6,020,000 pageviews


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Politics As A Confidence Game

All politicians, to one degree or another, are BS artists. But when it comes to painting a dishonest tableau, Joe Biden is a modern day Rembrandt. As a career politician this talent has served him well. But being served a steady diet of bull all these years from Biden and his fellow con men has not served the American public. Enough with the BS already.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Death By Knife In D.C.: One Week, Two Random Street Murders

Lance Ammons

     On the afternoon of August 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C., 62-year-old Robert Bolich, a contractor from Alexandria, Virginia, was working on the pedestrian walking lane to the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in the northwestern section of the city. Lance Ammons, a 42-year-old homeless man who lived in a wooded area near the bridge, approached Mr. Bolich, and with a knife stabbed him to death for no reason.

     When D.C. police officers arrested Ammons at the scene, he said he had killed the man on the bridge on orders from the Devil. Ammons told officers he had moved to the spot where he was currently camped to prepare for the end of the world.

     A local prosecutor charged Lance Ammons with first-degree murder. Through his public defenders office attorney, Ammons pleaded not guilty.

Eliyas Wendale Aregahegne

     Twenty-seven-year-old Margery Magill, a 2015 graduate of the University of California at Davis with a bachelor degree in International Agricultural Development, worked in Washington, D.C. as a program coordinator for the nonprofit organization Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.   

     At nine in the evening of August 27, 2019, while walking a dog in the 400 block of Irving Street NW, she was set upon by a knife wielding man who stabbed her several times and left her bleeding to death on the sidewalk. Witnesses heard her scream, "Oh, no? Help me!"

     Medical first responders rushed Margery Magill to a nearby hospital where she died from her wounds.

     The day following the random knife murder in the quiet D.C. residential neighborhood, detectives arrested an unemployed 24-year-old man named Eliyas Wendale Aregahegne. Accused of killing a complete stranger for no reason whatsoever, the prosecutor charged Aregahegne with first-degree murder. Aregahegne pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     According to his Facebook page, Aregahegne had attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison for one semester in 2013. The self-described Ethiopian, in July 2017, had been reported missing from his last known address on the 3000 block of 14th Street NW. Based on his numerous Facebook postings, Mr. Aregahegne had a high opinion of himself.

     As potential victims of violent crime, Americans most fear being attacked in public by someone they do not know. Because Robert Bolich and Margery Magill were killed in separate incidents by mentally ill men with knives instead of guns, these two atrocious and frightening murders were essentially ignored by politicians and the national media.

An Editor Can't Save A Bad Novel

Maxwell Perkins, dead these many years after he by Herculean effort transformed Thomas Wolfe's undisciplined outpourings into actual novels, did a disservice to novelists today who believe in the notion that all they need to do is get something on paper and some editor somewhere, most likely wearing a green eyeshade, will toil upon the novel until it is fit to print. They are mistaken,

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Richard De Wit Murder Case

     Sarah Groves, a 24-year-old hotel fitness instructor from the English Channel Island of Guernsey, was visiting her boyfriend in India's northwestern region of Kashmir. A former student at the Catholic St. Mary's boarding school in Ascot, she was a friend of Princess Beatrice. The boyfriend, Saeed Shoda, had arranged a room for Groves on his father's houseboat "New Beauty" on Dal Lake in Srinagar, Kashmir's capital.

     At two in the morning of April 6, 2013, 43-year-old Richard DeWit, an unemployed Dutch man with a room on the houseboat, broke into Grove's suite and allegedly stabbed her 45 times. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoda was spending the weekend with his friends. Miss Groves had remained with Shoda's parents who told reporters she had been like a daughter to them.

     Leaving everything behind on the "New Beauty" except for his passport and $2,500 inside his underwear, the barefoot, 7-foot-tall DeWit fled the houseboat in a stolen rowboat that capsized before he reached the shore. Once on land DeWit boarded a taxi.

     Shortly after members of the houseboat staff found Sarah Groves dead in a pool of blood, Kashmir police arrested DeWit on the National Highway 50 miles away in the town of Qazgund.

     Later that day, the murder suspect confessed to the police. He admitted having "violent tendencies" and said he had been under the influence of drugs during the 15-minute knife attack. DeWit explained that he had been overtaken by the devil. "The Devil took over my body," he said.

     DeWit's 31-year-old wife, Uma Rupanya, informed the authorities that DeWit had left her and their two daughters in November 2012. She said he had become "increasingly paranoid and irrational." According to the murder suspect's wife, "He believed the government was out to get him, that spies were following him, that his house was bugged."

      A prosecutor in Srinagar has charged DeWit with first-degree murder. At some point after his arrest Richard De Wit took back his confession and pleaded not guilty.

     In February 2015, the De Wit murder trial got underway in Srinagar, India. In October 2015, following 29 trial delays, the defendant fired his attorney and the trial came to a halt.

     Sarah Grove's parents, in the spring of 2015, publicly expressed concerns that the authorities, in going after Mr. De Wit, had targeted the wrong man. They characterized the aborted De Wit trial as a farce, and indicated that they suspected the victim's boyfriend, Saeed Shoda. According to the victim's parents, the police had badly mishandled the murder investigation.

     As of August 2017, the De Wit case, after more than four years and 90 hearings, remained on hold. De Wit, from his jail cell, requested to speak to Grove's parents. According to the suspect, he had knowledge about the murder he wanted to pass on to them. The authorities denied that request.

     By August 2019, after countless delays, it appeared that the Richard De Wit would finally get his day in court. Then suddenly that changed when the prime minister of India stripped Kashmir of its statehood and semi-autonomous status. Due to the complete lockdown in Kashmir where phone, cable TV, and Internet services were suspended, Sarah Groves' parents were unable to maintain contact with their legal counsel. As a result the murder victim's parents had no idea what was happening in the case. They feared the political unrest in India would destroy the chance their daughter's murder would be resolved. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Leading Criminologist On Mass Murder

There is no evidence that we are in the midst of an epidemic of mass shootings.

James Allen Fox, Northeastern University, August 2019

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Job Priorities For Officials In Charge Of Jails And Prisons

It's really quite simple. If you are in charge of a jail or prison, it's your job to make sure no one escapes, is killed or injured in custody, starts a riot, or sets a fire. Everything else is secondary.

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Prestigious College: A Nightmare For Working And Middle Class Students

     Authors Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, along with a team of researchers helping them produce a book that came out in 2014 called Paying For The Party: How College Maintains Inequality, embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile midwestern state school. The authors and their researchers kept up with a group of female students through college.

     While according to the conventional wisdom that higher education is a form of upward mobility that is an economic and social equalizer, the authors of this book found otherwise. They believe that a college education from a prestigious, expensive school rewards upper-middle class and rich students while treating their working-class counterparts more cruelly, often leaving these students isolated and adrift.

     The inequality manifests itself in the campus party/sorority scene referred to by the authors as the "Party Pathway" through the university experience. Many kids from well-to-do families select a college or university because of its rich party/social environment. (So, when a university is labeled "a party school," that's good for recruiters.)

     Rich kids, while not necessarily academically prepared for college, get accepted into these expensive schools because the institutions need their parents' money. Many of these less than academically gifted students navigate the university experience by taking bonehead majors like speech communication, criminal justice, elementary education, broadcasting, and women's studies. They don't learn anything useful, but they get their degrees, have a good time, and establish important social relationships. Because their families have connections, they also acquire good jobs.

     The poorer, more academically prepared students struggle to afford sorority fees, clothing costs, spring break trips, and bar tabs. These students are referred to by the rich kids as "wannabes." Students who can't keep up socially end up humiliated and unhappy. According to the authors of Paying For The Party, the most successful working-class students end up transferring to less prestigious, expensive institutions where they are happier and get a better education.

Thornton P. Knowles On Political Dexterity

To succeed in politics, the practitioner must be ambidextrous. While patting a constituent on the back with one hand, the politician needs the other hand to pick the voter's pocket. And while applying this two-handed simultaneous maneuver, the politician has to sweet talk his victim with a litany of lies such as "I'll fight for you, I'm my own man, and I'll put the country above politics." It takes a lot of practice to pull this off, but for the career sociopath, the economic rewards are great.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Keeping Pedophiles Released From Prison Off The Street: Kansas v. Hendricks

     While no one knows exactly how many pedophiles roam our streets and inhabit our institutions, anyone who is paying attention knows there are many of them, too many. Not only that, each pedophile is a serial offender with dozens of victims. And these sexual deviants cannot be rehabilitated. For them there is no cure, no treatment.

     So, what can be done to protect potential victims against these sexual predators? Just catching them and sending them to prison isn't enough because they eventually get out and go right back to seducing and sexually violating children. Laws requiring convicted pedophiles to register as sex offenders, and restricting where they can live, doesn't deal with the problem either. These measures are legislative window dressing to make us think our political leaders are dealing with the problem.

     In 1994, lawmakers in Kansas concerned about children passed a controversial law called the Sexually Violent Predator Act that allowed the state, following a pedophile's release from prison, to involuntarily commit violent sex offenders to mental institutions through a process known as civil commitment.

     The procedure for committing pedophiles and other violent sex offenders under the Kansas law required notifying the local prosecutor handling the case 60 days before the prisoner's release. The prosecutor, upon such notice, had 45 days to file a petition with a state court requesting the involuntary commitment of the offender. Under this law, the prosecutor had the burden of proving that the person in question suffered from a "mental abnormality" that made him or her a "sexually violent predator." If a psychological professional found sufficient evidence to support civil commitment on these grounds, a trial would follow.

     If the defendant was found, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a sexually violent predator, the trial judge would order his or her commitment to a mental institution. Following the commitment, the law required the court to conduct annual reviews to determine if the committed person should remain in custody for another year.

Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 347, (1997)

     In 1995, convicted pedophiles Leroy Hendricks and Tim Quinn were scheduled for prison release. Both men had extensive histories of sexually molesting children. As a result, a Kansas prosecutor filed a petition under the Sexually Violent Predator Act to involuntarily commit Hendricks and Quinn to a state mental institution.

     At the Hendricks/Quinn commitment trial, the defendants took the stand and agreed with the state psychiatrist's diagnosis that they were pedophiles who continued to experience uncontrollable sexual desires for children. Based on this testimony, the jury found that Hendricks and Quinn qualified as sexually violent predators. The civil trial judge ordered both men committed to the state mental facility.

     Leroy Hendrick's attorneys asserted that the involuntary commitment of a man who had served his time in prison violated the ex post facto and double jeopardy clauses of the United States constitution. The circuit court judges ruling on the appeal did not address those specific issues, but found the Kansas law unconstitutional on grounds the "mental abnormality" requirement was too vague to satisfy the constitution's due process clause.

     Attorneys representing the state of Kansas appealed the circuit court's ruling to the United States Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the high court justices reversed the appellate court ruling, finding that the Kansas Violent Sexual Predator Act did not violate the U.S. constitution's ex post facto, double jeopardy or due process clauses.

     Because only a few states have violent sexual predator laws, and prosecutors in states that do don't have the time or will to go through the civil commitment process, only a few prison released pedophiles remain isolated from society. Moreover, even if there were more laws like this, and prosecutors who cared enough to go through the process, there are fewer and fewer institutions where these predators can be confined. As a result, Kansas v. Hendricks was a hollow victory that has not solved the problem of what to do about our pedophiles. Children are still at risk.

     If our political leaders where serious about protecting children, convicted pedophiles would be subjected to mandatory life sentences.
     

The Ten Safest Cities In The U.S. (2018)

In 2018, the ten safest cities in the country were: Virginia Beach, VA; Honolulu, HI; Lexington, KY; Anaheim, CA; San Diego, CA; El Paso, TX; San Jose, CA; Austin, TX; Mesa, AZ; Tampa, FL.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

More People Go Off To Jail Than College

     There were 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. as of the 2010 Census. It's often been remarked that our national incarceration rate of 707 adults per every 100,000 citizens is the highest in the world, by a huge margin.

     Much of the discussion of prison population centers around inmates in our 1,800 state and federal correctional facilities. But at any given time, hundreds of thousands more individuals are locked up in the nation's 3,200 local and county jails…We have slightly more jails and prisons in the U.S.--5,000 plus--than we do colleges and universities. In many parts of America, particularly the south, there are more people living in prisons than on college campuses…[Here's a bumper sticker: MORE JAILS, FEWER COLLEGES]

     Florida, Arizona and California stand out as states with sizable corrections populations in just about every county. States in the midwest, on the other hand, tend to have concentrated populations in just a handful of counties…

     In many instances, large correctional facilities are located in sparsely populated regions like northern New York. In some of these counties, prisons account for 10, 20 or 30 percent of the total population….

"The U.S. Has More Jails Than Colleges," washingtonpost.com, January 6, 2015

Friday, August 23, 2019

Joe Biden In 2011 Revealing His Misunderstanding Of Policing And Crime Prevention

     On October 19, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden told a reporter from Human Events that if Congress failed to pass President Obama's Jobs Act, "...murder will continue to rise, rape will continue to rise, all crimes will continue to rise." When confronted by the reporter's skepticism regarding rising crime rates, Biden told him to check the crime statistics for Flint, Michigan, pointing out that when police officers were laid off in that city, rape rates went up.

     According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, the number of rapes in Flint, Michigan declined from 2009 to 2010. In 2008, the city employed 265 sworn police officers. In 2010, there were 144. So, in Flint, as more and more officers were laid off,  the incident of rape, according to the FBI's statistics, dropped. Flint's chief of police, Alvin Lock, said this in September 2010: "A smaller police force doesn't automatically mean more crime. There's been years when we had 300 officers and we still had more homicides."

     Because police officers generally react to crime rather than prevent it, there is little relationship between policing and crime rates. This is particularly true with regard to crimes like rape and homicide. If an escalation of police manpower and weaponry affected crime rates, we would have won the drug war twenty years ago.

     Let's assume that the Obama administration had given the city of Flint enough federal money to double their police force. How would the police department have used those funds? They probably would have hired more patrol officers and bought more expensive weapons and SWAT gear. The money would not have been used to solve rape or other cases. The crime lab would still have had a two to three year DNA analysis backlog, and there still would have been a shortage of forensic nurses, rape kits, and trained sexual offense investigators.

     Rape is primarily a crime committed behind closed doors involving people who know each other. Having ten heavily armed patrol officers on the street in front of a house where a rape is being committed would not prevent the assault.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Lack Of Impatient Treatment For The Mentally Ill

     A severe shortage of impatient care for people with mental illness is amounting to a public health crisis, as the number of individuals struggling with a range of psychiatric problems continue to rise....A study published in the journal Psychiatric Services estimates 3 to 4 percent of Americans--more than 8 million--suffer from serious psychological problems.

     The disappearance of long-term care facilities and psychiatric beds has escalated in the past decade, sparked by a trend toward deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients in the 1950s and 60s....

     A 2012  report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that works to remove treatment barriers for people with mental illness, found the number of psychiatric beds decreased by 14 percent from 2005 to 2010. That year there were 50,509 state psychiatric beds, meaning there were only 14 beds available per 100,000 people....As a result, many people who experience a serious mental health crisis end up in the emergency room....Between 2001 and 2006, 6 percent of all emergency department patients had a psychiatric condition.

Samantha Raphelson, "Here and Now" NPR, November 30, 2017

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

America's Fifteen Most Corrupt Cities

In 2018, the top fifteen most politically corrupt cities were: Washington, D.C. (no surprise here); Chicago, Il; Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD; Miami, FL; Houston, TX; New York, NY; Detroit, MI; New Orleans, LA; Newark, NJ; Richmond, VA; Los Angeles, CA; Wichita, KS; Cleveland, OH; and Las Vegas, Nv.

California's New Deadly Use Of Force Law

In 2017, police officers in California killed 162 people. (In 2016, the number was 157 and in a study I conducted in 2011, California police killed 102.) In August 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom sighed a bill into law that only justifies deadly force in cases where it is necessary to prevent the suspect from killing or seriously hurting the officer or another person. The old law also allowed the use of lethal force to prevent an armed suspect from resisting arrest or fleeing apprehension. The new legislation is one of the most restrictive laws of its kind in the country. Given the number of legally justified but unnecessary police-involved shooting cases in the United States over the past several years, other states will probably follow suit.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Black Market For Pot In California

In California, the black market for marijuana in 2019, notwithstanding the legalization of pot, continues to flourish. That's because, due to hefty sales taxes and marijuana distribution fees, illegal pot can sell for 40 percent less than the legal stuff. Politicians, in pushing for legalization, lied when they promised that legalization would put an end to the illegal drug trade. But that shouldn't surprise anyone. When did a politician ever tell the truth about anything.

The Rhyming Children's Picture Book

Rhyming! So many writers think children's picture books need to rhyme. There are some editors who won't even look at books in rhyme, and a lot more who are extremely wary of them, so it limits a literary agent on where the manuscript can go and the likelihood of it selling. These books are also particularly hard to execute perfectly.

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Making The FBI's Top Ten

Things I wonder about the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" criminals: When they catch a guy and he comes off the list, does number eleven automatically move up? And does he see it as a promotion? Does he call his criminal friends and say, "I made it, Bruno. I'm finally on the list?"

George Carlin

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Exploratory Surgery

I asked my doctor if he could recommend a good surgeon. "For what?" he asked. "I want him to open me up to see if I have any more books in me." Without cracking a smile he replied, "If you do, do you want them removed?"

Thornton P. Knowles

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Jessica Hernandez Police-Involved Shooting Case

     In Denver, Colorado at six-thirty in the morning of Monday January 26, 2015, two police officers responded to a call about a suspicious vehicle. The officers knew that the parked car, occupied by five people, had been reported stolen. According to the police version of the story, as the officers approached the vehicle, it lurched toward them. Both officers opened fire, hitting and killing the driver who turned out to be 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez. The car struck one of the officers in the leg.

     Bobbie Diaz, the mother of a 16-year-old girl who was in the stolen car at the time of the shooting was in bed when she heard four gunshots followed by a man yelling, "Freeze! Get out of the car! Get down!"

     When Diaz went outside to investigate, she saw police officers pulling young people from the car. They yanked Jessica Hernandez out from behind the steering wheel and handcuffed the unresponsive girl. One of the teens in the group screamed, "She's dead! She's dead!"

     Another witness to the police shooting, neighborhood resident Arellia Hammock, told a reporter she heard three gunshots that morning. In referring to the teenagers involved, she said, "They shouldn't have stolen a car. But the cops are too fast on the gun. You've got stun guns. You've got rubber bullets. Why do they have to shoot all the time?"

     One of the occupants of the stolen car offered a version of the incident different in a very important way from the official police account. According to this witness, the vehicle didn't move toward the officers until after they killed the driver.

     The Denver chief of police, pursuant to departmental policy in such matters, placed both officers on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into Hernandez's death. The inquiry was . conducted by three separate agencies: the Denver Police Department, the district attorney's office, and a civilian oversight organization called the Office of Independent Monitor.

     At a vigil held that night for Jessica Hernandez, residents of the neighborhood critical of the police  held signs protesting the shooting. One of the signs read: "Your Badge Is Not a License to Kill."

     Two days after the fatal shooting, 200 angry protestors gathered outside Denver's District 2 police station. An official with the independent civilian oversight organization reported to the media that in the past seven months Denver police officers had fired four times at vehicles they perceived as threats.

     According to the Denver Police Department's use of deadly force guidelines, officers in cases like this are urged to step out of the way of approaching vehicles rather than to open fire. Moreover, if the driver of the vehicle is hit, the car or truck could become an unguided missile.

     Because Denver police cars were not equipped with dashboard cameras, shooting investigators would have to rely on witness accounts of the incident. It would have been helpful to detectives if the incident had been caught on a neighborhood surveillance camera.

     Not long after the fatal shooting, Jessica Hernandez's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

     In June 2016, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against the police officers involved in Jessica Hernandez's death. The officers were returned to duty.
   
     In April 2017, the city of Denver and Jessica Hernandez's family settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $1 million. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Cruelty To Animals

I am soft on animals, particularly pets. Defendants convicted of animal cruelty should be punished as though they have committed their crimes against children. There is no moral or legal justification for animal cruelty. A person who intentionally hurts an innocent and helpless animal is capable of physically abusing a child. While these sadists belong in Hell, very few of them even go to prison. As one of the few people from West Virginia who could never shoot a deer, the sentencing of animal abusers is a criminal justice reality that brings out the vigilante in me.

Thornton P. Knowles

Friday, August 16, 2019

Police Officer Suicide

In 2017, there were 47,000 suicides in the United States, the highest rate in 50 years. In 2018, 159 police officers took their own lives. On August 14, 2019, in New York City, the 9th officer in 2019 committed suicide at his home in Queens, New York. The day before, a NYPD officer shot himself to death in Yonkers, New York.

Thornton P. Knowles On Reality

Humans will never comprehend reality. What the hell is it, and why do so many people want to escape it?

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski's Dislike Of His Fellow Writers

There is something about writing that draws the fakes. What is it? Writers are the most difficult to take, on the page or in person. And they are worse in person than on the page and that's pretty bad.

Charles Bukowski

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Gary Dotson Exonerated By DNA Thirty Years Ago

     Gary Dotson was convicted in May 1979 of raping 16-year-old Cathleen Crowell. The jury found him guilty on the basis of her testimony. He denied having any sexual relations with her. In 1985, after Crowell became a born-again Christian, she recanted. She said she had made up the accusation as a cover story for her parents in the event her boyfriend impregnated her. Prosecutors claimed that the recantation was the product of Crowell's mental derangement. As a result, Dotson stood convicted until 1989 when he was exonerated by DNA analysis. He became the first person in the United States to be so exonerated.

     Since Gary Dotson's historic exoneration, 364 people have been exonerated by DNA science.

Thornton P. Knowles On Never Getting Old

A few months before my father went out to the barn to hang himself, he said, "Son, never get old." I was fifteen and thought he was crazy, and weak. Now I'm beginning to think that maybe he was right.

Thornton P. Knowles

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Arturo Gatti's Sudden And Violent Death: Suicide Or Murder?

     On July 11, 2009, police in Ipojuca, Brazil discovered the body of 37-year-old Arturo Gatti lying in his underwear on the bloodstained floor of the villa where he was vacationing with his wife Amanda Rodrigues. The blood originated from a blunt-object wound to the back of his head. Gatti's sudden, violent death grabbed headlines due to his prominence in the world of professional boxing. Born in Italy, raised in Canada and relocated to Jersey City, New Jersey, Gatti, with a lightweight/welterweight record of 40 wins and 9 defeats, is best known for this three bouts with Mickey Ward.  Ring Magazine named the rubber match between Gatti and Worcester, Massachusetts' welterweight Mickey Ward, "Fight of the Year."

     The Brazilian authorities quickly charged Gatti's wife with first-degree murder. That she had waited ten hours before reporting his death, the fact the strap of her purse was stained in his blood, and other factors led to her arrest. However, on July 30, 2009, after ruling his death a suicide--he had supposedly hanged himself from a wooden staircase with the strap of the purse--the authorities released Rodrigues from custody.

     Twenty-four days before his death, while living back in Montreal, Gatti had changed his will, leaving his entire estate to his wife. Following the release of his widow from Brazilian custody, the Canadian government promised a thorough investigation of the death. Instead, a team of private investigators took up the case.

     In August, 2009, at a news conference in New Jersey, the private investigators announced that they believed that Arturo had been murdered. Among other evidence that didn't support the suicide finding, the purse strap was incapable of holding his body weight from the staircase. Dr. Cyril Wecht, the prominent forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh, called the Brazilian autopsy "horribly incomplete" to the point of being "deliberately bungled" in an attempt to support suicide as the manner of death.  The press conference coincided with a civil trial underway in Montreal where Gatti's mother and brother were contesting Rodrigues' claim to his $6 million estate.

     In December 2012, Arturo Gatti was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

     As of August 2019, the official manner of Arturo Gatti's death remained suicide.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Home Invading Ex-Mennonite

     A lot of crime is inexplicable. Young shoot up schools, shopping malls, theaters, and even hospitals. A man in New York City was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train, while in a small town in Pennsylvania a music teacher shot his ex-wife to death as she played the organ in church. Every week there's a new murder-suicides To write about crime today is to write about mental illness, personality disorder, and drug abuse.

     The changing nature of crime and criminal behavior in this country reflects a population of people who are losing the ability to cope with modern life. Politicians, desperate to appear honest, competent, and useful, fall all over themselves with ridiculous, feel-good laws that are irrelevant to the sources of these social problems. Instead of more cops, SWAT teams, and gun restrictions, the country needs more psychiatrists. America is mentally ill.

     At nine in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, two elderly Mennonite sisters invited a nice looking young man, who said he was an insurance salesman, into their house. Both in their late eighties, the sisters lived in a brick, ranch-style home on Indiantown Road in rural Lancaster County in the heart of southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. (Mennonites, devoted to the plain, simple life, are more modern that their old-order Amish counterparts. Unlike the Amish, they do not practice shunning.)

     Dereck Taylor Holt, the 22-year-old man who entered the Clay Township house that morning, was not an insurance salesman. The former Mennonite, with no fixed address, chided the frightened sisters for being members of the church, and railed angrily against the religion. He then repeatedly shocked the elderly women with a stun gun, and between periods in which he read Bible passages to his victims, slapped, kicked, and punched them. Holt used duct tape to bind his captives' hands and feet, then ransacked the house in search of cash and valuables.

     During the bizarre, sadistic home invasion, an elderly Mennonite friend of the sisters came to the house and knocked on the door. Holt pulled this woman into the home where he shocked and assaulted her before binding the visitor in duct tape. Following the two-hour ordeal, Holt used household cleaning substances he took from the house to remove his latent fingerprints from the scene. Before leaving the ransacked house and the terrified women, Holt destroyed their Bible.

     At 4:20 that afternoon, the three Mennonite victims were discovered by a relative of the sisters who called 911. The women were rushed by ambulance to Ephrata Hospital. One of the victims had an heart attack, the other a broken shoulder, and the third was treated for bleeding on the brain. (The victims would survive their ordeals.)

     The next day, officers with the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police arrested Dereck Taylor Holt. Officers booked him into the Lancaster County Jail on charges of burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, theft, and a Pennsylvania hate crime called ethnic intimidation. The judge set Holt's bond at $1 million.

     In May 2013, Holt pleaded guilty to all of the charges except ethnic intimidation. At his August 2013 sentencing hearing before Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher, Holt, in a five-minute statement, said: "I'm not a heartless being. I'm not an empty carcass incapable of contributing to society. But I can't defend my actions. This was the culmination of a long, two-year addiction to substances. These actions wouldn't have happened without my alarming abuse of mind-altering prescription medication."

     Judge Madenspacher sentenced Holt to 12 to 40 years in prison where he would receive psychiatric treatment.

Charles Bukowski On Living To Write

I never wanted fame or money. I wanted to get the words down the way I wanted it, that's all. And I had to get the words down or be overcome by something worse than death. Words not as precious things but as necessary things.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Thornton P. Knowles On Becoming a "Literary Figure"

The moment a writer becomes a so-called "literary figure," narcissism and all that goes with it dries up the creative juices that brought this writer to prominence. This is particularly true of novelists who are not known for their mental stability in the first place. In other words, as a fiction writer, you can't win.

Thornton P. Knowles

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mass Murderers Are Evil, Not Insane

    In the summer of 2012, James Holmes' shooting rampage in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado marked the twenty-first mass murder involving six or more fatalities since Colorado's Columbine shootings in 1999. In the wake of these killing sprees, the worst being the 32 shot to death in 2007 at Virginia Tech, TV talking heads--psychiatrists, psychologists, and defense attorneys--tried to explain why someone would do such a thing. Surely a college kid like James Holmes who murdered twelve and injured 70 people in a movie theater must be insane. No person in his right mind would commit such a cruel, cold-blooded crime.

     People who called James Holmes insane were equating deviant behavior with crazy behavior. Horrible crimes that cannot be rationally explained, or understood by a normal person, are not necessarily committed by individuals who are psychotic, that is, out of touch with reality. The old law school example of psychotic, homicidal behavior is the man, who while strangling his wife, thinks he's squeezing an orange. Indeed, to be legally insane, the killer must be so mentally impaired that he's incapable of appreciating the criminal nature and quality of his actions. The popular term for this legal standard of insanity is called the right-wrong test.

     To avoid criminal culpability for a criminal homicide on the grounds of insanity, the defendant has the burden of proving (people are presumed sane), by a preponderance of the evidence, that he was so mentally ill he didn't know right from wrong. For defendants raising the insanity defense there is a problem: in reality, even in cases where the defendant at the time of his crime was suffering from some form of schizophrenia, the killer was still aware of the consequences of his act, and that it was wrong. In other words, there is no such thing as a mental sickness that produces a state of mind that meets the legal definition of mental illness. The paranoid schizophrenic who strangles his wife not only knows he is not squeezing an orange, he is aware is he killing his wife. And although the devil may have told him to do it, he knows it's wrong because the devil doesn't tell you to do good things.

     In mass murder shooting spree cases involving six or more victims, all of the killers, including James Holmes, carefully planned the attacks. Holmes had prepared for weeks before carrying out his military-style assault. This is not how seriously mentally ill people behave. James Holmes and the other killers, when they committed their mass murders, were sharply in touch with reality. They reveled in their crimes because they knew they were doing something so wrong it would shock the world. In essence, that is the motive for these atrocities, to shock and terrorize.

     James Holmes and his murderous counterparts are known as sociopaths. They are angry, sadistic, narcissists who have no empathy or feelings of guilt. While usually loners, they can be superficially charming, and are often, like James Holmes, extremely intelligent. They possess personality disorders that cannot be fixed through counseling or medication. They are probably born that way, but who knows? Because sociopaths don't walk around in baby-steps looking at the ceiling and talking to themselves, they are hard to spot. The world is full of jerks. How do you know if one is a sociopath? This is what makes these people so dangerous. Moreover, we seem to be developing into a nation of sociopaths.

     Because criminologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and other helpists hate to admit there are people they can't rehabilitate, they don't buy into the notion that some people are just bad. But that's what they are, evil. And that's how the criminal justice system should deal with them. 

Thornton P. Knowles On Mental Illness

Regardless of your race, religion, gender, or class, mental illness can hunt you down and destroy your life. It can visit God fearing people and nonbelievers; the educated and the unschooled; important people and ordinary folks; Democrats and Republicans; no one is immune. You can't buy your way out of it, talk you way out of it, pray your way out of it, pretend it doesn't exist, or kill it with pills. Mental illness comes in many forms and and strikes down the young, the middle aged, and the old. Mental illness does not respect the human race.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski On 1990s Popular Music

Every day as I drive to the track I keep punching the radio to different stations looking for music, decent music. It's all bad, flat, lifeless, tuneless, listless. Yet some of these compositions sell in the millions and their creators consider themselves as true Artists. It's horrible, horrible drivel entering the minds of young heads. They like it. Christ, hand them shit, they eat it up. Can't they discern? Can't they hear? Can't they feel the dilution, the staleness?

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Charles Bukowski On A Life Of Drinking

Well, I couldn't drink myself to death. I came close but I didn't. Now I deserve to live with what is left.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Sherlock Holmes on The Power of Observation

The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.

Sherlock Holmes in Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hounds of the Baskervilles" 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Disagree With A Decision? Get A Lawyer And Sue

     The idea of freedom as personal power has been pushed aside in recent decades by a new idea of freedom--where the focus is on the rights of whoever might disagree with a decision. There were good reasons why we went in this direction, but now the momentum has carried us to a point where we no longer feel free in daily interaction. Almost any encounter carries legal risk. Lawyers are everywhere, both literally--the proportion of lawyers in the workforce almost doubled between 1970 and 2000--and in our minds, sowing doubt into ordinary choices. Americans increasingly go through the day looking over their shoulders instead of where they want to go.

     What's been lost is a coherent legal framework of right and wrong. A free society requires that people generally understand the scope of their freedoms. Without reliable legal boundaries, distrust will infect daily dealings. People start to fear each other, and they start to fear law. That's what happened in America, particularly for teachers, doctors, managers, and others with responsibility.

Philip K. Howard, Life Without Lawyers, 2009 

Thornton P. Knowles On The Village Idiots

They say that every village his its idiot. From what I've seen, most villages have several. Unfortunately, many of these people end up running the town.

Thornton P. Knowles

Thursday, August 8, 2019

How Many Serial Killer Victims Are There?

The total maximum number of all known serial killer victims in the United States over a span of 195 years between 1800 and 1995 is estimated at 3,860. Of this total, a maximum of 1,398 victims were murdered between 1975 and 1995, at an average of 70 victims a year. Even if we account for unknown victims, that figure is nowhere near the 3,500 annual number [of serial killer victims] so often bandied about.

Peter Vronsky, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, 2004

Thornton P. Knowles On Childhood Possessions

Growing up in West Virginia I had four prize possessions: a few baseball cards, a harmonica, a pocketknife, and a Duncan yo-yo. I liked the bubblegum more than the cards, couldn't play the harmonica, didn't have a practical use for the knife, and stunk at yo-yoing. Still, I loved those things.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski's Disdain For His Fellow Poets

All the poets I have met have been soft jellyfish, sycophants. They have nothing to write about except their selfish non-endurance. Yes, I stay away from POETS. Do you not blame me....Maybe there's a hell. If there is I'll be there and you know what? All the poets will be there reading their works and I will have to listen. I will be drowned in their preening vanity, their overflowing self-esteem. If there is a hell, that will be my hell: poet after poet reading on and on.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

A Cold-Blooded Poisoner Gets Off Light

     In May 2018, Terese Kozlowski, after being married to Brian Kozlowski for 29 years, filed for divorce. She did not, however, move out of their home in Macomb County, Michigan.

     During the month of July, 2018, after consuming her morning coffee prepared by Mr. Kozlowski, Terese felt tired, nauseous and extremely drowsy. After almost falling asleep at the wheel on a busy highway, Terese, suspecting that her estranged husband had been spiking her coffee, set up a hidden surveillance camera above the counter where Mr. Kozlowski prepared her morning drink.

     When the surveillance footage revealed that Mr. Kozlowski was pouring something into her coffee, a substance he was not adding to his cup, Terese Kozlowski went to the police with the evidence. To save her life, she moved out of the house.

     A toxicological analysis of the suspected substance revealed that Mr. Kozlowski had been adding diphenhydramine, an ingredient found in Benadryl, to his estranged wife's coffee. Each morning's dose of the drug equaled about eight sleeping pills.

     After detectives took Brian Kozlowski into custody, a Macomb County prosecutor charged him with poisoning. The defendant, in June 2019, pleaded no contest to the charge.

     Prior to Kozlowski's sentencing, a pre-sentencing investigator recommended that the defendant serve between three and fifteen years behind bars. As a criminal act, to intentionally and with malice poison someone's food or drink is as cruel as it is cold-blooded. Moreover, it is not a crime motivated by insanity. but by hate, greed, or both. Teresa Kozlowski, under the influence of her husband's poisoning, could have easily killed herself or a fellow motorist.

     In August 2019, at the sentencing hearing, the 46-year-old defendant told Visiting Judge Antonio Vivano that he was in a state of "profound remorse" for what he had done to his wife. He said he had been in a "deep state of depression" over the pending divorce. The defendant also pointed out that he had been receiving psychological counseling.

     Judge Vivano responded to Kozlowski's pre-sentencing statement by remarking that he found it "moving."

     In a ruling that shocked everyone connected to the case, judge Vivano sentenced Brian Kozlowski to spend 60 weekends in the Macomb County Jail followed by five years probation. Apparently the judge didn't want Mr. Kozlowski to lose his job just because he had tried to kill his wife.

     Assistant prosecutor Darra Slanec called the sentence "a slap in the victim's face."

     This judge should be removed from the bench.

Deadly Police Car Chases

     It took 137 bullets, 62 police, 22 minutes, 13 shooting officers and two fatalities to end the police chase of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Cleveland police officers began pursuing the light blue 1979 Chevy Malibu carrying the pair at about 10:30 PM on November 29, 2012. Authorities suspected the two were involved in drug activity. At some point the car was believed to have backfired, causing several officers to think shots were fired at them. Police did not find a gun in the car and those close to the pair say they don't know why Russell didn't stop the car. In the end police shot 43-year-old Russell 23 times and passenger Malissa Williams, 30, 24 times.

     Two years later, a debate ignited by the deaths of Russell and Williams was spreading across the country as violent deaths and injuries caused authorities to rethink chase strategies. In Cleveland and in cities nationwide many experts, police departments and everyday citizens were questioning how and when police officers should conduct such pursuits.

     While chases have gone on for decades, mounting concerns about public safety and excessive force claims were fueling police changes in states like Florida, Kansas, and California. In 2014, the Cleveland Police Department adopted a restrictive police chase policy: officers could only chase those suspected of a violent felony or driving while intoxicated. The move was part of a growing national trend among departments to limit chases…

Yamiche Alcindor, "After Cleveland Shooting, Cities Restrict Police Chases," USA Today, June 28, 2014

Fiction Is About Private Life, Nonfiction About Known People

The short story writer, playwright, and novelist deal with private life. They deal with ordinary people and elevate these people into our consciousness. The nonfiction writer has traditionally dealt with people in public life, names that are known to us.

Gay Talese in Telling True Stories, edited by Wendy Call, 2007 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Politicians: America's Phony Crimefighters

When politicians feel voter wrath over high crime rates, they always take measures that punish and demonize citizens who obey the law. These phony crimefighters raise taxes, restrict free speech, invade privacy, ban things, and pass useless, feel-good window dressing legislation. None of these measures, of course, reduces crime or helps citizens defend themselves against criminals. Yet we keep voting these political hacks and demagogues into office. It's all so bogus and disheartening. Shame on us.

Thornton P. Knowles On Writer Versus Writer

I writer I knew, in speaking about a novelist he didn't like, said the guy was such a flaming A-hole he would, upon his death, cremate himself. Ouch.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski On The Writer's Duty

A writer owes nothing except to his writing. He owes nothing to the reader except the availability of the printed page.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

Defense Attorney Fees

It doesn't matter if my client is guilty. By the time he's paid my fee I've punished him enough.

Percy Foreman (1902-1988)

A Realistic Take on Justice?

I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial, for neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not.

Patricia Highsmith, crime novelist 

NSA Spying and the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment typically require's "a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and public," and it is offended by "general warrants" and laws that allow searches to be conducted "indiscriminately" and without regard to their connections with a crime under investigation. I cannot imagine a more "indiscriminate" and arbitrary invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely such a program infringes on "that degree of privacy" that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.

U. S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, December 16, 2013 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Opus Bono Sacerdotii: The Secretive Clan That Gives Aid To Catholic Priests Accused Of Sexual Abuse

     The Catholic Church, in the United States and around the world, is an organization riddled with pedophiles. The church has a long history of protecting its in-house sex offenders by moving accused priests from diocese to diocese and intimidating victims. When those tactics fail, the church pays off its victims. In 2018, according to BishopAccountability, an organization that tracks Catholic Church sex case payoffs, the church, since 1950, has dished out $3.8 billion in hush money to U.S. victims abused by priests.

     The stunning BishopAccountability report came out in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented the abuse of 1,000 victims by 300 priests in six of the state's dioceses. All of this, of course, represented the mere tip of the massive Catholic Church sex crime iceberg.

     As high ranking officials in the church scrambled to assure the public that the organization would no longer tolerate or cover up the crimes of its priests, and help sex abuse victims to heal, the Associated Press, in 2019, published the results of its investigation of a secretive nonprofit organization devoted to "providing life saving care for priests experiencing difficulties." These "difficulties" include accusations of sexual abuse.

     The subject of the Associated Press inquiry is called Opus Bono Sacerdotii which in Latin means: work for the good of the priesthood. Since its founding in 2002, OBS has provided legal services, money, shelter, moral support and transportation to thousands of priests accused of child sexual abuse. The organization, headquartered in Dryden, Michigan, operates out of unmarked buildings scattered throughout the rural part of the state.

     While not officially associated with the Catholic Church, some of OBS's financial support comes from practicing Catholic priests.

      OBS became known to citizens of Michigan when, in 2018, the Michigan Attorney General's Office, following an investigation into the nonprofit organization, found that OBS had engaged in deceptive marketing practices, and that two of its founding members, President Joe Maher and treasurer Pete Ferrara, had unlawfully enriched themselves with donated funds.

     Pursuant to the January 2019 settlement with the Michigan Attorney Genera's Office, Maher and Ferrara resigned. Four months later, founder Father Eduard Perone was removed from OBS following allegations he had sexually abused a child decades earlier. Perone has denied the charge.

     What is so alarming, disgusting, and infuriating about the Catholic Church and OBS is just how engrained the culture of pedophilia is within the Catholic clergy, and in many ways, society at large.

Mass Murder And The Great American Blame Game

In the immediate wake of the El Paso mass murder, politicians, cable news commentators, and experts of all stripe have begun playing the Great American Blame Game--pointing fingers at guns, mental illness, the politics of hate, social media, video games, and in the end, society in general. These professional talkers and political hacks will not be happy until everyone in the country feels responsible. Everyone, that is, but them. 

Are You Driving A Theft-Worthy Car?

Currently, the make and model of the car most likely to be stolen is the new Dodge Charger HEMI. The least likely to be swiped--the 2019 BMW 3-series. I guess I'm safe in my 2001 Camry.

Galileo: The Patron Saint of Junk Science

What is good science? How can we identify it? The trial lawyer and his acolytes will never tire of telling stories about how high priests of science have been proved badly wrong by "cranks" and "mavericks" in times past. Galileo, the patron saint of all heretics, figures often in such stories. Let's not ostracize the "mini Galileo," pleads a plaintiff's lawyer; the legal system must be "capable of advancing." Honor the expert at the edges of the bell curve," advises attorney Alan Levin, "as was Galileo and as are other people at t he frontiers of medicine and science."

     No doubt about it: the views of the establishment are sometimes wrong, in science and medicine as in the law. Galileo gained fame by challenging one orthodoxy but eventually became part of another; he refused to believe that the moon caused tides, or that planets moved in ellipses…

     But science has changed profoundly since the days of Galileo…This is most particularly true of medical science.

Peter W. Huber, Galileo's Revenge, 1991 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Emmanuel Rangel-Hernandez Murder Case

     In 2001, 5-year-old Mirjana Puhar and her family, in the midst of the Kosovo War, fled to the United States from their home in Stremska Mitrovica, Serbia. The family settled in Charlotte, North Carolina where Mr. Puhar worked as an electrician.

     Mirjana, in the middle of her sophomore year in high school, dropped out. She had been hanging around with the wrong crowd and had gotten involved with drugs.

     At eighteen, Mirjana started to turn her life around by enrolling in a GED program at Central Piedmont Community College. Around this time she became seriously interested in starting a modeling career. She acquired local modeling jobs and worked part time jobs at McDonald's. She also worked in several retail clothing stores as a sales clerk. In the fall of 2013, she earned her high school degree.

     Puhar's first big break in modeling came when she was selected as one of 14 contestants on the television reality show "America's Next Top Model" hosted by Tyra Banks. The 21st cycle of the show premiered on August 18, 2014. (It had been filmed in March and April of that year.)

     Before Mirjana Puhar was eliminated from the TV modeling contest on October 21, 2014, she had an on-screen romantic relationship with a fellow contestant named Denzel Wells. The show featured the fact she, at that time, had a boyfriend back home. That situation defined her character on the program. She finished eighth in the competition.

     On Tuesday February 24, 2015, in a one-story house on Norris Avenue in Charlotte, police officers discovered the bodies of three people who had been shot to death. Mirjana Puhar was one of the murder victims. The other corpses belonged to Jonathan Cosme Alvardado and Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia. Investigators believed the triple murder was drug related.

     Police officers, on Friday February 27, 2015, arrested 19-year-old Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez and booked him into the Mecklenburg County Jail on three counts of first-degree murder in the case. According to the authorities, Rangel-Hernandez was a known gang member with a history of violent crime.

     It also appeared that Rangel-Hernandez, as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had applied for and had been granted immunity in 2012 under President Obama's executive order-created program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Under this program, children brought to the U.S. by illegal alien parents can not be deported. Moreover, they are entitled to government benefits.

     The triple murder in Charlotte involving the aspiring model and the gang member who had been granted DACA status raised the obvious question of why this man, instead of gaining amnesty, hadn't been deported.

     On the day of the murder suspect's arrest, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the secretary of the Homeland Security Department asking for documents related to Rangel-Hernandez's immigration status and his application for DACA immunity from deportation.

     On April 28, 2015, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeb Johnson admitted to members of Senator Grassley's Homeland Security Committee that Rangel-Hernandez "should not have received DACA." The head of Homeland Security also said that notwithstanding this "tragic case," DACA was a good program. Pressed by Senator Grassley who wanted to know how Rangel-Hernandez acquired immunity under Obama's program, Secretary Johnson said, "the entire workforce that deals with these cases has been re-trained to make sure they identify trouble signs, such as suspected membership in criminal gangs."

     As of August 2019, Rangel-Hernandez has not been tried for murder. If there has been a disposition of this case, news of it has been blocked from the Internet.

     The Rangel-Hernandez case is yet another example of why most Americans no longer trust that government bureaucrats will protect them.

Beware Of The Expert Witness

The expert's greatest weakness lies in the fact that he is called as an expert and is most reluctant to admit that he doesn't know all that is knowable about the subject to which he is called to testify.

Edward Huntington Williams, The Doctor in Court, 1929

Charles Bukowski On The Computer

The computer only does, it doesn't know. You can confuse it and it can turn on you. It's up to you to get alone with it. Still, the computer can go crazy and do odd and strange things. It catches viruses, gets shorts, bombs out, etc. Somehow, tonight, I feel that the less said about the computer the better.

Charles Bukowski, 1991

Thornton P. Knowles On His Rejected Children's Book

I got the idea of writing a children's book for the smart, six-year-old misfit. I called the book, The Frog Who Ate The Pocket Watch. I wrote it in three days and sent it to my agent. When she didn't respond I gave her a call. Is this some kind of joke? she asked. No, I said, I think the little brats will love it. A kid would have to be mentally ill to like this book, she said. Well that's great, I replied. We've got a huge market! She hung up on me. That ended my career as a children's book writer. I liked the title. Perhaps I'll jack it up and throw another book under it.

Thornton P. Knowles

In Romance Novels Love Conquers All

We romance writers get to make people happy. We assure our readers that no matter how bad things get, our heroines will aways win in the end. We confirm what romance readers believe in their heart of hearts: Love will conquer all.

Julie Beard, Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Your Romance Published, 2000

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Nolan M. Burch's Death By Hazing

     West Virginia University in Morgantown is well-known for being a party school where excessive drinking is part of the student culture. As anyone familiar with campus life knows, ground zero for the drinking/party scene are fraternities that are essentially drinking clubs. WVU, of course, is just one of many universities and colleges where students can take bone-head courses and party more than they study.

     On October 15, 2014, the national chapter of Kappa Sigma suspended the WVU charter of the organization for breaking the fraternity's code of conduct. Notwithstanding this action, the Morgantown chapter did not curtail its pledging or social activities.

     On November 6, 2014, 19 members of WVU's Sigma Chi fraternity were arrested following a booze-fueled disturbance on the street near the frat house. All of the students involved had been drinking and under the legal age for the public consumption of alcohol. Four days later, the national chapter of Sigma Chi withdrew the Morgantown charter.

     Just before midnight on Wednesday November 12, 2014, Morgantown police officers, in response to a 911 medical emergency call, arrived at the off-campus Kappa Sigma fraternity house. At the scene, police and emergency medical personnel found someone performing CPR on a WVU student.

     The first responders found no signs of traumatic injury on the body of 18-year-old Nolan M. Burch. Paramedics rushed the freshman to Morgantown's Ruby Memorial Hospital where he was placed on life support.

     Nolan Burch, from Williamsville, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, graduated in 2014 from Canisius High School where he played hockey and lacrosse. At WVU he majored in pre-sports management. In Williamsville Burch had worked at a car wash.

     On Friday November 14, 2014, after he was taken off of life support, doctors pronounced Nolan Burch dead. The university placed an immediate moratorium on all Greek activities that meant no parties or pledging activity.

     A spokesperson for the Morgantown Police Department, on November 15, 2014, confirmed what everyone suspected: Nolan Burch's death was alcohol related.

     As detectives gathered information regarding the events leading up to this student's death, they learned that at ten o'clock on the night of November 12, 2014, a blindfolded Burch and 19 other pledges walked from the Kappa Sigma fraternity house to a nearby building. It was there each pledge was handed a bottle of liquor by a big brother. Burch drank an extreme amount of liquor in a short period of time. It raised his blood-alcohol content to 0.49 percent, six times the legal limit for driving.

     A member of the Morgantown police officer said he had never seen such a blood-alcohol content so high. It suggested that the student had gulped down the liquor the way someone would chug a beer or a bottle of soda.

     Following the liquor drinking initiation, Burch was taken back to the fraternity house where fraternity members laid the passed-out young man on a table. At 11:50 PM, a fraternity brother noticed that the pledge's face had turned blue. Unable to revive him, the student began CPR and called 911.

     On February 10, 2015, after a Monongalia County prosecutor charged Richard Schwartz with the offenses of conspiracy and hazing, the 20-year-old turned himself in at the Morgantown Police Department. According to a police spokesperson, these charges were brought as misdemeanors. The judge set the suspect's bail at $10,000.

     Richard Schwartz stood accused of providing the victim with alcohol that night. With the help of another fraternity brother, the suspect allegedly carried the passed-out Burch back to the fraternity house.

     In November 2016, a Monongalia County judge promised to dismiss the charges against Richard Schwartz if the defendant stayed out of trouble for two years. Schwartz agreed to take a drug and alcohol awareness course and perform 100 hours of community service.

     By November 2018, West Virginia University and the fraternity had paid out $3 million in civil suit settlements related to Nolan Burch's death. The university had also installed anti-hazing measures at the school.

     To send your eager and hopeful child off to college and have this happen is as tragic as it gets. 

The Urge to Cheat

     Most people, if pressed, would acknowledge that they could use an ethical tuneup. Maybe last year they fudged some numbers at work or dented a car and failed to leave a note….The problem, research shows, is that how we think we're going to act when faced with a moral decision and how we really do act are often vastly different.

     Here's just one of many examples from an experiment at Northeastern University: Subjects were told they should flip a coin to see who should do certain tasks. One task is long and laborious; the other is short and fun. The participant flips the coin in private (though secretly watched by video cameras), said David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern who conducted the experiment. Only 10 percent of them did it honestly. The others didn't flip at all, or kept flipping until the coin came up the way they wanted.

Alina Tugend, "In Life and Business, Learning to be Ethical," The New York Times, January 10, 2014

From Book To Film

     The common expectation is that [film] adaptations should be "faithful" to their source texts. But it's not all clear why we should burden films with this obligation.

     When my novel Notes on a Scandal was turned into a movie some years ago, I was repeatedly asked if I minded that the filmmakers had "taken liberties" with the book. I did not mind. The liberties had been bought and paid for. And I had made my peace with the idea that my book was being adapted, not imitated or illustrated.

Zoe Heller, "Bookends," The New York Times, December 29, 2013

Police Paranoia

When you ride around all day long and you're dealing with shootings, you're dealing with robberies, you're dealing with all this violent crime that's constantly going on, that's going to influence how you respond in certain situations. And we have to take that into account in our training. We teach our officers to try to interact with people and realize that not everybody in a given neighborhood is a thug or a criminal, they're not all out to hurt you. These are important things that I think we've got to face head on.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey in a 2013 report on police use of force.

The Look Of A Heroin Addict

Dope [heroin] can make you bad looking, especially if you're using a lot: you retain water, so your face grows puffy and aged, you develop blemishes, your skin looks green. After quitting, you look worse for months before your former looks return.

Ann Marlowe, How to Stop Time, 1999

Friday, August 2, 2019

The John Valluzzo Police-Involved Shooting Case

     John Valluzzo, a wealthy, 75-year-old entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist, lived in a 9,000-square foot mansion in the historic town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. In 1995, the Army veteran funded and helped finance the Military Museum of Southern New England located in Danbury, Connecticut. Valluzzo made his fortune in manufacturing and real estate. He owned a world-class rare book collection as well as a home in Palm Springs, Florida.

     On Friday, May 24, 2013, Valluzzo's 53-year-old girlfriend, Anna Parille, had come to the estate to pick up some clothing for a wedding she planned to attend. Although Parille owned a house in Danbury, she occasionally resided with Valluzzzo in Ridgefield. Parille also owned an award-winning video production company called Inside Look, TV. Before becoming a successful real estate agent, she had operated, for 18 years, a nursery school called Kenosia Kids. Parille hosted a television show, and had published a children's book.

     According to reportage in The New York Times, at five-thirty that Friday evening, Anna Parille phoned a friend in Florida. During that call, Parille reported that she and Valluzzo were fighting and that he was drunk and was brandishing a gun. The friend, on her own without Parille's knowledge, called the Ridgefield Police Department and reported a domestic disturbance at the Valluzo estate.

     When officers rolled up to the mansion they were greeted by Valluzzo who stood in his yard armed with a handgun. Officer Jorge Romero, a seven-year veteran of the force with the Bridgeport Police Department, ordered Valluzzo to drop the weapon. Instead of complying with that command, Valluzzo raised his gun. Officer Romero responded by shooting the armed man several times. Valluzzo died later that night at a hospital in Danbury.

     The New York Times, relying on information provided by a friend of Anna Parille's who witnessed the incident, published a narrative at odds with the police version of the shooting. The New York Times version involved the police entering the Valluzzo house through a back portico off the kitchen. One of the officers yelled, "Freeze! Freeze!" before he shot Mr. Valluzzo as he stood in his kitchen. Immediately after the shooting, Officer Romero reportedly said, "What did I do?" as other officers tried to console him.

     By all accounts, Jorge Romero, a good-natured, low-key man, had been an excellent police officer. In April 2013, he received a commendation for his May 2012 investigation of 26 car burglaries. The Ridgefield chief of police placed Romero on desk duty pending the investigation of the shooting by the New York State Police.

     It didn't matter where Mr. Valluzzo stood when Officer Romero shot him as long as Mr. Valluzzo possessed a handgun and raised it in a manner that threatened the officer. Simply because Officer Romero expressed remorse over the shooting did not necessarily render the lethal force unjustified.

     In July 2014, State Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky announced that under Connecticut law, officer Romero had been justified in shooting Mr. Valluzzo.

Robbers Have Bad Days, Too

Police arrested Michael Smith in 1990 for a street corner robbery in Rochester, New York. The 29-year-old robber held up a couple getting out of their car. His weapon of choice was a realistic toy gun. However, the female victim reached into the glove compartment and pulled out her own realistic toy gun, leading Smith to drop his realistic toy gun. As Smith fled the scene, the couple alerted a neighbor who caught Smith and leveled him with a baseball bat. Smith managed to escape further beating but the police arrested him after following his trail of blood.

Chuck Shephard, America's Least Competent Criminals, 1993 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Dead Pedophile and One Less Pimp

     When frustrated citizens come to believe the criminal justice system is failing them--police focusing on the wrong crimes, prosecutors making too many plea deals, and judges issuing light sentences--there is a chance people will start enforcing the law themselves. Some will do it for self-protection, others for revenge, and some to make their community a better place to live.
One Less Pimp

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado lived with their four children in the Bayview District of San Francisco not far from Candlestick Park. Gilton, 38, was a San Francisco Municipal Railway operator. In May 2012, the couple's 17-year-old daughter (who was not publicly identified by name) ran off to southern California. The worried parents went to the police but (according to them) received little help. They placed their daughter's name on several exploited children's registries which failed to produce results.

      Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado began seeing their daughter's name and photograph in internet escort service ads. They also learned she was being pimped out by 22-year-old Calvin Sneed, a member of the Nutty Block Gang in Compton, California.

     Detectives in southern California believed that the parents, on May 27, 2012, tracked Sneed to Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. That night, according to the police, Gilton approached Sneed on foot as the suspected pimp sat in his Toyota Camry, and, using a 9-millimeter pistol, fired nine shots into his car. Although he wasn't hit by any of the bullets, Sneed received injuries from shards of glass from his windshield.  At a nearby hospital he refused to cooperate with the police.

     On June 2, 2012  when the 17-year-old girl and her pimp were back in the Bay area to visit one of her sick relatives, she and her parents, who were still trying to get her away from Sneed, argued. Two days later, at two in the morning, someone using a .40-caliber Glock handgun shot Sneed four times as he drove his Toyota Camry in the Bayview District near Gilton and Mercado's home. Later that morning, he died in a nearby hospital. The police believed Gilton shot the alleged pimp from his Mercedes-Benz SUV.

     Shortly after Calvin Sneed was shot to death, police arrested the girl's parents. Gilton and Mercado were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They were each in custody under $2 million bail. Their daughter is living with relatives.

     Prosecutors usually come down hard on murder defendants who have taken the law into their own hands. The message they want to send is this: leave law enforcement to the authorities. If everyone acted this way, no one would be safe. The authorities, aware that some in the community applaud people who take the law into their own hands, want to deter this kind of behavior.

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado, due to delays and procedural appeals, have not been tried as of July 2019.

A Dead Pedophile

     It happened on a Saturday in June 2012 on a ranch off County Road 302 near Shiner, Texas, a small town 130 miles west of Houston. Ted Smith (not his real name) and his family were hosting an afternoon barbecue. Mr. Smith had hired a 47-year-old Mexican man he knew to take care of the horses and do other chores on the day of the get-together.

     When the 23-year-old rancher heard cries of help coming from his barn, he found the hired-man sexually molesting is 4-year-old daughter. Ted Smith, with his bare hands, killed the pedophile on the spot. After saving his daughter, the rancher called 911.

     The Lavaca County sheriff, Micah Harmon, told reporters that it was unlikely Mr. Smith would be charged with criminal homicide. "He told me," the sheriff said, "that it wasn't his intent for this individual to lose his life. He was just protecting his daughter."

     The case was being investigated by the Texas Rangers. A local resident expressed the prevailing opinion in the community when he said, "I think he [the molester] got what he deserved." If the father is charged with criminal homicide, I can't image any jury finding him guilty.

     The killing in Texas is different from the one in California. The killing of the pedophile wasn't premeditated like the murder of Calvin Sneed. Stalking and killing a pimp is not the same as finding a man molesting your daughter. If the parents in California are found guilty, they could face long prison sentences. It would be an outrage if the authorities in Texas even charged Mr. Smith.

     The authorities in Lavaca County, Texas released the tapes of the 911 call from the father who beat his daughter's molester to death. (The dead man was identified as Jesus Mora Flores, a Mexican national working in the U.S. on a permanent resident card.) The father, obviously distraught, and on the verge of panic, said, "I need an ambulance. This guy was raping my daughter and I beat him up and I don't know what to do. This guy is fixing to die on me man, and I don't know what to do."

     A Lavaca County grand jury decided not to indict the father. District Attorney Heather McMinn told reporters that "under the law, deadly force is justified to stop a sexual assault....All the evidence indicated that is what was occurring."

Are Novelists Who Don't Seek Publication Real Writers?

If you do not seek to publish what you have written, then you are not a novelist and you never will be.

George V. Higgins, On Writing, 1990 

The Execution Of A Cold-Blooded Rapist/Murderer With An "Intellectual Disability"

     The state of Texas executed convicted killer Robert Ladd who was convicted of murdering a woman in 1996…Ladd, a 57-year-old African-American, was declared dead Thursday January 30, 2015 after receiving a lethal injection at Huntsville prison…Witnesses to the execution were two people who Ladd had exchanged correspondence with during his imprisonment.

     Minutes before the execution was carried out, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down an appeal by Ladd's lawyers who argued that the execution would contradict a decision by the Supreme Court in 2002 that prohibits the death penalty for people with intellectual disabilities…

     Ladd was sentenced to death for the murder of Vicki Ann Garner, a 38-year-old woman who he abused sexually, then strangled. He also hit her with a hammer and burned her body in her home in Tyler, Texas.

     Sixteen years earlier, in 1980, Ladd had committed a nearly identical crime: he stabbed a women in her apartment in Dallas and set the body on fire. The fire set the apartment on fire, killing the victim's two daughters. In 1992, he was placed on probation after serving 12 years of his sentence. [Why wasn't he given life or put on death row after those murders? If there is "intellectual disability" in this case, it resides with the authorities in Texas who set this killer free.]

"Texas Executes Prisoner With Alleged Intellectual Disability," business-standard.com, January 30, 2015

The Biographer's Relationship To His Subject

The most important thing that you as a biographer can do is to write from the heart. Write only about someone you have deep feelings for. If you care deeply about your subject, either positively or negatively, so will your readers. If you take on a biography about someone you couldn't care less about, possibly for the money, or because you have received a good publishing contract, the readers won't care about your subject either, and probably won't finish reading your book.

Brian Klems, writersdigest.com, December 9, 2013 

Thornton P. Knowles On His Middle School English Teacher

I had a middle school English teacher who gave As and Bs to the kids she liked and Cs and Ds to the ones she didn't. I was among the disliked. So, while I was writing short stories and the A and B kids couldn't put a sentence together, I got the Cs and Ds. I nicknamed this teacher Miss Feasance. I informed my parents of this, hoping that they would be impressed by my cleverness. They weren't. Teachers are to be respected, they yelled. Besides, the woman is married. I couldn't wait to grow up.

Thornton P. Knowles

Charles Bukowski The Pessimist

We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.

Charles Bukowski, The Captain Is Out To Lunch And The Sailors Have Taken Over The Ship

A Writer's Style Makes the Story

Style does not exist apart from the story, and, if people tell an identical story, each one will tell it in a different style. The best style will produce the best story.

B. J. Chute in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Sylvia K. Burack, 1987