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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Levi Norwood Murder Case

     In 2020, 37-year-old Joshua Norwood lived in a home on Elk Road in Midland, Virginia with his 34-year-old wife Jennifer and their two sons, Wyatt, 6 and and 17-year-old Levi. The family had moved to Virginia from Maine in 2010. Mr. Norwood, until recently, had been a sales representative. His wife Jennifer was a licensed nurses's assistant.

     At six o'clock in the evening of February 14, 2020, Joshua Norwood called 911 and reported that he had just arrived home and found that his wife and his 6-year-old son had been shot to death. Shortly after entering the house, someone in the house shot and wounded him in the head. Armed with his own gun, Mr. Norwood fired back. He didn't see the shooter, but believed the bullet that struck him had been fired from the doorway leading into his basement. Mr. Norwood ran out of the house.
     The 911 operator dispatched an ambulance and officers with the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office to the scene.
     As Joshua Norwood was transported to a nearby hospital in stable condition, deputies, thinking that the other son, 17-year-old Levi Norwood may have been the shooter and was barricaded in the dwelling, surrounded the house.
     At ten-fifteen that night, police officers forcibly entered the Norwood house. Inside they found the bodies of Jennifer and Wyatt Norwood but not Levi. They searched the house and did not find the murder weapon. 
     Officers placed the immediate neighborhood on lockdown, and instituted a search for the five-foot-nine, 125 pound suspect with hair recently dyed purple. Since the teen did not have access to a vehicle, officers assumed he was on foot. 
     The next day, Saturday, February 15, a teenager meeting Levi Norwood's description was seen driving a 2007 red Toyota Camry that had been stolen that morning from a home about ten miles from the murder scene.
     At four o'clock that day, a security guard at a Target store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina caught a teenage boy with purple hair stealing hair dye, items of clothing, and a backpack. The shoplifter was identified as Levi Norwood. The stolen Toyota was parked outside the store.
     Officers with the Durham Police Department ran Levi's name through a national fugitive database and learned that the teen was wanted in connection with a double homicide in Midland, Virginia. Police officers booked Livi Norwood into a local jail where he was held for extradition back to Fauquier County, Virginia.
     On Sunday, February 16, 2020, a television reporter questioned a Norwood family member named Victoria Eaton who said the violence at the Norwood house was not something she thought Levi Norwood was capable of, describing the act as "totally out of his character." She also said, " It doesn't make any sense" and noted that Levi had a difficult home life.
     Levi Norwood was a junior at Liberty High School in Bealton, Virginia. Local reporters spoke to several of his classmates who identified Levi's parents as racists who didn't like black people. Moreover, his father had been extremely upset over the fact Levi had been dating a black girl.

Human Road Kill: The Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. Fatal Hit and Run Case

     In Austin, Texas at ten-thirty at night on February 15, 2020, a motorist driving erratically at high speed without headlights plowed into a man on the side of the road pushing a shopping cart. The pedestrian, 55-year-old Martin Cagle, crashed through the speeding car's windshield and landed in the vehicle's front passenger seat. He was killed instantly.

     Following the violent impact, 24-year-old Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. continued driving his damaged 2014 white Ford Focus with the mangled dead man in the seat next to him. Garcia drove a half-mile, leaving a trail of Mr. Gagle's body parts on the road, then parked his vehicle in front of the South Austin Beer Garden.

     Mr. Garcia, covered in his victim's blood, climbed out of his car, and in his bare feet, walked calmly into the beer garden for a drink.

     Shortly after he entered the bar, officers with the Austin Police Department took the highly intoxicated suspect into custody.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Paul Joseph Garcia with intoxication manslaughter and with another felony called accident involving injury while driving without regard for the safety of others. The magistrate set his bail at $110,000.

John Gardner on the Novelist and Higher Education

     It is true that some writers have kept themselves more or less innocent of education, that some, like Jack London, were more or less self-made men; that is, people who scratched out an education by reading books between work-shifts on boats, in logging camps or gold camps, on farms or in factories. It is true that university education is in many ways inimical to the work of the artist: Rarely do painters have much good to say of aetheticians or history-of-art professors, and it's equally uncommon for even the most serious, "academic" writers to look with fond admiration at "the profession of English." And it's true, moreover, that life in the university has almost never produced subject matter for really good fiction. The life has too much trivia, too much mediocrity, too much soap opera, but consider:

     No ignoramus--no writer who has kept himself innocent of education--has ever produced great art.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983. Gardner (1933-1982) was a literary novelist, critic, and English professor at the University of Southern Illinois. He died young riding his motorcycle. 

B. R. Myers on The "Literary" Novelist

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002
[This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.]

Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Impressing Al Capone

You know, sometimes I lose my temper, and I say, "Gee I wish somebody would bump that guy off," and then one of these young punks who wants to make a name for himself goes ahead and does it. And then I have to pick up the pieces.

Al Capone in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguy's Say the Darndest Things, 2004

Ann Rule on True Crime Writing

True crime writing is a very delicate and difficult genre and not to be taken lightly. Done well, the books can be near classic. Done sloppily or carelessly, they serve only to hurt the innocent even more than they have already been hurt.

Ann Rule, writersreview.com, 2000

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Mark Latunski Mutilation Murder Case

     On Christmas Eve, 2019, Kevin Bacon, a 25-year-old hairstylist from Swartz Creek, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, left his house to meet a man he had met on the LGBTQ app Grindr. That man was 50-year-old Mark Latunski.

     The next morning, when Keven Bacon didn't show up for a family Christmas breakfast, his mother reported him missing to the local sheriff's office.
     Later that Christmas day, police officers located Bacon's car parked not far from his home. Inside, they found his wallet, cellphone, and other personal belongings. Mr. Bacon's roommate, Michelle Myers, told investigators that Bacon had left the house on Christmas Eve to visit a man he had recently met on Grindr named Mark Latunski.
     Mark Latunski, a resident of Morrice, Michigan, a rural town 23 miles from Bacon's home in Swartz Creek, was known to officers with the Shiawassee County Sheriff's Office. 
     On November 25, 2019, one month before Kenvin Bacon left his house to meet Latunski, deputies with the sheriff's office, when responding to a disturbance call at Latunski's home, encountered a man running out of the house screaming at the top of his lungs with Mr. Latunski in hot pursuit.The 29-year-old man had blood on his face and wore nothing but a leather kilt.
     When questioned by officers, Latunski explained that he was chasisng the man because the guy had run off with his expensive kilt. He wanted it back. The bloodied, kilt-wearing man who was running for his life from Latunski, refused to press charges. As a result, the case did not go beyond the filing of a police report.
     On December 28, 2019, police officers entered Latunski's house in search of Mr. Bacon. They found him--naked, mutilated and hanging dead from the ceiling. 
      Officers took Mr. Latunski into custody. The suspect quickly confessed to stabbing the victim in the back then slitting his throat with the knife he used to cut off the dead man's testicles and eat them. 
     A Shiawassee County prosecutor charged Mark Latunski with open murder and mutilation of a human body. At the suspect's arraignment hearing on January 6, 2020, the judge asked the defendant, "Are you Mr. Latunski?"
     "No," he replied. "My name is Edgar Thomas Hill. Mark Latunski is my nephew."
     Police officers and the prosecutor believed that response to the judge was a ploy in anticipation of an insanity plea. The judge ordered that Mark Latunski be held in the county jail without bail. 

The Stephen Cooke Jr Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, Heidi Louise Bernadzikowski, a 24-year-old employee of a health insurance company, lived in a Dundalk, Maryland townhouse with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Stephen Michael Cooke Jr. Baltimore County police officers, on April 20, 2000, responded to a 911 call made from the townhouse by Cooke. Upon arrival, officers found Cooke sitting on the living floor holding his girlfriend in his arms. They were both covered in blood.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski had been murdered. The killer had strangled the victim then slashed her throat. There were no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no evidence that anything had been stolen. The victim had not been sexually assaulted.

     Detectives in search of a motive for the brutal murder became suspicious of the victim's boyfriend when they learned that a month before her death he had purchased a $700,000 insurance policy on her life. Because Cooke had an alibi that eliminated him as the killer, detectives suspected that he had hired a hit man to do the job. But without proof, they could not arrest him.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski's parents, in 2004, sued Stephen Cooke Jr. under the so-called "slayer's rule" for the $700,000 life insurance payout. The slayer's rule prohibits anyone who intentionally caused the death of the insured to collect life insurance benefits. The civil action was settled out of court when Cooke agreed to pay the plaintiffs $575,000. Detectives working on the murder case considered the settlement a tacit admission of guilt.

     In January 2012, a Baltimore County prosecutor charged Alexander Charles Bennett, a 32-year-old resident of Greeley, Colorado, with the murder of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Three months earlier, Bennett had been connected to the Bernadzikowski murder scene through a DNA match. Moreover, detectives had placed Bennett, a man with a history of burglary and car theft, in Baltimore the month before the murder.

     While homicide detectives theorized that Bennett had been hired by Cooke to kill the victim, the investigators had no evidence linking the hit man to the suspected murder plot's mastermind. In January 2012, police officers booked Bennett into the Baltimore County Detention Center on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspected hit man bail.

     Early in March 2014, just hours before the commencement of his murder trial, Bennett, pursuant to a plea deal, confessed to murdering Heidi Bernadzikowski. According to the hit man, he and a friend from Denver, Colorado named Grant A. Lewis had been hired over the Internet by Stephen Cooke Jr. who wanted someone to murder his girlfriend. Bennett said he flew to Baltimore in March 2000 to meet the murder-for-hire mastermind during which time Cooke offered Bennett and his accomplice a piece of the life insurance payout.

     According to the murder-for-hire plan, Grant Lewis would play the role of intermediary between Cooke and the trigger man. That March 2000 meeting would be the last time Bennett and Cooke communicated with each other directly.

     Alexander Bennett's version of the murder went like this: On April 20, 2000, the day of the killing, Bennett let himself into the Dundalk townhouse with a key left for him by Cooke. On that day, Cooke dropped Heidi off at the townhouse knowing that the killer was inside waiting for her. The moment Bernadzikowski walked into the dwelling, Bennett ambushed and choked the victim until she either passed out or died. To make sure she was dead, Bennett slashed her throat with a knife.

     A Baltimore County prosecutor charged Stephen Cooke Jr. with conspiracy to commit murder. On March 20, 2014, fourteen years after Bernadzikowski's violent death, detectives booked the Pasadena, Maryland suspect into the Baltimore County Detention Center. At his arraignment hearing, Cooke's attorney urged the judge to grant his client bail. The judge denied the request.

     On March 20, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested Grant A. Lewis, the 35-year-old murder-for-hire middle-man. Officers booked Lewis into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Although Lewis had not bloodied his hands in the case, the judge denied him bail.

     On October 30, 2014, a jury found Grant A. Lewis guilty as charged. Baltimore County Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly-Cox, on February 2, 2015, sentenced him to life in prison.

     On June 18, 2015, a Baltimore County jury, after hearing the testimony of hit man Alexander Charles Bennett, found Stephen Cooke Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In August 2015, the judge sentenced Alexander Charles Bennett to 30 years. Had the hit man not testified for the prosecution against Cooke, he would have been sentenced to life.

The Big Con: No Matter Who You Are, a College Degree Will Improve Your Life

We convinced everyone college was 100 percent necessary, and then we made college unaffordable. It mostly started in 1978 when more loans and subsidies became available to greatly expand the number of students. The cost of college tuition has risen by six times the rate of inflation since the 1970s.

Jake Novak, CNBC Feb 23, 2020

B. Traven's Concept Of Anonymous Authorship

B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book. Since writing for publication is an ego-driven activity, it's not surprising that authors would be vehemently against the idea. Most readers would be as well. Once a reader finds an author or authors they like, they are usually hesitant to try anyone new.

Stephen King on Being a Successful Writer

The idea that success in itself can hurt a writer is as ridiculous and as elitist as the commonly held belief that a popular book is a bad book--the former belief presumes that writers are even more corruptible than, say, politicians, and the later belief presumes that the level of taste in the world's most literate country is illogically low. I don't--and perhaps can't, as a direct result of what I'm doing--accept either idea.

Stephen King, Adelina Magazine, 1980 

Norman Mailer on Novelists

     One of the cruelest remarks in the language is: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. The parallel must be: Those who meet experience, learn to live; those who don't, write.

     The second remark has as much truth as the first--which is to say, some truth. Of course, many a young man has put himself in danger to pick up material for his writing, but as a matter to make one wistful, not one major American athlete, CEO, politician, engineer, trade-union official, surgeon, airline pilot, chess master, call girl, sea captain, teacher, bureaucrat, Mafioso, pimp, recidivist, physicist, rabbi, movie star, clergyman, or priest or nun has also emerged as a major novelist since the Second World War.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Memoirist Hatchet Jobs

Books like Christina Crawford's Mommy, Dearest and Gary Crosby's Going My Own Way, offered sensational, firsthand accounts into the family lives of Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby, proving that even in the film industry's Golden Age, Hollywood idols did not make top-notch parents. Nor most likely do their own children, comfortable performing literary blindsides on their star parents in the pursuit of their own 15 minutes of fame. It's a vicious cycle.

Andrew Breibart and Mark Ebner, Hollywood, Interrupted, 2004 

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Roberto Roman Case: To Kill a Cop

     Just after midnight on January 5, 2010, Deputy Josie Fox of the Millard County Sheriff's Office and her partner were watching, from a distance, a suspicious car and a pickup truck parked along the road near the tiny central Utah town of Delta. There had recently been a series of burglaries which had drawn the officers to the area. When the two suspicious vehicles departed the scene in opposite directions, Deputy Fox followed  the 1995 Cadillac DeVille. The officers knew the identity of the man in the other vehicle, the pickup truck. He was a known drug user named Ryan Greathouse who also happened to be Deputy Fox's brother.

     After Deputy Fox called in the license number of the Cadillac, registered to 38-year-old Roberto Miramontes Roman, the police dispatcher forwarded instructions to have the vehicle pulled over. A few minutes later, Deputy Fox radioed that she had pulled over Roman and was exiting the patrol car.

     Deputy Fox did not transmit further messages and was not responding to calls from the dispatcher. Concerned that the deputy's encounter with the driver of the Cadillac had resulted in her injury or death, Millard County Sergeant Rhett Kimball proceeded to the site of the stop to investigate. When the deputy rolled up to the scene, he saw Fox's patrol car lights flashing and the deputy lying on the road in a pool of blood. The 37-year-old police officer had been killed by two bullets fired at close range into her chest. (I imagine the bullets had pierced her bullet-proof vest.) Roberto Roman and his 1995 Cadillac were gone.

     After fleeing the scene en route to Salt Lake City, Roberto Roman got stuck in a snowbank near Nephi, Utah. He called his friend, 35-year-old Ruben Chavez-Reyes, for help. Chavez-Reyes pulled the Cadillac out of the snowbank, and from there the two men continued on to Salt Lake City. Along the way, Roman tossed the murder weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle, out the car window. When the two men arrived at their destination, Roman switched license plates with Chavez-Reyes. (He did not, however, clean traces of Deputy Fox's blood off his Cadillac.) Later that morning, Roman told his friend that he had "broke a cop," meaning that he had killed a police officer.

     Deputy Fox's partner questioned Ryan Greathouse at his home. The murdered deputy's brother said he had purchased drugs from the man in the Cadillac, a dealer he knew as "Rob." Greathouse gave the deputy Rob's phone number which identified this man as Roberto Roman. The deputy then informed Greathouse that Roman had shot and killed his sister with an AK-47 assault rifle.

     The next day, Millard County deputies arrested Roberto Roman whom they found hiding in a shed in Beaver, Utah. Once in custody, Roman provided the officers with a full confession. The suspect told his interrogators that when the patrol officer pulled him over outside of Delta, he was angry because he was being careful not to speed or cross over the center line. Furious that the cop was pulling him over simply because he was "Mexican," Roman shot her twice with his assault rifle. He did not know he had murdered the sister of the man who had just purchased meth from him.

     The Millard County prosecutor charged Roberto Roman with aggravated first-degree murder as well as with lesser weapons and evidence tampering offenses. If convicted of murdering a police officer, under Utah law, Roberto Roman faced the death penalty.

     In April 2010, more than four months after the shooting death of his sister, Ryan Greathouse was found dead from a meth overdose in the bedroom of a Las Vegas apartment.

     In 2011, Judge Donald Eyre presided over a two-day hearing to determine if Robert Roman would qualify for the death penalty. The judge, after listening to the testimony of psychologists, ruled that the defendant was "mentally retarded," and as such, ineligible under Utah law for execution. This ruling disappointed and mystified a lot of people. (I would imagine that most cop killers are either high on drugs and/or stupid. Since intoxication and mental dullness are not criminal defenses, I don't see why people who are not bright are spared execution. Moreover, courthouse psychologists think all criminals are stupid and should therefore be judged differently from their more intelligent counterparts. Psychologists should not be allowed inside a courthouse unless they have been charged with a crime.)

     The Roberto Roman murder trial got underway on August 13, 2012 in the Fourth District Court in Spanish Fork, Utah. After the prosecution rested its case four days later, the defendant took the stand on his own behalf. Rather than admitting his guilt as he had in his police confession, Roberto Roman offered the jurors a completely different story, one that was both self-serving and implausible.

     On the night of Deputy Fox's death, the defendant and the officer's brother Ryan Greathouse, were riding around in Roman's Cadillac smoking meth. When Deputy Fox pulled the car over outside Delta, Ryan, who was crouched down in the vehicle, grabbed the AK-47 and shot Fox in the chest, unaware he had just murdered his sister. After the shooting, the two men went their separate ways. The beauty of this story involved the fact Ryan Greathouse was not in position to contest the defendant's version of the murder.

     Prosecutor Pat Finlinson, in his closing summation, reminded the jurors of the physical evidence that supported the prosecution's theory of the case. The victim's bullet wounds indicated that the AK-47 had been fired at an angle consistent with being discharged by the driver of the Cadillac. Moreover, the defendant's fingerprints, not Ryan Greathouse's, were on the assault rifle.

     On August 20, 2012, a week after the Roberto Roman trial began, the jury, after deliberating eight hours, found the defendant not guilty of the aggravated first-degree murder of Deputy Josie Fox. The jurors, in defending their unpopular verdict, said that without Roman's confession, they didn't have enough evidence to find him guilty.

     Roberto Roman became the first Utah defendant charged with the murder of a police officer to be acquitted since 1973. The jury did find him guilty of the lesser offenses pertaining to the assault rifle and the evidence tampering. On October 24, 2012, the judge sentenced Roman to the ten year maximum sentence for those crimes.

     The not guilty verdict in the Roberto Roman murder trial shocked and angered the law enforcement community, friends and relatives of the slain police officer, and a majority of citizens familiar with the case. Had Ryan Greathouse not died between the time of the shooting and Roman's trial, this case may have had a different ending. For a stupid person Roberto Roman had done a good job of beating a strong circumstantial case.

     In May 2013, David Barlow, the United States Attorney for the District of Utah, announced that a federal grand jury had returned an 11-count indictment against Roberto Roman for, among other crimes, the murder of Deputy Josie Fox. U.S. Attorney Barlow said, "The fact that Mr Roman had already been tried before a state court had no influence or affect on the federal murder charge [arising out of the same conduct]." In other words, according to this federal prosecutor, the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy didn't apply in this case.

     The new federal charges against Roman, in addition to murder, included, among other offenses, drug trafficking and illegally firing a gun in the death of a police officer. If convicted as charged, Roman faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     In May 2014, Roman's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictments on grounds their client should not have to stand trial for a federal murder charge related to the same crime. Attorney Jeremy Delicino said, "In layman's terms, the United States seeks a second chance to rectify what it believes the jury got wrong the first time. In blunt colloquial terms, the United States seeks a do-over."

     In response to the defense motion to dismiss the indictments, lawyers for the prosecution asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that federal and state governments can prosecute a person for separate crimes based upon the same conduct.

     On September 30, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen ruled that prosecuting Roberto Roman for federal offenses related to the police officer's murder did not constitute double jeopardy. The federal case could therefore go forward.

     On February 6, 2017, a jury sitting in a Salt Lake City courtroom found Roberto Roman guilty of eight federal charges that included the murder of Deputy Fox. U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen, in April 2017, sentenced Roman to life in prison plus 80 years. "Criminals must know that killing a law enforcer in the line of duty means that they will never go free," he said.

Katie Stockton's Secret Births, and Deaths

     In 2004, 24-year-old Katie Stockton and her 4-year-old son lived with her parents in a rural home near Rockton, Illinois in the northern part of the state. After becoming pregnant in March of that year, Stockton continued using cocaine, and kept her pregnancy secret. On December 17, 2004, under clandestine circumstances, Stockton gave birth to a living baby.

     Because she didn't want anyone to know about the baby's existence, Stockton stuffed the breathing infant, the placenta, and her bloody garments into an orange shopping sack that she placed into a white, plastic trash bag. Knowing the consequences of her act, the new mother dumped the trash bag and the baby alongside a road 100 feet from her parent's house.

     Days later, the baby was found dead from either exposure or suffocation. A forensic toxicologist determined that the infant--referred to as Baby Crystal--had been infected with hepatitis. The baby also had traces of cocaine in her system.

     Detectives questioned Katie Stockton about the murdered infant. She denied having given birth to the baby. She also refused to provide the authorities with a sample of her DNA. Without enough evidence to support a court order requiring Stockton to supply the DNA evidence, the case fizzled-out.

     Four years later, Baby Crystal's murder was under investigation by a team of cold-case homicide detectives who considered Stockton the prime suspect. An officer who had the suspect under surveillance recovered a cigarette butt she had discarded. The DNA on the cigarette butt matched the bloody clothing found inside the trash bag with the dead baby.

     Detectives, in August 2009, arrested Stockton on the charge of first-degree murder. Notwithstanding the DNA results, she denied being Baby Crystal's mother. Shortly after the arrest, investigators located Stockton's blue Saturn that had been parked for years in an impound lot. Police officers searched the car, and in the trunk, found the skeletal remains of two other infants. The babies had been stuffed into a pair of bags hidden beneath the spare tire.

     Stockton was not charged with the murders of the two infants in the car because forensic pathologists couldn't establish if the babies had been born alive. Later DNA analysis revealed that the infants in Stockton's vehicle were Baby Crystal's sisters. The three dead babies had been fathered by three different men.

     In February 2013, Stockton, facing life in prison (Illinois abolished its death penalty), pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in hopes the judge would show her mercy. At her April 5, 2013 sentencing hearing before Winnebago County Judge John Truitt, public defender David Doll asked that Stockton be given a prison term of 25 years. The defense attorney described his client as a good person who struggled with drug addiction.

     The defendant, in speaking directly to Judge Truitt, said, "I was in a very dark place for many years. I apologize to those I hurt and ask forgiveness. I'm truly sorry for the pain and hurt they have endured."

     Judge Truitt, apparently unmoved by the murder defendant's apology, sentenced the 32-year-old woman to 50 years behind bars. Without the possibility of parole, Stockton will probably spend the rest of her life in prison. 

The Unhappy Writer

Novel writing is considered a profession and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think that an artist can ever be happy.

Georges Simenon, Paris Review, Summer 1955 

Home Alone Writing Your Novel

Writing a novel is like poking out your eyes with a flaming stick. A real writer will develop the discipline to do it anyway, instead of just talking about the story to anyone within listening range. Unfortunately, writing the book requires spending time alone with yourself. Locking yourself in a room without distractions is usually the best course. Woody Allen said that he can't write in a room with a window.

Bruce Balfour in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McLeer, 2008 

True Crime Research

Writing a true crime book requires the writer to dig into angles not covered in the original rush of publicity and to deeply research the stories of victims, survivors, investigators, attorneys, and others; review all court, prison, psychiatric, medical, police and other documents about the perpetrator and interview people close to him.

Gretchen Brinck, authorsontheweb.com, 2002 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Lindsay Lohan Crime-Wave

     The only person more pathetic than an old Hollywood has-been is a young Hollywood has-been. Over the past decade, Lindsay Lohan slipped from successful television actress, theatrical film star, and recording artist to a D-list celebrity whose principal claim to fame is her rap sheet. And even her arrest record is D-list. Most of her crimes involve cocaine, alcohol, driving under the influence, a bellicose personality, and a sociopath's disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system.

     In 2007, other than being rich and infamous, there was nothing about the 26-year-old that distinguished her from the common garden variety substance abuser. Because she had money, Lohan was well-dressed in court, and had better legal representation than the ordinary petty offender. That was one of the reasons why, notwithstanding numerous probation violations, she spent so little time in jail.

     In May 2007 the police arrested Lohan for driving under the influence and possession of cocaine after she lost control of her Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Two months later, in Santa Monica, Lohan got into an argument with a female motorist whom she chased in her SUV. The actress was again under the influence, and in possession of cocaine. She had also been driving with a suspended license. Later that summer, in return for pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and driving under the influence, the judge sentenced Lohan to one day in jail, ten days of community service, and three years probation during which time she had to enter an alcohol education program.

     On November 15, 2007, when it came time to serve her 24 hours behind bars at the jail in Lynwood, California, the sheriff, due to overcrowding, released her after she had endured 84 minutes in stir. (I'm surprised this experience hasn't led to a ghost-written prison memoir.)

     In October 2009, the judge who had sentenced Lohan following her cocaine and driving under the influence plea, extended her probationary period one year because she'd been too busy (attending Justin Bieber concerts and the like) to complete drunk-driving school. Six months later, after Lohan skipped a court date to attend the Cannes Film Festival, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest. After the police took her into custody on the bench warrant, Lohan posted the $100,000 bail and was released. She left the booking center with an alcohol-monitoring device around her ankle. According to the judge, if Lohan didn't stop boozing and snorting cocaine, he'd revoke her bail and she would be incarcerated. Lohan was also ordered to undergo, on a weekly basis, random drug and alcohol testing.

     About two weeks after being fitted with the ankle monitor, Lohan activated the device while attending a MTV Movie Awards party. In response, the judge ruled that she had violated her probation. As a result, the judge raised her bail anther $100,000. Her bail bondsman covered the increase which allowed Lohan to remain free.

     On July 6, 2010, the judge sentenced Lohan to 90 days in jail for failing to attend her court-ordered weekly alcohol education classes. Two weeks later, Lohan showed up at the jail to begin her sentence. After 13 days behind bars, the sheriff released his famous prisoner due to facility overcrowding. In September 2010, Lohan's probation was again revoked after a random drug test revealed cocaine in her system. Instead of being sent back to jail, the authorities shipped Lohan off to the Betty Ford rehabilitation facility.

     A staff worker at the Betty Ford Center, in December 2010, accused Lohan of attacking her after the staff employee asked Lohan to take a drug/alcohol test. The staffer later dropped the charges. (I wonder how much that cost.)

     In February 2011, police arrested Lohan in connection with the felony theft of a $2,500 necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store. She pleaded not guilty and made bail. A month later, the judge in Lohan's 2007 cocaine/DUI case, revoked her probation and sentenced her to 120 days in the Lynwood jail. She was also ordered to complete the 480 hours of community service. In the meantime, she pleaded guilt to the misdemeanor theft of the $2,500 necklace.

     After a few days behind bars, the sheriff, citing overcrowding, kicked Lohan out of jail again. (I don't buy the overcrowding rationale. I think jail personnel simply found housing this pain-in-the-neck celebrity too disruptive, and not worth the effort.) While Lohan served the remainder of her jail sentence under house arrest, she failed to complete the required 480 hours of community service. As a result, the judge revoked her probation again, and kicked up her bail another $100,000. (They put her bail bondsman on suicide-watch. Just kidding.)

     On March 14, 2012, the LAPD investigated Lohan for allegedly bumping a person with her car outside a Hollywood nightclub, then fleeing the scene. The LA prosecutor in charge of the matter, citing lack of evidence, dropped the case. In September of that year, Lohan took her one-woman crime wave to the east coast. While outside a fancy Manhattan hotel, she clipped another person with her car, then sped off. Again, no charges were filed. A month later, Lindsay and her mother Dina allegedly got into a fight at the family home on Long Island. No charges were filed in that case either.

     Police officers in New York City, on November 29, 2012, arrested Lohan on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in connection with the alleged assault of a woman at a Manhattan nightclub. The supposed victim, a psychic named Tiffany Mitchell, claimed that Lohan, after calling her a "f-ing Gypsy," punched her in the face. (You would think a psychic would see the punch coming.)

     Lohan's ongoing trouble with the law might have finally caught up with her. While she was still on probation from the necklace theft, the police in Santa Monica, on the day of the alleged assault of the psychic, filed new charges against Lohan that are related to her June 2007 cocaine/DUI case. Lohan was accused of giving false information to a police officer, obstructing justice, and reckless driving. All of these offenses carried jail sentences.

     On December 3, 2012, the IRS seized Lohan's bank accounts. According to the government, she owes $233,904 in unpaid taxes for the years 2009 and 2010.

     In 2013, Lohan did a series of interviews with Oprah that earned her $2 million. Most of that money, however, was earmarked for taxes, rehab fees, and further IRS debts. She was left with $500,000.

     In October 2017, in a red-carpet interview, Lohan incurred the wrath of almost everyone when she defended the disgraced Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein. "I feel bad for Harvey Weinstein right now," she said. "I don't think it's right what's going on." Lohan had supporting roles in two of Weinstein Company productions.

     In January 2019, the 38-year-old Lohan was back on television with a MTV show called "Lindsay Lohan's Book Club." 

Reagan National University: A Visa Mill?

     Over the past several years, dozens of colleges and universities in the United States have been designated so-called "visa mills." A visa mill is defined generally as a substandard educational institution that doles out visas to high-paying foreign "students" who are less interested in acquiring an American education as an American job and place to live. Most of these aliens overstay their visas and end up being in the country illegally.

     In January 2020, reporters with USA Today launched an investigation into Reagan National University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reporters were unable to find any faculty members, administrators, or the president of the university. Moreover, they could not identify a single student of the school.

     When the investigative journalists visited the address listed for Reagan National University, the building was empty. Also, no one answered phone calls or e-mails to the school.

     In 2017, Reagan National University received accreditation from the Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges and Schools, an organization known for accrediting schools that turned out to be visa mills. 

The Tricky Science Of Death House Electrocution

     Divorced from the emotional and ethical aspects of the matter, electrocution can be pictured as a purely physical process. The body--seen as a conductor of electricity--is a leathery bag containing a solution of electrolytes. Though electricity does not move in a perfectly straight line as is passes from entrance to exit, the greatest density of current is along the line connecting the two points of contact. But because the human body is a complex object for the current to pass though--unlike a uniform substance such as copper wire or salt water--the actual resistance of the body may vary greatly during the time the electricity is moving through it. The effects of the shock are often impossible to predict.

     To make electrocution as efficient and expedient a process as possible, certain techniques of preparation have been developed. Like a patient being readied for surgery, the prisoner to be executed goes though an exacting process before the actual procedure occurs. Very important is the maximizing of contact. The prisoner's scalp is shaved down to stubble; a safety razor is used then to clear a spot at the center of the head. This is the place where the soaked sponge of the death cap will make contact. Similarly, an area approximately six inches above the ankle is shaved, to make the optimum connection with the ground pad.

     Everything possible is done to ensure that the mechanism works as desired. The connection at head and leg soaked with conductive Electro-Creme or paste-like brine solution--is the most efficient way of transferring electrical current into the body. Voltages and amperages are finely calibrated. The system itself is checked and rechecked, tested and inspected. Hundreds of previous executions give the prison personnel a good idea of what to expect. A controlled environment, witnesses, accurate analytic tools, the frequent presence of doctors and nurses lend the execution the air of a scientific experiment. But the body is always a variable.

Th. Metzger, Blood & Volts, 1996

Writer's Angst

Writer's angst? Forget it. You want angst? Lose your wallet, or get a bad haircut. If writing causes you angst, quit and do something else.

Journalism's Objectivity Myth

There is no such thing as purely objective journalism, and there never has been. All reporters have opinions and biases, and these feelings seep into their work. It's time to put this ridiculous lie to rest.

Word Abuse

Since when did everything look, taste, and feel "amazing?" What does "amazing" look, taste, and feel like? It's amazing how this poor word has been abused. It's time for a word assassin to put it out of its misery. And how about "literally." National TV commentators and reporters say things like, "On the debate stage, they "literally" ripped him to threads." I glad I didn't witness that. Or how about this: "She is "literally over the hill." What hill? Is she missing?


Talking Versus Writing

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Saturday, February 22, 2020

O. J. Simpson and The Revisionist True Crime Genre

     William C. Dear, the owner of a private investigation agency in Dallas, Texas, had over the years published a handful of nonfiction books featuring his adventures as a larger-than-life PI. A master of self-promotion in the mold of Allan Pinkerton, William Burns, and J. J. Arms (remember him?). Mr. Dear was in the news following the release of his 2012 book, O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It. (A bold, if not artistic title.)

     As if exonerating one of America's most hated men is not enough, William Dear was accusing O. J.'s son Jason of the June 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. When revisionist true crime writers exonerate celebrated criminals by incriminating others, they usually accuse dead people who can't sue them for libel. Jason Simpson, who was 24-years-old when the Los Angeles police arrested his father, was alive at the time of the accusation.

     In the other twentieth century "crime of the century," the state of New Jersey, on April 3, 1936, electrocuted Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the 1932 murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. In the 1980s and 90s, a half dozen hack true crime writers produced books that exonerated Hauptmann, and incriminated Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, John F. Condon, Ellis Parker, and a host of others. At least three of these books make the case that the Lindbergh baby wasn't even murdered, that the authorities had misidentified the corpse (wearing the Lindbergh baby's clothing) found two miles from the Lindbergh estate. In reality, the evidence against Hauptmann had been substantial while the "proof" against the literary suspects turned out to be flimsy, and in many cases, bogus. Readers familiar with the history of the Lindbergh case, including several serious Lindbergh biographers, saw the revisionist books for what they were--fiction passed off as nonfiction. Nevertheless, these "Hauptmann is Innocent and I Can Prove It" books attracted a lot of attention, and drew more than a few dedicated followers.

     Unlike real investigative journalists, the authors of revisionist true crime books start with a theory and point of view, and ignore or try to explain away any facts that do not support, or conflict with, their thesis. In making the case against their suspects, true crime book revisionists frequently present negative evidence as either incriminating or exonerating. For example, in the Lindbergh case, Hauptmann must be innocent because the police didn't recover his latent fingerprints from the crime scene. In this genre of nonfiction crime writing, a revisionist's suspect can be guilty simply because he didn't have an alibi. That's how they do it. When you break these books down, there's nothing there but conjecture, speculation, wishful thinking, and the authors' beliefs. And quite often, evidence is presented that is simply fiction.

     True crime revisionists get away with their literary tricks because we live in an era where facts and knowledge get little respect, and there is no such thing as objective truth. Today, what one believes is true trumps what one knows is true. People who want criminals like Bruno Richard Hauptmann and O. J. Simpson to be innocent eagerly go along with the joke.

    What was written (or not written) on the dust jacket of William Dear's book revealed it was not a work to be taken seriously. For example: "Once Dear established in his own mind that O. J. Simpson was innocent, he focused his attention on six possible suspects." In all probability, Dear began with a single suspect, then cleared away the debris that conflicted with his theory. If O. J. was in fact innocent, and his son was guilty, then the evidence against Jason Simpson should be much stronger, and more convincing than the evidence that was presented against his father. It was not. Here was William Dear's "startling new evidence that is certain to change everyone's perception of O. J.'s guilt:"

     In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Dear found a hunting knife. (This knife, however did not contain a mixture of Jason's and the victims' DNA or any other evidence to establish it as the murder weapon.)

     After the murders, Jason Simpson retained an attorney.

     Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi.

     Jason was depicted in a photograph wearing a knit cap similar to the one discovered at the crime scene. (If the crime scene hat contained hair follicles from Jason's head, and bore traces of the victims' blood, that would be incriminating.)

     Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. According to a criminal profiler, Jason's personality was more homicidal than his father's.

     According to William Dear, while O. J. was present at the crime scene, he did not commit the murders. (This was helpful because it explained away the physical evidence connecting O. J. to the victims.) According to Mr. Dear, O. J.'s only crime was that he took steps to cover-up the fact his son had killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. So, why did Jason Simpson kill Nicole? He murdered her because she had decided, at the last moment, not to dine at the restaurant where he worked as a chef. This was, therefore, a double murder motivated by injured pride.

     In reality, William Dear's revisionist version of the O. J. Simpson case didn't offer enough evidence to indict the proverbial ham sandwich. Patterson Smith, the antiquarian bookseller from New Jersey who knows more about the literature of true crime than anyone, wrote the following about the true crime revisionist genre:

     "Of all crime books published, those posing revisionist theories tend to attract the greatest media attention. They are 'news.' Far from merely adding to our knowledge of a past event or re-embellishing a tale previously grown stale in the retelling, they say to us, 'You've been wrong about this case.' And if someone is thought to have been unjustly convicted and executed, the news is all the stronger.

     "It has, after all, been observed that Americans have a greater sense of injustice than of justice. When a revisionist account reaches reviewers, the arguments put forth by its author can seem extraordinarily compelling, for very often the book does not aim for balance but selects only those facts that support its divergent thesis.

     "Moreover--and this is very important--the reviewer of a book on crime written for the general public often has little or no background in the case which could help him weigh the author's novel contentions against countervailing evidence. The reviewer sees only one side of the story, and it usually looks good."

    O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It didn't contained nearly enough evidence to convince many readers that O. J. was innocent, and that his son was the guilty party. 

The Shocking Uses of 19th Century Electricity

In 1878, electric shock was used as a substitute for floggings in the Ohio State Penitentiary, where prisoners were forced to sit naked in three inches of water while currant ran through it. At the same time that electricity was being used to punish, it was also touted as a cure-all. Galvanic belts, electrical corsets, magnetic healing, and dozens of electro-therapeutic devices, were patented and sold as cures for everything from toothache to cancer.

Th. Metzger, Blood & Volts, 1996

George Orwell

George Orwell, one of the finest writers of his generation, while dodging World War II bombs in London, wrote: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead trying to kill me."

TV Personalities Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote

People used to refer to television as the "boob-tube." At first, TV watching was not something a lot of people wanted to admit. "Oh, I don't watch much TV," they'd lie. So, who were the boobs, the people who watched TV, or the people who were on TV? While the folks in the television business were beginning the process of lowering standards of good taste, they were at least getting paid for contaminating American culture. Novelists Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal were the first novelists who helped their book sales by becoming television personalities. It apparently didn't bother these writers that they made public fools of themselves, and made it difficult for novelists who were unwilling or unable to become media whores.    

The Start a Crime Story

In stories that begin with a man or woman walking alone on a moonlit, deserted road in the middle of nowhere, or on an empty street in the city, you know that something bad. really bad, is about to happen.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Dr. Roy Meadow and His Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Doctrine

     In 1977, a pediatrician from England published the results of an investigation he had conducted into the cases of 81 infants whose deaths had been classified either as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or natural death. The study, by Dr. Roy Meadow of St. James University Hospital in Leeds, covered a period of 18 years. His article, "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: The Hinterlands of Child Abuse," which appeared in the journal Lancet, was shocking in its implications. Dr. Meadow claimed that these 81 babies had, in fact, been murdered, and that the forensic pathologists who had performed the autopsies had ignored obvious signs of physical abuse in the form of broken bones, scars, objects lodged in air passages, and toxic substances in their blood and urine. He came close to accusing some of these pathologists of helping patients, mostly mothers, of getting away with murder.

     The Munchausen Syndrome, a psychological disorder identified in 1951 by Richard Asher, described patients who injured themselves, or made themselves sick, to attract sympathy and attention. Asher named the syndrome after Baron von Munchausen, a man known for telling tale tales. Dr. Meadow added "by proxy" because the people gaining sympathy and attention from illnesses and injuries were not hurting themselves. They were getting sympathy and attention by injuring and sickening their infants and children.

     In his landmark article in Lancet, Dr. Meadow profiled some of the pediatric cases that had puzzled him in the early 1970s. For example, he was treating a young boy who had extremely high salt levels in his blood that adversely affected his kidneys. Because there was no way the boy could have eaten this much salt, Dr. Meadow came to suspect that the mother, a nurse, was force-feeding salt into the child through a nasal tube. When Dr. Meadow voiced his hypothesis to his colleagues at the hospital, they ridiculed him. In this case, however, the boy's mother confessed to exactly what Dr. Meadow had suspected. Her intent had not been to kill her child, but to use him as a way to make herself a center of attraction at the hospital, an environment she found exciting and romantic.

     After the publication of Dr. Meadow's shocking article, physicians all over the world sent him accounts of cases similar to the ones he had described in his Lancet piece. Even Dr. Meadow was shocked by some of these stories--cases that involved punctured eardrums, and induced blindness, as well as inflicted respiratory problems, stomach ailments, and allergy attacks. Years later, Dr. Meadow would design a controversial experiment involving hidden cameras in hospital rooms where suspected MSBP victims were being treated. Of the 39 children under surveillance, the cameras caught 33 parents creating breathing problems by putting their hands, bodies, or pillows over the victim's faces. Staff members monitoring nearby television screens quickly entered the hospital rooms, causing the abusers to discontinue their assaults. In England and the United States, some of these videotaped episodes were later shown on commercial television. After that exposure, MSBP was no longer an obscure psychological disorder.

     In the years that followed Dr. Meadow's initial research into these child abuse and infant death cases, he came to believe that the vast majority of MSBP perpetrators were women, and that one-third of them were either nurses, or women who worked in some other capacity within the health care industry. His research also suggested that many of these mothers were married to men who were cold and indifferent, and that at least part of the motive behind making their children ill was an attempt to emotionally energize their spouses. According to Dr. Meadow, many MSBP women also enjoyed the attention and sympathy they received from physicians and nurses.

     Because of his groundbreaking work on behalf of helpless and endangered children, Dr. Meadow received a lot of attention himself. He was in great demand as an MSBP consultant, was asked to give speeches and presentations all over the world, and testified as an expert witness in dozens of high-profile murder trials. In England, he received a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to the fields of medicine and forensic science. As a result of his testimony in homicide trials involving multiple SIDS deaths in the same family, his comment that "one [SIDS death] in a family is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder," became widely known as Meadow's Law. (In the United States it's referred to as "the rule of three.")

     In Great Britain, in a handful of homicide trials between 1996 and 1999, Dr. Meadow's theory that three SIDS cases in one family equals murder, was challenged by the defendants. As a result, Meadow's Law is no longer a court recognized doctrine in England. (Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy in Great Britain is now called, "Fabricated Illness.")

     In the United States, a new version of this personality disorder emerged. Called Munchausen Syndrome by Internet, mothers seek sympathy and attention by faking their own illnesses--mainly cancer--online in support groups and other social networks. At present, this version of the syndrome is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. While there is no known cure for the Munchausen Syndrome generally, the virtual form of this disorder does not involve actual self-harm, or the abuse of children.

Public Hangings in Colonial America

When executions were still public events, they provided an enormous interest. Perhaps no single event brought more spectators in those years than a public hanging. People drove for miles to be present; some camped in the vicinity for several days. The large concourse of people naturally brought camp followers to every large gathering. Entertainers, vendors, pickpockets, promoters, evangelists, sight-seers, peddlers, and medicine men would descend on the town before the fatal day.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

The Celebrity Stalker's "Entitled Reciprocity" syndrome

If the celebrity stalker thinks he's being rejected, he can feel humiliated and develop anger and hatred toward the star he loves. He thinks, "I have spent hundreds of hours writing and communicating and sending e-mails and presents to this celebrity; this celebrity figure owes me time, he owes me attention--how dare he ignore me." Narcissism is the aggressive underbelly of this idealized fantasy.

Reid Meloy, forensic psychologist in Details Magazine, April 2013

Los Angeles: The City of Screenwriters

If you throw a stick into a crowd in Los Angeles, chances are you will hit an aspiring screenwriter. According to LA writer Chuck Palachniuk, no one in Tinsel Town is ever more than fifty feet from a screenplay. They're packed into car trunks, stuffed into desk drawers, tucked away in briefcases, and stored in computers. And every one of them, if you believe the author, is a surefire box office hit. In the vast aspiring writer community, the unpublished screenplay has surpassed the novelist's manuscript. Because people prefer TV over books, that makes sense. Still, the odds of selling a screenplay are worse than becoming a lottery millionaire. In the screenplay business, it's hard to know when hope and ambition fade out and foolhardiness fades in. 

Writing Your Life Away

V. S. Pritchett once wrote, "The professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing." This may be true, but in the end, we all become nothing. So, if you've got nothing better to do, go ahead and write your life away.

The Mystery of Literary Humor

One of the great literary mysteries involves how some writers can make us laugh, and other writers, regardless of how hard they try, can't. It gets down to the inability to identify the core elements of humor itself. Fortunately, there is no formula for funny.

Scholars And Intellectuals

Scholars are well educated people who usually teach at a college or university. Intellectuals are original thinkers who are usually scholars as well. But an intellectual can also be someone who works in a coal mine. Scholars are a dime a dozen. Intellectuals, regardless of what they do, are few and far between. Very few novelists are either scholars or intellectuals. Some of them, however, are talented story tellers, and that's enough.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Darren Deon Vann: The Prostitute Killer

     In 2005, Darren Deon Vann, a registered sex offender in Indiana, moved to Austin, Texas. Two years later a prosecutor in Texas charged Vann with aggravated rape. After pleading guilty to that charge in 2009, the judge sent the rapist to prison where he served five years. Upon his release from the Texas penitentiary in June 2013, the 42-year-old sex offender returned to northern Indiana. At some point the ex-Marine acquired a wife.

     On Friday October 17, 2014, through a website that served the Chicago area called backpage.com, Vann arranged to meet a prostitute at a Motel 6 in Hammond, Indiana, a town ten miles west of Gary. The website "facilitator" sent 19-year-old Afrika Hardy to the motel to meet the john. Hardy had recently moved to Indiana from Aurora, Colorado where she had recently graduated from high school.

     When the prostitution facilitator texted Hardy to check on the progress of the trick, the message that came back caused the facilitator to believe that it hadn't been sent by Hardy. The facilitator and another woman went to the motel to check on the prostitute. In the motel room they found signs of a struggle, and in the bathtub, Hardy's dead body.

     Officers with the Hammond Police Department responded to the murder scene. (The Lake County coroner would later report that Hardy had been strangled to death.) Using a phone number provided by the website facilitator, detectives tracked down the john, Darren Deon Vann.

     On Friday October 17, 2014, in Gary, Indiana, police officers arrested Vann who said he wanted to cooperate with the authorities in hopes of making a deal. In the early morning hours of the next day, Vann led detectives to three abandoned houses in Gary where they found the bodies of three women. Vann said he had strangled these prostitutes to death.

     Anith Jones, 35, from Merrillville, Indiana, was the only Gary murder victim who had been reported missing. She had disappeared on October 8, 2014. Jones had moved to Indiana from Chicago ten years earlier and had operated a stand at a Gary flea market. It would later be determined that Jones had been murdered by ligature strangulation.

     The other two murder victims discovered on Saturday October 18, 2014--Teaira Batey, 28 and 36-year-old Christine Williams--had also been strangled to death and found in abandoned houses in the blighted Gary neighborhood. Vann had killed his victims elsewhere and deposed of their bodies in the vacant, sometimes fire-damaged homes.

     Later that Saturday night, Darren Vann led Gary police detectives to three more female bodies left to decompose in vacant houses.

     A local Indiana prosecutor, on October 20, 2014, charged Darren Vann with the murder of Afrika Hardy at the Motel 6 in Hammond. In his on-going discussions with homicide investigators, Vann confessed to the murders of women that went back twenty years. At this point in the case, it was anybody's guess how many women this man has murdered. Vann's wife told detectives that she had no idea she was married to a serial killer.

    The prosecutor in charge of the Vann murder case announced that he would seek the death penalty.

     Due to Darren Vann's legal challenges of Indiana's death penalty law, his trial was postponed four times. By 2017, he had been charged with killing and beheading seven women. The Indiana prosecutor hoped to bring the serial killer to trial sometime in 2018.

     On May 25, 2018, to avoid the death sentence, Darren Vann pleaded guilty to murdering seven women. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. Investigators believed that Vann had murdered at least another eleven women.

The Shannon Kepler Murder Case

     Shannon Kepler and his wife Gina joined the Tulsa Police Department as patrol officers on August 13, 1990. He was  30-years-old and she was 24. In 2002, the childless couple adopted 6-year-old Lisa.

    Lisa Kepler, diagnosed with a personality disorder called reactive detachment, became a difficult child. Due to her behavioral problems the Keplers, over the years, spent thousands of dollars on various programs, camps, and therapy. None of this treatment altered the girl's anti-social behavior. By 2014, the parents were at their wit's end. They simply had no control over their 18-year-old daughter.

     On July 30, 2014, the fed-up parents, in hopes that a dose of reality might prompt Lisa to change her ways, kicked her out of the house. They dropped her off at a homeless shelter in downtown Tulsa.

     While living at the homeless shelter, Lisa met 19-year-old Jeremey Lake. Shortly thereafter, Lisa moved into Lake's parents' house in north Tulsa. On August 5, 2014, Lisa and Jeremy announced their romantic relationship on Facebook.

     That Tuesday night, August 5, 2014, at nine-fifteen, Shannon Kepler pulled up in front of Jeremy Lake's house where he encountered Lisa and her boyfriend walking along the street. Following an exchange of angry words the police officer shot at Lake three times then allegedly turned his gun on his daughter and fired three more times. Lisa escaped injury, but the boy died on the spot. After the shooting, Officer Kepler drove off in his SUV.

     Not long after the shooting, a Tulsa police officer spoke on the phone to Gina Kepler who said that she and her husband planned to turn themselves in. She said she'd leave the gun in the trunk of her car.

     Accompanied by an attorney, Shannon Kepler and his 48-year-old wife surrendered at police headquarters. (Mrs. Kepler had been charged with accessory to murder after the fact.) On the advice of their lawyer, the couple did not agree to interrogations.

     Officers booked the Keplers into the Tulsa County Jail. The 54-year-old police officer and instructor at the Tulsa Police Academy faced charges of first-degree murder and shooting with intent to kill.

     The judge denied the suspects bond, and the chief of police suspended the couple with pay. Mr. Kepler entered a plea of not guilty based on a claim of self defense.

     A few days after the arrests of her parents, Lisa Kepler spoke to a local television reporter. Regarding her dead boyfriend she said, "He was just really sweet and caring and he didn't pretend. I've known him a week. He was everything. He gave me a place to stay, food to eat, and a bed to sleep in. He meant a lot to me and dad came and took him away."

     On August 22, 2014, the defendants made bail and were released from custody. They had both been fired from the Tulsa Police Department.

     The Kepler murder trial was delayed several times due to a series of procedural motions filed by the defense involving claims that the judge and the case prosecutor were biased against the defendant. The motions were denied.

     In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Shannon Kepler went on trial for murder three times, and three times the juries were deadlocked on a verdict.

     A fourth jury, on October 19, 2017, found Shannon Kepler guilty of first-degree manslaughter. On November 20, 2017, Tulsa County District Judge Sharon Holmes sentenced him to 15 years in prison. 

     In 2017, the Tulsa County prosecutor dropped the accessory after the fact charge against Gina Kepler, and in December 2019, following arbitration, she was re-instated as a Tulsa police officer.

The Whodunit Crime Novel

     Most of my fiction writing has been in the murder mystery novel genre, specifically whodunits, in which there are usually four to six suspects. One of the most difficult aspects of writing whodunits is to give all of these suspects roughly equal motives for having committed the murder. The idea is to keep the reader guessing as long as possible.

     I try to adhere to the doctrine of fair play in the plot. That is, I put in clues so that the reader could conceivably identify the murderer. Having said that, I bury the clues by making them hard to spot. Many of these clues are embedded in seemingly innocuous details. [In real life, most murder cases are not mysteries. However, true crime readers find them interesting because they really happened.]

Robert Goldsborough in The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer, editor, 2008

Pulp Fiction

My own idea is that fiction…falls into three main categories: literature, mainstream fiction, and pulp fiction…To label a novel "pulp" is not the same as saying it's a bad novel, or will give the reader no pleasure…To condemn pulp writing out of hand is like condemning a girl as loose simply because she came from unpleasant family circumstances.

Stephen King, Secret Windows, 2002 

Book Acknowledgments

Authors write acknowledgments to acknowledge their debts, of course, to thank people who helped in some way. Ideally, your tone should be gracious but not queenly, grateful but not groveling. Humble dignity is what you should aim for. Acknowledgements also enable you to shamelessly drop names without seeming immodest. In this way, you let the reader know that while you, the author, did the real work, a great many important people stopped whatever they were doing to give you a hand.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Rise And Fall Of Judge G. Todd Baugh

     Police in Billings Montana in 2008 arrested 49-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, a teacher at the local high school. Rambold stood accused of having a sexual relationship with Cherice Morales, a 14-year-old student. A Yellowstone County prosecutor charged Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. (By law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult. In some states the crime is called statutory rape.)

     In 2004, administrators at Billings Senior High School had warned Rambold against touching or being alone with female students.

     Cherice Morales, just before her 17th birthday in 2010, committed suicide. At the time of this troubled girl's death, the criminal case against her former teacher was pending. The girl's mother, Auliea Halon, sued the the school district for wrongful death. The case was quickly settled for $91,000.

     The Yellowstone County prosecutor, as a result of Morales' suicide, offered Stacey Rambold a deal. If he confessed to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, and promised to enter a sex offender treatment program, the charges would be dropped. Rambold accepted the offer.

     In August 2012, Rambold began skipping meetings with his counselors, and didn't tell them about unsupervised visits he was having with girls. In November, the head of the sex treatment facility kicked him out of the program. When Deputy Chief Yellowstone County prosecutor Rod Souza learned that Rambold had violated the terms of their agreement, he refiled the original charges against the former teacher.

     Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, told reporters that the girls Rambold had visited without supervision were members of his family. Moreover, his client had enrolled in another sex treatment program.

     On August 26, 2013, the Rambold case came before 66-year-old District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh. Before being elected to the bench in 1985, Baugh had served as a federal magistrate. Prior to that, he practiced law in Billings. The judge was currently running, unopposed, for his fifth term on the bench.

     In September 2011, Judge Baugh had sentenced a 26-year-old defendant to 50 years in prison for the rape on an 11-year-old girl. A year later he sent a man to prison for 25 years for possessing child pornography. Judge Baugh did not have a reputation for going easy on sex offenders.

     At the Rambold hearing, Judge Baugh dismissed the refiled charges against the defendant. The judge said that Rambold's being kicked out of the sex program did not justify the refiling of the 2008 sexual intercourse without consent charges. The remaining issue before the judge involved Rambold's sentence based upon his 2010 admission of guilt on the single count of sexual intercourse without consent.

     Yellowstone County Chief Deputy prosecutor Rod Souza proposed a 20 year sentence with 10 years suspended. Defense attorney Jay Lansing suggested that because Rambold had lost his job, his license to teach, his house and his wife, he had been punished enough. Attorney Lansing asked Judge Baugh to suspend all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence. The attorney pointed out that Mr. Rambold had continued his sex rehabilitation program with another treatment facility.

     Judge Baugh said that he had reviewed the videotaped police interviews of Cherice Morales. From this he had concluded that even though the victim was 35 years younger than her teacher, she was "as much in control of the situation" as the defendant. Judge Baugh said that the 14-year-old was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     Judge Baugh suspended all but 30 days of Rambold's 15-year sentence. After spending a month in jail, the former teacher would be on probation for 15 years. He would also have to register as a sex offender.

     Upon hearing this sentence, the dead girl's mother, Auilea Hanlon, stormed out of the courtroom. When she spoke to reporters after the hearing, Hanlon said, " I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you can blame the victim, even if she was only fourteen."

     In a matter of  hours following the sentence, local citizens were signing an online petition that called for Judge Baugh to resign. Marion Bradley, the director of the Montana National Organization for Women, told reporters that "Rape is rape. She was 14-years-old, and she was not an age where she could give consent, and he groomed her like any pedophile. Unless we show our outrage, none of our children are safe."

     On the day following his controversial and extremely unpopular sentencing of the former high school teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape. I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy. No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."

     The next day, Judge Baugh conceded that he deserved to be criticized for his "chronological age" comment. He apologized for that but it was too late for apologies.

     Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, in responding to Judge Baugh's sentence, said, "I have no legal authority whatsoever to appeal a sentence handed down by a judge."

     As of August 29, 2013, the day hundreds of anti-Baugh demonstrators gathered in Billings to protest the sentence, the online petition calling for the judges' resignation had collected 26,350 signatures.

     Stacey Rambold was released from jail in September 2013. He would be on probation until August 2028.

     In July 2014, the Montana Supreme Court censured Judge Baugh for the remarks he made about the 14-year-old rape victim.

     Having decided not to run for a fifth term, Baugh, at the end of his term in December 2014, retired from the bench. He told a skeptical media that his retirement had nothing to do with the Rambold sentence and the state supreme court censure.

     In April 2015, the former judge's critics, and there were many, were stunned to learn that the Yellowstone Area Bar Association had awarded G. Todd Baugh a lifetime achievement award.
     

The Times Square Cookie Monster Case

     New York City's Times Square, in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, was one of the seediest sections of the city. The midtown Manhattan tourist attraction was inhabited by panhandlers, pickpockets, drunks passed out in their own urine, prostitutes, pimps, three-card monte hustlers, and guys hawking stolen and knock-off watches. Times Square was home to strip joints, hole-in-the-wall bars, peep-shows, adult movie theaters, dirty book stores, and cathouses. This was not a destination for kids or tourists in search of wholesome entertainment. This was a place to get mugged, hustled, and ripped-off.

     When mayor Rudy Giuliani and his police commissioner took control of the city in the 1990s, they cleaned house in Manhattan and transformed Times Square into a Disneyesque theme park for families with young children. Toy stores, souvenir shops, clothing outlets, and fast-food restaurants replaced the adult entertainment establishments. The prostitutes, pimps, panhandlers and street hustlers were replaced by an assortment of costumed Sesame Street and comic book characters who probably thought of themselves as street performers.

     Instead of being accosted by whores, bums, and stolen goods merchants, Times Square tourists were hassled by a motley band of oddballs walking around the place inside Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Elmo, Big Bird, Super Mario, and Cookie Monster outfits. (This kind of thing went on in Los Angeles as well. Where I live, if some guy dressed up like Superman walked around town engaging kids, he'd find himself in a police vehicle on his way to jail faster than a speeding bullet.)

     In Times Square, the costumed impersonators competed against each other for the attention of tourists accompanied by kids. They'd pose and mug it up for the children whose parents were supposed to tip them for the photo-ops. When little Lester returned to West Virginia, he could impress his friends with a photograph of himself being hugged by Wonder Woman.

     The street performers were not supposed to directly solicit tips. In New York City this was called "aggressive begging."

     In the scheme of things, slipping a guy in a Big Bird suit a couple of bucks for posing with your kid was harmless enough. It certainly beat having your pocket picked, or losing a couple of hundred bucks to some street corner three-card monte hustler. But occasionally, in the heat of tip-hustling competition, things got out of hand. Some of the impersonators slipped out of character. Super Mario got in trouble for groping a woman. Spider-Man pushed a tourist, and Elmo uttered an anti-Sematic slur. Occasionally fights broke out between the characters. (It would be odd seeing Big Bird knock Superman to the ground.)

     On Sunday, April 7, 2013, Parmita Katkar, the former Miss India Asia Pacific beauty queen, a Bollywood actress and model, was in Times Square with her husband and two sons. From Stamford, Connecticut, the family had come to Times Square to buy a bicycle at the massive Toys-R-Us store. Around two-thirty that afternoon, she and her family were set upon by the Cookie Monster, aka Osvaldo Oviroz-Lopez. The big blue furry creature grabbed up Katkar's two-year-old boy and said, "Come on, take a picture." When the mother hesitated, the Cookie Monster put the kid down, pushed him, and said, "Come on, come on! Give me the money!"

     As the boy's father hustled off to find cash for a tip, Oviroz-Lopez launched a verbal attack on the kid's mother. "You are a bitch," he yelled. "Your son is a bastard and your stuff is trash." (I presume the Cookie Monster was commenting on Katkar's body of work in Bollywood.)

     As the shaken tourists escaped the wrath of the furious Cookie Monster, the toddler kept saying, "I don't like Cookie Monster!"

     The next day, the 33-year-old Cookie Monster impersonator was arraigned in a Manhattan criminal court on charges of assault, child endangerment, and aggressive begging. He posted his $1,000 bond and was released.

     In February 2014, the judge agreed to dismiss the charges against Quiroz-Lopez after the Cookie Monster performed one day of community service.  

Arguing Over What's Right and Wrong

     Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice. Some people favor abortion rights, and other consider abortion to be murder. Some believe fairness requires taxing the rich to help the poor, while others believe it is unfair to tax away money people have earned through their efforts. Some defend affirmative action in college admissions as a way of righting past wrongs, whereas others consider it an unfair form of reverse discrimination against people who deserve admission on their merits. Some people reject the torture of terror suspects as a moral abomination unworthy of a free society, while others defend it as a last resort to prevent a terrorist attack.

     Elections are won and lost on these disagreements. The so-called culture wars are fought over them. Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason.

     But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to the public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight.

     At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes an argument can change our minds.

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009

The Effect of Literary Criticism on Writers

I hate orthodox literary criticism, the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and sapping all vision and bravery.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, 1997 

Making the Reader Identify With Your Characters

If it is true that no two writers get aesthetic interest from exactly the same materials, yet true that all writers, given adequate technique, can stir interest in their special subject matter--since all human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly), so that all we need for our sympathy to be roused is that the writer communicate with power and conviction the similarities in his characters' experience and our own--then it must follow that the first business of the writer must be to make us see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel. However odd, however wildly unfamiliar the fictional world--odd as hog-farming to a fourth-generation Parisian designer, or Wall Street to an unemployed tuba player--we must be drawn into the characters' world as if we were born to it.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, originally published in 1983 

The Best Reasons to Write

Interviewers ask famous writers why they write, and it was the poet John Ashbery who answered, "Because I want to." Flannery O'Connor answered, "Because I'm good at it," and when the occasional interviewer asks me, I quote them both. Then I add that other than writing, I am completely unemployable. But really, secretly, when I'm not being smart-alecky, it's because I want to and I'm good at it.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Shrien Dewani Murder-For-Hire Case

     On November 13, 2010, 30-year-old Shrien Dewani and Anni, his 28-year-old wife of two weeks, were on their honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa. The couple, of Indian decent (she was born in Sweden), resided in the southwestern English town of Bristol where he was a businessman.

     Shortly after midnight on November 13, 2010, Shrien Dewani reported to police authorities that a gunman had commandeered the taxi he and his wife were riding in near the Cape Town suburb of Guguiethu. The kidnapper ordered the cab driver and Shrien out of the taxi in the town of Harare then drove off with Anni.

     Later that night, police officers found Anni's dead body in the abandoned taxi in the town of Lingelethu West. She had injuries to her head and chest, and had been shot in the back of the neck at short range. Officers with the Western Cape Town Police Department launched a manhunt for the killer.

     Shrien Dewani returned to England where he was treated for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

     On November 14, 2010, Western Cape Town officers arrested 26-year-old Xolile Mngeni, the suspected gunman, on the charge of murder. Two days later, police officers arrested a suspected accomplice in the murder named Mziwamadoda Qwabe.

     Detectives arrested the cab driver, Zola Tongo, on November 20, 2010. According to the suspect, Shrien Dewani had offered him 1,400 pounds to find a hit man willing to kill his wife Anni. Tongo reached out to his friend Qwabe who brought Mngeni, the trigger man, into the murder-for-hire scheme.

     On December 8, 2010, at the request of the South African government, police in England arrested Dewani for conspiring to have his wife murdered. Two days after being taken into custody, Dewani posted his bail and was confined to house arrest. He denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     Zola Tongo, the cab driver, pleaded guilty to his role in the murder-for-hire plot in January 2011. The judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison. A month later, Mziwamadoda Qwabe decided to cooperate with the police. He said that after the kidnapper let Dewani and Tongo out of the taxi that night, Mngeni drove off with the victim. Qwabe admitted that for his role in the murder, he received the victim's jewelry.

     In February 2011, back in England, Dewani swallowed a cocktail of 26 pills that included the drug diazepam that had been prescribed to him for anxiety. Following a period of hospitalization, he returned home to house arrest.

     In November 2011, a TV station in England aired a documentary about the case called, "Murder On Honeymoon." The producers of the segment presented evidence pertaining to Dewani's alleged motive for having his new wife murdered. According to the documentary, investigators were working on the theory that Dewani had been living a secret double life as a gay man. Witnesses stated that he had been a regular visitor to a south London gay fetish sex club. When Anni found out he was gay, she threatened to end the marriage and expose him.

     On March 30, 2012, judges sitting on London's High Court ruled that it would be unjust and oppressive to extradite Dewani to South Africa until he overcame his problem with mental illness. The authorities in South Africa were convinced he was faking mental illness to avoid extradition.

     Miziwamadoda Qwabe pleaded guilty in August 2012 and was sentenced in South Africa to 25 years in prison. Three months later a jury found Xolile Mngeni, the hit man, guilty of premeditated murder. The judge sentenced Mngeni to life behind bars.

     The fourth South African involved in the case, a hotel clerk named Monde Mbolombo, had avoided prosecution by testifying against Qwabe and Mngeni.

     The BBC, in September 2012, aired another documentary about the Dewani case called "The Honeymoon Murder: Who Killed Anni?" Featuring forensic experts and others who had reviewed the evidence, the show cast doubt on Shrien Dewani's guilt.

     The widely viewed BBC documentary portrayed Monde Mbolombo, the hotel clerk who was granted immunity for his prosecution testimony, as the true mastermind behind the murder. According to the documentary, Mbolombo put the cab driver in touch with Mngeni, the trigger man. The motive was theft.

     About the time the BBC broadcast the documentary, the English tabloid Daily Mail published text messages the victim had sent to family members shortly before her big wedding. "I'm going to be unhappy for the rest of my life," she had written. "I hate him. I want to cry myself to death."

     On January 2014, a panel of three judges sitting on England's Supreme Court ruled that Shrien Dewani could be extradited to South Africa to be tried for his wife's murder. The extradition, however, was conditioned on the promise that if the defendant were adjudicated mentally unfit for trial, South African authorities would send him back to England. Dewani was expected to arrive in Cape Town in April 2014.

     South African Judge Jeanette Traverso, on December 8, 2014, dismissed the case against Dewani on the ground that no court would convict him unless he took the stand and incriminated himself. The judge noted that the prosecution witnesses against the accused murder-for-hire mastermind were not credible because they had been involved in the killing themselves. The judge's decision ended the case against Dewani because prosecutors in South Africa can only appeal a case when the judge had made a mistake in applying the law. This case, however, was dismissed based upon what this judge considered the crown's lack of evidence to support a conviction. The decision meant that Shrien Dewani was a free man and could not be charged again.

     A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, in response to the dismissal, told reporters that the judge misunderstood the case.

     In the United States, many murder-for-hire cases are predicated upon the prosecution testimony of the hit man and various accomplices. Getting a conviction pursuant to this South African judge's standards would be, in the United States, almost impossible.

The Politics of Stupid

England's Lisa Mandy, a Labour Party member of parliament running for leadership of the party, is a high-profile advocate for people's right to "self-identify" as a man or woman regardless of biological gender. Mandy recently (2020) proposed that a convicted male criminal who says he's a female should be allowed admission into a woman's prison. Mandy says her proposal would apply to child rapist Christopher Worton who now identifies as Zoe Lynes. The child rapist is currently serving time in a men's prison. He/She is petitioning for a transfer into a female correctional facility. 

The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Police Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Eye-Catching Headlines of the Past

     There is nothing like a good murder story to sell newspapers. And a good story needs an eye-catching headline. The Victorians mastered this art and nowhere was the genre better demonstrated than during the 1870s in the Illustrated Police News. This was a popular, high-circulation newspaper and a forerunner of the modern tabloids.

     The paper reported various types of criminal happenings and bizarre events with arresting headlines and, in an age before press photographs, used graphic artists' illustrations. Headlines contained two essential elements to connect with readers' interests. First was a reference to the nature of the crime and, all importantly, where it had taken place. This was usually preceded by an adjective to stimulate interest and convey a sense of outrage. Thus, in 1873, a "Dreadful Child Murder at Hull" was reported and, in 1876, a "Frightful Wife Murder in Bristol."

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010