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Saturday, November 30, 2019

The David Tarloff Murder Case

     Psychiatrists diagnosed David Tarloff with schizophrenia in 1991 when the 23-year-old was in college. Over the next seventeen years, the Queens, New York resident, on twelve occasions, ended up in a hospital mental ward. There was no question that the man was mentally ill.

     Tarloff lived with his mother in a Queens apartment until 2004 when she moved into a nursing home. By 2008, the 40-year-old schizophrenic had convinced himself that his mother was being abused by nursing home personnel. That's when he concocted a plan to rob Dr. Kent Shinbach, the psychiatrist who had initially treated him in 1991. With the money he hoped to acquire by using the doctor's ATM code, Tarloff planned to pull his mother out of the nursing home and take her away to Hawaii.

     In February 2008, after making several phone inquiries, Tarloff learned that Dr. Shinbach had offices on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In preparation for the robbery, Tarloff purchased a rubber meat mallet and a cleaver that he packed into a suitcase filled with adult diapers and clothing for his mother.

     On February 8, 2008, Tarloff showed up at  Dr. Shinbach's office armed with the meat cleaver and the mallet. But instead of encountering his robbery target, he was confronted by Dr. Kathryn Faughey, the 56-year-old psychotherapist who shared office space with Dr. Shinbach.

    In the Manhattan doctor's office, Tarloff smashed Faughey's skull with the mallet, then hacked her to death with the meat cleaver. He also attacked Dr. Shinbach when the psychiatrist tried to rescue his colleague. Tarloff fled the bloody scene on foot and was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Dr. Shinbach survived his wounds.

     The Manhattan District Attorneys Office charged Tarloff with first-degree murder. The defendant's attorney acknowledged what his client had done, but pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. If a jury found that at the moment Tarloff killed Dr. Faughey, he was so mentally ill he couldn't appreciate the nature and quality of his act, they could return a verdict of not guilty. Instead of serving a fixed prison term, Tarloff would be placed into an institution for the criminally insane. The length of his incarceration would be determined by the doctors who treated him. If at some point the psychiatrists considered him sane enough for society, he could be discharged from the mental institution. (It is for this reason that most jurors are uncomfortable with the insanity defense, particularly in cases of extreme violence.)

     Under American law, criminal defendants are presumed innocent and sane. That means the prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense, in insanity cases, has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence (a less rigorous standard of proof) that the defendant was out of touch with reality when he committed the homicide. Since even seriously psychotic murder defendants are aware they are killing their victims, not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts are rare. This is particularly true in rural communities where jurors prefer to send mentally ill murderers to prison.

     After years of procedural delays, David Tarloff's murder trial got underway in March 2013. A month later, following the testimony of a set of dueling psychiatrists, the case went to the jury. After ten days of deliberation, the jury foreman informed the judge that the panel had not been able to reach an unanimous verdict of guilt. The trial judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor in charge of the case announced his intention to try David Tarloff again.

     In May 2014, at his second trial, the jury rejected the insanity defense in this case and found David Tarloff guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.     

Are Some Criminals Born Bad?

I don't know if I'd say [that some people are born bad]. But there are children who start showing signs of criminality as early as 2. They don't respond to their parents' attempts to guide them, restrain them or give them affection. At 3, 4, and 5, some children start sneaking around taking money from their mothers' purses. At 7 and 8, a kid may start getting into trouble in the neighborhood, shaking down other kids for their milk money, that kind of thing. By age 13 or 14, he's committed dozens of crimes--illegal drugs, shoplifting, assaultive patterns at school. By high school graduation, he's knee-deep in crime.

Dr. Stanton E. Sanenow, author of Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984. The quote is from a May 14, 1984 interview by David Van Biema in People Magazine.

The Power of the False Confession

Confessions have a powerful ability to sway the minds of judges and jurors. Yet there are many documented examples of manipulative tactics used by law enforcement personnel to elicit false confessions from people who are not guilty of the crime they are accused of. Defenders of these [interrogation] techniques fail to realize that [interrogators] cannot distinguish between a true and a false confession. The safeguards [the Miranda warnings, etc.] in place do not protect suspects from making false confessions...False confessions taint other evidence and make trained law enforcement personnel change their previous correct interpretations of the evidence.

Emil Karlson, Debunking Denialism website, 2015

The Salem Witch Trials

The famous Salem witchcraft crisis erupted early in 1692 when several young women began exhibiting bizarre behavior: incoherent screaming, convulsions, crawling on the ground, and barking like dogs. Some people believed that the Devil himself was present in the community and blamed this on a slave woman named Tituba. The trial of Tituba and two of the young women only escalated the crisis. Suspects were encouraged to name other witches, and they responded enthusiastically. The search for witches quickly spread throughout Salem and to neighboring towns. The original girls identified more than fifty "witches" in Andover [Massachusetts], even though they did not personally know anyone in the town. By the end of the summer, nineteen accused witches had been executed, and seven more were sentenced to die. Giles Corey was pressed to death under heavy weights for refusing to confess to witchcraft. The term "witch hunt" eventually entered the American language as a description of persecution for political or religious beliefs.

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

The Feature Article

A "feature" is an article with a human-interest angle. Its purpose goes beyond news and information. A feature engages its readers in the story of people or of a single person behind a newsworthy event. This means that well-written features are meant to arouse emotions. The writer might accomplish this through humor, for instance, or by conveying the emotions of the people involved in the event…The way you write a feature can depart from strict journalistic writing and may borrow techniques from fiction.

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

Can Writing Be Taught

     I find it both fascinating and disconcerting when I discover yet another person who believes that writing can't be taught. Frankly, I don't understand this point of view.

     I've long believed that there are two distinct but equally important halves to the writing process: One of these is related to art; the other is related to craft. Obviously, art cannot be taught. No one can give another human being the soul of an artist, the sensibility of a writer, or the passion to put words on paper that is the gift and the curse of those who fashion poetry and prose. But it's ludicrous to suggest and shortsighted to believe that the fundamentals of fiction can't be taught.

Elizabeth Gorge, Write Away, 2004

Writing About Science and Scientists

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes.

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Friday, November 29, 2019

Appalachia Noir: The Larry Paul McClure Murder Case

     Larry Paul McClure Sr., a registered sex offender served 17 years in prison for sexually molesting a young female relative. On February 14, 2019, the 55-year-old registered sex offender and his two daughters, 31-year-old Amanda McClure and 32-year-old Ann Choudhray, were together in their father's house in Skygusty, West Virginia. Amanda McClure's boyfriend, 38-year-old John Thomas McGuire, was also in the dwelling that day. Skygusty, West Virginia is a small town in McDowell County in the southern part of the state near the Kentucky and Virginia state lines.

     John McGuire resided in Owatonna, Minnesota, a town of 25,000 located in the southern part of the state. His girlfriend, Amanda McClure, lived in Chisago, Minnesota, a small community 35 miles northeast of Minneapolis. Amanda had come to Skygusty, West Virginia with her boyfriend with the purpose of helping her father and her sister murder him.

     On Valentine's Day 2019, in the Skygusty house, Larry McClure Sr. hit John McGuire in the head with a wine bottle. The daughters tied up the unconscious victim, injected him with two vials of methamphetamine, then looked on as their father strangled him to death.

     After killing John McGuire, Larry McClure Sr. and his daughters removed the dead man's clothing and buried him in the backyard. After disposing of the corpse, Mr. McClure and his daughter Amanda returned to the house where they had sex.

    A few days after burying John McGuire behind the Skygusty house, Larry McClure and his daughters dug up his body and moved it to a more remote area in the county. The trio deposited the corpse in another shallow grave, stupidly confident that if found, the decomposing body would not be connected to them.

     On March 11, 2019, Amanda McClure and her father drove to nearby Tazewell County, Virginia where they obtained a marriage license. A few days later, they were married in a small United Methodist church. Amanda, in applying for the marriage license, had listed the name of another man in place of her father's.

     More than seven months after John McGuire's cold-blooded murder, detectives in Minnesota, in the course of their missing persons investigation into the disappearance of Mr. McGuire, received a tip that the missing man had been murdered and was buried in McDowell county, West Virginia. The caller implicated Larry McClure and his daughters. The Minnesota detectives called the authorities in West Virginia to inform them of the possible murder.

     On September 24, 2019, police officers in West Virginia, operating on the Minnesota tip, questioned Larry McClure Sr. on the pretext they were investigating his failure to comply with the terms of his sex offender registry. During that interview, McClure informed his questioners how he and his two daughters had murdered John McGuire. McClure said he didn't know exactly why his daughter Amanda wanted John McGuire dead, but did say she had planned his murder and had been spending Mr. McGuire's monthly social security checks. McClure led the police officers to the spot in McDowell County where he and his accomplices had buried the victim's body.

     A McDowell County prosecutor charged Larry Paul McClure Sr., Amanda McClure, and Ann Marie Choudhray with first-degree murder. Police arrested Choudhray at her home in Boone, North Carolina. Amanda McClure was taken into custody at her residence in Chisago City, Minnesota.

     On November 4, 2019, while incarcerated at the McDowell County Jail, Larry McClure Sr. wrote a letter in hand that read: "I just want it over. No trial. No taxpayer's money spent for a trial. It is hard for the state of West Virginia to fight against itself because I plead guilty! No contest. Thank you for your time in this matter."

     No trial date has been set for the three murder suspects.
    

Ignored? Invisible? Pick Up A Gun And Become Important, Immortal

If you were an average maladjusted young person, no one would care much about you, but as soon as you magnified your awkwardness into monstrousness--as soon as you started shooting--then you'd have people poring over your diaries and trying to understand your innermost thoughts.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

A Short History Of Scientific Criminal Identification

     In 1901, Scotland Yard became the first law enforcement agency in the world to routinely fingerprint its arrestees. Fingerprint identification came to America in 1904 when the St. Louis Police Department established its fingerprint bureau. Before fingerprinting, arrestees were identified by sets of eleven body measurements, a system created in the 1870s by the Frenchman Alphonse Bertillon. By 1914, the year of Bertillon's death, fingerprinting had replaced anthropometry or Bertillonage in every country except the United States where, in many jurisdictions, the outdated system was used until the 1920s.

     Because a set of inked, rolled-on fingerprint impressions can be classified or grouped into ridge patterns--loops, whorls, and arches--arrestees who use aliases can be physically identified. Through centralized fingerprint repositories comprised of millions of fingerprint cards, individual arrest histories can be maintained on habitual offenders. These fingerprint collections have been responsible for the apprehension of tens of thousands of fugitives.

     Beyond the use of fingerprinting to maintain crime records and catch repeat offenders and fugitives, crime scene finger marks--so called latent fingerprints--constitute one of the most common methods of linking suspects to the sites of their crimes. While latents can be made visible by various chemicals, iodine fuming, and laser technology, the most popular method of identifying and preserving fingerprints, particularly on hard surfaces, involves the use of fingerprint powder and special lifting tape.

     Crime scene latents can now be scanned into a massive computer--the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)--and matched to single fingerprints in the data base. Identifying unknown crime scene latents involves both the ability to solve and prove a case.

     Perhaps the three most significant developments in the history of law enforcement are fingerprint classification, AFIS, and the cutting edge science of DNA "fingerprinting" that burst upon the scene in the mid-1990s. 

Western International University: Where Students Go Not To Graduate

Western International University, founded in 1978, is a public university located in Tempe, Arizona. With an enrollment of about 1,300, the school has no admissions policy, and makes a point of welcoming international students. According to statistics published by the school, the student body represents 117 countries. Twenty-two percent of the students in the graduate program are from foreign countries. Twelve percent of the undergraduate student body are from foreign countries. Only eighteen percent of the school's students are from Arizona. Nationally, 61 percent of college and university students graduate. At Western International University, the graduation rate is 3 percent. The school also has a high rate of student loan default. 

The Triviality of Biography

The letters and journals we leave behind and the impressions we have made on our contemporaries are the mere husk of the kernel of our essential life. When we die, the kernel is buried with us. This is the horror and pity of death and the reason for the inescapable triviality of biography.

Janet Malcolm, journalist, nonfiction book author

Political "Journalists" No Longer Even Pretend To Be Real Journalists

There's a longstanding tradition that journalists don't cheer in the press box. They have opinions, like everyone else, but they are expected to keep their opinions out of their work. [That train left the station years ago.]

Bill Dedman, Investigative Journalist 

The Limits of a Poorly Written Book

    Poorly written books can be fun, they can be entertaining and they can be the perfect way to pass the time on a long flight or a rainy day. But a poorly written book will always have a ceiling, and that ceiling is levels below great. Nothing can overcome bad prose.

    Luckily, bad prose can usually be snuffed out within the first few sentences of a book. And at that point, readers can choose to enter at their own risk. [Well-written books that are boring are often passed off--wrongly--as great.]

Andre Aciman, The New York Times Book Review, November 3, 2019

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Douglas Prade Murder Case

     At ten-thirty in the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1997, a medical assistant found 41-year-old Dr. Margo Prade slumped behind the wheel of her van in the doctor's office parking lot. The Akron, Ohio physician, shot six times with a handgun at close range, had fought with her murderer. Physical evidence of this struggle included buttons ripped from Dr. Prade's lab coat, a bite mark on her left inner arm, and traces of blood and tissue under her fingernails.

     A few months after the murder, Akron police arrested the victim's husband, Douglas Evans Prade. Captain Prade, a 29 year veteran of the Akron Police Department, denied shooting his wife to death. He insisted that at the time of the killing he was in the workout room of the couple's Copley Township condominium complex.

     In 1997, DNA science, compared to today, was quite primitive. As a result, DNA tests of trace evidence from the bite mark and the blood and tissue under the victim's fingernails were inconclusive. DNA analysts were unable to include or exclude Captain Prade as the source of this crime scene evidence.

     Video footage from a security camera at a car dealership next to the murder scene revealed the shadowy figure of a man climbing into Dr. Prade's van at 9:10 in the morning of her death. A hour and a half later, the man exited the murder vehicle and was seen driving out of the parking lot in a light-colored car. Homicide detectives never identified this man who could not have been taller than five-nine. The suspect, Captain Prade, a black man, stood over six-foot-three. Had investigators focused their efforts on identifying the man in the surveillance video, they may have resolved the case. But detectives had their minds set on the victim's husband, and ignored all evidence and leads that pointed in a different direction.

     To make their case against Captain Douglas Prade, detectives asked a retired Akron dentist named Dr. Thomas Marshall to compare a photograph of the death scene bite mark to a dental impression  of the suspect's lower front teeth. According to Dr. Marshall, the only person who could have bitten Dr. Prade was her husband. The suspect's known dental impressions, according to the dentist, matched the crime scene evidence perfectly. At the time, before advanced DNA technology exposed bite mark identification analysis as junk science, Dr. Marshall's identification carried great weight.

     In September 1998, following a two-week trial in a Summit county court, the jury, after deliberating only four hours, found Douglas Prade guilty of murdering his wife. The only evidence the prosecution had pointing to the defendant's guilt was Dr. Thomas Marshall's bite mark identification. Without the dentist's testimony, there wouldn't have been enough evidence against Douglas Prade to justify his arrest.

     Following the guilty verdict, the defendant stood up, turned to face the courtroom spectators, and said, "I didn't do this. I am an innocent convicted person. God, myself, Margo, and the person who killed Margo all know I'm innocent." Common Pleas Judge Mary Spicer sentenced Douglas Prade to life without the chance of parole until he served 26 years. Shortly thereafter, the prisoner began serving his sentence at the state prison in Madison, Ohio. At that point he expected to die behind bars.

     In 2004, attorneys with the Jones Day law firm in Akron, and the Ohio Innocence Project, took up Douglas Prade's case. After years of motions, petitions, reports, and hearings, an Ohio judge ordered DNA tests of the saliva traces from the bite wound, scrapings from the victim's lab coat, and scrapings from under Dr. Prade's fingernails.

     In August 2012, DNA analysis of the crime scene trace evidence revealed that none of the associative evidence came from Douglas Prade. (The DNA work was performed by the DNA Lab Diagnostic Center in Fairfield, Ohio.) Summit County Judge Judy Hunter, on January 29, 2013, ordered the release of the 65-year-old prisoner.

     On March 19, 2014, an Ohio appeals court decided that the new DNA evidence did not prove that Prade didn't murder his wife. The appellate judge said that Prade's release from prison was a mistake, and that he should be taken back into custody. The morning after that decision, Mr. Prade found himself back behind bars.

      In March 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

     Douglas Prade's attorneys began appealing his conviction through the federal appellate court system. After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Prade's motion for a new trial, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. On November 6, 2019, America's highest court refused to hear the appellant's case. This essentially exhausted Douglas Prade's legal remedies.

    Douglas Prade is serving his time at the Lorain Correctional Institution in Lorain, Ohio. The 72-year-old will be eligible for parole in 2025.

The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

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

Toxicology: Detecting Arsenic

Arsenic sticks around [inside the body] and today it's easily found after death if somebody thinks of looking for it, because the problem with arsenic, it isn't looked for in the common test for drugs.

Dr. Michael Baden, forensic pathologist 

From Death To Birth: A Strange Way to Write a Biography

     The Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, Edmund Morris, died in May 2019 at age 78. Not long after his death, his biography of Thomas Edison, entitled Lighting The Way, was published. The book was reviewed in the November 3, 2019 edition of The New York Times Book Review by David Oshinsky who had this to say about Morris's decision to write the story backward.

     "For some unexplained reason, Morris decided to write this saga in reverse, beginning with Edison's final years and working backward to his birth in small-town Ohio in 1847. It's the biographical equivalent of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," though Fitzgerald had the good sense to make it a short story, while Morris's "Edison" comes in at just under 800 pages, including footnotes. Some readers may see the device as gimmickry...At a minimum, it takes some getting used to, because we're never quite certain how one event builds upon another or whether a character who appears early in the book (but late in Edison's life) is central to the story. This leads to a lot of flipping back and forth through the chapters, with a heavy reliance on the index to keep things straight."

For a Novelist A Good Story Is Gold

In the far west there is one thing which is more valuable than gold, even. And that is a story, whether it be true or good true-sounding fiction. Stories.

Max Brand (1892-1944) western fiction writer

Truth Versus Belief

Truth does not become true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, no less so even if the world disagrees with it.

Maimonides (1135-1204) philosopher 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Petra Pazsitka Lost And Found Case

     In 1984, when 24-year-old Petra Pazsitka, a computer science student attending college in Braunschweig, Germany, failed to show up at her brother's birthday party, her parents reported her missing. The police in this northern German city launched a massive hunt.

     About a year after the student's disappearance, the missing persons case was featured on a popular German television crime show. The public exposure did not create any tips that led to Pazsitka's recovery.

     Not long after the airing of the TV segment, a man named Gunter confessed to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from the neighborhood where Pazsitka had disappeared. This man also confessed to kidnapping and murdering the missing college student. But after Gunter was unable to lead homicide investigators to Pazsitka's body, the suspect took back his confession and that case was closed.

     In 1989, five years after Pazsitka's disappearance, she was officially declared dead even though her body had not been recovered.

     In September 2015, police in Dusseldorf, Germany were called to an apartment to investigate a burglary. At the scene they spoke to the victim tenant, a 54-year-old woman who identified herself as Mrs. Schneider. Investigators, when they learned that Mrs. Schneider didn't possess a driver's license, social security card, passport, or bank account, or any other form of personal identification, turned their attention on her.

     As it turned out, Mrs. Schneider was Petra Pazsitka. After staging her disappearance 30 years ago, Pazsitka lived in several German cities under numerous assumed names. She paid all of her bills with cash and didn't drive a car.

     When detectives asked Pazsitka the obvious question of why she had voluntarily disappeared, causing a massive police hunt as well as pain and suffering for her family, she said she had wanted to start a new life. She offered no explanation beyond that. Her father had since died. When asked if she wanted to reunite with her mother and brother, she said she did not.

Problems in American Criminal Justice

     POLICING: Modern law enforcement has become too militarized. There are too many SWAT teams and pre-dawn, no-knock drug raids into private dwellings occupied by children and other innocent people. Offices see themselves as crime warriors instead of public servants. Another unrelated problem involves powerful police unions that keep bad cops on the job.

     FORENSIC SCIENCE: The nation's crime laboratories are in a state of crisis. Due to budget restraints and a shortage of qualified personnel, these facilities are overwhelmed with evidence submissions which has created serious backlogs, sloppy work, contaminated evidence, and identification mistakes. Crime labs and crime lab units all over the country are being shut down due to inferior work. With criminal investigation being a low law enforcement priority, the crime lab problem is not about to be fixed any time soon. (There is also a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in the country.)

     CORRECTIONS: Because judges won't allow prison overcrowding, and there is no money to expand our prison infrastructure, we have more criminals than places to put them. In California and other states, pedophiles, rapists, and other violent criminals who should be locked-up are walking free to make room for the drug offenders. In Massachusetts, instead of new prison space, taxpayers are funding an inmate's sex-change operation. Our prison system has become a national disgrace. (In New Orleans recently, a prisoner-produced video shows inmates doing drugs and walking around with handguns.)

     CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION: Because of the government's preoccupation with heavily armed street patrol, the never-ending drug war, and anti-terrorism, criminal investigation in this country is becoming a lost art. While national crime rates have steadily decreased, more and more homicide and sexual offense cases are being bungled or ignored. The combination of poor crime lab services and the fact detective bureaus across the country are being cut has led to a significant decline in crime solution rates.

     CRIMINAL LAW: Virtually every form of criminal behavior is now a federal offense. The central government has become too involved in criminal justice matters that should be left to the states. We are creating a national police force which is contrary to the principles of freedom and limited government. Moreover, state crime codes have become cluttered with unnecessary, politically-motivated window-dressing laws that pander to various minority groups. The entire hate-crime movement is an example of this form of over-legislation.

     CRIMINAL COURTS: The nation's prosecutors, state and federal, are overwhelmed with drug cases that clog the dockets and force the government into plea-bargain deals that do not always serve the public interest. More than 90 percent of convictions in this country are the result of bargained guilty pleas. 

Drinking and Dying in Russia

     A disturbing study in the Lancet looking at the causes of Russian mortality tracked 151,000 men over 10 years, during which time 8,000 of them died. They found that the "risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35 percent. The average Russian adult drinks about 13 liters [a liter is about four 8-ounce glasses of water] of pure alcohol per year, of which 8 liters is hard alcohol, mainly vodka. For men, it's closer to 20 liters. (Americans, by contrast, consume an average of about 9 liters of alcohol per year, half of which is beer.)

     Overall a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom and fewer than one percent in the United States. The life expectance for men in Russia is 64 years, placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category….

Joshua Keating, "Vodka's Death Toll," Slate, January 30, 2014

Crime in England

Only one Western country can say today that it doesn't have organized crime and that's England. They have crime there, spectacular crimes like bank holdups, train robberies, stuff like that. Gambling has been knocked off by being legalized, prostitution has been knocked-off--it's not legal but they don't bother you--and the government's narcotics program has taken most of the profit out of that. England has a very tough legal system to beat. They have uniformity of laws. There is no such thing as a law in London and another law in Manchester--each law is for the entire country. And finally, over there, from the time you are arrested to the day you go to trial, it's never more than three or four weeks.

Joey (with Dave Fisher), Joey The Hitman

Public Education in America: Not The Envy of the World

Everybody around the world wants to send their kids to our universities. But nobody wants to send their kids here to public school.

Walter Annenberg (1908-2002), publisher

Feeding Students Junk History

The present educational establishment, to cite just one group, has been obscuring the past so that our children have no way of comparing the facts of history with the distorted version promoted by biased secular historians.

Gary DeMar, author

The Ideal Government

I would have government defend the life and property of all citizens equally; protect all willing exchange; suppress and penalize all fraud; all misrepresentation; all violence; all predatory practices; involve a common justice under law; and keep records incidental to these functions. Even this is a bigger assignment that governments, generally, have proven capable of. Let governments do these things and do them well. Leave all else to men in free and creative effort.

Leonard Read (1898-1983)

Psychologically Unhinged Writers

Writing seems to attract a lot of psychologically unhinged people, so I'm always impressed with authors who are able to view their careers accurately, who are able to reconcile the inherent dissonance between commercial and critical success, and who seem to enjoy the process of writing without cannibalizing every other aspect of their existence in order to get it done.

Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2019

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identity of the hitman.

Not All Is Fair In Hate and Divorce War

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

The Scientist in Television Crime Dramas

On prime time entertainment television, scientists are most at risk. Ten percent of scientists featured in prime time entertainment programing get killed, and five percent kill someone. No other occupational group is more likely to kill or be killed. [I guess this suggests that scientists are often portrayed in crime fiction as evil and dangerous.]

George Gerbner (1919-2005), professor of communications, author 

The Celebrity Killer

The killer, or at least the version of the killer who hogs most of the airtime, is set apart from the rest of humanity because of his bad deeds, but that apartness also marks him as special. Something of the animal is in him, and also something of the artist. He's a mastermind, someone who doesn't play by the same rules as the rest of us. (This celebrity killer is almost always a "he," both because the vast majority of all murderers are male, and because the stereotypical roles allotted to female killers--the bad mom, the jealous ex, the gender-noncomforming monster--are less easy to glamorize.)

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

Dirty Politics

Why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponent will do it for you.

Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Charles Bukowski On Literary Prizes And Grants

Guggenheim, all those prizes and grants--you know how they go--more money is given to people who already have money. I know a professor who can't write. He wins a prize every year--usually the same one--and he goes off to some island and works on some project, meanwhile still getting paid half-salary for doing nothing at the university he's supposed to be teaching at. On one of his island trips he put together an anthology, even put me in it, but didn't have the decency to send me a copy of the book.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Good Children's Books Are Not Dumbed-Down Adult Literature

Most people think writing for children is easier than writing for adults. Just take a good story, simplify the plot, round the sharp edges, throw in a moral and use plain language. Thousands of writers turn out stories using this recipe. But these writers don't sell their stories to publishers. Children are sophisticated, savvy readers. They reject sermons. They avoid condescension. And they resent a dumbed-down attitude.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Learning Through Writing

I've heard it said that everything you need to know about life can be learned from watching baseball. I'm not what you'd call a sports fan, so I don't know if that is true. I do believe in a similar philosophy, which is everything you need to know about life can be learned from a genuine and ongoing attempt to write.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Horror Fiction Cliches

     All good fiction consists of looking at things afresh, but horror fiction seems to have a built-in tendency to do the opposite. Ten years or so ago [1997], many books had nothing more to say than "the devil made me do it." Now, thanks to the influence of films like Friday the 13th, it seems enough for some writers to say that a character is psychotic; no further explanation is necessary. But it's the job of writers to imagine how it would feel to be all their characters, however painful that may sometimes be. It may be a lack of that compassion that has led some writers to create children who are evil simply because they are children, surely the most deplorable cliche` of the field.

     Some cliches are simply products of lazy writing. Tradition shouldn't be used as an excuse to repeat what earlier writers have done; if you feel the need to write about the stock figures of the horror story, that's all the more reason to imagine them anew.

Ramsey Campbell in On Writing Horror Fiction, Mort Castle, editor, 2007 

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Stanwood Elkus Murder Case

     As a young man who grew up in southern California's Orange County, Ronald Franklin Gilbert, the son of a physician, played in a rock band and worked as a stockbroker. In the late 1980s he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a doctor. In 1993, Dr. Gilbert joined the Orange County Urology Group housed at the Hoag Health Center in Newport Beach. The Huntington Beach resident, as a urologist, treated patients with prostrate cancer and bladder conditions as well as with a variety of sexual dysfunctions. He performed vasectomies, prostate surgery, and other urology related medical procedures. Dr. Gilbert's colleagues considered him one of the best in his field.

     Stanwood F. Elkus, a 75-year-old retired barber from Elsinore, California, told a friend on January 27, 2013 that Dr. Gilbert had botched his prostate surgery 21 years earlier at a Veteran's Administration hospital. (While Dr. Gilbert had worked at that VA facility then, there was no record of him operating on Mr. Elkus.) To his friend, Elkus said, "I had surgery and now I am worse than before the surgery." According to Elkus, Dr. Gilbert's operation had aggravated his incontinence problem rather than fix it.

     The following afternoon at 2:30, Stanwood Elkus showed up at the Hoag Health Center for his appointment with Dr. Gilbert. He had made the appointment using a fake name. Fifteen minutes later, when Dr. Gilbert walked into the examination room, the patient shot him several times in the upper body, killing him instantly.

     After the shooting, Elkus emerged from the examination room holding a .45-caliber handgun. "Call the police," he said. "I'm insane."

     In response to the 911 call, Newport Beach police officers arrived at the doctor's office eight minutes after the murder. They disarmed and arrested Elkus in the examination room. A few hours later, police officers searched the shooter's home in Lake Elsinore.

     On Wednesday, January 30, 2013, Stanwood Elkus stood before an Orange County arraignment judge who officially charged him with murder. The judge set Elkus' bail at $1 million. The prisoner was booked into the Orange County Jail.

     On May 9, 2014, Elkus settled a wrongful death suit brought by members of Dr. Gilbert's family. To shield his assets from the civil suit plaintiffs, Elkus tried to transfer his ownership of eight houses and condominiums in Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, and Lake Elsinore to his sister. A judge granted the plaintiff's injunction that stopped the real estate transactions. The accused murder's assets were valued at $2 million.

     In August 2014, the murder suspect's attorney, Colleen O'Hara, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told reporters that he planned to prove that Mr. Elkus, at the moment he killed Dr. Gilbert, was sane. "We are very confident in our evidence," he said.

     On August 21, 2017, an Orange County Superior Court jury found Elkus guilty of first-degree murder. In so doing, jurors found that the defendant was sane at the time of the killing. A month after the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced Elkus to life in prison plus ten years.

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence. It was her first DUI arrest.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     In February 2016, Beall pleaded no contest to driving under the influence. The judge sentenced her to a six month license suspension, ten days of vehicle impoundment, and a year of probation.

The Guiltless Sociopath

Guilt? It's this mechanism we use to control people. It's an illusion. It's a kind of social control mechanism--and it's very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than that rather extraordinary use of guilt. [Yes, prison, and in some cases, the death penalty.]

Ted Bundy (1946-1989), serial killer

Female Serial Killers Get No Respect

Female serial killers haven't received anywhere the same amount of attention from the media or from criminologists as males have. Even researchers on psychology have tended to focus on male populations. There's a common erroneous assumption that because females are "nurturing," they won't be violent. But we have had female serial killers who have shot, stabbed, smothered (with enormous weight), and even used chainsaws and ice picks.

Dr. Katherine Ramsland, nonfiction author of forensic psychology books

Pick Your Facebook Friends Carefully

Do not accept a Facebook friend request from Lizzie Borden. You will get hacked.

pinterest.com

Mexican Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine was once a drug mostly made in home labs in America. But over the past few years Mexican cartels have cornered the market on meth production with a purer and cheaper form of the drug. Meth seizures along the border increased 255 percent from over 8,400 kilograms, or some 18,500 pounds worth, in 2012 to 30,081 kilograms (more than 66,000 pounds) in 2017.

Morgan Phillips, Fox News, November 19, 2019

The Legal Windfall

Americans feel that if something untoward happens to them, someone else ought to pay. In Richmond, California in the mid-1990s, lawyers had a field day. An explosion in the local chemical works spread fumes over the city. Within hours a swarm of lawyers descended on the town and persuaded 70,000 of them to issue claims. The insurers of the plant were obliged to pay out a total of $180 million, of which the lawyers creamed off $40 million.

Ronald Irving, The Law Is An Ass, 2011 

The Novelist's Crutch

Many novelists use alcohol to help themselves write--to calm their anxiety, lift their inhibitions. This may work for awhile, but eventually the writing suffers. The unhappy writer then drinks more; the writing then suffers more, and so on.

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, June 21, 2004 

Charles Bukowski On Putting His Life on Paper

I've been drinking too much lately and have made plans to cut it down somewhat. Also there have been some rough seas on the home front. Everything seems to get in the way of the writing but maybe it creates it too.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Police Involved Killing of David Hooks

     David Hooks, a respected and successful businessman lived with Teresa, his wife of 25 years, in an upper-middle class neighborhood in East Dublin, Georgia. Hooks' construction company did a lot of work on area military bases such as Hunter Army Airfield and Fort Stewart. This meant that Hooks had passed background investigations conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and the ATF.

     On September 22, 2014, a meth-addled burglar named Rodney Garrett broke into Mr. Hooks' pickup truck then stole the family's Lincoln Aviator SUV. The next day, Garrett surrendered to deputies with the Laurens County Sheriff's Office.

     Perhaps to curry favor with the police, Garrett told deputies that in Mr. Hooks' pickup he came across a bag that he opened hoping to find cash. Instead, he found 20 grams of methamphetamine and a digital scale. Before searching Mr. Hooks' house, officers knew they would need more than the word of a meth-addicted burglar and car thief to get a judge to sign off on a warrant. In an effort to bolster this  unreliable evidence, a deputy sheriff told the issuing magistrate that in 2009 another snitch said he had supplied Mr. Hooks with meth and that the businessman had resold it.

     The local magistrate, based on the word of a meth-using thief in trouble with the law and the six-year-old word of another snitch in another case that had gone nowhere, issued a warrant to search the Hooks residence for methamphetamine. By no stretch of the imagination was this warrant based upon sufficient probable cause.

     To execute the Hooks drug warrant, the sheriff, in typical drug enforcement overkill, deployed eight members of a SRT (Special Response Team) to raid the target dwelling with officers armed with assault weapons and dressed in SWAT-like combat boots, helmets, and flack-jackets.

     At eleven in the morning of September 24, 2014, just two days after Rodney Garrett broke into the Hooks pickup truck and stole their SUV, Teresa Hooks, while on the second-floor of her house, heard vehicles coming up the driveway. She looked out the window and saw several masked men with rifles advancing on the residence.

     Teresa Hooks ran downstairs into a first-floor bedroom where her husband was sleeping. She shook him up and screamed, "the burglars are back!" Mr. Hooks jumped out of bed, grabbed his shotgun, and walked out of the bedroom as members of the raiding party broke down his back door and stormed into the house. In the course of the home intrusion, officers fired eighteen shots. Mr. Hooks did not discharge his weapon. At some point in the drug raid he was shot twice and died on the spot.

     According to the official police version of the fatal shooting of a man in his own home, Mr. Hooks came to the door armed with a shotgun. Officers reported that they had broken into the dwelling after knocking and announcing their presence. When Mr. Hooks refused to lower his weapon, the officers had no choice but to shoot him dead. That was the story.

     A 44-hour search of the Hooks residence by deputy sheriffs and officers with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation failed to produce drugs or any other evidence of crime.

     On October 2, 2014, the Hooks family attorney, Mitch Shook, told reporters that the police had forced their way into the house without knocking or announcing themselves to execute a search warrant based upon bogus informant information. The attorney said Mr. David Hooks had been a respected businessman who had never used or sold drugs. The police, according to Mr. Shook, had no business raiding this house and killing this decent man.

     Attorney Shook, on December 11, 2014, made a startling announcement: When the police shot Mr. Hooks in the back and in the back of the head, he was lying face-down on the floor. The attorney said he had asked the FBI to launch an investigation into the case.

     In July 2015, a Laurens County grand jury declined to indict any officers in the David Hooks killing. According to a crime lab toxicology report, Mr. Hooks, at the time of his death, had methamphetamine in his system.

     The FBI decided not to launch an investigation into this SWAT related shooting death.  

The "Mean World Syndrome"

Professor George Gerbner (1919-2005) taught communications at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California. In the 1970s, he came up with what he called the "Mean World Syndrome." According to Professor Gerbner, the more media people consumed, the more likely they were to believe the world was a dangerous place. Gerbner also believed that: "Fearful people are more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures. [Such as highly militaristic policing.] They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities."

The Serial Killer As An Insecure, Narcissistic Whiner

Within just about every serial predator, there are two warring elements: a feeling of grandiosity, specialness, and entitlement, together with deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness and a sense that they have not gotten the breaks that they should.

John E. Douglas, The Killer Across The Table, 2019

A Criminal Atrocity in China

     On August 24, 2013, outside the Shanxi Province town of Linfen in rural northeast China, a woman grabbed 6-year-old Guo Bin as he walked along a path not far from his home. This woman lured the boy into a field where, in a shocking act of brutality, she used a sharp instrument to gouge out his eyes. Several hours later, a member of Guo Bin's family found the boy, his face covered in blood, wandering in a field on the family farm.

     In China, due to a donor shortage, corneas were worth thousands of dollars on the black market. As a result, investigators considered the possibility that the boy had been victimized by an organ trafficker. The authorities abandoned this theory when at the site of the attack, crime scene investigators recovered the boy's eyeballs with the corneas in tact. Police officers also recovered a bloody purple shirt presumably worn by the assailant.

     A witness reported seeing the boy that afternoon with an unidentified woman wearing a purple shirt. According to Guo Bin, the woman who attacked him spoke with an accent from outside the region. She also had dyed blond hair. The victim told investigators that this woman had used a sharp stick to cut out his eyeballs. Based on the nature of the boy's wounds, doctors believed he had been attacked with a knife.

     According to physicians, Guo Bin, with a visual prosthesis, might someday regain partial vision. Following the attack, the boy's family received $160,000 in donations from members of the public.

     Six days after the gruesome assault, 41-year-old Zhang Huiyang, the victim's aunt, killed herself by jumping into a well. While Guo Bin did not identify his aunt as the assailant, and she did not match his description of the attacker, the authorities, through DNA, linked her to the purple shirt found at the crime scene.

     The boy's mother, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, pointed out that in the days and weeks following the assault, her traumatized son had been disoriented. "It is easy to understand why he wasn't clear about the situation," she said.

     Since there was no rational motive behind a senseless assault like this, the Chinese authorities assumed the boy's aunt suffered from some kind of mental illness. 

Nora Roberts on Novelist Carl Hiaasen

Any good story will have some humor somewhere, whether it's in the situation, the dialogue, the action. But if I want laugh-out-loud funny, I'm going to grab anything by Carl Hiaasen, and I know I'm going to get a good story with memorably quirky characters along with the laughs.

Nora Roberts, The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2015 

Rousseau and Franklin: Shaping the History of Autobiography

When Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) completed his Confessions in 1770 he introduced the secular hero into European literature and recounted his own life in a form and style which influenced male life histories well into the twentieth century. Rousseau set the pattern which required the autobiographer to record the shaping influences of his childhood and the emotions of his maturity. But even as Rousseau set down his denunciation of aristocratic privilege and contrasted his real emotional life with received values, an American contemporary, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was forging another male life plot, which preempted much of the foreground of nineteenth-century male autobiography. Franklin's self-presentation defined for the first time the archetypal figure of the capitalist hero, rebellious against inherited privilege, scornful of inefficiency and of waste, driven by economic motives which never figured in Rousseau's wildest dreams. While Rousseau wanted to compel an inattentive society to recognize his literary and dramatic genius, Franklin describes himself as content to accumulate wealth, and to instruct the rest of the world about the moral and economic qualities which earned him his wealth, and through it status and public recognition.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998 

Writers Versus Writers

The irony is that writers are generally meaner to other writers than critics are. Few critics have anything to gain by penning a bad review…Writers, on the other hand, have everything to gain…It's writers who have personal scores to settle; who drop their professionalism and let it rip. Critics, by and large, say what they think of a book. If they say they don't like it, that usually means they didn't like it, not that they waited for the chance to get back at a bestselling author for the luxury Tuscan villa he owns and they'll never have, or because they have wallpapered their room with rejection slips….

Lesley McDowell, "How Writers Review Their Critics," theguardian.com, September 22, 2010 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Dozier School For Boys: A History of Hell

     The Arthur G. Dozier School For Boys opened in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna in 1900. The reform school housed boys from the ages 8 to 20. Most of the school's residents were run-a-ways, truants, and kids who had committed minor crimes. A few were orphans who had nowhere else to live, and children classified by their parents or guardians as "incorrigible."

     The Dozier School was established to take wayward boys off the street and to mold them into decent youngsters who would grow up to be law abiding, productive citizens. Instead, the institution became, from the beginning, a house of horrors where boys would suffer unspeakable abuse, and in many cases, violent death at the hands of sadistic, sex offending staff members. And this would go on, under the noses of the authorities, for decades.

     In 1903, state inspectors visited the Dozier School and found children restrained in leg irons. No one was held accountable so the abuse continued. Eleven years later, a dormitory fire of suspicious origin killed six children and two members of the staff. The dead boys were buried in the school cemetery, a section of the 1,400-acre campus the boys called "Boot Hill". The graves were marked with simple crosses made of steel pipe. In 1918, another dormitory fire killed eleven more boys.

     By 1973, the Dozier School cemetery--Boot Hill- contained 31 graves. According to the school's highly unreliable records, most of these institutional deaths had involved illness and drowning. None of the deaths of these young, incarcerated boys sparked a cause and manner of death investigation.

     A century after the creation of the Dozier School, more than a hundred men who had lived at the school in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, members of a support group called the White House Boys (named after a white cottage where some of the worst abuse took place) started petitioning the state of Florida to investigate the school, hold some of the sadistic staff members and administrators accountable, and shut the place down. These Dozier School alumni chronicled their experiences at the institution. The abuse included psychological torture, neglect, flogging, and sexual assault. The former residents even spoke of murder.

     In 2008, Florida Governor Charlie Crist, pressured by lobbying from the White House Boys and other Dozier alumni support groups, ordered an investigations into these criminal accusations. The case was taken up by the Florida State Department of Law Enforcement (the state police) and came to nothing. According to investigators, they could not uncover enough evidence to justify criminal charges.

     Frustrated by the failure of the state to expose decades of abuse, and to hold the Dozier School abusers accountable, the White House Boys, in 2010, launched their own investigation. The results of this inquiry, documented in a thick report, were so convincing and shocking, the state, in 2011, closed the school for good.

     In 2013, a team of forensic pathologists, using radar equipment that can penetrate the soil, depicted  55 unmarked graves. All of these suspicious sites were located outside the school cemetery. Exhumations and DNA analysis resulted in the identification of 21 Dozier children. The skeletal remains revealed that some of these boys had died from shotgun wounds, others from blunt force trauma, and the rest from malnutrition and infection.

     Investigators with the University of South Florida, in 2014, found that between 1903 and 1913, children at the Dozier School were denied food and clothing, shackled, whipped, raped, and hired out to work for other people. From 1900 to 1973, more than 100 boys died at the school.

     Following Hurricane Michael in 2016, an engineering firm hired by the Florida State Environmental Protection Agency to help clean up the mess, discovered 27 "anomalies" in the soil on the grounds of the old Dozier School. These anomalies were consistent with unmarked graves.

     By April 2019, forensic anthropologists with South Florida University confirmed the existence of the 27 graves. The remains at these sites revealed more evidence of child abuse and violent death.

     Investigations into the horrors of this terrible place are ongoing, and will no doubt produce more evidence of child abuse and murder.

     Cases like this remind us of the unlimited human capacity for cruelty, and that institutions housing the young and the old cannot be trusted, and must be closely monitored. 

The Downside To Marijuana Legalization

A new study [published in the JMA Psychiatry] suggests that marijuana legalization leads to more cannabis use and perhaps addiction, particularly among adults 26 and older--highlighting a public health downside to a policy change that now 11 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted and several other states are considering.

German Lopez, Vox, November 12, 2019

Karl Marx: A Miserable Loser and Hater

Karl Marx was the foremost hater and most incessant whiner in the history of Western Civilization. He was a spoiled, overeducated brat who never grew up; he just grew more shrill as he grew older. His lifelong hatred and whining have led to the deaths of perhaps a hundred million people, depending on how many people died under Mao's tyranny. We will probably never know.

Gary North, author, historian

It's Not a Matter of Good Versus Evil

In philosophy seminars, the choice is usually between good and evil. In the real world, the choice is often between a bad guy and a worse guy.

Dinesh D'Souza, author, film maker 

Bill Dedman On Journalism

I'm not in the what-people-feel business. It is not my place to guess.

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist

"Inflict" Versus "Afflict"

     To afflict is to cause distress to someone: "The villagers were afflicted with the plague.

      To inflict is to impose something unpleasant (such as defeat, punishment, or pain) on someone: We believed that the punishment inflicted on the criminal was appropriate.

     Note that, generally speaking, a person is afflicted with something, but a thing is inflicted on someone.

Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide To Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, 2009

Legalizing Prostitution

Prohibiting something doesn't make it go away. Prostitution is criminal, and bad things happen because it's run illegally by dirtbags who are criminals. If it's legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything the worker gets, and it would be far better.

Jesse Ventura, ex-pro wrestler and former governor of Minnesota 

Donald Westlake on His Writing Schedule

My work schedule has changed over the years. The one constant is, when at work on a novel, I try to work seven days a week, so as not to lose touch with that world. Within that, I'm flexible on hours and output.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Friday, November 22, 2019

Robert Van Handel: The Profile Of A Pedophile

     In 1994, Robert Van Handel, a 48-year-old Franciscan priest and former rector at St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara, California, pleaded guilty to sexually molesting an 8-year-old student. He had been accused of molesting fifteen other boys between the ages 8 to 11, but those cases were too old to prosecute. In preparation for his sentencing hearing, the psychiatrist who evaluated Van Handel at the Pacific Treatment Associates in Santa Cruz, asked him to write a history of his sexual life. Van Handel complied, producing a detailed, 27-page memoir of a life devoted to sexually abusing boys.

     Van Handel's revealing description of his perverted thoughts and behavior provided a rare look into the twisted mind and life of a sexual predator. The document didn't come to light until 2006, the year the Franciscans, in a civil court settlement, paid twenty-five clergy abuse victims $28 million in damages. The church, in an attempt to keep Van Handel's revelations from the public, fought several newspaper organizations all the way to the California Supreme Court. The church lost. What follows is Van Handel's account of his life as a priest, teacher, and pedophile.

     In 1956, at age 10, Van Handel and his family of seven settled in Orange County, California. Three years later, the 13-year-old, to escape his strict, demanding father who forced him to read a sex education manual that scared the hell out of  him, enrolled in the Franciscan run St. Anthony's Seminary School in Santa Barbara. Two years later, while in the infirmary with a fever, a priest sexually molested him. According to the seminarian pedophile who attacked him, this activity would, by making the sick boy sweat, draw the fever out of him.

     Over the next nine years, while at St Anthony's, Van Handel collected magazines featuring child pornography, and used a telephoto lens to take clandestine photographs of children. While he fantasized about having sex with young boys, Van Handel did not actually molest anyone during this period.

     In 1970, at age 24, Van Handel moved to Berkeley, California to pursue his master's degree at the University of California. While there, he formed a neighborhood boy's choir and molested a 7-year-old choir member. He also, during this period, raped his 5-year-old nephew.

     Robert Van Handel, as an ordained Franciscan priest, returned to St. Anthony's in 1975 where he taught English. He also became the director of the school choir. In his sexual memoir, the priest acknowledged that the school choir provided him with a steady supply of victims. An 11-year-old boy, a student he had been abusing since the child was 7, resisted for the first time after four years of molestation. In his memoir, Van Handel said that he was shocked by the rejection. He wrote, "He started to cry and that snapped something in my head. For the first time, I was seeing signs that he really did not like this." In another passage, the priest wrote: "There is something about me that is happier when accompanied by a small boy. Perhaps besides the sexual element, the child in me wants a playmate."

     Van Handel's relationships with his students and choir boys exemplified typical pedophile behavior. The priest rubbed their backs, photographed them tied-up in ropes, wrestled with them, and invented tickling games. (The Penn State pedophile, coach Jerry Sandusky, called himself the "tickle monster.") In his memoir of perversion, Van Handel, noted that the fact the boys couldn't stop him from doing what he wanted, turned him on. He wrote, "It was though I could do anything with them that I wanted."

     In 1983, Robert Van Handel became rector of St. Anthony's. As head of this enclave of pedophilia, he was asked to investigate another priest who had been accused of molesting two boys who were brothers. As it turned out, Van Handel had also sexually assaulted these students.

     Van Handel's tenure at St. Anthony's came to an end in 1992 when the parents of one of his victims wrote a letter to the head of the Franciscan order. Within months of this letter, Van Handel was removed from the ministry.

     After the defrocked pedophile's guilty plea in 1994, the judge sentenced him to eight years in prison.  (Eight years? This serial sex offender should have been sentenced to life without parole.)

The Tyler Deutsch Child Abuse Case

   Tyler Deutsch lived with his girlfriend and her six-week-old baby girl in a trailer house in Roy, Washington, a town of 800 outside of Tacoma. On Saturday, May 25, 2013, while the baby's 22-year-old mother was away from the trailer, Deutsch closed the baby into a freezer to stop her from crying. Deutsch fell asleep, and an hour later, as his girlfriend walked into the dwelling, the 25-year-old removed the baby. The infant, wearing only a diaper, had been exposed to a temperature of ten degrees.

     The mother of the abused child tried to call 911 but Deutsch, not wanting to get into trouble with the law, took the phone out of her hand. The frantic mother ran to a neighbor's place where she made the emergency call.

     Paramedics rushed the unresponsive baby to the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital were physicians managed to revive her. The infant, with blisters on her skin, had a body temperature of 84. Doctors also determined that the baby had a broken arm and leg as well as a head injury.

     Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office took Deutsch into custody. According to reports, he told the officers that by deep-freezing the baby he was trying to help her. A local prosecutor charged Deutsch with attempted murder, assault of a child, criminal mistreatment, and interfering with reporting domestic violence. The suspect was held in the Pierce County Jail without bond.

    In January 2014, Tyler Deutsch pleaded guilty to first-degree assault. The judge sentenced him to 16 years in prison. The abused child recovered fully.

No Easy Solution For School Shootings

After every massacre in a school, Americans grasp at quick cures. "Let's install metal detectors and give guns to teachers. Let's crack down on troublemakers, weeding out kids who fit the profile of a gunman. Let's buy bulletproof whiteboards for the students to scurry behind, or train kids to throw erasers or cans of soup at an attacker."

Bill Dedman, investigative journalist

Watch Me Write

     Sitting down to write isn't easy. A few years ago, a local high school asked me if a student who is interested in becoming a writer might come and observe me. Observe me! I had to decline. I couldn't imagine what that poor student would think, watching me sit, then stand, sit again, decide that I needed more coffee, go downstairs and make some coffee, come back up, sit again, get up, comb my hair, sit again, stare at the screen, check e-mail, stand up, pet the dog, sit again…[I'm glad I turned down the same request from my local high school because my writing routine is more boring than this writer's.]

    You get the picture.

Dani Shapiro, Still Writing, 2013 

Fiction Should Be About People, Not Words

     I've had this conversation with many fiction writing students…Basically what's happening is this: The student is telling you that he has given up trying to write stories about people because he can't find anything to say about them, and wants your blessing as he launches a new student career of writing words about words.

     Give him nothing. This is a crucial moment in his life. If you let him go he's likely to end up with a doctoral degree in rhetoric and will spend the rest of his life teaching undergrads how to write words about words. The best thing to do is to put him up against the wall and threaten to shoot him if he doesn't shut up with that silly stuff.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Fiction for Men

     Some authors appeal mainly to men: Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins, Gavin Lyall, Frederick Forsyth, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Gerald Seymour. This is neither praise nor blame, it's just a fact. I don't think there's a school of writing that's classified as Bloke Lit, not yet. But it may be the next big thing.

     Points that come to mind about writing for men are: Men like information and excitement. Men like heroes and heroines who are lookers. Men like shorter books. [Most true crime readers, however, are women. Women like their crime, and they like it real.]

Maeve Binchy, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club, 2008 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

"Breaking Bad" at Henderson State University

     Henderson State University is a public liberal arts school with about 3,500 students in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a town located 70 miles southwest of Little Rock. On October 8, 2019, a powerful odor that came from the university's Reynolds Science Center forced the closing of the chemistry laboratory. The inquiry that followed revealed the elevated presence of benzyl chloride, a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The identity of this chemical prompted an investigation by the university police department.

     Two days after the closure of the university chem lab, the president of the school placed 45-year-old Terry David Bateman, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate research department, on administrative leave. Bateman had been with Henderson State University since 2009.

  The university president also placed 40-year-old Bradley Allen Rowland on administrative leave. Rowland was an associate professor in the chemistry department.

     On October 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency okayed the re-opening of the chemistry lab. The investigation into the potentially criminal activities of the two professors by the campus police department produced enough evidence to bring in narcotics specialists with the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

     On November 15, 2019, a Clark County prosecutor charged professors Terry Bateman and Bradley Rowland with the manufacture of methamphetamine. The suspects were booked into the Clark County Jail.

     For many, the arrests of the college professors suspected of cooking meth brought to mind the popular television series "Breaking Bad" that was broadcast on the AMC channel from 2008 to 2015. The drama followed the life of Walter White, a high school chemistry professor from Albuquerque, New Mexico who became a major underworld figure as world-class meth cook. 

The New York Times Book Review Author Interviews

     Every edition of Sunday's The New York Times Book Review features an author interview column called "By the Book" where the writers of literary novels are asked questions like: What books do you have on your nightstand? What writers do you admire? What literary figures of the past would you invite to a dinner party? (These people have dinner parties.) What are you reading now? (Most of the interviewees answer this question with a long list of books and authors most readers have never heard of.) And what is the last great book you read? (The answer to this one usually results in another list of obscure literary works over the heads of people who read middle-brow genre fiction.)

     Most of the responses to the above literary questions are not only unbearably pretentious, the interviewees, I guess to portray themselves as shockingly original and fascinating (the kind of person the other interviewees would invite to a dinner party) try to sound as eccentric as your typical literary genius.

     Novelist John Green, when asked in the October 13, 2019 edition of the Book Review what book might people be surprised to find on his shelves, answered: "I have a large collection of books about conjoined twins. I used to be the conjoined twins reviewer for Booklist Magazine, which is a busier reviewing beat than one would expect. My favorite novel about conjoined twins (or formerly conjoined twins) are Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson, and God's Fool," by Mark Slouka."

     Really? a large collection of novels in the conjoined twins genre? The next time I'm in a Barnes & Noble I'm going to check out the conjoined twins section to see what I've been missing.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Congress

I've heard people say that Congress is useless. My response: Wouldn't that be nice. I say that because useless is a lot better than harmful. For example, whenever Congress tackles a problem, they make it worse, and create a new problem. They then tackle the new problem they created, and make it worse--and create another problem. And so it goes. We'd be better off if these hacks just stuck to passing resolutions and holding meaningless hearings to promote themselves on television. Yet the more we see these parasites on TV, the more we are reminded of why we hate politicians. Term limits and making it a felony for a politician to lie on television would be nice, but even these measures wouldn't drain the swamp. Let's face it, politics is just a lousy occupation that draws self-serving, grandstanding narcissists.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Polygraph Effect

Lie detectors sometimes work because people believe they work, deterring the wrong people from applying for jobs in the first place, or producing admissions of guilt during interrogations.

Bill Deadman, investigative journalist

Our Memoir-Obsessed Literary Culture

Ours is a memoir-obsessed literary culture. With the waning of confessional poetry, what we might call the "memoir of crisis" has blossomed.

The New York Times Book Review, September 29, 2019

Quash or Squash?

To quash is to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely as in to quash a rebellion or a criminal indictment.

To squash is to squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape as in to squash a grape.

One does not, therefore, squash a criminal indictment.

Donald Westlake On The Book Publishing Industry

Publishing is the only industry I can think of where most of the employees spend most of their time stating with great self-assurance that they don't know how to do their jobs. "I don't know how to sell this," they explain, frowning as though it's your fault. "I don't know how to package this. I don't know what the market is for this book. I don't know how we're going to draw attention to this." In most occupations, people try to hide their incompetence, only in publishing is it flaunted as though it were the chief qualification for the job.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Shankar Nagappa Hangud Mass Murder Case

     In 2019, Shankar Nagappa Hungud lived with his wife, daughter and one of his two sons at Carmel at Wood Creek West, an apartment complex in Roseville, California, a Placer County community of 132,000 not far from San Francisco. The 53-year-old of East Indian descent had worked as a data specialist for a consulting firm in Sacramento before becoming unemployed in 2018. His two children living at home attended the Dry Creek Middle School in Roseville,

     Mr. Hangud's financial problems had placed him under considerable stress. As of May 2019, he owed $178,000 to the IRS in taxes.

     On Monday, October 7, 2019, Shankar Hangud murdered his wife and his middle school daughter in their apartment. The day after he killed his wife and daughter, Hangud returned to the apartment and murdered his son.

     On Sunday, October 13, 2019, with the bodies of his wife, son, and daughter still undiscovered in the Roseville apartment, Hangud, with his 20-year-old son as a passenger in his red Mazda, drove 200 miles north to a remote area in Siskiyou County near the Oregon state line where Hangud strangled his son to death.

     The next day, with his oldest son's body in the trunk of his car, Hangud drove to Mount Shasta, California, a town of 3,000 in Siskiyou County. There, he turned himself over to officers with the Mount Shasta Police Department. To these officers, Shankar Hangud confessed to murdering his wife and their two younger children in the Roseville apartment. He said the body of his 20-year-old son was in trunk of his Mazda.

     Upon hearing from the police in Mount Shasta, officers with the Roseville department traveled to the Carmel at Wood Creek West apartment complex where they discovered the week-old corpses of a woman and two children.

     Later on the day of the discovery of Shankar Hangud's murder victims, Roseville police detectives drove to Mount Shasta to question him and return him to Placer County. That evening, the suspect was booked into the South Placer County Jail.

     On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, Shankar Hangud appeared before Judge Jeffrey S. Penny who informed him he had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The defendant said he didn't want an attorney, but the judge appointed him a public defender anyway. Judge Penny denied Hangud bail.

     As of this writing, about six weeks after the discovery of Hangud's wife and two children in the Roseville apartment, the authorities have not released information regarding how the victims were murdered, exactly when, or why. They haven't even released the names of the victims. For some reason, there has been a news blackout on this case. Nothing has been published about it since October 25, 2019.

Anti-Drug Public Service Ads: Telling People Things They Already Know

     In November 2019, the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, launched a $1.4 million anti-methamphetamine ad campaign. The idea was to bring awareness to the growing problem of meth addiction in the state. The ads can be seen on television, billboards, posters, and on the Internet. They feature images of people of different ages and races who say, "I'm on meth." The governor then intones: "This is our problem and we need to get on it." She goes on to explain how the meth problem has crowded the jails, overwhelmed the courts, and has destroyed lives.

     The public service motto is, "Meth. We're on it."

     The ad campaign will continue until May 2020. The advertising agency that came up with the catch phrase, "Meth. We're on it," was paid $445,000 for that.

     Everyone knows that people don't eat too much, abuse alcohol, smoke, and take drugs because they were not aware that these behaviors are bad for them. No one is that stupid. But politicians, when confronted with a problem, feel that they have to do something. And what they do, what they do best, is spend taxpayer money.

     The anti-meth motto, "Meth. We're on it." is not only useless and a waste of taxpayer money, it's a mockery of the problem and the government. It has become a cultural joke. When it comes to wasting taxpayer money on useless, window dressing measures, politicians should take Nancy Reagan's famously puerile anti-drug advice: "Just say no."

The Crime Scene Technician

     Because of television, books, and movies, crime scene investigation has become one of the most familiar, but misunderstood, components of the criminal justice system. Crime scene investigations are not the same as criminal investigations. Crime scene investigation involves systematically documenting and searching a crime scene for items of evidence. Once evidence is located it is preserved, documented and collected in ways that minimize contamination or spoilage. It is packed in secure containers, uniquely labeled, and either stored by the police or sent to the forensic science lab for analysis.

     Crime scene investigators are almost always police officers. Assignment as a crime scene investigator may take several years and a lot of training...

     Having forensic scientists help with crime scene investigation increases the opportunities for confirmation bias, (the tendency to interpret evidence in a way that supports one's preconceptions) to creep in.

Jay Siegel, Forensic Science, 2016

George Ryley Scott On How Corporal Punishment Reflects The Inherent Cruelty Of Mankind

Man is cruel. He has always been cruel. He is cruel to everything which he considers inferior to himself. He is cruel to both his fellow man and to animals. The advance of civilization has not resulted in man losing his capacity and appetite for cruelty; it has merely directed it both into fresh channels, or camouflaged them, or temporarily subjugated them. The delight which man experiences in persecuting others shows itself today in various forms; and where physical persecution is impossible, psychological persecution takes its place. The fact that a barbaric act is practiced under the aegis of justice, and the additional fact that it is conceived to be a fit punishment for the crime, do not alter or in any way mitigate its basic cruelty.

George Ryley Scott, The History of Corporal Punishment, 1968

Words Matter

There is no swifter route to the corruption of thought than through the corruption of language.

George Orwell (1903-1950)

Getting Out Of Jury Duty

Some people try to get out of jury duty by lying. You don't have to lie. Tell the judge the truth. Tell him you'd make a terrific juror because you can spot guilty people.

George Carlin (1937-2008) comedian 

Thornton P. Knowles On Straightforward, Unpretentious Writing

I like authors who write plainly and directly: "Tom walked out of his house, climbed into his car, and drove to West Virginia." I don't like: Tom emerged from his abode, eased into his vehicle, and embarked upon a journey to West Virginia."

Thomas P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the death scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, at the autopsy, found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from sheriff's office criminalists concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose."  Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In Di Maio's 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

Phil Spector Post Conviction

     In 2006, while awaiting his first murder trial, Spector married Rachelle Short. In 2016, he filed for divorce, claiming she was blowing through his $35 million estate. While he sat in prison, she had purchased a $350,000 airplane, an Aston Martin and a Ferrari, expensive plastic surgery, expensive jewelry, and two houses for her mother. Spector also claimed that Short had failed to pay $700,000 in taxes, and was sending him only $300 a month in prison spending money. When the divorce came through, the judge awarded Short $37,000 a month in spousal support plus $14,000 a month for housing costs.