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Friday, January 31, 2020

The Richard Kirk Murder Case

     In 2014, Richard Kirk, 47, resided in Denver's Observatory Park neighborhood not far from the University of Denver. Richard and his wife Kristine purchased the upscale, Tudor style home in 2005. The couple had three soccer-playing grade school boys. Richard's friends described him as a religious, happy-go-lucky man devoted to his family.

     On December 23, 1993, while living in Dallas, Texas, Richard, then single, was charged with felony assault. The prosecutor dropped the charge to a misdemeanor offense then eventually dismissed the case altogether. At the time, Kristine resided five miles away in a Dallas apartment. (Richard Kirk's alleged victim was not identified in the media.)

     In 2000, a police officer in Douglas County, Colorado arrested Richard for driving under the influence. (The disposition of this case is unknown.) These two incidents comprise the extent of Kirk's arrest record.

     At 9:32 on the night of Monday, April 14, 2014, 44-year-old Kristine A. Kirk called a 911 dispatcher in Denver to report a domestic disturbance at her residence. She said her husband had been smoking marijuana and was scaring their three young sons. According to Kristine, he had also been hallucinating and talking about the end of the world. Most disturbingly, he said he wanted her to shoot him to death.

     The dispatcher asked Kristine if there was a gun in the dwelling. The caller said yes, but it was locked inside a safe. The 911 call suddenly turned ominous when Kristine informed the dispatcher that her husband had gotten the handgun out of the safe and was holding it in his hand.

     About thirteen minutes into the 911 call, the dispatcher heard a scream and then a gunshot. At that point the line went dead. The dispatcher immediately upgraded the 911 call from a domestic disturbance case to a "code 10"--a possible shooting.

     That night, two Denver police officers rolled up to the Kirk house on South St. Paul Street. Three minutes later, one of the officers called for an ambulance, and advised the 911 dispatcher that they "were going to need homicide."

     An officer put Richard Kirk into handcuffs and escorted him to the patrol car. From the backseat of the police vehicle, without prompting, the suspect admitted shooting his wife to death.

     The next day a local prosecutor charged Richard Kirk with first-degree murder. At his arraignment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014, the judge advised the suspect of the charge against him, assigned him a public defender, and ordered him held without bail. Kirk showed no emotion as he stood before the magistrate.

     The media, as it often does in high-profile crimes, began assessing blame. In this case reporters were quick to note that since 2008, 911 response time at the Denver Police Department had grown longer. According to a police spokesperson, budget cuts and fewer officers on patrol had adversely affected police response time to domestic calls.

     Notwithstanding the 15 minute lapse between the victim's 911 call and the arrival of the officers, there was no way to know for sure if a faster police response would have saved Kristine Kirk's life.

     Because marijuana was legal in Colorado, the media made a big deal over the fact that before allegedly murdering his wife, Richard Kirk had smoked pot.

     In February 2017, Richard Kirk, still blaming marijuana for the killing, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. On April 8, 2017, the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Kirk had relinquished custody of his three sons to his dead wife's parents.

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.
     

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Joseph McGuinniss And The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     Joe McGuinniss was born in Manhattan, New York on December 9, 1942. Raised by well-to-do parents in New York City and Los Angeles, he graduated in 1964 from Holly Cross University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After failing to get into Columbia University's graduate school of journalism (They must have suspected he had writing talent.), McGinniss became a staff reporter for the Worcester Telegram. 

     Following stints at The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Philadelphia Inquirer, McGuinniss published his first book in 1968. The Selling of the President, a nonfiction account of the marketing of presidential candidate Richard Nixon, became a bestseller and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. That book established the 26-year-old author's reputation as a serious investigative journalist and landed him a job as writer-in-residence at the Los Angeles Harold Examiner.

The Jeffrey MacDonald Murder Case

     On February 17, 1970, Green Beret Captain and Army surgeon Jeffrey MacDonald reported a deadly invasion of his home at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. At the scene, Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officers found MacDonald's wife Colette and his two daughters, Kimberly and Kristen, stabbed to death. MacDonald himself had superficial puncture wounds. According to MacDonald, he had struggled with the hippie intruders who had murdered his family.

     Following an internal military review of the case, Captain MacDonald was cleared of wrongdoing. But in January 1975, a federal grand jury indicted him on three counts of first-degree murder. He vigorously maintained his innocence and stuck to his original version of the mass murder.

     At some point after MacDonald's indictment, Joe McGuinniss entered the case as a journalist who intended to write a book exonerating the Green Beret officer. The writer acquired access into the inner circle of the MacDonald defense team by gaining MacDonald's trust as a loyal friend. In reality, the more McGuinniss learned about the case, the more convinced he became of MacDonald's guilt. The true crime writer believed that MacDonald, a sociopath who wanted to be free of  his family, had murdered his wife and daughters in a homicidal frenzy aided by his abuse of diet pills.

     In 1979, when the jury found MacDonald guilty as charged, McGuinniss, to maintain his position within the MacDonald defense team, feigned shock and outrage. But when McGuinniss' book on the case, Fatal Vision, came out in 1983, it was Jeffery MacDonald and his supporters who were shocked and outraged by the author's duplicity.

     Shortly after the publication of Fatal Vision, a book that quickly became a runaway bestseller, Jeffery MacDonald sued the true crime writer for beach of contract.

     When the first of its kind lawsuit went to trial, several well-known true crime authors such as Joseph Wambaugh and Norman Mailer testified on McGuinniss' behalf as expert witnesses. According to Wambaugh and Mailer, McGinniss had done what any serious investigative journalist would do to get to the bottom of a case. In other words, a true crime writer has no duty to be honest with the person he's writing about. At the conclusion of the trial, some jurors bought McGuinniss' defense but others did not. This led to a hung jury.

    The insurance company for the publisher of Fatal Vision, shocked and concerned that some of the jurors had sided with a man who had killed his wife and two children over the guy who had written the book about the mass murder, settled the suit out of court for $325,000. In the court of public opinion, McGuinniss did not come off as a likable person, and ordinary people did not approve of his journalistic trickery.

     In 1989, journalist Janet Malcolm wrote a long piece about the MacDonald-McGuinniss suit in The New Yorker. A year later, the article came out as a book called The Journalist and the Murderer. (It's a great read, by the way.) Malcolm's defining of the journalist/subject relationship as inherently exploitive itself became a source of debate. Regarding the MacDonald/McGuinniss relationship, Malcolm famously wrote: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

     Jerry Allen Potter and Fred Bott published a book called Fatal Justice that argues for MacDonald's innocence. According to these authors, McGuinniss's book is full of substantive errors and groundless speculation.

     Regardless of one's take on the MacDonald's guilt or innocence, Fatal Vision is an exceptionally well written account of a fascinating murder case. It also popularized the concept of the sociopathic killer who appears normal on the outside but in reality is a pathologically narcissistic liar without feelings of guilt.

     Joe McGuinniss followed Fatal Vision with two bestselling true crime books. Blind Faith, published in 1989, is about a New Jersey man who hired a hit man to murder his wife. Cruel Doubt, 1991, features teenage murderers inspired by the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons.

     The method McGuinniss used to research his last book, a biography of Sarah Palin, also stirred controversy. In 2010, he rented a house in Wasilla, Alaska next door to the former vice presidential candidate. Critics called McGuinniss a peeping Tom, and Palin accused him of stalking her and her family. The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin came out in 2011. The book, failing to break new ground about a person the public had lost interest in, did not make the bestseller list.

     On March 10, 2014, Joe McGuinniss died in a Worcester, Massachusetts hospital from prostate cancer. At his death at age 71, he was living in Pelham with his second wife Nancy Doherty. He was survived by three children.

     Fatal Vision is considered by many to be a true crime classic equal to Joseph Wambaugh's Onion Field, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and Norman Mailer's Executioner's Song.

     In December 2018, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the 75-year-old MacDonald his latest bid for a new trial.

     Jeffery MacDonald remains in prison and continues to maintain his innocence. 

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.
     

The Johnny Lewis Murder Case

     During his teenage years, actor Jonathan "Johnny" Lewis landed roles in various television series such as Malcolm in the Middle, Drake & Josh, Judging Amy, Boston Public, American Dreams, and The OC. In 2007 he appeared in the movie AVPR: Aliens vs Predator Requiem, and three years later in the film The Runaways. More recently, he played a series character in a motorcycle-gang drama called, Sons of Anarchy. In the final episode of season 2 his character was killed off. (He said because he wanted out of the contract.) At one time Lewis dated an actress named Katy Perry.

     In January 2012, a pair of residents of a townhouse in Northridge, California came home to find the 28-year-old actor inside their dwelling. (Lewis had once lived in the complex.) Before leaving the scene of his burglary, Lewis, out of his mind on drugs, beat the townhouse occupants with an empty Perrier bottle. Charged with burglary and assault, Lewis spent some time in the Los Angeles County Jail before being released on bail.

     Six weeks later, while out on bond, Johnny Lewis punched a man in the face at a Santa Monica yogurt shop. A week later, police arrested him while attempting to break into a home in that city. Once again he posted bail, and was released from custody. But in March, when Lewis failed to show up at a court hearing, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Police took him into custody a short time later, and put him back in jail.

     In preparation for his sentencing hearing on the Santa Monica attempted burglary case, a probation officer, in a report dated May 17, 2012, wrote: "The defendant suffers from some kind of chemical dependency, mental health issues, and lack of permanent housing. Given this, [Lewis] will continue to be a threat to any community [in which] he may reside."

     On May 23, 2012, Judge Mark E. Windham, relying on the above report, sentenced Johnny Lewis to 30 days of mental health and drug abuse treatment at the Ridgeview Ranch in Altadena, California. After Lewis completed the Ridgeview Ranch program as an outpatient, the judge presiding over the two assault cases, sentenced him to a period of probation. Not long after that, Lewis was put behind bars for some other offense. He made bail again, and on September 21, 2012, was back on the street abusing drugs and causing trouble.

     Johnny Lewis was renting a room in a sprawling, two-story house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Felix Hills. His 81-year-old landlady, Catherine Davis, rented rooms in the Spanish-Style, bed-and-breakfast-like facility to young Hollywood actors. At ten o'clock in the morning of Wednesday, September 26, 2012, just five days after he had been released from jail, Lewis hopped a fence and attacked a painter working on the house next door. The owner of the home got into the fray, but Lewis was so high on drugs, there was nothing they could do to subdue him. The two men, fearing for their lives, took refuge in the house. An out of control Lewis tried to break into the house to continue the assault.

     When the mad actor returned to his Los Felix Hills residence, he broke into Catherine Davis' living quarters, ripped her cat to pieces with his bare hands, smashed and ransacked the place, then beat the old woman to death. Neighbors who heard Catherine Davis screaming for her life, called 911.

     At 10:40 that morning, when the police arrived at the scene, they found Johnny Lewis sprawled out dead on the driveway to the rooming house. Investigators believed that under the influence of drugs, he had fallen off the roof of the hillside dwelling. Inside, they found the beaten and strangled landlady, and her dismembered cat. Based on the dead actor's recent history, and the nature of his violence, detectives believed that Johnny Lewis had been high on PCP, crystal meth, or a new designer drug called "smiles," a psychedelic substance sold in the form of powder and pills.

     Jonathan Mandel, Lewis' attorney, told reporters that "Johnny Lewis had a lot of problems. I recommended treatment for him but he declined it. I give a lot of credit to his parents, they were really strong in trying to help him out. They really went to bat for him, but I guess they just couldn't do enough."

     Johnny Lewis' father, Michael, was a Scientologist who ran a Scientology clinic out in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Lewis once wrote a screenplay with L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology founder, about the practice of Dianetics. After Johnny Lewis' arrests for burglary and assault, and the drug-crazed murder of Catherine Davis, Scientology officials distanced themselves from the young actor, claiming that he left the church years ago. His image, and references to him, disappeared from the church's various websites.

     Members of the Church of Scientology are forbidden from consulting with psychologists and psychiatrists, or from taking psychotic medication. L. Ron Hubbard considered psychiatrists pill-pushing charlatans, and established his own programs for members suffering from mental illness, emotional problems, and drug and alcohol abuse. In lieu of modern psychiatry, Scientologists are treated with one-on-one counseling sessions, the ingestion of large amounts of vitamins, and sweating out their demons in high-temperature saunas.

     In 2004, Johnny Lewis went through a Church of Scientology drug program called Narconon. He spoke publicly about his treatment, and appeared on Narconon related websites. (These images were scrubbed from the Internet.)

     Critics of the Church of Scientology, and there are millions of them around the world, accused church officials with contributing to the deaths of mentally ill Scientologists by denying them modern psychiatric medication. The media generally refrained from emphasizing the Scientology connection to Catherine Davis's drug-crazed murder.

How to Legally Represent 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.

The Donna Scrivo Murder Case

     In 1999, Ramsay Scrivo graduated from De La Salle Collegiate High School in St. Clair Shores, a suburban community just east of Detroit, Michigan. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wayne State University four years later. After working briefly as an accountant, Ramsay quit after a supervisor criticized his work.

     After employment in the building trade, Ramsay, in the spring of 2013, started a lawn maintenance service. About that time his parents, Daniel and Donna Scrivo, helped him purchase a condo in St. Clair Shores.

     Notwithstanding the support he received from his parents, Ramsay had serious problems. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered depression and bouts of uncontrolled anger when he was off his medication. Ramsay, when he wasn't on his anti-psychotic meds, thought people were trying to poison him. Moreover, he believed that someone had implanted a tiny microphone in one of his teeth. Following a simple assault conviction, the judge placed Scrivo on probation.

     Ramsay Scrivo's troubled life took a turn for the worse when his father died of an illness in May 2013. After Ramsay threatened to hang himself, a judge granted Donna Scrivo, a registered nurse, guardianship of her son. He agreed to mental health treatment at St. John Hospital in Detroit. After 90 days of treatment, Ramsay Scrivo was released from the medical center. As long as he took his medication he wasn't dangerous. But almost all schizophrenics, at one time or another, quit their medication because of the side effects. Donna Scrivo moved into Ramsay's condo in St. Clair Shores.

     On Sunday, January 26, 2014, Donna reported Ramsay missing. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, January 30, a motorist in China Township 50 miles northeast of Detroit, saw a human head that had rolled out of a garbage bag someone had been dumped along the side of a rural road. Inside three more garbage bags found nearby, police officers discovered body parts, items of clothing, and charred documents.

     Just before five in the morning of Friday, January 31, 2014, a motorist saw a garbage bag alongside an Interstate 94 ramp in nearby St. Clair Township. Inside the bag officers found more body parts.The FBI, through fingerprints, identified the remains as coming from one person, Ramsay Scrivo.

     A neighbor reported seeing Donna Scrivo carrying several garbage bags out of the condo shortly before she reported Ramsay missing. Crime lab technicians found traces of blood in the dwelling as well as in Donna's SUV. There was also evidence in the house that someone had used bleach in an effort to scrub away bloodstains.

     A gas station surveillance camera recorded Donna in her 1990s Chevy Blazer near one of the dump sites.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discoveries, deputies with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office arrested Ramsay's 59-year-old mother on charges of mutilation of a corpse, a felony, and the removal of a dead body without permission from a medical examiner, a misdemeanor. If convicted of the felony, Donna faced up to ten years in prison. The misdemeanor offense came with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

     On February 3, 2014, at her arraignment, the judge appointed Donna an attorney and set her bail at $100,000. If and when she was bailed out of the Macomb County Jail, she would undergo random drug and alcohol testing and would not be allowed to leave the state. The judge also ordered a mental health evaluation of the suspect.

     At a press conference following the arraignment, a Macomb County prosecutor said that further charges could be filed in the case depending upon the medical examiner's cause and manner of death findings. Not long after that statement, the prosecutor charged Donna Scrivo with first-degree murder.

    Donna Scrivo went on trial in May 2015 for the murder and dismemberment of her son. The defendant, as a witness on her own behalf, told the jury that a masked man had entered the condo, pointed a gun at her head, murdered her son, then cut up the victim's body with a saw. The prosecutor, on cross-examination, ripped her story to shreds.

     The jurors, following a short deliberation, found Donna Scrivo guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. On June 23, 2015, the Macomb County judge sentenced the 61-year-old to life in prison without parole.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Historic Disaster at Waco

     The April 19, 1993 raid of the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of 80 cult members, is a worst-case example of how the militaristic approach to law enforcement can lead to disaster.

     Fifty-one days before the FBI assault, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms (ATF), at the conclusion of a 7 month investigation, had raided the compound to arrest cult leader David Koresh and search for a cache of guns that ATF agents suspected had been illegally converted to fully automatic weapons. That raid ended after a brief shootout in which 4 ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. The officers retreated, leaving an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead and wounded.

     The AFT agents, prior to the raid, had several opportunities to arrest David Koresh outside the Mount Carmel compound. These chances were missed because Koresh had not been under 24-hour surveillance. Had the ATF taken Koresh into custody when the opportunity presented itself, the raid might not have been necessary. The ATF had also lost the element of surprise, and they knew it when two National Guard helicopters, circling above the compound with agency supervisors aboard, took gunfire from below. The supervisors launched the invasion anyway. Although several AFT agents had been trained at Fort Hood by Green Beret personnel (the unsupported suspicion that the compound housed a methamphetamine lab served to justify the military's role in the operation), most of the agents participating in the 9:30 A.M. attack had not been appropriately trained or armed. Many of the 76 agents who charged the compound carried semi-automatic handguns.

     Following the AFT fiasco, the FBI took charge of the stand-off. Following the 51-day siege and a series of failed negotiations, several FBI SWAT teams, in full battle gear, armed with shortened variants of the standard M-16 assault rifle, and supported by Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M-60 tanks, stormed the compound. Forty minutes after 400 canisters of CS gas had been shot inside the building through holes punched in the walls by the armored vehicles, the structure burst into flames and burned to the ground. David Koresh and 17 children were among the 80 dead. Attorney General Janet Reno, operating on unreliable evidence that the Davidian children were being sexually mistreated, had authorized the assault. The Waco fiasco turned out to be the deadliest police action in American history.

     Attorney General Reno, in the wake of the Waco disaster, asked former Missouri senator John C. Danforth to investigate the government's role in the raids. In 2000, following a 14-month inquiry, Danforth found that although an FBI agent had fired tear gas rounds at a concrete pit 75 feet from the Davidian living quarters, a fact the FBI had tried to suppress, agents had not started the fire. The former senator also concluded that FBI agents had not fired bullets into the compound, and that the military's role in the raids had been lawful.

     Several months after the Danforth inquiry, Thomas Lynch, the director of the CATO Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, published a report characterizing the Branch Davidian raids as "criminally reckless," and Danforth's investigation as "soft and incomplete." According to the CATO investigation, FBI agents in National Guard helicopters had fired rifle shots into the compound, a finding that contradicted the FBI's claim that the helicopters had been deployed merely to distract the Davidians.

     At a news conference, Senator Danforth defended the integrity of his inquiry and attacked the CATO report. The debate over who started the fire at the Davidian compound remained unresolved. Regardless of what FBI agents did or didn't do on April 19, 1993, many believe the military-supported ATF and FBI raids should not have been launched in the first place. 

John Douglas White: The Pastor Who Murdered Women

     John Douglas White, the 55-year-old pastor of the Christ Community Fellowship Church located just west of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, lived by himself in a mobile home park in Broomfield Township near the town of Remus. This self-appointed man of the cloth possessed a background more in line with a person serving a life sentence in prison than a preacher of a tiny church in rural central Michigan. Pastor White, a perverted lust killer, had no business living outside prison walls where he could take advantage of women while masquerading as a man of God. He was a predatory sex killer in preacher's clothing.

     In 1981, John White, then 24, choked and stabbed a 17-year-old girl in Battle Creek, Michigan. The victim survived and White was allowed to plead no contest to assault with intent to do great bodily harm. (In my view, the no contest plea should be abolished.) The judge sentenced White to five years in prison. Corrections authorities let White out on parole after he had served two years behind bars.

     John White and his wife, in 1994, were living in Comstock Township near Kalamazoo, Michigan. On July 11 of that year, 26-year-old Vicky Sue Wall was seen getting into White's pickup just before she disappeared. Shortly after Wall's relatives reported her missing, the 37-year-old violent sex offender checked himself into the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital. In September 1994, police found Vicky Sue Wall's decomposed body in the woods not far from her home. Arrested at the psychiatric facility, White admitted strangling the victim to death. According to White, he and the victim were having an affair and she had threatened to tell his wife. So he killed her.

     In the Vicky Sue Wall murder case, the authorities allowed White to strike a deal with the prosecutor. In return for his guilty plea to the ridiculous charge of involuntary manslaughter, the judge sentenced White to eight to fifteen years. At his May 1995 sentencing hearing, White told the judge that Vicky Sue Wall's death had been a "tragic accident." (How do you accidentally strangle someone to death? This judge must have been an idiot.) John White walked out of prison in 2007 after serving twelve years of his sentence. White's wife had divorced him.

     In 2012, Pastor John White was engaged to a woman in his congregation whose 24-year-old daughter--Rebekah Gay--lived a few doors from him in the mobile home park. Because White was a preacher engaged to her mother, Rebekah allowed him to watch her 3-year-old son. She had no idea this preacher watched necrophilia pornography and fantasized about having gruesome, perverted sex with her.

     On October 31, 2012, at six in the morning, John White entered Rebekah Gay's trailer, struck her in the head with a hard rubber mallet, then strangled her to death with a zip tie. After performing perverted sexual acts on Gay's body, White hauled her 5-foot-3, 118 pound corpse in his pickup to a ditch behind a stand of pine trees about a mile from the trailer park. It was there he dumped her body.

     After hiding his victim's corpse, White returned to his trailer where he cleaned himself and his truck with paper towels. He walked to Gay's dwelling, got into her car, and drove it to a nearby bar and parked it there. He had also tossed Gay's cellphone into a dumpster and threw away the rubber mallet. From the bar, White walked back to Gay's mobile home, dressed her son in his Halloween costume, then drove the boy to Mount Pleasant where, as prearranged, the boy's father picked him up for the day.

     Crime scene investigators processed the victim's trailer for physical clues and searched White's mobile home where they found the bloody towels and other incriminating evidence. When questioned by detectives with the Michigan State Police, John White confessed, then led the officers to Rebekah Gay's body.

     On November 1, 2012, John White was arraigned in an Isabella County District Court on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied him bail.

     The church member who had hired John White as pastor, said this to a reporter with The Detroit News: "He [White] was absolutely contrite. All kinds of people turn around and meet the Lord and they are a different person. He [White] was doing a lot of good in the community....He was doing a lot of good and Satan did not want him doing good, and Satan got to him."

     So, according to one of Pastor White's congregants, White's cold-blooded lust murder of Rebekah Gay was the devil's wrongdoing.

     In April 2013, White pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Rebekah Gay. The judge sentenced him to 56 years and three months.

     On August 28, 2013, a prison guard at the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Institution in Ionia, found White dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

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. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993, he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house, the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland, the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 3013, notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later, an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment, Carla pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014, the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter, judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm gad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers." (Presumably they will be getting on with their lives without each other.)

     Following the guilty plea, the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

Memorist Elizabeth Wurtzel on Depression

That's the thing about depression: a human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it's impossible to even see the end.

Elizabeth Wurtzel (1968-2020), Prozac Nation, 1994. 

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.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Anthony Todt Mass Murder Case

     In 2018, Anthony Todt, a physical therapist and owner of the Family Physical Therapy Clinic in Colchester, Connecticut, was in deep financial trouble. In addition to that, he was being investigated by the FBI for violating the federal False Claims Act. Todt was suspected of submitting fraudulent claims for physical therapy to Medicaid and private insurers for services not given to patients.

     Anthony Todt was also behind in his rental payments to the owner of the building that housed his clinic, and had outstanding civil court judgements against him in the amount of $63,000 in one case and $36,000 in another. He was also struggling to keep up his mortgage payments on a Condo he owned in Celebration, Florida, an upscale community four miles west of Walt Disney World.

     In May 2019, Anthony Todt, his wife Megan, and their three children, Alex, 13, Tyler, 11, and Zoe, 4, moved to Celebration, Florida and took up residence in an expensive house he had rented for $5,000 a month. From Florida he commuted to Connecticut to operate his physical therapy clinic.

     By November 2019, Anthony Todt owed his Celebration, Florida landlord several months rent and had closed his clinic in Connecticut.

     On December 29, 2019, one of the Todt family neighbors called the Osceola County Sheriff's Office for a welfare check of the Todt residence. None of the neighbors had seen the Todt children since Thanksgiving. Sheriff's deputies went to the house, and when no one answered the door, left.

     On January 13, 2020, FBI agents armed with a federal warrant for Anthony Todt's arrest for violating the False Claims Act, entered the dwelling and made a gruesome discovery. Mr. Todt was living in the house with the decomposing bodies of his wife and three children. FBI agents took Anthony Todt into custody and notified the local authorities about the scene they had walked into. [Other than the fact the victims had been murdered, the authorities, as of January 22, 2020, had not released information regarding how they were killed.]

     While being detained on the federal false claims charges, Mr. Todt ingested a handful of pills and was rushed to a nearby hospital. Upon his discharge from the medical facility on January 15, 2020, deputies with the Osceola Sheriff's Office arrested him for killing his wife and three children. While in local custody, Anthony Todt confessed to the murders.

     On January 16, 2020, an Osceola County prosecutor charged Anthony Todt with four counts of first-degree murder. The local magistrate denied him bail.

     Anthony Todt had a family history of violence and murder, a fact that would no doubt be raised in his defense as a mitigating factor. In 1981, when he was a young child, Anthony Todt's father Robert Todt, a special education teacher and wrestling coach at a Bensalem, Pennsylvania high school outside of Philadelphia, was convicted of hiring one of his students, a burglar and drug addict named John Charmonte, to murder his wife, Loretta Todt. In 1980, Charmonte broke into the Todt house and shot Loretta Todt in the face while she slept. Although blinded by the wound, Mrs. Todt survived the shooting. John Charmonte pleaded guilty to burglary and attempted murder, and in return for his plea, received a ten-year sentence. Robert Todt, the murder-for-hire mastermind, only served ten years in prison. When he hired the student to murder his wife, Robert Todt was having an affair with a 17-year-old girl. 

The Homeless Problem

Most people are homeless because they are mentally ill, have a personality disorder, or are addicted to drugs. Everyone knows that. These seriously impaired people can't afford places to live because they are unemployed, and they are unemployed because of the way they are. Homelessness didn't cause their afflictions, it's the other way around. Therefore, giving them places to live will not solve their problems. In their houses, apartments, and homeless shelters they will still have personality disorders, be mentally ill, and/or abuse drugs. Homelessness can't be eradicated without fixing the people who are homeless. If for any reason that can't be accomplished, then there is no solution to the problem. While this is so obviously true, no politician will come on television and acknowledge that the lack of housing isn't the problem. These people are the problem. Politicians won't say this because it is true, and in politics, nothing kills a career more than telling the truth. As long as the country is run by hacks, incompetents, and crooks, vast numbers of people living on sidewalks and beneath Interstate overpasses will remain a part of our national landscape. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Nuzzio Begaren Murder-For-Hire Case

      In 1997, in the southern California city of Santa Ana, Nuzzio Begaren married a 36-year-old state corrections officer named Elizabeth. The 40-year-old groom had a daughter from a previous marriage who was ten. Three days after the wedding, Nuzzio bought a $1 million insurance policy on his new wife's life. This meant that Elizabeth Begaren stood between her husband and a million dollars. Purchasing life insurance on his wife was the first step on Nuzzio Begaren's path to wealth. Getting someone to murder his wife comprised step two.

     Finding someone to kill his wife was the easy part of Nuzzio's murder-for-hire scheme. He simply offered $4,800 in cash to friends who belonged to a Los Angeles criminal gang. On the night of January 17, 1998, the murder-for-hire mastermind took Elizabeth and his daughter shopping at a mall in Burbank. While shopping in Macy's, he gave Elizabeth the cash to hold for him. She placed the money into her purse, unaware she was carrying the pay-off for her own demise.

     As Nuzzio, Elizabeth, and his daughter drove home in his blue Kia Sportage, they were followed by a Buick Regal driven by 24-year-old Guillermo Espinoza. Three other gang members were in the vehicle. At eleven o'clock, as Nuzzio pulled onto the off-ramp of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, the Buick pulled up alongside Nuzzio and ran him off the road. Three of the LA gangsters got out of the Buick, and as Nuzzio climbed into the back seat of the Kia to be with his daughter, Elizabeth made a run for it as the hit men approached.

     The hit men quickly caught up with Nuzzio's terrified wife. In begging for her life, she pulled out her correction officer's badge. That's when Guillermo Espinoza shot her in the head and chest. The shooter grabbed the dead woman's handbag, returned to the Buick with the other two men, and drove off.

     Nuzzio Begaren told officers with the Anaheim Police Department that the men behind his wife's cold-blooded murder had targeted his family at the shopping mall and followed them home. "There was no reason for someone to follow us," he said. "We have no enemies." Nuzzio described the gangsters' car as a dark blue, late 1970s Oldsmobile. He gave detectives a license number that didn't check out. Nuzzio described the four men in the Oldsmobile as a pair of blacks, and two men who were either white or Latino. "When they saw the badge," he said, "they shot her. She was dying, lying face down in the blood, with her badge in her hand." Nuzzio described his dearly departed wife as someone who had been "full of joy."

     Detectives believed that Nuzzio was full of something else. But the investigation went nowhere, and the case eventually died on the vine. It looked as though Nuzzio Begaren had gotten away with murder.

     In February 2012, police officers arrested the 55-year-old Begaren in Rancho Cucamonga, California. An Orange County grand jury had indicted him for soliciting the murder of his wife. Guillermo Espinoza had been indicted as well, but his whereabouts were unknown. (In 2011, when he learned that cold case detectives had reopened the case, Espinoza went underground.)

     Begaren went on trial on August 21, 2013 in a Santa Ana court for conspiracy to murder his wife for financial gain. (Guillermo Espinoza was still at large.) Orange County prosecutor Larry Yellin, in his opening statement to the jury, told of a piece of torn-up paper found near the murder scene that bore the victim's handwriting. Elizabeth had scribbled "light blue" and had written down the license number of the car that had been following them. The plate number belonged to a light blue Buick Regal, the vehicle driven that night by Guillermo Espinosa.

     Prosecutor Yellin informed the jurors that gang members Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval, both of whom had been in the Buick that night, were going to testify for the prosecution. According to these men, the defendant had arranged his wife's murder for the insurance money. The murder-for-hire mastermind had wanted the killing to look like a highway robbery turned fatal.

     Defense attorney Sal Ciula told the jury that Rudy Duran had been pressured into cooperating with the authorities. According to the defense attorney, if Duran worked with the prosecution, "he would become a witness instead of a defendant. He [Duran] made the obvious choice."

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the $1 million life insurance police and the testimony of the alleged hit men, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval. The essence of the Begaren's defense involved attacking the credibility of the two key prosecution witnesses.

     On September 6, 2013, the jury, after deliberating three days, found the defendant guilty of hiring Espinoza and Sandoval to murder his wife. On October 4, 2013, the judge sentenced him to 25 years to life.

     In October 2013, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Both men were sentenced to time served and were released from jail. On March 4, 2016, after being apprehended in Mexico, the authorities extradited Guillermo Espinoza back to California.

     On August 2, 2017, Jose Luis Sandoval was shot to death in the Los Angeles County town of Downey. He was 41.

     Guillermo Espinoza, in September 2018, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in return for a sentence of 21 years in prison.

Journalists Shouldn't Interview Subjects in Restaurants

When I do interviews, I never take my subjects to a restaurant for lunch. It's one of the worst things a journalist can do. Stay on their turf. Interview them in their world. If they say, "Now I've got to go and pick up my kids from day care and go to the grocery store," you say, "Great. I can write while we're on the bus." I'm not just hearing their stories. I'm watching them live. I find my truth in what they say and how they live.

Katherine Boo in Telling True Stories, edited by Wendy Call, 2007 

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

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Fatal Lie: When an Investigative Ruse Goes Wrong

Note: The reportage upon which this account is based did not include the names of the parties involved. Names have been assigned for clarity.

     On May 25, 2018, in Seattle, Washington, Tom Nelson, a former drug addict trying to turn his life around, was involved in a fender-bender traffic accident where no one was injured. Before police arrived, Mr. Nelson left the scene of the mishap.

     The accident investigator acquired an address for Mr. Nelson through his vehicle registration information. Since the address was on the other side of the city, the traffic investigator called the precinct covering that area and asked that someone from that station go to the listed address and obtain a statement from Mr. Nelson.

     Later that day, Seattle police officers Robert Niles and John Rhodes showed up at the address in question and spoke to Mary Harris, the woman who lived there. She informed the officers that she had allowed Tom Nelson to register his car at her address because he did not have a permanent place of residence. She said that Mr. Nelson was at the moment staying at a friend's house, however, she did not know that address.

     Earlier, on their way to Mary Harris's house, Officer Niles had told his partner that in order to get Tom Nelson's cooperation, he planned to employ what he referred to as a ruse--he would tell him that a woman had been seriously injured in the accident and wasn't supposed to live. "It's a lie," Officer Niles said, "but it's fun."

     Just before Officer Niles asked Mary Harris for Tom Nelson's phone number, he told her that Mr. Nelson was a suspect in a hit-and-run case involving a woman who had been seriously injured and was not expected to live. As it turned out, the ruse was not necessary because before the officer told his lie, Mary Harris was already scrolling her phone for Tom Nelson's phone number.

     After the police officers left her house, Mary Harris tracked down Tom Nelson and informed him of what she had just learned from the Seattle police officer. He became extremely distraught over the news. Perhaps he had struck a pedestrian without knowing it. Mary Harris suggested he hire an attorney.

     Tom Nelson, in an effort to find out more about the seriously injured woman, searched the Internet but came up with nothing. Maybe for some reason the police were intentionally withholding this information. This just added to his worry about the woman, his angst over having caused her suffering, and what might happen to him as a result.

   A few days after the accident, Tom Nelson went to a friend's house and in his garage left a bag containing his possessions and some cash. He also left a note that read: "If you don't see me, keep this stuff."

     On June 3, 2018, a week after the minor traffic accident, the man whose house Tom Nelson was living in, went to his room and found him dead. He had committed suicide. (The reportage of his death did not include how he had killed himself.)

     After the suicide, Mary Harris and Tom's friend decided to conduct their own inquiry into the traffic accident. While the police were not particularly cooperative, Mary Harris and her investigative partner were able to determine that no one had been injured in the fender-bender. Seattle police officer Robert Niles had lied to her about that, and she had passed it on to Mr. Nelson. And now he was dead.

     On March 12, 2019, Mary Harris filed a formal complaint against Officer Robert Niles with the watchdog group, Office of Police Accountability (OPA). Investigators with the OPA questioned officer Niles and Officer Rhodes who gave different accounts of their encounter with Mary Harris. Officer Niles said that had he not employed the ruse, Mary Harris would not have cooperated with their inquiry into Tom Nelson's whereabouts. Officer Rhodes gave a different story. According to his account, Mary Harris would have cooperated fully without the lie.

     Following the OPA inquiry, the watchdog group recommended that Officer Robert Niles be disciplined for the inappropriate use of a ruse in the course of an investigation. (Officers are only authorized to lie in the course of criminal interrogations of people suspected of serious crimes.)

     In November 2019, Seattle Police Officer Robert Niles was placed on unpaid administrative leave for six days.

     

Plots Need Emotion and Action

There's a difference between an emotional plot and an action plot. If you write stories with emotional plots, it's really hard to get the other. But you've got to have both. The reader gets attached to all the characters, so there's emotional growth and inner turmoil. But it's triggered by something with such great dramatic possibilities. You have to have that outer tension of some kind. It doesn't have to be something cliche, like a car chase. But you need something on the outside. You can't just have inner tension.

Patricia Henley in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Heath Kellogg Counterfeiting Ring

     In the old days, counterfeiters made funny money the hard way: they laboriously, and with great skill and craftsmanship, engraved metal, facsimile plates. The quality of their fake twenties and hundred-dollar bills depended upon the engraving detail, the color of the ink, and the softness, strength, and feel of the paper used to approximate the government's secret blend. In those days only a handful of forgers possessed the skill and equipment needed to counterfeit money. This made them easy to identify, and to catch. But with ink in their blood, these men, the minute they got out of prison, returned to their illicit trades. The most skillful counterfeiters were driven by the challenge to produce fake money indistinguishable from the real thing.

     In the late Twentieth Century, with advances in computer, photocopy, and graphic arts technology, counterfeiters could produce half-decent fake bills by simply copying real money. At that time, American paper currency was the easiest money in the world to counterfeit. In an effort to render bills more difficult to replicate, the U. S. Treasury Department redesigned the larger denominations. (At one time the government printed $500 and $1,000-dollar bills. The largest denomination today is $100.)

     The U.S. government's anti-counterfeiting measures included adding holograms, embedded inks whose colors change depending on the angle of light, more color, and larger presidential portraits. The first bills to be redesigned were the tens, twenties, and fifties. The government didn't issue the new 100s until February 2011.

     The redesigned currency drove the amateurs out of the counterfeiting business, but it didn't discourage counterfeiters like Heath J. Kellogg. In 2011, the 36-year-old counterfeiter owned and operated a graphic and web design shop in Marietta, Georgia. In February of that year, Kellogg, who has a history of forged check convictions, began producing fake $50-dollar bills. (Fifties are rarely counterfeited.)

     Kellogg approximated the security threads in government bills by using pens with colored ink that showed up under ultraviolet lamps. He printed out the facsimile fronts and backs separately, then glued the sheets together.

     In May 2011, a bank in Atlanta sent the Secret Service seven fake 50-dollar bills. Three months later, agents arrested a man in Conyers, Georgia who passed $50-dollar bills that matched the seven fakes that passed through the bank in Atlanta.

     The counterfeit bill passer had purchased his fake bills with a face value of $2,000 for $900 in genuine money. The arrestee identified Mr. Kellogg as the manufacturer of the fake fifties, and agreed to cooperate with the Secret Service.

     Agents arrested a second member of the counterfeit distribution ring who also became an undercover Secret Service operative. On November 15, 2012, following the execution of two search warrants and two controlled undercover buys of counterfeit currency from the suspect, agents arrested Heath Kellogg.

     The Assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of Georgia charged Kellogg with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute counterfeit U.S. currency. Five other men were charged in connection with the passing of Mr. Kellogg's contraband product. The federal prosecutor believed that Kellogg and his accomplices injected $1.1 million worth of fake $50-dollar bills into the local economy.

     In November 2013, a jury found Mr. Kellogg guilty as charged. On March 24, 2014, the federal judge sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

     Two days after the counterfeiter's sentencing, the judge sent accomplice Stacy P. Smith to prison for three years. Following his prison stretch, Smith faced three years of supervised release. The judge sentenced four other members of the Kellogg counterfeiting ring in March 2014. Those sentences ranged from 18-months behind bars to five years probation.
      

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

Children Like the Sound of Words

Most children enjoy the sound of language for its own sake. They wallow in repetitions and luscious word-sounds and the crunch and slither of onomatopoeia [words that sound like what they mean], they fall in love with impressive words and use them in all the wrong places.

Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, 1998 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The John Mayes Murder Case

     Police officers in the northwest New Mexico town of Farmington, on the morning of June 10, 2011, discovered the body of Dr. Jim Nordstrom. The victim was buried in a woodpile behind his upscale house. The previous night, someone had bludgeoned the 55-year-old physician to death. One of the victim's fingers had been nearly severed in what the forensic pathologist identified as a defensive wound. The killer had stolen the doctor's pickup truck as well as his credit cards.

     Not long after finding the doctor's body behind his Foothills neighborhood home, police officers arrested 17-year-old John Mayes. Rob Mayes, Farmington's city manager, had adopted John, a boy who had grown up in Ukraine where he had been abused.

     Detectives, over a two day period, conducted five interrogation sessions during which time John Mayes confessed to killing the doctor. The interrogations were recorded and preceded by Miranda warnings. Mayes also signed forms in which he waived his constitutional right to remain silent. The young murder suspect did not, however, have an attorney present during the police interrogations.

     John Mayes told his questioners that on June 9, 2011 he had run away from home. When he came upon the house in the Foothills neighborhood, he snuck inside and hid in a bedroom. (I believe he entered the dwelling through an unlocked window.) At the time of the intrusion, Dr. Nordstrom was in his living room watching television. About an hour after Mayes entered the house, the doctor walked into the bedroom. That's when Mayes struck him in the head eight times with the handle of a pool cue.

     With the doctor dead in his home, Mayes stole his credit cards and his pickup truck. After taking a four hour nap in the stolen vehicle, Mayes ate a meal at a Burger King. When he finished his hamburger he used the victim's credit cards to go on a $3,000 shopping spree.

     Later that night, Mayes returned to the murder scene to clean up the blood and to bury the body in the victim's backyard. After tiring of digging a grave, Mayes dragged the corpse to the woodpile.

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw charged John Mayes with first-degree murder and the lesser offenses of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, vehicle theft, and fraudulent use of credit cards. After being booked into the San Juan County Jail, the magistrate denied the suspect bond.

     John Mayes, represented by attorney Stephen Taylor, pleaded not guilty at a preliminary hearing held in August 2011. Attorney Taylor advised the court he was challenging the constitutionality of his client's initial five statements to the police on the grounds he had not knowingly waived his Miranda rights. (The judge later ruled that the confessions had been constitutionally acquired and could therefore be introduced into evidence at Mayes' trial.)

     Speaking from the stand at his preliminary hearing, John Mayes offered a version of the events of June 9, 2011 that were far less incriminating than the substance of his statements to the police. Rather than sneaking into the doctor's home that night, he came upon Dr. Nordstrom outside of his Foothills neighborhood house just when the doctor was washing his pickup truck. Mayes told the doctor he had run away from home and asked if he could spend the night at his place. Dr. Nordstrom said that he could.

     That night, Mayes and the doctor watched a James Bond film on television. After the movie, the doctor gave Mayes a tour of the house after which they played a couple games of pool. Dr. Nordstrom asked Mayes if he would like to "try something new." When the physician made a sexual advance, Mayes beat him to death with a pool cue.

     Mayes admitted that after killing Dr. Nordstrom he stole his truck and used his credit cards before returning to the house to hide the body.

     Pursuant to a change of venue, the John Mayes murder trial got underway on November 13, 2013 in a McKinley County court in Gallup, New Mexico. Neither side disputed the fact Mayes had killed the doctor in his home. What the jury had to determine was whether or not the defendant had committed the act in self defense.

     After the prosecution rested its case, a presentation based heavily on the five statements Mayes had made to the police following his arrest, the defense brought psychologist Gary White and forensic psychologist Maxann Schwartz to the stand. Both witnesses testified that Mayes' behavior that night had been influenced by a personality disorder that affects people who as children had been neglected or abused. The psychologists said the defendant suffered from "reactive attachment disorder," or RAD. People with his disorder often seek attention from strangers but become aggressive when these individuals try to be nice to them.

     On November 20, 2013, a psychologist from Boise State University named Dr. Charles Honts took the stand for the defense to testify that he had given Mayes a polygraph test early in 2013. Prosecutor Brent Capshaw objected to this witness on grounds he was not a qualified polygraph examiner. (In 2005, a U. S. magistrate judge in Atlanta had prohibited Dr. Honts from giving polygraph testimony in a murder trial. The judge had said, "The court attributes little weight to Dr. Honts' opinions.)

     After Judge William Birdsall overruled the prosecutor's objections to this witness, Dr. Honts took the stand and said he had asked Mayes four polygraph questions: Did Nordstrom invite you into his home? Did you play pool with Nordstrom? Did he slap you on the butt? Did you hide in the bedroom waiting to hit Nordstrom? The witness testified that the defendant answered yes to the first three questions and no to the fourth. According to Dr. Honts, his polygraph examination revealed that Mayes was truthful in his responses.

     On rebuttal, Peter Pierangeli, a polygraph examiner from Albuquerque took the stand for the prosecution and testified that Dr. Honts did not ask the defendant appropriate questions. His polygraph results were therefore unreliable. According to Pierangeli, if Dr. Honts wanted to get to the truth, he would have asked Mayes if Dr. Nordstrom had sexually assaulted him.

     John Mayes did not take the witness stand on his own behalf.

     The defense attorney, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the police, by not seizing Dr. Nordstrom's computer and a prescription bottle found in his bedroom, had botched the investigation. The defense attorney told the jurors that Dr. Honts' polygraph test, by itself, created reasonable doubt that his client was guilty of murder.

     On Monday, November 25, 2013, after deliberating ten hours over a period of two days, the jury found John Mayes guilty of second-degree murder. The jurors found the defendant guilty of the lesser charges as well. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of 31 years in prison. The jurors had accepted enough of the defendant's story to believe Dr. Nordstrom had not been the victim of a cold-blooded murder. The jury had also rejected the notion of self-defense in the case.

     Had John Mayes been convicted of first-degree murder, his sentence would have been life without parole.

     In November 2014, at Mayes' sentence hearing, delayed months to allow for the appeal on the procedural issues, the two defense psychologists testified that the now 21-year-old could be rehabilitated through "intensive therapy." Dr. Gary White, the psychologist who had treated Mayes for three years, testified that he had seen an improvement in the young man's behavior. Dr. White said he would be willing to continue counseling Mayes if the authorities placed him in a correctional facility in the Albuquerque area.

     Defense attorney Stephen Taylor asked Judge William Birdsall to sentence his client to 15 years in prison.

     John Mayes, in speaking to the court, apologized for killing Dr. Nordstrom. He said, "My actions do not reflect what I would like to become. I now know how to better handle myself so that what happened will not occur."

     San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw told Judge Birdsall that in his fourteen years as a prosecutor, the Nordstrom murder was the worst case he had ever worked on. Capshaw said, "Mayes continually bludgeoned Dr. Nordstrom in the back of the head as the victim tried to crawl away. I can't imagine a more violent death." After the murder, according to the prosecutor, Mayes "set up shop" at Nordstrom's home where he downloaded pornography and masturbated. "I can't find a case that calls more for the maximum sentence."

     Judge Birdsall, for the crimes of second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, car theft and several of the lesser offenses, sentenced John Mayes to 33 years in prison.

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. 

Plot Ups and Downs

A plot needs arcs. Arcs are the ups and downs, the changes in direction the story takes as events unfold. The most important thing is to keep the reader engaged in the story and the characters. If things don't change, if unexpected events don't occur, the book becomes boring fast.

Janet Evanovich, How I Write, 2006

Elizabeth George on Sherlock Holmes and Imperfect Characters

     No one wants to read about perfect characters. Since no reader is perfect, there is nothing more disagreeable than spending free time immersed in a story about an individual who leaps tall buildings of emotion, psyche, body, and spirit in a single bound. Would anyone want a person as a friend, tediously perfect in every way? Probably not. Thus, a character possessing perfection in one area should possess imperfection in another area.

     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood this, which is one of the reasons that his Sherlock Holmes has stood the test of time for more than one hundred years and counting. Holmes has the perfect intellect. The man is a virtual machine of cogitation. But he's an emotional black hole incapable of a sustained relationship with anyone except Dr. Watson, and on top of that, he abuses drugs. He has a series of rather quirky habits, and he's unbearably supercilious. As a character "package," he emerges unforgetably from the pages of Conan Doyle's stories. Consequently, it's difficult to believe that any reader of works written in English might not know who Sherlock Holmes is.

Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Gregory Graf Murder Case

     Jessica Padgett, a 33-year-old mother of three, was last seen at 12:45 in the afternoon of Friday November 21, 2014 by fellow employees at the Duck Duck Goose Daycare Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Surveillance camera footage revealed that 15 minutes after she left the the center, her car was returned to the daycare parking lot by a man whose face was not caught on camera.

     Police and volunteers in the eastern Pennsylvania community searched several days without finding a trace of the missing woman. Investigators feared foul play.

     On Wednesday November 26, five days after Padgett went missing, police officers executing a search warrant in and around the house in Allen Township where her mother and stepfather resided, found her remains buried behind a shed on the 7-acre plot of land.

     On the day of the body recovery, police officers took the victim's stepfather, 53-year-old Gregory R. Graf, into custody on suspicion of murder. At the time Jessica Padgett went missing her mother was in Florida.

     Graf, a dedicated hunter who grew marijuana on his property, owned a local fencing company. Under police questioning, he initially denied any knowledge of his stepdaughter's disappearance and murder. He said he had no idea how her body ended up in the ground on his property. But when detectives pressed Graf with inconsistencies in his story and confronted him with physical evidence that linked him to the disappearance and murder, he broke down and confessed.

     Graf admitted shooting Padgett in the back of the head shortly after she left the daycare center that day. He was vague, however, regarding his motive. Investigators believed Graf had raped the victim before he killed her. As it turned out, detectives had the order of these acts reversed.

     Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli charged Gregory Graf with first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     On December 5, 2014, a search of Graf's computer revealed a video of the suspect having sex with his stepdaughter's corpse. This act of necrophilia on the remains of a woman he had murdered for that purpose made Graf, under Pennsylvania law, eligible for the death penalty.

     Following the discovery of the postmortem sex video the prosecutor added the charge of abuse of corpse.

     At his arraignment, Graf asked the judge to appoint him a free defense attorney. The defendant said he didn't want to take resources from his family to pay for a lawyer. The judge denied this request on the grounds the suspect had enough money to pay for his own attorney.

     On November 13, 2015, following Graf's four-day trial, the jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. In arriving at this verdict, jurors deliberated less than ten minutes. The conviction brought a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

     Graf's attorney, in his closing argument, had told jurors that while his client was guilty of third-degree murder and deserved to be punished, the killing hadn't been premeditated. According to the defense attorney, "Something snapped." The jury obviously didn't buy this line of defense. They wanted this sexually perverted killer to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Society's Direct Interest in Murder

Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness. It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) English-American poet

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

A Contemporary Review of a Novel that Became a Classic

Whitney Balliett reviewed a novel for The New Yorker in 1961, saying, "[The author] wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." The book was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

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