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Monday, December 31, 2018

Elementary School Conspiracy: Kids Hatch Murder Plot

     Our criminal justice system isn't equipped or designed to deal with kids who haven't reached the ninth grade. This is particularly true when pint-sized offenders commit felonies. In the good old days, students got in trouble for chewing gum in class. Today, they're hauled out of school in handcuffs for assault, resisting arrest, drug possession, sexual crimes, and the possession of firearms. But up until a case in Colville, Washington, no elementary school child has been arrested for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

     On February 7, 2013, kids on a school bus saw a 10-year-old boy playing with a knife. The bus was en route to the Fort Colville Elementary School in Colville, Washington 75 miles north of Spokane. A search of this boy's backpack at the school produced the knife and a weapon even more shocking--a .45-caliber, fully loaded pistol.

     When asked by a police officer what he was doing with the gun, the kid said that he and his 11-year-old buddy were going to "get" one of the girls in their class. Pressed for details, the boy revealed what they had intended to accomplish. According to the plan, the 11-year-old friend would stab the girl to death while the 10-year-old would use the gun to hold-off other kids and any interfering teachers.

     The Stevens County prosecutor, presented with the unusual and difficult facts of this case, decided to charge the fourth graders with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, tampering with a witness (holding off the crowd), and conspiracy to possess a firearm. (This gave these elementary school kids rap sheets that would impress gang members and Mafia types. Not bad for boys several years away from shaving.)

     In the state of Washington, individuals under the age of twelve are presumed incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Under the law, they are essentially insane. This meant that the state not only had to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecutor had to establish the capacity to form specific criminal intent. If convicted, the young defendants faced incarceration at a juvenile facility until they reached the age of eighteen.

     In speaking to the press, prosecutor Tim Rasmussen, in referring to what these boys had been thinking, said, "It's the kind of thing everyone would know is wrong. It gives me no pleasure to prosecute a kid."

     In May 2013, the younger defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to three to five years in juvenile detention.

     On October 16, 2013, following a bench trial (no jury), Judge Allen Nielson found the 11-year-old defendant guilty of the same offense. On November 20, 2013, Judge Nielson sentenced him to three to four years detention in a juvenile facility.

     Judge Neilson called the older boy's actions a "brazen crime." According to the judge, the kid had made a "shrewd effort" to pin the entire plot on his co-defendant, the 10-year-old who had earlier pleaded guilty.
      

Al Capone's Mansion

     The home of the most notorious gangsters in American history could be yours--provided you can meet the asking price of more than $8 million….The Miami Beach waterfront home of Al Capone is back on the market, approximately six months after it was purchased for $7.4 million.

     Capone bought the home for $40,000 in 1928 after being forced to leave his former stomping grounds of Chicago and Los Angeles. He is said to have plotted the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which seven members of a rival Chicago gang were murdered after being lured into an ambush disguised as a liquor [delivery at a Chicago gangster's garage].

     Capone spent his final years at the Palm Island mansion after serving eight years in federal prison for tax evasion. He died in 1947….After extensive restoration work, the house was put back on the market in 2011.

"Make an Offer: Al Capone's Miami Mansion Goes on the Market," Fox News, February 9, 2014 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Megan Huntsman Serial Infanticide Case

     In 1996, 21-year-old Megan Huntsman resided with her husband Darren West and their two daughters (they would later have a third girl) in a middle-class neighborhood in Pleasant Grove, Utah, a town 35 miles south of Salt Lake City. In 2005, Darren, an avid outdoorsman and employee of an excavating company, pleaded guilty in federal court to the possession of chemicals intended to be used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. In August 2006, the judge sentenced West to nine years in federal prison. (Although he pleaded guilty, West maintained his innocence.)

     In 2011, with her now ex-husband behind bars, Megan Huntsman moved from Pleasant Grove to West Valley, Utah. Her three daughters remained in the ranch style house owned by Darren West's parents. The daughters occupied one of the two apartments in the dwelling.

     On April 12, 2014, not long after his release from prison, Darren West and members of his family, in anticipation of renting out one of the apartments in the Pleasant Grove house, were cleaning out the garage. Inside a tape-sealed cardboard box that gave off an "pungent order," Mr. West discovered the remains of an infant. He called his ex-wife, then notified the Pleasant Grove Police Department.

     After law enforcement authorities sent the infant's remains to the medical examiner's office, a judge authorized a search of the Pleasant Grove dwelling. Officers executing the warrant discovered, in more boxes in the garage, the skeletal remains of six more babies.

     On April 13, 2014, police officers arrested Megan Huntsman as a suspect in the deaths of the infants. At the police station, she admitted suffocating or strangling six of her babies immediately after giving birth. The seventh child, she said, had come out stillborn. Huntsman told detectives the babies were born between 1996 and 2006. The suspect said she had been too addicted to methamphetamine to raise any more children.

     That evening, police officers booked the 39-year-old serial murder suspect into the Utah County Jail on six counts of criminal homicide. The Provo, Utah judge set Huntsman's bail at $6 million, $1 million for each infant.

     Although Darren West resided with Huntsman from 1996 to August 2006, he said he had no idea she had been pregnant with these children.

     On February 12, 2015, Megan Huntsman pleaded guilty to six counts of murder. Each count carried a sentence of five years to life in prison. The judge sentenced her to six life sentences to be served consecutively.

Gun, Badge, Mental Illness: A Dangerous Mix

     A frustrated cop with a short fuse and a gun can be dangerous. Being threatened at gun-point by an out-of-control police officer isn't any less frightening than being mugged by an armed robber. It may even be worse because if you're killed by a cop, people will assume you were doing something wrong. If you're not killed, and complain, who's going to take your word over a police officers? That's when it's helpful to have credible witnesses, and better yet, surveillance camera footage.

     Eighteen-year-old Ryan Mash, on April 9, 2013, was in his pickup truck with two friends at a McDonald's in Forsyth County, Georgia. As he waited at the take-out window for his order, Scott Biumi, a sergeant with the Dekalb County  Police Department, got out of the vehicle idling behind the pickup. Biumi approached the truck and stationed himself between Mash and the McDonald's service window. The young men in the truck noticed a police badge attached to the belt of the angry McDonald's customer yelling at Mash.

     "Stop holding up the drive-thru," the officer screamed. As the stunned young men tried to comprehend what was happening, a berserk Biumi continued to chew-out Mash. At one point in the tirade, he said, "You never know who you're dealing with."

     "No sir, I don't," Mash replied.

     "Keep you're mouth shut!" Buimi warned.

     "I'm sorry for the inconvenience," Mash replied.

     The 48-year-old officer returned to his vehicle, but before the McDonald's food came out of the window, Buimi came steaming back to the driver's side of the pickup. (Mash must have felt like he was in a horror movie.) This time the officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the terrified driver. "You don't want to mess with me!" Biumi shouted. After dishing out another thirty seconds of verbal abuse, the gun-wielding cop returned to his vehicle.

     Before pulling out of McDonald's (on this day not a happy place), one of Mash's passengers jotted down the license number to the gunman's car. The entire confrontation was also recorded by a McDonald's surveillance camera.

     Later in the day of the McDonald's drive-thru blowup, deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office took officer Biumi into custody on the charge of aggravated assault. The following day, the Dekalb County police officer was released from jail on a $22,000 bond.

     Sergeant Biumi was placed on administrative leave with pay. The incident, in addition to an investigation by the Dekalb County Internal Affairs Office, was looked into by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

     The  Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council suspended Biumi's law enforcement certification which denied him employment as a police officer in the state. In December 2013, after Biumi's guilty plea, a judge sentenced the ex-cop to ten years probation.

     In March 2014, a year after officer Biumi's meltdown in the McDonald's drive-through, an Atlanta television station aired an update on the case. According to the piece, officer Biumi had struggled with mental illness, serious depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety for 25 years while he was on the force. During this time he also had suicidal tendencies.

     Buimi's McDonald's incident victim, Ryan Mash, told the TV reporter that, "I was terrified. The second I saw the gun I blacked out. If it had been me that pulled a gun on somebody, I would be in jail right now.

     To the reporter, Mark Bullman, Mash's attorney, sarcastically asked, "Someone who disassociates himself from reality is a person you give a gun to and expect to enforce the law? I believe the county bears a significant responsibility."

    

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Nachman and Raizy Glauber Hit-And-Run Case

     Nachman and Raizy Glauber were members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in the Williamsville section of Brooklyn, New York. He was studying to become a rabbi, and she worked at a hardware distribution store. The 21-year-olds were married a year ago after having been paired by a matchmaker. Raizy was seven months pregnant with their first child.

     On Saturday, March 2, 2013, Raizy became worried because she could no longer feel the baby. The couple didn't own a car, so Nachman called a car service to drive them to Long Island College Hospital. Around midnight, Pedro Nunez Delacruz arrived at the Glauber apartment in his livery car. The couple climbed into the back seat of his black 2008 Toyota Camry. Raizy was seated behind the driver.

     A few minutes after being picked up by Delacruz, the livery car, while moving through a Brooklyn intersection, was struck by a 2010 gray BMW traveling 60 miles per hour. Ejected from the livery cab, Raizy's body came to rest beneath a parked tractor-trailer. Nachman was left pinned inside the crushed Toyota. (The Toyota's engine ended up in the back seat where Raizy Glauber had been sitting.)

     Following the collision, the driver of the BMW, 44-year-old Julio Acevedo, climbed out of the sedan and sat on the curb to collect himself. A few minutes later, he returned to the mangled BMW and helped a female passenger out of the car. Acevedo and his companion walked away from the crash, disappearing into the gathering crowd.

     Raizy Glauber, who spoke to paramedics, died in the ambulance as it sped to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. Pronounced dead on arrival, doctors delivered her baby by cesarean. The premature baby was born alive.

     Doctors pronounced Nachman Glauber dead on arrival at Manhattan's Beth Israel Hospital.

     The next day, a spokesperson for the New York Medical Examiner's Office announced that the Glaubers had been killed by blunt-force trauma. At 5:30 on the morning of the crash, the baby died from the same cause.

     The livery car driver, 32-year-old Pedro Delacruz, was released from Bellevue Hospital on Monday, March 4 after being treated for minor injuries. In the meantime, New York City detectives had learned that the BMW was registered to a resident of the Bronx named Takia Walker. The 29-year-old told detectives that Acevedo had borrowed the vehicle from a mutual friend. She said she had never met him.

    Julio Acevedo had a long history of crime and incarceration. He had spent eight years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in connection with the death of a Brooklyn hood named Kelvin Martin. Martin was the original "50 Cent," the inspiration for the rapper of the same name.

      Once out of prison, Acevedo continued to run afoul of the law. Police, on various occasions, arrested him for such crimes as robbery, reckless endangerment, and possession of a weapon. On February 17, 2013, officers pulled Acevedo over in Brooklyn for driving erratically in a 1997 BMW bearing Pennsylvania plates. With an alcohol blood content level of .13, the officers charged the ex-con with driving under the influence. Acevedo told the arresting officers that he had consumed a couple of beers at a baby shower. The next day, following his arraignment, the judge released Acevedo with a court appearance scheduled for April 10, 2013.

     Acevedo's last known address is in a Brooklyn public housing project where his mother resides. One of his friends told reporters that the hit-and-run suspect wants to turn himself in because "he has remorse." A reward of $15,000 has been offered for information leading to his arrest.

     Isaac Abraham, a spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish community, called for the maximum punishment for Acevedo. "We in the community are demanding that the prosecutor charge the driver of the BMW that caused the death of this couple and infant with triple homicide. This coward left the scene of the accident, not even bothering to check on the people in the car."

     On Tuesday, March 5, 2013, Acevedo, while hiding from the police, spoke to a reporter with the Daily News of New York. According to the fugitive, just before the accident, he had been speeding away from a gunman who was trying to kill him. Acevedo said he had met with a lawyer who was arranging his surrender to the authorities.

     Acevedo, on Wednesday evening, March 6, turned himself in to police officers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He approached the officers as they sat in their cars in front of a convenience store. The next day, Acevedo, charged with negligent homicide, three counts of assault, leaving the scene of an accident, and reckless driving, was arraigned in a Brooklyn court. Judge Stephen Antignani suspended his drivers license and denied him bail. The suspect's wife and young daughter were in the court room with him.

     In July 2013, the New York City Department of Transportation installed a traffic light at the Brooklyn intersection where the Glaubers had been killed.

     A jury sitting in Brooklyn, in April 2015, found Julio Acevedo guilty as charged. Judge Neil Firetog sentenced him to 25 years to life. According to the judge, Acevedo had "forfeited his right to be a part of our community."

Packing Heat in High School

     Bullying victims are sneaking hundreds of thousands of firearms, knives and clubs into U.S. high schools, according to a new analysis that carries the echoes of one recent mass school assault and two potential near misses.

     Extrapolating from a survey of American high school students by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that bullied students who are threatened or injured by a weapon on school property were eight times more likely to choose, themselves, to carry a weapon to campus. More alarming: Bullying episodes have a cumulative effect, vastly boosting the likelihood that a chronically harassed student will pack a weapon before returning to a high school….

     Specifically, bullied students who have endured four types of aggressive clashes at school--being verbally tormented, sustaining a physical assault, suffering personal property theft or damage, and cutting school due to safety concerns--are nearly 49 times more likely to have recently carried a weapon to school and 34 more times more likely to have recently smuggled a gun into school….

     By examining the responses of high school students in a biannual, national survey conducted by the CDC, the researchers estimated that more than 200,000 victims of bullies had secretly lugged weapons such as firearms, knives, or clubs into their high schools at least once during a previous month….

Bill Briggs, "Bullied Victims Take Weapons Into High School," NBC News, May 4, 2014 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Conspiracy Nuts and Bombs: The Kevin Harris Case

     Kevin Harris lived by himself in a modest, one-story house in a quiet residential neighborhood in the southern California city of Costa Mesa. The 52-year-old, by covering his home in aluminum foil, attaching copies of his anti-government newsletters to a front yard tree, and videotaping his neighbors, revealed that he was strange, and probably mentally ill. He had also established himself as an anti-social loner with his Internet writings that included the statement: "I am the only one who can get into my house. I think it may be dangerous for you to come to my house alone."

     In America, we have more than our share of oddballs. Most of these people, usually men, are harmless eccentrics. Some of them, however, are psychotic, paranoid, and dangerous. Ted Kaczynski, the unabomber, fell into this category. Unfortunately, there's no sure-fire way to distinguish the Ted Kaczynski types from the common garden variety conspiracy kooks. When the distinction becomes clear, it's usually too late.

     Mr. Harris, in a 17,000-word Internet-published manifesto called, "The Picker: A True Story of Assassination, Terrorism, and High Treason," described the nefarious and clandestine activities of government agents. The author of this rambling manifesto had obviously convinced himself that secret government operatives were using a weapon called a "picker," a device that deposited germs on a victim's skin on contact. Government agents armed with these secret devices were infecting dissenters with illnesses like cancer and AIDS. According to Harris, government agents also used the deadly tool to cause various enemies of the state to die in freak accidents.

     The Costa Mesa conspiracy theorizer, in his manifesto, said: "I have had personal experience with both domestic and foreign operatives using pickers within the U. S. at the request of the U. S. Government. The rationale stated here should give you a reasonable indication that pickers are used in this country, but it is not absolute proof. The diseases of the ex-spouses, which I will describe, provide a proof so strong that some of these attacks will have to stop....

     "Many years ago I met a woman who had just divorced a government agent. She had also just had a radical mastectomy. She was afraid of her ex-husband, afraid for her life. That a woman should have to live (and die) in fear of this 'public servant' struck me as very wrong. Since then I have met a couple of other women who have broken off marriages with government agents. In each case the woman was diagnosed with cancer within a year of breaking up....

     "These women didn't get cancer because divorce and mortal fear are stressful. Emotional stress as a factor in carcinogenesis can account for a few percentage points at most. That is too small an influence to be reliably detectable. This is a cancer rate that is thousands of percent too high. Among other things, several attempts on my own life have confirmed to me that these cancers are intentional assaults...."

     At six-fifteen in the evening of Sunday, April 14, 2013, several of Kevin Harris' neighbors called 911 to report  that he was sprawled out on his front lawn. After the ambulance rolled up to the aluminum-wrapped house, Mr. Harris refused treatment. The paramedics drove off, and Mr. Harris disappeared inside his strange looking dwelling.

     Ninety minutes following the medical emergency, neighbors called 911 again to report a powerful explosion at the Harris house. Police arrived to find the front entrance to Harris' dwelling shattered from an explosion. The resident of the home lay dead in the doorway. Near his corpse Costa Mesa police officers saw an unexploded pipe bomb.

     Dozens of homes in the neighborhood were evacuated as FBI agents, the Orange County Bomb Squad, and a Huntington Beach hazardous materials team searched the Harris dwelling for additional bombs and explosive substances. They found three more pipe bombs on the premises.

     Because Kevin Harris was alone in the house when one of his pipe bombs detonated, the authorities had way of knowing if he had killed himself intentionally, or had accidentally triggered one of his explosive devices. Perhaps he had mistakenly set-off a booby-trap of his own making.

     One of Mr. Harris' brothers told a reporter that Kevin was the youngest of five boys. Although all of his siblings were highly educated professionals, Kevin was the smartest one in the family. (His manifesto suggested that Kevin had been well-educated as well, possibly in the hard sciences.)

     The day after the Costa Mesa house explosion, terrorists detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon. 

Bomb in Aile 9!

     A judge sentenced a former employee at the Home Depot store in Huntington, New York to 30 years for planting a pipe bomb in the lighting department and threatening three other stores in 2012…David Sheehan tried to extort $2 million from the company…He had sent an anonymous letter saying he'd put a bomb in the store to show that he could plant one without being detected, and that he would set off  bombs in three other Long Island Home Depot stores on Black Friday that year if not paid…

     Prosecutors said the company spent $1.5 million for additional security guards and other security measures…

     Police found the device in the Huntington store, took it away and detonated it. After Sheehan sent a second extortion letter, lowering the demand to $1 million, investigators identified and arrested him…Sheehan's defense attorney argued the device at the Huntington store was not really a bomb because it didn't have a detonator. [Another example of how trial lawyers are paid to embarrass themselves.] The jury found the defendant guilty in 2013.

     Speaking before his sentencing, Sheehan noted that no one was injured and he had abandoned the plot before his arrest. His lawyer said he will appeal the sentence.

"Former Home Depot Employee Gets 30 Years For Bomb Scare," Associated Press, February 7, 2015 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Infamous Bell, California Public Corruption Case

     The Los Angeles Times, in July 2010, exposed public corruption in Bell, one of the poorer suburban communities in Los Angeles County. Investigative journalists revealed that the city manager, his assistant, members of the city council, and the chief of police of this town of 40,000, were being paid salaries that were, even by California standards, outrageously high.

     Robert Rizzo, the city manager, made $800,000 a year as part of a combined annual salary and compensation package of $1.5 million. Rizzo lived in a mansion, and was wealthy enough to raise thoroughbred racing  horses. His assistant, Angela Spaccia, pulled in $375,000 a year. Six of the part-time city council members each made $100,000 a year for essentially doing nothing. The clueless taxpayers of Bell, California were being taken on a ride.

     In March 2011, following criminal investigations by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, and investigators with the state, Rizzo and seven other Bell city officers were indicted on various charges of public corruption. Rizzo faced 50 counts of misappropriating public funds, conflict of interest, falsifying documents, and giving himself and Spaccia raises without council approval. The eight defendants were accused of stealing just under $6 million from the taxpayers of this small, debt-ridden town.

     Randy Adams, the 59-year-old hired by Rizzo as Bell's chief of police in August 2009, was not among those indicted for public corruption. (There are many people not happy about that.) Adams, who had been the chief of police of the Glendale, California Police Department, was given a sweet deal by city manager Robert Rizzo. Besides his whopping salary of $457,000 a year, Adams was immediately declared physically disabled, notwithstanding his impressive time at a 5 K race he had run just a month before starting the job. In the Golden State, being declared officially disabled (in Adam's case a bad back and knees) meant that Adams could retire whenever he wanted, and receive a pension equal to one-half of his salary--for life. (City manager Rizzo and his assistant were charged with falsifying public records to show that the chief was only being paid $200,000 a year.)

     Although patrol officers in California routinely made over $100,00 a year, being paid $457,000 a year to run a police department with 40 employees was excessive, even in California. For example, Charles Beck, the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, an agency that employed 13,000, made $307,000 a year.

     After the Los Angeles Times broke the story of the corruption in Bell, the taxpayers revolted and threw the bums out of office.  Randy Adams left the police department in August 2010. After working a year as its chief, he was entitled, pursuant to his employment contract, a pension of $22,000 a month.

     In August 2012, Randy Adams, instead of quietly enjoying the good life at the expense of Bell's struggling taxpayers, sued the city for the one-year severance pay he said he was owed by the municipality. (A year earlier, the angry ex-chief had sued the city for not reimbursing him for the legal costs he had incurred defending himself against the public corruption scandal.)

     In Bell, California, and who knows how many other places in the Golden State, crime didn't pay nearly as well as crime fighting. That was if you could tell the difference between the two.

     On October 23, 2012, a judge ruled against Randy Adams in his suit to recover severance pay and legal expenses.

     In January 2013, former city manager Robert Rizzo, his assistant Angela Spaccia, and four members of the city council were convicted of public corruption. The former city council members were each given the light sentences of five years of probation. The judge sentenced Rizzo and Spaccia to 12-year prison terms.

The Maryville, Missouri Rape Scandal

     Two girls, 14 and 13 years old, sneaked out to join a group of older football players at a party last year [2012] in Maryville, Missouri, the Nodaway County Seat. After the girls became drunk, a 17-year-old boy had sex with the 14-year-old, while another boy stood by with an iPhone video camera running. Afterward, the boys left the girl on her front porch, nearly unconscious in subfreezing temperatures. The 13-year-old told police that she too had been assaulted by another older boy.

     Nodaway Sheriff Darren White told the Kansas City Star that his [investigators] swiftly compiled the evidence and he expected to see the boys in court. But county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The 17-year-old--the grandson of a former state representative--went to college rather than to prison.

David Von Drehle, Time, October 28, 2013 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Charles Severance Triple Murder Case

The Nancy Dunning Murder Case

     In 2003, Nancy Dunning, a 56-year-old real estate agent, lived with her husband who was the sheriff of Fairfax County in Alexandria, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. A community activist, Mrs. Dunning organized arts festivals and other events including a farmer's market. 
     On December 5, 2003, when Nancy failed to show up for a lunch date at the Atlantis Restaurant in the Bradlee Shopping Center, her husband John and their 23-year-old son Chris went to the house to check on her. They found Nancy lying dead in the foyer. She had been shot several times. There was no forced entry and nothing had been taken from the dwelling. 
     Homicide investigators theorized that the victim had been murdered when she answered her front door. Detectives were unable to identify a suspicious man caught on a nearby Target outlet surveillance camera that morning. Just before her death, Nancy had shopped at that Potomac Yard Target store. 
     A $100,000 reward failed to attract any productive information in the case. There was some speculation that Nancy Dunning had been the target in a murder-for-hire plot. John Dunning died in 2012. 

The Ronald Kirby Murder Case
     Ronald Kirby lived with his wife Anne Haynes and their two children in Alexandria, Virginia. The 69-year-old, in 2013, was the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He had worked at the agency for 25 years and was a nationally known transportation expert. 
     Mr. Kirby, who took pride in taking the bus or Metrorail to work every day, played tennis and often accompanied his wife to dance classes. He was also an avid Washington Redskins fan. 
     On November 11, 2013, a relative found Mr. Kirby dead just inside the front door to his home. He had been shot several times in the torso. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered that morning between ten and noon. As in the Dunning case, there was no forced entry and the crime wasn't motivated by theft. Investigators have no idea who had committed this murder and no clue as to why. 

The Ruthanne Lodato Murder Case
     Norman and Ruthanne Lodato lived in the North Ridge neighborhood of Alexandria a little more than a mile from where Ronald Kirby was murdered. Ruthanne's 89-year-old mother Mary Lucy Giammittoria resided in the house with them. The couple employed a caregiver to help with Ruthanne's mother. Norman Lodato was an active member of the North Ridge Citizen's Association and Ruthanne was a locally well-known piano teacher with a program called Music Together in Alexandria. 
     At eleven-thirty on the morning of February 6, 2014, Ruthanne and her mother's caregiver were shot when they answered a knock at their front door. The shooter fired several bullets into the 59-year-old Lodato and a single bullet into the caregiver. Mrs. Lodato died on the spot. The other woman survived her wound. 
     Seconds after the two women were shot, a next door neighbor looked out her window when she heard a dog barking. The witness saw a bald man with a beard in a tan jacket run across the Ladato front yard. The suspect appeared to be in his fifties or sixties. The authorities have released a sketch of this white suspect's face. 
     There were similarities in the Dunning, Kirby, and Lodato murders. The victims lived in Alexandria, Virginia and were shot with a small-caliber handgun in the morning when they answered their front doors. The victims were active, high-profile members of the community, and they shared an interest in the arts. They did not, however, know each other. 
     On March 6, 2014, Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook told reporters gathered at a news conference that ballistics evidence suggests a link between the three murders. The victims had been shot by bullets of the same caliber that feature rifling striations that were generally similar. As a result, detectives were looking for a serial killer.

     In February 2014, police arrested a 55-year-old suspect in the Ruthanne Lodato case named Charles Severance. Severance, with long white hair and a matching beard, was identified by Janet Dorcas, the healthcare aide the shooter had wounded. Another witness had seen Severance driving in the area about the time of Lodato's murder.

     Mr. Severance, an eccentric who had graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in mechanical engineering, had run for political office in 1996 and 2000 and on both occasions had lost. As part of his election platform, Severance wanted public educators to incorporate country dancing in their curricula.

     In the suspect's voluminous essays, manifestos and notes, investigators found this passage: "Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder." The passage did not, however, mention any victim by name. A forensic psychiatrist for the state diagnosed Severance as having a "personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features."

     As for motive for murdering Lodato, Kirby, and Dunning, prosecutors believed Severance killed these three strangers because they represented Alexandria's elite. Following a child custody battle that he had lost, Severance, as the theory went, developed an intense hatred of Alexandria that he took out of the three high-profile women of that community.

     The Charles Severance triple murder case went to trial in Fairfax, Virginia in November 2015. Without a murder weapon, confession, or physical evidence connecting the defendant to any of the three murder scenes, the prosecution's case was relatively weak. A forensic ballistics expert tied the Lodato murder, the one with the eyewitness, to the Kirby and Dunning killings.

     Following the three-week trial, the jury, after deliberating fifteen hours, found Charles Severance guilty of all three murders. The judge sentenced him to three life sentences.
    

The NumChuck Panic of 1974: Legislative Stupidity in New York State

     Legislators in New York State, in 1974, passed a ban on a weapon made famous in movies starring Bruce Lee. These martial arts devices are called NumChucks. The law also made it illegal to possess electric dart guns, switchblades, brass knuckles, stun guns, and cane swords. These legislative mental giants, for some reason, failed to ban sawed-off  baseball bats. throwing stars, roller pins, and iron frying pans.

     The New York state lawmakers, concerned that the popularity of "Kung Fu" films would cause young people in the state to turn into bands of marauding, murderous barbarians. So, to prevent this dystopia before it started, they declared NumChucks contraband. Brilliant.

     In 2000, a New York state resident named James Maloney was charged with possessing NumChucks in his home. As an amateur martial arts athlete, practicing attorney, and adjunct professor at the State University of Maritime College, this man was an obvious threat to the peace and stability of the Empire State. After police officers seized this dangerous contraband, Maloney's neighbors could retire at night with unlocked doors.

     In 2003, Maloney challenged the NumChuck ban on grounds it violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

     United States District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen, in December 2018, in a 32-page opinion laying out her legal rationale, ruled that the New York state NumChuck ban was indeed unconstitutional.  The decision probably stunned the state's media and academic elites who braced themselves for a historic wave of NumChuck violence perpetrated by mobs of aging Bruce Lee fans.

     

Classroom Meltdown

     In December 2018, police in Visalia, California responded to reports of a teacher gone mad at the University Preparatory High School. Chemistry teacher Margaret Gieszlinger, 52, was caught on video ordering a student to take a seat in the front of her classroom. While singing her version of "The Star Spangled Banner," the teacher started cutting off chunks of a female student's hair. After the student jumped out of the chair, Gieszlinger, still singing the national anthem, walked around the room waving the scissors. Frantic students fled the classroom.

     Police officers booked Margaret Gieszlinger into the Tulare County Jail on the charge of child endangerment. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     In 2007 and 2016, Gieszlinger's teaching credentials were suspended for 14 days. School administrators did not reveal the basis for these suspensions.

Thornton P. Knowles On How To Keep A Government Job

If I were handing out career advice to a college student, I'd say this: If you want a government job where you can demonstrate courage, go into the military or law enforcement. On the other hand, if you are not the courage type, seek an ordinary governmental position. The goal of the ordinary civilian government employee is to not make waves. Whistleblowers are not welcome and are treated brutally. The secret to getting ahead in government is simple: find the right butt to kiss and shower it with love. In government work, it's all about group think, obedience, and when confronted with governmental wrongdoing, looking the other way. (Even in law enforcement, a job that requires courage, there is a code of silence when it comes to employee wrongdoing.)

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for visiting the Jim Fisher True Crime blog. Over the past seven years it has been a pleasure and honor writing for you. I also appreciate all of your comments.

Bad Mall Santa?

     Imagine what it must be like sweating under a fake beard and Santa costume in a loud, brightly lit shopping mall listening to other people's children babbling into your ear about things they want for Christmas. These I-want lists range from the ordinary stuff to asking Santa to use his powers to get dad out of jail. A little girl once asked Santa to bring her boobs as big as mommy's. Another kid wanted a real gun so he could shoot the bad guys who broke into his mother's car and stole his basketball. (This kid wanted revenge more than he wanted a new basketball.)

     There are hundreds of shopping malls in the country and every year almost every one of them hires two full-time Santa fakes. A mall Santa, on average, sees 4,000 children during the holiday season. Rookies earn about $10,000 which comes to a little over two bucks a kid. A veteran mall Santa Claus makes a little more.

     It's amazing that mall managers can find enough men for the job who aren't drug addicts, alcoholics, mental cases, or registered sex offenders. And what about job candidates who simply can't stand being around kids?

     According to the standards of professionalism that comes with the job, these holiday employees have to maintain a jolly disposition. They must also abstain from alcohol just before suiting up. Drinking on the job, of course, will send a mall Santa packing. (Booze might help a Santa meet the jolly disposition requirement.) A mall Santa is not supposed to promise a kid anything. Instead, he is taught to say something like, "I'll see what I can do." In other words, a mall Santa has to talk like a politician.

     Besides the basic job standards, the jolly mall Santa must get along with his Santa helper dressed like an elf. (A mall Santa without an elf is like a singing cowboy without a sidekick.) Elf impersonators are usually little people or small women. (What would be more creepy than a six-foot elf with a deep voice? I have no idea if mall elves make as much as their red-suited partners. I would hope the pay is equal because that job must be just as unpleasant.)

     At 5:30 PM on Saturday, November 23, 2013, police officers in Hanover, Massachusetts arrested a mall Santa named Herbert G. Jones. The 62-year-old Santa impersonator and his elf partner worked at the Hanover Mall where parents brought their kids to have them photographed with the great giver of gifts. Jones and his elf, an 18-year-old girl, worked for a New Jersey company called Cherry Hill Photos.

     According to the elf, Mr. Jones pinched her buttocks and made suggestive comments while the pair worked at the North Pole photo booth. Police officers hauled Santa out of the mall in handcuffs. (Try explaining that scene to a kid waiting in line to speak with Santa.)

     Charged with indecent assault and battery, a judge released Jones on $1,000 bond. But he couldn't return to the scene of the alleged crime because the magistrate barred him from performing Santa gigs until his case was resolved.

     Mr. Jones strongly denied the elf's allegations. According to his employer, Mr. Jones had no arrest or conviction record. The suspect was due back in court on Christmas eve.

     In August 2014, following several continuances, the judge set Jones' indecent assault and battery trial for May 4, 2015. (I have been unable to determine the outcome of this "he said, she said" case. I suspect it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. However, the charge alone probably took Mr. Jones out of the mall Santa business.)
      

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Kenneth John Konias Jr. Armored Truck Robbery/Murder Case

     One would think that stealing a large sum of money from an armored truck--a bullet-proof vault on wheels protected by at least two armed security officers--would be extremely difficult, and rare. They are not. While some armored car heists feature a lot of planning, and several accomplices, most are committed by one or two people. A high percentage of armored car robberies are inside jobs committed by security personnel. According to the FBI, there were 48 of these heists in 2010. While the police solve a high percentage of these cases, most of the loot is never recovered. In 2010, the authorities only got back 13 percent of the stolen cash. In the infamous 1950 Brinks job in Boston, the police didn't recover one cent of the stolen $2.7 million in bills, checks, and money orders. By the time the suspects were identified and rounded up, the checks and money orders had been destroyed, and the cash spent.

     The Brinks case robbers had carefully planned the heist, but had been careless with the money, calling attention to themselves by wildly spending it. The first suspects taken into custody, to make deals for lighter sentences, informed on the others. To have any chance of getting away with an armored car heist, the robbery crew has to have a get-a-way plan, a way to handle the cash, and a place to hide out for months. Fake identification is also helpful. And the fewer the accomplices, the better. All of this criminal preparation and planning is necessary because the police and the FBI put a lot of effort into these investigations.

     An armored van or truck makes between ten and twenty pickups and deliveries a day. The most secure vehicles are equipped with tracking devices, and are staffed by a crew of three armed officers. The driver never leaves the truck. At the delivery and pickup stops, the guard is positioned near the vehicle, and the messenger handles the cargo. Occasionally the guard will accompany the messenger to and from the truck. To cut costs, armored car companies often use 2-person crews in which the driver is also the messenger.

     To reduce the risk of an inside job, Armored car firms should thoroughly investigate all employees, and subject them to periodic polygraph testing. No one should be hired with financial problems, or histories of drug use. Because of the stiff competition for clients, armored car companies take shortcuts, and only pay guards, messengers, and drivers $10 to $15 per hour. And there are no job benefits. Compared to police officers, prison guards, and parole agents, armored car positions, while just as dangerous, are extremely low pay. All of this contributes to the risk of an inside job.

The Pittsburgh Armored Truck Robbery/Murder Case

     Kenneth John Konias Jr., a 2008 graduate of Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, lived in nearby Dravosburg, a town of 2,000 on the Monongahela River. The 22-year-old, an only child, lived in his parents' house. Upon graduation, Konias began work as a security guard in a shopping mall. After a year with the Dravosburg Voluntary Fire Department, Konias joined the volunteer fire department in Duquesne. Six months later, the Duquesne fire chief dismissed him because he "didn't fit in." He had failed the test to become an Allegheny County police officer.

     Early in 2011, following a background check, some psychological testing, and a little firearms training, Kenneth Konias became a driver-messenger with the Garda Cash Logistics Armored Transport Company. Several months later Konias' fellow employees found lottery tickets from a grocery store on his route, in the back of the truck. Konias said he must have carried the tickets out of the store on the bottom of his cash satchel. His supervisor accepted the explanation, and the matte was closed.

     On February 28, 2012, Konias was paired with 31-year-old Michael Haines, a guard who had been on the job a few months. After graduating from Pittsburgh's Robert Morris University with a degree in communications, Haines, from East McKeesport, had previously sold Verizon cell phones. Until getting the job with Garda, Haines had struggled finding full time work. On this Tuesday, with Konias behind the wheel, and Haines in the cargo area of the truck, the men pulled away from the Garda office in downtown Pittsburgh a few minutes before eight o'clock in the morning.

     Just before one in the afternoon, after making a pickup at the Home Depot store north of town in Ross Township, Home Depot employees thought they heard a gun go off inside the Garda truck. Thirty minutes later, Konias parked the armored vehicle under a bridge two blocks from the Garda office. He climbed out of the truck, walked to the employee parking lot, and drove off in his tan Ford Explorer.

     After stopping at places where he had stashed bags of cash, Konias drove to his parents' house in Dravosburg where he greeted his father. After putting his bloody Garda jacket on a hanger, and stashing $200,000 in cash in the house, Konias left the dwelling in his Ford Explorer.

     At 3:45 that afternoon, a Garda employee came upon the idling truck under the bridge. Blood seeped from the back of the vehicle, and inside Michael Haines lay dead from a bullet fired into the back of his head. The guard's 9 mm Glock semiautomatic pistol was missing along with $2.3 million in cash. (This is enough money to fill two trash bags.)

     Konias, after leaving Dravosburg that afternoon, called several people on his cell phone. He spoke to his mother Renee, telling her that he had stashed $25,000 at his grandmother's grave site at St. Mary Magdalene Cemetery in Munhall. (Mr. Konias retrieved the money, and a relative notified the police.) Konias called a friend and asked him to run off with him. He said he would never have to work again. To another friend he said he had messed up, and that his life was over. The friend asked him if he had killed someone. Konias paused, then said yes. In one of the conversations Konias asked about extradition laws in Canada and Mexico. After making these calls, Konias tossed his cell phone out his car window. It was found along Route 51 south of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday night, Police searched the Konias house in Dravosburg. They recovered the bloody Garda jacket, and the $200,000. Hoping to catch Konias before he got too far, the police alerted U.S. border authorities, airports, bus depots, and train stations.

     On March 1, the Allegheny County district attorney charged Kenneth Konia with criminal homicide, robbery, and theft. The FBI issued a wanted poster, and added Konias to the FBI's Most Wanted List. The bureau also posted information regarding the fugitive on its Facebook page.

     On Friday, March 16, the police-hunt for the 6 foot one, 165 pound fugitive was featured on Lifetime TV's "America's Most Wanted" show.

     On April 25, 2012, FBI agents arrested Konias without incident at a house in Pompano Beach, Florida. Based on information from the suspect himself, agents recovered most of the stolen money from the Pompano Beach house and a storage locker nearby. At the time of his arrest, Konias still had possession of the handgun he had carried when he worked for Garda Cash Logistics.

     On November 13, 2013, at the conclusion of the 7-day bench trial, Allegheny County Judge David Cashman found Konias guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, and theft. At the sentencing hearing on February 18, 2014, Judge Cashman, in advance of announcing Konias' fate, said that Konias had put greed before human life. Konias interrupted the judge by saying, "I was going to suggest you not lecture me and give me my sentence so we can proceed." Unfazed, the judge continued, pointing out that Konia had plotted the assassination for months. The judge noted also noted that the Haines family had shown mercy by not requesting the death penalty.

     Judge Cashman sentenced the 24-year-old murderer to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

   
     

Judge Throws Book At High Altitude Sex Offender

     In January 2018, 35-year-old Prabu Ramamoothy, an Indian living in the U.S. on a work Visa, was on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Ramamoothy sat in the middle seat between his wife and a 23-year-old model.

     During the flight, the model sitting next to Ramamoothy woke up from a nap to find her neighbor fondling her with his hand inside her pants.

     On December 12, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg sentenced Ramamoothy to nine years in federal prison. The judge hoped the severe sentence would serve to deter other airline passengers from similar offenses. (Over the past few years a rash of airline passenger sexual assault cases involving sleeping women had been committed.)

     After completing his prison sentence in the U.S., Ramamoothy will be deported back to India, a country much friendlier to sex offenders.

Calling the Cops on Disruptive School Kids

     There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the principal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

     Melodee Hanes, of the U. S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, describes the school-to-prison pipeline as "the pervasive use of court referrals as a means of discipling kids at school."

     According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from schools across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that more than 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

     The school-to-prison pipeline is being fueled by "zero-tolerant" policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary practices….The results, at times, have been ridiculous.

Matthew T. Mangino, GateHouse News Service, December 19, 2013.  

Crowded Prisons

     Nebraska's prisons are bursting at the seams, and the state's legislature is struggling to fix the problem. Law makers held hearings on a series of bills on February 13, 2015 to address the overcrowded prison population. One proposed law would limit mandatory minimum sentences for several mid-level felonies such as distribution of cocaine or heroin. Another bill would limit the "three strikes and you're out" rule to violent crimes. [Whenever politicians "fix" prison overcrowding, it never involves building more lockups. It's always letting inmates out or reducing sentences. This may fix the overcrowding problem, but it doesn't fix the crime problem.]

     Nebraska's prisons are at 155 percent capacity with some facilities much higher according to a March 2014 ACLU report. The report points to the Nebraska State Penitentiary at 183 percent capacity and the Omaha Correctional Center at 190 percent capacity, suggesting that Nebraska's correctional system may be operating unconstitutionally…

     The ACLU report points to similar legislation that was successful in California, where prisons were at roughly 200 percent capacity. [Successful in returning rapists, killers and pedophiles to the streets. California is such a dysfunctional state, the rule should be to do just the opposite of what politicians in that state have done.]

Casey Harper, "Nebraska Has More Prisoners Than It Knows What To Do With," The Daily Caller, February 18, 2015


Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Tiffany Stevens Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2009, Eric Stevens and his 34-year-old wife Tiffany, a wealthy couple living in Simsbury, Connecticut with their 4-year-old daughter, agreed to get divorced. Following the granting of the divorce in 2011, Tiffany gained primary custody of their daughter. This did not sit well with Eric Stevens who contested the family court ruling on the grounds his ex-wife was a drug addict and an unfit parent. Moreover, Tiffany had refused to let him visit the girl.

     In July 2012, John McDaid, a handyman who had worked for the couple when they were married, went to Eric Stevens with some disturbing news. In April of that year, Tiffany had given him $5,000 to have him--Mr. Stevens--killed. The would-be hit man said he had spent the money and never intended to carry out the murder assignment.

     Eric Stevens reported the murder-for-hire plot to the Simsbury police who in turn questioned John McDaid. McDaid said that he and Tiffany Stevens, over a period of several months, engaged in many conversations in which she pleaded with him to do the job she had paid him to do. He had secretly audio-taped one of those conversations. According to McDaid, Tiffany wanted to make sure she maintained control of a $50 million trust fund set aside for the care of her daughter. If she lost custody of the child, she'd lose control of that money.

     On July 13, 2012, detectives took Tiffany Stevens into custody on the charge of inciting injury to a person. The judge set her bail at $1 million which she quickly posted. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind, now living in Bloomfield, Connecticut, pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     Following his ex-wife's arrest, Eric Stevens petition the court for custody of his daughter. Hartford Family Court Judge Leslie Olear denied that request.

     At a pretrial hearing on November 18, 2013, Tiffany Stevens' attorney, Herbert Santos, was prepared to plead his client guilty pursuant to a plea agreement with prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio, a deal that guaranteed no prison time. At the last minute, however, the prosecutor backed out of the deal. The case would go to trial on the charge of attempted murder.

     On December 2, 2014, the murder-for-hire trial got underway before Hartford Superior Court Judge Edward J. Mullarkey. Defense attorney Santos, in his opening statement to the jury, said that the defendant, at the time of her conversations with John McDaid, had been so drug-addled that she had been incapable of forming the requisite specific intent to solicit her ex-husband's murder.

     The prosecution's star witness, John McDaid, the handyman from Granville, Massachusetts, took the stand and testified that in April 2012 the defendant slapped an envelope containing $5,000 across his chest and said, "Get it done." According to the witness, she wanted Mr. Stevens "taken out." McDaid said he used the hit money to buy clothing for his children, a washer and dryer, and other things. The witness said that the defendant tried to motivate him by claiming that her ex-husband had abused her.

     Against the objections of the defense, prosecutor Bochicchio played the audio recording of a conversation between McDaid and the defendant in which she implored him to get the job done. "Find somebody. I want him killed," she said.

     On cross-examination, attorney Santos brought out that Mr. McDaid had a long criminal history that included 22 felony convictions. The witness also admitted saying, with regard to his murder plot conversations with the defendant, that he "almost didn't think it was real."

     On December 7, 2014, after the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Santos put Dr. Seth Feurstein on the stand. The professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine had analyzed the audio-taped conversation and said, "She seemed like she might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

     The last witness for the defense, Edward Khalily, the defendant's father, a prominent Long Island businessman, provided the jury with an extended history of his daughter's drug addiction. According to the witness, Eric Stevens had his problems as well that included a gambling habit that involved losses between $8 and $11 million. According to Mr. Khalily, Mr. Stevens' gambling addiction resulted in outbursts of temper that caused Tiffany to lock their daughter in a bedroom.

       Mr. Khalily, still under attorney Santos' direct-examination, said that immediately after Tiffany's arrest, Eric Stevens sought out tabloid media attention regarding the $50 million trust fund, stating that whoever got custody of the child would have access to that money. (When attorney Santos had Eric Stevens on the stand, he had asked him if the trust fund actually existed. "Not to my knowledge," came the response.)

     Defense attorney Santos did not put the defendant on the stand to testify on her own behalf. In summing up his case for the jury, he attacked John McDaid's credibility and suggested that the audio recording, because of several gaps, had been tampered with. Moreover, he said there was no record proving that the defendant had withdrawn $5,000 from a bank.

     After portraying his client as a vulnerable, impaired drug-addled woman, Attorney Santos argued that the prosecution had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     On December 8, 2014, Judge Mullarkey handed the case to the jury. Four days later, the jury foreman announced that the panel was hopelessly deadlocked on the question of the defendant's guilt. Judge Mullarkey had no choice but to declare a mistrial. This left the prosecutor with the decision of whether to recharge Tiffany Stevens with attempted murder, offer her a plea deal on a lesser charge, or drop the case.

     In August 2015, Tiffany Stevens pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of inciting injury to persons. Judge Mullarkey sentenced her to five years probation.

     

The "Master Bob" Sex Club Bondage Case

     A Detroit area man was convicted on December 18, 2014 of murder in a plot to kill his wife so he could devote himself to a life of bondage and domination in an upper-class suburb with women who called him "Master Bob." The salacious trial of Bob Bashara revealed his secret life in Grosse Pointe Park: a former Rotary Club president who used cocaine and hosted men and women at a sex dungeon under a bar called the Hard Luck Lounge.

     Jane Bashara was strangled by a handyman in the couple's garage in 2012 before her body was discovered in her Mercedes-Benz in a Detroit alley…She was a marketing executive with a long record of service to her church and her community…

     Handyman Joe Gentz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and said Bob Bashara had coerced him into committing the crime. In the weeks after his wife's death, Bashara professed his innocence and even attended a candlelight vigil…

     Jurors convicted the 57-year-old of first-degree murder and four lesser charges. He did not take the stand on his own behalf. Joe Gentz, the handyman killer, did not testify at Bashara's trial…

     In Michigan, first-degree murder carries a mandatory penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole….

"Bondage 'Master' Convicted in Plot to Kill His Wife," Associated Press, December 19, 2014

Jack Henry Abbott on Solitary Confinement

     My first acquaintance with punitive longterm solitary confinement had a more adverse and profound spiritual effect on me than anything else in my childhood. [Abbott was a victim of child abuse.]

     I suffered from claustrophobia for years when I first went to prison. I never knew any form of suffering more horrible in my life.

     The air in your cell vanishes. You are smothering. Your eyes bulge out; you clutch at your throat; you scream like a banshee. Your arms flail the air in your cell. You reel about the cell, falling.

     Then you suffer cramps. The walls press you from all directions with an invisible force. You struggle to push it back. The oxygen makes you giddy with anxiety. You become hollow and empty. There is a vacuum in the pit of your stomach. You retch.

     You are dying. Dying a hard death. One that lingers and toys with you.

     The faces of the guards, angry, are at the gate of your cell. The gate slides open. The guards attack you. On top of that, the guards come into your cell and beat you to the floor.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of The Beast, 1982

[In January 1981, Abbott, who had spent most of his life behind bars as a violent criminal, was released on parole from a prison in Utah. Novelist Norman Mailer and other bleeding-heart types who liked Abbott's book, were instrumental in his release. Six months after walking out of prison, Abbott stabbed a 22-year-old waiter to death outside a New York City restaurant. The murder occurred after an argument over Abbott's use of the restaurant's employee-only restroom. Norman Mailer, who had once stabbed his wife, not only liked Abbott because he could write, the novelist may had admired him for his violence. Parole boards, when considering who to release and who not to, should not listen to novelists.] 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles on The Sylvia Plath Death Wish

I've heard writers living their lives in literary obscurity say they hope to become famous after they kick the bucket. You know, like Sylvia Plath. Why? You're dead, fame will not bring you back. What good did it do Sylvia Plath? She's still dead.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Meth-Crazed Murders of Britny Haarup and Ashley Key

     Sisters Britny Haarup, 19, and Ashley Key 22, lived together in a house in Edgerton, Missouri, 35 miles north of Kansas City. Ashley Key, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, had been running with a bad crowd, and had sought her sister's help in  turning her life around. On Friday afternoon, July 13, 2012, Britny Haarup's fiancee, Matt Meyers, stopped by the house and found the sisters missing, and Haarup's 6 month and and 18-month-old daughters alone in the same crib. Because Haarup would never leave the infants alone in the house, Meyers suspected foul play. She had left her cellphone and purse behind, and in the living room Meyers found Ashley's handbag and a pair of her shoes. And most troubling of all, a comforter on the couch contained blood stains. (Police later learned that several guns had been taken from the house.)

     On the afternoon of the disappearances, deputies with the Platte County Sheriff's Office spoke to witnesses who had seen a white, 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck parked near the sister's house at 9:30 that morning. The next day, a deputy found a truck meeting that description several miles from the sister's house parked near the Platte-Clay County line. The vehicle, registered to a Clifford D. Miller, bore no evidence of a crime, inside or out.

     On Sunday morning, July 15, Platte County detectives questioned Clifford D. Miller, "a person of interest," at his girlfriend's house in Parksville, a suburb of Kansas City. Miller, from Trimble, Missouri in southwest Clinton County, confessed to murdering Haarup and Key, and agreed to lead the police to the field where he had dumped their bodies. Following the confession, the officers took Miller into custody.

     The sisters' bodies were recovered that Sunday, and transported to the Medical Examiner's Office in Jackson County for identification and autopsy.

     When interrogated at his girlfriend's house, Miller said he had been smoking methamphetamine on Friday, July 13. With the intent of having sex with Britny Haarup, (they knew each other but had not engaged in sex) he drove his 2002 Dodge pickup to her house in Edgerton. When he walked into the dwelling through the unlocked front door, Ashley Key, asleep on the sofa, woke up and confronted him. Miller punched her several times, struck her in the head with a hard object from the coffee table, then smothered her with the comforter on the couch.

     Still thinking about having sex with Haarup, Miller walked into her bedroom. When Britny screamed, he hit her with a blunt object, then smothered her with a pillow.

     After murdering the sisters in their own home, Clifford Miller hung around and smoked more meth. High on the drug, he wrapped his victims' bodies in bedsheets and carried them to his pickup truck. After depositing the murdered women in a field several miles from their house, he abandoned his vehicle and called his girlfriend in Parksville.

     The Platte County prosecutor charged Clifford Miller with two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he faced a sentence of life without parole or death by injection. He was incarcerated in the Platte County Jail under $500,000 cash-only bond.

     In April 2013, Clifford Miller pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole. While the death penalty would have been too good for this man, it's a shame he was allowed to live. 

Selling Out

The Devil comes to the writer and says, "I will make you the best writer of your generation. Never mind the generation--of the century. No--this millennium! Not only the best, but the most famous, and also the richest; in addition to that, you will be very influential and your glory will endure for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your kids, your dog, and your soul." "Sure," says the writer, "absolutely--give me the pen, where do I sign?" Then he hesitates. "Just a minute," he says. "What's the catch?"

Margaret Atwood

Friday, December 21, 2018

Hands-On Sex Education at Destrehan High

     Destrehan, Louisiana is located 25 miles east of New Orleans on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Destrehan High School, part of the St. Charles Parish School District, consists of grades 9 through 12.

     Shelly S. Dufresne, a 32-year-old 11th-grade English teacher, graduated from the high school in 2000. In 2005, she graduated from Louisiana State University (LSU) with a BS Degree in secondary education. The daughter of 29th Judicial Judge Emile St. Pierre, she began teaching at Destrehan High in 2006. Dufresne resided in Montz, Louisiana with her husband and three children.

     Destrehan High's 10th-grade English teacher, 23-year-old Rachel Respess, graduated from the high school in 2008. Shortly after earning her education degree from LSU in 2012, she joined the faculty of her Alma Mater. Respess lived in Kenner, Louisiana.

     On September 26, 2014, school officials were informed that a 16-year-old Destrehan male student had bragged to his friends that he and the two English teachers, on two occasions, had engaged in threesome sex. Deputies with the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, after receiving the complaint from the school, questioned the boy.

     According to the student, the first three-way tryst took place in early September in Kenner at Rachel Respess' apartment. The second episode occurred after a Friday night football game on September 12, 2014 at Shelly Dufrense's house in Montz. Deputies reportedly acquired videotapes of the sexual encounters.

     On September 30, 2014, officers booked Dufresne and Respess into the Jefferson Parish Jail on felony charges of carnal knowledge of a juvenile. The teachers posted their bonds, but were under house arrest except for mental health counseling, doctor visits, and church attendance. The school district suspended the suspects without pay.

     In August 2016, the parents of the student sued the two teachers and the St. Charles Parish School District.

     Dufresne, following her confession to the police, pleaded guilty in December 2016 to the minor offense of obscenity. In exchange for the plea, the judge sentenced Dufresne to 90 days at an inpatient mental health facility. The former teacher also received three years probation and was fined $1,000. According to Dufresne, she had instigated the sexual encounters with the student.

     Shelly Repass pleaded guilty to the minor offense of failing to report the commission of a felony. For this she received one year of probation.

     Several questions come to mind in cases like this. How stupid or desperate must a teacher be to place her career, marriage, reputation, and freedom into the hands of a 16-year-old boy who can be counted on to spill the beans to his friends? Why would these teachers consent to being videotaped committing sex offenses? Are these teachers basket cases or simply stupid? If they are not very bright, do they reflect the caliber of people entering the teaching field? These are important questions because cases of female teachers having sex with male students has become quite common. 

Arming School Teachers

     In 2014, legislators in South Dakota passed a law authorizing public school teachers to carry concealed firearms while on the job. This is surprising since South Dakota is not a high-crime place. It's also stupid, and dangerous.

     Trained and experienced police officers struggle with the responsibility of having the power of life and death, and knowing when to use deadly force. But that responsibility comes with being in law enforcement. School teachers, I hope, acquire their positions because they are educated and suited to teach. That is their burden. Asking school teachers to make on the spot life and death decisions is far beyond the scope of their jobs and profession.

     Since the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, several school guards have accidentally discharged their guns. While schools have never been perfectly safe, they are about to become much more dangerous. A student's chance of being accidentally shot by a armed teacher or security guard will be far greater than being shot by a crazed intruder.

     With politicians you simply can't overestimate their stupidity. If I may quote Napoleon Bonaparte: "In politics, stupidity is not a disadvantage." Indeed, in politics stupidity is often rewarded. The public will eventually pay the price for this political idiocy and demagoguing. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Cost of Free Speech

     A sickening combination of political correctness, cultural touchiness, and the profit motive has killed the kind of rough and tumble journalism once practiced by H. L. Mencken and the more recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. It's been replaced by the kind of feel-good public relations slop you see on morning TV. Today, a journalist takes a risk attacking anyone other than conservative men, President Trump, and mainstream religion. Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, said some unflattering things about certain lower class Iowans. It was the kind of writing you rarely see anymore, especially from a professor. (If free speech has an arch enemy, it's the university.) The professor from Iowa paid a price for speaking his mind in print. (While personally I consider Bloom's writing a good example of an elite academic attacking the lower middle class from his ivory tower bubble, I don't believe he deserved the treatment he received for expressing his opinion.)

     In an essay Stephen Bloom wrote called, "Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life," published on December 9 2011 on "The Atlantic" magazine website, Bloom, in questioning whether Iowa was worthy of being the nation's first caucus state, portrayed certain Iowans in a pretty bad light. For example, he said the rural citizens of the state "...are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Anne, that 'the sun'll come out tomorrow.' Bloom described the municipality of Keokuk as a "depressed, crime-infested slum town," and other Iowa communities as "skuzzy" and "slummy." Ouch.

     As could be expected, Bloom's opinions and observations angered and offended many people, including some of his fellow journalism professors; current and former students (particularly those from Keokuk I'd imagine); the university administration; local politicians ( pandering idiots who I am sure share Bloom's opinion of these "hard-working Americans"); and of course, rural Iowans with bad teeth and a drug habit.

       In response to his description of the lower rung of Iowa's socio-economic ladder, Professor Bloom received threatening emails which sent him into hiding until the firestorm of indignation burned itself out. (The following fall he was scheduled to teach a semester at the University of Michigan.) In discussing his situation to a media blogger, Bloom said, "...I don't want some of those crazy people who are reading everything they want into my story to know where I am." To avoid adding fuel to the fire, Professor Bloom turned down offers to appear on several cable TV news shows. (In reality, a couple cable news networks would have given him a hero's welcome.)

     Bloom's incendiary essay came at a time when the University of Iowa's master's degree program in journalism was in trouble. (Not to be confused with Iowa's famous Writer's Workshop.) The program lost its accreditation the previous year because it lacked a sufficient number of students. The undergraduate program, not doing well either, operated on provisional accreditation. David Perlmutter, the director of the journalism school, was worried that the Bloom flap would dissuade prospective journalism majors from applying to the program.

     To his credit, Perlmutter said this to the "Des Moines Register," "I'm nobody's editor. I'm nobody's publisher. We don't want the kind of system where somebody has to send me something before it gets published, and I'm supposed to censor it...."

     The president of the university, Sally Mason, apparently not a big fan of fee speech, sent an open letter to "The Atlantic" disowning Professor Bloom and his essay. "Please know that he does not speak for the University of Iowa. What defines Iowans are their deeds and actions and not some caricature." If such a piece of public relations crap had been written by a graduate of the school's journalism program, the program wouldn't deserve to be accredited.

     Professor Bloom attributed all the fuss to the state's need to protect its first-in-the-nation caucuses. "There's a financial incentive for the Iowa media not to rock the caucuses' boat," he said. "Political advertising means revenue for newspapers, TV and radio stations."

     Fortunately for Professor Bloom, he was tenured. Still, I image he will think twice before writing something like this again.
       

Phone Sex at the University of Colorado

     Resa Cooper-Morning, a cultural diversity coordinator in the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Denver, had been living a double life. Employed by the university since 1992, Resa, in 2003, began supplementing her $68,000-a-year salary by charging phone sex callers $1.49 a minute for her pornographic talk.

     Cooper-Morning advertised her services through her website, msresa.com. The site also offered soft core videos of the university administrator with titles such as "Stripping Before the Camera," and "Erotica in Pink." The site included a link to her phone sex service that promised to "rock every part of your body." Internet viewers could also purchase memberships to Cooper-Morning's virtual world.

     Internet visitors desiring sexy phone talk were encouraged to call Resa between seven in the morning and "late at night", Monday through Friday. This made her available to sex callers Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 3PM, her university working hours. This meant the 54-year-old was talking dirty for money on university's time. (I guess you could argue that a lot of employees talk dirty on company time. The only difference here is that Cooper-Morning did it for money.)

     Big wigs at the University of Colorado were informed of Cooper-Morning's clandestine business by a producer with the local CBS-TV affiliate working on a segment about Cooper-Morning's erotic website. The show was scheduled to air on December 12, 3003. Shortly after the notification, the diversity coordinator found herself on paid administrative leave.

     Blair Cooper, Resa's daughter-in-law, appeared in the CBS-produced segment that aired as scheduled. According to Cooper, "she [Resa] was taking calls at work. I've been in her office and she's said, 'oh, let me be right back, I have a phone call.' She takes them very discreetly, shuts her door and takes phone calls on Colorado University of Denver's pay."

     In January 2014, the local CBS TV affiliate covering the Cooper-Morning case reported that the university administrator, in addition to her phone sex operation, ran an escort service. The university however, announced that she would not lose her position at the school. A spokesperson for the University of Colorado at Denver said, "We've been unable to establish that Ms. Cooper-Morning engaged in criminal activity nor have we been able to determine she operated her outside businesses while on the job." 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Kurt Myers Killing Spree

     Over the past few years there have been several spree-shootings involving elderly white men. Generally, this is not a demographic associated with criminal homicide. Are these cases an anomaly, or is there something driving older men to mass murder?

     At nine-thirty in the morning of Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 64-year-old Kurt Myers started a fire in his apartment building in the upstate New York village of Mohawk 65 miles east of Syracuse. The tense, jittery loner with the full white beard was not married, and seldom spoke to his neighbors. Other than an old DUI arrest, he did not have a history with the police.

     After starting the fire, Myers walked around the corner to John's Barber Shop. He entered the place carrying a shotgun. Speaking to the  owner, John Seymour, Myers said, "Hi John, do you remember me?"

     Yes, Kurt, how are you?"

     Without saying more, Myers raised his shotgun and shot the barber, wounding him severely but not killing him. Myers then fired on the three customers in the shop. Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, were killed on the spot. Ransear had been a retired corrections officer. Dan Haslauer, the third customer, was shot in the hand and hip. He survived the shotgun blasts.

     Having murdered two men and injuring two others, Myers climbed into his red Jeep and drove to Herkimer, a town of 7,770 one mile from Mohawk. At Gaffey's Fast Lube, he shot and killed employee Thomas Stefka, and a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections named Michael Renshaw. All of the shootings appeared random.

     By Wednesday afternoon, a small army of police officers had Myers trapped inside an abandoned building in downtown Herkimer. At one point Myers fired at the police from a window. The stand-off dragged on through Wednesday and into Thursday. Joseph Malone, the chief of police of both Mohawk Valley towns, told reporters that Myers "...had come out of nowhere. He was not on our radar and hasn't caused any problems." A woman who for the past ten years has waited on Myers at a local bar said that "He wasn't a people person, and he would never talk to anyone."

     Myers worked as a machine operator in the early 1980s at Waterbury Felt, a manufacturer of industrial textiles. The Waterbury Felt executive who had hired him, Steve Copperwheat, ran into Myers three months ago in a Walmart parking lot. The two men had not seen each other in ten years. Copperwheat described the encounter to a reporter with The Washington Post: "I yelled over to him, and he looked at me and said my name, said he was retired and just went booking away. It was almost like he didn't want anybody to know where he was. He was trying to be very distant, which surprised me." According to Copperwheat, Myers, who had never married, had been an exemplary employee who worked twice as fast as he fellow workers.

    Late Thursday morning, March 14, police officers stormed the abandoned building on Main Street. As the SWAT team entered the structure, Myers fired on the officers. The police returned fire, killing the 64-year-old mass murderer. An FBI dog was shot and killed in the exchange.

     While things are quiet again in Herkimer and Mohawk, citizens of these communities are left with six shooting victims, and the mystery of what turned Kurt Myers into a mass murderer at the age of sixty-four.
     

Jerome Murdough's Jail Cell Death

     After graduating from a Queens, New York high school in 1976, Jerome Murdough joined the Marine Corps. He served a tour in Okinawa, Japan before his honorable discharge. Shortly after he returned to New York City, Murdough started drinking heavily and taking drugs. In his thirties, after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, he found himself living on the street and in homeless shelters. He had joined the growing number of mentally ill Americans living on the fringes of urban society. To maintain a semblance of sanity, Murdough had to keep taking his anti-psychotic medication. He also took anti-seizure pills and continued to medicate himself with alcohol.

     Over the years, New York City police officers, on a dozen occasions, arrested Murdough for the misdemeanor offenses of drunk in public, trespassing, and drug possession. On February 7, 2014, a police officer in Harlem, New York arrested the 56-year-old homeless man for trespassing. Murdough had been sleeping in an enclosed stairwell in a public housing project.

     The arresting officer booked Mr. Murdough into Rikers Island, the nation's second largest jail system. At any given time, Rikers Island is the temporary home of 1,200 prisoners, almost half of whom are mentally ill. At his arraignment, the judge assigned Murdough an attorney from the public defender office, and set his bail at a prohibitive $2,500.

     On February 14, 2014, a week into his incarceration, jail officials transferred Murdough to the Anna M. Kross Center, the jail system's massive mental health unit. They placed him into a 6-by-10 foot cinderblock cell at 10:30 that night. Pursuant to jail policy pertaining to prisoners in the mental observation unit, corrections officers were supposed to check on Murdough every fifteen minutes.

     At 2:30 the next morning, four hours after Murdough's transfer to the mental health unit, a corrections officer discovered Murdough dead on his cot. The first thing the guard noticed was the intense heat coming out of the cell. The temperature in the enclosure had risen to well about 100 degrees due to an heating system malfunction.

     While the forensic pathologist with the New York City's Medical Examiner's Office was unable to articulate the exact cause of death without more testing, initial indicators point to extreme dehydration otherwise know as heat stroke. Since psychotropic medications can impair the body's ability to cool itself by sweating, Murdough's prescription regime may have been a contributing factor to his death.

     Jerome Murdough's 75-year-old mother learned of her son's fate a month after he baked to death. She learned of  his passing from a reporter with the Associated Press. Mrs. Murdough hadn't been in contact with her son for three years.

     On April 3, 2014, a spokesperson for New York City's jail system announced that the warden of the mental health unit had been demoted over the incident. Two corrections officer were placed on thirty-day suspensions for not "following basic procedures."

Condom Possession As Evidence Against Prostitutes

     One of the key justifications for the criminalization of prostitution is public health, to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. In New York City alone the government spends $1 million a year distributing free condoms with this very purpose in mind.

     Every year, New York City vice officers make 2,500 prostitution arrests. In a few cases, the fact that the sex trade suspect possessed more condoms than what is considered customary has been used as evidence of prostitution.

     Among sex workers, rumor has it that cops will arrest anyone in possession of more than three condoms. While there is not a three-condom rule, a lot of prostitutes no longer carry them in fear of being incriminated by this evidence. What can a prostitute say when the vice officer asks, "What are you doing with all of those condoms?"

     The New York City Department of Health conducted a study in 2010 that revealed that a third of the city's hookers didn't carry condoms as a measure to avoid incriminating themselves.

     Since more than 90 percent of prostitution arrests lead to plea bargained sentences, vice officers rarely need to make their cases using this type of evidence. In suburban New York's Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said that the evidentiary value of condoms does not outweigh the negative public health effect associated with the use of this prosecutorial technique. According to this prosecutor, "condom evidence is rarely of any value to a prosecution. If you need condom possession so badly in a case against a trafficker, you don't have a good case." Prosecutors in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, New York no longer use excessive condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases.

     In 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill banning the introduction of condom possession into evidence at sex trafficking trials. A supporter of this first-of-its-kind legislation, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, told a reporter with the New York Times that "Sex workers are not a politically appealing constituency to most lawmakers."  (It's perhaps a bit ironic that politicians, who are whores themselves, aren't more attuned to the needs of these constituents.) 

The Meth Cook's Dog

     Edwin Henderson ran from officers with the Prattville, Alabama police who were serving a drug search warrant on October 29, 2014. The suspected meth manufacturer jumped into a ravine behind his house and was followed by his dog, Bo and two Prattville Drug Enforcement Unit investigators.

     Bo found Henderson lying in tall grass. He was arrested when the officers saw the dog had stopped to wag his tail. Henderson was charged with failure to obey police, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

"Dog Helps Alabama Police Arrest Owner During Chase," Associated Press, October 30, 2014 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Large Talking Head Syndrome

I've noticed that male TV news anchors tend to have physically enormous heads, with egos to match. Based on the fact they do nothing but read what others have written for them, their brains, due to underuse, must be tiny organs within those huge skulls. I can't think of any profession where the practitioners are so overpaid, and over-respected. We live in strange times.

Thornton P. Knowles

Homicidal Schizophrenics: Individual Rights Versus Public Safety

     In February 2009, Joseph Hagerman III, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, stopped taking his antipsychotic medication. He had stopped taking his medicine twice in the past and had experienced psychotic episodes. This time, however, he decapitated his 5-year-old son and injured his wife who tried in vain to protect the boy.

     Following his arrest, Hagerman, in a jailhouse interview with a local TV reporter, said he had killed his son because he believed the boy had become the antichrist.

     A few months after the homicide, a jury in Virginia Beach, Virginia found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Virginia law, this meant that Hagerman would be sent to a mental institution instead of prison. He would remain at the hospital until his doctors, and a judge, declared him sane enough to rejoin society.

     In late 2016, doctors at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, recommended to the court that Joseph Hagerman be granted conditional release from the institution. According to the psychiatrist, this patient, over the past few years, had been given 48-hour passes that had not caused any problems. He had been, according to the hospital staff, a model patient.

     A Virginia circuit judge, acting upon the psychiatric recommendation, ordered that Mr. Hagerman be given two independent mental health evaluations.

     On May 9, 2017, following the testimony of two psychiatrists and Mr. Hagerman's father, the judge ordered the patient's conditional release from the hospital. Pursuant to this decree, Mr. Hagerman was required to live at an adult foster care facility during the week. On weekends, he was allowed to reside with his parents.

     Under the judge's order, Mr. Hagerman would also receive periodic visits from social workers and psychiatrists who would check to make sure he was still taking his antipsychotic medication.

    At the conclusion of the sanity hearing, Mr. Hagerman's sister told a local television correspondent that, "I just want to let the community know that my brother is a very loving, generous, Christian man. He had a wonderful family, and it was an unfortunate incident. [Italics mine.] Everyone needs to get educated on mental illness."

     The fact that a child had died because his mentally ill father, for the third time, had stopped taking his medication, was perhaps cause for concern. Compassion for the mentally ill is all well and good, but so is the need to protect people who will, knowingly and unknowingly, cross this man's path. One doesn't need to be highly educated on the subject of mental illness to know that the behavior of a homicidal schizophrenic is extremely unpredictable. 

Kids Who Kill

Nationwide, there are more than 2,000 inmates in 43 states serving life sentences without the chance of parole for murders they committed when they were juveniles. These child and early teen killers make up a fraction of those kids who have committed murder but received lighter sentences. This is not a good sign for our society. 

Methods of Prisoner Execution

It has been, and still is, a matter of opinion whether, if you wish to kill your undesirable, it is better to let him died quietly in a concentration camp, flay him until he dies, hurl him over a precipice, burn, drown, or suffocate him; or entomb him alive and leave him to perish slowly in the silence of his grave; or asphyxiate him agonizingly in a lethal chamber, press him to death or cut off his head; or produce a sort of coma by means of an electric current that grills him in parts....It is all a matter of taste, temperament, and fashion.

Charles Duff (1894-1966) A Handbook On Hanging, 1961

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Eye-Drop Poison Case

     Dr. Harry Johnston, since June 2009, had been treating Thurman Nesbitt for a mysterious illness. The 45-year-old patient, a resident of McConnellsburg in central Pennsylvania, suffered from nausea, low blood pressure, and breathing difficulties. Dr. Johnston, suspecting that his patient was being poisoned, had his blood analyzed. On July 27, 2012, the serology tests revealed the presence of tetrahydrozolin, a chemical found in over-the-counter eye-drops.

     On August 10, 2012, troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Nesbitt's girlfriend, Vickie Jo Mills. The 33-year-old McConnellsburg woman, on probation for forgery, admitted putting Visine drops into her boyfriend's drinking water. Mills told her interrogators that she had been making Nesbitt sick since June 2009. She said it had never been her intention to poison her boyfriend to death. To the obvious question of why she had done this, Mills explained that she had made Nesbitt sick in an effort to get him to pay more attention to her.

     Most women who use illness to attract attention make themselves sick pursuant to a syndrome called Munchausen. In Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, these women make their children sick. It's not clear why Mills thought poisoning her boyfriend would improve their relationship.

     The Fulton County prosecutor charged Vickie Jo Mills with ten counts of aggravated assault which carried a combined maximum sentence of 240 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. Shortly after her arrest, the authorities released Mills on a $75,000 surety bond.

     On October 16, 2002, the district attorney dropped nine of the ten counts in return for the defendant's guilty plea. A Fulton County judge, on February 14, 2013, sentenced Mills to two to four years in prison.

     It's odd that something you can put into your eyes will make you sick if you put it into your stomach. This is the first poisoning case that I'm aware of that involved eye-drops.