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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Michael Williams: The Amtrak Stabber

     On Friday December 5, 2014, Michael Williams boarded Amtrak Blue Water Service Train 364 in Chicago en route to its final destination, Port Huron, Michigan. The 44-year-old, a ten-year U.S. Army veteran, had spent time at the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan where he had been treated for mental illness. Upon his release from the hospital, doctors had prescribed him anti-psychcotic medication.

     Shortly after Williams boarded the train, he became agitated and made passengers around him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Just before the train rolled into the Amtrak station in Niles, Michigan in the southwestern part of the state ten miles north of South Bend, Indiana, several passengers called 911 to report a potential disturbance involving a man who was behaving irrationally.

     By the time officers with the Niles, Michigan police department boarded the train against the flow of passengers hurrying to get off, Williams had stabbed a conductor and three passengers, one of whom was a seriously wounded woman.

     The responding police officers handcuffed Williams behind his back after subduing him with a stun gun. By using non-lethal force against a crazed, knife-weilding man who had already stabbed four people, these officers, in the wake of the Michael Brown case, avoided killing another black man. Under the circumstances, had these officers used deadly force, they would have been justified.

     The wounded Amtrak conductor and passengers were taken to a nearby hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

     After a Berrien County, Michigan prosecutor charged Michael Williams with four counts of assault with intent to murder, the judge set his bail at $1 million. The judge also ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect's mental competence to understand the charges against him as well as his ability to help his attorney defend him against the charges.

     On October 25, 2015, Michael Williams was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. According to members of his family, he had recently struggled with delusions and paranoia. Instead of prison, the judge sent Williams to a mental institution where he would remain until sane enough to safely rejoin society.

     

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Webster-Parkman Murder Case: Bones in the Furnace

     Over the past 100 years, science has played a vital role in tens of thousands of criminal cases. The publicity associated with some of these investigations and trials has advanced the cause of forensic science. In many of these cases a clever criminal is outfoxed by a well-trained, dedicated investigator relying on physical clues and expert analysis. This is the image that has helped advance forensic science and criminalistics by sparking public interest and court acceptance of physical evidence and expert testimony. (Ironically, it was the O. J. Simpson double murder, a case that involved poor police work, and a criminal who was not clever, that popularized DNA.)

      Celebrated cases remind us that good police work can triumph over bad criminals and that justice can be achieved. Cases that have captured and held the attention of the media and the imagination of the public have tended to involved heinous crimes, cases involving diabolical or unlikely suspects, circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues, defendants who vigorously maintain their innocence, inspired detective work, and satisfying and/or dramatic verdicts.

     In America, science first played a vital and dramatic role in a celebrated criminal investigation and trial that took place more than 160 years ago.

The Historic Webster-Parkman Case

     On Friday afternoon November 23, 1849, Dr. George Parkman, a 60-year-old physician and former anatomy professor at Harvard's Massachusetts Medical College in Boston, paid a visit to Dr. John Webster, a highly respected professor of chemistry and mineralogy at the institution. Dr. Parkman, having given up the practice of medicine to engage in real estate and other business ventures, came from a prominent New England family and was quite wealthy. The purpose of Dr. Parkman's visit that day to Dr. Webster's college laboratory was to collect on a series of loans he had made to the chemistry professor. It seemed that Dr. Webster enjoyed a rather extravagant life-style that kept him in debt to Dr. Parkman and other creditors.

     Dr. Parkman was seen entering the little building that housed Dr. Webster's laboratory at 1:45 that afternoon, the last time anyone saw Dr. Parkman alive. Dr. Parkman's mysterious disappearance created a lot of attention and concern among his family, friends, and colleagues. The college posted a $3,000 reward for information leading to the identify and apprehension of the doctor's abductor or abductors.

     The following Saturday, Dr. Webster appeared at the home of Dr. Parkman's brother, Reverend Francis Parkman, and informed him that he had last seen his missing brother in his (Webster's) chemistry lab the previous Friday. Dr. Webster even acknowledged that Dr. Parkman had come to see him about a debt.

     On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Webster, who had been acting rather strangely since Dr. Parkman's disappearance, gave the college janitor, a man named Ephraim Littlefield, a turkey. Littlefield had been helping Professor Webster in his laboratory the day Dr. Parkman went missing. Although the janitor was not in the room during Dr. Parkman's visit, he had overheard bits of their heated conversation. When Littlefield learned of Parkman's disappearance he became suspicious.

    After receiving the turkey from Dr. Webster, the janitor felt certain the chemistry professor had something to do with his creditor's disappearance. The next day, Littlefield snuck into Webster's chemistry lab to search for Parkman's body. When he touched the brick wall of the assay oven it was still warm. (The oven was built inside a vault that was locked.) To see what was inside, Littlefield, with his wife standing guard as a lookout, broke through the wall with a chisel and crowbar. Inside, he saw what looked like a human pelvis and two parts of a leg. He notified the authorities.

     When told he was under arrest for the murder of Dr. Parkman, Dr. Webster denied any knowledge of the crime. When one of the arresting constables informed him of the discovery in his assay furnace, Dr. Webster, referring to the janitor, said, "That villain! I am a ruined man!"

     Shortly after being placed into his jail cell Dr. Webster tried to kill himself by taking a strychnine pill.

     On December 13, 1849, the coroner's jury announced its verdict: "All the remains have been demonstrated to be parts of one and the same person; and those parts of the human frame have been identified and proven to be the remains and parts of the body and limbs of Dr. George Parkman...that he was killed...by blows and wounds inflicted upon him by the hands of Dr. John W. Webster."

     A grand jury indicted Dr. Webster for first-degree murder on January 26, 1850. He trial was scheduled for March 19 at the Supreme Judicial Court House in Boston.  Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw would preside. The case would be prosecuted by George Bemis, the assistant attorney general of Massachusetts.

     Dr. Webster tried to retain the legal services of two prominent defense attorneys of the day, Daniel Webster (no relation) and Rufus Choate. Both lawyers declined to take the assignment. As a result, Webster retained the services of a less well-known but competent attorney named Pliny Merrich.

     The Parkman murder case had made headline news in American for nine months. On the opening day of the trial, thousands of people gathered outside the Boston court house. Many had been standing outside the building all night in hopes of getting a courtroom seat. During the twelve-day trial 60,000 courtroom spectators witnessed the proceeding.

     The heart of the prosecution's case consisted of the medical and dental testimony pertaining to the identity of the remains in Dr. Webster's assay furnace. In order to convict the defendant of murder, the state would have to establish the corpus delecti, which in this case consisted of the victim's skeletal and dental remains.

     The prosecution's first medical witness to take the stand, Dr. Woodbridge Strong, an expert in anatomy and the burning of human flesh, informed the court how he disposed of cadavers by burning them in fires fueled by wood. "There is always a difficulty in getting rid of human remains by fire," he said, "on account of attracting suspicion by the smell. I have been called upon by neighbors or the police several times on this account." Dr. Strong testified that he had looked at the human parts found in Dr. Webster's furnace and "there was nothing dissimilar from what I should have expected to find in Dr. Parkman's body."

     Dr. Frederick S. Ainsworth, a professor of anatomy at Harvard College, testified that the remains in question had not been dissected in his department. (Dr. Webster claimed the remains in his furnace belonged to a cadaver.) Dr. Ainsworth said, "All subjects in my department are injected with fluid to preserve them from decomposition. In these remains which were produced by Littlefield [the janitor] I saw no appearance of the use of such fluid. My impression was that the person who cut them up had no anatomical knowledge."

     The next medical witness, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, testified that he "knew the late George Parkman very well. He was a tall, slender man of somewhat peculiar figure. I saw nothing in the remains dissimilar from what I should suppose was Dr. Parkman's formation."

     The physicians and police officers who had examined Dr. Webster's laboratory had noticed what looked like bloodstains on the wall near a sink and stains on the laboratory floor. In 1850, the ability to scientifically distinguish human from animal blood didn't exist. As one witness put it: "I can distinguish human blood from that of lower animals but not from that of higher animals such as an ox, for instance."

     On the fourth day of the trial, the prosecution put on its most important witness, Dr. Nathan Keep, a surgeon-dentist who had practiced in Boston for 30 years. Dr. Keep testified that he had made teeth for Dr. Parkman and that "Dr. Parkman's mouth was a very peculiar one, so marked in respect to its shape and the relation of the upper and lower jaws that the impression of it on my mind was very distinct." Dr. Keep said that when he saw the teeth that had been found in Dr. Webster's furnace along with the other remains, he "...recognized them as being the same teeth that I had made for Dr. Parkman three years before....On comparing the largest fragment with the model [a plaster cast of Dr. Parkman's dentition] the resemblance was so striking that I could no longer have any doubt they were his." Every so often, in the midst of his testimony, Dr. Keep would break down and cry.

     Oliver Wendell Homes, the famous writer and physician and professor of anatomy and dean of the medical college had examined the fleshy parts found in the assay furnace--the thorax, pelvis, two thighs, and the disarticulated leg--and found them consistent with Dr. Parkman's anatomy.

     Most of the fifth day of the trial was taken up by the testimony of the janitor and his wife. Three days later, the prosecution rested.

     The Webster defense opened with witnesses who said they had seen the defendant in places other than the college on the day of the murder. Next came the character witnesses, then the testimony most vital to the defense. Dr. William T. G. Morton, a dentist who made false teeth took the stand and said: "I see no particular marks about these teeth [the furnace remains] to identify them. I should think nothing should be judged from this material....My impression is that if [the furnace teeth] were placed among a dozen others which I can produce, I should not be led to pick it out from any peculiarity." (The dueling expert problem is as old as forensic science itself.)

     The defense rested without putting Professor Webster on the stand. In Massachusetts at that time, defendants in capital trials were not permitted to take the stand on their own behalf. Murder defendants, because of their self-interest, were considered too biased to make competent witnesses. They were, however, allowed to address the jury directly prior to its deliberation. These speeches were not given under oath or subjected to cross-examination. Professor Webster, in his fifteen minute address, denied his guilt and criticized his own counsel.

     Three hours following Dr. Webster's speech, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder. The judge sentenced him to death. Six months later, with his execution just a few days off, the condemned man wrote out a full confession. After killing Dr. Parkman with a stick of wood, Webster dragged the body into an adjoining room and stripped off his clothing which he burned. Then came the dissecting part. "My next move was to get the body into the sink which stands in the small private room. By setting the body partially erect against the corner and getting up into the sink myself, I succeeded in drawing it up. There it was entirely dismembered. It was quickly done as a work of terrible and desperate necessity. The only instrument used was the knife found by the officers in the tea chest and which I kept for cutting corks. While dismembering the body a steady stream of water was running through the sink carrying off the blood in a pipe that passed through the lower laboratory. There must have been a leak in the pipe for the ceiling below was stained immediately around it."

     On August 20, 1850, Dr. Webster was hanged.    


     

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Michael Khunhausen Murder-For-Hire Case

     Michael Kuhnhausen, in the fall of 2006, had tried to talk his wife Susan out of divorcing him, but she wouldn't change her mind. She was determined to end the marriage. The 58-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores in Portland, Oregon, depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits she received from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior, divorced him, he would end up homeless and broke. Michael had suggested marriage counseling, but Susan said that she was finished with him. Michael felt that his estranged wife had pushed him into a corner. He had convinced himself that he had only one option: to pay someone to kill her before the divorce became final. But first he had to find a hit man. Where does one find an assassin?

     In 2005, when Michael worked for the adult video chain, he had hired 59-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Haffey had also been convicted of robbery, burglary, and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Kuhnhausen had every reason to believe that this lifelong violent criminal was an excellent candidate for his murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Susan's life insurance payout. Dazzled by the prospect of so much easy money, Haffey jumped at the chance to kill his former boss' wife.

     On September 6, 2006, Haffey, using the house key Michael had given him, entered Susan Kuhnhausen's Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from  his backpack, and waited for his prey. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing the murder target that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded, home invasion killing.

     As six in the evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway alongside the dwelling. She let herself into the house and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of her head. She turned and came face-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before Haffey could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get the hit man into a chokehold. Susan squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes, Haffey stopped breathing and went limp.

     With a dead hit man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The responding police officers sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled, and he had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as the authorities were concerned, this tough woman had eliminated a violent criminal from the community. She was, in the eyes of the police and residents of her neighborhood, a crime-fighting hero. Chalk up one for the homeowner.

     A detective found, in Haffey's backpack, a day-planner with the September 6 notation: "Call Mike." When the investigator came across Michael Kuhnhausen's cell phone number in the dead man's planner, a different picture began to emerge. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn't, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn't explain Haffey's possession of the house  key, and the fact he had known the alarm code. Once detectives learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became the suspect in a murder-for-hire case. As crimes like this go, this one had come out badly for the hit man.

     Edward Haffey's autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of this death, Haffey's body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to successfully pull off the hit. As it turned out, Haffey had been an unworthy candidate to carry out Michael's murder assignment.

     Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey's, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local television news and called the police. In August 2006, Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. Haffey had wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn't help kill a person for a mere $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.

     Three days before the murder-for-hire date, Haffey told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into some big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said the husband was paying him $25,000 upfront and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when he heard about the case in the news media, also called the police.

     According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Edward Haffey to death, Jones had driven the would-be hit man to an Applebee's Restaurant where Haffey met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. On the way to the restaurant, Haffey told Jones that he was meeting with a man who was willing to pay him $50,000 to kill his wife.

     On September 14, 2006, eight days following the botched hit, police officers arrested Michael Kuhnhaussen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house though a window in order to steal drug money.

     In August 2007, Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and conspiracy charges. A month later, just before the judge sentenced him to the shockingly light sentence of ten years in prison, Kuhuhanusen said, "I hurt a lot of people over the past year and I'm sorry. That's all I can say, I'm sorry."

     On June 16, 2014, Michael Khunhausen died while serving his time at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon. He was 65.
     

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Anthony Elonis Supreme Court Case: Free Speech Versus the Right Not To Be Threatened

     Anthony Elonis, an employee at an amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was upset when his wife Tara left him in May 2010. The couple had two children.

     In October 2010, obviously fuming over his wife's departure, Elonis posted the following message on Facebook: "If I only knew then what I know now…I would have smothered your [Tara's] ass with a pillow, dumped your body in the back seat, dropped you off in Toad Creek, and made it look like rape and murder." Later he wrote: "There's one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya. I'm not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."

     On November 4, 2010, Tara Elonis, fearful of what her estranged husband might do to her, convinced a judge to issue a protection order against him. Three days later, on Facebook, he responded with more threats. In the context of discussing the federal law that makes it a crime to threaten the president of the United States, Anthony Elonis wrote: "I also found out that it's incredibly illegal…to go on Facebook and say something like the best place to fire a mortar launcher at a house would be from the cornfield behind it because of easy access to a getaway road and you'd have a clear line of sight through the sunroom."

     Elonis illustrated his Facebook posting with a map of the proposed mortar assault, his estranged wife's house. "Art," he wrote, "is about pushing the limits. I'm willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are You?"

     About this time Elonis also used Facebook to threaten his fellow employees at the amusement park. He published a Halloween photograph of himself holding a fake knife to a co-worker's throat. He captioned the image: "I wish."

     Elonis' boss, after seeing the Facebook post, fired Elonis and reported him to the FBI.

     A federal prosecutor charged Elonis under a law that makes using the Internet to threaten another person with harm a crime. The case went to trial in 2011 and resulted in Elonis' conviction.

     During Elonis' three year stretch in federal prison, his attorney filed a First Amendment appeal arguing that the federal government had violated his client's right to free speech.

     The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Elonis' First Amendment challenge of his conviction. Under federal case law, so-called "true threats" are not protected as free speech under the First Amendment. To constitute a criminal act, such a threat does not have to be carried out. Moreover, prosecutors do not have to prove even an intent to carry out the threat. (Conspiracy offenses require an overt act and criminal attempt crimes must include a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.)

     In a 2003 Supreme Court decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the law was intended to protect people "from the fear of violence and from the disruption that fear engenders."

     At his criminal trial in 2011, Elonis' attorney argued that threats alone are not harmful and that they therefore come under the protection of the First Amendment. Elonis took the stand on his own behalf and testified that he had not made a "true threat" against his estranged wife because he didn't have any intention of hurting her. In justifying his Facebook threats, he said, "This was for me therapeutic." He said it helped him deal with the pain of losing his wife.

     The victim, Tara Elonis, took the stand for the prosecution and said, "I felt like I was being stalked. I felt extremely afraid for me, my children, and the lives of other family members."

     The principal constitutional issue before the Supreme Court involved whose point of view--the people who threaten or the people who are threatened--was the governing rationale. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighed in on Elonis' behalf. Attorneys for the activist group wanted a higher legal standard for the criminalization of speech to avoid sending people to prison over misunderstandings. The ACLU asked the court to make speech a crime only when the prosecutor could establish a clear intent to carry out the threat.

     On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, reversed the Elonis conviction. (I do not agree with this decision. The victim's fear of an attack in this case was reasonable, therefore the threat was real and constituted a crime. Criminal intent can be reasonably inferred from a person's actions and words.)

     

Friday, January 27, 2017

Pastor Arthur Burton Schirmer: The Singing Minister of Death

     In 1968, Arthur Burton "A.B." Schirmer, an ordained Methodist minister, married his first wife Jewel whom he met while they were 20-year-old students at Messiah College in southeast central Pennsylvania. In the late 1970s, as pastor of the Bainbridge and Marietta United Methodist Churches in southeastern Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, Schirmer and his wife Jewel sang duets at area churches and camp meetings. Later his son and two daughters joined the gospel group billed as the "Singing Schirmer Family."

     In 1978, Schirmer and his family moved to the town of Lebanon in southeast central Pennsylvania where he had been named pastor of the Bethany United Methodist Church (UMC). He and his wife Jewel lived in the church parsonage.

     On April 24, 1999, the 50-year-old Bethany church pastor called 911 at 2:15 in the afternoon to report that when he returned to the parsonage after a jog, he found his wife Jewel lying unconscious at the foot of the basement stairs. Jewel Schirmer died the next day at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

     The forensic pathologist with the Lebanon County Coroner's Office who performed the autopsy noted that the deceased woman had, wrapped around one leg, an electrical cord from a Shop Vac. She was also barefoot. The pastor's wife had suffered a fractured skull, and possessed numerous bruises on her upper body. The coroner's office reported that Jewel Schirmer had died from a traumatic brain injury, and ruled her manner of death as "undetermined." While her obituary stated that she had died a "natural death" from falling down a flight of stairs (actually an accidental death), the coroner's office listed Jewel Schirmer's demise as undetermined because her injuries seemed too severe to have been caused by a fall down a flight of steps. Because his wife's death was not ruled a homicide there was no police investigation into the incident, and no criminal charges filed against the singing minister.

     In 2001, the year he became pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reeders, an eastern Pennsylvania town in Monroe County, A.B. Schirmer married his second wife, 49-year-old Betty Jean Shertzer, a music teacher.

     On July 15, 2008, motorists driving along State Route 715, a wooded, two-lane highway not far from Reeders, saw a PT Cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road next to a guardrail. Betty Schirmer was sitting in the front passenger's seat that was soaked in blood. She was bleeding from the head and was unconscious. The passersby noticed severe bruising on the right side of her face. The vehicle showed only minor damage, and the pastor was uninjured. Although he possessed a cellphone, one of the motorists called 911.

     The next day, at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Betty Jean Schirmer died of "sustained multiple skull and facial fractures" and "brain injury." At the pastor's request, his second wife's body was cremated before it could be autopsied.

     To the officer investigating the supposed traffic accident, the pastor said he had been driving his wife to the hospital after she complained of a pain in her jaw. While traveling between 45 and 55 MPH, he lost control of the car after oversteering to avoid a deer. The vehicle swerved back and forth across the road before slamming into the guardrail. Although Betty Schirmer's head injuries seemed out of proportion to the damage to the car, the authorities did not investigate the 56-year-old woman's death as a possible homicide. The fact the dead woman's husband was a Methodist minister probably had a lot to do with that decision. Had the authorities known about the circumstances surrounding the death of the pastor's first wife Jewel, they might have looked closer into Betty Schirmer's suspicious demise.

     On October 29, 2008, violent death raised its ugly head again in Pastor Schirmer's life. On that day, Joseph Musante, the husband of the pastor's personal assistant, was found dead in the church office behind the pastor's desk. Mr. Musante had been shot in the head in an apparent suicide. Investigators looking into the case were curious to know why this active member of the Reeders UMC congregation had taken his own life in the pastor's office. In pursuing that lead, investigators learned that Pastor Schirmer was having an affair with the dead man's wife, Cynthia.

     A.B. Schirmer's proximity to the untimely, violent deaths of two wives and the husband of his personal assistant and lover, kickstarted a criminal investigation of his second wife Betty's July 2008 death. The fact the pastor was having an affair at the time of the so-called fatal traffic accident on State Route 715 added what had been missing until now: a motive for murder. Pursuant to the homicide investigation, the police conducted a search of Schirmer's church living quarters and found incriminating evidence: massive blood stains from Betty Schirmer, stains someone had tried to clean-up.

     The discovery of blood stains in the Reeders Church parsonage provided homicide investigators with a plausible narrative of Betty Jean's death: the pastor had bludgeoned her in the parsonage, put her bleeding body into the PT Cruiser, staged the traffic accident on the remote highway, then sat in the car with his unconscious wife waiting for her to die. Before she passed away, passing motorists came along, and one of them called 911. The next day she died, and shortly after that, was cremated without an autopsy. With the death of the pastor's personal assistant's husband three months later, the path had been cleared for the pastor's third marriage to Cynthia.

     After A.B. Schirmer became a prime suspect in this second wife's death, the pastor left the ministry. He joined a three-person evangelical singing group called "Beroean." (Cases like this remind me of why I prefer nonfiction over crime fiction. No one would believe a detective novel with this plot.)

     To bolster their case that this man of God had murdered his second wife, the police consulted an expert in traffic accident investigation. According to this expert, the damage to Schirmer's PT Cruiser suggested that when he hit the guardrail he was only traveling 25 MPH, a speed that would not have resulted in Betty Schirmer's severe head trauma and brain damage.

     In July 2010, the county coroner, a forensic pathologist named Dr. Samuel Land, ruled Betty Schirmer's manner of death a homicide. This opened the door to a criminal prosecution.

     Former pastor A. B. Schirmer, on September 13, 2010, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police. He was charged with the murder of his second wife Betty, and with tampering of homicide evidence. At the time of his arrest, the gospel singer was engaged to be married for the third time. The ex-pastor awaited his upcoming murder trial in the Monroe County Correctional Facility where he was incarcerated without bail.

     On September 17, 2010, the Monroe County prosecutor convened a grand jury to look into the death of Jewel Schirmer. Dr. Wayne Ross, the forensic pathologist for Lancaster County, had studied photographs and other material pertaining to the 1999 death in the Lebanon UMC parsonage. Dr. Ross informed the grand jurors that the skull fracture Jewel had supposedly incurred from a fall down the basement steps would have required at least 750 pounds of pressure, a force way out of proportion to an accidental spill of this nature. Moreover, the forensic pathologist testified that the cuts to the victim's face were "highly suspicious, and could have been caused by an object striking her head. There were 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face," Dr. Ross said, "as well as numerous abrasions and contusions throughout her upper body and arms." According to Dr. Ross, one of the bruises was in the shape of a handprint.

     Based on Dr. Ross' testimony, and other evidence presented at the Monroe County Grand Jury session, Dauphin County Chief Deputy Coroner Lisa Potteiger changed Jewel Schirmer's manner of death from "undetermined" to "homicide." The Monroe County District Attorney charged the paster with first-degree murder.

     In March 2013, after a jury found Schirmer guilty of murdering Jewel Schirmer, a Monroe County judge sentenced the former minister and possible serial killer to life in prison.

     In September 2014, a jury found the former pastor guilty of murdering his wife Betty Jean in 2008. A Lebanon County judge sentenced Schirmer to an additional 40 years in prison. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Dr. Melvin Morse Child Abuse Case

     Dr. Melvin L. Morse, after earning his medical degree in 1980 from George Washington University, interned in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Dr. Morse completed his residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Seattle then set up a private practice in the city. The young doctor also held the position of Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

     In the late 1980s, through his nonprofit organization called The Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, Dr. Morse interviewed hundreds of children who had been declared clinically dead. These interviews led him to believe that children, too young to have been indoctrinated in religion and the belief in an afterlife, experienced near-death telepathic conversations and encounters with dead friends and relatives. (A manipulating interviewer of children who has an agenda can get them to believe anything.)

     Cashing in on the results of his interview results, Dr. Morse, in 1991, published his first book. Co-authored by a writer named Paul Perry, it was called Closer to the Light. The book made The New York Times bestseller's list for three months and was eventually published in 19 languages in 38 countries. An accomplished self-promoter with a good publicist, the new-age guru appeared on the Larry King and Oprah Winfrey shows.

     During the height of his doctor/feel-good-author fame, the pseudoscientist appeared on ABC's "20-20," NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries," and "Dateline," as well as "Good Morning America" and the "Tom Snyder Show." Dr. Morse was also the subject of dozens of uncritical articles in major newspapers and serious magazines.

     In 1992, in the midst of his fame, Dr. Morse and his co-author cranked out a follow-up book called Transformed by the Light. The second work didn't do nearly as well as Closer to the Light. The doctor and his co-author's last book, Where God Lives: The Science of the Paranormal and How Our Brains Are Linked to the Universe, came out in 2001. (The science of the Paranormal?)

     In 2012, the 58-year-old celebrity pediatrician lived with his second wife Pauline in Sussex, Delaware along with his five and 11-year-old daughters. (I don't know what prompted his move from the state of Washington to Delaware, or when that took place. I do know he had gone through a contentious divorce from his first wife.) A look at Dr. Morse's bizarre website ramblings about "big ideas" that had drawn people to him from all over the world suggested that he had lost contact with reality. (How does a highly educated pediatrician go from physician to the publisher of junk science in the first place?)

     On July 12, 2012, an incident involving Dr. Morse and his 11-year-old daughter marked the end of his credibility, even among his new-age followers. After pulling into his driveway that day, his daughter, for some reason, refused to get out of the vehicle. The doctor pulled her out of the car by the ankles and dragged her across the gravel into the house where he gave her a spanking. Later in the day, the daughter informed a neighbor of what happened to her. The neighbor reported the girl's story to the police.

     The following day local police officers arrested Dr. Morse. State child protection agents got involved in the case and took his daughters into protective custody.

     On Monday, August 6, 2012, Dr. Morse's 11-year-old daughter, while being questioned by officers with the Delaware State Police at the Child Advocacy Center, accused her father of subjecting her to what he called "water boarding." On at least four occasions, beginning in May 2009, Dr. Morse held her face under running faucets in the kitchen and the bathroom causing tap water to shoot up her nose. The abuse replicated the sensation of drowning. While Dr. Morse tortured the girl, her 40-year-old mother looked on. The accuser's 5-year-old sister reportedly informed police officers that she had witnessed the water boarding.

     A local prosecutor charged Dr. Melvin Morse and his wife with felony counts of reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to commit assault. Police officers took them into custody on Tuesday, August 7, 2012. After brief stints in the Sussex Correctional Institution, the couple made bail ($14,500 each) and was released.

     Attorney Joe Hurley publicly questioned the credibility of his client's 11-year-old daughter, suggesting that she might have made false accusations to get attention.

     Two days after the water boarding arrests, Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock announced that Dr. Morse presented a "clear and immediate danger to public health" if permitted to continue practicing medicine. The state official ordered the emergency suspension of his Delaware medical license.

     On April 11, 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes sentenced Dr. Morse to three to five years in prison. The judge denied a motion by Morse to remain free on bail while his attorney appealed his case. Dr. Morse said he was under treatment for prostate cancer. The judge sentenced the doctor's wife to probation.

     Dr. Morse was released from the Sussex County Correctional Institution in 2016. According to a corrections official, Morse had undergone a transformation in prison. Following his release, Dr. Morse co-founded The Recidivism Prevention Program, a company supposedly dedicated to assisting addicts and former inmates in the development of spiritual awareness that will facilitate their re-entry into society. (Here we go again. I predict another round of new age self-help books and TV appearances.)
           

     

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Douglas and Kristen Barbour Child Abuse Case

     Douglas B. Barbour was a prosecutor in the Pennsylvania State Attorney's Office headquartered in Harrisburg, the capital of the state. The 33-year-old attorney was assigned to the district office in Pittsburgh, located in the western part of the state. He and his 30-year-old wife Kristen resided in Franklin Park, a borough of 14,000 just north of the city. In March 2012, the couple, through a religious organization called Bethany Christian Services, adopted a 5-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl. The children were from Ethiopia.

     On September 14, 2012, Dr. Rachel Berger at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, examined the Barbour children. The 6-year-old boy had been brought to the hospital with hypothermia--his body temperature was 93.6--rapid breathing, and skin lesions caused by prolonged exposure to urine. He weighed 47 pounds and was severely malnourished.

     The girl, 18-months-old, had breathing difficulties, retinal hemorrhaging, brain injury, and healing fractures in her femur and a toe. (Kristen Barbour told Dr. Berger that the toddler had suffered several accidental falls.) As a result of the toddler's head trauma, she was blind in one eye, perhaps permanently. The little girl was also malnourished. (Tests would later reveal that the healing bone fractures were not the result of disease.)

     Dr. Berger, suspecting child abuse, notified the Allegheny County Police Department. The boy was admitted to the hospital's urgent care center and the girl placed into protective custody. In the doctor's report, she wrote this about the 6-year-old boy: "[He is] the victim of significant neglect and possible emotional abuse over a prolonged period of time."

     After spending six days in the hospital, the boy, having gained seven pounds, was taken to A Child's Place, a children's abuse facility at the Mercy Health Center in Pittsburgh.

     On October 2, 2012, detectives with the Allegheny County Police Department questioned the boy at the Mercy Health Center. According to the child, whenever he soiled his pants, his parents made him eat his meals in the bathroom.

     Two days after speaking to the 6-year-old, the police arrested Douglas and Kristen Barbour. They were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and in the case of their 18-month-old daughter, aggravated assault, a felony offense. Regarding the boy, the couple faced charges of simple assault, a misdemeanor. The state attorney general's office suspended Douglas Barbour without pay pending the outcome of the case.

     Detectives searched the couple's suburban home in Franklin Park and found, in the boy's bedroom, nothing but a mattress and a sheet. There were no toys, window coverings, wall decorations, or anything else that made the place livable.

     According to an employee of the adoption service, Mrs. Barbour had complained that the boy was "rude, defiant, and very difficult." She also complained that both children ate too much.

     On June 23, 2014, Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts each of endangering children. Mr. Barbour pleaded to misdemeanor counts while his wife pleaded to felony charges. As part of his plea deal, Mr. Barbour received a probated sentence. Although his wife faced three to twelve months in jail, her attorney asked for probation. The couple relinquished their parental rights, and the children remained in foster care.

     In September 2014, the judge sentenced Kristen Barbour to six to 12 months to be served at the minimum security prison at Mercer, Pennsylvania. Douglas Barbour, in March of 2015, resigned from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

    

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What Happened to Kristi Richardson?

     In 1979, Ronald Richardson and his wife Kristi started the Richardson Trucking Company, a Casper, Wyoming business that specialized in the transportation of oil and gas industry equipment.

     On April 29, 2013, Ronald Richardson, at age 63, died. Kristi, his 60-year-old widow, took control of the company. She resided in an affluent suburb of Casper, a city of 55,000 in the central part of the state that had become the center of a booming oil and gas industry that had brought crime and violence to a community with a traditionally low crime rate.

     Late in the afternoon of October 6, 2014, Kristi Richardson drove to her daughter Amber's house a block from her residence to drop off a birthday card and visit her grandchildren. At seven-forty that evening, she took a routine call from one of her drivers. The next call, one made to Kristi's cellphone at eleven that night, went unanswered.

     The next morning, when Kristi Richardson didn't show up for work at the trucking company, an employee called the house. When no one picked up the phone, the employee notified the owner's daughter.

     Because all of the doors were locked at Kristi's house, her daughter gained entry into the dwelling by using a garage door opener. Kristi's car sat in the garage and her purse, containing her credit cards and $800 in cash, lay on the kitchen counter.

     In the bedroom, Amber found her mother's cellphone lying on the bed. The only items missing from the home were Kristi's garage door opener and a hoodie she regularly wore. The daughter reported her mother missing to the Casper Police Department.

     Over the next several days, officers with the Casper Police Department, Natrona County Sheriff's Office, fire and EMS personnel, and citizen volunteers searched for the missing woman. The authorities used a helicopter to search parts of Casper Mountain.

     Members of Kristi's family, who believed she had been the victim of foul play because she never left the house without her car, posted a $25,000 reward for information regarding her disappearance and whereabouts. Kristi's daughter told a reporter that "I believe someone was at the house before she got home."

     The Casper Star Tribune reported that crime scene investigators had found traces of blood and urine on the missing woman's bed. Detectives were looking into the possibility that Kristi had been abducted and murdered by either an employee, customer, or business competitor.

    In February 2015, Casper police officers executed a search warrant on a credit report of a man who wanted to have a romantic relationship with the missing woman. Prior to the search, detectives had interrogated this man as a "person of interest."

     As of January 2017, Richardson remained missing and no arrests have been made in the case. The missing woman's family has offered a $250.000 reward for information regarding her disappearance. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Demacio Bailey Murder Case: Living and Dying in South Chicago

     Johnson College Prep, a charter school on Chicago's South Side, a place of learning and hope for students preparing for higher education, exists amid ignorance and violent crime in Englewood, one of the city's worst neighborhoods. Parents who have children in the school, founded in 2010, support it in many ways that includes active membership in the PTA. Unfortunately, there is nothing these dedicated parents can do about Chicago's violent crime and high murder rate.

     In December 2014, identical twins Demario and Demacio Bailey were sophomores at Johnson College Prep. Demacio played on the junior varsity football and basketball teams. His brother was in the school's Marine Corps Junior ROTC program and was a member of the choir. The twins had a 3-year-old brother and a brother who was 19 and attending Northwestern Illinois University. The Bailey twins were outstanding students with bright futures.

     The twins' mother, aware of the dangers of living on Chicago's South Side, drove or escorted her sons everywhere. As time went on, however, the boys wanted more freedom. As a result, they were allowed to get themselves to school on their own.

     On Saturday December 13, 2014, the twins, en route to Demacio's basketball practice, boarded the No. 29 State Street bus that took them to 63rd street a few blocks from Johnson College Prep. They got off the bus at half-past noon and were walking through a dark viaduct toward the school when they were approached by four young street thugs intent on robbing them.

     When Demacio refused to hand over his coat, a fight broke out. Demacio ended up on the ground with one of the assailants on top of him. Demario yelled, "Get off him!" and pushed the robber off his brother. One of the attackers pulled out a handgun. As Demacio ran from the scene, he heard a gunshot. When he turned to make sure his brother was fleeing with him, he saw Demario lying on the ground. The robbers had run off toward Wabash Avenue.

     Paramedics pronounced Demario Bailey dead at the scene from a bullet to his chest.

     That Saturday evening, just hours after the robber shot Demario Bailey to death near the charter school, police officers arrested 17-year-old Carlos Johnson at his home six blocks from the murder scene. An assistant Cook County state's attorney charged Johnson with first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. The judge denied the suspect bail. On Sunday, the prosecutor charged the other three suspects with murder. According to reports, the teens, just before Demacio Bailey's murder, robbed two other people.

     The principal of Johnson College Prep, in a press release, called for Martial Law on Chicago's South Side to deal with the out-of-control crime and violence.

     Martial Law was not imposed, and violence in the city increased. In 2016, 762 people were murdered in Chicago. That year in New York, the nation's largest city, there were 334 homicides. Also in 2016, 4,368 people were shot in the nation's most violent city.

     As of January 2017, none of the teens charged in the Demacio Bailey murder have been brought to justice. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What Happened to Shane Montgomery?

     In November 2014, 21-year-old Shane Montgomery, a catholic high school graduate from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, was a senior at nearby West Chester University. On Wednesday night November 26, 2014, Montgomery, his cousin and a couple of friends were barhopping in Philadelphia.

     In the early morning hours of Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Montgomery and his group were drinking at Kildare's Irish Pub on Main Street in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood. At some point Montgomery got separated from his friends in the crowded bar. At 1:45 AM he accidentally bumped into the DJ's table. The bouncer ordered the student out of the pub. Montgomery apologized and left the premises.

     Montgomery, after he was seen leaving the bar, did not return home. Friends and family were unable to get in touch with him by phone and he didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner. Concerned, his family filed a missing persons report with the Philadelphia Police Department.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, volunteers circulated missing persons notices around the Manayunk neighborhood. The posters featured a photograph of the missing college student along with a picture of the Celtic cross tattooed across his shoulder blades. The 5-foot-11 inch, 140-pound missing person, when he left the bar, was dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt.

     The search for Shane Montgomery included the use of dogs, a helicopter, and boats on the Schuylkill River that flows alongside Manayunk's Main Street. Five-hundred volunteers searched the riverbank, the footpath, and the railroad tracks that run parallel to the street.

     A cellphone tower in Lower Merion Township had picked up a signal from Montgomery's cellphone a little less than an hour after he left Kildare's. The phone itself was not recovered. At the bar, there was no video surveillance footage for detectives to review.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, a FBI task force joined in the hunt for the missing student. A $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to his whereabouts.

     Shortly after noon on Saturday January 4, 2015, a volunteer diver from the Garden State (New Jersey) Underwater Recovery Unit found Shane Montgomery's body in three feet of water near the Schuylkill riverbank not far from the Manayunk bar where he was last seen. Two weeks earlier a diver from the same unit found Montgomery's car keys in the water near the river bank 800 yards upriver from where his body was recovered.

     Shane Montgomery's uncle, on January 5, 2015, told reporters that the medical examiner's office had completed its autopsy and had ruled the young man's drowning death an accident. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

August Vollmer: The Forgotten Father of Community Policing

     In the modern-day struggle between the opposing models of law enforcement--community-based policing in which officers interact with citizens as public servants versus militaristic policing comprised of cops who see themselves as crime fighters in a hostile environment--the concept of community policing is losing out. The rise of police militarism parallels the escalating war on drugs aided by the growing fear of domestic terrorism. The emergence of shock-and-awe policing and zero-tolereance peace keeping at the expense of police-community relations and the advancement of professionalized criminal investigation would have concerned August Vollmer, the now forgotten police administrator who envisioned an entirely different future for American law enforcement.

     In 1905, the citizens of Berkeley, California banded together to rid themselves of the prostitutes, gambling houses, and opium dens operating openly in their town. The man they elected to do the job was a 29-year-old uneducated mail carrier who promised to clean things up. Reform candidate August Vollmer kept his campaign promises, and as a result, rose from town marshall to chief of police, and, within a period of 16 years, became president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and one of the most influential police administrators in the country.

     During his law enforcement career, Vollmer introduced advances in police training, established concepts of effective personnel deployment, developed methods of dealing with juvenile offenders, established one of the nation's first fingerprint bureaus, maintained and used crime statistics, and crusaded for the use of science in crime detection. Over the years, Vollmer hammered out a theory of police professionalism later adopted by J. Edgar Hoover when he became director of the FBI in 1924.

     Vollmer did not believe in capital punishment and became skeptical of J. Edgar Hoover's efforts to rid America of the "Red Menace" in the late 1940s and early 50s. He spoke out against the KKK at the peak of its power. After Pearl Harbor, he formed a committee to seek humane treatment for Japanese-Americans who were interred in prison camps. Vollmer also spoke out against the so-called "third-degree" as an interrogation technique.

     In 1919, Vollmer placed an ad in the school newspaper at the University of California soliciting student applicants for jobs as police officers. Over the years, hundreds of full-time college students applied for these positions. Vollmer's "college cops" included Walter Gordon, the department's first black officer, John Larson, the future inventor of the polygraph, and V.A. Leonard who became a well-known writer and criminal justice educator.

     Hundreds of Vollmer's proteges became police administrators like O.W. Wilson who became chief of the Chicago Police Department. Others became forensic scientists, lawyers, military leaders, and politicians. By the late 1940s, at least 25 police chiefs around the country had served under August Vollmer.

     In 1924, Vollmer took leave of the Berkeley Police Department to reorganize and head the Los Angeles Police Department. There he established hiring standards and set up a crime lab and a crime records bureau. He formed a vice squad, and created a bank robbery unit to combat the epidemic of bank hold-ups in the city. Notwithstanding his efforts to professionalize the Los Angeles Police Department, Vollmer was unable to eliminate the graft and political corruption that had become ingrained in the organization. After a year in Los Angeles where he had lost political support for his reform agenda, Vollmer resigned in defeat. He had learned that big city police departments, unlike law enforcement agencies in college towns like Berkeley, were almost impossible to control.

     Following his retirement from the Berkeley Police Department in 1932, Vollmer visited Scotland Yard, the Surete in France, and dozens of other European police departments. He wrote four books and continued to survey and reorganize troubled law enforcement agencies in the United States. He became a law enforcement professor at the universities of Chicago and California.

     In 1955, at the age of 79, Vollmer ended his life by shooting himself with his service revolver. Suffering from Parkinson's Disease and cancer, he didn't want to become a burden. His wife had predeceased him and they had no children. Before ending his life, he called the Berkeley Police Department to report his own suicide. He had willed his papers and extensive criminal justice library to the University of California at Berkeley. His archives are located at the university's Bancroft Library.

     

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Derek Ward Murder-Suicide Case

     Patricia Ward resided in an apartment complex on Secatogue Avenue in Farmingdale, an unincorporated village of 8,000 in the western Long Island town of Oyster Bay, New York. The 66-year-old taught English at Farmingdale State College's Long Island Educational Opportunity Center, an institution attended by high school students preparing for college.

     The assistant professor's son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, lived with her in the Farmingdale apartment. The unemployed son, over the past ten years, had experienced problems with the law and his mental health. In 2003, the schizophrenic young man was convicted of criminal mischief. In that case, the judge fined Ward and placed him on probation for a year.

     In 2006, police in Nassau County arrested Ward for possession of drugs and a 9 mm handgun. That judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail and three years probation.

     Just before eight o'clock at night on Tuesday October 28 2014, Derek Ward attacked his mother with a kitchen knife. After stabbing her several times in their apartment, he cut off her head then dragged the headless body down the stairs through the apartment lobby and onto Secatogue Avenue.

     After depositing his decapitated mother on the street in front of their apartment, Ward walked about a mile to a set of Long Island Railroad tracks. From there, he threw himself in front of a speeding commuter train rolling east from Penn Station in Manhattan. The impact killed him instantly.

     When police officers arrived at the Ward apartment complex they found Patricia Ward lying in the street about ten feet from her head.

     Neighbor Nick Gordon told a reporter with The New York Post that, "I saw the body laying right in front and her head was across the street near the corner. There was blood all over. You can see smears going down the stairs." Other neighbors, when they saw Patricia Ward's body thought they were looking at a Halloween prank. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Harvard Bomb Hoax Case

     At 8:40 in the morning of Monday, December 16, 2013, officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a bomb threat via email. The sender of the email wrote that "shrapnel bombs" were hidden in Emerson, Thayer, and Sever Halls as well as in the Science Center. As more than 100 police, federal agents, and emergency personnel rushed to the university, Harvard security officers began evacuating the four buildings. The bomb threat came on the first day of final exam week.

     Four hours after the threat, after bomb searchers failed to find any suspicious devices, faculty, students and others were allowed back into the buildings. The feared terrorist attack turned out to be a hoax.

     Shortly after the bomb threat disruption that had little effect on students, university sob-sisters sprang into action. In an all-student email from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students were advised that if they felt unable to take an exam for any reason "including anxiety, loss of study time, lack of access to material and belongings left in one of the affected buildings, or travel schedule" they could skip the final and take a grade based on coursework to date. (At Harvard, professors not only make it easy for academic slackers, they provide them with a menu of excuses. No wonder kids want to get into this school.)

     Because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences email came under intense ridicule, the professors sent a followup memo that required bomb threat affected students to acquire documentation from the school's mental health service. (Universities today have mental health services. When I was in college, if you went nuts your parents pulled you out of school. That's why you tried not to go crazy.)

     Later on the day of the bomb hoax, investigators traced the email threat back to a 20-year-old Harvard sophomore named Eldo Kim. The naturalized citizen from South Korea graduated from high school in Mukilteo, Washington. He played the viola and had interned with a newspaper in Seoul. On the staff of the Harvard Independent, Kim's academic focus involved psychology and sociology.

      On the day of the disruption, FBI agents arrested Eldo Kim on federal charges related to the bomb threats. If convicted as charged, he faced up to five years in prison. He could also be fined $250,000. Freed on $100,000 bond, the authorities released Kim to the custody of his sister who resided in Massachusetts.

     According to Ian Gold, the federal public defender appointed to represent the bomb hoax suspect, Kim had emailed the bomb threat to avoid taking a final exam in his government class. Attorney Gold told reporters that his client had been having difficulty coping with his studies and the upcoming anniversary of his father's death. "It's finals time at Harvard," attorney Gold said. "In one way, we're looking at the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm….It's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."

     Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in addressing the media, took issue with the "great deal of academic pressure" defense. Dershowitz pointed out that due to run-away grade inflation, it's very difficult to flunk out of Harvard. The median grade awarded to Harvard students is A-minus. "I doubt that anyone who got into Harvard would fail a government exam," said Dershowitz. "People come to Harvard with major problems. It's not that Harvard causes them." (I once read that professors at the Ivy League schools are intimidated by their students. For that reason they function more like camp counselors than teachers.)

     After confessing to the bomb hoax, Eldo Kim pleaded guilty in return for probation and mandated counseling. He was also also kicked out of school. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

The William Spengler Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     In past years, murder-suicide in the United States has accounted for about five percent of all criminal homicides. In 2011, 1,300 murderers, almost all of them men, took their own lives after killing their victims. A vast majority of murder-suicide victims are ex-girl friends and estranged wives. These deadly  attacks regularly feature alcohol and drug intoxication, mental illness, depression, and a variety of personality disorders. In terms of motive, none of these killings make any sense to a rational person.

     While nationwide, criminal homicide has been on the decline for decades, murder-suicide has been on the rise. In a country steeped in a culture of violence that seems to be populated by a growing number of people who are unable to cope with modern life, this is hardly a surprise. Criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, and police administrators are clueless about how to reverse this trend. That's because nobody knows what's causing the drug addiction and mental instability in this country, or what it is that's making these disturbed people so murderous and self-destructive. Blaming this wave of pathological murder on guns, video games, and excessive crime reporting is either political or simply puerile.

     In the annals of crime, 2012 might be remembered as the beginning of an era of the killing spree culminated with the self-inflicted death of the mass murderer. That year, eighteen men, after murdering three or more people, killed themselves. The following homicidal rampage took place on December 24, 2012 in upstate New York.

William Spengler: The Suicidal Sniper

     In 1980, 33-year-old William Spengler lived in the suburban Rochester area town of Webster, New York with his mother Arline and his 92-year-old grandmother. They resided in a middle-class home in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses on a narrow Lake Ontario peninsula. Shortly after William's grandmother was found dead at the foot of their basement stairs, the Monroe County district attorney charged Spengler with first-degree murder. William confessed to beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. (Since rational people don't bludgeon their grandmothers to death, the motive behind this murder was pathological, and therefore beyond rational comprehension.)

     Because Spengler agreed to plead guilty, the prosecutor lowered the murder charge to manslaughter. The judge sentenced the defendant to eight to 25 years in prison. (The prosecutor may have been worried about a successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense.)

     In 1997, after serving 16 years behind bars, Spengler attended his first parole hearing. The inmate, when he learned at the proceeding that his presence at the hearing was not mandatory, said this to the parole panel: "Then it's not worth the time and effort." The parole officials denied Spengler his release. Since he hadn't expected to get out of prison, this was no surprise. The surprise came six months later when these same officials granted Spengler his supervised release. The man who had murdered a 92-year-old woman walked out of prison in 1998 after serving two-thirds of his maximum sentence. (In the  American system of criminal justice, there are very few crimes that the government doesn't forgive. Judges and penologists seem adverse to the punishment rationale justifying sentencing and incarceration. In cases like this, whether or not the murderer has been rehabilitated should be irrelevant.)

     In 2006, while residing with his mother Arline and his older sister Cheryl in the dwelling next door to the house where he had murdered his grandmother, Spengler's term of supervised parole expired. Because he was a convicted felon, Spengler, under New York law, was not allowed to possess any kind of gun.

     In October 2012, Spengler's mother Arline passed away. Although he hated his 67-year-old sister Cheryl, Spengler had loved and doted on his mother. Since his parole in 1998, the gaunt, bearded loner had lived a quiet, uneventful life in the house across the road from Lake Ontario. Because of his low profile, very few people in the town of 43,000 knew he existed. After Arline's death, William, in possession of a small arsenal that included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a lot of ammunition, began planning arson, mass murder, and suicide. Spengler's years of living in obscurity would soon come to an end.

     Two hours before dawn on December 24, 2012, the 62-year-old ex-felon torched his house and set fire to his car. In possession of a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, Spengler took up a position behind a small hill not far from his burning house. It was from here he planned to ambush the first responders to the fires he had started.

     At 5:35 that morning, two members of the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department rolled up to the blaze in a firetruck. Spengler used his .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster to kill 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka and his firefighting partner Michael Chiapperini, 43. When John Ritter, an off-duty officer with the Greece, New York Police Department pulled his car alongside the firetruck in an effort to shield the two firefighters, Spengler shot and wounded him. Two firefighters who arrived at the scene in their own vehicles, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardina, were also wounded by the sniper on the hill.

     An hour or so later, the four firefighters and the wounded police officer where taken out of the line of fire by a SWAT operated armored vehicle. As Spengler house fire began to spread to other homes, SWAT officers used the armored truck to evacuate 33 residents of the neighborhood. Amid all of the confusion, William Spengler slipped away. Before it was all over, seven homes burned to the ground.

     At eleven o'clock that morning, police officers found William Spengler dead on a nearby beach. He had used one of his guns to shoot himself in the head. (There were no police bullets in him.) From a few feet from his body, officers recovered a typed, three-page, rambling suicide note that contained the line: "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people."

     On Christmas day, arson and homicide investigators found Cheryl Spengler's charred remains in the fire debris. A forensic pathologist determined that Spengler's sister had been killed before the fire.

     I'm not sure what the span of 32 years between William Spengler's first homicide and his mass killing-suicide tells us about people who commit murder. Maybe the lesson is this: People who beat old women to death ought to be put in prison for life. This case also illustrates how difficult it is to enforce gun laws already on the books.

     

      

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Roger Bowling Murder Case

     Around the first of July 2012, Danielle Greenway's 39-year-old ex-boyfriend, Roger K. Bowling, asked if he could stay with her and her fiancee until he got back on his feet after a run of bad luck. The 32-year-old Greenway and Chris Hall, ten years her senior, lived on a well-kept, tree-shaded neighborhood in Allen Park, Michigan, a suburban working class community south of Detroit. She was employed by a cleaning service and Hall was an electrician. Although Greenway and Bowling had broken up five years ago (he was the jealous, controlling type), she agreed to let the beefy, bald ex-boyfriend move into their basement.

     On Thursday, July 17, 2012, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer on routine patrol saw a body, missing its head, hands, and feet, floating in the Detroit River. A U.S. Coast Guard boat crew discovered a second nude body floating in the river on the east side of Detroit. The hands, feet, and head were missing from this corpse as well. Later in the day, a fisherman saw four hands, four feet, and two heads lying in the sand beneath two feet of water along the shore of an abandoned park. The fisherman also discovered a suitcase lying in the water near the body parts.

     The next day, Chris Hall's sister, who hadn't had contact with him and Greenway since July 14, went to their house in Allen Park and pounded on the front door. When she didn't get any response, she reported the couple missing.

     Later that day, officers with the Allen Park Police Department entered the house. Inside, detectives found evidence that someone had tried to clean-up large amounts of blood. In the garage, the police discovered two spent bullets and a bullet fragment that had been fired from a .40-caliber pistol. They also recovered a .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun registered to Roger Bowling.

     The dismembered remains were those of Danielle Greenway and Chris Hall. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies estimated they had been shot to death sometime between the 14th and 16th of July, 2012.

     The Wayne County District Attorney's office charged Roger Bowling with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of mutilation of a body. On Tuesday night, July 24, 2012, officers arrested Bowling at the Greenway/Hall residence. Two days later, detectives recovered the couple's missing 2005 GMC Safari van found parked a few blocks from the house. The vehicle contained physical evidence linking Bowling to the double murder.

     As officers escorted Bowling out of the Wayne County courtroom following his arraignment, Danielle Greenway's mother yelled, "burn in hell."
 
     At the defendant's preliminary hearing on August 20, 2012, Assistant Wayne County medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen testified that Hall was shot six times, including twice in the head. Greenway had been shot once, through the mouth.

     Roger Slick, a 35-year-old who has known Roger Bowling since first grade, testified that Bowling was angry because Greenway was dating someone else. "We would talk about how we could get rid of our problems--get rid of our women," the witness said. "I talked about taking my wife to the swamp. We'd drink beer and talk about it. I didn't do it. I had the thoughts. I was very upset at that time in my life." This witness testified that when he heard about the deaths of Greenway and Hall, after thinking about it for a few days, he decided to tell the police about these conversations with Bowling. Slick said he believed Bowling used his father's boat to dispose of the bodies. "That was the boat we used to go on. We talked about dropping bodies off in Lake Huron."

     Bowling's attorney, Mark L. Brown, pointed out that there are no eyewitnesses linking his client to the murders. He said that without a confession or an eyewitness the case against his client was entirely circumstantial.

     On September 17, 2014, following a five-week trial, the Wayne County Circuit Court jury found Roger Bowling guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of corpse mutilation. The judge, on October 10, 2014, sentenced Bowling to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Brittany Stykes Murder Case

     At eight in the evening of August 28, 2013, a motorist on U.S. Route 68, forty-five miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, saw a yellow Jeep that had gone off the road into a wooded area. The motorist pulled over and as he approached the SUV he discovered a woman slumped over the steering wheel. The man called 911.

     Brittany Stykes, the dead woman slouched over in the Jeep, had been shot in the neck and side. The 22-year-old victim was 17-weeks pregnant. In the vehicle, still strapped into her carseat, sat Stykes' 14-month-old daughter Aubree. One of the five bullets fired into the vehicle had struck the toddler. Paramedics rushed Aubree to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where she survived her head wound.

     According to the Montgomery County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Brittany Stykes had been killed by the bullet that entered her side and punctured her lungs. The shooter or shooters had fired five slugs into the car from outside the vehicle. Investigators found no shell casings in the vicinity of the Jeep which suggested that the victims had been shot by a revolver or revolvers.

     In addition to her two bullet wounds, Brittany Stykes had abrasions on her face, right arm, and finger. The forensic pathologist also found scratches on her right leg. These injuries might have been caused when the Jeep left the highway and plowed into the woods. Toxicological tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in Stykes' system.

     The forensic pathologist ruled Stykes' manner of death as homicide by gunshot. The victim's unborn baby had also been killed in the attack.

     Shane Stykes, the murdered woman's 37-year-old husband, worked in a Cincinnati factory. Detectives ruled him out as a suspect when they learned he had been working out in a gym with three police officers at the time of his wife's death. Shane also passed a polygraph test.

     Detectives, under pressure to solve this case, got nowhere in their investigation. The officers didn't have a suspect, the murder weapon, or a motive. Because the victim had $125 in cash as well as jewelry on her person when she died, detectives ruled out robbery as a motive. She didn't have life insurance which argued against some kind of murder-for-hire case. It also seemed unlikely that she had been a random target or the victim of mistaken identity.

     A Brown County prosecutor, desperate for a break in the case, convened an investigative grand jury with the power to subpoena reluctant witnesses.

     On November 11, 2013, Samantha Grubbs, a woman who had a son with Shane Stykes before he married Brittany, testified, under subpoena, before the Brown County Grand Jury. Following her testimony, in speaking to a local television reporter about Brittany Stykes, Grubbs said, "I think that when you're young--I'm not saying she's young and dumb--you tend not to see the whole story. I think she just got involved with the wrong group of people."

     Samantha Grubbs did not reveal why she had been called before the grand jury, or explain the "whole story" Brittany had failed to see. Moreover, she didn't identify the "wrong group of people" the murder victim had supposedly fallen in with.

     Mary Dodson, Brittany Stykes' 46-year-old mother, in response to Grubbs' "wrong group of people" comment, said this to the TV reporter: "My daughter's crowd consisted of her mom and dad and her sisters." (It's interesting that the mother didn't include Shane Stykes in her daughter's circle.)

     Three months after the unsolved murders, homicide detectives focused their attention on three individuals who had been subpoenaed by the grand jury but didn't show up to testify. One of these people, as reported by the local media, was one of Shane Stykes ex-girlfriends.

     The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the double-murder.

     In August 2014, the one-year anniversary of Brittany Stykes' murder, the  case remained unsolved. The victim's father, David Dodson, told a local television reporter that he and his wife could not get through the day without thinking about their daughter. Mr. Dodson said he called Buddy Moore, the lead investigator, every day.

     "I talked to him this morning," the father said. "They are chipping away at this, a little bit more every day. There's been a lot of information coming out of the prison and it all keeps coming back to the same group of people," he said. Mr. Dodson didn't identify these people, but did say that he thought Shane Stykes had information about the case he hadn't passed onto the police.  (The murder victim's parents and Shane Stykes were battling in court over custody of his daughter Aubree.) As of January 2017, no one has been charged in this murder. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Michigan State Police Child Pornography Fiasco

     In March 2005, troopers with the Michigan State Police seized a computer they had reason to believe had been used to download child pornography. The suspect, 35-year-old Billy Joe Rowe from the town of Clio not far from Flint, Michigan, admitted downloading the pornography. But for some reason, the case fell between the cracks and was forgotten. As a result, Billy Joe Rowe went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     In March 2011, six weeks before the six-year child pornography statute of limitation barred prosecution in the Rowe case, Michigan State Police Sergeant Ronald Ainslie found the computer stored at the Computer Crime Unit in Lansing. When forensically examined, officers found numerous images of child pornography on the computer seized almost six years earlier in Clio from Billy Joe Rowe.

     On March 2, 2011, a prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Billy Dean Rowe, a hard-working man without a criminal record who lived near Albion, Michigan 120 miles from where the child pornography computer had been seized in March 2005. While Billy Joe Rowe was six-foot tall and now 41, Billy Dean Rowe was five-foot-four and 32-years-old.

     On March 11, 2011, Michigan State Police officers showed up at Billy Dean Rowe's house near Albion. When the innocent man came to the door, one of the officers asked, "Are you Billy Rowe?"

     "Yes," the puzzled homeowner answered.

     "We have a warrant for your arrest."

     "What did I do?" asked the startled citizen.

     "We can't say. We are taking you to Flint, Michigan."

     "Why am I going to Flint? I've never been to Flint."

     "You'll find out when you get there."

     In Flint, when booked into the Calhoun County Jail, the officers informed Billy Dean that he had been charged with possession of child pornography, a felony that carried a prison sentence of up to six years.

     During his three-day incarceration in the county jail, Billy Dean tried to get someone to believe that they had arrested the wrong man. Eventually, Sergeant Ainslie, after he questioned Billy Dean and showed his photographs to Billy Joe's relatives in Clio, realized he had the wrong man behind bars.

     Sergeant Ainslie notified a judge of the case of mistaken identify. Billy Dean Rowe was released from custody and the charge against him dropped. When he returned home he learned that he had been fired from his job as a meat cutter in Jackson, Michigan.

     Because the statute of limitation had run out on the 2005 child pornography case, Billy Joe Rowe once again went on with his life as though nothing had happened.

     Billy Dean Rowe, in 2014, filed a false arrest lawsuit against the Michigan State Police. The agency immediately raised the defense of sovereign immunity. Per standard operating procedure in law enforcement, no one from the Michigan State Police apologized to Billy Dean Rowe for the stupid and traumatizing foul-up. The state police owe the public an apology for blowing a potentially successful child pornography case. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Nutty Professors: Crime and Craziness Within the Academic Bubble

Publish or Perish

     In April 2011, Diederik A. Stapel, a professor of social psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, published a study based on questionnaires and human experiments that showed, among other things, that advertising works by making "women feel worse about themselves," and that conservative politics creates hypocrisy. Stapel's findings attracted a lot of positive media attention which included articles in the New York and Los Angeles Times. As it turned out, Professor Stapel and his study were frauds. In September, following revelations that Stapel had invented data and lied in more than thirty experiments, Tilburg University fired him.

     Professor Stapel's response to his problem wouldn't surprise anyone familar with academia. He claimed that under pressure from the university to publish, he gave in to temptation and produced a bogus paper. He also blamed the lack of scholarly checks and balances that would have prevented him from being a fraud. "I want to emphasize," he said, "that the mistakes that I made were not born out of selfish needs." (No one admits to actual wrongdoing anymore, it's always "mistakes." But how does someone "mistakenly" commit fraud?)  Professor Stapel managed, in his case, to both publish and perish.

Suffering for his Art

     Michigan State University art professor Danny Guthrie was photographing himself with former and current students--male and female--who were typically forty years younger than him. His critics at the university asserted that these sexually suggestive photographs were "obcene" and "oppressive to women." An outraged student (we are now living in the Outrage Era), writing in the school newspaper, objected to the fact that Guthrie, in the photographs, appeared to be dominating his female subjects who were often sitting or reclining. According to this critic, the professor was "virile, powerful, and masculine" while the female subjects were "disempowered, silenced, and feminine."

     On the university's web site, Professor Guthrie responded to his critics' handwringing this way: "Certainly subject matter such as this is politically charged....My interest is to acknowledge these various traditions and debates, twisting and blurring the codes of classical aesthetics, contemporary rhetorically motivated art, and even erotica." The beauty of this response was that nobody had any idea what it meant. Professor Guthrie had more: "As one ages, it is with no small sense of remorse and regret, that one comes to experience the realm of desire, remorse, and carnality as existing more in the past than the future." (Forget art, this BS artist belonged in the English Department.)

     On November 29, 2011, Michigan State's interim president of university relations told USA Today that Guthrie's behavior and his photographs were not inappropriate. As a result, he was not reprimanded by the university. With that, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Meth Professor

     On November 7, 2011, investigators from several law enforcement agencies searched the Somerville, Massachusets residence of Professor Irena Kristy and her 29-year-old son Grigory Genkin. Narcotics officers had surveilled the couple for almost a year. In the home, the searchers found a large amount of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Chareged with crimes related to the making and distribution of meth, Genkin turned himself in a few days after the search. On December 4,   2011, police took 74-year-old Professor Kristy into custody for allegedly helping her son operate a meth lab in their home.

     After emigrating to the United States from Russia in 1985, Kristy was hired as an adjunct professor of calculus at Suffolk University. (Adjunct faculty are appointed semester by semester.) Two years later, Kristy accepted a tenure-track professorship at Boston University while holding her position at Suffolk University. Reporters compared the Kristy case to the then popular TV series Breaking Bad starring Bryan Cranston. The show featured a former high school chemistry teacher named Mr. White who was a master meth cook in a high-tech, underground lab.

     The prosecutor's office, in February 2012, dropped the charges against the professor. Boston University, however, did not renew her teaching contract.

Puppy Love

     If you can't handle the stress of law school, how can you deal with the stress of the legal profession? Students at George Mason University Law School, in 2012, were given access to homeless puppy dogs as a means of coping with the stress of academic life.

     One of the George Mason University law students soothed by a puppy told a reporter that as a result of her dog therapy "I got to be human again." These law students, when they enter their dog-eat-dog profession, are in for a shock. It's going to take a lot of puppies.
 
Professor Solicits Prostitution

     In August 2007, Miami Police arrested Donald Marvin Jones for "soliciting to commit prostitution." Jones, a well-known, TV friendly constitutional law professor at the University of Miami, had allegedly offered an undercover cop $20 for oral sex. On September 26, 2011, the 63-year-old law professor was busted again for the same offense.

     The citizens of Miami could take comfort in knowing that as murderers, rapists, muggers, burglars, and drug dealers roamed the streets of their great city, high-paid cops were out there posing as prostitutes to bring down criminals like Professor Jones.

     The professor pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Bad Santa

     There is nothing more goofy than a professor who has inflated a nonexistent problem into a real problem that can be solved with the professor's easy but ridiculous solution. Say hello to Nutty Professor George Giuliani, the Director of the Graduate School Program in Special Education at Hofstra University. Giuliani, a New York State licensed psychologist and author of books with engaging titles like: "Creating Confident Children in the Classroom: The Use of Positive Restructuring, and What Every Teacher Should Know About Students with Special Needs," appeared on the morning TV show "Fox and Friends" in December 2011 to discuss the evils inherent in the animated film classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

     Professor Giuliani told the TV audience that because of Rudolph's disability--his flashing red nose--the deer was bullied by Santa and his other reindeer. According to the professor: "Comet is saying to children, don't play with this reindeer again. And he [Comet] tells him [Rudolph] to go home and he bullies him and mocks him, and the other kids [what kids?] start mocking him. Can you imagine if your child's teacher said to the class, 'don't ever play with this child again'?" Professor Giuliani obviously didn't like Comet, but he was also tough on Santa as well: "Santa Claus is saying, 'you [Rudolph] cannot be on my team because you have a disability....' "

     Okay, so that's the problem. The solution? Keep "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" off TV! (Perhaps they could rate it for mature audiences.) That won't happen of course, and Professor Giuliani knew that. But hell, what's wrong with dreaming of a perfect world and a chance to appear on national television?     

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Forsythia Owen Murder Case

     On September 25, 2002, 19-year-old Forsythia Owen and her boyfriend of nine months got into an argument in the living room of her Denver, Colorado apartment. Before the fight broke out she had impaired him by slipping a drug into his drink. In the course of the dispute Owen grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed the man in the chest.

     Paramedics rushed the victim to a nearby hospital where he survived his puncture wound. (I don't know who called 911.) Owen greeted police officers at the scene by saying, "I'm the one who stabbed him. Arrest me." And that's what the officers did.

     A local prosecutor charged Forsythia Owen with assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily harm. Pursuant to a plea deal, the assistant district attorney allowed Owen to plead guilty to the lesser offense of felony assault. The prosecutor dropped charges related to Owen's assault of police officers while in custody.

     In January 2003, the judge sentenced Owen to four years probation.

     Owen, a serious abuser of cocaine, alcohol, and methamphetamine, had been diagnosed as having a "mood disorder" and "attention-deficit/hyperactivity." Because of her substance abuse, psychiatrists were unable to determine the degree to which she may have been psychotic as well. (Her future behavior would suggest a bad case of paranoid schizophrenia.)

     Ten months into her probation, a drug treatment administrator kicked Owen out of the program for "non-compliance" and "minimal progress" for continuing to use cocaine and meth. Rather than send Owen to prison, probation officials enrolled her in a Denver community corrections program. After refusing to cooperate with the social workers trying to help her, the judge, in December 2004, sent Owen to prison for three years. If they couldn't fix this woman the authorities could at least get her off the street.

     In 2013, the 30-year-old ex-felon lived in the Denver suburb of Englewood with her 12-year-old daughter. On Sunday morning, September 22, 2013, Englewood police officers responded to a 911 call concerning a badly beaten man lying in an alley. Officers found 42-year-old Denzel Rainey in the alley bleeding from a severe blunt force head wound and other injuries. Paramedics rushed Rainey to the Swedish Medical Center where he died a short time later.

     Mr. Rainey, married with three children, had for years struggled with alcohol abuse that had led to his homelessness. He had been attacked in the alley where he slept at night.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Mr. Rainey had a fractured skull, lacerated liver, broken arms, fractured left hand, and six broken ribs. The medical examiner's office listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma. The manner of death: homicide.

     On Monday, the day after the attack in the Englewood alley, detectives spoke to a man who said that one of his neighbors, a woman named Forsythia Owen, had come to his house on Sunday with a story about a man who had inappropriately touched and abused her daughter. The man she accused was the homeless guy who had just been murdered in the alley.

     Later that day, when questioned by detectives, Owen admitted beating the man in the alley with a baseball bat. After confronting him about molesting her daughter, she started swinging the bat. Advised of her Miranda rights, Owen said, "I need a lawyer."

     An Arapahoe County prosecutor charged Forsythia Owen with first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily harm. A magistrate denied Owen bond after the police booked her into the Arapahoe County Detention Center.

     Denzel Rainey, other than having driving under the influence convictions and an arrest for marijuana possession, did not have a criminal record. Moreover, there was no information on record regarding accusations of sexual offenses. Rainey's widow, Lisa, told reporters that "I just don't know what caused her to do that to Denzel. If he did anything to provoke the attack, I need to know the answers for closure for me and closure for my kids."

     In speaking to a correspondent with a Denver television affiliate, Lisa Rainey said, "I think Owen is covering for somebody, and I want to know: what was the real reason why she did that to my husband. He doesn't deserve to be dead. He would never hurt a child."

     At a March 17, 2014 pre-trial hearing, Owen's attorney, Joe Archembault, pleaded her not guilty by reason of insanity. Judge Marilyn Antrim ordered the defendant to undergo psychiatric evaluation at the mental health Institute in Pueblo, Colorado.

     The Arapahoe County prosecutor dropped the first-degree murder charge against Owen to second-degree murder and added first-degree assault and the charge of tampering with evidence.

     The Owen murder trial got underway on February 4, 2015. Just ten days later the jury, having rejected the insanity defense, found the defendant guilty as charged.

     On May 9, 2015, Judge Marilyn Leonard Antrim sentenced the 32-year-old Owen to 38 years in prison.