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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The School Official's Duty to Report Suspected Pedophiles

     On October 2011, a mother and her 8-year-old daughter met with the principal of the girl's elementary school regarding the behavior of a teacher named Craig Chandler. The 35-year-old taught second grade at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School in San Jose, California. According to principal Lyn Vijayendran's notes of the meeting, the student--identified as Jane Doe--was summoned from recess to Chandler's empty classroom. Pursuant to a lesson plan he called "The Helen Keller Unit," Chandler blindfolded the student and instructed her to lie down on the floor and part her legs. After the teacher removed the girl's shoes, she sensed something "gooey" on her feet that felt like his tongue. Chandler placed something into the student's mouth, and with his hands moved her head back and forth. The girl tasted something salty that dripped onto her jacket. Before Jane Doe left Chandler's classroom, he put a piece of hard candy into her mouth.

     Instead of passing this information on to the police for further investigation, Vijayendran questioned Craig Chandler herself. The teacher explained that he had been doing his Helen Keller (a deaf and blind woman who rose to fame as an early twentieth century author) lesson plan for years. He said his "instructional goal" was to deprive students of sight so they could experience what it's like to be blind. The gooey sensation felt by the student on her feet had been caused by a wet  sponge, and the taste in her mouth from a bottle of salt water. The teacher offered to meet personally with the girl's parents to clean up any misunderstanding.

     Satisfied with Chandler's explanation, the principal told him to discontinue the Helen Keller business, transferred the student to another class, and reported the incident to the Evergreen School District's human resources department. Someone from that department also questioned Chandler, and the matter, institutionally, went no further than that. Craig Chandler continued teaching at the O.B.Whaley Elementary School.

     Although principal Vijayendran had closed the book on the case, parents of other girls in his class went straight to the police with complaints about Chandler's Helen Keller ploy. Following an investigation by detectives with the San Jose Police Department, a Santa Clara County prosecutor, on January 10, 2012, charged Chandler with the crime of lewd and lascivious acts performed on a child under fourteen. Seven months later, additional charges were filed against the teacher involving four other students who were, between the period August 2010 and May 2011, exposed to Chandler's Helen Keller experiment.

     Incarcerated in the Santa Clara County Jail, Chandler faced up to 75 years in prison if convicted of these crimes. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     On October 19, 2012, with Chandler still in custody awaiting his trial, Jane Doe's parents filed a civil suit against the Evergreen School District, the O.B.Whaley Elementary School, and principal Vijayendran.

     Santa Clara County prosecutor Alison Filo, in July 2012, charged principal Vijayendran under a  California law that make the failure of an educator to report the suspected sexual abuse of a student a crime. If convicted of the misdemeanor,  the principal faced up to six months in jail.

     The Vijayendran trial got underway on October 31, 2012. Prosecutor Filo, in her opening statement to the jury said that any reasonable person under the circumstances of this case would have suspected sexual abuse on the part of this teacher. Defense attorney Eric Geffon argued that his client had no reason to suspect foul play on Mr. Chandler's part. Geffon described the teacher's Helen Keller cover as "a detailed, devious, well thought out, well prepared story he concocted that explained everything."

     On November 2,  2012, Lyn Vijayendran took the stand on her own behalf in an effort to convince the jury that there was nothing in the student's story or her demeanor that suggested sexual impropriety on the part of the teacher. Referring to the 8-year-old girl, Vijayendran said, "She had a big smile on her face. She was her normal self, very talkative...." The witness said that at no point in the meeting with the student and her mother did the subject of sexual abuse come up.

     On cross-examination, the defendant admitted that when she learned that Mr. Chandler had asked the student to "open her two legs," the idea of sexual impropriety crossed her mind. Prosecutor Filo asked, "If someone said that to you in a grocery story line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?"

     "You'd have to be crazy not to think it was sexual," the defendant answered.

     On November 5, 2012, the jury found Lyn Vijayendran guilty of failing to report Craig Chandler's sexually suspicious behavior to the police. Judge Deborah Ryan sentenced the principal to two years probation, $602 in fines, and 100 hours of community service.

     In August 2013, a Santa Clara County jury found 36-year-old Craig Chandler guilty of five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

     The Evergreen School District paid out $16.5 million in damages as a result of civil suits stemming from the Chandler case.

     It's a shame that educators, to protect the children under their care, have to be induced to do the right thing by making it a crime not to. In a perfect society, there should be no need for crimes of omission.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Free Speech And The Stolen Valor Act

     In 2006 congress passed The Stolen Valor Act which made it a crime to falsely claim to have earned medals for service in the U.S. armed services. The law imposed a maximum sentence of $5,000 and six months in prison. In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a newly elected member of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District in Claremont, California, introduced himself to his fellow board members as a retired Marine of 25 years who, in 1987, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alvarez never served in the military.

     Following his federal indictment under the Stolen Valor Act, Alvarez pleaded guilty then appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which, in a 2-1 decision, struck down the act on the grounds it violated free speech. The U.S. Solicitor appealed this decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

     In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that The Stolen Valor Act violated the First Amendment right of free speech.

     In my view, unless the questioned lying is under oath, or pursuant to theft by deception, this behavior should not constitute a crime. If we're going to criminally prosecute fake war heroes, what about job applicants who submit phony private sector resumes, people who exploit bogus diploma-mill degrees, and politicians who tout fake backgrounds and nonexistent accomplishments? Where would it end? If we're going to make lying a crime, why not prosecute the bureaucrats and politicians who lie to us every day?

     While phony war heroes should be exposed and humiliated, I don't see what was gained, from a jurisprudence point of view, by sending this particular type of liar to prison. If all despicable behavior is criminalized, there will be more people in prison than out. 

America's Expanding Waistline: When Big Is Not Better

    Everything in America is getting bigger. Men, women, and children are getting heavier every day, and require larger toilets, seat-belt extensions, bigger furniture, oversized theater seats, wider revolving doors, scales that go beyond 300, and even wide-body caskets. The U. S. government has gotten as fat and unhealthy as the American people and seems unable to trim itself or its citizens.

The Case of the Obese Boy

     In October 2011, Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Children and Family Service workers took an 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy from his mother because the child weighed 200 pounds. A judge approved the seizure on grounds the mother's inability to get her son's weight down amounted to medical neglect. County workers were alerted to the boy's excessive weight early the previous year after his mother took him to an emergency room with breathing problems. Doctors diagnosed the child as suffering from sleep apnea and issued the family a breathing machine. After working with the boy's mother for twenty months, the agency placed the grossly overweight boy into foster care.

     The attorney representing the distraught mother told reporters that the foster mother was having trouble keeping up with all of the boy's medical and governmental appointments. As a result, the county has assigned a social worker to help the foster mom. A few days later, the boy's real mother, an elementary school teacher, publicly stated that she had done her best to limit her son's access to food. She didn't want her boy to be obese and sick, and did not feel his condition was a result of neglect or bad parenting.

     The government's removal of this child from his home set off a national debate over governmental authority and discretion versus parental rights. The weight of public opinion seemed to be with the mother. Perhaps that was because three million children in the country were extremely obese. Moreover, it was hard enough keeping kids away from cigarettes, drugs, pornography, pedophiles and alcohol. Controlling their eating habits, particularly in a glutinous culture of junk food and soft drinks, was easier said than done.

     This boy from Cleveland Heights is real person and a sad story. To me, his story, while in the extreme, represents what is taking place regarding the health of our country. The government is big, bloated and unhealthy, and so are its people.  

Screams From The Grave

     Cemetery workers raced to a newly-dug grave after they [supposedly] heard banging and muffled shouting an hour after a 45-year-old woman was buried. As they grabbed tools and anything they could find, they rushed to dig the grave up after the woman woke up to find herself buried alive in a coffin.

     But tragically, the woman died before her would-be rescuers could reach her inside the plot at a cemetery not far from the Greek city of Thesaloniki. Her grieving family had arranged her funeral at the graveyard in Perais, a small town 16 miles south of Thesaloniki, Greece's main city in the north.

     Shortly after the last relatives left the cemetery on Thursday September 25, 2014, residents and a group of children playing outside reportedly heard a female voice shouting for help from inside the grave. [If this is true, the woman was entombed in a shallow grave without having been embalmed.] They called the police and began digging up the grave to save her but she had suffocated inside the coffin…[I guess cemetery workers came along and took over the digging from the children.]

     A doctor at the scene examined the woman's body. He said she had been dead for hours. Dr. Chrissi Matsikoudi told a local reporter that, "I just don't believe it. We did several tests including one for heart failure on the body. It would have been impossible for someone in a state of rigor mortis to have been shouting and hitting the coffin like that." [Indeed.]

"Woman Who 'Died' is Heard Screaming From Inside Coffin After Being Buried Alive," Standard Media Company, September 30, 2014  

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Ashley Newton Murder Case

     Police in Livermore, California, a suburban community 45 miles east of San Francisco, received calls, at ten-thirty on the morning of Saturday, April 26, 2014 regarding a disturbed woman in the 4,400-acre Del Valle Regional Park. The woman, according to the callers, was screaming as she repeatedly rammed her Honda Civil into a rock wall at the end of Arroyo Road in the remote Camp Arroyo section of the sprawling park.

     Officers with the Livermore Police Department, accompanied by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers, responded to the badly damaged Honda which sat in a ditch off Arroyo Road. The female driver had left the scene and her whereabouts at the time were unknown. Officers noticed an empty car seat in the back of the damaged vehicle.

     Two hours after the police calls, off-duty Livermore Chief of Police Mike Harris, his wife and their two daughters, returned to their car after a hike in the Camp Arroyo section of the park. Earlier that morning Harris and his family had driven past the wrecked Honda. The chief didn't stop because there were several officers already at the scene.

     Shortly after the chief's daughters climbed into the family vehicle, a young woman wearing a sweatshirt and jeans caked in blood approached the Harris family. In her arms she carried a blond-haired, 7-month-old boy dressed in Cookie Monster diapers and a blue striped pullover. The child was also covered in blood. The distraught woman handed the boy to the chief. "Take him! Take him!" she yelled before climbing into the car with the chief's daughters.

     The police chief assumed that the woman and her son had been injured in the nearby wrecked Honda. He alerted officers and paramedic personnel who were down the road investigating the accident. A member of the emergency crew, shortly after starting CPR on the boy, realized that he was dead. The child had been stabbed to death.

     Police officers escorted the woman, 23-year-old Ashley Newton, to the Santa Rita Jail where she was booked on suspicion of murder. Originally from North Carolina, Newton resided in San Jose. Before moving to San Jose she had lived in the bay area town of Fremont, California.

     On Sunday, April 27, 2014, detectives questioned Newton at the Santa Rita Jail. She said she had stabbed her son with a pocket knife. (The bloody weapon had been recovered from the park.) Sounding paranoid and detached from reality, Newton was unable to articulate a motive for killing her son.

     On the day of Ashley Newton's police interview, detectives in San Jose interviewed the dead child's father. He said he had last spoken to Newton the day before she stabbed their son to death. She had been suffering from depression, he said. A police spokesperson announced that toxicology tests would determine if drugs or alcohol had played a role in the killing.

     On Monday, April 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged Ashley Newton with first-degree murder. The judge denied her bail and ordered psychiatric tests.

     As of July 2019, Ashley Newton has not been tried or convicted for the murder of her child. [At least I couldn't find any reportage of this. I'm guessing that she hasn't been tried because the court has ruled that she is not mentally competent to stand trial.].

     Numerous studies have shown that while women commit only 14 percent of violent crimes in the United States, they are responsible for about half of the parental murders. A vast majority of women who kill their children are extremely mentally ill.

Fake News In The JonBenet Ramsey Case

     We believe some prosecutors [in the JonBenet Ramsey case] thought their job was to "get the indictment," and tabloid media published unverified sensational accusations, first for profit and then in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from prosecution by us [John and Patsy Ramsey] for libel and slander, which only an indictment of us would stop.

     In mid-Novembver 1999, we held one of those tabloids accountable by filing a lawsuit against the Star in federal court in Atlanta for their blaring headline "JonBenet was killed by brother Burke," long after the police had officially and publicly cleared our son. The tabloids had figured out that "Burke sells," so they embarked on a smear campaign against a twelve-year-old child.
     On May 25, 1999, the Star had run a story with a front-page photograph of JonBenet and Burke and this headline. The article said that Burke was being looked at as the prime suspect. They told how JonBenet had wet her bed on Christmas night and crawled into bed with our son. Then Burke, they said, let loose his pent-up resentment of his sister and killed her. They cited the "fact" that Burke's Swiss army knife was found next to JonBenet's body, as evidence. 
     After that, the Star ran two other articles, one entitled, "Sad Twisted Life of JonBenet's Brother" on June 1, and the other, "What Burke Saw on the Night of JonBenet's Murder" on June 8. Obviously, these articles also subjected our son to public hatred, contempt, and ridicule. 
     Almost a month later, on June 22, after our attorney had written to the Star, the tabloid ran a small retraction, saying oops, our sources were wrong, and admitting that the district attorney's office had unequivocally stated that Burke was not a suspect in the murder. But they never said that the facts about him were untrue. 
     We as a society may let these tabloid organizations attack movie stars without retribution, but our children? I hope not. 
John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

Crime in America

There will always be a great deal of crime in America. As the American crime novelist Raymond Chandler has written, "Crime isn't a symptom, it's a disease….We're a big, rough, rich, wild people, and crime is the price we pay for it…."

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Richard Bradford: The Man Who Beat The System

     In 1970, 18-year-old Richard Bradford, a student at San Jose State College, belonged to a hold-up gang that robbed several grocery stores in the San Jose area. On November 2 of that year, during the hold-up of the Spartan Market, Bradford shot and killed Robert Burgess III. The following year a San Jose jury found Bradford guilt of first degree murder and first degree robbery. The judge sentenced the defendant to life in prison.

     In 1978, after serving seven years of his "life" sentence, the authorities released Richard Bradford on parole. While in prison, in anticipation of his early release, Bradford had acquired a birth certificate and Social Security card under the name James Edward Heard.

     Less than two years after he walked out of prison, Bradford skipped out of his parole supervision. He took up the identity of James Edward Heard and moved to Pasadena, California. The convicted armed robber and murderer got married, and became a prominent member of the community.

     By 2010, the parole violator, under his fake identity, owned a home and several other pieces of real estate. He operated the Eston Canyon Treatment Center, a Pasadena drug rehabilitation facility for wealthy addicts. No one in the community had any idea that Mr. Heard was a convicted murderer named Richard Bradford.

     A parole apprehension team, in 2010, began an investigation to find and arrest Bradford for breaking the terms of his murder parole. Investigators caught a break in 2011 when two sets of fingerprints under the names Richard Bradford and James Edward Heard were found to have come from the same person.

     In March 2013, police officers arrested Bradford at a Home Depot store in the town of Monrovia just east of Pasadena. When taken into custody, he was accompanied by his wife. (I don't know if she knew who he really was.) The 60-year-old parole violator is being held without bail at the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.

     While I see this case as a gross failure of the state's criminal justice system, prison bureaucrats have probably credited Bradford's successful life after his incarceration as evidence of how well California's corrections department rehabilitates its inmates. Because of Bradford's age, his status in the community, and the fact California's jails were overcrowded, Richard Bradford was not be sent back to prison.

     He beat the system.

Do We Have Too Many Laws?

The more law, the more offenders.

Thomas Fuller, 1732

Friday, July 26, 2019

Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Botched SWAT Raid

     Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona from 1993 to 2017, became a TV and news celebrity. The controversial, combative, and flamboyant law enforcement officer, billed as America's toughest cop, was the subject of a Department of Justice civil rights investigation. He was accused of practicing systematic discrimination against Hispanics. Arpaio called this investigation a political witch hunt. On the local level, he feuded with other sheriffs, police chiefs, and state law enforcement administrators. The highly political sheriff was also accused of public corruption, selective law enforcement, and poor job performance. Over the years, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, and Arpaio were involved in numerous controversial cases and law enforcement scandals.

     In March 2012, Sheriff Arpaio announced that his posse of volunteer cold-case investigators uncovered evidence that President Obama's birth certificate, the one made public in 2011, was a computer-generated fake. Several of Arpaio's former supporters asked him not to seek re-election. Although America's toughest cop lost a lot of political support, he shrugged off demands that he resign from office, and insisted that he was ready to battle the federal government in court.

     In August 2017, a federal jury found Arpaio guilty of criminal contempt in connection with his tactics in going after illegal aliens. The judge sentenced the 85-year-old former sheriff to a year in jail. Shortly after the conviction, President Donald Trump issued Arpaio a pardon.

The Bungled SWAT Raid

     In July 2004, Sheriff Arpaio's detectives suspected that Gabrial Gordon, a 28-year-old ex-felon on probation for armed robbery, had stolen a cache of automatic weapons and armor-piercing bullets from a gun dealer in Las Vegas. Gordon lived with 26-year-old Eric Kush, and 22-year-old Andrea Barber in a house in Ahwatukee, an upscale bedroom community that had been annexed by the city of Phoenix. Barber's daughter and Kush's 10-month-old puppy also lived in the $250,000 home nestled in the quiet, gated neighborhood called Fairway Hills. Neither Barber nor Kush had criminal records.

     Maricopa County detectives arranged to have Gordon's probation officer lure him to his office, where, on July 23, 2004, they took him into custody. According to Gordon, Kush was the one who possessed the weapons cache. According the a version of the story told by the police, Kush warned them that Mr. Gordon had been acting in an erratic way, and always carried a gun.

     Just before noon on the day of Gordon's arrest, a SWAT tank and an unmarked white GMC Suburban van full of county SWAT officers rolled into the neighborhood and parked on the street in front of the house rented by Gordon and the others. Outfitted in full battle gear, five officers approached the front of the house while another contingent took positions in the back yard. Andrea Barber, at the sound of loud banging coming from the main entrance, started down the stairway to answer the door. But before she got there, officers kicked it open. As they rushed inside, other SWAT officers launched canisters of white tear gas through second-story windows in the front and rear of the house. A few minutes later, a fire broke out in the master bedroom which quickly enveloped the place.

     Eric Kush, who had fled to the attic at the inception of the raid, ran out of the house to escape the fire. A police officer threw him to the ground, and another officer sprayed a fire extinguisher into the face of his dog, driving the pet back into the house. The puppy perished in the fire, which completely destroyed the dwelling. An officer, in pulling the SWAT tank away from the house fire, lost control when the electric brakes disengaged. The massive vehicle rolled down an incline and smashed into a parked car.

      Investigators with the Phoenix Fire Department concluded that a lit candle knocked over in the confusion of the raid had caused the fire. Andrea Barber, however, insisted that a tear gas canister had set the bed ablaze. Either way, had there not been a SWAT raid, there would have not been a fire, and Kush's dog would not have suffered an agonizing death.

     The Maricopa County SWAT team raid that destroyed an expensive home, killed a pet, and traumatized a quiet neighborhood, resulted in the seizure of an antique shotgun and a 9-mm pistol. The police arrested Kush on a misdemeanor warrant for failure to appear in a Tempe municipal court on two traffic tickets. He paid the $1,000 bond and was released from custody. In the week following the botched raid, the neighborhood stank of the fire debris, and the rotting puppy.         

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction

The Golden Age of detective fiction occurred between the two world wars, when several crucial developments changed the genre forever. The stories became more literate and the detectives more believable--no longer were they persons of super human intellect who could look at someone's shoes and determine where they had just been by the type of dirt collected there. Also, much more emphasis was put on period and character as opposed to merely constructing a clever puzzle.

Jay Pearsal, Mystery & Crime, 1995

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Tim Zickuhr Kidnapping Case

     The reality TV show "Ice Road Truckers" falls within the genre of reality television series that feature rugged, rough-and-tumble men who live in swamps, dig for gold, run a business geared to the killing of ducks, hunt wild hogs, and transport unusual cargo over-the-road--Bubba or redneck TV if you will.

     "Ice Road Truckers," starring men who drive 18-wheelers on seasonal routes that cross frozen lakes and rivers in remote arctic territories in Canada and Alaska, premiered on the History Channel in June 2007. Later series focused on Alaska's remote Dalton Highway built on solid, snow-covered terrain. 
     In 2010, the History Channel introduced a spin-off series called "Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads." Tim Zickuhr, a 35-year-old part time actor from Port of Los Angeles, appeared in the series' second season. In a promotional video for the show, Zickuhr described himself as an "adrenaline junkie." The reality TV actor, referring to himself as an "outlaw," also said, "The action is the juice for me." Full of bravado and a lot of crap, Zickuhr was perfect for reality TV. 
     On December 18, 2013, in Las Vegas, Zickuhr  hired a prostitute named Lisa Cadeau who worked under the trick name "Snow White." In his apartment, after she had performed the sex acts, Zickuhr gave her his ATM card to withdraw the money they had agreed upon. The next day, after checking his account, Zickuhr called Cadeau back to his apartment where he accused her of withdrawing more cash for her services than they had agreed upon. 
     At sometime during the heated dispute, Zickuhr allegedly punched the hooker in the face and threatened her life if she didn't return the $1,000 she had supposedly stolen from him. According to the police report, he tied Cadeau up, then dumped a bucket of cold water on her head. After locking the prostitute into a closet, Zickuhr demanded that she give him the phone number of someone who would pay him the money she had stolen. 
     Cadeau gave her enraged captor the phone number of a Las Vegas police officer she had worked for as a snitch. Zickuhr called the number and put Cadeau on the phone. To the cop, she exclaimed, "Help me, he's going to kill me!"
     When Zickuhr took the phone back from Cadeau, he instructed the man on the line to meet him with the money behind the Eureka Casino near the Las Vegas Strip. 
     After arranging the meeting with the man he thought was going to return his money, Zickuhr forced the prostitute to jump out of a second-story window onto the roof of a carport. As a result of her ordeal, Cadeau suffered injuries to her face and arms. She also had abrasions on her wrists from being bound. 
     At the Eureka Casino, two Las Vegas police officers arrested Zickuhr. As he was being hauled off to jail, the arrestee, according to the police report, "admitted that he'd made a mistake." (Exactly what "mistake" he was referring to was not clear.) 
     A Clark County prosecutor charged the former reality TV actor with first-degree kidnapping, extortion, and coercion. All three of these offenses were felonies that could put the "adrenaline junkie" behind bars for several years. 
     Following his arrest, Zickuhr told a TMZ reporter that he had not given Cadeau the money because she was a prostitute. He insisted that "Snow White" was a friend. He said he lent her the money, nice guy that he was. And what did she do? She wiped him out! So who was the real victim here?  
     Lisa Cadeau, in an April 22, 2014 email to a reporter with the New York Daily News, wrote: "I only withdrew the $80 I was supposed to, and an additional $120 that I wasn't."
 
      In February 2015, following Zickuhr's conviction on the kidnapping and extortion charges, the judge sentenced him to 5 to 15 years in prison. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Justice

Our criminal justice system in a nutshell: commit a crime, plead guilty for a light sentence, get out, commit a crime. And around it goes. While there are far more victims in our country than there are criminals, criminals get most of the justice. Why is that? Perhaps it's because our legal system is designed to protect the criminal from overzealous cops and prosecutors. While that protects us from  government abuse, crime victims pay the price for that freedom. Ours is not a victim oriented criminal justice system. That doesn't mean, however, that the genius' who run our country couldn't do a better job of protecting victims of crime.

Thornton P. Knowles

Jack Kerouac On America

I suddenly began to realize that everybody in America is a natural born thief.

Jack Kerouac, On The Road, 1957 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Charles Bukowski On Democracy

The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Rumain Brisbon Police-Involved Shooting Case

     At six in the evening of Tuesday December 2, 2014, officers with the Phoenix Police Department were investigating a burglary in the city's north side when a resident of an apartment complex nearby reported that black men inside a Cadillac SUV were selling drugs near the apartment building.

     When one of the officers approached the suspect vehicle, the driver, 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, jumped out of the SUV and ran toward the apartment complex. (Brisbon had a burglary conviction conviction and was currently on probation. He was married and had four children.)

     The 30-year-old police officer, Mark Rine, had seven years on the force. The officer chased Brisbon and caught up to him outside the apartment building. The subject, who had a hand stuffed into his waistband, refused to comply with the officer's commands to drop to the ground.

     Brisbon's refusal to obey the officers orders led to a scuffle. During the struggle, Brisbon stuck his left hand into his pant pocket. Officer Rine grabbed for that hand and felt what he thought was a concealed handgun. As the officer tried to gain control of the situation, an apartment door opened and the two men tumbled inside.

     Inside the apartment, when the police officer lost his grip on Brisbon's left hand, he feared that the man he was struggling with would produce a gun and shoot him. It was at that point the officer pulled his pistol and shot Brisbon twice in the torso, killing him.

     As it turned out, Brisbon had not been armed. The object in his left pocket that concerned officer Rine was a bottle of oxycodone pills. (Brisbon had apparently been selling these pills out of his SUV and did not want to return to prison on a probation violation.)

     If this police account of the confrontation and shooting was accurate, the officer's use of deadly force in this case will undoubtedly be ruled justified. On these facts it was doubtful that a local prosecutor would even present this case to a grand jury.

     Marci Kratter, the Phoenix attorney who represented Brisbon in a 2009 DUI case, and was now representing the Brisbon family, told reporters she didn't believe the police version of the shooting was complete. "There are numerous witnesses," she said, "that will challenge the police officer's account of what happened." (There were witnesses in the Michael Brown case, too, and many of them were discredited.)

     Phoenix police spokesperson Trent Crump, in addressing the media, said, "The officer was doing what we expect him to do, which is investigate crimes that neighbors are telling them are occurring."
   
     In April 2015, the Maricopa County Prosecutor's Office announced that Officer Rine would not be criminally charged in the shooting death of Rumain Brisbon.

     The Phoenix Police Department, in June 2017, decided to pay Brisbon's family $1.5 million pursuant to a court settlement agreement.
     

Monday, July 22, 2019

Cops Ask Criminals To Cool It

In the midst of the 2019 midwestern heat wave, a spokesperson for the Park Forest, Illinois Police Department issued the following statement: "It is just too hot to be outside committing crimes. We're asking all aspiring criminals, seasoned veterans, and those who find themselves committing crimes out of boredom, to please stay at home." So, I guess a man who is aspiring to murder his wife in their air-conditioned home is free to go ahead with his crime. Moreover, one would hope that in the criminal world most "season veterans" were currently living in air-conditioned prisons. This statement really suggests that it's too hot for crime fighting. Like they say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

The Eric Garner Chokehold Death Case

     In 1983, following a decade of arrestee and inmate deaths in New York City caused by the use of police chokeholds, the commissioner banned this restraining technique in the city's lockups and station houses. Ten years later, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly prohibited the use of police chokeholds all together.

     On Friday, July 18, 2014, four police officers working in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island, New York, confronted 43-year-old Eric Garner as he stood on the sidewalk in front of a store. The officers accused the father of four and grandfather of six of selling so-called "loosies," individual untaxed cigarettes. Several bystanders video-recorded the exchange between the officers and the 350-pound asthmatic.

     Addressing the officers, Garner said, "Every time you see me, you're messing with me. I'm tired of it. I'm minding my own business. Please leave me alone."

     When one of the officers reached out to place the suspect into custody, Garner said, "Don't touch me." At that moment a second officer, from behind, wrapped his arm around the arrestee's neck. Garner collapsed to the pavement. The second Garner hit the ground, the other three officer piled on. With his head pressed hard against the sidewalk, Garner, at least eight times, yelled, "I can't breathe!" He then slipped into unconsciousness.

     Two paramedics and a pair of EMTs from Staten Island's Richmond University Medical Center, in response to the police call for medical assistance, rolled up to the scene. A few minutes later bystanders pleaded with the medical crew to do more for the unresponsive man than just check his vital signs. Ten minutes passed before the ambulance crew lifted Garner onto a gurney and slid him into the emergency vehicle. At the hospital, an hour after the police encounter, Garner died of cardiac arrest.

     A police supervisor placed Daniel Pantaleo, the officer seen grabbing Garner from behind, on desk duty pending an internal affairs inquiry into Garner's death. The district attorney of Staten Island announced that investigators in his office would conduct an investigation into the matter.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled Garner's death a homicide caused by "compression of neck, chest, and positioning during physical restraint by police." (Death by homicide is not the same thing as death by criminal homicide. Death by homicide means the decedent didn't die accidentally, naturally, or by suicide.)

     Officer Pantaleo was not a stranger to such incidents. Two people, in separate cases, had sued him for excessive force in the past few years. Because Garner was black and the arresting officers were white, the fatality immediately triggered accusations of police racism.

     On July 19, 2014, the day after Mr. Garner's death, Richmond University Medical Center officials suspended the four-member ambulance crew without pay. A hospital spokesperson said an internal investigation was underway.

     Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, told reporters that the union stood behind officer Pantaleo. "This was a police officer that wanted to place this person [Garner] under arrest and bring him to the sidewalk. This was not a chokehold."

     On December 3, 2014, a local grand jury decided not to indict officer Pantaleo for Eric Garner's death. This meant there would be no criminal charges in this case. The officer could still be charged in federal court with a civil rights violation and the city can expect a wrongful death suit.

     The grand jury in this case was made up of 23 residents of Staten Island and led by a foreperson. A true bill requires that at least 13 of the panelists vote for a criminal charge. Fifteen members of this grand jury were white.

     This grand jury no bill involving a white police officer and the death of a a black subject, coming in the wake of the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri, provoked condemnation from legal analysts and triggered a wave of demonstrations in New York City.

     Police officers are trained and equipped to deal with uncooperative people. Eric Garner, while not cooperative, was unarmed and committing a petty crime that could have been dealt with by a summons rather than arrest. Taking him to the ground involved acceptable law enforcement force, but the chokehold and not letting him up when he repeatedly said he couldn't breathe was, in the opinion of most legal analysts, excessive force.

     On July 16, 2019, Richard Donoghue, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a news conference that the evidence did not support charging police officer Daniel Pantaleo with a federal criminal civil rights violation.

Thornton P. Knowles On America's Great Self-Love Society

I grew up being taught to love others. That didn't take. Kids today are taught to love themselves. That seems to be working. I don't belong to America's massive and growing society of self lovers. I am, however, a member of a much smaller group--The Order of Self Loathers. It's a more exclusive club consisting of members that are at least likable. Since self-lovers hate each other, and why wouldn't they, they are all jerks, these people have no one to love but themselves. It's an expanding circle of victimhood and self pity, a societal black hole that will eventually suck all of us in.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Curtis Reeves Murder Case

     From 1961 to 1963, Curtis Reeves, Jr. served as a Navy machinists' mate on a submarine. Following his honorable discharge he drove a truck and worked in a warehouse. In the mid-1970s Reeves became an officer with the Tampa Police Department. He retired, at the rank of captain, in 1993 at the age of 51. In the 1980s officer Reeves helped launch the police department's first SWAT team, a unit he eventually headed.

     After retiring from police work, Reeves took a job with the security department at the Florida theme park, Busch Gardens. When he left that position in 2005 he was director of security.

     In 2003 Reeves and his wife moved into a sprawling ranch-style home in the community of Spring Lake near Brooksville, Florida. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle and was a member of the Mountainview Estates crime stoppers organization. Reeves and his wife had two grown sons, one of whom was an officer with the Tampa Police Department.

     On Monday, January 13, 2014, Curtis Reeves and his wife attended the 1:20 PM showing of "Lone Survivor" at the Grove 16 theater in Wesley Chapel, a suburban community a few miles south of downtown Tampa. Sitting nearby was 43-year-old Chad Oulson and his wife Nicole.

     During the showing of the previews before the start of the feature presentation, Reeves became annoyed when he saw Mr. Oulson texting. When the ex-cop asked Oulson to stop that activity, Oulson ignored the request. After Reeves complained further, Oulson explained that he was texting his young daughter.

     Reeves, furious over the texting, left his seat to notify theater staff regarding this breach of moviegoing etiquette. When he couldn't find anyone in authority to complain to, Reeves returned to his seat. At that point Mr. Oulson made a derogatory comment regarding Reeves' attempt to report him to theater employees. The two men argued which prompted Mr. Oulson to throw a bag of popcorn at Reeves.

    When hit by the popcorn, Reeves pulled out a .380-caliber pistol and shot Chad Oulson in the chest. The victim slumped over in his seat. The bullet that entered Oulson's body first hit his wife in the hand as she tried to hold her husband back. Mr. Oulson tried to speak but couldn't as blood seeped from his mouth. Another theatergoer applied CPR while others called 911.

     An off-duty Tampa police officer who happened to be in the theater approached Reeves who sat quietly in his seat with the pistol on his lap. When the officer asked Reeves to hand over the weapon, Reeves refused. Following a brief scuffle, Reeves calmed down and gave up his gun.

     Reeves' son, the Tampa police officer (who was off-duty) entered the theater about the time his father shot Mr. Oulson. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance crew rushed Mr. Oulson to a Tampa area hospital where doctors pronounced him dead. His wife Nicole was treated for the bullet wound to her hand.

     When deputies with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office arrived at the theater to take the 71-year-old shooter into custody, they advised the suspect of his Miranda rights.  Reeves told the officers that the man he had shot had struck him with an unknown object. In fear of being assaulted, he pulled and fired his gun.

     Charged with second-degree murder, Reeves made his first court appearance on Tuesday, the day after the shooting. His attorney, Richard Escobar, asked the judge not to set bond due to the fact his client, with all of his ties to the community, was not a flight risk. "The alleged victim attacked him," the defense attorney said.

     The judge, noting that being struck by an unknown object did not call for the use of a handgun, denied bail. During the arraignment, a Pasco County prosecutor said that a woman named Jamira Dixon had come forward with information regarding her recent encounter with Mr. Reeves. According to Dixon, Reeves had become enraged three weeks earlier when he saw her texting in the same theater. Dixon said he glared at her throughout the movie, and followed her out of the room when she got up to use the restroom.

     If convicted as charged, Curtis Reeves could be sentenced to life in prison. In his case, a ten-year sentence would probably have the same result.

     In August 2015, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa, in a hearing on the case, made the comment that the right to a trial is not a right to a perfect trial. The Reeves defense took exception to this remark and following a backlash, the judge recused himself from the case.

     Following one delay after another due to changes in Florida's stand your ground law, a doctrine applicable to the Reeves case, the new judge, Susan Barthle, postponed the trial again until the Florida Supreme Court sorted out conflicts in the application of the stand your ground doctrine. A new trial date was set for February 2019 then postponed again.

     As of July 2019, the five-year-old case has still not come to trial.
   
     

Thornton P. Knowles On The Human Condition

If you're interested in the human condition, don't ask a philosopher, sociologist, psychiatrist or psychologist. These people don't know anything. Talk to a plumber.

Thornton P. Knowles

A Pair of Eyeball Cases

The Eye-Popping Witness

     A fight broke out outside the New Princeton Tavern in northwest Philadelphia during the early morning hours of August 18, 2011. John Huttick, a former bouncer at the drinking establishment, told the police that Matthew Brunelli, the bar's 23-year-old cook, punched him in the left eye with a metal key protruding from his fist. The 48-year-old man lost the eye.

     Matthew Brunelli, who denied hitting Huttick with the key, went on trial for aggravated assault in February 2013. While on the stand testifying for the prosecution, Huttick's $3,000 prosthetic eyeball popped out of his head. The witness was able to snatch the flying eyeball out of the air with his hand. Two jurors seated a few feet away from Huttick gasped at the sight and rose to their feet in horror. The common pleas judge halted the proceeding and declared a mistrial. Mr. Huttick assured the judge that he had not intentionally ejected his glass eye for sympathy.

     On March 13, 2013, as the second jury listened to the prosecution's star witness, his prosthetic eyeball remained in its socket. That jury acquitted the defendant of aggravated assault. (Mr. Hattick has filed a civil suit against Mr. Brunelli.)

The Mystery of the Abandoned Eyeballs

     Just before noon on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, a worker at a Conoco service station in Kansas City, Missouri found something odd in a medical cooler sitting on top of the station's trash bin. In the cooler the employee saw a cardboard box labeled, "keep refrigerated." When he opened the box, the service station worker found a pair of eyeballs staring up at him. (Okay, I made up the staring at him part.)

     A surveillance camera video revealed two men in a blue Toyota with Nebraska license plates leaving the medical cooler on the trash container. There's an eye bank a few miles from the service station, but no eye banks or hospitals in the area reported that they were awaiting an eyeball delivery. The eyes remained in the possession of the Jefferson County Medical Examiner's Office.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On The Creativity Curse

There are those who create and many more who live off what they create. While there are few who create wealth, there are many who simply count the money, invest it, or simply keep it safe. There are those who create art in all its forms. These works in turn create editors, critics, agents, dealers, producers and publishers. Many creative people consider these noncreative functionaries as parasites who exploit their talent. Some of these support practitioners believe that what they do is more important than the art itself. Like many creative writers, I resent the fact I can't get my manuscripts on the desk of an editor without a literary agent. Moreover, I don't like working with editors, and loath literary critics. And what's more vacuous than a publicity agent? They say that being creative is a gift. I think that being creative is a curse. It's not the editors, agents, and publishers who kill themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles  

Charles Bukowski On Artists

Artists were intolerably dull, and near-sighted. If they made it they believed in their own greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it they still believed in their greatness no matter how bad they were. If they didn't make it, it was somebody else's fault. It wasn't because they didn't have talent; no matter how they stank they always believed in their genius. They could always trot out Van Gogh or Mozart or two dozen more who went to their graves before having their little asses lacquered with Fame. But for each Mozart there were 50,000 intolerable idiots who would keep on puking out rotten work. Only the good quit the game.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town

Man On Fire

     A Glendale, Arizona man walking down a street fully engulfed in flames Thursday evening November 13, 2014 was taken to Maricopa Medical Center with burns over 80 percent of his body…Bystanders attempted to help the man, one of them using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames…

     "The weird thing was, he wasn't making a sound," said Lindsay Riedlinger, manager at the Arby's Restaurant near where the man was walking. "By the time I got there, he was silent." Someone had run into the restaurant screaming about a fire and asking for an extinguisher, she said. Riedlinger, 24, grabbed the extinguisher and went outside. By that time the man was surrounded by eight or nine people…"I aimed and put out the places on fire on his body," Riedlinger said. "The flames took everything. It looked like on his shoulders, his shirt was singed into his skin. He didn't know what was happening. After I put him out, he walked away and went into the Taco Bell. He said he just wanted water."

     Taco Bell employees called 911 and paramedics took the man to the county burn center in extremely critical condition. The man would not tell officials how the fire started….

"Man Survives After Being Found Engulfed in Flames in Street," The Arizona Republic, November 14, 2014.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Show Me The Money

     There are people named Hunter who don't hunt, Fishers who don't fish, and Barbers who don't cut hair. Then there's Reverend Creflo Dollar, a TV preacher who worships money. Now that's a name that fits.

The Money Ministry

     In 1986, Dollar started Creflo Dollar Ministries which today has four parking lot churches in Georgia and one in New York City, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Dallas, and Houston. The 50-year-old televangelist and his wife Taffi are co-pastors of a megachurch in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. Called World Changers Church International, it's housed in the World Dome, a building that's big enough to hold a 8,500-seat sanctuary.

     Creflo and Taffi, the parents of five children, live in a Fayette County mansion in the metro Atlanta area. Noted for his pinstriped suits and charismatic, TV-friendly sermons, Reverend Dollar preaches that prosperity is good, and that God will bless the faithful with earthly riches. If this is gospel, Reverend Dollar and Taffi have been extremely faithful.

     The preacher isn't paid a church salary but derives enormous wealth from his real estate and horse breeding investments. He's authored 30 books and charges as much as $100,000 to give one of his uplifting, motivational speeches. (While he's no Bill or Hilary Clinton in this regard, one-hundred grant per speech puts him in rare company. I once charged $500 for a talk and felt like I had robbed a bank.)

     In 2007, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley launched an investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy megachurch televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for their personal use. In 2010, at the conclusion of the Senate inquiry, investigators found no criminal wrongdoing. Senator Grassley, however, expressed concern regarding the lack of financial oversight at these huge, money-making ministries.

The Assault

     On the home front, things were not going so well for the prosperity evangelist. At one in the morning on Friday, June 8, 2012, Pastor Dollar's 15-year-old daughter called 911 to report a domestic disturbance. Upon the arrival of the Fayette County Sheriff's deputies, Pastor Dollar's daughter said she and her father had been arguing over whether she should go to a party. According to the police report, he choked her, threw her to the floor, punched her, and hit her with his shoe. The deputies noticed fresh scratches on the girl's neck. Pastor Dollar told the officers that his daughter "became very disrespectful," causing him to "restrain" her.

     The deputies slapped on the handcuffs, and hauled the preacher to the Fayette County Jail. Charged with the misdemeanor offenses of simple battery and cruelty to a child, Reverend Dollar made bail later that morning.

     The next day, Creflo Dollar's attorney, Nikki Bonner, released a statement from the pastor that read: "As a father I love my children and I always have their best interest at heart at all times, and I would never use my hand to ever cause bodily harm to my children." According to the lawyer, the pastor intended to preach to his flock this Sunday.

     On Sunday, June 10, 2012, Reverend Dollar told his congregation at the World Changers Church International that he had not punched or choked his daughter. He referred to the police report as a source of "exaggeration and sensationalism." Speaking from the pulpit, he said, "I will say this emphatically: I should not have been arrested. I want you all to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household." The preacher said the mark on his daughter's neck had been there for ten years, caused by a skin condition. As he spoke, members of the congregation applauded and nodded their heads in approval.

     In the disputed police report, Dollar's 19-year-old daughter supposedly told a deputy that her father grabbed her sister's shoulders and slapped her in the face, then choked her for about 5 seconds. According to this family witness, the 15-year-old tried to break free, but did not fight back. When the pastor allegedly threw her to the floor, the older girl ran to get their mother.

    On January 25, 2013, a Fayette County prosecutor, after the pastor had completed an anger management program, dropped the assault and child abuse charges.

Flying High

     In 2014, Reverend Dollar launched a worldwide campaign to raise $65 million for the purchase of a GulfStream G-650 luxury jet that accommodates 18 passengers and a crew of four. Equipped with a pair of Rolls-Royce engines, the aircraft can fly from New York to Los Angeles in less than five hours.

     In a March 2015 video soliciting donations from his "friends from around the world," the preacher lamented the fact he needed to replace his 1984 GulfStream jet. Recently, because the 31-year-old plane had become too dangerous to fly, the pastor and his staff had been reduced to flying commercial.

     In June 2015, the board of World Changers Church International (which also operates as Creflo Dollar Ministries), announced the church had raised enough money to purchase the $65 million private plane. Instead of using this money to feed the poor, the pastor and his staff could travel the world in luxury. 

Hiring Ex-Felons For Government Work

     Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has joined the growing number of state, county and local governments that will no longer have job applications that require people to check a box if they've been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor. A county official said the measure will make it easier for people with criminal records to get a second chance at turning their lives around.

     Because of state and federal laws, applicants will still be asked about their criminal record if they want jobs at the county jail or juvenile detention center, the county police or with the departments of Human Services, or to work at a county-run nursing home.

"County Bans Criminal History Box," Associated Press, November 26, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles On Cable News Anonymous

I was a TV news junkie and had to break the habit to regain my sanity. Since most TV news is bad, watching it all the time makes you angry, frightened, and eventually depressed. A constant diet of floods, fires, car wrecks, crime, war, earthquakes, mudslides, tornados, hurricanes, plagues, stock market crashes, third world poverty, government corruption and stunning political stupidity eventually produces, even among viewers who have relatively good lives, chronic anxiety. Taking in too much political news, given the idiots running our country and the morons who talk about them on TV, makes one extremely cynical and pessimistic. I've also sworn off social media. Although I can't say I'm happy now, I am at least not suicidal. I'm thinking of forming a support group for recovering news junkies called Cable News Anonymous.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Brittany Killgore Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     After two years of marriage to Lance Corporal Cory Killgore, 22-year-old Brittany Killgore, on April 11, 2012, filed for divorce. The Marine was serving in Afghanistan. Brittany lived in Fallbrook, California, a San Diego County town of 38,000 not far from Camp Pendleton, the U.S. Marine base.

     At two in the afternoon on Saturday, April 14, 2012, one of Brittany Killgore's friends called the San Diego County Sheriff's Office to report her missing. The caller had last seen Killgore at 7 PM the day before when she stopped by her friend's apartment to borrow a dress. Killgore said she was going on a date with a 45-year-old Marine staff sergeant named Louis Ray Perez who was picking her up in less than an hour. They were going into downtown San Diego.

     At 7:45 that Friday evening, the friend received a text message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Help." The friend texted back, "What? R U okay?" When Brittany didn't respond, the friend texted, "Brittany are U okay? I am freaking out here." At 8:05 PM the friend received another message from Killgore's cellphone that read, "Yes I love this party." The worried friend considered this text suspicious because Killgore always used the word "yeah" instead of "yes" in her text messaging. That was the last the friend heard from Killgore's phone. (A transient in downtown San Diego later found Killgore's cellphone in the doorway of a Comfort Inn.)

     A detective with the San Diego Sheriff's Office called Sergeant Louis Perez (who didn't have a criminal record) and asked if he'd come in for questioning regarding the Killgore missing persons case. Perez said he would and showed up at the sheriff's office shortly after the call.

     According to the 16-year veteran of the Marine Corps, he had gone to Killgore's apartment at four o'clock Friday afternoon to help her pack for her upcoming move to another place. He asked her if she'd like to go out on a dinner-dance boat that evening in downtown San Diego. Killgore declined, saying that she was tired. Soon after Perez left Killgore's apartment at 5:10 PM, she sent him a text saying she had changed her mind. Perez returned to her place at 7:30 for the date.

     According to the Marine's statement, he dropped Brittany off in downtown San Diego in front of a club called the Whisky Girl Night while he looked for a place to park. Fifteen minutes later, when he arrived at the club on foot, he couldn't find her. Perez looked around for 30 minutes, then headed home to the house he shared in Fallbrook with his girlfriend, 36-year-old Dorothy Grace Marie Maraglino and her friend, Jessica Lynn Lopez, 25.

     The deputy who interviewed Perez that afternoon asked if he could take a look inside the white Ford Explorer the Marine had driven to the sheriff's office. Perez said he had no problem with that.

     The first thing the detective noticed about Perez's car was the fresh mud caked on the underside of the vehicle and in its wheel wells. The Marine's shoes were also muddy. Perez told the officer that the car had gotten that way when he recently collected firewood near Camp Pendleton. The deputy took a plastic bag from inside the car that contained a pair of blue latex gloves which appeared to be blood-stained. (A presumptive luminal test confirmed it was blood and later DNA analysis identified the blood as Brittany Killgore's.) Perez also possessed a stun gun that had a human hair follicle attached to it. At this point in the investigation, Sergeant Perez became a suspect in Brittany Killgore's disappearance and possible murder. The deputy, after recovering a stolen AR 15 assault rifle from Perez's Ford Explorer, arrested him on a charge of theft. The "person of interest" in the Killgore case was taken to jail where he was incarcerated under $500,000 bond.

     From Perez's cellphone, investigators collected messages sent from his phone to Killgore's. The first message, sent at 9:20 PM on Friday, April 13, almost two hours after Killgore's "help" text, said, "Your friends are calling me worried." Later that evening, at a time investigators believe Killgore was dead, Perez had texted, "Now I am worried too."

     When the San Diego detectives questioned the suspect's housemate, Dorothy Maraglino, the 37-year-old said Perez had returned home Friday night sometime between 10 PM and midnight. He remained in the Fallbrook house until he left for San Diego the next day in response to the call from the sheriff's office.

     On April 15, 2012, San Diego deputies searched the Perez/Maraglino/Lopez house in Fallbrook where they suspected Brittany Killgore had been murdered. The searchers discovered that one of the rooms in the dwelling had been set up as a "sex dungeon" equipped with a variety of "sex apparatuses, toys, and tools" such as handcuffs, whips, leather restraints, and chain shackles. When asked about this sadomasochistic playroom, Dorothy Maraglino and Jessica Lopez explained that they participated in erotic master-servant and master-slave role-playing. Dorothy identified herself as the dominatrix and said that Louis Perez enjoyed spanking women.

     The Killgore missing persons/murder investigation took an even more bizarre turn on April 16, 2012 when investigators learned that master Dorothy and her slave Jessica had checked into the Ramada Inn located in the Point Loma section of San Diego. Deputies showed up at room 105 at 9:30 that morning. Lopez, in a drowsy voice, told the officers she was too exhausted to come to the door to let them in. When a deputy cracked the door open as far as the interior door chain would allow, the officer saw blood on the floor. Another officer kicked the door open and the police stormed into the motel room.

     The sheriff's deputies found Jessica Lopez, naked from the waist up and covered in blood from self-inflicted superficial knife wounds on her neck and wrists. (Maraglino had left the motel.) A message in lipstick scrawled on the mirror above the dressing table read: "PIGS READ THIS." Below this message lay a 7-page, handwritten murder confession signed by Jessica Lopez.

     In the confession, Lopez admitted using a ligature, in the sex dungeon in the Fallbrook house, to strangle Brittany Killgore to death. She killed the victim out of fear Louis Perez would be seduced by her. After half-hearted attempts to dismember Killgore's body, Lopez doused the naked body with bleach to destroy physical evidence. She wrote that she "hid the body of that whore in almost plain sight" near Lake Skinner, noting that the police would find handcuff marks on the victim's wrists. Lopez said she had deposited the knife she had used in her attempts to "chop her up" in a beach restroom in Oceanside. The police would also find a pair of handcuffs with the knife. In her statement/suicide note, Lopez said she was taking full responsibility for Killgore's murder.

     At 2:30 that afternoon, searchers located Killgore's naked remains lying in the brush along the side of a road near Riverside County's Lake Skinner, 23 miles north of Fallbrook. The police arrested Jessica Lopez on April 17, 2012 on the charge of first-degree murder. Louis Perez, already in custody on the gun theft case, was charged with first-degree murder as well. Dorothy Maraglino, also charged with first-degree murder, was taken into custody on May 10, 2012. The three suspects were held on $3 million bond and all pleaded not guilty.

     At a Killgore murder case preliminary hearing that got underway on March 11, 2013 in Vista County Superior Court, the victim's best friend Elizabeth Hernandez testified that she and Killgore became acquainted with Marine Sergeant Louis Perez, Jessica Lopez, and Dorothy Maraglino in 2011 after Hernandez responded to an ad selling a fertility monitor on a website used by military families. Hernandez said she befriended Maraglino because the two of them were trying to get pregnant. After that, Brittany Killgore regularly visited the house where Maragalino resided with Lopez.

     Hernandez testified that Perez, Lopez, and Maragalino openly discussed their sexual lifestyle that involved Perez as the master, Maragalino as the mistress, and Lopez as the slave. In their sex dungeon they had painted a giant spider web on the wall and bars on the ceiling. According to the preliminary hearing witness, Hernandez and Killgore made it clear they were not going to participate in the sex games.

     In 2012, Elizabeth Hernandez and Killgore had a falling out. At that time, Killgore was preparing to divorce her husband, Lance Corporal Cory Killgore. Hernandez testified that she discussed the souring of their friendship with Louis Perez, Lopez and Maragalino. After that, Lopez and Maragalino began referring to Killgore as "the disease" and "herpes." According to Hernandez, Perez and Maragalino said they could get rid of Killgore but they wouldn't because they knew Hernandez would miss her. Hernandez said she thought they were joking.

     On March 14, 2013, Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Nelson testified that the victim had been strangled with some kind of ligature and that her body had been moved to where it was found near Lake Skinner. The forensic pathologist said their were two marks on Killgore's neck and tiny hemorrhages in her eyes that indicated strangulation as the cause of death. Dr. Nelson had also discovered cuts on the victim's left wrist and left knee that suggested that someone had attempted to dismember the body. The cut to the left leg was so deep it reached the bone. The bone contained tool marks that indicated a saw had been used in the dismemberment attempt. This had occurred postmortem.

     A woman followed Dr. Nelson to the stand who said she had lived in the Maraglino house for three months in late 2010. According to this witness, she had been Maraglino's sex slave for a time and knew that Maraglino and Louis Perez enjoyed choking their sex partners.

     On March 16, 2013, Vista Superior Court Judge K. Michael Kirkman ruled that the prosecution in the Killgore case had presented enough evidence against the defendants to justify a murder trial.

     On April 8, 2014, murder defendant Dorothy Maragalino, represented by the fourth attorney assigned to her since 2012, was back in court filing motions that would delay the progress of the case. Initially, Maragalino had insisted on representing herself then changed her mind. After dismissing her next two lawyers, the judge assigned her a public defender who asked to be removed from the case, Attorney Jane Kinsey, the fourth defense attorney, needed more time to prepare. Judge Kirkman granted the motion.

     That April, Jessica Lopez's attorney, Sloan Ostby, asked the judge for more time to study the 7,345 pages of documents he had demanded from the prosecution on discovery. Ostby said he also had to review 165 DVDs that had been supplied by the state. The judge granted this motion.

     Attorney Brad Patton, representing Louis Perez, the accused sex dungeon master, filed a series of pretrial motions in 2014 that slowed progress in the case. On December 12, 2014, perhaps in an attempt to move things along, the district attorney's office announced it would not seek the death penalty against the defendants.

     On June 6, 2015, at a pre-trial hearing, Judge Kirkman denied a motion by defense attorney Sloan Ostby to exclude writings by Jessica Lopez that described, in detail, the victim's torture, murder, and dismemberment. Attorney Ostby, characterizing the writings as the product of his client's fantasies, argued that the material was so gruesome it would unduly prejudice a jury. Judge Kirkman said he would allow the writings into evidence with some restrictions of the most disturbing parts.

     The handwritten "Pigs Read This" document had been found in the hotel room along with Jessica Lopez's suicide note. In denying the motion to completely suppress this evidence, Judge Kirkman said, "It is a document that very much has relevance."

     In earlier court related statements, prosecutor Patrick Espinoza compared the defendants to the Manson family. Defense attorneys objected to this and asked the judge to forbid such comparisons in the future. Judge Kirkman granted that request.

     On August 14, 2015, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office released its Brittany Killgore autopsy report. The document confirmed that Killgore had been strangled. Moreover, attempts had been made to dismember her body. The victim was initially identified by a small tattoo on her left wrist. According to notes made by Deputy San Diego Medical Examiner Dr. Craig Nelson, "On the left side of the [victim's] neck and face were two small, paired brown marks that were suggestive of use of an electrical weapon…The victim's left knee had a large, but bloodless, incised would suggestive of attempted dismemberment."

     On September 8, 2015, in Vista, California, jury selection began in the Dorothy Maraglino, Louis Perez, and Jessica Perez murder trial. Two months later, the defendants were convicted of murder and kidnapping. The judge sentenced all three to life without the chance of parole.
     

The Stripper Gang Credit Card Scam

     Dr. Zyadk Younan, a cardiologist from Homdel, New Jersey, refused to accept responsibility for $135,000 in credit card debt he had supposedly incurred in early 2014 at a strip club in Manhattan, New York called Scores. Dr. Younan claimed that strippers at Scores had spiked his drinks with drugs to incapacitate him while they swiped his credit card without his authorization or knowledge. Had the physician's credit card tab not been so outrageously high, his claim of victimhood may have fallen on deaf ears.

     In the spring of 2014, DEA agents and officers with the NYPD launched a undercover investigation into Dr. Younan's allegations. As it turned out, it seemed the doctor and several other club patrons had been drugged and ripped-off.

     According to the results of the joint investigation, strippers from Scores and the RoadHouse Gentleman's Club in Queens conducted fishing expeditions at bars in Manhattan and Long Island looking for potential credit card victims. They began looking for patrons they could drug and rip-off in September 2013. The suspects allegedly set up club dates with these men, encounters that led to spiked drinks and credit card fraud. Once the suspects dropped the stimulant methylone, commonly known as molly, or the tranquilizer ketamine into their targets' drinks, they were able to take advantage of their drug addled customers. (I presume strippers earn commissions based on bar tabs.)

     According to investigators, the suspects believed that if challenged, their victims could be blackmailed into silence. According to reports, some of these men were blackmailed by members of the credit card scam.

     On June 11, 2014, police officers and federal agents arrested four strippers and the manager of Scores on charges of grand larceny, assault, and forgery. At their arraignments in Manhattan, all of the suspects, including club manager Carmine Vitolo, and the suspected ringleader, Samantha Barbash, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

    In January 2015, following his conviction, the judge sentenced Carmine Vitolo to three years in prison. Four months later,  Samantha Barbash pleaded guilty in return for a probated sentence. Outside the courthouse she gave photographers the finger. I guess she didn't want the exposure.

A Bad Year For Literary Fiction

I am a compulsive reader of literary novels--but this has been a terrible year [2019] for fiction that is actually readable, and not experimental. I have been so disappointed when well-known writers come out with books that, to me, were just duds. [I would be hard pressed to find a good year for literary fiction.]

Gina Kolata

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Josh Shaw's Big Lie

     Josh Shaw's fellow football players, just prior to the University of California's opening game of the 2014 season, voted the fifth-year senior cornerback captain of the team. Trogans fans, when they checked the team's website on Monday August 25, 2014, read that the 22-year-old star, over the weekend, had suffered two high ankle sprains that would sideline him for the year. The injuries, however, were not football related.

     Shaw's online account of how he hurt himself comprised a compelling story. On Saturday night, August 23, while attending a family get together in Palmdale, California, he jumped from a second-story balcony when he saw his 7-year-old nephew struggling in the swimming pool. To save the boy he knew couldn't swim, Shaw leaped off the balcony, landing onto the concrete below. In severe pain, he crawled to the pool where he saved the child. That selfless act of heroism had cost him his final football season at USC.

     Not long after the website posting, doubts surfaced regarding the validity of Shaw's story. Too many things just didn't add up. For one, on Saturday August 23, it seemed the football star wasn't anywhere near Palmdale.

     On Tuesday afternoon, August 26, Lieutenant Andy Neiman with the Los Angeles Police Department released a statement that laid waste to Shaw's tale of heroism.

     In downtown Los Angeles that Saturday night, officers responded to reports of a woman screaming from the third floor of an apartment complex. Someone had entered her dwelling by prying open a window facing a balcony. According to the woman, the intruder fled the apartment and jumped off the landing. During the questioning of this victim, the name Joshua Shaw came up. Apparently the victim and the football player had some kind of relationship. He also lived in the complex. Several witnesses saw a man at the apartment complex that night that matched Shaw's description. (A husky black man with dreadlocks.)

     On Wednesday August 27, 2014, Josh Shaw confessed to coach Steve Sarkisian and other USC officials that he had not injured his ankles by jumping off a balcony in Palmdale to save his nephew. Coach Sarkisian suspended Shaw from the football team.

     In a written statement released by Josh Shaw's attorney, Donald Etra, the football player said, "On Saturday August 23, 2014, I injured myself in a fall. I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong not to tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part."

     Other than to say the injuries were caused by a fall from the downtown apartment complex, neither Shaw nor his attorney explained what he was doing at the time or what had caused the "fall."

     In his statement to the media, coach Sarkisian said, "We are extremely disappointed in Josh. He let us all down…I appreciate that Josh has admitted that he lied and has apologized. Although this type of behavior is out of character for Josh, it is unacceptable. Honesty and integrity must be at the center of our program. I believe Josh will learn from this."

     Perhaps. But in all probability Mr. Shaw came clean when it became obvious that his elaborate lie wouldn't hold water.

     On November 12, 2014, Josh Shaw spoke publicly for the first time about the scandal that ended his football career at USC. To a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, he said, "I've seen the dark side, I've hit the bottom. I've learned."

     Shaw admitted jumping off the balcony following an argument with his girlfriend. "We just got into an argument just like every couple does. Was it loud? Yes. Was it overly loud? I don't think so."

     "We were not on good terms when she left," Shaw continued. "I thought she had somebody call the authorities. I was thinking the worst. If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in Ferguson, Missouri in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so the authorities didn't see me."

     If I may, I'm going to leap to the following conclusion: The Ferguson excuse was a load of crap. Shaw was up to no good and he wanted to get out of that apartment. Ferguson, Missouri? 

Distinguishing Truth From Deception in the Interrogation Room

     A truthful suspect will give concise answers because he has no fear of being trapped. The person knows that truth is being told and has no reason to qualify or to delay answers. Furthermore, the truthful suspect is not afraid to say the interrogator is wrong in suspecting him. The truthful suspect is also able, without any difficulty, casually to answer an irrelevant question such as "By the way, where do your children go to school?" and he is more apt to quickly correct an interrogator who makes a mistake about some irrelevant detail. The liar is less likely to do so.

     As a test to discern whether the suspect's mind is free and clear, the interrogator may deliberately err when referring to such matters as the suspect's home or business address. Usually, the truthful person will correct the interrogator, but the liar, due to his concentrated mental concern with deception, may completely miss the error. The lying suspect may be so disorganized that he will even delay giving his own home or business address.

     Truthful suspects will not only respond directly, they also will speak with relative clarity. Liars, however, tend to mumble or talk so softly that they cannot be heard clearly. Perhaps they hope that if they lie softly, they will be misunderstood; then, if later confronted with the falsity of an answer, they can deny it was said or else allege that they did not understand the question. On the other hand, some liars may speak at a rapid pace or may display erratic changes in the tone or pitch of their voices. Similarly, a verbal response coupled with nervous laughter or levity is a common attempt to camouflage deception.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Thornton P. Knowles On The Coming Dystopia

It started with wilderness followed by endless farmland dotted with villages and small towns. Then came the big, dirty cities surrounded by factories. Shopping malls and sprawling suburbia replaced the factories and thousands of small towns. Now the shopping malls are dying. I hate to think of what's next.

Thornton P. Knowles

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Criminal Justice Sob Sisters

The quest to humanely execute a condemned criminal is futile. How do you kill someone nicely? Moreover it's disingenuous. People who object to capital punishment know there is no such thing as a humane execution. If the government came up with a method to make executions more fun than sex, opponents of the death sentence would still be against it. After eliminating the death sentence these same people would come out against the life sentence. Other than doing away with criminal incarceration all together, there is no way to placate the criminal justice sob sister.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Cash Goes Into the Armored Truck

Nearly $21,000 is missing after a bag of cash fell off the roof of an armored truck that had picked it up from a soon-to-be-closed Atlantic City casino. GardaWorld Armored Car Services picked up the cash at Revel Casino on August 6, 2014…Surveillance video showed the bag holding the cash on the rear driver's side roof as the vehicle left the casino. The bag was still on the roof when the truck pulled away from nearby Resorts Casino Hotel. It is not clear where the bag fell off. [Someone in Atlantic City hit the jackpot.]

"$21 G Falls Off Truck After Pickup From Revel Casino," Associated Press, August 20, 2014 

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Pyle Mansion Fire

     Donald Pyle and his wife Sandra lived on Childs Point Road in Annapolis, Maryland in a 16,000 square-foot waterfront mansion. The massive house, built on an eight-acre tract of land, featured seven bedrooms and as many bathrooms. Mr. Pyle, the chief operating officer of ScienceLogic, an information technology company located in Reston, Virginia, had grown up in Baltimore County north of the city. The 55-year-old had attended Delaney High School and graduated from the University of Delaware. Prior to accepting the position at ScienceLogic, Donald Pyle had been the chief executive of IT companies in Pittsburgh and Annapolis.

     At three-thirty in the morning of Monday January 19, 2015, firefighters responded to what turned out to be a four-alarm fire at the Pyle mansion, a massive house referred to by neighbors as "The Castle." By the time 85 firefighters brought the blaze under control at seven that morning, the $6 million dwelling had been reduced to rubble in what had been an extremely hot, fast-moving fire.

     Although rescue personnel were unable to immediately sort through the debris due to heat and unstable structural conditions, investigators believed Mr. and Mrs. Pyle and their four visiting grandchildren, all uncounted for, had died in the fire.

     The search for bodies and evidence of the fire's cause and origin--traces of accelerants, multiple points of origin, and abnormal burn patterns--was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and investigators with the Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office. Bomb and arson dogs as well as cadaver canines augmented the fire scene inquiry.

     Construction of the mansion had been completed in 2005 before the state mandated home sprinkler systems. Had it been otherwise, the fire damage might have been minimal.

     On Wednesday evening January 21, 2015, fire investigators accompanied by a cadaver dog located the bodies of two people. Preliminary reports indicated the remains belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Pyle. The charred bodies were sent to the Maryland State Medical Examiner's Office for identification and autopsy. Fire investigators wanted to know, among other things, if the couple had been alive at the time of the fire.

     According to media reports, there had been no police activity at the residence prior to the fire. Moreover, there was no record of lawsuits, financial trouble, or marital discord associated with the family.

     The four missing children, Wes 6, Charlotte 8, Katie 7, and Lexi 8, were the offspring of Mrs. Pyle's two sons from a previous marriage. On Thursday January 22, searchers found two more bodies. The next day the authorities recovered the remains of another child. Searchers located the sixth and final body on Monday, January 26, 2015.

     The exterior of the Pyle mansion was built of stone in the tradition of a castle. Stone was used in the construction of the dwelling's interior as well. The fast development of the inferno, the extreme heat, and the total destruction of the structure required an answer to how. in the context of an accident, the fire had started.

     Following an extensive fire scene investigation, the authorities, months after the tragedy, determined that the source of the fire involved a corroded electrical outlet near the Christmas tree. The heat from the electrical short ignited the skirt beneath the tree. Flames shot up the 15-foot Frazer fir and spread quickly along the ceiling. Investigation revealed that while Mr. Pyle tried to extinguish the blaze, his wife tried in vain to save the grandchildren. 

Charles Bukowski On The Difference Between Poetry And Prose

What's the difference between poetry and prose? Poetry says too much in too short a time; prose says too little and takes too long.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman In Town And Other Stories

Thornton P. Knowles On The Death Of Criminal And Journalistic Investigation

A mother and her child were found dead in the rubble of their burned house. They had been both shot in the head with a semi-automatic pistol. Two days after the discovery, the authorities declared the case a murder-suicide. According to the official version of the case, the mother had shot her child to death, set fire to the house, then killed herself. Case closed; a two day story in the local newspaper. Notwithstanding the fact that women rarely kill their children by shooting them in the head and rarely kill themselves the same way and almost never set highly destructive house fires, the case went into the books without being criminally investigated. Members of this small community were not told why this mother would commit such a crime, if her child had been abused, if there was someone close to the family who wanted this mother and child dead, if the mother had a history of mental illness or if she was abusing drugs. Also left unknown was the history of the handgun or whether or not a child protection agency had failed to its job. The local authorities bundled this case in a neat package and buried it. If the profession of journalism hadn't predeceased these victims, some reporter would have dug into the case to answer these and other questions. No one seemed bothered by this failure of criminal justice and journalism. Perhaps no one cared because these victims were not rich, politically connected, or well known. And the real tragedy: this is not an unusual story. Institutions necessary for the survival of our country are failing us. When our leaders fail us and there is no one to hold them accountable, we are all in trouble.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Angela Kirking SWAT Raid

     In 2013, DEA agents in northern Illinois on the hunt for home marijuana growers regularly surveilled agricultural retailers where cannabis cultivators were known to purchase their botanical supplies. Agents would follow patrons home and the drug investigations would go from there.

     On September 17, 2013, a DEA agent sitting on Midwest Hydroganics in Crest Hill, Illinois followed a woman from the store to her home in nearby Shorewood. Angela Kirking, 46, had purchased a bag of organic fertilizer she carried out of the store in a green shopping bag. She had no previous arrests for drugs or any other crimes.

     The DEA agent, on suspicion Kirking was growing cannabis in her house, checked her electric bill for February through August 2013. The federal drug investigator discovered that Kirking's electric payments were higher than her neighbors' utility bills. Because people who cultivate cannabis in their homes use relatively large amounts of electricity to power their grow lights, the DEA agent became even more suspicious of Kirking.

      DEA agents, on October 6, 2013, conducted a so-called "investigative garbage pull" at the suspect's house. (In most states and under federal law, a person's trash may be seized without a warrant because it's considered abandoned property that carries no expectation of privacy.) The trash grabbing agent discovered several plant stems that smelled like cannabis.

     Armed with the suspect's relatively high electric bills and the discarded marijuana stems, the DEA agent in charge of Kirking's case acquired a warrant to search her house.

     On October 11, 2013, four DEA agents and five local police officers conducted a pre-dawn SWAT-style raid of Angela Kirking's home. The officers rousted the terrified woman out of bed and at gun-point demanded to know if there were any illegal substances in the dwelling.

     The heavily armed searchers found 9.3 grams of marijuana in one room and a "plant portion" on her patio. The drug cops also discovered three glass pipes, three scales, and two books on how to grow marijuana. The drug raiders also walked off with Kirking's computer and a zip drive.

     Because the raid didn't produce enough evidence to warrant a federal drug charge, a Will County prosecutor charged Kirking with two state misdemeanor drug offenses.

     Nine heavily armed police officers had conducted a pre-dawn, no-knock raid of a home occupied by a middle-aged woman with no history of crime. Moreover, the DEA investigator knew his suspect was not a player in an organized drug operation. In other words, the raiders knew they were not storming a drug lord's house. Predictably, the officers found no guns or a cache of drug money.

     In the Kirking case, an unarmed DEA agent could have knocked on this woman's door in the middle of the day, showed her the search warrant, and conducted a routine, orderly search of the premises. But pursuant to today's militaristic style of policing, that approach never crossed this agent's mind. Pre-dawn SWAT raids are a lot more fun. They are also a lot more dangerous--for the civilians involved. Had Kirking picked up a gun thinking the cops were criminal home invaders, she would have been killed,

     Kirking's attorney, Jeff Tomczak, fighting to get the case thrown out of court, argued that the DEA agent did not present enough probable cause to legally justify the issuance of the warrant. While this may or may not be the case, the bigger policing issue involved the unnecessary and dangerous employment of SWAT tactics to enforce a minor, low-risk offense. (I could find no disposition Kirking misdemeanor drug case.)

The College Roommate From Hell

     A university student stabbed his sleeping roommate in the throat, slashed his forehead and chased him to continue the attack when the victim broke free. The assault took place in the dormitory on a northern California campus. The assailant, Dillon Sang Kim, 19, slashed himself before he was arrested. His mug shot shows a stitched knife wound around his neck. The attacker's hospitalized 19-year-old roommate is expected to recover from the knife assault.

     Kim was charged with attempted murder and assault. The judge denied him bail…

     Police say the attack was unprovoked…The victim awoke early Tuesday February 17, 2015 to find Kim standing over him holding a knife. He stabbed his roommate several times and cut the victim's forehead and shoulder before the victim ran toward a bathroom that connected to an adjoining room occupied by two other students. Kim chased after his wounded roommate and stabbed him in the back when he fell down. The victim made it to the adjoining room where another student called 911. Police arrested Kim outside the dormitory.

     University Student Charged With Stabbing, Slashing Roommate," therepublic.com, February 20, 2015

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Pamela Phillips Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1986, Gary Lee Triano, a well-known real estate developer in Tucson, Arizona, made the mistake of his life when he married 28-year-old Pamela Phillips. Triano had made millions investing in bingo halls and slot-machine parlors in Arizona and California. He made his fortune before Congress authorized Native Americans to open full-blown gambling casinos.

     In 1992, when Triano was broke, his wife of six years divorced him. The couple had two children together. Shortly after the breakup, Phillips took out a $2 million insurance policy on her ex-husband's life. She moved to Aspen, Colorado where she began working as a real estate agent. It was there she met and began dating a 44-year-old man named Ronald Young.

     In 1994, Gary Triano filed for bankruptcy. He was $25 million in debt. He told his girlfriend in July 1996 that someone had been following him.

     At 5:30 PM on Friday, November 1, 1996, after playing a round of golf at the Westin La Paloma Country Club with his friend Luis Ruben, Triano climbed behind the wheel of his 1989 Lincoln Town Car . Eight minutes after pulling out of the country club parking lot, the vehicle exploded and burst into flames. The blast killed Triano instantly.

     Investigators determined that someone had wired a large black powder pipe bomb to Triano's car. Detectives had no idea who this person was. They questioned his ex-wife but didn't consider Phillips a suspect in the bombing. Without promising leads, the case quickly went cold.

     In November 2005, nine years after the car bombing murder of the ex-millionaire, Tucson detectives caught a break in the form of an anonymous tip. According to the tipster, Pamela Phillips had paid Ronald Young $400,000 to murder her ex-husband. The hit man had been compensated out of the $2 million life insurance payout that had gone to Phillips.

     FBI agents in Florida uncovered information connecting Young and Phillips in the Triano murder plot. The evidence included incriminating emails between the hit man and the mastermind, detailed records of their business transactions, meetings, and even recorded telephone calls in which the two discussed the murder plot.

     Ronald Young, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, went into hiding and became a fugitive.

     In September 2006, FBI agents raided Phillips' house in Aspen, Colorado. On her computer, agents found evidence of her involvement in her ex-husband's murder. However, before she was taken into custody, the murder-for-hire suspect fled the country and took up residence in Austria.

     Gary Triano's two children, in November 2007, sued Pamela Phillips and Ronald Young for the wrongful death of their father. (The plaintiffs were awarded $10 million in damages two years later.)

     On October 2008, FBI agents, after Ronald Young was featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted," arrested him in California. The suspected hit man was now 66-years-old. Upon his extradition to Arizona, the authorities booked him into the Pima County Jail. The judge set his bond at $5 million. Young pleaded not guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder.

     A jury, in March 2010, found Ronald Young guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

     In December 2010, government officials in Austria agreed to extradite Phillips to the U.S. on condition she would not, if found guilty, be sentenced to death. Prosecutors in Arizona agreed to this condition and the fugitive was sent home to face trial.

     The Pamela Phillips murder-for-hire trial got underway in February 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. Prosecutor Nicol Green portrayed the defendant as a cold-blooded gold digger who hired a former boyfriend to kill Mr. Triano for the life insurance money.

     Defense attorney Paul Eckerstrom painted his client as a victim of overzealous law enforcement. As a successful real estate agent in her own right, the lawyer claimed his client didn't need Triano's insurance money. Regarding the $400,000 she had paid Ronald Young, Eckerstrom characterized the transaction as payment for Young's help in various business ventures.

     In speculating who may have bombed Triano's Lincoln Town Car, attorney Eckerstrom said, "Gary Triano lived on the edge, the financial edge….He borrowed a lot of money from all sorts of people, many people who might be connected to organized crime."

     On April 8, 2014, the jury found Pamela Phillips guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. On May 22, 2014, the judge sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Upon hearing her fate, Phillips turned to the gallery and said, three times, "I'm innocent!"