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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

The First Date From Hell

     Efren Molina experienced a smaller scale but real-life version of what Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas went through in the classic thrillers, "Play Misty For Me" (1971), and "Fatal Attraction" (1987). In both films, Eastwood and Douglas scored quickly with women they didn't know who turned out to be violent psychopaths extremely adverse to rejection.

     On Tuesday evening, November 20, 2012, 39-year-old Efren Molina, a week after meeting Jillian Martone, took the 35-year-old out to dinner in Boca Raton, Florida. It was their first date. Following food and drinks, the couple returned to Molina's apartment.

     Shortly after midnight, things turned ugly when Martone referred to herself as Molina's girlfriend. Taking exception to that characterization of their relationship, he corrected her. She flew into a rage. Molina asked his date to leave the apartment, but instead of stomping out of the place, Martone allegedly punched him in the face, then tried to stab him with a kitchen knife.

     After disarming the furious woman, Molina told Martone to leave his apartment. She refused. Molina and his roommate had to drag the screaming woman down the stairs and out of the building. Moline returned to his apartment and called the police.

     Before the police arrived at the scene, Martone threw two rocks that smashed Molina's apartment window. When officers with the Boca Raton arrived at the scene, they found a hysterical Martone still outside Molina's building.  After questioning Molina and Martone, the police took the woman into custody.

     Martone was charged with aggravated assault with intent to kill, battery, and burglary. (Why burglary? Once she refused to leave the apartment, Martone became an intruder.)

     This was not the first time Jillian Martone had run afoul of the law. In January 2011, she had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and causing a public disturbance. Three months later, the police took her into custody on charges of DUI and possession of a harmful drug without a prescription.

     While first dates are risky, and don't always turn out well, not many end up with bloody faces, broken windows, and hysterical women being hauled off to jail on charges of aggravated assault. It could have been worse. Who knows what would have happened had there been a second date. (I have been unable to determine the disposition of this case, but will venture a guess that the criminal charges were dropped in exchange for some kind of mental health treatment.)   

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. 

Prison Health Care: Providing the Best For The Worst

     There is something profoundly wrong with a government that provides convicted felons with better health care than it does to many sick people who haven't committed crimes against their fellow citizens. Perhaps this is what happens when a criminal justice system is organized around the idea of protecting the defendant. In Massachusetts, for example, a judge ordered the state to finance the sex change of a man who had murdered his wife. If Robert Kosilek hadn't strangled his wife to death, taxpayers would not have been forced to pay the cost of changing him into a female.

     In 2005, a judge in California, after determining that prison health in that state was unconstitutionally substandard, granted a so-called "receiver" the power to hire state medical personnel and set their pay levels. In 2004, the prison health care bill cost California taxpayers $1.1 billion. In 2012, the cost of providing California inmates quality health care cost the state $2.3 billion. Between 2005 and 2012, the number of California prison system health care workers--doctors, nurses, dentists, physical therapists, and psychiatrists--jumped from 5,100 to 12,000. The system also employed 1,400 health care paper shufflers.

     In 2011, 44 of California's highest paid employees worked in the prison health care system. A psychiatrist who worked at the Salinas Valley State Prison, made $803,271 in 2012. (This shrink must  have been good.) A prison doctor in northern California made, in 2011, a base salary of $239,572 plus $169,548 in overtime for working nights and weekends. A registered nurse at the High Desert State Prison pulled down $246,000 that year. In bankrupt California, when it comes to health care, nothing is too good for the state's 124,700 state prison inmates. (These prison health care expenses don't cover the tens of thousands of county jail prisoners throughout the state.)

     Since 2006, heroin addicted inmates at Albuquerque's Metropolitan Detention Center, New Mexico's largest jail, have been treated with methadone to ease the trauma of withdrawal. Warden Ramon Rustin, in November 2012, announced that the $10,000-a-month program was too expensive, that the taxpayers of his county simply couldn't afford this in-jail drug treatment measure. Rustin, the former warden of the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 32 years experience in the corrections field, said he didn't believe the costly program helped drug-addicted inmates stay out of jail once they were released.

     A month after Warden Rustin's effort to save the county serious money, the  county ccommissioners ordered him to extend the program two months during which time a study of its effectiveness would be conducted. (This is typical government. In the private sector, studies of cost-effectiveness are ongoing, and if a measure wastes money, it's immediately cut.) The county also received $200,000 a year from the state to help fund its methadone program.

     When a person commits a crime that is serious enough to land him in prison, any health care he or she receives while in custody should be treated as a privilege rather than a constitutional right. The rule should be this: If you want good health care, don't murder anyone, rob a store, break into a home, beat your wife and children, or commit a sexual assault. If good health is your priority, exercise, quit smoking, eat right, and stay off drugs and booze. Also, get a job. If you feel the need to switch genders while in prison, fine, but you don't deserve to have law obeying taxpayers foot the bill.

     In the United States, when it comes to health care, crime pays, and at the huge expense of the law obeying tax payer. (Here's an idea, if you get sick and need an expensive operation you can't afford, but don't want to rob a bank or kill someone, stop paying your taxes.)  

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

Actor Lillo Brancato's Role In A Police Officer's Murder

     In 1993 a 17-year-old actor from the Borough of Yonkers in New York City named Lillo Brancato Jr. starred with Robert DeNiro in the movie "A Bronx Tale." Brancato, in 2000, appeared as a minor character in the HBO series "The Sopranos."

     On December 10, 2005, Brancato and an accomplice, Steven Armento, broke a window at an unoccupied home in Pelham Bay, Queens. The 29-year-old actor and Armento were looking for drugs.

     Daniel Enchautegui lived next door to the house Brancato and Armento were breaking into. The 28-year-old New York City patrolman with three years on the force had just arrived home following his 8  PM to 4 AM shift. When the officer heard the sound of breaking glass he called 911 and went outside to investigate. It was 5:15 in the morning.

     Steven Armento, when confronted by Enchautegui, shot the officer in the chest. Enchautegui returned fire, wounding both of the intruders. Physicians at the Jacobi Medical Center pronounced the police officer dead.

     Brancato and Armento went to trial in 2008. A jury found Armento guilty of first-degree murder. A judge, in 2009, sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole.

     At Brancato's trial, the defendant admitted being in Queens that morning with Steven Armento. The two men broke into the unoccupied house to score drugs. Brancato testified that he was going through heroin withdrawal that day.

     Pursuant to the felony-murder doctrine, if a person is killed during the commission of a felony all of the participants of the crime can be held culpable for the death. Under the law, the fact Brancato wasn't the one who pulled the trigger did not exempt him from legal responsibility for the officer's killing.

     The jury acquitted Brancato of burglary and felony-murder. They did find him guilty of attempted burglary. The judge sentenced Brancato to ten years in prison. (The judge gave him credit for the three years he spent in jail prior to his trial.)

     Lillo Brancato, on December 31, 2013, after agreeing to a five-year period of parole that included a 10 PM curfew, walked out of the Hudson Correctional Facility six months early. Had he served his full term, the 37-year-old would have been freed without parole conditions.

     Brancato's early release angered members of the New York City Police Department as well as relatives of the slain police officer. In speaking to reporters a spokesperson for the New York Patrolman's Benevolent Association said: "It is our firm belief that Lillo Brancato is guilty of the murder of police officer Daniel Enchautegui even though he was only convicted of attempted burglary."

     Enchautegui's sister, Yolanda Rosa, said, "I'm still upset that Brancato was not convicted of murder and that he did not serve enough time."

    In 2018, Brancato starred in a Netflix documentary, "Wasted Talent," that chronicles his time in prison, his decision to get off heroin, and his struggle to redeem himself.

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

The Anthony Baye Arson-Murder Case

     Between December 27, 2009 and January 4, 2010, an arsonist in Northhamton, Massachusetts torched more than 40 homes. It was the biggest crime spree in the history of the town. One of the Ward 3 neighborhood fires took the lives of 81-year-old Paul Yeskie and his son Paul, Jr. who was 39. Police officers patrolling Ward 3 during the early morning hours on four of the arson-pleagued nights, pulled over a vehicle driven by 26-year-old Anthony P. Baye. These investigative stops did not result in Baye's arrest.

     Anthony Baye was brought in for questioning on January 4, 2010 by Massachusetts State Police sergeant Paul Zipper and Trooper Michael Mazza. After he was warned of his Miranda rights to remain silent, and have access to an attorney, Baye asked to speak to a lawyer. The officers, instead of terminating the interrogation at that point, informed Baye that he would be better off speaking to them first. They assured him that if he took responsibility for setting the fires, the judge would go easy on him. Utilizing the age-old confession inducing technique (developed by Fred Inbau in the 1930s) of minimizing the seriousness and immorality of the crimes (referring to the arsons as "tomfoolery"), the troopers got Baye to admit setting 15 of the fires.

     While Anthony Baye didn't come out and admit setting fire that killed the Yeskies, he did say he never meant to do them any harm. In soliciting the arson-murder confession, one of the interrogators misrepresented the criminal law when he assured Baye that if he hadn't intended to kill the Yeskies, he could not be charged with felony-murder. (Under Massachusetts law, if Baye had intended to set the fire which inadvertently led to their deaths, he was guilty of criminal homicide under the felony-murder doctrine.)

     Following the ten hour, videotaped interrogation, the state troopers took Baye into custody. The local prosecutor charged him with two counts of first-degree murder and several counts of arson. Given the seriousness of the crimes, Baye was not granted bail.

     Baye's attorneys, Thomas Lesser and David Hoose, on grounds the state interrogators had violated their client's Fifth and Six Amendment rights by not discontinuing the interrogation and providing him with an attorney when he requested one, filed a motion to suppress the confession.

     On September 21, 2011, Hampshire Superior Court Judge Constance B. Sweeney heard arguments on the defendant's motion to suppress. At the conclusion of the pre-trial hearing, Judge Sweeney, while expressing reservations regarding the troopers' interrogation techniques, ruled Baye's confession voluntary and therefore admissible. The defense appealed Judge Sweeney's ruling to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which agreed to rule on the admissibility of Baye's confession before rather than after his trial.

     On May 21, 2012, the Massachusetts Supreme Court Justices ruled the Baye confession had not been given voluntarily and was therefore inadmissible as evidence against him. Although the justices didn't specifically rule on the issue of whether continuing the interrogation after Baye requested an attorney rendered it inadmissible, the constitutional law on this issue was settled. In the Baye case, the state interrogators had clearly violated Baye's Miranda rights. Under Miranda, a confession can be inadmissible even though it was given voluntarily. Once a suspect exercises his Miranda rights, the interrogation must stop. Anything said by the suspect after this point is not admissible evidence regardless of the fact no coercion was involved.

     One year after the court ruled Baye's confession inadmissible, the defendant, pursuant to an agreed upon plea agreement, pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter. On May 15, 2013, the Hampshire Superior Court judge sentenced Anthony P. Baye to twenty years in prison followed by fifteen years of probation.

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

The Edward and Marilyn Bagley Sex Slave Torture Case

     Let's face it, there are people on this earth who shouldn't have been born. They include serial killers, pedophiles, child pornographers, and a small group of perverts who physically torture unwilling victims for sexual pleasure. Whether or not these sexual deviants are born or made is irrelevant. They are among us, and by the time one of them is caught and brought to justice, the harm has been done. When you read about the crimes of moral degenerates like Edward Bagley and his despicable wife Marilyn, you become a bit of a sadist yourself. It's hard not to imagine these people smoldering on electric chairs, or clawing at their necks as they swing from ropes. (Lethal injection is far less satisfying.) In the end, we are frustrated because our criminal justice system is more civilized than the criminals it punishes. We have to live with the fact that these monsters of cruelty never get what's coming to them. In the world of sadistic sex crimes, there is no such thing as justice.

     Edward and Marilyn Bagley, a pair of practicing sexual sadists, lived in a trailer home surrounded by woods near Lebanon, Missouri in the western part of the state. In December 2002, when Ed was 35 and his wife 37, the Bagleys took in a mentally deficient 16-year-old foster home runaway. (The girl was identified by the FBI as FV or Female Victim.) Proudly calling himself "Master Ed," Bagley and his wife promised the girl a better life that featured a career in modeling and dancing. While FV was still a minor, Ed made her model "slave clothes," provided her with marijuana and ecstasy, and repeatedly raped her. Master Ed informed the girl that she was being trained and groomed to be a sex slave. In that regard, he forced her to sign a life-time sex slave contract that she believed was legally binding.

     Between February 2004 and February 2009, Master Ed and his accomplice spouse used a crank telephone to electrocute the girl's private parts, flogged her, sewed-up and pierced parts of her body, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, made her watch as they shot her beloved pets, and threatened to bury her alive in the woods behind the trailer. The pathologically cruel couple even waterboarded FV, and nailed parts of her body to slabs of wood. To mark her as their property, Ed tattooed a barcode on his captive's neck, and tattooed the Chinese symbol of a slave on one of her ankles.

     The Bagleys published FV's torture sessions on live Internet webcasts for the enjoyment of other sexual monsters willing to pay a fee for the thrill of watching a young woman suffer. A sadist in his later twenties from St. Louis named Bradley Cook watched these pornographic obscenities on his computer, downloaded photographs of FV, and forwarded to the Bagleys images of his own sex slave activity. Sixty-year-old Michael Stokes, a California connoisseur of the sadistic arts, traveled to the Bagley torture chamber where he paid for the opportunity to inflict his own brand of pain on the hapless victim. Stokes, at a cost of $1,000, transported the Bagley sex slave to his home on the west coast where he subjected her to a pornographic photo-shoot, and various deviate sexual assaults. The torture session cost Stokes an extra $300.

     Beginning in June 2007, the Bagleys forced their 21-year-old slave to work as a stripper and exotic dancer in several of the region's adult entertainment clubs. Whenever FV failed to be a club's top monthly earner, the Bagleys punished her with extra beatings and acts of sexual depravity.

     FV's seven-year ordeal came to an end in February 2009 when the young woman required emergency medical treatment and hospitalization after the Bagleys' excessive electrical shocking led to cardiac arrest. Shortly after FV's near-death experience, the FBI entered the case.

     In September 2010, a federal grand jury sitting in Kansas City, Missouri indicted the Bagleys for commercial sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking involving aggravated sexual abuse. The first charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison without parole. The second, life without the chance of parole. Several months later, the feds indicted Michael Stokes and Bradley Cook for their roles in the Bagley sex slave conspiracy. The grand jury also returned indictments against 52-year-old Dennis Henry, and James Noel, 47. Both of these degenerates had participated in FV torture sessions.

     Early in 2012, Stokes, Cook, Henry, and Noel pleaded guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. On December 6, 2012, Marilyn Bagley, now 47, pleaded guilty in a Kansas City federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit commercial sex trafficking. In return for her plea, the judge sentenced Marilyn Bagley to a probated sentence.

     On January 15, 2013, Edward Bagley, faced with the realization that Michael Stokely and the other perverts had agreed to testify against him, pleaded guilty to one count of using an interstate facility to entice a minor into illegal sexual conduct.

     A federal judge, on September 10, 2013, sentenced Edward Bagley to twenty years in prison with no chance of parole. The next day, Bradley Cook was sentenced to twenty years behind bars. The judge gave Dennis Henry and James Noel fifteen years each. Michael Stokes got five years in prison.

The Fascinating Murder Case

     Most crimes, even serious ones, make the nightly news or the local newspaper once or twice then slip into media oblivion. A few attract local or regional public interest for a period of time. Only a handful of cases become national news stories, and even fewer rise to what could be called celebrity crime status. Celebrated crimes of the twentieth century would include the Lindbergh kidnapping, the O. J. Simpson murder, and the John F. Kennedy assassination. I don't think the twenty-first century has seen its first truly celebrated crime. But there have been quite a few fascinating murder cases over the past two decades.

Twenty-five types of murders that can become, if not celebrated, at least highly newsworthy:

* Murder cases featuring strong suspects with no eyewitnesses or physical clues.
* Serial murders with plenty of physical clues but no suspects.
* Dismemberment cases involving innocent and unlikely victims.
* Carefully planned murders by physicians, priests, university professors, and other unlikely suspects.
* Black widow poisoning cases involving several dead husbands.
*Angel of death hospital poisoning cases involving several patients.
* Murder investigations that feature either brilliant or bungled police work.
* Murder-for-hire cases involving unlikely masterminds.
* Murders featuring professional athletes.
* Sudden and suspicious death cases involving dueling cause and manner of death testimony.
* Murders involving dueling blood spatter, ballistic, and human bite mark evidence.
* Murder trials involving obvious suspects but missing bodies. (So-called no-body cases.)
* Murders involving evil kids from upper-middle class families.
* Love triangle murder cases involving prominent people and plenty of sex.
* Murders involving TV and Movie actors.
* Major mafia hits.
* Domestic bombing cases involving many victims.
* Mass school shootings.
* Murders with unusual motives.
* Murders involving unusual murder weapons.
* Murderous armored truck heists.
* Murder trials involving the acquittal of obviously guilty defendants.
* Murder cases featuring the conviction of innocent defendants.
* Cold case murders solved by modern forensic science.

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

Leatrice Brewer: The Woman Who Killed But Didn't Murder Her Three Children

     In 2002, 21-year-old Leatrice Brewer, while living with her grandmother, had her first baby, a girl she named Jewell. Leatrice and the baby's father, Ricky Ward, broke up shortly after the birth. Leatrice and her grandmother, Maebell Mickens, lived in New Cassel, New York, a suburban community on Long Island 20 miles east of New York City.

     Brewer's grandmother and her mother, Pearly Mae Mickens, were both mentally ill drug addicts. Leatrice, already showing signs of insanity, worked as a filing clerk at a law firm. She also had a part time job as a sales assistant at a Kohl's department store.

     Not long after the birth of her daughter Jewell, Leatrice began dating a man from Queens named Innocent Demesyeux. Less than a year later, she gave birth to Michael Demesyeux. Leatrice continued to live with her grandmother, Maebell Mickens. Maebell, to help support her drug habit, was not above panhandling on the streets of New Cassel. At this time, Leatrice continued to struggle with severe bouts of depression and drug dependancy.

     In 2006, Leatrice had a second child with Innocent Demesyeux, a boy who inherited his father's unusual first name. Shortly after Innocent's birth, Maebell Mickens kicked Leatrice and her children out of her house.

     Leatrice Brewer and her three kids moved in to a small, second-story apartment on Prospect Street in New Cassel. Without financial help from the children's fathers, Leatrice continued to hold down two jobs. She also received rental assistance, food stamps, and a stipend from the federal Women, Infants and Children program.

     As early as 2003, caseworkers from the state's Child Protective Service agency received complaints filed by neighbors and family members who accused Leatrice of child neglect. Every so often one of the fathers would call the local police to report that Leatrice, a six-foot woman who weighted more than 200 pounds, had hit one of the kids. Notwithstanding these complaints, Leatrice never lost custody of Jewell, Michael, or Innocent.

     By 2007, Brewer was too drug-addled and mentally ill to hold down a job. For days she would simply disappear from the apartment, leaving the child-raising to Jewell, her precocious 6-year-old daughter.

     In late February 2008, Brewer called 911 and told the dispatcher she had stabbed Jewell and drowned her in the bathtub. The distraught mother said she had also drowned Michael and Innocent. After talking to the 911 dispatcher, Brewer tried to kill herself by swallowing a concoction of household cleaning chemicals. When it appeared she couldn't commit suicide by poisoning herself, Brewer jumped out of her second-story bedroom window.

     Brewer's second attempt at suicide also failed. Instead of the morgue, she ended up at the Nassau University Medical Center with an injured back. The next day, a county prosecutor charged her with three counts of murder.

     While being treated at the hospital, Brewer told a visiting relative that "the voices took control, and I had to do it."

     According to a battery of court-appointed psychiatrists, Leatrice Brewer suffered from a major depressive disorder that caused her to kill her children. She had been under the delusion that killing her kids would save them from something worse than death--the effects of voodoo.

     In 2009, Leatrice Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect. The judge sent her to a state psychiatric facility where the 28-year-old would reside and be treated until mental health experts and their drugs made her sane enough to rejoin society.

     The Brewer case came back into the news in 2013 when Brewer petitioned a judge for her share of her children's $350,000 estate. (I do not know the source of this wealth. Perhaps a wrongful death lawsuit had been filed against the state on the children's behalf that resulted in a court settlement.) Normally, under New York's Son of Sam law, convicted criminals are prohibited from profiting from their crimes. But in this case, Brewer, rather than being convicted of triple murder, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This raised the legal question of whether or not, under these circumstances, she was entitled to the money.

     In November 2013, a judge ruled that pursuant to the Son of Sam law, Leatrice Brewer was not entitled to a piece of her dead children's estate.

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

The Jesse Dimmick Murder Case

     Jesse Dimmick and another man were suspects in the September 7, 2009 beating death of 25-year-old Michael Curtis, a murder that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The authorities arrested the other man, but Dimmick remained at large. On September 12, 2009, police in Kansas encountered Dimmick driving through the state in a stolen van. Dimmick refused to pull over, and a high-speed chase ensued.

     In Dover, a suburb of Tokeka, Dimmick crashed the stolen vehicle near a house occupied by Jared and Lindsay Rowley. To hide from the police, Dimmick forced his way into the newlywed's home and held them hostage at knife-point.

     To calm the armed intruder, the Rowleys fed him Cheetos and Dr. Pepper as he watched the movie "Patch Adams." The terrified hostages  promised that when Dimmick left the house, they would not call the police. Later that night, when he fell asleep, the Rowleys slipped out of the dwelling.

     A short time after the hostages escaped, the home invader awoke to the sounds of a Topeka SWAT team storming into the dwelling. Officers cornered Dimmick in the bathroom and wrestled him to the floor. In the course of the scuffle, a police sergeant's AR-15 accidentally discharged. The bullet entered Dimmick's back as he lay face-down on the floor. The officer, a 21-year veteran of the force, was placed on a three-day leave of absence for not having the rifle's safety on.

     In May 2010, a jury in a Shawnee County, Kansas court found Dimmick guilty of two counts of kidnapping. The judge sentenced the defendant to eleven years in prison.

     The Rowleys, in October 2011, sued Jesse Dimmick for causing them emotional stress. At the time, Dimmick was incarcerated in the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colorado awaiting his trial in the Michael Curtis murder case. The victims of the home invasion were seeking $75,000 in damages. A month later, Dimmick filed a counter-suit against his former hostages in which he sought $235,000 in damages. Dimmick accused the Rowleys of breaching their oral contract not to notify the authorities. Because he couldn't find a lawyer to take his case, Dimmick represented himself in the action. His damages were based on medical bills related to the police caused gunshot wound and his pain and suffering as a result.

     In January 2012, a Shawnee County judge dismissed Dimmick's counter-suit against the Rowleys. Eight months later, Dimmick was back in court, this time as a plaintiff in a civil action against the Topeka Police Department. Based on his assertion that he had been seriously injured as a result of Sergeant Guy Gardner's negligent handling of the AR-15, Dimmick was asking the city to reimburse him $185,000 for his medical bills, $150,000 for future economic loss, and $100,000 for his pain and suffering. In this civil action, Dimmick had professional legal representation.

     On September 13, 2012, the civil case jury, after deliberating two hours, found that the Topeka SWAT officer had not been negligent or at fault in Dimmick's accidental shooting. The jurors obviously did not want this plaintiff to benefit in any way from his invasion of the Rowley home.

     A Kansas appeals court, in September 2012, upheld Dimmick's kidnapping conviction.

     In May 2013, Dimmick pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Michael Curtis murder case. The Adams County, Colorado judge sentenced him to 37 years in prison.

     The following month, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis dismissed the Rowley lawsuit against Jesse Dimmick on procedural grounds. The Rowleys were free to refile the action. 

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 Franciscan Friar Daniel Montgomery Murder Case

     Daniel Montgomery grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a town outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Catholic high school, he studied religion in the midwest, and became a peace activist. In 1994, the 28-year-old joined the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order. An odd, socially awkward man with a volatile temper and a foul mouth, Montgomery didn't get along with his church colleagues and superiors.

     In July 2002, after being bounced from one church to another, the misfit friar ended up in Cleveland at St. Stanislaus located in the city's Slavic Village neighborhood. Montgomery didn't fit in well at St. Stanislaus either. He offended fellow friars, parishioners, and the 68-year-old pastor of the church, William Gulas, affectionately known as "Father Willie." After three students accused Daniel Montgomery of touching them inappropriately, Father Gulas, in late November 2002, informed the troubled friar that he was being transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake, Indiana. (Sounds like a case of passing the trash.)

    At nine in the morning of December 2, 2002, when extinguishing a fire in Father Gulas' rectory office, firefighters stumbled upon his corpse. When questioned that morning by the police, Montgomery said that when the fire broke out, he had been asleep in his second-floor bedroom. A ringing telephone awoke him at which time he smelled smoke, then called 911. After trying to put out the fire, Montgomery fled the church without realizing that Father Gulas was in the burning first-floor office.

     On the day after the St. Stanislaus fire, the Cuyahoga County Coroner announced that the blaze had not killed Pastor Gulas. Someone had shot the priest in the chest, then torched his office.

     On December 8, 2002, detectives brought Friar Montgomery in for further questioning. Following what evolved into a seven-hour interrogation, Montgomery confessed to murdering the St. Stanislaus pastor. The friar had been angry about being transferred to the church in Indiana. He had gone into the pastor's office that morning to ask Father Gulas to vacate the order. According to Montgomery, upon entering the pastor's office, he had said, "I can't [expletive] take it anymore." The angry friar then shot Father Gulas in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver he had purchased the day before from an employee of a neighborhood convenience store. (This person has never been identified.)

     After killing the pastor, Montgomery dropped the revolver (which was never found) and walked down the hall where he acquired the red butane lighter he used to ignite papers on Father Gulas' desk. After setting the fire, Montgomery returned to his room and fell asleep. A call from a parishioner woke him up.

     A Cuyahoga County grand jury, in January 2003, indicted Daniel Montgomery on the charge of aggravated murder. Nine months later the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser homicide charge in order to avoid the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to 24 years to life. He began serving his time at the state prison in Marion, Ohio.

     In the spring of 2011, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named John P. Martin decided to look into Montgomery's case. (Montgomery was now maintaining his innocence.) The journalist's investigation led to a four-part Inquirer series published in July 2011. Pursuant to his claims of innocence, Montgomery, through his new attorney, Barry Wilford, had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in order that the case could go to trial. Attorney Wilford based his argument for reopening the murder case on three principal points: The prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence; interrogators ignored signs that Montgomery was confessing falsely; and his defense attorney, Henry Hilow, did not provide him with the best defense.

     Problems in the prosecution's case against Montgomery included the fact the police never recovered the murder weapon. On the charred floor of Pastor Gulas' office, fire investigators found an open toolbox that once contained $1,600 in bingo proceeds. Father Gulas kept the padlocked box in his office safe. On the morning of the murder, a parishioner who supposedly had financial problems, was seen coming out of the pastor's office. Assuming this is true, could this man have committed the murder? Another mystery in the case involved the fact that Pastor Gulas' cellphone ended up in the hands of a convicted drug dealer.

     On the issue pertaining to the adequacy of Montgomery's defense, attorney Wilford argued that his client had not wanted to plead guilty. To back up this claim, Wilford cited parts of two letters Montgomery had sent to attorney Hilow months before his guilty plea. In a letter dated February 23, 2003 in which Montgomery asked to meet again with the psychiatrist who had examined him shortly after the murder, wrote: "I was in a state of schizophrenia that produced severe delusions in my thinking, causing me to make false statements on December 8, 2002 at the police interrogation. At that time I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that perhaps if I was no longer to be a Franciscan, then I was to be a martyr for a sinner, the killer and arsonist who committed the crime." On July 7, 2003, Montgomery had written: "I am firmly convinced that I must plead my innocence and follow God's law, which is above human law." (I have no idea what that means in the context of this case.)

     At the July 2011 hearing to determine if the Gulas murder case should be reopened, and a trial convened, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Salem Awadallah argued that there was nothing in Montgomery's motion to justify setting aside his guilty plea and going to trial. She pointed out that Montgomery had failed a polygraph test that had been arranged by attorney Wilford. The prosecutor noted that while the Cleveland police interrogation lasted seven hours, no evidence has been presented showing that Montgomery's confession had been coerced. (I presume he was given his Miranda rights. In 2002, detectives in Cleveland did not routinely record their interrogation sessions.)

     Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg, on December 31, 2012, denied Daniel Montgomery's motion for a murder trial. She did not accompany her ruling with a written decision. Whenever an educated, adult defendant confesses and pleads guilty, without strong evidence of a false confession, or equally powerful evidence that someone else has committed the crime, the conviction will stand. In this case, Daniel Montgomery had failed to overcome the presumption of his guilt.

     In April 2013, the judge sentenced Daniel Montgomery to 24 years to life.

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:


 "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

Crime and Stupidity in Lower Education

Maria Caya

     At nine in the morning on June 6, 2013, 120 fourth and fifth graders, on an end-of-the-year field trip, descended upon a bowling alley in Janesville, Wisconsin. The students and their teacher chaperons from Washington Elementary School took over River's Edge Bowl that morning.

     By 10:45 AM it became obvious that something was wrong with Maria Caya, one of the supervising adults. The 50-year-old teacher was acting so strange someone called her husband Steve to come and take her away. Steve picked up his wife at noon and drove her to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center. Medical personnel determined that Caya's blood-alcohol level was at 0.27 percent, far higher than the state's driving under the influence law. The teacher admitted having consumed a bloody Mary that morning at six o'clock along with Ativan, a pill she took for anxiety. (One bloody Mary will not raise one's alcohol-blood percentage to 0.27.)

     On July 9, 2013, the school board unanimously voted to give Caya, upon her resignation from the school, a lump sum settlement of $18,452. The teacher took the money and resigned. In defending the payout, the school superintendent said that if they had fired the drunken teacher, and she had fought the dismissal, the legal costs would have exceeded the kiss-off money. Moreover, there was a chance Caya would have won reinstatement. School officers wanted this woman out of teaching, and this was the cheapest and most surefire way to accomplish that goal. (Of course there was nothing to stop Caya from applying for a job at another school district.)

Cynthia Ambrose

     On May 2, 2012, in Salinas, Texas, Salinas Elementary School teacher Barbara Ramirez took 6-year-old Aiden Neely to kindergarten teacher Cynthia Ambrose. The boy was in trouble because he had hit another student.

     With Barbara Ramirez looking on, Ambrose told her class of twenty students to form a line, and as each student passed by the pint-sized bully, to hit him. When the first kid gave Neely a light pat, the 44-year-old Ambrose said, "Come on, hit him  harder." The exercise came to a stop when the seventh kid in line hit Neely so hard in the back the boy started to cry. To the crying kid, Ambrose said, "See, that's how it feels to be bullied." (Ramirez, the teacher who witnessed this, could have punched Ambrose and said the same thing.)

     Barbara Ramirez, perhaps to keep a fellow teacher out of trouble, did not report the incident to school authorities until sometime later when she overheard Ambrose telling a kid who had been pinched to pinch the other kid back. Ramirez, for not immediately reporting the bullying exercise, was placed on three days leave. She also received a letter of reprimand.

     Bexar County prosecutor Patrick Ballantyne charged Cynthia Ambrose with the misdemeanor offense of official oppression. At her arraignment, Ambrose pleaded not guilty.

     At Ambrose's trial, held in June 2013, Aiden Neely and Barbara Ramirez testified for the prosecution. The defendant took the stand on her own behalf. In giving their closing arguments to the jury, the prosecutor referred to the teacher's behavior as child abuse. The defense attorney portrayed it as a well-intentioned classroom exercise that had gotten a little out of hand. The jury found Ambrose guilty as charged.

     In August 2013, district judge Sid Harle, before imposing his sentence, said, "[You are] absolutely a parent's worst nightmare. They send their children and entrust you with them." Judge Harle sentenced the former teacher to 30 days in jail, but said she could either serve her time on work release, or spend weekends behind bars. The judge also placed Ambrose on probation for two years.

     Ambrose's criminal conviction did not end her teaching career. The Texas Education Agency suspended her for one year.

Malia Brook

     Malia Brooks, a married mother of two, taught sixth grade at the Garden Grove Elementary School in Simi Valley, a suburban community north of Los Angeles. In November 2012, Brooks began a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old male student. The affair lasted four months.

     In February 2013, following an investigation by the Simi Valley Police Department, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Brooks with one count of lewd act with a child, one count of oral copulation with a person under 14, and one count of genital penetration by a foreign object with a person under 14. Following her arrest, the teacher was incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail on $2 million bond.

     In June 2013, Malia Brooks resigned from teaching and pleaded guilty to all three charges. At her sentencing hearing in August, Brook's attorney told the judge that his client had suffered a "manic episode" that had been brought on by her own teenage sexual abuse. The judge sentenced the former teacher to six years in prison.

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

The Michael Vanderlinden Murder-Suicide Case

     In mid-August 2012, 38-year-old Michael Vanderlinden, a native of Belgium who worked in the information technology field, was about to move out of the new, spacious two-story house he lived in with his wife Linda and their two sons, Julien, age 7, and Matthew, 4. Vanderlinden, with a history of mental illness and depression, was seeing a therapist. In November 2010, he had attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. His emotional and mental health problems had strained his marriage which was the reason he was in the process of moving out of the family home in Van Buren Township. A neighbor saw Vanderlinden walk out of his house in the Homestead subdivision outside of Detroit, and drive off at 9:30 in the evening of August 15, 2012. No one in the subdivision saw him after that.

     On Thursday, August 16 at 1:35 in the morning, on Interstate 94 in La Porte County, Indiana just south of the Michigan state line, Vanderlinden drove out of a rest area via the entrance ramp which put him in the westbound lane traveling east. Moving at a high rate of speed, Vanderlinden's vehicle, with its headlights off, plowed head-on into a car traveling eastbound on the interstate. Both vehicles burst into flames on impact, burning Vanderlinden and the driver of the other vehicle, 45-year-old Julian Nelson, beyond recognition. Mr. Nelson, the victim of Vanderlinden's suicide, was from Portage, Indiana.

     Later in the morning of the automobile fatalities on I-94, the Indiana State Police asked officers in Van Buren Township to notify Vanderlinden's wife of his death. At 8:30 AM, a township patrolman rang the doorbell to the Vanderlinden home. Seeing a car in the garage, the officer assumed that the house was occupied. When the doorbell failed to bring a response, the officer tried the front door, found it unlocked, and entered the dwelling.

     In the master bedroom, the officer found 34-year-old Linda Vanderlinden, a charter school teacher, dead with a stab wound to her chest. She had also been strangled, which turned out to be the cause of her death. In separate bedrooms, the officer found the children, each with multiple stab wounds from an 8-inch kitchen knife.

     The forensic pathologist with the Wayne County Coroner's Office was unable to determine the exact time the Vanderdindens' had been murdered. Because there were no signs of forced entry into the house, no one had been sexually assaulted, and nothing had been taken from the death scene, investigators identified Michael Vanderlinden as the murderer. (I image his latent fingerprints were on the bloody knife.)

   The Indiana State Police concluded that Michael Vanderlinden had purposely caused the fatal, head-on crash.

     In murder-suicides, the question is always the same: if a person is going to kill himself, why would he take other people with him? In this case, Vanderlinden, for no reason a sane person could understand, slaughtered his family, and in the act of killing himself, murdered a total stranger. While there is nothing new about mental illness, there seems to so much more of it, and it seems that mentally ill people are becoming much more homicidal. What is making insane people so violent? 

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.