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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Common Sense

In the United States, we are living in an era where common sense, pushed aside by irrational, magical thinking, is no longer common. There will always be people who are simply stupid, but a population of intelligent people who are unwilling or unable to think straight promises a dark future for them and their country. Anyone with common sense would know that.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Violent Male Stalkers in Japan

     In the United States, the act of stalking constitutes a crime in every state, and if committed interstate, can also be prosecuted as a federal offense. Criminal stalking is generally defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact or any course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause fear in a reasonable person. America, with about three million reported cases a year, is the stalking capital of the world. Two-thirds of these cases involve female victims stalked by ex-boyfriends, former spouses, co-workers, or social acquaintances. While men are stalked, this is primarily a crime against women.

     A high percentage of stalkers are compulsive, paranoid types motivated by anger and revenge. While the FBI doesn't keep track of how many women are murdered by these sociopaths, it's safe to estimate that every year stalkers kill more than 100 women. Because all stalkers are potentially dangerous, this is an extremely serious crime, a fact now recognized by the American law enforcement community.

     As a pattern of deviant behavior, stalking in Japan first attracted national attention in 1998 when a famous kabuki actor named Ennosuke Ichikawa won a restraining order against an overzealous fan. The stalker, however, was not charged with a crime. (In America, stalking is a fact of celebrity life.)

     In the spring of 1999, Shiori Ino, after breaking up with her boyfriend, filed a harassment case against him with the Saitama police in Ageo. Kazuhito Komatsu, the subject of the complaint, his brother, and two of their friends had been following and heckling Ino. They had also been distributing lewd and defamatory flyers about her. After the police refused to investigate Ino's allegations, she filed a formal internal affairs complain charging these officers with police negligence. (Later, through the use of falsified documents, the Saitama police tried to deny that Ino had filed a complaint against her ex-boyfriend.)

     On October 6, 1999, Kazuhito Komatsu, in broad daylight, stabbed Shiori Ino to death outside a train station in Saitama Prefecture. The police, under intense public criticism for ignoring Ino's case, argued that since stalking was not a crime in Japan, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the murder. (Stalking, at the time, was a crime in just one of Japan's 47 prefectural governments.) Komatsu took his own life several months after the murder. Shiori Ino's parents filed a civil lawsuit charging the Saitama officers with police negligence and intentional wrongdoing. (In 2003, the court awarded the family 5.5 million yen.)

     In 2000, 17-year-old Maki Otake broke up with her boyfriend who refused to leave her alone. In April of that year, after a week of stalking Otake, the ex-boyfriend stabbed her 34 times as she parked her bicycle outside her school. The case drew the attention of the national media and put pressure on Japan's politicians and law enforcement agencies to recognize stalking as a serious crime against women. Otake's stalker was later convicted of murder. By 2000, five of Japan's prefectural governments had enacted anti-stalking laws.

     In November 2000, in reaction to the Shiori Ino and Maki Otake murder cases, legislators in Japan's central government passed a law making stalking a national crime. Notwithstanding this new law, the police in the country were reluctant to treat stalking as a serious criminal offense. In many jurisdictions, officers, unwilling to get involved in what they considered trivial personal disputes, refused to investigate stalking complaints.

     In 2010, 38-year-old Eto Ozutsumi began sending 30-year-old Rie Miyoski threatening emails. He repeatedly sent her messages that read: "I am definitely going to kill you." Over a period of months, Ozutsumi sent Miyoski more than a thousand unwanted emails. The Tokyo couple hadn't dated since 2006. Miyoshi filed a complaint with the police, and in early 2011, married another man and moved with him to Zushi in the Kanagawa Prefecture. Her stalker did not know her married name, or where she lived. She changed her email address, and the stalking finally stopped.

     In June 2011, when the police arrested Ozutsumi on charges of stalking, an officer, in reading out loud from the arrest warrant, revealed the victim's married name and her new address. After Ozutsumi pleaded guilty to the stalking charge, the judge sentenced him to probation. About a year later, this man showed up at his former stalking victim's apartment in Zushi and stabbed her to death.

     In the wake of the Rie Miyoski murder, women's rights advocates and others in Japan were outraged over this official indifference to the crime of stalking and its victims. In Japan, police attitudes concerning crimes agains women have been slow to change,

     Between the years 2004 and 2014, reports of stalking in Japan increased ten-fold. Notwithstanding Japan's tough anti-stalking legislation passed in 2011, the problem of the violent male stalker continued to affect thousands of female victims, many of whom were eventually murdered. According to reports, violent stalking in Japan had become a crime problem of epidemic proportions. 

Thornton P. Knowles on the College English Department

The ability to craft beautiful sentences is useless without something interesting to write about. This is why most university English departments are essentially mental wards staffed by angry, depressed, and sometimes delusional professors who have contempt for their students, their fellow teachers, and themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

The Demand for Nonfiction

 For every short story that's published, perhaps a hundred nonfiction pieces are published as well--in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, books, online publications, and a variety of other media. For every new novel that released, book publishers release fifteen to twenty nonfiction titles--from memoirs to textbooks to auto repair manuals. And for every successful poet or scriptwriter in the country, there are probably forty or fifty successful writers of nonfiction. [I didn't know there were that many successful poets.]

Scott Edelstein, 100 Things Every Writer Should Know, 1999

     

Friday, March 29, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Growing Old

Some day a scientist will discover how to make people invisible. Until then, the closest thing we have to human invisibility is old age.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Troy James Knapp: Utah's "Mountain Man Burglar"

     In 1986, when he was 28, Troy James Knapp went to prison in Kalamazoo, Michigan for burglary and related offenses. Knapp pleaded guilty to destroying property in 1994 while living in Salt Lake City. Two years later, police in Seattle arrested him on the charge of stalking and harassment. In 2002, after serving two years in a California prison for burglary, Knapp left the state in violation of his parole.

     In 2007, the wilderness survivalist (he survived on other people's stuff) lived in the mountains of southern Utah. In the summers he stole food and gear from cabins in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties, and moved from one campsite to the next. During the winter months Knapp lived in the cabins he burglarized in the summer. The owners would return to their seasonal dwellings to find bullet holes in the walls and doors. Knapp also left notes with messages like: "Pack up and leave. Get off my mountain." (If everyone had packed up and left, Knapp would have starved.)

     Between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors in Iron, Kane, and Garfield Counties charged Knapp with 13 felony burglary crimes and 5 misdemeanor offenses. Because of the remoteness of Knapp's break-ins and the fact he kept on the move, he had eluded capture for more than five years.

     In late February 2013, a man hunting with his son in Sanpete County crossed paths with Knapp about 125 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Aware they had conversed with the mountain man burglar, the father notified the authorities.

     A few days after speaking with the hunters 9,000 feet up on a mountain near Ferron Reservoir in the central part of the state, forty police officers and a law enforcement helicopter closed in on the fugitive as he trudged through three feet of snow. After firing fifteen rifle shots at the helicopter, Knapp surrendered to the small army of approaching lawmen.

     When taken into custody, Knapp possessed an assault rifle and a handgun. He was booked into the Sanpete County Jail without bond. An Assistant United States Attorney in Utah charged Knapp with several federal firearms offenses.

     In April 2014, pursuant to an arranged plea bargain, Knapp pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to the use of a firearm during a crime of violence. At his sentence hearing on June 9, 2014, federal court judge Ted Stewart handed down the mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison.

     Knapp's attorney, in addressing the court, said, "There's an admiration for somebody who chooses to live off the land, because he does it while the rest of us wouldn't. Even if he needs a little help from some cabin owners."

     Sanpete County prosecutor Brody Keisel had a different take on the case. He told reporters after the federal sentencing that Knapp was nothing more than a "common crook." Knapp had agreed to plead guilty to the burglary charges filed against him in the seven Utah counties. According to those plea deals, he faced fifteen years in each county, the sentences to run together.

Your Memoir Should Not Be All About You

The subject of your memoir cannot be you. Not you all alone, anyway. A memoir must be about you and something--and that something should usually be your relationship to something interesting and bigger than yourself. With a memoir, until you have found a genuine subject, you will have nothing at all--because "you" are not a subject. Neither are "you" a story.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Thornton P. Knowles On False Hope

Never tell a young, would-be writer that he or she has great potential. That is the kiss of death.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Congressman Alan Grayson: The He Said/She Said Domestic Violence Case

     Alan Mark Grayson grew up in the Bronx, New York. In 1975 he graduated from the city's prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Four years later Harvard University awarded Grayson a Bachelor's degree in economics. He also acquired a law degree from Harvard, and a Master's degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. By any standard Grayson is a well-educated and erudite man. He is also a reminder that you can't tell a book by its cover.

     In 1991, Mr. Grayson founded the Grayson and Kubli law firm in Washington, D.C. His practice of law in Washington made him a multi-millionare. After serving in the Florida State legislature, Grayson, in 2008, was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented the 9th congressional district of Florida, a solidly Democrat district covering Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk Counties in the central part of the state.

     In 2010, Grayson lost his re-election bid to Daniel Webster. But two years later he regained his seat in congress by defeating a Republican named Todd Long. True to his reputation as a gutter campaigner, Grayson unnecessarily highlighted information in his opponent's divorce file in which Long's wife described her husband as "abusive and manipulative."

     Grayson, a large, intimidating, heavy-featured man with a resemblance to Huey P. Long, Jr., the corrupt U.S. Senator from Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935, quickly attracted attention in the national media with his over-the-top attacks on Republicans. (This made him the darling of the so-called mainstream media.) Speaking in the well of the House of Representatives, he accused opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) as wanting old people to die, and die quickly.

     In January 2014, Lolita Carlson-Grayson, after being married to the bellicose politician for 24 years, filed for divorce. After the divorce filing, the congressman moved out of their home near Windermere, Florida. Grayson and his wife have five children.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lolita Grayson called 911 to report an incident of domestic violence involving her estranged husband. She had been about to take their twin 8-year-old boys on a play date when he showed up at the house unannounced. She told the dispatcher that she wanted deputies to arrest Alan because he had been unfaithful to her. The dispatcher asked Mrs. Grayson if her husband hurt her physically. "Um, no," she said. "I pushed him because he's coming into the house and he's disturbing my peace."

     To deputies with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Lolita accused her husband of assault. According to Lolita's version of the events, he had come by the house to pick up his mail and some vitamins. This led to an argument outside of the dwelling. (A congressional aide, a witness, was sitting in Grayson's car at the time.)

     Lolita Grayson told the police officers that Alan pushed her against the front door of the house. As a result of the push, she fell to the ground. During the scuffle, as an act of self defense, Lolita kneed her husband in the stomach. When he drove off with his aide, she called 911.

     On Monday, March 3, 2014, Mrs. Grayson's attorney filed a petition with an Orange County Circuit Judge for a temporary protection injunction against her husband. In the affidavit in support of the request, Lolita alleged that Alan Grayson had assaulted her in the past, crimes she had not reported. Her attorney submitted photographs depicting recent bruises on the petitioner's leg and shoulder. The judge granted Mrs. Grayson a temporary protection order.

     On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, the Orlando Sentinal broke the Grayson domestic violence story. Congressman Grayson's spokesperson, Lauren Doney, released a damage control statement making it clear that the congressman denied his wife's "frivolous" allegations referred to as "outright lies."

     Doney insisted that after Lolita Grayson attacked her husband, he retreated from the scene. According to the spokesperson, "Since filing for divorce, Mrs. Grayson's behavior has become increasingly erratic, and she had demonstrated her alarming disconnect from reality. Mr. Grayson is deeply concerned by her recent behavior and is profoundly pained by her accusations." In other words, the woman is crazy.

     The next day, one of the congressman's attorneys, Mark NeJame, released to the media a videotape (without the sound) of the incident recorded by Grayson's Director of Constituent Services, Juan Lopez. The footage, shot from the congressman's car, shows Grayson and his wife arguing outside the house. While the video doesn't show him doing anything violent, the couple are off-camera for four seconds or so. When they are back in the frame, Lolita is seen pushing or striking her husband.

     To reporters, attorney NeJame said, "Alan was hoping that this matter would stay in the courts and outside the press, but since horrendous accusations have been made against him…he believes that the truth must come out. The attorney attributed Mrs. Grayson's bruises to her Taekwondo classes and blood thinners.

     Mr. NeJame distributed a statement written by the couple's 18-year-old daughter Skye Grayson that read: "At no time did my father hit or push my mother. In fact, my father backed away from my mother when she became physically aggressive." (On November 26, 2013, sheriff deputies arrested Skye Grayson on accusations she had thrown household objects at her mother. According to the criminal complaint, Skye had also pushed her mother, and when Lolita tried to call 911, her daughter ripped the phone cord out of the wall.)

     On March 5, 2014, a spokesperson for the Orange County Sheriff's Office announced that no charges would be filed against the congressman. A week later, Mrs. Grayson withdrew her petition for a permanent domestic violence injunction. The case was over, but not before some unwanted publicity for the congressman. Once you enter national politics there is no such thing as a private life.

     In May 2016, Grayson married Dr. Dena Minning, his third wife. That year she ran tor the U.S. House seat he vacated to run for the U.S. Senate. They both lost.

     

Thornton P. Knowles On The Career Politician

The founding fathers envisioned the volunteer, temporary public servant who traveled to Washington, D.C. to serve the country. They probably didn't fully foresee career politicians scheming their way to our national capital to serve themselves at the expense of the country. If the American people do not rise up and put a stop to this governmental corruption the American dream will turn into the American nightmare. We should demand term limits and laws that force ex-politicians into parts of the private sector that do not conduct business with government. Unfortunately, I think it's already too late for that. We have lost control.

Thornton P. Knowles


Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Forensic Entomology

     Not until the 1980s would an American entomologist add the line "Forensic Consultant" to his curriculum vitae. Yet, whenever modern-day forensic entomologists step before an audience--be it a jury, college class, or a room full of homicide detectives--they invariably introduce their science as "ancient," nearly 800 years old. They trace its first known use to a tale of murder by slashing recorded in Sung Tz'u's thirteenth-century Chinese detective manual, Hsi Yuan Chi Lu (The Washing Away of Wrongs).

     On a sweltering afternoon, a group of farmers returning from their fields outside a small Chinese village found the slashed and bloodied body of a neighbor by the roadside. Fearing bandits, they sent for the provincial death investigator, who arrived to convene an official inquest. "Robbers merely want men to die so that they can take their valuables," he informed the gathered crowd. "Now the personal effects are there, while the body bears many wounds. If this is not a case of being killed by a hateful enemy, then what is it?" Nonetheless, questioning the victim's wife revealed no known enemies, at worst some hard feelings with a neighbor to whom her husband owed money. On hearing this, the official ordered everyone in the neighborhood to bring their farm sickles for examination, warning that any hidden sickle would be considered a confession to murder. Within an hour, the detective had seventy to eighty blades laid before him on the town square. "The weather was hot," Sung Tz'u notes. "And the flies flew about and gathered on one sickle," presumably attracted by invisible traces of flesh and blood.

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

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Snow Blower As A Dangerous Weapon

     An on-going feud between two Arlington, Massachusetts neighbors in their early 60s got out of hand during Tuesday's [January 27, 2015] blizzard when one of the women attacked the other with a snow blower…Police responded to an assault call where they found a 60-year-old woman with cuts to her foot. The injured woman had taken out a harassment protection order against her neighbor, Barbara Davis, 61.

     Police officers arrested Davis for violation of the protection order and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon…Davis was held on $35,000 bond. The victim was treated for minor injuries.

"Arlington Woman Attacks Feuding Neighbor With Snow Blower," boston.com, January 27, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Who Can And Who Can't Write

I feel sorry for people who desperately want to be novelists but do not have the talent to pull it off. I can't imagine the agony, the frustration, the anger and eventually the depression. I've often wondered what is worse: a gifted novelist with writer's block or an untalented writer who can't stop writing. Like they say, it's a cruel world.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Prosecutor Alex Hunter And The JonBenet Ramsey Case: A Profile In Courage

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder, Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped for ransom, she had called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling, the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who had come to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon, Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later, he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape, and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder, the police, prosecutors, media, and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, then who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer, and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announcement in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, grand jurors did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute these parents.

     According to the Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case, myself included, agree with attorney Wood. The Ramseys had not only been victimized by their daughter's killer, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

     The Ramsey case is still officially open, but investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 25 this year. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Drunk And Disorderly Football Fan

     On Sunday night, November 3, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens were in Pittsburgh to play the Steelers at Heinz Field. Stephen Sapp, a 29-year-old fan from Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood on the northern bank of the Monongahela River, was in attendance. He would have been better off if he'd stayed home and watched the game on TV.

     At some point during the event, stadium security officers were called to Gate C where an apparently intoxicated Sapp had become disorderly and loud. The security officers warned Mr. Sapp that if he didn't stop yelling and screaming they would have to ask him to leave the stadium. The out of control football fan said he had no intention of being ejected from the premises. That's when security called in the Pittsburgh police.

     Upon the arrival of the Pittsburgh police, Stephen Sapp started kicking the steel dividing barriers. The officers warned him that if he didn't stop doing that, they would have to take him into custody. Mr. Sapp showed his contempt for authority by kicking another barrier that broke loose and hit Melissa Yancee in the forehead. The blow cut her face and knocked her unconscious.

     The officers informed the drunken fan that they were taking him to jail. When they tried to handcuff the disorderly and now dangerous fan, he physically resisted. Sapp ended up on the ground with his hands tucked under his body in an effort to avoid the handcuffs. Following a brief struggle, the officers were able to free the arrestee's hands and apply the restraining device.

     Because Sapp had sustained cuts during his scuffle with the police, the officers took him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy Hospital. While waiting to be treated for his minor injuries, Sapp said this to a police officer: "I know how this works. How much money will it take to make this go away and to let me go home today?" (Sapp was employed at the IRS office in Pittsburgh.)

     The officer informed Mr. Sapp that he had just committed the crime of bribery. Seemingly devoid of good sense, the man in custody continued, "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away."

     Later that night, the officers showed Mr. Sapp how things work in Pittsburgh criminal justice. They booked him into the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault, defiant trespass, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and bribery. The judge set his bond at $10,000.

     Melissa Yancee, the woman injured as a result of Mr. Sapp's drunken Heinz Field antics was transported to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment of her head wounds.

     The Steelers, without Mr. Sapps's help, went on to win the game.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Devil's Dilemma

Let's say an executioner, on the order of the court, executes a man for murder who, while having lived a life of crime, did not commit the criminal homicide. The executioner, while he killed an "innocent man," has been a model citizen and a good man. Which one goes to Heaven and who ends up in Hell? And what about people who support the death penalty, where are they going?

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Existence Of Hell

I do and I don't want to believe in the existence of Hell. I like the idea that rapists and people who abuse children and animals and murder in cold blood will get what they deserve after they die. But just how bad does one have to be to justify an eternity of post mortem fire?  What about jerks like me who haven't seen the inside of a church since he was fifteen? I'm a little worried that if Hell exists, I could end up there myself. Yes, I definitely have mixed feelings about the existence of Hell.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, March 18, 2019

Murder By Blunt Instrument

     A nursing home worker in China was accused on February 21, 2015 of killing three elderly residents and injuring 15 with a brick. Luo Renchu, 64, had argued with his boss over unpaid wages prior to his assault on elderly residents and staff at the privately run home in the central part of the country…The attack happened on February 19 after an argument over 40,000 yuan in unpaid wages. Luo and his wife, who also works at the home, had been promised 10,000 yuan before the start of the Chinese New Year which started two days before.

     The nursing home owner's mother and brother were among the 15 assaulted. Six others were in life-threatening condition…Police were searching for the accused assailant.

"Nursing Home Worker Allegedly Killed 3 Elderly Residents in China With Brick," Fox News, February 21, 2015 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Shameful Four Corners Archaeological Raids

     On June 9, 2009, in Blanding, Moab, and Monticello, Utah; Durango, Colorado; and Albuquerque, New Mexico; FBI and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agents conducted 17 simultaneous pre-dawn SWAT raids into the homes of people who collected Indian relics. Eleven of the raids took place in Blanding, a San Juan County town in southeastern Utah.

     San Juan County is located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau of canyons and mountains that was home to the ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) people. These so-called cliff-dwellers, from 700 to 1300, populated an area about the size of Connecticut. The Zuni and the Hopi, as well as a dozen other Native American tribes, are thought to be the descendants of the Anasazi.

     The SWAT raids resulted in the seizure of thousands of artifacts that had been removed from the ruins of the Anasazi cliff dwellings, and various burial sites. A group of 24 collectors and dealers were charged with felonies and misdemeanors under the 1979 federal law called the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which prohibits, among other things, the taking of Native American artifacts from tribal and federal land. (In the American west, the federal government owns well over 50 percent of the land.)

     All but three of the 19 San Juan County arrestees lived in Blanding, Utah, a Mormon town where collecting Anasazi artifacts--pottery, baskets, rugs, flint projectile points, sandals, pendants, beads, effigies, and slate atlatl weights (also called banner stones)--has been a popular hobby for more than a hundred years. Collectors swept up in the SWAT raids that morning included the town's only physician and his wife; a high school math teacher whose brother was San Juan County Sheriff; and 12 others. More than half of the arrestees, prominent member of the community, were over 60 years old.

     The day following the heavily armed home invasions, residents of San Juan County were shocked to learn that Dr. James D. Redd, the 60-year-old Blanding physician who had been indicted on one count of theft of Indian tribal property (his wife faced 7 felony counts), had killed himself. A beloved doctor who still made house calls, Dr. Redd's suicide intensified the anti-government feelings in the town. (In 1986, there had been a similar SWAT raid of collectors' homes in Blanding. The federal government failed to prosecute anyone in that case, but hundreds of Anasazi pots were seized, and none of them returned.)

     A week after the four corners SWAT raids, an ARPA arrestee from Durango, Colorado, a 56-year-old collector on the periphery of the federal investigation, also committed suicide. By now, residents of the region, and artifact collectors and dealers across the country, were outraged by what they considered Gestapo-like tactics in the enforcement of the federal archaeological protection law.

The Snitch

     The federal investigation that led to the four corners SWAT raids, the most extensive ARPA case in history, began in 2006 when Ted C. Gardiner, a former Salt Lake City area antiques dealer and collector of prehistoric Native American artifacts, approached the FBI. Gardiner offered to use his online antiques business to gather evidence against collectors and dealers he said had been trafficking in artifacts illegally taken from federal and tribal lands in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. The FBI paid the 48-year-old "confidential human source" an initial fee of $10,000 followed by monthly payments of $7,500. Between March 1, 2007 and October 8, 2008, Gardiner, the former owner and CEO of a Utah based grocery story chain founded by his grandfather, clandestinely audio and video recorded 132 telephone and in-person conversations with 22 artifact collectors and a half dozen dealers. (On the day of the SWAT raids, FBI agents had searched the homes of four prominent artifact dealers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the hub of the Anasazi artifact trade. Although none of these men were indicted, the agents confiscated artifacts from one dealer.)

     During his undercover investigation, Gardiner, equipped with a hidden video camera, accompanied a handful of collectors on artifact digging excursions on federal land. In addition to the $335,000 the FBI paid to the informant to buy 256 artifacts--sandals, blanket fragments, woven baskets, pottery, pipes, Clovis points, stone axes, flint knives, prayer sticks, pendants and other high-item pieces--they gave him another $162,000 to cover his expenses.

     On March 1, 2010, Gardiner, after have been exposed as the FBI's undercover informant by the local media, fatally shot himself in the head. The alcoholic, and former drug addict had been despondent over the previous two case-related suicides, and anxious about facing the collectors and dealers he had betrayed. Following Gardiner's suicide, the federal prosecutor in Utah assured reporters that the ARPA cases would not be adversely affected by the undercover operative's sudden death.

    In 2011 and 2012, all of the ARPA defendants, in exchange for sentences of probation, pleaded guilty.


Comments by Jay Redd, Dr.James Redd's Son


     On August 16, 2012, Jay Redd, in an email to the author, defended his parents, described the overkill nature of the federal raid, and set the record straight on some important details. The following are excerpts from his informative and credible email:

     My mom was a collector and not a trafficker, but again, my dad was neither. Everyone who knows my dad knows he did not collect artifacts. The feds watched him for two and a half years and they also knew he did not collect artifacts but that did not fit the mold the feds had planned for my dad to fit into....

     The reason they arrested Dr. Redd on June 10, 2009 was because he picked up off the surface of the ground a tiny little shell bead the feds call an "effigy bird pendent." My dad did not try to sell or trade the tiny little item to the informant or anyone else, he just showed it to him....The true market value of the bead my dad was arrested for is $75 but the informant and the feds inflated the price of it by over 1250 percent and said it was worth $1,000. Now why did they inflate the value? Because the felony charge they gave Dr. Redd required that the item in question, taken from Reservation land, must be valued at over $1,000 in order to qualify as a felony. Anything valued less than $1,000 would be a misdemeanor. Well, my dad would not have lost his medical license over a misdemeanor, but with a felony he would have and that is what the feds were shooting for....

     The treatment the feds imposed on my dad is beyond disgusting. On June 10, 2009 Dr. Redd was returning home from work early in the morning. As he drove up to his house he saw the numerous black SUVs parked there. As he was pulling up to the driveway one of the agents pointed to his FBI hat, drew his gun and pointed it at him. My dad stopped the vehicle and they yanked him from his car at gunpoint, handcuffed him and sat him down in his garage as they milled about him with their weapons. I wonder what the feds said when he requested to speak to his attorney....One of the head agents in charge that day boasted there were 80 agents at my parents house at one time and throughout the day (they searched the house for 11 1/2 hours). A total of 140 agents visited the house....The agent also said there were seven snipers on my parent's roof for hours and hours waiting for my brother to go down to the house....The day after the raid a resident from Blanding told me he watched my parent's house from a distance with his binoculars and said he saw the agents on the roof not moving for hours and hours....

     Concerning the undercover informant Ted Gardiner: If you read the police report and other articles about his suicide you will see that Ted said he "felt guilty for killing two people." Why would an undercover informant who was supposedly doing his job properly to rid the U.S. of evil underground criminals, feel guilty for the actions of those he caught in secret, illegal, underground activity. Could it be because he made friends with my dad who gave him medical advice on his ankle injury, encouraged him a few times to quit smoking to improve his health, invited him to the LDS church function that night....Ted knew he had a major part in Dr. Redd's death and after nine months of torment he could not take it anymore and therefore put a bullet in his head.  

Thornton P. Knowles On Saving Time

I remember when there were all of those so-called efficiency experts teaching everyone on how to save time. I learned how to save a lot of time but didn't known what to do with all the time I had saved. So I went back to being happily inefficient.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, March 15, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The American Devaluation Of Individual Privacy

My father did his banking in a neighboring town because he didn't want to reveal his financial business to local bank employees. This coziness regarding what he considered a personal matter reflects the degree to which Americans of his era respected and valued individual privacy. Today, with the almost total reliance on credit cards and the Internet, Americans have lost their reverence for personal privacy. There is nothing about us that government and corporations don't know. And who knows what they might do with all of this information. No one seems to care that the loss of privacy could eventually lead to the loss of democracy. The fox has been let into the henhouse, and we are the hens.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Theme in Documentary Films

     In literary terms, theme is the general underlying subject of a specific story, a recurring idea that often illuminates an aspect of the human condition…

     The best documentary films, like memorable literary novels or thought-provoking dramatic features, not only engage the audience with an immediate story--one grounded in plot and character--but with themes that resonate beyond the particulars of the event being told.

Sheila Curran Bernard, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Anthony Elonis Supreme Court Case: Free Speech Versus the Right Not To Be Threatened

     Anthony Elonis, an employee at an amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was upset when his wife Tara left him in May 2010. The couple had two children.

     In October 2010, obviously fuming over his wife's departure, Elonis posted the following message on Facebook: "If I only knew then what I know now…I would have smothered your [Tara's] ass with a pillow, dumped your body in the back seat, dropped you off in Toad Creek, and made it look like rape and murder." Later he wrote: "There's one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya. I'm not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."

     On November 4, 2010, Tara Elonis, fearful of what her estranged husband might do to her, convinced a judge to issue a protection order against him. Three days later, on Facebook, he responded with more threats. In the context of discussing the federal law that makes it a crime to threaten the president of the United States, Anthony Elonis wrote: "I also found out that it's incredibly illegal…to go on Facebook and say something like the best place to fire a mortar launcher at a house would be from the cornfield behind it because of easy access to a getaway road and you'd have a clear line of sight through the sunroom."

     Elonis illustrated his Facebook posting with a map of the proposed mortar assault, his estranged wife's house. "Art," he wrote, "is about pushing the limits. I'm willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are You?"

     About this time Elonis also used Facebook to threaten his fellow employees at the amusement park. He published a Halloween photograph of himself holding a fake knife to a co-worker's throat. He captioned the image: "I wish."

     Elonis' boss, after seeing the Facebook post, fired Elonis and reported him to the FBI.

     A federal prosecutor charged Elonis under a law that makes using the Internet to threaten another person with harm a crime. The case went to trial in 2011 and resulted in Elonis' conviction.

     During Elonis' three year stretch in federal prison, his attorney filed a First Amendment appeal arguing that the federal government had violated his client's right to free speech.

     The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Elonis' First Amendment challenge of his conviction. Under federal case law, so-called "true threats" are not protected as free speech under the First Amendment. To constitute a criminal act, such a threat does not have to be carried out. Moreover, prosecutors do not have to prove even an intent to carry out the threat. (Conspiracy offenses require an overt act and criminal attempt crimes must include a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.)

     In a 2003 Supreme Court decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the law was intended to protect people "from the fear of violence and from the disruption that fear engenders."

     At his criminal trial in 2011, Elonis' attorney argued that threats alone are not harmful and that they therefore come under the protection of the First Amendment. Elonis took the stand on his own behalf and testified that he had not made a "true threat" against his estranged wife because he didn't have any intention of hurting her. In justifying his Facebook threats, he said, "This was for me therapeutic." He said it helped him deal with the pain of losing his wife.

     The victim, Tara Elonis, took the stand for the prosecution and said, "I felt like I was being stalked. I felt extremely afraid for me, my children, and the lives of other family members."

     The principal constitutional issue before the Supreme Court involved whose point of view--the people who threaten or the people who are threatened--was the governing rationale. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighed in on Elonis' behalf. Attorneys for the activist group wanted a higher legal standard for the criminalization of speech to avoid sending people to prison over misunderstandings. The ACLU asked the court to make speech a crime only when the prosecutor could establish a clear intent to carry out the threat.

     On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, reversed the Elonis conviction. (I do not agree with this decision. The victim's fear of an attack in this case was reasonable, therefore the threat was real and constituted a crime. Criminal intent can be reasonably inferred from a person's actions and words.)
     

The Diminishing Death Penalty

The death penalty in America currently affects a tiny percentage of all persons convicted of crime, and is used frequently in only one region of the country. In the peak year of 1999, a total of ninety-eight persons were executed in the United States. Seventy-four of the ninety-eight were put to death in southern states, half in Texas and Virginia alone. Even among all persons found guilty of murder, the numbers who reach execution make up less than one-half of 1 percent. In the big statistical picture of criminal punishment, the death penalty is barely visible. [In March 2019, the governor of California placed a moratorium on the state's death penalty. Since no one in California has been executed in decades, the act was nothing more than political theater.]

Henry Ruth and Kevin R. Reitz, The Challenge of Crime, 2003

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The "Black Madam" Butt-Injection Murder Case

     Born in 1970, Padge Victoria Windslowe didn't become a woman until she had a sex change operation in 2006. The aspiring hip-hop singer who billed herself as the "Black Madam" (presumably because she's black), had also gone under the names Victoria Forrest Gordon, and Genevieve D'Gordoni. (I don't know her pre-female name.) The multi-named Windslowe also had a pair of social security numbers, and lived in two places--with her mother and stepfather in west Philadelphia and in an apartment in Narberth, Pennsylvania.

     Although Windslowe had no medical training, the Black Madam injected silicone into the hips and buttocks of young women who attended her "pumping parties" to acquire larger butts. Windslowe's client/victims paid between $700 and $2,000 for these cosmetic enhancement procedures carried out in Philadelphia area homes and hotel rooms.

     Melissa Lisath, a 27-year-old account manager for a construction company in the Bronx, New York, attended a September 2008 pumping party hosted by the Black Madam at a Red Roof Inn in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Lisath, one of several women in the motel room, paid $1,800 for the procedure. Windslowe identified herself as a plastic surgeon's assistant named Lillia.

     Six hours after receiving the painful silicone injections, Lisath, back in the Bronx, started having trouble breathing. She began to sweat profusely, then threw up blood. Rushed to the hospital, she slipped into a coma. The chemicals Windslowe had injected into her body had migrated into her bloodstream, then into her lungs. Three months after the pumping party, Lisath came out of her coma. She weighed 80 pounds, couldn't walk, and had a bone condition. Two years would pass before she was well enough to take care of herself.

     No criminal charges were filed against Windslowe in connection with Melissa Lisath's nearly fatal reaction to the Mount Laurel pumping party injections. The Black Madam continued to inject silicone into women who gathered in area homes and motels for the toxic cosmetic procedures.

     In December 2011, Claudia Seye Aderotimi, a 20-year-old college student from London, England, flew to Philadelphia, where, in a hotel room near the airport, Windslowe administered the butt enlargement shots. Within hours of the injections, Aderotimi complained of chest pains, suffered a heart attack, then died suddenly of liver failure. (As reported in the U. K., Aderotimi was an exotic dancer.)

     On February 19, 2012, Windslowe injected a 23-year-old exotic dancer at a pumping party held in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The needle hit a blood vessel which carried the toxic chemicals to the unidentified woman's lungs. Treated for a blocked lung artery, the victim, after seven days in the hospital, went home requiring extra oxygen to breathe. As a result of this woman's medical reaction to the Black Madam's injections, the local prosecutor charged Windslowe with aggravated assault, simple assault, and deceptive practices. Instead of taking Windslowe into custody, the Philadelphia police placed her under surveillance.

     Ten days after the Black Madam had injected the 23-year-old exotic dancer, the police raided a pumping party attended by five women in another Germantown home. They took Windslowe into custody and seized her equipment which included syringes, needles, chemicals, and other butt enlarging paraphernalia such as cotton balls and Super Glue. A magistrate set Windslowe's bail at $10 million, but a judge lowered it to $750,000. The Black Madam was confined, under house arrest, at the west Philadelphia home occupied by her mother and stepfather.

     Investigators linked the Black Madam to 14 pumping parties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

     On July 23, 2012, the District Attorney's office in Philadelphia charged Padge Windslowe with third degree murder in connection with the death of London tourist Claudia Aderotimi. The Delaware County Medical Examiner, Dr. Frederic Hellman, following a toxicological analysis of the injected substance, declared a direct link between the Black Madam's injection and the victim's death. According to the forensic pathologist, the industrial grade silicone had traveled, through Aderontimi's blood, to her liver, lungs, and brain. Dr. Hellman listed the victim's cause of death as pulmonary embolism.

     Padge Windslowe's attorney, Christopher Mannix, told reporters in October 2012 that he would challenge the state's toxicological conclusions at his client's upcoming trial.

     Padge Windslowe, in 2014, rejected a plea bargain deal involving a sentence of 15 to 30 years. If convicted as charged she faced up to 40 years in prison.

     On February 17, 2015, in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, Windslowe went on trial for third-degree murder involving the death of Claudia Aderotimi of London, England. The day before, at a final pre-rrial motion hearing, Windslowe told the judge that her "body sculpting work" was so popular she was dubbed the Michelangelo of buttock injections. "God's blessed my hands with everything I touch," she said. "I make lots of money, in lots of ways."

     Assistant District Attorney Carlos Nega in his opening statement to the jury said that the defendant's clients were not millionaires like Kim Kardashian. As a result, the women had sought procedures that were cheap and risky.

     Defense attorney David Rudenstein, in his opening remarks to the jurors, in referring to the prosecutor's jury presentation, said, "It's a nutso situation. It almost blows your mind listening to it." However, the lawyer added, his client would not have injected herself over the years if she didn't consider the butt-injection procedure safe.

     On February 19, 2015, two of the defendant's clients took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Windslowe charged $l,000 to $2,000 per injection session. The Black Madam had falsely held herself out as either an experienced nurse or a physician's assistant for a plastic surgeon. Both witnesses said they had endured frequent discomfort and worried they might develop serious health problems.

     On Monday March 2, 2015, after the defendant spent most of the day testifying on her own behalf under her attorney's direct examination, she complained of chest pains. Later that day she checked herself into a Philadelphia hospital where she remained for two days.

     When Windslowe returned to the witness strand she testified that her patient Claudia Aderotimi had consumed alcohol shortly after her procedure in violation of the defendant's post-injection instructions.

     Throughout her testimony, Windslowe went out of her way to drop the names of famous people she claimed to have treated. She mentioned Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, model Amber Rose and Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania. On cross-examination, prosecutor Vega asked the defendant why rich and famous people would choose a unlicensed practitioner over a Los Angeles surgeon. "Because I was the best," she said, "and I don't mean that to be cocky."

     Windslowe did not come across as a sympathetic witness. From her attorney's point of view, her testimony did more harm than good. She didn't seem to have a clue why she was on trial for third-degree murder. She actually seemed to enjoy all the attention.

     On March 9, 2015, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, on June 11, 2015, sentenced Windslowe to ten to twenty years in prison. Upon her release Windslowe will serve six years on probation. At the sentencing hearing the judge called the "Black Madam" a narcissist. (A more accurate characterization would be sociopath.) 

The Tong Shao Murder Case

    Tong Shao grew up as the only child in a middle-class family in Dalian, China, a coastal city of 7 million 300 miles east of Beijing. Her parents saved up $100,000 for her college education in America. In the fall of 2012, she enrolled as a chemical engineering major at Iowa State University in Ames. As one of 5,000 Chinese students in the state, her parents thought she'd be safe living in central Iowa.

      In the summer before she started her junior year, Shao completed an internship in Kentucky where she had purchased a gold-colored, four-door 1997 Toyota Camry.

     On September 6, 2014, Shao drove to Iowa City to visit her boyfriend Xiangnan Li. Xiangnan also attended Iowa State University as an international student from China. Shao had met Li in the summer of 2011 in Beijing where they took English prep classes.

     Xiangnan Li was from Wenzhou, China, a city of 9 million on the country's east coast 300 miles south of Shanghai. He had transferred to Iowa State University from Rochester Institute of Technology to be closer to Shao.

     In the U.S. Li resided in Iowa City at an apartment complex called Dolphin Lake Point Enclave. He also stayed in the Ames apartment Shao shared with her roommate Jean.

     Two days after Shao left Ames, a message sent from her cellphone to a friend said she was driving to Minnesota to visit someone there. Her college friends didn't hear from her for more than a week after that September 8 text message. On September 17, her roommate Jean reported Tong Shao missing to the Ames Police Department.

     On Friday September 26, 2014, police in Iowa City, at Li's apartment complex along U.S. Highway 6, found Shao's Toyota parked in the parking lot. After smelling the odor of death coming from the trunk area of the vehicle, officers acquired a warrant to search the car.

     Inside the trunk of Shao's vehicle, officers found the decomposing body of the 5-foot-2-inch missing college student. Next to her body lay a 15-pound barbell. According to a resident of the Dolphin Lake Point Enclave, the 1997 Toyota with the Kentucky plates had been parked in that spot for a couple of weeks.

     Xiangnan Li's blue 2009 BMW was also parked at the Iowa City apartment complex. He, however, was gone. On September 8 he had flown back to China. (He had boarded the plane in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and had a layover in Chicago.) Iowa City police officers, on September 27, 2014, searched his car. Inside the vehicle they found Li's flight information.

     In November 2014, a forensic pathologist with the Johnson County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Tong Shao's remains. A medical examiner's office spokesperson, however, didn't announce the postmortem results until January 2015. According the autopsy report, the college student had died from asphyxiation and blunt force trauma. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. (I don't understand the dual causes of death. She was either strangled or bludgeoned to death. How could she die from both?)

     According to homicide investigators, the text message from Shao's cellphone had been sent on September 8 from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago where Li was laid over en route to his home in China.

     Karen Yang, a friend of Li's, told detectives Li had been jealous over Shao's interest in another man. Li had overheard Shao complain to this man over the phone that she was not happy with her current relationship. This had made Li extremely angry.

     Detectives with the Ames Police Department learned that on September 5, 2014, Li and Shao checked into room 218 at the Budget Inn in Nevada, Iowa. Hotel surveillance camera footage showed Shao walking alone in the lobby the next afternoon. She was also seen in the town of Nevada driving a gold-colored car believed to be her Toyota. According to hotel records, the couple checked out on September 7, 2014. They had stayed at this place in 2013 and earlier in 2014.

     Detectives believed that Shao had been murdered by Li during the early morning hours of September 7 at the hotel. The walls in room 218 were stained with "splatter and drips of various dried liquids." Crime scene investigators also found dried blood behind the headboard of the bed.

     When police discovered Shao's body in the trunk of her car on September 26, 2014, they discovered that her head had been wrapped in a towel with the tag "Premium Quality," the same kind of towel used at the Budget Inn and Suites.

     On March 23, 2016, in eastern China, Li Xiangnan pleaded guilty to murdering Shao Tong. Since the Chinese do not extradite its citizens, Li will remain in China where he was sentenced to life in prison.

     

"Forensic Testimony" by Dr. C. Michael Bowers

     Dr. C. Michael Bowers, the renowned forensic odontologist (dentist) known for his scientific integrity and independence, is the author of an important text called, Forensic Testimony: Science, Law and Expert Evidence. The book brings together the subjects of forensic science and the art of expert testimony.

     Dr. Bowers, an early skeptic of human bite mark analysis, discusses the problems of judicial acceptance of junk science into the courtroom. The author also addresses the dueling expert and other problems in forensic science.

     Forensic Testimony should be required reading for judges, trial attorneys, forensic scientists, and criminal justice students. Highly recommended. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Dr. Melvin Morse Child Abuse Case

     Dr. Melvin L. Morse, after earning his medical degree in 1980 from George Washington University, interned in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Dr. Morse completed his residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Seattle and set up a private practice in the city. The young doctor also held the position of Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

     In the late 1980s, through his nonprofit organization called The Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, Dr. Morse interviewed hundreds of children who had been declared clinically dead. These interviews led him to believe that children, too young to have been indoctrinated in religion and the belief in an afterlife, experienced near-death telepathic conversations and encounters with dead friends and relatives. (A manipulating interviewer of children who has an agenda can get them to believe anything.)

     Cashing in on the results of his interview results, Dr. Morse, in 1991, published his first book. Co-authored by a writer named Paul Perry, it was called Closer to the Light. The book made The New York Times bestseller's list for three months and was eventually published in 19 languages in 38 countries. An accomplished self-promoter with a good publicist, the new-age guru appeared on the Larry King and Oprah Winfrey shows.

     During the height of his doctor/feel-good-author fame, the pseudoscientist appeared on ABC's "20-20," NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries," and "Dateline," as well as "Good Morning America" and the "Tom Snyder Show." Dr. Morse was also the subject of dozens of uncritical articles in major newspapers and serious magazines.

     In 1992, in the midst of his fame, Dr. Morse and his co-author cranked out a follow-up book called Transformed by the Light. The second work didn't do nearly as well as Closer to the Light. The doctor and his co-author's last book, Where God Lives: The Science of the Paranormal and How Our Brains Are Linked to the Universe, came out in 2001. (The science of the Paranormal?)

     In 2012, the 58-year-old celebrity pediatrician lived with his second wife Pauline in Sussex, Delaware along with his five and 11-year-old daughters. (I don't know what prompted his move from the state of Washington to Delaware, or when that took place. I do know he had gone through a contentious divorce from his first wife.) A look at Dr. Morse's bizarre website ramblings about "big ideas" that had drawn people to him from all over the world suggested that he had lost contact with reality. (How does a highly educated pediatrician go from physician to the publisher of junk science in the first place?)

     On July 12, 2012, an incident involving Dr. Morse and his 11-year-old daughter marked the end of his credibility, even among his new-age followers. After pulling into his driveway that day, his daughter, for some reason, refused to get out of the vehicle. The doctor pulled her out of the car by the ankles and dragged her across the gravel into the house where he gave her a spanking. Later in the day, the daughter informed a neighbor of what happened to her. The neighbor reported the girl's story to the police.

     The following day local police officers arrested Dr. Morse. State child protection agents got involved in the case and took his daughters into protective custody.

     On Monday, August 6, 2012, Dr. Morse's 11-year-old daughter, while being questioned by officers with the Delaware State Police at the Child Advocacy Center, accused her father of subjecting her to what he called "water boarding." On at least four occasions, beginning in May 2009, Dr. Morse held her face under running faucets in the kitchen and the bathroom causing tap water to shoot up her nose. The abuse replicated the sensation of drowning. While Dr. Morse tortured the girl, her 40-year-old mother looked on. The accuser's 5-year-old sister reportedly informed police officers that she had witnessed the water boarding.

     A local prosecutor charged Dr. Melvin Morse and his wife with felony counts of reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to commit assault. Police officers took them into custody on Tuesday, August 7, 2012. After brief stints in the Sussex Correctional Institution, the couple made bail ($14,500 each) and was released.

     Attorney Joe Hurley publicly questioned the credibility of his client's 11-year-old daughter, suggesting that she might have made false accusations to get attention.

     Two days after the water boarding arrests, Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock announced that Dr. Morse presented a "clear and immediate danger to public health" if permitted to continue practicing medicine. The state official ordered the emergency suspension of his Delaware medical license.

     On April 11, 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes sentenced Dr. Morse to three to five years in prison. The judge denied a motion by Morse to remain free on bail while his attorney appealed his case. Dr. Morse said he was under treatment for prostate cancer. The judge sentenced the doctor's wife to probation.

     Dr. Morse was released from the Sussex County Correctional Institution in 2016. According to a corrections official, Morse had undergone a transformation in prison. Following his release, Dr. Morse co-founded The Recidivism Prevention Program, a company supposedly dedicated to assisting addicts and former inmates in the development of spiritual awareness that will facilitate their re-entry into society. (Here we go again. I predict another round of new age self-help books and TV appearances.)
     

Thornton P. Knowles On Artificial Intelligence

According to the world's computer geniuses, Artificial Intelligence will someday alter the future of man. I'm not so sure. Artificial intelligence has been around for quite a while. For example, it has flourished in our universities, television studios, newsrooms, state legislatures, and in congress.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Douglas and Kristen Barbour Child Abuse Case

     Douglas B. Barbour was a prosecutor in the Pennsylvania State Attorney's Office headquartered in Harrisburg, the capital of the state. The 33-year-old attorney was assigned to the district office in Pittsburgh, located in the western part of the state. He and his 30-year-old wife Kristen resided in Franklin Park, a borough of 14,000 just north of the city. In March 2012, the couple, through a religious organization called Bethany Christian Services, adopted a 5-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl. The children were from Ethiopia.

     On September 14, 2012, Dr. Rachel Berger at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, examined the Barbour children. The 6-year-old boy had been brought to the hospital with hypothermia--his body temperature was 93.6--rapid breathing, and skin lesions caused by prolonged exposure to urine. He weighed 47 pounds and was severely malnourished.

     The girl, 18-months-old, had breathing difficulties, retinal hemorrhaging, brain injury, and healing fractures in her femur and a toe. (Kristen Barbour told Dr. Berger that the toddler had suffered several accidental falls.) As a result of the toddler's head trauma, she was blind in one eye, perhaps permanently. The little girl was also malnourished. (Tests would later reveal that the healing bone fractures were not the result of disease.)

     Dr. Berger, suspecting child abuse, notified the Allegheny County Police Department. The boy was admitted to the hospital's urgent care center and the girl placed into protective custody. In the doctor's report, she wrote this about the 6-year-old boy: "[He is] the victim of significant neglect and possible emotional abuse over a prolonged period of time."

     After spending six days in the hospital, the boy, having gained seven pounds, was taken to A Child's Place, a children's abuse facility at the Mercy Health Center in Pittsburgh.

     On October 2, 2012, detectives with the Allegheny County Police Department questioned the boy at the Mercy Health Center. According to the child, whenever he soiled his pants, his parents made him eat his meals in the bathroom.

     Two days after speaking to the 6-year-old, the police arrested Douglas and Kristen Barbour. They were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and in the case of their 18-month-old daughter, aggravated assault, a felony offense. Regarding the boy, the couple faced charges of simple assault, a misdemeanor. The state attorney general's office suspended Douglas Barbour without pay pending the outcome of the case.

     Detectives searched the couple's suburban home in Franklin Park and found, in the boy's bedroom, nothing but a mattress and a sheet. There were no toys, window coverings, wall decorations, or anything else that made the place livable.

     According to an employee of the adoption service, Mrs. Barbour had complained that the boy was "rude, defiant, and very difficult." She also complained that both children ate too much.

     On June 23, 2014, Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts each of endangering children. Mr. Barbour pleaded to misdemeanor counts while his wife pleaded to felony charges. As part of his plea deal, Mr. Barbour received a probated sentence. Although his wife faced three to twelve months in jail, her attorney asked for probation. The couple relinquished their parental rights, and the children remained in foster care.

     In September 2014, the judge sentenced Kristen Barbour to six to 12 months to be served at the minimum security prison at Mercer, Pennsylvania. Douglas Barbour, in March of 2015, resigned from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Thornton P. Knowles On Being Funny To The Very End

When facing a Utah firing squad, James W. Rodgers, when asked if he wanted to make a final statement, said: "Please bring me a bullet-proof vest." I guess it doesn't hurt to go out with a laugh.

Thornton P. Knowles

Al Capone the Philosopher

You can get much further with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone.

Al Capone

Saturday, March 9, 2019

What Happened to Shane Montgomery?

     In November 2014, 21-year-old Shane Montgomery, a catholic high school graduate from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, was a senior at nearby West Chester University. On Wednesday night November 26, 2014, Montgomery, his cousin and a couple of friends were barhopping in Philadelphia.

     In the early morning hours of Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Montgomery and his group were drinking at Kildare's Irish Pub on Main Street in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood. At some point Montgomery got separated from his friends in the crowded bar. At 1:45 AM he accidentally bumped into the DJ's table. The bouncer ordered the student out of the pub. Montgomery apologized and left the premises.

     Montgomery, after he was seen leaving the bar, did not return home. Friends and family were unable to get in touch with him by phone and he didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner. Concerned, his family filed a missing persons report with the Philadelphia Police Department.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, volunteers circulated missing persons notices around the Manayunk neighborhood. The posters featured a photograph of the missing college student along with a picture of the Celtic cross tattooed across his shoulder blades. The 5-foot-11 inch, 140-pound missing person, when he left the bar, was dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt.

     The search for Shane Montgomery included the use of dogs, a helicopter, and boats on the Schuylkill River that flows alongside Manayunk's Main Street. Five-hundred volunteers searched the riverbank, the footpath, and the railroad tracks that run parallel to the street.

     A cellphone tower in Lower Merion Township had picked up a signal from Montgomery's cellphone a little less than an hour after he left Kildare's. The phone itself was not recovered. At the bar, there was no video surveillance footage for detectives to review.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, a FBI task force joined in the hunt for the missing student. A $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to his whereabouts.

     Shortly after noon on Saturday January 4, 2015, a volunteer diver from the Garden State (New Jersey) Underwater Recovery Unit found Shane Montgomery's body in three feet of water near the Schuylkill riverbank not far from the Manayunk bar where he was last seen. Two weeks earlier a diver from the same unit found Montgomery's car keys in the water near the river bank 800 yards upriver from where his body was recovered.

     Shane Montgomery's uncle, on January 5, 2015, told reporters that the medical examiner's office had completed its autopsy and had ruled the young man's drowning death an accident.

     In March 2019, a jury sitting in Philadelphia found that the Kildare Irish Pub owner had to pay $525,000 in damages to the family of Shane Montgomery for serving the student alcohol after the student was manifestly intoxicated.

The Derek Ward Murder-Suicide Case

     Patricia Ward resided in an apartment complex on Secatogue Avenue in Farmingdale, an unincorporated village of 8,000 in the western Long Island town of Oyster Bay, New York. The 66-year-old taught English at Farmingdale State College's Long Island Educational Opportunity Center, an institution attended by high school students preparing for college.

     The assistant professor's son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, lived with her in the Farmingdale apartment. The unemployed son, over the past ten years, had experienced problems with the law and his mental health. In 2003, the schizophrenic young man was convicted of criminal mischief. In that case, the judge fined Ward and placed him on probation for a year.

     In 2006, police in Nassau County arrested Ward for possession of drugs and a 9 mm handgun. That judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail and three years probation.

     Just before eight o'clock at night on Tuesday October 28 2014, Derek Ward attacked his mother with a kitchen knife. After stabbing her several times in their apartment, he cut off her head then dragged the headless body down the stairs through the apartment lobby and onto Secatogue Avenue.

     After depositing his decapitated mother on the street in front of their apartment, Ward walked about a mile to a set of Long Island Railroad tracks. From there, he threw himself in front of a speeding commuter train rolling east from Penn Station in Manhattan. The impact killed him instantly.

     When police officers arrived at the Ward apartment complex they found Patricia Ward lying in the street about ten feet from her head.

     Neighbor Nick Gordon told a reporter with The New York Post that, "I saw the body laying right in front and her head was across the street near the corner. There was blood all over. You can see smears going down the stairs." Other neighbors, when they saw Patricia Ward's body thought they were looking at a Halloween prank. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Having A Twin

The worst thing for a self-loathing person is to have an identical twin. Now you hate two people. Fortunately I'm an only child.

Thornton P. Knowles

Punctuation and Style

The benefits of punctuation for the creative writer are limitless, if you know how to tap them. You can, for example, create a stream-of-consciousness effect using periods; indicate a passing of time using commas; add complexity using parentheses; create a certain form of dialogue using dashes; build to a revelation using colons; increase your pace using paragraph breaks; keep readers hooked using section breaks. This--its impact on content--is the holy grail of punctuation, too often buried in long discussions of grammar.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006 

Friday, March 8, 2019

The William Spengler Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     In past years, murder-suicide in the United States has accounted for about five percent of all criminal homicides. In 2011, 1,300 murderers, almost all of them men, took their own lives after killing their victims. A vast majority of murder-suicide victims are ex-girl friends and estranged wives. These deadly  attacks regularly feature alcohol and drug intoxication, mental illness, depression, and a variety of personality disorders. In terms of motive, none of these killings make any sense to a rational person.

     While nationwide, criminal homicide has been on the decline for decades, murder-suicide has been on the rise. In a country steeped in a culture of violence that seems to be populated by a growing number of people who are unable to cope with modern life, this is hardly a surprise. Criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, and police administrators are clueless about how to reverse this trend. That's because nobody knows what's causing the drug addiction and mental instability in this country, or what it is that's making these disturbed people so murderous and self-destructive. Blaming this wave of pathological murder on guns, video games, and excessive crime reporting is either political or simply puerile.

     In the annals of crime, 2012 might be remembered as the beginning of an era of the killing spree culminated with the self-inflicted death of the mass murderer. That year, eighteen men, after murdering three or more people, killed themselves. The following homicidal rampage took place on December 24, 2012 in upstate New York.

William Spengler: The Suicidal Sniper

     In 1980, 33-year-old William Spengler lived in the suburban Rochester area town of Webster, New York with his mother Arline and his 92-year-old grandmother. They resided in a middle-class home in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses on a narrow Lake Ontario peninsula. Shortly after William's grandmother was found dead at the foot of their basement stairs, the Monroe County district attorney charged Spengler with first-degree murder. William confessed to beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. (Since rational people don't bludgeon their grandmothers to death, the motive behind this murder was pathological, and therefore beyond rational comprehension.)

     Because Spengler agreed to plead guilty, the prosecutor lowered the murder charge to manslaughter. The judge sentenced the defendant to eight to 25 years in prison. (The prosecutor may have been worried about a successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense.)

     In 1997, after serving 16 years behind bars, Spengler attended his first parole hearing. The inmate, when he learned at the proceeding that his presence at the hearing was not mandatory, said this to the parole panel: "Then it's not worth the time and effort." The parole officials denied Spengler his release. Since he hadn't expected to get out of prison, this was no surprise. The surprise came six months later when these same officials granted Spengler his supervised release. The man who had murdered a 92-year-old woman walked out of prison in 1998 after serving two-thirds of his maximum sentence. (In the  American system of criminal justice, there are very few crimes that the government doesn't forgive. Judges and penologists seem adverse to the punishment rationale justifying sentencing and incarceration. In cases like this, whether or not the murderer has been rehabilitated should be irrelevant.)

     In 2006, while residing with his mother Arline and his older sister Cheryl in the dwelling next door to the house where he had murdered his grandmother, Spengler's term of supervised parole expired. Because he was a convicted felon, Spengler, under New York law, was not allowed to possess any kind of gun.

     In October 2012, Spengler's mother Arline passed away. Although he hated his 67-year-old sister Cheryl, Spengler had loved and doted on his mother. Since his parole in 1998, the gaunt, bearded loner had lived a quiet, uneventful life in the house across the road from Lake Ontario. Because of his low profile, very few people in the town of 43,000 knew he existed. After Arline's death, William, in possession of a small arsenal that included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a lot of ammunition, began planning arson, mass murder, and suicide. Spengler's years of living in obscurity would soon come to an end.

     Two hours before dawn on December 24, 2012, the 62-year-old ex-felon torched his house and set fire to his car. In possession of a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, Spengler took up a position behind a small hill not far from his burning house. It was from here he planned to ambush the first responders to the fires he had started.

     At 5:35 that morning, two members of the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department rolled up to the blaze in a firetruck. Spengler used his .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster to kill 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka and his firefighting partner Michael Chiapperini, 43. When John Ritter, an off-duty officer with the Greece, New York Police Department pulled his car alongside the firetruck in an effort to shield the two firefighters, Spengler shot and wounded him. Two firefighters who arrived at the scene in their own vehicles, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardina, were also wounded by the sniper on the hill.

     An hour or so later, the four firefighters and the wounded police officer where taken out of the line of fire by a SWAT operated armored vehicle. As Spengler house fire began to spread to other homes, SWAT officers used the armored truck to evacuate 33 residents of the neighborhood. Amid all of the confusion, William Spengler slipped away. Before it was all over, seven homes burned to the ground.

     At eleven o'clock that morning, police officers found William Spengler dead on a nearby beach. He had used one of his guns to shoot himself in the head. (There were no police bullets in him.) From a few feet from his body, officers recovered a typed, three-page, rambling suicide note that contained the line: "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people."

     On Christmas day, arson and homicide investigators found Cheryl Spengler's charred remains in the fire debris. A forensic pathologist determined that Spengler's sister had been killed before the fire.

     I'm not sure what the span of 32 years between William Spengler's first homicide and his mass killing-suicide tells us about people who commit murder. Maybe the lesson is this: People who beat old women to death ought to be put in prison for life. This case also illustrates how difficult it is to enforce gun laws already on the books.

      

Drugs For Writer's Block

Blocked writers are now being treated with antidepressants such as Prozac, though some report that the drugs tend to eliminate the writer's desire to write altogether along with his regret over not doing so. Other blocked writers are being given Ritalin and other stimulants on the theory that their problems may be due to the condition of Attention Deficit Disorder.

Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, June 21, 2004 

God As An Armed White Racist

"God ain't good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us [blacks]. As a matter of fact, I think he's a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men."

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania responding to George's Zimmerman's acquittal. [As reported by Timothy Whiteman, examiner.com September 4, 2013.] The school suspended this professor for one semester. In academia this is equivalent to capital punishment. I know our universities are infested with pompous, full-of-crap gasbags, but someone who would say something like this must be also stupid. How did this woman get at job at this prestigious university?     

Writer Procrastination

     A primary reason writers procrastinate is in order to build up a sense of deadline. Deadlines create a flow of adrenaline. Adrenaline medicates and overwhelms the censor. Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.

     What writers tell themselves while they procrastinate is that they just don't have enough ideas yet, and when they do, then they'll start writing. It actually works exactly backward. When we start to write, we prime the pump and the flow of ideas begins to move. It is the act of writing that calls ideals forward, not ideas that call forward writing.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, 1999

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Nutty Professors

Give 'Em Hell, Professor

     Southern Indiana University Theater Professor Robert Broadfoot yelled as some of his students, allegedly calling one of them the "B-word." (I presume that stands for bitch rather than butthead, bumpkin, or bastard.)  Frustrated that some of his students were lax about their assignments, and didn't seem to care about the course, Professor Broadfoot, according to a report in the school newspaper, "made aggressive gestures and used bad language." One of Broadfoot's students reportedly said, "I don't think it was necessary, I think everyone has their problems...but he shouldn't take it out on his students, it's not fair." Poor thing. Wait until you get into the real world. Perhaps the professor was taking out his problems on his students because they were his problem. Another theater student thought it was "inappropriate" for the professor to be singling out those who weren't performing (pun intended) in class. If this complainant lands a job, he or she may be in for a shock. One way to avoid being singled out is to do one's work.

Dumbing Up

     Professors really don't like to be fired. It's undignified, and shatters their self images. As a result, in academia, wrongful terminations lawsuits are not uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is a plaintiff/professor who prevails in one of these cases.

     In November, former New York University Professor Jose Angel Santana sued the school after they denied him reappointment in August 2011. According to Santana, he had been fired because of his Cuban and African American heritage. Hired in September 2008 as an assistant visiting professor in the acting school with an annual salary of $70,000, Santana claims he was discriminated against because of his race and color. But the plaintiff didn't leave it at that. According to the suit, the straw that broke the camel's back involved the grade Santana had given to a student in his graduate class called, Directing the Actor II. It was this claim that brought Santana and his suit into the national news. The D-grade that sent Santana packing had been given to the famous actor, James D. Franco. Oh boy.

     According to Santana, Franco had only attended two of the courses' fourteen sessions. This gave the professor no choice but to give Franco, in the spring of 2010, the bad grade. Despite the D, Franco, the holder of a Master's Degree of Fine Arts from Columbia, earned his Master's Degree from NYU's Film Production Department. Currently pursuing a Ph.D in English at Yale, Franco is now on NYU's Tisch School faculty, teaching a course on adopting poetry into film. (Huh?) So, the student who got the D is teaching at the school that fired the professor who gave it to him. No wonder the ex-professor is in such a snit. But wait, in this academic drama, there is more.

     According to plaintiff Santana, Mr. Franco has rubbed salt into his wound by making disparaging remarks and inaccurate statements about him in public. For one thing, Franco has called Santana's course an "acting class" when it was in fact a directing class. Santana says he didn't give Franco a D for bad acting, but for missing class. In other words, Mr. Santana wasn't grading Mr. Franco's acting ability, he was grading his attendance ability. Mr. Franco wasn't a bad actor, he was just a bad attender.

Contributing to What ?!

     In Menlo Park, California, Stanford University Professor Bill Burnett and his wife Cynthia hosted a party for their son and 44 high school students. (What were they thinking?) The kids were celebrating the last football game of the season. The parents had made it clear that alcoholic beverages were prohibited. Well, as you can imagine, booze found its way into the Burnett house. When the basement party got loud and a neighbor complained, police entered the house, found the alcohol, and hauled the professor and his wife off to jail in handcuffs. Charged with 44 counts of contributing to a minor's delinquency, Professor Burnett faced up to a year behind bars.

    While it is not unreasonable to assume that some of these 44 students, during their school years, were assaulted by a pedophile teacher or coach who never saw the inside of a jail cell, it was professor Burnett and his wife who were held responsible for criminally endangering the welfare of these kids. If the Burnetts were guilty of anything, it was stupidity. If they hadn't hosted the party, the kids would have gotten drunk in a Walmart parking lot. In law enforcement it's not about arresting the right people, it's about arresting who you can.

Anger Mismanagement in High Education

     In 2007 police arrested a New Hampshire professor who threatened to kill a colleague for turning him in for a parking violation that resulted in a ticket. Because the university alerted its staff to report the threatening professor if he stepped on campus, he sued the school for defamation. The plaintiff lost his case at the trial level, and lost again on appeal. The court battle took two years to resolve. And it was all over a parking ticket. Welcome to academia.

     In 2010, a then professor of criminology and sociology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, using a variety of Facebook usernames, threatened to kill a New Orleans police officer. The 58-year-old professor, in accusing the officer of raping his girlfriend in 2007, urged to officer to "own up to what you did," and hinted of having friends in a Hell's Angels biker gang pay him a visit. In December 2011, a federal judge, after the professor pleaded guilty, fined him $5,000 and sentenced him to three years probation.

Father Loses Life's Savings, Wins Giant Banana

     In April 2013, 30-year-old Henry Gribbohm from Epsom, New Hampshire, took his toddler son to a carnival in nearby Manchester. Lured by the prospect of winning a Xbox Kinect (a motion-sensing accessory worth $100), Gribbholm began playing a game called Tubs of Fun operated by an independent contractor with an arrangement with the carnival's owner, Fiesta Shows.

     When Tubs of Fun contestants make free practice throws, the balls land where they are supposed to. But when playing for money, the balls don't stay in the tubs. That means the player doesn't win a prize. (Welcome to the carnival world where nothing is on the level, and all the food is bad for you.)

     As hard as he tried, Mr. Gribbohm couldn't get the balls into the right tubs. It wasn't long before he had squandered $300 on the game. Instead of cutting his loses and walking away poorer but wiser, Gribbohm drove home for more cash. Determined to win his money back, he returned to Tubs of Fun with his entire life's savings, $2,300. (Like P. T. Barnum said, "There's a sucker born every day.")

     In a desperate effort to win back his money, Mr. Gribbohm played double or nothing until he was broke. He had dropped a total of $2,600 on the Tubs of Fun Game. (These particular tubs were not much fun for Mr. Gribbohm.

     The next day, Gribbohm returned to the carnival where he accused the Tubs of Fun operator of running a rigged game. To show his good faith, the operator gave Gribbohm $600 in cash and a "Rasta Banana"--a six-foot stuffed banana with a happy face and dreadlocks.

     The disgruntled owner of a Rasta Banana filed a complaint with the Manchester Police Department. Pending the results of the game-rigging investigation, Fiesta Shows put Tubs of Fun on the shelf.

     To a local television reporter, Gribbohm said, "You just get caught up in the whole 'I've got to win my money back thing.' "

     Generally I have contempt for suckers. But when I saw a news photograph of this father pushing a stroller with the Rasta Banana over his shoulder, I couldn't help feeling sorry for the guy. I don't know if it's because he has a child, or looked pathetic carrying around that giant banana. Maybe the story got to me because I don't like carnivals. I guess all of us, at some time in our lives, have doubled down. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But when the game is rigged, you always lose.
   

Woman Sets Man's Face on Fire

     A Tampa Bay, Florida woman was arrested in October 2014 after setting her roommate on fire--after he threw out her spaghetti. Melissa Dawn Sellers, 33, became enraged after roommate Carlos Ortiz threw out her spaghetti and meatballs. She allegedly doused Ortiz in nail polish remover before setting him on fire.

     According to Ines Causevic, the victim's friend, "She was setting little objects on fire, then that turned into pouring nail polish remover on him, and then all of a sudden, the lighter sparked and he lit on fire."

     Ortiz took Sellers in after she lost her job at Wal-Mart and could no longer afford her rent. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was listed in critical condition, with burns to his face and body. "When he got up, his face was like melting off," Causevic said. "His lips were burning."

     Sellers has been charged with aggravated battery. She was convicted of battery in 2008.

     [On June 15, 2015, Sellers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 66 months in prison.]

"Woman Set Roommate on Fire After He Threw Out Her Spaghetti, independent news. com, October 23, 2014 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Forsythia Owen Murder Case

     On September 25, 2002, 19-year-old Forsythia Owen and her boyfriend of nine months got into an argument in the living room of her Denver, Colorado apartment. Before the fight broke out she had impaired him by slipping a drug into his drink. In the course of the dispute Owen grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed the man in the chest.

     Paramedics rushed the victim to a nearby hospital where he survived his puncture wound. (I don't know who called 911.) Owen greeted police officers at the scene by saying, "I'm the one who stabbed him. Arrest me." And that's what the officers did.

     A local prosecutor charged Forsythia Owen with assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily harm. Pursuant to a plea deal, the assistant district attorney allowed Owen to plead guilty to the lesser offense of felony assault. The prosecutor dropped charges related to Owen's assault of police officers while in custody.

     In January 2003, the judge sentenced Owen to four years probation.

     Owen, a serious abuser of cocaine, alcohol, and methamphetamine, had been diagnosed as having a "mood disorder" and "attention-deficit/hyperactivity." Because of her substance abuse, psychiatrists were unable to determine the degree to which she may have been psychotic as well. (Her future behavior would suggest a bad case of paranoid schizophrenia.)

     Ten months into her probation, a drug treatment administrator kicked Owen out of the program for "non-compliance" and "minimal progress" for continuing to use cocaine and meth. Rather than send Owen to prison, probation officials enrolled her in a Denver community corrections program. After refusing to cooperate with the social workers trying to help her, the judge, in December 2004, sent Owen to prison for three years. If they couldn't fix this woman the authorities could at least get her off the street.

     In 2013, the 30-year-old ex-felon lived in the Denver suburb of Englewood with her 12-year-old daughter. On Sunday morning, September 22, 2013, Englewood police officers responded to a 911 call concerning a badly beaten man lying in an alley. Officers found 42-year-old Denzel Rainey in the alley bleeding from a severe blunt force head wound and other injuries. Paramedics rushed Rainey to the Swedish Medical Center where he died a short time later.

     Mr. Rainey, married with three children, had for years struggled with alcohol abuse that had led to his homelessness. He had been attacked in the alley where he slept at night.

     According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Mr. Rainey had a fractured skull, lacerated liver, broken arms, fractured left hand, and six broken ribs. The medical examiner's office listed the cause of death as blunt force trauma. The manner of death: homicide.

     On Monday, the day after the attack in the Englewood alley, detectives spoke to a man who said that one of his neighbors, a woman named Forsythia Owen, had come to his house on Sunday with a story about a man who had inappropriately touched and abused her daughter. The man she accused was the homeless guy who had just been murdered in the alley.

     Later that day, when questioned by detectives, Owen admitted beating the man in the alley with a baseball bat. After confronting him about molesting her daughter, she started swinging the bat. Advised of her Miranda rights, Owen said, "I need a lawyer."

     An Arapahoe County prosecutor charged Forsythia Owen with first-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily harm. A magistrate denied Owen bond after the police booked her into the Arapahoe County Detention Center.

     Denzel Rainey, other than having driving under the influence convictions and an arrest for marijuana possession, did not have a criminal record. Moreover, there was no information on record regarding accusations of sexual offenses. Rainey's widow, Lisa, told reporters that "I just don't know what caused her to do that to Denzel. If he did anything to provoke the attack, I need to know the answers for closure for me and closure for my kids."

     In speaking to a correspondent with a Denver television affiliate, Lisa Rainey said, "I think Owen is covering for somebody, and I want to know: what was the real reason why she did that to my husband. He doesn't deserve to be dead. He would never hurt a child."

     At a March 17, 2014 pre-trial hearing, Owen's attorney, Joe Archembault, pleaded her not guilty by reason of insanity. Judge Marilyn Antrim ordered the defendant to undergo psychiatric evaluation at the mental health Institute in Pueblo, Colorado.

     The Arapahoe County prosecutor dropped the first-degree murder charge against Owen to second-degree murder and added first-degree assault and the charge of tampering with evidence.

     The Owen murder trial got underway on February 4, 2015. Just ten days later the jury, having rejected the insanity defense, found the defendant guilty as charged.

     On May 9, 2015, Judge Marilyn Leonard Antrim sentenced the 32-year-old Owen to 38 years in prison.