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Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she had accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson had committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from the sheriff's office concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose." (If the defendant had been standing six feet from the victim when the gun went off, he couldn't have placed the gun into her mouth.) Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In the witness' 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

     

The Fear of Writing

     Anxiety is not only an inevitable part of the writing process but a necessary part. If you're not scared, you're not writing. A state of anxiety is the writer's natural habitat. Yet those who live there are seldom bold. War-chasing Hemingways are the exception among writers. Most seek adventure only in their imaginations. Like most of us, they're brave here, timid there, trying to muddle through, to sneak enough good words onto paper before a surge of anxiety erases their literary disk. At the same time, they're driven to seek attention and must peddle their wares to the public.

     To love writing, fear writing, and pray for the courage to write is no contradiction....Writing is both frightening and exhilarating. It couldn't be done without the other.

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist

     When John Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" after having shot President Ronald Reagan and two of his aides [in 1981] in full view of the national press corps, public furor brought the controversy concerning the use of psychiatric testimony in criminal trials to a boil.

     Critics [of psychiatrists in the courtroom], most of whom demand that psychiatrists be banished from all criminal trials, possess either a minimal or distorted understanding of just what a forensic psychiatrist does....[The critics] have forgotten that well before a psychiatrist ever entered an American courtroom, our legal system was already greatly concerned not only with what a man did wrong, but why he did it--what was going on in his head at the moment of his offense.

     It is a cornerstone of our system of justice that if a man perceives himself as innocent at the time of his offense, if he had not intended a wrongful outcome, then he is less culpable than someone whose crime was deliberate and committed with malice aforethought. Because of the preeminence of the principle that there are degrees of criminal liability, criminal trials necessarily go beyond the black-and-white issue of whether or not the accused pulled the trigger, and into the murky labyrinth of his intentions and motivations--his state of mind.

Dr. Martin Blinder, Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985

  

A Discussion of the True Crime Genre

Crime fiction spends a great deal of time sorting through the chaos to find some order, a sense of resolution for the often inexplicable madness of murder. Real crimes, however, don't work that way. Evidence is misfiled, suspects evade arrest on technicalities, investigations stretch out for years before an end comes in sight--if at all. True crime is a messier affair….

Sarah Wienman, The Daily Beast, May 2010


What is there to say about true-crime books? They're fun. They can be intellectually compelling, and, like the fictional variety from [crime novelists] Hammett, Cain and that crowd, they're more often than not rooted in the far side of respectability or polite society. Most every writer wants to write one. The trick is to come up with the right crime, the right crook or issue.

Peter Manso, The Huffington Post, July 2011


A number of popular true crime writers today (and yesterday) like to fluff up their narratives with figments from their imaginations, and often sugarcoat the details about a crime for what they think will bring them a wider reading audience. But I don't do that. It's not fair to the memories of the victims, their families, or the cops who worked the cases and brought the killers to justice. I tell it like it is, and I've been told time and time again by victims' families that this is the way they want their loved ones' stories to be told--truthfully, even though it is painful. Seeing things made up, they tell me, is more painful to them because often times the criminals become glamorized in a sense. You won't find glamorized killers in my books.

Gary C. King, All Things Crime, July 2013


True crime writing draws upon the methods of nonfiction and fiction, turns the American dream of picket fences and summer picnics into the American nightmare; solicits a particular kind of reader response, and cautiously toes the line between fact and fiction, and the temptation on part of the author to "create and embellish" for the sake of art. True crime writing can be understood as a style, a form, and a genre of universal appeal forever embedded in our popular culture, however sensational and exploitive it has become. Styles of writing and the themes portrayed are often grisly, morbid, and voyeuristic, thus obscuring the work of serious crime historians attempting to establish important links between economic conditions, social mores, and the day-to-day living conditions of people in a given place and time.

Richard Lindberg, richardlindberg.net, 2002 

Traffic Laws Are For Civilians, Not Cops

The fallout from her traffic stop of a speeding police officer is continuing for Florida Highway Patrol officer Donna Jane Watts as she pursues a federal lawsuit claiming she was harassed because of her actions. Watts says in the lawsuit that after stopping the officer in October 2011, her private driver's license information was accessed more than 200 times by at least 88 law enforcement officers from 25 different agencies. She says she received threatening and prank phone calls and other forms of harassment….The Miami Police Department eventually fired the speeding officer, who was clocked at 120 mph.

Curt Anderson, "Florida Trooper Who Stopped Cop Sues After Harassment," Associated Press, February 11, 2014

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Police Involved Killing of David Hooks

     David Hooks, a respected and successful businessman lived with Teresa, his wife of 25 years, in an upper-middle class neighborhood in East Dublin, Georgia. Hooks' construction company did a lot of work on area military bases such as Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart. This meant that Hooks had passed background investigations conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the ATF.

     On September 22, 2014, a meth-addled burglar named Rodney Garrett, after he broke into Mr. Hooks' pickup truck, stole the family's Lincoln Aviator SUV. The next day, Garrett surrendered to deputies with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office.

     Perhaps to curry favor with the police, Garrett told deputies that in Mr. Hooks' pickup he came across a bag that he opened hoping to find cash. Instead he found 20 grams of methamphetamine and a digital scale. Before searching Mr. Hooks' house, officers knew they would need more than the word of a meth-addicted burglar and car thief to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. In an effort to bolster this  unreliable evidence, a deputy sheriff told the issuing magistrate that in 2009 another snitch said he had supplied Mr. Hooks with meth and that the businessman had resold it.

     The local magistrate, based on the word of a meth-using thief in trouble with the law and the six-year-old word of another snitch in another case that had gone nowhere, issued a warrant to search the Hooks residence for methamphetamine. By no stretch of the imagination was this warrant based upon sufficient probable cause.

     To execute the Hooks drug warrant, the sheriff, in typical drug enforcement overkill, deployed eight members of a SRT (Special Response Team) to raid the target dwelling with officers armed with assault weapons and dressed in SWAT-like combat boots, helmets, and flack-jackets.

     At eleven in the morning of September 24, 2014, just two days after Rodney Garrett broke into the Hooks pickup truck and stole their SUV, Teresa Hooks, while on the second-floor of her house, heard vehicles coming up the driveway. She looked out the window and saw several masked men with rifles advancing on the residence.

     Teresa Hooks ran downstairs into a first-floor bedroom where her husband was sleeping. She shook him up and screamed, "the burglars are back!" Mr. Hooks jumped out of bed, grabbed his shotgun and walked out of the bedroom as members of the raiding party broke down the back door and stormed into the house. In the course of the home intrusion, officers fired eighteen shots. Mr. Hooks did not discharge his weapon. At some point in the drug raid he was shot twice and died on the spot.

     According to the official police version of the fatal shooting of a man in his own home, Mr. Hooks came to the door armed with a shotgun. Officers broke into the dwelling after knocking and announcing their presence. When Mr. Hooks refused to lower his weapon, the officers had no choice but to shoot him dead. That was the story.

     A 44-hour search of the Hooks residence by deputy sheriffs and officers with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation failed to produce drugs or any other evidence of crime.

     On October 2, 2014, the Hooks family attorney, Mitch Shook, told reporters that the police had forced their way into the house without knocking or announcing themselves to execute a search warrant based upon bogus informant information. The attorney said Mr. David Hooks had been a respected businessman who had never used or sold drugs. The police, according to Mr. Shook, had no business raiding this house and killing this decent man.

     Attorney Shook, on December 11, 2014, made a startling announcement: When the police shot Mr. Hooks in the back and in the back of the head, he was lying face-down on the floor. Mr. Shook said he has asked the FBI to launch an investigation into the case.

     In July 2015, a Laurens County grand jury declined to indict anyone in the David Hooks killing. According to a crime lab toxicology report, Mr. Hooks, at the time of his death, had methamphetamine in his system. Mr. Hooks had been deaf in one ear.

     The FBI decided not to launch an investigation into this SWAT related shooting death.  

Criminals Play the Insanity Game

     In the 1957 musical West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim parodied what then was the current thinking about juvenile delinquency in the song, "Gee, Officer Krupke." Delinquents were punks because their fathers were drunks. They were misunderstood rather than no good. They were suffering from a "social disease," and society "had played them a terrible trick." They needed an analyst, not a judge, because it was "just their neurosis" acting up. In short, their criminal behavior was regarded as symptomatic of a deep-seated psychological or sociological problem. Little has changed since then in terms of deeply ingrained beliefs about the causes of crime….

     When a person commits a particularly sordid crime, his sanity may be questioned. Three men pick up two girls who are thumbing a lift. A joyride turns into a nightmare when the teenagers are driven to a desolate mountainous area where they are bound and repeatedly raped. Two of their tormentors dig a hole and tell them to say their prayers. However, the men decide to prolong the torture and take the girls to an apartment where they are brutalize them again. The girls are saved by a suspicious neighbor who calls the police. Eventually, the court considers the rapists to be "mentally disordered sex offenders" and sends them to a psychiatric hospital, where they spend less time than one-third of the time they would have spent in prison.

     Criminals learn to fool the psychiatrists and the courts in order to serve "easy time" in a hospital with the prospect of getting out more quickly than they would from a prison. From other criminals and from their attorneys, even unsophisticated street criminals learn the ploy of insanity. The game is for the criminal to convince others that he is sick, so that he can beat the charge. After he is admitted to the hospital, he plays the psychiatric game of mouthing insights and behaving properly so that he can convince the staff that he is recovering and deserves to be released.

Stanton E. Samenow, "The Basic Myths About Criminals," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

Georges Simenon on Writing a Detective Story

There is nothing easier than to write a detective story. For a start there is at least one corpse, more in American detective stories. Then there is an inspector or a superintendent who conducts the inquiry and who has the right to probe the past and present life of each of the characters. And finally there are the suspects, in varying numbers and different degrees of camouflage as the author decides will best lead to the final denouement.

Georges Simenon, The Man Who Wasn't Margret by Patrick Marnham, 1994 

Self Protection Versus Police Protection

     It is a general misconception that the police exist to protect the public. This is true only in the most generic sense--i.e., once a criminal act is committed, and a suspect caught and convicted. Theoretically, he is locked up so that he cannot prey on other people. The problem is that someone has to be a victim before the criminal can be taken out of society. And many offenders commit dozens of violent acts before they are caught. This doesn't even taken into account the fact that the criminal justice system continually releases the most violent offenders.

     Since police are unable to protect citizens from violent attacks, many individuals feel that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves and their families. [When an intruder is breaking into your house while you are in the dwelling, you can call 911 and hope for the best, or shoot the intruder then call 911 to report the shooting.]

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Talking Parrot Murder Case

     In 2015, Martin "Marty" Duram and his wife Glenna resided in Sand Lake, Michigan, a village of 500 people in the southwestern part of the state. In their mid-forties, the couple had been married 15 years. They each had children from previous marriages.

     According to their children, and people who knew them, the Durams, both quick tempered types, argued a lot over money. They had a so-called love-hate relationship.

     Glenna Duram liked to gamble at local casinos. In 2010, she lost $75,000 to the slot machines. In April 2015, Mr. Duram learned to his shock and dismay that their house was in foreclosure. Glenna Duram, instead of paying their bills, had gambled the money away.

     On the night of May 13, 2015, police and emergency personnel were summoned to the Duram house following a shooting. Officers found the couple in their bedroom lying next to each other. Mr. Duram had been shot five times, once in the head. He lay dead among six shell casings. Mrs. Duram had a superficial head wound and was conscious.

     When asked by the police who shot her and her husband, Glenna Duram said she didn't know. She also became combative when paramedics tried to take her out of the house for medical treatment. She kept yelling, "Why are you doing this to Marty."

     Police officers at the scene found no evidence of forced entry, and nothing had been taken from the house. Mr. Duram was found clutching a clump of hair. Officers also discovered, in the living room, three manila envelopes containing suicide notes signed by Mrs. Duram and addressed to her children. In these notes she apologized for being such a disappointment.

     The dead man's parents, Lilian and Chuck Duram, told the authorities they believed Glenna Duram had murdered their son during a violent argument. At this point the police suspected a failed murder-suicide. When questioned again by the police after she had fully recovered from her head wound, Glenna Duram still claimed to have no memory of the shooting.

     Soon after the murder, Christina Keller, Mr. Duram's ex-wife, took custody of Bud, the former couple's 20-year-old African Gray parrot. In late May 2015, Bud began squawking in voices that sounded like a man and a woman arguing. In the man's voice, Bud said, "Don't f…ing shoot!" Christina Keller video taped the parrot's crime scene re-creation for the police.

     In July 2017, a Newaygo County jury, after deliberating a day and a half, found Glenna Duram guilty of murdering her husband in the first degree. A month later, the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     While Bud the parrot didn't take the stand for the prosecution, Christina Keller testified regarding the bird's repeated remarks that incriminated the defendant. 

Big Time Shoplifting

     A father, mother and daughter from a posh Chicago suburb stole $7 million in merchandise during a decade-long shoplifting spree-traveling to stores nationwide and targeting dolls, toys, cosmetics and other valuables….The three were arrested March 3, 2014 at their $1.3 million Northbrook, Illinois home after returning from a three-day trip through Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, where authorities say they shoplifted from stores. Working in tandem, the family traveled from their Chicago-area residence to hit businesses in many states, including Maryland, Tennessee and Florida….

     Branko Bogdanov, 58, Lela Bogdanov, 52, and their 34-year-old daughter, Julia Bogdanov, are charged with one count each of interstate transportation of stolen property….Lela Bogdanov frequently donned a long black skirt with large compartments sewn on the inside during the alleged shoplifting binges and was caught on surveillance cameras leaving some stores with her skirt looking notably fuller than when she entered….

     An unnamed cooperating witness bought many of the stolen items--which included everything from American Girl dolls and Furby robotic toys to steak knives--at the Bogdanov home, then sold them online through eBay….On their own Bogdanovs directly sold more than $690,000 in stolen merchandise through eBay….

Michael Tarm, "Mom, Dad, Daughter Accused in $7 Millon Shoplift Spree," Associated Press, March 6, 2014 

The Importance of Clarity in Nonfiction Writing

Any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill. What you need for nonfiction writing is what you need for life in general: an orderly method of thinking. Writing is literally only the skill of putting down on paper a clear thought, in clear terms. Everything else, such as drama and "jazziness," is merely the trimmings. I once said that the three most important elements of fiction are plot, plot, and plot. The equivalent in nonfiction is: clarity, clarity, and clarity.

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, 2001 

Is Writing For Children Easier Than Writing For Adults?

Even famous authors of books intended for adult readers have found that their fame does not transfer easily into the children's market. Renown in one area of writing does not necessarily smooth a path into an entirely different genre. And that is precisely what writing for children is: a different and separate writing area, not an easier one. It has its own difficulties and calls on special and specific skills from its practitioners.

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesly Pollinger, Writing for Children and Getting Published, 1996 

Arguing Over What is Right and What is Wrong in American Society

     Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice. Some people favor abortion rights, and other consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people have earned through their efforts. Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits. Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack.

     Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them. Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason.

     But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to the public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight.

     At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes an argument can change our minds.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The No-Body Murder Case

     Many missing persons cases involving young woman turn into homicide investigations when the victims are found dead. However, there are thousands of cases in which the missing women are not found but presumed dead. Many women who disappear without a trace were murdered by killers who did a good job of disposing of the their bodies. It's no secret that if the police don't have a corpse they probably won't be able to arrest anyone for murder. Notwithstanding disappearances that are highly suspicious, it generally comes down to this unpleasant reality: if there's no body, there's no homicide case.

     There are, however, exceptions to this rule. Prosecutors have pressed charges in homicide cases that do not feature a body. In these so-called no-body cases, prosecutors work without an autopsy report, have no time of death based upon postmortem biological changes, or physical evidence establishing the victims' exact causes of death. Moreover, there are no death scene photographs in no-body cases.

     Based on his research of no-body cases, Thomas A. Di Biase believes that in the United States, from 1843 to 2013, 380 homicide cases have gone to trial without the victims' remains. According to Di Biase, a former federal prosecutor, the conviction rate pertaining to these prosecutions is 89 percent.

     In a homicide case, the corpus delecti of the crime--the body or main element of the offense-- consists of proof that an unlawful death has occurred. The best evidence of an unlawful death is the corpse itself.

     So, without a body, can a prosecutor, by law, acquire a homicide conviction? That legal question was settled in a 1960 California appellate case titled, U.S. v. Scott. The state appeals court justices decided that a homicide defendant in a case without a body can lawfully be found guilty if the prosecution presents circumstantial evidence of an unlawful death that excludes other reasonable hypotheses regarding the missing person's fate. The prosecutor must also present sufficient evidence that the defendant was the person who unlawfully killed the missing person.

     Because juries understandably are uncomfortable with no-body homicide cases, prosecutors need strong circumstantial evidence that the missing person is dead, and that the defendant is responsible for that death. In establishing the necessary proof, it helps if detectives have located a probable killing site. Such a place might be a bed soaked in a large quantity of blood. The crime scene might also feature other types of physical evidence that suggests the occurrence of lethal violence. This evidence of course must be linked to the missing person, ideally through DNA analysis.

     It's also better if the prosecutor can place the defendant at the scene of the violence through fingerprints, hair follicles, semen, blood, shoe impressions, handwriting, or fiber evidence.

     The no-body case prosecutor will be helped if the defendant possessed a strong motive to kill the victim such as jealousy, lust, money, or revenge. If the defendant offers an alibi, the prosecution must be able to break that alibi. The presence of physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene will sometimes have that effect.

     Other circumstantial evidence against a homicide defendant in a no-body case might include conflicting statements by the defendant to the police, or a history of violence between the defendant and the missing person. Secretly recorded death threats by the defendant against the victim would also be relevant.

     If the no-body prosecutor doesn't have physical evidence from a probable crime scene to work with, a conviction won't be possible unless the defendant confesses to the police, a friend, or to a jailhouse snitch. The confession of an accomplice that implicates the defendant is good.

     Attorneys representing defendants in no-body cases usually portray the murder evidence as circumstantial, and therefore weak. Defense lawyers often remind jurors that they cannot convict the defendant if they have any reasonable doubt regarding his or her guilt.

     While the conviction rate of no-body cases brought to trial is high, only a small percentage of no-body suspects are charged with criminal homicide. Without a body, there is simply too much reasonable doubt to overcome.
     

Reckless Writing: Crimes Against Language

     In the world of sloppy crime reporting, guns shoot "rounds," indictments are "squashed," homes are "robbed," crime scenes are investigated by "criminologists," and negligent drivers are charged with "wreckless driving." Also, criminal suspects are "allegedly arrested."

     Rifles and handguns shoot bullets, not rounds. The bullet is the projectile, the round is comprised of the bullet (usually lead made from a used car battery) and the cartridge case which contains the gun powder. The round is the whole package. In semi-automatic handguns--pistols--cartridge cases are automatically ejected, and can become crime scene evidence. In revolvers, cartridges remain in the handgun. The term "firearm" generally applies to revolvers and pistols.

     Criminal indictments, "true bills" handed down by grand juries, are quashed. Bugs are squashed. An indictment is an early step in the criminal justice process which merely indicates there is enough evidence to justify moving the case forward to the trial stage. Indicted subjects are still presumed innocent.

     Since the crime of robbery is theft by force or threat of force, a crime against persons--homes and cars cannot be robbed. Homes can be burglarized. Burglary is an unlawful intrusion into a dwelling or occupied structure motivated by the intent to commit a crime--usually theft. It is a crime against property. Cars are broken into for purposes of theft.

     Reporters often use "murder" and "arson" inappropriately. These are legal terms. An intentionally set fire--an incendiary fire--is not an arson until someone is found guilty of unlawfully setting it. A killing or homicide becomes murder after someone is found guilty of unlawfully, and intentionally, taking a life.

     A criminologist is a sociologist interested in criminal subgroups such as juvenile delinquents, prison inmates, or prostitutes. They are usually academics who think about the causes of crime, and invent terminology crime writers consider mealy-mouthed and vague such as "anti-social behavior" which runs from first-degree murder to a burp in church. Criminalistics (an unfortunate term coined in 1947 by Dr. Paul Kirk), refers to a form of forensic science practiced by crime scene investigation experts interested in latent fingerprints, blood stains, bullets, cartridge cases, tire tracks, and other types of physical evidence commonly found at the scenes of crime. Criminalists analyze physical evidence for the purpose of interpreting the crime scene and identifying the people who were there. Criminologists are usually found in the classroom, criminalists are found at crime scenes, in crime labs, and in courtrooms.

     A wreckless driver is a careful one who has not had a wreck. A grossly negligent driver can be charged with reckless driving.

     Criminal suspects who are taken into custody have not been allegedly arrested. The arrests are facts. Until proven guilty, they are the alleged perpetrators of the charges against them.

     Not to sound like a fuddy-duddy (I don't even know if that's a word), it would be nice if journalists who cover the U. S. Supreme Court would quit calling the nine justices the "supremes." It makes me think of the motown singing trio.   

The Effect of Literary Criticism on Writers

I hate orthodox literary criticism, the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-conscouness, and sapping all vision and bravery.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1997 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A Farmer's Revenge

     On July 3, 2012, police in Newport, Vermont, a town of 5,000 ten miles from the Canadian border, arrested Roger Pion for possession of marijuana. The Orleans County prosecutor also charged the 34-year-old farmer with resisting arrest. The next day, Pion posted his $15,000 bail and walked out of jail.

     A month later, on August 2, 1012, Roger Pion drove his parent's 15-ton farm tractor into town. He pulled the massive machine onto the Orleans County Sheriff's Office parking lot, and in monster truck derby fashion, drove over and crushed seven of the county's police cruisers. Deputies sitting at their desks yards away, due to the noise from their office air conditioning units, didn't hear Mr. Pion flattening more than half of the department's patrol car fleet.

     Stunned bystanders looked on as Pion, after driving his tractor on top of the row of police cars, headed out of town. Since farm tractors do not make good get-away-vehicles, an officer with the Newport Police Department, two miles out of town, pulled the car-crusher over. After a scuffle, the city officer took Pion into custody.

     When the monster tractor rolled off the pancaked police cars, it left behind $250,000 in property damage. The Orleans County prosecutor charged Mr. Pion with seven felony counts of unlawful mischief, one count of leaving the scene of an accident (this was no accident), and aggravated assault of a police officer. A magistrate set Pion's bond at $50,000. The Great Vermont Patrol Car Destroyer was housed in the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

     If Roger Pion enrolled in some kind of anger management program, maybe he would at least learn how to take out his anger on the right people. The sheriff's office, the agency whose vehicles he flattened, had nothing to do with his July 3 marijuana bust. He should have been furious with the police department.  

     In October 2014, State's Attorney Alan Franklin and defense attorney Chandler Matson agreed that the police vehicle masher had been insane at the time he pancaked the cars. As a result, the local folk hero was not prosecuted. 

The Entertainment Value of High-Profile Criminal Trials

     A court room isn't quite a theatre, but there's something inherently dramatic about it all the same….Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American's first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of "Crimes of the Century."]

     Last year the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in…the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with "fans" who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial….

"10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials," TheRichList.com, March 13, 2014      

Novelists Should Write For Themselves

My biggest struggle as a novelist is to put my own story on paper--not to be influenced by what I think my editor, my publisher, my friends, or the reader wants to see on the page. I need to get these people out of my writing space and focus on writing my story. If it resonates for me, it will resonate for my readers.

Joan Johnston in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, edited by Andrew McLeer, 2008 

Young Readers Have Different Tastes Than Adults

Children and adolescents have their own distinctive ideas concerning humor, politics, and prose, and their tastes in these matters may strike older readers as sophomoric, gauche, ill-informed, or just dead wrong. Conversely, the young have a way of noticing that good manners can be oppressive, that the past is often irrelevant, and that emperors are sometimes naked. In short, the young are not lesser beings; they're just different.

Thomas M. Disch, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, 1998 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Julie Schenecker Murder Case

     Parker Schenecker, an Army intelligence officer, met Julie Powers, an Army linguist (Russian) in 1987 when they were deployed in Germany. Shortly after they were married in Louisiana in 1991, a psychologist began treating her for depression. Three years later, she gave birth to Calyx, and in 1997, their son Beau.

     Not long after having Beau, Julie began taking anti-depression medication on a daily basis. In 2001, psychiatrists diagnosed her as suffering from bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, and severe depression. According to these physicians, she had a personality disorder as well. (There is no effective way to treat the latter.) During her nine months of treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., she labored under the false belief that a brain tumor was causing her mental illness. Julie held this belief after brain scans proved negative. During this time, Parker Schenecker hired a nanny to take care of the children.

     In 2009, while being treated in south Florida for mental illness, Julie expressed a desire to take her psychiatrist's comb and use his DNA to impregnate herself.

     On November 6, 2010, while residing in an upscale neighborhood in Tampa, Florida, 15-year-old Calyx told a school counselor that her mother had slapped her in the face when they returned from her cross-country practice. The counselor reported the matter to the authorities, and that day, a Tampa police officer, accompanied by a child protection social worker, paid Julie a home visit. Julie admitted hitting Calyx with her open hand during an argument four days earlier. The police officer decided not to make an arrest in the case.

     On January 15, 2011, Colonel Schenecker, while assigned as an intelligence officer with U.S. Central Command in Qatar, wrote a long email to the psychiatrist in Florida treating Julie. The colonel expressed concern about Julie's bellicose relationship with Calyx. It seemed the two of them never stopped fighting.

     Colonel Schenecker wrote: "Julie can no longer control Calyx and Calyx has been disrespectful and verbally abusive toward Julie." Colonel Schenecker also noted that his wife had taken to the bottle. "Drinking starts to affect the kids--they start mentioning it to me." Julie had also, according to the colonel, been driving erratically which had resulted in a traffic accident.

     Julie Schenecker wrote an email addressed to her family on January 27, 2011. The message read: "It's really difficult and I'm so sick mentally. I minimally take care of the kids, sad to say. Beau has also developed Calyx's attitude--makes me cry every evening. Seeing what they've become, I will end this soon. I am at my wits end."

     The day following Julie's email to her family, her mother Nancy called the police to report that she had not been able to reach her daughter. Due to Julie's mental state, Nancy was concerned that something was wrong. In response to the mother's request for a welfare visit, officers were dispatched to the Schenecker house. There, in the garage, they found Beau in Julie's SUV. The boy had been shot twice in the head.

     In Calyx's room, officers discovered the 16-year-old lying on her bed with a fatal bullet wound to the back of her head. Both children had been shot by the .38-caliber revolver found at the scene. The bodies had been covered with blankets. The officers also recovered a journal at the scene in which Julie described her plan to kill her children and herself.

     Police officers found, on the back porch, Julie Schenecker. Wearing a blood-soaked bathrobe, she was asleep and under the influence of prescription pills. She awoke and told the officers why she had shot her children to death. She said she had done this because they had "talked back and were mouthy."

     Officers took Julie into custody at the death scene. At the police station, they continued to question her. Julie said she had shot Beau in the car after they had returned home from his soccer practice. She said she killed Calyx in her room as she did homework on her computer. Julie showed no emotion or remorse as she described killing her children.

     Julie Schenecker informed her interrogators that five days before shooting her children to death, she had driven 27 miles to a small Florida town where she purchased the revolver at a store called Lock N Load. (When buying the weapon, she told the counterman that there had been a rash of burglaries in her neighborhood.)

     After questioning her at the police station, detectives took Julie to a nearby hospital for observation. She told a doctor that she had a "pre-existing" medical condition. Following her discharge from the medical center on January 29, 2011, officers booked the murder suspect into Hillsborough County's Falkenburg Road Jail on two counts of first-degree murder. The judge denied her bond.

     The homicide suspect's attorneys, at her February 16, 2011 arraignment, pleaded her not guilty. The lawyers announced they planned to launch an insanity defense on her behalf. Under Florida law, legal insanity is statutorily defined as a mental disease or defect present at the time of the crime that rendered the defendant incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the criminal act. In other words, the mental illness had destroyed the defendant's ability to distinguish between right and wrong. In Florida, as well as most other states, the so-called "M'Naughten right-wrong test," due to the fact that even seriously mentally ill people are aware of what they are doing when they kill someone, is a difficult defense to prove. Proving that the defendant's actions were driven by the mental illness and nothing else is usually an uphill task. (A defendant must prove legal insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. That means the prosecution does not have the burden of proving the defendant was sane, that is presumed, along with innocence.)

     Colonel Schenecker divorced Julie in May 2011. Following a dispute over the distribution of family assets, he sued her in civil court for the wrongful death of their children. Julie's civil attorneys in the case, countered that the plaintiff was equally responsible for the children's deaths. In support of this argument, they cited the emails the colonel had sent to her psychiatrist less than two weeks before the killings. In these emails he expressed his concern for the well-being of the children.

     The Julie Schenecker double murder trial got underway on April 28, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. Following jury selection and the opening statements from each side, the prosecutor put police officers, detectives, crime scene people, and a forensic pathologist on the stand. On May 5, 2014, crime scene specialist Matthew Evans testified that he had recovered numerous bottles of prescription pills at the murder house that included Lithium and Oxycodone.

     The prosecutor asked crime scene specialist Matthew Evans to read from portions of the journal taken from the house. From this document, Evans read the following to the jury: "The best job I ever had was having/bringing up my babies. This is why I had to bring them with me. It's possible they've inherited my DNA and would live their lives depressed or bipolar! I believe I saved them from the pain. I wouldn't wish this on nobody--ever."

     According to the defendant's journal, she had worried that if she committed suicide, her children would have to live with the stigma associated with their mother's act of self-destruction. "If you're wondering why I decided to take out the kids it was to protect them from embarrassment the rest of their lives."

     The crime scene investigator was followed to the stand by a detective who played an audiotape of the defendant's police station interview. Slurring her words, Schnecker explained in detail how she had shot her children to death and why. She also listed all of the prescription medicine she had been taking.

     The following day, now retired Army Colonel Parker Schenecker, took the stand for the prosecution. The 53-year-old described to the jury the domestic turmoil of living with a mentally disturbed wife. During his testimony, he never referred to her by name, referring to Julie as the "defendant."

     On May 9, 2014, after the prosecution rested its case, The Schenecker defense took center stage. Michelle Frisco, a 43-year-old house cleaner who worked for the defendant, said that Julie had been upset because Beau had become as disrespectful as his older sister. The defendant also told the witness that she drank heavily when her husband was deployed out of the country.

     Dr. Demian Obregon, a University of Southern Florida psychologist, testified that he had treated the defendant for various mental disorders. The medicine she took produced side effects such as "lip-smacking," and "leg-jerking." According to this witness, Julie, in August 2010, had starting expressing suicidal thoughts. In December of that year, she had revealed deep feelings of being both helpless and hopeless.

     Throughout the trial, Julie Schenecker sat passively with her attorneys at the defense table. But that changed suddenly in the middle of Dr. Obergron's testimony. When the psychologist told the jury he had warned her against mixing alcohol with her bipolar medicine, she yelled "Liar! You told me two drinks a day, two Oxys a day!"

     The trial judge responded to the outburst by ordering the jurors out of the courtroom. The judge then issued a strong warning to the defendant. If she engaged in this type of behavior again, there would be serious consequences. Such outbursts would not be tolerated.

     On Monday, May 12, 2014, Dr. Eldra Solomon, another psychologist, took the stand for the defense. Hired by Julie's attorneys to examine and evaluate their client's mental state on the days leading up to the killings, Dr. Solomon testified that Julie, on the day she decided to buy the gun, "had her first clear thought in weeks." And that thought involved killing her children so they could all go to heaven together. "People who are not in a psychotic state," Dr. Solomon said, "do not kill their children."

     Dr. Michael Malher, a medical doctor and psychiatrist, had also been hired by the defense as an expert insanity defense witness. In his expert opinion, Julie Schenecker, at the time of the killings, was insane pursuant to the criteria of the M'Naughten right-wrong test.

     In cross-examining the defense insanity witnesses, the prosecutor, in an effort to undermine their credibility, implied that they were nothing more than insanity defense hired-guns.

     On May 13, 2014, the defense wound-up its case with another expert who found that the defendant, at the time of the killings, was in a psychotic state. The defense also called Colonel Schenecker to the stand. The witness described his ex-wife as a 50-year-old with the judgment of a 10-year-old, and painted a picture of what it was like for him and his family to live with a person who was seriously mentally ill. Following the colonel's testimony, the defense rested its case.

     The prosecutor, on May 14, 2014, in the rebuttal phase of the trial, pressed the argument that the double murder had been motivated by anger. The three rebuttal witnesses on this day were psychiatrists who testified that the defendant had operated under a clear, calculated plan to kill her children. These prosecution experts explained to the jury why the defendant, under Florida's right-wrong test, had not been legally insane. When shooting her children, she had known exactly what she was doing. The defendant was not acting pursuant to any delusions, or instructions from voices in her head. She had been driven by anger, not mental illness.

     On Thursday morning, May 15, 2014, following the closing arguments and the judge's instructions to the jury, the jurors walked out of the courtroom to deliberate the defendant's fate. Just two hours later, at three o'clock, the jury returned to the courtroom with its verdict: guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. This jury had obviously rejected the Schenecker insanity defense.

     In addressing the judge in advance of the sentence, Julie Schnecker tearfully apologized for killing her children. She said, "They are alive and enjoying everything and anything heaven has to offer. Jesus is protecting them and keeping them safe until we get there." Immediately after this irony-laced statement, the judge handed Schenecker the mandated sentence of two life terms without the possibility of parole.

     

The Role of the Forensic Psychologist in Insanity Defense Cases

My forensic workup is a good deal more intensive than that of most other forensic psychologists, but anything less would not satisfy my standard for formulating an opinion "with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty," which is what New York's insanity defense statute calls for. What goes on in the mind of a murderer at the moment of his crime will always remain unknowable. But I believe it is my professional mandate to make the most thorough, informed, and educated judgment I can. [Critics of this branch of psychology would call it an educated guess.]

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

Hillbilly Restroom: A Restaurant Kitchen Sink

     The district manager of a West Virginia Pizza Hut was fired after video of him urinating in a restaurant sink emerged, prompting the location's shut down. Though the incident took place after the store was closed, it's inexplicable, unacceptable and flat out disgusting. On top of that, it's a health code violation….

     In a statement, Pizza Hut was deeply apologetic for the vile actions of the former employee…."We apologize to our customers of Kermit, West Virginia."… Still, the chain insisted that the ex-manager did not tamper with any food….[Did he wash his hands after using the kitchen sink as a toilet?]

Julian Kimble, "West Virginia Pizza Hut Shut Down After Manager is Caught Urinating in Sink," USA Today, February 19, 2014


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Ralph Wald Murder Case

     In March 2013, Ralph Wald, a 69-year-old retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who fought in Vietnam, lived with his wife Johnna Flores in Brandon, Florida. The couple had been married since October 2012. She was 41.

     On Sunday, March 10, 2013, just before midnight, Wald got out of bed for a drink of water. En route to the kitchen he saw Johnna on the living room floor having sex with a man he didn't recognize. Wald immediately returned to his bedroom where he picked up his .38-caliber revolver. Back in the living room a few moments later, he shot his wife's sex partner in the stomach and head. The man died on the spot.

     After shooting 32-year-old Walter Lee Copley, who turned out to be one of Johnna's old flames from Riverview, Florida, Mr. Wald called the police. To the dispatcher he said that he had just shot a man he caught "fornicating" with his wife in their home. After the call, Mr. Wald laid down his gun and waited for the authorities to arrive at the death scene.

     Deputies with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office took Mr. Wald into custody that night. The next day, Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Chris Moody charged Ralph Wald with second-degree murder. A judge denied the murder suspect bail.

      The Wald case went to trial in Tampa, Florida just eleven weeks after Mr. Copley's death. Prosecutor Moody, in his opening remarks, told the jury that the defendant, who suffered from erectile dysfunction, killed the victim in a jealous rage.

     Defense attorney Joe Episcopo argued that his client thought Mr. Copley was an intruder raping his wife. Under Florida's stand your ground self-defense doctrine, the defendant had no duty to retreat from his own home.

     On the second day of the three-day trial, Johnna Flores took the stand for the defense. She testified that when her husband shot Mr. Copley she was "black-out" drunk from too much cognac. As a result, she had virtually no memory of the shooting.

     The defendant followed his wife to the stand. According to Ralph Wald, he and Johnna had planned to see a therapist regarding their sexual problem. "In fact," he said, "she would joke a lot with me that we were a perfect couple. She didn't want to do it, and I couldn't do it." The witness said he hoped to salvage his marriage. "I love my wife," he said.

     Prosecutor Moody, in his closing argument to the jury, said this about Mr. Copley: "It's a personal insult to conduct that kind of activity in a man's home, his castle. It cuts to the quick. It's brazen. That kind of deep and personal insult when you find another man having sex in your living room and you can't have sex yourself. This would make you want to lash out--and the defendant did."

     Defense attorney Episcopo, in addressing the jurors, said, "This was a military man trained to know what to do with the enemy. You take your gun and you kill the enemy."

     On May 30, 2013, the jury, after just two hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty. Ralph Wald embraced his two lawyers as his wife Johnna cried tears of joy.

     Members of Walter Copley's family who were in the courtroom when the verdict was read were not happy with the outcome of the case. 

Undercover Cops Can Lie

Some folks are under the impression that if you ask an undercover cop if he is, in fact, a cop, he is legally obligated to tell the truth. He isn't. I don't know where this notion came from in the first place. Think about it. How would any undercover law enforcement operation function if this were the case?

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014  

How to Deal With a Bad Review

My favorite Kirkus review labeled my writing as "awkward and repetitious." I framed that one.

Charles Knief, mysterylinkonline.com, August 29, 2001 

The Need for Commas

There are two types of writers who underuse commas: the first is the unsophisticated writer who has not developed an ear for sentence rhythm. He is unable to hear fine distinctions, and thinks writing is solely about conveying information. He will need to spend time reading classic writers and train himself to hear the music of language. The second is the sophisticated writer who has an aversion to commas and underuses them on purpose. There are numerous writers who rebel against the overuse of punctuation, and more often than not they find a target in the poor comma. The danger for these writers is the rare problem of overestimating the reader. Unless a reader is accustomed to reading twelfth-century clerical texts, he will want at least some commas, some pauses laid out for him. There is a need for marks--especially commas--to indicate ebbs and flows, pauses and pitch, division of clauses and meaning. The writer who ignores this is the writer who writes for himself, not with the reader in mind. He will not be a commercial writer, or plot oriented, but prose oriented, interested in nuances of style--but to a fault.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006

Bank Robbery: The Lost Romance

Today's bank robbers, are, for the most part, crude amateurs possessing little of the romantic aura of yesteryear's brigands. Today, the fine art of illegally removing capital from a financial institution has often been reduced to the practice of crude thuggery or impulsive strong-arm holdups. This is not to say that old-style desperados were invariably suave or elegant; they were not. However, there was something about the old-time robber that captured the American public's attention and, frequently, admiration. The perception begs the question: "How were the old-times different from today's petty thugs?" [What difference? Many of the old-time bank robbers were worse. Billy The Kid was a vicious cretin, and John Dillinger, a generation later, was a cold-blooded killer. Nothing romantic about that.]

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Robert Van Handel: The Profile Of A Pedophile

     In 1994, Robert Van Handel, a 48-year-old Franciscan priest and former rector at St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara, California, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting an 8-year-old student. He had been accused of molesting fifteen other boys between the ages 8 to 11, but those cases were too old to prosecute. In preparation for his sentencing hearing, the psychiatrist who evaluated Van Handel at the Pacific Treatment Associates in Santa Cruz, asked him to write a history of his sexual life. Van Handel complied, producing a detailed, 27-page memoir of a life devoted to sexually abusing boys.

     Van Handel's revealing description of his perverted thoughts and behavior provided a rare look into the twisted mind and life of a sexual predator. The document didn't come to light until 2006, the year the Franciscans, in a civil court settlement, paid twenty-five clergy abuse victims $28 million in damages. The church, in an attempt to keep Van Handel's revelations from the public, fought several newspaper organizations all the way to the California Supreme Court. The church lost. What follows is Van Handel's account of his life as a priest, teacher, and pedophile.

     In 1956, at age 10, Van Hendel and his family of seven settled in Orange County, California. Three years later, the 13-year-old, to escape his strict, demanding father who forced him to read a sex education manual that scared the hell out of  him, enrolled in the Franciscan run St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara. Two years later, while in the infirmary with a fever, a priest sexually molested him. According to the seminarian pedophile who attacked him, this activity would, by making the sick boy sweat, draw the fever out of him.

     Over the next nine years, while at St Anthony's, Van Handel collected magazines featuring child pornography, and used a telephoto lens to take clandestine photographs of children. While he fantasized about having sex with young boys, Van Handel did not actually molest anyone during this period.

     In 1970, at age 24, Van Handel moved to Berkeley, California to pursue his master's degree at the University of California. While there, he formed a neighborhood boy's choir and molested a 7-year-old choir member. He also, during this period, raped his 5-year-old nephew.

     Robert Van Handel, as an ordained Franciscan priest, returned to St. Anthony's in 1975 where he taught English. He also became the director of the school choir. In his sexual memoir, the priest acknowledged that the school choir provided him with a steady supply of victims. An 11-year-old boy, a student he had been abusing since the child was 7, resisted for the first time after four years of molestation. In his memoir, Van Handel said that he was shocked by the rejection. He wrote, "He started to cry and that snapped something in my head. For the first time, I was seeing signs that he really did not like this." In another passage, the priest wrote: "There is something about me that is happier when accompanied by a small boy. Perhaps besides the sexual element, the child in me wants a playmate."

     Van Handel's relationships with his students and choir boys exemplified typical pedophile behavior. The priest rubbed their backs, photographed them tied-up in ropes, wrestled with them, and invented tickling games. (The Penn State pedophile, coach Jerry Sandusky, called himself the "tickle monster.") In his memoir of perversion, Van Handel, noted that the fact the boys couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted, turned him on. He wrote, "It was though I could do anything with them that I wanted."

     In 1983, Robert Van Handel became rector of St. Anthony's. As head of this enclave of pedophilia, he was asked to investigate another priest who had been accused of molesting two boys who were brothers. As it turned out, Van Handel had also sexually assaulted these students.

     Van Handel's tenure at St. Anthony's came to an end in 1992 when the parents of one of his victims wrote a letter to the head of the Franciscan order. Within months of this letter, Van Handel was removed from the ministry.

     After the defrocked pedophile's guilty plea in 1994, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.  (Eight years? This serial sex offender should have been sentenced to life without parole.)

Framing Your Estranged Husband

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

Successful Literary Journalism

To produce successful literary journalism or creative nonfiction, the writer must achieve two goals: journalistic credibility and artistic merit.

Mark Masse, Writer's Digest, March 2002 

How Societies Deal with Crime

     For thousands of years, human societies have sought to reduce the frequency and severity of such harms as murder, robbery, and rape. Various techniques for dealing with such crimes have evolved over time. Broadly defined, these techniques have had much in common across societies and over time. They may be outlined in the following familiar terms.

     The first technique is to ensure that the potential criminal understands that he has far more to lose than to gain from committing the crime. This serves to disincentivize the act or deter the actor, by sending a clear and unequivocal message: not only will you not benefit from the act, but if you are caught doing it you will be severely disadvantaged. A useful example of this mechanism is the treble or punitive damage remedy, which disgorges all gains from the person who secured them improperly and imposes a punitive fine.

     The second technique is to incapacitate those who would carry out the actions by imprisoning them, killing them, keeping them away from places they wish to target, or otherwise making it impossible for them to be in a position to undertake the undesirable actions. A useful metaphor for incapacitation is the zoo, where wild animals are kept behind bars. We are not seeking the change the animal's propensities but are simply erecting an impermeable barrier between it and us.

     A third technique is to persuade the actor not to undertake the action, by rehabilitating, reeducating, or shaming him, convincing him that the action is wrong. A good example of this mechanism is requiring drunken drivers to attend classes or enter programs designed to influence behavior.

Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Writers Dealing With Rejection

Lee Pennington has been published in more than 300 magazines--and rejected so many thousand times that in one six-month period he papered al four walls of a room with rejection slips. ("I loved getting the 8 by 11 rejections more than the 3 by 5 ones because they covered more space.) He has also filled scrapbooks with rejection slips, used them for coasters, and given rejection parties--invitations written on the back of rejection slips.

[I have received form rejections letters a year after the books in question were published by other publishers.]

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Friday, September 22, 2017

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identify of the hitman.
      

Are Some Novelists Nuts?

Early in his career, John Cheever put on his business suit, then went from his apartment to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear. Victor Hugo's servant took away his clothes for the duration of the author's writing day. James Whitcomb Riley had a friend lock him in a hotel room without clothes so that he couldn't go out for a drink until he had finished writing. [How do you lock someone in a hotel room?] Jessamyn West wrote in bed without getting dressed for what she thought were two compelling reasons: "One, you have on your nightgown or pajamas and can't go running to the door at the knock of strangers. Also, once you're up and dressed, you see ten thousand things that need doing."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

The Cash Goes Into the Armored Truck, Not On It

Nearly $21,000 is missing after a bag of cash fell off the roof of an armored truck that had picked it up from a soon-to-be-closed Atlantic City casino. GardaWorld Armored Car Services picked up the cash at Revel Casino on August 6, 2014…Surveillance video showed the bag holding the cash on the rear driver's side roof as the vehicle left the casino. The bag was still on the roof when the truck pulled away from nearby Resorts Casino Hotel. It is not clear where the bag fell off. [Someone in Atlantic City hit the jackpot.]

"$21 G Falls Off Truck After Pickup From Revel Casino," Associated Press, August 20, 2014 

Plot Ups and Downs

A plot needs arcs. Arcs are the ups and downs, the changes in direction the story takes as events unfold. The most important thing is to keep the reader engaged in the story and the characters. If things don't change, if unexpected events don't occur, the book becomes boring fast.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

The Nanny From Hell

     Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte felt sure they had found the idea nanny. The live-in nanny, whom they hired through Craigslist, immediately seemed to fit in, spending time around them and handling the couple's three kids well. But then the nanny, Diane Stretton, 64, became almost a different person, the couple said…

     She stopped working and holed up in her room, emerging only to eat. She didn't quit on the Bracamontes--in fact, she refused to leave their home. What's more, Stretton has threatened to sue them for wrongful termination and abuse of the elderly….

     Police say they cannot remove Stretton from the Braceamonte's home. The couple will have to go through an eviction process…[That is nonsense. The woman isn't a tenant. She was an employee who was fired. Throw her out, lock the doors, and if she tries to get back in, file a burglary complaint. Only in California.]

     [On July 31, 2014, Stretton voluntarily moved out of the Bracamonte residence.]

"California Couple's Live-In Nanny Stops Working, Refuses to Leave," Fox News, June 27, 2014 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Scottye Miller Stalker Murder Case

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence. It was her first DUI arrest.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     In February 2016, Beall pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. The judge sentenced her to a six month license suspension, ten days of vehicle impoundment, and a year of probation.

     

Handling Criticism of Your Writing

A negative response from your readers--especially when they've taken the time to be conscientious about it--is always a shock. It's like getting kicked in the behind while bending over to pick up a penny. It's not the kick that hurts, it's the humiliation of having bent over for the penny. True, your voice may not quiver when you're thanking them for their honesty. Your hands may be steady when you're opening that letter of advice from the editor you've always admired. [Who admires an editor?] You may even be able to agree with your favorite author when he tells you that he thinks your new book isn't half as interesting as the last one you wrote. But your whole face is on fire, there's a roaring in your ears, and behind your pleasant "uh-huh" stands an infuriated, tic-faced person demanding to know...(1) how you could allow these half-wits near your best work; (2) why you ever thought you could get away with calling yourself a writer; or (3) how you're ever going to write again. In fact, the difference between the writer who's going to add up to something in a few years and the writer who's not may have less to do with the quality of the work than with the way each one handles criticism. [Still, it's the quality of the work that counts. If you're no good, quit.]

Laura Hendrie, "What to Do About Criticism," in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, editors, 2002 

The Con Artist

     Ever since the Snake first talked Eve into tasting the apple, the con artist has been practicing his art; the art of confidence. Confidence is the key, because once you gain people's confidence you can manipulated them. In con artists' parlance, that person becomes a mark--also known as a sucker, dupe, john, green, and rube…ready to be played in a confidence game, big or small. In Genesis, the Snake was practicing what is known as a short con--a confidence game where the con artist only comes into contact with the mark once. A con game that requires the con artist and mark to come into contact more than once is known as the long con.

     In the modern era, traditional distinctions like these are increasingly out of date, because most scams and cons take place without any contact with the mark whatsoever. Email, telemarketing, and even text-messaging are the media though which con artists mainly practice today, but many of the con games they employ are simply variations of themes established long ago.

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Has Climate Change Caused A Rise in Crime?

     On August 1, 2013, in the academic journal Science, three University of California at Berkeley researchers published an article entitled "Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict." The authors, based on their analysis of sixty other studies, conclude that even small increases in temperature causes rises in assaults, rapes, and murders as well as increases in group conflicts and war. The researchers believe this to be true in the United States and around the world.

     The authors' prediction of rising temperatures and rising crime rates assumes a global temperature increase of at least four degrees Fahrenheit over the next fifty years. The authors predict that between now and 2050, the world will experience a 65 percent increase in war and civil unrest. Citing spikes in assaults, domestic violence, rape, and murder in the United States during heat waves, the researchers predict that worldwide the rate of these crimes will jump 16 percent.

     Criminologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists have been arguing for decades over the causes of crime. Overpopulation, broken homes, failing schools, poverty, drugs, hormones, personality disorders, mental illness, depression, childhood abuse, pornography, guns, spiritual decay, and violent video games have been blamed for violent crime in the United States. Social Scientists have not been able to agree on why, since 1995, crime rates in America have generally declined.

     The truth is, no one has figured out why some people commit serious crime and others do not. Social scientists who study criminal behavior agree on just two things: young people commit more crimes than older citizens; and men tend to be more violent than women. When considering why people act the way they do, too many variables makes a unifying theory impossible.

     Now we have three academics--as far as I can tell none of whom is either a criminologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist--who claim that global warming is a key factor in the cause of violent behavior. These researchers are not only linking violent behavior to climate, they are telling us exactly how much crime will go up if the planet gets hotter.

     Over the years social scientists have published a lot of nonsense. This is particularly true when the subject involves the causes of crime. Based upon the reaction of other academic researchers to this new study, I am not alone in my skepticism of this global warming/crime hypothesis. I don't believe the key to understanding human behavior can be found in crime and weather statistics. 

Citizen Solves His Own Hit and Run Case

     When a hit and run driver in Smyrna, Georgia struck Jacob Rogers, a 39-year-old riding his bicycle to work, police told the victim it would be difficult to find the suspect. That's when he decided to conduct his own investigation. He had stopped that morning on July 17, 2014 at an entrance to an apartment complex. What happened next caught him by surprise. "I didn't see anything so I proceeded, and that's when I got hit," he said.

     A female driver of a silver Volkswagen pulled out of the apartment complex and ran into Rogers. "So I'm still on my bike," he said, "and she forced her way through me." The Volkswagen pushed him aside and took off.

     Rogers said that although he wasn't hurt seriously, he suffered pain in the foot that was on the bike pedal struck by vehicle. Part of the pedal broke off, and Rogers couldn't find the piece at the hit and run site.

     The next day, Rogers went back to the apartment complex to look for a silver Volkswagen."The first car that I saw was a silver Volkswagen," he said. I took a picture of the rear license plate and checked the front for damage." In front grill he found the missing piece from his left bike pedal lodged in the vehicle.

     A police officer resident of the apartment complex ran the license plate. Shortly thereafter Smyrna police officers arrested the car's owner. They took 20-year-old Pablynne Silva into custody. A local prosecutor charged her with misdemeanor hit and run, an offense punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

     Pablynne told officers she had driven off after hitting the man on the bike out of fear of getting into trouble with the law.

  

Politician Know Thy Self: Sociopathy and the Quest for the Presidency

     Only a sociopath believes that he or she can lead the free world. A normal person knows better. While some presidents and candidates for the office do a pretty good job of disguising their sociopathy, they all give themselves away. It became obvious that Jimmy Carter thought he was Jesus. Richard Nixon turned out to be paranoid and a crook. George W. Bush had conversations with God. Bill Clinton's bold-face lying and reckless behavior exposed his sociopathy. President Obama's favorite word was"I," and Herman Cain repeatedly referred to himself in third person. John Edwards swooned over his refection in the mirror, and let a aide take the fall in his love-child scandal. Newt Gingrich's ruthless treatment of his first wife and his belief that he knew everything qualified him for the presidency. And Hillary Clinton? Where to begin? As for Donald Trump, what normal person believes that he alone can "drain the swamp" and make America great again?

     It would be refreshing for a presidential candidate to step up to the mike and say, "I am a sociopath. I'm smarter than the people whose money and votes I solicit, and I will lie to get your support. And when I get into office, I'll continue to lie and keep on asking for money and votes in order to keep the job all politically oriented sociopaths covet." This, of course, will never happen because it requires telling the truth to people who don't want to hear it anyway.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jeffrey Jarrett's Last Night Out: Too Bad He Was Dead

     In the 1989 comedy, "Weekend at Bernie's," a couple of low-level insurance agency employees are invited to spend the weekend at a beach house owned by their boss--Bernie. They show up at the summer house and find Bernie dead, and for the next two days, carry on as though he were alive. In one scene, these guys drive around in Bernie's convertible with the dead man propped up in the back seat. When people wave at Bernie, the guy sitting next to him grabs the dead man's arm and waves back. It's that kind of movie, kind of funny in spots, but really stupid because in real life no one would do something like this. That is until a couple of clowns in Glendale, Colorado bar-hopped one night accompanied by a dead man who picked up the tab.

     Jeffrey Jarrett, a 43-year-old real estate agent, had a problem with drugs and alcohol. In the summer of 2011, he called a friend from his days at Colorado State University. Jarrett asked his old buddy to room with him until he got his life straightened out. Shortly after his cry for help, 43-year-old Robert J. Young moved into his friend's house.

     On August 27, 2011, when Young came home from work, he found Jarrett sprawled on the floor, obviously dead. The look of the death scene suggested a drug overdose. (A toxicology report confirmed this. According to the medical examiner, Jarrett had overdosed on Xanax and Subutex--a drug addicted people take to get off opiates). Robert Young, instead of calling 911 phoned a 25-year-old drinking buddy named Mark Rubinson.

     That evening, a Saturday, Young and Rubinson stuffed Jeffrey Jarrett's lifeless body into the backseat of Rubinson's Lincoln Navigator and took off for a night on the town. They started off with drinks at a joint called Teddy T's Bar and Grill. The corpse remained in the SUV as Young and his friend used Jarrett's credit card to pay for their booze. From Teddy T's, the pair visited Sam's No. 3 where they continued to imbibe on the dead man's dime.

     Perhaps realizing that for Jarrett's credit card to work, his body didn't have to be sitting outside in Rubinson's SUV, they decided to take him home. After lugging the corpse back into the house, Young and Rubinson enjoyed a meal, at Jarrett's expense, at an eatery called Viva Burrito. (An appropriate pre-meal toast would have been, "Viva Jarrett's credit card.")

     The party animals finished off the night at a strip club called Shotgun Willie's where Robert Young used the dead man's credit card to withdraw $400 from the ATM. After the joint closed at four in the morning, Young contacted the Glendale Police Department to report his housemate's death.

     The local prosecutor charged Young and Rubinson with abuse of corpse, identify theft, and criminal impersonation. After first denying any wrongdoing, both suspects agreed to plead guilty to all charges.

     On March 6, 2012, a judge sentenced Robert J. Young to two years probation and ordered that he undergo "mental health evaluation and treatment; substance abuse assessment and treatment; and cognitive behavioral therapy." ( "Cognitive behavioral therapy"? I guess that meant that some therapist or shrink would explain to Mr. Young that hauling a corpse from bar to bar while using the dead man's credit card constitutes inappropriate behavior.)  Pursuant to his sentence, if Mr. Young behaved himself for two years, his record of shameless behavior would be expunged. (Wow, they are really tough on crime in Colorado.)

     Mr. Rubinson got off with a couple of years of probation as well. For some reason the judge didn't think he needed any cognitive behavioral therapy. He had just helped Young carry the corpse to and from the car, then drove his two companions, one dead and one alive, around town. The man drove a Lincoln Navigator, yet had to mooch drinks off a dead man.

     Only in America.