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Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Michelle Boyer Double Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2014, 40-year-old Jonathan Masin, an employee of Texas Instruments, broke up with Michaelle Boyer, a fellow employee at the corporation. Three years earlier, Boyer and her husband, Charles Hobbs, were divorced. The 45-year-old Boyer lived in a house in Dallas not far from her ex-husband's place.

     Jonathan Masin, a resident of Murphy, a quiet suburban community northeast of Dallas, had left Boyer for a 38-year-old woman named Amy Picchiotti. Amy, a physical trainer, had left Larry Picchiotti, her husband of seven years, in March 2014. Amy, the mother of two young girls, moved in with Masin.

     Michelle Boyer reacted with anger when Masin left her for another woman, a person she had considered a friend. She made her feelings known by sending her former boyfriend threatening emails and text messages.

     At eight in the morning of Saturday, May 10, 2014, Jonathan Masin's father, concerned about his son, called the local police department and requested a welfare check at his house in Murphy.

     Inside the dwelling, in separate rooms, officers found the bodies of Amy Picchiotti and Jonathan Masin. The partially clothed, barefooted couple had been shot to death with a handgun. Neighbors later told the police they had heard what might have been gunshots at 6:30 that morning.

     In Dallas, thirteen miles from the murder scene, police officers came upon Michelle Boyer's SUV parked on the street in front of her ex-husband's house. They found her slumped behind the wheel with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The suicide gun matched the caliber of the firearm used to murder Picchiotti and Masin.

     Inside the vehicle, officers recovered a suicide note that described the double murder in Murphy. According to one of Boyer's friends, she felt that Picchiotti had stolen Masin from her. The jilted woman felt betrayed and extremely angry. While the authorities did not release the text of the suicide note, the motive behind the double murder presumably involved revenge.

     The longtime Murphy city manager, James Fisher, told reporters there hadn't been a criminal homicide in this community as long as he could remember.  

Treating Drug Addiction With Medication

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, since 1999, 700,000 Americans have overdosed on drugs. Of the nation's 15,000 drug treatment facilities, only 42 percent provide patients with any type of medication for opioid addiction, medication known to help get addicts off the drug. Less than 3 percent of these treatment centers offer addicts the choice of one of  three of these federally approved medications: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Most addicts who seek treatment are provided various types of psychological therapy, treatments that have not been particularly successful. 

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.

Grand Theft Auto

Stealing a man's wife, that's nothing, but stealing his car, that's larceny.

James M. Cain (1892-1977) hardboiled crime fiction writer

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

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.

Janet Malcolm on Writing Nonfiction

I speak about the limitation on a nonfiction writer's scope for invention as if it were a burden, when, in fact, it is what makes his work so much less arduous. Where the novelist has to start from scratch and endure the terrible labor of constructing a world, the nonfiction writer gets his world ready-made. Although it is a world by no means as coherent as the world of fiction, and is peopled by characters by no means as lifelike as the characters in fiction, the reader accepts it without complaint; he feels compensated for the inferiority of his reading experience by what he regards as the edifying character of the genre: a work about something that is true, about events that really occurred and people who actually lived or live, is valued simply for being that, and is read in a more lenient spirit than a work of imaginative literature, from which we expect a more intense experience.

Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

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

The Power of Dialogue

Dialogue has practically all the properties which a story demands. It can be both a story builder and a character builder.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926 to 1936

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.

The Villain in Crime Fiction

Often I start working out a story in terms of its villain. Sometimes he's more interesting than anyone else. I'm curious about what makes a murderer who he is. Was he born missing some human quality? Did his early environment shape him? Or was it a combination of both?

Sandra Scoppettone, 2000, crime novelist 

Why People Join Writing Groups

Blooming writers really do not know what to expect when they sign up for a workshop or a creative-writing class. Some want to learn to write, or to write better. Others have been writing a great deal for a long time and want some feedback. These are realistic goals. A certain kind of person finds writing classes and workshops to be like camp, and just wants to hang out with all these other people, maybe with a writer he or she respects, to get and give response and encouragement, and to hear how other people tell their stories. Some people want other people with whom to share the disappointments and rejection letters and doldrums. A lot of people like to work on other people's writing because it helps them figure out what they themselves love in the written word, as well as what doesn't work for them. And others want feedback from people who aren't quite friends or editors but who will be realistic and honest and helpful.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

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. 

Fictitious Characters Must Be Consistent

The very first rule of writing fiction rejects the basic truth of life: Characters must be consistent. If the matriarch of a powerful family of soda pop manufacturers has been established through three hundred pages as obsessively well organized, she cannot meet her end by getting her feet tangled on one of her own discarded sweaters and falling out her bedroom window. This kind of thing happens to people every day in the world we inhabit, despite evidence of past behavior, but we have left that world for a better one. If it happens here, we will throw the novel or short story out the window after the old lady, and good riddance to them both. In a pilotless universe, we accept confusion because there is no place to file a complaint. In a story, plotted and executed by an individual or individuals in collaboration, we know whom to blame.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004

Journal Writing

Writers keep journals because they like to write between projects, or they have other subjects to get off their minds besides the one they are writing about. They sometimes keep a journal because they want to write about their subjects in an unstructured way. They write journals because they like to keep writing.

Shelia Bender in The Writer's Journal, edited by Shelia Bender, 1997 

Jonathan Franzen On Being a "Good" Novelist

When I was younger, the main struggle was to be a "good writer." Now, I more or less take my writing for granted, although that doesn't mean I always write well.

Jonathan Franzen, Paris Review, Winter 2010 

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.

Producing Lean Prose

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of fat. This is going to hurt: revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.

Stephen King, 2010

Show, Don't Tell

Don't tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekov

From Celebrity to Writer

      In 2013, John Cochran, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, won the TV reality show Survivor: Caramoan (Philippines). The previous year, the  self-described nerd came up short as a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific. As a result of his extended media exposure, he qualified as a C-list television celebrity. This meant he would probably spend the rest of his life trying to maintain that status. For most people, the taste of even minor fame ends up being a life-long curse.

     Survivor host Jeff Probst, after announcing the winner of the million dollars that came with the title  "sole survivor", asked Mr. Cochran if he intended to practice law now that season 26 had come to an end. In other words, was he returning to a real-life existence. Cochran, a fan of the show since he was thirteen, predictably answered that he was not entering the field of law. In response to Probst's inquiry regarding his plans, Cochran said he'd like to write. The man who  had "outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted" his reality TV competitors, in explaining why he thought he had the talent to write, said, "I have the gift of gab." Well there you go. If you can talk you can write. But what would a person who had spent his entire life in a classroom write about?

     The vast majority of real writers--people who can write and have acquired expertise in a subject or field they can write about--are not famous. Because publishers don't have the money to turn them into celebrities through advertising, book-tours, and publicists, few people know about their books. Most writers need day jobs to survive and support their writing.

     Publishers love celebrities because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshipers will come to their book-signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity journalists will invite them to appear on TV shows to talk about and promote their vacuous books. And of course, they don't even have to write their own books. Ghosts writers do that for them.
     For a celebrity to become a writer is easy. For a writer to become a celebrity is not. The hard part for the celebrity is remaining a celebrity, and remaining an author.

The Art of Nonfiction

Any person who can speak English grammatically can learn to write nonfiction. Nonfiction writing is not difficult, though it is a technical skill. What you need for nonfiction writing is what you need for life in general: an orderly method of thinking. Writing is literally only the skill of putting down on paper a clear thought, in clear terms. Everything else, such as drama and "jazziness," is merely the trimmings. I once said that the three most important elements of fiction are plot, plot, and plot. The equivalent in nonfiction is: clarity, clarity, and clarity.

Ayn Rand, The Art of Nonfiction, 2001 

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.

J. Edgar Hoover on the Role of the FBI

The FBI is a fact-gathering organization only. We don't clear anybody. We don't condemn anybody. [That wasn't true in Hoover's time, and it surely isn't true now.] 

J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI 1924-1972

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 

Jokes Versus Humorous Writing

Humor can either be a genre in its own right, or an important ingredient in many other genres. Shakespeare wrote comedies, tragedies, and romances. Even in the most tragic of his tales, he knew the importance of inserting a humorous scene every so often to bring the audience some comic relief from all the death, deceit, and unrequited love in the rest of the play. While joke writing is a subsection of the genre, and a potentially lucrative one, it would be a mistake to confuse the ability to tell a joke with the ability to write humor.

Gordon Kirkland in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, edited by Anne Bowling

Writing The Second Novel

Writing the second novel does feel different. I'm more confident and enjoying it more because I feel less anxious about the time I am spending on it. A first novel is such an exercise in hope and obsession, early mornings and late nights, trying to justify your time to your family and yourself. Now there's none of that. I also know so much more about the craft of writing and how to accomplish my goals.

Tara Conklin, npr.org, May 16, 2014 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

America's Oldest Murder-For-Hire Mastermind

     Dorothy Clark Canfield, born and raised in Montgomery County, Texas in the eastern part of the state, began a life of crime at the rather late age of 57. In 1986, in Huntsville, Texas, a Walker County judge sentenced Canfield to seven years probation following a felony theft conviction. A few months after she got off probation in 1993, she pleaded guilty to forgery in Montgomery County. The judge in that case sentenced the 64-year-old forger and thief to ten years probation. In 2009, after being convicted of passing forged checks at the age of 80, Canfield was sent to prison for two years.

     Shortly after being released from prison in early 2011, Canfield formed a company in  Willis, Texas called International Profession Placement Services. Between September 2011 and September 2012, at least seven undocumented residents each paid Canfield to "facilitate" their immigration paperwork for residency or citizenship in the United States. According to a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Canfield's operation was a scam. In November 2012, the prosecutor charged Canfield with stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from her clients. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     On April 4, 2013, while incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail 30 miles north of Houston, 84-year-old Dorothy Canfield decided to hire someone to murder the assistant district attorney in charge of her case. She also wanted her hit man to beat-up the district attorney so bad he'd be hospitalized for three weeks. The long-time thief took inspiration from the recent Texas murders of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife, and one of his assistant prosecutors. By killing the Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Robert Freyer, and incapacitating his boss, D. A. Brett Ligon, Canfield hoped to buy some time in her theft case. (At 84, I'm not sure buying time is a useful tactic.)

     In search of an assassin, Canfield reached out to a fellow inmate who promptly reported Canfield's inquiry to the Texas Rangers Office. On April 5, the inspired murder-for-hire mastermind met with an undercover investigator who showed up at the jail posing as a contract killer. In the recorded conversation that followed, Canfield offered the phony hit-man $5,000 for assistant prosecutor Robert Freyer's murder, and half of that for the beating of Freyer's boss, District Attorney Brett Ligon.

     Ten days after the Montgomery County Jail murder-for-hire meeting, Texas Rangers Wende Wakeman and Wesley Doolittle showed Canfield staged crime scene photographs depicting the murders of the Montgomery County prosecutors. The elderly inmate, showing no remorse at the sight of the men she had tried to have killed, confessed to the murder plot.

     Dorothy Canfield was charged with solicitation of capital murder and solicitation to commit aggravated assault on a public figure. She remained incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail under $500,000 bond.

     In August 2014, Canfield pleaded guilty to the theft and murder solicitation charges. At her sentencing hearing, her attorney asked Judge David Walker to grant the 85-year-old probation. The defense attorney argued that because of his client's poor health and age, she was not a danger to society. Unmoved, the judge sentenced the career thief and murder-for-hire mastermind to 53 years in prison. 

Sympathizing With Rapists

My first lesson about sex-crimes prosecution was that perpetrators were not the only enemy. There is a large, more or less hidden population of what I later came to call collaborators within the criminal justice system. Whether if comes from a police officer or a defense attorney, a judge or a court clerk or a prosecutor, there seems to be a residuum of empathy for rapists that crosses all gender, class, and professional barriers. It gets expressed in different ways, from victim-bashing to jokes in poor taste, and too often it results in giving the rapist a break.

Alice Vachss, Sex Crimes, 1993

When to Let Go of a Suspect

I've come to realize that getting excited about a criminal suspect is a lot like that first surge of stupid love in a relationship, in which, despite vague alarm bells, you plow forward convinced that he is the One.

Michelle McNamera, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State killer, 2018

Bret Easton Ellis On His First Novel

When I was writing my first novel, I had no serious hopes of publishing it. I was sophisticated enough to know that twenty-year-olds don't publish novels. I was writing it because I enjoyed writing and because it was cathartic. Some people release their pain and anxiety through, oh, I don't know, playing sports, or a hobby, or through sex or drugs. Writing for me was always a great stress reliever. It was Joe McGinness who thought the book had commercial potential, so he showed it to his agent. Less Than Zero was published in May 1985.

Bret Easton Ellis, Paris Review, Spring 2012 

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

The Process of Writing

I tend to think of writing as much like taking an exam--the experience is deeply absorbing, my concentration is intensely focused, time seems suspended yet suddenly hours have elapsed. At the end of a day of writing, I feel drained. I don't believe you have to innately love the process of writing to be a good writer, and to find it an immensely satisfying pursuit.

James B. Stewart, Follow the Story, 1998

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.

Representing a Guilty Client

Whenever I appear on talk shows, I am criticized for representing guilty clients. "How can you sleep at night," I am asked, "when you help someone who you know is guilty get back on the street?" Replying that I'm part of an adversarial system barely satisfies an audience fearful of crime and fed up with what it perceives as legal gamesmanship.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

Journalistic Malpractice in the McMartin Preschool Case

     Starting in 1983, with accusations from a mother whose mental instability later became an issue in the case, the operators of the McMartin Preschool Day Care Center near Los Angeles were charged with raping and sodomizing dozens of small children. The trial dragged on for years, one of the longest and costliest in American history. In the end, no one was convicted of a single act of wrongdoing. Indeed, some of the early allegations were so fantastic as to make many people wonder later how anyone could have believed them in the first place. Really now, teachers chopped up animals, clubbed a horse to death with a baseball bat, sacrificed a baby in a church and made children drink the blood, dressed up as witches and flew in the air--and all this had been going on unnoticed for a good long while until a child's mother spoke up?

     Still, the McMartin case unleashed a nationwide hysteria about child abuse and Satanism in schools. One report after another told of horrific practices, with the Devil often literally in the details.

     Often enough in these cases, news organizations share blame. In the McMartin case, they were far from innocent observers. A pack mentality set in after a local television journalist first reported the allegations. Across California and beyond, normal standards of fairness and reasoned skepticism were routinely thrown to the wind, with news gatherers scrambling to outdo one another in finding purposed examples of monstrous behavior by the principal defendants: Peggy McMartin Buckey and her son Raymond Buckey. (Mrs. Buckey, daughter of the school's founder, died at 74 in 2000. Raymond Buckey, now in his mid-50s, said years ago that he wanted simply to be left alone.) It would be comforting to believe that mindlessly frenetic news coverage is a relic of the past. But who could make that claim with a straight face?

     Did the McMartin case have any lasting effect? In some respects, yes. Teachers across America grew afraid to hug or touch their students, out of fear of being misunderstood and possibly being brought up on charges. A widely held notion that young children do not lie about such matters took a huge hit. Some are vulnerable to implanted memories. In the McMartin case, many jurors found that leading questions from therapists steered impressionable children toward some of the most macabre tales.

Clyde Haberman, "The Trial That Unleashed Hysteria Over Child Abuse," The New York Times, March 9, 2014 

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.

Co-Authorship

I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.

Agatha Christie (1930-1976) bestselling British mystery novelist

Monotonous Dialogue

The attempt for realism can be carried too far. Several writers have gained a measure of renown for their reproduction of what purports to be actual speech; but what is good in one medium is not so good in another. Most people say too much anyway, and are often repetitious. If you have to read every word they say, even in short dialogue, it grows monotonous and you easily lose the thread of the discourse. Written dialogue should be edited, like everything else borrowed from another medium. As a rule it should be terse, with only significant expressions remaining.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926-1936

Becoming a Writer is Easier Than Staying a Writer

Anyone can become a writer, the trick is not becoming a writer, it is staying a writer. Day after week after month after year. Staying in there for the long haul.

Harlan Ellison (1934-2018), science fiction writer

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,.

     On February 2, 2017, at the recommendation of the jury, Superior Court Judge Patrick H. Donahue sentenced Franc Gordon to death. (A symbolic gesture.)

     Franc Cano, who took the Fifth to avoid testifying at the Gordon trial, pleaded not guilty. In the summer of 2017, the jury found him guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to death as well.

Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy

I should never have been convicted of anything more serious than running a cemetery without a license.

John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered 33 teenage boys and young men from 1972-1978 at his home near Chicago. In May 1994, he was executed by lethal injection. Gacy was 52.

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

News Versus a News-Based Story

News is plot, event, what happened last night or this afternoon or is in process right now. News breaks fast, somebody writes it up, the gun is barely fired before the world is clued in. Story is a wider map and involves any number of whys, relating to personal history, family background, the times, the place, and cultural background. Story makes a stab at explaining how such a wonderful or terrible thing could have happened. News enjoys a brief shelf life, turns stale fast, grows a quick crust. Story addresses complicated possibilities and reasons, therefore lasts longer, maybe forever.

Beverly Lowry, in Writing Nonfiction, Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerard, editors, 2001

Literary Eunuchs

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They're there every night, they see it done every night, they see how it should be done every night, but they can't do it themselves.

Brendan Behan in Rotten Reviews and Rejections, 1998

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.