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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Ethan Estevez Sexuial Abuse/Murder Solicitation Case

     In August 2012, the Harford County Maryland School District hired 29-year-old Ethan Estevez to teach biology in the town of Aberdeen. The resident of Churchville, Maryland would teach alternative education students at the Center for Educational Opportunity. According to the center's website, "Alternative Education provides a continuation of educational services to students who may have experienced crises. This program also exists to meet the individual needs of those students who have dropped out of school or not have been successful in a traditional school environment."
      In February 2014, members of the center's teaching staff came to suspect that Estevez was engaged in a sexual relationship with a female student, a relationship that had been going on since September 2012 when the girl was fifteen. The girl told some of her friends and her mother that she and the teacher had been involved romantically. The mother, along with teachers from the school, reported Estevez to the Harford County Sheriff's Office. 
     A few days after filing the criminal complaint against the teacher, the alleged victim's mother, with a detective listening in on the call, phoned Estevez and asked him if her daughter's allegations were true. Estevez explained that he and the girl were in love and planned to get married. (Estevez, however, already had a wife.) The teacher denied that he and the girl had engaged in anything beyond kissing.
    On March 7, 2014, a school administrator placed Estevez on administrative leave. A month after that, detectives searching the girl's iPhone came across a February 2014 text message to one of her friends that revealed a murder-for-hire plot involving Estevez as the mastermind and his wife as the target. The girl had written: "Like it has to look like an accident because of life insurance and stuff." In another text message, the girl said she "just needed it to really happen before Sunday." 
     Questioned about the text messages by detectives, the student claimed that the teacher never really intended to have his wife murdered. Yes, they had talked about it but he was just joking around. 
     On June 4, 2014, a Harford County grand jury indicted Ethan Estevez on charges of sexual abuse. On that day the head of the school district fired him. After a few hours in jail Estevez posted his bond and was released to await his trial.
     A month after Estevez's sexual abuse arrest, Harford County detectives questioned a girl who had exchanged text messages with the suspect's alleged student victim. According to the ex-teacher's student/girlfriend, he had initially spoke of making his wife's murder look like a hit-and-run accident. Later he changed the murder plan to have the hit man orchestrate a fake drive-by shooting outside of a restaurant. To make the hit look like a random crime and throw suspicion off himself, Estevez wanted the assassin to shoot him in the arm. (That was stupid because hit men are amateurs who usually don't shoot straight.) This girl also told detectives that her friend said the hit man would kill the teacher's wife for $600. 
     In August 2014, an assistant Harford County state's attorney charged Ethan Estevez with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. At the defendant's bail hearing, the prosecutor argued that the suspect posed a danger to the community and to his wife. District Court Judge David Carey said he could not ignore the seriousness of the charge. He said, however, that Mr. Estevez was entitled to bail which he set at $75,000. The next day the murder-for-hire and sexual abuse suspect posted his bond and walked out of the Harford County Jail.

     In February 2015, the prosecutor in charge of the Estevez case dropped the murder solicitation charge in exchange for the former teacher's guilty plea to a fourth-degree sexual offense related to the student. Hartford County Circuit Judge Stephen Waldron sentenced Estevez to one year in the county jail. Pursuant to this lenient sentence, Estevez was deemed eligible for work release. (He had found a job at an insurance company.) The judge also sentenced Estevez to five years probation.   

The Violent Woman

When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation. [Murderous women, often cold-blooded poisoners, include so-called "Angels of Death" who kill hospital patients and "Black Widows" who kill their husbands for the inheritance.]

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Corpse Whisperers

The typical American goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of our over-sanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies--slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides--retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next line of custody--the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Flawed Eyewitness Memories

I describe a study I'd conducted in which subjects watched a film of a robbery involving a shooting and were then exposed to a television account of the event which contained erroneous details. When asked to recall what happened during the robbery, many subject incorporated the erroneous details from the television report into their account. Once these details were inserted into a person's mind through the technique of exposure to post-event information, they were adopted as the truth and protected as fiercely as the "real," original details. Subjects typically resisted any suggestion that their richly detailed memories might have been flawed or contaminated and asserted with great confidence that they saw what their revised and adapted memories told them they saw.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Books by Literature Professors

     I don't yet understand the source of my antipathy toward literature professors. The pervasive air of smugness has something to do with it.

     I've paid some attention to the publications of my English Department colleagues and have the impression that they are responsible for a staggering amount of inconsequentia. English professors are always turning out extraneous "textbooks" or else are collecting other people's writing and publishing them as anthologies. My favorite example--if you'll allow me a moment of rottenness--is something "edited by" two of our tenured battleships, and proudly displayed behind glass in the departmental office. It's called Affirmations of the Human Spirit: Readings in Excellence, and is little more than excerpts from the Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost with a one-paragraph introduction to each.

     Many of the local professor-products are patched together with the primary purpose of preserving their authors from perishing in the publish-or-perish sense, or else for some low-wattage pedantic reason; in any case, they tend to shorten the lives of those forced to do "readings" in them. Boredom, like speed, kills.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Establishing a Novel's Setting

Settings are as varied in fiction as they are in the world: A humid southern bayou; icy Norwegian fords; a crumbling Victorian mansion; a stable, pungent with the stench of animals. These are just a few of the infinite number of places in which you might set your characters. Though they may seem like merely the backdrop to the action and drama of your narrative, they are more like the rich soil in which you plant your seeds. Do not forget to set the scene. Unless you have a good  reason to set your novel or story in a vacuum, establishing a physical setting is one of the most important and literal ways to ground the reader and keep characters from being floating heads.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, 2008 

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Wrongful Convictions Of Cathy Woods

     On February 24, 1976, a 19-year-old nursing student at the University of Nevada-Reno named Michelle Mitchell went missing after her car broke down near the campus. Shortly thereafter, Mitchell's body was found in a nearby garage. Her hands were tied behind her back and her throat had been slashed.

     Reno detectives, without any solid leads in the case, were unable to identify a suspect until March 1979. The suspect was a 29-year-old diagnosed psychotic named Cathy Woods, an impatient at a Louisiana mental hospital. The patient's counsellor called the local police and reported that Cathy Woods had said something to the effect that she had been involved in the murder of a girl named Michelle in Reno. The Louisiana authorities passed this information on to detectives working the case in Nevada.

     At the time of Michelle Mitchell's disappearance and murder, Cathy Woods was 26 and working in Reno as a bartender. Following her mental breakdown, her mother had committed her to the mental institution in Louisiana.

     Reno detectives traveled to Louisiana to question Cathy Woods. When they returned to Nevada they claimed to have acquired a confession from the schizophrenic woman. Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, on the strength of the confession, charged Cathy Woods with first-degree murder. The authorities extradited her back to Nevada to stand trial.

     At the 1980 murder trial, Woods' public defender attorney argued that the state did not have enough evidence to meet its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense attorney pointed out that the prosecutor had no physical evidence connecting his client to the murder, and not one eyewitness who had seen the defendant and the victim together. Moreover, the detectives who had questioned the mentally ill Woods had contrived the so-called confession.

     According to Cathy Woods, she had made up the statement about murdering a girl named Michelle in Reno because the only way to get a private room in the mental institution was to be classified as dangerous.

     The Washoe County jury, after a short deliberation, found Cathy Woods guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     After the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Cathy Woods' murder conviction, District Attorney Cal Dunlap brought her to trial again. In 1984, the second jury also found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge again sentenced her to life in prison.

     Cathy Woods' attorney appealed the second murder conviction but this time the appellate court upheld the verdict.

     In 2014, more than three decades after Cathy Woods' arrest, a DNA analysis of a Marlboro cigarette found near Michelle Mitchell's body matched the DNA of an inmate in an Oregon prison named Rodney Halbower. Halbower, known as the "Gypsy Hills Killer," had been convicted of murdering and raping six women and girls in San Francisco. The serial killer had also murdered a woman in Oregon, and in all probability Michelle Mitchell.

     Based upon the DNA evidence linking Halbower to the Michelle Mitchell murder, and the overall weakness of the evidence that led to Cathy Woods' convictions, a Nevada judge, in 2014, vacated her conviction. Less than a year later she walked free after serving more than 35 years behind bars.

     In 2016, Cathy Woods' lawyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap and the state of Nevada. In August 2019, the Washoe County Commissioners voted 4 to 0 to settle Woods' suit for $3 million. 
     Cathy Woods, now 71, has the dubious distinction of being the longest serving wrongfully convicted woman in U.S. history.

Jail Suicide

Even though prisons hold many more men and women than local jails, more people take their lives in jail. In prison, illness is the leading cause of death, while suicide is the leading cause of death in jails and has been for more than a decade, according to Bureau of Justice statistics.

Al Tompkins, August 12, 2019

J.D. Salinger's Relationship With His Fans

The most intense relationship anybody can have with a writer is by reading their work, alone, in silence. Yet readers seek writers in search of something additional. It was J.D. Salinger's hero, Holden Caufield, who said that what really knocked him out was a book that when you're done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the telephone whenever you felt like it. It was also J.D. Salinger who, when Catcher in the Rye achieved its enormous success, made himself as inaccessible to his readers as any living author has ever been.

Sean French in The Faber Book of Writers on Writers, edited by Sean French 

Reaching the Low Point in Higher Education

In more and more colleges and universities, higher education is becoming a swindle perpetrated on the American taxpayer. Too many institutions of higher learning have become places where free speech and diversity of ideas go to die. Moreover, serious courses taught by worldly professors are being replaced by a curricula of feel-good nonsense taught by political and cultural propagandists. Administrators, staff and teachers at these institutions have become terrified of their students. And it seems the more prestigious the school, the worse it gets. Eventually, tax payers will have to rise up and end this abuse, this devastating waste of time and money. There has to be a better way.