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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Unlikable Politician

In politics there are two kinds of sociopath: likable and unlikable. The likable politician has learned how to behave like a normal person and gets by under a veneer of oily charm. A sociopath who can act like a regular person will occasionally apologize, not because he feels bad about something he's done or said, but because it's politically advantageous. The unlikable sociopath survives by intimation and fear. When forced to apologize for something, the unlikable comes off wooden and insincere. The unlikable politician should never apologize. The better approach for the politician who can't fake contrition is to deny, blame others, or claim some kind of victimhood. Since a sociopath cannot conceive of doing anything wrong, this approach is at least sincere.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Adam Kaufman "Spray Tan" Murder Case

     Adam Kaufman, on November 7, 2007, called 911 from his home in Aventura, Florida. Sounding hysterical, the 34-year-old south Florida real estate developer informed the dispatcher that he had awaken that morning to find his wife, Eleonora (Lina) slumped unconscious in the bathroom, her neck draped over a bar on a magazine rack. Paramedics rushed the 33-year-old to the hospital where she died later that day.

     One of the responding officers with the Aventura Police Department touched the hood of Adam's car and found it warm. Another officer noticed that only one side of the couple's bed had been slept in. As a result, the police didn't believe Adam Kaufman when he claimed to have slept all night next to  his wife.

     Associate Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Dr. Chester Gwen conducted the autopsy. Although the forensic pathologist found injuries on Lina's upper-back and abrasions on her chin, neck, left shoulder, and chest as well as hemorrhages in her interior neck muscles, declared her cause and manner of death "undetermined."

     Without a finding of death by homicide, the Kaufman case remained in limbo for 18 months. In May 2009, Miami-Dade County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce A. Hyma, ruled that Lina Kaufman had died by mechanical asphyxiation, that she had been strangled. The following month, the prosecutor, even though he didn't have evidence of marital strife, or a motive, charged Adam Kaufman with second-degree murder.

     At Kaufman's bond hearing, his attorneys revealed the defense version of the death: Lina Kaufman, with a history of fainting spells, had applied a spray-on tanning substance that resulted in a violent allergic reaction causing respiratory failure. When she collapsed, she fell with her neck draped over the magazine rack bar.

     Adam Kaufman's trial commenced on May 7, 2012 before Judge Brownyn Miller in Miami, Florida. A week later, following the jury selection process, defense attorney Bill Matthewman, in his opening remarks, unveiled the new defense version of Lina Kaufman's death: while sitting on the toilet she had a heart attack and fell forward with her neck hitting the bar of the magazine rack. In addressing the prosecutor's case, attorney Matthewman said, "The state's evidence cannot even prove that a homicide occurred, let alone that Adam Kaufman did it....The case is a tragedy of errors. An innocent man was charged with a non-existent crime...."

     Prosecutor Joe Mansfield, in his opening speech to the jurors, said that Lina Kaufman had been a "healthy, active woman, arguably in the best shape of her life. All of that ended because of the actions of that man, her husband."

      In this case, the outcome would come down to how Lina Kaufman had died, naturally or by the hand of her husband. That meant that the important testimony would be of a medico-legal nature.

     On May 16, Dr. Bruce Hyma took the stand for the prosecution. The Chief Medical Examiner for Miami-Dade County testified that Lina Kaufman had died from strangulation and not a heart attack. Dr. Tracy Baker, the plastic surgeon who had enhanced Mrs. Kaufman's breasts, told the jury that when he examined her a few months before her death, she was in good health. Defense attorney Albert Milian asked Dr. Baker on cross-examination if Lina could have been lied to him about her medical history. The witness answered yes.

     Dr. Chester Gwen, the former Miami-Dade County forensic pathologist who had performed the autopsy in 2007, testified that the injuries he had found on Kaufman's body had not been caused by emergency personnel who had tried to revive her. On cross-examination, Dr. Gwen admitted that in April 2012, he had said that in his expert opinion, the cause of Lina Kaufman's death was still a mystery to him. The forensic pathologist also said that Dr. Hyma, before he ruled the death a homicide by strangulation, had not consulted with him.

     Larissa Adamyan, a friend of the deceased woman, took the stand on behalf of the prosecution. As it turned out, her testimony helped the defense more than the prosecution. The witness described the relationship between the defendant and his wife as a "loving marriage." Ten hours before Lina's death, in anticipation of Adam's brother Seth's upcoming wedding, she had gotten a spray tan.

     Aventura police officer Robert Meyers took the stand and said that at the hospital the day Lina died, he overheard the defendant tell three different versions of what he had seen that morning in the bathroom. According to this witness, the defendant said he had found Lina's neck resting on the toilet bowl; her body slumped over the toilet; and her head hung over the magazine rack. On cross-examination, defense attorney Milian got the witness to admit that none of this information was included in his police report.

     Dr. Bruce Hyma re-took the stand on May 2, 2012 to explain why it had taken 18 months to declare Lina Kaufman's cause and manner of death as a strangulation homicide. The forensic pathologist attributed this passage of time to a delayed toxicological report and the fact he wanted to be sure he made the right call. On cross-examination, the defense attorney accused the medical examiner of caving in to pressure from the prosecutor to declare Lina Kaufman's death a homicide.

     Prosecutor Mathew Baldwin, during the direct examination of a friend of the deceased woman, asked if the witness had been aware that the defendant, shortly after his wife's death, had been carrying on with another woman. This question brought an objection from the defense. Judge Miller called the attorneys to the bench and excused the jury. In justifying this line of questioning, prosecutor Baldwin said, "He's [the defendant] is asking this girl out with his dead wife's wedding ring on his finger the next month in December 2007. [Lina died in November.] By January and February, they're having regular sex. He was not exactly devastated by his wife's passing. The best analogy I can think of is when Casey Anthony was getting a tattoo [after the death of her child]."

     Judge Miller asked the prosecutor if the state had evidence that the defendant had been unfaithful to his wife. The answer was no. Judge Miller ruled that the prosecution could not present evidence of the defendant's post-death dating. At his point, defense attorney Matthewman asked the judge for a mistrial on the grounds the jury had heard the question which had planted the idea in jurors' minds that the defendant had not been a good husband. Judge Miller denied the motion. She had told the jurors to disregard the question.

     That afternoon, a Miami-Dade crime scene technician testified that Lina Kaufman's fingernails contained traces of her blood and tissue, suggesting she had clawed at something around her neck. The prosecutor also called a physicist to the stand who said it would have been physically impossible for Lina to have fallen off the toilet and land with her head draped over the magazine rack. With that, the prosecution rested its case.

     On Thursday, May 24, the defense launched its case by calling Lina's mother Frida Aizman to the stand. This witness told the jury that she and her family loved the defendant, and after Lina's death they had become even closer. The witness also testified that in the weeks leading up to her daughter's death Lina had complained of headaches and feeling weak. She had tried yoga to relieve her headaches.

     Miami-Dade fire rescue captain, Joseph Carman, the first responder to enter the Kaufman house, testified that he found the defendant giving Lina CPR. According to the witness, Mr. Kaufman was wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts. The defense presented this testimony because it was consistent with Adam Kaufman's story that he awoke after a night of sleep to find his wife collapsed in the bathroom.

     Thomas Hill, a Broward County Sheriff's Office crime scene investigator took the stand for the defense and criticized Kaufman case investigators for not collecting important physical evidence. The witness said they had failed to gather Adam Kaufman's clothing, magazines from the bathroom rack, and bedding from the master bedroom. The crime scene investigator also said he could see no evidence of a struggle in the small bathroom. "My goodness," he said, "she would have been kicking those walls in, and I don't see any of that." The witness said that if Lina had been strangled, the defendant would have had gouge marks on his arms from her trying to claw them from her neck.

     Dr. John Marriccini, the former Palm Beach County Chief Medical Examiner, testified that the forensic pathologists in the Kaufman case had overlooked Lina Kaufman's history of health problems which included heart disease. Celebrity forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden climbed into the witness box and said, "Lina Kaufman did not die of unnatural causes. There was no homicide, there was no murder. She died of natural causes." Dr. Baden testified that in his expert opinion, Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Bruce Hyma had based his homicide ruling on the work of two rookie forensic pathologists who had gotten it wrong. Dr. Baden said Lina Kaufman died of an heart attack and that the injuries to her throat from hitting the magazine rack had been exacerbated by bungled resuscitation attempts by the defendant and paramedics. Following Dr. Baden's testimony, the defense rested its case without putting the defendant on the stand.

     On May 31, 2012, because the defense had portrayed the Kaufman marriage as blissful, Judge Miller allowed the prosecution to put Fara Corenblum, a rebuttal witness, on the stand. According to Corenblum, she and the defendant started an affair a month after Lina's death. The witness said she ended the twice-a-week relationship after she realized he was not ready to move on following his wife's death. For the prosecution, Corenblum's testimony, by casting a sympathetic light on the defendant, may have done more harm than good.

     Both sides made their closing arguments on Monday, June 4, 2012. The next day, the case went to the jury. At five o'clock that evening the jury returned with its verdict: not guilty.

    

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Awards

Literary awards are lightening rods for controversy. In the history of the Nobel Prize For Literature, there are numerous examples of great writers passed over for their mediocre counterparts. In 1901, for example, Leo Tolstoy lost to a writer named Sully Prudhomme. Other great writers who have not won the prize include Marcel Proust, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. While many writers scorn literary awards, few ever turn them down. In 1926, Sinclair Lewis refused the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Arrowsmith, but only because he was miffed about not winning it earlier for Main Street. Four years later, however, he accepted the Nobel Prize, becoming the first American so honored. In winning the Nobel, Lewis beat out Theodore Dreiser. Many American writers and critics considered Lewis' selection an insult, believing that Lewis had been awarded the prize because his novels were so critical of American culture.

Thornton P. Knowles 

A MS-13 Gang Double Murder Case

     In 2010, 17-year-old Juan Elias Garcia, a resident of the Long Island community of Central Islip, New York, belonged to the street gang MS-13, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha Gang. This violent, criminal organization, with ties to several Mexican drug cartels, has a strong presence on Long Island with more than a dozen chapters. (The gang also flourishes in other areas of the U.S. with substantial Salvadoran populations such as in southern California, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia.)

     The five-foot-four inch Garcia, nicknamed "Cruzito," dated 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta. A problem developed in their relationship when Garcia learned she had ties to two rival gangs, the Latin Kings and the 18th Street Gang. Pursuant to gang culture, Argueta's association with the rival groups amounted to "disrespecting" MS-13.

     To save face, Juan Garcia acquired permission from a gang leader named Heriberto Martinez to have his girlfriend murdered.

     On February 4, 2010, Garcia, as part of the murder plot, invited Argueta to dinner in Central Islip. She accepted his invitation and arrived with her 2-year-old son. From their meeting place, Garcia forced Argueta and the boy to accompany him to a nearby wooded area where they were met by a pair of gang assassins, Rene Mendez Meja and Adalberto Ariel Guzman.

     Meja shot the mother to death in front of her son, then, as the boy cried in terror, shot him in the head as well. The bodies were discovered the next day. To avoid arrest, Garcia fled to El Salvador.

     In 2012, Heriberto Martinez, the gangster who sanctioned the murder, was convicted for his role in the assassinations. The judge sentenced him to life plus 60 years. A year later, Meja and Guzman were found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They each received the same sentence.

     Juan Garcia, the gang member behind the killings, remained at large in Central America.

     In February, 2014, one day after the fugitive turned twenty-one, a federal grand jury sitting in Central Islip indicted the fugitive Garcia for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The FBI, on March 26, 2014, placed Garcia on its Top Ten Most Wanted List. Two days later, Garcia turned himself in to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua. After being briefly detained at the U.S. Embassy in Managua, FBI agents took Garcia into custody. He was immediately extradited to America.

     A U.S. District Court judge, on March 31, 2014, ordered Garcia held without bail. Speaking through an interpreter, the suspect entered a not guilty plea.

     In October 2014, Garcia changed his plea to guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (In researching this story, I could find no mention in the press regarding whether or not these cold-blooded killers were in this country illegally.)

     In May 2018, in referring to the growing incidents of MS-13 brutality in the United States, President Donald Trump called these sadistic rapists and murderers "animals." Trump's sob-sister adversaries in politics and the media immediately criticized this characterization as inhuman and cruel. What's inhumane and cruel is the fact that government authorities have allowed these gangs of illegal aliens to flourish in the United States. 

Murdered in Abu Dhabi

     In October 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Gulf Arab nation of United Arab Emerates (UAE), alerted Americans in the country to a posting on a jihadist web forum that called for "lone wolf" attacks on American teachers working in international schools. Abu Dhabi, an international business and banking hub that featured huge skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls, had a low violent crime rate and was considered one of the safest big cities in the world.

     Ibolya Ryan, Hungarian-born and raised and educated in Romania as a kindergarten teacher, came to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, while living with her husband in Denver, Colorado, she took a job as a special needs teacher and enrolled in a course on how to teach English as a foreign language. In 2001, she returned to Hungary then later accepted a teaching position in Austria.

     In 2014, Ryan was living in Abu Dhabi and teaching at a large international school 35 miles from the downtown section of the city. The 47-year-old mother of three had divorced her husband and was residing in the UAE with her twin 11-year-old sons.

     On Monday December 1, 2014, while shopping at a high-end mall on Reem Island, a newly developed area of the city that was home to thousands of Western expatriates, Ryan entered the ladies restroom. Mall surveillance camera footage showed a person fully covered in a black, full-length gown called an abaya and a headscarf or hijab, following Ryan into the public restroom. This person was later seen leaving the mall in a hurry.

     Officers with the Criminal Investigation Department of the Abu Dhabi Police, when they responded to the shopping mall restroom, found a large, bloody kitchen knife with a blue handle and a trail of blood leading to one of the stalls. That's where they found Ibolya Ryan, the victim of a vicious knifing.

     Shortly after being rushed to a nearby hospital, Ryan died from her many knife wounds. Her sons were placed in the care of Abu Dhabi officials until their father came from abroad to pick them up.

     On Thursday December 4, 2014, UAE police officers raided an apartment in Abu Dhabi and took an Emirati woman named Ala'a Badr Abdullah Al-Hashemi  into custody. The authorities believed this murder suspect had earlier planted a homemade bomb at the doorstep of an Egyptian-American physician. The doctor's son found the bomb and called the police. Bomb experts came to the scene and defused the device.

     The day following the suspect's arrest, a spokesperson for the Abu Dhabi police said investigators believed Ryan's cold-blooded killing was an act of terrorism committed by a self-radicalized terrorist who acted alone.

     Ibolya Ryan's murder destroyed the sense of security expatriates in Abu Dhabi once enjoyed.

     The U.A.E. authorities moved quickly to try Ms. Hashemi. The prosecutor described the killing as an "Islamic extremism terror attack." In June 2015, the defendant was convicted as charged and sentenced to death. On July 13, 2015, Hashemi was executed by firing squad in Dubai, U.A. E.

     Attorneys for the executed woman said she had suffered from chronic mental illness. Court-appointed doctors, however, had determined that she was fit to stand trial. 

Obeying the Rules of Grammar

There's one thing to remember about the rules of grammar….They are not rigid; they change as our perceptions of our language change. What satisfied our eighth-grade teacher certainly won't satisfy an editor, but then our eighth-grade teacher wasn't trying to be an editor. The rules, however, were there to be learned, and once we learned them, we could believe they applied only when they made our work better.

William Noble, Noble's Book of Writing Blunders, 2006

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Wiseguy Nicknames

In the heyday of the Mafia, a lot of wiseguys were given colorful nicknames. For example, there was Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, Al "Scarface" Capone, Tony "Three Fingers" Rizzocascio, George "Butterass" DeCicco, Peter "Horseface" Licavoli, and Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalconte. If it ever becomes custom to nickname the wiseguys of academia, we might get: Professor Monty "Man Bun" Lawrence, Dean Gibson "Gobbledygook" Sinclair, Associate Professor Peter "Power Point" Lucas, Dr. Henry "Hypothesis" Higgins, Assistant Professor "I Want Tenure" Thomas, and Chancellor Miles "Mission Statement" Barnes.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Luka Magnotta Cannibal Killer Case

     Tenants in a working-class Montreal, Canada neighborhood complained of a bad smell coming from a pile of garbage behind their apartment building. At ten in the morning on May 29, 2012, when the janitor opened a suitcase at the site of the odor, he discovered a man's bloody torso.

     At 11:15 that morning, in Ottawa, at the Conservative Party headquarters, Jenni Bryne, a top political advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, opened a box that had been mailed to that address. As she opened the package, Bryne was hit by a terrible odor and recoiled at the sight of dried blood. She immediately called 911 which brought the Ottawa police, a hazmat unit, and officers with the Emergency Special Operations Section. The box contained a human foot and a note indicating that six other human body parts were in the mail.

     At 9:30 that night, the Ottawa police announced they had found a second severed body part mailed from Montreal. It was a hand found inside a piece of mail intercepted at the Ottawa Postal Terminal.

     On Wednesday morning, May 30, crime scene investigators and hazardous materials officers entered an apartment in the building where the janitor had found the suitcase containing the blood splattered torso. The masked searchers were interested in a second-story studio apartment rented by a 29-year-old tenant named Luka Rocco Magnotta.

     Luka Magnotta, a stripper, model, and bisexual actor in low-budget adult films who used the names Eric Clinton Newman (his born name) and Vladimir Romanov, had lived in the apartment about four months. Originally from Toronto, Magnotta had an Internet presence that included uploaded videos of animal cruelty. Two years earlier, a video appeared on the Web featuring Magnotta placing a pair of kittens inside an airtight bag then using a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air. He also had a blog under his name called "Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta" that featured the following quote: "It's not cool to the world being a necrophiliac. It's bloody lonely. But I don't care." Magnotta was also the author of an Internet article titled, "How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found" in which he laid out a six-step program for changing one's identify.

     On May 25, four days before the gruesome discovery at the Montreal apartment, an uploaded 11-minute Internet video on an Alberta-based website called "Best Gore," showed a man being stabbed, his throat slashed, and his head cut off by an unidentified killer in a dark hoodie. The man in the video also severed the victim's limbs, then committed sexual and cannibalistic acts on the corpse. A dog in the dimly lit room ate part of the body. The snuff video was called, "1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick." The Canadian authorities believed the torso found behind Magnotta's apartment building, as well as the mailed body parts, belong to the man seen murdered online. Investigators also theorized that Luka Magnotta was the killer/cannibal in the video.

     In Apartment 208, crime scene investigators believed they were at the site of the videoed murder/dismemberment. Detectives also thought the torso found behind the building came from this apartment. The walls and floor were splattered in dried blood and in the bedroom they found a blood-soaked mattress.

     A forensic pathologist examined the torso and the two mailed body parts and found that the remains belonged to the same person.

     Luka Magnotta, the subject of a massive international manhunt, was described as a slightly built man who was five-foot-eight with short black hair and blue eyes. The authorities searching for the fugitive believed he was hiding out in Europe under a false identity.

     The man believed to have been killed in the snuff film was identified as a student from China named Jun Lin. The 33-year-old had been attending Concordia University in Montreal. He had been going out with Magnotta and was last seen on May 24, 2012. Lin was an undergraduate in the engineering and computer science department.

     Montreal Police Commander Ian Lafreniere believed that Magnotta was hiding in France. The fugitive was immediately placed on Interpol's equivalent of the FBI's most wanted list. A Toronto transsexual who had a sexual relationship with Magnotta, informed the police that the porn actor used drugs and possessed a bad temper.

     In 2010, after Luka Magnotta posted the disgusting video involving the kittens, a London reporter with The Sun newspaper questioned him for an article. In an email to The Sun, Magnotta warned that his next uploaded snuff video would not involve cats. "Once you kill, and taste blood, it's impossible to stop," he wrote. After the animal cruelty video was published, animal rights activists in Canada tried to get the authorities to intervene.

     On Monday, June 4, 2012, seven  police officers in Berlin, Germany, acting on a tip from a person who recognized Magnotta, arrested him in an internet cafe. At first Magnotta gave the officers a false name, then said, "You got me." Magnotta was in the cafe reading about himself on the Internet.

     On the day following his arrest, as Magnotta appeared before a German judge on the matter of his extradition back to Canada, staff members at two private boy's school in Vancouver, British Columbia, each received a package that had been mailed from Montreal. The package to the False Creek Elementary school contained a human foot. The parcel opened at St. George's contained a hand. The body parts belonged to Jun Lin. The authorities were still searching for the victim's head.

     Several months following his extradition back to Canada, Magnotta acquired an attorney named Luc   Leclain who argued that his client should be tried for the lesser homicide offense of second-degree murder because the Crown could not prove premeditation in Jun Lin's killing. In May 2013, following a week-long preliminary hearing involving thirty witnesses for the Crown, the Court of Quebec judge ruled that the prosecution had enough evidence to justify trying Magnotta for first degree-murder.

     In addition to first-degree murder, Luka Magnotta stood charged with the lesser offenses of causing indignity to Jun Lin's body (in the U. S. it's called abuse of corpse), broadcasting obscene material, using the postal service to send obscene material, and the harassment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament. The Quebec judge scheduled Magnotta's first-degree murder trial for September 14, 2014.

     Luka Magnotta's murder trial got underway on Monday December 15, 2014 before Justice Guy Cournoyer of the Quebec Superior Court. His attorney, Luc Leclair, tried to convince the jury that the defendant, a schizophrenic, committed the murder is a psychotic state that had rendered him legally insane and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.

     The Magnotta jury did not buy the insanity defense and found the defendant, on December 23, 2014, guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors also found him guilty of the lesser offenses. Judge Cournoyer sentenced Magnotta to life in prison for first-degree murder and gave him 19 years behind bars for the other offenses.
     

Landmark Crime Films

     In 1957, Robert Bloch published Psycho based on the crimes of Wisconsin serial killer and cannibal Ed Gein. Alfred Hitchcock brought the novel to the screen in 1960. That changed everything. A new bogeyman replaced vampires, werewolves and other monsters as the thing that would haunt human dreams. Thanks to Anthony Perkins' terrifying performance as the psychotic Norman Bates, the public's new nightmares featured the guy down the street and the girl next door with evil hidden in their minds and horrors buried under the floorboards or in the backyard. The perceptions that Norman Bates created are reinforced every time the news features another story of some gardner or carpenter or mailman or nurse who had killed a dozen or more people. Hitchcock also introduced the public to the fictional film version of a Ted Bundy-like killer in Strangers on a Train. 

     In 1967, the prototype of Hannibal the Cannibal, the professional as madman, was portrayed by Peter O'Toole in Night of the Generals. While the character of General Tanz is a Nazi, which personifies a monster already, the concept of such a brilliant serial killer character is a frightening creation. Here we have a sexual psychopath in uniform, with power and authority. Picture this same character as a police officer or some other powerful authority figure and you have the public's worst nightmare.

     In 1968, the groundwork for today's genre of true crime movies was laid out with the film The Boston Stranger. This was the first docudrama about a real-life serial killer.

     Also in 1968, Rod Steiger portrayed the perfect fictional serial killer in No Way to Treat a Lady. Here is a classic model of the sexual psychopath who vents his obsessional hate for his mother on his victims. The character is extremely true-to-life with all the chameleon qualities that exist in real serial killers. He is intelligent and egotistical and never changes his pattern until suitable motivation is provided.

Sean Mactire, Malicious Intent, 1995

     

What Is Addiction?

     Addiction is not a function of drug use--rather, it is a standard feedback phenomenon that occurs with or without drugs, whereby people immerse themselves in immediately rewarding experiences that detract from their larger lives. This definition of addiction makes clear that addiction is not a drug-centered trait. Addiction doesn't occur only with drugs and doesn't invariably occur when certain drugs are used. There is nothing inherent in narcotics, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana that makes them irresistibly addictive. Moreover, people who do become addicted, contrary to both popular mythology and government pronouncements, usually attenuate or end their addictions…(Keep in mind, cigarettes and cocaine were only declared addictive in the 1980s, and marijuana in the 1990s.)…

     The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that only a small percentage (less than five percent) of people who have ever used cocaine, heroin, crack, and meth are currently addicted to these drugs. Carl Hart, an experimental neuroscientist and author of High Price, calculates that 10 to 20 percent of those using drugs (he studies crack and methamphetamine) encounter problems…

     Some researchers questioned users in detail about their current and past drug experiences. The largest and most thorough such investigation of cocaine was conducted at Canada's addiction research agency. The study, published as "The Steel Drug," found that the large majority of people who experienced a range of problems from cocaine (sinusitis, nasal irritation, headaches, insomnia) quit the drug or cut back their use of it….

Stanton Peele, "How Television Distorts Drug Addiction," reason.com, January 18, 2015  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Treating Celebrities As Important People

Americans have become celebrity obsessed. Intensely following the lives and foolishness of entertainers, TV new readers, politicians, athletes, and criminals who have become famous not only steals our attention from important things, it debases our culture. These pathological attention getters should not be taken seriously. It is idiotic to idolize people simply because they are rich and notorious. Fame does not confer wisdom. A society is in trouble when celebrities are treated as important people with important things to say.

Thornton P. Knowles

Eric Toth: Pedophile On The Run

     Born in 1982, Eric Toth grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana. He earned good grades in high school where he was considered self-centered and eccentric, and when he wanted to be, charming and manipulating. Abused as a child, he suffered bouts of depression and engaged in compulsive lying.

     The lanky young man enrolled at Cornell University in New York State. A year later he transferred to Purdue University at Calumet (Indiana) where he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in elementary education. During his college years he told several people he was an agent with the CIA.

     Upon his graduation in 2002, Toth volunteered at an elementary school in Indianapolis where he worked as a teacher's aide. His intense interest in boys between the ages 8 and 11 led to parental complaints and concerns. The principal, suspecting that Toth was a pedophile, terminated his association with the school. A lot of parents were glad to see him go.

     In 2003, Toth drifted around the midwest, always inserting himself into environments that put him in proximity to young boys. In 2004 and part of 2005 Toth worked as a counselor at a boy's camp in Madison, Wisconsin. It was at this camp he made videotapes of himself engaging in various sexual activities with several boys. When his behavior began to raise suspicion, he moved on. Moving on is what pedophiles do when too many people get suspicious.

     In the fall of 2005, administrators at the Beauvior Elementary School attached to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., hired Toth to teach third grade. Many of the students in this small prestigious Catholic School came from families of wealth and political power.

     Toth's enthusiasm for his job included tutoring children for free and even babysitting them at their homes. His gung-ho work attitude made him a popular teacher at the school. But his excessive familiarity with his male students, including having boys sit on his lap, raised eyebrows and suspicions.

     In 2008, a fellow Beauvior employee found disturbing photographs on a school camera assigned to Toth. The pornographic pictures featured the teacher and several boys. The school's principal confronted Toth, then fired him on the spot. After a security officer escorted Toth out of the building and off the campus, the principal called the police. The delay gave Toth the head start he needed to get out of town and disappear.

     Based upon the photographs recovered from Toth's camera, a federal prosecutor charged him with producing and possessing child pornography. This made Toth a fugitive from the law.

     A month after the Beauvior principal kicked Toth out of Beauvior Elementary, a car that had been rented under the name Jay Kellor turned up at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.  Inside the Honda, FBI agents found child pornography linked to Toth's tenure as a boy's camp counselor in Wisconsin.

     In the rented vehicle, agents also discovered a suicide note signed by Toth. According to the handwritten document, the authorities would find his body on the bottom of a nearby lake. A search of that lake failed to turn up Toth's remains. The FBI considered the suicide note a fake, a ploy to throw agents off his trail.

     Toth, going by the name David Bussone, showed up in January 2009 at the Lodestar Day Rescue Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Toth volunteered to help homeless man complete their 12-step alcohol and drug addiction treatments. He told his colleagues at the rescue center that he had been an educator at an elite east coast school, and that the experience had turned him against wealth and the materialistic lifestyle. He said he had taken a five-year oath of poverty, and had re-dedicated his life to helping the downtrodden.

     In the meantime, FBI agents across the country were still searching for Toth. The federal manhunt received a boost when the Toth case appeared on the television show, "America's Most Wanted." One of the homeless men at Lodestar saw the segment and recognized David Bussone as Eric Toth. The next day, realizing that he had been identified, the fugitive pedophile disappeared again.

     In July 2009, under a another pseudonym supported by stolen identification documents, Toth turned up at a hippie commune in Austin, Texas. One of the members of the community found Toth a job at an Austin computer repair shop called P.C. Guru. Toth worked at the store two and a half years during which time he tutored grade school boys for free. He also gave the mother of two of his students financial aid.

     The FBI, on April 10, 2012, replaced Osama bin Laden on the Bureau's Top Ten Most Wanted List with Eric Toth. In October of that year Toth used a fake passport, under the name Robert Shaw Walker, to flee to Nicaragua. He took up residence in a house in Esteli, a town 90 miles north of the capital, Managua. Toth told people he met that he had come to Nicaragua to write a book.

     On April 18, 2013, while attending a social function, Toth ran into an American tourist who recognized him. Two days later, Nicaraguan police officers surrounded his house in Esteli. Following the arrest, officers found 1,100 images of child pornography Toth had downloaded from the Internet onto his personal computer.

     Four days after his capture in Nicaragua, Toth was back in Washington, D.C. sitting in jail awaiting his trial.

     On December 13, 2013, Toth pleaded guilty before a federal judge to three counts of child pornography and two counts of identify theft. He faced up to 30 years in prison.

     On March 11, 2014, the judge sentenced the 32-year-old pedophile to 25 years in federal prison. At his sentencing Toth said, "I don't pretend that anything I could say here today would ever make up for what I did. Everything the prosecutor said about me is true."
   

Pedophilia: America's Hidden Crime Wave

     Anyone who follows the news regularly comes across stories about boys who have been repeatedly sexually molested by relatives, neighbors, mothers' boyfriends, teachers, priests, ministers, Boy Scout leaders, coaches, and youth counselors. These accounts tend to have the same narrative arc: following years of suspicious behavior and rumors of molestation, someone finally comes forward to report the crimes. After a plea bargained sentence, families of the victims sue the pedophile's school, church or institution, and if the offender is a public employee, the city or the state. Following this, local politicians and others call for measures that will protect future victims. But it never stops. Why?

     While we are familiar with the general profile of the adult male who preys on boys under thirteen, we have no idea how many of them are out there working in our schools, juvenile facilities, churches, and daycare centers. Dr. Gene Abel, an expert in this field, has estimated that between 1 and 5 percent of our adult population sexually molests children. If this is true, there are hundreds of thousands of them among us victimizing millions of youngsters. Because pedophiles are serial offenders who cannot be cured or rehabilitated, the victimization rates for this type of offense are through the roof. According to studies, before being caught for the first time, the average pedophile assaults 120 boys. Once released from prison, a vast majority of them reoffend. Since only a small percentage of pedophiles end up in prison, who knows how many children are victimized during the sex life of just one of these criminals?

     Although conscientious parents teach their children to be wary of strangers, most cases of pedophilia involve preditors who are either related to or acquainted with the boy. The most vulnerable targets are "at-risk" youths from dysfunctional families.

     Pedophiles flourish in our society because, in matters of criminal justice, we are taught to be careful with our accusations. No one wants to be part of a "witch hunt." Moreover, if you make a false accusation, you can be sued. Besides pedophiles, America is home to a lot of lawyers. According to the FBI, only between 1 to 5 percent of child molestation crimes are reported to the police. I believe it's more like one percent. According to one study of 255 cases involving students sexually molested by their teachers, in only one percent of these cases did the school district superintendent attempt to revoke the offenders' teaching licenses.

     Pedophilia is a crime of stealth, single-minded and clever offenders, frightened victims, and, on the part of people who should intercede on the child's behalf, denial. Pedophiles are often charming, hard-working employees who have ingratiated themselves into the community. Notwithstanding the increased awareness of this crisis, it will not go away. Unfortunately, there are certain social problems that cannot be fixed by a criminal justice system.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Creating A New Crime Fighting Superhero

I'm creating a new superhero called Passive-Aggressive Man, an anger management advisor by day, a crime fighter by night. Among his other powers, the super crimefighter has an interrogation technique that rarely fails. When a criminal suspect initially refuses to confess, PA Man becomes so emotionally distraught even the most cold-blooded criminal feels his pain and quickly spills his guts. Witnessing a man in a lavender cape weep uncontrollably usually does the trick. Sometimes hardened detectives in the interrogation room also collapse emotionally. Passive-Aggressive Man's arch rival will be Sociopath Man, a politician by day, a ruthless villain by night who runs a criminal enterprise without a hint of human decency, empathy, or regard for his fellow man. When good and evil finally clash, it's not hard to predict who goes down in mortal defeat. Fantasy is no match for reality.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Sylvie Cachay Bathtub Murder Case

     Sylvie Cachay grew up as the daughter of a Peruvian-born physician who practiced in Arlington, Virginia. She studied fashion design in New York City, and worked for clothing designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfinger, and Victoria's Secret. In 2006, Cachay started her own swimsuit line called Syla. She resided in a So Ho apartment in Manhattan's meatpacking district.

     Early in 2010, the 33-year-old swimwear designer met 24-year-old Nicholas Brooks, a college dropout and unemployed party-boy with a history of patronizing prostitutes, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Nicholas Brooks' father, Joseph Brooks, achieved a bit of fame by writing the 1970s hit song, "You Light Up My Life." The songwriter supported his son's party-boy lifestyle until 2009 when the elder Brooks was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting several women, most of whom were aspiring actresses. (In 2011, Joseph Brooks, facing the chance of a long stretch in prison, committed suicide.)

     Because of Nicholas Brooks' debauched lifestyle, funded by Cachay's credit cards, the couple had a turbulent relationship. They frequently broke up and then got back together again.

     On the morning of December 8, 2010, Cachay sent Brooks an email that read: "Nick, for the past six months I have supported you financially and emotionally. I am speaking with my credit card company and the police and I am going to tell them that I never allowed you to use my card. I don't care. Have fun in jail."

     Later on the day of Cachay's angry email, at her So Ho apartment, the couple made up. That night, just after midnight, the couple walked to the SoHo House, a luxury hotel not far from Cachay's apartment. They checked into their room at 12:30 AM.

     Shortly after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a hotel employee heard a man and a woman arguing loudly in their room. Thirty minutes later, Brooks left the suite and was seen eating a steak in the hotel's dining room. Upon finishing his meal, Brooks and a man who had come to the lobby to meet him, left the hotel. A short time later they were having drinks at a nightclub called Employees Only.

     At three in the morning of December 9, 2010, about two and a half hours after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a guest on the floor below complained to the front dest about water leaking through the ceiling. Hotel employees entered Cachay's room and found her dead in the overflowing bathtub. One of the stunned hotel employees called 911.

     New York City homicide detectives, when they arrived at the hotel, found the swimsuit designer in the bathtub wearing a sweater and a pair of underwear. The officers didn't notice any signs of physical trauma on the dead woman's body. At five-thirty that morning, while the death scene investigators were still in the hotel room, Nicholas Brooks returned to the suite. He agreed to be questioned at a nearby NYPD precinct station.

     Brooks admitted to his questioners that he and his dead girlfriend had been arguing in the hotel room before he left to eat his steak. After that, he and a friend went out for drinks at a nearby nightclub. He said that when he left the hotel room Sylvie was alive.

     Following the autopsy, a forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Sylvie Cachay had died of asphyxia due to strangulation and drowning. The manner of death in her case: criminal homicide.

     New York City detectives arrested Nicholas Brooks on January 4, 2011 on the charge of first-degree murder. At his arraignment hearing, the magistrate denied the murder suspect bail. Brooks entered a plea of not guilty.

     The Cachay-Brooks murder trial got underway in New York City on June 7, 2013. In his opening remarks, the assistant district attorney laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: the unemployed, playboy had been using the victim to fund his taste for prostitutes, alcohol, marijuana, and expensive nights out on the town. When she threatened to cut him off and report him to the police, he strangled or drowned her to death in the hotel bathtub.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office forensic pathologist took the stand early in the trial. According to the pathologist, "Bruises on the victim's neck, bleeding in her eyes, and abrasions inside her mouth...were injuries consistent with [homicidal] asphyxiation."

     Through several prosecution witnesses, the assistant district attorney presented the jury with emails in which Cachay had complained to her friends about Brooks' drinking, drug use, and late-night partying. In these emails, she referred to the defendant as "the kid I'm dating," as her "man-boy," or as a "stoner" who had quit his job at a cupcake shop.

     The Brooks defense, through a forensic pathologist from Syosset, New York, presented evidence that Cachay's death had been accidental. According to Dr. Gerard Catanese, the victim had drowned in the tub because she had sedatives, anti-depressents, and muscle relaxers in her system. "That combination of drugs," Dr. Catanese said, "could account for her falling asleep, losing consciousness...and sinking under the water and ultimately dying."

     On July 11, 2013, the jury, relying solely on circumstantial evidence, found Nicholas Brooks guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, friends of Sylvie Cachay, from their seats in the courtroom, cheered loudly. 

President Nixon's War on Drugs

     On 14 July 1969, President Nixon announced a national "war on drugs." His "Special Message to the Congress on Control of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs" was a prelude to introducing the new legislation that would be the first battle plan of the war….And so began a sixteen-month process of legislative give-and-take, political maneuvering, and bureaucratic jockeying.

     The president seemed to acknowledge the less-than-complete public agreement with respect to the size and importance of the drug problem in saying, "A national awareness of the gravity of the situation is needed: a new urgency and concerted national policy are needed at the federal level to begin to cope with this growing menace to the general welfare of the United States." He went on to draw the parallel between narcotics use and crime in no uncertain terms, saying, "Narcotics have been cited as a primary cause of the enormous increase in street crimes over the last decade….An addict can be forced to commit two or three burglaries a day to maintain his habit." [Since Nixon's speech, crime rates have fallen drastically while the drug war rages on.]

David F. Musto, M.D. and Pamela Korsmeyer, The Quest for Drug Control, 2002 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Working Humor Into Your Fiction

With regard to being funny on paper, Isaac Asimov said it best: "A story is either funny or it is not funny. Nothing in between. The humor target contains only a bull's-eye."

Thornton P. Knowles

Bad Blood at the Bolshoi

     In Russia, they take ballet very seriously, perhaps too seriously. One would assume that the Bolshoi, the world's largest and most prestigious ballet company, would be one place in this corrupt, crime-ridden country immune from criminal violence. But this is not the case. Professional and artistic rivalry in the Bolshoi world of dance is intense, and vicious. (Being threatened and harassed by a ballet dancer is like being shot by a gun-control activist.)

     Sergei Filin started dancing at the famous Moscow theater in 1988. He left the Bolshoi in 2007, returning in March 2011 as the artistic director of the ballet company. Filin's predecessor, Gennady Yanin, the target of threats and harassment during his tumultuous tenure, had to step down after an artistic rival posted erotic photographs of him on the Internet. There have also been incidents of performance sabotage including an alarm clock going off in the audience during a particular scene; a dead cat being tossed on stage in lieu of flowers; needles inserted into costumes; and broken glass planted in the tip of toeshoes.

     It seems the artistic director of the Bolshoi, like the head of a Mafia family, is in constant danger of being unseated by a jealous, power-hungry challenger. Who would have guessed that behind the scenes, these world-class ballet dancers were Tony Sopranos in tights?

     Shortly after assuming his role as artistic director, Sergei Filin became embroiled in a variety of ballet disputes and feuds. One of the performers he crossed swords with was Nikolai Tsiskaridze, a famous principal dancer. In December 2012, someone scratched-up Filin's car, slashed his tires, and hacked into his email account. The artistic director's tormentor/stalker also posted a derogatory Facebook page under Filin's name.

     The harassment became so intense, friends of the 42-year-old Bolshoi director recommended that he hire a private bodyguard. (A big business in Moscow.) Filin, believing that the intimidation tactics would not become physical, rejected the suggestion.

     At eleven o'clock Thursday night, January 16, 2013, when Sergei Filin opened the gate to his central Moscow residence, someone called out his name. A man wearing a face-mask emerged from the darkness carrying a bottle of acid which he threw into the artistic director's eyes. After the attack, the masked assailant fled the scene on foot.

     The acid caused third-degree burns on Filin's face, and possibly destroyed his sight. There were plans to send him to Belgium for treatment, a process that could take up to six months. Police investigators in Moscow were working off the theory that the assault was work-related.

     In the fall of 2013, Bolshoi Ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko was found guilty of ordering the attack on Sergei Filin. Two others were also convicted of the assault. All three defendants were sentenced to six years in prison.

     In May 2016, the authorities released Dmitrichenko on parole. While admitting that he had orchestrated the attack, Dmitrichenko told reporters that he had not intended his accomplices to use acid.

     The Bolshoi management, in November 2016, gave Dmitrichenko a pass to return to the site of the assault in order that he could practice. The building was also the place where his victim, Sergei Filin, practiced ballet.

    This case illustrates that in Russia, ballet is much more important than criminal justice. In the United States, in a similar case, Tanya Harding, following the assault of a fellow figure skater, was thrown out of the sport even though she was not convicted of the crime.

Plea Bargaining

People think that plea bargaining is a dirty word: an automatic insult to victims and defendants. I guess that's because of the way it's usually done. Prosecutors can plea-bargain for all sorts of wrong reasons that all add up to the same thing: conviction rates. Some of the most obscene pleas I've ever seen a prosecutor take have been done in the name of sparing the victim the hardship of testifying; some of them with the victim in the courtroom trying to protest with no one listening. [Ninety percent of all convictions are acquired through the plea bargaining process.]

Alice Vachss, Sex Crimes, 1993

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On How To Get Your Name On A College Or University Building

Yearly donations to America's cash-greedy colleges and universities is in the tens of billions. So, what do the big donors get in return for their money? They acquire paid-for immortality until even bigger donors knock their names off the dorms, lecture halls, cafeterias, football fields, gyms, classrooms, and research labs. The more prestigious the institution, the more money a rich narcissist has to fork out. There have been colleges and universities willing, for the right price, to change the name of the entire institution. In a small town, a local resident who had made it into major league baseball might get a street named after him. While getting a street in your name may not be a big deal, at least it's free and based on achievement beyond being wealthy. I can foresee the day when colleges and universities are so desperate for money, they will offer to name campus trees after people. The bigger the tree, the bigger the donation. So where is all this mortality-for-sale going? Here's a guess: The day will come when most college degrees are so devalued, rich donors will start paying to get their names off campus structures and trees. When that happens, maybe the names of rich narcissists will start appearing on trade school buildings.

Thornton P. Knowles


The Modern History of The Death Penalty

     While the death penalty is still lawful in 32 states, only Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Texas actually execute their death row inmates. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the death penalty itself amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

     Since the mid-1980s, the states that carry out the death penalty have used lethal injection as the principal method of execution. Considered a more humane way to kill condemned prisoners than its predecessors the electric chair and the gas chamber, the use of drugs instead of electricity and lethal gas is more a matter of appearance--aesthetics if you will--than concern for the condemned.

     From 1976 to 2018, 1,275 inmates have been executed by lethal injection. Four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--still allow death row prisoners to choose between deadly drugs and the electric chair.

The Electric Chair

     On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler, a convicted murderer serving time at New York's Auburn Prison, earned the distinction of becoming the first person in America to die in the electric chair. The state of Ohio followed New York by replacing hanging with electrocution in 1897. Massachusetts adopted the chair in 1900, New Jersey in 1906, and Virginia in 1908. By the 1930s most of the death penalty states used the electric chair as the primary method of execution. The other states killed their death row inmates by gas, by firing squad, or by rope. The state of Kansas continued to hang its prisoners into the early 1960s.

     The state of Nebraska was one of the last jurisdictions to employ the electric chair as its sole method of killing murderers. In February 2008, the practice ended when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that electrocution was in itself cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state's constitution.

The Electric Chair's Golden Era

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, the official executioner for six eastern states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For his work he charged $150 an execution. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more inmates at one prison visit, he discounted his fee. Some of Elliott's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (1928), the killers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anarchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Agent of Death. The book came out in 1940. Long out of print, it is today in the libraries of true crime book collectors.

Electrocuting Fat People

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old's death house attorney argued that the 355-pound inmate was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. Since its construction in 1923, the Florida state electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners. In recent years the chair had been involved in some unsightly executions. For example, death house witnesses in 1997 saw flames shoot from a condemned man's head. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair. The new device could easily handle a 355-pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner sent 2,300 volts through the metal cap on the fat man's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a little groaning, but the new chair did its job.

The Gas Chamber

     Death in a gas chamber usually took six to eighteen minutes. The execution ritual began with the condemned inmate being led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by his arms, waist, ankles, and chest. A mask was placed over the prisoner's face, and the chamber sealed. The executioner poured sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor, a canister that contained cyanide pellets. The mixture of the chemicals produced a cloud of lethal gas.

     An open curtain allowed witnesses to observe the inmate inside the chamber. At the designated moment, the executioner hit an electric switch that combined the chemicals that produced the killing agent.

     The gas chamber was an expensive form of execution. Moreover, one could argue that because the condemned man contributed to his own death by breathing in the gas, it was the most cruel. Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of death row inmates to the state of Nevada in 1921. That year, state legislators abolished the electric chair in favor of the gas chamber. On February 8, 1924, a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America to be executed by gas. He died in the chamber inside the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas killed 594 prisoners in the U.S. from 1924 to 1999.

The Caryl Chessman Case

     Caryl Chessman was an armed robber and serial rapist who spent most of his adult life behind bars. In 1948, a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping, and rape. Among his crimes, he had kidnapped a 17-year-old girl named Mary Alice Meza out of her car and forced her to give him oral sex. He committed a similar offense against another victim, Regina Johnson. Under California law at the time, a kidnapping that involved bodily injury was a capital offense. Under this law, the judge sentenced Chessman to die in the gas chamber.

     Following his highly publicized trial, Chessman continued to argue his innocence through essays and books. His two memoirs, written behind bars, became bestsellers. During his twelve years on San Quentin's death row, Chessman filed dozens of appeals, and managed to avoid eight execution dates. Following his failed last-minute attempt to avoid death with a writ of habeas corpus filed with the California Supreme Court, Chessman died of asphyxiation on May 2, 1960 in San Quentin's gas chamber. He is the only person to die in the gas chamber for a crime other than murder.

Lethal Injection

     By the 21st century, state executioners were injecting death row inmates with a three-drug cocktail that included pentobarbital. When the European manufacturers of this deadly drug stopped exporting it and other killing agents to the United States, executioners found themselves in a fix. Some began using a single drug--usually pentobarbital if they had it--while others concocted new, experimental cocktails made of drugs available in the United States.

     Anti-capital punishment activists have used the lethal drug supply problem to further their push to have the death penalty abolished altogether. But for these crusaders, if it's not the inhumanity of using untested drugs, it's something else. These death house lawyers and political activists object to executing prisoners who, when they murdered, were under eighteen; inmates who are fat with hard-to-find veins; killers with low I.Q.s; and in the case of a Missouri murderer named Russell Bucklew, a death row inmate who wasn't healthy enough to be humanely executed.

The Clayton Lockett Case

     In 1999, an Oklahoma criminal named Clayton Lockett tortured then buried alive an 18-year-old girl who had been unfortunate enough to cross this predator's path. On April 29, 2014, the executioner at the state penitentiary in McAlester administered a three-drug cocktail of Midazalam (to render him unconscious), Vecuronium (to stop his breathing), and potassium chloride (to stop his heart).

     Seven minutes after the drugs went into Lockett's body, he was still conscious. He moved his head and tried to get off the gurney seventeen minutes into the execution. Finally, 43 minutes after being injected, the 38-year-old died of a heart attack. It wasn't a perfect, well-oiled killing, but in the end the drugs worked.

     By describing Lockett's death as torture, a horrible ordeal, and a nightmare, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment crusaders, and people in the media who support their cause, exploited Lockett's "botched" execution for all its worth. Suddenly, executing a sadistic rapist and cold-blooded murderer by lethal injection became cruel and unusual punishment. For those who were not losing sleep over Clayton Lockett's bumpy ride into eternity, listening to this hand-wringing was cruel and unusual punishment.

Back to Bullets

     In 2014, politicians in Utah, Wyoming, and Missouri proposed bringing back the firing squad. In Utah, legislators abolished death by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention surrounding this form of execution. Still, murderers sentenced before 2004 had the option to die by shooting. In 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardner, a man who fatally shot a Salt Lake City attorney in 1985 in Gardner's attempt to flee the court house, selected the firing squad over lethal injection. Five police officers used .30-caliber Winchester rifles to carry out Gardner's execution. Unlike Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Mr. Gardner died instantly. Nevertheless, those who opposed capital punishment, fretted that the executioners might miss their target, causing a slow and painful death. There was, however, a simple solution to this problem: give each executioner two bullets.

The Return of the Electric Chair

     On May 22, 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam signed a bill allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event the state was unable to acquire the proper drugs for the execution. Lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed the bill the previous month. And most people in the state supported the new law. According to a 2014 Vanderbilt University poll, 56 percent of registered voters in the state welcomed the return of the chair.

     Corrections officials in Tennessee have been dealing with the lethal drug shortage. Electricity, on the other hand, didn't come from Europe and was in good supply.

     In Tennessee, Daryl Holton, in 2009, was the last man in the state to die in the electric chair. In 1997, the Gulf War veteran murdered his three sons and a stepdaughter with a high-powered rifle in their Shelbyville, Tennessee  garage. Death by electrocution had been his choice of execution.  

The Science Of Death House Electrocution

     Divorced from the emotional and ethical aspects of the matter, electrocution can be pictured as a purely physical process. The body--seen as a conductor of electricity--is a leathery bag containing a solution of electrolytes. Though electricity does not move in a perfectly straight line as is passes from entrance to exit, the greatest density of current is along the line connecting the two points of contact. But because the human body is a complex object for the current to pass though--unlike a uniform substance such as copper wire or salt water--the actual resistance of the body may vary greatly during the time the electricity is moving through it. The effects of the shock are often impossible to predict.

     To make electrocution as efficient and expedient a process as possible, certain techniques of preparation have been developed. Like a patient being readied for surgery, the prisoner to be executed goes though an exacting process before the actual procedure occurs. Very important is the maximizing of contact. The prisoner's scalp is shaved down to stubble; a safety razor is used then to clear a spot at the center of the head. This is the place where the soaked sponge of the death cap will make contact. Similarly, an area approximately six inches above the ankle is shaved, to make the optimum connection with the ground pad....

     Everything possible is done to ensure that the mechanism works as desired. The connection at head and leg soaked with conductive Electro-Creme or paste-like brine solution--is the most efficient way of transferring electrical current into the body. Voltages and amperages are finely calibrated. The system itself is checked and rechecked, tested and inspected. Hundreds of previous executions give the prison personnel a good idea of what to expect. A controlled environment, witnesses, accurate analytic tools, the frequent presence of doctors and nurses lend the execution the air of a scientific experiment. But the body is always a variable.

Th. Metzger, Blood & Volts, 1996

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Scandals

With so many sociopaths in position of political power, it's no wonder we are in the era of the political scandal. The ongoing exposure of jaw-dropping hypocrisy among the political class has become, for us ordinary folks, a form of entertainment. To see the fall of an abusive, pompous politician, while a frightening reminder of the idiots and fools we put into office, is also intensely satisfying. Yes, I'll admit it, I've become a fan of the political scandal.

Thornton P. Knowles

Beware of the Naked Guy

     In recent years, dozens of naked men high on meth, PCP, synthetic marijuana, or bath salts violently assaulted, murdered, and in a few cases, ate part of their victims. These hallucinating assailants shed their clothing because the designer drugs caused their bodies to abnormally heat-up. Police officers, after their taser guns failed to bring these rampaging, drugged-up zombies under control, had to shoot a few of them.

Abraham Luna: The Nude Nutcase From Tarpon Springs

     Police officers in Tarpon Springs, a Florida town of 23,000 in Pinellas County not far from Tampa, received a strange call at 6:50 Monday morning, November 26, 2012. Residents of a neighborhood near the Tarpon Springs Golf Course had seen a man running about with nothing on but a pair of construction boots. (The nude man was later identified as 30-year-old Abraham Luna.) By the time patrol officers rolled into the area, Luna, a resident of Tarpon Springs, was gone.

     The following day, at 4:17 in the morning, a Tarpon Springs officer tried to pull over a nude man driving a white van at high rates of speed on U.S. Route 19. The officer discontinued his pursuit of Luna when the van crossed into Pasco County. As a result, Luna escaped arrest.

     Fifteen minutes after eluding arrest in Pinellas County, Abraham Luna pulled into a 7-Elven store along Route 19 in Holiday, Florida. The nude man walked into the store, and without provocation, started shoving, scratching, and punching a male employee. "What's wrong with you?" the clerk exclaimed.

     "You asked for it," Luna replied.

     When a second 7-Eleven employee told Luna to leave, the naked assailant strolled out of the store and climbed back into his van. But instead of pulling back onto the highway, Luna gunned the vehicle toward the store, stopping just before crashing into the building. He next got out of the van, and tried to open the door of a car that belonged to one of the store clerks. Unable to steal the employee's vehicle, Luna climbed back into his van and drove north in the southbound lane.

     The brief police pursuit of Luna on Route 19 ended when the van sideswiped a patrol car driven by a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy. Luma jumped out of the van and ran, but was quickly apprehended by a deputy who jolted him with a taser device.

     The Pinellas County prosecutor threw the book at Luna, charging him with aggravated assault, aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer, reckless driving, aggravated fleeing to elude arrest, driving with a revoked license, and violation of his probation.

     Luna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007, was incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail in Land O' Lakes, Florida. After his arrest, Luna explained his nudity to reporters by saying it was a shock tactic that gave him an advantage in fights.  Fortunately, the tactic of being nude did not protect him against being shocked by the police.

Coco Bennett: Nude Man With Samurai Sword

     The San Jose police, on New Year's Day 2013 at eight in the morning, received a call regarding a man, later identified as 29-year-old Coco Bennett, carrying an assault rifle in a residential neighborhood. Bennett climbed into a pickup and drove out of the area before the police arrived.

     San Jose officers came upon Bennett's truck a few miles from where he had been seen with the assault rifle. As they approached his truck, the nude driver exited the vehicle carrying a large, samurai sword. "You're going to have to kill me," Bennett said.

     Instead of shooting Bennett, the officers at the scene called in San Jose's Crisis Intervention Team. Following a two-hour stand-off involving 32 police officers, the naked man ran toward a nearby fence. When he tried to climb the barrier, Bennett fell and dropped his sword. Officers took this opportunity to take him into custody. From Bennett's truck officers recovered his AR-15 assault rifle. Had he come out of his truck armed with the AR-15, Mr. Bennett would have been shot to death.

     After being treated at a local hospital for minor injuries, Bennett was taken to the Santa Clara County Jail.

The Naked Connecticut Church Intruder

     The day after Coco Bennett's arrest in San Jose, a nude Gary Pohronezny burst into the St. James Catholic Church in Killingly, Connecticut. The 41-year-old from Brooklyn, New York barged into the church at one-thirty in the afternoon, interrupting a religious service attended by adults and several school children. A member of the congregation called 911, and after a brief scuffle, officers took the naked man into custody.

     Charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police, Pohronezny ended up in a hospital in Putnam, Connecticut where he underwent psychiatric evaluation.

The Naked Home Intruder

     A Miami homeowner, on January 3, 2013, was awakened at five o'clock in the morning by the sound of his barking dog. The man causing the commotion, a naked home invader named Jeffrey Delice, was choking the pet. When the 20-year-old intruder tried to bite and choke the resident of the home, the homeowner shot him in the foot. Delice, high on drugs, was charged with a variety of offenses including burglary, assault, and resisting arrest.

     Note: Since I couldn't find any news updates on any of these men, I assume these cases were handled outside of the criminal justice system.

The Abuse of Prescription Drugs

     Prescription drugs can be classified into three categories: narcotics (including Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet), depressants (including Xanax, Valium, and Librium), and stimulants (including Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Meridia). Drugs like Ritalin can lead a user to experience feelings of hostility and paranoia. Higher does of a drug like Xanax can cause impairment of judgment and irritability as well as paranoia, suicidal thoughts, agitation, and aggressiveness.

Phil Chalmers, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, 2009 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Importance Of Lunch

The writer Paula Fox once wrote: "I often thought of killing myself but then I wanted lunch." I guess it's lunch that keeps most of us from self destruction. Yes, that makes sense to me. Lunch.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Mandy Matula Murder Case

     Twenty-four-year-old Mandy Matula lived with her parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a town of 60,000 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis. A graduate of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, she worked for the Eden Prairie Public Works Department. In high school, Mandy had been a standout softball player.

     In September 2012, Mandy ended her relationship with David Roe, a 24-year-old from Victoria, Minnesota who had been a classmate of Matula's at Eden Prairie High School. From 2007 to 2009 Roe had attended the University of St. Thomas where he played football. After the break-up, he and Mandy remained friends.

     On the night of Wednesday, May 1, 2013, Roe showed up at the Matula house and asked to speak with Mandy. Leaving her cellphone and purse in the dwelling, she and Roe sat outside the house in his black, 2013 Ford Escape SUV. Around eleven-thirty that night, Roe drove off with Mandy in the vehicle.

     Mandy didn't return home that night, and didn't show up for work in the morning. This prompted her worried mother to call David Roe to find out what happened to her. According to Roe, they had continued their discussion in Miller Park near the Matula house. Following an argument, Mandy got out of his vehicle. He presumed she had walked home. Mrs. Matula, at eight-thirty that morning, called the Eden Prairie Police Department and reported her daughter missing.

     As the last person seen with Mandy Matula, David Roe was the obvious person of interest in her disappearance. For that reason, a detective with the Eden Prairie Police Department, on Thursday, May 2, asked him to come to the police station for questioning. That afternoon, after getting out of his SUV in the police department's parking lot, Roe put a handgun to his head and shot himself.

     Paramedics rushed David Roe to the Hennepin County Medical Center. At three the next morning, he died from his self-inflicted head wound.

     As a result of David Roe's suicide, investigators lost the best lead they had regarding Mandy Matula's whereabouts and status. A search of Roe's vehicle produced a note that, according to the police, contained "limited writing."

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, 300 volunteers searched Miller Park for Matula's body. In the Victory Lutheran Church parking lot, a searcher found a .40-caliber bullet.

     In October 2013, Mindy Matula's body was found in a shallow grave not far from where she went missing. Forensic firearms identification experts determined that Matula had been shot by the same gun David Roe had used to kill himself. Investigators believed the murder had taken place at the Victory Lutheran Church. After murdering Matula, Roe had disposed of her body where it was later found.

     In July 2015, the Mindy Matula murder case was closed.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Defining Murder

Murder is universal and timeless, and for criminologists and legal experts, it is one of the easiest criminal offenses to define: An intentional killing usually motivated by anger, lust, money, or love and fueled by either sociopathy, stupidity, madness, drugs, or alcohol. While murder is easy to define, understand, and even investigate, there is no way even the most advanced societies can eliminate this form of deviant behavior. It seems to be an integral part of human existence.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Frank Crash Murder Case

     Frank R. Crash was the proverbial big fish in a small pond. Since 1959 he owned and operated an auto wrecking company in his hometown of Greenville, a western Pennsylvania town of 6,000 eighty miles north of Pittsburgh. Located on the Shenago River in Mercer County, Greenville was home to Thiel College.

     In the 1960s and 70s, Frank Crash, a 1956 graduate of the former Penn High School, raced dirt track sprint cars and snowmobiles. His wife Carol Lee passed away in December 2009. Frank's two daughters, Pam Higbee and Susan Brenneman, also lived in Greenville. Frank resided by himself in a house on Mercer Road in Hempfield Township just south of Greenville across the street from a restaurant and golf course.

     At 10:30 PM on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, Mr. Crash left the Hickory Grill in nearby Hermitage. At nine-thirty the next morning, when the 76-year-old didn't show up for work, his daughter Pam went to his house to check on him. She found her father lying dead in a pool of blood in the kitchen. It appeared that Mr. Crash had been stabbed to death.

     Death scene investigators found trails and splatter of blood throughout the dwelling. The telephone had been ripped from the wall. Next to the corpse lay a smashed cellphone. The intruder, who had entered the house forcefully through the back sliding glass door, had stolen an undisclosed amount of cash and a 4-carat solitaire diamond ring.

     Erie forensic pathologist Eric Vey, on Friday July 27, 2013, published the results of his autopsy. Frank Crash had been stabbed 76 times by a knife or pair of scissors. The victim's heart and lungs had been punctured many times in what Dr. Vey labeled a criminal homicide.

     Mercer County District Attorney Robert C. Kochems, on July 31, 2013 issued a press release on the status of the Crash homicide investigation. According to the prosecutor, the authorities did not have a suspect.

     On November 6, 2014, District Attorney Kochems announced that 33-year-old Tracey Lin Hassel from nearby Hermitage, Pennsylvania had been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, robbery, and burglary in the Crash murder case. (Second-degree murder--in Pennsylvania the felony-murder doctrine--carries a sentence of life in prison.) Burglary and robbery are felonies that could bring up to 20 years in prison. The penalty for third-degree murder in Pennsylvania is 20 to 40 years behind bars.

     According to the Mercer County prosecutor, Hassel, who knew the victim, had broken into his home to steal money so she could bail her boyfriend out of jail. After stabbing Mr. Crash 76 times, the suspect stole the diamond ring off his finger and cash from his pockets.

     Hassel, with a long criminal record, was serving time at the state prison in Muncy, Pennsylvania. She had been convicted in February 2015 of several counts of burglary and robbery.

     On September 13, 2016, on the day the Crash murder trial was set to begin, Tracey Hassel pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the case. As part of the plea deal, she would serve her murder sentence along with the 7 to 21 year sentence she was serving for the burglaries and robberies. Regarding the Crash murder case, the judge denied her credit for the two years she had served awaiting trial.

Murder by Poison

     Poisoning is a method of murdering a person without leaving any inconvenient and incriminating clues like bloodstains, knife-wounds, marks of strangulation or crude bludgeoning. With luck, the murder might even be put down to death from natural causes. That, quite simply, is the reason why poisoning was the favorite method of murder for thousands of years: because it was virtually undetectable, its effects indistinguishable from hear attack or a stroke....

     Ancient Rome is the first society on record where poison was used on a large scale, almost indiscriminately, as a matter of policy by the rulers. But we know that the Greeks used poison much earlier, referring to aconite [a toxin derived from the aconitum plant] as the "queen of poisons", for example. And certainly poison was known and widely used in the East, the Arabs and the Indians in particular being great practitioners in the deadly uses of venom.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Susan Sontag's Take On Husbands In Modern Literature

In her classic book, Against Interpretation (1969), Susan Sontag writes: "Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a lover--moodiness, selfishness, unreliability, brutality--they would never countenance in a husband, in return for excitement, and infusion of intense feeling...Perversity is the muse of modern literature. Today the house of fiction is full of mad lovers, gleeful rapists, castrated sons--but very few husbands." I don't know about modern literature, but Sontag's observation clearly applies to the world of pulp fiction where if a husband is involved, he is either the murderer or the victim.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Who Tried to Murder Gary Melius?

     Born in 1945 in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York, Gary Melius began his career as a plumber, became a builder, and eventually made his fortune in real estate. In 1984, he bought a decaying 1919 French-style chateau on Long Island's Gold Coast. The Huntington, Long Island property, called Oheka Castle, was featured in the classic film "Citizen Kane." Melius turned the 109,000-square foot chateau into a luxury hotel, catering facility, and wedding venue. He also resided there.

     A close associate of former U.S. Senator Alphonse D'Amato and contributor of hundreds of thousands of dollars to republican and democrat politicians, Melius was a force in Long Island politics. In 2010, the Oheka Castle hosted the wedding of the disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide.

     Like most rich and powerful men in politics, Gary Melius has cultivated enemies. In February 2014, he conferred with law enforcement officials regarding evidence he had acquired involving political bribery and witness tampering. Melius claimed to have proof of corruption that would send several high ranking government officials to prison.

     In 2013, Melius was at the heart of a political scandal that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

     Mr. Melius also had enemies in the business world. He was caught up in a legal battle over control of a company called Interceptor that manufactured ignition locks designed to curb drunken driving. On February 21, 2014, at a company shareholder's meeting, Melius announced that he planned to name a new board of directors.

     Melius has accused the company's founder, John Ruocco, of mismanagement and financial improprieties. Ruocco responded by calling Melius a "political fixer." In December 2013, a judge, siding with Melius, stripped Ruocco of much of his ownership of the company.

     At half past noon on Monday, February 24, 2014, just after Mr. Melius sat down behind the wheel of his Mercedes in the valet parking lot at Oheka Castle, a masked gunman approached the front driver's side window of the vehicle. The assailant fired a shot that hit Melius in the forehead. As the gunman fled the scene in a get-away car, the wounded 69-year-old climbed out of the Mercedes and stumbled  back into his house.

     The injured man's daughter drove her father to Syosset Hospital. From Syosset, he was transferred to the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset. It was there he underwent emergency surgery. Mr. Melius survived the shooting.

     In speaking to reporters shortly after the assault, Deputy Inspector Matthew C. Lewis, the Commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's Major Crimes Bureau, said, "This looks to be a targeted crime." In other words, Mr. Melius may have been the victim of an attempted assassination, and perhaps the target in a murder-for-hire plot.

     In August 2014, Mr. Melius told a reporter that the police had investigated his adopted son as a possible suspect in the shooting. Thirty-four-year-old Thomas Melius, just days before his father was shot, had gotten out of prison after several months of incarceration related to a drug case. The father pointed out the lack of physical evidence connecting his son to the assault. Mr. Melius said he believed that one of his political enemies was behind the shooting.

     In February 2015, on the one year anniversary of the case, the Suffolk County Police Department raised its reward for tips leading to the arrest of the assailant to $100,000.

     On the two year anniversary of the unsolved attempted murder, February 24, 2016, the Suffolk County Police released portions of a surveillance video the day Mr. Melius was shot. The video depicts the victim walking to his car in the parking lot of the castle when the gunman exits his vehicle and fires through his target's driver's side window. The Suffolk Police also announced that the FBI had entered the case.

     Regarding the release of the surveillance video, Mr. Melius told reporters that it was about time, and that he hoped the publicity would cause someone to come forward with the shooter's identity.

     As of May 2018, the Melius attempted murder case remained an unsolved mystery.
     

Most Murder Cases Aren't That Interesting

Sherlock Holmes would have no interest whatever in most of the 22,076 murders reported in the United States in 1994. [That's double today's murder rate.] Only 20 cases involved poison or explosives. Only 22 were by narcotics overdose. Some 78 murders were classified as involving rape. Just 15 involved prostitution and commercialized vice. Sniper attacks make good television, but only two such homicides occurred in the United States in 1994. About 1.7 percent of the murders involved romantic triangles…..Although 1,157 of the murders were classified as juvenile gang killings…the police often overdo their coding of gang involvement. Thus, if a store owner gets shot in a robbery and the offender seemed to be a gang member, many police departments count that incident as a gang murder rather than something more plain. Gang members may be highly criminal, but that does not mean that most of the crimes they commit are of, by, or for the gang itself. Members do most crime for themselves.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998

Friday, May 11, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Stag Flicks And The Speed Of Cultural Change

I remember when filmed pornography wasn't mainstream entertainment. Now they're called adult films. Back in the day, a short, beer-bellied guy with greasy hair and a neck tattoo would come to the party with his reel and projector. The grainy black and white film usually featured a middle-aged, paunchy woman having sex with a masked, hairy man. My first and last stag film viewing made me feel like a peeping Tom. Maybe that was because pornography itself was forbidden, clandestine and against the law. The way it was presented was also obscene. Perhaps the most shocking feature of the modern era is the speed and severity of cultural change. It's disturbing to think that what is now generally considered to be socially taboo could someday become mainstream, acceptable behavior.

Thornton P. Knowles

The William Richards Murder Case

     In 1993, 44-year-old William Richards and his wife Pamela, while they were building a house near Hesperia, California in the high desert in San Bernardino County, lived in a motor home. Because there were no power lines near the property, a generator in a nearby shed provided the electricity. William worked as a swing shift electrical engineer at a manufacturing plant in the town of Corona. His 40-year-old wife had a job as a waitress. The following account of what happened on August 10, 1993 is based on William Richards' statement to the police.

     That night, William Richards clocked out of the plant in Corona at 11:03. When he arrived home shortly after midnight, he noticed there were no lights on in the trailer. He re-started the generator in the shed, and as he walked toward his front door, stumbled over his wife's half nude body. Someone had smashed the 5-foot-2, 126 pound woman's head with an heavy object. Richards called 911.

     Deputies from the San Bernardino Sheriff's office arrived at the scene at twelve-thirty that morning. The officers did nothing to protect the crime scene while they waited for the arrival of the homicide detectives. The investigators didn't show up until 3:15, and when they did, decided to wait until daylight before processing the crime scene. In the meantime, officers walked around the site and did nothing to keep several dogs off the property. (When they did begin the crime scene investigation, the officers realized dogs had kicked dirt on Pamela Richards' body.)

     From the beginning, homicide detectives considered William Richards the prime suspect in the murder. Blood spatter patterns suggested the victim had been partially undressed after the bloody attack in an effort to stage a sexual assault. (There was no physical evidence of rape.) Investigators found no signs of forced entry and no physical evidence of an intruder such as foreign shoe impressions and tire tracks. (If there had been such evidence, it could have been trampled by the police.) Moreover, nothing had been stolen from the trailer. Investigators believed that Pamela Richards had been bludgeoned by a blood-stained steppingstone. (A forensic pathologist would find that she had also been strangled.)

     As for motive, detectives believed that the suspect, after he learned that his wife planned to leave him for another man, had killed her in a fit of rage. The fact that Richards and his wife, over their twenty-year marriage, openly had affairs and had already agreed to separate, cast doubt on this motive to kill her. Without a confession or an eyewitness, the San Bernardino County prosecutor had a weak, circumstantial case against William Richards. The fact the crime scene investigation had been bungled also hurt the prosecution's case. Nevertheless, the prosecutor charged Richards with first-degree murder. Police arrested him on September 3, 1993.

     In July 1994, after the jury deadlocked six to six on the question of William Richards' guilt, the judge declared a mistrial. Just three days into his second trial in October 1994, the judge, due to improper communications with a juror, declared a second mistrial. In January 1995, the jury deadlocked eleven to one for his guilt. This led to a third mistrial.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor, on his fourth try in July 1997, bolstered the state's case with the testimony of Dr. Norman Sperber, the renowned forensic odontologist (dentist) from San Diego who had testified at Ted Bundy's serial murder trial in Florida. Dr. Sperber testified that in his expert opinion, the crescent-shaped impression on Pamela Richards' hand was consistent with having been made with the defendant's front teeth. The odontologist said that only two percent of the U.S. population could have made this crime scene bite mark.

     To counter Dr. Sperber's testimony, the defense presented another respected forensic dentist, Dr. Gregory Golden, the Chief Forensic Odontologist of San Bernardino County. Dr. Golden testified that the photograph of the victim's bite mark was of such poor quality he couldn't make a conclusive determination in the case. When pressed by the prosecutor on cross-examination, Dr. Golden said that he could not eliminate the defendant as the maker of the crime scene bite mark.

     Based on the new bite mark evidence, the jury in Richards' fourth trial found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. The convicted man continued to maintain his innocence.

     In 2000, lawyers with the California Innocence Project entered the case on William Richards' behalf. A re-evaluation of the forensic evidence in the murder case led to a petition before a San Bernardino County judge to overturn Richards' murder conviction. The hearing on this motion took place in 2009 before Judge Brian McCarville.

     Since Richards' fourth trial, new technology had made it possible to sharpen the photographic image of the crime scene bite mark. Dr. Norman Sperber took the stand and declared that after analyzing the enhanced photograph, it was his expert opinion that the questioned bite mark had not been made by Mr. Richards. Two other forensic dentists agreed with this analysis, and a third testified that he could not render a conclusive opinion either way.

     A DNA expert testified that the bloody steppingstone contained DNA evidence that had not come from the defendant. A forensic hair and fiber identification expert testified that a 2-centimeter follicle taken from under one of the victim's fingernails did not match samples taken from her husband.

     Judge McCarville, based on the bite mark, DNA, and hair follicle testimony, overturned William Richards' murder conviction.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor appealed Judge McCarville's ruling to the California Supreme Court. On December 3, 2012, in a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court reinstated Richards' murder conviction. According to the majority justices, the forensic evidence presented at the 2009 hearing did not prove the convicted man's innocence. (Once convicted, the burden of proving innocence shifts to the defendant.) These justices did not believe the forensic dentists had completely ruled out Richards as the source of the crime scene bite mark.

     The dissenting judges did not agree with this interpretation of the new bite mark testimony. As these three justices saw it, three of the four odontologists, including Dr. Norman Sperber, stated that the convicted man was not the source of this crime scene evidence. Since it had been this evidence that had finally led to Richards' murder conviction, its absence supported the position that the state had not carried its burden of proving this man's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

     In September 2014, a new law went into effect in California that would make it easier for William Richards' attorneys to have his conviction overturned. Under this legislation, whenever an expert witness changes his or her opinion, as Dr. Sperber did in the Richards case, the initial testimony will be classified, by law, as false evidence. If that evidence played a vital role in the guilty verdict, the expert's repudiation is grounds for overturning the conviction.

     Citing the new law, Richards' attorneys asked the California State Supreme Court to reconsider the case and throw out the murder conviction.

     On May 27, 2016, the California Supreme Court overturned Richard's 1997 first-degree murder conviction. Following this decision, the San Bernardino District Attorney decided not to retry the case.