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Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Victor Vickery Peeping Tom Murder Case

     In 2018, 30-year-old Victor "Tori" Vickery lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his girlfriend, Samantha Hobi. Vickery, a violent man with a short temper and criminal record involving domestic abuse, auto theft, and possession of illegal prescription drugs, had physically abused Hobi. As a result, they had an on-and-off again, turbulent relationship.

     On the night of July 2, 2018, Vickery and Hobi were in bed having sex when they heard a noise outside of their bedroom window. Vickery, without putting on any clothes, went outside to investigate and encountered, at the window, a man with his genitals exposed.

     Vickery yelled to his girlfriend that he was holding the window-peeking man for the police, and that she should call 911.

     Instead of simply restraining the man in his yard, Vickery punched him repeatedly in the head, and when the man was on the ground, kicked him several times in the torso.

     The 911 dispatcher who took Samatha Hobi's call, overheard her shouting, "Tori, stop! Tori, that's enough!"

     When police officers arrived at the house, they found Vickery, with his knuckles bloody, holding an ice pack on his swollen foot. Out in the fenced backyard, officers found the bloodied and unconscious Peeping Tom. Medics rushed the unconscious man to the Broward Health North Hospital in Deerfield Beach where, 90 minutes later, he died.

     Criminal investigators quickly identified the man beaten to death by Vickery as 57-year-old Asaad Akar, a resident of the neighborhood known to peep into his neighbors' bedroom windows.

     Samatha Hobi, when questioned by detectives that night, said that after calling 911, she went out to the backyard and struck the window peeking man with a shovel. Victor Vickery told the officers that he only punched and kicked the trespasser "a handful of times."

     On July 23, 2018, when questioned by detectives again, Samantha Hobi admitted she had lied to them about hitting Mr. Akar with a shovel. She said she did not leave the house that night, and did not witness the confrontation between Vickery and the man who was now dead from blunt force trauma to the head and torso.

     On August 15, 2018, three months after he killed Mr. Akar, Fort Lauderdale police arrested Victor Vickery regarding another matter. He was taken into custody on two counts of felony sexual battery, charges based on a criminal complain filed by Samantha Hobi. Vickery pleaded not guilty, put up his $75,000 bail, and was released from jail.

     On October 3, 2018, a Broward County judge granted Samantha Hobi a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend.

      Fourteen months after Asaad Akar's violent death, detectives, on October 17, 2019, arrested Victor Vickery for manslaughter in connection with the July 2018 beating. The suspect was held in the Broward County Mail Jail on $100,000 bond.

Walking On The Wild Side: The Increase of Pedestrian Deaths

In the United States, pedestrian deaths have increased more than 50 percent over the past ten years. In 2018, motorists killed 6,000 pedestrians. Experts blame the increase in pedestrian deaths on new road and street crossing designs, the proliferation of large vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks, and pedestrians distracted by their cellphones.

The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist

     When John Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" after having shot President Ronald Reagan and two of his aides [in 1981] in full view of the national press corps, public furor brought the controversy concerning the use of psychiatric testimony in criminal trials to a boil.

     Critics [of psychiatrists in the courtroom], most of whom demand that psychiatrists be banished from all criminal trials, possess either a minimal or distorted understanding of just what a forensic psychiatrist does....[The critics] have forgotten that well before a psychiatrist ever entered an American courtroom, our legal system was already greatly concerned not only with what a man did wrong, but why he did it--what was going on in his head at the moment of his offense.

     It is a cornerstone of our system of justice that if a man perceives himself as innocent at the time of his offense, if he had not intended a wrongful outcome, then he is less culpable than someone whose crime was deliberate and committed with malice aforethought. Because of the preeminence of the principle that there are degrees of criminal liability, criminal trials necessarily go beyond the black-and-white issue of whether or not the accused pulled the trigger, and into the murky labyrinth of his intentions and motivations--his state of mind.

Dr. Martin Blinder, Lovers, Killers, Husbands and Wives, 1985


John Martorano: James Whitey Bulger's Hit Man

     James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston area mobster and head of the Winter Hill Gang, went into hiding in 1995 after rogue FBI agent John Connolly tipped him off about an upcoming federal indictment. For years Bulger  avoided arrest by informing on other gangsters to the FBI. (Agent John Connolly is serving a life sentence for his longterm involvement with Bulger and his murderous gang.)

     In June 2011, FBI agents arrested Bulger in Santa Monica, California where he had lived 16 years in an apartment complex with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greg. The fugitive and his companion had been living under the names Charlie and Carol Gasko. He was in his 80s.

     In 2013, Bulger was federally tried in Boston on 32 counts of murder, homicides he either committed himself or ordered. ( He was convicted and sentenced to life.) John V. Martorano, a professional hit man employed by the accused murder-for-hire mastermind, was one of the prosecution's most important witnesses. In 2007, Martorano cut a deal with the government to testify against the infamous Boston mobster. After confessing to twenty murders, Martorano was a free man. Three of the hit man's victims were innocent bystanders, including a man Martorano mistakenly shot because he was driving a car similar to the intended target's vehicle. (Even so-called "professional" hit men are notoriously incompetent.) After carrying out one of his contract murders, Martorano would summon mob underlings to dispose of the body. Most of his victims were buried.

     On June 18, 2013, Bulger's attorney, Henry Brennan, during his cross-examination of the 72-year-old witness, asked Martorano if he considered himself a serial killer. "No," the witness replied. "Serial killers kill until they get caught or stop. I confessed my murders.  Serial killers kill for fun. They like it. I never liked it. I never had any joy." 

     "No satisfaction?" the defense attorney asked.

     "None." Later in his testimony, Martorano insisted that he was a "nice guy." Moreover, he never thought of himself as a hit man or professional killer. "I didn't enjoy killing anybody," he said. "I enjoyed helping a friend if I could."

     "Does that make you a vigilante--like Batman?" Attorney Brennan asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. Later in the cross examination, the defense lawyer asked this prosecution witness to describe how he felt about murdering three innocent bystanders.

     "I did feel bad. I still feel bad. It was the worst thing I did."

     Mr. Martorano's testimony provided a rare peek into the mind of a mobbed-up contract killer. Only a cold-blooded sociopath could, with a straight face, portray himself as a nice guy and a victim. This hit man wanted us to believe that he didn't like killing people for money, that he did it to help others. What a nice guy.  

The Empowerment Fantasy in Romance Fiction

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't well-eductated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for an overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips in Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, edited by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1992 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Daniel Chong: Missing In Action In The War On Drugs

     The years 2011 and 2012 were not good ones for federal law enforcement. The AFT was embarrassed by the Fast and Furious debacle; an ICE agent shot his supervisor, then was shot and killed by another agent; an ICE officer was convicted of embezzling a huge sum of government money; TSA screeners were accused of taking bribes from drug smugglers; and Secret Service agents were caught partying with prostitutes in Columbia. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pulled one of the most bone-headed blunders in the history of the federal government's war on drugs.

     On Saturday, April 21, 2012, 23-year-old University of California at San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong was smoking pot in a house in University City with eight of his friends. That day, DEA agents raided the place as a suspected Ecstasy pill distribution center. The agents recovered 18,000 Ecstasy pills, several guns, ammunition, and other drugs, and took Chong and the other eight suspects into custody.

     After the nine arrestees were fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned at the DEA office in Kearny Mesa, agents released one suspect, took seven to a detention facility, and placed the handcuffed Daniel Chong into a holding cell in the DEA office complex. Although being swept up in a federal drug raid was bad enough, Daniel Chong's ordeal had just begun.

     Because Chong was placed into a windowless 5 by 10 foot room with no sink or toilet, he didn't expect to be there very long. But as the hours dragged on, and no one came to release him, or take him elsewhere, Chong began to worry. To call attention to his isolation, he screamed for help and frantically kicked at the door. Still, no response. Hungry, in need of a bathroom, scared, and in a state of panic, Chong began to lose control of his body, and his emotions.

     A day or so into his confinement, Chong found a plastic bag containing white powder a previous detainee had hidden inside a folded blanket. Chong ingested the powdery stuff which turned out to be methamphetamine. (You can be cavity-searched at the airport, but apparently not in a DEA office.) The abandoned office prisoner drank his own urine, and by his third day in captivity, began hallucinating. In an effort to kill himself, Chong used his teeth to break out the glass in his eyewear, then swallowed the shards. As DEA personnel went about their business just yards from him, Chong, locked into his private hell, completely lost his mind.

     On Saturday, April 25, someone in the DEA office discovered Mr. Chong. They had simply forgotten about him. (I'm not sure why the people Chong had been arrested with didn't alert someone, or make inquires with the DEA. It's really hard to believe that someone can go missing inside a law enforcement facility.) When the bureaucrat discovered the incoherent, waste-covered, raving mad drug detainee, he weighed 15 pounds less than when they had placed him into the room. Had he been there much longer, the DEA people would have discovered a corpse.

     Rushed to Sharp Memorial Hospital, Chong, suffering from a failing kidney, a perforated lung, severe dehydration, and numerous other ailments, was placed into an intensive care unit. He left the hospital four days later.

     On May 2, 2012, Daniel Chong's attorney announced his plan to file a $20 million lawsuit against the DEA.

     On August 1, 2013, the DEA settled the Chong case out of court for $4.1 million.         

Kosta Karageorge's Football Concussions, Depression, and Suicide

     In 2009, Kosta Karageorge graduated from Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio, a suburb north of Columbus where the 6-foot-5, 285-pound athlete wrestled and played football. After high school, Karageorge continued his wrestling career at nearby Ohio State University.

     In the fall of 2014, the 22-year-old fifth year senior joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on. The defensive lineman played in one game in which he recorded a single tackle against Penn State.

     During his football playing years, Karageorge suffered several concussions, the last one occurring in September 2014.

     At one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, November 26, 2014, Karageorge sent his mother what she considered a disturbing text message. He wrote that if he had been an embarrassment to the family he apologized, stating that his concussions had affected his behavior. Thirty minutes later, Karageorge left his apartment on East 7th Avenue in Columbus. He told his roommates he was upset over an incident involving his girlfriend, and needed to take a walk.

     Karageorge did not return to his apartment that morning, and failed to show up for the 6 AM football practice. He left his wallet in his apartment, and did not possess any form of identification. He was dressed that morning in black sweatpants, black Timberland boots, and a dark hoodie with the letters FOC on it. Karageorge wore a short beard and had recently shaved his head.

     At five in the afternoon on the day he left his apartment and didn't return, Karageorge's mother, after not hearing from her son all day, reported him missing to the Columbus Police Department. His earlier text message, and the fact he usually kept in daily touch with his family, caused her great concern.

     Columbus detectives traced the missing football player's cellphone through GPS technology to West 3rd and Elmwood Avenues in the Grandview Heights section of the city. Officers, however, did not find his phone. He could have walked to that neighborhood, taken public transportation, or accepted a ride with someone.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, 150 volunteers distributed hundreds of posters around the city that featured a photograph of the missing student. A group of former Ohio State football players put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, five days after he went missing, a searcher found Karageorge's body in a dumpster several blocks from his apartment. The authorities identified him by his tattoos. Detectives believed that Karaageorge had used the handgun found near his body to shoot himself in the head.

     The Franklin County coroner ruled Kosta Karageorge's death a suicide.

Tangible Murder Scene Clues

Clues are tangible signs which prove--or seem to prove--that no crime can be committed by thoughts only, and that we live in a world regulated by mechanical laws. The dead man was not killed by a ghostly hand but by a murderer of flesh and blood.

Theodore Reik, The Unknown Murderer, 1945

Exploding Corpse Insurance

     Her neighbor's corpse exploded. Now Judy Rodrigo has to pay for the damages to her apartment. After six years of legal battle, a Florida court ruled Rodrigo's insurance policy did not cover damage caused by bursting corpses.

     In 2008, an elderly woman who lived alone with her two dogs died in her apartment and her body remained undiscovered for two weeks….The corpse decayed and festered until it burst, leaking corrosive fluids into Rodrigo's downstairs apartment. The body was finally discovered when the stench reached neighboring units.

     Rodrigo paid out of pocket to repair her apartment, which she said had to be gutted. The smell apparently lingered. She blamed the condo association for not discovering the corpse, and filed suit against her insurance company, State Farm, which refused to cover the full cost of the repair. "Another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo," the lawsuit said. [Perhaps human decomposition detectors should be installed in all of these units.]

     The court ruled in April 2014 in favor of State Farm, saying Rodrigo failed to establish the incident was indeed "tantamount to an explosion." [Decomposing bodies do not, in fact, explode. They do seep, however.]

Rachel Stolzfoos, "Corpse Explodes, Neighbor Forced to Pay Damages," The Daily Caller, April 28, 2014

Don't Write Extremely Complicated Stories

A story that's too complicated uses up its energy just to explain what's happening. Complication is not complexity. A story that renders a single moment convincingly is a complex accomplishment. The complexity lies in the richness, the rendering, the texture, the subtlety of observation, the experience for readers. A beautifully complex story is often complex not because of a complicated surface but because of an impressive depth.

Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991

Jacqueline Susann: The Work Habits of One Of America's Worst Writers

Before the days of word processing, how did authors keep track of their various drafts and revisions? Purple prose writer Jacqueline Susann [Valley of the Dolls, 1966; The Love Machine, 1969; and Once Is Not Enough, 1973] typed each draft on different colors of paper: yellow for the first draft, then blue, pink, and finally white. [It's hard to believe it took four drafts to write such dreadful novels.]

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003

America's First Horror Novel

A man bursts spontaneously into flames. Disembodied voices speak. Something lurks behind the closet door. A victim of religious mania kills his wife and children. These episodes can be found in Wieland, or The Transformation, published in 1798. It is the first American horror novel, written by Charles B. Brockden Brown, a Philadelphian of Quaker stock who is recognized as the father of American literature. He was, in other words, the first American crazy enough to try to support himself solely by writing fiction.

Douglas E. Winter, Faces of Fear, 1985 

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Middle School Student Used As Bait To Catch Alleged Sex Offender

     On January 14, 2010, Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell, vice principals at Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, received a complaint that a male student had touched a girl inappropriately. The subject of the complaint was no stranger to this kind of allegation. He had been accused of predatory sexual advances fifteen times in the recent past. The latest complaint resulted in the boy being placed on "in-school suspension."

     A couple of days later, teacher's aide June Simpson spoke to principal Ronnie Blair about the boy. According to Simpson, he had "repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boy's bathroom on the special needs students' corridor. The teacher's aide reported that the young predator had actually engaged in sex with one of the girls.

     Because the boy and the female special needs student denied having sex in the boy's restroom, the principal informed the teacher's aide that because the kids had not been caught in the act, his hands were tied. The concerned teacher's aide recommended that school officials keep a close eye on this boy.

     On January 22, 2010, a 14-year-old girl who wasn't physically or mentally handicapped but took special education classes, told teacher's aide Simpson that the alleged schoolboy sex fiend had been pestering her to have restroom sex with him. Simpson asked the girl if she'd be willing to act as bait in a plan to catch the sexual predator. The girl refused to participate in the sting, then changed her mind.

     The teacher's aide, accompanied by the girl, laid out her plan to vice principal Dunaway who didn't endorse or approve of it. The vice principal didn't forbid the execution of the scheme either. The plan was this: the girl would agree to have sex with the boy in the special needs bathroom where teachers would be hiding to confront the kid before things got out of hand.

     Shortly after leaving the vice principal's office, the girl encountered the young predator in the hallway. She agreed to have sex with him. But instead of getting together in the special needs restroom, he told her to meet him in the sixth-grade boy's bathroom in another part of the school. The girl did not have time to alert the teacher's aide of the change in plans.

     In the sixth-grade boy's restroom, with no teachers hiding nearby to intervene, the girl rejected the boy's advances. Unable to fight him off, he raped her anally.

     After the victim reported the crime to a teacher, police officers were summoned to the school. They took the girl to the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville where medical personnel used a rape kit to gather physical evidence. Hospital personnel also photographed signs of trauma consistent with the girl's rape allegation.

     The young suspect, when confronted with the accusation, claimed he had only kissed the girl.

     After the alleged rape victim refused to cooperate with detectives, the police department turned the case over to the Madison County District Attorney's Office. Without the victim's testimony, an eyewitness, or the boy's confession, prosecutors closed the case for lack of evidence.

     Pursuant to an internal, administrative inquiry into the incident, vice principal Terrell testified that after seeing photographs of the girl's injuries, she didn't know whether or not the sex had been consensual. Vice Principal Dunaway testified that when the girl willingly entered the sixth-grade restroom with the boy, she was on her own.

     In the school's final disciplinary report on the matter, the incident in the school restroom was described as the "inappropriate touching of a female." The principal suspended the boy for five days. Following the suspension, the kid spent fifteen days at an alternative institution before returning to Sparkman Middle School.

     The 14-year-old girl withdrew from the Sparkman school. After extensive counseling, she ended up in North Carolina with her mother. Upon her mother's death shortly thereafter, the girl and her brother were placed in Child Protection Services.

     June Simpson, the Sparkman teacher's aide, resigned not long after the incident. Her attorney described her as a scapegoat in the case.

      In October 2010, the girl's father filed a Title IX "Jane Doe" lawsuit in federal court against the boy, school administrators, the teacher's aide, and the Madison County School Board. Title IX is a federal law aimed at ending gender discrimination in public education.

     A few months after the filing of the lawsuit, a U.S. District Court Judge tossed out the claim against the boy because he was a minor. The judge also threw out the Title IX portion of the action. He did allow, however, the claim of negligence against the teacher's aide and the school administrators. Attorney Eric Artrip appealed the lower court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta.

     On September 17, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education filed amicus briefs (friend of the court arguments) in support of attorney Artrip's appeal of the Title IX rejection.

     The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in August 2015, overturned the district court ruling against the student used as sexual assault bait. That meant that "Jane Doe" could proceed with a lawsuit against the school system

     In March 2016, the Madison County School System settled the "Jane Doe" suit for an undisclosed amount.

Few People In America Steal For Survival

Some people steal to stay alive, and some steal to feel alive.

V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic, 2015

A Controversial Children's Book

Perhaps the most polarizing book written for children is The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. To its fans, it's a sparkling illustrated story about a beautiful but arrogant fish who learns humility by giving away its shiny scales to less fortunate fish. To detractors, it's a socialist screed that encourages "an attitude of greed and entitlement," as one customer wrote in a review on

John Williams "Books to Love and Hate," The New York Times Book Review, October 5, 2014 

All Novelists Get Discouraged

Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do because it covers so long a space of time, and if you get discouraged it is not a bad sign, but a good one. If you think you are not doing it well, you're thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to be a good symptom.

Maxwell Perkins in Max Perkins, A. Scott Berg, 1978 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Killing Bambi

     Lest anyone think that American law enforcement isn't insanely militarized, the story of a SWAT-like raid of an animal shelter in search of a state-condemned baby fawn should settle the question once and for all.

     In early July 2013, a family living in Illinois across the state line from Kenosha, Wisconsin, rescued a baby fawn that had been abandoned by her mother. The animal lovers who discovered the deer in their backyard, called the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha. Personnel at the no-kill shelter agreed to take custody of the abandoned deer.

     An unidentified busybody, shocked that the shelter housed a wild animal without the required state-issued permit, alerted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After the agency received the anonymous tip, DNR agents dedicated to maintaining the peace and dignity of the great state of Wisconsin, sprang into action. Rather than one agent simply driving out to the shelter to inform the St. Francis personnel that they needed to acquire a permit for the baby deer (the day will come when we will have to get government permits for everything), DNR agents assigned to the case arranged for aerial photographs of the animal shelter and the contraband deer.

     Employees of the rogue animal shelter had named the 35-pound fawn "Giggles" because of the sounds she made.

     On July 15, 2013, a heavily armed squad of nine DNR agents accompanied by four deputy sheriffs rolled up to the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in several police vehicles. (The local SWAT tank was currently being used to transport a captured check-passer who had been caught in possession of two unregistered ballpoint pens. Just kidding.) It's hard to image what the idiot in charge of this SWAT-like operation was thinking. Did these officers expect armed resistance from the shelter workers? We all know how dangerous these kind of people can be. Perhaps the agents were afraid of Giggles. Unarmed deer in the wild have been known to charge hunters.

     As the DNR agents began executing their search warrant--that's right, they actually went to the trouble of bothering a judge for a search warrant--confused and concerned shelter employee were corralled near a picnic area. A false move at this point could have gotten one of them killed. This was serious business.

     The woman in charge of the shelter under siege informed one of the agents that Giggles was being taken the next day to a wildlife reserve. This relevant information fell on deaf ears. Armed law enforcement warriors on important crime-fighting missions do not allow themselves to be distracted by interfering bystanders.

     Not long after the armed invasion of the animal shelter, a DNR agent walked proudly out of the barn with a body-bag thrown over his shoulder. Giggles, still alive, was in the sack. One of the outraged shelter workers who assumed the agent had killed Giggles, asked why he had killed the fawn. (Giggles was tranquilized and dispatched by government officials later that day.)

     The  DNR agent, in response to the obvious question of why, said, "That's our policy." Of course, policy! That explains everything. The government has its policies and we have to shut up and live with those policies. What would a citizen know about policy?

     The animal shelter employee, obviously not impressed with the DNR policy of armed animal shelter raids in search of unlicensed baby deer scheduled for execution, said, "That's one hell of a policy!"

     Following the idiotic raid and execution of Giggles, shelter worker Ray Schultz said this to a local reporter: "I spent 22 years in the Air Force and two years in Vietnam and I've never seen such totally unnecessary, senseless cruelty."

     Cindy Schultz, the president of the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter, described the DNR raid to a reporter: "This was like the Gestapo coming in. Giggles didn't pose any threat. She was petrified. She wasn't even sick. There was no reason to kill her."

     It's bad enough that we have to live under the control of a growing army of mindless bureaucrats blindly enforcing stupid and unnecessary laws and regulations. It's even worse that these idiots have guns, and operate under the false belief they are keeping America safe.

The Stupid Pickpocket

Once I pulled a job. I was so stupid. I picked a guy's pocket on an airplane and made a run for it.

Rodney Dangerfield 

Literary Award Complaints

Literary prizes sometimes seem to function like parents whose approval we crave as well as spurn. The complaints are as common as they are contradictory: Prizes are awarded to tepid, undemanding best sellers everyone reads; prizes are awarded to obscure, abstruse books no one reads. They are awarded to the right authors, but for the wrong work (Hemingway for "The Old Man and the Sea," Faulkner for "A Fable"). They are awarded to the wrong authors for the wrong work (Margaret Mitchell for "Gone With the Wind"). They are withheld from the right authors for the right work (Gravity's Rainbow," by Thomas Pynchon, won jury approval for the Pulitzer Price in 1974 but was overruled by a board that deemed the novel "turgid," and "obscene"). Sometimes the grousing has the whiff of sour grapes. "Prize X has never been awarded to Philip Roth." Prize Y has never been awarded to me."

Jennifer Szalai, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, November 24, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Confessions of Reverend Juan D. McFarland

     The Reverend Juan D. McFarland became pastor of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in 1990. Three years later, he oversaw the construction of a new church complex near Alabama State University in Montgomery. While the 47-year-old minister was still behind the Shiloh Missionary pulpit in 2014, he was no longer married. He had married twice, but both of his wives had divorced him.

     On August 31, 2014, while delivering a Sunday morning sermon, Reverend McFarland told the congregation that God had directed him to reveal a secret. He said he suffered from full-blown AIDS. Two weeks later, on Sunday September 14, 2014, the Baptist pastor confessed to having had adulterous sexual encounters with female members of the congregation. The trysts, he said, took place in the church. He also informed those seated before him that he had used illicit drugs and had misappropriated church funds.

     The confessing minister dropped the big bombshell on Sunday September 21, 2014 when he revealed that he had not told his sexual partners that he had AIDS. (In Alabama, knowingly spreading a sexually transmitted disease is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.)

     The Shiloh Missionary Baptist Board of Deacons, on October 5, 2014, voted 80 to 1 to fire Pastor McFarland. The embattled preacher, however, made it clear that notwithstanding the deacons' desire to remove him from his position, he was not leaving his flock. He and a church member changed the locks on the church building to keep the deacons and other intruders out. Reverend McFarland also altered the number of the church's bank account. The church had $56,000 in the Wells Fargo bank.

     On Sunday October 12, 2014, Pastor McFarland was again standing behind the pulpit preaching to his most loyal parishioners. He had posted guards at the church's doors to keep out detractors. To the fifty or so seated in the pews, the preacher said, "Sometimes the worst times in our lives are when we have a midnight situation. When you pray, you've got to forgive. You can't go down on your knees hating somebody, wishing something bad will happen to somebody."

     The deacons of the church, obviously not in a forgiving mood, filed a court petition on October 14, 2014 asking the judge to order Reverend McFarland to return control of the church building as well as the bank account. The deacons also wanted the judge to force McFarland to give up his church-owned Mercedes Benz.

     In support of the motion to remove this pastor from the church, the deacons accused him of "debauchery, sinfulness, hedonism, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, thievery, and refection of the Ten Commandments."

     According to the deacons' petition, the pastor and church member Marc Anthoni Peacock had changed the church locks. Mr. Peacock had allegedly threatened to use "castle law" (deadly force in defense of one's home) to keep intruders out of the building. Julian McPhillips, an attorney for the church, wrote, "McFarland needs to get the message that he needs to be gone."

     On October 16, 2014, at a hearing on the deacons' petition attended by Reverend McFarland, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Charles Price issued a preliminary ruling against the preacher that required him to turn over the keys to the church, give back the Mercedes, and release information regarding the bank account. The judge also banned McFarland from the church property.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Travane Jackson Quadruple Murder Case

     In 2019, 29-year-old Jerrica Spellman and her boyfriend of several years, 27-year-old Travane Jackson, lived at the Elizabeth Canty Apartments in Columbus, Georgia. The couple resided with their three young children. Jerrica Spellman worked as an exotic dancer at the Carousel Lounge in the city while Travane Jackson was employed at a car wash called Blue Devil Detail. Jessica, raised in Jesup, Georgia, had moved to Columbus in 2005.

     Travane Jackson, over the past several years, had been in trouble with the law. He had been arrested for drug offenses and for violating the terms of his probation. In 2018, after Jerrica Spellman filed a domestic violence complaint against him, the police arrested him for simple battery. This was not the first time Jackson had abused the mother of his three children.

     In July 2019, Jerrica Spellman, fed up with the domestic abuse, was preparing to leave Jackson and move, along with the children, to Atlanta where they planned to take up residence with her parents.

     At nine o'clock Wednesday night, July 17, 2019, officers with the Columbus Police Department were called to the Elizabeth Canty complex where they discovered, in the Spellman/Jackson apartment, a bloody scene of violent death.

     Police officers, upon entering the apartment, found the bodies of four people, all of whom had been stabbed many times. The murder victims were identified as Jerrica Spellman and her three children: one-month-old Khristian Jackson, one-year-old Kensley Jackson, and three-year-old King Jackson.

     Early on the morning following the quadruple murder, Columbus police officers arrested Travane Jackson and booked him into the Muscogee County Jail on four counts of murder.

     When questioned by detectives, Travane Jackson confessed to fatally stabbing Jerrica Spellman and their three children. Jackson told his interrogators that he wanted to write letters to Spellman's family expressing his remorse.

     At Travane Jackson's arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

"Upskirting" in Massachusetts: No Crime in That

     In 2010, transit authority police in Boston arrested Michael Robertson for using his cell phone to secretly snap photographs from beneath the dresses of unsuspecting female trolly passengers. This perverted behavior was so common in Massachusetts and other places it had a name--"upskirting."

     A prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office charged the 32-year-old upskirt photographer with two counts of secretly photographing a person in a state of nudity or partial nudity. The statute underlying the charges was intended to criminalize the act of placing hidden cameras in restrooms, shower stalls, and other places where people undress. This form of voyeurism in the state is punishable by up to two and a half years in prison. Almost all the perpetrators who had been convicted of this offense were men clandestinely photographing women and children. By any standard this was deviant and unacceptable behavior.

     Following Robertson's arrest, his attorney, Michelle Menken, moved to have the charges dropped on the grounds her client's actions did not fall within the letter of the law. Specifically, the women he photographed were not nude or partially nude as required by the statute.

     The prosecutor in charge of the case, in contesting the motion to dismiss, argued that Robertson's behavior clearly came under the spirit of the law. Certainly the legislators who passed this law would agree.

     A Suffolk County District Judge let the upskirting charges stand. Defense attorney Menken appealed that decision.

     On March 4, 2014, the State Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts' highest judicial body, ruled in favor of the upskirt photographer. The justices found that the statute in question did not prohibit the photographing of women who were fully dressed.

     Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, shortly after the ruling, told reporters that, "Every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her clothing. If the statute as written doesn't protect that privacy, then I'm urging the legislature to act rapidly and adjust the law so it does."

     In the United States, before an act can be treated as criminal behavior, the act and a corresponding state of mind must be specifically defined in the form of a statute. As a result, state crimes codes have to be continually updated to keep up with the ever changing nature of human depravity. For example, the reading of the animal cruelty sections of state crimes codes reveals how many ways people have found to torture animals. The theft section of a crimes code depicts all the methods thieves have devised to steal.

     State crimes codes are essentially catalogues of modern deviant behavior. Not long ago, no one had a phone you could use as a camera, and no one heard of upskirting. There was a time when there was no such thing as sexting, cyber bullying or getting high on bath salts. To be effective, criminal codes have to keep up with the times. Given the ability of people to blaze new trails into the dark worlds of deviancy and criminality, this is no easy task. 

Junk Science: Altering Behavior Through Blood Transfusion

     British and French doctors tried transfusing sheep's blood into humans, hoping that the life force of a docile creature might tame mad passions. In France, Dr. Jean Denis tried it on a wife-beater, with at first good results.

     Over in England, on November 23, 1667, a daft impoverished clergyman's helper, named Arthur Coga, was paid twenty shillings to undergo the experiment, receiving up to twelve ounces of blood from the wooly four-footed beast. "Some think it may have a good effect upon him as a frantic man by cooling his blood," wrote famed diarist, Samuel Pepys. A large crowd of experts gathered at the Royal Society to observe.

     Pepys was pleased to note that the following week, the man addressed the Royal Society in Latin. "He is a little cracked in his head, though he speaks very reasonably," added Pepys a bit cryptically.

Richard Zacks, An Underground Education, 1997 

Big City Gun Violence

     When politicians talk about the epidemic of gun violence in the country, they seldom address the problem honestly. Driven by political correctness, politicians focus on shootings involving spree killers, and armed men in suburbia who mistake family members and neighbors as intruders. Anytime a gun enthusiast at a gun show accidentally shoots someone, the media is all over the accident.

     While politicians are not the brightest people around, they know that gun violence is principally about young black men shooting other young black men in cities big and small across the country. The fear of being labeled racists keeps politicians from stating the obvious. That fear, by the way, is well-grounded.

     Black males are ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their white counterparts. That's because so many of them live in high-crime neighborhoods, and participate in dangerous activities. Every year, 3,000 to 4,000 black men are murdered by handguns. Roughly 30,000 are wounded. In March 2013, during a three-day period in Chicago, 38 black men were shot to death. That is more homicides than most cities have in one year. For example, in 2017, Madison, Wisconsin, a city of 255,000, had 11 criminal homicides.

     On any given night in many big cities, ambulances deliver up to 35 black males to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds.

     On average, treating a patient who has been shot costs $322,000. This form of inner-city violence costs U. S. taxpayer about $12 billion a year. The bill is significantly higher if you include loss of work, rehabilitation, court, and incarceration costs.

     Since the vast majority of these shootings involve illegally possessed handguns, the current gun control debate is nothing more than political grandstanding, and a waste of time. Politicians should be talking about how to reduce violent, inner city crime instead of imposing more regulations on law abiding gun owners. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

True Crime Censorship In China: The Zhou Xijun Murder Case

     At 7:15 in the morning of Monday, March 4, 2013, Mr. Xu parked his gray Toyota RAV 4 near the supermarket where he worked. He ran into the building, turned on the heat, and returned to the parking lot. To his horror, Mr. Xu discovered that someone had stolen his SUV along with his two-month-old baby who was in the backseat. The car thief probably didn't know the vehicle was occupied.

     The distraught father called the police department in Changchun City, a sprawling megalopolis of 8 million people in northeast China's Jilin Province. Mr. Xu also called a local radio station which broadcast periodic bulletins that included descriptions of the stolen car and the missing baby. Eight thousand police officers were alerted as well as thousands of taxi cab drivers. All of these people, including listeners of the radio station, were on the lookout for the stolen Toyota and its infant passenger, a baby named Xu Haobo.

     Almost immediately a variety of Internet social media sites picked up on the ongoing story. Most people following the case assumed that once the car thief realized he had inadvertently abducted the car owner's child, would deposit the infant in front of a hospital or some other public place.

     The next day, the car had not been recovered and the baby was still missing. Perhaps the car thief was also a kidnapper seeking a ransom. At five in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5, a man named Zhou Xijun turned himself in to the Changchun police. According to the 48-year-old resident of Gongzhuling City, about an hour after he took Mr. Xu's car, he strangled the baby to death. Mr. Xijun said he buried the corpse in the snow alongside a country road.

     While the Xu Haobo story was widely circulated in China's Internet social media, Xinwenhua News, the official Jilin Province newspaper, did not report the murder. According to an independent journalist who uses the name "Yingshidian," the Communist run Provincial Propaganda Department had censored reportage of the case. The story was suppressed because it lent credence to concerns that criminals in China were losing all respect for human life. Stories like this were bad for tourism as well.

     A relative of the murdered baby, on a Chinese web site similar to YouTube, criticized the police for not finding the car thief before he murdered Xu Haobo. The relative accused the police of gross negligence in the case.  (Reportedly, the baby was killed an hour after the car theft which rendered this criticism unreasonable.)

     Like all high-profile murders, the Xu Haobo case spawned a lot of rumors. One story that went around was that Zhou Xijun, the man who confessed to the car theft and murder, was covering for his son, Zhou Lei. Rumor had it that the son murdered the baby and was on the run from the police.

     The senseless murder of the baby in the stolen car became one of the most talked about crimes in China's recent history. The murdered infant's mother was treated for a mental breakdown.

     Public outrage led for calls that the baby's killer be punished with "lingchi"--the slow dismemberment of the prisoner's body.

     In May 2013, a judge in Changchun, China found Zhou Xijun guilty of murder. The convicted man was hanged six months later. (In 2013, 3,000 criminals were executed in China. In 2002, 12,000 had been hanged.) 

Disarming The Police: The Politics Of Insanity

     Jamaal Bowman, a middle school principal from the Bronx, New York, is a Democrat primary challenger to the incumbent Congressman for the 16th District Congressional District, Eliot Engel. Congressman Engel has held the seat since 1988.

     In October 2019, Jamaal Bowman tweeted this: "It's time to disarm the police." This candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for an unarmed police force. (I'm sure his proposal would not include taking guns away from the capital police.)

     No one in their right mind would stay on the job as an unarmed police officer in a criminally violent country like ours. And only suicidal people would fill all of the resultant law enforcement vacancies.

      If anti-gun advocates like Jamaal Bowman ever come to power, the only people who will possess firearms will be the criminals. Talk about dystopia.

     Disarming American law enforcement is an even more insane idea than disarming law abiding citizens. Anyone who would propose such irresponsible nonsense is unfit for public office. 

Should Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut Be Sued For Making Us Fat And Sick?

In recent years personal injury attorneys and trial lawyers have attacked the food industry with numerous lawsuits alleging that these businesses should pay monetary damages to those who, of their own accord, consume too much of a legal, safe product.

Bob Ney

Thursday, October 24, 2019

A Football Coach Cheats And The Team Pays

     Sophomore running back Bill Jackson played for Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis, Missouri. In the 2018 title game, a referee ejected Jackson from the field following some infraction. As a result, Jackson was suspended from playing in one game in the following 2019 season.

     In the 2019 opening game, Cardinal Ritter head coach Brandon Gregory, rather than honor the suspension and keep his star player off the field, inserted him into the game under an alias. Junior running back Bill Jackson, jersey number 24, ran onto the field as freshman Marvin Burks, jersey number 4.

     Bill Jackson, aka Marvin Burks, ran for 109 yards that night and scored a touchdown in his team's 32-21 win over its opponent. To local sportswriters excited about the new running back, Coach Gregory praised Marvin Burks as a kid who had earned his right to start the game. "It was his time to play ball," Gregory said, knowing full well he was really talking about Bill Jackson.

     Well into Cardinal Ritter's 2019 undefeated season, the truth emerged about Marvin Burks' real identify. Someone noticed that the freshman running back had Bill Jackson's tattoos. Moreover, the player known as Marvin Burks and Bill Jackson were the same size, and had the same running style. As it turned out, Marvin Burks was Bill Jackson.

     Game over.

     Tamiko Armstead, the Cardinal Ritter College Prep president, voided the football team's 2019 season, and fired head coach Brandon Gregory and his entire coaching staff.

     Ex-coach Brandon Gregory, rather than take full responsibility for ruining the season for his football team and its fans, said in the passive voice of someone unwilling to admit guilt, that "a mistake had been made."

     If that response wasn't bad enough, the coach said he didn't know Bill Jackson had been suspended for one game. If that were true, why did Coach Gregory give his star running back a different number and a phony identity--for one game? Yeah, mistakes had been made, the big one being hiring this guy as coach.     

The Cold-Blooded Murder of Skylar Neese

     Sixteen-year-old Skylar Neese lived in an apartment in Star City, West Virginia with her parents David and Mary Neese. Sky City is a town of 1,800 outside of Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University. The community, located in the northern part of the state, is a few miles south of the Pennsylvania state line.

     On the night of July 6, 2012, Skylar came home from her part time job and bid her parents goodnight. Just before midnight, a surveillance camera directed at the apartment complex caught the A-student at University High School climbing out of her bedroom window. The camera also recorded her getting into a car occupied by two girls her age. When Sklar's parents discovered their daughter's bedroom empty the next morning, they reported her missing.

     The police questioned the 16-year-old driver of the car seen on the surveillance tape who said she had dropped her friend off at her apartment an hour after Skylar had snuck out of her bedroom. In the initial stage of the investigation, the authorities operated under the theory that Skylar Neese was a runaway.

     Over the next several weeks, fliers bearing the missing girl's photograph were placed on hundreds of utility poles and distributed to dozens of local businesses. The FBI, suspecting foul play, entered the case. Several of Skylar's fellow students were chatting about the case on the social media. One student eventually went to the police after hearing two 16-year-old girls discussing how they had murdered Skylar Neese. This student at first assumed the girls were joking, and for that reason didn't alert the police right away.

     On January 3, 2013, almost six months after Skylar Neese was seen on camera getting into the car, Rachel Shoaf, one of Skylar's 16-year-old friends, confessed that she and another 16-year-old girl had lured Neese into the car that night for the purpose of killing her. According to Shoaf, they had stabbed Skylar to death and drove her body into Pennsylvania where, at a remote spot near the town of Waynesburg about 30 miles northwest of Star City, they dumped her body. When the girls ran into difficulty digging a grave, they simply covered the corpse with branches.

     If Shoaf articulated a motive for the murder, that was not revealed. Police later arrested Sheila Eddy on the charge of first-degree murder.

     Police officers from several law enforcement agencies, on January 16, 2013, found a badly decomposed corpse in Greene County's Wayne Township. The body was preliminarily identified as Skylar Neese, but the identification was not officially announced until March 13, 2013.

     On May 1, 2013, Rachel Shoaf pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before a judge in a Monongalia County Circuit Court. She was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center awaiting her sentencing. The local district attorney indicated that he planed to recommend a sentence of twenty years. Under West Virginia law, second-degree murder carried a maximum sentence of forty years.

     Sheila Eddy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in January 2014 and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. A month later, the judge sentenced Shoaf to 30 years in prison.

     It was odd this case didn't attracted more attention from the national media. If murder had taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago, it might have developed into a big crime story. Sixteen year old, middle class girls do not go around stabbing each other to death in cold blood. Where were the TV crime profilers, criminologists, and murder shrinks?

     This strange and disturbing case was reminiscent of Chicago's Leopold and Loeb case in 1924. That murder involved a couple of young, well-educated men from good families who killed an innocent boy simply to see if they could commit the perfect crime. They didn't, and like the West Virginia girls, ended up in prison.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Alexis de Tocqueville On The Future Of The American Republic

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) French political scientist

Speeding Through Yellow Lights

According to federal guidelines, yellow traffic lights should have a duration of 3 to 6 seconds depending upon such factors as traffic volume, speed, and intersection design. While the yellow light denotes caution, if it precedes a red light, motorists in a hurry tend to speed through it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Forgotten Inmate

       The Dona Ana County Jail is in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the south central part of the state not far from the Mexican border. In August 2005, a driving while intoxicated and receiving stolen property arrestee named Stephen Slevin was placed into the 846-cot lockup. The 51-year-old, because of his history of mental illness, was segregated from the jail population. For reasons that defy understanding, Slevin remained in solitary confinement until his release in June 2007. After having Slevin in custody for 22 months, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against the so-called "forgotten inmate." (Had he been truly forgotten, the inmate would have starved to death. Since someone fed this isolated prisoner for 22 months, jail personnel knew of his situation. So how did this happen?)

     The "forgotten" prisoner had entered the Dona Ana County Jail in relatively good health, mentally and physically. He left the place weighting 133 pounds with bed sores and rotten teeth. (During his incarceration, he had pulled out his own abscessed tooth.) Slevin also walked out of the facility suffering from post-traumatic stress.

     Attorney Matthew Coyte, in December 2008, filed a civil rights suit on Slevin's behalf against Dana Ana County, New Mexico. County authorities fought the suit, but at Slevin's civil rights trial in March 2012, the jury awarded the plaintiff $22 million. Fighting the case had been an obvious mistake. The county appealed the award on grounds the damages were excessive.

     In March 2013, the Dona Ana County Board of Commissioners dropped the appeal and settled the case. The county agreed to pay the "forgotten inmate" $15.5 million.

     The settlement resolved the civil side of the case. But what about the criminal aspect of Slevin's 22-month wrongful imprisonment? The bureaucrats responsible for this man's ordeal were clearly guilty of a degree of reckless indifference that was criminal. But holding government employees responsible for malfeasance is extremely difficult. The nature of bureaucracy protects incompetent practitioners by making it almost impossible to pinpoint wrongdoing to any one person.

     Had Stephen Slevin been falsely imprisoned in a private sector facility, corrections personnel would be serving prison sentences.

     If Mr. Slevin, months into his hellish confinement, had committed suicide, this would have been a homicide case. The taxpayers of Dona Ana County had to foot the bill for this stunning example of governmental negligence, but no public employee was held criminally culpable for this inexplicable corrections fiasco. 

The Case Of The Dead Mental Patient Brains

     While most collectors acquire everyday objects such as coins, stamps, and books, a few collectors specialize in things that are odd and to most people disgusting. There was even a reality television series devoted to the acquisition of bizarre objects. The show was called "Oddities" and was presented on the Discovery Channel. Viewers followed the operation of a retail shop in Manhattan, New York called Obscura Antiques and Oddities. Items bought and sold on the show included a mummified cat, various animal teeth, a dead four-legged chicken, and a shrunken head.

     The "Oddities" television series helped establish a market for unusual items and "conversation pieces" most of us would consider too disgusting to possess. It also created an opportunity for thieves who specialized in these collectibles.

     In early October 2013, a thief in Indianapolis, Indiana walked off with sixty jars of brain and other tissue from dead mental patients. The specimens were kept, among thousands of other such containers, in warehouse space on the campus of the Indiana Medical History Museum. The brains and other specimens had come from clinical autopsies performed at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, an institution that opened its doors in 1848 and closed in 1994. According to the director of the museum, the stolen jars were valued at $4,800. (Is there a bluebook for the pickled brains of dead mental patients?)

     In early December 2013, the director of the Indiana Medical History Museum received a call from a collector in California who said he had purchased, through an eBay auction site, six jars of brain matter. He had paid $600 for the specimens. According to the oddities buyer, he became suspicious when the jars he acquired appeared similar to the ones pictured on the museum's website.

     The tip from the California collector led to the identification of David Charles as the seller of the stolen brains.

     On December 16, 2013, an undercover Indianapolis police officer posing as an oddities collector interested in jarred brains met Mr. Charles in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. When the 21-year-old suspected thief offered to sell the officer the stolen property, the cop took him into custody.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Charles with felony theft.

     In November 2015, after pleaded guilty to stealing the museum brains, the judge sentenced David Charles to four years in prison. 

When A Successful Novelist Calls It Quits

For public figures who walk away from the source of their fame, the question of what comes next may be treated lightly. A retired athlete can become a sportscaster or investor; the TV actor whose hit show comes to an end can mull over movie scripts. But when a successful novelist retires, it feels somehow different: writing novels is less a job one can leave than proof that one sees the world in a certain way. There's something that seems illogical about a writer declaring that he or she is done. Where, then, do all of the observations channeled into metaphor go?

Daniel D'Addario, Time, November 24, 2014 

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Gina Virgilio Arson-Murder Case

     In 2007, the parents of 20-year-old Gina Virgilio noticed that she had become mentally unstable. Their daughter was also addicted to Oxytocin and cocaine. In early 2012, Virgilio was still on drugs and mentally ill. She had taken to injecting methamphetamine, and disappearing for weeks at a time on drug binges. She and her infant son resided in an Anchorage, Alaska apartment with her boyfriend, Michael Gonzales. Because she was too psychotic and drug addled to care for her son, a child service agency placed the infant with another family.

     On June 8, 2012, Virgilio's boyfriend, Michael Gonzales, fell asleep on his sofa after celebrating his 24th birthday. That night, Gina left their apartment carrying an empty gas can. She walked a quarter of a mile to a service station where an attendant filled the container with five dollars worth of gasoline.

     Upon returning to the Anchorage apartment, Virgilio splashed gasoline on the sofa around her sleeping boyfriend and on the carpet beneath his feet. She poured a gasoline trail to the apartment's only door, and standing in the hallway, put a match to the accelerant and watched the flames shoot across the carpet and engulf the sofa and Michael Gonzales.

     Surrounded in flames, Michael Gonzales leaped to his feet and shouted "Hot Hot!" As her boyfriend collapsed to the floor and died in flames, Gina Virgilio shut the door and walked away.

     That evening, when questioned by a detective at a local hospital where Virgilio was being treated for minor burns, she told the officer that Michael Gonzales had set the apartment fire. Shortly thereafter, she admitted to her mother that she had set the fire that killed her boyfriend. When questioned again by the police, she confessed.

     Not mentally competent to stand trial, Gina Virgilio spent the next six years in custody receiving psychiatric care. In April 2019, her attorney arranged to have her plead guilty to first-degree murder.

     On October 14, 2019, in addressing the court at her sentencing hearing, the 32-year-old Virgilio said that mental illness had driven her to kill Michael Gonzales. She said she had no idea why she had set him on fire. "I hate me for what I did," she said. "I can never bring him back. You can't make sense out of a mind that makes no sense."

     Anchorage Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton sentenced Gina Virgilio to 60 years in prison.


The Small Town Murder

While most tend to think of violence as being associated with big cities, small towns are not immune to devious people looking for a kill. In fact, crimes in small towns can be even more gruesome and upsetting than those in big cities. Not only is it unnerving when places with low crime rates suddenly suffer serious horror, the suspect is usually someone everyone in town knows. With small town killings, you're forced to face the prospect that the killer is someone you know--someone you think of as a friend.

Lea Rose Emery

American Intervention

So far this year in Chicago, 2,199 people have been shot and 413 murdered. And this in just one city. If politicians are itching to intervene somewhere to stop a humanitarian crisis, how about Chicago rather than some country in the Middle East? If the U.S. must intervene in a foreign country, Mexico, a border nation being taken over by drug cartels, might be a good choice.

Where Have All The English Majors Gone?

     A great migration is happening on U.S. college campuses. Ever since the fall of 2008, a lot of students have walked out of English and humanities lectures and into STEM classes, especially computer science and engineering.

     English majors are down more than 25 percent since the Great Recession, according to data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. It's the biggest drop for any major tracked by the center in its annual data and is quite startling, given that college enrollment has jumped in the past decade.

Heather Long, The Washington Post, Oct. 19, 2019

Thornton P. Knowles On Literary Jerks

An ordinary, nonliterary jerk is a person with an off-putting personality who nobody likes. While the term "jerk" is not included in the jargon of psychology, we all know what it means. Miserable jerks are even worse, and populate every profession. In the literary world, miserable jerks are often well-educated novelists whose literary ambitions far exceed their talents. Miserable jerks often end up as unpublished college professors teaching aspiring novelists how to write. Again, if I may use the vernacular, a flaming jerk is an egotistical, mildly talented novelist who writes a bestseller that miserable jerks hate. While writing bad reviews of this flaming jerk's novel, they take to their writing desks to imitate his literary style. It's all pretty sad.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

An Elementary School Teacher's Bad Joke

    Radlett, Hertfordshire, a community of 8,000 in southeast England, is home to the Newberries Primary School, a private institution attended by 203 children ages 4 to 11.

     On Thursday, October 10, 2019, while teaching French to a class of 28 eleven-year-olds, the Newberries teacher reportedly told her students that "You better finish off your work quickly, or I'll ship you all off to the gas chambers." Eleven of the kids in the classroom were Jewish, and when one of them challenged the tongue-in-cheek threat as offensive, the teacher apologized and said that she had just been kidding. The teacher also asked her students not to tell their parents about her highly inappropriate joke.

     Several of the kids, as one would expect, did tell their parents about this teacher's poor taste in humor. Word of the incident circulated quickly throughout the school and the community. Several parents threatened to take their children out of the Newberries School if this teacher wasn't immediately fired.

     The next day, the head of the Newberries Primary School announced that this teacher had been sacked.

     Even if viewed in the most favorable light--an example of lower education stupidity--this person was unfit to teach. Of all the subjects not to joke about, particularly to children, this teacher picked one of the worst. Off to the gas chambers? What in the world was this woman thinking?

George Washington On Bribery

Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.

George Washington

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Sandy Hook Defamation Case

     James H. Fetzer, after graduating from Princeton University in 1962, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of captain. In 1970, Fetzer earned a Ph.D. in History of Science and Philosophy at Indiana University. He taught at the University of Kentucky then, in 1987, joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota Duluth as a full professor.

     By the time Professor Fetzer retired in 2006 from the University of Minnesota Duluth as Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, he had published 100 articles and 20 books on various subjects related to the Philosophy of Science.

     Professor Fetzer's notoriety, however, did not come from his university teaching or his scholarly publishing. He became nationally known, and publicly ridiculed and reviled, for his controversial and outspoken belief in government conspiracies. A Holocaust denier, he called the 1963 John F. Kennedy assassination "a government hit job," and alleged that the infamous Zapruder film was a fake. Fetzer also asserted that the 911 attacks on New York City's World Trade Center either involved artillery fire or explosive devices planted inside the buildings. According the the conspiracy theorist, Jews and the State of Israel were somehow behind the historic terrorist attack.

     On December 12, 2012, Adam Lanza, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed 20 children and six adults before taking his own life. The youngest victim of the massacre was 6-year-old Noah Pozner whose father, Leonard Pozner, would become a spokesperson for gun control.

     In October 2015, Moon Rock Books, a small publisher of conspiracy books out of Crestview, Florida, released a 455-page book by James Fetzer and Mike Palecek provocatively titled, Nobody Died At Sandy Hook. Fetzer, at the time, resided in Oregon, Wisconsin. Writer Mike Palecek, the author of several other works, lived in Saginaw, Minnesota.

     The authors of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook claimed that the mass murder at the Newtown elementary school was a FEMA drill staged as the real thing by the Obama administration to garner support for gun control legislation. The authors also accused Leonard Pozner, in furtherance of the mass murder hoax, of fabricating his son Noah's death certificate. In response to the allegation, Mr. Pozner posted his son's death certificate on social media.

     Two months after the publication of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook, Amazon banned the book. Moon Rock Books, on its Internet site, touted it as "banned," the story the government didn't want you to know. For those in search of the truth, declared the publisher, the book was still available from them. Meanwhile, author James Fetzer continued to publicly claim that the mass shooting was a hoax perpetrated upon the American people by a government that wanted to take our guns.

     In November 2018, Leonard Pozner sued James Fetzer and Mike Palecek for defamation. Mr. Pozner conceded that the authors had the right to say what they believed about Sandy Hook, but they didn't have the right to defame him with false allegations that had subjected him and his family to ridicule and hate.

     Co-author Mike Palecek, in May 2019, agreed to an out-of-court settlement with Mr. Pozner for an undisclosed amount.

     The Leonard Pozner defamation suit went forward, and in June 2019, was tried before a jury in Madison, Wisconsin. Dane County Judge Frank Remington presided over the trial. The plaintiff took the stand and testified that since the publication of Nobody Died At Sandy Hook, he had been harassed by conspiracy nuts who accused him of being an actor pretending to be the father of a boy who didn't exist. Mr. Pozner testified further that he had been subjected to numerous death threats.

     According to the plaintiff, the tragic death of his son at Sandy Hook, followed by the defendant's libelous book, led to bouts of depression and other health problems related to extreme emotional stress.

     Psychiatrist Roy Lubit, a New York City specialist on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who had treated Leonard Pozner, testified that his patient's mental health had "gone down hill" following the publication of the defendant's book.

     James Fetzer's defense rested on the assertion of free speech, that the author was protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

     Following a short deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Pozner. The damages phase of the case would take place at a later date.

     Moon Rock Books, following the verdict against James Fetzer, apologized to the Pozner family and promised to take Nobody Died At Sandy Hook out of circulation.

     On October 16, 2019, the Sandy Hook defamation case jury awarded Leonard Pozner $450,000. James Fetzer called the damages "absurd." The 78-year-old former professor said he would appeal the verdict.

We Get The Government We Deserve

The lies the government and media tell are amplifications of the lies we tell ourselves. To stop being conned, stop conning yourself.

James Wolcott, Journalist 

Your Book is Published: Now What?

Examining the first copy of your book is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my book shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes, The Writer's Book of Hope: Encouragement and Advice From an Expert, 2003

The Appeal of Whodunits and Thrillers

The whodunit and the thriller are in their most typical manifestations deeply conventional and ideologically conservative literary forms, in which good triumphs over evil, law over anarchy, truth over lies.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996

Friday, October 18, 2019

Tommy Lee Jenkins' Rendezvous With 14-year-old "Kylee" A Bust

     In 2012, 25-year-old Tommy Lee Jenkins from Whitestown, Indiana 30 miles northeast of Indianapolis, pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of four minors. The judge sentenced him to four years probation.

     On October 1, 2019, Jenkins accepted a Facebook friend request from who he thought was a 14-year-old girl from Neenah, Wisconsin named Kylee. In reality, the Facebook friend request came from a Facebook account set up by the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office located 100 miles north of Milwaukee. Instead of a 14-year-girl, Mr. Jenkins was in touch with a police officer out to round up pedophiles like him.

     Tommy Lee Jenkins sent Kaylee a sexually explicit photograph of himself, and after lewd exchanges between them, asked Kaylee to visit him in Whitestown which is 351 miles from Neenah, Wisconsin. (I don't know how he thought a 14-year-old girl could manage that.)

     When it became obvious that the object of his lust couldn't come to him, Jenkins said he was coming to visit her.

     On October 10, 2019, after traveling 351 miles on foot, bicycle, and bus, a trip Jenkins chronicled via text messages to Kaylee, he was greeted by Winnebago County sheriff's deputies who took him into custody.

     A prosecutor in the Winnebago County District Attorney's Office charged Tommy Lee Jenkins with using a computer to persuade, induce, or entice a minor to engage in unlawful activity.

     If convicted as charged, the 32-year-old Jenkins faced a minimum sentence of ten years in prison. At the most, a judge could send him away for life. One can only hope that this judge, unlike the one in 2012, will not give this pedophile a probated sentence.  

Legislators Like To Ban Things They Don't Like

If politicians don't like something, they ban it for everyone. What is ominous is the ease which some people go from saying they don't like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don't expect freedom to survive very long.

Thomas Sowell, Economist 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Danby House: The Assisted Living House of Horrors

     In June 2019, residents of the Danby House assisted living facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were not being properly cared for by a staff of health care employees who had not been trained and were not supervised. Patients who needed medication for such ailments as fluid build up, thyroid hormone deficiency, neuropathic pain, high blood pressure, depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disorder, were not administered their medication as prescribed. A resident suffering from schizoaffective bipolar disorder was withheld her medication for 17 days.

     Three members of the Danby House assisting living staff, Marilyn Latish McKey, 32; Tonacia Yvonne Tyson, 20; and Taneshia Deshawn Jordan, 26; were encouraging elderly residents diagnosed with dementia to engage in fistfights. These cruel employees also physically pushed the disabled patients around and abused them verbally with taunts. During one of the fights, a so-called caregiver told one of the elderly combatants to stop screaming.

     In a videoed dementia patient fight, an elderly woman is seen falling on a bed as another patient punches her in the face. The woman recording the fight can be heard saying, "punch her in the face!" As the dementia patient on the bed is being choked, one of the staffers says, "You're making her turn red." The brawl continues until a supervisor enters the room and puts a stop to it.

     The three abusive Danby House staffers, for their own amusement, recorded the dementia patient fights and shared their videos on social media. It's hard to imagine what goes on in the minds of people like this, employees paid to care for the vulnerable patients they abuse. One can imagine, however, how the families of these victims feel when they learn what was going on inside this assisted living house of horrors.

     When the "dementia fight club" abuse came to light, Danby House employees Tyson, McKey, and Jordon were fired. The state also prohibited the assisted living facility from accepting new residents.

     On October 1, 2019, officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department took the three ex-heath care workers into custody. Each suspect was charged with misdemeanor assault of a disabled person. The suspects posted their bail and were released.

     The corporation that owns Danby House can expect a number of lawsuits from family members of the abused patients.

Florence King On Guns

I simply like guns because you can't shoot people without them.

Florence King (1936-2016) Novelist, Essayist 

What The Public Demands Of Police Officers

The citizen expects police officers to have the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, the strength of Samson, the patience of Job, the leadership of Moses, the kindness of the Good Samaritan, the strategical training of Alexander, the faith of Daniel, the diplomacy of Lincoln, and finally, the intimate knowledge of every branch of the natural, biological, and social sciences. If he had all of these, he might be a good policeman.

August Vollmer (1876-1955) Pioneering Police Administrator 

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Kaylene Bowen-Wright Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy Case: Putting A Child Through Hell

Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

     In 1977, a pediatrician from England published the results of an investigation he had conducted into the cases of 81 infants whose deaths had been classified as either Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or natural death. The study, by Dr. Roy Meadow of St. James University Hospital in Leeds, covered a period of 18 years. His article, "Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy: The Hinterlands of Child Abuse," which appeared in the journal Lancet, was shocking in its implications. Dr. Meadow claimed that these 81 babies had, in fact, been murdered, and that the forensic pathologists who had performed the autopsies had ignored obvious signs of physical abuse in the form of broken bones, scars, objects lodged in air passages, and toxic substances in their blood and urine. He came close to accusing some of these pathologists of helping parents, mostly mothers, of getting away with murder.

     The Munchausen Syndrome, a psychological disorder identified in 1951 by Richard Asher, described patients who injured themselves, or made themselves sick, to attract sympathy and attention. Asher named the syndrome after Baron von Munchausen, a man known for telling tall tales. Dr. Meadow added "by proxy" because the people gaining sympathy were not hurting themselves. They were getting sympathy and attention by injuring and sickening their infants and children.

     In his landmark article in Lancet, Dr. Meadow profiled some of the pediatric cases that had puzzled him in the early 1970s. For example, he was treating a young boy who had extremely high salt levels in his blood that adversely affected his kidneys. Because there was no way the boy could have eaten this much salt, Dr. Meadow came to suspect that the mother, a nurse, was force-feeding salt into the child through a nasal tube. When Dr. Meadow voiced his hypothesis to his colleagues at the hospital, they ridiculed him. In this case, however, the boy's mother confessed to exactly what Dr. Meadow had suspected. Her intent had not been to kill her child, but to use him as a way to make herself a center of attraction at the hospital, an environment she found exciting and romantic.

     After the publication of Mr. Meadow's shocking article, physicians all over the west sent him accounts of cases similar to the ones he had described in his Lancet piece. Even Dr. Meadow was shocked by some of the stories--cases that involved punctured eardrums, and induced blindness, as well as inflicted respiratory problems, stomach ailments, and allergy attacks. Years later, Dr. Meadow would design a controversial experiment involving hidden cameras in hospital rooms where suspected Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy victims were being treated. Of the 39 children under surveillance, the cameras caught 33 parents creating breathing problems by putting their hands, bodies or pillows over the victim's faces. Staff members monitoring nearby television screens quickly entered the hospital rooms, causing the abusers to discontinue their assaults.

     In the years that followed Dr. Meadow's initial research into these child abuse and infant death cases, he came to believe that the mast majority of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy perpetrators were women, and that one-third of them were either nurses or women who worked in some other capacity in the health care industry. His research also suggested that many of these mothers were married to men who were cold and indifferent, and that at least part of the motive behind making their children ill was an attempt to emotionally energize their spouses. According to Dr. Meadow, many Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy women also enjoyed the attention and sympathy they received from physicians and nurses.

 Kaylene Bowen-Wright

     In 2008, Ryan Crawford and Kaylene Bowen-Wright decided to have a baby together even though they were not in a romantic relationship or even lived under the same roof. Kaylene, a resident of Dallas, Texas, had two children from another man.

     Shortly after Christopher Bowen's birth, Kaylene claimed the infant, because he had been premature, couldn't digest milk. This was untrue, and marked the start of an eight-year litany of false illnesses attributed to the boy by a sociopathic, attention-seeking Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy mother who, to feed her own personality disorder, tortured her son and put his life at risk.

     Kaylene Bowen-Wright, over the years somehow managed to convince hospital staffs and doctors that Christopher suffered from muscular dystrophy, cancer, heart problems, and seizures that resulted in unnecessary medical procedures, radiation treatments, and medicine. All of this unnecessary medical attention and exposure to hospitals led to serious infections in the young patient. There were also horrible side effects from the medication that included blood clots. (I find it hard to believe that this mother did not induce symptoms in her son by intentionally making him sick.)

     Early on in Christopher Bowen's ongoing nightmare, his father, Ryan Crawford, although he didn't know why, suspected that the boy's mother was fabricating the boy's medical problems. He tried to intercede on his son's behalf, but the boy's mother did everything she could to keep him out of their lives. In 2011, when the boy was three, his father went to court to gain custody of Christopher. The judge not only denied him custody, he prohibited the father from visiting his son.

     Kaylene Bowen-Wright received the attention and sympathy she craved through her Facebook postings that claimed her son was dying of cancer and would not live to see the age of five. She also started several GoFundMe campaigns, and took advantage of the Make-A-Wish foundation. At this point in the child's ordeal, he was being fed through a tube and was confined to a wheelchair.

     In 2014, Ryan Crawford came across an article about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy and suddenly understood what Kaylene Bowen-Wright was doing to their son. He began reaching out to the authorities in an effort to save his son before she killed him.

     Between 2009 and 2015, Kaylene Bowen-Wright took Christopher to 323 medical facilities in Dallas and Houston. The boy underwent thirteen major surgeries for his nonexistent illnesses. It was a miracle he survived all of this medical treatment at the hands of clueless physicians and surgeons.

     Finally, in 2015, the staff at a Dallas hospital suspected that Christopher Bowen was the victim of child abuse. Someone from the hospital notified a child services agency. The investigation that followed led to Kaylene Bowen-Wright's arrest in November 2017 for the prolonged abuse of her son. The authorities took custody of Christopher Bowen and Kaylene's two other children.

     In August 2019, Kaylene Bowen-Wright pleaded guilty to causing serious bodily injury to her son by subjecting him to unnecessary medical treatment, medication and surgery. She faced a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

     On October 1, 2019, Dallas County Judge Ernest White, after hearing testimony from Christopher Bowen's father, medical personnel, and a Munchasusen Syndrome by Proxy expert, sentenced 36-year-old Kaylene Bowen-Wright to six years in prison.

     Six years in prison for what this woman did to her son during his young life is beyond outrageous. Twenty years behind bars would have been a lenient sentence. No thanks to this child's mother, he could have died from her insatiable need for attention. As it turned out, the boy has recovered from his ordeal and is healthy. However, the psychological effects from his mother's prolonged abuse might haunt him for the rest of his life.

Are Some Novelists Nuts?

Early in his career, John Cheever put on his business suit, then went from his apartment to a room in the basement where he hung his suit on a hanger and wrote in his underwear. Victor Hugo's servant took away his clothes for the duration of the author's writing day. James Whitcomb Riley had a friend lock him in a hotel room without clothes so that he couldn't go out for a drink until he had finished writing. [How do you lock someone in a hotel room?] Jessamyn West wrote in bed without getting dressed for what she thought were two compelling reasons: "One, you have on your nightgown or pajamas and can't go running to the door at the knock of strangers. Also, once you're up and dressed, you see ten thousand things that need doing."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Forensic Ballistics In The John F. Kennedy Assassination

I'm not an expert or trained [in forensic ballistics]. But it is a subject I've studied intently for 50 years, so I may know a thing or two. In my opinion, the JFK investigation was poorly handled.

Stephen Hunter, Novelist

The Slow Death of the Mainstream Novel

     In our time, the only type of fiction that shows definite signs of fading from our culture is the traditional, unclassifiable story variously identified as literary, academic, and mainstream. If your writing cannot conveniently be defined as suspense, romance, western, or science fiction, your chances of publishing under a major imprint are about as likely as being struck by lightening while being kidnapped by terrorists on your way to claim your million-dollar lottery check.

     As with all trends, this one is governed by the laws of commerce. General fiction is a hard sell.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Eye For An Eye: The New England Pentecostal Ministries Murder And Shooting Cases

     On Tuesday, October 1, 2019, Luis Garcia, the 60-year-old minister at the New England Pentecostal Ministries Church in Pelham, New Hampshire, a town of 13,000 near the Massachusetts state line, was helping a member of his congregation paint his house in nearby Londonderry, New Hampshire. The owner of the house, 60-year-old Mark Castiglione, was getting married to Claire McMullen on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The ceremony was scheduled to take place at the Pelham Pentecostal Church with Minister Garcia presiding.

     Minister Garcia had been trying to help Mark Castiglione's troubled 24-year-old son, Brandon. A resident of Manchester, New Hampshire, Brandon Castiglione had grown up in Londonderry. Since he turned 18 in 2012, Brandon Castiglione had been arrested on dozens of occasions, and had been convicted seven times for drug related offenses.

     At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, October 1, 2019, Mark Castiglione's son Brandon Castiglione came to the house in Londonderry and shot Minister Garcia in the neck with a handgun. (The authorities have not released details of the shooting.) When Londonderry police officers entered the Castiglione house, they found Minister Garcia dead.  Officers at the scene took Brandon Castiglione into custody.

     The following day, at his arraignment, Brandon Castiglione was charged with second-degree murder. The magistrate denied him bail.

     Minister Garcia's funeral service was scheduled for noon on Saturday, October 12, 2019. That morning, Mark Castiglione, the man whose son was in jail for shooting Minister Garcia to death, was getting married in Pelham's New England Pentecostal Church. The ministries' 75-year-old bishop, Stanley Choate, would preside over the wedding ceremony in place of his dead colleague.

     At this point it would be hard to imagine this story becoming more bizarre. But it did.

     In the midst of the Castiglione/ McMullen wedding ceremony that preceded Lous Garcia's funeral service, Garcia's 37-year-old stepson entered the Pelham Pentecostal Church with a handgun and started shooting. Mark Castiglione was struck in the head with an unidentified object, his bride was shot in the arm, and Bishop Stanley Choate took a bullet in the chest.

     Several of the forty wedding guests charged the shooter, tackled him, and pinned him to the floor. Pelham police officers arrived at the church and took Dale Holloway into custody. Bishop Choate was rushed to the Tufts Medical Center in Boston where he was listed in serious condition but expected to survive his gunshot wound.

     The Hillsborough County District Attorney charged Dale Holloway with two counts of first-degree assault.

Horror Fiction Since the 1980s

New technology brought new possibilities for horror film makers of the 1980s. Soon the emphasis shifted to gore for gore's sake, and the film genre fell out of favor with mainstream audiences. But the horror novel was enjoying an excellent reputation for quality writing, despite the growth in formulaic shocker stories. In 1981, Thomas Harris published the first novel in his Hannibal Lecter series. This novel remains one of the most commercially successful portraits of a serial killer, and it heralded the start of the serial-killer craze of the ensuing decades…In recent years, the archetypes of vampires, werewolves, and zombies have come to dominate the horror genre.

Kristin Masters,, October 24, 2013 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Is A Fatal Fire Intentionally Set By A 9-Year-Old A Criminal Act?

     At fifteen minutes after eleven on the night of April 6, 2019, firefighters responded to a mobile home fully engulfed in flames at the Timberline Mobile Home Park near Goodfield, a small town in central Illinois. Five occupants of the dwelling, three children and two adults, were killed by smoke inhalation.

     Katrina Atwood resided in the mobile home with her three children, ages 1, 2, and 9, her fiancee, her 2-year-old niece, and her 69-year-old grandmother. The 28-year-old managed to escape the burning dwelling with her 9-year-old son.

     Fire scene investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set. As a result of that determination, the Woodford County Coroner's Office ruled the five deaths homicide.

     On October 8, 2019, Greg Minger, the Woodford County State's Attorney, charged Katrina Atwood's 9-year-old son with five counts of first-degree murder for intentionally starting the fatal mobile home fire. The prosecutor did not reveal why the boy had set the fire.

     Not everyone thought bringing criminal charges against the youngster was appropriate. Betsy Clark, the president of Juvenile Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization based in Evanston, Illinois, told reporters that she thought the charges against the boy were "completely out of line given everything we have learned about the brain development of children."

     In most states, children under the age of 14 are presumed incapable of forming criminal intent. In the Goodfield arson-murder case, before the fire setter can be found guilty of first-degree murder, the prosecutor will have to prove the boy intended to kill the occupants of the house. Without a murder confession, this will be difficult.

     If found culpable as a juvenile murderer, the most the 9-year-old can receive by way of punishment is five years of probation. Under Illinois law, children under 10 cannot be incarcerated.

     On October 11, 2019, the boy's mother, Katrina Atwood, told reporters that her son had been diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. "He made a mistake," she said. "He's a child. Everyone is looking at him like he's some kind of monster. Yes, it's a horrible tragedy, but it's still not something to throw his life away."