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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On An Offensive Freak Show Poster

Every year when the carnival rolled into our small town, my friends flocked to the rides. I just wandered around gawking at the strange people who came with the carnival. I didn't have money to gain entry into any of the freak tents. But I did study those gaudy, illustrated canvases that hung outside the tents. I remember that one of those colorful freak posters read: "FRANKIE FRANCINE, HALF-MAN, HALF-WOMAN!" That sign offended me. I didn't like the redundancy. It should have read half-man or half-woman, not both. I was 9-years-old and already a writer. I guess I was the real freak at that carnival.

Thornton P. Knowles

True Crime Writer Joseph McGinniss And The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     Joe McGuinniss was born in Manhattan, New York on December 9, 1942. Raised by well-to-do parents in New York City and Los Angeles, he graduated in 1964 from Holly Cross University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After failing to get into Columbia University's graduate school of journalism (They must have suspected he had writing talent.), McGinniss became a staff reporter for the Worcester Telegram. 

     Following stints at The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Philadelphia Inquirer, McGuinniss published his first book in 1968. The Selling of the President, a nonfiction account of the marketing of presidential candidate Richard Nixon, became a bestseller and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. That book established the 26-year-old author's reputation as a serious investigative journalist and landed him a job as writer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Harold Examiner.

The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     On February 17, 1970, Green Beret Captain and Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald reported a deadly invasion of his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At the scene Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers found MacDonald's wife Colette and his two daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, stabbed to death. MacDonald himself had superficial puncture wounds. According to MacDonald, he had struggled with the hippie intruders who had murdered his family.

     Following an internal military review of the case, Captain MacDonald was cleared of wrongdoing. But in January 1975, a federal grand jury indicted him on three counts of first-degree murder. He vigorously maintained his innocence and stuck to his original version of the mass murder.

     At some point after MacDonald's indictment, Joe McGuinniss entered the case as a journalist who intended to write a book exonerating the Green Beret officer. The writer acquired access into the inner circle of the MacDonald defense team by gaining MacDonald's trust as a loyal friend. In reality, the more McGuinniss learned about the case, the more convinced he became of MacDonald's guilt. The true crime writer believed that MacDonald, a sociopath who wanted to be free of  his family, had murdered his wife and daughters in a homicidal frenzy aided by his abuse of diet pills.

     In 1979, when the jury found MacDonald guilty as charged, McGuinniss, to maintain his position within the MacDonald defense team, feigned shock and outrage. But when McGuinniss' book on the case, Fatal Vision, came out in 1983, it was Jeffery MacDonald and his supporters who were shocked and outraged by the author's duplicity.

     Shortly after the publication of Fatal Vision, a book that quickly became a runaway bestseller, Jeffery MacDonald sued the true crime writer for beach of contract.

     When the first of its kind lawsuit went to trial, several well-known true crime authors such as Joseph Wambaugh and Norman Mailer testified on McGuinniss' behalf as expert witnesses. According to Wambaugh and Mailer, McGinniss had done what any serious investigative journalist would do to get to the bottom of a case. In other words, a true crime writer has no duty to be honest with the person he's writing about. At the conclusion of the trial, some jurors bought McGuinniss' defense but others did not. This led to a hung jury.

    The insurance company for the publisher of Fatal Vision, shocked and concerned that some of the jurors had sided with a man who had killed his wife and two children over the guy who had written the book about the mass murder, settled the suit out of court for $325,000. In the court of public opinion, McGuinniss did not come off as a likable person, and ordinary people did not approve of his journalistic trickery.

     In 1989, journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a long piece about the MacDonald-McGuinniss suit in The New Yorker. A year later the article came out as a book called The Journalist and the Murderer. (It's a great read, by the way.) Malcolm's defining of the journalist/subject relationship as inherently exploitive has itself become a source of debate. Regarding the MacDonald/McGuinniss relationship, Malcolm famously wrote: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

     Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bott published a book called Fatal Justice that argues for MacDonald's innocence. According to these authors, McGuinniss's book is full of substantive errors and groundless speculation.

     Regardless of one's take on the MacDonald's guilt or innocence, Fatal Vision is an exceptionally well written account of a fascinating murder case. It also popularized the concept of the sociopathic killer who appears normal on the outside but in reality is a pathologically narcissistic liar without feelings of guilt.

     Joe McGuinniss followed Fatal Vision with two bestselling true crime books. Blind Faith, published in 1989, is about a New Jersey man who hired a hit man to murder his wife. Cruel Doubt, 1991, features teenage murderers inspired by the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

     The method McGuinniss used to research his last book, a biography of Sarah Palin, also stirred controversy. In 2010, he rented a house in Wasilla, Alaska next door to the former vice presidential candidate. Critics called McGuinniss a peeping Tom, and Palin accused him of stalking her and her family. The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin came out in 2011. The book, failing to break new ground about a person the public had lost interest in, did not make the bestseller list.

     On March 10, 2014, Joe McGuinniss died in a Worcester, Massachusetts hospital from prostate cancer. At his death at age 71, he was living in Pelham with his second wife Nancy Doherty. He was survived by three children.

     Fatal Vision is considered by many to be a true crime classic equal to Joseph Wambaugh's Onion Field, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song.

     Jeffery MacDonald remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. 

"The CSI Effect"

Television shows like CSI, Forensic Files, and The New Detectives have created public knowledge and interest in forensic science, and have ramped up scientific expectations for those involved in real-life criminal investigation and prosecution. Prosecutors call this "the CSI effect," the expectation among jurors that the prosecution will feature physical evidence and expert witnesses. The CSI effect, according to some, has also caused jurors to expect crime lab results far beyond the capacity of forensic science. In cases where there is no physical evidence, some prosecutors either eliminate potential jurors who are fans of these type TV shows or downplay the necessity and importance of physical evidence as a method of proving a defendant's guilt. Some academics, based on their studies, deny the existence of the CSI effect. Most prosecutors, however, are certain it exists.

Can Problems in Forensic Science Be Fixed?

     The nature of science itself, and the fact that forensic science is a service mainly delivered by the government, makes solving its problems a real challenge. Science is complex, constantly in flux, and often subject to disagreement. Government is slow, resistant to change, and difficult to hold accountable. The difficulty in dealing with the government generally is exacerbated by the convoluted structure of our criminal justice system, and the adversarial nature of the trial process. Today, trials are more about winning and losing than achieving truth and justice.

     Most problems in forensic science can be placed into one of three categories: personnel, jurisprudence (courts and law), and science itself. Many of these problems--cuts in governmental funding, the quality of law enforcement personnel, and what legislators and judges do and don't do--are beyond the control of forensic scientists. For these and other reasons, forensic science in America will continue to perform well below its potential. This arm of the criminal justice system therefore represents a failed promise. The gap between reality and what people watch on television is quite wide.  

Jack Henry Abbott on Solitary Confinement

     My first acquaintance with punitive longterm solitary confinement had a more adverse and profound spiritual effect on me than anything else in my childhood. [Abbott was a victim of child abuse.]

     I suffered from claustrophobia for years when I first went to prison. I never knew any form of suffering more horrible in my life.

     The air in your cell vanishes. You are smothering. Your eyes bulge out; you clutch at your throat; you scream like a banshee. Your arms flail the air in your cell. You reel about the cell, falling.

     Then you suffer cramps. The walls press you from all directions with an invisible force. You struggle to push it back. The oxygen makes you giddy with anxiety. You become hollow and empty. There is a vacuum in the pit of your stomach. You retch.

     You are dying. Dying a hard death. One that lingers and toys with you.

     The faces of the guards, angry, are at the gate of your cell. The gate slides open. The guards attack you. On top of that, the guards come into your cell and beat you to the floor.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of The Beast, 1982

[In January 1981, Abbott, who had spent most of his life behind bars as a violent criminal, was released on parole from a prison in Utah. Novelist Norman Mailer and other bleeding-heart types who liked Abbott's book, were instrumental in his release. Six months after walking out of prison, Abbott stabbed a 22-year-old waiter to death outside a New York City restaurant. The murder occurred after an argument over Abbott's use of the restaurant's employee-only restroom. Norman Mailer, who had once stabbed his wife, not only liked Abbott because he could write, the novelist may had admired him for his violence. Parole boards, when considering who to release and who not to, should not listen to novelists.] 

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Karl Karlsen Murder Case

     On January 1, 1999, when firefighters in the north central California town of Murphys arrived at Karl Karlsen's one-story house, the dwelling was already engulfed in flames. The fire had gotten so intense it had blown out the windows. While Karlsen's three young children were safe, his 31-year-old wife Christina did not make it out of the inferno.

     Questioned about the fast-developing house fire, Karl Karlsen told fire officials and the police that when it started he had been in the garage. He managed, he said, to pull his children out of the burning structure though their bedroom windows, but he had not been able to save his wife.

     An arson investigator looking into the cause and origin of the blaze, after finding what he interpreted as separate areas of deep charring on the floor ( burn patterns suggesting multiple points of origin), suspected that the Karlsen fire had been set. (I don't know if the cause and origin investigator found traces of accelerants to back up his incendiary fire suspicions, or if Christina Karlsen had been autopsied to determine if she had been alive at the time of the fire.) The fire investigator, based on the fact there was no physical evidence consistent with the children having been exposed to smoke and soot, didn't believe the youngsters had been in the house when the fire started. (I don't know if the fire investigator interviewed the children.)

     The speed and intensity of the fire, the multiple points of origin, the condition of the children, and the fact a vehicle Karl Karlsen owned had gone up in flames a year earlier, pointed to a possible arson-murder case. (Almost all serious car fires are incendiary, burned for the insurance money.) Notwithstanding suspicions of arson, the cause of the fatal house fire went into the books as undetermined. While Christina Karlsen's father, Art Alexander, suspected foul play, no charges were filed in connection with his daughter's death.

     Shortly after the blaze that took his wife's life, Karl and his children moved to Seneca County, New York where he used his $200,000 fire insurance payout to buy a farm near Varick, a small town 55 miles southwest of Syracuse in the Finger Lakes region of the state.

     After moving to New York State, Karl married his second wife Cindy who helped him run the farm. On November 20, 2008, Karl Karlsen's 23-year-old son Levi was in his father's garage working on a pickup truck. A graduate of the Romulus Area High School, Levi, the father of two girls, was employed as a machine operator at a glass manufacturing company in nearby Geneva. At eight o'clock that evening, Cindy Karlsen called 911 to report an accident involving Karl's son Levi. In the Karlsen garage, on the floor near the truck, emergency technicians found Levi. He was dead.

     Karl Karlsen told deputies from the Seneca County Sheriff's Office that when he and Cindy left the farm to attend a family event that afternoon at four, Levi had been working beneath the jacked-up truck. When Karl returned to the garage about four hours later, he found that the vehicle had toppled off the jack. The father lifted the pickup off his son with the jack and pulled his body out from under the truck. Levi Karlsen was pronounced dead on arrival at the Geneva General Hospital.

     The Seneca County Coroner's Office classified the manner of Levi Karlsen's death as accidental. As a result, there was no criminal investigation into his sudden death. (I presume Levi's body was not autopsied, and do not know if officers took photographs of the death scene. Since the body had been moved before the arrival of the deputies, I'm not sure how useful these photographs would have been anyway.)

     In March 2012, more than three years after Levi Karlsen's sudden and violent death, homicide investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office and the New York State Police Violent Crime Investigation Unit, became interested in the case. The piece of information that opened the criminal inquiry involved Karl Karlsen's purchase of a life insurance police on his son just days before the young man's demise. According to that policy, Karl Karlsen was the sole beneficiary. (The amount of the insurance payout has not been made public.)

     Three and a half years after Karl Karlsen received the life insurance money from his son's death, he was in financial trouble. Police arrested him in June 2012 on the charge of passing a pair of bad checks in Seneca Falls, New York. The bogus checks totaled $685.30.  

     On November 24, 2012, four years after Levi Karlsen died in his father's garage, Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porch charged Karl Karlsen with second-degree murder. Based on an eight-month homicide investigation conducted by state and county officers, the prosecutor believed the father had intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. With Livi pinned beneath the vehicle, Karl took Cindy to the family event. Upon his return to the farm four hours later, the suspect "discovered" his son lying under the fallen vehicle. Karl asked his second wife to call 911. Investigators and the district attorney believed that the suspect, when he took out the life insurance on his son, planned to murder him.

     In September 2013, at a pretrial hearing on the second-degree murder charge related to Levi Karlsen's death, the defendant's second wife Cindy (she was in the process of divorcing him) shed new light on the homicide investigation. In early November 2012, after learning that Karl had invested part of his son's $700,000 insurance payout to purchase a $1.2 million policy on her life, she began cooperating with Seneca County investigators.

     Cindy Karlsen agreed to wear a wire and meet her estranged husband in a crowded restaurant in hopes of getting him to admit that he had killed his son. She took the stand at the hearing and testified that "I led him to believe our marriage had a chance if he came clean. I told him he could trust me."

     At the restaurant, Karl told Cindy that he had removed the truck's front tires and raised the vehicle on a single jack before asking his son to repair the brake and transmission lines. "It was so wobbly," he said.

     "Tell the truth," Cindy replied.

     "It was never meant to be. It was never planned from day one to ever go that way," Karl said.

     A week following the audio-recorded conversation, investigators with the Seneca County Sheriff's Office interrogated the suspect for almost ten hours during which time Karlsen denied killing Levi 75 times. Eventually, however, Karlsen signed a statement in which he acknowledged that he had knocked the truck off its jack and walked away. But in the videotaped interrogation, Karlsen insisted that he had not intentionally caused the truck to fall on his son. He told detectives that because he had been taking pain pills for various ailments, his memory of the incident was fuzzy. "In some ways," he said, "it's a blank."

     Immediately following the marathon interrogation, detectives took Karlsen into custody.

     On November 7, 2013, the day before his trial, Karlsen confessed to crushing his son to death for the insurance money. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Six weeks later, Seneca Court Judge Dennis Bender, before sentencing Karlsen to 15 years to life, told him he wasn't "fully human."

       

Crime Scene Impression Identification: The Less The Examiner Knows About The Case The Better

Even the most qualified fingerprint examiners, handwriting experts, and footwear identification specialists make honest mistakes. Particularly in fields of subjective identification, bias has a way of creeping into the analysis. A series of studies and experiments involving fingerprint examiners in England by a pair of cognitive psychologists has shown that "biasing contextual information" can lead to mistaken conclusions. For example, when fingerprint examiners were told a suspect had confessed, these experts made identifications in cases where, without this knowledge, they had previously declared the same set of prints a mismatch. These studies, conducted at the University of Southampton, suggest that latent fingerprint work and, by implication, handwriting identification and footwear impression comparison are more subjective than previously believed. In light of these findings, the less these forensic experts know about the crime in question, the better. Within the fingerprint field, erecting a wall between the examiner and the criminal investigation is much more difficult when the expert is employed directly by the law enforcement agency.

The Police Procedural in Crime Fiction

Like its first cousin, the mystery novel, the police procedural features a well-structured, fast-paced chronicle of crimes and punishments. Unlike the mystery, the police procedural stresses the step-by-step procedures followed by professional detectives in solving their cases: processing the crime scene to collect physical evidence; canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses or suspects; postmortem examination of the body to determine the cause and manner of death; identifying the victim; tracing the background of the victim; investigating associates of the victim; examining the method of operation of the perpetrator; and continuing with the follow-up investigation.

O'Neil DeNoux in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 1994 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

DeMarquis Elkins and the Cold-Blooded Murder of a Georgia Toddler

     On Thursday morning, March 21, 2013, in the small, southeastern Georgia coastal town of Brunswick, Sherry West pushed her 13-month-old son in a stroller not far from her house in the Old Town historic district. Two young black males approached the 41-year-old mother and her child a quarter after nine that morning. The older kid, described by Sherry West as between 13 and 15-years-old and five-foot-seven to five-nine, pulled a gun and demanded money. The robber's companion, as described by the victim, looked to be between 10 and 12-years-old. The older boy, who was wearing a red shirt, when told by the mother that she didn't have any money, said, "Well, I'm going to kill your baby."

     The terrified mother tried to use her body to protect her son. "Please don't kill my baby," she pleaded.

     The robber, after pushing the mother aside, shot the sleeping child in the head. Before fleeing on foot, the young gunman shot Sherry West in the leg. As the boys ran off, the wounded woman called 911, and tried in vain to save her son by administering CPR.

     Officers with the Brunswick-Glynn County Violent Crimes Task Force rushed to the scene. Deputies with the Camden County Sheriff's Office responded with a tracking dog team. As a Department of Natural Resources helicopter flew over the neighborhood, detectives with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation worked the crime scene. (They did not recover the murder weapon.) The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identities and arrest of the two suspects.

     The next day, the police arrested 17-year-old DeMarquis Elkins. Under Georgia law, Elkins was considered an adult. He was charged with first degree murder and was held without bail.

     Sherry West is not a stranger to the tragedy of violent crime. In 2008 in Gloucester County, New Jersey, her 17-year-old son Shaun was stabbed to death in a street fight.

     On March 25, 2013, public defender Kevin Gough told an Associated Press reporter that his client, DeMarquis Elkins, was "absolutely 1,000 percent not guilty."

     On September 2014, following a two-week trial, the jury found Elkins guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A Short History of American Forensic Science

     By 1935, crime laboratories were up and running in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The FBI Lab had opened its doors in 1933. The bureau's national fingerprint repository had been operating in Washington, D.C. since 1924, the year J. Edgar Hoover, an early advocate of scientific crime detection, became the agency's fourth director. August Vollmer, the progressive police administrator from Berkeley, California, and Dean John Wigmore of Northwestern University Law School, had been tireless crusaders for forensic science and physical evidence as an alternative to coerced confessions, eyewitness testimony, and jailhouse informants. Wigmore and Vollmer were the main forces behind the formation, in Chicago, of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in 1930. In 1938, the private lab beame part of the Chicago Police Department.

     In the 1930s, a pair of private practice forensic chemists and crime scene reconstructon analysts in the northwest, Oscar Heinrich and Luke May, were grabbing headlines by solving high-profile murder cases. Stories involving crimes solved through the scientific analysis of physical evidence had become commonplace features in the fact-crime magazines so popular at the time. Numerous textbooks and manuals had been published on the subjects of fingerprint identification, forensic ballistics, questioned documents, trace evidence analysis, forensic serology, forensic medicine, scientific lie detection (polygraph), and forensic anthropology, the identification and analysis of skeletal remains.

     Criminal investigation textbooks of this era contained detailed instructions on how to protect crime scenes, render crime scene sketches, photograph clues, mark and package physical evidence, dust for latent fingerprints, make plaster-of-Paris casts of tire tracks and footwear impressions, and in the case of sudden, unexplained, or violent death, look for signs of criminal homicide. By the mid-thirties, virtually every court in the country accepted the expert opinions of practitioners in the major forensic fields, and jurors recognized the advantages of expert physical evidence interpretation over the more direct testimony of jailhouse snitches and eyewitnesses.

     Today, nothwithstanding DNA science and computerized fingerprint identification and retrieval capabilities, crime solution percentages in the United States have not improved since the mid-thirties when the FBI started collecting crime statistics. The emphasis on street policing (order maintenance), the escalating war on drugs, and the threat of domestic terrorism has diminished the role of criminal investigation and forensic science in the administration of justice. At a time when DNA technology has advanced far beyond the imaginations of the pioneers of forensic serology (Dr. Paul Kirk and others), rapists, pedophiles, and serial killers are escaping detection and arrest due to DNA analysis backlogs created by a shortage of funds and experts.

     Ironically, one of the byproducts of DNA science has been the release of hundreds of innocent people who have been convicted on the strength of coerced confessions, unreliable eyewitnesses, and the testimony of jailhous informants. In the small percentage of trials involving the analysis of physical evidence, jurors are commonly exposed to conflicting scientific testimony. When faced with opposing experts, jurors tend to disregard the science altogether. The forensic pioneers of the twenties and thirties would be appalled by this hired-gun phenomena and the low productivity of today's investigative services.

     During the first decade of the 21st Century, due to forensic misidentifications caused by substandard lab conditions and incompetent personnel, crime laboratories in, among other places, Houston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Boston, had to be temporarily closed. During this period, for the first time in the history of the science, there were numerous high-profile fingerprint misidentifications. Moreover, modern forensic science has seen the infusion of pseudo-science and bogus expertise into the nation's courtrooms.

      In March 2009, the National Academy of Sciences, an organization within the National Institute of Justice, after an eighteen month study, published a report criticizing the state of forensic science in America. The writers of the widely publicized report recommended that Congress create a federal agency to insure a firewall between forensic science and law enforcement; finance more research and personnel training; and promote universal standards of excellence in the troubled fields of DNA profiling, forensic firearms identification, fingerprint analysis, forensic document examination, and forensic pathology. From this, one might reasonably conclude that modern forensic science, weighed against the hopes and dreams of its pioneers, has not lived up to its potential.

Sleeping With a Corpse

     A couple from Germany had come to Atlantic City for a convention and stayed in this motel. All night long the room stunk. They kept calling Housekeeping and Housekeeping would come and they'd spray some air freshener, and they put some stuff in the carpeting….

     The next day, the couple checked out. As the maid starts making the bed, it's really, really stinking. The mattress is sitting on a box spring held by the bed frame. The maid pulls off the mattress.

     Well, here's a dead body inside the box. And all night long, the German couple was sleeping on top of it.

     Our investigation started up. It turned out the guy in the room before the German couple had brought a young girl back to the room. We established who the young girl was, and we established that the guy's car was missing.

     We found out that the expressway had a video camera to monitor traffic at different times. Our investigators got the videotape, they see the guy's car, and they see a girl driving the car. So now we got the tag number from the car and put out an "Attempt to Locate."

     The Pennsylvania State Police reported a motor vehicle accident on the expressway the night before. The victim of that accident was taken to the hospital. She discharged herself. Once we identified her as our suspect, one of the guys tracked her to Brooklyn. And the team found her and brought her back.

     Here's a young lady who had been picked up by this guy the night before. She claimed that he sexually assaulted her and, in self-defense, she stabbed him to death. She was Islamic: her thing was that she had been dishonored and her family disgraced. She finally confessed.

     Coincidentally, when she left, she also took his wallet. And his car keys. And his car. She took all the bloody clothing and stopped along the highway and threw them into a stream. All of which was later recovered.

     Here was this girl who was about a hundred ten pounds soaking wet and this guy was about a hundred and eighty pounds. She stabbed him, dragged him, and threw him under the mattress. And then makes the bed.

Homicide detective in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Shirley McKie Fingerprint Misidentification Scandal

     For most of the 20th century, the testimony of a prosecution fingerprint expert was never challenged by the defense. Jurors considered fingerprint identification infallible evidence, the gold standard of forensic science. However, due to a series of high-profile fingerprint misidentifications beginning in the late 1990s, this is no longer the case. More and more defense attorneys, in trials in which their clients have been linked to crime scenes through latent fingerprints, are now seeking second opinions from independent examiners. One of the most publicized latent fingerprint misidentification cases, featuring American and Scottish examiners, centered around a police officer in Scotland named Shirley McKie.

The Shirley McKie Case

     In January 1997, Scottish officers from the Strathclyde Police Department responded to the scene of a murder in nearby Kilmarnock. Marion Ross, a 51-year-old bank clerk had been stabbed to death in her bathroom. Her ribs were crushed and she had been stabbed in the eye and throat with a pair of scissors that had been left stuck in her neck. There was no sign of forced entry. Police officers theorized that Marion Ross had been killed by one of the men who recently had been doing remodeling work in her home.

     Shortly after the crime, the police arrested 23-year-old David Asbury, a construction worker from Kilbirnie in Ayshire. Although no latent fingerprints belonging to Asbury had been found at the scene, examiners with the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO) identified a print on a container, a biscuit tin, found in the suspect's apartment, as being the murder victim's. The tin contained money the police believed the killer had stolen from the murder site. Asbury claimed that the money and the tin were his.

     The all-important latent on the biscuit tin had been lifted at Asbury's apartment by Shirley McKie, a 34-year-old detective constable with the Strathclyde Police Department. Her feeling of accomplishment in discovering this key piece of evidence ended when she was called on the carpet for leaving her own print at the scene of the murder. SCRO examiners had identified a bloody left thumprint on the bathroom door frame as hers. According to Office McKie, she had gone to the murder site three times but had never gotten beyond the front porch. The SCRO examiners, therefore, must have made an identification mistake. Too depressed to work, McKie went on leave for two months.

     In May 1997, just three months after his arrest, David Asbury was brought to trial in Glasgow. He still maintained his innocence. Shirley McKie took the stand at his trial and described lifting the latent off the biscuit tin in his house. On cross-examination, Asbury's attorney asked McKie if she had helped process the Marion Ross murder scene. McKie said she had not been inside the murder apartment. But, said the attorney, didn't SCRO fingerprint examiners identifiy one of the latents in the murder woman's bathroom as McKie's? Yes, they had, answered McKie. But didn't you just say you weren't in the apartment? Yes. So the SCRO examiners had made an incorrect fingerprint examination? That latent was not mine, replied McKie.

     Following the 13 day trial, the jury chose to believe the SCRO had correctly identified the biscuit tin latent as the defendants and convicted him of murder. By implication, the Asbury jury believed that Detective McKie had been at the murder scene as well, and had committed perjury.

     In March 1998, police came to Mckie's house and arrested her on the charge of perjury. At her trial in May 1994, two highly respected American fingerprint experts testified that the latent in the murdered woman's bathroom--Print Y7--was not McKie's. The jury, deliberating less than an hour, came back with a verdict in favor of McKie. The acquittal was an embarrassing defeat for the SCRO.

     In December 1999, despite her perjury acquittal, Shirley McKie was dismissed from the Strathclyde Police Department. On suspension since March 1998, the dismissal made McKie ineligible for a pension.

     Shirley McKie, in October 2003, sued the Scottish government for 850,000 pounds. She accepted an out of court settlement for just under that amount in February 2006. David Asbury won his appeal, and on retrial, featuring the two American fingerprint examiners testifying on his behalf, the jury acquitted him of murdering Marion Ross. Notwithstanding a good suspect in the case, no one would be tried for Marion Ross' murder.

Aftermath

     In 2011, the Scottish Special Services Authority (SPSA) held hearings on the SCRO fingerprint misidentifications in the McKie and Asbury cases. The proceedings featured 64 witnesses giving 250 hours of testimony over a period of five days. The authors of the SPSA report, published on December 14, 2011, concluded that human error (rather than a conspiracy) was to blame for the misidentifications. (A lot of people believe there was a conspiracy and cover-up, especially in the McKie case. I am one of them.) The authors of the report also concluded that fingerprint identification should be treated as opinion-based testimony rather than fact-based. This recommendation angered members of the forensic fingerprint identification community worldwide.

     After researching and writing my book, Forensics Under Fire, which contains a chapter on the Shirley McKie case, I agree that fingerprint identification testimony should be treated as opinion. In American law, only juries can determine what is fact and what is not. (For example, if a jury believed that O..J. Simpson did not commit the double murder, in law, that was fact.) When two forensic experts take the stand, one for the prosecution and one for the defense, jurors decide which expert represents the truth. They both can't be correct. Fingerprint identification, like the identification of human bite marks, handwriting, tire tracks, and footwear impressions, is subjective, and therefore subject to human error. It's opinion evidence. If it were otherwise, forensic science wouldn't have the dueling expert problem.  

Crime Scene Hair and Fiber Identification

Up until the mid-1990s, hair and fiber experts were pushing the envelope by identifying crime scene hair follicles and carpet and garment fibers the way one would identify a latent fingerprint. In hundreds if not thousands of cases, criminal defendants were sent to prison on the strength of this form of expert testimony. When DNA analysis came on the scene, abuses in hair and fiber identification were exposed, and the scientific unreliability of these matches were dramatically exposed. One of the worst examples of this form of forensic misidentification involved a FBI Laboratory hair and fiber "expert" who testified in hundreds of criminal trials nationwide.

School Teacher By Day, Porn Actor By Night

     In 2000, Stacie Halas, a tall blonde who lived as a child in Florida, graduated from Newbury Park High School in Thousand Oaks, California. Four years later, with a degree in education, she graduated from California State University at Monterey Bay located on the Monterey Peninsula. In February 2005, Stacie worked in four Ventura County school districts as a substitute teacher. Ten months later, Stacie began moonlighting as an actress in explicit, hardcore porn films.

     Between December 2005 and June 2006, Stacie, under the stage name Tiffany Six, appeared in dozens of porn videos for which she was paid $1,500 per sex scene. In a film in which she engaged in group sex with four men, she was interviewed in a behind-the-scenes clip at the end of the video. When asked by the interviewer if being a porn actor was for her a risky career choice, she said, "It is risky, very risky for me because I am a teacher." The interviewer asked Tiffany Six if she'd get fired if caught. "Questionable, probably," she answered. If this was such a risky business for her, why was she doing sex scenes on film? "Money, and it's fun, it's exciting," she replied. "It's just the excitement, doing something different that you're not supposed to do."

     In June 2006, when Stacie began teaching science at Ventura County's Simi Valley High School, she quit the porn industry. In the fall of 2009, Stacie started teaching 7th and 8th grade biology at the Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, a coastal city of 200,000 in the greater Los Angeles area. (On her professional resume, under the heading, "the biography of human sex," she could have listed her real-life experience in pornography. She didn't. Had Stacie been applying for a cultural studies professorship at the University of California at Berkeley, her adventure in porn might have been an academic plus.)

     Stacie Halas' past came back to haunt her in March 2012 when students discovered her pornographic body of work on the Internet. The school placed her on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. (No pun intended.) After school officials forced themselves to watch her videos, the Oxnard School District Board of Trustees did something extremely rare in California--they fired a teacher! Stacie, of course, appealed her termination to the California Commission on Profession Competence. (Seeing the words "California" and "competence" in the same phrase is a bit startling.)

     Stacie, represented by Attorney Richard Schwab, presented her case before the commission at a hearing that got underway on October 22, 2012. In an emotional plea (she had been an actor) to the commissioners of competence, Stacie admitted that she had let herself down by performing in porn films. But she had been desperate. In 2005, when her boyfriend abandoned her, she owed $100,000 in student loans and credit card debt. Attorney Schwab, while conceding that the porn industry is not well respected, reminded the commissioners that it's not against the law to have sex on film for money. (Although she did it for free, look how a sex tape launched Kim Kardasian's career.)

     Attorney Natasha Sawhney, in representing the Ventura School District, argued that Halas would become a distraction if let back into the classroom. Six days after the hearing commenced, following the testimony of twenty witnesses and some erotic exhibits, the commission ruled unanimously to uphold Halas' termination. Her attorney announced that he planned to appeal the competence commissioners'  decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. In speaking to a TV report after the hearing, Stacie Halas said, "I think most of us have something in our backgrounds. And I ask anybody to cast the first stone." (At this point, many stones have already been cast at her glass house.)

     On January 11, 2013, the panel of three administrative law judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings issued a 47-page report justifying the panel's unanimous decision that Stacie Halas was unfit to teach in the California school system. (Not many teachers in California have been so dishonored.) In the opinion of the judges, because the videos showcasing Halas' work in porn continue to be available online, she could never be an effective teacher. According to the lead judge, Halas had "...failed to establish that she can be trusted as a role model for children." The judges, by setting this administrative law precedent, hoped it would deter other California teachers from moonlighting in the porn industry.

     So, in California, one of the worst school systems in America, being a teacher won't hamper a porn career, but porn acting will kill a teaching gig. I guess if you're the kind of person who can act in porn flicks, you're not the kind of person who can teach a class full of lusting boys who have seen you in action. In California, the powerful teacher's union will defend virtually any teacher for any reason except teachers who moonlight in porn. They are on their own.

Where Have All The Pickpockets Gone?

     To avoid having your pocket or purse picked while shopping at the local mall or public event, crime prevention experts recommend that men carry their cash and credit cards in front-pocket wallets and that women tote their handbags diagonally across their bodies. While there's nothing wrong with that advice, is it really necessary?  In America, are there any pickpockets left?

     Today, when people say they've had their pockets picked, they're usually referring to politicians, not those dexterous thieves who actually pick pockets and lift wallets from handbags. You don't hear much any more about those street larcenists with the educated fingers and nerves of steel. In the old days, as-told-to memoirs featuring the exploits of these soft-touch artists had a small niche in the true crime genre. But as far as I know, there hasn't been a book like this published for decades. Are these guys still around plying their sticky-fingered trade? Has pickpocketing become a lost art?

     In Europe, particularly Rome, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, pickpockets still mingle with the tourists. Most of them are from Bulgaria and Romania. But even in those cities, pickpockets are vastly outnumbered by their less talented criminal cousins, purse snatchers. In America, they have been replaced by armed street thugs. The FBI, through its uniform crime reporting system, no longer keeps track of reported pickpocketing cases nationwide.

     New York City has always been paradise for pickpockets. But even in the Big Apple, pickpocketing has been a dying criminal trade. In 1990, there were 23,000 reported cases, but in 2000, less than 5,000. Up until the 1970s, the city was home to organized pickpocket schools where students lifted wallets from mannequins outfitted with bells that would ring if the trainee lacked the required finesse. These academies are gone, and no one is passing the torch to a new generation of wallet-lifting thieves.

     The beginning of the end for professional pickpocketing came when people started carrying credit cards instead of cash. About the only people still practicing this ancient trade are a handful of professional magicians whose motives are entertainment rather than theft. These entertainers have the skill, but without the threat of detection, arrest, and jail, they don't possess the nerves of steel.    

    

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Lying To The FBI

Here's an idea: Instead of making it a crime for a citizen to lie to the FBI, why not make it a crime for a politician to lie to the public. The prison term could equal the remaining time the lying politician has in office. Moreover, a politician so convicted would no longer be eligible to run for congress. Although this is an idea most voters would support, because these liars write out laws, such legislation will never come to pass. If our founding fathers had anticipated the career politician, term limits may have been built into the Constitution. Moreover, I'm certain these pioneers of democracy would not have approved of making it a crime for a citizen, outside the witness box, to lie to a government official.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Daniel Sanchez Murder-Suicide Case

     Beatriz "Betty" Silva lived with her sister Maria and Maria's husband Max in a mobile home located among 400 modular dwellings in a subdivision outside of Longmont, a town 35 miles north of Denver, Colorado. The 25-year-old student at Front Range Community College worked at a Chipotle fast-food franchise, and as a sales associate with Marshalls Department Store. On November 22, 2012, Thanksgiving Day, she told her boyfriend, 31-year-old Daniel Sanchez, that she had found someone new. Sanchez, a quick-tempered, violent man, flew into a rage, made threats against the new boyfriend, and began stalking and harassing Silva.

     When they were going together, Betty had loaned Daniel Sanchez $1,000, money he needed to fix up his truck. He had not paid her back as promised, so on Saturday, December 15, 2012, she arranged to meet him in the parking lot of a Best Buy on the outskirts of Denver where they could discuss how he planned to repay the loan. When Betty climbed into his vehicle, Sanchez called her names, punched her in the face, and used her cellphone to text threatening messages to her boyfriend. Against her will, Betty Siva was driven around in Sanchez's truck while he tried to talk her into checking into a hotel where they could resume their relationship. She refused, and after an hour or so, he drove her back to her car and let her out of his truck.

     Betty Silva reported Daniel Sanchez to the Denver police, and on Sunday afternoon, December 16, 2012, officers took him into custody on charges of false imprisonment, second-degree kidnapping, harassment, and domestic violence. He spend the night in the Boulder County Jail, and at ten o'clock Monday night, posted his $10,000 bond and was released.

     Furious over the fact the woman he loved had turned him in to the police, Sanchez drove straight from the jail to Silva's mobile home where he parked on the street in front of her dwelling. Armed with a .45-caliber, 13-round Glock pistol and an extra magazine, Sanchez entered the Silva home by shooting out the glass panel to the rear sliding glass door. Once inside the dwelling, Sanchez took Betty, her 22-year-old sister Maria, and Maria's husband Max Ojeda, hostage.

     At four o'clock the next morning, Betty Silva called 911. The dispatcher overheard her say, "No, no, no." The 911 operator next heard the sounds of a gun being fired. Following the gun shots, Sanchez came on the phone and informed the dispatcher that he was going to kill himself. Again, the sound of gun fire, then silence. No one else came to the phone.

     Weld County Sheriff's deputies and a SWAT team rolled up to the modular home at 4:18 that morning. Officers weren't sure how many people were in the dwelling, or if any of them were alive. At 5:30 AM, after getting no response from inside the hostage site, members of the SWAT unit stormed into the mobile home. Officers found Sanchez dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They discovered 29-year-old Max Ojeda and his wife Maria dead in their bedroom. Betty Silva had been shot to death in another part of the house. Officers found 16 spent shell-casings scattered about the murder site.

     In reporting Daniel Sanchez to the Denver police, Betty Silva had indicated a reluctance to go forward with the more serious kidnapping related charges. By minimizing the seriousness of Sanchez's crimes against her, Silva may have contributed to her own death and the fate of the other two victims. Had the magistrate been convinced that Sanchez posed a serious threat of life-threatening violence, Sanchez's bail may not have been set so low. Who knows what would have happened had he spent more time behind bars? There is also the possibility that regardless of the amount of Sanchez's bail, this young woman's fate was sealed once she became this violent, unstable man's girlfriend. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Public Hangings in Colonial America

When executions were still public events, they provided an enormous interest. Perhaps no single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People drove for miles to be present; some camped in the vicinity for several days. The large concourse of people naturally brought camp followers to every large gathering. Entertainers, vendors, pickpockets, promoters, evangelists, sight-seers, peddlers, and medicine men would descend on the town before the fatal day.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Film Adaption Of His Short Story

The protagonist of my short story, "The Melancholy Hitman," takes so much pride in his work he becomes despondent over the fact that, for obvious reasons, he can't take credit for his imaginative, even ingenuous approach to dispatching people for paying clients. He actually considers himself a master in the art of the kill. He's particularly proud that so many forensic pathologists precluded a homicide investigation by listing the manner of death in these cases as suicide. He becomes so depressed over the fact he cannot impress the woman he loves with accounts of his brilliantly executed killings, he commits suicide. He not only kills himself, he does it in a way that leads the forensic pathologist to rule his death a criminal homicide, a case that will never be solved. The story has a sad ending because he will never get credit for that either. When a Hollywood screenwriter adapted my story for a theatrical movie, he changed the ending. In the film version, my protagonist reveals the secret of his double life to his girlfriend. They get married, and saved by the love of a good woman, he goes straight and ends up as one of the country's most renowned homicide detectives. The screenwriter turned a good story into a load of crap with a happy ending. The film was never made, and I ended up using my option money to buy a used car that turned out to be junk. In life, there are no happy endings.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Laquanta Chapman Chainsaw Murder Case

     On the afternoon of October 30, 2008, Aaron Turner, a 16-year-old high school student in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, a Chester County town in the southeastern part of the state, walked home from a community service program for juvenile delinquents. He wore an electronic ankle monitor. Before he reached his parents' house, Turner encountered 28-year-old Laquanta Chapman and two other men. Chapman, who lived across the street from Turner, lured the boy into his house. (It is not clear from the reporting on this case why Chapman did this.)

     Chapman, his friend Michael Purnell, his cousin Bryan Boyd who was visiting from Newark, New Jersey, and Aaron Turner were together in Chapman's basement. Chapman told his 19-year-old cousin to go upstairs and turn the music on as loud as possible. After he did this, Boyd returned to the basement where Chapman and Purnell were screaming at the terrified teen. (Turner either owed Chapman drug money, or had stolen marijuana from him.) The two men pointed handguns at Turner and ordered him to strip off his clothing. Once he was nude, Purnell, then Chapman, shot him. Turner died on the spot.

     When Aaron Turner didn't come home that day, a member of his family called the Coatesville Police Department and reported him missing.

     Five days after the cold-blooded murder, with Aaron Turner still missing, and his decomposing body still lying in Chapman's basement, Chapman decided it was time to dispose of the corpse that was starting to give off a telltale odor. With his cousin's help, Chapman laid Turner's body on a makeshift table. Bryan Boyd and Laquanta Chapman used a pair of chainsaws to cut the body into pieces small enough to fit into trash bags. Chapman, in an effort to destroy DNA evidence left in the chainsaws, used the tools to chop up his pet pit bull. (Chapman, a man with a history of animal abuse, killed his dog for nothing because the ploy didn't work.) Chapman placed several trash bags containing Turner's body parts on the street for refuge pickup.

     More than a year passed, and the police still hadn't recovered Aaron Turner's body. (The teen's dismembered remains had been hauled by trash pickup workers to a local landfill. It was never recovered.) In the meantime, Laquanta Chapman had become a suspect in Turner's disappearance and presumed murder.

     On November 15, 2009,  Coatesville police raided Chapman's house and conducted a search. Officers recovered the two chainsaws which contained DNA evidence that linked Chapman to Turner's murder and dismemberment, and gave the prosecutor circumstantial evidence of Turner's death. (It's hard to believe these killers didn't dispose of the chainsaws.)

     Laquanta Chapman and Bryan Boyd were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. The Chester County prosecutor also charged Chapman with a cruelty to animals offense. Under Pennsylvania law, both defendants had qualified themselves for the death penalty.

     On November 20, 2011, Bryan Boyd, the cousin from Newark, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and abuse of corpse. While he would avoid the death sentence, Boyd could be sentenced up to 97 years in prison. Boyd, as part of his plea deal, agreed to testify against his older cousin.

     Laquanta Chapman went on trial on October 24, 2012 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. On November 9, following the testimony of his cousin, the jury of seven men and five women found him guilty of first degree-murder. He was also convicted of the lesser offenses. The jurors deliberated less than three hours before delivering their verdict.

     A week after the guilty verdict, the judge, following a sentencing hearing, sentenced Laquanta Chapman to death.
       

The "Hired-Gun" Trial Expert

The employment of private experts is open to serious objection, for they are only human, and it is natural to sympathize with the side of the case from which his fee comes.

Harry Soderman, Policeman's Lot, 1956

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Celebrating The Rise And Fall Of Celebrities Who Exist For Our Entertainment

     When ordinary people commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, and kill themselves, it's local news. When celebrities or former celebrities do this, it's entertainment. O. J. Simpson's popular culture legacy will not be football. Marilyn Monroe will not be remembered for her film career. Oscar Pistorius, the South African "Blade Runner", after being convicted of killing his celebrity girlfriend, become even more famous. His case entertained millions of people for more than a year.

     Celebrities are manufactured personas. These people have relinquished ownership of themselves to the pubic. In that sense they are not real people. They exist for our amusement. We celebrate their successes and triumphs, and revel in their misery. Ripe for exploitation, celebrities need fame like the rest of us need oxygen. When they don't get it, they whither away and die. Sometimes they take things into their own hands by committing suicide.

     Country and western singer Mindy McCready's prolonged substance abuse, law enforcement problems, and domestic turmoil provided celebrity journalists with a lot of material. The girl from Cleburne County, Arkansas made it big in Nashville with her 1996 debut double-platinum album, "Guys Do It All The Time." She spent the next 16 years trying to replicate that success. During this time, McCready struggled with drugs and alcohol as well as a volatile love life. She never regained the fame she had lost.

     In 2004, McCready pleaded guilty to filling out fraudulent prescription slips for the addictive painkiller OxyContin. A judge in Nashville sentenced her to three years of supervised probation. In May 2005, after her ex-boyfriend, Billy McKnight was charged with attempted murder for allegedly breaking into her Herber Springs home outside of Nashville, police arrested her for driving under the influence. A couple of months later, the singer was found unconscious from a drug overdose in the lobby of a Pinellas County, Florida hotel.

     In September 2005, McCready, pregnant with Billy McKnight's child, was hospitalized after attempting suicide by drug overdose. Police arrested her eighteen months later for misdemeanor battery that occurred during a fight with her mother. In September 2007, McCready spent a year in jail for violating her probation from the 2004 OxyContin sentence. A year later, she was back behind bars for falsifying her community service hours in connection with the 2007 case. The country and western singer attempted suicide again in 2008.

     In 2009, Mindy McCready was talked into becoming a cast member in VH1's reality TV series, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." (Dr. Drew is Dr. Drew Pinsky.) The series was ostensibly about giving viewers insight into the serious problem of substance addiction, and the importance of professional treatment. On the show's third season, McCready appeared with, among other "celebrity" cast members, Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore, MacKenzie Phillips, and Heidi Fleiss.

     Fans of this exploitation of fallen stars must have found the program reassuring. While their own lives were far from perfect, they were at least better off than McCready and the other human disasters  showcasing their flaws and failures. After former "Celebrity Rehab" cast members Mike Starr, Joey Kovar, Rodney King, and Jeff Conaway died young, VH1 canceled the series after five seasons. But the spirit of the show lives on in the non-celebrity version called "Rehab with Dr. Drew." The freak show has also spawned a pair of spinoffs, "Sober House," and "Sex Rehab", a series about people addicted to sex.

     After her stint on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew," McCready's life continued to spin out of control. (Apparently the TV counselor didn't do her much good.) She had more arrests, drug overdoses, and attempted suicides. In January 2013, McCready's boyfriend, David Wilson, the father of her 9-month-old son, shot himself to death on the front porch of her Herber Springs, Tennessee home. On Sunday, February 17, 2013, McCready, on the same front porch, used a gun to take her own life.

     By dropping the curtain on her own show, McCready gave her audience a tragic ending to a sad story. It won't be long before the public forgets that she ever existed.    

The Timothy Hennis Triple-Murder Case

     U.S. Air Force officer Gary Eastburn and his wife Kathryn were married in 1975. Ten years later, Captain Eastburn, the chief of Air Traffic Control at Pope Air Force Base near Fayetteville, North Carolina, received a new assignment to England. Before the couple's planned departure to Great Britain, they decided to find a new home for their English Setter. The Eastburn family had grown and now included three children. Kara was five, Erin, three, and the baby, Jana, was almost two.

     Army Sergeant Timothy Hennis, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, lived in Fayetteville with his wife Angela. The 27-year-old saw an ad in a free classified newspaper regarding the Eastburn family's offer to sell their dog for $10 to anyone willing to give the pet a good home. In early May 1985, in response to the ad, Sergeant Hennis met with Kathryn Eastburn at her house on Summerhall Road. The sergeant went home that day with the English Setter.

     On May 10, 1985, a neighbor, aware that Captain Eastburn was attending a squadron officers' training school in Montgomery, Alabama, noticed that a few newspapers had not been picked up at their house. Concerned about the wellbeing of Kathryn and her three children, the neighbor went to the front door to check on them. From outside the house the neighbor heard a baby crying. When he knocked on the door and no one answered, the neighbor called the police.

     Upon entering the Eastburn dwelling, police officers were stunned by what they found. Kathryn, Kara, and Erin had been repeatedly stabbed. The killer had also slashed their throats. The baby in the crib was severely dehydrated, just hours from death. Kathryn had been tied up and raped.

     The killer had attempted to clean up the crime scene but had been overwhelmed by the task. There was too much blood. The only items missing from the house were a small amount of cash and the Eastburn ATM card.

     An Eastburn neighbor said he had seen a tall man wearing a dark Members Only jacket walking from the house a couple of days before the police were called to the scene. This man was carrying a large trash bag and drove off in a white Chevrolet. Based on this witness' description of the suspect, a police artist drew a sketch of the man's face.

     Following the news coverage of the triple murder, Sergeant Hennis voluntarily paid a visit to the police station. He told detectives that when he saw a photograph of Kathryn Eastburn on television he realized she was the woman from whom he had recently purchased the dog.

     Because Sergeant Hennis was tall, looked like the man in the police sketch, had just taken a dark Members Only jacket to a dry cleaner, and drove a white Chevrolet Chevette, he became the prime suspect in the case. A witness picked Hennis out of a police line-up as the man seen carrying the trash bag out of the murder house. Shortly after being seen leaving the Eastburn house with the bag, Hennis was seen burning items in an oil drum in his backyard.

     Detectives determined that Hennis and his wife were separating and that he was having money problems. A witness saw Hennis using an ATM machine about the time someone used the Eastburn card.

     Sergeant Hennis denied killing the mother and her children. He said he was home that night building his daughter a dollhouse. County prosecutor William VanStory charged Hennis with three counts of first-degree murder and one count of rape.

     Because the prosecution didn't have a confession, physical evidence linking Hennis to the murder scene, or an eyewitness to the massacre, VanStory offered Hennis a plea bargain. The defendant, perhaps realizing that the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial, turned down the deal.

     The Hennis murder trial got underway in the spring of 1986. According to the prosecutor's theory of the case, the defendant, after buying the dog, returned to the Eastburn house to have sex with Kathryn. He knew that Captain Eastburn was in Montgomery, Alabama. When Kathryn rejected his sexual advances he flew into a rage and murdered her and her two children.

     The witness who picked Hennis out of the police line-up as the man leaving the murder house carrying the trash bag took the stand for the prosecution. Another witness testified that the Eastburn ATM card had been used on two occasions after the murders. Twice the card user had withdrawn $150. The prosecutor pointed out that the defendant owned his landlord $300 in back rent.

     The Hennis trial lasted three weeks. The jury, after ten hours of deliberation, found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Hennis to death.

     The convicted man's attorneys appealed the case to the North Carolina Supreme Court on grounds the jurors had been unduly prejudiced by the introduction into evidence of the graphic murder scene photographs. In 1988, the state supreme court granted Hennis a new trial.

     A year after winning the appeal, Hennis' attorneys, at his second trial, took a more aggressive approach. They put forward their own narrative of the case. Kathryn Eastburn and her children had been murdered by a mysterious stranger who for months had made phone threats against the family. Moreover, a murder scene head hair found on the Eastburn bed did not come from any member of the family or the defendant. Several bloodstains in the house did not match the blood types of the family or Sergeant Hennis. (The Hennis trial predated the DNA era. Blood could only be placed into groups.)

     The defense attorneys argued that the overkill nature of the murders was not consistent with a man who had merely been rebuffed by a woman with whom he had wanted casual sex. According to the defense, the Eastburn family had been slaughtered by a maniac who, for whatever reason, hated them.

     In cross-examining the prosecution's witness, the defendant's attorneys did a good job of raising doubts regarding their credibility. The prosecutors, on the other hand, seemed overconfident they would secure another guilty verdict. For that reason they were shocked when the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

     Timothy Hennis, following his acquittal, re-enlisted in the Army. Promoted to Staff Sergeant, he did tours of duty in Saudi Arabia and in Somalia before being stationed back in the states at Fort Lewis, Washington.

     In 2006, years after he had retired from the military, the Army called the 48-year-old back into service and sent him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

     Army prosecutors, shortly after Staff Sergeant Hennis reported for duty at Fort Bragg, charged him in military court with triple-murder. The Army had called Hennis back to active duty for the sole purpose of the court martial.

     The Hennis legal team sprang back into action. Defense attorneys accused the military of violating their client's right against double jeopardy under the Fifth Amendment. However, due to legal precedent that allowed the court martial of a soldier who had been acquitted in a civilian court of the same crime, the Army's case moved forward.

     Army prosecutors had new evidence that incriminated Hennis. A North Carolina DNA analyst had matched his DNA to semen found inside Kathryn Eastburn. Advanced DNA science had made the identification of this rape kit vaginal swab evidence possible.

     At the 2010 court martial trial, the Hennis defense argued that merely because the defendant and Kathryn Eastburn had engaged in consensual sex didn't prove that he had murdered her and the children. The defense attorneys also brought up the unidentified hair follicle and the unaccounted for bloodstains. Moreover, DNA found under Kathryn's fingernail did not match the defendant.

     The case put on by the Hennis defense was no match for the testimony of the prosecution's DNA expert. The military jury, following a three-day trial, found Hennis guilty of three counts of premeditated murder. The judge sentenced him to death. (Hennis cannot be executed without presidential approval. The military hasn't executed anyone since 1961.)

     In 2012, after numerous federal appeals involving defense claims that the DNA evidence had been contaminated by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Hennis case.

     With their client in solitary confinement on death row at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, the Hennis legal team, in March 2014, appealed the court martial verdict to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals for The Armed Forces. The Hennis defense argued that because Harris had been unlawfully ordered to active duty in 2006, the Army did not have jurisdiction to court martial him.

     On October 14, 2014, the Armed Forces Court of Appeals denied the Hennis petition. At this point it appeared that his attorneys had run out of legal remedies in this one-of-a-kind murder case.
     

Friday, June 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Diagraming Sentences

My tenth grade English teacher almost single handedly murdered my impulse to write. Through her obsession with diagraming sentences, she turned the act of composition into a stressful and unpleasant technical exercise. Her dangling participles and split infinitives drove me to question if I had what it took to be a writer. I was saved by reading pulp fiction written by men who had never made it out of high school, and surly couldn't diagram sentences any better than me. I didn't become a writer because of this English teacher, I became a writer in spite of her. I guess if you can't overcome high school English, you have no business being a writer. Diagram that.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Anthony Taglianetti Love Triangle Murder Case

     In 2010, Anthony Taglianetti and his wife Mary resided with their four children in Woodbridge, Virginia. Anthony, a former Marine, worked at the Marine Museum.  Later that year, the couple separated. Mary and the children moved out of the house in Virginia and relocated in Saratoga Springs, New York.

     Shortly after taking up residence in Saratoga Springs, Mary signed up with the online dating site Match.com where she met Keith Reed Jr. She did not tell the 51-year-old superintendent of the Clymer, New York school district that she was married. After Mr. Reed and the 40-year-old woman exchanged a few emails, they met for dinner. After that they became romantically involved. Keith Reed still did not know that he was dating a married woman.

     Keith Reed, the father of three college age daughters, lived alone in the farming community of 1,500 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The school superintendent had been divorced for several years.

     In 2011, Mary Taglianetti, after reconciling with her husband, moved back to Woodbridge, Virginia. But in 2012, while still living with him and their children, she began exchanging sexually explicit emails and telephone calls with Keith Reed who still wasn't aware that she was married. The online relationship came to an end when Anthony Taglianetti discovered one of the lurid email messages Mary had forgotten to erase from her computer.

     A furious Anthony Taglianetti sent several angry emails to Keith Reed who insisted he had no idea the woman he had been swapping erotic emails with was married. Mr. Reed made it clear he wanted nothing more to do with Mr. Taglianetti or his dishonest wife.

     On September 23, 2012, Edward Bailey, the principal of Clymer Central High School, reported Keith Reed missing after the superintendent didn't show up for a conference in Saratoga Springs. Mr. Bailey went to Reed's house where he found his dog locked in the garage. Mr. Reed was not in the dwelling.

     Deputies with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office questioned the missing man's neighbors who reported hearing gunshots coming from the vicinity of Reed's house around 9:30 PM two days before. On September 24, 2012, a deputy sheriff found Mr. Reed's body amid a row of thick shrubs about 150 feet from his house. He had been shot three times.

     Detectives working the case caught their first break when Mary Taglianetti, on September 26, 2012, told them she suspected that Keith Reed had been murdered by her angry and jealous husband.

     Investigators learned that on September 21, 2012, Anthony Taglianetti drove 350 miles to Clymer, New York where the detectives believed he shot and killed Keith Reed. According to these homicide investigators, Taglianetti, after murdering the victim, drove straight back to Woodbridge, Virginia. The next day he took one of his children to a local museum.

     A Chautauqua County prosecutor charged Anthony Taglianetti with second-degree murder. On September 30, 2012, U.S. Marshals and local police officerrs pulled the murder suspect over as he drove along a rural road in the Shenandoah Valley National Forest in Virginia. Inside Taglianetti's vehicle officers found a .367-Magnum revolver wrapped in one of his wife's offending emails.

     Through DNA analysis, a forensic scientist identified Keith Reed's blood on the suspect's handgun. Ballistics tests revealed that this .357-Magnum had fired the death scene bullets.

     The Taglianetti murder trial got underway on October 31, 2013 in Chautauqua County, New York. District Attorney David W. Foley, in his opening statement to the jury, emphasized the physical evidence pointing to the defendant's guilt.

     Public defender Nathaniel L. Barone, in his opening remarks, said, "This is not a story of an affair gone wrong or a crazed husband seeking justice. It's not as simple as Mr. Taglianetti driving up and killing Keith Reed because of an email. That's not what happened. The defendant is innocent. Mr. Taglianetti did not murder Keith Reed Jr."

     The defense attorney, after declaring his client innocent, attacked Mary Taglianetti, one of the prosecution's star witnesses. He characterized her as a "master manipulator" and urged jurors to weigh her testimony carefully. "Mary Taglianetti is a liar," he said.

     On November 9, 2013, following the testimony of 46 witnesses over a nine day period, the jury of five women and seven men, after three hours of deliberation, found the 45-year-old defendant guilty as charged. On February 24, 2014, the Chautauqua County judge sentenced Anthony Taglianetti to 25 years to life in prison. 

Circumstantial Evidence in Eighteenth Century America

Most [criminal trial] evidence in [in eighteenth century America] was direct; that is, people testified to facts which they observed directly. Circumstantial evidence, or inference from other observed facts, was less common. When used, it was of the [homespun]  knowledge of farm, field, stream, and woods. A sweating horse in the barn was mute testimony that he had been ridden long and hard recently.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Thursday, June 21, 2018

John Douglas White: The Pastor Who Murdered Women

     John Douglas White, the 55-year-old pastor of the Christ Community Fellowship Church located just west of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, lived by himself in a mobile home park in Broomfield Township near the town of Remus. This self-appointed man of the cloth possessed a background more in line with a person serving a life sentence in prison than a preacher of a tiny church in rural central Michigan. Pastor White, a perverted lust killer, had no business living outside prison walls where he could take advantage of women while masquerading as a man of God. He was a predatory sex killer in preacher's clothing.

     In 1981, John White, then 24, choked and stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Michigan. The victim survived and White was allowed to plead no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm. (In my view, the no contest plea should be abolished.) The judge sentenced White to five years in prison. Corrections authorities let White out on parole after he had served two years behind bars.

     John White and his wife, in 1994, were living in Comstock Township near Kalamazoo, Michigan. On July 11 of that year, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall was seen getting into White's pickup just before she disappeared. Shortly after Wall's relatives reported her missing, the 37-year-old violent sex offender checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In September 1994, police found Vicky Sue Wall's badly decomposed body in the woods not far from her home. Arrested at the psychiatric facility, White admitted strangling the victim to death. The victim and White had had an affair, and she had threatened to tell his wife. So he killed her. (I doubt the police, once they had the confession, conducted an investigation to determine if this was, in reality, the motive for Wall's murder.)

     In the Vicky Sue Wall murder case, the authorities allowed White to strike a deal with the prosecutor. In return for his guilty plea to the ridiculous charge of involuntary manslaughter, the judge sentenced White to eight to fifteen years. At his May 1995 sentencing hearing, White told the judge that Vicky Sue Wall's death had been a "tragic accident." (How do you accidentally strangle someone to death? This judge must have been an idiot.) John White walked out of prison in 2007 after serving twelve years of his sentence. White's wife had divorced him.

     In 2012, Pastor John White was engaged to a woman in his congregation whose 24-year-old daughter--Rebekah Gay--lived a few doors from him in the mobile home park. Because White was a preacher engaged to her mother, Rebekah allowed him to watch her 3-year-old son. She had no idea this preacher watched necrophilia pornography and fantasized about having gruesome, perverted sex with her.

     On October 31, 2012, at six in the morning, John White entered Rebekah Gay's trailer, struck her in the head with a hard rubber mallet, then strangled her to death with a zip tie. After performing perverted sexual acts on Gay's body, White hauled her 5-foot-3, 118 pound corpse in his pickup to a ditch behind a stand of pine trees about a mile from the trailer park. It was there he dumped her body.

     After hiding his victim's corpse, White returned to his trailer where he cleaned himself and his truck with paper towels. He walked to Gay's dwelling, got into her car, and drove it to a nearby bar and parked it there. He had also tossed Gay's cellphone into a dumpster and threw away the rubber mallet. From the bar, White walked back to Gay's mobile home, dressed her son in his Halloween costume, then drove the boy to Mount Pleasant where, as prearranged, the boy's father picked him up for the day.

     Crime scene investigators processed the victim's trailer for physical clues and searched White's mobile home where they found the bloody towels and other incriminating evidence. When questioned by detectives with the Michigan State Police, John White confessed, then led the officers to Rebekah Gay's body.

     On November 1, 2012, John White was arraigned in an Isabella County District Court on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied him bail.

     The church member who had hired John White as pastor, said this to a reporter with The Detroit News: "He [White] was absolutely contrite. All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He [White] was doing a lot of good in the community....He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's doing.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to 56 years and three months. On August 28, 2013, a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

The Man Who Kidnapped Himself

     On Thursday October 23, 2014, Paul Kitterman, a 53-year-old construction worker from Kremmling, Colorado, a town 100 miles north of Denver, was in the mile high city with his stepson and two of his stepson's friends to watch a Broncos-San Diego Charges football game. Mr. Kitterman and his 22-year-old stepson, Jarod Tonneson, were seated in the stadium's south bleachers section. They were among 70,000 fans attending the game. Tonneson's friends watched the game from another part of the Sports Authority Field.

     At the beginning of the third quarter, Tonneson and his stepfather visited the public restroom. When Tonneson came out of the men's room, Mr. Kitterman was not there waiting for him as agreed upon. The stepfather was not in the restroom and had not returned to his seat in Section 230.

     Jarod Tonneson and his friends searched the stadium inside and out until one-thirty the next morning. They found no trace of the man who had accompanied them to the game. Mr. Kitterman, without possession of a cellphone or credit cards, had simply vanished. He had been carrying about $50 in cash.

     Mr. Kitterman had not been intoxicated and was not suffering from a mental problem. This raised the possibility that someone had kidnapped him. Or perhaps he had just gotten sick or lost in the stadium. There seemed to be no other logical explanations for his disappearance. The concerned stepson filed a missing person report with the Denver Police Department.

     On Monday October 27, 2014, a police spokesperson announced that a football fan had seen Mr. Kitterman in the stadium during the third quarter, but the witness couldn't remember where in the stadium he had seen him. Investigators viewed hours and hours of stadium surveillance video footage for clues regarding the missing man's whereabouts. In the meantime, the stepson and his friends posted fliers around the city of Denver.

     On Tuesday night October 28, 2014, someone called the police in Pueblo, Colorado regarding a man believed to be Mr. Kitterman. Shortly after the call, five days after he had gone missing from the football stadium located 112 miles north of Pueblo, police officers found Mr. Kitterman in a K-Mart parking lot.

     Paul Kitterman had not been the victim of foul play and other than being tired, he was in good physical condition. The object of the five-day missing persons search told officers that he had walked and hitchhiked to the city of Pueblo. He said he slept in parks and wooded areas. Along the way he had disposed of his Broncos hat to avoid being recognized. He apparently had not wanted to be found.

     Detectives asked Mr. Kitterman the question that was on everybody's mind: Why did he slip away from his stepson and travel to Pueblo, Colorado? Surely he knew that walking off like that would trigger a police manhunt and cause his friends and family a lot of stress.

     Mr. Kitterman told the officers that because he hadn't watched television for five days, he had no idea people were looking for him. When asked to explain why he had made himself a missing person, Mr. Kitterman said he had gotten his "fill of football" and simply wanted to walk to someplace warmer.

     Because the missing man's actions reflect some form or degree of dementia, the authorities in Denver had no plans to file charges against him. And even if he was of sound mind, what crime did he commit? You don't go to prison for kidnapping yourself. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The David Bowen Murder-For-Hire Case

     The Bowens were an unlikely couple. Forty-four-year-old Daniel, a political ward captain, worked as a janitor at the Chicago Cultural Center. He and his wife, Anne Treonis-Bowen, an attorney with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, were in the midst of a nasty divorce that included a custody battle over their daughters who were five and six. Daniel couldn't stand the idea that his wife, the one with the better job, the one who would end up with the house and most of the marital assets, was about to become the dominant person in their children's lives. She would make all of the parental decisions while he'd be relegated to the role of a visiting ex-spouse. Daniel Bowen considered this a humiliating attack on his manhood. It was the hatred of his wife, not the love of his children, that drove this man to murder.

     In February 2004, Daniel Bowen offered his childhood friend, Dennis McArdle, $2,000 in upfront money to kill Mrs. Bowen. After the hit man completed the job, and the victim's life insurance paid off, the murder-for-hire mastermind would pay McArdle another $20,000. Bowen also offered his friend a cushy, low-level city job.

     McArdle, a convicted felon, alcoholic, drug addict and incompetent bungler with no prospects and nothing to lose, accepted the contract murder assignment. From a man he barely knew, McArdle purchased, for $500, a .38-caliber revolver with a homemade silencer that didn't work when he and Bowen test-fired the gun in the basement of the cultural center. Bowen scheduled the murder for March 4, 2004, a day when he would be in the company of others, and thus have an airtight alibi.

     As murder plots go, this one was simple. McArdle was to shoot the wife after she parked her car that morning at the Chicago Transit Authority station southwest of the city. On the morning of the hit, wearing a ski mask and latex gloves, McArdle walked up behind the victim in the station parking lot and shot her once in the back of the head. To make the shooting look like a robbery rather than an execution style murder, McArdle took the victim's handbag. The ploy, to the trained eye of an investigator, was transparent.

     Although this amateur hitman had worn gloves to avoid linking himself to the shooting, had disposed of the victim's wallet, and got rid of the murder weapon, he took Mrs. Bowen's purse back to his apartment building where he hid it in the basement. A few days later, the owner of the apartment building found the handbag, and inside it, a prescription bottle bearing the murdered woman's name. The landlord called the police. Because McArdle was the only resident of the building with a connection to the murder victim, he became the prime suspect in the case.

     Ten days after Anne Treonis-Bowen's execution, detectives brought McArdle in for questioning. The 42-year-old suspect, suffering from cirrhosis and hepatitis, quickly confessed and agreed to testify against Daniel Bowen.

     In September 2004, while awaiting trial in the Cook County Jail, Daniel Bowen hanged himself. A month later, a judge sentenced McArdle to 35 years in prison.

    The Bowen case is yet another example that murder-for-hire, like ransom kidnapping, is a desperate crime committed by dimwits and fools. 

Potato Chips As Arson Tool

Crime laboratories do not always detect accelerants that were used in an incendiary fire. Accelerant-sniffing dogs, whose sniffers are more sensitive than even the most sophisticated laboratory equipment, don't always, either. If it is believed that an accelerant was used in the fire, it might be that the accelerant itself is undetectable. One such accelerant could be a bag of potato chips. It is possible to set a bag of chips on fire and throw it on a couch, creating an accelerant-like effect. The fat in the chips make them extremely volatile when ignited (think of a kitchen grease fire). An accelerant-sniffing dog won't even detect the chips, and the labs won't be testing for them, either. The crime scene investigator should always question finding a couch with too many crumbs in the cushions.

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006

Raymond Chandler on Ernest Hemingway

Raymond Chandler [a noted and literary twentieth century crime novelist] wrote a sentence true of [Ernest] Hemingway and himself: "I suppose the weakness, even the tragedy of writers like Hemingway is that their sort of stuff demands an immense vitality; and a man outgrows his vitality without unfortunately outgrowing his furious concern with it."

Michael Schmidt, The Novel: A Biography, 2014 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Ideal Job

My idea of an ideal job would be to drive a bus in a town where no one uses public transportation. I also like the idea of being a cop in a place where everyone obeys the law. I might also consider teaching in a high school where all the students are smart, self-motivated, and terrified of authority. Writing novels full time would be great if you didn't have to deal with editors, publicists, and readers. I guess I'm not a people person.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Steven Fortin Murder Case: Conflicting Bite Mark Testimony

     In 1994, police found the body of 25-year-old Melissa Padilla in a concrete pipe along Route 1 near Woodbridge, New Jersey. Naked from the waist down, she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. The killer had bitten her on the chin and left breast. Padilla had been abducted the night before from a nearby convenience store in the Avenel section of Woodbridge. The police had no suspects, and the investigation quickly died on the vine.

     In April 1995, the state police in Maine contacted the Padilla case investigators with a lead. They had arrested 31-year-old Steven Fortin for the sexual assault of a female state police officer who had been bitten on the chin and left breast. Fortin was also living in Woodbridge at the time of Padilla's murder. Although the suspect denied involvement in the New Jersey homicide, he pleaded guilty, in November 1995, to the assault in Maine. The judge sentenced him to 20 years.

     Five years after entering prison in Maine, the authorities in New Jersey put Fortin on trial for the murder of Melissa Padilla. The prosecution's key witness, FBI criminal profiler Robert Hazelwood, connected the defendant to the Padilla murder by noting similarities in its criminal MO to the sexual assault in Maine. The jury in New Jersey, on the strength of this testimony, found Fortin guilty. In February 2004, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds it was not supported by sufficient evidence.

     New Jersey prosecutors retried Steven Fortin in 2007. This time they had physical evidence connecting him to the victim. A DNA analyst testified that the defendant could not be excluded as the primary source of the saliva recovered from the Marlboro cigarette butt found near Padilla's body. According to this expert, only one out of 3,500 people could be linked to this evidence. Moreover, the defendant could not be excluded as the DNA source of the blood and tissue traces found under the victim's fingernails.

     Dr. Lowell J. Levine, one of the pioneers in the field of crime scene bite mark identification, a forensic odontologist from upstate New York, had compared photographs of the victim's bite mark wounds (The photographs did not include a ruler measuring the marks because the photographer didn't recognize the bruises as teeth marks.) with photographs of the defendant's front teeth. Dr. Levine noticed a space between Fortin's lower front incisors that corresponded to a space in the mark on the victim's left breast. Dr. Levine testified that although he could not say to a scientific certainty that the defendant had bitten the victim, he could not exclude him as the biter.

     Dr. Adam Freeman, a forensic dentist from Westport, Connecticut, testified that in his study of 259 bite mark cases, the largest study of its kind, he found only 5 cases in which the attackers had bitten their victims on the chin and the breast. Dr. Freeman's testimony helped link the defendant, circumstantially, to the sexual assault in Maine for which he had pleaded guilty.

     Steven Fortin's defense team countered Dr. Levine with another world renowned forensic odontologist, Dr. Norman Sperber, the chief forensic dentist with the California Department of Justice. Dr. Sperber had testified for the defense at the first trial, but the jury had disregarded his testimony. He, like Dr. Levine, had testified for the prosecution in the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. Since then, Dr. Sperber had appeared as an expert witness in 215 trials. According to his analysis, Steven Fortin could not have made the bite marks on Melissa Padilla's body. According to Dr. Sperber: "The tracing of his [Fortin's] teeth doesn't even come close to the crime scene bite marks." The forensic odontologist went on to say that bite mark analysis has limitations as a form of crime scene associative evidence. It was not as reliable, he said, as DNA and fingerprint identification. "Skin is a serious limitation for bite mark analysis because it rebounds and is movable," he said. "Bite mark evidence is not a true science."

     On December 4, 2007, the jury of nine men and three women, after deliberating nine hours, found Steven Fortin guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to life plus twenty years.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Odds Of Getting A First Novel Published

If you are not some kind of celebrity, are unpublished, and do not have the services of a literary agent, the odds of getting a first novel published are not good. Best I can figure, the aspiring writer has about one in a thousand chance of getting a commercial publisher to bring out his or her's first work of fiction. The odds are better than the lottery, but that's about it. There are just too many novelists and not enough readers. And to make matters worse, because acquisition editors have no idea what will sell and what won't, a lot of the stuff that gets published is crap. But what the hell, if you got to write a novel, do it. Get the thing out of your system. Who knows?

Thornton P. Knowles

Ali Syed's Killing Spree

     Ali Syed, an unemployed, part time student at Saddleback Community College, lived with his parents in Ladera Ranch, an affluent suburban Orange County community 50 miles south of Los Angeles. The pudgy 20-year-old spent most of his time in his parents' beige and white stucco condo playing video games. He had never been arrested, and had no known history of illicit drug use. Ali did possess a .12-gauge shotgun his father had given to him in 2012.

     At 4:45 in the morning of Tuesday, February 19, 2013, Syed's mother called 911 from the Ladera Ranch condo. "I think somebody was shot," she said. "I heard a gunshot." Deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office found, in Syed's room, 20-year-old Courtney Aoki. (There were reports she worked as a stripper.) Aoki had been killed instantly by three shotgun blasts to the head and upper body. Syed had fled the murder scene in his parents' black GMC Yukon before the deputies arrived at the dwelling.

     From Ladera Ranch, Syed headed north on Interstate 5 where, 20 miles from his home, he exited the interstate and drove into the town of Tustin. Driving with a flat tire, Syed pulled into a Denny's parking lot alongside a man sitting in an older model blue Cadillac. Syed pointed his shotgun at the man and yelled, "Get out!" Instead of complying with the order, the driver of the Cadillac drove off. He didn't get far. Syed raised the shotgun and blew out the fleeing driver's rear window, wounding him in the back of the head. The victim, who managed to escape on foot to a nearby hospital, survived the shooting.

     Syed approached a man pumping gas at a Mobile station. "I don't want to hurt you," he said. "I just killed someone. Give me your keys. This is my last day." Syed climbed in behind the wheel of this man's Dodge pickup truck and headed north. On Interstate 5, he drove five miles before merging onto a southbound lane which took him to Freeway 55. He pulled the stolen truck to the shoulder of the highway, stepped out of the vehicle, and began shooting at motorists commuting to work, wounding three of them.

     After firing randomly at passing vehicles, Syed climbed into the Dodge pickup, pulled back onto the highway, proceeded to the Edinger Avenue exit from where he drove into Santa Ana. Shortly after pulling into town, he approached a man sitting in a BMW. Syed ordered 69-year-old Melvin Edwards of Laguna Hills out of his vehicle. As the victim stood at the side of the street, Syed executed him with three shotgun blasts.

     Driving Melvin Edwards' BMW, Syed returned to Tustin. In the parking lot of a computer store, he murdered Jeremy Lewis. Lewis, a plumber from Fullerton, was walking to a construction site at a nearby Fairfield Inn. A construction supervisor saw the shotgun-armed Syed chasing Lewis across the parking lot. The supervisor drove his pickup truck onto the lot in an effort to rescue Lewis, but Syed shot him in the arm, and stole his vehicle. It was 5:45 in the morning.

     Just before six o'clock, at an intersection about 25 miles north of Ladera Ranch, officers with the California Highway Patrol caught up with Syed. This video-game playing college student, after killing three people and wounding three others in the course of his 75-minute suburban shooting spree, jumped out of the stolen pickup truck while it was still moving. Syed pressed the muzzle of his shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. He became his seventh victim.

     For reasons that remained a mystery absent a suicide note or some kind of manifesto, Ali Syed shot six innocent strangers. There was no way to know if he had been inspired by Christopher Dorner's rampage in southern California, or any of the other high-profile mass murder-suicide cases. If suicide was his ultimate goal, why did he murder the young woman in his room and the two men he encountered as they went about their daily routines? This was a question that will never answered.

     In the wake of homicidal crime sprees, people also ask if there were any indications that this person was capable of such mayhem. These events are almost always impossible to predict because it's impossible to know what is going on inside the mind of a mentally disturbed person.