More than 4,985,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Sunday, April 29, 2018

Tucson Police Officer Diana Lopez: Behavior Unbecoming and the Loss of Police Accountability

     In August 2012, internal affairs investigators with the Tucson Arizona Police Department learned that between May and August 2011, Lieutenant Diana Lopez, via her personal cellphone, had sent sexually explicit videos of herself to a subordinate officer on the force. The subordinate showed the videos to several other Tucson Police Officers who kept the whole thing quiet for about a year.

     The Tucson Chief of Police, in February 2013, on grounds that Lieutenant Lopez had violated departmental regulations and standards of conduct, demoted her to patrol sergeant. Assistant Chief Kathleen Robinson, in her departmental report, wrote: "Lopez used extremely poor judgment in sending these images undermining her credibility as a commander. Her actions have negatively affected not only her reputation, but the reputation and mission of the Tucson Police Department."

     Officer Lopez's attorney, Michael Piccarreta, announced that his client was considering filing a civil lawsuit against the city and the department for wrongful demotion. Lopez would also, according to the attorney, appeal her demotion to the state Civil Service Commission.

     Attorney Piccarreta, in speaking to a local reporter about the case said, "The case raises constitutional issues when there is lawful off-duty behavior, and a wrongdoer [the subordinate officer] violates your trust and privacy rights without your permission or consent by making it public."

     In the summer of 2013, the state Civil Service Commission upheld Lopez's demotion.

     In May 2014, Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington reversed the department's demotion of Lopez. The judge rationalized his decision on the fact the police department did not have an explicit policy warning officers against making and showing sexually explicit materials. (In order to foresee all the stupid things a police officer might do, the department's manual of professional conduct would have to be massive.)

     In addressing attorney Piccarreta's points, I'm not sure how the police department violated officer Lopez's constitutional rights by demoting her for sending sex tapes to a lower ranking member of the force. On the violation of privacy issue, cellphone images carry no expectancy of privacy. In fact, one can expect that sexually oriented videos sent by cellphone will eventually go public.

     While attorney Picarreta's strongest argument might have been the off-duty activity aspect, police officers, in reality, are never off-duty. If you punch an off-duty cop you will be arrested on the spot. Obviously, what police officers do on their own time can affect the department and the profession. The fact that Lopez's embarrassing off-duty actions were not criminal offenses misses the point.

   Judge Harrington, in interfering with the internal administrative workings of a police department, lowered the bar regarding what is considered professional police conduct. The fact this officer wasn't fired for embarrassing the profession reveals a serious lack of police accountability. Public employees have become immune from being fired. Citizens have lost control of a government that serves itself rather than the public.

     Diana Lopez, as Lieutenant Diana Duffy, filed a claim against the city in April 2015. According to Michael Storie, her attorney, as a result of the wrongful demotion, Lieutenant Duffy suffered from financial and emotional stress. The attorney was asking the city of Tucson to pay his client $120,000 in damages. The current chief of police supported this claim.

     

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Mark Stobbe Murder Case

     In the spring of 2000, 42-year-old Mark Stobbe, the former senior advisor to Roy Romanon, the premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, moved his family from Regina, Saskatchewan to St. Andrews, Manitoba, a rural community north of Winnipeg. The new senior communications advisor for Manitoba premier Gary Doer, moved his wife Beverly Rowbotham and their two sons into a sprawling old house in the country.

     In his new position as the premier's communications strategist, the tall, 350-pound political operative left his house most days at six in the morning and didn't return until eleven at night. This left his wife Beverly alone all day with their sons in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Her husband's new job, and the move, had placed Beverly and the marriage under stress.

     At 2:30 in the morning of October 25, 2000, Mark Stobbe telephoned Betty Rowbotham, his wife's sister, to inform her that Beverly had gone missing. Earlier in the day, Beverly had been to the Safeway grocery store in Selkirk, 12 kilometers from the house. Because the boys had acted up in the store, she had returned home without completing her shopping. That evening, Beverly had driven back to Safeway to finish the job. Mark said he had fallen asleep in bed with one of his sons and woke up to find that Beverly had not returned from the store. Worried that something had happened to her, he called the police, and several hospitals.

     Ten minutes after the call, Betty arrived at her sister's house. The police were still on their way. Shortly after her arrival, Mark went into the backyard where he used a hose to water down something. Ten minutes later, he was back inside where he greeted the first officer to arrive at the scene. While the RCMP officer was questioning Mark, the detective received a call from his office. They had found Beverly, dead in her car, with massive blunt-force wounds to her head. Her Ford Crown Victoria was parked at a gas station in Selkirk. The police recovered Beverly's purse in the vehicle, but her wallet was missing. The killer had also removed the $7,000 ring she had been wearing.

     Based on the RCMP's initial investigation, it appeared that Beverly Rowbotham had been murdered in her backyard where investigators had found fragments of her skull and clumps of her hair. In the garage, where her Ford had been parked, crime scene officers found two large blood stains on the floor, and one on the wall. Also in the garage, police recovered two blood-soaked tissues and a bloody towel, evidence that the killer had tried to clean up. In the car abandoned in Selkirk, the police discovered traces of blood on the victim's purse. They eventually located Beverly's missing wallet on the bank of the Red River, not far from the gas station.

     In the beginning, investigators figured that Beverly had been murdered sometime that night while her husband and children were asleep in the house. But why would the killer put her body in the Ford, and drive it to Selkirk? And how did the killer get to the murder scene in the first place?

     As the investigation moved forward, detectives became more skeptical of Mark Stobbe's account of his whereabouts and activities on the night of the murder. They began to suspect that he had killed his wife. As Stobbe's questionings became more accusatorial, he continued to deny having anything to do with his wife's death. He also insisted that he and Beverly were not having marital problems. Over the next several months, the police chased down 240 tips, and interviewed 400 people. But it wasn't until the DNA reports started coming in did the investigation start getting some traction.

     According to DNA analysis of the crime scene evidence, the bloodstains in the garage and in the backyard had come from the victim. The blood stains on the towel and tissues belonged to Mark Stobbe. And there were stains that comprised a mixture of his and his wife's blood. There were, however, DNA traces at the scene that belonged to an unidentified male. The spots of blood on Beverly's handbag found in her car had also come from an unidentified man.

     By 2001, RCMP investigators had focused their attention on Mark Stobbe as the primary suspect in the murder. According to his story, Beverly had not completed her shopping that day because one of the boys had misbehaved at the grocery store in Selkirk. But a store surveillance tape showed that she had been in the place almost an hour, and her cash register receipt indicated she had spent $108.32, an amount equal to her average purchase. The investigators also considered Stobbe's differing accounts of his activity on the night of the murder incriminating. He told some people that he had fallen asleep in front of the television, and he told others that he had been in bed with one of his sons.

     In January 2001, the RCMP acquired a warrant allowing them to tap Stobbe's home telephone. After listening in to 1,000 hours of his phone conversations, they heard nothing directly incriminating. In a February 28, 2001 conversation between the suspect and Betty Rowbotham, his former sister-in-law, she informed him that the police were gathering physical evidence from his backyard. To that he replied, "Damn it all." Toward the end of the phone call, Stobbe said, "I feel horrible."

     The Rowbotham/Stobbe case eventually hit a wall, and for several years, lay dormant. In 2008, almost eight years after Beverly Rowbotham's murder, the Crown charged Mark Stobbe with second-degree murder. He was arrested, made bail, and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 16, 2012, Stobbe's trial got underway in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg. Representing the Crown, Wendy Dawson, in her opening statement to the jury, laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: On the night of October 24, 2000, the defendant, during a heated argument with his wife in the backyard of their house, hit her in the head 16 times with a hatchet. He dragged her body into the garage, hit her again, stuffed the body into her Ford, then drove to the gas station in Selkirk. Using a bicycle he had put into the trunk, he rode back to St. Andrews. Along the way, Stobbe tossed his dead wife's wallet into the Red River to lead investigators into thinking Beverly's killer had robbed her. Stobbe also removed her ring. Back at his house, he waited a few hours before calling the police and his sister-in-law. Before the RCMP arrived, Stobbe used a garden hose in an attempt to wash away physical evidence in his backyard.

     Stobbe's attorney, Tim Killeen, assured the jury that Beverly Rowbotham had been bludgeoned to death by an unidentified intruder who had been lying in wait outside her house. The defense attorney pointed to the unidentified male DNA found on her purse, and in the garage.  

     During the next several weeks, the Crown put 70 people on the stand, including several witnesses who testified that on the night in question, they had seen an overweight man riding a bicycle between Selkirk and St. Andrews. None of these witnesses, however, specifically identified the defendant as the man on the bike.

     On March 7, 2012, the defense put on its case which depended almost entirely on the defendant's taking the stand on his own behalf. If just one juror believed Mark Stobbe's account, there would be no conviction. If all of the jurors believed that he might be telling the truth, there would be an acquittal. It was all up to the defendant.

     Under direct examination by attorney Tim Killeen, Stobbe denied killing his wife. "I've spent a lot of nights looking out that window, wondering," he said. When Stobbe learned of his wife's death, "It was confirmation of my worst fears. What it meant was that I was 50 to 60 feet away when she was killed....I should have been able to stop it. I was completely useless in helping her." The defendant, at this point, broke down on the stand.

     The following day, Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson began her cross-examination of the defendant. She asked Stobbe why he hadn't filed an insurance claim for his wife's $7,000 ring. "You didn't make a claim," she said, "because the ring wasn't stolen. You took it off her hand before you brutally killed her." Stobbe said he hadn't bothered filing a claim because he just didn't care about the ring's value.

     The prosecutor tried to get the defendant to admit that his marriage was under considerable stress. Didn't his long hours at work with his wife alone in the house with the children have an adverse effect on their relationship? "I think it would be fair to say," he replied, "that she wanted me around more, but...she understood that the long hours were part and parcel of my job. She never made a suggestion to me that I change my career."

     Wendy Dawson cross-examined the defendant for five days. In keeping him on the hot seat for so long, the prosecutor risked making him an object of sympathy in the eyes of some of the jurors. On March 22, 2012, the attorneys made their closing arguments. The prosecutor said she didn't want Stobbe to get away with the "near perfect murder of his wife." She said the circumstantial evidence against him was "overwhelming," and that the defendant had "demonstrated all the hallmarks of a dishonest, lying witness. He couldn't keep his story straight," she said. "Certainly he should have been able to hear a cry for help from his wife, or a commotion in the garage. This was a crime of rage."

     In his closing argument, defense attorney Tom Killeen admitted there were reasons for the police to suspect his client, but suspicion alone was not enough to convict a man of murder. The Crown, he said, has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. "Mr. Stobbe has to prove nothing," he said.

     On March 27, 2012, after 82 witnesses and 100 hours of testimony, Judge Chris Martin gave his instructions to the jury. Mark Stobbe's fate was now in the hands of twelve jurors.

     After deliberating two days, the jury found Mark Stobbe not guilty. The prosecutor, with no solid evidence of a motive, no murder weapon, weak eyewitness testimony, and the unknown male DNA on the victim's purse, simply didn't carry, in the minds of this jury, its burden of proof. Some of the jurors may have believed that Stobbe had murdered his wife, but belief and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are not always the same.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers As Wimps

Writers love to complain and wail about how difficult it is to write. Oh the suffering, the pure agony of putting words on paper. What a load of crap. You know what's hard work? Try bailing hay, moving furniture, digging coal, or serving food in a restaurant full of human eating machines and their misbehaving kids. No one is forced to write, and no one wants to hear writers crying in their beer. If writing doesn't come easy to you, either quit doing it or shut up about how hard it is. Please.

Thornton P. Knowles

Gabe Watson and The Honeymoon Murder Case

     On October 11, 2003, 26-year-0ld David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson married Tina Thomas, the human resources manager for a small, southern department store chain. The couple met while students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Shortly before getting married, Tina, in anticipation of her honeymoon, took beginning scuba diving lessons that included eleven dives in a flooded Alabama quarry. Gabe, a more experienced diver, had taken advanced courses. He had also made a total of 55 dives, 40 of which had been in the quarry. In 1999 he became certified as a rescue diver.

     Ten days after the wedding, Gabe and his 26-year-old wife began their Australian honeymoon. In Sydney, they visited the Taronga Zoo and attended a Shakespeare play at the Sydney Opera House. On October 22, 2003, the honeymooners began a 7-day dive expedition on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Day one of the adventure involved being taken, on the Townsville Dive Company's vessel "Spoilsport," to the historic Yolonga shipwreck, 48 nautical miles southeast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Gabe and Tina were accompanied by rescue divers Dr. Doug Milsap and Dr. Stanley Stutz, an emergency room physician from Chicago.

     Shortly into the dive, Dr. Stutz saw Watson swim to his wife and embrace her. When they separated, Gabe began swimming to the surface as she sank to the sea bed where she drowned. Rescuers recovered Tina Watson's body not far from the shipwreck.

     When asked to explain what happened to his wife, Gabe said he and Tina, shortly after going into the sea, had encountered strong currents. She panicked, and as he approached to help, she knocked off his mask and air regulator. He couldn't hold her. She floated away and began to sink. Because of an ear problem, Gabe said he was unable to go after her. As she drifted to the bottom of the ocean, he swam to the surface to summon help.

     On October 27, 2003, five days after the drowning, detectives with the Townsville Police Department questioned Gabe Watson. He said that during the struggle he had tried but failed to activate his wife's buoyancy control vest. "I remember," he said, "shouting through my regulator, 'Tina, Tina, Tina.' In the back of my mind I was thinking these people [the other divers] could see us, or at least think something odd was going on. I pretty much lost it."

     Members of the Australian State Dive Squad assisted in the investigation of the drowning by conducting reenactments of Tina's dive. Several members of the investigation team had problems with Gabe Watson's explanation of the drowning, and suspected foul play. In the meantime, the tabloid press in Australia, England, and the United States called Tina's death "The Honeymoon Murder," and by implication, portrayed Gabe Watson as a cold-blooded killer motivated by his wife's life insurance.

     Four years passed with nothing happening in the case. Then, on November 13, 2007, the story jumped back in the news when the authorities in Australia held an inquest into Tina Watson's death. (I'm not sure why, after four years, the authorities decided to re-open the case. Perhaps it was pressure from Tina Watson's family.) Back in the U.S., on August 15, 2008, Gabe Watson married a woman named Kim Lewis. Three months after his second marriage, an Australian grand jury indicted him for murdering his first wife in October 2003.

     Watson, in May 2009, returned to Australia on his own accord to face the murder charge. A month later, in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter. While he had not intentionally killed his wife, Watson was admitting that he had been criminally negligent in not saving her. The Australian judge, believing that the defendant had not murdered his wife, that he had loved her, and felt guilty that he hadn't saved her, sentenced Watson to one year in prison. The judge criticized the media he believed had journalistically convicted Watson of murdering his wife.

     The one-year prison stretch infuriated Tina Watson's family, and prompted the Australian prosecutor to appeal the sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeals. In September 2009, the three-judge appeals panel hardened Watson's punishment to 18 months behind bars.

     If Gabe Watson thought the matter of his first wife's 2003 death was behind him, he was wrong. In October 2010, a grand jury sitting in Birmingham, Alabama indicted him on charges of murder for pecuniary (monetary) gain, and kidnapping by deception--allegedly luring her to Australia so he could drown her. A month after the Alabama indictment, Watson, having served his 18 months in the Australian prison, was free. Sort of.

     On November 25, 2010, the Australian authorities deported Watson back to America. Before they did, however, the U.S. Attorney General gave them assurances that if convicted, Watson would not be sentenced to the death penalty. As soon as he got off he plane in the U.S., Watson was taken into custody. The prosecutor in Alabama asked the judge to deny Watson bail, but in December a judge set his bond at $100,000. Watson made bail and was able to help his attorneys prepare for his trial.

     Watson's defense team lost two key legal arguments. First, that the United States did not have jurisdiction in a death that occurred in Australia; and second, that trying him twice for the same drowning amounted to double jeopardy. The prosecutor in Alabama argued successfully that he had jurisdiction because, according to his theory of the case, Watson had planned to kill his wife in Alabama for the travel and life insurance benefits. (As it turned out, Watson was not the beneficiary of his wife's life insurance policy, her father was.) Double jeopardy didn't apply in this case because Watson's first conviction was in another country.

     Gabe Watson's attorneys were prepared to argue that Tina Watson's death had been a tragic accident caused by her inexperience as a diver and a previously diagnosed heart problem. On the other side, the prosecutor hoped to convince the Alabama jury that Watson had switched off his wife's air supply, held her in a bear hug until she died, turned her air back on, then let her sink to the ocean floor.

     Colin McKenzie, a diving expert involved in the original Australian investigation had concluded that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up." But after reviewing Tina's and Gabe's diver logs certificates and her medical history, McKenzie changed his mind. Based on this new information, the expert concluded that Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the sea with a woman with no open water scuba diving experience.

     The Watson murder trial got underway on February 13, 2012 in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the jury of eight women and four men were empaneled, the prosecutor, Don Valeska, and defense attorney Joe Basgier, made their opening statements.

     On February 21, after Valeska had presented the bulk of his case, the trial took a bad turn for the prosecution. Valeska had put funeral director Sam Shelton on the stand and was directing his testimony toward how, at Tina Watson's funeral, the defendant had asked about retrieving his wife's engagement ring from the casket. The prosecutor intended this line of questioning to establish the monetary motive behind the killing. Judge Tommy Nail, from neighboring Montgomery County, did not like what he heard. Interrupting the prosecutor's direct examination, the judge said, "I took my grandmother's engagement ring when she was buried. I think it's quite common." Turning to the witness, Judge Nail asked, "Is it common?" In response to the judge's question, the funeral director answered, "It's quite common."

     Still fuming, Judge Nail excused the jury, then spoke to prosecutor Valeska: "You mean to tell me that [Gabe Watson] bought the engagement ring, married her, he and his family paid for a wedding, he planned and paid for a honeymoon half way around the world, all so he could kill her to get an engagement ring he had bought for her in the first place?"

     Although the jurors didn't hear Judge Nail rip the heart out of the prosecutor's case, it became clear where the judge stood on the issue of the defendant's guilt. Suddenly a conviction, a risky proposition from the beginning, looked like a long shot.

     Judge Tommy Nail, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, directed a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor rested his case. In the judge's opinion, viewed in a light most favorable to the state, there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case of guilt against Gabe Watson. As a result, there was no need for a defense. The trial was over.

     Only Gabe Watson knows if he killed his wife. In my view, the Alabama prosecutor should have left well enough alone after Watson's 2009 guilty plea and his 18 months in the Australian prison. There was simply no hard evidence in this case of a premeditated murder. Moreover, this weak case cost the state of Alabama a lot of money. Several of the prosecution's witnesses had been flown over from Australia. Sometimes prosecutors, attracted by the limelight and the chance of convicting a big-fish defendant, go too far. Both of the judges in this case--the one in Australia, and Judge Nail--did not believe Gabe Watson had murdered his wife. The prosecutor knew this, but went ahead with the case anyway.

     A book about the case called A Second Chance for Justice by a pair of Australian criminology teachers came out in February 2013. Dr. Asher Flynn lectured at Monash University. Dr. Kate Fitz-Gibbon taught criminology at Deakin University. According to the authors, the Australian authorities accepted Watson's guilty plea to save money. The authors believe Gabe Watson murdered his wife.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Animal Suffering

I've adapted to the reality of human tragedy. Sickness, violent death, war, poverty and crime is in the news every day. What I can't endure is the mere thought of an animal being abused. There must be something profoundly wrong with me for not being as generally sensitive to human suffering. Could it mean that I like animals more than people. I hope not.

Thornton P. Knowles

Alan Randall: The Insane Cop Killer Who Wasn't That Crazy

     During the winter of 1974, 16-year-old Alan A. Randall committed more than a dozen burglaries in and around Summit, Wisconsin, a town of 4,000 in Waukesha County. In January 1975, Randall broke into the Summit Police Department. When officers Wayne Olson and Robert Atkins pulled up to police headquarters in their patrol car, Randall, instead of either giving himself up or making a run for it, opened fire on the officers, killing them both. The burglar-turned cop killer drove from the scene in the dead officers' bullet-ridden police vehicle. That night, he committed another burglary, then went home to bed.

     Tried as an adult two years later, the jury found Alan Randall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. (He had also been charged with murdering his neighbor, a man named Ronald Hoeft. Due to procedural problems with the prosecution in that case, that charge was dropped.) Because Randall's attorney had raised the defense of legal insanity, the trial went into a second phase centered around the issue of his mental state at the time of the murders. The jury, having heard testimony from psychiatrists who had diagnosed Randall of having a personality disorder, found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Today, a defendant with a so-called personality disorder would not be adjudged legally insane because people with this disorder are not psychotic, or in any way delusional. They are fully aware of what they have done, and know that the act of murder is wrong. In other words, these defendants are not insane, they are bad. Ted Bundy had a personality disorder, John Hinckley was nuts.

     Having been declared legally insane, Alan Randall, rather than being sent to prison for a specific period of time, was packed off to a mental institution for an indefinite period. He would be eligible for release when psychiatrists said he was cured of his mental illness. Since Randall was not insane, he was, at least in theory, eligible for release the day they admitted him into the Central State Hospital in northeast Wisconsin.

     In 1980, doctors took Randall off his anti-psychotic medication. A model patient--the best mental patients are the ones who aren't insane--Randall was transferred to the Mendota Mental Institution in Madison where he was allowed to work full time at an art gallery.

     In 1989, Randall's attorney began petitioning the court for his release on grounds he had been cured of the mental illness that had caused him to commit the murders fourteen years earlier. By now, Randall's psychiatrists had dropped the personality disorder diagnosis. In 1990 and 1991, judges denied Randall's quest for freedom. In 1992, the shrinks quit spending time with this mental patient altogether. Randall didn't need psychiatrists who had plenty of real mental patients to deal with.

     Randall lost another bid for freedom in 1995. Finally, in April 2013, after 36 years in a mental institution, a six-member jury recommended that the 54-year-old cop killer be released back into society. Since Randall had not been sent to the mental institution to be punished, the issue wasn't whether he had been punished enough. Because he wasn't crazy, he didn't belong in a mental institution. The patient was not let out of the facility immediately because it would take several months to find him a suitable home in some county other than Waukesha.

    While Randall's release order did not create public outrage, some of the murder victims' relatives were disappointed. A widow of one of the murdered officers told reporters that in her opinion, Mr. Randall, who had never publicly apologized for the murders, was not contrite. Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel said there was no basis upon which the state could appeal the jury's recommendation to free this killer of two cops.

     Alan Randall's attorney, Craig Powell, assured reporters that his client posed no threat to the community. "He's a much different person now than when he was a kid." Had Alan Randall been sentenced to prison in 1977 instead of being committed to a mental institution, he would have been eligible for parole as early as 1992. That, of course, doesn't mean that he would have been released so soon after the murders.

     In September 2013, Alan Randall, the cop killer who lived 36 years in an insane asylum, became a free man. I'm not sure what's worse: losing your mind in prison, or remaining sane in a mental institution.

  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The So-Called "Golden Years"

Losing touch with you youth is a hard pill to swallow. Thinking of yourself as middle-aged is a difficult adjustment. What's really tough is going from "I'm getting old" to "I am old." Old age often brings illness, uselessness, and the feeling that one should apologize for still being alive. The golden years? Give me a break.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives have linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Mr. Smith legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van  that he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     In September 2017, a jury in Los Angeles found John Creech guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to eleven years in prison.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Internet Worship

I can see a day when the Internet replaces God. The new Holy Trinity: Facebook, Google, and Virtual Reality. Passwords will replace prayer, computer technicians will comprise the priesthood, hackers will become the Devil, and computers will serve as our sacred places of worship.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Elzbieta Plackowska Double Murder Case

 
     Elzbieta Plackowska lived with her husband Artur and their son in Naperville, Illinois, a DuPage County town 25 miles west of Chicago. Born and raised in Poland, Elzbieta came to the United States twelve years ago on a vacation visa.

     Elzbieta's father, in October 2012, passed away and she wanted to return to Poland for the funeral. Artur was against her leaving the country, and the two of them had argued over this. Their marriage was already strained over the fact that as a long-haul truck driver, he was seldom home. Elzbieta resented having to raise their 7-year-old son without out his help. (Their oldest boy was in his late teens and lived with a family friend.) The 40-year-old discontented wife was also angry that she had to work as a housemaid, a job she felt was beneath her. Elzbieta Plackowska was an angry, frustrated, and profoundly unhappy woman.

     In September 2012, about a month before her father died, Elzbieta met Marta Dworakowski on an online Polish networking site. Marta, the mother of a 5-year-old girl named Olivia, worked nights as a nurse at a dialysis center, and was looking for a babysitter. Marta lived just five miles from Elzbieta in a townhouse in Naperville's upscale Brookdale Manor subdivision. The two mothers came to an agreement, and on certain nights, Elzbieta brought her 7-year-old son Justin to the babysitting job at Dworakowski's home.

     On October 30, 2012, while spending an evening with Justin and Olivia at Dworakowski's townhouse, Elzbieta decided to murder her son. She grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen and entered Olivia's room where the children were playing. She told Justin that this was the night he was going to heaven. After making him kneel in prayer, Elzbieta repeatedly stabbed him as he pleaded for his life. She plunged the knife into the boy 100 times, then slashed his throat.

     After killing her son, and cutting her own hand in the process (common in stabbing cases), the babysitter used the knife on Olivia, stabbing her 50 times before slashing her throat. She had killed the 5-year-old because the girl had witnessed Justin's murder.

     After she had slaughtered her son and the girl she was babysitting, Plackowska drove to her Catholic church. It was ten o'clock at night and the place was closed, so she called the church and left a message to the effect she had done something bad and needed help. About this time, Marta Dworakowski arrived at her townhouse to find the dwelling locked and the babysitter's car missing. She called the Naperville Police Department.

     The police broke into the house and found Olivia on her bed, and Justin on the floor next to it. The officers were stunned by the brutality of the double murder. Plackowska had also stabbed to death both of Dworakowski's dogs. The dwelling was awash in blood. Officers found a bloodstained knife in the kitchen sink.

     After murdering the children and driving to the church, Plackowska showed up at the house where her oldest boy was living. She told her son that a robber had attacked her and killed the children. The son called the police. Officers came to the house and took her into custody. (They found a second bloody knife in her car.) Before transporting the suspect to the police station, the police had her treated for her knife wielding cuts at Edward Hospital.  

     At police headquarters, Plackowska offered up the robbery story, then blamed the murders on a man she claimed had been stalking her. Eventually she admitted killing the children after hearing "demonic voices" in her head. Finally the truth came out: she had murdered her son to get back at her husband. She said she wanted Artur to hurt as much as he had made her suffer. She murdered Olivia because the little girl had witnessed the anger-killing of her son.

     On November 1, 2012, at her arraignment hearing in a DuPage County Court, the judge denied Plackowska bail. At the defendant's next court appearance she was formally charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

     In September 2017, following a short bench trial, a DuPage County Judge found Plackowska guilty as charged. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

       

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Courtroom Humor

In my novels and short stories the humor often takes place in the courtroom. For example: "Your honor, because I plan to represent myself, I request a three year postponement to get a law degree."

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Moore Catholic High School Coach-Student Sex Scandal

     Founded in 1962 by nuns, Moore Catholic High School, a 450-student institution located in the Bull's Head section of Staten Island, New York, is prestigious, and with its $10,000 a year tuition, not cheap.

     In December 2013, a person close to the school learned from the friends of a 16-year-old male student that the boy was involved in a sexual relationship with Moore's women's basketball coach, Megan Mahoney. A former basketball star at Staten Island's Wagner College, the 25-year-old was also a gym teacher and the school's assistant athletic director. The person who learned of the affair from the student's friends reported the allegation to the principal, Bob Manisero. Manisero, in turn, reported it to the athletic director, Richard Postiglione.

     Not long after receiving this disturbing information regarding coach Mahoney and the student, the athletic director informed the principal there was no truth to the allegation. According to Postiglione, Mahoney, coming from an upstanding Catholic family, was above reproach. The athletic director reminded the principal that the school was a notorious hotbed for gossip and rumor.

     That December, the person who had gone to the school principal with the allegation sent an email to school board chairman Anthony Ferreri that read: "If you remember I had reported some activity about a basketball coach that I learned the athletic director thought was untrue. I know it is true. I was told they are in love. Hope you have followed legal protocol even through there are no witnesses."

     According to the 16-year-old student's friends, in September 2013, coach Mahoney approached the boy in the school gym and offered to coach him in basketball. Later, she drove him to secluded places where they had sex in her car. The friends of this student quoted him as saying the following regarding his relationship with the teacher: "We were never boyfriend-girlfriend. It was cool. I knew it wasn't going anywhere."

     According to the student's friends, Mahoney picked him up one night at his house for a date. His parents saw her and assumed she was a high school student.

     After athletic director Postiglione received information from a second person who also told him coach Mahoney and the boy were having an affair, he did not notify the police. According to this whistleblower, Postiglione went to the coach and made her promise to stop seeing the boy.

     In January 2014, the basketball coach and the 16-year-old were seen eating at a pizzeria by the boy's ex-girlfriend who had followed them there. The girl called 911 and the police showed up. To the officers the student identified coach Mahoney as his cousin.

     Later that month, after the Moore Catholic High School teacher-student situation blossomed into a massive scandal, Mahoney resigned. While she left the school under pressure, she continued to maintain her innocence.

     Following the coach's resignation, the student at the center of the scandal complained that the other Moore teachers were trying to flunk him out of school. The boy's mother, referring to these teachers, claimed that they wanted her son out of the institution because he had embarrassed the school.

     In an April 2014 email to the New York City Archdiocese, the mother complained that a school investigation of her son had been conducted without her knowledge and that teachers were trying to drum the boy out of the school. The Archdiocese did not respond to the mother's email.

     In June 2014, a social worker paid a visit to the mother's home. The child protection agent said she was there pursuant to a complaint that the mother was an unfit parent. The complaint was unfounded and quickly dismissed. The embattled mother felt she was being harassed.

     To the dismay of Moore Catholic School administrators, the scandal heated up with allegations from one of the whistleblowers that in 2012 coach Mahoney had been involved with another 16-year-old boy. According to this claim, athletic director Postiglione also failed to pass this allegation on to the police. It also surfaced that in 2006 or 2007, a female coach under Postiglione's direction was accused of sleeping with a female Moore student. That coach also resigned under pressure.

     The allegations of Mahoney's sexual relations with the student as well as claims of an institutional cover-up were under investigation by the Staten Island District Attorney's Office.

     On October 21, 2014, after a Staten Island prosecutor charged Megan Mahoney with thirty counts of statutory rape, police officers took her into custody.

     The Mahoney case prosecutor, on May 7, 2015, dropped all charges against the former coach. In discussing this decision at a news conference, the prosecutor cited a lack of DNA evidence, no confession and no eyewitness. Outside the courthouse following the dismissal, Mahoney refused to talk to reporters.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Pulp Fiction

You can place the fiction genre into three general categories: literature, mainstream, and pulp fiction. I'm proud to say I'm a pulp fiction writer and reader. According to Stephen King: "To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances." I actually prefer the so-called loose gals over their uptight counterparts. I'll take Mickey Spillane over James Joyce any day.

Thornton P. Knowles

Dr. Van H. Vu And The Problem Of Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write about 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, dilaudid, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who  died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in Januay 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

Monday, April 16, 2018

What Happened To District Attorney Ray Gricar?

The Gricar Missing Person Investigation

     In Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, at 11:30 in the morning of Friday, April 15, 2005, Ray Gricar, the 59-year-old district attorney of Centre County, the home of Penn State University, called his live-in girlfriend to inform her he was on a pleasure drive through an area in the region called Penns Valley. Twelve hours later, his girlfriend, Patty Fornicola, called 911 and reported him missing.

     The next day, Gricar's red mini cooper was found parked near an antique mall in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, 55 miles east of Bellefonte. The interior of the vehicle reeked of cigarettes. Gricar, who didn't smoke, didn't like that smell. The car had been locked, and Gricar's cellphone was inside. According to a Lewisburg shop owner whose antique store Gricar had patronized in the past, the district attorney, on the day he left Bellefonte, was walking around the mall with a tall, dark-haired woman in her late 30s or early 40s. Investigators made no effort to identify and question this woman. Because this information wasn't published until 13 months after Gricar's disappearance, the police received no help from the public in identifying this possible witness. By the time the story came out, the case had grown cold.

     In July 2005, three months after Ray Gricar drove off in his Cooper and didn't return, his county-issued laptop was found in the Susquehanna River not far from the abandoned car. Three months after that, the hard drive turned up in the same area of the river. Water had damaged it to the point that no data could be retrieved.

     Following the recoveries from the river, the investigation of Gricar's disappearance, conducted by the Bellefonte Police Department (the Pennsylvania State Police didn't want the case, and the FBI wasn't involved), ground to a halt. In the summer of 2008, with Ray Gricar still missing, and no clues as to what happened to him or where he was, two of his colleagues, Bob Buehne Jr., the district attorney of Montour County, and prosecutor Ted McKnight of Clinton County, held a press conference in Lewisburg where Gricar's vehicle had been found. Both men were highly critical of the Gricar missing person's investigation. The neighboring prosecutors said they couldn't understand why the information about Gricar and the mystery woman at the mall hadn't been made public until May 2006.

     On April 14, 2009, four years after Ray Gricar's disappearance, investigators discovered that someone using the missing man's home computer had, shortly before he went missing, searched the Internet on "how to fry a hard drive," and "water damage to a notebook computer." Assuming Gricar had made these inquiries, one of the more innocent explanations behind the Internet search was that Gricar, in contemplation of his retirement in nine months, wanted to clear his computer before handing it back to the county. This didn't explain, however, why the computer and hard drive ended up in the river. A more ominous motive was that before killing himself, Gricar wanted to destroy data he didn't want anyone to see.

     On July 25, 2011, at the request of Ray Gricar's daughter, a Centre County judge declared him legally deceased.

Theories of Ray Gricar's Disappearance

     There are three schools of thought regarding what happened to Ray Gricar. He could have been murdered, committed suicide, or walked off to start a new life under a different identity. The two most popular murder theories featured a mistress who lured him to the Susquehanna River where he was murdered by the woman's husband. The second murder scenario involved a criminal killing the district attorney out of revenge. Since prosecutors are rarely murdered by people they have prosecuted or planned to put behind bars, the latter theory was the most improbable. However, the first possibility was far fetched as well.

     Suicide seemed more likely than murder in this case. Ray Gricar's brother, Roy J. Gricar, committed suicide in May 1996 by jumping off a bridge over the Great Miami River near West Chester, Ohio. If Ray had jumped from a bridge across the Susquehanna River, what were the chances his body would have been found? Some believe the odds were great that his body would have been recovered. Others disagreed. To have an opinion on this question, one would have to know the ins and outs of the Susquehanna River.

     The so-called "walkaway" theory, that Gricar walked-off to start a new life under a new identity, while quite intriguing, didn't make much sense. For one thing, he hadn't cleaned out his bank account, and drove off without tying up a lot of loose-ends. Following his disappearance, there were more than 300 false sightings of him. Those who subscribed to the walkaway theory pointed out that Ray had been fascinated by the 1985 disappearance of an Ohio police chief. Inside the chief's car, parked near Lake Erie, searchers found his wallet and his badge. They never found the chief's body. Some of those who believed Gricar was still alive thought he could be hiding out in the federal government's witness protection program. (This possibility is out of the question because prosectors are not eligible for the program.)          

Ray Gricar, The Man

     Ray Frank Gricar was born on October 9, 1945 in Cleveland, Ohio. He attended Gilmour, a prestigious Catholic high school in Gates Mills, Ohio. In 1966, while attending the University of Dayton, he met his future wife, Barbara Gray. They were married in 1969. After graduating from Case Western Law School in Cleveland, Gricar started his career as a prosecutor in northwest Ohio's Cuyahoga, County.

     In 1980, the couple and their daughter Lara moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania when Barbara landed a job at Penn State University in nearby State College. Shortly after that, David Grine, the district attorney of Centre County, hired Ray as an assistant prosecutor. Five years later, Gricar ran for the office of district attorney and won.

     Barbara and Ray divorced in 1991, and five years later, Ray married his second wife, Emma. Following a tumultuous marriage, he and Emma divorced in 2001. Two years later, Ray moved in with Patty Fornicola, an employee of the Centre County District Attorney's Office who lived in a section of Bellefonte called Halfmoon Hill. By April 2005, having served several terms as district attorney, Ray Gricar was planning to retire in nine months.

     Although a private, somewhat distant person, Ray's colleagues considered him an outstanding career prosecutor with high ethical standards. Because he never had political ambitions beyond the district attorney's office, Gricar was not, according to his legal colleagues, subject to political pressure or influence. On a personal level, he was known as a bit of a ladies' man.

Ray Gricar and the Jerry Sandusky Pedophilia Case

     In May 1998, when Jerry Sandusky was still an assistant football coach under Joe Paterno at Penn State Univeristy, and active in his organization for troubled youth called The Second Mile, two 11-year-old boys told their parents that Sandusky had fondled them in the Penn State locker room showers. The mother of one of the accusers contacted Detective Ronald Schreffler with the University Police Department. Shortly after receiving the complaint, Schreffler, on a pretext, got Sandusky to meet the mother at her house where she confronted him about the coach being nude in the shower with her son. With the detective in the next room recording the conversation, the boy's mother asked Sandusky if he had been sexually aroused by his physical contact with her son, and if his "private parts" had touched the boy. Sandusky did not deny showering with her son. Regarding the arousal question, he said, "I don't think so--maybe. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won't get it from you. I wish I were dead."

     A child psychologist who interviewed this boy concluded that his account, and Sandusky's response to the mother's interrogation, indicated to him that the coach was "likely a pedophile." A second psychologist, Dr. John Seasock, after analyzing the same information, came to a different conclusion.

     On June 2, 1998, District Attorney Ray Gricar decided not to prosecute the Penn State football coach. Four years later, the boy, referred to as victim # 6, took the stand at Sandusky's sexual abuse trial and described how the coach had lathered him up with soap then said, "I'm going to squeeze your guts out." Ronald Schreffler, later with the Department of Homeland Security, testified in June 2012 that he had wanted Ray Gricar to prosecute Sandusky in 1998, but was overruled.

     Had Ray Gricar prosecuted Jerry Sandusky for indecent assault, corruption of a minor, and child endangerment, more victims, ones Sandusky had raped, might have come forward. Even if they hadn't, Gricar would have exposed a pedophile within the Penn State system, and have possibly acquired a conviction on these lesser charges.

     In 1999, Jerry Sandusky retired from Penn State. He was awarded the title professor emeritus, and given an office in the football building. He had full access to all of the sports facilities, and used this access and his youth organization to attract and molest young boys.

     I don't believe that Ray Gricar was murdered, or that he's still alive. That leaves suicide. The question is, did Gricar's decision not to prosecute Jerry Sandusky weigh on his conscience, and play a role in his suicide? Between the time the prosecutor closed the case on Sandusky and his disappearance, Gricar must have been aware that accusations against the coach were still being made. Did he have regrets? Was Gricar second-guessing himself?

     On June 23, 2012, a jury in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania found 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky guilty of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of fifteen years. The judge sentenced him to 30 to 60 years in prison.

     People who have had access to Ray Gricar's papers say there was virtually no reference in them to Jerry Sandusky. If this were true, we will never know if Jerry Sandusky's pedophilia and Ray Gricar's disappearance were in any way connected.

     On April 13, 2018, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania State Police Troop G, announced that a new investigator, Trooper Dana Martini, has been assigned to track down leads in the 13-year-old Gricar disappearance case.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Hard Work And Success

We grow up being told by teachers and parents that if we work hard and try our best we can attain our goals. That might be good advice in general but does not necessarily apply to careers and professions that also require high talent or extreme intelligence. To strenuously pursue those professions and careers without the requisite intelligence or talent can lead to frustration and despair. This certainly applies to aspiring novelists, artists, and musicians.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Michael Kane Murder Case

     In 2002, Michael Rodney Kane, an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, married Michelle, a paralegal and notary public. That year the couple purchased a house in Canoga Park they couldn't afford. In September 2012, the parents of a one-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl got out from under their staggering debt through chapter 7 bankruptcy. Among other creditors they stiffed, the couple owed $166,000 to credit card companies. At the time, Michael taught at the Nestle Avenue Charter School in Tarzana.

     Michelle, after Michael's behavior became erratic and violent, obtained a restraining order and kicked him out of the house. But in June 2013, he returned to the Canoga Park home and smashed the windows to the front door and garage. Michelle reported the incident to personnel at the Los Angeles Police Department's Topanga Station. She informed the officer that Michael had been acting irrationally and had been taking drugs. She and the children, fearing what he might do, had moved in with a family she knew in West Hills. The couple who resided in this residential community of well-kept 1960s tract homes had two children of their own.

     On Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 7:50 in the morning, Michael Kane, armed with a knife, forced his way into the West Hills residence. As the man of the house fought the intruder, he told Michelle to get out of the dwelling and run for her life. The homeowner's wife, his children, and the Kane siblings, hid in the bathroom during the home invasion assault. The scuffle ended when Michael cut his adversary's hand.

     Following the assault of the West Hills resident, Michael ran out of the house in pursuit of his estranged wife. With neighbors looking on in horror, Michael, with Michelle begging him to stop, repeatedly stabbed her. With his wife lying dead in the street, Michael got into his 1999 Chrysler 300M and drove off.

     After a two-day manhunt, police officers, just after midnight on Monday, June 17, 2013, arrested the school teacher at a motel in the San Bernardino County town of Joshua Tree. Officers had to knock down the metal door to the motel room. Kane was taken to the Desert High Medical Center with several minor injuries. He was treated, and shortly thereafter released. One of the arresting officers told reporters that the police didn't know if Kane had hurt himself in the fight with the West Hills home owner, or when he stabbed his wife to death. Officers booked him into the jail in Van Nuys on suspicion of murder.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Michael Kane with first-degree murder, burglary with a person present, assault with a deadly weapon, and making criminal threats. On June 20, 2013, the suspect, accompanied by his defense attorney, made his first court appearance. Sitting in a wheelchair, Kane pleaded not guilty to murder and the other charges. He waived his right to a formal arraignment. The judge denied him bail.

     When reporters asked attorney Stewart Farber why his client was in a wheelchair, the lawyer said the reason would be made clear at a later time. In response to a question regarding how his client was holding up, Farber said, "Well obviously he's quite distraught, and that's all I can tell you. The facts as they occurred on that date, unfortunate as they were, when they're presented in court, will be substantially different than some of the things that were mentioned in the newspapers and said on television."

     On March 30, 2015, following a one-month trial, the jury, after deliberating just two hours, found Michael Kane guilty as charged. Before the foreman of the jury read the verdict, Kane disrupted the proceeding with an incoherent rant against his dead wife's family. Bailiffs had to removed him from the court room.

     The judge, on April 20, 2015, sentenced Kane to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The History Of Conjugal Visits

     Conjugal visits, a concept that started at the Mississippi State Penitentiary as a prisoner-control practice... [in the 1950s], will soon be over. [Prison officials]…plan to end the program on February 1, 2014, citing budgetary reasons and "the number of babies being born possibly as a result." In Mississippi, where more than 22,000 prisoners are incarcerated--the highest rate in the nation--155 inmates participated last year…..

     In the 1970s, new prisons often included special housing for what had come to be called extended family visits. But by 1993, only 17 states allowed conjugal visits. Mississippi is one of just five that have active programs. In California and New York, they are called family visits and are designed to help keep families together in an environment that approximates home. Some research shows that they can help prisoners better integrate back into the mainstream after their release. ["Some" research? What does the other research say?]

     Visits in those states, and in Washington and New Mexico, can last 24 hours to three days. They are spent in small apartments or trailers, often with children and grandparents, largely left alone by prison guards. Visitors bring their own food and sometimes have a barbecue.

     In New York, about 8,000 family visits were arranged last year, a figure that corrections officials say has declined. Of those, 48 percent were with spouses. The rest were with family members such as children or parents.

Kim Severson, "As Conjugal Visits Fade, A Lifeline to Inmates' Spouses is Lost," The New York Times, January 12, 2014 

A Marriage Made In Hell

     In August 2010, the body of Johana Casas was found in a field on the outskirts of Pico Truncado, a city in southern Argentina. The 20-year-old model had been shot twice. The authorities arrested Victor Cingolani, the victim's former boyfriend, and Marco Diaz, the man she had been living with at the time of her death. Diaz and Johana, hours before the discovery of her body, were seen at a party together.

     In June 2012, 28-year-old Victor Cingolani was found guilty of participating in Johana Casas' homicide. The judge sentenced him to thirteen years in prison.

     At the time of Johana Casas' murder, her twin sister Edith had been dating the man who would later be convicted of her homicide. Following his conviction, Edith visited him in prison and expressed her belief that he was innocent. In the fall of 2012, she announced, to her parents' horror, that she and Victor Cingolani planned to get married.

     Edith Casas' mother, on December 22, 2012, filed a court motion requesting the suspension of the wedding on grounds that her daughter was "psychologically ill" and "not in full control of her mental faculties." The judge suspended the wedding pending the results of a psychological evaluation of the convicted killer's fiancee.

     In speaking to the media regarding her daughter's bizarre plan to marry Cingolani, her mother referred to the marriage as a "terrible betrayal." In response to her parents' concerns, Edith, in speaking to a reporter said, "Victor is not a violent person and I'm not mad. We've got no doubts about what we are doing. We love each other."

     The judge considering the suspension of the wedding, on December 31, 2012, following the court-ordered psychological evaluation, ruled that the couple could get married. Cingolani's attorney, pursuant to his efforts to have his client's conviction overturned, had been arguing that Marco Diaz had been the sole perpetrator of the homicide. In an interview with a newspaper reporter, the attorney said, "The cigarette butt found near Johana's body belonged to Diaz, and all the witnesses have incriminated him. I can understand Johana's parents' attitude. But Edith is not marrying a killer or anything like it. She is marrying a man who was convicted in a judicial scandal. All we want is justice."

     On Valentine's Day, 2013, Edith Casas and Victor Cingolani, in the presence of a jail guard and another witness, were married by a magistrate in the civil registry office in Pico Truncade. Following the brief ceremony, Cingolani, disguised in sunglasses and a beret, was ushered out the back door en route to his cell. His bride, when she emerged from the government building, encountered a cluster of people who did not wish her well. Instead of rice, these angry folks threw rocks and eggs.

     Earlier that morning, before the wedding, Cingolani, when questioned by a TV reporter, said, "I'm getting married because I love Edith. (Many believed he was marrying her to gain an advantage in his quest to clear his name and get out of prison.) I didn't think the wedding would have so many repercussions worldwide." Really? Women who marry imprisoned murderers attract media attention for the single reason that it's such a deviant and stupid thing to do. It's hardly surprising that when a young, beautiful woman marries the man who is behind bars for murdering her twin sister, it excites the media, upsets people close to the victim, and angers a segment of the public.

    As of April 2017, Marco Diaz has not been tried for Johana Casas' murder.

    

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Lawrence Jones Murder Case

     Early in 2012, 70-year-old Lawrence Jones and his 29-year-old wife, Norife "Janie" Herrera, separated. The couple had resided in a two-story beachfront house on Spray Avenue in Monterey, California.

     Lawrence Jones, an internationally recognized expert in the field of financial management, worked as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank and taught at the Naval Postgraduate School. He was also a visiting scholar at universities around the world.

     Although Mr. Jones held a prestigious professorship, and was renowned in his profession, he had a history of crime that included arrests for attempted murder, domestic violence, and the assault of a police officer.

     Norfie Herrera, Jones' estranged wife, had earned a Master's Degree from a university in Singapore. She formerly resided in the Philippines. After separating from her husband, Herrera took up residence in San Jose, California.

     On July 12, 2012, Mr. Jones' son, Cameron Jones, called the Monterey Police Department and asked officers to check on his father. According to Norife Herrera, her estranged husband had threatened to slit his wrists over their upcoming divorce. (Apparently nothing came of this police inquiry.)

     On September 4, 2012, Herrera was reported missing after she failed to show up for work at her Zoom Vision job in Milpitas, California. Police officers questioned Lawrence Jones who said he had last seen her earlier that day.

     On September 7, 2012, a worker with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, along Cannon Road in a remote section of San Benita County near Aromas, California, reported finding what he described as pieces of a mannequin inside trash bags. As it turned out, the bags contained the head, arms, legs, and the torso of a woman. A forensic pathologist in Monterey County identified the dismembered remains as Norife Herrera. (One point of identification involved the lot number on the victim's breast implants.)

     On September 13, 2012, police officers and FBI agents tracked Lawrence Jones to a Los Angeles hotel near the airport. Jones had scheduled a flight to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. He was booked into the Monterey County Jail on the charge of first-degree murder.

     Police officers, on September 14, 2012, conducted a crime scene investigation at Jones' house in Monterey. The officers found blood stains throughout the dwelling as well as bloody towels, bloody garments in the clothes washer, and a bloodied handsaw and ax. In the garage, the crime scene investigators found a blue tarp stained in blood, and pieces of yellow rope similar to the cordage found at the Aromas dump site. In the dishwasher, searchers found a carving knife. Also, the fireplace contained debris from burnt pieces of clothing. Police officers left the searched dwelling that day with several computers and the murder suspect's Nissan Maxima.

     On October 21, 2014, Lawrence Jones, with his attorney Paul Metzer, appeared in a Monterey courtroom for the purpose of changing his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. Superior Court Judge Julie Culver said she would appoint two experts to evaluate Jones' mental state. (Both experts found Jones legally sane.)

     Lawrence Jones, on March 31, 2016, pleaded guilty to murdering his ex-wife and dismembering her body for disposal at the dump site in San Benito County. According to the Monterey County prosecutor in charge of the case, the defendant, in a manic rage, had struck the victim in the head with a blunt object on August 30, 2012, the day their divorce became final. The blow didn't kill Herrera but did render her unconscious. On September 5, 2012, Jones shot his still unconscious ex-wife in the head and lower torso with a 12-guage shotgun.

     The prosecutor, pursuant to his courtroom presentation, described how Jones had used a handsaw and an ax to dismember the victim. The defendant packed trash bags with his ex-wife's body parts, put the bags into the trunk of her Honda Civic, and drove to the disposal site in Aromas.

     Judge Marla Anderson sentenced the 74-year-old Lawrence Jones to 50 years in prison. 

Attempted Honor Murder in Pakistan

     Shot twice. Tied up in a sack. Thrown into a canal. Yet somehow, 18-year-old Saba Maqsood lived to tell her story. Had she not, Pakistani police say, it could very well have been another honor murder. Those responsible for the horror, Maqsood told reporters on June 6, 2014, are her father and brother. They shot her because they didn't approve of her marriage to a neighbor….

     The first bullet hit her cheek, the next one her hand, after which the teenager says she "was slightly conscious, but alive. They put me into a sack, tied up the mouth of the sack and threw it into the canal," Maqsood recalled. "They thought I was dead, but I was not."

     [Maqsood was thrown into] a canal in the city of Hafizabad, a city in Punjab Province about 75 miles northwest of Lahore. Workers at a gas station spotted the sack and the young woman inside and immediately alerted authorities, Halfizabad police officer Ali Akbar told CNN. After corroborating the basics of Maqsood's story, including her injuries, Akbar said, "This seems to be an honor-related crime."

     Such crimes--which the perpetrators rationalize as necessary because the targeted women have somehow brought dishonor on a family--are hardly unprecedented in Pakistan…."The accused are on the run," the police officer Akbar said. "We are hopeful to apprehend them soon."

Aliza Kassim and Greg Botelho, "Pakistani Woman: My Relatives Shot Me, Threw Me in Canal for Marrying Neighbor," CNN, June 6, 2014

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Minister Farrakhan on American Criminal Justice

     In a fiery speech Sunday, February 16, 2014 delivered to 18,000 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Minister Louis Farrakhan blasted the judicial system in the U.S. as being biased against African Americans, calling upon the community to set up their own courts….Farrakhan spoke for nearly three hours, reiterating the Nation of Islam's view that the U.S. is a land headed for destruction because it has disobeyed the word of God.

     Farrakhan suggested that African Americans rely on the Quran and Bible to help them set up their own legal system that would be more fair to African Americans….Farrakhan railed against Christian pastors who endorse gay marriage, which he said contradicts the teachings of Christianity and Islam….Noting that the Nation of Islam started in Detroit in 1930, Farrakhan said: "I want Detroit to know we're back to stay. This is a great city."

"Farrakhan: African Americans Deserve Their Own Courts," USA Today, February 22, 2014 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Lonely At The Bottom

They say it's lonely at the top. I wouldn't know about that. But I do know this, it can be lonely as hell at the bottom. But at least you don't have as many adversaries.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Holding Phony Literary Fiction Guilty As Charged

I like to think of myself as a crime fighting crusader in charge of prosecuting phony works of "literary fiction" for fraud and theft by deception. The novelist James Parker said it best: "Imagine, if you will, a book on trial for being boring. Imagine the arguments: the solid citizens called by the prosecution to testify that this book bored them senseless. Imagine the authors and hip professors brought in by the defense to assert that the book was not boring at all, but on the contrary a work of great and lasting interest."

Thornton P. Knowles

The Dr. Anthony Garcia Murder Case

     In 1999, Dr. Anthony Garcia, after attending the University of California at Davis, graduated from the University of Utah Medical School. Dr. Garcia, shortly after he entered the residency program at St. Elizabeth Family Practice in Albany, New York, yelled at a radiology technician. This, along with other incidents of unprofessionalism, caused Dr. Garcia's supervisors to terminate his residency. According to doctors at St. Elizabeth, Garcia's conduct "left serious doubt as to his future ability to successfully practice medicine."

     Dr. Garcia was given a second chance in June 2000 when he began a residency in the Pathology Department at Creighton University Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. A year later, he was fired for "unprofessional conduct toward a fellow resident and his (the resident's) wife." Two high-ranking members of the twelve member department, Doctors Roger Brumback and William Hunter, approved Garcia's discharge from the university.

     In 2003, Dr. Garcia managed to acquire a residency in Chicago at the University of Illinois. From Chicago, he bounced around the country working on the fringes of the medical profession. In 2007, he was given a medical school residency in psychiatry at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. In February 2008, the head of the LSU Psychiatric Department fired Dr. Garcia after the state rejected his request to practice medicine. Based on letters received from Doctors Roger Brumback and William Hunter, Garcia was denied a medical license for not mentioning his termination from the Pathology Department at Creighton University. LSU removed Dr. Garcia from its residency program for "falsifying his application to LSU regarding his attendance at Creighton." At this point, Dr. Garcia believed that Doctors Brumback and Hunter were killing any chance he had of pursuing a career in medicine.

     On March 13, 2008, two weeks after LSU dismissed Dr. Garcia, Dr. William Hunter returned home from his day at Creighton University to find the dead bodies of his 11-year-old son Thomas, and Shirlee Sherman, the doctor's 57-year-old housekeeper. Both victims had been stabbed in the neck near the carotid artery.

     Residents of the exclusive Omaha neighborhood reported seeing, around the time of the murders, an "olive-skinned" man in a gray or silver SUV drive slowly past the Hunter house. This man, wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, climbed out of his vehicle after parking it a block from the Hunter house. Carrying a briefcase or satchel, the man knocked on Dr. Hunter's front door and was let inside. Shortly after entering the dwelling, this man returned to his SUV and drove off.

     Homicide detectives were baffled by what appeared to be a double-murder without a motive. In the months following the killings, detectives questioned former Creighton medical students who had played video games with Dr. Hunter's son. They also questioned disgruntled former employees of the university. A FBI criminal profiler classified the slayings as a random attack by a transient serial killer. No one had reason to suspect that the boy and the housekeeper had been murdered by Dr. Anthony Garcia.

     In May 2010, Garcia resided in a middle-class community called Village Quarter on the east side of Terre Haute, Indiana. Having been granted a temporary Indiana medical permit, he worked at a high-security federal penitentiary. In the fall of 2012, the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency denied Dr. Garcia's request for a permanent license to practice medicine in the state. The denial was based upon a letter from Dr. Roger Brumback of Creighton University who informed the Indiana medical authorities that Dr. Garcia had been fired in 2001 for "unprofessional behavior."

     In his November 2012 re-application for an Indiana medical license, Dr. Garcia wrote: "I feel my actions do not rise to the level of denial of my medical licensure application. I have been aggrieved and adversely affected by not being able to work as a physician in the state of Indiana."

     A few months before Dr. Garcia's letter to the Indiana Licensing Agency, the still unsolved 2008 double-murder in Omaha was featured on the television series, "America's Most Wanted." Investigators in Omaha were desperate for a solid suspect in the case.

     On May 14, 2013, a piano mover, upon his arrival at Dr. Roger Brumback's house in Omaha, found the front door ajar. The 65-year-old physician had just retired from Creighton University. He and his wife Mary were in the process of moving to West Virginia to begin their retirement lives. The mover stepped into the house to find Dr. Brumback and his wife dead from stab wounds to their necks. The doctor had also been shot.

     Just inside the front door, a crime scene investigator discovered the clip to a 9 mm pistol. A firearms identification expert reported that the clip had been used in a Smith & Wesson model SD 9 handgun.

     Members of a task force comprised of local, state and federal investigators noticed the similarity between the Brumback murders and the stabbing deaths of Dr. Hunter's 11-year-old boy and the physician's housekeeper. Dr. Anthony Garcia, because he had a history with both physicians, emerged as a suspect in the murder cases.

     Dr. Garcia became the prime suspect when homicide investigators learned that on March 8, 2013, he had purchased a Smith & Wesson SD 9 at a Gander Mountain store in Terre Haute. Moreover, detectives were able to place Garcia in Omaha around the time of both killings.

     Police officers in Terre Haute, in the pre-dawn hours of Monday, July 15, 2013, raided Dr. Garcia's house. At the time of the raid, because Garcia had been under 24-hour surveillance, officers knew that he was not in the dwelling. Later that morning, officers with the Illinois State Police took Anthony Garcia into custody after pulling over his car in the southern part of the state. The arrest took place near the town of Jonesboro.

     On July 18, 2013, Garcia, charged with four counts of first-degree murder, was transported from the Jackson County Jail in Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska.

    Anthony Garcia, in December 2013, filed a wrongful arrest lawsuit from his cell in Douglas County, Nebraska. He asked for $20 million in damages. On February 25, 2014, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf dismissed the federal case on procedural grounds.

     On February 27, 2014, Douglas County District Judge Duane Daugherty, based upon a request by Garcia's attorneys, ordered a psychiatric evaluation of their client. At that hearing, Garcia complained to the judge that he did not trust his lawyers.

     At another pre-trial hearing on May 9, 2014, a state psychiatrist testified that the defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 14, 2015, Garcia's attorneys were back in court trying to have evidence against their client excluded. The defense lawyers argued that in July 2013, the police officers in Illinois did not have probable cause to arrest their client. The attorneys also asked that the jury in Garcia's upcoming murder trial be sequestered. If Judge Dougherty granted that request, the jury would be prevented from any contact with all forms of news media. According to the defense motion: "This case has been extensively covered and attended by local media outlets to an extraordinary degree. Even if an untainted jury is able to be selected from Douglas or Lincoln County, it would be highly unlikely and almost impossible that the jury selected could avoid prejudicial contact with news and media outlet coverage if not sequestered. (Garcia's lawyers had earlier filed a motion for a change of venue.)

     Judge Daugherty, in April 2015, denied the change of venue and sequester requests as well as the motion to exclude evidence acquired pursuant to Garcia's July 2013 arrest in Terre Haute, Indiana.

     At yet another Garcia case pre-trial hearing on May 7, 2015, defense attorneys put an expert witness on the stand who testified that the person who murdered Dr. William Hunter's son and housekeeper was not the perpetrator who killed Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife. Douglas County prosecutor Brenda Beadle, during her cross-examination of crime scene investigation expert Brent Turvey, showed him photographs of the knife wounds on the necks of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and Mary Brumback. (There had been knife wounds to the neck on all four victims.) According to the witness, "a knife wound to the neck is so common it's not even funny. It's definitely not distinct or unique." The witness accused investigators of coming up with a suspect then "cherry-picking" evidence to fit the defendant in the 2008 and 2013 murders.

     At the conclusion of the hearing, prosecutor Don Kleine asked Judge Dougherty to try the 2008 and the 2013 murder cases together. The defense urged the judge to separate the cases. Judge Gary Randall denied the defense motion for separate trials.

     Since his arrest in July 2013, the quadruple murder suspect has had five trial dates. The trial was postponed in April 2016 after Judge Randall removed Garcia's lead attorney, Alison Motta, from the case. Motta had implicated another person in the 2008 Omaha, Nebraska murder case. Motta claimed that DNA evidence pointed to this suspect's guilt. This defense claim was debunked after the testimony of a DNA expert.

     On June 14, 2016, Judge Randall set the Garcia murder trial for September 26, 2016.

     In October 2016, a jury found Dr. Garcia guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. Following several delays, Dr. Garcia's death penalty hearing was rescheduled for April 2018.

    

Monday, April 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Selfies

The original selfies involved politicians: Self-centered, self-righteous, self-deluded, and self-serving.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Ronald Samuels Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1993, Heather Samuels, after five years of marriage to Ronald Samuels, a Pensacola, Florida car dealer who sold drugs and ran with other women, left him and returned to her parent's home in Minnesota. The six-foot-four inch, burly, Brooklyn born husband who was eighteen years older than his 26-year-old wife, immediately moved his girlfriend into the Samuels' house.

     A year later, the divorce became final. A Santa Rosa County judge awarded custody of the ex-couple's three children to Heather and ordered Ronald to pay Heather $3,000 a month in child support. Ronald, already angry over the fact he had wasted thousands of dollars in attorney's fees fighting the divorce, vowed to fight the child support order. He was not going to allow his ex-wife to raise the children, at his expense, in Minnesota.

     In 1995, Ronald married Deborah Love, the woman who had moved into the house in Pensacola following his separation from Heather. Ronald's resentment over the child custody situation turned to wrath in June 1997 when Heather married John Grossman, the son of Bud Grossman, the former part owner of the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings. Heather, the children, and her new husband, the heir to a multi-million dollar estate, moved from Minnesota to Boca Raton, Florida.

     With his ex-wife and her new husband living in south Florida, Ronald Samuels decided it was now possible to have them both murdered.

     After the divorce, Ronald Samuels sold his Toyota car dealership. He was now making his living selling cocaine, the proceeds of which he deposited in a bank in the Cayman Islands. In September 1997, Samuels paid Hugh Estes, a 50-year-old cocaine addict, $5,000 to arrange the double murder. Samuels told the former insurance company employee that his ex-wife was a gold-digger who had cheated on him before their divorce. Her husband, John Grossman, had to be killed because he was abusing the children.

     Hugh Estes, instead of using the hit money to buy a weapon and recruit an assassin, went on a cocaine binge. This forced Samuels to ask Geoffrey Pollock, another drug addict, for help. A week later, at a Denny's Restaurant, Pollock introduced Samuels to Eddie "Slim" Stafford, a third cocaine junkie who said he had found a trigger man, a former Army marksman named Roger Runyon. Stafford assured Samuels that Runyon, a competent, cold-blooded killer, would murder the ex-wife and her husband.

     At the Denny's meeting, Ronald Samuels provided Roger Runyon with murder-for-hire intelligence which included photographs of the targets, their address, a description of their cars, and an outline of their daily routines. Samuels' murder-for-hire team consisted of three drug-addled accomplices and a man he had just met who claimed to have been in the Army. The mastermind agreed to pay the accomplices in cocaine. Runyon was paid $5,000 down, and promised $20,000 when he completed the job.

     Late in the afternoon of October 14, 1997, as John and Heather Grossman sat at a traffic light in Boca Raton, Florida, Eddie "Slim" Stafford pulled up alongside the couple in Hugh Estes' 1996 green Ford Thunderbird. From the back seat of the Ford, Roger Runyon fired two rifle bullets into the Grossman vehicle. The first slug grazed John Grossman's chin, the second severed Heather Grossman's spine, paralyzing her for life.

     Ronald Samuel's hit team had bungled the job. The targets were still alive and the murder-for-hire mastermind instantly became the prime suspect in the attempted murders.

     The victims told investigators that they were certain that Ronald Samuels was behind the ambush. Shortly after the shooting, detectives traced the Ford Thunderbird to Hugh Estes who immediately gave up Stafford and Runyon. The accomplice and the hit man, in return for immunity, identified Ronald Samuels as the brains behind the botched murder plot.

     In May 1998, the drug addicts and the failed hit man appeared before a grand jury which promptly indicted Ronald Samuels on charges of attempted murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

     Samuels, who had divorced his second wife Deborah, fled to Mexico to avoid arrest. In 1999, the police in the state of Neueno Leon, caught Samuels in possession of thirteen pounds of cocaine. Tried and found guilty, he was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2004, when Samuels walked out of the Mexican lockup, a pair of United States Marshals took him into custody on charges related to passport fraud. The officers hauled Samuels to New Orleans where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison on the fraud case.

     Heather and John Grossman were divorced in 2003. She moved back in with her parents who had moved from Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona. In February 2005, after serving his federal prison sentence in Louisiana, the authorities extradited Ronald Samuels to Palm Beach, Florida where he was scheduled to be tried on the Grossman attempted murder charges. Before the trial got underway in October 2006, John Grossman died of a heart attack. He was 55.

     The prosecutor in West Palm Beach offered Samuels a deal in return for his guilty plea. Samuels rejected the offer and the case went to trial. The government's key witnesses included accomplices Pollock, Estes, and Stafford, and the hit man, Roger Runyon. Heather, seated in a wheelchair and breathing with the help of a ventilator, took the stand as well. Samuel's second wife, Deborah, testified that the defendant really didn't care about his children. He simply didn't like paying child support to a woman he considered a gold-digger. The defendant's second wife described him as a man with a bad temper who threw a fit whenever he didn't get what he wanted.

     The Samuels defense centered around the idea that Roger Runyon and his three helpers were dregs of society without any credibility. The defense attorney portrayed his client as a victim of a wealthy and influential family's revenge for a crime that he did not commit. Against the advice of his attorney, Samuels took the stand and testified on his own behalf. Coming off as arrogant and hostile, he did not make a sympathetic witness. On October 31, 2006, the jury found the defendant guilty on all counts. The next day the judge sentenced Samuels to life in prison plus 120 years.

     Ronald Samuels and his drug-addled murder-for-hire team were stupid and sociopathic. The prosecutor, to convict Ronald Samuels, gave Roger Runyon, Hugh Estes, Eddie Stafford, and Geoffrey Pollock a free pass. In the world of murder-for-hire prosecutions, this is what passes for prosecutorial success and justice.