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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Shayna Hubers Murder Case

     In 2012, Ryan Poston, a 29-year-old lawyer from a family of prominent attorneys and corporate executives, resided in a condo in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He was involved in an on again-off again tumultuous relationship with a 21-year-old graduate student from Lexington, Kentucky named Shayna Hubers. A 2008 graduate of the prestigious School for the Arts, Hubers was pursuing a Master's Degree in counseling from Eastern Kentucky University.

     In 2011 and 2012, Poston and Hubers exchanged hundreds of text messages that revealed she was more attracted to him than he was to her. For months Poston had been trying to get himself out of the relationship. On October 11, 2012, Poston, his mother, his stepfather and Shayna Hubers had dinner at the young attorney's dwelling.

     After dinner that night, Hubers went home but returned a few hours later. Upon her uninvited return the couple argued. Things really heated up when he informed her that he wanted to end the relationship. The argument further intensified when he told her that he had a date the following Friday night with the current Miss Ohio.

     At 8:53 PM the next day, Shayna Hubers called 911 from Poston's condo and said this to the emergency dispatcher: "Ma'am, I have, I have, I killed my boyfriend in self defense."

     "What happened?" asked the dispatcher.

     "He beat me and tried to carry me out of the house and I came back in to get my things. He was right in front of me and reached down and grabbed the gun, and I grabbed it out of his hands and pulled the trigger."

     Responding police officers found Ryan Poston lying on his dining room floor next to his Sig Sauer .380-caliber pistol. He had been shot in the back, twice in the head, and three times in the torso.

     A Campbell County prosecutor charged Shayna Hubers with first-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and reckless homicide. Officers booked the suspect into the county jail in Newport, Kentucky. At her arraignment hearing the judge denied her bail.

     The Shayna Hubers murder trial got underway on April 13, 2015 in Newport, Kentucky before Circuit Judge Fred A. Stine. Commonwealth Attorney Michelle Snodgrass, in her opening statement to the jury, accused the defendant of killing Mr. Poston in a fit of jealous rage. According to the prosecutor's version of the killing, the defendant's first shot knocked the victim down. While he lay wounded and helpless on his dining room floor, she pumped five more bullets into his body.

     Defense attorney Wil Zevely told the jurors that in an act of self defense, his client had shot her boyfriend six times before he fell to the floor and died.

     The lead detective in the case took the stand for the prosecution and testified that the death scene, the victim's dining room, showed no signs of a struggle. Several of Mr. Poston's condo neighbors testified they had not heard anything that night that suggested physical violence.

     A prosecution witness took the stand and said that the defendant had sent her a Facebook message regarding her plan to shoot Mr. Poston at a gun range and make the shooting look like an accident.

     The prosecutor played the defendant's recorded police interview in which she had said: "I shot him probably six times. I shot him in the head. He was lying like this. His glasses were still on. He was twitching. I shot him a couple more times just to make sure he was dead."

     After Commonwealth Attorney Michelle Snodgrass rested the prosecution's case, defense attorney Wil Zevely put Dr. Saeed Tortani, a toxicologist, on the stand. Dr. Tortani testified that at the time of his death, Ryan Poston was taking Xanax and Adderall, drugs linked to aggression and paranoia.

     On cross-examination, the prosecutor brought out the fact the victim had been taking this medicine under a doctor's care. The commonwealth attorney also got Dr. Tortani to reveal he was being paid $380 an hour by the defense.

     Shayna Hubers took the stand on her own behalf. By presenting herself as the victim of her boyfriend's verbal and physical abuse, she laid out a scenario consistent with self defense. Her witness box story, however, did not conform to her recorded statement to the police or her 911 call.

     On Friday April 24, 2015, the jury, after deliberating five hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors recommended that Judge Stine sentence Hubers to 40 years in prison.

     Four days after the guilty verdict, the convicted woman's attorney filed a claim for his client's early parole on grounds she had been the victim of domestic violence. Under the Kentucky statute that created this sentencing exception, Hubers' attorney would have to prove that at the time of the abuse she and the victim had been living together. If Judge Stine ruled in favor of Hubers on this sentencing issue, she could be released from prison in five years.

     On August 14, 2015, Judge Stine sentenced Hubers to the recommended 40 years in prison. Pursuant to his ruling, she had to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence. That meant she won't be eligible for parole for 34 years. At the sentencing hearing, a prosecution psychologist described Hubers as a narcissist.

     On August 26, 2016, Campbell County Circuit Judge Fred Stine announced his decision to overturn Shayna Hubers' murder conviction. The judge based this ruling on the fact that juror Dave Craig, before his jury service, had been convicted of a felony. Under Kentucky law, felons are prohibited from jury service. The local prosecutor said she would re-charge Hubers and bring her to trial for a second time.

     In June 2018, while awaiting her second trial in the Campbell County Detention Center, Hubers married a fellow inmate named Richard McBee, a 41-year-old charged with robbery. Huber's second trial had been set for September 2017 and then January 2018 and then postponed again. 
     In August 2018, while being tried the second time for murder, Shayna Hubers married a transgender woman named Unique Taylor. Later that month, the second jury found Hubers guilty of first-degree murder. The judge, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced her to life in prison. 
     In January 2019, Hubers and Taylor divorced.  

The Crime Beat

The irony of crime beat journalism--maybe all of journalism--is that the best stories are really the worst stories. The stories of calamity and tragedy are the stories that journalists live for. It gets the adrenaline churning in their blood and can burn them out young, but nevertheless it is a hard fact of the business. Their best day is your worst day.

Michael Connelly, Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers, 2004

The 911 Dispatcher

     Since the introduction of the 911 system beginning in 1968 and extending through the 1970s, the dispatcher has become more important than ever. Although 911 has been a lifesaver, the system is abused perhaps as frequently as it is used properly. The dispatcher must filter through the information and properly assess urgency in an emergency context in which everything seems equally urgent.

     The dispatcher's job is to determine who, what, where, when, and how the emergency has happened. In the case of a crime, the dispatcher must also determine if the perpetrators are still present, where they went, how many of them are there, and what they were wearing, and whether they are armed. Often, it is up to the dispatcher to calm a desperate or injured victim, or the child who has found a parent severely injured, sick--or worse.

Alex Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation, 2003

The Dark Fantasy Genre

In pure horror stories--dark fantasy--anything goes, usually straight for the throat. Monsters attack the house, crawl down the chimney, slither or slouch in Zombie ranks closer and closer with each step to the front porch. These fantastic creatures are evil to the core: from slurping, sucking alien monsters to cursed cars that kill their owners. Early in these stories evil begins to appear, usually after a brief opening of calm and tranquility, in small measures.

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

Realistic Horror Fiction

     In a horror novel or short story, there is one primary rule: Make your characters as realistic as possible.

     Reality is your bridge into the fantastic. If readers empathize with your characters and truly believe in them as projections of real life, then they will follow them into whatever fantastic situations you provide. You will achieve what Coleridge termed "the willing suspension of disbelief." Your reader will want to believe your story, no matter how improbable it may be in objective reality.

William E. Nolan, How to Write Horror Fiction, 1990 

1930s Hardboiled Detective Fiction

In the late 1930s Raymond Chandler extrolled the virtues of Dashiell Hammett (who, he felt, took murder out of the library and put it back on the streets where it belonged) and defined the hard-boiled detective genre in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly entitled, "The Simple Art of Murder." He might have been writing a justification of his own work as well: uncluttered prose, lots of metaphors, a wisecracking detective (Philip Marlowe), and the mean streets of a tough and uncaring city.

Nancy Pearl, Book Lust, 2003 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Joelle Ann Lockwood: The Woman in the Cage

     Joelle Ann Lockwood, a 30-year-old mother of two, shared an apartment with her boyfriend in the southern Indiana city of Evansville. On July 9, 2014, after a night of drinking, Lockwood left the apartment following an argument with her boyfriend. She wandered the streets of Evansville that night.

     In the early morning hours of July 10, while meandering about the city, Lockwood encountered Ricky House Jr., a man she had once dated. The 37-year-old offered her a ride to his place in Stewartsville, a small town 25 miles northwest of Evansville where House lived in a mobile home with his 44-year-old girlfriend, Kendra Tooley.

     Later that morning, when Lockwood told House that she wanted to return to her apartment, he covered her nose and mouth with a rag soaked in chloroform. When she regained consciousness she found herself naked and tied to a bed. She had also been raped.

     Over the next several weeks Lockwood's captors forced her to wear a dog collar with an attached leash. The couple made her do chores that included cleaning and cooking. When House wasn't raping or beating her, she lived in a narrow wooden cage barely large enough for her body.

     On July 13, 2014, three days after Lockwood left her apartment in Evansville, her relatives filed a missing person report. The police coordinated a search but came up empty-handed.

     While the authorities and volunteers looked for Lockwood, her captor, Ricky House, attempted to impregnate her. He and Kendra wanted a child but Tooley was too old to get pregnant.

     Besides not having any children together, House and Tooley were in financial trouble. On Thursday September 4, 2014, Tooley's ex-husband, Ron Higgs, visited the mobile home in Stewartsville. He encountered Lockwood but assumed she was a willing participant in some kind of perverted sex arrangement with Ricky House and Tooley.

     On Saturday September 6, the 61-year-old Higgs returned to the mobile home with some money for his ex-spouse. This time Joelle Lockwood told him she was being held against her will since early July during which time she had been raped and beaten.

     In an effort to secure Lockwood's freedom, Higgs offered the captors additional money for her release. Ricky House rejected that proposal, and this led to an argument that became physical. Ricky House backed-off, left the room, then returned with a sawed-off shotgun. Ron Higgs grabbed the shotgun and stunned Ricky House with a head-butt. Ricky retreated into a bedroom as Higgs led Joelle Lockwood out of the mobile home.

     A Posey County prosecutor charged Ricky House and Kendra Tooley with multiple counts of rape, kidnapping and assault. The judge set House's bond at $500,000 and Tooley's at $150,000. At the arraignment hearing the couple, represented by a pair of public defenders, pleaded not guilty. 

     Ron Higgs, the man who rescued Joelle Lockwood from her captors, said this to the authorities in charge of the case: "I hope you all have some small cells. That's where they need to spend the rest of their lives, in real small cells."

     In September 2015, a Posey County jury, after a one-week trial, found Ricky House guilty of rape, kidnapping and other crimes. The judge sentenced him to 93 years in prison. Kendra Tooley pleaded guilty in July 2016 to rape and two counts of criminal confinement. The judge sentenced her to 25 years in prison. The judge gave Kendra Tooley two years credit for time served. 

The Criminology Of Marriage

Someone once said that marriages start in bed and end up in court. It's also true that one of the spouses can end up in court because the other one ended up in the morgue. O. J. Simpson wasn't the first, nor the last, husband to murder his wife. And wives can be just as deadly. There are women who marry rich men in order to kill them for their money. These cold-blooded killers are called Black Widows, and their weapon of choice is usually poison. Spouses have been known to commit murder on their honeymoons, quite often during ocean cruises where the victim, usually the wife, ends up with the fishes. For the husband, the most common motive for hiring a hit man to murder his estranged wife is to avoid the high cost of divorce. Moreover, men who don't want to be fathers have either killed their pregnant wives or hired someone else to do the deed. Jealous wives have been known to kill their wayward spouses out of rage, and in some cases, merely to save face. Whenever a married person is murdered, and it's not immediately clear who committed the offense, the spouse who doesn't have an airtight alibi usually becomes the first suspect. In the annals of crime, there are thousands of marital murder cases where the spouse has staged the killing to look like a suicide. And in missing persons cases where the wife has mysteriously disappeared, the experienced homicide detective will look closely at the husband. 

Amber Alert Systems

The Amber Alert System originated in Arlington, Texas in 1996 following the abduction and murder of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice established a guideline for when local jurisdictions should initiate the missing child alert system. The guideline sets outs the following criteria:

* Authorities believe the child may have been abducted
* The child is 17 years old or younger
* The child is in imminent danger of injury or death
* There's enough information about the child and the abduction for an alert
* Case details have been entered into a national missing persons database 
     In 2019, there were more than 3,500 Amber Alerts in the United States.   

Writing For Children Isn't Easier Than Writing For Adults

Even famous authors of books intended for adult readers have found that their fame does not transfer easily into the children's market. Renown in one area of writing does not necessarily smooth a path into an entirely different genre. And that is precisely what writing for children is: a different and separate writing area, not an easier one. It has its own difficulties and calls on special and specific skills from its practitioners.

Allan Frewin Jones and Lesly Pollinger, Writing for Children and Getting Published, 1996