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Sunday, April 11, 2021

What Happened to Ryan Uhre?

     Ryan Uhre grew up in the suburban town of Weston, Florida, a planned community of 65,000 in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area. After attending Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale where he was on the wrestling team, Ryan enrolled at Florida State University in the state's capital, Tallahassee. After graduating from FSU in December 2013 with a degree in psychology, Ryan signed on as a legislative intern in state representative Richard Stark's Tallahassee office. In the fall of 2014, the 23-year-old planned to start law school.

     On Super Bowl Sunday, February 2, 2014, Ryan and several of his Alpha Delta Phi fraternity brothers watched the game at Andrew's Capital Grill and Bar in downtown Tallahassee. That night, after the game, he left the bar on foot. His friends thought he was walking to his apartment. He wore a Hawaiian-style shirt and what they call surfing Santas. [Red pants worn by Florida surfers who hit the waves wearing Santa Claus suits.]

     On Friday, February 7, 2014, Ryan's fraternity brothers reported him missing to the FSU Police Department. The search that ensued failed to produce a clue as to Ryan's whereabouts. The day before the missing person report, Ryan's cellphone briefly turned on from the Pompano Beach area. Police officers and others searched for him without result in and around Pompano Beach.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of Tuesday, February 18, 2014, 16 days after Ryan was seen leaving Andrew's Capital Grill and Bar in Tallahassee, police officers discovered his body on the second floor of a two-story vacant building not far from the bar. To have gotten into the building, Ryan would have had to have entered through a door on the roof. The structure, owned by the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Foundation, has been empty since 2006. In 2012 the place was gutted by a fire. Ryan's body lay near a boarded-up window.

     At the death scene, officers found Ryan's broken cellphone, his wallet, identification cards, watch, and an unspecified amount of cash in his pocket. It appeared he had not been the victim of a street mugging. According to reports, detectives were looking for a man believed to have been with Ryan at the time of his disappearance. (Media sites reported that Ryan Uhre was gay.)

     The fact it took the police 16 days to find the young man's body just yards from where he was last seen suggests one of two things: Police incompetence, or the possibility that Ryan died somewhere else and that his body had been placed in the abandoned building.

    On May 7, 2014, following the February 19 autopsy, the Leon County Medical Examiner's Office announced that Ryan Uhre had accidentally fallen to his death in the abandoned building. According to the toxicology report, he had cocaine, heroin, and alcohol in his blood.

     Why Ryan Uhre was in the building, and exactly what he was doing there, remained a mystery. 

Executing Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute death row inmates, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment, few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, executing them, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, has been deemed inappropriate. 

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection a few minutes after midnight following the U. S. Supreme Court's decision not to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer, at the time of her execution, was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She was survived by three adult children.

Exaggeration as Humor

Be careful with exaggeration, one of the main tools of humor writing. Exaggeration, generally speaking, should be outside the realm of possibility, but somehow within the realm of visual imagination.

Patrick McManus, The Deer on a Bicycle, 2000

The Depressed Novelist

I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as nobody could ever like my kind of writing again [social-comedy novels]. I get depressed about my writing, and feel that however good it was it still wouldn't be acceptable to any publisher.

Barbara Pym in Lot to Ask by Hazel Holt, 1991 

Catherine Drinker Bowen on Biography Writing

In the writing of a biography, it is expedient to approach one's subject from the periphery, from the outside in--to study first the times, then move to the localities and persons of the immediate story.

Catherine Drinker Bowen, Adventures of a Biographer, 1959 

Pretentious Characters Are Humorous

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, writersstore.com, 2000 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Jerome Sidney DeAvila Murder Case

     Jerome Sidney DeAvila, a Stockton, California pedophile with a long history of sex crimes, was sentenced to a prison psychiatric hospital after a child molestation conviction in 2011. The 38-year-old criminally insane sexual predator should have remained in custody for the remainder of his life. Although allowing this man back into society guaranteed more victims, state parole officials released him from the prison mental facility in May 2012. Correction officials did not let DeAvila out because he was no longer dangerous. They freed him because some judge determined that the state psychiatric hospital was too crowded.

     DeAvila was just one of thousands of violent criminals California authorities paroled early because there was no room for them in the state's prisons and jails. Because getting into prison and jail had become so difficult in the state, parole violators like DeAvila had no incentive to comply with the conditions of parole. DeAvila was supposed to wear a GPS tracking device that triggered an alarm if tampered with. Removing the device constituted a parole violation. Because removing tracking devices didn't lead to jail time, many parolees decided not to wear them. As a result, DeAvila's parole officer had no idea where he was or what he was doing.

     The Stockton police, on February 13, 2013, arrested DeAvila for the tenth time since his release from the state psychiatric facility. Every one of his arrests involved violations of the terms of his parole, and included public drunkenness, possession of drugs, and the removal of his GPS tracking device. On each these occasions, officers booked him into the San Joaquin County Jail.

    Before the court ordered the thinning out of the state's prison and jail population, parole violators would be held in county jails until their state parole revocation hearings. If found in violation, they'd be sent back to prison to serve up to another year behind bars.

     In DeAvila's case, he'd only spend a few nights in the San Joaquin lockup before being released back into society. Following his tenth parole violation arrest on February 13, 2013, he remained in the overcrowded San Joaquin Jail one week before walking free.

     On February 26, 2013, just six days after DeAvila's last jail release, neighbors discovered the corpse of Rachael Russell, the parole violator's grandmother. Her body had been placed into a wheelbarrow that sat in her backyard. Later that day, Stockton police officers arrested the high-risk parolee for the rape, robbery and murder of his grandmother. When taken into custody he was wearing her jewelry.

     It had taken a murder to get Jerome DeAvila off the streets of Stockton, California. But DeAvila's arrest for murder meant that some other criminal would be set free to make room for him. 

     In August 2013, Rachael Russell's daughter and son (DeAvila's mother and uncle) sued the state and San Joaquin County. The plaintiffs claimed that after this dangerous man violated his parole for the tenth time, he should not have been released from the county jail. According to the suit, parole agents who supervised DeAvila knew he was a danger to the 76-year-old victim.

     In April 2014, DeAvila pleaded guilty to rape, robbery, and murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. The civil case was settled for an undisclosed amount.

America's First Airline Bombing Case

In 1955, Jack Gilbert Graham insured his mother's life for $37,000 and then planted a bomb [in her luggage] on United Airlines Flight 629 which she boarded at Denver, Colorado. The device exploded just ten minutes after take-off, killing all 44 passengers and crew. Graham, who had nurtured a hatred of his mother ever since she placed him in an orphanage for the first eight years of his life, readily confessed and was sent to the Colorado Penitentiary gas chamber in January 1957.

Brian Lane, Chronicle of 20th Century Murder, 1993 

The Murder Trial as TV Entertainment

     A court room isn't quite a theatre, but there's something inherently dramatic about it all the same. Ever since the dark ages of the Salem Witch Trials, court proceedings have been public affairs. Trials represent the goal of governmental transparency. It makes sense that a crime against society should be tried before the eyes of that same society. But somewhere along the line, that public interest became public entertainment. Trials began to be televised, in a slightly edited fashion. Commentary on trials came to resemble the commentary on a major sporting event. For high profile cases, crowds gather outside court rooms in hopes of getting a seat in the gallery. [American's first high-profile trial, the Webster-Parkman case, took place in Boston in 1850. Since then there have been hundreds of such judicial spectacles and dozens of "Crimes of the Century."]

     In 2013, the floodgates opened completely and the line between reality TV and the criminal trial became blurred in the trial of Jodi Arias, then accused of the murder of  her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The trial was streamed in its entirety on Youtube. The only censored information was the sidebars. Prosecutor Juan Martinez actually signed autographs outside the court house, and posed for pictures with "fans" who traveled from across the globe to attend the lengthy trial.

"10 of the Most Entertaining Criminal Trials," TheRichList.com, March 13, 2014      

Fantasy Fiction Celebrates the Unreal

Fantasy celebrates the non-rational. Wrapped in a cloak of magic, it dares a rational reader to object to a frog suddenly being turned into a prince. Where an explanation would be required in science fiction, fantasy says: "Because it did." Though fantasy may offer some cause and effect--the prince probably did something wrong in the first place to cause him to be turned into a warty amphibian--no scientific rationale is required.

Philip Martin in The Writer's Guide to Fantasy and Literature, edited by Philip Martin, 2002