshed and murder. Consider the poor bastard who ran afoul of some members of the Gambino crime family. They cut some holes in him, hung him over a bathtub, and drained all the blood out of his body. These are not rare occurrences or unusual crimes. Wiseguys routinely commit acts of nauseating grisliness. Forget about when someone is already dead and they cut up his body with chain saws and butcher knives like they were carving up a side of beef. We're talking about what they do to people when they are still alive. All sorts of body parts are cut off....Eyes have been gouged out, heads caved in, bones sledge-hammered, and bodies crushed. Weapons include golf clubs, steel bars, brass knuckles, baseball bats. Blood literally runs in little rivers when wiseguys decide to use knives and even swords. Guns, of course, are the most common weapon, and the most humane. A couple of quick ones to the back of the head makes you one of the lucky ones.

Joseph D. Pistone, The Way of the Wiseguy, 2004

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Insanity Defense: Good v. Evil or Sane v. Insane?

     On July 21, 2011, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, Norway that killed eight. Breivik, later that day, opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island, killing sixty-nine people, most of whom were children. Breivik's bombing and shooting spree also injured 151 in the city and on the island. The mass murderer surrendered without incident to a SWAT team that showed incredible restraint.

     After confessing to the bombing and shooting spree, Breivik told his interrogators that he was a commander of a resistance movement aimng to overthrow European governments and replace them with "patriotic" regimes that will deport Muslim immigrants.

     A pair of psychiatrists, on thirteen visits, spent 36 hours talking with Breivik. The doctors concluded that because Breivik was a paranoid schizophrenic, he was not a proper candidate for conviction and imprisonment as a criminal. A forensic panel representing the district court will make the final ruling on Breivik's mental condition and whether he should be brought to justice as a mass murderer.

     As it stands, because Breivik "lost touch with reality," the criminal justice system in Norway will treat the murders not as crimes, but as symptoms of this killer's mental illness. These victims, in other words, were killed by paranoid schizophrenia, not an evil, cold-blooded murderer.

     Norwegian critics of the decision not to try Breivik as a criminal defendant have called attention to the extensive planning and grusome efficiency characterizing Breivik's slaughter of his helpless victims. In the opinion of the Swedish forensic psychiatrist Anders Forsman, Breivik carried out his murderous mission in a rational way. He was, in Forsman's words, an "efficient killing machine."

     Norway has a rather lenient legal insanity defense doctrine that merely requires that a defendant be in a state of psychosis during the commission of the crime. It is therefore not surprising that Norway has a tradition of not criminally punishing defendants who are adjudicated mentally ill.

     Had Anders Breivik embarked on his murderous rampage in the United States, he'd have almost no chance of successfully raising the insanity defense. This is because in America, most states operate under the M'Naghten Rule. Under this doctrine of legal insanity, a criminal defendant is not insane unless: "At the time of the commission of the act, the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong." Popularly referred to as the "right/wrong test," a defense attorney has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that his client did not realize the act in question was wrong. Regardless of how mentally ill defendants are, almost all of them knew that what they were doing was wrong. In other words, in most states, merely because a criminal defendant has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic is not enough. For this reason, very few defendants succeed in being found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the United States, the law requires a degree of mental impairment that in reality doesn't exist.

     Serial killers like Ted Bundy are rarely found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Unabomber Ted Kaczinsky, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was convicted of murder in 1996 and sent to prison. It is doubtful that Jared Loughner, the mental case that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, will end up in a facility for the criminally insane instead of prison.

     In the United States, jurors are not comfortable with finding mentally ill serial killers and mass murderers not guilty for any reason. They don't completely trust the social scientific findings of psychiatrists who testify for the defense. And jurors don't want to replace the concept of good and evil with sane and insane. Serial killers and mass murderers, to jurors, while obviously mentally ill, are still evil and dangerous people. In America, evil people who murder, are going to be punished criminally. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't receive medical attention in prison. But it does mean, whether "rehabilitated" or not, they are never getting out.

     John Hinckley, Jr. the nut who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This is because he was tried in federal court which applies a different standard of legal insanity. In 2016, Hinckley's was released permanently from the mental institution so he could live with or near his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. The man who tried to kill the president of the United States is a free man.  

The World's Most Stupid Book

Think of what a difficulty it would be if you couldn't use the most common letter in your writing. In 1937, Ernest Vincent Wright took the challenge head on and wrote a book called Gadsby: A Story of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter "E." Wright literally tied down the e  key on his typewriter and spent 165 days writing without e's (the e-filled subtitle was added later by the publisher.) Not that Wright lived a life of ease from his e-less accomplishment. He died the day Gadsby was published. [The plot of this self-published book revolves around the dying fictional city of Hills that is revitalized thanks to the protagonist, John Gadsby and a youth group he organizes. The book, sought after by book collectors, entered the public domain in 1968.]

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type of Person To Be A Writer, 2003 

Drug Raid Adrenaline

One of the biggest adrenaline rushes on this job [law enforcement officer] is being the first one through the door on a drug raid. You wait on deck, knowing that because you are about to enter a place where the occupants can be both armed and high...You have your gun drawn, sweat salting the corners of your mouth, ready to rumble with a pit bull, ready to shoot, punch, duck, shout commands. You don't know what's on the other side of that door. One suspect? Two? A baker's dozen? That great unknown generates a specific electric charge, one that starts in your stomach and ends up somewhere in your chest, a kind of queasy excitement born of both expectation and resolve. There is nothing like it. [The same is true for the people being raided.]

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

The Shortest Science Fiction Story Ever Written

The shortest science fiction story on record, which is always attributed to that most prolific author, Anonymous, is in its entirety: "The last man on Earth sat in a room. There was a knock on the door." These two lines have the hallmarks of a good science fiction story: It's accessible, there's at least one mind-bending idea, it has an interesting character, and you want to find out what happens next.

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Science Fiction Fans

I think science fiction, along with jazz, is America's great contribution to world culture. It's as great as jazz, as profligate, and wonderful. What disappoints me about it is that most of its practitioners have not been as good as they should have been, and the fact that science fiction emerged as a genre of commercial literature, forced to make adjustments and compromises to accommodate a mass audience, which was not its aesthetic interest. I don't segregate myself from those who do so. The readership has contributed to this debasement, I suppose, but any readership does. Norman Spinrod said the worst thing about science fiction is fandom. I don't disagree with that at all. Fandom has destroyed some authors. The need to be a hero.

Barry N. Malzberg, The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady, 1980 

Teenage Parents Accused of Giving Toddler Marijuana

     In late November 2013, someone called 911 to report that the parents of a two-year-old had helped, observed or encouraged their toddler to breathe smoke from a lighted bowl of marijuana. The alleged incident took placed in Mayfield, New York, an upstate town in Chatauqua County not far from Buffalo.

     On December 5, 2013, deputies with the Chatgauqua County Sheriff's Office arrested the parents and the grandfather of the weed-exposed child. George Kelsey, 18, Jessica Kelsey, 17, and 54-year-old Don Baker were booked into the Chataququa County Jail on charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. A magistrate set each of the suspect's bond at $20,000.

     The two-year-old victim has been placed into the care of a child protection agency pending the outcome of the case.

     If the endangerment charges prove true, these stupid, drug-addled parents should lose permanent custody of their child. Moreover, the judge should impose the maximum sentence on all three defendants.

     In a nation of potheads, kids under twelve are the only sober citizens left. How long will that last? 

Appreciating the Novel

Willing suspension of disbelief is a strange state of mine--reading nonfiction does not require it and neither does reading poetry, since both are based on logical argument…The world is full of people who are rather proud that they don't read novels. Publishers often lament that the audience for novels is narrowing, and especially that it is losing men. A literary education not only enlarges a readers' willingness to suspend disbelief by extending her range of pleasures, it also strengthens her ability to enter the meditative state, and to be receptive to the influence of another human mind, because it is a state of contemplation that is essential to the true appreciation of the novel.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways at Looking at the Novel, 2005 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Harold Montague Ax Murder Case

     In 2010, 33-year-old Harold E. Montague lived in a single-story house with his wife Erricca, their two grade school children, and Erricca's disabled mother, Monica O'Dazier. The family resided on San Pedro Avenue in the central valley area of Las Vegas. Erricca worked outside the home while her husband cared for her mother who had cerebral palsy and suffered seizures. Harold had been his mother-in-law's principal caregiver for the past five years.

     At eleven-forty on the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2010, Harold Montague removed a medieval-style battle ax that hung on his wall and used it to hack his mother-in-law twenty times. Leaving the gravely wounded O'Dazier bleeding in the rear bedroom of the dwelling, Montague, with the bloody battle ax in hand, walked out onto Pedro Avenue where he encountered a young mother pushing her 4-month-old son in a stroller.

     Montague walked up to Sonia Castro and her son Damian, and started swing the weapon. He quickly hacked the baby to death, then struck Sonia several times in the head and hands as she tried to protect herself. During the murderous rampage, Castro begged her attacker to stop. Instead of letting up, Montague laughed in her face. With the dead baby under the overturned stroller, and the infant's mother on the ground with her jaw hanging loosely from her face, Montague walked back into his house.

     A neighbor, 52-year-old Teresa Garner, witnessed the attack and called 911. After making the emergency call, Garner ran to the victims. She found the baby dead, and Sonia alive but horribly disfigured, and bleeding profusely.

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious Monica O'Dazier to the University Medical Center. Sonia Castrol was taken to the same facility where she was listed in "extremely critical" condition. Both women would survive Montague's vicious attacks.

     Following a brief scuffle, Las Vegas officers arrested Harold Montague at his house. He told the officers that he had no memory of the assaults. They booked him into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

     The next day, at Montague's arraignment, the judge denied him bail. At that hearing, defense attorney Norm Reed characterized his client as delusional and paranoid. The lawyer said he would have his client examined by a psychiatrist, and depending upon the results of that examination, make a decision as to whether he would plead his client legally insane.

     In October 2010, attorney Reed informed the court that he planned to put on an insanity defense. The judge set the trial for June 2011.

     By 2013, due to several postponements, the Montague case had not come to trial. At a preliminary hearing on December 6, 2013, attorney Reed put a Reno, Nevada psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Bittker on the stand. Dr. Bittker said that several interviews of Montague had given him a profile of this disturbed man's life. For example, as a child, Montague had been beaten, raped and emotionally tormented by his drug-abusing parents. At age six someone murdered the boy's father.

     According to Dr. Bittker, Harold didn't go beyond the fifth grade, and grew up in and out of a Las Vegas juvenile detention center. As an adult, he married Erricca, and fathered two children with her. She worked out of the house while he stayed at home, unable to hold down a job. In 2004, he began taking care of Erricca's mother.

     Dr. Bittker testified that in his expert medical opinion, when Mr. Montague attacked Monica O'Dazier, Sonia Castro, and little Damian, he was in the midst of a psychotic episode that included the delusion that God was speaking to him directly.

     Erricca Montague took the stand at the hearing and testified that for several days before the attacks, her husband's behavior had been bizarre. He hadn't slept for days, stopped eating, and refused to drink water. He spent his nights pacing the house and talking to himself.

     Following the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that the defense had produced enough evidence to go forward with an insanity defense. (In Nevada as in most states, legal insanity is a so-called affirmative defense, which means the defendant has the burden of proving, with a preponderance of evidence, that he was insane at the time of the alleged criminal act.)

     On May 22, 2014, the Montague case came to an abrupt conclusion when attorney Reed announced that his client had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and battery of a police officer. Under the plea agreement, the defendant was sentenced on July 30, 2014 to life in prison without the chance of parole. In prison, he received treatment for his mental illness.

     The plea agreement meant that Sonia Castro would not have to testify at Montague's trial. Earlier, at a April 2010 preliminary hearing, she had testified that when she begged him to stop his murderous assault, he laughed at her. After the rampage, her jaw had to be surgically reattached. The attack had also left her with an irreparably damaged eye.

     Montague's guilty plea also spared eyewitness Teresa Garner from the ordeal of re-living the crime in court. After Montague's ax-wielding madness, Garner suffered a nervous breakdown.

     Harold Montague, on anti-psychotic medication, expressed a desire to apologize to his victims, and to explain that he had acted out of a psychotic delusion. I doubt that his apology and explanation helped his victims, people who had been permanently scarred physically and emotionally as a result of his bloody rampage.

     

E.B. White's Journals

My journals date from about 1917 to about 1930, with a few entries of more recent date. They occupy two-thirds of a whiskey carton. How many words that would be I have no idea, but it would be an awful lot. The journals are callow, sententious, moralistic, and full of rubbish. They are also hard to ignore. They were written sometimes in longhand, sometimes typed (single typed). They contain many clippings. Extensive is the word for them. I do not hope to publish them, but I would like to get a little mileage out of them. After so many years, they tend to hold my attention even though they do not excite my admiration. I have already dipped into them on a couple of occasions, to help out on a couple of pieces.

E. B. White, The Second Tree From the Corner, 1954 

The Real Threat to Civil Liberty

An important tenet of civil liberties is that the greatest danger to liberty comes from the powerful state. The greatest disasters throughout history have been inflicted by states. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stalinist murders, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide--all were inflicted by governments. Hence, the focus of civil libertarian concerns has always been on the abuse of power by state actors.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

The Traditional Fantasy Milieu

At the heart of most traditional fantasy milieu is a culture derived from that of the European Middle Ages, in large part the medieval societies of what are now Great Britain, France and Germany. The culture is a synthesis of both the Roman culture that dominated western Europe for some five centuries and of the Germanic culture that eventually overran and absorbed it. Three major institutions formed the basis of medieval society and dictated how most people lived. These were feudalism, manorialism and Christianity.

Michael J. Varbola in The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference, edited by the editors of Writer's Digest Books, 1998 

The M'Naghten Case and the Birth of the Insanity Defense

     On Friday, January 20, 1843, in a shot heard around the world, Scottish woodcutter and conspiracy theorist Daniel M'Naghten fired at and killed Edward Drummond, private secretary of Sir Robert Peel. M'Naghten was under the impression that he was shooting at Sir Robert, then Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was further under the delusion that Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the first London Police force was part of a cabal, along with the Pope and the Society of Jesus, that plotted to abridge the rights of British subjects and that had deliberately set out to spy on and persecute him.

     That M'Naghten was insane there was no doubt; nine medical experts testified for the defense, and none for the prosecution. That insanity was accepted as a defense came as a surprise, and that M'Naghten was acquitted "by reason of insanity" came as a shock. [In many states the insanity defense doctrine is called The M'Naghten Rule.]

Michael Kurland, How To Try a Murder, 1997


Friday, May 12, 2017

University Hazing Deaths

     Over the past ten years there have been more than two dozen hazing deaths at U. S. colleges and universities. Victims of these unintentional, senseless killings were members of fraternities, school bands, or sports teams that had long histories of putting new members through right-of-passage rituals. These young people died because they desperately wanted to belong. Despite the efforts of university administrators and others to break this tradition, hazing has continued and students die as a result. (Since 1970, there has been at least one hazing related death on a college campus every year. Eighty-two percent of these  hazing deaths involved alcohol.)

The Penn State Case

     In early February 2017, a hazing ritual at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house led to the death of a 19-year-old pledge from Lebanon, New Jersey. After consuming vast amounts of alcohol, Timothy Piazza fell several times causing a fractured skull and shattered spleen. Fraternity members waited 12 hours after the pledge's first fall to call 911. In May 2017, the local prosecutor charged eight fraternity brothers with involuntary manslaughter.

The Chen Deng Case

     Before the Penn State hazing death, Chen Hsien Deng died pursuant to a fraternity house incident.

     Chen Hsien Deng, a 19-year-old freshman finance major at Baruch College in Manhattan, New York, joined the Pi Delta Psi fraternity. According to its published profile, this fraternal organization is an Asian-American group with a mission to "spread Asian-Amerian cultural awareness." Founded in 1994, the organization has chapters in twenty states and the District or Columbia.

     On Friday, December 6, 2013, thirty members of Pi Delta Psi left New York City en route to the Poconos Mountain region in northeastern Pennsylvania. Chen Deng was one of four fraternity pledges participating in the weekend getaway. The group had rented a house in Tunkhannock Township in Monroe County.

     On Sunday, December 8, 2013, at eight-fifteen in the morning, three of Deng's fraternity brothers drove him to the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Hospital emergency room in Danville, Pennsylvania. Doctors found the freshman unresponsive and immediately placed him on life support. Twenty-four hours later, Chen Deng died.

     Two days later, a spokesperson for the Luzerne County Coroner's Office announced that Chen Deng had died from "closed head injuries due to blunt force trauma."

     Investigators with the Poconos Mountain Regional Police Department, when they searched the rented house in Tunkhannock Township, found marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

      At the hospital, detectives spoke to Sheldon Wong, the fraternity's "pledge educator." Wong said that Deng had injured his head when he fell backward in the snow while wrestling another fraternity brother. Charles Lai, another member of the fraternity told a different story. According to Lai, Deng had died during a hazing ritual called "The Gauntlet." In this initiation game, a blindfolded pledge is repeatedly tackled as he runs a gauntlet of fraternity brothers while carrying a backpack full of sand. After Deng was knocked unconscious in the snow outside the rented house, fraternity brothers carried him into the dwelling.

     Before driving Deng to the hospital, fraternity members removed and replaced his wet clothing. Next, someone made an Internet search regarding the unconscious pledge's symptoms. The Internet inquiry also included determining the location of the nearest hospital. An hour after Deng collapsed in the snow, the three Pi Delta Psi fraternity brothers drove him to the emergency room in Danville.

     At the hospital, one of the fraternity brothers called the rented house in Tunkhannock and instructed someone there to dispose of all fraternity memorabilia as well as anything else that would reveal what had happened to the dead pledge.

     In July 2015, 37 members of the fraternity were charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, hindering apprehension, and other related offenses.

     In January 2017, 25-year-old Ka-Wing Yuen became the first defendant in the Deng Case to plead guilty. Yuen pleaded guilty to the felony charge of hindering apprehension and the lesser offense of conspiracy to haze. He faced up to eight years in prison. The judge sentenced Yuen to five years of probation.