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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.

     

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.)

     

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.

    

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. 

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.

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.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Jerome Isaac Arson-Murder Case

     Arson-murder cases fall into three categories. It becomes arson-murder when the victim is say, shot to death, and the killer sets a fire to cover the crime. A fire-setter who burns down a building for the insurance money and in the process kills an occupant no one knew was in the structure, commits arson-murder. And finally, using fire as the agent of death comprises arson-murder. This form of the offense is the most unusual of the three.

     On Saturday, December 17, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York, a crime took place that fell into the one-of-a-kind category. It involved the cruel, cold-blooded, and sadistic murder of 73-year-old Doris Gillespie.

     Shortly after four in the afternoon, as the victim returned from grocery shopping and was about to exit the elevator that stopped at her apartment floor, Gillespie encountered a man dressed like an exterminator who wore surgical gloves and a white dust mask perched atop his head the way Jackie Kennedy used to wear her sunglasses. The thin, middle-aged man held a canister with a nozzle, a Molotov cocktail, and a barbecue-style lighter. He methodically sprayed the victim and her grocery bags with a fine mist of gasoline, then ignited the rag sticking out of the flammable liquid filled bottle. As he backed out of the elevator, he tossed in the fuse-lit Molotov cocktail. The compartment filled with smoke, and the victim, engulfed in flames, burned to death as she crouched against the rear wall of the elevator. Two video cameras recorded the murder.

     The following morning, 47-year-old Jerome Isaac, with burns on the left side of his face, turned himself in to the New York City Police. He said he had been hired by the victim to clean out clutter from her apartment. He said she had fired him after accusing him of theft. After Isaac harassed this woman for the $2,000 he thought she owed him, he set fire to her in the elevator.

     At Isaac's arraignment, the magistrate denied him bail. The police, other than the fact Isaac didn't have a criminal record, and had been seen around the neighborhood collecting bottles and cans, didn't know much about him except he's been treated for mental illness.

     On January 11, 2013, Judge Del Giduice, in a Brooklyn, New York courtroom, sentenced Issac to fifty years in prison. The judge called the crime the most brutal he had seen in his judicial career. "That is not something one can take from one's mind," he said.

     What makes this case so disturbing, beyond the nature of the crime itself, is that everywhere we go we are surrounded by people like Isaac who look and act harmless until something sets them off. There is nothing the police can do to protect us from people like this. All they can do is react, and by then it's too late.

      

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Sara Kruzan Murder Case

     While the law of murder is quite clear on what behavior constitutes the crime, occasionally there are cases that make the strict enforcement of that law seem unfair. In my opinion, the Sara Kruzan case falls into that category.

     As a child growing up in southern California in the 1980s, Sara Kruzan had to be hospitalized several times for severe depression. At age eleven she came under the influence of a Riverside, California pimp named George Gilbert Howard. In 1994, Kruzan moved to Rubidoux, an unincorporated community in Riverside County where she took up residence with another pimp, James Earl Hamilton. She was sixteen and working as a prostitute.

     On March 10, 1994, Hamilton arranged to have Kruzan meet George Gilbert Howard at the Dynasty Suites Motel in Riverside. That night, in the motel room, Kruzan shot Howard in the neck from close range. The pimp died on the spot. Kruzan took $1,500 from the dead man's wallet and drove off in his Jaguar.

     Homicide detectives found Kruzan's purse in the murder room. Four days later, police officers took the teen hooker into custody. When asked about Howard, she confessed to shooting her former pimp.

     The Riverside County district attorney decided to try Kruzan as an adult for first-degree murder.

     At Kruzan's May 1995 trial she took the stand and testified that James Earl Hamilton had ordered Howard's murder. The defendant believed that if she hadn't carried out the hit, Hamilton would have killed her and her mother. This homicide was, therefore, an offense committed by a young girl under duress. (Hamilton was never charged in connection with Howard's killing.) The jury of seven women and five men found the 17-year-old defendant guilty of first-degree murder.

     Because the pimp had been killed in the commission of a robbery, and the defendant had been "lying in wait" to murder the victim, the judge sentenced Kruzan to life without the possibility of parole. Corrections authorities sent her to the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.

     On February 2009, a member of the group Human Rights Watch posted a six-minute interview of Kruzan on YouTube. The inmate described her miserable life as a prostitute and revealed how the pimp she had shot to death had abused her physically.

     In 2010, on his last day in office, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commuted Kruzan's sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole.

     A Riverside County Judge, in January 2013, reduced Kruzan's first-degree conviction to second-degree murder. This made the 35-year-old prisoner eligible for immediate parole. Nine months later, the state parole board ordered her release pending Governor Jerry Brown's approval. The governor signed off on the parole on October 27, 2013. A few days after that, Sara Kruzan walked out of prison a free woman. No one has objected to her release.

     

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Jade Murray Murder Case : No Justice For Skylar Bradley

     Jade Murray lived in Aurora, Missouri, a town of 7,500 in the southwest corner of the state. On December 14, 2013, the 22-year-old took her 4-year-old son, Skylar Bradley, to a medical facility in Aurora. She told medical personnel that she had found her unresponsive son in his bedroom. That evening he had been ill, and had refused to eat. The doctor noticed that the boy had bruises on his arms, side and back. From Aurora, the critically ill boy was transported to Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

     Shortly after arriving at the hospital in Springfield, Skylar Bradley died. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, the boy died of a ruptured spleen. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

     Detectives with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, suspecting child abuse, questioned the dead boy's mother. Jade Murray denied hitting or otherwise abusing her son. Investigators asked if someone else had beaten the child. The mother insisted that he had not been physically mistreated by anybody.

     From people who knew Jade Murray and the boy, the homicide detectives received a different picture. According to these interviewees, the hot-tempered young mother frequently took out her wrath on her son. Several people had witnessed Murray strike the child with her fist, and noticed that he seemed permanently bruised. In one reported incident, Murray had allegedly spanked him so hard the paddle broke.

     Detectives also learned that Murray not only used illegal drugs herself, she regularly gave Skylar NyQuil and even Xanax to sedate him.

     On June 6, 2014, pursuant to an interrogation conducted by the state investigators, Jade Murray confessed to physically abusing her son. On the night he died, she admitted hitting him several times for not obeying. She had allegedly struck him so hard she knocked the child off his bed then ordered him to stay in his room. When she checked on the boy 45 minutes later, she found him unresponsive.

     Following the confession, a Lawrence County prosecutor charged Murray with second-degree murder and second-degree domestic assault. Officers booked the suspect into the county jail. At her arraignment, the judge set her bond at $250,000.

     If convicted of second-degree murder, Murray faced up to thirty years in prison. The domestic assault charge carried a maximum sentence of seven years behind bars.

     On October 20, 2014, an officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol took the stand at the preliminary hearing to determine if the prosecution had sufficient evidence to warrant a trial in the case. According to the officer, the defendant admitted that she had struck her son hard enough to knock him off his bed. The boy's back hit his brother's bed as he fell.

     Dr. Charles Glenn, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified that the child had bruises on several parts of his body and had died of a ruptured spleen. Under cross-examination by Jade Murray's public defender's office attorney, Dr. Glenn conceded that the victim's enlarged spleen could have been cased by "some sort of viral illness."

     Sergeant Daniel Nash, an investigator with the state patrol, testified that when he questioned the defendant in June 2014, about six months after the boy's death, Murray told him that during the week before the boy died he had been ill. But on the day of his death, his health had improved. When the suspect was pressed regarding exactly how the boy had died, the mother hinted that her boyfriend may have had something to do with his death. According to the witness, Murray eventually admitted striking  her son. She said she hadn't meant to hit him so hard, describing the incident as an accident.

     Following the preliminary hearing testimony, the judge ruled that the state had presented enough evidence to justify a trial in the case. The Murray murder trial was scheduled to be held sometime in 2015.

     In October 2015, pursuant to a plea bargain arrangement between the defendant and Lawrence County prosecutor Don Trotter, Murray pleaded guilty to the charge of second-degree domestic assault. In return for the plea, Murray received a five year prison sentence and credit for two years of time already served in the county jail. As a result, she would be eligible for parole within months of her sentence.

     This incredibly light sentence outraged the community and sparked citizen protests outside the courthouse. In defending the deal, prosecutor Trotter said the murder case against Murray would have been difficult to prove.

     

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Kenneth Buck: A Petty But Dangerous Criminal

     In 2012, Kenneth Arnold Buck, a 20-year-old homeless resident of Chandler, Arizona who had a history of shoplifting and petty theft in California, entered a church in Chandler to use the bathroom. Inside the building he encountered the man who taught music at that church. Buck pulled a knife and demanded that the victim turn over his cellphone and wallet.

     The music teacher followed the man who robbed him onto a city bus where he confronted him. Buck responded by breaking into tears, throwing his knife to the bus floor, and giving back the stolen items.

     After pleading guilty to robbery, Buck served three months in the Maricopa County Jail. The judge had also sentenced him to three years probation.

     In January 2013, Chandler police officers arrested Kenneth Buck for public intoxication. At the time of his arrest he was carrying a small quantity of marijuana. The judge added two years to his probation.

     On November 21, 2014, when Mr. Buck violated the terms of his probation by changing his place of residence without his probation officer's permission, and missing several drug tests, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

     At one in the afternoon of Monday January 5, 2015, police officers in Chandler spotted a man driving a Dodge pickup truck that matched the description of the vehicle associated with a local burglary. The truck bore fictitious out-of-state license plates and was being driven by Kenneth Buck.

     Once he realized the police were tailing him, Buck stepped on the gas and ran a red light. The officers gave chase. After driving a couple of blocks, the driver of the pickup slid open his rear window and started firing shots at the pursing police car. The officers responded with a volley of their own.

     Buck pulled the truck to a stop, climbed out of the vehicle and continued to fire at the officers. In the exchange of gunfire, he was hit several times. Although seriously wounded, Buck managed to climb back into the pickup and drive off. After a short distance, however, the Dodge came to a stop. Inside the vehicle officers found the 22-year-old slumped dead behind the steering wheel.

     Notwithstanding Kenneth Buck's record of relatively minor crime, he turned out to be a dangerous person who could have killed a police officer. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Natasha Vanwasshenova: The Perils of Prostitution

     Have you heard the one about the hooker, the trick with a bad ticker, and the bungled autopsy? Probably not, because what happened to a prostitute named Natasha Vanwasshenova and her client Jonathan Hood is not that funny.

     On November 23, 2010, Jonathan Hood, a resident of Rochester, Michigan, called a Dearborn escort service and requested a hooker and $80 worth of heroin. The 38-year-old John, in the midst of a divorce, was under the influence of alcohol and heroin when 28-year-old Natasha Vanwasshenova arrived at Hood's suburban Detroit home with the requested drug.

     After consuming more heroin and booze, Mr. Hood and the prostitute soaked in his hot tub for 30 minutes after which he took a cold shower. While having sex with Vanwasshenova shortly thereafter, Mr. Hood died. She called 911, tried to revive him, and waited for the EMS personnel and the police.

     The forensic pathologist with the Oakland County Medical Examiner's office who performed the autopsy ruled that Jonathan Hood had died of an heroin overdose. The forensic pathologist noted that Mr. Hood had an enlarged heart and significant blockage in one of his arteries.

     Since, according to this forensic pathologist, Vanwasshenova's heroin had killed Mr. Hood, a local prosecutor charged her with delivering a drug that caused the user's death. Arrested on this criminal homicide offense, Vanwasshenova, if found guilty, faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     Sitting in her Oakland County jail cell, Vanwasshenova must have wondered how having sex with a 38-year-old man had killed him, and why she was being held responsible for his death. Heroin, while not good for you, is not arsenic. Had she known the authorities would charge her for causing this trick's demise, she might not have stuck around for the police.

     Vanwasshenova's court appointed attorney, Charles Toby, when he read the autopsy report, wondered why the forensic pathologist hadn't taken Mr. Hood's enlarged heart and blocked artery into consideration in his cause of death ruling. With that in mind, attorney Toby asked Dr. Kirit Patel, the Chief Cardiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, to review the autopsy. Dr. Patel, after reading the police and autopsy reports, concluded that Jonathan Hood had died of "acute coronary thrombosis," not a heroin overdose. His weak heart had failed under the stress of the drug, booze, hot tub, cold shower, and sex.

     In light of Dr. Kirit's post-mortem analysis, the local prosecutor reduced the charge against Vanwasshenova to delivering a controlled substance. Oakland County medical examiner, Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, amended Mr. Hood's cause of death to heart attack.

     In May 2012, after spending 14 months in the county jail, Vanwasshenova pleaded guilty to the drug delivery charge. She also apologized to Mr. Hood's relatives who were in the courtroom. Judge Leo Bowan sentenced her to two years probation and ordered her released from custody.

     Attorney Charles Toby, noting that his client had been in jail for 14 months on a minor drug crime, objected to the probated sentence. If Vanwasshenova returned to prostitution, she would violate the terms of her probation, and if caught, could end up serving the rest of her drug delivery sentence behind bars. Perhaps her experience with Mr. Hood would point Vanwasshenova, the mother of four, in another direction, career-wise.