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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Loss of Perspective: Political Hysteria

     Recently, in The New York Times Book Review, Mary Morris reviewed a book called A Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach. The memoir is a tale of woe involving a young woman having to work a dirty, dangerous job in a Cleveland steel mill to pay off the money she borrowed for a useless degree. An excerpt from Morris' review:

     "I [the book reviewer] flinched at her original choice of college: the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Many memoirs have at their heart a trauma that must be approached obliquely and transformed into a turning point. During her first semester away, Goldbach, drunk and possibly drugged at a party, was raped by two upstanding young men, and everything she did in the aftermath--confide in a friend, confess to a priest, report to the institutional authorities--had the worst possible outcome. She tells us at the outset that she has a genetic and biological propensity for the bipolar disorder, and it is in Steubenville that it emerges. Unhinged she returns to Cleveland." [She eventually graduated from another college.]

     "A third sign or portent appeared when the author, exhausted by a stretch of 12-hour days and swing shifts [at the steel mill] and feverish from a cold or flu, takes a blanket to work with her. Clinging to the blanket is a desperate gesture to stay warm and hide, and it's not going to work. The rodents in her apartment get bigger and bolder. Her boyfriend breaks up with her. And Donald Trump, nominated by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that summer, slouches toward Washington." [Italics Mine.]

     Donald Trump? The success of a presidential candidate Goldbach didn't like, in terms of causing her misery, is placed right up there with working in a factory she hated, rape, bipolar disorder, the breakup with her boyfriend, and rat infestation. After reading this gratuitous knock on Donald Trump who had nothing to do with this woman's miserable life, I completely lost interest in the memoir.

Celebrity Chef Memoirs

One side effect of the rise of the celebrity chef is a proliferation, from just about anyone with a professional claim to an apron, of memoirs.

Lisa Abend, The New York Times Book Review, December 8, 2019

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Narcissism And The Political Class

Only a highly narcissistic, self confident sociopath could believe that he or she could lead the free world. Any relatively intelligent, psychologically normal person would know better. It would be refreshing for a presidential candidate to step up to the mike and say, "I am a textbook sociopath which means I know I am smarter than the people whose money and votes I solicit. Moreover, because I am never wrong about anything, I will continue asking for money and votes. Please also know that I think I am incapable of lying because I believe that whatever I say, regardless of the 'facts,' is the truth. And finally, don't even try to shame me because as a sociopath I cannot be embarrassed." This of course will never happen because it would require telling the truth to voters who don't really want to hear the truth. Politicians know that the only way to get elected is to lie through their teeth about everything. For that reason, the best and most prolific liars get into office. In our leaders we get exactly what we deserve.

Changing Perceptions of the Black Police Officer

According to a rumor in New Orleans, an old family restaurant used to give a free ham to any police officer who killed a black person in the line of duty. The restaurant stopped doing this only in the 1980s, the story goes, when a black police officer came in to claim his ham. The lesson: In white American, a black man in uniform is still just a black man. [Today, many believe that once a black person becomes a cop, that person is no longer black.]

Lauretta Charlton, The New York Times Book Review, December 22, 2019

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Alexis Kahn: The Babysitter From Hell

     In 2012, after Benjamin and Hope Jordan moved to Charleston, South Carolina, they hired 21-year-old Alexis Kahn to regularly babysit their 7-month-old son Finn while they were away at work. Kahn had never been arrested, and came with references.

     Five months after bringing Alexis Kahn into their home to care for their most precious possession, the Jordans noticed that their dog, an otherwise friendly black lab, disliked the babysitter. According to Mr. Jordan, "He [the dog] was very aggressive towards her and a few times we actually had to physically restrain him from going towards her."

     Worried that the dog's behavior revealed something sinister about the babysitter, the Jordans hid an iPhone under the couch to record what went on between Kahn, the dog, and the baby in their absence. That evening after work, the couple checked the iPhone and were shocked by what they had recorded. The Jordans heard Kahn tell the baby to "shut up." Next came cussing followed by sounds of the baby being slapped. The baby's cries of distress became cries of pain. "I just wanted to...go back in time and just grab him up," said the father.

     The Jordans fired the babysitter and reported the suspected assault to the Charleston police. Officers arrested Kahn a few weeks later. Confronted with the iPhone evidence, the suspect confessed to assaulting the Jordan baby.

     On September 8, 2013, Alex Kahn pleaded guilty to one count of assault and battery in a Charleston County Circuit Court. The judge handed down a three-year sentence. The ex-babysitter had to spend a year behind bars before being eligible for parole. And her name was added to the state's child abuse register which meant she could never work with children. (Unfortunately, this did not prevent her from having children.)

     According to the baby's parents, Finn had no lingering effects from his abuse at the hands of the abusive babysitter.

     Suggestion: If your dog doesn't like your babysitter, keep the dog and look for a new sitter.  

The Michael Kane Murder Case

     In 2002, Michael Rodney Kane, an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, married Michelle, a paralegal and notary public. That year the couple purchased a house in Canoga Park they couldn't afford. In September 2012, the parents of a one-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl got out from under their staggering debt through chapter 7 bankruptcy. Among other creditors they stiffed, the couple owed $166,000 to credit card companies. At the time, Michael taught at the Nestle Avenue Charter School in Tarzana.

     Michelle, after Michael's behavior became erratic and violent, obtained a restraining order and kicked him out of the house. But in June 2013, he returned to the Canoga Park home and smashed the windows to the front door and garage. Michelle reported the incident to personnel at the Los Angeles Police Department's Topanga Station. She informed the officer that Michael had been acting irrationally and had been taking drugs. She and the children, fearing what he might do, had moved in with a family she knew in West Hills. The couple who resided in this residential community of well-kept 1960s tract homes had two children of their own.

     On Saturday, June 15, 2013, at 7:50 in the morning, Michael Kane, armed with a knife, forced his way into the West Hills residence. As the man of the house fought the intruder, he told Michelle to get out of the dwelling and run for her life. The homeowner's wife, his children, and the Kane siblings, hid in the bathroom during the home invasion assault. The scuffle ended when Michael cut his adversary's hand.

     Following the assault of the West Hills resident, Michael ran out of the house in pursuit of his estranged wife. With neighbors looking on in horror, Michael, with Michelle begging him to stop, repeatedly stabbed her. With his wife lying dead in the street, Michael got into his 1999 Chrysler 300M and drove off.

     After a two-day manhunt, police officers, just after midnight on Monday, June 17, 2013, arrested the school teacher at a motel in the San Bernardino County town of Joshua Tree. Officers had to knock down the metal door to the motel room. Kane was taken to the Desert High Medical Center with several minor injuries where he was treated, and shortly thereafter, released. One of the arresting officers told reporters that the police didn't know if Kane had hurt himself in the fight with the West Hills home owner, or when he stabbed his wife to death. Officers booked him into the jail on suspicion of murder.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Michael Kane with first-degree murder, burglary with a person present, assault with a deadly weapon, and making criminal threats. On June 20, 2013, the suspect, accompanied by his defense attorney, made his first court appearance. Sitting in a wheelchair, Kane pleaded not guilty to murder and the other charges. He waived his right to a formal arraignment. The judge denied him bail.

     When reporters asked attorney Stewart Farber why his client was in a wheelchair, the lawyer said the reason would be made clear at a later time. In response to a question regarding how his client was holding up, Farber said, "Well obviously he's quite distraught, and that's all I can tell you. The facts as they occurred on that date, unfortunate as they were, when they're presented in court, will be substantially different than some of the things that were mentioned in the newspapers and said on television."

     On March 30, 2015, following a one-month trial, the jury, after deliberating just two hours, found Michael Kane guilty as charged. Before the foreman of the jury read the verdict, Kane disrupted the proceeding with an incoherent rant against his dead wife's family. Bailiffs removed him from the court room.

     The judge, on April 20, 2015, sentenced Kane to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

The DeMarquis Elkins Murder Case

     On Thursday morning, March 21, 2013, in the small, southeastern Georgia coastal town of Brunswick, Sherry West pushed her 13-month-old son in a stroller not far from her house in the Old Town historic district. Two young males approached the 41-year-old mother and her child a quarter after nine that morning. The older kid, described by Sherry West as between 13 and 15-years-old and five-foot-seven to five-nine, pulled a gun and demanded money. The robber's companion, as described by the victim, looked to be between 10 and 12-years-old. The older boy, who was wearing a red shirt, when told by the mother that she didn't have any money, said, "Well, I'm going to kill your baby."

     The terrified mother tried to use her body to protect her son. "Please don't kill my baby," she pleaded.

     The robber, after pushing the mother aside, shot the sleeping child in the head. Before fleeing on foot, the young gunman shot Sherry West in the leg. As the boys ran off, the wounded woman called 911, and tried in vain to save her son by administering CPR.

     Officers with the Brunswick-Glynn County Violent Crimes Task Force rushed to the scene. Deputies with the Camden County Sheriff's Office responded with a tracking dog team. As a Department of Natural Resources helicopter flew over the neighborhood, detectives with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation worked the crime scene. (They did not recover the murder weapon.) The authorities posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identities and arrest of the two suspects.

     The next day, the police arrested 17-year-old DeMarquis Elkins. Under Georgia law, Elkins was considered an adult. He was charged with first-degree murder and was held without bail.

     Sherry West is not a stranger to the tragedy of violent crime. In 2008 in Gloucester County, New Jersey, her 17-year-old son Shaun was stabbed to death in a street fight.

     On March 25, 2013, public defender Kevin Gough told an Associated Press reporter that his client, DeMarquis Elkins, was "absolutely 1,000 percent not guilty."

     On September 2014, following a two-week trial, the jury found Elkins guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Inspired Novelist

Novelists who insist they can't create without inspiration are pretenders and dilettantes. A plumber doesn't need inspiration to fix a toilet, and a real writer shouldn't need inspiration to tell a story.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Excited Delirium Syndrome: The Taser-Proof Man

     In the Guinness Book of World Records there seems to be a record for just about everything. But there is no mention of the man police used their Taser guns on 71 times within a span of thirty minutes. This had to be a world record in the category of repeatedly shocking someone who didn't die from it. The tasered man who holds this unofficial record will simply be referred to as Bob.

     Bob, a 25-year-old veteran of the Afghanistan War who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, after being allegedly disowned by his family in Phoenix, moved in with a relative in Flagstaff, Arizona. One evening in July 2010, after taking PCP and bath salts, Bob entered a Cheveron gas station and store on Highway 89 in Doney Park just north of Flagstaff. Barefoot, Bob wandered about the place leaving muddy footprints, then approached the cashier and asked to be reported to the police.

     When Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Officer Brian Barnes arrived at the Cheveron station, he encountered Bob in the parking lot in front of the store. As the officer approached the suspect, Bob ran toward the entrance of the station with the officer in close pursuit. When Bob slammed into the closed door, he bounced back into the officer, and they both fell to the ground. Bob jumped up, this time opened the door, and ran inside. After shooting Bob with his Taser gun, Officer Barnes and a bystander managed to handcuff the out-of-control man. His hands, however, were not restrained behind his back.

     Bob settled down a bit, but the moment Coronino County Deputy Sheriff Don Bartlett arrived, Bob started acting up. To hold him down, the 260 pound deputy sat on his legs, but when that didn't stop the violent thrashing and kicking, Deputy Barnes gave Bob a taste of his Taser. When that didn't help, he zapped him two more times.

     As the DPS Officer and the deputy struggled with the drug-crazed man in the Cheveron station, EMT and firefighters arrived at the scene, followed by Sheriff's Office Sergeant Gerrit Boeck. During the next thirty minutes, Deputy Bartlett used his Taser twenty more times on Bob with Officer Barnes helping out with his Taser.

     Finally, the three police officers, with the help of several firefighters, strapped the handcuffed man onto a gurney, but as they slid him into the ambulance, Bob managed to grab Deputy Bartlett's belt. Sergeant Boeck, thinking that Bob was trying to get ahold of the deputy's gun, started punching him in the arm. It took several officers to pry Bob's fingers from the Deputy's belt.

     Once they got Bob into the ambulance, a paramedic injected him with a tranquilizer used to control animals. The drugs kicked in and Bob settled down.

     At the Flagstaff Medical Center, a doctor diagnosed Bob as being in a state of excited delirium that gave him superhuman strength and rendered him impervious to pain. After a few days hospital personnel discharged Bob. The authorities decided not to charge him with resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, or disorderly conduct. (The county prosecutor was probably concerned with the Taser overuse, and decided to let a sleeping dog lie.)

     Regarding the issue of excessive force, the DPS referred the case to the county attorney's office for investigation. That Bob survived all that electricity, especially when in a state of excited delirium, was miraculous. Had he died, the medical examiner would probably have listed the cause of his death, excited delirium syndrome.

     These officers were presented with an extremely difficult situation, and when their Taser guns didn't work, ran out of good options. Sometimes the police encounter situations they are not equipped to handle. When it became obvious that their Tasters weren't working, the officers should have stopped using them.

     The officers were cleared by the district attorney's office of any wrongdoing in the case.

The Orville Fleming Murder Case

     In 2012, 53-year-old Orville "Moe" Fleming and his wife Meagan separated after she accused him of cheating on her. That year, the 20-year veteran and battalion chief for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (known as Cal Fire) began dating 24-year-old Sarah Jane Douglas. Douglas had come to Fleming's attention through an Internet site that advertised her services as a paid escort. Shortly after they met, she moved into his house in south Sacramento County. At this time Fleming worked as an instructor at the fire academy in Ione, California.

     By April 2014, Fleming's divorce from Meagan was about to be finalized but his relationship with Douglas had deteriorated into turmoil. Having grown weary of his obsessive, controlling behavior, Douglas wanted out of his life.

     On April 28, 2014, shortly before the finalization of their divorce, Fleming reached out to his estranged wife with the following text message: "Can we put us and our family back together!?" She replied, "No!!! It's over, sorry. I gave you many chances. Please leave me in peace now. You already hurt me so bad. I'm over it. Never going back to a cheater. Never. But God bless you. Now leave me alone!!!" Fleming responded by texting: "Come and pick me up. We're supposed to grow old together." She did not respond to his plea.

     On Wednesday night, April 30, 2014, Sarah Douglas, her younger sister Stephanie, and their mother, spent time together at a local gambling casino. During the evening, Sarah revealed that she planned to leave Mr. Fleming.

     Just before midnight, after their night out, Stephanie Douglas and her mother dropped Sarah off at the house she had been sharing with Fleming. Not long after that, Stephanie received a phone call from her sister. In the background she could hear an angry man's voice. Sarah screamed and the phone went dead.

     After the disturbing phone call, Stephanie tried but failed to get back in touch with her sister. Sometime after midnight, Stephanie went to the house to check on Sarah. She found her sister lying face down and dead with a blood-soaked bed sheet wrapped around her neck. Orville Fleming and his vehicle were not at the scene. Stephanie called 911.

     At two-thirty that morning, May 1, 2014, Fleming sent the following text message to his soon-to-be ex-wife: "You should have come and picked me up."

     At the murder scene, detectives encountered the stabbed-to-death victim as well as pools of blood and bloodstains scattered throughout the house. A few hours later, a judge issued a warrant for Orville Fleming's arrest on suspicion of murder.

     At seven that evening, police officers in nearby Elk Grove, California, found the fugitive's abandoned white, 2007 Chevrolet pickup truck with Cal Fire written on the doors. The vehicle had been sitting there all day.

     Because the firefighter had outdoor skills and a familiarity with the Yosemite Valley and other regions of the Sierra Nevada and Santa Cruz Mountains, officers figured he might be hard to find. Fleming also possessed keys to dozens of state buildings, lookout towers, and storage sheds stocked with food and water. He was also presumed to be armed with two handguns that were registered in his name.

     Fleming's superiors at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, a few days after Sarah Douglas' murder, terminated him from his $100,000-a-year job. (In 2013, in addition to his base salary, Fleming earned $30,000 in overtime pay.)

     On Friday, May 16, 2014, police officers arrested Orville Fleming as he boarded a bus in Elk Grove, California where he had been hiding all along. The following Monday, at his arraignment hearing, Fleming pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. Relatives of the victim were infuriated when the defendant winked at an acquaintance in the courtroom.

     A few weeks after the murder, Meagan Fleming, the murder suspect's ex-wife, told reporters that Orville Fleming and other firefighters had sex with prostitutes on firetrucks at the academy. Moreover, someone had made a sex tape of this activity. She claimed to have seen a tape of her ex-husband and other firefighters having sex with Sarah Douglas. Because of the seriousness of this allegation, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office asked the California Highway Patrol to investigate the claim.

     On Monday December 29, 2014, a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesperson announced that sixteen firefighters, most of whom were instructors at the fire academy, had been placed on paid administrative leave. The spokesperson did not say why these firefighters had been given "administrative time off."

      Amid the fire department scandal, Orville Fleming remained incarcerated in the Sacramento County Jail awaiting his trial for the murder of Sarah Douglas.

     On July 15, 2015, after a jury in Sacramento found Orville Fleming guilty of second-degree murder, the Superior Court judge sentenced him to 16 years to life in prison. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

Small Town SWAT

     Nationwide, the vast majority of SWAT team duty is performed on a part-time basis. Except in the largest metropolitan areas, there aren't enough hostage situations, armed standoffs, or other high-risk assignments to justify full-time SWAT team positions. Although they are on call around the clock, most paramilitary team members, when they are not on SWAT calls, perform routine police work. The smaller the law enforcement agency, the less need there is for a SWAT unit. Therefore, SWAT officers in the smaller agencies either grow stale from inactivity or are deployed in low-risk cases in order to keep sharp. Being busy also boosts officer morale. This form of SWAT utilization exacerbates the universal problem of small town over enforcement of the law.

     Forming and maintaining a SWAT team is expensive, and most law enforcement agencies are strapped for money. The National Tactical Police Officer Association's (NTOA) minimum personnel standard for the staffing of one SWAT team is 17 officers. The equipment, ongoing training, and overtime necessary to support a single SWAT team can cost $200,000 a year, a figure that doesn't include the purchase and maintenance of a SWAT tank or an armored personnel carrier. Moreover, this sum doesn't take into consideration insurance and legal costs associated with civil liability suits when things go wrong. To save money, some small departments field SWAT teams comprised of ten officers, far below the NTOA recommendation.
     Eastern Kentucky University Professors Peter B. Kraska and Victor Kappeler, in their 1997 landmark study, "Militarizing Mayberry and Beyond: Making Sense of American Paramilitary Policing," found that by 1996, some 70 percent of police departments in towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had fully equipped SWAT units. Police chiefs and sheriffs in lightly populated, low-crime jurisdictions, in justifying the formation of SWAT teams, almost always cite self-sufficiency. Why would they have to humble themselves by having to request, a few times a year, help from neighboring agencies? The keeping-up-with-the-Jones aspect of small town SWAT proliferation reflects the competitiveness, professional jealousy, and even hostility among law enforcement agencies that traditionally do not cooperate well with one another.
     SWAT policing has become a part of small town law enforcement. There are, for example, SWAT teams in places like Maryville, Tennessee, Medford, Oregon, Mansfield, Texas, Winchester, Virginia, and Harwich, Massachusetts. The campus police at the University of Central Florida employ SWAT officers even though the county has a paramilitary force. Combat style policing is no longer an urban affair.
     The police department in Mountain City, Tennessee, in October 2007, became combat ready. In announcing the formation of a SWAT team, Chief of Police Jerry Proffitt said, "We're not going to stand by and wait for somebody else to take care of our problems." It was not clear what problems the chief was referring to, since only one homicide and two rapes had been reported in the town of 24,000 during the previous five years. Since police departments don't form SWAT teams to let them die on the vine, the citizens of Mountain City were about to experience a more militarized approach to local law enforcement, one that would mostly take the form of pre-dawn, no-knock house raids in search of drugs.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mentally Ill, Violent, and Living on the Streets

     Riverside Park, situated along the Hudson River, stretches four miles from 72nd Street to 158th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Just before eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, October 1, 2013, New Yorkers enjoying this beautiful place were jogging, walking, biking, and sitting on benches.  This was a spot in the city, especially at this time of day, where people felt safe. But on this morning a mentally disturbed man who bounced between homeless shelters in Manhattan and the Bronx, showed up at the park with a vacant stare and a threatening posture.

     Julius Graham, who had spent most of his life in Texas, used a pair of scissors to stab a 32-year-old women in the neck as she jogged near 65th Street and Riverside Park South. Seconds later, the 43-year-old homeless man stabbed another female jogger with the bloody scissors. The silent attacker next stabbed 36-year-old Ben Loehnen in the stomach as the book editor walked his dog. At first Mr. Loehnen thought he'd been punched in the stomach.

     As the scissor wielding man's fourth victim, Julius Graham randomly selected James L. Fayette, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. When Mr. Fayette came face to face with the man and his bloody scissors, he picked his 2-year-old son up out of his stroller and ran. Graham caught up with the father who tried to fight him off while holding onto his boy. When slashed in the chest with the scissors, Fayette put his son on the ground and covered him with his body.

     A bystander, Thomas Ciriacks came to Fayette's rescue by pushing Graham off the victim and wrestling him to the ground. Ciriacks held the attacker down until the arrival of police officers a few minutes later. The man who bravely took the assailant down not only saved others from being slashed or stabbed, he saved the lives of Mr. Fayette and his son. It was possible that Mr. Ciriacks also saved the attacker's life. No police officer would wrestle with a man armed with a pair of bloody scissors. He'd shoot him first.

     Except for the boy who was treated and released for a minor cut on his arm, the other victims of this Tuesday morning attack received injuries serious enough to keep them at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Midtown Manhattan. Ben Loehnen, the man stabbed in the stomach, underwent emergency surgery.

     Police officers transported Julius Graham to the Bellevue Hospital Center where a team of mental health experts concluded the obvious--Mr. Graham was dangerous.

     Julius Graham was charged with five counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest. He had been spending his nights at the Willow Avenue shelter in an industrial section of the Bronx. According to people who know him there, Graham did not like spending time in the shelter.

     In speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, D. J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization, said that in the 1950s, people suffering from serious mental illness were cared for in institutions designed for long term treatment. In New York City, mentally ill people either lived on the street, or were temporarily housed at Rikers Island--the city's massive jail complex. As a result, there was no place in the city that was completely safe from the random attacks of violent people who were out of touch with reality. In most instances, these people, with long histories of mental illness, stop taking their anti-psychotic medication. To get people like this off the street, required a court order. And even then, following a ten day drug regimen, they were usually released back into society.

     In April 2015, Julius Graham pleaded guilty to six counts of assault. The prosecutor agreed to drop the attempted murder charges against him. In May 2015, Judge Charles H. Solomon sentenced Graham to 23 years in prison.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A New Era

American history, broken down into eras: Agriculture, Industry, Information, Protest.

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, in an unrelated case, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     At a press conference, Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, two years after Mr. Smith went missing, a Los Angeles County judge ruled him legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 2014 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     In September 2017, a jury in Los Angeles found John Creech guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to eleven years in prison.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Lawrence Jones Murder Case

     Early in 2012, 70-year-old Lawrence Jones and his 29-year-old wife, Norife "Janie" Herrera, separated. The couple had resided in a two-story beachfront house on Spray Avenue in Monterey, California.

     Lawrence Jones, an internationally recognized expert in the field of financial management, worked as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank and taught at the Naval Postgraduate School. He was also a visiting scholar at universities around the world.

     Although Mr. Jones held a prestigious professorship, and was renowned in his profession, he had a history of crime that included arrests for attempted murder, domestic violence, and the assault of a police officer.

     Norfie Herrera, Jones' estranged wife, had earned a Master's Degree from a university in Singapore. She formerly resided in the Philippines. After separating from her husband, Herrera took up residence in San Jose, California.

     On July 12, 2012, Mr. Jones' son, Cameron Jones, called the Monterey Police Department and asked officers to check on his father. According to Norife Herrera, her estranged husband had threatened to slit his wrists over their upcoming divorce. (Apparently nothing came of this police inquiry.)

     On September 4, 2012, Norife Herrera was reported missing after she failed to show up for work at her Zoom Vision job in Milpitas, California. Police officers questioned Lawrence Jones who said he had last seen his estranged wife earlier that day.

     On September 7, 2012, a worker with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, along Cannon Road in a remote section of San Benita County near Aromas, California, reported finding what he described as pieces of a mannequin inside trash bags. As it turned out, the bags contained the head, arms, legs, and the torso of a woman. A forensic pathologist in Monterey County identified the dismembered remains as Norife Herrera. (One point of identification involved the lot number on the victim's breast implants.)

     On September 13, 2012, police officers and FBI agents tracked Lawrence Jones to a Los Angeles hotel near the airport. Jones had scheduled a flight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was booked into the Monterey County Jail on the charge of first-degree murder.

     Police officers, on September 14, 2012, conducted a crime scene investigation at Jones' house in Monterey. The officers found blood stains throughout the dwelling as well as bloody towels, bloody garments in the clothes washer, and a bloodied handsaw and ax. In the garage, the crime scene investigators found a blue tarp stained in blood, and pieces of yellow rope similar to the cordage found at the Aromas dump site. In the dishwasher, searchers found a carving knife. Also, the fireplace contained debris from burnt pieces of clothing. Police officers left the searched dwelling that day with several computers and the murder suspect's Nissan Maxima.

     On October 21, 2014, Lawrence Jones, accompanied by his attorney Paul Metzer, appeared in a Monterey courtroom for the purpose of changing his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity. Superior Court Judge Julie Culver said she would appoint two experts to evaluate Jones' mental state. (Both experts found Jones legally sane.)

     Lawrence Jones, on March 31, 2016, pleaded guilty to murdering his ex-wife and dismembering her body for disposal at the dump site in San Benito County. According to the Monterey County prosecutor in charge of the case, the defendant, in a manic rage, had struck the victim in the head with a blunt object on August 30, 2012, the day their divorce became final. The blow didn't kill Herrera but did render her unconscious. On September 5, 2012, Jones shot his still unconscious ex-wife in the head and lower torso with a 12-gauge shotgun.

     The prosecutor, pursuant to his courtroom presentation, described how Jones had used a handsaw and an ax to dismember the victim. The defendant packed trash bags with his ex-wife's body parts, put the bags into the trunk of her Honda Civic, and drove to the disposal site in Aromas.

     Judge Marla Anderson sentenced the 74-year-old Lawrence Jones to 50 years in prison. 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Killer Boobs

     In April 2010, Claire Smedley from Blackpool, England told a British newspaper reporter that she had nearly killed her boyfriend with her size 40LL breasts. (While I know bullet calibers, I have no idea what 40LLs look like other than they must be large.) With her boyfriend Steven's face buried in her super-bust, Claire misinterpreted his flailing for oxygen as sexual excitement. After barely escaping breast asphyxiation, Steven ended the relationship and vowed only to date flat-chested woman. (Just kidding.)

     In Germany, a lawyer named Tim Schmidt claimed that his girlfriend, a woman armed with a pair of 38DDs, attempted to employ this part of her anatomy to suffocate him. Mr. Schmidt described his near-death experience to a German newspaper reporter: "I asked her why she wanted to smother me to death with her breasts. She told me: 'Pleasure--I wanted your death to be as pleasurable as possible.' " (Really? I can't image, as I'm fighting for my last breath, thinking, these babies are nice.)

     Ambulance personnel and Snohomish County sheriff's deputies, shortly after midnight on Saturday, January 12, 2013, responded to a 911 domestic disturbance call from a mobile home in the Airport Inn Trailer Park outside Everett, Washington. Residents Donna Lange and her boyfriend (who was not named) had been drinking alcohol and smoking pot all night with a man and two other women. The 51-year-old Lange and her boyfriend had gotten into a fight. The fight escalated and moved to the back of the trailer house. At some point, Lange allegedly threw the 5-foot, 7-inch, 175 pound man to the floor. The 5-foot, 6-inch, 195 pound Lange then climbed on top of the downed drunk and passed out. The victim lay trapped under her body with his face buried in her breasts.

     When the police and the medics stormed into the trailer, they found the boyfriend still lying on the floor. He was not breathing. In his hands were clumps of Lange's hair. CPR didn't help, and upon arrival at the Swedish Hospital in Edmonds, medical personnel pronounced the 50-year-old boyfriend dead. Cause of death: suffocation.

     Questioned at the hospital, Donna Lange told police officers that she had no knowledge how her boyfriend had died. A few days later, a Snohomish County prosecutor charged Donna Lange with second-degree manslaughter. (A lesser homicide charge involving an accidental death caused by reckless behavior, or during the commission of a crime that was not a felony.) If convicted, Lange could have been sentenced to a maximum five years in prison. (I can find no record that the prosecution went through with this case. I suppose the charges were dropped or Lange pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined or put on probation.)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Age of Puerility and Decline

While some are feeling good about themselves, our economy is shrinking, free speech is dying, criminal justice is under attack, the police are diminished, objective journalism is dead, higher education is a joke, political leadership is weak and corrupt, rational thinking is scarce, and millions of people are frightened. We may be entering the Age of Puerility and Decline.

The Vi Ripken Kidnapping Case: An Unsolved Mystery

     Cal Ripken, Jr., inducted into the baseball hall of fame in 2007, played 21 years for the Baltimore Orioles. Because he played in 2,632 consecutive games, Ripken earned the title the "Iron Man." He was a celebrity and businessman in the Baltimore area.

     In July 2012, Vi Ripken, the former ballplayer's 74-year-old mother, became a celebrity in her own right as a victim of an abduction that took place in July 2012. Based on what was published in the media, and Cal Ripken's public statement on the matter, the following was the initial and sketchy account of this odd crime:

     Between seven and eight in the morning of Tuesday, July 24, 2012, an unknown man entered Vi Ripken's garage in Aberdeen, Maryland, a town 30 miles northeast of Baltimore, and forced her at gun point into her silver, 1998 Lincoln Town Car. The abductor was described as a clean-shaven white male who was five feet ten inches tall, and weighed 180 pounds. He wore glasses, an orange ball cap, and Camouflage colored clothing.

     The kidnapper tied Vi's hands and blindfolded her. (According to the victim, he originally planned to cover her eyes with tape. We don't know what he used to tie her up, or if she was bound behind her back.) With the victim in the back seat of her own car, the abductor drove her around Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties. They stopped for food, and he lit her cigarettes. At first the kidnapper said he wanted her money and the car, but changed his mind.

     At some point in the abduction, the man told Vi that he wasn't going to hurt her, and that he had decided to take her back to her house. The next day, at six in the morning, the kidnapper parked the car 100 yards from Vi's dwelling, and walked away. Still bound, Vi managed to honk the horn which alerted a neighbor. In telling friends and family what happened, Vi said her abductor did not know her son was Cal Ripken, Jr. (This suggested that she told him that.) He had not physically harmed her, and did not demand a ransom.

     In a press conference held on Friday, August 3, 2012, Cal Ripken, Jr. said he first learned of his mother's disappearance at 9 PM on the day of her abduction. His sister phoned him with the news that a witness had seen a woman in Baltimore County riding in the back seat of a car bearing the license number of the Lincoln Town Car. This person had called the Baltimore County Police. The county police relayed this information to the police in Aberdeen.

     After Vi Ripken's safe return, the authorities distributed a police-sketch of the abductor (these cartoonish depictions are generally useless). The sketch was placed on five massive billboards in the Baltimore area. The authorities also made public a surveillance video tape showing a man in a ball cap walking out of a Walmart store in Glen Burnie, Maryland, an Anne Arundel County town about an hour from Aberdeen. The police did not revealed how this man fit into the story, but one would assume he was the suspected abductor, and that at some point during the kidnapping, he entered the store to purchase something.

     At the press conference on August 3, 2012, Cal Ripken, Jr. said his mother had not returned to her home in Aberdeen, but had otherwise resumed her normal routine. He also said she was talking about her experience "nonstop." On Friday night, August 3, 2012 the kidnapping was featured on the Lifetime Cable Network's "America's Most Wanted." The Aberdeen police offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the Ripken abductor.

    The police did not release many details of the crime. For example, did the authorities know the identity of the witness who spotted the woman in the back of the Lincoln Town Car? What did Vi and her abductor do during the 24-hour abduction? Did they sleep? Did they leave the car? Where did she use the restroom? Did crime scene investigators process the car for latent fingerprints and other forms of trace evidence? Did the abductor leave behind the material used to tie the victim up? What about the blindfold? Did the abductor use the victim's credit or ATM cards?

     The biggest mystery, of course, was the identity of the abductor, and why he chose to kidnap Vi Ripken.

     On August 2, 2017, more than five years after the Ripken abduction, the police released a new composite sketch of the man they believe had kidnapped Vi Ripken. The FBI had entered the investigation.

    As of this writing, no arrests have been made in the case. Moreover, investigators have not identified a suspect.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Reann Murphy Murder Case

     In September 2013, 9-year-old Reann Murphy and her mother moved into an apartment above a maintenance garage in a trailer park outside Smithville, Ohio thirty miles southwest of Akron. Jerrod Metsker, an unemployed 24-year-old, lived nearby in his mother's trailer. Metsker spent a lot of time playing with neighborhood kids who were less than half his age. He had built a playhouse made of blankets near his home.

     At four in the afternoon of Saturday, December 14, 2013, Reann, with her mother at work and her mother's live-in boyfriend in the apartment, went outside to play with the neighborhood children. When darkness fell the other kids went home. Reann did not.

     At eight o'clock that evening, Reann's mother, Kelly Jones, reported her daughter missing. A party of police officers, firefighters, and trailer park residents went door-to-door in search of the girl. Jerrod Metsker, who was seen building a snowman with Reann just before she disappeared, joined in the search.

     At one-thirty the next morning, a searcher discovered Reann's body buried beneath garbage inside a trailer park trash bin.

     On Sunday, December 15, about twelve hours after the discovery of the corpse in the trash bin, deputies with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, armed with an arrest warrant, knocked on the Metsker trailer door. When no one responded, officers acquired a key from a family member and entered the dwelling. Inside the trailer police officers arrested Jerrod Metsker.

     Officers booked the suspect into the Wayne County Jail on the charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping, and rape. The judge ordered Metsker held on $1 million bond. The judge also assigned a public defender to represent the suspect. Metsker pleaded not guilty.

     In her preliminary autopsy result report, Wayne County Coroner Dr. Amy Jolliff revealed the victim's manner of death to be homicide. According to the coroner, Reann had been strangled to death by ligature. Dr. Jolliff also stated that the child had been raped. The Wayne County prosecutor announced that the state intended to pursue the death penalty against Metsker.

     On June 11, 2014, Jerrod Metsker pleaded guilty to aggravated murder as well as rape. The judge sentenced the defendant to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. Earlier, the victim's parents, Richard Murphy and Kelly Jones, had asked the state to drop its pursuit of the death penalty.

Tragedy at Henry Hagg Lake: An Unusual Multiple Drowning Case

     On Monday August 25, 2014, 42-year-old Jova Ixtacua, her daughter Gabriela, 25, Jova's son Michael, 15, and Gabriela's 3-year-old son Jeremy Scholl, had gathered at Henry Hagg Lake for a picnic and some swimming. The reservoir was a popular recreational park 25 miles west of Portland, Oregon. The family had traveled to the lake from their home in nearby Hillsboro.

     At six-thirty that Monday evening, a passerby came upon the body of an unconscious or dead child lying on the beach at the water's edge. Emergency personnel tried in vain to revive 3-year-old Jeremy Scholl. The boy was not wearing a lifejacket. On the beach not far from his body lay a towel, a cooler, a purse, four pairs of shoes, and a small dog secured on a leash. Members of the boy's family, people associated with the items on the beach, were nowhere to be found.

     An hour after the discovery of Jeremy Scholl's body, police officers and others began searching the two square miles of Henry Hagg Lake. The next day, at ten-thirty at night, searchers found three bodies floating in eight feet of water 40 feet from the shore about 50 yards from where the 3-year-old's body had washed up. The two women and the teenage boy were identified as Jeremy's grandmother, mother, and uncle.

     Sergeant Bob Ray of the Washington County Sheriff's Office told reporters that, "We are considering the deaths a tragic accident." Investigators believed the 3-year-old had fallen over a steep drop-off into the lake near the spot where the four sets of shoes and other items had been found. According to this theory, the boy's mother, grandmother and uncle had jumped into the water to save him and drowned themselves.

     Following the autopsies, the Oregon State Medical Examiner reported that the four family members had died from asphyxia by drowning. The medical examiner ruled the manner of deaths accidental. That closed the door on any homicide investigation.

     Because of the steep drop-off into the channel of a former river that flowed beneath the reservoir, Henry Hagg Lake, a recreational swimming venue that doesn't employ lifeguards, had been the site of several drownings and near drownings.

     Outside of boating tragedies, multiple accidental drownings are extremely rare. 

Novelist Paula Fox on Lunch

I often thought of killing myself but then I wanted lunch.

Paula Fox

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Murdered Over Nothing

     In and around the town of Conch Key, an unincorporated community in the Florida Keys, 62-year-old Carolyn Dukeshire was known as "The Sea Hag." (When I first saw Dukeshire's mug shot, my first thought was Hulk Hogan had been arrested on a bad day.)

     On the night of July 29, 2012, Martin Mazur and his friends, after an evening of drinking at the Brass Monkey Bar, were sitting outside of his dwelling finishing off a few beers. His neighbor, Carolyn Dukeshire, approached the group and asked Mazur if he had a cold Busch Light for her. "I have absolutely nothing for you," he replied.

     Mazur's last words had barely left his mouth when Dukeshire pulled out a handgun and shot him five times. The victim was hit in the stomach, back, and wrist. He died a few hours later at a nearby hospital.

     One of the murder witnesses called 911. Deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office arrested Dukeshire at the scene of the shooting. Charged with first-degree murder, the judge denied her bail. (Prior to the murder, Dukeshire had not been arrested for any serious crimes.)

     On January 31, 2013, the defendant, after submitting a statement to the judge that she felt bad about murdering Martin Mazur over a can of beer, was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced The Sea Hag to thirty years in prison. It is doubtful she will live long enough to enjoy her next beer. 

The Joe Biden Shoot First, Ask Questions Later Doctrine

     Roger Alles, the former and now deceased head of the Fox New Channel reportedly said that Vice President Joe Biden, a man he knew, was as stupid as an ashtray.

     In a February 2013 interview for Field & Steam Magazine, the Vice President touted the shotgun as the best weapon for self-defense. "If you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door," he said. This is bad advice that crosses the stupidity line deep into irresponsible territory. If you don't believe me, ask Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner on who said he shot his girlfriend to death through his bathroom door because he thought she was an intruder.

     There are hundreds of men serving time in prison for firing blindly through closed doors. In so doing, they killed police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other people who were not intruders. While some of these homicide defendants panicked and killed by honest mistake, they still went to prison for criminal recklessness.

     But pursuant to the Joe Biden doctrine of shooting first and asking questions later, such through-the-door killings would involve specific, homicidal intent. Know this: There is no such thing in murder law as the Joe Biden Defense. The Vice President of the United States was advising people to commit criminal homicide.

     Roger Alles' comparison was an insult to ashtrays.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Joseph Jennings Police Shooting Case

     Eighteen-year-old Joseph Jennings resided in Ottawa, Kansas, a town of 13,000 within the Kansas City metropolitan area adjacent to the Missouri state line. Joseph had plans to attend trade school and learn underwater welding. The young man had been struggling with mental health problems that interfered with his ambitions. His depression and anxiety were exacerbated by seizures that had become more frequent. Seeing no future for himself, Joseph Jennings had decided to take his own life.

     On Thursday, August 21, 2014, Joseph posted a suicide note on Facebook that read: "Tonight is the night. Goodbye to everyone!!! It was truly a good ride. I'm sorry for who I might have hurt and people that I may have offended. But I love all my family and hope you don't hold this against me."

     Ten minutes after posting the above message, Joseph swallowed 60 prescription pills. A member of his family discovered the unconscious teen and called 911. Two officers with the Ottawa Police Department rushed him to the hospital where doctors saved his life.

     Two days after Joseph tried to kill himself, hospital personnel discharged him from the psychiatric ward of Ransom Memorial Hospital. (They probably gave him more pills and told him to visit a psychiatrist. This is what passed for mental health care in America.)

     At eight o'clock on the night of Saturday, August 23, just three hours after leaving the hospital, Jennings, having made it known that he intended to commit suicide-by-cop, walked to a hardware store in town. Someone called the police and reported that a man with a gun was standing outside the store.

     Six police officers, including the two that a couple of days earlier had rushed Joseph to the hospital, rolled up to the scene. They confronted him on the store's parking lot and ordered him to drop to the ground and keep his hands where they could see them. Instead, Joseph made gestures that suggested he possessed a weapon.

     Brandy Smith, Joseph's aunt, lived near the hardware store. She witnessed the standoff, and didn't like how it was unfolding. She and her husband approached the officers. "That's Joseph Jennings! You know him," she said. "Don't shoot him. If he has a gun it's a BB gun. He is on a suicide mission!" As Brandy tried to reason with the officers, her husband said he would approach his suicidal nephew and tackle him for the officers. One of the officers informed Mr. Smith that if he (Smith) wasn't careful and got in the way, he could be shot. They ordered him to stay put.

     Suddenly one of the officers yelled, "Bag him!" With that, another officer fired a nonlethal device that shot beanbags instead of bullets. Shortly after that, the bullets started flying--24 of them. Joseph was struck sixteen times and died that night at a nearby hospital. He did not possess a BB gun or any other kind of weapon. At no time were these officers threatened with a weapon they could see.

     On August 25, 2014, in speaking to local reporters (the national media had no interest in this case), Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler said, "They [the officers] reacted based upon training they've been given at the academy. We were thankful that no officer was injured from protecting themselves (sic) from risk of great bodily harm."

     So, as long as the police officers avoided possible harm by gunning down an unarmed man, everything worked out fine. Officer safety, after all, was the priority. To hell with an 18-year-old suicidal teenager who may or may not have been armed with a BB gun.

     In the wake of this highly questionable and unnecessary fatal police shooting, no one in Ottawa took to the streets to protest or loot.

     In November 2016, after the Franklin County Attorney ruled the Jennings' fatal shooting "lawful and justified," Joseph Jennings' brother Chris filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Ottawa. In the suit, the plaintiff alleged that the police had used excessive force and were "reckless and careless" in the lethal shooting.

     In May 2018, the city of Ottawa settled Chris Jennings lawsuit for $125,000 plus attorney fees and court costs totaling $63,968.

The Death of FBI Agent Stephen Ivens

     At eight o'clock Monday evening, July 30, 2012, a pair of hikers walking in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California came upon a foul odor. In the brush behind St. Francis of Xavier Catholic Church, they discovered the skeletal remains of a man. The initial investigation by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office indicates that the hikers had stumbled upon Stephen Ivens. Near his body death scene investigators recovered a handgun.

     Stephen Ivens, a 35-year-old FBI agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Division, had been missing since he walked away from his Burbank home on the morning of May 11, 2012. Blood hounds had traced his scent to the Verdugo Mountains where a search party of FBI agents, local police, and volunteers had looked for him.

     A married father of a 2-year-old son, Ivens had been an FBI agent a little more than three years. Before going into the bureau he had been a Los Angeles police officer. The white, 6 foot, 160 pound bespectacled agent had worked on counterterrorism cases. Because his FBI-issued revolver had been taken from the house, Ivens was presumed armed when he walked off that morning.

     According to the agent's wife Thea, Special Agent Ivens had been depressed and distraught which led many to suspect he left the house that morning with the intent of killing himself. But the fact he was an FBI agent who worked on counterterrorism matters also led to speculation of international intrigue and foul play.

     A few weeks after his disappearance, the authorities stopped looking for Ivens, and the media ignored the case. This added fuel to the possibility of foul play, and a government cover-up. After Ivens' body was found behind the church one and a half miles from his home, questions regarding the reasons behind his disappearance went unanswered. The big mystery involved whether or not Ivens' death--suicide or otherwise--was related to his counterterrorism work. According to Ivens' wife, he had been depressed to the point of a breakdown. The source of his distress, while related to his FBI job, was not caused by his counterterrorism assignment. He couldn't sleep, and before leaving for work each morning, suffered anxiety attacks. The exact source of his stress was not made public.

     Ivens' wife Thea, who never gave up hope that he was alive, continued searching for him after the authorities had given up. During his 80-day disappearance, she maintained a blog and a website devoted to his return.

     Because Ivens' remains were found just three-quarters of a mile from where the cadaver dogs had picked-up his scent, conspiracy theorists interpreted this fact as evidence that he had been murdered somewhere else, then placed behind the church where he could be easily found. People invested in this scenario disregarded a Burbank police officer's comment that "Every indication is that he [Ivens] has been there from the first day."

     On August 6, 2012, Craig Harvey, the Chief Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office announced that Stephen Ivens had shot himself in the head with a handgun. The death had been ruled a suicide. The authorities revealed that the FBI agent had been despondent, but didn't say why.

     While FBI agents don't disappear everyday and stay missing for 80 days, the national media didn't show much interest in the Stephen Ivens case. Even the media in southern California didn't give the story a lot of attention. If Ivens had been even a minor celebrity, particularly someone in the entertainment industry, the media would have been all over his disappearance. There would have been daily press conferences, a three-page feature in People Magazine, headlines in the supermarket tabloids, and candlelight vigils attended by an army of fans. (Ivens' wife did stage one candlelight vigil in McCambridge Park to raise awareness of the case.)  So-called celebrity investigative journalists would have dug into every corner of Ivens' life. 

News Bloggers

     Blogs are online journals consisting of brief entries displayed in chronological order on a page. They are usually written in a conversational voice and usually peppered with links and references to other sites. Blogging is confronting journalism with the rise of current-events blogs that deconstruct news coverage, spew opinion and even scoop the big media from time to time. The best news bloggers are articulate, independent thinkers. In some ways, they are the antithesis of traditional journalists, unedited, unabashedly opinionated, sporadic and personal.

     A growing number of journalists are blogging on their own time. Many are freelancers and columnists who want a showcase for their collected works and an overflow bin for commentary that couldn't fit into their allotted inches or minutes. Even journalists who have no interest in running a blog can glean story tips and ideas from them. Blogs can be a rich resource, an easy publishing tool and a repository for notebook overflow. Bloggers will not usurp online newspapers, but newsrooms could borrow a few tricks from bloggers to make their own journalism better.

Barb Palser, "Journalistic Blogging," ajrarchive.org, July/August 2002 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

The Life and Death of Serial Killer Israel Keyes

     Israel Keyes, a 34-year-old part time carpenter and bank robber, traveled around the country randomly targeting women to abduct, rape, and murder. He owned property in upstate New York, and had lived in the states of Washington and Oregon. (As a teenager, he had kidnapped and sexually assaulted an Oregon girl, his first rape victim.) In 2012, the tall, thin killer lived in Anchorage, Alaska.

     At eight o'clock on the night of February 1, 2012, 18-year-old Samantha Koenig was closing up shop at the Common Grounds Expresso coffee stand on Tudor Road. Keyes walked up to the kiosk and ordered a cup of coffee. After Koenig prepared his drink, Keyes pulled a gun and entered the stand where he used zip ties to secure the employee's hands behind her back. A surveillance camera caught Keyes and his victim as they walked toward his white pickup truck parked in the nearby Home Depot parking lot. Using Koenig's cellphone, Keyes sent a text message to her boyfriend saying that she, after having a bad day, was leaving town for the weekend.

     At his home that night, Keyes raped his victim. The next morning, he strangled Koenig to death, put her body into a shed on his property, and flew to Houston, Texas where he embarked on a two-week cruise.

     Keyes flew back to Anchorage on February 17, 2012. He tied up Koenig's body and posed it to make it appear that she was alive. Keyes took a Polaroid photograph of the dead girl that included a newspaper dated February 13. On the back of a photocopy of this picture, Keyes typed a ransom note demanding $30,000 from Koenig's family. He followed up the ransom note with a text message instructing her father to deposit the money in a bank account Keyes could access with Koenig's debit card. The family complied with the kidnapper's demands.

     After making a withdrawal from the Koenig bank account, Keyes dismembered Koenig's body and hauled the remains to Matanuska Lake north of Anchorage. Using a chainsaw, he cut a hole in the ice and slipped the body parts into the water.

     On March 6, 2012, Keyes flew from Anchorage to Las Vegas where he withdrew more money from the ransom account. From Nevada he traveled to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Later that month, police in Lufkin, Texas arrested Keyes when he used Samantha Koenig's debit card to take out more ransom money. The police also seized the disguise props Keyes had used when making his ransom withdrawals. Keyes also possessed several rolls of cash.

     While in custody at the Anchorage Correctional Facility, Keyes admitted kidnapping, raping, and murdering Samantha Koenig. On April 2, 2012, divers recovered her remains from Matanuska Lake. Keyes also confessed to having kidnapped and murdered Bill and Lorraine Currier (he raped Lorraine) in June 2011. (Their bodies were not recovered.) In the course of discussing his life as a serial lust killer, Keyes took credit for the rape and murder of five other women whose names he either didn't recall or chose not to reveal.

     Scheduled to be tried for Samantha Koenig's murder in March 2013, Keyes said he planned to kill himself long before his trial. As a result, officials at the correctional facility placed Keyes on suicide watch. (Keyes was one of 23 inmates in the jail's segregation unit where the prisoners did not have cellmates.) In August 2012, Keyes talked the psychiatric staff at the jail into taking him off suicide watch. After that, a guard checked Keyes' cell every 30 to 45 minutes.

     During the early morning hours of Sunday, December 2, 2012, Keyes cinched one end of a sheet around his neck and tied the other end to his ankle so that when he extended his leg, the sheet tightened around his neck. He climbed into his bunk, and using a razor blade attached to a pencil, slit his left wrist. During the night, the guard checking on his cell thought the inmate was sleeping.

     The next morning at six, when the guard couldn't rouse Keyes out of bed, the prison authorities discovered that the prisoner had committed suicide. Since inmates were required to return razors after shaving, no one was sure how Keyes had come into possession of the blade.

     Israel Keyes, without the freedom to rape and murder women, had no reason to live. Instead of waiting around ten years for the state to kill him, Keyes decided to execute himself. By committing suicide, this killer also expressed the sociopath's contempt for society, the law, and his victims. 

Monday, June 8, 2020

The Kim Pham Murder Case

     Just after midnight, Saturday January 18, 2014, 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim" Pham was waiting to get into the Crosby Bar and Nightclub in downtown Santa Ana, California. The 2013 graduate of Chapman University stood amid others roughly her age eager to enter the club. The festive atmosphere suddenly turned ugly when Pham inadvertently stepped in front of a cluster of club-goers posing for a photograph outside of the bar.

     Members of the group being photographed voiced their displeasure over the so-called "photobomb".  This led to an exchange of angry words between Pham and the others. Shortly thereafter, fists started flying and Pham ended up on the ground being kicked and stomped. Several young bystanders recorded the melee on their cellphones.

     The group Pham had angered included 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala, her boyfriend, and another couple. When Kim Pham, sprawled at the feet of her attackers, stopped moving, Zavala and her friends walked away leaving the unconscious woman where she lay.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced Kim Pham brain-dead and placed her on life-support until her organs could be harvested.

     On Monday, January 20, 2014, detectives with the Santa Ana Police Department, after reviewing several cellphone videos of the deadly brawl, arrested Vanesa Zavala on the charge of murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Orange County Jail where she was held on $1 million bond. If convicted as charged, Zavala faced a maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.

     On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, doctors removed Kim Pham from life support. A few hours later hospital authorities pronounced her dead.

     While investigators were trying to identify the other people in Zavala's group, a coalition of Santa Ana businesses offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrests.

     Following Zavala's arraignment hearing, her attorney, Kenneth Reed told reporters that Zavala herself had been knocked to the ground in the fight. Referring to his client, the lawyer said, "Your life is fine, you have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday with your boyfriend and then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed. No matter what the situation is, you're going to be devastated." [For yourself or the victim? Devastation is an emotion, one of many emotions experienced by the living. Kim Pham felt nothing.]

     Attorney Michael Molfetta, the attorney representing a member of Zalava's group who was not charged in the case, told reporters that Kim Pham threw the first punch. Okay. So the others stomped her to death in self defense?

     On January 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged 27-year-old Candice Marie Brito with murder in the Pham case. To reporters, Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta lashed out against the victim: "Ms Pham has been anointed a saint," he said. In contrast, his client has been "vilified internationally."

     Brito, from Santa Ana, was held in the Orange County Jail on $1 million bond.

     In July 2016, a jury sitting in a Santa Ana court room found Zavala and Brito guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Orange County Judge Thomas Goethals sentenced both defendants to six years in prison. These sentences, by any standard, were outrageously light.

The Barbara Olson Murder Case

     In the summer of 2012, Antonio D. Barbeau, a 13-year-old escapee from a juvenile detention center, was living in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin with the family of his 13-year-old friend, Nathan P. Paape. On September 17, 2012, Paape's mother drove the eighth graders to the Sheboygan Falls home of Barbeau's great-grandmother. Paape's mother didn't realize that Barbeau carried a concealed hatchet, and that her son possessed a hammer. She didn't know that the boys intended to murder and rob the 78-year-old woman, Barbara Olson.

     The boys entered Olson's house through an unlocked door to her attached garage. The target of the murder/robbery, when she realized why the boys had come to her home, threatened to call Barbeau's mother. At that point Barbeau knocked his great-grandmother off her feet by hitting her in the back of the head with the blunt end of his hatchet. As she lay on the floor trying to protect her head with her hands, Barbeau hit her again, and again. Nathan Paape joined in with his hammer. To finish off the dying woman, Barbeau struck her twice in the back of the head with the blade part of the bloodied hatchet.

     The young murderers rummaged through the dead woman's house looking for cash and valuables. They gathered up the victim's purse, some loose change, and a few pieces of her jewelry. Barbeau slipped the blood-soaked watch off his great-grandmother's wrist.

     The boys had planned to load the victim's body into her car and drive it to a spot where they'd abandoned the vehicle and the corpse. When they couldn't stuff the body into the car, they left it in the garage beneath a blanket.

     The cold-blooded killers tossed the bloody murder instruments into the trunk, and drove off in the murdered woman's car. They parked the Olson vehicle in a a Sheboygan Falls bowling alley parking lot. Leaving the keys in the ignition with the stolen jewelry placed on the front seat in plain view, they walked away hoping that someone would steal the car and eventually take the fall for murdering the woman lying dead in her garage.

     A few blocks from the abandoned vehicle, Barbeau and Paape sat down for a meal at a pizza parlor. After eating their pizzas, the boys walked to Paape's house. Along the way, they tossed Barbara Olson's handbag into a storm drain. At Paape's home, they changed into fresh clothes and hid their bloody garments and the gold watch Barbeau had taken off the corpse.

     Later on the day of this senseless murder, Mrs. Olson's daughter discovered her body. Police officers quickly figured out who had murdered the victim. Investigators recovered her purse from the street drain, the murder weapons from the stolen car, and the killers' bloody clothing and the victim's gold watch from Nathan Paape's house.

     In a matter of days, Antonio Barbeau confessed, and in so doing, implicated his friend. On September 21, 2012, four days after the murder, a Sheboygan County prosecutor changed each suspect with first-degree intentional homicide. The magistrate set each of the defendants' bail at $1 million.

     Nathan Paape went on trial for first-degree intentional homicide in June 2013. Under Wisconsin law, Paape, because of his age, couldn't be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. But if convicted as charged, the judge could sentence him to a maximum of forty years in prison before he was eligible for release.

     One of the first prosecution witnesses, Dr. Doug Kelley with the Fond du Lac County Medical Examiner's Office, testified that Barbara Olson had been struck in the head with the blunt instruments at least twenty-five times. The star prosecution witness, Antonio Barbeau, testified that he and the defendant had hatched the murder/robbery scheme together. Barbeau told the jurors that he and Paape took turns whacking his great-grandmother as she lay helpless in her own home.

     Defense attorneys put their client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. According to the defendant, the crime had been Barbeau's idea. After they entered the victim's house, Paape said he hit the old woman twice with his hammer. He only did it because he was afraid that if he didn't, Barbeau would attack him. The defendant claimed that when his mother drove them to Olson's dwelling, he didn't think that Barbeau would actually carry out the plan to kill the woman.

     Following the one-week trial, the jury, after a quick deliberation, found Nathan Paape guilty as charged. A few days after the verdict, Antonio Barbeau withdrew his not guilty by mental disease plea. He agreed to plead no contest to first-degree intentional homicide.

     On August 12, 2013, Barbeau appeared before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Van Akkeren who presided at his sentence hearing. His attorney presented a psychiatrist who testified that Barbeau had "cognitive issues" stemming from being hit by a car when he was 10-years-old. Judge Van Akkeren, obviously unimpressed with the psychiatrist's testimony, sentenced Barbeau to life. The 14-year-old would not be eligible for parole until November 24, 2048 when he turned fifty.

     The next day Judge Van Akkeren, before sentencing Nathan Paape, said, "Mr. Paape is a follower in this case. I do find there is less culpability." The judge sentenced Paape to life in prison with eligibility for parole on December 2, 2043, Paape's 45th birthday.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Living Without Police

In the middle of the night someone is breaking into your house. You call 911 and the dispatcher assures you that an anger management counselor and a victim's advocate are on their way. Your store is being robbed. You call 911 and the dispatcher reminds you that it's just property and you should call your insurance agent. You need to go to the store for groceries, but because all of the murderers, rapists, arsonists, muggers, and burglars have been released from prison, you can't safely leave the house. But it really doesn't matter because looters have already emptied the grocer's shelves. And you can't buy a firearm for protection because the gun shops have also been looted out of existence. Maybe it's time to get into your car--if it hasn't been stolen--and get the hell out of that city. As you leave town, you can wave good-bye to the criminal-loving politicians who ruined your city and your life. In time, however, they too will flee the community because walls and security guards are no match for vicious, criminal mobs. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Being Labeled A Racist Can Be a Career-Ending Charge

     At one-thirty in the morning of September 24, 2009, a Muskegon (Michigan) Police Department patrol officer on a routine traffic stop, pulled over a car driven by a 23-year-old black man named Julius Allen-Ray Johnson. The driver was on parole after having served two years in prison for drug dealing and resisting arrest.

     The officer who pulled over the car called for backup when Mr. Johnson refused to obey his commands. Muskegon officer Charles Anderson, a 38-year-old who had been on the force since 1997, responded to the call.

     At the arrival of the second officer, Julius Johnson ran from the scene with officer Anderson in pursuit. Shortly thereafter, the officer who had initiated the arrest, heard a single gunshot. When he tried to communicate with officer Anderson by car radio and received no response, he searched for the patrolman and found him and Julius Johnson lying on the ground. Mr. Johnson had been shot to death, and patrolman Anderson had a serious, blunt object head injury. The dead man was not in possession of a firearm.

     Because a white police officer had killed an unarmed black man, members of the black community and others protested the shooting as an act of police racism.

     Following an investigation of the police-involved shooting, investigators determined that officer Charles Anderson had been justified in using deadly force on grounds of self defense. In resisting arrest, Julius Johnson had seriously injured the officer, causing him to have a metal plate implanted in his head.

     Almost ten years after Julius Johnson's death, on August 7, 2009, Robert Mathis and his wife were taking a tour inside a house up for sale in Holton Township, a community twenty miles northeast of Muskegon. The house belonged to officer Charles Anderson and his wife Rachael.

     In one of the bedrooms, Robert Mathis and his wife, a black couple, saw a Confederate flag and a framed Ku Klux Klan document dating back to the 1920s. The displayed memorabilia of America's racist past in the home of a police officer caused Mr. Mathis and his wife to feel "anger, sadness and shame."

     Robert Mathis photographed the flag and the KKK document, and the next day, posted the pictures on his Facebook page. The postings created outrage and demands that this racist cop be removed from law enforcement.

     On September 12, 2019, following a police disciplinary hearing, the panel recommended terminating the employment of the 48-year-old police officer. The next day Charles Anderson was fired.

     The county prosecutor, in light of Charles Anderson's racist memorabilia, announced that his office was considering re-opening the Julius Johnson police-involved shooting case.

     Robert Mathis, on his Facebook page, wrote: "I feel sick to my stomach knowing that I walk into the home of one of the most racist people in Muskegon hiding behind his uniform and possibly harassing people of color and different nationalities."

Questioning Police Authority Versus Resisting Arrest

You have been speeding and an officer pulls you over. You refuse to respond to the traffic cop's questions, or perhaps the officer sees something in the vehicle that raises his or her suspicion of criminal possession. You protest when the officer tries to search your car. The officer threatens to arrest you if you do not calm down. You continue to assert what you believe are your rights and refuse to be handcuffed. Under these conditions you are resisting arrest. It seems that more and more citizens don't understand resisting arrest law or choose to ignore it. Citizens need to be reminded that in the vast majority of physical police-citizen confrontations, the police win. If the police officer violates your constitutional rights, your remedy is in a court of law, not at the point of arrest. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Rodney King's Historic, Troubled Life

     On March 3, 1991, when 25-year-old Rodney King led Los Angeles Police officers on a high-speed chase through LA County, he was trying to avoid a DUI arrest, not become a key figure in the history of civil rights and police brutality. (King was on probation following an April 1990 robbery conviction.)

     Once pulled over, four police officers, with 17 looking on, hit King more than 50 times with their nightsticks. They also used a stun gun on the man lying on the ground in the fetal position. George Holliday, from the balcony of his apartment, caught the entire beating with his video camera.

     The King beating marked the beginning of the video camera/cellphone era of citizen police surveillance. Over the next two decades, officers all over the country would be visually recorded beating people. Cops hated citizen video cameras and cellphones, and in many cases seized them to avoid having their behavior exposed. Laws were passed to prevent this.

     The four officers seen on the video tape pounding Rodney King were indicted (the 17 who watched the assault were not), but a jury in Simi Valley found the defendants not guilty. The acquittals led to riots in April and May, 1992. The following year a federal jury found two of the officers guilty of violating King's civil rights. The other two officers were acquitted.

     In 1996, Rodney King sued the city of Los Angeles for $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The civil jury awarded him $3.8 million in compensatory damages, but nothing punitive. Eighteen years later, King published his autobiography. It was not a bestseller.

     In August 2003, Rodney King was spotted speeding and running a red light. When officers tried to pull him over, he crashed into a house, breaking his pelvis. At the time of the incident, King was under the influence of alcohol. He was fined and given probation.

     While riding his bicycle in November 2007, someone tried to steal King's bike by shooting him in the face, arms and back with birdshot. The shooters were never identified.

     In May 2008, Rodney King, suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, checked into the Pasadena Recovery Center in Pasadena, California.

     At 5:25 in the morning of Sunday, June 17, 2012, Cynthia Kelly, King's fiancee, called 911 from their home in Rialto, California. Responding officers found him on the bottom of his swimming pool. The 47-year-old was wearing swim trunks. A short time later, King was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Although there were no physical injuries on his body, and no other indications of foul play, his body was autopsied. The medical examiner ruled King's death as an accidental drowning influenced by drugs and alcohol.

     A next-door neighbor told officers that she heard a man crying in King's backyard from three to five that morning. The witness also heard Cynthia Kelly trying to coax the crying man back into the house. The neighbor said, "She was just saying, 'Get in the house. Get in the house.'" A few minutes later the witness heard a splash. 

Looting Has Been a Fact of Urban Retailing for Years

     In the summers of 2011 and 2012, gangs of teenage black kids invaded, for the purpose of retail theft, stores in downtown Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Norfolk, Virginia. Groups of 20 or more males and females overwhelmed store security in order to steal expensive merchandise--usually clothing--for resale. These mobs were assembled, mobilized, and coordinated through social media networking.

     These gangs of retail thieves committed a brand of unlawful taking that fell between team shoplifting and robbery (taking by force). It was looting, and reflected a group entitlement mentality as well as total disrespect for the rule of law. This form of urban anarchy should not have been taken so lightly. Civil disorder of this nature drove retailers and other businesses out of downtown America.

     In Chicago, Luke Cho, the owner of a Wicker Park clothing store, became alarmed at 6:40 PM on Saturday, August 14, 2012. Twenty or more black teenagers entered his place of business as a coordinated group. Mr. Cho knew what this meant, he was about to be looted by a so-called "flash mob."

     The gang moved purposefully toward the section of the story that housed the display of Nudie brand jeans. At $200 a pair, these jeans had been in demand since some rap singer was seen wearing them on TV. Mr. Cho, to keep a second wave of looters out of his store, locked the front door, and asked an employee to call 911.

     As the thieves scooped up armloads of jeans in front of alarmed store employees and customers, members of the second wave of looters, who were locked out of the store, banged angrily on the glass. Once the inside thieves had gathered up all the jeans they could carry, then moved toward the front of the establishment, stopping along the way to put other stolen items into their backpacks. After fumbling with the door, one of the looters figured how to unlock it. The door opened, the pack rushed onto the street, and dispersed with more than $3,000 worth of Mr. Cho's merchandise. By the time the first police officer arrived at the scene, it was all over.

     Mr. Cho, when he reviewed the store's surveillance tape, recognized several of the looters as previous shoplifters. He posted the video online, and asked the public to help identify as many thieves as possible. (Victims of flash mobs, aware that the police are indifferent to crimes like this, essentially had to conduct their own investigations.)

     Scott Paulson, a CBS news commentator, wrote an article on the network's website about these retail marauders. Paulson criticized the media, police administrators, and politicians for not calling these mob heists what they really are--race riots. According to Mr. Paulson, "The media, the politicians, and the bulk of the commentators on social issues need to quit being afraid of people like Rev. Al Sharpton." Pointing out that these mobs are comprised of black kids, and that their victims are white, Paulson writes: "If a story is about race, it must be reported as a racial story for the good of the people who could easily be subjected to the next flash mob attack....Protecting a community's image or a segment of society's image should not override the public's need to know and be protected."

     Anyone with half a brain could have foreseen what's happening in our cities today.
     

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Michelle Gibson Murder-For-Hire Case

     Steven Gibson, the owner of a machine shop, lived in Peoria, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. He resided in the Thunderbird Vista neighborhood with his 41-year-old wife Michelle, their 15-year-old son Steven Jr., and their 17-year-old daughter Alyssa. In November 2012, Steven Gibson was charged with assaulting a police officer following a DUI arrest. Local police officers, on several occasions, had been summoned to the Gibson house on accusations of domestic violence. No arrests were made because Michelle Gibson refused to press charges.

     At two in the morning of March 1, 2013, Michelle Gibson called 911 and said: "There's blood everywhere! I'm with my kids and I just got home and my husband's out in the garage dead."

     In the Gibson garage police found that the victim had been bludgeoned in the head and stabbed several times in the chest. Since nothing had been stolen from the house, the police ruled out theft as a motive. Investigators also wondered what Mr. Gibson was doing in his garage so late at night.

     On March 27, 2013, following a month-long homicide investigation, police arrested Steven Gibson Jr. on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The next day, officers arrested his mother Michelle on the same charges.

     Investigators believed that Michelle Dawn Gibson had recruited her son, her daughter, and a friend of her son's to murder her husband. (The friend, 16-year-old Erik McBee, had turned himself into the police shortly after the homicide.)

     According to police reports, Michelle Gibson told her team of young assassins that Mr. Gibson needed to be killed before he murdered a family member. In discussing the fate of her husband, Michelle mentioned that he had a life insurance policy. The accused murder-for-hire mastermind promised to pay Erik McBee $1,000 for his participation in Mr. Gibson's homicide.

     The murder-for-hire plan, as allegedly laid out by Michelle, involved incapacitating her husband with chloroform while he slept in his bed. Using the victim's own truck, they would haul his body to a nearby park where one of the young killers would shoot him in the back of the head. To make the murder look like a drug deal gone bad, the assassins planned to spread pills on and around his body.

     As is often the case in murder-for-hire schemes, things did not go as planned. At ten-thirty on the night of February 28, 2013, Erik McBee used a baseball bat to bludgeon Mr. Gibson in the head as he slept in his bed. Steven Gibson Jr. stabbed his dying father three times in the chest, then slashed his throat. Using a dolly, Eric and Steven rolled Mr. Gibson's corpse into the garage. Because Erik McBee fled the scene at the sound of a distant police siren, the dead man never made it to the park. Later that day, Erik, a Popeye's Chicken employee, turned himself into the police.

     When Michelle Gibson returned home around midnight with her daughter, she allegedly helped her son clean up the bloody murder scene. At two that morning, after disposing of physical evidence, Michelle called 911 to report the discovery of her husband's body in the garage.

     Michelle Gibson and her son Steven pleaded not guilty to all charges. Erik McBee also pleaded not guilty to murder.

     In January 2014, McBee pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Michelle and Steven Gibson. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

     Steven Gibson Jr. pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2014. The judge sentenced him to 22 years behind bars.

     On November 25, 2014, the jury found Michelle Gibson guilty of first-degree murder. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Alfred Fenzel, in February 2015, sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to life in prison without the possibility of parole.