More than 5,105,000 pageviews from 160 countries

Monday, May 28, 2018

Bath Salts and the Hannibal Lecter Syndrome

     At five in the evening on Saturday, June 2, 2012, 21-year-old Brandon De Leon, accompanied by three other homeless men, walked into a Boston Market fast-food restaurant in North Miami Beach, Florida. High on marijuana, Xanax, and a bath salt called Cloud 9, De Leon had also consumed a bottle of rum and an alcohol and caffeine-laced drink called Four Loko.

     The moment De Leon entered the restaurant, he became belligerent. Cursing loudly, he challenged one of his homeless companions to a fight. As it happened, two uniformed police officers were eating there. As the officers approached the manifestly intoxicated and unruly man, he swore at them. De Leon was asking for trouble, and he got it.

     Although De Leon resisted, the officers hustled him out of the eating place and onto the ground outside. Once handcuffed behind his back, and seated in the patrol car, De Leon began bashing his head against the glass divider between the back seat and the front interior of the police vehicle. As he slammed the glass with his head, De Leon yelled, "I'm going to eat you!"

     At the police station, De Leon continued to behave like an animal intent on eating its prey by baring and gnashing his teeth. Several officers wrestled him to the floor, then carried the squirming, spitting, growling, and snapping maniac to a holding cell where De Leon tried to bite one of his captors in the hand as they put him in leg restraints. Once they had the prisoner physically under control, officers slipped a Hannibal Lecter-type "bite-mask" over his head.

     Following drug testing procedures at Aventura Hospital, police officers transported the chained and masked De Leon to the Miami-Dade County Jail where he was held on $7,500 bond.

     Because of the recent rash of cases involving cannibalistic behavior, Brandon De Leon's Hannibal Lecter act became more than a local crime story. The intense interest in these type cases brought a gruesome homicide, committed in 2009 by a San Antonio woman named Otty Sanchez, back into the news. Sanchez was found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing and eating parts of her 3-week-old baby. The schizophrenic said the devil made her do it.

     In December 2010, Stephen Griffith, a Ph.D. student in England, murdered three women and ate the body parts of two of them. (He killed one of his victims with a crossbow.) In Russia, a chef, in August 2011, lured his victims to his apartment through a gay-dating website, then killed them with a butcher-knife. He made meatballs and sausages from their corpses.

     More recent murders of this nature include Miami's Rudy Eugene who chewed the face off a homeless man, and Alexander Kinyua, the Morgan State University student who allegedly ate a portion of his victim's heart and brain. In Sweden, a professor, in a fit of jealous rage, cut off and ate his wife's lips. He was charged with attempted murder, and was undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

     Perhaps the most disturbing cases involving cannibalistic behavior have unfolded in Japan and Canada, countries we normally don't associate with violent crime. In May 2012, a man named Mao Sugiyama advertised a meal where five diners each paid 100,000 yen to eat, in a banquet setting, Sugiyama's surgically removed genitals. Sugiyama and the five diners who ate his flesh were not charged with a crime. In Japan, consensual cannibalism is not illegal. (I'm not sure if it's a crime here.) The Canadian case involved Luka Magnotta, the porn star snuff-video maker who ate parts of his dismembered victim, then mailed four of Jun Lin's body parts to two addresses in Ottawa and two in Vancouver.

         The use of designer drugs was linked to 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, the Miami causeway flesh-eater, and Brandon De Leon, the homeless man transported to the Miami-Dade County Jail in the Hannibal Lecter mask. In De Leon's case, he was under the influence, among other substances, of the bath salt Cloud 9 (also called Ivory Wave), a synthetic form of cocaine. Legal in the United States, Cloud 9 can be purchased online, in smoke shops, convenience stores, and at gas stations. (It is illegal in the United Kingdom and Australia.) Cloud 9 comes in 500mg packets containing instructions on how to add it to bath water for a soothing and relaxing soak. There is also a warning not to sniff or inject the product. (I once saw a warning on a curling iron that read: "Not for internal use.")

     Cloud 9 users snort, smoke, and eat the bath salt. The drug produces an euphoric ecstasy-like sensation combined with an amphetamine-like high. Cloud 9 has been known to produce violent and bizarre hallucinations, extreme paranoid delusions, acute agitation, and thoughts of suicide. When the drug wears off, users suffer painful hangovers.

     Do Cloud 9 and other designer drugs turn people into Hannibal Lecter types? According to Deborah Schurman-Kauflin in a 2011 Psychology Today article, "Most cannibals are extreme loners. They do not have friends and they are bitter about it. Killing and eating a victim ensures that the offender is never alone." Jack Levin, author and co-director of the Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston, in discussing America's most infamous cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, points out that Dahmer was a loner. Levin theorizes that Dahmer, who killed and ate parts of 17 young men, consumed his victims out of "affection." According to Levin, this was Dahmer's way of physically possessing the objects of his love.

     While cannibalism has been in the news here and around the world, it is still an extremely rare form of deviant behavior. It is tempting to associate the trend in bath salts abuse with the recent rash of cannibalism cases. The De Leon incident provides a good case in point, but in all probability, notwithstanding increased drug abuse, cannibalism, although freakish and newsworthy, will remain a rare form of deviant behavior.   

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Whitney Heichel Kidnap Murder Case

     Whitney Heichel, at 6:45 in the morning of Tuesday, October 16, 2012, walked out of her Gresham, Oregon apartment with the intent of driving her 1999 Ford Explorer to her nearby job at Starbucks. That day she had to attend an early morning employee meeting. Instead of reporting to work, she was seen two and a half hours later sitting in the passenger's side of her SUV at a service station in Troutdale, Oregon. (The man behind the wheel had used Heichel's ATM card to purchase gas.)

     A Starbucks employee called Heichel's apartment when she didn't show up for work. Whitney's husband Clinton, at 9:56 AM, called 911 and reported his 5-foot-2, 120 pound wife missing. Ninety minutes later, police officers found Heichel's vehicle in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Wood Village. The front passenger's side window had been broken out. The next day, children found the missing woman's cellphone in the brush between the service station and the abandoned SUV.

     Detectives began questioning residents of Heichel's apartment complex. They spoke to a 25-year-old acquaintance and neighbor named Jonathan Holt. The investigators grew suspicious when Holt's account of himself on the morning in question contained glaring inconsistencies. Detectives grilled Holt on Wednesday the 17th, and when they interrogated him again the next day, he confessed. The police  also recovered the 9 mm pistol Holt used to murder the victim.

     On the morning of October 16, 2012, Holt waited outside the apartment complex for Heichel. When she came out of her apartment he asked her for a lift. Holt had been in Heichel's SUV about five minutes when he pulled a gun and told her to drive to an area near Roslyn Lake. At the lake, Holt forced Heichel at gunpoint to give him oral sex. He then shot her to death.

     After murdering Whitney Heichel, Holt drove the body to Larch Mountain, a 40 minute drive up winding roads from the apartment complex. After hiding her corpse in the underbrush, he drove to the Walmart parking lot where he abandoned the vehicle. (Holt had either broken the passenger's side window to throw off the police, or it had been blown out by a bullet when he shot her.)

     Twelve hours after Whitney Heichel didn't show up for work at Starbuck's, a pair of Holt's friends spotted Holt walking along 257th Avenue in Gresham. When they offered him a ride, he refused, saying, "I just need to finish clearing my head." A short time later, Holt's friends tracked him down and asked him again to get into the car. After accepting the lift, Holt told his friends a strange story. He said that on his way to work that morning at a Swan Island vending company, two black men robbed him at gunpoint. Holt later admitted to detectives that this story was untrue. After confessing to Whitney Heichel's murder, Holt admitting to downloading child pornography onto his laptop computer.

     According to Holt's wife Amanda, her husband felt like a failure, and this had let "so many things build up. I think he just loses it." (Whatever the hell that means.)

     On Friday, October 19, 2012, police officers found Whitney Heichel's body in a remote spot in the woods on Larch Mountain. Besides the confession, detectives  linked Holt to Heichel's murder through his fingerprints and other physical evidence crime scene investigators recovered from her SUV.

     According to medical examiner Dr. Christopher Young, Whitney Heichel had been shot four times. On Monday, October 22, Jonathan Holt, at his arraignment hearing in a Clackamas County court, was charged with aggravated murder. The judge denied him bail. His trial was set for April 2013.

     Jonathan Holt, in July 2013, pleaded guilty to the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of his neighbor. The judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Drug War Informants: Collateral Damage

     Americans love drugs and they hate informants. But as a result of the endless war on drugs, more and more citizens are snitching on each other. Many arrested users are being turned into informants, or "flipped" by narcotics officers. Instead of snitching to avoid long prison sentences, some of these reluctant drug informants end up dead. In the language of war, they are collateral damage.

     For good or bad, informants have always played a vital role in law enforcement. Most of them can be placed into one of three groups: paid "professionals;" jailhouse snitches; and flipped drug arrestees. The professionals snitch for money, the jailhouse types do it for lighter sentences, and many of the flipped drug informants cooperate with the police out of fear and desperation. People caught in possession of small quantities of marijuana tend to be the least street-wise, and ill equipped to protect themselves against the targeted professional drug merchants. A good number of flipped informants are addicts who feel they have no choice but to put themselves in harm's way.

The Rachel Hoffman Case

     In February 2007, a Tallahassee police officer pulled over 23-year-old Rachel Hoffman for a routine traffic violation. The Florida State University graduate consented to a search of her vehicle that resulted in the discovery of less than an ounce of marijuana. A few weeks later, narcotics officers found, in her apartment, 5 ounces of grass and 4 ecstasy pills. The prosecutor charged her with several narcotics counts that, according to her arresting officers, would send her to prison. However, if she agreed to act as a snitch/undercover operative in a bust-buy drug sting, the prosecutor would put in a good word with the judge. After some initial resistance, Hoffman agreed to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun from two drug dealers she had never met. The fact a gun was involved didn't seem to bother Hoffman's police handlers.

     At seven in the evening on May 7, 2008, when Hoffman arrived at the sting site, the two suspects told her the deal would go down at another location. Surveillance officers watched as she climbed into a stolen BMW with the two drug dealers. They drove off, and Hoffman's handlers, unprepared for a last minute change of plans, lost touch with their civilian undercover operative. The drug suspects had figured out that Hoffman was a snitch, and shot her to death in the car with the firearm she was supposed to buy.

     In response to public outrage over Rachel Hoffman's murder while working for the Tallahassee police, Chief Dennis Jones publicly called her a criminal responsible for the botched undercover drug operation that led to her death. His mindless statement created such a firestorm of public criticism, the chief was forced to apologize. (I'm sure that was sincere.) The chief suspended the narcotics officers with pay, and admitted that his bungling drug cops had put an untrained informant in danger.

     In 2010, the two men who killed Rachel Hoffman were convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Also that year, the Florida legislature passed "Rachel's Law," a statute that requires law enforcement agencies in the state to take the following steps with regard to drug informants: upon arrest, advise them they cannot promise light sentences in return for their cooperation as snitches; and instruct them they have a right to consult with an attorney before agreeing to go undercover. If the drug arrestee agrees to help catch other drug offenders, they must receive a certain amount of training.

     I doubt that Rachel's Law has had much impact on how many arrestees drug cops in Florida flip. In my view, the practice of using arrestees as undercover narcotic agents should be prohibited. Unarmed civilians without police training and experience should not be coerced into becoming soldiers in American's drug war.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His One Childhood Vacation

When I grew up, very few lower middle-class people in West Virginia went places on vacation. When I was twelve, three years before my father went out to our barn to hang himself, we drove up to Niagara Falls, New York. We spent one night on the American side in a five-bucks-a-day place called Al's Cozy Cabins. No TV, no air conditioning, and no shower. Not too cozy. Rather than stand around looking at a lot of water falling off a cliff, I wanted to go to the local wax museum. My father said no, we needed that money for gas. I don't know what I expected to see up there, but found the whole experience tedious. That trip was our families' first and last, and I'm still not a vacations person. I guess I never learned how to relax away from home.

Thornton P. Knowles

Workplace Murder-Suicide: The Dangerous Employee

     During the past forty years, hundreds of government and private sector employees have gone ballistic and murdered two or more of their fellow workers, then killed themselves. While workplace shooting sprees have become relatively common, they still produce local headlines, and for a few days, national television coverage.

     News accounts of these violent outbursts almost always feature the question of why. What motivated the employee to commit mass murder, then take his own life? (About 85 percent of these killers are male.) Was the killer mainly motivated by the intent to murder, or to commit suicide? If suicide, why the murders? If murder, why the suicide?

     Many workplace killers are disgruntled, revenge-seeking employees with emotional problems and histories of mental illness and violence. The increasing frequency of these blood baths might reflect the deteriorating mental health of a nation devolving into a culture of violence, materialism, and entitlement.

     Employers of these homicidal workers are often accused, after the fact, of lax job applicant screening procedures. This is unfair because under federal law, employers are not allowed to ask job seekers all kinds of pertinent questions, including if they have histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness. Whether or not a job applicant has ever been arrested is, by law, none of the employer's business. All of this information, of course, is relevant to the question of the applicant's fitness and qualifications for employment.

     Employers in workplace shooting cases are usually sued for having failed to recognize and react to signs of future workplace violence. But to be fair, there is no sure-fire way to identify employees who will "go postal." Quite often, employees who have been fired for violent and threatening workplace behavior return to the job weeks, months, and even years later with murderous and suicidal intentions. There is no way to predict or prevent this type of behavior. Police officers patrol the streets, and are now present in many public schools, but they are not in our homes and places of employment where the real danger lies.

     Lawrence Jones of Fresno, California is a good example of someone an employer shouldn't hire. The 42-year-old, since his early 20s, had been in and out of prison for armed robbery, assault, auto theft, and gun-related crimes. He had spent most of  his adult life behind bars. In September 2011, three months after his last parole, Jones began working at Apple Valley Farms, a chicken processing plant in Fresno. He was hired because there aren't many people willing to work in places like this. For fourteen months, Jones did his job, then something happened to set him off.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of November 6, 2012, four hours into his shift, Jones walked up to 32-year-old Salvador Diaz who was working in the grinding room. Because of the sound of the machinery, and the fact employees wore noise-protection gear, no one heard Jones shoot Mr. Diaz in the back of the head with his 4-shot .357 Derringer pistol.

     After murdering Mr. Diaz execution-style, Jones entered the deboning room of the plant and executed Manual Verdin, 34. Jones then wounded 28-year-old Arnuflo Conrriguez, and shot Fatima Lopez in the back as she fled the scene. Jones pressed the muzzle of his Derringer to the back of Estevan Catono's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately for the 21-year-old intended victim, the gun was out of rounds.

     After killing two of his fellow employees, and wounding two others, Jones walked out of the plant, re-loaded the handgun, and fatally shot himself in the head.

     Investigators did not have a motive for the killings, nor did they know if these victims had been targeted. In all probability, these workers were simply unlucky by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     Fatima Lopez was treated at a local hospital and released. Arnuflo Conrriguez remained for awhile in serious condition at Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Illegal Possession of a Secret Compartment

     Civil libertarians are criticizing Ohio police for arresting a driver because his car contained a compartment that could theoretically store illegal drugs, though no drugs were found at that time.

     The driver…was pulled over for speeding. A highway patrolman noticed wires running to a secret compartment in the car and arrested the suspect, even though there were no drugs in the compartment. The officer also claimed he smelled marijuana in the compartment--giving him probable cause to search it--though none was ultimately discovered.

     It makes no difference whether police find drugs or not, according to a new Ohio law that prohibits secret compartments.

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, December 30, 2013 

Monday, May 21, 2018

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. 

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

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.

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

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.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

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, Pornography, 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

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Small Town America

By choice, I've never lived in the city. I wouldn't like the noise, the smell, the cost, the traffic, the pollution, the crime and the inconvenience of urban living. I like the less hectic, slower pace of a small community and consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed the benefits of small town life while it still exists. The day will come when America's small towns will fall into decay or be consumed by suburban sprawl. I'm glad I won't be around for that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dr. Marian Antoinette Patterson: The Employer From Hell

     In 2018, Dr. Marian Antoninette Patterson, a 1995 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, practiced medicine at the Family Medical Practice in Valdosta, Georgia. In February 2018, the Georgia Composite Medical Board suspended Dr. Patterson after members of her staff complained of being threatened by her of physical violence.

     According to one of Dr. Patterson's employees, the doctor threatened to cut this employee from her throat to her private parts. Another member of the doctor's staff reported the doctor's threat to cut off her head and roll it down the hallway, but not before she brought the employee's children in to witness the beheading. When terrified employees said they were calling 911, Doctor Patterson allegedly promised that they would be dead before the arrival of the police.

     An employee of the Family Medical Practice alleged that Dr. Patterson kept her from leaving the office by grabbing her arm. Dr. Patterson was also accused of throwing a reflex hammer at an employee. The doctor also, according a complainant, pulled her medical diploma off the wall and stomped on it.

     On March 5, 2018, the Georgia Medical Board suspended Dr. Patterson's license to practice.

     Valdosta police officers, on April 25, 2018, booked Marian Antoinette Patterson into the Lowndes County Jail on three counts of terroristic threats and one count of false imprisonment. Shortly after being taken into custody, the suspect posted her bail and was released. 

The Dr. Michael J. Davidson Murder-Suicide Case

     Dr. Michael J. Davidson, the director of Endovascular Cardiac surgery at Boston's Brigham and Woman's Hospital, after graduating from Princeton University in 1992, earned his medical degree from Yale University. He interned at Duke University Medical Center and in 2006 joined the staff at Brigham. The 44-year-old cardiovascular surgeon also taught at the Harvard Medical School.

     The doctor and his wife Terri, a plastic surgeon, lived in Wellesley, Massachusetts with their three children. Dr. Davidson had celebrated his 40th birthday by running in the Boston Marathon.

     Stephen Pasceri, 55, lived in a two-story colonial style home in Millbury, Massachusetts with his 63-year-old wife Teresa. He worked for the Waters Corporation, a company in Milford that manufactured specialized laboratory equipment. Known in the community as the "Church Guy" because he regularly knocked on doors to raise money for the Millbury Federated Church, Mr. Pasceri was considered a friendly, happy-go-lucky man. He and his wife had raised four children.

     On November 15, 2014, Mr. Pasceri's mother, Marguerite E. Pasceri, passed away after being treated at Brigham and Woman's Hospital. According to reports, Mr. Pasceri blamed Dr. Davidson for her death.

     At eleven in the morning of Tuesday January 20, 2015, armed with a .40-caliber pistol he was licensed to carry, Mr. Pasceri walked into the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center located on the second floor of the building across the street from the hospital's main entrance. He asked a member of the staff if he could speak to Dr. Davidson.

     A few minutes after Mr. Pasceri entered the Cardiovascular Center, following a loud exchange of words, Stephen Pasceri pulled out his firearm and shot Dr. Davidson twice at close range. He then used the gun to end his own life.

     At ten-forty-five that night, Dr. Davidson, after undergoing emergency surgery, died from his wounds.

     Dr. Davidson's sudden, unexpected death at the hands of an unlikely killer sent shock waves through Boston's medical community and stunned people who knew Mr Pasceri. Because hospital shootings are relatively rare, the hospital's entrances do not feature metal detectors or security personnel to screen visitors and staff who might be armed.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Golf

Someone once said that a round of golf was a good walk spoiled. Except for people who do it for a living, golfers don't even walk anymore. You hit the ball, yell fore! then climb into your buggy. There are pursuits and goals in life I'll never understand. But I suppose diversity of tastes and interests makes it all a little more interesting. Golf. Why not?

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, May 7, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Autobiographies Of Film And TV Actors

Ben Hecht observed that "Though fame is a help in selling books, it is of small use in writing them. And though a reader may be pleased to eavesdrop on the reminiscences of famous people, he will rarely come away with such volumes with more than a nodding acquaintance. The reason for this is that famous people are usually too sensitive of their image to write anything of themselves that may jeopardize it, such as they are bored, frightened, bewildered or hollow as the drums that acclaim them." Mr. Hecht, a Hollywood screenwriter, was referring to film and TV actors, not individuals known for having actually accomplished something important. Even extremely talented ghost writers are unable to make most Hollywood autobiographies and memoirs worth reading to people who are not adoring fans.

Thornton P. Knowles

The High School Chem Lab Bombing Case: When Zero Tolerance and Administrative Hysteria Replaced Discretion And Common Sense

     On Monday, April 29, 2013, a 16-year-old girl in a high school chemistry class in the central Florida town of Bartow, mixed a couple of household products in an eight-ounce plastic bottle. When Kiera Wilmot, a student with good grades and no history of trouble-making, shook the mix, a mild explosion blew off the bottle cap. (She might have placed cough drops or Tylenol pills into a bottle of soda.) The result of the experiment startled the student more than anyone.

     No one was hurt, the tiny explosion caused no property damage, and the student had not intended anything malicious. (In my day, when mischievous kids got too old to put tacks on teachers' desk chairs, a few of them dropped cherry-bombs into school toilets. Getting caught blowing up a public commode usually resulted in a paddling and a brief expulsion. Unless the student was a known juvenile delinquent, the matter was handled in-house. Police and prosecutors did not get involved.)

     The administrators at Bartow High School, following Wilmot's harmless chemistry experiment, called in the authorities. Notwithstanding the student's background, lack of criminal intent, and the absence of physical harm or property damage, a local prosecutor charged the student with possession and discharge of a weapon on school property and discharging a destructive device. Having been charged with these felonies, school administrators had no choice but to expel the suspected bomber. If convicted of these crimes, Wilmot will have to finish her high school years in an expulsion program.

     Kathleen Nolan, author of Police in the Hallways, told an education reporter that the Wilmot case " an example of the absurdity of zero tolerance and the over-use of police intervention in schools....This young woman, all because of misguided curiosity, now faces expulsion and felony charges which could negatively impact her future opportunities and alter the course of her life."

     When looking for the source of such insanity, you usually don't have to look beyond the U. S. Congress. In 1994, Congress passed a law that forces states that receive federal education funds to enact legislation that requires mandatory one-year expulsions for students who bring firearms to school. As one can be expect, school officials and criminal justice practitioners took this law and went to hell with the joke.

     The beauty of a zero-tolerance enforcement policy is that it exempts bureaucrats from having to think. It also protects them from making decisions and taking responsibility for those decisions. It's a policy for people without the guts to lead.

     Although Kiera Wilmot didn't bring a firearm or a bomb to school, Bartow High administrators notified law enforcement authorities. Once the knucklehead prosecutor decided to treat the student as a terrorist, the school had to kick her out. With Wilmot expelled from school, the mindless school administrators and the crusading prosecutor can tell themselves that Bartow High is now a safer place.

     When comparing the Wilmot story to the tale of government incompetence, inaction, and political correctness that led to the Boston Marathon Bombings, it's hard not to conclude that the people in charge of protecting our country possess weird priorities and have no sense of proportion.

     Following Wilmot's ten-day suspension and thousands of dollars in legal costs, the prosecutor dropped the criminal charges against the student. In June 2014, the crime lab bomber graduated from high school, and no thanks to the local prosecutor, looked forward to attending college.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Woman in the Freezer

     In July 2010, a family member found 80-year-old Maria de Jesus Arroyo unconscious in her Boyle Heights home in Los Angeles. At the White Memorial Medical Centre, an emergency room doctor declared Arroyo dead from a heart attack.

     A few days later, Arroyo's body was taken out of the hospital freezer and transported to a funeral home where it would be on display. When the mortician zipped open the body bag, he found the corpse uncharacteristically face down in the postmortem container. Moreover, the frozen woman's nose had been broken, and her face was covered in cuts and bruises. Family members who had seen Mrs. Arroyo just before the ambulance rushed her to the hospital hadn't noticed any injuries. They assumed that hospital personnel had in some way mishandled the body.

     Mrs. Arroyo's husband and eight of their children filed a lawsuit against the White Memorial Medical Centre alleging abuse of corpse. In December 2011, at a hearing pertaining to the suit, Dr. William Manion, a forensic pathologist hired by the family, testified that Mrs. Arroyo had not died of a heart attack.

     It was Dr. Manion's opinion that Mrs. Arroyo had died from asphyxiation and hypothermia. In other words, hospital personnel had put a body bag containing a live person into the hospital freezer. Mrs. Arroyo had regained consciousness inside the bag and struggled to get out. In so doing, she broke her nose and cut and bruised her face. If this were true, this woman had undergone a terrifying death. Instead of saving her life, hospital personnel had killed her in a most horrible way.

     In May 2012, the Arroyo family attorney, Scott Schutzman, upgraded the lawsuit against the hospital to medical malpractice. (If Mrs. Arroyo had in fact died in the hospital morgue freezer, some of the people responsible for her ending up there could also face charges of negligent homicide. According to Dr. Manion, this had not been a natural death.

     In 2013, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge threw out the Arroyo lawsuit because the one year statute of limitations for malpractice suits had run out before the case had been filed. The Arroyo family appealed that decision.

     In March 2014, justices sitting on the California 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the lower court ruling. The one year statute of limitations did not start running in this case until the plaintiffs learned that Mrs. Arroyo might have gone into the hospital freezer alive. According to the appellate judges, the family had no reason to suspect Mrs. Arroyo had died after being placed into the body bag. The Arroyo lawsuit, therefore, could move forward.

     No criminal charges have been filed in connection with the 80-year-old woman's unexplained, mysterious, and suspicious death. 

Dark Humor

     A friend of mine once told me about a guy who murdered his first wife and put her in a freezer. He had her in a storage locker and his second wife stopped paying the bill for it, so the contents were auctioned off, and one lucky buyer purchased a freezer with a dead woman inside.

     Gruesome certainly, but I could easily imagine a darkly comic story about such a situation.

Robin Hemley in How to Write Funny edited by John B. Kachuba, 2001

Wayne Carter: NJ Man Throws Intestines at Police

     At ten o'clock Sunday night, May 20, 2012, police in Hackensack, New Jersey responded to a report of a 43-year-old man who threatened to kill himself. Wayne Carter had barricaded himself in the bedroom of his house. Two officers kicked open the bedroom door and found Carter crouched in a corner holding a 12-inch knife. The officers ordered the disturbed and distraught man to drop the weapon. Instead, he stood up and began stabbing himself in the abdomen, legs, and neck.

     The stunned police officers, in an effort to keep this man from killing himself, showered him with two cans of pepper-spray. Immune to the pepper-spray, Mr. Carter reacted by throwing pieces of his bloody tissue and intestines at the officers. They backed-off and called in the Bergen County SWAT team.

     Members of the SWAT team overpowered and disarmed the bleeding and weakened subject. Paramedics rushed him to a nearby hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. He had stabbed himself 50 times, and was listed in critical condition.

     According to his family and friends, Wayne Carter had a history of mental illness and had abused drugs. He had also been arrested for assault and resisting arrest but has not been charged in this case. His bizarre behavior, coming as it did in the wake of the face-chewing case in Miami, and the college student's cannibalism in Maryland, has made people wonder where the epidemic of drug use and mental illness is leading this country.   

Friday, May 4, 2018

FBI: Tarnished Badges

     During J. Edgar Hoover's reign as the fourth director of the FBI (1924-1972), I don't believe a single agent committed a crime serious enough to send him to prison. During the bureau's entire history, I don't think a female agent has been put behind bars. Since 1972, however, dozens of male agents have gone from investigators to inmates. At least four have been convicted of murder, and several have been put away for espionage. Many others have been imprisioned for perjury, theft, and even child molestation.

Special Agent Darin McAllister and the Root Of All Evil

     After growing up in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, Darin McAllister earned a degree in divinity from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. At age 26, he moved to Los Angeles where he became a staff minister at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in south LA. His wife Judith, a gospel singer, became minister of music.

     In the early 1990s, the Los Angeles Police Department actively recruited African American officers in an effort to improve its relationship with the city's minority population. In March 1991, the Rodney King beating led to race riots in the city. McAllister joined the department that year as a patrol officer. In 1996 he applied to the FBI, was hired as a Special Agent, and assigned to the Los Angeles Division where he gathered street gang intelligence as an undercover agent.

     Seven years later, in 2003, the bureau transfered McAllister to the Nashville Resident Agency out of the Memphis Division. McAllister moved to Tennessee with his wife, three children, and a profit of $236,000 from the sale of his house in California. With that money, and mortgage loans from several banks, McAllister purchased, fixed-up and rented out several duplexes.

     The FBI agent/real estate investor was doing quite well until the housing market crashed in 2008. McAllister lost tenants and fell behind in his mortgage payments. His loans were called in, he couldn't pay, and the banks foreclosed. In 2009, after he filed for bankruptcy, bank examiners discovered that McAllister, when he had applied for the mortage loans, had inflated his personal income by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

     In May 2010, a federal grand jury indicted McAllister of wire fraud, false bank declarations, and other banking fraud related offenses, 19 counts in all. In December of that year, in a U.S. District Court in Franklin, Tennessee, a jury found McAllister guilty of several counts of mortgage fraud. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison, and fined him $675,000.

     McAllister's attorney appealed his client's conviction, claiming that McAllister was duped by shoddy real estate appraisers and loan officers.

     People have gone to prison for crimes a lot worse than McAllister's. He lied, and picked the wrong time to get into real estate. Had he been a member of congress, no problem. But he was a FBI agent, and he should have known better.

     Today, the FBI and the Department of Justice is in the midst of a scandal involving dozens of alleged crimes, most of which are against America's most cherished principle: democracy. It could be argued that the FBI is at the lowest point of its history and my never recover from its breach of trust with the American people. As a former FBI agent who has followed and written about the history of the bureau, I regret saying this.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

The Michael Marin Poison Pill Arson Case

     Former Wall Street trader Michael Marin lived alone in a $3.5 million, 10,000 square-foot mansion in Biltmore Estates, a high-end neighborhood in Phoenix. The attorney and art collector who owned original Picasso sketches among other valuable paintings, had scaled six of the world's seven tallest mountains. In May 2009, he had reached the summit of Mt. Everest. The 51-year-old had four grown children.

     While Michael Marin had been able to climb Mt. Everest, he had not been able to climb out of debt. Besides falling behind in his Biltmore Estates mortgage, Marin couldn't keep up the $2,500-a-month payments on a second home and owned $34,000 in back taxes. He had amassed numerous other debts as well.

    During the early morning hours of July 5, 2009, flames broke out in Marin's Biltmore Estates mansion. Wearing scuba gear to protect himself from the smoke and toxic gases, Marin escaped through a second-story window of the burning house by climbing down an emergency rope ladder.

     The fire insurance pay-out to a policy holder who was in deep financial trouble raised suspicion that the blaze had been intentionally set, and motivated by insurance fraud. Marin's convenient, well-prepared, and bizarre escape from a dwelling engulfed in flames added to the suspicion he had torched the dwelling. (There aren't too many inhabitants in houses consumed by flames who escape down a rope ladder in scuba gear.) This financially-strapped man was either very lucky, extremely prepared for a fast-developing fire, or an arsonist.

     After fire scene investigators found several points of origin and traces of accelerants at these separate fire starts, the arson investigators declared the fire incendiary. Since Michael Marin was the last person in the dwelling before the blaze, and had a rather obvious motive for burning the place down, the Maricopa County prosecutor charged him with arson of an occupied structure, a felony that carried a 10 to 20 year sentence. When taken into custody in August 2009, the former high-roller and adventurer said he was "shocked" that anyone would accuse him of such a crime.

     On Thursday, June 28, 2012, a Maricopa County jury found the 53-year-old defendant guilty of arson. Just seconds after the verdict was read, Michael Marin popped something into his mouth then took a swig from a sports bottle. His face turned red, he started to cough, then convulsed and collapsed to the floor. Fire personnel who happened to be in the courtroom (it was an arson case) rushed him to a local hospital where he died a few hours later.

     The quickness of Marin's demise after putting something into his mouth led to speculation he took some kind of poison pill.

     On July 27, 2012, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office revealed that Mr. Marin had lethal traces of cyanide in his system. Investigators had also found a suicide note Marin had written shortly before his death.

     In the annals of crime there is rarely anything new. It's all been done before. But Michael Marin's dispatching of himself with a poison pill like a captured cold war spy added a new line to the history of crime. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Toy Gun, Gun Image, Gun Facsimile and Gun Gesture Hysteria in Our Schools

     Zero tolerance generally equals zero discretion and good sense. However, if there is one zero-tolerance police we should have in our schools it should be a ban on idiot teachers and administrators. That, of course won't happen. If it weren't for public education and the government, where would these fools work?

     It won't be long before some neurotic kid approaches his teacher with a disturbing confession. "Ms. Fox," he says in a trembling voice, "I had a bad thought. Last week, while in your classroom, the image of a gun crept into my head. I am so sorry. It will never happen again. How many days will I be suspended?"

     "It depends," Ms. Fox replies. "Was it an assault weapon?"

December 2012: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania

     A seventh grade student at the Tamaqua Middle School in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania formed his hand in the symbol of a gun and pointed its finger-barrel. He aimed his .25-caliber appendage at a fellow student. The Pennsylvania State Police were called into the case to, among other things, determine if the "shooter" had said "POW!" If he didn't make the muzzle sound it was probably because he was pretending to be firing a handgun with a silencer. (Just kidding.) Police said the boy will be charged with disorderly conduct, and suspended from school. (Not kidding.)

December 2012: Chickasha, Oklahoma

     A five-year-old elementary school student was suspended for a day after he made a gun gesture with his hand. The offender pointed the nonexistent weapon at another student. Had the other kid gestured first, the student in trouble might have acquired a pretend student attorney and claimed self-defense.

January 2013: Trappe, Maryland

     School officials at the Marsh Elementary School in Trappe, Maryland punished two 6-year-old boys with suspension for "shooting" each other with imaginary guns and bullets. In a game of cops and robbers, they were using their fingers to replicate firearms. (If I were running this school I'd only punish the kid pretending to be the robber. What do they have against cops in that school?)

January 2013: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

     A South Philadelphia elementary school student was chastised in front of her class for coming to school armed with a piece of paper crudely shaped in the pattern of a handgun. Students made fun of the girl with the gun-shaped piece of paper, calling her a "murderer." I would advise these kids to be careful; this paper-toting kid might come to class one day with a big sheet of paper in the general shape of an assault rifle, or an Army tank.

January 2013: Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania

     A 5-year-old kindergarten girl in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania was suspended for threatening to shoot one of her playmates with her Hello Kitty gun, a toy in the general shape of a firearm that blows soapy bubbles. School officials characterized this as a "terroristic threat." While unregistered, the semi-automatic bubble-gun had been purchased legally by a kid with no criminal record or a history of schizophrenia. Moreover, the girl had not brought the weapon to school. She was simply talking about something she planned to do at home after school. A real lawyer jumped into the case and got the girl's ten day suspension reduced to two. The lawyer is now fighting to have the girl's "record" expunged. If anything needs expunged, it's the idiots and fools at the Mount Carmel Elementary School.

January 2013: Modesto, California

     A 17-year-old Modesto high school student was suspended three days after making gun gestures with his hand. Witnesses reported that this student was not only pointing his finger, he was moving another finger in a trigger-pulling action. Oh my. To compound this kid's offense, he also raised an umbrella in a aggressive rifle-like gesture. If I had a school-aged kid, I'd tell him to leave his umbrella at home, and keep his hands in his pockets, or holsters.

January 2013: Hyannis West, Massachusetts

     A 5-year-old boy at Hyannis West Elementary School on Cape Cod got into big trouble when he used lego bricks to build a crude toy handgun. Because he was a repeat offender--the kid had been punished for making a gun gesture with his hand--a written warning was placed into his file. School officials told the boy that if he commits the "crime" a third time, he will be suspended for two weeks. Let's hope this little menace doesn't hook-up with the Hello Kitty girl. We don't need another Bonnie and Clyde on our hands.

 January 2013: Sumter, South Carolina

     A kindergartner was expelled from Alice Drive Elementary School in Sumter, South Carolina after she brought her brother's toy Airsoft gun for show and tell. The girl is not allowed to be on school property, even when accompanying her parents picking up her siblings. She has been assigned a home-based instructor from the school district.  While Alice Drive Elementary School is a safer place, school administrators are worried about the safety of the home instructor.

February 2013: Florence, Arizona

     A freshman at Poston Butte High School in Florence, Arizona was suspended because he had a background picture of an AK-47 on his school desktop computer. It's a good thing the kid didn't have a photograph of an atomic mushroom on his school computer. The entire state would have been on lock-down.

February 2013: Loveland, Colorado

     A second grade boy at Loveland, Colorado's Mary Blair Elementary School was suspended for the terroristic act of pretending to throw a nonexistent hand-granade at a nonexistent target. He was pretending to be a super-hero saving the world. Next time, to save himself, the kid should learn to lie. Grenade? What grenade? I was pretending to toss roses at my wonderful teacher.

The Robert Taylor Murder Case

     At eight-thirty in the morning of September 11, 2008, 52-year-old Robert Taylor called 91l to report the downing of his 63-year-old wife in their south Manatee County, Florida swimming pool. From 1994 to 2007, Taylor had been a Manatee County Sheriff's Office corrections deputy. He had met his wife Pamela in 2004. She had been a nurse at an assisted living facility, and at the Manatee County Jail.

     Sheriff's deputies responding to the 911 call found Pamela Taylor lying at the edge of the pool. Robert Taylor said he had gone to bed around midnight, and when he got up that morning, found his wife floating face-down in the water. Although Taylor said he had just pulled his wife's body out of the deep end, his clothes and shoes were not wet. When the first officer arrived at the scene, Mr. Taylor, with his dead wife's body sprawled out beside the swimming pool, was making himself breakfast. While investigators suspected foul play, the case wasn't seriously investigated, and Robert Taylor was not charged with causing his wife's death.

     In December 2010, medical examiner Dr. Russell Vega ruled Pamela Taylor's death a homicide by drowning. (Since Dr. Vega conducted an autopsy, I'm assuming Pamela's body had been exhumed, and that the initial autopsy had been performed by someone who had not ruled the death homicidal. It's even possible there was no initial autopsy.) The delayed manner of death ruling was followed by a criminal investigation, which in turn led to Robert Taylor's arrest on February 8, 2011. Charged with second-degree murder, he was booked into the Manatee County lockup a few days later. (He was later transferred to the Sarasota County Jail.) Since the suspect had not confessed, and there were no eyewitnesses to his wife's drowning, the case against him was entirely circumstantial.

     The Taylor murder trial got underway in Bradenton, Florida on May 1, 2012. Prosecutor Art Brown put the medical examiner, Dr. Russell Vega, on the stand. Dr. Vega testified that the drowning victim had bruises on her legs, fractured ribs, and a large contusion on her skull. Because the water was only five foot six inches deep at its deepest, Mrs. Taylor could have tip-toed out of the deep end.

     Ruth Mueller, a neighbor, told the jury that on the night of the drowning, she heard Mr. and Mrs. Taylor yelling at each other. Next came a sound consistent with a body hitting cement, then the sound of gurgling water. On one occasion, Mrs. Taylor had come to Mueller's house with a bruised and bloodied face. The witness cleaned her wounds, and escorted her back to her kitchen where Mueller saw blood stains on the wall. "Robert," she said, "look what you've done to your wife." He didn't respond.

     Another neighbor, Eric Barr, took the stand and said that just days before the drowning, Mrs. Taylor, in referring to the defendant, had said, "He's going to kill me." When the witness asked Mr. Taylor to "chill out," the defendant threatened his life.

     On Wednesday, May 2, 2012, the prosecutor played a video-tape of the police interrogation of the suspect conducted shortly after his arrest. The defendant said that he had last seen his wife at 8:15 on the evening of her death. He had been playing a computer game and she had complained that his chair was making noise. This led to an argument. According to Taylor, his wife had been drinking sherry and scotch, was drunk, and was in a "nasty" mood. (At the time of her death, the victim's blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit of .08 percent.) The next day, when the defendant got up at eight, he heard dogs barking out by the swimming pool. That's when he found his wife floating face-down in the water.

     Jennifer Fury, the defense attorney, did not put the defendant on the stand. Because the prosecution's case was circumstantial, Fury argued that the state had not proven her client's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (The case was being tried before an eight-person jury.)

     The lawyers made their closing arguments on the morning of May 4. 2012. Defense attorney Fury asked to jury to consider Pamela Taylor's death a tragic accident. The intoxicated, older woman had tripped over a garden hose and had fallen, unconscious, into the pool and drowned. The prosecution, the defense attorney said, had no direct evidence proving that Robert Taylor had caused her death.

     Prosecutor Brown presented the death as an intentional homicide motivated by money. After Mrs. Taylor's death, the defendant had received a $180,000 life insurance payout. Two weeks before killing his wife, the defendant had tried to take out another life insurance policy, but the premium check he sent to the insurance company bounced.

     The jury, after deliberating less than three hours, found Robert Taylor guilty of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced the 56-year-old to twenty years in prison.

     While I don't understand the excessive time gap between the drowning and the manner of death ruling, I have no problem with this verdict. I do have concerns about using only eight jurors in a murder trial.