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Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Manslaughter Indictment And The Politics Of Abortion

     On December 4, 2018, an argument broke out in Pleasant Grove, Alabama outside of a Dollar General store between 27-year-old Marshae Jones and Ebony Jamison, 23. The women were fighting over the man who had impregnated Marshae Jones. During the course of the fight, Jamison shot the five-month pregnant Jones in the stomach.

     Marshae Jones survived the shooting but lost her unborn child.

     A Jefferson County prosecutor presented a grand jury with a manslaughter case against Jamison, the woman who had shot the pregnant woman in the stomach. In what, at least on the surface, appeared to be an unusual ruling, the grand jurors declined to indict the shooter on grounds of self defense. (When one of the combatants has a gun and uses it on the unarmed opponent, the armed person usually loses the self defense argument.)

     On June 26, 2019, a Jefferson County grand jury took the unusual step of indicting Marshae Jones, the wounded pregnant woman, of manslaughter for initiating the fight that caused the death of her unborn child.

    Abortion proponents, who do not believe the killing of a fetus should be treated as a criminal homicide, protested Jones' indictment on that ground alone. Had the shooter, Ebony Jamison been indicted, the pro-abortion people would have been unhappy with that decision as well.

    For obvious reasons, we have not heard the last of this unusual case.

Mass Murder/Suicide In Czech Republic

     A man armed with a gun killed eight people at a restaurant in the town of Uhersky Brod in the eastern Czech Republic near Zlin…The shooter then killed himself…Authorities didn't know the identify or motivation of the assailant. However, they do not believe the incident was terror related…

     The attacker was a local man in his 60s…He rushed into the restaurant just after noon on February 24, 2015 and fired multiple times before using the gun to kill himself…Two other people were wounded in the shooting. Uhersky Bond, a town of 50,000, is located near the border with Slovakia.

"8 Killed In Czech Restaurant Shooting," CNN, February 24, 2015 

J. Edgar Hoover: The Man, The Myth

     My interest in J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI is both scholarly and personal. I became an FBI agent in June 1966 and left the bureau--on good terms--in November 1971. Eight months after I mustered out, J. Edgar Hoover died. Since his death in May 1972, other than late-night jokes alluding to his cross-dressing--an unfounded rumor injected into mass culture by a hack-written book--serious interest in the FBI's fourth director (1924-1972) faded.  Hoover briefly came back into cultural news in 2011 with the release of  "J. Edgar," a big-budget film directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Director Hoover. While the film covered Hoover's career from the gangster era through the Lindbergh kidnapping case, the McCarthy witch-hunt, and the cold-war spy v. spy period, the real buzz concerned the film's depiction of Hoover as a closet gay.

     Over the years I have written pieces, mostly critical, about Hoover and the FBI. I have been particularly critical of the FBI Crime Lab. However, regarding the director and his views of militaristic law enforcement, I wrote the following in my book, SWAT Madness:

     "FBI agents in the Hoover era dressed like businessmen. Hoover would have considered the now common FBI lettered jackets, ball caps, and quasi-military wear unprofessional. If agents needed more firepower [agents didn't carry guns until 1936] for a high-risk arrest or raid, they called on the local police for assistance. But his was rare. Most of the time FBI agents used patience, stealth, intelligence, and timing to arrest fugitives believed to be armed and dangerous. During Hoover's tenure, only a handful of agents lost their lives on duty, and very few civilians died at the hands of his agents. Although Director Hoover had his faults and excesses, he did not believe in a national police force, and he did not want his beloved agency over militarized. He preferred the image of the professional, scientific criminal investigator to the crime-fighting warrior. Today, the FBI has at least 56 SWAT teams attached to its field offices around the country. Mr. Hoover must be turning in his grave."

Saturday, June 29, 2019

High School Teacher Gets Probation For Sex With Student

     On January 7, 2015 former high school teacher Kinsley Wentzky was sentenced to probation for a fling she had with a 17-year-old male high school student. Wentzky, an honors English teacher at Dreher High School in Columbia, South Carolina, was charged in January 2013 with sexual battery for dalliances with two students in her home. The ex-teacher pleaded guilty to a single charge of unforced, non-coerced sexual battery with a student…The judge sentenced her to five years in prison, but immediately commuted that sentence to a much more lenient three years of probation…

     Wentzky was married when she had sex with the students and when the affairs came to light…She had taught at the school seven years...

     The age of consent in South Carolina is 16. However, in 2010, the state passed a law making it a crime for teachers and other people in positions of authority from having sex with any of their charges under the age of 18. [Why do so many of these cases involve English teachers?]

"High School Teacher Gets Probation," The Daily Caller, January 8, 2015 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A World On Drugs

According to the 2019 World Drug Report, 35 million people worldwide suffer from some kind of drug abuse. Only one in seven receive any kind of drug treatment.

Charles Bukowski On Franklin D. Roosevelt

I liked Franky because of his programs for the poor during the depression. He had style too. I didn't think he really gave a damn about the poor but he was a great actor, great voice, and he had a great speech writer. But he wanted us in the war. It would put him into the history books. War presidents get more power and later, more pages.

Charles Bukowski, Ham On Rye

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sheriff Larry Dever: A Sudden, Violent and Unexplained Death

     In 2008, the citizens of Cochise County elected Larry A. Dever to his fourth term as Sheriff of this southeastern region of Arizona adjacent the Mexican border. (Cochise County, with a population of 132,000, shares an 83.5 mile border with Mexico. Bisbee is the county seat.) Larry Dever resided in St. David with his wife, a retired special education administrator. He had grown up in the town of 1,700, and had helped raise a family there. Three of the sheriff's six sons worked in Arizona law enforcement. Sheriff Dever began his law enforcement career in 1976 as a Cochise County deputy sheriff. In Cochise County, Sheriff Dever was well-liked and respected as a law enforcement officer and member of the community.

     Because Cochise County had experienced crime and other social problems associated with the wave of illegal immigration from Mexico, Sheriff Dever, an authority of border enforcement, had testified before Congress, and had appeared numerous times on national television.  In 2011 and 2012, Sheriff Dever spoke out as a strong proponent of Arizona's new immigration law (SB 1070), and publicly criticized the Obama administration for under-enforcing current immigration laws. Dever believed that the federal government had intentionally lost control of the U.S./Mexican border.

     On September 18, 2012, less than two months before he would have been elected to his fifth term in office, Sheriff Dever was driving alone in his 2008 Chevrolet Silverado on a graveled U.S. Forest Service Road in the north central part of the state just west of Flagstaff. He was en route to White Horse Lake to participate in a two-day hunting and camping trip with his six sons.

     On that day, at 6:30 in the evening, a motorist called 911 to report a single vehicle accident on U.S. Forest Road 109 in Coconino County two miles north of White Horse Lake. The witness said he had been following the extended-cab Silverado, but lost sight of the pickup when it rounded a curve. When the witness rounded the bend, he saw a cloud of dust, and the truck off the road sitting in an upright position. The caller told the 911 dispatcher that the man in the vehicle showed no signs of life.

     Coconino County Sheriff's detective Jerome Moran, in his six-page accident report dated September 19, 2012, wrote: "The initial investigation indicates that [the] driver was traveling southbound on the dirt road when it lost control, veering off the lefthand side of the road then rolling over and crashing into the righthand (west) side. [The] driver was pronounced dead at the scene and later removed by the county medical examiner to the M.E. Office."

     In his accident report, Detective Moran indicated that the Siverado's airbags had not deployed. The detective also noted that Sheriff Dever had not been wearing his shoulder and lap belts. The report contained no information regarding the presence of alcohol in the vehicle, or the odor of beer or liquor in the cab of the truck.

     On October 1, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coconino Sheriff's Office reported that according to the Siverado's "black box," Sheriff Dever, at the time of the accident, had been traveling 62 MPH. Moreover, there had been containers of beer and liquor in the vehicle.

     The Cochise County Sheriff's Office, on October 5, 2012, issued a statement that Sheriff Dever, at the time of his death, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.291 percent, three times the legal limit (0.08) in Arizona. (A company in Indianapolis, Indiana called AIT Laboratories, performed the toxicological urine analysis in this case.) In the prepared press release, the sheriff's office informed the public that Sheriff Dever had been under "stress and pressure" due to the recent death of his 86-year-old mother, and the upcoming deployment of one of his sons to Afghanistan.

     Three days after the shocking revelation that Sheriff Larry Dever had been extremely intoxicated behind the wheel of his vehicle, the Coconino County Medical Examiner, Dr. A. L. Mosley, announced that the sheriff had died of "multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash." Regarding the sheriff's manner of death, Dr. Mosley classified it as "accidental."

     A review of Dr. Mosley's six-page autopsy report revealed that Sheriff Dever had a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, a puncture lung, and abrasions, contusions, and lacerations on his face, hand, arm, and neck. There was no indication in the report of severe bleeding, or major trauma to Dever's head, neck or torso. In summarizing Sheriff Dever's cause and manner of death, Dr. Mosley, in my view, was quite vague: "Based on the autopsy findings and investigative history, as available to me, it is my opinion that Larry Albert Dever, a 60-year-old Caucasian male, died as a result of multiple injuries due to a pickup truck crash. [His] manner of death is accidental." (From this I presume that Dr. Mosley was not the pathologist who actually performed the autopsy.)

     "Multiple injuries?" Did Sheriff Dever die of a dislocated shoulder, a rib fracture, or a punctured lung? Surely the sheriff didn't die from his cuts, scrapes and bruises. He didn't bleed to death, or sustain brain damage, and he suffered no injury to his heart. How exactly, did this man die. Exactly what had killed him?

     On October 10, 2012, a freelance writer named Dave Gibson wrote an online article for the Immigration Reform Examiner called, "Sheriff Larry Dever's Autopsy Results in More Questions than Answers." In his piece, Gibson wrote that a man of the sheriff's size--175 pounds--to achieve a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.291, would have, during a short period, consumed 12 beers or 12 shots of 80 proof liquor. According to a longtime friend of the sheriff's who was interviewed by Gibson, Dever was a light drinker. Gibson also pointed out that the sheriff's 4-wheel drive truck had light damage from the accident.

     It seemed odd that a law enforcement officer who had been to the sites of dozens of fatal traffic accidents involving alcohol, would be speeding on a graveled road while extremely drunk and not wearing his seatbelt. It also didn't make much sense that Dever would be driven to such recklessness over the cancer death of his 86-year-old mother. If he had been so distraught over her death, why was he going on a camping/hunting trip with his sons?

     Suicide in this case even made less sense. Had Sheriff Dever wanted to kill himself in a way that looked like a traffic accident why did he get drunk and unfasten his seatbelt?

     Every year in the United States there are hundreds of sudden, violent deaths that, for one reason or another, are mislabeled in terms of their cause and manner of death. Perhaps Sheriff Dever's death was one of these cases. In any case, I think the circumstances surrounding this prominent law enforcement officer's sudden and poorly explained death deserved a closer look. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Root Of All Evil: The Cynthia Hoffman Murder Case

     Just when you think that nothing new can roll down the true crime pike, a case comes along that breaks new ground in depravity, evil, and mind blowing stupidity. Once again you are reminded of how dangerous people can be, so-called ordinary folks you might rub shoulders with in your community. The bizarre murder scheme cooked up by a 21-year-old child pornographer from New Salisbury, Indiana exemplifies how an evil and depraved person can use a computer to connect with like minded people willing to help him victimize innocent, unsuspecting victims.

     In May 2019, Darin Schilmiller, using the name "Tyler" and the photograph of another man, hooked up online with Denali Dakota Skye Brehmer, an 18-year-old girl from Anchorage, Alaska. Schilmiller, claiming to be a multi-millionaire, offered Brehmer $9 million to "rape and murder someone in Alaska" and to "send him proof of the crimes in the form of "videos and photographs." Brehmer accepted his offer, and over a three week period, the two hatched a plan, via text messaging, that involved the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Brehmer's acquaintance, 19-year-old Cynthia "Cee Cee" Hoffman, a girl with a learning disability that put her mentally at the seventh-grade level. According to the plan, Brehmer and her accomplices would lure Hoffman into a wooded area where the victim would be raped and killed. Denali Brehmer had selected Hoffman because she was trusting and could be easily manipulated. Brehmer also promised to record the heinous crime on her cellphone and transmit the images to Schilmiller.

     To help her commit this atrocious act, and earn the $9 million reward, Denali Brehmer recruited 18-year-old Kayden Bryan McIntosh and Caleb Allen Russell Leyland who was only sixteen.

     On Sunday, June 2, 2019, Brehmer, McIntosh, Leyland, and the intended victim Cynthia Hoffman were in Caleb Leyland's car en route to a park in Chugiak, Alaska not far from Anchorage. After luring Hoffman to a remote spot off the Thunderbird Trail alongside the Eklutna River, Brehmer's accomplices subdued the victim and bound her hands and feet with duct tape. They also placed a strip of tape over Hoffman's mouth. While the victim was being bound, Brehmer, armed with a handgun, looked on.

     Just before the intended rape, Brehmer removed the tape from the victim's mouth at which time Hoffman threatened to go the police if her captors didn't immediately release her, unharmed. That is when Kayden McIntosh took the 9mm pistol out of Brehmer's hand and shot the victim in the head, killing her on the spot.

     Following the senseless and unimaginably cruel murder, Brehmer and the others dumped the dead girl's corpse into the Eklutna River. Caleb Leyland, the 16-year-old, later helped Brehmer destroy the victim's clothing cellphone, and purse.

     Denali Brehmer, as promised, sent Darin Schilmiller a videoed account of the brutal, cold-blooded slaying. And in a move that defied rational thought, Brehmer texted the victim's parents, informing them that their daughter had been murdered. Brehmer then took steps to what she wrongfully thought would delete the text to the victim's parents as well as all of her online communications with the perverted mastermind, "Tyler."

     On Tuesday, June 4, 2019, after police officers recovered Hoffman's body, detectives with the Anchorage Police Department questioned Brehmer and McIntosh. McIntosh immediately confessed to shooting Cynthia Hoffman to death. He said Brehmer had promised him $500,000 of "Tyler's" $9 million reward.

     Brehmer did not deny being at the murder scene, but said she had no idea that McIntosh would shoot the victim.

     On June 6, 2019, detectives executed a search warrant for the contends of Denali Brehmer's cellphone and recovered all of the incriminating material she thought she had deleted.

     The next day, detectives interrogated Brehmer for the second time and on this occasion she confessed fully to the murderous scheme for money. She still didn't realize that "Tyler" was Darin Schilmiller, and that she had been duped into committing a senseless murder.

     On June 9, 2019, FBI agents and officers with the Indiana State Police arrested Schilmiller who provided his captors with a full confession.

     Six suspects, Schilmiller, Brehmer, McIntosh, Leyland and two unidentified juveniles were federally charged. Although he was a juvenile, the prosecutor charged Leyland as an adult. On June 14, the four named suspects were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and numerous lesser charges. Brehmer and Schilmiller were also charged with offenses related to child pornography. According to court records, Brehmer was also accused of raping a 15-year-old girl.

Thornton P. Knowles On The Amish

I like the Amish because they realize that in the scheme of things we are all pretty small, and not that important.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Keep Guns Out Of The Reach Of Children

     Veronica Jean Rutledge lived in Blackfoot, Idaho in the southeastern corner of the state. On December 30, 2014, the 29-year-old mother was visiting relatives in Hayden, Idaho, a town of 13,000 380 miles north of Blackfoot not far from the resort city of Coeur d' Arlene.

     At ten-twenty on that Monday morning, Rutledge, her two-year-old son, and three of her nieces--all under the age of eleven--were shopping at the Walmart store in Hayden. The toddler sat in the shopping cart near his mother's zipped-up purse. What happened next was recorded on a store surveillance camera.

     The boy unzipped the handbag, reached in and pulled out a handgun. The weapon discharged, killing Veronica Rutledge on the spot. She lay dead on a clothing aisle floor near the back of the store.

     The shooting caused an immediate Walmart shutdown. (The store reopened the next day.)

     According to a spokesperson for the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, "a lot of people around here carry loaded guns." This sheriff's official as well as others have told reporters that guns are an important aspect of the local culture. As a result, no one in the community was shocked by the fact Veronica Rutledge carried a loaded gun in her purse. Some people did express concern that the gun was in such close proximity to the child.

    The police did not released details regarding the make and model of the firearm and did not indicate if Rutledge had a permit to carry it. According to news reports, the gun had been a Christmas gift from her husband. In speaking to reporters, the husband expressed anger that his wife's tragic death was being exploited by anti-gun activists.

     In all probability, no one that young has ever shot and killed another person. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Paying People Not To Commit Crimes

Over the years the one thing you can count on is that politicians will come up with some incredibly stupid ideas. Not only that, sometimes these outlandish proposals become law. One idea that belongs in the Stupid Hall of Fame involves paying people not to commit crimes. I guess the idea is to reward good behavior rather than punish bad behavior. So much for the concept that the reward for obeying the law is not being punished for violating it. And how would these payments work? Would one get less for not committing shoplifting and more for not committing murder? Moreover, if a person received say a year's worth of good behavior money, then committed a crime, would the taxpayers get a refund? And the final, bigger question: Can a country survive so much political stupidity and corruption?

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Steven Brooks: A Troubled Politician

     Even in Nevada where hardball politics and corruption often go hand-in-hand, state assemblyman Steven Brooks embarrassed and frightened his fellow politicians. In November 2012, the former Las Vegas city councilman and second-term state legislator, along with a few other democrats in the lower house, tried to unseat the democratic assembly speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick. The speaker fought-off the challenge to her throne, and Brooks, as the leader of the failed insurrection, was relegated to legislative oblivion. As long as Marilyn Kirkpatrick ran the Nevada assembly, Steven Brooks had no future in politics.

     While Steven Brooks never directly threatened speaker Kirkpatrick, in speaking to others, he allegedly indicated his intent to shoot her dead. On January 19, 2013, after word of Brook's threats had reached the speaker, she reported the matter to the Las Vegas police. Visibly upset, Kirkpatrick said she was worried that an armed Brooks would find her and pull the trigger.

     Shortly after talking with speaker Kirkpatrick, officers encountered Brooks in his car at a traffic stop. Brooks informed the police, who asked him to open his trunk, that as a Nevada state assemblyman he could deny them permission to search. When officers lifted the trunk lid they found, in a shoebox, a .357-revolver and 41 rounds of ammunition. In explaining his possession of the firearm and the ammunition, Brooks said he had attended a National Rifle Association seminar for legislators earlier in the day. This turned out to be a lie.

     After seizing the revolver and the ammunition officers arrested assemblyman Brooks on the felony charge of intimidating a public officer with physical force. Released on $100,000 bail, Brooks hired a publicist who set-up a press conference to be held on January 22 in his capitol office in Carson City. Brook's attorney, to the dozen reporters who showed-up for the conference, announced that his client couldn't be present at the press conference because he had been hospitalized with a digestive disorder.

     Three days after the press conference no-show, the Las Vegas police responded to Brook's home on a domestic disturbance call. The officers hauled the assemblyman to a nearby hospital for psychiatric evaluation. The next day, the politician returned home. Insisting that his medical problems were physical and not mental, and proclaiming his innocence to the threat charges, Brooks rejected a suggestion from the assembly leadership that he take a leave of absence.

     On February 10, 2013, the Las Vegas police responded to another domestic disturbance call from the assemblyman's residence. He had allegedly assaulted a member of his family. When officers arrested Brooks outside his house he became combative and before being subdued, grabbed for an officer's gun.

     Charged with domestic battery and obstructing police, officers booked Brooks into the Clark County Detention Center. The judge set his bail at $4,000.

     In March 2013 Brooks became the first lawmaker to be expelled from the Nevada State Legislature.

     In March 2014, ex-Nevada assemblyman Brooks pleaded no contest to evading a police officer and resisting arrest. The judge, pursuant to the plea deal, sentenced him to two years eight months in prison.

     In April 2019, police arrested Brooks again for allegedly starting a fight in a convenience store. He was also charged with threatening to kill Las Vegas police officers. As of this writing, that case is pending.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On His Grandfather's Last Words

My grandfather was the dirtiest of dirty old men. I'm not kidding. When he lay dying surrounded by nurses, his last words were: "Show me your knockers." He died in a Catholic hospital where all the nurses were nuns. A West Virginia coal miner, black lung disease brought him down. He once told me that he didn't fear death because Hell couldn't be any worse than life.  As per his wishes, his corpse was consumed by flame, he didn't have a funeral service, and he wasn't laid to rest in a cemetery. When asked about his ashes, he laughed and said, "Dump them into a pot hole." Grandpa was my favorite relative.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Television, Fast-Food And The Coming Dystopia.

Crime novelist Raymond Chandler put his finger on why television in the 1950s put so many movie theaters out of business and changed the way we live: "Television is really what we've been looking for all our lives. It took a certain amount of effort to go to the movies. Somebody had to stay with the kids. You had to get the car out of the garage. That was hard work. And you had to drive and park. Sometimes you had to walk as far as a half a block to get to the theater. Then people with fat heads would sit in front of you." The birth of television, followed by the ability to control the thing without leaving your chair has produced a nation of couch potatoes with dull minds, poor taste, and fat butts. What's next, the ability to buy unhealthy food, make phone calls, and use the Internet without getting out of your car?

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Retribution

Because our criminal justice system is more civilized than many of the murderers and sex offenders it punishes, our need for retribution is often unfulfilled.

Thornton P. Knowles

Big Time Shoplifting

     A father, mother and daughter from a posh Chicago suburb stole $7 million in merchandise during a decade-long shoplifting spree-traveling to stores nationwide and targeting dolls, toys, cosmetics and other valuables….The three were arrested March 3, 2014 at their $1.3 million Northbrook, Illinois home after returning from a three-day trip through Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, where authorities say they shoplifted from stores. Working in tandem, the family traveled from their Chicago-area residence to hit businesses in many states, including Maryland, Tennessee and Florida….

     Branko Bogdanov, 58, Lela Bogdanov, 52, and their 34-year-old daughter, Julia Bogdanov, are charged with one count each of interstate transportation of stolen property….Lela Bogdanov frequently donned a long black skirt with large compartments sewn on the inside during the alleged shoplifting binges and was caught on surveillance cameras leaving some stores with her skirt looking notably fuller than when she entered….

     An unnamed cooperating witness bought many of the stolen items--which included everything from American Girl dolls and Furby robotic toys to steak knives--at the Bogdanov home, then sold them online through eBay….On their own Bogdanovs directly sold more than $690,000 in stolen merchandise through eBay….[In March 2016, U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood sentenced Branko Bogdanov to four years in prison. The judge sentenced his wife to three years and his daughter to fifteen months behind bars.]

Michael Tarm, "Mom, Dad, Daughter Accused in $7 Millon Shoplift Spree," Associated Press, March 6, 2014 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Writing Pure Nonfiction

It's impossible to write something that is one-hundred percent true. The inherent limitations of language prevents it. The mere act of writing about something alters it.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Anti-College Movement

There is a growing anti-college movement born out of frustration with the mainstream college/university system that features too many useless courses that further professor interests over student interests, fails to prepare students for careers, encourages group think, and costs much more than it is worth. Alternative colleges are popping all over the country, educational programs that replace traditional courses with more personalized studies. Because campus life--fraternities, tailgate parties, dorm living, cafeteria meals--are becoming more than middle class families can afford, more students are acquiring their degrees online. The giant academic bubble is about to burst over clueless professors and college administrators. For many small liberal arts colleges, the end may be near.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Carnivals

Even as a kid I disliked carnivals. I couldn't stand the cloying, flamboyant food, the rigged games of skill, the stomach-turning rides operated by cretans, and the disgusting, depressing freak shows. To me, the carnival embodied extreme sleaziness, cheap thrills, and fraud. Because I'm kind of a sleazy, cheap thrill, fraudulent kind of guy, it's odd I don't like carnivals. I guess life is complex, and frought with contradictions.

Thornton P. Knowles

The False Confession

Confessions that look real can actually be false, even if they're corroborated by informants and forensic science.

Saul Kassin, John Jay College Of Criminal Justice

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Some People Should Not Have Children

     For encouraging their one-year-old daughter to play with a .40-caliber handgun, which was recorded on a mobile phone, an Evansville, Indiana couple are in trouble with the law. Police arrested the young couple on charges of child neglect and recklessness…

     Michael Barnes, the 19-year-old father of the baby, was initially arrested for trying to sell an illegal weapon to an undercover cop. Police eventually discovered the incriminating video in Barnes' cellphone. The baby was playing with the gun, including placing the muzzle into her mouth. The father was recorded encouraging his daughter by saying, "Bang. Bang. Bang. Shoot that thing fat baby."... Tori Wilson, the 22-year-old mother of the child, also instructed the infant to say "Pow. Pow."…

"Indiana Couple Jailed for Filming Toddler With Gun in Mouth," chinatopix.com, January 11, 2015 

Thornton P. Knowles On Taking Creative Chances In Fiction

If you don't have the guts to gamble, to take chances with your creativity, you have no business writing a novel. If you're not a creative risk-taker, go write a feel-good piece for your local newspaper. You know, how Mable down at the library, for her three cats, knitted Christmas sweaters featuring tiny bells and images of Santa stuffing his face with a fruit cake. The piece could be called, "Is Santa Diabetic?" Sorry.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sore Loser Sues Casino

     A businessman who lost $500,000 on table games at a Las Vegas casino on Super Bowl weekend is arguing that he shouldn't have to pay because he was blackout drunk. Southern California gambler Mark Johnston, 52, is suing the Downtown Grand for loaning him the money and serving him drinks when he was visibly intoxicated. Nevada law bars casinos from allowing obviously drunk patrons to gamble and from serving them comped drinks….

     Johnson says he was thoroughly drunk during the hours he spent playing pai gow and blackjack at the Grand. His legal team plans to rely on eyewitness testimony and surveillance video to prove that he was visibly intoxicated. Johnston lives in Ventura and made his fortune in car dealership and real estate ventures.

"Gambler Sues Casino, Says He Lost $500,000 Playing Drunk," CBS, Associated Press, March 6, 2014 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The "Crusading" Journalist

I find much to admire in America's history of crusading journalists, from the pamphleteers to the muckrakers to the New Journalists of the 60s to the best of today's activist bloggers. At their best, their fortitude and passion have stimulated genuine reforms. [Most modern "crusading" journalists, in my view, are nothing more than political hacks posing as journalists. Beware of the so-called crusading journalist. I like the rare journalist who simply reports the facts.]

Bill K. Keller, The New York Times, October 27, 2013

The Creatively Awful Romance Novel

     Novels that are entertainingly bad are rare. To be creatively awful, a work of fiction must be riveting in its stupidity, include hilarious syntax, and be breathtakingly overwrought. One source of such books are romance novels written by profoundly untalented people gifted with the lack of insight into their literary incompetence. Such deliciously horrible writing can be occasionally found in self-published novels or works produced by vanity presses.

     What follows are excerpts from a romance novel written by a prolific author whose identity is not revealed. I've changed characters' names to conceal the identify of this uniquely bad but hilarious piece of writing. The novel is long out of print and I doubt even its author would recognize the following quotes:

Quotes

 "Welcome to your humble abode," a hooded intruder said with a trace of Spanish accent. He was sitting in a chair, facing the door with a revolver in his hand. Dressed casually, he could have been mistaken for a tourist, except for the black hood with holes cut out for the eyes, nose and mouth.

 He barely heard her, his Latin blood boiling and his loins already igniting.

Everyone's face dropped to the ground.

Paul groaned and Jane echoed him. "Oh crap!" she vociferated, causing him to chuckle.

She felt so alone, so energized, and a tiny bit embarrassed as the mental flames of fire overtook her faculties.

If only just one of them could have foreseen the future, the unforeseen might have been averted.

Merely thinking about the possibilities kindled a spark that fanned into a blaze, sweeping through his lower extremities.

However, at the present, her head was in the clouds and her libido was vibrating on a high frequency.

Once inside, Todd made his way to the refrigerator and started pulling out foodstuffs.

"Good luck," came the acrimonious response as Jim waved himself out of the office.

When he returned, Janice was standing in the kitchen whipping up eggs, toast, fruit and coffee.

Nancy stood there wide-eyed, her hand clutching her heart and holding her breath.

The shadowy snake character was such a chameleon that no law agency in the world had a picture of this guy. He was a true master of disguise and slippery as a reptile. He could just slither away into a crowd and change his facade within seconds.

As his nimble fingers toyed with one opulent breast, and then the other, she floated into the land of utopia, never dreaming that making love could be so utterly resplendent.

She wore a Spanish bolero blouse over a pair of loose, pleated slacks, an obvious invitation for debauchery.

Transferring his seed to her was like the dramatization of a celestial awakening, bonding them together for eternal life.

They lay a long time copying each other's facades to memory....

As his lips moved down to her bloated nipples, she responded with intense ardor, courageously searching for his manhood. Would he have to leave the priesthood?    

Shoddy Legal Work

     In October 2008, at the request of the Allegheny County Solicitor (Pittsburgh, PA), the Institute for Law and Policy Planning conducted a study of the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office. In its report, the Institute, citing lost files, delays, lack of training, poor case preparation, and lousy management, concluded that the public defender's office was "dysfunctional" and wasting millions of taxpayers' dollars. This study came three years after the county signed a settlement agreement related to a class action sit filed by the ACLU in 1996 alleging that the public defender's office performed shoddy defense work, had excessive caseloads and lacked trained staff. As a result of this settlement, the office, among other measures, doubled its staff of attorneys and hired thirteen investigators. The settlement ended in 2005, but problems in the public defender's office--lost files, excessive continuances, lack of preparation, management problems, and lack of attorney incentives to perform well--have, according to its critics, continued.

     The quality of legal services for criminal defendants generally, across the country, has for years been classified by critics as inadequate and substandard. Moreover, many jurisprudence scholars think there are too many third-rate law schools and too many unqualified lawyers practicing in the criminal justice system.

     In a recent New York Times article, Clifford Winston, an economist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that the licensing requirement that practicing lawyers must graduate from American Bar Association accredited law schools and pass state bar examinations has not protected clients from shoddy legal work and incompetence. (This article is based on the author's new book, First Thing We Do, Let's Deregulate All The Lawyers) Winston asserts that the licensing requirements/restrictions, rather than insuring professional quality, simply exist to protect lawyers from competition from non-lawyers and firms that are not lawyer-owned, competition that would reduce legal costs (without sacrificing quality) and give the public greater access to legal assistance. Winston writes: "...the existing legal licensing system doesn't even do a great job at protecting clients from exploitation. In 2009, the state disciplinary agencies that cover roughly one million lawyers practicing in the United States received more than 125,000 complaints....But only 800 of these complaints--a mere 0.6 percent--resulted in disbarment."

     In Clifford Winston's deregulated legal profession: "Legal costs would be reduced because non-lawyers, who have not had to make a costly investment in a three-year legal education, would compete with lawyers, who in many states are the only options for basic services like drafting wills. Because they will have incurred much lower costs to enter the field--like taking an online course or attending a vocational school--and can operate as solo practitioners with minimal overhead, these non-lawyers would force prices to fall...."

     As a libertarian, and unlicensed law school graduate, I like Winston's idea. And having witnessed, up close, many lawyers at work, I know how incompetent (and expensive) they can be. But having lived in the real world, I also know that while pigs may someday fly, Winston's vision of a deregulated legal profession will never become reality. And, I must also admit that while para-legal practitioners can write wills, interview potential clients, handle real estate transactions and the like, I would not like one of them defending me against a charge of first-degree murder.

Living With The Dead

     A 94-year-old woman's body may have been in her upstate New York apartment for more than a year before being discovered, despite her daughter living just above her. Police and prosecutors in Fulton County told local reporters that Hope Ruller may have died in her first-floor apartment in Gloversville, New York as long as 14 months before being discovered December 29, 2014 after police received a request from a relative to check on her welfare…

     Officials say the dead woman's daughter lived in the two-story home's upstairs apartment with an adult son…An autopsy was conducted but a cause of death couldn't be determined because of the body's severely decomposed condition. Police say Ruller's death is being treated as suspicious. No arrests have been made….[In May 2015, police arrested Hope Ruller's 60-year-old daughter Mary Kersting on the charge of grand larceny for collecting $13,000 from her dead mother's social security account. Five months later, after pleading guilty, the judge sentenced her to six months in jail.]

"Police: 94-Year-Old Woman Found Dead May Have Died in 2013," Associated Press, January 7, 2015
     

Friday, June 14, 2019

Government And Outlaw Gun Owners

When guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns--the government and a few outlaws. If that happens, you can count me among the outlaws.

Edward Abbey, Postcards From Ed, 2006

Thornton P. Knowles On Becoming A Writer

It takes a lot more work and training to become an electrician, mechanic, carpenter or plumber than to become a writer. To become a writer, all you have to do is sit down and write something. If you make a mistake as an electrician or plumber, it could be a big deal. If you fail as a writer, who cares? My advice: Learn how to do something useful. If you want to write, do it after work, and don't make more of it than it really is.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The High-Tech Cop

     ….As recently as the mid-1980s, a police officer was equipped with the bare basics--an in-car police radio, a pen, notebook, baton and a six-shot revolver with a strip loader and a few extra bullets. Back then many old-timers eschewed bulletproof vests and even hand-held radios, which were just coming into fashion….

     Cops of today have far greater resources at their fingertips, including hardware and software that used to reside at the station house. A police cruiser now typically is equipped with at least one laptop, giving instant access to national criminal databases, as well as portable fingerprint scanners, Breathalyzer units and automatic license-plate-reader technology that can identify stolen cars while cruising down the street, even at high speeds. And while not department issued, personal smart phones and specifically, policing-related apps are expanding officers' one-stop data search capabilities.

     Cops are also toting far more firepower, typically high-caliber semi-automatic pistols and rifles with assorted magazine clips, as well as less-lethal beanbag shotguns and tasers….

Andrew Blankstein, "Meet the Mega Cops: High-Tech Crime Gear Transforms Police Work," NBC News, February 8, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On His Homeless Protagonists

During my career as a novelist, I've dreamed up far more characters than novels to house them. These would-be protagonists roam about homeless in my brain. I'm haunted by the notion I've let them down. Sometimes these characters and I converse. I must be insane.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski On Drinking

When you drank the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn't have you by the throat.

Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Military Involvement in Domestic Law Enforcement

     The U. S. Constitution represents the Founding Fathers' intent to protect Americans against heavy-handed government. Citizens have rights, which include the right to assemble peacefully, the right to speak freely, and the freedom to worship as they please. The Constitution protects against intrusive law enforcement by protecting individual privacy, granting the right against self-incrimination, and providing the right to legal representation. The presumption of innocence, the concept of due process, and limited law enforcement authority protect Americans from tyranny.

     The Founding Fathers also placed limits on the military arm of government. For example, only Congress can fund and declare war (in the last two decades presidents have been declaring war on their own), and the president, a civilian office holder, is commander in chief. By placing military control in the hands of civilians, the Founding Fathers intended to at least discourage military personnel from meddling in civilian governance.

     Notwithstanding the existence of a wide range of procedural civil rights, military involvement in law enforcement, either directly or through highly militarized policing, is counter to the concept of limited government, and is a threat to personal freedom.

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

     These elite paramilitary teams--composed of commanders, tactical team leaders, scouts, rearguards, snipers, flashbang grenade officers, and paramedics--are organized like combat units, and are just as lethal. But unlike troops in actual military combat, SWAT officers don't encounter mortar fire, rockets, homemade bombs, or heavily armed enemy soldiers.

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

     There has been talk about incorporating military drone technology into routine police work. The blurring of the lines between domestic law enforcement and national defense is not a good trend. The continued militarization of American policing will cost all of us our freedoms. 

Big Case Talking Heads: The Art of Second Guessing

     ….Whenever a sensational murder case takes over the headlines…legions of law enforcement specialists populate television shows, providing endless insights, theories, and especially I-would-have-done-it-a-better-way rebuttals concerning the methods being used to solve the crime….

     I have frequently been one of those professional talking heads, giving my forensic two cents' worth on a number of tabloid homicides. It can be, I blush to admit, agreeable to give one's opinion on another person's errors.

Frederick Zugibe, M.D. and David L. Carroll, Dissecting Death, 2005

Book Dedications

A friend of mine spoke of books that are dedicated like this: "To my wife, by whose helpful criticism..." and so on. He said the dedication should really read: "To my wife. If it had not been for her continual criticism and persistent nagging doubt as to my ability, this book would have appeared in Harper's instead of The Hardware Age."

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938  

Thornton P. Knowles On His Story "Twin Kill"

In my short story, "Twin Kill," an estranged couple hires hitmen to kill each other. The contract killers, on the same day, murder their targets. With no eyewitnesses and the murder-for-hire masterminds dead, the investigation dies on the vine. The hitmen, having professionally completed their jobs, move on to other assignments. While many readers took exception to the idea that the hitmen got away with murder, I like the story because the murder-for-hire masterminds got what they deserved.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mass Murder: An Alarming Trend

Everett Brownlow Jr.

    In 2013, Charles Everett Brownlow Jr. lived with his mother Mary Catherine in Terrell, Texas, an east Texas town of 16,000 thirty miles from Dallas. At sixty-one, Ms. Brownlow worked at the Walmart store in nearby Mesquite. Her 36-year-old son, since his youth, had been in trouble with the law. The drug addict and burglar was sentenced to three years in prison in 2008 for possessing a firearm as a felon. He only served seven months of that sentence.  Brownlow, after being convicted of assaulting a family member in 2011 was back on the street in less than a year.

     At five o'clock on the afternoon of Monday, October 25, 2013, Charles Brownlow shot his mother to death execution style in her home. Thirty minutes later, just down the street, he murdered his aunt and set fire to her house. Firefighters found the victim's remains in the debris.

     That night, at ten-thirty, Brownlow shot a young couple. Police found James Wooden and Kelleye Lynnette Sluder dead in their Terrell home. Their three-year-old son was not harmed. (I don't know how Brownlow was connected to these victims.)

     Shortly after Brownlow's third and fourth murders, an off-duty police officer spotted his car parked outside a Terrell convenience store. As the officer pulled into the lot, Brownlow ran out of the store, jumped in his vehicle and sped off.

     Following a high-speed police chase, Brownlow lost control of his car and crashed. Unhurt, he ran into a heavily wooded area east of Dallas. Around midnight, police officers found the fugitive hiding in a creek bed.

     Back at the convenience store, investigators found employee Luis Leal-Carillo shot to death. The 22-year-old victim had worked at the store for three years. The fifth person Brownlow had killed that day left behind a one-year-old son.

     A local prosecutor charged Charles Brownlow with five counts of murder. The magistrate denied him bail.

 Bryan E. Sweatt

     In October 2013, 27-year-old Bryan E. Sweatt, a resident of rural Greenwood County, South Carolina had lost his girlfriend and custody of their seven-month-old daughter. Facing an upcoming burglary trial in which he faced up to twenty-five years in prison, he was about to lose his freedom.  Bryan E. Sweatt had also lost his mind.

     Sweatt's former girlfriend, Chandra Fields, lived in her parents' house on a rural road a few miles south of Greenwood, a town of 23,000 in the northwest part of the state. Recently, deputies with the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office had been summoned to the Fields' home on domestic violence calls involving Sweatt, Chandra, and her parents.

     Bryan Sweatt was not a stranger to local law enforcement. He had an extensive criminal history of burglary, assault, and forgery. He was also a violent self-pitying loser.

     On October 9, 2013, Sweatt expressed his rage, frustration, and hopelessness in an online message that read: "I'm about to lose it. I just want someone to talk to and be here with me so bad. I'm about to just get in the truck and ram it into the biggest pole I can find. Nobody gives a f…about me cuz of what that stupid b-h done [sic] to me. She played me for so long. I can't take it anymore. I've ask [sic] for someone just to be here for me to take my mind off doing something stupid to hurt myself. " [Punctuation added.]

     Sweatt, on October 20, 2013, posted the following angry, angst-ridden message to Chandra Fields: "U don't care and never wanted her [their daughter] to no [sic] me. But always remember its [sic] gonna come back on U when she grows up and thats [sic] what [sic] gonna make her hate U."

     Just before six o'clock on the evening of Tuesday, October 26, 2013, Bryan Sweatt, from Chandra Fields' house, called 911 and said, "I'm stressed out. I'm about to take my life."

     "Do you have a gun?" asked the dispatcher.

     "A 44," Sweat replied with the sounds of a crying woman in the background. Before the 911 dispatcher could ask another question, the phone line went dead. A few minutes after Sweatt's 911 call, a neighbor called 911 to report gunshots coming from the Fields' residence.

     Sheriff's deputies and a local SWAT team responded to the scene. After failing to get a response from anyone inside the house, officers entered the dwelling to find the bodies of four adults and two children. They had all been shot once in the head.

     After murdering Chandra Fields' parents and two of their grandsons, ages nine and eleven, Sweatt executed Chandra then killed himself. Their bodies were found in her bedroom. The parents and the children had been tied up. They also had their mouths duct-taped. Four other children who had been in the house escaped to a neighbor's house. They were not hurt.

     On October 25, 2013, in South Carolina, six people died in a mass murder-suicide. The next day, in Terrell, Texas, Phoenix, Arizona, and Brooklyn, New York, fifteen people were killed in three homicidal rampages. (For accounts of the Phoenix and Brooklyn cases, see: "Saturday Massacres: Two Men Kill Ten People on the Same Day," October 29, 2013.)

     Twenty-one deaths caused by four mass murderers within two days, while perhaps an anomaly, reflects an alarming trend in the nature of American homicide. Instead of being in prisons or mental institutions, violent losers are on the loose, free to take out their rage on family, friends, and society in general.
     

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Clarence Darrow On The Causes Of Crime

Many writers claim that nearly all crime is caused by economic conditions, or in other words, that poverty is practically the whole cause of crime. Endless statistics have been gathered on this subject which seems to show conclusively that property crimes are largely the result of the unequal distribution of wealth. But crime of any class cannot be ascribed to a single cause. Life is too complex, heredity is too variant and imperfect, too many separate things contribute to human behavior to make it possible to trace all actions to a single cause.

Clarence Darrow

Thornton P. Knowles On How Many College Graduates Read Books

I read somewhere that a high percentage of college graduates never read another book once they're out of school. From my experience in academia, I don't think most of them read a book when they are in college. America is not a very literary society and never has been. I don't know the effect of this, but I don't think it's good.

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, June 8, 2019

The Numbers Racket

If there is one business that most mob men cherish above all others, it is the numbers. The numbers is easily one of the most beautiful things ever invented. It is simple to set up, simple to run, almost risk-free, and incredibly profitable. Like me, most mob members look upon the numbers with nostalgia, because it is the first thing they ever did in crime. [I doubt that criminals look upon anything with nostalgia. State lotteries have essentially replaced the numbers racket. States that once declared gambling--they call it "gaming"-- immoral and illegal, now encourage it.]

Joey in Joey The Hitman (with David Fisher) 2002

The Cost of Freedom and Who Has It

Freedom in America works best for those who can afford it. As the fellow said in The Grapes of Wrath, "You're just as free as you've got Jack to pay for it." It is not as much an idea as a commodity. It is not as much a liberated state of being as it is an item on the shelf that, along with the purchaser, may be purchased. It is not as much a right as a component of commerce.

Gerry Spence, From Freedom to Slavery, 1993

Friday, June 7, 2019

Sherlock Holmes on the Power of Knowledge

A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library where he can get it if he wants.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Five Orange Pips."

Thornton P. Knowles On The Criminology Of Ugly

I met a criminologist at an academic conference who had applied for a government grant to determine if unattractive men were more likely to commit crimes. He wanted to examine thousands of mugshots and visit several high security prisons. I asked this criminologist how he defined, for purposes of his study, who was homely. He said, "homely is like pornography, you know it when you see it." The government denied him the grant. So, I guess we'll never know the ugly truth regarding physical appearance and crime.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Combat Journalism

     Combat journalists don't engage in fighting; rather, they're journalists who cover various armed conflicts first-hand. They may be writers, photographers, photojournalists or broadcast journalists, or a combination. They also have been called war correspondents or embedded journalists when they live and work alongside a combat unit. In their determination to report accurately on the fighting, and, often the politics associated with it, combat journalists risk their lives…

     Up until the Vietnam War, there was an understanding between war corespondents and the U.S. government that certain military information wouldn't be reported. Correspondents in Vietnam, however, believed the public deserved to hear and see all that was going on. With faster technology and a television in every home, the war was brought into American living rooms on a daily basis. U.S. decisions weren't always presented in a positive light. Thus the debate began over how much access war correspondents should have to information, military tactics and the actual fighting.

     During the Gulf War in 1991, journalists were only permitted to travel in a "pool" and taken to certain locations where they were allowed to film and report. Journalists resented this staged environment, however, and began to sneak into unauthorized areas to report. In 1992, the major media representatives and Pentagon officials agreed to a compromise--to "embed" journalists in combat units. The journalists, under this arrangement, could report as they saw fit…

     Successful combat journalists have solid reporting skills honed by experience and a passion for doing what it takes to get the story despite the dangerous and hostile conditions they may encounter. A minimum four-year degree in journalism with an emphasis on news reporting or photojournalism, plus classes in global journalism are good preparations for this job. Another way to enter the field is through the military as a combat reporter or battle correspondent. After a basis journalism course, correspondents learn on the job and are then assigned to a location. The experience gained can lead to a reporting job after leaving the military.

Barbara Bean-Mellinger, "Definition of Combat Journalists," work.chron.com, 2014 

The Shoe Thief

     A Memphis man appeared in court on December 7, 2014 nearly a month after stealing a shipment of then unreleased Nike LeBron 12 shoes. The haul included 7,500 pairs of shoes with a total retail value of $1.5 million…The alleged culprit, Charles Jennings of Memphis, Tennessee, used his access as an employee of Intermodal Cartage Group, a trucking company, to gain entry into a company lot and drive off with a truck filled with the shoes.

     Mark Dunbar, assistant chief of the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said Jennings knew what he was doing when he made off with the truck…"He had a pretty good idea of what he had," Dunbar said. "They were Nikes, and they were more valuable in that they hadn't been released yet." [Books are "released," movies are released. Now shoes?]

     Jennings was arrested shortly after he sold 700 pairs of the shoes….

"Man Allegedly Steals $1.5 Million of Nike LeBron 12 Shoes," bleacherreport.com, December 9, 2014

Thornton P. Knowles On The Pursuit Of Happiness

The blind West Virginia poet and short story writer, Snazzy Toy-Toy, once wrote that pursing happiness, an emotion that in reality doesn't exist, was as futile as a blind man trying to image a rainbow. As someone who has never experienced what people call happiness, I agree with Mr. Toy-Toy. I think that a lot of despair, an emotion I do believe in, comes from the hopeless pursuit of a nonexistent emotion. If you want to be happy about something, be happy you're not sad. That's about as good as it gets.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Role of the CIA and the Mob in the JFK Assassination

     Attorney General Robert Kennedy was not a believer in the lone gunman theory. Like many Americans, he could not accept that a man as ordinary as Lee Harvey Oswald could have acted alone in assassinating the president of the United States, his brother John F. Kennedy.

     Who did he suspect was part of the plot? "Apparently Bobby Kennedy's first suspicion was that it was some rogue element of the CIA," said Philip Shenon, author of a new book on the JFK assassination. But after an intimate meeting with CIA Director John McCone, the president's brother was convinced the agency was not involved. He lived the rest of life suspecting that the Mafia or the Cubans were behind his brother's death, according to Shenon's book, A Cruel and Shocking Act.

Evan Burgos, "An Inside Job: CIA a Suspect for Some in JFK's Killing," NBC News 

Thornton P. Knowles On Author Impersonation

I often feel like an impersonator. At writer conferences when I meet crime fiction fans they seem underwhelmed. Once my book is published I lose touch with it and don't feel like its author. For me, it's not a good idea to meet the readers of my books. It leads to confusion and disappointment. After  book signings, for example, I'm depressed and filled with self-loathing. I write to write, not to play the role of author. That kind of thing is for media whores like Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Norman Mailer.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Fourth Graders Plot Teacher Poisoning

     In December 2014, three fourth-graders in a New York elementary school plotted to kill their teacher with hand sanitizer. The 9-year-old students at the Elba Elementary school in upstate New York, allegedly told fellow students they were going to kill their teacher "by putting antibacterial products around the classroom."…They knew the teacher was extremely allergic to hand sanitizer…The plot was foiled when a fellow student told his parents about the plan…

     Police found little motive for the scheme beyond the fact the children said the teacher was mean…Authorities considered the plot to be "idle chatter" and did not charge the students with crimes. The matter was referred to school district officials who said they would treat the threats "very seriously."

"Fourth Graders at NY School Plotted to Kill Teacher," foxnews.com, January 11, 2015 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Battered Wife Syndrome

     Traditionally, courts have not recognized the battered-wife syndrome as a valid defense in homicide trials in which a battered wife kills her abusive husband at time when she is not being attacked. To successfully employ self-defense in a homicide case, the defendant must prove by a preponderence of the evidence that deadly force was necessary to avoid the imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death. Under standard self-defense rationale, the careful planning and execution of an abusive husband's death is first-degree murder. (Crime historians believe that before the science of toxicology, wives were able to dispatch abusive husbands by slowly poisening them to death.)

     For years activists concerned with domestic violence have lobbied courts and legislatures to make the battered-wife syndrome a valid murder defense in cases where the defendant was not in immediate danger of serious bodily injury or death.

CASES

Queens, New York

     In 2008, 47-year-old Barbara Sheehan shot and killed her abusive husband, the retired New York City police sergeant she had been married to for twenty-four years. Charged with first-degree murder, Sheehan went on trial in September 2011. The defendant took the stand and described years of marital abuse and terror.

     According to the Sheehan prosecution, the morning the defendant killed her husband, she was on the computer looking for travel bargains. The assistant district attorney called the killing a "self-serving execution." On October 5, after deliberating three days, the jury found Sheehan not guilty. Proponents of the battered-wife defense see this case as a referendum on this issue. The Sheehan acquital raises a difficult legal question: Is the premeditated killing of someone who will hurt you in the future self-defense or first-degree murder?

Memphis, Tennessee

     In 1985, Gaile Owens hired a hitman to kill her abusive husband. Found guilty of first-degree murder, she was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection. Last July the governor of Tennessee commuted her sentence to life in prison. In September 2011, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole released Owens from prison after twenty-six years behind bars. The hitman is still serving his time for the contract killing. Notwithstanding the fact that no crime is more cold-blooded than murder-for-hire, the general feeling in Tennessee is that Gaile Owen's sentence of death, under the circumstances, exceeded her crime.

     The message here may be this: If you're a battered woman, call for help. Do not call a hitman. But if you do, and get caught, call the lawyer who represented Barbara Sheehan.   

The Killing Of Anwar al-Awlaki: Justified Or Murder-For-Hire?

     If Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric accused of playing a role in a failed plot to bomb two cargo planes in 2010 had been shot in the United States by a police officer instead of being taken out by a drone in Yeman, would the shooting, under standard deadly force law, be legally justified? Under the legal rationale that al-Awlaki, at the time of his death, had not posed an imminent threat to anyone, probably not. Could he have been taken into custody without the use of deadly force? We'll never know. Did the government have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that al-Awlaki was a terrorist? We'll never know because al-Awlaki didn't get his day in court, a right given to all American citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

     So, if al-Awlaki wasn't killed in self-defense, or in the field of battle, how could his killing be legally justified? The only way I can think of is pursuant to the battered-wife syndrome which a few juries have recently equated with self-defense, even though the defendant, at the time of the homicidal act, wasn't under an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death. These defendants were acquitted of murder because of what their allegedly abusive husbands may have done to them in the future. So President Obama, in the role of the mastermind in a murder-for-hire trial, could argue that he had ordered al-Awlaki's hit to prevent him from committing future violence against America.

     As one who is not comfortable with killing people in cold-blood for acts they may or may not commit in the future, I'm not a big fan of the battered-wife syndrome. And I'm uneasy, to say the least, about the way President Obama dispatched this American accused of terrorism. If the al-Awlaki killing isn't a case of unjustified murder-for-hire, what is? 

Pay-to-Pee: Stupidity In Lower Education

     Two Vancouver, Washington third graders said they wet their pants after their teacher would not let them use the bathroom. The students, both girls, said the reason for the denial was that they hadn't accumulated enough pretend money to pay for the privilege. The unidentified teacher will not be punished as a result of an internal investigation of the incident by representatives of the teacher's union. A separate investigation of the incident has been triggered by a mother's complaint….

     The alleged incidents occurred May 15 at Mill Plain Elementary School. The pretend money is designed to teach students about the value of money. [Here's an idea: to demonstrate the value of money, the teacher can refuse to pay her union dues. The next day, the students can discuss the lesson with their new teacher.] Students earn the fictional funds by doing their homework, for example, or by being nice to others. [In real life you don't get paid for that.] They can spend it to buy pizza [take that, Mrs. Obama!] or pointless items like a squirt gun. [If a kid brings this purchase to school, he'll need real money for bail.] Students say they must also use the fake cash to pay for bathroom breaks.

     The unidentified teacher expects a seemingly high imaginary price for toilet time: $50. [Hey, if you ever had the urgent need to go, $50 is peanuts. If this teacher were smart, she'd charged the little buggers real money for bathroom breaks.]

     A statement by Evergreen Public Schools said that all students, including students who don't have enough fake money are allowed to use the bathroom in cases of an emergency. [Really?]

Eric Owens, "Pay-To-Pee Teacher Faces No Discipline," The Daily Caller, May 25, 2014   

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Dr. Arnold Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Greenwood, Mississippi, attorney Lee Abraham got wind of a murder-for-hire plot against him by two husbands of women he had represented several years before in a pair of divorce cases. The attorney had reason to believe that a local physician, 70-year-old Dr. Arnold Smith, and a 54-year-old brickmason named William Paul Muller, were the masterminds behind the plan to kill him. Apparently these men still hated the lawyer who had won settlements for their wives. Instead of moving on with their lives, they wanted revenge.

     On Saturday night, April 28, 2012, two agents with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office who were investigating the case were in Abraham's office talking to him about the alleged murder plot. That night, 23-year-old Keaira Byrd and his 25-year-old accomplice Derrick Lacy burst into the law office. (According to some reports, the agents knew the hit men were coming and were waiting for them.) Byrd, armed with an assault rifle, and wearing a ski mask, fired the first shot. The agents returned fire, killing Byrd on the spot. Derrick Lacy was shot in the lower back. One of the attorney general agents received a minor wound. Attorney Abraham, the target of the hit, escaped injury.

     Derrick Lacy, as he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told an investigator that he had overheard Dr. Smith offer Keaira Byrd money to kill the lawyer.

     The day after the shootings, a Leflore County prosecutor charged the oncologist and the brickmason with conspiracy to commit murder. The arraignment magistrate denied Dr. Smith bail. William Paul Muller paid his $250,000 bond and was released. On his Facebook page, Mr. Muller proclaimed his innocence.

     Following Dr. Smith's arrest, his attorney arranged to have him evaluated by a mental health expert who concluded that the physician was not mentally competent to stand trial. In January 2013, in response to the prosecution's request, Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ordered Dr. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     Because of institutional overcrowding, a hospital bed for Dr. Smith didn't become available until June 4, 2013. (Mississippi must have a serious problem with mental illness.)

     On October 8, 2014, Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Dr. Arnold Smith mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that the 71-year-old physician be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     As of December 2015, no trial date had been set regarding suspects William Paul Muller and Derrick Lacy. Another man, Cordarious Robinson, had been charged with conspiracy to murder attorney Abraham. Prosecutors believe that Robinson helped hire Keaira Byrd for the hit.

     In November 2016, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ordered that Dr. Smith be transferred from the the state hospital to a private facility, the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, where he would receive treatment as an out patient. The transfer was based on the diagnoses of a pair of Tulane University psychiatrists. As an out patient, Dr. Smith would be allowed to live in his Jackson home with his current wife.

     The alleged murder-for-hire target, attorney Lee Abraham, filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Smith that is scheduled for trial in March 2017.

     The criminal case against the alleged murder-for-hire hit man and his accomplices has not, as of December 2016, gone to trial. The same is true regarding the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind Dr. Arnold Smith who is presumably mentally fit to face conspiracy to murder charges as well as a felony-murder doctrine charge related to Kearia Byrd's police involved shooting death.   

Novelist Written Short Stories

Story collections from novelists sometimes give readers the sense that the author has dug up several half-finished, long abandoned works from graduate school, dusted them off, revived them, then cauterized them with an ending.

Susan Dominus

Incarcerated Mother of Truant Kids Dies in Jail

     A mother of seven children who was sentenced to 48 hours in jail for her children's excessive truancy violations died during her sentence….Eileen Dinino, 55, died on Saturday, June 10, 2014 in a cell at the Berks County Jail in Reading, Pennsylvania….She died one day into her two-day sentence.

     Initial autopsy reports indicate that the cause of death was natural. However, the coroner is still waiting for toxicology tests to come back.

     The number of truancy violations charged to Dinino because her kids played hooky was the same as her age: 55. They had been accumulating since 1999. Under Pennsylvania law, parents can go to jail for five days for every single time their kids have an unexcused school absence. Dinino had the option to pay $2,000 in fines but she couldn't afford it….

     The sentencing judge, Dean R. Patton, said he sentenced the mother to jail reluctantly. He later criticized the sentencing guidelines he said he was required to follow….Local politicians have also expressed outrage about Dinino's death.…Since 2000, according to the Associated Press, more than 1,600 people have gone to jail in Berks County because of truancy violations and an inability to pay the resulting fines. [In March 2016, the heirs of Eileen Dinino settled a federal lawsuit against Berks County for an undisclosed amount.]

Eric Owens, "Mom of Seven Died in Prison After Judge Jailed Her For Her Kids' Excessive Truancy," The Daily Caller, June 14, 2014

How Sex With Your English Teacher Can Improve Your Grammar

     Hey kids! You want great grades, right? Well, a high school student in rural Oklahoma has figured out a surefire way to make it happen: just have sex with your English teacher. First-year English teacher Kalyn Thompson has been charged with second-degree rape for allegedly having a series of sexual escapades with one of her male students….

     Police say the Kellyville High School teacher gave the unidentified student a stellar 98-percent, straight A grade after their relationship took off. He had been flunking English just the semester before. The teenager was 18 at the time of the hanky-panky. Investigators know of at least two sexual encounters between the young lovers--one beside a lake and the other at the Renaissance Hotel in Tulsa… [An excellent hotel name for a young lad's sexual enlightenment.]

     The age of sexual consent in Oklahoma is 16. However, a separate state law forbids teachers from having sex with current or former students until the students have reached the ripe, old age of 21….As all teacher-sex relationships start these days, this one allegedly began through flirtatious text messages. The student was 17 at the time….

     A couple of Kellyville students saw Thompson siting in the student's truck around town. They snapped photos and took the images to school officers, who contacted the police. Thompson turned herself in to the authorities on Monday morning, May 12, 2014. She was released on bond. [In August 2015, pursuant to her guilty plea to second-degree rape, the judge sentenced Thompson to one year in jail. She would also have to register as a sex offender.]

Eric Owens, "Cops Say Rural Oklahoma Teacher Gave Flunking Student 98 Percent After Having Sex With Him," The Daily Caller, May 14, 2014 

Teacher Takes 11 Kids to Walmart in Honda

     The school board in Catoosa, Oklahoma fired Wells Middle School teacher Heather Cagle on December 17, 2014 because she stuffed eleven students into her Honda Accord and drove them to a nearby Walmart to buy some snacks. Cagle managed this impressive feat on Tuesday October 21, 2014. The students ranged in ages 12 to 15.

     Two of the students sat in the front passenger seat. Seven students sat in the backseat. Two 12-year-old girls rode in the trunk. The distance from Wells Middle School to the Walmart Supercenter in the Tulsa suburb of Catoosa is 295 feet and includes no major roads…Most of the drive took place in parking lots. [Don't people walk anymore? What kid wouldn't walk the distance of a football field for a snack?]…

     The 10-year veteran math teacher and yearbook advisor said she made the poor decision because she wanted to do "something sweet" for her yearbook staff…Cagle's attorney, Richard O'Carroll, disagreed with the school board's decision. "It wasn't the best judgement," he said. "She went 100 yards on an empty road through a parking lot. No one was hurt."

Eric Owens, "Teacher Fired For Stuffing 11 Kids in Honda Accord For Trip to Walmart," The Daily Caller, December 20, 2014  

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Deandre Doesn't Like Cops

     A man hit a deputy in the head, knocking her unconscious Friday January 2, 2015 at the security-screening area of a courthouse in downtown Detroit. Deandre Wilson, 29, of Westland, Michigan, was immediately arrested. Crystal Dominguez, a deputy with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office with seven years on the force, was taken to Detroit Receiving Hospital…

     Wilson, accused of assaulting a police officer in Taylor, Michigan five weeks ago, was free on bond. He entered the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice that morning accompanied by a social worker. Wilson had taken off his jacket to go through screening, and shortly after putting it back on, hit the deputy with an open hand. It is unclear if the strike knocked Dominguez out or she hit her head on the floor…Other deputies subdued Wilson who wasn't armed or carrying any prohibited items. He faced another charge of assaulting a police officer.

"Man Slaps Deputy Unconscious in Courthouse Entryway," The Detroit Free Press, January 2, 2015 

Owning a "Printed Book"

As the virtual world becomes more dominant, owning books becomes an act of rebellion. When a printed book is in your possession, no one can track, alter or hack it.

Ramin Bahrani