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Friday, November 17, 2017

Father Gerald Robinson: Devil Priest or Innocent Man?

     In 1980, 72-year-old Sister Margaret Ann Pahl worked at Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio as the caretaker of the chapel. A strict taskmaster who didn't suffer fools, Sister Margaret worked closely with 42-year-old Father Gerald Robinson, one of the hospital's chaplains. Father Robinson was a popular priest in the heavily Catholic city of 300,000.

     On April 5, 1980, on Holy Saturday, someone found Sister Margaret's bloody body on the chapel floor. She had been choked to near death, then stabbed 31 times in the chest, neck, and face. Some of the stab wounds in her chest formed the pattern of an upside down cross. The killer had also anointed her forehead with a smudge of her own blood. With her habit pulled up to her chest, and her undergarments pulled down around her ankles, the victim had been posed in a position of humiliation. While not raped, the killer had penetrated her with a cross.

     Although detectives on the case immediately suspected Father Robinson of this ritualistic murder, he presided over Sister Margaret's funeral Mass four days after her homicide. The principal piece of crime scene evidence involved a blood stain on the altar cloth consistent with the form of a sword-shaped letter opener in Father Robinson's apartment. The stain bore the vague print of the letter opener's dime-sized medallion bearing the image of the U.S. capitol. However, because the chief detective on the case was a Catholic, and didn't want to scandalize the church, Father Robinson was not arrested. The investigation floundered, and without a suspect, died on the vine.

     In December 2003, a Lucas County cold-case investigative team re-opened the 1980 murder. Father Robinson, over the past 23 years, had served in three Toledo Diocese parishes. The 65-year-old priest, in 2003, was administering to the sick and dying in several area Catholic homes and hospitals. The case came back to life after a woman wrote a letter to the police claiming that Father Robinson had sexually abused her as a child, molestation that involved Satanic ritualistic behavior that involved human sacrifice. (I don't know if this complainant passed a polygraph test, or made the accusation after some psychologist coaxed the memory out of her. After the Satanic hysteria in the McMartin preschool debacle, and the horrible injustice in the Memphis three case, I'm suspicious of this kind of allegation. Human sacrifice? What did that refer to?)

     Following the exhumation of Sister Margaret's body, a forensic pathologist noted that a stab wound in the victim's jaw could have been made by the letter opener found in Father Robinson's apartment. A DNA analysis of the victim's fingernail scrapings, and underwear, excluded the priest. Nevertheless, in April 2006, the police went to Father Robinson's home and arrested him. From the Lucas County Jail where he was held without bail, the priest denied killing Sister Margaret.

     While there was barely enough evidence to legally justify Father Robinson's arrest--no motive, no confession, no eyewitness, and no physical evidence directly linking him to the corpse--the priest went on trial for murder on April 24, 2006. The prosecutor showed the jury a videotape of the defendant's 2004 police interrogation. Father Robinson told his questioners that he had been stunned when one of the other hospital chaplains accused him of murdering Sister Margaret. When left alone for a few minutes in the interrogation room, the priest folded his hands and began to whisper the word "sister," then bowed his head in prayer. At one point he said, "Oh my Jesus." (I don't know exactly how the prosecution interpreted this as incriminating evidence.)

     A prosecution forensic scientist testified that the letter opener "could not be ruled out" as the murder weapon. (The prosecutor, in his closing remarks, told the jury that the letter opener fit one of the victim's stab wounds "like a key in a lock." Instruments used in stabbings cannot be scientifically linked to their wounds this way. In my view, that statement alone should have been adequate grounds for a reversal on appeal.) The forensic scientist also testified that the altar cloth bloodstains were "consistent with" the general shape of the letter opener. On cross-examination, this witness conceded that a pair of missing scissors could have left the blood stain on the altar cloth.

     On May 11, 2006, the jury, after 9 days of testimony, and 6 hours of deliberation, found Father Robinson guilty. The 70-year-old priest became the second priest in U.S. history to be convicted of criminal homicide. (The first was a priest named Hans Schmidt.) The judge sentenced Robinson to 15 years to life. Incarcerated at the Hocking Correctional Facility in southern Ohio, the priest was first eligible for parole in 2016.

     Two months after the murder trial, Ohio's 6th District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction. In December 2008, the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear the case. About a year later, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain the appeal as well.

     While it seemed that Gerald Robinson had run out of legal remedies, his legal team, in 2010, petitioned the state appeals court for post-conviction relief on the grounds that Sister Margaret may have been murdered by a 27-year-old confessed serial killer named Coral Eugene Watts. Watts, a black man, had stabbed 12 women to death in Texas, and at least one woman in Michigan. Police suspected him of killing another 80 victims. Watts had left many of the women with their blouses pulled up to their necks. He had not sexually molested any of his victims. They had all been posed in humiliating positions.

     On April 11, 2011, the Ohio appeals court denied the Robinson petition. According to the appellate judges, Father Robinson's attorneys, at the time of his 2006 trial, knew of Watts as a possible suspect in Sister Margaret's murder, but chose not to pursue this as a defense strategy. Moreover, there were dissimilarities between the serial killer's modus operandi and Sister Margaret's homicide. For one thing, Coral Eugene Watts had typically stalked young women before he killed them outdoors.

     A year later, the Robinson defense team again petitioned the state court of appeals to toss out the 2006 murder conviction. This time the priest's lawyers accused the prosecution of withholding key documents in the case. Regarding the issue of serial killer Watts, Robinson's trial attorneys didn't pursue that line of defense in 2006 because they mistakingly thought he was serving time when Sister Margaret was murdered. As it turned out, on April 5, 1980, Watts was living in southern Michigan, just 40 miles from Toledo. As for modus operandi, the priest's attorneys found Watts' killings and the death of the nun "eerily similar." (Coral Eugene Watts died in 2007 of prostate cancer. He was 53 and serving time in a Michigan prison.)

     Father Gerald Robinson's latest appeal was pending before the Ohio court. While the priest had many supporters who believed in his innocence following his 2006 conviction, it's not clear how many people were still with him and closely following his bid to clear his name and get out of prison. (I don't know who murdered Sister Margaret Ann Pahl in the hospital chapel back in 1980, but from what I know of the case against Gerald Robinson, I don't think the prosecution's evidence supported his conviction.)

     In June 2014, United States District Court Judge James Guin denied a request for the release of Father Robinson. The priest had been ill and, according to reports, didn't have long to live. The judge said he didn't have the jurisdictional authority to grant the motion.

     Father Robinson had a heart attack on Memorial Day 2014 and died on July 4. He passed away in the prison hospital after being told he had 30 to 60 days to live. He was 76,

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Authorship

There should be no such thing as a ghost writer or an as-told-to author. If you didn't write the book, you should not be allowed to claim its authorship. Literature's great benefit from this rule would be the elimination of the so-called "celebrity memoir" genre.

Thornton P. Knowles

Intramural Sex at a Texas High School

     Saralyn Gayle Portwood was arrested on April 17, 2014 for suspicion of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. She's been suspended from Princeton High School [Texas] pending the outcome of the investigation.

     In an interview with authorities, the teacher's 17-year-old alleged victim, who is not enrolled in Portwood's special education classes, said that the 30-year-old teacher began harassing him at school earlier this year. She would compliment his appearance and inappropriately brush against him and touch him, he said. The student claimed that he told Portwood several times that he wasn't interested in a relationship with her, but she persisted, and he did not know how or who to tell….

     One day, the student said, he was called into Portwood's office. Once he was there, she pushed him against a desk, pulled down his shorts and performed oral sex….

     Portwood is married to another teacher in the Princeton School District, and they have a son. School district officials said the allegations surfaced after teachers overheard some disturbing rumors…."It was just rumors by some kids talking, and some teachers overheard. So, when we found out that there truly was an allegation, we immediately called our local law enforcement," Superintendent Philip Anthony said.

     If convicted, Portwood could face up to 20 years in prison.

Andres Jaurequi, "Special Ed Teacher Accused of Forcibly Performing Oral Sex on Student," The Huffington Post, April 22, 2014 

Writing Quote: The First Novel Letdown

I believed, before I sold my first novel, that the publication would be instantly and automatically gratifying, an affirming and romantic experience, a Hallmark commercial where one runs and leaps in slow motion across a meadow filled with wildflowers into the arms of acclaim and self-esteem. This did not happen for me. As a result, I try to warn writers who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird, 1995

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Alexander Edwards: The Babysitter From Hell

     In 2013, Melissa Delp lived in south central Virginia with her two daughters and her boyfriend, Daniel Janney. On December 22, 2013, the couple's friend, 20-year-old Alexander Edwards, came to the Concord, Virginia house to babysit the girls, both of whom were under 13-years-old.

     While the 35-year-old mother and her 32-year-old boyfriend were away from the house, their babysitter used a home tattooing kit to ink the girls under his care.

     When Delp and Janney returned home, the girls had their names tattooed on their shoulders. Janney, with the help of the girl's mother, tried to remedy the situation by removing the tattoos with a hot razor blade. This extremely painful procedure made matters worse by exposing the youngsters to infection and permanent scarring.

     Beyond being alarmingly stupid, why would these adults maim the girls in a futile attempt to erase the babysitter's unwanted ink? Perhaps Delp and Janney were worried that if the authorities got wind of the forced tattooing, they would get in trouble with the law for being negligent parents. (I don't know the backgrounds of the couple, including whether or not they had been in trouble with the police or with child protection services. Janney's mugshot reveals that he is heavily inked.

     On January 16, 2014, a teacher noticed, on one of the girls, the inflamed and scabbed aftermath of Janney's botched attempt to remove the unauthorized tattoo. The scarred girl, when pressed by the teacher, spilled the beans regarding the source of her condition. The concerned teacher reported the possible child abuse case to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. She also called child protection services.

     Two days later, deputies booked the tattooing babysitter, Alexander Edwards, into the Campbell County Adult Detention Center in Rustburg, Virginia. The 20-year-old faced felony charges of malicious wounding, child abuse, and abduction. (Abduction includes unlawful confining or restraint.)

     On January 18, 2014, deputies also arrested Melissa Delp and Daniel Janney. Placed into the county jail in Rustburg, the couple faced felony charges of malicious wounding and child abuse.

     Michael Mucklow, owner of the Go! Tattoo removal service in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, heard of the involuntary tattooing in Virginia and offered to help. Mucklow believed he could mitigate the damage by removing what was left of Edward's tattoos by using laser technology. There was nothing he could do, however, about the physical and emotional trauma caused by Janney's alleged razor blade removal attempt.

     On August 2014, Melissa Delp pleaded guilty to felony child abuse. The judge sentenced her to eight years in prison.

     On March 2, 2016, following the additional charges of rape and sodomy (of the 12-year-old girl); solicitation to commit a felony (Edwards asked a potential hitman to kill several witnesses against him); conspiracy to commit murder; and attempted murder, the Campbell County judge sentenced Alexander Edwards to two life terms in prison.

     The judge sentenced Daniel Janney to a year and two months in prison after he was convicted of felony wounding. 

Get A Babysitter!

     Two children in Washington, D.C. under the age of two were left in an unattended car while their parents went to a wine tasting event in a restaurant on New Year's Eve 2014. Police identified the parents as Christopher Lucas, 41 and 45-year-old Jennie Chang…

    The children, a 22-month-old boy and a two-year-old girl were restrained in child seats inside the car which was locked. The children were left alone for about an hour. When the parents returned to the car police arrested them on the charge of second-degree cruelty to children…The youngsters were examined by paramedics then taken into custody by Child Protective Services personnel.

"Parents Left Kids In Car To Attend Wine Tasting," WUSA-TV, February 3, 2015 

Woody Allen On Writer Immortality

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Woody Allen

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Mediocrity

To be honest, 95 percent of published writing is, at best, mediocre. But don't knock mediocrity; without it, there would be very little to read.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who Murdered Vindalee Smith?

     Vindalee Smith, a 38-year-old unemployed health care worker lived by herself in a basement apartment in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. The Jamaican-born Seventh Day Adventist was eight and a half months pregnant. Her other children, two girls and two boys, lived with friends or relatives. The man who fathered these offspring, now teens and young adults, lived in England.

     On Sunday, October 21, 2012, at the New Dimension Church, Vindalee Smith and a 33-year-old man named Anthony Jackman, were scheduled to participate in a faux marriage ceremony. They weren't really getting married because her "fiancee" already had a wife in New Jersey with whom he was estranged. (I don't know if Vindalee knew about Jackman's wife. I presume he is the one who had impregnated her.) Jackman was living with his parents who had an apartment down the block from Smith's place.
     On Saturday, the day before the "wedding," Vindalee didn't show up for morning services at the New Dimension Church. A fellow member of the congregation called Vindalee's landlord to check on the pregnant church member. When the landlord used a duplicate key to enter the apartment, he found Smith lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She and the baby were dead.
     At the site of this woman's violent death, New York City detectives determined that the victim's apartment had not been entered by force, and that the murder weapon, a knife or other sharp object, was not at the scene. There were blood spatter patterns throughout the apartment. The victim had bled to death from a gaping incised or stab wound in the neck. 
     Beneath the victim's body, detectives found an envelope containing a one-page note that had been typed in large block letters and printed out of a computer. (The envelope bore a bloody latent fingerprint.) According to the note, the killer promised to murder one pregnant woman a week until the authorities released Lee Boyd Malvo from prison. (Malvo and Allen Mohammed were the so-called Beltway Snipers who murdered several people in the DC area in 2002. Mohammed was executed in 2009, and Malvo is serving a sentence of life without parole.) The note was signed, "The Apprentice."
     Detective were skeptical of the notion that Vindalee Smith had been murdered by some crazed serial killer. They found it more plausible that the note had been planted by a killer who knew the victim, and had a more traditional motive for her death. The person who killed this woman had been careless enough to leave behind a bloody fingerprint. Unless, of course, the print belonged to the victim. 
     On Sunday night, October 21, detectives from the 67th Precinct arrested Anthony Jackman on charges related to a fake New Jersey automobile registration. They questioned him about the Smith murder, and the next day, he was released from custody. (I don't know if Jackman agreed to be questioned about the murder or exercised his Miranda rights.) Detectives, when asked by reporters if Jackman were a suspect, denied that he was. 
     According to press reports, Anthony Jackman has a history of fourteen arrests involving petit larceny (petty theft), burglary, weapons possession, and the possession of a forged instrument. (I would presume, unless he had an airtight alibi, that Jackman was considered a suspect. In terms of motive, I think it was important to know if Vindalee knew that Jackman, her fiancee, was married. 
     As for other possible suspects, detectives learned that months earlier Vindalee had feuded with a neighbor who accused her of letting his dog out of the building. This man had reportedly threatened to kill her. I don't know if the police have identified and questioned this man. As for the possibility of a serial killer, I don't think so. This doesn't look like a murder committed for sex, or money. The key to solving this case is motive, and of course that bloody, crime scene fingerprint.

   As of November 2017, the Vindalee Smith murder case remained unsolved. The person who left the crime scene latent fingerprint had not been identified. 

Subduing The Violent Woman

Having to fight with women is the worst. You sometimes tend to go a little easier on a woman than you would on a man…And they make you pay for it. Their fingernails rip your flesh. They go for your eyes and groin. They spit on you and pull your hair. When you're a cop all that chivalry gets you is hurt. And in the public's eye, you always look like you're in the wrong when you go hands-on with a woman. Actually, some people's idea of police brutality is, to paraphrase a character from the television show The Wire, anytime the police win a fight.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Drugs For Writer's Block

They now have a drug (Prozac) for writer's block. Hell, they should invent a drug that kills the creative writing desire. You know, get to the root cause of all this misery. Short of that, there's always the Ernest Hemingway solution.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Bad Boy Romance Novel Hero

I think there are several dynamics that attract us to bad boy heroes who are mad, bad, and dangerous to know--at least in novels and movies. They're hot, hunky, and irreverent. I think a lot of us have the fantasy of meeting a bad boy with snake-charmer eyes, a wicked smile, and a smooth tongue. We are caught up in the overwhelming desire for such a man and we just can't fight it.

Rachael Gibson, likebooks.com, 2005 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Student Drug Informants: Collateral Damage in the War on Drugs

      The University of Massachusetts at Amherst had a 61-officer police department that includes a unit that handled drug cases. In the fall of 2012, campus drug cops learned from one of their student snitches that a sophomore named Logan was selling the ecstasy drug Molly as well as LSD to other students. Not long after that, an undercover UMass officer bought drugs from the former high school hockey star and scholarship student.

     In most colleges and universities a student caught selling drugs on or near campus is suspended from school and charged with a crime. These schools also inform the student's parents why their son or daughter was kicked out of the institution. Once alerted, parents of children with drug problems have the option of trying to get them help.

     In Logan's case, the campus police gave him a choice: he could be thrown out of school, pay back the $40,000 in scholarship money, face the wrath of his parents, and risk going to prison for up to five years, or he could avoid all of that by becoming a drug informant for the campus police. Logan decided to snitch on his fellow students.

     In December 2012, the UMass drug officer in charge of Logan's case, gave him back the $700 officers had seized from him at the time of his arrest. His parents, proud of the fact their son was earning good grades in college, had no idea he had a drug problem, had been caught dealing, and was now an informant for the UMass police. In the department he was identified as "CI-8."

     Over the next several months, Logan made drug buys for the campus police, became seriously hooked on heroin, and snitched on his fellow students. He continued, through all of this, to maintain grades good enough to hold on to his scholarship. (Because he was an out-of-state student, Logan's tuition was almost double that of his in-state counterparts.)

     On a Sunday afternoon in October 2013, Logan's parents showed up on campus to pay him a surprise visit. They went to his living quarters and knocked on his door. When he didn't respond they assumed he was working at his campus job. But he wasn't at his job site either. The parents became worried when he didn't answer their text messages. It was then they asked a maintenance employee to let them into his dwelling.

     In the bathroom, the parents found their son lying dead on the floor next to a needle and a spoon. He had been dead for some time because his body had cooled. The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be "acute heroin poisoning."

     Although Logan had beeen arrested in 2011 for possession of cocaine, his parents thought he had beaten his drug problem. They were shocked that as a UMass student he had been hooked on heroin.

     Since the vast majority of UMass police cases involved underage and excessive drinking, Logan's heroin overdose came as a shock to everyone in the college community. There hadn't been a heroin related death at the school since 2008.

     Until the Boston Globe published an investigative article about Logan's case, no one but the campus police knew about Logan's role as a campus drug snitch. His parents and others were outraged by the revelation.

     In September 2014, in response to the Boston Globe story, the UMass Police Department discontinued flipping drug arrestees into snitches.
   

      

Turning the Interrogation Room Into a Gas Chamber

     A police interrogation of a Kansas City man charged with drug and gun offenses ended prematurely when the interrogator was driven from the room by the suspect's excessive flatulence.

     A detective reported that when asked for his address, 24-year-old Sean Sykes Jr leaned to the side of his chair and released a loud fart before answering...Sykes continued to be flatulent and the detective was forced to quickly end the interview.

Associated Press, November 13, 2017 

Humor and Pathos in Nonfiction

     Any well-written nonfiction story can and should engage the emotions. In even the most serious of topics, there is usually room for a touch of humor, and the contrast helps heighten the story's impact. Pathos, too, can emerge in the unlikeliest settings, and can be all the more effective for being unexpected. This doesn't mean that material has to be thigh-slapping hilarious, or tear-jerking sorrowful. Most often, humor and pathos are subtle, growing naturally out of the events being described.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998 

Another Example of Idiocy in Lower Education

     A 9-year-old boy in Kermit, Texas was suspended from school after he told a classmate he could make him disappear with a ring from Mount Doom, a fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series. The fourth-grader had recently watched the film, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and it sparked his imagination. According to his father, "My son lacks the magical powers to threaten his friend's existence. If he did, I'm sure he'd bring him right back."

     School officials at Kermit Elementary School took swift action and suspended the boy for making a terroristic threat.

"Texas Student Suspended Over Hobbit Ring," Fox News, February 3, 2015 

The Instinct to Write Novels

     When I began to write stories and novels I did so as though it were the most natural thing in the world. I took to it as a duck takes to water. I have never quite got over my astonishment at being a writer. My language was commonplace, my vocabulary limited, my grammar shaky and my phrases hackneyed. But to write was an instinct that seemed as natural to me as to breathe, and I did not stop to consider if I wrote well or badly.

W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938 

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Sungee Kwon Suicide-Murder Case

     In 2015, 45-year-old Dr. Raja Fayad, a native of Syria who earned his medical degree in that country, decided to enter academia rather than to practice medicine. That decision brought him to the United States where he taught physiology and anatomy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2008, Dr. Fayad and his wife Sunghee Kwon moved into a house on Lake Murray in suburban Lexington County outside of Columbia, South Carolina.

     Dr. Fayad, an expert on colon cancer, had moved to South Carolina to assume his new position as the graduate director and head of the Applied Physiology Division of the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health.

     While Dr. Fayad enjoyed success in his professional life, his marriage to Sunghee Kwon had fallen apart. Although they were divorced in 2012, the couple continued to occupy the house on Lake Murray. In late 2014, however, Dr. Fayad moved out of the dwelling into a suite of rooms at a nearby residence motel.

     At one in the afternoon of Thursday February 5, 2015, Dr. Fayad's former wife showed up at his office on the fourth floor of the Arnold School of Public Health Building in downtown Columbia a few blocks from the Statehouse. She came armed with a 9 mm pistol.

     A few minutes after Sunghee Kwon's arrival at the university, police officers responded to reports from people who had heard the sound of gunshots coming from Dr. Fayad's office and adjacent laboratory.

     Officers that afternoon discovered the dead bodies of Dr. Fayad and his 46-year-old wife. He had been shot several times in the upper torso. After murdering her ex-spouse, Sunghee Kwon took her own life by shooting herself in the stomach. (Suicidal women are more likely to shoot themselves in the stomach than men who prefer the head. In any case, it is a rare mode of suicide.)

     The 9 mm pistol, its magazine empty, lay near the bodies. There were no witnesses to the murder-suicide. 

Baby Drug Snitch

     Deputy Sheriffs in Daytona Beach, Florida stopped a car on Sunday February 1, 2015 for traffic violations…A K-9 unit arrived to check the car for drugs and deputies asked the occupants to step outside. One of the occupants had an 11-month-old baby in her arms.

     When a deputy handed the driver's license back to Candyce Harden, the baby in her arms reached inside her shirt and pulled out a baggie full of cocaine…The officers found three more bags of cocaine and a quantity of pills without a prescription.

     Harden faces several charges including child abuse and possession of drugs.

"Baby Pulls Cocaine From Woman's Shirt During Traffic Stop," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

One Stupid Mother

     Police in Lincoln County, Missouri say a 6-year-old boy was subjected to a violent kidnapping arranged by family members who worried he was "too nice" and wanted to scare him to teach him to be warier of strangers.

     According to the account from the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office, the boy's aunt arranged for a male co-worker to do the kidnapping with the consent of the boy's mother and grandmother. He then lured the boy into his truck, told him he would never "see his mommy again," and showed him a handgun. The man bound the boy's hands and feet, blindfolded him, and took him to the family's basement. After more trauma, the boy was taken upstairs for a lecture on stranger danger.

     All four adults involved in the scheme were charged with a range of offenses including felony kidnapping and child abuse.

"Staged Kidnapping of Boy: Why Parents Should Avoid Using Fear," csmonitor.com, February 2, 2015 

Write a Nonfiction Book People Will Want To Read

I'll bet you think that if you write a nonfiction book that is interesting, fact filled, and with touches of great writing, a publisher is sure to buy it. Wrong. You have forgotten the first basic rule. Find out who wants it.

Oscar Collier, How to Write and Sell Your First Novel, 1990 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Isaac Tiharihondi Mass Murder Case

     Uganda native Israel Ahimbisibwe, after being ordained in the Episcopal Church of Uganda, came to the United States where he earned three masters' degrees and a Ph.D. His masters' degrees came from the Theological Seminary at Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School, and Rice University in Houston where he earned his doctorate after completing graduate research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

     The 51-year-old Reverend Doctor held the position of Vicar of the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Houston. He resided in a west Houston apartment complex with his 47-year-old wife Dorcus and their son Israel Ahimbisibwe Jr. who was five. Pastor Ahimbisibwe's 17-year-old son Emmanuel attended a private school in California. Isaac Tiharihondi, his 19-year-old son, graduated in 2014 from Houston's Memorial High School.

     Isaac told his father that he had joined the Marines and would report for duty on February 6, 2015. The pastor didn't believe his son and this led to an argument and bad feelings between the two of them.

     On Sunday evening February 1, 2015, Redeemer church members Keever Wallace and his wife Brooke knocked on the pastor's apartment door after the vicar, his wife, and their son failed to show up that morning for church. No one came to the door that morning and the pastor did not return calls to his cellphone.

     The next day, at nine in the morning, Brooke Keever returned to the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When no one responded when she knocked on the door, she contacted the manager of the complex who had a key.

     The building manager called the Houston Fire Department and waited for the arrival of the emergency personnel before entering the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When members of the fire department discovered three dead bodies inside the dwelling, they notified the police.

     In one of the bathrooms, Houston police officers found the bodies of the vicar, his wife, and their 5-year-old son. The parents had been severely beaten to death with a lamp, baseball bat, and hammer. The boy had been bludgeoned and stabbed in the neck and back.

     Investigators found no evidence of forced entry and no indication that the killer had taken anything from the apartment.

     On Wednesday February 4, 2015, in Jackson, Mississippi 350 miles from Houston, police arrested Isaac Tiharihondi, the vicar's 19-year-old son on a Texas warrant charging him with triple murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Hines County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi where he would await extradition back to Houston.

     Isaac Tirarihondi had been staying at a Jackson Mississippi motel. His mother had told friends that she was worried about him. He had lied about the Marines and was depressed.

     On February 1, 2016, Isaac Tiharihondi pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder. The judge, pursuant to the plea agreement, sentenced Tiharihondi to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Following the mass murder to the day of his sentencing, the unemotional killer remained silent as to why he had committed such a horrific crime. 

"Ghettoside"

Although black men account for only 6 percent of the nation's population, they constitute 40 percent of its murder victims. In the 2,677 killings of black men in Los Angeles between 1994 and 2006, there were arrests in only 38 percent of the cases. In 1993, right before the crack tsunami ebbed, a young black man in Los Angeles was as likely to die as an American soldier during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At least a solder felled in Sadr City perished in the service of a greater cause. In Athens Park, Los Angeles, black men were murdered for no reason other than a hard basketball foul, the wrong colors, a glance at someone's girl.

Alexander Nazaryan, "The City of Fallen Angels and Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America," newsweek.com, February 7, 2015 

The Vampire In Romance Fiction

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz in Dangerous Men And Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

When Your Child Goes Missing, Look Under His Bed

     Police say a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy wasn't missing as his mother feared, but was simply hiding under his bed, apparently while playing hide-and-seek…The boy's mother called for help on Friday January 30, 2015 when she couldn't find the boy for an expanded period of time. Police in Blair Township 90 miles east of Pittsburgh began assembling a search-and-rescue team early Saturday January 31 when they learned that the boy had been found.

     No charges have been filed in the case….

"Boy Missing Was Playing Hide-And-Seek," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

An Editor Can't Save A Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins, dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken,

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Lindsay Lohan Crime-Wave: The Petty Offenses of a Hollywood Has-Been

     The only person more pathetic than an old Hollywood has-been is a young Hollywood has-been. Over the past five years, Lindsay Lohan has slipped from successful television actress, theatrical film star, and recording artist to a D-list celebrity whose principal claim to fame is her rap sheet. And even her arrest record is D-list. Most of her crimes involve cocaine, alcohol, driving under the influence, a bellicose personality, and a sociopath's disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system.

     Other than being rich and infamous, there is nothing about the 26-year-old that distinguishes her from your everyday, common garden variety substance abusing loser. Because she has money, Lohan is well-dressed in court, and has better legal representation than your ordinary petty offender. That is one of the reasons why, notwithstanding numerous probation violations, she has spent so little time in jail. Because the actress is such a clear reflection of America's culture of drugs, booze, narcissism, and entitlement, I would nominate Lindsay Lohan as Time magazine's upcoming Person of the Year. (Just kidding, I think.)

     In May 2007 the police arrested Lohan for driving under the influence and possession of cocaine after she lost control of her Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Two months later, in Santa Monica, Lohan got into an argument with a female motorist whom she chased in her SUV. The actress was again under the influence, and in possession of cocaine. She had also been driving with a suspended license. Later that summer, in return for pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and driving under the influence, the judge sentenced Lohan to one day in jail, ten days of community service, and three years probation during which time she had to enter an alcohol education program.

     On November 15, when it came time to serve her 24 hours behind bars at the jail in Lynwood, California, the sheriff, due to overcrowding, released her after she had endured 84 minutes in stir. (I'm surprised this experience hasn't led to a ghost-written prison memoir.)

     In October 2009, the judge who had sentenced Lohan following her cocaine and driving under the influence plea, extended her probationary period one year because she'd been too busy (attending Justin Bieber concerts and the like) to complete drunk-driving school. Six months later, after Lohan skipped a court date to attend the Cannes Film Festival, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest. After the police took her into custody on the bench warrant, Lohan posted the $100,000 bail and was released. She left the booking center with an alcohol-monitoring device around her ankle. According to the judge, if Lohan didn't stop boozing and snorting cocaine, he'd revoke her bail and she would be incarcerated. Lohan was also ordered to undergo, on a weekly basis, random drug and alcohol testing.

     About two weeks after being fitted with the ankle monitor, Lohan activated the device while attending a MTV Movie Awards party In response, the judge ruled that she had violated her probation. As a result, the judge raised her bail $100,000. Her bail bondsman covered the increase which allowed Lohan to remain free.

     On July 6, 2010, the judge sentenced Lohan to 90 days in jail for failing to attend her court-ordered weekly alcohol education classes. Two weeks later, Lohan showed up at the jail to begin her sentence. After 13 days behind bars, the sheriff released his famous prisoner due to facility overcrowding. In September 2010, Lohan's probation was again revoked after a random drug test revealed cocaine in her system. Instead of being sent back to jail like a common drug addict, the authorities shipped Lohan off to the Betty Ford rehabilitation facility.

     A staff worker at the Betty Ford Center, in December 2010, accused Lohan of attacking her after the staff employee asked Lohan to take a drug/alcohol test. The staffer later dropped the charges. (I wonder how much that cost.)

     In February 2011, police arrested Lohan in connection with the felony theft of a $2,500 necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store. She pleaded not guilty and made bail. A month later, the judge in Lohan's 2007 cocaine/DUI case, revoked her probation and sentenced her to 120 days in the Lynwood jail. She was also ordered to complete the 480 hours of community service. In the meantime, she pleaded guilt to the misdemeanor theft of the $2,500 necklace.

     After a few days behind bars, the sheriff, citing overcrowding, kicked Lohan out of jail again. (I don't buy the overcrowding rationale. I think jail personnel simply found housing this pain-in-the-neck celebrity too disruptive, and not worth the effort.) While Lohan served the remainder of her jail sentence under house arrest, she failed to complete the required 480 hours of community service. As a result, the judge revoked her probation again, and kicked up her bail another $100,000. (They put her bail bondsman on suicide-watch. Just kidding.)

     On March 14, 2012, the LAPD investigated Lohan for allegedly bumping a person with her car outside a Hollywood nightclub, then fleeing the scene. The LA prosecutor in charge of the matter, citing lack of evidence, dropped the case. In September, Lohan took her one-woman crime-wave to the east coast. While outside a fancy Manhattan hotel, she clipped another person with her car, then sped off. Again, no charges were filed. A month later, Lindsay and her mother Dina allegedly got into a fight at the family home on Long Island. No charges were filed in that case either.

     Police officers in New York City, on November 29, 2012, arrested Lohan on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in connection with the alleged assault of a woman at a Manhattan nightclub. The supposed victim, a psychic named Tiffany Mitchell, claimed that Lohan, after called her a "f-ing Gypsy," punched her in the face. (You would think a psychic would see the punch coming.)

     Lohan's ongoing trouble with the law might have finally caught up with her. While she was still on probation from the necklace theft, the police in Santa Monica, on the day of the alleged assault of the psychic, filed new charges against Lohan that are related to her June 2007 cocaine/DUI case. Lohan was accused of giving false information to a police officer, obstructing justice, and reckless driving. All of these offenses carried jail sentences.

     On December 3, 2012, the IRS seized Lohan's bank accounts. According to the government, she owes $233.904 in unpaid taxes for the years 2009 and 2010.

     In 2013, Lohan did a series of interviews with Oprah that earned her $2 million. Most of that money, however, was earmarked for taxes, rehab fees, and further IRS debts. She was left with $500,000.

     In October 2017, in a red-carpet interview, Lohan incurred the wrath of almost everyone when she defended the disgraced Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein. "I feel bad for Harvey Weinstein right now," she said. "I don't think it's right what's going on." Lohan had supporting roles in two of Weinstein Company productions.

TV Star Confessed to Sex Crimes

     "7th Heaven" TV star Stephen Collins has admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with three female minors…The actor released a statement amid child molestation accusations that arose in his divorce proceedings.

     Collins was the subject of reports in October 2014 after his wife, Faye Grant, said he admitted to her he molested three underage girls. TMZ posted an audio recording that was alleged to have been made during a November 2012 therapy session involving Collins and his wife during which he made incriminating statements…

     The incidents reportedly happened between 1973 and 1994.

     "Forty years ago, I did something terribly wrong that I deeply regret…I have been working to atone for it ever since. I've decided to address these issues publicly because two months ago, various news organizations published a recording made by my then wife, Faye Grant, during a confidential marriage therapy session in January 2012. This session was recorded without the therapist's or my knowledge or consent," Collins wrote.

     Collins, 67, was known for his clean-cut image in Hollywood and played a pastor and beloved father on the hit show "7th Heaven," He's avoided the limelight since the accusations were made public….

" '7th Heaven' Actor Stephen Collins: 'I Did Something Terribly Wrong,' " CNN, December 17, 2014 

The Writer in Hollywood

I knew her name--Madam Hollywood. I rose and said good-by to this strumpet in her bespangled red gown; good-by to her lavender-painted cheeks, her coarsened laugh, her straw-dyed hair, her wrinkled fingers bulging with gems. A wench with flaccid tits and sandpaper skin under her silks, shined up and whistling like a whore in a park; covered with stink like a railroad station pissery and swinging a dead ass in the moonlight.

Ben Hecht, mid-twentieth century writer

Friday, November 10, 2017

Missing In America: A Nation of Missing and Lost Persons

     On May 29, 1971, Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson, high school juniors from Vermillion, South Dakota, were in a 1960 Studebaker Lark en route to a party held at a gravel pit near Elk Point, a town near the Iowa border thirty miles east of their hometown. Along the way, the girls asked a car full of boys for directions to the party site. According to the boys, while leading the girls to the gravel pit, they looked in their rearview mirror and didn't see the Studebaker.

     The Vermillion High School Students did not arrive at the party, and did not return home. The Studebaker went missing as well. (The youths who gave Miller and Jackson directions were never suspects in their disappearance.) The missing persons investigation led nowhere, and died on the vine. Decades after they went missing, no one had a clue regarding what had happened to the Vermillion students. It seemed they had just vanished off the face of the earth.

     Early in 2007, Aloysius Black Crow, a South Dakota prison inmate, told the authorities that he had secretly audio-taped a fellow prisoner who had confessed to him that he had raped and murdered the Vermillion girls. David Lykken, the 54-year-old man Aloysius Black Crow said he'd taped, was a convicted rapist and kidnapper who was serving a 227-year prison sentence. In 2004, the police had found human bones, articles of female clothing, and a purse on Lykken's farm. (In 1971, Lykken would have been 18-years-old.)

     A Union County Grand Jury, based upon the jailhouse snitch's audio-tape, indicted Lykken on two counts of murder, kidnapping, and rape. As it turned out, the confession Aloysius Black Crow had taped was a fake. The charges against Lykken were dropped, and in 2008, the jailhouse informant pleaded guilty to perjury.

     On Tuesday, September 24, 2013, a fisherman on Brule Creek near Elk Point, spotted the wheels of a car sitting on its roof in the drought-shallowed creek. Several hours later, the authorities pulled a 1960 Studebaker Lark out of the water and mud. Inside the rusted vehicle, police officers discovered what appeared to be the skeletons of two people, remains presumed to be those of Cheryl Miller and Pamella Jackson.

     On April 15, 2014, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told reporters that forensic scientists have confirmed the identities of the remains as being Miller and Jackson. Investigators and forensic experts determined that the vehicle's ignition and headlights had been on when the car went into the water. The car was also in the third gear. Given the absence of gunshot or knife wounds, and no signs of alcohol consumption, the deaths went into the books as accidental.

     As a missing persons case, the 42-year-old mystery was solved. While the case was officially closed, family members would never know the exact circumstances of the crash, or how quickly the girls had died.

     If the lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds in the United States suddenly went dry, there wouldn't be enough forensic scientists to analyze all of the remains. America's waterways are grave sites for thousands of missing persons, people whose stories will never be told.

       

Americans Behind Bars

     There were 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. as of the 2010 Census. It's often been remarked that our national incarceration rate of 707 adults per every 100,000 citizens is the highest in the world, by a huge margin. [Higher than North Korea's?]…

     Much of the discussion of prison population centers around inmates in our 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities. But at any given time, hundreds of thousands more individuals are locked up in the nation's 3,200 local and county jails…We have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S.--5,000 plus--than we do colleges and universities. In many parts of America, particularly the south, there are more people living in prisons than on college campuses…[Here's a bumper sticker: MORE JAILS, FEWER COLLEGES]

     Florida, Arizona and California stand out as states with sizable corrections populations in just about every county. States in the midwest, on the other hand, tend to have concentrated populations in just a handful of counties…

     In many instances, large correctional facilities are located in sparsely populated regions like northern New York. In some of these counties, prisons account for 10, 20 or 30 percent of the total population….

"The U.S. Has More Jails Than Colleges," washingtonpost.com, January 6, 2015

     

Is Publishing A Novel Like Winning a Trophy?

What do we imagine our published novel will bring us? In part it is a trophy we want. Not entirely, of course, for we want all the pleasures of writing and we want the pleasure of knowing that someone else may read our words and savor a story that once existed only in our heads--and yet in part there is a yearning for a trophy. But a trophy of what?

Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark, 1994 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction

     For purposes of this discussion, a wrongful conviction is the conviction of an innocent person rather than an overturned guilty verdict based on a procedural issue. In the past six years, more than 500 prisoners convicted of the crimes of rape and murder have been released after being exonerated by DNA analysis. And all of these convictions had been upheld on appeal before the application of forensic science set these prisoners free. Since only a fraction of murders, rapes, and aggravated assault crimes feature DNA evidence, it is reasonable to assume the above exonerations represent the tip of an injustice iceberg.

     More than 90 percent of criminal convictions in this country are based on guilty pleas, and it is a fact that defendants who are innocent plead guilty to avoid the risk of maximum sentences. Since plea bargained cases do not involve trials, there is no way to know what percentage of these cases involved trumped-up evidence, prosecutorial wrongdoing, and/or incompetent defense attorneys.

     In a criminal justice system based upon the presumption of innocence and due process, how can a defendant be convicted of a crime he didn't commit? Wrongful convictions are not caused by flaws in the system, but by the way the system is administered by criminal justice practitioners. What follows are common elements of wrongful conviction cases:

Incompetent and Unscrupulous Investigators

     There are too many inexperienced, poorly trained, and/or unethical police detectives. These officers often ignore or destroy exculpatory evidence. They employ interrogation techniques that produce false confessions, pressure uncertain eyewitnesses into positive identifications, and in the worse cases, fabricate or plant evidence. These detectives also make up probable cause to acquire search warrants, and commit perjury at trials.

Overzealous Prosecutors

     Unethical, over-eager, and politically motivated prosecutors often pressure forensic scientists to tailor their expert testimony to the prosecution's theory of the case. They introduce coerced confessions, and put unreliable eyewitnesses on the stand. When short of solid evidence of guilt, they produce jailhouse informants and phony, hired-gun experts. These prosecutors are more about winning cases than prosecuting the right people.

Useless Defense Attorneys

     There are too many criminal defense attorneys who are either professionally unqualified, or go into court unprepared because they are lazy. These practitioners do not spend much time consulting with their clients and do not carefully go over the prosecution's case. They don't file pretrial motions to challenge questionable confessions, expert witnesses, eyewitnesses, jailhouse snitches, and search warrants. At trial they do not aggressively cross-examine prosecution witnesses, or mount effective defenses. Following convictions caused by their own poor performances, they don't file appeals. Many public defenders offices in the U.S. are underfunded, and overwhelmed by huge caseloads.

Biased and Indifferent Judges

     As seen in the O. J. Simpson trial, judges aren't always up to the job. Many are incompetent, biased, unfocused, or weak. The worst are simply corrupt. Police detectives can be disciplined, and prosecutors can be voted out of office. Bad judges, however, are rarely recalled, and are hard to weed out.

     The American criminal justice system, made up of police, courts, and  corrections, is broken. Crime solution rates are at an all time low. Too many innocent people are convicted, and too many guilty people walk. 

Using Exaggeration in Writing Humor

Be careful with exaggeration, one of the main tools of humor writing. Exaggeration, generally speaking, should be outside the realm of possibility, but somehow within the realm of visual imagination.

Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle, 2000

The American Jail Population

     In a legal sense, the jail is the point of entry into the criminal justice system. It is the place where arrested persons are booked and where they are held for their court appearances if they cannot arrange bail. It is also the city or county detention facility for persons serving misdemeanor sentences, which in most states cannot exceed one year. The prison, on the other hand, is a state or federal institution that holds persons serving felony sentences, which generally run to more than a year.

     The public impression is that the jail holds a collection of dangerous criminals. But [in reality] the jail holds only a few persons who fit the popular conception of a criminal--a predator who seriously threatens the lives and property of ordinary citizens. In fact, the general majority of the persons arrested and held in jail belong to a different social category....

     Beyond poverty and its correlates--under-education, unemployment and minority status--jail prisoners share two essential characteristics: detachment and disrepute. They are detached because they are not well integrated into conventional society....They are disreputable because they are perceived as irksome, offensive, threatening, and even protoevolutionary [throwbacks].

John Irwin, The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society, 1985

If You Want to Read a Novel About Society, Pick Up a Crime Novel

The crime novel is where the social novel went. If you want to write about the underbelly of America, if you want to write about the America nobody wants to look at, you turn to the crime novel. I don't bristle at the "you're a mystery writer" or "you're a crime writer" thing. I don't have an issue with that. But I do think that personally, when I sit down to write I'm writing an urban novel, writing about urban realities.

Dennis Lehane, powells.com, 2003 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Clayton Lockett: When the Death Penalty is Not Enough

     On June 3, 1999, in Perry, Oklahoma, 23-year-old Clayton Lockett, a violent criminal, accompanied by a pair of crime associates, invaded a home and severely beat the occupant. While Lockett was assaulting 23-year-old Bobby Lee Bornt over a debt, a girl just out of high school knocked on Bornt's front door. Lockett appeared in the doorway and pulled  the girl into the house.

     After hitting the stunned visitor in the face with a shotgun, Lockett put the gun to her head and ordered her to invite her 18-year-old friend, Stephanie Neiman, into the duplex. Neiman had graduated from Perry High School less than a month earlier. She had been a good student, and played in the band.

     The nightmare for these girls began with Lockett and his accomplices raping Nieman's friend and beating her with the shotgun. After the rape and beatings, Lockett bound the girls with duct tape and drove them and Bornt, in Neiman's pickup truck, to a remote area a few miles away. En route, he informed his captives that he planned to kill all three of them and bury their bodies in the woods. The terrified girls begged for their lives.

     At the designated spot, Lockett made the rape victim dig a grave. When the hole was big enough, Lockett told Neiman to get into the grave. He pointed his shotgun at her and pulled the trigger. The weapon jammed. Lockett walked away, cleared the gun, and returned to the site where he shot and wounded Neiman. He forced the other girl to bury Stephanie Neiman alive. The 18-year-old was murdered because she had refused to promise Lockett that she wouldn't report the rape and kidnapping to the police.

     Lockett and his degenerate friends drove the rape victim and Bornt back to the duplex. Lockett threatened to kill his traumatized victims if they went to the police.

     As it turned out, one of the accomplices notified the authorities in the hopes of saving his own neck. A local prosecutor charged Clayton Lockett with first-degree murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, assault and battery, and burglary. Upon his arrest, the cold-blooded rapist and sadistic killer confessed to shooting the girl and having her buried alive.

     In 2000, a jury found Lockett guilty as charged, and sentenced him to death. He ended up on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

     After fourteen years of legal appeals, and a last minute stay, Governor Mary Fallin ordered Lockett's execution to take place on April 29, 2014. That evening, an hour before his scheduled death, Lockett fought with prison officers and had to be tasered before being strapped onto the gurney. The executioner, after struggling to find a vein, administered the three-drug cocktail--midazalam to render Lockett unconscious, vecuronium to stop his breathing, and potassium chloride--to stop his heart.

     Seven minutes after the drugs were put into Lockett's body, he was still conscious. Ten minutes later, after being declared dead, the condemned man moved his head and tried to climb off the gurney. He was also heard muttering the word, "man." At this point, a corrections official lowered the blind to spare witnesses the sight of a slower than planned execution.

     Forty-three minutes after the executioner injected Lockett with the three drugs, he died of a heart attack. The potassium chloride had done its job, albeit a bit slowly.

     As could be expected, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment activists, and hand-wringing media types agonized over Lockett's imperfect execution. These death row sob-sisters characterized his death as torture, an ordeal, and a nightmare, and called for the abolishment of the death penalty.

     Where were these outrage mongers when Lockett shot Stephanie Neiman and buried her alive? In this case, who in their right mind would shed a tear for such a cruel, cold-blooded killer? So what if Mr. Lockett didn't pass gently and quickly into the night? A lot of people die slow, agonizing deaths, citizens who never committed rape or murder. Clayton Lockett is gone, and the world is a better place without him. His memory will be kept alive, however, by those who will use his "botched" execution to advance their cause. For the rest of us, that's cruel and unusual punishment.

     Since 1976, not counting Clayton Lockett, 1,203 inmates have been executed by lethal injection in the United States. Over the years, state corrections officials have done their best to find more humane ways to put condemned criminals to death. In the 19th and 20th centuries, death row inmates were hanged, electrocuted, suffocated in gas chambers, and shot. Hanging is still an option in New Hampshire and Washington. In Arizona, Missouri, and Wyoming, the gas chamber remains a death penalty choice.

     Many correction experts believe the firing squad is the quickest and least painful way to execute a convict. In 1977, the firing squad was used to execute Gary Gilmore who asked to be so dispatched.

Philip Roth On Novel Writing

My interest is in solving problems presented by writing a novel. That's what stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow, obsessing about nothing. Some people do crossword puzzles to satisfy their need to keep their mind engaged. For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliche is that the novelist is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he's doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book--which is, how do you write about this?

Philip Roth, The Guardian, September 11, 2004 

Canada: Where Rational Tort Law Goes to Die

     Before the August 2008 car accident, Alissa Afonia's teacher described her as a very bright student, in the top two percent of her media-arts high school class who dreamt of being a filmmaker or actress. After the accident she became a different girl and ended up working as a dominatrix. She showed no impulse control, could not carry through on tasks, became isolated and began to have outbursts and make inappropriate sexual comments...

     Justice Joel Grove of the British Columbia Supreme Court, after presiding over Afonia's 2014 personal injury lawsuit, awarded the plaintiff $1.5 million in damages. In so doing, the judge noted that the pre-accident Afonia was "in some ways a typical girl, in some ways an atypical girl, someone who described herself as a 'goth girl' with "artiste presentation. But all that changed in the wake of the motor vehicle accident."

     Afonia, who was about to enter 12th grade, was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her mother's boyfriend. Her mother and brother were also in the car. The driver's Toyota ended up in a ditch. The judge concluded the civil suit defendant was driving too fast under the conditions and was therefore negligent.

     Lawyers for the plaintiff argued that her decision to begin working as a dominatrix showed a lack of "correct thinking" and was proof she'd taken an unnecessary risk due to a loss of cognitive function from a moderate traumatic brain injury…According to her lawyer, without the injury, she'd have been capable of earning a two-year college or university degree.

     The judge's damages included $825,000 for "future capacity loss," $376.000 for cost of future care, $300,000 for pain and suffering and $23,000 for special damages…Afonia's mother suffered a mild traumatic brain injury as well and was awarded more than $943,000 in damages….

"Student-Turned-Dominatrix Awarded $1.5 Million After Car Accident," nationalpost.com, January 29, 2015

Thornton P. Knowles on Truman Capote

Truman Capote is a strange little man who writes well for a boozed-up, drug-addled manic-depressive. There is no doubt that some of our most creative writers are oddballs gifted with an abundance of talent. Some writers pay a high price for that gift.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Stanwood Elkus Murder Case

     As a young man who grew up in southern California's Orange County, Ronald Franklin Gilbert, the son of a physician, played in a rock band and worked as a stockbroker. In the late 1980s he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a doctor. In 1993, Dr. Gilbert joined the Orange County Urology Group housed at the Hoag Health Center in Newport Beach. The Huntington Beach resident, as a urologist, treated patients with prostrate cancer and bladder conditions as well as with a variety of sexual dysfunctions. He performed vasectomies, prostate surgery, and other urology related medical procedures. Dr. Gilbert's colleagues considered him one of the best in his field.

     Stanwood F. Elkus, a 75-year-old retired barber from Elsinore, California, told a friend on January 27, 2013 that Dr. Gilbert had botched his prostate surgery 21 years earlier at a Veteran's Administration hospital. (While Dr. Gilbert had worked at that VA facility then, there was no record of him operating on Mr. Elkus.) To his friend, Elkus said, "I had surgery and now I am worse than before the surgery." According to Elkus, Dr. Gilbert's operation had aggravated his incontinence problem rather than fix it.

     The following afternoon at 2:30, Stanwood Elkus showed up at the Hoag Health Center for his appointment with Dr. Gilbert. He had made the appointment using a fake name. Fifteen minutes later, when Dr. Gilbert walked into the examination room, the patient shot him several times in the upper body, killing him instantly.

     After the shooting, Elkus emerged from the examination room holding a .45-caliber handgun. "Call the police," he said. "I'm insane."

     In response to the 911 call, Newport Beach police officers arrived at the doctor's office eight minutes after the murder. They disarmed and arrested Elkus in the examination room. A few hours later, police officers searched the shooter's home in Lake Elsinore.

     On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, Stanwood Elkus stood before an Orange County arraignment judge who officially charged him with murder. The judge set Elkus' bail at $1 million. The prisoner was booked into the Orange County Jail.

     On January 29, 2013, the day after Stanwood Elkus shoot Dr. Gilbert, 70-year-old Arthur D. Harmon murdered a man in a Phoenix law office before killing himself. That same day, in southern Alabama, 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes hijacked a school bus and abducted a 5-year-old boy he held hostage in an underground bunker. Instead of mellowing with age, these unfriendly loners had grown paranoid, angry and violent. They had became worse than just grumpy old men.

     On May 9, 2014, Elkus settled a wrongful death suit brought by members of Dr. Gilbert's family. To shield his assets from the civil suit plaintiffs, Elkus tried to transfer his ownership of eight houses and condominiums in Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, and Lake Elsinore to his sister. A judge granted the plaintiff's injunction that stopped the real estate transactions. The accused murder's assets were valued at $2 million.

     In August 2014, the murder suspect's attorney, Colleen O'Hara, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told reporters that he planned to prove that Mr. Elkus, at the moment he killed Dr. Gilbert, was sane. "We are very confident in our evidence," he said.

     On August 21, 2017, an Orange County Superior Court jury found Elkus guilty of first-degree murder. In so doing, jurors found that the defendant was sane at the time of the killing. A month after the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced Elkus to life in prison plus ten years.

      

Mystery Writer P.D. James (1920-2014)

     Mystery writer P.D. James, who brought realistic modern characters to the classical British detective story, has died. She was 94. James' books, many featuring sleuth Adam Dalgliesh, sold millions in many countries and most were just as popular when adapted for television. James died Thursday November 27, 2014 at her home in Oxford in southern England.

     Because of the quality and careful structure of her writing--and her rather elegant, intellectual detective Dalgliesh--she was at first seen as a natural successor to writers like Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey in the between-the-wars "Golden Age" of the mystery novel. But James' books were strong on character, avoided stereotype and touched on distinctly modern problems including drugs, child abuse and nuclear contamination…

     Although there was nothing remotely "genteel" about P.D. James' writing, she was criticized by some younger writers of gritty urban crime novels. They accused her of snobbery because she liked to write abut middle-class murderers, preferably intelligent and well-educated, who agonized over right and wrong and spent time planning and justifying their crimes. Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard, hero of more than a dozen of James' novels, is a decidedly gentlemanly detective, who writes poetry, loves jazz and drives a Jaguar.

     Phyllis Dorothy James was born in Oxford on August 3, 1920. Her father was a tax collector and there was not enough money for her to go to college, a fact she always regretted…She did not start producing her mysteries until she was nearly 40, and then wrote only early in the morning before going to the civil service job with which she supported her family. Her husband, Connor Banty White, had returned from the war mentally broken and remained so until his death in 1964…

     James' first novel, Cover Her Face, was published in 1962 under her maiden name and was an immediate critical success, but she continued to work in the Home Office until 1979…

     James was often spoken of as an heir to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, icons of the classic British mystery, but her admirers thought she transcended both.

Jill Lawless, "Mystery Novelist P.D. James Dead at 94," thestar.com, November 27, 2014 

Crime Pays--For Defense Attorneys

The line between a bank robber and a lawyer is a very thin one. The criminal attacks society head on; the lawyer is trying to set you free after you have been caught so that you can go out and steal some more. Whether he succeeds or not, the lawyer profits from your crime. The only way you can pay him is out of the money you have stolen at one time or another. It isn't called his share of the loot, of course. It's called his fee. But that's because he has a license that entitles him to do what he's doing, and you don't.

Willie Sutton, Where the Money Was, 1976 

Thornton P. Knowles on the Dried-Up Novelist

Eventually, all novelists run out of ink. The well and spirit go dry. For the dedicated writer, it's a form of non-fatal death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, November 6, 2017

Pedophiles In Public Education: Passing The Trash

     In 2000, 37-year-old Wilbert Cortez, an elementary school teacher at PS 184 in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of inappropriately touching two of his male students. One of the boys reported the abuse to another teacher--three times. The teacher wrote a letter detailing the accusations, and put it in Cortez's personnel file. He did not, however, report the incident to the principal. Shortly after the students made their complaints, school administrators decided to transfer Cortez to PS 174 in Queens. Instead of dealing with the problem, and if appropriate, firing this teacher, they "passed the trash."

     On February 16, 2012, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown charged Wilbert Cortez, now 49, with the sexual abuse of two male elementary students in his computer lab class. The next day, after posting his $50,000 bail, Cortez walked out of the Queen's County Criminal Court building.

     The accused child molester, on May 29, 2012, was arraigned on additional charges that he had repeatedly molested three male students at PS 174 between 2007 and 2011. Cortez faced up to seven years in prison on each count.

     When word got out that Wilbert Cortez had been accused of sexual molestation back in 2000 at PS 184 in Brooklyn, parents of children who had attended both schools were outraged that education administrators had swept the problem under the rug by sending him to Queens.

     Feeling the heat, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, on May 30, 2012, called an emergency meeting with these angry parents. More than 100 people attended the meeting held at PS 174, and they all wanted to know why this teacher hadn't been investigated in 2000. Attendees also expressed concern that the school system's hiring procedures did not screen out pedophiles. Chancellor Walcott told those assembled that his staff would be digging through personnel files looking for old sexual complaints that had been ignored, and "take appropriate action where necessary."

     Chancellor Walcott's response, the promise to fix a problem that shouldn't have existed in the first place, didn't satisfy too many people at the meeting. Elementary schools in New York City and around the country are crawling with sex offenders, and because of government laws and regulations that limit what employers can ask job candidates about their past, pedophiles, like foxes in the henhouses, get into our schools. And once they get in, because of teacher's unions, they are hard to get out. Administrators know this. That's why it's just easier to pass the trash. Public education, as we all know, is more about teachers than students.

     On February 25, 2015, Wilbert Cortez pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching one student and endangering three others. Following his guilty plea, Chancellor Walcott stripped him of his New York State teaching certificate.

     Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge sentenced Cortez to ten years' probation. The molester was also required to register as a sex offender and undergo counseling. Like so many ex-public school teachers like him, he got off light. 

Thornton P. Knowles on Supermarket Literature

For the well-constructed, to-the-point sentence, go to the supermarket and read boxes, cans, and packages. Every word counts.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cost of Catching a Cop Killer

     The manhunt for alleged cop killer Eric Frein cost more than $11 million according to the Pennsylvania State Police. Overtime costs for the state police accounted for the majority of this total, with $6.9 million being paid out to officers who worked extra hours throughout the 48-day manhunt.

     The $11,046,653 total only accounted for the costs for the Pennsylvania State Police and not the supporting agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Marshals who were the officers who ended up finding Frein October 30, 2014 in an abandoned airport hanger in the Poconos.

     In addition to overtime wages, nearly $3 million was spent on benefits and more than $657,000 in standard salaries. Travel costs amounted to more than $66,000 and nearly $200,000 for inventory and operational expenses.

     The manhunt for Frein began after he allegedly ambushed two state troopers on September 12, 2014, killing one and wounding the other. Frein, a war re-enactor, excellent shot and self-taught survivalist, eluded the massive police dragnet for nearly 7 weeks. He has been charged with murder and possession of weapons of mass destruction (two bombs). He has also been charged with terrorism. He has not entered a plea and is being held without bail. [Taxpayers will still have to pay for this killer's prosecution, defense and lifetime incarceration.]

"Eric Frein Manhunt Cost More Than $11 Million," ABC News, November 14, 2014 

Novelists as Children

I don't think people become novelists for the most part, unless they have experienced a peculiar distancing, which generally occurs in childhood or youth and makes the direct satisfactions of living unsatisfactory, so that they have to seek basic satisfactions indirectly through what we can loosely call art. What makes the verbal artist is some kind of shock or crippling or injury which puts the world once removed from him. He writes about it to take possession of it. We start out thinking we're writing about other people and end up realizing we're writing about ourselves.

Ross McDonald in Shoptalk, edited by Donald M. Murray, 1990 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Handwriting Evidence in the Lindbergh Kidnap-Murder Case

     On April 3, 1936,  Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany who lived in the Bronx, New York, died in the electric chair for the kidnapping and murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. At the 36-year-old unemployed carpenter's trial held in Flemington, New Jersey in January and February 1935, prosecution handwriting experts took the stand and testified that the defendant had written all of the ransom notes as well as other documents associated with the abduction and murder. It was this forensic document evidence that sent Mr. Hauptmann to the death house in Trenton.

     At the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial, eight nationally known questioned document examiners, from Los Angeles to New York City, both private and government employed, testified that Hauptmann wrote the fifteen ransom letters, including the note left by the kidnapper in the baby's nursery. The Lindbergh crime produced an unusually large quantity of questioned writing. Moreover, the experts had plenty of known handwriting to work with in the form of request writings--a carefully worded paragraph dictated to Hauptmann--and his conceded or "course of business" writings in the form of his personal notebooks and his auto registration, driver's license, and insurance applications.

     The prosecution experts testified that Hauptmann's known writing looked like the writing in the ransom documents. They produced dozens of word chart exhibits for the jury that illustrated the similarity in the two sets of cursive writing. Hauptmann and the ransom note writer also misspelled certain words the same way.

     The questioned document testimony phase of the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial took up four days, and produced 800 pages of trial transcript. Besides the eight experts who took the stand, the prosecution had four rebuttal experts who would have testified against Hauptmann had the defense put on a credible battery of their own handwriting witnesses. As it turned out, these rebuttal witnesses were not needed.

     One the the rebuttal witnesses, John Vreeland Haring, later published a heavily illustrated book showing why he believed Hauptmann had written the ransom documents. Mr. Haring made a special effort to illustrate the similarities between the defendant's writing and the ransom note left in the nursery. For comparison purposes, Haring used as known handwriting samples, two post-conviction letters Hauptmann had written in hand to the Governor of New Jersey.

     In addition to the prosecution's eight handwriting witnesses and the four rebuttal experts, Charles A. Appel, Jr., the head of the FBI crime lab, believed Hauptmann was the ransom note writer. The crime lab director testified against Hauptmann before the Bronx Grand Jury months before the trial.

     Hauptmann's defense attorney, Edward J. Reilly, asked seven document examiners to look at the handwriting evidence. Three declared that Hauptmann had written the documents, another three said the ransom notes had been altered after Hauptmann's arrest to look like his known writing--thereby conceding that the known and questioned writings were similar. The seventh examiner asked by the defense to analyze the evidence, a man named John C. Trendley from St. Louis, ended up being the only  examiner who actually testified for the defense at the Hauptmann trial.

     A reporter who covered the Lindbergh-Hauptmann trial wrote this about Mr. Trendley: "He was a furtive, musty little codger who had the greatest difficulty establishing his claim to be an expert....And his testimony was really pathetic." Besides his background as a courtroom charlatan, Trendley's testimony was weakened by the fact he had not spent much time with the evidence.

     Hauptmann's defense lawyers--he had five--were never able to counter the prosecution's overwhelming handwriting case against their client. Notwithstanding all of the other physical evidence connecting Hauptmann to the crime, it was his handwriting that sent him to the electric chair.

     To this day, the Lindbergh case remains the high water mark in the American history of forensic document examination.
   

     

Should Bank Guards Be Armed?

Bank crimes data from the FBI show that when bank guards are armed with guns, bank robberies are three times as likely to become violent. [It would be better not to have bank guards at all then have guards that are unarmed. Unarmed guards would be pointless and unnecessarily dangerous for the officer.]

" Armed Guards and Bank Robbery," Center For Investigative Reporting, December 2014 

Catherine Drinker Bowen on Writing a Biography

In the writing of a biography, it is expedient to approach one's subject from the periphery, from the outside in--to study first the times, then move to the localities and persons of the immediate story.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer, 1959 

The Decline of Car Theft

     Auto theft isn't much of a problem anymore in New York City. In 1990, the city had 147,000 reported car thefts, one for every 50 residents; last year, there were just 7,000. That's a 96 percent drop in the rate of car theft.

     So why did this happen? All crime has fallen, nationally and especially in New York. But there has also been a big shift in the economics of auto theft: Stealing cars is harder than it used to be, less lucrative and more likely to land you in jail. As such, criminals have found other things to do.

     The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car.

     Criminals generally have not been able to circumvent the technology or make counterfeit keys…They are stuck with stealing older cars. You can see this in the pattern of thefts of America's most stolen car, the Honda Accord. About 54,000 Accords were stolen in 2013, 84 percent of them from model years 1997 or earlier…Not coincidentally, Accords started to be sold with immobilizers in the 1998 model year…

     Old cars are easier to steal, and there are plenty of them still on the road. But there's an obvious problem with stealing them: They're not worth very much. Cars are typically stolen for parts, and as a car gets older, its parts become less valuable….[Today, if a criminal is desperate for a new car, he highjacks it which is a more violent crime.]

Josh Barro, "Here's Why Stealing Cars Went Out of Fashion," The New York Times, August 11, 2014. 

Barbara Pym: The Depressed Novelist

I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as nobody could ever like my kind of writing again [social-comedy novels]. I get depressed about my writing, and feel that however good it was it still wouldn't be acceptable to any publisher.

Barbara Pym in Lot to Ask by Hazel Holt, 1991 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

"Dragnet": Just the Facts

     Although not one of those kids who wanted to grow up to be a police detective, or one who devoured mystery novels, crime-fighting comics, or Sherlock Holmes fiction, I was a big fan of the TV series "Dragnet" starring Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department. The show first aired from 1951 to 1959, then came back in 1967 and ran to 1970. I can't remember why "Dragnet" appealed to me as a middle and high school student, but after watching a few episodes recently on a TV retro network, I know why I like it now. I admire the show today because the stories, based on actual police files, portray the bureaucracy, boredom, frustrations and drudgery--punctuated by bursts of danger--of real life detective work.

     The crimes featured on "Dragnet," ranging from murder, armed robbery, missing persons, arson, check fraud, embezzlement, and even shoplifting, unfolded in a straightforward fashion, helped along by Jack Webb's voice-over narration in which you are informed of the time, date, and place of every scene. The acting is direct and unpretentious (stilted if you're a fan of the modern, angst-ridden I'm-going-for-an-acting-award style) and doesn't overshadow the terse, crisp, clear-eyed exposition and dialog. I like the script writing, an enjoyable blend of Ernest Hemingway and first-rate news reporting. Journalism school students should be required to watch episodes of "Dragnet" and encouraged to emulate its style.

     Each "Dragnet" episode had a beginning, middle, and end. I especially enjoyed the story wrap-ups because you learned the fate of the criminal suspects who were tried and convicted in "Department 187 of the Superior Court of California, in and for the city and county of Los Angeles." First-degree murderers were "executed in the manner prescribed by law at the state penitentiary, San Quentin, California." Bam. Case closed.

     Jack Webb also produced the show which was written principally by James E. Moser who peppered the scripts with police terminology such as M. O. and APB (all points bulletin). Moser realistically portrayed how criminal cases are solved by detectives who logically follow one investigative lead to the next. Detective Joe Friday didn't have feelings in his "gut," or lay awake at night in angst over the mental and emotional strains of being a cop. He did his job in workman like fashion without all the belly-aching.

     "Dragnet" was good stuff then, and, in my opinion, refreshing now.  

John Jakes On Being A Novelist

There are much easier, more pleasant ways to pass the time than writing, though few so rewarding intellectually and spiritually. But it's no sin to be honest and admit it if you'd rather garden, fish, or socialize with friends than go it alone as a novelist, with no guarantee of success. If you aren't sure you're up to all that writing demands of a person, go no further.

John Jakes in Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 1988 

Mobster Turned Government Witness Got Off Light

     The ex-husband of TV series' "Mob Wives" star Renee Graziano was sentenced to just 11 years in prison on September 24, 2014 for his role in the murder of a Brooklyn man…Mobster Hank Pagan, who could have been sentenced to life behind bars, caught a break on the murder case because he had been a "significant government cooperator."…

     Along with Bonanno crime family associates Luigi Grasso and Richard Riccardi, Pagan ambushed and shot to death James Donovan at his Brooklyn check cashing business in July 2010.

     At Pagan's sentencing hearing, the slain man's daughter pleaded with Judge John Gleeson to give Pagan a lengthy sentence…After the judge handed down the lenient punishment, the victim's daughter blasted the criminal justice system for giving mobsters light sentences in return for their prosecution testimony. Judge Gleeson responded by saying that such deals, while not pretty, were a necessary part of the system….

"'Mob Wives' Star's Ex Gets 11 years for Murder. The New York Post, September 24, 2014 

Reporting the News is Exciting, Writing a Novel is Not

The one drawback to writing a novel is the being alone. In people's imagination, that's the difference between a novelist and a journalist. The journalist, the newspaper reporter, is always rushing, hunting, meeting people, digging up facts. Cooking a story. The journalist writes surrounded by people, and always on deadline, crowded and hurried. It's exciting and fun. The journalist researches a story. The novelist imagines it.

Chuck Palahnuik, Stranger Than Fiction, 2004 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Richard Kirk Murder Case

     In 2014, Richard Kirk, 47, resided in Denver's Observatory Park neighborhood not far from the University of Denver. Richard and his wife Kristine purchased the upscale, Tudor style home in 2005. The couple had three soccer-playing grade school boys. Richard's friends described him as a religious, happy-go-lucky man devoted to his family.

     On December 23, 1993, while living in Dallas, Texas, Richard, then single, was charged with felony assault. The prosecutor dropped the charge to a misdemeanor offense then eventually dismissed the case altogether. At the time, Kristine resided five miles away in a Dallas apartment. (The alleged victim associated with this case has not been identified.)

     In 2000, a police officer in Douglas County, Colorado arrested Richard for driving under the influence. (The disposition of this case is unknown.) These two incidents comprise the extent of Kirk's arrest record.

     At 9:32 on the night of Monday, April 14, 2014, 44-year-old Kristine A. Kirk called a 911 dispatcher in Denver to report a domestic disturbance at her residence. She said her husband had been smoking marijuana and was scaring their three young sons. According to Kristine, he had also been hallucinating and talking about the end of the world. Most disturbingly, he said he wanted her to shoot him to death.

     The dispatcher asked Kristine if there was a gun in the dwelling. The caller said yes, but it was locked inside a safe. The 911 call suddenly turned ominous when Kristine informed the dispatcher that her husband had gotten the handgun out of the safe and was holding it in his hand.

     About thirteen minutes into the 911 call, the dispatcher heard a scream and then a gunshot. At that point the line went dead. The dispatcher immediately upgraded the 911 call from a domestic disturbance case to a "code 10"--a possible shooting.

     Two Denver police officers rolled up to the Kirk house on South St. Paul Street at 9:47 PM. Three minutes later, one of the officers called for an ambulance, and advised the 911 dispatcher that they "were going to need homicide."

     An officer put Richard Kirk into handcuffs and escorted him to the patrol car. From the backseat of the police vehicle, without prompting, the suspect admitted shooting his wife to death.

     The next day a local prosecutor charged Richard Kirk with first-degree murder. At his arraignment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, the judge advised the suspect of the charge against him, assigned him a public defender, and ordered him held without bail. Kirk showed no emotion as he stood before the magistrate.

     The media, as it often does in high-profile crimes, began assessing blame. In this case reporters were quick to note that since 2008, 911 response time at the Denver Police Department had grown longer. According to a police spokesperson, budget cuts and fewer officers on patrol has adversely affected police response time to domestic calls.

     Notwithstanding the 15 minute lapse between the victim's 911 call and the arrival of the officers, there was no way to know for sure if a faster police response would have saved Kristine Kirk's life.

     Because marijuana was legal in Colorado, the media made a big deal over the fact that before allegedly murdering his wife, Richard Kirk had smoked pot.

     In February 2017, Richard Kirk, still blaming marijuana for the killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. On April 8, 2017, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Kirk had relinquished custody of his three sons to his dead wife's parents.

The Short Story As Practice For The Novel

A young fiction writer should try everything, but some literary forms will come more naturally to him than others. Short stories are more within his scope than longer forms, and he will learn most by making many beginnings and endings--the hardest parts of any piece of writing.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Jimmy Carter on the Legal Profession

     We have the heaviest concentration of lawyers on Earth--one for every five hundred Americans; three times as many as are in England, four times as many as are in Germany, twenty-one times as many as are in Japan. (It's gotten worse. It's now three lawyers for every one person. Just kidding, but it is bad.)

     We have more litigation, but I am not sure that we have more justice. No resources of talent and training in our society are more wastefully or unfairly distributed than legal skills. Ninety percent of our lawyers serve ten percent of our people. (One could argue that the other ninety percent are lucky.) We are over-lawyered and under-represented.

Jimmy Carter, 1978 in The Law is An Ass, Ronald Irving, editor, 2011