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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case: The Insanity Defense in Norway Versus the United States

      The Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case
     On July 21, 2011, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, Norway that killed eight. Breivik, later that day, opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island, killing sixty-nine people, most of whom were children. Breivik's bombing and shooting spree also injured 151 in the city and on the island. The mass murderer surrendered without incident to a SWAT team that showed incredible restraint.

     After confessing to the bombing and shooting spree, Breivik told his interrogators that he was a commander of a resistance movement aiming to overthrow European governments and replace them with "patriotic" regimes that would deport Muslim immigrants.

     A pair of psychiatrists, on thirteen visits, spent 36 hours talking with Breivik. The doctors concluded that because Breivik was a paranoid schizophrenic, he was not a proper candidate for conviction and imprisonment as a criminal. As a result, prosecutors decided not to try Breivik for mass murder. Instead, he would be adjudicated insane and sent to a mental institution for an indeterminate period.

      Under Norway's insanity defense doctrine, defendants who "lost touch with reality" are not considered criminals because their "crimes" are symptoms of the killer's mental illness. Breivik's victims, in other words, were killed by paranoid schizophrenia, not an evil, cold-blooded murderer.

     Norwegian critics of the decision not to try Breivik as a criminal defendant called attention to Breivik's extensive planning and gruesome efficiency in the slaughter of his helpless victims. In the opinion of the Swedish forensic psychiatrist Anders Forsman, Breivik carried out his murderous mission in a rational way. He was, in Forsman's words, an "efficient killing machine."

      In January 2012, under intense public pressure, the Oslo District Court ordered a second expert panel to evaluate Breivik's mental state at the time of the killings. In April 2012, the second psychiatric evaluation determined that Breivik possessed an antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. He was, in other words, not a psychotic who had lost touch with reality. 
     In August 2012, following Breivik's mass murder conviction, the judge sentenced him to 10 to 21 years in prison, Norway's maximum sentence. Had he been adjudicated insane, the mass murderer could have been shut away in a mental institution for life.

     The Insanity Defense in the U.S.
    Had Anders Breivik embarked on his murderous rampage in the United States, he'd have almost no chance of successfully raising the insanity defense. This is because in America, most states operate under the M'Naghten Rule. Under this doctrine of legal insanity, a criminal defendant is not insane unless: "At the time of the commission of the act, the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong." Popularly referred to as the "right/wrong test," a defense attorney has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that his client did not realize the act in question was wrong. Regardless of how mentally ill defendants are, almost all of them know that what they are doing is wrong. In other words, in most states, merely because a criminal defendant has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic is not enough to support the insanity defense. For this reason, very few defendants succeed in being found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the United States, the law requires a degree of mental impairment that in medical reality doesn't exist. 

     Serial killers like Ted Bundy are rarely found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Unabomber Ted Kaczinsky, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was convicted of murder in 1996 and sent to prison. 

     In the United States, jurors are not comfortable with finding mentally ill serial killers and mass murderers not guilty for any reason. They don't completely trust the social scientific findings of psychiatrists who testify for the defense. And jurors don't want to replace the concept of good and evil with sane and insane. Serial killers and mass murderers, to jurors, while obviously mentally unbalanced, are still evil and dangerous people. In America, evil people who murder are going to be punished criminally. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't receive some psychiatric treatment (drugs) in prison. But it does mean, whether medically "rehabilitated" or not, they are never going to be free.

     John Hinckley, Jr. the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This is because he was tried in federal court which applies a less demanding standard of legal insanity. In 2016, Hinckley was released permanently from the mental institution so he could live with or near his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Leonard Moses: Fifty Years a Fugitive

     On April 6, 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, a riot broke out in Homewood, Pennsylvania, a community in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. During that civil unrest, 16-year-old Leonard Rayne Moses and two of his friends threw molotov cocktails into 72-year-old Mary Amplo's house in Homewood. With third-degree burns over 55 percent of her body, she was rushed to a nearby hospital where, three months later, she died of pneumonia. 

     In July 1969, Leonard Moses went on trial in Pittsburgh for Mary Amplo's death. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Moses to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

     In July 1970, the authorities granted Leonard Moses permission to attend his mother's funeral at the Nazarene Baptist Church in Homewood. At some point during the service, the 18-year-old managed to escape from two Allegheny County sheriff's deputies. Normally escapees of this nature are quickly apprehended and returned to prison. But in this case, Leonard Moses avoided capture.

     In January 1999, Leonard Moses, under the name Paul Dickson, became a licensed traveling pharmacist for the CVS pharmacy chain in Michigan. Twenty years later, in January 2020, while living in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, a CVS loss prevention officer in St. Clair, Shores, Michigan, caught Moses, aka Dickson, taking 80 hydrocodene pills from the pharmacy. A Genesee County prosecutor charged Dickson/Moses with theft. Following his arrest, Dickson/Moses made bail and returned to his home in Grand Blanc.

     In October 2020, the fingerprints of a man the local authorities believed to be Paul Dickson were entered into a national fingerprint databank. The submission of these prints resulted in a match to the fingerprints of a Leonard Moses taken in connection with the Mary Amplo firebombing in April 1968. 

     FBI agents, on November 12, 2020, arrested the escaped prisoner at his home in Grand Blanc, Michigan. The 67-year-old fugitive was booked into the Genesee County Jail before his extradition back to Pennsylvania where he would be sent back to prison for the murder of Mary Amplo. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Jason Smith Murder Case

     Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a 35-year-old pediatrician, was a second-year infectious disease fellow and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine in downtown Philadelphia. The Thailand native lived in a central city town house not far from the hospital. Except for her 6-year-old pit bull/lab mix, she lived alone. Dr. Ketunuti had resided at this address for three years, and was in the process of rehabilitating the dwelling.

     On Monday, January 21, 2013, Dr. Ketunuti left her town house around nine in the morning to run some errands. She planned to return to her home at ten-fifty to meet with an exterminator with a pest-control company headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ketunuti was having mice problems. When the doctor's dog walker came to the house at twelve-thirty, she smelled smoke, and upon investigation, discovered Dr. Ketuniti dead in her basement. The terrified woman called 911.

     Homicide detectives and crime scene technicians arrived at the town house to find a still smoldering, badly burned corpse. The victim's face had been so severely charred by the fire it was unrecognizable. The fully dressed woman was lying face-down and had been hogtied with her wrists and ankles bound behind her back. The killer had left a length of cordage around the victim's neck suggesting that before being set on fire she had been strangled.

     Based on the dead woman's apparel and other points of identity, investigators assumed that the murdered woman in the basement was Dr. Melissa Ketunuti. Detectives found no signs of forced entry or indications of a sexual assault. Because it didn't appear than anything had been taken from the premises, the killer had not been motivated by theft.

     As investigators began tracing the victim's activities that morning, and gathering footage from neighborhood surveillance cameras, the city of Philadelphia posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the identification and arrest of this murderer. The next day, a local community group added $15,000 to the incentive.

     On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, homicide investigators were in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a sprawling suburban Bucks County community 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The officers were in town questioning a 37-year-old pest-control subcontractor named Jason Smith. Smith lived in a powder-blue, two story house surrounded by a white picket fence still displaying Christmas decorations. The exterminator lived there with his girlfriend, their young daughter and the girlfriend's stepfather.

     Surveillance camera footage in Dr. Ketunuti's neighborhood showed Smith, who had been scheduled for a service call at the murder victim's house that morning, walking toward the doctor's town house at ten-fifty. (The house itself was off-camera.) The tall, thin exterminator wore a NorthFace jacket and work gloves, and carried a satchel. Just before noon, Smith was video-recorded driving his silver Ford F-150 pickup out of the neighborhood. Before leaving he circled the block two times. While in Levittown, officers searched Smith's house, his trash can and his truck. Investigators took a computer out of the dwelling, and from the Ford F-150, seized a jacket and a pair of work gloves.

     The next day, at nine o'clock in the evening, detectives returned to Levittown to arrest Jason Smith. They took him into custody as he, his girlfriend and their daughter watched "American Idol." Charged with first-degree murder, arson, abuse of corpse and risking a catastrophe (burning down the neighborhood), Smith was locked up and held without bail.  During the arrest, the family's dog, a boxer named Tyson, charged the arresting officers and was shot dead.

     According to a statement released by a Philadelphia law enforcement spokesperson, Jason Smith and Dr. Ketunuti, while in the doctor's basement, got into some kind of argument. The suspect punched her to the floor, jumped on top of her and used a length of rope to strangle her to death. In an effort to destroy physical evidence that might link him to the body, Mr. Smith set fire to the victim's clothing with his lighter. (The body contained no traces of an accelerant.)

     Jason Smith, except for a 2004 DUI conviction, had no criminal record. He told his interrogators that he was addicted to prescription painkillers, and that when arguing with the pest-control customer in her basement, he "snapped." According to Smith, when the doctor "belittled" him, he flew into a murderous rage.

     A friend of the suspect, in speaking to ABC News, revealed that Jason Smith, as a child, had a difficult time controlling his anger. The friend remembered that in his childhood, Smith had problems with pyromania.

     In April 2013, at a preliminary hearing before Philadelphia Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni, homicide detective Edward Tolliver read Jason Smith's murder confession into the record. According to Detective Henry Glenn, the victim, at the time of her violent death, was wearing riding boots. Dr. Ketunuti's hands and feet had been tied behind her with a leather strap from horse gear. Smith, in his confession, told the detectives that he had bound the victim's ankles with a riding stirrup. He used a length of rope to strangle her.

     After murdering Dr. Ketunuti in her home, Smith drove to another pest extermination job in New Jersey.

     At the preliminary hearing, Jason Smith's attorneys, James A. Funt and Marc Bookman, did not contest the murder charge but asked the judge to dismiss the arson count because their client had not intended to burn down the building.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Philadelphia found Jason Smith guilty of first-degree murder, arson, risking a catastrophe, and abuse of corpse. The judge sentenced Smith to life in prison plus 17 to 34 years.  
     Jason Smith appealed his conviction and his sentence, and lost both appeals.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Charles and Shirley Severance Murder Case

     Charles Severance and his wife Shirley, both seventy years old, had lived thirty years in Sterling, Colorado, a rural plains community 110 miles northeast of Denver. In 2014, the couple allowed their grandson, Brendan Johnson, a recent high school graduate without prospects, to take up residence in their modest, single-story home.

     These decent grandparents had no idea that Brendan and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Cassandra Rieb, had been planning to murder them for their house, their 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck and $20,000 in the elderly couple's bank account. According to the harebrained murder plan, Brendan Johnson would smother his grandfather as he slept while Cassandra Rieb, in similar fashion, killed Shirley Severance.

     During the early morning hours of May 20, 2014, the grandson, accompanied by his sociopathic girlfriend, launched their attack on Mr. and Mrs. Severance. But as is often the case involving killers who are dimwitted, things did not go according to plan, and certainly not smoothly. Mr. Severance fought against his homicidal grandson. During the struggle, Brendan, unable to smother his grandfather, placed his hands around his neck to strangle him. Mr. Severance couldn't breathe, lost his strength, then died.

     While Brendan Johnson was killing his grandfather, his girlfriend had problems dispatching Mrs. Severance. As she fought against being smothered, Shirley Severance begged for her life and offered to give the couple money. Cassandra Rieb discontinued her assault and allowed Brandon Johnson to finish the job. The killer's grandmother pleaded with him to stop the attack. She again begged for her life, and asked for a drink of water. As the victim drank from the glass, Brendan pulled out a knife to slit her throat. She moved, and the knife instead sliced her in the jaw.

     When the 70-year-old woman tried to escape, Johnson used the knife to stab her repeatedly. "Why are you doing this to me?" she cried.

     "You know why," the killer replied. Shirley Severance died a few seconds later.

     The double murder not only failed to unfold as planned, it produced a bloody crime scene that the degenerate killers had to clean up. The murderers dragged both bodies into a bedroom where they remained for a day while Johnson and Rieb did their best to clean up the blood and dispose of other physical evidence. But what were they supposed to do with the bodies?

     After scrubbing the murder site, the couple loaded Mrs. Severance into Mr. Severance's pickup truck and hauled her to a wooded area near a reservoir outside of town. At that spot, they cut off her head and set fire to the corpse.

     Two days after the murders, Johnson and Reib returned to the dump site outside of Sterling, placed Mrs. Severance's charred remains back into the truck, and drove the body thirty miles to an area near Lorenzo, Nebraska. At that place they buried the murder victim in a shallow grave.

     Mr. Severance's body remained at the murder scene because he was too heavy to carry to the truck. When planning how to dispose of the bodies, the killers failed to account for the victim's weight.

     On May 29, 2014, a few days after forging and cashing two checks on the Severance bank account for a total of $4,500, Brendan Johnson called 911 to report that he had just discovered his grandfather's body in his house. He also reported that his grandmother was missing.

     Police officers, in response to Brendan Johnson's phony 911 call met the grandson and his girlfriend at the tiny house on Third Avenue. In the bedroom, the officers came upon Mr. Severance's decomposing corpse.

     Questioned that day at the police station, Johnson said his grandfather had died of a heart attack, and that he had no idea what happened to his grandmother. According to the grandson, prior to Mr. Severance's death, the old man had given him the pickup truck as a gift. He said his grandfather had also given him the $4,500 drawn from his bank. Detectives didn't buy his story.

     When asked to take polygraph tests, the young killers confessed. Cassandra Rieb led officers to the place outside of Lorenzo, Nebraska where detectives discovered Shirley Severance's charred and dismembered remains. During her session with the polygraph examiner, Rieb said, "The plan was to kill them so he [Brendan] could get their inheritance. Together we went and we did it together. We had agreed to do it together, obviously. Like one gets one [of the victims] and one gets the other."

     On June 3, 2014, a Logan County prosecutor charged the young couple with two counts of first-degree murder along with several lesser offenses. Johnson and Rieb were booked into the county jail. The judge denied the murder suspects bond.

    In April 2015, Cassandra Rieb, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The judge sentenced her to consecutive terms of 48 years and 32 years, respectively. Under Colorado law, Rieb had to serve at least 75 percent of her sentence behind bars.

     In May 2015, Brendan Johnson, after initially pleading not guilty to murder and fourteen lesser charges, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The plea brought an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

     Crimes like this make it difficult not to support the death penalty. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Ethel Anderson: The Unrepentant Child Molester

     In 2011, Ethel Anderson, a 29-year-old teacher at the Mango Elementary School in suburban Seffner, Florida outside of Tampa, resided in Riverside with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. Anderson had recently been named the Diversity School Teacher of the Year.

     In December 2011, Teacher of the Year Anderson began tutoring a 12-year-old math student in her home. Over the next three months, she and the boy exchanged 230 pages of test messages in which she described, in vivid language, her lust for the child. Anderson also expressed her anxiety over feeling unattractive because of her weight. In these exchanges, the boy used the name Dirty Dan. No one reading this material would have guessed that Dirty Dan was a 12-year-old kid communicating with one of his public school teachers. The online exchange between teacher and student, while a bit puerile, was pretty raunchy.

     In February 2012, the teacher-student affair ended following a spat. The angry kid got his revenge by telling his mom everything. It's hard to imagine what was went through the mother's mind when her son described receiving oral sex from a woman paid to teach him math. The couple, according to the boy, also simulated various sexual acts while fully clothed. The boy's tutor also fondled him.

     The mother, perhaps worried that school officials and police officers would take the teacher's word over her son's, confronted Anderson before alerting the authorities. During that meeting, the teacher admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The student's mom, having clandestinely audio-taped the conversation, went to the police with the evidence. 

     Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, in March 2012, charged Ethel Anderson with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Following the teacher's arrest, the school suspended her without pay. Eight months later, Ethel Anderson resigned.

     The child molestation trial got underway in Tampa on September 18, 2013. The boy, now 14, took the stand for the prosecution. "I felt she was like my real girlfriend," he said. "She said I was her boyfriend and she loved me. I was thinking, 'I'm living a guy's dream...dating my teacher.' "

     According to the young prosecution witness, Anderson told him she planned to leave her husband because he wasn't a good father and didn't communicate with her. As time went on, however, the student began having doubts about the relationship. "I'm dating a girl I'm in love with and she thinks of me as a kid. It didn't feel right."

     On the third and final day of the trial, defense attorney William Knight, in a bold move, put his client on the stand. Rather than plead some kind of emotional breakdown, drinking problem or addiction to drugs, the former school teacher denied having physical contact with the boy, essentially calling him a liar. Claiming that the 12-year-old had tried to instigate a sexual relationship, Anderson said, "He attempted, at one point, to grab me in an inappropriate manner. He attempted to kiss me and I pushed him off."

     Regarding her sexually vivid text messages, the defendant said they were nothing more than "sexual therapy" tools to get the boy to focus on his studies. "I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy," she said. "He was going through puberty. He couldn't connect with his family. He was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention."

     Prosecutor Peters, in a blistering cross-examination of the defendant, asked, "You want the jury to believe that you were in fantasyland to help the boy? Was that part of your training as a teacher? So by giving in to these sexual fantasies he did better in school?"

     "Sometimes, yes," Anderson replied.

     Defense attorney Knight, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the prosecution had not presented one piece of physical evidence proving any kind of sexual contact between his client and the student.

     When it came her turn to address the jury, the prosecutor called the former teacher's attempt to explain herself "remarkable," and "amazing in its audacity." The state attorney told the jurors that "everything the defendant told you defies logic and common sense."

     On December 19, 2013, following the guilty verdict, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, calling Ethel Anderson a parent's worst nightmare, sentenced the former teacher to 38 years in prison. 
     In hindsight, this defendant should have pleaded guilty in return for a lesser sentence. She rolled the dice and lost.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Teacher Lee Riddle: "Cup Checks" at Widefield High

     In 2009, Lee Riddle, a 25-year-old graduate of the University of Michigan, began teaching German at Widefield High School outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. By all accounts he was a popular and outstanding teacher with a spotless record at the school. But in November 2013, Mr. Riddle lost his good name and his career as well.

     On November 15, 2013, the El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff's Office received a tip that the 29-year-old teacher had made inappropriate physical contact with several male students ages 15 to 17. One of the complaints involved the teacher grabbing boys between the legs in what the teacher called "cup checks." (Cup check refers to the procedure used to verify the appropriate installation of protective athletic gear for the groin area.)

     The principal of Widefield High placed Mr. Riddle, who denied the allegations, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

     On November 18 and 19, 2013, investigators with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office questioned several of Mr. Riddle's male students. All of the boys said they had experienced such classroom encounters with the teacher, behavior that put Mr. Riddle in an extremely bad light.

     According to investigators, the suspect had "cup checked" several students, pinched one boy's nipple and called him "Cutie," spoke graphically to students about gay sex, showed sexually explicit cellphone photographs, and while giving one boy a ride home, asked him if he were bisexual.

     On November 20, 2013, an El Paso County prosecutor charged Lee Riddle with 18 counts of sexual assault on a child under 18 by a person of trust. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all counts. The judge set his bail at $25,000.

     Mr. Riddle's trial got underway in August 2014 in Colorado Springs. A week later, the jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. School officials immediately fired him.

     At Riddle's sentencing hearing in November 2014, the judge, before handing down the sentence, noted that the convicted man didn't appreciate the seriousness of his crimes due to the fact that none of the boys had been physically injured. The judge, noting the seriousness of these offenses, sentenced the 31-year-old former teacher to an indeterminate sentence that would keep him behind bars for a minimum of eight years.

     Compared to many lesser sentences given to rapists and pedophiles, this sentence seemed a bit harsh.  

The First American Executed by Gas

     On February 8, 1924, a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America executed by cyanide gas. He died in the gas chamber inside the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Over time, eleven states adopted the cyanide chamber as the official method of execution. From 1924 to 1999, 594 persons died in these gas chambers. In 1960, asphyxiation executioners in California killed a man named Caryl Chessman. He perished in the cyanide room for the crimes of kidnapping and rape. He is the only person in U.S. history to be executed for a crime other than murder. The gas chamber, compared to the rope, the firing squad, the electric chair and lethal drugs, is the cruelest way to dispatch murderers. Death by cyanide took between six and eighteen agonizing minutes, and for those witnessing the execution, it produced  a gruesome tableau. It was the only form of capital punishment that required the condemned man to contribute to his death by breathing within a chamber filled with cyanide gas.

The Michelle Boyer Double Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2014, 40-year-old Jonathan Masin, an employee of Texas Instruments, broke up with Michelle Boyer, a fellow employee at the corporation. Three years earlier, Michelle Boyer and her husband, Charles Hobbs, were divorced. The 45-year-old Boyer lived in a house in Dallas not far from her ex-husband's place.

     Jonathan Masin, a resident of Murphy, a quiet suburban community northeast of Dallas, had left Boyer for a 38-year-old woman named Amy Picchiotti. Amy, a physical trainer, had left Larry Picchiotti, her husband of seven years, in March 2014. Amy, the mother of two young girls, moved in with Masin.

     Michelle Boyer reacted with anger when Masin left her for another woman, a person she had considered a friend. She made her feelings known by sending her former boyfriend threatening emails and text messages.

     At eight in the morning of Saturday, May 10, 2014, Jonathan Masin's father, concerned about his son, called the local police department and requested a welfare check at his house in Murphy.

     Inside the dwelling, in separate rooms, officers found the bodies of Amy Picchiotti and Jonathan Masin. The partially clothed, barefooted couple had been shot to death with a handgun. Neighbors later told the police they had heard what might have been gunshots at 6:30 that morning.

     In Dallas, thirteen miles from the murder scene, police officers came upon Michelle Boyer's SUV parked on the street in front of her ex-husband's house. They found her slumped behind the wheel with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The suicide gun matched the caliber of the firearm used to murder Picchiotti and Masin.

     Inside the vehicle, officers recovered a suicide note that described the double murder in Murphy. According to one of Boyer's friends, she felt that Amy Picchiotti had stolen Jonathan Masin from her. The jilted woman felt betrayed and extremely angry. While the authorities did not release the text of the suicide note, the motive behind the double murder presumably involved revenge.

     The longtime Murphy city manager, James Fisher, told reporters there hadn't been a criminal homicide in this community as long as he could remember.  

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Michael Curry Murder Case

     At 5:30 in the evening on August 29, 1985, Michael L. Curry called the Columbus, Georgia Police Department and reported that someone had entered his home while he was at work and murdered his pregnant wife and his two children.

     At the gory murder scene, police discovered that 26-year-old Ann Curry, her four-year-old daughter Erika and 20-month-old Ryan had been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The murder weapon, taken from its place of storage in the family garage, was lying next to Ann Curry's body. Detectives noticed that Michael Curry didn't have any of the crime scene blood on him, suggesting that he hadn't checked to see if any of his family members were still alive. Investigators also found it unusual that Curry had called the police department directly instead of 911.

     Other features of the murder scene bothered investigators. Someone had broken a small glass window near a back door secured by an interior deadbolt lock. The broken window was consistent with an intruder reaching in and unlocking the door. But the window had been smashed from the inside of the house and the door was still locked. If the Curry family had been murdered by an intruder or intruders, how did they get in, and what was their motive? Nothing had been stolen from the house, drawers and closets had not been rifled through and Ann Curry had not been sexually assaulted. If intruders had come to the dwelling to kill Ann Curry and her children, why didn't they bring their own murder weapons? (Later, crime lab personnel found no blood or bloody fingerprints on the axe. The killer had obviously sanitized the weapon.) Was this triple murder a crime of passion or a planned, cold-blooded execution?

      When questioned by the police, Michael Curry said he had left his place of employment at 9:40 that morning to buy a small fan for his office. At 12:55 (according to the retail receipt) he purchased the item at a K-Mart store before returning to his office at 1:10 in the afternoon. He remained in his office until quitting time then drove home, arriving at his house shortly before 5:30 in the evening.

     In tracing the activities of Mrs. Curry and the children on the day of their deaths, investigators learned they had shopped that morning at a Sears store. After visiting her parents in Columbus, Ann headed home, arriving there at 12:37 PM. If Michael Curry had slaughtered his family he had committed the murders between 12:37 and 12:55 PM, an 18-minute window of opportunity.

     Looking into Michael Curry's recent history, investigators learned he was having an affair and spending nights drinking at bars with friends. Witnesses told detectives that Michael Curry felt trapped by a growing family he couldn't afford. He longed for a bachelor's lifestyle, but couldn't afford a divorce and the resultant child support responsibilities.

     Because the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsies couldn't pinpoint their times of death either within or without the 18 minutes of opportunity, Michael Curry didn't have an airtight alibi. But that also meant that a prosecutor couldn't prove the killings took place during the 18-minute timeframe.

     Following a murder inquest held in February 1986, the Muscogee County District Attorney, with no confession, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence linking Michael Curry to the murder scene, decided not to pursue the matter further. Since investigators had no other suspects, the case remained in limbo until January 2009 when a new district attorney, Julia Slater, took office. The Curry murder case came back to life as a cold case homicide investigation.

     Prosecutor Slater theorized that on the day of the murders, when shopping for a desk fan, Michael Curry saw his family at Sears. Realizing this was his opportunity to free himself of his family burden, he drove home to lay in wait. To protect himself from what he knew would be a bloody massacre, he either put on a jumpsuit or a pair of coveralls. He next smashed the window next to the backdoor to stage an intrusion. When his wife and his two children entered the house at 12:37, he attacked them with the axe. After disposing of his blood-spattered coveralls, he rushed to the K-Mart store where he purchased the fan. (When he returned to his office at 1:10 that afternoon, fellow employees noticed he was drenched in sweat.)

     On May 20, 2009, after a Muscogee Grand Jury indicted Michael Curry for murdering his pregnant wife and their two children, detectives arrested him at his home in Dalton, Georgia. He went on trial in April 2011 at the Muscogee County Superior Court in Columbus. Public defender Bob Wadkins argued that his client had an alibi, and that the state's case, based solely on circumstantial evidence, didn't rise to the level of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Attorney Wadkins chose not to put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On April 27, 2011, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Judge John Allen sentenced the 54-year-old Michael Curry to three consecutive life sentences. The convicted killer wouldn't be eligible for parole until he had served 30 years behind bars. The best he could hope for was to be set free at age 84.

      Defense attorney Bob Wadkins appealed Michael Curry's conviction on grounds his client had been found guilty on insufficient evidence. On June 9, 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the jury verdict.  

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Andrew McCormack Murder Case

     On September 23, 2017, 31-year-old Andrew McCormack and his one-year-old daughter entered their home in Revere, Massachusetts. McCormack had returned to the house after finishing a carpentry job at a friend's place. Shortly after arriving home, Mr. McCormack called 911 and reported that someone had entered the dwelling in his absence and murdered his wife. 

     Police officers found 30-year-old Vanessa Nasucci lying face down on the bedroom floor with a garbage bag over her head. The bag had been taken from the kitchen trash container. When a first responder removed the bag it became obvious that the Vanessa Nasucci had been brutally beaten. An autopsy revealed she had also been stabbed many times and strangled. 
     The murder bedroom gave off a strong scent of bleach and there were chemical burns on the victim's body. Investigators believed the killer had used bleach to destroy crime scene evidence. A large kitchen knife was missing from the kitchen butcher's block and there was no evidence of forced entry into the house. Moreover, the victim had not been sexually attacked, and nothing had been stolen from the dwelling. The fact the killer had taken the time to sanitize the crime scene suggested that Vanessa Nasucci had not been murdered by an intruder. Suspicion immediately fell up the husband, Andrew McCormack.
     Detectives quickly determined that the couple's marriage had been on the rocks. To support his $500-a-day cocaine habit, Andrew McCormack had drained his wife's credit card accounts, forged checks on her bank account and had even stolen her wedding ring. On the day of the murder, after finishing the carpentry job, McCormack took his 1-year-old daughter with him to East Boston where he purchased cocaine from his drug dealer. 
     Shortly before her murder, Vanessa Nasucci, a second grade teacher at Connery Elementary in Lynn, Massachusetts, told her husband that she planned to sell the house and hire a divorce attorney. 
     A week after the murder, police officers arrested Andrew McCormack on the charge of first-degree murder. He was booked into the Suffolk County Jail. Through his attorney, the suspect pleaded not guilty. The magistrate denied him bail. 
     The Andrew McCormack murder trial got underway in mid-October 2019 in a Suffolk County courtroom. The prosecution, without a murder weapon, an eyewitness, confession or physical evidence connecting the defendant directly to the murder had an entirely circumstantial case. What the prosecutor had was a strong case of motive, means and opportunity, and the argument that, given the facts of the case, it was unreasonable to conclude that anyone other than the defendant had committed this murder.
     The defense relied heavily on reasonable doubt, and the position that investigators never considered the possibility that someone other than Andrew McCormack had murdered his wife.
     On November 16, 2019, following eleven days of testimony, the jury, after deliberating a week, found Andrew McCormack guilty of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing on December 2, 2019, the convicted killer said this to the judge: "I did not murder her. There is someone else getting away with murder." 
     The Suffolk County judge sentenced McCormack to life in prison without the possibility of parole.