More than 4,100,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Friday, August 31, 2018

Assisted Suicide: The Willard Skellie Case

     In America, suicide is not a crime, but in all states but one, helping someone take their life is a form of criminal  homicide. In New York state, the act of assisted suicide is prosecuted as second-degree manslaughter which carries a sentence of five to fifteen years.

     Willard F. Skellie and his wife Kathy lived in a two-story house in Glens Falls, New York 45 miles north of Albany. Several years ago the couple adopted a child with HIV. In 2012, Kathy, suffering from mental illness, battled clinical depression. The 59-year-old woman also struggled with the side-effects of her anti-psychotic medication, and experienced panic attacks whenever she left the house. As a result, Kathy spent days at a time locked into her bedroom. Early in 2012, she tried to kill herself with a knife.

     At the end of her rope, Kathy asked her 69-year-old husband to buy a gun and teach her how to use it. Knowing that she intended to use the weapon to commit suicide, Willard purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and showed his wife how to operate it. As he demonstrated how the shotgun worked, Kathy made notes on a sheet of paper. When Willard loaded the gun, he altered the first two rounds so they wouldn't fire, hoping that two misfires would discourage Kathy from killing herself. Kathy took the loaded weapon to her room.

     On Friday, December 14, 2012, Willard went deer hunting in the morning and didn't return until evening. He went to bed that night without checking on Kathy. Early the next morning, Willard went out hunting again, and when he returned to the house a few hours later, forced his way into Kathy's bedroom. He found that his wife had used the shotgun to shoot herself in the head. He called 911.

     Officers with the Glens Falls Police Department asked Willard Skellie if he had helped his wife take her own life. After Mr. Skellie denied helping her in any way, a detective asked if he'd be willing to take a polygraph test at the state police headquarters in Greenwich, New York. Mr. Skellie agreed to take the lie detection exam.

     On Sunday, December 16, 2012, when detectives informed Mr. Skellie that the polygraph examiner believed he had lied when he denied helping his wife kill herself, he confessed to his role in her death. Mr. Skellie also admitted destroying the notes Kathy had taken regarding how to operate the shotgun. In his confession, Mr. Skellie said, "She was in mental pain from everything. She just couldn't take it anymore."

     On the day of Mr. Skellie's confession, Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan charged him with tampering with physical evidence and second-degree manslaughter. Unable to post his $100,000 cash bail, Mr. Skellies remained incarcerated in the Warren County Jail.

     In May 2013, Willard Skellie pleaded guilty to helping his wife kill herself. Judge John Hall sentenced Mr. Skellie to five years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. 

Murder Trials Are Imperfect

     In most murder trials the only person who knows the true story of the crime is the defendant, and then only if he or she is guilty. Circumstantial evidence is suspect, eyewitnesses are unreliable, forensic evidence is only as good as the laboratory that developed it. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence, if properly interpreted, can tell the story of the crime; eyewitnesses can be good observers; and a professionally run forensics laboratory can develop evidence that is trustworthy.

     But these conditions may not be assumed. States' attorneys have been known to be overly zealous in pressing their cases; defense attorneys have been know to be less dedicated, or less competent than desired; and many people have spent years, even decades, in prison before a new circumstance showed that they were wrongly convicted. The introduction of DNA analysis has freed hundreds of people who were shown to have been wrongfully convicted--many on eyewitness testimony. [Also on jailhouse informants and junk science.]

     There is another side to this judicial coin: people who have committed murder and have been tried and found not guilty due to inadequate evidence, incompetent prosecution, a brilliant defense, or a jury not disposed to convict. [The above factors explain the O.J. Simpson acquittal.] This is, perhaps, a shame in the individual case, but it does society little harm in the long run, since no one would commit murder simply in the hope that his or her prosecution would be inept. Murder has the lowest recidivist rate of any major crime. It is much more likely that a mugger or a convenience-store robber will kill someone than it is for a murderer found not guilty to kill again. Society would be more seriously harmed if the popular perception were that citizens were regularly convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Michael Kurland, How to Try a Murder, 2002

Forensic Hair and Fiber Identification

     Forensic analysts who microscopically compare crime scene hair follicles with samples from a suspect's head or other part of the body note similarieties or differences in hair length, thickness, texture, curl, color, and appearance of the medulla, the stip of cells that runs up the center of the hair shaft. A follicle, however, cannot be individualized like a fingrprint. A hair identification expert can declare, for example, that the defendant's hair looks like a crime scene follicle, or is consistent in appearance with the questioned evidence, but they are not supposed to testify that a follicle at the scene of a crime could have come from the defendant and no one else. What nobody knows about forensic hair identification is this: if two follicles look alike in all respects, what are the chances they have come from the same person? Just how strong an identification is this, and how incriminating?

     Hair identification experts also analyze crime scene strands of fiber and compare them with samples of clothing, carpets, blankets, and other fabrics associated with the defendant. Fibers can be distinguished by material, shape and color--there are 7,000 dyes used in the United States. A fiber expert can testify, for example, that a fiber on a murder victim's body is consistent in appearance with carpet fibers from the trunk of the defendant's vehicle. To go further than that is crossing the line, scientifically.

     Up until the mid-1990s, hair and fiber experts were routinely pushing the scientific envelope by identifying crime scene follicles and fibers the way an expert would identify a latent fingerprint. In hundreds, if not thousands of cases, defendants went to prison on the strength of this form of expert testimony. When DNA came on the scene, abuses in hair and fiber identification were exposed, and the scientific unreliability of these matches was dramatically revealed.

     In Texas alone, between 1995 and 2002, DNA analysis exonerated 30 men who had been convicted solely on crime scene hair identification. Dr. Edward Blake, the Berkeley, California DNA pioneer, put forensic hair identification in perspective: "They did it because they could get away with it. A defendant in Idaho and another in Florida were sent to death row in cases where the only evidence against them were jailhouse informants and crime scene hair identifications."

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Jacob Limberio's Death: A Bungled Investigation

     Deputies with the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office, in response to a shooting call, arrived at a house near Castalia, Ohio at nine-forty-five on the night of March 2, 2012. Officers with this northern Ohio sheriff's department found 19-year-old Jacob Limberio lying in a pool of blood on the living room floor. According to the three young men in the house with the body, Limberio had been dead about fifteen minutes.

     A superficial examination of the corpse revealed an entrance bullet wound on the left side of Limberio's head, and on the opposite side of his skull, the gaping exit wound made by the slug and pieces of the victim's skull. Lying not far from his feet, the officers found a .367-Magnum revolver, the presumed source of the fatal head wounds. On the living room floor deputies discovered several spent shell casings (in a revolver, the shell casings are not automatically ejected which means these casings had been manually removed from the gun). The death scene was also littered with empty beer bottles.

     According to the three witnesses, they had each fired the .357-Magnum that night in the backyard. After firing the revolver, they returned to the house where, at nine-thirty, Limberio, while talking to someone on his cellphone, pressed the gun's muzzle to his left temple and pulled the trigger. (Since he was right-handed, that would have been awkward.)

     The Sandusky County deputies left the shooting site that night without making measurements and sketches of the death scene. The officers also failed to recover the presumed fatal bullet lodged in the ceiling, or test the three witnesses for the presence of gunshot residue. The .357-Magnum was not processed for latent fingerprints, no one was asked to take a polygraph test, and the slug in the ceiling was not matched with bullets test-fired from the death scene revolver. In other words, there was no investigation into this young man's sudden, violent death.

     Just three hours after the fatal shooting, Sandusky County coroner Dr. John Wukie, without the benefit of an autopsy, wrote the following in his report: "Reason for death: Gunshot wound to head. Deceased shot self in head, may not have realized gun was loaded." Dr. Wukie ruled Jacob Limberio's death a suicide. (If Limberio didn't know the gun was loaded, the manner of his death would have been accidental.)

     In the early morning hours of March 3, 2012, Limberio's body was released to a local funeral home where the next day it was embalmed.

     That summer, Sandusky County detective William Kaiser, in his report closing the Limberio "investigation," wrote that he had found nothing in the case to indicate that this young man's death was nothing more than a "horrible accident." This deputy's conclusion did not square with the coroner's ruling that the death was a suicide. At this point it had become obvious that these law enforcement officials didn't know what they were doing.

     On September 25, 2012, Jacob's parents, Mike and Shannon Limberio, paid to have their son's body exhumed and sent to the renowned forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, Dr. Cyril Wecht. The former medical examiner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, over his long career, had performed 17,000 autopsies and testified in hundreds of high-profile murder cases.

     Dr. Wecht's autopsy led him to conclude that Jacob Limberio had been shot from two feet away. In his December 12, 2012 report, Dr. Wecht wrote: "I find it extremely difficult to envision a scenario in which Jacob Limberio could have shot himself accidentally or with suicidal intent. Accordingly, it is my professional opinion, based upon a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the manner of death in this case should be considered as homicide."

     In January 2013, a Sandusky County judge appointed Lucas County prosecutor Dean Henry to head up a new inquiry into Jacob Limberio's death. No arrests have been made, and Dr. John Wukie has not changed his manner of death ruling from suicide to homicide.

     In speaking to a local newspaper reporter in October 2012 about Limberio's death, Dr. Wecht said, "Even in the most remote county in America, this is a case that would require an autopsy. It's a no-brainer, not even a close call. It's a case that requires extensive investigation by homicide detectives. It requires the collection of all evidence, including the bullet that's still lodged in the ceiling."

     In July, 2013, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine took control of the criminal investigation into Limberiso's sudden and violent death.

     In August 2015, Jacob's parents, Mike and Shannon Limberio, appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show along with Dr. Wecht who opined that the young man's death had been a criminal homicide. The show also featured two of the witnesses to the shooting who said they had grown tired of being considered, by many, as homicide suspects. As a result, they wanted to take polygraph tests to clear their names.

     On November 20, 2015, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that a Sandusky County grand jury had concluded that the Limberio shooting had been an accident. This finding closed the case as a criminal matter. 

Memoirs and The Culture of Public Confession

Memoirs are no longer reserved for those who have climbed the Himalayas or swum the Atlantic. On the contrary, what is valued are the ordinary accounts of ordinary people about ordinary things. The market is swamped with products which claim reality--from [TV] soap operas, which people believe more than life itself, to real-life stories, which people believe as much as soap operas. In the culture of public confession, everyone has acquired the right to his personal fifteen minutes, just as Andy Warhol predicted.

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading This, 2003

What is Circumstantial Evidence?

     When inferences of guilt or innocence are drawn from the analysis of tangible things or circumstances, this physical evidence is by definition circumstantial. For example, a burglar suspect's latent fingerprint on a safe at the scene of a safe cracking is direct proof that the burglar had been present at the scene of the crime. To conclude that the suspect was also the safe cracker requires an inference. This makes the crime scene fingerprint evidence circumstantial. This doesn't necessarily mean that circumstantial evidence is weak. On the contrary, unless the suspect in this case can otherwise explain his presence at the burglary site, he will be convicted.

     Circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues and scientific analysis, at least in theory, is more reliable than direct evidence such as eyewitness identifications, confessions, and the testimony of jailhouse informants. In other words, just because a prosecutor's case is based entirely on circumstantial evidence doesn't mean it's weak. For example, the O. J Simpson double murder case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Simpson beat the rap, but the case against him was strong. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Prison Reform

I'm tired of hearing about prison reform. Of course prison life is unpleasant and dangerous. What do you expect? These places are populated by corrupt guards, violent criminals, gangs, and sexual perverts of every stripe. On top of that, they are bored, restless and sex starved. Under these circumstances, just how livable can you make a prison? You provide them with three meals, access to television, exercise equipment, recreational space, in-house prison jobs, a library, and health care. There are a lot of people who are not in prison who have less than this. What are the prison reformers going for--paradise? Here's an idea, if you don't want to experience prison, obey the law. A lot of people manage to get through their entire lives without committing crimes that call for prison time. If prison life becomes almost as good as life outside the walls, what will deter people from breaking the law? Have we forgotten that criminals should be punished for the damage they do to society? Prison reform? To hell with it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Delvin Barnes' War on Women

     Delvin Barnes, despite the fact his father was a minister, and he was raised by loving parents, turned into a predatory sex offender and an abusive husband. In 2005, the 26-year-old's wife kicked him out of their house in Philadelphia and acquired a protective order against him. As is often the case, the protective order did not protect.

     Barnes' estranged wife, at ten-fifteen on the night of November 28, 2005, was getting ready for bed when he shocked her by jumping out of her bedroom closet. She threatened to call the police if he didn't leave. He said he had no intention of leaving. When she tried to dial 911, Barnes grabbed the phone, punched her in the face, kicked her, and threatened to choke her to death.

     The husband-intruder ordered his wife to undress. He then spent the night sexually abusing her. The next morning, she talked him into letting her call her mother, someone she spoke to every day. In speaking to her mother in earshot of her captor, the battered wife managed to hint that not all was well at her house.

     Barnes' wife hoped that her mother would get the hint and call the police. Instead, her mother, accompanied by her father who was armed with a baseball bat, showed up at the house to check on her. Barnes expressed his rage over what he considered a betrayal by again assaulting his wife. When her father came to her aid, Barnes wrestled the bat from him and headed for the kitchen to grab a knife. The victim and her parents used this opportunity to run to a neighbor's house where they called 911. By the time the Philadelphia police arrived at the scene, Barnes was long gone.

     The next day, police officers found Barnes in Philadelphia and took him into custody.

     A year after the home invasion, assault and rape, a jury found Barnes guilty of aggravated assault, criminal trespass, false imprisonment, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. The jurors, however, acquitted him of two felonies: rape and burglary.

     The judge sentenced Barnes to three years behind bars. That meant he was back on the street before serving what was to begin with a sentence that did not fit the seriousness of his crimes.

     In Virginia, a young woman, in July 2014, accused the 37-year-old Barnes of threatening to blow her up with a bomb. A prosecutor charged him with the lesser crime of trespassing, a misdemeanor. Eventually the prosecutor dropped that charge.

     On October 1, 2014, in Chalres City County, Virginia, Barnes abducted, off the street, a 16-year-old girl who didn't know him. Two days later the victim showed up at a Charles City County business with third-degree burns. She told detectives that her abductor had doused her with bleach and gasoline and set her on fire. The victim had walked two miles from the home where she had been held against her will and raped.

     Investigators in Virginia identified Delvin Barnes as the Virginia girl's rapist by finding a DNA match in a national databank. The victim also identified Barnes from a past mug shot. A local prosecutor charged the suspect with attempted capital murder, abduction, forcible rape, malicious wounding, and malicious wounding with a chemical. At the time these charges were leveled, Barnes' whereabouts were unknown.

     After graduating from high school in California, Maryland, Carlesha Freeland-Gaither worked at a Factory Barn. In 2012, she moved to Philadelphia where she took up residence with her grandfather. Two years later, the 22-year-old, a certified nursing assistant at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia, moved in with her boyfriend.

     At 9:30 at night on Saturday November 2, 2014, while Freeland-Gaither walked home from a family party in the Germantown section of the city, Barnes came up behind her and pulled the screaming and kicking woman into his four-door Ford Taurus. A witness to the abduction called 911.

     At the scene of the kidnapping, detectives found the victim's eyeglasses and cellphone on the street next to shards of auto glass. Surveillance camera footage showed a man in a knit cap and dark coat abduct the victim off the street.

     Shortly after the kidnapping, the FBI, city of Philadelphia, Fraternal Order of Police, and the Citizen's Crime Commission jointly raised a $42,000 reward for information leading to the identify of the abductor.

     On Tuesday November 4, 2014, the authorities published a photograph of a man using Freeland-Gaither's ATM card at six o'clock in the morning in Aberdeen, Maryland. The next day, around noon, U.S. Marshals, ATF and FBI agents pulled Delvin Barnes out of his car that was parked on the side of the road in Jessup, Maryland. Inside the vehicle they found the kidnapped woman--alive.

     Following treatment at a local hospital for minor injuries, the agents transported Freeland-Gaither home to Philadelphia where she was greeted by family and friends.

     The suspect's uncle, Lamar Barnes, in speaking to reporters about his nephew said: "Some men grow up having problems with women. So they take it out on women. Apparently Delvin is one of them."

     In September 2015, Barnes pleaded guilty in a Philadelphia courtroom to abducting Carlesha Freeland-Gaither the previous fall. Barnes informed the judge that he had kidnapped the victim to raise money to travel back to Virginia. "It was an act of robbery in the beginning, and it turned into other things," he said. In January 2016, the judge sentenced the 37-year-old to 35 years in prison. 

The John Raymond Sterner Suicide-Murder Case

     Ocean City is a resort town on the southern tip of Fenwick Island off the coast of Maryland. In the summer the population swells to 300,000. In 2003, Reverend David Dingwell, his wife Brenda, and their three sons moved to Ocean City from the Canadian Province of British Columbia where he grew up. Father Dingwell came to Maryland to become the priest and rector of St. Paul's By-The-Sea Episcopal Church. He soon became known to his parishioners as Father David.

     Just before ten in the morning of Tuesday, November 26, 2013, a man engulfed in flames stormed into St Paul's Shepherd's Crook Building where volunteers were in the pantry preparing to open that day's food distribution service. The man on fire, John Raymond Sterner, a 56-year-old resident of Ocean City who had been a regular beneficiary of the food service and the church's used clothing outlet, bear-hugged church volunteer Jessica Waters.

     From the pantry Sterner ran into one of the ground floor church offices where the flaming man encountered parishioner Bruce Young who tried in vain to knock him to the floor where he could smother the fire. As John Sterner lay dead in the Church's ground floor office, his burning body started a fire that produced a lot of smoke in the building.

     Ocean City firefighters doused the church fire before it destroyed much of the structure. In the second-floor rectory office, they found the 51-year-old priest. Paramedics rushed Reverend Dingwell to Atlantic General Hospital where he died from smoke inhalation.

     Jessica Waters, the pantry volunteer who had been embraced by the flaming Sterner, received treatment at John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore. Bruce Young, the parishioner who tried to help the human torch, received minor burns.

     Twenty-five minutes before he ran into the church in flames, Sterner, at a Shell station a quarter mile from the church, was recorded on a surveillance camera pouring gasoline into a red container. Detectives presumed that just before running into the church building, Sterner doused himself with the accelerant and lit himself up.

     The autopsies of Father Dingwell and John Raymond Sterner were performed by the Chief Medical Examiner of Maryland.

     The man who started the fire that killed Reverend Dingwell had a history of crime dating back to June 1994. Over the years, Sterner had been convicted of breaking and entering, malicious destruction of property, disturbing the peace, and numerous offenses related to alcohol intoxication. The police had arrested Sterner in July 2013 on the charge of second-degree assault. Police officers had taken Sterner to the Peninsula Regional Medical Center for psychiatric evaluation after two of his arrests. According to police reports, the suspect showed signs of "emotional and mental crisis."

     Sterner was just the kind of person Reverend Dingwell and his parishioner volunteers helped every day.

     The fact Sterner bear-hugged the pantry volunteer suggested this was a case of suicide by fire followed by the intent to kill others. Unlike most murder-suicide cases, this killer died before his murder victim.

Thornton P. Knowles On Why Smart People Do Stupid Things

Stupid behavior is less the product of I.Q. and more the result of lust, anger, greed and/or vanity. Mix in drugs and alcohol and things can really get stupid. Perhaps this is why even the smartest people do some of the dumbest things.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Heather Cook Fatal Hit-And-Run Case

     Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Baltimore, 30-year-old Heather Cook became an ordained minister in the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church in 1987. Over the next several years she worked in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

     On September 10, 2010, while serving as canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Easton, Maryland in Caroline County, a police officer pulled Cook over when he saw her driving on a shredded tire. Reeking of alcohol with vomit on her shirt, Cook appeared highly intoxicated. In her vehicle the officer found an empty whiskey bottle, a quantity of marijuana, and a marijuana pipe. Cook, whose blood-alcohol level registered at .27 percent, three times the legal limit, admitted that besides consuming too much alcohol, she had been smoking pot.

     A Carolina County prosecutor charged the Episcopal minister with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cook pleaded guilty to DUI and in return, the prosecutor dropped the drug related charges. The judge sentenced Heather Cook to supervised probation.

      The Episcopal minister, notwithstanding her problem with booze, drugs, and the law, did not lose her job. Officials of the Maryland Diocese decided to give their wayward cleric a second chance. It was, after all, the Christian thing to do. (Had she been a cop, a lawyer, or a UPS driver, she would have been out the door.)

     In September 2014, officials in the church elected the 58-year-old cleric with the spotty history to the  position of Bishop, making her the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church of Maryland. She became, in the diocese's hierarchy, the number two authority. This may not have been the church's wisest decision.

     On Saturday at two-thirty in the afternoon of December 27, 2014, while driving her green Subaru Forester station wagon on North Roland Park Road in northern Baltimore, Bishop Cook ran into a man riding a bicycle. Instead of pulling over and rendering aid, the Bishop violated the laws of man and God by driving off.

     Paramedics rushed 41-year-old Tom Palermo, a man with a wife and two children, to a nearby hospital. Shortly upon arrival at the medical center, Mr. Palermo died.

     According to local media reports of the hit-and-run incident, Bishop Cook, twenty minutes after the accident, returned to the site of the fatal collision "to take responsibility for her actions." The authorities, however, did not take her into custody or charge her with a crime.
 
     Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Maryland Diocese, on December 30, 2014, announced that the church had placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave due to the possibility that criminal charges could be filed in the case.

     In speaking to reporters, an eyewitness to the accident said Bishop Cook waited 45 minutes before returning to the scene. According to the witness, "She pulled up with a busted windshield and got out of the car. The police talked to her and put her in the back of the patrol car."

     On January 9, 2015, Bishop Cook turned herself into the authorities after being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury and death, using a text messaging device that resulted in an accident, and driving while intoxicated.The judge set her bail at $2.5 million.

     Mr. Palermo's sister-in-law thanked Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for filing the charges. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life, and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

     In October 2015, Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence, and texting while driving. The judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     In May 2017, the Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook's request for early parole. Members of the board denied the request because Cook  never apologized for her crimes and showed no remorse for the damage she had done.

     Cook petitioned, in May 2018, for home detention. That request was denied. Two months later, Cook asked for work release. After members of victim Thomas Palermo's family objected to Cook's petition, that request was also denied.

     Heather Cook does not deserve any mercy in this case and should serve every day of her sentence behind bars.

The Andres Ordonez Murder Case: Sudden Death in Gangland LA

     Because of heavy gang activity, no place was safe in the neighborhood surrounding the Iglesia Principe de Paz (Prince of Peace) Church on Beverly Boulevard and Reno Street in Los Angeles' Westlake District. Members of the Pentecostal storefront church are immigrants from Guatemala and other Central American countries. When these congregants settled in this part of Los Angeles, they probably had no idea they would be living in such a dangerous, lawless place.

    On November 4, 2012, during a Sunday evening service, a male parishioner, while checking on the food being set up in the church parking lot, saw a teenage girl spray-painting gang graffiti on one of the church's walls. The churchgoer approached the girl and asked her to stop defacing the place of worship. She responded by shoving the man to the ground.

     After assaulting the churchgoer, the teen continued tagging the wall. Two other worshippers came out of the church and saw their fellow parishioner lying on the pavement. As the men ran to help, a male gang member who was with the young church-tagger, climbed out of a parked car and began shooting.

     One of the gunman's bullets struck and killed 25-year-old Andres Ordonez. Another member of the church, a man in his 40s, was seriously wounded. The girl with the spray-paint and her murderous companion drove off as stunned members of the congregation knelt over the victims sprawled out and bleeding on the church parking lot.

     Andres Ordonez and his pregnant wife Ana were parents of a one-year-old son. Andres had come to the United States from Guatemala as a young boy. He had worked long hours as a cook in a local restaurant and had attended this church since he was ten. His widow was the pastor's granddaughter.

     Police believed the gunman and the girl were members of a rival gang who were tagging in enemy territory. As a result, when the church member approached the girl, the gunman, on edge, had an hair-trigger response. Investigators familiar with gang-related crime know that witnesses in these neighborhoods, out of fear of reprisals, were reluctant to cooperate with the police. LAPD homicide detective Jeff Cortina told a reporter with the Los Angeles Times that "we need the public's assistance. This wasn't gangster-on-gangster. It [the murder of an innocent citizen] could happen to anybody...."

     At a press conference on November 8, 2012, Ordonez's young widow asked witnesses to come forward and help the authorities. The city of Los Angeles posted a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the gunman, his female companion, and a third subject who had been in the car with the killer. The vehicle in question was described as a red, four-door compact. The gunman was a Latino man in his early twenties with a muscular build and short hair.

     The senseless murder of a family man attending church on a Sunday evening by a trigger-happy gang member sparked public outrage and demands for more aggressive anti-gang policing. This came at a time when the LAPD was stretched thin and out of money. Because this case received a lot of local media coverage, there was a good chance these gang members would be identified and brought to justice.

     In November 2012, Los Angeles detectives arrested 24-year-old Janeth Lopez, the woman suspected of spray-painting graffiti on the church wall. Officers booked Lopez into the county jail of charges of murder, attempted murder, vandalism and gang related offenses.

     Police officers, in February 2013, took 25-year-old gang member Pedro Martinez into custody on charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and gang and gun related offenses. Officers also arrested the suspected get-away driver, 33-year-old Ivy Navarrete on the same criminal charges. If convicted, all three defendants in the Ordonez murder case faced up to live in prison.

     Martinez, Navarrete, and Lopez went to trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in November 2014. On December 19, 2014, the jury found Pedro Martinez guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and several gun an gang related charges. The jurors, however, deadlocked on the murder and attempted murder charges against the women. They were found guilty of the lesser offenses.

     On January 30, 2015, the judge sentenced Pedro Martinez to life in prison without parole.

     A Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, in April 2016, sentenced the spray painter, Janeth Lopez, to 40 years to life in prison. The judge sentenced Ivy Navarrette to 60 years to life behind bars for her role in the murder, attempted murder, and assault. 

Reckless Writing: Crimes Against Journalism

     In the world of sloppy crime reporting, guns shoot "rounds," indictments are "squashed," homes are "robbed," crime scenes are investigated by "criminologists," and negligent drivers are charged with "wreckless driving." Also, criminal suspects are "allegedly arrested."

     Rifles and handguns shoot bullets, not rounds. The bullet is the projectile, the round is comprised of the bullet (usually lead made from a used car battery) and the cartridge case which contains the gun powder. The round is the whole package. In semi-automatic handguns--pistols--cartridge cases are automatically ejected, and can become crime scene evidence. In revolvers, cartridges remain in the handgun. The term "firearm" generally applies to revolvers and pistols.

     Criminal indictments, "true bills" handed down by grand juries, are quashed. Bugs are squashed. An indictment is an early step in the criminal justice process which merely indicates there is enough evidence to justify moving the case forward to the trial stage. Indicted subjects are still presumed innocent.

     Since the crime of robbery is theft by force or threat of force, a crime against persons--homes and cars cannot be robbed. Homes can be burglarized. Burglary is an unlawful intrusion into a dwelling or occupied structure motivated by the intent to commit a crime--usually theft. It is a crime against property. Cars are broken into for purposes of theft.

     Reporters often use "murder" and "arson" inappropriately. These are legal terms. An intentionally set fire--an incendiary fire--is not an arson until someone is found guilty of unlawfully setting it. A killing or homicide becomes murder after someone is found guilty of unlawfully, and intentionally, taking a life.

     A criminologist is a sociologist interested in criminal subgroups such as juvenile delinquents, prison inmates, or prostitutes. They are usually academics who think about the causes of crime, and invent terminology crime writers consider mealy-mouthed and vague such as "anti-social behavior" which runs from first-degree murder to a burp in church. Criminalistics (an unfortunate term coined in 1947 by Dr. Paul Kirk), refers to a form of forensic science practiced by crime scene investigation experts interested in latent fingerprints, blood stains, bullets, cartridge cases, tire tracks, and other types of physical evidence commonly found at the scenes of crime.

     Criminalists analyze physical evidence for the purpose of interpreting the crime scene and identifying the people who were there. Criminologists are usually found in the classroom, criminalists are found at crime scenes, in crime labs, and in courtrooms.

     A wreckless driver is a careful one who has not had a wreck. A grossly negligent driver can be charged with reckless driving.

     Criminal suspects who are taken into custody have not been allegedly arrested. The arrests are facts. Until proven guilty, they are the alleged perpetrators of the charges against them.

     Not to sound like a fuddy-duddy (I don't even know if that's a word), it would be nice if journalists who cover the U. S. Supreme Court would quit calling the nine justices the "Supremes." It makes me think of the Motown singing trio.   

Monday, August 27, 2018

Murder-For-Hire: The Crime and Its Cast of Characters

     Murder-for-hire cases fall generally into one of two categories: homicides in which the contract for the killing is carried out, and crimes in which, due to law enforcement intervention in the form of an undercover operative playing the role of the assassin, no one is killed. While still serious felony, the latter offense is one of criminal solicitation.

     The cast of a murder-for-hire plot features three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide, the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role), and the victim, the person targeted for death. Supporting players might include a cast of go-betweens and accomplices such as people who put the mastermind in touch with the hit man or undercover cop, and helpers brought into the scheme by the triggerman. Murder-for-hire cases frequently include potential assassins the mastermind initially reached out to who reject the assignment. These would-be hit men, often the mastermind's friends, casual acquaintances, relatives, or co-workers, after declining to participate in the plot, either remain silent or go to the police. Many of the ones who remain silent do so because they didn't take the mastermind seriously.

     While murder-for-hire stories, in terms of the characters involved, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-enconomic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the specific motive behind the murder.

     Unlike rapists, sex murderers, pathological fire setters, and pedophiles, murder-for-hire masterminds do not conform to a general psychological profile. They are men and women of various ages and backgrounds who solicit their murders pursuant to a diverse range of motives. Murder plotters, compared to murder doers, tend to be older, more commonly female, and less likely to have histories of crime or violence. Given the pre-meditated nature of a murder-for-hire plot, masterminds, while sociopathic, desperate, depressed, drug-addled, or simply not very bright, are not psychotic and therefore not mentally ill enough to be found legally insane. Without the benefit of the insanity defense, masterminds, when their backs are against the criminal justice wall, tend to throw themselves on the mercy of the court. They often cite, as justification for their murderous acts or homicidal intentions, abuse, depression, and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol. Generally, these pleas for mercy and understanding fall on deaf judicial ears, particularly when the mastermind was obviously motivated by greed such as avoiding the cost of divorce, benefiting from a life insurance policy, or inheriting the victim's estate.

     Masterminds labor under the rather stupid belief that the best way to get away with murder is to pay someone else to do it. They think that having an alibi is their ticket to avoiding arrest and prosecution. These homicide plotters underestimate the reach of federal conspiracy laws as well as the incriminating power of motive. Moreover, while masterminds do not pull the trigger, wield the bat, or sink the knife, they do participate in the crime beyond simply asking someone to commit murder on their behalf. Although detectives won't find their bloody latents at the scene of the crime, masterminds can't help leaving their figurative fingerprints all over the conspiracy. Masterminds also leave behind witnesses in the form of hit men, go-betweens, confidants, and accomplices.

     Most murder-for-hire masterminds, before the homicide, make no secret of the fact they want to eliminate the object of their greed, or the source of their frustration and anger. To facilitate the murder, they pay the the hit men cash upfront, and promise the balance of the blood money following the target's death. The mastermind commonly provides the assassin with a hand-drawn map pinpointing the proposed murder site, a photograph of the victim, the license plate number to the target's vehicle, and an outline that details the future victim's daily routine. Masterminds also leave behind records of cellphone calls that can be quite incriminating.

     Some masterminds leave the murder methodology, the modus operandi, to the hit man, while other plotters actively participate in the planning stage. Masterminds who are engaged in the killing process usually want the homicide to look like an accident, a carjacking, rape, mugging, or deadly home invasion. What they don't realize is that making a murder look like something else is easier said than done. Besides, the people masterminds hire to do the job are commonly incompetent, indifferent, drug-addled, or just plain stupid.

     Paid assassins are almost always men who are younger than their masterminds. They are also more likely to have criminal backgrounds. Because of who they are, hit men do not plan the hit carefully or take steps not to leave behind physical evidence. After the murder, they seldom keep their mouths shut about what they have done, and who they have done it for. If paid a lot of money, hit men usually spend it on drugs or lose it gambling. While hit men are cold-blooded killers, they are nothing like the cool-headed professional assassins we see on television and in the movies. The are disorganized amateurs and bunglers who are easy to catch. Once they are caught, they are quick to spill their guts.

     Murder-for-hire targets are not random victims of crime. They are people with whom the mastermind has had some kind of relationship. People targeted for death can be current and former spouses, estranged lovers, or the mastermind's  parents, children, or business associates. Targets can include people the mastermind has previously victimized who are marked for elimination as crime accusers and potential trial witnesses. In cases of revenge involving masterminds who have scores to settle, victims can be judges, prosecutors, and police informants. Men who batter woman also become murder-for-hire victims at the hands of the women they have beaten.

     The crime solution rate for murder-for-hire offenses is relatively high, particularly when the defendant ends up negotiating with an undercover cop brought into the case by the person the mastermind either recruited for the job, or asked to find a hit man. Undercover operatives and masterminds meet, often in Walmart and shopping mall parking lots, where the conversations are audio and video-taped. Once the mastermind makes clear his or her homicidal intention, perhaps by supplying the upfront money, a weapon, or a photograph of the target, the unsuspecting plotter is arrested on the spot. These arrestees are charged with crimes that include solicitation of murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

     Occasionally, masterminds caught red-handed in undercover sting operations plead not gulty by reason of insanity, claim they have been entrapped by the police, or raise defenses based on the battered spouse syndrome. But most of the time they confess and hope for leniency.

     Solicitation cases, while incomplete in nature, are fascinating because the police-recorded conversations between the undercover cops and the masterminds provides a window into the minds of people with sociopathic personalities intent on having assorted targets murdered. these cases reveal, in the extreme, how badly a marriage or romantic relationship can deteriorate. One gets the sense, after reviewing hundreds of murder-for-hire cases, that America has become a society of depressed, drug-addled sociopaths who will stop at nothing to get what they want.

     Murder-for-hire crimes that result in actual killings are more challenging for investigators than murder solicitation cases. This is because these offenses include crime scenes, physical evidence, autopsies, witnesses, and suspected masterminds with alibis they can establish. However, compared to drive-by shootings, drug and gang-related murders, and criminal homicides without obvious suspects, murder-for-hire crimes are relatively easy to solve.

     Masterminds generally make it easy for homicide detectives by hiring hit men who are incompetent fools. Murder-for-hire plotters also create future witnesses by casting a wide net in their search for a contract killer. Because hit men are usually careless and have big mouths, these amateur assassins are almost always caught. And when they are arrested, hit men regularly inform on the mastermind in return for a lighter sentence. Murder-for-hire dramas are less about police work, forensic science, and criminal justice than they are about sociology, criminal psychology, and American culture.

     Murder-for-hire cases, from a criminal justice point of view, raise interesting questions associated with the comparative sentencing of masterminds and their hit men. Because both the mastermind and the hired killer can be found guilty of first degree murder, they are eligible, in 32 states, for the death penalty. In most cases, however, the triggerman receives a much lighter sentence that the person who hired him. This is because hit men usually confess first and agree to testify against the mastermind.

     In the recent history of murder-for-hire crime, there have been cold-blooded killers who, in return for their cooperation with law enforcement, have been awarded sentences as light as seventeen years in prison while the mastermind was sentenced to death. Although these sentencing disparities have a lot to do with the practicalities of plea bargaining, there may be more to it than that.

     Masterminding a contract murder is generally perceived as more evil than actually pulling the trigger. The particular loathing of murder-for-hire masterminds is reflected in the fact that homicide investigators and prosecutors target the instigator more than the hit man. Amateurs who kill for money, usually petty criminals who do it for peanuts, don't shock us because they are young, male criminals doing what society expects them to do. When middle and upper-middle class people exploit these desperate and pathetic losers by hiring them to do their dirty work, we hold them more responsible for the murder. For masterminds, it's who they are that makes their behavior so repugnant and evil. This is interesting because a nation full of masterminds would be a lot safer than a country full of hit men.

     

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Michelle Gibson Murder-For-Hire Case

     Steven Gibson, the owner of a machine shop, lived in Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. He resided in the Thunderbird Vista neighborhood with his 41-year-old wife Michelle, their 15-year-old son Steven Jr., and their 17-year-old daughter Alyssa. In November 2012, Steven Gibson was charged with assaulting a police officer following a DUI arrest. Local police officers, on several occasions, had been summoned to the Gibson house on accusations of domestic violence. No arrests were made because Michelle Gibson refused to press charges.

     At two in the morning of March 1, 2013, Michelle Gibson called 911 and said: "There's blood everywhere! I'm with my kids and I just got home and my husband's out in the garage dead."

     In the Gibson garage police found that the victim had been bludgeoned in the head and stabbed several times in the chest. Since nothing had been stolen from the house, the police ruled out theft as a motive. Investigators also wondered what Mr. Gibson was doing in his garage so late at night.

     On March 27, 2013, following a month-long homicide investigation, police arrested Steven Gibson Jr. on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The next day, officers arrested his mother Michelle on the same charges.

     Investigators believed that Michelle Dawn Gibson had recruited her son, her daughter, and a friend of her son's to murder her husband. (The friend, 16-year-old Erik McBee, had turned himself into the police shortly after the homicide.)

     According to police reports, Michelle Gibson told her team of young assassins that Mr. Gibson needed to be killed before he murdered a family member. In discussing the fate of her husband, Michelle mentioned that he had a life insurance policy. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind promised to pay Erik McBee $1,000 for his participation in Mr. Gibson's homicide.

     The murder-for-hire plan, as allegedly laid out by Michelle, involved incapacitating her husband with chloroform while he slept in his bed. Using the victim's own truck, they would haul his body to a nearby park where one of the young killers would shoot him in the back of the head. To make the murder look like a drug deal gone bad, the assassins planned to spread pills on and around his body.

     As is often the case in murder-for-hire schemes, things did not go as planned. At ten-thirty on the night of February 28, 2013, Erik McBee used a baseball bat to bludgeon Mr. Gibson in the head as he slept in his bed. Steven Gibson Jr. stabbed his dying father three times in the chest, then slashed his throat. Using a dolly, Eric and Steven rolled Mr. Gibson's corpse into the garage. Because Erik McBee fled the scene at the sound of a distant police siren, the dead man never made it to the park. Later that day, Erik, a Popeye's Chicken employee, turned himself into the police.

     When Michelle Gibson returned home around midnight with her daughter, she allegedly helped her son clean up the bloody murder scene. At two that morning, after disposing of physical evidence, Michelle called 911 to report the discovery of her husband's body in the garage.

     Michelle Gibson and her son Steven pleaded not guilty to all charges. Erik McBee also pleaded not guilty to murder.

     In January 2014, McBee pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Michelle and Steven Gibson. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

     Steven Gibson Jr. pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2014. The judge sentenced him to 22 years behind bars.

     On November 25, 2014, the jury found Michelle Gibson guilty of first-degree murder. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Fenzel, in February 2015, sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Shivinder Singh Grover's Triple Murder And Suicide

     A Sikh is a follower of Sikism, a religion that originated in the Punjab region of India in the 1500s. There are about 500,000 Sikhs residing in the United States.

     Shivinder Singh Grover and his family were active members of suburban Atlanta's Sikh community of a thousand worshipers. The 52-year-old father of two had graduated from the University of Michigan, and was an executive with one of the technology companies headquartered in the city's northern suburbs. His 47-year-old wife, Damanjit Kaur Grover, worked for Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. The Grover family resided in a gated apartment community in Johns Creek, Georgia, a town 25 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta.

     One of Mrs. Grover's co-workers, at eleven o'clock in the morning of Monday, February 4, 2013, became concerned when Damanjit, a reliable employee, didn't show up at the office. After her phone calls to the Grover home went unanswered, the co-worker called the Johns Creek Police Department and requested a welfare check at the Grover apartment.

     Later that morning, after breaking into the apartment, Johns Creek officers made a gruesome discovery. Officers found Damanjit dead from head wounds caused by a blunt object. The Grover children, Gurtej, aged 5, and Sartaj, 12, had fatal knife wounds in their necks. Shivinder, the presumed murderer of his family, had hanged himself.

     The Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office labeled these deaths a case of murder-suicide. Investigators looked at computer files for a suicide note or something that suggested a reason behind the killings. They found nothing instructive.

     A friend of Mr. Grover's, in speaking to a reporter with a church-related publication, said, "Shivinder was a very respectful person. He talked respectfully to everybody. He was not a person who had any animosity, anxiety, or depression."

     Shivinder Singh Grover's murder of his family and himself shocked his friends, colleagues, and family. No one saw this coming, and no one had a clue as to what drove this man of quiet intelligence and apparent stability to commit such a violent, unspeakable act. (Some of Mr. Grover's friends wondered if the family had been murdered by an outsider. There was, however, no official investigation into that possibility.) 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Power Of Imagination

Character, courage, intelligence, imagination, talent, and charisma are all good personality traits to have. But if I had too choose one of these, I would choose imagination. When I was a lonely kid I had imaginary friends. In difficult times I can imagine better times, or at least how to get through the bad times. I can imagine how things could have been worse. I couldn't be a writer without my imagination. It's my imagination that has saved me from boredom, loneliness and despair.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Tip of the Catholic Church Sexual Abuse History Size of Mt. Everest

     On August 25, 2018, CNN reported that according to BishopAccountability, an organization that has been tracking Catholic Church payoffs in sex abuse cases, the church and its insurance companies have dished out $3.8 billion since the 1950s. This report came out in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting the abuse of 1,000 victims by 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses.

     Based on BishopAccountability findings, the largest Catholic Church payoff took place in Los Angeles when, in 2007, the church paid $660 million to 508 sexual abuse accusers. The allegations involved 221 priests, lay teachers and other church employees.

     Unfortunately, these reports merely reflect the tip of the Catholic Church sexual abuse iceberg. One wonders how long hush money, cover-ups and victim intimidation will keep the Catholic Church afloat. 

The Paul Johnson/Vance Roberts Kidnap/Sexual Torture Case

     In June 1990, 20-year-old Paul Johnson and his half-brother Vance Roberts, kidnapped 17-year-old Andrea Hood off the street in Portland, Oregon. After the victim climbed into Roberts' pickup truck, the two men drove her to Roberts' house in the city where, over a period of 36 hours, they repeatedly raped her in a bedroom converted into a soundproof torture chamber. They locked Hood in a closet and at times chained her to a bed.

     On the second day of her captivity Hood managed to free herself, smash a bedroom window, and escape.

     Police officers, when they searched Vance Roberts' house, found chains and other items of torture and restraint.

     After Paul Johnson and Vance Roberts pleaded not guilty at their arraignments, a Washington County prosecutor took the case to a grand jury which indicted the half-brothers on charges of kidnapping and rape. Both men maintained their innocence.

     In February 1991, as Johnson and Roberts awaited trial, their mother bailed them out of jail. Both men immediately fled and remained at large until Vance Roberts surrendered to the authorities in 2006.

     In 2007, a jury found Vance Roberts guilty as charged. The key evidence against him involved the testimony of Andrea Hood and Michaelle Dierich, a woman kidnapped and raped by the half-brothers in 1988. The judge sentenced Roberts to 108 years in prison. He continued to insist that he was innocent.

     In September 2015, the Portland kidnap/rape case and its fugitive Paul Johnson were featured on the CNN TV show "The Hunt With John Walsh." Shortly after the episode aired, a tip came in regarding Johnson's whereabouts.

     On Monday September 29, 2015, U. S. Marshals in Guadalajara, Mexico arrested Paul Johnson as he walked to an electronics store. The fugitive of 24 years had been living in that country under the name Paul Bennett Hamilton.

     In May 2016, Paul Johnson pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree kidnapping, six counts of first-degree sodomy, six counts of first-degree rape, and three counts of first-degree sexual abuse. The Washington County judge sentenced the 46-year-old to 18 years in prison.

The Gilbert Collar Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Gilbert Thomas Collar grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, a town of 6,000 within the Montgomery metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The 135-pound, 5-foot-7 high school wrestling star was enrolled at the University of South Alabama, a 15,000-student university located in Mobile, Alabama. Collar, a social sciences major, wanted to become a high school teacher and a wrestling coach.

     A university police officer named Trevis Austin, at 1:23 in the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2012, heard someone banging loudly on one of the campus police station's windows. Upon investigation of this noise, the officer encountered Gilbert Collar, nude and crouched into a fighting stance. The muscular young man, who challenged the officer to a fight, obviously appeared to be out of his mind. When Collar made an aggressive move toward Trevis Austin, the officer drew his weapon, backed-off, and warned the threatening 18-year-old to settle down. Collar rushed toward the campus cop several times, and each time the retreating officer ordered the man to stop and desist. Collar took a knee, rose, and charged the officer again. This time officer Austin shot Collar once in the chest. The attacking freshman stumbled, regained his footing, rushed toward the officer again, then collapsed and died.

     University police officer Austin was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation to be conducted by the Mobile County District Attorney's Office and the local sheriff's department. An important aspect of the inquiry involved reviewing the surveillance camera footage of the bizarre confrontation. Some of the questions that had to be answered included whether or not the student and the officer who shot him knew each other. Investigators also wanted to determine if Collar had a  history of mental illness and/or drug use. The autopsy and toxicological would answer the question of drugs and or alcohol.

     Jeff Glass, Collar's high school wrestling coach, told a reporter that "He [Collar] was a kind soul. He was never aggressive to anyone off the mat. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy." Chis Estes, an 18-year-old who grew up with Collar, reportedly said, "Gil was a very 'chill' guy, mellow and easy-going. That's why I don't understand the story that he attacked the cop."

     According to the toxicology report, Gilbert Collar had gotten high on a laboratory drug that mimics the effects of LSD. He had taken the drug at the BayFest music concert on the night of the deadly encounter. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at a press conference, announced that the student had assaulted others prior to his death at the hands of the officer.

     In 2013, a grand jury sitting in Mobile County cleared Trevis Austin of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

     In the wake of the grand jury no bill, members of Gilbert Collar's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against former officer Austin and the university. In 2015, pursuant to that suit, former Tallahassee police chief Melvin Tucker, on behalf of the plaintiff, rendered an expert opinion regarding whether the officer's use of deadly force in the case was appropriate.

     In his report, made public in May 2015, Mr. Tucker concluded that officer Austin had used excessive force in violation of his department's deadly force policy. Melvin Tucker wrote that the officer should either have retreated or used non-lethal means to subdue the student.

     Mr. Tucker noted in his report that over the past 131 years only three police officers in the state of Alabama had been killed by an unarmed assailant. The use of force expert wrote that in 2012 not a single police officer in the United States had died as a result of being disarmed by an arrestee.

     This is one of those difficult cases that no matter how it is resolved, won't satisfy anyone. From the campus police officer's point of view, he was confronted by an aggressive, muscular young man who was apparently out of his mind and intent on engaging him in a wrestling match. For all the officer knew, he was dealing with a drug-crazed man with supernatural strength. (The officer was 5-foot-eleven and the student 5-foot-seven.) Had these two people gotten into hand-to-hand combat, there was a possibility that the attacker could have ended up with the officer's gun. Even if the officer had been equipped with a taser device, there was no guarantee it would have subdued this aggressive, out-of-control subject, particularly with the LSD type drug in his system.

     Looking at this case through the eyes of Gilbert Collar's friends and relatives, it's easy to understand why they have questions regarding this student's sudden and violent death. His mother Bonnie said this to a reporter: "Freshmen kids do stupid things, and campus police should be equipped to handle activity like that without having to use lethal force." Although Gilbert Collar was not a kid, college freshmen are known to do stupid things. But taking off your clothes in the middle of the night, and without provocation or notice, attacking a police officer, goes beyond youthful stupidity.

     

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Hannah Overton Murder Case

     Andrew Burd was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on July 28, 2002. The 16-year-old girl who gave birth to him had used, during her pregnancy, meth, crack cocaine, LSD, and marijuana. The expectant mother had also consumed alcohol, took Xanax, and smoked cigarettes. The baby's 17-year-old father worked for a traveling carnival. This infant should have been taken from his unfit parents at birth.

     Andrew was a year old when his mother took him to an emergency room with a broken arm. A doctor suspected child abuse and called Child Protective Services (CPS). Nothing came of the CPS investigation, and the baby was returned to his mother. Eventually, after repeated evidence of child abuse, CPS agents, on the grounds that Andrew was in "immediate danger," took him from his young parents. The agency placed the two and a half-year-old toddler into foster care where he was shuffled from one home to another.

     In 2006, Corpus Christi residents Larry and Hannah Overton heard about Andrew Burd through their evangelical, nondenominational church, Calvary Chapel of the Coastlands. The couple resided in a modest ranch-style house with their four young children. Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah was six months pregnant at the time. Although the family struggled financially from what Larry Overton earned as a landscape lighting installer, the couple expressed interest in adopting Andrew.

     In 1984, when Hannah Overton was seven-years-old, her father, Bennie Saenz, an evangelical preacher, was arrested and charged with murder. Convicted of bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death, then dumping her body along the shore of Padre Island, the Corpus Christi preacher went to prison for 23 years. (I presume he was released in 2007.)

     Before her marriage to Larry, Hannah had worked as a volunteer in an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico across the border from Corpus Christi. As a married couple, Larry and Hannah had performed missionary work for their church. By all accounts they were decent people, loving parents who had never been in trouble with the authorities. Moreover, neither Larry or Hannah had a history of mental illness.

     In the spring of 2006, Andrew Burd joined the Overton family on a six-month probationary basis. On October 2, 2006, not long after the official adoption, the four-year-old became suddenly ill. He began vomiting and struggled with his breathing. Hannah, instead of immediately calling 911, telephoned Larry at work. He rushed home. When Andrew became unresponsive, the Overtons rushed him to a nearby urgent care clinic. When nurses at the clinic failed to revive Andrew with CPR, paramedics transported the boy to Corpus Christi's Driscoll Hospital.

     Medical personnel at the urgent care clinic, suspicious of child abuse, notified the police shortly after Andrew was admitted to the hospital. Within hours of Andrew's hospitalization, police with the Corpus Christi Police Department searched the Overton residence.

     In the evening of October 3, 2006, Andrew Burd died. Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, finding some bleeding of the brain, external scratches and bruises, and twice the level of sodium in the dead child's blood, ruled the manner of death homicide. Dr. Fernandez identified the boy's cause of death as "acute sodium toxicity with blunt force trauma as a contributing factor." (Dr. Fernandez did not acknowledge that the brain hemorrhaging could have been caused by the sodium content in Andrew's blood.)

     Child Protection Services agents took the other Overton children out of their home and placed them with relatives. (Eventually the children would be placed under the care of Hannah Overton's mother.) A few days after Andrew's death, Corpus Christi detective Michael Hess, an investigator who specialized in child abuse cases, interrogated Hannah Overton at the police station. She had agreed to be questioned without the presence of counsel.

     Detective Hess made it clear that he believed that Hannah, feeling overburdened with so many young children, had murdered her adopted son. "I don't see," he said, "what caused the trauma to the brain. I don't see what caused the salt content. Did you at any time strike him?" (At this point, Hannah Overton should have asked for an attorney.)

     The five-hour grilling at the police station ended without a confession. In his report, Detective Hess wrote: "It should be noted that during the entire conversation (conversation?), Hannah Overton showed no emotion." Notwithstanding Hannah Overton's insistence that she had done nothing to harm her adopted son, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, a child protection crusader, charged the mother of five (she had since had her baby) with capital murder. Under Texas law, if convicted as charged, Hannah Overton faced life in prison without the chance of parole.

     The televised Hannah Overton murder trial got underway in Corpus Christi in August 2007. Prosecutor Eastwood, in her opening remarks to the jury, said, "We don't know precisely how she [the defendant] got [the salt] down Andrew, but we know that he [the child] was very, very, obedient."

     Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner testified that he had seen "burn-like scarring" on Andrew's arm that had likely been caused by "contact with a hot surface." (Judge Jose Longoria did not allow Dr. Fernandez to state that blunt force trauma had contributed to Andrew's death. The judge, due to insufficient scientific evidence to back up this part of the pathologist's testimony, ruled it inadmissible.)

     Dr. Alexander Rotta, a pediatric critical care specialist from Indianapolis, Indiana, testified that "There were so many bruises and scratches [on Andrew's body] that it would be difficult to describe them all." Dr. Rotta told the jurors that the sodium content in Andrew's blood amounted to six teaspons of salt. In the doctor's expert opinion, Andrew Burd's death had not been accidental.

     After Detective Michael Hess played a video of the defendant's interrogation, one of the nurses who had performed CPR on Andrew at the urgent care clinic testified that the defendant, during the emergency, had not behaved like a panic-stricken parent. In fact, she often had a smile on her face. Two other urgent care clinic employees took the stand and gave similar testimony. One of these witnesses said that she had heard the defendant tell someone at the clinic that the boy had stopped breathing after he had been "punished." (While children are "punished" all the time, jurors probably interpreted this comment as evidence of child abuse.)

     At the close of the state's case, defense attorneys David Jones and Chris Pinedo brought Harvard educated forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek to the stand. Dr. Melinek identified the sores on Andrew's body as being consistent with mosquito bites that had been excessively scratched. The witness, on the issue of  how all of that sodium had entered Andrew's system, said that in all probability the child suffered from a rare eating disorder called pica. Children with this malady have an uncontrollable desire to consume inappropriate substances such as salt.

     Hannah Overton, who took the stand on her own behalf, did not come off as a convincing or even sympathetic witness. (Her attorneys, given the accusations in the case, had no choice but to put her on the stand.) At this stage of the trial, given the testimony of the medical examiner, the pediatrician from Indiana, and the urgent care clinic personnel, the jurors had probably made up their minds.

     The three-week trial came to an end when the jury, after deliberating eleven hours, found Hannah Overton guilty of capital murder. (She would eventually be sent to the maximum security women's prison outside of Waco, Texas.) Overton's attorneys, shortly after the verdict, polled the jury. The defense attorneys were stunned to learn that all of the jurors had found the defendant guilty for intentionally not getting Andrew immediate medical help. None of the jurors had been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had poisoned her child with salt.

     Two days after the guilty verdict, Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency room physician on duty at Driscoll Hospital the day Andrew arrived, and the pediatrician who had resuscitated the patient before he was sent to the intensive care unit, wrote a letter to the Overton defense team. Dr. Cortes informed the lawyers that while he had been scheduled to testify for the prosecution, prosecutor Sandra Eastwood never called him to the stand. The doctor wasn't called because in his opinion, Andrew Burd's death had been accidental. Dr. Cortes, had he taken the stand, would have testified that Andrew had been a hyperactive child who suffered from an autism spectrum disorder. (Dr. Cortes had studied Andrew's medical records.) This would account for the boy's inappropriate eating habits, obsessive scratching and picking, and head banging.

     In the months following the guilty verdict, three prominent appellate attorneys--Cynthia Orr, John Raley, and Gerry Goldstein--took an interest in the Overton case. The attorneys filed an appeal alleging newly discovered exonerating evidence, ineffective legal representation at trial, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense by prosecutor Sandra Eastwood.

     In 2009, the Texas Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the Overton capital murder conviction. The justices found no proof that the state had known of Dr. Edgar Cortes' cause and manner of death opinion. The appellate judges also rejected the newly discovered evidence and ineffective counsel claims.

     In the spring of 2010, the Overton appellate team petitioned for the right to have access to the prosecution's file on the case. Prior to the trial, prosecutor Eastwood, when asked by defense attorneys for access to documents related to Andrew's stomach contents, claimed that such a report didn't exist. The appellate attorneys, when they were given the opportunity to examine the prosecution's file, found the gastric contents report. Not only did they find the report, according to this document, Andrew's stomach contents did not reveal elevated amounts of salt when he arrived at the urgent care clinic.

     Hannah Overton's appellate team also learned that prosecutor Eastwood had scheduled, for testimony, Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Moritz specialized in children's kidney diseases, and in 2007, had published a paper on accidental child salt poisoning cases. Dr. Moritz had found that a vast majority of these cases involved boys between the age of one and six. Moreover, they had all had been in foster care, or were from abusive homes. All of these boys suffered from the eating disorder, pica.

     Dr. Moritz told the appellate team that he had waited days in the Corpus Christi court house for his turn to take the stand. When the doctor told prosecutor Eastwood that he had to return to Pittsburgh, she arranged for a video deposition that because of time, was not completed. Had he taken the stand, Dr. Moritz would have testified that in his expert opinion, Andrew's death had been accidental.

     Appellate attorney Cynthia Orr, about the time of the Dr. Moritz revelation, received a letter from Anna Jimenez, the former Nueces County prosecutor who had worked on the Overton case with Sandra Eastwood. Regarding whether Eastwood had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Jimenez wrote: "I fear she [Eastwood] may have purposely withheld evidence that may have been favorable to Hannah Overton's defense.

     In April 2011, Cynthia Orr petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for an evidentiary hearing on the Overton case. Ten months later, in February 2012, appellate judge Cathy Cochran ordered the Corpus Christi trial court judge to hold such a proceeding to entertain the appellate team's assertion that Hanna Overton, an innocent person, had been wrongfully convicted of murder.

     The evidentiary hearing began on April 24, 2012. Chris Pinedo, one of Overton's trial attorneys, took the stand. Pinedo testified that he had asked prosecutor Sandra Eastwood for a sample of Andrew's gastric contents that had been acquired by Driscoll Hospital personnel. Attorney Pinedo wanted to have an independent scientist analyze this evidence for sodium content. The defense attorney was told that such evidence did not exist. Because he had acquired photographs of the stomach contents  that had been taken at the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office, attorney Pinedo knew that he had been lied to.

    Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek testified that because Neuces County medical examiner, Dr. Ray Fernandez, had failed to adequately analyze Andrew's hypothalamous and pituitary glands, his cause and manner of death conclusions were questionable.

     Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency medicine pediatrician who had attended to Andrew at Driscoll Hospital before the boy's death, took the stand and described how he had waited at the court house to testify as a prosecution witness. "I told Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, 'I hope you're going to come forward with some other [homicide] charge than capital murder because I don't think this was capital murder.' " When asked by attorney Orr why prosecutor Eastwood hadn't put him on the stand, Dr. Cortes said, "I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened." (That is fine as long as the prosecution's theory is backed up by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.)

     Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of the nation's leading experts on salt poisoning, took the stand on day two of the Overton evidentiary hearing. Dr. Moritz said he believed that if Andrew Burd had ingested a lethal dose of salt, he had fed it to himself. The doctor testified that intentional, force-fed salt poisoning was extremely rare.

     Day three of the Overton hearing featured the testimony of former prosecutor Sandra Eastwood. In 2010, Eastwood had been fired from the Nueces County District Attorney's office after she had informed the district attorney that she had been romantically involved with a sex offender. During the Overton trial in 2007, Eastwood, an alcoholic, had been functioning under the influence of alcohol and prescription diet pills. Her responses to Cynthia Orr's questions were vague, confusing, and often contradictory. The witness said that her drinking and pill taking had destroyed her memory of the Overton case. As a witness, Eastwood came off more pathetic than evil.

     Eastwood's former assistant in the Overton case, Anna Jimenez, followed her to the stand. According to Jimenez, Eastwood had made the following comment to her: "I will do anything to win this case." Jimenez testified that in her opinion, Sandra Eastwood's behavior during the Overton murder trial was "so far out." The witness testified further that she believed that Hannah Overton should have been charged with a lesser homicide offense. Regarding Eastwood's claim that the boy's gastric contents evidence did not exist, Jimenez said, "She is not truthful."

     On the sixth and final day of the Overton evidentiary proceeding, David Jones, one of Overton's trial attorneys, broke down on the stand. "I failed miserably," he said. "There's probably not a day since this verdict that I don't regret spending more time on this case. I should have done more."

     On June 1, 2012, a month after the conclusion of the Overton hearing, District Court Judge Jose Longoria issued his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a 14-page opinion, Judge Longoria explained why he saw no new evidence that would have altered the outcome of Overton's murder trial. "The court," he wrote, "concludes that all of the supposedly newly discovered evidence actually was clearly known and discussed at the time of the trial."

     Hannah Overton's appellate team, as well as a large group of people who believed she was an innocent mother who had been railroaded into prison by an overzealous prosecutor, were stunned by Judge Longoria's opinion. The imprisoned woman's fate rested with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In making their decision on whether or not to grant Overton a new trial, the appeals court justices were not bound by District Court Judge Longoria's recommendation.

     On September 18, 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 7 to 2 to grant Hannah Overton a new trial. The appellate judges cited problems associated with prosecutor Sandra Eastwood and criticized Overton's trial attorneys for not calling to the stand a salt poisoning expert.

     The Nueces County District Attorney, after losing the appeal, had four options. He could charge Overton again with capital murder, file lesser charges against her, offer a plea deal, or simply dismiss the case. The prosecutor chose to try Overton again for capital murder.

     On December 16, 2014, a Nueces County judge set Overton's bond at $50,000. She posted her bail and was released from prison to await her second trial.

     In February 2016, Hannah and Larry Overton appeared on a episode of the Dr. Phil Show. The couple, in response to pointed questions by the host, denied intentionally poisoning Andrew or delaying his emergency medical care. They also denied abusing the boy. The show featured portions of the video taped police interrogation of Hannah that showed her laughing several times during the detective's questioning. She explained that it was nervous laughter. In defending what appeared to be examples of harsh treatment of Andrew, the couple pointed out that he had been an extremely difficult child to raise. Dr. Phil did not seem convinced the Overtons had been good to the boy, asking them if they had treated him worse than their biological children.

     In May 2017, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzales officially declared Hannah Overton innocent in the death of her four-year-old son. Because she had been wrongfully convicted and behind bars for seven years, the Texas comptroller, on March 7, 2018, informed Overton that she would receive a check from the state in the amount of $573,333.33.

     

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Peter Lizon: The Husband From Hell

     Peter Lizon, a 37-year-old native of the Czech Republic, lived with his wife Stephanie and their one-year-old son along a rural road in Leroy, West Virginia not far from Charleston in the western part of the state. The front yard to the rundown house featured a pair of signs that read: "No Trespassing," and "Guard Dog on Duty." The couple raised chickens and goats.

     On June 18, 2012, 43-year-old Stephanie and her husband were in Parkersburg, West Virginia about 50 miles south of Leroy. Peter had come to town to return a rototiller he had rented from the Bosley Rental & Supply Company. After Peter returned the item, Stephanie came back to the store alone. Walking with a pronounced limp, she said she wanted to get away from her husband, and asked if she could hide in the building until he left town. She did not want anyone in the store to call the police.

     When she came out of hiding, an employee of the rental store gave Stephanie the address of a local domestic violence shelter, and money for cab fare. Again, the obviously battered woman asked that no one call the authorities.

        At the domestic violence shelter, Stephanie, using a false name, informed her hosts that her husband had kept her in chains for ten years during which time he tortured her with hot clothing irons and frying pans. He had hobbled her by smashing her feet with a hay bailer, and periodically stomped her feet to keep them mutilated and swollen. With her ankles in shackles, she had given birth to a fully developed stillborn child whose corpse had been buried on their property. Her one-year-old son had been born at home with her in shackles. The child had never been seen by a physician.

     An employee of the shelter took 45 photographs of Stephanie's scars and bruises that included burns on her back and breasts. After being examined in the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital, the women at the shelter purchased Stephanie a bus ticket to her parent's home in Alexandria, Virginia. She refused the ticket because she didn't want to abandon her son who was home with his father. Someone at the shelter called the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

     On July 5, after sheriff's deputies searched the house in Leroy, and seized, among other things, a Sunbeam iron, they arrested Peter Lizon on the charge of malicious wounding. Incarcerated in the South Central Regional Jail under $300,000 bond, Lizon denied physically abusing his wife.

     Lizon's attorney, Shawn Bayliss, told local reporters that the allegations against his client were the "fabrications of a fertile imagination or a feeble mind, one of two." The attorney (I presume court appointed) didn't stop there. "My client's spouse," he said, "has never even filed a petition seeking a domestic violence protection order. She would say, and he [Peter Lizon] would agree, domestic violence has not been part of his history." Attorney Bayliss, advertising himself as the man to see if your wife accuses you of assault, in explaining away the evidence of abuse on Stephanie Lizon's body, said, "But in the most common terms, not every injury is intentional. Not every bruise is the result of some violent act. The point of all that is, don't rush to judgement until you know all the facts." The attorney's remarks infuriated domestic violence protection advocates who worried that such statements discouraged battered women from coming forward.

     On the morning of Friday, July 13, 2012, Peter Lizon appeared in the Jackson County Magistrate Court in Ripley, West Virginia for his preliminary hearing. He sat at the defense table with two attorneys. An obviously frightened Stephanie Lizon took the stand, and in response to prosecutor Katie Castro's questions, denied that her husband had physically abused her. She explained checking into the domestic violence center under a false name as simply a ploy to avoid arguing with her husband that day in front of their one-year-old son. When asked how she had acquired the burn scars on her back and breasts, the witness said they were the result of accidents. And what about her swollen and mutilated feet? And the shackle scars on her ankles? Were these from accidents as well? Yes, answered the witness.

     Following the testimony of witnesses from the rental store and the domestic violence shelter, and the introduction of the 45 photographs depicting Stephanie's scars and bruises, the magistrate bound the case over for trial. Jackson County prosecutor Katie Castro would have to make her case through third-party witnesses, and the physical evidence of abuse.

     Craig Tatterson, the special prosecutor in the case, in August 2012, moved to have the charges against Peter Lizon dropped. According to Tatterson, because the statements made to the women at the Family Crisis Center are hearsay and could not be used in court, there was not enough evidence for the state to go forward with the case. In October 2012, a grand jury sitting in Jackson County refused to indict Peter Lizon. The local prosecutor decided not to present the case again and dropped all charges.

      

Al Capone Was a Nice Guy?

     Except for books about writers and the writing life, the memoir has become my least favorite literary genre. I'm sick of manufactured sob stories; celebrity drivel you can get from "People" magazine; fiction passed off as fact; revisionist, self-serving history; autobiographical narcissism; and memorists trying to create something out of nothing. While there are very few of us worthy of a memoir (myself included), everybody seems to be writing one, including people with relatives who were once famous, or better yet, infamous. A memoir published in 2010 by Deirdre Marie Capone, the grandniece of the prohibition ganster Al Capone, represents this form of literary exploitation.

     When Al Capone died on Jaunuary 25, 1947, the author of "Uncle Al Capone: The Untold Story From Inside His Family," was 7-years-old. During the first six years of her life, uncle Al was doing time at Alcatraz for the least of his crimes, tax evasion. When they released him in November 1939, Capone's brain was partially destroyed by untreated syphillis. He spent his last months on earth in a bath robe fishing in his swimming pool on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay, Florida.

     It's safe to say that the author of this memoir had no direct contact with her great uncle. And even if she had, she was 7-years-old. This book was obviously not written from her journal entries. Nevertheless, Deirdre Capone wants us to believe that Al Capone was the victim of heavy-handed law enforcers who exaggerated the extent of his criminality. The author is telling us that Capone was nothing more than a successful businessman giving the American public what it wanted--illegal booze. Moreover, the man loved his family and liked to cook. What a load of crap. If half of what has been written and said about Al Copone is false, he is still one of the most violent and evil criminals in American history.

       As a "businessman," Capone killed his competitors, and anyone who refused to buy his alcohol. Sure, people wanted their prohibition era booze, but they didn't bargain for the extortion, arson, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and first-degree murder that went with doing business with a man who employed more than 600 thugs and gangsters. Having paid-off most of the cops and federal prohibition agents in Chicago, Capone had a license to kill, and he used it. Calling Al Capone a "businessman" is like calling Adolph Hitler a statesman with a softspot for his German Sherpard.

     Like most mob leaders, Capone moved up the gangster career ladder by murdering people who stood in his way. He killed several men over petty arguments and barroom insults. Those he didn't murder ended up with broken arms, legs, and skulls. At an organized crime banquet he once hosted, Capone beat an associate to death with a baseball bat as he sat over his pasta. And on February 14, 1929, he masterminded the execution style mass murder of seven members of a rival gang in the so-called St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Some businessman, this Capone.

     I wonder how many of the grandnieces and grandnephews of the gangsters, killers, booze industry workers, and bystanders killed directly or indirectly by Al Capone are writing their I-was-related-to memoirs? I hope not many. Too many innocent trees have already died for dreadful books like this.

    

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Is There No Place Safe From Sexual Assault?

     One would think that a woman sedated in a hospital room or asleep onboard a commercial airliner would not be in danger of being sexually assaulted. Well, one would be wrong. Sexual offenders are everywhere, can be anyone,  and commit their crimes in places that should be off limits to this kind of personal assault.

The Case of Shafeeq Sheikh

     In 2013, Dr. Shafeeq Sheikh, an Indian-American physician, was working the night shift at the Ben Taub Hospital in Houston, Texas. That evening a 29-year-old woman was admitted for shortness of breath and wheezing. During the night, Dr. Sheikh used his access card key twelve times to gain entrance onto this patient's  floor. While she lay in bed sedated, he sexually assaulted her several times. The victim kept pressing the nurse call button but it didn't work.

     A full two years after the victim's rape kit DNA matched up to Dr. Sheikh, Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reeder charged him with second-degree sexual assault, a crime that carried a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.

     Following Dr. Sheikh's arrest, the Texas Medical Board Revoked his license to practice in the state.

     The case went to trial in August 2018, five years after the crime. The defendant admitted sexual contact with this patient but claimed that the act was consensual.

     At the conclusion of the four-day trial, the jury found Dr. Sheikh guilty as charged. In Texas, juries have the power to determine the defendant's sentence. Before his sentencing, the former physician pleaded with the jurors to show compassion and go easy on him because his criminal behavior had made life difficult for his wife and children. The jury must have been moved by this plea because it recommended a sentence of ten years probation. Although the leniency of this sentence shocked everyone in the courtroom, including the defense attorneys, the judge had no recourse but to follow the jury's recommendation. So, no prison time for a doctor who took sexual advantage of a sedated hospital patient. The former physician, pursuant to his sentence, had to register as a sex offender.

     The victim in this case, in speaking to a local television reporter, said she believed this man had sexually assaulted other women.

The Case of Prabhu Ramamoorthy

     On January 3, 2018, Prabhu Ramamoorthy and his wife were passengers on an overnight Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Ramamoorthy, from India, was in the United States on a work visa.

     The sleeping 22-year-old woman in the window seat next to Ramamoorthy was jolted awake. She found her pants unzipped and Ramamoorthy's hand in her underwear. Her blouse had also been unbuttoned.

     When the plane landed in Detroit, FBI agents took the sexual fondler into custody. United States Attorney Matthew Schneider charged Ramamoorthy with the federal crime of sexual assault, a crime that carried a sentence of up to life in prison.

     Ramamoorthy's trial got underway in August 2018. When he took the stand on his own behalf, the defendant claimed that when he used his finger to penetrate the woman in the seat next to him, he was in a "deep sleep" that came over him after taking a Tylenol pill. The jurors, not being idiots, didn't buy this defense, and after just four hours of deliberation, found Ramamoorthy guilty as charged.

     Prabhu Ramamoorthy was scheduled for sentencing on December 12, 2018. After serving his sentence, he will be deported. (If history is any guide, the deportation process may take several years.)