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Friday, March 31, 2017

Crime By Criminals on Parole

     Most crimes are committed by repeat offenders often arrested but rarely imprisoned….Among that small percentage of hardened, repeat offenders who are apprehended, convicted, and imprisoned, few will spend very long under lock and key. And within a short time after release on parole, most resume their criminal careers. Proof of this lies in many studies showing that paroled inmates have high rates of "recidivism" (or relapse into crime). Depending on how recidivism is measured, fully a third to half of all paroled inmates are returned to prison within a year or two--and this despite the very low chance of being arrested for any of their subsequent crimes. As every criminal knows, the "criminal justice system" is a sham.

Robert James Bidinotto, Criminal Justice?, 1994 

The Stepping Hill Angel of Death Murder Case

     Deaths by homicidal poisonings that commonly do not raise suspicion and are therefore often misdiagnosed as natural fatalities involve hospital patients who are elderly or already ill. The death of an old or gravely ill person, almost by definition, is a natural death. This is why physicians, nurses, and other healthcare workers who intentionally kill patients--so-called "Angeles of Death"--get away with murdering so many victims.

     Normally, homicide by poison is not an impulsive crime. But in the hospital, or home for the elderly, it is a crime of opportunity. The angel of death has access to a variety of toxic substances and to vulnerable victims. There is no need for extensive preparation and planning. Moreover, there is no apparent or obvious motive for the homicide because these serial killers do not receive any direct personal gain from the deaths. This type of serial killer is difficult to spot because angels of death are not manifestly insane. They possess personality disorders that compel them to murder out of generalized rage, boredom, or the impulse to play God.

     As murderers, angels of death are cold-blooded, careful, and vain. Quite often their employment histories reveal they have been terminated from several healthcare jobs. When too many patients die on a nurse or orderly's watch, and the employee comes under suspicion, he or she is simply fired. Healthcare workers suspected of murdering patients also quit and get similar positions elsewhere.

     In angel of death cases the tendency among healthcare administrators is to deny the obvious and pass the problem on to the next employer. Over the years, dozens of angels of death in the U.S. and around the world have been caught, but only after large numbers of patients have been murdered. Given the nature of the crime, and the limited role forensic science plays in these cases, it is reasonable to assume that the small number of angel of death convictions represents the mere tip of a rather large homicidal iceberg.

The Stepping Hill Case

     Greater Manchester is a heavily populated metropolitan county in northwest England. Stockport, a city of 136,000, is one of the municipalities within the county. Between June 1, 2011 and July 15, 2011, three patients at Stepping HIll Hospital in Stockport died after being given saline ampoules or drips laced with insulin.

     Detectives with the Greater Manchester Police Department (GMP) determined that at least eight other patients had suffered from insulin poisoning. (Insulin is used as a treatment for diabetes, but for people without an insulin deficiency, the substance can be toxic.)

     Following the determination of how these three patients had died, armed police guards were stationed at the hospital in the event the poisoner was an outsider. To protect patients from a hospital employee, members of the staff were required to work in pairs.

     On July 20, 2011, GMP detectives arrested a 27-year-old Stepping Hill nurse named Rebecca Jane Leighton. The Chief Crown prosecutor for the region charged Leighton with three counts of criminal damage with intent to endanger life. Nurse Leighton pleaded not guilty to the charges.

     The Crown Prosecution Service, on September 2, 2011, dropped the charges against the nurse. Notwithstanding the dismissal of the case against her, the hospital fired Leighton on December 2, 2011. She appealed the discharge, but following a hearing in February 2012, she lost her case.

     On January 5, 2012, detectives with the GMP arrested 46-year-old Victorino Chua, a male nurse originally from the Philippines. Chua had been a registered nurse since 2003. He had two children and claimed to be a devout Roman Catholic. Police officers took him into custody at his home just outside of Stockport.

     Arrested as a suspect in the Stepping Hill Poisonings, but not charged, Chua was interrogated then released on bail. Pursuant to the terms of his release, he was barred from approaching any potential witnesses in the case. He also lost his right to work in healthcare.

     On March 29, 2014, the Chief Crown prosecutor charged Victorino Chua with poisoning to death 44-year-old Tracey Arden, 71-year-old Arnold Lancaster, and Derek Weaver, 83. The murder suspect was also charged with 31 counts of causing grievous bodily harm, 22 counts of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm, and 8 counts of attempting to administer poison. Chua pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     As the poison investigation progressed, GMP detectives identified eight other Stepping Hill patients killed by the insulin contaminated saline, and dozens of patients who were poisoned but survived.

     Detectives with the GMP broke the Stepping Hill murder case wide open when, in Chua's home, they found a letter in which the suspect had written: "I am an angel turned into an evil person, there's a devil in me." While not a confession, it was close enough.

     In May 2015, at the conclusion of the Chua trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Tracey Arden and Derek Weaver. The judge later sentenced Victorino Chua to life in prison.
     

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor

     Martin Russ' classic 1980 memoir, Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor, is an entertaining and practical instruction manual for anyone interested in the art and craft of creative writing, or in the difficult job of teaching students how to write for publication. Almost everything in this book is quotable, but here are a few passages that stood out for me:

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

As I believe in passive sadism in childrearing, so I advocate the same stance in dealing with the obstreperous student. Kill him with kindness or at least benevolent inattention. Not only must you never let yourself be drawn into any sort of emotional escalation, you must avoid acknowledging his attitude.

Make sure you have something to say before you write it down. One of the most difficult things undergrads have to learn is they have as yet little to say.

Many nonfiction teachers make the dumb mistake of providing subjects or topics. Let the student choose them himself, and make damn sure he says something about the subject--rather than merely turning in a description or summary or noncommittal analysis of it.

For some cockeyed reason it is assumed that if you have the required degree you can therefore do an adequate job of teaching.

Often a classroom of students will unconsciously follow a peer leader--a sarcastic put-down artist, for instance, who by dint of personality and precocious verbal skills will turn your course into a living nightmare unless you step in and blandly damp him off.

It's quite true that fiction can't be taught; but you can pass along a few shortcuts and get them interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones.

Undergrads tend to use more words than they need to, and much of your work involves showing them that a certain word or phrase or sentence or paragraph can be deleted without loss.

The most prevalent problem in student fiction writing is lack of plot or suspense, or drama.

Undergrad fiction writers are intensely interested in the possibilities of metaphor, simile, alliteration, allusion, parallelism, symbolism, and all the other literary devices. Which is fine. The problem is that they're more interested in the devices themselves than in using them effectively.

For student writers one of the most difficult problems is "creating character"--and it's a damned hard thing to teach.

Fiction-writing students would much rather describe than narrate. Would rather tell than show. Would rather summarize than dramatize. Would rather explain than demonstrate. Would rather obscure than clarify. I don't know why...but students seem to want to do everything wrong.

The amateur's attitude: It is I who am doing this thing, and I'm more important than the thing I am doing. The professional's attitude: This thing I'm doing is more important than me. (In other words, just because you wrote it doesn't make it good, or even interesting.)

The Deon Nunlee Rape Case

     On October 30, 2013, in Detroit, Michigan, police officer Deon Nunlee and his partner were on patrol working out of the 8th Precinct. They were assigned to the late shift when dispatched to a home at three in the morning to investigate a domestic violence complaint.

     Officer Nunlee, 40, had been on the force eight years, and although he didn't have a perfectly clean work record, he had never been disciplined for a serious breach of professional misconduct.

     When the officers rolled up to the complainant's residence, the 31-year-old victim reported that she had been assaulted by her boyfriend. Officer Nunlee's partner stayed with the suspect while Nunlee took the victim to an upstairs bedroom. Instead of taking the woman's assault report, officer Nunlee allegedly assaulted her sexually.

     As the officers left the house that night (I don't know if they arrested the boyfriend), Nunlee informed the victim that he would return to the house after he got off duty. (He did not return to the dwelling.)

     Shortly after the officers departed the scene, the woman notified two of her friends that she had been sexually assaulted by a cop. A few hours later, she reported the crime to the authorities. That day a police administrator placed officer Nunlee on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation into the accusation.

     On February 10, 2014, a crime lab scientist reported the results of the rape kit test. Deon Nunlee, according to DNA analysis, had engaged in sexual activity with his accuser. The chief of police suspended him without pay.

     On March 14, 2014, police officers booked Deon Nunlee into the Wayne County Jail on charges of second-degree sexual conduct, assault with intent to penetrate, and one count of misconduct in office. After being informed of his Miranda rights, the suspect declined interrogation. A 36th district court judge set Nunlee's bail at $50,000.

     On the day of the officer's arrest, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, at a press conference, said: "This case is an anomaly. This is not what our police officers do. This officer who decided to engage in criminal misconduct does not represent the 2,500 sworn men and women who wear this uniform."

     On November 18, 2014, after pleading guilty to second-degree rape, the Wayne County Judge sentenced the former police officer to 19 months to 15 years in prison. (It seems to me the low end of this sentence is extremely lenient.)
    

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dale Peck on Contemporary "Literary" Fiction

As one reads contemporary novelists, one can't shake the feeling that they write for one another rather than for some more or less common reader. Their prose shares a showiness that speaks of solidarity and competition--the exaggerated panache with which teenaged boys shoot hoops in their driveways while pretending they don't notice their neighbor watching from across the street.

Dale Peck, Hatchet Jobs, 2004

The Pedro Maldonado Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2013, Pedro Maldonado and his wife Monica, citizens of Ecuador, South America, were living in the United States on expired visas. The couple resided in a gated community in Weston, Florida thirteen miles west of Fort Lauderdale. The Maldonado's 17-year-old son Pedro Jose Maldonado, Jr. attended Cypress Bay High School where he was a drummer in the band. The older Maldonado son, Jose, was a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

     Mr. Maldonado and his 47-year-old wife not only faced deportation back to Ecuador, they were in serious financial trouble. An exporter of police supplies to South America, he had recently lost most of his business. In September 2013 the couple's drivers' licenses expired. As people living in the country illegally, they could not renew their licenses and drive legally.

     Due to his citizenship and financial problems, the 53-year-old Maldonado must have felt helpless and doomed. Facing a bleak future he slipped into depression to the point of becoming suicidal.

     On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, at four-fifteen in the afternoon, Mr. Maldonado telephoned a friend in Miami and gave him some shocking news. According to Maldonado, he had killed Monica and their son Pedro in the family's Weston townhouse. Maldonado said he had shot them the day before with arrows fired from a crossbow. When asked where he was calling from, Maldonado said he had checked into a motel near Lake City, Florida. The stunned recipient of this phone call immediately notified the authorities.

     In Weston, Florida, Broward County sheriff's deputies, at six that evening, entered the Maldonado townhouse where they discovered the dead bodies of Monica and her son Pedro. They had each been shot in the head with small arrows or darts fired from a crossbow that featured a pistol grip. (I am assuming that the victims had been shot while they slept.)

     On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, about seven hours after Pedro Maldonado called his friend in Miami with the startling news, deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office spotted his SUV parked outside the Cabot Lodge Motel near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 75 near Lake City, 100 miles east of Tallahassee. Shortly thereafter police officers evacuated the motel and called in a SWAT team and a crisis hostage negotiator.

     SWAT officers, after receiving no response from Maldonado's room, entered the motel at two in the morning on Wednesday, December 4. The officers found Mr. Maldonado dead in the bathroom. He had used a knife to slit his throat. (I don't know how long Maldonado waited to kill himself after his call to his friend in Miami.)

     Investigators, in piecing together the sequence of events that unfolded over the previous two days, learned that Maldonado, after murdering his wife and youngest son in the Weston townhouse, drove 460 miles north to Tallahassee where he checked into a motel. Just after seven o'clock Tuesday morning, December 3, 2013, Maldonado shot his 21-year-old son Jose in the ear with  a crossbow dart. Having failed to make a killing shot, the father tried to choke his oldest son to death. Following a struggle, the young man managed to escape.

     Jose did not report his father's attempted murder to the police until after he learned what had happened to his mother and his younger brother.

     Neighbors in Weston described Mr. Maldonado and his family as quiet people who kept to themselves. The only sounds anyone heard coming from the townhouse involved the boy's practice sessions with his drums. Mr. Maldonado did not have an arrest record in the United States. Moreover, the local police had never been called to the house to mediate a domestic dispute.

     That Pedro Maldonado committed suicide is not shocking. What is a mystery is why he decided to end the lives of his wife and sons. When the American dream ended for the father, he must have decided that if he couldn't have it, neither could his wife and two sons. This case reflects the fact that there are things in life and crime that will never make sense. This is particularly true in the world of suicide and murder.
    

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"A Reader's Manifesto"

     In his controversial analysis of what passes for modern literary fiction, B. R. Myers, in "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose," uses the works of prize-winning novelists Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, David Gusteson, and Annie Proulix as good examples of bad writing. Since I find these "great writers" virtually unreadable, I'm a big fan of Myers' 2002 book. In his Preface, Myers lays out his basic intent and theme: "In late 1989 I wrote a short book called 'Gorgons in the Pool.' Quoting lengthy passages from prize winning novels, I argued that some of the most accclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks. The greater point was that we readers should treat our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion." Wow, what a refreshing and helpful idea! Finally, someone was saying that the problem isn't you, the reader--but them--the pretentious literary critics who have been for years pushing this rubbish on serious readers of fiction. Here are some passages from this honest and courageous book:

...one way that contemporary writers like to lower our expectations for their work is to claim that something as inadequate as language can never do justice to the complexity of what they're trying to say.

You don't have to read anything published after 1960 to know at once what you're in for: a tale of Life in Consumerland, full of heavy irony, trite musing about advertising and materialism, and long, long lists of consumer artifacts, all dedicated to the proposition that America is a wasteland of stupefied shoppers. (I have to plead guilty to that myself. But I'm just a nonfiction hack, not a great novelist.) Critics like to call this kind of thing "edgy" writing, though how an edge can be decerned on either style or theme after fifty years of blunting is anyone's guess. This will always be foolproof subject matter for a novelist of limited gifts.

Anyone who doubts the declining literacy of book reviews need only consider how the gabbiest of all prose style is invariably praised as "lean," "spare," even "minimalist."

A thriller [genre novel] must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "literary" camp now attracts a type of writer who, under different circumstances, would never have strayed from the safest crime-novel formulae, and that so many critically acclaimed novels today are really mediocre "genre" stories told in an analgam of trendy stylistic tics.

At the 1999 National Book Awards Ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say she had to puzzle repeatedly over many of the latter's sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison's reply was: "That, my dear, is called reading." Sorry, my dear Toni, but it's actually called bad writing. Great prose isn't always easy but it's always lucid; no one of Oprah's intelligence ever had to puzzle over what Joseph Conrad was trying to say in a particular sentence.

The American literary press is faced with a clear choice. It can continue plugging unreadable new books until the last advertiser jumps ship, and the last of the stand-alone book-review sections is discontinued--as "The Boston Globe" was in 2001--or it can start promoting the kind of novels that will get more Americans reading again. (I'm afraid it's too late for that.)

The Paul Driggers Murder-For-Hire Case

     Paul Driggers knew that if he filed for divorce, his wife Janice (not her real name) would fight for custody of their children. Driggers knew that Janice, because of his background of crime which included a ten year stretch in prison, would win that battle. To solve his problem, the 53-year-old Idaho man came up with a plan to file for divorce without his wife knowing about it. The idea behind his plan involved winning the divorce suit through his uninformed wife's default.

     In February 2005, after creating a false mail drop address for himself and his wife in Post Falls, Idaho, Driggers traveled to Bannock County in the southern part of the state where he filed for divorce. Janice, oblivious to what he was up to, failed to respond to the court papers sent to the phony address. Through this scheme, Paul Driggers divorced his wife without her knowledge. Janice was also unaware that the judge had awarded Driggers full custody of their son and two daughters.

     Although divorced, Driggers and his clueless ex-spouse continued to live under the same roof as man and wife. In September 2005, after pleading guilty to hitting one of his daughters with a belt, the judge sentenced Paul Driggers to 180 days in jail. Shortly after his release, Driggers threatened Janice with a handgun. Because he was an ex-felon, the mere possession of the weapon was a crime. Drigger denied the allegation, and the prosecutor dropped the charges.

     In February 2006, after Janice learned from a social worker that she and the man she was living with had been divorced for a year, threw him out of the house. Because they had engaged in sex under the false pretense of marriage, she filed charges of rape. A judge eventually dismissed that case. Driggers, in an effort to recover some of his possessions that included a wall plaque that read: "Families are Forever" sued his ex-wife. He also filed a report with a county child protection agency accusing her of physically abusing their children. The agency responded by taking the children out of the home. With the children temporarily out of the house, Driggers made his big move. He asked a man he had met in prison if he know of someone who would kill his ex-wife.

     Early in April 2006, acting on his former prison associate's recommendation, Driggers called a man in Hayward, California named Matt Robinson and offered him $10,000 for the hit. Driggers said he would deposit $1,000 in Robinson's bank account to pay for his trip to northern Idaho where they would plan and carry out the contract murder. Robinson, having left Driggers with the impression he would be thinking over the offer, reported the solicitation to the Hayward police who hooked him up with the FBI. After meeting with FBI agents, Robinson agreed to help the feds by traveling to Idaho as an undercover murder-for-hire operative.

     On April 25, 2006, Driggers and Robinson met in a restaurant in Coeur d' Alene. They discussed, in addition to the murder, a number of criminal schemes including the manufacture of methamphetamine, and the counterfeiting of documents to be used in identify theft. Three months later, on July 21, Driggers drove his gold Jaguar onto a Lowe's parking lot in Coeur d' Alene. He was there to meet Robinson who was wired for sound. Driggers handed the man he thought would murder his ex-wife another $1,000. The murder-for-hire mastermind promised to pay Robinson the balance of the hit money in $500 monthly installments. Driggers also gave Robinson a photograph of Janice and a handmade map showing how to get to her house in Priest River. The map, carefully drawn and detailed, included suggested escape routes. In order to maintain contact with his hit man as the plot unfolded, Driggers had purchased a pair of walkie-talkies. He also instructed Robinson on how to dispose of the victim's corpse. This mastermind was leaving nothing to chance.

     Driggers, in explaining to Robinson that killing his ex-wife was the only way he could acquire custody of  his children, anticipated that the police would suspect him of having her murdered. "They don't like me," he said. "They hate me. They'd like to put a needle in my arm....We've already made some mistakes. I don't want to get hurt on this. The first three months of the investigation is going to be intense. They're going to check everything....I'm the green light, but you're driving the car. You have a couple of options. You can keep the money and go home. You can do it and get it done, or try to do it, and if it's too difficult, you can drop it."

     The following day, July 22, 2006, Driggers called Robinson and gave him the final go-ahead for the operation. Ten days later, FBI agents who had been keeping track of Driggers, arrested him on the charge of attempted murder-for-hire. When informed that his conversations with Robinson had been taped, Driggers surprised the arresting agents by insisting that he was innocent.

     From his Kootenai County Jail cell a week after being taken into custody, Driggers, referring to his ex-wife as a "vindictive schizophrenic," said this to a local newspaper reporter: "I'm the one who's really being abused. There's been such a climate of fear and paranoia in my case that any action I take to try and protect my property is determined as a move toward hurting my ex-wife, to physically hurting my ex-wife." A federal grand jury, three weeks after Drigger's press interview, indicted him for using interstate commerce to facilitate a murder-for-hire scheme.

     The Driggers murder trial got underway, in the federal court house in Coeur d' Alene, on January 3, 2007. The defendant, insisting that he was the true victim in the case, promised reporters that when jurors heard his side of the story, they would find him not guilty. But before he got the opportunity to defend himself on the stand, the jurors heard the conversation Matt Robinson had tapped in the Lowe's parking lot. After playing the two-hour recording, the government rested its case.

     On January 11, 2007, Driggers, wearing a raspberry colored blazer, climbed into the witness box with the intent of portraying himself as the victim. He had been so distraught over the possibility of losing custody of his children he had gone to bed every night under the influence of sleeping pills and booze. "It was hard to get out of bed in the morning because I'd always hear the voices of my children saying, 'Daddy, daddy, we want you to come home.' I lost the purpose of my life. I had no reason to  live."

     In addressing the issue of his murder-for-hire conversations with Matt Robinson, Driggers dismissed them as a "hypothetical" discussions in which he was merely exploring possible solutions to his "predicament." "There's a difference," he said, "between a statement and an agreement. I didn't want to kill her. I was upset about many things happening in my life."

     The jury, following a brief period of deliberation, found Paul Driggers guilty of attempted murder-for-hire. The verdict surprised no one. But the case wasn't over. Drigger's attorney, noting that a copy of his client's rap sheet had inadvertently found its way into the jury room, moved for a mistrial. The jurors were not supposed to know about the defendant's criminal history. Although only one juror actually looked at the document, the judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The following month, Driggers was tried again on the same evidence. The second jury, also requiring little time to deliberate, found him guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Paul Driggers to the maximum penalty allowed under federal law, a $17,000 fine and ten years in prison.


Monday, March 27, 2017

The Roberto Roman Cop Killer Murder Cases

     Just after midnight on January 5, 2010, Deputy Josie Fox of the Millard County Sheriff's Office and her partner were watching, from a distance, a suspicious car and a pickup truck parked along the road near the tiny central Utah town of Delta. There had recently been a series of burglaries which had drawn the officers to the area. When the two suspicious vehicles departed the scene in opposite directions, Deputy Fox followed  the 1995 Cadillac DeVille. The officers knew the identity of the man in the other vehicle, the pickup truck. He was a known drug user named Ryan Greathouse who also happened to be Deputy Fox's brother.

     After Deputy Fox called in the license number of the Cadillac, registered to 38-year-old Roberto Miramontes Roman, the police dispatcher forwarded instructions to have the vehicle pulled over. A few minutes later, Deputy Fox radioed that she had pulled over Roman and was exiting the patrol car.

     Deputy Fox did not transmit further messages and was not responding to calls from the dispatcher. Concerned that the deputy's encounter with the driver of the Cadillac had resulted in her injury or death, Millard County Sergeant Rhett Kimball proceeded to the site of the stop to investigate. When the deputy rolled up to the scene, he saw Fox's patrol car lights flashing and the deputy lying on the road in a pool of blood. The 37-year-old police officer had been killed by two bullets fired at close range into her chest. (I imagine the bullets had pierced her bullet-proof vest.) Roberto Roman and his 1995 Cadillac were gone.

     After fleeing the scene en route to Salt Lake City, Roberto Roman got stuck in a snowbank near Nephi, Utah. He called his friend, 35-year-old Ruben Chavez-Reyes, for help. Chavez-Reyes pulled the Cadillac out of the snowbank, and from there the two men continued on to Salt Lake City. Along the way, Roman tossed the murder weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle, out the car window. When the two men arrived at their destination, Roman switched license plates with Chavez-Reyes. (He did not, however, clean traces of Deputy Fox's blood off his Cadillac.) Later that morning, Roman told his friend that he had "broke a cop," meaning that he had killed a police officer.

     Deputy Fox's partner, later that morning, questioned Ryan Greathouse at his home. The deceased deputy's brother said he had purchased drugs from the man in the Cadillac, a dealer he knew as "Rob." Greathouse gave the deputy Rob's phone number which identified this man as Roberto Roman. The deputy then informed Greathouse that Roman had shot and killed his sister with an AK-47 assault rifle.

     The next day, Millard County deputies arrested Roberto Roman whom they found hiding in a shed in Beaver, Utah. Once in custody, Roman provided the officers with a full confession. The suspect told his interrogators that when the patrol officer pulled him over outside of Delta, he was angry because he was being careful not to speed or cross over the center line. Furious that the cop was pulling him over simply because he was "Mexican," Roman shot her twice with his assault rifle. He did not know he had murdered the sister of the man who had just purchased meth from him.

     The Millard County prosecutor charged Roberto Roman with aggravated first-degree murder as well as with lesser weapons and evidence tampering offenses. If convicted of murdering a police officer, under Utah law, Roberto Roman faced the death penalty.

     In April 2010, more than four months after the shooting death of his sister, Ryan Greathouse was found dead from a meth overdose in the bedroom of a Las Vegas apartment.

     In 2011, Judge Donald Eyre presided over a two-day hearing to determine if Robert Roman would qualify for the death penalty. The judge, after listening to the testimony of psychologists, ruled that the defendant was "mentally retarded," and as such, ineligible under Utah law for execution. This ruling disappointed and mystified a lot of people. (I would imagine that most cop killers are either high on drugs and/or stupid. Since intoxication and mental dullness are not criminal defenses, I don't see why people who are not bright are spared execution. Moreover, courthouse psychologists think all criminals are stupid and should therefore be judged differently from their more intelligent counterparts. Psychologists should not be allowed inside a courthouse unless they have been charged with a crime.)

     The Roberto Roman murder trial got underway on August 13, 2012 in the Fourth District Court in Spanish Fork, Utah. After the prosecution rested its case four days later, the defendant took the stand on his own behalf. Rather than admitting his guilt as he had in his police confession, Roberto Roman offered the jurors a completely different story, one that was both self-serving and implausible.

     On the night of Deputy Fox's death, the defendant and the officer's brother Ryan Greathouse, were riding around in Roman's Cadillac smoking meth. When Deputy Fox pulled the car over outside Delta, Ryan, who was crouched down in the vehicle, grabbed the AK-47 and shot Fox in the chest, unaware he had just murdered his sister. After the shooting, the two men went their separate ways. The beauty of this story involved the fact Ryan Greathouse was not in position to contest the defendant's version of the murder.

     Prosecutor Pat Finlinson, in his closing summation, reminded the jurors of the physical evidence that supported the prosecution's theory of the case. The victim's bullet wounds indicated that the AK-47 had been fired at an angle consistent with being discharged by the driver of the Cadillac. Moreover, the defendant's fingerprints, not Ryan Greathouse's, were on the assault rifle.

     On August 20, 2012, a week after the Roberto Roman trial began, the jury, after deliberating eight hours, found the defendant not guilty of the aggravated first degree murder of Deputy Josie Fox. The jurors, in defending their unpopular verdict, said that without Roman's confession, they didn't have enough evidence to find him guilty.

     Roberto Roman became the first Utah defendant charged with the murder of a police officer to be acquitted since 1973. The jury did find him guilty of the lesser offenses pertaining to the assault rifle and the evidence tampering. On October 24, 2012, the judge sentenced Roman to the ten year maximum sentence for those crimes.

     The not guilty verdict in the Roberto Roman murder trial shocked and angered the law enforcement community, friends and relatives of the slain police officer, and a majority of citizens familiar with the case. Had Ryan Greathouse not died between the time of the shooting and Roman's trial, this case may have had a different ending. For a stupid person Roberto Roman had done a good job of beating a strong circumstantial case.

     In May 2013, David Barlow, the United States Attorney for the District of Utah, announced that a federal grand jury had returned an 11-count indictment against Roberto Roman for, among other crimes, the murder of Deputy Josie Fox. U.S. Attorney Barlow said, "The fact that Mr Roman had already been tried before a state court had no influence or affect on the federal murder charge [arising out of the same conduct]." In other words, according to this federal prosecutor, the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy didn't apply in this case.

     The new federal charges against Roman, in addition to murder, included, among other offenses, drug trafficking and illegally firing a gun in the death of a police officer. If convicted as charged, Roman faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     In May 2014, Roman's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictments on grounds their client should not have to stand trial for a federal murder charge related to the same crime. Attorney Jeremy Delicino said, "In layman's terms, the Untied States seeks a second chance to rectify what it believes the jury got wrong the first time. In blunt colloquial terms, the Unites States seeks a do-over."

     In response to the defense motion to dismiss the indictments, lawyers for the prosecution asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court had held that federal and state governments can prosecute a person for separate crimes based upon the same conduct.

     On September 30, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen ruled that prosecuting Roberto Roman for federal offenses related to the police officer's murder did not constitute double jeopardy. The federal case could therefore go forward.

     On February 6, 2017, a jury sitting in a Salt Lake City courtroom found Roberto Roman guilty of eight federal charges that included the murder of Deputy Fox. U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen will sentence the cop killer on April 27, 2017.



      

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Thiago Henrique Da Rocha: Brazil's Motorbike Serial Killer

     During a nine month period beginning in January 2014, a man on a motorbike in the central Brazilian city of Goiania, used a .38-caliber revolver to shoot 39 people to death. The serial killer approached his intended victims on his motorbike, shouted "robbery!," shot them at close range, then drove off without taking anything from the people he murdered.

     Sixteen of the serial killer's victims were young women, the youngest being a 14-year-old girl shot to death at a bus stop in February 2014. The rest of the murder victims included homeless people, homosexuals, and transvestites.

     The Goiania police caught a break on October 12, 2014 when the killer on the motorbike shot at but didn't kill his intended victim. The young woman told detectives that she knew the shooter from seeing him at a local bar.

     On Tuesday October 14, 2014, the Brazilian police arrested 26-year-old Thiago Henrique Da Rocha at his mother's house in Goiania. The serial murder suspect, during a prolonged police interrogation, confessed to the 39 criminal homicides committed in 2014. He also admitted killing people as far back as when he was 22-years-old. Da Rocha told his interrogators that he wasn't sure how many people he had murdered. All of the shootings, he said, involved victims chosen randomly.

     Da Rocha lived in Goiania with his mother. A search of her house resulted in the discovery of the .38-caliber murder weapon. The police also seized a pair of handcuffs and several knives.

     Shortly after Da Rocha's arrest, the Goiania police chief, at a press conference, said, "Da Rocha felt anger at everything and everyone. He had no link to any of his victims and chose them at random. He could have killed me, you or  your children."

     When detectives asked Da Rocha what caused all of this rage, he told them that he had been sexually abused by a male neighbor when he was 11-years-old. So, why did he take out his anger on so many women? Rejection, he said. A lot of women had rejected his romantic overtures. On top of the sexual assaults and the female rejection, he had been bullied at school. "I was quieter than the other kids," he said. "I suffered mental and physical aggression. I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but these things accumulate inside you." (This man will require very little coaching from his defense attorney.)

     A few days following his arrest, Da Rocha supposedly tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists with a broken light bulb. Jail guards interceded before he was able to seriously cut himself.

     Da Rocha asked a jail guard if he would face a murder trial if he killed a fellow inmate. He said he still felt the urge to kill. He said his feelings of "fury" only abated when he killed a person.

     The handsome serial killer, no doubt the recipient of marriage proposals, became an instant celebrity upon his arrest. In speaking to Brazilian reporters from his jail cell, Da Rocha explained that the killing of a victim in cold blood did not make him happy. He said the next morning "I wasn't happy, no. There was the feeling of regret for what I had done."

     To reporters hanging on every word, Da Rocha said, "If I have a disease, I'd like to know what it is, and also if there is a cure."

     In a statement that revealed the depth of this young killer's sociopathy, Da Rocha said, "I'd like to ask for forgiveness, but I think it's too difficult to ask for forgiveness right now." Even for a sociopath, the extent of this narcissist's self-centeredness is staggering. Because he obviously enjoyed the limelight, Da Rocha was a crime reporter's dream criminal.

     In May 2016, after Thiago Henrique Da Rocha was convicted of eleven cold-blooded murders, the Brazilian judge sentenced the serial killer to 25 years in prison. That's slightly more than two years per victim. In Brazil, the lives of murder victims are cheap.   

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Literary" Novels Are Unreadable

     In true crime, biography, and other types of nonfiction, I prefer the narrative form. In other words, I like nonfiction that reads like a well-plotted novel. In my opinion, writers who have succeeded in this form include Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Joseph Wambaugh. In fiction, I like crime writers who know how to plot and tell a good story. In this group I include Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake, Evan Hunter, Lawrence Block and Thomas H. Cook.

     People read out of curiosity and the desire to be told a compelling story. This is probably why critically acclaimed literary novelists, authors who disdain drama and a good story, are not widely read. I don't think they deserve to be.

     A tip to readers: avoid novels that have won literary awards--they almost always stink. And stay away from literary novels bearing glowing cover blurbs from other literary writers.



Tristen Kurilla: A 10-Year-old Killer

     Tristen Kurilla, a fifth-grade student at Damascus Elementary School, lived with his mother, Martha Virbitsky, and his grandfather in Damascus Township, Pennsylvania, a rural community in the northeast corner of the state near the New York line. Helen Novak, a 90-year-old woman being cared for by the boy's grandfather, Anthony Virbitsky, lived under the same roof.

     On Saturday October 11, 2014, Anthony Virbitsky checked on Helen Novak to find that she was having trouble breathing. He offered to take her to the emergency room but she refused. Less than an hour later, when Mr. Virbitsky entered Novak's room to make sure she was okay, he found her dead. The caregiver called 911 to report the passing of the elderly woman.

     Not long after the Wayne County Coroner transported Helen Novak's body to the morgue, Martha Virbitsky showed up at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in nearby Honesdale with her son. According to the mother, the boy had confessed to killing Helen Novak.

     In speaking to Trooper John Decker, Tristen Kurilla said, " I killed the lady." According to the boy, he pressed the victim's cane against her neck because he was angry that she yelled at him when he came into her room to ask her a question. He also punched her in the throat and stomach.

     "Were you trying to kill her?" asked the trooper.

     "No, I was only trying to hurt her," came the reply.

     Martha Virbitsky told the state police officer that her son had been a problem to raise. He had a violent streak and suffered from what she called "mental difficulties."

     The Wayne County district attorney charged Tristen Kurilla, as an adult, with murder. Officers booked the boy into the Wayne County Correctional Facility.

     Shortly after the 10-year-old's arrest, Kurilla's attorney, Bernie Brown, petitioned the judge to release his client from custody and move the case into juvenile court.

     In addressing the adult versus juvenile court issue, Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards pointed out that under Pennsylvania law, homicide charges, regardless of the defendant's age, must be initially filed in adult court. Moreover, juvenile detention centers do not accept children charged with criminal homicide.

     The Wayne County Coroner's Office, on Monday October 13, 2014, declared Helen Novak's cause of death as "blunt force trauma to the neck." Her manner of death: homicide.

     In January 2015, a Wayne County judge, with the approval of the prosecutor, moved the Kurilla case to juvenile court. The ruling came after a psychologist testified at a competency hearing that the boy was mentally ill.

     As of March 2017, there has been a virtual news blackout on this case.

     

     

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Celebrity Journalist

It takes tremendous craft for a nonfiction writer to dominate his subject. Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson could pull this off, but once they became celebrities in their own right, it became harder and harder for them to act as reporters. The instant they arrived to cover a story their presence altered it. Other less-gifted writers who tried to copy them often failed when technique overwhelmed or even changed substance.

Peg Taylor in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Elfrieda Abbe, 2003 

The Steven Pratt Murder Cases

     In 1984, 15-year-old Steven L. Pratt lived in an Atlantic City, New Jersey apartment complex with his mother, Gwendolyn Pratt. One night that year, Steven and his friends were hanging out in the hallway outside his apartment when the next-door neighbor, Michael Anderson, complained of the noise. Following an argument between Pratt and his neighbor, Pratt's friends dispersed.

     For Pratt, the dispute remained unresolved. He went into his apartment and came out armed with a lead pipe. When he confronted his neighbor with the weapon, Michael Anderson grabbed the pipe from him and used the weapon to bloody the teen's face.

     The humiliated Pratt borrowed a handgun from an acquaintance and returned to the apartment complex where he shot Michael Anderson twice, killing him on the spot.

     After the crime scene investigators completed their work, Steven Pratt's mother, knowing what her son had done, marched him down to the police station. Under police questioning, the teen confessed.

     An Atlantic County prosecutor charged Pratt with first-degree murder and tried him as an adult. The young defendant took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when he pulled the trigger the gun just clicked and didn't go off. He kept squeezing the trigger until the bullets came out.

      The jury, presented with evidence of a cold-blooded killing, found the boy guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to thirty years in prison.

     Pratt's attorney appealed the conviction on the ground his client should have been tried as a juvenile. According to the appeal, Pratt had "emotional impairments" that reduced his intellectual age to less than seven years. The appellate judge affirmed the conviction. (Throw a stick in any maximum security prison and it will hit nine people just as stupid as Pratt.)

     On Friday October 10, 2014, after serving most of his thirty-year sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, Pratt became a free man. Having no place to stay, he moved in with his 64-year-old mother who lived in a house on the west side of Atlantic City.

     At two o'clock in the morning of October 12, 2014, one of Gwendolyn Pratt's neighbors heard a loud argument coming from her house. The neighbor, having been accused of being too quick to call the police on her neighbors, resisted the urge to call 911. Steven Pratt had been out of prison less than two days.

     At six-thirty that morning, someone, perhaps this neighbor, did call 911 to report a disturbance at the Pratt residence. At the scene, police officers found Gwendolyn Pratt dead from massive blunt force trauma to her head. The officers also found Steven Pratt and took him into custody.

     Later in the day of Gwendolyn Pratt's murder, police officers booked her son into the Atlantic County Justice Facility on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge set Steven Pratt's bail at $1 million.

     In February 2017, Steven Pratt pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing his mother. A month later, the judge in Atlantic City sentenced Pratt to 25 years in prison. According to the judge, the 48-year-old Pratt would not be eligible for parole until he served 85 percent of his sentence.

     The Stephen Pratt case lends credence to the view that certain criminals are beyond the reach of rehabilitation. While these people should never be given their freedom, there is no way to identify them as hopeless cases before they reoffend. Nothing is less reliable than predicting human behavior. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

True Crime as Entertainment

     Occasionally, true crime is where literary writers go to slum and, not coincidentally, make some real money: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song." It's not the Great American Novel, yet somehow such books have a tendency to end up the most admired works of a celebrated author's career. Is it because better writers tease something out of the genre that pulp peddlers can't, or is it just that their blue-chip names give readers a free pass to indulge a guilty pleasure?…

     True crime labors under the stigma of voyeurism, or worse. It's not just unseemly to linger over the bloodied bodies of the dead and the hideous sufferings inflicted upon them in their final hours, it's also a kind of sickness. Gillian Flynn's novel, Dark Places, describes the wincing interactions between the narrator, a survivor of a notorious multiple murder, and a creepy subculture of murder "fans" and collectors. When she's hard for cash, she's forced to auction off family memorabilia at one of their true crime conventions.

     The very thing that makes true crime compelling also makes it distasteful: the use of human agony for the purposes of entertainment.

Laura Miller, "Sleazy, Bloody and Surprisingly Smart: In Defense of True Crime," salon.com, May 29, 2014

     

The Death Penalty: Execute Them Before They Get Too Fat, Too Good, or Too Stupid

     America's weight problem has changed the way we live and die and has affected how we punish, or can't punish, some of our worst criminals. While the U.S. Supreme Court has not prohibited the execution of certain types of murderers, it has mandated that the state must kill condemned prisoners in a "dignified and humane manner." I would argue that how a prisoner is dispatched is less a matter of dignity and humanity than aesthetics. For this reason, death sentence prisoners no longer end up swinging from the end of a rope, being gunned down by a firing squad, or giving off smoke while twitching in an electric chair. These methods, while effective, look unprofessional and barbaric. In states where certain criminals are still executed, the government has to use methods that do not offend our tender sensitivities. The execution business also has to be politically correct. This is why juries have been reluctant to recommend the death sentence for women, people under 21, and folks with low I.Q.s. Of the 3,322 people currently on death row, only 61 are women. Wives convicted of murdering their husbands spend, on average, 6 years in prison. Men who murder their wives are, on average, sent away for 17 years. (In terms of race, 42 percent of the death row population is black, 12 percent Latino, and 44 percent white.)

     Today, death row inmates are killed by lethal injection. This method of execution fits in nicely with our pharmaceutical culture. We take drugs to get well, to sleep, and to get high, so why not use drugs to execute certain murderers in the 32 states where the death penalty is still legal. But now there is a growing concern about executing people with drugs. Over the past twenty years, several death row prisoners have tried to escape their fates by claiming they are too obese to be humanely injected. In Ohio (one of our fattest states), this has been a recurring correctional issue. (West Virginians are fatter than Ohioans, but in that state they have abolished the death penalty. In the Mountaineer State, convicted, overweight murderers probably don't live much longer than those on Ohio's death row.)

     In May 2007, an executioner in Ohio ran into difficulty when he tried to kill, by injection, 38-year-old Christopher Newton. Six years earlier, while serving time for burglary, Newton murdered his cellmate. Now it was his time to go. Because of his weight,which was 265-pounds, it took the executioner two hours and ten attempts to find a receptive vein for the lethal dose of pentobarbital. During the prolonged execution Newton was actually allowed to go to the bathroom. It would be his last bathroom break, however.

     Nineteen-year-old Richard Cooey, in 1986, threw chunks of concrete off a bridge over Interstate 77 near Akron, Ohio. The act caused the deaths of two University of Akron students. As Cooey's execution date drew near, the 5-foot-7, 267 pound inmate alleged that prison food and lack of exercise had made him too fat to painlessly execute. According to the 41-year-old Ohio prisoner, the executioner's difficulty in finding a friendly vein would cause him stress and discomfort. On October 14, 2008, the Ohio executioner, probably under a little stress himself, had no problem introducing the pentobarbital into Mr. Cooey's system.

     In 1983, Ronald Post murdered Helen Vantz, a hotel desk clerk in Elyria, Ohio. A jury found him guilty and a judge sentenced him to death. There wasn't then, nor now, any question regarding his guilt. Because Post didn't exercise and ate too much, he ballooned-up to 400 pounds. In an effort to get control of his weight, Post asked the government to pay for gastric bypass surgery. (Had he been incarcerated in Massachusetts, Post could have gotten his gastric surgery plus, if he wanted, a sex change operation. Ohio is cruel that way.)

     In 1997, claiming that prison health care providers were having difficulty finding his veins for medication, Ronald Post argued that to execute him this way would amount to a violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.

     After the federal appellate judge refused to take Ronald Post off death row, prison authorities in Ohio scheduled his execution by lethal injection for January 16, 2013. In November 2012, Mr. Post, claiming to weigh 480 pounds, filed another appeal in which he argued that he had grown so fat his veins were even less accessible. Not only that, the prison didn't own a gurney sturdy enough to roll him into the death chamber. According to Post's attorney, executing his client under those circumstances would comprise "a substantial risk that any attempt to execute him will result in serious physical and psychological pain to him...." The lawyer added that Mr. Post's execution would consist of "a torturous and lingering death."

     State authorities opposing Ronald Post's attempt to see the other side of January 16, 2013, argued that in fact the death row inmate only weighted 396 pounds. In this case it really didn't matter how much this man weighed. The federal appeals court in Cincinnati had already ruled against Mr. Post on the weight issue. Moreover, the state of Ohio, given all of its resources, could probably find a heavy-duty gurney and an executioner who can locate hard-to-find veins. This killer's execution became a moot issue however when, on December 17, 2013, Governor John Kasich granted Ronald Post clemency on the grounds he had poor legal representation at his trial.

     If our procedurally oriented criminal justice system were efficient and reliable enough to dispatch first-degree murderers within two years of their convictions, death row inmates wouldn't have time to get so fat. After ten or twenty years on death row, many of these inmates also find religion and become different people. The person being executed is not the same person who committed the crime. (The Karla Faye Tucker case in Texas is a good example of this. While on death row, Karla found Jesus. To the dismay of protesting evangelicals, Texas went ahead and executed her anyway. I don't think the state has dispatched a female since.)

     There are death row inmates who, while smart enough to have committed first-degree murder, when it comes time to execute them, are too stupid to kill. It seems cruel and unusual to execute slow-witted killers. So, if a death row inmate isn't fat, or hasn't found Jesus, he can pretend to be stupid. (Hell, who can't flunk an I.Q. test? What's tough is pretending to be smart.)

     The way it's administered, the death penalty isn't worth the effort. If there is anything "torturous and lingering" about the execution process, it's the time and money it takes to dispatch these brutal, inhumane killers. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Kids Do in the Woods These Days

     Police in Wylie, Texas, wanted to know what two teenagers were doing in the woods Saturday night, March 8, 2014. "We were burying a body," one of them said. They weren't kidding. When police looked in the woods northeast of Dallas they found the corpse of 17-year-old Ivan Mejia of Wylie. The two 16-year-olds were charged with murder.

     Police first became interested when they checked out a suspicious, unoccupied vehicle backed up to the tree line….Officers went into the woods and saw two suspects running from the area. The police officers returned to the car. The 16-year-olds walked up to the car and answered the question that set off the bells….

     Mejia was killed behind Wylie East High School where all three teenagers were students, and taken to the wooded area….No motive has been released, but police say the killing was planned.

     A school spokesperson said the incident was not connected to a school-sponsored activity. [Like what? A Murder 101 field experiment?]

Ralph Ellis and Joe Sutton, "'We Are Burying a Body,' Teen Suspect Tells Texas Police," CNN, March 10, 2014 

The Laurel Schlemmer Bath Tub Murder Case

     Laurel Michelle Ludwig married Mark Schlemmer in July 2005. In May 2006, the couple purchased a house in McCandless, Pennsylvania, a suburban community north of Pittsburgh.

     By September 2009, the couple had two sons. The youngest was 18-months-old. His brother was three. Mark Schlemmer was 39 and working as an insurance actuary. Laurel, a former teacher, stayed at home to raise the boys. On September 5, 2009, a patron at the nearby Ross Park Mall noticed a parked Honda Odyssey with an unaccompanied toddler inside. Although the van's windows were cracked, the temperature inside the vehicle had risen to 112 degrees. The passerby called 911.

     When Laurel Schlemmer returned to her van she was met by Ross Township police and EMT personnel who had managed to unlock a door and remove the three-year-old boy. Due to the fact the mother was gone from the car twenty minutes, the boy did not require medical treatment.

     An Allegheny County prosecutor charged the 36-year-old mother with the summary offense of leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. Laurel pleaded guilty to the crime and paid a fine. No one read anything into this incident other than a mother's lapse of due care.

     By 2013, Laurel Schlemmer and her husband had three sons. On April 16 of that year, Laurel, when backing her van out of her parents' driveway in Marshall, Pennsylvania, ran over her two and five-year-old boys. One of the children suffered internal injuries while his brother ended up with broken bones. Both boys survived the incident.

     An investigator with the Northern Regional Police Department conducted an inquiry into the driveway collision and concluded that it had been an accident. Personnel with the Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth, and Families conducted an assessment of the Schlemmer family and found no evidence or history of child abuse.

     The pastor of the North Park Church, Reverend Dan Hendley, counseled Laurel in an effort to help her cope with what everybody assumed had been a nearly tragic mishap. Members of the church were supportive of their fellow parishioner.

     At 8:40 on the morning of Tuesday, April 1, 2014, Laurel Schlemmer put her seven-year-old boy on the school bus and waved him goodbye. She returned to her house and told her three and six-year-old boys to take off their pajamas as she filled the bath tub. The fully dressed mother, once the boys were in the tub, held them under water then climbed into the tub and sat on them.

     Laurel pulled the limp bodies out of the water and laid them out on the bathroom floor. She replaced her wet clothes with dry garments. In an effort to hide the wet pieces of clothing, she bagged them up with two soaked towels and placed the container in the garage.

     At 9:40 that morning, Laurel called 911 and reported that her two sons had drowned in the bath tub. Emergency personnel rushed the Schlemmer children to the UPMC Passavant Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. An hour later, three-year-old Luke Schlemmer died. His six-year-old brother remained in critical condition.

     Questioned by detectives, Laurel said she figured she would become a better mother to her oldest son if his younger siblings weren't around. "Crazy voices" had told her the younger ones would be better off in heaven.

     Later that day, detectives booked the mother into the Allegheny County Jail in downtown Pittsburgh. Mrs. Schlemmer faced charges of homicide, attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and tampering with evidence. The judge denied her bond.

     On April 5, 2014, a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office announced that six-year-old Daniel Schlemmer had died. The boy had been on life support at UPMC's Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

     At a mental competency hearing on April 7, 2014, Dr. Christine Martone, an Allegheny County psychiatrist, testified that Mrs. Schlemmer was psychotic, suicidal, and suffered from depressive disorder. Judge Jeffrey Manning, based upon this testimony, ruled the defendant mentally incompetent to stand trial.

     Judge Manning ordered the defendant committed to the Torrance State Hospital in Derry Township, a mental health facility 45 miles east of Pittsburgh.

     In Pennsylvania, defendants are considered mentally incompetent to stand trial if due to mental illness they are unable to distinguish right from wrong or cannot assist their attorneys in their defense.

     In January 2015, Judge Manning postponed the murder trial indefinitely. He also imposed a gag order that prohibited the prosecutor and defense attorney from discussing the case publicly.

     On May 5, 2016, Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning, after the prosecution and the defense could not agree on a plea arrangement, set the Schlemmer murder trial for June 21, 2016. According to the defendant's attorney, Schlemmer was pursuing a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Judge Manning, on June 21, 2016, heard from psychiatrist Dr. Christine Martone who testified that the defendant was still too mentally disturbed to be tried. The judge ordered the defendant to be forcibly medicated until she became mentally competent to stand trial for the murder of her sons.

     On March 16, 2017, following a bench trial featuring psychiatric testimony on both sides, Allegheny County Judge Manning found Schlemmer guilty of two counts of third-degree murder but mentally ill. The prosecution had argued for first-degree murder but the judge, due to the defendant's mental condition, found that she had acted in "diminished capacity." In Pennsylvania, a guilty but mentally ill sentence simply meant that the convicted person would be given the appropriate mental health medication in prison instead of a mental institution. In Schlemmer's case, she will serve ten to twenty years behind bars.

   

 
   

        

Remarkable Murder Cases

Of the cases presented here (A Companion to Murder), some have been chosen because the people involved in them are strange and remarkable, passionate, revengeful, avaricious, stupid, ambitious, resourceful, pitiable, tragic, even comic, beyond the ordinary. Others have been chosen because the interplay of motive behind the the crime has some special interest; others for the sake of some brilliant stroke of detection. Other cases are to be valued for their particular atmosphere or mood; others because they illustrate some tenet of the law as it applies to the crime of murder; others, again, because they display the forensic skill of a great advocate.

Spenser Shew, A Companion to Murder, 1961

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Truman Capote's True Crime Mistake

Put simply, adherence to the truth in nonfiction makes a story feel right. Perhaps the most famous compromise of that standard is Truman Capote's imagined graveyard scene at the end of In Cold Blood, still considered the benchmark for what he called the "non-fiction novel." A brilliant study of a murdered family and the killers who are eventually hanged, there was no happy ending available to the writer. Capote felt a need to resolve that artificially, blighting his immense achievement in synthesizing research with dramatic storytelling with a dreamy and unconvincing denouement he always regretted.

Mark Mordue, The Australian, January 14, 2006 

The Kim Nguyen Police Brutality Case

     At three in the morning, March 17, 2013, 28-year-old Kim Nguyen and two of her male acquaintances were waiting for their designated driver outside a bar in Los Angeles' Koreatown. Police officers David Shin and Jin Oh, in a marked LAPD patrol car, pulled up to the trio. Following a brief questioning of Nguyen and her friends, the young officers drove off.

     For some reason the officers circled back to Nguyen and her companions. As the patrol car approached the bar's parking lot, Nguyen crossed the street to an all-night coffee shop. At this point the officers decided to arrest the Loyola Marymount University graduate student for public intoxication. (This part of LA must be crime-free.) One of the officers handcuffed Nguyen behind her back and placed her into the back of the patrol vehicle.

     The young woman's friends asked the officers where they were taking Nguyen. The officers drove off without answering that question.

     Video footage from a surveillance camera at an intersection not far from Nguyen's arrest showed her lying on her back in the street with a badly bloodied face. The video did not reveal how Nguyen had exited the patrol vehicle. Because she was not moving, it appeared she was either dead or unconscious.

     A patrol car occupied by another set of officers pulled into surveillance camera view. These officers were followed thirty seconds later by the car containing the arresting cops. Officers Shin and Oh were observed standing over Nguyen's body. Finally one of them crouched down next to her and rolled her onto her side. (Perhaps to take off the handcuffs.) Nguyen had regained consciousness and was writhing in pain. Paramedics arrived at the scene, gathered up Nguyen, and took her to a nearby hospital.

     Nguyen's jaw had been shattered and she suffered bleeding on the brain. She had also lost several teeth. Doctors kept her heavily sedated for several days.

     According to the responding paramedics, the LAPD officers told them that Nguyen had fallen out of the patrol car as it accelerated to 10 miles-per-hour from a stop sign. Surveillance camera footage, however, contradicted this account. Video footage showed the patrol car carrying Nguyen traveling through a stop sign at a much higher speed.

     Since Kim Nguyen had no memory of how she got from the patrol vehicle to the street, and patrol cars are equipped with locks that officers can engage when transporting arrestees, how this woman exited the patrol car remained a mystery. Moreover, it was apparently a mystery that no one at the LAPD was interested in solving.

     In September 2013, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times doing a story about Nguyen's lawsuit against the police department asked a police commander if the department had launched an internal investigation into the matter. Commander Andrew Smith said that he didn't know if such an inquiry had been conducted. According to Commander Smith, now that a lawsuit had been filed against the LAPD an investigation would be conducted for sure.

     In May 2015, the UCLA graduate, with her state civil lawsuit unresolved, filed a suit against the police department in federal court. Her attorney told reporters that the officers involved had sexually assaulted her. Surveillance camera footage revealed that Nguyen's left bra strap was broken and the top of her dress was pulled down to her waist. According to the lawsuit, when she awoke from the trauma days later, she found bruising on the inside of her thighs.

     On February 17, 2016, in a case not directly related to the Kim Nguyen case, Los Angeles police officers James Nichols, 43 and Luis Valenzuela, 40, were charged with sexually assaulting four women in their patrol car,while the officers were on duty. The alleged rapes occurred at various locations between 2008 and 2011. As of March 2017, the officers involved in Nguyen's arrest had not been criminally charged.

     The Los Angeles Police Department, on February 4, 2017, settled Kim Nguyen's lawsuits for $35 million. In a city that is virtually bankrupt, bad police behavior extracts a high cost on taxpayers.

         

Monday, March 20, 2017

Dr. Joseph Bell and The Power of Observation

One of [anatomy professor Dr. Joseph] Bell's favorite tricks [at Edinburgh Medical School circa 1876] was to invite new students to taste an amber liquid in a glass vial. It was, he explained, an extremely potent drug with a vile and bitter taste which they needed to be able to recognize. Since he would not ask students to do anything he would not be willing to do himself, he said that he would be the first. He removed the stopper, immersed a finger into the liquid [his own urine] and then put his hand to his mouth, shuddering as he sucked his finger. The students dutifully followed suit as the vial was passed around, all of them registering disgust. At the end, Bell invariably expressed his disappointment in their poor powers of observation. It was his index finger, he reminded his groaning class, that he had dipped into the noxious brew, but it was his middle finger that he had put into his mouth.

Russell Miller, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008 [Arthur Conan Doyle attended Dr. Bell's class and used the professor as the model for his fictional protagonist, Sherlock Holmes.] 

Erika Murray's Squalid House of Horrors

     In 2001, 17-year-old Erika Murray met a 25-year-old McDonald's employee from Framingham, Massachusetts named Ramon Rivera. They moved into his parents' home where less than a year later she gave birth to their first child. Three years later, when they were expecting their second child, they moved into a home a few blocks from the police department in Blackstone, Massachusetts, a town of 10,000 on the Rhode Island state line 50 miles southwest of Boston. The dwelling was owned by Rivera's sister who resided there as well. At that time Rivera had a job at a Staples office supply store as a sales clerk.

     In 2006, Rivera's sister moved out of the house. A year after that, a social worker with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) visited the house on St. Paul Street following a complaint of filthy living conditions. The DCF employee recommended some household upgrades. Because the children didn't seem in danger, the social worker closed the case.

     After Ramon Rivera made it clear to Erika Murray that he didn't want any more children, Erika, in 2011, gave birth to a girl. Somehow she had managed to keep the birth a secret. To conceal the true identify of the infant, she told Rivera she was babysitting the child for another woman. In April 2014, Murray, in secret, gave birth to the couple's fourth child. She explained away that baby with the same babysitting story. As a result of the secrecy surrounding the births of her last two children, there are no official records of their existence.

     On August 28, 2014, the second oldest child in the house went to a neighbor and asked, "How do you get a baby to stop crying?"

     The neighbor entered the house on St. Paul Street with the 10-year-old boy and was shocked by what she encountered. The crying 5-month-old was covered in feces. Inside the dwelling there were piles of trash one to two feet deep that included used diapers. The neighbor called the police.

      Police officers and DCF personnel found the interior of the Murray/Rivera house infested with flies, various other bugs, and mice. The four children were immediately removed from the dwelling and placed into temporary foster care.

     Officers also found, in the basement of the house, a marijuana plant beneath a grow-light. Officers also came across jars of marijuana buds and bags of cannabis. Officers booked Rivera into the Worcester County Jail on charges of possession and cultivation of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

     On Wednesday night, September 10, 2014, police officers in Hazmat suits armed with a search warrant returned to the 1,500 square foot house. Amid the squalor they found a dead dog and two dead cats. In a closet they discovered the remains of a baby. The following day, searchers recovered the bodies of two more infants.

     On September 10, at his marijuana charges arraignment, the judge released the 37-year-old Rivera from custody on his own recognizance.
 
     The younger children, the two born in secret, had spent their lives inside that house. The 3-year-old had poor muscle tone and couldn't walk. The baby showed signs of having lived entirely in the dark and had maggots in its ears.

     Murray's court-appointed attorney, Keith Halpern, said this to reporters about his client: "She was frozen in this nightmare. She couldn't get out of it." The attorney telegraphed his defense by suggesting that Murray was mentally ill.

     On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Worcester County prosecutor John Bradley announced that at least two of the infants whose remains were found in Murray's house had been alive for some period of time. The children were dressed in onesies and diapers. A third infant was found in a backpack.

     The judge, at Murray's October 14 bail hearing set the 31-year-old mother's bond at $1 million. Earlier, at her arraignment, she had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     Murray's boyfriend and the father of her children, Ramon Rivera III, claimed that he did not know about the dead infants. The authorities did not charge him in connection with the gruesome discoveries inside his house. According to the prosecutor, Murray had instructed her two oldest children to lie to their father about the babies.

     On December 29, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Worcester, Massachusetts indicted Erika Murray on two counts of murder, one count of fetal death concealment related to the remains of the three babies, and two counts of assault and battery in connection with the neglected and abused children. According to prosecutor John Bradley, two of the dead babies had lived from one week to a month.

     In speaking to reporters, the prosecutor said that the defendant had admitted to investigators that knowing that her boyfriend didn't want any more children after the first two, they continued to have unprotected sex. She gave birth to all of the babies in the home's only bathroom, and birthed the children herself. She hid their tiny corpses among the trash in the squalid dwelling.

     At her arraignment hearing, Murray pleaded not guilty to all five of the grand jury charges. Her attorney, Keith Halpern, argued that the prosecution had no physical evidence regarding how long the babies had been alive or how they had died. He said, "The forensic pathologist testified before the grand jury that it was impossible to determine the cause of death of all three dead infants. The evidence of severe harm to the younger children is clear. The issue in this case is Ms. Murray's state of mind. The children were not the only ones that never left that house. She lived in those conditions for years and hardly ever left that house."

     Outside the courthouse, in speaking to reporters, the defense attorney said that his client had laid one of the babies down for a nap, came back an hour or two later and found the infant dead.

     On December 22, 2016, defense attorney Helpern argued at a preliminary hearing that the police search of the defendant's house on September 10, 2014 exceeded the scope of the warrant and was therefore unconstitutional. As a result, according to the attorney, the evidence recovered pursuant to that search was inadmissible

     On March 13, 2017, Judge Janet Kenton-Walker denied the defense motion to suppress the evidence produced by the search in question. That meant that the murder case would proceed to trial. In the meantime, Murray was held, without bond, at the Western Massachusetts Regional Correctional Center in Worcester. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Michael Barbar Murder Case

     On 2009, 51-year-old Michael Barbar, a native of Lebanon, lived with his wife Maysam and their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, in a two-story house in Perris, a Riverside County town of 70,000 in southern California. Michael had a 19-year-old daughter from a former marriage who didn't live with him and Maysam.

     In mid-August 2009, Michael learned that his 43-year-old wife, at the time attending cosmetology school, had not been faithful to him. According to information that had come to his attention, Maysam, over the past six months, had been with three other men. He also learned that the 6-year-old Tamara, the child he had helped raise from birth, had been conceived as a result of Maysam's affair with a man in 2000.

     Some time after receiving this disturbing information, Michael Barbar checked Tamara out of school early one day and took her to a McDonald's where he swabbed the inside of her mouth for a DNA sample. On November 6, 2009, the paternity test revealed that she was not his child.

     On the night of November 13, 2009, after handcuffing Maysom behind her back during sex, he wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and strangled her to death. He then placed her nude body face-down on the master bedroom floor and covered it with a blanket.

     In Tamara's bedroom, Barbar coiled a television cable around her neck as she slept. When the 6-year-old awoke and struggled, he bashed her head against a bedpost twenty times, crushing her skull. In a third bedroom, the 10-year-old sister heard Tamar's cries and the sounds of her violent death. After the murder, she heard her father carrying what sounded like trash bags out of the house. The next morning, Barbar's surviving daughter discovered her sister's body. The door to the master bedroom was locked. She called 911.

     Following the double murder, Michael Barbar drove to nearby Cabazon, California where, at the Morongo Casino, he played the slots. The next morning, he drove east to Deming, New Mexico, a border town 60 miles west of Las Cruces. His plan was to enter Mexico and from there fly to his homeland of Lebanon. On November 15, 2009, the police in Deming interrupted his escape by taking him into custody.

     In early June 2012, Barbar went on trial in a Riverside County Superior Court for the murders of Maysam and Tamara Barbar. Because he was being tried for a double, premeditated murder, the defendant, under California law, was eligible for the death penalty. Barbar's defense attorney, while he didn't deny that his client had committed the homicides, argued that the killings had not been premeditated. According to the defense version of the case, when Michael confronted Maysam with the paternity test results, she had mocked him with a smirk. So enraged by the victim's smirk, Barbar snapped and killed his wife and the 6-year-old who was not his daughter. As a result, this was a crime of involuntary manslaughter. (Sometimes defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves. This is one of those cases.)

     Prosecutor John Aki offered the jury of seven women and five men a wealth of evidence that showed the defendant's preparation and planning for the murders. He had acquired a set of fake identification, rented a car, researched flight schedules between Mexico and Lebanon, and had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account. On July 13, 2012, after only three hours of deliberation, the jury found the 54-year-old defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

     On July 30, the penalty phase of the trial before the same jury got underway. For Michael Barbar, the two possible outcomes involved life without parole, and state imposed death. On August 10, 2012, the jury recommended that Judge Edward Weber sentence Michael Barbar to death.

     Crime scene investigators, on the morning after the murders, had found, among Michael Barbar's possessions, a copy of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood. In that book, the two men who murdered a Kansas farm family in 1959 were hanged. Barbar would not end up dangling at the end of a rope. Because the authorities in California will not execute anyone, Mr. Barbar will avoid the death penalty altogether.
        

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Troy James Knapp: Utah's "Mountain Man Burglar"

     In 1986, when he was 28, Troy James Knapp went to prison in Kalamazoo, Michigan for burglary and related offenses. Knapp pleaded guilty to destroying property in 1994 while living in Salt Lake City. Two years later, police in Seattle arrested him on the charge of stalking and harassment. In 2002, after serving two years in a California prison for burglary, Knapp left the state in violation of his parole.

     In 2007, the wilderness survivalist (he survived on other people's stuff) lived in the mountains of southern Utah. In the summers he stole food and gear from cabins in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties, and moved from one campsite to the next. During the winter months Knapp lived in the cabins he burglarized in the summer. The owners would return to their seasonal dwellings to find bullet holes in the walls and doors. Knapp also left notes with messages like: "Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain." (If everyone had packed up and left, Knapp would have starved.)

     Between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties charged Knapp with 13 felony burglary crimes and 5 misdemeanor offenses. Because of the remoteness of Knapp's break-ins and the fact he kept on the move, he had eluded capture for more than five years.

     In late February 2013, a man hunting with his son in Sanpete County crossed paths with Knapp about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Aware they had conversed with the mountain man burglar, the father notified the authorities.

     A few days after speaking with the hunters 9,000 feet up on a mountain near Ferron Reservoir in the central part of the state, forty police officers and a law enforcement helicopter closed in on the fugitive as he trudged through three feet of snow. After firing fifteen rifle shots at the helicopter, Knapp surrendered to the small army of approaching lawmen.

     When taken into custody, Knapp possessed an assault rifle and a handgun. He was booked into the Sanpete County Jail without bond. An Assistant United States Attorney in Utah charged Knapp with several federal firearms offenses.

     In April 2014, pursuant to an arranged plea bargain, Knapp pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the use of a firearm during a crime of violence. At his sentence hearing on June 9, 2014, federal court judge Ted Stewart handed down the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

     Knapp's attorney, in addressing the court, said, "There's an admiration for somebody who chooses to live off the land, because he does it while the rest of us wouldn't. Even if he needs a little help from some cabin owners."

     Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel had a different take on the case. He told reporters after the federal sentencing that Knapp was nothing more than a "common crook." Knapp had agreed to plead guilty to the burglary charges filed against him in the seven Utah counties. According to those plea deals, he faced fifteen years in each county, the sentences to run together.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Elliot Turner Rich Kid Murder Case

     Emily Longley, at age 9, moved with her family from England to Auckland, New Zealand. By the time she turned 15, Emily, a tall, blonde her friends called "Barbie," had a history of underage drinking and drug use which included Ecstasy. In 2009, Emily's parents sent her back to England where she took up residence with her grandmother in Southbourne.

     In the fall of 2010, Emily started taking business classes at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire. She lived in the southwestern town of Bournemouth where she worked part time at a fashion outlet called Top Shop. She had also signed on with a modeling agency.

     Emily began dating 19-year-old Elliot Vince Turner, a rich kid who worked in his father's jewelry store in Bournemouth. Turner lived in his family's home in Queen's Park, an affluent Bournemouth neighborhood. In April 2011, Elliot became jealous when he came across Facebook photographs of Emily flirting with another man at a bar. After that, the couple started having heated arguments. The fights became so intense, Emily began fearing for her life.

     On May 6, Elliot talked Emily into spending the night with him at his parent's house. That evening, they got into an argument. In the heat of the moment, he called her a whore. At 9:45 the next morning, Anita, Elliot's mother, called 999. (England's 911)

     Upon arriving at the Bournemouth house, paramedics found Emily's lifeless body in Elliot's bed. Questioned by the police, he said he had gotten up for work around 9:15, and when he touched Emily's arm, it was cold. He then notified his parents that something was wrong.

     The police initially thought Emily had overdosed on drugs, but the autopsy revealed otherwise. The forensic pathologist found physical evidence that Emily had been strangled. She had scratches on her arms, and traces of Elliot's blood and tissue were under her fingernails. Investigators learned that 30 minutes had passed between the time Elliot said he had gotten up for work and the 999 call. Detectives believed that during this period, Elliot's parents, Anita and Leigh Turner, had destroyed and removed evidence.

     During the period May 18 to June 14, 2011, through a court sanctioned electronic surveillance of the Turner home, the police listened in on conversations between Elliot and his parents. At one point Elliot said, "I just flipped. I went absolutely nuts...I just lost it. I grabbed her as hard as I could. I pushed her like that." Detectives also seized a computer from the Turner home that revealed Elliot had Googled "death by strangulation," and "how to get out of being charged for murder."

     In July 2011, Elliot and his parents were arrested. Elliot faced a charge of murder and his parents were charged with perverting the course of justice (obstruction of justice). When taken into custody, Elliot said, "I never meant to harm her, I just defended myself." He and his parents pleaded not guilty.

     The three defendants went on trial at the Winchester Crown Court in Bournemouth on April 10, 2012. Crown Court prosecutor Tim Mousley told the jury of eleven men and one woman that Elliot Turner had strangled Emily Longley in a fit of jealous rage, and that his parents had destroyed evidence to cover up the murder. Friends of the defendant testified that Elliot had joked about killing Emily with a hammer, at one point telling one of the witnesses, "I will go to prison for it, and still be a millionaire when I get out." According to one of these witnesses, the defendant had also practiced his strangulation technique on a friend.

     On April 18, 2012, Jasmin Snook, one of Emily's 19-year-old friends, testified that in May 2011 Emily had tried to end the relationship with the defendant. He became "obsessive" and couldn't understand why she was making him look like an idiot. According to Snook, the defendant said he was going to smash Emily's face, and didn't care if he had to serve ten years in prison for the assault.

     The following day, an ambulance technician testified that Elliot's mother Amita, when she called 999, said that a young female was "going blue" and had suffered "cardiac arrest." However, based on signs of post-mortem lividity (a redness of the skin caused by pooled blood in the body), it appeared that the girl had been dead several hours. (There were also signs of rigor mortis.)

     On May 2, 2012, Dr. Huw White, a Home Office forensic pathologist, testified that he had found petechiae hemorrhages in Emily's right eye, and in both of her eyelids. These tiny beads of blood suggested strangulation. The doctor also said the alcohol level in the victim's system was well over the drunk driving limit. According to the witness, Emily had a history of brittle bone disease, asthma, bulimia, and episodes of self-harm. However, none of these maladies had contributed to her death.

     A police officer who had spoken to the defendant on the morning of the 999 call testified that Elliot Turner told him that Emily had gotten upset when he asked her about her self-harming. According to the defendant, when she started kicking and hitting him, he "pushed her on the neck to get her off," and said, "I never meant to harm her. I just defended myself."

     The next day, the Crown presented Darryl Manners, a forensic scientist who said he found mascara marks, make-up, and a pink lipstick stain on a pillowcase taken from Elliot Turner's bedroom. Manners testified that this "face mark" in the pillowcase matched the victim's face and make-up. The expert witness said he had examined the defendant's shirt and found, on its right sleeve, smears similar to samples of foundation taken from the right side of Emily's face.

     Nicholas Oliver, a Crown DNA analyst, found the victim's mucus on the sleeve of the shirt the defendant had been wearing on the night he spent with the victim.

     Prosecutor Mousley played conversations picked up by the electronic surveillance of the Turner family home. In one of the conversations, Leigh Turner, the defendants's 54-year-old father, said, "He strangled her to shut her up, to stop her screaming, making so much noise and then he realized he'd done something terribly wrong, and he should have phoned the ambulance to save her, but he didn't because he was scared....That's what's going on in his mind. He knows he's killed her, not deliberately."

     On May 9, 2012, the defense put on it's case which mostly consisted of Elliot Turner taking the stand on his own behalf. He was asked by his barrister, Anthony Donne, how many times he had told Emily Longley he would kill her. The defendant said 10 to 15 times, but he never really meant it.

     After three days of the defendant's direct testimony, the witness was turned over to prosecutor Mousley for cross-examination. When Mousley asked Turner if he was in any way responsible for Emily Longley's death, he replied, "No, I do not believe so."

     "So the girl you adored died mysteriously?"

     "I don't know. I'm not a psychic."

     "Have you shown any remorse at all for her death? I'm talking about a basic human instinct. What remorse have you shown?"

     "I feel sad," answered the defendant.

     On May 15, 2012, the defense put the defendant's father, Leigh Turner, on the stand. In defending his son, Mr. Turner said, "He does not get angry. He's a gentle clown, a stupid clown." According to the witness, as the ambulance was en route to the house, Elliot told him he had packed a suitcase for Spain. Mr. Turner had said, "Don't be silly, you haven't done anything."

     Following the testimony phase of the Turner trial, Timothy Mousely, in summing up the prosecution's case, said, "We submit the defendant is remorseless, controlling, possessive, and vicious, and that he murdered her."

     In his summation to the jury, Anthony Donne described Elliot Turner as a "loudmouth," and "hot air merchant" who was "all talk, no action." The defense attorney also reminded jurors that the Home Office forensic pathologist, Dr. Huw White, had admitted on cross-examination that it was possible that Emily Longley had died a natural death.

     On May 21,  2012, the jury found Elliot Turner guilty of murder, and his parents guilty of trying to cover it up. A month later, the judge sentenced Turner to sixteen years to life. Turner's parents were each sentenced to 27 months behind bars.

     In May 2013, three appellate judges ruled that Elliott Turner had been convicted on overwhelming evidence in a "fair and proper trial."