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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Richard Savage: The Classified Ad Hit Man

     In January 1985, Richard Savage, a Vietnam veteran with a criminal justice degree and a brief stint as a police officer, placed the following ad in Soldier of Fortune Magazine: "Gun-For-Hire: 37-year-old professional mercenary desires jobs. Vietnam veteran. Discrete and very private. Body guard, courier and other skills. All jobs considered."(Italics mine.) 

     In response to Richard Savage's ad, people asked him to guard gold in Alaska and to find men still missing in Vietnam. But most of the people who answered his ad wanted him to kill someone.

     Within weeks following the publishing of Savage's gun-for-hire ad, he accepted his first assignment, the murder of a 43-year-old businessman from Atlanta named Richard Braun. Savage dispatched a crew of three hit men to Atlanta to kill the murder-for-hire target.

     In June 1985, just before Mr. Braun climbed into his van, it blew up. He survived the blast, but two months later, Savage's hit men killed him with a hand grenade attached to his vehicle.

     Savage's murder-for-hire gang, in August 1985, were in Marietta, Georgia to kill Dana Free, a building contractor. Savage had been paid $20,000 for the hit by a Denver woman who was furious with Mr. Free over a business investment. Two of Savage's men planted a grenade under Mr. Free's car. The murder-for-hire target drove around for a day with the unexploded grenade attached to the underside of his vehicle. The following night, one of the hit men slid under the target's car to make adjustments. The next morning, as Mr. Free backed out of his driveway, the grenade shook loose and rolled out from under the car. After that, Mr. Free got the message that someone was trying to kill him. He went into hiding.

     In late August 1985, Richard Savage accepted a murder assignment from Larry Gray who wanted his ex-wife's boyfriend, a Fayetteville, Arkansas law student named Doug Norwood, killed. In October 1985, when Doug Norwood started his car in a University of Arkansas parking lot, it exploded. The law student escaped the blast with minor injuries.

     In January 1986, as Doug Norwood drove from his home to the university, he realized he was being followed. The murder-for-hire target called the campus police department and officers pulled over the suspicious vehicle. From the car, officers recovered a machine gun and arrested the driver, Michael Wayne Jackson, a member of Richard Savage's murder crew.

     When questioned by the police, Michael Jackson confessed that he had been hired by Richard Savage to kill Doug Norwood. According to Jackson, the mastermind, Larry Gray, had found Richard Savage through his gun-for-hire ad in Soldiers of Fortune magazine.

     In the spring of 1986, Michael Wayne Jackson and Richard Savage were convicted of a murder unrelated to the Doug Norwood case. The judge sentenced Savage 40 years in prison. A year later, Savage was convicted of the attempted murder of Doug Norwood and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

     In 1986 Soldier of Fortune magazine discontinued publishing the gun-for-hire ads.

     Doug Norwood, in January 1987, sued Soldier of Fortune for publishing Richard Savage's gun-for-hire ad. Attorneys for the magazine filed a motion to dismiss the suit on grounds the First Amendment right to free speech protected the magazine. The judge denied the motion.

     In 1989, Richard Savage and three members of his crew were convicted of the 1985 bombing murder of Atlanta businessman Richard Braun. Mr. Braun's son, in 1990, filed a wrongful death suit against Soldier of Fortune magazine for running the hit man's classified ad. In 1991, a jury in Atlanta awarded the plaintiff $12 million. The trial judge later reduced the damages to $4.3 million. An appeals court, in 1992, upheld the wrongful death verdict. In so doing, the appellate judge wrote:"The publisher could recognize the offer of criminal activity as readily as its readers obviously did."

     In August 1992, the magazine settled the Doug Norwood lawsuit out of court.

     Beginning in April 2016, after 40 years of publishing the magazine in print form, Soldier of Fortune became an online magazine. At its peak in the mid-1980s, the magazine sold 150,000 copies a month. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Carie Charlesworth: Forever the Victim

     In 2012, Carie Charlesworth, after having divorced her husband who had abused her for years, lived in Spring Valley, California with her two sons, ages nine and eleven, and her twin seven-year-old girls. Carie's ex-husband, 41-year-old Martin Charlesworth was under a court restraining order that prohibited him from contacting his former wife. (Martin did have child visitation rights.) Carie earned $37,000 a year as a second grade teacher at the Holy Trinity Catholic school in El Cajon, a town not far from San Diego.

     Carie Charlesworth's troubled life took a turn for the worse in January 2013 when Martin, in violation of the restraining order, went to the school's parking lot in an effort to contact his ex-wife. Alarmed school official responded to Martin's presence by locking down the school and calling the police.

     Police officers rushed to the elementary school where they arrested the ex-husband for violating his restraining order. Shortly thereafter, Martin pleaded guilty to the charge of stalking in violation of the domestic court mandate. The judge sentenced Martin to a year in jail minus time served. He was also given four years probabion.

     According to Martin Charlesworth's attorney, he had gone to the school that day to discuss child custody issues with his ex-wife. In speaking to reporters, the attorney said, "He just wants what's best for his children and Carie." In addressing the media, Carie Charlesworth said that based on her ex-husband's past behavior, she was afraid for her safety when he showed up at her place of employment.

     Shortly after the January lockdown, the principal of Holy Trinity placed Carie on paid administrative leave. But in June 2013, an official with the San Diego Catholic diocese informed the 39-year-old teacher that she would not be offered a teaching position for the upcoming school year. In the letter containing this devastating news, the diocese administrator justified the decision by pointing out that according to public records, Martin Charlesworth "has a 20-plus year history of violence, abuse and harassment of people--mostly women--and he has continued the pattern to the present."

     In June 2013, Martin Charlesworth was released from prison.

     Thirty Holy Trinity parents held a rally outside the school in support of the diocese's decision to discontinue Carie Charleworth's employment. These parents felt that her presence in the school, given the nature of her relationship with her violent and unpredictable ex-husband, endangered their children.

     Carie Charlesworth, in discussing her situation with a reporter, said, "I followed all the things they tell domestic abuse victims to do. Now I feel I was the one who got punished. This is why other victims do not come forward."

     Following her dismissal, Carie Charlesworth championed legislation to insure that no other woman would experience what she had been put through by her employer.

     In July 2013, after being out of jail less than a month, Martin Charlesworth was arrested for contacting his wife in violation of the terms of his probation. Before the judge, Charlesworth admitted his violation and in return was allowed to continue on probation.

     On October 1, 2013, police officers arrested Martin Charlesworth again when he broke the terms of his probation and his ex-wife's protection order. This time the judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     In October 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that protected victims of domestic abuse from losing their jobs. A month earlier, she filed a lawsuit against the diocese contesting her dismissal. (In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious organizations can claim ministerial exemptions from employment discrimination laws.)

     As of April 2020, Carie Charlesworth's lawsuit against her former employer remained unresolved or unreported.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Stacey Sutera Stalker Murder Case

     Early in 2010, Robert McLaughlin, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Postal employee from Painesville, Ohio, a Lake County town in the northeastern part of the state, asked Stacey Sutera out for a date. The 37-year-old teacher who lived in Canfield, a suburban town located on the western edge of the Youngstown metropolitan area, informed McLaughlin that she had no interest in him romantically. The two had known each other fifteen years. McLaughlin gave no indication that he had been hurt and angered by the rejection. Sutera said she hoped the two could remain, if not friends, at least friendly acquaintances.

     Stacey Sutera's rejection of a much older man who had no reason to expect that he had any chance of developing a relationship with this young, attractive woman, changed her life in a way she could not have predicted, or imagined. The rejection turned this otherwise unremarkable, cowardly man into a stealthy and insidious monster.

     Stacey Sutera's prolonged nightmare began on March 26, 2010 when someone used a key to scratch-up her car in the parking lot of a grocery store. Three months later, the superintendent of the Columbiana School District started receiving emails about a sexually oriented website that falsely featured Sutera. The anonymous writer of the emails began sending messages to Sutera in which he threatened to ruin her reputation. These emails were signed, "Your Enemy For Life." During this period, Sutera, who had remained in touch with McLauglin, spoke to him about her problem. He responded with sympathy and concern.

     On July 29, 2010, Sutera filed a report with the Canfield Police Department which detailed the Internet harassment. Sutera had no idea who hated her enough to wage such a malicious campaign against her. Following the police report, Sutera's tormentor scratched a derogatory slur on her car, and began harassing her with a series of prank telephone calls.

     In September 2010, Sutera received a fake, used condom in the mail, a gang item sold online to people out for revenge. The following month, Sutera's teaching colleagues received, through the mail, business cards bearing the teacher's name and address. The cards advertised Sutera's willingness to perform sexual acts for a fee. At this point it was obvious that Sutera's stalker had dedicated his life to ruining hers.

     Stacey Sutera's ongoing nightmare intensified on December 1, 2010 when her stalker poisoned her dog to death. A week later, Canfield detectives learned that Robert McLaughlin had purchased the fake condom online, and had created the sexually explicit websites designed to embarrass and scandalize Sutera. When police officers informed Sutera who had been stalking her, she was stunned. What had she ever done to this man to incur his wrath? Why did he think she deserved to be treated like this?

     On December 8, 2010, detectives with the Canfield Police Department searched McLaughlin's home in Painesville. The officers discovered information linking the suspect to the malicious website, a mailing list of Sutera's colleagues, the phony sex act business cards, photographs of her, and miscellaneous pornographic material. The next day detectives arrested McLaughlin on charges of pandering obscenity and menacing by stalking.

     Sutera, on the day of McLaughlin's arrest, filed for a civil protection order before Judge Eugene J. Fehr of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. The judge granted the order which barred McLaughlin from possessing a firearm, and prohibited him from any further contact with Sutera. The order would remain in effect until July 2015. In her affidavit in support of the protection order, Sutera had written: "McLaughlin's actions are clearly designed to cause me mental illness and fear of physical harm. I live in constant fear. My dog has been killed. My daughter and I are in danger."

     Robert McLaughlin, on December 17, 2010, after eight months of stalking Stacey Sutera, pleaded guilty in a Mahoning County Court to menacing by stalking. The judge sentenced him to six months in jail. Six months for ruining a woman's life. The judge had given Sutera just six months of temporary protection from a malicious nutcase.

     Sutera, on January 8, 2011, filed a civil suit against McLaughlin claiming infliction of emotional stress, libel, and invasion of privacy. The plaintiff sought $1.5 million in damages.

     A Mahoning County grand jury, in the spring of 2011, indicted McLaughlin on the felony charges of pandering obscenity, and three counts of possessing criminal tools (his computer). That fall the defendant pleaded guilty to these charges, and on November 29, 2011, Judge Maureen A. Sweeney shocked Sutera, her family, and friends by sentencing this aggressively vicious stalker to five years of probation. McLaughlin was also sentenced to 500 hours of community service and fined $2,500. The judge ordered him to enroll in an anger-management program. He would also have to register in the county as a Tier-I sex offender.

     From Sutera's point of view, McLaughlin's sentence amounted to a slap on the wrist. The fact he would not serve time behind bars guaranteed that he would continue his program of personal destruction. Sutera suffered from multiple sclerosis and ulcers, and had nothing to look forward to but a future of worry and fear. Robert McLaughlin, a nobody and loser who couldn't handle being rejected by someone out of his league, had ruined the life of a once productive mother and teacher. Anger-management? Community service? Probation? (The local prosecutor and the Ohio parole and probation  people had signed-off on these ridiculously lenient sentences.)

     On February 8, 2012, a neighbor found Stacey Sutera lying dead outside her Carriage Hill apartment. She had been shot at close range. That day, a Mahoning County judge issued a warrant for Robert McLaughlin's arrest on the charge of capital murder. After harassing Stacey Sutera for almost two years, this degenerate, who should have been in prison, waited for the 40-year-old to come out of her dwelling. On the last day of her life, this degenerate stalker put a bullet in her head.

     The day after he murdered Sutera, the 64-year-old McLaughlin used the same gun to kill himself at his mother's gravesite. No one knew why McLaughlin felt the need to take his life near his dead mother? No one really cared. In McLaughlin's Painesville storage unit, investigators found a suicide note in which he had written out his plans to murder Sutera, and then kill himself. It was tragic that this man hadn't killed himself immediately after Sutera had rejected him. In his case, suicide would have been more effective than some ridiculous anger management course.

     Stacey Sutera had been powerless to protect herself from a man she knew would eventually kill her. She had reached out to the police and the courts for help and got nothing because the local criminal justice system was more concerned about protecting Robert McLaughlin's rights than Sutera's safety.

     Did the sentencing judge actually believe that an anger-management counselor could fix Robert McLaughlin? 

Sex For Rent

     On April 24, 2020, United States Attorney General William Barr, in a memorandum to U.S. Attorneys across the country, instructed federal prosecutors to pursue cases involving landlords accused of coercing their COVID-19 era tenants into giving them sex instead of rent money. "This behavior is not tolerated in normal times, and certainly will not be tolerated now, "the attorney general wrote.

     The federal Fair Housing Act protects tenants from sexual harassment by landlords which includes taking sexual advantage of women who cannot afford to pay their rent. (Women who voluntarily offer landlords sex in lieu of rent is, under the laws of most states, are acts of prostitution. These cases, however, are never prosecuted.)

     In Hawaii, the state has an organization called the Commission on the State of Women. According to Khara Jabola-Carolus, the executive director of the agency, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, ten cash-strapped female tenants have accused their landlords of soliciting sex in lieu of rent. Jabola-Carolus said more cases of this nature have been reported during the pandemic than in the past two years.

     In Chicago, Illinois, Sheryl Ring, the legal director at Open Communities, a legal aid fair housing agency, reported that her organization has seen a threefold increase in housing-related sexual harassment cases since the coronavirus shutdown. According to the legal director, "landlords have been taking advantage of the financial hardships many of their tenants have in order to coerce them into a sex-for-rent agreement which is absolutely illegal."

Arsenic: The Inheritance Powder

Until the early nineteenth century few tools existed to detect a toxic substance in a corpse. Sometimes investigators deduced poison from the violent sickness that preceded death, or built a case by feeding animals a victim's last meal, but more often than not poisoners walked free. As a result murder by poison flourished. It became so common in eliminating perceived difficulties, such as a wealthy parent who stayed alive too long, that the French nicknamed the metallic element arsenic poudre de succession, the inheritance powder.

Deborah Blum, The Poisoner's Handbook, 2010

On Being Funny in Print

It is not hard to write funny stuff. All you have to do is procure a pen and paper and some ink, and then sit down and write what occurs to you. The writing is not hard, but the occurring--that, my friend, is the difficulty.

Stephen Leacock in Becoming a Writer, edited by Dorthea Brande, 1934

Monday, April 27, 2020

Banning Homeschooling: Are They Your Children or Children of the State?

     Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 50 million children are not attending school. Many of them are being homeschooled by their parents or guardians.

     In the May-June issue of Harvard Magazine, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Bartholet, in her eighty-page article entitled "Homeschooling: Parents Rights vs Child Rights to Education and Protection," asserts that giving parents more access to their children through homeschooling is harmful to them. "I think it's always dangerous, she writes, "to put powerful people [parents, not teachers] in charge of the powerless, and to give the powerful ones total authority." For this reason Professor Bartholet wants to ban homeschooling.

     The professor argues that in normal times--when the vast majority of children are being taught in public schools--teachers are the ones who most frequently report child abuse to child protective services. According to Bartholet's thinking, mass homeschooling will increase incidents of child abuse, noting that none of the fifty states requires homeschooling parents to be checked for prior reports of abusive behavior. "The issue is," she writes, "do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages 0 to 18?"

     In Bartholet's concern for protecting America's children from their parents, the Ivy League professor doesn't seem bothered by the mediocracy of public education. Moreover, she fails to acknowledge how corrupt teacher's unions exert their power to protect pedophile teachers and coaches. Instead of firing sexual predators, and alerting the police, school administrators, under the influence of teacher's unions, simply transfer these sex offenders to other schools. This practice is so common it even has a name: "passing the trash."

     Journalist Kelly Marcum, in an April 23, 2020 article in The Federalist, wrote that behind Professor Bartholet's "veneer of concern for children's welfare," lies her real agenda: "disdain for Christians and conservatives."

     According to Kelly Marcum, Professor Bartholet is not concerned about failing school systems and the serious problem of student bullying. Academic curricula and bullying are the principal reasons most parents cite for pulling  their children out of public schools. And she is obviously not concerned about the intense left-wing political indoctrination students are exposed to in lieu of a straightforward education.

     In authoritarian societies, children are essentially raised and indoctrinated by the state. Parents have little control over how their children are brought up. These kids are treated as children of the state. If parents in these countries dare contradict the political teachings of the government, they are often turned in to the state by their own children. In America, this form of collectivism, outside of academia, is rejected by citizens who want to maintain control of their children. Parents want to have a say over what is being taught in government run schools. Many believe that over the years in America, parents have been losing control of their children to a massive and powerful public education bureaucracy.

     For "social justice" collectivists like Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet, when it comes to teaching and indoctrinating America's children, the state knows best. 

Keith Richards On Drugs

I've never had a problem with drugs. I did have a problem with cops.

Keith Richards, 2000

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Dead Dictators As Roadside Attractions

     The Venezuelan authorities, following Hugo Chavez's death from cancer in 2013, had planned to put his corpse on permanent display in a glass casket in the Museum of the Revolution not far from the Presidential Palace where he had ruled for fourteen years. In the United States, turning a dead person into a roadside attraction is against the law. It's a crime appropriately called abuse of corpse.

     As noted by the columnist Dale McFeatters, other Marxist rulers have been subjected to this macabre form of post-mortem exhibitionism. The Russian Marxist Vladimir Lenin has been under glass and on display in Moscow's Red Square since his death in January 1924. One can visit Ho Chi Minh, dead since 1975, in Vietnam. Kim Il Sung, the dead North Korean dictator, and his successor son, Kim Jong Il, also dead, can be seen at the former North Korean Presidential Palace.

     As it turns out, Mr. Chavez's corpse was not permanently housed above ground for all to see and admire. The Russian morticians in charge of embalming the dead dictator for posterity couldn't do the job because by the time they got their hands on Chavez, he had gotten a little ripe. 

To Serve and Protect

Americans are accustomed to big government. They have accepted doing business with agencies many times the size of the typical police department. Yet, when it comes to the police, no citizen can accept an impersonal bureaucracy. Whether the officer dispatched on a frantic 911 call is a rural sheriff or a big-city policeman, the citizen in trouble expects effective, courageous, and, above all, human aid. In this, police departments are unique among government agencies. They may be the size of a small army, organized to fulfill many requirements and perform many functions, yet they must consistently present to the public a human face and an individual presence.

Alex Axelrod and Guy Antinozzi, The complete Idiot's Guide to Criminal Investigation, 2003

The Flash in the Pan Novelist

     There will always be that flash in the pan, that one-off novel that strikes the fancy of publishers, sells a few million copies, and gets made into a successful--or unsuccessful-film before the person who wrote it fades into permanent obscurity, laughing, as they say, all the way to the bank. These types of writers have always existed.

     The creators of those largely forgettable and sometimes laughable pieces of prose bang them out, often with nothing more to recommend their work than a fairly decent idea badly realized, a fairly bad idea decently realized, or a schtick of some sort--author as former policewoman, forensic pathologist, weight lifter, beauty queen, seriously abused child, seriously abusive adult come to the Lord or an excellent publicity campaign that worked like a charm.

     What these creators of fiction have in common tends to be that they got lucky. They wrote their novels without an idea in the world what they were doing and then managed to pull it off. Problem was, though, they could not do it again.

Elizabeth George in Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks, 2005

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Celebrity Journalism: The Rise and Fall Story

     When ordinary people commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, and kill themselves, it's local news. When celebrities or former celebrities do this, it's entertainment. O. J. Simpson's popular culture legacy will not be football. Marilyn Monroe will not be remembered for her film career. Oscar Pistorius, the South African "Blade Runner", after being convicted of killing his celebrity girlfriend, become even more famous. His case entertained millions of people for more than a year.

     Celebrities are manufactured personas. These people have relinquished ownership of themselves to the public. In that sense they are not real people. They exist for our amusement and entertainment. We celebrate their successes and triumphs, and revel in their misery. Ripe for exploitation, celebrities need fame like the rest of us need oxygen. When they don't get it, they whither away and die. Sometimes they take things into their own hands by committing suicide.

     Country western singer Mindy McCready's prolonged substance abuse, law enforcement problems, and domestic turmoil provided celebrity journalists with a lot of material. The girl from Cleburne County, Arkansas made it big in Nashville with her 1996 debut double-platinum album, "Guys Do It All The Time." She spent the next 16 years trying to replicate that success. During this time, McCready struggled with drugs and alcohol as well as a volatile love life. She never regained the fame she had lost.

     In 2004, McCready pleaded guilty to filling out fraudulent prescription slips for the addictive painkiller OxyContin. A judge in Nashville sentenced her to three years of supervised probation. In May 2005, after her ex-boyfriend, Billy McKnight was charged with attempted murder for allegedly breaking into her Herber Springs home outside of Nashville, police arrested her for driving under the influence. A couple of months later, the singer was found unconscious from a drug overdose in the lobby of a Pinellas County, Florida hotel.

     In September 2005, McCready, pregnant with Billy McKnight's child, was hospitalized after attempting suicide by drug overdose. Police arrested her eighteen months later for misdemeanor battery that occurred during a fight with her mother. In September 2007, McCready spent a year in jail for violating her probation from the 2004 OxyContin sentence. A year later, she was back behind bars for falsifying her community service hours in connection with the 2007 case. The country western singer attempted suicide again in 2008.

     In 2009, Mindy McCready was talked into becoming a cast member in VH1's reality TV series, "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." (Dr. Drew is Dr. Drew Pinsky.) The series was ostensibly about giving viewers insight into the serious problem of substance addiction, and the importance of professional treatment. On the show's third season, McCready appeared with, among other "celebrity" cast members, Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore, MacKenzie Phillips, and Heidi Fleiss.

     Fans of this exploitation of fallen stars must have found the program reassuring. While their own lives were far from perfect, they were at least better off than McCready and the other human disasters showcasing their flaws and failures. After former "Celebrity Rehab" cast members Mike Starr, Joey Kovar, Rodney King, and Jeff Conaway died young, VH1 canceled the series after five seasons. But the spirit of the show lived on in the non-celebrity version called "Rehab with Dr. Drew." The freak show also spawned a pair of spinoffs, "Sober House," and "Sex Rehab", a series about people addicted to sex.

     After her stint on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew," McCready's life continued to spin out of control. (Apparently the TV counselor didn't do her much good.) She had more arrests, drug overdoses, and attempted suicides. In January 2013, McCready's boyfriend, David Wilson, the father of her 9-month-old son, shot himself to death on the front porch of her Herber Springs, Tennessee home. On Sunday, February 17, 2013, McCready, on the same front porch, used a gun to take her own life.

     By dropping the curtain on her own show, McCready gave her audience a tragic ending to a sad story. It won't be long before the public forgets that she ever existed.    

The Unanimous Verdict

     In 2016, Evangelisto Ramos was found guilty of murder in Louisiana after the jury voted ten to two for conviction. The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison. His attorney appealed the conviction on grounds a non-unanimous guilty verdict in a criminal case is inconsistent with the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.

     In 2016, only two states, Louisiana and Oregon, allowed un-unanimous guilty verdicts in criminal trials. The rule permitting such verdicts dated back to the 1930s to prevent black jurors from blocking the convictions of black criminal defendants.

     The Ramos case went up to the United States Supreme Court, and on April 20, 2020, the highest court in the land, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the majority opinion, set aside the Ramos murder conviction. The decision put an end to criminal convictions based on less than an unanimous jury vote.

     Justice Gorsuch, setting out the court's rationalization for the decision, wrote: "Adopted in the 1930's [the un-unanimous verdict rule] can be traced to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and efforts to delete the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities on juries."

     Three justices--John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan--dissented. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Alito wrote: "All the talk about the Klan, etc., is entirely out of place."

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Tyler Hadley Murder Case

     In 2011, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley, a sullen, introverted, bizarre-acting kid who avoided eye contact with people, lived with his parents in Port St. Lucie, a sprawling suburban community 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, Florida. His parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley, had moved to Port St. Lucie from Fort Lauderdale in 1987 to be closer to Blake's parents who lived in the neighboring town of Stuart.

     Mr. Hadley worked for the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant as a watch engineer. Mary Jo, who suffered bouts of depression, was an elementary school teacher. Tyler's older brother Ryan attended college in North Carolina.

     As a child, Tyler, a polite well-behaved kid, was close to his parents. He tossed football with his father and enjoyed being with his family in their backyard swimming pool. But by the time he entered Port St. Lucie High School, Tyler had become an eccentric, hyper kid who seemed to be looking for trouble.

     In 2010, Tyler pleaded guilty to burglary. He also, that year, set a fire in a nearby park. In April 2011 the authorities charged Tyler with aggravated battery after he attacked one of his friends. In June of that year he got drunk and urinated on another friend's bed. When daily counseling sessions didn't work, his mother committed him to a mental health clinic.

     On July 16, 2011, Tyler made it known he was throwing a big party at his house that night. He said his parents were out of town and that he had the place to himself. By midnight, a hundred kids, most of whom didn't know the host, were in the Hadley house drinking, making out, and smoking pot.

     The partygoers put out their cigarettes on the carpets and walls and littered the place with empty beer bottles and cans. They completely vandalized the dwelling.

     As a friend of Tyler's was about to leave the party, Tyler pulled him aside and said, "Dude, I did something. I might go to prison. I might go away for life. I don't know, dude, I'm freaking out. I know you're not going to believe me, no one will believe me. I freaking killed somebody."

     The friend didn't want to hear this. "Don't be telling me that sort of thing," he said. "I don't need to know." With that the intoxicated friend stumbled out of the house and drove away.

     To another partygoer Tyler said, "I'm going to kill myself."

     "Why would you do that," the friend asked.

     "Cause I did something really bad. If I get caught, I'll be in jail for a long time."

     At one o'clock that morning, Tyler spoke to his longtime friend, Michael Mandell. "I killed my parents," he said.

     "Yeah, right," replied Mandell.

     "I'm being real. I'm not lying to you. If you look closely enough, you will see signs." Tyler and his friend walked out of the house toward the garage where, in the parking lot, Mandell saw the cars that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. When Tyler turned on the lights inside the garage, his friend noticed a bloody shoe print.

     Back in the house, with the party still raging, Tyler took Mandell to the master bedroom. The door was closed and there were streaks of dried blood on its exterior surface. Inside the room, Michael Mandell saw a leg sticking out from beneath a pile of chairs, dishes, pillowcases, books, a coffee table, and blood-soaked towels. Michael backed out of the room and Tyler closed the door.

     Tyler's best friend listened intently as Tyler described how, earlier in the day, he had murdered his parents. Just before five o'clock that afternoon, in anticipation of the murders, he hid his parents' cell phones. He swallowed three Ecstasy pills, and with a claw hammer from the garage, bashed his mother's head in as she sat at the family computer. When his father responded to his wife's screams, Tyler attacked him with the hammer. Mr. Hadley died on the spot.

     After hammering his parents to death for no reason, Tyler wrapped their heads in towels and dragged them into the master bedroom. He next spent hours trying to clean up the gore using Clorox wipes and a sponge mop.

      Michael Mandell, after hearing his friend's detailed account of how he had murdered his parents eight hours earlier, stuck around and partied for another 45 minutes during which time he posed for selfies with his murderous buddy.

     At two in the morning, some kid announced that there was another house party in town. Shortly thereafter, fifteen cars filled with drunk and stoned kids departed the Hadley house. The stampede caused such a commotion a next door neighbor called the police.

     When the two Port St. Lucie police officers knocked on the Hadley front door there were still twenty kids partying in the dwelling. Tyler answered the door and promised to keep the noise down. The officers left.

     At four in the morning the party was still going strong. Kids were starting to notice, however, that their host was acting strange. One of the partygoers notified Michael Mandell of his friend's behavior that caused Mandell to call the Crime Stoppers hotline. Mandell's description of what he had seen and heard from Tyler hours earlier brought the police back to the Hadley house.

     Just before dawn, police officers called Tyler out of the house and placed him under arrest. They discovered, in the master bedroom, the bodies of his parents. A local prosecutor charged Tyler with two counts of first-degree murder. The judge denied the murder suspect bail. At the St. Lucie County Jail, Tyler became an immediate celebrity inmate.

     On February 19, 2014, less than a month before his double murder trial was to begin, Tyler Hadley pleaded no contest to murdering his parents.

     Hadley's public defender attorney, at the sentencing hearing on March 20, 2014, asked Judge Robert R. Makemon to sentence his client to two concurrent 30-year sentences with a case review after 20 years. The judge, however, sentenced Hadley to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

Processing Crime Scene Fingerprints

Just because a person touches something doesn't necessarily mean he or she has left behind a latent print. Not all surfaces are receptive to finger marks. For example, it is particularly difficult to retrieve a latent print from rough-surface wood, cloth, skin, cardboard, and Styrofoam. Finger marks can also be incomplete (called partials), smudged, smeared, or on top of each other. Smooth, shiny surfaces are the best sources for clear, complete latents suitable for comparison and identification. At the crime scene, these latents can be brushed with a fine powder and lifted from the surface with strips of transparent tape. It is not a perfect process and can be a hit-and-miss proposition. Ideally, removable objects that may contain the perpetrator's latents--drinking glasses, bottles, cans, guns, cigarette butts, knives, shell casings and the like--are best sent to the crime lab where special equipment and techniques can make the marks visible for expert analysis. The same goes for grocery bags, sheets of paper, envelopes, notebooks, and magazines that might carry latent prints. Finger marks on countertops, furniture, doorknobs, cellphones, automobiles and window glass are usually lifted at the scene. Latents that can be seen by the naked eye--for example, prints in safe insulation dust, blood, wet paint or soot--should be photographed where they are found.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fredrick Brennan: A Theft Victim's Ordeal

     Fredrick Brennan, a 19-year-old with a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta commonly known as brittle bone disease, while confined to a motorized wheelchair that operated by a joystick, lived on his own in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He made his living working at home creating code for new websites.

     Late in 2013, an acquaintance withdrew money from Brennan's account by using, without authorization, Mr. Brennan's debit card.

     Before traveling to Atlantic City, New Jersey to visit his mother on December 1, 2013, Frederick Brennan pulled $4,850 out of his account before the possibility of a second unauthorized withdrawal. When he boarded the bus for Atlantic City, the cash was in his wallet packed inside his luggage.

     On January 1, 2014, at the conclusion of his New Jersey visit, Mr. Brennan headed home to Brooklyn. Upon arrival at the Port Authority transportation complex in mid-town Manhattan, he wheeled himself toward a MetroCard machine. It was there he encountered a homeless man who offered to help him find his way through the massive Port Authority building. The man immediately followed-up the offer by asking for a dollar. When Brennan removed a dollar bill from his wallet, the man said, "Come on, I can't even buy a hotdog with this." Brennan handed the panhandler another buck. The man took the money and walked off.

     With his cash-filled wallet sitting on his lap, Brennan started the process of buying a MetroCard. The homeless guy, having returned to the scene, grabbed Brennan's wallet and fled. "He took my wallet," the victim screamed.

     A bystander who heard Brennan, ran after the thief who bolted up the stairs that led to Eighth Avenue. A short time later, the good samaritan, accompanied by a police officer, returned to the victim. The thief had escaped into the hubbub of Eighth Avenue. The police officer, however, had retrieved Brennan's wallet. The cash was gone.

     Although Brennan's description of the thief was vague, the crime had been caught on a Port Authority surveillance camera. The next day, January 2, 2014, a New York City detective called Mr. Brennan with the news that officers had made an arrest in the case. Could the victim come back to Manhattan and pick the suspect out of a line-up at the police station?

     After the police call, the victim traveled by bus and subway to the police station in Greenwich Village. The fact the city was expecting a massive show storm that day caused him to worry about how he would get back to his home in Brooklyn.

     At the police station, Brennan had no trouble identifying the man who had stolen his wallet. The man he picked out of the line-up was Chris Sanchez. The 49-year-old suspect had been arrested near the Port Authority earlier that morning with $4,073 in his pocket. Police also found, on his person, small quantities of crack and marijuana.

    A Manhattan assistant prosecutor charged Chris Sanchez with grand larceny. Until the matter was resolved in the slow-moving criminal justice system, the authorities would have to hold onto the victim's stolen cash.

     Following the line-up identification, Brennan was asked to spend some time at the station filling out police forms and writing up a statement of the crime. By the time he left the police building it was late in the evening and snowing heavily. Worried that his wheelchair--he had been saving up for a new one--would short out in the snow, the cooperating crime victim asked a police officer if he could arrange for a ride back to Brooklyn. The officer said the station didn't have access to a van with a wheelchair lift. The theft victim would have to find his own way home.

      A detective pushed Brennan through the snow to the Union Square subway station, then left. It was eleven o'clock at night and snowing hard.

      Frederick Brennan boarded a subway train en route to the Atlantic Avenue Station where he got on another train that took him to 86th Street and Bay Parkway in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There he waited for the bus that would take him on the final leg of his trip home. Problem was, the bus didn't come and the snow kept falling.

     After waiting at the bus stop for more than an hour, Brennan's hands and feet were starting to numb. Since his wheelchair couldn't plow through the snow, he used his cellphone to call 911 for help. A short time later an ambulance pulled up and carried him to a nearby medical center. The next day the hospital discharged him.

     A few days after Mr. Brennan's ordeal, he returned to Manhattan to testified before the grand jury considering the case. Based on the surveillance video and the victim's testimony, Mr. Sanchez was indicted on the charge of grand larceny. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. Mr. Brennan was told he would not have his money returned until the case was resolved.

     Following public outrage over the way the criminal justice system treated this victim, things got better for Mr. Brennan. The authorities returned his stolen money, and detectives went to his home several times with take-out food and N.Y.P.D. sweatshirts. Detectives also built him a home entertainment center for his new, donated flat screen TV. The public also donated to Mr. Brennan more than $20,000, and the Ocean Home Health Company gave him an expensive, new motorized wheelchair.

The David Wise Spousal Rape Case

     In 2008, Mandy Wise kicked her husband, David Wise, out of their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then filed for divorce. After eleven years of marriage, she had discovered, on his cell phone, video recordings of him having sex with her. She was unconscious. The tapes revealed to Mandy that she had been surreptitiously drugged and raped by her husband.

     When confronted with the tapes, David responded with the following email: "I was taking advantage of you in your sleep and you kept coming to me and telling me it was not okay. I needed to stop." He did not admit to drugging her, and they never, according to the victim, discussed the matter prior to her discovery of the videotapes.

     In January 2010, not long after the finalization of the divorce, the ex-wife, now going by her maiden name Boardman, complained to the police that her ex-husband had been harassing her with repeated phone calls and text messages. She also claimed that David Wise had threatened to kill the man she was then engaged to. A judge granted her a protection order, but Mr. Wise was not charged with any crime.

     In 2011, two years after the divorce, Mandy reported the rapes to the police. As evidence, she submitted a DVD copy of the sex tapes. When asked to explain the delay in reporting the rapes and submitting the evidence, Mandy said she didn't want their two children to grow up without a father.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Wise with one count of rape, and five felony counts of criminal deviate conduct. If convicted as charged, he faced a maximum sentence of forty years in prison. After spending 24 days in the county detention center, David Wise made bail and was released to await his trial.

     The David Wise spousal rape trial began in April 2014 in Indianapolis. Mandy Boardman's testimony for the prosecution comprised the state's principal evidence in the three-day proceeding. She took the stand and told the jury that on numerous occasions she had awaken with the feeling that her body had been "messed with." One time she woke up with a pill still dissolving in her mouth. She had also discovered, in the bedroom, eyedroppers that were not hers.

     Following two days of testimony, the case went to the jury. After a brief deliberation, the jurors returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The judge set May 16, 2014 as the sentencing date. On that day, the prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Wise to twenty years in prison. The convicted man's attorney argued for two years of house detention.

     Marion County Superior Court Judge Kurt Eisgruber, on May 16, 2014, sentenced the 52-year-old rapist to twenty years, with twelve of those years suspended. David Wise would serve the remaining eight years wearing a GPS monitoring device in his home. Following the house detention, he would serve two years of probation.

    Following the sentencing hearing, Wise's attorney, Elizabeth Milliken, told reporters that she planned to appeal her client's conviction.

     On Monday, May 19, 2014, Mandy Boardman, in speaking to a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, said, "I was very pleased with the conviction but the sentencing was a punch in the gut by the justice system. During the reading of the sentence the judge looked at me before he gave the final decision. I was told that I needed to forgive my attacker and move on. I received zero justice on Friday."

     Boardman, to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, added: "I never thought he [Wise] would be at home, being able to have the same rights and privileges that I do."

    On July 24, 2014, Judge Eisgruber put David Wise behind bars for five years after the rapist violated the terms of his house arrest by letting his GPS tracking device's battery go dead. He also failed to maintain contact with correction authorities. Mandy Boardman responded to her ex-husband's incarceration with the following statement to a local reporter: "Now that I know that he will be in prison for the next five years, I think I can finally get some peace" 

"The CSI Effect"

Television shows like CSI, Forensic Files, and The New Detectives created public knowledge and interest in forensic science, and ramped up scientific expectations for those involved in real-life criminal investigation and prosecution. Prosecutors call this "the CSI effect," the expectation among jurors that the prosecution will feature physical evidence and expert witnesses. The CSI effect, according to some, has also caused jurors to expect crime lab results far beyond the capacity of forensic science. In cases where there is no physical evidence, some prosecutors either eliminate potential jurors who are fans of these TV shows or downplay the necessity and importance of physical evidence as a method of proving a defendant's guilt. Some academics, based on studies, deny the existence of the CSI effect. Most prosecutors, however, are certain it exists.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Ira Bloom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the domestic battle over who gets what in a divorce, one of the most contentious issues centers around who will acquire principal access to, and responsibility for, the children. Parents who believe they have received a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. A few of these parents, motivated by hatred, the need for control, and the desire to win, have resorted to murder.

     Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made Portnov as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. The couple lived in Enfield, Connecticut.

     In the summer of 2004, following a string of restraining orders, Zhanna divorced Bloom and gained custody of their 8-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his three-day-a-week visitation schedule, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 custody hearing, Bloom began planning to have his ex-wife murdered.

     Following their divorce, Bloom moved to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife's death, and commit the mistake most murder-for-hire masterminds make: he reached out to the wrong person to help him carry out his mission. Bloom asked his friend Donald Levesque, a petty criminal and drug snitch who claimed underworld connections, to find a hitman who would carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor's office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist. Bloom wanted the hit man to rape then kill his ex-wife. Pursuant to his plan, the killer would dump her body somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut.

     Levesque, snitch that he was, went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (AFT) where he informed agents of Bloom's murder-for-hire scheme. (Levesque was a regular, paid ATF confidential informant.) Because murder-for-hire is a state as well as a federal offense, the ATF had jurisdiction in the case.

     The informant told ATF agents that Ira Bloom had promised him $15,000 out of his dead ex-wife's $100,000 life insurance payout. Working with local law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the ATF launched its investigation.

     On July 8, 2005, Levesque and Bloom met in a restaurant in Enfield. The snitch wore a hidden recorder and had driven a car to the meeting that was wired for sound. To the amazement of the officers and agents surveilling the meeting, Bloom arrived with a woman he had just met. Seated in a booth, Bloom began talking about his battle to regain custody of his son. He said, "I'm really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12, I'll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything's gone. I mean, she's dead."

     Before the meeting broke-up, Levesque, acting on instructions from his ATF handlers, asked Bloom for a hand-drawn map showing the route to the target's place of employment. "You think I'm gonna give you a map?" Bloom said. "We'll all go to jail." But the snitch persisted, and a few minutes later, the mastermind sketched a crude map on a napkin.

     In Levesque's car outside the restaurant, he and Bloom, with the mastermind's date sitting in the back seat, continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest, the officers and agents rushed the car. Just before being yanked out of the vehicle, Bloom looked at Levesque and said, "Don, what did you do to me?"

     In October 2006, Ira Bloom was tried in Hartford, Connecticut before a federal jury. While the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf, his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more that his client's blowing off steam to impress his date. The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. Following a series of appeals, federal judge Alfred V. Covello, in April 2008, sentenced the 48-year-old Bloom to the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

The Casmine Aska Attempted Murder Case

     At 8:30 Friday night, February 1, 2013, residents of the Morris Heights section of The Bronx discovered a 9-year-old boy named Freddy Martin lying on the sidewalk in front of a five-story apartment building. En route to the New York Presbyterian/Columbia Hospital, Freddy told paramedics that "Cas dragged me to the roof and threw me off. I don't know why."

     Suffering broken bones, head trauma, and internal bleeding, doctors put the boy into an induced coma, and placed him on life support.

     New York City detectives, later that Friday night, questioned 17-year-old Casmine Aska at the local precinct station. Casmine, a resident of the apartment building, initially denied being on the roof with Freddy. After further interrogation, the suspect admitted being on the roof when the boy fell off the building. "I grabbed Freddy around the legs," Aska said. "His feet were off the ground. I turned around. I slipped and Freddy fell."

     On Sunday, February 3, 2013, Casmine Aska was arraigned in a Bronx courtroom on charges of attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment, and endangering the welfare of a child. Assistant District Attorney Dahlia Olsher Tannen informed Judge Gerald Lebovits that Aska, as a juvenile, had been in trouble with the law. The prosecutor, who didn't elaborate, asked the judge not to grant the suspect bail.

     Kathryn Dyer, Aska's attorney, in making an argument for bail in this case, said, "This is not about attempted murder." Acknowledging that her client possessed a juvenile record, Dyer assured Judge Lebovits that Aska had "taken responsibility for his life." Defense attorney Dyer pointed out that Aska's favorite subject at Harry S. Truman High School was chemistry, that he attended weekly religious classes, and served food to the homeless.

     Judge Lebovits, apparently unimpressed by Aska's academic interests, religious activity, and community service, denied him bail. The judge's rationale: "Extraordinary risk of flight."

     A few weeks later, when questioned by detectives at the Riker's Island Jail, Aska, in explaining why after the boy's fall he went home and took a nap instead of calling 911, said, "I didn't call the NYPD because my brain froze. I was shivering, I was crying, I went to my aunt's..my whole world stopped."

     On February 15, 2013, when doctors took Freddy Martin off life support, the boy began breathing on his own. Questioned by detectives, he accused Aska, a kid who had been bullying him, of intentionally throwing him off the building.

     A month before Aska's September 2014 trial, the defendant agreed to plead guilty in return for a 40 year prison sentence. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Beth Carpenter Murder-For-Hire Case

     When Kim Carpenter met Anson "Buzz" Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a 22-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents' house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a 26-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse's assistant in the a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant with his baby.

     Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim's parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim's daughter Rebecca. They had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of their daughter, would not be suitable parents. Richard and Cynthia wanted Rebecca back under their roof.

     In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz was abusing their granddaughter, went to court to to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought  to retain custody of Rebecca. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz's child, and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim's parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn't  care for her and a man they believed was abusive. The grandparents felt helpless, and were on the verge of panic.

     On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist exiting the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95 saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. It was Buzz Clinton. He had been shot five times, then driven over by a vehicle as he lay dead on the road.

     Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning, someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he was selling. Because investigators were unable to identify this caller, the case stalled. Whoever had murdered Buzz Clinton had not done it for his wallet, or anything else of value. Without a motive or a suspect, detectives quickly ran out of leads. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca, and the two children fathered by Buzz Clinton, moved in with the Carpenters in Ledyard.

     On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the Connecticut State Police received a call that shot life back into the investigation. The caller, who didn't identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton's murder. The anonymous caller named the principals, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, 40-year-old Joseph Fremut and and a biker dude from Deep River Connecticut named Mark Dupres. The caller didn't say why Buzz Clinton had been killed. Both suspects had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton.

     Detectives looking into Mark Dupres' background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the murder victim. Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim's sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by detectives, Joseph Fremut, the tipster's ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide, but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres' lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another attorney who worked at the New London law firm.

     A few days after his initial interview, Mark Dupres confessed to detectives with the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being the person who had called Buzz Clinton to inquire about the tow truck he was selling. Accompanied by his 15-year-old son Chris, Dupres, on the morning of the murder, had driven to Buzz Clinton's house. From there, Dupres and his son, in their Oldsmobile Cutlass, followed Clinton to the place where he kept the vehicle for sale. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver's side of the Oldsmobile, Dupres got out of the vehicle to meet him. When he was between the two cars, Dupres pulled his revolver and shot Clinton five times.

     As Dupres pulled away from the murder scene, with his son Chris still in the vehicle, he drove over Clinton's body. Detectives asked the suspect why he would kill a man in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn't get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that the boy hadn't done anything wrong.

    Mark Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton on behalf of his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres would receive $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein only paid the hit man an additional $500.

     Detectives learned that Haiman Clein, who didn't know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The 53-year-old attorney had allegedly arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young attorney in the New London law firm. Carpenter was the murder victim's sister-in-law. Clein and the 30-year-old blonde were having an affair.

     Mark Dupres told detectives that he had met with Beth Carpenter in Clein's law office. On that occasion, the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres acquired a photograph of the murder target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Buzz Clinton dead because he had been abusing her niece Rebecca. The young lawyer said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That's when Beth, without her parents' knowledge, began planning Clinton's murder. It was all about Rebecca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

     Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, promised to testify against Attorney Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres' case, the prosecutor, under the agreement, would recommend a prison sentence that didn't exceed 45 years. The triggerman's son Chris, having been granted immunity from prosecution, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

     Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London that Mr. Clein had been the mastermind behind the contract murder. Claiming total innocence, Beth denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the missing Clein who every so often called her from a public telephone. In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

     Following his arrest, Clein insisted that he was innocent. But sixteen months later, he accepted a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpenter, he identified her as the mastermind and himself nothing more than a middle-man in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Beth Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder. No longer living in England, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November 1997, the Irish police took her into custody.

     Claiming that she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty. They were each sentenced to 45 years in prison.

     In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty in the case, the Irish authorities sent Beth Carpenter back to the U. S. to face charges that she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent 19 months behind bars, the judge in Connecticut released her on $150,000 bail. The defendant was allowed her to await her trial under house arrest in her parents' home.

     The televised murder trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer's car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim's mother, Dee Clinton, described how the defendant's parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between her son and the Carpenter family. This provided the motive for the murder-for-hire killing.

     The hit man's son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place, he had no idea what his father had planned to do. As they left the murder scene that morning, the car rolled over the victim's body. Ten minutes after the killing, his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

     Haiman Clein, now 61-years-old and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive, Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Eventually Beth came right out and asked if Clein would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn't sure she was serious, but when Beth kept bringing up the subject, he realized that she really wanted Buzz Clinton dead.

     According to Clein's testimony, in late January 1994, he brought Beth, his colleague and lover, and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discuss the murder. A month before Dupres was to perform the hit, he got cold feet and called off the murder. A couple of weeks after that, the contract killing was back on his schedule after Beth came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had just locked Rebecca in the basement and burned her with a cigarette.

     At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Haiman Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment, she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had bugged the place.

     Haiman Clein testified that when Mark Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit, the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked, they'd all end up in prison. Now Clein had something to worry about.

     Mark Dupres, the prosecution's most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hit man's testimony, the state rested its case. As murder-for-trials go, the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter's attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

     Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca, he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for Beth and her niece. After she found out what he had done on her behalf, she didn't turn him in because, "I needed to be with him. I wasn't a whole person." Shocked by what he had done, she said to him, "Only someone who is crazy would do something like this." To that Clein had allegedly replied, "Don't you see? You don't have anything to worry about anymore."

     On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty as charged. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life in prison without parole.

Creating Vivid Characters

If you can't create characters that are vivid in the reader's imagination, you can't create a good novel. Characters are to a novelist what lumber is to a carpenter and what bricks are to a bricklayer. Characters are the stuff out of which a novel is constructed.

James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II, 1994

The "Mannered" Novelist

If a novelist cares more for his language than for other elements of fiction, if he continually calls our attention away from the story to himself, we call him "mannered" and eventually we tire of him.

 John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, 1983

Monday, April 20, 2020

Literary Fiction on Trial

Imagine, if you will, a book on trial for being boring. Imagine the arguments: the solid citizens called by the prosecution to testify that this book bored them senseless. Imagine the authors and hip professors brought in by the defense to assert that the book was not boring at all, but on the contrary, a work of great and lasting interest.

James Parker, The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2014

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Yoselyn Ortega Double Murder Case

      Kevin Krim grew up in Thousand Oaks, California where he was a high school football star. The Harvard graduate met his future wife Marina at an Italian restaurant in Venice Beach. They were married in 2003. Marina had grown up in Manhattan Beach, California. Kevin worked in Los Angeles, then took a job with Yahoo in San Francisco. The couple, in 2009, moved to New York City.

     In October 2012, the Krims, now with three children--Lucia, age 6, Nessie, 3, and 2-year-old Leo, lived on Manhattan's upper west side in a second-floor, 3-bedroom apartment in the LaRochelle Building on West 75th Street. The $10,000 a month apartment is a block from Central Park, and not far from the Museum of Natural History, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Marina, a stay-at-home mother, kept a daily online journal of her children's daily lives.

    Two years earlier, the Krims had hired 48-year-old Yoselyn Ortega, a nanny who had been referred to them by Ortega's older sister Celia who, as a nanny herself, met Marina and Lucia at a ballet lesson. A naturalized U.S. citizen from the Dominican Republic, Yoselyn lived in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood then moved to an apartment on Riverside Drive in Harlem a few miles from the Krims. She lived with her son, sister, and niece.

     The Krims became very close to Ortega (they called her "Yosi"), and in February 2012, accompanied her to the Dominican Republic where they visited her family. Whenever the Krims left town for an extended period with the children, they bought Ortega a flight back to her native country. According to the nanny's relatives, she had been seeing a psychologist and had financial problems. For extra money, she had been selling cheap cosmetics and jewelry to residents of her tenement building.

     On Thursday afternoon on October 25, 2012, Marina took 3-year-old Nessie to a swimming lesson. She left Leo and Lucia in the apartment with the nanny. At 5:25 that evening, when Marina and Nessie returned to the apartment, they found the place dark. Marina assumed that Yoselyn Ortega had taken the two children out for a walk.

     Marina and Nessie returned to the lobby, and from the doorman, learned that Ortega and the children had not left the building. Marina re-entered the apartment, and when she walked into the bathroom, saw Leo and Lucia lying in the bathtub covered in blood. The children had been slashed and stabbed to death with the bloody kitchen knife lying on the floor next to Ortega who was bleeding from a wound in her neck. The nanny had also slashed her wrists.

     Several neighbors heard Marina scream, "You slit her throat!" Later the distraught mother was heard saying, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I have no children."

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious nanny to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical Center where she underwent emergency surgery. Marina was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital for sedation. Kevin Krim, returning from a business trip to San Francisco, was met at the airport with the news of his children's deaths. He was also taken to the hospital where they sedated him.

     On Friday, October 26, 2012, detectives were unable to question Ortega who was on a respirator. The nanny was expected to survive her wounds. Investigators believed Ortega murdered the children, then stabbed herself in the neck about the time the victims' mother entered the apartment.

     Yoselyn Ortega was the youngest of six siblings who grew up in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. Her sister Celia emigrated to the United States in the early 1980s after graduating from accounting studies at Santa Ana College in Santiago. Yoselyn later joined her older sister in America. She worked as the manager of a print shop in Manhattan, then after separating from the father of her son, returned to the Dominican Republic. After awhile, she returned to New York City. According to family members, she loved the Krim children. Before the murders, she had been acting strangely from some kind of emotional stress.

     Prior to her hospital-bed arraignment on November 28, 2012, Yoselyn Ortega's attorney asked the judge to bar the press from the hearing on the grounds his client was too "pathetic" to be seen. Judge Lewis Stone denied the request.

     In a June 2013 Rikers Island jail interview of Ortega by a reporter with the New York Daily News, the inmate denied killing the children. "I didn't do that," she said. "Those are all lies." The brief interview ended abruptly when Ortega said, "My lawyer told me not to talk. I'm not supposed to say anything."  Later that month, a Manhattan judge at Ortega's competency hearing, ruled that she was mentally fit for trial. Ortega's attorney, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, appealed that decision.

     In August 2013, before the same Manhattan judge, prosecution witness Dr. Ankur Saraiya took the stand and said that while Ortega "had suffered some brain damage when she slit her throat, the injury was not enough to interfere with her fitness." The judge reaffirmed his initial finding that this defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

     In April 2018, after dozens of delays, a jury sitting in New York City rejected Ortega's insanity defense and found her guilty of double murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

Blowing Up Cadavers

     If you [a scientist conducting experiments regarding the effects of explosions] want to stay up late worrying about lawsuits and bad publicity, explode a bomb near the body of someone who has willed his remains to science. This is perhaps the most firmly entrenched taboo of the cadaveric research world. Indeed, live, anesthetized animals have generally been considered preferable, as targets of explosions, to dead human beings. In a 1968 Defense Atomic Support Agency paper entitled "Estimates: Man's Tolerance to the Direct Effects of Air Blasts," i.e., from bombs--researchers discussed the effects of experimental explosions upon mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, goats, sheep, steers, pigs, burros, and stump-tailed macaques, but not upon the actual subject of inquiry. No one had ever used a cadaver…to see what might happen….

     Aris Makris, who works for a company in Canada…which engineers protective gear for people who clear land mines…says dead people aren't aways the best models for gauging living people's tolerance to explosive blasts because their lungs, which are deflated and not doing the things that lungs normally do. The shock wave from a bomb wreaks the most havoc on the body's most easily compressed tissue, and that is found in the lungs: specifically, the tiny, delicate air sacs where the blood picks up oxygen and drops off carbon dioxide. An explosion shock wave compresses and ruptures these sacs. Blood then seeps into the lungs and drowns their owner, sometimes quickly, in ten or twenty minutes, sometimes over a span of hours.

Mary Roach, Stiff, 2003

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Adam Lee Brown: The Pedophile Who Tried to Infect Children

     When 27-year-old Adam Lee Brown was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1990, he was HIV positive. The married military computer technician, while serving in southern California, had picked-up the virus after having affairs with homosexual men. Furious that he had contracted the disease, Brown told his estranged wife that he would somehow get revenge. He didn't say how, or who would be the target of his fury.

     In 1992, Brown was living in the logging town of Roseburg, Oregon. The son of a pastor, Brown became the lay preacher at the Fair Oaks Community Church in nearby Sutherlin. That year, over a six-month period, Adam Brown sexually molested, and tried to infect, dozens of 5 to 10-year-old boys he met through friends and a women he knew who babysat in his neighborhood. Once he had lured a boy to his home, Brown would either drug the child or force him to drink alcohol. He also showed his victims pornographic videos, and after raping them, promised to stab them with knives and scissors if they told anyone. He also assured the boys that if they informed their parents what he had done to them, they would burn in hell. A 5-year-old boy, told his parents, and then the police, that Brown had smeared semen into a scratch on the victim's arm. (The boy obviously didn't use the term semen.)

     In the fall of 1993, Douglas County District Attorney William Marshall charged Adam Brown with 49 counts of rape and attempted murder. This was the first case in the country involving a pedophile who had tried to kill his victims by infecting them with HIV.

     For some reason, District Attorney Marshall allowed Brown to plead no contest to only 4 of the 49 counts. After Brown pleaded no contest to 3 counts of sodomy, and one count of child endangerment, the judge, in December 1993, sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

     On October 5, 2004, after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, Oregon's corrections authorities released Adam Brown on parole. The freed pedophile was ordered to register as a sex offender, and was barred from frequenting places where children regularly congregate. His parole expired in 2020.

     At two in the afternoon of Sunday, July 1, 2012, Adam Brown, now 49 and still a pedophile, was loitering around the entrance to the men's room at a Wendy's in Portland, Oregon. When an unaccompanied 10-year-old boy approached the restroom, Brown grabbed the child, pulled him inside, and locked the door. As the abductor stabbed the struggling boy, the victim's father heard his screams and ran to help. But the frantic parent couldn't save his boy because Brown had locked the door. When a Wendy's  supervisor unlocked the men's room, Brown pushed the wounded boy out of the restroom and locked himself inside. A group of employees held the door closed so Brown couldn't escape until the police arrived.

     As paramedics rushed the badly injured boy to a nearby hospital, patrol officers with the Portland Police Department spoke to Brown through the men's room door. Brown refused to come out, and claimed he possessed a gun. A hostage negotiator, following a two-hour standoff, coaxed Brown out of the restaurant. When taken into custody, the pedophile had a knife, but no firearm.

     The district attorney in Multnomah County charged Adam Lee Brown with attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and assault. The subject was held in the Multnomah County Jail on $2 million bond. The injured child underwent emergency surgery and recovered.

     Adam Lee Brown pleaded guilty in October 2012 to sexual abuse and kidnapping. Judge Julie Frantz, before sentencing the 49-year-old to 33 years in prison, said, "The crimes you committed are horrific and absolutely unspeakable."

     It's hard to understand why a pedophile who had raped and tried to infect his victims with the HIV virus was allowed, in 1992, to plead no contest to such a small number of reduced charges. Prosecutors are put in office to protect the public, not to go soft on sexual predators. Offenders like Adam Brown should be imprisoned for life. The notion that pedophiles will not re-offend, or be prevented from victimizing vulnerable children through legal restrictions on where they can live or go, is stupid and irresponsible. Under the terms of Brown's parole, was he allowed to patronize fast-food restaurants popular with children?

     The Adam Brown case reveals why the only place for a pedophile is in prison.       

What is Literary Talent?

What is literary talent? A nimble fluency. A way with words. An imagination that's easily aroused, quick to see, to hear, and to feel. An ear for the music of the language and a tendency to become absorbed in the mysterious movements of its significance and sound. A sense of audience. Skill at organizing verbal concepts solidly, effectively, and fairly swiftly. An aptitude for catching the elusive forms and figures of a vivid imagination and a knack for pinning them down on a page.

Stephen Koch, Writer's Workshop, 2003

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Edward Williams Murder Case: The COVID-19 Effect

     So-called social justice advocates do not, in general, like the idea of jails and prisons. These self-righteous do-gooders do not believe non-violent criminal offenders should be put behind bars. They don't think these crimes are worthy of incarceration even though the criminal law calls for prison sentences in non-violent crimes such as theft, burglary, stalking, drug trafficking, felons in possession of guns, vandalism, pornography, perjury, forgery, arson, property hit and run, and other crimes against property, morality and public order. The vast majority of crimes committed in this country are non-violent.

     These soft-on-crime proponents have used the COVID-19 crisis to further their agenda of emptying our jails and prisons. Because the general public does not support lighter sentencing for non-violent criminals, taking advantage of the pandemic is the only way these criminal justice sob sisters can achieve their goals.

     In Los Angeles County, at any given time, the jail system holds 17,000 inmates awaiting trial. Since early April 2020, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, citing the potential spread of the coronavirus, has released 4,000 suspects of non-violent crimes.

     Aware of the reality that merely because a person who is in custody on suspicion of a relatively minor offense does not mean this person is not a major criminal, the sheriff warned citizens there would be increased crime in their communities. This meant law abiding citizens in southern California who had lost their jobs to COVID-19, were essentially imprisoned in their homes, and were prohibited from buying guns to protect themselves, had to worry about being victimized by people who should be in custody.

     On March 19, 2020 in Hillsborough County, Florida, a local judge authorized Sheriff Chad Cronister to "release any pretrial detainee [jail inmate] arrested for a municipal or county ordinance, a misdemeanor offense, a criminal traffic offense [DWI, reckless driving, property hit and run], or a third-degree felony offense." The stated justification for springing these prisoners: "To protect the inmates, deputies, and staff working within the jails."

     So, due to COVID-19, public safety was no longer a law enforcement priority. Safety was now about protecting inmates and government employees. Inmates, instead of infecting each other, had the freedom to disobey social distancing and other public health guidelines, get sick, and infect law abiding citizens. This, of course, makes sense to social justice advocates who blame society for turning people into criminals.

     One doesn't have to be clairvoyant to predict what happens when suspects awaiting trial for "non-violent" crimes are prematurely turned loose. Take the case of Edward Williams.

     On March 19, 2020, 26-year-old Edward Williams was one of 164 Hillsborough County jail inmates set free. Williams, a resident of Tampa, had been arrested on March 13, 2020 on charges of heroin possession, a third-degree felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor offense. While these are relatively minor crimes, Mr. Williams was not a minor criminal. He wasn't some businessman who got drunk and wiped out a telephone pole.

    Edward Williams had an extensive criminal history involving 35 criminal charges that included theft, burglary, drug possession, drug sales, and firearm violations. His five convictions involved felony charges reduced to misdemeanors pursuant to plea bargains. The fact he had tattooed his face suggested he wasn't preparing himself for gainful employment.

     On Saturday night, March 20, 2020, the day after Sheriff Cronister opened the jail doors, a Hillsborough County 911 dispatcher received several calls regarding shots fired in Progressive Village, a low-income housing community in suburban Tampa.

     At the crime scene, deputies found a man lying on the sidewalk who had been shot. Paramedics rushed the victim to Tampa General Hospital where, a short time later, he died.

     On Sunday, the day after the fatal shooting, Hillsborough deputies arrested Edward Williams on the charges of second-degree murder, illegal gun possession, violently resisting arrest, and possession of heroin. The charges stemmed from the murder of the unidentified victim in Progressive Village.

     Following Williams' arrest, the "non-violent" criminal was back in a Hillsborough County jail, this time under a $280,500 murder bond.

The Diana Costarakis Murder-For-Hire Case: The Mother-in-Law From Hell

     Diana Reaves Costarakis lived on Buggy Whip Drive in Middleburg, an unincorporated community in northern Florida thirty miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The 70-year-old grandmother, in September 2013, asked an unidentified intermediary for advice on how to find a hit man to murder her daughter-in-law, Angela Costarakis. The person the elderly murder-for-hire mastermind reached out to took the request seriously enough to report Costarakis to the Duval County Sheriff's Office in Jacksonville.

     As the standard investigative protocol in murder solicitation cases, murder mastermind Costarakis received a call from an undercover officer who offered to do the job. But first, they would have to meet in person in order for the first installment of the hit money to exchange hands. If the suspect agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the phony contract killer, a videotaped event that normally took place in a box store parking lot, the case would proceed.

     Diana Costarakis told the man on the phone that she would like to meet with him. She agreed to bring with her $500 in cash, the first downpayment for the hit. (It's amazing that almost every murder-for-hire mastermind falls for this trap. These people are so desperate to have someone killed they lose the ability to think straight.)

     Diana Costarakis, on Wednesday, October 9, 2013, met with the undercover cop in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in Jacksonville. With this meeting, she believed she was moving forward in her scheme to have Angela Costarakis murdered. She handed the phony hit man $500 in cash, and promised a second downpayment of $1,000 the next time they met. Upon completion of the job, Costarakis said she would  come up with an additional $3,500. Having someone killed, while a fairly simple, straightforward task, didn't come cheap.

     As a further incentive for the contract killer, the mastermind informed him that the murder target usually wore expensive jewelry, untraceable diamonds that could be fenced without risk. To facilitate the successful completion of the hit man's assignment, Costarakis provided the undercover cop with a photograph of her daughter-in-law, a description of her car, and her home address.

     The next day, in the same Home Depot parking lot, the homicidal grandmother handed the undercover cop the $1,000 in cash. In response to the question of why she wanted Angela Costarakis taken out, the mastermind described her daughter-in-law as a drunk who drove around intoxicated with her 6-year-old daughter in the car. Not only that, the murder-for-hire target, who was in the process of divorcing the mastermind's son, was moving to Denver with her boyfriend. According to the suspect, the couple planned to take the little girl with them. (Most real hit men don't care why the mastermind wants the target murdered.)

     When asked if she was sure she wanted to go ahead with the murder plot, Costarakis replied, "If you don't kill her, I will."

     Having acquired all the evidence he needed, the undercover cop flashed his badge and arrested the suspect on the spot. After reading Costarakis her Miranda rights, she asked to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police. As a result, there was no interrogation and forthcoming confession.

     Charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy, Diana Costarakis was placed in the Duval County jail where she was incarcerated without bond. She was arraigned on October 31, 2013.

     The day following the murder-for-hire arrest, Angela Costarakis, the target of her mother-in-law's wrath, told a local television reporter that "I am beyond sad and it breaks my heart because it messes up the family. I have compassion. I don't want to see anyone spend the rest of their life in jail. However, I am still just not dealing with it. I just found out. I have not wrapped my head around it." The murder target said she did not have plans to move to Denver with her daughter.

     On August 27, 2014, Diana Costarakis pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a capital felony. In October 2014 the judge sentenced the 71-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to seven years in prison.

Joe Biden's List of Favorite Books

Joe Biden recently referred to COVID-19 as COVID-9. Not surprisingly, the list of his favorite books include: Catch 21, Two Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stalog 18, The Postman Rings Trice, A Tale of Three Cities, Slaughterhouse-Six, Fifty-One Shades of Grey, and Eight Days in May.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Michelle Byrom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1999, 42-year-old Michelle Byrom lived in Luka, Mississippi, a small, rural town in the northeastern part of the state. She resided with her abusive 58-year-old husband, Edward Byrom Sr. and their 25-year-old son, Edward Byrom Jr.

     On June 4, 1999, Edward Byrom Sr. was found dead in the bedroom of his house. He had been shot in the head at close range. Sheriff David Smith of Tishomingo County brought young Edward in for questioning. According to Edward Jr., his friend Joey Gillis had committed the murder on behalf of his mother, Michelle Byrom. The dead man's son said that after the shooting, he went to the hospital where his mother was being treated for double pneumonia. When he informed her that Gillis had shot Edward Sr. as planned, Michelle instructed him to return to the house to make sure his father was dead. If in fact the shot had been fatal, young Edward was to call 911 and report the homicide.

     Edward Byrom Jr. told Sheriff Smith that his mother had promised to pay Gillis $15,000 from her husband's $150,000 life insurance policy.

     Joey Gillis, when questioned by the sheriff, denied any involvement in the murder case. A test to determine if he had recently fired a gun proved negative. (A gunshot residue test on Edward Jr., however, turned out positive. The dead man's son also led deputies to the murder weapon, a World War II 9 mm handgun that had belonged to his grandfather.)

     After interrogating Edward Byrom Jr. for several hours, the sheriff questioned Michelle Byrom at the hospital. The heavily medicated patient, after being told that her son had confessed to the murder-for-hire plot, made statements interpreted by the authorities as incriminating.

     A Tishomingo County prosecutor charged Joey Gillis with capital murder. Edward Jr. and his mother were charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder. If convicted as charged, they each faced the possibility of being sentenced to death.

     In early 2000, Edward Byrom Jr., while incarcerated in the Tishomingo County Jail, wrote his mother four letters in which he exonerated her and confessed fully to his father's murder. According to his revised account of the shooting, on the day of the killing, his father had slapped him in the face and called him a no good bastard. After brooding awhile in his bedroom, Edward Jr. found the 9 mm handgun and used it to shoot his father in the head.

     According to young Byrom, when he was interrogated by the sheriff, "I gave him one BS story after another to save my ass….I was scared, confused, and high. I just started spitting out the first thought that turned out to be this big conspiracy theory. It was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories."

     In October 2000, Michelle Byrom went on trial for conspiracy to kill her husband for his life insurance money. While Joey Gillis, the supposed triggerman, did not testify, Edward Jr., having recanted his jailhouse confessions to his mother, took the stand for the prosecution.

     Michelle Byrom's attorney decided to withhold the introduction of her son's jailhouse letters until Edward Jr.'s cross-examination. But when it came time to enter the letters into evidence, the judge ruled they could not be introduced mid-trial. While the defense attorney was allowed to grill Edward Jr. about the contents of his confessions, not having the actual letters as exhibits hurt the defense.

     On November 18, 2000, the jury found Michelle Byrom guilty as charged. On the advice of her attorney, she waived her right to a jury-determined sentence, instead putting her fate into the hands of the trial judge. This turned out to be an unwise decision. The judge handed Michelle Byrom the death sentence.

     In 2001, Joey Gillis, the alleged triggerman, in return for a lighter sentence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact. Upon his release from prison in 2009, he denied having any involvement in Mr. Byrom's murder.

     Edward Byrom Jr. also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Rewarded for his testimony against his mother, he walked out of prison in August 2013.

     In the meantime, death row attorneys working on Michelle Byrom's behalf had appealed her conviction on the grounds she had not received adequate legal representation. In 2006, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in a five to three decision, ruled that Byrom's trial attorney's performance had not prejudiced her case. Bryom's appeal for a new trial was denied.

     In March 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court took up the Byrom appeal again. This time the justices ruled in her favor by reversing the murder-for-hire conviction and remanding the case back to the state circuit court for a new trial. The 57-year-old had been on Mississippi's death row for more than thirteen years.

     Following the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling, a local prosecutor re-charged Byrom with conspiracy to murder her husband.

     On July 15, 2015, Michelle Byrom, while maintaining her innocence, pleaded no contest to the murder conspiracy charge. As part of the plea deal, the judge sentenced her to time served. For the first time in 16 years, she was free.