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Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Ethan Estevez Sexuial Abuse/Murder Solicitation Case

     In August 2012, the Harford County Maryland School District hired 29-year-old Ethan Estevez to teach biology in the town of Aberdeen. The resident of Churchville, Maryland would teach alternative education students at the Center for Educational Opportunity. According to the center's website, "Alternative Education provides a continuation of educational services to students who may have experienced crises. This program also exists to meet the individual needs of those students who have dropped out of school or not have been successful in a traditional school environment."
   
      In February 2014, members of the center's teaching staff came to suspect that Estevez was engaged in a sexual relationship with a female student, a relationship that had been going on since September 2012 when the girl was fifteen. The girl had told some of her friends and her mother that she and the teacher had been involved romantically. The mother, along with teachers from the school, reported Estevez to the Harford County Sheriff's Office. 
     A few days after filing the criminal complaint against the teacher, the alleged victim's mother, with a detective listening in on the call, phoned Estevez and asked him if her daughter's allegations were true. Estevez explained that he and the girl were in love and planned to get married. (Estevez, however, already had a wife.) The teacher denied that he and the girl had engaged in anything beyond kissing.
    On March 7, 2014, a school administrator placed Estevez on administrative leave. A month after that, detectives searching the girl's iPhone came across a February 2014 text message to one of her friends that revealed a murder-for-hire plot involving Estevez as the mastermind and his wife as the target. The girl had written: "Like it has to look like an accident because of life insurance and stuff." In another text message, the girl said she "just needed it to really happen before Sunday." 
     Questioned about the text messages by detectives, the student claimed that the teacher never really intended to have his wife murdered. Yes, they had talked about it but he was just joking around. 
     On June 4, 2014, a Harford County grand jury indicted Ethan Estevez on charges of sexual abuse. On that day the head of the school district fired him. After a few hours in jail Estevez posted his bond and was released to await his trial.
 
     A month after Estevez's sexual abuse arrest, Harford County detectives questioned a girl who had exchanged text messages with the suspect's alleged student victim. According to the ex-teacher's student/girlfriend, he had initially spoke of making his wife's murder look like a hit-and-run accident. Later he changed the murder plan to have the hit man orchestrate a fake drive-by shooting outside of a restaurant. To make the hit look like a random crime and throw suspicion off himself, Estevez wanted the assassin to shoot him in the arm. (That was stupid because hit men are amateurs who don't shoot straight.) This girl also told detectives that her friend said the hit man would kill the teacher's wife for $600. 
     In August 2014, an assistant Harford County state's attorney charged Ethan Estevez with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. At the defendant's bail hearing, the prosecutor argued that the suspect posed a danger to the community and to his wife. District Court Judge David Carey said he could not ignore the seriousness of the charge. He said, however, that Mr. Estevez was entitled to bail which he set at $75,000. The next day the murder-for-hire and sexual abuse suspect posted his bond and walked out of the Harford County Jail.

     On June 4, 2014, Estevez was fired from his teaching position.

     In February 2015, the prosecutor in charge of the Estevez case dropped the murder solicitation charge in exchange for the former teacher's guilty plea to a fourth-degree sexual offense related to the student. Hartford County Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron sentenced Estevez to one year in the county jail. Pursuant to this lenient sentence, Estevez was deemed eligible for work release. (He had found a job at an insurance company.) The judge also sentenced Estevez to five years probation.   

Anthony Novellino: The Pig Mask Murder Case

     In 2010, after years of marriage, Anthony Novellino and his wife Judith, a teacher at Morris Catholic High School in Denville Township, New Jersey, couldn't stand each other. She accused him of being verbally abusive and controlling. He claimed that because she was such a lousy housekeeper, the place was always a mess. To back up his accusation, he emailed photographs of the unkempt home to family and friends.

     The couple also fought over their oldest son, Anthony A. Novellino Jr., a resident of nearby Parsippany. Over the past few years, police officers had arrested Novellino Jr. for possession of drugs. He had also been charges with auto theft. Judith Novellino treated her drug-addicted son with compassion and accommodated his needs such as giving him money. The father, fed up with his son, believed that tough-love, such as jail, was the best way to deal with the problem.

     Judith Novellino filed for divorce, and on June 8, 2010, it became final. According to the divorce settlement, she would receive $110,000, her share of the house, plus $150,000, her half of their IRAs and bank savings. Mr. Novellino made no secret of the fact he felt cheated in the distribution of the family assets.

     On June 19, 2010, eleven days after the finalization of the breakup, Anthony Novellino came home and found Judith in the house retrieving her personal belongings. They argued and he became enraged. The confrontation came to a bloody end when he stabbed her 84 times with an 8-inch kitchen knife. Before he packed some of his belongings and walked to his car, Mr. Novellino slipped a pig mask over his former wife's head.

     Christina German discovered her mother's body in the bathroom when she came to the house to help the 62-year-old move her belongings to an apartment in Parsippany.

     Five days after the brutal murder, police in Puyallup, Washington took Anthony Novellino into custody. The 66-year-old fugitive had driven across the country to be with a woman he had met on the Internet. Assistant Morris County prosecutor Maggie Calderwood charged Novellino with murder and several lesser offenses.

     When interrogated by detectives in New Jersey, the suspect claimed that he had "hit" his former wife twice with the knife in self defense. The judge denied Novellino bond. Officers booked the suspect into the Morris County Jail where he would await his day in court.

     The Novellino trial got underway in a Morristown Superior Court on July 7, 2014. In his opening remarks to the jury, the defendant's attorney, Michael Priarone, said his client, in a fit of temporary insanity, had attacked his wife. This act of violence, according to the defense attorney, was entirely out of his client's character. As a result, Priarone wanted the jury to find Mr. Novellino guilty of what he called "passion provocation manslaughter," an offense that carried a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

     Anthony Novellino's attorney moved to have the death scene pig mask excluded from evidence on the grounds it was "highly prejudicial" to his client. The judge denied that request.

     On July 22, 2014, after just three hours of deliberation, the jury found Anthony Novellino guilty of murder, hindering apprehension, tampering with evidence, and two counts of illegal weapons possession.

     At the September 12, 2014 sentence hearing, the judge sentenced 70-year-old Anthony Novellino to 50 years in prison. The overkill and the pig mask had sealed his fate.

Spilled Blood in Crime and Literature

     Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself. When a body is found, very often death from natural causes can be assumed. But if blood is discovered on the corpse, the the ugly question of murder arises.

     Most murders involve the spilling of blood, and from earliest times the written records abound with references to that red substance which pumps through all our veins and arteries. The Bible is full of allusions to blood: the spilling of blood, blood sacrifice and so on. Shakespeare too had his way with blood--blood feuds, ties of blood, blood-lust, blood money--and who can forget Lady Macbeth's obsession with the blood of her victim?

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Justin Harris Murder Case

     Justin Ross Harris, a 2012 graduate of the University of Alabama, lived in suburban Cobb County outside of Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Leanna and their 22-month-old son Cooper. On the morning of Wednesday, June 18, 2014, with the toddler strapped into his carseat in the back of his 2011 Hyundai Tucson, Justin Harris drove straight to the administrative offices of Home Depot where he worked. Instead of first dropping Cooper off at the boy's day school, he left his son in the car.

     At noon that day, with the temperature in suburban Atlanta at 92 degrees, Mr. Harris ate lunch at a restaurant not far from Home Depot then returned to work. When he climbed into the sweltering vehicle at four o'clock, the boy was still in the carseat.

     The boy's father drove to a nearby shopping center where, within hearing range of several people, he yelled, "Oh my God, what have I done? My God my son is dead!" Someone at the scene called 911.

     About an hour after responding to the shopping center parking lot, paramedics, unable to revive the boy, pronounced him dead. Officers with the Cobb County Police Department took Justin Harris into custody on suspicion of murder, felony murder and cruelty to a child in the first degree.

     Following an interrogation at police headquarters, a Cobb County prosecutor formally charged Mr. Harris with the above three offenses. At his arraignment, the murder suspect pleaded not guilty. The judge denied him bond.

     According to investigators, the suspect's wife Leanna said this to him at the police station following his interrogation: "Did you say too much?" Employees at Cooper's day school told police officers that when they called the boy's mother to inform her that he had not been delivered to class that morning, she had said, "Ross (Justin) must have left him in the car."

     Following a search of the suspect's dwelling and office, detectives discovered that Justine and Leanna had conducted Internet searches on the subject of hot car death. One of their inquires read: "how long does it take for an animal to die in a hot car?" When confronted with this incriminating evidence, Mr. Harris explained he had been fearful about his son dying inside a hot car. Detectives didn't buy the suspect's explanation.

     Leanna, in filling out a routine victim's statement form, in the place for the victim's name, wrote "self" rather than Cooper Harris.

     Upon completion of the victim's autopsy, the medical examiner ruled that the boy's cause of death was consistent with dying from heat inside of a vehicle. The forensic pathologist wrote that "investigative information suggests the manner of death as homicide."

     Shortly after police officers took Justin Harris into custody, his family and friends established an online petition calling for the prosecutor to drop the felony murder charge. According to the petition, Cooper Harris' death was "a horrible accident. The father loved his son immensely. They were loving parents who are devastated. Justin already has to live with a punishment worse than death." The Harris support group also created an online fundraising account for the suspect and his wife.

     On August 9, 2014, Leanna Harris' attorney, Lawrence Zimmerman, told reporters that he is concerned that the Cobb County District Attorney's Office will bring homicide and/or child cruelty charges against his client.

     As the January 2015 trial approached, Justin Harris' attorney, Maddox Kilgore, insisted that the child's death was a tragic accident and not an act of criminal homicide. The prosecutor, on the other hand, believed the death had been an intentional killing motivated by the suspect's desire to live a child-free life.

     From Harris' home, detectives acquired 120 computer discs containing videos, photographs, cellphone records, emails, and the contents of other material on the suspect's computer hard drives. From this data investigators learned that on the day of Cooper Harris' death the suspect was sexting with a minor girl and another woman. This evidence led to the additional charge of dissemination of pornography to a minor.

     On November 16, 2016, following a five-week trial featuring Leanna Harris as the defense's chief witness, a jury in Brunswick, Georgia found Justine Harris guilty of first-degree murder. Following the verdict, Assistant District Attorney Chuck Boring told reporters that Harris, in killing his child, "had malice in his heart."

     On December 16, 2016, the judge sentenced the 36-year-old Harris to life in prison without the chance of parole. 

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

     It's not true that the only reason criminals return to the scene of the crime is to make sure they didn't leave any evidence. Mostly, they return to the scene of the crime because they're stupid.

     Thomas Lancaster, twenty-one, came back to the doughnut shop he had just robbed a few minutes earlier at knifepoint in Oxnard, California. He wandered in, sat down, and tried to order a cup of coffee. The clerk merely beckoned to the police officer who was taking down all the information for the robbery report, and he made the arrest.

Chuck Shepherd, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993

Prosecutor Alex Hunter And The JonBenet Ramsey Case: A Profile In Courage

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder, Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped for ransom, she had called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling, the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who had come to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon, Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later, he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape, and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder, the police, prosecutors, media, and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, then who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer, and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announcement in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, grand jurors did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute these parents.

     According to the Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case, myself included, agree with attorney Wood. The Ramseys had not only been victimized by their daughter's killer, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

     The Ramsey case is still officially open, but investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 25 this year. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Steven Powell And His Son Josh: Cases Of Voyeurism, Arson, and Murder-Suicide

     On December 6, 2009, Josh Powell reported his 28-year-old wife, Susan Cox Powell, missing. He said she had disappeared while he and his two sons were on a camping trip. The family lived in West Valley, a suburb of Salt Lake City. The story didn't make any sense, and the police didn't believe him. As time passed, and Susan Cox remained missing, the authorities suspected that Josh Powell had murdered his wife for her life insurance. But without the body, the case stalled.

     In January 2010, after losing his job, Josh Powell and his boys moved into his father Steven Powell's house in South Hill, an unincorporated community in the Puyallup, Washington area. Investigators, in August 2011, pursuant to the ongoing investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance and presumed murder, searched Steven Powell's house, and were shocked by what they found.

     On videotapes, computer discs, and in Steven Powell's diaries, detectives found evidence that Josh's father had been sexually obsessed with Susan, and had secretly videotaped and photographed, in 2006 and 2007, two girls who lived in the house next door. The girls were age 8 and 10.

     In seven entries in his dairies, Steven Powell had documented his bizarre fixation on his daughter-in-law. He wrote: "Susan likes to be admired, and I'm a voyeur...I'm a voyeur and Susan is an exhibitionist." In a series of videos of himself ruminating about his daughter-in-law, the senior Powell said he "...would give anything to be with her." In various self-videoed scenes, Steven Powell is kissing a pair of her underwear, standing nude with a photograph of her, and recalling how giving her a foot rub was "...the most erotic experience of my life." Detectives also found clandestinely taken photographs of Susan in various stages of undress.

     Even more disturbing, were the thousands of photographs Powell had secretly taken of the girls next door. The pictures, taken 40 feet away through a window and an open bathroom door, depicted the youngsters getting dressed and undressed, taking baths, washing and drying their hair, and other thing people do in the privacy of their homes. On his computer, Steven Powell had hundreds of photographs he had covertly taken of other girls who had passed in front of his house. Searchers also found hundreds of photographs, taken by other people, of naked women and girls.

     In his diary entries, Powell discussed his voyeurism generally, noting that he enjoyed taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts. In 2010, he recorded himself saying,  "I've been going nuts and nearly out of control sexually my entire life."

     Charged by the Pierce County prosecutor with 24 counts of voyeurism, and one count of possession of materials of minors engaged in explicit conduct, police arrested Steven Powell on September 12, 2011. Each count carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     About a month after his father's arrest, Josh Powell lost custody of his two boys and moved into a rented house in Graham, Washington. On February 6, 2012, his sons' made a visit to his home accompanied by a supervising social worker. Powell, with the boys in the house, locked the social worker out of the dwelling. With the social worker locked outside of the house, Josh Powell murdered the boys with a hatchet. He poured several gallons of gasoline around the dwelling then set it on fire. He died in the blaze.

     Steven Powell, with his daughter-in-law missing and presumed dead, two of his grandsons murdered, and his son, the killer of all three, dead by his own hand, went on trial May 7, 2012 in Tacoma, Washington. In a series of pre-trial hearings, Pierce County Judge Ronald Culpepper had ruled that the prosecution could not introduce any of the evidence pertaining to Powell's obsession with Susan Powell. Moreover, the government could only present 20 of the photographs the defendant had allegedly taken of the girls next door.

     On May 9, the girls Powell had allegedly photographed and videotaped in 2006 and 2007, now 13 and 15, took the stand for the prosecution. When asked why they had not kept the bathroom door closed, one of the witnesses said she felt safer with the door open, and had no idea anyone outside the house could see her. In the summer, because the home didn't have air conditioning, it got hot on the second floor. That explained why all of the upstairs windows had been open during the night. The family had moved to Puyalllup in 2006 from Arizona, and in 2008, left the neighborhood. The girls and their mother had no memory of Steven Powell, and were unable to identify him in the court room.

     Defense attorney Mark Quigley did not put any witnesses on the stand. His defense, which revealed itself through his cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, consisted of suggesting that someone else in the Powell house had spied on the girls. At the time, Steven Powell's two sons, and one of his daughters, lived with him.

     Attorney Quigley, in his closing argument to the jury, pointed out that the state, with no direct proof the defendant had photographed and videotaped the neighbor girls, had not carried its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

     Prosecutor Grand Blinn, characterized the state's case as one involving "overwhelming circumstantial evidence." Blinn told the jury of six men and six women that the defendant had essentially confessed to being a voyeur. "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "anything more disturbing to teenage girls to know that a middle age man next door was taking pictures of them."

     On May 16, 2012, the jury, following just three hours of deliberation, found Steven Powell guilty of all 14 counts of voyeurism. They acquitted him of the possession of child pornography charges.

     The judge, on July 15, 2012, sentenced Steven Powell to 30 months in prison for the voyeurism offenses.

     On October 27, 2014, the prosecutor re-charged Powell on the pornography allegations. A judge later dismissed that case.

     The Washington State Court of Appeals, on March 13, 2016, set aside Powell's voyeurism conviction on procedural grounds related to the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

     As of March 2019, Susan Cox Powell's body had not been found.

Thornton P. Knowles On Free Speech

Most people who profess to support and respect the constitutional right to free speech, do so only when the speech in question doesn't, in some way, offend them. In reality, very few people, including journalists, truly believe in or understand the rationale for this basic constitutional safeguard against oppressive government. Perhaps the people who hate free speech the most are politicians. That's because they have so much to hide from American voters. It's been this way for a long time, and doesn't bode well for American democracy.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Unsuccessful Counterfeiter

The most difficult, intricate crime involves counterfeiting money. Wait, let me rephrase that. The most difficult, intricate crime is successful counterfeiting. Unsuccessful counterfeiters are everywhere, particularly in prison, having failed to live up to their expectations.

Chuck Sheppard, America's Lest Successful Criminals, 1993

"Privileged" Or Not, No One "Deserves" to be Robbed

     In November 2014, Georgetown University senior Oliver Friedfeld and his roommate were mugged at gun point. Friedfeld says he deserved it because of his "privilege." In an opinion piece in the university newspaper, The Hoya, Friedfeld wrote that he "can hardly blame" the assailants for robbing him. He argued that income inequality is to blame for the crime.

     "Who am I to stand from my perch of privilege, surrounded by million-dollar homes and paying for a $60,000 education, to condemn these young men as 'thugs?' It's precisely this kind of 'otherization' that fuels the problem," Friedfeld wrote…

     Friedfeld asserted that in order to end opportunistic crime, "We should look at ourselves first. Simply amplifying police presence will not solved the issue. It is up to millenials to right some of the wrongs of the past. Until we do so, we should get comfortable with sporadic muggings and break-ins. I can hardly blame them." [What a load of university-speak crap from a rich, guilt-ridden ivory tower idiot.]

"Student Robbed at Gunpoint Says He Deserved It Due to His 'Privilege,' " breitbart.com, November 29, 2014 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Gary Castonguay Case: Paroling a Cop Killer?

     In 1976, 32-year-old Gary Castonguay was convicted of shooting into the homes of two police officers in Bristol, Connecticut. The attacks took place at night when the officers were home with their families. Castonguay had told people that he wanted to kill cops.

     Instead of being locked up in prison for attempted murder, a judge found Castonguay legally insane and sent him to a psychiatric hospital for six months. Once released from the hospital he was free.

     In 1977, caught breaking into a home in Plainville, Connecticut, Castonguay fled from police officer Robert Holcomb. As Holcomb was about to catch and arrest him, the burglar turned and shot the 26-year-old officer. Castonguay, with the officer down, was free to escape. But instead of running off, he stood over the fallen officer and shot him three times in the chest, killing him on the spot.

     Following his conviction and life sentence for the cold-blooded killing of a police officer, Castonguay's attorney filed several appeals on his client's behalf. The appellate courts rejected all of the appeals. As a result, the conviction and the life sentence remained in effect.

     On January 9, 2015, members of the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a two to one vote, agreed to grant the 70-year-old cop killer a parole. The board members made this atrocious decision after Castonguay's self-serving testimony that he hadn't intended to kill officer Holcomb. In an effort to escape, he panicked, blacked out, and had no memory of the shooting.

     These ridiculous arguments hadn't worked at Castonguay's trial and had been rejected by all of the appellate courts. But decades later the cop killer was able to use these absurd justifications to convince two idiot parole board members to send him back into society.

     None of officer Holcomb's relatives had been notified of the Castonguay parole hearing. When the relatives learned of the granted parole they were understandably shocked and outraged. So were members of the general public who flooded the parole board with angry emails and letters.

     As a result of the public outcry over the parole board's ruling, the board agreed to hold another hearing to give the slain officer's relatives a chance to express their anger and disbelief that this cold-blooded cop killer had been granted parole.

     At the March 25, 2015 hearing, the same board members voted three to zero to rescind the cop killer's parole.

     This case begs the question: where do they find such sob-sister parole board members? I know it's the state of Connecticut, but still. If Castonguay had killed a police officer in Texas, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, or Oklahoma, he'd be dead by now and the dead officer's relatives would not have to worry about a couple of corrections idiots setting him free. 

Why Sherlock Holmes Didn't Stay Dead

     Sherlock Holmes died in 1893 but then came back to life ten years later. After writing twenty-four Holmes stories in six years, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of the popular hero and wanted to focus on writing historical novels. So he figured he could put an end to the whole thing by having Holmes plunge to his death from Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, holding his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity, in a mutual death grip.

     Although public outcry was enormous, Doyle remained adamant about not bringing Holmes back. Ten years later, though, McClure's magazine in the United States offered Doyle $5,000 per story if he'd bring his detective back to life. That was the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in today's money, and Doyle couldn't resist. His first story had Holmes coming out of hiding after ten years, and Doyle wrote Holmes stories for a quarter of a century before retiring himself and his detective for good in 1927.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be a Writer, 2003 

The Drunk And Disorderly Football Fan

     On Sunday night, November 3, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens were in Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at Heinz Field. Stephen Sapp, a 29-year-old fan from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the northern bank of the Monongahela River, was in attendance. He would have been better off if he'd stayed home and watched the game on TV.

     At some point during the event, stadium security officers were called to Gate C where an apparently intoxicated Sapp had become disorderly and loud. The security officers warned Mr. Sapp that if he didn't stop yelling and screaming they would have to ask him to leave the stadium. The out of control football fan said he had no intention of being ejected from the premises. That's when security called in the Pittsburgh police.

     Upon the arrival of the Pittsburgh police, Stephen Sapp started kicking the steel dividing barriers. The officers warned him that if he didn't stop doing that, they would have to take him into custody. Mr. Sapp showed his contempt for authority by kicking another barrier that broke loose and hit Melissa Yancee in the forehead. The blow cut her face and knocked her unconscious.

     The officers informed the drunken fan that they were taking him to jail. When they tried to handcuff the disorderly and now dangerous fan, he physically resisted. Sapp ended up on the ground with his hands tucked under his body in an effort to avoid the handcuffs. Following a brief struggle, the officers were able to free the arrestee's hands and apply the restraining device.

     Because Sapp had sustained cuts during his scuffle with the police, the officers took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital. While waiting to be treated for his minor injuries, Sapp said this to a police officer: "I know how this works. How much money will it take to make this go away and to let me go home today?" (Sapp was employed at the IRS office in Pittsburgh.)

     The officer informed Mr. Sapp that he had just committed the crime of bribery. Seemingly devoid of good sense, the man in custody continued, "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away."

     Later that night, the officers showed Mr. Sapp how things work in Pittsburgh criminal justice. They booked him into the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, defiant trespass, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and bribery. The judge set his bond at $10,000.

     Melissa Yancee, the woman injured as a result of Mr. Sapp's drunken Heinz Field antics was transported to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of her head wounds.

     The Steelers, without Mr. Sapps's help, went on to win the game.  

Estimating Time of Death

     Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, pathologists and toxicologists have continued to fill forensic science journals with reports of potential new indicators of time of death. Some of the most promising have included a gradual rise in potassium levels in the eye's jellylike vitreous humor and the waning ability of the cadaver's muscles to respond to mild electric shock. Yet every such stopwatch has eventually proved inadequate when applied to actual murder, in all its controlled-experiment-defying depravity.

     Still, the myth of the medical expert's ability to nail down time of death has endured. No doubt this stems in part from the many pathologists who continue to offer more precision in court than their science can rightfully claim. That they do this is understandable enough, given the relentless pressure. "It's a question almost invariably asked by police officers, sometimes with touching faith in the accuracy of the estimate," wrote famed English pathologist Bernard Knight in the 1960s. "It's one of the most common questions I get," echoed Missouri medical examiner Jay Dix forty years later. "I have to tell them--it's impossible." Yet Dix--one of the nation's top pathologists and the author of the 1999 forensic atlas Time of Death, Decomposition, and Identification--sees it done all the time. "I'm continually reviewing cases in which pathologists pinpoint death to within a few hours," he said. "Not that I've ever seen a case where it was appropriate."

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse, 2001

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Austin Reed Sigg Murder Case

     In 2012, ten-year-old Jessica Ridgeway resided in Westminster, Colorado outside of Denver. The Witt Elementary School fifth grader lived with her mother, grandmother, and aunt. Jessica's mother, Sarah Ridgeway, and the girl's father, Jeremiah Bryant, were divorced and fighting over the $267 per month Mr. Bryant had been ordered to pay in child support. Sarah Ridgeway worked the 10 PM to 7 AM shift at a software company in Boulder.

     On Friday, October 5, 2012, Jessica left her house at eight-thirty in the morning en route to a classmate's home to be driven to school by her friend's father. The 1,000 foot walk, past a handful of single track homes and the playground equipment in Chelsa Park, only took a few minutes. When Jessica didn't show up at her friend's house at eight-forty, the boy's father drove his son to school without her.

     At ten that morning, a school secretary at Witt Elementary called Sarah Ridgeway's cellphone to report Jessica's absence. Sarah, already asleep after working the previous night in Boulder, did not pick up the phone. When she awoke at four that afternoon, she checked her messages and learned that Jessica had missed school that day.

     The concerned mother drove to the school where no one she spoke to said they had seen Jessica that day. After checking with some of her daughter's friends, and driving by Chelsa Park, Sarah Ridgeway, at 4:23 PM, drove to the Westminster Police Department to report her daughter missing.

     That evening, an officer with a bloodhound canvased the 1,000-foot route Jessica would have taken that morning. The dog did not pick up her scent. At nine that night, the authorities had enough evidence of an abduction to issue an Amber Alert.

     The following morning, 1,000 volunteers showed up at the police department to walk the fields in Jessica's neighborhood. The search did not produce any information relative to the girl's disappearance.

     On October 7, two days after Jessica went missing, a man six miles from the Ridgeway home found a backpack lying next to a sidewalk. The bag contained a keychain bearing the name "Jessica."

     Maintenance workers picking up litter in a park in Arvada, Colorado nine miles from Jessica's house, came across a plastic trash bag they thought contained the remains of someone's pet. The workers flagged down two animal management officers who happened to be driving by. One of the officers opened the bag and found the dismembered remains of a child. Two days later, DNA tests confirmed that the trash bag held Jessica Ridgeway's remains.

     The Jessica Ridgeway case, now about child murder and dismemberment, suddenly broke into the national news as a big story. Was there a child killer on the loose in Westminster, Colorado?

     Ten days after the gruesome discovery in Arvada, a tipster called the Westminster Police Department with information about Austin Reed Sigg. The 17-year-old, who lived in Westminster with his mother, had dropped out of high school in his junior year. He had since earned a graduate equivalency diploma and was enrolled in a local community college. According to the caller, Sigg had an obsession with death and mortuary science. He had also expressed an attraction to Jessica Ridgeway.

     The day following the tip concerning Austin Sigg, FBI agents went to his house and acquired a sample of his DNA.

     On October 23, 2012, Austin Sigg called 911 and expressed his desire to turn himself in and confess to the murder and dismemberment of the missing Westminster girl. In response to the dispatcher's inquiry regarding his criminal history, Sigg said, "The only other thing that I have done was the Kerner Lake incident where the woman got attacked. That was me." (In May 2012, a young man tried to subdue a female jogger by placing a rag soaked in homemade chloroform over her face. She resisted and managed to escape.)

     The day following Sigg's 911 confession, the police took him into custody. Sigg told his interrogators that he had abducted Jessica shortly after she left her house that morning. After strangling her to death, he cut up her body in a bathtub and deposited most of her remains in the Arvada, Colorado park. He had, however, hidden some of the girl's body parts in a crawl space in the house he shared with his mother.

     A Jefferson County prosecutor charged Austin Sigg as an adult with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and the sexual assault of a child. (Sigg denied having sex with the victim.) He was jailed without bond.

     On October 1, 2013, almost a year after Jessica Ridgeway's abduction and murder, and just two days before Sigg's murder trial was to commence, the defendant, against the advice of his public defender, pleaded guilty to all charges.

     On November 18, 2013, before sentencing Sigg to life plus 86 years, Judge Stephen Munsinger, in referring to what Sigg had done to Jessica Ridgeway, said, "Evil is apparently real."

The Memoir-Worthy Life

     The truth is out there. You can't miss it, in fact--it's everywhere. But even as we embrace the twenty-four hour confession cycle of social media, the popularity, and subsequent disparagement, of the memoir reveals our mixed feelings about true stories. We might be lured into tales of harrowing childhoods or devastating divorces, but our internal machinery will monitor the narratives based on the same arbitrary rubrics that guard our own personal revelations (or lack thereof): Is the author honest about his motives? Are her experiences exotic enough to teach us something new? Does he learn a big lesson at the end, or does he tumble off a cliff into a nihilistic abyss?

     Blogs and Instagram and YouTube have rendered brutal honesty and statements of "my truth" about as mundane as instructions on how to dye your hair. Nevertheless, committing your life experiences to the published page is still viewed as an audacious act, one reserved for celebrated authors, public figures, or those who've lived outside the norm and endured horrors untold. For every phalanx of writing instructors exhorting their pupils to write what they know, there's an equal and opposite gaggle of critics urging them to keep their junior-varsity trials and tribulations to themselves. If your pain doesn't equal the pain of the reader, you are merely indulging yourself.

Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum, February/March 2015 

Catherine Wood and Gwendoline Graham: Angels of Death

     Killing to ease the stress of a bad day was part of the strategy adopted by care assistants Catherine Wood and Gwendoline Graham at the Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walter, Michigan. To make the game more fun, they selected their elderly victims in a sequence whereby the first letter of their names spelled out the word, M.U.R.D.E.R….
 
     Wood and Graham were lesbian lovers and while they both received satisfactory job reviews, their nursing home colleagues had suspicions about their behavior. For one thing, the pair liked to boast about the callous way they treated some of their patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease which included taking souvenirs such as trinkets and ornaments. Colleagues were not sure how seriously to take things they were told.

     After a series of eight deaths at the nursing home, some of these boasts landed on fertile ground. Wood's ex-husband heard stories about patients being suffocated and, after months of indecision, eventually went to the police. The two women were arrested in December 1988 and charged with murder….

     Wood was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty to forty years imprisonment while Graham, found guilty of six murders, was sentenced to life with no hope of parole.

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010



Thornton P. Knowles On The Devil's Dilemma

Let's say an executioner, on the order of the court, executes a man for murder who, while having lived a life of crime, did not commit the criminal homicide. The executioner, while he killed an "innocent man," has been a model citizen and a good man. Which one goes to Heaven and who ends up in Hell? And what about people who support the death penalty, where are they going?

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Tania Coleman Murder Case

     Firefighters in Erie, Pennsylvania, on May 24, 2011, while on a call on east Eighth Street, detected the odor of death coming from a discarded suitcase. When they opened the suitcase, the firefighters found the badly decomposed remains of 14-month-old Alayja Coleman.

     The next day, at the Erie Police Department, detectives questioned the child's mother, 20-year-old Tania Coleman. The pregnant mother of two lived in a house near the discovery of the suitcase. The dead girl's father, Rahsean Murphy, had been in prison most of Alaja's life. Murphy had last seen his daughter in late March 2011. Xavier Hollamon, Tania Coleman's 20-year-old boyfriend, was the father of her other two children as well as the baby to come.


     During the low-key, videotaped interrogation that lasted 45 minutes, Tania said that two months earlier she had discovered Alayja dead in her playpen. Panicked, she called Hollamon who rushed to the house. A high school dropout, Hollamon had just completed his Army basic training, and feared this situation would land him in military prison.

     Rather than report Alayja's death to the authorities, Coleman and her boyfriend put her body into the suitcase and hid it in the house. Before long, the odor became too much. On April 25, (this was later determined through investigation), Tania and Xavier, at the cost of $73, purchased a fancy plastic trash bin from Walmart. They placed the suitcase containing Alayja's body into the trash container and set it outside until they figured out how to permanently dispose of the body. (Someone, in stealing the trash bin, removed the suitcase.)

     Forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Vey performed the autopsy, and determined the cause of Alayja's death to be starvation. (Her body had been consuming her muscles and organs.) The Erie County Coroner ruled her manner of death as homicide. Due to the condition of the corpse, Dr. Vey could not pinpoint the victim's time of death.

     Dr. Vey's review of Alayja's pediatric records revealed that when she was 11 months old she weighed less than she had at the age of 4 months. When examined by a pediatrician 6 months after her birth, the doctor declared Alayja's weight in the "danger zone," and recommended that Tania feed her a lot of fruits and vegetables. The little girl missed her 9th and 12th month check-ups.

     Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri charged Xavier Hollamon with abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence, a pair of misdemeanors that together carried a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison. He charged Tania Coleman with these crimes plus first degree-murder. In Pennsylvania, first degree-murder carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole. To make his case, the district attorney would have to prove the defendant deliberately starved her daughter to death.

     In early March 2012, Xavier Hollamon pleaded guilty to the abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence misdemeanors in return for 2 years probation and 250 hours of community service. He had been incarcerated in the Erie County Jail for almost a year. Hollamon, as part of the plea bargain, agreed to testify against his former girlfriend, the mother of his two children and the unborn child. (I presume the Army issued Hollamon a dishonorable discharge.)

     Tania Coleman's first-degree murder trial got underway in mid-March 2012 before Judge Shad Connelly in the Erie County Court House. District Attorney Jack Daneri, on the theory that the defendant had killed her daughter because she had not been fathered by her boyfriend, and didn't fit into the family, put on his circumstantial case of intentional murder.

     Jamie Mead, Coleman's court-appointed attorney, presented the defendant as an overwhelmed single parent who had neglected a child who died despite efforts to feed her. Attorney Mead argued that if Coleman had intentionally murdered Alayja, she would have come up with a better plan to dispose of her body. The defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf. In the defense attorney's closing statement to the jury, Mead accused the prosecution of manufacturing a motive to support their theory of an intentional murder.

     On March 22, 2012, the Erie County jury found Tania Coleman guilty of first-degree murder. Attorney Mead immediately filed motions to either replace the first-degree murder conviction with a lesser homicide, or for a new trial. The defense attorney argued that the jury, in finding her client guilty of intentional murder, had relied more on emotion than evidence, citing witnesses who had testified that Tania had expressed concern about Alayja's refusal to eat.

     Judge Shad Connelly, on May 17, 2012, sentenced Tania Coleman to life in prison without chance of parole.

     On October 7, 2013, a state appeals court upheld Coleman's conviction. The appellate affirmation meant that Tania Coleman would spend the rest of her life in prison. 

Arrest First, Ask Questions Later

     A compassionate Houston driver who gave some change to a homeless man was later wrongfully arrested on police suspicion that his charity was part of a drug deal. During a late-night drive, Greg Snider pulled into an empty parking lot to make a call on his cell phone. A homeless man approached him and asked for money. Snider gave him 75 cents in change before continuing his drive.

     A police car pulled Snider over. The officer ordered him out of his car, handcuffed him and put him in the back of the police car….The officer told Snider that he had seen him make a drug deal. Eventually, as many as 10 police cars approached the scene….Snider agreed to let the officer search his car…After a hour-long search, officers were forced to admit that the man had no drugs, and let him go. The police laughed all the while--apparently, they found it hilarious that they had detained an innocent man for over an hour over a misunderstanding. [Had the driver made a "furtive move," he may have been shot.]

Robby Soave, The Daily Caller, January 17, 2014 

What's The Fastest You Have Ever Driven?

     New Hampshire State Police say an airborne patrol unit clocked a man driving 127 mph on Interstate 93 in the town of Northfield. The State Police Special Enforcement Unit was using an airplane to monitor traffic Saturday morning November 29, 2014 when the trooper in the aircraft saw a northbound vehicle traveling fast.

     Police said the tactical flight officer twice clocked the vehicle traveling in excess of 100 mph with the top speed at 127. The driver, stopped by troopers on the ground, was 19-year-old Ryan Quinn of Newport, Rhode Island. A prosecutor charged Quinn with reckless driving and two counts of possession of a controlled drug.

"Man clocked at 127 MPH on Highway," Associated Press, November 30, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Existence Of Hell

I do and I don't want to believe in the existence of Hell. I like the idea that rapists and people who abuse children and animals and murder in cold blood will get what they deserve after they die. But just how bad does one have to be to justify an eternity of post mortem fire?  What about jerks like me who haven't seen the inside of a church since he was fifteen? I'm a little worried that if Hell exists, I could end up there myself. Yes, I definitely have mixed feelings about the existence of Hell.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Alan Hruby Murder Case

     John Hruby, a resident of Duncan, Oklahoma, a town of 24,000 about 60 miles north of Dallas, owned and worked at a newspaper located in nearby Marlow. Hruby, 50, his wife Katherine, and their 17-year-old daughter lived in the Timber Creek subdivision on the north side of town. The 48-year-old Katherine, known to friends and family as "Tinker," also worked at the Marlow Review, a weekly publication with a circulation of 3,500.

     The Hrubys' son Alan, a 19-year-old political science major at Oklahoma University, was charged in July 2013 with theft and fraud. He had used his grandmother's name to acquire a credit card. While in Europe that summer, he put $5,000 worth of charges on the fraudulently obtained card. Police arrested him in August 2013 when he returned to the United States from his vacation.

     In February 2014, the judge sentenced Alan Hruby to probation. Pursuant to the terms of his sentence, he was not allowed to consume alcohol. The judge also ordered Hruby to attend alcohol and drug counseling sessions.

     Over the October 10 to 12 weekend in 2014, young Hruby violated the terms of his probation by traveling to Dallas to attend the Oklahoma University-Texas football game. He stayed at the Ritz Carlton hotel and partied all weekend.

     On Friday October 10, 2014, Todd Brooks, an employee at the Marlow Review, became concerned when his boss and Katherine Hruby didn't show up for work. On Monday October 13, when the Hrubys didn't come to the newspaper office and didn't answer their phones, Todd Brooks' worries about their wellbeing intensified.

     That Monday, as the Marlow Review employee wondered if something had happened to his boss and his wife, the Hruby housecleaner made a gruesome discovery when she showed up for work in Duncan. She found John Hruby, his wife, and their daughter lying dead on the kitchen floor. They had each been shot in the head.

     Detectives with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) ruled out double-murder/ suicide in favor of triple homicide. Alan Hruby's black Jeep sat in the Hruby home driveway. OSBI investigators impounded the vehicle.

     On October 15, 2014, OSBI officers arrested Alan Hruby for violating the terms of his credit card fraud probation. Under questioning at police headquarters regarding the murders of his parents and sister, he confessed.

     In early October 2014, Alan Hruby had stolen a 9 mm pistol from his father's pickup truck. On Friday October 10, 2014 he used that gun to shoot his mother twice in the head. He shot his sister to death when she entered the kitchen to investigate the source of the gunshots.

     After murdering his mother and sister, Alan waited an hour until his father came home. When John Hruby walked into the room Alan killed his father by shooting him twice in the head. When hit by his son's first bullet, the father said "ouch" then dropped to the kitchen floor. That's when the young man finished the job by putting the second bullet into his victim's skull.

     Alan Hruby told his interrogators that he had left his cell phone at Oklahoma University so that when detectives checked, it would ping there. He removed the DVR from the home surveillance system and tossed it into a nearby lake along with the murder weapon. After disposing of this evidence, he drove to Dallas to enjoy the festive football weekend.

     When asked why he had murdered his family in cold blood, the college student said he needed to inherit his parents' estate. He owed a loan shark from Norman, Oklahoma $3,000.

     Stephens County District Attorney Jason Hicks charged Alan Hruby with three counts of first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in the case. The judge denied the triple murder suspect bail.

     In July 2015, Alan Hruby, serving time on the credit card conviction at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, wrote a letter to The Oklahoman newspaper in which he said that he welcomed the death penalty. As to why he murdered his family, Hruby said that although it wasn't about money, he still hadn't figured out why he did it. "I didn't feel like myself that day," he wrote. "What occurred was so horrible the death penalty is deserved."

     On March 10, 2016, Alan Hruby pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.
     

Murder By Blunt Instrument

     A nursing home worker in China was accused on February 21, 2015 of killing three elderly residents and injuring 15 with a brick. Luo Renchu, 64, had argued with his boss over unpaid wages prior to his assault on elderly residents and staff at the privately run home in the central part of the country…The attack happened on February 19 after an argument over 40,000 yuan in unpaid wages. Luo and his wife, who also works at the home, had been promised 10,000 yuan before the start of the Chinese New Year which started two days before.

     The nursing home owner's mother and brother were among the 15 assaulted. Six others were in life-threatening condition…Police were searching for the accused assailant.

"Nursing Home Worker Allegedly Killed 3 Elderly Residents in China With Brick," Fox News, February 21, 2015 

Last Words

Somebody needs to kill my trial attorney.

George Harris, executed in Missouri on September 13, 2000

Stephen King on Bad Writers

No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about "my angry lesbian breasts" and "the tilted alley where I cried my mother's name."...While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great one out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Judge Michael Thornsbury: Abuse of Government Power

     There are many jurisdictions in the United States that have earned reputations of being awash in governmental corruption. For example, nothing is politically on the level in the states of Louisiana and Nevada, and the cities of Detroit and Chicago. But to varying degrees, governmental fraud, dishonesty, crime, and abuse of power, on the federal, state, and local levels, flourishes everywhere in America. Whenever you have government, big or small, you have corruption. Government is nothing more than organized lying. That's the way it has always been and the way it will continue to be. Government and corruption go together like pancakes and syrup. You can't have one without the other. And corruption is not Just limited to big cities and states. It exists in places like Mingo County West Virginia. (At least in Mingo County, there were enough honest public servants to expose some of the wrongdoing.)

     Mingo County, home to 27,000, is located on the state's southern border with Kentucky. This place, going all the way back to its Hatfield and McCoy days, has a history of violence and political corruption. In 1997, the people of Mingo County elected Michael Thorsbury to the office of circuit judge. As the only common pleas judge in the county, Thornsbury held a position of power and influence. He was the proverbial big fish in the small pond. Unfortunately he was a piranha.

     In 2008, Judge Thornsbury became romantically involved with his married secretary. A couple of months after he begged her to leave her husband, Robert Woodruff, she ended her relationship with the judge. This is when things started to get bad for Mr. Woodruff.

     Judge Thornsbury, in a effort to railroad Mr. Woodruff into prison, asked a friend to plant drugs in a magnetic box under his car. The judge, thinking that his friend had carried out the assignment, tipped-off the local police.

     Having failed to set Mr. Woodruff up for a phony drug bust, Judge Thornsbury tried something else. After carefully cultivating a friendship with a West Virginia State Trooper, the judge asked the officer to file a false complaint accusing Woodruff of grand larceny. The cop followed through by accusing Woodruff of stealing drill bits from his coal company employer. Woodruff had salvaged old drill bits but with the company's permission. Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks intervened on Woodruff's behalf, and a local magistrate dismissed the case. The state trooper, the next year, was named West Virginia State Trooper of the Year. (It must have been a bad year.)

     Determined to get Robert Woodruff out of the way in order to get to his wife, Judge Thornsbury, in an effort to dig up dirt on his target, made one of his friends foreman of a Mingo County Grand Jury. This gave the Judge's friend the power to issue subpoenas as part of a fishing expedition in search of information the judge could use against Woodruff. When one of the firms on the receiving end of one of these bogus subpoenas refused to cooperate, the Judge's scheme fizzled out.

     In 2012, Mr. Woodruff was assaulted outside a convenience store by two men, one of whom brandished a handgun. Judge Thornsbury, obviously at this point desperate, tried to turn Mr. Woodruff from being the victim of the assault to its perpetrator. Once again, the county prosecutor refused to go along with the phony case.

     On August 15, 2013, FBI agents arrested Judge Thornsbury in Williamson, the Mingo County seat. The jurist was under indictment by a federal grand jury for "conspiring to violate Robert Woodruff's right not to be deprived of his liberty without due process of law." If convicted as charged, the 57-year-old judge faced up to 20 years in prison.

     On the day of Judge Thornsbury's arrest, the West Virginia Supreme Court suspended him without pay and lifted his license to practice law.

     Judge Thornsbury, after posting his $10,00 bond, insisted that he was innocent and predicted that he would be vindicated when his case went to trial.

     On October 2, 2013, Thornsbury entered pleas of guilty of conspiring to deprive Robert Woodruff of his constitutional rights. He also resigned from office. The federal judge, in a rare example of good government, sentenced Thornsbury to 50 months in prison.
   

      

Jody Lee Hunt's Murderous Rampage

     Jody Lee Hunt was not a stranger to crime and violence. In 1999, a judge in Virginia sentenced the 24-year-old to ten years in prison following a kidnapping conviction, an offense that included the use of a firearm.

     In 2014, the 39-year-old Hunt owned the J & J Towing and Repair company in Morgantown, West Virginia, the home of West Virginia University in the north central part of the state. Hunt lived nearby in the small town of Westover.

     Sharon Kay Berkshire, Hunt's 39-year-old former girlfriend, filed a domestic violence case against him in October 2014. In mid-November, one of Berkshire's new boyfriends, 28-year-old Michael David Frum, a car detailer who also lived in Westover, sent Hunt a text message that taunted him for losing his girlfriend to another man.

     Besides the humiliation of losing his girlfriend to Frum and another Morgantown area man named Jody Taylor, Hunt was battling a business competitor named Doug Brady, the 45-year-old owner of Doug's Towing. Brady's company, located just a quarter of a mile from Hunt's towing business, had been publicly accused by Hunt of acquiring towing jobs illegally.

     At eight in the morning of Monday December 1, 2014, Morgantown police officers responded to a call regarding a body found at Doug's Towing company. The dead man, Doug Brady, had been shot in the head. Detectives didn't believe that robbery had been a motive for the murder.

     Police officers, less than an hour later, found two more bodies in a house in Cheat Lake, West Virginia just outside of Morgantown. Sharon Kay Berkshire and her lover Michael David Frum had been shot to death execution style.

     A short time after officers responded to the double murder in Cheat Lake, they were called to another murder scene, this one on Sweet Pea Road outside of Morgantown. Jody Taylor, Berkshire's other boyfriend, had been shot in the head.

     Because Jody Lee Hunt had a motive to murder all four victims, he became the immediate suspect in the quadruple murder case. Police were looking for Hunt's black 2011 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

     On Hunt's Facebook page, detectives found the following message posted on the day of the murders: "I'm deeply hurt by the events that led up to this day! I poured out my heart to her [presumably Sharon Kay Berkshire] only to be manipulated as to what I could give her. Life is short. It's not all games. Don't play a game with a person's heart."

     Also on his Facebook page that day, Hunt had written: "My actions were not right nor were the actions of those who tried to break me down and take from me. This was not the plan but a struggle to see that those who hurt me received their fair pay of hurt like I received."

     At seven in the evening on the day of the four murders, police received a tip that Jody Hunt was seen in Everettsville, a town seven miles from Morgantown in the southern part of Monongalia County. Police officers, in a power line right-of-way cut through the forrest not far from U.S. Route 119, found Hunt's truck. Inside the vehicle they discovered Hunt dead from a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head. 

Suspects Armed With Knives

Studies have shown that, on average, if you [a police officer] are twenty-one feet away from a suspect armed with a knife, that person can run up and stab you before you can draw your gun, aim, and fire. Even if the suspect is more than twenty-one feet away, he can still throw that knife at you and embed it in your chest. You don't really think about this scenario until you've actually had a knife thrown at you. Then it becomes all you think about.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On The World's Most Rejected Manuscript

The Guinness Book of World Records has a category for the highest number of publisher rejections for a manuscript. The record is 106 for a book called World Government Crusade by a writer named Gilbert Young. Because one might not be proud of that distinction, however, the record is likely to be inaccurate. For example, Robert Pirsig claims to have received 121 rejections for his manuscript, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'm not that persistent. After six rejections I toss the manuscript. You gotta move on, write another one. That's my philosophy. A lot of editors are stupid, nothing I can do about that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Shameful Four Corners Archaeological Raids

     On June 9, 2009, in Blanding, Moab, and Monticello, Utah; Durango, Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico; FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents conducted 17 simultaneous pre-dawn SWAT raids into the homes of people who collected Indian relics. Eleven of the raids took place in Blanding, a San Juan County town in southeastern Utah.

     San Juan County is located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau of canyons and mountains that was home to the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) people. These so-called cliff-dwellers, from 700 to 1300, populated an area about the size of Connecticut. The Zuni and the Hopi, as well as a dozen other Native American tribes, are thought to be the descendants of the Anasazi.

     The SWAT raids resulted in the seizure of thousands of artifacts that had been removed from the ruins of the Anasazi cliff dwellings, and various burial sites. A group of 24 collectors and dealers were charged with felonies and misdemeanors under the 1979 federal law called the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which prohibits, among other things, the taking of Native American artifacts from tribal and federal land. (In the American west, the federal government owns well over 50 percent of the land.)

     All but three of the 19 San Juan County arrestees lived in Blanding, Utah, a Mormon town where collecting Anasazi artifacts--pottery, baskets, rugs, flint projectile points, sandals, pendants, beads, effigies, and slate atlatl weights (also called banner stones)--has been a popular hobby for more than a hundred years. Collectors swept up in the SWAT raids that morning included the town's only physician and his wife; a high school math teacher whose brother was San Juan County Sheriff; and 12 others. More than half of the arrestees, prominent member of the community, were over 60 years old.

     The day following the heavily armed home invasions, residents of San Juan County were shocked to learn that Dr. James D. Redd, the 60-year-old Blanding physician who had been indicted on one count of theft of Indian tribal property (his wife faced 7 felony counts), had killed himself. A beloved doctor who still made house calls, Dr. Redd's suicide intensified the anti-government feelings in the town. (In 1986, there had been a similar SWAT raid of collectors' homes in Blanding. The federal government failed to prosecute anyone in that case, but hundreds of Anasazi pots were seized, and none of them returned.)

     A week after the four corners SWAT raids, an ARPA arrestee from Durango, Colorado, a 56-year-old collector on the periphery of the federal investigation, also committed suicide. By now, residents of the region, and artifact collectors and dealers across the country, were outraged by what they considered Gestapo-like tactics in the enforcement of the federal archaeological protection law.

The Snitch

     The federal investigation that led to the four corners SWAT raids, the most extensive ARPA case in history, began in 2006 when Ted C. Gardiner, a former Salt Lake City area antiques dealer and collector of prehistoric Native American artifacts, approached the FBI. Gardiner offered to use his online antiques business to gather evidence against collectors and dealers he said had been trafficking in artifacts illegally taken from federal and tribal lands in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The FBI paid the 48-year-old "confidential human source" an initial fee of $10,000 followed by monthly payments of $7,500. Between March 1, 2007 and October 8, 2008, Gardiner, the former owner and CEO of a Utah based grocery story chain founded by his grandfather, clandestinely audio and video recorded 132 telephone and in-person conversations with 22 artifact collectors and a half dozen dealers. (On the day of the SWAT raids, FBI agents had searched the homes of four prominent artifact dealers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the hub of the Anasazi artifact trade. Although none of these men were indicted, the agents confiscated artifacts from one dealer.)

     During his undercover investigation, Gardiner, equipped with a hidden video camera, accompanied a handful of collectors on artifact digging excursions on federal land. In addition to the $335,000 the FBI paid to the informant to buy 256 artifacts--sandals, blanket fragments, woven baskets, pottery, pipes, Clovis points, stone axes, flint knives, prayer sticks, pendants and other high-item pieces--they gave him another $162,000 to cover his expenses.

     On March 1, 2010, Gardiner, after have been exposed as the FBI's undercover informant by the local media, fatally shot himself in the head. The alcoholic, and former drug addict had been despondent over the previous two case-related suicides, and anxious about facing the collectors and dealers he had betrayed. Following Gardiner's suicide, the federal prosecutor in Utah assured reporters that the ARPA cases would not be adversely affected by the undercover operative's sudden death.

    In 2011 and 2012, all of the ARPA defendants, in exchange for sentences of probation, pleaded guilty.


Comments by Jay Redd, Dr.James Redd's Son


     On August 16, 2012, Jay Redd, in an email to the author, defended his parents, described the overkill nature of the federal raid, and set the record straight on some important details. The following are excerpts from his informative and credible email:

     My mom was a collector and not a trafficker, but again, my dad was neither. Everyone who knows my dad knows he did not collect artifacts. The feds watched him for two and a half years and they also knew he did not collect artifacts but that did not fit the mold the feds had planned for my dad to fit into....

     The reason they arrested Dr. Redd on June 10, 2009 was because he picked up off the surface of the ground a tiny little shell bead the feds call an "effigy bird pendent." My dad did not try to sell or trade the tiny little item to the informant or anyone else, he just showed it to him....The true market value of the bead my dad was arrested for is $75 but the informant and the feds inflated the price of it by over 1250 percent and said it was worth $1,000. Now why did they inflate the value? Because the felony charge they gave Dr. Redd required that the item in question, taken from Reservation land, must be valued at over $1,000 in order to qualify as a felony. Anything valued less than $1,000 would be a misdemeanor. Well, my dad would not have lost his medical license over a misdemeanor, but with a felony he would have and that is what the feds were shooting for....

     The treatment the feds imposed on my dad is beyond disgusting. On June 10, 2009 Dr. Redd was returning home from work early in the morning. As he drove up to his house he saw the numerous black SUVs parked there. As he was pulling up to the driveway one of the agents pointed to his FBI hat, drew his gun and pointed it at him. My dad stopped the vehicle and they yanked him from his car at gunpoint, handcuffed him and sat him down in his garage as they milled about him with their weapons. I wonder what the feds said when he requested to speak to his attorney....One of the head agents in charge that day boasted there were 80 agents at my parents house at one time and throughout the day (they searched the house for 11 1/2 hours). A total of 140 agents visited the house....The agent also said there were seven snipers on my parent's roof for hours and hours waiting for my brother to go down to the house....The day after the raid a resident from Blanding told me he watched my parent's house from a distance with his binoculars and said he saw the agents on the roof not moving for hours and hours....

     Concerning the undercover informant Ted Gardiner: If you read the police report and other articles about his suicide you will see that Ted said he "felt guilty for killing two people." Why would an undercover informant who was supposedly doing his job properly to rid the U.S. of evil underground criminals, feel guilty for the actions of those he caught in secret, illegal, underground activity. Could it be because he made friends with my dad who gave him medical advice on his ankle injury, encouraged him a few times to quit smoking to improve his health, invited him to the LDS church function that night....Ted knew he had a major part in Dr. Redd's death and after nine months of torment he could not take it anymore and therefore put a bullet in his head.  

Crime Novels Versus Mainstream Fiction

Most readers come to a mystery novel because the genre promises an actual story, a characteristic that many find lacking in so-called mainstream fiction.

Jeremiah Healy in Writing Mysteries by Sue Grafton, 1992

Thornton P. Knowles On Saving Time

I remember when there were all of those so-called efficiency experts teaching everyone on how to save time. I learned how to save a lot of time but didn't known what to do with all the time I had saved. So I went back to being happily inefficient.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, March 15, 2019

Michael Williams: The Amtrak Stabber

     On Friday December 5, 2014, Michael Williams boarded Amtrak Blue Water Service Train 364 in Chicago en route to its final destination, Port Huron, Michigan. The 44-year-old, a ten-year U.S. Army veteran, had spent time at the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan where he had been treated for mental illness. Upon his release from the hospital, doctors had prescribed him anti-psychotic medication.

     Shortly after Williams boarded the train, he became agitated and made passengers around him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Just before the train rolled into the Amtrak station in Niles, Michigan in the southwestern part of the state ten miles north of South Bend, Indiana, several passengers called 911 to report a potential disturbance involving a man who was behaving irrationally.

     By the time officers with the Niles, Michigan police department boarded the train against the flow of passengers hurrying to get off, Williams had stabbed a conductor and three passengers, one of whom was a seriously wounded woman.

     The responding police officers handcuffed Williams behind his back after subduing him with a stun gun. By using non-lethal force against a crazed, knife-wielding man who had already stabbed four people, these officers, in the wake of the Michael Brown case, avoided killing another black man. Under the circumstances, had these officers used deadly force, they would have been justified.

     The wounded Amtrak conductor and passengers were taken to a nearby hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

     After a Berrien County, Michigan prosecutor charged Michael Williams with four counts of assault with intent to murder, the judge set his bail at $1 million. The judge also ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect's mental competence to understand the charges against him as well as his ability to help his attorney defend him against the charges.

     On October 25, 2015, Michael Williams was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. According to members of his family, he had recently struggled with delusions and paranoia. Instead of prison, the judge sent Williams to a mental institution where he would remain until sane enough to safely rejoin society.
     

The Demacio Bailey Murder Case: Living and Dying in South Chicago

     Johnson College Prep, a charter school on Chicago's South Side, a place of learning and hope for students preparing for higher education, exists amid ignorance and violent crime in Englewood, one of the city's worst neighborhoods. Parents who have children in the school, founded in 2010, support it in many ways that includes active membership in the PTA. Unfortunately, there is nothing these dedicated parents can do about Chicago's violent crime and high murder rate.

     In December 2014, identical twins Demario and Demacio Bailey were sophomores at Johnson College Prep. Demacio played on the junior varsity football and basketball teams. His brother was in the school's Marine Corps Junior ROTC program and was a member of the choir. The twins had a 3-year-old brother and a brother who was 19 and attending Northwestern Illinois University. The Bailey twins were outstanding students with bright futures.

     The twins' mother, aware of the dangers of living on Chicago's South Side, drove or escorted her sons everywhere. As time went on, however, the boys wanted more freedom. As a result, they were allowed to get themselves to school on their own.

     On Saturday December 13, 2014, the twins, en route to Demacio's basketball practice, boarded the No. 29 State Street bus that took them to 63rd street a few blocks from Johnson College Prep. They got off the bus at half-past noon and were walking through a dark viaduct toward the school when they were approached by four young street thugs intent on robbing them.

     When Demacio refused to hand over his coat, a fight broke out. Demacio ended up on the ground with one of the assailants on top of him. Demario yelled, "Get off him!" and pushed the robber off his brother. One of the attackers pulled out a handgun. As Demacio ran from the scene, he heard a gunshot. When he turned to make sure his brother was fleeing with him, he saw Demario lying on the ground. The robbers had run off toward Wabash Avenue.

     Paramedics pronounced Demario Bailey dead at the scene from a bullet to his chest.

     That Saturday evening, just hours after the robber shot Demario Bailey to death near the charter school, police officers arrested 17-year-old Carlos Johnson at his home six blocks from the murder scene. An assistant Cook County state's attorney charged Johnson with first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. The judge denied the suspect bail. On Sunday, the prosecutor charged the other three suspects with murder. According to reports, the teens, just before Demacio Bailey's murder, robbed two other people.

     The principal of Johnson College Prep, in a press release, called for Martial Law on Chicago's South Side to deal with the out-of-control crime and violence.

     Martial Law was not imposed, and violence in the city increased. In 2016, 762 people were murdered in Chicago. That year in New York, the nation's largest city, there were 334 homicides. Also in 2016, 4,368 people were shot in the nation's most violent city.

   In May 2018, three separate Cook County juries, based upon the testimony of Isiah Penn who took the stand for the prosecution in return for a 20 year sentence, found Carlos Johnson guilty of murder and attempted robbery. Also found guilty of the same crimes were brothers Deafro and Tarik Brakes. The judge sentenced Johnson and the brothers to life in prison. According to Isiah Penn, Tarik Brakes was the gunman.

Thornton P. Knowles On The American Devaluation Of Individual Privacy

My father did his banking in a neighboring town because he didn't want to reveal his financial business to local bank employees. This coziness regarding what he considered a personal matter reflects the degree to which Americans of his era respected and valued individual privacy. Today, with the almost total reliance on credit cards and the Internet, Americans have lost their reverence for personal privacy. There is nothing about us that government and corporations don't know. And who knows what they might do with all of this information. No one seems to care that the loss of privacy could eventually lead to the loss of democracy. The fox has been let into the henhouse, and we are the hens.

Thornton P. Knowles

Prostitution Is Here to Stay

Although there are social harms beyond private immorality in commercialized sex--spread of venereal disease, exploitation of the young, and the affront of public solicitation, for example--the blunt use of the criminal prohibition has proven ineffective and costly. Prostitution has flourished in all civilizations; indeed, few institutions have proven as hardy. The inevitable conditions of social life unfailingly produce the supply to meet the ever-present demand….There are limits to the degree of discouragement which the criminal law can properly exercise towards a woman who has deliberately decided to live her life in this way, or a man who has deliberately chosen to use her services.

Sanford H. Kadish, "Overcriminalization" in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin
Wolfgang, Editors, 1971

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Michael Khunhausen Murder-For-Hire Case

     Michael Kuhnhausen, in the fall of 2006, had tried to talk his wife Susan out of divorcing him, but she wouldn't change her mind. She was determined to end the marriage. The 58-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores in Portland, Oregon, depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits she received from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior, divorced him, he would end up homeless and broke. Michael had suggested marriage counseling, but Susan said that she was finished with him. Michael felt that his estranged wife had pushed him into a corner. He had convinced himself that he had only one option: to pay someone to kill her before the divorce became final. But first he had to find a hit man. Where does one find an assassin?

     In 2005, when Michael worked for the adult video chain, he had hired 59-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Haffey had also been convicted of robbery, burglary, and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Kuhnhausen had every reason to believe that this lifelong violent criminal was an excellent candidate for his murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Susan's life insurance payout. Dazzled by the prospect of so much easy money, Haffey jumped at the chance to kill his former boss' wife.

     On September 6, 2006, Haffey, using the house key Michael had given him, entered Susan Kuhnhausen's Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from  his backpack, and waited for his prey. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing the murder target that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded, home invasion killing.

     As six in the evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway alongside the dwelling. She let herself into the house and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of her head. She turned and came face-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before Haffey could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get the hit man into a chokehold. Susan squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes, Haffey stopped breathing and went limp.

     With a dead hit man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The responding police officers sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled, and he had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as the authorities were concerned, this tough woman had eliminated a violent criminal from the community. She was, in the eyes of the police and residents of her neighborhood, a crime-fighting hero. Chalk up one for the homeowner.

     A detective found, in Haffey's backpack, a day-planner with the September 6 notation: "Call Mike." When the investigator came across Michael Kuhnhausen's cell phone number in the dead man's planner, a different picture began to emerge. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn't, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn't explain Haffey's possession of the house  key, and the fact he had known the alarm code. Once detectives learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became the suspect in a murder-for-hire case. As crimes like this go, this one had come out badly for the hit man.

     Edward Haffey's autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of this death, Haffey's body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to successfully pull off the hit. As it turned out, Haffey had been an unworthy candidate to carry out Michael's murder assignment.

     Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey's, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local television news and called the police. In August 2006, Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. Haffey had wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn't help kill a person for a mere $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.

     Three days before the murder-for-hire date, Haffey told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into some big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said the husband was paying him $25,000 upfront and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when he heard about the case in the news media, also called the police.

     According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Edward Haffey to death, Jones had driven the would-be hit man to an Applebee's Restaurant where Haffey met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. On the way to the restaurant, Haffey told Jones that he was meeting with a man who was willing to pay him $50,000 to kill his wife.

     On September 14, 2006, eight days following the botched hit, police officers arrested Michael Kuhnhaussen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house though a window in order to steal drug money.

     In August 2007, Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and conspiracy charges. A month later, just before the judge sentenced him to the shockingly light sentence of ten years in prison, Kuhuhanusen said, "I hurt a lot of people over the past year and I'm sorry. That's all I can say, I'm sorry."

     On June 16, 2014, Michael Khunhausen died while serving his time at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon. He was 65.

A Question of Journalistic Ethics

     An Ohio media outlet sparked outrange after it published a report on the criminal past of the father of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by police in November 2014 at a Cleveland recreation center. Rice died holding an Airsoft pellet gun. Police were responding to a 911 call about someone pointing a handgun. The caller said the gun was "probably fake" and "I don't know if it's real or not."…

     The article, "Tamir Rice's Father Has History of Domestic Violence," was written by Northeast Ohio Media Groups's Brandon Blackwell and published on the website for the Cleveland Plain Dealer on November 26, 2014. The relevance of the criminal past of Rice's father is not explained in the reporting nor does it appear to have anything to do with the shooting….

"Why Was Tamir Rice's Dad's Criminal History Reported?" mediaethics.com, December 4, 2014 

The Romano Dias Poisoning Case: A Strange and Mysterious Death

     According to Katee Dias, in early 2010 while residing in London, England, she received a package in the mail. The parcel bore the correct address but was intended for someone else, a former resident perhaps. Thinking that this person might claim the item, Katee held the package for six months before opening it. When she did, she found a bottle that, according to its label, contained a fruit drink. Katee kept the bottle and threw away the packaging.

     At some point (here the story gets vague) Katee gave her father, a resident of Impington, a Cambridgeshire village in southeast England, the presumed fruit drink. In October 2013, 55-year-old Romano Dias opened the three and a half-year-old bottle and consumed half of its contents. (Based upon news reportage, Katee was present when her father gulped down some of the drink.)

     After a couple of mouthfuls, Mr. Dias reportedly said that the liquid tasted "awful." Shortly thereafter he complained of a burning throat then said, "I am in trouble here. I am dying. I am dead." Mr. Dias collapsed and died, presumably from the contents of the outdated fruit juice bottle.

     A laboratory analysis of the mystery bottle's contents revealed that it contained liquid methamphetamine. (Dealers in meth frequently transport the drug in liquid form.) In speaking to a reporter with the Cambridge News, pathologist Dr. John Grant said that Mr. Dias had consumed well above the lethal dose. He said that while meth use in the United Kingdom has been traditionally light, the American television show "Breaking Bad" has popularized the drug. ("Breaking Bad" was a series about a former high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who becomes an accomplished meth cook.)

     Following a coroner's hearing, Cambridgeshire coroner William Morris ruled the manner of Mr. Dias' death "accidental." The coroner based his ruling on the fact there was no evidence that the sender of the lethal package had intended to harm the victim or anyone else.

     In the United States, the sender of the liquid meth could have been charged with felony-murder. Under the felony-murder doctrine, the perpetrator of a felony that directly results in an unintended death is criminally culpable for the killing of that person. Mailing $34,000 worth of methamphetamine must be a felony in England. Mr. Dias died as a direct result of that crime. The sender, therefore, is guilty of criminal homicide.

     By classifying Mr. Dias' death as accidental, the Cambridgeshire coroner shut the door to a criminal investigation. As a result, the public will never know who sent the bottle of meth to Katee Dias' house in London. (Did the police process the bottle for latent fingerprints?) Other questions that will remain unanswered include: Why did Katee keep the bottle so long? Exactly when did she give it to her father? Why did she give it to him? And did he know he was consuming a three and a half-year-old drink?  

Theme in Documentary Films

     In literary terms, theme is the general underlying subject of a specific story, a recurring idea that often illuminates an aspect of the human condition…

     The best documentary films, like memorable literary novels or thought-provoking dramatic features, not only engage the audience with an immediate story--one grounded in plot and character--but with themes that resonate beyond the particulars of the event being told.

Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw Outlaw

     Is a child still a child after he intentionally kills someone? Is a priest still a priest after sexually molesting a boy? A teenager kills his parents, should we consider him an orphan? A wife knocks-off her husband, is she still a widow and beneficiary of his life insurance? And what about an Amish man who threatens to kill people, and orchestrates terroristic home invasions? Should we consider this man Amish? I'm referring to Sam Mullet, the 66-year-old bishop of the Bergholz Amish group in eastern Ohio. Following his arrest, Bishop Mullet resided in another place where everybody wears the same clothing--the Jefferson County Jail.

     During a three week period in late September and early October 2011, men from the Bergholz clan, allegedly on Sam Mullet's orders, invaded Amish dwellings in Holmes and other Ohio counties where the intruders forcibly cut the hair and beards off the men, and shaved the heads of the Amish women. These terroristic raids were intended to degrade, intimidate, and humiliate the targets of Sam Mullet's wrath. The bishop had allegedly asked his raiders to bring back photographs and clippings of his victim's hair as proof his orders had been carried out. (According to author and Amish scholar Donald B. Kraybill, men's beards and the uncut hair that Amish women roll into buns are treasured symbols of religious identity.)

     On October 8, 1011, Jefferson County Sheriff Frank Abdulia's (The sheriff claims that Sam Mullet has threatened to kill him.) deputies arrested Sam Mullet's sons, 38-year-old Johnny and 53-year-old Lester. The deputies also arrested Levi and Lester Miller. Johnny and Lester Mullet were charged with burglary and kidnapping in connection with the hair and beard cutting invasions in Holmes, Carroll, and Trumbell Counties. Shortly after their arrests, the Amish men were released after making bail.

     FBI agents and Jefferson County deputies, on November 22, arrested Sam Mullet, three of his sons, and three other men from the Bergholz group on federal civil rights charges as well as a number of state violations related to the hate crime home invasions. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio said, "While people are free to disagree about religion in this country, we don't settle those disagreements with late night visits, dangerous weapons, and violent attacks."

     following  his incarceration, Sam Mullet, through his federal public defender's office attorney, Ed Bryan, tried to get out of jail. Four of the home invasion defendants were released on bond. The United States Attorney successfully kept the bishop behind bars by arguing that he had a "penchant for violence," and was a danger to society.

    Attorney Bryan suggested that his client be placed on electronic monitoring like many other defendants awaiting trial in federal court. The problem was, being old-order Amish, the bishop's house wasn't connected to the power grid. Suddenly the bishop was a fan of electricity. In one of his release requests, Mr. Mullet asserted that he was needed at home to tend to his household and farm related chores. Really? The man had 16 children, and many more grandkids.

     While Sam Mullet dressed like an Amish man, had the beard, and rode around in a horse and buggy, he really wasn't Amish. But it didn't matter because under the law, and our criminal justice system, it really didn't matter if the bishop was Amish or not.

     Found guilty in September 2012 of several hate crimes and related offenses, the judge sentenced Mullet to 15 years in prison. In March 2015, a U.S. appeals court overturned the hate crime convictions on procedural grounds. As a result, the federal judge re-sentenced Mullet to ten years behind bars.