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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Richard De Wit Murder Case

     Sarah Groves, a 24-year-old hotel fitness instructor from the English Channel Island of Guernsey, was visiting her boyfriend in India's northwestern region of Kashmir. A former student at the Catholic St. Mary's boarding school in Ascot, she was a friend of Princess Beatrice. The boyfriend, Saeed Shoda, had arranged a room for Groves on his father's houseboat "New Beauty" on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital.

     At two in the morning of April 6, 2013, 43-year-old Richard DeWit, an unemployed Dutch man with a room on the houseboat, broke into Grove's suite and allegedly stabbed her 45 times. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoda was spending the weekend with his friends. Miss Groves had remained with Shoda's parents who told reporters she had been like a daughter to them.

     Leaving everything behind on the "New Beauty" except for his passport and $2,500 inside his underwear, the barefoot, 7-foot-tall DeWit fled the houseboat in a stolen rowboat that capsized before he reached the shore. Once on land DeWit boarded a taxi.

     Shortly after members of the houseboat staff found Sarah Groves dead in a pool of blood, Kashmir police arrested DeWit on the National Highway 50 miles away in the town of Qazgund.

     Later that day, the murder suspect confessed to the police. He admitted having "violent tendencies" and said he had been under the influence of drugs during the 15-minute knife attack. DeWit explained that he had been overtaken by the devil. "The Devil took over my body," he allegedly said.

     DeWit's 31-year-old wife, Uma Rupanya, informed the authorities that DeWit had left her and their two daughters in November 2012. She said he had become "increasingly paranoid and irrational." According to the murder suspect's wife, "He believed the government was out to get him, that spies were following him, that his house was bugged."

      A prosecutor in Srinagar has charged DeWit with first-degree murder. (At seven foot tall, people in India must have seen DeWit as some kind of giant. I wouldn't want to be the police official responsible for organizing a line-up in this case.)

     At some point after his arrest, Richard De Wit took back his confession and pleaded not guilty.

     In February 2015, the De Wit murder trial got underway in Srinagar, India. In October 2015, following 29 trial delays, the defendant fired his attorney and the trial came to a halt.

     Sarah Grove's parents, in the spring of 2015, publicly expressed concerns that the authorities, in going after Mr. De Wit, had targeted the wrong man. They characterized the aborted De Wit trial as a farce, and indicated that they suspected the victim's boyfriend, Saeed Shoda. According to the victim's parents, the police had badly mishandled the murder investigation.

     As of August 2017, the De Wit case, after more than four years and 90 hearings, remained on hold. De Wit, from his jail cell, requested to speak to Grove's parents. According to the suspect, he had knowledge about the murder he wanted to pass on to them. The authorities denied that request.

     Apparently in India, the wheels of justice turn very slowly. 

Dealing With Child Abusers

If we really care about the sufferings of innocent children we would not for one moment consider turning loose the swarms of muggers and child molesters who the system has already caught…As the Marquis of Halifax said, "Whenever a knave is not punished, an honest man is laughed at." Our continued refusal to do the right thing can only be the result of cowardice and a callous indifference. By turning over the entire business to social workers and psychologists, we think we have discharged our responsibility, when all we have actually done is wash our hands.

Thomas Fleming, "Successful Crimes," Chronicle of Culture, March 1986

Books on John F. Kennedy

     Bad books by celebrity authors shouldn't surprise us, even when the subject is an American president. The true mystery in Kennedy's case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seen unable to fix him on the page.

     For some, the trouble has been idolatry. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote three magisterial volumes on Franklin Roosevelt and the new deal, attempted a similar history in A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in The White House. Published in 1965, it has the virtues of immediacy, since Schlesinger, Kennedy's Harvard contemporary, had been on the White House staff, brought in as court historian. He witnessed many of the events he describes. But in his admiration for Kennedy, he became the chief architect of the Camelot myth and so failed, in the end, to give a persuasive account of the actual presidency.

     In 1993, the political journalist Richard Reeves did better. President Kennedy: Profile of Power is a minutely detailed chronicle of the Kennedy White House. As a primer on Kennedy's decision-making, like his handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the book is fascinating. What's missing is a picture of Kennedy's personal life, though Reeves includes a passing mention of Marilyn Monroe being sewn into the $5,000 flesh-colored, skintight dress she wore to celebrate the president's birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962….

     Balancing out, or warring with, the Kennedy claque are the Kennedy haters, like Seymour M. Hersh and Garry Wills. In The Dark Side of Camelot, Hersh wildly posits connections between the Kennedys and the mob, while Wills, through he offers any number of brilliant insights into Kennedy and his circle of courtiers, fixates on the Kennedy brothers' (and father's) sexual escapades in The Kennedy Imprisonment.

     The sum total of this oddly polarized literature is a kind of void. Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians. We have first-rate books on Jefferson on Lincoln, on Wilson, on both Roosevelts. Even unloved presidents have received major books: Johnson (Caro) and Richard Nixon (Wills, among others). Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

Crime Lab Problems

In recent years, the integrity of crime laboratories has been called into question, with some heavily publicized cases highlighting (1) unqualified practitioners, (2) sometimes lax standards that have generated questionable or fraudulent evidence, and (3) the absence of quality control measures to detect questionable evidence. In one notorious case, the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed serious inadequacies in the procedures used by the Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory, including routine failure to run essential scientific controls, to take adequate measures to prevent contamination of samples, to adequately document work performed and results obtained, and to follow correct procedures for computing statistical frequencies. There have been a number of other dismaying reports about crime labs--most recently, the San Francisco drug lab--that suffer from problems like those uncovered in Houston.

Judge Harry T. Edwards in Forensic Testimony (2013) by C. Michael Bowers

Before You Write Have Something to Write About

When young people ask me how to get started writing, I tell them the best way would be go somewhere and do something, experience something, and then write about it. That's how Ernest Hemingway got The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sherlock Holmes in English Literature

Sherlock Holmes remains one of the few household names in English fiction, arguably the most famous character in literature after Hamlet, and one with whom the public has an extraordinarily intimate acquaintance. Everyone knows his catchphrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson!", although few are aware it is nowhere to be found in the stories. His eccentricities--pinning correspondence to the mantelshelf with a jackknife and keeping tobacco in the heel of a Turkish slipper, for example--are common knowledge. He is a valuable asset to the British tourist industry, known to 87 percent of visitors to Britain, and is one of London's major attractions--indeed, Japanese and Russians often cite him as their main reason for visiting the city. Misguided souls still write to him at his Baker Street "consulting rooms," in the hope that his genius may solve their problems, even though--had he ever existed--he would be long since dead.

Russell Miller, The Adventure of Arthur Conan Doyle, 2008

Managing Fear of the Blank Page

All working writers devise their own program for keeping fear at bay. Although writing nerves never vanish, they do become more manageable over time. No magic strategy exists that will turn an anxious novice into a self-assured veteran. Since courage points very so much from writer to writer, there is no one-size fits-all program to recommend. Developing writing courage involves learning about one's working style and how it's best manipulated.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

The Power of the Eye-Catching True Crime Headline

     There is nothing like a good murder story to sell newspapers. And a good story needs an eye-catching headline. The Victorians mastered this art and nowhere was the genre better demonstrated than during the 1870s in the Illustrated Police News. This was a popular, high-circulation newspaper and a forerunner of the modern tabloids.

     The paper reported various types of criminal happenings and bizarre events with arresting headlines and, in an age before press photographs, used graphic artists' illustrations. Headlines contained two essential elements to connect with readers' interests. First was a reference to the nature of the crime and, all importantly, where it had taken place. This was usually preceded by an adjective to stimulate interest and convey a sense of outrage. Thus, in 1873, a "Dreadful Child Murder at Hull" was reported and, in 1876, a "Frightful Wife Murder in Bristol."

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why Do Writers Write?

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was the poet John Ashbery who answered, "Because I want to." Flannery O'Connor answered, "Because I'm good at it," and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I'm not being smart-alecky, it's because I want to and I'm good at it.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Most Writing is Rewriting

It took me six years to finish my novel Legs. I wrote it eight times and seven times it was no good. Six times it was especially no good. The seventh time out it was pretty good, though it was way too long. My son was six years old and so was my novel and they were both the same height. [There is rewriting and there is excessive rewriting. Writing a book eight times is ridiculous.]

William Kennedy in The Writer's Mentor, Ian Jackman, editor, 2004 

Public Executions

     For almost 5,000 years of human history, public executions have been an excuse to party, from the mass stonings of biblical times to the drunken festivities at Tyburn gallows in England all the way to the wine-and blood-soaked mobs at the guillotine, that "National Razor of France"….

     America was of course not exempt. Back in 1693 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, a bargeman convicted of murder was scheduled to be hanged on July 3. The Colonial Records of Pennsylvania matter-of-factly stated, "There were too few people there to make the affair enjoyable."

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997

     

The Walmart Toe-Sucker: It's a Strange World

     Police in North Carolina have arrested a man accused of sucking on a woman's toes at a Walmart store after convincing her that he was a podiatry student. Authorities say Michael Anthony Brown was arrested Thursday night, March 20, 2014 at his home in Concord. He was turned over to Lincolnton police. A Lincoln County magistrate has set his bond at $50,000 on a charge of assault on a female….

     According to police, Brown is a registered sex offender….The victim agreed try on several pairs of shoes at the store in Lincolnton. At some point the man stuck her foot in his mouth. Police say the when the woman became upset, the man offered to pay for her groceries.

"Walmart Toe-Sucking Suspect Arrested," Associated Press, March 21, 2014 

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Stephanie Faye Hamman Attempted Murder Case

     Stephanie Faye Hamman lived with her husband Steven in an apartment in Church Hill, Tennessee. At nine-thirty Sunday night, March 16, 2014, as Steven watched a NASCAR race on television, his 23-year-old wife climbed into her Toyota Celica and drove the car through the front doors of the Providence Church across the street from their apartment.

     From inside the church Stephanie called Steven on her cell phone and informed him she had plowed the Toyota into the building. When Steven walked into the church through the demolished front entrance, he found his wife lying at the foot of the altar. As he checked on the condition of his wife, she rose up and stabbed him in the right side of his chest with a large kitchen knife. "The devil is in me!" she yelled.

     The devil may have been in Stephanie, but the big knife was in Steven. He managed to pull it out of his chest and make his way back across the street to his apartment where he called 911.

     After thrusting the kitchen knife into her husband's chest, Stephanie got back into the damaged Toyota and drove off. Later that night a Church Hill police officer found the car parked in an apartment complex parking lot in nearby Allandale. A relative had driven Stephanie to the emergency room at the Holston Valley Medical Center.

     When taken into custody at the hospital, Stephanie explained to the arresting officer that she had stabbed her husband because she was angry over his "worshiping NASCAR."

     At the Church Hill Police Department, after she had been advised of her Miranda rights, Stephanie became quite talkative. "So God told me," she said, "that He wanted me in their [the church] so I drove my car through the front doors. God told me to do it, so I did it."

      "After I drove through the doors, I put all the things I brought to the church to the altar. I called Steven and told him I had wrecked. I laid down in front of the altar until he got there. The devil told me to take the kitchen knife with me. I prayed I would not have to use it on him, but I did."

     Stephanie told detectives she had been baptized earlier in the day at another church. She also admitted that she smoked a lot of marijuana. "I smoke a bunch of weed," she said. "I love to smoke it. Sometimes when I do, I start seeing things that others don't. Isn't God good? He told me this would happen, and just look, I am okay."

     While Steven Hamman wasn't as okay as his wife physically, doctors expected him to survive his puncture wound.

      A Hawkins County prosecutor charged Stephanie Hamman with attempted first-degree murder and felony vandalism. The judge denied her bail.

     On December 8, 2014, a Hawkins County Grand Jury indicted Hamman on the attempted murder and assault charges. But on December 17, 2014, Judge J. Todd Armstrong, acting on the recommendation of Attorney General Dan Armstrong, dismissed the Hamman case. According to the prosecutor, a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant revealed that, at the time of the assault, she was not mentally competent. In justifying his decision, Armstrong used the term "temporary insanity," a legal defense that in reality does not exist.

   

     

Determining Gender From the Skeletons of the Young

     Determining sex in children can be elusive. Most of the skeletal differences, even in the pelvis, that distinguish the sexes don't fully define until early adulthood, and the differences that do exist in children are often not of the magnitude that permit a confident estimate.

     One of the best indicators of sex in a child is the teeth. In determining gender, the indicator is not in how dissimilar they are but in how alike. It is well known that in general males tend to be a year or two slower than females in their overall body development. But although girls' long bones grow earlier and faster than boys' do, for some reason that same advantage is not as extensive in the development of the teeth. Accordingly, it is possible to estimate the sex of a child's skeleton by comparing the extent of skeletal development with the level of dental maturation. The older the child, the more accurate the technique. However, we usually do not attempt to estimate the sex of immature skeletons because the accuracy reaches only about 80 percent even in older children. In a forensic case, 80 percent is not good enough; we can estimate with 50 percent reliability just by guessing.

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992

The Phantom Education of Illiterate Football Players

     If I had ever turned in a 146-word paper to one of my professors, I can assure you I would not have received an A- even if they were the most brilliant 146 words written in English. But apparently if you're an athlete at the University of North Carolina, those 146 words don't even have to be grammatically correct. Former professor Mary Willingham provided the essay as an example of the sort of "work" that UNC athletes are allowed to get by on at the school, and the image has certainly sparked conversation around the topic.

     It's one thing to know that athletes who attend schools where sports are a priority get special treatment and are often given grades they don't deserve just to keep them on the team. But it's a whole new thing to see a one paragraph essay that makes up a fictional conversation between Rosa Parks and a bus driver and know that the jock who wrote it got a better grade than a lot of students got for their well-reseached 10-page essays. But according to Willingham, who spent 10 years tutoring student athletes before turning whistleblower, this sort of thing happens all the time.

     "I became aware of this 'paper class' system, she told ESPN, "where students would take classes that didn't really exist." Formerly called "Independent studies," these "paper classes" involve no attendance, and in fact only require students to write a paper, at least according to Willingham. And the papers the students produce are far from college quality; in fact, Willingham says, some of the players only have a second grade reading level, which for an adult is functionally illiterate….

     In the ESPN segment, Willingham's allegations are backed up by former UNC athlete Duenta Williams, who added that advisors at the school were mostly interested in ensuring that he remained eligible to play, not in ensuring he got the best education possible. They both also claim that the NCAA turned a blind eye to these practices….[If American high schools didn't graduate illiterates, we'd still have college football, it just wouldn't be as professional. The problem is in our public education system where sports is also more important than academics.]

Emma Cueto, "This 146-Word Essay Earned UNC Athlete An A-, Says Former Professor," Clementinedaily.com, March 28, 2014 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Being a Screenwriter

     Screenwriting is a brutal, ridiculous calling. Sure, if you want to become a lawyer or a doctor, it's hard. It's a ton of work, but it can be done and once you've graduated from med school or law school and passed all of your exams, there are jobs out there….And there are people who need your services.

     But screenwriting is different. There are hardly any openings for gainful employment, and if there are a few jobs, you must compete for them with established Academy Award-nominated writers….

     "Being a writer is hard, being a professional writer is even harder, and being a working Hollywood screenwriter may be the hardest of all.

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011

The Challenge of Print Journalism

     As narrative nonfiction writers we care deeply about sustaining quality journalism in an age that is rather inhospitable to it, for both technological and economic reasons. Television came along in the 1960s and 1970s and replaced print journalism as the quickest, most powerful instrument for the news. On the occasion of cataclysmic events--the crashing of the NASA shuttle, John Kennedy's assassination, the September 11 attacks--people turn to television. It is the prime carrier of news. So we, print journalists, have had to go where television cameras could not. We must answer the questions that the television's images pose. We're lucky: Television news raises more questions than it answers.

     Print journalists have to be better than they used to be. With network television, cable television, the internet, and even video games, it's tougher to compete for people's time. There are more and more sources of information out there, and they demand less and less intellectual energy. People work harder; they have less time. When I started as a journalist, fifty-two years ago, I operated in an age with a single-income middle class. Now it's a two-income middle class. The writer must get better and better, become a better storyteller.

David Halberstam, "The Narrative Idea," in Telling True Stories, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors, 2007

Birthday Cake or Your Teacher's Lap Dance?

     A 42-year-old teacher performed a "full contact" lap dance on a middle school student in front of his Texas classmates….Felicia Smith's performance on the boy celebrating his 15th birthday took place in February 2014.

     The teen told investigators that he sat in the chair next to Smith's desk as she moved back and forth on his crotch and touched him over his body. Near the end of the dance, the student said Smith sank to her knees and put her head between his legs. The incident reportedly happened in front of the other students during class.

     The student admitted that he spanked Smith's buttocks a couple of times….As music played, Smith said, "I love you, baby. Happy Birthday."…

     Police claim that Smith said the students persuaded her to grind on the teen….Smith was removed from teaching in the Aldine Independent School District...

Michael McLaughlin, "Teacher Accused of Giving Student a Birthday Lap Dance," The Huffington Post, April 26, 2014

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Aramazd Andressian Sr.: An Evil, Cold-Blooded Murderer

     In April 2017, Aramazd Andressian and his estranged wife Ana Estevez were in the midst of a extremely contentious divorce and custody battle over their five-year-old son, Aramazd Andressian Jr., affectionately known as Piqui. (Because the journalists covering this story obviously took pains not to divulge the national origin and background of the five-foot, three inch Andressian other than to occasionally make reference to his ties in Iran and Armenia, he, in this regard, remains a mystery.)

     Estevez and the boy resided in South Pasadena, California. (It is not clear in the reporting of this case if the estranged couple resided in the same house. Moreover, there is no information regarding how they had met, how long they had been married, or how Mr. Andressian made a living.)

     Ana Estevez worked at a south Los Angeles elementary school. She had sought full custody of her son and had requested a restraining order against her husband. A family count judge, notwithstanding the father's gambling problem, his prescription drug addiction, and his threats to take to boy to Iran or Armenia, denied the distraught mother's petitions.

     Andressian, pursuant to the intensely bitter domestic dispute, claimed falsely that he was the boy's stay-at-home dad, the child's primary caregiver. (While Estevez worked, her mother cared for the child.) The father also claimed that Estevez practiced the religion of Santeria, once sacrificing a rooster in the boy's presence. According to Andressian, she also spanked Piqui, used profanity in front of him, and threatened to take him to Cuba.

     On April 17, 2017, Andressian, as part of a scheduled visitation, took the boy to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Three days later, the father was found passed out in his 2004 gray BMW. The vehicle was parked in Arroyo Seco Park in South Pasadena. The boy was not in the car. When detectives questioned Andressian at the hospital regarding the whereabouts of the boy, the father said he didn't know where Piqui was. (The boy had not been returned to his mother.) Andressian said he had attempted suicide by drug overdose.

     On April 22, 2017, with the boy still missing, police officers arrested Andressian for the murder of his son. Three days later, the authorities released the suspect due to lack of evidence.

     Since Andressian had been recently seen in Santa Barbara County's Lake Cachuma Park, police, employing dogs and divers, searched the lake and park for the toddler. They came up empty handed.

     In May and June 2017, as the search continued for Piqui, Andressian spent 47 days entertaining himself in Las Vegas. During that period, he attended Britney Spear and Celine Dion concerts, took in a boxing match, went skydiving, gambled, drank, and abused prescription drugs. On June 23, 2017, when Andressian applied for a new passport, the police, fearing that he might flee to Armenia where he had ties, re-arrested him on the murder charge. Andressian had changed his appearance by dying his hair a lighter color.

     On June 26, 2017, the authorities in Las Vegas, at a news conference, announced that Andressian had confessed to murdering his son in cold blood to get back at his estranged wife. It had been his plan, after the trip to Disneyland, to murder his son, bury his body, then commit suicide. He said he wanted to make it appear as though the boy had been murdered by his mother. (Prior to the killing, Andressian told people that Estevez had been following him and that he feared for his life.)

     According to Andressian's confession, he had smothered his son with the boy's own clothing. After sitting in the car with the corpse for eight hours, he buried the remains in a wooded area about fifty feet from a parking lot at Vista Point near the Lake Cachuma recreation area.

     On June 30, 2017, the day Aramazd Andressian was extradited from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, searchers found Piqui's skeletal remains where his father said he had buried him.

     On July 3, 2017, following his not guilty plea in a Los Angeles Superior Courtroom, the judge set the murder suspect's bail at $10 million. The deputy district attorney handling the case told the media that the prosecution would seek the death penalty.

    To avoid the death sentence, Andressian, on August 1, 2017, pleaded guilty to the murder of his son. At the sentencing hearing, the convicted man's attorney told the judge that the killing had not been planned and that his client regretted the act. Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum argued that Andressian showed "absolutely no remorse" for the murder. (While in the Los Angeles County Jail, Andressian had shaved his head bald.)

    The victim's mother, speaking directly to Andressian at the sentencing hearing, said, "I hope you relive the image of murdering my baby every day of your insignificant life. May your dark soul burn in eternal hell." The distraught mother, carrying her son's ashes in an urn, also called her husband a failure as a father, a man, and a human being. Referring to how the murder had affected her, Estevez said, "There is no real pain, just an incomprehensible deadness. Like my son, I, too, have died."

     Judge Cathryn Brougham sentenced Aramazd Andressian to 25 years to life in prison. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Writers as Bit-Part Screen Actors

When directors adopt a recent literary work it has become a tradition to offer the writer of the work a bit part in the movie. This is partly because it's a little joke on the audience, but we suspect it's also because the cameo helps buy off the writer from complaining to the media later about how badly the story was adapted. If you want to see your favorite author on the screen, look quickly, because he or she is more likely to be playing "man in phone booth" than a major character.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type to be a Writer, 2003

Physical Evidence Doesn't Lie

You can lead jurors to the truth but you can't make them believe it. Physical evidence cannot be intimidated. It does not forget. It doesn't get excited at the moment something is happening--like people do. It sits there and waits to be detected, preserved, evaluated, and explained. That is what physical evidence is all about. In the course of a trial, defense and prosecuting attorneys may lie, witnesses my lie, the defendant certainly may lie. Even the judge may lie. Only the evidence never lies.

Herbert Leon MacDonnell, The Evidence Never Lies, 1984

Police Officers Rarely Prosecuted For Shooting People

     Police agencies have developed policies that generally permit officers to use force when they reasonably fear imminent physical harm. The U.S. Supreme Court shaped the federal legal standards that govern the use of force, holding in a 1989 case that the use of force must be evaluated through the "perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

     Since then, the criminal justice system has more often than not sided with police in shooting investigations, with prosecutors and grand jurors reluctant to second-guess their decisions. Many of the cases that don't result in charges involved armed suspects shot during confrontations with police. But even an officer who repeatedly shoots an unarmed person may avoid prosecution in cases where he reasonably believed himself to be under risk of serious bodily injury or death….

"Police Shootings Don't End With Prosecutions," Associated Press, November 26, 2014  

Memoirist Hatched Jobs

Books like Christina Crawford's Mommy, Dearest and Gary Crosby's Going My Own Way, offered sensational, firsthand accounts into the family lives of Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby, proving that even in the film industry's Golden Age, Hollywood idols did not make top-notch parents. Nor most likely do their own children, comfortable performing literary blindsides on their star parents in the pursuit of their own 15 minutes of fame. It's a vicious cycle.

Andrew Breibart and Mark Ebner, Hollywood, Interrupted, 2004 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Edward and Marilyn Bagley Sex Slave Torture Case

     Let's face it, there are people on this earth who shouldn't have been born. They include serial killers, pedophiles, child pornographers, and a small group of perverts who physically torture unwilling victims for sexual pleasure. Whether or not these sexual deviants are born or made is irrelevant. They are among us, and by the time one of them is caught and brought to justice, the harm has been done. When you read about the crimes of moral degenerates like Edward Bagley and his despicable wife Marilyn, you become a bit of a sadist yourself. It's hard not to imagine these people smoldering on electric chairs, or clawing at their necks as they swing from ropes. (Lethal injection is far less satisfying.) In the end, we are frustrated because our criminal justice system is more civilized than the criminals it punishes. We have to live with the fact that these monsters of cruelty never get what's coming to them. In the world of sadistic sex crimes, there is no such thing as justice.

     Edward and Marilyn Bagley, a pair of practicing sexual sadists, lived in a trailer home surrounded by woods near Lebanon, Missouri in the western part of the state. In December 2002, when Ed was 35 and his wife 37, the Bagleys took in a mentally deficient 16-year-old foster home runaway. (The girl was identified by the FBI as FV or Female Victim.) Proudly calling himself "Master Ed," Bagley and his wife promised the girl a better life that featured a career in modeling and dancing. While FV was still a minor, Ed made her model "slave clothes," provided her with marijuana and ecstasy, and repeatedly raped her. Master Ed informed the girl that she was being trained and groomed to be a sex slave. In that regard, he forced her to sign a life-time sex slave contract that she believed was legally binding.

     Between February 2004 and February 2009, Master Ed and his accomplice spouse used a crank telephone to electrocute the girl's private parts, flogged her, sewed-up and pierced parts of her body, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, made her watch as they shot her beloved pets, and threatened to bury her alive in the woods behind the trailer. The pathologically cruel couple even waterboarded FV, and nailed parts of her body to slabs of wood. To mark her as their property, Ed tattooed a barcode on his captive's neck, and tattooed the Chinese symbol of a slave on one of her ankles.

     The Bagleys published FV's torture sessions on live Internet webcasts for the enjoyment of other sexual monsters willing to pay a fee for the thrill of watching a young woman suffer. A sadist in his later twenties from St. Louis named Bradley Cook watched these pornographic obscenities on his computer, downloaded photographs of FV, and forwarded to the Bagleys images of his own sex slave activity. Sixty-year-old Michael Stokes, a California connoisseur of the sadistic arts, traveled to the Bagley torture chamber where he paid for the opportunity to inflict his own brand of pain on the hapless victim. Stokes, at a cost of $1,000, transported the Bagley sex slave to his home on the west coast where he subjected her to a pornographic photo-shoot, and various deviate sexual assaults. The torture session cost Stokes an extra $300.

     Beginning in June 2007, the Bagleys forced their 21-year-old slave to work as a stripper and exotic dancer in several of the region's adult entertainment clubs. Whenever FV failed to be a club's top monthly earner, the Bagleys punished her with extra beatings and acts of sexual depravity.

     FV's seven-year ordeal came to an end in February 2009 when the young woman required emergency medical treatment and hospitalization after the Bagleys' excessive electrical shocking led to cardiac arrest. Shortly after FV's near-death experience, the FBI entered the case.

     In September 2010, a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Missouri indicted the Bagleys for commercial sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking involving aggravated sexual abuse. The first charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison without parole. The second, life without the chance of parole. Several months later, the feds indicted Michael Stokes and Bradley Cook for their roles in the Bagley sex slave conspiracy. The grand jury also returned indictments against 52-year-old Dennis Henry, and James Noel, 47. Both of these degenerates had participated in FV torture sessions.

     Early in 2012, Stokes, Cook, Henry, and Noel pleaded guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. On December 6, 2012, Marilyn Bagley, now 47, pleaded guilty in a Kansas City federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit commercial sex trafficking. In return for her plea, the judge sentenced Marilyn Bagley to a probated sentence.

     On January 15, 2013, Edward Bagley, faced with the realization that Michael Stokely and the other perverts had agreed to testify against him, pleaded guilty to one count of using an interstate facility to entice a minor into illegal sexual conduct.

     A federal judge, on September 10, 2013, sentenced Edward Bagley to twenty years in prison with no chance of parole. The next day, Bradley Cook was sentenced to twenty years behind bars. The judge gave Dennis Henry and James Noel fifteen years each. Michael Stokes got five years in prison.

A Novelist's Identification With His Characters

If it is true that no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials, yet true that all writers, given adequate technique, can stir interest in their special subject matter--since all human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly), so that all we need for our sympathy to be roused is that the writer communicate with power and conviction the similarities in his characters' experience and our own--then it must follow that the first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel. However odd, however wildly unfamiliar the fictional world--odd as hog-farming to a fourth-generation Parisian designer, or Wall Street to an unemployed tuba player--we must be drawn into the characters' world as if we were born to it.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983 

Norman Mailer on Novelists

     One of the cruelest remarks in the language is: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The parallel must be: Those who meet experience, learn to live; those who don't, write.

     The second remark has as much truth as the first--which is to say, some truth. Of course, many a young man has put himself in danger to pick up material for his writing, but as a matter to make one wistful, not one major American athlete, CEO, politician, engineer, trade-union official, surgeon, airline pilot, chess master, call girl, sea captain, teacher, bureaucrat, Mafioso, pimp, recidivist, physicist, rabbi, movie star, clergyman, or priest or nun has also emerged as a major novelist since the Second World War.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003


Stalkers Out on Bail

Most first-time stalking offenses are charged as misdemeanors, and it is not infrequent that perpetrators are released after the arraignment "on their own recognizance"--also known as "personal bond"--without financial bail, that is, the posting of cash or a secured (monetary) bond. In the cases where financial bond is set, often the amounts seem extraordinarily high, yet perpetrators seem able to come up with the money and obtain release. An option in many jurisdictions is that the arrestee is allowed to post just 10 percent of the bond set by the magistrate.

Melita Schaum and Karen Parrish, Stalked, 1995

A Court Psychiatrist's View of the Insanity Defense

     The disorganized psychotic and the clear-thinking psychopath, though at opposite ends of the diagnostic spectrum, are both psychologically incomplete; and both kill for highly personal, insular reasons to which their victims make little contribution....

     Unlike true criminals, such killers make little effort to control their offenses--invariably committed at a time when their minds are beyond such precautions, and in a fashion ensuring their detection and capture. [Not always.] Subsequently they talk freely to arresting officers and almost always make full confessions. Their only remaining shield--and it is an appropriate one--is a plea of insanity. ["Appropriate" defense? Most juries disagree.]

     By contrast, the true criminal favors stealth, denial, alibis, and his right to remain silent. [Not always, particularly if caught red-handed.] He eschews the insanity defense as no defense at all because it requires as a first prerequisite an admission of guilt. [It also requires insanity.] In short, the insanity defense is neither intended for nor desired by the inveterate offender. It exists so that the law can distinguish those whose criminality warrants its most crushing vengeance from those whose relative psychological innocence mandates that society's interests be best served by their diversion into a mental health system. [What mental health system?]

Martin Blinder, M. D., Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

     

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Robert Kosilek: Should a Man Who Murdered His Wife Get a Free Sex Change Operation?

     On the afternoon of Sunday, May 20, 1990, Robert Kosilek hailed a cab from a shopping mall parking lot in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. The taxi driver drove him to a store located a half mile from his home in Mansfield where he lived with his wife Cheryl and their 15-year-old son Timothy. Later that evening, Kosilek called the North Attleborough Police Department to inquire if his wife had been in an automobile accident. She hadn't returned home from work that day and he was worried. The officer he spoke to said, yes, they had found his wife's car. Would he please come to the police station so they could discuss the matter.

     A hour or so before the 41-year-old husband's police call, his wife's body had been discovered in the back seat of her car that was parked in the same shopping mall lot. She had been murdered by someone who had used a length of wire to strangle her.

     At the police station, after being informed of his wife's violent death, Robert Kosilek said Cheryl had left the house that morning for work, and before coming home, had planned to shop at the mall. As for his activities that day, he had stayed home working around the house. The next day, when questioned again, this time as a suspect in his wife's murder, detectives informed Kosilek that they had spoken to his son Timothy who told them that when he (Timothy) called the house that day at five in the afternoon, no one answered the phone. This contradicted the suspect's story that he had been in the house all day. Kosilek asked to be excused from the interrogation room so he could go downstairs to buy cigarettes. From the first floor of the police station, Kosilek called the detective squad and informed the officer that he had terminated the interview and would be hiring an attorney.

     Late that night, Kosilek ran his car into a stop sign in Bedford, Massachusetts. The police officer who responded to the minor accident found Kosilek sitting in the car dressed as a woman.

     On May 24, 1990, police in New Rochelle, New York stopped Kosilek for speeding, then arrested him for driving while intoxicated. At the police department, Kosilek said, "You would be drunk too if the police thought you killed your wife. Look, I had a 15-year-old son and a wife....I murdered my wife. Now I need to call a psychiatrist." The police in New Rochelle called the authorities in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

     In October 1992, Robert Kosilek went on trial for the murder of his wife. The prosecutor played an audio-taped interview the defendant had given to a local TV reporter. According to Kosilek, on the day of the killing, he and his wife had gotten into a violent argument. She threw boiling water into his face which caused him to punch her to the ground. Cheryl got to her feet, grabbed a kitchen knife and chased him into the living room, threatening to kill him. According to this self-serving account of the fight, Kosilek picked up a length of wire from a table. That's the last thing he remembered. To the TV interviewer he said, "Apparently, I did take her life. It was probably self-defense." During the trial the defendant was dressed up like a woman, painted fingernails and all.

     The jury didn't buy the self-defense theory of Cheryl Kosilek's death. They found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder, and in January 1993, the trial judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     Shortly after entering the Massachusetts state prison in Norfolk, Kosilek changed his name to Michelle Kosilek. He was allowed to dress like a female and let his hair grow down to his waist. A prison psychiatrist diagnosed Kosilek with having a gender identification disorder. (He also had a wife killing disorder.) In 2000, Michelle sued the state in federal court for denying him/her a sex change operation, claiming this denial violated his/her Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Two years later, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Kosilek was entitled to be treated for his gender identification disorder, but stopped short of ordering the state to pay for a full sex change operation.

      Although Kosilek didn't get what he wanted from the federal court, the state did provide the prisoner with female hormone therapy, laser hair removal services, and psychotherapy to deal with the disorder.

     In 2005, Kosilek filed a second lawsuit in the same federal court against the Massachusetts Department of Corrections in which he alleged cruel and unusual punishment. In the August 2006 trial, his attorney put several psychiatrists on the stand who testified that for this inmate a sex change was "medically necessary." Kosilek's attorney said, "We ask that gender identification disorder be treated like any other medical condition." (Who said this was a medical condition?) One of the shrinks testified that if the state denied Kosilek this "medical" treatment, the prisoner would kill himself.

     At this absurd trial, Kosilek took the stand and testified that the gender identification condition was equivalent to "biological claustrophobia," and said that the standard treatment for this malady included "surgical correction of the offending genitalia." Holding back tears, the witness said, "The greatest loss is the dying I do inside a little bit every day."(This is a person who can live with killing his wife, but will kill himself if he doesn't get a vagina? Give me a break.)

     The attorney representing the state, in summing up his case before the jury, said, "He's doing life without parole for murder....He was 41 when he killed Cheryl Kosilek. He didn't try to get a sex change operation at that time. Now he's 53 years of age, and he wants the state to pay for that?"

     On September 4, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf, in his 126-page first-of-a-kind decision, held that the state of Massachusetts must pay for Kosilek's $20,000 sex change operation. In justifying his ruling, the judge wrote that the operation was the "only adequate treatment" for the now 57-year-old prisoner, and that "there is no less intrusive means to correct the prolonged violation of Kosilek's Eighth Amendment right to adequate medical care."

     I guess Judge Wolf was not bothered by the fact there are millions of Americans who have not murdered anyone who do not even receive basic medical care, let alone free sex change operations. What need does a man who will spend the rest of his life in prison have for a vagina? If this is the level of health care taxpayers will have to pay for our vast population of men serving life terms behind bars, then it's time to reverse the trend toward fewer executions. Otherwise, if there is cruel and unusual punishment going on, it involves law abiding citizens who pay the bills.

     On September 17, 2012, Judge Wolf ruled that Kosilek was also eligible to have his legal fees--expected to top $500,000-- paid by the government.

     On December 16, 2014, the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned U.S. District Court Mark Wolf's ruling. The federal appeals justices found that denying the sex change did not violate Kosilek's Eight Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Six months later, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Kosilek's appeal of the appellate court's denial.

   

     

Vague Mug Shot Identifications

When you have crime victims look through a computerized mug book of suspects, it's rare that someone makes an identification. You need a "That's-the-guy" moment from the victim to move forward on the case, but what you often get instead are the victims squinting at the screen and saying, of multiple photos, "I dunno. That kinda looks like him."

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014


Legalese

The minute you read something you can't understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.

Will Rogers in The Law is An Ass, Ronald Irving, editor, 2011

Horror Fiction Characters Must Seem Real

     In a horror novel or short story, there is one primary rule: Make your characters as realistic as possible.

     Reality is your bridge into the fantastic. If readers empathize with your characters and truly believe in them as projections of real life, then they will follow them into whatever fantastic situations you provide. You will achieve what Coleridge termed "the willing suspension of disbelief." Your reader will want to believe your story, no matter how improbable it may be in objective reality.

William E. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

The Difference Between The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genres

     What does it mean to say that science fiction tries to make its speculations plausible while fantasy does not? Basically, fantasy writers don't expect you to believe that the things they're describing could actually happen, but only to pretend that they could for the duration of a story. Fantasy readers understand that and willingly play along. Science fiction writers, on the other hand, try to create worlds and futures (and aliens) that really could exist and do the things they describe. Their readers expect that of them, and write critical letters to editors and authors when they find holes in the logic (or the assumptions) that would make a science fiction story impossible…

     Often the same basic story material can be treated as either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how the writer approaches it. For example, the old fable of "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" is fantasy because real geese don't lay golden eggs and the story makes no attempt to convince you they could. It merely asks you to consider what might happen if one did. Isaac Asimov's short story "Pate de Foie Gras" takes this basic idea and turns it into science fiction by postulating a biochemical mechanism so that readers can judge for themselves whether it might actually work…

     Fantasy is fun; but for some readers there's something extra special about a story that not only stretches the imagination, but just might be a real possibility.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Establishing Time of Death

     Throughout the long annals of true crime lore, countless murder convictions and acquittals have come down to this: When did the killer strike? When did the victims breathe their last? In the absence of credible witnesses, the lack of an easy answer has bedeviled our criminal justice system since its inception....

     Murder investigators found themselves desperate for clues as to time of death, and not just for evidence of guilt at trial. Knowing when a victim died could speed the earliest stages of an inquest by ruling out suspects with confirmed alibis and focusing scrutiny on those who did not. The postmortem interval, or time since death, proved even more critical in cases where a corpse turned up decomposed beyond recognition. Even an approximate time of death gave investigators a framework in which to connect the remains to a suspicious disappearance.

     Yet for all its importance, determining the time of death has defied the detective's magnifying glass and the pathologist's scalpel for over 2,000 years. Even today, despite crime labs crammed with high-tech equipment for DNA analysis, toxicology, serology, and the detection of rarefied chemical vapors, we remain nearly as blind as the ancient Greeks with their belief in maggots sprouting fully formed and spontaneous from the flesh of the newly dead. [They did not realize that maggots were fly eggs.]

     Nonetheless, it still startles most people to learn that a prudent medical examiner can rarely, if ever, accurately measure the interval between death and a body's discovery....

     The myth of the medical expert's ability to nail down time of death has endured. No doubt this stems in part from the many pathologists who continue to offer more precision in court than their science can rightfully claim. That they do so is understandable enough, given the relentless pressure [put on them by detectives, prosecutors, and the public].

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001 

Before Writing a Memoir, Read a Good One

     It had occurred to a friend of mine to write a memoir, and so she called asking for help. It should be fun, she said. I set to work creating a list of the memoirs my friend might read, for she hadn't read even so much as a single memoir yet, and I thought reading might be helpful. I sent the list and that was that--the end of the memoir, and of the friendship.

     I don't mean to be insulting when I suggest that memoir writers should read memoirs…The good memoirs aren't just good stories…They are--they must be--works of art…You have to know what art is before you set out to write it. You have to have a dictionary of working terms, a means by which you can deliver up a verdict on your own sentences and their arrangements.

Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth, 2013 

Choose Your Words Carefully

In writing, diction relates to the choice of words and phrasing. In nonfiction, precision and clarity are the goals to aim for. In fiction, the writer's capacity to choose words carefully for their effect as well as their accuracy is a measure of the writer's literary ability. The opposite of careful diction is "top-of-the-head" writing , words put down as fast as they come to mind, without revision for accuracy and effect. It is found most often in hurried popular writing in which communication of content or story dominates the precise and fresh use of words and expressions.

Sol Stein, Sol Stein's Reference Book For Writers, 2010

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Plan to Trap an Alleged Middle School Sex Predator

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension." (Whatever that is.)

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not  have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her anally.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman school. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection. The case is pending. 

The Diversity of Fiction

     Fiction explores how interesting people deal with significant problems at important times in their lives. Stories explore human vulnerabilities and strengths and are usually focused on a character's goals and dilemmas. They inquire into why people act, react, struggle and change as they do. Stories are shaped from techniques that make the narrative lifelike, involved, complicated, and tense…

     There are many types of fiction configured into novels, novellas, and short stories. There are comedies, tragedies, happily-ever-after stories, horror stories, historical re-creations, fantasies, young adult stories, and novels that roller coaster along with pathos, black humor, and grim portrayals of humanity. Some novels track the affairs of the heart; others track a murderer to his hideout or a monster to his lair. Fiction can be of a serious or literary bent or can be as fluffy as marshmallows. Short stories come in all sizes, and novels weigh in at 60,000 words or ramble on to 200,000 words.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines, 2006 

Writing the Legal Thriller

     Perhaps you have made a decision to write a legal thriller because you have been a participant in a dramatic courtroom battle--as a defense attorney whose skill exonerated an innocent client, as the beneficiary of family heirlooms in a hard-fought will contest, or as a juror who second-guessed the tactics of the litigators throughout a protracted trial. Maybe your fascination with this category of crime novels is that you have practiced law on the civil side but have fantasized about delivering the stirring summation in a high-profile murder trial. Or maybe you simply enjoy the prospect of entering this world because you like lawyers.

     Once you have selected this sub-genre as your setting, I think there are critical issues to face before you start pounding out the pages. Whether you are writing a courtroom drama or using a legal eagle as an amateur sleuth, remember that you have chosen to portray a profession--like medicine--that requires an advanced degree and is governed by a lot of rules and procedures. Even if your characters are going to break those rules, you have to know what they are in order to heighten the tension of any ethical dilemma or criminal verdict…

     I prefer to read books written by experienced lawyers or by authors who have studied the practice seriously. They know the language and attitude of the courtroom, they move their characters about it with ease, they sit them at the proper counsel table, they craft their arguments to the judge with appropriate rhetoric, and they know when to make objections. Many other readers who have no reason to be familiar with legal procedure won't care about getting those details right, so you first need to figure out who your target audience might be.

Linda Fairstein in Writing Mysteries, Sue Grafton, editor, 2002 

Ironic Humor in Fiction

     Fiction without irony is like painting without perspective. Irony exposes the incongruities of everyday life--the half-truths, deceptions and self-deceptions that help us all get through the day. Things are never what they seem, and the essence of ironic humor is the lack of fit between life as it is and life as we imagine it should be. We think the world should make sense: It doesn't. We think life should be dignified: It never is. We think life should have a serious purpose…But of course the purpose always turns out to be very silly in the end. Irony is the writer's richest and most inexhaustible humor resource.

     The genre of the campus novel, from Kingsley Amis to Richard Russo, is a perfect example. Higher education is meant to be serious business; universities are meant to be serious places. So it's funny when, in Russo's Straight Man, the chair of the English department hides in the ceiling space over the faculty offices to eavesdrop on a meeting between colleagues…

     Another reason why irony is such a powerful source of humor is that, as Voltaire observed long ago, life is absurd, but we try to make sense of it. This doomed effort creates some of the best comedy….

David Bouchier in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Haily Owens Murder Case

     In February 2014, ten-year-old Haily Owens was a fourth grade student at Westport Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri, a town in the southwestern part of the state. At four-thirty on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 18, 2014, Haily, after visiting a school friend, walked along West Lombart Street on her way home. A few blocks from her house on Page Street, a witness saw a man in his forties with long, stringy gray hair, driving a gold 2008 Ford Ranger pickup truck, pull alongside the unaccompanied child.

     When the five-foot tall, ninety-pound grade schooler ignored the man in the truck, he drove away. But minutes later he returned to the girl. This time the man jumped out of the truck, grabbed the child, forced her into the cab through the driver's side door, and sped off. The witness called 911 and provided the dispatcher with the license plate number to the abductor's truck.

     Through the truck's registration information and the witness' description of the driver, investigators identified the kidnapper as 45-year-old Craig Wood. Forty minutes following Haily Owen's abduction, police officers had Wood's house on East Stanford Street under surveillance.

     At seven-thirty that night, the authorities issued an Amber alert for Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

     Forty-five minutes after the Amber alert, three hours into the police surveillance of the suspect's home, Craig Wood pulled up to the house in the gold 2008 Ford Ranger. Haily Owens was not in the truck. Police seized the vehicle and transported Mr. Wood to the Springfield Police Department. When confronted by detectives, the suspect refused to speak other than to demand an attorney.

     What kind of person would abduct a ten-year-old girl in broad daylight in front of at least one witness? Who is this man? In 1990, Craig Michael Wood pleaded guilty in Springfield to possession of a controlled substance. After he completed a court-ordered drug counseling program, the judge suspended his sentence. In 2001, he was convicted of illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor offense. [I presume he was hunting or fishing without a license.]

     In 1998, the amateur bluegrass musician became a teacher's aide and middle school football coach at the Pleasant View School in Springfield. He also worked as a substitute teacher in the school district. In 2013 he earned a salary of $17,000 a year.

     Wood has no children and has never been married. His parents are wealthy and raise show horses.

     Later on the night of the abduction, police officers executed a search warrant at the suspect's house. Officers worked at the dwelling well into the early morning hours of the next day. During the search they found, in Wood's basement, Haily Owen's body. She had been stuffed into a trash bag and placed into a plastic container.

     The school girl had been shot in the back of the head. Crime scene investigators also noted ligature marks on her wrists that suggest she had been tied up. Wood's basement floor was still damp from bleach used to clean up physical evidence from the murder.

     At the Wood residence police officers found a three-ring binder containing pornographic photographs of young children. From the dwelling, searchers seized cameras, thirty video recordings, a handwritten journal, a spent .22-caliber shell casing, and the hat Haily Owens had been wearing when abducted.

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and armed criminal action, officers booked Craig Wood into the Greene County Jail. At the suspect's arraignment, his public defender's office attorney, Chris Hatley, announced that his client intended to plead not guilty to all charges. At the hearing, assistant prosecutor Todd Myers challenged Wood's use of a public defender, noting that police officers  found evidence of a $1 million trust fund in the suspect's name. "I think he can afford his own attorney," Myers said. The judge denied Craig Wood bail.

     In October 2016, Craig Wood, in order to avoid the death penalty, pleaded guilty to murdering Haily Owens. A Greene County judge, in February 2017, sentenced Wood to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Just Hooking Your Reader is Not Enough

     Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. This is known as a "hook." Nearly all the great writers employ hooks in one form or another….

     Despite popular misconception, though, the hook is more than a marketing tool. At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, narrator, or setting, convey a shocking piece of information. The irony is there is only so much you can do with one line; thus it is a game: the less space you have to work with, the more creative you must become. It is not surprising then that hooks comprise some of the most memorable lines in literature.

     What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter. In other words, the same intensity of thought applied to the opening line should not be confined to the opening line--a common malady--but rather applied to the text in its entirety. This takes endurance, focus and concentration; with this level of intensity, it might take several days to complete even one paragraph.

     Look at your first or last line and think of the agonizing effort you put into it. You knew you were in the spotlight, that it had to be good. How many times did you rewrite that one line? What would the rest of your manuscript be like if you agonized over each line the same way? It would take forever is probably your first thought….

     I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first line (or last) maintained throughout a manuscript.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Writing While Intoxicated

Writers have always used drugs and drink to disinhibit themselves. In the beginning, the intoxicating effects of alcohol and drugs can prove prodigious. But once the tail is wagging the dog, the effects are generally deleterious.

Betsy Lerner in The Writer's Mentor by Ian Jackman, editor, 2004

Serial Killer Belle Gunness

     She was never arrested or charged with a single crime, but Belle Gunness is recognized as one of the deadliest serial killers in criminal history. Born in Norway in 1859 to a family always teetering on the brink of ruin, she immigrated to the United States at age twenty-one, married, and seemed to be content. In 1896, her husband's confectionary business was failing when two disasters struck the family: their oldest child died suddenly and mysteriously, and the sweet shop was destroyed in a fire. Both were insured.

    Two years later, the family's new home burned to the ground and another child died mysteriously. In 1890, Belle's husband died. She collected benefits on all three occasions. Belle moved her children to an Indiana farm, where she continued her murders for money. Her second husband met with a fatal accident, and many of the farm workers who answered Belle's advertisements were never seen again.

     In 1908 the Gunness farmhouse was destroyed by fire. The bodies of Belle's three children and the decapitated corpse of a woman were found in the basement. Within a month, investigators had started digging up the remains of at least sixteen people and possibly twelve more. Most of the females had been buried, but some of the males had been fed to the hogs.

The Monday Murder Club, A Miscellany of Murder, 2011

The "Refreshed" Memory of a Trial Witness

The common doctrine of what is known as "refreshing the memory" in actual practice is notoriously absurd. Witnesses who have made memoranda as to certain facts, or even, in certain cases, of conversations, and who have no independent recollection thereof, are permitted to read them for the purpose of "refreshing" their memories. Having done so, they are then asked if they now have, independently of the paper, any recollection of them. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it would be absolutely impossible for them really to remember anything of the sort. They read the entry, know it is probably accurate, and are morally convinced that the fact is as thereon stated. They answer yes, that their recollection has been refreshed and that they now do remember, and are allowed to testify to the fact as of their own knowledge.

Arthur Train (author and practicing attorney), The Prisoner at the Bar, 1926

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Well's Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.

     

Another Example of Stupidity in Lower Education

     A Missouri mother is furious about how she was treated by school administrators and police officers who had her arrested for trespassing because she failed to sign a guestbook when she came to the elementary school to assist her special needs son. The mother, Niakea Williams, received a call from her son's teacher that he was having a medical episode. William's son, Michael, suffers from Asperger's Syndrome.

     Williams rushed over to Walnut Groves Elementary School in St. Louis County, Missouri, to help her son. School officers promptly let her inside….Williams provided assistance to her son, calming him down. Soon after, the principal came to the classroom and informed Williams that she violated school policy by failing to sign the guestbook. Williams replied that she was perfectly willing to sign the book. It was too late, the principal said….

     Police responded to the scene as if there had been a reported unauthorized entry into the school--even though staff had let Williams inside. Officers with the Calverton Park Police Department arrested Williams and took her to the station. The school was on lockdown for 12 minutes, and a letter was sent out to parents explaining what happened….[What happened is this: an idiot has been put in charge of the Walnut Groves Elementary School. Moreover, we now know that officers with the local police department are not very bright either.]

Robby Soave, "Parent Comes to School to Help Son, Principal Calls Cops and She's Arrested," The Daily Caller, March 25, 2014



     

Science Fiction as Realistic Fiction

Years ago Sir Arthur C. Clarke commented that he preferred reading science fiction because it's the only realistic fiction--by which he meant that it's the only one that incorporates the concept that the world is changing and being changed by human activities.

James Gunn, LJworld.com, 2006 

NSA Spying and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment typically require's "a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and public," and it is offended by "general warrants" and laws that allow searches to be conducted "indiscriminately" and without regard to their connections with a crime under investigation. I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate" and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.

U. S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, December 16, 2013 

Serial Killers and Mass Murderers are Different

     In both mass and serial murder cases, victims die as the offender momentarily gains control of his or her life.... But the differences between these two types of offenders outweigh the similarities. First, mass murderers are generally apprehended or killed by the police, commit suicide, or turn themselves in to the authorities. Serial killers, by contrast, usually make special efforts to elude detection. Indeed, they may continue to kill for weeks, months, and often years before they are found and stopped--if they are found at all.....

     People generally perceive the mass killer as one suffering from mental illness. This immediately creates a "they versus us" dichotomy in which "they" are different from "us" because of mental problems. We can somehow accept the fact that a few people go "crazy" sometimes and start shooting others. However, it is more disconcerting to learn that some of the "nicest" people one meets lead Jekyll-and-Hyde lives: a student by day, a killer of coeds by night [Ted Bundy]; a caring, attentive nurse who secretly murders sick children, the handicapped, or the elderly [Donald Harvey]; a building contractor and politician who enjoys sexually torturing and killing young men and burying them under his home [Wayne Gacy]. When we discover that people exist who are not considered to be insane or crazy but who enjoy killing others for "recreation," this indeed gives new meaning to the word "stranger."

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Jesse Dimmick Murder Case

     Jesse Dimmick and another man were suspects in the September 7, 2009 beating death of 25-year-old Michael Curtis, a murder that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The authorities arrested the other man, but Dimmick remained at large. On September 12, 2009, police in Kansas encountered Dimmick driving through the state in a stolen van. Dimmick refused to pull over, and a high-speed chase ensued.

     In Dover, a suburb of Tokeka, Dimmick crashed the stolen vehicle near a house occupied by Jared and Lindsay Rowley. To hide from the police, Dimmick forced his way into the newlywed's home and held them hostage at knife-point.

     To calm the armed intruder, the Rowleys fed him Cheetos and Dr. Pepper as he watched the movie "Patch Adams." The terrified hostages  promised that when Dimmick left the house, they would not call the police. Later that night, when he fell asleep, the Rowleys slipped out of the dwelling.

     A short time after the hostages escaped, the home invader awoke to the sounds of a Topeka SWAT team storming into the dwelling. Officers cornered Dimmick in the bathroom and wrestled him to the floor. In the course of the scuffle, a police sergeant's AR-15 accidentally discharged. The bullet entered Dimmick's back as he lay face-down on the floor. The officer, a 21-year veteran of the force, was placed on a three-day leave of absence for not having the rifle's safety on.

     In May 2010, a jury in a Shawnee County, Kansas court found Dimmick guilty of two counts of kidnapping. The judge sentenced the defendant to eleven years in prison.

     The Rowleys, in October 2011, sued Jesse Dimmick for causing them emotional stress. At the time, Dimmick was incarcerated in the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colorado awaiting his trial in the Michael Curtis murder case. The victims of the home invasion were seeking $75,000 in damages. A month later, Dimmick filed a counter-suit against his former hostages in which he sought $235,000 in damages. Dimmick accused the Rowleys of breaching their oral contract not to notify the authorities. Because he couldn't find a lawyer to take his case, Dimmick represented himself in the action. His damages were based on medical bills related to the police caused gunshot wound and his pain and suffering as a result.

     In January 2012, a Shawnee County judge dismissed Dimmick's counter-suit against the Rowleys. Eight months later, Dimmick was back in court, this time as a plaintiff in a civil action against the Topeka Police Department. Based on his assertion that he had been seriously injured as a result of Sergeant Guy Gardner's negligent handling of the AR-15, Dimmick was asking the city to reimburse him $185,000 for his medical bills, $150,000 for future economic loss, and $100,000 for his pain and suffering. In this civil action, Dimmick had professional legal representation.

     On September 13, 2012, the civil case jury, after deliberating two hours, found that the Topeka SWAT officer had not been negligent or at fault in Dimmick's accidental shooting. The jurors obviously did not want this plaintiff to benefit in any way from his invasion of the Rowley home.

     A Kansas appeals court, in September 2012, upheld Dimmick's kidnapping conviction.

     In May 2013, Dimmick pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Michael Curtis murder case. The Adams County, Colorado judge sentenced him to 37 years in prison.

     The following month, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis dismissed the Rowley lawsuit against Jesse Dimmick on procedural grounds. The Rowleys were free to refile the action. 

Nobody Writes About Good People

Goodness, which we praise so highly in life, is infertile terrain for a writer, whether a novelist or a journalist. [This is particularly true in crime writing. Nobody cares about the victim, all of the interest is directed at the villain.]

Adam Kirsch, 2013 

Stephen King on the Horror Genre

Louis L'Amour, the western writer, and I might both stand at the edge of a small pond in Colorado, and we both might have an idea at exactly the same time. We might both feel the urge to sit down and try to work it out in words. His story might be about water rights in a dry season, my story would more likely be about some dreadful, hulking thing rising out of the still waters to carry off sheep...and horses...and finally people. Louis L'Amour's "obsession" centers on the history of the American west; I write fearsomes. We're both a little bit nuts.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Pollice Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Jury Duty in the George Zimmerman Murder Trial

I want people to know that we [the six-woman jury] put everything...into this verdict. We thought about it for hours and cried over it afterwards. I don't think any of us could ever do anything like that ever again. I have no doubt that George [Zimmerman] feared for his life in the situation he was in at the time. I think both [he and Trayvon Martin] were responsible for the situation they had gotten themselves into. I think they both could have walked away. [When the jury in the Zimmerman trial began their deliberations, three were for acquittal, one for second degree murder, and two for the manslaughter charge.]

Juror B 37, George Zimmerman murder trial, Sanford, Florida 2013 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Boston Strangler Murder Case

     Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1931, Albert Henry DeSalvo grew up in a family defined by his alcoholic father's abuse. Mr. DeSalvo, who had knocked out all of his wife's teeth, forced young Albert and his siblings to watch him engage in sex with prostitutes in their home.

     As a child, Albert tortured animals and stole from local merchants. In 1943, the twelve-year-old was sent to the Lyman School for Boys after being arrested for battery and robbery. Shortly after his release from reform school, DeSalvo stole a car which put him back into the institution. When he turned eighteen, DeSalvo joined the Army. Two years later, he was honorably discharged from the service.

     In June 1962, when Albert DeSalvo was thirty-one, women in Boston began turning up dead in their apartments. Because there were no signs of forced entry at the murder scenes, investigators theorized that the victims either knew the rapist/killer or he had gained entry by posing as a salesman or perhaps as a detective. The serial killer's last known victim, nineteen-year-old Mary Sullivan, had been raped and strangled to death on January 4, 1964. Like all but two of the other twelve murder victims, Mary Sullivan had been strangled with a piece of her own clothing. The unidentified serial killer had stabbed two of his victims to death. All of the murder victims had been raped, and eight out of his thirteen victims were women over the age of fifty-five.

     In October 1964, ten months following Mary Sullivan's murder, a young woman in Cambridge, Massachusetts allowed a man into her apartment who identified himself as a police detective. That man tied the victim to her bed and began raping her. Suddenly, in the middle of the assault, the assailant stopped, said he was sorry, and walked out of the apartment. The victim gave a detailed description of her attacker to detectives who, independent of the ongoing serial murder investigation, were trying to identify the Boston serial rapist.

     The rape victim's description of her assailant led to Albert DeSalvo's arrest. In the course of his confession to a series of rapes, DeSalvo identified himself as the so-called Boston Strangler.

     In 1967, pursuant to a plea bargain negotiated by his attorney F. Lee Bailey, Albert DeSalvo pleaded guilty to the Boston murders. In return for his guilty plea, the 36-year-old avoided the death sentence.

     Not long after being sent to the state prison in Walpole, Massachusetts, DeSalvo took back his murder confessions. In 1973, six years after he had confessed to being the notorious Boston Strangler, one of DeSalvo's fellow inmates at Walpole stabbed him to death.

     Because of the guilty pleas, prosecutors in Boston had not been put to the test of proving the murder cases against Albert DeSalvo. This fact encouraged true crime revisionists to question whether DeSalvo was really the Boston Strangler. Perhaps he was simply a false confessor drawn to the limelight of a celebrated serial murder case. These doubts over DeSalvo's guilt made recent developments pertaining to the old case all the more newsworthy.

     In July 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley announced that forensic scientists, using advanced, cutting edge technology, had linked Albert DeSalvo to the January 4, 1964 rape and murder of Mary Sullivan. The district attorney told reporters that he planned to ask a superior court judge for an order to exhume DeSalvo's remains for further forensic testing.

     Gerard Frank's The Boston Strangler (New American Library, 1966) is considered the definitive book on the Albert DeSalvo serial murder case. The author leaves no doubt in the reader's mind that Albert DeSalvo was in fact the Boston Strangler. 

P. D. James on the Mystery Genre

The mystery's very much the modern morality play. You have an almost ritual killing, you have a murderer who in some sense represents the forces of evil, you have your detective coming in--very likely to avenge the death--who represents justice, retribution. And in the end you restore order out of disorder.

P. D. James, English mystery novelist 

Jack Abbott's Prison Cell

     In the cell, there is a barred window with an ancient, heavy mesh-steel screen. It is level with the ground outside. The existing windowpanes are caked with decades of soil, and the screen prevents cleaning them.

     A sheet of thick plywood, on iron legs bolted to the floor, is my bed. An old-fashioned toilet bowl is in the corner, beside a sink with cold running water. A dim light burns in a dull yellow glow behind the thick iron screening attached to the wall.

     The walls are covered with names and dates--some of the dates go back twenty years. They were scratched into the wall. There are ragged hearts pieced with arrows and crosses everywhere. Everywhere are the words: "mom," "love," "god"--the walls sweat and are clammy and cold.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of the Beast, 1982

God As An Armed White Racist

"God ain't good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us [blacks]. As a matter of fact, I think he's a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men."

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania responding to George's Zimmerman's acquittal. (As reported by Timothy Whiteman, examiner.com September 4, 2013. The school suspended this professor for one semester. In academia this is equivalent to capital punishment. I know our universities are infested with pompous, full-of-crap gasbags, but someone who would say something like this must be also stupid. How did this woman get at job at this prestigious university?)     

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Franciscan Friar Daniel Montgomery Murder Case

     Daniel Montgomery grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a town outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Catholic high school, he studied religion in the midwest, and became a peace activist. In 1994, the 28-year-old joined the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order. An odd, socially awkward man with a volatile temper and a foul mouth, Montgomery didn't get along with his church colleagues and superiors.

     In July 2002, after being bounced from one church to another, the misfit friar ended up in Cleveland at St. Stanislaus located in the city's Slavic Village neighborhood. Montgomery didn't fit in well at St. Stanislaus either. He offended fellow friars, parishioners, and the 68-year-old pastor of the church, William Gulas, affectionately known as "Father Willie." After three students accused Daniel Montgomery of touching them inappropriately, Father Gulas, in late November 2002, informed the troubled friar that he was being transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake, Indiana. (Sounds like a case of passing the trash.)

    At nine in the morning of December 2, 2002, when extinguishing a fire in Father Gulas' rectory office, firefighters stumbled upon his corpse. When questioned that morning by the police, Montgomery said that when the fire broke out, he had been asleep in his second-floor bedroom. A ringing telephone awoke him at which time he smelled smoke, then called 911. After trying to put out the fire, Montgomery fled the church without realizing that Father Gulas was in the burning first-floor office.

     On the day after the St. Stanislaus fire, the Cuyahoga County Coroner announced that the blaze had not killed Pastor Gulas. Someone had shot the priest in the chest, then torched his office.

     On December 8, 2002, detectives brought Friar Montgomery in for further questioning. Following what evolved into a seven-hour interrogation, Montgomery confessed to murdering the St. Stanislaus pastor. The friar had been angry about being transferred to the church in Indiana. He had gone into the pastor's office that morning to ask Father Gulas to vacate the order. According to Montgomery, upon entering the pastor's office, he had said, "I can't [expletive] take it anymore." The angry friar then shot Father Gulas in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver he had purchased the day before from an employee of a neighborhood convenience store. (This person has never been identified.)

     After killing the pastor, Montgomery dropped the revolver (which was never found) and walked down the hall where he acquired the red butane lighter he used to ignite papers on Father Gulas' desk. After setting the fire, Montgomery returned to his room and fell asleep. A call from a parishioner woke him up.

     A Cuyahoga County grand jury, in January 2003, indicted Daniel Montgomery on the charge of aggravated murder. Nine months later the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser homicide charge in order to avoid the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to 24 years to life. He began serving his time at the state prison in Marion, Ohio.

     In the spring of 2011, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named John P. Martin decided to look into Montgomery's case. (Montgomery was now maintaining his innocence.) The journalist's investigation led to a four-part Inquirer series published in July 2011. Pursuant to his claims of innocence, Montgomery, through his new attorney, Barry Wilford, had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in order that the case could go to trial. Attorney Wilford based his argument for reopening the murder case on three principal points: The prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence; interrogators ignored signs that Montgomery was confessing falsely; and his defense attorney, Henry Hilow, did not provide him with the best defense.

     Problems in the prosecution's case against Montgomery included the fact the police never recovered the murder weapon. On the charred floor of Pastor Gulas' office, fire investigators found an open toolbox that once contained $1,600 in bingo proceeds. Father Gulas kept the padlocked box in his office safe. On the morning of the murder, a parishioner who supposedly had financial problems, was seen coming out of the pastor's office. Assuming this is true, could this man have committed the murder? Another mystery in the case involved the fact that Pastor Gulas' cellphone ended up in the hands of a convicted drug dealer.

     On the issue pertaining to the adequacy of Montgomery's defense, attorney Wilford argued that his client had not wanted to plead guilty. To back up this claim, Wilford cited parts of two letters Montgomery had sent to attorney Hilow months before his guilty plea. In a letter dated February 23, 2003 in which Montgomery asked to meet again with the psychiatrist who had examined him shortly after the murder, wrote: "I was in a state of schizophrenia that produced severe delusions in my thinking, causing me to make false statements on December 8, 2002 at the police interrogation. At that time I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that perhaps if I was no longer to be a Franciscan, then I was to be a martyr for a sinner, the killer and arsonist who committed the crime." On July 7, 2003, Montgomery had written: "I am firmly convinced that I must plead my innocence and follow God's law, which is above human law." (I have no idea what that means in the context of this case.)

     At the July 2011 hearing to determine if the Gulas murder case should be reopened, and a trial convened, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Salem Awadallah argued that there was nothing in Montgomery's motion to justify setting aside his guilty plea and going to trial. She pointed out that Montgomery had failed a polygraph test that had been arranged by attorney Wilford. The prosecutor noted that while the Cleveland police interrogation lasted seven hours, no evidence has been presented showing that Montgomery's confession had been coerced. (I presume he was given his Miranda rights. In 2002, detectives in Cleveland did not routinely record their interrogation sessions.)

     Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg, on December 31, 2012, denied Daniel Montgomery's motion for a murder trial. She did not accompany her ruling with a written decision. Whenever an educated, adult defendant confesses and pleads guilty, without strong evidence of a false confession, or equally powerful evidence that someone else has committed the crime, the conviction will stand. In this case, Daniel Montgomery had failed to overcome the presumption of his guilt.

     In April 2013, the judge sentenced Daniel Montgomery to 24 years to life.