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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Politicians Who Talk To God

I don't mind a politician who communicates with God. People have a right to their religion and their beliefs. I do mind when a politician says God told him to make a certain political decision or policy that affects us all. So many of these government policies turn out bad for everyone. So, who are we supposed to blame, the politician or God? Even if I agree with the policy, I don't vote for people who claim they are acting on behalf of a higher power. Who do these mortals think they are? Well, I know who these people think they are, and that's what scares me.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Amy Senser Hit and Run Homicide Case

     Amy Senser and her husband Joe lived in Edina, Minnesota, an upscale Minneapolis suburb. Joe Senser, a NFL tight end with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 1980s, co-owned four Minneapolis-St. Paul area sports bars. A knee injury had ended his 4-year career with the Vikings. The businessman and sports commentator was a well-liked local celebrity. His attractive, 45-year-old wife Amy was also well-inown and popular. But on the night of August 23, 2011, Amy and Joe Senser's successful lives would take a sudden and tragic turn.

     On the night that changed everything for the Senser family, Amy and her daughters were attending a Katy Perry concert at the Xcell Energy Center in St. Paul. Ninety minutes into the show, Amy developed a headache and decided to drive home. She called Joe who agreed to pick up the girls after the concert.

     According to Amy's version of what happened, while driving Joe's Mercedes-Benz SUV on I-94's Riverside exit off-ramp, a poorly lit section of the highway under construction, she felt a jolt and thought she'd hit a pothole or had bumped a construction barrel. In fact, the right front of her vehicle had hit and killed a man from Laos named Anousone Phantauong. The 38-year-old chef at a Thai restaurant was pouring gasoline into his car that had rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the exit ramp.

     After the collision, Amy got lost, and called her husband. At one point, in her confusion, she came full circle and got off the interstate using the same Riverside exit. This time the area was lit up with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. She did not associate this activity with the earlier jolt she had felt from either a pothole, or a construction barrel.

     The next morning, according to Amy Senser's account, Joe called her outside and asked how the Mercedes' right headlight and fog light had gotten knocked out. By then, they both had seen TV reports of Phantauong's death, and the search for the hit and run driver. Realizing what had happened the previous night, the Sensers called their lawyer, and later that day, surrendered the damaged Mercedes to the police.

     In speaking to the police, Amy admitted that just before the Katy Perry concert, she had gone to a nearby restaurant where she had consumed less than a full glass of wine. She insisted, however, that she had not been intoxicated when her car hit and killed Mr. Phantauong. Investigators believed she had been drunk, and because of that, had not stopped after plowing into the victim. Detectives were convinced she wanted to sober up before reporting the fatal accident.

     In November 2011, the Hennepin County prosecutor, Deborah Russell, charged Amy Senser with three vehicular related felonies: driving in a grossly negligent manner; leaving the scene of an accident; and failure to promptly report an accident. If convicted of all three charges, the defendant could face up to 30 years in prison. Because she hadn't confessed, and no witness to the accident had come forward, the case against Amy Senser was entirely circumstantial. To find her guilty, the jury would have to infer her state of mind that night. If they believed her testimony, they would have to acquit her.

     To find the defendant guilty of reckless driving, the jury would also have to infer she had been intoxicated at the time of the accident. The fact she had clipped Mr. Phantauong, a man who had placed himself in harm's way by standing just off a poorly lit exit ramp, was not, by itself, enough to establish gross negligence on her part. If the jurors did not find that she was drunk, they would probably not find that the accident was a result of reckless driving.

     The highly anticipated, media intense Amy Senser trial commenced on April 23, 2012. In an effort to prove that the defendant had been driving drunk that night, prosecutor Russell put a motorist on the stand. Shortly after the accident, the witness saw, on I-94, a Mercedes SUV being driven in an erratic manner. The witness passed this vehicle when it slowed to 40 MPH, and when she looked into her rearview mirror, noticed that the car's right front lights were out.

     Defense attorney Eric Nelson put on only one witness, Amy Senser. The defendant denied she had been intoxicated when her car hit what she thought was a pothole or a construction barrel. As for her erratic driving on I-94, she had dropped her cellphone between the seat and the center console, and was trying to fish it out.

     On May 2, 2012, the jury of 7 men and 5 women, after a grueling deliberation period of 19 hours, found Amy Senser guilty of two of the three felonies. Jurors acquitted the defendant of the gross negligent charge. Amy, who faced up to 20 years on prison, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

     At a post-trial press conference, attorney Eric Nelson said he would appeal his client's conviction on the grounds she had met the requirements of the state accident notification law. One of the jurors who spoke to reporters said, "It was just a very challenging case for us to come to a consensus."

     On July 10, 2012, the judge sentenced Amy Senser to 41 months in prison.

     Corrections authorities, on April 24, 2014, released Amy Senser from the Shakopee Women's Prison after she had served all but six months of her prison stretch. On October 20, 2014, following the completion of a six-month work release program, Senser, having served her hit-and-run sentence, was free.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Mother

When I was a kid my mother was always dusting, frantically. We lived on a busy dirt road and the dust that got into the house drove her crazy. One of my uncles died of black lung. My mother was killed by dust. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, she was a saint. Dust to dust, as they say.

Thornton P. Knowles

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Only Childhood Friends

When I was a kid I had a 26-inch Monarch bicycle and my dog Dusty. As long as I had the two of them I didn't need any friends. The bike outlived my dog, and then my dog died. From there I began my long journey into loneliness. I just couldn't replace them.

Thornton P. Knowles

Murder in Amish Country: The Edward Gingerich Case

     Twenty-four years ago, Edward Gingerich became the first old-order Amish man in history to be convicted of criminal homicide. A year earlier he had crushed his wife's skull by repeatedly stomping her. He next scooped out Katie Gingerich's brain with his hands, then opened her up with a kitchen knife and ripped out all of her internal organs. This atrocious assault took place in the kitchen of the couple's farmhouse located in a remote section of Crawford County in Rockdale Township near Mill Village, Pennsylvania. Two of Edward's children, ages three and four, witnessed the brutal March 19, 1993 killing.

     Edward Gingerich was a gifted young man. Unfortunately, the subjects that excited him were science and technology, disciplines that threatened the Amish way of life. An excellent mechanic, he built engines from scratch and could fix anything that contained a motor. A fish out of water, Edward Gingerich felt trapped in a society at odds with his talents and goals. He eventually built a modern sawmill with a machine shop near his house on property owned by his father. The business put him in touch with a lot of local English people and put him at odds with the local Amish bishop. His estrangement from his family and the Amish community led to depression, anger, and eventually madness in the form of paranoid schizophrenia.

     Prior to killing his wife, Edward spent two, ten-day stints in mental wards in Erie, Pennsylvania and Jamestown, New York. On Katie Gingerich's last day of life, she took Ed to see a chiropractor in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania who specialized in treating the Amish for physical aliments. The chiropractor, pursuant to his regular program of treatment, pulled Edward's toes and sent him home with a jar of blackstrap molasses.

     At the Edward Gingerich murder trial in March 1994, the Crawford County jury, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, refused to find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Instead, they found hims "guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill." This meant Ed would receive psychiatric care while serving a fixed term in prison. Had he been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he would have been treated in a mental institution until the staff psychiatrists declared him well enough to return to society.

     Prior to Edward Gingerich's sentencing, every member of the small Amish enclave put their names on a petition asking the judge to impose the maximum sentence. Since Ed had been convicted of the lesser homicide offense of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum sentence sentence was only five years. The trial judge, noting that Gingerich had already spent a year in the Crawford County Jail, sentenced him to four years.

     Edward Gingerich served his time in a minimum security prison near Mercer, Pennsylvania. He was released from custody, without any strings attached, in March 1998.

     In January 2011, following a troubled post-prison life, Edward Gingerich hanged himself in a barn near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death, he was living outside the local Amish community on a small farm owned by his defense attorney. His suicide message, etched in dust in the barn, read: "Please forgive me."

     Today, the Mill Village Amish enclave is less than half the size it was at the time of the murder. The killing, besides costing the life of a young Amish woman, tore the Gingerich family apart and destroyed a once thriving community.

     A detailed narration of this tragic case can be found in my book, Crimson Stain.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Poetry Readings

No one reads poetry anymore but a handful of poets and a few English teachers and their poor students. While I'd rather sit through a political speech than attend a poetry reading, it's a decision I hope I'll never have to make. Having said that, I'm not against poetry. I'm guilty of writing a few poems myself, and have purchased books of poetry. I just don't like the pretentious mumbo-jumbo stuff. I enjoying reading Charles Bukowski. He's a bad drunk and unlikable person, but a real poet with a lot of gritty, interesting things to say. I do not, however, recommend his raucous, booze laden poetry readings. In his case, it's best to separate the poet from his work.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Vi Ripken Kidnapping Case: An Unsolved Mystery

     Cal Ripken, Jr., inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 2007, played 21 years for the Baltimore Orioles. Because he played in 2,632 consecutive games, Ripken earned the title the "Iron Man." He was a celebrity and businessman in the Baltimore area.

     In July 2012, Vi Ripken, the former ballplayer's 74-year-old mother, became a celebrity in her own right as a victim of an abduction that took place in July 2012. Based on what has been published in the media, and Cal Ripken's public statement on the matter, the following was the initial and sketchy account of this odd crime:

     Between seven and eight in the morning of Tuesday, July 24, 2012, an unknown man entered Vi Ripken's garage in Aberdeen, Maryland, a town 30 miles northeast of Baltimore, and forced her at gun point into her silver, 1998 Lincoln Town Car. The abductor is described as a clean-shaven white male who is five feet ten inches tall, and weighs 180 pounds. He wore glasses, an orange ball cap, and Camouflage colored clothing.

     The kidnapper tied Vi's hands and blindfolded her. (According to the victim, he originally planned to cover her eyes with tape. We don't know what he used to tie her up, or if she was bound behind her back.) With the victim in the back seat of her own car, the abductor drove her around Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. They stopped for food, and he lit her cigarettes. At first the kidnapper said he wanted her money and the car, but changed his mind.

     At some point in the abduction, the man told Vi that he wasn't going to hurt her, and that he had decided to take her back to her house. The next day, at six in the morning, the kidnapper parked the car 100 yards from Vi's dwelling, and walked away. Still bound (I think), Vi managed to honk the horn which alerted a neighbor. In telling friends and family what happened, Vi said her abductor did not know her son was Cal Ripken, Jr. (This suggests that she told him that.) He had not physically harmed her, and did not demand a ransom.

     In a press conference held on Friday, August 3, 2012, Cal Ripken, Jr. said he first learned of his mother's disappearance at 9 PM on the day of her abduction. His sister phoned him with the news that a witness had seen a woman in Baltimore County riding in the back seat of a car bearing the license number of the Lincoln Town Car. This person had called the Baltimore County Police. The county police relayed this information to the police in Aberdeen.

     Since Vi Ripken's safe return, the authorities have distributed a police-sketch of the abductor (these cartoonish depictions are generally useless). The sketch has also been featured on five massive billboards in the Baltimore area. The authorities have also made public a surveillance video tape showing a man in a ball cap walking out of a Walmart store in Glen Burnie, Maryland, an Anne Arundel County town about an hour from Aberdeen. The police have not revealed how this man fits into the story, but one would assume he is the suspected abductor, and that at some point during the kidnapping, he entered the store to purchase something.

     At the press conference on August 3, Cal Ripken, Jr. said his mother has not returned to her home in Aberdeen, but has otherwise resumed her normal routine. He also said she has been talking about her experience "nonstop." On Friday night, August 3, 2012 the kidnapping was featured on the Lifetime Cable Network's "America's Most Wanted." The Aberdeen police offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Ripken abductor.

    The police have not released many details of the crime. For example, did the authorities know the identity of the witness who spotted the woman in the back of the Lincoln Town Car? What did Vi and her abductor do during the 24-hour abduction? Did they sleep? Did they leave the car? Where did she use the restroom? Did crime scene investigators processed the car for latent fingerprints and other forms of trace evidence? Did the abductor leave behind the material used to tie the victim up? What about the blindfold? Did the abductor use the victim's credit or ATM cards?

     The biggest mystery, of course, is the identity of the abductor, and why he chose to kidnap Vi Ripken.

     On August 2, 2017, more than five years after the Ripken abduction, the police released a new composite sketch of the man they believe had kidnapped Vi Ripken. The FBI had entered the investigation.

    No arrests have been made in the case. Moreover, investigators have not even produced a suspect.


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On West Virginia

If you took away signs of human life, West Virginia would be the most beautiful place on earth.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Urooj Khan Poison Case

     Urooj Khan immigrated to the U. S. from India when he was twenty-three. He worked hard, saved his money, and by 2012, the 46-year-old owned three dry cleaning shops on Chicago's North Side where he lived with his wife Shabana Ansari and his 17-year-old stepdaughter, Jasmeen. Mr. Khan also owned five condos worth $250,000.

     In June 2012, after returning from his hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia where Mr Khan promised himself he would live a better life--and quit buying lottery tickets--he paid $60 at a 7-Eleven store near his house for two instant scratch-off cards. After scratching off the second ticket, Mr. Khan yelled, "I hit a million!"

     On June 26, 2012, at the Illinois Lottery Ceremony, Mr. Khan, with is wife, stepdaughter, and a few friends looking on, accepted the oversized mock check for $425,000. (After opting for the lump sum payment, that sum was left after taxes.) Khan said he'd donate some money to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Chicago, and use the rest of his winnings to pay bills and grow his business.

     On July 20, 2012, the day after the Illinois Comptroller's Office issued Mr. Khan his $425,000 check, and before he had an opportunity to cash it, the lottery winner had dinner in his modest West Roger's Park neighborhood home with his wife Shabana Ansari and Jasmeen. After dinner, Mr. Khan said he didn't feel well and went to bed. A short time later, he screamed that he was suffocating. Ambulance personnel rushed Mr. Khan to a nearby hospital where doctors pronounced him dead.

     After a routine toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood for narcotics, alcohol, and carbon monoxide poisoning (his skin had turned pink), the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office determined his cause of his death to be heart disease. The manner of Mr. Khan's death went into the books as natural. Pursuant to an internal medical examiner's office rule that dead people over the age of 45 who do not show signs of trauma are not autopsied, Mr. Khan was buried without a post-mortem examination. (The age limit has been since raised to 50.)

     On August 15, 2012, Mr. Khan's widow cashed the $425,000 lottery check.

     Five months after Urooj Khan's sudden and unexpected passing, one of his relatives called the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. According to this unidentified family member, Mr. Khan had been poisoned to death.

     Acting on what must have been a credible tip, Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina ordered further toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood. This led to a rather shocking discovery: Mr. Khan had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. As a result of this finding, the medical examiner's office changed Mr. Khan's cause of death to cyanide poisoning. His manner of death, however, still had to be determined through a homicide investigation conducted by detectives with the Chicago Police Department. (According to reports, investigators questioned Mr. Khan's widow for four hours.)

     Cyanide is an extremely toxic white powder that has a variety of industrial applications. It can also be found in some pesticides and in rat poison. Small doses of cyanide either swallowed, inhaled (gas chambers used it), or injected, denies the body's blood cells oxygen. Death from this poison, a form of asphyxia called histoxic hypoxia, while agonizing, is quick. To disguise its bitter taste, a cyanide poisoner would be wise to mix a small amount into a plate of spicy food.

     Poisoning, as a mode of criminal homicide, was popular in the 19th Century before the dawn of pharmacology. Because there was no way to scientifically identify abnormal quantities of toxic substances in the body, no one knows how many wives, prior to 1900, poisoned their husbands to death. (In the era before forensic toxicology, homicide cops called cyanide "inheritance powder.")

    In modern times, murder and suicide cases involving cyanide and other poisons are rare. In June 2012, the month Mr. Khan won his lottery money, millionaire Michael Markin, moments after a jury found him guilty of arson, swallowed a cyanide pill. Minutes later he died while sitting at the defense table. Markin's death was so unusual it received nationwide publicity.

     On January 8, 2013, the day Medical Examiner Stephen Cina announced the planned exhumation of Urooj Khan's remains, his wife, Shaban Ansari, told an Associated Press reporter that she wasn't the relative who had requested the more sophisticated toxicological test. She said she had no idea who that person was, and that she "...didn't think anyone had a bad eye for [her husband], or that he had an enemy." The widow refused to provide details of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khan's death. She said talking about his passing was too painful.

     In late January 2013, information surfaced that after Mr. Khan won the lottery, his 32-year-old wife and his siblings, a daughter from a previous marriage and his stepdaughter Jasmeen, began fighting over the money. According to Mr. Khan's brother Imtiaz and his sister Meraj, after his death, Shabana Ansari tried to cash the lottery check to avoid giving Khan's daughter her fair share. In November 2012, homicide detectives had searched the West Roger's Park home for traces of the cyanide. The five month period between Mr. Khan's death and the criminal investigation made solving the case difficult.

     In early February 2013, the authorities exhumed Urooj Khan's 5-foot-5, 198-pound body from a Chicago cemetery and transported it to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. Forensic pathologists collected samples of his hair, fingernails, stomach contents, and tissue from his major organs for tests to determine if he had been poisoned to death. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina told reporters that given the length of time Mr. Khan's body had been in the ground, he was not certain that toxicological tests would produce positive results. According to Dr. Cina, "cyanide over the postmortem period can evaporate from the tissues." Dr. Cina said he remained convinced, however, that Mr. Khan had been the victim of a criminal homicide.

     A few weeks after the exhumation, Dr. Cina, at a press conference, said that while earlier toxicological tests revealed a lethal dose of cyanide in Mr. Khan's blood, the poison was not detected in his tissues or digestive system. "In this case," the forensic pathologist said, "due to advanced putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detected."

     The fact Mr. Khan had died without a will led to a bitter dispute between his widow and his stepdaughter Jasmeen over his estate. In December, pursuant to a court settlement, the probate judge awarded Shabana the three dry cleaning shops, the five condos, and two-thirds of the lottery winnings. Jasmeen got a third of the lottery payoff.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Twentieth Century

I was born and will probably die in the Twentieth Century. That span of just one-hundred years will be known as the century of accelerated, world-changing technological progress. It will also be remembered as the century of violent death through wars, oppressive governments, and genocide. I shudder to think what the next century will bring, but fortunately will not be around to experience it. [Dr. Knowles died in 1998.]

Thornton P. Knowles

Two Stalkers, Different Sentences

The Mercedes Driving Tire Slasher

     In January 2010, Jessica (not the victim's real name) broke up with Dieter Heinz Werner, her 68-year-old boyfriend. Shortly after that, someone slashed her tires in the parking lot of a Houston, Texas movie complex. A month later, Jessica found a GPS tracking device attached to the undercarriage of her car. She suspected Werner, who had been bothering her with text messages and phone calls, of slashing her tires and using the GPS device to keep track of her whereabouts.

     That spring, the ex-boyfriend continued his harassment by sending Jessica hundreds of text messages. On April 3, 2010, he sent her a text which read: "Should have answered the phone and not ignored me again. Pissed me off. Now I show you." That day, after following her to a grocery store, Werner texted: "Pissed me off when I saw you at Krogers and you turned your head. I would never treat you like that."

     On April 15, 2010, a witness at the same movie complex parking lot saw an elderly white man slashing someone's car tires with a pocketknife. The witness jotted down the license number to the vandal's Mercedes convertible. The vehicle was registered to Dieter Heinz Werner. A couple of weeks later, a Harris County prosecutor charged Werner with stalking, a third degree felony. Werner was held without bond for a few days until a judge issued a protection order against the accused stalker. After being served with the restraining order, Werner paid his $75,000 bond and was released.

     In late 2011, Dieter Werner was found guilty of the stalking offense. A few months later the judge sentenced him to ten years in prison, the maximum penalty for a third degree felony. But in 2012, before Werner was transferred out of the Harris County Jail into the state prison system, he was paroled. After serving about a year behind bars, the convicted stalker walked free.

     According to Texas corrections authorities, Werner had benefited from a so-called "parole in absentia." (Texas parole boards in the 1980s had issued these get-out-of prison passes when the state prison system couldn't handle all of the convicted felons.)

     Victims' rights activists, as well as Werner's stalking victim, were outraged. The parole authorities had not even bothered to notify Jessica of her stalker's parole hearing. In Texas and other places it was a fact that parole boards often did not inform victims when criminals were released on parole.

The Taco Bell Handcuff Case

     In 2011, in the northern Georgia town of Ringgold, 25-year-old Jason Earl Dean and the 18-year-old girl he had become obsessed with, worked at the local Taco Bell. After Joan (not her real name) told Dean she did not want to go out with him, he continued asking her out for a date. This had gone on for a month. The harassment became so intense she changed shifts at work to get away from him. Undeterred, Dean continued to bother her.

     On the night of August 8, 2011, Dean waited outside Taco Bell until Joan's shift ended. As she walked to her car he came up to her with a pair of handcuffs which he slapped around her wrist, binding them arm to arm. She screamed for help which brought other employees out of the Taco Bell. Her fellow employees talked Dean into turning Joan free. The police rolled up to the scene shortly thereafter, but Dean had left. A few days later, police officers arrested him on a college campus in nearby Dalton, Georgia. A local prosecutor charged him with stalking and felonious restraint.

     In January 2013, Jason Earl Dean entered a so-called "blind guilty plea" before Judge Ralph Van Pelt. (A blind plea means that no sentencing agreement had been reached between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. The defendant was essentially throwing himself on the mercy of the court.) Judge Van Pelt, showing no mercy for this stalker, sentenced him to four years in prison followed by six years of probation.

    On its face, Judge Van Pelt's sentence seemed excessive. Whether or not it was excessive depended upon what kind of person Jason Dean was. Without knowing this stalker's background there was no way to evaluate his sentence. But in any case, it appeared that this judge considered stalking a serious crime. I wish more judges did.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On One True Thing About Journalists

In speaking to her fellow journalists, Janet Malcolm famously said the ugly truth about their profession: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." This pronouncement is so devastatingly true, I'm sure it's not taught in journalism school. No one wants to get a degree in confidence game artistry. But that's what they get.

Thornton P. Knowles

Susan Cole: Prospective Juror to Perjury Defendant

     More than 90 percent of the criminal cases in American are not tried before a jury. Bargained guilty pleas have essentially replaced the cumbersome and costly trial process. Still, tens of millions of Americans receive jury duty summonses every year. (Our criminal justice system would collapse if just 20 percent of defendants demanded a jury trial. The entire system is set up for guilty pleas based on negotiated sentencing deals. Legislators make maximum sentences for even minor crimes extremely high to give prosecutors more bargaining power.)

     In high-profile criminal trials, the outcome of the case is pretty much determined by which side does the best job of jury selection. O. J. Simpson got off because his attorneys won the jury selection battle. To a certain degree, these trials are over before the first witness takes the stand. Wealthy defendants often hire juror picking consultants who help design a defense-friendly jury. These psychological profilers match jurors to defendants by analyzing such factors as body language, hair styles, clothing, gender, marital status, age, race, education, and occupation. In high-profile cases, the jury selection process, called voir dire, can go on for months.

     Juries, in general, do not represent a cross-section of American society. Entire categories of people never see the jury box. For various reasons, juries rarely include professors, cops, physicians, nurses, small business owners, employees of small companies, college students, young mothers, and lawyers. Most juries are made up of retirees, government workers, employees of large corporations, and people who are unemployed. As a law graduate, criminal justice professor, small business owner, and former FBI agent, I couldn't buy my way onto a jury. I've never made it from the big room full of prospective jurors to the courtroom where lawyers from each side choose the final twelve.

     There are all kinds of reasons and ways for a prospective juror to get out of jury duty. People can be excused for poor health, a criminal record, an upcoming wedding, family demands, mental illness, various economic hardships, and the stated inability to render an unbiased decision. In Michigan, lawmakers recently approved a bill that exempts breast-feeding mothers from jury duty. While prospective jurors are not above telling lies to get out of sitting on a jury, prosecutions for this form of lying under oath are extremely rare. That makes the following case so unusual.

Susan Cole

     In June 2011, Susan Cole, a 57-year-old beautician and Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswoman, received a summons for jury duty. She arrived at the court house in Denver with her hair in curlers and dressed according to her idea of how mentally ill people present themselves. She wore too much lipstick, reindeer socks (I have no idea what they are), and mismatched sneakers. She had put on a tee-shirt that read: "Ask Me About My Bestseller." (In 2007 Cole, under the pen name Char Cole, had self-published a relationship, self-help book/memoir  called "Seven Institutions With El-Way Secrets." My advice to this author: next time you publish a book, select a title that makes sense.)

     When Judge Anne Mansfield asked Cole if she had a history of mental illness, the prospective juror said, "Yeah, I have some mental issues....I broke out of domestic violence in the military [after her divorce she joined the Army] and have a lot of repercussions. I get very confused in the morning when I try to get ready." (Like forgetting to take out her curlers.) The prospective juror said that as a result of the domestic violence, she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cole also told the judge she was homeless and living on the street. Judge Mansfield asked if anyone objected to the dismissal of this woman. No one did, and Cole went home.

     On October 17, 2011, on Denver's "Dave Logan Show," a radio call-in program, callers were telling stories about how they had avoided jury duty. Susan Cole joined in the fun by calling the show and telling how she had recently gotten out of jury duty by impersonating a mentally ill person. Obviously aware that she was admitting to a crime, Cole called in under her pen name, Char.

     In justifying her jury avoiding ploy, Cole told the radio audience that she was simply too busy for jury duty. Rather than being ashamed of having lied under oath to avoid a basic civic responsibility, Cole seemed quite proud of herself: "I put black eyebrows on. I put red lipstick on. I left my hair in my curlers, and I put on a tee-shirt that said, 'Ask Me About My Bestseller.' [When did mentally ill homeless women start putting up their hair?] For about two weeks after, when my roommate and I would think about it, or I would tell my clients about it, we would cry we would laugh so hard."

     One of the "Dave Logan Show" listeners, Anne Mansfield, the judge Susan Cole had lied to, didn't find her story so funny. The judge knew exactly who this caller was and notified the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation.

     Detectives looking into the case found no mention of spousal abuse or PTSD in Cole's divorce records. Moreover, her military file contained no documentation supporting such a diagnosis. On March 22, 2012, police arrested Cole on charges of first-degree perjury and attempt to influence a public servant (the judge). If convicted, she faced a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison, on each count.

     Before being hauled off to jail, Cole told detectives that the military had lost her medical records. And the only person who had diagnosed her with PTSD, a Jefferson County court counselor, had since died. Cole said that in her book she writes of being imprisoned five days in a military mental institution. She also claimed that on the night before her jury duty appearance, she had been traumatized by news that her cousin had been killed in a motorcycle accident. As it turned out, her cousin hadn't been involved in a crash.

     In November 2012, Cole pleaded guilty to the felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. According to the plea deal, the judge deferred her punishment. (A deferred judgment is a no-contest type of plea. Once the guilty party meets court-ordered requirements, there is no formal conviction on record.) Cole also pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury. For this misdemeanor the judge sentenced her to two years probation and forty hours of community service.

     Had Cole gone to trial for lying under oath, her fate would have been in the hands of people who had not lied to get off the jury. Now, with a criminal record involving dishonesty, she was not fit for jury duty.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Climbing Trees

As a kid I climbed a lot of trees. I climbed in the winter, you know, for the view. I hoped that if I got high enough, my world would look different. It didn't. I kept climbing though, and never blamed the trees.

Thornton P. Knowles

Fredrick Brennan: A Theft Victim's Ordeal

     Fredrick Brennan, a 19-year-old with a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta commonly known as brittle bone disease, while confined to a motorized wheelchair that operates by a joystick, lives on his own in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He makes his living working at home creating code for new websites.

     Late in 2013, an acquaintance withdrew money from Brennan's account by using, without authorization, his debit card.

      Brennan, before traveling to Atlantic City, New Jersey to visit his mother on December 1, 2013, pulled $4,850 out of his account before the possibility of a second unauthorized withdrawal. When he boarded the bus for Atlantic City, the cash was in his wallet packed inside his luggage.

     On January 1, 2014, at the conclusion of his New Jersey visit, Brennan headed home to Brooklyn. Upon arrival at the Port Authority transportation complex in mid-town Manhattan, Mr. Brennan wheeled himself toward a MetroCard machine. It was there he encountered a homeless man who offered to help him find his way through the massive Port Authority building. The man immediately followed-up the offer by asking Brennan for a dollar. When Brennan removed a dollar bill from his wallet, the man said, "Come on, I can't even buy a hotdog with this." Brennan handed the panhandler another buck. The man took the money and walked off.

     With his cash-filled wallet sitting on his lap, Brennan started the process of buying a MetroCard. The homeless guy, having returned to the scene, grabbed Brennan's wallet and fled. "He took my wallet," the victim screamed.

     A bystander who heard Brennan, ran after the thief who bolted up the stairs that led to Eighth Avenue. A short time later the good samaritan, accompanied by a police officer, returned to the victim. The thief had escaped into the hubbub of Eighth Avenue. The police officer, however, had retrieved Brennan's wallet. The cash was gone.

     Although Brennan's description of the thief was vague, the crime had been caught on a Port Authority surveillance camera. The next day, January 2, a New York City detective called Mr. Brennan with the news that officers had made an arrest in the case. Could the victim come back to Manhattan and pick the suspect out of a line-up at the police station?

     On January 2 Brennan traveled by bus and subway to the police station in Greenwich Village. The fact the city was expecting a massive show storm that day caused Brennan to worry about how he would get back to his home in Brooklyn.

     At the police station, Brennan had no trouble identifying the man who had stolen his wallet. The man he picked out of the line-up was Chris Sanchez. The 49-year-old suspect had been arrested near the Port Authority earlier that morning with $4,073 in his pocket. Police also found, on his person, small quantities of crack and marijuana.

    A Manhattan assistant prosecutor charged Chris Sanchez with grand larceny. Until the matter was resolved in the slow-moving criminal justice system, the authorities would have to hold onto the victim's stolen cash.

     Following the line-up identification, Brennan was asked to spend some time at the station filling out police forms and writing up a statement of the crime. By the time he left the police building it was late in the evening and snowing heavily. Worried that his wheelchair--he had been saving up for a new one--would short out in the snow, the cooperating crime victim asked a police officer if he could arrange for a ride back to Brooklyn. The officer said the station didn't have access to a van with a wheelchair lift. The theft victim would have to find his own way home.

      A detective pushed Brennan through the snow to the Union Square subway station, then left. It was eleven o'clock at night and snowing hard.

      Frederick Brennan boarded a subway train en route to the Atlantic Avenue Station where he got on another train that took him to 86th Street and Bay Parkway in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There he waited for the bus that would take him on the final leg of his trip home. Problem was, the bus didn't come and the snow kept falling.

     After waiting at the bus stop for more than an hour, Brennan's hands and feet were starting to numb. Since his wheelchair couldn't plow through the snow, he used his cellphone to call 911 for help. A short time later an ambulance pulled up and carried him to a nearby medical center. The next day the hospital discharged him.

     A few days after Mr. Brennan's ordeal, he returned to Manhattan to testified before the grand jury considering the case. Based on the surveillance video and the victim's testimony, Mr. Sanchez was indicted on the charge of grand larceny. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. Mr. Brennan was told he would not have his money returned until the case was resolved.

     Following public outrage over the way the criminal justice system treated this victim, things got better for Mr. Brennan. The authorities returned his stolen money, and detectives went to his home several times with take-out food and N.Y.P.D. sweatshirts. Detectives also built him a home entertainment center for his new, donated flat screen TV. The public also donated to Mr. Brennan more than $20,000, and the Ocean Home Health Company gave him an expensive, new motorized wheelchair.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Secrets Of The Catholic Confession Chamber

In one of my novels I have several scenes featuring the back-and-forth between a priest and a sinner inside the confessional. I'm not Catholic, but have long been fascinated in what is said inside that dark little chamber. My interest traces back to a Catholic kid I knew in high school who said he dated girls who spent the most time in that secret-inducing box. He'd actually sit outside the confessional with a stopwatch. That kid, interestingly enough, grew up to become a priest. I sent him a signed copy of my novel, thanking him for sparking my interest in church-secured confessions. He didn't get back to me. If I were ever priest-grilled inside that box, I'd confess this was not my best novel.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Steve Nunn Murder Case

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political has-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On How The Media Promotes Magical Thinking

In an era of magical thinking and stupid beliefs, millions of people buy into a lot of paranormal nonsense. The media, particularly television, with supposedly serious shows about ghosts, Big Foot, fortune tellers, alien abductions, spontaneous human combustion, psychic detectives, and Lock Ness, lends credibility to this kind of hogwash. Print and TV journalists, people who know better, pretend to take this stuff seriously because they are popular subjects that attract readers and viewers. These media hacks are part of the problem. Americans are losing the ability to think critically and reason clearly. For many, it's no longer what they know that counts, it's all about what they believe. In this world of fantasy, O. J. Simpson can be innocent, and Elvis Presley can be alive. We are losing our ability to think straight and recognize reality. This is dangerous because it opens the door to politicians who can manipulate the gullible into giving up their freedoms in exchange for promises the politicians know they can't keep. The blind trust of elected officials can destroy a country. Democracy requires a population of clear-eyed citizens smart enough to recognize the charlatans and the crypto-fascists. (Lower and higher education is worthless if it can't give students the intellectual tools to do this.) As long as most Americans continue to distrust the politician, there is hope.

Thornton P. Knowles

The David Wise Spousal Rape Case

     In 2008, Mandy Wise kicked her husband, David Wise, out of their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then filed for divorce. After eleven years of marriage, she had discovered, on his cell phone, video recordings of him having sex with her. She was unconscious. The tapes revealed to Mandy that she had been surreptitiously drugged and raped by her husband.

     When confronted with the tapes, David responded with the following email: "I was taking advantage of you in your sleep and you kept coming to me and telling me it was not okay. I needed to stop." He did not admit to drugging her, and they never, according to Mandy, discussed the matter prior to her discovery of the videotapes.

     In January 2010, not long after the finalization of the divorce, Mandy, now going by her maiden name Boardman, complained to the police that her ex-husband had been harassing her with repeated phone calls and text messages. She also claimed that David Wise had threatened to kill the man she was then engaged to. A judge granted her a protection order, but Wise was not charged with any crime.

     In 2011, two years after the divorce, Mandy reported the rapes to the police. As evidence, she submitted a DVD copy of the sex tapes. When asked to explain the delay in reporting the rapes and submitting the evidence, Mandy said she didn't want their two children to grow up without a father.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Wise with one count of rape, and five felony counts of criminal deviate conduct. If convicted as charged, he faced a maximum sentence of forty years in prison. After spending 24 days in the county detention center, David Wise made bail and was released to await his trial.

     The David Wise spousal rape trial began in April 2014 in Indianapolis. Mandy Boardman's testimony for the prosecution comprised the principal evidence in the three-day proceeding. She took the stand and told the jury that on numerous occasions she had awaken with the feeling that her body had been "messed with." One time she woke up with a pill still dissolving in her mouth. She had also discovered, in the bedroom, eyedroppers that were not hers.

     Following two days of testimony, the case went to the jury. After a brief deliberation, the jurors returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The judge set May 16, 2014 as the sentencing date. On that day, the prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Wise to twenty years in prison. The convicted man's attorney argued for two years of house detention.

     Marion County Superior Court Judge Kurt Eisgruber, on May 16, 2014, sentenced the 52-year-old rapist to twenty years, with twelve of those years suspended. David Wise would serve the remaining eight years wearing a GPS monitoring device in his home. Following the house detention, he would serve two years of probation.

    Following the sentencing hearing, Wise's attorney, Elizabeth Milliken, told reporters that she planned to appeal her client's conviction.

     On Monday, May 19, 2014, Mandy Boardman, in speaking to a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, said, "I was very pleased with the conviction. The sentencing was a punch in the gut by the justice system. During the reading of the sentence the judge looked at me before he gave the final decision. I was told that I needed to forgive my attacker and move on. I received zero justice on Friday."

     Boardman, to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, added: "I never thought he [Wise] would be at home, being able to have the same rights and privileges that I do."

    On July 24, 2014, Judge Eisgruber put David Wise behind bars for five years after the rapist violated the terms of his house arrest by letting his GPS tracking device's battery go dead. He also failed to maintain contact with correction authorities. Mandy Boardman responded to her ex-husband's incarceration with the following statement to a local reporter: "Now that I know that he will be in prison for the next five years, I think I can finally get some peace" 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Funny Names

My uncle lived outside of Elkins, West Virginia on Misdemeanor Lane. He named his son Philonious, and his dog Mugshot. You can't make this stuff up. Well actually, you can. And I just did. Sorry.

Thornton P. Knowles

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?

     At three in the morning on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, saw a light under the movie star's bedroom door. After knocking and getting no response, Murray called Monroe's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. The doctor arrived at the Brentwood, California hacienda shortly after being summoned, and upon entering the bedroom, found the 36-year-old actress dead. Following a considerable passage of time, Dr. Greenson called the Los Angeles Police. (Before alerting the authorities, Monroe's  psychiatrist phoned Peter Lawford, an actor friend of Monroe's who rushed to the scene. Peter Lawford happened to be President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law. Lawford was also rumored to have fixed the president up with Monroe.)

     The first detective didn't arrive at the scene until 4:30 that morning. Based on the state of Monroe's rigor mortis (postmortem body stiffening), the officer estimated the time of her death to be 12:30 AM, give or take an hour. In the bedroom, the detective found 15 bottles of prescription drugs, and an empty bottle of champagne. The scene was never processed for latent fingerprints.

     Because of the delay between the time of death and the arrival of the police, valuable evidence from the bedroom and the house could have been removed and destroyed. For example, Monroe was known to have kept a diary. Had she been sexually involved with President Kennedy, and later with his brother Robert, the U.S. Attorney General, her journal might have contained revealing and embarrassing information related to, among other things, a motive for  her murder. The diary was never recovered. Monroe's phone records also turned up missing. Regardless of how Marilyn Monroe died, the case has all the earmarks of a cover-up.

     Five or six hours after Marilyn Monroe's sudden and unexplained death, her body was turned over to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office for autopsy. The so-called "Coroner to the Stars," Dr. Thomas Noguchi, performed the autopsy. According to all accounts, he did a thorough job which included a careful examination of Monroe's body for signs that she had been injected with something. The forensic pathologist did not find any evidence of foul play.

     A toxicology test of Monroe's blood revealed high levels of Nembutal (38-66 capsules) and chloral hydrate (14-23 tablets). Based on his autopsy, the apparent circumstances surrounding the death, and the toxicology report, Dr. Noguchi ruled Monroe's death a "possible suicide."

     The medico-legal examination of the corpse, however, was not complete. Because the samples had been "lost," there was no toxicological analysis of Monroe's stomach and intestine contents.

     In 1982, twenty years after Marilyn Monroe's death, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and issued a report. The cold case investigators, aware of the flaws and problems with the initial inquiry, concluded that Monroe had probably died of an accidental overdose. However, not everyone, then and now, ruled out the possibility of homicide. Perhaps the most popular theory of murder, and the motive behind it, involves keeping Monroe from spilling the beans about her affairs with the Kennedy brothers. The well known forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, publicly expressed his opinion that Monroe could have been injected with a toxic substance.

     In 2011, the Associated Press, anticipating the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death on August 5, 1962, attempted, under the Freedom of Information Act, to acquire the FBI's voluminous file on Marilyn Monroe.

     J. Edgar Hoover, as part of his war against domestic communism, monitored the activities of hundreds of novelists, actors, musicians, screenwriters, sports figures, and politicians. In 1955, the bureau opened an on-going intelligence file on Marilyn Monroe. Agents kept track of where she went, what she did, and who she associated with. FBI investigators conducted hundreds of confidential interviews of people who knew the actress. None of this information was made public.

     Nine months after its request for the Monroe FBI file, the bureau replied that the agency no longer possessed this material. The Associated Press then requested the files from the National Archives which also denied possession of the Monroe data. So, where was this information?

     Before a serious re-investigation of Marilyn Monroe's death could occur, cold case investigators would need full access to the information the government denied possessing. Until this data is made public, Marilyn Monroe's death will remain a mystery, and a favorite subject among highly imaginative armchair detectives.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Sigmund Freud And Truman Capote

According to Dr. Sigmund Freud, creative writers, as boys, were timid, introverted types who spent their days fantasizing about being men of action and having beautiful lovers. When these boys became novelists, they created their fictitious characters out of these fantasies. While some modern shrinks consider Dr. Freud old hat, the good doctor figured out the psychology of creative writing. He didn't, however, figure out why so many novelists are suicidal, mentally ill drunks. It's a shame he never met Truman Capote.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Christopher Vaughn Murder Case

     Christopher Vaughn, a 32-year-old former private investigator who specialized in cyber-crime detection and computer security, lived with his wife and their three children in Oswego, Illinois, a suburban community of 30,000 west of Chicago. His 34-year-old wife Kimberly had just earned a college degree in criminal justice administration. In preparation for a weekend excursion to a water park in downstate Springfield, the couple and their children--Abigayle 12, Cassandra 11, and Blake 8--had arisen early on June 14, 2007.

     That morning, at 5:40, Christopher Vaughn, stood bleeding near his vehicle parked on the shoulder of Interstate 55 in Channahon Township, Illinois. He waved down a motorist who discovered that the wounded man had been shot in the left wrist and left thigh. Vaughn's wife Kimberly and his three children were inside the 2004 Ford Expedition. They had been shot to death. The motorist called 911.

     Christopher Vaughn's gunshot injuries turned out to be glancing bullet wounds that were minor. After being treated and discharged from a hospital in Joliet, he submitted to questioning by officers with the Illinois State Police. Vaughn said that his wife had asked him to pull off the road because she was feeling ill. After bringing the car to a stop, he climbed out of the vehicle to check on the luggage tied to the rack on the roof of the SUV. When he got back into the vehicle, she shot him twice with a pistol. Wounded, he managed to get out of the Ford without being hit again. Once out of her line of fire, he heard the gun go off several times from inside the vehicle. When he returned to the SUV to check on his family, he found that his wife had murdered the children and had turned the gun on herself.

     None of the detectives questioning Vaughn bought the murder-suicide scenario. They were convinced he had murdered his family, then strategically shot himself. The officers didn't know why this seemingly rational but emotionless man had committed mass murder, or how they would be able to prove it without an eyewitness, or a confession. This case looked like a cold-blooded mass murder committed by a killer with nerves of steel.

     According to the Will County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, Kimberly Vaugh had been shot under the chin. The killer had shot the children in their chests and heads. Their deaths were ruled homicides.

      On June 20, 2007, members of the Illinois State Police seized, from the Vaughn home in Oswego, three computers and several boxes full of personal items. Included in the things removed from the Vaughn family dwelling that day was a magazine containing an article on how to make a murder look like a suicide. Detectives had also learned that the suspect had purchased the handgun used in the killings in the state of Washington, and that on the day before the murders, he had practiced shooting it at a firing range.

     In the days before the quadruple murder, Christopher Vaughn had spent $5,000 at a suburban strip club where he had confided in a pole dancer that he was having marital problems. Vaughn had told friends that he dreamed of escaping the rat-race by moving into a remote cabin in Canada's Yukon Territory. He also stood to inherit $1 million in life insurance benefits. Investigators believed that Vaughn had murdered his family because they stood between him and his desire to start a new life.

     On June 22, 2007, the Will County States Attorney's Office charged Christopher Vaughn with four counts of first-degree murder. The next day, he was taken into custody in St. Charles, Missouri when he arrived at the funeral home where services were being held for his wife and three children.

     In late August 2012, more than five years after the shooting deaths of his family, Christopher Vaughn went on trial for mass murder in Joliet, Illinois. The heart of the prosecution's case consisted of the testimony of forensic ballistic and blood spatter experts. According to these analysts, the physical death scene evidence did not support the defendant's version of a murder-suicide. What the bullet and blood evidence did suggest was this: once Vaughn had pulled off the interstate, he got out of the car, walked around to the front passenger's door, opened it, and shot his wife under the chin. He then shot each of this three children twice, climbed back behind the wheel of the SUV, wrapped his jacket around the muzzle of the gun to mitigate its effect, then grazed himself in the left thigh and wrist. Before leaving the vehicle to flag down a motorist, Vaughn placed the murder weapon at his wife's feet to make the shooting look like a murder-suicide.

     On September 20, 2012, following a five-week trial featuring six hours of closing arguments, the jury, after a 50-minute deliberation, returned a verdict of guilty on all four counts.

     On November 26, 2012, Will County Judge Daniel Rozak sentenced Christopher Vaughn to life in prison. Before imposing the sentence, Judge Rozak said he was "very frustrated" with the state's decision in 2011 to abolish the death sentence. State's attorney James Glasgow, in speaking to reporters about the case following the sentencing, said, "There isn't a punishment that fits this crime. You could lock him up for 500 lifetimes and it would not compensate the victims in this case or the family members."

Is Writer's Block Just An American Phenomenon?

     The phrase "writer's block" was coined by an American, a psychiatrist named Edmund Bergler…In other ages and cultures, writers were not thought to be blocked but straightforwardly dried up. One literary critic pointed out that the concept of writer's block is peculiarly American in its optimism that we all have creativity just waiting to be unlocked. By contrast, Milton, when he could not write, felt that he was empty, that there was no creativity left untapped.

     If writer's block is more common in the United States, it would not be the first weakness that is peculiar to our culture. The modern American idea of the literary writer is so shaped by the towering images of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald struggling with every word, that there is a paradoxical sense in which suffering from writer's block is necessary to be an American novelist. Without block once in a while, if a writer is too prolific, he or she is suspected by other novelists as being a hack.

Alice W. Flaherty, The Midnight Disease, 2004 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Different

To be truly different is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be a gift, and certainly does not reflect on one's character or worth. But being different can be difficult because a lot of people either don't like or are afraid of people who are different. Large groups of people who are "different" in exactly the same way are not truly unusual. They are pretenders looking for attention. It takes guts to be really different. That's one thing I know about.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Ryan Walton Double Murder Case

     Real estate developer Michael Walton and his wife Lynda resided with their 18-year-old daughter Shelby in a $1.4 million mansion a few miles from downtown Katy, Texas, a suburban community of 14,000 outside of Houston. Residents of the Lake Pointe Estates gated community referred to the two-story Walton house as "the governor's mansion" because the 54-year-old entrepreneur had developed the subdivision.

     Mr. Walton and his 52-year-old wife had three other children who didn't live with them. Their daughter Shelby, who had just finished her senior year at Katy High School, was planning to attend college in the fall.  Donald Walton, the oldest, was 28. His brother Derrick Walton was 24, and the youngest son, Ryan, had just turned twenty.

     At five o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday, May 29, 2014, 24-year-old Derrick Walton entered the mansion to find his parents dead on the first floor of the dwelling. He called 911.

     When deputies with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office responded to the 911 call, they discovered that Michael and Lynda Walton had been shot to death. Near their bodies, deputies found spent shell casings from a small caliber pistol. Because the gun was not in the house, the officers ruled out murder-suicide.

     While deputies found evidence of a forced entry, the interior of the dwelling had not been ransacked, and nothing appeared to have been stolen. From neighbors, investigators learned that the couple had been last seen alive at seven that morning.

     A surveillance camera at one of the subdivision's exits showed 20-year-old Ryan Walton driving out of the community in his mother's blue BMW. He was seen leaving the enclave at nine o'clock Thursday morning, two hours after his parents were seen alive.

     Shortly after the 911 call, homicide investigators questioned Ryan Walton's three siblings. Ryan's whereabouts, however, were unknown. Estranged from his parents over some unidentified conflict, Ryan had moved out of the house three weeks earlier. He had also dropped out of Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi. (In 2011, the Walton's youngest son had been arrested for possession of marijuana.)

      On Friday, May 30, 2014, the sheriff of Fort Bend County declared Ryan Robert Walton a person of interest in the Walton double murder case.

     An off-duty Fort Bend sheriff's deputy, at thirty minutes past noon on Saturday, May 31, 2014, spotted Ryan Walton behind the wheel of his mother's stolen BMW. The officer pulled the car over in the town of Rosenberg, a community twenty miles from the murder scene.

     That Saturday afternoon, officers booked Ryan Walton into the Fort Bend County Jail on two counts of murder. The judge denied him bond.

     On July 3, 2014, a Fort Bend grand jury indicted Ryan Walton on two counts of capital murder. In Texas, that meant he was eligible for the death penalty. Six weeks later, at an arraignment hearing, the defendant's court-appointed lawyer pleaded his client not guilty to the murder charges. More than a dozen of the suspect's family and some of his friends attended the hearing. None of them agreed to talk to reporters.

      On September 21, 2016, Judge James Shoemake, pursuant to a plea bargain deal, sentenced 22-year-old Ryan Walton to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years in prison. Because there was no trial, and very little news coverage of this case, the motive behind the murders remained a mystery. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Harry Truman

President Harry Truman made an enormously big and difficult decision when he dripped the A-bombs on Japan. Because of that move, presidential historians will debate and discuss Harry Truman for decades to come. In comparison, most former presidents end up as historical footnotes, and are quickly forgotten. Old "Give-em-Hell" Harry really gave them Hell, and, for better or worse, will be remembered for it.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story like this was the stuff of fiction. The advent of DNA technology, however, has made scenarios like this one not only possible, but fairly common.

     In the old days (in the context of DNA science), when a murder investigation petered out, and the trail grew cold, detectives shelved the case, and, except for the victim's family, it was forgotten. Maybe the detective who had tried but failed to solve the murder thought about it every so often. But with dead witnesses, failed memories, lost documents, and no leads, the old murder remained as dead as the victim. With the passage of enough time, even the killer might forget the killing, or pretend it never happened. It used to be said that murder will out, but that was a lie.

     Thanks to the developing science of DNA fingerprinting, old murder cases involving biological evidence such as hair follicles, saliva traces, bloodstains, and semen residue, can now come back to life and haunt killers who thought they had escaped detection. Yes, it's justice delayed, but it's a lot better than no justice at all.

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     At noon, on September 1, 1979, Peter J. Caltury, Sr. entered the duplex in Monaca, Pennsylvania where his 23-year-old daughter, Catherine Janet Walsh, lived by herself. He found her dead, lying face-down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back with a bathrobe cord. Dressed in a nightgown, and partially covered by the bed sheet, the victim had a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. When Mr. Caltury called the Monaca Police Department, Officer Andrew Gall responded to the scene.
      It became apparent that robbery hadn't been the motive for the Walsh murder. The doors to the house had been locked when the victim's father checked in on his daughter, and there were no signs of a struggle. Based on these conditions investigators assumed the victim had known her killer.

     Murder was (and is) rare in Monaca, a Beaver County town on the eastern bank of the Ohio River 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fact Catherine Walsh had been sexually assaulted and murdered in her own bedroom shocked the residents of this small, tight knit community.

     Catherine, a year out of Monaca High School, married Scott E. Walsh in August 1976. In December 1978 he filed for divorce on the grounds she had "violated her marriage vows." Catherine had moved into the duplex after the separation. At the time of her death, however, she was still married to Scott Walsh.

     The Beaver County coroner determined that Catherine Walsh had been strangled to death, and ruled the case a homicide. Detectives questioned, as the obvious suspect, Scott Walsh, the estranged husband. Investigators also interviewed a man named Gregory Scott Hopkins from the nearby borough of Bridgewater. Hopkins admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the married victim, but said it had ended a month before her death.

     Although detectives worked hard on the Walsh murder case, they were unable to acquire the evidence they needed to arrest a suspect. Years passed and the case went dormant. Detectives worked on other crimes and the Walsh case suspects went on with their lives. Gregory Hopkins became a successful building contractor, and in November 2010, was elected to the Bridgewater Borough Council. He married his first wife in 1967 and divorced her in 1980. He married again in 1983, divorcing this wife in 1999. In 2001, he married Karen L. Fisher.

     In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police, working off a federal grant, re-opened several old homicide cases that featured biological evidence that could be linked to murder suspects through DNA analysis. One of these cold-case investigations included the September 1979 murder of Catherine Walsh. In December 2011, a state forensic scientist took DNA samples from several people, including Gregory Hopkins. After comparing biological trace evidence from the victim's nightgown, the bathrobe cord, and the crime scene bed sheet to Gregory Hopkins' DNA sample, the scientist declared a match.

     On January 29, 2012, detectives arrested Gregory Hopkins at his home for the murder of Catherine Walsh. They booked the Bridgewater Councilman into the Beaver County Jail. Six days later, James Ross, Hopkins' attorney, asked the judge to grant his client bail. The judge, ruling that Catherine Walsh's murder was a non-bailable crime, denied the defendant's request.

     Hopkins' attorney, promising a "vigorous" defense, told reporters that "Mr. Hopkins is a very reputable man in the community, has been in business for 40 years, served on the borough council and I think the arrest comes as a shock to many people." (I'm sure the arrest came as a shock to Mr. Hopkins. He may have been a reputable man before his arrest, but a DNA match in a murder case can suddenly erode a man's respectability.)

     On November 5, 2012, Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc ruled that the state could not use a report by the well-known Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. According to Dr. Wecht, the murder scene DNA evidence revealed that Mr. Hopkins had been in the victim's bed lying on top of her when the murder took place. Judge Knafelc, in ruling Dr. Wecht's analysis inadmissible as evidence, cited insufficient scientific data to back up his expert opinion.

     The Hopkins murder trial got underway on November 10, 2013 in the Beaver County Courthouse. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smith, in her opening statement to the jury, placed the defendant at the murder scene through his DNA found on the bed sheet, nightgown, and the bathrobe cord tied around the victim's wrists.

     Defense attorney James Ross told the jurors that his client's DNA was at the murder scene because he and the victim had engaged in sex the summer before her death.

     Defense attorney Ross, in his cross-examination of retired state trooper Richard Matas, got the prosecution witness to concede that when he processed the Walsh murder scene, he had not seen semen stains on the body, the bed, or the nightgown. Attorney Ross showed the witness a photograph depicting a bedroom trash can with a piece of tissue beside it. Ross asked the witness why the tissue hadn't been collected as potential evidence. "In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake," replied the former officer.

     Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrol officer, testified on cross-examination that he had not worn gloves at the site of the Walsh murder.

     At the close of the prosecution's case which featured the expert testimony of several forensic scientists, the 67-year-old defendant took the stand and testified that he had not been in the victim's apartment when she was murdered. According to Hopkins, the last time he visited her apartment was several weeks before her death.

     On November 22, 2013 the jury of five men and seven women found Hopkins guilty of third-degree murder. Judge Henry Knafelc, on February 26, 2014, sentenced Hopkins to 8 to 16 years in prison.

     In the Walsh case, crime scene mistakes made by the police did not diminish the prosecutorial power of DNA evidence.

     The Walsh case, in a television episode called "Never a Cold Case: Beaver County's 32 Year Long Investigation," was featured on the Discovery network's series "On the Case With Paula Zahn."

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing So Pretentious It's Meaningless

In reviewing a book of photography featuring the work of married photographers, The New York Book Review author wrote: "Every spread contrasts a picture apiece by each of them, and the connections between them are mostly delicate and elusive--a hue, a texture, an incidental structural effect, now and then an object. She is more attuned to the natural world, he to the vagaries of human existence; both of them are intoxicated by color and enjoy making layered compositions on which the eye flits from close up to far back..." This description is so pretentious, so artsy-fartsy, it has no meaning and is therefore useless. The review is not about the book, it's about the reviewer. Intoxicated by such show-off writing, I think I'm going to be sick.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Alan Goodman Murder Case

     Alan and Lois Goodman, in 2012, had been married 50 years. In the early 1960s, Alan started an auto parts business in Los Angeles. Lois, who in 1979 became a tennis referee (or line umpire--I don't know the first thing about this sport), had risen to the top of her profession, and at age 70, was still officiating matches. She and her 80-year-old husband lived in a condominium in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles out in the San Fernando Valley.

     On April 17, 2012, Lois called 911 to report the discovery of Alan Goodman lying on his bed either unconscious or dead. LAPD officers from the Topanga station responded to the scene. According Lois, she had been away from the condo six hours during which time she had been refereeing tennis matches at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

     Upon entering the dwelling, Lois said she noticed a broken coffee mug on the floor with blood on it. From the mug, she followed a trail of blood into Alan's bedroom where she found him unresponsive with a bloody wound to the right side of his head.

     Lois Goodman informed the police officers that her husband, a diabetic with high blood pressure, must have had an heart attack, fallen down a flight of stairs, then somehow made it to his room and climbed onto his bed. Because of Mr. Goodman's age, the LAPD officers had no reason to suspect criminal homicide.

     Two fire department paramedics pronounced Mr. Goodman dead at the scene. While neither of the medics were trained homicide investigators, they possessed enough common sense and death site experience to interpret an oddly shaped wound to the right side of the dead man's head as possible evidence of foul play. As evidence of their suspicion, the medics took care not to disturb the body on grounds it might be part of a murder scene. Although the police officers should have been cautioning the paramedics not to handle the corpse, the cops, relying on Lois Goodman's death narration, allowed the body to be transported to its place of future cremation. In a situation that cried out for, at the very least, an autopsy, Mr. Goodman's corpse, and perhaps evidence of murder, were headed for the furnace.

     Whether or not a homicide had occurred in the Woodland Hills condominium, the initial phase of the Goodman case was not how situations like this should be handled in the second largest police department in the country, or for that matter, anywhere else.

     On April 20, 2012, three days after Alan Goodman's death, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who had been dispatched to sign Mr. Goodman's death certificate, noticed several deep cuts on the dead man's head and ear that seemed too severe to have been caused by an accidental spill down a flight of steps. This death investigator's rather basic observation led to an autopsy of Mr. Goodman's body. The coroner's office had literally pulled this case out of the fire.

     The next day, a forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Mr. Goodman's cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a sharp object. The pathologist found shards of the broken coffee mug imbedded in the victim's wounds. Moreover, Mr. Goodman had not suffered a heart attack. Instead of a flight of stairs, Mr. Goodman had been killed by being struck in the head with a coffee mug. As a result of the autopsy findings, the coroner's office ruled the manner of this death a homicide.

     Had Mr. Goodman's body been cremated, the cause and manner of this man's death would have remained a mystery. On the other hand, because the autopsy had been delayed three days, the forensic pathologist could not pinpoint the time of death.

     Los Angeles detectives, on April 21, 2012, searched the Goodman condominium in Woodland Hills. The searchers discovered heavy blood staining on the carpets, on the refrigerator door, inside the linen closet, and on a wall near the inside door to the garage.

     In general, an analysis of the blood spatter patterns in the condo did not support the theory that Mr. Goodman had fallen down a flight of stairs. (I don't know if the police had collected the broken coffee mug and its pieces from the crime scene. If they didn't preserve what turned out to be the murder weapon, that would be a problem. And even if they did retrieve it later, there would be a chain of custody problem.)

     Shortly after the search of the Goodman condo, detectives questioned Lois Goodman, this time as a suspect in her husband's murder. According to published police documents, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had observed upon entering the dwelling that day. At one point, she described the scene as "violent," and suggested that someone may have "positioned" Mr. Goodman's body in his bed.

     Over the next four months, Los Angeles detectives, with Lois Goodman as their prime suspect, thoroughly investigated the murder. This led to the discovery of emails she had exchanged with a man who may have been a lover. In one email, Lois Goodman referred to "terminating" a relationship. Investigators suspected that Goodman had murdered her husband for another man. The fact there were no signs of forced entry into the condo, and that nothing had been stolen from the dwelling, comprised more circumstantial evidence that Lois Goodman had been responsible for her husband's violent death. Moreover, when speaking to the responding officers that day, the dead man's wife had gone out of her way to establish her whereabouts at the time of his death, behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

     In mid-August 2012, after a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Lois Goodman with the murder of her husband, detectives followed her to New York City where she was scheduled to officiate at the U.S. Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows. On August 21, on the eve of the Open, New York City officers went to her Manhattan hotel room and arrested her on the California murder warrant. That evening, Los Goodman found herself in the Rikers Island lock-up under $1 million bond and awaiting her extradition hearing.

     Back in Los Angeles on August 29, 2012, at her arraignment hearing, the judge, assured by Goodman's attorney Alison Triessl that the tennis line umpire was not dangerous, or a candidate for flight, reduced her bail to $500,000. In speaking to reporters, attorney Triessl, in making the case that her 70-year-old client was physically incapable of killing her husband, pointed out that she had received two full knee replacements, and a shoulder replacement. According to the attorney, Lois Goodman was "wearing two hearing aids, and had rheumatoid arthritis."

     On September 3, 2012, Lois Goodman, after spending two weeks in jail, was released on bail.

     The FBI announced, on October 10, 2012, that Lois Goodman, when asked by a bureau polygraph examiner if she killed her husband, answered no--and passed the test. The polygraph expert, Jack Trimarco, said there was "no significant reaction" when Goodman answered "no" to the payload question. He asked that question several times. If you believe in the polygraph technique, and trust the FBI, this was an important development in the case.

     On November 30, 2012, the Los Angeles prosecutor, due to insufficient evidence, dropped the murder charges against Lois Goodman.

     In April 2015, a federal judge dismissed Lois Goodman's false arrest lawsuit against the LAPD. The plaintiff had claimed the murder accusation caused her "public humiliation." In setting out his rationale for the dismissal, Judge John A. Kronstadt wrote that the LAPD homicide investigation had produced "substantial details sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest Lois Goodman."

     As of May 2016, there have been no other arrests in the case.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Lonely Profession

Loneliness cannot be shared, that's what makes it so lonely. Many writers suffer from this form of societal isolation. They live among us, but feel they are not a part of us. These lost souls share their empty lives with imaginary friends, associates, lovers, and enemies of their own creation. It's quite sad, and all the writing, creativity and success in the world won't cure it. You are either alone or you're not, and there's nothing you can do about it. Writing is the work of the lonely.

Thornton P. Knowles

Father Jerold Lindner: Is Assaulting the Priest Who Molested You a Crime?

     More than 16,000 Americans have been known to have been sexually molested by Catholic clerics. These victims represent the tip of the iceberg of pedophilia in the Catholic Church. According to a study conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York City, between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse. What follows is the story of just one of the sexual predators protected by the church, and just one of his victims who took extreme measures to get revenge.

     Jerold Lindner, accepted into Jesuit training in June 1964, was, at 24, sent to the Sacred Heart novitiate in Los Gatos, California for two years of study. Six years later he was in San Francisco teaching English at St. Ignatius High School. In 1973, after sexually assaulting a number of boys at St. Ignatius, Lindner enrolled at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

     In the summer of 1975, while still at the Berkeley theology school, Lindner, as a "spiritual advisor" for the lay organization Christian Family Movement, accompanied a group of young boys on a church-sponsored camping trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains. During that weekend Lindner shared a tent with 7-year-old William Lynch and his 4-year-old brother Buddy. The spiritual advisor sodomized both boys, forced them to give him oral sex, then threatened to kill their sister if they told anyone what he had done to them. Lindner also promised the boys an eternity in hell if they squealed.

     By 1976, the year the 36-year-old was ordained as a Jesuit priest, Father Jerry, as he was called, had molested dozens of boys. That year Father Jerry returned to St. Ignatius High School where he continued his career as an English teacher and a practicing pedophile. In 1982, the Catholic Church transferred Father Lindner to Loyola High School, a private prep school near downtown Los Angeles. Ten years later, while teaching at Loyola and molesting more of his students, Lindner's mother, aware that her son was a pedophile, spoke to Father Jerry's supervisor at his order--the Society of Jesus--and told him that Lindner had been a child molester long before he entered Jesuit training in 1964. Mrs. Lindner informed the supervising priest that her son had molested several members of his family, including a younger sibling.

     In response to accusations of child molestation by the priest's own mother, the Jesuits took Father Lindner out of the classroom and sent him to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Whatever the results of that psychiatric analysis, the Jesuit brass declared that Mrs. Lindner's allegations were not credible, and sent their pedophile teacher back into the classroom where he could continue preying on vulnerable victims. (This would not be the first time the Jesuits would have Father Jerry psychiatrically tested, then declared suitable for classroom work.)

     In 1995, twenty years after the weekend of sexual abuse in the spiritual advisor's tent on the Santa Cruz Mountain camping trip, William Lynch's younger brother, for the first time since their ordeal, revealed their secret. (He had been sworn to secret by William.) He told his parents what happened to them in Father Lindner's tent. Two years later, the Lynch brothers sued Lindner and the Society of Jesus. (Criminal prosecution, because of the statute of limitations, was no longer an option. The 6-year-stautue of limitations in California had protected Lindner from being criminally charged by dozens of his victims.) To avoid an embarrassing and revealing civil trial, the Jesuits settled the lawsuit for $625,000. (After legal costs, William and his brother ended up with $187,000 a piece.) Following the settlement, the Society of Jesus removed the 58-year-old priest from active ministry. But Lindner still had access to children, and the complaints kept rolling in.

     In September 2002, the Jesuits at the Society of Jesus sent Father Lindner to a Catholic retirement home and medical center for priests in Los Gatos called the Scared Heart Jesuit Center. Several of the priests in this place had been sent there because they were known pedophiles. Father Lindner was one of the residents placed on the institution's child molester register. However, he still had access to young people, and continued to offend.

     It was not surprising, that in a facility where pedophiles are housed, there was a sex scandal. In 2002, it came to light that two developmentally disabled men who lived at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center for 30 years had been regularly molested by priests they considered their friends. Two years after the scandal broke, a priest at the Los Gatos facility committed suicide after being raped by a gang of Jesuits. The order avoided an even bigger scandal by paying off several civil suit plaintiffs with million dollar settlement.

     William Lynch, the man Father Lindner had molested and traumatized as a 7-year-old in 1975, had not gotten over his ordeal. As a fourth grader in Los Altos, California, Lynch started smoking marijuana. By the seventh grade he was dealing in pot, and drinking heavily. At age 15, Lynch tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, and as a adult, the victim of Father Lindner's sexual assault suffered severe depression. In his thirties, Lynch once again attempted suicide. Aware that the man who had ruined his life back in 1975 continued to abuse children under the protection of the church, Lynch could barely control his frustration and rage. By 2010, at age 42, Lynch decided to turn the tables on Father Jerry by becoming the predator.

     On May 10, 2010, William Lynch used a false name and the pretense of notifying Father Lindner of a death in the priest's family, to meet with him in the guest parlor at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. When the two men came face-to-face after all of these years, Lynch told the 65-year-old to take off his glasses. As he punched the priest in the head and body, Lynch asked him, "Do you recognize me?" After the beating which included several attempts to kick Lindner in the groin, Lynch said, "Turn yourself in or I'll come back and kill you."

     After the attack, William Lynch made no attempt to conceal what he had done. The Santa Clara County prosecutor had no choice but to charge him with one count of assault, and one count of elder abuse. If convicted of both felonies, Lynch faced up to four years in prison.

     After turning down a plea bargain in which he would serve no more than a year in jail, Lynch told reporters that "I want to take responsibility for what I've done. I don't think I'm above the law like the church and Father Jerry." Lynch said he looked forward to a trial in which the pedophile priest would be publicly exposed for what he was.

     William Lynch's assault trial got under way on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. Prosecutor Vicki Genetti, in her opening statement to the jury of 9 men and 3 women, said she was prosecuting this defendant under the assumption that Father Jerold Lindner, the victim in the assault case, had in fact sexually molested Lindner and his brother back in 1975. And in an even more unusual remark for a prosecutor to make about one of her own witnesses, Genetti warned jurors that Father Lindner, in denying the allegations, would be not be telling the truth. The prosecutor labeled the assault in this case a "revenge attack." Defendant Lynch, Genetti said, had acted like a "vigilante."

     On the first day of the trial, following the opening statements, Genetti put the prosecution's chief witness, Father Jerold Lindner, on the stand. As expected, the 67-year-old priest, overweight and wearing old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses, denied sexually molesting the defendant and his brother. The witness said he had done nothing in 1975 to justify his beating at the hands of Mr. Lynch.

     After the jurors were dismissed for the day, William Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, said this to Judge David A. Cena: "He [Father Lindner] has chosen to perjure himself. He should be advised of his right to counsel." The judge said he would take the request under advisement.

     The next day, before the defense attorney's cross-examination of Lindner, the priest took the Fifth, and refused to testify further. At this point attorney Harris moved for a mistrial on the grounds he had been denied his right to question his client's accuser. Judge Cena denied the motion, and the trial continued. Judge Cena also ruled that the jury would not hear from three witnesses prepared to testify that as children, they too had been molested by Jerold Lindner. The judge ordered the jury to disregard Lindner's testimony altogether.

     The next day, prosecutor Genetti put a Sacred Heart Jesuit Center health care worker on the stand who had witnessed the assault. Mary Eden testified that she heard William Lynch scream that Lindner had raped him and his brother, and had ruined their lives. When it came time for the defense to present its case, William Lynch took the stand, and in great detail, told the jurors what the priest had done to him and his brother, and how the sexual assaults had affected their lives. According to the defendant, when he went to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center that day, his intention was to get Lindner to take responsibility for what he had done by signing a written confession. When Lindner refused, and looked as though he might become aggressive, Lynch resorted to violence. (With this testimony, the defense was giving the jurors an opportunity, an excuse if you will, to nullify the evidence, and find Lynch not guilty.)

     Following William Lynch's compelling testimony, the defense rested its case. Prosecutor Genetti, in her closing remarks to the jury, said that what Lindner had done to the defendant and his brother 37 years ago did not legally justify the assault. The prosecutor also accused the defense of encouraging the jurors to return a "nullified" verdict, one that ignored the evidence against the defendant.

     On Thursday, July 5, the jury, in this difficult and unusal case, found William Lynch not guilty of felony assault and elder abuse. By this verdict, the jury sent a clear message to priests who get away with molesting boys. If as adults their victims hunt them down and beat them up, tough luck.