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Thursday, February 28, 2019

The World's Fastest Patrol Car

     Dubai, an oil-rich international playground for the wealthy on the Persian Gulf Coast of the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. If you are arrested by the Dubai Police, you'll be driven to jail in one of their green-and-white patrol cars.

     In April 2013, the deputy police director of Dubai announced that the department had upgraded its patrol fleet with several Camaros and other American-made muscle cars. But the crown jewel of the Dubai fleet is a new Lamborghini Aventador, and Italian-made V-12 sports car that sells for $404,000 and can reach speeds up to 225 mph. In addition to the tallest building in the world, the largest shopping mall, and what will become the biggest ferris wheel on the globe, Dubai now has the fastest police car.

     I'm sure the officer driving the Lamborghini will not be using the sleek vehicle to haul drunks to jail. I don't even know if the car has a backseat.

     The Lamborghini is obviously for show, an advertisement promoting the city's wealth and prosperity. In America, money-strapped police departments show-off high-dollar SWAT tanks to project the image of power and authority. These are completely different messages that distinguish the two nations. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Wrong House SWAT Raid

     In Gwinnett County, Georgia, a suburban community of 700,000 within the Atlanta metropolitan area, narcotics officers had been watching a house in Lawrenceville for three months. Members of the county police department's Special Investigations Section suspected that the man living at 2934 Valley Spring Drive was selling methamphetamine. At 9:15 A.M. on December 9, 2008, 20 officers with the department's 60-member SWAT unit began making final preparations for a no-knock raid. Thirty minutes later, after a detective with the Special Investigations Section pointed out the meth suspect's house, the SWAT team moved in on the target. The officers didn't know it, but the detectives had sent them to the wrong house. The suspected drug dealer lived a few places down the street.

     The day after the raid, John Louis, the 38-year-old whose house the police wrongfully entered, described the intrusion to a television reporter: "They came in here and put guns on us. The house was full of police. I never had a gun in my face before...All I see is a bunch of police, guns drawn, yelling, 'Hands in the air! Hands in the air!' "

     When the SWAT officers broke down the front door, Heather Jones, John Louis's girlfriend who had been asleep with their three-month baby, stepped out of the bedroom in her nightgown. Police ordered her to the floor at gunpoint. The couple asked the police what they wanted and were told to shut up and remain still. The raid came to an abrupt halt when one of the officers, seeing the baby, realized they had broken into the wrong place. As the SWAT unit decamped to raid the suspect's house, one of the officers apologized for the intrusion and promised to have the front door repaired.

     In an interview with a TV correspondent the next day, a Gwinnet Police Department spokesperson pointed out that the narcotics officers had been watching the meth suspect's house for three months. In response to this, John Louis said, "If you had this house under surveillance for three months, why did you come here? You broke in and put all our lives in danger, and all you can say is you're sorry?" (Mr. Lewis was lucky to get an apology. That was unusual.)

     The police spokesperson, in explaining what went wrong, said, "Somehow there was an investigator that had been working closely with the case that...mistakenly pointed out the wrong house, the wrong location." When asked if the police department had any kind of policy regarding no-knock raids, the police representative replied, "We double check the address, there's a description of the location as well as an address of the house that we're looking at on the search warrant, and we always have someone double check that every time." (Always?)

   Three days after the raid, the commander of the Special Investigations Section, in a news release, announced that the detective who had directed the SWAT team to the wrong house had been transferred to the uniform division. Without identifying this officer, the commander characterized the incident as a "case of human error and not deliberate malfeasance on the part of the investigator."

     Had Mr. Louis, thinking that his home was being invaded by criminals, picked up a gun for self-protection, he would be dead. As long as the war on drugs rages on, and officer safety trumps all other considerations, SWAT teams will be deployed in low-risk situations. Non-violent criminal suspects and innocent people will continue to be traumatized, injured, and in some cases, killed.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

New York Cockfighting

     More than 70 people were taken into custody and upwards of 3,000 birds rescued Sunday, February 9, 2014 after investigators cracked down on a savage cockfighting ring that stretched from an underground rooster coop in Brooklyn to a breeding farm upstate….Nine people were arrested on felony charges amid "Operation Angry Birds"--the largest cockfighting crackdown in state history….

     State investigators and other officials said they carried out three dramatic raids….They busted a bloody cockfighting event in Queens, rounding up 65 fighting birds and 70 people--including bettors and spectators--and charging six of them with felony prohibition of animal fighting….

     At the same time, investigators arrested the 74-year-old proprietor of a Brooklyn pet shop where officials said roosters were stuffed inside metal cages showing "all the physical hallmarks of having been bred, trained and altered for fighting."

     And early Sunday, February 9, 2014, investigators and other officials raided a farm in upstate Plattekill, New York, recovering as many as 3,000 birds….

Daniel Arkin, " 'Operation Angry Birds' Busts New York Cockfighting Ring," NBC News, February 10, 2014 

The Fat Thief

     Facing five years in prison after being convicted for his role in a real estate scam, a Florida man says he's too fat to be incarcerated. [If they can keep hippos in zoos, they can keep fat criminals in prison--Benjamin Franklin--just kidding]

     In March 2014, James Olivos told an Orlando TV reporter that he couldn't serve hard time because he wouldn't get the proper treatment for his obesity if he was behind bars. [Nonsense. A sparse prison diet is just what the doctor ordered.]….This marks the third time that Olivos has cited a medical condition to avoid surrendering for prison following his conviction on bank fraud and money laundering in December 2013. The swindler missed his previous surrender dates, claiming he was suffering from rectal bleeding, was coughing up blood, and suffering foot pain.[Generally the rectal bleeding comes after one is sent to prison.]….

Chuck Ross, "Convicted Scammer Says He's Too Fat For Prison," The Daily Caller, March 12, 2014 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Middle School Hit List

     Parents and guardians of students at Gateway Middle School in Monroeville, Pennsylvania were alerted to a possible threat after a student was found with a list of 25 students he allegedly wanted to harm, as well as himself. A letter and phone call went out to parents and guardians Thursday afternoon, April 10, 2014. Gateway Middle School Principal Anthony Aquillo says that a parent informed school administrators and counselors that their son had a list of students he wanted to harm. The school has around 900 seventh and eight graders….

     The parent had found the list in the male child's bedroom while he was at school. Administration and Monroeville Police Chief Doug Cole pulled the student from class, and he was searched, detained and removed from the school. The students who were on the list met with school administrators and their parents were notified….

     The threat comes just one day after a 16-year-old was accused of stabbing more than 20 students at nearby Franklin Regional High School….

"Police, Parents Contacted After Gateway Middle School "Hit List" Found," CBS News, April 10, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Scandals

With so many sociopaths in position of political power, it's no wonder we are in the era of the political scandal. The ongoing exposure of jaw-dropping hypocrisy among the political class has become, for us ordinary folks, a form of entertainment. To see the fall of an abusive, pompous politician, while a frightening reminder of the idiots and fools we put into office, is also intensely satisfying. Yes, I'll admit it, I've become a fan of the political scandal.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, February 22, 2019

Shooting the Mentally Ill

     According to a series of guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Justice, individuals suffering from some form of mental-illness are 4 times as likely to be killed in confrontations with police officers than the general population….

     Many officers simply are not equipped to deal with the mentally ill. There are strategies that work though, peaceful strategies. First, generalist police officers need more basic training in the plights and issues surrounding the mentally ill. Second, law enforcement agencies should place greater restrictions on deadly force tactics. Shoot first is not a viable solution. Officers reacting out of fear or choose to use physical force do more harm than good. Third, law enforcement departments need mental health specialists. They need police officers trained specifically for mental health related situations.

David Arroyo, Liberty Voice, October 8, 2013 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Good Luck

I once knew a police officer who tripped getting out of his patrol car in front of a store being robbed. His gun went accidentally off and the bullet hit the robber right between the eyes. They made this officer marksman of the year. I put this into one of my novels, but the editor took it out because it was unrealistic. I never spoke to that editor again.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tiffany and Emani Moss: The Brutal Life and Death of a Girl Georgia Failed to Protect

     In 2004, prosecutors in Gwinnett County, Georgia charged Emani Moss with assaulting the biological mother of his one-year-old, a girl they had named Emani after the father. Because Mr. Moss attacked his girlfriend in front of their daughter, the prosecutor also charged him with second-degree child cruelty. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Emani Moss to probation.

     Six years after the domestic assault, Emani and his daughter resided in Lawrenceville, an unincorporated suburb of Atlanta. Emani's new girlfriend, Tiffany Nicole Brown, lived in the apartment with them. In March 2010, the six-year-old told a teacher at Cooper Elementary School that she was afraid to go home with her bad report card.

     Emani's extreme fear of being punished at home prompted an inquiry by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. After finding evidence of abuse, the child protection agency turned the case over to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

     Gwinnett County investigators determined that Tiffany Brown, the girlfriend of the Emani's father, had repeatedly beaten the girl with a belt. On Emani's body doctors found scars, abrasions, scabs, and bruises on her chest, arms, back, and legs. A Gwinnett County prosecutor charged Tiffany Nicole Brown, an elementary school teacher, with first-degree child cruelty. The girl's father was charged with child cruelty as well.

     Pursuant to an agreement with the prosecutor, Tiffany was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree child cruelty. Because he and his girlfriend promised to take parenting classes, the charges against Emani were dropped. (The child services agency had signed-off on the plea bargain.) Everybody came out ahead in the deal except Emani who remained exposed to abuse. (I don't know if Tiffany Brown kept her teaching job.)

     In July 2012, Gwinnett County detectives opened another child abuse case on Emani and Tiffany whom he had since married. When investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to back up Emani's claims that she was being beaten and denied food as punishment, the police closed the case. Shortly after being abandoned again by the government, the nine-year-old ran away from home. After finding Emani, the authorities not only returned the child to her private hell, they charged her as a runaway juvenile.

     At four in the morning on Saturday, November 1, 2013, Emani Moss called 911 from the Coventry Pointe apartment complex in Lawrenceville. Moss told the 911 dispatcher that his daughter had consumed some kind of poison and died. He said her body was in the apartment and that he was thinking of committing suicide. (Unfortunately this turned out to be a hollow threat.)

     Gwinnett County police officers encountered Mr. Moss outside the apartment complex standing in a breezeway. The 30-year-old led the officers to a trash can in the recreation area. Inside the garbage bin officers discovered the badly burned body of a girl. The girl in the trash was ten-year-old Emani Moss.

     The county medical examiner's office ruled the girl's death a homicide. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Emani had died of starvation. Her body had been burned postmortem. The medical examiner did not believe she had been poisoned.  (A toxicology report would later confirm the lack of poison in the girl's system.) According to the pathologist, the dead girl had endured periods of up to twelve days without food. She had been dead about three days.

     Emani and Tiffany Moss, charged with first-degree murder, cruelty to children, and concealing a body, were booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The magistrate denied them bail.

     On June 8, 2015, Emani Moss pleaded guilty to the charge of felony-murder. As part of the plea bargain deal, he agreed to testify against his wife, Tiffany. Detectives believed that Tiffany had been the driving force behind the murder. Mr. Moss, according to investigators, had played a passive role in his daughter's torture and death. He had failed to protect her. In return for his plea, Emani Moss was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tiffany Moss, if found guilty as charged, could be sentenced to death.

       In November 2017, Tiffany Moss fired her two state appointed attorneys after they recommended that she plead guilty in return for a life sentence. She asked the court to allow her to represent herself. As of February 2019, the Tiffany Moss case has not come to trial.

A Violent Way To Reduce Prison Overcrowding

     An inmate killed his cellmate at a Pennsylvania prison because he wanted his own private cell. Forty-five-year-old Lawrence Peterson Jr., formerly of Easton, will now serve a life sentence on top of the 40-to 80-year term he had been serving for a violent robbery.

     Clearfield County District Attorney Bill Shaw said he had planned to pursue the death penalty but decided to skip the trial after Peterson, on February 21, 2015, said he wanted to plead guilty to first-degree murder and take a life sentence. The beating death of inmate William Keitel, 59, took place on August 2, 2013. Keitel died nine days later in the infirmary at the state prison in Houtzdale.

"Cellmate Killed Man So He Could Have His Own Cell," Associated Press, February 23, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On West Virginia's Death Penalty

Unlike most West Virginians, I'm for the death penalty. That's because I don't like the alternative--making the convicted murderer spend the rest of his life in a cage with other violent men. What is the point of that? Take Elmer Brunner, the last man executed in West Virginia. The 47-year-old Brunner robbed an elderly woman in Huntington by clubbing her to death with the claw end of a hammer. He died on the electric chair on April 3, 1959. Six years later, thanks to death house lawyers and their likeminded activists, West Virginia abolished the death penalty. As a supporter of executing criminals like Elmer Brunner, I was not happy with that. Without the death penalty, there can be no justice in the most brutal, cold-blooded murder cases. Surely there are other ways the bleeding hearts can amuse themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The John Mallett Stabbing Spree

 
     As a teenager growing up in New York City, John Mallett spent time in the juvenile wing of the jail on Rikers Island. He had stabbed a boy in a fight over a girl. As a young adult, Mallett, a paranoid schizophrenic, continued to have problems with the law. He served three years in prison for robbery. Mallett's family tried to get him help through the courts and public health, but were ignored. They learned that the criminal justice system is of no help to a family of a violent, mentally ill person until that person commits a heinous crime. Then, of course, it is too late.

     In 2002, Mallett moved to Nashville, Tennessee where his mental illness continued to lead him into trouble. In March of that year, he was convicted of resisting arrest, and in July 2010, for criminal trespass. In February 2011, just before moving to Columbus, Ohio, the authorities in Nashville charged Mallett with the unlawful possession of a weapon. (That charge was later dismissed.)

     In Columbus, Mallett moved in with his aunt. He became such a problem for her she asked him to move out. This may have placed the mentally ill man under considerable stress. On March 14, 2012, while in downtown Columbus a few blocks from the state capitol, Mallett entered the 25-story Continental Centre building carrying three knives, one of which came from his aunt's kitchen. The office building housed, on the first floor, a for-profit trade school (criminal justice, security, investigation, and court reporting) called Miami-Jacobs Career College. The school, owned by the Delta Career Education Corporation headquartered in Virginia Beach, Virginia, consisted of 37 campuses and 16,000 students around the country.

     In the trade school's admissions office, Mallett, carrying a knife in each hand, repeatedly stabbed two employees and a criminal justice student. Back outside, he knifed an attorney who worked for the state attorney general's office, also housed in the building. Several bystanders tried but failed to disarm Mallett. One of the witnesses dialed 911.

      Within minutes of the 911 call, Columbus patrol officer Deborah Ayers pulled up to the building. The 15-year veteran of the force confronted Mallett near the building's entrance. "Sir," she yelled, "you need to put the knife down. Sir, please put the knife down!" Instead of complying with the officer's command, Mallet lunged toward her with his knife. Ayers fired 11 shots at Mallet, hitting him several times. Before he collapsed to the pavement, a second officer shocked him with a stun gun.

     The 37-year-old Mallett and his four victims were rushed to a local hospital. They were expected to survive their wounds. The fact Mallett lunged at the officer with the knife suggested a suicide-by-cop attempt.

     On Thursday, March 15,2012, he day after the rampage, the local prosecutor charged John Mallett with four counts of felonious assault.

     A battery of psychiatrists appointed by the court to examine Mallett concluded that he suffered from severe paranoid schizophrenia. On June 10, 2013, Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft found Mallett not guilty by reason of insanity.

     A few weeks after the verdict, corrections officials assigned the schizophrenic to a Columbus area forensic psychiatric facility where he was to remain incarcerated until his doctors declared he was sane enough to rejoin society. 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Execution Of Someone He Knew In High School

A guy in my high school class was so small we nicknamed him Elf. Elf didn't have many friends because nobody liked him. Barely over five feet tall, Elf tried to join the Army. They turned him down because of his height. A couple of years later, three men in a bar made fun of Elf. Elf pulled a gun and shot all three of them. He was tried and convicted of three counts of first-degree murder. This was back when West Virginia still had the death penalty. When it came time for the execution, the electric chair operator had to make adjustments for Elf. You know, adjust the straps, build a platform for his feet, adjust the flow of juice, things of that nature. Still, when the executioner threw the switch, the little guy burst into flames. It was not a pretty sight, for sure. In fact, one of the death chamber observers, quoted in the paper, said that Elf, perched on Old Sparky, looked like a kid sitting on a throne. Another execution witness opined that extremely short people like Elf should be spared the electric chair. I believe, however, that if you are tall enough to kill three people, you are tall enough to be electrocuted. As I say, nobody in high school liked the guy, and West Virginia no longer has the death penalty. I hope I wasn't the kid who nicknamed him Elf.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Middle School Cook Threatened Co-Workers With Hit List

     Co-workers say the head cook at a Massachusetts middle school told them she had a hit list and would shoot up the school in an argument over burned cookies. Police say 47-year-old Wendy Ferris got upset Friday afternoon [February 7, 2014] before the end of the school day at King Philip Middle School in Norfolk, Massachusetts….Ferris then told the school nurse she had a hit list, the nurse being at the very top of it…. Ferris wouldn't talk to reporters but her neighbors supported her.

     Ferris' lawyer told reporters she denies the facts of the case….Ferris does have a license to carry a firearm and owns a 9mm handgun, but she was required to surrender it to police as a condition of bail. She's on administrative leave with pay pending the investigation.

Cliff Judy, "Police: Lunch Lady Said She Had Hit List Over Burned Cookies," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 5, 2014

The U. S. Supreme Court and the Death Penalty

     Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, based on the constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment," stunned even the closest court watchers. The death penalty seemed impregnable. It was part of the bedrock of American's legal system, steeped in the intent of the founders, the will of most state legislatures and the forceful--if occasional--ruling of the courts.

     The 5-4 vote in Furman reflected a striking political split: all five members of the majority were holdovers from the Warren Court, known for its liberal decisions, while all four dissenters were recent appointees of Richard Nixon, who had won the White House with a carefully orchestrated law-and-order campaign. And notably, each justice wrote his own opinion in Furman, meaning there was no common thread to the case, no controlling rationale. The decision ran several hundred pages, the longest handed down by the court at the time....

     About 1,300 people have been executed since [1976] with Texas putting its 503rd prisoner to death just weeks ago. A clear majority continues to support the death penalty, though the fear of wrongful conviction appears to be growing, and evidence suggests that juries welcome the option of life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has tightened the reins of capital punishment in recent years, ruling that the executions of the mentally retarded, people under 18 and those convicted of rape, even the rape of a child, are unconstitutional. For death penalty abolitionists, however, the promise of Furman must seem a distant, bitter memory.

David Oshinsky in reviewing A Wild Justice by Evan J. Nandery for The New York Times Book Review September 1, 2013

Not All Interrogated Suspects are Guilty

The goal of any interrogation, by definition, is to elicit a confession from a guilty party, not to investigate the truth of a denial. The common tactics used to gain confessions are based on the idea that only guilty people are interrogated in the first place. In theory, when a suspect is brought in for questioning, detectives begin with an "interview," in which information is gathered and the police make an assessment as to the guilt or innocence of the party. In this step, a non-accusatory question-and-answer period is meant to allow the detective an opportunity to gather more information and to make observations about the suspect that might indicate that he is lying. Once they decide that they are speaking with a guilty party, the interrogation begins. Detectives often believe that they are experts at separating truth from lies, but studies have shown that this is a false confidence.

Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five, 2011

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Meth Lab Contaminated Home

     Methamphetamine is an addictive, synthetic stimulant that causes the brain to release a surge of dopamine that, depending upon how it is ingested, and its potency, creates a high that lasts from a few minutes to 24 hours. Meth comes in two forms, powder and rock. The powder can be snorted, smoked, eaten, or dissolved into a drink. Rock, the crystalized form of the drug, is usually smoked or injected. One hit costs the meth user between $25 and $80. There are 1.4 million users of methamphetamine in the United States, and this number is rising.

     Meth is addictive because it depletes the brain of dopamine. Once this happens, users are unable to experience pleasure without the chemicals. Addicts who try to quit become depressed, and in some cases, psychotic. The prolonged use of meth permanently destroys the brain, and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

     Manufacturing or "cooking" meth is a multi-step operation that takes 48 hours to complete. The process produces toxic fumes, and there is always the potential for an explosion. There are a handful of large, commercial super labs, and thousands of small home laboratories. Super labs, like the one featured on the AMC TV series "Breaking Bad," are staffed by trained chemists who purchase the key ingredients--ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--in bulk from chemical suppliers. A super lab can manufacture more than 100,000 does per cook.

     Amateur meth cooks who operate home labs use chemicals derived from over-the-counter cold, cough, and allergy medicines. These shade-tree chemists acquire ingredients such as ammonia and lye from everyday household items. For example, they can obtain red phosphorus by scraping it off matches. The operator of a home meth lab can only produce about 300 doses a cook, enough product for himself and a few sales.

     The vast majority of meth factories raided by narcotics officers are amateur operations. In 2011, drug enforcement agents in the U.S. seized 10,287 residential meth labs. (One of the largest meth lab raids occurred in San Jose, California where, in March 2012, DEA agents seized 750 pounds of meth with a street value of $34 million.) Because of the highly toxic nature of meth production, these sites have to be professionally scrubbed.

     The government spent about $200 million a year de-contaminating meth labs. But not all of the homes that were once meth labs were sanitized, and some of them went on the real estate market. People who moved into these places become very sick. As a result, about half of the states passed residential meth lab disclosure laws.

The Bates Family

     Unfortunately for John Bates, his wife Jessie, and their 7-year-old son, the state of Washington didn't have a meth disclosure law in 2007 when they purchased a house for $235,000 in Suquamish, a town near Seattle. Shortly after moving into the dwelling, their son Tyler developed breathing problems. Mr. Bates developed a variety of unexplained symptoms, and his wife kept getting horrible skin rashes. The family and their physicians didn't have a clue what was causing these ailments until a neighbor, 18 months after the onset of the illnesses, casually mentioned that the former occupant of the home had made his living cooking meth.

     A state inspection of the Bates home revealed that toxic chemicals had soaked into the carpets, walls, studs, and flooring. Instead of shelling out $90,000 to replace the contaminated areas of the house, the Bates demolished the place and built a new home on the two-acre lot. The project cost them $184,000. Today, the Bates are healthy, and the state of Washington has a residential meth lab disclosure law.  

Murder Among Friends

     Tewana Sullivan, 50, was visiting her godfather in HUD housing in the Detroit suburb of Livonia when something went horribly wrong. It ended with 66-year-old Cheryl Livy dead and Sullivan in custody for her murder. Sullivan's godfather, Marvin Jones, said, "All of us were good friends and for something like this to happen, I just don't see it. It was such a shock that something like that would happen between two good friends…"

     Sullivan stands accused of beating Livy to death with a crock-pot. Police say the women fought, though they don't know why. When asked if he was disappointed in his goddaughter, Mr. Jones replied, "I'm not really disappointed in her because nobody knows what happened. So why would I be disappointed in her?" After being informed of what police were alleging, Jones said, "The police might be saying that, but I don't see it that way. I see them being friends and something happened." [In July 2015, the judge sentenced Sullivan to 23 to 50 years in prison.]

Derek Hunter, "Detroit: Woman Beats Friend to Death With a Crock-Pot," Daily Caller, October 28, 2014 

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Case Of The Butt-Fired Bottle Rocket

     The fireworks began at one-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2011 at the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity house not far from the campus of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. During the house party, Travis Hughes launched, from the frat house deck, a bottle rocket (a fireworks product on the end of a stick) out of his ass. (If I had to guess, I'd peg this kid as a criminal justice or elementary education major.) The rocket man's startled fraternity brother, Louis Helmburg III, jumped back and fell off the frat house deck. According to Helmburg's account of the incident, he ended up lodged between the deck and an air conditioning unit. Both students had been drinking.

     Not long after the fireworks display, the injured student's attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit against the university, the fraternity, the Marshall University inter-fraternity council, the company that owns the fraternity property, and Travis Hughes, the human rocket launcher. The plaintiff asserts that the ATO fraternity was negligent in failing to install a deck railing. As for defendant Hughes, his consumption of alcohol had led to "stupid and dangerous activities." (Hey, don't blame the booze. How many drunks can fire rockets out of their butts? Someday this skill could become an Olympic sport. It certainly would be more exciting than the shot put and could take place at night.)

     In June 2013, a judge dismissed the suit against Marshall University on grounds the plaintiff failed to follow in-house procedures for bringing such an action. The rest of the case, however, stood.

     Given the humorous facts underlying this suit, it appeared frivolous. The outcome, however, would depend on whether or not the fraternity house deck, because it didn't have a railing, was unsafe. Assuming that it was safe, there was still the question of whether the frat boy's ass-launch made him civilly liable for the student's tumble off the platform.

     On November 4, 2013, the plaintiff, through Huntington attorney Thomas P. Rosinsky, a slip-and-fall lawyer who also handled dog bite, DUI, car repossession and drug cases, settled the case with the company that owned the fraternity house. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. If Louis Helmberg III paid a price for winning his case, it was that he would become the butt of every butt joke known to man.

     Travis Hughes, the bottle rocket butt-launcher, now works for NASA. (Just kidding.)

     

JFK Assassination: Americans Comforted by Conspiracy Theories

     We have lived with it for half a century, and still what happened that day in Dallas is shocking beyond almost anything else in American history--by shocking, I mean it hits like a blast of electric current and stupefies. One minute the President of the United States is smiling and waving. A moment later, he stiffens and clutches at his wounded throat. Then his head explodes; blood and gore bathe the First Lady, who crawls onto the truck lid of the moving car in a wild and hopeless attempt to collect the pieces.

     The victim was one of the most powerful, glamorous, wealthy, charismatic individuals on the planet. Snuffed out in an instant. This whiplash convergence of  extremes--so sudden, so horrific, such enormity--makes the assassination of John F. Kennedy an almost uniquely deranging event. In a matter of seconds, the mighty are rendered helpless; the beautiful is made hideous; tranquillity turns turbulent; the familiar becomes alien.

     Amid the shards of all those shattered assumptions, 50 years of doubt was born. Clear majorities of Americans--as high at 81 percent in 2001 and about 60 percent in a recent Associated Press poll--believe that a conspiracy was swept under a tattered rug. The conclusions of the Warren Commission, that one man alone delivered this devastating blow, got little traction compared with the desperate, at times unhinged, efforts to assemble a more satisfying account.

     Like a tornado, the Kennedy conspiracy theories have spun off whirlwinds of doubt about other national traumas and controversies, from 9/11 and FEMA camps to TWA flight 800 and genetically modified foods. The legacy of that shocking instant is a troubling habit of the modern American mind: suspicion is a reflex now, trust a figment. [It's no wonder that citizens, after decades of being lied to by politicians and government officials about everything under the sun, don't trust the official version of anything.]

David Von Drehle, "John F. Kennedy's Assassination and the Conspiracy Industry," Time, November 20, 2013 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre

     The February 14, 1929 mass murder of seven men in a Chicago bootlegger's garage, one of America's most atrocious crimes, became the centerpiece homicide case of the so-called lawless decade. The bloodbath capped ten years of wholesale murder in America's prohibition era. The mastermind behind the murders, Chicago gangster Al Capone, had gone too far. The St. Valentine's day massacre marked the beginning of the end of "Dr. Death's" murderous career. The mass murder also highlighted the emerging science of forensic firearms identification.

     For several years there had been bad blood between rival bootleggers George "Bugs" Moran and Al Capone. The feud reached its peak when Moran and his North Chicago Gang began hijacking shipments of whisky en route to Capone from Detroit. With his supply of illegal booze endangered, Capone decided to eliminate his competition.

     A Capone undercover operative working in the Moran camp arranged for a shipment of stolen Capone whisky to be delivered to Moran's north side warehouse. The load would arrive at the garage on February 14 at ten-thirty in the morning. Capone wanted to get Moran and his men together in one spot so they could be eliminated en masse. 

     On the morning of the big day, as Capone's men watched from a boarding room across the street, Johnny May, a $50-a-week mechanic, showed up for work. A few minutes later, Moran's accountant, Adam Heyer arrived at the garage. James Clark, Moran's brother-in-law, followed the ex-con accountant to the scene. Clark had served time for burglary and robbery, and had recently beaten a rap for murder. The next to arrive were the Gusenberg brothers, Pete and Frank. Both men possessed rap sheets featuring aggravated assault, theft, and burglary. The sixth man to walk into the death trap didn't belong to the Moran outfit. He was Dr. Reihardt H. Schwimmer, a local optometrist. Dr. Schwimmer, a gangster groupie, had stopped by the warehouse on his way to his office to say hello to his heroes. Albert R. Weinshank, a speakeasy owner, was the seventh man to arrive at the garage that fateful morning. Because Weinshank looked and dressed like Bugs Moran, Capone's lookouts across the street believed that the boss had taken the bait and had arrived at the warehouse. Shortly after Weinshank entered the garage, one of Capone's men ran to a phone to set the murder plan into action.

     Bugs Moran, Ted Newberry, and the third Gusenberg brother, Henry, were still on their way to the warehouse. As they approached their destination, they saw a black Packard pull up in front of the building. It looked like the kind of car used by Chicago police detectives. Five men climbed out of the Packard. Two of them were dressed in police uniforms while the other three wore civilian overcoats. Thinking that the warehouse was being raided by the Chicago police, Moran and his companions fled the scene.

     Capone's uniformed men walked through the front office into the warehouse area. With revolvers drawn, they ordered the seven men up against a yellow brick wall. After the phony cops disarmed the rival crew, two of the men in overcoats pulled Thompson sub-machine guns out from under their coats. The two gunmen opened fire, sweeping their tommy-guns back and forth three times across the backs of their collapsing victims. After the guns fell silent, one of the shooters noticed that one of the victims was still twitching. The gunman walked over to the dying man and blasted him in the face with a double-barreled shotgun.

     Following the massacre, the gunmen walked out of the warehouse with their hands in the air. Behind them walked the uniformed men with their guns drawn. The mass murder had taken less than eight minutes.

     The police officers and detectives who responded to the scene were greeted by a gruesome sight. Four of the victims had fallen backward from the wall and were staring up at the ceiling. Another was face down, stretched along the base of the wall. A sixth man was on his knees slumped forward against a wooden chair. From the bullet-pocked, blood-splattered wall, streams of blood snaked cross the cement floor from the row of bodies. One of the men, Frank Gusenberg, was still alive. Having been shot fourteen times, with seven bullets lodged in his body, he had managed to crawl about twenty feet from the wall. When asked by a police officer to identify the people who shot him, Gusenberg replied, "Nobody shot me." He died ninety minutes later without identifying or describing the gunmen.

     Before the bodies were moved to the morgue, Cook County Coroner Dr. Herman N. Bundeesen showed up at the warehouse to take charge of the crime scene investigation. He had dozens of photographs taken and ordered a careful collection of the empty shell casings, bullets, and bullet fragments. He ordered the firearms evidence placed into sealed envelopes. Bullets later dug out of the seven bodies were placed into envelopes that were each labeled with the name of the person who had been shot by the enclosed slugs.

     Dr. Bundesen established a coroner's jury made up of seven prominent citizens of Chicago who went to the warehouse shortly after the killings to view the scene firsthand. A few days later, the foreman of the jury, Bert A. Massee, called Dr. Calvin Goddard, the world's best known ballistics expert. Dr. Goddard, the former U. S. Army surgeon and ordinance authority who three years earlier,with two other firearms identification pioneers, had formed a private laboratory in New York City called the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, traveled to Chicago to analyze the crime scene bullets and shell casings.

     When Dr. Goddard arrived in Chicago the following day, he encountered the largest collection of bullets and shell casings he had ever received in a single murder case. Crime scene investigators had recovered, from the warehouse floor, seventy .45-caliber cartridge shells. By examining these casings, Goddard determined that they had all been fired by an automatic weapon. Goddard knew there were only two automatic guns made in the United States that fired .45-caliber ammunition. One was the Colt 45 automatic pistol and the other the Thompson sub-machine gun, also manufactured by the Colt Company.

     By examining the marks made on the casings by the breech bolt, Goddard knew that all of the shells had been fired through a Thompson sub-machine gun. By differentiating two distinct sets of ejector marks on the cartridge cases, Goddard determined that two Thompsons had fired the seventy shells. Fifty cartridges had been fired through one Thompson, and twenty from the other. From this, Dr. Goddard concluded that one sub-machine gun had been loaded with a twenty-shot clip and the other with a fifty-shot drum.

     Crime scene investigators had picked up fourteen bullets from the garage floor. These projectiles had either missed or passed through their targets. All but two were deformed from impact. The rifling marks on the slugs (scratches made by the interior of the barrel) indicated they had been fired though a barrel with six grooves twisting to the right. This was characteristic of a Thompson sub-machine gun. The bullets all contained manufacturer's marks made by the U.S. Cartridge Company. Goddard learned that ammunition so marked had been produced during the period July 1927 to July 1928.

     Dr. Goddard also examined forty-seven bullet fragments that had been collected from the murder scene. Many of these pieces of lead were large enough to contain the imprints of the U.S. Cartridge Company. Most of the fragments showed rifling marks that bore groove characteristics of the Thompson type of rifling. Two empty twelve-gauge shotgun shells had also been recovered from the scene. The shotgun shells contained traces of smokeless powder and had been loaded with buck-shot. The firing pin impressions on the shotgun casings indicated that they had been fired from the same weapon.

     Thirty-nine bullets and bullet fragments had been removed from the bodies of the seven dead men. The body of Adam Heyer, the accountant, yielded fourteen. The bodies of James Clark and Frank Gusenberg produced seven each, and six had been extracted from Albert Weinshank. The remaining five slugs were shared by the other three victims. In addition to the bullets, seven buck-shot pellets had been removed from Dr. Schwimmer's head.

     The magnitude of the St. Valentine's Day mass murder put the Chicago Police Department under tremendous pressure. The fact that many citizens believed that police officers had been involved in the shootings created an additional incentive for detectives to identify the killers. Coroner Bundesen asked Dr. Goddard to test several shotguns and Thompson sub-machine guns owned by the Chicago Police Department to exclude them as potential murder weapons. Dr. Goddard concluded that none of these weapons had been used in the crime.

     After Dr. Goddard completed his initial firearms work, he returned to the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. Over the next several months Corner Bundesen mailed Goddard dozens of Thompson sub-machine guns. None of them turned out to be weapons used in the massacre.

     The day after the killings, Bug Moran read in the newspaper that the police wanted to question him about the massacre. The gangster voluntarily showed up at Chicago Police headquarters. When investigators asked him about his theory of the murders, he stated, "Only Capone kills like that."

     While the mass murder was being investigated in Chicago, Al Capone was relaxing at his villa in Miami. The authorities in Florida had given him the perfect alibi. On the morning of February 14, 1929, Capone was in the office of the Dade County Solicitor being questioned about his criminal activies in the Miami area.

     The first arrest in the case came on February 27, 1929. The arrestee, Jack McGurn, a hoodlum with twenty-two murders under his belt, was Al Capone's favorite executioner. A witness who had passed by the warehouse on the fatal morning had heard one of the killers say, "Come on, Mac." The witness identified a photograph of McGurn as one of the St. Valentine's Day shooters. Following his arrest, McGurn immediately posted his $50,000 bail and was back on the street.

     On March 14, 1929, detectives announced that they had developed several other suspects in the mass murder case. They were Joseph Lolordo and James Ray. Lolordo had dropped out of sight and would remain at large. James Ray, a hood out of East St. Louis, Illinois, had vanished.

     The Chicago pollice also made some arrests in the case. Three of Capone's hired killers, John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Joseph Guinta were taken into custody. The authorities, due to lack of evidence, had to release Guinta shortly after his arrest. Scalise and Anselmi made bail and were also released. Scalise and Jack McGurn were later indicted on seven counts of murder. McGurn eventually beat the case on a technicality and all charges against him were permanently dropped.

     Al Capone returned to Chicago on May 7, 1929. On the evening of his arrival, Scalise, Guinta, and Anselmi were the guests of honor at a Capone-hosted dinner attended by a dozen or so of his gangster associates. After an elaborate meal, Capone walked up behind the three men and beat them to death with a baseball bat. Their bodies were found early the next morning in the back seat of a car that had been rolled into a ditch alongside a rural Indiana road. The triple murder, related to other Capone business, had nothing to do with the St. Valentine's Day killings.

     Ten months following the massacre in Bugs Moran's garage, when it seemed as though the investigation had died on the vine, the case came back to life. On December 14, 1929, when a police officer in St. Joseph Michigan was escorting two motorists involved in a traffic accident to the police station for questioning, one of the men, a bank robber and Capone associate named Fred Burke, pulled out a pistol and killed the officer. Burke escaped in a hijacked car. Not long after the shooting, in the abandoned get-a-way car, police officers found documents that led them to Fred Burke's wife who lived with him in St. Joseph, Michigan. Burke, an early suspect in the St. Valentine's Day case, wasn't at home. But a search of the dwelling revealed an arsenal that included two Thompson sub-machine guns. The police seized the weapons along with ammunition clips and drums.

     Five days after the seizure at the Burke house, the district attorney in St. Joseph, Michigan delivered the weapons and ammunition to Dr. Calvin Goddard in New York. Goddard test-fired twenty-five bullets through one gun and fifteen through the other. When he compared these bullets and their shell casings with those found at the St. Valentine's Day murder scene, he was certain that the tommy guns found in Fred Burke's home had been the weapons used in the Chicago slaughter.

     On December 23, 1929, Dr. Goddard presented  his firearms identification evidence to the Cook County Coroner's Jury. As a result of his testimony and exhibits, the jurors recommended that Fred Burke be apprehended and held for the Cook County Grand Jury on seven counts of murder.

     Police officers in Michigan captured Burke the following April. Because he was being held for the murder of the police officer, the authorities in Michigan refused to surrender him to Illinois. Instead, Fred Burke was tried in Michigan for the murder of the police officer. Following the guilty verdict, the judge sentenced him to life. He later died in the Michigan State Penitentiary.

     As for Al Capone, his criminal career was coming to an end. In October 1931, he was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to eleven years at the federal prison in Atlanta. Suffering from syphilis, Capone was released in 1939. He died eight year later. Jack McGurn, the suspected brains behind the massacre, was machined-gunned to death by other gangsters in 1936. He died on a Chicago street with fourteen bullets in his body. Bugs Moran, a few years after the mass murder in his warehouse, was convicted of bank robbery. He died in 1957 while serving his time at the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

     The St. Valentine's Day Massacre and the firearms identification work performed by Dr. Calvin Goddard led to the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory funded by Northwestern University. Dr. Goddard became the head of the laboratory which specialized in firearms identification, polygraph research, and forensic document examination. In 1938, the Chicago Police Department purchased the lab for $25,000.
     

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Rise And Fall Of A Chief of Police

     I guess it's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a history of disgraced police administrators. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today, there are 700,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     In 2012, 300 victims were murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the previous year. There were cities the size of Detroit that had under 20 murders a year. In 2012, Detroit's murderers were dumping their victims' corpses around several decaying inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the bodies laid around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It was hard to believe there was a place like this in America.

     Because of massive budget cuts, the Detroit Police Department grew smaller while the crime problem got bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, had significantly slowed. A man who had committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be picked-up. When no one showed, the killer walked to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit, it was actually difficult to get arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986, the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. (That's how it works in a lot of police departments, you have to have someone upstairs who likes you.) In 1995, when Godbee was 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit, Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005, Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Godbee retired, and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement, Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson, Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of chief of police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Warren Evans, Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case, the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News, said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions, he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work, the higher up the ranks you go, the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service, and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major, and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this, but risked his career and good name anyway. He may or may not have turned out to be a effective police administrator, but we will never know because of his reckless choices.

     Ralph Godbee's career, like the sad city of Detroit, started in glory, and ended in ignominy. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Where is Tiffany Michelle Whitton?

     On March 7, 2011, 25-year-old Tiffany Michelle Whitton, a resident of Marietta, Georgia within the Atlanta metropolitan region, showed up in Dalton, Georgia with two other women and a man named Matthew Stone. That night, Tiffany, Tracy Chambers, Casey Renee Cantrell, and Matthew Stone broke into a woman's house and terrorized her with a tire iron. The victim managed to lock herself into the bathroom and call 911. Before fleeing the dwelling, Tiffany and her crew stole the woman's purse that had been lying on the couch. It contained $60.

     When questioned by detectives, Tiffany claimed the owner of the purse owed her money. She and her friends had gone to the house to collect what was hers. Investigators suspected that the victim and the four intruders had been in a drug deal. Tiffany, a user of illicit drugs, had paid the woman for pills, and when the supplier didn't deliver the goods, Tiffany and her friends raided the house to get her money back.

     A prosecutor charged Tiffany and her accomplices with armed robbery, burglary, and possession and use of drug-related objects. Following her guilty plea, the judge gave Tiffany a probated sentence.

     Tiffany, a former Hooter's waitress in Kennesaw, a suburban community north of Atlanta, disappeared on September 13, 2013. The mother of a 6-year-old daughter was last seen at two in the morning in the parking lot of a Walmart store not far from her home in Marietta, Georgia. Since that night she has not made contact with family members or friends. She was last seen with her boyfriend, Ashley Caudle. (A few weeks after Tiffany Whitton's disappearance, police arrested Caudle in a meth raid at his mother's house where he lived.)

     The missing woman's mother created a Facebook page called "Find Tiffany Whitton."

     On February 20, 2014, Marietta police officer David Baldwin, in referring to the multi-tattooed, five-foot-two-inch, 100-pound Whitton, said, "What really worries us is that she literally vanished without a trace."

     In July 2014, detectives executed a search warrant at Caudle's mother's house in Marietta where workman dug up her back yard looking for Tiffany Whitton's remains. The searchers came up empty handed.

     So, what could have happened to Tiffany Whitton? She could have run off to start a new life. However, because of her daughter, that didn't seem likely. It was also unlikely that some abductor was holding her captive. If dead, she could have killed herself in some remote location, or accidentally overdosed on drugs. If none of these events took place, someone may have murdered her. As a drug abuser, Tiffany rubbed shoulders with unsavory and dangerous people. Did she fail to pay a drug dealer? Did her criminal associates come to believe that she was a snitch?

     If Tiffany Whitton was murdered, her case would not move forward until someone who knew something about her disappearance called the police, or someone stumbled upon her body. Finding a person who is dead is a lot more difficult than finding someone who is alive. Moreover, where do you even begin to look for a corpse?

     As of February 2019, Whitton's whereabouts remain unknown. There have been no arrests in the case.
     

The Five Ws in Journalism

[Print and TV] reporters in journalism textbooks try to provide readers and viewers with what they need to know and try to produce stories that answer Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why? Journalists in real world news markets are driven, either consciously or indirectly, to produce stories that are generated by a different set of Five Ws: Who cares about information? What are they willing to pay, or others willing to pay to reach them? Where can media outlets and advertisers reach them? When is this profitable? Why is it profitable? These economic concerns help predict media content and explain why information in news reports differs from an accounting of a day's most significant events.

James T. Hamilton, All the News That's Fit to Sell, 2004

Monday, February 11, 2019

The Anatomy of a Wrongful Conviction

     For purposes of this discussion, a wrongful conviction is the conviction of an innocent person rather than an overturned guilty verdict based on a procedural issue. In the past six years, more than 500 prisoners convicted of the crimes of rape and murder have been released after being exonerated by DNA analysis. And all of these convictions had been upheld on appeal before the application of forensic science set these prisoners free. Since only a fraction of murders, rapes, and aggravated assault crimes feature DNA evidence, it is reasonable to assume the above exonerations represent the tip of an injustice iceberg.

     More than 90 percent of criminal convictions in this country are based on guilty pleas, and it is a fact that defendants who are innocent plead guilty to avoid the risk of maximum sentences. Since plea bargained cases do not involve trials, there is no way to know what percentage of these cases involved trumped-up evidence, prosecutorial wrongdoing, and/or incompetent defense attorneys.

     In a criminal justice system based upon the presumption of innocence and due process, how can a defendant be convicted of a crime he didn't commit? Wrongful convictions are not caused by flaws in the system, but by the way the system is administered by criminal justice practitioners. What follows are common elements of wrongful conviction cases:

Incompetent and Unscrupulous Investigators

     There are too many inexperienced, poorly trained, and/or unethical police detectives. These officers often ignore or destroy exculpatory evidence. They employ interrogation techniques that produce false confessions, pressure uncertain eyewitnesses into positive identifications, and in the worse cases, fabricate or plant evidence. These detectives also make up probable cause to acquire search warrants, and commit perjury at trials.

Overzealous Prosecutors

     Unethical, over-eager, and politically motivated prosecutors often pressure forensic scientists to tailor their expert testimony to the prosecution's theory of the case. They introduce coerced confessions, and put unreliable eyewitnesses on the stand. When short of solid evidence of guilt, they produce jailhouse informants and phony, hired-gun experts. These prosecutors are more about winning cases than prosecuting the right people.

Useless Defense Attorneys

     There are too many criminal defense attorneys who are either professionally unqualified, or go into court unprepared because they are lazy. These practitioners do not spend much time consulting with their clients and do not carefully go over the prosecution's case. They don't file pretrial motions to challenge questionable confessions, expert witnesses, eyewitnesses, jailhouse snitches, and search warrants. At trial they do not aggressively cross-examine prosecution witnesses, or mount effective defenses. Following convictions caused by their own poor performances, they don't file appeals. Many public defenders offices in the U.S. are underfunded, and overwhelmed by huge caseloads.

Biased and Indifferent Judges

     As seen in the O. J. Simpson trial, judges aren't always up to the job. Many are incompetent, biased, unfocused, or weak. The worst are simply corrupt. Police detectives can be disciplined, and prosecutors can be voted out of office. Bad judges, however, are rarely recalled, and are hard to weed out.

     The American criminal justice system, made up of police, courts, and  corrections, is broken. Crime solution rates, notwithstanding advances in forensic science, are still low. Too many innocent people are convicted, and too many guilty people walk. 

On the Stand: The Forensic Expert

     One of the dangers I see in forensic science is that people sometimes start to believe their own hype. [Dr. Henry Lee is a good example of this.] Because you go to court, you're recognized as an expert; detectives and prosecutors pick you out because you're in the know, so they come to you and they want to know what's really going on. It does start to work on you after a while. And you [the expert] have to be very careful because sometimes it's easy to start to fall into that slot where you start to believe that you're really as good as the defense attorney or prosecutor says you are.

     This can affect your testimony.... I think we all go through it a little bit, but you can learn to deal with it. You recognize that this is not a good place to be, and so you back off, and you go back to doing what you do, and that is science, real science.

     But sometimes experts, in an effort to be the hero, or in an effort to be recognized as the best, start to overemphasize things, or to over-testify, or even to lie.

Latent Fingerprint Specialist, in Connie Fletcher, Crime Scene, 2006

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Master Detective

The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, said that a first-class investigator had to have a good mind, exact knowledge, and the powers of observation and deduction. That's true, as far as it goes, but he forgot to mention persistence, audacity, objectivity, and, above all, integrity. And a little luck never hurt anyone.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The American Jail Population

     In a legal sense, the jail is the point of entry into the criminal justice system. It is the place where arrested persons are booked and where they are held for their court appearances if they cannot arrange bail. It is also the city or county detention facility for persons serving misdemeanor sentences, which in most states cannot exceed one year. The prison, on the other hand, is a state or federal institution that holds persons serving felony sentences, which generally run to more than a year.

     The public impression is that the jail holds a collection of dangerous criminals. But [in reality] the jail holds only a few persons who fit the popular conception of a criminal--a predator who seriously threatens the lives and property of ordinary citizens. In fact, the general majority of the persons arrested and held in jail belong to a different social category....

     Beyond poverty and its correlates--under-education, unemployment and minority status--jail prisoners share two essential characteristics: detachment and disrepute. They are detached because they are not well integrated into conventional society....They are disreputable because they are perceived as irksome, offensive, threatening, and even protoevolutionary [throwbacks].

John Irwin, The Jail: Managing the Underclass in American Society, 1985

Living And Dying In Los Angeles

Although black men account for only 6 percent of the nation's population, they constitute 40 percent of its murder victims. In the 2,677 killings of black men in Los Angeles between 1994 and 2006, there were arrests in only 38 percent of the cases. In 1993, right before the crack tsunami ebbed, a young black man in Los Angeles was as likely to die as an American soldier during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At least a solder felled in Sadr City perished in the service of a greater cause. In Athens Park, Los Angeles, black men were murdered for no reason other than a hard basketball foul, the wrong colors, a glance at someone's girl.

Alexander Nazaryan, "The City of Fallen Angels,"newsweek.com, February 7, 2015 

The Decline of Auto Theft

     Auto theft isn't much of a problem anymore in New York City. In 1990, the city had 147,000 reported car thefts, one for every 50 residents; last year, there were just 7,000. That's a 96 percent drop in the rate of car theft.

     So why did this happen? All crime has fallen, nationally and especially in New York. But there has also been a big shift in the economics of auto theft: Stealing cars is harder than it used to be, less lucrative and more likely to land you in jail. As such, criminals have found other things to do.

     The most important factor is a technological advance: engine immobilizer systems, adopted by manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These make it essentially impossible to start a car without the ignition key, which contains a microchip uniquely programmed by the dealer to match the car.

     Criminals generally have not been able to circumvent the technology or make counterfeit keys…They are stuck with stealing older cars. You can see this in the pattern of thefts of America's most stolen car, the Honda Accord. About 54,000 Accords were stolen in 2013, 84 percent of them from model years 1997 or earlier…Not coincidentally, Accords started to be sold with immobilizers in the 1998 model year…

     Old cars are easier to steal, and there are plenty of them still on the road. But there's an obvious problem with stealing them: They're not worth very much. Cars are typically stolen for parts, and as a car gets older, its parts become less valuable….[Today, if a criminal is desperate for a new car, he highjacks it which is a more violent crime.]

Josh Barro, "Here's Why Stealing Cars Went Out of Fashion," The New York Times, August 11, 2014. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Anger Management

     Stockton, California, an agricultural city of 290,000 ninety minutes east of San Francisco, has fallen on hard times. The real estate collapse and fiscal mismanagement has bankrupted the city. The mayor, in order to pay for government pensions and the interest on the municipal debt, has laid-off police officers, fire fighters, and other city workers.

     Besides high unemployment, Stockton, with 59 criminal homicides so far in 2012, has one of the  highest per capita murder rates in the country. (In 2011, 58 people were murdered in the city.) On October 22, 2012, a 45-year-old resident of the city named Colin McGrattan made a significant contribution to Stockton's outrageous murder statistics.

     McGrattan grew up in Ledyard, Connecticut, a town of 15,000 in the southeast corner of the state. The University of Connecticut graduate's mother, Mary McGrattan, served two terms as the town's mayor, and five terms as a representative in the State House. She currently sits on Ledyard's town council.

     In Stockton, before Colin McGrattan and his 57-year-old wife Jackie Arata were divorced, she inherited an orchard and a house in Linden, California worth between $500,000 and $1 million. When it came time to divide the marital assets, Colin, a marriage counselor who specialized in "anger management and family issues," argued that half of his wife's inherited real estate should go to him. The divorce judge didn't agree, finding that Jackie Arata did not have to give up half of this inheritance. Colin McGrattan failed to take this ruling in stride, and didn't follow his own advice on how to control one's anger.

     On Monday afternoon, October 22, 2012, McGrattan shot Jackie Arata to death with a .38-caliber revolver. He wrapped her corpse in a tarp, placed it into the back of his minivan, and drove himself and his murdered ex-wife to her sister's house in Stockton. McGrattan entered the house and shot 64-year-old Kathleen Arata to death. McGrattan got back into his silver minivan and drove to an upscale retirement home in Stockton called O'Connor Woods Senior Living. It was there he murdered his ex-wife's aunt, 88-year-old Chizuko Kenishi.

     Colin McGratton ended his killing spree at the retirement home by putting the revolver to his head and pulling the trigger. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Wrong-Word Crime Reporting

State troupers, in search of elicit drugs, found themselves in eminent danger when they encountered a grizzly murder being committed by a venial cereal killer. True meaning: A group of state stage performers, in search of response-evoking drugs, found themselves in distinguished danger when they encountered a bear murder being committed by a pardonable breakfast food killer.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Cockfighting: A Blood Sport

     Cockfighting, a pair of conditioned and trained roosters equipped with metal spurs or knives battling each other to the death in a cockpit, is against the law in every state in America as well as in Brazil, Australia, and except for France, Europe. In America, Louisiana didn't ban cockfighting until 2008. Although it's illegal, cockfighting, in certain parts of the country, is still a popular form of entertainment.

     In many countries such as Mexico, Peru, Panama, Ecuador, and the Philippines, cockfighting is not only legal, it's the national pastime. Spectators, whether gathered at illegal, clandestine cockfighting venues, or seated in elaborate arenas, bet money on the outcomes of the bouts. Like dogfighting and bullfighting, cockfighting is considered a blood sport. Unlike the sport of boxing, the participants are animals who have no say in the matter.

     Early in the morning of Thursday, April 19, 2012, 200 men, women, and children were gathered at a weekly cockfight venue on a small Hildago County ranch near McAllen, Texas. Without warning, at least two men wearing masks stormed the site and opened fire with automatic assault rifles. Before pandemonium broke out, most of the spectators were seated in bleachers beneath a corrugated pavilion. When the shooting stopped, three man lay dead, and eight were wounded.

     Two of the dead men were brothers, the 49 and 55-year-old targets of the ambush. Both men had criminal records, and had been suspects in a recent drug war drive-by shooting, the possible motive behind the retaliatory shooting spree. Local police officers believe the third man killed was an innocent bystander. Although the attack took place near the border, the police do not think it was related to the Mexican drug wars.

     The sheriff of Hildago County described the shooting site, littered with bodies, shell casings, pools of blood, beer cans, and twenty dead roosters, as the crime scene from hell. The authorities charged three people with the crime of cockfighting.

     The people charged in connection with cockfighting were convicted and given probation. They could have been sentenced to prison for up to two years, and fined $10,000.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On Punxsutawney Phil

I just found out that Punxsutawney's Groundhog Day handlers decide the day before if the rodent we'll see his shadow and predict six more weeks of winter. Good heavens, is nothing on the level?

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Grace Anne Hall's Strange And Suspicious Death

     Twenty-three-year-old Grace Anne Hall was last seen at eight o'clock on the evening of March 20, 2013. She was driving her 1997 silver-gray Toyota Camry in the Serra Mesa section of San Diego, California. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound blonde with tattoos on her upper back was reportedly on her way to an unknown location in the Los Angeles area city of Sherman Oaks for a job interview.

     According to detectives with the San Diego Police Department, Hall used her credit card in the Mira Mesa part of San Diego one week after her disappearance.

     On April 18, 2013, at nine-thirty in the morning, a San Diego patrol officer spotted Hall's Toyota parked in front of the Grab-n-Go Sub Shop in the Kearny Mesa community. According to witnesses, the vehicle had been sitting there for a week.

     When homicide investigators opened the Toyota's trunk, they discovered Hall's body. An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office revealed no sighs of external trauma on Hall's body. In other words, she had not been bludgeoned, stabbed, or shot.    

     Pending the results of toxicology tests, detectives began to consider the possibility of suicide. According to Hall's father, the victim had been unemployed and was despondent. At the time of her disappearance, she had been living with him. According to Lieutenant Jorge Duran of the San Diego Police Homicide Unit, "The more we discuss the case the more it seems this was not a homicide."

     On June 30, 2013, the San Diego County Medical Examiner announced the cause of Grace Anne Hall's death as acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Because she had ingested a quantity of automobile antifreeze, the medical examiner ruled the manner of death in this highly suspicious case as suicide.

     According to suicide experts, it is extremely rare for a person to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Speaking "Blandish"

To be successful, politicians and media people must learn how to speak "Blandish," a form of communication that sounds profound and inspiring without articulating anything meaningful. In an era where a wrong word, voice inflection, or even facial expression can destroy a career and send the hapless speaker into scandal hell, "Blandish" is becoming America's second language. It won't be long until "Blandish" replaces English as an academic major. Eggheads will coming out of universities with Ph.Ds in "Blandish." When that happens, I'll be the first to tell those bastards to go to hell.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Hickory Street Four Murder Case

     On the night of January 9, 2013, 24-year-old Joshua Miner and his girlfriend, Alisa Massaro, 18, were drinking and doing drugs at a house in Joliet, Illinois, a town of 150,000 forty miles southwest of Chicago. They were partying in Massaro's Hickory Street home where she resided with her father, Phillip. Bethany McKee, an 18-year-old who lived in Shorewood, Illinois was at the booze and drug party as well. Adam Landerman, a 19-year-old whose father worked as a sergeant with the Joliet Police Department, rounded out the group. Mr. Massaro, the father of the host, was in the house that night.

     Joshua Miner, the oldest partygoer, possessed a serious criminal record. When he was sixteen he pleaded guilty to filming a child pornography video. In 2010, a jury convicted him of residential burglary. Instead of prison, the judge enrolled the heavy drug user into a boot camp program As the oldest and most criminally experienced member of the party group, Miner assumed the role of leader.

     Later that evening, Joshua Miner invited two more people to the Hickory Street house. These young men, Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin, were acquainted with the party attendees. The 22-year-old men no idea what lay in store for them.

     On Friday, January 11, 2013, Bethany McKee's father, a resident of Shorewood, Illinois, reported to the police that his daughter had just called him with a disturbing request. She and her friends needed help in disposing of the bodies of two men murdered a day or so earlier in the house on Hickory Street.

     When the Joliet police stormed into the Massaro home, they found two of the original partygoers, Minder and Landerman, still boozing it up, snorting cocaine, and playing video games. Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin were in the house as well, but they were dead. Both men had been strangled, and someone and had tied plastic bags around their heads.

     Bethany McKee had left the house before the police stormed into the dwelling. Police officers picked her up a short time later in Kankakee, Illinois. Alisa Massaro's father, the owner of the dwelling, was at the murder scene when police joined the party.

     Not long after being taken into custody, the four partygoers opened-up to detectives about the double murder. Joshua Miner informed his interrogators that he had lured Glover and Rankin to the party by giving them the impression they would be having sex with Massaro and McKee. Once in the house, Miner and Landerman strangled the victims to death. The victims were killed for their cash and drugs.

     Miner said he planned to dismember the bodies and dump the remains in a river or lake or put the body parts into trash bags and curb them in another town on garbage day. Landerman, in furtherance of the garbage disposal plan, had purchased rubber gloves, bleach, a saw, and a blow torch. Police arrested the men before they had the chance to dismember the victims for disposal.

     Joshua Miner, in spilling his guts to detectives, painted Alisa Massaro as a woman as depraved and sexually deviant as himself. According to the 24-year-old child pornographer, Alisa had fantasized about having sex with a dead man. (I'm not sure how that would work.) After Miner and the police officer's son strangled the victims, they lined-up their bodies side-by-side and covered them with a blanket. Miner and Massaro then engaged in sex on top of the corpses.

     Bethany McKee, the 18-year-old who had asked her father for help in disposing of the bodies, told detectives that Joshua Miner had planned to save the victims' teeth as trophies. After helping Miner murder Glover and Rankin, Adam Landerman, according to McKee, danced around the room and speculated about how much money the dead men carried in their pockets. Miner and Landerman then drove off in Eric Glover's car to score cocaine from Miner's drug supplier.

     On Monday, January 14, 2013, a Will County prosecutor charged the four suspects with two counts each of first-degree murder. The judge set bail for each defendant at $10 million. Fortunately for these defendants, Illinois did not have the death penalty. In the the local media, the accused killers were referred to as the "Hickory Street Four." The sensational nature of the case led to a court battle over how much information the authorities were allowed to share with reporters. Not long after the arrests, a judge issued a gag order in the case.

     In May 2014, Alisa Massaro, the daughter of the man who owned the Hickory Street house, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and two counts of concealing a homicide. Will County Judge Gerald Kinney sentenced her to ten years in prison. Given time served and other factors, Massaro could be out of prison in less than four years. As part of the plea deal, Massaro agreed to testify against the other three defendants at their upcoming murder trials.

     Joshua Miner and Bethany McKee, in separate murder trials in November 2014, were found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. The jury, in June 2015, found Adam Landerman guilty as charged. The Will County judge sentenced him to life without parole.    

The Good Humor Man Assault

     Authorities say a 7-year-old boy riding a motorized bike was hit and killed by an ice cream truck in south Los Angeles and residents then attacked the driver…The truck hit the child shortly after 7 PM Wednesday October 22, 2014. The boy later died at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

     Police say the child had been riding alongside the truck, and the collision was an accident…A crowd then attacked the ice cream truck driver, but he only received bruises. The driver told police bricks were thrown at his truck and someone threatened him with a knife….

"Ice Cream Truck Hits, Kills Boy, Driver Attacked," seattlepi.com, October 23, 2014 

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Dan Markel Murder-For-Hire Case

     Raised in Toronto, Canada by well-to-do parents, Dan Markel, in 1995, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in philosophy. Upon earning his undergraduate degree, he studied political philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and continued his studies at the University of Cambridge in England. In 2001, he graduated from Harvard University Law School.

     After practicing law in Washington, D.C., Markel, in 2005, joined the teaching staff at Florida Statue University Law School in Tallahassee. A year later, he married Wendi Adelson, a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of Miami Law School. After acquiring her law degree in 2005, Florida State University hired her to run their public outreach program. They were married in 2006.

     In 2010, Markel, now a tenured associate professor making $193,000 a year, resided with his wife and their two young sons in the upscale Betton Hills community in Tallahassee. He had become a renowned author, teacher and scholar in the field of retributive justice, the study of punishment in proportion to the crime. He also published a popular academic law blog called, "PrawlsBlawg" that helped recent law graduates find careers in the field.

     In January 2012, Professor Markel's life took a turn for the worse when his wife Wendi blindsided him with the news she wanted a divorce. Moreover, she wanted to take their sons, 3 and 5, with her to south Florida. This led to a bitter child custody battle. The divorce became final in September 2012.

      In 2012, Professor Markel became the target of derision on a blog called "Insidethelawschoolscam," a site devoted to the proposition that law schools, by promising applicants jobs in the field, were knowingly lying about the dwindling career opportunities in law. The followers of the blog were mostly recent law school graduates saddled with huge education debts and no prospects of finding positions in the field.

     Visitors and contributors to "Insidethelawschoolscam" idolized a like-minded University of Colorado law professor named Paul Campos. Campos and his admirers believed that law schools, through false advertising and misrepresentation, were swindling students.

     "Insidethelawschoolscams" enthusiasts considered Professor Markel and his blog part of the problem. In defending his good name, Markel began to engage his detractors by posting messages on the blog. In return, he received responses like this: "Do you have the empathy to compare the terror that goes through a 26-year-old's life when a student loan bill comes due and you can't pay it? When he can't even get a job at Walmart because the education you sold him under false pretenses is so worthless that it won't even advance his candidacy at retail? Now compare that terror, the terror of having your life and financial future pass before your eyes, to the minor annoyance you felt at having your "name" sullied. Get over yourself."

     Over time, name-calling on "Insidethelawschoolscam" turned to the posting of messages that caused Professor Markel to feel under threat of physical harm. He had become the face of the problem and the target of his detractors' wrath.

     Many of Professor Markel's FSU law students considered him abrasive, arrogant, and unhelpful. They complained online that they couldn't find him in his office. When they did find him he was difficult to talk to.

     The year 2012 had been a tough one for Dan Markel. He had been through a bitter divorce, had developed enemies in the blog world, and incurred the anger and frustration of some of his students. What had been a sweet life had turned sour.

     At eleven in the morning of July 18, 2014, Professor Markel pulled onto his driveway and into his garage while talking on his cellphone. The moment he stopped his vehicle, a person who had followed him into the garage shot the 41-year-old in the head through the driver's side window. The killer then drove off in a white or silver Toyota Prius-type vehicle.

     A Betton Hills neighbor heard the gun go off and called 911. When police and paramedics arrived at the scene, Markel was still alive. A few hours later, however, he died at a nearby hospital.

     Homicide detectives believed that the killing was not a random murder. The killer had marked the professor for death and had carried out the murder plot.

     On May 25, 2016, detectives with the Hallandale Beach Police Department arrested 34-year-old Sigredo Garcia for Markel's murder. Officers booked Garcia into the Broward County Jail on charges of first-degree murder and possession of cocaine. Garcia had a criminal history that included strong arm robbery and burglary. A month later, the authorities charged Luis Rivera with first-degree murder.

     According to a police spokesperson, the murder of the law professor was being handled as a murder-for-hire case.

     In October 2016, police  arrested Katherine Magbanua, the mother of Garcia's two children, for her alleged role in facilitating the murder of the law professor. Investigators believed that Magbanua was the link between the mastermind in the case and the two hit men. Following numerous procedural delays, the murder trial was set for the summer of 2018. However, when of of Magbanua's attorneys fell ill, the trial was postponed to the summer of 2019, five years after Professor Markel's death.

     More arrests in the case are expected.

     

Professor Wants to Imprison Climate Deniers

     An assistant philosophy professor at Rochester Institute of Technology wants to send people who disagree with him about global warming to jail. The professor is Lawrence Torcello. On March 13, 2014 he published a 900-word essay at an academic website called The Conversation. [What conversation?] His main complaint is his belief that certain nefarious, unidentified individuals have organized a "campaign of misinformation." Such a campaign, he argues, "ought to be considered criminal negligence."

     Dr. Torcello, who has a Ph.D. from the University of Buffalo [the university should demand its degree back], explains that there are times when criminal negligence and "science misinformation" must be linked. The threat of climate change, he says is one of those times….

     Torcello says that people are already dying because of global warming. "Nonetheless [only whackademics use this word] climate denial remains a serious deterrent against meaningful political action in the very countries most responsible for the crisis." As such, Torcello wants governments to make "the funding of climate denial a crime…It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems." [Yes, and while we're at it, let's purge these legal systems of any semblance of free speech.]…

Eric Owens, "U.S. College Professor Demands Imprisonment For Climate-Change Deniers," The Daily Caller, March 17, 2014  

Sunday, February 3, 2019

People Murdered Over Nothing

     Just because murder is a serious criminal offense does not mean that murderers always have equally serious motives to kill. In the world of criminal homicide, the motive does not always match the crime. Authors of detective novels give their fictitious murderers good reasons to kill such as sweet revenge, big money, passionate sex, jealous love, and burning hatred. In the victimology of crime fiction, the killer and the killed usually know each other well. In novels, murderers are, if not nice people, fascinating folks with interesting reasons to commit the ultimate crime.

     In real life, people who commit criminal homicide are often wildly insane, drug-addled, or just plain stupid. Nonfiction killers are frequently uninteresting people who kill for trivial, idiotic reasons. Quite often, in real life, the murder victim is as insane, drug-addled or stupid as the person who killed him. In the more tragic cases, these mindless murderers take the lives of decent people who simply had the misfortune of crossing their lethal paths. If there is anything interesting in these under-motivated murder cases, it is the fact they are real. The advantage of writing about nonfiction crime is that these cases do not have to make a whole lot of sense. They just have to be true. Fiction, on the other hand, has to be believable. Fiction has to make sense.

The Trigger-Happy Mr. Dunn

     At 7:40 in the evening of November 20, 2012, Michael D. Dunn and his girlfriend pulled into a service station in Jacksonville, Florida. That day, the couple had attended the wedding of Mr. Dunn's son. The 45-year-old software developer and his girlfriend were en route to Dunn's home 160 miles away in Satellite Beach, Florida. Dunn parked his vehicle and waited behind the wheel as his girlfriend entered the gas station's convenience store.

     Mr. Dunn had pulled into the service station alongside a SUV occupied by three teenagers who were listening to music Dunn considered much too loud. He asked the boys to lower the sound level. The kids didn't take kindly to his request which led to an exchange of angry words. Suddenly, Michael Dunn picked up a handgun and fired eight shots into the car. Two of the bullets struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was sitting in the back seat. The high school junior, who was about to start his first job at McDonald's, died in the SUV.

     The shooter's girlfriend ran out of the convenience store, and as she climbed into Dunn's vehicle, asked, "What's going on?"

     "I just fired at those kids," Dunn replied as the couple drove away.

     The next day, police officers arrested Michael Dunn at his home in Satellite Beach. (A witness had written down his license number.)  Dunn told his police questioners that he had fired his pistol in self-defense after one of the kids in the SUV pointed a shotgun at him. Dunn's self-defense justification suffered a blow when investigators failed to find any weapons in the SUV. (There were no drugs in the car, and none of the boys had ever been in trouble with the law.)

     In May 2013, a grand jury sitting in Jacksonville, Florida, indicted Michael Dunn of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. On October 17, 2014, after a jury found Dunn guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole.

James Pak: The Angry Landlord

     In 2006, James Pak sold his Korean Yankee Landscape Company, a Biddeford, Maine business he had owned since 1964. In 2012, Mr. Pak was living with his wife in a cape cod-style home in the town of Bedford located 15 miles south of Portland. He rented out an apartment attached to his house to 44-year-old Susan Johnson who lived there with her son, 19-year-old Derrick Thompson. Derrick worked as an auto detailer at a nearby car dealership. His girlfriend, Alivia Welch, worked as a waitress at a local coffee shop. She was eighteen.

     Around six o'clock in the evening of Saturday, December 29, 2012, Bedford police officers responded to a call to defuse a dispute between Mr. Pak and his tenants. The 74-year-old landlord was upset because Derrick Thompson and his mother had parked their cars in his driveway. (The town had banned overnight parking on the street to clear the way for snow removal crews.) After speaking with Mr. Pak and his renters, the officers left the scene without taking anyone into custody.

     At seven that night, shortly after the police thought they had resolved the dispute, they were called back to the Pak house on reports of shots being fired in the rented apartment. Upon their arrival, the officers discovered that Mr. Pak had shot Derrick Thompson and his girlfriend, Alivia Welch, killing them both. He had also shot and wounded Derrick's mother, Susan Johnson.

     Following a three-hour police stand-off at his home, James Pak surrendered to the authorities. Among other crimes, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. After pleading guilty on February 3, 2016, the judge sentenced Pak to two life sentences.

Street Gang Killings

     Drug dealers and members of street gangs regularly murder each other over minor slights, petty arguments, and even disrespectful looks. For these habitual criminals it's their chosen way of life. Unless some innocent bystander goes down in the cross-fire, the general public couldn't care less about these deaths. One violent crook is dead, and his killer is off to prison for life. From a societal standpoint, these cases are hardly tragedies.

     Michael Dunn and James Pak were murderers who weren't career criminals, or even drains on society. Because they are not stupid men, their homicidal behavior makes even less sense. These men ruined their lives over nothing. And their victims did nothing to deserve their sudden and violent deaths. That is what makes these spontaneous homicides so tragic, and hard to understand.