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Sunday, August 26, 2018

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. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Seeking Political Office

What is it about elected office that attracts so many fools, charlatans, crooks, and idiots? It's no wonder that so many citizens hold politicians in such low esteem and don't even bother to vote.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, August 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Point Of View

I don't know what is worse, being on the outside looking in, or being on the inside looking out. I guess it depends on who you are. Like a lot of novelists, I've always felt like I was on the outside of society looking in, never fully belonging. It's a lonely life, but there's nothing I can do about it. You're either in or you're out, and that's just the way it is.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, August 17, 2018

Sticky Fingered Grandmas

     Although retail stores once tolerated shoplifting among the elderly, some big-box stores have installed zero-tolerance policies for the crime, which has led to the arrest of more seniors for stealing everything from dentures and hearing-aid batteries to fruit. Whatever kinds of things elderly people shoplift, their crime incites more than its share of rage and suspicion.

     In 2009, Ella Orko, eighty-six-years-old, was arrested for shoplifting at a Chicago supermarket. It was her sixty-first arrest since 1956. The police referred to her as both a "career" shoplifter and a "habitual" shoplifter. Among the items Orko shoplifted were wrinkle cream, canned salmon, instant coffee, and batteries. Over the course of her life, she had assumed at least fifty aliases….

     At sentencing, Orko rolled into court in a wheelchair wearing a neck brace and pleading deafness, although when arrested two days earlier, she was wheelchair-and neck-brace-free. The judge, who wore hearing aids on both ears, sentenced her to time served in light of her advanced age.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011 

Lifting Latent Fingerprints In The Cold

     We got a call. There had been a break-in and a murder of a man in his cabin. This was in the North Woods; there were still some cabins up there without electricity. We went up there, and it was about ten or twenty degrees below.

     The first thing we had to do was build a fire in the old wood stove to get the cabin up to heat. When it's that cold, you can't do any latent fingerprint processing. The reason is, if you put a fingerprint down in freezing temperature, the moisture you transfer, perspiration, is going to freeze. And the fingerprint powder will not stick to the print. It'll run right off. You basically need a little bit of humidity in the air to process latent prints. If it's cold, you warm the area up, and what your doing is, you're thawing the fingerprint out.

     We spent the first five hours at the scene building a fire and warming the place up just so we could go through and process the cabin for fingerprints.

Crime Scene Investigator in Connie Fletcher's, Crime Scene, 2006

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Who Started The Black Forest Wildfire?

     A wildfire is generally defined as an uncontrolled fire in an area of combustable vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Fires of this nature can be brush fires or forest fires. Wildfires are caused naturally by lightening strikes and accidentally by careless campers. Occasionally controlled fires set by government fire officials to reduce highly combustable underbrush grow out of control and burn down the entire forest. Wildfires are also caused by arsonists whose motives are usually pathological.

     At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 11, 2013, a fire that started in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, quickly raged out of control. When finally contained and extinguished on Thursday, June 20, the blaze had killed two people, destroyed 509 homes, and blackened 22 square miles of land. The Black Forest disaster is the most destructive wildfire in the history of the state.

     Fire investigation specialists with the ATF, the U. S. Forestry Service, and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office have ruled out nature and accident as the cause of the Black Forest Wildfire. That meant the fire had been intentionally set. Because the blaze killed two people, the case was being handled, under the felony-murder doctrine, as a possible arson-murder case.

     At the suspected area of the wildfire's origin, investigators were seen crawling on their hands and knees in search of physical clues pertaining to the method of ignition, and the identity of the fire setter.

     In terms of establishing the cause of a fire--locating its point of origin or origins--the debris analysis of a structural fire generally provides a more complete and clearer picture of the fire's cause. Signs of an incendiary structural fire might include heavy burning and intense heat at a spot without an ignition source, multiple points of origin, and traces of an accelerant such as gasoline. These arson indicators usually don't exist at the scene of an intentionally set wildfire.

     Because wildfires begin in remote areas, there are usually no eyewitnesses to the event. In home and business arson cases, investigative leads include the standard motives of insurance fraud and the elimination of a business competitor. In fatal fires, all of the motives that go with criminal homicide are available to the investigator. These leads and pool of usual suspects are rarely available in wildfire arson cases.

     In November 2014, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office completed its investigation into the Black Forest Wildfire. According to a sheriff's office spokesperson, while the fire was caused by a person, investigators had been unable to identify that person or whether or not the fire had been an act of arson. Perhaps it had been a campfire that had not been properly extinguished. Having exhausted all leads, the case was closed and would go into the books as unsolved.
     

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Brett Seacat Arson-Murder Case

     In 2011, 35-year-old Brett Seacat, a police instructor at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, lived with his wife Vashti and their two boys, aged two and four, in Kingman, Kansas. During the early morning hours of April 30, 2011, a fire broke out in the Seacat house in the small south central Kansas town of three thousand. Brett and the boys got out of the dwelling unharmed. Vashti Seacat, found by firefighters in her bed with a bullet in her brain, did not.

     According to Brett Seacat, he had been sleeping on the living room couch when, during the middle of the night, his wife called him on her cellphone from the master bedroom with instructions to get the boys out of the house. He ran upstairs to find the master bedroom on fire. When Brett lifted his wife from the bed, her body was limp, and she was bleeding from a bullet wound to her head. Because the room was breaking out in flames, Brett left his wife and rushed to save the boys.

     Arson investigators determined that someone used gasoline as an accelerant to set fires at several points of origin in the Seacat master bedroom. Criminal investigators with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) assumed that the arsonist had shot the victim in the head before torching the house. Since the Seacats were in the midst of a divorce, suspicion immediately fell upon Brett Seacat as the arson-murderer.

     On May 12, 2011, two agents with the KBI interrogated Brett Seacat at the Reno County Sheriff's Office. The session lasted seven hours during which time the suspect admitted that he had purchased software to track his wife's text messages and her GPS location. He told his questioners that he had threatened to move out of the house with the boys if his wife proceeded with the divorce. The day before her death, Vashti had served her husband with the divorce papers.

     During the interrogation, Seacat also conceded that on the day before his wife's sudden and violent death, he was in his office at the training center destroying computer hard drives. He said he understood why the investigators considered him a suspect in his wife's death and the arson, but insisted that she had set the fire before shooting herself in the head. According to the suspect, this was an arson-suicide case, not an arson-murder.

     In describing his discovery of the fire and his wife's body, Seacat said, "I remember hearing my own voice inside my head saying, 'dead.' Then all of a sudden it sort of came to me, 'dead, fire,
kids.' "

     In the course of the prolonged interrogation (the suspect was not under arrest), Seacat showed no emotion, and on several occasions laughed with his questioners. The KBI agents made it clear they didn't think Seacat's account of that night made any sense. Why would Vashti risk her children's lives by setting the fire, calling him on the phone, then climbing into bed, pulling up the covers, and shooting herself in the head? Moreover, Brett had no traces of soot from the fire, or blood from his wife, on his clothing. The suspect responded to this by saying: "I'm with you on that. It doesn't make sense at all."

     Agents with the KBI, on Friday, May 14, 2011, arrested Brett Seacat on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated arson, and two counts of child endangerment. A magistrate set his bail at $1 million.

     On May 23, 2013, the Seacat murder trial got underway at the Kingman County Court House in the town of Kingman. Following the opening statements by the attorneys on both sides of the case, the state began presenting its evidence with testimony from the medical examiner, arson investigators, and the KBI agents who had interrogated the defendant in May of 2011.

     On May 30, 2013, the state put Karen Roberts on the stand. Roberts, who worked with the defendant at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, testified that on the day before Vashti Seacat's death, the defendant had asked for an overhead projector to be pulled out of storage. According to the witness, Seacat spent the entire day locked into his office. (According to prosecutors, the last handwritten entry in the victim's journal, a message suggesting suicide, had been forged. Pursuant to this theory, Seacat had used the overhead projector to practice writing in his wife's hand. Seacat claimed that he needed the device in connection with a fraud investigation he was conducting.)

     KBI forensic scientist Chris Riddle, on May 31, 2013, testified that he had found traces of gasoline on the defendant's trousers. A state forensic document examiner revealed that the last entry in Vashti's journal was not in her handwriting. The expert could not, however, identify the defendant as the forger.

     Joy Trotnic, one of Vashti Seacat's co-workers, took the stand and said that on the day before her death, Vashti had expressed concern that her estranged husband would not move out of the house as promised. "Do you think Brett would burn down the house with me in it?" she asked.

     Connie Suderman, the Seacat marriage counselor, told the jurors that the defendant had called her shortly after Vashti's death. According to this witness, he said, "I killed her. Vashti is dead and it's my fault." In describing her conversation with the defendant that day, the therapist said, "I wouldn't say in hearing his voice that I thought he was distressed in any way. He was quite calm. I didn't hear sadness. I didn't hear tearfulness or crying or expressions of surprise or horror or words of exhaustion."

     According to the marriage counselor, Vashti Seacat had indicated that her husband "wasn't doing well" with the pending divorce. "She [Vashti] told me that he [the defendant] had awakened her from her sleep and told her that he had a dream that he had killed her.

     On June 6, 2013, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Roger Falk put his client on the stand. The defendant explained that he had melted two laptop hard drives after he had arrived at work that day to protect against identity theft. He said he had planned to sell the computers. During his testimony, the defendant spoke with ease, and occasionally smiled at the jurors. While portraying himself as a loving husband and father, the defendant admitted that he had threatened to expose his wife's alleged affairs, wreck her career, and take away her sons if she divorced him.

     An expert witness named Gene Gietzen testified for the defense that the pair of trousers the defendant had been wearing on the day in question had been improperly packaged by a KBI arson investigator. As a result, this evidence could have been contaminated.

     On Monday, June 10, 2013, the prosecutor and the defense attorney made their closing arguments to the jury of five men and eight women. The next day, the jury returned its verdict: guilty of all charges. At Seacat's sentencing hearing on August 5, 2013, the judge sentenced Seacat to life in prison.
     

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Killing Monroe Isadore

     Police officers in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a town of 48,000 forty-five miles south of Little Rock, responded to a call on September 7, 2013 regarding an elderly man who had pointed a gun at two people in his house. Shortly after arriving at the scene at 4:30 that Saturday afternoon, officers managed to get the endangered people safely out of the dwelling. The man with the gun, 107-year-old Monroe Isadore, locked himself into his bedroom and refused to come out.

     Police officers who surrounded the house had the legally blind, dementia-confused old man contained. Although Mr. Isadore wasn't holding hostages or posing a threat to the general public, the officer in charge of the situation called for a SWAT team, law enforcement's heavy artillery.

     By inserting a camera into Monroe's room, SWAT team officers were able to confirm that he still possessed the handgun. After a couple of hours of trying to talk the old man out of the house, a SWAT officer tossed a teargas canister through a bedroom window in an effort to flush the subject out of the dwelling. When the teargas didn't work, SWAT officers entered the home and destroyed the bedroom door with a battering ram. The second the door went down, a SWAT officer rolled in a concussion grenade that produced a loud noise and a disorienting flash of light.

     As SWAT officers charged into the bedroom, Monroe fired his handgun. Several officers shot back, killing Monroe Isadore on the spot. The county coroner pronounced the bullet-ridden old man dead at 7:30 that evening. Just three hours had passed since the initial police call. In Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the cops don't mess around. You can come out of the house now or be shot to death a couple of hours later.

     While the police-involved killing of Monroe Isadore was legally justified, was it absolutely necessary? Were innocent lives at risk? Of course not. The police had the 107-year-old trapped in the house. Had the half-blind, confused old man stumbled out the front door holding the gun, a healthy 80-year-old woman could have disarmed him.

     With the police camera in the bedroom, officers could have watched and waited until Monroe either passed out, fell asleep, or set the handgun aside. At the opportune moment,  SWAT officers could have stormed the house and taken this man into custody. But in an era where police officer safety trumps civilian safety, this is not how they do it. It's kill the armed son-of-a-bitch, then go home to your family.

     The Monroe Isadore shooting reflects, perhaps in the extreme, the effects of a highly militarized style of law enforcement where citizens are either treated like enemy combatants or potential enemy combatants. The armed public servant has been replaced by the crime-fighting warrior.

     What is truly concerning here is the stupendous lack of good judgement and police discretion. Also, where was the public outrage over the unnecessary killing of a confused, legally blind 107-year-old man? People demonstrate and wring their hands over the execution of a cold-blooded serial killer, but shrug their shoulders when the police use unnecessary deadly force. 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The First A-Word

During my grade school years, the worst thing a kid could say in class was "ain't." I remember sitting next to a kid in fourth grade who, upon being accused of chewing gum, said, "I ain't got no gum in my mouth." Suddenly every kid in the room stopped breathing. Lying to a teacher was bad enough, but using the A-word to do it constituted a major offense. The teacher yanked the hapless offender out of his desk and frogmarched him straight to the principal's office for a paddling. I still don't chew gum and never utter the A-word.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, August 10, 2018

Criminal Investigation As A Thinking Person's Game

     Successful investigators are intelligent, analytical people who like to solve problems and figure things out. They are also curious, competitive, and well-organized in their work habits. They are unafraid of complexity, pay attention to detail, are articulate, and can express themselves on paper. Dedicated investigators are lifelong students, people who embrace new challenges and tough assignments. They are not only intelligent, they train themselves to think clearly, draw relevant conclusions, and keep bias out of their calculations.

     Individuals who make first-class detectives are often not suited for general police work, and a good cop will not necessarily turn into a competent investigator. The fields of law enforcement (peace keeping and order maintenance) and criminal investigation are vastly different functions that appeal to different kinds of people. The uniformed officer, often having to act quickly and decisively, instead of thoughtful discretion, is more likely to behave pursuant to a detailed code of rules and regulations committed to memory. Training a police officer is therefore nothing like preparing someone for criminal investigation. For that reason, criminal investigators should be recruited from an entirely different pool of candidates. For example, there is no reason to require trainee investigators to be as physically fit as uniformed police officers. Moreover, there is no reason to train future investigators on how to issue traffic tickets, handle drunks, bust drug suspects, or deal with domestic disturbance situations.

     The gap between policing and criminal investigation widened as law enforcement agencies, focused on drug enforcement, and concerns with terrorism, became more paramilitary in nature. Even small police departments field SWAT teams that keep sharp by arresting deadbeat dads, bad check passers, and shoplifting suspects. As the police have become less interested in criminal investigation, the public, having been educated by the O. J. Simpson case, and hooked on TV shows like "CSI," "The New Detectives," and "Forensic Files," have become increasingly more interested in, and knowledgeable about, the art and science of criminal investigation. This has widened another gap, one between public expectation, and police performance.

     Until general policing and criminal investigation are recognized and treated as separate vocations, criminal investigations of major, difficult crimes will continue to be regularly bungled. It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of a celebrated case that hasn't suffered from what could be at best termed mediocre detective work. In America, people who commit criminal homicide, not a particularly clever group of criminals, have a one-third chance of either avoiding detection, or arrest. One in a hundred arsonists end up in prison, and child molesters are having a field day. For the law breaker, America is the land of opportunity. And it is not because the U. S. Supreme Court has handcuffed detectives. Blaming democracy and due process for investigative failures has become second nature to investigators unwilling to face up to their inadequacies.

     Crime solution rates reveal just how bad our criminal investigators are doing. Only 20 percent of all criminal cases lead to an arrest. The crime solution rate hasn't changed since the FBI started keeping crime records back in 1933. The reason for this has to do with the fact that criminal investigation, as a function of the American criminal justice system, has never been a priority. This reality has created decades of public frustration and disillusionment. Instead of fixing the problem, the law enforcement community has tried to indoctrinate the public into believing that solving one out of five crimes is the best that can be expected. It's the old war-is-hell excuse. Even in baseball, batting 200 is considered mediocre.

     Investigative trainees are not only drawn from the wrong well, they are improperly trained by instructors who emphasize methods and techniques designed to resolve cases quickly rather than correctly. The emphasis is on the acquisition of direct evidence in the form of eyewitness identification, and the confession, rather than the more time consuming, and complex gathering and interpretation of physical evidence; an endeavor that requires special training, and more complicated thinking. Perhaps this is why so many crime scenes are either ignored, or improperly processed. This also explains why there are so many false confessions, and people sent to prison on the strength of questionable line-up and mug shot identifications. Another method of quickly getting a case off the books involves the use of unreliable jailhouse informants who testify against defendants to get off the hook themselves. The plea bargaining process that accounts for 90 percent of the convictions in this country masks how police detectives go about their business. Because there are so few criminal trials, there is no way to know how many confessions are illegally acquired, or how many searches are not based upon adequate probable cause.

     Because most detectives are not accustomed to digging deeply into a crime, that is peeling away layers and layers of leads, they are often stumped when merely scratching the surface of a case fails to reveal the perpetrator. There is also the problem of what I call the veteran rookie, the uniformed cop who after fifteen years on patrol, is rewarded with detective duty. These veteran rookies are not only ill-equipped to be investigators, they are often burned-out bureaucrats eyeing retirement.

     The use of task forces, and team investigations, attenuate investigative responsibility, and produces poor results. A single, competent investigator will out perform a team of fifty amateurs, without direction of vision, spinning their wheels around a case.

     Only a handful of college level criminal justice programs include credible courses on criminal investigation. Most criminal justice courses are in the areas of policing, corrections, and the sociology of crime. Too many criminal investigation courses are taught by academics teaching out of textbooks, or worse, by retired cops earning a little part time money by regaling students with war stories. This begs the question: can a qualified practitioner/lecturer teach college students how to become competent, well-rounded criminal investigators? Assuming that the classroom is filled with serious students who want to become investigators, the answer is, unfortunately, no. The most a criminal investigation professor can do is educate students about the art and science of criminal investigation. While this will not turn criminal justice majors into detectives, it might enhance a student's police training, and the all-important apprenticeship that should follow the police academy.

     At the very least, besides the basic crime solving techniques--crime scene work, interviewing, interrogation, and the like--students should be exposed to a philosophy or theory of crime solution that includes the proper attitude, mind set, and core investigative values that competent detectives possess. They can be taught how to recognize the elements of a solid investigation, and identify cases that are incomplete or flawed. If nothing else, students should come away from the course knowing the basic dos and don't of criminal investigation. All outstanding criminal investigators are the products of a solid education, good training, a long internship, close on-the-job mentoring, and relevant experience.         

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

In Greece, You're Not a Criminal, Just Disabled

     In Greece, a welfare state in financial crises, the Labor Ministry issues government disability payments to, among others, pyromaniacs, compulsive gamblers, sadomasochists, and peeping Toms. That's right. Before being too critical of this form of governmental generosity, put yourself in the shoes of a pyromaniac. Who's going to hire a compulsive fire setter? (Surely you don't want fire-bugs lying on their job applications.) While sadomasochists can find satisfying jobs as bureaucrats, what do you do with the peeping Toms? (Those not afraid of heights could work as window washers, but how many jobs is that?) Lest you think the Greek government treats is pathological criminals harshly, the labor minister expanded the list of state-recognized disability categories to include: pedophiles, exhibitionists, and kleptomaniacs.

     At the risk of coming off a bit insensitive to compulsive firesetters, child molesters, and serial killers, why aren't these pathological criminals receiving the full benefits of the state while serving time in prison? How can one declare himself a pedophile and not be questioned, arrested, and put in jail?

      Perhaps you have to be a socialist to understand what's going on here. I'm also not an economist, but I do think I know why the country of Greece is in financial trouble.
    

Score One For The Devil: The Arkansas Church Murder Case

     Every once in awhile you hear of a homicide that reminds you that regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, you can be murdered. It's a sobering thought, but it's true. There are people among us, ordinary-looking people, pushing carts at Walmart, driving around in SUVs, watching their kids play soccer, sitting in movie theaters, and eating in restaurants, that for little or no reason, will take your life. As Charles Lindbergh said after the kidnapping and murder of his son in 1932, life is like war.

     On Sunday morning, June 6, 2010, Patrick Bourassa, a 34-year-old drifter with a shaved head, an ordinary face, and a tattoo featuring three skulls and a flaming dragon, was driving in eastern Arkansas on Highway 64. Slightly tall, thin, and clean-cut, Bourassa, if placed in a group of men his age, wouldn't stand out. Originally from Danielson, Connecticut, he had recently worked in a Dotham, Alabama barbecue restaurant, and had tended bar in Phoenix, Arizona and Wichita, Kansas.

     At eight-thirty that Sunday morning, as Bourassa drove west toward the small town of Hamlin, Arkansas, 80-year-old Lillian Wilson was alone inside the Central Methodist Church. She had gone there to pick-up donation baskets that had been used to collect money for victims of a recent storm. As Bourassa approached the town, his car broke down. Leaving the vehicle along the highway, he walked to the church, and forced his way into the building.

     About an  hour after Bourassa broke into the Methodist Church, he pulled into a nearby Citgo station driving Lillian Wilson's car. A few miles down the highway from the gas station, he used Wilson's credit card to buy food at a Sonic convenience store.

     As Patrick Bourassa drove west through Arkansas, the pastor of the Central Methodist Church discovered Lillian Wilson's body lying on the floor between two pews. She had been bludgeoned to death with a heavy brass cross.

     On Thursday of that week, police arrested Bourassa in Bremerton, Washington on Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle. He still possessed Lillian Wilson's car, and admitted to the arresting officers that he had murdered the old woman in the Arkansas church.

     On June 16, 2010, after waiving extradition, Bourassa and his attorney stood before a judge in Wynne, Arkansas. Advised that he had been charged with capital murder and several lesser charges, Bourassa pleaded not guilty. He awaited trial without bail in the Cross County Jail.

     On Monday, April 2, 2012, in Wynne, Arkansas, the jury selection phase of Bourassa's capital murder trial got underway. A week later, the prosecutor showed the jury a video-tape of the defendant re-enacting how he had picked the brass cross off the communion table and used it to beat Lillian Wilson to death. In response to why he had killed an old woman he didn't know, Bourassa said it was because he became enraged when she told him that God loved him and would forgive him.

     Bourassa's attorneys did not dispute the fact their client had killed Lillian Wilson. It was their mission to convince the jury to find Bourassa guilty of a lesser homicide charge in order to save him from execution. To get that result, the defense put two expert witnesses on the stand. A psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist testified that Bourassa was genetically predisposed to violence. These mental health practitioners told the jury that the defendant had suffered childhood abuse, and was bipolar. Moreover, he had a personality disorder. (No kidding.) Because these experts were not saying that Bourassa was not guilty by virtue of legal insanity, the relevance of this testimony was not clear. Surely they were not trying to make the jurors feel sorry for this man.

     On April 13, 2012, after four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourassa guilty of capital murder as well of the the lesser charges. The defendant, at the reading of the verdict, showed no emotion. Having found Patrick Bourassa guilty, the jury had to either sentence him to life in prison or death. The next day, after deliberating two hours, the jury sentenced Bourassa to life without parole. The jurors had spared this killer's life because they didn't think Lillian Wilson, the woman he had murdered, would approve of the death sentence. 

The Christopher Wells Murder-For-Hire Case

    Unlike what we see on TV and in the movies, few real-life murder-for-hire cases involve highly trained, professional contract killers. Most murder-for-hire cases consist of either emotionally unstable or desperate, sociopathic masterminds who hire rank amateurs who almost always botch the job. Identifying a mastermind is one of the easiest assignments a homicide detective will get. Masterminds are most commonly motivated by love, lust, money, rage and/or hatred. They come in all walks of life and often don't have criminal histories. Mothers hire hit men to kill cheerleading coaches, husbands hire losers to kill estranged wives to avoid the cost of divorce, life insurance beneficiaries put out murder contracts on the insured, and teenagers and young adults have parents killed in order to inherit their estates. These cases are not only shockingly common, they are intriguing because of the variety of motives and people involved. Every day someone is arrested for soliciting a contract murder. Most of these masterminds are caught before the homicide is completed because the "hit men" don't realize the people they are talking to are in reality undercover detectives. All of these mastermind/hit-man conversations (many of which take place in Wal-Mart parking lots) are caught on audio and video tape providing detailed insight into the anatomy of this crime.

CHRISTOPHER WELLS CASE

     In August 2010, Amara Wells, the 39-year-old wife of 49-year-old Christopher Wells, declared that she wanted a divorce. The couple lived with their six year old daughter in Monument, Colorado. The day after he received this news, Christopher destroyed $1000 worth of his wife's wardrobe. She and the little girl fled to Castle Rock, Colorado where they took up residence with Amara's sister-in-law and her husband. Within days of the separation, Amara filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order, informing the authorities that she feared for her life. The restraining order did not stop Christopher Wells from stalking and harassing his wife.

     On February 22, 2011, El Paso County (Colorado) police arrested Christopher for violating the restraining order. Instead of posting bail, he chose to remain in custody overnight. That evening someone entered the Castle Rock home and brutally murdered Amara and her sister-in-law's husband. They were beaten, stabbed and shot at close range. Amara's six year old discovered the bodies at three in the morning on February 23. At the time of the killings, Amara's sister-in-law was away on business.

     A few weeks after the double murder, the police arrested Christopher Wells for mastermining the two homicides. Wells and his accomplices, Josiah Sher, Matthew Plake, and Micah Woody had been employed at the Rocky Mountain Auto Brokers in Colorado Springs. Wells stood accused of paying 26-year-old Josiah Sher of Calhan, Colorado, $20,000 for the murder of Amara and her family. Sher's two helpers were charged with buying the weapons, planning the hit, driving the hit man to the scene, and disposing of the evidence. Woody and Plake were each paid $15,000 for their roles in the murders.

     The accused hit man, Josiah Sher, had been arrested in July 2005 for assault, domestic violence, and harassment. Five years later police arrested him for speeding, driving with a revoked license, and being a habitual offender. At the time of this arrest, he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves.

     Christopher Wells, a hot-tempered drug user, had a history of violence himself. Thirteen years earlier he had asked a cellmate in Fairfax County, Virginia to burglarize his ex-girlfriend's home, and in the process beat her up. Wells gave the cellmate, Richard DeLilly, a checklist detailing the M.O. along with a hand-drawn map of the target's neighborhood and a blueprint of the interior of her home. Wells told DeLilly to take what he wanted then destroy the woman's furniture. Instead of going through with the criminal assignment, De Lilly went to the police. The intended victim told the officers that he, a former Chippendales dancer who did odd jobs and abused methamphetamine, wouldn't take no for an answer. He had called her incessantly, damaged her pickup and jammed the lock on her front door. She considered him wierd and dangerous.

     On September 14, 2011, a judge ruled that the prosecutor in the Castle Rock double murder had sufficient evidence against Wells and the other three to hold the defendants without bond until their separate trials. They were charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and felony murder. All of the defendants are eligible for the death penalty.

   On January 31, 2012, the Douglas County District Attorney's Office announced that prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty against 27-year-old Josiah Sher, the suspected hit man. Two weeks later, Christopher Wells entered a plea of not guilty in a Douglas County Court.

     In March 2012, Micah Woody and Matthew Plake each pleaded guilty to  two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Both men agreed to testify against Christopher Wells and Josiah Sher. The judge sentenced each man to 48 years in prison.

     On January 30, 2014, Christopher Wells and his hit man, Josiah Sher, pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced both men to life in prison. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Mankind Outsmarting Itself

The smart boys gave us electricity, the radio, the combustion engine, television, nuclear fusion, the computer, and the Internet. In the end, it's the smart boys and their technology that will bring us all down: Mankind outsmarting itself.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Wrong House SWAT Raids

No one is entirely safe from the wrong house, pre-dawn raid by a SWAT team looking for drugs. In the drug war, a man's home is no longer his castle; it's simply a structure that can be forcefully entered by heavily armed cops operating on the word of some drug addled snitch. Over the years dozens of innocent citizens have been killed while trying to protect their homes from people they thought were criminal intruders. Moreover, countless dogs have been slaughtered in the never ending drug war. When the first SWAT teams were created in 1969, they were not intended for this. Now, because of the war on drugs, there are thousands of SWAT teams across the country engaged in a dangerous form of militaristic policing.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Father Edward Belczak Embezzlement Case

     Reverend Edward Belczak, the pastor of the 2,500-member St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan, lived extremely well for a priest who made less than $30,000 a year. In 2005, the well-known and popular 60-year-old man of the cloth purchased, with a $109,578 down payment, a luxury condo in Palm Beach, Florida from his longtime church administrator, Janice Verschuren.

     In late 2012, an internal audit of Reverend Belczak's church commissioned by the Archdiocese of Detroit, led the auditors to suspect that the priest, during the period 2004 to 2012, embezzled at least $429,000 from the parish. The archdiocese reported the audit results to the local police who turned the case over to the FBI.

     Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, in January 2013, suspended Reverend Belczak. Church administrator Verschuren, suspected of helping the pastor divert church money, resigned.

     Father Belczak's suspension did not sideline him altogether. With advanced permission from the archdiocese, he was allowed to conduct church services at other parishes throughout the Detroit area. He also continued to draw his salary.

     On April 23, 2014, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson announced that a federal grand jury sitting in Detroit had indicted Reverend Belczak and Janice Verschuren of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. According to the indictment, Belczal had purchased the Palm Beach condo with funds he had diverted from a parish bank account.

     Another act of theft alleged in the grand jury true bill involved the unlawful taking of $420,204, money bequeathed to the church following the death of a parishioner. That money, according to FBI investigators, had ended up in a secret money-market account in Belczak's name. Forensic accountants with the FBI reported that the 69-year-old priest and his 67-year-old former manager diverted more than $700,000 of the church's money, then filed false financial reports to the archdiocese in Detroit in an attempt to cover the embezzlements. If convicted as charged, the defendants faced up to twenty years in prison.

     Shortly after the indictments came down, Father Belczak's attorney, Jerome Sabbota, in speaking to reporters said, "My client is innocent. He is not happy. Nobody who gets indicted is happy. He looks forward to doing what he has to do."

     Following the priest's suspension in January 2013, many of his parishioners expressed their belief in his innocence. One of his supporters created a website called, "Friends of Father B." The internet site featured photographs of a smiling Father Belczak conducting a variety of church related activities. Supporters were also encouraged to write letters of support to Archbishop Vigneron and even to Pope Francis. (The pope had his own problems with Vatican related embezzlements involving staggering sums of money.) Believers in Father Belczak were asked to donate money to his legal defense fund.

     The "Father B" website also included a statement from the accused priest written after his suspension from St. Thomas More Church. Father Belczak wrote: "I would have never expected a year like this, yet I am at peace with all that has happened. Losing my job, home, and good reputation has brought me to my knees and here I found God awaiting me. His grace has never left me and His assurance continues to direct me. I sense his presence every day working on my behalf and I struggle to align myself to His time frame and not my own. I am reminded daily that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, perceiving as real what is not yet revealed to the senses."

     Faith is good I guess, but in the world of criminal justice, a good lawyer is even better. Imagine, if you will, a teenager confessing to Father Belczak that he had shoplifted something from Walmart. There is petty theft and there is grand theft. If FBI agents and the federal prosecutor were right about Father Belczak, he was not a petty thief, and the parishioners who supported him were victims of his crimes.

     As it turned out, Father Belczak was a big time thief. In September 2015, Father Belczak pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with stealing $573,000 from his church. As part of the plea deal, the priest agreed to forfeit the plush Florida condo he had purchased with parish money. The proceeds from the sale of the Palm Beach condo would go back to the parish in the form of restitution.  When asked why he had pleaded guilty, the priest replied, "Because I am."

     After the guilty plea, fifty parishioners and a handful of priests wrote letters to the federal district judge asking for a lenient sentence in the Belczak case.

     On January 1, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow sentenced Father Belczak to 27 months in prison. In speaking to the court, Father Belczak said, "I have stained the reputation of being a priest. I ask for the forgiveness of St. Thomas More parishioners."

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Collateral Damage: Militaristic Policing In The War On Drugs

     Let's face it, no one is safe anymore from raiding drug cops who can be armed and mindless. A man's home is no longer his castle; it's simply a structure that can be forcefully entered by combat cops on the word of some lowlife snitch. Today, not all armed home invasions involve criminals.

     Eugene Mallory, a retired engineer who had worked for Lockheed Martin forty years, resided in an unincorporated community east of Palmdale, California called Littlerock. The 80-year-old shared a home with his 48-year-old wife, Tonya Pate, and her grown son.

     Drug enforcement deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office arrived at the Mallory house at 7:30 on the morning of June 25, 2013. The officers were in possession of a search warrant authorizing them to search the house for methamphetamine and the chemicals used to manufacturer it. The probable cause underlying the search was flimsy at best. Officers, from outside the house, claimed to have smelled the odor of the ingredients used to produce meth. The narcotic officers didn't have an undercover buy or even an informant. Moreover, the suspected meth factory hadn't been subjected to a prolonged drug surveillance. All the cops had to go on was the smell of meth chemicals. (The fact that some rubber-stamp magistrate authorized this raid is frightening.)

     After forcing their way into the dwelling without notice, deputies encountered Mr. Mallory in a bedroom at the rear of the house. It was there they shot him six times as he lay in his own bed. Officers justified the lethal force by claiming that the old man had pointed a semi-automatic handgun at them.

     As it turned out, the Mallory dwelling did not contain meth or any evidence that the drug was being manufactured in the home. Deputies did come across a quantity of marijuana in Mrs. Pate's son's bedroom.

     In speaking to the media about the fatal, wrong house raid, Los Angeles County spokesperson Steve Whitmore said this: "There was a drug operation that was certainly going on in this house." (Are you kidding me? The accidental finding of grass justifies the killing of a 80-year-old man in his own bed?)

     On October 10, 2013, James Bergener, the attorney representing Mrs. Tonya Pate, announced that he had filed, on her behalf, a $50 million wrongful death suit against Los Angeles County. The out of control drug war not only cost Mr. Mallory his life, it will cost the taxpayers of bankrupt Los Angeles County a multi-million dollar court settlement.

     In the minds of our nation's drug warriors, there will always be collateral damage. War is hell.

     In January 2016, Los Angles County settled the Tonya Pate suit by paying the plaintiff $1.6 million. Militaristic drug policing is not cheap.

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Future of Small Town Policing

     Throughout the country small town police departments struggle to exist. Over the last two decades more and more small towns, primarily for economic reasons, have shut down their police departments. These communities were forced to outsource their law enforcement services to county, regional or state police agencies. This is a shame because law enforcement is best administered on a local level. Small towns have their own enforcement priorities and are best served by officers who have intimate knowledge of their town.

     In July 2018, all four members of the Blandford, Massachusetts Police Department resigned in protest. According to Interim Police Chief Roberta Samacki, "We regret leaving the town without a town police force but have no choice given the situation we face."

     The situation these officers faced involved low pay--$15 per hour--old, expired and ill-fitting bullet proof vests, and the condition of the department's best patrol vehicle. The 2010 Ford Crown Victoria, purchased secondhand, had no air conditioning and a front driver's seat stuck in the reclining position.

     Due to budget concerns, officers of the town of 1,200 may have to permanently dissolve the police department. Following the officer's resignations, the Massachusetts State Police began responding to Blandford's 911 calls.

     Unfortunately, the fate of the Blandford Police Department reflects the sad future of small town law enforcement.

The Jared Remy Murder Case

     Jerry Remy played second base for the Boston Red Sox before becoming a Boston area sportscaster. Jerry's son, Jared, a violent man who abused drugs and women, didn't succeed at anything. The only thing Jared Remy became known for was beating up his girlfriends. Between 1998 and 2005 police arrested him six times for assault and battery. The crimes usually included terroristic threats and destruction of property. Except for a man he attacked in 2001 with a beer bottle, Remy's victims were women.

     Notwithstanding his arrests for violent offenses against vulnerable victims, Jared's only punishment involved relatively short periods in jail. In most instances he got off light because his victims refused to bring charges. (Perhaps they were afraid to.)  And it didn't hurt that his father, as the color analyst for Red Sox games on the New England Sports Network, was well known among sports fans.

     In 2009, Jared lost his job as a security guard at Fenway Park in Boston after he and another guard were implicated in a steroid scandal.

     In 2013, Jared resided with his girlfriend Jennifer Martel and their 5-year-old daughter in a Waltham, Massachusetts townhouse. The 27-year-old Martel worked as an assistant store manager while pursuing a degree in elementary education at Framingham University. On August 13, Remy smashed Martel's face into a mirror. She called the police and he was arrested for assault and battery. The next day, Remy walked out of the Middlesex County Jail after posting his bond. In light of the attack, and Remy's history of violence against women, a judge granted Martel an emergency temporary restraining order.

     Just two days after assaulting his girlfriend, Remy returned to his townhouse in violation of the restraining order.  In the outdoor patio, in front of his daughter and in view of several of his neighbors, Remy pulled a knife and stabbed Martel. One of the witnesses, a neighbor named Benjamin Ray, tried to pull the frenzied Remy off the victim. Mr. Ray had to retreat when Remy threatened him with the knife. Several neighbors dialed 911.

     Waltham police officers arrested the blood-covered 25-year-old at the scene. Jennifer Martel died a short time later from multiple stab wounds. This time Remy would not be released on bail.

     On September 24, 2013, a Middlesex County grand jury indicted Jared Remy for murder as well as several lesser offenses.

     A week after Remy's indictments, a reporter for the Boston Herald interviewed Remy at the jail in Cambridge. Staying true to his sociopathic nature, Remy, with a straight face, denied stabbing Jennifer Martel to death. To the reporter, the serial abuser of women seemed upbeat and enthusiastic about his chances of an acquittal. On a more somber note, the inmate said, "I know my life is going to suck when I get out of here." ( Only a hard-core sociopath, under these circumstances, would talk about how life was going to be bad for him.)

     During the 30-minute interview, Remy complained to the reporter that having a famous father was working against him. "You know," he said, "I think we're just like normal people. But if our name was Smith, you'd never see any of this in the newspaper." (If Remy's name was Smith, he wouldn't have been free on bail to murder his girlfriend.)

     Following the Martel's murder, state officials took custody of the killer's daughter. The murder suspect's parents petitioned a judge to turn their granddaughter over to them. (Jerry Remy, following the murder, took a leave of absence from his sportscasting job.)

     Jared Remy, in speaking about his daughter with the Boston Herald reporter, said, "If she choses to know me at some point and wants to see me, that's fine. If she doesn't, that's fine too. I just want her to be happy. I love her. I want her to go to high school, I want her to go to college, I want her to have everything in life she deserves." (In true narcissistic form, it was all about what Remy wanted.) "She's in a good place. She has a dog to play with, which makes me happy, because she loves animals. I'm happy she going to be a veterinarian one day."

     Regarding the inmate's parents who had tried to visit him (he had declined to see them), Remy said, "I'm sure they're not thrilled with me right now." (Talk about an understatement.)

     At his October 8, 2013 arraignment, Jared Remy pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     In the aftermath of Jennifer Martel's brutal and predictable murder, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan came under criticism for her handling of the case.

     In May 2014, Jared Remy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole. Following the sentencing, Remy said, "Blame me for this, not my family."(Who in the hell was blaming his family?)

     

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Shayna Hubers Murder Case

     In 2012, Ryan Poston, a 29-year-old lawyer from a family of prominent attorneys and corporate executives, resided in a condo in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He was involved in an on again-off again tumultuous relationship with a 21-year-old graduate student from Lexington, Kentucky named Shayna Hubers. A 2008 graduate of the prestigious School for the Arts, Hubers was pursuing a Master's Degree in counseling from Eastern Kentucky University.

     In 2011 and 2012, Poston and Hubers exchanged hundreds of text messages that revealed she was more attracted to him than he was to her. For months Poston had been trying to get himself out of the relationship. On October 11, 2012, Poston, his mother, his stepfather and Shayna Hubers had dinner at the young attorney's dwelling.

     After dinner that night, Hubers went home but returned a few hours later. Upon her uninvited return the couple argued. Things really heated up when he informed her that he wanted to end the relationship. The argument further intensified when he told her that he had a date the following Friday night with Miss Ohio.

     At 8:53 PM the next day, Shayna Hubers called 911 from Poston's condo and said this to the emergency dispatcher: "Ma'am, I have, I have, I killed my boyfriend in self defense."

     "What happened?" asked the dispatcher.

     "He beat me and tried to carry me out of the house and I came back in to get my things. He was right in front of me and reached down and grabbed the gun, and I grabbed it out of his hands and pulled the trigger."

     Responding police officers found Ryan Poston lying on his dining room floor next to his Sig Sauer .380-caliber pistol. He had been shot in the back once, twice in the head, and three times in the torso.

     A Campbell County prosecutor charged Shayna Hubers with first-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and reckless homicide. Officers booked the suspect into the county jail in Newport, Kentucky. At her arraignment hearing the judge denied her bail.

     The Shayna Hubers murder trial got underway on April 13, 2015 in Newport, Kentucky before Circuit Judge Fred A. Stine. Commonwealth Attorney Michelle Snodgrass, in her opening statement to the jury, accused the defendant of killing Mr. Poston in a fit of jealous rage. According to the prosecutor's version of the killing, the defendant's first shot knocked the victim down. While he lay wounded and helpless on his dining room floor, she pumped five more bullets into his body.

     Defense attorney Wil Zevely told the jurors that in an act of self defense, his client had shot her boyfriend six times before he fell to the floor and died.

     The lead detective in the case took the stand for the prosecution and testified that the death scene, the victim's dining room, showed no signs of a struggle. Several of Mr. Poston's condo neighbors testified they had not heard anything that night that suggested physical violence.

     A prosecution witness took the stand and said that the defendant had sent her a Facebook message regarding her plan to shoot Mr. Poston at a gun range and make the shooting look like an accident.

     The prosecutor played the defendant's recorded police interview in which she had said: "I shot him probably six times. I shot him in the head. He was lying like this. His glasses were still on. He was twitching. I shot him a couple more times just to make sure he was dead."

     After Commonwealth Attorney Michelle Snodgrass rested the prosecution's case, defense attorney Wil Zevely put Dr. Saeed Tortani, a toxicologist, on the stand. Dr. Tortani testified that at the time of his death, Ryan Poston was taking Xanax and Adderall, drugs linked to aggression and paranoia.

     On cross-examination, the prosecutor brought out the fact the victim had been taking this medicine under a doctor's care. The commonwealth attorney also got Dr. Tortani to reveal he was being paid $380 an hour by the defense.

     Shayna Hubers took the stand on her own behalf. By presenting herself as the victim of her boyfriend's verbal and physical abuse, she laid out a scenario consistent with self defense. Her witness box story, however, did not conform to her recorded statement to the police or her 911 call.

     On Friday April 24, 2015, the jury, after deliberating five hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors recommended that Judge Stine sentence Hubers to 40 years in prison.

     Four days after the guilty verdict, the convicted woman's attorney filed a claim for his client's early parole on grounds she had been the victim of domestic violence. Under the Kentucky statute that created this sentencing exception, Hubers' attorney would have to prove that at the time of the abuse she and the victim had been living together. If Judge Stine ruled in favor of Hubers on this sentencing issue, she could be released from prison in five years.

     On August 14, 2015, Judge Stine sentenced Hubers to the recommended 40 years in prison. Pursuant to his ruling, she had to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence. That meant she won't be eligible for parole for 34 years. At the sentencing hearing, a prosecution psychologist described Hubers as a narcissist.

     On August 26, 2016, Campbell County Circuit Judge Fred Stine announced his decision to overturn Shayna Hubers' murder conviction. The judge based this ruling on the fact that juror Dave Craig, before his jury service, had been convicted of a felony. Under Kentucky law, felons are prohibited from jury service. The local prosecutor said she would re-charge Hubers and bring her to trial for a second time.

     In June 2018, while awaiting her second trial in the Campbell County Detention Center, Hubers married a fellow inmate named Richard McBee, a 41-year-old charged with robbery. Huber's second trial had been set for September 2017 and then January 2018 and then postponed again. 

Joelle Ann Lockwood: The Woman in the Cage

     Joelle Ann Lockwood, a 30-year-old mother of two, shared an apartment with her boyfriend in the southern Indiana city of Evansville. On July 9, 2014, after a night of drinking, Lockwood left the apartment following an argument with her boyfriend. She wandered the streets of Evansville that night, bouncing between groups of friends.

     In the early morning hours of July 10, while meandering about the city, Lockwood encountered Ricky House Jr., a man she had once dated. The 37-year-old offered her a ride to his place in Stewartsville, a small town 25 miles northwest of Evansville where House lived in a mobile home with his 44-year-old girlfriend, Kendra Tooley.

     Later that morning when Lockwood told House that she wanted to return to her apartment, he covered her nose and mouth with a rag soaked in chloroform. When she regained consciousness she found herself naked and tied to a bed. She had also been raped.

     Over the next several weeks Lockwood's captors forced her to wear a dog collar with an attached leash. The couple made her do chores that included cleaning and cooking. When House wasn't raping or beating her, she lived in a narrow wooden cage barely large enough for her body.

     On July 13, 2014, three days after Lockwood left her apartment in Evansville, her relatives filed a missing person report. The police coordinated a search but came up empty-handed.

     While the authorities and volunteers looked for Lockwood, her captor, Ricky House, attempted to impregnate her. He and Kendra wanted a child but Tooley was too old to get pregnant.

     Besides not having any children together, House and Tooley were in financial trouble. On Thursday September 4, 2014, Tooley's ex-husband, Ron Higgs, visited the mobile home in Stewartsville. He saw Lockwood but assumed she was a willing participant in some kind of perverted sex arrangement with Ricky House and Tooley.

     On Saturday September 6, the 61-year-old Higgs returned to the mobile home with some money for his ex-spouse. This time Lockwood told him she had been held against her will since early July during which time she had been raped and beaten.

     In an effort to secure Lockwood's freedom, Higgs offered the captors additional money for her release. Ricky House rejected that proposal that led to an argument that became physical. Ricky backed-off. When he returned he shoved the muzzle of a sawed-off shotgun in Higgs' face. Higgs grabbed the shotgun and stunned House with a head-butt. Ricky retreated into a bedroom as HIggs led Joelle Lockwood out of the mobile home.

     A Posey County prosecutor charged Ricky House and Kendra Tooley with multiple counts of rape, kidnapping and assault. The judge set House's bond at $500,000 and Tooley's at $150,000. At the arraignment hearing the couple pleaded not guilty. They were represented by a pair of public defender's office attorneys.

     Ron Higgs, the man who rescued Joelle Lockwood from her degenerate captors, said this to the authorities in charge of the case: "I hope you all have some small cells. That's where they need to spend the rest of their lives, in real small cells."

     In September 2015, a Posey County jury, after a one-week trial, found Ricky House guilty of rape, kidnapping and other lesser charges. The judge sentenced him to 93 years in prison. Kendra Tooley pleaded guilty in July 2016 to rape and two counts of criminal confinement. The judge sentenced her to 25 years in prison. The judge gave Tooley two years credit for time served. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

America's Littering Epidemic: A Problem Government Can't Clean Up

     By the 1960s, America's cities, towns, and suburban areas were being buried in trash. Bottles, cans, wrappers--you name it--covered streets, sidewalks, roads, parks, and other public areas. This unsightly, unhealthy filth led to the installations of millions of public trash containers and an aggressive anti-littering campaign designed to make dumping one's trash in public a behavior considered taboo. Legislatures also made littering a fairly serious crime through the imposition of large fines. Notwithstanding these efforts, littering grew into an even bigger environmental problem. It also represented an alarming display of civic disorder.

     In some cities, sidewalks and streets are now littered with human feces and hypodermic needles which not only lowers the quality of urban life but presents a public health problem.

     Police officers who arrest litterbugs will tell you that offenders either deny littering, or simply shrug it off. There are no apologies. Many litterers are simply indifferent or lazy, and in some cases expect others to pick up after them. Some litterbugs, feeling disenfranchised and powerless, dump their trash as acts of anger or defiance.

     A country cannot solve a littering problem through its criminal justice system. The problem can only be fixed through voluntary compliance and a sense of civic duty. A country that cannot keep itself clean is a nation in decline.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pedophilia, The Perpetual Epidemic: What Can Be Done About It?

     In the United States and around the world, pedophiles have infiltrated and infected organized religion, public and private education, the sports world, the health care industry, charitable organizations, and even the institutions of criminal justice. They flourish in our families, neighborhoods, and places of employment. Wherever there are children there are pedophiles. This is a harsh, dangerous reality that cannot be wished away. It's time societies, on behalf of children, recognize it and take this enormous problem seriously.

     Over the decades, pedophiles around the globe have destroyed the lives of tens of millions of children under the noses of the people responsible for protecting them against ruthless, serial predators incapable of rehabilitation. Indeed, these sexual deviates, often disguised as respectable people, are routinely protected through victim pay-offs, institutional cover-ups, and law enforcement indifference and/or incompetence.

     On the rare occasion a pedophile is brought to justice, usually on the strength of a plea bargain, the judge often hands down a light sentence.

     Pedophiles will continue to destroy the lives of the innocent and vulnerable until a MeToo movement is launched on behalf of children.

     Those who protect and cover up for these dangerous human beings should be punished as severely as the offenders themselves. And that punishment should be life in prison without the possibility of parole. But the history of this crime wave, and the way societies have refused to deal with it, leaves no reason to be optimistic. The best we can expect is a phony war against pedophilia that is nothing more than feel-good window dressing.
   


The Albert Jackson Sterling II Murder-For-Hire Case

      Life had been good to Roxanne Sterling, or so it seemed. She lived in a $400,000 house, was married to an ambitious man who made good money, and was eight months pregnant with her second child. Early in the afternoon of November 21, 2006, before leaving the house to go shopping, Roxanne said good-bye to her husband, Albert Jackson Sterling II. In an hour or so, Albert would be driving from the couple's home in Allen, Texas to nearby Dallas to catch a flight to his parents' home in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

     At four o'clock that afternoon, with her husband on the plane to New Mexico, Roxanne pulled her car into the garage and entered her house. She walked into the master bedroom and nearly fainted when she came face-to-face with a man wearing gloves and holding a black leather belt. The intruder rose from the edge of the bed and said, "Your husband wants you dead." Keeping his voice calm, the intruder asked the terrified woman not to panic. He had changed his mind. Instead of killing her, he was there to warn her of her husband's intentions. She was free to call the police. Roxanne, moving as fast as she could, ran to a neighbor's house. The neighbor called 911. The emergency operator could hear Roxanne sobbing uncontrollably in the background.

     Officers from the Allen Police Department found the intruder, Jeffrey Boden Thompson, waiting for them at the Sterling house. Thompson told the officers that Albert Sterling had given him the leather belt which he was to use in strangling the victim. Thompson said he had instructions to haul the corpse, in the victim's car, to a predetermined site in Dallas. After dumping the body, Thompson was to abandon the vehicle at another spot in the city. Mr. Sterling, the murder-for-hire mastermind, had designed his plan to fool the police into thinking that Roxanne had been carjacked and murdered in Dallas. For his efforts, Mr. Thompson would have earned $2,500.

     Because Jeffrey Thompson was willing to cooperate with investigators, the Collin County district attorney decided not to charge him with burglary. To show his willingness to help, Thompson played detectives a message Albert Sterling had left on his cellphone before flying to New Mexico. "The chicken has flown the coop," Albert said, referring to his wife's leaving the  house. "She will be there [back at the  house] in an hour. Just have patience."

     With detectives listening in, Thompson called Sterling in New Mexico with the message he had been told by the mastermind to leave upon completion of the hit: "The chariot (the victim's car) is in south Dallas and the trash (her body) is in west Dallas."

     The next day, in Alamogordo, police officers arrested Albert Sterling on charges of soliciting the murders of his wife and unborn child. The officers booked Sterling into the Otero County Jail where he would await extradition back to Texas. Through his attorney, Sterling denied having arranged his wife's murder, stating that she had caught Thompson in the act of burglarizing their house. The burglar, according to Sterling, had made up the hit murder business to avoid being charged with the break-in.

     Albert Sterling's family, friends, and neighbors were shocked that he had been accused of murder-for-hire. From all appearances he and Roxanne had been happily married, and looking forward to the birth of their baby. People who knew Albert refused to believe that a well-educated man with a good job would hire someone to murder his pregnant wife. Albert not only possessed a good job in the computer industry, the 38-year-old worked as a trainer/instructor in a 24-hour fitness club in Dallas. There had been rumors of a girlfriend who was one of his students in his other business, Al's Punch Time, a boxing gym. Still, no one believed he would have his pregnant wife murdered simply because he had found another woman.

     On December 7, 2006, Albert Sterling was brought back to Texas and placed in the Collins County Jail under $500,000 bond. Two weeks later, a Collin County grand jury indicted him on two counts of murder solicitation. Late in January 2007, a judge released the suspect on bail on the condition he wear an electric monitoring device, and report once a week to the court bailiff. Sterling also had to relinquished his passport.

     While awaiting his murder trial, Albert admitted to Roxanne that he had been involved in an extramarital affair. She not only forgave him, she told the Collins County prosecutor that despite what she had been told by Jeffrey Thompson, she believed that her husband was an honest, trustworthy man who had never plotted to murder her and their baby. She stunned the prosecutor by saying that she would testify on his behalf at his upcoming trial.

     Albert Sterling, through his attorney, Russell Wilson, denied attempting to hire Jeffrey Thompson, an ex-convict, to kill his wife. According to the defense attorney, his client had been working on a car insurance scam with Mr. Thompson when Thompson chose to burglarize his house. When Roxanne walked in on him, the intruder made up the murder-for-hire story.

     On February 13, 2009, a Collin County jury of six men and six women, after a short period of deliberation, found Albert Sterling guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to two concurrent 30-year prison sentences. Throughout the trial, Roxanne remained loyal to her husband. She had taken the stand for the defense, and at the sentencing hearing, had testified on his behalf.

     Six months after the sentencing of her husband, Roxanne divorced him. When asked by reporters if she still believed in Albert's innocence, she didn't respond. After the sale of the house she and Albert had shared, the 39-year-old moved into a rental house not far from her former residence.