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Friday, February 28, 2020

Easy Money: Three Quick and Simple Con Games

Case l

     A man and a woman, both well-dressed and in their mid-forties, approached an 86-year-old woman at a busy intersection in the Forest Hills section of Queens. The man showed the elderly woman a wallet fat with cash. "We just found it," the man said. "Look at all the money that's in it. Hundred dollar bills."

     Having interested the victim in the money, the man proposed they take the lost wallet to the local police precinct house. If the wallet was not claimed in 30 days, the three of them could divide up the cash. They could deposit the lost wallet with the police in the old woman's name. At the end of the waiting period, the police would release the wallet and its contents to her.

     But wait. How could the couple trust that a complete stranger will give them their share of the money? How about this? The woman could withdraw $10,000 from her bank account, money the couple could hold until the police release the wallet. If the wallet is claimed within the 30 day period, the couple will return the woman's good faith money.

     After the victim took $10,000 out of her bank account and handed it to the con artists, they asked her to wait on the street until they returned with the receipt from the police station. They of course disappeared with the scam victim's cash.

Case 2

     An 82-year-old man received a disturbing phone call regarding one of his grandsons. According to the caller, who identified himself as an officer with the New Jersey State Police, the young man had been arrested and needed $3,500 to get out of jail.

     To spare his grandson the horrors of criminal incarceration, the old man, from a Western Union Office, sent $3,500 to the con man. The good news, of course, was that the kid was not in jail. The bad news: the victim ended up $3,500 poorer and was left feeling like a sucker.

Case 3

     A con man impersonating an IRS agent informed a 35-year-old woman by telephone that she owed the government $2,000 in taxes. According to the faker, her problem was this: if she didn't pay up immediately, agents would come to her home and haul her off to prison.

     The terrified victim (the three most feared letters in America are IRS) rushed to a 7-Eleven convenience store where she purchased four $500 prepaid debit cards. The con man withdrew the $2,000 after the victim, using her cellphone at the store, read him the card numbers. With one phone call this scam artist stole $2,000. Easy money. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Sierra "CeCe" Sims Kidnapping Hoax

     High school basketball standout Sierra "CeCe" Sims, in August 2008, arrived at Alabama's Auburn University with a full athletic scholarship. As a high school player in Brentwood, Tennessee, CeCe had led her team to three regional titles. The five-foot-seven inch point guard, a former teen pageant contestant, also played the guitar. (Her father, Tommy Sims co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World.")

     The 18-year-old college freshman, as a member of the Auburn Tiger's women's basketball team, a powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference, had to deal with being away from home, academic life on the university level, and living up to expectations on the basketball court.

     Shortly after arriving at the university, CeCe began drinking heavily every night. In late September 2008, she called her mother Kathie and said she wanted to come home. Kathie told her distraught daughter to talk to coach Nell Fortner. Taking her mother's advice, CeCe called the coach. When CeCe hung up the phone after their chat, the coach felt that everything would be fine for the freshman prospect.

     The next morning, when CeCe failed to show up for the six o'clock practice, Fortner became concerned. When the coach made inquiries regarding CeCe's whereabouts he learned that at 2:30 that morning CeCe had stormed out of the dormitory and rode off on her bicycle. None of her acquaintances had seen her since.

     Not long after campus searchers couldn't find CeCe, university officials asked the authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Eighteen hours later, a parol officer looking for the missing student almost hit CeCe with his patrol car. When the officer approached the girl, she said, "I'm CeCe Sims."

     Questioned at the local police department, CeCe told detectives she had been kidnapped by a man and a woman who pulled up alongside her in a pickup truck. After being dragged into the vehicle, the abductors forced her to drink alcohol and take pills. As a result of being drugged, she couldn't recall in detail what had happened to her.

     Under close questioning by detectives, CeCe's story didn't hold up. In an effort to get the student to reveal where she had been since leaving the dorm at 2:30 the previous morning, officers threatened her with the possibility of being charged with a crime. Notwithstanding that threat, she stuck to her highly implausible story.    

     The police did not open a kidnapping investigation, and CeCe was not charged with false reporting. She dropped out of school and returned home to Brentwood, Tennessee.

     In 2014, CeCe Sims posted a video on the Internet acknowledging that she had indeed made up the kidnapping story in September of 2008. When she left the dormitory that night she had ridden her bike to a nearby Walmart where she hid for almost eighteen hours.

     According to CeCe Sims, the pressure at Auburn had been too much for her. "I didn't want to disappoint my parents," she said, "so I thought, what better way to say I was kidnapped? That way I wouldn't have to quit and be known as a quitter."

     When the story broke regarding CeCe and the kidnapping hoax, former Auburn coach Nell Fortner described to an ABC reporter the pressure student/athletes are under at schools like Auburn. "Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or to Hawaii. They are going to get a great education. But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at five in the morning, and they don't get to bed until eleven at night."

     Following the scandal, Sierra CeCe Sims moved in with her parents while she pursued a career in the music business. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Levi Norwood Murder Case

     In 2020, 37-year-old Joshua Norwood lived in a home on Elk Road in Midland, Virginia with his 34-year-old wife Jennifer and their two sons, Wyatt, 6 and and 17-year-old Levi. The family had moved to Virginia from Maine in 2010. Mr. Norwood, until recently, had been a sales representative. His wife Jennifer was a licensed nurses's assistant.

     At six o'clock in the evening of February 14, 2020, Joshua Norwood called 911 and reported that he had just arrived home and found that his wife and his 6-year-old son had been shot to death. Shortly after entering the house, someone in the house shot and wounded him in the head. Armed with his own gun, Mr. Norwood fired back. He didn't see the shooter, but believed the bullet that struck him had been fired from the doorway leading into his basement. Mr. Norwood ran out of the house.
     The 911 operator dispatched an ambulance and officers with the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office to the scene.
     As Joshua Norwood was transported to a nearby hospital in stable condition, deputies, thinking that the other son, 17-year-old Levi Norwood may have been the shooter and was barricaded in the dwelling, surrounded the house.
     At ten-fifteen that night, police officers forcibly entered the Norwood house. Inside they found the bodies of Jennifer and Wyatt Norwood but not Levi. They searched the house and did not find the murder weapon. 
     Officers placed the immediate neighborhood on lockdown, and instituted a search for the five-foot-nine, 125 pound suspect with hair recently dyed purple. Since the teen did not have access to a vehicle, officers assumed he was on foot. 
     The next day, Saturday, February 15, a teenager meeting Levi Norwood's description was seen driving a 2007 red Toyota Camry that had been stolen that morning from a home about ten miles from the murder scene.
     At four o'clock that day, a security guard at a Target store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham, North Carolina caught a teenage boy with purple hair stealing hair dye, items of clothing, and a backpack. The shoplifter was identified as Levi Norwood. The stolen Toyota was parked outside the store.
     Officers with the Durham Police Department ran Levi's name through a national fugitive database and learned that the teen was wanted in connection with a double homicide in Midland, Virginia. Police officers booked Livi Norwood into a local jail where he was held for extradition back to Fauquier County, Virginia.
     On Sunday, February 16, 2020, a television reporter questioned a Norwood family member named Victoria Eaton who said the violence at the Norwood house was not something she thought Levi Norwood was capable of, describing the act as "totally out of his character." She also said, " It doesn't make any sense" and noted that Levi had a difficult home life.
     Levi Norwood was a junior at Liberty High School in Bealton, Virginia. Local reporters spoke to several of his classmates who identified Levi's parents as racists who didn't like black people. Moreover, his father had been extremely upset over the fact Levi had been dating a black girl.

Human Road Kill: The Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. Fatal Hit and Run Case

     In Austin, Texas at ten-thirty at night on February 15, 2020, a motorist driving erratically at high speed without headlights plowed into a man on the side of the road pushing a shopping cart. The pedestrian, 55-year-old Martin Cagle, crashed through the speeding car's windshield and landed in the vehicle's front passenger seat. He was killed instantly.

     Following the violent impact, 24-year-old Paul Joseph Garcia Jr. continued driving his damaged 2014 white Ford Focus with the mangled dead man in the seat next to him. Garcia drove a half-mile, leaving a trail of Mr. Gagle's body parts on the road, then parked his vehicle in front of the South Austin Beer Garden.

     Mr. Garcia, covered in his victim's blood, climbed out of his car, and in his bare feet, walked calmly into the beer garden for a drink.

     Shortly after he entered the bar, officers with the Austin Police Department took the highly intoxicated suspect into custody.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Paul Joseph Garcia with intoxication manslaughter and with another felony called accident involving injury while driving without regard for the safety of others. The magistrate set his bail at $110,000.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Mark Latunski Mutilation Murder Case

     On Christmas Eve, 2019, Kevin Bacon, a 25-year-old hairstylist from Swartz Creek, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, left his house to meet a man he had met on the LGBTQ app Grindr. That man was 50-year-old Mark Latunski.

     The next morning, when Keven Bacon didn't show up for a family Christmas breakfast, his mother reported him missing to the local sheriff's office.
     Later that Christmas day, police officers located Bacon's car parked not far from his home. Inside, they found his wallet, cellphone, and other personal belongings. Mr. Bacon's roommate, Michelle Myers, told investigators that Bacon had left the house on Christmas Eve to visit a man he had recently met on Grindr named Mark Latunski.
     Mark Latunski, a resident of Morrice, Michigan, a rural town 23 miles from Bacon's home in Swartz Creek, was known to officers with the Shiawassee County Sheriff's Office. 
     On November 25, 2019, one month before Kenvin Bacon left his house to meet Latunski, deputies with the sheriff's office, when responding to a disturbance call at Latunski's home, encountered a man running out of the house screaming at the top of his lungs with Mr. Latunski in hot pursuit.The 29-year-old man had blood on his face and wore nothing but a leather kilt.
     When questioned by officers, Latunski explained that he was chasisng the man because the guy had run off with his expensive kilt. He wanted it back. The bloodied, kilt-wearing man who was running for his life from Latunski, refused to press charges. As a result, the case did not go beyond the filing of a police report.
     On December 28, 2019, police officers entered Latunski's house in search of Mr. Bacon. They found him--naked, mutilated and hanging dead from the ceiling. 
      Officers took Mr. Latunski into custody. The suspect quickly confessed to stabbing the victim in the back then slitting his throat with the knife he used to cut off the dead man's testicles and eat them. 
     A Shiawassee County prosecutor charged Mark Latunski with open murder and mutilation of a human body. At the suspect's arraignment hearing on January 6, 2020, the judge asked the defendant, "Are you Mr. Latunski?"
     "No," he replied. "My name is Edgar Thomas Hill. Mark Latunski is my nephew."
     Police officers and the prosecutor believed that response to the judge was a ploy in anticipation of an insanity plea. The judge ordered that Mark Latunski be held in the county jail without bail. 

The Stephen Cooke Jr Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2000, Heidi Louise Bernadzikowski, a 24-year-old employee of a health insurance company, lived in a Dundalk, Maryland townhouse with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Stephen Michael Cooke Jr. Baltimore County police officers, on April 20, 2000, responded to a 911 call made from the townhouse by Cooke. Upon arrival, officers found Cooke sitting on the living floor holding his girlfriend in his arms. They were both covered in blood.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski had been murdered. The killer had strangled the victim then slashed her throat. There were no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no evidence that anything had been stolen. The victim had not been sexually assaulted.

     Detectives in search of a motive for the brutal murder became suspicious of the victim's boyfriend when they learned that a month before her death he had purchased a $700,000 insurance policy on her life. Because Cooke had an alibi that eliminated him as the killer, detectives suspected that he had hired a hit man to do the job. But without proof, they could not arrest him.

     Heidi Bernadzikowski's parents, in 2004, sued Stephen Cooke Jr. under the so-called "slayer's rule" for the $700,000 life insurance payout. The slayer's rule prohibits anyone who intentionally caused the death of the insured to collect life insurance benefits. The civil action was settled out of court when Cooke agreed to pay the plaintiffs $575,000. Detectives working on the murder case considered the settlement a tacit admission of guilt.

     In January 2012, a Baltimore County prosecutor charged Alexander Charles Bennett, a 32-year-old resident of Greeley, Colorado, with the murder of Heidi Bernadzikowski. Three months earlier, Bennett had been connected to the Bernadzikowski murder scene through a DNA match. Moreover, detectives had placed Bennett, a man with a history of burglary and car theft, in Baltimore the month before the murder.

     While homicide detectives theorized that Bennett had been hired by Cooke to kill the victim, the investigators had no evidence linking the hit man to the suspected murder plot's mastermind. In January 2012, police officers booked Bennett into the Baltimore County Detention Center on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge denied the suspected hit man bail.

     Early in March 2014, just hours before the commencement of his murder trial, Bennett, pursuant to a plea deal, confessed to murdering Heidi Bernadzikowski. According to the hit man, he and a friend from Denver, Colorado named Grant A. Lewis had been hired over the Internet by Stephen Cooke Jr. who wanted someone to murder his girlfriend. Bennett said he flew to Baltimore in March 2000 to meet the murder-for-hire mastermind during which time Cooke offered Bennett and his accomplice a piece of the life insurance payout.

     According to the murder-for-hire plan, Grant Lewis would play the role of intermediary between Cooke and the trigger man. That March 2000 meeting would be the last time Bennett and Cooke communicated with each other directly.

     Alexander Bennett's version of the murder went like this: On April 20, 2000, the day of the killing, Bennett let himself into the Dundalk townhouse with a key left for him by Cooke. On that day, Cooke dropped Heidi off at the townhouse knowing that the killer was inside waiting for her. The moment Bernadzikowski walked into the dwelling, Bennett ambushed and choked the victim until she either passed out or died. To make sure she was dead, Bennett slashed her throat with a knife.

     A Baltimore County prosecutor charged Stephen Cooke Jr. with conspiracy to commit murder. On March 20, 2014, fourteen years after Bernadzikowski's violent death, detectives booked the Pasadena, Maryland suspect into the Baltimore County Detention Center. At his arraignment hearing, Cooke's attorney urged the judge to grant his client bail. The judge denied the request.

     On March 20, Baltimore homicide detectives arrested Grant A. Lewis, the 35-year-old murder-for-hire middle-man. Officers booked Lewis into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Although Lewis had not bloodied his hands in the case, the judge denied him bail.

     On October 30, 2014, a jury found Grant A. Lewis guilty as charged. Baltimore County Court Judge Kathleen Gallogly-Cox, on February 2, 2015, sentenced him to life in prison.

     On June 18, 2015, a Baltimore County jury, after hearing the testimony of hit man Alexander Charles Bennett, found Stephen Cooke Jr. guilty of first-degree murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     In August 2015, the judge sentenced Alexander Charles Bennett to 30 years. Had the hit man not testified for the prosecution against Cooke, he would have been sentenced to life.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Lindsay Lohan Crime-Wave

     The only person more pathetic than an old Hollywood has-been is a young Hollywood has-been. Over the past decade, Lindsay Lohan slipped from successful television actress, theatrical film star, and recording artist to a D-list celebrity whose principal claim to fame is her rap sheet. And even her arrest record is D-list. Most of her crimes involve cocaine, alcohol, driving under the influence, a bellicose personality, and a sociopath's disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system.

     In 2007, other than being rich and infamous, there was nothing about the 26-year-old that distinguished her from the common garden variety substance abuser. Because she had money, Lohan was well-dressed in court, and had better legal representation than the ordinary petty offender. That was one of the reasons why, notwithstanding numerous probation violations, she spent so little time in jail.

     In May 2007 the police arrested Lohan for driving under the influence and possession of cocaine after she lost control of her Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Two months later, in Santa Monica, Lohan got into an argument with a female motorist whom she chased in her SUV. The actress was again under the influence, and in possession of cocaine. She had also been driving with a suspended license. Later that summer, in return for pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and driving under the influence, the judge sentenced Lohan to one day in jail, ten days of community service, and three years probation during which time she had to enter an alcohol education program.

     On November 15, 2007, when it came time to serve her 24 hours behind bars at the jail in Lynwood, California, the sheriff, due to overcrowding, released her after she had endured 84 minutes in stir. (I'm surprised this experience hasn't led to a ghost-written prison memoir.)

     In October 2009, the judge who had sentenced Lohan following her cocaine and driving under the influence plea, extended her probationary period one year because she'd been too busy (attending Justin Bieber concerts and the like) to complete drunk-driving school. Six months later, after Lohan skipped a court date to attend the Cannes Film Festival, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest. After the police took her into custody on the bench warrant, Lohan posted the $100,000 bail and was released. She left the booking center with an alcohol-monitoring device around her ankle. According to the judge, if Lohan didn't stop boozing and snorting cocaine, he'd revoke her bail and she would be incarcerated. Lohan was also ordered to undergo, on a weekly basis, random drug and alcohol testing.

     About two weeks after being fitted with the ankle monitor, Lohan activated the device while attending a MTV Movie Awards party. In response, the judge ruled that she had violated her probation. As a result, the judge raised her bail anther $100,000. Her bail bondsman covered the increase which allowed Lohan to remain free.

     On July 6, 2010, the judge sentenced Lohan to 90 days in jail for failing to attend her court-ordered weekly alcohol education classes. Two weeks later, Lohan showed up at the jail to begin her sentence. After 13 days behind bars, the sheriff released his famous prisoner due to facility overcrowding. In September 2010, Lohan's probation was again revoked after a random drug test revealed cocaine in her system. Instead of being sent back to jail, the authorities shipped Lohan off to the Betty Ford rehabilitation facility.

     A staff worker at the Betty Ford Center, in December 2010, accused Lohan of attacking her after the staff employee asked Lohan to take a drug/alcohol test. The staffer later dropped the charges. (I wonder how much that cost.)

     In February 2011, police arrested Lohan in connection with the felony theft of a $2,500 necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store. She pleaded not guilty and made bail. A month later, the judge in Lohan's 2007 cocaine/DUI case, revoked her probation and sentenced her to 120 days in the Lynwood jail. She was also ordered to complete the 480 hours of community service. In the meantime, she pleaded guilt to the misdemeanor theft of the $2,500 necklace.

     After a few days behind bars, the sheriff, citing overcrowding, kicked Lohan out of jail again. (I don't buy the overcrowding rationale. I think jail personnel simply found housing this pain-in-the-neck celebrity too disruptive, and not worth the effort.) While Lohan served the remainder of her jail sentence under house arrest, she failed to complete the required 480 hours of community service. As a result, the judge revoked her probation again, and kicked up her bail another $100,000. (They put her bail bondsman on suicide-watch. Just kidding.)

     On March 14, 2012, the LAPD investigated Lohan for allegedly bumping a person with her car outside a Hollywood nightclub, then fleeing the scene. The LA prosecutor in charge of the matter, citing lack of evidence, dropped the case. In September of that year, Lohan took her one-woman crime wave to the east coast. While outside a fancy Manhattan hotel, she clipped another person with her car, then sped off. Again, no charges were filed. A month later, Lindsay and her mother Dina allegedly got into a fight at the family home on Long Island. No charges were filed in that case either.

     Police officers in New York City, on November 29, 2012, arrested Lohan on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in connection with the alleged assault of a woman at a Manhattan nightclub. The supposed victim, a psychic named Tiffany Mitchell, claimed that Lohan, after calling her a "f-ing Gypsy," punched her in the face. (You would think a psychic would see the punch coming.)

     Lohan's ongoing trouble with the law might have finally caught up with her. While she was still on probation from the necklace theft, the police in Santa Monica, on the day of the alleged assault of the psychic, filed new charges against Lohan that are related to her June 2007 cocaine/DUI case. Lohan was accused of giving false information to a police officer, obstructing justice, and reckless driving. All of these offenses carried jail sentences.

     On December 3, 2012, the IRS seized Lohan's bank accounts. According to the government, she owes $233,904 in unpaid taxes for the years 2009 and 2010.

     In 2013, Lohan did a series of interviews with Oprah that earned her $2 million. Most of that money, however, was earmarked for taxes, rehab fees, and further IRS debts. She was left with $500,000.

     In October 2017, in a red-carpet interview, Lohan incurred the wrath of almost everyone when she defended the disgraced Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein. "I feel bad for Harvey Weinstein right now," she said. "I don't think it's right what's going on." Lohan had supporting roles in two of Weinstein Company productions.

     In January 2019, the 38-year-old Lohan was back on television with a MTV show called "Lindsay Lohan's Book Club." 

Reagan National University: A Visa Mill?

     Over the past several years, dozens of colleges and universities in the United States have been designated so-called "visa mills." A visa mill is defined generally as a substandard educational institution that doles out visas to high-paying foreign "students" who are less interested in acquiring an American education as an American job and place to live. Most of these aliens overstay their visas and end up being in the country illegally.

     In January 2020, reporters with USA Today launched an investigation into Reagan National University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reporters were unable to find any faculty members, administrators, or the president of the university. Moreover, they could not identify a single student of the school.

     When the investigative journalists visited the address listed for Reagan National University, the building was empty. Also, no one answered phone calls or e-mails to the school.

     In 2017, Reagan National University received accreditation from the Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges and Schools, an organization known for accrediting schools that turned out to be visa mills. 

Talking Versus Writing

Those who tell stories better than they write them are the bane of editors. Editors dread wasting time on captivating talkers whose words lose their fizz on the page. Obviously, writing skills transcend conversational skills. But the drama and flair we bring to telling stories is too often lost once our words are nailed down on paper. Most of us converse better than we write because we feel so much less vulnerable when addressing a limited number of ears. While talking, we can alter material or adjust our delivery in response to cues from others. If things get out of hand, we can change the subject altogether. Even when they bomb, spoken words float off toward Mars. They can always be denied. "That isn't what I said!" is a great court of last resort. But words we've committed to paper [or online] can be held in evidence against us as long as that paper exists. Is it any wonder that we're scared to make this commitment?

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995

Saturday, February 22, 2020

O. J. Simpson and The Revisionist True Crime Genre

     William C. Dear, the owner of a private investigation agency in Dallas, Texas, had over the years published a handful of nonfiction books featuring his adventures as a larger-than-life PI. A master of self-promotion in the mold of Allan Pinkerton, William Burns, and J. J. Arms (remember him?). Mr. Dear was in the news following the release of his 2012 book, O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It. (A bold, if not artistic title.)

     As if exonerating one of America's most hated men is not enough, William Dear was accusing O. J.'s son Jason of the June 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. When revisionist true crime writers exonerate celebrated criminals by incriminating others, they usually accuse dead people who can't sue them for libel. Jason Simpson, who was 24-years-old when the Los Angeles police arrested his father, was alive at the time of the accusation.

     In the other twentieth century "crime of the century," the state of New Jersey, on April 3, 1936, electrocuted Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the 1932 murder of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh, Jr. In the 1980s and 90s, a half dozen hack true crime writers produced books that exonerated Hauptmann, and incriminated Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, John F. Condon, Ellis Parker, and a host of others. At least three of these books make the case that the Lindbergh baby wasn't even murdered, that the authorities had misidentified the corpse (wearing the Lindbergh baby's clothing) found two miles from the Lindbergh estate. In reality, the evidence against Hauptmann had been substantial while the "proof" against the literary suspects turned out to be flimsy, and in many cases, bogus. Readers familiar with the history of the Lindbergh case, including several serious Lindbergh biographers, saw the revisionist books for what they were--fiction passed off as nonfiction. Nevertheless, these "Hauptmann is Innocent and I Can Prove It" books attracted a lot of attention, and drew more than a few dedicated followers.

     Unlike real investigative journalists, the authors of revisionist true crime books start with a theory and point of view, and ignore or try to explain away any facts that do not support, or conflict with, their thesis. In making the case against their suspects, true crime book revisionists frequently present negative evidence as either incriminating or exonerating. For example, in the Lindbergh case, Hauptmann must be innocent because the police didn't recover his latent fingerprints from the crime scene. In this genre of nonfiction crime writing, a revisionist's suspect can be guilty simply because he didn't have an alibi. That's how they do it. When you break these books down, there's nothing there but conjecture, speculation, wishful thinking, and the authors' beliefs. And quite often, evidence is presented that is simply fiction.

     True crime revisionists get away with their literary tricks because we live in an era where facts and knowledge get little respect, and there is no such thing as objective truth. Today, what one believes is true trumps what one knows is true. People who want criminals like Bruno Richard Hauptmann and O. J. Simpson to be innocent eagerly go along with the joke.

    What was written (or not written) on the dust jacket of William Dear's book revealed it was not a work to be taken seriously. For example: "Once Dear established in his own mind that O. J. Simpson was innocent, he focused his attention on six possible suspects." In all probability, Dear began with a single suspect, then cleared away the debris that conflicted with his theory. If O. J. was in fact innocent, and his son was guilty, then the evidence against Jason Simpson should be much stronger, and more convincing than the evidence that was presented against his father. It was not. Here was William Dear's "startling new evidence that is certain to change everyone's perception of O. J.'s guilt:"

     In Jason's abandoned storage locker, Dear found a hunting knife. (This knife, however did not contain a mixture of Jason's and the victims' DNA or any other evidence to establish it as the murder weapon.)

     After the murders, Jason Simpson retained an attorney.

     Jason Simpson did not have an airtight alibi.

     Jason was depicted in a photograph wearing a knit cap similar to the one discovered at the crime scene. (If the crime scene hat contained hair follicles from Jason's head, and bore traces of the victims' blood, that would be incriminating.)

     Two months before the murders, Jason Simpson allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. According to a criminal profiler, Jason's personality was more homicidal than his father's.

     According to William Dear, while O. J. was present at the crime scene, he did not commit the murders. (This was helpful because it explained away the physical evidence connecting O. J. to the victims.) According to Mr. Dear, O. J.'s only crime was that he took steps to cover-up the fact his son had killed Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. So, why did Jason Simpson kill Nicole? He murdered her because she had decided, at the last moment, not to dine at the restaurant where he worked as a chef. This was, therefore, a double murder motivated by injured pride.

     In reality, William Dear's revisionist version of the O. J. Simpson case didn't offer enough evidence to indict the proverbial ham sandwich. Patterson Smith, the antiquarian bookseller from New Jersey who knows more about the literature of true crime than anyone, wrote the following about the true crime revisionist genre:

     "Of all crime books published, those posing revisionist theories tend to attract the greatest media attention. They are 'news.' Far from merely adding to our knowledge of a past event or re-embellishing a tale previously grown stale in the retelling, they say to us, 'You've been wrong about this case.' And if someone is thought to have been unjustly convicted and executed, the news is all the stronger.

     "It has, after all, been observed that Americans have a greater sense of injustice than of justice. When a revisionist account reaches reviewers, the arguments put forth by its author can seem extraordinarily compelling, for very often the book does not aim for balance but selects only those facts that support its divergent thesis.

     "Moreover--and this is very important--the reviewer of a book on crime written for the general public often has little or no background in the case which could help him weigh the author's novel contentions against countervailing evidence. The reviewer sees only one side of the story, and it usually looks good."

    O. J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It didn't contained nearly enough evidence to convince many readers that O. J. was innocent, and that his son was the guilty party. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Rise And Fall Of Judge G. Todd Baugh

     Police in Billings Montana in 2008 arrested 49-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, a teacher at the local high school. Rambold stood accused of having a sexual relationship with Cherice Morales, a 14-year-old student. A Yellowstone County prosecutor charged Mr. Rambold with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. (By law, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult. In some states the crime is called statutory rape.)

     In 2004, administrators at Billings Senior High School warned Rambold against touching or being alone with female students.

     Cherice Morales, just before her 17th birthday in 2010, committed suicide. At the time of this troubled girl's death, the criminal case against her former teacher was pending. The girl's mother, Auliea Halon, sued the the school district for wrongful death. The case was quickly settled for $91,000.

     The Yellowstone County prosecutor, as a result of Morales' suicide, offered Rambold a deal. If he confessed to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, and promised to enter a sex offender treatment program, the charges would be dropped. Rambold accepted the offer.

     In August 2012, Rambold began skipping meetings with his counselors, and didn't tell them about unsupervised visits he was having with girls. In November 2012, the head of the sex treatment facility kicked him out of the program. When Deputy Chief Yellowstone County prosecutor Rod Souza learned that Rambold had violated the terms of their agreement, he refiled the original charges against the former teacher.

     Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing, told reporters that the girls Rambold had visited without supervision were members of his family. Moreover, his client had enrolled in another sex treatment program.

     On August 26, 2013, the Rambold case came before 66-year-old District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh. Before being elected to the bench in 1985, Baugh had served as a federal magistrate. Prior to that, he practiced law in Billings. The judge was currently running, unopposed, for his fifth term on the bench.

     In September 2011, Judge Baugh had sentenced a 26-year-old defendant to 50 years in prison for the rape on an 11-year-old girl. A year later he sent a man to prison for 25 years for possessing child pornography. Judge Baugh did not have a reputation for going easy on sex offenders.

     At the Rambold hearing, Judge Baugh dismissed the refiled charges against the defendant. The judge said that Rambold's being kicked out of the sex program did not justify the refiling of the 2008 sexual intercourse without consent charges. The remaining issue before the judge involved Rambold's sentence based upon his 2010 admission of guilt on the single count of sexual intercourse without consent.

     Yellowstone County Chief Deputy prosecutor Rod Souza proposed a 20 year sentence with 10 years suspended. Defense attorney Jay Lansing suggested that because Rambold had lost his job, his license to teach, his house and his wife, he had been punished enough. Attorney Lansing asked Judge Baugh to suspend all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence. The attorney pointed out that Mr. Rambold had continued his sex rehabilitation program with another treatment facility.

     Judge Baugh said that he had reviewed the videotaped police interviews of Cherice Morales. From this he had concluded that even though the victim was 35 years younger than her teacher, she was "as much in control of the situation" as the defendant. Judge Baugh said that the 14-year-old was "older than her chronological age." The judge considered this a major mitigating factor in the case.

     Judge Baugh suspended all but 30 days of Rambold's 15-year sentence. After spending a month in jail, the former teacher would be on probation for 15 years. He would also have to register as a sex offender.

     Upon hearing this sentence, the dead girl's mother, Auilea Hanlon, stormed out of the courtroom. When she spoke to reporters after the hearing, Hanlon said, " I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you can blame the victim, even if she was only fourteen."

     In a matter of  hours following the sentence, local citizens were signing an online petition that called for Judge Baugh to resign. Marion Bradley, the director of the Montana National Organization for Women, told reporters that "Rape is rape. She was 14-years-old, and she was not an age where she could give consent, and he groomed her like any pedophile. Unless we show our outrage, none of our children are safe."

     On the day following his controversial and extremely unpopular sentencing of the former high school teacher, Judge Baugh, in speaking to reporters, stood by his ruling. "Obviously," he said, "a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape. It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape. I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy. No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."

     The next day, Judge Baugh conceded that he deserved to be criticized for his "chronological age" comment. He apologized for that but it was too late for apologies.

     Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, in responding to Judge Baugh's sentence, said, "I have no legal authority whatsoever to appeal a sentence handed down by a judge."

     As of August 29, 2013, the day hundreds of anti-Baugh demonstrators gathered in Billings to protest the sentence, the online petition calling for the judges' resignation had collected 26,350 signatures.

     Stacey Rambold was released from jail in September 2013. He would be on probation until August 2028.

     In July 2014, the Montana Supreme Court censured Judge Baugh for the remarks he made about the 14-year-old rape victim.

     Having decided not to run for a fifth term, Baugh, at the end of his term in December 2014, retired from the bench. He told a skeptical media that his retirement had nothing to do with the Rambold sentence and the state supreme court censure.

     In April 2015, the former judge's critics, and there were many, were stunned to learn that the Yellowstone Area Bar Association had awarded G. Todd Baugh a lifetime achievement award.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Murder Trial Jury

Twelve people go off into a room: twelve different minds, twelve different hearts, from twelve different walks of life; twelve sets of eyes, ears, shapes, and sizes. And these twelve people are asked to judge another human being as different from them as they are from each other. And in their judgment, they must become of one mind--unanimous. It's one of the miracles of Man's disorganized soul that they can do it, and in most instances, do it right well. God bless juries.

Police Lieutenant Parnell Emmett McCarthy in Robert Traver's true crime classic, Anatomy of a Murder, 1958

Thornton P. Knowles On The Suicidal Rhetoric Professor

I once met a Rhetoric professor who, before he killed himself, spent three weeks laboring over the wording of his suicide note. I guess "Good-bye cruel world" wasn't good enough for him.

Thornton P. Knowles 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Kentucky Fried Chicken Hoax

     In April 2014, a pit bull in Jackson, Mississippi mauled a 3-year-old girl named Victoria Wilcher. The attack left the toddler with healing facial scars and an eyepatch. On June 12, 2014, the girl's grandmother, Kelly Mullins, on a Facebook site called "Victoria's Victories," posted an account of an outrageous incident involving her granddaughter that supposedly had occurred at a Jackson KFC restaurant on May 15, 2014.

     According to Kelly Mullins, after ordering their food at the KFC place that day, an employee asked them to leave the premises. The employee, according to the story, kicked Mullins and her granddaughter out of the place because the other customers were disturbed by the girl's eyepatch and facial scars.

     The day after Mullins posted her account of the KFC insult, the story went viral. Victoria's family quickly took advantage of public sympathy generated by the Facebook posting by setting up a GoFundMe website to solicit donations on behalf of the humiliated little girl.

     Investigators looking into the KFC scandal uncovered information that cast doubt on the veracity of Kelly Mullins' story. Initially, members of the girl's family said the incident took place at the KFC restaurant located at State and High Streets. But later, according to family accounts, the fast-food expulsion occurred at the KFC place on Woodrow Wilson Drive not far from the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children.

     A review of restaurant surveillance footage at both KFC restaurants failed to reveal a woman in her forties and a toddler matching the descriptions of Mullins and the girl. The investigators found no video evidence that the couple had entered the restaurant on May 15, 2014. Moreover, cash register entries did not confirm the food items Mullins said she had ordered that day.

     On June 21, 2014, a plastic surgeon responding to Mullins' story flew to Mississippi to consult with the family regarding the girl's disfiguring injuries.

     As doubts grew regarding the truthfulness of the grandmother's gut-wrenching story, the GoFundMe website released a statement regarding the Mullins account. In less than two weeks since the inflammatory Facebook posting, the site had raised $135,000 in donations, money the website would return to donors. GoFundMe personnel also shut down the Mullins site.

     Kelly Mullins, amid the expanding scandal, insisted that her accounts of the KFC incident were "true and accurate."

     A local prosecutor charged the owner 0f the pit bull, the girl's grandfather, with child endangerment. The prosector charged Donald Mullins' girlfriend, Rita Tompkins, with the same offense. There was no doubt that the little girl had been mauled by the dog. At least that part of the story was true. Public sentiment, however, turned against the grandmother.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Who Murdered Vindalee Smith?

     Vindalee Smith, a 38-year-old unemployed health care worker lived by herself in a basement apartment in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York. The Jamaican-born Seventh Day Adventist was eight and a half months pregnant. Her other children, two girls and two boys, lived with friends or relatives. The man who fathered these offspring, now teens and young adults, lived in England.

     On Sunday, October 21, 2012, at the New Dimension Church, Vindalee Smith and a 33-year-old man named Anthony Jackman, were scheduled to participate in a faux marriage ceremony. They weren't really getting married because her "fiancee" already had a wife in New Jersey with whom he was estranged. (I don't know if Vindalee knew about Jackman's wife. I presume he is the one who had impregnated her.) Jackman was living with his parents who had an apartment down the block from Smith's place.
     On Saturday, the day before the "wedding," Vindalee didn't show up for morning services at the New Dimension Church. A fellow member of the congregation called Smith's landlord to check on the pregnant church member. When the landlord used a duplicate key to enter the apartment, he found Smith lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She and the baby were dead.
     At the site of this woman's violent death, New York City detectives determined that the victim's apartment had not been entered by force, and that the murder weapon, a knife or other sharp object, was not at the scene. There were blood spatter patterns throughout the apartment. The victim had bled to death from a gaping incised wound in the neck. 
     Beneath the victim's body, detectives found an envelope containing a one-page note that had been typed in large block letters and printed out of a computer. (The envelope bore a bloody latent fingerprint.) According to the note, the killer promised to murder one pregnant woman a week until the authorities released Lee Boyd Malvo from prison. (Malvo and Allen Mohammed were the so-called Beltway Snipers who murdered several people in the DC area in 2002. Mohammed was executed in 2009, and Malvo was serving a sentence of life without parole.) The note was signed, "The Apprentice."
     Detective were skeptical of the notion that Vindalee Smith had been murdered by some crazed serial killer. They found it more plausible that the note had been planted by a killer who knew the victim, and had a more traditional motive for her death. The person who killed this woman had been careless enough to leave behind a bloody fingerprint. Unless, of course, the print belonged to the victim. 
     On Sunday night, October 21, detectives from the 67th Precinct arrested Anthony Jackman on charges related to a fake New Jersey automobile registration. They questioned him about the Smith murder, and the next day, he was released from custody. (I don't know if Jackman agreed to be questioned about the murder or exercised his Miranda rights.) Detectives, when asked by reporters if Jackman were a suspect, denied that he was. 
     According to press reports, Anthony Jackman had a history of fourteen arrests involving petit larceny (petty theft), burglary, weapons possession, and the possession of a forged instrument. (I would presume, unless he had an airtight alibi, that Jackman was considered a suspect. In terms of motive, I think it was important to know if Vindalee Smith knew that Jackman was married. 
     As for other possible suspects, detectives learned that months earlier Smith had feuded with a neighbor who accused her of letting his dog out of the building. This man had reportedly threatened to kill her. (I don't know if the police identified and questioned this man.) The Vindalee Smith murder case didn't look like a killing committed for sex, or money. The key to solving this case was motive, and of course identifying the person who left the bloody, crime scene fingerprint.

   As of February 2020, the Vindalee Smith murder case remained unsolved, and the person who left the crime scene latent fingerprint, unidentified. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Lisa Irwin Missing Person Case

     In Kansas City, Missouri, during the early morning hours of October 4, 2011, Jeremy Irwin told the police he had gone into his 10-month-old daughter's room and found her missing from the crib. He said he had last seen the baby, Lisa Irwin, around 10:30 the previous night. When he arrived home from work the next morning (he worked the 11 PM to 3 AM shift), he found his front door unlocked and most of the inside lights on. He had also discovered, he said, an open front window, presumably the kidnapper's point of entry.

     The missing baby's mother, Deborah Bradley, at home that night, had put the baby to bed. She and her husband had not called the police immediately upon discovering the crime because, according to their stories, someone, presumably the intruder, had stolen their three cellphones. On Friday, October 7, 2011, Bradley, appearing on "The Today Show," said that on Thursday the police had informed her she had failed a polygraph test. At that point the parents stopped cooperating with the authorities investigating the abduction of their daughter.  In the meantime, local police and FBI agents were searching for the missing child.

     It has not always been the case that babies stolen by strangers was a rarity. During the 1920s, kids from wealthy families were regularly kidnapped by organized racketeers who returned the children after receiving the ransom money. The families, relieved to have their infants back, rarely reported the crimes. The so-called "snatch racket" ended after the Lindbergh case in 1932. Following the intruder's abduction of 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr., kidnapping became a federal offense investigated by the FBI. Today, kidnapping for ransom is committed by stupid people who almost always get caught when they show up for the ransom money.

     On October 18, 2011, while appearing on three national television shows, Deborah Bradley informed her interviewers that she was drunk and on anxiety medicine the night her baby was abducted. Perhaps she had blacked out. Bradley also changed her story regarding when she last saw Lisa. She now said she last saw the infant at 6:40 PM. This meant the baby could have been snatched anytime between 6:40 PM and 4:00 AM the next morning.  She had also retained a celebrity defense attorney and had a private investigator working on the case.

     In January 2012, Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show. The mother pleaded with the abductor to return her child. "Nobody takes a baby to hurt her," Bradley said. "She's coming home." The couple also reiterated their previous denials that they had anything to do with their daughter's disappearance.

     A month after appearing on "Dr. Phil," Bradley told an Associated Press reporter that, "She's out there somewhere, and I am desperate to find her…I just want my daughter home. People don't understand just how difficult it is to wake up and find out that someone has come into your house and taken your baby, and then you are accused of doing something to her or covering something up."

     In early February 2012, detectives had their first interview with the couple since they questioned them on October 8, 2011. According to a spokesperson with the Kansas City Police Department, the interview didn't produce anything new.

     Notwithstanding a $100,000 reward offered by an anonymous benefactor and the running down of 1,500 leads generated by the TIPS Hotline, Lisa Irwin's whereabouts was still a mystery. As the volume of investigative tips faded, detectives returned to working on other cases.

     In December 2014, a former CIA interrogator questioned Deborah Bradley and Jeremy Irwin and concluded they did not exhibit any behavioral signs of deception when they denied involvement in the disappearance of their daughter. However, some people familiar with the case, inside law enforcement and out, still considered Deborah Bradley a viable suspect who had not revealed everything she knew about what happened to Lisa Irwin.

     As of February 2020, no arrests had been made in the case. Lisa Irwin remained missing. 

The Criminal Defense Attorney

In the world of the defense attorney, half the country is either insane or disadvantaged. When a street thug with an extensive criminal record commits a serious crime, this poor defendant, through no fault of his own, was disadvantaged. In other words, society was to blame. Whenever an upper middle class defendant commits an atrocious crime, that defendant was insane, and therefore not responsible for his or her act. Defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley: Prosecutorial Politics in a High Profile Rape Case

     In 2007, 26-year-old Grant Robicheaux graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He did his residency as an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center. Dr. Robicheaux, in 2008 resided in Newport Beach, California, an Orange County city 45 miles south of Los Angeles. He practiced medicine at the Chapman Spine and Orthopedic Institute in Orange, California and at the Newport Care Medical Group in Newport Beach.

     In 2008, Dr. Robicheaux's girlfriend, a 19-year-old dance instructor named Cerissa Laura Riley, moved in with the doctor at his Newport Beach home.

     In September 2009, detectives with the Newport Beach Police Department questioned a woman who reported she had been raped. She claimed to have met Dr. Robicheaux at a bar in the city after which he took her to his house and sexually assaulted her. The alleged victim said the doctor owned a lot of guns and that she was afraid of him. The woman's rape complaint did not result in any charges against Dr. Robicheaux.

     Some publication, in 2013, named Dr. Robicheaux Orange County's "Most Eligible Bachelor of the Year." In 2014, the doctor appeared on an episode of Bravo TV's short-lived series, "Online Dating Rituals of the American Male." The low-brow show, typical of the network's offerings, featured the plight of a busy young doctor in search of the perfect woman. Doctor Robicheaux was quoted in the program as saying: "I am not looking for a party girl. I am looking for a wife to raise a family." While on television advertising for the perfect woman, the doctor was still living with Cerissa Riley in Newport Beach.

     In 2016, two women, in separate complaints, informed detectives with the Newport Beach Police Department that at Dr. Robicheaux's house, they had been drugged and raped. One of the alleged victims described the doctor and his girlfriend as a "Bonnie and Clyde" team who drugged and forced her to engage in sex acts.

     The second complainant said she met Dr. Robicheaux at a Newport Beach Halloween party. She went home with him and it was there he spiked her drink with the date rape drug GHB (Dopamine Beta-Hydroxylose, a substance that quickly metabolizes in the body and is therefore difficult to detect). The alleged victim said she awoke during the sexual assault.

     In April 2017, another woman reported being raped by the orthopedic surgeon at his Newport Beach house. The complainant told detectives she had met Dr. Robicheaux on an Internet dating site. While having drinks with him at a Newport Beach bar, they were joined by Cerissa Riley who held herself out as his friend. After getting the alleged victim drunk, the couple took her to their house and raped her while she was out cold.

    In the summer of 2017, another one of Dr. Robicheaux's dates came forward alleging he had raped her. This woman told the police she had met the doctor at a Fourth of July party. A few days later, she was spending an afternoon with Robicheaux and Rily on a boat. The couple, according to the woman's story, invited her back to the house where they drugged and raped her.

     In January 2018, officers with the Newport Beach Police Department showed up at Dr. Robicheaux's house armed with a search warrant. Officers seized the couple's cellphones and computers, and according to police documents, found cocaine, ecstasy and the date rape drug DBH. Searchers also seized two assault rifles and several other guns.

     Newport Beach police officers, on September 2, 2018, arrested Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley at the doctor's house. Officers booked the couple into the Orange County Jail on charges of rape, illegal gun possession, and possession of controlled substances. The magistrate set their bail at $100,000 each. Through their attorneys, the suspects pleaded not guilty.

     The Robicheaux-Riley date rape investigation and arrests generated an enormous amount of media attention. The case had everything the true crime media loves--violent sex, drugs, and prominent, glamorous suspects. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, in the midst of a re-election campaign, had taken full advantage of the publicity. He had appeared frequently on local and national television, had given dozens of interviews in the print media, and held regular, well-attended press conferences. He essentially tried and convicted the doctor and his girlfriend in the media.

     Critics of the district attorney accused him of timing the suspects' arrest with an eye toward the upcoming November 2018 election. Rackauckas was being challenged by his old political rival, Todd Spitzer who was ahead in the polls.

     At a press conference held on the day of the arrests, District Attorney Rackauckas announced that the couple had been charged with 17 counts of rape covering the period 2009 to 2017. The suspects faced charges of rape by use of drugs; oral copulation by anesthesia or controlled substance; assault with the intent to commit a sexual offense; and possession of controlled substances for sale. Dr. Robicheaux had also been charged with several gun violations.

     A few days after the high profile arrests, District Attorney Rackauckas, through his office spokesperson, announced that six more women had come forward with date rape accusations against Dr. Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley. Moreover, according to the district attorney's spokesperson, there could be many more victims--up to 1,000. And there was more: detectives had viewed more than 1,000 cellphone videos that depicted the suspects having sex with women who were either unconscious or semiconscious. The district attorney told reporters that Dr. Robicheaux and his girlfriend had used their "good looks" to lure their victims to the Newport Beach house where they  drugged and sexually assaulted them.

     Dr. Grant Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley, on September 12, 2018, posted bail and were released from custody. If convicted as charged, they could both serve up to 30 years in prison. Dr. Robicheau was now 38, and Riley 30.

     On November 2, 2018, voters in Orange County, notwithstanding all of the publicity generated by the Robicheaux-Riley case, voted District Attorney Tony Rackauckas out of office.

     The date rape defendants' attorneys, in January 2019, accused the former district attorney of making false and reckless public misstatements regarding the videos allegedly depicting the defendants sexually assaulting drugged and intoxicated women. The attorneys had hired a team of consultants who viewed more than 1,000 cellphone videos. According to the defense lawyers, only a few of the videos showed any kind of sexual activity. None of the sex videos depicted women who were in any way unable to consent.

     Shortly after taking office, Todd Spitzer, the new Orange County District Attorney, assigned a team of prosecutors to review the Robicheaux-Riley rape investigation. These prosecutors combed through a trove of evidence that included photographs, videos, text messages, and alleged rape victim interview transcripts.

     In March 2019, one of the women who claimed to have been raped by the suspects in 2016, asked an Orange County judge to put a hold on her $12 million lawsuit against the couple until the criminal case against them played out.

     In early February 2020, District Attorney Todd Spitzer made a shocking press conference announcement: His investigators had not found "a single piece of evidence or video or photograph that shows an unconscious or incapacitated woman being sexually assaulted by Dr. Robicheaux or Cerissa Riley."

     At that press conference, District Attorney Spitzer accused the former Orange County prosecutor of using the sensational rape case to help in his bid for re-election. In Spitzer's opinion, there was not enough evidence against the couple to support a rape conviction. As a result, the district attorney planned to ask a judge to dismiss all charges against Dr. Robicheaux and Cerissa Riley. "I didn't create this situation," he said, "but it is my responsibility to fix it. Doing justice is not always pretty. But these are important decisions that affect people's lives."

     At his own press conference, former district attorney Tony Rackauckas said, "I feel terrible for the women who had the courage to come forward and give their evidence to the authorities in this case. Certainly, any prosecutor should think long and hard before dismissing such a case where multiple women have independently come forward and subjected themselves to the hard process of baring their souls to the authorities."

     Defense attorney Thomas M. Ferlauto, in publicly thanking District Attorney Spitzer, said, "He made a very courageous decision. It was the right decision, but one that might expose him to criticism. Grant and Cerissa's lives were destroyed by the prior administration's misuse of the justice system."

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Life in New York State

We are angry about paying the highest income and property taxes in the nation and getting less and less for it. We are angry about our incompetent, dysfunctional government that pays no attention to the desires of the people. We are angry about the cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest that is Albany [the state capital].

Carl Paladino, businessman who unsuccessfully ran for governor of New York in 2010

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Chinese Economic Espionage: The Arrest of a Harvard Professor

     In 2008, Dr. Charles Lieber, a chemistry professor at Harvard University who specialized in the area of nanoscience, was named the Principal Investigator of the Lieber Research Group at the school. In 2017, Professor Lieber, Chairman of the Chemistry Department, had reached the highest rank of University Professor, a position held by only 26 professors at the university. That year he was given the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award for inventing syringe-injectable mesh electronics that integrates with the human brain.

     During Dr. Lieber's tenure at Harvard, he received $15 million in grand funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defense (DOD). Recipients of these grants are required by the government to disclose any financial support they receive from foreign governments that could pose a conflict of interest.

     In April 2018, federal investigators looking into China's attempts to steal American scientific and technical secrets, asked Professor Lieber if he had received financial benefits from the Chinese. The professor allegedly said that he had not received any money from China.

     NIH investigators, in November 2018, asked administrators at Harvard if Dr. Lieber had disclosed to the university his professional and financial affiliation with Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China. WUT is a large university in Wuhan, a city of 11 million, and the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The city, located in central China, is home to 30 colleges and universities. Besides a center of higher education, Wuhan is also a massive Chinese transportation hub.

     Harvard administrators informed the NIH investigators that Professor Lieber "had no formal association with WUT after 2012." However, according to federal agents, this was not true. NIH investigators believed that from 2011 to 2017, Dr. Lieber held the position of Strategic Scientist at the WUT. According to the federal inquiry into the professor's relationship with WUT, China's Communist government paid Dr. Lieber $50,000 a month for his services. Moreover, the professor received, from China, $150,000 a year for living expenses. He also allegedly received a $1.5 million grant to built a laboratory in Wuhan.

     When informed of the results of the NIH investigation, officials at Harvard claimed they had no knowledge of Professor Lieber's financial connections to China after 2012.

     On January 28, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts, FBI agents and other federal investigators arrested Professor Charles Lieber and two Chinese nationals. The Chinese arrestees were Yanqing Ye, a Boston University robotics researcher, and Zoasong Zheng, a cancer researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

     According to the United States Attorney's Office in Boston, Ye is a lieutenant in the Chinese People's Liberation Army. She is accused of passing information on research conducted at Boston University to the Chinese government.

     Dr. Lieber was charged with one count of making a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement to a federal agency. Professor Lieber has not been charged with sharing sensitive scientific information with the Chinese government. Shortly after his arrest, Harvard University placed Dr. Lieber on indefinite leave.

    Professor Lieber denied the federal allegations against him.