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Monday, May 17, 2021

The Cannibalism At Sea Dilemma

     In the summer of 1884, four English sailors were stranded at sea in a small lifeboat in the South Atlantic, over a thousand miles from land. Their ship, the Migonette, had gone down in a storm, and they had escaped to the lifeboat, with only two cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water. Thomas Dudley was the captain, Edwin Stephens was the first mate, and Edmund Brooks was a sailor--"all men of excellent character," according to newspaper accounts.

     The fourth member of the crew was the cabin boy, Richard Parker, age seventeen. He was an orphan, on his first voyage at sea. He had signed up against the advice of his friends, "in the hopefulness of youthful ambition," thinking the journey would make a man of him. Sadly, it was not to be.

     From the lifeboat, the four stranded sailors watched the horizon, hoping a ship might pass and rescue them. For the first three days, they ate small rations of turnips. On the fourth day, they caught a turtle. They subsisted on the turtle and the remaining turnips for the next few days. And then for eight days they ate nothing.

     By now Parker, the cabin boy, was lying in the corner of the lifeboat. He had drunk seawater, against the advice of the others, and became ill. He appeared to be dying. On the nineteenth day of their ordeal, Dudley, the captain, suggested drawing lots to determine who would die so that the others might live. But Brooks refused, and no lots were drawn.

     The next day came, and still no ship was in sight. Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that Parker had to be killed. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come, then killed him with a penknife, stabbing him in the jugular vein. Brooks emerged from his conscientious objection to share in the gruesome bounty. For four days, the three men fed on the body and blood of the cabin boy.

     And then  help came. Dudley describes their rescue in his diary, with staggering euphemism: On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast," a ship appeared at last. The three survivors were picked up. Upon their return to England, they were arrested and tried. Brooks turned state's witness. Dudley and Stephens went to trial. They freely confessed that they had killed and eaten Parker. They claimed they had done so out of necessity.

     Suppose you were the judge. How would you rule?
     [The defendants were convicted of murder and sentenced to death but were pardoned by the Crown after serving six months in prison.]

Michael J. Sandel, Justice, 2009 

A Wrongful 32 Year Imprisonment

     A 74-year-old woman was released from prison on March 24, 2014 after serving 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive boyfriend. Mary Virginia Jones walked out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, California to the tears and cheers of family and friends…

     Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in a 1981 shooting death, but Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan set aside those convictions…The district attorney's office has agreed to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones' release. Jones has already served 11,875 days, which exceeds the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

     Jones' case was taken up by the University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Justice Report. It contends Jones' boyfriend, Mose Willis, kidnapped two drug dealers and forced the woman to drive to an alley, where he shot both men. One of them was killed…

     For years Jones maintained that she "did not willingly participate in the crime." A week before the shooting, Willis shot at Jones' daughter, Denitra Jones-Goodie, and threatened to kill both of them if they contacted the police…Law students at USC's Post Conviction Project argued Jones would not have been convicted if the jury had heard testimony on the effects of intimate partner battery, previously known as "Battered Women's Syndrome."

"Woman, 74, Freed After 32 Years in Prison For Murder She Didn't Commit," CBS News, March 25, 2014 

Extreme Biology at Columbia High

     An Idaho biology teacher is facing disciplinary action after killing and skinning a rabbit in class to show students where their food comes from.

     The teacher killed the rabbit in front of 16 students by snapping its neck at Columbia High School in Boise. The rabbit was then skinned and cut up in front of the 10th graders. [Whether he intended it or not, this teacher probably turned 16 kids into vegetarians.]

"Teacher Kills Rabbit in Class," Associated Press, November 15, 2014  

British Versus American Detective Fiction

Most critics date the emergence of the classical detective story with the publication of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1841. British versions by such writers as Arthur Conan Doyle tend to place emphasis on style, a few specific locales, and logic. American versions, which flourished from the twenties onward, carry with them a pulpier prose, a larger scope, and a heavy charge of sensationalism.

Lance Olsen, Rebel Yell, 1998 

Excuses Not to Write

Not writing at all constitutes the ultimate triumph of fear. We seldom admit this, however, even to ourselves. We just can't seem to "get around to it." That sounds like writer's block and sometimes is. Unlike blocked writers, however--who try to put words on paper but can't--non-writing writers have stopped trying. "Maybe after I retire I'll get back to it," they may say. Or: "When the kids are grown when I have a better office to write in." Or: "Once I've bought a new computer" or "After I take another writing class."

Ralph Keyes, The Courage to Write, 1995 

James Cain's Rejected Crime Classic

The Postman Always Rings Twice had nothing to do with the mail service. The title was a private joke of crime novelist James Cain. His postman would ring his doorbell twice whenever the many-times rejected book's manuscript came back from a publisher.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be A Writer, 2003

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Yiqiang Wu Hate Crime Case

     Army Captain Andrew McClure, during his 14 years in military service that included a combat tour in Iraq, had escaped physical injury. On April 11, 2013, as he stood in the Walmart checkout line dressed in his camouflage fatigues, Captain McClure didn't expect to become the target of an anti-American assault. The incident took place at six o'clock in the evening in Albany, New York.

     In response to something mumbled by the man standing behind him in the Walmart line, Captain McClure turned around to determine if the man was speaking to him.  Forty-seven--year-old Yiqiang Wu responded by giving the man in uniform the finger.

     "Is that for me?" the Captain asked.

     "F---you, American scum," said Wu. "F---you, F---your nation!"

     "If you don't like it here, you can always go home," McClure replied. Before the Captain could turn from the man who had insulted him, the uniform, and the country, Wu punched the Captain several times in the face. Bystanders rushed to McClure's aid. The Walmart customers subdued the attacker until the police entered the store and hauled him away in handcuffs.

     The next day, the Walmart assailant from the Schenectady, New York area stood before a magistrate in an Albany criminal courtroom. Wu was charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime. Following his arraignment, the suspect posted his $5,000 bail and was released. The judge ordered a mental illness evaluation.

     Captain McClure, in explaining to a local reporter why he hadn't used his black belt skills to protect himself, said: "I had the presence of mind to know that we're on camera. I'm in uniform and I have to conduct myself as a professional and not do anything that would tarnish or embarrass the unit or the uniform."

     Yiqiang Wu, in speaking to a reporter, said that he heard voices and suffered from headaches. According to him, whenever he plugged his ears to block out the voices, his middle finger shot up. (I'm hearing a voice in my head right now and it says, "load of crap.") Wu assured the reporter he had no ill-will toward the U.S. military.

      Eight years have passed since this hate crime assault and there has not been one update in the media about this crime. As a result, we are left with questions regarding the disposition of the case. Was Yiqiang Wu found guilty? Was he a Chinese citizen who faced deportation? Was he institutionalized as a mental patient? And more importantly, why did the media ignore this outrageous hate crime against an American soldier?

The "Swiss Cheese Pervert"

      Philadelphia police have arrested a man they believe is the "Swiss Cheese Pervert," who reportedly sexually propositioned unsuspecting women with the dairy food. The suspect, identified as 41-year-old Christopher Pagano, was arrested at his Norristown, New Jersey home. Investigators suspect Pagano is the man who drove up to women on several occasions and offered them money to put cheese on his genitals and perform a lewd act.

     In March 2009, Norristown police charged Pagano with criminal solicitation to commit prostitution and disorderly conduct after a Norristown woman called police to report a man who said he would pay her $20 to perform a sex act on him with Swiss cheese he removed from his pocket. Under a negotiated guilty plea on November 6, 2009, a Montgomery County prosecutor dropped the criminal solicitation charge, leaving the summary offense of disorderly conduct. [The judge fined Pagano $100.]

The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 2014 

Eyewitness Unreliability

     Pennsylvania criminal defendants are now able to offer expert testimony about the unreliability of eyewitness identification following a decision by a divided state Supreme Court that overturned a 20-year prohibition against such evidence. [Before this, only the judge could inform jurors of the dangers of eyewitness testimony in the jury instruction phase of the trial.]

     Pennsylvania will join the great majority of states and federal courts when it comes to letting an expert tell jurors about research into eyewitness testimony. [Going back thirty years, hundreds of studies have shown just how unreliable this kind of evidence can be. A countless number of rape and robbery defendants have been sent to prison on the strength of false line-up identifications. Today, in almost all jurisdictions, eyewitness testimony alone will not, by law, sustain a conviction.]

"Court  Decision Allows Expert Testimony on Eyewitness ID," Associated Press, May 29, 2014 

Lapdog Journalism

I think the principal problem with the establishment press, at least in terms of political journalism, has been excess deference to, and closeness with, the most powerful political factions, precincts over which journalism is, at its best, supposed to exercise oversight and serve as a watchdog. Instead it serves as a kind of amplifying mechanism and as a servant to them.

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist who published surveillance stories leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. Quoted in The Daily Caller, December 7, 2013 

The Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004 

The Glut of Pain and Suffering Memoirs

     The truth is out there. You can't miss it, in fact--it's everywhere. But even as we embrace the twenty-four hour confession cycle of social media, the popularity, and subsequent disparagement, of the memoir reveals our mixed feelings about true stories. We might be lured into tales of harrowing childhoods or devastating divorces, but our internal machinery will monitor the narratives based on the same arbitrary rubrics that guard our own personal revelations (or lack thereof): Is the author honest about his motives? Are her experiences exotic enough to teach us something new? Does he learn a big lesson at the end, or does he tumble off a cliff into a nihilistic abyss?

     Blogs and Instagram and YouTube have rendered brutal honesty and statements of "my truth" about as mundane as instructions on how to dye your hair. Nevertheless, committing your life experiences to the published page is still viewed as an audacious act, one reserved for celebrated authors, public figures, or those who've lived outside the norm and endured horrors untold. For every phalanx of writing instructors exhorting their pupils to write what they know, there's an equal and opposite gaggle of critics urging them to keep their junior-varsity trials and tribulations to themselves. If your pain doesn't equal the pain of the reader, you are merely indulging yourself.

Heather Havrilesky, Bookforum, February/March 2015 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Cannibal Cop Free Speech Case

     Gilberto Valle, a 6-year New York City police officer assigned to the 26th Precinct in Harlem, lived with his wife and child in the Forest Hills section of Queens. On an online dating site called OKCupid, the 28-year-old police officer described himself as a "very calm individual" with "an endless supply of hilarious short stories from work that can't be made up. I'll try anything," he wrote, "and I'm not picky at all." According to his online profile, Valle had attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens and the University of Maryland, College Park.

     Based upon an investigation conducted by the FBI over several months, officer Valle was not calm, or funny. And what he was willing to try was more than a little disturbing. 
     According to court documents related to the federal investigation, Gilberto Valle, and several unnamed co-conspirators, had used the Internet to acquire potential female victims to kidnap, rape, torture, murder, cook, and eat. In his search for targets, Valle had used federal and state law enforcement crime-victim databases. The suspect corresponded with his like-minded co-conspirators through online dating forums.

     In addition to his use of the Internet to identify and lure women, Valle conducted physical surveillances of their homes and workplaces. He used this data to draw up and revise detailed kidnap/murder "operation plans." 
     In February 2012, Valle, in an online communication with a co-conspirator who had expressed a desire to rape a woman, offered to kidnap a victim for this man for a fee of $5,000. Pursuant to his offer, Valle wrote: "It is going to be hard to contain myself when I knock her out, but I am aspiring to be a professional kidnapper, and that's business." Later in the conversation, Valle wrote: "She will be alive. I think I would rather not get involved in the rape. You paid for her. She is all yours, and I don't want to be tempted the next time I abduct a girl." 
     On July 2, 2012, Valle and a co-conspirator conducted a disturbing online conversation in which Valle wrote: "I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus. Cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible."
     "How big is your oven," asked the co-conspirator. 
     "Big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs...the abduction will have to be flawless...I know all of them."
     In another Internet exchange regarding a specific woman, Valle wrote: "I can just show up at her home unannounced, it will not alert her, and I can knock her out, wait until dark and kidnap her right out of her home."
     Valle's co-conspirator offered Valle some kidnap advice: "You really would be better to grab a stranger. The first thing the police force will do is check out [the victim's] friends [as suspects]."
     "Her family is out of state."    
     "I have anesthetic gasses," replied the helpful co-conspirator.
     "I can make chloroform here," Valle replied. 
     In another July 2012 conversation, one of Gilberto Valle's co-conspirators asked, "How was your meal?"
     "I am meeting her on Sunday," came the reply. 
     FBI agents, on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, arrested Gilberto Valle at his home on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and intentionally and knowingly accessing a computer without authorization. (The bureau made the arrest because Valle had recently had lunch with a woman the FBI feared he would abduct.) From Valle's home in Queens, agents seized a computer that contained personal data--names, addresses, physical descriptions, and photographs--of 100 women. Valle's computer also held hundreds of incriminating emails and instant message chats between the suspect and his co-conspirators. 
          In March 2013, a jury in Manhattan found the defendant guilty as charged. In July 2014, however, a federal judge, except for the count of illegally using the federal databank to target victims, overturned Valle's conspiracy to kidnap conviction on grounds of free speech. Instead of facing up to life in prison Valle walked out of the jail having already served enough time to satisfy the punishment for the lesser offense.

     This judge did not believe Valle's writings and behavior rose above the expression of his bizarre fantasies. In America people are punished for criminal actions, not thoughts. This was a close and controversial decision.

     Gilberto Valle, in January 2018, published A Gathering of Evil, a horror novel that features his obsession with killing and eating women. The work of fiction is narrated through the eyes of a sadist who kidnaps two young women. The author said he hoped to make a living as a novelist.

     In May 2018, Gilberto lost custody of his daughter after his ex-wife claimed she had fears he would murder the girl.

Abuse of Corpse in San Juan

     Even in death, Christopher Rivera Amaro almost looked ready to box, leaning against the corner of a simulated ring. Mourners who came to the wake in San Juan on Friday, February 1, 2014 found him posed afoot, a yellow hood on his head, sunglasses over his eyes and blue boxing gloves on his hands.

     The vice president of the Marin Funeral Home, said the Amaro family wanted to stress his boxing. The funeral home suggested posing him in a ring…The funeral home has staged similar wakes for others. One featured a deceased man riding his motorcycle. The 23-year-old Amaro had a 5-15 record in the 130-pound weight class. Police said he was shot dead on January 26, 2014 in the city of Santurce. No one has been arrested.

"Family Props Up, Poses with Dead Boxer in Ring," Associated Press, February 1, 2014 

A World Without Humor

In 1937, Leo Rosten published a book called The Education of Hyman Kaplan. The novel chronicles the struggles of a group of recent immigrants trying to learn English. While funny and often touching, such a book today would not find a publisher. Many thin-skinned readers, and critics who didn't even bother to read the novel, would consider it patronizing and offensive. Nothing kills humor more than run-away political correctness. A world without humor is a dangerous place.

Crime Novel Detective Types

     In traditional hard-boiled crime fiction, if the hero is a police officer, he'll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing the perp. Often there's a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader's motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he's too stoic and too devoted to the job to sustain a real relationship. But he'll be devoted to his kid and is a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near his heart. He'll brood a lot and go home alone. He'll have a temper but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of an antihero, that familiar figure from cable TV dramas.

     It's all getting awfully predictable, which may explain why this reader can't bear to finish yet another novel about such a hero. I've found, instead that the crime novels I open with the keenest anticipation these days are almost always by women. These are books that trespass the established boundaries of the genre by lingering over characters who used to serve as mere furniture in the old-style hard-boiled fiction. They may dare not to offer a solution to every mystery or to have their sleuths arrive at those solutions by non-rational means. Their prose ranges from the matter-of-fact to the intoxicating, and the battlefields they depict are not the sleazy nightclubs, back alleys, diners and shabby offices of the archetypal detective novel, but a far more intimate and treacherous terrain: family, marriage, friendship.

Laura Miller, salon.com, September 7, 2014 

Charles Bukowski's One Sentence Chapter

Chapter 10 of Charles Bukowski's novel, Pulp, reads: "Skip the rest of the day and night here, no action, it's not worth talking about." If Bukowski had been a "literary" novelist that chapter would have been 10,000 rather than sixteen words.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Parents From Hell: Adolfo and Deborah Gomez

     In January 1994, 34-year-old Adolfo Gomez walked out of prison in Illinois after serving three years for burglary and theft. Four years later, he was living in the suburban Chicago community of Naperville with his 29-year-old wife Deborah and their two sons, ages one and two. In October 1998, Deborah pleaded guilty to child neglect after leaving the boys alone in their apartment for eight hours.

     In 2007, the couple, now with four children ages two to eleven, were living in Lombard, Illinois. That November Adolfo pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge.

     From 2008 through 2010, the Gomez family, now comprised of five children, moved from one apartment to another around DuPage and Cook Counties, Illinois. Their landlord in Wood Dale from whom they rented a basement apartment, noticed that Adolfo had installed padlocks on the doors to his children's bedrooms. The oldest Gomez child told the landlord he did all the cooking and that the family acquired its food from local churches.

     While living in Northlake, another suburban Chicago community, the Illinois Department of Family Services, in November 2011, opened a child neglect case on Adolfo and Deborah Gomez. Following the investigation, the agency, in April 2012, closed the case without taking action against the parents. Two months earlier, Adolfo spent 12 days in the DuPage County Jail for failure to pay several fines and comply with various court orders.

     On June 10, 2012, the Gomez family, while on a road trip to Arizona to visit relatives, had car trouble in Lawrence, Kansas. Adolfo managed to coax the Chevy Suburban utility vehicle into a remote spot on a Walmart parking lot. Late in the morning of Wednesday, June 13, 2012, a Walmart shopper noticed a five-year-old boy sitting on the ground near the Gomez vehicle. The child's hands were tied behind his back and his feet were bound. The boy had also been blindfolded. The shopper called 911.

     When officers from the Lawrence Police Department rolled up to the scene they saw the boy and his seven-year-old sister, also bound and blindfolded, sitting near the broken down Suburban. The other three Gomez children were in the vehicle with their father. Deborah was inside the Walmart store.

      When Adolfo Gomez resisted arrest, officers subdued him with a stun gun. Ten minutes later they took Deborah Gomez into custody when she walked out of the store. The five children were turned over to a child protection agency and the Chevy was hauled to a police towing lot.

     A Douglas County prosecutor charged the 52 and 43-year-old couple with two counts of child abuse and five counts of child endangerment. Adolfo was also charged with resisting arrest. The judge scheduled the preliminary hearing on the case for August 10, 2012. In the meantime, Adolfo and Deborah were held in the Douglas County Jail under $50,000 bond each. Adolfo had informed the court he intended to represent himself and his wife against the charges. The judge ordered mental evaluations of both defendants.

   In May 2013, Deborah Gomez pleaded no contest to child abuse. The judge sentenced her to one year probation. A month later, her husband, pursuant to a plea arrangement, pleaded guilty to child abuse and resisting arrest. The judge sentenced Adolfo to 30 months in prison minus the 371 days he had spent in jail. At his sentencing hearing, Gomez told the judge that he and his children had been fearful of demon possession. The Gomez children were placed into foster care.

The Impulse Murder

     Murders cannot always be explained or understood. While the majority of criminal homicides are motivated either by greed, lust, power, fear, rage or mental illness, every once in awhile someone takes a life for no apparent reason. These cases are disturbing because there is a need to make sense out of such deviant, violent behavior.

     In 1958, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang (1924-1998) a criminology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, coined the term "victim precipitation" in his classic text, Profiles in Criminal Homicide. 
     According to Professor Wolfgang, in a high percentage of criminal homicides, the victim contributed to his or her fate by being the first to begin "the interplay of criminal violence" such as drawing a weapon, or striking the first blow. In terms of motive, these homicides are easy to understand.

     In his 1967 book, The Subculture of Violence, Wolfgang found that a high percent of criminal homicides are crimes of passion that are "unplanned, explosive, and determined by sudden motivational bursts." These killers act so quickly on their impulses there is simply no time for reasoning or restraint. Homicide investigators are familiar with subjects who have killed people for the smallest of reasons such as a casual argument over an insignificant point, a minor insult, or a mild frustration over something trivial. Investigators call these killings "simplicity of motive" cases.

Stop-And-Frisk

Stop-and-frisk is not something that you can stop. It is an absolutely basic tool of American policing. It would be like asking a doctor to give an examination without his stethoscope.

William Bratton, NYC Police Commissioner 1994-1996 and 2014-2016

Murder 101

Here's some advice: If you ever have to kill someone, do it alone. No buddy watching your back, no friend with the getaway car, no one swearing you were with them.

Vincent H. O'Neil, Crime Capsules, 2013

The Computer Is Not Always Your Friend

To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer. [Such as the recent pipeline disruption.]

Paul R. Ehrlich, 2002. The biologist is best known for his book, The Population Bomb, 1968.

Creating a Villain in Crime Fiction

Often I start working out a story in terms of its villain. Sometimes he's more interesting than anyone else. I'm curious about what makes a murderer who he is. Was he born missing some human quality? Did his early environment shape him? Or was it a combination of both?

Sandra Scoppettone in Writing Mysteries, edited by Sue Grafton, 2002 

New Journalism Versus the Novel

What I remember about my first years as a published novelist is how eager publishers were, in those days, for new fiction. This may have been because there was no New Journalism. Once it appeared it dealt fiction a kind of double whammy, since the New Journalism used many of the techniques of fiction while keeping the appeal of fact.

Larry McMurtry, bestselling novelist, 1998

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Ebony Wilkerson Attempted Murder Case

     In 2014, Ebony Wilkerson and her three children, ages ten, nine, and three, lived with her husband, the children's father, in North Charleston, South Carolina. The 32-year old mother, pregnant with her fourth child, was losing her mind.

     On Sunday, March 2, 2014, Ebony called 911 and said she had been physically assaulted by her husband. To officers with the North Charleston Police Department, she claimed that her husband had abused her in a Myrtle Beach hotel room. They had been married 14 years.

     Following treatment at a local hospital, Ebony put her three children into her black Honda Odyssey and left the state en route to her sister's apartment in Dayton Beach, Florida.

     The distraught mother's sister, Jessica Harrell, saw signs that Ebony was in the midst of a mental and emotional breakdown. On Monday, March 3, 2014, at Jessica's urging, Ebony Wilkerson checked herself into a nearby hospital for psychiatric treatment. But the next morning she checked herself out of the health facility.

     That day, as Ebony ranted incoherently about demons, the Devil, disembodied voices, and various hallucinations, Jessica called 911 about having Ebony committed involuntarily into a mental facility. Before Jessica got off the phone with the 911 dispatcher, Ebony put her children in her minivan and drove off.

     A short time later, a Daytona Beach patrol officer pulled over Ebony's vehicle. Although the officer recognized that the woman driving the Honda carrying the kids seemed to be mentally disturbed, the police officer let her go. The patrolman didn't think he had enough evidence to take Ebony into custody pursuant to a Florida law that allows manifestly mentally ill people to be detained for their own wellbeing and the safety of others. The officer found nothing specific that indicated that this woman was dangerous, or about to go off the deep end.

     Two hours after the police officer stopped the distraught mother, Tim Tesseneer, driving with his wife on the sands of Daytona Beach, noticed a black minivan moving slowing through the surf in shallow water. As he ran toward the vehicle Tesseneer heard screams and saw two children waving frantically for help. "Please help us," one of the youngsters yelled. One of the kids was trying to wrestle control of the steering wheel from the driver. When Ebony became aware of Tesseneer's presence, she calmly said, "We're okay. We're okay." Obviously she and her children were not okay.

     Stacy Robinson, another man who had seen the car in the Atlantic Ocean, opened a back door and pulled out the nine and ten-year-old. The three-year-old child remained strapped in her car seat. A lifeguard who had joined the rescue effort dived through a front widow and unbuckled the toddler's seatbelt. As the van drifted into deeper water, he handed the terrified three-year-old to a second lifeguard who removed the child from the bobbing vehicle. One of the other men pulled Ebony out of the Honda.

     Ebony and the children were taken to the Halifax Health Medical Center for evaluation. In speaking to a police officer at the hospital, one of the Wilkerson children said, "Mom tried to kill us. Mom is crazy." According to the child, his mother told them to "close their eyes and go to sleep." She had locked the doors and rolled up the windows and said they were all going to a better place.

     On Friday, March 7, 2014, when a doctor released Ebony Wilkerson from the hospital, police officers booked her into the Volusia County Jail on three counts of attempted first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     In October 2014, Wilkerson's attorney announced that his client would plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Shortly after that, the Volusia County prosecutor dropped the criminal charges in lieu of an insanity hearing to determine if Wilkerson should be committed involuntarily to a mental institution or remain free on the condition she seek patient therapy.

     The insanity hearing got underway on December 17, 2014. Dr. Antonia Canaan, testifying on Wilkerson's behalf, said that in 2005 Wilkerson suffered from postpartum psychosis after giving birth. According to the doctor, pregnancy psychosis can occur near delivery time or emerge four weeks after delivery as postpartum depression.

     Wilkerson took the stand and testified that she hadn't been aware that her children locked in the minivan were in danger as she drove into the sea. "All that mattered," she said, "was that God was with me. I didn't realize the seriousness of it. I understand now that there were no angels, no demons. I understand now. I didn't hear voices in my head. I now know right from wrong." (This line suggests heavy coaching from her attorneys.)

     At the conclusion of the hearing before Volusia County Circuit Court Judge Leah R. Case, Wilkerson's attorneys announced that their client, to avoid involuntary mental institute commitment, would immediately undergo tubal ligation that would remove the possibility of postpartum psychosis.

     On December 23, 2014, Judge Case, before committing Wilkerson to mental incarceration for up to six months, said, "the court is convinced that the defendant should be involuntarily committed. She minimizes her health issues; she lacks insight into her mental health problems."

The "Witch Hunt"

     The term "witch hunt," used figuratively, applies to a government investigation and/or prosecution of innocent or harmless people. The term has been applied to describe the McCarthy era's hunt for communists working inside our government, and criminal cases involving railroaded defendants later proven to be innocent. An example of a criminal justice witch hunts includes the McMartin pre-school case where Los Angeles prosecutors created public hysteria by falsely and recklessly accusing dozens of California pre-school owners and teachers of child molestation. The wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three young men ("The Memphis Three") accused of satanic murder qualifies as a witch hunt. The members of the Duke Lacrosse team falsely accused of rape is another. People who believe that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent of JonBenet's murder consider them victims of a police and media driven witch hunt.

     A legitimate victim of a political witch hunt was former California Congressman Gary Condit who was falsely implicated by the media in the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, a political aide in his office. The scandal, fueled by hack, tabloid reporting by the mainstream media, ruined Condit's political career. Another man was later convicted for Chandra Levy's murder.

     The term "witch hunt" has been so overused by partisan politicians it has lost its meaning. However, because politics and government is a dirty business populated by unscrupulous people, there is always the chance witch hunters will raise their ugly heads and destroy an innocent person's life and career. 

J. Edgar Hoover

If the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to 1972 thought much about his legacy, he probably hoped to be remembered as the man who professionalized criminal investigation and elevated the image of the FBI agent. As the man responsible for the FBI fingerprint bureau, crime laboratory, National Police Academy, and the "FBI Bulletin," one could argue that Mr. Hoover played a major, innovative role in the history of 20th Century law enforcement. Instead, Mr. Hoover, thanks to a combination of tabloid journalism and the truth, has been remembered as a power-hungry, cross-dressing, mother's boy. But Americans have short memories, and the name J. Edgar Hoover will soon be completely erased from American pop culture. 

The Growth of the U.S. Border Patrol

There are small towns on the U.S./Mexican border populated with more Border Patrol agents than local residents. In 1975, there were 1,700 Border Patrol Agents. Today, there are more than 20,000, and with the border now open, not nearly enough.

Tom Clancy On Novel Writing

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy in Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, 2002 

Sylvia Plath on Self-Doubt

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) The novelist, poet and short story writer who killed herself. The worst enemy to creativity is depression and premature death.

Children's Book Endings

     When writing for nine-to twelve-year-olds, the endings don't have to be happy. But they do have to be satisfying in some fundamental way. In younger books, stories deal primarily with situations and feelings the child might encounter. In middle-grade stories the endings grow out of the characters, their internal changes, and their ability to understand and cope with the world around them. As a consequence, the endings of these books are more complex.

     For instance, sometimes life doesn't turn out the way the hero wants it to. Yet she does get some of what she needs--an understanding of how the world works, perhaps, or a new-found ability to cope with a confusing and challenging event. She might have to accept adverse circumstances or even mourn a deep loss. But in all of these situations, the hero learns something. She changes, grows and begins to get a firmer grasp on the complexity of the world around her.

Nancy Lamb, Crafting Stories for Children, 2001 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Execution of Herbert Smulls

     By 1991, 33-year-old Herbert Smulls had spend several years behind bars for armed robbery and other crimes. On July 27, 1991, Smulls and a 15-year-old accomplice named Normon Brown walked into the F & M Crown Jewelers store in Chesterfield, Missouri with the intent of robbing the establishment. Smulls told the owners of the St. Louis County jewelry store, Stephen and Florence Honickman, that he wanted to buy a diamond ring for his fiancee.

     Instead of purchasing a ring, Smulls pulled out a handgun and shot the owners. He killed 51-year-old Stephen Honickman on the spot. When Smulls and Brown fled the scene they left behind Florence Honickman who was still alive but lying in a pool of her own blood. Smulls had shot her in the arm and side. She survived the shooting by playing dead.

     Fifteen minutes after the robbery-murder, a police officer pulled Smulls off the road on a traffic stop. Inside the car officers found handguns and the stolen jewelry.

     Upon Florence Honickman's recovery, she identified Smulls and Brown as the armed robbers and Smulls at the man who had shot her and her husband.

     In 1993, a judge sentenced Normon Brown to life in prison without parole. The judge handed Smulls the death sentence. The murderer was sent to Missouri's death row.

     In 1989, executioners in Missouri began dispatching death row inmates by injecting them with a lethal, three-drug cocktail. The first drug, Midazalam, helped calm the inmate. Hydromorphine, a strong narcotic, reduced pain. Sodium Thiopental, the killer drug, stopped the heart.

   In 2013,  the overseas companies that manufactured and distributed the above drugs stopped exporting them to the U.S. if they were to be used to execute prisoners. As a result, Missouri and other states had to switch to a single execution drug, Pentobarbital. If Smulls' execution, scheduled for 12:01 AM, January 29, 2014 went ahead as planned, he'd receive a shot of Pentobarbital.

     A few days before the 56-year-old's execution date, Cheryl Pilante, one of the lawyers fervently fighting to save Smulls life, asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a temporary stay of execution. Just two and a half hours before Smulls' execution, the Supreme Court granted the stay. Justice Samuel Alito signed the order temporarily delaying the punishment.

     Smulls' execution was put on hold because corrections officials with the state of Missouri refused to disclose the identify of the compounding pharmacy that mixed the Pentobarbital. Attorney Pilate argued that Missouri's execution secret made it impossible to know whether the drug would cause Mr. Smulls any pain.

     In expressing grave concern for her client, attorney Pilate said, "I frankly cannot begin to tell you how distressing this situation is, that the state is going to execute a prisoner in his mid-50s who made one series of colossal mistakes [italics mine] that were in many ways out of character because he is not a violent person."

     What? He's not a violent person? His cold-blooded murder was out of character? If defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves on behalf of their clients, Pilate deserved a bonus.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch characterized the drug purchase issue a smokescreen designed to save the life of a vicious killer. He also accused Pilate of trying to divert attention from her client's horrific crime.

     On January 29, 2014, the U. S. Supreme Court lifted the temporary stay of execution. Later that morning, the state executioner in Bonne Terre, Missouri administered the lethal drug. Herbert Smulls was pronounced dead at 10:20 AM. Only his attorneys and a few others were sad to see him go.

     Most U.S. citizens do not oppose the death penalty as a matter of principle. Regarding inmates like Herbert Smulls, few citizens are concerned they may feel some pain at the end. We all have to occasionally endure pain and anxiety in our daily lives. And because of people like Herbert Smulls, victims of crime are certainly no strangers to suffering.

     So what's behind this obsessive quest to insure that cold-blooded killers are dispatched without discomfort? Who really cares that Mr. Smulls was anxious about dying, and worried about pain? Who isn't? 

"Case Closed": Debunking the JFK Assassination Conspiracies

     Gerald Posner had been working for years with his editor, Bob Loomis [Random House], on a book called Case Closed about the assassination of President John Kennedy. There had been some credible attempts to penetrate the mysteries [of the case], but they'd been overlain in the public imagination by thirty years of conspiracy stories. Posner's manuscript proved that these were paranoid garbage. I was impressed by his assembly of incontrovertible medical, ballistics, and scientific evidence proving that there had been no gunman on the grassy knoll; Lee Harvey Oswald had been the lone rifleman firing three shots over eight seconds. Everywhere around town [New York] when I mentioned that we [Random House] had a sensation, I got the same response: "Not another Kennedy book! Give us a break!" Bookstore buyers reacted the same way. How could we make people pay attention when the sensation was that there was no sensation? Clearly we had a big marketing problem.

     This was a profoundly important book. The ever prudent Bob Loomis had let a few academics and journalists of invincible integrity have sight of the manuscript. Tom Wicker, the veteran political reporter and columnist of The New York Times, was seized by the significance. Posner's work, he said, could do much to restore faith in government and democracy because it demolished the insidious insinuations that the highest officials of the U. S. government had been involved in their president's murder.

     Case Closed was not only a huge best seller but a blast of cold air on the fetid distortions; it was a contribution to a nation's sanity and faith in its institutions. The conspiracy industry, of course, saw our book and ad campaign as another conspiracy. I was warned we'd be sued, and we were. But we won every court case.

Harold Evans, (former president of Random House), My Paper Chase, 2009

Thieves and Their Fences

Basically, the professional thief needs the fence to survive. The thief's fund-raising abilities would be greatly diminished were the fence not around to handle the fruits of his crime. Indeed, the very existence of the fence is considerable encouragement to the thief, who then knows where his next meal is coming from.

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Gone and Forgotten

     How many writers, 150 years after their deaths, will be remembered by even a handful of literary scholars? Not many. But from a writer's perspective, this is no reason for despair. Even U.S. presidents, a century or so after their deaths, are forgotten. Take Chester A. Arthur, our 21st president who served from 1851 to 1855. Who remembers him? No one. This is true of writers. Only a few American writers of President Arthur's era are known today, and only by students of American literature. These writers include Melvin Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oliver Wendell Holmes. The rest are forgotten.

     So, a lot of U.S. president are forgotten just like most writers. And that is how it should be. Mediocrity is something that should not be remembered and celebrated. 

Writers Who Take Writing Too Seriously

I'm so revolted by writers taking themselves seriously that, as a kind of protest, I've de-prioritized the role of writing in my life. I write when I've not got anything better to do--and even then I often do nothing instead. [I watched a documentary on J. D. Salinger's life. Now there's a writer who took himself and his writing too seriously. This is also true for novelists Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's just writing.]

Geoff Dyer, British novelist in a Paris Review interview, 1992

Let The Characters Do the Talking

A cardinal rule in practically all fiction writing is that the author should keep out of it entirely and allow his characters to tell the story. Nothing weakens or spoils even good dialogue so much as to have the author act as an interpreter between the quoted lines.

Joseph T. Shaw (1874-1952) legendary editor of Black Mask Magazine 1926-1936

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Rurik Jutting Double Murder Case

     Rurik George Caton Jutting grew up wealthy in Cobham Surrey, England. He attended the Winchester College Independent Boarding School and, in 2007, graduated with a degree in history from the University of Cambridge.

     In 2010, after working a couple of years for the banking firm Barclays, Jutting joined Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London where he worked in structured equity finance and trading. 

     In 2012, the British woman Jutting planned to marry left London for a job in New York City. Shortly after leaving England she had an affair with an American and broke off the engagement. Jutting took the rejection hard. The two of them  tried to reconcile but it didn't work out.

     People who knew Jutting considered him a highly competent employee who was preoccupied with money and power. He once told an acquaintance that he had spent thousands of pounds on an ornamental horse's skull that he had purchased from a specialty shop. It seemed he enjoyed spending every penny he made on food, entertainment, and nonessential luxury items.

     In 2013, the Bank of America transferred Jutting to its branch operation in Hong Kong. After moving to the Chinese city of 7.2 million, Jutting moved into an apartment on the 31st floor of the J. Residence Building in the Wan Chai district of the city. Located in Hong Kong's southern quarter, Wan Chia is known for its high number of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and strip joints. Apartments in the 381-unit complex rented out at between $3,000 and $5,000 a month.

     Hong Kong's red light district, located adjacent to Wan Chai to the north, featured prostitutes from southeast Asia and Africa. Hong Kong, however, with the world's lowest homicide rate, was a safe place to live. During the first six months of 2014 there were just 14 murders in the city. (In New York City during that period, there were 120 criminal homicides. 

     At three-forty in the morning of Saturday November 1, 2014, the 29-year-old Jutting called the Hong Kong police to his flat. Upon entering the luxury apartment police officers were immediately struck with the sight of recently spilled blood splashed on the floor and walls of the dwelling. They also were confronted by the stench of a decaying body.

     Police officers at the scene encountered the nude body of an Indonesian prostitute named Jesse Lorena. Among other lacerations, the 30-year-old's throat had been slashed. Investigators would later learn that she also worked as a part-time disc jockey at a Hong Kong pub.

     Officers in Jutting's apartment came upon a black suitcase on the dwelling's balcony. When they opened it they found, wrapped in a carpet, the decaying body of a young woman who had almost been decapitated. This was 25-year-old Sumarti Nighshih, a sex worker from Cilacap, Indonesia who in October had traveled to Hong Kong on a tourist's visa.

     Investigators believed that Nighshih, her hands and feet bound with rope, had been murdered on October 27, 2014. Lacerations covered her naked and decomposing body.

     Police officers placed Jutting under arrest on suspicion of double murder and escorted him out of the building.

     Crime scene investigators found, on Jutting's Smartphone, 2,000 photographs of the dead prostitutes, shots that had been taken after he had murdered them. Many of the images included close-ups of the victims' knife wounds.

     Security camera footage revealed that Jutting and Jesse Lorena had entered his apartment at midnight, shortly before he murdered her then notified the authorities. Officers also recovered a small quantity of cocaine from the flat.

     A resident of the building told police officers that he and several others who lived there had recently detected the smell of death coming from the vicinity of Jutting's 31st floor apartment.

     On Monday, November 3, 2014, Jutting, accompanied by his attorney, Martyn Richmond, appeared before a judge in Hong Kong's Eastern Magistrate's Court. Attorney Richmond informed the magistrate that his client had been co-operating fully with the police. Moreover, Mr. Jutting had expressed a willingness to re-enact the murders on video, a common practice in Hong Kong, China.

     On November 24, 2014, Judge Bina Chainral, following psychiatric evaluations of the accused, ruled that he was mentally competent. The judge scheduled the murder trial for July 6, 2015.

     In November 2016, a jury sitting in Hong Kong found Rurik Jutting guilty of double murder. In a statement at his sentencing hearing, the defendant said, "The evil I have inflicted can never be remedied by me in words or actions." Justice Michael Stuart-Moore, after noting that he did not believe Rurik felt any remorse for his murders, sentenced him to life in prison.

     Although he had promised not to appeal his convictions, Rurik did in fact appeal his case in September 2017. In April 2018, the justices on the Court of Final Appeal upheld the double murder conviction.

A Country Descending Into Violence

During the weekend of May 7 through May 9, 2021, nine mass shootings took place in the U.S. resulting in the deaths of 15 people. Thirty others were wounded. Over this weekend in Chicago, 20 people were shot, five fatally. So far in 2021, 1,042 people have been shot in that city. At five in the afternoon of Saturday May 8, 2021, a gunman in New York City's Times Square randomly shot a 4-year-old girl and two women bystanders. The victims were expected to survive their wounds. This same weekend in New York City, a tourist was stabbed with a screwdriver in the subway by a homeless man. This victim was expected to survive the random assault. All of this is taking place during a time many politicians want to defund the police, eliminate bail, open the southern border, and let violent inmates out of prison early. 

The FBI Criminal Profiler

     Contrary to the impression given in such stories as The Silence of the Lambs, we don't pluck profiling candidates for the Investigative Support Unit right out of the Academy. It doesn't work that way. First you get accepted by the Bureau, then you prove yourself in the field as a first-rate, creative investigator, then we recruit you for Quantico. And then you're ready for two years of intensive, specialized training before you become a full-fledged member of the unit.

     A good criminal profiler must first and foremost show imagination and creativity in investigation. He or she must be willing to take risks while still maintaining the respect and confidence of fellow agents and law enforcement officers. Our preferred candidates will show leadership, won't wait for a consensus before offering an opinion, will be persuasive in a group setting but tactful in helping to put a flawed investigation back on track. For these reasons, they must be able to work both alone and in groups.

     Once we choose a person, he or she will work with experienced members of the unit almost in a way a young associate in a law firm works with a senior partner. If they're at all lacking in street experience, we send them to the New York Police Department to ride along with their best homicide detectives. If they need more death investigation, we have nationally recognized consultants in the field offices where they develop a strong rapport with state and local departments and sheriff's offices.

     The key attribute necessary to be a good profiler is judgement--a judgment based not primarily on the analysis of facts and figures but on instinct. It's difficult to define, but we know it when we see it.

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Journey Into Darkness, 1977 

Mark Twain's Typewriter

     Mark Twain loved gadgets and would buy the latest thing when it came out. When typewriters hit the market, he was among the first to buy one for the then outrageous price of $125 (more than $2,150 in today's money.) Twain was also the first author ever to submit a typewritten manuscript to a publisher. It was 1833 and the book was Life on the Mississippi. 

     Twain used the "hunt and peck" typing method. He didn't know the touch-typing system of using all the fingers. Nobody did, because it wouldn't be invented for another quarter century. Twain eventually traded his Remington typewriter for a $12 saddle.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be a Writer, 2003 

In Writing, Practice and Persistence

You don't start writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.

Octavia E. Butler (1947-2006) science fiction writer

The Essence of a Romance Novel

What a romance novel does is describe the progress of the love story, from meeting to that moment when the heroine and the hero decide to commit to each other. At that point they expect to live happily thereafter. Whether they do or not is another story--the straight novel, if you like, after the romance.

Donna Baker, Writing a Romance Novel, 1997 

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Don Willburn Collins Murder Case: Robert Middleton's Long, Painful Death

     Robert Middleton, on June 28, 1998, turned eight. Early in the evening of his birthday, his 13-year-old neighbor, Don Willburn Collins, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. Robert survived the attack, but suffered third-degree burns over most of his body. The crime took place in Splendora, Texas, a small town in the Houston metropolitan area.

     Collins confessed to the police, was arrested, and spent several months in juvenile detention. He was not, however, prosecuted as a juvenile or an adult for the assault. According to the Montgomery County prosecutor in charge of the investigation, the state did not have enough evidence against Collins to go forward with the case. As a result, the authorities had no choice but to release the suspect. (Collins had taken back his confession and there were procedural problems associated with the investigation.)

     Over the years, Robert Middleton underwent 100 painful surgeries and many skin grafts that still left him horribly disfigured. In 2011, after being diagnosed with skin cancer, Robert, in a videotaped deposition given shortly before his death at the age of 23, revealed that two weeks before the arson-assault, Don Collins had sexually molested him. Collins had set his victim on fire to prevent him from reporting the rape.

     The medical examiner, finding that Middleton's cancer was caused by his burns, ruled his death a homicide. Following this cause and manner of death determination, detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office conducted a seven-month cold-case investigation into the 1998 sexual molestation and subsequent arson.

     Three years after Collins set Robert Middleton on fire, a jury found him guilty of sexually molesting an 8-year-old boy. At the time of that rape, Collins was fifteen. For that offense he spent four years in juvenile detention. The assault took place in San Jacinto County, Texas.

     In 2012, Robert Middleton's parents won a $150 million wrongful death suit against Collins. Because the man who had set fire to their son was homeless, the plaintiffs knew they would never collect the civil judgment.

     A Montgomery county judge, in 2013, transferred the Collins/Middleton case from juvenile to adult court after the district attorney charged Collins with felony-murder in connection with Middleton's delayed death. Under the felony-murder doctrine, a person who commits a felony is culpable for any death that occurs in the commission of that crime. In the Collins case, the underlying felony was sexual assault. While the sexual crime didn't cause Middleton's death, it lead to the arson that in turn caused the cancer that killed the victim. (The arson-assault wouldn't work as the underlying felony because the statute of limitations on that offense had run out. The sexual assault, however, wasn't reported until 2011.)

     In terms of the law, the prosecution in the Collins case faced a felony-murder causation problem. The prosecutor had to directly link the arson to the sexual attack. There was also the passage of time between the rape and the victim's cancer death. In the old days before crimes were codified, there was a common law principal related to criminal homicide called the year and a day rule. If the victim of an assault died a year and one day after the attack, too much time had passed to allow a murder charge.

     Collin's attorney challenged the transfer of his client's case into adult court. In 1998, under Texas law, a person under the age of 14 could not be charged as an adult with a capital offense. Collins was 13 when he allegedly raped then set fire to the victim. (In 1999, state legislators dropped the age to ten.)

     In October 2014, State District Judge Kathleen Hamilton approved a request by Collins' attorneys to move the murder trial out of Montgomery County. E. Tay Bond, one of the defendant's lawyers, had argued that the intense publicity the case received would make it difficult for his client to get a fair trial locally. Mr. Bond said, "I think the degree of shock as to what happened to Robbie Middleton has created a fervor in the community where people have decided that Don Collins is in fact guilty of something. They would convict him just based on emotion instead of an objective review of the evidence or lack thereof in the case."

     On January 10, 2015, Judge Hamilton heard arguments on the Collin's defense motion to suppress statements the defendant had made to police sixteen years earlier regarding setting the victim on fire. Two days after the oral arguments, the judge decided that because the interview room had not been approved by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department Board, she had no choice but to exclude this evidence from the prosecution's case. Judge Hamilton noted, however that "the officers involved in the 1988 statements had not acted in bad faith." But because Texas law did not provide for good-faith exceptions to the rules in the Family Code, the judge's hands were tied.

     In looking for evidence against the defendant, detectives questioned a man who had served jail time in juvenile detention with Collins who claimed that Collins had threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to Robert Middleton.

     On February 4, 2015, in a Galveston, Texas courtroom, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Blackburn, in his opening statement to the jury, made up of six men and six women, said, "Our case is based on the testimony of adults who came forward and can tell you what the defendant did when he and Robbie Middleton were children. Witnesses will tell you that he poured gasoline on Robbie Middleton in 1998 and set him on fire."

     Defense attorney Tay Bond told the jurors they should not expect the prosecution to present eyewitnesses to this crime because there weren't any.

     Dr. David Herndon, a burn surgeon and chief of staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston took the stand as the prosecution's first witness. He said the burns the victim had suffered had eaten through his fat tissue into his muscle. The doctor said Middleton's burns were among the worst he had ever seen. For surviving 13 years, the doctor said he considered Middleton a "miracle."

     Dr. Herndon was followed to the stand by three physicians who testified that the cancer that eventually killed the victim had been caused by his burns.

     Over the next several days, prosecutor Blackburn put on witnesses who testified that Collins had bragged to them about what he had done to Robbie Middleton. One of these witnesses, an inmate at a juvenile detention center who served time with Collins, said the defendant had raped him then threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to the Middleton boy.

     Defense attorney Bond, in his closing remarks to the jury, again stressed the fact there were no eyewitnesses to the crime or physical evidence linking his client to Middleton's burning.

     Prosecutor Blackburn, in his closing statement, called the defendant a "monster" and a "child rapist."

     On February 9, 2015, the jury in Galveston, Texas found Don Collins guilty of capital murder. Following the verdict, attorney Bond promised to appeal the conviction on grounds that trying Collins as an adult for a crime committed when he was thirteen was unconstitutional.

     Judge Blackburn sentenced Collins to forty years in prison.

     On April 4, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Collins' murder conviction.

Junk Science And the Courts

The decision whether to allow a new field of forensics into court is made by a judge, not a scientist, or even a fellow practitioner. Judges typically look for guidance on these questions not from scientists, but from other judges. The briefs in such challenges are by lawyers. Judges tend to err on the side of letting evidence in, on the assumption that our adversarial system will sort it out. Even once we discover that a field is scientifically suspect, it's difficult to get the courts to even acknowledge it, much less stop it from being used again, much less correct the cases that may have already been tainted. [The forensic science fields of handwriting, bite mark, hair and fiber, and firearms identification have produced, over the years, a lot of junk science that helped send many innocent defendants to prison.]

Radley Balko, Reason Magazine, June 2018

Female Serial Killers

    Female serial killers are rare, so much that [profiler] Roy Hazelwood of the FBI is quoted as saying, "There is no such thing as a female serial killer." While they are rare, experts now agree that Hazelwood had it wrong, the crimes do take place. Female serial killers, unlike their male counterparts, generally pick people who are close to them, either physically or emotionally. Also the depictions of sex with the victim either before or after their death are quite rare with female killers.

     According to Psychology Today,  female serial killers' careers can last a lot longer than their male counterparts. They have an average of nine victims…The Psychology Today article suggests that female serial killers are actually a lot more common than people think.

     Extensive research is being done to understand the female serial killer. As time goes on some experts believe that the idea of a female serial killer will not be as rare as it once was. Right now the most prolific female killers are the ones who kill family members or their own young, although there was a very prolific serial killer in Japan [a nurse] who killed babies and told the parents the babies were still-born. [The most prolific female serial killers are healthcare workers who poison patients under their care. These killers are commonly referred to as "angels of death." There are also "black widows" who marry wealthy older men and poison them to death for their money.]

Rachel Woodruff, "Craigslist Accused Killer Murdered at Least 22," Liberty Voice, February 16, 2014 

Identifying as a Writer

There is something dreary about wanting fiction writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalism, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn't turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer--independent of publication or readership or "career"--is always a writer. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.

Benjamin Moser, The New York Times, January 27, 2015

Writer Suicides

Some of the world's most famous writers ended their lives with suicide. A few examples would include Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Jerry Kosinski, Jack London, Malcolm Lowry, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Hunter S. Thompson, John Kennedy Toole, and Virginia Woolf. In 1949, Ross Lockridge Jr., a year after the publication of his bestselling novel, Raintree County, gassed himself to death in his newly purchased car. Why do so many successful writers kill themselves? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that many writers are odd, high-strung emotional wrecks. Many slip into despair, some go mad, and a number get hooked on booze and drugs. In a few cases, the writer's suicide propels him or her into fame. In 1963, the poet Sylvia Plath, while living in London, gassed herself to death by placing her head into her oven. The 31-year-old poet was virtually unknown before she killed herself. Following her death, Plath became one of the most famous woman writers in the world. Vidal Gore, when speaking of another writer's suicide, wryly noted that for this particular novelist the suicide turned out to be a good career move. While an excellent writer, Mr. Gore was a horse's ass who died a natural death. It's amazing he wasn't murdered by Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, William Buckley, or any number of writers who hated his guts. 

If You Hate Writing, Why Do It?

Because writing for publication is difficult and frustrating, you should only do it if you have the talent and like doing it. If you don't enjoy writing stop because being an author is not what it's cracked up to be. Spare yourself the misery and disappointment. The world is not waiting for your book or short story. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

The Hugo Ramos Murder Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--were traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland. Ramos pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Ramos remained for a period in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children were in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services.

     On August 19, 2015, a jury sitting in Cleveland rejected Hugo Ramos' insanity defense. The jurors found Ramos guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, domestic violence and endangering children.

     At the trial, the prosecution and defense put on dueling psychiatrists who gave testimony regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the crimes. The jurors chose to believe the state's expert who declared Ramos legally sane.
     The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison.

Death by Cosmetic Butt Injection

     A woman who advertised "vampire face-lifts" and other cosmetic procedures she wasn't licensed to perform was arrested after a suspicious death at a southern California beauty salon…Licensed message therapist Sandra Gonzales, 45, remained jailed on $10,000 bail Thursday, February 13, 2014 on suspicion of possessing a controlled substance. She was under investigation by homicide detectives with assistance from the California Medical Board and the Los Angeles County coroner's office…

     Hamilet Suarez, 36, was getting cosmetic injections on February 12, 2014 at Areli's Barber Shop and Beauty Salon where Gonzales rents a room when she went into cardiac arrest…Paramedics arrived and took her to a hospital, where she was later declared dead…

     Investigators at the salon found medical equipment and controlled substances used for cosmetic procedures that Gonzales was advertising but not licensed to perform…They included "butt augmentation," "lip augmentation," and "vampire face-lifts," where a gel-like substance derived from the patient's own blood is injected to reduce wrinkles…

     [In September 2017, Gonzales pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in connection with the butt lift procedure that led to Suarez's death. The judge sentenced her to three years in prison.]

"'Vampire Face-Lifts' Provider Arrested After Suspicious Death," ABC News, February 14, 2014 

Serial Killer Samuel Little

     In 2012, FBI agents arrested 72-year-old Samuel Little at a Kentucky homeless shelter on narcotic charges that had been filed in Los Angeles. DNA samples taken from Little in Los Angeles linked him to three unsolved murders committed in the city from 1987 to 1989. The three female victims had been beaten and strangled, their bodies dumped in an alley, a dumpster, and a garage. Convicted of these murders in 2014, Little, with a history of crime going back to 1956, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole.

     Following Samuel Little's DNA matches in Los Angeles, authorities in LA asked the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) to work up a full criminal profile of him. This background inquiry linked Little to several more murders of women.

     In early 2018, Samuel Little revealed to his FBI interrogators that between 1970 and 2005 he had murdered 93 women. He confessed to killing these victims in California, Kentucky, Florida, and Ohio. These women were marginalized, vulnerable prostitutes addicted to drugs. He said his M.O. involved knocking out the victim then strangling them to death. The woman's body would then be dumped in alleys and other hidden places.

     Because this serial killer's victims were not shot, stabbed or bludgeoned to death, many of their deaths went into the books as drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes. Some of the bodies remained unidentified, and most of these sudden violent deaths did not generate a criminal investigation.

     The Samuel Little case illustrates that serial killers, due to who they kill, how they kill, and where they kill, often escape detection. While DNA science has helped connect multiple homicides to a single killer, without confessions, these cases often remain unsolved. 
     On December 30, 2020, the 80-year-old serial killer died in a California hospital of heart failure.

Is Television Drama Replacing the Novel?

     Television was so bad for so long, it's no surprise that the arrival of good television has caused the culture to lose its head a bit. Since the debut of "The Sopranos" in 1999, we have been living, so we are regularly informed, in a "golden age" of television. And over the last few years, it's become common to hear variations on the idea that quality cable TV shows are the new novels.

     To liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence toward both genres. Clearly, the comparison is intended to honor TV, by associating it with the prestige and complexity that traditionally belong to literature. But at the same time, it is covertly a form of aggression against literature, suggesting that novels have ceded their role to a younger, more popular, more dynamic art form. Mixed feelings about literature--the desire to annex its virtues while simultaneously belittling them--are typical of our culture today, which doesn't know quite how to deal with an art form, like the novel, that is both democratic and demanding. [I don't know about democratic, but demanding, yes. Instead of demanding, I would use the term pretentious to people other than English lit professors who force these "literary" novels on students, some of whom who will someday push this unreadable literature on their students. Genre fiction, however, will always remain popular, television or not.]

     Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author's mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and they exist in language, not in images. This doesn't mean we shouldn't be grateful for our good TV shows; but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that they give us what only literature can.

Adam Kirsch, "Are the New 'Golden Age' TV Shows the New Novels?" The New York Times, February 25, 2014

Prologues to Novels

     A prologue to a novel is introductory material apart in time, space, or viewpoint (or all three) from the main story that creates intrigue for upcoming events. To qualify as a prologue, the information or events must exist outside of the framework of the main story. This stand-alone device must be absorbing, distinct, and beguiling in its own right. Often, an effective prologue will contain drama and dialogue so that it is immediate rather than reportorial. Prologues are aways loaded with specific and sensory details.

     A prologue's job is to provide a potent insight into the world of the story that cannot be provided through the unfolding of events. It can also be information that cannot be discovered by the protagonist, but is still necessary to the story.

     Prologues can take place five years or five centuries before the drama begins, but somehow the gap of time between the prologue time and story time must be bridged. But not all prologues are written strictly from the past. Sometimes they stem from the future or are told from a viewpoint that will not be heard from again.

     Although the prologue exists outside the flow of the narrative, it is always linked to the story events, characters, and themes. There are no hard and fast rules for length, but most prologues are at least several paragraphs and can run to twenty or more pages. However, try to keep prologues brief and vital, and no longer than a chapter.

Jessica Page Morrell, Between The Lines, 2006 

Too Much Dialogue

A writer who overuses dialogue doesn't have an acute sense of pacing, doesn't realize that a work can progress too fast. He relies heavily on dialogue, which means he's also using it poorly, since overuse comes hand in hand with misuse. He might, for instance, be using dialogue as a means of conveying information. He is more likely a beginner, plot oriented, and anxious for a fast pace. Alternately, he might be a playwright or screenwriter turned-author, stuck in the remnants of his previous form. In either case, he is more likely to neglect setting and character development. He is impatient, believes too much in the power of speech, and not enough in the power of silence. And since dialogue rates fairly high on the drama scale, this writer is likely to be overdramatic.

Noah Lukeman, A Dash of Style, 2006 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Charles Severance Triple Murder Case

 Nancy Dunning 

     In 2003, Nancy Dunning, a 56-year-old real estate agent, lived with her husband who was the sheriff of Fairfax County in Alexandria, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. A community activist, Mrs. Dunning organized arts festivals and other events including a farmer's market. 
     On December 5, 2003, when Nancy failed to show up for a lunch date at the Atlantis Restaurant in the Bradlee Shopping Center, her husband John and their 23-year-old son Chris went to the house to check on her. They found Nancy lying dead in the foyer. She had been shot several times. There was no forced entry and nothing had been taken from the dwelling. 
     Homicide investigators theorized that the victim had been murdered when she answered her front door. Detectives were unable to identify a suspicious man caught on a nearby Target outlet surveillance camera that morning. Just before her death, Nancy had shopped at that Potomac Yard Target store. 
     A $100,000 reward failed to attract any productive information. The case remained unsolved for more than a decade. There was some speculation that Nancy Dunning had been the target in a murder-for-hire plot. John Dunning died in 2012. 
 Ronald Kirby 
     Ronald Kirby lived with his wife Anne Haynes and their two children in Alexandria, Virginia. The 69-year-old, in 2013, was the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He had worked at the agency for 25 years and was a nationally known transportation expert. 
     Mr. Kirby, who took pride in taking the bus or Metrorail to work every day, played tennis and often accompanied his wife to dance classes. He was also an avid Washington Redskins fan. 
     On November 11, 2013, a relative found Mr. Kirby dead just inside the front door to his home. He had been shot several times in the torso. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered that morning between ten and noon. As in the Dunning case, there was no forced entry and the crime wasn't motivated by theft. Investigators have no idea who had committed this murder and no clue as to why. 
 Ruthanne Lodato 
     Norman and Ruthanne Lodato lived in the North Ridge neighborhood of Alexandria a little more than a mile from where Ronald Kirby was murdered. Ruthanne's 89-year-old mother Mary Lucy Giammittoria resided in the house with them. The couple employed a caregiver to help with Ruthanne's mother. Norman Lodato was an active member of the North Ridge Citizen's Association and Ruthanne was a locally well-known piano teacher with a program called Music Together in Alexandria. 
     At eleven-thirty on the morning of February 6, 2014, Ruthanne and her mother's caregiver were shot when they answered a knock at their front door. The shooter fired several bullets into the 59-year-old Lodato and a single bullet into the caregiver. Mrs. Lodato died on the spot. The other woman survived her wound. 
     Seconds after the two women were shot, a next door neighbor looked out her window when she heard a dog barking. The witness saw a bald man with a beard in a tan jacket run across the Ladato front yard. The suspect appeared to be in his fifties or sixties. The authorities released a sketch of this white suspect's face. 
     There were similarities in the Dunning, Kirby, and Lodato murders. The victims lived in Alexandria, Virginia and were shot with a small-caliber handgun in the morning when they answered their front doors. The victims were active, high-profile members of the community and they shared an interest in the arts. They did not, however, know each other. 
     On March 6, 2014, Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook told reporters gathered at a news conference that ballistics evidence suggests a link between the three murders. The victims had been shot by bullets of the same caliber that featured rifling striations that were generally similar. As a result, detectives were looking for a serial killer.

     In February 2014, police arrested a 55-year-old suspect in the Ruthanne Lodato case named Charles Severance. Severance, with long white hair and a matching beard, was identified by Janet Dorcas, the healthcare aide the shooter had wounded. Another witness had seen Severance driving in the area about the time of Lodato's murder.

     Mr. Severance, an eccentric who had graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in mechanical engineering had run for political office in 1996 and 2000 and on both occasions had lost. As part of his election platform, Severance wanted public educators to incorporate country dancing in their curricula.

     In the suspect's voluminous essays, manifestos and notes, investigators found this passage: "Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder." The passage did not, however, mention any victim by name. A forensic psychiatrist for the state diagnosed Severance as having a "personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features."

     As for motive for murdering Lodato, Kirby, and Dunning, prosecutors believed Severance killed these three strangers because they represented Alexandria's elite. Following a child custody battle that he had lost, Severance, as the theory went, developed an intense hatred of Alexandria that he took out on the three high-profile victims.

     The Charles Severance triple murder case went to trial in Fairfax, Virginia in November 2015. Without a murder weapon, confession, or physical evidence connecting the defendant to any of the three murder scenes, the prosecution's case was relatively weak. A forensic ballistics expert tied the Lodato murder, the one with the eyewitness, to the Kirby and Dunning killings.

     Following the three-week trial, the jury, after deliberating fifteen hours, found Charles Severance guilty of all three murders. The judge sentenced him to three life sentences.

Ireland's Pringles Shoplifting Case

In Cork Ireland, a 25-year-old pregnant newlywed named Kathleen McDonagh was arrested in November 2018 in a TESCO supermarket for opening a tube of Pringles before paying for it. She had been previously banned from the store. After being denied the opportunity to pay for the potato chips, a judge sentenced McDonagh to two months in jail. In Ireland one can serve time for stealing a mouthful of food.

A Good Lawyer

A good lawyer knows the law. A great lawyer knows the judge.

Unknown

The Baker Street Irregulars

The Baker Street Irregulars were Sherlock Holmes' "unofficial force": a dozen London urchins, apparently headed by a boy named Wiggins. Holmes paid each boy a shilling a day, with a guinea prize to anyone who found the vital clue. Used by Holmes to search out information where he or the police would be conspicuous, the Irregulars appeared in only three of the stories: "A Study in Scarlet," The Sign of Four," and "The Crooked Man."

Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany, 2002 

Having Your Fate in the Hands of a Jury

Having your fate rest in the hands of a jury is the same as entrusting yourself to surgery with a mentally retarded doctor.

Bill Messing, 2008

Romance Novels Made Into Movies

Every romance novel I've seen that's been turned into a movie has been terrible. I'm not sure why Hollywood can't get it right, but they can't, and I don't want to watch one of my babies get destroyed.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips in The Making of a Bestseller, by Brian Hill and Dee Power, 2005 

Virginia Woolf's Influence on Ursula K. LeGuin

You can't write science fiction well if you haven't read it, though not all who try to write it know this. But nor can you write science fiction if you haven't read anything else. Genre is a rich dialect, in which you can say certain things in a particularly satisfying way, but if it gives up connection with the general literary language it becomes a jargon, meaningful only to an inner circle of readers. Useful models may be found outside the genre. I learned a lot from reading the ever-subversive Virginia Woolf.

Ursula K. LeGuin, "Virginia Woolf," theguardian.com, May 14, 2011 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Serial Killers: Real Life Versus Fiction

     To meet the criteria of being a serial killer, the murderer, over a period longer than a month, must kill at least three people with a cooling-off period separating each homicide. A mass murderer, on the other hand, murders more than two people in a single killing spree. Because most mass murderers are usually psychotic and completely out of control, people find them less interesting than serial killers who blend into society and are more difficult to catch.
 
     While the public has always been interested in murder, in the mid-1980s following the publication of several books about the Ted Bundy case, serial killing became the number one true crime subject in America. Since then, there have been thousands of true crime books featuring serial killers, their crimes, and the investigation of these cases. (Half of the criminal justice students in the country during this period wanted to become FBI criminal profilers.) Fictitious serial killing has been the subject of hundreds of TV shows and theatrical films. Serial killers in fiction, however, are more intelligent, intriguing and evil-looking than their typical real life counterparts.

     So, who are these people who go around killing people? About 80 percent of them are white males with blue collar working backgrounds. Very few physicians (except for a couple of angel of death killers), lawyers, college professors, or electrical engineers have been serial killers. (When a medical doctor kills someone intentionally the victim is usually his wife.) No one knows for sure how many serial killers are active in the U.S. at any given time. In the mid-1980's, at the height of serial killer hysteria, experts were telling us there were 50,000 of them. That of course was ridiculous. The overall crime statistics simply didn't support that estimate. Cooler heads prevailed, and now the guess is maybe 10 to 20 killers at any given time.

     As children, a significant percentage of serial killers were bed-wetters. Many of them, abused and bullied, were also erotic fire-setters who were cruel to animals. Most serial killers didn't do well in school, and most of them were loners.

     Male serial killers generally fall into two major categories: organized and disorganized. The organized killers, with IQs in the average range, plan their murders, are more cold-blooded, and harder to identify because they take steps to avoid detection. Disorganized serial killers select victims randomly and kill on impulse. The disorganized killers, with lower IQs, are easier to identify and catch because they carelessly leave physical evidence of themselves at the murder sites and take traces of the killing scenes with them. (Crime scene investigators call this "the exchange principle.") Disorganized serial killers are psychotic, and while they know what they are doing and are therefore not criminally insane, they are not fully in control of themselves.

     Most serial killers are sadistic sociopaths who kill for lust and power. Their victims are mostly vulnerable women who live on the fringes of society such as drug addicts, prostitutes, and runaways. Many of these women are killed and nobody takes notice or reports them missing. As a result, some of these victims don't even become murder statistics.

     Female serial killers, while not as common as men, can be prolific murderers. So-called "black widows" marry with the intent of murdering--often with poison--their husbands in order to inherit their estates. These women are cold-blooded and cunning, and because homicidal poisonings are not easy to detect, usually avoid being investigated until an obvious pattern emerges. Even then it's often difficult to acquire a murder conviction due to the passage of time and lack of physical evidence.

     Another category of female serial killer is the "angel of death" murderer. These nurses and hospital aides poison ailing patients under their care. Because many of these victims were expected to die and show no signs of homicidal trauma, a good number of these deaths are not investigated. As a result, no one knows how many hospital and nursing home patients are murdered every year.

     There is also a group of female serial murderers known as "team killers" who help their boyfriends and husbands kill people. These crimes are usually motivated by lust. Only a small percentage of female serial killers themselves are sexual predators.

     It's a myth that most serial killers move about the country to avoid being caught. Most of them commit their crimes close to home where they feel comfortable. They are not evil geniuses or even that interesting. Most of them do not stand out in a crowd.

     A few serial killers, after years of committing murder, stop killing on their own volition. Notwithstanding all the effort that has gone into studying this relatively rare type of murderer, no one really knows what makes them tick. Perhaps that's one of the reasons people find serial killers so fascinating.

Grand Theft Hearse

     At eight o'clock in the evening of February 26, 2020, 25-year-old James Juarez of Montclair, California in San Bernardino County, stole a black Lincoln Navigator hearse parked outside a church in Pasadena. The auto thief presumably had no idea the vehicle he was stealing contained a casket housing the body of a recently deceased person.

     Around eight in the morning of the following day, a motorist on Interstate 110 in Los Angeles spotted the stolen hearse and called 911. While being pursued by several police vehicles, James Juarez lost control of the big Lincoln in the heavy morning traffic and crashed into several vehicles causing a huge traffic jam on one of the city's busiest freeways.

     Los Angeles County deputies took Juarez into custody. Inside the badly damaged hearse, officers found the casket still containing the body. As the auto thief was being transported to the Los Angeles County Jail, the casket and its occupant were transferred, at the accident scene, into another hearse.

     At his arraignment on the charge of felony grand theft auto, the judge set Juarez's bail at $35,000. If convicted as charged, Juarez faced up to three years in prison.
     On March 13, 2020, James Juarez pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 months behind bars.