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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Steven Capobianco Murder Case

     On Sunday night, February 9, 2014, 27-year-old Carly Scott, a resident of Makawao on the Hawaiian island of Maui, received a call from Steven Capobianco. Scott's 24-year-old ex-boyfriend and father of her unborn child said his truck was stuck in a ditch off the Hana Highway near mile marker 30 in the Keanae area.

     Carly left her house that night with her bit bull mix Nala in her 1997 Silver Toyota 4Runner. On Monday morning, when Carly didn't show up for work, her mother reported her missing to the Maui police. That day, friends and family of the missing 5-foot-10, 160 pound woman with shoulder-length red hair, drove up and down the Hana Highway looking for her. They were concerned she might have driven off a cliff.

     That morning, February 10, 2014, one of Carly's sisters, Kimberly Scott, spoke to Steven Capobianco who said that after Carly had pulled him out of the ditch, the two of them proceeded on the highway with her following behind his truck. At some point he didn't see her headlights anymore.

     At six in the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Carly's friends came across the missing woman's SUV in Haiku, Maui. The vehicle, completely gutted by fire, had been rolled over onto its side. The burned-out Toyota was lying in a pineapple field off Peahi Road that led to a popular surfing spot known as "Jaws." Carly was not in the vehicle. (Her dog Nala had turned up two days earlier in Nahiku.)

     The day after friends found Carly's torched 4Runner in the pineapple field, Mileka Lincoln, a reporter with Hawaii News, interviewed Steven Capobianco. The ex-boyfriend confirmed that on Sunday, the night Carly went missing, she picked him up and drove him to Keanae so he could repair his truck and get it out of the ditch. Later, the two of them headed toward Haiku 25 miles up the road. She followed behind, and when he reached Twin Falls, he looked in his rearview mirror and didn't see her headlights. Capobianco drove home and assumed that Carly had made it back safety to her house.

     "I sent her a text that said, 'Thank you,' but I figured she was working. That's why she didn't get back to me right away." [Apparently Carly had a late night job.]

     According to Capobianco, "It wasn't until the cops showed up at my house at 5:30 in the morning the next day [Monday February 10] that I realized something was wrong." Capobianco told the reporter that Maui police questioned him at the police station where he took a polygraph exam. When he asked how he had done on the lie test, a detective informed him that according to the instrument, he had not told the truth.

     To the reporter, Capobianco insisted that he "absolutely" had not hurt his ex-girlfriend. "I mean," he said, "it's understandable that I'm probably the prime suspect, so they're [the police] not going to tell me details (of the case)." (Capobianco did not specify what he thought he was the prime suspect of--murder? If so, did he know something no one else knew?)

     The missing woman's ex-boyfriend said they broke up several years ago but had remained friends. He said that they "occasionally hooked-up."

     "Were you excited about being a dad?" asked the reporter.

     "Sort of. It was unexpected. She didn't tell me right away, but it was growing on me." At one point, Capobianco indicated that he didn't know for sure if he was the father of Scott's unborn child.

     On Thursday night, February 13, 2014, 16-year-old Phaedra Wais, the missing woman's half-sister, found a skirt, shirt, and bloodstained bra in a remote area off the Hana Highway. When Wais reported the find to the police, an officer told her not to disturb the evidence and wait for a detective. The girl ignored this advice and drove the garments to the police station in Kahuiui. Later, police officers found a jawbone, fingertips, and hair follicles near this site.

     In an unrelated matter, Maui police, in April 2014, arrested Capobianco on the charge of first-degree burglary. The judge set his bail at $10,000. Capobianco stood accused of breaking into a Haiku woman's apartment in September 2013 and stealing two computers and her jewelry. Police recovered the stolen property in a search of the suspect's house.

     The garments found by Phaedra Wais belonged to her missing half-sister. A forensic scientist ended hope that Scott was alive by identifying the jawbone, fingertips and hair as belonging to her. This meant the missing person case had turned into a homicide investigation.

     On July 18, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Maui indicted Steven Capobianco of murder and arson. According to the language of the true bill, the suspect had "intentionally or knowingly caused Carly Scott's death in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner that manifested exceptional depravity."

     Capobianco pleaded not guilty to the murder and arson charges.

     On December 28, 2016, a jury in Maui found Steven Capobianco guilty of second-degree murder and arson. Because the jurors labeled the killing "heinous," Capobianco was eligible for life in prison without parole. The judge was scheduled to hand down the sentence on March 24, 2017. 

America's Oldest Murder-For-Hire Mastermind

     Dorothy Clark Canfield, born and raised in Montgomery County, Texas in the eastern part of the state, began a life of crime at the rather late age of 57. In 1986, in Huntsville, Texas, a Walker County judge sentenced Canfield to seven years probation following a felony theft conviction. A few months after she got off probation in 1993, she pleaded guilty to forgery in Montgomery County. The judge in that case sentenced the 64-year-old forger and thief to ten years probation. In 2009, after being convicted of passing forged checks at the age of 80, Canfield was sent to prison for two years.

     Shortly after being released from prison in early 2011, Canfield formed a company in  Willis, Texas called International Profession Placement Services. Between September 2011 and September 2012, at least seven undocumented residents each paid Canfield to "facilitate their immigration paperwork for residency or citizenship in the United States. According to a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Canfield's operation was a scam. In November 2012, the prosecutor charged Canfield with stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from her clients. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     On April 4, 2013, while incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail 30 miles north of Houston, 84-year-old Dorothy Canfield decided to hire someone to murder the assistant district attorney in charge of her case. She also wanted her hit man to beat-up the district attorney so bad he'd be hospitalized for three weeks. The long-time thief took inspiration from the recent Texas murders of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife, and one of his assistant prosecutors. By killing the Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Robert Freyer, and incapacitating his boss, D. A. Brett Ligon, Canfield hoped to buy some time in her theft case. (At 84, I'm not sure buying time is a useful tactic.)

     In search of an assassin, Canfield reached out to a fellow inmate who promptly reported Canfield's inquiry to the Texas Rangers Office. On April 5, the inspired murder-for-hire mastermind met with an undercover investigator who showed up at the jail posing as a contract killer. In the recorded conversation that followed, Canfield offered the phony hit-man $5,000 for assistant prosecutor Robert Freyer's murder, and half of that for the beating of Freyer's boss, District Attorney Brett Ligon.

     Ten days after the Montgomery County Jail murder-for-hire meeting, Texas Rangers Wende Wakeman and Wesley Doolittle showed Canfield staged crime scene photographs depicting the murders of the Montgomery County prosecutors. The elderly inmate, showing no remorse at the sight of the men she had tried to have killed, confessed to the murder plot.

     Dorothy Canfield was charged with solicitation of capital murder and solicitation to commit aggravated assault on a public figure. She remained incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail under $500,000 bond.

     In August 2014, Canfield pleaded guilty to the theft and murder solicitation charges. At her sentencing hearing, her attorney asked Judge David Walker to grant the 85-year-old probation. The defense attorney argued that because of his client's poor health and age, she was not a danger to society. Unmoved, the judge sentenced the career thief and murder-for-hire mastermind to 53 years in prison. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Why a Pedophile Would Become a Priest

A difficult but fair question: Why would a pedophile, a man who craves sex with boys, go into the priesthood? Perhaps such a person truly believes that such behavior is not sinful, or maybe there is hope that once he becomes a priest he will be able to control his perverted sexual urges. The pedophile might become a priest simply because it gives him access to easy prey. While cynical and hard to accept, I think this explains it best. How did this all get started, and where will it all end? When will the Catholic Church stop being such a friendly place for sexual abusers?

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, September 17, 2018

Deputy Shaquille O'Neal And The Botched SWAT Raid

     In 2006, Michael Harmony, a lieutenant with the Bedford County Sheriff's office, commanded the battle against child pornography in south central Virginia. Lieutenant Harmony headed a high-profile regional task force called Blue Ridge Thunder. Shaquille O'Neal, the 7 foot 1, 325-pound center for the Miami Heat professional basketball team, an off-season reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, was a member of the regional task force. The sheriff had enlisted the famous basketball player, also a gun-carrying reserve officer in Miami Beach, as the public face of the area's anti-child pornography campaign. O'Neal had accompanied the Blue Ridge Thunder team on several military-style child pornography raids.

     In September 2006, a cyberspace undercover investigator assigned to the task force, downloaded child pornography via an Internet Provider (IP) address. Based on this information, a local magistrate subpoenaed Fairpoint Communications, the source IP, requiring the company to identify the person or persons at this IP site. The IP complied, providing the authorities with the name of A. J. Nuckols, a resident of Gretna, Virginia. The police didn't know it, but someone at Fairpoint Communications had misread the subpoena. Therefore the identification of the Nuckols family in connection with the IP address was a mistake. Without further investigation into the identify of Mr. Nuckols and his family, the police used this faulty information to acquire a warrant to search his house.

     Mr. Nuckols, a 45-year-old tobacco and cattle farmer, lived with his wife, Lisa, an elementary school teacher, on a farm near Gretna. Two of their children, ages 12 and 16, lived at home. Their 21-year-old daughter attended a nearby college. The family kept their one computer, mostly used by the children for homework, in their living room. The parents didn't know their own email address, and rarely shopped online or downloaded information from the Internet. There was nothing in their histories, lifestyle, or associations that suggested any connection to child pornography.

     Saturday morning at 10:30 A.M., September 23, 2006, two officers from the Blue Thunder Task Force knocked on the Nuckol's front door. Invited into the house by Lisa, they informed her of the warrant allowing them to search the dwelling for child pornography. "I was in shock," Lisa later told a newspaper reporter. "At first it was not just disbelief. I told them, 'We don't live that way.' "

     As the police officers spoke to Lisa Nuckols, a fleet of police cars from Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties rolled up to the house. Suddenly ten officers, dressed in black and camouflage, and wearing flak jackets, were moving about the yard carrying semiautomatic weapons. Mr. Nuckols, working near the barn, looked across the field and saw all the police vehicles. Fearing that something awful had happened to his wife, or one of his children, he jumped into his truck and sped to the house.

     "What's going on?" Mr. Nuckols asked as he climbed out of the pickup. Instead of getting an answer, one of the officers dropped into a shooting position, aimed his pistol at the farmer, and said, "Turn around and put your hands on the truck." Another member of the team handcuffed Mr. Nuckols behind his back. As they led him toward the house, Lieutenant Michael Harmony reportedly said, "Had a rough day? It's about to get a whole lot worse."

     Lieutenant Harmony informed Mr. Nuckols that he or someone in his family was suspected of having downloaded child pornography from 150 web sites. The police were there to search the house for evidence of this crime. Later, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Mr. Nuckols expressed how he felt at that moment: "When it finally became clear what they were there for, I was just flat-out mad. They came and assaulted my family for something we had nothing to do with."

     The Nuckols children came home at 2 P.M. from a high school cross-country meet. The police, still in the house, asked them if they had downloaded child pornography. The children were as stunned by the accusation as their parents. Ninety minutes later, the officers departed, taking with them the family computer, DVDs, videotapes, and other personal belongings. Before he left, Lieutenant Harmony told Mr. Nuckols that the child pornography investigation would take between six and nine months to wrap up, noting that the state crime lab was backed up.

     At one point durng the siege, Mr. Nuckols recognized the famous basketball player. "You're Shaquille O'Neal," he said. The big man, dresssed like the others, and armed, replied that his name was Tony. Nine days later, when the Nuckols family learned that the search and seizure had been based on an erroneous IP address identification, O'Neal denied involvement in the raid. However, after the Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed his participation, he admitted his role.

     After the raid, before they were aware of the mistake, Lisa Nuckols told neighbors and friends what happened. Worried that she might lose her job, she advised the principal and the school superintendent as well. In his letter to the newspaper editor, Mr. Nuckols wrote: "When you come into someone's home, that's an intrusion. I feel the same about the raid as I would about any assault on our home and family. A robber would be wrong, and these officers were wrong. No matter what the spin the police put on it, the public will always believe it's wrong. People can't believe this happens in this country."

     In response to the criticism following the revelation that the Blue Ridge Thunder team had raided the wrong house, Lieutenant Harmony blamed the Fairpoint Company. According to him, the IP had made the mistake, not the police. Lieutenant Mike Taylor with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, though not a participant in the raid, apologized to the Nuckols family.

     Shaquille O'Neal, however, took another approach by accusing Mr. Nuckols of exaggerating his account of the raid to make the police look bad. When members of the media questioned him about his role in the operation, the basketball player reportedly said, "We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they [the Nuckols] made it seem like we beat them up, and that never happened. [Well good for you Shaquille.] We went in, talked to them, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing."

     If there is one thing in law enforcement rarer than a slam dunk case, it's an apology for shoddy police work.

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave Teleka a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Teleka entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson emplyee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel schuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Taleka returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Taleka's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in the disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Teleka surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in Teleka's apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Teleka, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made….If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation, and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the body recovery, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

Stefan Sortland: A College Kid Takes a Walk on the Wild Side

     On Sunday morning, November 2, 2014, paramedics in a Poudre Valley Hospital ambulance responded to an emergency involving an intoxicated student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. When the paramedics rolled the student out of the building, they found that someone had stolen their ambulance. (The patient had to be transported to another hospital in a backup ambulance.)

     Through GPS technology, the police located the missing ambulance 12 miles away in Loveland, Colorado. Officers found the vehicle, its doors wide open and its front-end badly damages and leaking fluid, sitting in the middle of Highway 34. The officers also encountered the ambulance thief, 18-year-old Stefan Sortland standing thirty yards from the wrecked vehicle. The Colorado State University sophomore, decked out in an EMT safety vest, was holding a blanket, a cellphone, and a box of Wheat Thins.

     According to witnesses, the ambulance hit the raised median, jumped the curb, struck a highway sign, careened the wrong way and crossed back over the median before coming to a stop.

     When the college boy refused to obey the police-issued commands, they stunned him with a Taser. Referring to the police vehicles surrounding him, Sortland asked, "Why are those lights flashing on those cars?" On his way to the Loveland Police Department, Sortland informed the officers that he and the stolen ambulance had been en route to Vail, Colorado. For the most part, however, the college student rambled on incoherently.

     At the police station, Sortland said he had taken the drug molly along with some cocaine at a Halloween concert where security officers had kicked him out of the event. He also said that his friends and roommates, having all committed suicide, were dead and in heaven.

     While awaiting his transportation to the local jail, Sortland kicked a police department bench and a wall then started masturbating. (Apparently he wasn't handcuffed behind his back.)

     At the Larimer County Jail, while in the booking area, Sortland attacked two jail employees who had brought him lunch. He punched one of the deputies in the face. A short time later officers booked Sortland on charges of aggravated vehicle theft, obstructing emergency medical personnel, reckless driving, hit-and-run, criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and assault.

     Stefan Sortland's father told detectives that his son had no history of mental illness and was not on medication. His father did say that on Halloween his son had sent him some odd text messages.

     On May 17, 2016, Stefan Sortland pleaded guilty to the felony counts of motor vehicle theft and second-degree assault of a police officer. Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski punished Sortland with a four-year deferred sentence. That meant that if Sortland remained law abiding during this period, he would not be sent to prison. According to his defense attorney, the 20-year-old started taking anti-psychotic medication. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grigoriy Bukhantsov and the Bukhantsov Family Murders

     Gregoriy Bukhantsov, a trouble teenager and high school dropout, lived with his parents in Rancho Cordova, California 15 miles east of Sacramento. The young man's parents were Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union. They settled in this community of 100,000 immigrants from Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus.

     Gregoriy's parents, and the family of his older brother Denis Bukhantsov, belonged to the 6,000-member Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, an evangelical Pentecostal congregation founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

     In December 2011, Grigoriy Bukhantsov pleaded no contest to burglary. The judge sentenced him to one year in jail (he served seven months) and five years probation. Over the past year, Grigoriy, a drug and alcohol abuser with serious mental problems and a propensity for violence, had threatened virtually everyone he knew. People had good reason to be afraid of him.

     In the summer of 2012, Grigoriy assaulted his father and his sister, and threatened to stab his entire family to death. Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, helped Mr. Bukhantsov obtain a temporary restraining order against the 19-year-old. (Grigoriy's parents struggled with English.) The Sacramento county judge issued the order, but when the family didn't seek to make it permanent, the restraining order expired.

     Grigoriy became so disturbed and threatening, his parents, fearing for their lives, moved out of the state, taking their daughter with them.

     According to Florin Ciuriuc, Grigoriy Bukhantsov "...was going nuts. Saliva was coming out of his mouth when he was screaming, yelling, and cussing. He was talking nonsense. He was making threats to everybody."

     After Grigoriy's parents fled California, the young man became homeless, living temporarily in the houses of relatives until he wore out his welcome, and was asked to leave. On Monday, October 22, 2012, Grigoriy asked his 29-year-old brother Denis if he could spend a couple of nights at his house. Denis, his 23-year-old wife Alina and their three children, ages three, two, and six-months old, lived in Rancho Cordova. Because his nomadic brother seemed calm and in control of himself, Denis agreed to shelter his younger brother.

     The next day, when Denis returned home at 3:30 in the afternoon following a class he was taking, he found that Alina and two of the children had been bludgeoned, stabbed, and slashed to death. The 6-month-old boy had not been harmed. Denis ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The police immediately launched a search for Grigoriy Bukhantsov. After committing the murders, the suspect had stolen the family's 2005 Chrysler minivan. The next day, at two in the morning, a police officer spotted the stolen vehicle parked in front of a Denny's restaurant. Inside they found Grigoriy asleep in a booth. Taken into custody, he was booked into the Sacramento County Jail where he was held without bond.

     Shortly after his arrest, the local prosecutor announced that his office would seek the death penalty in the triple murder.

     In August 2015, following months of procedural delays, motions, and stays, a Sacramento jury found Bukhantsov mentally competent to stand trial. The defendant's attorneys, arguing that their client was criminally insane, appealed this verdict. A judge, in February 2016, ruled that Bukhantsov was competent to be tried.

     The Bukhantsov case, as of December 2017, remains in limbo. In California, where the criminal justice system is so overwhelmed it moves slowly, if at all, this is par for the course.

     In March 2018, Bukhantsov pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.

James Wolcott aka James St. James: Mass Killer to Professor

     In 1967 when he was fifteen, James Gordon Wolcott lived in the central Texas town of Georgetown, the home of Southwestern University. His father, Dr. Gordon Wolcott, headed up the university's Biology Department. His mother Elizabeth, an outgoing woman, was active in the religious community. James and his 17-year-old sister Libby attended Georgetown High School.

     At ten on the night of August 4, 1967, James and Libby returned home after attending a rock concert with friends in nearby Austin. Just after midnight, James sniffed model airplane glue to give himself a "boost." Armed with a .22 rifle, he walked into the living room and shot his father to death by plugging him twice in the chest. In Libby's room, James killed his sister by shooting her in the chest and in the face. The teenager found his mother in her bedroom where he shot her twice in the head and once in the chest.

     With his father and sister dead, and his mother in her room dying, James hid the rifle in the attic crawlspace above his bedroom closet. After he disposed of the weapon, James ran out of the house and flagged down a car occupied by three college students. After telling these students that someone had killed his family, they returned with him to the house. Inside the dwelling, the students found Mrs. Wolcott hanging onto her life in her bedroom. One of the young men called for an ambulance and the police. (This was pre-911.)

     On the front porch of the Wolcott house, James kept yelling, "How could this happen!" He, of course, knew exactly how it happened. When it occurred to the college kids that the killer could still be in the dwelling, they fled the scene.

     Later that morning, Elizabeth Wolcott died at the hospital. A minister who happened to be a Wolcott neighbor took James to his parsonage. A few hours later, when a Texas Ranger asked James if he had killed his family, the youngster said, "Yes, sir." At that point James had the presence of mind to describe in detail what he had done. At the killing site, he showed police officers where he hid the rifle.

     When asked the obvious question of why, James said he hated his family. He later told psychiatrists that his mother chewed her food so loudly he had to leave the room. His sister had an annoying Texas accent, and his father made him cut his hippie hair and wouldn't allow him to wear anti Vietnam war buttons or attend peace rallies.

     Several psychiatrist interviewed James at the Williamson County Jail. From the young mass killer they learned that he had been sniffing glue for several months. James also told the shrinks that he had contemplated suicide. He said that his parents and sister had tried to drive him insane. He killed them before they had a chance to murder him.

     Although James and members of his family did not have histories of mental illness, the psychiatrists concluded that the boy suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. (There may have been doctors who disagreed with this conclusion.) One thing was certain, with an I Q of 134, the kid was no dummy. Notwithstanding the diagnosis of schizophrenia, the psychiatrists declared the defendant mentally competent to stand trial as an adult.

     As could be expected, the murder defendant's attorney, Will Kelly McClain, set up a defense based on legal insanity. In October 1967, following a short trial, the all-male jury found James Wolcott not guilty by reason of insanity. The jurors believed that James had been so mentally impaired he had no idea that killing his family was wrong. (Since the Wolcott verdict, only a handful of Texas murder defendants have been declared not guilty by reason of insanity. This rarely happens because there is no such thing as a mental illness so severe that it completely destroys a killer's appreciation of what he is doing. In the history of Texas jurisprudence, the James Wolcott case is an anomaly.)

     In February 1968, the trial judge sent James Wolcott to the Rusk State Hospital in Nacodoches, Texas. He was to be incarcerated there until he regained his sanity. That sentence placed his fate in the hands of psychiatrists.

     In 1974, seven years after the mass killing in the Texas college town, Rusk State Hospital psychiatrists declared the 21-year-old killer sane. The young man had made a remarkable recovery for someone who had been so mentally ill that he didn't realize that shooting his family to death was wrong.

     As the only surviving child of his deceased parents, James Wolcott inherited their estate, and started receiving a monthly stipend from his father's university pension fund.

     Upon his departure from Rusk State Hospital, James took up residence in Austin, Texas where he enrolled at Stephen F. Austin University. Just two years later, he had a Bachelor's Degree in psychology.

     At some point in the late 1970s, James Wolcott changed his name to James David St. James. In 1980, Mr. St. James, having acquired his Master's Degree, began his doctoral work in psychology at the University of Illinois. In 1988, Dr. St. James began teaching psychology at Millikin University, a Presbyterian liberal arts institution in Decatur, Illinois. No one at the school knew that the psychology professor had shot three members of his family to death twenty years earlier. Had he included this relevant background information on his job application, it is doubtful the university would have hired him. Having been declared criminally insane, even in the field of academic psychology, is not a job-hunting selling point.

     In July 2013, a Texas journalist named Ann Marie Gardner published an article that revealed Dr. St. James' homicidal past. When the story broke, the academic, who did not have a family of his own, headed the Behavioral Sciences Department at Millikin University. While the secretive professor's colleagues and students were probably shocked, no one at the school voiced disapproval. In fact, at least in academic circles, Dr. St. James emerged from his exposure as a hero, a poster-boy for the power and glory of the behavioral sciences. (Had he been working for a plumbing company, he would have been fired.) If the professor's colleagues and students were stunned by the creepy irony of Dr. St. James' story, no one has said so. (University campuses, ground zero of extreme political correctness, are not places where students and professors can speak freely.)

     There are probably members of the Wolcott family who are still psychologically scarred by James Wolcott's killing spree. There was no indication, however, that what took place that night in 1967 had any lingering affect on the killer himself. And there was no evidence that Dr. St. James is still schizophrenic. This was interesting because the disease is incurable. (All of the homicidal schizophrenics I have written about--including the subject of a book--struggled with the malady their entire lives. One of these men who couldn't take living with the illness eventually killed himself.)

     One possible explanation for James Wolcott's rapid and apparent total recovery from this devastating disease is that he wasn't insane in the first place. Following his arrest, James told his interrogators that he had been thinking about killing his family for a week. Moreover, if he wasn't aware that what he had done was wrong, why did he hide the gun? Is it possible we was a brilliant sociopath who pulled one over on the psychiatrists, the criminal justice system, and academia?

Dr. William Maples on Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology....

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Elliot Turner Rich Kid Murder Case

     Emily Longley, at age 9, moved with her family from England to Auckland, New Zealand. By the time she turned 15, Emily, a tall, blonde her friends called "Barbie," had a history of underage drinking and drug use which included Ecstasy. In 2009, Emily's parents sent her back to England where she took up residence with her grandmother in Southbourne.

     In the fall of 2010, Emily started taking business classes at Brockenhurst College in Hampshire. She lived in the southwestern town of Bournemouth where she worked part time at a fashion outlet called Top Shop. She had also signed on with a modeling agency.

     Emily began dating 19-year-old Elliot Vince Turner, a rich kid who worked in his father's jewelry store in Bournemouth. Turner lived in his family's home in Queen's Park, an affluent Bournemouth neighborhood. In April 2011, Elliot became jealous when he came across Facebook photographs of Emily flirting with another man at a bar. After that, the couple started having heated arguments. The fights became so intense, Emily began fearing for her life.

     On May 6, Elliot talked Emily into spending the night with him at his parent's house. That evening, they got into an argument. In the heat of the moment, he called her a whore. At 9:45 the next morning, Anita, Elliot's mother, called 999. (England's 911)

     Upon arriving at the Bournemouth house, paramedics found Emily's lifeless body in Elliot's bed. Questioned by the police, he said he had gotten up for work around 9:15, and when he touched Emily's arm, it was cold. He then notified his parents that something was wrong.

     The police initially thought Emily had overdosed on drugs, but the autopsy revealed otherwise. The forensic pathologist found physical evidence that Emily had been strangled. She had scratches on her arms, and traces of Elliot's blood and tissue were under her fingernails. Investigators learned that 30 minutes had passed between the time Elliot said he had gotten up for work and the 999 call. Detectives believed that during this period, Elliot's parents, Anita and Leigh Turner, had destroyed and removed evidence.

     During the period May 18 to June 14, 2011, through a court sanctioned electronic surveillance of the Turner home, the police listened in on conversations between Elliot and his parents. At one point Elliot said, "I just flipped. I went absolutely nuts...I just lost it. I grabbed her as hard as I could. I pushed her like that." Detectives also seized a computer from the Turner home that revealed Elliot had Googled "death by strangulation," and "how to get out of being charged for murder."

     In July 2011, Elliot and his parents were arrested. Elliot faced a charge of murder and his parents were charged with perverting the course of justice (obstruction of justice). When taken into custody, Elliot said, "I never meant to harm her, I just defended myself." He and his parents pleaded not guilty.

     The three defendants went on trial at the Winchester Crown Court in Bournemouth on April 10, 2012. Crown Court prosecutor Tim Mousley told the jury of eleven men and one woman that Elliot Turner had strangled Emily Longley in a fit of jealous rage, and that his parents had destroyed evidence to cover up the murder. Friends of the defendant testified that Elliot had joked about killing Emily with a hammer, at one point telling one of the witnesses, "I will go to prison for it, and still be a millionaire when I get out." According to one of these witnesses, the defendant had also practiced his strangulation technique on a friend.

     On April 18, 2012, Jasmin Snook, one of Emily's 19-year-old friends, testified that in May 2011 Emily had tried to end the relationship with the defendant. He became "obsessive" and couldn't understand why she was making him look like an idiot. According to Snook, the defendant said he was going to smash Emily's face, and didn't care if he had to serve ten years in prison for the assault.

     The following day, an ambulance technician testified that Elliot's mother Amita, when she called 999, said that a young female was "going blue" and had suffered "cardiac arrest." However, based on signs of post-mortem lividity (a redness of the skin caused by pooled blood in the body), it appeared that the girl had been dead several hours. (There were also signs of rigor mortis.)

     On May 2, 2012, Dr. Huw White, a Home Office forensic pathologist, testified that he had found petechiae hemorrhages in Emily's right eye, and in both of her eyelids. These tiny beads of blood suggested strangulation. The doctor also said the alcohol level in the victim's system was well over the drunk driving limit. According to the witness, Emily had a history of brittle bone disease, asthma, bulimia, and episodes of self-harm. However, none of these maladies had contributed to her death.

     A police officer who had spoken to the defendant on the morning of the 999 call testified that Elliot Turner told him that Emily had gotten upset when he asked her about her self-harming. According to the defendant, when she started kicking and hitting him, he "pushed her on the neck to get her off," and said, "I never meant to harm her. I just defended myself."

     The next day, the Crown presented Darryl Manners, a forensic scientist who said he found mascara marks, make-up, and a pink lipstick stain on a pillowcase taken from Elliot Turner's bedroom. Manners testified that this "face mark" in the pillowcase matched the victim's face and make-up. The expert witness said he had examined the defendant's shirt and found, on its right sleeve, smears similar to samples of foundation taken from the right side of Emily's face.

     Nicholas Oliver, a Crown DNA analyst, found the victim's mucus on the sleeve of the shirt the defendant had been wearing on the night he spent with the victim.

     Prosecutor Mousley played conversations picked up by the electronic surveillance of the Turner family home. In one of the conversations, Leigh Turner, the defendants's 54-year-old father, said, "He strangled her to shut her up, to stop her screaming, making so much noise and then he realized he'd done something terribly wrong, and he should have phoned the ambulance to save her, but he didn't because he was scared....That's what's going on in his mind. He knows he's killed her, not deliberately."

     On May 9, 2012, the defense put on it's case which mostly consisted of Elliot Turner taking the stand on his own behalf. He was asked by his barrister, Anthony Donne, how many times he had told Emily Longley he would kill her. The defendant said 10 to 15 times, but he never really meant it.

     After three days of the defendant's direct testimony, the witness was turned over to prosecutor Mousley for cross-examination. When Mousley asked Turner if he was in any way responsible for Emily Longley's death, he replied, "No, I do not believe so."

     "So the girl you adored died mysteriously?"

     "I don't know. I'm not a psychic."

     "Have you shown any remorse at all for her death? I'm talking about a basic human instinct. What remorse have you shown?"

     "I feel sad," answered the defendant.

     On May 15, 2012, the defense put the defendant's father, Leigh Turner, on the stand. In defending his son, Mr. Turner said, "He does not get angry. He's a gentle clown, a stupid clown." According to the witness, as the ambulance was en route to the house, Elliot told him he had packed a suitcase for Spain. Mr. Turner had said, "Don't be silly, you haven't done anything."

     Following the testimony phase of the Turner trial, Timothy Mousely, in summing up the prosecution's case, said, "We submit the defendant is remorseless, controlling, possessive, and vicious, and that he murdered her."

     In his summation to the jury, Anthony Donne described Elliot Turner as a "loudmouth," and "hot air merchant" who was "all talk, no action." The defense attorney also reminded jurors that the Home Office forensic pathologist, Dr. Huw White, had admitted on cross-examination that it was possible that Emily Longley had died a natural death.

     On May 21,  2012, the jury found Elliot Turner guilty of murder, and his parents guilty of trying to cover it up. A month later, the judge sentenced Turner to sixteen years to life. Turner's parents were each sentenced to 27 months behind bars.

     In May 2013, three appellate judges ruled that Elliott Turner had been convicted on overwhelming evidence in a "fair and proper trial."        

Rewards: Good Investigative Technique or Buying Good Citizenship?

     In response to crimes that create public outrage and/or fear--abducted children, missing women found dead, venerated objects vandalized or stolen, acts of terrorism, serial killings, and highly publicized murders--law enforcement agencies almost always post monetary rewards for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The highest rewards come from the federal government. The U.S. State Department put up $25 million for the head of Osama Bin Laden, and $2 million for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster suspected of 18 murders. For years, both of these fugitives lived normal lives in public view. Bin Laden was killed last May, and Bulger, on the lam since 1995, was caught last year in California.

     Allthough the federal government pays out more than $100 million a year in rewards, and claims this money is well-spent, there is no emperical evidence that monetary incentives play a significant role in bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. Reward offerings may not only be ineffective, they may actually have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

     In cases where rewards have been posted, there is no data that indicates the percentage of instances in which the monetary incentive produced a positive result. Moreover, in those cases where reward seekers did come forward with important information, we don't know if those cases would have been eventually solved anyway. There is a real possibility that the police are substituting rewards for old-fashioned shoe leather. The question is: do rewards serve the public, or are they merely public relations gimicks for lazy investigators?

     In my opinion, the overuse of rewards encourages citizens not to cooperate with the police unless they are paid. In many high profile murder cases, the first thing the police do is offer a big reward. I think this sends the following message to the perpetrators:: "We don't have a clue, and we are desperate for a lead."

     My principal objection to law enforcement rewards, particularly in nationally publicized cases, involves the extra investigative hours it takes to run down all of the false leads created by tipsters hoping for a piece of the reward money. The publicity alone draws out of the woodwork all manner of false confessors, phony eyewitnesses, visionaries, psychics, psychotics, and people bored and lonely. Adding a reward incentive to this mix exacerbates the problem.

     Whether they help or hinder, and I doubt we will ever know for sure, rewards are here to stay. Law enforcement administrators love them, and the public has come to expect them. I think they are, at best, a criminal investigative placebo.    

Thornton P. Knowles On "Literary" Novels Without Plots

To make up an original story and tell it well requires narrative skill, creativity, and artistic talent. Novels that tell stories, often dismissed as genre fiction, can be quite literary. Only a tiny assembly of showoff literary critics pay any attention to plotless artsy-fartsy novels marketed as so-called "literary" fiction. In truth, these fraudulent books, forced upon millions of hapless college students, have given literature a bad name and have discouraged what has become a lost art--reading for pleasure.  The promotors of these awful books, mainly literature professors and certain literary critics, should be ashamed of themselves for making intelligent readers feel inferior for not being able to read and enjoy these dense, humorless, and lifeless novels.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Kayden Powell Kidnapping Case

     On February 2, 2014, 18-year-old Brianna Marshall gave birth to a six-pound, 20-inch boy she and her boyfriend Bruce Powell named Kayden. The couple resided in Beloit, a town of 7,700 50 miles south of Madison, Wisconsin near the Illinois border.

     At four-thirty in the morning of Thursday, February 6, 2014, Brianna called 911 and reported that Kayden was missing. Brianna told responding officers with the Beloit Police Department that when she checked the baby's crib, located in the room where she and Bruce slept, the infant was gone. Police officers found no evidence of a break-in and there was no ransom note.

     According to the parents, they last saw Kayden at one-thirty that morning when their houseguest, Brianna's half-sister Kristen Rose Smith, left Beloit en route to her home in Denver, Colorado.

     A police officer reached Smith by calling her cellphone. At five-thirty that morning, Smith pulled into the Kum and Go gas station off Interstate 80 in West Branch, Iowa. From the gas station and convenience store, 180 miles from Beloit, Smith flagged down a local police officer.

     After searching Smith's car and finding baby clothing but no infant, officers with the West Branch Police Department took the half-sister into custody on an outstanding warrant issued from Texas. She was wanted in that state on charges of tampering with government records and fraud. Officers booked Kristen Smith into the Cedar County Jail.

     Back in Beloit, 40 officers representing the FBI, Rock County Sheriff's Office, and the Beloit Police Department, were working on the missing persons case.

     The missing baby's mother, in speaking to a local CNN reporter on Friday, February 6, said: "I held that baby one time and that was the last time I seen that baby and held him." Brianna Marshall said that she, her husband, and the infant were about to move to Denver, Colorado. That explained the baby clothing in the half-sister's car.

     At a press conference held on the afternoon of Friday, February 7, 2014, Beloit chief of police Steven Kopp announced that Baby Kayden Powell had been found alive and well that morning. The infant had been swaddled in blankets inside a tote bag in an exterior storage crate at the Kum and Go gas station in West Branch. The baby had survived for 29 hours in subzero temperatures.

     After being taken into custody in Iowa, Kristen Smith had agreed to take a polygraph test. When she denied abducting the baby, she failed the exam. Following the infant's recovery, she admitted that she had taken the baby, and that she had been pretending to be pregnant. Before flagging the police car at the gas station, she hid the baby for later retrieval. Police officers had disrupted that plan by taking her into custody on the Texas warrants.

     Remarkably, the baby had no signs of frostbite or hypothermia. A physician at the University of Wisconsin Health Center explained that infants possess a thin layer of fat they can metabolize into heat.

     A federal prosecutor charged Smith with kidnapping.

     In July 2014, a jury sitting in a Madison, Wisconsin federal court found Kristen Smith guilty of kidnapping baby Kayden Powell.

    United States District Court Judge James Peterson, in October 2014, before sentencing Kristen Smith, said, "You would have let him die rather than admit you had taken him. Your life is a pattern of misrepresentation which frankly continues even now." The judge sentenced Smith to 25 years in prison.

The Cheryl Silvonek Murder Case

   Cheryl Silvonek lived with her 14-year-old daughter Jamie in a suburban home outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. On March 8, 2015, the 54-year-old mother learned that her daughter's boyfriend, Army PFC Caleb Barnes, at 21, was much older than she had been led to believe.

     In an effort to end the relationship between her eighth grade daughter and the Army private, Cheryl Silvonek struck a deal with the boyfriend. Barnes agreed to end the romance and return to his base at Fort Meade, Maryland in return for the mother's promise to take the couple to a Breaking Benjamin concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

     In the early morning hours of March 15, 2015, following the Scranton concert, Cheryl Silvonek, with her daughter and Caleb Barnes in her SUV, pulled into the Silvonek house driveway. Before the mother could climb out of her vehicle, Barnes started punching her in the head. The assailant tried to choke the victim to death before stabbing her four times. She died in the vehicle shortly after the attack.

     Following the cold-blooded murder, Barnes and the victim's daughter drove the SUV to a place nearby where they dumped the body into a shallow grave. Once they had disposed of the corpse, the murderous couple drove to a Walmart store where they purchased a bottle of bleach and other cleaning supplies they would use to clean up the victim's blood.

     Not long after the killing, detectives took the couple into custody on suspicion of murder. Investigators linked Jamie Silvonek to the murder through numerous text messages she had sent to Barnes in the days leading up to the crime. Many of these messages, besides being sexually explicit, urged Barnes to murder Mrs. Silvonek. "I want her gone," the daughter wrote.

     Caleb Barnes, when interrogated by detectives, confessed to the murder. He also insisted that Jamie Silvonek had no prior knowledge of the homicide. In an effort to protect his girlfriend, he took full responsibility for the crime.

     Notwithstanding the boyfriend falling on his sword for his young lover, a Lehigh County prosecutor charged Jamie Silvonek with solicitation of murder. The district attorney charged Barnes with first-degree murder.

     Shortly after being booked into the Lehigh County Jail, Jamie Silvonek's attorneys filed a motion to have their client's case adjudicated in juvenile court. If found guilty as a juvenile, the girl could not be imprisoned beyond her twenty-first birthday. The district attorney filed an opposing motion requesting that Silvonek be tried in adult court where a guilty verdict would lead to a sentence of up to 25 years to life.

     On October 29, 2005, at a pre-trial hearing before Judge Marie L. Dantos, both sides, on the issue of  whether or not Silvonek should be tried as an adult or a juvenile, put their expert witnesses on the stand.

     Dr. John O'Brien, a psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution, portrayed Jamie Silvonek as a developing sociopath who had the knack of presenting herself as a victim. According to Dr. O'Brien, Silvonek's teachers at the Orfield Middle School painted her as "a sociopath who thinks societal values do not apply to her." Teachers described Silvonek as extremely mature and manipulative, a "chameleon" who could change faces depending upon who she was talking to and what she wanted.

     To support his diagnosis of the defendant, the prosecution psychiatrist highlighted, among others, these text messages sent by Silvonek: "Don't be afraid of the sides of you that are dark, terrifying" and "People don't understand how cold and manipulative I can be, I hide it so well no one expects."

     Psychologist Dr. Frank Dattilo took the stand on behalf of the defendant. According to this witness, Silvonek was highly intelligent but extremely immature. When Caleb Barnes began flirting with her, the eighth grader didn't know how to handle his attention. According to Dr. Dattilo, "He [Barnes] pursued her. It's a big deal for a young female to be pursued by someone older. She became enamored of this. She was over the moon about the older guy. It's every young girl's dream. She was swept up by Mr. Barnes."

     On November 20, 2015, Judge Dantos, in a 37-page opinion outlining her rationale, ruled that Jamie Silvonek will be tried for murder solicitation as an adult.

     On February 11, 2016, Jamie Silvonek pleaded guilty to the charge of soliciting the murder of her mother. The judge sentenced her to 35 years to life in prison.

     On September 20, 2016, a jury found Caleb Barnes guilty of first-degree murder. At the trial, Jamie Silvonek had testified for the prosecution. She said her mother had been murdered because of the victim's role in trying to destroy her relationship with the defendant. The judge sentenced Barnes to life in prison. 

The Jury System

There has been much talk of "reform" in the jury system. Cases are too complex, the argument goes; jurors are too easily swayed; it boils down to a popularity contest among lawyers. Needless to say, the successful trial lawyers aren't the ones leading the movement. For they know, as would anyone who has prowled the nation's courtrooms--or even watched "Perry Mason" win yet again--that there's a reason the system has remained intact in principle for centuries: It works. [Not always.]

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988 

Thornton P. Knowles On The "Jargonauts"

Lazy academics and bureaucrats, excessive users of jargon, are the enemies of good writing. Lawrence Langer explained what jargon does to language: "The language of simplicity and spontaneity is forced to retreat behind the barricades of an official prose developed by a few experts who believe that jargon is the most precise means of communication." Jargon is a form of pretentious writing intended to make the writer, at the expense of clarity, seem intelligent, erudite, and profound. In reality, it masks banality and shallow thinking. Jargonauts are a blight on the written word. Shame on them.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Father Michael Kelly Sexual Molestation Case

     In 2008, a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred to as John TZ Doe pursuant to a court order not to reveal his identify, didn't remember being molested by Father Kelly until 2006. Although the statute of limitations ruled out criminal charges, a civil suit could be brought against the priest and the church.

     In the lawsuit, John Doe accuses Father Kelly of molesting him in the 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, California. In September 2007, following the recovery of his "repressed memory," John Doe had filed a complaint with Bishop Stephen Blaine of the Stockton Diocese. Father Kelly, placed on administrative leave, denied the allegations. Following an internal investigation by diocesan officials, Father Kelly, in March 2008, was re-instated at St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

     The civil trial got underway on February 29, 2012 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Judge Bob McNatt had ruled that the jury could not be told that Father Kelly was the subject of a pending sexual molestation investigation being conducted by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. According to the criminal complaint, Father Kelly had molested a boy during the period 2000-2002 while he was pastor of St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California. (In 2004, Father Kelly was transferred to St. Joachim's in Stockton. Prior to his tenure in San Andreas, Father Kelly had been pastor at churches in Sonora, Tracy, Modesto, and Ceres, California.)

     Plaintiff's attorney John Manly put on several witnesses who, as boys in the defendant's churches, had been repeatedly tickled and wrestled with by the priest. According to this testimony, Father Kelly had sexually touched and fondled them during these bouts of roughhousing.

     John Doe took the stand and spoke of being molested by the defendant on a walking trail outside of Stockton, in a motel room, and in the priest's living quarters. In the motel room, the plaintiff said he had fallen asleep, and when he awoke, he and the priest were in bed naked. At the defendant's living quarters, Father Kelly had removed the witness' clothing. John Doe said he then fell asleep, and when he awoke, he was fully dressed. (From this testimony, the plaintiff was asking jurors to infer that he had been drugged.) Pointing at Father Kelly, the witness yelled, "You raped me, I was just a kid!"

     On March 20, San Francisco psychiatrist Anlee Kuo testified that she, in evaluating the reliability of John Doe's recovered memories of events that had occurred when he was 10-years-old, gave him several tests that measured the validity of his accounts. The results of these tests convinced her that these memories were accurate. Dr. Kuo pointed out that the repressed memory phenomenon is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Moreover, she said that repressed memory is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the psychiatrist, Father Kelly's sexual molestation has caused the plaintiff, as a 35-year-old adult, to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse.

     The next day, defense attorney Thomas Beatty put Father Kelly on the stand. The priest told the jury that he had not sexually molested the plaintiff. On cross-examination, John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Father Kelly this: "At any time did you get under a blanket with [the plaintiff]?"

     "Of course not," came the reply.

     "Did you ever take him into the bathroom to disrobe?"

     "I absolutely deny it."

     "Did you ever take the [plaintiff] on a hike?"

     "I did not," answered the priest.

     Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin of Harvard University took the stand for the defense. Dr. Bodkin told the jury that repressed memories--also known as dissociative memory--is not a scientifically proven phenomenon. "Peoples' memories don't get better with time," he said. "They get worse. The plaintiff's story is difficult to believe."

     Following the lunch break on Friday, April 6, 2012, the case went to the jury of 10 women and 2 men. Because this was a civil trial, only 9 votes were required for the jury to reach a verdict. Moreover, the standard of proof in a civil trial is less rigorous than in a criminal proceeding that requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, a plaintiff merely has to establish his case by a "preponderance of the evidence." That is, the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant is more likely to be true than not true.

     After deliberating a day, the jury found Father Michael Kelly liable for three of the sexual molestation allegations. The second phase of the trial, with the same jury, would focus on the dioceses' handling of child abuse allegations against Father Kelly and other priests. One of the other priests was Father Oliver O'Grady who had been convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography. The O'Grady case had cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in civil case settlements in more than 20 lawsuits. The jury also had the task of determining how much money to award John Doe.

     Immediately after the verdict, the Bishop removed Father Kelly from the ministry Three hours later, speaking to 100 of his parishioners at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford, the ex-priest said, "The charges against me are untrue." When Michael Kelly reminded his supporters that he had passed two polygraph tests, they cheered. Because polygraph test results are not admissible in court, the jury did not know this. But the jurors didn't know about the ongoing sexual molestation investigation involving Michael Kelly in Calaveras County. Under the laws of evidence, jurors, in making their decisions, are kept in the dark about a lot of things.

     Michael Kelly, on April 15, 2015, flew to his native Ireland for what he described as needed medical treatment. He was under subpoena to testify the next day in the second phase of the lawsuit in Stockton. John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, said that he believes the ex-priest received help in leaving the country. Kelly's attorney, Tom Beatty, said that he was "saddened by Father Kelly's illness and his devastation brought on by the finding of the repressed memory claim of abuse. I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present during the damages phase of the case, but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk to him shortly." John Manly said that whoever helped Kelly to escape out of the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting.

     In August 2015, the Stockton Diocese settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million.

Trial Lawyers

     They might best be called the shock troops of the legal profession, the ones called in when all else has failed. After the niceties of early legal wrangling, it is up to the trial lawyers to right wrongs, prosecute or defend the accused and see that--for at least one side--truth wins out in the courtroom's bright glare.

     Of course, real-life courtroom lawyers know that real-life cases seldom are won solely on the basis of flowery oratory. Instead, it's a matter of mastering an extraordinary complex set of facts and presenting them to jurors in a way that convinces them there is only one possible right version: their client's. And witnesses who confess on the stand, freeing an unjustly accused person, are even rarer; litigation rules now leave few opportunities for dramatic flourishes of that sort.

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988

Thornton P. Knowles On Living And Dying Without a Trace

I've pretty much have lived alone my entire life. After my father hanged himself when I was fifteen, my mother, although present in the house, went somewhere else. I didn't have roommates in college, didn't join a fraternity, never married, and do not have children. I haven't bothered to meet my neighbors, and have never joined a club. I am not a member of a union or a church. I have lived alone and will die alone. I will have no gravestone, my ashes will be dumped into the trash, and because I have no will, what I leave behind will go to the state. I've destroyed all my papers. My books will comprise the only evidence that I have ever lived, and they will soon follow me into oblivion. Like a good burglar, I've covered my tracks and will slip quietly into the night.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Brittany Stykes Murder Case

     At eight in the evening of August 28, 2013, a motorist on U.S. Route 68, forty-five miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, saw a yellow Jeep that had gone off the road into a wooded area. The motorist pulled over and as he approached the SUV he discovered a woman slumped over the steering wheel. The man called 911.

     Brittany Stykes, the dead woman slouched over in the Jeep, had been shot in the neck and side. The 22-year-old victim was 17-weeks pregnant. In the vehicle, still strapped into her carseat, sat Stykes' 14-month-old daughter Aubree. One of the five bullets fired into the vehicle had struck the toddler. Paramedics rushed Aubree to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where she survived her head wound.

     According to the Montgomery County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Brittany Stykes had been killed by the bullet that entered her side and punctured her lungs. The shooter or shooters had fired five slugs into the car from outside the vehicle. Investigators found no shell casings in the vicinity of the Jeep which suggested that the victims had been shot by a revolver or revolvers.

     In addition to her two bullet wounds, Brittany Stykes had abrasions on her face, right arm, and finger. The forensic pathologist also found scratches on her right leg. These injuries might have been caused when the Jeep left the highway and plowed into the woods. Toxicological tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in Stykes' system.

     The forensic pathologist ruled Stykes' manner of death as homicide by gunshot. The victim's unborn baby had also been killed in the attack.

     Shane Stykes, the murdered woman's 37-year-old husband, worked in a Cincinnati factory. Detectives ruled him out as a suspect when they learned he had been working out in a gym with three police officers at the time of his wife's death. Shane also passed a polygraph test.

     Detectives, under pressure to solve this case, got nowhere in their investigation. The officers didn't have a suspect, the murder weapon, or a motive. Because the victim had $125 in cash as well as jewelry on her person when she died, detectives ruled out robbery as a motive. She didn't have life insurance which argued against some kind of murder-for-hire case. It also seemed unlikely that she had been a random target or the victim of mistaken identity.

     A Brown County prosecutor, desperate for a break in the case, convened an investigative grand jury with the power to subpoena reluctant witnesses.

     On November 11, 2013, Samantha Grubbs, a woman who had a son with Shane Stykes before he married Brittany, testified, under subpoena, before the Brown County Grand Jury. Following her testimony, in speaking to a local television reporter about Brittany Stykes, Grubbs said, "I think that when you're young--I'm not saying she's young and dumb--you tend not to see the whole story. I think she just got involved with the wrong group of people."

     Samantha Grubbs did not reveal why she had been called before the grand jury, or explain the "whole story" Brittany had failed to see. Moreover, she didn't identify the "wrong group of people" the murder victim had supposedly fallen in with.

     Mary Dodson, Brittany Stykes' 46-year-old mother, in response to Grubbs' "wrong group of people" comment, said this to the TV reporter: "My daughter's crowd consisted of her mom and dad and her sisters." (It's interesting that the mother didn't include Shane Stykes in her daughter's circle.)

     Three months after the unsolved murders, homicide detectives focused their attention on three individuals who had been subpoenaed by the grand jury but didn't show up to testify. One of these people, as reported by the local media, was one of Shane Stykes ex-girlfriends.

     The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the double-murder.

     In August 2014, the one-year anniversary of Brittany Stykes' murder, the  case remained unsolved. The victim's father, David Dodson, told a local television reporter that he and his wife could not get through the day without thinking about their daughter. Mr. Dodson said he called Buddy Moore, the lead investigator, every day.

     "I talked to him this morning," the father said. "They are chipping away at this, a little bit more every day. There's been a lot of information coming out of the prison and it all keeps coming back to the same group of people," he said. Mr. Dodson didn't identify these people, but did say that he thought Shane Stykes had information about the case he hadn't passed onto the police.

     The murder victim's parents and Shane Stykes fought in court over custody of his daughter Aubree. No one has been charged in this murder. 

Bernard Goetz: The Subway Vigilante

     In the 1980s muggers, rapists, and panhandling bums ruled the streets, trains, and subway stations of New York City. The Bronx looked like a post World War Two city that had been bombed to rubble. Prostitutes, pimps, x-rated store fronts, strip joints, three-card monte stands, street corner drug dealers, and thieves selling their loot were entrenched in Manhattan's Times Square. (Today, Times Square is as wholesome as Disneyland.) New York had become a seedy, smelly, and dangerous place. Tourism had dropped off and people doing legitimate business throughout the city struggled. Corrupt and incompetent politicians had let the Big Apple rot. Law abiding residents of New York were angry, frightened, and fed-up.

     In 1981, a gang of muggers in a Canal Street subway station beneath Manhattan beat-up and robbed 34-year-old Bernard Goetz. After the attack, Goetz, the owner of a small electronics business in Greenwich Village, started carrying a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

     On December 22, 1984, at five-thirty in the evening, while riding the Number 2 train under Manhattan, four black teenagers approached Bernard Goetz and asked him for money. Believing that the youths were about to rob him, Goetz pulled out his S & W 38 and shot each kid once. The boys survived, but one of them, Darrell Cabey, was left brain-damaged and paralyzed.

     The subway shootings grabbed headlines in New York City and baffled the police who had no idea who had shot the teens. Nine days after the incident, Bernard Goetz turned himself into the police and identified himself as the so-called "Subway Vigilante." By now the case had divided New Yorkers by race. Blacks vilified Goetz as a trigger-happy racist. Many whites hailed him as a crime-fighting hero. The subway vigilante case symbolized a citizenry fed-up with out-of-control street crime and a broken criminal justice system.

     Manhattan's district attorney, fearing massive civil disorder, threw the book at Mr. Goetz, charging him with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and criminal possession of a weapon. In January 1988, the jury in the high-profile trial acquitted the defendant of all charges but the third-degree weapons offense. The judge sentenced Goetz to one year in jail. Nine months later he was free.

     In 1990, Darrell Cabey, the person Goetz paralyzed, sued him for $50 million. Six years later the jury awarded Cabey $43 million in damages. That year Goetz declared bankruptcy.

     On December 22, 2011, twenty-seven years to the day he was shot by Goetz on the train, James Ramseur was found dead of a drug overdose. Asked to comment on Ramseur's death by a reporter with the New York Daily News, Goetz said, "It sounds like he was depressed."

     On Friday, November 1, 2013, a female undercover cop cracking down on Ganja (a highly resinous form of cannabis) peddlers in Union Square Park at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, was approached by a tall, thin man in his sixties who asked if she wanted to get high. When the cop said yes, Bernard Goetz said he would go to his apartment and return with $30 worth of marijuana. Upon his return from his Greenwich Village dwelling with the weed, the undercover cop placed him under arrest. A Manhattan prosecutor charged Goetz with the misdemeanor offense of criminal sale of marijuana. Suddenly Bernard Goetz, the Subway Vigilante, was back in the news.

     Since shooting the four teenagers in 1984, life had not been particularly kind to Bernard Goetz.

Thornton P. Knowles On Some of His Favorite Book Titles

A great book title will stick around a lot longer than the author and even the work itself. A few of my favorites: The Man With The Golden Arm, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, God's Little Acre, The Night of the Hunter, Another Roadside Attraction, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Lolita, Silence of the Lambs, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Naked And The Dead, and All Quiet On The Western Front.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Li Hang Bin Shaken Baby Syndrome Case

     In 2007,  Li Hang Bin and his common-law wife Li Ying, immigrants from the Fujian Providence in China, resided in the Flushing section of Queens, New York. Just after midnight on October 22, 2007, Mr. Li called 911 to report that his two-month-old daughter Annie had become unresponsive, and had turned blue. The infant arrived at the emergency room thirty minutes later with a fractured skull, brain and eye injuries, two broken legs, and a fractured rib.

     According to the baby's 23-year-old father, the unhealthy infant had been ill with a fever. On the night in question, Mr. Li said he found Annie pale and unconscious. In his attempt to revive his daughter, he accidentally bumped her head against a table. It wasn't until after the baby had turned blue that Mr. Li called 911. Five days after the infant's hospitalization, Annie died.

     The forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office who performed the autopsy ruled the baby's death a homicide by violent shaking and blunt force trauma. According to the forensic pathologist, the victim had all the signs associated with a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) death.  The indicators included bleeding between the brain and the skull, brain swelling, and bleeding in the retina. Pathologists call this the triad of SBS symptoms.

     In March 2008, five months after the baby's death, a Queens prosecutor charged Li Hang Bin with second-degree murder, and as a backup charge, second-degree manslaughter. The prosecutor also charged Li Yang with a lesser criminal offense related to the baby's death. Both suspects were incarcerated in the city jail on Riker's Island. Fearing that they might flee to China, the magistrate denied them bail.

     Mr. Li and his 22-year-old companion insisted that the infant had not been violently shaken and bludgeoned to death. The case dragged on for five years during which time prosecutors offered the defendants plea deals involving lesser crimes and immediate release from jail. Li Hang Bin and Li Yang rejected the plea offers on the grounds they were innocent of any wrongdoing in the baby's death. Mr. Li demanded the opportunity to be exonerated at his trial. He said he was not going to admit to something he didn't do just to get out of jail.

     In January 2013, prosecutor Leigh Bishop, after dropping the charges against Li Yang, made her opening statement to the jury at Mr. Li's Queens murder trial. Prosecutor Bishop told jurors that the defendant had "violently, repeatedly, and with depraved indifference," slammed the baby's head into a hard object causing "abusive head trauma."

     Cedric Ashley, Mr. Li's defense attorney, blamed the baby's death on poor health. The lawyer said he would produce medical evidence that would explain the infant's fractured skull, broken rib, and broken legs. Ashley said these injuries had been caused by a rare disease called osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.

     Over the next two weeks, jurors heard testimony from a battery of medical witnesses on both sides of the issue. As is often the case involving dueling experts, the confused jurors settled for a compromise verdict. In February 2013, the jury acquitted the defendant of second degree murder, a crime that carries a sentence of 25 years to life. However, perhaps because of the severity of the victim's injuries, the jurors did not acquit the defendant of criminal homicide. They found Li Hang Bin guilty of second-degree manslaughter, the lessor offense.

     Mr. Li, who has been in jail almost five years, faced a maximum 15 year sentence. He expressed shock at his conviction, and promised to fight to clear his name. (It's possible that the sentencing judge will credit Mr. Li with time served, and sentence him to probation.)

     On March 4, 2013, Justice Richard L. Buchter of the State Superior Court in Queens sentenced the defendant to 5 to 15 years in prison. The Chinese immigrant continued to maintain his innocence.

     Infant death cases are problematic because of the difficulty of completely ruling out the possibility of nonviolent, natural sources of the SBS symptoms. There are several forensic pathologists around the country who regularly testify for the defense in SBS homicide trials. A forensic pathologist who commented publicly on the Li trial, said he was between 80 and 90 percent certain that this case involved a SBS caused death. But he asked, is that enough to support a murder conviction?

An Amish Nightmare: Shaken Baby Misdiagnosis

     On December 23, 1999, Liz Glick, the 4-month-old daughter of Samuel and Liz Glick, Amish dairy farmers in Dornsife, Pennsylvania, died in the hospital two days after her parents had found her unconscious in her crib. The baby had been ill with a fever and had been vomiting. At the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, pediatricians experienced in treating Amish babies determined that the infant had died of vitamin K deficiency, a genetic and sometimes dietary condition associated with babies born at home and breastfed who have not been given the vitamin through precautionary shots or formula. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include bleeding in the brain and eyes as well as the presence of bruises caused by normal handling and movement.

     Dr. Michael Kenny, a pathologist at Geisinger, performed the autopsy and, as Kate Rush would later report in "Genomics in Amish Country," concluded that the baby had died of a "closed-head injury" (as opposed to a "penetrating head injury" caused by a bullet, stabbing instrument, or a blunt object.) Since Dr. Kenny was not the medical examiner, and it was not his job to make an official manner of death ruling, that decision fell to the county coroner, an elected official without a medical degree. Instead of conferring with pediatricians familiar with Amish patients, the coroner took the unusual step of convening an inquest, a jury-empannelled hearing to determine if the death was suspicious enough to warrant a full-scale criminal investigation. (The coroner's inquest, as a first step in the criminal justice process, while still available in most states, is an antiquated way of determining manner of death.)

     Dr. Kenny's "closed-head injury" finding, combined with the bruises, and the brain and eye bleeding, led the coroner's jury to rule that Liz Glick may have been the victim of a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) homicide.

     The Glick case became national news when a child protection agency speculated that the other seven Glick children, in the wake of the coroner's jury decision, were in danger. For their own protection, the children were placed in foster homes until the Pennsylvania State Police, and perhaps a jury at a murder trial, determined if the parents had committed criminal homicide. The Glick children were split up and sent to non-Amish (English) foster parents, an action that stunned and terrified the residents of this traditional central Pennsylvania community.

     The plight of the Glick family caught the attention of Dr. Holmes Morton, a Harvard trained pediatrician who in the 1980's had treated Amish patients at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Morton had moved to Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where in 1989, he had founded a nonprofit clinic in the heart of Amish country called the Clinic for Special Children, specializing in the treatment and study of illnesses and disorders affecting the Amish. Supported by donations and fund-raising events, the clinic incorporated a state-of-the-art laboratory for the diagnosis and study of biochemical genetic disorders. Dr. Morton should have been one of the first experts consulted by the authorities in the Glick case. He was well-known, had expertise pertinent to the case, and was local. No one, however, sought his opinion on the cause of the Glick baby's death.

     Without being asked, Dr. Morton conducted his own inquiry into the Glick baby's medical history. A few days later, he announced that the infant had been born with a genetic liver condition that rendered her body incapable of breaking down vitamin K. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency--the bleed in the brain and eyes, and the severe bruising--could easily be mistaken for signs of SBS. In Dr. Morton's opinion, the Glick child had not been killed by shaking. There had been a terrible mistake; this baby's death had been of a natural cause.

     But criminal investigations are like freight trains--once they get rolling they are hard to stop. Even though Dr. Morton had thrown his body across the tracks, the train kept coming. Weeks passed. Finally, in February 2000, the case went before a state medical advisory board of physicians. The doctors heard testimony from several pediatricians who agreed with Dr. Morton's diagnosis. The panel of physicians voted to recommend that the manner of death in the Glick case be changed to natural.

     The local coroner, in light of the physicians' recommendation, changed his cause of death ruling, and shortly thereafter, the child protection agency gave the Glick children back to their parents. A month later, the district attorney announced that Samuel and Liz Glick were no longer the targets of a homicide investigation. One can only guess how far down the criminal justice track the prosecution train would have rolled had it not been for Dr. Morton's intervention. One or both of these parents could have been sent to prison. 

The Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Problem of Dueling Experts

     When a presumably healthy baby dies in his or her crib for no apparent reason, and there is no evidence of foul play, rather than classifying the cause of death as "unknown," or "undetermined," a coroner or medical examner will usually call the fatality a "sudden infant death syndrome" (SIDS) case. Although this is the same as ruling the death as "undetermined," it sounds more scientific. At one time, the parents of SIDS babies found themselves under clouds of suspicion. Today, as a result of scientific study of these cases, forensic pathologists are attributing natural death causes in infant deaths that earlier would have been classified as SIDS fatalities.

     The "shaken baby syndrome" (SBS) refers to signs of physical trauma found in children under six who have been violently shaken. When a baby or toddler is shaken too hard, the victim's brain is jarred against the skull, causing it to bleed and swell. Most pediatricians and forensic pathologists believe that to diagnose SBS, they must find, at minimum, evidence of subdural hematoma (brain hemorrhaging), retinal bleeding (broken veins in the eyes), and cerebral edema (liquid on the brain that causes it to swell). The conventional wisdom had been that a child with these injuries who had neither been in a car accident or fallen from a two-story window had been violently shaken. Supportive evidence of SBS might include trauma to the neck and spine, bruises on the arms and torso, and broken ribs.

     In the late 1990s, a handful of pediatric researchers began to question the science behind the standard SBS diagnosis.Could cerebral edema and blood in the eyes and brain have other causes such as vitamin deficiency, disease, or reactions to vaccines and drugs? Diseases thought to cause symptoms of SBS included hypohosphatasia, brittle bone disease; Alagilles's Syndrome, a liver ailment; Bylers Disease (a liver disorder common among the Amish); and glutaric acidura (acid buildup in infants that causes paralysis and retinal bleeding). Some experts believe that a relatively short fall to a hard surface, say from three feet, can cause damage to the brain similar to that found in SBS victims.

     Because there is no agreement among pediatricians and forensic pathologists what physical evidence of SBS consists of, homicide trials involving defendants accused of shaking infants to death often involve dueling expert witnesses testifying against each other.

Shirley Ree Smith Case

     In 1997, a jury in Van Nuys, California convicted Shirley Ree Smith of shaking her seven week old grandson to death. The prosecutor convinced the jury that Smith had shaken the baby to stop him from crying. The medical examiner, in explaining why there wasn't as much cerebral bleeding as one might expect in a SBS case, said the baby had been shaken so violently the blood vessels in the brain stem suffered "shearing," casusing instantaneous death without bleeding due to the fact the baby's heart had stopped beating. The autopsy had failed to produce evidence of brain swelling or retinal bleeding.

     The Smith defense put two forensic pathologists on the stand who classified the death as a SIDS case, noting that the baby had jaundice, a heart murmer, and low birth weight. The jury accepted the prosecution's version of the facts, and found Shirley Ree Smith guilty. She received a sentence of fifteen years to life.

     A state court of appeals upheld the conviction. The Ninth Circuit federal court of appeals, however, in 2006, reversed the conviction and ordered Smith released from prison on the grounds the jury had missclassified the baby's death as a SBS fatality. The state prosecutor appealed the case reversal to the United States Supreme Court.

     On October 31, 2011, the supreme court, in a 6 to 3 decision, reinstated Shirley Ree Smith's homicide conviction. This meant she would have to return to prison. The six justices upheld a longstanding legal principle that an appeals court cannot substitute its judgment for a jury's. The high court, recognizing the jury in the Smith case may have relied on the wrong forensic pathologists, reminded the Ninth Circuit Court that judges in jury trials cannot decide the law and the facts. If Shirley Ree Smith had a remedy in law, it would have to be in the form of executive clemency.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Love Of His Life

In high school, I hitch-hiked to a burlesque house in Steubenville, Ohio. It was there I saw a young stripper who performed under the name Salty Buttons. She stole my heart. I returned to the place several times but she was gone. Since then I have made up hundreds of stories of her life, including myself in many of them. As hard as I've tried, I've never been able to attach a happy ending to any of these stories. As pathetic as this sounds, my brief, one-time encounter with Salty Buttons turned out to be the romantic highlight of my life. Maybe that's why I never married.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Michael Curry Murder Case

     At 5:30 in the evening on August 29, 1985, Michael L. Curry called the Columbus, Georgia Police Department and reported that someone had entered his home while he was at work and murdered his pregnant wife and his two children.

     At the gory murder scene, police discovered that 26-year-old Ann Curry, her four-year-old daughter Erika, and 20-month-old Ryan had been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The murder weapon, taken from its place of storage in the family garage, was lying next to Ann Curry's body. Detectives noticed that Michael Curry didn't have any of the crime scene blood on him that suggested he hadn't checked to see if any of his family members were still alive. Investigators also found it unusual that Curry had called the police department directly instead of 911.

     Other features of the murder scene bothered investigators. Someone had broken a small glass window near a back door secured by an interior deadbolt lock. The broken window was consistent with an intruder reaching in and unlocking the door. But the window had been smashed from the inside of the house, and the door was still locked. If the Curry family had been murdered by an intruder or intruders, how did they get in, and what was their motive? Nothing had been stolen from the house, drawers and closets had not been rifled through, and Ann Curry had not been sexually assaulted. If intruders had come to the dwelling to kill Ann Curry and her children, why hadn't they brought their own murder weapons? (Later, crime lab personnel found no blood or bloody fingerprints on the axe. The killer had obviously sanitized the weapon.) Was this triple murder a crime of passion, or a planned, cold-blooded execution?

      When questioned by the police, Michael Curry said he had left his place of employment at 9:40 that morning to buy a small fan for his office. At 12:55 (according to the retail receipt) he purchased the item at a K-Mart store before returning to his office at 1:10 in the afternoon. He remained in his office until quitting time, then drove home, arriving at his house shortly before 5:30 in the evening.

     In tracing the activities of Mrs. Curry and the children on the day of their deaths, investigators learned they had shopped that morning at a Sears store. After visiting her parents in Columbus, Ann headed home, arriving there at 12:37 PM. If Michael Curry had slaughtered his family, he had committed the murders between 12:37 and 12:55 PM, an 18-minute window of opportunity.

     Looking into Michael Curry's recent history, investigators learned he was having an affair, and spending nights drinking at bars with friends. Witnesses told detectives that Michael felt trapped by a growing family he couldn't afford. He longed for a bachelor's lifestyle, but couldn't afford a divorce and the resultant child support responsibilities.

     Because the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsies couldn't pinpoint their times of death either within or without the 18 minutes of opportunity, Michael Curry didn't have an airtight alibi. But that also meant that a prosecutor couldn't prove the killings took place during the 18-minute timeframe.

     Following a murder inquest held in February 1986, the Muscogee County District Attorney, with no confession, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence linking Michael Curry to the murder scene, decided not to pursue the matter further. Since investigators had no other suspects, the case remained in limbo until January 2009 when a new district attorney, Julia Slater, took office. The Curry murder case came back to life as a cold case homicide investigation.

     Prosecutor Slater theorized that on the day of the murders, when shopping for a desk fan, Michael Curry saw his family at Sears. Realizing this was his opportunity to free himself of his family burden, he drove home to lay in wait. To protect himself from what he knew would be a bloody massacre, he either put on a jumpsuit or a pair of coveralls. He next smashed the window next to the backdoor to stage an intrusion. When his wife and his two children entered the house at 12:37, he attacked them with the axe. After disposing of his blood-spattered coveralls, he rushed to the K-Mart store where he purchased the fan. (When he returned to his office at 1:10 that afternoon, fellow employees noticed he was drenched in sweat.)

     On May 20, 2009, after a Muscogee Grand Jury indicted Michael Curry for murdering his pregnant wife and their two children, detectives arrested him at his home in Dalton, Georgia. He went on trial in April 2011 at the Muscogee County Superior Court in Columbus. Public defender Bob Wadkins argued that his client had an alibi, and that the state's case, based solely on circumstantial evidence, didn't rise to the level of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Wadkins chose not to put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On April 27, 2011, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Judge John Allen sentenced the 54-year-old Michael Curry to three consecutive life sentences. The convicted killer wouldn't be eligible for parole until he had served 30 years behind bars. The best he could hope for was to be set free at age 84.

     Attorney Bob Wadkins appealed Murry's conviction on grounds his client had been found guilty on insufficient evidence. On June 9, 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the jury's verdict.