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Monday, August 31, 2020

An American "Honor Killing"

     On December 24, 2007, a Muslim woman named Patricia Said and her 17 and 18-year-old daughters, fled their home in Lewisville, Texas, a town in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. They left their home in fear of their lives. The 17-year-old daughter, Sarah Yaser Said, a student at Lewisville High School, had dated a non-muslim boy. This fact enraged the girl's father, Egyptian born Yaser Abdel Said, who threatened to harm his wife and daughters over what he considered an unforgivable family disgrace.

     After fleeing their home, Mrs. Said and her daughters took up residence in a motel in Irving, Texas, a suburban community outside of Dallas.

     On January 1, 2008, at two-thirty in the afternoon, Sarah Said called 911 from her cellphone and cried, "Help, I'm dying, oh my God, stop it!" The remainder of Sarah Said's message was unintelligible. The 911 dispatcher's repeated requests for an address went unanswered.

     About an hour after Sarah Said's desperate 911 plea, another emergency operator received a call from a person in the vicinity of the motel in Irving. According to this caller, two teenage girls who appeared to have been shot, were slumped in an abandoned taxicab in the motel parking lot.

     Responding police officers and paramedics found, in the front and back seat of the cab, the bodies of Sarah Said and her sister, Amina Yaser Said. They had been shot to death. Their father, Yaser Abdel Said, who had been a Dallas area cab driver, became the immediate suspect in the murder of his daughters.

     Mr. Said, the suspect of a so-called "honor killing," despite a massive and prolonged manhunt, remained at large for 12 years. In 2014, the fugitive was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List.

     Finally, on August 26, 2020, FBI agents arrested Yaser Abdel Said in Justin, Texas, a town 36 miles northwest of Dallas. A few hours later, agents arrested Mr. Said's son Yassim and another relative. Both men were charged with harboring a fugitive.

     Following the arrests, Irving Police Chief Jeff Spivey told reporters that "Even after twelve years of frustration and dead-ends, the pursuit of [the Said sisters'] killer never ceased." According to Chief Spivey, "Today's arrest of their father, Yaser Said, brings us close to ensuring justice is served on their behalf."

Dealing With Campus COVID-19

     A consensus is building among public health experts that it's better to keep university students on campus after a COVID-19 outbreak rather than send them home as many are doing.

     It's easier to isolate sick or exposed students and trace their contacts if they stay put, said Ravina Kullar, epidemiologist and spokesperson for Infectious Diseases Society of America. Sending students home risks exposing other people there as well as along the way, and makes contact tracing all but impossible.

Oliva Raimonde, "Colleges With COVID Outbreaks Advised to Keep Students on Campus, Bloomberg, August 30, 2020

The Serial Killer Hysteria of the 1980s

     Psychiatry is not to blame for the emergence of the late-twentieth-century fictional monster known as the serial killer, but the psychiatric concept of criminal violence as an unconsciously motivated explosion of rage bolsters the credibility of what is in fact a bureaucratic invention...

     Ultra violent criminals sometimes commit a series of murders...Such serial homicides are enacted most commonly by violent drug dealers, professional murderers and armed robbers in the course of doing business...The notion of an irrational, predatory "serial killer" emerged in the early 1980s amid widespread hysteria about dangers to children from pornographers, satanic cults, lethal day-care centers and kidnappers...The 1983 [Senate] hearings on child kidnapping and serial homicide by the Juvenile Justice Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Arlen Spector, [was] the public forum from which emerged the popular notion of a multitude of predatory serial killers scourging the land...

     Specter's subcommittee estimated that there had been as many as 3,600 "random and senseless [serial] murders" in 1981; by the time that number had whispered its way around the circle of public discussion, it was inflated to estimates of 4,000 or 5,000 serial-killer victims per year ( out of about 23,000 total U. S. homicides)...The actual number of [serial killer] victims is closer to two hundred a year. [That may have been true in the 80s and 90s, but the number of yearly victims is now much lower than 200.]

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999 

Prison Tattoos

Tattoos worn on the face or neck are the most visible, and thus suggest a higher level of [criminal] commitment than tattoos on other less visible parts of the body. Older convicts feel that younger prisoners should not get tattooed if they don't already have any tattoos, and many tattooists in prison will simply refuse to be the first to tattoo a new prisoner. An "honorable" prison tattooist doesn't want to be responsible for helping to ruin a young prisoner's life, particularly if an individual is going to be getting out of prison any time soon. By acquiring tattoos during his incarceration, he would be making concrete his identify as a convict, and may regret his decision to become tattooed.

Margo DeMello in Diego Gambetta's Codes of the Underworld, 2009

Literary Fiction: The Art Of Boredom

So-called "Literary" novelists avoid great plots and exciting, dramatic storytelling because these pretentious, showoff writers associate such qualities with genre fiction. Moreover, writing a novel a reader can't put down takes a degree of literary talent "literary" writers do not possess. Essentially, "literary" novelists practice the art of boredom. Their books are not written to be read but to be possessed by readers trying to appear literarily sophisticated. The whole literary fiction game is really quite fraudulent.

The Problem With the Fantasy Genre

     …Fantasy, I'm convinced, is the genre that's constantly waiting for you to let down your guard, and pull the rug from under your feet without any warning.

     On the face of it, I should have no problem with fantasy. I am, after all, a fan of science fiction, someone who grew up reading comic books filled with fantastic, amazing tales of people who can do things far outside the reach of mortal men, whether it's flying faster than speeding bullets or shambling through the world as an undead monster seemingly unable to remain six feet under. Surely superheroes and science fiction are fantasies? If I can accept them easily enough, why do I have such a problem with the fantasy genre?

     The trouble, I suspect, is in the world-building aspect of each genre. Superheroes, for the most part, exist in worlds that are intentionally meant to mirror our own, with the differences becoming part of the story and out in the open. The same applies to much of science fiction; although the far future may be filled with inventions and ideas that don't exist in our world. They too have to be specifically mentioned in order for them to exist and matter. There's a sense that forewarned is forearmed.

     In fantasy, I can assume that all bets are off. Fantasy stories tend to take place in worlds that are like ours, but not ours, where countries have different names, and magic--something that purposefully defies categorization, and thus threatens deus ex machina [contrived, last minute] twists and resolutions--is witnessed and wielded without a shrug. As much as I appreciate imagination, there's something about fantasy that feels too far removed from the world in which I live…

Graeme McMillan, "Fantasy Genre," entertainment.time.com, April 5, 2013 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mayson Armando Ortiz-Vazuez's Violent Rampage and Sudden Death

     At six-ten in the morning of Friday, August 28, 2020, an ex-con from Orlando, Florida named Mayson Armando Ortiz-Vazquez was driving in Polk City, Florida with a female passenger in his car. He was in the town to buy drugs. For some reason, Ortiz-Vazquez lost control of his vehicle, swerved, and crashed into a chainlink fence.

    Not far from the accident, school bus driver Margie Yzaguirre had pulled over to pick up a student. Shortly after the youngster climbed into the bus, Ortiz-Vazquez approached the vehicle and demanded to be let onboard. When the bus driver refused to let him in, the six-foot, 250 pound Ortiz-Vazquez, with his arm bloodied from the car accident, screamed and pounded on the bus door. Bus driver Yzaguirre drove off.

     Left behind by the school bus, Ortiz-Vazquez jumped on the hood of a passing car. After rolling off the vehicle, he jumped onto another moving car, breaking its windshield. After growling at the shocked driver, Ortiz-Vazquez rolled off the car, got to his feet, and walked to a dwelling on Old Polk City Road in nearby North Lakeland.

     At six-thirty that morning, Ortiz-Vazquez smashed a glass paneled front door and forcefully entered a dwelling occupied at the time by a 9-year-old boy, his parents, and the boy's grandparents. The boy's father, when confronted in his living room by a crazed, bloodied intruder holding a shard of glass from the smashed front door, picked up a gun and shot him. Later that morning, Ortiz-Vazquez was pronounced dead at the Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center.

     According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Ortiz-Vazquez had been a man "totally out of control." In  reference to Ortiz-Vazquez's behavior that morning, the sheriff told reporters that the violent spree had "meth written all over it."

Criminals Play the Insanity Game

     In the 1957 musical West Side Story, Stephen Sondheim parodied what then was the current thinking about juvenile delinquency in the song, "Gee, Officer Krupke." Delinquents were punks because their fathers were drunks. They were misunderstood rather than no good. They were suffering from a "social disease," and society "had played them a terrible trick." They needed an analyst, not a judge, because it was "just their neurosis" acting up. In short, their criminal behavior was regarded as symptomatic of a deep-seated psychological or sociological problem. Little has changed since then in terms of deeply ingrained beliefs about the causes of crime…

     When a person commits a particularly sordid crime, his sanity may be questioned. Three men pick up two girls who are thumbing a lift. A joyride turns into a nightmare when the teenagers are driven to a desolate mountainous area where they are bound and repeatedly raped. Two of their tormentors dig a hole and tell them to say their prayers. However, the men decide to prolong the torture and take the girls to an apartment where they brutalize them again. The girls are saved by a suspicious neighbor who calls the police. Eventually, the court considers the rapists to be "mentally disordered sex offenders" and sends them to a psychiatric hospital, where they spend less time than one-third of the time they would have spent in prison.

     Criminals learn to fool the psychiatrists and the courts in order to serve "easy time" in a hospital with the prospect of getting out more quickly than they would from a prison. From other criminals and from their attorneys, even unsophisticated street criminals learn the ploy of insanity. The game is for the criminal to convince others that he is sick, so that he can beat the charge. After he is admitted to the hospital, he plays the psychiatric game of mouthing insights and behaving properly so that he can convince the staff that he is recovering and deserves to be released.

Stanton E. Samenow, "The Basic Myths About Criminals," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed., 1994 

Heroin Chic

     Popular folklore has it that people who do dope don't eat. That stereotype of the reed-thin drug addict is partially a matter of economics, and partially ideology. Yes, if you're a junkie living on the street, you're not likely to make eating your first priority. But for the rest of the heroin-using population, food consumption has more to do with metaphor. Some embrace the image of the junkie as vampire, a creature of the midnight, cut off from normal human needs, requiring only heroin. But just as many junkies maintain their weight….

     The attenuated, fashionable body of "heroin chic" ads may be what you have in mind when you start doing dope but in reality long term use can make you bloated in odd places….

     The frightening thin dope users I've known were either people with some kind of eating disorder that was articulated though heroin, or those who are unable to keep food down on dope.

Ann Marlowe, How To Stop Time: Heroin A to Z, 1999

Schools Of Journalism: What's the Point?

For an old school journalist, teaching journalism to college students must be one of the worst jobs in academia. What could the professor say to students about to enter a profession that no longer embraces journalistic objectivity, professional integrity, or freedom of the press? How could such a teacher encourage a student to work in a profession that is no longer trusted by a large percentage of the American public? Perhaps the true question should be: Why do universities still support schools of journalism, and where do they find the teachers to staff these programs? Is that the problem? Should we blame the university for the dismal state of journalism in this country? The decline of honest, objective reporting is more than just disgraceful, it poses a threat to our freedom.

George Orwell and C.S. Lewis

If you want to learn how to write, the best way to start is by imitating C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. These two Englishmen, born five years apart, never used a pompous word if a short and plain one would do. Orwell was a master of the welcoming first sentence. He wrote an essay called "England Your England" while sheltering from German bombs during World War II. Here is his opening: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

David Brooks, "Really Good Books, Part I," The New York Times, May 22, 2014 

Learning to Write on Your Own

Not too long ago, the concept of studying in a "creative writing program" was unheard of. If you wanted to be a writer, then you became an avid reader and a citizen of the world, learning about life through travel and personal experience until you knew enough to write an essay, short story, or poem that said something. In college, you majored in English literature, philosophy, or history--areas of concentration that would introduce the best books and the most influential thinkers.

Lee Gutkind, The Art of Creative Nonfiction, 1997

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Jill Hansen: The Hawaiian Road Menace

     Jill Anjuli Hansen, a 30-year-old resident of Honolulu's Maunalani Heights neighborhood, aspired to become a professional surfer. Hansen also claimed to be a model and owner of a swimsuit line. But in her community, if Hansen was known for anything, it was for being a violence-prone woman who drove like a maniac.

     In 2010, Hanson was convicted twice for speeding. A year later, police caught her driving without a license and car insurance. Local officers arrested her three times in 2014 for speeding, including driving 72 in a 35-MPH zone. The Maunalani Heights Neighborhood Watch Group's 500 members were aware of Hansen and her reckless driving habit. A representative of the group reportedly said: "We need everybody to be on the lookout for her, it's that scary. Two people were almost run over by her. One person had a head-on collision with Hansen."

     On April 18, 2014, Honolulu police arrested Hansen on a charge of third-degree assault. The judge in that case ordered her to undergo mental evaluation. (According to Hansen's father, she had solicited someone to murder him on Facebook. As a result, he obtained a restraining order against her.)

     On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, in the Diamond Head section of Waikiki, 73-year-old Elizabeth Conklin got out of her BMW 328 Wagon in the parking garage of her apartment complex. As Conklin walked away from her vehicle, Jill Hansen, who had followed her into the parking area, slammed her gray Volkswagen Passat into the woman, knocking her twenty feet.

     Following the impact, Hansen climbed out of her VW and walked over to the injured woman who was writhing in pain on the garage floor. Instead of calling 911, Hansen returned to her car, climbed in, and was about to take another run at the downed woman when a building employee named Chris Khory grabbed a crow bar and smashed out Hansen's back window.

     Mr. Khory's timely intervention caused Hansen to exit the Volkswagen and flee the scene on foot. Paramedics rushed the victim to a nearby hospital where doctors treated Conklin for numerous cuts and bruises.

     At the hospital, the victim told police officers that the attack was not the result of an earlier road-rage incident. She believed her attacker had followed her home with the intent of stealing her car. "I parked in my normal parking place," she said. "I got out and all of a sudden woke up in an ambulance. She saw my car, it was the car she wanted. She followed me and was going to kill me to get the car."

     An hour or so after running down Elizabeth Conklin in the Waikiki parking garage, Jill Hansen was on her computer updating her Facebook page with a photograph of the victim's BMW. She also informed her Facebook friends and readers that she had just been accepted into the Association of Surfing Professionals. "I am becoming a professional!" she wrote. "I have worked soooo hard to get to where I am today. I am so grateful for the support of surfers and the ASP."

     Police officers arrested Hansen at her apartment seven hours after she intentionally plowed into the 73-year-old victim. Officers booked the suspect into jail on the charge of attempted murder. The judge set her bail at $1 million.

     In August 2014, the authorities charged Hansen, while awaiting trial at the Women's Correctional Center in Kailua, with violating the protection order acquired by her father. (I'm not sure how she managed this while in custody.)

     Circuit Judge Richard Perkins, on September 25, 2014, following a series of psychiatric evaluations of Hansen, found her mentally unfit to stand trial. The judge ordered her to undergo treatment at a local mental health facility.

    After regaining her connection to reality through anti-psychotic medication, Jill Hansen went on trial in Honolulu on the charge of second-degree attempted murder. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a so-called bench trial where the judge determines issues of law and fact.

     The principal witnesses during Hansen's 4-day trial on August 23, 2015 involved three mental health experts brought to the stand by the defendant's attorney, Victor Bakke. The psychiatrists, pursuant to Hansen's insanity defense, testified that she had tried to kill the victim while suffering from a psychosis that had rendered her incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. She had therefore been incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent.

     On August 27, 2015, Judge Richard Perkins found Hansen, due to her state of mind at the time of the assault, not criminally responsible. Instead of prison, she was sent to a state hospital where she would remain until her doctors determine she could be safely released back into society. 

The Limits of Police Technology

Police put their faith in technology, expecting it to solve the massive, seemingly intractable problems inherent in their work. We've seen this...blind optimism in body cameras, Compstat [computerized crime statistics and analysis], productive policing, cell phone trackers, Tasers, and even surveillance cameras...In many cases these technologies simply don't do what they are supposed to do. And more often than not, the technologies have turned out to be expensive stopgaps that give the police a sheen of forward-thinking pragmatism while in fact steering them away from the kinds of fundamental reforms that should make a real difference...

Matt Stroud, Thin Blue Line, 2019

The Most Expensive Colleges and Universities

       In 2020, Columbia University in New York City is the most expensive college/university in America at $61,850 a year. Columbia is followed by: University of Chicago, $59,298; Landmark College (Vermont) $59,100; Trinity College (Connecticut) $59,050; Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania) $58,795; Vassar College (New York state) $58,770; Harvey Mudd College (California) 58,660; Amherst College (Massachusetts) $58,640; Tufts University (Massachusetts) $58,578; and Kenyon College (Ohio) $58,570.

     By contrasts, it costs $5,700 a year to attend Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah. How could one college education be worth $55,000 more than another? What do they teach at Harvey Mudd they don't teach at Brigham Young?

Good Economic Advice For Aspiring Writers

One of the first things I tell my classes is, if you want to write, keep a low overhead.

Grace Paley, The Paris Review, 1992

Writer Immortality

Rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I would rather live on in my apartment.

Woody Allen, The Paris Review, 1995

Difficulties of Being an Author

To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it, are the three great difficulties in being an author.

Charles Caleb Colton

Friday, August 28, 2020

Professor James Aune Chose Death Over Disgrace

     Dr. James Aune, the holder of a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Northwestern University, joined the faculty at Texas A & M in 1996. He published a book about Rhetoric theory and the First Amendment in 2003, and eight years later, was named head of the university's Department of Communication. He lived with his wife in College Station, Texas. The short, pudgy academic with the full beard, long, unruly hair and glasses, cut the figure of the stereotypical college professor.

     In December 2012, a 37-year-old man from Metairie, Louisiana named Daniel T. Duplaisir, under the email address pretty-gurl985@yahoo.com, sent sexually explicit photographs of one of his underage female relatives to Dr. Aune and several other men. The 59-year-old professor took the bait, and with the girl, who called herself Karen McCall, set up a website on MocoSpace.com. Over the next five or six weeks, the professor and the girl communicated online. These exchanges included the transmission of sexually explicit photos of each other.

     On January 7, 2013, Duplaisir, holding himself out as Karen McCall's outraged father, sent Professor Aune a message demanding $5,000 in hush money. The extortionist wrote: "If I do not hear from you I swear to God Almighty that the police, your place of employment, students, ALL OVER THE INTERNET--ALL OF THEM will be able to see your conversations, texts, pictures you sent. And if by some miracle you get away with this, I will use every chance I get to make sure every place or person associated with you knows and sees what you have done. Last chance, you better make the right move." Duplaisir demanded the money by January 8, 2013.

     Shortly after he received the extortion demand, the professor transferred $1,000 to Duplaisir. In an email to the girl, he wrote: "I answered and said I would do whatever he wanted....I sent him $1,000 and then promised more in January. I am scared shitless about this, and can't figure out how to come up with more money."

     At ten-thirty in the morning of January 8, 2013, 90 minutes before Dulpaisir's extortion payoff deadline, Professor Aune sent him the following email: "Killing myself now, and you will be prosecuted for blackmail." One minute after sending the message, the 59-year-old professor jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a campus parking garage.

     On March 26, 2013, FBI agents arrested Daniel Duplaisir in Metairie, Louisiana, an unincorporated community within metropolitan New Orleans. The suspect was charged with the federal crimes of using a phone and the Internet to extort money. At his arraignment in a federal courtroom in Houston, Duplaisir pleaded not guilty to all charges. The judge denied him bail.

     In 2011, the authorities in Louisiana had charged Duplaisir with aggravated incest and oral sexual battery for allegedly abusing the girl Professor Aune thought was Karen McCall.

     In the immediate aftermath of the professor's death, his family, friends and colleagues were baffled by the suicide. (Had the extortion plot not been uncovered, I'm sure there would have been suspicions that Dr. Aune had been murdered.) What's truly hard to understand in this case is why a man of Professor Aune's intelligence and stature would establish a sexual, online relationship with a young girl. As a professor of communications, didn't he realize that his exchanges with this Internet personality were quasi-public?

     In November 2013, Daniel Duplaisir pleaded guilty to extortion in a Houston federal courtroom. At his sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, professor Aune's wife Miriam testified that her husband had confessed to her a week before he killed himself. She said she found it absurd that a man who was so brilliant could have fallen for a blackmail scheme by a so-called father who was supposedly outraged but would take $5,000 to keep silent. She conceded there was a side to her husband she did not know. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been changed by a bout with prostate cancer. Miriam Aune said she regretted not trying to help her husband raise the rest of the blackmail money. Because of the expense of caring for their two sons with autism, that would have been difficult. There was just no money, she said. (Had they paid off this degenerate, he would have asked for more.)

     Regarding her feelings toward the man who caused her husband's suicide, Miriam Aune said, "I truly wanted to hate him, I tried very hard to hate him. How much sadness there must be in this man's life. How much anger there must be in his heart."

     Prior to the sentencing hearing, Duplaisir, who had been behind bars eight months, wrote Judge Hughes two letters asking for mercy. "Please do the right thing for everybody," he wrote. (It was too late to do "the right thing" for the dead professor.) "Put me in a mental hospital so I can begin longterm care. I need to stop being so twisted up and lost in my own mind."

     Judge Hughes, noting that Duplaisir had not been charged with causing professor Aune's suicide, sentenced him to one year in prison.

     Professor Aune must have gone through hell between the period of Duplaisir's extortion demand and his suicide. It's tragic that a criminal like Daniel Duplaisir could exploit and destroy a man who was, by all accounts, an outstanding professor. Some people pay dearly for their weaknesses and flaws.

Psychological Profilers Do Not Help Catch Serial Killers

     Profiling of serial killers probably doesn't help catch them. Much of this work is based on interviews of serial killers and reviews of their murders to assist in pattern recognition with future cases. The lore includes such observations as the idea that killers return to the scene of the crime, enjoy participating in the investigation, and know or don't know the victims prior to the killing. These data points could conceivably narrow down the suspects in a given situation. The lore also includes many unobservables, such as whether the killer was organized or disorganized, merely angry enough to kill or even angrier, has high or low self-esteem, and took the situation personally or didn't...Any ideas about serial killers that are not observable cannot help the police narrow the suspect field.

     Instead of helping catch serial killers, profilers turn the police's attention to suspects that fit the profile. Fortunately, police typically don't put much stock in profiles, but when they do, their investigations tend to confirm their suspicions [that it doesn't work].

Dr. Michael Karson, "Why Profiling Serial Killers Can't Work: You Can't Find a Needle in a Haystack with a Pitchfork," Psychology Today, November 30, 2017

The Execution of Lezmond Mitchell

Lezmond Mitchell, a Native American, was the fourth federal prisoner to die from lethal injection in 2020. Mitchell had been convicted of murdering a woman and her 9-year-old granddaughter in 2001. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Mitchell's petition to stop his execution. The Navajo Nation opposed the execution on grounds it violated the Native American tribe's sovereignty. On Indian reservations, however, all felony crimes are federal offenses. 

One Reason to Write

Getting even is one great reason for writing.

William Gass, The Paris Review, 1977

To Self-Publish or Not

Self-publishing provides more freedom and control, but it also provides more risk. Publishing [non-self] provides more credibility and promotion, but your vision can also be lost in the bureaucratic machinery of the business. It's a tough decision to make.

Mark Manson

Humor Has to Surprise

Humor needs to come in under cover of darkness, in disguise, and surprise people.

Garrison Keillor, The Paris Review, 1995

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Father Jerold Lindner: The Career Pedophile Aided By The Catholic Church

     Tens of thousands of American children have been sexually molested by Catholic clerics. And these victims just represent the tip of the iceberg of pedophilia within the Catholic Church. According to a study conducted by researchers at John Jay College in New York City, between 1950 and 2002, 4,392 Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse. What follows is the story of just one of the sexual predators protected by the church, and just one of his victims who took extreme measures to get revenge.

     Jerold Lindner, accepted into Jesuit training in June 1964, was, at 24, sent to the Sacred Heart novitiate in Los Gatos, California for two years of study. Six years later, he was in San Francisco teaching English at St. Ignatius High School. In 1973, after sexually assaulting a number of boys at St. Ignatius, Lindner enrolled at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California.

     In the summer of 1975, while still at the Berkeley theology school, Lindner, as a "spiritual advisor" for the lay organization Christian Family Movement, accompanied a group of young boys on a church-sponsored camping trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains. During that weekend Lindner shared a tent with seven-year-old William Lynch and his four-year-old brother Buddy. The spiritual advisor sodomized both boys, forced them to give him oral sex, then threatened to kill their sister if they told anyone what he had done to them. Lindner also promised the boys an eternity in hell if they squealed.

     By 1976, the year the 36-year-old became ordained as a Jesuit Priest, Father Jerry, as he was called, had molested dozens of boys. That year, Father Jerry returned to St. Ignatius High School where he continued his career as an English teacher and a practicing pedophile. In 1982, the Catholic Church transferred Father Lindner to Loyola High School, a private prep school near downtown Los Angeles. Ten years later, while teaching at Loyola and molesting more of his students, Lindner's mother, aware that her son was a pedophile, spoke to Father Jerry's supervisor at his order--the Society of Jesus--and told the supervising priest that Father Lindner had been a child molester long before he entered Jesuit training in 1964. Mrs. Lindner informed the supervising priest that her son had molested several members of his own family, including a younger sibling.

     In response to accusations of child molestation by the priest's own mother, the Jesuits took Father Lindner out of the classroom and sent him to a psychiatric facility for evaluation. Whatever the results of that psychiatric analysis, the Jesuit brass declared that Mrs. Lindner's allegations were not credible, and sent their pedophile teacher back into the classroom where he could continue preying on vulnerable victims. (This would not be the first time the Jesuits would have Father Jerry psychiatrically tested, then declared suitable for classroom work.)

     In 1995, twenty years after the weekend of sexual abuse in the spiritual advisor's tent on the Santa Cruz Mountain camping trip, William Lynch's younger brother, for the first time since their ordeal, revealed their secret. (He had been sworn to secret by William.) He told his parents what happened to them in Father Lindner's tent. Two years later, the Lynch brothers sued Lindner and the Society of Jesus. (Criminal prosecution, because of the statute of limitations, was no longer an option. The six year year statute of limitations in California had protected Lindner from being criminally charged by dozens of his victims.) To avoid an embarrassing and revealing civil trial, the Jesuits settled the lawsuit for $625,000. (After legal costs, William and his brother ended up with $187,000 a piece.) Following the settlement, the Society of Jesus removed the 58-year-old priest from active ministry. But Lindner still had access to children, and the complaints kept rolling in.

     In September 2002, the Jesuits at the Society of Jesus sent Father Lindner to a Catholic retirement home and medical center for priests in Los Gatos called the Scared Heart Jesuit Center. Several of the priests in this place had been sent there because they were known pedophiles. Father Lindner was one of the residents placed on the institution's child molester register. However, he still had access to young people, and continued to offend.

     It was not surprising, that in a facility where pedophiles are housed, there was a sex scandal. In 2002, it came to light that two developmentally disabled men who lived at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center for 30 years had been regularly molested by priests they considered their friends. Two years after the scandal broke, a priest at the Los Gatos facility committed suicide after being raped by a gang of Jesuits. The order avoided an even bigger scandal by paying off several civil suit plaintiffs with million dollar settlement.

     William Lynch, the man Father Lindner had molested and traumatized as a 7-year-old in 1975, had not gotten over his ordeal. As a fourth grader in Los Altos, California, Lynch started smoking marijuana. By the seventh grade he was dealing in pot, and drinking heavily. At age 15, Lynch tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, and as an adult, the victim of Father Lindner's sexual assault suffered severe depression. In his thirties, Lynch once again attempted suicide. Aware that the man who had ruined his life back in 1975 continued to abuse children under the protection of the church, Lynch could barely control his frustration and rage. By 2010, at age 42, Lynch decided to turn the tables on Father Jerry by becoming the predator.

     On May 10, 2010, William Lynch used a false name and the pretense of notifying Father Lindner of a death in the priest's family, to meet with him in the guest parlor at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos. When the two men came face-to-face after all of these years, Lynch told the 65-year-old to take off his glasses. As he punched the priest in the head and body, Lynch asked him, "Do you recognize me?" After the beating which included several attempts to kick Lindner in the groin, Lynch said, "Turn yourself in or I'll come back and kill you."

     After the attack, William Lynch made no attempt to conceal what he had done. The Santa Clara County prosecutor had no choice but to charge him with one count of assault, and one count of elder abuse. If convicted of both felonies, Lynch faced up to four years in prison.

     After turning down a plea bargain in which he would serve no more than a year in jail, Lynch told reporters that "I want to take responsibility for what I've done. I don't think I'm above the law like the church and Father Jerry." Lynch said he looked forward to a trial in which the pedophile priest would be publicly exposed for what he was.

     William Lynch's assault trial got under way on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose. Prosecutor Vicki Genetti, in her opening statement to the jury of nine men and three women, said she was prosecuting this defendant under the assumption that Father Jerold Lindner, the victim in the assault case, had in fact sexually molested Lindner and his brother back in 1975. And in an even more unusual remark for a prosecutor to make about one of her own witnesses, Genetti warned jurors that Father Lindner, in denying the allegations, would be not be telling the truth. The prosecutor labeled the assault in this case a "revenge attack." Defendant Lynch, Genetti said, had acted like a "vigilante."

     On the first day of the trial, following the opening statements, Genetti put the prosecution's chief witness, Father Jerold Lindner, on the stand. As expected, the 67-year-old priest, overweight and wearing old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses, denied sexually molesting the defendant and his brother. The witness said he had done nothing in 1975 to justify his beating at the hands of Mr. Lynch.

     After the jurors were dismissed for the day, William Lynch's attorney, Pat Harris, said this to Judge David A. Cena: "He [Father Lindner] has chosen to perjure himself. He should be advised of his right to counsel." The judge said he would take the request under advisement.

     The next day, before the defense attorney's cross-examination of Lindner, the priest took the Fifth, and refused to testify further. At this point, attorney Harris moved for a mistrial on the grounds he had been denied his right to question his client's accuser. Judge Cena denied the motion, and the trial continued. Judge Cena also ruled that the jury would not hear from three witnesses prepared to testify that as children, they too had been molested by Jerold Lindner. The judge ordered the jury to disregard Lindner's testimony altogether.

     The next day, prosecutor Genetti put a Sacred Heart Jesuit Center health care worker on the stand who had witnessed the assault. Mary Eden testified that she heard William Lynch scream that Lindner had raped him and his brother, and had ruined their lives. When it came time for the defense to present its case, William Lynch took the stand, and in great detail, told the jurors what the priest had done to him and his brother, and how the sexual assaults had affected their lives. According to the defendant, when he went to the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center that day, his intention was to get Lindner to take responsibility for what he had done by signing a written confession. When Lindner refused, and looked as though he might become aggressive, Lynch resorted to violence. (With this testimony, the defense was giving the jurors an opportunity, an excuse if you will, to nullify the evidence, and find Lynch not guilty.)

     Following William Lynch's compelling testimony, the defense rested its case. Prosecutor Genetti, in her closing remarks to the jury, said that what Lindner had done to the defendant and his brother 37 years ago did not legally justify the assault. The prosecutor also accused the defense of encouraging the jurors to return a "nullified" verdict, one that ignored the evidence against the defendant.

     On Thursday, July 5, 2012, the jury, in this difficult and unusual case, found William Lynch not guilty of felony assault and elder abuse. By this verdict, the jury sent a clear message to priests who get away with molesting boys. If as adults their victims hunt them down and beat them up, tough luck.   

Animal Rights Versus Civil Rights

     On August 18, 2020, German Minister of Food and Agriculture Julia Klockner proposed an animal welfare ordinance that has some pet owners barking mad: a mandate to exercise one's dog twice a day.

     The ordinance would require that dogs be "permitted to exercise outside of a kennel at least twice a day for a total of at least one hour," according to the ministry. "This is to ensure that dogs are given sufficient exercise and contact with environmental stimuli."

     "Pets are not cuddly toys--their needs must be taken into account," Klockner said. The ministry suggested the exercise might take the form of a walk, or letting the dog run around outside.

     The ordinance has stirred much discussion in the German press. "Two hours of walking will soon be mandatory?" asks one headline. "Is the paternalism going too far?" demands another.

     "I don't believe in regulation!" golden retriever owner Helge Melzer told the tabloid Bild. "Every dog is different, has a different age, different diseases, and we have different climates. With the hot temperatures of the last few days, you shouldn't let your dog out for longer."

Laurel Wamsley, "German's Proposed Dog Walking Law Stirs Consternation Among Pet Owners," NPR, August 20, 2020

America's Youngest Bank Robber

     On February 25, 1980, a nine-year-old boy known only as Robert entered a bank in New York City, pointed a toy gun at a teller, and walked off with $118.00 he spent on a watch and fast food. The boy was taken into custody and later convicted of robbery in a Manhattan family court. Too young to be sent to prison, the judge turned the boy over to the custody of his parents. 

The Meat and Potatoes of Mystery Fiction

     Investigation is the meat and potatoes of mystery fiction. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire's estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week's newspaper.

     Some facts will turn out to be clues that lead to the killer's true identity. Some will turn out to be red herrings--evidence that leads in a false direction. On top of that, a lot of the information your sleuth notes will turn out to be nothing more that the irrelevant minutiae of everyday life inserted into the scenes to give a sense of realism and camouflage the clues.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005

The Well-Read Writer

You really can't write unless you read. You have to know what the game is all about.

Harold Brodkey, The Paris Review, 1991

Writing For Quality, Not Quantity

Writing is not a numbers game. You should focus more on reaching the hearts of readers and building fans more than publishing a plethora of books that no one may care about.

Selena Haskins

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Steve Nunn: the Politician and Husband From Hell

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political had-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.

Public Defenders Need a Sense of Humor

Some defense lawyers are pretty funny, especially public defenders. You need a sense of humor to make it in that business, for a good number of your clients commit poorly planned crimes that are often caught on crystal clear video, frequently fail to return your phone calls, and still expect exoneration via some sort of legal hocus-pocus. I once asked a public defender how his client's trial went. "We came in second!" he said with mock enthusiasm.

Adam Plantinga, 400 Things Cops Know, 2014

"The End"

I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing, and endings are a disaster.

Sam Shepard, The Paris Review, 1997

California Burning

As of late August 2020, 7,000 wildfires have burned trees, brush, and structures over an area of 1.5 million California acres. By this time in 2019, 4,292 wildfires burned 56,000 acres across the state. These fires are caused by camp fires, tossed cigarette butts, sparks from trains, lightening, and arsonists. California is on fire.

The Historic Escape From Alcatraz

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris and the brothers John and Clarence Anglin, three inmates of the Alcatraz maximum security federal prison located on an island in San Francisco Bay, pulled off one of the "greatest" prison escapes in American history. After months of planning, they squeezed through air vents and made their way into the Pacific Ocean, where they boarded a raft they'd made of stolen raincoats. They were never seen again. Because their raft and paddles washed up ashore, many believe the men drowned in the icy waters. The Anglin family insists the brothers survived and have presented evidence to prove it. The FBI can't quite figure out what to believe.

Lauren Cohn, "13 Prisoners Who Escaped Are Still at Large," Reader's Digest, June 14, 2020

Don't Expect an Editor to Save Your Novel

Maxwell Perkins [Scribner's and Sons], dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990

Laughing at Pretentious Characters

Pretense is a common trait of many humorous characters. An audience will laugh at any character that lacks self-knowledge--one who is a fraud and tries to publicly present himself as an authority figure deserving of respect. When exposed by other characters as a fraud, the audience will laugh. When these pretentious characters try to cover up and continue their pretensions, the reader will laugh again because these characters are not a threat to them.

Richard Michaels Stefanik, writerstore.com 2000

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Dr. Henry Lee: Celebrity Forensic Scientist

     Dr. Henry Lee became as close to becoming a household name as any forensic scientist in U.S. history. He achieved fame in a profession whose practitioners generally operate behind the scenes. In the criminal justice field, it's usually the defense attorneys who get the headlines, and in forensic science, it's often forensic pathologists like Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Cyril Wecht.

     In the 1930s, a pair of criminalists in the Seattle area, Oscar Heinrich and Luke May, achieved celebrity status by solving a number of celebrated murder cases. Clark Sellers, a handwriting expert from Los Angeles, made headlines with his testimony at the Lindbergh kidnapping trial in Flemington, New Jersey. In the 1960s, Dr. Paul Kirk, a forensic chemist from Berkeley, California became something of a celebrity. The peak of his notoriety came in 1995 when he analyzed crime scene blood-spatter patterns for attorney F. Lee Bailey in the infamous Dr. Sam Shepard murder case near Cleveland, Ohio.

     Dr. Henry Lee, because he rose to fame in the era of true crime television, enjoyed a level of celebrity more intense and intimate than his well-known predecessors. He made hundreds of television appearances, and hosted a show on Court TV called Trace Evidence: The Case Files of Dr. Henry Lee. Dr. Lee's personality, demeanor, and life story helped make him a bigger-than-life character. Like sports stars and major film and television actors, he was vain and dramatic. On the witness stand, he educated jurors, and as a charismatic courtroom showman, entertained them. When Dr. Lee testified for the prosecution, he was the defense attorney's worst nightmare. When he appeared on behalf of the defense, it was bad for the prosecutor. In either case, the media loved it, and so did the jurors.

     Dr. Henry Chang-Yu Lee was born in Rugao City, China on November 22, 1938. When Henry was four, the Chinese communists murdered his father. Two years later, his family fled to Taiwan to avoid the communist revolution. After graduating from the Taiwan Central Police College in 1960 with a degree in police science, Henry jointed the Taipei Police Department. Six years later, after rising to the rank of captain, he came to the United States where, in 1972, he graduated from New York City's John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a bachelor of science degree in science. In 1974, he earned a master's degree in biochemistry from New York University. A year later, he was awarded a Ph.D in biochemistry.

     In 1979, Dr. Lee became the director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory where he also held the title of chief criminalist. Following his retirement from the lab in 2000, Dr. Lee began teaching at the University of New Haven where he founded the Henry C. Lee Forensic Institute. According to his resume, Dr. Lee had been awarded several honorary degrees, written more than 20 books (most with co-authors), published numerous scientific articles, given hundreds of speeches, investigated 4,000 homicide cases, and consulted with more than 300 law enforcement agencies.

The Wood Chipper Case

     Dr. Lee vaulted onto the national stage in 1986 when an airline pilot named Richard Crafts went on trial in Connecticut for murdering his wife, Halle. Having incurred her husband's wrath by announcing her plans to divorce him, Halle Crafts had covertly audio-taped his threats to to kill her. Perhaps even more incriminating, Richard Crafts was seen by a motorist, on the night of Halle's disappearance, operating a commercial-grade wood chipper in the midst of a blizzard along the bank of the Housatonic River. The audio-tape and the wood chipper sighting led the police to suspect Crafts of murdering his wife. But investigators had a serious problem: they didn't have a corpse. Faced with one of those maddening cases of a good suspect, but no physical evidence, the homicide detectives called on Dr. Lee

     In the couple's bedroom, Dr. Lee found traces of the victim's blood. When he examined a chainsaw that had been in the suspect's possession, Dr. Lee discovered hair follicles, traces of blood, and tissue that he identified as the victim's. In the rented wood chipper, Lee recovered the same, and at the spot where Richard Crafts had been seen operating the equipment, Dr. Lee found fragments of the victim's teeth and bones, along with follicles of her hair. It wasn't much, but it was enough to establish that Halle Crafts had been murdered. From this evidence, Dr. Lee was able to reconstruct the crime, theorizing that the defendant had bludgeoned his wife to death in their bedroom, frozen her body in a home freezer, cut her into pieces with the chainsaw, then shoved the body parts into the wood chipper which sprayed her remains into the river.

     The jurors at Richard Crafts' trial, obviously impressed with Dr. Lee and his evidence, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. A few years later, while serving his life sentence, Richard Crafts confessed to murdering his wife. Featuring blood and gore, an attractive victim, a suburban killer, a dramatic trial, and scientific investigation in the mold of Sherlock Holmes, the wood chipper case turned Dr. Henry Lee into a celebrity forensic scientist.

William Kennedy Smith Case

     Five years after his famous Crafts murder trial testimony, Dr. Lee took the stand on behalf of a defendant named William Kennedy Smith who was on trail for an alleged 1991 date rape that dominated the news because of the Kennedy family connection. According to the accused, following a night of drinking in Palm Beach, Florida with his accuser, the two had engaged in consensual sex on the lawn of the Kennedy family estate. Dr. Lee, to help prove that the defendant's partner had consented to sex, testified that he had found no grass stains on the woman's pantyhose, evidence one would expect to find had there been a struggle. To illustrate this point, Dr. Lee produced a grass-stained handkerchief he had rubbed against the grass in his own yard. The jury found William Kennedy Smith not guilty.

     Dr. Lee's testimony in the Kennedy case drew criticism from John Hicks, the director of the FBI Laboratory, who called it "outrageous." Hicks characterized Dr. Lee's handkerchief experiment as unscientific, and labeled the conclusions drawn from it speculative. The crime lab director pointed out that the handkerchief was not made of the same fabric as the pantyhose, and the conditions that had created the handkerchief stains did not necessarily replicate the environment at the alleged crime site. Criticism of this type--that Dr. Lee's testimony is more theater than science- followed him throughout his career.

The O. J. Simpson Case

     Dr. Lee's testimony on behalf of O. J. Simpson in 1995 did not endear him to many of his forensic science colleagues. In general, Dr. Lee's testimony in that case helped the Simpson defense in five ways. It depicted Los Angeles police detectives and crime scene technicians as incompetent; it suggested that blood evidence had been contaminated; it supported the theory that evidence against the defendant had been planted; it pushed the time of the crime forward 45 minutes which accommodated Simpson's alibi; and it laid the groundwork for the theory than Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman had been murdered by more than one person.

     On the last point, Dr. Lee's testimony contradicted the testimony of the FBI's renowned footwear identification expert, William Bodziak. Dr. Lee identified a bloody stain on an envelope and scrap of paper found in Nicole Simpson's house as a shoe print that didn't match the footwear--the Bruno Magli Italian designer shoes--prosecutors believed the defendant was wearing when he committed the murders. Mr. Bodziak testified that this bloody print had not been made by a shoe at all. Douglas Deedrich, also from the FBI Crime Lab, testified that the bloody pattern was in fact a fabric print.

     At the Simpson trial, Dr. Lee also raised the possibility that a bloodstain on Ronald Goldman's blue jeans had been made by a shoe that was not a Bruno Magli. On cross-examination, when pressed about this blood print identification, Dr. Lee said that if these patterns were footwear marks, they were not made by the Bruno Magli brand.

     Critics of Dr. Lee's testimony in the O. J. Simpson case called it an example of "blowing smoke"--a term referring to the giving of vague defense testimony intended to muddy the water in an effort to create reasonable doubt.

     After his testimony in the O. J. Simpson case, Dr. Lee was involved in dozens of celebrated cases that included the JonBenet Ramsey murder, the Scott Peterson homicide case, and the Phil Spector murder case where he was accused of removing a piece of crime scene evidence that might have incriminated the defendant.

     In 2019, the Connecticut Supreme Court ordered a new trial in the 1989 conviction of Shawn Henning and Ralph Bush. The teenagers were accused of stabbing to death 65-year-old Everett Carr. The justices found that Dr. Lee had given inaccurate testimony regarding the identification of a smear on a crime scene towel as human blood. Years later, a crime lab technician testified that the towel had never been tested for blood. Dr. Lee defended his reputation by stating that he had conducted a presumptive field test on the towel that indicted the stain was blood.

     In August 2020, Dr. Lee, at 81-years-old, retired from practice.

     Dr. Lee's participation at various levels in so many cases involving such a variety of evidence and analysis is unusual for a forensic scientist. In the field, he was almost a one-of-a-kind practitioner. At the core of his expertise, he was a forensic serologist, one who examined crime scene biological stains to determine their identify and origin. As a crime scene reconstruction expert, one who determined what happened at the crime site by taking into consideration all of the physical clues, Dr. Lee was also a blood-spatter analyst. As one who studied physical evidence to figure out, after the fact, what occurred at the scene of the crime, Dr. Lee analyzed all kinds of physical evidence, including hair follicles, fibers, bite marks, bone fragments, brain matter, tissue, gunshot powder residue, soil, dust, pollen, and other forms of trace evidence.

     Dr. Lee also studied latent footwear and fingerprint patterns, and analyzed bullet trajectories. He was a generalist in a field of narrowly defined specialists. This had its appeal, and explained why he had been able to insert himself in so many cases. It may also have been his weakness, because his expertise and knowledge, over all this forensic territory, was arguably thin. One man can only know so much. Because science and ego are a bad mix, forensic science is best conducted by behind-the-scenes people who are not worried about living up to their press clippings.

TruthFinder: The End of Privacy

     Have you ever googled yourself? 57 percent of Americans admit to keeping an eye on their online reputation, and 46 percent admit to using the Internet to look up someone from the past. But Google is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to finding personal information. There's a new website going around that users are calling "creepy," "scary," and "awesome."

     Have you ever been issued a speeding ticket? Failed to stop at a stop sign? Do you know someone who's had a run-in with the law? If you're like most of us, the answer to at least one of those questions is "yes." Most of us have slipped up at least once or twice. In fact, one in four Americans has an arrest or a criminal record.

     An innovative new website called TruthFinder is now revealing the full "scoop" on millions of Americans. TruthFinder can search through hundreds of millions of public records in a matter of minutes. TruthFinder members can literally begin searching in seconds for sensitive data like criminal, traffic, and arrest records. Plus, they are able to check as many records as they want (think: friends, family, neighbors, enemies, etc. etc.).

     Previously, if you needed to research somebody's arrest records, it involved a lot of work. First, you'd need to know where the arrest records were located. Then you'd have to travel to the appropriate county courthouse--in person. After filling out paperwork, you'd have to wait for the results...

     With websites like TruthFinder, a background check is simple and easy. With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can find detailed and explicit information not readily available through a standard search engine...

"I Typed in My Name and the Results Had Me Speechless," The Beacon by TruthFinder, January 3, 2020

The Complete Sentence

That's the hardest thing to do--to stay with a sentence until it has said what it should say, and then to know when that has been accomplished.

Vivian Gornick, American critic, essayist, and memoirist, The Paris Review, 2014

Your Life Is Not a Novel

Everyone who has a life thinks he has a novel to write. And he or she may. But very few people understand that the life is not the novel, that chronology is not plot.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like That? 2010

They Lived Happily Thereafter Novels

What a romance novel does is describe the progress of the love story, from meeting to that moment when the heroine and the hero decide to commit to each other. At that point they expect to live happily thereafter. Whether they do or not is another story--the straight novel, if you like, after the romance.

Donna Baker, Writing a Romance Novel, 1997

Joan Didion on Nonfiction

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.

Joan Didion, Nonfiction author, The Paris Review, 2006

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Criminal Homicide Caught On Video

     Warren Behlau lived with his wife Teresa and their 19-year-old son Garrett in Chattanooga, Tennessee. At two-thirty in the afternoon of Wednesday, August 19, 2020, Mr. Behlau, while several hundred miles away from his house, checked his home security video system. He was stunned by what he saw. The camera caught his son Garrett killing Mrs. Behlau. The shocked father called 911.

     When police officers arrived at the Behlau home, they found Garrett sitting in his bedroom. When asked what he had done with his mother, the young man said, "She's in the woods."

     Officers found 54-year-old Teresa Behlau's body in the woods behind the house. Her head was encased in Saran wrap.

     When homicide investigators viewed the home video footage supplied by Mr. Behlau, they saw Garrett Behlau, after killing his mother, using paper towels in an attempt to clean up the crime scene. The paper towels were recovered from a trash can.

     On August 20, 2020, police officers took Garrett Behlau into custody. The Hamilton County district attorney charged the suspect with criminal homicide, abuse of corpse, and tampering with evidence. The magistrate set Garrett Behlau's bail at $300,000.

Greyhound Bus Therapy: Losing Your Mind in Las Vegas

     According to mental health experts, the city of Las Vegas not only drives people crazy, it attracts unbalanced folks from around the country.  Dr. Lorin Scher, an emergency room psychiatrist with the University of California at Davis Medical Center explains why so many mentally ill people end up in Las Vegas: "As the whole country knows, Las Vegas is a pretty unique place. Many bipolar patients impulsively fly across the country to Vegas during their manic phases and go on gambling binges. Vegas also attracts wandering schizophrenics, people who are drawn to the warm weather, lights, and action."

     Nevada, in 2009, began cutting its mental health service budget. By 2012, the funds for this form of health care had been cut by 28 percent. The reduced spending occurred during the period Las Vegas experienced the surge in psychiatric admissions. Something had to be done to hold down the state's health care costs.

     In March 2013, James Flavy, a 48-year-old schizophrenic living in a complex in Sacramento, California for the homeless, told the authorities a rather disturbing story. A month earlier, when discharged from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas, a mental health worker drove him to the Main Street bus station and put him on a Greyhound bus destined for Sacramento. Following a 15-hour bus ride, Mr. Flavy rolled into Sacramento with a two-day supply of medication and instructions to follow-up his care with a doctor in California. Someone suggested that upon his arrival in the Golden State he call 911. Flavy got off the bus without any identification or access to his Social Security benefits. He wound up in a University of California at Davis Medical Center emergency room where he lived for three days before someone arranged temporary housing.

     Mr. Flavy's story led to the remarkable revelation that from 2008 to 2014, more than 1,500 Las Vegas mental patients had been shipped via Greyhound bus to more than 200 cities in every state in the continental United States.

     The Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, between July 2008 and December 2014, spent $205,000 on mental patient bus tickets. (The agency had a special arrangement with Greyhound.) The busing program has saved the state of Nevada millions of health care dollars.

     One-third of the Greyhound therapy recipients were bused to California, 200 of whom were sent to Los Angeles County. In 2012, Greyhound buses rolled out of Las Vegas carrying 400 mental cases destined for 176 cities in 45 states.

     Health care administrators in Nevada defended their mental ward on wheels program as sort of a revolving door operation. If unbalanced folks from all over the nation can roll into Las Vegas, they ought to be able, following emergency mental health treatment, to roll them back out of town.

Sugarcoating Executions

The use of lethal injection is the way of lying to ourselves, to make it look like executions are peaceful, benign--like going to sleep. And they're not. They're brutal things. Firing squads and the guillotine are 100 percent effective and leave no doubt that what we are doing is a violent thing. If we as a society are willing to take away human life, we should be willing to watch it.

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Alex Kozinski, 2017

Edgar Allan Poe's Contribution to Literature

Literary murders are as old as the book of Genesis. But no one before Edgar Allan Poe, as far as we know, ever wrote a story in which the central plot question was "who did it?" and the hero was a detective [C. Auguste Dupin] who correctly deduced the answer to that question.

William G. Tapply, The Elements of Mystery Fiction, 1995

Naming Fictitious Characters

The reason I put out-of-the-ordinary names on characters is because the John Smiths of the literary world make me sick.

Annie Proulx, American novelist, short story writer, The Paris Review, 2009

Signs You Are a Novelist

You might want to become a nonfiction writer, and yet at every turn you distort things, exaggerate and embellish them, and even introduce characters, places and events that had nothing to do with the original material. In that case, you are a born fiction writer, which is much nicer than saying you are a born liar.

Josip Novakovich in Fiction Writer's Workshop, edited by Josip Novakovich, 1995

Sunday, August 23, 2020

English Teacher Brittni Colleps and Her Senior High Orgy Club

     In the fall of 2010, Brittni Nicole Colleps, a married 28-year-old with three children, started teaching English at Kennedale High School near Arlington, a city located between Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas. She had also been hired to coach the girl's basketball team. Her husband Christopher served in the military and was stationed in the area.

     In April 2011, Brittni began sending sexually explicit text messages, including nude photographs of herself, to some of her senior male students. That quickly led to sexual encounters with five 18-year-old boys at her Arlington home. On at least four occasions, the teacher engaged in group sex with three of her students. (Colleps and her husband were so-called "swingers" who participated in group sex with other consenting adults. On her job application, Brittni probably did not list this activity as one of her hobbies.)

     Colleps' extracurricular sex sessions were exposed in May 2011 when a cellphone video recorded by a participant in one of the home orgies came to the attention of school officials. The police were called in, and when a detective with the Arlington Police Department asked Colleps about this, she denied being involved in such activity. However, when confronted with her text messages to these students, she confessed. The high school immediately suspended her, and a short time later, she resigned.

     While it is not a crime in Texas for a 28-year-old woman to have sex with 18-year-old boys, it is an offense for a school teacher to have an "inappropriate" sexual relationship with a student. The text messages did not constitute a crime, but in Texas, the texting would have been sufficient grounds to fire her. A prosecutor in Tarrant County charged Brittni Nicole Colleps with 16 counts under the inappropriate teacher-student sexual relationship statute. These second-degree felonies carried sentences of two to twenty years in prison each. Colleps was clearly a serial offender.

     On August 13, 2012, the Colleps student orgy trial got underway in Arlington, Texas. The prosecutor put five of the defendant's student sex partners on the stand. All of the witnesses, while describing how their teacher had lured them into sex, testified that they did not consider themselves victims of sexual abuse. The prosecutor showed the jury portions of the cellphone recorded group sex episode that had ignited the scandal. (Colleps's face was not depicted, but a distinct tattoo on her lower back identified her as the female participant.

     The jury, on August 17, 2012, after deliberating less than an hour, returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Colleps' sentence: five years in prison. Following the verdict, Christopher Colleps told reporters that while his wife's extramarital sexual activities had angered him, he was standing by her.

     In recent years, there have been several cases involving female high school teachers who have engaged in sex with male students. These women tended to be immature, overly romantic types who fell in love with a single kid who was just too cool to resist. Brittni Colleps, on the other hand, simply enjoyed group sex with young men.

     On January 7, 2015, after serving less than half of her five year sentence, the parole board granted Colleps' request for early release. She returned home where she would undergo monthly supervision for the remaining period of her sentence.
    

Unsolved Murders

     Statistically, U.S. law enforcement agencies are the worst crime solvers in the Western world. According to official data, there are arrests for about one-eighth of burglaries, about one-third of rapes, and about two-thirds of murders. But official methods of reporting can distort and exaggerate murder clearance rates, and the official clearance rate has held steady for three decades, despite strong declines in the rate of murders being committed.

     According to FBI statistics, Flint, Michigan has the worst murder clearance rate at 17.5%. It is followed by Honolulu, Hawaii (18.8%), Midland, Michigan (23%), Saginaw, Michigan (23.3%), and Lima, Ohio (24.5%).

     Although a lack of trust between police and poor minority communities...is often used as an explanation for plummeting murder clearance rates in those communities, some affluent areas also have low clearance rates. For instance, Palm Beach, Florida and Long Island, New York clear only about one-third of their murder cases. That is comparable to the dismal clearance rates reported by Chicago and New Orleans, where gang-related murders push up the murder rate while depressing the clearance rate...

Matt Clarke, "U.S. Murder Clearance Rates Among Lowest in the World," Criminal Legal News, February 16, 2018

The Coerced Guilty Plea

According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, of the 80,000 federal prosecutions initiated in 2018, just two percent of the cases went to trial. In the state system, 94 percent of criminal prosecutions were resolved through the plea bargaining process. People who have studied this aspect of the criminal justice system believe that too many charged with a crime are coerced into pleading guilty. They are told that if convicted, with their criminal records, they could serve long prison sentences, but if they plead guilty, they might get probation or just a few months behind bars. So why take the chance? No one knows how many of these people are actually innocent.

Beware of Unlimited Government

The chief evil is unlimited government--nobody is qualified to wield unlimited power.

Frederich A. Hayek (1899-1992) Austrian-British economist and philosopher 

The Common Sense Writer

The only thing that makes me interesting as a writer is that I'm just talking common sense. The most ordinary, everyday sort of common sense.

Shelby Steele, book author, columnist 

James Jones' Advice to Aspiring Male Novelists

I declare to all young men trying to become writers that they do not have to become drunks first.

James Jones (1921-1977) American novelist, The Paris Review, 1958

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Sheetal and Rajesh Ranot Child Abuse Case: No Protection For Maya

     In January 2011, Rajesh Ranot gained custody of his 9-year-old daughter, Maya. A family court judge in Queens, New York, at Rajesh's request, issued a protection order against the girl's mother and her 20-year-old brother. The father, of Indian descent, accused his former wife Ramona Roy of abusing Maya.

     Maya moved into the top floor of an Ozone Park, Queens duplex with her father, his second wife Sheetal, and her four children. The family resided on a block inhabited by other families of Indian descent by way of Guyana and Trinidad. Mr. Ranot drove a taxi and worked most nights until four in the morning.

     Neighbors began to notice that Maya's stepmother Sheeetal treated the girl differently than the other children in the family. While Sheetal watched TV, Maya cleaned the house, cooked, swept the front porch, and did other household chores. Moreover, unlike her step-siblings, Maya wore dirty clothes and looked malnourished. In the winter, she wore flip-flops and often didn't have a coat.

     Someone in the neighborhood alerted the New York City Administration For Children Services which led to regular visits to the Ranot home by social workers. A neighbor from Guyana would later tell a reporter with The New York Times that in India, stepmothers didn't like their stepchildren and treated them like slaves. The fact that Maya was more like a maid than a daughter was, under the cultural circumstances, normal. But Maya lived in the U.S., not India.

     In December 2012, Maya's teachers and classmates noticed that the girl had lost so much weight it looked as though she was being starved. She also came to school with bruises and scratches on her arms and face. A social worker continued to visit the Ranot home. The child protection agents were told by Sheetal Ranot that Maya stole money from the family to give to her biological mother. The stepmother also claimed that the girl was crazy, and giving the family all sorts of problems. When asked by social workers how she had gotten her scratches and bruises, Maya claimed to have fallen. To her friends, however, Maya revealed that her stepmother regularly beat her and locked her in a room.

     On April 16, 2014, the 12-year-old, now weighing 56 pounds, was taken to the Jamaica Hospital Center in Queens with a badly bruised and swollen face. At the hospital, Maya and her stepmother told the doctor, a detective, and a child protection worker named Ruby Perez, that the injuries had been caused by her falling off a ladder.

     Social worker Perez had visited the Ranot home many times and expressed concern that Maya was being abused. The detective at the hospital told the social worker that he didn't have enough proof to establish an abuse case. As a result, the girl went home with her abusive stepmother.

     On May 6, 2014, Sheetal Ranot took her now 46-pound stepdaughter to the emergency room with a deep cut on her left wrist and a laceration on her right knee. According to the stepmother, Maya had tried to commit suicide in the kitchen with a large knife. Although Maya went along with this absurd story, the doctor called the police.

     Finally, after three years of abuse, Maya was sent to live with an aunt. She also began to reveal the details of her ordeal. She had not fallen off a ladder. Her stepmother had beaten her with a rolling pin. Three weeks later she was beaten in the kitchen with a broken metal broom handle. She had not tried to kill herself.

     A prosecutor in Queens, on July 29, 2014, charged Sheetal Ranot with several counts of first-degree assault. In convicted as charged, the stepmother faced up to 25 years in prison.

     Rajesh Ranot, at the time of Sheetal's arrest, was in India visiting relatives. Three days after his wife's arrest, he returned to the U.S. where at the airport he was met by detectives who took him into custody. Charged with lesser assault related and child endangerment offenses, the father faced up to 7 years behind bars.

     When the news broke about Maya Ranot's three-year ordeal, New York City Commissioner Gladys Carrion thanked the Administration For Children's Services and their social workers "whose diligence and professionalism saved the life of a young girl."

     Investigative journalists with The New York Times looked into the Maya Ranot case and wrote a different story. Social workers, instead of interviewing Maya's teachers, classmates, neighbors, and others familiar with the family, simply took the word of the stepmother. As a result, the girl almost died from abuse and neglect.

     Ruby Perez, the 29-year-old social worker who in April 2014 expressed concern regarding Maya's wellbeing, posted the following message on her Facebook page in 2010: "I want to quit my job. Now. I can't take it." Perhaps Perez didn't like working for a child protection agency that didn't protect children.

     On July 29, 2016, following a three-week trial, a jury in Queens, New York found Sheetal Ranot guilty as charged. On September 8, 2016, Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard L. Buchter sentenced her to 15 years in prison.

   If Rajesh Ranot was convicted in connection with prolonged abuse of his daughter, as of this writing, there is no record of it on the Internet.

Paroling the Killer of Michael Jordan's Father

     On the night of July 23, 1993, James Jordan, the father of famed basketball star Michael Jordan, was murdered by Larry Demery and Daniel Green. Shortly before he was shot to death, Mr. Jordan had been sleeping in his luxury car parked off a highway near Lumberton, North Carolina. At the time the killers spotted Mr. Jordan asleep in his car, they were planning on robbing a motel. The killers had no idea who they had murdered until Mr. Jordan's violent death made the news. "I believe we killed Michael Jordan's daddy," Daniel Green told Larry Demery.

     After murdering James Jordan, the killers dumped his body into a nearby swamp, then used the victim's expensive car to take their girlfriends on a date.

     About a year after the murder, Demery and Green were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. But in North Carolina, "life in prison" didn't necessary mean life in prison.

     In August 2020, parole authorities in North Carolina announced that on August 9, 2023, Larry Demery would be granted parole. While criminal justice sob-sisters cheered, the news that the man who had killed Michael Jordan's father in cold blood would not serve out his sentence, outraged everyone else.

William F. Buckley Jr. On the CIA

It had all the earmarks of a CIA operation, the bomb killed everybody in the room except the intended target.

William F. Buckley Jr. (1925-2008) American conservative, intellectual, author

It's Not Easy To Write Well

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) German novelist

The Urge to Write as a Curse

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English novelist known for the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1950

Humorist Robert Benchley

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.

Robert Benchley (1889-1945) American humorist, columnist, actor

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Judge James L. Graham Child Pornography Sentencing Case

     In 2007, 67-year-old Richard Bistline lived with his ailing wife in Mount Vernon, a central Ohio town of 17,000 not far from Columbus, the state capital. In October of that year, FBI agents went to his home, arrested him for possessing child pornography, and seized his home computer. A search of Bistline's computer revealed 305 images and 56 videos of eight to ten-year-old girls being raped by adult men. Bistline had downloaded this material from an online program called "Limewire" which provided access to child pornography without a fee.

     Three years after his arrest, Bistline pleaded guilty in a Columbus U. S. District Court to one count of possessing child pornography. The sentencing guidelines for this federal offense, as established by congress, consisted of a sentence of between 63 and 78 months in prison.

     Assistant United States Attorney Deborah A. Solove, in preparation for Bistline's sentencing hearing before federal judge James L. Graham, submitted a detailed memorandum outlining the government's argument for a sentence that fell within the established guidelines.

     Judge Graham, a 1986 Reagan appointee who was Bistline's age, opened the sentence hearing with statements that telegraphed his decision to be lenient with the child porn possessor. Noting that mere possession of this kind of material did not constitute a very serious offense, Judge Graham declared the federal sentencing guidelines for this crime "seriously flawed." The judge also stated that in determining who should go to prison and who shouldn't, the age and health of the convicted person are important considerations. Judge Graham said that he was worried that Mr. Bistline, who over the past decade had suffered two strokes, would not receive adequate health care in prison. Moreover, if he sent this man away, who would care for his sick wife?

     Judge Graham shocked the federal prosecutor when he handed down his sentence of one night in the federal courthouse lockup. That was it. No prison time for a man caught in possession of images and videos of young girls being raped by adult men. Congress and its sentencing guidelines be damned.

     After prosecutor Solove objected to the sentence as being extremely lenient, and outside the bounds of the guidelines, Judge Graham convened a second sentencing hearing two months later. At that hearing, the judge simply added ten years of supervised release to his original sentence. Still no prison time for Mr. Bistline.

     Assistant United States Attorney Deborah Solove appealed Judge Graham's sentence to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on the grounds the district court judge had improperly rejected the federal sentencing guidelines in this case.

     In January 2012, the panel of three appellate judges handed down its decision. The federal appeals court justices held that a district court judge cannot, without a "compelling" reason, ignore sentencing guidelines created by the U. S. Congress. The justices ruled that in the Bistline case, Judge Graham's personal belief that the guidelines were too harsh for the possession of child porn did not constitute a "compelling" reason for ignoring them.

     In justifying this legal decision, the appellate court laid out the following rationale: "Knowing possession of child pornography...is not a crime of inadvertence, of pop-up [computer] screens and viruses that can incriminate an innocent person. Possession of child pornography instead becomes a crime when a defendant knowingly acquires the images--in this case, affirmatively, deliberately, and repeatedly, hundreds of times over, in a period exceeding a year."

     The 6th Circuit justices noted that Mr. Bistline never expressed genuine remorse for his actions. In fact, the defendant said he didn't understand why the possession of child pornography was even a crime. (Bistline was also angry at FBI agents for seizing his illegally downloaded music along with the child pornography.)

     The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals justices ruled that Judge Graham's sentence "... did not remotely meet the criteria that Congress laid out. We vacate Bistline's sentence and remand his case for prompt imposition of one that does."

     In January 2013, at Bistline's third sentencing hearing, federal prosecutor Solove urged Judge Graham to sentence the defendant to five years in prison. Intent on keeping this man out of prison, Judge Graham sentenced him to three years of home confinement. This sentence was a far cry from the recommended sentence of 63 to 78 months behind bars.

     If Judge Graham believed that the federal sentencing guideline for the possession of child pornography was too harsh, he should have run for Congress on pro-child pornography platform. Otherwise, as a judge, he should have followed the law.

Murderabilia

     For Eric Holler, it started 25 years ago with a letter to Richard Ramirez--a serial killer and rapist known as the "Night Stalker," who was active from 1984 to 1985. He [Holler] was fascinated by Ramirez's case and decided to introduce himself in a letter. A few weeks later Ramirez wrote back, asking Holler for his phone number. After being in touch for a while, Ramirez requested that Holler--who was in his early twenties at the time--act as his art dealer. Holler agreed, so Ramirez sent over a package of his artwork, which Holler then sold on a new online auction site.

     "I put his stuff up on eBay and it sold really well," Holler tells Rolling Stone. "So he sent me another package and another package and another package and he just continued. And I started writing to other [serial killers] and other guys started sending stuff too."

     In 2008, Holler started "Serial Killer Ink"--a website selling true crime collectibles--and he's not alone in this retail space, though eBay no longer permits the sale of these items. As he learned when the first set of art by Ramirez sold out, there is clearly a demand for physical objects associated with notorious crimes and criminals. In addition to art, this so-called "murderabilia" can take many forms, including but not limited to articles of clothing, personal possessions, and locks of hair belonging to murderers. But is this simply a macabre hobby--collecting parts of dark history--or something more problematic? It all depends on who you ask. Welcome to the world of murderabilia...

Elizabeth Yuko, "Inside the Murderabilia Machine," Rolling Stone, August 8, 2019

The Urge to Criminalize

What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road don't expect freedom to survive very long.

Thomas Sowell, American economist and social theorist

The Mindless Mob

The sum of a crowd's IQ was far below that of most of its modest single member. Mobs have passion, not brains.

Dan Simmons, The Fall of Hyperion, 1980 (science fiction novel)

To Create, Novelists Need Time Alone

Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist

Charles Bukowski on the Hollywood Elite

Many of the rich and the famous [in Hollywood] were actually dumb sluts and bastards. They had simply fallen into a big pay-off somewhere. Or they were enriched by the stupidity of the general public. They usually were talentless, eyeless, soulless, they were walking pieces of dung, but to the public they were god-like, beautiful, and revered. Bad taste creates many more millionaires than good taste.

Charles Bukowski, Hollywood, 1989

Thursday, August 20, 2020

An Abuse of Power and a Traffic Offender's Bad Luck

     Being stopped for a traffic violation, for the otherwise law abiding citizen, is usually the only direct contact most people have with law enforcement. Most citizens, when caught speeding, realize they have broken the law and accept the fine with grace. While traffic offenders don't like being caught and fined, they don't hold it against the cop who stopped them. They know the police officer is just doing his or her job, and a dangerous job it can be.

     Citizens, however, do not appreciate unfair traffic enforcement such as speed traps. They also don't like it when an officer is rude, disrespectful, or abusive.

     To do their jobs effectively, police officers require the support of the law abiding community. That support is fragile, and can be destroyed if too many patrol officers do not act like professional public servants. A cop who abuses his or her power of arrest, even in minor cases, is unfit for law enforcement duty. There is no such thing as a minor abuse of power. In law enforcement zero-tolerance should be a two-way street.

     On April 7, 2018, 24-year-old Sarah Webb, en route to her job at a hair salon, was pulled over for speeding outside of Atlanta, Georgia by a pair of officers with the Roswell Police Department. Officer Courtney Brown approached the stopped vehicle and asked Sarah Webb if she knew how fast she had been driving. Webb apologized for driving too fast in the 45 MPH zone and explained that she was late for work.

     In addressing the speeding suspect, Officer Brown said, "The ground is wet and it's been raining. You're going over 80 miles per hour on this type of road. That's reckless driving."

     "I'm so sorry," replied the traffic violator.

     Officer Courtney Brown returned to the police cruiser and conferred with her fellow Roswell officer, Kristee Wilson. Officer Brown allowed that she had not recorded Webb's vehicle on a speed detection device and was speculating on how fast Webb had been driving. Officer Kristee Wilson informed her partner that she was not in possession of any speeding tickets. Regarding how fast Webb had been moving, Officer Wilson noted that Officer Brown's body camera would have recorded the police car's speed in catching up to the suspect.

     As Officer Brown accessed a coin-flip application on her cell phone, she said, "Hold on." Officer Brown said she would let the virtual coin decide whether or not they would just ticket driver Webb or take her into custody for reckless driving. When the computer coin flip went against the driver, Officer Brown approached Sarah Webb's car and informed her that she was under arrest.

      "Why am I being arrested," asked the stunned driver.

     Officer Brown told Webb, who was now sobbing, that she was being taken into custody for reckless driving and driving too fast for conditions. The officer handcuffed the traffic violator and placed her into the back of the patrol car.

     On Sunday, July 8, 2018, after a local television station aired Officer Brown's body camera video of the coin-flip and arrest, a local prosecutor dropped the charges against Sarah Webb. Up until this point, the arrestee had no idea she had been taken into custody on the strength of a coin toss.

     Not surprisingly, the airing of Officer Brown's body camera video created public outrage. This outlandish behavior on the part of a police officer also became a national news story.

    In response to the pubic's disgust regarding this police action, Roswell Chief of Police Rusty Grant told reporters that Officers Courtney Brown and Kristee Wilson had been placed on paid administrative leave pending an internal inquiry. "I have much higher expectations of our police officers," he said. "I am appalled that a law enforcement officer would trivialize the decision making process of something as the arrest of a person."

     Sarah Webb, who characterized the officers' administrative leave as a paid vacation, said this: "These [police officers] are people who are supposed to protect us. It's disgusting to think police officers do stuff like this. It was appalling."

     The authority to arrest, to restrain people and haul them to a police station constitutes enormous power over the lives and reputations of our fellow citizens. As a result, this authority should carry with it equally momentous responsibility. Any police officer who intentionally abuses the power of arrest, at any level of law enforcement, should be dealt with severely. A police officer without empathy is a danger to society. Officers Courtney Brown and Kristee Wilson were unfit for police work.

     On July 26, 2018, Officers Brown and Wilson were fired. According to Chief Grant, they were terminated "For treating our freedom and our lives as games."