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Friday, May 31, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles' Last Sentence

I am a tiny boat on a vast sea about to disappear below the horizon. (Three days after he wrote this in his journal, Thornton P. Knowles, 67, died.)

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Self Esteem

I grew up in the era before the self esteem movement. When I was 11, as my father and another adult were discussing something, I injected my opinion into the conversation. Later, my dad took me aside and said this to me: "Son, by definition, you are retarded. You have the mind of an 11-year-old." Like I say, I grew up before the self esteem movement.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Memphis Police Officer Ronald Harris: The Make-A-Wish Robbery Case

     In January 2002, 22-year-old Ronald Harris joined the police department in Memphis, Tennessee. Twelve years later, he was assigned to the substation at the Memphis International Airport. Officer Harris' supervisors, over the years, documented his failure to live up to the department's standards of professional behavior. He abused the agency's sick leave benefits, did not answer radio calls, and in 2013 was suspended for insubordination.

     In May 2014, Officer Harris' wife reported that he had become delusional and had threatened to kill her. The department granted him leave to seek psychiatric help.

     In June 2014, Harris learned that an employee of St. Jude Children's Hospital, on the seventh of that month, would deliver a credit card worth $1,500 to a Make-A-Wish Foundation family before they boarded a plane with their terminally ill child. On that day Harris followed the Make-A-Wish organization's volunteer into the airport terminal.

     When the paper bag containing the credit card and five St. Jude T-shirts exchanged hands, the off-duty, out-of-uniform cop grabbed the container and tried to flee the scene. Nathan Moore, a member of the sick child's family, confronted officer Harris. In the scuffle that ensued, Harris caused a deep laceration in Mr. Moore's forehead by head-butting him.

     Airport police officers, a couple of bystanders, and the injured Nathan Moore eventually subdued the out-of-control cop. Once inside the police car, Harris kicked open the door and tried to escape.

     Paramedics stitched up Mr. Moore's forehead at the airport. Not long after that the shaken child and his family boarded the plane and flew off to DisneyWorld or wherever they were going to make his dream come true.

     When investigators searched Ronald Harris' car, they found pieces of mail that had been stolen from his neighbor's mailbox.

     Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong suspended Ronald Harris from the force as officers booked him into the county jail on charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and escape from felony incarceration. At his arraignment, the judge set the suspect's bond at $25,000.

     Few situations are more dangerous than a violent, mentally ill cop. At least in this case the officer, when he went off the deep end, was not armed. (The disposition of his case is not available online.)

Professional Basketball Player Punches Ex-Girlfriend, Gets Off Light

     Police arrested NBA player Greg Oden on August 7, 2014 in Lawrence, Indiana for punching his former girlfriend. The incident happened around three-thirty in the morning. Officers arrived at the house to find the victim crying and lying across a bed holding her face. At first the victim was reluctant to inform on her ex-boyfriend.

     Police officers observed physical evidence of violence on the victim's face and in the room where the attack took place. The assaulted woman had a badly swollen nose and lacerations on her forehead. A flower pot had been knocked over and the carpet contained fresh blood stains. One of the victim's friends had witnessed the assault committed in the living room of the house owned by Oden's mother.

     When police officers asked Oden what happened, he said, "I was wrong. I know what has to happen." The NBA player said he and the victim had broken up a couple months ago after having dated for two years.

     Police officers took Oden into custody and transported him to the Marion County Jail where the suspect faced a charge of battery.

     As a freshman in 2007, Oden led Ohio State University to the national title game. After one year in college he entered the NBA. He missed three seasons (2011-2013) due to an injury before making his comeback in 2014 with the Miami Heat.

     In February 2015, following his guilty plea, the judge fined Oden $200 and sentenced him to 26 weeks of domestic violence training.

Thornton P. Knowles On Describing What Being a Writer Is All About

Asking what it's like to be a writer is a lot like asking what it's like to be a dentist or an attorney. The answer depends on where you live, what you write, how successful you are, how old you are, if you're married, and how you think of yourself as a writer. But there is one thing that most writers do say about the writing life: it's lonely and frustrating. Writers seem to feel misunderstood by people who don't write and under-appreciated or ignored by the reading public. Feeling isolated and forced to compete with other writers, many authors complain that their books are not adequately promoted by their publishers. Otherwise, they're a contented group of workers.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Bite Mark Identification: A Forensic Science That Lost Its Credibility

     The identification of a series of bruises or abrasions, usually in the shape of two semi-circles or brackets, as a human bite mark made by a particular set of teeth is a function of forensic dentistry referred to a bite mark identification. This form of impression identification, also called forensic odontology, is based on the assumption that no two people in the world have front teeth that are identical in thickness, shape, relationship to each other, and patterns of wear.

     The process of comparing a bite mark to a known set of teeth is not unlike the identification of latent fingerprints, footwear, and tire track impressions. Bite mark wounds are found on victims of murder, rape, and child molestation. This type of crime scene evidence is preserved by life-size photography, tooth mark tracings onto transparent sheets, and dental casts of the impressions themselves. A suspect might be asked to bite down on a pliable surface for an impression sample, have a cast made of his teeth, or both. Usually, connecting a suspect to a victim through expert bite mark testimony will be enough evidence, by itself, to sustain a criminal conviction.

     The field of bite mark identification exploded in the 1980s, and hundreds, if not thousands of defendants between 1983 and 2002 were sent to prison on the strength of bite mark testimony. Although bite mark identification had been a recognized branch of forensic science since 1970, it was the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy in south Florida that put this form of identification on the map the way the O. J. Simpson case, in the mid-1990s, popularized DNA profiling.

     At the peak of bite mark evidence credibility among forensic scientists, detectives, prosecutors, and judges, this form of impression identification was put on the level with the matching of fingerprints. However, by 2003, forensic scientists were seriously questioning the assumption that bite marks were as unique and identifiable as latent fingerprints.

     Over the years several leaders in the bite mark field oversold the reliability of this form of identification. For example, in 1977, Dr. Lowell J. Levine, a forensic dentistry consultant to the New York City Medical Examiner's Office, wrote: "Since every person's teeth are unique in respect to spacing, twisting, turning, shapes, tipping toward the tongue or lips, wear patterns, breakage, fillings, caps, loss and the like, all of which occur in limitless combinations, it is possible for them to leave a pattern which for identification purposes is as good as a fingerprint."

     In 1996, Dr. C. Michael Bowers, a prominent southern California odontologist, was one of the first forensic scientists to raise doubts about the credibility of bite make identification when he wrote: "Physical matching of bite marks is a non-science which was developed with little testing and no published error rate....An opinion is worth nothing unless the supportive data is clearly describable and can be demonstrated in court. How does one weight the importance of a single rotated tooth in a bite mark when the suspect has a similar tooth? The value judgments range widely on the value of this feature. This is not science. Instead, statistical levels of confidence must be included in the process."

     In a bite mark identification exercise Dr. Bowers conducted in a workshop at the 1999 American Academy of Forensic Science conference, 63 percent of the odontologists who participated made an incorrect identification, findings that displeased many in the field when Dr. Bowers published the results of his experiment. In an article published in 2003 in the British Dental Journal, Dr. D. K. Whittaker, a forensic dentistry professor at the University of Wales, explained why bite mark evidence is so difficult to identify, particularly bite marks on skin:

     "Human bites on skin are difficult to interpret because skin is not good 'impression' material. Moreover, victims may struggle and movement will distort the image of the bite. Skin surfaces are not flat and visual distortion may be present, often heightened by photographic distortion caused by inadequate imaging techniques. Human dentitions, whilst possibly being unique in the small nuances of tooth size, shape, angulation and texture may not inflict unique bite marks which can only record gross and not fine detail. If the victim survives, the injury may change due to infection or subsequent healing and if the victim is deceased, putrefaction may introduce distortion."

     Before odontologists in Great Britain can testify in court as bite mark experts, they must have made a minimum of twenty such identifications in other cases. In the United States, an odontologist can be certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology after two bite mark identifications. As a result, being certified in this forensic field in the United States shouldn't carry much weight. (In fact, two of America's most notorious charlatans in the field were both board certified bite mark experts.)

     In 2004, as part of a journalistic series on forensic science, the Chicago Tribune examined 154 state and federal trials involving bite mark identification testimony. In more than a quarter of these cases the prosecution and the defense produced forensic odontologists whose expert opinions were diametrically opposed. If bite mark identification is an exact science practiced by highly qualified experts, this many odontologists should not have been testifying against each other.

Kidnapper Caught Red Handed

     A Utah stepfather foiled an attempt to kidnap his young daughter from her bed early Friday November 7, 2014 after confronting a man carrying her across the lawn. The 5-year-old girl wasn't hurt…

     The suspect entered the home through an unlocked door or window about 4:30 AM in Sandy, a middle-class suburb of Salt Lake City…The intruder was in the family's basement searching through things when he came upon the girl sleeping in her bedroom. The suspect took her out of bed and carried her upstairs, making noises that woke the parents.

     The girl's stepfather went to the door and saw the man carrying his stepdaughter on the front lawn. He ran outside and confronted the man, wrestling her free of the abductor. The suspect fled, and the stepfather called 911.

     Officers set up a perimeter, and with the help of police dogs, launched a search. The suspect went into a second home, where the residents heard him and called the police.

     Police captured the 46-year-old man outside the second home thanks to a police dog that bit the suspect in the upper shoulder…The family told the police that they had never seen and don't know the suspect, who police have identified as Troy Morley of Roy, Utah…

     Morley was taken to a nearby hospital to receive treatment for the dog bite. He was arrested later in the day and booked into jail on charges of child kidnapping and burglary….[Claiming he was high on meth when he attempted the kidnapping, Tim Morley, in October 2015, pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to six years to life in prison.]

"Dad Confronts Kidnapper, Saves 5-Year-Old Daughter," Associated Press, November 7, 2014 

Kids, Don't Take Grandma's Smack to School

     ….A Pennsylvania first-grader brought bags of heroin into school--giving some to at least one classmate before teachers caught him with a pocket full of drugs….Two days later, the boy's 56-year-old grandmother was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of children and drug offenses for allegedly losing track of the heroin while babysitting….

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan expressed outrage over any child bringing a drug as potent as heroin into an elementary school. He also lashed out at the boy's school district for not doing more to inform parents as well as the authorities, including his office….
     According to a criminal complaint detailed by Hogan's office, Pauline Bilinski-Munion was babysitting her grandson and a 1-year-old baby on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at a residence in Modena, Pennsylvania. Bilinski-Munion had "brought heroin into the house and lost track of it," according to the district attorney's office, which referred to her as "a known heroin user."
     The next day, the 7-year-old brought several bags with him into Caln Elementary School. Teachers overheard the child talking about the bags, and later found nine bags of what proved to be heroin--with each bag stamped, "Victoria's Secret"--in the boy's pants pocket….The child initially claimed he found the heroin in the school yard, only to later admit he'd gotten them from home. The drugs were handed over to the Coatesville Area School District Police. 
     Another child's mother later claimed that she'd found an additional bag of heroin, with the same "Victoria's Secret" wording, on her 7-year-old as they were walking in a nearby mall….District Attorney Hogan faulted the school system for what he characterized as its "late and vague notification to parents about a dangerous and illegal substance," and failing to alert his office, which didn't start investigating until hearing about the story in the media on Saturday, May 7, 2014. 
     "The school district didn't call 911, didn't call the DA's office, did not freeze all the kids in one place, they did not call in emergency personnel to check all the kids to make sure they were OK," he told a local CNN affiliate.
     Following her arrest on Saturday, May 7, 2014, Bilinski-Munion was charged and held with bail set at $25,000….[In May 2015, following guilty pleas to lesser charges, the judge sentenced Bilinski-Munion to four days--time served in the Chester County Jail.]

Kevin Conlon and Greg Botelho, "DA: First-Grader Brings His Grandmother's Heroin to School," CNN, May 7, 2014 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Who Killed British Spy Gareth Williams?

     Gareth Williams grew up in North Wales, graduated from Cambridge University, and earned a Ph.D. from Manchester University. A true math genius, he was hired as a codebreaker at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in Chetenham, England. A fit, slender man of five-foot seven inches who participated in competitive cycling, Williams kept to himself, and lived a somewhat secret life. The quiet 31-year-old bachelor had become a rising star in the super secret world of counterterrorism.

     In 2010, after ten years at the GCHQ electronic surveillance facility at Chetenham, Williams was transferred to the secret British intelligence gathering agency M16 in London. He lived on the top floor of a 5-story townhouse in the upscale Pimlico neighborhood of west London. The government-issued flat was less than a mile from M16 headquarters.

     In August 2010, Williams, who didn't make a habit of missing work, hadn't been seen at M16 headquarters for more than a week. He was not on vacation or special assignment, and didn't answer his phone. His M16 supervisor did not report him missing, but residents of his townhouse, after not seeing him around, called the police.

     On Monday afternoon, on August 23, 2010, police officers broke into Williams' apartment. In the bathroom, they saw, sitting in the empty tub, a large cylindrical North Face sports satchel (called a duffel bag or holdall). The bag had been secured by a small padlock. After breaking the lock and unzipping the satchel, the police found the decomposing body of a nude man in a fetal position with his arms crossed over his chest. The man in the bag was Gareth Williams.

     Officers with Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command conducted a crime scene investigation. There was no evidence of forcible intrusion into the apartment. (The front door had been locked from the outside which suggests that someone had been in the flat with Williams when he went into the satchel.) The apartment showed no signs of a struggle or theft. Moreover, the crime scene investigators found no latent fingerprints or trace evidence that may have contained DNA. It seemed the death site had been forensically sanitized.

     The day after the gruesome and perplexing discovery, Home Office forensic pathologist Dr. Ben Swift performed the autopsy. Because of the decomposition, Dr. Swift could not pinpoint the time of death. The condition of the corpse also precluded any kind of toxicological analysis to determine if Williams had been poisoned. The forensic pathologist found no evidence of physical trauma on the body, including Williams' fingers and nails. From this Dr. Swift concluded that Mr. Williams had not tried to escape the confines of the sports bag.

     While the manner of Gareth Williams' death--homicide, suicide, natural or accidental--could not be forensically determined, Dr. Swift reported that the likely cause of death was oxygen depletion, or hypercapnia--a build up of carbon dioxide inside the bag. The forensic pathologist speculated that Williams would have suffocated within 30 minutes.

     A series of experiments conducted by two men of Williams' size and fitness, revealed that it was virtually impossible to put oneself in that bag. It would also have been extremely difficult for one person to put a dead body in the satchel. This led some investigators to conclude that Williams, with the help of someone else, had willingly climbed into the bag.

     In Williams' apartment, detectives found $35,000 worth of designer women's dresses, plus 26 pairs of expensive women's shoes. In addition to a bright orange female wig, investigators found cocaine, and a cache of gay pornography. Williams' had also visited several web sites for practitioners of bondage, S & M, and a phenomena called "claustophilia," the experiencing of sexual pleasure by being confined in small enclosures.

     When officials at M16 were informed of Mr. Williams' apparent sexual preferences--his cross-dressing, bondage, and gayness--his supervisors said they had been aware of all of that. In the world of modern espionage, the private sexual lives of their counterterrorism officers was no long of interested to agency administrators. Shortly after the discovery of Williams' body, M16 had released a statement that his death had nothing to do with his work.

    There were those who believed he was poisoned to death--perhaps by potassium cyanide, or the sedative GHB--by either Russian secret service hit men, Al Qaeda operatives, or assassins from other unfriendly countries.

     Another school of thought involved the theory that Williams was murdered by a gay lover. Perhaps the most popular belief was that Williams had died as a result of some kind of sadistic or masochistic sexual act gone wrong, something in the line of auto-erotic asphyxiation. If the later was the case, the manner of his death would be accidental. But questions remained. Who helped Williams into the satchel, then locked it from the outside? Who had a key to his flat? And why hadn't this person come forward?

     In November 2013, following a Metropolitan Police twelve month investigation, Deputy Commissioner Martin Hewitt announced that the "most probable scenario" regarding Williams' death was that he had died in his flat alone after accidentally locking himself into the bag. However, in October 2015, Boris Karpichkov, a former KGB agent who had defected from Russia, stated that "sources in Russia claimed that Williams had been murdered by members of the Russian Foreign Service.

     The Gareth Williams case received almost no media coverage in the United States.

Criminalizing Parenthood

     In March of 2011, Kim Brooks intentionally left her 4-year-old son, Felix, in a car...On the day that Brooks left her son, it was cool enough for jackets, the windows were open and the car was locked and alarmed. Brooks was rushing to catch a flight with her two young kids; she let Felix stay in the car with his iPad while she ran into Target on an errand. She was gone for a few minutes, and in that time Felix was noticed by a bystander, who recorded a video of him alone in the back seat and gave it to the authorities...

     In exchange for agreeing to perform community service and take parenting classes, the prosecution dropped the charge--"contributing to the delinquency of a minor"--against her. [Had the mother pled not guilty and lost at trial, she could have lost custody of her children.]...

    What exactly was the crime?..

     Why are American parents so fearful? Is leaving a child in a car considered riskier than driving him because the boogeyman you can't see is scarier than the dangers you face every day?..

Libby Copeland

     

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Amish Kidnap/Rape Case

     At seven in the evening of August 13, 2014, 6-year-old Delila Miller and her 12-year-old sister Fannie, members of an old-order Amish clan consisting of Mose and Barb Miller and their thirteen children, were working on the family farm when a car drove up to the Miller roadside vegetable stand. The Miller family resided in Oswegatchie, New York, a farming community of 4,000 near the Canadian border 150 miles north of Albany. Because the land was relatively inexpensive and the soil fertile, the Oswegatchie area had grown into the second largest Amish enclave in the state.

     When Delila and Fannie saw the 4-door white sedan pull up to the vegetable stand they walked the few hundred feet between the barn and the stand to greet the customers. The couple drove off, and when they did, the girls were gone. Someone ran to an English neighbor's house and called 911.

     The authorities issued an Amber Alert while scuba drivers prepared to search nearby rivers and helicopters flew over the area in search of the missing girls. Agents on the US/Canadian border reviewed surveillance camera footage in the event the abductors left the country.

     On Thursday evening at eight o'clock, 24 hours after the abduction, the kidnappers dropped the Amish girls off in Richville, New York, a town thirty miles from the Miller farm. The girls knocked on the first door they came to and asked for help. They were greeted by Jeff and Pam Stinson who recognized the older girl from  having purchased corn from her at the Miller produce stand.

     It had been raining and the girls were cold and wet. They were also hungry so the Stinson fed them grape juice and servings of watermelon. The girls quickly consumed the food and were driven straight home where they were met by the police.

     Police officers, working off clues provided by the kidnapped girls, identified a pair of suspects and took them into custody Friday night, August 15, 2014. Charged with counts of first-degree kidnapping, officers booked 39-year-old Stephen Howells II and Nicole Vaisey, 25, into the St. Lawrence County Jail.

     Stephen Howells lived in nearby Hermon, New York with Vaisey, his girlfriend. According to the St. Lawrence County sheriff, the couple and their victims did not know each other. The district attorney told reporters that Howells and Vaisey sexually abused the girls during their period of captivity. The judge denied the suspects bond.

     Sheriff Kevin Wells, at a press conference Saturday morning, August 16, in speaking about the suspects, said there was "definite potential" of other kidnap victims associated with the couple. As a result, addition charges could be filed against Howells and Vaisey. The sheriff said he believed the Amish kidnappings had been carefully planned.

     Howells, a father of three, worked as a registered nurse at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdenburg, a town adjacent to Oswegatchie.

     Nicole Vaisey graduated with honors in 2011 from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. During her senior year, as a psychology major, she received a $1,500 grant to do research about the effects of watching pornography on attitudes toward rape. She was president of the Mercyhurst chapter of Psi chi and a member of the Mercyhurst Psychology club and the school's Active Minds club.

     Upon graduation from Mercyhurst, Vaisey worked as a substitute teacher at a day care center then took a job with an agency in St. Lawrence County that serves developmentally disabled people. After moving in with Stephen Howell, she worked twice a week as a dog groomer at Bows & Bandanas Pet Salon and Resort. The couple met eighteen months ago online.

     Vaisey's lawyer, Bradford C. Riendeau, told a reporter with The New York Times that he planned to argue in court that his client was in an abusive and submissive relationship with Howells. She was not, he said, the lead person in the kidnapping. "She appears to have been the slave and he was the master."

     St. Lawrence County district attorney Mary Rain, said, "We are confident that Vaisey was equally involved in the allegations as he was."

    In May 2015, Howells pleaded guilty to the sexual exploitation of six children, including the two Amish victims. He also pleaded guilty to five counts of child pornography.

     Nicole Vaisey, that May, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sexually exploit minors as well as nine counts of sex exploitation of children.

     In January 2016, St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards sentenced each defendant to 25 years in prison. These sentences ran concurrently with the couples' earlier sentencing in federal court. In the federal kidnapping case, Howell received a prison term of 580 years. Vaisey was sentenced to 300 years behind bars. 

Execution by Gas Chamber

     It would be hard to devise a more expensive, dangerous, or cruel method of execution than death by gas chamber, which was designed and invented by Army Medical Corps officer Major Delos Turner and stands as the only execution device that requires the condemned to participate in his or her own execution, by inhaling lethal gas.

     Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of inmates to the state of Nevada, whose legislature adopted it as the state's official method of execution in 1921, replacing the electric chair.

     Between 1930 and 1999, 955 men and 7 women died in gas chambers in eleven states: Arizona, California, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, and Wyoming. Nevada came first with the gassing to death of Gee Jong on February 8, 1924, and Arizona last with a German national named Walter LeGrand on March 3, 1999. Four states, including Arizona, have retained the gas chamber as an alternative method of execution, even though it has proved to be anything but humane.

     Death in a gas chamber usually takes six to eighteen minutes. It took eleven minutes before Donald Harding was pronounced dead in the Arizona gas chamber on April 6, 1992. The warden presiding over the execution said he would quit his job before carrying out another gas chamber execution.

     The ritual of this form of execution begins when the condemned inmate is led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by the arms, waist, ankles, and chest. A mask covers the inmate's face. The chamber is sealed. An executioner pours sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor below a metal canister that contains cyanide pellets.

     An open curtain allows witnesses to see the inmate in the chamber. If the inmate has a final statement, it is read. Then the warden signals the executioner, who hits an electric switch that opens the bottom of the metal canister and releases the cyanide pellets into the acid, unleashing a cloud of lethal gas.

Billy Wayne Sinclair and Jodie Sinclair, Capital Punishment, 2009

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of His Cat

When I look at my cat I often wonder if he can think, and if so, about what? What goes on inside the head of an animal? Can thinking even take place without language? For example, what does a cat think when he sees a Golden Retriever chase a stick into a lake? Does the cat think, How stupid is that? I can't imagine a life without thinking. For that reason, I choose to believe that my cat does think. Unfortunately, I think my cat doesn't think much of me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Kennewick Man

     In the 1980s, Native American activists began calling for a federal law that mandated the return of prehistoric remains and certain artifacts, held by government and federally funded museums and universities, to the descendants of these indigenous people. Following a series of Congressional hearings, Senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and John McCain of Arizona proposed the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). President George H. Bush signed the law in 1990.

     NAGPRA, administered by the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act Office within the Department of Interior, is comprised of three principal sections. NAGPRA outlaws the unauthorized excavation of Native American Grave sites on federal land; requires museums and universities covered under the law to catalogue "cultural items" in their collections and share lists of these objects with the appropriate tribes so they can petition their return; and prohibits individuals from buying or selling Native American "cultural items," "sacred objects," "ceremonial objects," and artifacts with "ongoing historical, traditional, or cultural importance" to a Native American group. NAGPRA does not apply to human remains and relics removed from state or privately owned land, or to artifacts acquired or found before 1990. 
The Kennewick Man Case
     Two college students walking along the Columbia River near Kennewick, Washington on July 28, 1996, stumbled upon a human skull lying in two feet of water. After examining the site as a potential crime scene, Benton County Coroner Floyd Johnson called in Dr. James Chatters, a local forensic anthropologist. Chatters discovered, buried nearby, the rest of the bones that he took to the coroner's office for further examination.
     Following a newspaper report regarding the discovery of human remains that appeared to be prehistoric, representatives of the Umatilla people, a federally recognized tribe that lived in the area, came forward to claim the skeleton under NAGPRA.
     On August 27, 1996, Dr. Chatters held a press conference and announced that based on the radiocarbon process, he believed the Kennewick Man, also known as The Ancient One, had lived during the Paleo period 8,340 to 9,900 years ago. This alone made fascinating and important news, but Dr. Chatters' revelation that Kennewick Man's skull had Caucasoid features (a long narrow face with a prominent chin) heightened media interest because it fueled the debate over the hypothesis that prehistory Europeans as well as Proto-Mongaloids had crossed the Bering Straight into North America.
   Dr. Chatters discovered a Paleo projectile point lodged in the Ancient One's hip, a wound that had not been the cause of the five-foot-nine forty-five to fifty-year-old man's ancient death.
     In September 1996, as Dr. Chatters made preparations to ship the remains to Dr. Douglas Owsley, a physical anthropologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C., the United States Corps of Engineers (COE) stepped into the case on behalf of the Umatilla Tribe and three out-of-state Native American groups. The COE, having jurisdiction over the site of the Kennewick Man discovery, took custody of the remains before they were sent off for further scientific study.
     Although the Native American groups had not established cultural affiliation beyond oral histories, the COE, with speed uncharacteristic of a governmental agency, recognized their NAGPRA claim.
     Appalled by the arbitrariness of the COE's decision to repatriate the remains before they could be subjected to thorough scientific study, a group of anthropologists and archaeologists filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the COE's action. Federal Magistrate John Jelderks, in June 1997, ruled that the COE, by acting so hastily, had failed to consider and resolve key legal issues raised by the dispute. Judge Jelders vacated the repatriation, and ordered the COE to reconsider the scientists' request to study the bones. In September 1997, a federal judge ordered the COE to send the Ancient One to the University of Washington's Burke Museum in Seattle. 
     Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, on January 13, 2000, issued a determination that the Kennewick Man was Native American and therefore covered by NAGPRA. Eight months later, Babbit ruled that the preponderance of evidence proved the Ancient One was culturally affiliated with the four claimant Indian tribes.
     Because Babbitt's ruling had no basis in science, his decision created a firestorm of anger and frustration among anthropologists and archaeologists who believed the decision reflected "a lack of adherence to the statutory definition of cultural affiliation…and an apparent lack of appreciation for the decidedly balanced compromise that is at the heart of NAGPRA.

   In 2002, a group of scientists filed a federal lawsuit to block the repatriation of the Ancient One's remains. In August of that year, the federal magistrate presiding over the case found in favor of the plaintiffs. The judge condemned Secretary Babbitt's ruling that the Native American claimants shared a cultural affiliation with the Kennewick Man. The judge opined that Babbitt, in making his decision, had not considered all of the relevant factors related to the issue. The four tribes, joined by the Department of Justice, appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

     The federal appeals court, in April 2004, affirmed the lower court's ruling. Appellate Judge Gould, in upholding the scientists' right to maintain control of the remains, wrote: "….Scant or no evidence of cultural similarities between Kennewick Man and modern Indians exists. One of the secretary's [Babbitt's] experts, Dr. Kenneth Ames, an anthropologist with Portland State University, reported that 'the empirical gaps in the record preclude establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities, particularly before about 5,000 B.C.' Dr. Ames noted that, although there was overwhelming evidence that many aspects of the "Plateau Pattern" [The region drained by the Columbia and Fraser Rivers.] were present between 1,000 B. C. and A. D. 1, 'the empirical record precludes establishing cultural continuities or discontinuities across increasingly remote periods.' He noted that the available evidence is insufficient either to prove or disprove cultural or group continuity dating back earlier than 5,000 B. C., which is the case with regard to the Kennewick Man's remains, and that there is evidence that substantial changes occurred in settlement, housing, diet, trade, subsistence patterns, technology, projectile point styles, raw materials, and mortuary rituals at various times between the estimate date when Kennewick Man lived and the beginning of the Plateau Culture some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago."

     In July 2004, the four claimant tribes announced they were not going to appeal the Ninth Circuit's decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. This closed the case, and opened the door for further study of the Kennewick Man's bones. To this day, Native American activists regard the Kennewick Man case a bitter defeat and significant setback in the repatriation movement.

     At the annual American Association of Forensic Sciences convention held in February 2006 in Seattle, Dr. Douglas Owsley presented his analysis of the Kennewick Man's remains. According to the anthropologist, the Ancient One, because he was more than 9,000 years old, is more closely related to old world populations than to American Indian groups that came to North America across the Bering Straight 2,000 years later. 

Tattoos: Human License Plates Identifying Criminals and Victims

     A mother in Georgia got into trouble for taking her 10-year-old son to a tattoo shop where he got tattooed in honor of his dead brother. The local prosecutor's office charged the woman with child cruelty. Under Georgia law, only physicians and osteopaths can tattoo people under 18. (Why would a doctor ink a kid in the first place?) This story got me thinking about tattoos, and the role they play, and have played, in the identification of criminals and their victims.

     Not too long ago, people most likely to get a tattoo were enlisted military personnel, prison inmates, and members of street gangs. Truman Capote, the author of "In Cold Blood," once told a journalist that of the dozens of mass murderers and serial killers he had interviewed, all of them had tattoos. Today, that would surprise no one. In 2006, according to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 36 percent of people between the ages 18 and 40 have at least one tattoo. This percentage is probably much higher now. (It seems that 90 percent of college and professional football and basketball players are tattooed. And as a boxing fan, I have noticed that more and more prize fighters are heavily tattooed.)

     Tattoos, along with clothing, personal belongings, fingerprints, scars, moles, and teeth, are helpful in the identification of corpses that have been dumped in the water, in fields and in the woods. In 1935, two fishermen caught a shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia. They took the live fish to a local aquarium where it disgorged a human arm that had been severed by a knife. The arm also bore a distinctive tattoo that led to the identification of a murder victim named James Smith. Smith had been an ex-boxer with a history of crime. The case became known as the Shark Arm Murder.

     The police routinely ask crime victims and eyewitnesses if the suspect had any tattoos. Former prison inmates and members of street gangs assist law enforcement by identifying themselves as such through their inked, individualized body markings. In England in the late 1800s, before criminal identification bureaus adopted fingerprints, ID clerks took note of arrestees' tattoos and their locations, data classified and filed for future retrieval. Today, in California, the CALGANG database consists of a collection of gang tattoos. In Florida, a database has been recently created that features about 372,000 tattoos of people who have been arrested in that state.

     In 2010, Michigan State University licensed tattoo matching technology to Morpho Trak, the world's leading provider of biometric (eye, hand, signature, and voice ID) identification systems. Corrections and law enforcement officers use the tattoo database to identify criminal suspects and homicide victims.

     Dr. Nina Jablonski, head of the anthropology department at Penn State, says that "Tattoos are part of an ancient and universal tradition of human self-declaration and expression." In some cases, these tattoos express anti-social attitudes, and declare that their owners have histories of crime.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Frivolous Lawsuit Over Hot Fajitas

     America has become a litigious society overrun by personal injury lawyers in search of deep-pocket defendants (once called ambulance chasers) and greedy, bogus plaintiffs looking for a big payday at the expense of the rest of us. You can't escape these hungry, aggressive lawyers who advertise on billboards and around the clock on television. This is why it is so gratifying to witness the demise of a frivolous personal injury suit.

     Hiram Jimenez and his brother, in March 2010, were sitting in a booth at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Westampton, New Jersey. When the waitress placed a sizzling hot skillet in front of Jimenez, he said to his brother, "Let's have a prayer."

     When Mr. Jimenez bowed his head in prayer over the hot fajitas dish, he heard what he described as a "loud sizzling noise and a pop sound" followed by a burning sensation on his face. He tried to push the food off the table but it landed on his lap.

     Claiming "serious and permanent" injuries because the waitress failed to warn him of the dangerous and hazardous fajitas grease she had exposed him to, Mr. Jimenez filed a personal injury suit against the California-based chain of 1,900 restaurants. The plaintiff sought an undisclosed amount of money--damages--as a result of the waitress' negligence.

     A New Jersey trial judge dismissed the burning fajitas case stating that a restaurant does not have a legal duty to warn patrons about food dangers that are open and obvious. Mr. Jimenez appealed this ruling.

     In February 2015, a two-judge appellate court panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Applebee's suit noting that the sizzling hot fajitas platter constituted a "self-evident" hazard.

Who Killed President John F. Kennedy?

Even the basic facts of [John F.] Kennedy's death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds--involving [Lyndon B.] Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings. [According to Vincent Bugliosi, 82 people have, over the years, been accused of assassinating President Kennedy.]

Jill Abramson, "The Elusive President," The New York Times Book Review, October 27, 2013

The Romance Novel

The romance is loved and derided for its formulaic nature. It is comfort, escapism and reassurance in a troubling world. It is generic in the truest sense, a genre defined and constrained by a handful of conventions. The heart of every romance is a love story, and by the last page of the book the lovers wind up together, happily ever after or at least "happily for now."

Jaime Green

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dr. Ralph Erdmann: The Forensic Pathologist From Hell

     Most forensic pathologists are hardworking, well intentioned, and competent. Even the best of them make honest mistakes. But over the years there have been several high-profile embarrassments to the profession. These forensic pathologists, because they were careless, incompetent, corrupt, or weak, did great harm to criminal defendants, victims of crime, and forensic science. Dr. Ralph Erdmann, a run-amok forensic pathologist who worked many years in west Texas represents the worst of the worst.

     In 1981, 25 years after acquiring a medical degree in Mexico, Dr. Erdmann moved to Childress in Lubbock County, Texas. He began, on a private contract basis, doing autopsies for five small hospitals in the county. He moved to Amarillo in 1983 and began performing autopsies for hire throughout the Texas panhandle region. Over the next decade, Dr. Erdmann conducted more than 3,000 autopsies in 41 jurisdictions. In 1990, at the height of his activity, he performed 480 autopsies. The following year he did 310, most of which were performed in Lubbock County. For his work in Lubbock County, Dr. Erdmann received an annual fee of $140,000. In the smaller counties Dr. Erdmann charged $650 per autopsy. The forensic pathologist had a large territory to cover and was constantly on the move, performing autopsies on the run.

     Because he covered a rural area Dr. Erdmann did not always work under ideal conditions. In cases of decomposing bodies, many of the smaller hospitals denied him access to autopsy space because of the stink. As a result he performed autopsies in funeral home garages, hospital loading docks, parking lots, and abandoned houses. Dr. Erdmann once performed an autopsy on a door laid across two 55-gallon drums.

     It wasn't just his take-charge work ethic that made Dr. Erdmann so popular with detectives and county prosecutors. What they especially liked about this pathologist was his unabashed eagerness to tailor his autopsy findings to their law enforcement needs. If the prosecution needed a victim or suspect to have alcohol in his or her blood, that was not a problem. It didn't matter that no blood-alcohol test had been administered in the case. If a certain time of death was necessary to incriminate a defendant, Dr. Erdmann would provide it, even if such a precise estimation was scientifically infeasible.

     Because Dr. Erdmann made their jobs so easy, many detectives and prosecutors turned a blind eye to his personal weirdness, sloppy work habits, questionable science, embarrassing omissions, and patent dishonesty. Even with the support of the law enforcement community, Dr. Erdmann was so obviously unfit for the job he was eventually drummed out of the profession.

     By 1992, after a number of defense attorneys began challenging and exposing Dr. Erdmann's methods and findings, the outlandish nature of his malpractice began to catch up to him. That year he was forced to surrender his Texas medical license to the State Board of Medical Examiners. He also pleaded guilty to charging several counties for autopsies he had not conducted. The judge sentenced Erdmann to 10 years of probation and 200 hours of community service. He also had to pay $17,000 in restitution. The following year Dr. Erdmann left Texas for the state of Washington.

     A review of Dr. Erdmann's work explains how he had been able to perform so many autopsies. He cut corners. For example, he didn't bother to weigh the internal organs he removed. And in many cases, he didn't even bother to cut them out of the corpse. He simply estimated their weights. Dr. Erdmann got caught doing this when the family of a man he had autopsied noticed, in the autopsy report, the weight of the dead man's spleen. Years before his death this man's spleen had been surgically removed.

     Even in situations where the cause of death was obviously murder, Dr. Erdmann didn't always get it right. In the case of a body found in a dumpster, Dr. Erdmann reported the cause of death as pneumonia. The police later arrested the suspect who had stolen the dead man's car, shot him in the head, then disposed of his body in that dumpster. Perhaps this man had pneumonia when he was shot to death, but it was the bullet that killed him. In another body-in-the-dumpster case, Dr. Erdmann lost the dead man's head, the body part containing the fatal bullet that would have connected the shooter to the murder. Without the head or the bullet, the suspect could not be prosecuted.

     In a fatal hit-and-run case, Dr. Erdmann testified that the victim had died instantly of a broken neck. He based this finding on his examination of the 14-year-old victim's brain. But when the body was exhumed, another forensic pathologist found that Erdmann had not even bothered to open the boy's skull.

     In the case of an infant who died in a bathtub, Dr. Erdmann determined that the baby had been killed by a blow to the stomach. This led to the arrest of the man who was in the house when the infant died. After a second forensic pathologist examined the body, the prosecutor had to drop the murder charge. The baby had drowned accidentally. The cause of death: asphyxia.

     As reported in the ABA Journal, as a result of Ralph Erdmann's bungled and incomplete autopsies, the defendants in 20 murder cases had grounds to appeal their convictions. The panel of experts who looked at 300 of his autopsy reports--a relatively small sampling--found that 1/3 of the bodies had not even been cut open. When confronted with this evidence, Dr. Erdmann explained it away as clerical errors. He never admitted wrongdoing and would continue to insist that he was not dishonest or incompetent. Yes, he had made a few mistakes, but he had been forced to work under unfavorable conditions. The forensic pathologist accused his critics of being revenge-minded defense attorneys and characterized the investigation of his work and career as a witch hunt.

     On July 23, 2010, in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Erdmann died at the age of 83.
    

Kenneth Douglas: The Morgue Employee From Hell

     First you're murdered, then you are raped. This represents the ultimate victimization. Having sex with a dead person, while a relatively minor crime, reflects behavior that is beyond deviant, and worse than bad. It's disturbing to know the world is populated with sexual deviants like Kenneth Douglas who can commit their disgusting acts for years without detection. However, while dead victims cannot speak, advances in forensic science have given them a voice. It's that voice that brought Mr. Douglas to justice.

     From 1976 to 1992, Kenneth Douglas worked the night shift at the Hamilton County Morgue in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to his wife, who reported him several times to his morgue supervisors, when he'd undress at home after work he "reeked of alcohol and sex." Eventually morgue officials told Mrs. Douglas to stop calling. Apparently they were not interested in knowing if one of their morgue employees was abusing corpses and contaminating evidence. When the 38-year-old left the morgue in 1992 it was not because officials fired him. He simply stopped showing up for work. The situation at the Hamilton County Morgue reflects a fairly typical example of governmental inertia.

     In 1982, ten years before Kenneth Douglas left the morgue, door-to-door salesman David Steffan confessed to beating and slashing the throat of 19-year-old Karen Range after she invited him into her home. The forensic pathologist found traces of semen in the murder victim's body. Steffen, however, said he had not raped the victim. The judge sentenced him to death. (Steffan remains on Ohio's death awaiting execution.)

     In March 2008, police officers arrested Kenneth Douglas, the former morgue employee, on a drug charge. A detective ran his DNA sample through a database and came up with a match. The semen found in Karen Range's body was his.

     Following his indictment for gross abuse of a corpse in August 2008, Douglas pleaded no contest to the charge. The judge sentenced him to three years in prison.

     Four years later, investigators in Cincinnati discovered that Douglas' DNA matched semen that had been found in two other female corpses in the Hamilton County Morgue. One of these cases involved 24-year-old April Hicks who died in October 1991 after falling out of a three-story window. Kenneth Douglas, when confronted with the DNA evidence, admitted having sex with her body on the day she died.

     The other case involved the 1992 murder of 23-year-old Charlene Appling. Douglas confessed to have sex with her corpse as well. Mark Chambers pleaded guilty to strangling Appling and was sentenced to 10 to 25 years. (He was paroled in 2000.)

     Douglas shocked his interrogators by confessing to having sex with more than 100 Hamilton County corpses during his tenure at the morgue. He blamed his deviant behavior on crack cocaine and booze. (Blaming cocaine and alcohol was, of course, a load of crap.)

     In 2012, relatives of Karen Range, Charlene Appling, and April Hicks sued Hamilton County in federal court. The plaintiffs accused the defendant of "recklessly and wantonly" neglecting to supervise Mr. Douglas. In 2013 a U.S. district judge dismissed the suit on grounds the plaintiffs, while perhaps victims of negligence on the part of morgue administrators, had failed to establish that their constitutional rights had been violated. The plaintiffs appealed that ruling.

     In August 2014, a three-judge panel on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision. This meant that the civil case could go forward against Hamilton County.

     In February 2015, Hamilton County settled the abuse of corpse lawsuit by paying the plaintiffs $800,000.
     

Unnecessary Drama and False Emotion in the Documentary Film

     In the documentary film, you want to avoid creating unnecessary drama--turning a perfectly good story into a soap opera. There's no reason to pull in additional details, however sad or frightening, when they aren't relevant…

     False emotions--hyped-up music and sound effects and narration that warns of danger around every corner--is a common problem, especially on television. As in the story of the boy who cries wolf, at some point it all washes over the viewer like so much noise. If the danger is real, it will have the greatest storytelling impact if it emerges organically from the material.

Sheila Curran, Documentary Storytelling, Second Edition, 2007 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Professor Rainer Reinscheid's Revenge

     Rainer Klaus Reinscheid was an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. The 48-year-old lived in the Orange County city of 223,000, thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles, with his second wife, two stepchildren, and his 14-year-old son from his first marriage.

     In March 2012, Reinscheid's son, Claus Stubbe, a student at Irvine's University High School, got in trouble for stealing something from the student store. As punishment, the assistant principal assigned the boy trash pick-up duties during the school's lunch hour. Shortly after this mild disciplinary action, a worker at the Mason Park Preserve adjoining the high school campus, found the boy hanging from a tree in a wooded area of the park.

     Professor Reinscheid blamed his son's suicide on the assistant principal who had disciplined the boy. On April 26, 2012, the distraught father, on his cellphone, emailed his wife details of his intention to take out revenge on his son's death. His plan, in general, included shooting 200 students at University  High School, murdering the assistant principal, and raping as many high school girls as he could. Once he had accomplished his mission, he'd kill himself.

     In one of two emails to his wife that day, the revenge-minded professor wrote: "I need a gun, many guns, and then I have the ride of my life. I will give myself a wonderful ending with Klaus very soon. I like this plan, finally a good idea." Two days later, in another email, Reinscheid said that while he was casing out the high school campus, he had fantasized about having sex with every girl he had seen.

     On July 4 and 19, 2012, a series of small fires broke out in Mason Park Preserve. Fire fighters also responded to a fire someone had set outside the home of University High School's assistant principal. Following the two fires in the park, the Irvine police beefed up patrols of the preserve. At 12:45 in the morning of July 24, police officers patrolling the park caught Professor Reinscheid igniting newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. He was starting the fire not far from where his son had committed suicide. The officers arrested him on the spot. The next day, charged with arson, Professor Reinscheid posted his $50,000 bond, and was released from custody.

     Police investigators, after linking Reinscheid to three incendiary fires at the high school, and the one at the assistant principal's house, charged the professor with four additional counts of arson, and a count of attempted murder. By now, detectives had discovered the emails Reinscheid had sent to his wife detailing his intent to seek revenge for his son's suicide. Although the content of these emails--private musings rather than threats sent to targeted individuals--were not considered chargeable criminal offenses, police re-arrested the professor on the additional arson and attempted murder charges. (Whether or not the professor's very specific revenge emails is a crime poses an interesting legal question. Had the emails suggested a conspiracy, and he had acted upon that plan by buying a gun, it would have been an offense. Had there been an agreement with a fellow conspirator to carry out the crimes, the fires would have been acts in furtherance of that conspiracy.)

     The Orange County prosecutor, using the revenge emails as evidence that Rainer Reinscheid was a danger to society, asked that he be held in custody without bail. The judge agreed, and denied the professor bond.

     On July 27, the Irvine police re-arrested Professor Reinscheid in his office at the University of California. When they took him into custody, he was drafting a document on his computer giving his wife power of attorney over his finances. When searching his car, officers found a red folder containing a newly drafted and signed last will and testament.

     Reinscheid pleaded guilty in July 2013 to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson, and resisting or obstructing an officer. Reinscheid faced a maximum sentence of 18 years behind bars.The Orange County prosecutor had dropped the attempted murder charge. A month later, on the first day of his sentencing hearing, Reinscheid said, "I lost my son, and then I lost myself. Now, I am asking you, your honor , and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy." Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany where he could find work to support his family. The ex-professor acknowledged that his career in academia was over.

     School superintendent Tracy L. Walker, in a statement read aloud at the hearing, wrote: "That tragedy [the boy's suicide] cannot serve as justification for terrorizing a school community and staff members who have dedicated their lives to helping others."

     On the second day of Reinscheid's sentence hearing, the judge heard from the University High School assistant principal whose house Reinscheid tried to burn down. The school administrator said that his life will never be the same.

     In an effort to mitigate his client's criminal rampage, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer noted that his client had been "self-medicating" with drugs he had ordered online. The professor had also been drinking cheap wine. The drugs and the wine, according to the attorney, had led to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons.

     On August 22, 2013, the judge sentenced the former professor to 14 years and 4 months in prison.
     

Comedy Derived from Character

     One of the most famous lines in the history of comedy is from "The Jack Benny Show." Throughout his career, Benny developed the persona of the ultimate skinflint. On one show, a robber pulled a gun on Benny and threatened, "Your money or your life." Finally Benny spoke: "I'm thinking it over."

     For the cheapskate Benny persona, this was a rough decision that required some real thought. And it is a perfect example of comedy derived from character. This was not a joke superimposed onto a situation; it grew organically out of the Benny character.

David Evans in How To Write Funny, John B. Bachuba, editor, 2001 

Thornton P. Knowles On His 7th Grade Gym Teacher

Growing up in West Virginia, I didn't exactly sail through 7th grade. In fact, my little academic boat hit the rocks and sank. The one thing I learned on my first voyage through 7th grade came from our gym teacher, Mr. Blankenship. After gym class, many of us skipped taking a shower. To discourage that, Mr. B. shocked us with the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt, the president of the United States, showered every day! He said that while none of us future losers would ever become America's president, we could at least be as clean as one. That worked for me. Since then I have showered every day with the president of the United States. Thank you Mr. Blankenship.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte: The Twice Deported Cop Killer

     In 1996, police in Arizona arrested an illegal alien from Mexico named Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte on charges of narcotics possession with the intent to sell. Following the 18-year-old's conviction in the drug case, immigration authorities sent him back to Mexico. Federal narcotics agents arrested Monroy-Brackamonte in 2001. Again, the authorities deported him to Mexico. This drug criminal, however, had no intention of living in his home country. The people who had money to buy drugs lived in the U.S. Shortly after being thrown out of America in 2001, Monroy-Bracamonte was back, this time living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

     On Friday October 24, 2014, Monroy-Brackamonte, 34, and his 38-year-old wife Janelle Marquez Monroy, were sitting in a car in a Motel 6 parking lot in the Arden Way section of Sacramento, California. At ten-thirty that morning the couple encountered Sacramento County sheriff's deputy Danny Oliver, a 47-year-old veteran of the department who approached the suspicious couple.

     Monroy-Bracamonte responded to the deputy sheriff's investigative inquiry by shooting him in the forehead at close range with an AR-15 assault rifle. Deputy Oliver died on the spot. He left behind a wife and two daughters.

     Eager to flee the murder scene in another vehicle, the cop killer and his wife tried to commandeer a car driven by 38-year-old Anthony Holmes. When Mr. Holmes tried to fight off the car thief, the Mexican shot him in the head. (This victim survived the attempted murder.)

     Monroy-Bracamonte next carjacked a red 2002 Ford F-150 cab pickup truck with an ice chest in the back. He and his wife drove the stolen vehicle 30 miles northwest into northern California's Placer County. At this point, law enforcement officers in Sacramento and Placer counties were on the lookout for a cop killing Hispanic man in his thirties with buzz-cut hair who was in a red, stolen pickup truck with a Hispanic woman about his age.

     Later in the day of the Sacramento County shootings, two Placer County deputies spotted the red Ford and its occupants sitting on the side of a rural road. They decided to approach the suspicious vehicle.

     Once again Monroy-Bracamonte greeted the approaching police officers with deadly force. Using his AR-15 assault rifle, he shot 42-year-old homicide detective Michael D. Davis in the head. (The deputy died a short time later in a nearby hospital.) The armed and dangerous Mexican then shot the other Placer County officer, Jeff Davis, in the arm.

     A couple of hours after the shooting of the Placer County deputies, in the Carmichael, California area in Sacramento County a few miles northeast of where Monroy-Bracamonte shot Deputy Danny Oliver and Anthony Holmes, a park ranger saw the Hispanic couple and the stolen red Ford Pickup. Monroy-Bracamonte and his wife were changing clothes next to the parked vehicle.

     Not long after being spotted in Sacramento County by the park ranger, deputies arrested Janelle Marquez Monroy. When taken into custody she possessed, in her purse, a handgun. Police officers, shortly thereafter, took Monroy-Bracamonte into custody at a house in Auburn, California.

     Questioned by detectives, the cop killer identified himself as Marcelo Marquez. However, when his fingerprints were run through the national fingerprint databank, the authorities learned of his true identify. A check of Monroy-Bracamonte's arrest record in Utah revealed that, between 2003 and 2009,  he had been issued ten traffic tickets for speeding and other violations. (Did he have a valid driver's license? Why didn't these arrests trigger deportation?)

     Prosecutors in Sacramento and Placer Counties charged Monroy-Brackamonte with two counts of murder, attempted murder, and two counts of carjacking. The judge denied him bail.

     The suspected cop killer's wife, Janelle Marquez Monroy, was charged with attempted murder and carjacking. (I don't know her citizenship status.)

     In January 2017, Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte, after a judge ruled that the defendant could not fire his attorneys and represent himself, threatened to kill the lawyers. Monroy-Bracamonte also told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced to death. The judge informed the cop killer that he could not do that.

     During his February 2018 murder trial, after the judge denied Monroy-Bracamonte's not guilty by reason of insanity plea, the defendant laughed, shouted profanities, and threatened to kill police officers and members of the jury. His attorney explained that his client's behavior stemmed from his insane belief that he could not be physically killed. After the jury found Monroy-Bracamonte guilty as charged, the judge sentenced him to death.

Thornton P. Knowles On Duck Hunters

I once knew a couple of avid duck hunters. They'd get up in the morning; dress up as though they were going into combat; plant fake ducks on the pond; hide in the reeds with their shotguns; blow their whistles; then blast unsuspecting ducks out of the sky. They called this sport. I call it recreational killing. When ducks learn to drop egg-sized bombs out of their butts, then it will be a sport. I like ducks a lot better than people who kill them for the fun of it.

Thornton P. Knowles

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Nonfiction Hardback Bestseller

     The most popular nonfiction authors of our day might be characterized by a certain overconfident swagger, the modern prerequisite for mattering in a mixed-up, insecure world. More often than not, these "authors"aren't authors at all, in the strict sense of carefully pondering their ideas and diction and lovingly crafting an argument sturdy yet supple enough to carry their work over to a mass readership. In place of the William Whytes, Vance Packards, and Betty Friedans of earlier, more confident chapters of our national bestsellerdom, we have promoted a generation of alternately jumpy and anxious shouters. Generally these public figures fall into one of two categories: television personalities who have hired hands to cobble together their sound bites; and middling non-writers suffering from extended delusions of grandeur. When it comes to hardcover nonfiction, a realm in which books are physical objects, plunked down on coffee tables as signifiers or comfort totems, Americans don't seem to be looking for authors or writers or artists so much as lifestyle brands in human form: placeholder thinkers whose outrage, sense of irony, or general dystopian worldview matches their own, whether it is Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, or Chelsa Handler.

      It's a glum corollary of such market forces that these very popular nonfiction books aren't books in the traditional sense of the word so much as aspirational impulse buys. They imbue their owners with a feeling of achievement and well-being upon purchase, a feeling that crucially does not require the purchaser to actually sit and read the book in question. Substantive, thoughtful books might pervade other lists (e-book, trade paperback, etc.), but when it comes to the top position on the hardcover nonfiction roster, accessory books by high-profile bloviators typically dominate from Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot to Ann Coulter's Godless to Edward Klein's The Amateur to Dinesh D'Souza's America. 

Heather Havrilesky, "Mansplanation Nation," Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Sigmund Freud And Truman Capote

According to Dr. Sigmund Freud, creative writers, as boys, were timid, introverted types who spent their days fantasizing about being men of action and having beautiful lovers. When these boys became novelists, they created their fictitious characters out of these fantasies. While some modern shrinks consider Dr. Freud old hat, the good doctor figured out the psychology of creative writing. He didn't, however, figure out why so many novelists are suicidal, mentally ill drunks. It's a shame he never met Truman Capote.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Charles D. Young Murder-For-Hire Case

     In May 2005, high school senior Charles D. Young met 17-year-old Wendy Smith (not her real name) at a military ball in Spokane, Washington. He asked her out, and after a month of dating, they began to fight. Typically, after one of their arguments, Charles would stand all night beneath her window, or the next day, follow her around after school. When Wendy tried to end the relationship, he threatened to kill himself. After ten months of enduring Young's weird and obsessive behavior, Wendy told him that she had found someone else. This was not true, but she wanted this strange kid out of her life. Charles refused to take no for an answer, and became Wendy's full time stalker.

     Three months after the breakup, Charles suddenly lost interest in Wendy and slipped out of her life. A few weeks after that, in July 2006, Wendy's parents got in touch with Charles and gave him news he didn't like. Their daughter was pregnant with his child. Charles angrily insisted that the baby couldn't be his, and said that a paternity test would prove it.

     After his initial reaction to the news that he would soon become a father, Charles changed his tone. Following a series of meetings with Wendy and her parents, Charles expressed a desire to help raise the child. But when he stopped communicating with his ex-girlfriend and her parents, they figured they had seen the last of him. They were wrong.

     Back home in Colville, Washington, Charles asked a friend if he knew how much it would cost to have someone killed. A few days later, Charles offered this person $3,000 to either murder or seriously injure his former girlfriend. The main idea, Charles said, was to kill the fetus. If the mother survived, that would be okay with him. The friend, convinced that Charles was serious, contacted the Stevens County Sheriff's Office.

     On October 11, 2006, a few days before Wendy's due date, Charles met an undercover officer in the  town of Suncrest a few miles north of Spokane. With the tape recorder running in the officer's car, Charles said he would pay $3,250 to have the problem with his ex-girlfriend "disappear." Charles said he didn't care if the girl lived or died as long as the fetus was destroyed. The murder-for-hire mastermind handed the officer a photograph of Wendy and a handmade street map showing where she lived. Charles then took out $1,620 in twenty-dollar bills and handed it to the undercover officer. He promised to pay the balance of the hit money when the job was done. After pocketing the money, the officer placed the 18-year-old under arrest. That evening, Charles D. Young found himself inside the Stevens County Jail. The next day the magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     The Stevens County prosecutor charged Young with solicitation to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first degree-murder of a fetus. A conviction on either charge qualified him for life behind bars.

     In April 2007, Charles Young was allowed to plead guilty to the solicitation of manslaughter. His lawyer described his client to the court as an intelligent young man who had received bad advice regarding his responsibilities as a father. The defense attorney said that his client had apologized to Wendy and her parents.

     The Stevens County judge, in February 2009, sentenced Charles D. Young to six years in prison. The judge justified his extreme leniency on the grounds that this murder-for-hire mastermind had only intended to have the unborn child murdered. The sentencing judge must have forgotten about Young's indifference to whether or not his hit man also murdered or seriously injured the child's mother.

     It's cases like this that undermine one's faith in our criminal justice system. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

O.J. Simpson's Outlandish Take on Nicole Brown's Murder

I wonder sometimes what Nicole was thinking at the end. I think now about what must have been going through her head when she realized what was about to happen to her, oh man. It hurts me to think about it. I would have put up a fight, I would have protected Nicole, you know. I'll never hear my kids say "Mommy" again. That hurts me every day. I know it hurts my kids, too. [O.J. Simpson to an adoring fan prior to his murder trial.]

O.J. Simpson, I Want to Tell You, 1994

Public Defender Offices

     Traditionally, the country's legal apparatus favors the office of the district attorney. The states instinctively supported the creating of prosecutors' officers because of a political will to solve crime and punish those who commit it. By contrast, the need to provide counsel for poor people accused of crimes is a burden that the U.S. Supreme Court thrust on the states in the sixties. Thus with a more popular mandate, prosecutors tend to receive more money and resources. For instance, Congress spent $26 million building the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina, to train prosecutors. There is a similar school in Reno, Nevada, for training state and local judges. No federally funded counterpart exists for defense lawyers. Also, the Bureau of Justice Assistance gives federal aid to state and local law enforcement agencies…with no equivalent moneys for the defense….[All this may be true but the American legal system--the presumption of innocence, the Bill of Rights, and due process--is geared to help the accused.]

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Power Of Nostalgia

Back before most students were hauled about in buses, on rainy days we walked to elementary school in those heavy yellow rubber raincoats and big, steel-buckled boots that jingled when you shuffled along. I also remember the wet rubber smell of the cloakroom. Never under estimate the power of nostalgia. While it won't keep you young, it can provide the illusion of youth.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, May 17, 2019

Connie Villa: A Sick and Dangerous Woman

     Adam and Connie Villa were married in 2005. She had a 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He was a member of the Arizona National Guard. The couple and the child, Aniarael Macias, resided in Casa Grande, a suburban community 50 miles south of Phoenix. In 2006, Adam Villa served a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit. By 2010, the couple had three children of their own.

     Adam and Connie Villa were divorced in 2012. Following the break-up, the battle over legal custody of the children began.

     On Christmas day, 2013, Adam Villa called 911 to report that his wife had stabbed him in the chest and that he was driving himself to the hospital. Police officers rushed to the Villa residence where they encountered Connie Villa holding a knife to her chest. Officers subdued the distraught 35-year-old woman and called for an ambulance.

     The three younger Villa children, ages three, five, and eight, were in the house when the police arrived. The youngsters informed the officers that their mother had forced them to consume what turned out to be a narcotics-based prescription drug.

     In the bathroom, officers discovered the body of 13-year-old Aniarael Macias. Because there were no marks on her body, officers assumed that Connie Villa had poisoned the girl with prescription drugs.

     While 33-year-old Adam Villa remained in stable condition at the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, physicians at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix treated Connie Villa for superficial, self-inflicted knife wounds. The three children, although there were traces of opiates in their bodies, were fine. The siblings were placed into the custody of relatives.

     On Sunday, December 29, 2013, upon her release from the hospital, detectives took Connie into custody. When questioned at the police station, she admitted stabbing her husband and poisoning their three children. In the bathroom, after being unable to force Aniarael to ingest the prescription drug, Connie suffocated her to death with her bare hands.

     Detectives asked Connie why she had killed her oldest child, stabbed her husband, and tried to poison the little ones to death. She said she was afraid the judge would grant custody of the children to her ex-husband. (This explains why she tried to kill her husband. But why did she want to murder her four children?)

     On January 8, 2014, Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles charged Villa with premeditated first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, kidnapping, and four counts of child abuse. The suspected, through her public defender attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges. She was held in the Pinal  County Jail without bond.

     In June, 2014, a Pinal County Superior Court judge approved the prosecution's request to seek the death penalty in the case.

     In July 2017, after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, Pinal County Judge Jason Holmberg sentenced Villa to life without parole plus 155 years. It is safe to say this woman will die in prison.

Ross H. Spencer: Armed and Humorous

     Private eye novelist Ross H. Spencer (1921-1998) is, in my view, one of the funniest fiction writers ever. Born in Hughart, West Virginia and raised in Hubbard and Youngstown, Ohio, Spence served in the Army in World War II (Bronze Star) and in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. After working in Chicago as a railroader, landscape contractor and chain link fence salesman and installer for forty-two years, the cigar-smoking, beer drinking writer returned to Youngstown with his wife Shirley.

    In his one-story house on North Dunlap Avenue on the west side of town, Spence built a model railroad layout and a bar in his basement where he regularly entertained a few close friends. I met Spence and Shirley in July 1990, and until his death eight years later, spent at least one night a week in his bar listening to Dixieland Jazz, classic country tunes, and music from the big band era. In August 1992, we traveled to Chicago where Spence took me around to his former stomping grounds to meet some of his old beer drinking buddies. Spence knew a lot about baseball, and loved the Chicago Cubs. In football he hated the Bears and favored the Browns. As often revealed in his whacky, off-the-wall private eye yarns, Spence didn't think much of politicians, Bible-thumping preachers, or fakers of any kind.

    As a self-taught writer without a high school degree (he was kicked out of eleventh grade for smoking), Spence started writing at age 58. During his relatively short but intense writing career, he published thirteen novels. His first five books were mass market paperbacks published by Avon between 1978 and 1983. This series, beginning with "The Da Da Caper," are written in an unique style of one-sentence paragraphs. From the "Da Da Caper:"

     That afternoon a little guy with straggly red hair and shiny blue eyes came in [to the PI's office].

     He said I want you to find out why my mother is receiving a lot of obscene telephone calls.

     I said well before we find out why we got to find out who.

     He said oh that's easy.

     He said I know who.

     I said who?

     He said me.

     He said but I don't know why.

     I sent him over to the Ammson Private Detective Agency.

     I said Ammson is absolutely tops in situations of this nature.

     Ross H. Spencer's remaining books initially came out in hardback, then were published as paperbacks. Several of them were also published in England, France, Italy and Japan. My favorites include: "Echoes of Zero," "Monastery Nightmare," "The Missing Bishop," "Kirby's Last Circus," and "Death Wore Gloves." Critics, including those at "The New York Times," compared his brand of humor to the works of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, S. J. Perlman, Groucho Marx, and Damon Runyon. I see similarities in his work to writers Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard and Charles Bukowski. And you can throw in a pinch of Mickey Spillane.

     Spence gave me the title to my book "The Ghosts of Hopewell," a work I dedicated to him. He died on July 25, 1998, a year before the book came out. Tom Grimes, in his recent memoir, "Mentor," wrote: "Every writer is alone, and every good book is difficult to write." This is probably true for most writers, particularly the serious literary types, but it didn't apply to Ross Spencer. He was not only a happy guy, he loved to write. This is because Spence's talent far exceeded his literary ambition. Writers of "serious" fiction tend to be angst-ridden basket cases because their literary ambition exceeds their talent.

     All of Spence's books are available on Amazon.com. If you give him a try,  I think you'll thank me.

Is the Death Penalty Fairly Administered?

A majority of Americans accept or even favor life in prison without parole as an alternative to execution. It is the uneven application of the death penalty that will spell its downfall; the nature of the crime has become far less important than the zeal of prosecutors and where they practice. Even within the same state, a rural county can have five people on death row, which might be exactly the same number as an adjacent urban county with ten times the population and 200 times the number of murders.

Abraham Verghese

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Kimberly McCarthy Murder Case And Execution

     In 1997, 36-year-old Kimberly LaGayle McCarthy, a nursing home occupational therapist living in Lancaster, Texas fifteen miles south of Dallas, was hooked on crack cocaine. Married to Aaron Michaels, the founder of the New Black Panther Party, McCarthy possessed a criminal record that included forgery, prostitution, and theft of services. She and Michaels had one child, a son.

     On July 21, 1997, McCarthy telephoned her neighbor, Dorothy Booth, to inform her she was coming to Booth's house to borrow a cup of sugar. In reality, the purpose of the visit was to murder and rob the 71-year-old former El Centro College psychology professor. In Booth's home, McCarthy stabbed the victim five times with a 10-inch butcher's knife before repeatedly clubbing the dying woman with a heavy candelabrum.

     In stealing the victim's diamond wedding ring, McCarthy used the big knife to cut off Booth's finger. In possession of the murder victim's credit cards and ring, McCarthy drove from the murder scene to a pawn shop in Booth's Mercedes-Benz. The next day, police officers booked McCarthy into the Dallas County Jail on the charge of murder.

     The McCarthy case went to trial a year after the brutal, cold-blooded murder. The defendant's attorney tried to convince the jury that the victim had been murdered by a pair of unnamed drug dealers. The prosecution, however, linked the defendant to the murder knife through DNA analysis. Following a short deliberation, the jury found McCarthy guilty as charged.

     At the sentencing hearing, the Dallas County District Attorney, through DNA evidence, connected McCarthy to two similar murders committed in December 1988. Maggie Harding, 81-years-old, had been stabbed with a knife then clubbed with a meat tenderizing mallet. Jettie Lucas, 85, had been stabbed then beaten with a claw hammer. Both victims had been robbed. (Although indicted in both of these cases, McCarthy did not go to trial for these murders.)

     On November 24, 1998, the judge who had presided over McCarthy's murder trial, sentenced her to die by lethal injection. McCarthy would spend the next fifteen years living on death row at the Texas state prison in Huntsville, Texas.

     As is common practice in death penalty cases, McCarthy's legal team filed a series of appeals. In 2002, a federal appellate court granted McCarthy a new trial. The Dallas County District Attorney, relying on the DNA evidence connecting the defendant to the Booth murder scene, re-tried McCarthy a few months after the appeals court decision. The second jury required little time in finding her guilty. The judge presiding over the second trial sentenced her to death.

     In July 2002, four years after Dorothy Booth's murder, McCarthy's attorneys, having exhausted all other appellate remedies, asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their client's appeal. The high court declined to entertain the condemned woman's case. The prison authorities in Texas set McCarthy's execution for January 29, 2013.

     On January 29, 2013, a few hours before McCarthy's appointment with Huntsville's executioner, the governor granted the 52-year-old prisoner a temporary stay of execution. A month before the new execution date, April 3, 2013, the lethal injection was re-scheduled for June 26, 2013.

     At 6:27 in the evening of June 26, 2013, twenty minutes after the executioner administered the lethal dose, a doctor pronounced Kimberly McCarthy dead. The execution was witnessed by the murder victim's daughter, granddaughter, and godson. The executed woman's attorney, University of Texas Law Professor Maurie Levin, told reporters that her client's case had been plagued by "shameful errors" of racial bias during the jury selection phase of McCarthy's trials. Levin also claimed that McCarthy's had been denied effective legal representation.

     Kimberly McCarthy was the first woman executed in the United States since 2010. Thirteen women, since 1976, have been put to death. During this period, executioners across the country dispatched more than 1,300 men. Nationwide, there are about 63 women on death row. 

Highway Shootings: Road Rage Mental Cases With Guns

     On Tuesday November 11, 2014, in Houston, Texas, Kenneth Caplan was driving on the 610 South Loop highway with a female passenger in his car. Caplan cut in front of another vehicle nearly causing a collision. The 20-year-old woman who was cut off, honked her horn angrily at the reckless driver. She should have left her response at that, but didn't.

     The angry young motorist, in retaliation, passed the offending driver and cut in front of him. This infuriated the man who pulled his vehicle up alongside the woman who had cut him off. But instead of flipping her the finger or shouting obscenities, he lowered his front passenger's side window, raised a handgun, and with his female rider leaning back to give him a clear shot, fired a bullet into the young woman's car.

     The highway shooter's target heard a ringing in her ear and started to bleed from the head. As she pulled off the highway to call 911, the man who shot her drove away.

     Paramedics rushed the 20-year-old woman to Memorial Hermann Hospital where doctors treated her for a bullet wound that was not life-threatening.  Three days later, physicians released her from the hospital.

     On Wednesday November 26, 2014, Houston police officers took 32-year-old Kenneth Caplan into custody at his home. While road rage shootings in big cities was not uncommon, the identify of this highway shooter made the case a bit unusual. Kenneth Caplan was a Deputy Harris County Constable for Precinct 6. When he shot the woman Caplan was off-duty and out of uniform.

     Following his arrest, Caplan admitted shooting into the young woman's car. He said he had a right to shoot into the vehicle because the driver was driving erratically.,

     Police officers booked Caplan into the Harris County Jail on the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. (I don't know why the prosecutor didn't charge Caplan with attempted murder.) The judge set his bail at $200,000.

     A spokesperson for the Harris County Constable's Office announced that Caplan's law enforcement credentials had been collected and that he was no longer employed by the office.

     The victim of the shooting told reporters that "I feel like I got a taste of death." Indeed, and perhaps he learned a lesson about the dangers of road rage. A lot of motorists are ticking time bombs. It doesn't take much to set them off.

     In May 2016, Kenneth Caplan pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. In a newspaper interview, Caplan said he suffered from PTSD and had childhood onset of bipolar disorder after growing up in an abusive family. (With this background, how did he become a cop.) The judge sentenced Caplan to 20 years in prison.

Thornton P. Knowles On His Father

As a child, the moment I realized that my father, a man who rarely missed church and liked to quote Bible passages, was an atheist, I knew I was going to be a writer. [When Knowles was fifteen, his father committed suicide by hanging himself in an abandoned barn.]

Thornton P. Knowles 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Where Free Speech Goes To Die

     On Tuesday, September 25, 2015, a student at the University of Delaware saw pieces of metal hangers dangling from tree limbs by pieces of string. The concerned student, obviously finely tuned to such things, interpreted the objects as miniature nooses, symbols of the lynchings that occurred during the early decades of the 20th century. The sighting came the day after a Fox News contributor named Katie Pavlich delivered a talk at the school. Pavlich's appearance created an uproar among members of the student body and faculty who objected to Pavich's earlier condemnation of the Black Lives Matter Movement. (Most universities and colleges do not take kindly to people who deviate from left-wing orthodoxy. The views of these apostates are considered toxic to the ivory tower environment where any idea outside progressive thinking could adversely affect the mission of political and cultural indoctrination. Examples of this are everywhere.)

     The president of the university, calling the suspected nooses a "deplorable act," and a "hateful display," sprang into action by launching a hate crime investigation. (The school must have a hate crime investigation department or committee. Are these trained investigators? Are they like the religious police in the middle east?) Without waiting for the results of that inquiry, President Nancy Targett issued the following statement: "We are both saddened and disturbed that this deplorable act has taken place on our campus. This hateful display stands in stark contrast to Monday night's peaceful protest and discussion [pertaining to the Katie Pavilich appearance]. We ask everyone in our community to stand together against intolerance and hate." Targett called for a student rally to impress the point the follow afternoon. (Question: If a student studying for an exam skipped the rally, is that student a part of the problem?)

     While the university president wrung her hands over the offending symbols of racism, Delaware students expressed outrage and concern on social media.

     On Wednesday, September 23, the day of the scheduled student rally, the hate crime police determined that the objects that had been hanging from the trees were the remains of lanterns left over from a previous social event.

     When the inconvenient truth hit the fan, President Targett, rather than apologizing for her knee-jerk reaction, proclaimed that the "incident," and her response to it, revealed just how sensitive the campus was to the potential issue of racism. Moreover, it showed a need for "continuing dialogue" on the subject.

     In reality, this "incident" revealed how politically oppressive student life had become on some university campuses. Most students, I would imagine, simply want to improve their lives through higher education. They are not incurring serious debt to be told what to think, what not to say, or how to live their lives. After residing four-years in a bubble where no one can be offended and free speech is out the window, real life must come to these students as a tremendous cultural shock.

     Since I first published this piece in September 2015, America's so-called elite universities, principally in response to the 2016 presidential election, have cracked down even harder on free speech. This has gotten so out of control and undemocratic that older liberals, once the vanguards of free speech, have spoken out against it.