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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The High-Profile Sanford Rubenstein Rape Allegation

     On October 1, 2014, prominent Manhattan, New York defense attorney Sanford A. Rubenstein attended civil rights activist Al Sharpton's 60th birthday party at the Four Seasons restaurant. Following the gala affair, two female party attendees accompanied Rubenstein back to his penthouse apartment. One of these women, Iasha Rivers, sat on the board of Sharpton's civil rights organization, The National Action Network.

     The 43-year-old board member's companion left the Rubenstein apartment sometime after midnight. Iasha Rivers, however, decided to spend the night with the rich lawyer. The next morning, Mr. Rubenstein's driver took her home.

     Iasha Rivers, 36-hours after being driven home from Rubenstein's penthouse, went to a hospital with bruises on her arms and vaginal bleeding. To hospital personnel, and later the police, she claimed that Sanford Rubenstein had drugged and raped her that night.

     In her police complaint, Iasha Rivers said that after her party companion left the penthouse, she began to feel "foggy" then lost consciousness. According to her account of that night, when she awoke, Mr. Rubenstein had her arms pinned and was raping her.

     The rape allegation against Mr. Rubenstein led to a three-month investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. On January 5, 2015, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance announced that after his investigators questioned dozens of witnesses, reviewed medical records, looked at surveillance camera footage, and considered toxicology results, he didn't have enough evidence to support a criminal charge against Mr. Rubenstein.

     In justifying his decision not proceed with this case, prosecutor Vance said that a toxicology test of the alleged victim's blood failed to show the presence of anything other than traces of alcohol and marijuana.

     Benjamin Brafman, Mr. Rubenstein's attorney, said this following the district attorney's announcement: "What happened in this case was consensual sex between two adults who were fully alert and fully awake throughout."

     Kenneth J. Montgomery, Iasha River's attorney, in calling the district attorney's office investigation "incredibly inept," accused investigators of ignoring evidence such as his client's bruised arms and a bloody condom that had been recovered from Rubenstein's apartment. The attorney criticized the district attorney for not presenting the case to a grand jury.

     In questioning the results of the toxicology test, Mr. Montgomery pointed out that his client did not use marijuana. "I think," he said, "they never wanted to pursue this case from the very beginning." The lawyer also announced that he had just filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Rubenstein on behalf of his client.

     Mr. Brafman, speaking for his client, Mr. Rubenstein, said, "Rape is undoubtedly a serious offense; to falsely accuse someone of rape, however, is equally offensive."

     On January 6, 2015, the day following District Attorney Vance's announcement, The New York Daily News, citing a source within the NYPD, reported that officers had found, in Rubenstein's penthouse, a prescription for Viagra issued in Al Sharpton's name.

     Al Sharpton responded quickly to the tabloid's Viagra story. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "No, I don't know anything about that." According to the civil rights leader, this Daily News reportage was nothing more than a New York City police conspiracy to embarrass him. "If the motive of the cop was to embarrass me, at sixty years old, I am unembarassable."

     Rank and file New York City police officers had been offended by what they considered Al Sharpton's anti-cop rhetoric in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. Sharpton was considered by many to be an unrepentant race-baiter who used his clout in the black community to extort money from corporations afraid of being labeled as racist. It was not a stretch of the imagination to believe that New York City police officers would want nothing better than to embarrass this man. Al Sharpton's claim that he could not be embarrassed, based upon the history of his career, had the ring of truth.

     In March 2016, the attorney for Iasha Rivers and the attorney for Rubenstein quietly agreed to drop their clients' lawsuits against each other.

The Industrial Revolution and the Birth of Poison

     In the early twentieth century industrial innovation flooded the United States with a wealth of modern poisons, creating new opportunities for the clever poisoner and new challenges for the country's early forensic detectives. Morphine went into teething medicines for infants; opium into routinely prescribed sedatives; arsenic was an ingredient in everything from pesticides to cosmetics. Mercury, cyanide, strychnine, chloral hydrate, chloroform, sulfates of iron, sugar of lead, carbolic acid, and more, the products of the new chemistry stocked the shelves of doctors' offices, businesses, homes, pharmacies, and grocery stores. During the Great War poison was established as a weapon of warfare, earning World War I the name "The Chemist's War." And with the onset of Prohibition a new Chemist's War raged between bootleggers and government chemists working to make moonshine a lethal concoction. In New York's smoky jazz clubs, each round of cocktails became a game of Russian roulette.

     There was no way for the barely invented science of toxicology to keep up with the deluge. Though a few dogged researchers were putting out manuals and compiling textbooks on the subject, too many novel compounds had yet to be analyzed and most doctors had little or no training in the subject.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

The Historic FBI Burglary

     On a March evening in 1971, eight antiwar protesters burglarized an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, with astonishing ease. A few weeks of elementary surveillance had shown the vulnerability of the target: There were no cameras to elude, no alarms to disconnect. Because the building contained residential apartments, the group choose the night of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali heavyweight championship fight, an ideal distraction. [Frazier came from Philadelphia and was the hometown favorite.]

     It turned out that the Pennsylvania office [a branch resident agency within the Philadelphia field division], like so many others across the country, had almost no physical protection. Security was largely symbolic, resting on the bureau's carefully buffed reputation for efficiency in tracking down America's "most wanted" criminals, from bank robbers to atomic spies. Put simply, no one messed with J. Edgar Hoover's FBI…

     The stolen material included the secret case histories of thousands of Americans. Much of it was malicious gossip about things like sexual deviance and race-mixing, two of Hoover's favorite subjects. Had this been all, the FBI very likely would have weathered the storm. Its pubic relations machine was enormous, and the officials charged with overseeing its operations were themselves wary of what lay in the files. Hoover had served for almost 50 years, under eight presidents, because nobody dared fire a man who, in Richard Nixon's words, could "pull down the temple with him, including me." [Hoover died less than a year after the burglary.]

     But there was more…the most important stolen document was a routine routing slip containing the word "Cointelpro." The term meant nothing to the burglars, for good reason. Cointelpro was among the FBI's most carefully guarded secrets, a huge program of dirty tricks and illegal activities designed to "expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize" groups deemed subversive by the director…

David Oshinsky, "Breaking In," The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

The Vanished Market For Short Stories

After the Second World War, society changed and the market for short stories waned. Collier's died, as did The Saturday Evening Post. In a mere instant, as history is reckoned, the audience for quality short fiction all but vanished; the demand, instead, was for nonfiction and journalism.

Jon Franklin, Writing For Story, 1994 

Charles Bukowski On Creativity, Poetry, and Becoming a Writer

That most men don't gamble with their lives or their creativity is not my fault. And it makes for dull writing and dull writers.

Poetry has long been an in-game, a snob game, a game of puzzles and incantations. It still is, and most of its practitioners operate as professors in our safe and stale universities.

I'd never advise anybody to become a writer, only if writing is the only thing which keeps you from going insane. Then, perhaps, it's worth it.

Charles Bukowski, 1988

Monday, August 2, 2021

Christopher Dorner: An Ex-LAPD Officer's Spree of Murderous Revenge

     On Sunday night, February 3, 2013, a woman walking to her car in an Irvine, California condo parking structure discovered the bodies of a couple in their twenties slumped in the front seat of a white Kia. The victims, each shot more than once in the head from close range, were identified as Keith Lawrence and his fiancee Monica Quan. The pair had met at Concordia University where they were basketball stars. Lawrence was employed as a public security officer on the campus of the University of Southern California. Monica Quan, for the past two seasons, was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of California Fullerton.

     The double murder, occurring in one of America's safest cities, baffled detectives who couldn't figure who would want to kill this couple.

     At a press conference held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, Irvine Chief of Police David Maggard announced that his detectives had identified a suspect in the double murder. The suspect, 33-year-old Christopher Dorner, was still at large, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2009, Dorner had been fired from the LAPD. The attorney who represented him before the Board of Rights Tribunal and handled his appeal of the board's ruling of dismissal in October 2011, had been Monica Quan's father, Randal Quan. (Captain Quan, after retiring from the LAPD in 2002, began practicing law.)

     Chief Maggard identified, as a key piece of evidence linking Christopher Dorner to the Lawrence/Quan murders, a 11,300-word, 20-page "manifesto" the Naval Reservist and ex-cop had posted on his Facebook page. Addressed to "America," and titled "Last Resort," Dorner outlined a plan and rationale for murdering everyone associated with his 2009 dismissal from the LAPD. (Officer Dorner had accused a fellow officer of excessive force in the arrest of a schizophrenic man. An internal investigation revealed that Dorner had made false statements in the case. For that reason he was fired.)

     In his manifesto, Dorner made specific reference to his former attorney, Randal Quan. He wrote: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, so I am terminating yours." In the rambling document, Dorner accused Randal Quan of suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him.

     In reference to his intended victims in general, Dorner wrote: I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether off or on duty. You will now live the life of a prey. Whatever pre-planned responses you have established for a scenario like me, shelve it. The violence of action will be high. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, and sleep...I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name...Self preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago on January 2, 2009. I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

     One doesn't have to be a forensic psychiatrist to interpret Dorner's manifesto as the deluded, grandiose ravings of an angry, revenge-seeking man suffering from serious mental illness. In this document he came off as the proverbial ticking time-bomb.

     Later on the day of Chief Maggard's press conference, Christopher Dorner was in San Diego where he tried to steal a boat. As he drove to Corona, California 60 miles east of Los Angeles, he tossed his wallet out the window of his vehicle. At 1:25 the next morning, he shot at two Corona police officers who were working a security detail. A bullet from Dorner's rifle grazed one of the officers who could not pursue Dorner because other bullets had disabled their patrol car.

      At 1:45 Thursday, February 7, 2013, in the neighboring town of Riverside, Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car in his 2005 Nissan Titan pickup. The police car was stopped at a traffic light. Dorner opened fire on the unsuspecting officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The suspect, described as a black man with a shaved head, sped from the scene.

     Los Angeles detectives in Torrance, California, early Thursday morning, shot at a pickup truck they believed was being driven by the fugitive. In fact, the vehicle was occupied by 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter Margie Carranza. Mother and daughter were delivering the Los Angeles Times. Emma Hernandez was shot twice in the back and was listed in stable condition. Margie Carranza was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to her finger and released. 

     The U.S. Marshals Service and 10,000 police officers launched a manhunt for Dorner from California to Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. His last known address was in La Palma, California in northern Orange County not far from Fullerton.

     On Thursday evening, February 7, 2013, the manhunt centered in Big Bear Lake country 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles where schools and ski resorts were shut down. SWAT teams, officers with bloodhounds, and other law enforcement searchers were in the area after the discovery of Dorner's burned-out pickup trick. The area was also being searched from the air. Back in Los Angeles, every station house was locked-down and under armed guard.

      On February 9, 2013, searchers found Dorner's charred remains inside a burned cabin not far from his pickup truck.

The Power of a Good Lawyer and Lying Defense Witnesses

Courts are more and more distinguishing between mere opinions and clear, demonstrative evidence; between honest and competent witnesses and dishonest and incompetent fakers and pretenders, but the facts alone, even in good cases, do not often prove themselves, especially against bold perjury and resourceful advocacy.

Albert S. Osborn, Questioned Documents, 1910. Albert S. Osborn is considered the father of modern forensic document examination.

Crimes the Media Loves

The media focus on the most extreme variants of criminal behavior often causes people to forget that most crime does not involve stranger abductions, sadistic torture, chopping off of body parts, or using commercial airliners as bombs. Although the real-life catalog of bizarre and extreme crimes is filled with horror, tragedy, and untold human harm and loss, it includes an even longer list of more benign offenses that most TV producers would have no interest in devoting a one-hour prime time show to.

Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Criminal Behavior, 2008


I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.

Agatha Christie (1930-1976) bestselling British mystery novelist

Literary Eunuchs

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They're there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can't do it themselves.

Brendan Behan in Rotten Reviews and Rejections, 1998