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Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Kleber Cordova Bathtub Murder Case

     On May 9, 2008, at 7:30 in the morning, 29-year-old Kleber Cordova called 911 and reported that his wife had accidentally hit her head on their bathtub faucet and slipped, unconscious, under the water. He said he had tried but failed to lift his 4 foot 10 inch, 125 pound wife out of the tub.

     First responders to the Morristown, New Jersey home found a nude Eliana Torres submerged on her back with her face directly under the spout. Given cardiopulmonary resuscitation and rushed to the Morristown Memorial Hospital, the 26-year-old woman died five days later without regaining consciousness.

     Kleber Cordova and Eliana Torres had a one-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter. The girl attended second grade at the Normandy Elementary School. Cordova, his wife, and their eight-year-old daughter had been born in Ecuador and were in the United States illegally. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, on the day of the bathtub "accident," rushed to the Morristown hospital from her home in Danbury, Connecticut.

     Cordova, when questioned by the police at the hospital a few hours after his 911 call, said he had arrived home from his night job to find his wife lying face-up in the bathtub with water from the spout pouring directly into her mouth. After failing to remove her from the tub, Cordova  called for help. The next day, aware that his wife was still alive and could possibly regain consciousness, Cordova asked to speak with detectives.

     In a video-taped statement given in Spanish through an interpreter, Cordova changed his story. During the week prior to the bathtub incident, he and Eliana had been arguing. She had informed Kleber that she had a boyfriend and planned to leave him. That morning, after she asked him for a divorce, he want "crazy" and held his wife's head under the water for about three minutes. To make the drowning look like an accident, Cordova removed her wet clothing and hid the garments in his car. 
      The interrogators did not warn Cordova of his Miranda rights prior to his confession, but since he had initiated contact with them, the judge, in the preliminary hearing, ruled the confession admissible. The confession was later ruled inadmissible. With his confession thrown out, the defendant decided to plead not guilty.
     Charged with the murder of his wife, Cordova was placed in the Morris County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

     On March 23, 2009, Morris County prosecutor John McNamera offered Cordova a deal. If he pleaded guilty to murder, the judge would sentence him to 30 years in prison. If tried and found guilty, he could receive up to 75 years in prison. Cordova rejected the offer. He would take his chances with a jury.

     The Cordova murder trial began in early March, 2012 at the Morris County Superior Court in Morristown, New Jersey. Assistant prosecutor Brian DiGiamaco did not show the jury Cordova's video-taped confession because this evidence had been ruled it inadmissible. The prosecutor put the defendant's daughter, now twelve years old, on the stand. On the morning in question, the eight-year-old girl awoke to the sound of her mother's cries for help. From the bathroom Eliana had screamed, "God help me!" in Spanish. The young witness said she walked into the bathroom where she saw water splashing out of the bathtub. Her father was leaning over her mother who was clawing at his face. (When the police spoke to Cordova at the hospital, they noticed fresh scratches on his face.) Cordova, when he realized that his daughter was standing nearby, said, "Everything is all right, go to your room." Fearing that her father would get angry if she disobeyed, the girl returned to her bedroom, closed the door, and sat on her bed.

     From her room, the witness heard someone turn off the bathtub water. Her father then walked out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. She heard his wet sneakers on the kitchen floor. The witness said she took this opportunity to re-enter the bathroom and check on her mother. That's when she saw "the thigh part of her body" in the tub and a lot of water on the floor. Frightened, the victim's daughter ran back to her bedroom.

     Later that morning, in the hospital waiting room, the defendant told his daughter not to say anything about what she had seen. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, was sitting nearby and overheard Cordova say this to his daughter.

     On cross-examination by Cordova's attorney, public defender Jessica Moses, the defendant's daughter acknowledged that the first time she accused her father of killing her mother was in December 2008, several months after the incident. The defense attorney, in this line of questioning, hoped to convince the jurors that detectives had wrangled this story out of the eight-year-old. (Since the incident, the witness had been living with her grandmother, Rita Valverde, who had moved from Connecticut to Florida.)

     On March 28, 2012, the victim's sister, Zaida Solis, took the stand and testified that three days after Cordova's arrest, he had said this to her: "How could I do that to the love of my life?" The defendant also told his sister-in-law that the drowning had "happened fast," and that he was sorry about it. According to Cordova, on the night before the bathtub attack, Eliana had phoned her boyfriend in front of her husband. The next morning she demanded a divorce.

     After the state rested its case, Jessica Moses asked Judge David Ironson for a judgment of acquittal on the grounds the prosecution had not made a prima facie case against her client. If she did not prevail on that request, the public defender asked for a reduction of the charge from murder to passion/provocation manslaughter. "There is no evidence to support a murder conviction," she argued.

     In opposition to the public defender's reduced charge motion, assistant prosecutor Maggie Calderwood asserted that the defendant had killed his wife "knowingly," and "on purpose." Judge Ironson denied the public defender's motions. The murder charge would stand.

     Jessica Moses didn't have much of a defense beyond a character witness who said Mr. Cordova worked hard as an overnight cleaner at a Morristown restaurant and as a hospital security officer. According to this witness, the defendant had fainted after visiting his unconscious wife in the hospital. Cordova did not take the stand on his own behalf.

     In her closing argument to the jury,  the public defender said that the defendant's daughter had changed her story when questioned by the police months after her father called 911. The defense attorney, in explaining why Cordova had taken off his wife's clothing and hid them in his car, said he "panicked" after the 911 dispatcher asked him a series of questions regarding what had happened in the bathroom. He staged the scene as an accidental drowning because he was sure the authorities would accuse him of murder. As evidence that the killing was not premeditated, the public defender pointed out that two days before the struggle in the bathtub, Cordova bought his wife a new computer and paid an extra $99 for a one-year warranty.

     On April 5, 2012, after deliberating two hours, the jury found Kleber Cordova guilty of murdering his wife. The defendant showed no emotion as the foreman read the verdict.

     The judge, on July 24, 2012, sentenced Kleber Cordova to fifty years in prison. 

The Mind of the Terrorist

Religion allows people to feel qualified in acting out their primal instincts, that is, to assault, destroy, rape, and murder others who they judge as being different and inferior to themselves.

Robert Black

Criminology: Who Needs It?

     Criminology professors don't agree on anything except this: There is no such thing as a good criminology textbook. Some texts focus too much on the criminal justice system, others criminal law, and others on crime typology. Criminalists also criticize criminology texts for being too theoretical. (They are also too expensive.)

     Perhaps the problem is not the textbooks, but the subject itself. It's possible that criminology is an unnecessary discipline, a redundant mix of criminal law, political science, sociology, and abnormal psychology. Criminology was mostly taught as a sub-topic in sociology courses until the explosion of criminal justice degree programs in the early 1970s. 

"Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?": A Lot of Readers

      In his 1945 New Yorker article called "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd," (the title of a mystery novel by Agatha Christie), the American literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote: "The reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking."
      Mr. Wilson (1895-1972) was not an Agatha Christie fan, nor a lover of crime fiction. He was, in that regard, a literary snob. Today, 48 years after his death, only a few literary professors know his name. However, millions of people around the world still read Agatha Christie.

Theodore Dreiser on American Literary Criticism

To sit up and criticize me for saying "vest" instead of "waistcoat"; to talk about my splitting the infinitive and using vulgar commonplaces here and there, when the tragedy of a man's life is being displayed, is silly. More, it is ridiculous. It makes me feel that American criticism is the joke that English authorities maintain it to be.

Theodore Dreiser in Theodore Dreiser, by Phillip L. Gerber, 1964 

Turning Your Journal Into a Novel

No matter how messy or incomplete, journals are the missing links in creative life. For centuries, they've helped beginning and seasoned writers alike trigger new work and sustain inspiration. Anne Frank used hers for the basis of a book she wanted to write after the war. She mined it for details and later rewrote entries and composed scenes. Novelist Virginia Wolf invented herself as a writer in her journal. From age 17 until four days before her death [suicide] at 60, she used journals to move from family sketches to memoir to novels.

Alexandra Johnson, The Hidden Writer, 1998 

Friday, October 23, 2020

A Raped Woman's Revenge

     Nevin Yildirim lived with her husband and two children, ages two and six, in a village in southwestern Turkey. In January 2012, her husband left home to work at a seasonal job in another town. Shortly after Mr. Yildirim began working at the other place, a 35-year-old member of the village named Nurettin came to Nevin's house and raped her. This married father of two threatened to shoot Nevin's children if she reported the crime to anyone.

     By August 2012, after months of being raped on a regular basis by Nurettin, Nevin was five months pregnant with his child. When she visited a clinic regarding an abortion, a health care worker informed her that her pregnancy was too far along for that option. In Turkey, abortions are illegal after the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

     On August 28, 2012, when Nurettin came to Nevin's house to rape her again, she pulled her father-in-law's rifle off a wall rack and shot him. As the wounded Nurettin reached for his handgun to return fire, Nevin shot him again. Hit with her second slug, he tired to run, but stumbled and fell. As he lay on the ground cursing her, Nevin fired a third bullet, this one into his genitals. The rapist went silent, and a few seconds later, died where he lay in a pool of his own blood.

     The woman who had just killed the man who for months had been raping her, laid down her rifle and picked up a kitchen knife that she then used to decapitate him. She picked up the detached head by the hair and carried it triumphantly to the village square. To a group of men sitting around a coffee house, Nevin, still gripping her rapist's head as it continued to drip blood from the base of the severed neck, said, "Here is the head of the man who played with my honor."

     As the coffee house drinkers looked on in horror, Nevin Yildirim tossed her blood trophy. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest in the public square. A short time later, a local police officer took the blood-splattered woman into custody.

     A few days after the killing, in speaking to her court-appointed lawyer who came to the local lock-up, Nevin reportedly said, "I thought of reporting [Nurettin] to the military police and to the district attorney, but this was going to make me a scorned woman. Since I was going to get a bad reputation, I decided to clean my honor, and acted on killing him. I thought of suicide a lot, but couldn't do it. Now no one can call my children bastards....Everyone will call them the children of the woman who cleaned her honor."

     On August 30, 2012, at the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder, Yildirim told the magistrate she didn't want to keep her rapist's baby and that she wished to die. The public prosecutor advised the court he had ordered psychiatric evaluations of the defendant.

    Nevin Yildirim gave birth to her rapist's child on November 17, 2012.

     On March 25, 2013, the district judge found Yildirim guilty of murder. Before he handed down the sentence, the judge ordered police officers to remove feminist protesters from the courtroom.

     After clearing the courtroom of protesters, the Turkish judge imposed the maximum punishment of life in prison. Among women in Turkey and others around the world, the verdict and sentence created an uproar. Had Nevin Yildirim committed the exact crime in the United States, she would have been charged with second or third-degree murder. Her attorney would have had the option of putting on either an insanity or battered woman defense. If found guilty, her punishment would not have been anything close to life behind bars. In the U.S., a case like this would likely be resolved through the plea bargaining process that would lead to much lighter sentence.

Crimes Against Women: Up Close and Personal

Crimes against women are often committed by people close to them: around two-thirds of murdered women are killed by family members or intimate partners, while roughly 10 percent are killed by strangers. (For comparison's sake, about a third of male homicide victims are killed by people they don't know.)

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

Execution by Rope

For centuries, disposing of criminals by hanging them was the standard method in England and indeed in many other countries, for lengths of rope were cheap and although the gallows had to be built high, those were the only overheads. In the early days all that was needed was a hurdle [A portable frame made of interlaced twigs used as a sled on which prisoners in England were drawn through the streets to execution.], a rope over a beam and a ladder; and of course, the dominating personality, the Lord of the Scaffold, with an assistant. After being dragged on the hurdle from prison to execution site, the victim climbed the ladder for the noose to be secured, and then the ladder was twisted, "turning off" the felon and leaving his feet kicking in the empty air.

Geoffrey Abbott, Lords of the Scaffold, 1991

The First Creative Nonfiction Writing Course

     When I started teaching in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1970s, the concept of an "artful" or "literary" nonfiction was considered, to say the least, unlikely. My colleagues snickered when I proposed teaching a "creative" nonfiction course, while the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences proclaimed that nonfiction in general--forget the use of the word creative--was at its best a craft, not too different from plumbing. [Actually, it's probably just as difficult to be a good plumber as it is a good writer. Moreover, we have enough writers.]

     As the chairman of our department put it one day in a faculty meeting while we were debating the legitimacy of the course: "After all, gentlemen…we're interested in literature here--not writing." That remark and the subsequent debate had been precipitated by a contingent of students from the school newspaper who marched on the chairman's office and politely requested more nonfiction writing courses--"the creative kind."

     One English colleague, aghast at this prospect, carried a dozen of his favorite books to the meeting--poetry, fiction, and nonfiction--gave a belabored mini-review of each, and then, pointing a finger at the editor of the paper and pounding a fist, stated: "After you read all these books and understand what they mean, I will consider voting for a course called Creative Nonfiction. Otherwise, I don't want to be bothered."

     Luckily, most of my colleagues didn't want to be bothered fighting the school newspaper, so the course was approved--and I became one of the first people to teach creative nonfiction on a university level. This was 1973.

Lee Gutkind in Writing Creative Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001 

Novels Are Not Pure Fiction

Novelists are and always have been split between, on the one hand, a desire to claim an imaginative and representative truth for their stories, and on the other hand, a conviction that the best way to secure and guarantee that truthfulness is by a scrupulous respect for empirical fact…Novels burn facts as engines burn fuel, and the facts can come only from the novelist's own experience or acquired knowledge.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996 

The Master Plot

There are stories that we tell over and over in myriad forms and that connect vitally with our deepest values, wishes, and fears. Cinderella is one of them. Its variants can be found frequently in European and American cultures. Its constituent events elaborate a thread of neglect, injustice, rebirth, and reward that responds to deeply held anxieties and desires. As such, the Cinderella master plot has an enormous emotional capital that can be drawn on in constructing a narrative. But it is only one of many master plots. We seem to connect our thinking about life, and particularly our own lives, to a number of master plots that we may or may not be fully aware of. To the extent that our values and identity are linked to a master plot, that master plot can have strong rhetorical impact. We tend to give credibility to narratives that are structured by it. [True crime narratives often incorporate master plots.]

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2002

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The John Paul Quintero Police-Involved Shooting Case

     On Saturday January 3, 2015, 23-year-old John Paul Quintero and his father were visiting the home of a 21-year-old women in Wichita, Kansas. An argument broke out between Paul Quintero and the homeowner that turned violent when Paul Quintero grabbed the victim and placed a knife at her throat. The knife-wielding man's father, who had also been threatened by him, left the house, climbed into his SUV and called 911.

     Two police officers rolled up to the scene a few minutes before seven that evening. The officers parked the patrol car down the block and walked toward the dwelling. When they arrived at the house they found the father and his son Paul sitting in the SUV parked in the residence's driveway.

     The officers ordered the two men out of the vehicle and told them to keep their hands where they could see them. The father complied immediately, but his son, when he exited the passenger's side, became belligerent and threatening. As the uncooperative suspect moved toward one of the officers, he was again ordered to show his hands. Instead, the younger Quintero threatened the police officer who attempted to subdue him with a Taser. The device had no effect on the advancing suspect.

     When Paul Quintero reached for his waistband, the threatened female officer shot him twice.

     EMS personnel rendered first aid at the scene then placed Quintero into an ambulance. After undergoing emergency surgery at Wichita's Wesley Medical Center, Quintero died from his bullet wounds.

     At the time he was shot, Quintero was not in possession of the knife. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, along with the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office, took charge of the investigation. The officer who shot the unarmed man was placed on administrative leave pending the results of the police  inquiry into the shooting.

     In April 2016, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett announced that no criminal charges would be filed against the Wichita police officer. According to the prosecutor, the officer reasonably believed she was in danger of serious bodily injury or death.

Safecracking

     The first and easiest way to gain entry into a safe is, if the safe is small enough, to remove it from the premises where it can be worked on without worry of detection. [A "safe" is designed to protect its contents from heat. A "money chest" is designed to protect its contents from theft.]

     The safe door is the strongest point of a small safe. By turning a small safe upside down, you can often use a sledgehammer and chisel or a pick and axe and, by brute force, smash a hole into the bottom of the safe.

     If you drill a small hole in one corner of the safe door, thereby missing all of the extra anti-theft protection, you may be able to peel back the layer of steel [covering the safe insulation material] exposing any locking mechanism. This peeling is accomplished with a pry bar, chisel and hammer. [It's a matter of popping the spot welds.]

     To make certain that the safe contains valuable items, you may first want to go on a scouting expedition. This is accomplished by drilling a small hole into one of the four walls of the safe and inserting a small video camera with a light unit to illuminate the contents of the safe.

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

The M'Naghten Case and the Birth of the Insanity Defense

     On Friday, January 20, 1843, in a shot heard around the world, Scottish woodcutter and conspiracy theorist Daniel M'Naghten fired at and killed Edward Drummond, private secretary of Sir Robert Peel. M'Naghten was under the impression that he was shooting at Sir Robert, then Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was further under the delusion that Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the first London Police force was part of a cabal, along with the Pope and the Society of Jesus, that plotted to abridge the rights of British subjects and that had deliberately set out to spy on and persecute him.

     That M'Naghten was insane there was no doubt; nine medical experts testified for the defense, and none for the prosecution. That insanity was accepted as a defense came as a surprise, and that M'Naghten was acquitted "by reason of insanity" came as a shock. [In many states the insanity defense doctrine is called The M'Naghten Rule.]

Michael Kurland, How To Try a Murder, 1997

Criminals, Not Society, Are Responsible For Crime

Everything in the environment has been blamed for crime. I have a file that lists everything including cholesterol, dungeons and dragons, cycles of the moon, and global warming. The psychological field has promulged this view that forces outside the individual propels them to crime. Crime resides in the mind of the person.

Dr. Stanton Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 2014

The First Novel

     First novels are unpredictable. For one author it's the best thing he will do in his career, something into which he empties so much of his heart and talent and experience that he's left with too little fuel to light much of a fire under future work.

     For another the first novel sets the course for an entire career: He's found the key in which his voice is most comfortable and he sticks to it.

     For some writers that first novel gives no hint as to what is to come. Every new work is a departure from the last.

F. Paul Wilson in How I Got Published, edited by Ray White and Duane Lindsay, 2007 

Read Before You Write

Reading is the one necessary prerequisite for writing. Every published writer of books I know grew up reading…If you're a serious and dedicated reader, then, you already know part of how to write. You know the forms and conventions of writing and how others have used these forms and conventions to shape their work. (If you haven't been a reader, I'd suggest you become one fast if you want to write.) What you may not know is how to begin and continue and finish, and how to publish what you've done.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995 

John Cheever on Academic Literary Criticism

The vast academic world exists like everything else, on what it can produce that will secure income. So we have papers on fiction, but they come out of what is largely an industry. In no way does it help those who write fiction or those who love to read fiction.

John Cheever in Writers at Work, Fifth Series, edited by George Plimpton, 1981 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Jeffrey Toobin: A Journalist Exposed

      Jeffrey Toobin, a 60-year-old journalist with a bachelor and a law degree from Harvard University, began writing about crime, politics and law for New Yorker magazine in 1993. In 2003, he became the chief legal analyst for CNN. His seven books include one about the O.J. Simpson murder case, and one about the Patty Hearst kidnapping. He also wrote a book favorable to President Obama and one critical of President Trump. In addition to a book on the U.S, Supreme Court, Toobin wrote about the sexual accusations against Michael Jackson. On CNN, he was a regular commentator and panelist. 

     On October 13, 2020, Toobin and three of his colleagues were participating in a ten-minute Zoom call "strategy session" in anticipation of CNN's upcoming election night coverage. During that call, Toobin's colleagues were shocked to see him masturbating. 

     Shortly after the bizarre incident, Mr. Toobin was suspended by New Yorker magazine and placed on leave by CNN. 

     On October 19, 2020, in a statement published on his computer Motherboard, Toobin, in a bit of an understatement, wrote that he had made an "embarrassingly stupid mistake. I believe," he said, "that I was not visible on Zoom, I thought I had muted the Zoom video." Mr. Toobin apologized to his wife, his family and friends, and to his co-workers at New Yorker and CNN.

     Brian Stelter, one of the talking heads at CNN, referred to Mr. Toobin's unintentional exposure of an intentional act as an "accident." In so doing, Mr. Stelter was also exposed--as a journalistic hack.

     There was a time when someone of Mr. Toobin's status and fame would never be able to live something like this down. In modern America, however, with President Bill Clinton as a good example, politicians and media types can shrug off huge embarrassments and move on with their careers. Perhaps this is because the public now realizes that the hypocrites in public life are no better than they are, and in most cases, worse.

The Fanatic Versus The Martyr

A martyr is someone willing to die for what he believes in. A fanatic is someone willing for you to die for what he believes.

Marsha Hinds, journalist

Violent Crime as Entertainment

American culture as a whole has cultivated a taste for violence that seems to be insatiable. We are a people obsessed with violence, and consequently, our entertainment industry is driven by such violence. The violence of our popular culture reflected in movies, TV programs, magazines, and fact or fiction books in the latter part of the twentieth century has made the shocking realism of this violence a routine task that we all face. Our own sense of humanity is anesthetized to the point of losing consciousness. [The trend has continued into the twenty-first century. A recent study showed that movies rated R in the 1990s are much milder than their modern counterparts. Moreover, the Internet is a venue for people who enjoy the aftermath of criminal deviance and raw violence.]

Steven A. Egger, The Killers Among Us, 1998

Voltaire's Science Fiction Novel

When it became known that the earth was only one of a family of planets circling the sun, the question arose: was there life on other planets? Many later speculated about this. In his Micromegas (1752), the French writer Voltaire brought to earth an eight-mile-high visitor from Sirus and a slightly smaller native of Saturn. Because of their size, these beings found it hard to decide whether there was intelligent life on earth.

L. Sprague de Camp, 3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1972 

Leonard Woolf On Serious Versus Commercial Novels

Novels by serious writers of genius often eventually become bestsellers, but most contemporary bestsellers are written by second-class writers whose psychological brew contains a touch of naivety, a touch of sentimentality, the story-telling gift, and a mysterious sympathy with the day dreams of ordinary people. [What a literary snob.]

Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), husband of Virginia Woolf

Novel Advice

If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it; instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke. [Ouch.]

Paul Fussell in Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers, 1999

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Daniel Sanchez Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     Beatriz "Betty" Silva lived with her sister Maria and Maria's husband Max in a mobile home located among 400 modular dwellings in a subdivision outside of Longmont, a town 35 miles north of Denver, Colorado. The 25-year-old student at Front Range Community College worked at a Chipotle fast-food franchise, and as a sales associate with Marshalls Department Store. On November 22, 2012, Thanksgiving Day, she told her boyfriend, 31-year-old Daniel Sanchez, that she had found someone new. Sanchez, a quick-tempered, violent man, flew into a rage, made threats against the new boyfriend, and began stalking and harassing Silva.

     When they were going together, Betty had loaned Daniel Sanchez $1,000, money he needed to fix up his truck. He had not paid her back as promised, so on Saturday, December 15, 2012, she arranged to meet him in the parking lot of a Best Buy on the outskirts of Denver where they would discuss how he planned to repay the loan. When Betty climbed into his vehicle, Sanchez called her names, punched her in the face, and used her cellphone to text threatening messages to her boyfriend. Against her will, Betty Siva was driven around in Sanchez's truck while he tried to talk her into checking into a hotel where they could resume their relationship. She refused, and after an hour or so, he drove her back to her car and let her out of his truck.

     Betty Silva reported Daniel Sanchez to the Denver police, and on Sunday afternoon, December 16, 2012, officers took him into custody on charges of false imprisonment, second-degree kidnapping, harassment, and domestic violence. He spend the night in the Boulder County Jail, and at ten o'clock Monday night, posted his $10,000 bond and was released.

     Furious over the fact the woman he loved had turned him in to the police, Sanchez drove straight from the jail to Silva's mobile home where he parked on the street in front of her dwelling. Armed with a .45-caliber, 13-round Glock pistol and an extra magazine, Sanchez entered the Silva dwelling by shooting out the glass panel to the rear sliding glass door. Once inside the home, Sanchez took Betty, her 22-year-old sister Maria, and Maria's husband Max Ojeda, hostage.

     At four o'clock the next morning, Betty Silva called 911. The dispatcher overheard her say, "No, no, no." The 911 operator next heard the sounds of a gun being fired. Following the gun shots, Sanchez came on the phone and informed the dispatcher that he was going to kill himself. Again, the sound of gun fire, then silence. No one else came to the phone.

     Weld County Sheriff's deputies and a SWAT team rolled up to the modular home at 4:18 that morning. Officers weren't sure how many people were in the dwelling, or if any of them were alive. At 5:30 AM, after getting no response from inside the hostage site, members of the SWAT unit stormed into the mobile home. Officers found Sanchez dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They discovered 29-year-old Max Ojeda and his wife Maria dead in their bedroom. Betty Silva had been shot to death in another part of the house. Officers found 16 spent shell-casings scattered about the murder site.

     In reporting Daniel Sanchez to the Denver police, Betty Silva had indicated a reluctance to go forward with the more serious kidnapping related charges. By minimizing the seriousness of Sanchez's crimes against her, Silva may have contributed to her own death, and the fate of the other two victims. Had the magistrate been convinced that Sanchez posed a serious threat of life-threatening violence, Sanchez's bail may not have been set so low. There is also the possibility that regardless of the amount of Sanchez's bail, this young woman's fate was sealed once she became this violent, unstable man's girlfriend. 

The Ancient Origins of the Catholic Pedophile Problem

 In the early fourth century, the Council of Elvira, in Spain, became the first provincial body to require priests to renounce sex. But it wasn't until 1123 that priestly celibacy became church-wide law. Pope Callistus II called hundreds of church leaders to Rome for the First Lateran Council. "We absolutely forbid priests, deacons or sub-deacons to live with concubines and wives," the council declared in its canons that year. "Marriage contracts between such persons should be made void and the persons ought to undergo penance." The new laws, which incited strenuous protest from clergy, did less to eliminate sex than to drive it underground. Many male clergy continued to have secret wives, concubines, gay lovers, illegitimate children and, in at least one London parish, a special brothel where "only men with a tonsure, the shaven circle representing Christ's crown of thorns, were admitted." The abuse of children by priests, which mushroomed into a global scandal in the twenty-first century, is seen by many critics as the gravest unintended consequence of mandatory celibacy.

Ariel Sabar, Veritas: A Harvard Professor, A Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife, 2020

Social Media: A Window Into Deviant Behavior

     In July 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida, 30-year-old Cori E. Ward and her 17-year-old daughter were in a physician's office during which time the mother allegedly videoed her daughter lick a tongue dispenser then return the tainted diagnostic tool to the medical supply cabinet. The mother, in an act representing a degree of stupidity difficult to imagine, posted the disgusting incident on social media. While such anti-social behavior cannot be understood within the realm of rational or intelligent thought, it was perhaps inspired by a Lufkin, Texas girl who, a week earlier, had been recorded opening a tub of ice cream and licking its contents before returning the product to its Walmart cooler.

     Not long after Cori Ward posted her daughter's contamination of the tongue dispenser, a local prosecutor charged her with felony tampering with a consumer product without regard to possible death or bodily injury. Because the actual source of the contamination was a minor, she was deal with pursuant to the juvenile court system.

     Social media has created a platform for new genres of deviant and stupid behavior committed by what appears to be a growing number of misfits, malcontents, and profoundly unhappy people. 

A Biographer's Quest for Truth

While I am aware that there is no Truth, no objective truth, no single truth, no truth simple or unsimple, either; no verity, eternal or otherwise; no Truth about anything, there are Facts, objective facts, discernible and verifiable. And the more facts you accumulate, the closer you come to whatever truth there is. And finding facts--through reading documents or through interviewing and re-interviewing--can't be rushed; it takes time. Truth takes time.

Robert A. Caro, Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing, 2019

The Speculative Fiction Writer

     As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, and on behalf of all the variations and sub-genres such as urban fantasy, alternate history and steampunk which collectively make up "speculative fiction," I'd argue that genre fiction is different from literary fiction.
     Whether it's dealing with  ray guns and rocket ships, swords, or sorcery, speculative fiction's unifying, identifying characteristic is that it doesn't attempt to mimic real life in the way that literary fiction does. It stands apart from the world we know. It takes us away to an entirely secondary realm, be that Middle Earth or Westeros, or to an alternate present where vampires and werewolves really do exist and you ring 666 to report a supernatural crime…
     Speculative fiction can be considerably harder to write than literary fiction…When readers are paying close attention to every hint and clue, the writer needs to have internal logic, consistency of character and scene-setting absolutely nailed down. Readers have to be convinced that this unfamiliar world is solidly real if they're ever going to suspend disbelief and accept the unreal, whether that's magic and dragons or faster-than-light travel.
Juliet McKenna, The Guardian, April 18, 2014 

A Writer's Vocabulary

A huge vocabulary is not always an advantage. Simple language, for some kinds of fiction at least, can be more effective than complex language which can lead to stiltedness or suggest dishonesty or faulty education.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1984

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case: The Polygraph as an Interrogation Tool

     Several years ago, a story went around about an ingenious small town cop who hooked a young thief up to a copy machine the kid thought was a lie detector. When the suspect gave an answer the interrogator didn't like, he hit the print button causing a sheet of paper to come out of the copier that read, "Not True." The suspect, convinced he had been caught by a sophisticated lie detection instrument, confessed.

     The copy machine-as-polygraph story illustrates an important point about scientific lie detection, and how the polygraph technique can be used by examiners to coax confessions out of guilty suspects. The debate over polygraph accuracy, in this context, is not relevant. What does matter is this: most criminal suspects who happen to be guilty, believe the polygraph works. In the right hands it can be an effective interrogation tool. Years ago, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made public a video-tape of a murder suspect's polygraph examination and follow-up interrogation. The transcript of this session reveals how a professional polygraph examiner/interrogator can use the instrument to acquire a confession.


The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case

     On Friday, December 2, 2010, 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, a resident of the River Ridge Apartment complex in Canton, Georgia outside of Atlanta, went missing. Three days later, police officers found her body in a dumpster not far from where she had been abducted. Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old newly hired maintenance man had lured the girl into a vacant apartment where he had raped and murdered her.

     On the day following the discovery of the murdered girl's body, Keith Sitton, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, gave the suspect a polygraph test. What follows is the word-for-word account of that session:

SITTON: Regarding that girl, do you intend to answer the [polygraph] questions truthfully?

BRUNN: Yes.

SITTON: Did you participate in any way in causing the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

SITTON: Do you know for sure who caused the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

     In discussing the results of the polygraph test with Brunn after the examination,  Sitton said this to the suspect: "I can see you're not doing good on this test. Those [last two] questions are really bothering me."

     "I promise you. I'll take the test again," Brunn replied. His voice was weak, and he was obviously nervous.

     "There's something on this that you're not telling us. Something that you're keeping to yourself. What is it you're holding back? Because we're going to solve this thing. It's just written all over you. Something's bothering you."

     "I'm not bothered at all."

     "You haven't told the complete truth about everything."

     "I have," Brunn replied.

     The GBI agent asked Brunn about having been accused of sexually fondling a young girl in Virginia: "You know what I'm talking about," he said.

     "I don't."

     "Remember, I said you had to be 100 percent truthful. I asked you [on the polygraph] if anyone made accusations. So what you have done is told me a lie."

     "They put things in that child's head. I'm a good person. I didn't do nothing to that little Spanish girl, and I didn't do nothing to the other girl [the one in Virginia].

     The next day, Sutton questioned Brunn again. He informed the suspect that according to the polygraph he had lied. To this, Brunn said, "I should have told the truth straight up. But I didn't. I was scared." At this point, Brunn made a full confession. He said he had raped the girl, cut her throat, wrapped her in a garbage bag, and dumped her body in the trash compactor.

     On January 17, 2011, Ryan Brunn pleaded guilty to murdering Jorelys Rivera. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. A year later, while serving his time at the Georgia State Prison, Brunn used his sweatshirt to hang himself.

The Scheduling of Lisa Montgomery's Execution

      On December 16, 2004, 36-year-old Lisa M. Montgomery strangled 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett to death in her Skidmore, Missouri home. Following the murder, Montgomery cut open the eight month pregnant victim and removed her unborn child, a baby she intended to pass off as her own.. The two women had met on an Internet chatroom called "Ratter Chatter."

     On December 17, the day after the murder, FBI agents arrested Montgomery at her farmhouse in Melvern, Kansas. The baby, rushed to a hospital, survived the traumatic event. A federal prosecutor charged Montgomery with the crime of kidnapping resulting in death, a capital offense.  

     Tried in October 2007, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged, and recommended the death penalty. On April 4, 2008, the federal judge sentenced Montgomery to death. Incarcerated at the federal prison complex at Terre Haute, Indiana, Montgomery was the only women in the federal system on death row. If executed, Montgomery would be the fourth woman his U.S. history to be executed by the federal government. 

     Montgomery's execution by lethal injection is scheduled for December 8, 2020. Her appeals attorneys allege that their client's trial attorneys were incompetent in that they had failed to reveal to jurors the extent of the defendant's mental illness. On this and other procedural issues, appeals courts have ruled in favor of the government.

Abolish Conspiracy Law

Making it a crime to conspire with another person or persons to commit a crime gives the government too much power. Law enforcement should only be concerned with crimes committed or attempted. People should not go to prison for thinking about or planning a crime. The conspiracy crime legislation came into existence in the late 1960s to take down the Mafia. Used in combination with electronic surveillance and the witness protection program, it played a major role in diminishing the power and influence of organized crime. The overuse of conspiracy laws has created a powerful federal prosecutorial bureaucracy frequently used by politicians in power against their political enemies. These laws invite governmental abuse of power and should be abolished. 

Evidence That Doesn't Reach The Jury

     In United States criminal procedure, if law enforcement personnel violate a suspect's constitutional rights in acquiring evidence, that evidence--the results, say, of an illegal arrest or search--cannot be introduced in court. This is called the "exclusionary rule."

     Evidence can also be kept from the jury if a judge deems it hearsay, irrelevant, speculative or prejudicial to the defendant.

     U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samual Alito once wrote that "Exclusion of evidence exacts a heavy toll on both the judicial system and society at large. It almost always requires courts to ignore reliable, trustworthy evidence bearing on guilt or innocence. And the bottom-line effect, in many cases, is to suppress the truth and set the criminal loose in the community without punishment."

Stephen King on His Place in the Pantheon of Novelists

Somebody asked Somerset Maugham about his place in the pantheon of writers, and he said, "I'm in the very front row of the second rate." I'm sort of haunted by that. You do the best you can. The idea of posterity for a writer is poison. [The so-called first rate writers--today's "literary" giants--will be forgotten long before Stephen King.]

Stephen King, 2013

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Na Cola Franklin: The Case of the Prenuptial Murder

     Billy Brewster and Na Cola Franklin lived in an apartment complex in Whitehall Township outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania with their three children. The couple was scheduled to be married at ten in the morning of Saturday, August 11, 2012. Brewster's cousin, Nakia Kali and his wife Monique had traveled to eastern Pennsylvania from Illinois to attend the wedding. They were staying in the apartment with the 36-year-old and his wife-to-be.

     Just after midnight on the morning of the wedding day, Brewster and his visitors returned to the apartment after being out for the evening. Two hours later, when Billy, Na Cola, and Nakia were in the living room, Na Cola and Billy started arguing. Monique Kali, from one of the bedrooms, heard the shouting. When she cracked the door open and looked into the living room, she saw a large blood stain on the front of Billy Brewster's shirt, and Na Cola Franklin swinging a kitchen knife. Afraid that Na Cola Franklin would attack Nakia Kali with the weapon, Monique Kali charged into the room and tackled her. Nakia Kali knocked the knife out of Na Cola's hand, and one of Franklin's children carried the bloody weapon into the kitchen.

     Billy Brewster staggered out of the apartment onto the second-story landing and collapsed. Nakia Kali called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the scene at 2:19 in the morning. Less than an hour later, Billy Brewster was pronounced dead at the Lehigh Valley Hospital. Na Cola Franklin, in custody at the Lehigh County Jail, had stabbed him twice in the heart.

     At her arraignment on the morning she was supposed to be standing at the alter getting married, Na Cola Franklin wept and said, "I did not kill him on purpose. I want my family back." The judge denied her bond.

     In May 2013, a jury in Allentown, Pennsylvania found Na Cola Franklin guilty of first-degree murder. Six weeks later,  the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Because Na Cola Franklin had killed the man she was within hours of marrying, this homicide attracted more attention than it would have otherwise. Aside from the wedding element, this was not an unusual case. Every year there are hundreds of homicides involving people who kill spontaneously for trivial reasons. In other words, not all murders come with a motive equal to the crime. Cases like this usually involve alcohol, drugs or mental illness. 

The Historic Execution of Gary Gilmore

     The execution of Gary Gilmore, carried out in 1977, marked the resurrection of the modern death penalty. [In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court in Furman v. Georgia, invalidated many state capital punishment laws.] The Gilmore execution was big news and was commemorated by a book by Norman Mailer, The Executioner's Song, later made into a movie. The title is deceptive. Like others who have explored the death penalty, Mailer tells much about the condemned man but very little about the executioners. Indeed, if we examine Mailer's account more closely, the executioner's story is not only unsung, it is also distorted.

     Gilmore's execution was quite atypical, even if his crime was not. He was sentenced to death for killing two men in cold blood, for no apparent reason. Viewed from the outside, his own death had a similar ring of nihilism. Gilmore, unrepentant and unafraid, refused to appeal his conviction--under a then untested capital statue. There is no doubt he could have contested his case for years, as many condemned prisoners have done since his death. But Gilmore, who had already served some twenty-two years of his young life behind bars, would have none of that. To him, prison was death; life in prison was a kind of living death in its own right. Death by firing squad gave him a chance to offer blood atonement for his awful crimes (a notion that resonated with his dark Mormon obsessions), as well as a kind of immortality as the man who put the executioner back to work.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, 1998

The Locard Exchange Principle in Forensic Science

The theory that a criminal perpetrator leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime, and takes a piece of the crime site with him, was postulated in 1911 by Dr. Edmund Locard in Lyon, France. Referred to as the Locard Exchange Principle, this concept, along with the idea of interpreting physical evidence to reconstruct what took place at the site of a criminal act, is the basic rationale behind crime scene investigation. The term "associative evidence" describes items that, pursuant to the Locard Principle, can connect a suspect to the scene of a crime.

The Vampire Fantasy in Romance Novels

It's that fantasy about taming the bad boy, and you can't get any worse than a vampire. They have been alive for 600 years. They've experienced everything. Then all of a sudden they meet this great heroine, who basically is a breath of fresh air. Falling in love, trying to find that spark again in their lives--that is a great romantic fantasy.

Erika Tsang, Time, February 27, 2006 

Creating a Documentary Film Story

     Documentaries bring viewers into new worlds and experiences through the presentation of factual information about real people, places, and events, generally portrayed through the use of actual images and artifacts…But factuality alone does not define documentary films; it's what the filmmaker does with those factual elements, weaving them into an overall narrative that strives to be as compelling as it is truthful and is often greater than the sum of its parts…

    Story is the device that enables this arrangement. A story may begin as an idea, hypothesis, or series of questions. It becomes more focused throughout the filmmaking process, until the finished film has a compelling beginning, an unexpected middle, and a satisfying end. Along the way, the better you understand your story, even as it's evolving, the more prepared you'll be to tell it creatively and well. The visuals you shoot will be stronger. You're likely to cast and scout locations more carefully and waste less time filming scenes that aren't necessary. And perhaps surprisingly, you'll be better prepared to follow the unexpected--to take advantage of the twists and turns that are an inevitable part of documentary production, and recognize those elements that will make your film even stronger.

Shelia Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, 2004 

Killing the Desire to Write

We start out in our lives as little children, full of light and the clearest vision…Then we go to school and then comes on the great army of school teachers with their critical pencils, and parents and older brothers (the greatest sneerers of all) and cantankerous friends, and finally that great murderer of the imagination--a world of unceasing, unkind, dinky, prissy criticalness.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1938 in the Preface to the Second Edition, 1983 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The James Sullivan Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1977, James Sullivan, a 34-year-old owner of a liquor distributorship in Atlanta, married Lita McClinton, a debutante from of of the city's socially prominent families. She was black and he was white, and her parents, Emory and Jo Ann McClinton, were not pleased with the marriage. Sullivan was a flashy self-made millionaire who had grown up poor on the mean streets of Boston. Ten years older than his bride, he had been married before. Having learned from experience how costly a divorce could be, Sullivan had talked Lita into signing a prenuptial agreement that limited her, in the event of a divorce, to a three-year annual stipend of $90,000. The contract allowed her to keep all of the jewelry she had acquired during the marriage.

     The newlyweds moved into an opulent townhouse in an Atlanta subdivision called Buckhead. Sullivan purchased a second house, four years later, in Palm Beach, Florida. While in Florida vacationing without his wife at his new oceanfront property, Sullivan met Hyo-Sook-Choi Rogers, a young woman from South Korea who went by the name Suki. In August 1985, fed up with her husband's infidelity, Lita kicked him out of the Atlanta townhouse. She also filed for divorce and announced that that she was contesting the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement.

     Shortly after the breakup a domestic court judge granted Lita $7,000 a month in temporary alimony. The cash-strapped Sullivan, burdened with four car payments, a $900,000 balloon mortgage on the Palm Beach mansion, and a girlfriend to impress and keep happy, sold his Atlanta liquor distributorship. Although he had convinced the judge to lower the alimony payments to $2,500 a month, Sullivan had not paid Lita any money. His refusal to pay forced her back into court. Sullivan was also pressing the judge to enforce the prenuptial contract. Through her attorney, Lita demanded, in addition to the monthly alimony payments, the townhouse, one of the Mercedes, and $200,000 cash. At this point James Sullivan had already spent $100,000 in lawyer fees, and he saw no end in sight to the outflow of money. The divorce was bleeding him dry financially.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of January 16, 1987, a resident of the Buckhead condominium complex saw a man approach Lita Sullivan's front door carrying flowers. The door opened and the man disappeared inside. A few seconds later, the neighbor heard two gunshots in rapid succession. The man who had delivered the flowers ran out of the house, climbed into a car, and drove off. The witness found Lita Sullivan in the foyer lying on her back with her face covered in blood. A dozen pink, long-stemmed roses lay on the floor next to her body. The neighbor called 911 and tried to stop the bleeding by pressing a towel against Lita's face. She died in the ambulance as it raced to the hospital.

     The autopsy revealed that Lita had been shot in the face at close range by a .9mm pistol. Investigators at the scene recovered the shell casing and determined that the shooting had not been motivated by robbery. As a result, detectives came to the conclusion that the murder was a contract killing orchestrated by the victim's husband. At the time of Lita's murder, her estranged husband was in Palm Beach, Florida. There was no question that Lita's death would save Sullivan a lot of money.

     A month after Lita's murder, James Sullivan married Suki Rogers. Detectives still hadn't identified the triggerman, located the murder weapon, or acquired solid evidence linking Sullivan to the homicide. Nevertheless, in September 1987, a Fulton County Grand Jury sitting in Atlanta indicted Sullivan for the contract murder of his wife. A few months later, a judge set aside the indictment on the grounds it was based entirely on motive.

     With the murder investigation dead in the water, the FBI took over the case. (Criminal homicide is not a federal offense unless it is committed under special circumstances such as in the course of a kidnapping, bombing, bank robbery, organized crime activity, or pursuant to an interstate conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Under Title 18 United States Code Section 1958, a single interstate telephone call in furtherance of a murder plot will give the FBI jurisdiction. FBI agents investigate about a hundred murder-for-hire cases a year.)

     Three days before Lita Sullivan's murder, someone from a Howard Johnson Motel in Atlanta made a collect call to the phone in James Sullivan's house in Palm Beach, Florida. The call had been placed from room 518 which had been registered to a Johnny Furr. Forty minutes after the murder, someone using a pay phone at a highway rest stop just outside of Atlanta had called James Sullivan's house. That conversation lasted less than a minute. FBI agents, unable to identify Johnny Furr, assumed the name was an alias. The federal investigation stalled, and for the second time, the Sullivan case went dormant.

     In 1990, James Sullivan became embroiled in yet another fight to save his assets from a wife who was divorcing him. This time it was Suki. The investigation into Lita's murder sprang back to life when Suki, testifying in a divorce proceeding, claimed that Sullivan had threatened to have her killed by the man he had paid to murder Lita. Questioned by the FBI, Suki said that Sullivan never mentioned the hit man by name. The federal prosecutor went ahead with the case anyway, and in November 1992, James Sullivan went on trial for paying an unidentified man to murder his estranged wife Lita. Following Suki's testimony, which comprised the principal evidence against the defendant, the judge, ruling that the government had failed to present enough proof to establish a prima facie case, directed a verdict of not guilty. James Sullivan walked out of the federal court house that day a free man.

     Emory and Jo Ann McClinton, convinced that James Sullivan had paid to have their daughter Lita murdered, filed a wrongful death suit against their former son-in-law. The plaintiff's case, filed in Atlanta, hinged on the testimony of Suki Rogers and the phone calls between Atlanta and Sullivan's Palm Beach home just before and after the fatal shooting. The identity of the triggerman, however, remained a mystery. The jury, applying the lesser burden of proof that applies to civil trials, found in favor of the McClintons, awarding the plaintiffs $4 million in damages.

     In late 1997, more than ten years after Lita Sullivan's murder, a woman from Beaumont, Texas named Belinda Trahan gave the Atlanta police the missing piece of the Sullivan case puzzle. She identified Johnny Furr as her ex-boyfriend Anthony Harwood, a forty-seven-year-old truck driver from Albemarle, North Carolina. After they had broken up, Harwood continued to visit her in Texas. Belinda described Harwood as a violent, abusive man who had repeatedly threatened to kill her if she told the police that he was the man who had delivered the roses and shot James Sullivan's wife.

     According to Belinda Trahan, two weeks before Lita Sullivan's murder, she and Harwood had conferred with James Sullivan in an Atlanta restaurant where Sullivan handed Harwood an envelope stuffed with $12, 500 in cash. The men had first met in November 1986 when Harwood hauled Sullivan's household goods from Georgia to Florida. Sullivan told the truck driver that he wanted his gold-digging wife murdered and offered him $25,000 to do the job.

     Interrogated by Atlanta detectives in January 1998, Harwood admitted that he had taken the hit money and that he was the Johnny Farr who had called Sullivan from the motel before and after Lita Sullivan's murder. Shortly after the shooting, Harwood had called Sullivan in Palm Beach and said, "Merry Christmas Mr. Sullivan, your problem has been taken care of." Harwood refused to admit, however, that he was the man who had delivered the flowers and shot Lita McClinton in the face. He claimed that he had just been the getaway driver for the triggerman, a guy he only knew as "John the Barber." Although detectives didn't believe that "John the Barber" existed, the prosecutor allowed Harwood to plead guilty to the lesser homicide offense of voluntary manslaughter. In return, Harwood promised to testify against the prosecutor's main interest in the case, James Sullivan. Harwood's refusal to take responsibility for being the hit man did not, in any way, weaken the murder-for-hire case against the mastermind.

     A Fulton County Grand Jury, for the second time, indicted James Sullivan for the murder of Lita McClinton. On April 24, 1998, before the police took him into custody, Sullivan fled to Costa Rica. From there he traveled to Panama, Venezuela, and Malaysia before settling in Thailand where he purchased a luxurious beachside condominium. Under his true name, he opened a bank account, acquired a driver's license, and lived with a Thai woman who assumed the role of housekeeper and wife. As fugitive from American justice, James Sullivan was living the good life in a tropical paradise.

     Five years after fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, Sullivan, on the FBI's most wanted list, still resided in Thailand. The Royal Thai police arrested Sullivan in 2002 after the television series "American's Most Wanted" featured his case. A viewer who knew of Sullivan's whereabouts called the FBI. Sullivan fought extradition and lost. In March 2004, the FBI brought him out of Thailand and placed him in the Fulton County Jail. Still a man of means, Sullivan prepared for his upcoming trial by hiring a team of first-rate defense attorneys. True to his working-class, Irish roots, he was not going down without a fight.

     The murder-for-hire trial, shown on Court TV, got underway on February 27, 2006. If the jury found the defendant guilty of the 19-year-old murder, the jurors  could sentence him to death or put him away for life. Either way, the 64-year-old convict would die in prison. For Sullivan, the stakes were high.

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the testimony of Belinda Trahan and her former boyfriend, Anthony Harwood. Trahan, a slender 41-year-old with long blond hair and a sophisticated demeanor, told the jury that she may have given Harwood the idea of posing as a deliveryman. Three days before the murder, when he expressed concern that Lita Sullivan might not open her door to a stranger, she had said, "Anyone knows if you want to get a woman to answer the door, all you have to do is take her flowers." When Harwood returned to North Carolina after the murder he had said to her, "The job is done."

     Anthony Harwood, already convicted of voluntary manslaughter and serving a twenty-year sentence, took the stand to repeat his "John the Barber" story. His testimony against James Sullivan, however, was devastating. The prosecutor asked the 55-year-old witness if he felt remorse for his involvement in Lita McClinton's murder. The witness replied, "I guess I do, by what you may call proxy. I believe we're all accountable for our acts, but I guess if you get down to the brass tacks of it, it all began with Mr. Sullivan."

     On the advice of his attorneys the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. With only two witnesses, the defense presented its case in less than an hour. On March 13, 2006, following the two-week trial, the jury, after deliberating less than an hour, found James Sullivan guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole. For Lita McClinton's parents, after a nineteen-year ordeal, justice had been done. But it had come at a high price. Anthony Harwood, the man they believed had killed their daughter, in return for his testimony against the mastermind, had been given a twenty year sentence. If Harwood's girlfriend had called the police instead of recommending that he deliver her flowers, their daughter may not have been murdered.

Caught Driving Without a License

Plenty of drivers are out there with no license or one that is suspended or revoked. When you [a police officer] stop such drivers and ask for their license, the first thing they say often begins with "I was just…" as in "I was just gong to the movies" or "I was just dropping off a friend." They seem to think their claim of driving a short distance is a mitigating factor, as if the only people who really deserve tickets for unlicensed driving are those in the midst of cross-country odysseys.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014 

Kleptomania: Euphemism or Illness?

In its condemnation of kleptomania as an euphemism for the shoplifting of the well-to-do, America followed England. More attention was paid to the crime and how to stop it than to the disease and how to cure it. Founded in 1850 as a private security company [and investigative agency], the Pinkerton National Detective Agency established a division to catch shoplifters after the Civil War and most of the major department stores took advantage of it. Pinkerton detectives pursued shoplifters, while socialists, transcendentalists, and humorists lampooned kleptomaniacs as proof of democracy's failure. In his 1888 essay, "A New Crime," Mark Twain writes, "In these days, too, if a person of good family and high social standing steals anything, they call it KLEPTOMANIA, and send him to the lunatic asylum." A lifelong advocate for free speech, suffragism, and a classless society, the anarchist Emma Goldman derided kleptomania. In a speech she gave in 1896 Pittsburgh, she denounced it as yet another strategy the wealthy enacted to steal from the poor.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

James Ellroy On Being Labeled a Crime Novelist

Who wants to be a mystery writer? Who wants to be a crime novelist when you can be a plain old novelist with a capital "N"? You are known by the company you keep. I mean, do you want to be mentioned in the same breath as Agatha Christie and a bunch of people like that?

James Ellroy, barcelonareview.com, April 16, 2001 

The Desire to be Written About

In our society, the journalist ranks with the philanthropist as a person who has something extremely valuable to dispense (his currency is the strangely intoxicating substance called publicity), and who is consequently treated with a deference quite out of proportion to his merits as a person. There are very few people in this country who do not regard with rapture the prospect of being written about or being interviewed on a radio or television program.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Respecting Puffed-Up "Literary" Fiction

Now it is the unassuming storyteller who is reviled, while mediocrities who puff themselves up to produce gabby "literary" fiction are guaranteed a certain respect, presumably for aiming high.

B.R. Myers, Reader's Manifesto, 2002 

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Hannah Overton Murder Case

     Andrew Burd was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on July 28, 2002. The 16-year-old girl who gave birth to him had used, during her pregnancy, meth, crack cocaine, LSD, and marijuana. The expectant mother had also consumed alcohol, took Xanax, and smoked cigarettes. The baby's 17-year-old father worked for a traveling carnival. This infant should have been taken from his unfit parents at birth.

     Andrew was a year old when his mother took him to an emergency room with a broken arm. A doctor suspected child abuse and called Child Protective Services (CPS). Nothing came of the CPS investigation, and the baby was returned to his mother. Eventually, after repeated evidence of child abuse, CPS agents, on the grounds that Andrew was in "immediate danger," took him from his young parents. The agency placed the two and a half-year-old toddler into foster care where he was shuffled from one home to another.

     In 2006, Corpus Christi residents Larry and Hannah Overton heard about Andrew Burd through their evangelical, nondenominational church, Calvary Chapel of the Coastlands. The couple resided in a modest ranch-style house with their four young children. Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah was six months pregnant at the time. Although the family struggled financially from what Larry Overton earned as a landscape lighting installer, the couple expressed interest in adopting Andrew.

     In 1984, when Hannah Overton was seven-years-old, her father, Bennie Saenz, an evangelical preacher, was arrested and charged with murder. Convicted of bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death, then dumping her body along the shore of Padre Island, the Corpus Christi preacher went to prison for 23 years. 

     Before her marriage to Larry, Hannah had worked as a volunteer in an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico across the border from Corpus Christi. As a married couple, Larry and Hannah had performed missionary work for their church. By all accounts they were decent people, loving parents who had never been in trouble with the authorities. Moreover, neither Larry or Hannah had a history of mental illness.

     In the spring of 2006, Andrew Burd joined the Overton family on a six-month probationary basis. On October 2, 2006, not long after the official adoption, the four-year-old became suddenly ill. He began vomiting and struggled with his breathing. Hannah, instead of immediately calling 911, telephoned Larry at work. He rushed home. When Andrew became unresponsive, the Overtons rushed him to a nearby urgent care clinic. When nurses at the clinic failed to revive Andrew with CPR, paramedics transported the boy to Corpus Christi's Driscoll Hospital.

     Medical personnel at the urgent care clinic, suspicious of child abuse, notified the police shortly after Andrew was admitted to the hospital. Within hours of Andrew's hospitalization, police with the Corpus Christi Police Department searched the Overton residence.

     In the evening of October 3, 2006, Andrew Burd died. Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, finding some bleeding of the brain, external scratches and bruises, and twice the level of sodium in the dead child's blood, ruled the manner of death homicide. Dr. Fernandez identified the boy's cause of death as "acute sodium toxicity with blunt force trauma as a contributing factor." (Dr. Fernandez failed to note that the brain hemorrhaging could have been caused by the sodium content in Andrew's blood.)

     Child Protection Services agents took the other Overton children out of their home and placed them with relatives. (Eventually the children would be placed under the care of Hannah Overton's mother.) A few days after Andrew's death, Corpus Christi detective Michael Hess, an investigator who specialized in child abuse cases, interrogated Hannah Overton at the police station. She had agreed to be questioned without the presence of counsel.

     Detective Hess made it clear that he believed that Hannah, feeling overburdened with so many young children, had murdered her adopted son. "I don't see," he said, "what caused the trauma to the brain. I don't see what caused the salt content. Did you at any time strike him?" (At this point, Hannah Overton should have asked for an attorney.)

     The five-hour grilling at the police station ended without a confession. In his report, Detective Hess wrote: "It should be noted that during the entire conversation (conversation?), Hannah Overton showed no emotion." Notwithstanding Hannah Overton's insistence that she had done nothing to harm her adopted son, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, a child protection crusader, charged the mother of five (she had since had her baby) with capital murder. Under Texas law, if convicted as charged, Hannah Overton faced life in prison without the chance of parole.

     The televised Hannah Overton murder trial got underway in Corpus Christi in August 2007. Prosecutor Eastwood, in her opening remarks to the jury, said, "We don't know precisely how she [the defendant] got [the salt] down Andrew, but we know that he [the child] was very, very, obedient."

     Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner testified that he had seen "burn-like scarring" on Andrew's arm that had likely been caused by "contact with a hot surface." Judge Jose Longoria had ruled that Dr. Fernandez could not testify that blunt force trauma had contributed to Andrew's death. The judge, due to insufficient scientific evidence to back up this part of the pathologist's report, ruled it inadmissible.)

     Dr. Alexander Rotta, a pediatric critical care specialist from Indianapolis, Indiana, testified that "There were so many bruises and scratches [on Andrew's body] that it would be difficult to describe them all." Dr. Rotta told the jurors that the sodium content in Andrew's blood amounted to six teaspoons of salt. In the doctor's expert opinion, Andrew Burd's death had not been accidental.

     After Detective Michael Hess played a video of the defendant's interrogation, one of the nurses who had performed CPR on Andrew at the urgent care clinic testified that the defendant, during the emergency, had not behaved like a panic-stricken parent. In fact, she often had a smile on her face. Two other urgent care clinic employees took the stand and gave similar testimony. One of these witnesses said that she had heard the defendant tell someone at the clinic that the boy had stopped breathing after he had been "punished." (While children are "punished" all the time, jurors probably interpreted this comment as evidence of child abuse.)

     At the close of the state's case, defense attorneys David Jones and Chris Pinedo brought Harvard educated forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek to the stand. Dr. Melinek identified the sores on Andrew's body as being consistent with mosquito bites that had been excessively scratched. The witness, on the issue of  how all of that sodium had entered Andrew's system, said that in all probability the child suffered from a rare eating disorder called pica. Children with this malady have an uncontrollable desire to consume inappropriate substances such as salt.

     Hannah Overton, who took the stand on her own behalf, did not come off as a convincing or even sympathetic witness. Her attorneys, given the accusations in the case, had no choice but to put her on the stand. At this stage of the trial, given the testimony of the medical examiner, the pediatrician from Indiana, and the urgent care clinic personnel, the jurors had probably made up their minds.

     The three-week trial came to an end when the jury, after deliberating eleven hours, found Hannah Overton guilty of capital murder. (She would eventually be sent to the maximum security women's prison outside of Waco, Texas.) Overton's attorneys, shortly after the verdict, polled the jury. The defense attorneys were stunned to learn that all of the jurors had found the defendant guilty because she had not sought  immediate medical help after her son's injury. None of the jurors had been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had poisoned her child with salt.

     Two days after the guilty verdict, Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency room physician on duty at Driscoll Hospital the day Andrew arrived, and the pediatrician who had resuscitated the patient before he was sent to the intensive care unit, wrote a letter to the Overton defense team. Dr. Cortes informed the lawyers that while he had been scheduled to testify for the prosecution, prosecutor Sandra Eastwood never called him to the stand. The doctor wasn't called because in his opinion, Andrew Burd's death had been accidental. Dr. Cortes, had he taken the stand, would have testified that Andrew had been a hyperactive child who suffered from an autism spectrum disorder. (Dr. Cortes had studied Andrew's medical records.) This would account for the boy's inappropriate eating habits, obsessive scratching and picking, and head banging.

     In the months following the guilty verdict, three prominent appellate attorneys--Cynthia Orr, John Raley, and Gerry Goldstein--took an interest in the Overton case. The attorneys filed an appeal alleging newly discovered exonerating evidence, ineffective legal representation at trial, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense by prosecutor Sandra Eastwood.

     In 2009, the Texas Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the Overton capital murder conviction. The justices found no proof that the state had known of Dr. Edgar Cortes' cause and manner of death opinion. The appellate judges also rejected the newly discovered evidence and ineffective counsel claims.

     In the spring of 2010, the Overton appellate team petitioned for the right to have access to the prosecution's file on the case. Prior to the trial, prosecutor Eastwood, when asked by defense attorneys for access to documents related to Andrew's stomach contents, claimed that such a report didn't exist. The appellate attorneys, when they were given the opportunity to examine the prosecution's file, found the gastric contents report. According to this document, Andrew's stomach contents did not reveal elevated amounts of salt when he arrived at the urgent care clinic.

     Hannah Overton's appellate team also learned that prosecutor Eastwood had scheduled, for testimony, Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Moritz specialized in children's kidney diseases, and in 2007, had published a paper on accidental child salt poisoning cases. Dr. Moritz had found that a vast majority of these cases involved boys between the age of one and six. Moreover, they had all had been in foster care, or were from abusive homes. All of these boys suffered from the eating disorder, pica.

     Dr. Moritz told the appellate team that he had waited days in the Corpus Christi courthouse for his turn to take the stand. When the doctor told prosecutor Eastwood that he had to return to Pittsburgh, she arranged for a video deposition that because of time, was not completed. Had he taken the stand, Dr. Moritz would have testified that in his expert opinion, Andrew's death had been accidental.

     Appellate attorney Cynthia Orr, about the time of the Dr. Moritz revelation, received a letter from Anna Jimenez, the former Nueces County prosecutor who had worked on the Overton case with Sandra Eastwood. Regarding whether Eastwood had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Jimenez wrote: "I fear she [Eastwood] may have purposely withheld evidence that may have been favorable to Hannah Overton's defense.

     In April 2011, Cynthia Orr petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for an evidentiary hearing on the Overton case. Ten months later, in February 2012, appellate judge Cathy Cochran ordered the Corpus Christi trial court judge to hold such a proceeding to entertain the appellate team's assertion that Hanna Overton, an innocent person, had been wrongfully convicted of murder.

     The evidentiary hearing began on April 24, 2012. Chris Pinedo, one of Overton's trial attorneys, took the stand. Pinedo testified that he had asked prosecutor Sandra Eastwood for a sample of Andrew's gastric contents that had been acquired by Driscoll Hospital personnel. Attorney Pinedo wanted to have an independent scientist analyze this evidence for sodium content. The defense attorney was told that such evidence did not exist. Because he had acquired photographs of the stomach contents that had been taken at the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office, attorney Pinedo knew that he had been lied to.

    Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek testified that because Neuces County medical examiner, Dr. Ray Fernandez, had failed to adequately analyze Andrew's hypothalamous and pituitary glands, his cause and manner of death conclusions were questionable.

     Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency medicine pediatrician who had attended to Andrew at Driscoll Hospital before the boy's death, took the stand and described how he had waited at the courthouse to testify as a prosecution witness. "I told Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, 'I hope you're going to come forward with some other [homicide] charge than capital murder because I don't think this was capital murder.' " When asked by attorney Orr why prosecutor Eastwood hadn't put him on the stand, Dr. Cortes said, "I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened." (That is fine as long as the prosecution's theory is backed up by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.)

     Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of the nation's leading experts on salt poisoning, took the stand on day two of the Overton evidentiary hearing. Dr. Moritz said he believed that if Andrew Burd had ingested a lethal dose of salt, he had fed it to himself. The doctor testified that intentional, force-fed salt poisoning was extremely rare.

     Day three of the Overton hearing featured the testimony of former prosecutor Sandra Eastwood. In 2010, Eastwood had been fired from the Nueces County District Attorney's office after she had informed the district attorney that she had been romantically involved with a sex offender. During the Overton trial in 2007, Eastwood, an alcoholic, had been functioning under the influence of alcohol and prescription diet pills. Her responses to Cynthia Orr's questions were vague, confusing, and often contradictory. The witness said that her drinking and pill taking had destroyed her memory of the Overton case. As a witness, Eastwood came off more pathetic than evil.

     Eastwood's former assistant in the Overton case, Anna Jimenez, followed her to the stand. According to Jimenez, Eastwood had made the following comment to her: "I will do anything to win this case." Jimenez testified that in her opinion, Sandra Eastwood's behavior during the Overton murder trial was "so far out." The witness testified further that she believed that Hannah Overton should have been charged with a lesser homicide offense. Regarding Eastwood's claim that the boy's gastric contents evidence did not exist, Jimenez said, "She is not truthful."

     On the sixth and final day of the Overton evidentiary proceeding, David Jones, one of Overton's trial attorneys, broke down on the stand. "I failed miserably," he said. "There's probably not a day since this verdict that I don't regret spending more time on this case. I should have done more."

     On June 1, 2012, a month after the conclusion of the Overton hearing, District Court Judge Jose Longoria issued his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a 14-page opinion, Judge Longoria explained why he saw no new evidence that would have altered the outcome of Overton's murder trial. "The court," he wrote, "concludes that all of the supposedly newly discovered evidence actually was clearly known and discussed at the time of the trial."

     Hannah Overton's appellate team, as well as a large group of people who believed she was an innocent mother who had been railroaded into prison by an overzealous prosecutor, were stunned by Judge Longoria's opinion. The imprisoned woman's fate rested with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In making their decision on whether or not to grant Overton a new trial, the appeals court justices were not bound by District Court Judge Longoria's recommendation.

     On September 18, 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 7 to 2 to grant Hannah Overton a new trial. The appellate judges cited problems associated with prosecutor Sandra Eastwood and criticized Overton's trial attorneys for not calling to the stand a salt poisoning expert.

     The Nueces County District Attorney, after losing the appeal, had four options. He could charge Overton again with capital murder, file lesser charges against her, offer a plea deal, or simply dismiss the case. The prosecutor chose to try Overton again for capital murder.

     On December 16, 2014, a Nueces County judge set Overton's bond at $50,000. She posted her bail and was released from prison to await her second trial.

     In February 2016, Hannah and Larry Overton appeared on an episode of the Dr. Phil Show. The couple, in response to pointed questions by the host, denied intentionally poisoning Andrew or delaying his emergency medical care. They also denied abusing the boy. The show featured portions of the video taped police interrogation of Hannah that showed her laughing several times during the detective's questioning. She explained that it was nervous laughter. In defending what appeared to be examples of harsh treatment of Andrew, the couple pointed out that he had been an extremely difficult child to raise. Dr. Phil did not seem convinced the Overtons had been good to the boy, asking them if they had treated him worse than their biological children.

     In May 2017, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzales officially declared Hannah Overton innocent in the death of her four-year-old son. Because she had been wrongfully convicted and behind bars for seven years, the Texas comptroller, on March 7, 2018, informed Overton that she would receive a check from the state in the amount of $573,333.33.

The Profound Last Words Of Executed Prisoner Thomas J. Grasso

[Regarding his last meal]: I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti, I want the press to know this.

Thomas J. Grasso, executed in Oklahoma on March 20, 1995

Flat Versus Round Characters

     [The novelist] E. M. Forster introduced the term flat character to refer to characters who have no hidden complexity. In this sense, they have no depth (hence the word "flat"). Frequently found in comedy, satire, and melodrama, flat characters are limited to a narrow range of predictable behaviors…

     Forster's counter term to flat characters was round characters. Round characters have varying degrees of depth and complexity and therefore, in Forster's words, they "cannot be summed up in a single phrase."

H. Porter Abbott, The Cambridge Guide to Narrative, 2002

Janet Malcolm On Journalism

There are parallels between journalism and clinical psychoanalysis. Both the journalist and the psychoanalyst are connoisseurs of the small, unregarded motions of life. Both pan the surface for the gold of insight. Journalism, with its mandate to notice small things, was always congenial to me. I might have also liked being an analyst. But I never would have gotten into medical school. I never went to journalism school, either. When I started doing journalism a degree from a journalism school wasn't considered necessary. In fact, it was considered a little tacky. [If journalism schools still exist, given the sorry state of the profession, one wonders what kind of people they attract, and what they are taught.]

Janet Malcolm, Paris Review, Sprint 2011 

The First Gothic Horror Novel

A source of modern fantasy was the Gothic novel, invented in Germany and introduced to England by Horace Walpol's The Castle of Otranto (1764). This novel of medieval murder and spookery has all the elements that became standard props of the Gothic horror story: a wicked tyrant, an imperiled virgin, an impoverished young hero of noble blood, a monk, a castle with trapdoors and secret passages, a ruined monastery, and two ghosts. Who could ask for more?

L. Sprague de Camp, 3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1972 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Matthew Hoffman Suicide-By-Cop Case

     If you threaten a police officer with a fake gun, you will get shot by a real one.

     Around noon on Sunday January 4, 2015, Matthew Hoffman approached several police officers at San Francisco's Mission District police station with questions about the kinds of firearms and ammunition they carried. The 32-year-old was friendly and unthreatening.

     At five-fifteen that evening, three police sergeants came upon Mr. Hoffman standing in an employee-only area of the police station parking lot. The officers informed the intruder he didn't belong there and asked him to leave.

     Upon being told he was trespassing, Mr. Hoffman, without turning from the officers, backed away with his hands in his sweater pockets. The officers told Hoffman to show his hands. Instead of complying with the police command, Hoffman lifted his sweater revealing, above his waistband, the handle of a firearm.

    When Hoffman reached for his weapon, the officers opened fire, hitting him three times. Shortly after the shooting, the sergeants discovered that the man had been in possession of an Airsoft pellet gun that was not equipped with an orange-tipped muzzle.

     The seriously wounded man underwent emergency surgery at San Francisco General Hospital but died later that night. The officers who shot him were placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an internal investigation.

     On Hoffman's cellphone, investigators discovered a message to the police that read: "Dear Officers: I provoked you. I threatened your life as well as the lives of others around me. You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself. You were completely within your legal  rights to do what you did. God made a mistake with me. Please take solace in knowing that the situation was out of your control. You had no other choice."

     In the typical suicide-by-cop case, investigators have to infer the shooting victim's motive through his mental history and provocative behavior toward the officer. In this case, Matthew Hoffman left nothing to the imagination. Mr. Hoffman, on his cellphone, had described himself as "lonely" and "hopeless." Beyond that, why he no longer wanted to live remains a mystery.  

Hair Samples For DNA Analysis

Hair is one of the most common items used to get DNA. To get a good sample to use, the crime scene investigator needs the root. The root most often comes out at a crime scene during a struggle when hair is pulled out. Crime scene investigators who have to collect a sample of hair from a rape suspect often choose the pubic area to pull from. Not because they have to, but because it hurts, They'll take a pair of forceps and grab as much hair as possible and jerk it out with excruciating delight. This gives them a good and bloody sample from which to draw DNA…

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006      

Self Protection Versus Police Protection

     It is a general misconception that the police exist to protect the public. This is true only in the most generic sense--i.e., once a criminal act is committed, and a suspect caught and convicted. Theoretically, he is locked up so that he cannot prey on other people. The problem is that someone has to be a victim before the criminal can be taken out of society. And many offenders commit dozens of violent acts before they are caught. This doesn't even taken into account the fact that the criminal justice system continually releases the most violent offenders.

     Since police are unable to protect citizens from violent attacks, many individuals feel that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves and their families. 

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998 

A Literary World Outsider

     Like most writers, my principal connection with the literary world has been through books and magazines. I've read hundreds of books and articles about writing, publishing, and the writing life by well-known writers, how-to authors, editors, literary agents, critics, journalists, and writing teachers.

     Besides literary biographies and autobiographies, as well as the published letters and journals of literary figures, I enjoy reading memoir/how-to books by celebrated writers. Examples of this genre include The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer, On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing by George V. Higgins, The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham, On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, None But a Blockhead by Larry L. King, and Chandler Speaking by Raymond Chandler.

     My library is also stocked with collections of author interviews such as the Writers at Work series featuring the Paris Review interviews conducted by George Plimpton and his colleagues. Interviewees in this eight-book series, which ran from 1958 to 1981, include Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, John O'Hara, John Cheever, and James Jones.

     I also like to read so-called "conversation with" books, collections of interviews featuring a single writer such as Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, Graham Green, Tom Wolfe, and Eudora Welty.

      In 2019, I read Cast of Characters, a book by Thomas Vinciguerra about the golden years of The New Yorker and Another Life, a biography by Michael Korda about his years as a book editor and writer. In 2020 I enjoyed The Way of the Writer by Charles Johnson.

     While I've corresponded over the years with a handful of well-known authors, I've only had one literary friend. That person was the mystery writer Ross H. Spencer who died in 1998. He was a literary outsider as well,