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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On His Grandparents

As a kid I often visited my maternal grandparents in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You could tell my grandfather, as a young man, had been a handsome devil. Because my grandmother was quite overweight and wore false teeth she must have purchased secondhand, you couldn't envision a younger version of the woman. Even though I didn't know anything about marriage, I didn't think they had a good one. He constantly referred to her as The Old Bat, and said he must have been born married because he had no recollection of being single. She frequently reminded everyone that he was a dimwit who had no memory at all. She often hid his pipe for fear he'd burn down the house. On many occasions he would pull me aside and warn me of the perils of marriage. "Don't do it," he would say, "a wife will wear you down then throw you away." My grandmother died first. She tumbled head-first down a flight of cellar stairs. I often wondered if someone had helped the old woman get down those steps so fast. I never married.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Dillon Taylor Police Shooting Case: Suicide by Cop

     At seven in the evening of August 11, 2014, in South Salt Lake City, Utah, a 911 caller reported that "some gangbangers" who "were up to no good" near a 7-Eleven convenience store had "flashed" a gun. The three suspicious persons, described as young white males, turned out to be 21-year-old Dillon Taylor, his 22-year-old brother, and their 21-year-old cousin.

      When Salt Lake City police officer Bron Cruz responded to the call he immediately called for backup. As two other officers arrived at the scene, the three young men walked into the 7-Eleven. The officers, not wanting to confront the suspects inside the store, waited outside. When Taylor and the other two came out of the store, officer Cruz yelled, "Let me see your hands!"

     Dillon Taylor's brother and his cousin immediately complied with the officer's command by raising their hands. Taylor ignored the order, turned from the officers, and walked off. After a few steps he placed both of his hands into his waistband as he walked away. "Get your hands out now!" shouted officer Cruz.

     Upon being told for the second time to show his hands, Taylor turned and faced the officers. "Show your hands!" officer Cruz demanded. Instead of complying with the officers command, Taylor said, "Nah, fool." At that critical moment, Taylor made a move police officers interpret as a gun-drawing motion. The suspect suddenly hoisted his shirt with his left hand and then quickly removed his right hand from his waistband.

     Officer Cruz responded to Taylor's hand action by opening fire. Hit in the chest and stomach, Taylor collapsed to the ground.

     Immediately following the shooting, officer Cruz rolled Taylor onto his stomach and handcuffed him behind the back as witnesses screamed, "They shot him!"

     "Stay with me buddy," officer Cruz said to the downed man as he rolled the body to its side and applied gauze to one of the bullet wounds. "Talk to me, buddy. Talk to me. Medicals are on the way, man, okay?"

     The shot, handcuffed man on the ground remained unresponsive as officer Cruz put on a pair of latex gloves and began searching Taylor's pockets and rummaging through his clothing. "What the hell were you reaching for, man?" Officer Cruz asked. The officer shook Taylor's arm and said, "Stay with me, man. Come on." To no one in particular the officer said, "I can't find a weapon on him!"

     Paramedics pronounced Dillon Taylor dead at the scene. The police chief placed officer Cruz on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. According to the medical examiner's office, Dillon Taylor, at the time he was shot, had a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent, well above the .08 percent required for driving while intoxicated.

     When questioned by district attorney's office investigators, officer Bron Cruz said, "I was scared to death. The last thought that went through my mind when I pulled the trigger was that I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed."

     Following the police killing of Dillon Taylor, friends and supporters put up a Facebook page called "Justice for Dillon Taylor." The site attracted 3,300 followers. Kelly Fowler, the attorney for the Taylor family, blamed the fatal shooting on a police culture that has become paranoid and hostile to the public.

     In mid-August 2014, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed the Taylor case in connection with the Michael Brown shooting that occurred a couple of weeks earlier in Ferguson, Missouri. In comparing the two cases, Mr. Limbaugh was offended that the media covering the Taylor shooting didn't mention that officer Cruz was black and the man he shot was white. "They are referring to the officer as 'other-than-white,' " he said. In analyzing the two cases, Limbaugh pointed out that unlike Michael Brown, a black who was shot by a white officer, Dillon Taylor, a white kid, "didn't resist arrest. He didn't hit the cop. He didn't flee and yet he was shot dead."

     On September 30, 2014, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, based upon an investigation that relied heavily on officer Cruz's body-cam footage, announced that his office has ruled the shooting of Dillon Taylor legally justified. In a letter to Police Chief Chris Burbank, the prosecutor wrote: "By the time Dillon Taylor drew his hands from his waistband, officer Cruz's belief that Taylor was presenting a weapon was reasonable." This officer, in the district attorney's opinion, reasonably perceived a threat to his life.

     Officer Cruz had shot Dillon Taylor because a 911 caller had reported seeing a gun on a person who matched Taylor's description. When this possibly armed suspect refused to show his hands after being given simple and understandable law enforcement commands, then made a gun-drawing move, the officer shot him in self defense. This raises the obvious question: why did this young man behave in such a reckless manner, virtually inviting the officer to shoot him? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Facebook postings made by Taylor just days before his death.

     On August 7, 2014, just four days before the incident, Taylor had written: "I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmares are telling me. I'm gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon…All my family has turned and snitched on me. I'll die before I go do a lot of time in a cell. I'm trying to strive and live but I litterly (sic) can't stand breathing and dealing with shit. I feel like god (sic) cant (sic) save me on this one…"

     Two days later, on August 9, 2014, Taylor posted the following on Facebook: "I finally realize I hit rock bottom. I'm homeless and I haven't slept in two days. Yesterday all I ate was a bag of chips and today a penute (sic) butter and jelly sandwich. I can't go to my brother's…I'm not welcome at any family members' [house] or they call the cops. I'll kick it with a friend until they go to bed and I have to leave…Its (sic) about my time soon."

     When young men and women enter the law enforcement field, they probably don't envision being used by people like Dillon Taylor to end their misery though suicide by cop. Police officers who are involuntary accomplices to suicide should not be charged with criminal homicide.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Living In A Socialist Country

In a socialist society there is no need for money because everything is free. That means that ordinary citizens are essentially broke. High socialist officials, on the other hand, have money and live high on the hog. But if you believe that money is the root of all evil, socialism sounds like a good idea. This is particularly true if you're not ambitious, timid and don't mind giving up your personal freedoms in exchange for a guaranteed but substandard existence. That socialist/communist countries are places where people do not want to live is testimony to the human spirit. You never hear of people fleeing from capitalist democracies to communist countries for a better life. Most people are willing to work hard and take chances to acquire a better life. That doesn't mean that life in America is perfect. Even hard working, ambitious people suffer setbacks through no fault of their own. In a capitalist country these citizens deserve and receive some help. But at least these aspiring but unfortunate citizens are free and do not live under the thumb of an oppressive government, a key feature of socialism which cannot exist without it. The better life, for everyone, is one of aspiration and freedom.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case: The Polygraph as an Interrogation Tool

     Several years ago, a story went around about an ingenious small town cop who hooked a young thief up to a copy machine the kid thought was a lie detector. When the suspect gave an answer the interrogator didn't like, he hit the print button causing a sheet of paper to come out of the copier that read, "Not True." The suspect, convinced he had been caught by a sophisticated lie detection instrument, confessed. Whenever I told this story in class, I said it happened in West Virginia, and that the judge, offended by the cop's clever dishonesty, threw the confession out.

     The copy machine-as-polygraph story probably didn't happen in West Virginia, or anywhere else. But it illustrates an important point about scientific lie detection, and how the polygraph technique can be used by examiners to coax confessions out of guilty suspects. The debate over polygraph accuracy, in this context, is not relevant. What does matter is this: most criminal suspects who happen to be guilty, believe the polygraph works. In the right hands it can be an effective interrogation tool. A few years ago, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made public a video-tape of a murder suspect's polygraph examination and follow-up interrogation. The transcript of this session reveals how a professional polygraph examiner/interrogator can acquire a confession.

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case

     On Friday, December 2, 2010, 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, a resident of the River Ridge Apartment complex in Canton, Georgia outside of Atlanta, went missing. Three days later police officers found her body in a dumpster not far from where she had been abducted. Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old newly hired maintenance man had lured the girl into a vacant apartment where he had raped and murdered her.

     On the day following the discovery of the murdered girl's body, Keith Sitton, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, gave the suspect a polygraph test. What follows is the word-for-word account of that session:

SITTON: Regarding that girl, do you intend to answer the [polygraph] questions truthfully?

BRUNN: Yes.

SITTON: Did you participate in any way in causing the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

SITTON: Do you know for sure who caused the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

     In discussing the results of the polygraph test with Brunn, Sitton said, "I can see you're not doing good on this test. Those [last two] questions are really bothering me."

     "I promise you. I'll take the test again," Brunn replied. His voice was weak, and he was obviously nervous.

     "There's something on this that you're not telling us. Something that you're keeping to yourself. What is it you're holding back? Because we're going to solve this thing. It's just written all over you. Something's bothering you."

     "I'm not bothered at all."

     "You haven't told the complete truth about everything."

     "I have," Brunn replied.

     The GBI agent asked Brunn about having been accused of sexually fondling a young girl in Virginia: "You know what I'm talking about," he said.

     "I don't."

     "Remember, I said you had to be 100 percent truthful. I asked you [on the polygraph] if anyone made accusations. So what you have done is told me a lie.

     "They put things in that child's head. I'm a good person. I didn't do nothing to that little Spanish girl, and I didn't do nothing to the other girl [the one in Virginia].

     The next day, Sutton questioned Brunn again. He informed the suspect that according to the polygraph he had lied. To this, Brunn said, "I should have told the truth straight up. But I didn't. I was scared." At this point, Brunn made a full confession. He said he had raped the girl, cut her throat, wrapped her in a garbage bag, and dumped her body in the trash compactor.

     On January 17, 2011, Ryan Brunn pleaded guilty to murdering Jorelys Rivera. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. A year later, while serving his time at the Georgia State Prison, Brunn used his sweatshirt to hang himself.

     

The James Nichols Murder Case

     On December 26, 1985, James L. Nichols, Jr. reported his wife JoAnn missing from their home in Poughkeepsie, New York. According to Mr. Nichols, his 55-year-old spouse, a first grade teacher at Gayhead Elementary School in upstate New York's Hopewell Junction, had left the house three days earlier. Mr. Nichols told investigators that she had called home on Christmas eve, but had refused to reveal her whereabouts.

     In an attempt to explain his wife's mysterious disappearance, the husband told police officers that JoAnn had been depressed over the May 1982 drowning of their only son, 25-year-old James Nichols III. The young man had died in a lake in Mississippi. On the Nichols' home computer, detectives found comments ostensibly written by the missing wife that hinted of her intent to commit suicide.

     Many of JoAnn's friends and co-workers, from the very beginning, suspected the teacher's husband of wrongdoing in the case. Mr. Nichols, a hoarder who had filled the couple's basement to the ceiling with junk, was by all accounts an obsessive man with strange habits.

     As is often the case when people go missing, a handful of psychic "detectives" provided investigators with false leads as to JoAnn's fate and her whereabouts. Eventually, the missing persons investigation fizzled-out, and the matter was forgotten. Mr. Nichols, who did not remarry, remained in the house in Poughkeepsie, and continued to fill it up with garbage.

     On December 21, 2012, Mr. Nichols died at the age of eighty-two. The dwelling was in such a mess, a contractor had to be called in to haul off the junk and trash before the place could be put on the market. At 5 PM on June 28, 2013, one of the workers stumbled upon a container that had been hidden inside a false wall in the Nichols basement. The box contained a human skeleton.

     A few days after the gruesome discovery, Dr. Kari Reiber, the Duchess County Medical Examiner, announced that through dental records, the remains had been identified as JoAnn Nichols. According to the forensic pathologist, the first grade teacher had been murdered by blunt force trauma to the head.

     It's hard to image that JoAnn Nichols had been murdered by anyone other than her oddball husband James. For twenty-seven years her body remained hidden amid the junk and debris in this hoarder's basement. Apparently there was nothing, not even his wife's corpse, that this man didn't save.

     While the motive behind JoAnn Nichols' murder remained a mystery, I would venture a guess. Fed up with her husband's hoarding, she had expressed her desire to divorce him. That would mean they would have to sell the house, and in so doing, rid the place of all the debris. To keep his stuff, and possibly to benefit from his dead spouse's Social Security benefits, James Nichols murdered his wife and added her remains to his collection of trash and junk. It's just a theory, and will probably remain so. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Zoo Fraud: Is Nothing On The Level Any More?

In July 2018, a couple of zoologists accused the director of a zoo in Cairo, Egypt of displaying a pair of donkeys painted up to look like zebras.  Nine years earlier, in a zoo in Gaza, another pair of donkeys were painted with zebra stripes. In 2013, a zoo in China was caught displaying a large dog made to look like a lion. What's next? A Volkswagen painted up to look like giant beetle? Or how about a donkey with a snow cone cup glued to its forehead to make it look like a unicorn. If you can't trust zoos what can you trust?

The Female Arsonist

     Arson is mainly a man's crime, but women have gotten into the act. Men usually use arson to defraud insurance companies while women tend to set fires for pathological reasons.

Sadie Renee Johnson

     In July 2013, a wildfire broke out on the Warm Springs, Oregon Indian Reservation. Before being brought under control it scorched 51,000 acres and cost the federal government $8 million to extinguish. At least no one was injured.

     Two day after the start of the blaze, 23-year-old Sadie Renee Johnson wrote this on her Facebook page: "Like my fire?"

     Interrogated by detectives, Johnson confessed to intentionally setting the fire by throwing a firecracker from her car into roadside brush. She said she had no idea the fire would spread so fast, burn so much land, and threaten so many people. Asked why she committed arson, Johnson said she thought her firefighter friends were bored and needed work.

     On May 19, 2014, Johnson pleaded guilty to arson in federal court. Pursuant to the plea agreement the judge will sentence her in September to 18 months in prison. Under federal law the maximum penalty for this crime is five years behind bars and three years probation.

     To quote John Wayne, "Life is tough. It's even tougher when you're stupid."

Martha Dreher

     In early August 2014, Adam Williams came home to his empty house in Austin, Texas to find the dwelling filled with smoke. His father, Glenn Williams and Adam's two pre-teen sisters were out of town.

     Fire investigators determined that fires had been set in each of the girls' bedrooms. Due to lack of oxygen and highly combustable fuel, the fires had burned themselves out. Nevertheless, the 90-year-old  historic house, due to smoke damage, had to be gutted. So, who had committed this arson?

     Glenn Williams told detectives that a couple of months ago he had hired 57-year-old Martha Dreher to babysit his daughters. According to him, she had recently complained that the girls treated her with disrespect. As a result, she had threatened to quit.

     In reviewing surveillance camera footage, investigators saw Martha Dreher drive up to the Williams house. Twenty minutes later, when she drove off, flames could be seen in the bedroom windows.

     Based on this circumstantial evidence, a Travis County prosecutor charged Dreher with felony arson. At her arraignment, the suspect pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Amber Bode, in speaking to reporters, said, "The thing that we are going to be pushing for--in addition to lie detection tests and everything else that we can do to prove her innocence--is evidence." (I cannot find a disposition of this case.)

The Kleber Cordova Bathtub Murder Case

     On May 9, 2008, at 7:30 in the morning, 29-year-old Kleber Cordova called 911 and reported that his wife had accidentally hit her head on their bathtub faucet and slipped, unconscious, under the water. He said he had tried but failed to lift his 4 foot 10 inch, 125 pound wife out of the tub.

     First responders to the Morristown, New Jersey home found a nude Eliana Torres submerged on her back with her face directly under the spout. Given cardiopulmonary resuscitation and rushed to the Morristown Memorial Hospital, the 26-year-old woman died five days later without regaining consciousness.

     Kleber Cordova and Eliana Torres had a one-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter who attended second grade at the Normandy Elementary School. Cordova, his wife, and their eight-year-old girl had been born in Ecuador and were in the United States illegally. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, on the day of the bathtub "accident," rushed to the Morristown hospital from her home in Danbury, Connecticut.

     Cordova, when questioned by the police at the  hospital a few hours after his 911 call, said he had arrived home from his night job to find his wife lying face-up in the bathtub with water from the spout pouring directly into her mouth. After failing to remove her from the tub, Cordova had called for help. The next day, aware that his wife was still alive and could possibly regain consciousness, Cordova asked to speak with detectives.

     In a video-taped statement given in Spanish through an interpreter, Cordova changed his story. During the week prior to the bathtub incident, he and Eliana had been arguing. She had informed Kleber that she had a boyfriend and planned to leave him. That morning, after she asked him for a divorce, he want "crazy" and held his wife's head under the water for about three minutes. To make the drowning look like an accident, Cordova removed her wet clothing and hid the garments in his car. (The interrogators had not warned Cordova of his Miranda rights, but since he had initiated contact with them, the judge, in a preliminary hearing, ruled the confession admissible.)

     Charged with the murder of his wife, Cordova was placed in the Morris County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

     On March 23, 2009, Morris County prosecutor John McNamera offered Cordova a deal. If he pleaded guilty to murder, the judge would sentence him to 30 years in prison. If tried and found guilty, he could receive up to 75 years in prison. Cordova rejected the offer. He would take his chances with a jury.

     The Cordova murder trial began in early March, 2012 at the Morris County Superior Court in Morristown, New Jersey. Assistant prosecutor Brian DiGiamaco did not show the jury Cordova's video-taped confession because a judge had ruled it inadmissible. The prosecutor put the defendant's daughter, now twelve years old, on the stand. On the morning in question, the eight-year-old girl awoke to the sound of her mother's cries for help. From the bathroom Eliana had screamed, "God help me!" in Spanish. The witness said she walked into the bathroom where she saw water splashing out of the bathtub. Her father was leaning over her mother who was clawing at his face. (When the police spoke to Cordova at the hospital they noticed fresh scratches on his face.) Cordova, when he realized that his daughter was standing nearby, said, "Everything is all right, go to your room." Fearing that her father would get angry if she disobeyed, the girl returned to her room, closed the door, and sat on her bed.

     From her bedroom, the witness heard someone turn off the bathtub water. Her father then walked out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. She could hear his wet sneakers on the kitchen floor. The witness said she took this opportunity to re-enter the bathroom and check on her mother. That's when she saw "the thigh part of her body" in the tub and a lot of water on the floor. Frightened, the little girl ran back to her bedroom.

     Later that morning, in the hospital waiting room, the defendant told his daughter not to say anything about what she had seen. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, was sitting nearby and overheard Cordova say this to his daughter.

     On cross-examination by Cordova's attorney, public defender Jessica Moses, the defendant's daughter acknowledged that the first time she accused her father of killing her mother was in December 2008, several months after the incident. The defense attorney, in this line of questioning, hoped to convince the jurors that detectives had wrangled this story out of the eight-year-old. (Since the incident, the witness had been living with her grandmother, Rita Valverde, who had moved from Connecticut to Florida.)

     On March 28, 2012, the victim's sister, Zaida Solis, took the stand and testified that three days after Cordova's arrest he had said this to her: "How could I do that to the love of my life?" The defendant also told his sister-in-law that the drowning had "happened fast," and that he was sorry about it. According to Cordova, on the night before the bathtub attack, Eliana had phoned her boyfriend in front of her husband. The next morning she demanded a divorce.

     After the state rested its case, Jessica Moses asked Judge David Ironson for a judgment of acquittal on the grounds the prosecution had not made a prima facie case against her client. If she did not prevail on that request, the public defender asked for a reduction of the charge from murder to passion/provocation manslaughter. "There is no evidence to support a murder conviction," she argued.

     In opposition to the public defender's reduced charge motion, assistant prosecutor Maggie Calderwood asserted that the defendant had killed his wife "knowingly," and "on purpose." Judge Ironson denied the public defender's motions. The murder charge would stand.

     Jessica Moses didn't have much of a defense beyond a character witness who said Cordova worked hard as an overnight cleaner at a Morristown restaurant and a hospital security officer who saw the defendant faint after visiting his unconscious wife. Cordova did not take the stand on his own behalf.

     In her closing argument to the jury the public defender said that the defendant's daughter had changed her story when questioned by the police months after her father called 911. The defense attorney, in explaining why Cordova had taken off his wife's clothing and hid them in his car, said he "panicked" after the 911 dispatcher asked him a series of questions regarding what had happened in the bathroom. He staged the scene as an accidental drowning because he was sure the authorities would accuse him of murder. As evidence that the killing was not premeditated, the public defender pointed out that two days before the struggle in the bathtub, Cordova bought his wife a new computer and paid an extra $99 for a one-year warranty.

     On April 5, 2012, after deliberating two hours, the jury found Kleber Cordova guilty of murdering his wife. The defendant showed no emotion as the foreman read the verdict.

     The judge, on July 24, 2012, sentenced Kleber Cordova to fifty years in prison. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Narcissism And The Politics Of Lying

Only a highly narcissistic, self confident sociopath could believe that he or she could lead the free world. Any relatively intelligent, psychologically normal person would know better. It would be refreshing for a presidential candidate to step up to the mike and say, "I am a textbook sociopath which means I know I am smarter than the people whose money and votes I solicit. Moreover, because I am never wrong about anything, I will continue asking for money and votes. Please also know that I think I am incapable of lying because I believe that whatever I say, regardless of the 'facts,' is the truth. And finally, don't even try to shame me because as a sociopath I cannot be embarrassed." This of course will never happen because it would require telling the truth to voters who don't really want to hear the truth. Politicians know that the only way to get elected is to lie through their teeth about everything. For that reason, the best and most prolific liars get into office. In our leaders we get exactly what we deserve.

Thornton P. Knowles

Jinhau K.: Holland's Boy Hit Man

     Joyce Winsie Hau, a 14-year-old member of the Chinese-Dutch community in Arnhem, Holland, fell out with her best friend, a 15-year-old girl referred to by the Dutch authorities as Polly W. Joyce angered Polly and Polly's boyfriend, 15-year-old Wesley C., when she gossiped about their sexual escapades on Facebook and other social media. This anger set in motion a plot, hatched by Polly and Wesley, to have Joyce Hau murdered.

     Polly and Wesley (names more in tune with a children's book than a murder for hire case), offered Jinhau K., an acquaintance of Joyce's, 16 pounds (roughly $50), to commit the homicide. The pair of teen masterminds, over a period of several weeks in late 2011, met frequently with the boy hit man to plan the murder. During these meetings, Polly and her boyfriend provided Jinhau with the homicide target's address, and other information including when Joyce would most likely be home. After the murder, the masterminds promised to take their hitman out for drinks. (I don't know how these kids got around, the minimum driving age in Holland, or how easy it is for youngsters in that country to get their hands on alcohol.)

     On January 14, 2012, Jinhau K. showed up at the Hau  residence, and when invited into the house by Mr Chun Nam Hau, the knife wielding boy stabbed the father and his daughter. The attack took place in the hallway just inside the dwelling's front entrance. Mr. Hau survived the attack, but Joyce Hau did not. The murder and attempted homicide was witnessed by Joyce's younger brother who was not harmed.

     Shortly after the home assault and murder, the police arrested Jinhau K. In his confession, the boy named the two teen murder for hire masterminds. Soon after that, the police arrested Polly W. and Wesley C.

     In August 2012, Jinhau K., went on trial as a juvenile before a district court judge in Arnhem. Following testimony from Chun Nam Hau and Joyce Hau's younger brother, the judge heard from the defendant who testified that he had committed the assault and murder out of fear that if he had refused to carry out the plot, Polly W. and Wesley C. would have killed him.

     The judge, in ruling that the defendant had plenty of opportunity to pull out of the murder conspiracy, said, "In their reports the psychologist and psychiatrist state that the pressure the defendant says he felt, was never so high that he was unable to resist it. There were several moments where the defendant could have called in the help of others, or could have come to his senses." (What senses? This kid must be some kind of idiot.)

     On September 3, 2012, the Arnhem judge sentenced Jinhau K. to one year in a juvenile detention center, the maximum penalty under Dutch law for a murderer between the ages 12 to 16. (I don't know why the judge didn't add another year for the attempted murder of Mr. Hau.) Upon completing his one year sentence, Jinhau K. would undergo three years of psychiatric treatment at another facility. When the teen hit man turned 18, he wouldl be completely free from court supervision.

     Members of Holland's Chinese-Dutch community were shocked and outraged by such a light sentence for the cold-blooded murder of a girl, and the attempted murder of her father. As for the two teenage murder for hire masterminds, the charges against them were dropped. If the hit man only qualifies for one year of juvenile detention, what's the point of bothering with the degenerate kids who set these bloody crimes into motion?

    In Holland, the media called Joyce Hau's killing the "Facebook Murder Case." I would call it the case of the Dutch teens who got away with murder. It's not a snappy case title, but it's closer to the truth.

     

Na Cola Franklin: The Case of the Prenuptial Murder

     Billy Brewster and Na Cola Franklin lived in an apartment complex in Whitehall Township outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania with their three children. The couple was scheduled to be married at ten in the morning of Saturday, August 11, 2012. Brewster's cousin, Nakia Kali and his wife Monique had traveled to eastern Pennsylvania from Illinois to attend the wedding. They were staying in the apartment with the 36-year-old and his wife-to-be.

     Just after midnight on the morning of the wedding day, Brewster and his visitors returned to the apartment after being out for an undetermined period. Two hours later, when Billy, Na Cola, and Nakia were in the living room, Na Cola and Billy started arguing. Monique Kali, from one of the bedrooms, heard the shouting. When she cracked the door open and looked into the living room, she saw a large blood stain on the front of Billy's shirt, and Na Cola swinging a kitchen knife. Afraid that Na Cola Franklin would attack Naki with the weapon, Monique charged into the room and tackled her. Nakia knocked the knife out of Na Cola's hand, and one of Franklin's children carried the bloody weapon into the kitchen.

     Billy Brewster staggered out of the apartment onto the second-story landing and collapsed. His cousin called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the scene at 2:19 AM. Less than an hour later, Billy Brewster was pronounced dead at the Lehigh Valley Hospital. Na Cola, in custody at the Lehigh County Jail, had stabbed him twice in the heart.

     At her arraignment on the morning she was supposed to be standing at the alter getting married, Na Cola wept and said, "I did not kill him on purpose. I want my family back." The judge denied her bond.

     In May 2013, a jury in Allentown, Pennsylvania found Na Cola Franklin guilty of first-degree murder. Six weeks later the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Because Na Cola Franklin had killed the man she was within hours of marrying, this homicide has attracted more attention than it would have otherwise. Aside from the wedding element, this is not an unusual case. Every year there are hundreds of homicides involving people who kill spontaneously for trivial reasons. Not all murders come with a motive equal to the crime. Cases like this usually involve alcohol, drugs or mental illness. Weddings alone can make people do crazy things.
       

Friday, July 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On A New Religion

If I were to start a new religion I would call it Reversalality. Reversalists believe that bad people go to Heaven where they are rehabilitated for eternity. Good people, on the other hand, go to Hell where they are rewarded with an eternity of debauchery to make up for lives of self-denial. In the Reveralists' version of Hell you might see an Amish man, a martini in one hand and dice in the other, laughing it up with a prostitute at a Las Vegas crap table. Just a thought.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Rickie Lee Fowler Felony-Murder Arson Case

     Sexually abused as a child, and addicted to methamphetamine, Rickie Lee Fowler lived a life of violence and crime. On October 25, 2003, while riding in a van driven by David Valdez, Jr., Fowler tossed burning road flares out of the moving vehicle. The 22-year-old, angry because he and his family had been evicted from their home, wanted to start fires.

     During the next nine days, the twelve wildfires that swept southern California's San Bernardino foothills scorched 442 square miles of land, and burned 1,000 homes to the ground. Five people died of heart attacks while evacuating their fire-threatened dwellings.

     In 2004, after being interviewed as a possible arson suspect, Fowler was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. Two years later, David Valdez, Jr., the driver of the van, was shot to death.

     Fowler, while serving time on the burglary case, was convicted of repeatedly sodomizing an inmate. The judge in that case sentenced him to three terms of 25 years to life.

     In 2009, after Fowler confessed to starting the October 2003 wildfires, grand jurors in San Bernardino indicted him on one count of aggravated arson and five counts of murder. The homicide indictments were based on the felony-murder doctrine. Fowler, because he had committed a felony that directly led to the killing of five people, was criminally responsible for their deaths. While Fowler had only intended to commit arson, he should have foreseen the deadly consequences of his criminal acts. In most states, convictions based on the felony-murder rule bring sentences of twenty years to life. No one convicted of an unintended homicide has ever been sentenced to death.

     In August 2010, when Fowler learned that the prosecutor was seeking the death penalty in his case, he took back his confession. Two years later, a jury in San Bernardino found Rickie Fowler guilty of  arson and the five counts of murder. The jurors also recommended the death penalty.

     On January 28, 2013, the judge sentenced Fowler to death. This unprecedented death sentence made the Fowler felony-murder case historic in the annals of law. Fowler's attorneys immediately appealed the sentence sentence as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

     As of this writing, Fowler, along with many of the 750 Californians on death row, awaits the outcome of his appeal. It's been more than ten years since anyone if California has been executed.

The Turkish Severed Head Murder Case

     Nevin Yildirim lived with her husband and two children, ages two and six, in a village in southwestern Turkey. In January 2012, her husband left home to work at a seasonal job in another town. Shortly after Mr. Yildirim began working at the other place, a 35-year-old member of the village named Nurettin came to Nevin's house and raped her. This married father of two threatened to shoot Nevin's children if she reported the crime to anyone.

     By August 2012, after months of being raped on a regular basis by Nurettin, Nevin was five months pregnant with his child. When she visited a clinic regarding an abortion, a health care worker informed her that her pregnancy was too far along for that option. In Turkey, abortions are illegal after the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

     On August 28, 2012, when Nurettin came to Nevin's house to rape her again, she pulled her father-in-law's rifle off a wall rack and shot him. As the wounded Nurettin reached for his handgun to return fire, Nevin shot him again. Hit with her second slug, he tired to run, but stumbled and fell. As he lay on the ground cursing her, Nevin fired a third bullet, this one into his genitals. The rapist went silent, and a few seconds later, died where he lay in a pool of his own blood.

     The woman who had just killed the man who for months had been raping her, laid down her rifle and picked up a kitchen knife that she then used to decapitate him. She picked up the detached head by the hair and carried it triumphantly to the village square. To a group of men sitting around a coffee house, Nevin, still gripping her rapist's head as it continued to drip blood from the base of the severed neck, said, "Here is the head of the man who played with my honor."

     As the coffee house drinkers looked on in horror, Nevin Yildirim tossed her blood trophy. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest in the public square. A short time later, a local police officer took the blood-splattered woman into custody.

     A few days after the killing, in speaking to her court-appointed lawyer who came to the local lock-up, Nevin reportedly said, "I thought of reporting [Nurettin] to the military police and to the district attorney, but this was going to make me a scorned woman. Since I was going to get a bad reputation, I decided to clean my honor, and acted on killing him. I thought of suicide a lot, but couldn't do it. Now no one can call my children bastards....Everyone will call them the children of the woman who cleaned her honor."

     On August 30, 2012, at the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder, Yildirim told the magistrate she didn't want to keep her rapist's baby and that she wished to die. The public prosecutor advised the court he had ordered psychiatric evaluations of the defendant.

    Nevin Yildirim gave birth to her rapist's child on November 17, 2012.

     On March 25, 2013, the district judge found Yildirim guilty of murder. Before he handed down the sentence, the judge ordered police officers to remove feminist protesters from the courtroom.

     After clearing the courtroom of protesters, the Turkish judge imposed the maximum punishment of life in prison. Among women in Turkey and others around the world, the verdict and sentence created an uproar. Had Nevin Yildirim committed the exact crime in the United States, she would have been charged with second or third-degree murder. Her attorney would have had the option of putting on either an insanity or battered woman defense. If found guilty, her punishment wouldn't be anything close to life behind bars. In the U.S. a case like would likely be resolved through the plea bargaining process that would lead to much lighter sentence.
     

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nyia Parker: The Mother From Hell

     Nyia Parker resided on the west side of Philadelphia with her 21-year-old son Daequan Norman. Daequan, a quadriplegic, suffered from cerebral palsy. The unemployed 41-year-old mother received Social Security benefits for Daequan and relied upon a network of relatives and friends to help care for her completely dependent son.

     At ten o'clock on Monday morning April 6, 2015, Parker pushed her son in his wheelchair into a wooded area off a walking trail along Cobbs Creek about a quarter mile from their home. She lifted him out of the chair, laid him on his back, placed a Bible on his chest, and covered him with a blanket.

     After depositing her helpless son amid the leaves, empty beer cans and other litter, Nyia Parker boarded a bus to Silver Spring, Maryland to spend a week with her boyfriend, a former Philadelphia resident. She didn't tell anyone that she had left her son lying alone and helpless in the woods.

     Twenty-four hours after leaving her son in the woods exposed to the weather, wild animals, and people who might harm him, Nyia Parker, under a Facebook photograph depicting her and the boyfriend having a good time, wrote: "I am so happy."

     At nine o'clock Friday night April 10, a man walking through the Cobbs Creek woods came upon Daequan Norman lying in the leaves near his wheelchair. He had been there for five days and four nights.

     An ambulance crew rushed the abandoned son to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. As a result of his ordeal, Daequan suffered from dehydration, was malnourished, and had an eye infection. There was no telling what kind of permanent mental and emotional damage he had suffered.

     A few hours following the abandoned man's removal from the west Philadelphia woods, police in Silver Spring, Maryland took Nyia Parker into custody at her boyfriend's house. Due to some undisclosed ailment, the arresting officers took her to a nearby hospital for some kind of treatment.

     Back in Philadelphia, a local prosecutor charged Parker with half of the offenses in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code. Upon her extradition back to Philadelphia, she faced charges of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment of a person, neglect of care of a dependent person, unlawful restraint, kidnapping, and false imprisonment. (Why wasn't she charged with attempted murder?)

     People under the influence of mental illness, alcohol, and drugs commit all kinds of strange, and inexplicable crimes. But how can one even begin to understand why this mother left her quadriplegic son in the woods for five days while she visited her boyfriend. And why the Facebook posting?

     Did she expect her disabled son to die alone in the woods? If Daequan had died, what would have been her story? Would she have blamed his death on kidnappers? If so, how would she have explained the fact she had left him alone in the first place? And why would anyone abduct her son?

     Was it possible that Nyia Parker actually expected to get away with this atrocious act of cruelty? If this case ever goes to trial, this woman is looking at 20 years in prison. (I have searched the Internet and have been unable to find a disposition for this case.)

     

Secrecy and the Myth of Governmental Transparency

     There is nothing more ludicrous than a politician, standing in front of a television camera with a straight face, telling citizens that our government is transparent. By transparent, meaning open and honest in the way it operates in our best interest. That, of course, is pure baloney. Government, on all levels and across the board, is secretive. It is in the nature of the beast, and for good reason. If the pubic ever fully discovers what our "public servants" are really up to, there would be much less government.

     In many ways, the government functions a lot like organized crime. Government protects itself through a code of silence, whistleblower intimidation, perjury, evidence tampering, and the shielding of the leaders from criminal culpability. And like soldiers in the Mafia, government employees are in for life. To expose the government, investigators would have to rely on the same tactics the FBI used on the Mafia. Problem is, the FBI is part of the government.

     Anyone who trusts the government, or accepts as truth what politicians and bureaucrats tell us, is either a fool or an idiot who deserves the government that we've allowed to grow into a Frankenstein type monster. There may come a time when the public does figure out what's going on in government, but by then it may be too late to do anything about it.

     Anyone who knows anything about policing--federal, state, and local--knows that law enforcement agencies do not welcome public scrutiny. Police officers hate cellphone cameras, civilian review boards, oversight committees, police commissions, and other watchdog groups. Cops also hate their fellow officers assigned to internal affairs units. For decades, police administrators, working hand-in-hand with friendly politicians, have engaged in shameless fear-mongering to scare the public into putting up with highly militaristic, zero-tolerence, policing tactics. Because very little in law enforcement is on the level, it's in the best interest of our police authorities to keep civilians in the dark. It has been this way since the beginning of professional policing   

     Government agencies, to maintain their authority and to grow, need to operate in secret. It's a matter of institutional survival. As far as most politicians and bureaucrats are concerned, the public has no right to know anything. We are told by our government leaders that it is our job to trust them. In law enforcement the message to the public has always been: leave policing to the professionals. We know what we are doing, and do not need you sticking your nose into our business. In other words, we don't work for you, you work for us, so shut up and go away.  

The JonBenet Ramsey Case And The History Of The Internet Subculture

     …It's been said that JonBenet Ramsey's murder, like that of Nicole Brown Simpson's, was made for the supermarket tabloids. Both cases had the right mix of glitz and sordidness, shocking details and rabid public curiosity to bring out the worst strains of Enquirer-style journalism. But the Ramsey case, with its endless clues and possible suspects, its queasy connections to the worlds of child beauty pageants and the sexual objectification of little girls, was also made for the Internet--and became the impetus for an entire subculture of online sleuths, speculators and voyeurs.

     O. J. Simpson's 1995 murder trial came a little too early in the cyber-revolution to get much online traction; most people followed the case on television. But by the time the JonBenet case began making headlines outside of Colorado in early 1997, a nation primed with AOL accounts and dial-up service was ready and eager to weigh in--anonymously, of course…

     The JonBenet virtual community got its start in the Boulder Daily Camera's online News Forum, which featured back-and-forth posts from readers curious about the case and a live chat room. The rising traffic from the Ramsey-obsessed fans soon led to the launch of websites providing opportunities for more detailed discussions about the case.

     One of the most popular news sites, Mrs. Brady's URLs, became a much imitated template, offering links to breaking news and emerging discussion forums. A spectrum of sites catered to various shades of opinion, from those convinced that an Intruder Did It (IDIs) to those who thought the parents were good for it--referred to disparagingly by IDIs as BORGS, a Star Trek reference that also served as an acronym for "Bent On Ramsey Guilt." There were also sites for fans of lead detective Steve Thomas, detractors of District Attorney Alex Hunter, and more.

     The surging online phenomenon produced some impressive archives of Ramsey-related documents, recordings and photos; the still active JonBenet archive at A Candy Rose remains one of the most useful and extensive….

Alan Prendergast, "JonBenet Ramsey and the Rise of an Internet Subculture," blogs.westword.com, December 2014 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Mary Whitaker Murder Case

     In the summer months for the past 35 years, 61-year-old Mary Whitaker played violin for the Chautauqua Institution Symphony Orchestra in western New York not far from the Pennsylvania line. She lived in a one-story home outside of Westfield, New York. During the rest of the year the New York City resident played for the Westchester Philharmonic.

     On Tuesday night, August 19, 2014, someone drove 43-year-old Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, 30, from Erie, Pennsylvania to Westfield, New York. Both men, with long histories of crime, had met a few months earlier at an Erie homeless shelter. After their driver dropped them off, Conklin broke into an apartment near a bar and stole several guns that included a .22-caliber rifle.

     From the site of the burglary, the two criminals walked to Mary Whitaker's rural home on Titus Road. With Conklin hiding nearby, Sanford rapped on her door. When she responded to his knock, he said he had run out of gas and needed to use her phone. After she handed him her cellphone, Conklin came out of hiding with the rifle in hand and said, "This is a robbery." A moment later, Conklin shot Whitaker in the chest. She screamed and grabbed the gun that went off again in the struggle. The second bullet entered her leg.

     Following the shooting, the robbers dragged the bleeding woman into her garage where they left her  dying while they ransacked her house for items to steal. Upon returning to the garage, Conklin ordered his accomplice to kill the victim. Sanford stabbed the wounded Whitaker in the throat.

     As Mary Whitaker bled to death in her garage, the two cold-blooded killers drove back to Erie in her Chevrolet HHR. They had also stolen her checkbook and credit cards.

     Upon the discovery of Whitaker's body, police in Chautauqua County, aware that Jonathan Conklin had been in the area, immediately suspected him of burglarizing the apartment and murdering the violinist.

     On Friday morning, August 22, 2014, after using Whitaker's credit cards to buy a flat screen television and some clothing at Walmart, Erie detectives took Conklin and Sanford into custody.

     On the day of their arrest, the suspects appeared before a federal magistrate on charges of interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle, carjacking, and federal firearms violations. In Chautauqua County, New York, Conklin and Sanford faced state charges of first-degree murder, burglary, and robbery.

     A Chautauqua County grand jury in January 2015 indicted Conklin and Sanford on charges of second-degree murder, burglary, robbery, and criminal use of a firearm. Four months later, the Chautauqua County district attorney announced that the suspects would be tried together in January 2016. Conklin was represented by an attorney with the local public defender's office while Sanford had a defense lawyer from Fredonia, New York.

     In September 2015, Charles Sanford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Jonathan Conklin. Conklin, facing a sure-fire conviction, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder a month later.

     In May 2016, the judge sentenced Charles Sanford to fifteen years to life. Jonathan Conklin received a sentence of twenty-five years to life.

     Cases like this remind us that we live among predatory, cold-blooded killers who ought to be behind bars but are not.

     

Joe Rickey Hundley: The Airline Passenger Who Slapped a Baby

     On February 8, 2013, Jessica Bennett, a passenger on a Delta Air Line flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Atlanta, sat in row 28 seat B next to Joe Rickey Hundley. Jonah, her black 19-month-old adopted son (she is white) sat on her lap. Hundley, the 60-year-old president of an aircraft parts manufacturing company in Hayden, Idaho had been knocking down double vodkas and made the passengers seated around him uncomfortable with his belligerent remarks and attitude. At one point Hundley, in an obnoxious fashion, told Jessica Bennett that the kid was too big to be sitting on her lap.

     As the plane descended into Atlanta, the change in cabin pressure caused Jonah to cry. Aware that Hundley was becoming increasingly annoyed with the boy, Bennett did her best to calm her son down. But the child was in pain and continued to bawl. Hundley, unable to control his anger, turned to Bennett and said, "shut that [N-word] kid up!"

     Stunned by what she had just heard, Bennett asked, "What did you say?"

     Hundley pushed his lips next to Bennett's ear and repeated the racial slur. He then did something even more outrageous and unexpected; he slapped Jonah in the face with an open hand, cutting the child below his right eye. This did not, obviously, stop the crying.

     Passengers and crew, aware of the intoxicated, loud and bellicose passenger, rushed to Bennett's aid to make sure the angry drunk didn't hit the boy again. When the executive from Idaho walked off the plane in Atlanta he was met by a couple of FBI agents.

     Later that day Hundley was charged in federal court with assaulting a child younger than 16. If convicted, Hundley faced a maximum sentence of one year in prison. According to court records, Hundley, in 2007, pleaded guilty in Virginia to the misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend.

     Joe Hundley denied slapping the boy on the plane. His attorney, Marcia Shein, told reporters that she planned to plead him not guilty. Pointing out that her client was on a personal flight to visit a sick relative, Shein wanted the public to know that Mr. Hundley was under a lot of stress and was distraught. "He's not a racist. I'm going to make that clear because that's what people are suggesting. There's background information people don't know about, and in time it will come out."

     Attorney Shein, in her public relations effort on Hundley's behalf, mentioned that her client had been getting hate mail. "Hopefully," she said, "this situation can be resolved. Both people are probably very nice. No one should rush to judgment."

     Joe Hundley lost his job over the slap heard around the world. On February 17, 2013, the head of Hundley's parent company, AGC Aerospace and Composites Group, a corporation headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, issued a statement which read: "Reports of the recent behavior of one of our business unit executives while on personal travel are offensive and disturbing. We have taken this matter very seriously and worked diligently to examine it since learning of the matter. As of Sunday [February 17] the executive is no longer employed with the company."

     The slapped boy's father, Josh Bennett, told a reporter that, "We want to see this guy do some time."

     In October 2013, Mr. Hundley pleaded guilty to assault after the Assistant United States Attorney indicated that he would be satisfied with a six-month prison sentence. When it came time for sentencing, however, the federal judge ignored the prosecutor's suggestion. On January 6, 2014, the judge sentenced Hundley to eight months in a federal lockup. In justifying the stiffer sentence, the judge cited the defendant's prior assault conviction.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Arthur Morgan III: A Narcissistic, Remorseless Child Killer

     By November 2011, Imani Benton, a 26-year-old resident of Lakehurst, New Jersey, had terminated her relationship with Arthur Morgan III, the father of their two-year-old daughter, Tierra. The couple had fought constantly, and on several occasions had taken each other to court. He continued to deny the breakup even after she returned the engagement ring and the other jewelry he had given her. The two of them had also traded accusations of child abuse. As a result of Benton's domestic complaints, state child protection agents conducted four separate investigations that ended up clearing Morgan of these accusations. As a result, he continued to have access to his daughter.

     On November 15, Morgan's boss at Creative Building Supplies Company in Lakewood, New Jersey fired him.

     On November 21, 2011, just eight hours after he had called Imani Benton a bad mother and a whore, Morgan made arrangements with her to take Tierra to see a movie about dancing penguins. Four hours after Morgan promised to return the toddler, the girl's mother called the police to report Tierra missing.

     Police officers from thirteen New Jersey law enforcement agencies looked for the girl and her missing father. The search came to an end when searchers found Tierra's body in Shark River Park twenty miles north of her Lakehurst home.

     Homicide investigators believed that Arthur Morgan had dropped the girl's car seat, with her strapped into it, fifteen feet into a creek that ran below an overpass. The partially submerged car seat had been weighed down by a car jack. The drowned girl, still wearing her Pink Hello Kitty hat, had landed in three feet of water. (According to the father who did not deny throwing his daughter off the bridge, he heard her scream as he got back into his car.)

     After leaving his daughter to drown in the creek beneath the overpass, Arthur Morgan drove to a friend's house where he had a few drinks. The next day, he boarded a train for San Diego, California.

     At four in the afternoon on November 29, 2011, agents with the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Morgan at a house in San Diego. (He was arrested on a federal unlawful flight to avoid prosecution warrant. These UFAP warrants are dismissed after the fugitive is returned to the local jurisdiction.)

     Back in New Jersey a few days after his apprehension, Morgan faced the charge of first-degree murder. Over the objection of his court-appointed lawyer, the arraignment judge set Morgan's bond at $10 million. Peter J. Warshaw Jr., the Monmouth County prosecutor in charge of the case, said he would seek the maximum penalty of life without parole. (New Jersey abolished the death penalty.)

     The Arthur Morgan child murder trial got underway in a Freehold, New Jersey Superior Court on March 12, 2014. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Warshaw accused the defendant of killing his daughter simply because he was angry that Imani Benton had ended their relationship. According to the prosecutor, Morgan killed Tierra to get back at his former girlfriend. Mr. Warshaw called the killing a "knowing and purposeful murder" motivated by pride and revenge.

     The public defender told the jurors that her client was merely guilty of reckless manslaughter, a lesser degree of criminal homicide that carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Given the undisputed facts of this case, that would turn out to be a hard sell.

     The murdered girl's mother, Imani Benton, took the stand as the prosecution's star witness. To the jury, Benton read a letter the defendant had sent her from the San Diego jail shortly after his arrest. In that letter, Morgan, in justifying the murder, accused members of Benton's family of abusing Tierra. He referred to their behavior as "heinous and depraved." Morgan also blamed the girl's mother for her death: "You should have come with us to the movie. It would have been so different, I'm sure. That was the plan, to go as a family."

     Regarding the defendant's self-serving letter, Imani Benton testified that, "If I would have gone to the movie, we wouldn't have gone to the movie. We all would be dead."

     One of the defendant's co-workers at the Lakewood lumber yard testified that Morgan had been paid every Tuesday, and by Friday, he was broke. According to Tulio Bazan, the defendant spent a lot of money on clothes. "He showed me the Gucci sunglasses, a Gucci wallet, and the Gucci shoes." Morgan told the witness that the wallet itself cost him $400.

     In mid-April 2014, the jury in Freehold, New Jersey, following a short period of deliberation, found Arthur Morgan guilty as charged.

     Six weeks after the guilty verdict, at his May 28, 2014 sentence hearing, the convicted murderer apologized to Imani Benton for the breakdown of their relationship. (He didn't apologize for killing their daughter.) "I want to say I'm sorry for the deterioration of what I thought was a beautiful friendship between the two of us that blossomed into a daughter. For anybody that was truly affected by this, I hope we can all heal from the situation, knowing that Tierra is in a better place." (In other words, he was the victim in this story.)

     As one might expect from a narcissistic sociopath with a god-complex, the convicted murderer whined about the media coverage of the trial. He said he didn't like newspaper photographs that depicted him as either angry or inappropriately jolly. He informed the court that had he known that reporters would make negative comments about his designer court room attire, he would have dressed more modestly.

     The complaining sociopath also rambled on about how badly his murder victim had been treated by members of Benton's family. He contrasted that behavior to how, before he murdered his daughter out of wounded pride, he had been such an excellent father.

     Judge Anthony Mellaci, Jr., before handing down Morgan's sentence, lamented that New Jersey no longer imposed the death penalty. "You'd be candidate number one for it's imposition," he said. "Your actions were horrific, unthinkable and appalling. This child was alive when she was placed in the water in pitch darkness. She had to suffer the unthinkable action of having water rush in and fill her lungs while strapped into that car seat. This child suffered before she died."

     Judge Mellaci sentenced the remorseless sociopath to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
     

The Art and Science of Crime Detection

Crime detection is not a secret art; anybody can do it if he has the wits, and the time, and patience to get all the facts, and if he knows enough of the ways of men and women. [That may have been true in 1927, but not today. The modern detective must possess, among other skills and know-how, knowledge of criminal law, computer navigation, forensic science, criminology, and interview and interrogation techniques. Unfortunately, criminal investigation is becoming a lost art.)

Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) mystery novelist 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Pittsburgh's Depression Era Cops

     In the 1930s a young man didn't get on the Pittsburgh Police force by passing a test. He got the job because he had pull--a priest he knew, a relative in uniform, or the sponsorship of a ward chairman. Most recruits had ended their schooling early, in some cases so early they couldn't read or write. Some came from neighborhoods where joining the police force was considered an act of treason. Had it not been for the Great Depression, many of these men would have found work in the mills, driving a truck, or in the building trades. But when the bottom fell out of the employment market, police department jobs looked good. This was a  time when people who couldn't find work either lived off their relatives, stole, begged, or starved.

     In those days, the city didn't supply its officers with the tools of the trade. A rookie had to purchase his own uniform, badge, billy club, gun, and call-box key. If he planned on firing his revolver, he'd have to buy his own ammunition, and if he wanted to hit what he shot at, he'd have to arrange for his own firearms training.

     One night on Pittsburgh's South Side, a rookie responding to a grocery store hold-up saw the robber running out of the place with a gun in his hand. The young cop, in fumbling with his second-hand revolver, accidentally shot the hold-up man in the shoulder. The wounded robber stopped in his tracks, dropped his gun, and surrendered. But before the rookie could collect his thoughts, a pair of seasoned patrolmen come on the scene and took credit for the arrest. By stealing the pinch, the veterans got promoted to the detective bureau. The rookie got nothing but a little wiser. This was police training, 1930's style.

     Every cop in Pittsburgh began his career as a substitute officer. Subs were expected to attend roll-call at the beginning of each shift--three times a day--until someone was needed to replace a regular officer who hadn't shown up for duty. A sub might report for work three times a day for weeks before getting an assignment. If a sub didn't get work he didn't get paid, and when he was assigned temporary shift duty, he was paid what the man who had called off earned. Cops who joined the force in the 1930s worked from three to six years as subs before they got on the job full time.

     A few Pittsburgh cops had German backgrounds, and some were Italian, but most were Irish because the city was controlled by Irish politicians. But this western Pennsylvania mill town wasn't all Irish. The city had a thriving Chinatown as well as Polish, Russian, German, and Italian neighborhoods. Most of the city's black population lived in the Hill District, a neighborhood east of the downtown business district. One of the best-known and respected foot patrolman of the era was a black officer who walked the beat on the South Side, and on the Hill, a pair of black cops in plainclothes worked vice. But black cops were never promoted, and only white officers were allowed inside a patrol car.

     During the depression sprawling shanty-towns sprung up around the city. There was a large encampment in the woods near Tropical Avenue in the Banksville section of town. The residents of this makeshift ghetto fed and clothed themselves off a nearby garbage dump. On the fringes of downtown, homeless people the police called "cavemen" camped in caves they had dug out of the hillsides. Occasionally a caveman or two would drink too much moonshine and stagger into the business district where the police would scoop them up and haul them off to jail in a paddy wagon.

     A pair of devastating floods hit Pittsburgh in 1936 and 1937, and downtown, police in rowboats had to rescue customers and employees from the second story of Kaufman's Department Store. In 1936, a Pittsburgh patrolman lost his life when he slipped into the swollen Ohio River between two barges.

     In the thirties, Pittsburgh police officers directed traffic, operated the city run ambulance service, rode paddy wagons, or walked a beat. There were a handful of detectives, vice cops, and a few patrol car and motorcycle officers. Sergeants and lieutenants and their clerical personnel worked inside a dozen station houses throughout the city. Station number 1 was located downtown, number 2 on the Hill, 3 in Lawrenceville, 4 in Oakland, 5 in East Liberty, 7 on the South Side, and so on.

     In those days cops didn't carry two-way radios. They kept in touch by telephoning the station every hour or so from call-boxes situated along their beats. Patrol cars were equipped with one-way radios which meant that radio messages could be received in the car but not transmitted. To acknowledge a transmission from the radio dispatcher, one of the patrol car officers had to telephone the station from a call box.

     Since law enforcement is an around-the-clock operation, the workday was divided into three, eight-hour shifts, or "turns" as Pittsburgh cops called them. In the old days, every station house had a sergeant on duty during each turn. These sergeants exercised absolute authority over the cops on the beat and they seldom left the station except to check on a patrolman suspected of sleeping or drinking on the job. Offending patrol officers were assigned so-called "penalty beats" for thirty days. These beats were located in the remote sections of the city and involved long walks between call-boxes.

     Officers on patrol shook doors, reported in on call-boxes, and handled disturbances such as barroom fights and domestic flare-ups. Downtown, cops wearing white gloves directed traffic while officers on paddy wagon duty hauled drunks, crazy people, tramps, and prostitutes to jail. The ambulance crew picked up the sick, the old, and the injured, and carried corpses, often ripe, down endless flights of hillside stairways. Beat cops, besides maintaining order, rendered a variety of unofficial social services. A distraught wife could speak to a patrolman about her drunken husband and the officer might walk into the bar and yank the domestic slacker onto the street for a lecture and a warning.

     In the 1930s, Pittsburgh police officers were paid in cash. In many police households there was a difference between what the officer earned and the amount he turned over to his wife. In other words, a lot of cops skimmed a little off the top for themselves. One police officer's wife, after her husband suffered a heart attack, went to the station to pick up his pay. When she counted it out, she thought they had given him a raise. A cop they called "Bullet" because he was quick to use his gun, hid a fifty-dollar bill in the barrel of his revolver. When confronted by a rabid dog, he shot his gun, and his stash.

     The prohibition era featured a wave of violent crime in New York and Chicago, and in Pittsburgh, three bootleggers from Stowe Township, the Volpe brothers, were gunned-down on the Hill in a St. Valentine's Day style massacre. The Volpes were murdered on the corner of Chatam and Wylie Streets by rival bootleggers from New York City.

     Pittsburgh in the 1930s had it share of whorehouses, at that time called "sporting houses," and a few of them were palatial. The most spectacular sporting house was located on the North Side where Three Rivers Stadium once sat. The police called this cluster of cathouses the "blackberry patch." The madams paid local politicians and ranking police officers for protection. One whorehouse proprietor even built a special men's room for cops on the beat. Detectives used prostitutes as confidential informants, and every so often a vice cop would arrange an illegal, whorehouse abortion for the daughter of a judge or prominent politician.

     Gamblers rolled dice in pool halls, bars, after-hour clubs, and casinos. Ordinary citizens played the daily number for a nickel or a dime--a racket said to have originated in Pittsburgh by Gus Greenlee, Bill Synder, and a guy named Woggie Harris. The gambling bosses paid for police protection, but every so often the cops would raid a joint to remind the racketeers what they were paying for.

     Policing in the 1930s was nothing like it is today. Cops were all male, mostly Irish, poorly educated, and undertrained. There were no hiring standards, and corruption was institutionalized. Because there was almost no public accountability, police brutality was simply part of the job. While the official pay was extremely low, cops made up the difference through petty graft. If a police officer could handle himself physically, and kept his political fences mended, he had a job for life. For most people, the depression era was a terrible time, but for cops, it was, in many ways, the best of times.           

Cesare Lombroso and the Early History of Criminal Investigation and Criminology

     For the first five thousand years or so, mankind's detective work was incredibly shoddy. A criminal investigation prior to the 1800s generally meant little more than a hasty search for eyewitnesses and motives and, above all, the coercion of the accused into confessing.

     That began to change in the mid-to late 1800s, as schools of forensic medicine opened up, as detectives turned to fingerprints [in the U.S. investigators didn't routinely process crime scenes for latents until the 1950s] and police departments began to collect mug shots. French chemists refined blood analysis.

     By the 1890s, criminologists appeared to be on the verge of a startling breakthrough: identifying criminal body types or markers.

     Internationally acclaimed Italian scientist, Cesare Lombroso, claimed that by carefully examining the physical characteristics of a suspect, i. e., every nook and cranny of the body, he could help determine guilt or innocence. [Actually, Lombroso claimed the ability to identify criminal types by analyzing their faces and general builds. For example, short, stocky men with low foreheads were often criminals.]

     Imagine the implications. Say someone was accused of rape, but the eyewitness identification was a bit shaky. What if Lombroso could inspect the man's body or skull and find definitive markers revealing the man to be a rapist? Would it be the suspect's ear? His tongue? His nose hair? No body part was off-limits to these scientific pioneers.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Frederick Harris III Murder Case

     In 1987, when he was 20-years-old, Pittsburgh area (Penn Hills) resident Frederick Harris III joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology. In 1996, Harris left the National Guard and the Army Reserve with the rank of first lieutenant.

      From December 1997 until May 2000, Harris worked as a correctional officer at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania. In May 2000, he trained as a case worker for Allegheny County Children and Youth Services, but didn't stay beyond his six-month probationary period.

     Despite his college degree and military background, Harris' life began to unravel due to mental illness that included bipolar disorder. In 2001, he was treated at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh where the psychiatrist prescribed a mood stabilizer. By 2004, he was living on a disability payment of $800 a month. In December 2004, at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Harris participated in group therapy sessions that lasted until November 2005.

     In 2009, Harris pleaded guilty to insurance fraud after he lied to his insurance company about how his motorcycle had been stolen. The judge sentenced him to six months probation.

     Harris pleaded guilty in April 2011 to criminal trespass in a bizarre case. After a real estate agent showed him a $500,000 home in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Harris moved into the vacant house without permission. He stocked the refrigerator with food and slept in a sleeping bag. When police officers came to evict him, they found Harris hiding in a closet. The judge sentenced the house squatter to probation, the terms of which he quickly violated.

     In May 2012, an assistant Allegheny County prosecutor charged Harris with the assault and harassment of his sister Angela in her home. Harris put her into a headlock and dragged her into a bedroom where he punched her several times. That day, police officers arrested him at a Pittsburgh area homeless shelter. Declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, the judge sent Harris to Torrance State Hospital for treatment. Upon his release from the mental institution, Harris pleaded guilty to the assault and harassment charges. The judge sentenced him to seven months in the Allegheny County Jail plus seven years of probation. Upon his release from the Allegheny County Jail, the authorities incarcerated Harris at a state prison in Westmoreland County in connection with his probation violation in the criminal trespass case. He remained behind bars in Westmoreland County until March 2013.

     Harris' father, in 2014, kicked his son out of his Forest Hills home after the 47-year-old tried to choke him. The homeless man's mother, Olivia Gilbert and her husband Lamar, had allowed Harris to move in with them at their home in Penn Hills, a suburban community a few miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, at two in the afternoon, Harris' sister Angela called the police to report that she hadn't heard from her mother and stepfather since Saturday December 13. Officers, in response to the welfare check call, met Angela Harris at the Gilbert house.

     From the outside, the Penn Hills residence looked normal. Because the house was locked and the officers didn't have probable cause to force their way in, Angela Harris kicked open a back door.

     Olivia Gilbert, 73, and her 76-year-old husband Lamar didn't seem to be home. A police officer, finding the master bedroom door locked, jimmied his way into the room to find Frederick Harris III lying under covers on the bed. While Harris was breathing and didn't appear injured or sick, he didn't move or speak.

     Paramedics removed Frederick Harris from the Gilbert house on a stretcher and took him to the Forbes Regional Hospital where doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him physically.

     From the hospital, deputies with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office put Harris in a patrol car and drove him to downtown Pittsburgh to be questioned at the department's homicide unit. The officers transported Harris from the police vehicle to the interrogation room in a wheelchair. When deputies asked him questions, Harris closed his eyes and refused to speak.

     Back at the Gilbert residence, detectives made a series of gruesome discoveries. In the garage deputies found three trash cans containing knotted garbage bags. One trash can contained two heads. Another bag held human arms, legs, feet, hands, and Mr. Gilbert's torso. The third trash can contained a section of a blood-soaked blue carpet that had been cut from an area near the basement laundry room. This bag also held five bloody knives. (A latent fingerprint expert would later connect the suspect to one of the garbage bags.)

     In the laundry room, officers found dried blood spatter and three bottles of bleach. They also recovered a bottle of anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner. Although parts of the laundry room had been scrubbed, a crime scene luminol test revealed the presence of blood.

     Detectives at the murder site found a receipt that showed that the three garbage cans had been recently purchased at a Home Depot store in nearby East Liberty.

     Back at the Allegheny County Sheriff's office, deputies found, in one of the suspect's pockets, a handwritten note signed "Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert" that thanked Frederick for house sitting while they were on vacation. The note contained a PS that read: "Don't answer the door for anyone."

     While questioning Harris his interrogators noticed a relatively fresh laceration on the palm of his right hand.

     On December 17, 2014, an Allegheny County assistant district attorney charged Frederick Harris III with two counts of murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, Mr. Gilbert had died from a stab wound to his torso. The forensic pathologist found that Mrs. Gilbert, whose torso was missing, had died  "by sharp instrument." (Investigators suspect Mrs. Gilbert's torso and other body parts were picked up by refuse workers and taken to a landfill.)

     In September 2016, in an Allegheny County court room, the jury found Frederick Harris III guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The defendant's attorney had failed to convince the jurors that someone else had committed the murders. The judge sentenced Harris to life without parole.
     

Victimology

The study of the victim is called victimology because everything sounds better with an ology tacked on the end.

Ben Aaronovitch

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Lucious Smith Murder Case: The Dangerous Job of Helping Dangerous People

     Stephanie Ross, after graduating in 2009 from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in psychology, landed a job as a counselor at a central Florida high school. In September 2012, the 25-year-old began working for a firm that according to its corporate literature, provided a "...comprehensive approach to managing the health needs [for insurance companies'] most costly and complex members." Ross' employer, Integra Health Management Company, arranged health care for clients diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Ross had been hired as a service coordinator which involved visits to the homes of disabled people.

     One of Ross' mentally deranged clients, 53-year-old Lucious Smith, lived in a one-story, cement-block apartment complex in Dade City, a town thirty miles north of Tampa. Smith, an anti-social person who was seriously mentally disturbed, paranoid, and violent, embodied the kind of man nobody wants as a neighbor, co-worker, relative, customer, or mental health patient. Residents of the neighborhood perceived Smith as more than just a bellicose pain-in-the-neck, they considered him physically dangerous. Because association with this man brought trouble, he was a person to avoid.

     Since 1981, Lucious Smith had served four separate stints in Florida's prison system for committing various crimes of violence. In 2005, after doing seven years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, Smith moved into the small apartment in Dade City. (Since he didn't have a job, he must have been on the public dole). Over the next six years, police were called to investigate 60 criminal complaints against Smith that included assault, trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. Smith constantly fought and threatened his neighbors, and as a result of his bad behavior, had been banned from the local convenience store.

     As part of her job, Stephanie Ross had to visit Lucious Smith in his apartment. After three house visitations, Ross placed a notation in Smith's file that this man had made her "very uncomfortable."

     On the morning of December 10, 2012, Stephanie Ross was in Dade City delivering insurance paperwork to Mr. Smith. Shortly after entering Smith's apartment, neighbors and other witnesses saw Lucious Smith chasing a young woman down the street. Stephanie Ross was yelling, "Help me! Help me!" As she ran, Smith stabbed her in the back with a butcher's knife. Smith grabbed the fleeing victim by her pony-tail and threw her to the ground. He climbed on top of his bleeding victim and plunged the knife several more times into her body.

     As people ran to Stephanie Ross' aid, Smith got up and casually strolled back to his apartment. A motorist pulled up to the bloody scene and drove Ross to a nearby hospital where she died a few hours later.

     Not long after the fatal knife attack, police officers found Smith waiting for them outside his apartment. They arrested him without incident and hauled him to the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. A local prosecutor charged Smith with first-degree murder. Shortly thereafter, a grand jury indicted him on that charge.

     In February 2013, two psychologists hired by Smith's defense attorney testified at a preliminary hearing that Mr. Smith was still mentally ill and therefore not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by the state disagreed. As a result, the judge ruled the defendant mentally competent. However, in May 2013, after further examinations of Mr. Smith, the state mental health expert changed his evaluation. This led the judge to change his mind and rule the defendant incompetent for trial. Judge Pat Siracusa ordered that Mr. Smith be treated at a state mental hospital until doctors there determined he was competent to stand trial.

     On June 11, 2013, the U. S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Integra Health Management with two workplace safety violations. According the the agency's news release, "A serious violation has been cited for exposing employees to incidents of violent behavior that resulted in death." The second violation involved the company's failure to report the workplace fatality.

     In February 2014, Stephanie Ross' family filed a wrongful death negligence suit against her former employer, Integra Health Management and several other firms including the owner of Smith's apartment complex and his insurer. According to the plaintiffs, Ross' Integra Health Management supervisor, aware of her documented concerns about Mr. Smith, "took no action whatsoever." The plaintiffs' attorney, Bradley Stewart, argued that the employer violated its duty to protect Ross from violence.

     Who knows how many ticking time-bombs like Lucious Smith live among us. Social workers like Stephanie Ross whose work puts them in touch with people like Smith are more vulnerable than the police who are armed and wear bullet-proof vests. Violent, out of control mental cases should not be living in open society and social workers and others who try to help them do so at great risk to themselves.

     As of October 2016, no trial date had been set in the Smith/Ross murder case. The resultant civil suit also remained pending.

The "Moral Idiot"

Over a century ago, French psychiatrists coined the term "moral idiot" to describe the type of personality who seems to be utterly lacking in conscience and unable to conform his conduct to prevailing cultural norms. Such people were later called psychopaths (a term from the Greek, meaning, literally, disease of the soul). With the rise of behaviorism, social psychology, and the emphasis on environmental influences on the shaping of the individual's personality, the term was dropped in favor of the word "sociopath." For decades, psychologists viewed this morally nonconformist flaw as the result of deficits in a person's socialization experiences, often as a result of poverty, discrimination, or some other environmental deprivation or hardship. The person's lack of social conformity--and human caring--was now laid at the doorstep of society. Sociopaths were thought to be acting out the behaviors they had learned in adapting to harsh realities.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Barring Psychologists From the Courtroom

     As trial witnesses, experts are brought into the courtroom to help jurors understand things beyond their knowledge as laypersons. Unlike ordinary witnesses, experts can express their opinions, which because they are experts, carry extra weight. Through exhibits and testimony, these specialists can point out similarities (and dissimilarities) between, say, a defendant's fingerprint, hair follicle, DNA, or handwriting to crime scene latents, hair, blood, or a document. A forensic pathologist in a murder case might be able to tell jurors when, where, and how the victim had been killed. While these courtroom experts work with physical evidence, and apply hard science to their inquiries, even they don't always draw the same conclusions after analyzing the same evidence. For the administration of justice, this is not a good thing.

     In terms of disciplines and fields of study, the more courtroom experts there are, and the less stringent the legal standards are for who is an expert, and who isn't, the worse it is for the trial process. Today there are too many trials featuring dueling expert testimony. Instead of helping jurors determine the facts of particular case, the competing experts render the process more difficult, and unreliable. This is why, especially in the soft-science disciplines of criminology (sociology) and psychology, trial judges should deny these practitioners expert witness status. In other words, when it comes to courtroom testimony, we'd be better off if they kept their opinions to themselves.

Psychologists in Child Abuse Cases

     Pennsylvania is the only state where prosecutors are not permitted to call psychologists to the stand as expert witnesses in child molestation cases to help jurors evaluate the credibility of young accusers. Specifically, in cases where victims of sexual abuse waited months or even years to come forward, prosecutors want psychologists to explain why this doesn't mean these accusers are not believable. These expert witnesses, according to prosecutors, can help jurors understand the psychology of this form of victimhood.

     Defense attorneys, on the other hand, object to this form of expert testimony on the grounds it usurps the role of the jury, and the power of common sense, in deciding if a particular accuser is a credible witness. In performing this duty, jurors do not need the help of a psychologists whose opinions on such matters are no better than anyone else's. Moreover, history has shown that too many prosecution shrinks have lost their objectivity by  thinking of themselves as members of law enforcement teams. (For a good example of this phenomena, look up the old McMartin preschool case.)

     As much as I loath pedophiles, and like to see them put away for life, I agree with the defense attorneys on this issue. In American jurisprudence, there are now expert witnesses testifying on virtually everything under the sun. It has become a racket, and it's screwing up the system. They cost a lot of money, and are corrupting the trial process. Some experts will testify for whoever will pay them. Others specialize in helping one side or the other. Too many of these witnesses claim expertise in fields that are themselves bogus, and many come into court with phony resumes. In selecting between dueling experts, jurors might side with the hired-gun who looks the best, or is the most persuasive speaker. A complete phony can look and sound more credible than his or her more credentialed counterpart.

     Psychologists and criminologists should not be qualified as expert witnesses. The jury process, and the criminal justice system, would be better off without their conflicting opinions.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Betty Rice's Suspicious Death

     Betty Rice was 79 when she died on November 9, 2009 in her Sevierville, Tennessee mobile home. Elizabeth A. Ogle, Rice's 48-year-old niece by marriage, had moved from Chatsworth, Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountain region to care for her sick aunt. Ogle, who moved into the double-wide, had been taught by a hospice nurse how to administer the proper dosages of morphine to the dying woman.  Rice had been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread throughout her body.

     Because of her age and illness, no one questioned the Sevier County coroner's ruling that Betty Rice had died a natural death from cardiac and respiratory arrest. This determination had been made by hospital physicians without an autopsy. A few days after her passing, the body was embalmed and buried.

     Two months after Betty Rice's death, some of her relatives informed the Sevier County Sheriff's Office of their suspicion that she had been murdered by Elizabeth Ogle. Not long before she died, Betty had added the live-in caregiver to her will. The suspicious relatives believed that Ogle had given Rice an overdose of morphine in order to inherit a portion of her estate which included the mobile home and some certificates of deposit.

     In January 2010, Sevier County Sheriff Ron Seals obtained a court order that allowed the exhumation of Betty Rice's remains for autopsy. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County, and professor of pathology at the University of Tennessee, performed the autopsy. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan, a native of Croatia, reported that Betty Rice's body, at the time of her death, contained a "lethal amount of morphine."

     Eight months after the autopsy, Sevier County prosecutor Jeremy Ball charged Elizabeth Ogle with first-degree murder. The entirely circumstantial case was based on the changed will, a signature that looked forged, Ogle's role as the only person in charge of Rice's morphine intake, and the excess amount of the narcotic in the dead woman's system. Elizabeth Ogle, held under $1 million bond, awaited her trial in the Sevier County Jail.

     On October 30, 2012, in his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Ball said that Betty Rice had died from "a liver full of morphine" shortly after the defendant had forged the old woman's signature on the new version of her last will and testament. To establish the forgery, the prosecutor put a FBI handwriting expert on the stand. According to the forensic document examiner, the signature in question was substantially different than signatures on greeting cards known to be Rice's. But on cross-examination by defense attorney Charles Poole, the document witness acknowledged that he couldn't declare that without a doubt the questioned signature was a forgery.

     The prosecution's key witness, medical examiner Mileusnic-Polchan, took the stand and testified that in her expert opinion, Betty Rice had died of a morphine overdose. Conceding on cross-examination that cancer had destroyed one of Rice's lungs, the medical examiner testified that the old woman had not died a natural death. In the forensic pathologist's opinion, Betty Rice had died of morphine poisoning, and by implication, criminal homicide.

     Defense attorney Poole, by asking Dr. Mileusnic-Polchaln how the presence of morphine can be ascertained from remains that had been embalmed, failed to attenuate the certainty of her conclusion.

     On November 3, after the prosecution rested its case, the defense put on the first of its three expert witnesses. Steven Karch, a cardiac toxicologist from San Francisco, testified that there was no scientific basis for determining, in the human liver, what was an abnormal level of morphine. Although this witness was not a forensic pathologist, he testified that Betty Rice's cause of death was probably heart failure.

     Dr. Gregory Davis, a medical examiner with the state of Kentucky, testified that he "respectfully but vehemently disagreed" with Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan's cause of death determination. After reviewing her autopsy report, Dr. Gregory came to the conclusion that Betty Rice had died due to complications from her cancer. The forensic pathologist also said that assuming the morphine had contributed to Rice's death, the patient could have self-administered the pain-killer.

     Dr. Davis was followed to the stand by a pharmacologist who opined that scientists had not established a way to determine abnormal levels of drugs in a person's body through liver analysis. Scientists had not figured out what an abnormal level of morphine was in a person's liver.

     At the close of testimony on the fourth day of the trial, circuit judge Rex Ogle (no relation to the defendant) took the case out of the hands of the jurors by issuing a directed verdict of acquittal. In the judge's opinion, the prosecution had not met its burden of proving a prima facie case.

     Elizabeth Ogle was released from custody and determined eligible to inherit pursuant to Betty Rice's will.