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Friday, July 31, 2020

The Alan Goodman Murder Case

     Alan and Lois Goodman, in 2012, had been married 50 years. In the early 1960s, Alan started an auto parts business in Los Angeles. Lois, who in 1979 became a tennis referee, had risen to the top of her profession, and at age 70, was still officiating matches. She and her 80-year-old husband lived in a condominium in the Woodland Hills district of Los Angeles out in the San Fernando Valley.

     On April 17, 2012, Lois called 911 to report the discovery of Alan Goodman lying on his bed either unconscious or dead. LAPD officers from the Topanga station responded to the scene. According Lois, she had been away from the condo six hours during which time she had been refereeing tennis matches at Pierce Community College in Woodland Hills.

     Upon entering the dwelling, Lois said she noticed a broken coffee mug on the floor with blood on it. From the mug, she followed a trail of blood into Alan's bedroom where she found him unresponsive with a bloody wound to the right side of his head.

     Lois Goodman informed the police officers that her husband, a diabetic with high blood pressure, must have had a heart attack, fallen down a flight of stairs, then somehow made it to his room and climbed onto his bed. Because of Mr. Goodman's age, the LAPD officers had no reason to suspect criminal homicide.

     Two fire department paramedics pronounced Mr. Goodman dead at the scene. While neither of the medics were trained homicide investigators, they possessed enough common sense and death site experience to interpret an oddly shaped wound to the right side of the dead man's head as possible evidence of foul play. The medics took care not to disturb the body on grounds it might be part of a murder scene. Police officers, however, relying on Lois Goodman's death narration, allowed the body to be transported to its place of future cremation. In a situation that cried out for, at the very least, an autopsy, Mr. Goodman's corpse, and perhaps evidence of murder, were headed for the furnace.

     Whether or not a homicide had occurred in the Woodland Hills condominium, the initial phase of the Goodman case was not how violent, sudden death situations should be handled in the second largest police department in the country, or for that matter, anywhere else.

     On April 20, 2012, three days after Alan Goodman's death, an investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office who had been dispatched to sign Mr. Goodman's death certificate, noticed several deep cuts on the dead man's head and ear that seemed too severe to have been caused by an accidental spill down a flight of steps. This death investigator's rather basic observation led to an autopsy of Mr. Goodman's body.

     The next day, a forensic pathologist with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office determined that Mr. Goodman's cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head from a sharp object. The pathologist found shards of the broken coffee mug imbedded in the victim's wounds. Moreover, Mr. Goodman had not suffered a heart attack. Instead of a flight of stairs, Mr. Goodman had been killed by being struck in the head with a coffee mug. As a result of the autopsy findings, the coroner's office ruled the manner of this death a homicide.

     Had Mr. Goodman's body been cremated, the cause and manner of this man's death would have remained a mystery. On the other hand, because the autopsy had been delayed three days, the forensic pathologist could not pinpoint the time of death.

     Los Angeles detectives, on April 21, 2012, searched the Goodman condominium in Woodland Hills. The searchers discovered heavy blood staining on the carpets, on the refrigerator door, inside the linen closet, and on a wall near the inside door to the garage.

     In general, an analysis of the blood spatter patterns in the condo did not support the theory that Mr. Goodman had fallen down a flight of stairs. (I don't know if the police had collected the broken coffee mug and its pieces from the crime scene. If they didn't preserve what turned out to be the murder weapon, that was a problem. And even if officers did retrieve this evidence later, that was a chain of custody problem.)

     Shortly after the delayed search of the Goodman condo, detectives questioned Lois Goodman, this time as a suspect in her husband's murder. According to published police documents, she gave conflicting accounts of what she had observed upon entering the dwelling that day. At one point, she described the scene as "violent," and suggested that someone may have "positioned" Mr. Goodman's body in his bed.

     Over the next four months, Los Angeles detectives, with Lois Goodman as their prime suspect, investigated the murder. This led to the discovery of emails she had exchanged with a man who may have been a lover. In one email, Lois Goodman referred to "terminating" a relationship. Investigators suspected that Goodman had murdered her husband for another man. The fact there were no signs of forced entry into the condo, and that nothing had been stolen from the dwelling, comprised more circumstantial evidence that Lois Goodman had been responsible for her husband's violent death. Moreover, when speaking to the responding officers that day, the dead man's wife had gone out of her way to establish her whereabouts at the time of his death, behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving widow.

     In mid-August 2012, after a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Lois Goodman with the murder of her husband, detectives followed her to New York City where she was scheduled to officiate at the U.S. Tennis Open at Flushing Meadows. On August 21, on the eve of the Open, New York City officers went to her Manhattan hotel room and arrested her on the California murder warrant. That evening, Los Goodman found herself in the Rikers Island lock-up under $1 million bond pending her extradition hearing.

     Back in Los Angeles on August 29, 2012, at her arraignment hearing, the judge, assured by Goodman's attorney Alison Triessl that the tennis line umpire was not dangerous, or a candidate for flight, reduced her bail to $500,000. In speaking to reporters, attorney Triessl, in making the case that her 70-year-old client was physically incapable of killing her husband, pointed out that she had received two full knee replacements, and a shoulder replacement. According to the attorney, Lois Goodman was "wearing two hearing aids, and had rheumatoid arthritis."

     On September 3, 2012, Lois Goodman, after spending two weeks in jail, was released on bail.

     The FBI announced, on October 10, 2012, that Lois Goodman, when asked by a bureau polygraph examiner if she had killed her husband, answered no--and passed the test. The polygraph expert, Jack Trimarco, said there was "no significant reaction" when Goodman answered "no" to the payload question.

     On November 30, 2012, the Los Angeles prosecutor, due to insufficient evidence, dropped the murder charges against Lois Goodman.

     In April 2015, a federal judge dismissed Lois Goodman's false arrest lawsuit against the LAPD. The plaintiff claimed the murder accusation caused her "public humiliation." In setting out his rationale for the dismissal, Judge John A. Kronstadt wrote that the LAPD homicide investigation had produced "substantial details sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to arrest Lois Goodman."

     Lois Goodman, in March 2018, filed suit in federal court claiming the Los Angeles Coroner's Office had deprived her of her civil rights by falsifying her husband's autopsy report. The 76-year-old plaintiff asked for $100,000 in damages to cover the cost of her bail and legal fees stemming from her arrest. As of this writing, Goodman's lawsuit is pending, and no one else has been arrested for the murder of Alan Goodman.

College Enrollment Decline Pre-COVID-19

     The fall 2019 postsecondary enrollment numbers [revealed] that overall, enrollments decreased by 1.3 percent, a drop of more that 231,000 students from 2018. [That's equivalent to four of the country's largest universities.]...

     For the first time this decade, the nation's fall semester's enrollments dipped below 18 million, a decline of more than 2 million students since its peak in 201l...

     If anyone needed further proof that higher education continues to battle strong headwinds, these enrollment numbers should suffice. A shrinking population of high school graduates combined with a spate of institutional scandals, widespread anxiety about the costs of college and mountains of student debt, increasing skepticism about the value and necessity of college, growing concerns about the fairness of the admissions process, and the widening partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats over whether colleges are politically biased, has taken a toll on American's perceptions--and their participation--in college.

Michael T. Nietzel, "College Enrollment Declines Again," NPR, December 16, 2019

Abolish the Police Movement is Not New

     At worst, the politically radical professor is someone who poisons the minds of vulnerable, easily influenced college students. At best, they waste their students' tuition money with their grandstanding. Take University of California at Davis professor and poet Joshua Clover. Dr. Clover, an academic in the oddly combined disciplines of political theory, political economy, poetry, poetics, and Marxism, has called attention to himself by making outlandish statements regarding his hatred of police officers.

     In November 2014, after officer Darren Wilson was cleared of wrongdoing in the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Clover tweeted, "I am thankful that every living cop will one day be dead, some by their own hand, some by others, too many of old age." A month later, the professor was at it again with this tweet: "I mean, it's easier to shoot cops when their backs are turned, no?"

     In a January 2016 interview in The California Aggie, Professor Clover said, "People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed. I think we can all agree that the most effective way to end any violence against officers is the complete and immediate abolition of the police."

Crimes Against Language

The language of sociology is made up of vague, often meaningless jargon designed to dull the senses and distort reality. This is particularly true when criminologists talk about crime and criminal justice. The destroyers of precise, vivid English have given us mindless phrases such as "anti-social behavior," "juvenile delinquent," "root causes," and "reform school."  In the vocabulary of sociology, depraved behavior became "deviant behavior." The concept of "root causes" makes society, not the individual, responsible for horrific criminal acts. Sociologists are responsible for the concept of "social justice," code word for collective guilt. In the world of sociology, personal responsibility for one's behavior simply does not exist. 

Before You Write, Have Something to Write About

When young people ask me how to get started writing, I tell them the best way would be go somewhere and do something, experience something, and then write about it. That's how Ernest Hemingway got The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Brenda Heist Missing Person Case

     In 2002, forty-three-year-old Brenda Heist and her husband Lee were going through an amicable divorce. The couple had two children, a daughter who was eight, and a twelve-year-old son. They lived in Lititz Borough, a small Lancaster County town in southeastern Pennsylvania. Brenda worked as a bookkeeper at a local car dealership.

     In an effort to finance her own apartment, Brenda applied for state housing assistance. The agency denied her request. Depressed, overwhelmed, and distraught, Brenda, after driving the children to school one day in February 2002, drove to a nearby town and parked her car in a bus station lot. From there she walked to a park where she sat on a bench and cried.

     Brenda did not go back to her car and drive home that day. To her family and friends, and to the local police, she became a missing person.

     Four days after Brenda dropped her children off at school, police found her car parked in the bus station lot. When a mother takes her kids to school and doesn't return home, the police assume that she has been abducted. As days went by without anyone hearing from or seeing Brenda Heist, detectives began to think that she may have had been murdered. At this point the missing persons case turned into a homicide investigation. As in most missing wife cases, the suspicion in Brenda's disappearance fell on her husband.

     As psychic detectives and other whack-job callers flooded the Heist missing persons investigators with false leads, homicide investigators focused on Lee Heist as their primary murder suspect. As a result, Mr. Heist lost his job. He ran into financial difficulties, and eventually lost his home. After several years as a suspect in his wife's disappearance and murder, following a series of polygraph tests, investigators cleared Lee Heist of wrongdoing in the case. His wife remained missing, however, and was presumed dead.

     In 2008, the Lancaster County Major Crimes Unit began investigating the Brenda Heist disappearance as a cold-case murder. Two years later, Lee Heist petitioned a Lancaster County Court to declare his wife legally dead. With Brenda officially declared "missing and possibly deceased", Mr. Heist was able to marry another woman.

     As it turned out, while Lee Heist was put through hell as a suspect in his wife's murder, Brenda was alive in south Florida. On the day of her disappearance, she was approached by two men and a woman who saw her crying on the park bench. After she related her tale of woe, they invited her to join them on a hitchhiking trip to Florida. She accepted their offer.

     Brenda Heist spent her first two years in Key Largo, Florida living under bridges and eating restaurant garbage. She entered a new phase in her life when she moved into a camp trailer with a man she met on the street. For the next seven years, Brenda lived with this man in Key West. They both worked as day laborers cleaning boats and doing odd jobs for cash.

     In 2011, after her relationship with her trailer roommate soured, Brenda was back on the street. She worked odd jobs and hung out on the beach. In December 2012, under her alias Kelsie Lyanne Smith, Brenda got a job as a live-in housekeeper for a family in Tampa Bay. (According to her employer she had good references.)

      A few months after landing the housekeepers job, a police pulled Brenda over for driving with an expired license plate. The officer found drugs in her car. She served two months in Pensacola County Jail on the drug possession offense. Following her release from jail, she spent a few weeks behind bars in Santa Rosa County on an identify theft charge. At one point she lived in a tent community run by a Florida social service agency.

     On Friday, April 26, 2013, Brenda Heist surrendered herself to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Thinking that there were warrants for her arrest out of Pinellas County, the 54-year-old told the Monroe County deputies that she was at the end of her rope, and tired of running. She informed the officers that eleven years ago she had walked out on her family in Lititz Borough, Pennsylvania.

     The Florida authorities called Lititz Borough Sergeant John Schofield with the news that Brenda Heist was not dead, and no longer missing. Her children, now college students, still had a mother.

     On May 3, 2013, Brenda was sent back to the Santa Rosa County Jail on various theft related charges. Morgan Heist, her 19-year-old daughter, told reporters she has no interest in reuniting with her mother.

     On June 11, 2013 a judge in Pensacola, Florida sentenced Heist, known in the Santa Rose court system as Kelsie Smith, to one year in jail in connection a probation violation. She pleaded no contest to failing to check in with authorities after leaving the Pensacola area following her release from jail in April. She'd been on probation for using someone else's identification during a traffic stop.

Heroin Kills

     When someone takes heroin there is an immediate rush. Then the body feels an extreme form of relaxation and a decreased sense of pain. What's happening inside the body is the heroin is turning into morphine. Morphine has a chemical structure similar to endorphins--the chemicals your brain makes when you feel stressed out or in pain. Endorphins inhibit your neurons from firing, so they halt pain and create a good feeling.

     Most people die from heroin overdoses when their bodies forget to breathe. A heroin overdose can also cause your blood pressure to dip significantly and cause your heart to fail. Intravenous heroin users are 300 times more likely to die from infectious endocarditis, an infection on the surface of the heart.

     Heroin use can also cause an arrhythmia--a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood to the body, and lack of blood flow affects your brain, heart and other organs. Heroin use can also cause pulmonary edema. That's when the heart can't pump blood to the body well. The blood can back up into your veins, taking that blood through your lungs and to the left side of the heart.

     Heroin can also come with other toxic contaminants that can harm a user--although deaths from such instances, while not unheard of, are thought to be rare. [This form of heroin death is now common.]

Jen Christensen, "How Heroin Kills You," CNN February 4, 2014 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Bobby Wilson Murder Case

     About 6,000 people live in Spanish Fort, Alabama, a Gulf Coast suburb of Mobile on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. In the early morning hours of August 11, 2007, Spanish Fort police officer Steve McGough pulled into Wilson's Service Center for gas and a cup of coffee. When McGough walked into the convenience store he found the owner, Arthur "Bobby" Wilson, slumped over the counter. The officer grabbed hold of the bleeding 71-year-old and helped him onto a chair. Mr. Wilson had been beaten in the head with a blunt object, and robbed. As the officer called in the robbery and assault, the victim made "gurgling sounds," and mumbled incoherently. Four months later, Mr. Wilson died from his head wounds. The victim had been unable to describe or name his assailant. The robbery/assault case had turned into a murder.

     In December 2008, shortly after Bobby Wilson's death, Baldwin County prosecutor Michael Plyant charged Leslie Eric Buzbee with capital murder in the case. Police arrested the 23-year-old and hauled him to the Baldwin County Corrections Center in nearby Bay Minette, Alabama. The murder suspect remained in custody without bail.

     Detectives had learned that days before the robbery/assault, Buzbee, who lived ten minutes from the service station and knew the victim well, had asked Mr. Wilson to cash a check. According to the police theory of the case, when Bobby Wilson refused to cash Buzbee's check the second time, the suspect assaulted him with an aluminum baseball bat the victim kept on the premises. The authorities were convinced that Buzbee, high on cocaine and in desperate need of money, assaulted Mr. Wilson out of anger and the need for cash to support his drug habit.

     Leslie Buzbee's trial got underway on May 4, 2009 in Bay Minette. His attorney, John Beck, exploited the fact the prosecution, without the murder weapon, physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene, a confession, or an eyewitness, had an extremely weak, circumstantial case. As it turned out, Attorney Beck was right. Four weeks later, the judge declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach an unanimous verdict.

    Following the hung jury, prosecutor Plyant decided to try again. The second trial, which commenced in August 2009, ended prematurely when the judge declared a mistrial on a procedural issue.

     On August 8, 2009, the Baldwin County prosecutor took a third run at Leslie Buzbee. Without new, incriminating evidence, the third jury to be empaneled in the case, after four hours of deliberation, found the 25-year-old defendant not guilty. Buzbee, having been incarcerated in the Baldwin County Correction Center since December 2008, walked free. (The double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution protects Buzbee, regardless of what new evidence might surface, from being tried a fourth time for Mr. Wilson's murder.)

     Following the not guilty verdict, in response to a reporter's question about whether the authorities would re-open the murder case, prosecutor Plyant said, "The investigation is done because we tried the person we believe did the crime."

     The Wilson murder case, from an investigative point of view, produced a suspect, but didn't feature enough hard evidence to support a conviction. Had Bobby Wilson, before he died, been able to communicate with the police, the outcome of this case might have been different.

     On December 31, 2012, officers with the Mobile Police Department arrested Leslie Eric Buzbee in connection with a series of residential burglaries and thefts from vehicles. Officers found cocaine and drug paraphernalia in his car. At the time of his arrest, Buzbee was the subject of several burglary warrants issued out of Baldwin County. He was back in jail, but not for murder.

     In May 2013, while out on bond for the December 2012 case, Buzbee was charged in Baldwin County with second-degree receiving stolen property. (As of this writing I can find no disposition of these cases on the Internet.) As for Bobby Wilson, no one has been held accountable for his murder.

How To Keep a Government Job

If I were handing out career advice I'd say this: If you want a government job where you can demonstrate courage, go into the military or law enforcement. If you are not the courageous type, seek an ordinary governmental position. The goal of the ordinary civilian government employee is to not make waves. Whistleblowers are not welcome and are treated brutally. In government work, it's all about group think, obedience, and when confronted with governmental wrongdoing, look the other way. 

Jack Henry Abbott's "In The Belly of the Beast"

     My first acquaintance with punitive longterm solitary confinement had a more adverse and profound spiritual effect on me than anything else in my childhood. [Abbott was a victim of child abuse.]

     I suffered from claustrophobia for years when I first went to prison. I never knew any form of suffering more horrible in my life.

     The air in your cell vanishes. You are smothering. Your eyes bulge out; you clutch at your throat; you scream like a banshee. Your arms flail the air in your cell. You reel about the cell, falling.

     Then you suffer cramps. The walls press you from all directions with an invisible force. You struggle to push it back. The oxygen makes you giddy with anxiety. You become hollow and empty. There is a vacuum in the pit of your stomach. You retch.

     You are dying. Dying a hard death. One that lingers and toys with you.

     The faces of the guards, angry, are at the gate of your cell. The gate slides open. The guards attack you. On top of that, the guards come into your cell and beat you to the floor.

Jack Henry Abbott (1944-2002), In The Belly of The Beast, 1982

[In January 1981, Abbott, who had spent most of his life behind bars as a violent criminal, was released on parole from a prison in Utah. Novelist Norman Mailer and other bleeding-heart types who liked Abbott's book, were instrumental in his release. Six months after walking out of prison, Abbott stabbed a 22-year-old waiter to death outside a New York City restaurant. The murder occurred after an argument over Abbott's use of the restaurant's employee-only restroom. Norman Mailer, who had once stabbed his wife, not only liked Abbott because he could write, the novelist may had admired him for his violence. Parole boards, when considering who to release and who not to, should not listen to novelists.] 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Bethany Deaton's Sex Cult Death

     Bethany Ann Leidlein, a bright, ambitious, and spiritual person, grew up in Arlington, Texas. In 2005, the 20-year-old graduated magna cum laude in English and Spanish from Southwestern University. While enrolled at the university in Georgetown, Texas, she met Tyler Deaton and his friend Micah Moore. Deaton, a domineering and charismatic young man from Corpus Christi, had been a member of the National Honor Society at Calallen High School. At Southwestern, a small liberal arts school affiliated with the Methodist Church, he played jazz piano and led prayer groups in the college chapel. A campus spiritual leader, he became known for his belief that "God glorifies in your having fun."

     After Bethany and Tyler graduated from Southwestern University, the two of them, joined by Micah Moore and a handful of other young men, moved to the Kansas City, Missouri suburb of Grandview where they became members of a fundamentalist Christian church called the International House of Prayer (IHOP). In May 2009, Bethany and Tyler completed a six-month religious program at IHOP University.

     In the summer of 2012,  after Tyler and Bethany were married, they moved, along with his his male religious friends and followers, into a large, old house in Grandview. Having gone back to school and earned a degree in nursing, Bethany worked as a registered nurse at a local hospital. She and her male roommates had evolved into a cult-like religious group led by her husband. The Grandview house they all lived in became sort of a church.

     At ten o'clock on the night on October 30, 2012, Jackson County (Missouri) sheriff's deputies were called to investigate the body of a woman found in the back of a van parked near Longview Lake. The dead woman turned out to be Bethany Ann Deaton.

     Bethany's head had been covered by a white, plastic bag. In the Ford Windstar van, deputies recovered a notepad upon which someone had written what appeared to be a suicide note. It read: "My name is Bethany Deaton. I chose this evil thing. I did it because I wouldn't be a real person and what is the point of living if it is too late for that. I wish I had chosen differently a long time ago. I knew it all and refused to listen. Maybe Jesus will save me."

     In the van's cup-holder sat an empty 100-count bottle that had once held Acetaminophen pills. While most experienced homicide investigators would have considered Bethany Deaton's death scene suspicious, the Jackson County Coroner's Office classified it as a suicide. The plastic bag over her head, the empty pill bottle, and the suicide note had the look of a staged suicide.

     Bethany Deaton's parents claimed her body and had her buried in Arlington, Texas without an autopsy. According to Bethany's online obituary, she had been "a lover of books, writing, nature, deep conversations, dance, worship, and, most of all, Jesus."

     On November 9, 2012, one of Bethany Deaton's male roommates, 23-year-old Micah Moore, showed up at the Grandview Police Department with something to confess. He informed the detective who spoke to him that Bethany Deaton had not committed suicide because he had murdered her. He had pulled the plastic bag over her head and had held it there "until her body shook."

     According to Micah Moore, he, Tyler Deaton, and the other male members of the spiritual clan had been sexually assaulting Bethany for months. They all had sex with her after drugging her with an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel. (This medication had been prescribed to a member of the sect.) Micah Moore said he had video-taped the group rapes on his tablet computer. He told the detective that he had also confessed his role in the rapes and murder to his pastor. Moore said he had written poems about Bethany Deaton's sexual assaults.

     Micah Moore informed the Grandview detective that the victim's husband, Tyler Deaton, had talked him into killing Bethany and making it look like a suicide. In the weeks prior to her death, Bethany had been seeing a counselor. Tyler Deaton, according to Moore, had been worried that she might report the group rapes to the therapist. Moore also confessed that after the men raped the drugged-up woman, they had consensual sex with each other.

     Following Micah Moore's stunning murder confession, the authorities in Jackson County, Missouri re-classified Bethany Deaton's manner of death as a criminal homicide. Her cause of death: asphyxiation by suffocation. On November 10, prosecutor Jean Peters charged Micah Moore with first degree-murder. Tyler Deaton was not charged with a crime.

     Allen Hood, the president of IHOP University, distanced the school and the church from Tyler Deaton and his followers. He described Deaton as the leader of an independent, close-knit religious group that had operated separately "under a veil of secrecy."

     On November 28, 2012, Micah Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, announced that her client had recanted his confession. The lawyer described the confession as "bizarre, nonsensical and most importantly, untrue." Attorney Morgan went on to say that Moore was a "distraught and confused young man under extreme psychological pressure as a result of his friend Bethany's untimely suicide and the sudden removal of his spiritual leader, Tyler Deaton from their extremely close-knit religious community."

     On October 31, 2014, Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker dropped the charges against Micah Moore. Moore's DNA was not on the bag over Deaton's head and forensic document examination revealed that the suicide note had been written by her. Moore's attorney, Melanie Morgan, said her client's confession had been a "reactive psychotic episode triggered by the suicide of his friend."  

Children's Book Writers Draw On Their Childhoods

To write for children involves a close affinity with one's own childhood. If you have this, it follows that you will have that same affinity for childhood in general.

Irene Hunt in Pauses, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, 1995

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Tomeikia Johnson Murder Case

     Off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer Tomeikia Johnson and her husband Marcus Lemons started arguing while having drinks on February 21, 2009 at the T.G.I. Friday bar in Compton, California. At 11PM, after the 32-year-old cop paid the bill, she and Lemons, a barber and locally known amateur bowler, left the restaurant with the CHP officer behind the wheel. About an hour later, Johnson pulled up to her parents' Compton home with her husband's dead body in the BMW. Lemons had been shot point-blank in the head with his wife's handgun. Johnson's mother called 911.

     Pending the results of the homicide investigation conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office, the CHP re-assigned Johnson to desk duty. She told investigators that she and her husband, after they left the bar, continued to fight. When she pulled the car off the road, he became physical. As they struggled for control of the gun, it went off and killed him. According to her account of the shooting, she was defending herself against an abusive husband.

     Detectives looking into the shooting believed that Johnson had pulled the car off the road, reached into her purse, took out her gun, and shot Lemons in the head. The Los Angeles County deputy district attorney handling the case believed that Johnson had murdered her husband. In January 2011, sheriff's deputies arrested Tomeikia Johnson on the charge of first-degree murder as she sat at her CHP desk. (From the beginning, the CHP had cooperated with the investigation.) Initially held in the county jail on $2 million bond, Johnson made her bail and was released.

     In January 2012, with the defendant's family seated on one side of the courtroom, and her dead husband's relatives gathered in the other half of the gallery, the Johnson trial got underway in downtown Los Angeles. In her opening statement to the jury, Deputy District Attorney Natalie Adomian laid out the prosecution's theory of the shooting. According to the prosecutor, after Johnson pulled the BMW off the road, she pulled out her gun, pressed the muzzle against his head, and pulled the trigger.

     Over the next several days, Adomian, to support the prosecution's assertion that the killing had been intentional, put a blood spatter interpretation analyst as well as a gunshot residue expert on the stand. The experts testified that the pattern and location of the blood and powder staining did not support the defendant's account of the shooting. The forensic scientists were followed by a series of witnesses who portrayed the defendant as having an aggressive personality and a drinking problem. These witnesses characterized Marcus Lemons as a peaceful, nonviolent husband who had taken a lot of abuse from his wife. Since Johnson hadn't confessed, and there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial.

     To establish that his client had been an abused wife, and that the shooting had occurred during a life and death struggle for the gun, attorney Darryl Stallworth put the defendant on the stand realizing that the outcome of the case depended upon Tomeikia Johnson's credibility. Stallworth, to make the case for his client's innocence, had to put Marcus Lemons on trial. He had to attack a dead man, always a risky move in a murder trial.

     According to the defendant, a week before her husband died while trying to kill her, he had given her reason to fear for her life. They had gotten into an argument while driving back to Los Angeles from a bowling tournament in Las Vegas. She told him to stop the car, and when he pulled off the road, she ran to a nearby truck stop and called 911 and reported that her husband had gotten possession of her gun and wanted to kill her. (No charges were filed against Lemons.) Johnson also testified that in 2008, Lemons had attacked her in a Las Vegas hotel room, injuring her neck. No charges were filed in that case either.

     After giving testimony intended to establish Marcus Lemons as the abuser in the marriage, Johnson provided her account of how he had died: After leaving the T.G.I. Friday bar in Compton, she and Lemons continued to argue. He became so angry he reached over and started choking her, forcing her to pull off the highway. He grabbed the keys out of the ignition and told her to walk home. She climbed out of the BMW and started running. Worried that he would take the gun out of her purse (left behind in the car) and shoot her, she returned to the vehicle. As she and her husband reached for the gun, it fell to the ground. When she picked it up, the pistol went off, killing him.

     "Did you want to fire that weapon?" asked the attorney.

     "No."

     "Did you want to kill your husband?"

      "No," the defendant replied.

     The defense rested. Following the closing arguments and the judge's legal instructions, the case went to the jury. If jurors believed Johnson's account of the shooting, they would acquit her. If not, she would not be walking out of the courthouse a free person.

     On January 23, 2012, the jury, after deliberating slightly more than a day, found Tomeikia Johnson guilty of first-degree murder. She fainted, and paramedics rushed to the defense table and wheeled her out of the courtroom on a gurney.

     At Johnson's March 9, 2012 sentencing hearing before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, her attorney asked the judge to reduce the murder charge to manslaughter. Judge Perry denied the request and sentenced Johnson to 50 years to life. Apparently the judge didn't buy her story either. As Johnson wept, her mother yelled "I love you Tomiekia!" This set off a raucous back and forth in the gallery between the opposing families.

Human Diversity

Even people in the same family are diverse. They don't look the same, think the same, behave the same, or believe in the same things. Family members argue a lot, fight among themselves, and once in a while even kill each other. So it shouldn't be surprising that religious and ethnic groups, as well as nation states, go to war with each other. Maybe the world would be a safer place if the family of man wasn't so diverse.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Should Rutgers University Throw Out Standard Grammar or Professor Rebecca Walkowitz?

     The English Department at Rutgers University recently announced a list of "anti-racist" directives and initiatives for the upcoming fall and spring semesters, including an effort to deemphasize traditional grammar rules.

     The initiatives were spelled out by Rebecca Walkowitz, the English Department chair and sent to faculty, staff and students in an email...

     Titled "Department Actions in Solidarity with Black Lives Matter," the email states that the ongoing and future initiates that the English Department has planned are a "way to contribute to the eradication of systemic inequities facing black, indigenous, and people of color."

     One of the initiatives is described as "incorporating 'critical grammar' into our pedagogy."

     It is listed as one of the efforts for Rutgers' Graduate Writing Program, which "serves graduate students across the Rutgers community. The GWP's mission is to support graduate students of all disciplines in their current and future writing goals, from coursework papers to scholarly articles and dissertations." [So, this is who we can blame for all of that unreadable, jargon-laced academic babbling produced by dissertation writers.]

     Under a so-called critical grammar pedagogy, "This approach challenges the familiar dogma that writing instruction should limit emphasis on grammar/sentence-level issues so as to not put students from multilingual, non-standard 'academic' English backgrounds at a disadvantage," the email states. "Instead, it encourages students to develop a critical awareness of the variety of choices available to them with regard to micro-level issues in order to empower them and equip them to push against biases based on "written accents." [Good heavens, has it come to this?]

Alex Frank, "Rutgers English Department to Deemphasize Traditional Grammar 'In Solidarity With Black Lives Matter' " The College Fix, July 20, 2020

Winston Churchill on Who's a Prostitute

Sir Winston Churchill supposedly asked Lady Astor whether she would sleep with him for five million pounds. She said she supposed she would. Then he asked whether she would sleep with him for only five pounds. She answered,"What do you think I am?" His response was, "We've already established that; we're merely haggling over price."

Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Psychic Sylvia Mitchell

     In October 2007, 33-year-old Lee Choong, a native of Singapore who worked 80 hours a week at a Manhattan investment-banking firm, walked into the Zena Clairvoyant Psychic parlor on Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village. Ms. Choong had sought help from psychics before. In 2006, she had paid $10,000 to a fortune teller doing business in New York's SoHo district. Choong came away from that experience feeling cheated. This distraught and lonely woman had obviously not learned the obvious truth that psychics are not only fakes, they are thieves who prey mostly on gullible, desperate women.

     In her opulent Greenwich Village storefront parlor, 34-year-old Sylvia Mitchell, a resident of Mystic, Connecticut (no kidding) offered to give people who walked into her cheesy shop an introductory "reading" for the bargain price of $75. The first session was in reality a combination sales pitch and hook designed to sucker the customer into subsequent psychic sessions that cost $1,000 each. Since only believers availed themselves of psychics, it didn't take much for one of these phony practitioners to close the deal. If these naive and troubled women had any money when they walked into Zena Clairvoyant's shop of financial horrors, they eventually walked out broke and broken.

     As a prologue to Lee Choong's first reading, the victim unburdened herself to the psychic. Choong said she had fallen in love with a co-worker at the investment-banking firm who did not feel the same way about her. Could Zena help? Of course Zena could help. Here was the problem: in one of Choong's past lives a member of her family had hurt the co-worker. This had created "bad spirits" that had carried forward to the present. But not to worry. Because Choong and this man at the investment-banking firm were meant for each other, psychic Mitchell would bring them together by ridding Choong of the bad spirits that had kept him away.

     During their first meeting, psychic Mitchell cautioned Lee Choong that cleansing her of those evil spirits would not be easy. It would take a lot of time, and as we all know, time is money.

     Over the next year and a half, Lee Choong paid Sylvia Mitchell more than $120,000. The psychic said she needed the money to pay for evil spirit removal supplies. (Apparently you can't get this stuff at Home Depot.) If the bad spirits were not vanquished, and Choong's life didn't get better, Michell promised to return the money. (One didn't have to be a psychic to predict that Choong's life would not improve, and that she would not get her money back.)

     In 2008, notwithstanding psychic Mitchell's efforts, Lee Choong lost her job at the investment-banking firm. When the unemployed woman, in April 2009, asked for a psychic refund, Sylvia Mitchell told her that within a period of four months Choong would get a new job, one that paid $95,000 a year. That, of course, didn't happen. And Choong did not get her refund, either.

     In September 2012, Lee Choong went to the police.

     In August 2008, while Sylvia Mitchell was separating Lee Choong from her savings, Debra Saalfield, a single mother of three entered the psychic shop on Seventh Avenue South. The former competitive ballroom dancer from Naples, Florida, an employee of a Manhattan dance company, had lived in the West Village with her boyfriend, a man she wanted to marry. They broke up, she moved out, and a short time later, she lost her job at the dance company. With her life in shambles, Debra experienced what she called an emotional "meltdown." Rather than seek professional help, and perhaps medication, Saalfield turned to a psychic.

     From psychic Mitchell, Debra Saalfield learned that in one of her past lives she had been an Egyptian princess. As part of the ruling class, Saalfield had enjoyed great wealth. As a result, in her present life, she had become too attached to money. Yes, it was that filthy lucre that was ruining her life. To prove her diagnosis, Mitchell asked Saalfield to write her a check for $27,000. Without that wealth, Saafield's life would improve. If it didn't, Mitchell would return every penny. Saafield took out a loan on her house.

     After Saalfield realized she had been the victim of a confidence scam, she asked the psychic to return the $27,000. Mitchel, over a period of months, gave back about half of what she had taken.

     In 2011, while running a psychic shop in her hometown, Mystic, Connecticut, the authorities accused Mitchell of bilking a Catskills woman out of $9,000. This prompted Zena Clairvoyant to leave the state. A short time later, while running a game in Florida, the police arrested her for stealing $27,000 from a woman who had paid for "consultations" by Zena Clairvoyant.

     In New York City, detectives working out of the 6th precinct arrested Sylvia Mitchell in February 2013 on charges of fortune telling, scheme to defraud, and grand larceny. On the grand larceny charge alone Mitchell faced up to 15 years in prison. The psychic made bail and went back to work in Greenwich Village as Zena Clairvoyant. No doubt she was predicting an acquittal.
   
     The Mitchell trial commenced on September 30, 2013 in a Manhattan criminal courtroom. During the jury selection process, Assistant District Attorney James Bergamo asked members of the panel this question: "Does anyone believe that psychics are real?" (I'm not sure, from the prosecutor's point of view, if you want believers or nonbelievers on the jury. Nonbelievers might condemn the victims as willing suckers who got what they deserved. Believers might see the case as nothing more that a consumer's rights conflict.) In response to Bergamo's question, several members of the jury panel raised their hands as believers. One of these prospective jurors said, "I'm curious about the future." Another said she had a friend who visited a psychic as "a happy-hour thing." A third member of the panel said she had a friend who read palms.

     In his opening statement to the twelve people who ended up on the jury, prosecutor Bergamo revealed his strategy of portraying Choong and Saalfield as vulnerable women taken advantage of by a cold-blooded con artist. "The defendant," he said, "is not in the business of cleansing spirits. She's in the business of cleaning out bank accounts."

     When it came time for defense attorney William I. Aronwald to address the jury, he said, "You will not hear any evidence in this case that she [Sylvia Mitchell] did not provide the services that she was contracted to provide them." In other words, Choong and Saalfield had gotten what they had paid for--they paid for nonsense and that's what they got.

     On Thursday, October 3, 2013, following the direct testimony of prosecution witnesses Saalfield and Choong, defense attorney Aronwald, carefully trying not to come off as a bully, put these pathetic women under cross-examination. Regarding the psychic's so-called "readings," Aronwald asked Debra Saalfield to explain what a reading was. "A reading of what?" he asked. "Palms? Tarrot cards? You paid $75 for a reading, but what was read?"

     "I don't know," replied the witness.

     "When she told you that you had been an Egyptian princess, did you believe her?"

     "No."

     "Did you laugh?"

     "No."

     To Lee Choong, attorney Aronwald asked, "What led you to see a psychic instead of a licensed therapist?"

     "I needed answers," Choong replied.

     "In the eighteen months you were involved with Sylvia, there was no improvement in any of these areas, correct?"

     "Yes."

     "You continued to give her this money?"

     "Yes."

     On Monday, October 7, 2013, a prosecution witness named Rob Millet took the stand and testified that he sought the defendant's help after he learned that his boyfriend was moving back to Texas. To make matters worse, Millet's mother took ill. The psychic, after gaining Millet's confidence, said she had to have $10,000 to give him the quality of help he required. Millet, after borrowing $7,000 from his father,  paid Mitchell her fee. He got nothing in return.

     Defense attorney Aronwald, after resting his case without putting his client on the stand, gave his closing statement to the jury. He said that Sylvia Mitchell had done what her clients had paid her to do--try to help them. Yes, her methods were "unconventional," but so what?

     Prosecutor Bergamo, in his final statement to the jury, said, "The defendant finds people's weaknesses and she exploits them to her advantage."

     On Friday, October 11, 2013, the jury found Sylvia Mitchell guilty as charged. On November 14, 2013, the judge sentenced Mitchell to five to fifteen years in prison. (She already knew that, of course.)

     What this case and others like it reveal about modern society is disturbing. In an era in which we are overwhelmed with information, Americans are losing the ability to draw logical conclusions, apply common sense, and distinguish what is real from what isn't. We live in a culture of magical thinking devoid of objective truth. The loss of common sense and logic to irrational, magical thinking is perhaps one the the greatest dangers facing our country. A nation that can't think straight, make rational decisions, and apply common sense solutions to its problems, is doomed.

Jurors And The Meaning of "Aggravating" and "Mitigating"

     Studies and anecdotal evidence confirm that jurors routinely get confused by legalese. The price of confusion is especially high when the death penalty is at stake. Imagine twelve perfectly nice people who would rather be home suddenly forced to decide a matter of life and death. What helpful advice do they receive? That in deciding whether to impose the death penalty they must consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances.

     The problem is that the average layman hasn't a clue what the terms "aggravating" and "mitigating" mean in the legal context. An aggravating factor is one that heightens the seriousness of the defendant's crime; for example a long history of violent crime. At best, most jurors will understand the word "aggravating" in its colloquial sense as "annoying."Murderers do tend to be pretty annoying--does that mean they should all get the death penalty?

     Mitigating factors are those that tend to lessen the defendant's guilt, such as certain mental conditions. The Supreme Court of Georgia confidently asserted that mitigation "is a word of common meaning and usage" and therefore need not be explained to the jury. Try to remember the last time you heard the word "mitigation" used in everyday conversation.

Adam Freedman, Party of the First Part, 2007

Friday, July 24, 2020

Canada's "Black Widow"

     In 1988, in Ontario, Canada, 52-year-old Melissa Ann Shepard, married to a man named Russell Shepard, met Gordon Stewart, a factory worker with two children whose wife had passed away. They had an affair after which Melissa divorced Mr. Shepard, and became Mrs. Stewart.

     On April 22, 1991, after drugging Gordon Stewart with benzodiazepine (valium and restoril), Melissa drove him to a remote stretch of highway near the Halifax airport, pulled his body out of the car, and ran over him twice. (Mr. Stewart was probably dead from the lethal dose of drugs before she dumped him onto the road.) Three hours later, Melissa reported the incident to the police, claiming she had killed her husband while he was attempting to rape her.

     Melissa's account of her second husband's death, in the context of an attempted rape, made no sense. Moreover, Mr. Stewart, before his death, had written a letter in which he chronicled how Melissa had cheated on him, repeatedly lied, and drained his bank account. The authorities also found traces of the deadly drug in the victim's system.

     In the spring of 1992, a jury in Kingston, Ontario found Melissa guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced her to six years in prison. While incarcerated, Melissa formed a support group for wives who had been abused by their husbands. After serving just two years of the manslaughter sentence, the homicidal sociopath became a nationally known spokesperson for the battered wife syndrome.

     In April 2001, while looking for a husband to kill at a Christian retreat in Ontario, Melissa Stewart met 83-year-old Robert Edmund Friedrich. The next day, the 66-year-old "black widow" sent him a letter in which she wrote: "God wants us to be married." Within days of that letter, the couple tied the knot.

     When Mr. Friedrich died of cardiac arrest one year after marrying Melissa, she emptied his bank account of $400,000, and continued receiving his social security checks. The happy widow arranged to have Mr. Friedrich hastily cremated before his body could be autopsied. Because of his age, and the quick cremation, notwithstanding some suspicion of foul play, Melissa was not charged in connection with the old man's death.

     In March 2004, about two years after Mr. Friedrich's passing, Melissa hooked up with a Florida man through an Internet dating site. A few days after the online meeting, she flew to 73-year-old Alexander Strategos' home in Pinellas Park. The next day, the Canadian moved into the recently divorced man's house. Not long after that, they were married.

     During the next eight months, Mr. Strategos, feeling weak, kept falling and hitting his head, injuries that required eight hospitalizations. His doctors couldn't figure out what was ailing him. During his residence at a rest home, just before he died in January 2005, Mr. Strategos signed over power of attorney to his wife.

     Mr. Strategos' son became suspicious when he discovered, in his father's medical papers, that he had died with the unprescribed drug benzodiazepine in his system. Melissa had also withdrawn $20,000 from her deceased husband's bank account. On January 6, 2005, police arrested her on charges of grand theft and forgery. She pleaded guilty to these offenses, and was sentenced to five years in prison. On April 4, 2009, upon her release from custody, the authorities deported her back to Canada. Melissa never faced charges in connection with the mysterious death of Alexander Strategos.

     On September 28, 2012, Melissa, now 77, married Fred Weeks, a 75-year-old from New Glasgow, New Brunswick. While honeymooning a few days later on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Mr. Weeks fell ill at their bed and breakfast and had to be hospitalized. After nurses noticed signs that the patient had been injected with something, hospital personnel alerted the police. On October 1, 2012, Fred Weeks left the hospital a weaker but wiser man.

     The day after her husband walked out of the hospital, the police arrested Melissa on the charge of administering a noxious substance. No doubt her criminal record, and the fates of her former husbands influenced the decision to take her into custody. The judge, at her October 5, 2012 bail hearing, denied her bond.

     On June 11, 2013, Melissa pleaded guilty to administering a noxious drug. The judge sentenced the 78-year-old woman to three and a half years in prison. The Crown, without success, had argued that the defendant's age should not be a factor in her sentencing.

     On December 16, 2014, a judge in Nova Scotia denied the black widow's request for parole. The judge ruled that Melissa Friedrich had to serve her entire sentence which meant she would remain behind bars until January 2017.

     Notwithstanding the judges' insistence that Friedrich serve her full sentence, correction authorities in Nova Scotia released her back into society on March 18, 2016. She had been behind bars less than three years.

     In speaking to reporters, the Black Widow's attorney said this about his client: "I never really thought she was trying to kill anyone. If you look at her past, she really wanted to influence them [her poisoned husbands] and have them change their insurance and wills." 

Charles Bukowski on Contemporary Fiction

I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer. I did most of my reading at the downtown L.A. Public Library, and nothing I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me. It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture. One had to go back the pre-Revolution writers of Russia to find any gamble, any passion. There were exceptions but those exceptions were so few that reading them was quickly done, and you were left staring at rows and rows of exceedingly dull books. With centuries to look back on, with all their advantages, the moderns just weren't very good.

Preface to John Fante's novel, Ask The Dust, 1979 reprint of the 1939 classic.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Whodunits and Thrillers

The whodunit and the thriller are in their most typical manifestations deeply conventional and ideologically conservative literary forms, in which good triumphs over evil, law over anarchy, truth over lies.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Journalists Have No Business Telling Us What We Can't Say or Believe

Recently, an award winning journalist for a major newspaper declared that not all issues are debatable, that there isn't always two sides to a story, that certain points of view are indisputable fact and that disagreement on such matters should be banned. Moreover, what subjects can be discussed and debated should be determined by journalists and a certain group of select opinion makers. I don't know what you'd call this, but it certainly isn't objective, fact based journalism. And it definitely is not free speech. For example, this same "journalist" asserts that it is an indisputable fact that the police are "systematically" killing back people. I've been studying and writing about police-involved shootings for ten years, and it is my informed opinion that there is no evidence that remotely suggests that the police set out to kill anyone. Police officers routinely encounter people who are dangerous or appear dangerous, and they do their best to respond appropriately, regardless of race. Of course there are exceptions to this, but those incidents are rare. The police are not serial killers, and suggesting otherwise is reckless. Journalists should be guided by what they have learned through investigation, not simply by what they believe.

The Colin Abbott Murder Case

     Upon his retirement in 2010 as a New Jersey pharmaceutical company executive, 65-year-old Kenneth Abbott and his second wife Celeste bought a 25-acre estate in Brady Township not far from the town of Slippery Rock, the home of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the western part of the state. Kenneth and his 55-year-old second wife were married in 2007.

     On July 13, 2011, Melissa Elich, Celeste Abbott's daughter, contacted the New Jersey State Police and asked for information about the car accident death of her mother and stepfather. Kenneth Abbott's son Colin had told Elich that Kenneth and Celeste had died in a traffic accident on June 8, 2011. According to Colin, the traffic fatality had taken place in Plant City, New Jersey. When Elich couldn't find Plant City on a map, she called Colin to confirm the location. This time he told her it had happened in Atlantic City. According to the 42-year-old New Jersey resident, his father and Elich's mother had been burned beyond recognition in the crash.

     After the New Jersey State Police officer informed Melissa Elich that the state had no record of such an incident, the officer called the Pennsylvania State Police in Butler County and requested a welfare check of the Abbotts.

     On the day of Melissa Elich's New Jersey State Police inquiry regarding the traffic accident, Corporal Daniel Herr and another Pennsylvania State Trooper drove out to the West Liberty Road estate. The officers searched the unoccupied house and several out-buildings. Near one of the two ponds on the property, the troopers discovered a pair of metal barrels that had been used to burn something. In the vicinity of the barrels, about 200 yards from the house, the officers came across charred human body parts.

     Later on the day of the gruesome discovery on the Abbott estate, Dr. Dennis Dirkmart, a forensic anthropologist with Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, arrived at the scene with his team of graduate students. Dr. Dirkmart and his forensic crew identified a skull containing the upper teeth along with a lower jaw containing additional dentition. The death scene investigators also recovered a female pelvic bone and several larger bones that were male. (The remains were later identified as those of Kenneth and Celeste Abbott.) Further analysis of the dismembered and burned bodies by a forensic pathologist revealed that the couple had been shot. (The police found a spent bullet near one of the ponds.)

     On July 13, 2011, officers with the New Jersey State Police searched Colin Abbott's home in Randolph, New Jersey, a town of 25,000 in the northern section of the state. The search produced incriminating evidence that linked Abbott to the double murder in Butler County, Pennsylvania.

     From Colin Abbott's house, the New Jersey investigators recovered Celeste Abbott's red-leather wallet that contained her driver's license and several credit cards. The officers also found a .380-caliber pistol later identified as the murder weapon. In the murder suspect's bank safety deposit box, detectives found Kenneth Abbott's will that designated his son the sole beneficiary of the $5 million estate. The will had been changed to that effect in 2010. Investigators believed the suspect had murdered his father and stepmother in order to inherit their wealth.

     In Pennsylvania, State Trooper Chris Birckichler questioned Adam Tower, Celeste Abbott's son. Mr. Tower revealed that in speaking to the suspect on July 12, 2011, Colin ordered him not to contact his father's life insurance company. The suspect made it clear that he would be handling the disposition of the estate.

     On July 14, 2011, the day detectives interrogated Colin Abbott in Randolph, New Jersey, murder charges were being filed against him in Pennsylvania. Officers in New Jersey arrested Colin Abbott that day on the Pennsylvania homicide charges, and a couple of weeks later, the suspect was incarcerated in the Butler County Jail awaiting his trial.

     On the day before the trial, February 26, 2013, the defendant pleaded no contest to two counts of third-degree murder. As part of the plea deal, Abbott avoided the penalties of death and life in prison without the possibility of parole. Butler County Judge William Shaffer sentenced Colin Abbott to 35 to 80 years in prison. If he served the minimum sentence, Abbott could regain his freedom when he was 77-years-old. The cold-blooded killer stood before Judge Shaffer and wept.

     Less than a month after his sentencing, on March 6, 2013, Colin Abbott filed a 5-page handwritten request asking Judge Shaffer to allow him to withdraw his plea in the case. At the plea withdrawal hearing on March 28, 2013, the Butler County prosecutor played recordings of jailhouse phone conversations between the prisoner and Deborah Buchanan, his 64-year-old mother.

     Abbott, pursuant to a discussion of his attempt to take back his plea, said this to his mother: "It's a publicity start in the right direction for you; possibly for a book, possibly for other things, you know?" Abbott's mother, a resident of Rockway, New Jersey, owned Deadly Ink Press, a small publisher of murder mystery books. Buchanan had made it known that she was writing a book about her son's case.

     To an Associated Press reporter following this story, Deborah Buchanan said, "I am talking to people about a book deal. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I am a writer. That's not why he [her son] wants to change his plea. He was under a lot of pressure." (Committing murder can do that to a person.)

     On April 12, 2013, Butler County Judge Shaffer denied Abbott's motion to withdraw his no contest plea.

Janet Malcom On Journalists

The dominant and most deep-dyed trait of the journalist is his timorousness [timidity]. Where the novelist fearlessly plunges into the water of self-exposure, the journalist stands trembling on the shore in his beach robe. Not for him the strenuous  athleticism--which is the novelist's daily task--of laying out his deepest griefs and shames before the world. The journalist confines himself to the clean, gentlemanly work of exposing the griefs and shames of others.

Janet Malcom

The Humiliating Life Of The Writer

Humiliation is not, of course, unique to writers. However, the world of letters does seem to offer a near-perfect microclimate for embarrassment and shame. There is something about the conjunction of high-mindedness and low income that is inherently comic; something about the presentation of deeply private thoughts--carefully worked and honed into art over the years--to a public audience of strangers, that strays perilously close to tragedy. It is entirely possible, I believe, to reverse Auden's dictum that "art is born out of humiliation."

Robin Robertson, editor, Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

Monday, July 20, 2020

The Colleen Harris Murder Case

     In 1985, 47-year-old James Batten kicked his wife Colleen out of the house. The estranged couple lived in Placerville, California, a town of 10,000 in the Sacramento metropolitan region. On the night of July 31, 1985, Colleen called the El Dorado County Sheriff's office from her husband's residence and said, "I shot my husband. I think, I don't know, I don't remember. I don't know if I even shot him."

     Police officers found James Batten, Colleen's second husband, lying dead in his bed from two close-range shotgun blasts. The newly minted 43-year-old widow told the officers she had shot her husband in self-defense. She claimed he had threatened to kill her and rape her daughter from her first marriage.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Colleen Batten went on trial in February 1986. A psychiatrist took the stand for the defense and testified that Colleen didn't remember much about the shooting because she suffered from a condition he called, "limited amnesia."

     At the conclusion of the three-week trial, the jury, after deliberating almost two days, returned a verdict of not guilty. One of the jurors, in speaking to a reporter after the trial, said, "The net result was that we felt there was insufficient proof of intent to commit first-degree murder." (The prosecutor had made the mistake of not providing this jury the option of finding the defendant guilty of a lesser homicide offense. Faced with sending Colleen away for life or letting her walk, the jurors set her free.)

     Colleen married again, but in 2005 she and her third husband, 66-year-old Robert Harris, filed for divorce. The couple remained married, however. Although he resided in a cabin on South Lake Tahoe, Mr. Harris, in late 2012, returned to the Placerville house to care for his estranged wife as she recovered from hip surgery.
   
     On January 6, 2013, Colleen was once again on the phone with the police. For the second time in 27 years, she was informing officers she had used a shotgun to blow away a spouse. (It was a different shotgun.)

     The police arrived at the Harris residence that night to find the newly widowed 70-year-old in the kitchen washing dishes. In the bedroom, the police found Mr. Harris in bed with an upper torso shotgun wound.

    Police officers booked Coleen Harris into the El Dorado County Jail on the charge of first-degree murder.

     The Coleen Harris murder trial got underway on March 18, 2015 in the El Dorado County Courthouse. In his opening statement to the jury, Deputy District Attorney Joe Alexander said the defendant had murdered her estranged husband in a fit of jealousy. On January 5, 2013, the day before the shooting, the defendant caught Mr. Harris standing outside the house on his cellphone with his overseas lover. This, plus the fact Mr. Harris had revealed his plan to move back to his cabin, had pushed the defendant over the edge.

     Defense attorney David Weiner, the lawyer who had successfully represented Coleen Harris at her previous murder trial, did not make an opening statement to the jury.

      Pam Stirling, the murdered man's daughter, took the stand for the prosecution. According to this witness, on the day before her father was shotgunned to death, the defendant sent her a text message that read: "Between you and me, as I sit here wondering who I am married to, your dad just called his Mongolia lover."

     The victim's daughter, in referring to the defendant, said, "Her emotions were going up and down. I was concerned that we would end up where we are today." The witness said her father, as a precaution, had installed new locks on his South Lake Tahoe cabin.

      Pam Stirling was followed to the stand by police officers and detectives involved in the case.

     On March 25, 2015, defense attorney Weiner said his client, on the day of the shooting, had been in a "gray fog."

     Defense attorney Weiner, on April 2, 2015, following the closing of the prosecution's case, put Colleen Harris on the stand. The defendant said that after she and her husband had argued over his paramour in Mongolia, she went into their darkened bedroom to console him and to make up. When she reached out to rub his neck, she felt the barrel of a shotgun. "I said, 'Bob, what are you doing? Why do you have this gun with you?' I thought he was going to kill himself."

     The murder defendant testified that in response to her efforts to make up with her husband, he cursed at her and pushed her away. She said she felt a blow to her chest and thought it was the butt of the shotgun. She ran out of the room.

     According to the murder suspect, when she returned to the bedroom that night, she reached over to her husband on the bed and asked, "Bob, are you okay?" She said she saw blood on his pillow and thought he was having a nose bleed. "I turned on the light and oh God, I saw the most horrible thing I have ever seen in my life. I said, "No, please! This can't be!' "

     In his cross-examination of the defendant, prosecutor Joe Alexander said, "The truth is, Mrs. Harris, you were holding the gun when Bob Harris was killed."

     "I guess I was," she answered. The witness, however, vehemently denied pulling the trigger.

     Prosecutor Alexander, on April 14, 2015, in his closing statement to the jury, said the defendant "entered the room with a shotgun. She aimed it as Bob lay sleeping. She put a finger on the trigger--and pulled that trigger."

     On April 15, 2015, after deliberating less than two hours, the jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder. The defendant put her hands over her face and cried. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     In speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Colleen Harris' attorney said, "She took it hard, hard, hard. She is distraught." 

Conjugal Visits

     Conjugal visits, a concept that started at the Mississippi State Penitentiary as a prisoner-control practice [in the 1950s], will soon be over. [Prison officials] plan to end the program on February 1, 2014, citing budgetary reasons and "the number of babies being born possibly as a result." In Mississippi, where more than 22,000 prisoners are incarcerated--the highest rate in the nation--155 inmates participated last year.

     In the 1970s, new prisons often included special housing for what had come to be called extended family visits. But by 1993, only 17 states allowed conjugal visits. Mississippi is one of just five that have active programs. In California and New York, they are called family visits and are designed to help keep families together in an environment that approximates home. Some research shows that they can help prisoners better integrate back into the mainstream after their release. 

     Visits in those states, and in Washington and New Mexico, can last 24 hours to three days. They are spent in small apartments or trailers, often with children and grandparents, largely left alone by prison guards. Visitors bring their own food and sometimes have a barbecue.

     In New York, about 8,000 family visits were arranged last year, a figure that corrections officials say has declined. Of those, 48 percent were with spouses. The rest were with family members such as children or parents.

     [By 2020, only four states, California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington allow conjugal visits.]

Kim Severson, "As Conjugal Visits Fade, A Lifeline to Inmates' Spouses is Lost," The New York Times, January 12, 2014 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case: The Power of DNA Evidence

     A man kills a woman, does not get caught, and moves on with his life. Then one day, 32 years later, cops knock on his door, put him in handcuffs, and haul the stunned suspect off to jail on the charge of murder. Before 1995, a story like this was the stuff of fiction. The advent of DNA technology, however, has made scenarios like this one not only possible, but fairly common.

     In the old days (in the context of DNA science), when a murder investigation petered out, and the trail grew cold, detectives shelved the case, and, except for the victim's family, it was forgotten. Maybe the detective who had tried but failed to solve the murder thought about it every so often. But with dead witnesses, failed memories, lost documents, and no leads, the old murder remained as dead as the victim. With the passage of enough time, even the killer might forget the killing, or pretended it never happened. It used to be said that murder will out, but that was a lie.

     Thanks to DNA science, old murder cases involving biological evidence such as hair follicles, saliva traces, bloodstains, and semen residue, can now come back to life and haunt killers who thought they had escaped detection. Yes, it's justice delayed, but it's a lot better than no justice at all.

The Catherine Walsh Murder Case

     At noon, on September 1, 1979, Peter J. Caltury, Sr. entered the duplex in Monaca, Pennsylvania where his 23-year-old daughter, Catherine Janet Walsh, lived by herself. He found her dead, lying face-down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back with a bathrobe cord. Dressed in a nightgown, and partially covered by the bed sheet, the victim had a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. When Mr. Caltury called the Monaca Police Department, Officer Andrew Gall responded to the scene.
 
      It became apparent that robbery hadn't been the motive for the Walsh murder. The doors to the house had been locked when the victim's father checked in on his daughter, and there were no signs of a struggle. Based on these conditions, investigators assumed the victim had known her killer.

     Murder was rare in Monaca, a Beaver County town on the eastern bank of the Ohio River 35 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fact Catherine Walsh had been sexually assaulted and murdered in her own bedroom shocked the residents of this small, tight knit community.

     Catherine, a year out of Monaca High School, married Scott E. Walsh in August 1976. In December 1978, he filed for divorce on the grounds she had "violated her marriage vows." Catherine had moved into the duplex after the separation. At the time of her death, however, she was still married to Scott Walsh.

     The Beaver County coroner determined that Catherine Walsh had been strangled to death, and ruled the case a homicide. Detectives questioned, as the obvious suspect, Scott Walsh, the estranged husband. Investigators also interviewed a man named Gregory Scott Hopkins from the nearby borough of Bridgewater. Hopkins admitted he had had a sexual relationship with the married victim, but said it had ended a month before her death.

     Although detectives worked hard on the Walsh murder case, they were unable to acquire the evidence they needed to arrest a suspect. Years passed and the case went dormant. Detectives worked on other crimes, and the Walsh case suspects went on with their lives. Gregory Hopkins became a successful building contractor, and in November 2010, was elected to the Bridgewater Borough Council. He married his first wife in 1967 and divorced her in 1980. He married again in 1983, divorcing this wife in 1999. In 2001, he married Karen L. Fisher.

     In 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police, working off a federal grant, re-opened several old homicide cases that featured biological evidence that could be linked to murder suspects through DNA analysis. One of these cold-case investigations included the September 1979 murder of Catherine Walsh. In December 2011, a state forensic scientist took DNA samples from several people, including Gregory Hopkins. After comparing biological trace evidence from the victim's nightgown, the bathrobe cord, and the crime scene bed sheet to Gregory Hopkins' DNA sample, the scientist declared a match.

     On January 29, 2012, detectives arrested Gregory Hopkins at his home for the murder of Catherine Walsh. They booked the Bridgewater Councilman into the Beaver County Jail. Six days later, James Ross, Hopkins' attorney, asked the judge to grant his client bail. The judge, ruling that Catherine Walsh's murder was a non-bailable crime, denied the defendant's request.

     Hopkins' attorney, promising a "vigorous" defense, told reporters that "Mr. Hopkins is a very reputable man in the community, has been in business for 40 years, served on the borough council and I think the arrest comes as a shock to many people." (I'm sure the arrest came as a shock to Mr. Hopkins. He may have been a reputable man before his arrest, but a DNA match in a murder case can suddenly erode a man's respectability.)

     On November 5, 2012, Common Pleas Judge Harry E. Knafelc ruled that the state could not use a report by the well-known Pittsburgh-based forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. According to Dr. Wecht, the murder scene DNA evidence revealed that Mr. Hopkins had been in the victim's bed lying on top of her when the murder took place. Judge Knafelc, in ruling Dr. Wecht's analysis inadmissible as evidence, cited insufficient scientific data to back up his expert opinion.

     The Hopkins murder trial got underway on November 10, 2013 in the Beaver County Courthouse. Assistant District Attorney Brittany Smith, in her opening statement to the jury, placed the defendant at the murder scene through his DNA found on the bed sheet, nightgown, and the bathrobe cord tied around the victim's wrists.

     Defense attorney James Ross told the jurors that his client's DNA was at the murder scene because he and the victim had engaged in sex the summer before her death.

     Defense attorney Ross, in his cross-examination of retired state trooper Richard Matas, got the prosecution witness to concede that when he processed the Walsh murder scene, he had not seen semen stains on the body, the bed, or the nightgown. Attorney Ross showed the witness a photograph depicting a bedroom trash can with a piece of tissue beside it. Ross asked the witness why the tissue hadn't been collected as potential evidence. "In hindsight, perhaps I made a mistake," replied the former officer.

     Andrew Gall, the former Monaca patrol officer, testified on cross-examination that he had not worn gloves at the site of the Walsh murder.

     At the close of the prosecution's case which featured the expert testimony of several forensic scientists, the 67-year-old defendant took the stand and testified that he had not been in the victim's apartment when she was murdered. According to Hopkins, the last time he visited her apartment was several weeks before her death.

     On November 22, 2013 the jury of five men and seven women found Hopkins guilty of third-degree murder. Judge Henry Knafelc, on February 26, 2014, sentenced Hopkins to 8 to 16 years in prison.

     In the Walsh case, crime scene mistakes made by the police did not diminish the prosecutorial power of DNA evidence.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dr. Van H. Vu: Pain Killing Narcotic Overdoses

     Up until the late 1980s, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers were limited to cancer patients and people with other terminal illnesses. That changed when influential physicians, in medical journal articles, argued that it was inhumane to keep these narcotics from patients who simply needed relief from pain. As a result, the use of pain killing drugs quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Currently, physicians write more than 300 million painkiller prescriptions a year with hydrocodone the most popular followed by morphine, codeine, OxyContin, and Xanax.

     In November 2012, reporters with the Los Angeles Times reviewed coroners' office records from four southern California counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and San Diego) covering the period 2006 through 2011. The inquiry revealed that more people died from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin and cocaine overdoses. The journalists identified 3,733 overdose deaths from prescription drugs. In half of the cases, the deceased had a doctor's prescription for at least one of the drugs that contributed to the fatal overdose. The deaths frequently resulted from several drugs prescribed by more than one physician.

     The Los Angeles Times study revealed that a small group of doctors accounted for a disproportionate number of fatal overdoses. Seventy-one physicians had written prescriptions that contributed to 298 overdose deaths. Each of these medical practitioners had prescribed drugs to three or more patients who died.

     The ages of the 298 overdose victims ranged from 21 to 79. A majority of these patients had histories of mental illness or addiction, including previous overdoses or stints in drug rehabilitation centers. Many of these prescription drug users were middle-aged teachers, nurses, and police officers introduced to addictive painkillers through bad backs, sore knees, and other painful ailments.

     The 71 physicians associated with three or more fatal overdose cases were pain specialists, general practitioners, and psychiatrists who worked alone without the peer scrutiny provided by hospitals, group practices, and HMOs. Four of the doctors had been convicted of drug-related crimes, and a fifth was awaiting trial.

     One of the physicians in the group of doctors not charged with a crime was a 49-year-old pain specialist from Huntington Beach, California named Dr. Van H. Vu. The Vietnam native had 17 of his patients die as a result of prescription painkiller overdoses. Dr. Vu earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Washington, and served a residency in anesthesiology at the University of California. He was board-certified in anesthesiology and in pain medicine.

     Most of Dr. Vu's pain patients had been referred to him by other physicians who turned to him as a doctor of last resort for people who suffered chronic pain. Many of these patients came to the pain specialist already hooked on prescription narcotics. While 17 of his patients overdosed fatally, Dr. Vu pointed out that he had successfully treated thousands of patients with these drugs. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Vu said: "I am doing the best I can in this very difficult field. I consider myself to be one of the best. But we have limits....I am a physician. I feel terrible when someone loses their life. I'm the one who should be prolonging life, so I'm saddened by that."

     On March 14, 2014, members of the California Medical Board filed a 15-page complaint accusing Dr. Vu of negligently prescribing powerful narcotics to patients who overdosed on the medication. The medical authorities sought to suspend or revoke the doctor's medical license.

     In June 2015, Dr. Vu agreed not to contest the medical board's accusation. In return, the board allowed him to keep his license on the condition that he take classes in prescribing and record keeping. Dr. Vu also agreed to submit to an outside practice monitor for five years.

     While it may be unfair to compare Dr. Vu to pill-pushing quacks like the feel-good doctors who supplied Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson with their drugs, physicians who function principally as legal drug dealers should be prosecuted for homicide when their patients fatally overdose. From an investigative point of view, however, it's not always easy distinguishing between physicians dedicated to the relief of suffering and their drug-pushing counterparts.

     In a subsequent physician/pain killing drug case, Dr. Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Tseng, in January 2016, was convicted of three counts of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three of her patients. This was the first time in the United States a physician was held culpable for murder for the over-prescription of pain killing drugs. The Los Angeles County judge sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.  

The Warning Shot: Reckless Endangerment or Self-Defense?

     On Saturday night, October 19, 2013, when questioned at her apartment complex in Woodbridge, Virginia, Lakisha Gaither told Prince William County police officers that she and her daughter had been set upon that night by a gang of boys. As Gaither and Brianna, her 15-year-old daughter, walked to their apartment, ten boys approached them in the parking lot.

     According to the 35-year-old mother, one of the boys insulted and swore at them. Brianna, who was five-foot-nine and 160 pounds, did not back down. This led to an exchange of face-to-face insults. When the boy grabbed Brianna's shirt and started hitting her, Ms. Gaither unholstered her handgun and fired a shot into the air.

     The warning shot ended the parking lot confrontation.

     Police officers arrested Lakisha Gaither for the reckless use of a weapon, a misdemeanor offense. None of the boys were charged with a crime. The next day, Lakisha took Brianna to Fairfax, Virginia to stay with the girl's grandmother. Lakisha feared that the boys she had run off with the gunshot might retaliate.

     In speaking to a local reporter, a Prince William County spokesperson said, "Ms. Gaither should have called the police instead of taking matters into her own hands. She may have been trying to break up the fight, but that's not the proper course of action to take."

     The gun-owning mother told the same reporter that, "I didn't feel like I was wrong. I wanted to protect my child. I just wanted this group of guys to disperse. I didn't know what they were going to do. I wanted him to stop hitting my child."

     A week after the confrontation and warning shot, a Prince William County Police Department spokesperson issued a modified account of the incident. According to investigators, Brianna and the boy in question had been involved in an ongoing dispute over rumors that had been spread about her. That night, Gaither and her daughter had sought out the boy near his home where the fight and warning shot took place. The boy claimed that Brianna had thrown the first punch.

     Most people believe that citizens have the right to defend themselves when threatened with bodily harm. There is something profoundly satisfying about dispersing overwhelming force with a shot into the air. However, if the person claiming self-defense instigated the confrontation, there is a lot less sympathy for the shooter.

     The day after being taken to her grandmother's house in Fairfax, Brianna went missing. Lakisha filed a missing persons report with the police. "I don't know where she is," said the mother. "I don't know if she's okay. I don't know if she's hurt. There's been no action on her Facebook."

    Four days later, on October 24, 2013, Brianna returned home. Her mother, without revealing where her daughter had been, used Facebook to thank the people who had been looking for her.

Reader's Digest

According to the writer Jefferson D. Bates, "If you want to find examples of clear, tightly edited prose, you'll look a long way to hunt down anything better than you can encounter in any issue of the much maligned Reader's Digest." The people who hold this popular, mainstream publication in such low esteem are the intellectual elite made up of academics and the literary and journalistic intelligentsia. These smug, self-righteous blowhards detest anything that smacks of God and country. And they ridicule anyone professing so-called "middle class values." Because the Reader's Digest carries stories featuring patriotism and faith, it appeals to middle class, "middle-brow" readers who also demand writing that is straightforward, unpretentious, entertaining, informative and accessible.  The high-brows who snicker at the Digest, also turn their noses up at genre fiction, instead preferring "literary" novels, a brand of fiction that to the general public is essentially unreadable. None of this would matter except for the fact that these pretentious show-offs have taken over the university, literary journals, and perhaps even worse, schools of journalism. To be sure, no professor would be caught dead with a Reader's Digest in his Volvo.

Friday, July 17, 2020

The Era of the Talking Head

If you watch cable news it may have dawned on you that just because an expert talks on and on about a subject doesn't mean that person knows what he's talking about. It's too bad that talking doesn't require the energy of sprinting. The silence would be golden. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The James D. Willie Murder Case

     At 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday May 8, 2012, police in Panola County, Mississippi found 74-year-old Thomas Schlender dead in his 1999 Ford 150 pickup. Shot several times, he had crashed into a median divider on Interstate 55 in the northwestern part of the state. Mr. Schlender, from Nebraska, had been on his way to Florida to pick up his grandson. The victim's wallet was missing and near the truck, crime scene investigators recovered five shell casings.

     On Friday May 11, at 2:15 in the morning, police in neighboring Tunica County found the body of 48-year-old Lori Anne Carswell lying near her 1997 Pontiac Grand AM at the intersection of state highway 713 and Interstate 69. She had been on her way home from her place of employment, Fitzgerald's Casino in Hermando, Mississippi. Investigators recovered several shell casings from the scene of Carswell's shooting death.

     The place, time, and physical evidence suggested that these murders had been committed by the same person. Police, suspecting that Carswell and Schlender had been murdered by someone impersonating a highway cop, advised motorists to call 911 if an unmarked car flashing its lights came up behind them.

     On May 12, 2012, a spokesperson with the state crime laboratory announced that the firing pin impressions and the ejector marks on the shell casings from the two murder scenes had been fired from the same semi-automatic handgun. In the event the murders were the work of a serial killer, the local police brought in FBI profilers to study the case.

     Early Tuesday morning May 14, 2012, a woman in Tunica County, following a domestic disturbance, asked 30-year-old James D. Willie of Sardis, Mississippi to drive her to the sheriff's office. Willie, instead of taking the woman to the police, drove her to a Delta area field where he raped her. After the assault, when the victim tried to run away, Willie fired a shot at her that missed. He forced the victim back into his vehicle, then took her to his girlfriend's apartment. A few hours later, the victim climbed out a window and escaped.

     Later that morning, Tunica County sheriff's deputies arrested James Willie at his girlfriend's place. In his car, deputies found a 9mm Ruger pistol. From the Delta rape site they recovered a shell casing.

     On Wednesday, May 15, 2012, a spokesperson for the Mississippi State Crime Lab reported that the firing pin and ejector marks on the shell casing found in the field where the woman had been raped were made by the pistol that had fired and ejected the casings at the two highway murder scenes. Moreover, they all had been fired from the handgun recovered from James Willie's car.

     The Tunica County prosecutor charged James Willie with kidnapping, aggravated assault, rape, and two counts of capital murder. He was held, without bond, in the Tunica County Jail.

     The unemployed murder suspect had an extensive arrest record. He had served prison time for burglary and was a known drug abuser. Detectives believed that when Willie shot Thomas Schlender and Lori Anne Carswell he was not impersonating a highway patrol officer. Willie had apparently killed these motorists in cold blood for drug money.

     On April 2, 2014, two days following the selection of the jury in James Willie's trial for the murder of Lori Anne Carswell, Tunica County Sheriff K.C. Hamp took the stand for the prosecution. In the middle of the sheriff's testimony, the defendant jumped to his feet and yelled, "Y'all lying. Why they lying? Let me talk!"

     The defendant's courtroom rant ended when deputies activated the electronic device attached to his leg. The officers gave the defendant three warning beeps before they stunned him with an electrical charge. Willie collapsed heavily to the floor, knocking over a chair.

     After deputies dragged the murder defendant out of the courtroom, District Attorney Brenda Mitchell moved for a mistrial. The judge granted the motion.

     On June 1, 2014, James Willie was back at another defense table being tried for the murder of Thomas Schlender. Panola County District Attorney John Champion, in his opening statement, said this to the jury: "At the conclusion of the trial, if you look at the shell casings found, the bullets that the ballistic expert will testify to, you will see that they had been fired from the same gun. Then you will see a picture of James Willie's guilt. I urge you to find him guilty."

     Panola County Public Defender David Walker, in his opening argument to the jury, said, "The state does not have any DNA from the crime scene or any fingerprints…I argue that the state does not have any proof of my client's guilt."

     On June 3, 2014, the jury in the Panola County Courthouse in Batesville, Mississippi found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced James Willie to life in prison without parole.