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Monday, November 30, 2020

The Michael Curry Murder Case

     At 5:30 in the evening on August 29, 1985, Michael L. Curry called the Columbus, Georgia Police Department and reported that someone had entered his home while he was at work and murdered his pregnant wife and his two children.

     At the gory murder scene, police discovered that 26-year-old Ann Curry, her four-year-old daughter Erika, and 20-month-old Ryan had been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The murder weapon, taken from its place of storage in the family garage, was lying next to Ann Curry's body. Detectives noticed that Michael Curry didn't have any of the crime scene blood on him, suggesting that he hadn't checked to see if any of his family members were still alive. Investigators also found it unusual that Curry had called the police department directly instead of 911.

     Other features of the murder scene bothered investigators. Someone had broken a small glass window near a back door secured by an interior deadbolt lock. The broken window was consistent with an intruder reaching in and unlocking the door. But the window had been smashed from the inside of the house, and the door was still locked. If the Curry family had been murdered by an intruder or intruders, how did they get in, and what was their motive? Nothing had been stolen from the house, drawers and closets had not been rifled through, and Ann Curry had not been sexually assaulted. If intruders had come to the dwelling to kill Ann Curry and her children, why hadn't they brought their own murder weapons? (Later, crime lab personnel found no blood or bloody fingerprints on the axe. The killer had obviously sanitized the weapon.) Was this triple murder a crime of passion, or a planned, cold-blooded execution?

      When questioned by the police, Michael Curry said he had left his place of employment at 9:40 that morning to buy a small fan for his office. At 12:55 (according to the retail receipt) he purchased the item at a K-Mart store before returning to his office at 1:10 in the afternoon. He remained in his office until quitting time, then drove home, arriving at his house shortly before 5:30 in the evening.

     In tracing the activities of Mrs. Curry and the children on the day of their deaths, investigators learned they had shopped that morning at a Sears store. After visiting her parents in Columbus, Ann headed home, arriving there at 12:37 PM. If Michael Curry had slaughtered his family, he had committed the murders between 12:37 and 12:55 PM, an 18-minute window of opportunity.

     Looking into Michael Curry's recent history, investigators learned he was having an affair, and spending nights drinking at bars with friends. Witnesses told detectives that Michael felt trapped by a growing family he couldn't afford. He longed for a bachelor's lifestyle, but couldn't afford a divorce and the resultant child support responsibilities.

     Because the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsies couldn't pinpoint their times of death either within or without the 18 minutes of opportunity, Michael Curry didn't have an airtight alibi. But that also meant that a prosecutor couldn't prove the killings took place during the 18-minute timeframe.

     Following a murder inquest held in February 1986, the Muscogee County District Attorney, with no confession, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence linking Michael Curry to the murder scene, decided not to pursue the matter further. Since investigators had no other suspects, the case remained in limbo until January 2009 when a new district attorney, Julia Slater, took office. The Curry murder case came back to life as a cold case homicide investigation.

     Prosecutor Slater theorized that on the day of the murders, when shopping for a desk fan, Michael Curry saw his family at Sears. Realizing this was his opportunity to free himself of his family burden, he drove home to lay in wait. To protect himself from what he knew would be a bloody massacre, he either put on a jumpsuit or a pair of coveralls. He next smashed the window next to the backdoor to stage an intrusion. When his wife and his two children entered the house at 12:37, he attacked them with the axe. After disposing of his blood-spattered coveralls, he rushed to the K-Mart store where he purchased the fan. (When he returned to his office at 1:10 that afternoon, fellow employees noticed he was drenched in sweat.)

     On May 20, 2009, after a Muscogee Grand Jury indicted Michael Curry for murdering his pregnant wife and their two children, detectives arrested him at his home in Dalton, Georgia. He went on trial in April 2011 at the Muscogee County Superior Court in Columbus. Public defender Bob Wadkins argued that his client had an alibi, and that the state's case, based solely on circumstantial evidence, didn't rise to the level of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Wadkins chose not to put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On April 27, 2011, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Judge John Allen sentenced the 54-year-old Michael Curry to three consecutive life sentences. The convicted killer wouldn't be eligible for parole until he had served 30 years behind bars. The best he could hope for was to be set free at age 84.

     Attorney Bob Wadkins appealed Murry's conviction on grounds his client had been found guilty on insufficient evidence. On June 9, 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the jury's verdict.  

Turning Tragedy into Humor

     Unlike tragedy, a sense of humor is determined by many factors: our age, our socioeconomic backgrounds, our culture. What most of us consider tragic is fairly static, though something tragic can be made funny by comic techniques such as repetition. In Nathanael West's A Cool Million, the hero keeps losing limbs and other parts of himself as he makes his way in the world until there is very little that's left of him. You lose one limb or all your limbs at once, that's tragic. But if you lose them little by little, as well as an eye, your teeth, your hair, you start defying logic, and once you've transcended logic, most people will laugh in spite of themselves, even if they find something a little horrifying at the same time.

     Simply put, tragedy has serious and logical consequences. Cause and effect. Comedy usually doesn't. You throw a person off a tall building in a comedy, he bounces. You throw someone off a building in a tragedy, don't wait for the bounce.

Robin Hemley in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001 

Quash or Squash?

To quash is to suppress or extinguish summarily and completely as in to quash a rebellion or a criminal indictment.

To squash is to squeeze something with force so that it becomes flat, soft, or out of shape as in to squash a grape.

One does not, therefore, squash a criminal indictment.

Straightforward, Unpretentious Writing

There are authors who write plainly and directly: "Tom walked out of his house, climbed into his car, and drove to West Virginia." Other writers give us this: "Tom emerged from his abode, eased into his vehicle, and embarked upon a journey to West Virginia." 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Li Hang Bin Shaken Baby Syndrome Case

     In 2007,  Li Hang Bin and his common-law wife Li Yang, immigrants from the Fujian Providence in China, resided in the Flushing section of Queens, New York. Just after midnight on October 22, 2007, Mr. Li called 911 to report that his two-month-old daughter Annie had become unresponsive, and had turned blue. The infant arrived at the emergency room thirty minutes later with a fractured skull, brain and eye injuries, two broken legs, and a fractured rib.

     According to the baby's 23-year-old father, the unhealthy infant had been ill with a fever. On the night in question, Mr. Li said he found Annie pale and unconscious. In his attempt to revive his daughter, he accidentally bumped her head against a table. It wasn't until after the baby had turned blue that Mr. Li called 911. Five days after the infant's hospitalization, Annie died.

     The forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office who performed the autopsy ruled the baby's death a homicide by violent shaking and blunt force trauma. According to the forensic pathologist, the victim had all the signs associated with a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) death. The indicators included bleeding between the brain and the skull, brain swelling, and bleeding in the retina. Pathologists call this the triad of SBS symptoms.

     In March 2008, five months after the baby's death, a Queens prosecutor charged Li Hang Bin with second-degree murder, and as a backup charge, second-degree manslaughter. The prosecutor also charged Li Yang with a lesser criminal offense related to the baby's death. Both suspects were incarcerated in the city jail on Riker's Island. Fearing that they might flee to China, the magistrate denied them bail.

     Mr. Li and his 22-year-old companion insisted that the infant had not been violently shaken and bludgeoned to death. The case dragged on for five years during which time prosecutors offered the defendants plea deals involving lesser crimes and immediate release from jail. Li Hang Bin and Li Yang rejected the plea offers on the grounds they were innocent of any wrongdoing in the baby's death. Mr. Li demanded the opportunity to be exonerated at his trial. He said he was not going to admit to something he didn't do just to get out of jail.

     In January 2013, prosecutor Leigh Bishop, after dropping the charges against Li Yang, made her opening statement to the jury at Mr. Li's Queens murder trial. Prosecutor Bishop told jurors that the defendant had "violently, repeatedly, and with depraved indifference," slammed the baby's head into a hard object causing "abusive head trauma."

     Cedric Ashley, Mr. Li's defense attorney, blamed the baby's death on poor health. The lawyer said he would produce medical evidence that would explain the infant's fractured skull, broken rib, and broken legs. Ashley said these injuries had been caused by a rare disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease.

     Over the next two weeks, jurors heard testimony from a battery of medical witnesses on both sides of the issue. As is often the case involving dueling experts, the confused jurors settled for a compromise verdict. In February 2013, the jury acquitted the defendant of second degree murder, a crime that carries a sentence of 25 years to life. However, perhaps because of the severity of the victim's injuries, the jurors did not acquit the defendant of criminal homicide. They found Li Hang Bin guilty of second-degree manslaughter, the lessor offense.

     Mr. Li, who had been in jail almost five years, faced a maximum 15 year sentence. He expressed shock at his conviction, and promised to fight to clear his name. 

     On March 4, 2013, Justice Richard L. Buchter of the State Superior Court in Queens sentenced the defendant to 5 to 15 years in prison. The Chinese immigrant continued to maintain his innocence.

     Infant death cases are problematic because of the difficulty of ruling out the possibility of nonviolent, natural sources of the SBS symptoms. There are several forensic pathologists around the country who regularly testify for the defense in SBS homicide trials. A forensic pathologist who commented publicly on the Li trial, said he was between 80 and 90 percent certain that this case involved a SBS caused death. 

Keeping Ghislaine Maxwell Alive

       Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffrey Epstein's former girlfriend, is incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York. Epstein, with Maxwell's help, provided teenage girls for the sexual pleasure of themselves and their rich and powerful friends.  Following his arrest, Epstein ended up dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Detention Center. While officially his death was listed as suicide, many believe he was murdered. Prison officials, worried that Maxwell will likewise perish in her cell, have her under round-the-clock camera surveillance. She is also strip searched every 24 hours. According to Maxwell's attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, when her client is asleep, she is awaken every fifteen minutes to make sure she is alive. Attorney Sternheim has petitioned a U.S. District Court Judge to intervene on Maxwell's behalf.

     Because the general public has little sympathy for Ghislaine Maxwell, not many people will rise to her defense. However, the federal prison authorities in Brooklyn, by refusing her sleep, are at risk of driving this woman insane to the point she may not be mentally competent to stand trial. 

     In Epstein's case, gross negligence, or even wrongdoing, led to his death. In Ghislaine Maxwell's case, excessive protective measures may drive her nuts. Who's running that jail?

Karl Marx: History's Miserable Loser and Hater

Karl Marx was the foremost hater and most incessant whiner in the history of Western Civilization. He was a spoiled, overeducated brat who never grew up; he just grew more shrill as he grew older. His lifelong hatred and whining led to the deaths of perhaps a hundred million people, depending on how many people died under Mao's tyranny. We will probably never know.

Gary North, author, historian

Donald Westlake on His Writing Schedule

My work schedule has changed over the years. The one constant is, when at work on a novel, I try to work seven days a week, so as not to lose touch with that world. Within that, I'm flexible on hours and output.

Donald Westlake, author of 100 crime novels

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The High School Teachers' Sex With Students Sentencing Double Standard

     Meredith Powell began teaching math at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington in September 2012. In January 2014, the unmarried 25-year-old started sending sexually explicit text messages and erotic videos to one of her 15-year-old male students. She followed this up with sexual encounters (oral sex) with this boy and another 15-year-old student. The sexual activity took place in her classroom.

     In February 2014, the police got involved after Powell wrote a letter to the girlfriend of one of the boys. In that letter she apologized for her "unprofessional" and "drunken" text messages.

     Following a brief investigation, Tacoma police officers arrested Meredith Powell for having sex with two of her students. A Pierce County prosecutor charged the teacher with two counts of child rape and several lesser offenses. After her release from the county jail on bond, the superintendent of the Tacoma School District placed the accused teacher on unpaid leave pending the outcome of her case.

     In July 2014, Powell pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

     At Powell's sentencing hearing on August 29, 2014 before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Shannon McMinimee, the attorney for the school district, urged the judge to impose a tough sentence. McMinimee reminded the judge that this teacher had committed child rape. (No doubt the school district wanted the judge to send a message to other teachers in the system that having sex with a student was a serious crime.)

     The defendant's attorney, Wayne Fricke, in arguing for a light sentence, called his client "an upstanding individual who went through a rough patch last fall. She didn't handle the situation well and got herself into this situation," he said. (Had the defense attorney said this in reference to a male client who'd had sex with a female student, he would have been laughed out of court.)

     The defendant rose to her feet, and speaking to the judge, said, "I feel like words can't even express how sorry I am. I wish I could take back what happened to the students I failed. Sorry doesn't take away anything that happened, but I hope they [her victims] can move forward with as little impact as possible. I pray every day for the two boys. I'm heartbroken over the suffering I caused them and their families."

     When it came time to hand down his sentence, Judge Cuthbertson said, "This is difficult, this is different, this is not what we usually see. Everything suggests this is out of character for you. But again, you need to understand the severe impact this case has had not only on the victims but on their families."

     The judge sentenced the former teacher to five years. However, he suspended all but six months of that penalty. As part of the sentence the judge ordered Powell to enroll in a program for first-time sex offenders.

     Upon hearing the sentence, the victims' parents could be heard cursing as they stormed out of the courtroom. The attorney for the school district told reporters that she had hoped for a longer period of incarceration. She said the state had revoked Powell's license to teach.

     When a male teacher has consensual sex with a 15-year-old female student, he will almost always be sentenced to at least two years in prison, often longer. This sentencing double standard suggests that some judges, in cases where the defendant is a woman and the student is male, believe that boys are crime victims in name only. Girls, on the other hand, are victims of adult male dominance.

The "Mean World Syndrome"

Professor George Gerbner (1919-2005) taught communications at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California. In the 1970s, he came up with what he called the "Mean World Syndrome." According to Professor Gerbner, the more media people consumed, the more likely they were to believe the world was a dangerous place. Gerbner also believed that: "Fearful people are more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures. They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities."

Friday, November 27, 2020

Wrong House Raid in Alabama

     During the early morning hours of June 27, 2006, a total of 100 federal, state, and local drug enforcement agents and officers raided 23 homes in Decatur, Huntsville, Madison, and Hartsville, Alabama. The raids culminated a two-year investigation of a Mexican-based cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine trafficking operation doing business in the northern part of the state. That morning, officers with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force arrested 29 people, including Jerome Wallace, a 28-year-old who lived on Honey Way, a dirt road in rural Limestone County. A police Officer arrested Jerome as he stood in his front yard while task force members, in search of him, broke into the wrong house down the road. The wrong house these officers raided belonged to Wallace's uncle, Kenneth Jamar.

     Just before daybreak, several vans rolled down Honey Way, and parked across from Kenneth Jamar's house. Agents with the DEA, ATF, FBI, and ICE, and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, along with Alabama state troopers and SWAT teams from Huntsville and Madison County, alighted from their vehicles. A few seconds after one of the officers yelled, "Open Up! Police!" they broke into the house through the front door. Even if the 51-year-old semi-invalid with severe gout and a pace-maker had heard the officers announce themselves, he could not have made it to the door in time to let them in. Had he tried, Mr. Jamar would have walked into a flash bang grenade explosion.

     Mr. Jamar, in his bedroom when he heard his front door bashed open and the stun grenade go off, picked up his pistol. SWAT team officers, when they kicked open Mr. Jamar's bedroom door, saw him standing next to his bed holding the handgun. Armed with semi-automatic rifles, the officers opened fire. One of the 16 bullets from their rifles hit Mr. Jamar in the hip, another in the groin, and a third in the foot. He went down without firing a shot.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Jamar, in critical condition, to a hospital in Huntsville where he spent two weeks in the intensive care unit. After searching his house, the police confiscated Mr. Jamar's gun collection. Perhaps because the SWAT team had broken into the wrong house, the Limestone County prosecutor chose not to charge Mr. Jamar with attempted assault.

     In the days and weeks following this police involved shooting, newspaper accounts of the raid were sketchy because Mike Blakely, the sheriff of Limestone County, the official heading up the internal investigation of the incident, did not release much information to the media. According to Sheriff Blakely, the officers had to "neutralize" a man who was "aggressively resisting." When a reporter asked the sheriff to comment on the wrong house aspect of the raid, he said, "I guess you could call it a clerical error over the address, but I don't think Jamar's dwelling even has a street address." This begged the question: if Mr Jamar's house didn't have a street address, how could there have been "a clerical error over the address?"

     Because the SWAT officers who shot Kenneth Jamar were not personally responsible for the wrong house raid, and had fired their weapons in self defense, they were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Kenneth Jamar, in June 2008, filed a $7.5 million lawsuit in federal court claiming that the city of Huntsville, and other entities, had violated his civil rights. In April 2011, the Huntsville city council voted to settle Kenneth Jamar's suit for $500,000.

Women on Death Row

Women account for five percent of death sentences in the United States. Less than one percent of death row inmates who are actually executed are female. The last woman executed by the federal government was Bonnie Heady who was put to death in 1953 for kidnapping and murder. The last woman to be executed by a state was 47-year-old Kelly Renee Gissendaner who died by lethal injection in Georgia in September 2015. Gissendaner was convicted of orchestrating the murder of her husband.  

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Andrew McCormack Murder Case

     On September 23, 2017, 31-year-old Andrew McCormack and his 1-year-old daughter entered their home in Revere, Massachusetts. McCormack had returned to the house after finishing a carpentry job at a friend's place. Shortly after arriving home, Mr. McCormack called 911 and reported that someone had entered the dwelling in his absence and murdered his wife. 

     Police officers found 30-year-old Vanessa Nasucci lying face down on the bedroom floor with a half-filled garbage bag over her head. The bag had been taken from the kitchen trash container. When a first responder removed the bag, it became obvious that the Vanessa Nasucci had been brutally beaten. An autopsy revealed she had also been stabbed many times and strangled. 
     The murder bedroom gave off a strong scent of bleach, and there were chemical burns on the victim's body. Investigators believed the killer had used bleach to destroy crime scene evidence. A large kitchen knife was missing from the kitchen butcher's block, and there was no evidence of forced entry into the house. Moreover, the victim had not been sexually attacked, and nothing had been stolen from the dwelling. The fact the killer had taken the time to sanitize the crime scene suggested that Vanessa Nasucci had not been murdered by an intruder. Suspicion immediately fell up the husband, Andrew McCormack.
     Detectives quickly determined that the couple's marriage had been on the rocks. To support his $500-a-day cocaine habit, Andrew McCormack had drained his wife's credit card accounts, forged checks on her bank account, and had even stolen her wedding ring. On the day of the murder, after finishing the carpentry job, McCormack took his 1-year-old daughter with him to East Boston where he purchased cocaine from his drug dealer. 
     Shortly before her murder, Vanessa Nasucci, a second grade teacher at Connery Elementary in Lynn, Massachusetts, told her husband that she planned to sell the house and hire a divorce attorney. 
     A week after the murder, police officers arrested Andrew McCormack on the charge of first-degree murder. He was booked into the Suffolk County Jail. Through his attorney, the suspect pleaded not guilty. The magistrate denied him bail. 
     The Andrew McCormack murder trial got underway in mid-October 2019 in a Suffolk County courtroom. The prosecution, without a murder weapon, an eyewitness, confession, or physical evidence connecting the defendant directly to the murder, had an entirely circumstantial case. What the prosecutor had was a strong case of motive, means, and opportunity, and the argument that, given the facts of the case, it was unreasonable to conclude that anyone other than the defendant had committed this murder.
     The defense relied heavily on reasonable doubt, and the position that investigators never considered the possibility that someone other than Andrew McCormack had murdered his wife.
     On November 16, 2019, following eleven days of testimony, the jury, after deliberating a week, found Andrew McCormack guilty of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing on December 2, 2019, the convicted killer said this to the judge: "I did not murder her. There is someone else getting away with murder." 
     The Suffolk County judge sentenced McCormack to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Lori Isenberg Poison-Murder Case

      In 2018, Laurcene "Lori" Barnes Isenberg, the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Cooperative, a non-profit organization created to help low-income families, resided with her 68-year old husband, Larry Isenberg, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mr. Isenberg had a 39-year-old son from a former marriage, and his 66-year-old wife had four daughters from her first husband. 

     On the morning of February 13, 2018, Lori Isenberg called 911. To the emergency dispatcher she reported that while boating with her husband on Lake Coeur d'Alene, he had fallen overboard.

     As a water recovery team searched for Mr. Isenberg, Lori Isenberg told deputies with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office that her husband had been ill with the flu, but had insisted on taking her on a boat ride that morning. While attempting to restart the boat's stalled electric motor, he toppled into the water. When she couldn't find him, she called 911 from his cellphone, 

     In a written police statement, Lori Isenberg described her husband's fall this way: "He stood up, looked at me with a confused look on his face and started to fall over. I jumped up and tried to get him, but I tripped on the heater and banged my head and couldn't reach him in time." 

    Searchers were unable to recover Mr. Isenberg's body. At this point the authorities presumed he had drowned as a result of a boating accident. Perhaps he'd suffered a stroke, lost his balance, and toppled out of the boat. At this point, no one believed that his death had been the result of foul play. 

     The day following Mr. Isenberg's presumed death, Lori Isenberg put the family home up for sale. She also gave her daughters personal items that were once owned by Mr. Isenberg. 

     On February 24, 2018, with Larry Isenberg still missing and presumed dead, FBI agents arrested Lori Isenberg on 40 counts of federal wire fraud and one count of theft. Over a period of years, the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Coalition had created thousands of forged invoices that enabled her to embezzled $570,000 from the non-profit organization. Her four daughters, having knowingly received some of the stolen money, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft. 

     After pleading not guilty to the charges, a federal magistrate set Lori Isenberg's bail at $2 million. She was held in the Kootenai County Jail on the federal charges. 

     On March 1, 2018, Larry Isenberg's body was seen floating near the shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, based on the results of a toxicological analysis that showed a lethal dose of the drug diphenhydramine in Mr. Isenberg's system, ruled his manner of death homicide by poisoning. Diphenhydramine is an ingredient commonly found in over the counter sleeping aid and pain pills. The forensic pathologist did not publicly reveal how Mr. Isenberg had been given the poison.

     Investigators with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, with Lori Isenberg as the prime suspect, launched a murder investigation. In the course of that inquiry, detectives learned that in late 2017, when Mr. Isenberg and his wife were vacationing in Florida, she made an Internet inquiry about rental boats, lake currents, weather conditions, and water depths pertaining to another Coeur d'Alene area lake called Lake Pend Oreville. While on that Florida trip, detectives had reason to believe that Lori Isenberg tried to kill her husband with diphenhydramine. As for motive, homicide investigators believed that Lori Isenberg was afraid that if her husband learned she had embezzled from her employer, he would have divorced her.

     Detectives also learned that just weeks before Larry Isenberg's death, his wife had made handwritten changes to his will. As a result of these crude alterations, the will devised 80 percent of his estate to her four daughters. 

     In the spring of 2019, Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to defrauding North Idaho Housing Coalition of $570,000. The judge sentenced her to five years in federal prison. Her daughters were sentenced to three years probation, community service, and were ordered to pay back the stolen money they had received.

     A Kootenai County grand jury, in January 2020, indicted Lori Isenberg on the charge of first-degree murder for poisoning her husband to death, then throwing him off the boat into the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. At the time of the indictment, Lori Isenberg was serving time for wire fraud and theft at a federal prison. 

     In March 2020, due to COVID-19, the Idaho Supreme Court delayed all criminal jury trials in the state. Lori Isenberg's murder trial was postponed to August 3, 2020. The trial was postponed again to September 14, 2020, then again to early 2021.

Screenwriters: What's With The Toothbrushing Scenes?

It seems that every movie featuring a couple incorporates a scene with the man and woman standing side-by-side in the bathroom brushing their teeth. And the exaggerated way they do it suggests training in theatrical tooth brushing. And like everything else theatrical, it comes off phony. In real life, people don't brush their teeth that way. These scenes are not only phony and annoying, they do nothing to move the story forward. So, screenwriters: enough with the tooth brushing. Break new ground by not doing it. Please.  

Monday, November 23, 2020

An FBI Agent Brought Down by Drugs

     Matthew Lowry grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. His father worked as an officer with the Prince George's County Police Department, and his mother was an active member of their Baptist Church. Matthew graduated in 1999 from the Grace Brethren Christian School in Clinton, Maryland where he played soccer, wrestled, and was a member of the National Honor Society. A few years after graduating from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in Criminology, he became a Special Agent with the FBI.

     In 2013, Agent Lowry was assigned to the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. where he was part of a task force that focused on drug crimes along the borders of D.C, Maryland, and Virginia. He resided in a two-bedroom townhouse in the district with his wife Shana who worked as a senior territory manager for a global pharmaceutical company. His father, retired from the Prince George's Police Department, held the position of assistant police chief at an Anne Arundel County law enforcement agency.

     In August 2013, Special Agent Lowry began stealing packets of heroin from the Washington Field Office's evidence room. He had been taking prescription medication for an old injury but had switched to heroin.

     Stealing heroin from the field office's evidence room was easy. Agent Lowry checked out packages of the contraband on the pretext of having the narcotics tested at the FBI Laboratory. Instead, he removed a quantity of the substance from each packet, cut what was left with either the supplement Creatine or the laxative Purelax, weighed the packages on a digital scale to bring them to their original weights, then returned the attenuated heroin to the evidence room in bags with new stickers signifying they had been sealed.

     Agent Lowry got away with his thefts because of the lack of supervision and checks and balances built into the evidence handling procedure at the FBI field office.

     On September 29, 2014, Agent Lowry's bureau colleagues lost track of him. That night, they found the 33-year-old slumped over the wheel of his FBI car. The vehicle had run out of gas near the Washington Navy Yard.

     Inside Lowry's car, agents found opened packets of heroin scattered about. They also found a shotgun and a pistol, evidence seized from a drug raid that was never logged into the evidence room.

     The Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office suspended Agent Lowry pending the outcome of an internal investigation conducted by agents from other field divisions. In 2014, federal prosecutors, as a result of Lowry's evidence-handling scandal, had to dismiss drug charges against 28 defendants.

     The Lowry case caused high level bureau administrators to institute an internal review of the evidence handling procedures in all 56 FBI field offices.

      On March 3, 2015, a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. charged the former agent with 20 counts of obstruction of justice, 18 counts of falsification of records, 13 counts of conversion of property, and 13 counts of possession of heroin. 

    On March 31, 2015, Lowry's attorney announced that his client had pleaded guilty in federal court.

    U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, on July 9, 2015, sentenced Matthew Lowry to three years in prison. The judge denied Lowry's plea for home detention on the grounds that his crimes had tainted dozens of major FBI drug cases.

Pick Your Facebook Friends Carefully

Do not accept a Facebook friend request from Lizzie Borden. You will get hacked.

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How a Writer's Life Influences His Writing

I've been drinking too much lately and have made plans to cut it down somewhat. Also there have been some rough seas on the home front. Everything seems to get in the way of the writing but maybe it creates it too.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1971-1986, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Orlando Hall Murder Case

      In September 1994, 23-year-old Orlando Hall ran a marijuana trafficking operation in Arkansas. That month, he and 21-year-old Bruce Carnell drove to Arlington, Texas to confront a man Hall believed had stolen $5,000 from him. At the man's apartment, Hall and Carnell encountered his16-year-old sister who was home alone. When Lisa Rene refused Hall and his accomplice entry, they broke into the apartment and kidnapped her. In the car on their way back to Arkansas, Hall and Carnell raped Lisa Rene. At a hotel in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the men, over at two day period, continued to rape and torture her.

     From the hotel in Pine Bluff, Orlando Hall and Bruce Carnell drove the victim to a nearby park where they dug a grave, hit their victim with a shovel, then buried her alive.

     Because the Lisa Rene kidnapping involved the crossing of the Texas/Arkansa state lines, the case was handled as a federal kidnapping offense, a death penalty crime when the kidnapped person is harmed or killed.

     Following the kidnapping convictions of Orlando Hall and Bruce Carnell in1996, federal judges sentenced the men to death.

     In 2019, because Bruce Carnell had an I.Q. of 69, a federal judge reduced his sentence to life.

     On November 19, 2020, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene, Orlando Hall was executed by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Prostitution:The Young Sex Slave

     On February 5, 2003, a judge sentenced 20-year-old Rasul Abernathy, a resident of Coatesville, a Philadelphia suburb in eastern Pennsylvania, to three to ten years for selling drugs. He began serving his time at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania. Two months later, prison authorities transferred Abernathy to SCI-Greenburg, a Westmoreland County facility east of Pittsburgh in the southwestern part of the state.

     On March 28, 2005, after serving slightly more than two years behind bars, Abernathy was granted parole. He returned to the Philadelphia area. After twenty months of freedom, Abernathy violated the conditions of his parole and landed back at SCI-Chester. Prison administrators, on February 6, 2007, transferred Abernathy back to the state prison in Greensburg.

     On January 28, 2008, 29-year-old Postauntaramin Walker, a resident of North Versailles, a community outside of Pittsburgh, began working as a corrections officer at SCI-Greensburg. That's where she met inmate Rasul Abernathy. Upon his parole on September 24, 2008, Abernathy moved in with the prison guard.

     Abernathy, in June 2012, encountered a 16-year-old girl who had run away from a western Pennsylvania juvenile facility. The girl accepted his invitation to live with him and Walker. Walker was still employed as a prison guard at SCI-Greensburg. She knew the girl was wanted by the authorities.

     A month after taking the runaway in, Abernathy and Walker turned the girl out as a teen prostitute. They posted online ads featuring provocative photographs of the young sex worker. To ease the girls's anxiety over turning tricks, her ex-con and corrections officer handlers kept her supplied with marijuana, alcohol, and pain pills. Abernathy set the young prostitute's fees and took care of the business end of the vice operation. When the girl refused to cooperate, her handlers beat her.

     In October 2012, the girl reached out to a former counselor she liked. She told the counselor about her life as an involuntary prostitute, but out of fear, did not identify her captors. The counselor notified the authorities. A short time later, the police picked the girl up and placed her back into the juvenile facility.

     Five months after re-entering the juvenile detention center, the girl escaped. She called Walker who welcomed her back into the sex trade. A few weeks after the young prostitute and her pimps were re-united in North Versailles, prison authorities transferred Walker across the state to SCI-Chester. Abernathy, Walker, and their young sex worker moved into an apartment in Coatesville outside of Philadelphia.

     In March 2013, one of Abernathy's ex-con acquaintances raped the girl. Instead of punishing the rapist, Abernathy shrugged off the assault by calling it a "learning experience." The incident motivated the teen prostitute to run off and return to the Pittsburgh area. A few weeks later, she was back in the juvenile facility where she spilled the beans, this time identifying Abernathy and Walker as her pimps.

     Back in the Philadelphia area, Abernathy and Walker were busy pimping out a 17-year-old male prostitute.

     In November 2013, realizing that her career as a Pennsylvania corrections officer was about to end, Walker quit showing up for work at SCI-Chester.

     In January 2014, a federal grand jury sitting in Philadelphia indicted Abernathy and Walker on charges of child sex trafficking and conspiring to engage in sex trafficking. The indictment pertained to the exploitation of the runaway girl. (The defendants' use of the internet to promote their sex trade made the offense federal.)

     FBI agents arrested Abernathy and the former state corrections officer in Philadelphia shortly after the indictment. Two months later, the same grand jury charged Abernathy, 32, and Walker, 34, with forcing the 17-year-boy into the sex trade. The defendants also faced state charges of kidnapping, promoting prostitution, assault, and other offenses related to the corruption of minors.
     Walker and Abernathy, after pleading guilty to kidnapping and promoting prostitution in January 2015, were each sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

Porch Piracy

Nearly eight in ten U.S. adults are regular online shoppers. In 2019, Americans spent about $605 billon online. According to a survey conducted by Security.org, 38 percent of respondents said they had packages stolen from their homes after the packages were delivered. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, reports of package theft in that city has increased 600 percent since 2010. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Jason Smith Murder Case

     Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a 35-year-old pediatrician, was a second-year infectious disease fellow and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine in downtown Philadelphia. The Thailand native lived in a central city town house not far from the hospital. Except for her 6-year-old pit bull/lab mix, she lived alone. Dr. Ketunuti had resided at this address for three years, and was in the process of rehabilitating the dwelling.

     On Monday, January 21, 2013, Dr. Ketunuti left her town house around nine in the morning to run some errands. She planned to return to her home at ten-fifty to meet with an exterminator with a pest-control company headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ketunuti was having mice problems. When the doctor's dog walker came to the house to pick up her dog at twelve-thirty, she smelled smoke, and upon investigation, discovered Dr. Ketuniti dead in her basement. The terrified woman called 911.

     Homicide detectives and crime scene technicians arrived at the town house to find a still smoldering, badly burned corpse. The victim's face had been so severely charred by the fire it was unrecognizable. The fully dressed woman was lying face-down and had been hogtied with her wrists and ankles bound behind her back. The killer had left a length of cordage around the victim's neck suggesting that before being set on fire, she had been strangled.

     Based on the dead woman's apparel and other points of identity, investigators assumed that the murdered woman in the basement was Dr. Melissa Ketunuti. Detectives found no signs of forced entry, or indications of a sexual assault. Because it didn't appear than anything had been taken from the premises, the killer had not been motivated by theft.

     As investigators began tracing the victim's activities that morning, and gathering footage from neighborhood surveillance cameras, the city of Philadelphia posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the identification and arrest of this murderer. The next day, a local community group added $15,000 to the incentive.

     On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, homicide investigators were in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a sprawling suburban Bucks County community 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The officers were in town questioning a 37-year-old pest-control subcontractor named Jason Smith. Smith lived in a powder-blue, two story house surrounded by a white picket fence still displaying Christmas decorations. The exterminator lived there with his girlfriend, their young daughter, and the girlfriend's stepfather.

     Surveillance camera footage in Dr. Ketunuti's neighborhood showed Smith, who had been scheduled for a service call at the murder victim's house that morning, walking toward the doctor's town house at ten-fifty. (The house itself was off-camera.) The tall, thin exterminator was wearing a NorthFace jacket and work gloves, and carried a satchel. Just before noon, Smith was video-recorded driving his silver Ford F-150 pickup out of the neighborhood. Before leaving, he circled the block two times. While in Levittown, officers searched Smith's house, his trash can, and his truck. Investigators took a computer out of the dwelling, and from the Ford F-150, seized a jacket and a pair of work gloves.

     The next day, at nine o'clock in the evening, detectives returned to Levittown to arrest Jason Smith. They took him into custody as he, his girlfriend, and their daughter watched "American Idol." Charged with first-degree murder, arson, abuse of corpse, and risking a catastrophe (burning down the neighborhood), Smith was locked up and held without bail.  During the arrest, the family's dog, a boxer named Tyson,  charged the arresting officers and had to be shot dead.

     According to a statement released by a Philadelphia law enforcement spokesperson, Smith and Ketunuti, while in the doctor's basement, got into some kind of argument. The suspect punched her to the floor, jumped on top of her, and used a length of rope to strangle her to death. In an effort to destroy physical evidence that might link him to the body, Smith set fire to the victim's clothing with his lighter. (The body contained no traces of an accelerant.)

     Jason Smith, except for a 2004 DUI conviction, had no criminal record. He told his interrogators that he was addicted to prescription painkillers, and that when arguing with the pest-control customer in her basement, he "snapped." According to Smith, when the doctor "belittled" him, he flew into a murderous rage.

     A friend of the suspect, in speaking to ABC News, revealed that Smith, as a child, had a difficult time controlling his anger. The friend remembered that in his childhood, Smith had problems with pyromania.

     In April 2013, at a preliminary hearing before Philadelphia Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni, homicide detective Edward Tolliver read Jason Smith's murder confession into the record. According to Detective Henry Glenn, the victim, at the time of her violent death, was wearing riding boots. Dr. Ketunuti's hands and feet had been tied behind her with a leather strap from horse gear. Smith, in his confession, told the detectives that he had bound the victim's ankles with a riding stirrup.

     After murdering Dr. Ketunuti in her home, Smith drove to another pest extermination job in New Jersey.

     At the preliminary hearing, Smith's attorneys, James A. Funt and Marc Bookman, did not contest the murder charge but asked the judge to dismiss the arson count because their client had not intended to burn down the building.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Philadelphia found Jason Smith guilty of first-degree murder, arson, risking a catastrophe, and abuse of corpse. The judge sentenced Smith to life in prison plus 17 to 34 years.  
     Jason Smith appealed his conviction and his sentence, and lost both appeals.

The Guiltless Sociopath

Guilt? It's this mechanism we use to control people. It's an illusion. It's a kind of social control mechanism--and it's very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than that rather extraordinary use of guilt. [Yes, prison, and in some cases, the death penalty.]

Ted Bundy, serial killer executed in 1989

Good Children's Books Are Not Dumbed-Down Adult Literature

Most people think writing for children is easier than writing for adults. Just take a good story, simplify the plot, round the sharp edges, throw in a moral and use plain language. Thousands of writers turn out stories using this recipe. But these writers don't sell their stories to publishers. Children are sophisticated, savvy readers. They reject sermons. They avoid condescension. And they resent a dumbed-down attitude.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories For Children, 2001 

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Savannah Dietrich Rape Case

     In August 2011, in Louisville, Kentucky, 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich, while drinking with two teenage boys she knew, passed out drunk. The boys took advantage of her condition by having sex with her. This, in most states, including Kentucky, is rape. If that wasn't bad enough, the rapists photographed each other committing the crime, and put the photographs on the Internet.

     When Dietrich learned of the humiliating photographs, and the fact they had been published, she and her parents reported the crime to the Louisville Metro Police Department. The two minors were then charged with first-degree sexual abuse, a felony. Since the juveniles had photographed each other in the act, they had no choice to plead guilty. But for some reason, the prosecutor, in return for the pleas, promised a lenient sentence.

     Following the defendant's June 26, 2012 plea hearing before Jefferson County District Judge Dee McDonald, Savannah Dietrich posted several tweets on her Twitter account in which she named the two boys who had pleaded guilty to her sexual assaults. By doing this, she had violated the judges's order not to reveal information about the case, especially the identities of the assaulting juveniles.

     The attorneys representing the two minors, asked Judge McDonald to hold Dietrich in contempt of court. If found in contempt, Dietrich faced up to 180 days in jail, and a $500 fine. (Much more time behind bars than the boys who had assaulted her would spend.)

     Dietrich, in speaking to a Louisville reporter with The Courier-Journal, said, "So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys. I'm at the the point that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it. If they really feel it's necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me--then I don't understand justice."

     On Monday, July 23, 2012, the lawyers representing the juveniles awaiting their sentences, withdrew their motion to have Dietrich held in contempt of court. In a single day, an online petition on change.org had brought 62,000 signatures in support of Dietrich's decision to publicize the identities of her assaulters. It was obvious that members of the public believed these boys, so afraid of being publicly embarrassed and humiliated by their cruelty and criminality, deserved to be exposed by their victim.

     In September 2012, a judge ruled that documents pertaining to the Dietrich case had to be released to the public. According to the publication of this material, a prosecutor told the victim to "Get over it and see a therapist." The documents also revealed that the victim's 16-year-old attackers had committed the assault because they believed it would be "funny."

     The sex offenders, in October 2012, were sentenced to 50 hours of community service. The boys also were ordered to undergo sex-offender counseling. When these boys reached the age of 19, they could file motions to have their guilty pleas withdrawn and the case dismissed. If granted that request, their criminal records would be expunged. As for the victim, where could she go to have her memory of the crime expunged?

Looking Back at England's Child Sex Exploitation Scandal

     In Rotherham, a city of 250,000 in northern England, five men from the Pakistani community were convicted in 2010 of grooming teenage girls for rape. The victims were trafficked across northern England by crews made up of Asian men. The high-profile trials brought to light other child sex exploitation rings run by Pakistani men in the cities of Rochdale, Derby, and Oxford.

     English authorities, responding to public pressure in the wake of the trials and accusations, asked Alexis Jay, the former chief social worker for the Scottish government, to investigate the scandal and publish a report on the depth and scope of the criminal operation. She released her report on August 25, 2014.

     Ms. Jay and her investigators determined that from 1997 to 2013, 1,400 girls, some as young as eleven, were sexually assaulted in the massive criminal enterprise. They were gang-raped, beaten, and threatened. The author of the report wrote: "There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told someone."

     How could so many girls be exploited, by so many men, for so long? According to Alexis Jay, "Police regarded these child victims with contempt." Moreover, a good number of these children were known to child protection agencies. Police chiefs, detectives, and council members chose to believe the sex was either consensual or the allegations of rape were false. These crime were, according to the report, "effectively suppressed."

     In some instances, parents who tried to rescue their children from the exploitation operators were themselves arrested. (Police bribery must have been rampant.) In the report, Alexis Jay wrote: "The collective failures of political and police leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual abuse exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham."

     Following the publication of Ms. Jay's shocking report, Roger Stone, the head of the Rotherham City Council resigned. Outraged parents and others called for the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire to step down as well. The commissioner told reporters he had no intention of resigning. No one else in the public sector took responsibility for the scandal.

Judicial Interpretation

There is no surer way to misread any document then to read it literally...As nearly as we can, we must put ourselves [as judges] in the place of those who uttered the words, and try to divine how they would have dealt with the unforeseen situation. Interpretation is necessarily an act of creative imagination. [In my view, this form of activism from the bench, if abused, can go from judicial interpretation to judicial interference.]

Judge Learned Hand (1872-1961)  

Charles Bukowski On Literary Prizes And Grants

Guggenheim, all those prizes and grants--you know how they go--more money is given to people who already have money. I know a professor who can't write. He wins a prize every year--usually the same one--and he goes off to some island and works on some project, meanwhile still getting paid half-salary for doing nothing at the university he's supposed to be teaching at. On one of his island trips he put together an anthology, even put me in it, but didn't have the decency to send me a copy of the book.

Charles Bukowski in Charles Bukowski: Selected Letters 1965-1970, edited by Seamus Cooney, 2004

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Gilbert Collar Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Gilbert Thomas Collar grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, a town of 6,000 within the Montgomery metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The 135-pound, 5-foot-7 high school wrestling star was enrolled at the University of South Alabama, a 15,000-student university located in Mobile, Alabama. Collar, a social sciences major, wanted to become a high school teacher and a wrestling coach.

     A university police officer named Trevis Austin, at 1:23 in the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2012, heard someone banging loudly on one of the campus police station's windows. Upon investigation of this noise, the officer encountered Gilbert Collar, nude and crouched into a fighting stance. The muscular young man, who challenged the officer to a fight, obviously appeared to be out of his mind. When Collar made an aggressive move toward Trevis Austin, the officer drew his weapon, backed-off, and warned the threatening 18-year-old to settle down. Collar rushed toward the campus cop several times, and each time the retreating officer ordered the man to stop and desist. Collar took a knee, rose, and charged the officer again. This time officer Austin shot Collar once in the chest. The attacking freshman stumbled, regained his footing, rushed toward the officer again, then collapsed and died.

     University police officer Austin was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation to be conducted by the Mobile County District Attorney's Office and the local sheriff's department. An important aspect of the inquiry involved reviewing the surveillance camera footage of the bizarre confrontation. Some of the questions that had to be answered included whether or not the student and the officer who shot him knew each other. Investigators also wanted to determine if Collar had a  history of mental illness and/or drug use. The autopsy and toxicological would answer the question of drugs and or alcohol.

     Jeff Glass, Collar's high school wrestling coach, told a reporter that "He [Collar] was a kind soul. He was never aggressive to anyone off the mat. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy." Chis Estes, an 18-year-old who grew up with Collar, reportedly said, "Gil was a very 'chill' guy, mellow and easy-going. That's why I don't understand the story that he attacked the cop."

     According to the toxicology report, Gilbert Collar had gotten high on a laboratory drug that mimics the effects of LSD. He had taken the drug at the BayFest music concert on the night of the deadly encounter. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at a press conference, announced that the student had assaulted others prior to his death.

     In 2013, a grand jury sitting in Mobile County cleared Trevis Austin of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

     In the wake of the grand jury no bill, members of Gilbert Collar's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against former officer Austin and the university. In 2015, pursuant to that suit, former Tallahassee police chief Melvin Tucker, on behalf of the plaintiff, rendered an expert opinion regarding whether the officer's use of deadly force in the case was appropriate.

     In his report, made public in May 2015, Mr. Tucker concluded that officer Austin had used excessive force in violation of his department's deadly force policy. Melvin Tucker wrote that the officer should either have retreated or used non-lethal means to subdue the student.

     Mr. Tucker noted in his report that over the past 131 years only three police officers in the state of Alabama had been killed by an unarmed assailant. The use of force expert wrote that in 2012, not a single police officer in the United States had died as a result of being disarmed by an arrestee.

     This is one of those difficult cases that no matter how it was resolved, won't satisfy anyone. From the campus police officer's point of view, he was confronted by an aggressive, muscular young man who was apparently out of his mind and intent on engaging him in a wrestling match. For all the officer knew, he was dealing with a drug-crazed man with supernatural strength. (The officer was 5-foot-eleven and the student 5-foot-seven.) Had these two people gotten into hand-to-hand combat, there was a possibility that the attacker could have ended up with the officer's gun. Even if the officer had been equipped with a taser device, there was no guarantee it would have subdued this aggressive, out-of-control subject, particularly with the LSD type drug in his system.

     Looking at this case through the eyes of Gilbert Collar's friends and relatives, it's easy to understand why they have questions regarding this student's sudden and violent death. His mother Bonnie said this to a reporter: "Freshmen kids do stupid things, and campus police should be equipped to handle activity like that without having to use lethal force." Although Gilbert Collar was not a kid, college freshmen are known to do stupid things. But taking off your clothes in the middle of the night, and without provocation or notice, attacking a police officer, goes beyond youthful stupidity. 
     In my opinion, Officer Austin, while he caused Gilbert Collar's death, was not responsible for it.

The Petra Pazsitka Lost And Found Case

     In 1984, when 24-year-old Petra Pazsitka, a computer science student attending college in Braunschweig, Germany, failed to show up at her brother's birthday party, her parents reported her missing. The police in this northern German city launched a massive hunt.

     About a year after the student's disappearance, the missing persons case was featured on a popular German television crime show. The public exposure did not create any tips that led to Pazsitka's recovery.

     Not long after the airing of the TV segment, a man named Gunter confessed to the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl from the neighborhood where Pazsitka had disappeared. This man also confessed to kidnapping and murdering the missing college student. But after Gunter was unable to lead homicide investigators to Pazsitka's body, the suspect took back his confession and that case was closed.

     In 1989, five years after Pazsitka's disappearance, she was officially declared dead even though her body had not been recovered.

     In September 2015, police in Dusseldorf, Germany were called to an apartment to investigate a burglary. At the scene they spoke to the victim tenant, a 54-year-old woman who identified herself as Mrs. Schneider. Investigators, when they learned that Mrs. Schneider didn't possess a driver's license, social security card, passport, or bank account, or any other form of personal identification, turned their attention on her.

     As it turned out, Mrs. Schneider was Petra Pazsitka. After staging her disappearance 30 years ago, Pazsitka lived in several German cities under numerous assumed names. She paid all of her bills with cash and didn't drive a car.

     When detectives asked Pazsitka the obvious question of why she had voluntarily disappeared, causing a massive police hunt as well as pain and suffering for her family, she said she had wanted to start a new life. She offered no explanation beyond that. Her father had since died. When asked if she wanted to reunite with her mother and brother, she said she did not.

Drinking and Dying in Russia

     A disturbing study in the Lancet looking at the causes of Russian mortality tracked 151,000 men over 10 years, during which time 8,000 of them died. They found that the "risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35 percent. The average Russian adult drinks about 13 liters [a liter is about four 8-ounce glasses of water] of pure alcohol per year, of which 8 liters is hard alcohol, mainly vodka. For men, it's closer to 20 liters. (Americans, by contrast, consume an average of about 9 liters of alcohol per year, half of which is beer.)

     Overall a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7 percent of men in the United Kingdom and fewer than one percent in the United States. The life expectance for men in Russia is 64 years, placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category.

Joshua Keating, "Vodka's Death Toll," Slate, January 30, 2014

Truth Versus Belief

Truth does not become true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, no less so even if the world disagrees with it.

Maimonides (1135-1204) philosopher 

A Good Story Is Gold

In the far west there is one thing which is more valuable than gold, even. And that is a story, whether it be true or good true-sounding fiction. Stories.

Max Brand (1892-1944) bestselling western fiction writer

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Not All Is Fair In Divorce War

     On August 11, 2014, a jury in Indiana, Pennsylvania found 43-year-old Meri Jane Woods guilty of trying to frame her estranged husband of a crime. According to the district attorney, in August 2013, the  Clymer, Pennsylvania defendant downloaded 40 images of child pornography onto the family computer and took the photographs to the police. She accused her estranged husband, Matthew Woods, of downloading the pornographic contraband.

     When investigators examined the time stamps on the images, they determined they had been downloaded more than two weeks after Meri Woods had kicked her husband out of the house pursuant to a protection from abuse order. Since he didn't have access to the dwelling or the computer, he couldn't have downloaded the incriminating material.

     In December 2014, the Indiana County judge sentenced Woods to six months to two years in prison. 

The Fate of Scientists in TV Crime Dramas

On prime time entertainment television, scientists are most at risk. Ten percent of scientists featured in prime time entertainment programing get killed, and five percent kill someone. No other occupational group is more likely to kill or be killed. [Scientists are often portrayed in crime fiction as evil and dangerous. Business executives tend to be villains as well.]

George Gerbner (1919-2005), professor of communications, author 

Feeding Students Junk History

The present educational establishment, to cite just one group, has been obscuring the past so that our children have no way of comparing the facts of history with the distorted version promoted by biased secular historians.

Gary DeMar, author, 2019

Psychologically Unhinged Novelists

Writing seems to attract a lot of psychologically unhinged people, so I'm always impressed with authors who are able to view their careers accurately, who are able to reconcile the inherent dissonance between commercial and critical success, and who seem to enjoy the process of writing without cannibalizing every other aspect of their existence in order to get it done. [As the compiler of two literary quote books, I believe the writers who are most honest about their work tend to be the genre novelists. The so-called literary authors tend to be the most dishonest and psychologically unbalanced.]

Chuck Klosterman, The New York Times Book Review, July 21, 2019

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lucy Letby: Nurse or Angel of Death?

     In 2008, 18-year-old Lucy Letby began working as a student nurse in the neonatal unit of Countess of Chester Hospital in Cheshire, a town in northeastern England not far from Liverpool. Letby qualified as a children's nurse in 2011, and following her graduation from nursing school, stayed on to work at Countess of Chester Hospital in the neonatal unit. By all accounts, she was a competent and caring healthcare worker.

     In May 2017, after the deaths of 17 premature infants in Countess of Chester Hospital's neonatal unit during the period March 2015 to July 2016, deaths physicians were unable to attribute to illness or any specific medical cause, hospital administrators requested a police investigation.  

     In addition to the mysterious deaths in the neonatal unit within the relatively short time span, 16 neonatal babies suffered what medical personnel called "non-fatal collapses," a term pertaining to infants whose health suddenly and severely declined but did not die.

     In May 2017, detectives with the Cheshire Police Department launched an investigation to determine if the infant deaths and near deaths had been intentionally and criminally caused.

     Cheshire detectives, in July 2018, arrested neonatal nurse Lucy Letby on suspicion of murder and attempted murder of the infants who died and had gotten suddenly ill under her watch. The 28-year-old suspect denied any criminal wrongdoing in connection with her care of these babies. Without evidence, physical or otherwise, connecting nurse Letby to the infant deaths and illnesses, the authorities chose not to formally charge her with murder or attempted murder. Lucy Letby was released from custody pending further investigation. The hospital, taking no chances, fired her.

     In 2019, Cheshire police homicide took Lucy Letby into custody for further questioning. She continued to maintain her innocence, and was again released.

     On November 11, 2020, a Crown prosecutor charged Lucy Letby with eight counts of murder in the deaths of the eight premature infants. She was also charged with ten accounts of attempted murder in connection the infant non-fatal collapse cases. The magistrate denied the suspect bail.

     According to the pathologist who had examined the victims, the babies had suffered heart and lung failures. 

     As of this writing, the authorities have not disclosed how they believe the nurse caused the deaths and near deaths of these infants, nor what evidence they had linking her to the crimes.

The Stiletto Heel Murder Case

     At four in the morning on Sunday, June 9, 2013, a resident of the Parkline condominium  high rise in Houston's upscale Museum District, called 911 to report a possible domestic disturbance in an adjacent apartment. When police officers knocked on the door of the 18th floor residence, they were met by a woman covered in someone else's blood.

     The woman who answered the door that morning was 44-year-old Ana Lila Trujillo, a former message therapist who was visiting the home of a University of Houston research professor employed in the school's  biology and biochemistry department. The officers found Professor Alf Stefan lying face-up in a pool of his own blood. The 59-year-old researcher in the field of women's reproductive health, lay sprawled on the floor in the hall between the entranceway and the kitchen. The dead man had ten puncture wounds in his head, and fifteen to twenty such wounds to his neck and chest. The death scene had all the markings of an overkill murder committed by someone who was enraged and out of control.

     The blood-covered Trujillo told the Houston police officers that the professor, her boyfriend, had physically attacked her. In defending herself, she had struck him with the stiletto heel of one of her pumps. When questioned by detectives at police headquarters, Trujillo asked for a lawyer then clammed-up.

     Later that Sunday, Trujillo was booked into the Harris County Jail on the charge of murder. The next day, she walked free after posting her $100,000 bond.

     Since Trujillo and Professor Stefan were alone in his apartment, the prosecution would have to make a circumstantial case of murder based upon the physical evidence and the character of the defendant and the history of her relationship with the professor.

     On April 10, 2014, a jury in Houston, Texas found Ana Trujillo guilty of capital murder. The prosecutor had successfully portrayed her as a self-serving, violent woman who lived in her own world. The Trujillo defense failed to make the case that she had killed an abusive lover in self-defense.

     Based on the advice of her attorney, the defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf.

     The judge sentenced Trujillo to life in prison.  

A Mafia Hit Man's Self-Analysis

I didn't want to go straight. No boring sessions with do-gooder social workers for this cookie. No BS therapy from a shrink who would say I hated my uncle. Forget denial and struggling to make ends meet on some begged-for, dead-end job. "You're a criminal pure and simple," I told myself, "so go for it whole hog."

Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Good Riddance to the Yorkshire Ripper

      From 1975 through 1980, the British serial killer Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women by bludgeoning them with a ball peen hammer then mutilating their bodies with a knife. He attacked another seven women who managed to survive.

     Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper by England's tabloid press, Sutcliffe went on trial in May 1981 and was found guilty of 13 counts of murder and 7 counts of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison.

     On November 13, 2020, while incarcerated at Her Majesty's Prison in Brasside, England, Sutcliffe died from COVID-19. He was 74. Chalk up one for the virus.

Leonard Moses: Fifty Years a Fugitive

     On April 6, 1968, in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, a riot broke out in Homewood, Pennsylvania, a community in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. During that civil unrest, 16-year-old Leonard Rayne Moses and two of his friends threw molotov cocktails into 72-year-old Mary Amplo's house in Homewood. With third-degree burns over 55 percent of her body, she was rushed to a nearby hospital where, three months later, she died of pneumonia. 

     In July 1969, Leonard Moses went on trial in Pittsburgh for Mary Amplo's death. The jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Moses to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

     In July 1970, the authorities granted Leonard Moses permission to attend his mother's funeral at the Nazarene Baptist Church in Homewood. At some point during the service, the 18-year-old managed to escape from two Allegheny County sheriff's deputies. Normally escapees of this nature are quickly apprehended and returned to prison. But in this case, Leonard Moses avoided capture and disappeared into the wind.

     In January 1999, Leonard Moses, under the name Paul Dickson, became a licensed traveling pharmacist for the CVS pharmacy chain in Michigan. Twenty years later, in January 2020, while living in Grand Blanc, Michigan, a suburb of Flint, a CVS loss prevention officer in St. Clair, Shores, Michigan, caught Moses, aka Dickson, taking 80 hydrocodene pills from the pharmacy. A Genesee County prosecutor charged Dickson/Moses with theft. Following his arrest, Dickson/Moses made bail and returned to his home in Grand Blanc.

     In October 2020, the fingerprints of a man the local authorities believed to be Paul Dickson were entered into a national fingerprint databank. The submission of these prints resulted in a match to the fingerprints of a Leonard Moses taken in connection with the Mary Amplo firebombing in April 1968. 

     FBI agents, on November 12, 2020, arrested the escaped prisoner at his home in Grand Blanc, Michigan. The 67-year-old fugitive was booked into the Genesee County Jail pending his extradition to Pennsylvania. 

     The story of how Leonard Moses escaped and avoided capture for so long, and transformed himself from an eighteen-year-old convicted murderer into a licensed pharmacist, is a tale yet to be told. But when it is, it is sure to be fascinating.

How a Liar Tells a Story

 People who want to deceive you will often use a single technique which has a simple name: too many details. When people are telling the truth, they don't feel doubted, so they don't feel the need for additional support in the form of details. When people lie, however, even if what they say sounds credible to you, it doesn't sound credible to them, so they keep talking. 

Gavin De Baker, The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, 1997

Cracking Down on Gambling

In Arkansas, in order to discourage gambling, the maximum number of free games a pinball machine can award a player is 25.

Charles Duff's Satiric Take on Execution

I am not greatly concerned with the condemned man, but rather with the system, for it is the system that can be improved. The death of an individual is a trifle when we think of war and the general slaughter and butchery that is synonymous...What is the death of even the most important individual? And cannot death itself, even death by execution, be made, and frequently is made, into an admirable thing? Christianity itself might not have taken its great hold upon the imagination of the world if Christ had not been executed. Out of evil good can come; and the end justifies the means.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 1961 (1894-1966) Northern Irish author

On Writing the Novel

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) British playwright, novelist 

Plotting the Novel

     The writer works out plot in one of three ways: by borrowing some traditional plot or an action from real life...by working his way back from his story's climax; or by groping his way forward from an initial situation...

     The writer who begins with a traditional story or some action drawn from life has part of his work done for him already. He knows what happened and, in general, why. The main work left to him is that of figuring out what part of the story (if not the whole) he wants to tell, what the most efficient way of telling it is, and why it interests him.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, 1983

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case: The Insanity Defense in Norway Versus the United States

      The Anders Behring Breivik Mass Murder Case
     On July 21, 2011, 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo, Norway that killed eight. Breivik, later that day, opened fire at a summer camp on Utoya Island, killing sixty-nine people, most of whom were children. Breivik's bombing and shooting spree also injured 151 in the city and on the island. The mass murderer surrendered without incident to a SWAT team that showed incredible restraint.

     After confessing to the bombing and shooting spree, Breivik told his interrogators that he was a commander of a resistance movement aiming to overthrow European governments and replace them with "patriotic" regimes that would deport Muslim immigrants.

     A pair of psychiatrists, on thirteen visits, spent 36 hours talking with Breivik. The doctors concluded that because Breivik was a paranoid schizophrenic, he was not a proper candidate for conviction and imprisonment as a criminal. As a result, prosecutors decided not to try Breivik for mass murder. Instead, he would be adjudicated insane and sent to a mental institution for an indeterminate period.

      Under Norway's insanity defense doctrine, defendants who "lost touch with reality" are not considered criminals because their "crimes" are symptoms of the killer's mental illness. Breivik's victims, in other words, were killed by paranoid schizophrenia, not an evil, cold-blooded murderer.

     Norwegian critics of the decision not to try Breivik as a criminal defendant called attention to Breivik's extensive planning and gruesome efficiency in the slaughter of his helpless victims. In the opinion of the Swedish forensic psychiatrist Anders Forsman, Breivik carried out his murderous mission in a rational way. He was, in Forsman's words, an "efficient killing machine."

      In January 2012, under intense public pressure, the Oslo District Court ordered a second expert panel to evaluate Breivik's mental state at the time of the killings. In April 2012, the second psychiatric evaluation determined that Breivik possessed an antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. He was, in other words, not a psychotic who had lost touch with reality. 
     In August 2012, following Breivik's mass murder conviction, the judge sentenced him to 10 to 21 years in prison, Norway's maximum sentence. Had he been adjudicated insane, the mass murderer could have been shut away in a mental institution for life.

     The Insanity Defense in the U.S.
    Had Anders Breivik embarked on his murderous rampage in the United States, he'd have almost no chance of successfully raising the insanity defense. This is because in America, most states operate under the M'Naghten Rule. Under this doctrine of legal insanity, a criminal defendant is not insane unless: "At the time of the commission of the act, the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong." Popularly referred to as the "right/wrong test," a defense attorney has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence, that his client did not realize the act in question was wrong. Regardless of how mentally ill defendants are, almost all of them know that what they are doing is wrong. In other words, in most states, merely because a criminal defendant has been diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic is not enough to support the insanity defense. For this reason, very few defendants succeed in being found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the United States, the law requires a degree of mental impairment that in medical reality doesn't exist. 

     Serial killers like Ted Bundy are rarely found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Unabomber Ted Kaczinsky, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was convicted of murder in 1996 and sent to prison. 

     In the United States, jurors are not comfortable with finding mentally ill serial killers and mass murderers not guilty for any reason. They don't completely trust the social scientific findings of psychiatrists who testify for the defense. And jurors don't want to replace the concept of good and evil with sane and insane. Serial killers and mass murderers, to jurors, while obviously mentally unbalanced, are still evil and dangerous people. In America, evil people who murder are going to be punished criminally. That doesn't mean, however, that they don't receive some psychiatric treatment (drugs) in prison. But it does mean, whether medically "rehabilitated" or not, they are never going to be free.

     John Hinckley, Jr. the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This is because he was tried in federal court which applies a less difficult standard of legal insanity. In 2016, Hinckley's was released permanently from the mental institution so he could live with or near his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

The Mass Murderer: From Invisible to Instant Infamy

If you were an average maladjusted young person, no one would care much about you, but as soon as you magnified your awkwardness into monstrousness--as soon as you started shooting--then you'd have people poring over your diaries and trying to understand your innermost thoughts.

Rachel Monroe, Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, 2019

The First Novel as Fiction Light

The first novel is a good place to put in things that would be awkward to use elsewhere. No one requires much fiction from a first novel.

Peter S. Prescott, Never in Doubt, 1986

A Mystery Novelist's Work Habits

I write from 10 AM to 6 PM, Monday to Friday. I try to write eight pages a day. When I had a 9-to-5 job, I used to write at night and on weekends, but not anymore.

Ed McBain, bookreporter.com, January 21, 2000

The Sports Writer

Newspaper people speak of journalists who cover the news as police reporters, city hall men, and Washington correspondents. Print journalists on the sports beat are usually referred to as sports writers. The sports writer is not expected merely to tell us what happened. Upon small, coiled springs of fact, he builds up a great padded mattress of words. His readers escape into a dream where most of the characters are titanic heroes, devouring monsters, or gargantuan buffoons.

A. J. Liebling in Wayward Reporter by Raymond A. Sokolov, 1980 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Ethel Anderson: The Unrepentant Child Molester

     In 2011, Ethel Anderson, a 29-year-old teacher at the Mango Elementary School in suburban Seffner, Florida outside of Tampa, resided in Riverside with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. Anderson had recently been named the Diversity School Teacher of the Year.

     In December 2011, Teacher of the Year Anderson began tutoring a 12-year-old math student in her home. Over the next three months, she and the boy exchanged 230 pages of test messages in which she described, in vivid language, her lust for the child. Anderson also expressed her anxiety over feeling unattractive because of her weight. In these exchanges, the boy used the name Dirty Dan. No one reading this material would have guessed that Dirty Dan was a 12-year-old kid communicating with one of his public school teachers. The online exchange between teacher and student, while a bit puerile, was pretty raunchy.

     In February 2012, the teacher-student affair ended following a spat. The angry kid got his revenge by telling his mom everything. It's hard to imagine what was went through the mother's mind when her son described receiving oral sex from a woman paid to teach him math. The couple, according to the boy, also simulated various sexual acts while fully clothed. The boy's tutor also fondled him.

     The mother, perhaps worried that school officials and police officers would take the teacher's word over her son's, confronted Anderson before alerting the authorities. During that meeting, the teacher admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The student's mom, having clandestinely audio-taped the conversation, went to the police with the evidence. 

     Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, in March 2012, charged Ethel Anderson with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Following the teacher's arrest, the school suspended her without pay. Eight months later, Anderson resigned.

     The child molestation trial got underway in Tampa on September 18, 2013. The boy, now 14, took the stand for the prosecution. "I felt she was like my real girlfriend," he said. "She said I was her boyfriend and she loved me. I was thinking, 'I'm living a guy's dream...dating my teacher.' "

     According to the young prosecution witness, Anderson told him she planned to leave her husband because he wasn't a good father, and didn't communicate with her. As time went on, however, the student began having doubts about the relationship. "I'm dating a girl I'm in love with and she thinks of me as a kid. It didn't feel right."

     On the third and final day of the trial, defense attorney William Knight, in a bold move, put his client on the stand. Rather than plead some kind of emotional breakdown, drinking problem or addiction to drugs, the former school teacher denied having physical contact with the boy, essentially calling him a liar. Claiming that the 12-year-old had tried to instigate a sexual relationship, Anderson said, "He attempted, at one point, to grab me in an inappropriate manner. He attempted to kiss me and I pushed him off."

     Regarding her sexually vivid text messages, the defendant said they were nothing more than "sexual therapy" tools to get the boy to focus on his studies. "I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy," she said. "He was going through puberty. He couldn't connect with his family. He was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention."

     Prosecutor Peters, in a blistering cross-examination of the defendant, asked, "You want the jury to believe that you were in fantasyland to help the boy? Was that part of your training as a teacher? So by giving in to these sexual fantasies he did better in school?"

     "Sometimes, yes," Anderson replied.

     Defense attorney Knight, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the prosecution had not presented one piece of physical evidence proving any kind of sexual contact between his client and the student.

     When it came her turn to address the jury, the prosecutor called the former teacher's attempt to explain herself "remarkable," and "amazing in its audacity." The state attorney told the jurors that "everything the defendant told you defies logic and common sense."

     On December 19, 2013, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, calling Ethel Anderson a parent's worst nightmare, sentenced the former teacher to 38 years in prison. In hindsight, this defendant should have pleaded guilty in return for a lesser sentence. She rolled the dice and lost.

Problems in Adjudicating The Insanity Defense

Insanity defense cases should be tried not by juries but by specially trained and credentialed judges. I have seen firsthand the debacle of naive and inexperienced judges struggling with complicated psychological testimony, ineptly charging juries, and generally remaining clueless throughout the proceedings. These judges should be given on-the-job training and assistance to become proficient in the application of psychological principles.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

The Journalistic Blindside

I don't even like interviewing people, because I feel once I've interviewed someone, it's much harder to write critically about them unless you bring up every critical feeling you have in the course of the interview.

Norman Mailer in Conversations With Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon, 1988 

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Charles and Shirley Severance Murder Case

     Charles Severance and his wife Shirley, both seventy years old, had lived thirty years in Sterling, Colorado, a rural plains community 110 miles northeast of Denver. In 2014, the couple allowed their grandson, Brendan Johnson, a recent high school graduate without prospects, to take up residence in their modest, single-story home.

     These decent grandparents had no idea that Brendan and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Cassandra Rieb, had been planning to murder them for their house, their 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck, and $20,000 in the elderly couple's bank account. According to the harebrained murder plan, Brendan would smother his grandfather as he slept while Rieb, in similar fashion, executed Shirley Severance.

     During the early morning hours of May 20, 2014, the grandson, accompanied by his sociopathic girlfriend, launched their attack on Mr. and Mrs. Severance. But as is often the case involving killers who are dimwitted, things did not go according to plan, and certainly not smoothly. Mr. Severance fought against his homicidal grandson. During the struggle, Brendan, unable to smother his grandfather, placed his hands around his neck to strangle him. Mr. Severance couldn't breathe, lost his strength, then died.

     While Brendan was killing his grandfather, his girlfriend had problems dispatching Mrs. Severance. As she fought against being smothered, Shirley begged for her life, and offered to give the couple money. Rieb discontinued the assault so Brendan could finish the job. The killer's grandmother pleaded with him to stop the attack. She again begged for her life, and asked for a drink of water. As the victim drank from the glass, Brendan pulled out a knife to slit her throat. She moved, and the knife instead sliced her in the jaw.

     When the 70-year-old woman tried to escape, Johnson used the knife to stab her repeatedly. "Why are you doing this to me?" she cried.

     "You know why," the killer replied. Shirley Severance died a few seconds later.

     The double murder not only failed to unfold as planned, it produced a bloody crime scene that the degenerate killers had to clean up. The murderers dragged both bodies into a bedroom where they remained for a day while Johnson and Rieb did their best to clean up the blood and dispose of other physical evidence. But what were they supposed to do with the bodies?

     After scrubbing the murder site, the couple loaded Mrs. Severance into Mr. Severance's pickup truck and hauled her to a wooded area near a reservoir outside of town. At that spot, they cut off her head and set fire to the corpse.

     Two days after the murders, Johnson and Reib returned to the dump site outside of Sterling, placed Mrs. Severance's charred remains back into the truck, and drove the body thirty miles to an area near Lorenzo, Nebraska. At that place they buried the murder victim in a shallow grave.

     Mr. Severance's body remained at the murder scene because he was too heavy to carry to the truck. When planning how to dispose of the bodies, the killers failed to account for the victim's weight.

     On May 29, 2014, a few days after forging and cashing two checks on the Severance bank account for a total of $4,500, Brendan Johnson called 911 to report that he had just discovered his grandfather's body in his house. He also reported that his grandmother was missing.

     Police officers, in response to Brendan Johnson's phony 911 call, met the grandson and his girlfriend at the tiny house on Third Avenue. In the bedroom, the officers came upon Mr. Severance's decomposing corpse.

     Questioned that day at the police station, Johnson said his grandfather had died of a heart attack, and that he had no idea what happened to his grandmother. According to Johnson, prior to Mr. Severance's death, the old man had given him the pickup truck as a gift. He said his grandfather had also given him  the $4,500 drawn from his bank. Detectives didn't buy Johnson's story.

     When asked to take polygraph tests, the young killers confessed. Cassandra Rieb led officers to the place outside of Lorenzo, Nebraska where detectives discovered Shirley Severance's charred and dismembered remains. During her session with the polygraph examiner, Rieb said, "The plan was to kill them so he [Brendan] could get their inheritance. Together we went and we did it together. We had agreed to do it together, obviously. Like one gets one [of the victims] and one gets the other."

     On June 3, 2014, a Logan County prosecutor charged the young couple with two counts of first-degree murder along with several lesser offenses. Johnson and Rieb were booked into the county jail. The judge denied the murder suspects bond.

    In April 2015, Cassandra Rieb, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The judge sentenced her to consecutive terms of 48 years and 32 years, respectively. Under Colorado law, Rieb had to serve at least 75 percent of her sentence behind bars.

     In May 2015, Brendan Johnson, after initially pleading not guilty to murder and fourteen lesser charges, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The plea brought an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

     Crimes like this make it difficult not to support the death penalty.