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Monday, December 10, 2018

The Alisha Noel-Murray Murder-For-Hire Case

     Omar Murray, a Jamaican-born ironworker resided with his wife Alisha Noel-Murray in a Brooklyn row-house owned by Alisha's mother. The couple, married three years, had moved into the Brownsville neighborhood in early 2012. Omar was thirty-seven. His wife, a home health aide with Visiting Nurse Service of New York, was just twenty-five. A religious man, Omar regularly attended the Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

     On Sunday, February 24, 2013, as Omar Murray entered his Lott Avenue house at one in the afternoon, he was approached by a man who shot him once in the chest. The victim stumbled into the house and collapsed in the entrance hallway. At the time of the shooting, Alisha was in the house recovering from surgery. She locked herself in her bedroom and called 911. Mr. Murray died a few hours after being rushed by ambulance to the Brookdale University Hospital.

     The next day, New York City Detectives arrested three local men in connection with the murder. Dameon Lovell told interrogators that the dead man's wife had been his lover. Together they had come up with the idea of having Omar murdered in a staged robbery. The 29-year-old murder-for-hire co-mastermind said that Alisha Noel-Murray wanted to cash in on her husband's two life insurance policies.

     In 2009, shortly after they were married, the couple took out a policy with National Benefit for $530,000. Sometime later they insured Mr. Murray's life for another $150,000.

     Kirk Portious, a 25-year-old with a history of violent crime, confessed to being the hit-man. The prosecutor charged Portious and Lovell with first-degree murder. The third man taken into custody, 22-year-old Dion Jack, drove the getaway vehicle. He was charged with hindering prosecution. The judge set his bail at $5,000. Portious and Lovell were held without bond in the jail on Riker's Island.

     Funeral services for the murder victim were held at the Full Gospel Assemble of God Church on Friday night, March 8, 2013. Omar Murray's widow, who had not been charged with a crime, sat in the front pew chewing gum. Omar's uncle, in speaking to a New York Daily News reporter outside the Crown Heights church, said, "To see her [Alisha] sitting there with her crocodile tears makes me sick. We know she killed our Omar. Where is the justice?"

     Alisha Noel-Murray, to the same reporter, said, "I'm not hiding from no one....This is ridiculous."

     In June 2016, Alisha Noel-Murray was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mr. Murray's death. Both life insurance companies refused to pay out the benefits on the ground local prosecutors had charged her as a murder-for-hire mastermind. She sued the National Benefit Life Insurance company and lost.

     Portious and Lovell awaited their murder trials while incarcerated on Riker's Island.

     In March 2017, Dameon Lowell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 25 year to life prison sentence.

     On June 8, 2017, a jury in Brooklyn, New York found Alisha Noel-Murray guilty of first-degree murder. Dameon Lowell's testimony helped convict her. A week later, a separate jury found Kirk Portious, the hit man, guilty of the same offense.

     The judge, in July 2017, sentenced Noel-Murray and her hit man to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Nathan Dunlap's Clemency Quest

     In December 1993, a supervisor employed by the Chuck E Cheese family eating place and entertainment center in the suburban city of Aurora, Colorado outside of Denver, fired 19-year-old Nathan Dunlap for refusing to work extra hours. The pizza cook told his fellow workers that the boss had made a fool of him, and that he planned to get even.

     On December 14, 1993, Dunlap, while playing basketball with friends, said, in reference to his former place of employment, that he was going to "kill them all and take the money." Later that day, Dunlap walked into the Chuck E Cheese establishment and, in cold blood, shot five employees, killing four of them.

     A jury, in 1996, found Nathan Dunlap guilty of four counts of murder. The judge sentenced the convicted killer to death. Three years later, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Dunlap's conviction.

     In early May 2013, after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear Dunlap's clemency appeal, an Arapahoe County judge scheduled Dunlap's execution for the week of August 18, 2013. Dunlap would be the first prisoner executed in the state in fifteen years. Friends and relatives of the murdered Chuck E Cheese employees were elated.

     Those who had been waiting twenty years for Dunlap's execution were crestfallen when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, at a May 22, 2013 press conference, announced that he had granted "Offender No. 89148" a temporary reprieve. (During the news conference, Governor Hickenlooper never mentioned Dunlap by name. When asked why, he said, "I don't think he needs any more notoriety.")

     The governor's reprieve guaranteed that Dunlap would live until January 15, 2015, the last day of Hickenlooper's first term. If he lost his bid for re-election, the new governor could let the reprieve stand, or go forward with the execution. Dunlap's fate becamea gubernatorial campaign issue.

     In justifying his decision to spare Dunlap's life, Hickenlooper rhetorically asked, "Is it just and moral to take this person's life? Is it a benefit to the world?" (A lot of people would answer, "Yes!")

     In reacting publicly to the governor's reprieve, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Braucher said, "There's going to be one person, one person in this system who goes to bed with a smile on his face tonight. And that's Nathan Dunlap. And he's got one person to thank for that smile. That's Governor Hickenlooper."

     The father of one of Dunlap's victims, in speaking to a reporter with the Denver Post, said, "The knife that's been in my back for twenty years was just turned by the governor."

      Governor Hickenlooper was elected to a second term in office. It's not clear what role the Dunlap reprieve played in that victory,

     In April 2017, a U.S. District Court judge denied the Dunlap legal team the right to lobby Governor Hickenlooper for permanent clemency. The death house defense team wanted to spend $750,000 in taxpayer money to present psychiatric evidence that Dunlap's murders were the result of a traumatic childhood.

    On November 20, 2017, Governor Hickenlooper denied clemency for Nathan Dunlap.

Serial Killer Wesley Allan Dodd's Last Words

I was once asked by somebody, I don't remember who, if there was any way sex offenders could be stopped. I said no. I was wrong.

Wesley Allan Dodd, executed in the state of Washington on January 5, 1993. Per his request, he was hanged. 

The Death Penalty Debate in America

     To some extent, the debate about capital punishment has been going on almost since the founding of the Republic. At that time, each state, following the English tradition, imposed death for a long list of felonies. But the same humanism that posited the equal value of all men and animated democracy necessarily led to many questions about a punishment that vested such fierce power over citizens in the state and assumed individuals were irredeemable. Thomas Jefferson was among the earliest advocates of restricting executions, and in 1794, Pennsylvania limited capital punishment to first-degree murder. In 1846, Michigan became the first American state to outlaw capital punishment for killers.

     For most Americans, the death penalty debate goes no further than asking whether they "believe" in capital punishment. There is good reason for this, of course, because the threshold issues define us so profoundly as individuals and as a society that it is almost impossible to move past them. What are the goals of punishment? What do we think about the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil? What value do we place on life--of the murderer and the victim? What kind of power do we want in the hands of government, and what do we hope the state can accomplish when it wields it?

Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, 2003

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Don Willburn Collins Murder Case: Robert Middleton's Long, Painful Death

     Robert Middleton, on June 28, 1998, turned eight. Early in the evening of his birthday, his 13-year-old neighbor, Don Willburn Collins, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. Robert survived the attack, but suffered third-degee burns over most of his body. The crime took place in Splendora, Texas, a small town in the Houston metropolitan area.

     Collins confessed to the police, was arrested, and spent several months in juvenile detention. He was not, however, prosecuted as a juvenile or an adult for the assault. According to the Montgomery County prosecutor in charge of the investigation, the state did not have enough evidence against Collins to go forward with the case. As a result, the authorities had no choice but to release the suspect. (Collins had taken back his confession and there were procedural problems associated with the investigation.)

     Over the years, Robert Middleton underwent 100 painful surgeries and many skin grafts that still left him horribly disfigured. In 2011, after being diagnosed with skin cancer, Robert, in a videotaped deposition given shortly before his death at the age of 23, revealed that two weeks before the arson-assault, Don Collins had sexually molested him. Collins had torched the boy to prevent him from reporting the rape.

     The medical examiner, finding that Middleton's cancer was caused by his burns, ruled his death a homicide. Following this cause and manner of death determination, detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office conducted a seven-month cold-case investigation into the 1998 sexual molestation and subsequent arson.

     Three years after setting Robert Middleton on fire, a jury found Collins guilty of sexually molesting another 8-year-old boy. At the time of that rape, Collins was fifteen. For that offense he spent four years in juvenile detention. The assault took place in San Jacinto County, Texas.

     In 2012, Robert Middleton's parents won a $150 million wrongful death suit against Collins. Because the man who had set fire to their son was homeless, the plaintiffs knew they would never collect the civil judgment.

     A Montgomery county judge, in 2013, transferred the Collins/Middleton case from juvenile to adult court after the district attorney charged Collins with felony-murder in connection with Middleton's delayed death. Under the felony-murder doctrine, a person who commits a felony is culpable for any death that occurs in the commission of that crime. In the Collins case, the underlying felony was sexual assault. While the sexual crime didn't cause Middleton's death, it lead to the arson that in turn caused the cancer that killed the victim. (The arson-assault wouldn't work as the underlying felony because the statute of limitations on that offense had run out. The sexual assault, however, wasn't reported until 2011.)

     In terms of the law, the prosecution in the Collins case faced a felony-murder causation problem. The prosecutor had to directly link the arson to the sexual attack. There was also the passage of time between the rape and the victim's cancer death. In the old days before crimes were codified, there was a common law principal related to criminal homicide called the year and a day rule. If the victim of an assault died a year and one day after the attack, too much time had passed to allow a murder charge.

     Collin's attorney challenged the transfer of his client's case into adult court. In 1998, under Texas law, a person under the age of 14 could not be charged as an adult with a capital offense. Collins was 13 when he allegedly raped then set fire to the victim. (In 1999, state legislators dropped the age to ten.)

     In October 2014, State District Judge Kathleen Hamilton approved a request by Collins' attorneys to move the murder trial out of Montgomery County. E. Tay Bond, one of the defendant's lawyers, had argued that the intense publicity the case received would make it difficult for his client to get a fair trial locally. Mr. Bond said, "I think the degree of shock as to what happened to Robbie Middleton has created a fervor in the community where people have decided that Don Collins is in fact guilty of something. They would convict him just based on emotion instead of an objective review of the evidence or lack thereof in the case."

     On January 10, 2015, Judge Hamilton heard arguments on the Collin's defense motion to suppress statements the defendant had made to police sixteen years earlier regarding setting the victim on fire. Two days after the oral arguments, the judge decided that because the interview room had not been approved by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department Board, she had no choice but to exclude this evidence from the prosecution's case. Judge Hamilton noted, however that "the officers involved in the 1988 statements had not acted in bad faith." But because Texas law did not provide for good-faith exceptions to the rules in the Family Code, the judge's hands were tied.

     In looking for evidence against the defendant, detectives questioned a man who had served jail time in juvenile detention with Collins who claimed that Collins had threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to Robert Middleton.

     On February 4, 2015, in a Galveston, Texas courtroom, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Blackburn, in his opening statement to the jury, made up of six men and six women, said, "Our case is based on the testimony of adults who came forward and can tell you what the defendant did when he and Robbie Middleton were children. Witnesses will tell you that he poured gasoline on Robbie Middleton in 1998 and set him on fire."

     Defense attorney Tay Bond told the jurors they should not expect the prosecution to present eyewitnesses to this crime because there weren't any.

     Dr. David Herndon, a burn surgeon and chief of staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston took the stand as the prosecution's first witness. He said the burns the victim had suffered had eaten through his fat tissue into his muscle. The doctor said Middleton's burns were among the worst he had ever seen. For surviving 13 years, the doctor said he considered Middleton a "miracle."

     Dr. Herndon was followed to the stand by three physicians who testified that the cancer that eventually killed the victim had been caused by his burns.

     Over the next several days, prosecutor Blackburn put on witnesses who testified that Collins had bragged to them about what he had done to Robbie Middleton. One of these witnesses, an inmate at a juvenile detention center who served time with Collins, said the defendant had raped him then threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to the Middleton boy.

     Defense attorney Bond, in his closing remarks to the jury, again stressed the fact there were no eyewitnesses to the crime or physical evidence linking his client to Middleton's burning.

     Prosecutor Blackburn, in his closing statement, called the defendant a "monster" and a "child rapist."

     On February 9, 2015, the jury in Galveston, Texas found Don Collins guilty of capital murder. Following the verdict, attorney Bond promised to appeal the conviction on grounds that trying Collins as an adult for a crime committed when he was thirteen was unconstitutional.

     Judge Blackburn sentenced Collins to forty years in prison.

     On April 4, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Collins' murder conviction.


Jeremy Meeks: The Media Sensation Mugshot Hunk

     In our celebrity driven culture that puts a high premium on good looks, it's not surprising that a young, good-looking convicted felon with street gang credentials can attract thousands of adoring fans. While beauty is only skin deep, and a lot of beautiful celebrities are narcissistic jerks, it's beauty, not talent, achievement or decency that gets them into People Magazine, one of America's most popular and puerile publications. The overnight fame of a young criminal named Jeremy Ray Meeks is testimony to the power of good looks, the influence of social media, and the shallowness of American culture.

     Jeremy Meeks can thank police officers in Stockton, California for his fifteen minutes of fame. On Wednesday, June 18, 2014, pursuant to a joint law enforcement crackdown on street gang activity, officers pulled over Meek's car. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of 9 mm ammunition, an unregistered .45-caliber pistol, a small quantity of marijuana, and two handgun magazines. When taken into custody, Meeks was accompanied by a 23-year-old man who, like himself, was serving time on probation.

     A San Joaquin County prosecutor charged Meeks with eleven felony counts related to firearms possession, gang membership, and probation violations. When someone in the Stockton Police Department posted Meeks' mugshot, the accused gang member with the high cheek bones, chiseled face, and striking blue eyes, became an instant media sensation. (To me, the gaunt arrestee with the vacuous expression on his face looked a lot like the male fashion models you see in J.C. Penny ads.)

     At his arraignment, the judge posted Meeks' bail at $1 million. While the suspected street gangster cooled his heels in the San Joaquin slammer, someone on Facebook posted his mugshot and created a fan page in his honor. In a matter of days, the Facebook page attracted 80,000 "likes," 21,000 comments, and 9,500 "shares." Not only that, news outlets like USA Today, TMZ, "Inside Edition," and New York Magazine published his mugshot and featured his story. (I wouldn't be surprised if Meeks makes the cover of People Magazine.)

     Jeremy Meeks mother, Katherine Angier, taking advantage of the media frenzy surrounding her outlaw son, set up a fundraising website that features photographs of him with his 3-year-old son. On the GoFundMe site, she addressed the issue of his gang-related tattoos that includes an inked teardrop beneath his left eye (a mark that honors a gang killing), the word "crip" (Crips gang) on his arm, and other prominent tattoos on his neck: "He has old tattoos which causes him to be stereotyped. (Wasn't that the idea behind the tattoos in the first place?) He's my son and he is so sweet. Please help him get a fair trial or else he'll be railroaded."

     By June 21, 2014, Angier had raised $2,000 for her son's defense.

     So, who was this sweet boy with the gang tattoos and fashion model face? In 2004, he left prison after serving two years for grand theft. A year later, in Spokane County, Washington, a prosecutor charged him with identify theft in the second-degree for impersonating his brother, Emery Meeks. That prosecutor also charged him with resisting arrest, a count that was later dismissed. When the dust settled in the Washington case, Meeks ended up on probation.

     Stockton police and the prosecutor in San Joaquin County, California expressed puzzlement over the Meeks media sensation. I guess these law enforcement practitioners didn't realize that a segment of the American public has always considered the good looking outlaw a romantic figure. Meek's mother, by calling her son "sweet," risked destroying his image and hastening his return to obscurity.

     In February 2015, after San Joaquin County turned the Meeks case over to the federal authorities, Meeks pleaded guilty to several weapons charges. The federal judge sentenced him to 27 months in prison.
     

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Rurik Jutting Double Murder Case

     Rurik George Caton Jutting grew up wealthy in Cobham Surrey, England. He attended the Winchester College Independent Boarding School and, in 2007, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Cambridge.

     In 2010, after working a couple of years for the banking firm Barclays, Jutting joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London where he worked in structured equity finance and trading. (I don't have a clue what that is.)

     In 2012, the British woman Jutting planned to marry left London for a job in New York City. Shortly after leaving England she had an affair with an American and broke off the engagement. Jutting took the rejection hard. The two of them  tried to reconcile but it didn't work out.

     People who knew Jutting considered him a highly competent employee who was preoccupied with money and power. He once told an acquaintance that he had spent thousands of pounds on an ornamental horse's skull that he had purchased from a specialty shop. It seemed he enjoyed spending every penny he made on food, entertainment, and nonessential luxury items.

     In 2013, the Bank of America transferred Jutting to its branch operation in Hong Kong. After moving to the Chinese city of 7.2 million, Jutting moved into an apartment on the 31st floor of the J. Residence Building in the Wan Chai district of the city. Located in Hong Kong's southern quarter, Wan Chia is known for its high number of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and strip joints. Apartments in the 381-unit complex rented out at between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

     Hong Kong's red light district, located adjacent to Wan Chai to the north, features prostitutes from southeast Asia and Africa. Hong Kong, however, with the world's lowest homicide rate, is a safe place to live. During the first six months of 2014 there have only been 14 murders in the city. (In New York City during that period, there were 120 criminal homicides. In Chicago there have been many more killings than that.)

     At three-forty in the morning of Saturday November 1, 2014, the 29-year-old Jutting called the Hong Kong police to his flat. Upon entering the luxury apartment, police officers were immediately struck with the sight of recently spilled blood splashed on the floor and walls of the dwelling. They also were confronted by the stench of a decaying body.

     Police officers at the scene encountered the nude body of an Indonesian prostitute named Jesse Lorena. Among other lacerations, the 30-year-old's throat had been slashed. Investigators would later learn that she also worked as a part-time disc jockey at a Hong Kong pub.

     Officers in Jutting's apartment came upon a black suitcase on the dwelling's balcony. When they opened it they found, wrapped in a carpet, the decaying body of a young woman who had almost been decapitated. This was 25-year-old Sumarti Nighshih, a sex worker from Cilacap, Indonesia who in October had traveled to Hong Kong on a tourist's visa.

     Investigators believed that Nighshih, her hands and feet bound with rope, had been murdered on October 27, 2014. Lacerations covered her naked and decomposing body.

     Police officers placed Jutting under arrest on suspicion of double murder and escorted him out of the building.

     Crime scene investigators found, on Jutting's Smartphone, 2,000 photographs of the dead prostitutes, shots that had been taken after he had murdered them. Many of the images included close-ups of the victims' knife wounds.

     Security camera footage revealed that Jutting and Jesse Lorena had entered his apartment at midnight, shortly before he murdered her then notified the authorities. Officers also recovered a small quantity of cocaine from the flat.

     A resident of the building told police officers that he and several others who lived there had recently detected the smell of death coming from the vicinity of Jutting's 31st floor apartment.

     On Monday, November 3, 2014, Jutting, accompanied by his attorney, Martyn Richmond, appeared before a judge in Hong Kong's Eastern Magistrate's Court. Attorney Richmond informed the magistrate that his client had been co-operating fully with the police. Moreover, Mr. Jutting had expressed a willingness to re-enact the murders on video, a common practice in Hong Kong, China.

     On November 24, 2014, Judge Bina Chainral, following psychiatric evaluations of the accused, ruled that he was mentally competent. The judge scheduled the murder trial for July 6, 2015.

     In November 2016, a jury sitting in Hong Kong found Rurik Jutting guilty of double murder. In a statement at his sentencing hearing, the defendant said, "The evil I have inflicted can never be remedied by me in words or actions." Justice Michael Stuart-Moore, after noting that he did not believe Rurik felt any remorse for his murders, sentenced him to life in prison.

     Although he had promised not to appeal his convictions, Rurik did in fact appeal his case in September 2017. In April 2018, the justices on the Court of Final Appeal upheld the double murder conviction.

     

Ex-Police Chief Guilty of Child Pornography

     The police chief of Mount Pleasant, New York was arrested Thursday, January 23, 2014 on charges of possession of child pornography….Brian Fanelli, 54, was arrested at his home in upstate Mahopac after a months-long investigation by federal officials….The chief allegedly used a peer-to-peer file sharing program to download more than 120 images and videos of child pornography….

     As police executed a search warrant at his home, Fanelli voluntarily told investigators that he began viewing child pornography about one year ago….He said he had first started collecting the child porn as research for a sexual abuse awareness program he taught to elementary and middle-school students. But he said he later continued downloading it for personal interest….

     Fanelli had worked for the police department in Mount Pleasant, a town about 30 miles north of New York City, since November 1981….He has been suspended as chief, a position he took in November 2013….

     [In January 2016, following his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Fanelli to 18 months in prison followed by five years on probation.]

Leigh Remizowski and Pamela Brown, "Police Chief of New York Town Arrested on Child Pornography Charges," CNN, January 24, 2014

The Randall and Mary Vaughn Murder Case

     An east Tennessee couple is charged with murder in the death of the man's 5-year-old daughter after an autopsy revealed the girl died from being forced to drink more than 2 liters of grape soda and water….Alexis Linboom was brought in to the emergency room on January 1, 2012 by her father, Randall Vaughn, and his wife, Mary Vaughn….

     The girl was blue and not responding. She had severe brain damage. An investigation revealed the girl had been forced to drink the water and soda over one to two hours of punishment. The massive intake of fluid caused her brain to swell and herniate….The couple was held at the Hawkins County Jail on a $500,000 bond each.

     [In December 2014, following guilty pleas, the judge sentenced Randall and MaryVaughn to 35 years in prison.]

"Tennessee Couple Charged After Girl Dies From Drinking 2 Liters of Soda, Water," Fox News and Associated Press, February 6, 2014  

Death by Cosmetic Butt-Lift

     A woman who advertised "vampire face-lifts" and other cosmetic procedures she wasn't licensed to perform was arrested after a suspicious death at a southern California beauty salon….Licensed message therapist Sandra Gonzales, 45, remained jailed on $10,000 bail Thursday, February 13, 2014 on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance. She was under investigation by homicide detectives with assistance from the California Medical Board and the Los Angeles County coroner's office….

     Hamilet Suarez, 36, was getting cosmetic injections on February 12, 2014 at Areli's Barber Shop and Beauty Salon where Gonzales rents a room when she went into cardiac arrest….Paramedics arrived and took her to a hospital, where she was later declared dead…..

     Investigators at the salon found medical equipment and controlled substances used for cosmetic procedures that Gonzales was advertising but not licensed to perform….They included "butt augmentation," "lip augmentation," and "vampire face-lifts," where a gel-like substance derived from the patient's own blood is injected to reduce wrinkles….

     [In September 2017, Gonzales pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the butt-lift procedure that led to Suarez's death. The judge sentenced her to three years in prison.]

"'Vampire Face-Lifts' Provider Arrested After Suspicious Death," ABC News, February 14, 2014 

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act And The Federal Bird Feather Cops

The Illegal Possession of Feathers

     Because, in the early 20 century, birds were slaughtered to feather women's hats, congress, in 1918, passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to protect every bird in America except the house sparrow, feral pigeon, common starling, and non-migratory game birds such as pheasants, gray partridges, and the sage grouse. The MBTA prohibits the hunting, capture or killing of the protected birds. Moreover, one cannot legally purchase, sell, or even possess any feather, body part, nest, or egg of any bird covered by the act. (The  MBTA covers 83 percent of all birds that live in the United States.)

Chuck Smith and the Federal Bird Cops

     Chuck Smith (not his real name), is a friend who, in the early 1990s, innocently got caught up in a petty MBTA case that scared the hell out of him. Chuck, a respected and popular high school anthropology teacher specializing in the history of the American Indian, answered a bargain bulletin ad placed by a man selling Indian relics. From this seller, a man named Phil (not really), Chuck purchased a 1920s era white, buckskin outfit that had been worn ceremonially by members of the Blackfoot tribe. He paid $1,500 for the full-dress, beaded, Indian outfit. Two days after the sale, Phil called and offered to give Chuck the headdress that went with the buckskin apparel. The war bonnet contained 25 white, dark-tipped feathers from a bald eagle. Chuck accepted the offer. He planned to exhibit these items as teaching aids, and had no idea that by accepting the eagle-feathered Blackfoot headdress, he had broken a federal law. Had Chuck known it was against the law to possess bald eagle feathers, he would not have taken the bonnet home. (A vast majority of Americans have no idea that most bird feathers are federal contraband.)

     Not long after Chuck made the Blackfoot buckskin purchase, and accepted the bonnet as a gift, a pair of undercover agents with the Department of Interior visited the seller, Phil. The agents said they were responding to Phil's Indian relics ad. After buying an Indian neckless made of eagle claws, the feds flashed their badges and arrested Phil for violation of the MBTA. When the agents asked Phil if he had sold items containing feathers to anyone else, he told them about Chuck's Blackfoot headdress.

     Phil's information brought the federal agents, unannounced, to Chuck's house. They identified themselves, then asked if he still possessed the eagle feathered bonnet. Chuck said yes, it had been a gift from Phil. The agents informed Chuck that he had committed a federal crime under the MBTA, an offense that could cost him ten of thousands of dollars in fines, and even some time in prison. Terrified, and worried that the fines and a prison stretch would bankrupt him, and ruin his career as a high school teacher, Chuck volunteered the information that he possessed other Indian artifacts that contained bird feathers.

     The shaken school teacher led the federal agents to an upstairs bedroom where they seized a rawhide Indian shield bearing a clump of crow feathers, and a shaman's rattle with screech owl feathers. In his garage, Chuck turned over two owl feathers he had found along a road after the bird had been hit by a car. In addition to the general MBTA fine, Chuck could be fined an extra $500 for each feather type he had possessed. The additional fines would add up to $2,000. Before leaving Chuck's house that day, the agents said they would tell the assistant United States attorney (AUSA) handling the case that he had been very cooperative. This did not ease Chuck's anxiety. He envisioned himself in prison stripes.

     The next several weeks Chuck went through hell as he waited to find out what would happen to him. Finally, one of the agents called him with the news that the AUSA was so thrilled to be handling a case that did not involve drugs, she was giving him a huge break. If he paid a fine of just $500, the case would be history. Chuck mailed in the money, and went on with his life. But memories of his ordeal lingered for years.

Bald Eagles: A License to Kill

     In 1995, the federal government classified the bald eagle an endangered species. Twelve years later, the bird was re-classified as a threatened species. Even so, the bald eagle has remained under the protection of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Under this law it is a crime, without a government permit, to capture, kill, and/or possess a bald or golden eagle, or any part of the bird. Violators face a maximum fine of $100,000, and two years in prison.

     In 2011, the 9,600-member Arapaho tribe on the Wind River Indian reservation in west-central Wyoming, after being refused a permit to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes, filed a federal lawsuit. (Native Americans can legally acquire eagle feathers and carcasses from a federal repository of such items.) On March 9, 2012, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service granted the permit.

     The reaction to the permit decision from the National Autobon Society, conservation groups, and animal rights activists, was muted. Because they were afraid to criticize Native Americans, politicians were also quiet. Over the years, dozens of non-Native Americans have gone to prison for killing bald and golden eagles. My friend Chuck could have gone to prison for merely possessing eagle feathers. He was not happy with the decision to allow members of the Arapaho tribe to kill a pair of these protected birds. But like most people, he kept his opinion to himself. Perhaps Chuck was worried that criticizing Native Americans might be a federal crime. The retired high school teacher was not taking any chances with the enormous prosecution power of the federal government. 

When Your Child Goes Missing, Look Under His Bed

     Police say a 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy wasn't missing as his mother feared, but was simply hiding under his bed, apparently while playing hide-and-seek…The boy's mother called for help on Friday January 30, 2015 when she couldn't find the boy for an expanded period of time. Police in Blair Township 90 miles east of Pittsburgh began assembling a search-and-rescue team early Saturday January 31 when they learned that the boy had been found.

     No charges have been filed in the case….

"Boy Missing Was Playing Hide-And-Seek," Associated Press, February 3, 2015 

Truman Capote on His Classic, "In Cold Blood"

     In a somewhat critical New Yorker article on the true crime genre (August 19, 1996), Alex Ross, regarding the history of nonfiction crime writing wrote: " 'True crime' is the name that has attached itself to journalistic and literary accounts of exceptional human ghastliness. The term became a standard publishing category in the 1980s, distinct from long-standing genres of mystery and crime literature....The name is new, the genre is not....Readers have been devouring hastily printed accounts of mayhem and disaster since the invention of the popular press."

     Writing about murder and mayhem--interviewing victims' loved ones and the people who commit these brutal crimes--is not for everyone. Living day to day with violent death and human suffering can take its toll on a writer. Truman Capote, while writing his true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood, the story of the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, said that the subject matter "leaves me increasingly limp and numb and, well, horrified--I have such awful dreams every night. I don't know how I could ever have felt so callous and objective as I did in the beginning." (In Capote: A Biography (1988) by Gerald Clarke)

     It should be noted that Capote was a literary novelist and not a real true crime writer. He knew very little about criminal investigation, criminal law, the trial process, or corrections and it shows in his novelistic account of the Clutter family murders. The fact that his literary involvement in the Clutter case affected him the way it did primarily had to do with his love affair with one of the murderers and the fact he was, by nature, an emotional basket case to begin with.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Ireland's Pringles Shoplifting Caper

In Cork Ireland, a 25-year-old pregnant newlywed named Kathleen McDonagh was arrested in November 2018 in a TESCO supermarket for opening a tube of Pringles before paying for it. She had been previously banned from the store. After being denied the opportunity to pay for the potato chips, a judge sentenced McDonagh to two months in jail. I guess in Ireland one can serve time for stealing a mouthful of food.

The Deon Nunlee Rape Case

     On October 30, 2013, in Detroit, Michigan, police officer Deon Nunlee and his partner were on patrol working out of the 8th Precinct. They were assigned to the late shift when dispatched to a home at three in the morning to investigate a domestic violence complaint.

     Officer Nunlee, 40, had been on the force eight years, and although he didn't have a perfectly clean work record, he had never been disciplined for a serious breach of professional misconduct.

     When the officers rolled up to the complainant's residence, the 31-year-old victim reported that she had been assaulted by her boyfriend. Officer Nunlee's partner stayed with the suspect while Nunlee took the victim to an upstairs bedroom. Instead of taking the woman's assault report, officer Nunlee allegedly assaulted her sexually.

     As the officers left the house that night (I don't know if they arrested the boyfriend), Nunlee informed the victim that he would return to the house after he got off duty. (He did not return to the dwelling.)

     Shortly after the officers departed the scene, the woman notified two of her friends that she had been sexually assaulted by a cop. A few hours later, she reported the crime to the authorities. That day a police administrator placed officer Nunlee on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation into the accusation.

     On February 10, 2014, a crime lab scientist reported the results of the rape kit test. Deon Nunlee, according to DNA analysis, had engaged in sexual activity with his accuser. The chief of police suspended him without pay.

     On March 14, 2014, police officers booked Deon Nunlee into the Wayne County Jail on charges of second-degree sexual conduct, assault with intent to penetrate, and one count of misconduct in office. After being informed of his Miranda rights, the suspect declined interrogation. A 36th district court judge set Nunlee's bail at $50,000.

     On the day of the officer's arrest, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, at a press conference, said: "This case is an anomaly. This is not what our police officers do. This officer who decided to engage in criminal misconduct does not represent the 2,500 sworn men and women who wear this uniform."

     On November 18, 2014, after pleading guilty to second-degree rape, the Wayne County Judge sentenced the former police officer to 19 months to 15 years in prison.
    

Brazil's Motorbike Serial Killer

     During a nine month period beginning in January 2014, a man on a motorbike in the central Brazilian city of Goiania, used a .38-caliber revolver to shoot 39 people to death. The serial killer approached his intended victims on his motorbike, shouted "robbery!," shot them at close range, then drove off without taking anything from the people he murdered.

     Sixteen of the serial killer's victims were young women, the youngest being a 14-year-old girl shot to death at a bus stop in February 2014. The rest of the murder victims included homeless people, homosexuals, and transvestites.

     The Goiania police caught a break on October 12, 2014 when the killer on the motorbike shot at but didn't kill his intended victim. The young woman told detectives that she knew the shooter from seeing him at a local bar.

     On Tuesday October 14, 2014, the Brazilian police arrested 26-year-old Thiago Henrique Da Rocha at his mother's house in Goiania. The serial murder suspect, during a prolonged police interrogation, confessed to the 39 criminal homicides committed in 2014. He also admitted killing people as far back as when he was 22-years-old. Da Rocha told his interrogators that he wasn't sure how many people he had murdered. All of the shootings, he said, involved victims chosen randomly.

     Da Rocha lived in Goiania with his mother. A search of her house resulted in the discovery of the .38-caliber murder weapon. The police also seized a pair of handcuffs and several knives.

     Shortly after Da Rocha's arrest, the Goiania police chief, at a press conference, said, "Da Rocha felt anger at everything and everyone. He had no link to any of his victims and chose them at random. He could have killed me, you or  your children."

     When detectives asked Da Rocha what caused all of this rage, he told them that he had been sexually abused by a male neighbor when he was 11-years-old. So, why did he take out his anger on so many women? Rejection, he said. A lot of women had rejected his romantic overtures. On top of the sexual assaults and the female rejection, he had been bullied at school. "I was quieter than the other kids," he said. "I suffered mental and physical aggression. I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but these things accumulate inside you." (This man will require very little coaching from his defense attorney.)

     A few days following his arrest, Da Rocha supposedly tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists with a broken light bulb. Jail guards interceded before he was able to seriously cut himself.

     Da Rocha asked a jail guard if he would face a murder trial if he killed a fellow inmate. He said he still felt the urge to kill. He said his feelings of "fury" only abated when he killed a person.

     The handsome serial killer, no doubt the recipient of marriage proposals, became an instant celebrity upon his arrest. In speaking to Brazilian reporters from his jail cell, Da Rocha explained that the killing of a victim in cold blood did not make him happy. He said the next morning "I wasn't happy, no. There was the feeling of regret for what I had done."

     To reporters hanging on every word, Da Rocha said, "If I have a disease, I'd like to know what it is, and also if there is a cure."

     In a statement that revealed the depth of this young killer's sociopathy, Da Rocha said, "I'd like to ask for forgiveness, but I think it's too difficult to ask for forgiveness right now." Even for a sociopath, the extent of this narcissist's self-centeredness is staggering. Because he obviously enjoyed the limelight, Da Rocha was a crime reporter's dream criminal.

     In May 2016, after Thiago Henrique Da Rocha was convicted of eleven cold-blooded murders, the Brazilian judge sentenced the serial killer to 25 years in prison. That's slightly more than two years per victim. In Brazil, the lives of murder victims are cheap.   

True Crime as Entertainment

     Occasionally, true crime is where literary writers go to slum and, not coincidentally, make some real money: Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song." It's not the Great American Novel, yet somehow such books have a tendency to end up the most admired works of a celebrated author's career. Is it because better writers tease something out of the genre that pulp peddlers can't, or is it just that their blue-chip names give readers a free pass to indulge a guilty pleasure?…

     True crime labors under the stigma of voyeurism, or worse. It's not just unseemly to linger over the bloodied bodies of the dead and the hideous sufferings inflicted upon them in their final hours, it's also a kind of sickness. Gillian Flynn's novel, Dark Places, describes the wincing interactions between the narrator, a survivor of a notorious multiple murder, and a creepy subculture of murder "fans" and collectors. When she's hard for cash, she's forced to auction off family memorabilia at one of their true crime conventions.

     The very thing that makes true crime compelling also makes it distasteful: the use of human agony for the purposes of entertainment.

Laura Miller, "Sleazy, Bloody and Surprisingly Smart: In Defense of True Crime," salon.com, May 29, 2014
     

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Rob Morrison Domestic Abuse Case

     Spousal abuse is a serial crime committed by angry husbands across America's socio-economic landscape. Wives are beaten in trailer parks, upscale apartment buildings, suburban tract homes, and in million-dollar houses in gated neighborhoods. Husbands seldom abuse their wives in public or in front of friends and relatives. Because it's largely a hidden crime, no one knows how many wives are exposed to domestic violence.

     Every so often we are reminded of the domestic abuse problem when a well-known, successful man is arrested for hurting his wife. If she is a celebrity as well, it's a big news event. If the alleged perpetrator and his victim are both members of the news media, it's an even bigger story.

     The domestic violence arrest of a New York City anchorman married to a TV reporter was a reminder that even successful, high-profile women are vulnerable to spousal abuse.

     Former Marine and combat correspondent who covered the war in Afghanistan, Rob Morrison, in 1989, began anchoring NBC television's weekday morning show, "Today in New York." He and his wife Ashley, a reporter for CBS-TV, lived in an apartment on Manhattan's upper West Side. Between 2003 and 2009, Ashley, alleging spousal abuse, called the New York City Police Department seven times. While only one of these calls resulted in her husband's arrest (the files of this case were sealed), NYPD police reports paint Rob Morrison as a hard-drinking, verbally abusive bully with a taste for internet pornography.

     In 2009, the couple purchased a million-dollar house in the upscale, suburban town of Darien, Connecticut. Ashley worked as a correspondent on the CBS news show, "MoneyWatch." Rob left NBC that year to anchor, in New York City, a CBS program called "News at Noon." During his first year at CBS, Rob wrote a column for the Huffington Post about raising his son titled, "Daddy Diaries: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Anchorman."

     Around two in the morning on Sunday, February 17, 2013, officers with the Darien Police Department rolled up at the Morrison residence. Ashley Morrison's mother, Martha Risk, had called 911 from her home in Columbia, Indiana. The mother reported that her son-in-law, during an argument with her 110 pound daughter, had grabbed her by the throat. Rob Morrison, the subject of the long-distance complaint, told the responding officers to "get the hell out of my house."

     Rob Morrison's scratched and bleeding nose and swollen lip, and the red hand-marks on Ashley's neck, provided the Darien officers with enough physical evidence of domestic violence to support an arrest. According to the police report, as officers escorted Rob Morrison from the house in handcuffs, he said that if released from custody, he'd return to the dwelling and kill his wife. (Morrison denied making that threat.) Throughout his encounter with the police, Morrison remained belligerent.

     Later that Sunday, notwithstanding the alleged death threat against his wife, Morrison walked out of jail after posting a $100,000 bond. The next day he showed up for work at the TV station, and when asked about his nose and fat lip, Morrison didn't mention his arrest, or the domestic violence charges that had been filed against him. (When his arrest became news, the anchorman's superiors at CBS were not happy.)

     On Tuesday, February 29, 2013, in a Stamford, Connecticut court, Rob Morrison was formally charged with felony strangulation, second-degree threatening, and disorderly conduct. Judge Kenneth Povodator ordered the defendant out of the house in Darien, and pursuant to an order of protection, instructed him to stay 100 yards from his wife, except when they were at work. Judge Povodator, in referring to the Darien police report, said, "It not only reflects a serious incident, it reflects the likelihood of a serious history [of domestic violence]."

     In speaking to reporters after the hearing, Morrison blamed his problems on his wife's mother, the source of the 911 domestic disturbance call. He said, "Don't piss-off your mother-in-law is the moral of this story."
   
     On Wednesday, February 20, Rob Morrison announced that he had resigned from his $300,000-year-job at WCBS-TV. To reporters he said, "My family is my first and only priority right now, and I have informed CBS management that I need to put all of my time and energy into making sure that I do what's right for my wife and son....I did not choke my wife. I've never laid hands on my wife. I was just as surprised by that particular charge as probably everyone else."

     Had Morrison not resigned, he may have been suspended, or fired. Moreover, there were people who were not surprised by the domestic violence charges against the anchorman. One of those persons was Morrison's mother-in-law, Martha Risk who, on February 20, told a reporter with the New York Daily News that Rob Morrison had been abusing Ashley for ten years. She said, "You wonder when you are going to get another call, if it's going to be [from] the hospital. How bad is she hurt this time? You have such a horrible feeling in yourself....This has gone on for too long." Risk told the reporter that when her son-in-law called her early Sunday morning, he was "drunk as a skunk." The moment he hung up she called 911.

     In April 2014, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against Morrison following his completion of a domestic violence program. But in mid-June, less than two months after going through the program, Darien police arrested Morrison for domestic harassment. Within a period of three days he had allegedly called his estranged wife 121 times.

     Ashley Morrison told police officers she was afraid that if she caused her estranged husband to be arrested he would kill her. Fearing for her life, she and her son fled to Florida about the time officers took Mr. Morrison into custody.

     At Morrison's arraignment, the judge issued a more restrictive protection order, then set the suspect's bail at $50,000. Shortly thereafter, the ex-TV man posted bail and went home.

     In October 2014, Morrison pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of breach of peace. Judge Erika Tindill sentenced him to six months probation.

     To reporters after the plea hearing, the former television anchorman said he avoided going through a trial in order to move on with his life. "In my mind," he said, "this is a way to move forward."
     

Forensic Pathology: Terry Garner's Strange and Mysterious Death

     Caution: If you're having bacon and eggs this morning, skip this blog.

     By all accounts, Terry Vance Garner, a farmer from Riverton, Oregon, a small town 140 miles southwest of Eugene, loved his hogs. While most adult pigs weigh between 250 and 300 pounds when taken to market (a nice way of saying when turned into bacon and ham), the 69-year-old farmer owned several sows as heavy as 700 pounds. Once, one of these huge female pigs bit him when he accidentally stepped on a piglet.

     At 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Mr. Garner walked out to the hog pen to feed the animals. At 2:30 that afternoon, a relative who went looking for him, came across his dentures, hat, pocket knife, cigarettes, and chunks of his body. The body parts and personal items were found inside the hog enclosure. It appeared that Mr. Garner had been consumed by the pigs he had gone out to feed.

     Although sudden, unexplained deaths call for autopsies, the forensic pathologist for Coos County didn't have enough of a corpse to open up and examine in an effort to determine the dead man's cause and manner of death. The best the authorities could do was to take what was left of the farmer--mainly bones--to a forensic anthropologist at the University of Oregon.

     The forensic scientist didn't shed much light on how Mr. Garner had lost his life. A dentist identified the farmer through his false teeth.

     Because forensic pathology didn't determine what had caused this man's death, several scenarios were possible, none of which were proven forensically. If Mr Garner had stumbled, or had been knocked over by a hog, then eaten alive, the manner of his death was accidental. If Mr. Garner had suffered a heart attack and died while attending to his pigs, his death would have been classified as natural. If one assumed that the farmer had intentionally offered himself up as hog feed, then his death would have gone into the books as a suicide. If it had been a suicide, it was probably a first-of-its-kind case.

     There was also the possibility that Mr. Garner had been murdered. If this was how he died, it would not have been the first time a killer relied on pigs to dispose of a corpse. If the farmer had been shot, and the bullet did not exit his body, the slug would be inside one of the hogs. While foul play was a possibility, it seemed an unlikely scenario in this case.

     Without an eyewitness, a suicide note, a bullet, or an autopsy report, the cause and manner of this man's death is a mystery.

         

The Hugo Ramos Murder Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--were traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland. Ramos pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Ramos remained for a period in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children were in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services.

     On August 19, 2015, a jury sitting in Cleveland rejected Hugo Ramos' insanity defense. The jurors found Ramos guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, domestic violence and endangering children.

     At the trial, the prosecution and defense put on dueling psychiatrists who gave testimony regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the crimes. The jurors chose to believe the state's expert who declared Ramos legally sane.

     The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Murdered Jessica Chambers?

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball player, hoped to start college soon. She had just started working at Goody's Department Store in nearby Batesville.

     At six in the evening of Saturday December 10, 2014, Jessica drove to a gas station and convenience store on Highway 51 not far from her home where she pumped $14 worth of gasoline into her car. Inside the store, a cashier asked Chambers why she had bought more than her usual $5 in gas. Chambers said she was going somewhere and needed the fuel. About that time she called her mother to inform her she was on her way to Batesville to clean her car.

     Before walking out of the convenience store, Chambers purchased a pack of cigarettes and received a call on her cellphone. A few minutes later, just before six-thirty, she climbed into her vehicle and drove off. Surveillance camera footage revealed that she wore a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats.

     At eight o'clock that night, local firefighters responded to a call regarding a burning vehicle along Herron Road in a remote part of Panola County not far from the gas station. The emergency responders came upon a person walking down the road near the car. Jessica Chambers had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

     Chambers was airlifted to a hospital in Memphis where, a short time later, she died from burns on 98 percent of her body. Only the bottoms of her feet were not charred.

     At a law enforcement press conference the next day, the local district attorney labeled Chamber's death a criminal homicide. The Panola County sheriff told reporters that before she died, Chambers had spoken to firefighters. "She told them who had done it," he said.

     According to some media reports, the murder victim had also been bludgeoned on the top of her head with a hard object. There were also reports that the killer had squirted lighter fluid down her throat, a detail not confirmed by the authorities.

     While the victim's older sister informed reporters that she didn't know of anyone who had a grudge against Jessica, friends of the murdered girl posted online messages about a former, abusive boyfriend.

     At the press conference, law enforcement authorities said they had questioned several people but didn't have a suspect in the murder.

     The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chamber's killer. The local Crime Stoppers group posted a separate reward of $1,000.

    The Chambers case remained unsolved. Investigation had revealed, however, that the victim had been hanging out with a rough crowd that included local drug dealers. Her latest boyfriend, Travis Sanford, had been in jail on a burglary charge at the time of her murder. In the weeks before she died, Jessica Chambers told her father, a mechanic with the sheriff's office, that "Everybody thinks I'm snitching because you work for the police."

     In February 2016, police arrested 27-year-old Quinton Tellis after deleted data from his cell phone possibly placed him with Chambers just before her murder. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and he didn't confess. His attorney contested the accuracy of the cell phone evidence.

     In October 2017, a jury sitting in Batesville, Mississippi failed to reach a verdict in the Tellis case. The judge declared a mistrial.

     Quinton Tellis was tried again in October 2018. The jury, split 50-50, was unable to declare a verdict after 12 hours of deliberation. After the judge declared another mistrial, District Attorney John Champion said he was not sure if he'd try the case for the third time.

     Tellis, having been indicted for the August 8, 2015 murder of Meing-Chen Hsaio in Monroe, Louisiana, remained in custody following the Chambers mistrial. Tellis had been linked to the Louisiana murder after being caught with the victim's debit cards.

     

Chinese Mom Sued For Having an Ugly Baby

     In China, the old gag that goes, "At birth I was so ugly, the doctor slapped my mother," may be more reality than humor.

     Jian Feng married a beautiful woman who didn't tell him that she had been made attractive by a plastic surgeon in South Korea. Mr. Jian's bride had spent $100,000 for cosmetic surgery on her eyes, nose, and lips. Prior to the work done on her face, Mrs. Jian had been physically ordinary, and at best, plain. She would not have landed the superficial Mr. Jian without the surgery, and had he known that her beauty was not genetic, he wouldn't have married her. Mr. Jian assumed that his wife's beauty had been a gift of nature, and not the work of a gifted surgeon.

     On 2011, Mrs. Jian gave birth to a baby girl. The father, expecting the infant to reflect his own good looks and his wife's radiant beauty, was handed a child he considered downright ugly. He found the baby so unattractive, Mr. Jian was certain he couldn't have been the father. He not only accused his wife of having extramarital sex with another man, he accused her of having illicit sex with an ugly man. There was no way Mr. Jian was going to raise and support someone else's homely child. The infuriated husband demanded a DNA paternity test.

     Mrs. Jian found herself in a lose-lose situation. She could falsely confess to having sex with an unattractive lover, or tell her husband about the cosmetic surgery. The hapless, but faithful wife came clean about her past facial enhancement.

     Mr. Jian's spirits were not lifted by the fact his wife had not cheated on him, and that the baby in question was his own flesh and blood. He not only divorced his wife, he filed a civil suit against her on the grounds that their marriage had been based on false pretense. (She should have counter-sued on grounds that she had married him under the pretense he was a decent person.) In November 2012, the judge (presumably a man), by essentially declaring the baby a defective product purchased as a result of false advertising, awarded Mr. Jian the U.S. equivalent of $120,000 in damages.

The Rashad Owens Murder Case

     At midnight on March 13, 2014, a patrol officer in Austin, Texas tried to pull over a vehicle without its headlights on that made an illegal left turn onto an I-35 frontage road. The driver of the car, a 21-year-old rapper from Killeen, Texas named Rashad Owens, refused to stop for the officer. A short time later, in the process of avoiding arrest, Owens drove through a barricade on Red River Street. The street had been blocked off for the South by Southwest film, media, and music festival.

     An intoxicated Owens, at a top speed of 55 miles per hour, plowed his car into thirty festival goers, killing four of them and injuring the others. After driving into the crowd with his headlights off, Owens led police officers on a chase that culminated in his arrested after he fled his vehicle on foot.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Owens with two counts of capital murder (in some jurisdictions called first-degree murder) and 24 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was held in the Travis County Jail without bond.

     The Owens murder trial got underway in Austin on November 2, 2015. In her opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Amy Meredith told the jury that because the defendant knew his action put the people on Red River Street in mortal danger, the charges of capital murder in this case were appropriate. The prosecutor argued that Owens had acted with intent and malice, key elements in the offense of capital murder. While the prosecution was not seeking the death penalty, if convicted, Owens would be sent to prison for life without the chance of parole.

     Rick Jones, Owens' attorney, argued that capital murder was not an appropriate charge in the case because his client, while intending to flee the police, did not intend to kill anyone. The defense attorney pointed out that the defendant did not know Red River Street had been closed to traffic. (What did he think the barricade was for?)

     The prosecution began its case with a police dash cam video showing Owens failing to stop for the patrol officer.

     The case went to the jury of seven women and five men on November 6, 2015. The defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. After just three hours of deliberation, the jurors found Rashad Owens guilty as charged.

     

Jack The Ripper as a Tourist Attraction

Jack the Ripper...is considered by many to have ushered in the concept of serial murder even though such a form of killing has been on the Earth for hundreds of years. The Ripper's twisted sense of humor and his brutal method of killing and dismemberment brought to bear the attention of the world. To this day, tourists go to Whitechapel [East London] to retrace the footsteps of Jack the Ripper.

Eric W. Hickey, Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Fourth Edition, 2006

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Decline of America's Middle Class Quality of Life

In 2017, 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, 47,000 committed suicide, and 17,284 were victims of criminal homicide. For the third year in a row, life expectancy in America declined. In general, the American middle class is growing poor; obese; and more stressed, unhealthy, and unhappy while the nation's upper class grows more powerful, privileged, and wealthy. Moreover, our politicians, elites we have entrusted with power and wealth, when they are not feathering their own nests, obsess over the plight of nonAmericans. We are in desperate need of leaders who will concern themselves with the declining  quality of life of the average American. When did the notion of America First become a shameful concept laced with racism and bigotry?

Retail Theft Law

     The laws vary in different states, but in most places security personnel may legally stop a shoplifting suspect once he leaves what is known as the paying area. The law provides that a retail store or its employees has the right to detain a suspected shoplifter. Detaining a person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time is not an arrest and the store will not be liable to the person detained. However, the retailer must notify the local police department as soon as possible. [That is if the retailer wants to press charges. Otherwise, the shoplifter can be detained then released after the stolen merchandise is recovered and/or the shoplifter pays for the item or items.]

     In most states it is considered retail theft to conceal goods on one's person while still inside the store. The shoplifter does not have to walk past the cash register to be eligible for apprehension. In some states it is also a crime to conceal an item in one department then move to another department within the same store….[The concealment creates a presumption of guilt and probable cause for detention.]

Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino, Modus Operandi, 1995 

Shoplifters Can Be Dangerous

     A heroin-addicted shoplifter stabbed a Home Depot security guard with a dirty syringe during a fight outside Detroit on Monday night, March 24, 2014…."It was a knock-down, drag-out, full-scale brawl," Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said. "In the course of this fight he [the suspected shoplifter] took out several syringes from his pocket."

     Joshua Joseph Silva, 26, of Eastpointe, Michigan, was arrested on one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, a felony, and one count of retail fraud, a misdemeanor. The scuffle stemmed from Silva's attempt to leave the 13 Mile Home Depot in Roseville, about 20 miles north of Detroit, with a power saw hidden under his coat….

     He violently attacked two unarmed security guards who stopped him outside the store and swung the dirty syringes at them in a slashing motion, according to Chief Berlin. The admitted drug user's grimy needles hit one of the guard's hands several times….

     "A customer with a license to carry a pistol saw this," Chief Berlin said. "He drew the gun, ordered him to drop the needles and get on the ground."…Silva complied and sat down in the parking lot but attempted to flee on foot when he heard the sound of approaching police sirens….Roseville officers managed to run Silva down [not literally] and take him into custody….

Michael Walsh,  "Home Depot Shoplifter Attacks Guards With Dirty Syringes," New York Daily News, March 25, 2014

The "Bukowski Man" Shoplifter

In the age of the memoir, some writers confess to shoplifting in order to advance themselves, and others profess to be aghast at the crime. Ron Rosenbaum, the author of provocative books on Hitler and Shakespeare, once wrote a column for the New York Observer lampooning the white, middle-class shoplifter he labeled "Bukowski Man" [Charles Bukowski, LA underground, noir poet and novelist], whom he described as a "drunk, suburban" poseur "likely to shoplift the Beats, Kerouac's On The Road, Ginsberg's Howl, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, anything by Paul Auster and William S. Burroughs, some French writers, Kafka, Bukowski, and books about sex and marriage." Rosenbaum pointed out that "Bukowski Man" was laboring under the delusion that by stealing he was embracing writers who wallowed in the "lower depths." He said, "Petty and debased ideas of liberation" drive Bukowski Man to shoplift. [To the extent that I have been an avid Bukowski reader, I am a "Bukowski Man." I paid for my books, however.]

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

The Five-Finger Discount

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2015, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2009 to 2015, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Worldwide Violence Against Women

According to a United Nations's Office on Drugs and Crime study published in November 2018, 87,000 women worldwide were killed in their homes. Some 50,000 of them were killed by partners or family members. The study revealed that women are far more likely than men to be killed by someone they know. Globally, Asia was the region with the highest number of women killed by partners or family members.

Rape, Poor Policing, and Vigilantism in Detroit


     In the summer of 2013, Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome, worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17, Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, at 3:35, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood to her place of employment. Not long after Mr. Carbonell made the call, Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late, Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress, and raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big, puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012, a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her, July 17, 2013. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis. (I'm not sure when this evidence was gathered.) Because of the complainant's limited communication skills, a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. Finally, on July 29, police officers took Bill into custody for investigation. When they questioned him at the police department he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail, an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 2013, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge, had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket, and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013, Mary's guardian and members of the community who were following the case with great interest, were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, had just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation, detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case, the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community, the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence critics of the police department. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned, a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. Rape, in the Detroit Police Department, was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, Bill, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, was attacked by five men who, as a group, punched and kicked him. By the time the Detroit Police rolled up to the scene, Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An officer called for an ambulance that took Bill to a nearby hospital.
     Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings, someone broke into his apartment. It was this person who spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make his nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 

The Young Wildfire Arsonist

     Arson-for-profit is generally an adult male crime while serial, pathological fire setting is often committed by teenage boys. The rare female arsonist is likely to be a 30 to 50-year-old woman who set the fire in her own dwelling to attract attention and sympathy. It's even rarer when a young girl intentionally sets a fire that causes extensive property damage. Because fires set by females are generally not motivated by financial gain, they are by definition pathological offenses. This doesn't necessarily mean that these fire setters are legally insane. In cases of  young female arsonists, the perpetrators set the fires because they are angry with their parents, their teachers, or the world in general. While these fire setters are rare, they are dangerous.

     On May 14, 2014, someone set a fire north of San Diego that raged for eight days and burned 2,000 acres and destroyed 40 buildings including homes in the towns of San Marcos and Escondido, California. The so-called Cocos Wildfire threatened several schools including California State University in San Marcos.

     The Cocos Wildfire cost $28 million to extinguish and destroyed $30 million worth of property. According to cause and origin investigators, the fire had been intentionally set.

     In July 2014 arson investigators identified an unnamed 13-year-old girl as the suspected Cocos fire starter. She resided near the point of origin with her parents who schooled her at home. She was also a top competitor in the San Diego area junior cycling program. (Investigators have not revealed how they solved the case.)

     Rather than being placed into a juvenile detention facility, the authorities released the suspected arsonist to the custody of her parents. Under the terms of this arrangement she is not allowed out of the house from six in the evening to six in the morning. The rest of the day she has to be accompanied by a parent when she leaves the house.

     Superior Court Judge Aaron Katz ordered that the young defendant undergo psychological evaluation to determine if she is mentally competent to stand trial on the charges of felony arson. On August 20, 2014, following a three-week evaluation process, Juvenile Court Judge Rod Shelton found the suspect mentally competent to stand trial. She has, according to the psychologists, the capacity to understand the nature of the charges against her as well as the ability to help her attorney plan a defense.

     At the suspect's arraignment on the felony arson charges she pleaded not guilty.

     In March 2015, the young fire setter was found guilty of several counts of arson, The judge sentenced the juvenile to 400 hours of community service.

Thornton P. Knowles On The Criminalization Of Vice

Sure, certain types of drug taking, gambling, and use of prostitutes can be harmful. But so can a lot of other things such as eating too many chocolate bars and smoking. Why make these particular forms of human weakness crimes? While it helps keep people in law enforcement employed, it's destroying the criminal justice system. For everyone else, the criminalization of vice makes life a lot more difficult than it already is.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Serial Killer Samuel Little

     In 2012, FBI agents arrested 72-year-old Samuel Little at a Kentucky homeless shelter on narcotic charges that had been filed in Los Angeles. DNA samples taken from Little in Los Angeles linked him to three unsolved murders committed from 1987 to 1989. The three female victims had been beaten then strangled, their bodies dumped in an alley, a dumpster, and a garage. Convicted of these murders in 2014, Little, with a history of crime going back to 1956, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.

     Following Samuel Little's DNA matches in Los Angeles, authorities in LA asked the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) to work up a full criminal profile of him. This background inquiry linked Little to several more murders of women.

     In early 2018, Samuel Little revealed to his FBI interrogators that between 1970 and 2005, he had murdered 90 women. He confessed to killing these victims in California, Kentucky, Florida, and Ohio. These women were marginalized, vulnerable prostitutes addicted to drugs. He said his M.O. involved knocking out the victim then strangling them to death. The woman's body would then be dumped in alleys and other hidden places.

     Because this serial killer's victims were not shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death, many of their deaths went into the books as drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes. Some of the bodies remained unidentified, and most of these sudden violent deaths did not generate a criminal investigation.

     The Samuel Little case illustrates that serial killers, due to who they kill, how they kill, and where they kill, often escape detection. While DNA science has helped connect multiple homicides to a single killer, without confessions, these cases often remain unsolved. 

Serial Killer Myths

      Five common misconceptions regarding serial killers and the investigation of their cases:

l. All serial killers had terrible childhoods, were beaten by their parents, and sexually abused.

2. Serial killers are "mutants from Hell," who do not look or act like the average person in appearance and mannerisms.

3. Serial killers prey on anyone who crosses their path and do not spend time selecting their victims.

4. Serial killers have an uncanny ability to elude the police for long periods of time.

5. The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigates all serial murderers since most of them cross state lines. [The fear of serial killers exceeds the actual threat because there aren't that many of them out there.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

The Carlos Diaz Attempted Murder-Arson Case

     Carlos Diaz and Cathy Zappata were married in 2007. He worked at W. D. Auto Repair at Tenth Avenue and 207th Street in Harlem, New York. A year later, the couple had a son. In 2010, Diaz lost his job at the body shop, and shortly after that his marriage fell apart. He became homeless, moving from one parking lot to another where he slept in his van.

     Although estranged from his wife, Diaz refused to accept the fact they were finished as a couple. He resented it when Cathy, to improve her looks, had cosmetic breast surgery and liposuction. She also made him jealous by going out with other men.

     On January 15, 2013, Diaz flew into a rage when he discovered that Cathy had sent a nude photograph of herself by cellphone to another man. This was the straw that broke the camel's back. The next morning, at eight o'clock, Diaz asked Cathy to meet him at a Pathmark parking lot on Ninth Avenue at 207th Street where he had spent the night in his van. The lot was a block from the auto body shop where he had once worked.

     As Cathy sat behind the wheel of her car, Diaz sprayed the 38-year-old's face, head, and neck with lighter fluid, then ignited the accelerant with a blowtorch. With her entire head engulfed in flames, Cathy managed to exit the vehicle and extinguish the fire by rolling in a puddle of water. (The victim was rushed to Harlem Hospital's burn unit with second-degree burns on her lips, eyelids, nose, cheeks, and neck. Her hair had been burned off to the scalp. Doctors listed her condition as critical.)

     After setting his estranged wife on fire, Diaz, in possession of a can of gasoline, walked to W. D. Auto Repair. He found the owner, Helson Marachena, the man who had fired him, in his office. Diaz doused the room with the accelerant, but when he tried to ignite the place, his lighter wouldn't fire. The malfunctioning lighter gave Mr. Marachena the opportunity to escape.

     Later in the day, the 35-year-old arsonist turned himself in to the New York City police. When questioned by detectives, Diaz said, "I had to teach her a lesson. To give her a little pain. Now she can worry about our kid and get serious instead of focusing on going out with other men." In relating how he felt when he discovered the nude photograph on his wife's cellphone, Diaz said, "I couldn't think straight. I wanted to pass out. I had to do something. I had to be a man about it. She hurt my pride." Diaz described his perception of his marriage this way: "She was my right arm. I did everything for her. I forgot all about my own life. I just worked to support her and to pay the rent. And this is what she does."

     Charged with attempted murder, arson, assault, and attempted assault, Diaz was held at the city jail on Riker's Island. A magistrate denied him bail.

     On December 15, 2015, a jury in New York City took just four hours to find Diaz guilty of attempted murder and the other charges. Three weeks later, the judge sentenced Diaz to 35 years to life in prison.

     Jealous boyfriends, discarded husbands, and rejected suitors can be dangerous. In the annals of crime, men like Carlos Diaz have done terrible things with fire, including mass murder. It's extremely difficult for women to protect themselves from these angry, sociopathic losers who feel justified in their acts of violence.