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Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Ebony Wilkerson Attempted Murder Case

     In 2014, Ebony Wilkerson and her three children, ages ten, nine, and three, lived with her husband, the children's father, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The 32-year old mother, pregnant with her fourth child, was losing her mind.

     On Sunday, March 2, 2014, Ebony called 911 and said she had been physically assaulted by her husband. To officers with the North Charleston Police Department, she claimed that her husband had abused her in a Myrtle Beach hotel room. They had been married 14 years.

     Following treatment at a local hospital, Ebony put her three children into her black Honda Odyssey and left the state en route to her sister's apartment in Dayton Beach, Florida.

     The distraught mother's sister, Jessica Harrell, saw signs that Ebony was in the midst of a mental and emotional breakdown. On Monday, March 3, 2014, at Jessica's urging, Ebony Wilkerson checked herself into a nearby hospital for psychiatric treatment. But the next morning she checked herself out of the health facility.

     That day, as Ebony ranted incoherently about demons, the Devil, disembodied voices, and various hallucinations, Jessica called 911 about having Ebony committed involuntarily into a mental facility. Before Jessica got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Ebony put her children in her minivan and drove off.

     A short time later, a Daytona Beach patrol officer pulled over Ebony's vehicle. Although the officer recognized that the woman driving the Honda carrying the kids seemed to be mentally disturbed, the police officer let her go. The patrolman didn't think he had enough evidence to take Ebony into custody pursuant to a Florida law that allows manifestly mentally ill people to be detained for their own wellbeing and the safety of others. The officer found nothing specific that indicated that this woman was dangerous, or about to go off the deep end.

     Two hours after the police officer stopped the distraught mother, Tim Tesseneer, driving with his wife on the sands of Daytona Beach, noticed a black minivan moving slowing through the surf in shallow water. As he ran toward the vehicle Tesseneer heard screams and saw two children waving frantically for help. "Please help us," one of the youngsters yelled. One of the kids was trying to wrestle control of the steering wheel from the driver. When Ebony became aware of Tesseneer's presence, she calmly said, "We're okay. We're okay." Obviously she and her children were not okay.

     Stacy Robinson, another man who had seen the car in the Atlantic Ocean, opened a back door and pulled out the nine and ten-year-old. The three-year-old child remained strapped in her car seat. A lifeguard who had joined the rescue effort dived through a front widow and unbuckled the toddler's seatbelt. As the van drifted into deeper water, he handed the terrified three-year-old to a second lifeguard who removed the child from the bobbing vehicle. One of the other men pulled Ebony out of the Honda.

     Ebony and the children were taken to the Halifax Health Medical Center for evaluation. In speaking to a police officer at the hospital, one of the Wilkerson children said, "Mom tried to kill us. Mom is crazy." According to the child, his mother told them to "close their eyes and go to sleep." She had locked the doors and rolled up the windows and said they were all going to a better place.

     On Friday, March 7, 2014, when a doctor released Ebony Wilkerson from the hospital, police officers booked her into the Volusia County Jail on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     In October 2014, Wilkerson's attorney announced that his client would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Shortly after that, the Volusia County prosecutor dropped the criminal charges in lieu of an insanity hearing to determine if Wilkerson should be committed involuntarily to a mental institution or remain free on the condition she seek patient therapy.

     The insanity hearing got underway on December 17, 2014. Dr. Antonia Canaan, testifying on Wilkerson's behalf, said that in 2005 Wilkerson suffered from postpartum psychosis after giving birth. According to the doctor, pregnancy psychosis can occur near delivery time or emerge four weeks after delivery as postpartum depression.

     Wilkerson took the stand and testified that she hadn't been aware that her children locked in the minivan were in danger as she drove into the sea. "All that mattered," she said, "was that God was with me. I didn't realize the seriousness of it. I understand now that there were no angels, no demons. I understand now. I didn't hear voices in my head. I now know right from wrong." (This line suggests heavy coaching from her attorneys.)

     At the conclusion of the hearing before Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Leah R. Case, Wilkerson's attorneys announced that their client, to avoid involuntary mental institute commitment, would immediately undergo tubal ligation that would remove the possibility of postpartum psychosis.

     On December 23, 2014, Judge Case, before committing Wilkerson to mental incarceration for up to six months, said, "the court is convinced that the defendant should be involuntarily committed. She minimizes her health issues; she lacks insight into her mental health problems."

The "Witch Hunt"

     The term "witch hunt," used figuratively, applies to a government investigation and/or prosecution of innocent or harmless people. The term has been applied to describe the McCarthy era's hunt for communists working inside our government, and criminal cases involving railroaded defendants later proven to be innocent. An example of a criminal justice witch hunts includes the McMartin pre-school case where Los Angeles prosecutors created public hysteria by falsely and recklessly accusing dozens of California pre-school owners and teachers of child molestation. The wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three young men ("The Memphis Three") accused of satanic murder qualifies as a witch hunt. The members of the Duke Lacrosse team falsely accused of rape is another. People who believe that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent of JonBenet's murder consider them victims of a police and media driven witch hunt.

     A legitimate victim of a political witch hunt was former California Congressman Gary Condit who was falsely implicated by the media in the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, a political aide in his office. The scandal, fueled by hack, tabloid reporting by the mainstream media, ruined Condit's political career. Another man was later convicted for Chandra Levy's murder.

     The term "witch hunt" has been so overused by partisan politicians it has lost its meaning. However, because politics and government is a dirty business populated by unscrupulous people, there is always the chance witch hunters will raise their ugly heads and destroy an innocent person's life and career. 

J. Edgar Hoover

If the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to 1972 thought much about his legacy, he probably hoped to be remembered as the man who professionalized criminal investigation and elevated the image of the FBI agent. As the man responsible for the FBI fingerprint bureau, crime laboratory, National Police Academy, and the "FBI Bulletin," one could argue that Mr. Hoover played a major, innovative role in the history of 20th Century law enforcement. Instead, Mr. Hoover, thanks to a combination of tabloid journalism and the truth, has been remembered as a power-hungry, cross-dressing, mother's boy. But Americans have short memories, and the name J. Edgar Hoover will soon be completely erased from American pop culture. 

The Growth of the U.S. Border Patrol

There are small towns on the U.S./Mexican border populated with more Border Patrol agents than local residents. In 1975, there were 1,700 Border Patrol Agents. Today, there are more than 20,000, and with the border now open, not nearly enough.

Tom Clancy On Novel Writing

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy in Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, 2002 

Sylvia Plath on Self-Doubt

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) The novelist, poet and short story writer who killed herself. The worst enemy to creativity is depression and premature death.

Children's Book Endings

     When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

     By 1991, 33-year-old Herbert Smulls had spend several years behind bars for armed robbery and other crimes. On July 27, 1991, Smulls and a 15-year-old accomplice named Normon Brown walked into the F & M Crown Jewelers store in Chesterfield, Missouri with the intent of robbing the establishment. Smulls told the owners of the St. Louis County jewelry store, Stephen and Florence Honickman, that he wanted to buy a diamond ring for his fiancee.

     Instead of purchasing a ring, Smulls pulled out a handgun and shot the owners. He killed 51-year-old Stephen Honickman on the spot. When Smulls and Brown fled the scene they left behind Florence Honickman who was still alive but lying in a pool of her own blood. Smulls had shot her in the arm and side. She survived the shooting by playing dead.

     Fifteen minutes after the robbery-murder, a police officer pulled Smulls off the road on a traffic stop. Inside the car officers found handguns and the stolen jewelry.

     Upon Florence Honickman's recovery, she identified Smulls and Brown as the armed robbers and Smulls at the man who had shot her and her husband.

     In 1993, a judge sentenced Normon Brown to life in prison without parole. The judge handed Smulls the death sentence. The murderer was sent to Missouri's death row.

     In 1989, executioners in Missouri began dispatching death row inmates by injecting them with a lethal, three-drug cocktail. The first drug, Midazalam, helped calm the inmate. Hydromorphine, a strong narcotic, reduced pain. Sodium Thiopental, the killer drug, stopped the heart.

   In 2013,  the overseas companies that manufactured and distributed the above drugs stopped exporting them to the U.S. if they were to be used to execute prisoners. As a result, Missouri and other states had to switch to a single execution drug, Pentobarbital. If Smulls' execution, scheduled for 12:01 AM, January 29, 2014 went ahead as planned, he'd receive a shot of Pentobarbital.

     A few days before the 56-year-old's execution date, Cheryl Pilante, one of the lawyers fervently fighting to save Smulls life, asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a temporary stay of execution. Just two and a half hours before Smulls' execution, the Supreme Court granted the stay. Justice Samuel Alito signed the order temporarily delaying the punishment.

     Smulls' execution was put on hold because corrections officials with the state of Missouri refused to disclose the identify of the compounding pharmacy that mixed the Pentobarbital. Attorney Pilate argued that Missouri's execution secret made it impossible to know whether the drug would cause Mr. Smulls any pain.

     In expressing grave concern for her client, attorney Pilate said, "I frankly cannot begin to tell you how distressing this situation is, that the state is going to execute a prisoner in his mid-50s who made one series of colossal mistakes [italics mine] that were in many ways out of character because he is not a violent person."

     What? He's not a violent person? His cold-blooded murder was out of character? If defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves on behalf of their clients, Pilate deserved a bonus.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch characterized the drug purchase issue a smokescreen designed to save the life of a vicious killer. He also accused Pilate of trying to divert attention from her client's horrific crime.

     On January 29, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court lifted the temporary stay of execution. Later that morning, the state executioner in Bonne Terre, Missouri administered the lethal drug. Herbert Smulls was pronounced dead at 10:20 AM. Only his attorneys and a few others were sad to see him go.

     Most U.S. citizens do not oppose the death penalty as a matter of principle. Regarding inmates like Herbert Smulls, few citizens are concerned they may feel some pain at the end. We all have to occasionally endure pain and anxiety in our daily lives. And because of people like Herbert Smulls, victims of crime are certainly no strangers to suffering.

     So what's behind this obsessive quest to insure that cold-blooded killers are dispatched without discomfort? Who really cares that Mr. Smulls was anxious about dying, and worried about pain? Who isn't? 

"Case Closed": Debunking the JFK Assassination Conspiracies

     Gerald Posner had been working for years with his editor, Bob Loomis [Random House], on a book called Case Closed about the assassination of President John Kennedy. There had been some credible attempts to penetrate the mysteries [of the case], but they'd been overlain in the public imagination by thirty years of conspiracy stories. Posner's manuscript proved that these were paranoid garbage. I was impressed by his assembly of incontrovertible medical, ballistics, and scientific evidence proving that there had been no gunman on the grassy knoll; Lee Harvey Oswald had been the lone rifleman firing three shots over eight seconds. Everywhere around town [New York] when I mentioned that we [Random House] had a sensation, I got the same response: "Not another Kennedy book! Give us a break!" Bookstore buyers reacted the same way. How could we make people pay attention when the sensation was that there was no sensation? Clearly we had a big marketing problem.

     This was a profoundly important book. The ever prudent Bob Loomis had let a few academics and journalists of invincible integrity have sight of the manuscript. Tom Wicker, the veteran political reporter and columnist of The New York Times, was seized by the significance. Posner's work, he said, could do much to restore faith in government and democracy because it demolished the insidious insinuations that the highest officials of the U. S. government had been involved in their president's murder.

     Case Closed was not only a huge best seller but a blast of cold air on the fetid distortions; it was a contribution to a nation's sanity and faith in its institutions. The conspiracy industry, of course, saw our book and ad campaign as another conspiracy. I was warned we'd be sued, and we were. But we won every court case.

Harold Evans, (former president of Random House), My Paper Chase, 2009

Thieves and Their Fences

Basically, the professional thief needs the fence to survive. The thief's fund-raising abilities would be greatly diminished were the fence not around to handle the fruits of his crime. Indeed, the very existence of the fence is considerable encouragement to the thief, who then knows where his next meal is coming from.

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975