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Friday, November 30, 2018

The Tick Tock Diner Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1987, Alex Sgourdos and his two brothers-in-law bought the Tick Tock Diner on New Jersey's Route 3 west of the Meadowlands a few miles from the Lincoln Tunnel that takes you under the Hudson River into midtown Manhattan. The diner not only became a successful business enterprise, it grew into a New Jersey landmark. (Scenes from a dozen movies take place in the diner.)

     In February 2013, one of the diner's managers, 45-year-old Georgious Spyropoulos, tried to hire a hitman to kill his Uncle Alex. Spyropoulos was married to the daughter of one of Mr. Sgourdos' partners.

     In late February 2013, Mr. Spyroupoulos asked a regular patron of the diner if he could put him in touch with a professional killer. The man Spyropoulos reached out to happened to be a regular informant for the New Jersey State Police. As is often the case, the murder-for-hire plot unraveled before it got off the ground.

     In March, the police informant came to the diner with an undercover officer playing the role of contract killer. Later that month, at a meeting in a nearby Home Depot parking lot, Spyropoulos and the undercover cop discussed how the murder-for-hire target would be killed. According to court records, the hitman was to enter Mr. Sgourdos' 6,000-square foot house late on a Sunday night after the diner owner had deposited that day's receipts in his home safe. (The daily receipts usually came to about $20,000.) The mastermind provided the phony hitman with instructions on how to circumvent the dwelling's security system, and said that if the target's wife got in the way, she should be murdered as well.

     Mr. Spyropoulos, according to police affidavits, informed the hitman that his uncle kept a lot of cash in his safe. To acquire the combination, the mastermind suggested that torture might be required. "You can get anything out of anybody with a pair of pliers," he said.

     According to the plan, after the hitman murdered Mr. Sgourdos, Spyropoulos wanted the body disposed of in a way that would cause the authorities to treat the matter as a missing persons case. Spyropoulos handed the undercover cop $3,000 and a revolver, and said they would split whatever was in the Tick Tock Diner owner's safe. Hinting that the Sgourdos hit would be one of a series of murder assignments, Spyropoulos said, "We'll have a lot more to do." (As is always the case, the entire murder-for-hire conversation was taped by the police.)

     On April 9, 2013, officers with the New Jersey State Police entered the Tick Tock Diner at noon and took Georgios Spyropoulos into custody. Charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation of murder, the suspect was incarcerated in the Passaic County Jail on $1 million bond.

     On July 13, 2014, Georgios Spyropoulos pleaded guilty to plotting the murder of his uncle. In September 2014, Passaic County Judge Ernest Caposela sentenced Spropoulos to eight years in prison. Had Spyropoulos been convicted as charged, he would have been sent to prison for at least 20 years.

     According to the state prosecutor who handled the case, Spyropoulos, even after he entered his guilty plea, showed no remorse for his role in the murder-for-hire plot. He is eligible for parole in less than seven years.

     When it comes to sentencing, our criminal justice system often makes no sense. 

Youth Football: A Contact Sport For Adults

Wickenburg, Arizona

     On Saturday afternoon on September 29, 2012, in the northern Arizona town of Wickenburg, the Wickenburg Wranglers were playing the Prescott Valley Panthers in a Northern Arizona Youth Football League game. (Players in youth football are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.)

     A man and a woman who were Wickenburg parents, approached a Prescott Valley father who was videotaping the game, and told him he couldn't do that. When the video-taper asked why, the opposing male parent said, "If you don't pack up [the camera] I'm going to pack up for you."

     To this, the man with the camera replied, "Don't touch me, bro." (I guess some people really talk this way.)

     When the Wrangler fan hit the Panther guy in the arm twice, the video-man socked him in the jaw. At this point, the attention shifted from the kids and their football game to the adults on the sideline. (After all, isn't this what organized sports for kids is really all about--the adults?)

     A woman watching the game tried to break-up the fight between the video-taper and the arm-puncher. (The police haven't released the names of these people.) Davis Coughanour, an off-duty Department of Public Safety officer, presumably a Wrangler parent and probably an ex-high school football player, tackled the video-man, then got into a scuffle with the woman who had tried to break-up the fight in the first place. (She claimed that Coughanour never identified himself as a police officer.)

     During this Saturday afternoon youth football melee in northern Arizona, four children were struck by adults. Another off-duty cop tossed a boy to the ground so hard they rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance. The nature and seriousness of the boy's injuries were not reported.

     A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety told reporters his agency was not investigating the brawl. Moreover, Officer Coughanour was not disciplined for his role in the youth league disturbance.

     Nine adults with the Prescott Valley Youth Football and Cheer Association were suspended from the organization. No criminal charges were filed against any of the sideline brawlers. Fortunately for people like this, it is not a crime to be a flaming jerk. There is a help group for people like this--AA--Assholes Anonymous.

Sacramento, California

     On Saturday, October 6, 2012, at the Grant High School football stadium in Sacramento, the San Francisco Junior 49'ers were playing the Grant Chargers Junior Midgets (I thought we weren't supposed to use that word) in a NorCal Youth Football League game. (Grant Chargers Junior Midgets--try using that in a cheer.)

     Either during or just after the game, the opposing coaches exchanged angry words. But it didn't stop there. The 49'ers' coach bull-rushed the Chargers' coach, and in the process, knocked down several people standing on the sideline. When the charging coach reached the Chargers coach, he tackled him to the ground. With some of the kids looking on, and others hustling to get out of the way, the two beefy, gone-to-seed, ex-jocks rolled around on the ground throwing punches. After a few moments, other ex-football players pulled them apart, ending this embarrassing display of adult adolescence.

     No one was seriously injured in the fight, and no criminal charges were filed. The raging bull who lost control of himself was suspended from the league, but I'm sure he'll be back. These guys never go away. A parent at the game caught the youth league disturbance on video that she posted on YouTube the next day for all the world to see.           

911 Is For Emergencies, Not Child Raising

      In March 2013, 27-year-old Melissa Townsend, a resident of Indian Harour Beach, a small community on southern Florida's Atlantic coast, called 911 with a less than urgent problem. Her young children were misbehaving. To the dispatcher, Townsend said, "I need a police officer to scare the shit out of my kids. They need to learn respect, and they need to learn that people in law enforcement have authority. They need to learn that lesson."

     The 911 dispatcher replied, "Okay. But we're not coming out to raise your kids for you."

     Ignoring the dispatcher's response, Townsend said, "They need to learn that. You know what I mean?"

     The dispatcher, who probably wasn't sure what was going on in this caller's mind, sent police officers to her house on the chance there was some kind of emergency. The officers rolled up to the dwelling to find the young mother intoxicated. Because Townsend was on probation, and not allowed to consume alcohol, the officers took her into custody for the probation violation. That's when all hell broke out.

     Ignoring her own advice to her kids about respecting law enforcement authority, Townsend resisted arrest, and in the process, kicked one of the officers in the groin.

     At the police lockup, Townsend, still out of control, repeatedly banged her head against the jail wall, and had to be taken to the hospital. She was charged with child neglect (being drunk) and battery of a police officer.

     What started out as a silly 911 call turned into something more serious. Townsend, for reasons that went beyond her intoxicated emergency call, eventually lost custody of her children. (I have not been able to determine the disposition of Townsend's probation violation and police assault cases. It would not be unreasonable to assume, however, that she ended up i

The House-Call Hooker Robbery Case

     On May 1, 2013, a home-alone 14-year-old in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, decided to avail himself of the services of a prostitute. (The kid must have been watching that old Tom Cruise movie.) Since he wasn't old enough to drive, the hooker would have to come to him. Through a website designed for sexual hookups, the adventurous youngster arranged to have  23-year-old Dareka Brooks, a prostitute from Milwaukee, come to his house.

     The moment the hooker strolled into the suburban home, she took charge. She ordered the excited kid to go into his bedroom and take off his pants. As the hapless kid sat on his bed anticipating the real-life version of his wildest fantasies, the whore walked into the room and introduced him to the reality of her world. She sprayed his face with pepper juice, grabbed his iPad and piggy bank, and got the hell out of there. This was not what the boy had expected.

     The stunned, ripped-off underage John could have avoided the wrath of his parents by lying about his lost iPad and piggy bank. Instead, he called the police with a description of the prostitute and her car.

     A detective "pinged" the victim's iPad after Brooks turned it on. This allowed the investigator to track the hooker to a motel in Elk Grove Village ten miles from Prospect Heights. Officers arrested Brooks at the motel where they recovered the kid's iPad and his piggy bank.

     After being charged with armed robbery, a judge ordered Dareka Brooks held on $10,000 bond.

      On June 17, 2014, in exchange for her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Dareka Brooks to five years in prison. Robbery in Illinois carried a maximum sentence of thirty years. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Santa Ana Ketchup Assault

     On October 27, 2018, Mayra Bernice Gallo, after purchasing food at a Santa Ana, California McDonald's drive-through window, got out of her car and entered the back door to the restaurant and asked an employee for more ketchup. The fast-food worker said they would gladly do that if Gallo re-entered the restaurant through the front door and made her request there. Enraged by this response, Gallo attacked the fast-food worker by punching, choking, and bashing the victim's head against a drink machine. While fellow workers tried to intervene, the assault ended when a man entered the back door of the restaurant and pulled Gallo off her victim. A McDonald's surveillance camera recorded the entire incident.

     A month after the unprovoked attack, officers with the Santa Ana Police Department took the 24-year-old into custody. The officers booked her into the Orange County Jail on the charge of assault.

     The Gallo case illustrates what has become a common phenomena in American life: criminal assaults sparked by trivial slights. We are living in a hair-trigger society where violence resides just beneath a veneer of civility and order.

Robert Lustyik: Rogue FBI Agent

     Special Agent Robert Lustyik, a 48-year-old assigned to the FBI resident agency in White Plains, New York, was under investigation by various federal agencies for soliciting bribes from a native of Bangladesh named Rizve Ahmed. Agent Lustyik and his lifelong friend, Johannes Thaler, a ladies shoe salesman from Tarrytown, Connecticut, were suspected of selling FBI data to Ahmed. The information pertained to a political opponent of Ahmed's in Bangladesh, material Ahmed could use to harm his rival. Federal authorities believed agent Lustyik's and his accomplice's scheme unfolded between September 2011 through March 2012.

     Federal investigators had acquired a series of text messages between Lustyik and Thaler discussing how to pressure Ahmed, a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, into paying them the maximum amount of money for the information taken from confidential FBI files. In one such message, Lustyik wrote: "We need to push Ahmed for this meeting and get that $40,000 quick…I will talk us into getting the cash…I will work my magic. We are so close." 
    In a text message to his FBI friend, Thaler replied: "I know. It's all right there in front of us. Pretty soon we'll be having lunch in our oceanfront restaurant." 
     The FBI agent's scheme threatened to unravel in January 2012 when Lustyik learned that Ahmed was considering using another source for the information he wanted. In a text message to Thaler, Lustyik wrote: "I want to kill him [Ahmed]…I'm pissed…I will put a wire on and get Ahmed and his associates to admit they want a Bangladeshi political figure offed [murdered]…We'll sell that information to him [Ahmed]." 
     According to their scheme, the FBI agent and his accomplice hoped to secure, from Ahmed, a $40,000 "retainer"and monthly payments of $30,000. Only $1,000 in bribe money had actually exchanged hands. 
     Besides the Bangladesh scheme, the criminally industrious FBI agent and his co-conspirator had another illegal iron in the fire. In a separate, parallel case, Lustyik and Thaler stood accused of using the agent's access to FBI data to thwart a federal investigation into military contract fraud involving a Utah-based company formed by former U.S. soldiers. The company's head, Michael Taylor, was charged in 2011 with using inside information to win inflated government contracts worth $54 million. The contracts were intended to supply weapons to Afghan troops. 
     Agent Lustyik, in exchange for millions of dollars, offered to make Michael Taylor look like a valuable counterintelligence source by creating a dossier of fake interviews with former agents and prosecutors. In a text message to Taylor, Lustyik wrote: "I will not stop in my attempt to sway this [investigation] your way." Johannes Thaler's role in the scene involved acting as a messenger between Lustyyik and Taylor. 
     Unfortunately for Special Agent Lustyik, Taylor and two of his employees pleaded guilty to the defense contract scheme in late 2011. A few months later, when he turned 50, Lustyik retired from the FBI. 
     FBI agents, on August 2, 2013, arrested Lustyik and Thaler for their roles in the Bangladesh bribery case. They were charged with conspiracy to bribe a public official and soliciting and receiving bribes. Lustyik was also charged with disclosing the contents of a FBI Suspicious Activity Report. Lustyik and Thaler posted their bonds and were released from custody to await their trials. If convicted, they faced up to 25 years in prison. 
     Michael Taylor, in December 2013, after spending 14 months in federal custody in Utah, gained his freedom by cutting a deal with federal prosecutors in the cases against Lustyik and Thaler. At this point the focus of the federal investigators was on the ex-FBI agent and his friend. 
     On September 30, 2014, the former FBI agent pleaded guilty in a Salt Lake City federal courtroom to attempting to derail the investigation into Michael Taylor's defense contract case. Lustyik's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, said that his client would not make a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors. He would not testify against his friend, Johannes Thaler. 
     Johannes Thaler, 51, and Rizve Ahmed, 35, on October 17, 2014, pleaded guilty in a White Plains, New York federal court to bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in the Bangladesh case. Lustyik's trial on these bribery charges was scheduled for November 2014. Both men were sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison.

     In September 2015, U. S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti sentenced Lustyik to five years in prison and two years of supervised release. The sentence ran consecutively to the ten year sentence he received in Utah following his 2014 guilty plea to conspiracy to engage in a bribery scheme. 

The Bad, The Bizarre, and the Ugly: Welcome to Police Work

     If you want to encounter strange people and bizarre situations first-hand, join the police force. Cops function in a parallel world where normal behavior is the exception and deviant behavior is the rule. It's easy to understand why many police officers become cynical, wary, and downright disgusted with the human condition.

Soccer Player Kills Referee

     On June 29, 2014 on a soccer field in Livonia, Michigan, adult league referee John Bieniewcz issued Baseel Adul-Amir Saad a red card that meant the 36-year-old player had been ejected from the game. Saad responded to the penalty by punching the 44-year-old referee in the face. The husband and father of two collapsed to the ground unconscious. To spectators who voiced their disapproval of the sucker punch, Saad gave them the finger.

     As paramedics rushed Mr. Bieniewcz to a hospital in Detroit in critical condition, police took the Dearborn automobile mechanic into custody on the charge of aggravated assault.

     On July 1, 2014, after John Bieniewcz died from the effects of the punch, a prosecutor upgraded the charge against Mr. Saad to involuntary manslaughter.

     Judge Thomas S. Cameron, on March 13, 2015 following Mr. Saad's guilty plea to the involuntary manslaughter charge, sentenced him to eight to fifteen years in prison. The judge also ordered the convicted man to pay $9,000, the cost of his victim's funeral.

     When deputy sheriffs escorted the handcuffed Saad out of the courtroom en route to his cell, the victim's wife Kris raised a red card signifying his ejection from civilized society. [In February 2015, Saad pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to eight to fifteen years in prison.]


Being Nude Down At The Donut Shop

     On March 1, 2015 in Greenacres, Florida not far from Palm Beach, 32-yar-old Shakara Monik sat down at a table outside a Dunkin' Donuts shop and started talking to a man enjoying a donut and a cup of coffee. Not only didn't Monik not know this man, she was stark naked.

     A Dunkin' Donuts employee, concerned that the nude woman was freaking out customers and driving donut lovers away, called the police. In the meantime, donut patrons, figuring this woman was nuts, offered her pieces of clothing to cover her body. She refused their offers.

     When police officers arrived, Monik turned apologetic and explained that her nudeness involved a dare she had to complete before she could join a sorority dance troop. (Thirty-two seems a bit old for sorority membership.)

     The officers booked the West Palm Beach woman into the county jail on the charge of indecent exposure. The judge released Monik on her own recognizance and ordered her to stay clear of the donut place.


Stinking Drunk

     On March 1, 2015, police officers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania encountered Maurice Franklin who appeared under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The 45-year-old was on foot darting in and out of traffic. When questioned by officers, Franklin, who slurred his words, claimed he had been walking erratically to avoid stepping in dog poop.

     Before the officers could handcuff Franklin and haul him off to jail for public drunkenness, he dropped to the sidewalk and rolled in a pile of dog feces.

     Perhaps Mr. Franklin thought he could avoid arrest by making himself so disgusting the officers wouldn't put him in the patrol car. He was wrong. For these officers it was just another day in paradise. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lying For Lance

     Racing cyclist Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005. He lost all seven of his titles, however, after he admitted using performance enhancing drugs. The truth came out after years of lying to racing authorities and to the public.

     The icon in a sport most Americans aren't interested in, as a result of the doping scandal, went from hero to heel. Since his fall from grace, the word frequently associated with Armstrong and his athletic career as "disgraced."

     Disgraced athletes, particularly disgraced celebrity athletes, have been able to at least partially rehabilitate their reputations. If Armstrong's legacy of cheating and lying had been in the process of rehabilitation due to the passage of time, good deeds, and fading memories, the possibility of this came to an end after the stunt he and his girlfriend pulled in Aspen, Colorado.

     On December 28, 2015, the 43-year-old Armstrong and his 33-year-old live in girlfriend Anna Hansen, were mingling with the rich and beautiful at the St. Regis Resort in Aspen, Colorado. They had been invited to the gala event in honor of the Aspen Art Museum.

     The couple left the party after midnight with Armstrong behind the wheel of his GMC Yukon. As he rounded a corner driving too fast, Armstrong lost control of his SUV and smashed into two parked vehicles, a Jeep Wrangler and a Toyota Four Runner.

     The collision could be heard from the inside of the homes of the people who owned the damaged cars. Anna Hansen climbed out of the GMC and spoke to a man looking over his crumpled SUV. She identified both herself and Lance, apologized for the accident, left her phone number, and promised that Lance Armstrong would pay for the cost of the repairs.

     After speaking to the man whose vehicle Lance Armstrong had damaged, Anna climbed back into the GMC. Not bothering to wait for the authorities, the couple drove off. In Colorado, it's against the law to leave the scene of a traffic accident before the arrival of the police. The man Anna spoke to called 911 and reported the collision.

     When an officer with the Aspen Police Department questioned Anna Hansen the next day, she gave an account of the car accident that didn't square with the conversation she had with the man at the scene the previous night. She told the accident investigator that she had been the driver of Armstrong's GMC.

     The investigator took this information with a great deal of skepticism because he had questioned the St. Regis valet who had seen Lance Armstrong climb into the driver's seat when the couple left the party.

     On December 31, 2014, just three days after the accident, Anna Hansen came clean to the police. She admitted that she had lied to protect Lance Armstrong. According to the police report, she explained her fabrication this way: "We've had our family name smeared over every paper in the world in the last couple of years, and honestly, I've got teenagers. I just wanted to protect my family because I thought, 'Gosh, Anna Hansen hit some cars, it's not going to be a national story.' " [Perhaps she should have thought: "Gosh, if Anna Hansen lies to the police and gets caught, it's going to be an even bigger story."]

     When the traffic investigator asked Anna if Lance Armstrong had pressured her into taking the blame for the accident, she said the lie had been a "joint decision." She assured the officer that Lance had not been intoxicated when he plowed into the parked cars.

     The Pitkin County prosecutor's office decided not to charge Anna Hansen with the crime of filing a false report. A prosecutor did, however, charge Lance Armstrong with failing to report a traffic accident, a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine. Armstrong also received a traffic summons for driving too fast under the conditions, an infraction involving a $15 to $100 fine.

     For Lance Armstrong, the consequences of this case had less to do with the criminal justice system and more to do with the damage to his already weakened reputation. Traffic accidents happen to everyone, but not everyone lets someone else take the blame.

     

Eat Your Heart Out, Mike Tyson

Authorities say a Rochester, New York man bit off part of his brother's ear after they began fighting during a Super Bowl party….Police say 27-year-old Sean Fallon-Nebbia was hosting the party on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at his apartment. A roommate told police the brothers had been drinking before they started roughhousing after the game, and the tussle turned violent. Police say Fallon-Nebbia bit off part of 26-year-old Frank Fallon-Nebbia's right ear and punched him several times in the face, knocking him out….The older brother is being held in Monroe County Jail on $15,000 bail after pleading not guilty to first-degree assault, a felony….

"Cops: NY Man Bites Brother's Ear Off During Party," Associated Press, February 4, 2014 

Heroin Chic

     Popular folklore has it that people who do dope don't eat. That stereotype of the reed-thin drug addict is partially a matter of economics, and partially ideology. Yes, if you're a junkie living on the street, you're not likely to make eating your first priority. But for the rest of the heroin-using population, food consumption has more to do with metaphor. Some embrace the image of the junkie as vampire, a creature of the midnight, cut off from normal human needs, requiring only heroin. But just as many junkies maintain their weight….

     The attenuated, fashionable body of "heroin chic" ads may be what you have in mind when you start doing dope but in reality long term use can make you bloated in odd places….

     The frightening thin dope users I've known were either people with some kind of eating disorder that was articulated though heroin, or those who are unable to keep food down on dope.

Ann Marlowe, How To Stop Time: Heroin A to Z, 1999

Writing to O.J.

     I have been accused of the crime of murder, a double murder. The State of California charged me on June 17, 9994 with the deaths of my former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and arrested me later that same day. Since the day of my arrest I have had to defend myself not only in court but in the eyes of the public and the news media. In this book I am speaking publicly for the first time since my arrest, for two reasons.

     First and foremost, I want to respond to the more than 300,000 people who wrote to me. I want to thank you, I want to tell you those letters were a godsend. People wrote not only in the United States but from all over the world. Their letters started coming right after my arrest. Most were supportive, most of them gave me hope--all of the made me feel still part of the world. I first heard about my mail when a female deputy sheriff, on my second day in jail, said, "We've got a problem. We've got too many letters for you." They had received more letters for me in one day than they had for all the other prisoners, some 6,000 prisoners, at the Los Angeles County Jail. [These letters were written before the Simpson murder trial.]

O.J. Simpson, I Want to Tell You, 1994


The Sports Writer

Newspaper people speak of journalists who cover the news as police reporters, City Hall men, and Washington correspondents. Print journalists on the sports beat are usually referred to as sports writers. The sports writer is not expected merely to tell us what happened. Upon small, coiled springs of fact, he builds up a great padded mattress of words. His readers escape into a dream where most of the characters are titanic heroes, devouring monsters, or gargantuan buffoons.

A. J. Liebling quoted in Wayward Reporter by Raymond A. Sokolov, 1980

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Home Alone in Manchester, New Hampshire

     In July 2014, Jerusalem Monday, his wife and three of their children, left their apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire for a one-month visit to Nigeria, Africa. They left their twin 9-year-old boys in the care of Jerusalem's 25-year-old brother, Giobari Atura who, according to the plan, had agreed to temporarily move into the apartment with the boys.

     Giobari Atura, instead of taking up residence with his charges, told his nephews that he'd stop by their apartment three times a week to bring them food and see how they were doing. As it turned out, the uncle didn't even keep that promise. This became a real problem when the parents didn't come home in a month as planned. By November 2014, five months after they left the country, they were still in Nigeria.

     The boys took care of themselves. On school days they got up in time to get on the bus. They ate breakfast and lunch at the school. The kids had no food in the apartment and didn't have access to a phone.

     Someone at the boys' elementary school got wind of their plight and called the State Division of Children, Youth and Families. After a social worker with the agency spoke with the twins, she notified the Manchester Police Department and took the twins into protective custody.

     Detectives reached out to the parents in Nigeria who said they had been delayed in Africa due to illness and passport problems. They promised to return home within a couple of weeks. Mr. Monday said that his brother had been assuring him telephonically that the boys were fine. The father said he had no idea his sons had been living alone in the apartment.

     The abandoned boys told detectives how they had managed to get by on their own. They said they had been lonely, however. And they missed their family.

     In December 2014, Hillsborough County prosecutor Michael Valentine charged Giobari Atura with the misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of a child. The judge set his bail at $500. (I could not find a disposition of the Atura case. He had been scheduled for trial in August 2015.)

     Upon the parents return to the U.S. in December 2014, they gained custody of the twins. The local prosecutor decided not to charge them with a crime.

    

The Legal Definition of Death

     Andrew Lyons shot a man in the head in September 1973 and left him brain-dead. When Lyon's attorneys found out the victim's family had donated his heart for transplantation, they tried to use this in Lyon's defense: If the heart was still beating at the time of surgery, they maintained, then how could it be that Lyons had killed him the day before? They tried to convince the jury that, technically speaking, Andrew Lyons hadn't murdered the man, the organ surgeon had.

     The judge would have none of it….In the end, Lyons was convicted of murder. Based on the outcome of the case, California passed legislation making brain death the legal definition of death. Other states quickly followed suit.

Mary Roach, Stiff, 2003 

An Bad Way to Avoid a Speeding Ticket

Authorities say a New Mexico woman called in a fake report of a gunman near a convenience store in an effort to avoid a traffic ticket. Roswell police say 22-year-old Savana Jimenez called 911 on Sunday morning, January 26, 2014 hoping the officer who pulled her and her friends over would get dispatched to the fake crime she reported. Authorities say Jimenez called 911 while the officer was checking her driver's information. She later admitted making up the story. Jimenez was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice.

"Police: New Mexico Woman Placed Fake 911 Call to Get Out of Traffic Stop," Fox News, January 28, 2014 

Why Teens Kill

There are many reasons why teens kill….If I were to narrow it down to the top three reasons, the order would be as follows:

1. Abusive families and bullying
2. Violent entertainment and pornography
3. Anger, depression, and suicide

Phil Chalmers, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, 2009 

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Seth Mazzaglia Murder Case

     In 2011, after graduating from  high school in Westborough, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Marriott attended Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. Following her freshman year in Manchester, she transferred to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The 19-year-old marine biology major commuted to the university's main campus from her aunt and uncle's home in Chester. To help pay for her schooling she worked at the Target store in the neighboring community of Greenland.

     Elizabeth, who went by "Lizzi," walked out of class at nine at night on October 9, 2012 with the intent of visiting friends at an apartment in Dover, a town of 30,000 in the southeast corner of the state not far from the university. Her friends notified the authorities when Lizzi didn't show up in Dover and couldn't be located elsewhere.

     Three days after Marriott's disappearance, detectives questioned 29-year-old Seth Mazzaglia, a resident of Dover. The 2006 graduate of the University of New Hampshire had earned a bachelor's degree in theater. Over the past ten years, Mazzaglia, more of a character actor than a leading man type, had performed in plays and musicals around southeast New Hampshire. According to his Facebook page, he had a black belt in karate, instructed others in the martial arts, and liked to juggle. Mazzaglia also professed to have a special interest in stage-craft fighting.

     Mazzaglia told detectives that he met Lizzi Marriott in the summer of 2011 when they worked at the Greenland, New Hampshire Target store. At the time of the interview he was employed in the video game section of the Best Buy store in Newington, New Hampshire.

     Mazzaglia informed his questioners that he and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Kathryn McDonough, a high school dropout, had invited Marriott to join them in his apartment on October 9, 2012 for three-way, bondage sex. Mazzaglia said that Marriott did not show up at his apartment that particular evening.

     When questioned again later in the day, Mazzaglia changed his story. He said he had gone out for a run and upon his return to the apartment found Marriott dead with a ligature mark around her neck. He explained that earlier in the evening Kathryn McDonough and another man had engaged in bondage sex with Marriott. Later in the interrogation, Mazzaglia reluctantly admitted that he was the man who had participated in the threesome that evening.

     Mazzaglia said that he, McDonough, and Marriott had played strip poker that night. That activity led to sexual intercourse involving a rope-restraint used to limit Marriott's ability to breathe. During that voluntary activity, Marriott suffered a seizure and died. The death, according to Mazzaglia, was an accidental event in the course of consensual but rough sex.

     Instead of reporting the death to the authorities, Mazzaglia tied a grocery bag over the dead woman's head. At eleven o'clock that night, McDonough's friend, Roberta Gerkin and her housemate, came to the apartment at McDonough's request. Gerkin, according to a statement she gave the police, said she saw a white female lying on the floor with a grocery bag covering her head.

     Gerkin told detectives that when she used a box cutter to remove the sack, it exposed the victim's bluish tinted face. Meanwhile, according to Gerkin, Mazzaglia and his girlfriend engaged in a discussion of how they would dispose of the body.

     During his session with detectives, Mazzaglia said he used Marriott's Mazda to haul her body to Pierce Island in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where and McDonough dumped the corpse into the Piscataqua River. The pair then drove Marriott's car to the University of New Hampshire where they left it in a student parking lot. The couple discarded Marriott's clothing in trash bins on campus.

     Police officers and volunteers searched for Marriott's body in the Piscataqua River around the 27-acre Pierce Island. They found no trace of her remains. Notwithstanding the absence of a body, a Strafford County prosecutor charged Mazzaglia with first-degree murder. Police officers arrested him on October 13, 2012. The judge denied the murder suspect bail.

     On December 24, 2012, detectives arrested Kathryn McDonough on the charges of conspiracy and hindering prosecution. She posted her $35,000 bond and walked out of jail on the condition she stayed with her parents in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 2013, McDonough pleaded guilty to the charges. The judge, aware that McDonough had agreed to help the prosecution against Mazzaglia, sentenced her to 18 months to three years in prison. Given her role in Lizzi Marriott's death, this depraved young woman had gotten off light. Because the prosecutor in the no-body case needed McDonough's testimony to establish the murder and the defendant's role in it, McDonough had escaped a stiffer sentence.

     The Seth Mazzaglia murder trial got underway in Dover, New Hampshire on Monday, June 2, 2014. Two days later, Kathryn McDonough, the prosecution's star witness, took the stand under government immunity from the charge of first-degree murder. The witness said that on October 9, 2012, she had lured Marriott to Mazzaglia's apartment with the promise of watching a movie or playing a video game. In reality she had wanted to please Mazzaglia with a new sex partner.

     Following a game of strip poker, Mazzaglia said he wanted Marriott and McDonough to kiss. Marriott refused. Mazzaglia next suggested that Marriott watch as he and McDonough had sex. Marriott said she wasn't interested. Unaccustomed to not getting his way, Mazzaglia strangled Marriott with a soft cotton rope used in bondage sex. After witnessing the murder, McDonough went into the bathroom and when she returned, saw her boyfriend having sex with the corpse.

     McDonough testified that she and Mazzaglia stuffed the victim's body into a large suitcase and drove to the Piscataqua River where they knew the currents were strong. The couple tossed the corpse over a railing but the five-foot-five, 130-pound body landed on the rocks short of the water line. McDonough climbed down and dragged the victim's body into the river.

     On cross-examination, Mazzaglia's attorney, Joachim Barth, proposed that McDonough had killed Lizzi Marriott when the victim refused to have sex with the defendant. Barth reminded the witness that when she first spoke with the police she had taken responsibility for Marriott's death. The defense attorney suggested that the witness had changed her story in return for government immunity and a light sentence.

     Defense attorney Barth also grilled the witness about her claim to have alternative personalities--different characters she used as a "coping mechanism." McDonough responded that she was not controlled by the voices. During the cross-examination, McDonough revealed that Mazzaglia believed that he had been a dragon in a past life. Being around the defendant had strengthened her own beliefs in the supernatural.

     On June 27, 2014, following 19 days of testimony that did not include the defendant taking the stand on his own behalf, the jury found Mazzaglia guilty of first-degree murder by strangulation. The jury also found him guilty of first-degree murder while committing a felonious assault. The panel of seven women and five men also found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to tamper with evidence as well as the destruction of physical evidence.

     On August 14, 2014, at the Mazzaglia sentence hearing, the victim's mother, in addressing the convicted murderer, said, "I want you to know that I unequivocally hate you. You are a cowardly, despicable person. You stole our smart, vivacious, beautiful daughter from us. You murdered Lizzi, raped her lifeless body, and then threw her away because Lizzi had the self-confidence and self-esteem to say no to you."

     When it came his turn to speak, Mazzaglia said, "I did not rape and murder Elizabeth Marriott. However, I do understand the Marriott family's pain and I did play a part in covering up her death, a mistake I tried to correct when investigators came to me and I showed them exactly where I left Lizzi's body. Unfortunately, they were unable to recover her and for that I am truly sorry. My heart goes out to the Marriott family and I am sorry for their loss."

     Judge Steven Houran sentenced Seth Mazzaglia to the maximum penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

The Criminal Who Was Too Fat For Prison

     Steven Goodman, a 70-year-old former pharmacist and resident of Treasure Island, Florida, a gulf coast community of 7,000, pleaded guilty in 2012 to supplying more than one million oxycodone and other prescription pain pills to illegal pain management clinics throughout south Florida. Illicit prescription drug lords Christopher and Jeffrey George were already serving prison terms in connection with the $40 million pain mill operation.

     At Goodman's federal sentencing hearing in Tampa, defense attorney Edward Page argued that his client's health problems--morbid obesity (551 pounds), sleep apnea, heart fibrillation, high blood pressure, gout, and arthritis--rendered him too sick for prison. Moreover, the prescription pill pusher couldn't dress or feed himself and was too fat for the standard prison cot.

     In light of Goodman's physical condition, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra sentenced the defendant to thirty months of house arrest followed by four years of probation. The judge also fined Goodman $25,000. (Because of his obesity and health problems this man was already confined to his house.)

     Attorney Page, in July 2014, was back in court before Judge Marra. According to the defense lawyer, his client had just one to three years to live. Because Mr. Goodman wanted to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio to visit family and friends before he died, attorney Page asked the judge to lift Goodman's house arrest sentence.

     In denying the attorney's motion, Judge Marra said, "But for the defendant's obesity, he would have been given a prison sentence. To reduce the period of home confinement would result in the elimination of the only real form of punishment Mr. Goodman has received in this case." 

The Man Who Tried To Buy a Girl

     On January 12, 2014, Alliance Ohio police arrested a Cuyahoga Falls man after he tried to purchase a 10-year-old girl for sex from an undercover police officer. Robert W. Thomas Jr., 36, was arrested…following a weeklong investigation….Thomas requested a child in the 5-to 8-year range, offering to pay $400 in cash for her. The man told the undercover officer that he wished to keep the child permanently at his home to engage in sexual conduct and, police say, to "train her to please him."…

     Alliance detectives also executed a search warrant at Thomas' home. They found a computer, electronic storage devices, sexual paraphernalia, videos and several firearms….He has been charged with trafficking in persons, attempted kidnapping, attempted rape and possessing criminal tools. He is being held in the Stark County Jail on $2 million bond.

     [In September 2014, following Robert W. Thomas' guilty plea, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.]

Staff report, WKTC News Cleveland, January 12, 2014




Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Shelia Von Wiese-Mack Murder Case

     In 2006, 76-year-old James L. Mack, a well-known composer of jazz and classical music died at his home in Chicago. The black musician left behind his white, 53-year-old wife Shelia Von Wiese-Mack and their 10-year-old daughter Heather Mack. Mr. Mack also left, for his daughter, a $1.5 million trust fund managed by her mother.

     A few years before his death, James Mack, while on a Royal Caribbean cruise with his wife, cut his foot in the swimming pool area of the ship. He sued the cruise line for negligence in not keeping the ship safe and for improper onboard medical care. In 2011, his widow received a $800,000 settlement from the company.

     On August 4, 2014, Shelia, now 62, and her 19-year-old daughter, checked into the 5-star St. Regis Bali Resort in Bali, Indonesia. Heather Mack and her mother hadn't been getting along for years. More recently, they had fought over Heather's relationship with her boyfriend, Tommy Schaefer. Shelia, while having been married to a black man, didn't approve of her daughter's relationship with the black 21-year-old. (This was according to Schaefer. It's possible the mother's objections had nothing to do with race.)

     On August 12, 2014, eight days after Heather and her mother arrived in Bali, Tommy Schaefer checked into the same hotel. Later that afternoon, he and Heather were outside the hotel with a large suitcase a cab driver helped them place into the trunk of his taxi. As the couple headed back into the hotel lobby, they told the cab driver to wait while they checked out. They did not return.

     A few hours after the big suitcase had been abandoned by Heather and her boyfriend, police officers opened it up to find the body of Shelia Von Wiese-Mack. She had been bludgeoned to death by a hard object.

     Detectives, after viewing hotel surveillance camera footage, saw that in the hours surrounding the victim's murder, Heather and her boyfriend were the only people who had entered and left the victim's room, the scene of the murder.

     Homicide investigators determined that the victim had been struck several times in the head with the iron grip to a hotel fruit bowl from Schaefer's room. Surveillance footage showed Schaefer leaving his room just before the bludgeoning carrying the murder weapon partially hidden inside his shirt. Moreover, a jacket that he owned bore traces of Von Wiese-Mack's blood.

     Detectives arrested the couple the following day. Schaefer admitted killing the victim but claimed self defense. According to the suspect, when he informed Shelia that Heather was two-months pregnant with his child, she flew into a rage and tried to strangle him. Detectives didn't buy his story. A local prosecutor charged Schaefer with premeditated murder.

     Heather Mack told investigators that beyond helping her boyfriend get her mother's body out of the hotel, she had nothing to do with the murder. Detectives didn't buy that story either. The prosecutor charged her as a accomplice to criminal homicide.

     On January 14, 2015, the murder defendants went on trial in the Denpasar District courthouse in Bali. Heather Mack's defense was paid for out of her father's trust fund. A judge had denied Schaefer access to this money. If convicted as charged, both defendants faced the maximum sentence of death by firing squad.

     Following the prosecution's case, Schaefer's attorney put him on the stand to testify on his own behalf. The defendant presented his story of self defense to a jury that was obviously skeptical.

     On April 21, 2015, the jury found Schaefer and Heather Mack guilty as charged. Judge Made Suweda sentenced Tommy Schaefer to just 18 years in prison. In justifying this lenient sentence for premeditated murder, the judge noted that the defendant had expressed remorse for the killing. (Remorse? He tried to sell the jury a bogus self defense story.)

     Judge Suweda, ignoring the prosecutor's request that Heather Mack be sentenced to 15 years, sentenced her to 10. The judge said he wanted to go easy on her because she had recently given birth to her baby. "In my decision," the judge said, "I have made a special judgment because Heather has a baby who needs a mother." (I'm not sure any baby needs a mother who helped her boyfriend murder her mother for the money.)

     After the verdicts and sentencing, Tommy Schaefer, in talking to reporters said, "Although I do take full responsibility for my actions, I am not a murderer." 

The Dynel Lane Attempted Murder Case

     On Wednesday March 18, 2015, 26-year-old Michelle Wilkins, in response to a Craigslist ad offering baby clothes for sale, showed up at the seller's house in Longmont, Colorado. Michelle was seven months pregnant. The woman who had placed the online ad, 34-year-old Dynel Catrece Lane, had told her husband and her relatives that she was pregnant. She was not.

     Shortly after Michelle Wilkins entered the Craigslist seller's house, she was attacked and brutally beaten by Dynel Lane. Following the assault, Lane cut the fetus out of the victim's body.

     That afternoon, Mr. Lane came home from work early to accompany his wife to a prenatal appointment. He found her covered in blood. He also discovered, in the bathtub, a baby. Michelle Wilkins was nowhere in sight. Dynel told her husband she had just had a miscarriage.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced the Wilkins baby dead.

     Two and a half hours after having her baby cut out of her belly, Michelle Wilkins, from the basement of the Lane house, managed to call 911. When Longmont police officers and emergency personnel arrived at the dwelling they heard a woman calling for help.

     Michelle Wilkins, as she was rushed to the same hospital, told the officers what had happened to her and her baby girl. (The victim underwent emergency surgery and a week later was discharged from the hospital.)

     Police officers arrested Dynel Lane and booked her into the Boulder County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, first-degree assault, and child abuse resulting in death.

     On March 27, 2015, the Boulder County Coroner announced that the Wilkins baby did not take a breath outside her mother's body. This meant the infant had been killed as a fetus. Because Colorado was one of twelve states that did not consider the intentional killing of a fetus murder, the district attorney had no choice but to charge Dynel Lane with a series of lesser offenses.

     Dynel Lane, in February 2016, was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, and unlawful termination of a pregnancy. If convicted of all counts, Land faced up to 118 years in prison.

     On May 2, 2016, Chief District Judge Maria Berkenkotter, after noting that the convicted woman never expressed remorse for her crimes, sentenced her to 100 years behind bars.
 

Ice Cream Truck Wars: Sno Cone Joe Versus Mr. Ding-A-Ling

     When imagining men who sell ice cream products out of good humor trucks, one envisions jolly Mr. Rogers types dressed in white. But in reality, why would these people be any different than people who drive taxi cabs, UPS trucks, and buses. Not that there's anything wrong with those folks.

     In the 1970s and 80s, Robert Pronge, the driver of a New Jersey Mister Softee's Truck, moonlighted as a contract killer. Pronge became known for his use of cyanide to complete many of his assignments. (He dropped the poison in his targets' whiskey and beer, not their Mister Softee cones.) On occasion, however, he'd keep his victims cooling in the Mr. Softee truck until he could permanently dispose of their corpses. The hit man, referred to in certain circles as "Mr. Softee", ended up being murdered by Richard Kuklnski, the prolific Gambino family contract killer known as the "Ice Man." Kuklnski had introduced Mr. Softee to the idea of using cyanide as a murder weapon. Pronge, as far as anyone knows, is the only hit man in history who hauled dead bodies around in an ice cream truck. But compared to Kuklnski who killed more than 200 men for money, Mr. Softee was an amateur. Unlike Kuklinki who was a cold-blooded sociopath, Mr. Softee was a bit crazy and unpredictable. He did, however, sell a lot of ice cream, and from all accounts, loved children.

The Ice Cream Truck War

     In Gloversville, New Jersey, 34-year-old Joshua Malatino, the owner of the local Sno Cone Joe franchise, also sold a lot of ice cream. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Amanda Scott, helped him operate his good humor truck. Business was good in Gloversville until a rival good humor man rolled into town in his Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck.

     Mr. Malatino, aka Sno Cone Joe, decided to harass his business rival, 53-year-old Brian Collis aka Mr. Ding-A-Ling. On April 16, 19, and 28, 2013, Malatino, with his Sno Cone Joe jingles blaring from his truck, tailgated Mr. Ding-A-Ling around town. Whenever Mr. Collis stopped to service a customer, Sno Cone Joe would pull up behind Mr. Ding-A-Ling and offer the consumer free ice cream. At one point, Malatino allegedly phoned Mr. Ding-A-Ling headquarters in Latham, New Jersey and said, "I own this town!"

     On May 3, 2013, a local prosecutor charged  Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott with harassment and misdemeanor stalking. If convicted, Sno Cone Joe and Sno Cone Jane (just kidding) faced up to three months in jail. According to Gloversville Police Captain John Sira, Malatino drove a different ice cream truck operator out of town the previous summer.

     In April 2015, a Fulton County judge dismissed the charges against Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Tammy Meyers "Road Rage" Murder Case

     Tammy Meyers and her husband Robert lived on a cul-de-sac in a Las Vegas residential neighborhood with their four children. On Thursday night February 12, 2015, with Robert Meyers out of town on business, the 44-year-old mother gave their 15-year-old daughter a driving lesson on the parking lot of a nearby school. According to the initial account of what happened after that driving lesson, as Tammy drove her daughter home, they became involved in some kind of dustup with a man in a car with two passengers. That man, as the story went, followed the mother and her daughter home. In front of their house, at 11:30 PM, the unknown motorist shot Tammy Meyers in the head. The assault was widely reported in the media as a road rage shooting.

     Emergency personnel rushed Tammy Meyers to the Medical Center of Southern Nevada where doctors placed her on life support. On Saturday February 14, as police officers searched for the unknown suspect in a silver sedan, a man described as 25-years-old, six-foot tall and 180 pounds, physicians took Tammy Meyers off life-support. She died shortly thereafter.

     Following Tammy Meyers' death, new details surfaced about the murder that put a different slant on the case. As Tammy and her daughter drove home that night from the school parking lot, a man driving a silver sedan sped by them. Tammy's daughter, to register her displeasure at the speeding motorist, reached over and honked their horn.

    The speeder, apparently angered by the rebuke, pulled in front on Tammy's green Buick Park Avenue and came to a stop. The man climbed out of his vehicle and confronted the frightened mother and daughter. After threatening the women, the man got back into his car and drove off.

     Instead of calling the police or going home and doing nothing about the encounter with the unknown motorist, Tammy sent her daughter into the house to fetch her 22-year-old brother Brandon. Brandon got into the Buick armed with a 9 mm pistol. He and his mother drove off in search of the unknown motorist who had frightened his mother and his sister.

     According to this version of the story, after driving around for a few minutes, Tammy spotted the silver car she was looking for. She followed that vehicle but quickly lost track of it and headed home. The man she had been following, however, hadn't lost track of Tammy. He followed her and Brandon back to their house.

     At eleven-thirty that night, the man in the silver car caught up to Tammy and her son in the cul-de-sac in front of their home. That's when Brandon and the man exchanged gunfire. A bullet from the other man's gun struck Tammy in the head. She collapsed in her driveway, the shooter sped off, and someone called 911.

     In speaking to a television reporter with a local ABC affiliate, Robert Meyers said he didn't know why his wife had to lose her life over such a petty incident. "Every time you turn around someone's getting shot in Las Vegas," he said. Admitting that "there were mistakes made" by his wife, the husband called his son Brandon a hero.

     Some people, while lamenting Tammy Meyers' murder, said they didn't understand why she didn't call the police instead of taking matters into her own hands and risking her life and the life of her son by going after the man who had threatened her? Wasn't that asking for trouble? What was she thinking?

     In the wake of this public criticism, Robert Meyers shut down the GoFundMe fundraising site that had been started by a friend of the family. Mr. Meyers returned $6,000 to donors. Sympathy had turned to skepticism. Regarding the Internet site, Mr. Meyers said, "If all of you people think I was a fraud and lied about the facts I am truly sorry."

     Brandon Meyers, in response to the criticism of his mother, said this to a reporter: "Everyone can think what they have to think. I did it for a reason. And I'd do it again for anyone I love."

     On Thursday February 19, 2015, one week after the shooting, the so-called Las Vegas Road Rage Murder Case took a confusing twist when 19-year-old Erich Milton Nowsch Jr. surrendered to the SWAT team that surrounded his house less than a block from the Meyers residence. Norwsch, five-foot-three and 100 pounds, didn't look anything like the composite  police sketch of the unknown motorist in the silver car.

     Robert Meyers, in speaking to reporters about this development in the case said, "We know this boy. I couldn't tell you this before. He knew where we lived. We knew how bad he was but we didn't know he was this bad. My wife fed him, she gave him money, she told him to pull his pants up and be a man."

     To a group of reporters out in front of his house, Mr. Meyers said, "Are you all happy? You made my wife look like an animal. There's the animal, a block away!"

    So what did this new twist in the case mean? If Brandon, his sister and their father knew the identify of the person who had committed the murder, why wasn't Nowsch arrested sooner? How did detectives identify Nowsch as the suspected shooter?

    A Las Vegas prosecutor charged Erich Nowsch with murder with a deadly weapon, attempted murder with a deadly weapon and discharging a gun within a vehicle.

     According to a police report on the case made public on Friday February 20, detectives found, in front of the Meyers residence, six .45-caliber shell casings. Norwsch's friends told investigators that the suspect had never mentioned a road rage incident to them. Instead, he said people were after him. Moreover, he was not the driver of the silver Audi involved in the case. Norwsch told his friends that he returned fire when someone in the green Buick shot at him from inside the car.

     Following his guilty plea to murder in late in 2015, the judge sentenced Nowsch to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving ten years.

The Harold Sasko Murder Case: The Multi-Personality Defense

     Harold Sasko lived in a middle-class, ranch style home in suburban Lawrence, Kansas with his chocolate labrador Oliver. The 52-year-old businessman owned three CiCi's Pizza restaurants, one in Lawrence and two in Topeka. In 2014, Mr. Sasko informed the woman he was dating at the time that one of his employees, a 18-year-old named Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, would be temporarily staying at his house. He said she needed help with her drug problem and wanted to separate herself from street gang influence. McLinn, a former employee at CiCi's Pizza Buffet in Lawrence, worked at a local Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

     On Friday, January 17, 2014, a member of McLinn's family reported  her missing. The relative informed officers with the Lawrence Police Department that the 18-year-old had been missing for three days. They became concerned when she didn't show up for a family dinner on January 14.

     On January 17, 2014, pursuant to the missing persons investigation, a Lawrence police officer knocked on Mr. Sasko's door. When the resident didn't answer, the officer looked through a window and saw a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

     The body in the house turned out to be Mr. Sasko's. He had been murdered and the killer had presumably driven off in his 2008 Nissan Altima. Mr. Sasko's dog Oliver was also missing. A local judge issued a warrant for Sarah McLinn's arrest as a prime suspect in the Sasko murder.

     At ten-thirty Saturday night, January 25, 2014, 1,560 miles from the murder scene, Everglades National Park rangers in Dade County, Florida arrested Sarah McLinn. They found her sleeping in the park after hours in the back of the murdered man's car. She also possessed Oliver, Mr. Sasko's dog. The park rangers took McLinn into custody on charges related to the possession of illicit drugs.

     The authorities in Florida also discovered in the Nissan what detectives believed to be the Sasko case murder weapons--two knives and an ax. The day after her arrest on the drug charges, the district attorney of Douglas County, Kansas charged McLinn with first-degree murder.

     At a press conference on January 27, 2014, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib told reporters that, "Based upon our investigation, evidence suggests Ms. McLinn gained control over Mr. Sasko and then killed him." According to the police chief, the victim had been attacked with an "edged instrument." Moreover, Mr. Sasko had not been conscious when he died. Chief Khatib said that Mr. Sasko was murdered on January 14, the day McLinn went missing. He did not identify a motive. The suspect, however, had confessed.

     On February 1, 2014, McLinn, after waiving an extradition hearing in Florida, was transported back to Kansas where officers booked her into the Douglas County Jail. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     According to Sasko case investigators, McLinn, several hours after the murder, was in Bishop, Texas, a small town 100 miles from the Mexican border. She had stopped at two gas stations in Bishop, about 900 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas.

     Carl Cornwell, McLinn's attorney, told reporters that the issue in the case would center on his client's motive to kill, not on whether or not she had committed the murder.

     The Sasko murder trial got underway on March 5, 2015 in the Douglas County Courthouse. Prosecutor Charles Branson told the jury in his opening remarks that Sarah McLinn had carefully planned Mr. Sasko's murder.

     Defense attorney Carl Cornwell, in his opening address to the jury, said his client had not been in control of herself when she killed the victim. The murder, according to attorney Cornwell, had been committed by Alyssa, one of the defendant's multiple personalities.

     Lawrence police detective Robert Brown took the stand for the prosecution and testified that prior to the murder, McLinn had searched Google with the key phrase "neck vulnerable spots." In her confession she admitted stabbing the victim then slicing his throat. When asked by the detective why had she murdered Mr. Sasko, she said, " I wanted to see someone die."

     Detective Brown testified that the defendant had disabled the victim by crushing six sleeping pills and pouring the powder into his can of beer. A toxicology report confirmed the presence of this substance in the victim's system.

     The key witness for the defense, Dr. Marilyn A. Hutchinson, a psychologist, testified that during the 17 hours she spent with McLinn, the defendant spoke to her as four personalities--Sarah, Alyssa, Myla, and Vanessa. Based on these interviews, Dr. Hutchinson diagnosed McLinn as suffering from Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), a psychological condition once called Multiple Personality Syndrome. According to Dr. Hutchinson, Alyssa had told the defendant to murder the victim.

     Defense attorney Cornwell rested his case without putting Sarah, Alyssa, Myla or Vanessa on the stand.

     On March 20, 2015, the jury, after deliberating just four hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Six months later the judge sentenced Sarah McLinn to fifty years in prison.

     The Sasko case illustrates that a defense attorney, regardless of how idiotic the defense, can find a courtroom psychologist to go along with it. Fortunately, most juries are smart enough to cut through the nonsense.

     

Catching Drivers on Pot

     Researchers at Washington State University are working on a breath test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana…Law enforcement officers have a test for alcohol, but they don't have a tool to test for marijuana impairment. Right now, officers use blood tests to determine if THC is present in a driver's blood.

     But WSU chemistry professor Herbert Hill said existing technologies like those used by airport security agents to detect drugs and explosives can be altered to test breath for THC. Hill said he hopes to start testing on humans in early 2015. The Washington State Patrol says it welcomes anything that gets impaired drivers off the road. [One might argue that a little pot might lower blood pressure and reduce road rage in America's big city traffic hell. Just kidding, I think.]

"Researchers Developing Pot Breath Test," Associated Press, November 29, 2014 

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Joyce Garrard Murder Case


     On Friday, February 17, 2012, 27-year-old Jessica Mae Hardin scolded her 9-year-old step-daughter for lying to her grandmother about eating a candy bar. As punishment, Savannah Hardin was told to run, and keep running while carrying a load of firewood. At four that afternoon, a neighbor saw the third grader running laps around the family's doublewide on a dirt road in rural northeast Alabama. At six-forty-five that evening the stepmother called 911 after Savannah started having seizures. Finding the girl unresponsive, emergency medical personnel rushed her to the Gadsden Regional Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

     On Monday, February 20, the 9-year-old died. According to the state forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, she had been severely dehydrated with a dangerously low sodium level. Before she collapsed, Savannah had been running for three hours.

     Deputies with the Etowah County Sheriff's Office took the stepmother and the victim's 46-year-old grandmother, Joyce Garrard, into custody. The grandmother was charged with capital murder. If convicted, she faced either life without parole or the death penalty.  The pair were booked into the Etowah County jail, each under a $500,000 cash bond. The stepmother, Jessica Hardin, faced the charge of felony-murder,.

     According to the step-mother's estranged husband (apparently not the girl's father), the suspect suffered from bi-polar disorder and was a heavy drinker. Both women denied any wrongdoing in the child's death.

     In January 2013, after a judge reduced Jessica Hardin's bond to $150,000, the stepmother posted bail and walked out of the Etowah County lockup. The authorities continued to hold the grandmother without bond.

     On August 26, 2014, Etowah County Circuit Judge William Ogletree moved the grandmother's murder trial from September 2014 to February 2015. The judge cited "discovery and procedural issues" as reasons for the delay.

     The Joyce Garrard murder trial got under way in the Etowah County Courthouse on March 9, 2015. Following the selection of jury made up of ten men and six women, four serving as alternates, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marcus Reid made his opening statement. According to the prosecutor, the defendant acted like a "drill sergeant who ran her granddaughter to death.

     Defense attorney Dani Bone told the jurors that her client had meant no harm to her granddaughter. The girl wanted to run and to get faster after she had finished second in a race at school. As for the cause of her death, the girl had recovered at the hospital before dying from prior health complications.

     Prosecutor Reid put Dr. Emily Ward on the stand, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Savannah Hardin. The expert witness testified that the victim had died from her seizures linked to abnormally low sodium levels caused by "prolonged physical exertion and heat exhaustion." According to Dr. Ward, the victim's left arm had three bruises caused by carrying the firewood as she ran.

     Heather Elgin Gibson, a nurse who was on duty at the Gadsden Regional Medical Center when the girl was brought in, said the victim was unconscious and unresponsive. The witness said she mistakingly "clicked a wrong button" on an electronic chart that made it appear the patient was alert at one point. She was not.

     On March 16, 2015, defense attorney Bone, after the prosecution rested, asked Judge Ogletree to direct a verdict of acquittal on the grounds that the state had not proven its case. Attorney Bone said that if the defendant had wanted to punish the child for a lie, there was no reason for her to force the girl to run until she died. "Discipline means teaching a lesson," he said. "How is the defendant going to teach a lesson if she kills her?"

     Prosecutor Reid, in arguing that the state had presented enough evidence to require a defense, pointed out that the defendant had kept yelling at the child to run even after she was on the ground vomiting and begging to stop. "You judge a person's state of mind by what they do," he said.

     The judge ruled in favor of the prosecution which meant that the defense would have to put on its case.

     Donna Johnson, Savannah Hardin's principal at Carlisle Elementary School, testified that the defendant had shown concern for her granddaughter. (This countered the testimony given by a physician who had treated the victim. The doctor had described the defendant as uncaring.)

     Dr. Deborah Smith, a physician with Quality of Life Health Services took the stand for the defense. Dr. Smith said she had treated Savannah Hardin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Under cross-examination, the witness admitted telling investigators that she was concerned that the patient did not have a normal relationship with the defendant and her stepmother, Jessica Hardin.

     On March 18, 2015, Joyce Garrard took the stand on her own behalf. She testified two hours during which time she became tearful as well as defiant. According to the defendant, she had punished her granddaughter that day by making her pick up sticks in the yard for 30 to 45 minutes. As the witness relayed her version of the case, she drank freely from a water bottle at her side on the witness stand.

     When asked about the running, Garrard described it as "more of a jog, not a full run." The witness said, "You can't make Savannah run. She runs when she wants."

     "Did you ever intend to hurt Savannah?" asked the defense attorney. "Absolutely not," came the reply. "I would rather die than harm Savannah."

     The defendant denied that Savannah was ever down on all fours vomiting. When pressed about this on cross-examination, Garrard admitted that the girl had vomited once then continued with her activities.

     Late in the day on Saturday March 21, 2015, the Etowah County jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. As the jury foreman read the verdict, Garrard lowered her head and cried. Others in the courtroom expressed their approval of the jury's decision.

     The penalty phase of the trial began on Monday March 23, 2015. Three days later, the jury recommended life in prison for the convicted grandmother. Five of the Etowah County jurors had voted for her death.

     On May 11, 2015, Judge Ogletree sentenced Garrard to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In June 2016, the victim's stepmother, Jessica Hardin, pleaded guilty to aggravated child abuse. Judge Ogletree sentenced her to twenty years in prison.

O.J. Innocent? Junk History in the Simpson Murder Case

     From the June 1994 day in Los Angeles when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were stabbed and slashed to death outside of O.J. Simpson's ex-wife's condo, to his October 1995 acquittal, the double murder case dominated the news in the U.S. and abroad. The investigation and trial involved DNA analysis, blood spatter interpretation, and plenty of forensic medicine. Because the physical evidence pointed to Simpson's guilt, the not guilty verdict introduced the public to the concept of jury nullification.

     The infamous case turned police detectives, defense attorneys, and the trial judge into instant celebrities. Several of the major players in the case cashed-in with lucrative book deals. A few of these people evolved into television personalities. The Simpson case put CNN on the map, and elevated the careers of more than a few talking-heads.

     In America, the combination of celebrity-worship and the fascination with violent crime has produced a dozen or so "crimes of the century." In my opinion, the 20th Century featured three crimes of the century: the Lindbergh Kidnapping (1932), The John F. Kennedy Assassination (1961), and the O.J. Simpson double murder. In the Lindbergh case, Bruno Hauptmann, after being convicted on the strength of physical evidence connecting him to the crime, was executed in April 1936. Since then, there have been a handful of books, several television documentaries, hundreds of articles, and a HBO movie devoted to the theory that Hauptmann was an innocent man framed by the New Jersey State Police. It is my view that these exonerations of Hauptmann amount to junk history.

     There have been more than 500 books written about the Kennedy assassination. While I am not an expert on this case, I subscribe to the view that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Dr. John Kelly, a friend of mine who taught in the University of Delaware's criminal justice department, spent twenty years investigating the assassination. He is firmly convinced that the Warren Commission got it right, and that's good enough for me.

     Because the physical evidence pointing to O.J. Simpson's guilt was so plentiful and incriminating, the case hadn't moved into the revisionist stage until 2012. In the fall of that year, a book came out that purported to exonerate Simpson. It was followed by a television documentary in which another man was identified as the Nicole Simpson/Ronald Goldman killer. The revisionist stage of the O.J. Simpson case had begun.

     In his book, O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It, true crime writer/private investigator William Dear makes the case that Simpson's then 40-year-old son Jason committed the murders. According to the author, although O.J. was present when the victims were murdered, he didn't wield the knife. This is convenient because it helps explain away the physical evidence linking O.J. to the crime scene.

     So, what evidence does this revisionist author have against Jason Simpson? Not much. In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Mr. Dear found a hunting knife that could have been the murder weapon. There was nothing, however, on the knife that connected it to the crime. (Over the years there have been several knives discovered that were purported to be the missing murder weapon. None of them were connected to the killings.) The other so-called incriminating evidence involved the fact that after the murders, Jason retained an attorney. The author also found a photograph of Jason Simpson that shows him wearing a knit cap similar to one recovered from the crime scene.

     Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson assaulted his girlfriend, and according to some crime profiler, the suspect had a homicidal personality. And finally, Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi. Although there was not nearly enough against Jason Simpson to even justify a legal arrest, William Dear managed to pad this "evidence" into a book-length manuscript someone was willing to publish. When the book first came out, it attracted a little media attention then quickly fell out of the news. But uncritical readers willing to believe revisionist accounts of famous cases based on nothing but speculation and faux evidence, embraced Dear's book.

     On November 21, 2012, the Investigation Discovery Channel aired a documentary called "My Brother the Serial Killer," a story about a convicted serial killer from Kentucky named Glen Edward Rogers. Narrated by his older brother Clay Rogers, the documentary was a well-told, visually dramatic, and interesting biography of a serial killer. The 60-year-old murderer, who claimed to have killed 70 women, had been on Florida's death row for fifteen years. (Although Rogers exhausted his appeals in 2012, he was still alive as of March 2016.) The documentary revealed, among other things, how easy it is for a serial killer to get away with his crimes.

     The documentary's main hook, however, was its connection to the O.J. Simpson case. According to a criminal profiler and true crime writer named Anthony Meloli, Glen Rogers revealed to him that O.J. Simpson had hired him to break into Nicole's condo. Rogers, who claimed that he was working at the dwelling as a painter, was supposed to steal a set of $20,000 diamond earrings Simpson had given to his ex-wife. According to Rogers, O.J. told him that "You may have to kill her." Rogers also informed the profiler that after murdering Nicole Simpson, he took an angel pin off her body and mailed it to his mother. The killer's mom supposedly wore this piece of jewelry at one of her son's murder trials.

     As the story goes, O.J., shortly after the murders, walked up the bloody sidewalk to check on Roger's work. This doesn't make sense. One would think that Simpson would take pains to distance himself from the crime scene.  In so doing, Simpson left his shoe impressions at the death site.

     Ronald Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, in speaking to a reporter after having watched "My Brother the Serial Killer," said, "I am appalled at the level of irresponsibility demonstrated by the network and the producers of the so-called documentary." A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department said, "We have no reason to believe that Mr. Rogers was involved [in the case]. Nevertheless, in the interest of being thorough in the case, our robbery/homicide detectives will investigate [Roger's] claims." Nothing came of that inquiry,.

      Except for the O.J. Simpson angle, "My Brother the Serial Killer" was an outstanding true crime documentary.    

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Maxwell Morton "Selfie" Murder Case

     Maxwell Marion Morton, a 16-year-old high school student, lived in the western Pennsylvania town of Jeanette, a suburb of Pittsburgh. He played on the football team and had never been in trouble with the law. One of Morton's friends, Ryan Mangan, also a junior at Jeanette High School, worked at McDonald's in the nearby Hempfield Plaza.

     Ryan Mangan's mother, in their home on Rankin Avenue in Jeanette, discovered her son's dead body. Ryan had been shot in the face at close range. She called 911.

     Not long after Ryan Mangan had been shot to death, Maxwell Morton, using Snapchat, an application for Smartphones that allows the user to send photographs that disappear from the recipient's phone within seconds, sent a most disturbing "selfie" to a male friend. The photograph, captioned "Maxwell," depicted a close-up of Morton's face with his friend Ryan sitting behind him in a chair. To even the most casual observer it was obvious that Ryan Mangan had been killed by a bullet to his face.

     The friend who received this macabre and bizarre message saved the photograph before it automatically vanished. The boy showed the picture to his mother who immediately called the police.

     Homicide investigators couldn't believe that a kid had taken a photograph of himself with the boy he had presumably shot to death, then sent the picture to a friend. Did he think his friend would keep the murder a secret? Was he bragging? Did he want to get caught?

     Morton had also texted his friend a couple of incriminating messages pertaining to the photograph of the murdered boy. One read: "Told you I cleaned up the shells." The other: "Ryan was not the last one." What did that mean? Was this kid planning to murder others?

     Police officers took Maxwell Morton into custody and booked him into the Westmoreland County Juvenile Detention Center on suspicion of murder.

     In the homicide victim's bedroom, detectives found a 9mm shell casing.

     On Friday February 6, 2015, in a search of the suspect's home, detectives found a 9mm handgun hidden beneath the basement stairs. Confronted with the selfie and the gun, Morton confessed to killing his friend.

     At his arraignment hearing that Friday, a local prosecutor charged Maxwell Morton, as an adult, with first-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses. The judge denied him bail.

     In February 2017, a Westmoreland County jury found Maxwell Morton guilty of third-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing in May 2017 before Common Pleas Judge Meagan Bilik-FeFazio, Morton conceded that his selfie shooting was "messed up." The judge sentenced him to 15 to 30 years in prison.
     

The Hyphernkemberly Dorvilier Murder Case

     At eleven at night on January 16, 2015 in Pemberton Township, a community thirty miles east of Philadelphia in southern New Jersey, several people saw a young woman get out of a car she had parked along Simontown Road. They noticed that she carried something in her arms, a bundle she laid down in the middle of the street. When the woman set fire to the bundle, several witnesses asked her what she was doing. The woman replied calmly that she was burning dog waste.

     To their horror, these witnesses heard the cry of a baby coming from the little fire in the street. People rushed to douse the flames while others called 911 and prevented the woman from driving off in her car.

     Paramedics rushed the baby, still alive, to Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. From there the newly born infant with its umbilical cord and placenta still attached was flown to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children. The baby girl died sometime after midnight. The tiny victim, secretly born on the day of her death, had been sprayed with WD-40 and set ablaze.

     The baby's mother, 22-year-old Hyphernkemberly Dorvilier, lived about a mile from where she set her infant on fire. After receiving medical treatment, officers booked the suspect into the Burlington County Corrections and Work Release Center on the charge of murder. The judge set her bond at $500,000.

     In April 2016, Dorvilier pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter. At her sentencing hearing, she said, "I was on a downward spiral. I believe I hit rock bottom. I apologize first and foremost for not giving my daughter, Angelica, the life she deserved."

     The judge sentenced Dorvilier to 30 years in prison.

The Christian Jose Gomez Murder Case

      Marua Suarez Cassange, 48, lived with her two sons in a house in Oldsmar, Florida, a town of 13,000 not far from Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast. At seven-thirty on New Year's Eve 2014, Cassange's older son, Mario Gomez, called 911 after the 26-year-old made a shocking and gruesome discovery in the yard outside his house.

     Lying near the trash can in the side yard, Mario Gomez discovered his mother's decapitated body. Inside the trash can, in a garbage bag, he found her head. Mr. Gomez informed the 911 dispatcher that his younger, mentally ill brother, 23-year-old Christian Jose Gomez, had murdered their mother just a few minutes earlier. He had left the house on his bicycle.

     That evening, a few blocks from the murder scene, police officers, after a brief foot-chase, took Christian Gomez into custody. This arrest was not the suspect's first contact with the police. In 2013, officers took Gomez into custody for a variety of minor offenses such as loitering, prowling, resisting arrest without violence, and disorderly conduct.

     In addition to his troubles with the law, Christian Gomez had recently been committed for psychiatric evaluation. The psychiatrist who diagnosed him as a schizophrenic prescribed anti-psychotic medication. Apparently Gomez had quit taking his medication.

     At the police station, Gomez calmly and matter-of-factly told his interrogators that he had been planning to kill his mother for two days. Why? asked one of the detectives. The suspect explained that the victim had infuriated him with her constant nagging about putting some boxes away in the attic. He said he just couldn't take it anymore.

     That evening, in the garage, Gomez used an axe to behead his mother then dispose of her head in the trash can. Because she was too heavy for him to lift, he dragged her torso into the side yard. After a futile effort to scrub up the blood in the garage, he rode off on his bicycle. His brother was in the house at the time of the murder but had no idea what was going on.

     A local prosecutor charged Christian Gomez with first-degree murder. After officers booked the mentally disturbed man into the Pinellas County Jail, the judge denied him bond.

     Gomez, after being incarcerated in a state mental hospital for three years, was declared mentally competent to stand trial. In July 2018, facing life in prison, Gomez pleaded guilty in return for a sentence of 25 years behind bars.

     

Bias in Forensic Science

The close relationship that forensic practitioners engender with law enforcement agencies renders them susceptible to cognitive bias through the wider problem of information sharing. Confirmation bias occurs when practitioners use selective external information, consciously or unconsciously garnered from their associates, to assist their conclusions. This is a well-studied phenomenon in eyewitness lineups, in which witnessed who are initially tentative with their identifications become positive after learning that the person they identified is the prime suspect according to the police. Confirmation bias has played a role in numerous forensic scandals, and was recently acknowledged as one of the leading cause of the [fingerprint] misidentification of the 2004 Madrid [train] bomber.

C. Michael Bowers, Forensic Testimony, 2013

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Trials of Ex-Deputy Sheriff Tai Chan

     After transporting an inmate back to jail in Safford, Arizona, Jeremy Martin and Tai Chan, deputies with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, checked into a hotel in Las Cruces.

     Jeremy Martin, a 29-year-old with a wife and three children, had been on the force as a patrol officer for two and a half years. Tai Chan, 27, a member of the department's investigative bureau, had been a deputy three years. Both were considered hard working members of the sheriff's office.

     On Monday October 29, 2014, after checking into the Hotel Encanto in Las Cruces, the deputies began drinking at Dublin's Pub. It was there the officers got into an argument. Just after midnight, the officers returned to the hotel room where the fight continued.

     At one-thirty in the morning of October 30, a 911 caller from the hotel reported hearing six gunshots coming from the vicinity of the deputies' 7th floor room. When officers with the Las Cruces Police Department arrived at the hotel, they encountered Deputy Martin staggering out of a 7th floor elevator. The bleeding man had been shot in the back and arms.

     Shortly after being shot several times, Jeremy Martin died at the Mountain View Regional Medical Center. Based on the physical evidence at the homicide scene, investigators believed the victim had been shot as he fled the hotel room.

     Shortly after discovering the victim, police officers found Deputy Chan in a stairwell near the hotel roof. That's where they took him into custody on suspicion of murder.

     Las Cruces officers booked Tai Chan into the Dona Ana County Jail on an open charge of murder. The judge denied him bond. The next day the sheriff of Santa Fe County announced that Tai Chan had been dismissed from the force.

    Chan murder trials held in 2016 and 2017 each ended in mistrials. In both cases, Tai Chan testified that he had shot Deputy Jeremy Martin in self defense during a heated alcohol fueled fight. Prosecutors in 2018 charged the defendant for the third time. That case, involving the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, was dismissed by District Judge Conrad Perea in October of 2018 on grounds of due process related to the prosecution's charging procedure.

    As of November 2018, the Santa Fe County District Attorney's Office has not revealed if the case will involve a fourth criminal charge against the ex-deputy.

Raymond Clark: Homeless Panhandler Sets 7-Eleven Customer on Fire

     Thirty-eight-year-old Raymond Sean Clark, a homeless panhandler, regularly loitered outside the 7-eleven store on the Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, California. Clark made a habit of hasseling customers who patronized the convenience store by begging them for money and cigarettes. He had become an unwelcome fixture in the neighborhood. (A pain-in-the-neck like Clark is a store manager's nightmare.)

     At five in the afternoon of April 12, 2013, as Jerry Payne sat outside the 7-eleven store in his Toyota 4-Runner, the 62-year-old was approached by Clark who asked him for money. (If Mr. Payne was a regular customer of the store, Clark had probably hit him up for money before.)

     When Mr. Payne refused to give Clark a handout, the transient poured a bottle of gasoline into the SUV and tossed in a match. The vehicle and its occupant were immediately engulfed in flames. (The fire was so intense customers and employees in the convenience store had to escape through a back door.)

     After Good Samaritans pulled Mr. Payne out of the burning vehicle, paramedics rushed him to Torrance Memorial Hospital, a medical facility that specializes in burn patients. With third-degree burns on his chest and face, the victim was in critical condition.

     Police officers arrested Raymond Clark around the corner from the fire. Charged with attempted murder, he was held in the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center under $502,200 bail. Upon Mr. Payne's death, the prosecutor elevated the charge against Clark to murder.

     In April 2014, a year after the deadly assault, Jerry Payne's family filed a wrongful death suit against the 7-Eleven convenience store chain and the city of Long Beach. The plaintiffs based the civil action on the theory that the attack had been foreseeable therefore preventable. According to the plaintiffs, both the owner of the store and the police had known that Raymond Clark was aggressive and dangerous.

     Assistant City Attorney Monte H. Machit described Mr. Payne's death as an "absolute tragedy." However, he said, Long Beach could not be held accountable for every "random act of violence that took place in the city."

     In March 2015, the plaintiffs dropped the wrongful death suit against the city of Long Beach.

     Prosecutors, in September 2017, announced they would not seek the death penalty against Raymond Clark. As of November 2018, the murder case has not come to trial. In California, the wheels of justice turn slowly.