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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Packing Heat in High School

     Bullying victims are sneaking hundreds of thousands of firearms, knives and clubs into U.S. high schools, according to a new analysis that carries the echoes of one recent mass school assault and two potential near misses.

     Extrapolating from a survey of American high school students by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that bullied students who are threatened or injured by a weapon on school property were eight times more likely to choose, themselves, to carry a weapon to campus. More alarming: Bullying episodes have a cumulative effect, vastly boosting the likelihood that a chronically harassed student will pack a weapon before returning to a high school….

     Specifically, bullied students who have endured four types of aggressive clashes at school--being verbally tormented, sustaining a physical assault, suffering personal property theft or damage, and cutting school due to safety concerns--are nearly 49 times more likely to have recently carried a weapon to school and 34 more times more likely to have recently smuggled a gun into school….

     By examining the responses of high school students in a biannual, national survey conducted by the CDC, the researchers estimated that more than 200,000 victims of bullies had secretly lugged weapons such as firearms, knives, or clubs into their high schools at least once during a previous month….

Bill Briggs, "Bullied Victims Take Weapons Into High School," NBC News, May 4, 2014 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Bomb in Aile 9!

     A judge sentenced a former employee at the Home Depot store in Huntington, New York to 30 years for planting a pipe bomb in the lighting department and threatening three other stores in 2012…David Sheehan tried to extort $2 million from the company…He had sent an anonymous letter saying he'd put a bomb in the store to show that he could plant one without being detected, and that he would set off  bombs in three other Long Island Home Depot stores on Black Friday that year if not paid…

     Prosecutors said the company spent $1.5 million for additional security guards and other security measures…

     Police found the device in the Huntington store, took it away and detonated it. After Sheehan sent a second extortion letter, lowering the demand to $1 million, investigators identified and arrested him…Sheehan's defense attorney argued the device at the Huntington store was not really a bomb because it didn't have a detonator. [Another example of how trial lawyers are paid to embarrass themselves.] The jury found the defendant guilty in 2013.

     Speaking before his sentencing, Sheehan noted that no one was injured and he had abandoned the plot before his arrest. His lawyer said he will appeal the sentence.

"Former Home Depot Employee Gets 30 Years For Bomb Scare," Associated Press, February 7, 2015 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Maryville, Missouri Rape Scandal

     Two girls, 14 and 13 years old, sneaked out to join a group of older football players at a party last year [2012] in Maryville, Missouri, the Nodaway County Seat. After the girls became drunk, a 17-year-old boy had sex with the 14-year-old, while another boy stood by with an iPhone video camera running. Afterward, the boys left the girl on her front porch, nearly unconscious in subfreezing temperatures. The 13-year-old told police that she too had been assaulted by another older boy.

     Nodaway Sheriff Darren White told the Kansas City Star that his [investigators] swiftly compiled the evidence and he expected to see the boys in court. But county prosecutor Robert Rice dropped the charges, saying the evidence was inconclusive. The 17-year-old--the grandson of a former state representative--went to college rather than to prison.

David Von Drehle, Time, October 28, 2013 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The NumChuck Panic of 1974: Legislative Stupidity in New York State

     Legislators in New York State, in 1974, passed a ban on a weapon made famous in movies starring Bruce Lee. These martial arts devices are called NumChucks. The law also made it illegal to possess electric dart guns, switchblades, brass knuckles, stun guns, and cane swords. These legislative mental giants, for some reason, failed to ban sawed-off  baseball bats. throwing stars, roller pins, and iron frying pans.

     The New York state lawmakers, concerned that the popularity of "Kung Fu" films would cause young people in the state to turn into bands of marauding, murderous barbarians. So, to prevent this dystopia before it started, they declared NumChucks contraband. Brilliant.

     In 2000, a New York state resident named James Maloney was charged with possessing NumChucks in his home. As an amateur martial arts athlete, practicing attorney, and adjunct professor at the State University of Maritime College, this man was an obvious threat to the peace and stability of the Empire State. After police officers seized this dangerous contraband, Maloney's neighbors could retire at night with unlocked doors.

     In 2003, Maloney challenged the NumChuck ban on grounds it violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

     United States District Court Judge Pamela K. Chen, in December 2018, in a 32-page opinion laying out her legal rationale, ruled that the New York state NumChuck ban was indeed unconstitutional.  The decision probably stunned the state's media and academic elites who braced themselves for a historic wave of NumChuck violence perpetrated by mobs of aging Bruce Lee fans.

     

Classroom Meltdown

     In December 2018, police in Visalia, California responded to reports of a teacher gone mad at the University Preparatory High School. Chemistry teacher Margaret Gieszlinger, 52, was caught on video ordering a student to take a seat in the front of her classroom. While singing her version of "The Star Spangled Banner," the teacher started cutting off chunks of a female student's hair. After the student jumped out of the chair, Gieszlinger, still singing the national anthem, walked around the room waving the scissors. Frantic students fled the classroom.

     Police officers booked Margaret Gieszlinger into the Tulare County Jail on the charge of child endangerment. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     In 2007 and 2016, Gieszlinger's teaching credentials were suspended for 14 days. School administrators did not reveal the basis for these suspensions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for visiting the Jim Fisher True Crime blog. Over the past seven years it has been a pleasure and honor writing for you. I also appreciate all of your comments.

Bad Mall Santa?

     Imagine what it must be like sweating under a fake beard and Santa costume in a loud, brightly lit shopping mall listening to other people's children babbling into your ear about things they want for Christmas. These I-want lists range from the ordinary stuff to asking Santa to use his powers to get dad out of jail. A little girl once asked Santa to bring her boobs as big as mommy's. Another kid wanted a real gun so he could shoot the bad guys who broke into his mother's car and stole his basketball. (This kid wanted revenge more than he wanted a new basketball.)

     There are hundreds of shopping malls in the country and every year almost every one of them hires two full-time Santa fakes. A mall Santa, on average, sees 4,000 children during the holiday season. Rookies earn about $10,000 which comes to a little over two bucks a kid. A veteran mall Santa Claus makes a little more.

     It's amazing that mall managers can find enough men for the job who aren't drug addicts, alcoholics, mental cases, or registered sex offenders. And what about job candidates who simply can't stand being around kids?

     According to the standards of professionalism that comes with the job, these holiday employees have to maintain a jolly disposition. They must also abstain from alcohol just before suiting up. Drinking on the job, of course, will send a mall Santa packing. (Booze might help a Santa meet the jolly disposition requirement.) A mall Santa is not supposed to promise a kid anything. Instead, he is taught to say something like, "I'll see what I can do." In other words, a mall Santa has to talk like a politician.

     Besides the basic job standards, the jolly mall Santa must get along with his Santa helper dressed like an elf. (A mall Santa without an elf is like a singing cowboy without a sidekick.) Elf impersonators are usually little people or small women. (What would be more creepy than a six-foot elf with a deep voice? I have no idea if mall elves make as much as their red-suited partners. I would hope the pay is equal because that job must be just as unpleasant.)

     At 5:30 PM on Saturday, November 23, 2013, police officers in Hanover, Massachusetts arrested a mall Santa named Herbert G. Jones. The 62-year-old Santa impersonator and his elf partner worked at the Hanover Mall where parents brought their kids to have them photographed with the great giver of gifts. Jones and his elf, an 18-year-old girl, worked for a New Jersey company called Cherry Hill Photos.

     According to the elf, Mr. Jones pinched her buttocks and made suggestive comments while the pair worked at the North Pole photo booth. Police officers hauled Santa out of the mall in handcuffs. (Try explaining that scene to a kid waiting in line to speak with Santa.)

     Charged with indecent assault and battery, a judge released Jones on $1,000 bond. But he couldn't return to the scene of the alleged crime because the magistrate barred him from performing Santa gigs until his case was resolved.

     Mr. Jones strongly denied the elf's allegations. According to his employer, Mr. Jones had no arrest or conviction record. The suspect was due back in court on Christmas eve.

     In August 2014, following several continuances, the judge set Jones' indecent assault and battery trial for May 4, 2015. (I have been unable to determine the outcome of this "he said, she said" case. I suspect it was dismissed due to lack of evidence. However, the charge alone probably took Mr. Jones out of the mall Santa business.)
      

Monday, December 24, 2018

Judge Throws Book At High Altitude Sex Offender

     In January 2018, 35-year-old Prabu Ramamoothy, an Indian living in the U.S. on a work Visa, was on a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. Ramamoothy sat in the middle seat between his wife and a 23-year-old model.

     During the flight, the model sitting next to Ramamoothy woke up from a nap to find her neighbor fondling her with his hand inside her pants.

     On December 12, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Berg sentenced Ramamoothy to nine years in federal prison. The judge hoped the severe sentence would serve to deter other airline passengers from similar offenses. (Over the past few years a rash of airline passenger sexual assault cases involving sleeping women had been committed.)

     After completing his prison sentence in the U.S., Ramamoothy will be deported back to India, a country much friendlier to sex offenders.

Calling the Cops on Disruptive School Kids

     There was a time when disruptive students were sent to see the principal. Today in some school districts, the disruptive student is handcuffed and ushered off to court. The school-to-prison pipeline is overflowing with students.

     Melodee Hanes, of the U. S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, describes the school-to-prison pipeline as "the pervasive use of court referrals as a means of discipling kids at school."

     According to the Washington Post, more than 3 million students each year are suspended or expelled from schools across the United States. Federal data, though limited, show that more than 240,000 students were referred to law enforcement.

     The school-to-prison pipeline is being fueled by "zero-tolerant" policies that accelerate the involvement of the criminal justice system in routine school disciplinary practices….The results, at times, have been ridiculous.

Matthew T. Mangino, GateHouse News Service, December 19, 2013.  

Crowded Prisons

     Nebraska's prisons are bursting at the seams, and the state's legislature is struggling to fix the problem. Law makers held hearings on a series of bills on February 13, 2015 to address the overcrowded prison population. One proposed law would limit mandatory minimum sentences for several mid-level felonies such as distribution of cocaine or heroin. Another bill would limit the "three strikes and you're out" rule to violent crimes. [Whenever politicians "fix" prison overcrowding, it never involves building more lockups. It's always letting inmates out or reducing sentences. This may fix the overcrowding problem, but it doesn't fix the crime problem.]

     Nebraska's prisons are at 155 percent capacity with some facilities much higher according to a March 2014 ACLU report. The report points to the Nebraska State Penitentiary at 183 percent capacity and the Omaha Correctional Center at 190 percent capacity, suggesting that Nebraska's correctional system may be operating unconstitutionally…

     The ACLU report points to similar legislation that was successful in California, where prisons were at roughly 200 percent capacity. [Successful in returning rapists, killers and pedophiles to the streets. California is such a dysfunctional state, the rule should be to do just the opposite of what politicians in that state have done.]

Casey Harper, "Nebraska Has More Prisoners Than It Knows What To Do With," The Daily Caller, February 18, 2015


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles on The Sylvia Plath Death Wish

I've heard writers living their lives in literary obscurity say they hope to become famous after they kick the bucket. You know, like Sylvia Plath. Why? You're dead, fame will not bring you back. What good did it do Sylvia Plath? She's still dead.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, December 21, 2018

Arming School Teachers

     In 2014, legislators in South Dakota passed a law authorizing public school teachers to carry concealed firearms while on the job. This is surprising since South Dakota is not a high-crime place. It's also stupid, and dangerous.

     Trained and experienced police officers struggle with the responsibility of having the power of life and death, and knowing when to use deadly force. But that responsibility comes with being in law enforcement. School teachers, I hope, acquire their positions because they are educated and suited to teach. That is their burden. Asking school teachers to make on the spot life and death decisions is far beyond the scope of their jobs and profession.

     Since the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings, several school guards have accidentally discharged their guns. While schools have never been perfectly safe, they are about to become much more dangerous. A student's chance of being accidentally shot by a armed teacher or security guard will be far greater than being shot by a crazed intruder.

     With politicians you simply can't overestimate their stupidity. If I may quote Napoleon Bonaparte: "In politics, stupidity is not a disadvantage." Indeed, in politics stupidity is often rewarded. The public will eventually pay the price for this political idiocy and demagoguing. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Condom Possession As Evidence Against Prostitutes

     One of the key justifications for the criminalization of prostitution is public health, to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. In New York City alone the government spends $1 million a year distributing free condoms with this very purpose in mind.

     Every year, New York City vice officers make 2,500 prostitution arrests. In a few cases, the fact that the sex trade suspect possessed more condoms than what is considered customary has been used as evidence of prostitution.

     Among sex workers, rumor has it that cops will arrest anyone in possession of more than three condoms. While there is not a three-condom rule, a lot of prostitutes no longer carry them in fear of being incriminated by this evidence. What can a prostitute say when the vice officer asks, "What are you doing with all of those condoms?"

     The New York City Department of Health conducted a study in 2010 that revealed that a third of the city's hookers didn't carry condoms as a measure to avoid incriminating themselves.

     Since more than 90 percent of prostitution arrests lead to plea bargained sentences, vice officers rarely need to make their cases using this type of evidence. In suburban New York's Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said that the evidentiary value of condoms does not outweigh the negative public health effect associated with the use of this prosecutorial technique. According to this prosecutor, "condom evidence is rarely of any value to a prosecution. If you need condom possession so badly in a case against a trafficker, you don't have a good case." Prosecutors in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, New York no longer use excessive condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases.

     In 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill banning the introduction of condom possession into evidence at sex trafficking trials. A supporter of this first-of-its-kind legislation, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, told a reporter with the New York Times that "Sex workers are not a politically appealing constituency to most lawmakers."  (It's perhaps a bit ironic that politicians, who are whores themselves, aren't more attuned to the needs of these constituents.) 

The Meth Cook's Dog

     Edwin Henderson ran from officers with the Prattville, Alabama police who were serving a drug search warrant on October 29, 2014. The suspected meth manufacturer jumped into a ravine behind his house and was followed by his dog, Bo and two Prattville Drug Enforcement Unit investigators.

     Bo found Henderson lying in tall grass. He was arrested when the officers saw the dog had stopped to wag his tail. Henderson was charged with failure to obey police, manufacturing a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.

"Dog Helps Alabama Police Arrest Owner During Chase," Associated Press, October 30, 2014 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Large Talking Head Syndrome

I've noticed that male TV news anchors tend to have physically enormous heads, with egos to match. Based on the fact they do nothing but read what others have written for them, their brains, due to underuse, must be tiny organs within those huge skulls. I can't think of any profession where the practitioners are so overpaid, and over-respected. We live in strange times.

Thornton P. Knowles

Homicidal Schizophrenics: Individual Rights Versus Public Safety

     In February 2009, Joseph Hagerman III, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, stopped taking his antipsychotic medication. He had stopped taking his medicine twice in the past and had experienced psychotic episodes. This time, however, he decapitated his 5-year-old son and injured his wife who tried in vain to protect the boy.

     Following his arrest, Hagerman, in a jailhouse interview with a local TV reporter, said he had killed his son because he believed the boy had become the antichrist.

     A few months after the homicide, a jury in Virginia Beach, Virginia found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Virginia law, this meant that Hagerman would be sent to a mental institution instead of prison. He would remain at the hospital until his doctors, and a judge, declared him sane enough to rejoin society.

     In late 2016, doctors at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia, recommended to the court that Joseph Hagerman be granted conditional release from the institution. According to the psychiatrist, this patient, over the past few years, had been given 48-hour passes that had not caused any problems. He had been, according to the hospital staff, a model patient.

     A Virginia circuit judge, acting upon the psychiatric recommendation, ordered that Mr. Hagerman be given two independent mental health evaluations.

     On May 9, 2017, following the testimony of two psychiatrists and Mr. Hagerman's father, the judge ordered the patient's conditional release from the hospital. Pursuant to this decree, Mr. Hagerman was required to live at an adult foster care facility during the week. On weekends, he was allowed to reside with his parents.

     Under the judge's order, Mr. Hagerman would also receive periodic visits from social workers and psychiatrists who would check to make sure he was still taking his antipsychotic medication.

    At the conclusion of the sanity hearing, Mr. Hagerman's sister told a local television correspondent that, "I just want to let the community know that my brother is a very loving, generous, Christian man. He had a wonderful family, and it was an unfortunate incident. [Italics mine.] Everyone needs to get educated on mental illness."

     The fact that a child had died because his mentally ill father, for the third time, had stopped taking his medication, was perhaps cause for concern. Compassion for the mentally ill is all well and good, but so is the need to protect people who will, knowingly and unknowingly, cross this man's path. One doesn't need to be highly educated on the subject of mental illness to know that the behavior of a homicidal schizophrenic is extremely unpredictable. 

Kids Who Kill

Nationwide, there are more than 2,000 inmates in 43 states serving life sentences without the chance of parole for murders they committed when they were juveniles. These child and early teen killers make up a fraction of those kids who have committed murder but received lighter sentences. This is not a good sign for our society. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles on Morons

Someone once said that the universe was made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Oh, and don't forget the morons. I wouldn't know a proton if it grabbed me by the lips. However, I usually don't have any problem recognizing a moron. I guess it's because so many of them are on television.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Ex-Police Chief Guilty of Child Pornography

     The police chief of Mount Pleasant, New York was arrested Thursday, January 23, 2014 on charges of possession of child pornography….Brian Fanelli, 54, was arrested at his home in upstate Mahopac after a months-long investigation by federal officials….The chief allegedly used a peer-to-peer file sharing program to download more than 120 images and videos of child pornography….

     As police executed a search warrant at his home, Fanelli voluntarily told investigators that he began viewing child pornography about one year ago….He said he had first started collecting the child porn as research for a sexual abuse awareness program he taught to elementary and middle-school students. But he said he later continued downloading it for personal interest….

     Fanelli had worked for the police department in Mount Pleasant, a town about 30 miles north of New York City, since November 1981….He has been suspended as chief, a position he took in November 2013….

     [In January 2016, following his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Fanelli to 18 months in prison followed by five years on probation.]

Leigh Remizowski and Pamela Brown, "Police Chief of New York Town Arrested on Child Pornography Charges," CNN, January 24, 2014

The Randall and Mary Vaughn Murder Case

     An east Tennessee couple is charged with murder in the death of the man's 5-year-old daughter after an autopsy revealed the girl died from being forced to drink more than 2 liters of grape soda and water….Alexis Linboom was brought in to the emergency room on January 1, 2012 by her father, Randall Vaughn, and his wife, Mary Vaughn….

     The girl was blue and not responding. She had severe brain damage. An investigation revealed the girl had been forced to drink the water and soda over one to two hours of punishment. The massive intake of fluid caused her brain to swell and herniate….The couple was held at the Hawkins County Jail on a $500,000 bond each.

     [In December 2014, following guilty pleas, the judge sentenced Randall and MaryVaughn to 35 years in prison.]

"Tennessee Couple Charged After Girl Dies From Drinking 2 Liters of Soda, Water," Fox News and Associated Press, February 6, 2014  

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act And The Federal Bird Feather Cops

The Illegal Possession of Feathers

     Because, in the early 20 century, birds were slaughtered to feather women's hats, congress, in 1918, passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to protect every bird in America except the house sparrow, feral pigeon, common starling, and non-migratory game birds such as pheasants, gray partridges, and the sage grouse. The MBTA prohibits the hunting, capture or killing of the protected birds. Moreover, one cannot legally purchase, sell, or even possess any feather, body part, nest, or egg of any bird covered by the act. (The  MBTA covers 83 percent of all birds that live in the United States.)

Chuck Smith and the Federal Bird Cops

     Chuck Smith (not his real name), is a friend who, in the early 1990s, innocently got caught up in a petty MBTA case that scared the hell out of him. Chuck, a respected and popular high school anthropology teacher specializing in the history of the American Indian, answered a bargain bulletin ad placed by a man selling Indian relics. From this seller, a man named Phil (not really), Chuck purchased a 1920s era white, buckskin outfit that had been worn ceremonially by members of the Blackfoot tribe. He paid $1,500 for the full-dress, beaded, Indian outfit. Two days after the sale, Phil called and offered to give Chuck the headdress that went with the buckskin apparel. The war bonnet contained 25 white, dark-tipped feathers from a bald eagle. Chuck accepted the offer. He planned to exhibit these items as teaching aids, and had no idea that by accepting the eagle-feathered Blackfoot headdress, he had broken a federal law. Had Chuck known it was against the law to possess bald eagle feathers, he would not have taken the bonnet home. (A vast majority of Americans have no idea that most bird feathers are federal contraband.)

     Not long after Chuck made the Blackfoot buckskin purchase, and accepted the bonnet as a gift, a pair of undercover agents with the Department of Interior visited the seller, Phil. The agents said they were responding to Phil's Indian relics ad. After buying an Indian neckless made of eagle claws, the feds flashed their badges and arrested Phil for violation of the MBTA. When the agents asked Phil if he had sold items containing feathers to anyone else, he told them about Chuck's Blackfoot headdress.

     Phil's information brought the federal agents, unannounced, to Chuck's house. They identified themselves, then asked if he still possessed the eagle feathered bonnet. Chuck said yes, it had been a gift from Phil. The agents informed Chuck that he had committed a federal crime under the MBTA, an offense that could cost him ten of thousands of dollars in fines, and even some time in prison. Terrified, and worried that the fines and a prison stretch would bankrupt him, and ruin his career as a high school teacher, Chuck volunteered the information that he possessed other Indian artifacts that contained bird feathers.

     The shaken school teacher led the federal agents to an upstairs bedroom where they seized a rawhide Indian shield bearing a clump of crow feathers, and a shaman's rattle with screech owl feathers. In his garage, Chuck turned over two owl feathers he had found along a road after the bird had been hit by a car. In addition to the general MBTA fine, Chuck could be fined an extra $500 for each feather type he had possessed. The additional fines would add up to $2,000. Before leaving Chuck's house that day, the agents said they would tell the assistant United States attorney (AUSA) handling the case that he had been very cooperative. This did not ease Chuck's anxiety. He envisioned himself in prison stripes.

     The next several weeks Chuck went through hell as he waited to find out what would happen to him. Finally, one of the agents called him with the news that the AUSA was so thrilled to be handling a case that did not involve drugs, she was giving him a huge break. If he paid a fine of just $500, the case would be history. Chuck mailed in the money, and went on with his life. But memories of his ordeal lingered for years.

Bald Eagles: A License to Kill

     In 1995, the federal government classified the bald eagle an endangered species. Twelve years later, the bird was re-classified as a threatened species. Even so, the bald eagle has remained under the protection of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Under this law it is a crime, without a government permit, to capture, kill, and/or possess a bald or golden eagle, or any part of the bird. Violators face a maximum fine of $100,000, and two years in prison.

     In 2011, the 9,600-member Arapaho tribe on the Wind River Indian reservation in west-central Wyoming, after being refused a permit to kill two bald eagles for religious purposes, filed a federal lawsuit. (Native Americans can legally acquire eagle feathers and carcasses from a federal repository of such items.) On March 9, 2012, the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service granted the permit.

     The reaction to the permit decision from the National Autobon Society, conservation groups, and animal rights activists, was muted. Because they were afraid to criticize Native Americans, politicians were also quiet. Over the years, dozens of non-Native Americans have gone to prison for killing bald and golden eagles. My friend Chuck could have gone to prison for merely possessing eagle feathers. He was not happy with the decision to allow members of the Arapaho tribe to kill a pair of these protected birds. But like most people, he kept his opinion to himself. Perhaps Chuck was worried that criticizing Native Americans might be a federal crime. The retired high school teacher was not taking any chances with the enormous prosecution power of the federal government. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Murdered Jessica Chambers?

      Jessica Chambers, an attractive, blond 19-year-old, lived with her family in Courtland, Mississippi, a village of 460 people 50 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee. The recent high school graduate, a former cheerleader and softball player, hoped to start college soon. She had just started working at Goody's Department Store in nearby Batesville.

     At six in the evening of Saturday December 10, 2014, Jessica drove to a gas station and convenience store on Highway 51 not far from her home where she pumped $14 worth of gasoline into her car. Inside the store, a cashier asked Chambers why she had bought more than her usual $5 in gas. Chambers said she was going somewhere and needed the fuel. About that time she called her mother to inform her she was on her way to Batesville to clean her car.

     Before walking out of the convenience store, Chambers purchased a pack of cigarettes and received a call on her cellphone. A few minutes later, just before six-thirty, she climbed into her vehicle and drove off. Surveillance camera footage revealed that she wore a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats.

     At eight o'clock that night, local firefighters responded to a call regarding a burning vehicle along Herron Road in a remote part of Panola County not far from the gas station. The emergency responders came upon a person walking down the road near the car. Jessica Chambers had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

     Chambers was airlifted to a hospital in Memphis where, a short time later, she died from burns on 98 percent of her body. Only the bottoms of her feet were not charred.

     At a law enforcement press conference the next day, the local district attorney labeled Chamber's death a criminal homicide. The Panola County sheriff told reporters that before she died, Chambers had spoken to firefighters. "She told them who had done it," he said.

     According to some media reports, the murder victim had also been bludgeoned on the top of her head with a hard object. There were also reports that the killer had squirted lighter fluid down her throat, a detail not confirmed by the authorities.

     While the victim's older sister informed reporters that she didn't know of anyone who had a grudge against Jessica, friends of the murdered girl posted online messages about a former, abusive boyfriend.

     At the press conference, law enforcement authorities said they had questioned several people but didn't have a suspect in the murder.

     The U.S. Marshals Service offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Chamber's killer. The local Crime Stoppers group posted a separate reward of $1,000.

    The Chambers case remained unsolved. Investigation had revealed, however, that the victim had been hanging out with a rough crowd that included local drug dealers. Her latest boyfriend, Travis Sanford, had been in jail on a burglary charge at the time of her murder. In the weeks before she died, Jessica Chambers told her father, a mechanic with the sheriff's office, that "Everybody thinks I'm snitching because you work for the police."

     In February 2016, police arrested 27-year-old Quinton Tellis after deleted data from his cell phone possibly placed him with Chambers just before her murder. There were no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and he didn't confess. His attorney contested the accuracy of the cell phone evidence.

     In October 2017, a jury sitting in Batesville, Mississippi failed to reach a verdict in the Tellis case. The judge declared a mistrial.

     Quinton Tellis was tried again in October 2018. The jury, split 50-50, was unable to declare a verdict after 12 hours of deliberation. After the judge declared another mistrial, District Attorney John Champion said he was not sure if he'd try the case for the third time.

     Tellis, having been indicted for the August 8, 2015 murder of Meing-Chen Hsaio in Monroe, Louisiana, remained in custody following the Chambers mistrial. Tellis had been linked to the Louisiana murder after being caught with the victim's debit cards.

     

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Decline of America's Middle Class Quality of Life

In 2017, 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, 47,000 committed suicide, and 17,284 were victims of criminal homicide. For the third year in a row, life expectancy in America declined. In general, the American middle class is growing poor; obese; and more stressed, unhealthy, and unhappy while the nation's upper class grows more powerful, privileged, and wealthy. Moreover, our politicians, elites we have entrusted with power and wealth, when they are not feathering their own nests, obsess over the plight of nonAmericans. We are in desperate need of leaders who will concern themselves with the declining  quality of life of the average American. When did the notion of America First become a shameful concept laced with racism and bigotry?

Shoplifters Can Be Dangerous

     A heroin-addicted shoplifter stabbed a Home Depot security guard with a dirty syringe during a fight outside Detroit on Monday night, March 24, 2014…."It was a knock-down, drag-out, full-scale brawl," Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said. "In the course of this fight he [the suspected shoplifter] took out several syringes from his pocket."

     Joshua Joseph Silva, 26, of Eastpointe, Michigan, was arrested on one count of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, a felony, and one count of retail fraud, a misdemeanor. The scuffle stemmed from Silva's attempt to leave the 13 Mile Home Depot in Roseville, about 20 miles north of Detroit, with a power saw hidden under his coat….

     He violently attacked two unarmed security guards who stopped him outside the store and swung the dirty syringes at them in a slashing motion, according to Chief Berlin. The admitted drug user's grimy needles hit one of the guard's hands several times….

     "A customer with a license to carry a pistol saw this," Chief Berlin said. "He drew the gun, ordered him to drop the needles and get on the ground."…Silva complied and sat down in the parking lot but attempted to flee on foot when he heard the sound of approaching police sirens….Roseville officers managed to run Silva down [not literally] and take him into custody….

Michael Walsh,  "Home Depot Shoplifter Attacks Guards With Dirty Syringes," New York Daily News, March 25, 2014

The Five-Finger Discount

     Everyone needs a little boost to beat the holiday blues. For some during a down economy, it's shoplifting. Retailers call it "shrinkage," the loss of inventory from the store shelves or storage from sticky-fingered shoppers and employees. The total cost to retailers last year was $112 billion, including losses from employee and supplier fraud, and organized retail crime gangs….

     And it goes up during the holidays, but not because thieves are trying to make Santa's bag bigger. Experts say that most thieves are in it for themselves.

     The thought going through a shoplifter's head is simple: "This is the time of year when we gift others, so we should gift ourselves as well," says Robert McCrie, a professor of security management. "People tend to shoplift for themselves, not to find gifts for other people."

     According to an analysis of the most recently available FBI data, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice…national shoplifting arrests averaged 80,889 during November and December 2015, an 8.95 percent increase over the prior two months, and higher than the non-seasonal average of 71,073 offenses….

     And as the economy weakened, shoplifting increased. From 2009 to 2015, annual shoplifting offenses rose from 698,233 to 997,739, according to the FBI, a nearly 43 percent increase.

Ben Popken, "Christmas on Five-Finger Discount for Shoplifters Seeking Holiday High," NBC News, December 24, 2013 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Rape, Poor Policing, and Vigilantism in Detroit


     In the summer of 2013, Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome, worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17, Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, at 3:35, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood to her place of employment. Not long after Mr. Carbonell made the call, Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late, Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress, and raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big, puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012, a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her, July 17, 2013. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis. (I'm not sure when this evidence was gathered.) Because of the complainant's limited communication skills, a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. Finally, on July 29, police officers took Bill into custody for investigation. When they questioned him at the police department he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail, an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 2013, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge, had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket, and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013, Mary's guardian and members of the community who were following the case with great interest, were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, had just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation, detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case, the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community, the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence critics of the police department. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned, a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. Rape, in the Detroit Police Department, was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, Bill, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, was attacked by five men who, as a group, punched and kicked him. By the time the Detroit Police rolled up to the scene, Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An officer called for an ambulance that took Bill to a nearby hospital.
     Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings, someone broke into his apartment. It was this person who spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make his nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Criminalization Of Vice

Sure, certain types of drug taking, gambling, and use of prostitutes can be harmful. But so can a lot of other things such as eating too many chocolate bars and smoking. Why make these particular forms of human weakness crimes? While it helps keep people in law enforcement employed, it's destroying the criminal justice system. For everyone else, the criminalization of vice makes life a lot more difficult than it already is.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Youth Football: A Contact Sport For Adults

Wickenburg, Arizona

     On Saturday afternoon on September 29, 2012, in the northern Arizona town of Wickenburg, the Wickenburg Wranglers were playing the Prescott Valley Panthers in a Northern Arizona Youth Football League game. (Players in youth football are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.)

     A man and a woman who were Wickenburg parents, approached a Prescott Valley father who was videotaping the game, and told him he couldn't do that. When the video-taper asked why, the opposing male parent said, "If you don't pack up [the camera] I'm going to pack up for you."

     To this, the man with the camera replied, "Don't touch me, bro." (I guess some people really talk this way.)

     When the Wrangler fan hit the Panther guy in the arm twice, the video-man socked him in the jaw. At this point, the attention shifted from the kids and their football game to the adults on the sideline. (After all, isn't this what organized sports for kids is really all about--the adults?)

     A woman watching the game tried to break-up the fight between the video-taper and the arm-puncher. (The police haven't released the names of these people.) Davis Coughanour, an off-duty Department of Public Safety officer, presumably a Wrangler parent and probably an ex-high school football player, tackled the video-man, then got into a scuffle with the woman who had tried to break-up the fight in the first place. (She claimed that Coughanour never identified himself as a police officer.)

     During this Saturday afternoon youth football melee in northern Arizona, four children were struck by adults. Another off-duty cop tossed a boy to the ground so hard they rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance. The nature and seriousness of the boy's injuries were not reported.

     A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Public Safety told reporters his agency was not investigating the brawl. Moreover, Officer Coughanour was not disciplined for his role in the youth league disturbance.

     Nine adults with the Prescott Valley Youth Football and Cheer Association were suspended from the organization. No criminal charges were filed against any of the sideline brawlers. Fortunately for people like this, it is not a crime to be a flaming jerk. There is a help group for people like this--AA--Assholes Anonymous.

Sacramento, California

     On Saturday, October 6, 2012, at the Grant High School football stadium in Sacramento, the San Francisco Junior 49'ers were playing the Grant Chargers Junior Midgets (I thought we weren't supposed to use that word) in a NorCal Youth Football League game. (Grant Chargers Junior Midgets--try using that in a cheer.)

     Either during or just after the game, the opposing coaches exchanged angry words. But it didn't stop there. The 49'ers' coach bull-rushed the Chargers' coach, and in the process, knocked down several people standing on the sideline. When the charging coach reached the Chargers coach, he tackled him to the ground. With some of the kids looking on, and others hustling to get out of the way, the two beefy, gone-to-seed, ex-jocks rolled around on the ground throwing punches. After a few moments, other ex-football players pulled them apart, ending this embarrassing display of adult adolescence.

     No one was seriously injured in the fight, and no criminal charges were filed. The raging bull who lost control of himself was suspended from the league, but I'm sure he'll be back. These guys never go away. A parent at the game caught the youth league disturbance on video that she posted on YouTube the next day for all the world to see.           

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Eat Your Heart Out, Mike Tyson

Authorities say a Rochester, New York man bit off part of his brother's ear after they began fighting during a Super Bowl party….Police say 27-year-old Sean Fallon-Nebbia was hosting the party on Sunday, February 2, 2014 at his apartment. A roommate told police the brothers had been drinking before they started roughhousing after the game, and the tussle turned violent. Police say Fallon-Nebbia bit off part of 26-year-old Frank Fallon-Nebbia's right ear and punched him several times in the face, knocking him out….The older brother is being held in Monroe County Jail on $15,000 bail after pleading not guilty to first-degree assault, a felony….

"Cops: NY Man Bites Brother's Ear Off During Party," Associated Press, February 4, 2014 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Home Alone in Manchester, New Hampshire

     In July 2014, Jerusalem Monday, his wife and three of their children, left their apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire for a one-month visit to Nigeria, Africa. They left their twin 9-year-old boys in the care of Jerusalem's 25-year-old brother, Giobari Atura who, according to the plan, had agreed to temporarily move into the apartment with the boys.

     Giobari Atura, instead of taking up residence with his charges, told his nephews that he'd stop by their apartment three times a week to bring them food and see how they were doing. As it turned out, the uncle didn't even keep that promise. This became a real problem when the parents didn't come home in a month as planned. By November 2014, five months after they left the country, they were still in Nigeria.

     The boys took care of themselves. On school days they got up in time to get on the bus. They ate breakfast and lunch at the school. The kids had no food in the apartment and didn't have access to a phone.

     Someone at the boys' elementary school got wind of their plight and called the State Division of Children, Youth and Families. After a social worker with the agency spoke with the twins, she notified the Manchester Police Department and took the twins into protective custody.

     Detectives reached out to the parents in Nigeria who said they had been delayed in Africa due to illness and passport problems. They promised to return home within a couple of weeks. Mr. Monday said that his brother had been assuring him telephonically that the boys were fine. The father said he had no idea his sons had been living alone in the apartment.

     The abandoned boys told detectives how they had managed to get by on their own. They said they had been lonely, however. And they missed their family.

     In December 2014, Hillsborough County prosecutor Michael Valentine charged Giobari Atura with the misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of a child. The judge set his bail at $500. (I could not find a disposition of the Atura case. He had been scheduled for trial in August 2015.)

     Upon the parents return to the U.S. in December 2014, they gained custody of the twins. The local prosecutor decided not to charge them with a crime.

    

An Bad Way to Avoid a Speeding Ticket

Authorities say a New Mexico woman called in a fake report of a gunman near a convenience store in an effort to avoid a traffic ticket. Roswell police say 22-year-old Savana Jimenez called 911 on Sunday morning, January 26, 2014 hoping the officer who pulled her and her friends over would get dispatched to the fake crime she reported. Authorities say Jimenez called 911 while the officer was checking her driver's information. She later admitted making up the story. Jimenez was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice.

"Police: New Mexico Woman Placed Fake 911 Call to Get Out of Traffic Stop," Fox News, January 28, 2014 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ice Cream Truck Wars: Sno Cone Joe Versus Mr. Ding-A-Ling

     When imagining men who sell ice cream products out of good humor trucks, one envisions jolly Mr. Rogers types dressed in white. But in reality, why would these people be any different than people who drive taxi cabs, UPS trucks, and buses. Not that there's anything wrong with those folks.

     In the 1970s and 80s, Robert Pronge, the driver of a New Jersey Mister Softee's Truck, moonlighted as a contract killer. Pronge became known for his use of cyanide to complete many of his assignments. (He dropped the poison in his targets' whiskey and beer, not their Mister Softee cones.) On occasion, however, he'd keep his victims cooling in the Mr. Softee truck until he could permanently dispose of their corpses. The hit man, referred to in certain circles as "Mr. Softee", ended up being murdered by Richard Kuklnski, the prolific Gambino family contract killer known as the "Ice Man." Kuklnski had introduced Mr. Softee to the idea of using cyanide as a murder weapon. Pronge, as far as anyone knows, is the only hit man in history who hauled dead bodies around in an ice cream truck. But compared to Kuklnski who killed more than 200 men for money, Mr. Softee was an amateur. Unlike Kuklinki who was a cold-blooded sociopath, Mr. Softee was a bit crazy and unpredictable. He did, however, sell a lot of ice cream, and from all accounts, loved children.

The Ice Cream Truck War

     In Gloversville, New Jersey, 34-year-old Joshua Malatino, the owner of the local Sno Cone Joe franchise, also sold a lot of ice cream. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Amanda Scott, helped him operate his good humor truck. Business was good in Gloversville until a rival good humor man rolled into town in his Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck.

     Mr. Malatino, aka Sno Cone Joe, decided to harass his business rival, 53-year-old Brian Collis aka Mr. Ding-A-Ling. On April 16, 19, and 28, 2013, Malatino, with his Sno Cone Joe jingles blaring from his truck, tailgated Mr. Ding-A-Ling around town. Whenever Mr. Collis stopped to service a customer, Sno Cone Joe would pull up behind Mr. Ding-A-Ling and offer the consumer free ice cream. At one point, Malatino allegedly phoned Mr. Ding-A-Ling headquarters in Latham, New Jersey and said, "I own this town!"

     On May 3, 2013, a local prosecutor charged  Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott with harassment and misdemeanor stalking. If convicted, Sno Cone Joe and Sno Cone Jane (just kidding) faced up to three months in jail. According to Gloversville Police Captain John Sira, Malatino drove a different ice cream truck operator out of town the previous summer.

     In April 2015, a Fulton County judge dismissed the charges against Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Catching Drivers on Pot

     Researchers at Washington State University are working on a breath test to determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana…Law enforcement officers have a test for alcohol, but they don't have a tool to test for marijuana impairment. Right now, officers use blood tests to determine if THC is present in a driver's blood.

     But WSU chemistry professor Herbert Hill said existing technologies like those used by airport security agents to detect drugs and explosives can be altered to test breath for THC. Hill said he hopes to start testing on humans in early 2015. The Washington State Patrol says it welcomes anything that gets impaired drivers off the road. [One might argue that a little pot might lower blood pressure and reduce road rage in America's big city traffic hell. Just kidding, I think.]

"Researchers Developing Pot Breath Test," Associated Press, November 29, 2014 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Raymond Clark: The Panhandler Arsonist

     Thirty-eight-year-old Raymond Sean Clark, a homeless panhandler, regularly loitered outside the 7-eleven store on the Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach, California. Clark made a habit of hasseling customers who patronized the convenience store by begging them for money and cigarettes. He had become an unwelcome fixture in the neighborhood. 

     At five in the afternoon of April 12, 2013, as Jerry Payne sat outside the 7-eleven store in his Toyota 4-Runner, the 62-year-old was approached by Clark who asked him for money. (If Mr. Payne was a regular customer of the store, Clark had probably hit him up for money before.)

     When Mr. Payne refused to give Clark a handout, the transient poured a bottle of gasoline into the SUV and tossed in a match. The vehicle and its occupant were immediately engulfed in flames. (The fire was so intense customers and employees in the convenience store had to escape through a back door.)

     After Good Samaritans pulled Mr. Payne out of the burning vehicle, paramedics rushed him to Torrance Memorial Hospital, a medical facility that specialized in burn patients. With third-degree burns on his chest and face, the victim was in critical condition.

     Police officers arrested Raymond Clark around the corner from the fire. Charged with attempted murder, he was held in the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center under $502,200 bail. Upon Mr. Payne's death, the prosecutor elevated the charge against Clark to murder.

     In April 2014, a year after the deadly assault, Jerry Payne's family filed a wrongful death suit against the 7-Eleven convenience store chain and the city of Long Beach. The plaintiffs based the civil action on the theory that the attack had been foreseeable therefore preventable. According to the plaintiffs, both the owner of the store and the police had known that Raymond Clark was aggressive and dangerous.

     Assistant City Attorney Monte H. Machit described Mr. Payne's death as an "absolute tragedy." However, he said, Long Beach could not be held accountable for every "random act of violence that took place in the city."

     In March 2015, the plaintiffs dropped the wrongful death suit against the city of Long Beach.

     Prosecutors, in September 2017, announced they would not seek the death penalty against Raymond Clark. As of November 2018, the murder case has not come to trial. In California, the wheels of justice turn slowly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Biographic Hatchet Job

Almost every eminent person leaves behind an abundance of personal data which skillfully manipulated can prove him to have been a fool or a knave. Innocuous personal details and casual episodes, if sufficiently emphasized, described with archness and placed in misleading context, can be as damaging in their effect as plain evidence of dim intellect or villainy.

Richard D. Aftick

Monday, November 19, 2018

Flying Drones into Prison

     On January 20, 2015 a judge in South Carolina sentenced Brandon Lee Doyle to fifteen years for trying  to fly contraband over the fence at the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. In April 2014, officials found a crashed drone in the bushes outside the prison fence. Officers also discovered items inmates are not allowed to have such as phones, tobacco products, marijuana and synthetic marijuana.

     The drone never made it over the 12-foot-high razor-ribbon fence. Corrections officials believe this was the first known attempt to use a drone to smuggle contraband into a South Carolina prison.

"15 Years For The Man Who Tried to Fly a Drone Into Prison," Associated Press, January 20, 2015 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

No Presumption of Innocence For John and Patsy Ramsey

     I've [John Ramsey] concluded that three primary factors led to the quick presumption of our guilt when, in fact, the police have never officially labeled either of us as suspects. First, of course, is the police themselves. The difficulties created by an inexperienced police force operating on hunches rather than evidence--and talking freely about those hunches with the media--started the avalanche. Second, the infotainment media were eager for a juicy soap opera-style story, since the O.J. Simpson trial had just ended, and they had lots of talking heads sitting idly by and lots of tabloid talk shows to fill with gossip. I was even less prepared for the third factor resulting in the loss of our presumption of innocence, and that was the new world-class gossip machine: the internet. 

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence. 2000

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Constables Shoot Unarmed Man Over Parking Tickets

     Things turned ugly on July 17, 2014 when two Pennsylvania state constables attempted to serve a man with a warrant because he had accumulated 31 unpaid parking tickets. The two officers approached Kevin McCullers in the garage at his residence in a suburb of Allentown at 7:30 in the morning. McCuller's girlfriend, Hafeezah Muhammad said McCullers was in the car about to leave for Dunkin' Donuts.

     The constables positioned themselves on both sides of McCullers' car. One of them told him to turn off the car, and he did. There was a short conversation. Then, according to Lehigh County district attorney James Martin, one of the constables opened the driver's side door of the vehicle.

     McCullers responded by restarting the car. He began backing out of his garage with the car door ajar. That's when the constables drew their guns and fired. One constable shot the 38-year-old in the back. The other officer shot out the vehicle's left front tire.

     One of the constables told the district attorney he and his partner pulled their guns and fired because they felt threatened while standing in the garage as McCullers tried to back out. McCullers was unarmed.

     McCullers' girlfriend said the constables could have walked up to the front door of their house to serve the warrant. "They never knocked on the door! No nothing," she told a local TV reporter. "I just heard the gunshots. He pulled the car out of the garage and all I heard were gunshots."…

     Muhammad said McCullers may never walk again. "For parking tickets," she said. "It's insane."

     The district attorney expressed concern about the fact a constable--an elected state official--shot a man and possibly left him paralyzed over unpaid parking tickets…The prosecutor said the office of constable--a Pennsylvania oddity--is troubling because people who hold the job are poorly prepared and largely unaccountable. "Although they receive training, they really operate under no one's direct supervision," he said. The district attorney said the shooting would have been avoided had McCullers entered into a payment plan to pay the money he owed.

     [For years law enforcement leaders and lawmakers in Pennsylvania have tried to abolish the position of constable. This is not the first incident of excessive force on the part of one of these officers. And it won't be the last.] 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Free Speech Versus the Crime of Desecrating a Venerated Object

     Authorities in Bedford County, Pennsylvania must not prosecute a teenager for the criminal offense of desecration of a venerated object even though he simulated a sex act with a statute of Jesus, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. In a letter sent on September 22, 2014 to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, Americans United says that prosecuting a teenager solely because of the message conveyed by his actions violates the rights of free speech and the separation of church and state, both of which are protected by the First Amendment.

     "While I don't condone the sort of behavior in which this teen engaged, he didn't do anything that should be considered illegal," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United's executive director. "Just because a religious group might find a particular action to be offensive is not a justification for jail time."

     The controversy began when a 14-year-old boy in Everett, Pennsylvania posted on Facebook a photograph of himself simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus. The statue sits on private property in front of an organization called Love in the Name of Christ, and the photo leaves no doubt that the boy climbed on the statue and engaged in behavior many would consider offensive.

     The boy faces up to two years in a juvenile facility under a 1972 state law that makes "desecration, theft, or sale of a venerated object" a second-degree misdemeanor. An act constitutes desecration if it "will outrange the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." He does not currently face charges of trespassing or destruction of property.

     Americans United's letter notes that the motivation for prosecution of the teen seems rooted in religious belief with intent to protect Christians who may have been offended by the photograph. Recent news reports quoted District Attorney Higgins as saying: "This troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of our community" and that if the prosecution "tends to upset the 'anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-the-display-of-Ten Commandments' crowd, I make no apologies."…

"Law Regarding 'Desecration of a Venerated Object' Conflict Conflicts With First Amendment, Church-State Watchdog Says," au.org.media/press-releases, September 22, 2014 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Perfect Crime

In Oxford, England sometime in the 1950s, a unpopular professor named Dr. Regis C. Hogg assigned a class of psychology students to come up with a plan for the perfect crime. Three days later, Professor Hogg didn't show up for class. A year later the local police were still looking for him. He had simply vanished, and to this day [1975] remains missing. Perhaps someone in that class deserved but never received an A for that assignment.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Criminal Justice in an Aging Society

     It's become common knowledge that elderly people are prolific shoplifters. But it's still surprising when an old person commits a serious crime such as assault or criminal homicide. In recent years, due to mental illness and dementia, dozens of eighty and ninety-year-olds have been shot to death by the police. While these police-involved shootings were found to be justified, many of the fatal shootings were the result of the modern era's hair-trigger, militaristic form of policing. While perhaps legally justified, many of these deadly encounters were arguably unnecessary. But in a zero-tolerant police culture, age and dementia are no longer factors in the shoot-don't shoot equation. Gender doesn't figure in either.

Pearlie Golden

     Pearlie Golden, a 93-year-old resident of Hearne, Texas, a town of 4,500 in the east-central part of the state, didn't like it when the Texas Department of Public Safety declined to renew her driver's license on Tuesday May 6, 2014. Back at her house after failing the test, Pearlie, an African-American known in the community as "Miss Sulie," got into an argument with her nephew, Roy Jones. She demanded that he return the keys to her car. He refused. She got up from her chair on the front porch and entered the house. When she returned, she had a .38-caliber revolver in her hand. Roy Jones ran into the house and called 911.

     Officer Stephen Stem with the Hearne Police Department responded to the 911 call. In 2012, officer Stem had shot a man to death in the line of duty. He was cleared of wrongdoing in that case by a local grand jury and remained on the force.

    Officer Stem, in responding to the call at the old woman's house, shot Pearlie Golden three times. She died shortly thereafter at a nearby hospital. In justifying the deadly use of force on a 93-year-old woman, a police spokesperson said the deceased had "brandished a gun."(According to the Associated Press, Golden, prior to being shot by officer Stem, had actually fired her gun. It is not clear if she took aim at the officer. If she had fired at officer Stem, or at anyone else in his presence, this use of deadly force was clearly justified. If she shot into the air, or the gun discharged accidentally, the issue will be more complicated.) The official spokesperson said, "The officer asked her to put the handgun down, and when she would not, shots were fired." According to the spokesperson, officer Stem ordered her to drop the weapon three times.

     Many citizens of Hearne, outraged by the shooting, protested outside the police department. Ruben Gomez, the town's mayor, said he would recommend that officer Stem be fired from the department. On Saturday, May 10, the city council voted 6-0 to discharge officer Stem. To determine if the officer had committed a form of criminal homicide, the shooting was under investigation by the Texas Ranger's Office.

     On September 10, 2014, a local grand jury declined to indict the former police officer.

     Stephen Stem filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Hearne city council. On February 10, 2015, a federal judge dismissed the case.

Leo Sharp

     In 2014, Leo Sharp, a 90-yar-old decorated World War II veteran, resided in Michigan City, Indiana, a town of 30,000 fifty miles east of Chicago. In the fall of 2013, a federal prosecutor charged Sharp and eighteen others in connection with their involvement with a Mexican drug cartel. Mr. Sharp confessed to hauling more than a ton of cocaine into the U.S. from Mexico. He had earned, during his tenure as a drug courier, more than $1 million. (In 2011, police stopped Sharp on a traffic violation on Interstate 94 west of Detroit. The arresting officer recovered a large quantity of cocaine.)

     On May 7, 2014, following his guilty plea, Leo Sharp appeared before a federal judge in Detroit for his sentencing. Sharp's attorney, in arguing for leniency, focused on his client's past, particularly his being awarded the Bronze Star for  his combat in the Battle of Mount Battaglia in Italy. Attorney Darryl Goldberg also informed the court that Mr. Sharp's dementia would place a burden on federal prison personnel.

      When it came time for the defendant to speak, Mr. Sharp, dressed in a suit and tie, said he wanted to spend his few remaining years in Hawaii growing papayas on land he owned in that state. (He had probably purchased the property with his drug income.) "All I can tell you, your honor, is I'm really heartbroken I did what I did. But it's done."

     U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds sentenced Leo Sharp to three years in prison, and fined him $500,000. The judge said, "I don't doubt that prison will be difficult for you, but respect for the law requires there be some custody in this case." In all probability, this judge sentenced the old man to life behind bars.
   
      

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Militarization of American Law Enforcement

     About half of the nation's SWAT officers are trained by active-duty commandos from Navy Seal and Army Ranger units. Police officers with special operation backgrounds in the military train the rest. When fully outfitted in Kevlar helmets, goggles, "ninja" style hoods, combat boots, body armor, and black or camouflage fatigues, and carrying fully automatic rifles and machine guns, these police officers not only look like military troops geared up for battle, they feel that way.

     These elite paramilitary teams--composed of commanders, tactical team leaders, scouts, rearguards, snipers, flashbang grenade officers, and paramedics--are organized like combat units and are just as lethal. But unlike troops in battle, SWAT police don't encounter mortar fire, granade-propelled rockets, homemade bombs, land mines, and highly trained enemy soldiers.

     A vast majority of SWAT raids, conducted after midnight, are targeted against private homes inhabited by unarmed people who are either asleep or watching television. When a SWAT team encounters resistance, it's usually from a family dog who often gets shot. Given the hair-trigger intensity of these drug operations, unarmed civilians who move furtively or are slow to comply with orders get manhandled and sometimes fired at.

     In a landmark study of police paramilitary units published in February 1997, Eastern Kentucky University professors Peter B. Kraska and Victor Kappeler found that by 1990 every state police agency and half the country's sheriff's officers (about 1,500 agencies) had SWAT units. Thirty-eight percent of the nation's police departments were also SWAT team-ready. Five years later, in cities with populations more than 50,000--about 700 municipalities--90 percent of the police departments were deploying SWAT teams.

     At the dawn of the 21st century, according to Kraska and Kappeler, federal, state, and local police were making 50,000 SWAT raids a year. Twenty-five years earlier, there were 3,000 SWAT call-outs annually. According to the best estimates of experts in the field--counting federal, regional, state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies--there are now at least 3,500 paramilitary police units operating throughout the country.

     The 1,300 percent jump in SWAT team deployments in less than twenty years does not reflect a concomitant increase in armed hostage taking, sniper cases, or other high-risk incidents requiring heavily armed, combat-trained SWAT teams.

     Since the mid-1990s, the country's largest police agencies have used armored personnel carriers--APCs--to patrol high-crime districts, transport SWAT officers, and function as drug raid-site operations centers. In recent years, medium-and small-sized law enforcement agencies have been acquiring these military transporters. Although they come in various sizes and designs, APCs are full-tracked, armored, amphibious vehicles capable of traveling over rough terrain at relatively high speeds. Many are equipped with high-caliber, fully automatic turret weapons.

     In the summer of 2013, under a national military surplus give-away program, the Department of Defense gave Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected combat vehicles--MRAPs--to 165 police agencies. The 18-ton fighting vehicles built at the height of the Iraq war, cost the military $500,000 apiece.

     These military behemoths, too big for many bridges and roads, come equipped with bullet-proof glass and machine gun turrets. A MRAP can carry six officers and travel up to 65 miles per hour. Because these huge machines only get five miles per gallon, fuel costs are high. Moreover, each recipient of one of these combat vehicles will spend $70,000 to retrofit the MRAP for civilian use.

     And how will law enforcement agencies use these Army surplus MRAPs? At Ohio State University, campus police are using their MRAP to show force at home football games. (No kidding.) In Boise, Idaho, hardly a place of high crime and civil unrest, the police department uses its MRAP to serve arrest and search warrants.

     A reporter asked one law enforcement administrator if the police department had a use for the mounted machine gun. The chief of police assured the reporter that the department had no plans to remove the machine gun turret. "The whole idea," he said, "is to protect the occupants of the vehicle But from what? The officers are inside a bullet-proof vehicle that can withstand a land mine.

     These military surplus vehicles, designed for war, are intimidating and out of place in a civilian setting. The fact that so many police agencies possess them is one sign of how inappropriately militarized American law enforcement has become.

The Murder Trial as High Drama

For sheer human interest, the ability to catch public attention and cleave to it from start to finish, nothing else in real life equals a good murder trial. A prominent victim, or, even better, a prominent defendant; a bit of mystery surrounding the facts of the case; two camps of  high-powered attorneys facing each other across the courtroom; a cluster of witnesses, each contributing a few tantalizing facts to a tale of human fallibility; a bevy of expert witnesses to explain the unexplainable; a man's or woman's life or freedom hanging in the balance--these are the makings of high drama.

Michael Kurland, How to Try a Murder, 1997

Friday, November 2, 2018

Goddard College Students Chose Cop Killer as Commencement Speaker

     Goddard College's selection of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as a commencement speaker is a "despicable" decision that should be reversed, his victim's widow told reporters with Fox News. Maureen Faulkner, whose husband Daniel was gunned down by Abu-Jamal in 1981, was shocked to learn of the selection by undergraduate students at tiny Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. Abu-Jamal, who will not attend the event and whose speech will be pre-recorded, received a bachelor of arts degree from the 245-student liberal arts college in 1996 through a correspondence program…

     Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, was sentenced to death following a high-profile trial in Philadelphia. His sentence was later reduced to life in prison without parole for killing Faulkner, a 25-year-old patrolman who scuffled with Abu-Jamal's brother during an early morning traffic stop. Abu-Jamal, a member of the Black Panther Party, was wounded by a round from Faulkner's gun and a .38-caliber revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings…

     The October 7, 2014 commencement event will mark the third time Abu-Jamal, 60, has given commencement speeches at colleges. He spoke [by recording] at Evergreen State College in Washington and Antioch College in Ohio. Both of these events prompted widespread protests on behalf of law enforcement officers and Faulkner's relatives…

     A spokesperson for the Vermont State Police condemned Goddard College's decision, saying its students and teachers are showing "blatant indifference" toward law enforcement. [A better explanation: these teachers and students are ivory tower idiots.] 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Brenda Leyland and the Madeleine McCann Case: Death of a "Troll" or a Concerned Citizen?

     On May 3, 2007, doctors Gerry and Kate McCann, from the affluent village of Rothley in the central English borough of Charnwood, were on holiday in Praia da Luz, Portugal with their three children and another couple. That evening the McCanns reported their 3-year-old daughter Madeleine missing. According to the parents, someone had abducted the girl from the hotel room while they were dining 160 feet away from the resort.

     As in the JonBenet Ramsey case in the United States twelve years earlier, the public, influenced by tabloid-like media coverage, suspected the parents of foul play. When a British DNA analyst reported that the child had died in the hotel room, the authorities were under public pressure to arrest the McCanns.

     In September 2007, the police in Portugal made it official by declaring Doctors Gerry and Kate McCann suspects in the disappearance of their daughter. No arrest warrants were issued and in July 2008 the attorney general of Portugal closed the case against the parents citing lack of evidence.

     While officially cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Gerry and Kate McCann remained, in the tabloid press and the minds of millions in Great Britain and around the world, guilty of murder.

     The missing girl's parents, convinced that the police in Portugal had given up the search, hired private investigators to breathe new life into the case. Based on information uncovered by the PIs and Scotland Yard's release of the image of a man seen carrying a child toward the beach not far from the hotel on the night in question, the Portugese police, in October 2013, re-opened the case. Notwithstanding this development, the McCann child has not been found and no arrests have been made.

     In the years following the Madeleine McCann disappearance, a community of conspiracy buffs have targeted the missing girl's parents. Some would say these people have abused and harassed the McCanns through negative tweets, Facebook postings, text messaging, and other forms of online communication. People who engage in this form of social media activity have been labeled "Trolls," a catch-all term that covers everything from mild criticism to online death threats.

     According to social scientists who have studied this media phenomenon, trolls are often bored, lonely people who become obsessed with a particular crime. Some of them are manifestly insane. While  they annoy and may even frighten the targets of their wrath, they are, for the most part, harmless talkers.  These compulsive chatterboxes orbit every celebrated crime, usually offering up outlandish conspiracy theories. The Lindbergh kidnapping case and the JFK assassination, for example, attracted thousands of revisionist true crime buffs. In the wake of baby Lindbergh's abduction and murder in 1932, the 20-month-old's parents were almost driven crazy by obsessed and mentally ill people who showed up at their mansion and harassed them in public. Today, fixated crime buff simply take to their computers.

     In late September 2014, a British television news team published the identify of one of the more prolific McCann case trolls. Brenda Leyland, a 63-year-old resident of Burton Overy, a picturesque village in the Harborough district of Liecestershire, had published more than 5,000 tweets on the case. The soft-spoken divorcee used her Twitter account to draw attention to what she considered an appalling failure of justice. She called the McCanns neglectful parents and accused them, through their frequent media appearances, of profiting from their daughter's disappearance. Leyland once tweeted that the McCanns should "suffer for the rest of their miserable lives" for what they've done.

     Brenda Leyland regularly accused the metropolitan police (Scotland Yard) of dropping the ball in the missing persons case. She also took on the tabloid media for false and over-the-top reporting. At no time did she threaten the McCanns, and unlike some of her fellow Trolls, never called them baby killers.

     After being outed by the television reporters, Leyland became an online target herself. To avoid being harassed by reporters, she checked into a nearby Marriott Hotel in Grove Park, Leicester. On Saturday, October 4, 2014 at one-forty in the afternoon, police were called to Leyland's hotel room after a Marriott employee discovered her corpse.

     Investigators have found no evidence of criminal homicide in Leyland's sudden death. The autopsy, however, failed to reveal a cause of death. This has led to speculation that Brenda Leyland took her own life.

     Leyland's death will no doubt create a community of Trolls who will somehow link the government or the McCanns to her death. By attaching herself to celebrated case, Leyland briefly became famous herself. Perhaps this was one Troll who came to realize what it is like to be the target of other people's obsession, loneliness and boredom. 

The Connecticut Hotel Mop Attack

     A Connecticut man is facing charges after police said he grabbed a mop out of a hotel employee's hands and was "mopping aggressively" over the worker's shoes. Police say 30-year-old John Thornton, of Southington, was arrested Monday night October 13, 2014 and charged with breach of peace and threatening.

     Officers responding to the Bristol Hotel were told a man had become "unruly," grabbed the mop and swept it back and forth over the woman's shoes. When the employee asked the man to stop, police say he pushed her into a corner. Police say the woman was shaken and crying.

     Authorities say Thornton insulted and swore at officers during the arrest, threatening them with bodily harm. He was released on $20,000 bond.

"Man Accused of 'Mopping Aggressively'," Associated Press, October 16, 2014 

Counterfeiting: The Crime We Don't Hear Much About

     A man residing in Kampala, Uganda was charged in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of leading an international counterfeit currency operation. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Western District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Secret Service filed a criminal complaint in Pittsburgh on December 18, 2014 against 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson, aka Jack Farrel and Willy Clock…

     While living in the U.S., Gustafson resided primarily in Texas and Colorado, but allegedly rented a postal box at the UPS Store on Pittsburgh's South Side for some of his operations. The Secret Service began investigating the passing of counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes believed to have been manufactured in Uganda. The phony bills were passed in retail and businesses in Pittsburgh…

     Agents determined that Gustafson had passed the notes. The federal investigators also learned that on February 19, 2014 the suspect received three packages from Beyond Computers in Kampala, Uganda…Secret Service agents searched the packages and found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 notes in two hidden compartments inside one of the packaging envelopes. A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages belonged to Gustafson…

     A search of Gustafson's residence turned up two million Ugandan shillings, $180,420 in counterfeit bills, and counterfeit denominations of several other countries…

     The U.S. Secret Service estimates $1.8 million in counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes have been seized and passed in Uganda. The total amount of counterfeit money made in Uganda was about $270,000…

     United States law provides for a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for counterfeiting….

"Man Charged in Counterfeit Money Scheme," Associated Press, December 19, 2014  

Monday, October 29, 2018

Woman Eats Police Car

     A northern Idaho woman has been charged with a felony after police say she chewed up the upholstery of a patrol seat…Staci Anne Spence, 42, was changed with felony malicious injury to property and misdemeanors including resisting arrest and battery on an officer…

     Prosecutors say Spence was arrested on Thursday September 18, 2014 after deputies came to her home to investigate a battery report…When they arrived at the Bonner County Jail, they found that Spence had chewed through the patrol vehicle's upholstery and into the foam cushioning. [That's the good part.]

"Woman Charged Over Chewed Seat," Associated Press, September 24, 2014 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Effects of Drug Enforcement

     Given large numbers of addicts, we start with a high level of demand. The effectiveness of law enforcement measures lowers the supply. The selling price, and hence the potential level of profit that accompanies the successful evasion or corruption of law enforcement efforts, rises. To the unprincipled traffickers in narcotics, this counterbalances the increased risk and justifies an increased counter-mobilization effort to evade and corrupt the law enforcement efforts and to increase the market by expanding the number of addicts. The investment in law enforcement then rises, the counter-investment goes up, and the vicious cycle rolls merrily along….

     The suppression approach is, of course, not simply one of increasing the number of police officers devoted to catching offenders. It also includes a demand for increasing police powers (which always carries with it increased infringement of the guaranteed constitutional liberties) and increasingly severe penalties….

     There is another aspect of the law enforcement approach to narcotics which tends to be self-defeating. The structure of the illegal narcotics business is that of a pyramid, or a series of interlocking pyramids resting on the same base. At the bottom of this structure and constituting the vast majority of individuals involved in the business are the addict-pushers. These are usually people impelled to narcotics by their own uncontrollable cravings who would otherwise be unable to support their habit. Consider an enforcement unit which has to justify its existence in the results it can show. Going after higher levels of the narcotics business pyramid, to say nothing of the apex or apexes, is a long, hazardous, and at best uncertain affair….

     By contrast, the addict-pusher is a sure bet. All that is needed is to keep an eye on him once he has been released from serving his sentence and, sooner or later, usually sooner, he will be caught selling or at least in possession. This poor wretch does not command the services of high-priced legal talent, and the case is quickly processed through the courts with a minimum of waste of police time. The result is an impressively large record of arrests and convictions for the individual officer and for the enforcement unit as a whole.

Isidor Cheim, Donald C. Gerard, and Robert S. Lee, "Drugs and Social Policy," in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, Editors, 1994  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Going Catatonic

I can't stop buying stuff for my cat. I've purchased beds and blankets; a heated cat bed; toys (a lot of little plastic balls with bells in them and fake mice); climbing trees of all shapes and sizes; hair brushes and shampoos; ear drops and ear wipes; litter boxes, flea and tick applications; litter, litter rakes, litter bags, and scoops; fancy canned food and ordinary bagged pellets; catnip; and even a night light. I think I enjoy cat stuff as much as I love my cat. I need help, stop me before I buy more. I've gone catatonic.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Real Cause of Crime

Criminals cause crime--not bad neighborhoods, inadequate parents, television, schools, drugs, or unemployment. Crime resides within the minds of human beings and is not caused by social conditions. Once we as a society recognize this simple fact, we shall take measures radically different from current ones. To be sure, we shall continue to remedy intolerable social conditions for this is worthwhile in and of itself. But we shall not expect criminals to change because of such efforts.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Tristen Kurilla: A 10-Year-old Killer

     Tristen Kurilla, a fifth-grade student at Damascus Elementary School, lived with his mother, Martha Virbitsky, and his grandfather in Damascus Township, Pennsylvania, a rural community in the northeast corner of the state near the New York line. Helen Novak, a 90-year-old woman being cared for by the boy's grandfather, Anthony Virbitsky, lived under the same roof.

     On Saturday October 11, 2014, Anthony Virbitsky checked on Helen Novak to find that she was having trouble breathing. He offered to take her to the emergency room but she refused. Less than an hour later, when Mr. Virbitsky entered Novak's room to make sure she was okay, he found her dead. The caregiver called 911 to report the passing of the elderly woman.

     Not long after the Wayne County Coroner transported Helen Novak's body to the morgue, Martha Virbitsky showed up at the Pennsylvania State Police barracks in nearby Honesdale with her son. According to the mother, the boy had confessed to killing Helen Novak.

     In speaking to Trooper John Decker, Tristen Kurilla said, " I killed the lady." According to the boy, he pressed the victim's cane against her neck because he was angry that she yelled at him when he came into her room to ask her a question. He also punched her in the throat and stomach.

     "Were you trying to kill her?" asked the trooper.

     "No, I was only trying to hurt her," came the reply.

     Martha Virbitsky told the state police officer that her son had been a problem to raise. He had a violent streak and suffered from what she called "mental difficulties."

     The Wayne County district attorney charged Tristen Kurilla, as an adult, with murder. Officers booked the boy into the Wayne County Correctional Facility.

     Shortly after the 10-year-old's arrest, Kurilla's attorney, Bernie Brown, petitioned the judge to release his client from custody and move the case into juvenile court.

     In addressing the adult versus juvenile court issue, Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards pointed out that under Pennsylvania law, homicide charges, regardless of the defendant's age, must be initially filed in adult court. Moreover, juvenile detention centers do not accept children charged with criminal homicide.

     The Wayne County Coroner's Office, on Monday October 13, 2014, declared Helen Novak's cause of death as "blunt force trauma to the neck." Her manner of death: homicide.

     In January 2015, a Wayne County judge, with the approval of the prosecutor, moved the Kurilla case to juvenile court. The ruling came after a psychologist testified at a competency hearing that the boy was mentally ill.

     As of October 2018, there has been a virtual news blackout on this case.