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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.

      

The Need for Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014



Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

     ….How did psychiatry come to play a crucial role in criminal trials? Why do defense and prosecution psychiatrists often disagree drastically in their expert opinions? What good, if any, does psychiatry do in our courts? To begin to answer these questions, we must first look at how the insanity defense operates.

     Once the defense lawyer decides with the client to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the attorney calls in one or more psychiatrists to examine the defendant. Even though the psychiatrists may question the accused weeks or months after the act was committed, they are expected to determine exactly what the defendant was thinking during the moments surrounding the crime. Most particularly, did the accused know what he or she was doing was against the law or wrong? If so, was a choice made to commit the crime anyway, or was the behavior beyond the defendant's control? Was he or she driven to it by mental disorder? 

     Psychiatrists have no tests to reconstruct a past state of mind, but they nonetheless offer an opinion, because they are convinced that their "clinical skills" allow them to expertly determine questions of legal sanity. If they decide the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime, the defense lawyer has reason to go forward with an insanity plea. If they decide differently, the defense attorney may decide to start over by hiring another psychiatrist to examine the defendant. A psychiatrist who will reach the desired conclusions can usually be found. Neither judge nor jury learns of the prior psychiatrists, only of those the defense lawyer calls to testify that the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime.

Lee Coleman, "The Insanity Defense," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994 

Kurt Vonnegut's Response to a Critic of Science Fiction

     Peter S. Prescott says in his Newsweek piece on science fiction (December 22, 1975): "Few science fiction writers aim higher than what a teen-age intelligence can grasp, and the smart ones--like Kurt Vonnegut, carefully satirize targets--racism, pollution, teachers--that teen-agers are conditioned to dislike."

     That unsupported allegation about me will now become a part of my dossier at Newsweek. I ask you to put this letter in the same folder, so that more honest reporters than Mr. Prescott may learn the following about me:

     I have never written with teen-agers in mind, nor are teen-agers the chief readers of my books. I am the first science fiction writer to win a Guggenheim, the first to become a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the first to have a novel become a finalist for a National Book Award. I have been on the faculties of the University of Iowa and Harvard, and was most recently a Distinguished Professor of Literature at CCNY.

     Mr. Prescott is entitled to loathe everything I have ever done, which he clearly does. But he should not be a liar. Newsweek should not be a liar.

Kurt Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, 2012 

Charles Bukowski's Fan Mail

I get many of my letters from people in madhouses and jails and some from strange people out of them. What they say, mainly, is that I have given them a reason for going on: "Since you are so screwed-up, Bukowski, and still around, there is a chance for me." But I don't write to save people; I dislike most of them. I feel best when I am totally alone. I've tried to answer most of my letters, especially from people in the madhouses but I found that an answer just brings another letter, a longer one and a stranger one.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Steven Zelich Rough Sex Murder Case

     On June 5, 2014, a highway cutting high grass along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, a town in Walworth County 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, exposed a pair of large suitcases. The overpowering odor of rotting flesh caused the highway employee to notify the police.

     Each of the suitcases contained a badly decomposed body of a woman. Through dental records the authorities identified the women as 37-year-old Laura Simonson and 21-year-old Jenny Gamez. The forensic pathologist, due to the condition of the bodies, could not establish their causes of death. Neither woman, however, had been shot.

     One of Laura Simonson's relatives reported the mother of seven from Farmington, Wisconsin missing on November 22, 2013. While her cause of death was unknown, before she died someone had tied a rope around her neck. That person also stuffed a ball attached to a collar into her mouth. The gag collar looked like a device commonly used by sadomasochists in bondage/slave sexual activity. According to family members, Simonson had struggled with mental illness.

     No one had been looking for the younger woman, Jenny Gamez. According to her foster parents, Gamez had left their home in Cottage Grove, Oregon to start a new life. In 2008, as a fifteen-year-old, she had given birth to a son. The baby's father, in 2010, gained full custody of the child. In keeping with the sadomasochistic theme of the case, someone had tied Gamez's hands behind her back.

     On June 27, 2014, police officers arrested 52-year-old Steven M. Zelich at his home in West Allis, Wisconsin. Zelich had been seen with each woman on separate occasions in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Wisconsin prosecutor charged Zelich with two counts of hiding a corpse.

     In 1989, the then 27-year-old Zelich started working in West Allis as a police officer. Three years later, following an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the chief of police forced him to resign. Since 2007 Zelich had been an employee of a contract security guard company.

     Zelich's sexual tastes, in light of evidence of bondage associated with the bodies in the suitcases, led detectives to suspect he was the last person to see these women alive. On a bondage and sadomasochism website, Zelich solicited sexual partners with the following message: "Seeking no limit enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization [no clue] ideally in a farm/caged situation."

     Following his arrest, Zelich told detectives he met the 21-year-old Gamez through the sex website. In November of 2013, he spent several nights with her in a Kenosha County Hotel where they had sadomasochistic sex that included bondage. Upon her accidental death in the course of this activity, he stuffed her body into a suitcase and took the corpse home.

     After connecting with the 37-year-old Simonson through the sadomasochistic Internet site, they engaged in bondage sex at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Rochester, Minnesota. This took place on November 21, 2013. Simonson had checked into the motel under her own name but never checked out. After she died while having sex with him, Zelich placed her body into a suitcase that ended up in his house with the other corpse.

     In late May or early June 2014, Zelich dumped the suitcases along the road in Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Zelich's attorney the women, as willing participants in rough sex, died accidentally. By dumping the suitcases along the road, Zelich wanted the bodies to be discovered. The attorney did not believe that homicide charges in this case would be appropriate.

     In January 2016, Steven Zelich pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree homicide as well as one count of hiding a corpse. He had been scheduled for trial on the charge of first-degree intentional homicide. The judge, in March 2016, sentenced Steven Zelich to 35 years in prison.

   

     

When You Sit Down to Write--Write

Here's a short list of what not to do when you sit down to write. Don't answer the phone. Don't look at e-mail. Don't go on the Internet for any reason, including checking the spelling of some obscure word, or for what you might think of as research but is really a fancy form of procrastination…Sit down and stay there…Get used to the discomfort. Make some kind of peace with it.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Sherlock Holmes Would Have Ridiculed His Creator

Sir A. Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes was the epitome of rationalism and logic. However, Doyle himself was not. He believed deeply in ghosts, fairies, and other spiritualistic claptrap, and was duped over and over again by charlatans and hoaxers.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes A Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003 

Agatha Christie's Hoax

Agatha Christie nearly pulled off a real-life hoax worthy of her mystery novels. Upset that her husband was leaving her for another woman, she set up an incriminating scene that almost got him arrested for her "murder." Luckily for him, an employee at a distant seaside hotel saw news photos of Christie and recognized her as the woman who had slipped into the hotel under an assumed name. Although Christie claimed amnesia, the police were not amused after having wasted a week of searching rivers and bogs.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Brittany Killgore Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     After two years of marriage to Lance Corporal Cory Killgore, 22-year-old Brittany Killgore, on April 11, 2012, filed for divorce. The Marine was serving in Afghanistan. Brittany lived in Fallbrook, California, a San Diego County town of 38,000 not far from Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine base.

     At two in the afternoon on Saturday, April 14, 2012, one of Brittany Killgore's friends called the San Diego County Sheriff's Office to report her missing. The caller had last seen Killgore at 7 PM the day before when she stopped by her friend's apartment to borrow a dress. Killgore said she was going on a date with a 45-year-old Marine staff sergeant named Louis Ray Perez who was picking her up in less than an hour. They were going into downtown San Diego.

     At 7:45 that Friday evening, the friend received a text message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Help." The friend texted back, "What? R U okay?" When Brittany didn't respond, the friend texted, "Brittany are U okay? I am freaking out here." At 8:05 PM the friend received another message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Yes I love this party." The worried friend considered this text suspicious because Killgore always used the word "yeah" instead of "yes" in her text messaging. That was the last the friend heard from Killgore's phone. (A transient in downtown San Diego later found Killgore's cellphone in the doorway of a Comfort Inn.)

     A detective with the San Diego Sheriff's Office called Sergeant Louis Perez (who didn't have a criminal record) and asked if he'd come in for questioning regarding the Killgore missing persons case. Perez said he would and showed up at the sheriff's office shortly after the call.

     According to the 16-year veteran of the Marine Corps, he had gone to Killgore's apartment at four o'clock Friday afternoon to help her pack for her upcoming move to another place. He asked her if she'd like to go out on a dinner-dance boat that evening in downtown San Diego. Killgore declined, saying that she was tired. Soon after Perez left Killgore's apartment at 5:10 PM, she sent him a text saying she had changed her mind. Perez returned to her place at 7:30 for the date.

     According to the Marine's statement, he dropped Brittany off in downtown San Diego in front of a club called the Whisky Girl Night while he looked for a place to park. Fifteen minutes later, when he arrived at the club on foot, he couldn't find her. Perez looked around for 30 minutes, then headed home to the house he shared in Fallbrook with his girlfriend, 36-year-old Dorothy Grace Marie Maraglino and her friend, Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25.

     The deputy who interviewed Perez that afternoon asked if he could take a look inside the white Ford Explorer the Marine had driven to the sheriff's office. Perez said he had no problem with that.

     The first thing the detective noticed about Perez's car was the fresh mud caked on the underside of the vehicle and in its wheel wells. The Marine's shoes were also muddy. Perez told the officer that the car had gotten that way when he recently collected firewood near Camp Pendleton. The deputy took a plastic bag from inside the car that contained a pair of blue latex gloves which appeared to be blood-stained. (A presumptive luminal test confirmed it was blood and later DNA analysis identified the blood as Brittany Killgore's.) Perez also possessed a stun gun that had a human hair follicle attached to it. At this point in the investigation, Sergeant Perez became a suspect in Brittany Killgore's disappearance and possible murder. The deputy, after recovering a stolen AR 15 assault rifle from Perez's Ford Explorer, arrested him on a charge of theft. The "person of interest" in the Killgore case was taken to jail where he was incarcerated under $500,000 bond.

     From Perez's cellphone, investigators collected messages sent from his phone to Killgore's. The first message, sent at 9:20 PM on Friday, April 13, almost two hours after Killgore's "help" text, said, "Your friends are calling me worried." Later that evening, at a time investigators believe Killgore was dead, Perez had texted, "Now I am worried too."

     When the San Diego detectives questioned the suspect's housemate, Dorothy Maraglino, the 37-year-old said Perez had returned home Friday night sometime between 10 PM and midnight. He remained in the Fallbrook house until he left for San Diego the next day in response to the call from the sheriff's office.

     On April 15, 2012, San Diego deputies searched the Perez/Maraglino/Lopez house in Fallbrook where they suspected Brittany Killgore had been murdered. The searchers discovered that one of the rooms in the dwelling had been set up as a "sex dungeon" equipped with a variety of "sex apparatuses, toys, and tools" such as handcuffs, whips, leather restraints, and chain shackles. When asked about this sadomasochistic playroom, Dorothy Maraglino and Jessica Lopez explained that they participated in erotic master-servant and master-slave role-playing. Dorothy identified herself as the dominatrix and said that Louis Perez enjoyed spanking women.

     The Killgore missing persons/murder investigation took an even more bizarre turn on April 16, 2012 when investigators learned that master Dorothy and her slave Jessica had checked into the Ramada Inn located in the Point Loma section of San Diego. Deputies showed up at room 105 at 9:30 that morning. Lopez, in a drowsy voice, told the officers she was too exhausted to come to the door to let them in. When a deputy cracked the door open as far as the interior door chain would allow, the officer saw blood on the floor. Another officer kicked the door open and the police stormed into the motel room.

     The sheriff's deputies found Jessica Lopez, naked from the waist up and covered in blood from self-inflicted superficial knife wounds on her neck and wrists. (Maraglino had left the motel.) A message in lipstick scrawled on the mirror above the dressing table read: "PIGS READ THIS." Below this message lay a 7-page, handwritten murder confession signed by Jessica Lopez.

     In the confession, Lopez admitted using a ligature, in the sex dungeon in the Fallbrook house, to strangle Brittany Killgore to death. She killed the victim out of fear Louis Perez would be seduced by her. After half-hearted attempts to dismember Killgore's body, Lopez doused the naked body with bleach to destroy physical evidence. She wrote that she "hid the body of that whore in almost plain sight" near Lake Skinner, noting that the police would find handcuff marks on the victim's wrists. Lopez said she had deposited the knife she had used in her attempts to "chop her up" in a beach restroom in Oceanside. The police would also find a pair of handcuffs with the knife. In her statement/suicide note, Lopez said she was taking full responsibility for Killgore's murder.

     At 2:30 that afternoon, searchers located Killgore's naked remains lying in the brush along the side of a road near Riverside County's Lake Skinner, 23 miles north of Fallbrook. The police arrested Jessica Lopez on April 17, 2012 on the charge of first-degree murder. Louis Perez, already in custody on the gun theft case, was charged with first-degree murder as well. Dorothy Maraglino, also charged with first-degree murder, was taken into custody on May 10, 2012. The three suspects were held on $3 million bond and all pleaded not guilty.

     At a Killgore murder case preliminary hearing that got underway on March 11, 2013 in Vista County Superior Court, the victim's best friend Elizabeth Hernandez testified that she and Killgore became acquainted with Marine Sergeant Louis Perez, Jessica Lopez, and Dorothy Maraglino in 2011 after Hernandez responded to an ad selling a fertility monitor on a website used by military families. Hernandez said she befriended Maraglino because the two of them were trying to get pregnant. After that, Brittany Killgore regularly visited the house where Maragalino resided with Lopez.

     Hernandez testified that Perez, Lopez, and Maragalino openly discussed their sexual lifestyle that involved Perez as the master, Maragalino as the mistress, and Lopez as the slave. In their sex dungeon they had painted a giant spider web on the wall and bars on the ceiling. According to the preliminary hearing witness, Hernandez and Killgore made it clear they were not going to participate in the sex games.

     In 2012, Elizabeth Hernandez and Killgore had a falling out. At that time, Killgore was preparing to divorce her husband, Lance Corporal Cory Killgore. Hernandez testified that she discussed the souring of their friendship with Louis Perez, Lopez and Maragalino. After that, Lopez and Maragalino began referring to Killgore as "the disease" and "herpes." According to Hernandez, Perez and Maragalino said they could get rid of Killgore but they wouldn't because they knew Hernandez would miss her. Hernandez said she thought they were joking.

     On March 14, 2013, Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Nelson testified that the victim had been strangled with some kind of ligature and that her body had been moved to where it was found near Lake Skinner. The forensic pathologist said their were two marks on Killgore's neck and tiny hemorrhages in her eyes that indicated strangulation as the cause of death. Dr. Nelson had also discovered cuts on the victim's left wrist and left knee that suggested that someone had attempted to dismember the body. The cut to the left leg was so deep it reached the bone. The bone contained tool marks that indicated a saw had been used in the dismemberment attempt. This had occurred postmortem.

     A woman followed Dr. Nelson to the stand who said she had lived in the Maraglino house for three months in late 2010. According to this witness, she had been Maraglino's sex slave for a time and knew that Maraglino and Louis Perez enjoyed choking their sex partners.

     On March 16, 2013, Vista Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman ruled that the prosecution in the Killgore case had presented enough evidence against the defendants to justify a murder trial.

     On April 8, 2014, murder defendant Dorothy Maragalino, represented by the fourth attorney assigned to her since 2012, was back in court filing motions that would delay the progress of the case. Initially, Maragalino had insisted on representing herself then changed her mind. After dismissing her next two lawyers, the judge assigned her a public defender who asked to be removed from the case, Attorney Jane Kinsey, the fourth defense attorney, needed more time to prepare. Judge Kirkman granted the motion.

     That April, Jessica Lopez's attorney, Sloan Ostby, asked the judge for more time to study the 7,345 pages of documents he had demanded from the prosecution on discovery. Ostby said he also had to review 165 DVDs that had been supplied by the state. The judge granted this motion.

     Attorney Brad Patton, representing Louis Perez, the accused sex dungeon master, filed a series of pretrial motions in 2014 that slowed progress in the case. On December 12, 2014, perhaps in an attempt to move things along, the district attorney's office announced it would not seek the death penalty against the defendants.

     On June 6, 2015, at a pre-trial hearing, Judge Kirkman denied a motion by defense attorney Sloan Ostby to exclude writings by Jessica Lopez that described, in detail, the victim's torture, murder, and dismemberment. Attorney Ostby, characterizing the writings as the product of his client's fantasies, argued that the material was so gruesome it would unduly prejudice a jury. Judge Kirkman said he would allow the writings into evidence with some restrictions of the most disturbing parts.

     The handwritten "Pigs Read This" document had been found in the hotel room along with Jessica Lopez's suicide note. In denying the motion to completely suppress this evidence, Judge Kirkman said, "It is a document that very much has relevance."

     In earlier court related statements, prosecutor Patrick Espinoza compared the defendants to the Manson family. Defense attorneys objected to this and asked the judge to forbid such comparisons in the future. Judge Kirkman granted that request.

     On August 14, 2015, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office released its Brittany Killgore autopsy report. The document confirmed that Killgore had been strangled. Moreover, attempts had been made to dismember her body. The victim was initially identified by a small tattoo on her left wrist. According to notes made by Deputy San Diego Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Nelson, "On the left side of the [victim's] neck and face were two small, paired brown marks that were suggestive of use of an electrical weapon…The victim's left knee had a large, but bloodless, incised would suggestive of attempted dismemberment."

     On September 8, 2015, in Vista, California, jury selection began in the Dorothy Maraglino, Louis Perez, and Jessica Perez murder trial. Two months later, the defendants were convicted of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced all three to life without the chance of parole.

     

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Dr. Robert Ferrante Poison Murder Case

     In 2013, Dr. Robert Ferrante and his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, lived with their 6-year-old daughter in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ferrante held the positions of co-director of the Center of ALS Research, and visiting professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Dr. Klein, with offices in Magee-Woman's Hospital in the Kaufman Medical Building, was chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and an assistant professor of neurology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh.

     Dr. Ferrante, twenty-three years older than his wife, met her in 2000 when they lived in Boston where she was a medical student and he worked at a hospital for veterans. They were married a year later. In 2010, Dr. Ferrante left his job at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to join the University of Pittsburgh's neurological surgery team. Dr. Klein moved to Pittsburgh with him.

     Dr. Klein, who was forty-one, was having difficulty getting pregnant with her second child. Her 64-year-old husband had been encouraging her to take a nutritional supplement to help her conceive. On April 17, 2013, Dr. Ferrante sent Autumn a text message in which he inquired if she had taken the supplement. She wrote back: "Will it stimulate egg production, too?" Nine hours after Dr. Klein sent that message, she collapsed in the kitchen of the couple's Schenley Farms home.

     Emergency personnel rushed Dr. Klein to the University of Pittsburgh Medial Center (UPMC) in Oakland. On the kitchen floor next to her body, paramedics noticed a bag of white powder later identified as creatine, a nutritional supplement. Shortly after the patient was admitted into the hospital, a UPMC doctor ordered tests of her blood. When a preliminary serological analysis revealed a high level of acid, the doctor ordered toxicolgical tests for cyanide poisoning.

     Dr. Klein died on April 20, 2013. Three days later, at Dr. Ferrante's insistence, her body was cremated. As a result, there was no autopsy.

     Dr. Karl Williams, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, based on the toxicology reports, determined that Dr. Klein had died of cyanide poisoning. The forensic pathologist ruled her death a homicide.

     Cyanide kills by starving the cells of oxygen. A lethal dose for a human can be as small as 200 milligrams--1/25th the size of a nickel. The poison acts fast and metabolizes quickly. The toxic substance can be undetectable from one minute to three hours after ingestion. Had samples of Dr. Klein's blood not been taken upon her admission to UPMC, there would have been no physical evidence of poisoning beyond the contents of the bag of white powder found lying on the victim's kitchen floor.

     Two weeks after Dr. Klein's death, detectives with the Pittsburgh Police Department launched a homicide investigation with Dr. Ferrante as the prime suspect. Officials at UPMC placed the neurologist on leave and denied him access to his laboratory. A police search of the lab resulted in the discovery that 8.3 grams from a bottle of cyanide was missing. Detectives learned that Dr. Ferrante had purchased a half-pound of the poison on April 15, 2013, two days before his wife collapsed in their home. Dr. Ferrante had used a UPMC credit card to buy the cyanide and had asked the vendor to ship it to his lab overnight. Detectives believed the suspect, in his laboratory, mixed the cyanide--a substance not related to his work--into the dietary supplement.

     According to friends of the victim, Dr. Ferrante had been a controlling husband who was jealous of his wife's fast-rising career. Moreover, he suspected that she was having an affair with a man from Boston. Dr. Klein had told friends she was planning to leave the doctor. Another possible motive involved the fact Dr. Ferrante did not want his wife to have another child.

     On April 13, four days before she fell ill, Dr. Klein sent one of her friends a text message regarding a trip she planned to take to Boston by herself. In that message she wrote: "Change of plans. Husband is coming to Boston. Told me 'to keep me out of trouble.'"

     "Oh, dear," replied the friend. "Did you know you were in trouble?"

     "I feel like I have been in trouble for a long time now," Dr. Klein answered.

     On July 24, 2013, an Allegheny County prosecutor charged Dr. Robert Ferrante with first-degree murder. The next day, as Dr. Ferrante drove back to Pittsburgh from St. Augustine, Florida, a West Virginia state patrol officer arrested him on I-77 near Beckley. According to the doctor's attorney, William Difenderfer, his client was on his way to surrender to the Pittsburgh police.

     Dr. Ferrante's arrest for the murder of his wife caused him serious financial problems. Except for $280,000 the suspect was allowed to use for legal expenses and a possible fine, a judge seized his assets. In August 2013, his 6-year-old daughter's maternal grandmother who was caring for the girl in Maryland, petitioned a family court judge for child support.

     The Ferrante murder trial got underway on October 20, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following jury selection, the attorneys for each side presented their opening statements. Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Lisa Pelligrini asserted that the defendant had murdered his wife because she wanted to have a second child. The prosecutor also said that Dr. Ferrante thought his wife was having an affair.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer pointed out the circumstantial nature of the prosecution's case, inconsistent crime toxicology reports regarding cyanide in Dr. Klein's blood, and an absence of an autopsy.

     Dr. Christopher Holstege, a University of Virginia professor and the author of the text, Criminal Poisoning, Clinical and Forensic Perspectives, took the stand as the prosecutor's key expert witness. Dr. Holstege testified that the victim's symptoms ruled out everything but cyanide poisoning.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer put three forensic experts on the stand. Dr. Robert Middleberg, vice president of a private crime lab in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, said tests at his facility of Dr. Klein's blood were inconclusive.

     Dr. Middleberg's testimony was backed up by Dr. Shaun Carstairs of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. Dr. Wecht, a forensic pathologist, had testified in dozens of celebrated murder cases around the world.

     As his last witness, Diffenderfer, in a surprise and risky move, put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf. As could have been anticipated, the prosecutor's blistering cross examination revealed numerous inconsistencies in Dr. Ferrante's statements to the authorities.

     On Friday November 7, 2014, the jury found Dr. Ferrante guilty of first-degree murder, an offense in Pennsylvania that came with a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

     Through his appellate attorney Chris Eyster, Robert Ferrante appealed his conviction on the ground that the prosecution had not had sufficient probable cause for the search warrant that produced evidence that incriminated his client. The lawyer also raised questions regarding the laboratory that concluded that the victim had been killed by poison.

     In September 2016, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning upheld the Ferrante conviction.
     

Woman Sets Man's Face on Fire

     A Tampa Bay, Florida woman was arrested in October 2014 after setting her roommate on fire--after he threw out her spaghetti. Melissa Dawn Sellers, 33, became enraged after roommate Carlos Ortiz threw out her spaghetti and meatballs. She allegedly doused Ortiz in nail polish remover before setting him on fire.

     According to Ines Causevic, the victim's friend, "She was setting little objects on fire, then that turned into pouring nail polish remover on him, and then all of a sudden, the lighter sparked and he lit on fire."

     Ortiz took Sellers in after she lost her job at Wal-Mart and could no longer afford her rent. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition, with burns to his face and body. "When he got up, his face was like melting off," Causevic said. "His lips were burning."

     Sellers has been charged with aggravated battery. She was convicted of battery in 2008.

     [On June 15, 2015, Sellers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 66 months in prison.]

"Woman Set Roommate on Fire After He Threw Out Her Spaghetti, independent news. com, October 23, 2014 

Stephen King's Daily Word Production

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book--something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning…More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Cracking Down on Unarmed 75-Year-Old Debtors

     When officials in the small town of Stettin in Marathon County, Wisconsin, went to collect a civil judgement from 75-year-old Roger Hoeppner this month, they sent 24 armed officers and an armored military vehicle…

     The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has focused attention on the growing militarization of local law enforcement, particularly the use by small police departments of surplus armored military vehicles. Marathon County sheriff's deputies are not apologizing for their militaristic tactics. Sheriff's Captain Greg Bean said officials expected to seize and remove tractors and wood pallets to pay the civil judgment--hence the cadre of deputies. He also said that while Hoeppner was never considered dangerous, he was know to be argumentative.

     Mr. Hoeppner said when he noticed deputies outside his house, he called his attorney, Ryan Lister of Wausaw. Lister said he quickly left for Hoeppner's house but was stopped by a roadblock that was kept up until after his client had been taken away in handcuffs. "Rather than provide Mr Hoeppner or his counsel notice…and attempt to collect without spending thousands of dollars on the military-style maneuvers, the town unilaterally decided to enforce its civil judgment with a show of force," the attorney said.

John Galt, "Marathon County Uses Newly Acquired Armored Vehicle to Collect Debts," johngaltfla.com, October 28, 2014

     

What Pre-Teens Read

Children of both sexes in the 10 to 12 year age group predominantly read fiction, with the most popular genre amongst both boys and girls being adventure stories. Girls choose more romances, horror/ghost stories and poetry books. Boys choose more science fiction, comedy, sports and war/spy books.

Lyn Pritchard, penguin.com, 1999

Friday, September 15, 2017

Coopertown, Tennessee: Speed Traps, Racist Police, and the History and Misuse of the Polygraph

     August Vollmer, the progressive chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department from 1909 to 1932, was one of the first police reformers to write about how traffic enforcement puts a stain on police-community relations. Vollmer believed that municipal traffic ordinances are best enforced by non-sworn, civilian personnel. He would have found the idea of a speed trap appalling.

     Prior to 2006, if you drove over the speed limit in Coopertown, Tennessee, a town of 4,000 30 miles northwest of Nashville, you had a good chance of getting a ticket. If you were an Hispanic, a soldier from Fort Campbell across the line in Kentucky, or an out-of-towner, it was almost certain you'd get caught in this notorious speed trap. (One-third of the town's revenue came from speeding tickets.)

     In 2006, the National Motorists Association designated Coopertown, Tennessee as one of the most "blatant examples of speed traps in the country." That year, the county prosecutor, feeling pressure from outraged merchants and others in the community who felt the speed trap hurt the town and corrupted the police, accused Mayor Danny Crosby of not only running a ticket-issueing racket, but targeting Hispanics, blacks, and other groups of people.

     The local prosecutor failed to find a judge willing to remove the mayor from office, but not long after his attempt, citizens voted Crosby out of office. While the speed trap went out with the mayor, the town continued to be hit by one police scandal after another. From 2006 to 2012, there seemed to be a new police chief every year, and periods when the town didn't have a police force.

     In November 2012, when Police Chief Shane Sullivan took office, the 39-year-old announced his plan to use the polygraph as a pre-employment measure to weed-out job candidates who were racists. Chief Sullivan's well-intentioned hiring policy reflects his basic misunderstanding of the polygraph instrument's capabilities and proper use.

A Short History of the Polygraph

     The polygraph was invented in 1921 by Dr. John Larsen, a 27-year-old University of California Berkeley medical student with a Ph.D. in physiology. Dr. Larson worked as a part-time police officer at the Berkeley Police Department under Chief August Vollmer. Larson had read a 1908 book called On The Witness Stand by the Harvard psychiatrist, Hugo Munsterberg who had been searching for a method of scientific lie detection since the turn of the century.

     In his chapter "The Traces of the Emotion," Dr. Munsterberg wrote that three physiological events take place whenever a person lies. First, the liar's blood pressure and heart beat increase; second, there are respiratory alterations; and third, telling a lie chances the person's galvanic skin response, or GSR. To measure GSR, Dr. Munsterberg used a galvanometer that picked-up variations in the body's resistance to electricity. (Munsterberg found that when the brain is excited emotionally, the individual's sweat glands alter the body's resistance to electricity.)

     In 1921, Chief Vollmer asked his "college cop" to fashion a lie detection instrument detectives could use to detect deception in the people they interrogate. After working several weeks on the project, Dr. Larson informed Vollmer that he had rigged an apparatus that could detect truth and deception, an instrument he called the polygraph.

     The cumbersome tangle of rubber hoses, wires, and glass tubing was five feet long, two and a half feet high, and weighed thirty pounds. The device could be taken apart and moved from one place to another, but it took an hour to set up.

     Larson's instrument advanced Munsterberg's technique in four ways. The polygraph recorded the physiological responses on a continuous graph while the subject was being questioned. This was an improvement over the technique of asking a question then taking the examinee's blood pressure. The second advantage involved the ability to adjust the instrument in order to control such variables as high blood pressure or extreme nervousness. Larson's invention also produced a tangible and permanent record of test results that could be later analyzed by other experts. And finally the polygraph detected and recorded the subject's breathing patterns in addition to blood pressure and pulse rate.

     In the spring of 1921, John Larson tested the polygraph on Chief Vollmer and members of the Berkeley Police Department. The results of these experiments convinced Vollmer that Larson had invented a device that would revolutionize the art and science of criminal investigation. Larson, as the department's polygraph examiner, began using the instrument to solve a series of petty theft cases at the University of California.

     Today, for a polygraph result to be accurate, the instrument (vastly more sophisticated that Larson's invention), has to be in good working order. Moreover, the examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line chart interpretation. (Police polygraph examiners have to fight against their own bias.) Subjects have to be willing participants in the process, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, be obese, retarded, or mentally ill. People who are very old or under fourteen do not make reliable polygraph subjects.

     Polygraph tests that include questions that do not call for factual answers will not be reliable. In Coopertown, Tennessee, Chief Sullivan's idea of using the technique to screen job applicants who are racist won't work because the instrument cannot accurately determine if a subject is lying about a state of mind. It's too subjective. There are, for example, different definitions and degrees of racism, and an  examinee might not recognized the trait in himself.

     Bob Peters, a spokesperson for the American Polygraph Association, in addressing Chief Sullivan's polygraph program, recommended that the examiners only asked job candidates about factual matters. Have you ever smoke marijuana? Questions like that.

     Chief Sullivan, in an effort to staff his department with officers who are not racists, should have considered conducting pre-employment background investigations. While this approach is more costly and time consuming, the results are more reliable. No pre-employment screening technique, however, is fool-proof, and law enforcement work has a way of changing the way a person thinks about a lot of things. The job also drives some people a little crazy. 

A Motorist in a Hurry

     New Hampshire State Police say an airborne patrol unit clocked a man driving 127 mph on Interstate 93 in the town of Northfield. The State Police Special Enforcement Unit was using an airplane to monitor traffic Saturday morning November 29, 2014 when the trooper in the aircraft saw a northbound vehicle traveling fast.

     Police said the tactical flight officer twice clocked the vehicle traveling in excess of 100 mph with the top speed at 127. The driver, stopped by troopers on the ground, was 19-year-old Ryan Quinn of Newport, Rhode Island. A prosecutor charged Quinn with reckless driving and two counts of possession of a controlled drug.

"Man clocked at 127 MPH on Highway," Associated Press, November 30, 2014 

No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

     In November 2014, Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld and his roommate were mugged at gun point. Friedfeld says he deserved it because of his "privilege." In an opinion piece in the university newspaper, The Hoya, Friedfeld wrote that he "can hardly blame" the assailants for robbing him. He argued that income inequality is to blame for the crime.

     "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem," Friedfeld wrote…

     Friedfeld asserted that in order to end opportunistic crime, "We should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solved the issue. It is up to millenials to right some of the wrongs of the past. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them." [What a load of university-speak crap from a rich, guilt-ridden ivory tower idiot.]

"Student Robbed at Gunpoint Says He Deserved It Due to His 'Privilege,' " breitbart.com, November 29, 2014 

The Memoir-Worthy Life

     The truth is out there. You can't miss it, in fact--it's everywhere. But even as we embrace the twenty-four hour confession cycle of social media, the popularity, and subsequent disparagement, of the memoir reveals our mixed feelings about true stories. We might be lured into tales of harrowing childhoods or devastating divorces, but our internal machinery will monitor the narratives based on the same arbitrary rubrics that guard our own personal revelations (or lack thereof): Is the author honest about his motives? Are her experiences exotic enough to teach us something new? Does he learn a big lesson at the end, or does he tumble off a cliff into a nihilistic abyss?

     Blogs and Instagram and YouTube have rendered brutal honesty and statements of "my truth" about as mundane as instructions on how to dye your hair. Nevertheless, committing your life experiences to the published page is still viewed as an audacious act, one reserved for celebrated authors, public figures, or those who've lived outside the norm and endured horrors untold. For every phalanx of writing instructors exhorting their pupils to write what they know, there's an equal and opposite gaggle of critics urging them to keep their junior-varsity trials and tribulations to themselves. If your pain doesn't equal the pain of the reader, you are merely indulging yourself.

Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum, February/March 2015 

Harry Potter's Effect On The Teen Fantasy Genre

The first novel I published was the fifth I'd written and when it sold I was working on novel thirteen. What finally made the difference? Harry Potter. I slid into publication on Harry Potter's big, beautiful coattails. When I first started writing you couldn't sell a fantasy novel for teens to save your life. An editor once told me, "First you have to sell three or four realistic novels, about real kids, preferably humorous. If they do well then maybe, maybe someone will look at your fantasy." Then Harry Potter hit, and every editor in the country started pulling fantasy out of their slush piles.

Hilari Bell in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Prosecutor Alex Hunter's Courageous Decision in the JonBenet Ramsey Murder Case

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder, Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped for ransom, she had called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling, the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who had come to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon, Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later, he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape, and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder, the police, prosecutors, media, and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, then who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer, and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announcement in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, grand jurors did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute these parents.

     According to the Ramsey family attorney Lyn Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case, myself included, agree with attorney Wood. The Ramseys had not only been victimized by their daughter's killer, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

     The Ramsey case is still officially open, but investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 23 this year.  

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

The Counterfeiter

The most difficult, intricate crime involves counterfeiting money. Wait, let me rephrase that. The most difficult, intricate crime is successful counterfeiting. Unsuccessful counterfeiters are everywhere, particularly in prison, having failed to live up to their expectations.

Chuck Sheppard, America's Lest Successful Criminals, 1993

Sword-and-Socery Fantasy

Sword-and-socery fiction is to fantasy what the western is to the historical novel, or perhaps more precisely, what the hardboiled private-eye story is to mystery fiction. It is a subgenre based on a prefabricated image, without which it cannot be identified at all: the cowboy in the middle of the dusty street, ready to draw; the private-eye in the trench coat; the brawny scantily-clad swordsman, glaring defiantly at menaces supernatural and otherwise, with an even less-clad shapely wench cowering somewhere in the background.

Darrell Schweitzer in How To Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by J.N. Williamson, 1991 

What Editors Don't Like in Children's Books

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I…")

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cop Killer Ronell Wilson's Ploy to Avoid the Death Sentence

     New York City detectives James V. Nemorin and Rodney J. Andrews had arranged an undercover gun buy to take place on Staten Island on March 10, 2003. The officers had purchased a .357-Magnum revolver from Ronell Wilson the day before. The detectives showed up at the meeting place with $1,200 in cash to buy a Tech-9 handgun from Wilson. Instead of making the deal, Wilson, who intended all along to rob the undercover officers, shot each of them in the head with a .44-caliber handgun.

     Ronell Wilson was convicted of the murders in 2005 and sentenced to death. But his death sentence was set aside a few years later when New York State's death penalty statute was declared unconstitutional.

     In December 2006, Wilson was found guilty in a federal district court in Brooklyn of murdering the police officers. The judge sentenced him to death under the federal law. Wilson's attorneys challenged the death sentence on the grounds that Wilson was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the lethal injection. Wilson's lawyers presented his case before a Brooklyn federal judge in November 2012.

     In August of 2012, prison informants at the Metropolitan Detection Center, a federal lock-up in Brooklyn, told correction authorities that Ronell Wilson had been having sex with a female guard named Nancy Gonzales. (Gonzales and Wilson had been having sex since March 2012.) In an effort to avoid the death sentence, Wilson intended to impregnate the corrections officer. (Not bad thinking for a mentally retarded guy.) In a letter to another inmate, Wilson wrote, "I just need a baby before the pigs try to take my life."

     The 29-year-old prison guard, in a recorded telephone call to her boyfriend, an inmate in a New York state prison, admitted having sex with Wilson in his cell. "I took a chance because I was so vulnerable and wanted to be loved," Gonzales said. "And now I am carrying his child."

     On February 5, 2013, FBI agents arrested the eight-month pregnant prison guard at her home in Huntington, Long Island. At her Brooklyn arraignment, the judge charged Gonzales with having sexual intercourse with an inmate. If convicted of this federal offense, she faced up to 16 months in prison.

     On Wednesday, February 6, the 72-year-old father of NYPD detective Rodney Andrews, in speaking to a reporter with the New York Daily News, said he doesn't believe the man who murdered his son should receive mercy just because he impregnated a female corrections officer. "Put him to death for what he did. If he had 20 children I wouldn't change my mind. That baby will be better off with that father not being around."

     In February 2014, at Gonzales' sentencing hearing following her guilty plea, the defendant told the judge that she had been sexually abused as a child by family members. Moreover, she claimed to have been sexually assaulted while serving in the National Guard. The judge sentenced Gonzales to a year and a day in prison.

      As of this writing, Ronell Wilson remains on death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

Writing Class

When Katherine Anne Porter taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, her method was to sit the student writer down and read his story to him aloud. That's all there was to it, or so I've heard tell. I've also heard tell that one student, before his story was half read, broke down and ran out of class. [I would have been right behind him, all the way to the registrar's office to get my tuition back.]

John Casey in The Writing Life, 1995 

Lawyers as Sharks

A lawyer is basically a mouth, like a shark is a mouth attached to a long gut. The business of lawyers is to talk, to interrupt each other, and to devour each other if possible.

Joyce Carol Oates, novelist

Public Hangings in Colonial America

When executions were still public events, they provided an enormous interest. Perhaps no single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People drove for miles to be present; some camped in the vicinity for several days. The large concourse of people naturally brought camp followers to every large gathering. Entertainers, vendors, pickpockets, promoters, evangelists, sight-seers, peddlers, and medicine men would descend on the town before the fatal day.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Your Favorite Author

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Good Fish Story and the Power of Fingerprint Identification

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned, or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. I'm wondering what happened to this historic fish. Was it eaten, stuffed, or ingloriously tossed away?

Woman Assaulted With Snow Blower

     An on-going feud between two Arlington, Massachusetts neighbors in their early 60s got out of hand during Tuesday's [January 27, 2015] blizzard when one of the women attacked the other with a snow blower…Police responded to an assault call where they found a 60-year-old woman with cuts to her foot. The injured woman had taken out a harassment protection order against her neighbor, Barbara Davis, 61.

     Police officers arrested Davis for violation of the protection order and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon…Davis was held on $35,000 bond. The victim was treated for minor injuries.

"Arlington Woman Attacks Feuding Neighbor With Snow Blower," boston.com, January 27, 2015 

If You Don't Have A Gun, Pick Up A Knife. If You Don't Have A Knife, Pick Up a Brick

     A nursing home worker in China was accused on February 21, 2015 of killing three elderly residents and injuring 15 with a brick. Luo Renchu, 64, had argued with his boss over unpaid wages prior to his assault on elderly residents and staff at the privately run home in the central part of the country…The attack happened on February 19 after an argument over 40,000 yuan in unpaid wages. Luo and his wife, who also works at the home, had been promised 10,000 yuan before the start of the Chinese New Year which started two days before.

     The nursing home owner's mother and brother were among the 15 assaulted. Six others were in life-threatening condition…Police were searching for the accused assailant.

"Nursing Home Worker Allegedly Killed 3 Elderly Residents in China With Brick," Fox News, February 21, 2015 

Science Fiction Writers Are Rarely Recognized Outside the Genre

Some writers whose careers have been largely based on science fiction writing have never been categorized that way. Kurt Vonnegut and John Hershey were never within the science fiction ghetto. One surprising result of the ghettoizing of speculative fiction, however, is that writers have enormous freedom within its walls. It's as if, having once been confined within our cage, the keepers of the zoo of literature don't much care what we do as long as we stay behind bars.

Orson Scott Card, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1990 

Short Story Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing devices in short stories have the effect of enhancing the inevitability of the action, usually without destroying the suspense or tension--in fact, correctly used, foreshadowing can enhance those effects. What foreshadowing does is prepare in advance for events that will follow later in the story, often in ways that will not be fully understood by the reader until the story is completed. For while devices of foreshadowing may sometimes be very apparent, at other times it is necessary to go back into a story to see what methods were used to make its final effects convincing.

Rust Hill, Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular, Revised Edition, 1987  

Monday, September 11, 2017

Memo to Courtroom Defendants: Don't Flip the Judge

     Your fingers can get you into a lot of trouble. Citizens who flip-off police officers are often arrested for disorderly conduct. School kids who make firearms gestures with their hands are suspended. And if you raise your middle finger while standing before an arraignment judge, they will haul you off to jail. If you don't believe this, ask Penelope Soto.

     On February 4, 2013, 18-year-old Penelope Soto, having been charged with the illegal possession of Xanax, stood before Miami-Dade County Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat. Pursuant to the judge's decision regarding the amount of Soto's bail, he inquired about her assets. When the judge asked Soto specifically how much her jewelry was worth, she laughed.

     Visibly annoyed by Soto's casual attitude in his court room, the judge said, "It's not a joke, you know. We're not in a club, be serious about it."

     "I'm serious about it," Soto replied. "You just made me laugh. I apologize. It's [her jewelry] worth a lot of money."

     "Like what?" the judge asked.

     "Like Rick Ross. It's worth money."

     Judge Rodriguez-Chomat, who had no idea who Rick Ross was [a south Florida rapper], again became annoyed. He asked Soto if she had taken any drugs in the past 24 hours.

     "Actually, no," she replied.

     Judge Rodriguez-Chomat set Soto's bail at a very low $5,000. Moving onto the next case, he said, "Bye, bye."

     Instead of thanking the judge for his leniency, Soto replied, "Adios."

    Obviously irritated by Soto's flippant response and dismissive attitude, the judge summoned her back to the bench and upped her bail to $10,000. Still a relatively low amount.

     Now it was Soto's turn to be angry. "Are you serious?" she exclaimed.

     "I am serious," he replied.

     As she was being escorted out of the court room, Soto turned back to the judge, blurted "F-you," and flipped him the finger.

     Shocked and obviously angered by this prisoner's disrespect, Judge Rodriguez-Chmat cited Soto for contempt of court. He sentenced her on the spot to thirty days in jail.
     

Suspects Armed With Knives

Studies have shown that, on average, if you [a police officer] are twenty-one feet away from a suspect armed with a knife, that person can run up and stab you before you can draw your gun, aim, and fire. Even if the suspect is more than twenty-one feet away, he can still throw that knife at you and embed it in your chest. You don't really think about this scenario until you've actually had a knife thrown at you. Then it becomes all you think about.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Crime Novels are Popular Because They Tell a Story

Most readers come to a mystery novel because the genre promises an actual story, a characteristic that many find lacking in so-called mainstream fiction.

Jeremiah Healy in Writing Mysteries by Sue Grafton, 1992

A Question of Journalistic Ethics

     An Ohio media outlet sparked outrange after it published a report on the criminal past of the father of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by police in November 2014 at a Cleveland recreation center. Rice died holding an Airsoft pellet gun. Police were responding to a 911 call about someone pointing a handgun. The caller said the gun was "probably fake" and "I don't know if it's real or not."…

     The article, "Tamir Rice's Father Has History of Domestic Violence," was written by Northeast Ohio Media Groups's Brandon Blackwell and published on the website for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on November 26, 2014. The relevance of the criminal past of Rice's father is not explained in the reporting nor does it appear to have anything to do with the shooting….

"Why Was Tamir Rice's Dad's Criminal History Reported?" mediaethics.com, December 4, 2014 

Don't Write a Biography of a Person Whose Life Is Not a Good Story

How to begin? I had always shuddered at biographies that began, "It was a clear, cold morning in mid-December 1830, when the cry of a newborn baby broke the winter stillness." And once you begin, how to tell the story of a life that had no story?

Richard B. Sewall in Extra Ordinary Lives, edited by William Zinsser, 1986

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Brian Browning Sleeping Pill Murder Case

     Brian Browning, 51, lived with his 47-year-old wife Catherine and their two daughters, aged 18 and 20, in Skye, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne on the country's southeastern coast. Catherine worked for the Family Life Community Agency, an organization dedicated to fighting violence against women.

     After the couple agreed to an amicable separation on December 10, 2013, Brian, worried about his financial future, became distraught and couldn't sleep. His 20-year-old daughter Amy suggested that he see a physician. Instead, Brian purchased an over-the-counter packet of 20 Restavit brand sleeping pills.

     At six in the morning of December 19, 2013, Amy Browning heard her mother scream. At the bedroom door, she encountered her father who stood in the doorway holding a bloody knife. Brian Browning, knife in hand, called his wife a bitch then let the weapon fall to his feet.

     Responding police officers discovered Catherine Browning lying in one of her daughter's beds. A forensic pathologist determined that the victim had been stabbed 15 times. Brian Browning had greeted the police that morning in his garden outside of his house. "I've killed my wife," he said.

     Paramedics transported Mr. Browning to the Frankston Hospital for observation. The emergency crew noticed that he was wide-eyed and staring straight ahead. He did, however, respond to their questions.

     At the hospital, Mr. Browning claimed to see ants and spiders crawling on the walls. With a rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure, hospital personnel turned him over to the custody of the police.

     The next day, while being questioned at the police station, Brian Browning said, "About six o'clock I talked myself into killing her. I went and got the kitchen knife. She was in my daughter's bed. I stabbed her. She woke up, screamed, then I just kept stabbing, stabbing, stabbing. I just spun out."

     According to the suspect, before he went to bed on the night before the killing, he had taken four to ten of the Restavit sleeping pills. After the murder, Mr. Browning said he was so disgusted with himself over what he had done he took the remaining pills in an effort to kill himself. (Detectives had recovered the empty pill packet.)

     On December 20, 2013, in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, Brian Browning pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder. The magistrate denied him bail and ordered a mental evaluation.

     In early April 2015, the Browning murder trial got underway in the Supreme Crown Court of Victoria with Justice Lex Lasry presiding. The defendant's barrister, George Georgiou, in his opening remarks to the jury, argued that the sleeping pills had rendered his client incapable of possessing the criminal intent to commit murder. The barrister characterized Mr. Browning's stabbing frenzy as involuntary behavior.

     Crown prosecutor Daryl Brown, after bringing police officers, detectives, and the defendant's oldest daughter to the stand, put a medical expert into the witness box. According to the physician, four to ten sleeping pills should not have been enough to cause hallucinations or the other effects alleged by the defendant.

     On April 20, 2015, a witness for the prosecution took the stand and testified that at the time of the killing the defendant was about to collect a $200,000 settlement regarding a workplace injury, money he did not want to share in the divorce arrangement. Moreover, he did not like the idea of sharing the money from the sale of the house with his ex-wife.

     When it came time to put on his defense, Barrister Georgiou put Dr. Lester Walton on the stand. According to the psychiatrist, the Resavit pills contained the sedative doxylamine which can make a person feel agitated. "In broad terms," the doctor said, "the more the person takes the more likely it is he might expect some form of adverse reaction." On cross-examination the psychiatrist admitted that he had never come across a case of doxylamine induced psychosis.

     In his April 28, 2015 closing argument, Crown Prosecutor Daryl Brown told the jury that "whatever the defendant's thought processes were at the time of the killing, it was clear that he knew who he was stabbing. That shows awareness." According to the prosecutor, Mr. Browning had killed his wife because "she was the person who was causing his world to be turned upside down."

     Defense barrister Georigiou, in his closing statement, pointed out that Restavit tablet overdoses have been known to cause psychotic episodes.

     On May 5, 2015, the jury found Brian Browning guilty of murder. That October, Judge Lex Lasry sentenced Browning to 18 years with a non parole period of 14. The prosecution, on the grounds this sentence was too lenient under the circumstances, appealed. In 2016, the appeals court agreed. Browning was re-sentenced to 21 years with a 16 year non parole period.

   

Theme in Documentary Films

     In literary terms, theme is the general underlying subject of a specific story, a recurring idea that often illuminates an aspect of the human condition…

     The best documentary films, like memorable literary novels or thought-provocking dramatic features, not only engage the audience with an immediate story--one grounded in plot and character--but with themes that resonate beyond the particulars of the event being told.

Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

The Diminishing Death Penalty

The death penalty in America currently affects a tiny percentage of all persons convicted of crime, and is used frequently in only one region of the country. In the peak year of 1999, a total of ninety-eight persons were executed in the United States. Seventy-four of the ninety-eight were put to death in southern states, half in Texas and Virginia alone. Even among all persons found guilty of murder, the numbers who reach execution make up less than one-half of 1 percent. In the big statistical picture of criminal punishment, the death penalty is barely visible.

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

Police Perjury

Every objective study of police perjury has come to the conclusion that police perjury is widespread and condoned. And the problem is rampant in most parts of the country.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Reasonable Doubt: The Criminal Justice System and the O. J. Simpson Case, 1996. [ Dershowitz's accusation created an uproar in law enforcement circles. But anyone who knows anything about policing knew then, and knows now, that perjury by detectives and police officers is a criminal justice problem. Recents studies have confirmed this.]

The Romano Dias Poisoning Case: A Strange and Mysterious Death

     According to Katee Dias, in early 2010 while residing in London, England, she received a package in the mail. The parcel bore the correct address but was intended for someone else, a former resident perhaps. Thinking that this person might claim the item, Katee held the package for six months before opening it. When she did, she found a bottle that, according to its label, contained a fruit drink. Katee kept the bottle and threw away the packaging.

     At some point (here the story gets vague) Katee gave her father, a resident of Impington, a Cambridgeshire village in southeast England, the presumed fruit drink. In October 2013, 55-year-old Romano Dias opened the three and a half-year-old bottle and consumed half of its contents. (Based upon news reportage, Katee was present when her father gulped down some of the drink.)

     After a couple of mouthfuls, Mr. Dias reportedly said that the liquid tasted "awful." Shortly thereafter he complained of a burning throat then said, "I am in trouble here. I am dying. I am dead." Mr. Dias collapsed and died, presumably from the contents of the outdated fruit juice bottle.

     A laboratory analysis of the mystery bottle's contents revealed that it contained liquid methamphetamine. (Dealers in meth frequently transport the drug in liquid form.) In speaking to a reporter with the Cambridge News, pathologist Dr. John Grant said that Mr. Dias had consumed well above the lethal dose. He said that while meth use in the United Kingdom has been traditionally light, the American television show "Breaking Bad" has popularized the drug. ("Breaking Bad" was a series about a former high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who becomes an accomplished meth cook.)

     Following a coroner's hearing, Cambridgeshire coroner William Morris ruled the manner of Mr. Dias' death "accidental." The coroner based his ruling on the fact there was no evidence that the sender of the lethal package had intended to harm the victim or anyone else.

     In the United States, the sender of the liquid meth could have been charged with felony-murder. Under the felony-murder doctrine, the perpetrator of a felony that directly results in an unintended death is criminally culpable for the killing of that person. Mailing $34,000 worth of methamphetamine must be a felony in England. Mr. Dias died as a direct result of that crime. The sender, therefore, is guilty of criminal homicide.

     By classifying Mr. Dias' death as accidental, the Cambridgeshire coroner shut the door to a criminal investigation. As a result, the public will never know who sent the bottle of meth to Katee Dias' house in London. (Did the police process the bottle for latent fingerprints?) Other questions that will remain unanswered include: Why did Katee keep the bottle so long? Exactly when did she give it to her father? Why did she give it to him? And did he know he was consuming a three and a half-year-old drink?  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Randy Alana Murder Case

     In 2013, 50-year-old Sandra Coke, a capital case investigator for the federal public defender's office headquartered in Sacramento, California, resided in Oakland with her 15-year-old daughter. As a federal investigator in cases involving death row inmates who had appealed their sentences, Coke interviewed them, their family members, and acquaintances for the public defenders office in the Eastern District of California. The job often involved travel around California and into other states.

     In May 2013, someone broke into Sandra Coke's home and stole her beloved cocker spaniel, Ginny.  Since then, in her spare time, Sandra ran down leads regarding her pet's whereabouts generated by missing-dog posters she had posted around her neighborhood. The poster offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Ginny's return.

     On Saturday, August 3, 2013, someone called Sandra with information about the dog. At eight-thirty the following evening, Sandra left her house to meet with the person who had called about Ginny. Before leaving the dwelling Sandra told her daughter that she'd be gone no more than thirty minutes. When she did not return to the house as promised, her daughter reported her missing to the Oakland Police Department.

     Doing some detective work of her own, the missing woman's daughter tracked her iPhones using a GPS application. One of the phones had been dumped along a highway near Richmond, California. The other device had been ditched in Oakland.

     At seven-forty-five the evening after Sandra Coke's disappearance, Oakland police found her 2007 Mini Cooper convertible parked two miles from her home. In a quest for leads regarding her whereabouts, officers removed bags of evidence from the Coke residence. Included among the items seized were two laptop computers.

     A few days into the missing person's case, investigators developed a suspect from Oakland named Randy Alana. The 56-year-old career criminal had been seen with Sandra Coke on the night she went missing. The two had dated twenty years earlier.

     In June 2012, Alana was paroled from a fifteen-year prison sentence for armed robbery. He also had convictions for kidnapping and rape and was registered in California as a high-risk sex offender. The fact he and Sandra had been together on the night she went missing raised the possibility of murder.

     For Randy Alana, this was not the first time he was a suspect in a murder case. In September 1983, Alameda County, California  prosecutor Russ Giutini charged the then 26-year-old criminal with using a hammer to beat to death Marilyn Pigott, a woman he had known since elementary school. Pigott had been murdered on August 13, 1983 in her North Oakland apartment.

     In June 1984, while awaiting his murder trial in the Alameda County Jail, Alana and a fellow inmate named James Hodari Benson were accused of killing 40-year-old Al Ingram. The victim had been stabbed 93 times. Alana and Benson were members of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. They killed Ingram under the false belief he was a police informant.

      In the fall of 1984, the jury in the Marilyn Pigott murder trial deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Alana. In his second trial, the jury acquitted him because the witnesses who testified against him were "street types." In the Pigott case, Prosecutor Giutini managed to convict Alana of receiving stolen property in connection with his possession of the murder victim's ring.

     In 1986, as a defendant in the Al Ingram murder trial, the jury couldn't reach an unanimous verdict on the issue of Alana's guilt. The judge declared a mistrial. James Hodari Benson was convicted of the murder in 1987. A year later, Alana pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the Benson case in return for a prison sentence of six years.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2013, arrested Randy Alana on a parole violation and booked him into the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin, California. The magistrate denied Alana bail.

     Three days after Alana's arrest, a Contra County search and rescue team near Lagoons Valley Park, an unincorporated area in Solano County outside of Vacaville, California, found Sandra Coke's body in a creek bed. She had been strangled to death.

     Former Alameda prosecutor Russ Giutini, in speaking to a CBS reporter, described Alana as a good-looking career criminal who is cunning and manipulative.

     On August 18, 2013, in a jailhouse interview, Randy Alana told a reporter with The Oakland Tribune that he and Sandra Coke had been in love and had planned to get married. During the past several months, according to Alana, they had shared a house and regularly attended the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm being treated like a suspect," he said.

     In November 2013, an Alameda County prosecutor charged Alana with murder in connection with Sandra Coke's death. Al Wax, Alana's longtime criminal defense attorney, called the case against his client "very weak and circumstantial," asked a judge in June 2014 to dismiss the case. The judge denied the defense motion to drop the charges. The case would progress to the trial stage.

     The Randy Alana murder trial got underway on March 16, 2015 in the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Prosecutor Colleen McMahon, in her opening remarks to the jury, said that after the defendant stoled Sandra Coke's dog Ginny on May 9, 2013, he tried to extort $1,000 from her for the pet's return. She didn't file charges against him and didn't pay him the ransom. She did, however, speak to his parole officer, accusing Alana of stealing her car, abducting her dog, and stealing her daughter's expensive headphones. This discussion led to Alana's incarceration that spring and summer for violating his parole.

     Infuriated that Coke had spoken to his parole agent, the defendant strangled Coke to death in the rear seat of her Mini Cooper parked behind the Nights Inn in North Oakland.

     Defense attorney Al Wax, in his opening statement, said that without an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial and insufficient.

     Over the next four weeks, prosecutor McMahon presented her evidence that included incriminating surveillance camera footage, cellphone data, and records from the defendant's electronic ankle monitor. When police officers arrested him on August 6, 2013 in Dublin, California, Alana was in possess of the murder victim's car keys and credit cards.

     Two of the defendant's former cellmates at the Santa Rita County Jail took the stand for the prosecution and testified that following his arrest, he remarked that while he had assaulted many women in the past, things didn't look good for him this time.

     Prosecutor McMahon, to establish motive, played a recording of a phone call from Alana to Sandra Coke made on May 9, 2013 from the Santa Rita County Jail. In that call, Alana expressed his rage at her for getting him into trouble with his parole officer.

     A 40-year-old homeless woman took the stand and said that just hours after Sandra Coke's murder, the defendant took her, in his "wife's" Mini Cooper, to a motel in Oakland where they smoked crack and she gave him oral sex.

     Randy Alana took the stand on his own behalf on April 20, 2015. Under direct examination by defense attorney Wax, the defendant gave an account of his activities on the day of Coke's murder, a story he was telling for the first time. According to Alana, on August 3, 2013, he and Sandra Coke, in her Mini Cooper, followed two people she believed would lead them to her dog Ginny. At the point of destination, a crack house in Richmond, California, he went inside to smoke dope while she remained out side talking to the unidentified people.

     When Alana came out of the crack house Sandra asked him to take her car and and bank card and withdraw cash from her bank account. When he returned to the crack house with the money she was gone, presumably murdered by these mysterious people.

     On May 4, 2015, the last day of Alana's self-serving testimony, prosecutor McMahon, during a blistering cross-examination, poked several holes in the defendant's story. The next day, following the testimony of the defendant's 33-year-old daughter from a short-lived marriage in the 1980s, the defense rested. The judge excused the jury until May 18.

     On May 20, 2015, after the closing arguments, the jury, following a two-hour deliberation, found Randy Alana guilty as charged. He faced up to 96 years in prison.

     The Alameda County judge, on June 18, 2015, before sentencing the murderer to 131 years in prison, called Alana a "black hole that sucks the life out of anything positive."