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Saturday, January 19, 2019

Where Is Relisha Rudd?

     In 2014, eight-year-old Relisha Tanau Rudd resided in the D.C. General homeless shelter in Washington with her 27-year old mother, Shamika Young, her stepfather, and her three brothers. The family had lived in the shelter a year when Relisha's mother, on March 1, 2014, arranged to have 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum and his wife Andrea take the girl in and care for her. Kahlil Tatum worked at the homeless shelter as a janitor where he had a reputation of paying a lot of attention to the young girls who lived there.

     On March 19, 2014, after Relisha missed several days of school, the authorities launched a missing persons investigation. Mr. Tatum had also vanished. The janitor and the girl were caught on a D. C. area Holiday Inn Express surveillance camera walking down a hallway on February 26, 2014, a few days before the girl's mother gave her  up.

     Detectives learned that Tatum, on March 2, 2014, had purchased a carton of black, 42 gallon, self-tie contractor trash bags.

     Police officers, on March 20, 2014, found Andrea Denise Tatum's body in a motel room at an Oxon Hill, Maryland Red Roof Inn. She had been killed by a gunshot to the head. Her husband and Relisha Rudd were nowhere to be found. Homicide detectives uncovered evidence linking the dead woman's husband, Kahlil Tatum, to the homicide.

     A Prince George's County prosecutor charged Kahlil Tatum with first-degree murder. On March 26, 2014, the FBI added the fugitive homicide suspect to its "Most Wanted List" and offered a $70,000 reward for information regarding his whereabouts. The Prince George's County Police Department posted a $25,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

     On March 27, 2014, shortly after a witness reported having seen a man meeting Tatum's description with a girl in Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in northeast D.C., a party of more than 100 officers searched the 700-acre park. Four days later, a searcher came across Mr. Tatum's body. He had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with the gun used in the murder his wife. Searchers found no signs of Relisha Rudd. On April 3, 2014, the park search was called off.

     The D.C. City Council Committee of Human Services, in the course of reviewing the hiring policy at D.C. General, found that Kahlil Tatum possessed an extensive criminal record. He had been convicted in 1983, 1986, 1987, 1991, and 1993 of various crimes including breaking and entering and grand larceny. He was last convicted of a crime in 2004. In those days he went under his birth name, Karl Lee Tatum.

     According to the administrator in charge of hiring at the D.C. homeless shelter, Tatum, because his last conviction was ten years old, was eligible for employment at the facility. Had any of his offenses involved children, he would have been automatically excluded regardless of the date of the conviction.

     Social service authorities, following Relisha Rudd's disappearance, took away Shamika Young's three boys and placed them into foster care. The mother, who herself had grown up in the Virginia foster care system, had been shuttled between foster homes, group homes and mental health facilities. Diagnosed in middle school as "mildly retarded," Shamika reported hearing voices telling her to kill her foster family and herself. She also suffered from depression and a variety of other emotional problems.

     After Shamika Young signed herself out of foster care at age 18, she gave birth to four children from two men. She had no training on how to be a good mother and no way to make a living. Prosecutors over the past few years, on three occasions, have charged Young with child abuse and neglect. The cases were all dismissed.

     Since Relisha's disappearance, Shamika Young fought to get her three sons out of foster care. This created a heated debate among child protection advocates and Young's extended family, some of whom blamed her for Relisha's disappearance.

    In January 2018, the police received a tip that led to a six hour search for Rudd's body in parts of the Anacostia River. The effort failed to locate the missing girl's remains.

Police Chief Accidentally Shoots His Wife

     William McCollom lived with his wife Margaret in a modest house in Peachtree, Georgia, a upscale town of 35,000 southwest of Atlanta. In October 2014, the major appointed the 58-year-old law enforcement officer to the position of chief of police.

     On Thursday January 1, 2015, at four-fifteen in the morning, Chief McCollom called 911 to report the shooting of his wife at their home. "Gunshot wound," he said. "Accidental, need medical ASAP!"

     The 911 dispatcher asked, "Who shot her?"

     "Me," he replied.

     "How did you shoot her?"

     "The gun (a 9mm Glock) was in the bed, I went to move it, put it to the side. It went off."

     "Is she awake?"

     "No, everybody was sleeping."

     "No," the dispatcher said, "is she awake now?" (A woman could be heard moaning in the background.)

     "Yes," the chief said. Then to his wife he asked, "Are you having trouble breathing, dear?" To the dispatcher he said, "Come on guys, get here. Oh my God, how did this happen?"

     "Is that her crying?" asked the dispatcher.

     "Yes, she's having trouble breathing."

     "Were you asleep also when this happened?"

     "Yes." At this point, about two minutes into the 911 call, Chief McCollom identified himself. "I'm the chief of police," he said.

     "Where is the gun?"

     "The gun is on the dresser."

     "You're the chief of police in Peachtree?"

     "Yeah, unfortunately, yes," he replied.

     Emergency medical personnel flew the 57-year-old shooting victim to the Atlanta Medical Center. According to doctors there, Margaret McCollom was in critical condition. The mayor of Peachtree placed the chief on administrative leave and asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to take over the case.

     The district attorney of Fayette County told reporters that he would decide if criminal charges were appropriate after the GBI completed its investigation of the shooting. Friends and neighbors questioned by reporters all insisted that the chief and his wife were not experiencing marital problems or any form of domestic discord.

     On Monday January 12, 2015, doctors released Margaret McCollom from the  hospital. The shooting had left her paralyzed from the waist down. She told GBI detectives that she was asleep when shot and that she believed it was an accident. Before submitting a report to the district attorney's office, investigators were awaiting the results of crime lab tests on the gun as well as the chief's blood-alcohol analysis.

     On March 11, 2015, McCollom resigned from the police department. On the city's website he wrote the following: "I have had two families in Peachtree--my police family and my personal family. I need to continue to focus my time and efforts there."

     According to District Attorney Scott Ballard, McCollom had accidentally shot his sleeping wife after he had consumed alcohol and sleep medication. The prosecutor planned to ask a grand jury to indict the former chief of police on the misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct.

     In August 2015, William pleaded guilty to the above charge and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.


The Peek-A-Boo Child Pornography Case

     In 2011, after passing a background check, 27-year-old Elliot Gornall began teaching second and third grade at the R. F. McMullen Elementary school in the central Ohio town of Loudonville. In the fall of 2014, Gornall, well-liked by his students, their parents, and his fellow teachers, bean teaching a class of 25 kindergarten kids.

     Gornall's reputation and teaching career took a major hit on November 18, 2014 when local drug officers raided his home in Loudonville. The drug cops found a quantity of marijuana, illicit prescription drugs, and several pairs of children's underwear. The searchers left Gornall's dwelling that day in possession of his personal computer.

     Not long after the drug raid, an Ashland County grand jury indicted the kindergarten teacher on several counts of prescription drug abuse, marijuana possession, and theft related to the underwear. He pleaded not guilty to all charges, posted bail, and was released from custody.

     Following the indictments that shocked everyone in the community, school district officials placed the 32-year-old teacher on administrative leave. On December 8, 2014, Gornall tendered his resignation from the R. F. McMullen Elementary School. He moved out of his place in Loudonville and took up residence in Lorain, Ohio.

     The big shock in the case came on March 6, 2015 when police officers arrested Gornall and booked him into the Ashland County Jail on 23 counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material. If convicted as charged, he faced up to 184 years in prison.

     A couple of months after the drug and theft indictments, detectives with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation discovered child pornography and videotaped images of R. F. McMullen Elementary school kids using the kindergarten bathroom. Investigators searched the restroom and found, hidden in a white plastic hook stuck to the wall, a pinhole video camera. Detectives believed Gornall had installed the secret camera in August 2014.

     At his March 9, 2015 arraignment, Gornall pleaded not guilty to the charges related to the spy camera in the kids' restroom. Ashland County prosecutor Chris Turnell informed the judge that detectives had found 63 videos of 25 kindergarten students plus more than 100 downloaded images of child pornography on the ex-teacher's computer. Judge Ronald Forsthoefel set Gornall's bail at $500,000.

     In October 2015, Elliot Gornall pleaded no contest to 181 charges related to his videotaping activities and other charges. Judge Ronald Forsthoefel sentenced him to 99 years in prison.

Mom Got Drunk With Her Two-Year-Old

     Police say a Massachusetts woman allowed her 2-year-old daughter to sip her margarita at a restaurant and poured some of it into the girl's sippy cup. Forty-one-year-old Sheldy Nelson of Lynn, Massachusetts pleaded not guilty on February 24, 2015 to child endangerment in a Salem district court. She was charged in connection with the August 2014 incident. The judge set her bond at $1,000.

     A witness told police that Nelson ignored two warnings from the restaurant staff to stop giving her daughter sips of the alcohol. Both the mother and her daughter appeared lethargic and were taken to a hospital where medical personnel found alcohol in the toddler's system. Police found the sippy cup in Nelson's bag. It smelled of alcohol. The girl was placed in state custody. [In July 2015, the judge agreed to drop the charges against Nelson if she took a parenting class and agreed to random drug testing for a period of three months.]

"Mom Let 2-Year-Old Sip Margarita,", February 28, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles on Lobbyists

If politicians are America's waste product, then lobbyists who bribe them are rats who live and thrive in the sewer. Washington, D.C. is not a swamp to be drained, swamps are good. It's an open sewer in need of major plumbing.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, January 18, 2019

A Nation of Sociopaths

     It was Joe McGinniss, in his 1984 book Fatal Vision, who introduced the general public to sociopathy, a personality disorder found in normal looking and acting people who commit cold-blooded murder. "Fatal Vision" explores the sociopathic personality of Dr. Jefferey MacDonald, an Army physician convicted of murdering his pregnant wife and two small children.

     In the true crime genre, the 1980s became the golden era of books about serial killers, all of whom were sociopaths. Readers and TV viewers became familiar with FBI profilers John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, the founders of the FBI's Psychological Behavioral Unit housed at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Through hundreds of books and true crime television shows, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jefferey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) became household names. Dr. Park Dietz, a high-profile forensic psychiatrist, author and expert witness, educated the public on the most common traits found in the sociopathic personality which include: narcissism, lack of empathy, pathological lying, the inability to admit guilt, the belief one is smarter than everybody, and the belief one is above society's rules of behavior and laws. (In other words, the American politician.)

     Now, when people discuss sociopathy, it is not always in the context of criminal behavior. That's because not all people with sociopathic qualities are serial killers and/or rapists. Recently there have been numerous articles about how to identify a sociopathic person, what professions tend to attract them (politics, business and law) and how to deal with these difficult people.

     Nobody knows for sure if sociopaths are born or made, but they seem to be multiplying. Maybe it started with Mr. Rogers and his you-are-special message. Perhaps it's our celebrity culture where rich and famous people are worshiped regardless of how they achieved their wealth and fame. The lesson here seems to be: If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, you will succeed because you are special and deserve to get what you want. (Have you noticed that on reality TV, people can't talk about themselves for more than a couple of minutes without breaking down in tears? What is that?)

     Tens of thousands of people will show up in a city to audition for TV shows like "American Idol." They all have this pathological need to share their unique talents with the world, and are inspired by former winners who all say the same ridiculous thing: "Don't give up your passion, your dream. If I can make it, so can you." This of course is a load of crap. The odds of getting rich and famous are one in a million. And if you do get rich and famous, it probably won't last. You'll end up like one of those has-beens who say things like, "You might remember me as the janitor in the 1975 sitcom, "Barney Meets Betty." Winners of "American Idol," instead of encouraging fools like themselves, should say: "I'm stupid like you but I got real lucky. Instead of chasing an impossible dream, prepare yourself for real life."

     It seems we're raising generations of young people who, if they don't realize their dreams of wealth and fame, become despondent and morose. They live the rest of their miserable lives blaming "society" for their lost opportunities. Some of them turn to drugs, alcohol and crime.

     Several years ago I investigated a swindler who operated as a literary agent and publisher. A typical sociopath, she believed she was smarter than the people she bilked. This wasn't the case and the woman ended up in federal prison. I wrote a book about her called, Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell. As an epigram to the book, I wrote: "As a nonfiction crime writer, I have come across more than my share of sociopathic personalities. As one who feels guilty about everything, I find these people fascinating. When sociopaths end up in jail, neurotics like me end up writing about them."

     If I were writing this book today, I would leave out the part about finding sociopaths fascinating. I now find them annoying, depressing, and harmful to the future of this country.

Forensic Psychology

The profession of forensic psychology, a recent fusion of psychology and the law, is practiced by a minority of licensed psychologists in the United States and taught in a handful of graduate programs....I use the traditional tools of my trade--trained observation, clinical interviews, detailed history-taking, and psychological tests--combined with the street smarts I've gained as a narcotics parole officer and by interviewing hundreds of murderers. But sometimes I must rely on psychological guerrilla tactics, like agreeing with a psychotic's delusions, entering his hallucinations, or stoking a defendant's enthusiasm about drugs, sex, or guns. In these ways, I cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

The Execution of Paul Goodwin

     A Missouri inmate was put to death early Wednesday December 10, 2014 for fatally beating a 63-year-old woman with a hammer in 1998…Paul Goodwin, 48, sexually assaulted Joan Crotts in St. Louis County, pushed her down a flight of stairs and beat her in the head with a hammer. Goodwin was a former neighbor who felt Crotts played a role in getting him kicked out of a boarding house.

     Goodwin's execution began at 1:17 AM, more than an hour after it was scheduled because Supreme Court Appeals lingered into the early morning. He was pronounced dead at 1:25 AM. He declined to make a final statement.

     Efforts to spare Goodwin's life centered on his low I.Q. and claims that executing him would violate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the death penalty for the mentally disabled. Attorney Jennifer Herndon said Goodwin had an I.Q. of 73, and some tests suggested even lower…But Goodwin's fate was sealed when Governor Jay Nixon denied a clemency request and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down legal appeals--one on the mental competency question and one concerning Missouri's use of an execution drug purchased from an unidentified compounding pharmacy.

"Missouri Executes Inmate For 1998 Hammer Death," Associated Press, December 10, 2014

Searching for Missing Children

When you're searching for missing or abducted children, you have to look in any place where a child might fit. Not any likely place, but any possible place, which means kitchen cabinets, trash cans, the refrigerator, the freezer, and the oven, all locations where children have been subsequently located, alive or dead.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

How Arsonists Set Fires

Arsonists hardly ever simply strike a match to light a fire, using any combustible material at hand such as a piece of paper or a curtain. Such a course of action is too uncertain, since a fire lit in this way may burn itself out very quickly. Usually, an accelerant is used. A flammable liquid such as kerosene [or gasoline] is poured over a wide area of carpets and furnishings, before the match is applied. This ensures that a hot fire will follow and that the building be ablaze long before any firefighters arrive. However, what most arsonists do no know is that traces of such accelerants can be detected, even after the fire has destroyed the building. Small amounts of accelerant will seep into carpets, floorboards, plaster, brickwork and other materials and will not be consumed by the fire. The cooling effect of the water used to quench [extinguish] the fire will slow down the rate of evaporation of the accelerant and enough will usually remain to be detected.

Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu, Forensics, 2012 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Politician's DNA Study

A new DNA study has revealed that genetically, people drawn into politics tend to possess large heads, undersized brains, tiny hearts, big mouths, and forked tongues. They also lack genes associated with shame, remorse, and embarrassment.

Thornton P. Knowles

Modern Women Crime Novelists

     In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas…

     It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.

Laura Miller,, September 7, 2014 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Memo To Armed Robbers

     At five-thirty Tuesday evening November 12, 2014, 18-year-old Adric White and Tavoris Moss, 19, walked into a Family Dollar store in Baldwin County, Alabama outside of Mobile. White entered the premises carrying a handgun he intended to use to rob the place.

     This was not the first business establishment White  had held-up. A month earlier, after he robbed the nearby Original Oyster House, a judge allowed him to post bail despite the fact the Original Oyster House was not White's first robbery.

     In the back of the store White put his gun to a Family Dollar employee's head and ordered the hostage to the cash-out area where a customer saw what was happening. This customer, who was also armed, pulled his firearm as White forced the terrified clerk to get on his or her knees.

     The armed shopper yelled at White not to move. White, rather than lower his gun, turned the weapon on the customer. Fearing that he would be shot, the armed citizen fired at White who collapsed to the floor.

     Police officers took the suspect's companion into custody as paramedics rushed White to the USA Medical Center. Although hit five times, White survived the shooting and received treatment at the hospital while under police guard. The judge revoked his bail on the Original Oyster House hold-up.

     The day following the Family Dollar robbery and shooting, a local television reporter spoke to a relative of White's who said the family was furious with the vigilante who had shot and almost killed their loved one. "If the customer's [shooter's] life was not in danger," said the robber's relative, "if no one had a gun up to him, what gives him the right to think that it's okay to shoot someone? The [armed customer] should have left the store and went wherever he had to go."

     The same TV correspondent spoke to the man who had used his gun to stop the robbery and perhaps save the store clerk's life. The shooter, referred to in the local media as the Good Samaritan, said he had no choice but to take the action in the case. When the robber raised his gun the customer fired in self defense. "I didn't want to shoot him," the shooter said.

     According to the Good Samaritan, "Criminals tend to think they are the only ones with guns. I've been legally carrying my firearm for a little over four years now, and thank God I've never had to use it until last night. It just shows it's good to have a concealed carry permit. You never know when you're going to need it."

      Gun rights advocates and their opponents will argue over the merits of this case. But one thing that is not up for debate is this: If you rob someone at gunpoint there is a good chance you will be shot by a police officer or a fellow citizen. And if you are, the cop who shot you will be hailed as a hero. Moreover, most Americans will call the civilian shooter who brought you down a Good Samaritan.

     As they say, live by the sword, die by the sword. 

One Less Baby Killer

     On the night of September 29, 1988, in the northern Ohio town of Mansfield, 31-year-old Steve Smith walked into his live-in girlfriend's bedroom carrying her six-month-old daughter. Smith was nude and had been drinking. The lifeless infant in his arms bore bruises and cuts.

     Kesha Frye took her daughter to a neighbor's house where she called 911. At the hospital doctors tried for an hour to revive Autumn Frye before pronouncing the baby dead. An autopsy revealed that the infant had been raped.

     A year after his arrest, Steve Smith went on trial for aggravated murder. On the advice of his attorneys, the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to death.

     On April 2, 2013, after living twelve years on death row, Smith appeared before the Ohio Parole Board that was considering his petition to reduce  his sentence to life. Smith admitted raping the infant, but said he hadn't intended to kill her. The parole board and Governor John Kasich denied Smith's motion for a life sentence.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2013, the Ohio executioner at the state prison in Lucasville injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into the body of the 46-year-old prisoner. Steve Smith's 20-year-old daughter and a handful of others watched him go. If the baby-killer made a statement before the pentobarbital got into his system, his last words have not escaped the prison. 

Forensic Botany

One thing I tell police frequently is this: If you get a call of somebody breaking into a house, and you see somebody walking down the street as you pull up, as you question him, ask to see the cuffs of his pants. If he's climbed through a hedge or walked through a yard--most people have weeds around. Weeds get around in lots of clever ways; they often have little sticky parts that adhere to you shoes, or your shoelaces, or your pants cuffs, or they land in a pants cuff. If the suspect says, "Oh, I got those in my grandmother's yard," those particular weeds may not be there. So we've hooked people to certain crime sites though what kind of weeds have gotten stuck to them. Almost no one can lie about plant evidence.

Forensic botanist, in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

The Burned Out Social Worker

The greatest occupational hazard to people working with criminals [counselors, social workers, and parole agents] is not physical attack. More serious is a rapid burnout of enthusiasm, commitment, and interest. Mention the word "burnout" to people in corrections, and they will solemnly nod. Increasing numbers of idealistic, genuinely concerned young Americans are entering corrections, eager to do a good job. Almost immediately, they confront a huge array of obstacles for which they are poorly prepared. Despite the fact that their clients are the most difficult anywhere, they think they are expected to accomplish what parents, teachers, employers, clergymen, and others failed at for years.

Dr. Stanton E. Sanenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Thornton P. Knowles On How to Spot a "Polidiopath"

     What do you get when you cross a sociopath with a superficial, dishonest, humorless, thin-skinned idiot? You get an idiot-politician, or, if I may coin a term, a "polidiopath." When I imagine such a person dozens of well-known politicians leap to mind. And I imagine, unless you are a "polidiopathophile," it's the same with you.

     I suspect that most polidiopaths are in high office because in politics, polidiopathy rises to the top. These are people who never admit they are wrong, go to extreme lengths to cover-up their mistakes, scandals and crimes, and when confronted with their blunders and follies, blame others. They are extremely sure of themselves as leaders, and almost always lead us in the wrong direction.

     Polidiopaths give themselves away by what they do in the name of public service. The following is a short list of behaviorial patterns that makes it easy to spot one. Polidiopaths:

1.  Make compaign promises they know, and we know, they won't keep.

2. Pass feel-good, window-dressing laws that do more harm than good.

3. Create terrible economic problems then take credit for useless or harmful corrective legislation.

4. Lie boldly and badly to cover-up their blunders, crimes, and embarrassing behavior.

5. Never admit, in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that they are wrong.

6. Blame others for the effects of their over-governance.

7. Do whatever it takes to destroy their political enemies.

8. Use insider information to make killings in the stock market.

9. Sell their votes to special interests.

10. Pander to voters' lowest instincts.

     Spotting polidiopaths in Washington and in our state capitals is as easy as spotting stars on a clear night. Getting them replaced by decent people is obviously not so easy. Low congressional approval ratings will not do the trick. In a republic, politicians reflect the citizens they represent. Before we get better leaders, we need to be better ourselves.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Lenient Judge

     On June 14, 2014, Kevin Jonas Rojano-Nieto was playing a video game in his parents' garage in Santa Ana, California. A three-year-old girl, a relative visiting the home with her mother, wandered into the garage and encountered Rojano-Nieto.

     Sexually aroused by the toddler, the 20-year-old Rojano-Nieto pulled down her pants and began sodomizing her. He stopped and put his hand over the victim's mouth when the girl's mother, calling for her, jiggled the handle to the locked garage door. When the concerned mother left the house to search for her daughter at a neighbor's place, Rojano-Nieto continued the sexual assault.

     When finished with the little girl, Rojano-Nieto unlocked the garage door and let her back into the house. After her daughter complained of pain shortly after the sexual attack, the mother figured out what happened and called the police.

     On December 3, 2014, a jury found the defendant guilty of one count of sodomy of a child under ten and one count of lewd acts upon a child under fourteen. (Rojano-Nieto had forced the little girl to touch his penis.) The conviction meant that the guilty man would receive the mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life.

     On April 3, 2015, Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly shocked everyone familiar with this case by ignoring California's statutory minimum punishment for this man's sex offenses by sentencing Rojano-Nieto to just ten years in prison.

     The judge, perhaps aware that his ruling would create an angry backlash, carefully laid out his sentencing rationale in writing. According to this southern California judge, "The facts [of this case] don't support there was any violence or callous disregard for the victim's well-being."

     Huh? No violence? Did this girl consent to being sodomized? Did she participate in her own victimization by flaunting herself in the garage? Good heavens.

     Judge Kelly noted that the defendant had not sought out or stalked his victim. Moreover, he now felt  really bad about what he had done to her. Sure he did, but so what?

     The judge, in defending his sentence, wrote: "He [Rojano-Nieto] reacted to a sexual urge and stopped almost immediately." According to Judge Kelly, while the little girl was sodomized by a 20-year-old man, she had not been seriously injured and was therefore "headed for a normal life."

     Judge Kelly had been on the bench in Orange County for fifteen years. How could that be?

     Not content to blame the toddler for her victimization, the judge tried to illicit sympathy for this sex offender by revealing that he had grown up in a "dysfunctional" family with "disruptional abuse." What the hell does that mean? "Disruptional" isn't even a word. This upbringing, according to the judge, had made Rojano-Nieto "insecure, socially withdrawn, and extremely immature." This background had also turned him into a dangerous sexual pervert who should, for the rest of his life, never be around children.

     Orange County Deputy District Attorney Tony Rackauckas responded to Judge Kelly's disturbing decision by announcing his office will appeal Rojano-Nieto's sentence. Referring to the defendant, the prosecutor said, "He's a grown man. He knowingly [actually intentionally] committed this terrible crime and should pay the price."

     Public outrage over the pedophile's light sentence led to a grass roots effort to recall the judge. On December 31, 2015, the bid to have Judge Kelly removed from the bench failed when the recall supporters were unable to collect the minimum 90,829 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

    Judges with the 4th District Court of Appeals, in the spring of 2017, reversed Judge Kelly's sentence and ordered that Rojano-Neito be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Best Crime Movies

 Fargo  (1996)

     Set in North Dakota and Minnesota, this dark comedy features a car salesman who arranges to have his wife kidnapped for ransom, and a pregnant, small town police chief who investigates a pair of highway murders. Any film that has one killer stuffing another into a wood chipper can't be bad. This film works on all levels.

The Informant  (2009)

     A fact-based comic drama about a pathologically lying FBI whistle-blower in the mid-1990s Archer Daniels Midland lysine price-fixing conspiracy. The film is an adaptation of journalist Kurt Eiechenwald's 2000 book of the same name. Matt Damon, the whistle blowing company embezzler, is brilliant as a stiff from Indiana with a background in science who gets in over his head.

Insomnia  (1997)

     A psychological thriller, set in a small Alaskan town near the Arctic Circle, about a true crime novelist (Robin Williams) who murdered a high school girl, and the world-weary Los Angeles Detective (Al Pacino) out to arrest him. The exhausted cop (who can't sleep because the sun never sets), tries to cover-up the accidental shooting of his partner by switching ballistics evidence. A riveting small town tale set in a northern wilderness.
One Hour Photo  (2002)

     This tense, leisurely paced psychological drama features a lonely and alienated box store camera film developer (Robin Williams) who develops a pathological fixation on a man, his wife and their boy who he thinks is the ideal American family. His disillusionment triggers an event that leads to his undoing. This film is more about mood and the comparitive bleakness of one man's life than it is about criminal violance.

Se7ven  (1995)

     A gritty detective yarn featuring a pair of homicide investigators (Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) trying to identify and stop a serial killer whose victims have violated one of the seven sins of gluttony, envy, lust, pride, sloth, greed, and wrath. In the end, the young detective is faced with a sickening dilemma pertaining to the sin of wrath. This film is as graphic and good as it is brutal.

The Departed  (2006)

     Set in Boston, Massachusetts, the rise and bloody fall of Irish crime boss Francis Costello (Jack Nicholson). The film features two state cops (Leonardo Di Caprio and Matt Damon), one corrupt and the other working undercover to identify him. Loosely based on the life of the real Boston mobster, Whitey Bulger who, after years as a fugitive, was recently arrested in California. A great film with a lot of big stars in big roles. (In 2018, Bulger was beaten to death by fellow inmates who considered him a rat.)

Donnie Brasco  (1997)

     In the 1970s FBI agent Joe D. Pistone infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York. The agent's (Johnny Depp) undercover stint led to the conviction of dozens of Mafia figures. The FBI pulled the agent, using the name Donnie Brasco, off the case just before his cover was blown. A realistic depiction of a crime family, its hiearchy, and the type of people who become "made" men.

Goodfellas (1990)

     Unlike "The Godfather" that in some ways romanticizes and glorifies the Mafia of the 1940s and 50s, the wiseguys portrayed in Goodfellas are realistically portrayed as violent thugs in cheesy suits. The film is based on the true story of Henry Hill (Robert De Niro), the Irish hood from Brooklyn who masterminded the 1970s multi-million-dollar Air France heist at JFK. In the end, drugs, greed and recklessness bring down this crew of fascinating degenerates. An adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's 1986 book, Wiseguy.

Pulp Fiction  (1994)

     This Quentin Taratino, Los Angeles noir classic, features a pair of philosophizing hit men (John Travolta and Robert Jackson), a boxer (Bruce Willis) on the lamb because he didn't throw a fight, and an underworld crime scene cleanup specialist (Harvey Keitel). The film, comprised of loosely connected episodes told in flashbacks and flashforwards, breaks new ground in visual storytelling.

Dead Presidents  (1995)

     This loosely fact-based film about a group of men returning to the Bronx after combat duty as Marines in Vietnam. The action comes to a head when an armored truck heist goes terribly wrong. The film transforms violence into choreographed art.

The Onion Field  (1979)

      This film adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 nonfiction book of the same name (Wambaugh also wrote the screenplay), tells the story of the 1963 execution style murder of LAPD officer Ian Campbell. Gregory Ulas Powell and an accomplice abducted Campbell and his partner Karl Hettinger at gunpoint and drove them to an onion field near Bakersfield where Powell murdered Campbell. In 1972 Powell's death sentence was commuted to life. Powell, played in the movie by James Woods, never expressed remorse for the cold-blooded murder. Powell died in prison on August 12, 2012 from prostate cancer. The film, an indictment of the California criminal justice system, makes the time and effort to convict these two killers--endless defense motions, court delays, appeals and the like--a part of the story. Young movie goers today may find the film a little slow. I think it is a classic.

Training Day  (2001)

     This police drama, covering a single day, follows the on-duty actions of a corrupt LA narcotics cop (Denzel Washington), his crew of dirty officers, and a trainee (Ethan Hawk). In this film, except for the trainee who has traded in his uniform for plainclothes, you can't tell the good guys from the bad guys. An unflattering look at Los Angeles, the drug culture, and the cops.

The Firm  (1993)

     A young hotshot lawyer (Tom Cruise) realizes his prestigious Memphis law firm is corrupt and behind the murders of two former law partners. The young lawyer is caught between the FBI and his murderous employer. The film also stars Gene Hackman as the new attorney's legal mentor. A tense, Sydney Pollack thriller.

Serpico  (1973)

     The true story of New York Polce Officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) who blew the whistle on the culture of police corruption in the 1960s and 70s. Serpico's courage led to the Knapp Commission Hearings in 1971, and a series of  police reforms. Based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Peter Maas.

Ronin  (1998)

     An international crime thriller set in France about former special forces operatives and intelligent agents (Robert De Niro et. al.) whose mission involves stealing a mysterious package from a heavily guarded convoy. Some great car chase scenes.

Casino (1995)

     A Martin Scorsese film about the real life Las Vegas casino manager Frank Rosenthal (Robert De Niro) who ran three casinos in the 1970s and 80s. A gripping and vivid adaptation of Nicholas Pileggi's book of the same title, the film depicts Las Vegas during its gangster era. The movie also stars Sharon Stone as De Niro's out-of-control wife. Also starring Joe Pesci as an out-of-control gangster who, like De Niro, comes to a bad end. Both men had outlived their time as Las Vegas moved out of its gangster era.

Guillotine Chic

Almost from its first victim on April 25, 1792, the guillotine became a fetishistic object for the French during their revolution. Men had it tattooed on their bodies; women wore dangling guillotine earrings and brooches; the design was incorporated into plates, cups, snuffboxes; children played with toy versions, decapitating mice; elegant ladies lopped off the heads of dolls and out squirted a red perfume, in which they soaked their handkerchiefs.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Eduction, 1997

The Compulsion to Confess

     Daniel Webster once observed that "the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret." Confession is the voice of conscience, and, as any police officer will tell you, men and women generally have a natural compulsion to confess: to tell their misdeeds, to take their punishment, and to move on, even though they may realize it is not in their interest to do so. Dr. Theodor Reik, in a series of lectures given to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association first published in 1925 and fittingly called The Compulsion to Confess, discusses this special dilemma: "There is the endeavor to deflect any suspicion from himself, to efface all traces of the crime, and an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden."

     Of course, there are exceptions to this inner urge. There are persons without consciences to whom an armed robbery is no more significant than a sneeze or a cough. Hardened criminals and those schooled in the ways of the criminal justice system will usually successfully resist the temptation to bare all to the police although they often relieve their urge to confess by confiding in friends, casual acquaintances they meet in taverns, and cellmates. Indeed, law enforcement investigators are frequently able to solve crimes because they learn of these informal confessions.

Ralph Adam Fine, "The Urge to Confess," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed, 1994 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Scotty McMillan Torture-Murder Case: An American Horror Story

     Gary Fellenbaum, a 21-year-old Wal-Mart employee, lived with his estranged wife Amber and their 11-month-old daughter in a mobile home in West Cain Township outside Coatesville, Pennsylvania 35 miles northwest of Philadelphia. In mid-October 2014, not long after meeting 31-year-old Jilliam Tait, a fellow Wal-Mart employee, Fellenbaum agreed to let her and her two children--Ryan McMillan, 6 and 3-year-old Scotty McMillan--move in with him and his 21-year-old estranged wife.

     Not long after Tait and her sons took up residence in the mobile home, the 270-pound Fellenbaum began to physically abuse her sons. Jilliam Tait immediately became a willing participant in the beatings.

     The physical abuse of 3-year-old Scotty intensified during a three-day period beginning on November 2, 2014. The couple repeatedly beat the boy with their fists, a homemade whip, a curtain rod, and an aluminum strip. They smashed his head through a wall, punched him in the face and stomach, and hanged him upside down by his feet while they hit him. At one point during a torture session, the couple thought if funny when the child tried to free himself.

     On Tuesday morning, November 4, 2014, Fellenbaum taped Scotty to a chair and beat him for refusing to eat his toast. That afternoon, after being beaten throughout the day, Scotty lost consciousness. His torturers, in an effort to wake him up, laid him in a shower stall and ran water on him for thirty minutes. Still unresponsive, they placed his body on an un-inflated air mattress.

     Later that afternoon, Fellenbaum and Tait left the unresponsive child in the mobile home while they went shopping for a car. They returned to the dwelling with pizza, had dinner, engaged in sex, then took a nap. When Tait awoke at seven-thirty that evening, she checked on Scotty. When she couldn't revive the toddler, she asked Amber Fellenbaum to call 911.

     Paramedics couldn't revive the boy either. After doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced him dead, they called the authorities. When hardened emergency room nurses saw the horribly bruised and swollen child, they wept.

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan charged Gary Fellenbaum and Jilliam Tait with first-degree mruder, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of a child, and reckless endangerment. The judge denied the couple bail. (Under Pennsylvania law, murder preceded by torture is a death penalty offense.)

     Amber Fellenbaum admitted being aware of the abuse for two weeks prior to Scotty McMillan's death. She said she first knew there was a problem when she saw her estranged husband beat the boy with a frying pan. The district attorney charged her with child endangerment for not reporting the abuse. The judge set her bail at $500,000.

     Six-year-old Ryan McMillan was placed into the care of a relative. County child services personnel took custody of the 11-month-old Fellenbaum baby.

     Detectives questioned Ryan McMillan's teachers at his Coatesville area elementary school to determine if anyone there had noticed his injuries. Records indicated that he had been absent the past two weeks.

     In September 2017, Gary Fellenbaum pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 10-20 years. Three months later, the judge sentenced Jilliam Tait to 42 to 94 years behind bars. 

The Assassination of Gianni Versace

     Andrew Cunanan stalked Gianni Versace [renowned fashion designer] before he killed him, often walking the same routes, sometimes following him.

     The morning of the shooting [July 15, 1997], Versace left his house to walk to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive [Miami Beach] where he had his favorite gourmet coffee and picked up several newspapers and magazines. When he arrived back at his home on 11th Street, Cunanan walked up behind him and fired two shots into the back of Versace's head, killing him instantly.

     The assassin then fled, and the case wasn't closed until Cunanan's dead body was found eight days later on a houseboat owned by a friend of Cunanan's who was in Germany at the time....

     One FBI theory is that Versace once turned town Cunanan for a modeling job. Cunanan was a bar-hopper, drug-user (possibly including steroids and rage-inducing testosterone), and he often sold himself to older, wealthy men. It is now known that Cunanan and Versace were never involved sexually, but it is known that the two men had met at least once.

Stephen J. Spignesi, In the Crosshairs, 2003

The Omnipotent Serial Killer

Many a serial murderer develops a sense that he cannot be caught, especially if the authorities have missed all of the clues he has inadvertently or sometimes even intentionally left behind. This feeling intensifies when he appears to have momentarily triumphed over the authorities. He develops an attitude of personal omnipotence: he has committed the ultimate crime and gotten away with it, and the evidence seems to show him that he can continue to do so. This attitude is critical to his success and to his downfall. It keeps him going for a long time, but eventually it makes him become careless; that is the point at which he is usually caught.

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shactman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

Strip Clubs And Their Lonely, Depressed Men

     On April 17, 2013, police in the southern California city of Rialto were called to the Spearmint Rhino Gentleman's Club regarding shots fired. When the officers arrived at the strip club, they found a 23-year-old exotic dancer named Jacqueline Marquez-Figueroa bleeding from a gunshot wound to her neck.

     Paramedics rushed the strip club dancer to the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton where she underwent emergency surgery. The bullet had entered the back of her neck and was lodged in her jaw. (She is expected to survive the wound.)

     Police officers had found the wounded dancer, a resident of Moreno Valley, lying just outside a private lap dance room. On the other side of the door officers discovered Gerald Paxton Davis. The 46-year-old was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

     According to the police, the San Bernardino strip club regular had been paying Marquez-Figueroa, who worked under the name "Egypt," for lap dances since January 2013. Investigators believe he shot the dancer and them himself after she rejected his sexual advances.

     At the time of the shootings, there were ten employees and ten customers in the club.

     A week earlier, in the same establishment, a California correctional officer attempted suicide by cutting his wrists following a lap dance.

     These two cases suggest that among those drawn to gentlemen's clubs are lonely, depressed men who are losing touch with reality. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Miami Beach Check-Out Line Murder Case

     On Monday December 1, 2014, at the M & L Market in Miami Beach, Florida, 58-year-old Mohammed Hussein found himself standing in the express check-out line behind a man with a basket overloaded with groceries. Mr. Hussein, the father of two, complained to this shopper that he was in the wrong line, that he had far too many items to check out. The express line violator ignored Mr. Hussein and continued to unload his grocery basket.

     When Mr. Hussein again objected to what the shopper in front of him was doing, the man told him to mind his own business. This led to an exchange of angry words. In the midst of the argument, the offending shopper, without warning, delivered a vicious backhand that knocked Mr. Hussein off his feet.

     The unconscious victim fell backward and his head bounced off the grocery store floor. Blood immediately began pooling around his skull. As the man who struck him fled the store an employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Hussein to the Ryder Medical Center where he slipped into a coma with a fractured skull and severe bleeding on the brain. Back at the M & L Market, detectives viewed surveillance camera footage of the assault.

     On Thursday night December 11, 2014, officers with the Miami Beach Police Department arrested 53-year-old Roger Todd Perry at his home in Palm Beach County. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Perry with felony battery of Mr. Hussein. Shown the surveillance camera footage and informed that several witnesses had picked him out of a photo line-up, Mr. Perry confessed to striking Mr. Hussein in the grocery store check out line.

     Two days after officers arrested Roger Perry, Mohammed Hussein passed away. His autopsy revealed that he had died of "complications of blunt force head injury." Perry was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

     On December 15, 2014, the Miami-Dade County prosecutor upgraded Roger Perry's felony battery charge to second-degree murder. At his arraignment on the murder charge, Perry asked the judge, "Did that man pass away?"

      Mr. Perry's attorney, public defender Elliot Snyder, in arguing for a bail amount the defendant could afford, told the arraignment judge that his client was mentally unstable. According to the defense attorney, Roger Perry suffered from two disorders: bipolar and post-traumatic stress. Attorney Snyder also cited a 2002 Broward County case involving two elderly men who got into a fight at a movie theater. The victim hit his head and died. The prosecutor charged the 74-year-old suspect with manslaughter. The defendant pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for a six month jail sentence.

      The judge ordered an evaluation of Perry's mental condition and denied him bond.

     Residents at Roger Perry's apartment complex told reporters that the murder suspect had indicated that he had been a member of the Marine Corps.

     On September 30, 2016, Roger Perry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. 

Woman Caught 37 Years After Prison Escape

     San Diego police officers caught a woman escapee on February 3, 2014 who fled from a Michigan prison 37 years ago….Judy Lynn Hayman, 60, was arrested at her apartment in San Diego. She was held without bail and was taken to the Las Colinas Jail, where she faces extradition back to Michigan.

     The Michigan Department of Corrections records say Hayman was sentenced June 28, 1976 for attempted larceny…. Then 23-years-old Hayman was given 16 months to two years of imprisonment. But April 14, 1977, she escaped from the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Washtenaw County….Hayman did not reveal her true identify for over 30 years. According to police, she even concealed her identity to her 32-year-old son….

Vishakha Sonawane, "Woman Escapee From Michigan Prison Caught in San Diego After 37 Years," HNGN, February 5, 2014

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

     The post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a fairly recent entry in psychiatric terminology; in fact, it was only officially recognized with the publication of the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders in 1980, known as DSM-III. In World Wars I and II, there had been what was known to laymen as "shell shock" and to mental health professions as "combat neurosis," a battlefield condition in which men become too traumatized to function properly. A fairly large proportion of discharges from the army were due to this condition, and the problem remains a serious one for all those who participate in combat, with its attendant horrors and stresses.

     During the 1950s when DSM-I was published, there was a condition referred to as "transient situational disorder," which was sometimes used to encompass battlefield stress. It was the initials TSD that were lifted from this previous neurosis and made to fit a condition that seemed to have sprung up in American survivors of the war in Vietnam, and which became known as PTSD--or, in layman's terms, "the Vietnam syndrome."

     I had discovered, over the years, that while there were people who really did suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder--had difficulty in living normal lives after returning from the brink of death experienced either in war or as a result of some other traumatic event--many other claims of PTSD were just a lot of poppycock, a form of malingering. The diagnosis of PTSD had become fashionable in certain psychiatric circles, mainly those that dealt with people in and out of veterans' hospitals. Other psychiatrists, just as well qualified, who also dealt with veterans had not seen many genuine cases. Also, the United States had been involved in several traumatic wars earlier in this century, and while there had been a few diagnosed cases of what was then called battlefield shock, most of the people who did experience these sort of shocks recovered and went on to lead normal lives. Could the experience of fighting in Vietnam have been worse than the experience of fighting in Korea? Or in Europe or the Pacific Islands during World War II? Were American servicemen of the 1960s and 1970s so much more emotionally fragile that those who served in earlier conflicts?

Robert K. Ressler and Tom Schachtman, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997    

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Christopher Dorner: A Rogue Ex-LAPD Officer's Spree of Murderous Revenge

     On Sunday night, February 3, 2013, a woman walking to her car in an Irvine, California condo parking structure discovered the bodies of a couple in their twenties slumped in the front seat of a white Kia. The victims, each shot more than once in the head from close range, were identified as Keith Lawrence and his fiancee Monica Quan. The pair had met at Concordia University where they were basketball stars. Lawrence was employed as a public security officer on the campus of the University of Southern California. Monica Quan, for the past two seasons, was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of California Fullerton.

     The double murder, occurring in America's safest city, baffled detectives who couldn't figure who would want to kill this couple.

     At a press conference held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, Irvine Chief of Police David Maggard announced that his detectives had identified a suspect in the double murder. The suspect, 33-year-old Christopher Dorner, was still at large, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2009, Dorner had been fired from the LAPD. The attorney who represented him before the Board of Rights Tribunal, and handled his appeal of the board's ruling of dismissal in October 2011, was Monica Quan's father, Randal Quan. (Captain Quan, after retiring from the LAPD in 2002, began practicing law.)

     Chief Maggard identified, as a key piece of evidence linking Christopher Dorner to the Lawrence/Quan murders, a 11,300-word, 20-page "manifesto" the Naval Reservist and ex-cop had posted on his Facebook page. Addressed to "America," and titled "Last Resort," Dorner outlined a plan and rationale for murdering everyone associated with his 2009 dismissal from the LAPD. (Officer Dorner had accused a fellow officer of excessive force in the arrest of a schizophrenic man. An internal investigation revealed that Dorner had made false statements in the case. For that reason he was fired.)

     In his manifesto, Dorner made specific reference to his former attorney, Randal Quan. He wrote: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, so I am terminating yours." In the rambling document, Dorner accuses Randal Quan of suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him.

     In reference to his intended victims in general, Dorner wrote: I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether off or on duty. You will now live the life a a prey. Whatever pre-planned responses you have established for a scenario like me, shelve it. The violence of action will be high. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, and sleep....I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name....Self preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago on January 2, 2009. I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

     One doesn't have to be a forensic psychiatrist to interpret Dorner's manifesto as the deluded, grandiose ravings of an angry, revenge-seeking man suffering from serious mental illness. In this document he comes off as the proverbial ticking time-bomb.

     Later on the day of Chief Maggard's press conference, Christopher Dorner was in San Diego where he tried to steal a boat. As he drove to Corona, California 60 miles east of Los Angeles, he tossed his wallet out the window of his vehicle. At 1:25 the next morning, he shot at two Corona police officers who were working a security detail. A bullet from Dorner's rifle grazed one of the officers who could not pursue Dorner because other bullets had disabled their patrol car.

      At 1:45 Thursday, February 7, 2013, in the neighboring town of Riverside, Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car in his 2005 Nissan Titan pickup. The police car was stopped at a traffic light. Dorner opened fire on the unsuspecting officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The suspect, described as a six-foot, 270 black man with a shaved head, sped from the scene.

     Los Angeles detectives in Torrance early Thursday morning, shot at a pickup truck they believed was being driven by the fugitive. In fact, the vehicle was occupied by 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter Margie Carranza. Mother and daughter were delivering the Los Angeles Times. Emma Hernandez was shot twice in the back and is in stable condition. Emma was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to her finger and was released. (This police involved shooting reflects a degree of panic and revenge on the part of these officers.)

     The U.S. Marshals Service and 10,000 police officers have launched a manhunt for Dorner from California to Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. His last known address was in La Palma, California in northern Orange County not far from Fullerton.

     On Thursday evening, February 7, 2013, the manhunt centered in Big Bear Lake country 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles where schools and ski resorts were shut down. SWAT teams, officers with bloodhounds, and other law enforcement searchers were in the area after the discovery of Dorner's burned-out pickup trick. The area was also being searched from the air. Back in Los Angeles, every station house was locked-down and under armed guard.

     Two days after the shootout, searchers found Dorner's charred remains in a burned cabin not far from his pickup.

Thornton P. Knowles On The Meaning And Purpose Of The Criminal Trial

The criminal trial, as designed, is not the most efficient method of getting to the factual truth of a matter. Too much relevant evidence is excluded from the jury to make this the main purpose of the procedure. The principal goal of a trial, at least in theory, is not to produce information, but to produce due process and justice for the accused. Prosecutors, as officers of the court, have a legal and ethical duty not to pursue defendants in cases involving weak or exonerating evidence. But some do, because regardless of the lack of evidence, their priority involves convicting the defendant at any cost, including human decency and fair play.

Thornton P. Knowles

Crime Novelist James Ellroy

James Ellroy [The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, American Tabloid, and others] is a cult. For many, he's a you're-in-or-you're out cult, because he's intense and absolute and violent in every respect--emotionally, linguistically, and physically. He's a brash writer who spins marvelously complicated, suspenseful plots. He is fluent in local period dialect that captures everything dirty, transient, prejudiced, profane, and provincial about the way cops and robbers, movie stars, and politicians talk. His thick, relentless dialogue (fully peppered with all the nasty racist and sexist things you might imagine that hard-boiled cops would say) combines with a compressed, impressionistic aesthetic that puts the language somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and Ulysses. 

Minna Procter, Bookforum, Oct./Nov./Dec., 2014 

Right Tattoo, Wrong Man

     On January 24, 2012, a man walking in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Staten Island [NYC] before 9 AM was approached by a stranger with a knife. The stranger, the man later told the police, took his bag and the chain around his neck, then ran away. The victim was able to get a pretty good look at the robber, and told detectives that he was young and white. And one more thing: he had a big tattoo of a red lightning bolt running down the side of his face.

     The police searched their database of photos of young white men with big red lightening-bolt tattoos on their faces, and they found a match. The name on the picture was Dylan Vok, 28, a Staten Island resident with a short criminal record….The mug shot was released to the press. Word of the search for Dylan Wok and his big red lightening-bolt tattoo spread online, all the way to Detroit and to one incredulous reader in particular: Dylan Vok.

     "In October 2011, I left New York for Detroit," Mr. Vok said in a recent telephone interview. That was months before the robbery. "I had lots of proof of that. I was using a food-stamp card. I had time stamps." He said he could even produce video footage of himself at his job at a New Age chiropractor's office….

     And the tattoo? Mr. Vok said he was briefly in the Army, but had been discharged. "I had flat feet," he said. "I got depressed after." In 2009, his best friend was on his third tour of Iraq. Mr. Vok decided to have the symbol of the devision he himself had briefly been attached to tattooed on his face….

     Mr. Vok offered all sorts of proof of his whereabouts [on the morning of the robbery]. It seemed to have worked. The police informed Mr. Vok that he was no longer a suspect in the crime….

Michael Wilson, "A Suspect With an Incriminating Tattoo Saves Face," The New York Times, March 7, 2014 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Angela Nolen Murder Solicitation Case

     In 1995, 30-year-old Angela Nolen married 46-year-old Paul "Jay" Strickler. She taught kindergarten at the Sontag Elementary School in the western Virginia town of Rocky Mount. He worked as an administrator in the Franklin County School System's central office. In 2002, the couple adopted a baby girl.

     After 17 years of marriage, Angela Nolen, in October 2012, asked a Franklin County Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge for an order of protection against her estranged husband. Nolen, in asking for the protection order, accused Strickler of physically abusing her and their 9-year-old daughter. The judge, believing that Nolen had "...proven the allegation of family abuse by a preponderance of the evidence" (a civil standard of proof less rigorous than proof beyond a reasonable doubt), granted Nolen's request. Pursuant to the protection order, Strickler could not have any interaction with his estranged wife, and could only contact their daughter by phone for five minutes, three times a week.

     Two months after the issuance of the domestic protection order, Nolen and Strickler were divorced. The judge granted her full custody of the child, and he agreed to sell her his share of the house. Not long after that, Angela Nolen decided to have her ex-husband killed.

     Early in February 2013, the kindergarten teacher and her friend, Cathy Warren Bennett, the nurse at the Sontag Elementary School, began plotting Jay Strickler's murder. Like most aspiring murder-for-hire masterminds, these middle-class women didn't have a clue where to acquire the services of a hit-man. Cathy Bennett, on Nolen's behalf, reached out to a man she hoped would do the deed. In furtherance of the deadly plot, the 37-year-old school nurse handed the candidate for the contract killing  a sheet of paper containing information about the target of the homicide.

     As is often the case, the man Cathy Bennett approached to commit the murder for money went directly from the mastermind's intermediary to the police. As a result, on the night of February 19, 2013, the man who accepted Angel Nolen's advance payment of $4,000 for the hit was an undercover police officer. According to the audio-taped murder-for-hire conversation between the undercover cop and the mastermind, the hit-man would receive another four grand when he completed his mission.

     Police officers arrested Nolen on the morning after she met with the man she thought was going to kill Jay Strickler. Charged with solicitation to commit murder, the authorities incarcerated Nolen at the Western Virginia Regional Jail. She was held without bail. If convicted as charged, Nolen faced a maximum sentence of forty years behind bars.

     The Franklin County prosecutor charged Cathy Bennett, Nolen's intermediary, with conspiracy to solicit murder. A judge set her bail at $60,000.

     Both employees of the Sontag Elementary School were suspended without pay. Strickler, the 63-year-old target of Angela Nolen's alleged murder plot, had recently retired from the school system. In speaking to a reporter with the Roanoke Times, Strickler said that his ex-wife had wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to pay for her share of the house. "That scares the hell out of me," he said. "I am just so glad the state police found out about this [plot]. I'm afraid for my life. I still feel that way. If someone knocks on my door, I won't answer it. I'll call 911. I'm extremely sad and I'm extremely worried."

     On June 26, 2013, Angela Nolen pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder.

     On December 23, 2013, the Franklin County judge sentenced Angela Nolen to five years. However, pursuant to the plea bargain, the murder-for-hire mastermind would only have to spent 18 months of that sentence in prison.

     Murder-for-hire cases are not shocking because people hire hit-men. The surprising part often involves who these masterminds are. When we think of kindergarten teachers and school nurses, murder-for-hire doesn't spring to mind., Perhaps it's reasonable to assume that a desperate Angela Nolen felt she had run out of options. But the school nurse, what was she thinking?

     It's a shame that someone didn't convince this amateur premeditated homicide plotter that murder-for-hire was not an appropriate remedy for any problem. Aside from the morality issue, amateur masterminds are always caught and convicted. Moreover, in cases where the target is actually murdered, they get the longest prison sentences. Judges and juries usually hate the murder-for-hire mastermind more than they do the hit-man. As it turned out, the mastermind in this murder solicitation case got off light.

Prosecutorial Misconduct: The Michael Morton Wrongful Conviction Case

     The criminal trial, as designed, is not the most efficient method of getting to the factual truth of a matter. Too much relevant evidence is excluded from the jury to make this the main purpose. The principal goal of a trial, at least in theory, is not to produce information, but to produce due process, and justice. Prosecutors, as officers of the court, have a legal and ethical duty not to pursue defendants in cases involving weak or exonerating evidence. But some do, because regardless of the evidence, their priority is to convict, and to win.

The Michael Morton Case

     In 1987, a jury found Michael Morton guilty of beating his wife to death a year earlier in their Austin, Texas home. The prosecution, based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, convinced the jury the defendant had killed his wife because the night before, she had sexually rebuffed him. Mr. Morton, a supermarket manager, claimed that an intruder had murdered his wife that morning after he had left for work.

     The judge sentenced Michael Morton to life in prison. In 2005, attorneys for the prisoner began petitioning the court to have a bandanna found near the murder site tested for DNA. The Williamson County district attorney (who had not prosecuted Morton) fought this request for six years. He did this on advice from Ken Anderson, the man who prosecuted Morton, and has since become a judge.

     In 2010, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing of the blue bandanna as well as other physical evidence associated with the murder case. DNA analysts found that the bandanna contained the murder victim's blood mixed with the DNA of a man named Mark A. Norwood, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history. At the time, Norwood lived 12 miles from the murder scene. Norwood had also been a suspect in a similar 1988 murder case. The police have arrested Norwood and charged him with the Morton homicide.

     In December 2011, after living 25 years behind bars, Michael Morton walked out of prison exonerated and free. His lawyer, and attorneys with the New York based Innocence Project, have asked for a "Court of Inquiry," a special hearing to determine if prosecutor Ken Anderson broke laws, or rules of ethics by withholding evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Morton in 1987.

     Morton's attorneys discovered that prosecutor Anderson had withheld the transcript of a telephone conversation between a police officer and the defendant's mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a "monster"--not his father--attack and kill his mother. Also withheld were statements from neighbors who had seen a man park a green van and walk into the woods behind the murder house.

     In the Morton case, there were other claims of prosecutorial misconduct. If the Court of Inquiry agreed with Morton's legal team, former prosecutor, now judge, Ken Anderson would face bar association disciplinary action, or even criminal prosecution.

     In November 2013, Ken Anderson agreed to give up his law practice in return for a jail sentence of ten days for hiding exculpatory evidence in the Morton case. The consensus among people familiar with the case leaned strongly toward the notion that Mr. Anderson had gotten off light.

The Reehallio Carrroll Indian Reservation Murder Case

     Twenty-one-year-old Reehallio Carroll, a burglar and thief addicted to alcohol and drugs, lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico. Just after midnight on November 1, 2009, he broke into a house trailer at the reservation's St. Berard Mission, an outpost inhabited by nuns attached to the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The trailer Carroll forced his way into was the home of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz.

     Carroll knew he was breaking into an occupied dwelling. (Under common law, breaking into an occupied home at night, by itself, was a capital crime.) Carroll entered Sister Marguerite's home to steal cash and anything he could sell to support his addictions. If the nun who lived there got in his way, that would be her problem.

    Sister Marguerite confronted the burglar when he entered her bedroom. Instead of backing out of the trailer, Carroll hit her in the head six times with his flashlight. As the nun lay bleeding and semi-conscious on the floor of the room, the home invader kicked and stomped her.

     With Sister Marguerite dying in a pool of her own blood, Carroll rummaged through her trailer home for cash and valuables. Before leaving the scene and driving off in the nun's car, Carroll returned to the bedroom. To make sure he would be leaving a dead woman behind, Carroll finished the victim off by tying a shirt around her neck and mouth.

     The following morning, when Sister Marguerite failed to show up for Mass, one of her mission colleagues discovered her corpse.

     A couple of days after the cold-blooded killing, police officers arrested Reehallio Carroll. He was driving his victim's car.

     Because crimes committed on Indian Reservations are federal offenses, the FBI took charge of the case. An assistant United States attorney out of Albuquerque charged Carroll with first-degree murder, a crime that under federal law carried a mandatory life sentence.

     On April 5, 2013, U. S. District Court Judge William Johnson accepted Carroll's plea to second-degree murder. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Carroll, in June 2013, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

     Members of Sister Marguerite's family, as well as her fellow nuns at St. Berard's, approved of the guilty plea and reduced sentence. They spoke of "forgiveness, redemption, and rehabilitation." Rehabilitation? Good heavens. Mr. Carroll had gotten off light because he murdered a nun. Had he killed a police officer, no one would be talking about forgiveness.

     In this brutal theft-motivated homicide, forgiveness requires a degree of compassion and love of mankind that I do not possess. I can't even forgive the judge who authorized the plea. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Undergoing Writing Surgery

Dr. Grammar tells me that to improve the health of my writing I need major surgery to have my split infinitives, adjectives, and dangling participles removed. Ouch.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, January 11, 2019

Heather Carpenter: The Felonious Party Pooper

     On December 1, 2018, 42-year-old Heather Carpenter had been teaching, as a substitute, less than two months at the Phillippi Shores Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. The school principal's 6-year-old daughter, one of Carpenter's first grade students, was being thrown a birthday party that day at Urfer Park in Sarasota County. Heather Carpenter had announced the party to the other kids in her class. What the teacher didn't announce was the fact, due to a dispute she was having with the principal, she planned to sabotage the girl's party.

     At six-thirty on the morning of December 1, 2018, a man in Urfer Park saw a woman wearing blue rubber gloves and a blue surgical mask dumping human feces on several wooden tables and two grills. When the vandal realized she had been seen, she drove off in a gray mini-van.

     As a result of the contamination of seven park tables and two grills, the birthday party was canceled. It would cost the park $2,300 to replace the vandalized items.

     On December 7, 2018, deputies with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office questioned Heather Carpenter at her home. The suspect said she had sabotaged her student's birthday party as revenge against the girl's father.

     On January 5, 2019, at Carpenter's  arraignment hearing, the prosecutor charged the teacher with felony criminal mischief. The magistrate set her bond at $2,500. The substitute teacher also lost her job at the Phillippi Shores Elementary School.

     Presumably there will be an investigation into this teacher's employment background and the extend to which it had been vetted prior to her hiring at the Phillippi school. From her actions in the park, it is not unreasonable to infer that this woman was mentally imbalanced. Whether or not this could have been revealed in a pre-employment investigation remains to be seen.

Should Parents Search Their Kids' Rooms?

     A few years ago, in Tempe, Arizona, a cleaning lady discovered what looked like an improvised explosive device (IED) in an 18-year-old boy's bedroom. She took the suspicious-looking object to the local fire station where it was x-rayed and determined to be a live bomb capable of detonation. Members of a bomb squad disabled the device. While not a big IED, the bomb was powerful enough to  destroy property and even kill people.

     The cleaning lady, when questioned by detectives, showed them photographs she had taken of other items in Joshua Prater's room that included bomb-making materials. Police officers, after searching Prater's room, took him into custody. He was charged with possession of an explosive device. Bomb making is dangerous business. This kid was lucky he didn't blow up his room and himself.

     According to media reports, the bomb-marker's parents told detectives that friends of their son's taught him how to make IEDs. (The old bad-influence defense.) While it was hard to imagine parents who would allow their child to build bombs in his room, it was not clear if these parents knew what their son was up to before the cleaning lady took action.

     Several months after Prater's arrest, he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. The judge sentenced him to one year probation. Again, this kid got lucky,.

     This story makes you wonder if today's parents know what their children are doing. It also raises the touchy issue of whether or not parents should regularly search their kids' rooms. I think they should. While invading their child's privacy may make many parents feel guilty, they should do it anyway.

     Recent studies have shown that kids today have extremely high opinions of themselves. They also feel entitled to things they are unwilling to work for. Parents should remind themselves that children are notorious liars, and profoundly ignorant of how things work in real life. Kids think they know everything because they know so little.

     In a parent's home, a child has no legal right to privacy. In the domestic environment, parents are the cops, prosecutors, and judges They have a right to know, and the duty to find out, if their kids have drugs, pornography, guns, or bombs in their rooms. And the only way to be absolutely certain that they do not possess these things involves periodic searches. Children should not be allowed to lock their doors. If they do have locks, parents should have the keys. Kids need to know that privacy is for adults. When they live in their own homes and clean their own rooms, mom and dad can be locked out.


The Disneyland Dry Ice Bomb Case

     At four in the afternoon of May 28, 2013, parents who had brought their children to Mickey's Toontown section of Anaheim, California's Disneyland, were startled by a small but loud explosion that tore the lid off a trash can near a kiddy ride called Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. While no one suffered injuries from the blast, officials of the famous theme park evacuated the Toontown area.

     At the site of the low-order explosion, detectives found fragments of a plastic water bottle which led them to conclude that a so-called dry ice bomb had been the source of the explosion. A maker of such a device adds chunks of dry ice to a quarter-full bottle of water. Once sealed, the water warms the dry ice which produces carbon dioxide that builds inside the container and eventually ruptures the bottle. These simply made little bombs, if moved, can blow off the handler's fingers. As booby traps, dry ice bombs function as little anti-personnel devices.

     Because dry ice is used at Disneyland to keep refreshments like ice cream and sodas cold, detectives figured there was a good chance the bomber worked for the theme park. As it turned out, they were right.

     On Wednesday, May 29, 2013, officers with the Anaheim Police Department arrested a 22-year-old man from Long Beach named Christian Barnes. Barnes, a so-called "outdoor vending cast member," peddled soda drinks and bottled water from a mobile cart. Charged with possession of a destructive device in a public place, the Disneyland employee was booked into the Orange County Jail. A magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     It was hard to imagine a rational motive for a crime like this. Some kid dropping a piece of garbage into that trash can could have lost his hand. The fact that Barnes worked at the theme park suggested he didn't have a criminal record.

     On Thursday, May 30, Barnes pleaded not guilty to the felony charge that carried a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The judge reduced his bail to $500.000.

     Big theme parks have been relatively safe places from crime. However, at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, a grandmother, after getting off the Dinosaur ride, found a .380-caliber pistol on her seat. She handed the gun over to a park attendant. A few minutes later, a man returned to the site and claimed the weapon. It had fallen out of his pocket during the bumpy ride. Security personnel escorted him out of the park.

     The Disney Animal Kingdom incident exposed the reality that millions of people walk through hundreds of turnstiles into parks all over the country without being searched or exposed to metal detectors. There was no way to keep guns and dry ice bombs out of these places. If going to a theme park became as inconvenient and intrusive as getting on an airplane, Mickey and his friends would find themselves alone among the Roger Rabbit rides and phony dinosaurs.

     According to prosecutors, Barnes allegedly placed dry ice into two water bottles and locked one inside his vending cart. When a co-worker came to take over the cart, one of the bottles exploded. Barnes then took the second bottle and placed it in the trash can. That device went off a short time later after a park janitor removed the trash bag and put it on the ground.

     In November 2013, Barnes pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of possession of a destructive device in return for a sentence of 36 days in jail, 100 hours of community service, and three years probation. The kid got off light.


Thornton P. Knowles On When No One Is Wrong

When facts no longer matter, everyone can be right and no one is ever wrong. This makes a dangerous, very dangerous world.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dangerous Places

     In a perfect world, there would be no crime. That will never happen. (This is good news for cops, security practitioners, lawyers, parole agents, and prison guards.) In a better world, 90 percent of the criminal population would be in prison, victimizing each other instead of us. In the real world, however, only a tiny fraction of them are behind bars. Given that reality, it's helpful to know where at least most of the dangerous criminals are. (Crime can't be prevented, it can just be moved from one place to another.) If you can figure out where most of the dangerous people are likely to be, you can reduce the risk of becoming a victim by avoiding these places. This, of course, doesn't apply to people forced to live or work in high crime areas, and certain types of criminals such as pedophiles, who are everywhere. Elementary kids can't force their parents to home school them. But many of us can avoid places where we are more likely to be mugged, raped, assaulted, and murdered.

Dangerous Cities

     Every year, the FBI announces the five most dangerous cities in the United States. By dangerous, they mean municipalities with the highest per capita crime rates. (Even in these places, over the past ten years, rates of violent crime have declined.) 

     So, in terms of avoiding criminals, what does the most dangerous city list mean? Not much. Almost all cities and towns have relatively safe neighborhoods as well as high-crime districts. A person who lives in a good neighborhood in Chicago is probably safer than someone who lives in a bad section in say, Erie, Pennsylvania. Moreover, people who live and work in the safer parts of town increase their chances of victimization if they enter crime-hot sections of the city for drugs or prostitutes. Lifestyle, as much as place of residence, determines one's vulnerability to crime. And, there is always bad luck, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. People are mugged in broad daylight in Walmart parking lots.

     Perhaps the FBI should publish a list of five things (other than shopping) people do that turns them into victims of crime. This is my list of dangerous behaviors: aggressive driving, public intoxication, buying dope, picking up street walkers, and looking wealthy in the wrong places. And, for good measure, I'll add: cutting in line at McDonalds.

Indian Reservations

     According to figures released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the rates of crime on the nation's 310 Indian reservations are more than two and a half times higher than the national average. The rates of violent criminal offenses--murder, assault, rape, and robbery--are as high or higher than the corresponding crime rates in America's most dangerous cities. Women who live on reservations are ten times more likely to be murdered than their counterparts who live elsewhere. They are sexually assaulted at a rate four times the national average.

     Indian reservations are plagued by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, broken families, and higher than average school drop-out rates, problems also found in America's inner cities. Under federal law, tribal courts have the authority to prosecute tribal members for crimes committed on Indian land, but cannot sentence defendants to more than three years in prison. As a result, tribes rely on federal authorities to investigate and prosecute serious offenses.

      Because Indian reservations are located in remote areas of the country, there are not enough FBI agents to handle the investigative caseloads. For this reason, only half, and in some cases less than half, of serious reservation crimes result in criminal prosecution. In 2010, only 35 percent of reported rapes led to federal prosecution. Regarding child sexual abuse, 39 percent of these cases find their way into federal court. By comparison, nationwide, 80 percent of federal drug related crimes are prosecuted. (Cops love drug cases, that's where all the law enforcement money is spent--gadgets, cool weapons, overtime, etc.--and drug users and sellers are easy to catch and prosecute. The other crimes require time and investigative know-how.)

     For women and children, an Indian reservation is a dangerous place.


The Case Of The Stray Bullet

     On Friday night, December 16, 2011, a 15-year-old Amish girl named Rachel Yoder, while on her way home in a horse-drawn buggy from a Christmas party at an Amish produce farm, fell dead out of the rig with a bullet in her head. She died not far from her central Ohio home in Wayne County. The girl's brother found her when he saw the horse walking around her body. The Summit County medical examiner, without the benefit of an investigation, ruled the death a homicide. This manner of death ruling triggered speculation the girl had been murdered at the behest of Bishop Sam Mullet, the cult like leader of the band of renegade Amish outlaws who had been recently charged with a series of Ohio home invasions. (See: "Bishop Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw," November 25, 2011.)

     A few days after Rachel Yoder's death, the local sheriff announced she had been killed by a stray bullet fired a mile and a half away by a young Amish man cleaning his muzzle-loading rifle. (A rifle loaded through the muzzle end of the barrel. I don't know if this gun was a modern replica or an antique.) The Amish girl's death, according to the gun cleaning theory, was simply a freak accident. The sheriff said he had not ruled out a negligent homicide charge. (Such a charge would be ridiculous. If the Amish man had been cleaning his gun in Starbucks, that's one thing, but in Amish country?)

     One could drive around the most violent neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and Detroit twenty-four hours a day for twenty years, and never catch a stray bullet. Rachel Yoder had been riding in her buggy in the country, a bullet fired a mile and a half away not only found her, it killed her. That's hard to believe. After traveling that far, a bullet, particularly one fired from a muzzle-loader, loses its velocity and the force to become deadly. This theory of Rachel Yoder's death was so farfetched, a writer who put such a scene into a mystery novel would be laughed out of the business. 

     One of Rachel Yoder's Amish neighbors was quoted as follows: "We can't understand how it could happen, but I guess it was the Lord, maybe. Her time was up is what we think." I'll tell what I think--on second thought, I better not, other than to say I don't subscribe to that line of reasoning. In my view, if Rachel Yoder was not murdered, she died of extreme bad luck.

   On September 11, 2012, 28-year-old Marion Yoder pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. The Holmes County judge sentenced the Amish man to six months in the county jail, but suspended all but 30 days of the term.  Because I can't imagine a jury convicting this man of negligent homicide, I don't see the wisdom in the guilty plea. While the level of negligence in this case might have supported a civil wrongful death action, it did not rise to criminal recklessness. Putting a man in jail for a freak accident is not criminal justice.