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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Advice From a Writing Professor

     Martin Russ' classic 1980 memoir, Showdown Semester: Advice From a Writing Professor, is an entertaining and practical instruction manual for anyone interested in the art and craft of creative writing, or in the difficult job of teaching students how to write for publication. Almost everything in this book is quotable, but here are a few passages that stand out:

The brute fact is, the instructor in a fiction workshop earns his pay by telling students what's wrong with their stories. The students themselves are convinced they need encouragement more than anything, and of course you'll encourage them as much as you can; but what they need most of all is discouragement, so that they'll come to realize how appallingly low their standards are and break the terrible habits they've learned.

As I believe in passive sadism in childrearing, so I advocate the same stance in dealing with the obstreperous student. Kill him with kindness or at least benevolent inattention. Not only must you never let yourself be drawn into any sort of emotional escalation, you must avoid acknowledging his attitude.

Make sure you have something to say before you write it down. One of the most difficult things undergrads have to learn is they have as yet little to say.

Many nonfiction teachers make the dumb mistake of providing subjects or topics. Let the student choose them himself, and make damn sure he says something about the subject--rather than merely turning in a description or summary or noncommittal analysis of it.

For some cockeyed reason it is assumed that if you have the required degree you can therefore do an adequate job of teaching.

Often a classroom of students will unconsciously follow a peer leader--a sarcastic put-down artist, for instance, who by dint of personality and precocious verbal skills will turn your course into a living nightmare unless you step in and blandly damp him off.

It's quite true that fiction can't be taught; but you can pass along a few shortcuts and get them interested in the craft of it. I don't think any student wastes his time in a good fiction workshop, not even the talentless ones.

Undergrads tend to use more words than they need to, and much of your work involves showing them that a certain word or phrase or sentence or paragraph can be deleted without loss.

The most prevalent problem in student fiction writing is lack of plot or suspense, or drama.

Undergrad fiction writers are intensely interested in the possibilities of metaphor, simile, alliteration, allusion, parallelism, symbolism, and all the other literary devices. Which is fine. The problem is that they're more interested in the devices themselves than in using them effectively.

For student writers one of the most difficult problems is "creating character"--and it's a damned hard thing to teach.

Fiction-writing students would much rather describe than narrate. Would rather tell than show. Would rather summarize than dramatize. Would rather explain than demonstrate. Would rather obscure than clarify. I don't know why...but students seem to want to do everything wrong.

The amateur's attitude: It is I who am doing this thing, and I'm more important than the thing I am doing. The professional's attitude: This thing I'm doing is more important than me. (In other words, just because you wrote it doesn't make it good, or even interesting.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Professor Oleg Sokolov Murder Case

     On the night of November 7, 2019, Oleg Valeryevich Sokolov, the decorated Napoleonic era historian, author, and professor at Saint Petersburg State University in Saint Petersburg, Russian, physically assaulted his girlfriend, 24-year-old Anastasia Veshchenko. She had been a student of his, and upon graduation, had moved into his apartment. That night, after being beaten, Veshchenko called her brother and informed him of the assault. She said Sokolov had attacked her because she had attended a birthday party with a friend.

     That night, not long after notifying her brother of the assault, Anastasia Veshchenko called her brother back and told him that the dispute had been resolved and that all was well.

     During the early morning hours of November 8, 2019, the 63-year-old professor, in his flat, killed Anastasia Veshchenko by shooting her with a sawed-off shotgun. Following the murder, Sokolov dismembered his victim in the bathtub, placed her body parts in garbage bags, and stored them in his spare bedroom. 

     On November 9, 2019, with his dead girlfriend's mutilated body still in his apartment, Professor Sokolov hosted a party.

     On the morning after the party, the intoxicated killer walked along the Moika River not far from his flat. Sokolov was recorded on a CCTV camera throwing bags into the water. At one point he stumbled and fell into the river. People who witnessed this saved the professor by pulling him out of the drink. Someone called the police.

     When officers searched Professor Sokolov's backpack, they discovered a bag containing a pair of female arms. At that point, Sokolov informed the police he had murdered his girlfriend. He led the officers back to his apartment where the officers found what remained of Anastasia Veshchenko's body. They also seized the shotgun, several firearms, and the saw the professor used to dismember his girl friend.

     While at the murder scene with the police officers, the professor, in an attempted suicide, stabbed himself with a dagger. Following treatment at a nearby hospital, Sokolov was arrested on charges of murder and illegal possession of firearms. 

     Oleg Sokolov, not long after his arrest, pleaded guilty to the murder and gun charges. 

     On June 9, 2020, following delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sokolov's sentencing hearing got underway in Saint Petersburg. At the proceeding, a government witness informed the court that in 2008, in Moscow, Oleg Sokolov had tied Ekaterina Ivanova to a chair and beat her. The assault took place because Ivanova threatened to leave him after learning that he was married. Nothing came of that assault.

     A psychiatrist for the state testified that at the time he murdered Anastasia Veshchenko, Mr. Sokolov was sane and knew exactly what he was doing.

     The defendant, testifying from within a glass enclosure, explained that he had killed his girlfriend in a fit of anger. He said he had thought she was the perfect woman, but instead she had "turned into a monster."

     Judge Yulia Maximenko sentenced Oleg Sokolov to 12 years and six months, a term to be served at a "strict regime penal colony." No one, including the prosecutor and Anastasia Veshchenko's parents, objected to the lenient sentence.

Reading Reviews of Your Book

While it would be better not to read reviews, you're always looking for some reviewer who will tell you something about your book that you didn't know yourself and at the same time that you think is true. And that very, very rarely happens.

Mary McCarthy in Conversations With Mary McCarthy, edited by Carol Gelderman, 1991 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Club Kid Michael Alig: A Life of Drugs and Murder

     In 1988, 22-year-old Michael Alig appeared on the cover of New York magazine under the headline, "Club Kids." Alig, a high-profile figure in the city's party scene, had formed a group of fellow partygoers called Club Kids. Members of the group wore outlandish outfits, used heroin, and danced and drank all night in Manhattan's nightclubs. In 1993, Alig appeared as a guest on Phil Donahue's daytime TV talk show. 

     On March 17, 1996, in Alig's upper Manhattan apartment, the party ended. The Club Kid and his friend Robert "Freeze" Riggs were negotiating the purchase of heroin from a dealer named Andre "Angel" Melendez. At some point during the transaction, a dispute erupted over money. Robert Riggs resolved the argument by picking up a hammer and striking Melendez on the head. Michael Alig finished the stunned drug dealer off by smothering him to death with a sweatshirt. 

     After killing their heroin supplier, Alig and Riggs had a problem. What were they going to do with Melendez's body? Until they could come up with a disposal plan, they stored the corpse in Alig's bathtub. In an effort to slow down decomposition, they poured bags of ice over the body. For the smell, the club kids doused the corpse with liquid Drano. 

     Before Alig and Riggs could inconspicuously transport the body out of the apartment, they would have to make it smaller, more compact. To accomplish that, they sawed off Melendez's legs. After keeping the body in the bathtub for six days, the club kids, in preparation for its removal, wrapped Melendez in a bedsheet, placed that into a large garbage bag, then stuffed the dismembered body into a cardboard box. 

     During the early morning hours, Alig and Riggs carried the box to the street, hailed a cab, and instructed the driver to take them south on the Westside Highway that runs parallel to the Hudson River. At about 25th street, the taxi pulled over. As the cab drove off, Alig and Riggs carried the cardboard box to the bridge rail and dropped the dead drug dealer into the river. 

     A few days after Alig and Riggs dropped corpse into the Hudson River, children playing in the water along Statin Island came across the cardboard box containing the dismembered remains.

     The Club Boys were arrested in the spring of 1996 on the charge of murder. In October 1997, both men pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced each defendant to ten to twenty years in prison. 

     In 2003, a memoir by James St. James, another celebrity Club Kid, was made into the feature film called "Party Monster" starring Macaulay Culkin. Michael Alig was portrayed in the film. 

     Robert Riggs was released from prison in 2010 after serving 13 years. In 2014, after 17 years behind bars, Michael Alig walked free. During his time in prison, Alig continued using drugs.

     In 2017, police arrested Alig in a Bronx park in possession of crystal methamphetamine. A judge placed him on probation. 

     At three o'clock on Christmas Morning, 2020, Michael Alig's boyfriend called 911 from Alig's 159th Street apartment and reported that his partner had overdosed on heroin. New York City police officers found Michael Alig unresponsive. EMS responders arrived at the scene a few minutes later and pronounced the former Club Kid dead. Alig was 54.

Truth Can Be Stranger Than Fiction

       In New York state, a male home intruder in his 20s was beaten up and restrained by the female homeowner, an 82-year-old bodybuilder.

     In Florida, a robber entered a bank and ordered the teller to hand over a specific sum of cash. When she gave him too much, he returned the excess.

     In California, someone swiped the prosthetic legs that belonged to a high school wrestler.

     In Dresden, Germany, two thieves broke into a museum and stole $1.1 million in 18th Century jewelry on temporary display. The smash-and-grab burglars activated the intrusion alarm but left the scene before the police arrived.

     In Maine on Thanksgiving Day, a man who had rigged his house with a booby trap to kill an intruder with a shotgun blast, killed himself when he somehow tripped the device himself.

Children's "Chapter Books"

Around the end of the second grade, many children spurn heavily illustrated picture books and look for what they call "chapter books." Finally, children can read on their own, and publishers provide easy-to-read books that invite them to read with a simple vocabulary, short sentences, and a lot of white space. If the book is broken into chapters, children feel that they're reading a "grown-up" book.

Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books For Children, 1992 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Munchausen Syndrome by Media

     In 2014, Mindy Taylor, a 35-year-old wife and mother of two, resided in Chillicothe, Ohio, a town of 21,000 in the south central part of the state. She had grown up in Smithton, Pennsylvania, a coal mining village in Westmoreland County 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

     Taylor, in January 2014, created a website called "Mindy's Army: No One Fights Alone," in which she announced to the world that years of heart disease, multiple strokes, and lupus had weakened her for her most recent health crisis--intestinal cancer that had spread to her liver. As a result of these conditions, she couldn't sit very long, couldn't sleep, and was too nauseated to eat. Moreover, she suffered double vision.

     According to Taylor, doctors in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio as well as in Texas were working to treat her ailments. A clinical trial was about to begin on her behalf that gave her hope she might not die from her illnesses.

     Mindy Taylor kept her social media supporters updated through a medical/fundraising blog at CaringBridge.org. On February 16, 2014, she posted the following message: "This isn't just about me. It's about anyone that is fighting with an illness or cancer…Stay positive and always try to do the next right thing."

     That February, Taylor's parents hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Smithton Fire Social Hall. The event raised $7,000 for Taylor's cause.

     On February 24, 2014, Taylor's local newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, published a front-page article featuring her daily struggle with terminal illness. In the long piece, Taylor was quoted as saying: "I am preparing for the worst."

     Shortly after the publication of the feature article, a reader called a local law enforcement agency and in reference to Taylor's story, said, "It's a lie. You should check it out." An investigator did just that which led to a subpoena for Taylor's medical records. As it turned out, Taylor had been lying about the status of her health. She did not suffer from cancer or the other life-threatening illnesses.

     A Ross County grand jury, on April 11, 2014, indicted Mindy Taylor on the felony charge of fourth-degree grand theft. Through her blog, she had raised $21,000. This sum did not include the $7,000 raised at the spaghetti dinner in Pennsylvania. The theft indictment shocked everyone, including members of Taylor's family. (Talk about mixed feelings.)

     Following the indictment, Taylor's attorney, Jeff Benson, told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that his client was returning all of the donated money. He said Taylor had left her job with the Chillicothe school system in 2012, and currently received Social Security disability benefits. The attorney did not reveal the nature of her disability.

     In July 2014, the Ross County prosecutor agreed to drop the charges against Taylor after she completed a 12-step "Diversion" program run by the prosecutor's office. The program, a form of probation, is intended give nonviolent, first-time offenders a chance to prove themselves to be worthy citizens and erase their criminal records. The program, among other things, required Taylor to attend counseling sessions twice a month, perform 250 hours of community service, and give $3,000 to the Southern Ohio Cancer Survivors Organization.

     While Mindy Taylor was not terminally ill with cancer, she may have suffered from a personality disorder involving the use of fabricated or self-inflicted illness to attract attention and sympathy. Women who make themselves sick for this purpose possess a syndrome called Munchausen. Women who make their children ill for sympathy and attention suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. More recently, psychologists have revealed what they call Munchausen Syndrome by Media, a personality disorder in which women gain attention and sympathy through false illnesses publicized on the internet. None of these syndromes, however, are recognized in law as valid criminal defenses.


Contradictanyms are words which have opposing meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the word DUST can mean to add fine particles (as in dust the cake with icing sugar) as well as to remove fine particles (as in dust the furniture).

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2002 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Peter Nygard Sex Trafficking Case

     Peter Nygard was born in Finland and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. In 1967, the 26-year-old fashion designer founded Nygard International, a women's clothing, manufacturing and supply company headquartered in Winnipeg. By 1990, Nygard had offices and warehouses in New York City and Los Angeles. He also owned estates in Marina del Rey, California and in the Bahamas. 

     In December 2019, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York secured a nine-count indictment charging Peter Nygard with sex trafficking, racketeering, and related federal offenses. According to the indictment, Nygard took teenaged girls he called his "girlfriends" to company funded "Pamper Parties" where the girls were given free drinks and access to the spa. The events were held in Marina del Rey and in the Bahamas. At these events, the girls were given alcohol and drugs then raped by Nygard and his friends. Most of the victims were from poor families and had been the victims of previous sexual abuse.

     Nygard also took his "girlfriends" to swinger clubs were they were intimidated into having sex with other men. The victims of Nygard's sex trafficking operation were paid by being placed on the company payroll as either "models" or "assistants." To keep his young victim's silent, the girls were threatened with arrest. They were also promised real modeling jobs.

     In January 2020, ten of Peter Nygard's alleged victims filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of enticing young and impoverished women to his estates in the Bahamas and Marina del Rey with cash and promises of modeling opportunities. According to the lawsuit, Nygard kept a database containing the names of his "girlfriends." Some of the victims were as young as fourteen. Eventually, 57 women, plaintiffs from the U.S., the Bahamas, and Canada, joined in the class action suit. 

     In February 2020, FBI agents and New York City Police Officers raided Peter Nygard's Times Square offices. 

     Police in Winnipeg, on December 14, 2020, pursuant to the Extradition Act, arrested Peter Nygard on the sex trafficking and racketeering charges. The 79-year-old was booked into a Winnipeg jail where he was held without bail until extradited to the U.S. for trial.     

Linsey Attridge's False Rape Report

     In 2008, Linsey and Gary Attridge were married in the central Scotland town of Grangemouth. The 26-year-old bride had grown up in Grangemouth where her mother worked as a seamstress and her father was a window cleaner. Linsey and her new husband, a financial advisor, honeymooned in Malta.

     Less than two years after the wedding, Linsey was unhappy with her marriage. In August 2010, after meeting kickboxing instructor Nick Smith online, Linsey and her daughter moved into the 32-year-old's house in the northern city of Aberdeen. By the summer of 2011, that relationship had fallen apart after Linsey confessed to having sex with one of Nick Smith's friends while Nick was in the house asleep. Although they were no longer a couple, Nick allowed Linsey and her daughter, to whom he had become a surrogate father, to continue living in his house.

     In August 2011, while browsing through Facebook pages, Linsey came across a photograph of 26-year-old Philip McDonald, a cook at a downtown Aberdeen cafe. He was pictured with his 14-year-old brother James. Philip lived outside of the city in a modest flat with his partner Kelly Fraser and their daughter. To Linsey Attridge, Philip and James McDonald were total strangers.

     A few days after stumbling across the Facebook photograph,  Attridge, in a scheme to rekindle her relationship with Nick Smith, decided to falsely report that that Philip and James McDonald had broken into her house and brutally raped her. Before alerting the authorities, she staged the crime by overturning furniture, punching herself in the face, and ripping her clothing.

     Police officers who responded to the false report found a woman who looked and acted as though she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. She submitted herself to various physical examinations including tests for sexually transmitted diseases. In an act of extreme self-centered cruelty, Linsey Attridge identified Philip and James McDonald as her rapists. (Since they were total strangers, I don't know how Linsey explained knowing the identity of her attackers.)

     Two days after receiving the false crime report, police officers arrested James, the 14-year-old brother, at his mother's house. James McDonald was a student at a residential school for teenagers with behavioral problems. Less than an hour after taking James into custody, police officers walked into the cafe where Philip worked as a cook.

     On the worst day of Philip McDonald's life, the detectives who showed up at the cafe told Philip that he and his brother were the prime suspects in a brutal rape case. The officers asked the shocked and frightened young man to accompany them to the police station for questioning. In the police vehicle en route to police headquarters, the officers identified the victim and described the home invasion and crime. Philip broke down and cried. (The officers probably took this as a sign of guilt.)

     At the police station, detectives photographed, fingerprinted, and swabbed the rape suspect for DNA. During the five-hour interrogation, when a detective revealed exactly when the crime had taken place, Philip was relieved. While the two men were supposedly raping Linsey Attridge, Philip was at home putting his daughter to bed. Several members of his family were in the house with him that night. His relatives would vouch for his whereabouts at the time of the rape. He had a solid alibi.

     The detectives questioning Philip were not interested in his so-called alibi. Everyone had an alibi. Big deal. Philip didn't realize that police investigators, once they have a suspect in their cross-hairs, were extremely reluctant, even in the face of exonerating evidence, to change targets, switch gears.

     Over the next two months, Philip McDonald's life was a living hell. He couldn't be out in public without being harassed, and had to enroll his daughter in another school. By October 2011, Linsey Attridge's story began to unravel. When pressed by detectives who had finally become skeptical, she admitted that she had made the entire story up. She had done it in an effort to attract attention and sympathy from her estranged boyfriend, Nick Smith. In so doing, she had put Philip and his brother through hell, wasted police resources, and made the detectives look like incompetent fools. 

     Shortly after Linsey Attridge's false report confession, a pair of detectives walked into the cafe to inform Philip that he was in the clear. That was it. Out of the blue he was accused of rape, and out of the blue he was told that he had been cleared. The officers left the restaurant without even offering an insincere apology. Like their counterparts in America, and probably throughout the world, police officers rarely say they are sorry. Why? Because many of them are not sorry. The rest are afraid of being sued.

     A local prosecutor charged Linsey Attridge with the crime of filing a false report. In June 2013, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge in an Aberdeen courtroom. The judge shocked everyone by sentencing Attridge to 200 hours of community service and two years probation. Nick Smith, her former boyfriend, was in the courtroom that day. He told reporters outside the court house that he thought the judge's sentence was "ridiculous." By that he meant lenient. He was right. This woman should have been locked up for at least five years.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Chelsea Becker Fetus Murder Case

      On September 10, 2019, 25-year-old Chelsea Cheyenne Becker gave birth to a stillborn baby at the Adventist Health Medical Center in Hanford, California. Child Protective Services had taken Becker's previous three children from her. Her children had been taken and placed into other families because of Becker's addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. In 2016, her son had been born with a meth addiction. 

     Because of Chelsea Becker's history of drug addiction, the still birth of her fourth child led to a police inquiry. When questioned by detectives shortly after the birth, Becker admitted using meth just four days before the stillbirth. She was in her eighth month of pregnancy. 

     A forensic pathologist with the Kings County Coroner's Office conducted an autopsy and ruled the baby's death a homicide due to "toxic levels of methamphetamine" in the new born's system. 

     Kings County District Attorney Keith L. Faqundes, under Section 187 of the California Penal Code that defines the crime of murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice," charged Chelsea Becker with murder. According to the charge, the baby's death resulted from "the reckless or indifferent unlawful conduct of a mother."

     On November 6, 2019, police officers took Chelsea Becker into custody at a house in Visalia, California. She was booked into the Kings County Jail on the charge of murder. The magistrate set her bail at $5 million and appointed her a public defender.

     When the Chelsea Becker murder case became a news item locally and nationally, a team of lawyers backed by Advocates For Pregnant Women took the case over from the public defender. Lawyers with the pro-abortion group filed a petition with a California Superior Court asking for a dismissal of the murder charge on grounds Section 187 of the penal code did not apply to Chelsea Becker's case.

     On June 4, 2020, the superior court judge denied the defendant's motion to dismiss. By doing so, the court ruled that Section 187, a law passed in 1970, did apply to stillborn deaths caused by drug addiction. 

     California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on August 7, 2020, filed an Amicus Curie (friend of the court) brief on Chelsea Becker's behalf before the California Supreme Court. In the brief, Becerra wrote: "Section 187 of the California Penal Code was intended to protect pregnant women from harm, not charge them with murder. Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy. The law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families."

     In a press release associated with the California Supreme Court filing, the state attorney general said: "We will work to end the prosecution and imprisonment of Ms. Becker so we can focus on applying the law to those who put the lives of pregnant women in danger."

     In a statement to reporters, District Attorney Faqundes responded to Attorney General Xavier Becerra's brief this way: "This case is not about a stillbirth, it is a case about a mother's overdose of a late-term viable fetus."

     On December 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court declined to intervene in the Chelsea Becker Murder case. That meant the case would move forward toward trial.

Friday, December 25, 2020

The Ronald J. Harris Murder Case

     Over the past several years, places of worship have become places of sudden, violent death. A few preachers, a church organist, and a handful of congregants have been murdered inside their churches. Most of these homicides occurred during religious services. Some of the killers belonged to the church while others were outsiders. All of these murderers were caught, and most of them were pathologically motivated.

     None of the church murders involved acts of terrorism. Notwithstanding these bizarre incidents, inside a church on Sunday or any other day is still one of the safest places to be. This is not true in many middle eastern countries as well as other places around the world where there is religious persecution and related terrorism.

The Killing of Pastor Ronald J. Harris

     Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the southwest part of the state. At 8:30 Friday evening, September 27, 2013, 53-year-old Woodrow Karey, armed with a shotgun, walked into the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles. Pastor Ronald J. Harris was standing in front of the church preaching to sixty revival service congregants when Karey blew him off his feet with a blast from his shotgun. As the preacher lay bleeding on the church floor, Karey stood over him and fired a second shot into his head, killing Reverend Harris instantly.

     As congregants, including the pastor's wife, mother and daughter scrambled for cover, Woodrow Karey walked out of the church. Shortly thereafter, the shooter called 911. Karey identified himself, and informed the dispatcher of what he had just done. Kerey said he wanted to turn himself in, and informed the 911 dispatcher where the police could find him.

      Shortly after Woodrow Karey's 911 call, deputies with the Calcasieu Parrish Sheriff's Office took him into custody without incident. Before being hauled off to jail, the shooter took the officers to a wooded area where he had hidden a .22-caliber pistol and the murder weapon.

     Detectives believed that Karey had shot Ronald Harris because the pastor and Karey's wife Janet had been having an affair.

     A parish prosecutor initially changed Woodrow Karey with second-degree murder. He was held on $1 million bond at the Calacasieu Corrections Center. According to reports, Mr. Karey did not have a criminal record. The authorities did not reveal if he had a history of mental illness or a grievance against the pastor or the church.

     In December 2013, pursuant to a plea agreement, a grand jury indicted Karey for the lesser offense of manslaughter. The judge reduced his bail to $500,000. In Louisiana, manslaughter carried a sentence of 10 to 40 years. The defendant's trial was scheduled for late 2014.

     In June 2014, a second grand jury indicted Karey for the more serious homicide of second-degree murder. However, in January 2015, Calcasieu Parish Judge Clayton Davis, on the grounds the prosecution reneged on their promise only to pursue manslaughter in the case, threw out the second indictment.

     In June 2015, an appellate court reinstated the second-degree murder charge. The Karey defense appealed that decision and on September 7, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted Karey a stay, further delaying the resolution of this so called "open and shut" case.

     Woodrow Karey finally went on trial in April 2018. The defendant's wife Janet Karey took the stand for the defense and testified that Pastor Harris, over a period of 14 years, had repeatedly raped her. The defendant took the stand on his own behalf and said he had killed the minister after learning of what the victim had done to his wife.

     Following the closing arguments, the case went to the jury. After deliberating three hours, the jury stunned virtually everyone in the courtroom with the verdict of not guilty. After five years behind bars, Mr. Karey was a free man.

A Radical Take on Santa Clause

Isn't Santa just a stand in for a society...that watches and judges, telling kids they got what they deserved based on their behavior? Surely children have to notice that Saint Nick, like the judicial system itself, tends to look more favorably upon the rich. He is fat, white, past middle age, and holds all the cards.

Thomas Quackenbush, A Creature was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Michael Barbar Murder Case

      In 2009, 51-year-old Michael Barbar, a native of Lebanon, lived with his wife Maysam and their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, in a two-story house in Perris, a Riverside County town of 70,000 in southern California. Michael had a 19-year-old daughter from a former marriage who didn't live with him and Maysam.

     In mid-August 2009, Michael learned that his 43-year-old wife, at the time attending cosmetology school, had not been faithful to him. According to information that had come to his attention, Maysam, over the past six months, had been with three other men. He also learned that the 6-year-old Tamara, the child he had helped raise from birth, had been conceived as a result of Maysam's affair with a man in 2000.

     Some time after receiving this disturbing information, Michael Barbar checked Tamara out of school early one day and took her to a McDonald's where he swabbed the inside of her mouth for a DNA sample. On November 6, 2009, the paternity test revealed that she was not his child.

     On the night of November 13, 2009, after handcuffing Maysom behind her back during sex, he wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and strangled her to death. He then placed her nude body face-down on the master bedroom floor and covered it with a blanket.

     In Tamara's bedroom, Barbar coiled a television cable around the girl's neck as she slept. When the 6-year-old awoke and struggled, he bashed her head against a bedpost twenty times, crushing her skull. In a third bedroom, Tamara's 10-year-old sister heard Tamar's cries and the sounds of violent death. After Tamara's murder,  the terrified girl heard her father carrying what sounded like trash bags out of the house. The next morning, Barbar's surviving daughter discovered her sister's body. The door to the master bedroom was locked. She called 911.

     Following the double murder, Michael Barbar drove to nearby Cabazon, California where, at the Morongo Casino, he played the slots. The next morning, he drove east to Deming, New Mexico, a border town 60 miles west of Las Cruces. His plan was to enter Mexico then fly to his homeland of Lebanon. On November 15, 2009, the police in Deming interrupted his escape by taking him into custody.

     In early June 2012, Barbar went on trial in a Riverside County Superior Court for the murders of Maysam and Tamara Barbar. Because he was being tried for a double, premeditated murder, the defendant, under California law, was eligible for the death penalty. Barbar's defense attorney, while he didn't deny that his client had committed the homicides, argued that the killings had not been premeditated. According to the defense version of the case, when Michael confronted Maysam with the paternity test results, she had mocked him with a smirk. So enraged by the victim's smirk, Barbar snapped and killed his wife and the 6-year-old who was not his daughter. As a result, this was a crime of involuntary manslaughter. (Sometimes defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves. This was one of those cases.)

     Prosecutor John Aki offered the jury of seven women and five men a wealth of evidence that showed the defendant's preparation and planning for the murders. Mr. Barbar, in anticipation of his murders, had acquired a set of fake identification, rented a car, researched flight schedules between Mexico and Lebanon, and had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account. On July 13, 2012, after only three hours of deliberation, the jury found the 54-year-old defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

     On July 30, 2012, the penalty phase of the trial before the same jury got underway. For Michael Barbar, the two possible outcomes involved life without parole, and state imposed death. On August 10, 2012, the jury recommended that Judge Edward Weber sentence Michael Barbar to death.

     Crime scene investigators, on the morning after the murders, had found, among Michael Barbar's possessions, a copy of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood. In that book, the two men who murdered a Kansas farm family in 1959 were hanged. Mr. Barbar, however, would not end up dangling at the end of a rope because in California, regardless of the wishes of a jury and the law, they do not execute anyone. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Justin Schneider Assault Case

     In 2017, 34-year-old Justin Schneider, a husband and father, worked as an Air Traffic Controller at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. In August 2017, at an Anchorage service station, he asked a 25-year-old woman he didn't know if he could give her a lift. She said yes and climbed into his vehicle.

     Instead of driving the woman to her destination, Schneider took her to a remote area where he grabbed her, put his hands around her throat, and threatened to kill her if she screamed. The victim passed out and when she awoke, Schneider was zipping up his trousers after masturbating on her. He gave her tissue to clean off the semen. He told her that he hadn't really intended to kill her, that it was just a threat to keep her quiet. She grabbed her belongings and alighted from the vehicle. As he drove off she had the presence of mind to note his license plate number.

     From the side of the road the victim used her cell phone to call 911 in which she provided the attacker's license plate number. After being examined at a local hospital, the victim picked Justin Schneider out of a police lineup.

     Following his arrest, a grand jury sitting in Anchorage indicted Schneider on counts of kidnapping and felony assault, crimes that together carried a prison sentence of up to 99 years. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor in charge of the case dropped the kidnapping charges because the woman had gotten into Schneider's vehicle willingly. (In Pennsylvania and most other states, simply restraining a person in a vehicle against their will constitutes kidnapping.)

     Following the indictment, Schneider lost his air traffic control job.

     On September 22, 2018, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik allowed Schneider to plead guilty to one count of second-degree felony assault. Judge Michael Corey sentenced Schneider to two years in prison then suspended the prison time by giving him credit for a year in jail. The judge sentenced the violent sex offender to a year of house arrest. Moreover, Mr. Schneider was not required to register as a sex offender.

    Schneider did not have to register as a sex offender because under Alaska law, "physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen" did not qualify as a sex crime.

     It's not surprising that the disposition of this case caused a public uproar. In defending the state's handling of this case, a spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Law announced that the plea deal had been based on an expert's opinion that Mr. Schneider would not re-offend. This absurd rationale did not attenuate the criticism of the prosecutor or the judge.

     In responding to the public outrage over the Justin Schneider case, Alaska's governor Bill Walker said he planned to propose legislation that would make "coming in contact with semen" a sex offense that carried a sentence of two to twelve years in prison plus registry as a sex offender. Even those who chose to believe the words of a politician were still angry about how the authorities had handled this case.

     Justin Schneider said the experience had made him a better person. But what about his victim? How did his "experience" affect her? No one asked because no one in Alaska's criminal justice system cared.

"Gun Control" in Chicago

In Chicago, so far in 2020, 4,000 people have been shot, 740 of them fatally. Most of the shootings took place on weekend nights during the summer months on the west and south sides of the city. 1,400 more people were shot in 2020 than the previous year. Such gun violence took place in a city where its leaders are strong advocates of "gun control," a concept that apparently just applies to the law abiding citizens of the city.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A College Kid's Crime Spree

     On Sunday morning, November 2, 2014, paramedics in a Poudre Valley Hospital ambulance responded to an emergency involving an intoxicated student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. When the paramedics rolled the student out of the building, they found that someone had stolen their ambulance. (The patient had to be transported to another hospital in a backup ambulance.)

     Through GPS technology, the police located the missing ambulance 12 miles away in Loveland, Colorado. Officers found the vehicle, its doors wide open and its front-end badly damages and leaking fluid, sitting in the middle of Highway 34. The officers also encountered the ambulance thief, 18-year-old Stefan Sortland standing thirty yards from the wrecked vehicle. The Colorado State University sophomore, decked out in an EMT safety vest, was holding a blanket, a cellphone, and a box of Wheat Thins.

     According to witnesses, the ambulance hit the raised median, jumped the curb, struck a highway sign, careened the wrong way and crossed back over the median before coming to a stop.

     When the college boy refused to obey the police-issued commands, they stunned him with a Taser. Referring to the police vehicles surrounding him, Sortland asked, "Why are those lights flashing on those cars?" On his way to the Loveland Police Department, Sortland informed the officers that he and the stolen ambulance had been en route to Vail, Colorado. For the most part, however, the college student rambled on incoherently.

     At the police station, Sortland said he had taken the drug molly along with some cocaine at a Halloween concert where security officers had kicked him out of the event. He also said that his friends and roommates, having all committed suicide, were dead and in heaven.

     While awaiting his transportation to the local jail, Sortland kicked a police department bench and a wall then started masturbating. (Apparently he wasn't handcuffed behind his back.)

     At the Larimer County Jail, while in the booking area, Sortland attacked two jail employees who had brought him lunch. He punched one of the deputies in the face. A short time later, officers booked Sortland on charges of aggravated vehicle theft, obstructing emergency medical personnel, reckless driving, hit-and-run, criminal mischief, unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and assault.

     Stefan Sortland's father told detectives that his son had no history of mental illness and was not on medication. His father did say that on Halloween his son had sent him some odd text messages.

     On May 17, 2016, Stefan Sortland pleaded guilty to the felony counts of motor vehicle theft and second-degree assault of a police officer. Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski gave Sortland a four-year deferred sentence. That meant that if Sortland remained law abiding during that period, he would not be sent to prison. According to his defense attorney, the 20-year-old was now taking anti-psychotic medication. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave Teleka a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Teleka entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson employee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel shuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Taleka returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Taleka's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in the disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Teleka surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in Teleka's apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Teleka, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made. If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation, and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the discovery of Patrick's body, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Deputy Shaquille O'Neal And The Botched SWAT Raid

     In 2006, Michael Harmony, a lieutenant with the Bedford County Sheriff's office, commanded the battle against child pornography in south central Virginia. Lieutenant Harmony headed a high-profile regional task force called Blue Ridge Thunder. Shaquille O'Neal, the 7 foot 1, 325-pound center for the Miami Heat professional basketball team, an off-season reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, was a member of the regional task force. The sheriff had enlisted the famous basketball player, also a gun-carrying reserve officer in Miami Beach, as the public face of the area's anti-child pornography campaign. O'Neal had accompanied the Blue Ridge Thunder team on several military-style child pornography raids.

     In September 2006, a cyberspace undercover investigator assigned to the task force, downloaded child pornography via an Internet Provider (IP) address. Based on this information, a local magistrate subpoenaed Fairpoint Communications, the source IP, requiring the company to identify the person or persons at this IP site. The IP complied, providing the authorities with the name of A. J. Nuckols, a resident of Gretna, Virginia. The police didn't know it, but someone at Fairpoint Communications had misread the subpoena. Therefore the identification of the Nuckols family in connection with the IP address was a mistake. Without further investigation into the identify of Mr. Nuckols and his family, the police used this faulty information to acquire a warrant to search his house.

     Mr. Nuckols, a 45-year-old tobacco and cattle farmer, lived with his wife, Lisa, an elementary school teacher, on a farm near Gretna. Two of their children, ages 12 and 16, lived at home. Their 21-year-old daughter attended a nearby college. The family kept their one computer, mostly used by the children for homework, in their living room. The parents didn't know their own email address, and rarely shopped online or downloaded information from the Internet. There was nothing in their histories, lifestyle, or associations that suggested any connection to child pornography.

     Saturday morning at 10:30 A.M., September 23, 2006, two officers from the Blue Thunder Task Force knocked on the Nuckol's front door. Invited into the house by Lisa, they informed her of the warrant allowing them to search the dwelling for child pornography. "I was in shock," Lisa later told a newspaper reporter. "At first it was not just disbelief. I told them, 'We don't live that way.' "

     As the police officers spoke to Lisa Nuckols, a fleet of police cars from Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties rolled up to the house. Suddenly ten officers, dressed in black and camouflage, and wearing flak jackets, were moving about the yard carrying semiautomatic weapons. Mr. Nuckols, working near the barn, looked across the field and saw all the police vehicles. Fearing that something awful had happened to his wife, or one of his children, he jumped into his truck and sped to the house.

     "What's going on?" Mr. Nuckols asked as he climbed out of the pickup. Instead of getting an answer, one of the officers dropped into a shooting position, aimed his pistol at the farmer, and said, "Turn around and put your hands on the truck." Another member of the team handcuffed Mr. Nuckols behind his back. As they led him toward the house, Lieutenant Michael Harmony reportedly said, "Had a rough day? It's about to get a whole lot worse."

     Lieutenant Harmony informed Mr. Nuckols that he or someone in his family was suspected of having downloaded child pornography from 150 web sites. The police were there to search the house for evidence of this crime. Later, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Mr. Nuckols expressed how he felt at that moment: "When it finally became clear what they were there for, I was just flat-out mad. They came and assaulted my family for something we had nothing to do with."

     The Nuckols children came home at 2 P.M. from a high school cross-country meet. The police, still in the house, asked them if they had downloaded child pornography. The children were as stunned by the accusation as their parents. Ninety minutes later, the officers departed, taking with them the family computer, DVDs, videotapes, and other personal belongings. Before he left, Lieutenant Harmony told Mr. Nuckols that the child pornography investigation would take between six and nine months to wrap up, noting that the state crime lab was backed up.

     At one point durng the siege, Mr. Nuckols recognized the famous basketball player. "You're Shaquille O'Neal," he said. The big man, dresssed like the others, and armed, replied that his name was Tony. Nine days later, when the Nuckols family learned that the search and seizure had been based on an erroneous IP address identification, O'Neal denied involvement in the raid. However, after the Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed his participation, he admitted his role.

     After the raid, before they were aware of the mistake, Lisa Nuckols told neighbors and friends what happened. Worried that she might lose her job, she advised the principal and the school superintendent as well. In his letter to the newspaper editor, Mr. Nuckols wrote: "When you come into someone's home, that's an intrusion. I feel the same about the raid as I would about any assault on our home and family. A robber would be wrong, and these officers were wrong. No matter what the spin the police put on it, the public will always believe it's wrong. People can't believe this happens in this country."

     In response to the criticism following the revelation that the Blue Ridge Thunder team had raided the wrong house, Lieutenant Harmony blamed the Fairpoint Company. According to him, the IP had made the mistake, not the police. Lieutenant Mike Taylor with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, though not a participant in the raid, apologized to the Nuckols family.

     Shaquille O'Neal, however, took another approach by accusing Mr. Nuckols of exaggerating his account of the raid to make the police look bad. When members of the media questioned him about his role in the operation, the basketball player reportedly said, "We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they [the Nuckols] made it seem like we beat them up, and that never happened. [Well good for you Shaquille.] We went in, talked to them, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing."

     If there is one thing in law enforcement rarer than a slam dunk case, it's an apology for shoddy police work.

Knowing Writers By Their Styles

A novelist is revealed in his style, the language which he has created for himself.

Henry Miller in Henry Miller on Writing, edited by Thomas H. Moore, 1964 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Inserting Humor Into Nonfiction

Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn't all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our "tribe," and to lessen tension and anxiety. Both of these are also excellent reasons to incorporate humor in your nonfiction. As a communication tool, effective use of humor can humanize you, cementing your bond with readers. It can also help your work stand out in a crowded market. And as advertising studies have shown, humor enhances how much we like what we're reading and how well we remember it afterward.

Anne Jasheway, writersdigest.com, August 9, 2011

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Steven Capobianco Murder Case

     On Sunday night, February 9, 2014, 27-year-old Carly Scott, a resident of Makawao, a town on the Hawaiian island of Maui, received a call from Steven Capobianco. Scott's 24-year-old ex-boyfriend and father of her unborn child said his truck was stuck in a ditch off the Hana Highway near mile marker 30 in the Keanae area.

     Carly left her house that night with her pit bull mix Nala in her 1997 Silver Toyota 4Runner. On Monday morning, when Carly didn't show up for work, her mother reported her missing to the Maui police. That day, friends and family of the missing 5-foot-10, 160 pound woman with shoulder-length red hair, drove up and down the Hana Highway looking for her. They were concerned she might have driven off a cliff.

     That morning, February 10, 2014, one of Carly's sisters, Kimberly Scott, spoke to Steven Capobianco who said that after Carly had pulled him out of the ditch, the two of them proceeded on the highway with her following behind his truck. At some point he didn't see her headlights anymore.

     At six in the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Carly's friends came across the missing woman's SUV in Haiku, Maui. The vehicle, completely gutted by fire, had been rolled over onto its side. The burned-out Toyota was lying in a pineapple field off Peahi Road that led to a popular surfing spot known as "Jaws." Carly was not in the vehicle. (Her dog Nala had turned up two days earlier in Nahiku.)

     The day after friends found Carly's torched 4Runner in the pineapple field, Mileka Lincoln, a reporter with Hawaii News, interviewed Steven Capobianco. The ex-boyfriend confirmed that on Sunday, the night Carly went missing, she helped him get his truck out of the ditch. Later, the two of them headed toward Haiku 25 miles up the road. She followed behind, and when he reached Twin Falls, he looked in his rearview mirror and didn't see her headlights. Capobianco drove home and assumed that Carly had made it back safety to her house.

     "I sent her a text that said, 'Thank you,' but I figured she was working. That's why she didn't get back to me right away." [Apparently Carly had a late night job.]

     According to Capobianco, "It wasn't until the cops showed up at my house at 5:30 in the morning the next day [Monday February 10] that I realized something was wrong." Capobianco told the reporter that Maui police questioned him at the police station where he took a polygraph exam. When he asked how he had done on the lie test, a detective informed him that according to the instrument, he had not told the truth.

     To the reporter, Capobianco insisted that he "absolutely" had not hurt his ex-girlfriend. "I mean," he said, "it's understandable that I'm probably the prime suspect, so they're [the police] not going to tell me details (of the case)." 

     The missing woman's ex-boyfriend said they broke up several years ago but had remained friends. He said that they "occasionally hooked-up."

     "Were you excited about being a dad?" asked the reporter.

     "Sort of. It was unexpected. She didn't tell me right away, but it was growing on me." At one point, Capobianco indicated that he didn't know for sure if he was the father of Scott's unborn child.

     On Thursday night, February 13, 2014, 16-year-old Phaedra Wais, the missing woman's half-sister, found a skirt, shirt, and bloodstained bra in a remote area off the Hana Highway. When Wais reported the find to the police, an officer told her not to disturb the evidence and wait for a detective. The girl ignored this advice and drove the garments to the police station in Kahuiui. Later, police officers found a jawbone, fingertips, and hair follicles near this site.

     In an unrelated matter, Maui police, in April 2014, arrested Capobianco on the charge of first-degree burglary. The judge set his bail at $10,000. Capobianco stood accused of breaking into a Haiku woman's apartment in September 2013 and stealing two computers and her jewelry. Police recovered the stolen property in a search of the suspect's house.

     The garments found by Phaedra Wais belonged to her missing half-sister. A forensic scientist ended hope that Scott was alive by identifying the jawbone, fingertips and hair as being hers. This meant the missing person case had turned into a homicide investigation.

     On July 18, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Maui indicted Steven Capobianco of murder and arson. According to the language of the true bill, the suspect had "intentionally or knowingly caused Carly Scott's death in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner that manifested exceptional depravity."

     Capobianco pleaded not guilty to the murder and arson charges.

     On December 28, 2016, a jury in Maui, in the entirely circumstantial case, found Steven Capobianco guilty of second-degree murder and arson. 
     On March 24, 2017, the judge sentenced Capobianco to 40 years for second-degree murder and 10 years for arson. The sentences were to run consecutively that meant the 27-year-old could serve up to 50 years in prison.

As Local Journalism Shrinks, Government Corruption Expands

Over the past 15 years, local newspapers in the U.S. have lost more than $35 billion in advertising revenue and half of their reporters. Journalism studies show that as local news reporting declines, government corruption and inefficiency rises. As they say, no one is watching the store.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Franc Cano and Steven Dean Gordon: Why Serial Sex Offenders Should Not Be Paroled

     In 1992, 23-year-old Steven Gordon, a resident of Orange County, California, was convicted of two counts of lewd and lascivious acts with girls under 14 and 10-years-old. He was convicted and spent three years behind bars. In 2002, in Riverside County, California, Gordon was sent to prison on a kidnapping conviction.

     Twenty-one-year-old Franc Cano, another Orange County sexual predator, went to prison in 2008 for rape.

     In April 2012, Gordon was on parole and wearing a federal GPS device. His friend Cano, also on parole, wore a state-issued ankle bracelet. That month, the two transients removed their tracking devices, and under the names Dexter McCoy and Joseph Madrid, boarded a Greyhound bus for Law Vegas.

     On May 8, 2012, federal agents apprehended the two paroled sex offenders at the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Back in California, they both pleaded guilty to failure to register as sex offenders. Instead of sending these men back to prison where they belonged, the parolees were ordered to provide DNA samples. As further "punishment", their computers (they had computers?) would be monitored by parole and probation authorities. They were also required to check in once a month with the Anaheim Police Department. New GPS tracking devices were attached to each man and they were sent on their way.

     On October 10, 2013, Kianna Jackson, a 20-year-old from Las Vegas, disappeared while she was in Santa Ana, California. In Santa Ana, she had been charged with prostitution and loitering to commit prostitution. Jackson wasn't the only sex worker that had gone missing in southern California during that period. Thirty-four-year-old Josephine Monique Vargas was last seen on October 24, 1913 after attending a family birthday party at a Santa Ana Red Roof Inn. Vargas had a history of drug abuse and prostitution.

     Martha Anaya, a 28-year-old Santa Ana woman with a history of prostitution, was last seen on November 12, 2013. Before her disappearance, Anaya had asked her boyfriend to pick up her 5-year-old daughter so she could work her trade.

     On March 14, 2014, the naked body of 21-year-old Jarrae Nykkole Estepp was found on a conveyor belt at an Anaheim trash-sorting plant. Estepp was known to work on a strip of beach in Anaheim known for prostitution. She had moved to southern California from Oklahoma.

     On April 11, 2014, Anaheim police officers arrested Franc Cano, 27 and his traveling partner Steven Dean Gordon, 45, near the trash sorting facility in Anaheim where Jarrae Estepp had been raped and murdered. (I presume the suspects were linked to this victim through DNA.)

     On Monday, April 14, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged Cano and Gordon with four felony counts of special circumstances murder and four counts of rape. If convicted as charged, these men faced sentences of life without parole. While they were also eligible for the death penalty, no California judge had imposed that sentence for decades. 

     Anaheim Police Lieutenant Bob Dunn, at a press conference on April 15, 2014, said the suspects may have raped and killed more women in southern California. The officer would not say if the bodies of the other three prostitutes had been found. According to Lieutenant Dunn, the suspects, when they raped and murdered the four victims, were wearing their GPS tracking devices.

     Just prior to his December 2016 Orange County murder trial, Steven Dean Gordon fired his public defender so he could act as his own defense attorney. In his opening remarks to the jury, the defendant did not deny murdering the four women. Instead, he blamed Franc Cano and the parole and probation department for not monitoring him more closely.

     On December 16, 2016, the jury just took one hour to find Gordon guilty as charged,.

Property Rights and Freedom

Man's liberty is, of course, often related to his property rights. The home and its privacy are property rights. Ownership of a press is essential to the freedom granted newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Ownership of a church or cathedral is basic to the free enterprise of religion.

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, 1963

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Alix Tichelman Case: A Hooker, Heroin, and a Dead Millionaire on a Yacht

     Alix Catherine Tichelman described herself on her Facebook page as a fetish ("bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism") model with more than 200 "client relationships." In plain words, the 26-year-old worked as a Silicon Valley prostitute. Her "clients" were wealthy Johns willing to shell out big fees for the rope, the whip, and who knows what else.

     If one believed Tichelman's Facebook entries, the self-described high-end hooker graduated from high school in Deluth, Georgia before studying journalism at Georgia State University in Atlanta. (Maybe in college she heard that journalists were whores and decided to make real money in that profession.) Tichelman started her sex worker career at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club.

     In early 2012, Tichelman began dating Dean Riopelle, the lead singer of a rock-and-roll band called "Impotent Sea Snakes." Riopelle also owned the Masquerade Night Club in Atlanta, a popular music venue. Interestingly enough, Riopelle had earned a degree in construction engineering from the University of Florida. Eventually Tichelman moved into Riopelle's luxury home in Milton, Georgia.

     On September 6, 2013, officers with the Milton Police Department responded to a domestic call that originated from the Riopelle house. Tichelman, the caller, accused her boyfriend of physical abuse. He returned the favor with assault accusations of his own. The officers departed without taking anyone into custody.

     On September 19, 2013, Tichelman dialed 911 and to the dispatcher said, "I think my boyfriend overdosed on something. He, like, won't respond." Tichelman, in response to the emergency dispatcher's questions, said Riopelle's eyes were open but he was unconscious. She described his breathing as "on and off." The dispatcher overheard the caller say, "Hello Dean, are you awake?"

     When the 911 dispatcher asked Tichelman how she knew her boyfriend had overdosed on something, she said, "Because there's nothing else it could be." The dispatcher inquired if the overdose was intentional or accidental. "He was taking painkillers and drinking a lot," came the reply.

     Dean Riopelle died a week later at a local hospital. The medical examiner's office, following the autopsy, identified the cause of death as excessive heroin and alcohol consumption. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.

     On November 23, 2013, about a month after Dean Riopelle's lethal overdose, a 51-year-old Google executive from Silicon Valley named Forrest Timothy Hayes enjoyed Tichelman's purchased company on his 50-foot yacht. (The vessel has also been described as a powerboat.) Later that day, the authorities discovered Hayes dead in one of the boat's bedrooms. The yacht was not at sea.

     In the course of the investigation into this sudden death, detectives with the Santa Cruz Police Department viewed the yacht's videotape footage that revealed just how the executive had died. Tichelman was seen injecting Hayes with what investigators presumed to be a shot of heroin. Immediately after the needle went in, he clutched his chest and collapsed. Tichelman responded to the obvious emergency by finishing her glass of wine then gathering up her belongings. As she casually strolled out of the bedroom, she stepped over Hayes' body. She did not call 911.

     Santa Cruz detectives, on July 3, 2014, executed a search warrant at Tichelman's parents' home in Folsom, an upscale Silicon Valley community. Her father, Bart, was CEO of a tech firm that offered "energy efficient infrastructure" for data centers. At the Tichelman house, detectives carried away the suspect's laptop. On the computer, investigators found that Tichelman, just before Hayes' death, had made online inquires regarding how to defend oneself if accused of homicide in a drug overdose case.

     On July 4, 2014, an undercover Santa Cruz officer, through the website SeekingArrangement.com, lured Alix Tichelman to a fancy hotel on the pretext of being a John willing to pay $1,000 for a session featuring fetish sex. The officer took the hooker into custody on suspicion of criminal homicide in the yacht owner's death.

     At her arraignment on July 10, 2014, the judge informed the suspect she faced a charge of manslaughter along with several drug related crimes. She pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge set her bail at $1.5 million.

     Homicide detectives, in the wake of Forrest Hayes' suspicious death, were looking into the Dean Riopelle overdose case. As a result of the Hayes case, SeekingArrangement.com was shut down. This upset Silicon Valley prostitutes who said they used the site to screen Johns with histories of violence. Affluent sex worker clients in the valley also used the site to arrange hooker dates. 

   On May 18, 2015, Alix Tichelman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and numerous drug offenses in connection with Forrest Hayes' fatal overdose. Larry Biggam, the lawyer who negotiated the plea bargain on Tichelman's behalf, told reporters that although his client had been sentenced to six years in prison, she will only spend three years behind bars.

     The Tichelman case illustrates the difference between immoral and illegal behavior. While not raising a hand to save a dying man is a highly immoral act, in law it is a lesser form of criminal homicide.

Police Use of Deadly Force

      When it comes to US police officers firing their weapons, the rules, on paper, are very clear. "Ultimately you come to your firearm as a last resort," says Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Order of Police. "You should only use that weapon in a situation where you felt your life or the lives of civilians in the area were in danger." [The Supreme Court in 1982 ruled that shooting at an unarmed fleeing felon who had not just committed a violent crime was not justified.]

     The use of Kevlar vests and other protective police gear have enabled police officers to work with less fear of their lives than in the past.

     Only a small percentage of the nation's 500,000 police officers are involved in shootings. Most retire without ever firing their gun in the line of duty. Still, officers are 600 times more likely than a non-officer to kill a citizen, and about 400 people are killed a year by police. [According to my research, the police shoot about a thousand people a year, killing about half of them. Over the past few years, the number of police officers who are shot or in some way physically assaulted has been on the rise. Increased hostility and danger from the public has kept the rate of police-involved shootings high.]

"What Goes Through a Policeman's Head Before He Shoots?" BBC, August 20, 2014

Silence is Golden

Thanks to cable news, the Internet, and talk radio, the world is polluted with the spoken word. There was a time when words silently lifted off the page and drifted into our minds. Today, the air is filled with talk-- conversations, discussions, debates, and commentary. The subjects include sports, crime, politics, the weather, celebrities--you name it. The talking never stops. For many it creates frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, envy, and fear. It rips at the fabric of our society, splits us into groups, makes some people a little crazy. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


Listening to what a socialist has to say about economics and government is like taking a geography course from a teacher who believes the earth is flat.

Monday, December 14, 2020

An Amish Nightmare: The Shaken Baby Misdiagnosis

     On December 23, 1999, Liz Glick, the 4-month-old daughter of Samuel and Liz Glick, Amish dairy farmers in Dornsife, Pennsylvania, died in the hospital two days after her parents had found her unconscious in her crib. The baby had been ill with a fever and had been vomiting. At the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, pediatricians experienced in treating Amish babies determined that the infant had died of vitamin K deficiency, a genetic and sometimes dietary condition associated with babies born at home and breastfed who have not been given the vitamin through precautionary shots or formula. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include bleeding in the brain and eyes as well as the presence of bruises caused by normal handling and movement.

     Dr. Michael Kenny, a pathologist at Geisinger, performed the autopsy and, as Kate Rush would later report in "Genomics in Amish Country," concluded that the baby had died of a "closed-head injury" (as opposed to a "penetrating head injury" caused by a bullet, stabbing instrument, or a blunt object.) Since Dr. Kenny was not the medical examiner, and it was not his job to make an official manner of death ruling, that decision fell to the county coroner, an elected official without a medical degree. Instead of conferring with pediatricians familiar with Amish patients, the coroner took the unusual step of convening an inquest, a jury-empannelled hearing to determine if the death was suspicious enough to warrant a full-scale criminal investigation. (The coroner's inquest, as a first step in the criminal justice process, while still available in most states, is an antiquated way of determining manner of death.)

     Dr. Kenny's "closed-head injury" finding, combined with the bruises, and the brain and eye bleeding, led the coroner's jury to rule that Liz Glick may have been the victim of a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) homicide.

     The Glick case became national news when a child protection agency speculated that the other seven Glick children, in the wake of the coroner's jury decision, were in danger. For their own protection, the children were placed in foster homes until the Pennsylvania State Police, and perhaps a jury at a murder trial, determined if the parents had committed criminal homicide. The Glick children were split up and sent to non-Amish (English) foster parents, an action that stunned and terrified the residents of this traditional central Pennsylvania community.

     The plight of the Glick family caught the attention of Dr. Holmes Morton, a Harvard trained pediatrician who in the 1980's had treated Amish patients at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Morton had moved to Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where in 1989, he had founded a nonprofit clinic in the heart of Amish country called the Clinic for Special Children, specializing in the treatment and study of illnesses and disorders affecting the Amish. Supported by donations and fund-raising events, the clinic incorporated a state-of-the-art laboratory for the diagnosis and study of biochemical genetic disorders. Dr. Morton should have been one of the first experts consulted by the authorities in the Glick case. He was well-known, had expertise pertinent to the case, and was local. No one, however, sought his opinion on the cause of the Glick baby's death.

     Without being asked, Dr. Morton conducted his own inquiry into the Glick baby's medical history. A few days later, he announced that the infant had been born with a genetic liver condition that rendered her body incapable of breaking down vitamin K. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency--the bleeding in the brain and eyes, and the severe bruising--could easily be mistaken for signs of SBS. In Dr. Morton's opinion, the Glick child had not been killed by shaking. There had been a terrible mistake; this baby's death had been of a natural cause.

     But criminal investigations are like freight trains--once they get rolling they are hard to stop. Even though Dr. Morton had thrown his body across the tracks, the train kept coming. Weeks passed. Finally, in February 2000, the case went before a state medical advisory board of physicians. The doctors heard testimony from several pediatricians who agreed with Dr. Morton's diagnosis. The panel of physicians voted to recommend that the manner of death in the Glick case be changed to natural.

     The local coroner, in light of the physicians' recommendation, changed his cause of death ruling, and shortly thereafter, the child protection agency gave the Glick children back to their parents. A month later, the district attorney announced that Samuel and Liz Glick were no longer the targets of a homicide investigation. One can only guess how far down the criminal justice track the prosecution train would have rolled had it not been for Dr. Morton's intervention. One or both of these parents could have been sent to prison. 

The Bad Check Artist

Former police chief of Houston once said of me: "Frank Abagnale could write a check on toilet paper, drawn on the Confederate States Treasury, sigh it 'U. R. Hooked' and cash it at any bank in town, using a Hong Kong driver's license for identification.

Frank W. Abagnale, Catch Me if You Can, 1980

Legalizing Prostitution

Prohibiting something doesn't make it go away. Prostitution is criminal, and bad things happen because it's run illegally by dirtbags who are criminals. If it's legal, then the girls could have health checks, unions, benefits, anything the worker gets, and it would be far better.

Jesse Ventura, ex-pro wrestler and former governor of Minnesota 

The Tyler Deutsch Child Abuse Case

   Tyler Deutsch lived with his girlfriend and her six-week-old baby girl in a trailer house in Roy, Washington, a town of 800 outside of Tacoma. On Saturday, May 25, 2013, while the baby's 22-year-old mother was away from the trailer, Deutsch closed the baby into a freezer to stop her from crying. Deutsch fell asleep, and an hour later, as his girlfriend walked into the dwelling, the 25-year-old removed the baby. The infant, wearing only a diaper, had been exposed to a temperature of ten degrees.

     The mother of the abused child tried to call 911 but Deutsch, not wanting to get into trouble with the law, took the phone out of her hand. The frantic mother ran to a neighbor's place where she made the emergency call.

     Paramedics rushed the unresponsive baby to the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital were physicians managed to revive her. The infant, with blisters on her skin, had a body temperature of 84. Doctors also determined that the baby had a broken arm and leg as well as a head injury.

     Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office took Deutsch into custody. According to reports, he told the officers that by deep-freezing the baby he was trying to help her. A local prosecutor charged Deutsch with attempted murder, assault of a child, criminal mistreatment, and interfering with reporting domestic violence. The suspect was held in the Pierce County Jail without bond.

    In January 2014, Tyler Deutsch pleaded guilty to first-degree assault. The judge sentenced him to 16 years in prison. The good news was that the abused child recovered fully. The bad news: someday this man would get out of prison.

Fiction for Men

     Some authors appeal mainly to men: Tom Clancy, Len Deighton, Jack Higgins, Gavin Lyall, Frederick Forsyth, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Gerald Seymour. This is neither praise nor blame, it's just a fact. I don't think there's a school of writing that's classified as Bloke Lit, not yet. But it may be the next big thing.

     Points that come to mind about writing for men are: Men like information and excitement. Men like heroes and heroines who are lookers. Men like shorter books. [Most true crime readers, however, are women. Women like their crime, and they like it real.]

Maeve Binchy, The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club, 2008 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Brittany Stykes Murder Case

     At eight in the evening of August 28, 2013, a motorist on U.S. Route 68, forty-five miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, saw a yellow Jeep that had gone off the road into a wooded area. The motorist pulled over and as he approached the SUV he discovered a woman slumped over the steering wheel. The man called 911.

     Brittany Stykes, the dead woman slouched over in the Jeep, had been shot in the neck and side. The 22-year-old victim was 17-weeks pregnant. In the vehicle, still strapped into her carseat, sat Stykes' 14-month-old daughter Aubree. One of the five bullets fired into the vehicle had struck the toddler. Paramedics rushed Aubree to Cincinnati Children's Hospital where she survived her head wound.

     According to the Montgomery County forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Brittany Stykes had been killed by the bullet that entered her side and punctured her lungs. The shooter or shooters had fired five slugs into the car from outside the vehicle. Investigators found no shell casings in the vicinity of the Jeep which suggested that the victims had been shot by a revolver or revolvers.

     In addition to her two bullet wounds, Brittany Stykes had abrasions on her face, right arm, and finger. The forensic pathologist also found scratches on her right leg. These injuries might have been caused when the Jeep left the highway and plowed into the woods. Toxicological tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in Stykes' system.

     The forensic pathologist ruled Stykes' manner of death as homicide by gunshot. The victim's unborn baby had also been killed in the attack.

     Shane Stykes, the murdered woman's 37-year-old husband, worked in a Cincinnati factory. Detectives ruled him out as a suspect when they learned he had been working out in a gym with three police officers at the time of his wife's death. Shane Stykes also passed a polygraph test.

     Detectives, under pressure to solve this case, got nowhere in their investigation. The officers didn't have a suspect, the murder weapon, or a motive. Because the victim had $125 in cash as well as jewelry on her person when she died, detectives ruled out robbery as a motive. She didn't have life insurance which argued against some kind of murder-for-hire case. It also seemed unlikely that she had been a random target or the victim of mistaken identity.

     A Brown County prosecutor, desperate for a break in the case, convened an investigative grand jury with the power to subpoena reluctant witnesses.

     On November 11, 2013, Samantha Grubbs, a woman who had a son with Shane Stykes before he married Brittany, testified, under subpoena, before the Brown County Grand Jury. Following her testimony, in speaking to a local television reporter about Brittany Stykes, Grubbs said, "I think that when you're young--I'm not saying she's young and dumb--you tend not to see the whole story. I think she just got involved with the wrong group of people."

     Samantha Grubbs did not reveal why she had been called before the grand jury, or explain the "whole story" Brittany had failed to see. Moreover, she didn't identify the "wrong group of people" the murder victim had supposedly fallen in with.

     Mary Dodson, Brittany Stykes' 46-year-old mother, in response to Grubbs' "wrong group of people" comment, said this to the TV reporter: "My daughter's crowd consisted of her mom and dad and her sisters." (It's interesting that the mother didn't include Shane Stykes in her daughter's circle.)

     Three months after the unsolved murders, homicide detectives focused their attention on three individuals who had been subpoenaed by the grand jury but didn't show up to testify. One of these people, as reported by the local media, was one of Shane Stykes ex-girlfriends.

     The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for the double-murder.

     In August 2014, the one-year anniversary of Brittany Stykes' murder, the  case remained unsolved. The victim's father, David Dodson, told a local television reporter that he and his wife could not get through the day without thinking about their daughter. Mr. Dodson said he called Buddy Moore, the lead investigator, every day.

     "I talked to him this morning," the father said. "They are chipping away at this, a little bit more every day. There's been a lot of information coming out of the prison and it all keeps coming back to the same group of people," he said. Mr. Dodson didn't identify these people, but did say that he thought Shane Stykes had information about the case he hadn't passed onto the police.

      As of December 2020, no arrests have been made in the Brittany Stykes murder case which remains a mystery. The reward for information leading to an arrest in the case has been raised to $20,000. Aubree Stykes lives with her father. 

Cop Burnout

For a detective or street police, the only real satisfaction is the work itself; when a cop spends more and more time getting aggravated with the details, he's finished. The attitude of co-workers, the indifference of supervisors, the poor quality of the equipment--all of it pales if you still love the job; all of it matters if you don't.

David Simon, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, 2006

The Trial Lawyer

     They might best be called the shock troops of the legal profession, the ones called in when all else has failed. After the niceties of early legal wrangling, it is up to the trial lawyers to right wrongs, prosecute or defend the accused and see that--for at least one side--truth wins out in the courtroom's bright glare.

     Of course, real-life courtroom lawyers know that real-life cases seldom are won solely on the basis of flowery oratory. Instead, it's a matter of mastering an extraordinary complex set of facts and presenting them to jurors in a way that convinces them there is only one possible right version: their client's. And witnesses who confess on the stand, freeing an unjustly accused person, are even rarer; litigation rules now leave few opportunities for dramatic flourishes of that sort.

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988

The Obsessive Literary Fan

I have had quite a few obsessive fans. They write to me and then they turn up at my book signings and look really sheepish. If I said "boo" to them, they would run away. I think they maybe believe I could take over their lives and sort them out. If they saw the state of my kitchen they wouldn't think that.

Denise Mina, Scottish crime novelist and playwright, 2014

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Poor Man's Punishment

The death penalty has been and remains a poor man's punishment. As an old saying puts it, "only those without capital get capital punishment." There are no rich men or women on death row, and no rich person has ever been executed in America. The reasons are many. The rich can avail themselves of good lawyers who help their privileged clients avoid death sentences by artful plea bargaining or skillful courtroom tactics. The poor often get shoddy legal defense.

Robert Johnson, Death Work, Second Edition, 1998 

Detectives and Their Unsolved Murder Cases

Being a homicide detective can be the loneliest job in the world. The friends of the victim are upset and in despair, but sooner or later--after weeks or months--they go back to their everyday lives. For the closest family it takes longer, but for the most part, to some degree, they too get over the grieving and despair. Life has to go on, and it does go on. But the unsolved murders keep gnawing away and in the end there's only one person left who thinks night and day about the victim. It's the homicide [detective] who is left with the case. [This degree of investigative dedication is more true in crime fiction than in reality.]

Stieg Larsson, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 2011

"Literary" Writers Snub Plots: Readers Snub Them

If you read interviews with many prominent authors...you will notice how many of them seem to turn up their noses at the mention of plot. "I never begin with plot," they say. "Characters (or situations or setting or thought) is where I begin my novels." What's the implication? Only bad authors begin with plot. Some of these writers don't just imply it, they say it: A well-plotted book isn't really "artistic." Books like that are for the great mass of dunderheads who read trash, not for us sophisticates who appreciate literature.

J. Madison Davis, novelist, 1998

The Shared Experiences of Writers

Writers have helped me when members of my own family could not. Some writers have been closer than dear friends, even though I never have seen them in the flesh. For example, when I have read some of Somerset Maugham and his The Summing Up, the lucidity of his view of the writing profession illuminated dusky corners in my mind...I have been helped by other writers.

Margaret Culkin Banning, in Writer's Roundtable, 1959 

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Cheryl Silvonek Murder Case

   Cheryl Silvonek lived with her 14-year-old daughter Jamie in a suburban home outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. On March 8, 2015, the 54-year-old mother learned that her daughter's boyfriend, Army PFC Caleb Barnes, at 21, was much older than she had been led to believe.

     In an effort to end the relationship between her eighth grade daughter and the Army private, Cheryl Silvonek struck a deal with the boyfriend. Barnes agreed to end the romance and return to his base at Fort Meade, Maryland in return for the mother's promise to take the couple to a Breaking Benjamin concert in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

     In the early morning hours of March 15, 2015, following the Scranton concert, Cheryl Silvonek, with her daughter and Caleb Barnes in her SUV, pulled into the Silvonek house driveway. Before the mother could climb out of her vehicle, Barnes started punching her in the head. The assailant tried to choke the victim to death before stabbing her four times. She died in the vehicle shortly after the attack.

     Following the cold-blooded murder, Barnes and the victim's daughter drove the SUV to a place nearby where they dumped the body into a shallow grave. Once they had disposed of the corpse, the murderous couple drove to a Walmart store where they purchased a bottle of bleach and other cleaning supplies they used to clean up the victim's blood.

     Not long after the killing, detectives took the couple into custody on suspicion of murder. Investigators linked Jamie Silvonek to the murder through numerous text messages she had sent to Barnes in the days leading up to the crime. Many of these messages, besides being sexually explicit, urged Barnes to murder Mrs. Silvonek. "I want her gone," the daughter wrote.

     Caleb Barnes, when interrogated by detectives, confessed to the murder. He also insisted that Jamie Silvonek had no prior knowledge of the homicide. In an effort to protect his girlfriend, he took full responsibility for the crime.

     Notwithstanding the boyfriend falling on his sword for his young lover, a Lehigh County prosecutor charged Jamie Silvonek with solicitation of murder. The district attorney charged Barnes with first-degree murder.

     Shortly after being booked into the Lehigh County Jail, Jamie Silvonek's attorneys filed a motion to have her case adjudicated in juvenile court. If found guilty as a juvenile, she could not be imprisoned beyond her twenty-first birthday. The district attorney filed an opposing motion requesting that Silvonek be tried in adult court where a guilty verdict would lead to a sentence of up to 25 years to life.

     On October 29, 2005, at a pre-trial hearing before Judge Marie L. Dantos, both sides, on the issue of  whether or not Silvonek should be tried as an adult or a juvenile, put their expert witnesses on the stand.

     Dr. John O'Brien, a psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution, portrayed Jamie Silvonek as a developing sociopath who had the knack of presenting herself as a victim. According to Dr. O'Brien, Silvonek's teachers at the Orfield Middle School painted her as "a sociopath who thinks societal values do not apply to her." Teachers described Silvonek as extremely mature and manipulative, a "chameleon" who could change faces depending upon who she was talking to and what she wanted.

     To support his diagnosis of the defendant, the prosecution psychiatrist highlighted, among others, these text messages sent by Silvonek: "Don't be afraid of the sides of you that are dark, terrifying" and "People don't understand how cold and manipulative I can be, I hide it so well no one expects."

     Psychologist Dr. Frank Dattilo took the stand on behalf of the defendant. According to this expert witness, Silvonek was highly intelligent but extremely immature. When Caleb Barnes began flirting with her, the eighth grader didn't know how to handle his attention. According to Dr. Dattilo, "He [Barnes] pursued her. It's a big deal for a young female to be pursued by someone older. She became enamored of this. She was over the moon about the older guy. It's every young girl's dream. She was swept up by Mr. Barnes."

     On November 20, 2015, Judge Dantos, in a 37-page opinion outlining her rationale, ruled that Jamie Silvonek would be tried for murder solicitation as an adult.

     On February 11, 2016, Jamie Silvonek pleaded guilty to the charge of soliciting the murder of her mother. The judge sentenced her to 25 years to life in prison.

     On September 20, 2016, a jury found Caleb Barnes guilty of first-degree murder. At the trial, Jamie Silvonek testified for the prosecution. She said her mother had been murdered because she had tried to destroy her relationship with the defendant. The judge sentenced Barnes to life in prison.