Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Saturday, September 26, 2020
The Brandon L. Woodard Murder-For-Hire Case
In 2003, Woodard graduated from southern California's Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree in business administration. While working in his mother's mortgage company (shut down in the summer of 2012 for state lending code violations), Brandon cultivated fast-living friends in the music business and in professional sports. He developed a reputation as a man about town.
Between 2004 and 2012, Woodard acquired an arrest history consisting of at least twenty arrests. A supermarket security guard in Hermosa Beach, California caught him stealing several bottles of wine in 2009. After struggling with the security officer, Woodard sped off in his car, but in so doing, he slammed into two other vehicles. To flee the scene, he abandoned his disabled car and hailed a cab. The police took him into custody shortly after the incident. (I don't know the disposition of this case, but would guess that Woodard pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)
A year after the retail theft incident, Woodard was accepted into Whittier Law School. During his first year at Whittier, he was arrested on the charge of battery. (In most states this offense is called assault.) In April 2012, while the 31-year-old was enrolled in law school, police arrested him in West Hollywood for cocaine possession. By now, Brandon Woodard was holding himself out as a hip hop promoter in LA's music industry.
On Sunday, December 9, 2012, Woodard flew from Los Angeles to New York City. At five in the afternoon, he checked into a high-end hotel on Columbus Circle in midtown Manhattan called 6 Columbus. He planned to return to LA the next day to take a law exam. (I wonder how many law students, on the day before an exam, spend nine hours on an airplane.) That evening, Woodard watched a football game at the hotel with a female friend, then went to dinner at a restaurant nearby.
Just before two in the afternoon on Monday, December 10, 2012, Woodard checked out of his hotel. He left his luggage with a valet, expecting to return for it in a couple of hours. Brandon Woodard never got back to the hotel.
As Brandon Woodard walked along 58th Street that afternoon not far from the southern border of Central Park, a man wearing a hooded jacket walked up behind him and shot him once in the back of the head with a nickel-plated pistol. As Woodward collapsed to the pavement and died, the shooter climbed into a Lincoln sedan and was driven away. The murder was captured by a surveillance camera that did not reveal a clear picture of the gunman's face.
Crime scene investigators recovered a spent shell-casing that had been fired out of a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol. A search of a ballistics database revealed that the handgun that had ejected this casing had been used in a November 22, 2009 shooting in Queens, New York. In that incident no one had been hit, and no arrests had been made.
At the time of his death, Woodard was in possession of three cellphones. This, along with the fact that Woodard associated with music industry types, led investigators to speculate that he had been somehow involved in the drug trade. The shooting M.O. also bore the earmarks of a murder-for-hire conspiracy.
On December 11, 2012, the day after Woodard's murder, NYPD officers with the 113th Precinct in Queens came across the abandoned getaway car. They traced the Lincoln MKZ to an Avis car rental service in Huntington Station, New York.
New York City detectives, on December 13, 2012 searched Woodard's condo in Los Angeles. According to newspaper reports, the officers did not find drugs or useful clues into the identities of the people behind Woodard's murder.
In July 2017, a Manhattan jury, after a three month trial, found 39-year-old Lloyd T. McKenzie guilty of hiring a hit man to murder Brandon Woodard. McKenzie, a party organizer from Queens, New York, arranged the murder to avoid paying Woodard the $161,000 he owned for five kilograms of cocaine. (Woodard had been working as a drug courier for a bicoastal cocaine ring.) The judge sentenced McKenzie to 85 years to life.
As of this writing, the hit man in Woodard's murder remains unidentified.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
The Literary Crime Buff
James Ellroy, 1985
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Charles Bukowski The Romantic
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Charles Bukowski On Being A Professional Writer
Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004
Monday, September 14, 2020
Students of Distant Learning: Big Brother Is Watching
Twelve-year-old Isaiah Elliott lived with his mother Dani and his father Curtis in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The seventh grade student at Grand Mountain School, on August 27, 2020, was in his house in front of his computer taking an on-line art class pursuant to his school's COVID-19 distant learning program. Isaiah and his parents didn't know that teachers and administrators at the Grand Mountain School were video recording home learning students as they sat in front of their computers. School officials were conducting home video surveillances without the knowledge or consent of students or their parents.
At one point during Isaiah Elliott's art class, he picked up a neon-green colored gun--an obvious toy-- from the couch and laid it next to his computer. This act of moving a toy in his own own home, observed by a teacher essentially spying on him, led to a series of events no reasonable person could have predicted.
Shortly after the conclusion of the virtual art class, Isaiah Elliott's mother Dani received an e-mail from the Grand Mountain School art teacher who had seen Isaiah handle the toy gun. The teacher, obviously thinking that peeping into a student's home was part of her job, informed Isaiah's mother that her son had been "extremely distracted" during the lesson, and there was a "serious issue with the waving of a toy gun." This serious matter, according to the art teacher, had been reported to the vice principal. This teacher, besides being a spy and a snitch, must have also seen herself as some kind of family services social worker.
In Dani Elliott's e-mail response, she informed the concerned art teacher that her son had trouble concentrating due to his Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Moreover, her son had not waved a gun. He had fussed with what was obviously a toy. (The mother might have added that in Colorado, unregistered toy guns were legal, and posed no threat to the teacher nor Isaiah's fellow distant learning students who were safe in their homes)
The art teacher's e-mail to Dani Elliott was followed that day by a phone call from Grand Mountain School Vice Principal, Keri Lindaman. Because the boy had been seen in his home "waving" a gun, the vice principal had taken the liberty of requesting an Elliott family home health and wellness check by El Paso County school resource officers. (Perhaps the vice principal thought she was exercising restraint by not sending a SWAT team. Who knows, gun in question may have been capable of firing pingpong balls.)
The understandably stunned and confused mother tried to explain to the vice principal, like she had the distraught art teacher, that the gun everyone was so concerned about was a harmless toy. The vice principal's response to that was mind boggling: She said she was aware it was a toy, but had called in the troops anyway.
When the El Paso County school resource officers arrived at the Elliott home, the officers showed the boy's father, Curtis, the incriminating footage of his son handling the toy weapon.
The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Elliott received official notice that their son, for "waving" a toy gun in his home during a virtual art class, an act that had disturbed no one but the art teacher and the vice principal, had been suspended from the school for five days.
The Elliotts did what any family would do to remove their son from the control of idiots, they pulled Isaiah out of the Grand Mountain School. Perhaps they would find an institution that respected the privacy of students studying in their homes. Perhaps not.
Friday, September 11, 2020
Mohammed Afzal: No Reason to Kill
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at six o'clock on the evening of Monday, August 31, 2020, 65-year-old Mohammed Afzal knocked on his neighbor's door and complained about grass clippings that had gotten onto his lawn. A surveillance camera captured 35-year-old Naeem Sarosh and Mr. Afzal discussing the matter. The two men were standing on Mr. Sarosh's driveway. Suddenly, Mr. Afzal pulled out a handgun and shot his neighbor. When the wounded Mr. Sarosh ran toward his house, Mohammed Afzal shot him in the back. Mr. Sarosh died on the front stoop of his house.
After killing his neighbor, Mr. Afzal returned to his house, changed his clothes, and waited for the police.
When questioned by detectives, the murder suspect claimed he shot his neighbor under the belief that he was armed. He said he thought this because Mr. Sarosh was a Milwaukee County Community Police Service Officer.
According to a resident of the neighborhood, Mr. Afzal and his family kept to themselves. Moreover, the suspect and Mr. Sarosh, a well-liked man with two daughters, had a history of not getting along.
A Milwaukee County Prosecutor, on September 1, 2020, charged Mohammed Afzal with first-degree reckless homicide and use of a dangerous weapon.
This case reveals the disturbing fact that people are commonly murdered over trivial matters. Marvin Wolfgang, in his classic 1958 text, Patterns of Homicide, called this "simplicity of motive."
Students: If You Want to Party, Attend Community College
Imagine being a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. You either borrowed or your parents coughed up the tuition, and it isn't cheap. Then, less than a month into your first semester, you are kicked out. If that's not bad enough, the institution is keeping the tuition you paid for the honor of being a Northeastern student.
For you to have been treated so harshly, you must have committed some horrible, unspeakable act. At the risk of shocking the reader, that act was this: you violated the university's social distancing policy by attending a party.
Before you leave the University and your tuition money behind, you must take a COVID-19 test. If you test positive, you will be detained on campus for 14 days--then thrown out.
But wait, there is hope. After sitting out a semester contemplating your wrongdoing, you will be permitted to re-enroll as a freshman at the beginning of the next semester.
In September 2020, eleven Northeastern University students were kicked out for attending a party. The school did not return their tuition money.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
What To Do With the Mentally Ill
Today there's one public psychiatric care bed for 7,100 Americans--the same ratio as in 1850. The motives behind this trend were varied. Emptying the asylums was going to save money. And who needed hospitals with all the antipsychotic drugs on the market? Deinstitutionalization was going to restore citizens' rights and protect them from deplorable conditions like those portrayed in movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," conditions in which an insane person was unlikely to be cured. Wouldn't it be better if the mentally ill were treated at home, given support, therapy, and medication via community clinics? It sounded good, but the reality was quite different.
In 1961, a joint commission of the American Medical and American Psychiatric Associations recommended integrating the mentally ill into society. This plan depended on the establishment of local facilities where mentally ill people could receive outpatient care. In 1963,Congress passed a law providing funding for these "community mental health centers". States, under pressure from the patients' rights movement, downsized their psychiatric hospitals faster than anyone had anticipated…
As of 2006, 1.3 million of America's mentally ill were housed where they used to be until the late 1800s: in prisons. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people behind bars more than quadrupled. In some county jails, rates of inmates with mental illness have increased by nearly 50 percent in the past five years. It's not uncommon for individual jails to report that 25 to 30 percent of their inmates are mentally ill or that their mentally ill populations rises year after year…[Today, because politicians don't want the mentally ill in jail, tens of thousands of them live in squalor on the streets.]
Mac McClelland, "Schizophrenic Killer My Cousin," Reader's Digest, February 2014
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Libertarian Radley Balko On Traffic Enforcement
A police officer pulls you over and gives you a ticket, which you take home and decide whether you're going to pay, and you send it in via mail. Why can't you have some sort of civilian traffic cops who, instead of pulling you over, sees you speeding, writes down your license plate, calls it in, and you get a ticket in the mail. The end result is the same. You get a ticket in the mail that you can pay, or choose not to pay and face the consequences of that. The difference is you're not having this armed interaction or confrontation with a police officer, which is completely unnecessary.
Our traffic laws need to be about road safety, not generating revenue. There are many studies done in Europe about using roundabouts instead of stop signs. There have been some really interesting studies about speed limits and how arbitrary they are. Our roads are actually built imagining people driving much faster than speed limits allow, which means cities and towns can place speed limits arbitrarily in a way that maximizes revenue in the city. I mean, there are small towns that 40 or 50 percent of their budgets are reliant on traffic revenue...
Nobody's saying there should be anarchy on the highways, but we could have speed limits that are more organic, calculated based on how people actually drive. There's a study showing the safest speed limit is the one that's what the 90th percentile of people drive at. Right now the real speed limits are far lower than that. That just creates unnecessary police interactions.
Think about all the police abuse cases that originated with a traffic stop...Think about all the animus and anger in motorized communities that come from the regular harassment from traffic cops. You take those out of the picture and it could go a long way toward rehabilitating the image of the police.
[American police reformer August Vollmer, in the 1930s and 40s, wrote extensively about the negative effects of traffic enforcement on police-community relations.]
Radley Balko interview by Nick Gillespie entitled, "Washington Post Journalist Radley Balko on Civil Rights, Militarized Policing, and the Power of Video," Reason Magazine, October, 2020
Monday, September 7, 2020
School Teacher By Day, Porn Actor By Night
Between December 2005 and June 2006, Stacie, under the stage name Tiffany Six, appeared in dozens of porn videos for which she was paid $1,500 per sex scene. In a film in which she engaged in group sex with four men, she was interviewed in a behind-the-scenes clip at the end of the video. When asked by the interviewer if being a porn actor was for her a risky career choice, she said, "It is risky, very risky for me because I am a teacher." The interviewer asked Tiffany Six if she'd get fired if caught. "Questionable, probably," she answered. If this was such a risky business for her, why was she doing sex scenes on film? "Money, and it's fun, it's exciting," she replied. "It's just the excitement, doing something different that you're not supposed to do."
In June 2006, when Stacie began teaching science at Ventura County's Simi Valley High School, she quit the porn industry. In the fall of 2009, Stacie Halas started teaching 7th and 8th grade biology at the Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, a coastal city of 200,000 in the greater Los Angeles area.
Stacie Halas' past came back to haunt her in March 2012 when students discovered her pornographic body of work on the Internet. The school placed her on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. After school officials forced themselves to watch her videos, the Oxnard School District Board of Trustees did something extremely rare in California--they fired a teacher. Stacie Halas appealed her termination to the California Commission on Profession Competence.
Stacie, represented by Attorney Richard Schwab, presented her case before the commission at a hearing that got underway on October 22, 2012. In an emotional plea (she had been an actor) to the commissioners of competence, Stacie admitted that she had let herself down by performing in porn films. But she had been desperate. In 2005, when her boyfriend abandoned her, she owed $100,000 in student loans and credit card debt. Attorney Schwab, while conceding that the porn industry is not well respected, reminded the commissioners that it's not against the law to have sex on film for money.
Attorney Natasha Sawhney, in representing the Ventura School District, argued that Halas would become a distraction if let back into the classroom. Six days after the hearing commenced, following the testimony of twenty witnesses and some erotic exhibits, the commission ruled unanimously to uphold Halas' termination. Her attorney announced that he planned to appeal the competence commissioners' decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. In speaking to a TV report after the hearing, Stacie Halas said, "I think most of us have something in our backgrounds. And I ask anybody to cast the first stone."
On January 11, 2013, the panel of three administrative law judges with the State Office of Administrative Hearings issued a 47-page report justifying the panel's unanimous decision that Stacie Halas was unfit to teach in the California school system. In the opinion of the judges, because the videos showcasing Halas' work in porn continued to be available online, she could never be an effective teacher. According to the lead judge, Halas had "...failed to establish that she can be trusted as a role model for children." The judges, by setting this administrative law precedent, hoped it would deter other California teachers from moonlighting in the porn industry.
So, in California, one of the worst school systems in America, being a teacher won't hamper a porn career, but porn acting will kill a teaching gig. I guess if you're the kind of person who can act in porn flicks, you're not the kind of person who can teach a class full of lusting boys who have seen you in action. So it seems that in California, the powerful teacher's union will defend virtually any teacher for any reason except teachers who moonlight in porn.
The Gentleman Thief
Mr. Robins gained national notoriety when entertaining former president Jimmy Carter. During the performance, he acquired the keys to the presidential motorcade by picking the pocket of a Secret Service Agent. The publicity resulted in requests from law enforcement agencies for training in how to catch fraudsters, thieves, and con artists. In 2006, Robbins formed his law enforcement and security consulting firm, Whizmob, Inc. Over the years, he has appeared regularly on television.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Professor Norma Esparza and the Cold-Case Murder of Gonzalo Ramirez
On April 15, 1995, during a meeting in Costa Mesa with her boyfriend Gianni Anthony Van at a transmission shop owned by his friend Kody Tran, Norma Esparza revealed that Ramirez had raped her in her Pomona College dorm room after she met him that morning for breakfast.
The day following the meeting in the transmission shop, a police officer in Irvine, California found Ramirez's body along side of a back road. It looked as though someone had hacked him to death and chopped off several of his fingers. Detectives questioned Norma Esparza who repeated her rape allegation. She said she had no idea who had killed Ramirez.
In 1996, Esparza and Gianni Van were married. That year, without promising leads in the Ramirez murder case, Irvine detectives shelved the homicide investigation.
Norma Esparza graduated from Pomona College with a degree in psychology. In 2004, she divorced Gianni Van and moved to France. Five years after moving to Europe, Esparza moved to Geneva, Switzerland where she taught psychology and counseling at Webster University, an American accredited school with campuses in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
As Esparza pushed ahead with her academic career, the authorities in California, after re-activating the Ramirez case in 2010, were making progress. Using advanced DNA science, a crime lab analyst was able to identify traces of Gonzalo Ramirez's blood recovered from Kody Tran's transmission shop in Costa Mesa. Because Esparza had admitted being at the transmission shop on the night before the discovery of Ramirez's body, homicide investigators considered her a suspect in the 15-year-old murder.
Ramirez case detectives believed that on April 15, 1995, after Esparza informed her boyfriend and Kody Tran that she had been raped three weeks earlier by Ramirez, she and the two men drove to a bar where Esparza pointed out Ramirez. As Ramirez drove home from the bar, Gianni Van intentionally rear-ended Ramirez's pickup truck at a red light. When the murder target climbed out of his truck to inspect the damage, Kody Tran and Gianni Van started punching him. Ramirez fled on foot but his attackers caught up to him and forced him into their van.
After arriving at Tran's Costa Mesa transmission shop, Tran and Van hacked Ramirez to death with a meat cleaver. While detectives didn't think that Esparza had participated in the actual killing, they believed that she had been the chief motivating force behind the murder.
An Orange County prosecutor, in February 2012, eighteen years after the Ramirez murder, charged Esparza, her ex-husband Gianni Van, and Kody Tran with murder. A short time later, during a stand-off with SWAT team officers, Kody Tran committed suicide.
In October 2012, police in Boston, Massachusetts arrested Professor Esparza at Logan Airport where she had a layover on her way from Geneva, Switzerland to a Webster University related meeting in St. Louis. After her extradition to California, Esparza gained release from the Orange County Jail by posting her $300,000 bond.
Two months after her arrest, Esparza signed a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Scott Simmons in which she would remain free on bail as long as she, as a future trial witness, cooperated with the state. As part of the deal, Esparza agreed to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Otherwise, she would be prosecuted for murder, a crime that could bring a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
In November 2013 the Ramirez case took a sudden turn when the 39-year-old college professor told reporters that she had decided not to plead guilty. At that point, Orange County Judge Gerald Johnson revoked her bail and sent her back to the Orange County Jail.
Esparza's current husband, Jorge Mancillas, called the bond revocation "an injustice." To reporters he said, "I guess in Orange County it doesn't count to be innocent."
On September 15, 2014, Norma Esparza, having changed her mind again, entered a guilty plea in Orange County Superior Court in exchange for a six-year prison sentence and the promise to testify against Gianni Van. Her attorney, Jack Earley, told reporters that "there is inherent risk in going to trial. The question is, do you take that risk. Esparza and her husband Jorge Mancillos have a 4-year-old daughter." According to attorney Earley, his client's decision to plead had a lot to do with the child.
On July 10, 2015, following a short trial, the jury found 43-year-old Gianni Anthony Van guilty of special circumstances murder. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg L. Prickett sentenced Van to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Worldwide Violence Against Women
Friday, September 4, 2020
Shoplifting As a Cultural Phenomenon
Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011
Death By Gaming
Hsieh had been unemployed for some time and Internet cafes were the places he spent most of his time. According to his family, he would disappear for two to three days at a time.
It was not known exactly how long Hsieh lay dead in the Internet cafe, but police officers said his body had begun to stiffen, so he must have been dead for several hours before they arrived. Gamers in the cafe continued playing as if nothing had happened.
Surveillance camera footage showed that before he collapsed, Hsieh was involved in a minor struggle. According to the pathologist, cold temperatures and over-exhaustion from the long hours playing games likely contributed to his death.
The Taipei Times reported that Hsieh had been a regular customer who often played online games for consecutive days. When tired, he would sleep face down on the table or doze off slumped in his chair. That is why employees were not immediately aware he was dead.
Taiwan was no stranger to deaths from marathon sessions of online gaming. Hsieh's death came after a 38-year-old man was found dead at an Internet cafe in Taipei on January 1, 2015 after playing video games for five days straight. And in 2012, the corpse of a man who died playing online games went unnoticed for ten hours by other gamers and staff.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
The Ron Jeremy Sexual Assault Allegations Case: The Legacy of a Former Porn Star
By 2018, having appeared in more than 2,200 adult films, Ron Jeremy, having acquired the nickname "Hedgehog" because of his stature and hairy body, had become an icon in the porn business. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Jeremy held the record in the category, "Most Appearances in Adult Films." Moreover, his fame reached beyond the porn community into popular culture where, through endorsements and his "acting," he became a multi-millionaire. In 2001, Jeremy was the subject of a documentary called "Porn Star: The Legacy of Ron Jeremy."
On November 15, 2017, Rolling Stone published an article by EJ Dickson that discussed a June 2017 YouTube video posted by a woman named Ginger Banks. In that ten-minute clip, Banks told the stories of several women who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Ron Jeremy.
Ron Jeremy's attorney attempted to get Rolling Stone to retract the damning piece, but the magazine stood behind the reporting.
In 2018, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Special Victims Bureau launched an investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations against Ron Jeremy.
On June 23, 2020, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies arrested the former porn star. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office charged Jeremy with raping a 25-year-old woman in her home in West Hollywood in May 2014. Jeremy also faced charges related to the sexual assault, on separate occasions, of two women in a West Hollywood bar. The alleged assaults of these women, ages 33 and 46, took place in 2017. The final charge involved the alleged rape, in the same bar, of a 30-year-old woman. This offense allegedly occurred in July 2019.
The 67-year-old former porn star, incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail under $6.6 million bond, pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted as charged, he faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.
On August 31, 2020, Ron Jeremy was back in court to face 20 additional sexual assault charges involving 13 women, ages 15 to 56. The oldest alleged crime took place in 2004.
The new charges included six counts of sexual battery by restraint, five counts of forcible rape, three counts of forcible oral copulation, and two counts of forcible penetration by a foreign object. Ron Jeremy also stood accused of one count each of sodomy assault with intent to commit rape, penetration by a foreign object on an unconscious or sleeping victim, and lewd conduct with a 15-year-old girl.
The most recent sexual allegation against Ron Jeremy took place on January 1, 2020 when he allegedly assaulted a 21-year-old woman outside a business in West Hollywood.
Ron Jeremy also pleaded not guilty to the August 31, 2020 sexual assault charges.
College Students Pay for the Costly Diversity Bureaucracy
Heather MacDonald on Fox TV's "Life Liberty & Levin," December 2, 2018
Cyber Crooks Love the Pandemic
Criminals main method of attack on individuals has been COVID-19 related email phishing--impersonating legitimate companies, often banks or credit card companies, to dupe people into handing over log-ins, passwords or financial information. In recent months emails purporting to be from government and health care authorities have proliferated, claiming to provide information and offer recommendations about the pandemic...
The Economist, August 17, 2020
Active Shooter Drills
Why History Repeats Itself
Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) American poet and novelist
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
The Angry American
A month after the unprovoked attack, officers with the Santa Ana Police Department took the 24-year-old into custody. The officers booked her into the Orange County Jail on the charge of assault.
The Gallo case illustrates what has become a common phenomena in American life: criminal assaults sparked by trivial slights. We are living in a hair-trigger society where violence resides just beneath a veneer of civility and order.