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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Judge Cynthia Brim: The Difficulty of Removing an Unfit Judge From the Bench

      Cynthia Brim, a black woman from Chicago's south side, graduated from the city's Loyola University Law School in 1983. In 1994, the 38-year-old lawyer, after working seven years in the Chicago Law Department, was elected to the position of Cook County Circuit Judge. She presided in the Markham Courthouse in south suburban Chicago. Most of her workload involved simple traffic cases. Elected to a six year term, she would remain on the bench until Cook County citizens voted not to retain her. That hasn't happened to a Cook County judge in 24 years. In Chicagoland, once on the bench, always on the bench. In reality it's a lifetime position.

     By any standard, Brim was not a competent judge. In 2000, 2006, and 2012, years in which Brim was on the ballot for retention, the Chicago Bar Association did not recommend that voters retain her as a judge. According to the bar association, Brim was not qualified nor fit for the relatively simple job of presiding over minor traffic offenses. Notwithstanding the bar association's stamp of disapproval, Cook County voters kept her in on the bench.

     On March 9, 2012, Judge Brim turned up at the Daley Center Courthouse in downtown Chicago where she threw a set of keys at and shoved a Cook County Sheriff's Deputy. Officers handcuffed the out-of-control woman and took her to a holding cell in the basement of the courthouse. A Cook County prosecutor charged Judge Brim with misdemeanor battery.

     A court-appointed psychiatrist examined the judge and concluded that when she committed the crime, she was out of her mind. The day before her fight with the deputy, while sitting on the bench at the Markham Courthouse, Judge Brim had to be ejected from her own courtroom following a 45-minute rant on racism in the criminal justice system.

     Shortly after her arrest for battery, a panel of Cook County supervisory judges suspended Brim for an indefinite period of time. While the fracas with the police officer represented her first brush with the law, the mental breakdown the day before her arrest fit into a long history of such irrational behavior. The woman was clearly unfit for the bench, but because she held an elected office, stripping Brim of her judgeship was next to impossible. Indefinite suspension was the next best thing. During that period, however, until her term ran out, Brim was paid her annual salary of $182,000 a year.

     Joe Berrious, a Cook County Democratic machine boss, told reporters that Judge Brim would receive the full support of the party in her next retention election.

     In November 2012, Cook County voters gave the suspended mentally ill judge another six years in office.

     Judge Brim went on trial for battery in February 2013. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a trial by judge. Her attorney, in presenting a defense of legal insanity, revealed how unfit his client was for the bench. According to the defense attorney, Judge Brim, since becoming a judge, had been hospitalized for mental illness nine times. In describing Brim's skirmish with the deputy sheriff, the attorney said, "This was not the action of a rational human being. This is someone acting pursuant to the symptoms of a mental disorder."

     The trial judge in the battery case found that when the defendant unloaded on the deputy, she was legally insane. As a result, he placed Judge Brim on probation and ordered her to stay on her antipsychotic medication.

     In an effort to get Judge Brim permanently removed from the bench, John Gallo, the attorney for the Judicial Inquiry Board, filed a complaint in August 2013, charging Brim with conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute." Attorney Gallo noted that after the incident in the downtown courthouse, Judge Brim had been hospitalized three weeks for bipolar mood disorder.

     Attorney Gallo wrote that the day before the judge's arrest, while presiding over a traffic case, Brim suddenly launched into a 45-minute tirade in which she revealed that her grandmother had been raped by a white man. She also accused two Cook County police agencies of targeting Hispanics and blacks. "Justice is all about if you're black or white," she said before being forcibly removed from the courtroom.

     In March 2014, Brim's case came before a judicial disciplinary panel comprised of an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, two appellate court judges, a pair of circuit court judges, and two citizens. In a bid to save her $182,000 a year job, Judge Brim spoke to the panel. Regarding her rant the day before her run-in with the police officer, she said, "I just broke like a pencil. It was totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at the time--or any other time."

     In an effort to convince the panel members that she was ready to return to the bench, Judge Brim said, "I can serve as a judge with full capability as long as I continue to take the medication as prescribed. I've had two years to think about this, and I have a different perspective and understanding of my condition. I realize now I have to stay on my medications and see a psychiatrist on a regular basis."

     Attorney Gallo, in speaking to the inquiry panel, voiced his concern over whether it would be proper for Judge Brim to return to the bench. "Judge Brim," he said, "decided to go without any kind of psychiatric treatment of any sort after 15 years of these episodes while she was a sitting judge." Mr. Gallo informed the panel members that Brim had been hospitalized nine times for mental breakdowns since she took the bench in 1994. In one of her psychiatric meltdowns EMT personnel carried her out of the courtroom on a stretcher after she went catatonic. Gallo pointed out that the judge wasn't diagnosed with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder until 2009. By then she had been a judge fifteen years.

     On May 10, 2014, the Illinois Courts Commission removed Cynthia Brim from the bench. The commissioners had determined that she was unfit to preside over a courtroom. Following her removal, however, she began receiving her pension in excess of $150,000 a year. She also remained registered in the state to practice law.
     

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Robert Thomas: Very Old, and Very Dangerous

     On January 2, 2020, at ten after nine in the morning, a female employee at the Vista Del Valle apartment complex in Las Vegas, Nevada, called 911 about a man in the office with a gun. The caller reported that a 93-year-old resident of the complex was making threats and arguing with the maintenance manager over water damage in his apartment. The dispatcher could hear the man, Robert Thomas, yelling threats. Mr. Thomas, in possession of a Glock 9 mm pistol, would not calm down.

     After Mr. Thomas fired a random shot that knocked out a computer screen, the woman who had called 911 convinced him to let her leave the office. Shortly after she walked out of the building, Robert Thomas shot the maintenance manager, causing the victim to fall out of his chair. As the manager lay on the floor, Mr. Thomas shot him again.

     The first Las Vegas Metropolitan police officer to arrive at the scene, Ronald Hornyak, a 16-year veteran of the force, saw the old man with the gun through the glass entrance. Officer Hornyak ordered Mr. Thomas to drop his weapon and walk out of the building. When the suspect didn't respond, Officer Hornyak fired a shot through the glass door. The bullet didn't hit the old man's body but pierced his coat lapel.

     Mr. Thomas, after being shot at by the officer, placed his gun on the desk and backed away. Officer Hornyak entered the office and dragged the suspect out of the building.

     The maintenance manager was rushed to a local hospital where he was expected to recover from his gunshot wounds. Robert Thomas, after being treated at a medical facility for a minor injury received in his encounter with the police officer, was treated and released back into police custody.

     Officers booked Robert Thomas into the Clark County Detention center on charges of attempted murder, kidnapping, discharging a firearm within a structure, burglary with a firearm, and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. At his arraignment, the magistrate set the suspect's bail at $25,000.

     On January 7, 2020, Robert Thomas, confined to a wheelchair and wearing earphones so he could hear the judge, was back in court. The defendant was informed that if he posted 15 percent of his $25,000 bail and agreed to house arrest and an electronic monitoring device, he would be released from the Clark Country Detention Center.

     Officer Ronald Hornyak, pending the results of an inquiry into the police-involved shooting, was placed on paid administrative leave.
     

Representing The Drunk Driver

There is a technique good defense lawyers learns early on: The empty beer cans were scattered all over the front seat of your client's car, and he was barreling down the highway before he hit a lamppost. What do you do? You talk about the massive conspiracy to suppress air bags, about Lee Iacocca's salary, and about anything you can think of--except you're client's blood-alcohol test.

Peter H. Huber, Galileo's Revenge, 1991

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Lois Riess Double Murder Case

     On March 23, 2018, in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, Dodge County sheriff deputies went to the home of 59-year-old David Riess after his business partner reported that he hadn't seen him for two weeks. Riess's wife Lois, had texted friends that Mr. Riess was not well and should not be bothered at home. At the Riess house, police officers discovered David Riess's body. He had been shot to death. (It was later determined that he had been shot several times with a .22-caliber gun.) The gun used to kill Mr. Riess was not at the murder scene. Lois Riess was not around, and no one knew where she was.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess' body, Lois Riess began forging checks drawn on his bank account. The checks had been cashed in south Florida.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess's body, Dodge County, Minnesota prosecutor charged Mrs. Riess with the murder of her husband. At this point, the missing 56-year-old murder suspect became known in the local media as "The Grandma Fugitive."

     While hiding in Fort Myers, Florida, Lois Riess met Pamela Hutchinson, a woman who looked a lot like her. The 54-year-old Hutchinson lived in Bradenton, Florida, but was staying in a hotel in Fort Myers where she had traveled to visit a friend.

     On April 5, 2018, Riess shot Pamela Hutchinson to death in the victim's hotel room. Her body was discovered four days after the murder. Police officers, from the hotel room, recovered the murder weapon, a .22-caliber handgun. (This weapon was later determined to be the gun used to kill David Riess in Minnesota.) Lois Riess had killed Mrs. Hutchinson, her lookalike, in order to use her identification. From Florida, Riess drove to Texas in the murder victim's car.

     On April 10, 2018, a Lee County, Florida prosecutor charged Lois Riess with the first-degree murder of Pamela Hutchinson.

     On April 19, 2018, U.S. Marshals took "The Fugitive Grandma" into custody in South Padre Island, Texas. Riess was having a cocktail at a waterfront restaurant.

     Lois Riess, in December 2019, pleaded guilty to murdering Pamela Hutchinson in Fort Myers, Florida. The Lee County judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Following Riess' guilty plea, the Dodge County authorities in Minnesota began the process of extraditing her back to that state to stand trial for the March 2018 murder of her husband.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Justyn Pennell: The Recreational Killer

     For several months, Justyn Pennell fantasized about how much he wanted to murder, for no reason other than for the pleasure of it, a perfect stranger. At two-thirty in the afternoon of January 9, 2020, the 21-year-old, while driving his Red Chrysler PT Cruiser in Hudson, Florida, a town 40 miles west of Tampa, came upon an opportunity to fulfill his desire to take an innocent person's life.

     The object of Pennell's homicidal obsession, a 75-year-old man carrying a walking stick, was strolling by himself on a road that didn't have a sidewalk. The Vietnam veteran and Pennell were moving in the same direction, with the man on the other side of the road heading toward the oncoming traffic. Pennell made a u-turn, increased his speed, and sped directly at the pedestrian who tried in vain to avoid being run over.

     After plowing into the victim, Pennell lost control of the PT Cruiser and slammed into a utility pole. He climbed out of the damaged car unhurt. Several motorists had witnessed Justyn Pennell run down the elderly man who lay dead on the road.

     At the scene, Justyn Pennell called 911, and to the dispatcher, admitted that he had just intentionally crashed his car into a pedestrian for the purpose of killing him. To the police officers who responded to the call, Pennell once again confessed. In relating what happened, Pennell told the officers that when he saw the terrified look on the man's face just before he killed him, he laughed.

     On January 10, 2020, a Pasco County prosecutor charged Justyn Pennell with first-degree murder. At his arraignment, Pennell, who didn't have a criminal record, requested the services of a public defender. The magistrate denied him bail.

The Archivist and the Bookseller: Pittsburgh's Rare Book Heist

     On January 3, 2020, 63-year-old Gregory Priore pleaded guilty to stealing, over a 20-year period, $500,000 worth of rare books, prints, and maps from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. From 1992 to April 2017, the resident of the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh, held the position of archivist and manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections room of the library.

     John Schulman, the man Gregory Priore sold the stolen library holdings to, pleaded guilty on January 3, 2020 to receiving stolen property. The 56-year-old antiquarian book dealer from Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood, owned the Caliban Bookshop in the Oakland section of the city. Mr. Schulman's attorney claimed that his client didn't know the items he purchased from Mr. Priore were stolen, but concedes that he should have known.

     The archivist and the antiquarian bookseller will be sentenced on April 17, 2020. At the maximum, both defendants could be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Neither man, however, will receive a sentence anywhere near that severe. Mr. Schulman may not be given any prison time at all.

     This case exemplifies the reality that when it comes to theft, no one is above suspicion. 

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Timothy Chavira: When Thirty Years in Prison Isn't Enough

     On August 22, 1986 in Burbank, California, 50-year-old Daniel Chavira returned home at six-thirty in the morning after completing his shift as a security guard. His wife, 48-year-old Laurie Ann Chavira's car was gone, and she was not in the house. As a night communications supervisor at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank, Mrs. Chavira was usually at home by that time in the morning. Mr. Chavira reported his wife missing after he found blood stains in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

     Mr. Chavira's 23-year-old son, Timothy, lived int he house with his father and Laura Ann Chavira, his stepmother. He worked at odd jobs and had told his friends that he hated his stepmother. A year earlier, Timothy Chavira had been paroled from a prison in Oregon after serving time for an armed robbery.

     Homicide detectives, from the physical evidence in the house, believed that Laurie Ann Chavira had been beaten with a chair and possibly strangled. Nothing had been stolen from the dwelling and there were no signs of forced entry. Suspicion immediately fell on the missing woman's stepson.

     Eleven days after she was reported missing, Laurie Chavira's decomposing corpse was found in the trunk of her car abandoned in Pasadena, California.

     Police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody on September 4, 1986. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Chavira with the first-degree murder of his stepmother.

     Timothy Chavira went on trial in October 1987 before a jury of seven men and five women. The prosecutor, without an eyewitness or a confession, relied on physical evidence linking the defendant to the murder. Among this circumstantial proof included the discovery of the victim's car and house keys in the trunk of the defendant's car.

     Following a week-long trial, the jury, after deliberating more than three days, found Timothy Chavira guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

     In July 2017, after serving his full murder sentence, Timothy Chavira was released from prison. After thirty years behind bars, Chavira was still dangerous and unfit for society.

     On December 7, 2019, relatives of Editha Cruz deLeon found the 76-year-old retired gynecologist dead in her Burbank home. She had been stabbed and strangled. The victim had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1970.

     On December 18, 2019, after being charged by a Los Angeles County prosecutor with murder, police officers took Timothy Chavira into custody for the killing of Editha Cruz deLeon.

     As of January 2020, the authorities in charge of the deLeon murder case have not released details regarding why they believe Timothy Chavira committed this homicide. 

The FBI's Most Wanted Murderers

Out of the 66 people on the FBI's top murderers list, 45 are Hispanic. Four on the top 66 murder list are women, and four are African-Americans. The list reflects the prevalence of violent Hispanic gang activity in the U. S.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Novelist John Grisham's Child Pornography Gaff

     In an October 2014 interview with the United Kingdom's The Telegraph, John Grisham, the lawyer and prolific author, sparked outrage when he expressed his belief that some people who view child pornography online are receiving punishments that don't match the scale of the crime.

     "We have prisons now filled with guys my age, 60-year-old white men, in prison, who've never harmed anybody [how does he know that?] and would never touch a child…But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons and went too far and got into child porn. [Sure.] They deserve some type of punishment, but 10 years in prison? There's so many of them now, sex offenders…that they put them in the same prison, like they're a bunch of perverts or something."

    These comments and the nature in which Grisham discussed the very serious issue of child pornography incited a flood of hurt, disappointment and angry reaction from fans of his books…Shortly after the uproar began, Grisham issued an apology.

     "Anyone who harms a child for profit or pleasure, or who in any way participates in child pornography--online or otherwise--should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," the author said in a statement. "My comments made two days ago during an interview…were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes, especially the sexual molestation of children. I can think of nothing more despicable. I regret having made those comments, and apologize to all."

Breeanna Hare, "John Grisham Apologizes For Remarks on Child Porn," CNN, October 16, 2014 

Upper-Class Drug Addiction: Hunter Biden's 2014 Navy Discharge

     The Navy Reserve discharged Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter after he tested positive for cocaine…The discharge of Biden, a 44-year-old lawyer and managing partner at an investment firm, was first reported on October 16, 2014. "It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy's decision. With the love and support of my family, I'm moving forward," he said.

     Biden was commissioned as an ensign in May 2013 and assigned as a public affairs officer in a Norfolk, Virginia-based reserve unit. A month later he tested positive for cocaine and was discharged in February 2014.

     Hunter Biden is the younger of Biden's two sons. His older brother, Beau Biden, is Delaware's attorney general and a major in the Delaware Army National Guard. He was deployed for a year in Iraq.

Eric Bradner, "Biden's Son Discharged From Navy After Testing Positive For Cocaine," CNN, October 16, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2020

Professor Chika Nwankpa's Spending Spree

     By 2017, 55-year-old Chika Nwankpa, the head of the Electrical Engineering Department at Drexel University in Philadelphia, had acquired, during his 27-year career, $10 million in federal research grants.

     In October 2017, auditors at Drexel University discovered that since 2007, Professor Nwankpa had misappropriated $185,000 in grant money provided by the U. S. Navy, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation. During this ten-year period, the professor had allegedly spent $96,000 of grant money at strip clubs and sports bars. He also stood accused of spending federal grand funds on iTune purchases and meals at expensive restaurants. 
     In January 2020, a prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, charged Chika Nwankpa with several counts of unlawful taking and theft by deception. Following the charges, Nwankpa resigned from the university and agreed to return $53,328 of the grant money. 
     Following his arrest, Chika Nwankpa posted his $25,000 bond and was released from jail. He could be sentenced up to a maximum of 14 years in prison. Since Larry Krasner, the district attorney of Philadelphia, is a prosecutor well known for going easy on criminals, one can reasonably predict a plea bargain with no prison time for Mr. Nwankpa. (If I were Mr. Nwankpa's attorney, I'd argue that what my client did is no different than what politicians do every day.)

Islamic Teacher Charged With Child Sexual Assault

     Mohamed Omar Ali came to the United States from his native country of Somali in 2013. By 2019, the 59-year-old was a well-known in the greater Houston, Texas Islamic community as a teacher who gave Quran lessons to children at area mosques and in their homes. Partially bald with the lower half of his beard dyed orange, Mr. Ali stood out physically. Some in the Islamic community identified him as an Imam while others insisted he was just a layman who gave Quran lessons to children.

     In September 2019, detectives with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office began an investigation into allegations that Mr. Ali, over a period of years, had sexually molested some of his religion students.

     At the conclusion of the sex abuse investigation, a Fort Bend County prosecutor charged Mohamed Ali with three counts of indecency with a child and one count of sexual abuse of a child.

     On January 2, 2020, deputies with the Fort Bend Sheriff's Office took Ali into custody. Sheriff Troy Nehls, at a press conference, invited other possible victims of the religious teacher to come forward.

     Mohamed Ali pleaded not guilty to the charges. The magistrate set his bail at $125,000. Because the suspect was in the United States illegally, U. S. Immigration authorities placed a federal hold on him.

The Informed Judge

Every judge should have real-time access to the criminal background and history of defendants who appear in his or her courtroom--so that appropriate sentencing and bail decisions can be made with this information.

Susana Martinez, former district attorney and governor of New Mexico, 2011-2019

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Ricky Gervais to Hollywood Elites

Just because you're offended doesn't mean you're right.

Ricky Gervais, January 8, 2019, English actor/comedian

Charles Bukowski on Jail

I don't like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) poet, novelist

Rodney Dangerfield's Crime Humor

I remember the time I was kidnapped and they sent a piece of my finger to my father. He said he wanted more proof.

Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004) stand-up comedian, actor, screenwriter

Friday, January 17, 2020

Google Almighty

Google, the most feared and powerful entity on the planet, is omnipotent. It is where we go for answers. We can't live without it. It knows everything about us, and if we make it angry, it can punish us. We ask for its forgiveness. And when we die, Google provides an afterlife either in Internet Heaven or Internet Hell. 

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Hostage Negotiation

In my years as the FBI's lead international kidnapping negotiator, I learned an important fundamental lesson: Hostage negotiation is often nothing more than a business transaction.

Christopher Voss

No Respect For Acquisition Book Editors

One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception--at least some of the time--incompetent or crazy. By the nature of their profession they read too much, with the result they grow jaded and cannot recognize talent though it dances in front of their eyes.

John Gardner

The Pleasure of Good Dialogue

Good dialogue is such a pleasure to come across while reading, a complete change of pace from description and exposition and all that writing. Suddenly people are talking, and we find ourselves clipping along. And we have all the pleasures of voyeurism because the characters don't know we are listening. We get to feel privy to their inner workings without having to spend too much time listening to them think. I don't want them to think all the time on paper.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, 1994

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Thomas K. Hubbard: Professor of Man/Boy Love

     When it comes to academic freedom in higher education, where do you draw the line between challenging students with unpopular, outlandish ideas and harming students with subversive, anti-social propaganda? At what point does a professor cross that line?

     Administrators at the University of Texas at Austin, in 2019, were confronted with what to do about Professor of Classics, Thomas K. Hubbard. A group of students had been protesting and demonstrating against what they considered Professor Hubbard's advocacy for the legalization of sexual relations between adult men and boys under the age of 14. According to reports, the professor allegedly said that boys over the age of six should be old enough to legally consent to sex with an adult male. Regarding boys six and under, the criminal penalties for men having "consenting" sex with them should be reduced. Professor Hubbard allegedly said that boys who had sex with an adult when they were under 6 believed they were hurt by the experience because they were later told it was harmful to them.

     The offended students based their demands for Professor Hubbard's dismissal on his class lectures and writings on the subject.  The professor taught courses called, "Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome," and "The Mythology of Rape." The last course, due to student complaints and lack of enrollment, was canceled by the University.

     A 2010 article published in the journal, Thymos: Boyhood Studies, Professor Hubbard wrote: "Contemporary American legislation premised on children's incapacity to 'consent' to sexual relations stems from outmoded gender constructions and ideological preoccupations of the late Victorian and Progressive era. We should consider a different 'age of consent' for boys and girls."

     Professor Hubbard believed that making "consensual" sex between adults and minors a crime was a "sad by-product of a naive and self-righteous era." He compared these laws to prohibition's ban on liquor.

     In defense of his lectures and published writings, Professor Hubbard insisted that he was not endorsing pedophilia but rather discussing a phenomenon he calls "pederasty" described by him as the romantic courtship of boys under the age of 14 with older men. He describes sexual relations of this nature in ancient Greece as "proper learning experiences " for the boys.

    In recognition of his published views on man/boy sexual relations, one of the largest supporters of this form of sexual deviancy, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, promoted Professor Hubbard on the group's website.

     In December 2019, student demonstrators outside of Hubbard's house carried large banners that read: "Professor Thomas Hubbard Pedophile." The angry students blocked his driveway and chanted, "Thomas Hubbard is a Creep! Keep an eye out when you sleep!"

    Police officers escorted the professor to his car and unblocked his driveway so he could leave his house. The demonstrators, shortly after his departure, dispersed.

    As of this writing, Professor Thomas Hubbard remains employed by the University of Texas. 

The Shane Miller Family Murder Case

     In 2013, Shane Franklin Miller, a twice convicted marijuana grower and distributor, lived with his 34-year-old wife Sandy and their two daughters in a two-story house surrounded by pine trees in northern California's Shasta County. The 45-year-old and his family resided in the rural community of Shingletown located 230 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Miller property was also home to a small flock of alpacas, two horses and a pony that grazed not far from the house. The Miller family kept to itself.

     At 7:45 on the evening of Tuesday, May 7, 2013, someone from the Miller household called 911 to report a shooting. Upon arrival at the Miller dwelling, deputies with the Shasta County Sheriff's Office discovered the dead bodies of an adult woman and two elementary school-aged girls. The victims, Sandy Miller and her daughters Shelly and Shasta, had each been shot several times. (Detectives believe the 911 call had been made by one of the victims.)

     Officers who searched the house, a shed, and the detached garage found several guns. They did not, however, find Shane Miller or his pickup truck. Shortly after the discovery of the mass murder scene, law enforcement officers in the region began looking for Shane Miller.

     Late on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, police officers in Humboldt County 200 miles west of the murder scene found Shane Miller's abandoned 2010 Dodge Mea Cab pickup. The gold-colored truck equipped with a camper shell was found near the town of Petrolia, California. Miller, who had grown up in the forests and canyons of Humboldt County, owned a cabin in the area.

     Law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt for the man suspected of murdering his wife and two daughters considered him armed and dangerous. In 2002, Miller was convicted of possessing a machine gun as an ex-felon.

     On May 14, 2013, a week after the killings, the authorities, following a massive search, began scaling back the operation.

     In June 2014, police officers found a homemade underground fortress on property that Miller owned. Inside, detectives found an arsenal of rifles, shotguns, and handguns. A month later, in Shasta County, searchers found Miller's body in a remote area along the bank of the Mattole River near Petrolia. This was an area Miller had fled to in the past when pursued by the authorities. A loaded handgun lay next to his remains. The manner of death was later identified as suicide.

The Old Testament as a Guide to Capital Punishment

If the Old Testament were a reliable guide in the matter of capital punishment, half the people in the United States would have to be killed tomorrow.

Steve Allen (1921-2000) comedian, writer, TV personality 

Learning to Write

     You learn to write by writing. It's a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it's true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.

     If you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you would be a better writer after six months. You wouldn't necessarily be writing well--your style might still be full of clutter and cliches. But you would be exercising your powers of putting the English language on paper, gaining confidence and identifying the most common problems.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

H. L. Mencken on the Fiction Writer

What are the hallmarks of a competent writer of fiction? The first, it seems to me, is that he should be immensely interested in human beings, and have an eye sharp enough to see into them, and a hand clever enough to draw them as they are.

H. L. Mencken in H. L. Mencken on American Literature, edited by H. L. Mencken and S. T. Joshi, 2002 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Charles Manson And His Murderous Cult

     In Los Angeles, the murders committed by members of Charles Manson's "family" on August 9 and 10, 1969, marked the beginning of a homicidal crime wave that lasted until the early 1990's. Charles Manson became the personification of cold-blooded, ritualistic serial killing. The image of this little man's face came to symbolize demonic evil. While he was not the first insignificant loser to achieve infamy through sociopathic deviancy, his name and his persona have been etched into the annals of murder. Manson's pot-smoking, LSD-taking, hippie followers were the prototypes of today's bath salt, PCP zombies.

     Manson and his murderous crew, inspired by the Beatle's song "Helter Skelter," slaughtered eight people in a plot to start a race war. The man who successfully prosecuted these degenerate misfits, Vincent Bugliosi, wrote a book (with Curt Gentry) about the case called Helter Skelter. The nonfiction book, published in 1974, became a bestseller, and won several literary awards. Mr. Bugliosi died in June of 2015 at the age of 80.

     In 2011, cold-case investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department were looking into 12 unsolved murders committed in the LA area during the Manson family killing spree. Pursuant to that investigation, the LAPD petitioned a federal judge in Texas for the right to review eight cassette audio-tapes containing hours of conversations between Manson follower Charles "Tex" Watson and his attorney. Investigators believed these tapes contained evidence linking Manson and his people to some or all of the unsolved murders.

     In the spring of 2012, the judge granted the LAPD's request for the audio tapes. Watson's attorney appealed the ruling which delayed the LAPD's access to this information.

     In an effort to get around the legal roadblock, Los Angeles detectives acquired a warrant to search the attorney's office for the cassettes. On October 16, U.S. District Court Judge Richard A. Schell issued an order prohibiting the LA detectives from serving their search warrant. In justifying his ruling, Judge Schell wrote: "This court understands and respects the desire of the LAPD to seek access to the 42-year-old tapes. However, the LAPD has provided no explanation as to why this court should shortcut the usual [appeals] procedure...." In other words, what was the emergency?

     Cold-case detectives, relatives of the victims of the unsolved murders, and people interested in Charles Manson and the history of murder, were frustrated by the delay caused by this judge's ruling. But in May 2013, Judge Richard A. Schell released the Watson tapes to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. After the recordings were converted into electronic files, the historic legal conversations were given to the cold case investigators looking into the unsolved Los Angeles murders.

     As it turned out, the Watson tapes did not produce evidence that led to the resolution of the unsolved Los Angeles murders. But in September 2014, an attorney for imprisoned Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, announced that the Watson tapes might benefit his client's bid for parole. In May 2015, the state parole board denied her request.

     Charles "Tex" Watson, serving his time at the Donovan State Prison in San Diego, was denied parole in November 2016.

     In 2016, Leslie Van Houten, in her 21st petition for parole, was recommended for parole by the California Parole Commission. Governor Jerry Brown, however, denied the 68-year-old's release.

     On November 17, 2017, 83-year-old Charles Manson was rushed from his prison cell to Mercy Hospital in Bakersfield, California. He died later that day. 

How Not to Hire a Hitman

     In 2013, Megan Schmidt, a 23-year-old from Dubuque, Iowa, didn't like her father and wanted him dead. She claimed he had abused her. So, in an effort to find someone to murder him, she posted an ad on Craigslist promising to pay $10,000 to the person willing to do a "mysterious job."

     When people responded to the posting, Schmidt told them she wanted her father killed. One of these people reported her to the police. Shortly thereafter, she was on video soliciting an undercover cop to carry out the murder. A year later, a judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     Unfortunately for Schmidt, stupidity is not a recognized legal defense.

Winners and Losers in the Prohibition Era

     In 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution allowed for the Volstead Act that banned the manufacture, shipping, and selling of liquor. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment which allowed the repeal of the Volstead Act. Americans went back to lawful drinking.

     Besides people who liked to drink, the U. S. government, during the prohibition era, was the big loser. During that period, the federal government lost $11 billion in tax revenue from liquor sales. Moreover, the government spent $300 million in a futile effort to enforce the Volstead Act.

     Prohibition's big winner ended up being organized crime. During the liquor ban, the Mafia gained a giant foothold in every major city in the country. In Chicago, gangster Al Capone earned $60 million a year providing illegal booze to thirsty Americans. Eventually the IRS brought Capone down by taking him to court for tax evasion. Scarface served eleven years at Alcatraz before he died in 1947 from untreated syphilis. Before his federal conviction, Capone virtually ran the city of Chicago.

Monday, January 13, 2020

"Going Redneck"

     In the early morning hours of Friday, January 10, 2020, not far from Lexington, Kentucky, officers with the Kentucky State Police received a disturbance call involving an altercation between a man and a woman at her home in Mount Vernon. According to the 911 caller, he heard the woman order her pit bull to attack the man.

     When officers arrived at the house, they found 38-year-old Melissa D. Wolfe on top of 55-year-old Donald W. Abner. She was punching him in the face as he was being mauled by her dog. Mr. Abner had already died from the attack.
 
     Officers shot and killed the pit bull, and took Wolfe, who had a clump of the victim's hair in her bloody hand, into custody. According to the arrestee, she was "going redneck" on Mr. Abner.

     A Rockcastle County prosecutor charged Melissa Wolfe with murder. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Changing Opinions Regarding the O. J. Simpson Verdict

     In July 1994, before O. J. Simpson's double murder acquittal, 37 percent of white people believed he was guilty. Only 15 percent of blacks thought he was.

     In a 2016 poll, 76 percent of whites believed O. J. Simpson guilty, and 44 percent of blacks thought he was guilty as well. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Growing Up in a Crime-Free Environment

There was one "crime" during the whole time I was at school, when a fountain pen went missing. Stealing just didn't happen. I was taught not to shoplift, not to steal, not to behave badly. We weren't even allowed to drop litter.

Joanna Lumley, English actress

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Arson Amid the Historic Australian Brushfire Catastrophe

   
     Since September 2019, hundreds of out-of-control brushfires have burned millions of acres in Australia. The fires have killed 25 people, millions of wild animals and livestock, and have destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

     In January 2020, prosecutors in the state of New South Wales charged 24 people with deliberately setting bushfires amid the historic fire catastrophe. Most of those charged were juveniles. Hundreds of others have been charged with violating the country's fire burning ban. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Chaos, Violence, and Corruption in the Mississippi Prison System

     Conditions in Mississippi state prisons are among the worst in the country and have been that way for several years. Due to massive budget cuts and low pay and poor working conditions for correctional officers, the state's prisons are significantly understaffed. With 1,300 positions unfilled, there are empty guard towers. Sixty-five percent of guard personnel are women. Because security officers start at $26,000 a year, a lot of men don't want the job.

     Over the past several years, prison guards have supplemented their incomes by smuggling drugs and other contraband into the prisons. Moreover, many of the security officers are reported to be abusive.

     In May 2019, cell phones smuggled into several of the state's prisons documented the horrific living conditions with photographs posted on social media. These images prompted a state inspection of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman that revealed cells without lights, pillows or even mattresses. The photographs also showed rats and open sewage.

     According to inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the prison was run by gangs such as the Vice Lords and the Black Gangster Disciples. The gangs controlled everything including where prisoners slept, where they ate, and how much food they got. Some inmates were actually starving to death.

     While politicians talked about the problems in their state's correctional system, and blamed each other for it, all hell broke loose in three of Mississippi's correction facilities. Between December 29, 2019 and January 3, 2020, five inmates were killed in gang violence and riots.

     On January 4, 2020, amid the disturbances, two inmates escaped from the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the site of two of the five inmate deaths. David May, 42 and Dillon Williams, 27, were discovered missing during an early morning emergency count. May was serving a life sentence for two aggravated assault convictions and Williams a 40 year sentence for aggravated assault committed during a residential burglary.

     On January 5, 2020, U.S. Marshals took escapee David May into custody. Shortly thereafter, police officers captured Dillon Williams.

     Every prison in the state was in lockdown mode which meant inmates could not leave their cells. 

The Trigger Happy Motorist

     At eight o'clock on Saturday evening in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, several children were throwing snowballs at cars. When a snowball hit a passing white Toyota, someone in the vehicle fired a gun into the group hitting two of the youngsters.

     After the wounded children, ages 12 and 13, were treated at the scene for non-life threatening injuries, they were transported to a local hospital. Meanwhile, police officers searched for the white Toyota and the unidentified shooter.

     Memo to kids with snowballs, throw them at each other, not cars. There are people out there who will kill you for nothing.

Mandatory Sentencing

Mandatory sentencing guidelines have become as complicated as the IRS code.

Harold H. Greene, U.S. District Court Judge

Monday, January 6, 2020

New York Gives Arrestees Get-Out-Jail Cards

     New York State's so-called bail reform law took effect on January 1, 2020. According to Governor Andrew Cuomo, the new legislation will mean that 90 percent of people arrested in the state will remain on the street until their cases are resolved in court. The new law lists 159 criminal offenses for which arrestees must be released from custody without bail.

     The political hacks and criminal justice dimwits who passed this bill, and the fool who signed it into law, defend the no-bail concept with the following talking point: "People are in jail because they are poor." No, they are behind bars because they committed crimes.

     Among the criminal acts listed in the no-bail statute, the following are not what anyone in their right mind would consider minor offenses:

   2nd degree burglary of a residence

   2nd degree robbery

   criminal sale of a controlled substance in or near a school

   criminal sale of a controlled substance to a child

   reckless assault of a child by a day care provider

   stalking

   aggravated vehicular assault

   aggravated assault of a child under 11 years old

   Menacing

   criminal obstruction of breathing (choking, strangulation, suffocation)

   aggravated vehicular manslaughter

   3rd degree arson (vehicle arson)

   aggravated grand larceny of an ATM

   auto stripping

   forgery

   insurance fraud

   perjury

   killing a police dog or police horse

   bribing a witness

   bribing a juror

   criminal anarchy

   pointing a laser at an aircraft

   harming a service animal

   assisting in female genital mutilation

   endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person

   unlawfully fleeing a peace officer in a vehicle

     In New York City, it gets even crazier. To show gratitude to those accused of crime who show up for court, the city will give them NY Mets baseball tickets and gift cards. No kidding.

     One doesn't have to be a psychic to predict that this new "reform" law will prove disastrous for law obeying citizens. Take the crime of stalking, for example. What do you think an enraged stalker will do the minute he is released from jail? Moreover, with this new law, fewer victims of this crime will report it. 

Go Ahead and Write, You Have Nothing to Lose

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I'm going to do my five or ten pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I'll have lost nothing--writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.

Lawrence Block, crime novelist

Friday, January 3, 2020

Politics and the Art of Hypocrisy

     On Christmas Eve 2019, an upstate New York newspaper, The Daily Messenger of Canadaigua, published an op-ed by Brian Kolb, the 67-year-old minority leader of the New York State Assembly. Mr. Kolb had first been first elected to the Assembly in 2000 and became its minority leader in 2009. The Republican lawmaker, in his newspaper piece, urged his constituents to avoid driving under the influence during the holiday period, good advice for anytime of the year.

     At ten o'clock Tuesday night, New Year's Eve 2019, Assemblyman Brian Kolb, while driving his state issued 2018 GMC Acadia on County Road 41 near his hometown of Victor, New York, lost control of the vehicle and ended up in a roadside ditch.

     A short time after the accident, a deputy with the Ontario County Sheriff's Office took Mr. Kolb into custody on the charge of driving while intoxicated. The Assemblyman, after being issued a ticket, was released from custody and driven home.

     The next day, the Assemblyman's office released the following statement: "This was a terrible lapse of judgment, one I have urged others not to make, and I take full responsibility for it. I want to offer sincere apologies to my family, friends, colleagues and the people of the 131st Assembly District. I fully recognize that severity of the situation and I am profoundly sorry. There is no excuse and no justification for what occurred Tuesday evening. I made the wrong decision, and it is one I deeply regret."

     Assemblyman Kolb's full-throated apology didn't impress one of his Democrat colleagues, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara who called for Mr. Kolb's resignation as the Assembly minority leader. Brian Kolb's political opponent called the DWI incident a "serious" crime.

      Cases like this make all politicians uncomfortable because they remind voters that in one form or another, they are all hypocrites. Compared to the widespread corruption within our political classes, a first-time DWI offense where no one is injured, while highly embarrassing and perhaps politically damaging, is not a serious crime. And as a lawmaker, Assemblyman Santabarbara should know this. His calling it serious as justification for the minority leader's resignation, is just another example of political hypocrisy. 

Violent Crime in America

     About 130,000 rapes are reported every year. More than 200,000 rapes are not reported.

     On average, 310 people are shot every day. One hundred of them die.

     There are 747,000 registered sex offenders. As many as 100,000 convicted sex offenders are noncompliant with the registry and are unaccounted for.

     Every year about 17,000 criminal homicides are committed.

     Every year 460,000 children go missing. Almost 1,500 of them are kidnapped.

     Every year there are more than 100,000 armed robberies.

More Beat Cops, Less Street Violence

When I talk to Chicagoans who live in our most violent-prone neighborhoods, they do not hate the police. In fact, they tell me they want more cops and fewer gangs. They do not want more officers just driving through their communities. They want officers on the beat in their neighborhoods.

Rahm Emanuel, Chicago mayor 2011-2019

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Police Powers: The Need For Restaint

I've spent my life in the police profession, and I'm proud of that. But I am also very cognizant of the profession's limitations, its potential for abuse, and its potential negative impact.

William B. Bratton, NYC Police Commissioner 1994-1996 and 2014-2016

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019: The Year of the Mass Murder

     When four or more people, excluding the killer, are murdered in the course of one killing spree, the homicide is called a mass murder. At one time, and not that long ago, mass murder cases were rare. Today in the U. S., we average one every nine days.

     Most mass murder incidents fall into one of four general categories: gang related shootings, school massacres, suicidal adults who murder their families, and workplace murders committed by disgruntled employees.

     According to a database compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University, 41 mass murder cases were recorded in 2019, the highest number of such incidents in American history. In 2006, there were 38 cases, another big year for mass murder.

     Regarding the number of mass murder fatalities in one year, 2017 tops the list with 224 victims. In 2019, mass murderers killed 211 people.

     Over the past fifteen years, while overall criminal homicide rates have declined, mass murder has been on the rise. While psychiatrists, psychologists, criminologists, and politicians have talked a lot about why this is happening, no one has a clue. Perhaps this is because deviant, pathological behavior is beyond understanding, a fact so-called experts won't acknowledge. 

Police Morale

Cops have been complaining about morale since police forces were created. I used to complain about it a lot when I was a young cop.

William B. Bratton, NYC Police Commissioner 1994-1996 and 2014-2016

College Education: Overpriced Dreams and a Life of Debt

     Today, the cost of college tuition runs from $16,000 to $60,000 a year. And that's just the tuition. There is no such thing as a cheap college education. If colleges were car dealerships, the cheapest cars on the lot would be Cadillacs.

     The ridiculous cost of a college degree has resulted in 45 million Americans owing a collective debt of $1.6 trillion. It will take many of these college graduates decades to pay off these loans. In many cases, these graduates paid for a Cadillac and ended up with a Pinto.

     According to a recent Sallie Mae survey, 70 percent of parents say they want their children to go to the best school they can get into, regardless of price and affordability. 

Very Good Advice

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very." Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Mark Twain