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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The School Official's Duty to Report Suspected Pedophiles

     On October 2011, a mother and her 8-year-old daughter met with the principal of the girl's elementary school regarding the behavior of a teacher named Craig Chandler. The 35-year-old taught second grade at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California. According to principal Lyn Vijayendran's notes of the meeting, the student--identified as Jane Doe--was summoned from recess to Chandler's empty classroom. Pursuant to a lesson plan he called "The Helen Keller Unit," Chandler blindfolded the student and instructed her to lie down on the floor and part her legs. After the teacher removed the girl's shoes, she sensed something "gooey" on her feet that felt like his tongue. Chandler placed something into the student's mouth, and with his hands moved her head back and forth. The girl tasted something salty that dripped onto her jacket. Before Jane Doe left Chandler's classroom, he put a piece of hard candy into her mouth.

     Instead of passing this information on to the police for further investigation, Vijayendran questioned Craig Chandler herself. The teacher explained that he had been doing his Helen Keller (a deaf and blind woman who rose to fame as an early twentieth century author) lesson plan for years. He said his "instructional goal" was to deprive students of sight so they could experience what it's like to be blind. The gooey sensation felt by the student on her feet had been caused by a wet  sponge, and the taste in her mouth from a bottle of salt water. The teacher offered to meet personally with the girl's parents to clean up any misunderstanding.

     Satisfied with Chandler's explanation, the principal told him to discontinue the Helen Keller business, transferred the student to another class, and reported the incident to the Evergreen School District's human resources department. Someone from that department also questioned Chandler, and the matter, institutionally, went no further than that. Craig Chandler continued teaching at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School.

     Although principal Vijayendran had closed the book on the case, parents of other girls in his class went straight to the police with complaints about Chandler's Helen Keller ploy. Following an investigation by detectives with the San Jose Police Department, a Santa Clara County prosecutor, on January 10, 2012, charged Chandler with the crime of lewd and lascivious acts performed on a child under fourteen. Seven months later, additional charges were filed against the teacher involving four other students who were, between the period August 2010 and May 2011, exposed to Chandler's Helen Keller experiment.

     Incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, Chandler faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted of these crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On October 19, 2012, with Chandler still in custody awaiting his trial, Jane Doe's parents filed a civil suit against the Evergreen School District, the O.B.Whaley Elementary School, and principal Vijayendran.

     Santa Clara County prosecutor Alison Filo, in July 2012, charged principal Vijayendran under a  California law that make the failure of an educator to report the suspected sexual abuse of a student a crime. If convicted of the misdemeanor,  the principal faced up to six months in jail.

     The Vijayendran trial got underway on October 31, 2012. Prosecutor Filo, in her opening statement to the jury said that any reasonable person under the circumstances of this case would have suspected sexual abuse on the part of this teacher. Defense attorney Eric Geffon argued that his client had no reason to suspect foul play on Mr. Chandler's part. Geffon described the teacher's Helen Keller cover as "a detailed, devious, well thought out, well prepared story he concocted that explained everything."

     On November 2,  2012, Lyn Vijayendran took the stand on her own behalf in an effort to convince the jury that there was nothing in the student's story or her demeanor that suggested sexual impropriety on the part of the teacher. Referring to the 8-year-old girl, Vijayendran said, "She had a big smile on her face. She was her normal self, very talkative...." The witness said that at no point in the meeting with the student and her mother did the subject of sexual abuse come up.

     On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that when she learned that Mr. Chandler had asked the student to "open her two legs," the idea of sexual impropriety crossed her mind. Prosecutor Filo asked, "If someone said that to you in a grocery story line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?"

     "You'd have to be crazy not to think it was sexual," the defendant answered.

     On November 5, 2012, the jury found Lyn Vijayendran guilty of failing to report Craig Chandler's sexually suspicious behavior to the police. Judge Deborah Ryan sentenced the principal to two years probation, $602 in fines, and 100 hours of community service.

     In August 2013, a Santa Clara County jury found 36-year-old Craig Chandler guilty of five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

     The Evergreen School District paid out $16.5 million in damages as a result of civil suits stemming from the Chandler case.

     It's a shame that educators, to protect the children under their care, have to be induced to do the right thing by making it a crime not to. In a perfect society, there should be no need for crimes of omission.

Raymond Chandler on the Real Life Private Detective

As Raymond Chandler himself would later admit, the typical real life private detective was not as he imagined his protagonist Philip Marlowe, an intellectual whose idea of a good time was a quiet night at home with a bottle of rye and a book of chess problems. The real PI was an ex-cop with the brains of a turtle who spent his time finding out where people had moved to. [In reality, Chandler had no knowledge whatsoever regarding private investigators, criminal investigation, criminal law, or policing. He was a novelist.]

John Baxter, A Pound of Paper, 2003 

The Female Bank Robber

While about eight percent of America's bank robbers are women, the number of females robbing banks are rising. Women robbers are now targeting banks because, as Willie Sutton once said, that's where the money is. Moreover, bank robbery is no longer a dangerous crime to commit. That's because modern bank employees are trained to cooperated with the robber. As a result, it's no longer necessary to possess a gun to rob a bank. The downside to robbing banks is that a high percentage of these crimes are solved and carry guaranteed prison terms.

Murder by Breast Milk

     A judge sentenced a South Carolina woman to 20 years in prison on April 4, 2014 for killing her 6-week-old daughter with what prosecutors say was an overdose of morphine delivered through her breast milk. Stephanie Greene, 39, said nothing as the minimum sentence was handed down. A jury found the former nurse guilty of homicide by child abuse the day before. She could have faced up to life behind bars.

     Her lawyer said she will appeal and it's likely the case will be tied up for years to come. Both the prosecutor and Greene's lawyer agree no mother has ever been prosecuted in the United States for killing her child through a substance transmitted in breast milk. Greene's daughter was born healthy, but was found dead in her parents' bed just 46 days after she was born in November 2010.

     An autopsy found a level of morphine in the baby's body that a pathologist testified could have been lethal for an adult. With no needle marks on the child's body, authorities decided the drugs must have gotten into the infant through her mother's milk….

     A review of her medical records showed Greene carefully hid her pregnancy from her primary doctor. After a home pregnancy test showed she was pregnant, she told her primary doctor she needed to go to a gynecologist for birth control advice. She then got prenatal care from that doctor while not telling her all the painkillers she was taking. Greene also skipped appointments with her primary physician when it became obvious she was pregnant. She sent her husband to pick up her painkiller prescriptions….

     Greene spent more than 10 years racked with chronic pain after a car wreck before her unexpected pregnancy with her husband in 2010, defense attorney Rauch Wise said. Wise argued that prosecutors didn't prove how the baby got the morphine. According to Greene's attorney, there is little scientific evidence that enough morphine can gather in breast milk to kill an infant….

"Breast Feeding Death Sends Woman to Prison for 20 Years, Associated Press, April 4, 2015

Autobiography As Genre

Since the 1950s literary critics have written hundreds of volumes about autobiography as a genre. The questions they ask come from literary theory. Is autobiography just another form of fiction? A bastard form of the novel or of biography? What sort of story can anyone tell about her or his life when its end is as yet unknown? Is it possible to translate the chaotic ebb and flow of experience into a narrative form with a beginning, a middle and an end? When so much of our consciousness is visual, or  nonverbal, how much of it can we convey through the limited medium of words? Can anyone be both subject and object of the same sentences--the speaker and the subject spoken about? Why is this drive to engage in scrutiny of one's own life so characteristic of the West?

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998 

Isaac Asimov on The Literary Critic

     Criticism and writing are two different talents. I am a good writer but have no critical ability. I can't tell whether something I have written is good or bad, or just why it should be either. I can only say, "I like this story," or "It was easy to read," or other such trivial nonjudgmental remarks.

     The critic, if he can't write as I do, can nevertheless analyze what I write and point out flaws and virtues. In this way, he guides the writer and perhaps even helps the writer.

     Having said all that, I must remind you that I'm talking about critics of the first caliber. Most critics we encounter, alas, are fly-by-night pipsqueaks without any qualification for the job other than the rudimentary ability to read and write. It is their pleasure sometimes to tear down a book savagely, or to attack the author rather than the book. They use the review, sometimes, as a vehicle for displaying their own erudition or as an opportunity for safe sadism.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Free Speech And The Stolen Valor Act

     In 2006 congress passed The Stolen Valor Act which made it a crime to falsely claim to have earned medals for service in the U.S. armed services. The law imposed a maximum sentence of $5,000 and six months in prison. In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a newly elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, California, introduced himself to his fellow board members as a retired Marine of 25 years who, in 1987, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military.

     Following his federal indictment under the Stolen Valor Act, Alvarez pleaded guilty then appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a 2-1 decision, struck down the act on the grounds it violated free speech. The U.S. Solicitor appealed this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

     In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that The Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment right of free speech.

     In my view, unless the questioned lying is under oath, or pursuant to theft by deception, this behavior should not constitute a crime. If we're going to criminally prosecute fake war heroes, what about job applicants who submit phony private sector resumes, people who exploit bogus diploma-mill degrees, and politicians who tout fake backgrounds and nonexistent accomplishments? Where would it end? If we're going to make lying a crime, why not prosecute the bureaucrats and politicians who lie to us every day?

     While phony war heroes should be exposed and humiliated, I don't see what was gained, from a jurisprudence point of view, by sending this particular type of liar to prison. If all despicable behavior is criminalized, there will be more people in prison than out. 

America's Expanding Waistline: When Big Is Not Better

    Everything in America is getting bigger. Men, women, and children are getting heavier every day, and require larger toilets, seat-belt extensions, bigger furniture, oversized theater seats, wider revolving doors, scales that go beyond 300, and even wide-body caskets. The U. S. government has gotten as fat and unhealthy as the American people and seems unable to trim itself or its citizens.

The Case of the Obese Boy

     In October 2011, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children and Family Service workers took an 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy from his mother because the child weighed 200 pounds. A judge approved the seizure on grounds the mother's inability to get her son's weight down amounted to medical neglect. County workers were alerted to the boy's excessive weight early the previous year after his mother took him to an emergency room with breathing problems. Doctors diagnosed the child as suffering from sleep apnea and issued the family a breathing machine. After working with the boy's mother for twenty months, the agency placed the grossly overweight boy into foster care.

     The attorney representing the distraught mother told reporters that the foster mother was having trouble keeping up with all of the boy's medical and governmental appointments. As a result, the county has assigned a social worker to help the foster mom. A few days later, the boy's real mother, an elementary school teacher, publicly stated that she had done her best to limit her son's access to food. She didn't want her boy to be obese and sick, and did not feel his condition was a result of neglect or bad parenting.

     The government's removal of this child from his home set off a national debate over governmental authority and discretion versus parental rights. The weight of public opinion seemed to be with the mother. Perhaps that was because three million children in the country were extremely obese. Moreover, it was hard enough keeping kids away from cigarettes, drugs, pornography, pedophiles and alcohol. Controlling their eating habits, particularly in a glutinous culture of junk food and soft drinks, was easier said than done.

     This boy from Cleveland Heights is real person and a sad story. To me, his story, while in the extreme, represents what is taking place regarding the health of our country. The government is big, bloated and unhealthy, and so are its people.  

The Benefits of Writing Nonfiction Over Fiction

I find the possibility of life as a fiction writer horribly depressing. Nonfiction, meaning journalism, essays, scholarly work, etc. is far more important to me because I am attempting to have an actual impact on the culture, on politics, and on ideas in people's heads. Nonfiction provides a more direct line to all of those things than fiction, which is too often used as an escape or to console people about their lives. Oh, and nonfiction pays much better.

Nick Mamatas,, 2005 

Raymond Chandler's Dark Absurdist Humor

And there was Aaron Klopstein. Who ever heard of him? He committed suicide at the age of 33 in Greenwich Village by shooting himself with an Amazonian blow gun, having published two novels, two volumes of poetry, one book of short stories and a book of critical essays.

Raymond Chandler in Raymond Chandler Speaking, edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Kathleen Sorley Walker, 1962 

Screams From The Grave

     Cemetery workers raced to a newly-dug grave after they [supposedly] heard banging and muffled shouting an hour after a 45-year-old woman was buried. As they grabbed tools and anything they could find, they rushed to dig the grave up after the woman woke up to find herself buried alive in a coffin.

     But tragically, the woman died before her would-be rescuers could reach her inside the plot at a cemetery not far from the Greek city of Thesaloniki. Her grieving family had arranged her funeral at the graveyard in Perais, a small town 16 miles south of Thesaloniki, Greece's main city in the north.

     Shortly after the last relatives left the cemetery on Thursday September 25, 2014, residents and a group of children playing outside reportedly heard a female voice shouting for help from inside the grave. [If this is true, the woman was entombed in a shallow grave without having been embalmed.] They called the police and began digging up the grave to save her but she had suffocated inside the coffin…[I guess cemetery workers came along and took over the digging from the children.]

     A doctor at the scene examined the woman's body. He said she had been dead for hours. Dr. Chrissi Matsikoudi told a local reporter that, "I just don't believe it. We did several tests including one for heart failure on the body. It would have been impossible for someone in a state of rigor mortis to have been shouting and hitting the coffin like that." [Indeed.]

"Woman Who 'Died' is Heard Screaming From Inside Coffin After Being Buried Alive," Standard Media Company, September 30, 2014  

Stephen King on Writing Entertaining Fiction

     All my life as a writer I have been committed to the idea that in fiction the story holds value over every other facet of the writer's craft; characterization, theme, mood, none of those things is anything if the story is dull. And if the story does hold you, all else can be forgiven....

     I'm not any big-deal fancy writer. If I have any virtue it's that I know that. I don't have the ability to write the dazzling prose line. All I can do is entertain people. I think of myself as an American writer....

     My greatest virtue is that I know better than to evade my responsibilities by the useless exercise of trying to write fancy prose. I entertain people by giving them good stories dealing with the content of ordinary American ives, which is the best, truest tradition of American fiction.

Stephen King, Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Beware Of The Publisher's Advance

I have seen a lot of novelists stop writing or at least slow down after getting an advance. They have a feeling of completion after making a deal. That's bad news creatively. If you are within a few months of having a finished, edited manuscript, I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion, without that bit of good news to announce to a lot of people before the job is really done.

Kurt Vonnegut in Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, edited by Dan Wakefield, 2012 

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Ashley Newton Murder Case

     Police in Livermore, California, a suburban community 45 miles east of San Francisco, received calls, at ten-thirty on the morning of Saturday, April 26, 2014 regarding a disturbed woman in the 4,400-acre Del Valle Regional Park. The woman, according to the callers, was screaming as she repeatedly rammed her Honda Civil into a rock wall at the end of Arroyo Road in the remote Camp Arroyo section of the sprawling park.

     Officers with the Livermore Police Department, accompanied by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, responded to the badly damaged Honda which sat in a ditch off Arroyo Road. The female driver had left the scene and her whereabouts at the time were unknown. Officers noticed an empty car seat in the back of the damaged vehicle.

     Two hours after the police calls, off-duty Livermore Chief of Police Mike Harris, his wife and their two daughters, returned to their car after a hike in the Camp Arroyo section of the park. Earlier that morning Harris and his family had driven past the wrecked Honda. The chief didn't stop because there were several officers already at the scene.

     Shortly after the chief's daughters climbed into the family vehicle, a young woman wearing a sweatshirt and jeans caked in blood approached the Harris family. In her arms she carried a blond-haired, 7-month-old boy dressed in Cookie Monster diapers and a blue striped pullover. The child was also covered in blood. The distraught woman handed the boy to the chief. "Take him! Take him!" she yelled before climbing into the car with the chief's daughters.

     The police chief assumed that the woman and her son had been injured in the nearby wrecked Honda. He alerted officers and paramedic personnel who were down the road investigating the accident. A member of the emergency crew, shortly after starting CPR on the boy, realized that he was dead. The child had been stabbed to death.

     Police officers escorted the woman, 23-year-old Ashley Newton, to the Santa Rita Jail where she was booked on suspicion of murder. Originally from North Carolina, Newton resided in San Jose. Before moving to San Jose she had lived in the bay area town of Fremont, California.

     On Sunday, April 27, 2014, detectives questioned Newton at the Santa Rita Jail. She said she had stabbed her son with a pocket knife. (The bloody weapon had been recovered from the park.) Sounding paranoid and detached from reality, Newton was unable to articulate a motive for killing her son.

     On the day of Ashley Newton's police interview, detectives in San Jose interviewed the dead child's father. He said he had last spoken to Newton the day before she stabbed their son to death. She had been suffering from depression, he said. A police spokesperson announced that toxicology tests would determine if drugs or alcohol had played a role in the killing.

     On Monday, April 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged Ashley Newton with first-degree murder. The judge denied her bail and ordered psychiatric tests.

     As of July 2019, Ashley Newton has not been tried or convicted for the murder of her child. [At least I couldn't find any reportage of this. I'm guessing that she hasn't been tried because the court has ruled that she is not mentally competent to stand trial.].

     Numerous studies have shown that while women commit only 14 percent of violent crimes in the United States, they are responsible for about half of the parental murders. A vast majority of women who kill their children are extremely mentally ill.

The Fear Of Being Murdered By A Stranger

     Before I coined the term serial killer in the mid-1970s, such murders were referred to as stranger murders to differentiate them from murders in which the victim is killed by those he or she knew, usually family members.

     One reason that Jack the Ripper frightened those who heard or read about him when he was active [in 1888 London] was the notion that he killed strangers--leading to the idea that ordinary people out for a walk at night would now have to be afraid of any stranger who crossed their path. At that time, such murders were entirely uncommon in Great Britain and everywhere else. The great individual killers (as opposed to military ones) in history had been of the Bluebeard sort, those who killed their wives, one by one, or massacred their families. For most people the emotional components of intra-familial violence seemed understandable; most people, at some time or another, had considered raising an angry hand toward a spouse or a child, and could comprehend how, in a fit of rage, such an emotion could escalate into murder. But the emotional components of stranger murder seemed incomprehensible.

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

Writing Essays

Essays, unlike articles, intentionally include or even feature the writer's subjective viewpoint and experiences. Besides political and social commentary in newspapers, the essay form encompasses personal experiences of all kinds. Essays are further distinguished from articles by a structure suited to argue an opinion or tell a story.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003

Fake News In The JonBenet Ramsey Case

     We believe some prosecutors [in the JonBenet Ramsey case] thought their job was to "get the indictment," and tabloid media published unverified sensational accusations, first for profit and then in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from prosecution by us [John and Patsy Ramsey] for libel and slander, which only an indictment of us would stop.

     In mid-Novembver 1999, we held one of those tabloids accountable by filing a lawsuit against the Star in federal court in Atlanta for their blaring headline "JonBenet was killed by brother Burke," long after the police had officially and publicly cleared our son. The tabloids had figured out that "Burke sells," so they embarked on a smear campaign against a twelve-year-old child.
     On May 25, 1999, the Star had run a story with a front-page photograph of JonBenet and Burke and this headline. The article said that Burke was being looked at as the prime suspect. They told how JonBenet had wet her bed on Christmas night and crawled into bed with our son. Then Burke, they said, let loose his pent-up resentment of his sister and killed her. They cited the "fact" that Burke's Swiss army knife was found next to JonBenet's body, as evidence. 
     After that, the Star ran two other articles, one entitled, "Sad Twisted Life of JonBenet's Brother" on June 1, and the other, "What Burke Saw on the Night of JonBenet's Murder" on June 8. Obviously, these articles also subjected our son to public hatred, contempt, and ridicule. 
     Almost a month later, on June 22, after our attorney had written to the Star, the tabloid ran a small retraction, saying oops, our sources were wrong, and admitting that the district attorney's office had unequivocally stated that Burke was not a suspect in the murder. But they never said that the facts about him were untrue. 
     We as a society may let these tabloid organizations attack movie stars without retribution, but our children? I hope not. 
John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

Crime in America

There will always be a great deal of crime in America. As the American crime novelist Raymond Chandler has written, "Crime isn't a symptom, it's a disease….We're a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it…."

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

The Power of Adjectives

Mrs. Trotter, my fourth-grade teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, once wrote a sentence on the blackboard--"The family sat down to dinner"--and asked us to imagine the scene. Then she added a word--"The Hawaiian family sat down to dinner"--and asked us to picture the scene again. Everything changed: the room the people were in, what they looked like, the clothes they wore, the food they ate….By adding one word, Hawaiian, she transformed the whole sentence. I've never forgotten that lesson in what an adjective is and what it can do.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Richard Bradford: The Man Who Beat The System

     In 1970, 18-year-old Richard Bradford, a student at San Jose State College, belonged to a hold-up gang that robbed several grocery stores in the San Jose area. On November 2 of that year, during the hold-up of the Spartan Market, Bradford shot and killed Robert Burgess III. The following year a San Jose jury found Bradford guilt of first degree murder and first degree robbery. The judge sentenced the defendant to life in prison.

     In 1978, after serving seven years of his "life" sentence, the authorities released Richard Bradford on parole. While in prison, in anticipation of his early release, Bradford had acquired a birth certificate and Social Security card under the name James Edward Heard.

     Less than two years after he walked out of prison, Bradford skipped out of his parole supervision. He took up the identity of James Edward Heard and moved to Pasadena, California. The convicted armed robber and murderer got married, and became a prominent member of the community.

     By 2010, the parole violator, under his fake identity, owned a home and several other pieces of real estate. He operated the Eston Canyon Treatment Center, a Pasadena drug rehabilitation facility for wealthy addicts. No one in the community had any idea that Mr. Heard was a convicted murderer named Richard Bradford.

     A parole apprehension team, in 2010, began an investigation to find and arrest Bradford for breaking the terms of his murder parole. Investigators caught a break in 2011 when two sets of fingerprints under the names Richard Bradford and James Edward Heard were found to have come from the same person.

     In March 2013, police officers arrested Bradford at a Home Depot store in the town of Monrovia just east of Pasadena. When taken into custody, he was accompanied by his wife. (I don't know if she knew who he really was.) The 60-year-old parole violator is being held without bail at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.

     While I see this case as a gross failure of the state's criminal justice system, prison bureaucrats have probably credited Bradford's successful life after his incarceration as evidence of how well California's corrections department rehabilitates its inmates. Because of Bradford's age, his status in the community, and the fact California's jails were overcrowded, Richard Bradford was not be sent back to prison.

     He beat the system.

How the Automobile Changed U. S. Policing

From 1900 to 1930, the number of automobile registrations in the United States rose from 8,000 to more than 23 million. This phenomenal growth posed challenging new responsibilities for urban police departments regulating traffic, limiting parking in downtown areas, and trying to keep the killed and maimed to a minimum. The introduction and spread of the automobile obliterated the distinction between the law breaking and the law abiding. [It also led to the federalization of law enforcement.]

James F. Richardson, Urban Police in the United States, 1974

Murder Among Friends And Family

Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they're right--a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.

Sue Grafton

Jury Duty

When you go to court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

Norm Crosby

Do We Have Too Many Laws?

The more law, the more offenders.

Thomas Fuller, 1732

Who Is Deterred By The Death Penalty?

There is a legitimate argument over whether the death penalty effectively deters violent crime, although my personal observation is that not one of the criminals who have been executed over the years has ever killed again.

Dinesh D'Souza

Author Self-Promotion

I have a great ambivalence about interviews [of authors]. I believe writers should be read and not heard from. There are certain writers whose personalities are more responsible for their reputations than their writing. [They] use their personalities to make their works popular. I resent that, because they get far more attention than their work merits. And other writers who are really much better, but who are quiet and invisible souls, are not noticed at all. Part of me wants to be totally anonymous. The writer who I really admire most for his image is B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; he was totally unidentified in his lifetime. I admire that.

Dennis Etchison, novelist 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Jonathan Montano's Wrongful Death

     On May 25, 2011, 65-year-old military veteran Jonathan Montano sat in a chair with an IV shunt in his arm waiting for his dialysis treatment at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Loma Linda, California. Norma Montano, Jonathan's wife of 44 years, waited with him in the federal medical facility located in San Bernardino County east of Los Angeles. After waiting four hours for his dialysis treatment, Mr. Montano informed a nurse that, tired of waiting, he had decided to seek dialysis at the VA hospital in Long Beach. Jonathan sent Norma to fetch the car.

     A VA nurse informed the patient that he was not authorized to leave the hospital. When it became obvious that Mr. Montano disagreed with that policy, and began to leave, the nurse called for muscle in the form of armed, uniformed officers with the Department of Veteran Affairs Police. (That's right, they have their own police force. The VA police exist to deter and prevent crime, and investigate criminal incidents within the VA system.)

     As the feeble veteran made his way to the hospital door, two VA police officers tackled him to the ground. The stunned patient's head bounced off the floor, and he ended up being pinned down with an officer's knee in his back, and the other officer's boot on his neck. The brute force caused the dissection of the veteran's carotid artery, and this led a blood clot that caused a stroke.

     Jonathan Montano had come to the VA hospital in Loma Linda for dialysis, and ended up being manhandled by in-house police. Apparently in the VA system, patients who express their disapproval of the poor service are punished. Mr. Montano would have been better off if he had been simply ignored, or at least to be allowed to find care elsewhere.

     As the VA cops were brutalizing her husband, Norma sat in the car waiting for him to walk out of the hospital. She had no idea that his walking days were over. When he didn't appear at the door, she re-entered the hospital to find him. Perhaps medical personnel were finally hooking him up to a dialysis machine.

     According to the VA doctor who spoke to Norma about her husband, the patent had fallen and suffered a stroke. This of course, was a lie, apparently standard procedure at VA hospitals. Norma learned of the doctor's lie when a nurse pulled her aside and informed her of really happened to Mr. Montano. (Thank God for government whistleblowers.)

     Jonathan Montano, on June 11, 2011, two and a-half weeks after being slammed to the hospital floor and pinned with a VA boot on his neck, died. Hospital authorities listed stroke as the cause, and natural as the manner of his death. As a result of this fabrication, no one in an official position called for a criminal investigation.

     In May 2014, Norma Montana and her two adult children filed a civil suit in federal court against the  Loma Linda VA hospital. The plaintiffs sought punitive, compensatory, and emotional stress damages for Mr. Montano's wrongful death at the hands of the VA police officers. The government stood accused, in connection with this veteran's violent death, of committing the torts of negligence and false imprisonment. There was also, and this shouldn't surprise anyone, a bureaucratic cover-up.

    In September 2015, the Montano family settled the wrongful death suit against the VA for $500,000. 

Clean Up Your Writing

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 1976

"Inverted Pyramid" Journalism

     Screenwriters know that if a movie doesn't have a good ending, people will leave the theater feeling like they wasted their money. Novelists know that you can't write a good book without a good ending. Speechwriters always try to end on a high note….

     But most newspaper stories dribble pitifully to an end. This is the enduring legacy of the inverted pyramid--a form that makes good endings impossible. The inverted pyramid orders information from most important to least important, robbing stories of their drama and leaving nothing to reward readers who stay with it to the last line.

     It is important to recognize that the inverted pyramid never had anything to do with writing or readers or the news. Those of us who have studied the history of the form trace its emergence to the invention of the telegraph. Reporters covering far-flung news about, say, a sinking ship or a Civil War battle now had a speedy way to transmit their stories to their newspapers, but they found that they could not always rely on it. Sometimes the line would fail; sometimes their messages would be preempted by urgent official business. So they learned to transmit their information in bursts with the most important facts first.

     This proved to be the perfect form to accommodate the manufacturing process in every newspaper's back shop. Stories were written and edited on paper and then sent to typographers, who set them in lead type. This type had to fit into a designated space on a newspaper page, but often it was too long. The only practical way to cut lead type was to trim it from the bottom.

     We don't send our stories by telegraph anymore, and it has been more than thirty years since U.S. newspapers used lead type. Today, most are fully digital so stories can be trimmed anywhere with the stroke of a key. Furthermore, stories for online use don't have to be trimmed to fit a preexisting hole at all….

Bruce DeSilva, "Endings," in Telling True Stories, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors, 2007

Thornton P. Knowles On The Fraud We Call Higher Education

Higher education is a giant swindle perpetrated on the American taxpayer. Colleges and universities have become places where free speech and diversity of ideas go to die. Moreover, serious courses taught by worldly professors are being replaced by a curricula of feel-good nonsense taught by political and cultural propagandists. Eventually, the victims of this massive education fraud will have to rise up and shut down this horrible abuse of our young people, this devastating waste of time and money. There has to be a better way.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Early History of Fingerprints

     The ancient Chinese had recognized the potential of fingerprints, sealing their documents with thumbprints by way of a "signature." An English naturalist, Thomas Bewick, used wood-block engravings of his own fingerprints as an imprint on the books he published. In the early nineteenth century, a Czech physiologist called Purkinje set out a description of the nature of fingerprints and classified various kinds. But it wasn't until 1880 that an expatriate Scottish physician, Dr. Henry Faulds, living in Japan, first recognized their forensic potential, suggesting that fingerprints found at the scene of a crime could lead to the conclusive identification of the culprit.

     Fauld's idea led to the publication in 1892 of the scientific exploration of fingerprints by Dr. Francis Galton. This in turn prompted Englishman Edward Henry and an Argentinian researcher Juan Vucetich to develop more sophisticated classification systems for fingerprints. [They were grouped into arches, loops and whorls. In 1901, Scotland Yard began collecting fingerprints from arrestees. In 1906, the St. Louis Police Department became the first U.S. law enforcement agency to start a fingerprint bureau. Many American police agencies didn't adopt fingerprinting until the 1920s.] 

Roger Wilkes, ed, The Mammoth Book of Murder & Science, 2000

Old People Can Be Dangerous

An elderly Miami woman is facing an aggravated child abuse charge after she allegedly attacked a 10-year-old girl with a hammer. Police arrested Iona Aiken, 79, on December 29, 2014 following an afternoon attack at a home she shared with the girl and her mother…According to the police, "without warning," the suspect hit the girl with the hammer as the victim  listened to music on her tablet with headphones.

"Elderly Woman Attacked Girl With Hammer,", January 1, 2015 

When Does a Novel Become a Memoir?

Perhaps everyone has a story to tell, but many never get around to telling them, and many others tell them poorly. Many people have led fascinating lives, but falter when they attempt to tell their stories. Often, this is because they focus on content rather than form. There's a difference between a memoir and a novel. A memoir is supposed to be true. A novel isn't. The difference between fact and fiction. It's a complex distinction, and some writers blur the distinction to good effect. Others, claiming they want to write fiction, really want to write memoirs. If you base a story on an actual event, but refuse to alter it because "that's the way it really happened," you probably want to write a memoir instead of a story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life into Fiction, 2006

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Botched SWAT Raid

     Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona from 1993 to 2017, became a TV and news celebrity. The controversial, combative, and flamboyant law enforcement officer, billed as America's toughest cop, was the subject of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation. He was accused of practicing systematic discrimination against Hispanics. Arpaio called this investigation a political witch hunt. On the local level, he feuded with other sheriffs, police chiefs, and state law enforcement administrators. The highly political sheriff was also accused of public corruption, selective law enforcement, and poor job performance. Over the years, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and Arpaio were involved in numerous controversial cases and law enforcement scandals.

     In March 2012, Sheriff Arpaio announced that his posse of volunteer cold-case investigators uncovered evidence that President Obama's birth certificate, the one made public in 2011, was a computer-generated fake. Several of Arpaio's former supporters asked him not to seek re-election. Although America's toughest cop lost a lot of political support, he shrugged off demands that he resign from office, and insisted that he was ready to battle the federal government in court.

     In August 2017, a federal jury found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt in connection with his tactics in going after illegal aliens. The judge sentenced the 85-year-old former sheriff to a year in jail. Shortly after the conviction, President Donald Trump issued Arpaio a pardon.

The Bungled SWAT Raid

     In July 2004, Sheriff Arpaio's detectives suspected that Gabrial Gordon, a 28-year-old ex-felon on probation for armed robbery, had stolen a cache of automatic weapons and armor-piercing bullets from a gun dealer in Las Vegas. Gordon lived with 26-year-old Eric Kush, and 22-year-old Andrea Barber in a house in Ahwatukee, an upscale bedroom community that had been annexed by the city of Phoenix. Barber's daughter and Kush's 10-month-old puppy also lived in the $250,000 home nestled in the quiet, gated neighborhood called Fairway Hills. Neither Barber nor Kush had criminal records.

     Maricopa County detectives arranged to have Gordon's probation officer lure him to his office, where, on July 23, 2004, they took him into custody. According to Gordon, Kush was the one who possessed the weapons cache. According the a version of the story told by the police, Kush warned them that Mr. Gordon had been acting in an erratic way, and always carried a gun.

     Just before noon on the day of Gordon's arrest, a SWAT tank and an unmarked white GMC Suburban van full of county SWAT officers rolled into the neighborhood and parked on the street in front of the house rented by Gordon and the others. Outfitted in full battle gear, five officers approached the front of the house while another contingent took positions in the back yard. Andrea Barber, at the sound of loud banging coming from the main entrance, started down the stairway to answer the door. But before she got there, officers kicked it open. As they rushed inside, other SWAT officers launched canisters of white tear gas through second-story windows in the front and rear of the house. A few minutes later, a fire broke out in the master bedroom which quickly enveloped the place.

     Eric Kush, who had fled to the attic at the inception of the raid, ran out of the house to escape the fire. A police officer threw him to the ground, and another officer sprayed a fire extinguisher into the face of his dog, driving the pet back into the house. The puppy perished in the fire, which completely destroyed the dwelling. An officer, in pulling the SWAT tank away from the house fire, lost control when the electric brakes disengaged. The massive vehicle rolled down an incline and smashed into a parked car.

      Investigators with the Phoenix Fire Department concluded that a lit candle knocked over in the confusion of the raid had caused the fire. Andrea Barber, however, insisted that a tear gas canister had set the bed ablaze. Either way, had there not been a SWAT raid, there would have not been a fire, and Kush's dog would not have suffered an agonizing death.

     The Maricopa County SWAT team raid that destroyed an expensive home, killed a pet, and traumatized a quiet neighborhood, resulted in the seizure of an antique shotgun and a 9-mm pistol. The police arrested Kush on a misdemeanor warrant for failure to appear in a Tempe municipal court on two traffic tickets. He paid the $1,000 bond and was released from custody. In the week following the botched raid, the neighborhood stank of the fire debris, and the rotting puppy.         

The Forensic Analysis Of Human Bones

     In examining the skeletal remains of a suspected murder victim, a county coroner who is relatively unfamiliar with skeletal anatomy might think he has found cut marks on the bones. He reports them to the police investigators as coming from a knife. A forensic anthropologist who has seen a lot of these cases before is able to interpret the marks differently, and recognizes them as the tooth marks of a scavenging carnivore. The distinctions are extremely fine, but tell that to a presumably innocent man the police are about to charge with murder….

     Experienced forensic anthropologists have examined thousands of bones from all time periods and from all over the world, and are beneficiaries of tens of thousands of examinations made by others in the field. They know what happens to a skeleton after the passage of a month, a decade, a century, two thousand years. They know what happens when a skeleton is left on the prairie after an Indian massacre and buried years later by a passer-by. They can distinguish between evidence of murder and the results of a dog passing by and helping himself….

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992      

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The Golden Age of detective fiction occurred between the two world wars, when several crucial developments changed the genre forever. The stories became more literate and the detectives more believable--no longer were they persons of super human intellect who could look at someone's shoes and determine where they had just been by the type of dirt collected there. Also, much more emphasis was put on period and character as opposed to merely constructing a clever puzzle.

Jay Pearsal, Mystery & Crime, 1995

True Crime Readers Like Murder Cases

I define a true crime book as one involving murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about government cover-up. It's really a case involving murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial. The best true crime books give you some insight into the characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.

Charles Spicer in Mystery Writer's Market Place and Sourcebook, edited by Donna Collingwood, 1993

Jailing the Mentally Ill

     ….In the 1950's, more than half million people lived in U.S. mental institutions--one in 300 Americans. By the late 1970s, only 160,000 did, due to efforts by psychiatrists, philanthropists, and politicians to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill.

     Today there's one public psychiatric care bed for 7,100 Americans--the same ratio as in 1850. The motives behind this trend were varied. Emptying the asylums was going to save money. And who needed hospitals with all the antipsychotic drugs on the market? Deinstitutionalization was going to restore citizens' rights and protect them from deplorable conditions like those portrayed in movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," conditions in which an insane person was unlikely to be cured. Wouldn't it be better if the mentally ill were treated at home, given support, therapy, and medication via community clinics? It sounded good, but the reality was quite different.

     In 1961, a joint commission of the American Medical and American Psychiatric Associations recommended integrating the mentally ill into society. This plan depended on the establishment of local facilities where mentally ill people could receive outpatient care. In 1963 Congress passed a law providing funding for these "community mental health centers". States, under pressure from the patients' rights movement, downsized their psychiatric hospitals faster than anyone had anticipated….

     As of 2006, 1.3 million of America's mentally ill were housed where they used to be until the late 1800s: in prisons. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people behind bars more than quadrupled. In some county jails, rates of inmates with mental illness have increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years. It's not uncommon for individual jails to report that 25 to 30 percent of their inmates are mentally ill or that their mentally ill populations rises year after year….

Mac McClelland, "Schizophrenic Killer My Cousin," Reader's Digest, February 2014 

Writing A Horror Story

     Horror is a genre with certain identifiable characteristics. When people who enjoy horror read your story, they are not reading it in a vacuum. They are reading it as part of a genre, constantly comparing your story to other horror stories they've read. If I had never read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and then a story very much like it, readers who know Poe's story may not be quite as thrilled with my big surprise ending as I had hoped. To them it's no surprise. They've read it before, only a better version.

     To be a creative, innovative horror writer, you must read a lot of everything--and a lot of that everything must be horror. You may be thinking: How can I be creative and original with all these other authors' ideas floating around in my head? This is critical: The sheer amount of material floating around in your head will actually prevent you copying from any one author in particular.

     Instead, you will find a tiny piece of character from this book, a tiny piece of plot from that book, a certain stylistic technique from that other--to combine into something totally new. It is the writer who reads only Stephen King who will turn out stories that sound like Stephen King--on a very bad day.

Jeanne Cavelos in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007  

The Romance Novel: A Genre Deserving Respect

     The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.

     Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.

     In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…

     Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.

     Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Tim Zickuhr Kidnapping Case

     The reality TV show "Ice Road Truckers" falls within the genre of reality television series that feature rugged, rough-and-tumble men who live in swamps, dig for gold, run a business geared to the killing of ducks, hunt wild hogs, and transport unusual cargo over-the-road--Bubba or redneck TV if you will.

     "Ice Road Truckers," starring men who drive 18-wheelers on seasonal routes that cross frozen lakes and rivers in remote arctic territories in Canada and Alaska, premiered on the History Channel in June 2007. Later series focused on Alaska's remote Dalton Highway built on solid, snow-covered terrain. 
     In 2010, the History Channel introduced a spin-off series called "Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads." Tim Zickuhr, a 35-year-old part time actor from Port of Los Angeles, appeared in the series' second season. In a promotional video for the show, Zickuhr described himself as an "adrenaline junkie." The reality TV actor, referring to himself as an "outlaw," also said, "The action is the juice for me." Full of bravado and a lot of crap, Zickuhr was perfect for reality TV. 
     On December 18, 2013, in Las Vegas, Zickuhr  hired a prostitute named Lisa Cadeau who worked under the trick name "Snow White." In his apartment, after she had performed the sex acts, Zickuhr gave her his ATM card to withdraw the money they had agreed upon. The next day, after checking his account, Zickuhr called Cadeau back to his apartment where he accused her of withdrawing more cash for her services than they had agreed upon. 
     At sometime during the heated dispute, Zickuhr allegedly punched the hooker in the face and threatened her life if she didn't return the $1,000 she had supposedly stolen from him. According to the police report, he tied Cadeau up, then dumped a bucket of cold water on her head. After locking the prostitute into a closet, Zickuhr demanded that she give him the phone number of someone who would pay him the money she had stolen. 
     Cadeau gave her enraged captor the phone number of a Las Vegas police officer she had worked for as a snitch. Zickuhr called the number and put Cadeau on the phone. To the cop, she exclaimed, "Help me, he's going to kill me!"
     When Zickuhr took the phone back from Cadeau, he instructed the man on the line to meet him with the money behind the Eureka Casino near the Las Vegas Strip. 
     After arranging the meeting with the man he thought was going to return his money, Zickuhr forced the prostitute to jump out of a second-story window onto the roof of a carport. As a result of her ordeal, Cadeau suffered injuries to her face and arms. She also had abrasions on her wrists from being bound. 
     At the Eureka Casino, two Las Vegas police officers arrested Zickuhr. As he was being hauled off to jail, the arrestee, according to the police report, "admitted that he'd made a mistake." (Exactly what "mistake" he was referring to was not clear.) 
     A Clark County prosecutor charged the former reality TV actor with first-degree kidnapping, extortion, and coercion. All three of these offenses were felonies that could put the "adrenaline junkie" behind bars for several years. 
     Following his arrest, Zickuhr told a TMZ reporter that he had not given Cadeau the money because she was a prostitute. He insisted that "Snow White" was a friend. He said he lent her the money, nice guy that he was. And what did she do? She wiped him out! So who was the real victim here?  
     Lisa Cadeau, in an April 22, 2014 email to a reporter with the New York Daily News, wrote: "I only withdrew the $80 I was supposed to, and an additional $120 that I wasn't."
      In February 2015, following Zickuhr's conviction on the kidnapping and extortion charges, the judge sentenced him to 5 to 15 years in prison. 

Rigor Mortis

     Rigor mortis, the stiffening of muscles after death, is due to a chemical reaction directly dependent on the temperature surrounding a body (the colder the temperature, the more slowly rigor develops.) Beginning several hours after all vital signs cease, it is noted first in the facial area, then proceeds to the upper and lower extremities. After twelve hours it is usually complete. Finally, after twenty-four to thirty-six hours, the body passes out of rigor, this time in the reverse sequence, from the bottom of the body to the top.

     Generally speaking, the more physical exertion or struggle that takes place before death, the sooner rigor begins. Moreover, the sooner rigor begins, the sooner it passes.

Frederick Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D. and David L. Carroll, Dissecting Death, 2005

Dealing In Stolen Goods

     The fence conveys the thief's stolen goods beyond the reach of the long arms of the law and into the hands of the more or less--and usually less--legitimate businessmen. He sells the merchandise to the businessman at a price less than the businessman can obtain elsewhere, and returns to the thief a percentage of the take in a shorter period of time than the thief could unload the goods. The fence's role is to serve two different masters; the key to his success is that he comes out on top of them both.

     The fence is the underworld's indispensable man. The businessman can purchase the hot goods without ever having to confront on a face-to-face basis the thief or hijacker; and the thief never has to expose himself to the businessman, who in the event of a police investigation might be the first to break down.

     The good fence is a man of a thousand connections….

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Justice

Our criminal justice system in a nutshell: commit a crime, plead guilty for a light sentence, get out, commit a crime. And around it goes. While there are far more victims in our country than there are criminals, criminals get most of the justice. Why is that? Perhaps it's because our legal system is designed to protect the criminal from overzealous cops and prosecutors. While that protects us from  government abuse, crime victims pay the price for that freedom. Ours is not a victim oriented criminal justice system. That doesn't mean, however, that the genius' who run our country couldn't do a better job of protecting victims of crime.

Thornton P. Knowles

Writing Fiction and Nonfiction: Tell a Story

The object of most of your writing is to tell a story, whether it's fictional or not. The story will have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and in telling the story, you are moving the reader along, maintaining interest and attention from page to page. To facilitate this, the writer has at her disposal an array of devices--species of writing like narrative, exposition, dialogue, background. Each stage of the process... has its own particular challenges.

Ian Jackman, The Writer's Mentor, 2004 

Jack Kerouac On America

I suddenly began to realize that everybody in America is a natural born thief.

Jack Kerouac, On The Road, 1957 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Pedophile Donald James Smith And The Murder Of Cherish Perriwinkle

     On Friday night, June 21, 2013, 8-year-old Cherish Perriwinkle and her mother Rayne were shopping at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida. At seven that night, 56-year-old Donald James Smith, a registered sex offender with an extensive criminal record, struck up a conversation with Rayne who informed him that she had fallen on hard times. She said she wanted to buy a dress for Charish in anticipation of a visit from the girl's father. Unfortunately, she couldn't afford the purchase. Donald Smith, a total stranger, said he wanted to help. He said he had a Walmart gift card they could use to buy food and clothing.

     Donald Smith, following a conviction in 1993 for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials, served five years in prison. The Jacksonville man also became a registered sex offender. In 2009, Smith was charged with felony child abuse after making obscene calls to a 10-year-old girl. In that case, he threatened to harm the victim while impersonating a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families. Smith eventually pleaded guilty to the felony charge and in return received a light sentence. On May 31, 2013, after serving 438 days behind bars, Smith walked out of the Jackson County Jail a free man.

     From the Dollar General store, Smith drove Cherish and Rayne Perriwinkle to a nearby Walmart. While Rayne looked at dresses, Smith, telling Cherish that he was going to buy her a meal at the in-house McDonalds, snuck off with the girl. Instead of going to McDonalds, Smith put Cherish in his white-colored van and drove off.

     At eleven o'clock that night, when Rayne Perriwinkle realized that her daughter had left Walmart with Smith, she called 911 and reported her missing. The terrified mother described Donald Smith and his van. At six the next morning, Donald Smith, his vehicle, and the missing girl were subjects of an Amber Alert.

     Just before nine that Saturday morning, a police officer investigating a traffic accident on I-95 spotted Smith's van as it passed by in the southbound lane. A few minutes later, a Jacksonville County Deputy Sheriff pulled Smith over and took him into custody. Cherish Perriwinkle was not in the van, and Smith was not talking.

     About an hour after Smith's arrest, the police received information regarding a white van that had been parked the previous night in the woods near a church four miles from the Walmart where the victim had been abducted. That tip led to the discovery, in the woods near the church, of the missing girl's corpse.

     On Sunday, June 23, 2013, Donald James Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual battery, and first-degree murder. The arraignment magistrate denied the registered sex offender bail.

     In May 2014, Duval County Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper set Smith's trial for October of that year. The prosecutor's office had announced its intention to seek the death penalty in the case. Smith's attorney, public defender Mark Shirk, asserted that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial, particularly in a capital case.

     In September 2014, with the mental competency issue still unresolved, the judge postponed the Smith trial to early 2015.

     Public defender Shirk, in February 2015, asked the court to remove him from the Smith case due to a conflict of interest that pertained to his representation of a man who had knowledge of Donald Smith's involvement in the Perriwinkle murder. The following month, Judge Cooper appointed Julie Schlax as Smith's new attorney. This meant another case postponement.

     In January 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death-penalty procedure of allowing a judge to decide if a person convicted of capital murder lives or dies violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury. A few months after the ruling, the governor signed state legislation that required at least 10 of 12 jurors to support an execution over life without parole.

     Defense attorney Schlax, prior to her client's scheduled April 2016 trial, filed a motion for an indefinite delay. Schlax argued that her client could not be legally sentenced to death because Florida's unconstitutional procedure was in effect when he was charged with first-degree murder. Judge Mallory Cooper granted the defense motion. That meant the Donald James Smith murder trial was on hold until a judge resolved this legal issue.

     In November 2017, a judge denied Smith's motion to take the death penalty off the table. The judge set Smith's trial date for February 2018.

     In May 2018, after being found guilty of first-degree murder and rape, Judge Mallory Cooper sentenced Donald J. Smith to death.

The Historic Lufthansa Heist

     On December 11, 1978, armed mobsters stole $5 million in cash and nearly $1 million in jewels from a Lufthansa airlines vault at JFK Airport [Queens, New York] in what would be for decades the biggest-ever heist on U.S. soil. And until the arrest of Vincent Asaro on January 23, 2014, the crime went without a single wiseguy criminally charged.

     The theft became legendary after mastermind James "Jimmy the Gent" Burke killed off one crew member after another to avoid being ratted out to the cops. Martin Scorsese immortalized the theft in his 1990 film "Goodfellas," based on Nicholas Pileggi's book, Wiseguy. Burke, who died of cancer in prison in 1996, was the inspiration for Robert DeNiro's character, Jimmy Conway.

Larry Celono and Bob Fredericks, New York Post, January 24, 2014

Paper Crime Versus Gun Violence

In Mario Puzo's book The Godfather, Don Corleone observed that a dozen men with machine guns are no match for a single lawyer with a briefcase, and he had a point. Far more crimes in America are committed with paper than with guns, and many more times the amount of money and power change hands illegally through a stroke of the pen than through physical violence. Frequently a degree in accounting can be important in becoming an agent of the FBI, and being able to hit a moving target with a pistol or machine gun is far less of a factor in the solution of most crimes than the ability to follow a complex paper trail through to the crooked bottom line.

Dr. Douglas Ubelaker and Henry Scammell, Bones, 1992 

The Smell of Death

If you've ever caught the scent of decaying flesh, you haven't forgotten it. The thickly sweet odor of decay is almost overwhelming, especially on a hot day, even to someone accustomed to it. It makes you salivate, and your mouth takes on the sour, metallic taste you'd get from sucking on a copper penny. People sometimes try to use another scent to mask the stench. I tried to mask the odor with skin lotion that I applied to the inside of my mask, but it didn't work. The result was worse than its failure to work; I came to associate the pleasant scent of the lotion with the awful odor of death. Olfactory memory is said to be the strongest of all sensual memories….

Robert Mann, Ph.D. and Miryam Ehrlich Williamson, Forensic Detective, 2006      

Charles Bukowski On Democracy

The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Thornton P. Knowles On Bestsellers Lists

There is nothing more fraudulent than The New York Times and other bestseller lists. First, these lists account for books sold by a limited number of preferred booksellers. Second, books the publishers of these lists do not like are undercounted. Bestseller rankings are as bogus as The Academy Award. In publishing and entertainment, nothing is on the level because of politics.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Rumain Brisbon Police-Involved Shooting Case

     At six in the evening of Tuesday December 2, 2014, officers with the Phoenix Police Department were investigating a burglary in the city's north side when a resident of an apartment complex nearby reported that black men inside a Cadillac SUV were selling drugs near the apartment building.

     When one of the officers approached the suspect vehicle, the driver, 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, jumped out of the SUV and ran toward the apartment complex. (Brisbon had a burglary conviction conviction and was currently on probation. He was married and had four children.)

     The 30-year-old police officer, Mark Rine, had seven years on the force. The officer chased Brisbon and caught up to him outside the apartment building. The subject, who had a hand stuffed into his waistband, refused to comply with the officer's commands to drop to the ground.

     Brisbon's refusal to obey the officers orders led to a scuffle. During the struggle, Brisbon stuck his left hand into his pant pocket. Officer Rine grabbed for that hand and felt what he thought was a concealed handgun. As the officer tried to gain control of the situation, an apartment door opened and the two men tumbled inside.

     Inside the apartment, when the police officer lost his grip on Brisbon's left hand, he feared that the man he was struggling with would produce a gun and shoot him. It was at that point the officer pulled his pistol and shot Brisbon twice in the torso, killing him.

     As it turned out, Brisbon had not been armed. The object in his left pocket that concerned officer Rine was a bottle of oxycodone pills. (Brisbon had apparently been selling these pills out of his SUV and did not want to return to prison on a probation violation.)

     If this police account of the confrontation and shooting was accurate, the officer's use of deadly force in this case will undoubtedly be ruled justified. On these facts it was doubtful that a local prosecutor would even present this case to a grand jury.

     Marci Kratter, the Phoenix attorney who represented Brisbon in a 2009 DUI case, and was now representing the Brisbon family, told reporters she didn't believe the police version of the shooting was complete. "There are numerous witnesses," she said, "that will challenge the police officer's account of what happened." (There were witnesses in the Michael Brown case, too, and many of them were discredited.)

     Phoenix police spokesperson Trent Crump, in addressing the media, said, "The officer was doing what we expect him to do, which is investigate crimes that neighbors are telling them are occurring."
     In April 2015, the Maricopa County Prosecutor's Office announced that Officer Rine would not be criminally charged in the shooting death of Rumain Brisbon.

     The Phoenix Police Department, in June 2017, decided to pay Brisbon's family $1.5 million pursuant to a court settlement agreement.

Ann Rule's True Crime Writing Tips

If you want to be a true crime writer, the best thing you can be is immensely curious. And, you should go to criminal trials. Here are tips and etiquette for trial watching.

l. You can usually get a press pass, but there's often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Call the prosecutor's assistant.

2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience.

3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.

4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they are doing.

5. If you're sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don't ask them about anything. Keep our eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.

6. Don't take newspapers into the courtroom.

7. Know what you're getting yourself into. You don't want to start a book unless you're really in love with the story.

8. Absorb detail. When I'm writing a true crime book I want the reader to walk along with me…As far as writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.

9. Don't use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing.

Ann Rule in "Ann Rule on Breaking Into True Crime,", by Zachary Petit, July 13, 2012  

Journalists as Privacy Invaders

     Securing a subject's permission and cooperation, if that subject isn't a public figure, is one of the trickiest things I have to do as a nonfiction writer. It is a matter of both law and ethics. I try to make sure that private individuals understand what I'm doing, and I try to give them some sense of what the consequences might be. It's a sort of Miranda warning: Anything you say may be used against you in my book….

     These days, publishers often require authors to get signed releases from their subjects. Lawyers tell me these sorts of releases are of limited use in cases of invasion of privacy, a very vague area of the law, and of even less use in libel cases. The releases generally say something like this: I can write anything I want to about you. I can steal your good name. And I'll give you a free copy of the book in which I do these things. From what I understand, most courts don't think that's a valid contract. For those reasons I've stopped getting releases from the people who appear in my books. Nonetheless, releases can be a tool to help subjects truly consider what they are doing.

Tracy Kidder, "Security Consent," in Telling True Stores, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors, 2007

Charles Bukowski On Finding The Motivation To Write

This writing game is more desperate than holding up liquor stores, yet I'm snared in now and there's no out. A man finally gets lazy, too lazy and the mind gets too lazy to do any damned job. Now I'm almost too lazy to write. An empty belly and rent due might stove that up, though.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

The Goal of the Horror Novelist

I have very strong opinions of what the horror genre should be and this has earned me few friends in the franchised horror product schoolyard. All writers of horror, thriller, drama, and adventure stories, because of the material they consider in their work, are serial killers with a physical OFF switch. They have to put themselves into the heads of their maniac creations. It's so easy to put a knife in someone's eye, that's not the point of horror. The point of horror is to make people feel revolted and oppressed and angered in some fundamental way. One has to get under the skin of the reader. You do this by breaking moral boundaries. You do this by breaking narrative structure. You do this by mixing up genres. The horror writer has to expect to be hated, loathed, derided--for only when he can achieve this status of ogre can his art mean anything to a populace sucked dry by the corporate franchising of the horror ethos.

Mike Philbin in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Cops Ask Criminals To Cool It

In the midst of the 2019 midwestern heat wave, a spokesperson for the Park Forest, Illinois Police Department issued the following statement: "It is just too hot to be outside committing crimes. We're asking all aspiring criminals, seasoned veterans, and those who find themselves committing crimes out of boredom, to please stay at home." So, I guess a man who is aspiring to murder his wife in their air-conditioned home is free to go ahead with his crime. Moreover, one would hope that in the criminal world most "season veterans" were currently living in air-conditioned prisons. This statement really suggests that it's too hot for crime fighting. Like they say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

The Eric Garner Chokehold Death Case

     In 1983, following a decade of arrestee and inmate deaths in New York City caused by the use of police chokeholds, the commissioner banned this restraining technique in the city's lockups and station houses. Ten years later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prohibited the use of police chokeholds all together.

     On Friday, July 18, 2014, four police officers working in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, New York, confronted 43-year-old Eric Garner as he stood on the sidewalk in front of a store. The officers accused the father of four and grandfather of six of selling so-called "loosies," individual untaxed cigarettes. Several bystanders video-recorded the exchange between the officers and the 350-pound asthmatic.

     Addressing the officers, Garner said, "Every time you see me, you're messing with me. I'm tired of it. I'm minding my own business. Please leave me alone."

     When one of the officers reached out to place the suspect into custody, Garner said, "Don't touch me." At that moment a second officer, from behind, wrapped his arm around the arrestee's neck. Garner collapsed to the pavement. The second Garner hit the ground, the other three officer piled on. With his head pressed hard against the sidewalk, Garner, at least eight times, yelled, "I can't breathe!" He then slipped into unconsciousness.

     Two paramedics and a pair of EMTs from Staten Island's Richmond University Medical Center, in response to the police call for medical assistance, rolled up to the scene. A few minutes later bystanders pleaded with the medical crew to do more for the unresponsive man than just check his vital signs. Ten minutes passed before the ambulance crew lifted Garner onto a gurney and slid him into the emergency vehicle. At the hospital, an hour after the police encounter, Garner died of cardiac arrest.

     A police supervisor placed Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen grabbing Garner from behind, on desk duty pending an internal affairs inquiry into Garner's death. The district attorney of Staten Island announced that investigators in his office would conduct an investigation into the matter.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Garner's death a homicide caused by "compression of neck, chest, and positioning during physical restraint by police." (Death by homicide is not the same thing as death by criminal homicide. Death by homicide means the decedent didn't die accidentally, naturally, or by suicide.)

     Officer Pantaleo was not a stranger to such incidents. Two people, in separate cases, had sued him for excessive force in the past few years. Because Garner was black and the arresting officers were white, the fatality immediately triggered accusations of police racism.

     On July 19, 2014, the day after Mr. Garner's death, Richmond University Medical Center officials suspended the four-member ambulance crew without pay. A hospital spokesperson said an internal investigation was underway.

     Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, told reporters that the union stood behind officer Pantaleo. "This was a police officer that wanted to place this person [Garner] under arrest and bring him to the sidewalk. This was not a chokehold."

     On December 3, 2014, a local grand jury decided not to indict officer Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death. This meant there would be no criminal charges in this case. The officer could still be charged in federal court with a civil rights violation and the city can expect a wrongful death suit.

     The grand jury in this case was made up of 23 residents of Staten Island and led by a foreperson. A true bill requires that at least 13 of the panelists vote for a criminal charge. Fifteen members of this grand jury were white.

     This grand jury no bill involving a white police officer and the death of a a black subject, coming in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, provoked condemnation from legal analysts and triggered a wave of demonstrations in New York City.

     Police officers are trained and equipped to deal with uncooperative people. Eric Garner, while not cooperative, was unarmed and committing a petty crime that could have been dealt with by a summons rather than arrest. Taking him to the ground involved acceptable law enforcement force, but the chokehold and not letting him up when he repeatedly said he couldn't breathe was, in the opinion of most legal analysts, excessive force.

     On July 16, 2019, Richard Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a news conference that the evidence did not support charging police officer Daniel Pantaleo with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

Who Should Go to Prison and Who Should Not?

     Although the number of individuals in America's prisons now tops two million, and we spend roughly $200 billion annually on responding to crime, our system is plagued with repeat offenders.
The sad fact is that two-thirds of those released from prison re-offend within two or three years. In California, we now spend more that $25 billion annually on crime--more than twice what we spend on higher education--but 70 percent of the 125,000 individuals released from our prisons each year are back behind bars within a couple of years….

     When we combine all the crimes committed each year and factor in the seriousness of those crimes, the result is best represented by a pyramid. At the very top are the worst crimes--the murders, rapes, and violent assaults that so rightly command our most intense attention. The violent crimes occupy the top section of that pyramid because they are so serious and threatening, but they also are the tip-top because they are a minority of crimes. Only a quarter of all offenders admitted to prison are violent offenders. The largest mass of the crime pyramid is the truly staggering number of nonviolent offenders. According to the FBI, 96 percent of all arrests are of nonviolent offenders. [These nonviolent crimes include, however, grand theft, public corruption, arson, burglary, and the possession of child pornography. Where do these criminals fit in the crime pyramid?]

     The problem is that we have been using only the tools best suited to combating the offenders at the top of the pyramid for the entire crime pyramid. [Example: Using SWAT tactics in low-risk drug busts.] For several decades the passage of tough laws and long sentences has created an illusion in the public's mind that public safety is best served when we treat all offenders pretty much the same way: arrest, convict, imprison, parole, and hope they learn their lesson. What the numbers say loud and clear, however, is that most nonviolent offenders are learning the wrong lesson, and in many cases, they are becoming better and more hardened criminals during their prison stays.

Kamala D. Harris, Smart on Crime, 2009 

Can a Murderer be Convicted Without the Body?

In October 1947, ship's steward James Camb raped and murdered actress Gay Gibson aboard the Durban Castle out of South Africa. Although Camb disposed of his luckless victim out of one of the liner's portholes and the body was never found, fresh scratches on the suspect's arms and back indicated his involvement in a fierce struggle. Blood-flecked saliva on the pillow cover of Miss Gibson's bed was consistent with manual strangulation, and in situations of abject fear such as that Gay Gibson must have felt at the hands of her attacker, it is common for the bladder to empty--which accounted for the extensive urine staining on the bed. In March 1948, after the ship docked in Southampton, England, Camb was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1993

Thornton P. Knowles On America's Great Self-Love Society

I grew up being taught to love others. That didn't take. Kids today are taught to love themselves. That seems to be working. I don't belong to America's massive and growing society of self lovers. I am, however, a member of a much smaller group--The Order of Self Loathers. It's a more exclusive club consisting of members that are at least likable. Since self-lovers hate each other, and why wouldn't they, they are all jerks, these people have no one to love but themselves. It's an expanding circle of victimhood and self pity, a societal black hole that will eventually suck all of us in.

Thornton P. Knowles

Murder Fiction Has To Make Sense, Nonfiction Murder Just Has To Be True

     It might be thought that murder presented as fictional entertainment on cinema and television screens is frequently implausible. Yet in its bizarre, extraordinary and frequently farcical consequences it is invariably bettered by the real thing. Truth really is stranger than fiction….The details of murders…frequently fall into that category where the conclusion is, "You couldn't make that up."…

     Murder seems to attract weird behavior beyond the basic elements of one person killing another. Tremaryne Durham, for instance, a murder suspect in custody in the United States, became fed up with the monotonous institutional food he was served in jail and arranged a plea bargain whereby he would admit guilt in return for a chicken dinner.

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Curtis Reeves Murder Case

     From 1961 to 1963, Curtis Reeves, Jr. served as a Navy machinists' mate on a submarine. Following his honorable discharge he drove a truck and worked in a warehouse. In the mid-1970s Reeves became an officer with the Tampa Police Department. He retired, at the rank of captain, in 1993 at the age of 51. In the 1980s officer Reeves helped launch the police department's first SWAT team, a unit he eventually headed.

     After retiring from police work, Reeves took a job with the security department at the Florida theme park, Busch Gardens. When he left that position in 2005 he was director of security.

     In 2003 Reeves and his wife moved into a sprawling ranch-style home in the community of Spring Lake near Brooksville, Florida. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle and was a member of the Mountainview Estates crime stoppers organization. Reeves and his wife had two grown sons, one of whom was an officer with the Tampa Police Department.

     On Monday, January 13, 2014, Curtis Reeves and his wife attended the 1:20 PM showing of "Lone Survivor" at the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel, a suburban community a few miles south of downtown Tampa. Sitting nearby was 43-year-old Chad Oulson and his wife Nicole.

     During the showing of the previews before the start of the feature presentation, Reeves became annoyed when he saw Mr. Oulson texting. When the ex-cop asked Oulson to stop that activity, Oulson ignored the request. After Reeves complained further, Oulson explained that he was texting his young daughter.

     Reeves, furious over the texting, left his seat to notify theater staff regarding this breach of moviegoing etiquette. When he couldn't find anyone in authority to complain to, Reeves returned to his seat. At that point Mr. Oulson made a derogatory comment regarding Reeves' attempt to report him to theater employees. The two men argued which prompted Mr. Oulson to throw a bag of popcorn at Reeves.

    When hit by the popcorn, Reeves pulled out a .380-caliber pistol and shot Chad Oulson in the chest. The victim slumped over in his seat. The bullet that entered Oulson's body first hit his wife in the hand as she tried to hold her husband back. Mr. Oulson tried to speak but couldn't as blood seeped from his mouth. Another theatergoer applied CPR while others called 911.

     An off-duty Tampa police officer who happened to be in the theater approached Reeves who sat quietly in his seat with the pistol on his lap. When the officer asked Reeves to hand over the weapon, Reeves refused. Following a brief scuffle, Reeves calmed down and gave up his gun.

     Reeves' son, the Tampa police officer (who was off-duty) entered the theater about the time his father shot Mr. Oulson. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance crew rushed Mr. Oulson to a Tampa area hospital where doctors pronounced him dead. His wife Nicole was treated for the bullet wound to her hand.

     When deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office arrived at the theater to take the 71-year-old shooter into custody, they advised the suspect of his Miranda rights.  Reeves told the officers that the man he had shot had struck him with an unknown object. In fear of being assaulted, he pulled and fired his gun.

     Charged with second-degree murder, Reeves made his first court appearance on Tuesday, the day after the shooting. His attorney, Richard Escobar, asked the judge not to set bond due to the fact his client, with all of his ties to the community, was not a flight risk. "The alleged victim attacked him," the defense attorney said.

     The judge, noting that being struck by an unknown object did not call for the use of a handgun, denied bail. During the arraignment, a Pasco County prosecutor said that a woman named Jamira Dixon had come forward with information regarding her recent encounter with Mr. Reeves. According to Dixon, Reeves had become enraged three weeks earlier when he saw her texting in the same theater. Dixon said he glared at her throughout the movie, and followed her out of the room when she got up to use the restroom.

     If convicted as charged, Curtis Reeves could be sentenced to life in prison. In his case, a ten-year sentence would probably have the same result.

     In August 2015, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa, in a hearing on the case, made the comment that the right to a trial is not a right to a perfect trial. The Reeves defense took exception to this remark and following a backlash, the judge recused himself from the case.

     Following one delay after another due to changes in Florida's stand your ground law, a doctrine applicable to the Reeves case, the new judge, Susan Barthle, postponed the trial again until the Florida Supreme Court sorted out conflicts in the application of the stand your ground doctrine. A new trial date was set for February 2019 then postponed again.

     As of July 2019, the five-year-old case has still not come to trial.

Manner of Death Mistakes

    Death cases aren't always what they appear to be. A recent American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology article analyzed a decade's worth of death investigations in Fulton County [Atlanta], Georgia. The researchers found that death investigators and forensic pathologists disagreed on the manner of death in 12 percent of those cases. Twenty times, death investigators overlooked evidence such as strangulation marks, bullet wounds, and knife wounds and recorded those cases as natural or accidental deaths, only to have the pathologists conduct autopsies and discover that they were homicides. In one case, a driver inadvertently struck a pedestrian. The collision was tying up traffic and it was raining, so the investigator did a perfunctory examination before removing the body and classifying it as an accident. Pathologists later identified multiple gunshot wounds to the victim's head. By then, valuable time and evidence were lost.

     Alternately, in twenty-one cases, death investigators reported homicides that proved to be accidents, suicides, or natural deaths.

John Temple, Deathhouse, 2005

Tough Cases

When a detective looks back on a life of crime fighting, it is natural that the hard cases, the big mysteries, the complex investigations, are those that are remembered best….Crime is seldom simple and the harder the case, the more impact it makes on your life.

Les Brown and Robert Jeffrey, Real Hard Cases, 2006

Execution by Sword

Because primitive execution by the sword depended so much on the ability or willingness of the victim to remain motionless and unflinching, and also on the dexterity and accuracy of the executioner, the method was eventually phased out [in the mid-1600s]. The public spectacle of the decapitation, the headless corpse and gushing blood, became so abhorrent to society that Germany, like many other European countries, adopted the system of hanging its criminals behind prison walls, and the fearsome, blunt-tipped execution swords were honorably retired to museums.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 2001