More than 5,740,000 pageviews from 160 countries


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Lee D. Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     Lee D. Smith lived with his wife Lana and their daughter in Basehor, Kansas, a suburban community of 5,000 across the line from Kansas City, Missouri. The 37-year-old and his wife had been arguing about money which led to his decision to hire someone to kill her.

     On May 8, 2012, Smith offered the job to a man who seemed interested. Smith drove the potential hit-man to his wife's place of work and showed him where she parked her car. Smith also outlined her daily routine and described what she looked like to the man he hoped would kill her. Smith even offered this man advice on how to accomplish the job. He suggested catching his murder target's attention by calling out her name then shooting her when she turned in response. The man solicited for the murder accepted the assignment and was given $400 in upfront money. Smith promised the rest--$1,800--when his wife was dead.

     The next day, instead of carrying out the murder of Lana Smith, the would-be hit-man went to the police. Working as an undercover operative, he called the murder-for-hire mastermind and reported that he was holding his wife and his daughter hostage. Did  Mr. Smith want them both murdered? Smith instructed the informant to release his daughter but kill his wife.

     The undercover operative, an hour later, called Smith back. He informed the murder-for-hire mastermind that his wife was dead. They agreed to meet later that afternoon at a grocery store where Smith would pay the hit-man the balance due on the murder contract. Before he had a chance to meet the hit-man, Smith received a call from a police officer who asked him to come to the station to pick up his daughter. When Smith showed up for the girl, officers took him into custody.

     The local police turned the Lee Smith case over to the FBI, and on May 28, 2012, an Assistant United States Attorney in Kansas City charged Smith with soliciting his wife's murder. In October, Smith pleaded guilty to the federal charge.

     A federal judge in Kansas City, on February 28, 2013, sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to eight years in prison. Eight years. Had Smith picked a hit-man who had been willing to complete the job, his wife would be dead. How was this any different than Smith putting a gun to his wife's head, a firearm he mistakingly believed was loaded, and pulling the trigger? Eight years for this cold-blooded murder attempt was extremely lenient--and wrong.

Bureaucratic Sloth and Indifference

     Before an Englishman named Sir Edward Henry, in 1901, created a method of filing arrest histories and criminal records according to arrestees' fingerprint set classifications, arrested offenders, to avoid detection as fugitives and repeat offenders, simply used different names. The Henry method of fingerprint classification--based upon organizing prints according to their basic patterns such as whorls, loops, and arches--brought law enforcement into the modern era. Notwithstanding the arrival of DNA technology in the mid 1990s, fingerprint classification remained the principal method of criminal identification and crime file organization in American and the rest of the world. (This type of fingerprint identification should be distinguished from the identification of crime scene fingermarks, called latent prints.)

     Thanks to fingerprints and Sir Edward Henry (and Francis Galton before him), no one who enters the criminal justice pipeline should ever be the victim of a misidentification, especially in the modern era of computer science. While this should never happen, it does occur because criminal justice is government, and most governmental operations are sloppy affairs at best.

     In 2011, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that in the past five years, 1,480 people, wrongfully identified as wanted offenders, were arrested and incarcerated in Los Angeles County Jails. Police officers were arresting people they had misidentified as fugitives; magistrates issued warrants without precisely identifying the subjects to be arrested; and jail keepers did not make fingerprint checks to insure they were holding the people they thought they were incarcerating. Misidentified arrestees were locked-up for weeks, even months before fingerprint checks revealed their true identities.

     Victims of wrongful incarceration based on misidentification, because of sovereign immunity from lawsuits, had no legal recourse or remedy as long as government employees were merely lazy or stupid rather than malicious. One attorney who represented wrongfully held citizens blamed the problem on bureaucratic "sloth and indifference." He was right, there was no other explanation for this. Even for government work, this was below par. Sir Edward Henry, the father of fingerprint based criminal identification and record keeping, would never have imagined this degree of inefficiency in modern law enforcement.

      Technology and innovation is only as good as the people who administer it.

Self Protection Versus Police Protection

     It is a general misconception that the police exist to protect the public. This is true only in the most generic sense--i.e., once a criminal act is committed, and a suspect caught and convicted. Theoretically, he is locked up so that he cannot prey on other people. The problem is that someone has to be a victim before the criminal can be taken out of society. And many offenders commit dozens of violent acts before they are caught. This doesn't even taken into account the fact that the criminal justice system continually releases the most violent offenders.

     Since police are unable to protect citizens from violent attacks, many individuals feel that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves and their families. 

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998 

Prosecutorial Discretion

By law and by custom, a prosecutor has broad authority in prosecuting criminal cases, including the option to "screen out" or decide against pursuing a case at any stage. Soon after the police make an arrest, usually within twenty-four hours, the defendant appears before a judge, who determines whether the initial evidence indicates that this person has committed a crime. At this time and until trial, the prosecutor reviews the charges and makes a choice: prosecute, investigate, or go no further. The responsibility of making this call might be the most important one a prosecutor has. As it happens, many cases get screened out across the country for reasons that are hard to divine. For the most part, the exercise of "prosecutorial discretion" requires no formal process or oversight. A prosecutor does not have to explain his or her decision to proceed or dismiss a case and can even rely on gut instinct if he or she chooses. 

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

Biography As A Prism of History

As a prism of history, biography attracts and holds the reader's interest in the larger subject. People are interested in other people, in the fortunes of the individual.

Barbara W. Tuchman in Biography as High Adventure, edited by Stephen B. Oates, 1986

Northern Noir

 What, exactly, is Scandinavian noir? They're thrillers with a few things in common--a dour sensibility, a belief that political issues (as opposed to, say, lurid serial murders) are the bedrock of modern crime fiction. They often feature forbiddingly bleak settings and what seem to be rather morose police detectives.

Tina Jordan, The New York Times Book Review, July 26, 2020

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Officer James Peters: Scottsdale's Dirty Harry

     During the period November 2002 through February 2012, Scottsdale, Arizona police officer James Peters shot at seven people, killing six of them. From this, one might conclude that Scottsdale, the Phoenix area suburb of 220,000, was the site of daily shootouts between the police and a large population of violent criminals. But this wasn't the case. In 2011, the Scottsdale police only shot one person, and it wasn't fatal. By comparison, the police in Phoenix that year shot 16, killing 9.

     How could one member of a police department made up of 435 sworn officers, shoot so many people in a relatively low crime city? After say, the third shooting incident, why wasn't this man psychologically evaluated, and at the very least, put behind a desk? Moreover, didn't the officer himself ask himself why he was the only guy on the force doing all of the shooting?

     On November 3, 2002, roughly two years after joining the police department, Peters, as a member of the SWAT team, responded to a domestic violence call at the home of a man named Albert Redford. Following a 4-hour standoff, Peters and two other SWAT officers fired seven shots at the suspect, hitting him three times. Mr. Redford died a few hours later in the emergency room. As it turned out, none of the fatal bullets had been fired from Peter's rifle. An investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office cleared all three officers of wrongdoing

     Officer Peters, on March 25, 2003, responded to a call regarding shotgun blasts coming from the home of a distraught, disbarred attorney named Brent Bradshaw. Three hours later, Peters and his follow officers encountered the 47-year-old suspect wandering along the Arizona Canal carrying a shotgun. When Mr. Bradshaw refused to drop his weapon, Peters dropped him with a shot to the head. This shooting was declared justified.

     On October 10, 2005, Officer Peters shot and killed Mark Wesley Smith. High on methamphetamine, Smith was smashing car windows with a pipe outside an auto-body shop.  In justifying his use of deadly force in this case, Peters said the subject had threatened a fellow officer with the pipe.

     Brian Daniel Brown, 28, took a Safeway grocery store employee hostage on April 23, 2006 after he had hijacked a Krispy Kreme delivery truck. After killing this hostage taker, the department awarded Officer Peters a medal of valor.

     Peters and Scottsdale officer Tom Myers were in Mesa, Arizona on August 30, 2006 hoping to question Kevin Hutchings, a suspect in an assault committed earlier that evening in Scottsdale. After Mr. Hutchings fired a shot from inside his house, the officers had the power company cut off electricity to the dwelling. When the armed man came out of his house to investigate the power outage, Peters shot him to death. The city, in this case, ended up paying the Hutchings family an out of court settlement of $75,000. Even so, the department declared this shooting justified, and Officer Peters kept his assignment as a street cop even though he had killed two people in one year.

     On February 17, 2010, Officer Peters and Detective Scott Gailbraith confronted 46-year-old Jimmy Hammack, a suspect in five Phoenix and Scottsdale bank robberies. When Hammack drove his pickup truck toward the detective, Peters shot him. A few days later, Hammack died in the hospital. This shooting, on the grounds the subject was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon, went into the books as justified.

The Killing of John Loxas

     John Loxas, 50, lived alone in a trash-littered house near Vista De Camino Park in Scottsdale. In 2010, police arrested him for displaying a handgun in public. On February 14, 2012, Peters and five other officers responded to a 911 call concerning Loxas who reportedly was threatening his neighbors with a firearm. To complicate matters, Loxas, who regularly babysat his 9-month-old grandson, had the child in his arms while intimidating the neighbors.

     When Peters and the other officers arrived at the scene, Mr. Loxas and the baby were back inside the house. When ordered to exit the dwelling, Loxas, still holding the child, appeared in the doorway. As the subject turned to reenter the house, and lowered the baby exposing his upper torso and head, Peters, thinking he saw a black object in Loxas' hand, shot him in the head from 18 feet. The subject, killed instantly by the bullet from Peter's rifle, collapsed to the ground still holding the baby. Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, the infant was not injured.

     As it turned out, at the time Officer Peters killed Mr. Loxas, the subject was not armed, or within reach of a weapon. Police did find, in the dead man's living room, a loaded handgun hidden between the arm and cushion of a stuffed chair. Farther into the dwelling, searchers discovered a shotgun, several "Airsoft"-type rifles and pistols, and a "functional improvised explosive device."

     In explaining why he had shot Mr. Loxas, Officer Peters said he had been concerned for the safety of the baby. Peters was placed on paid administrative leave pending yet another police involved shooting investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. Critics of the shooting, including some of Loxas' neighbors, protested the incident outside the police department.

     Except for the Safeway hostage case in April 2006, most police officers, faced with the choices presented to Officer Peters, probably would not have exercised deadly force. This didn't mean that Peters had committed criminal acts, or that his shootings were even  administratively unjustified. It just meant that most officers wouldn't have been so quick to pull the trigger. If it were otherwise, every year thousands rather than hundreds of people would die at the hands of the police.

     Because Mr. Loxas had been armed shortly before the police arrived at the scene, and Officer Peters thought the subject was holding a handgun when he shot him, this case was ruled a justifiable homicide. Whether or not, under the circumstances, the killing of Mr. Loxas was the right thing to do, was another question altogether.
 
     On June 22, 2012, the Scottsdale police board for the Public Safety Retirement System approved Officer Peters' application for early retirement based on some unnamed disability. He received a pension of $4,500 a month for life. Not bad for 12 years of work. No wonder the country was going broke, and people in the private sector resented the government.

     In September 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, on behalf of John Loxas' relatives, sued the city of Scottsdale. The Scottsdale City Council, in June 2013, approved a court settlement of $4.25 million. The Loxas family had originally sought $7.5 million in damages. The city of Scottsdale, in this case, was self-insured up to $2 million, a sum that would have to be paid by municipal taxpayers. Officer James Peters had been one costly cop. 

In Murder, Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

     It might be thought that murder presented as fictional entertainment on cinema and television screens is frequently implausible. Yet in its bizarre, extraordinary and frequently farcical consequences it is invariably bettered by the real thing. Truth really is stranger than fiction…The details of murders…frequently fall into that category where the conclusion is, "You couldn't make that up."

     Murder seems to attract weird behavior beyond the basic elements of one person killing another. Tremaryne Durham, for instance, a murder suspect in custody in the United States, became fed up with the monotonous institutional food he was served in jail and arranged a plea bargain whereby he would admit guilt in return for a chicken dinner.

Robin Odell, The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes, 2010 

Science Writing

Science writing has a reputation for bloodlessness, but in many ways it is the most human of disciplines. Science, after all, is a quest, and as such it's one of the oldest and most enduring stories we have. It's about searching for answers, struggling with setbacks, persevering through tedium and competing with colleagues all eager to put forth their own ideas about how the world works. Perhaps most of all, it's about women and men possessed by curiosity, people who devote their lives to pursuits the rest of us find mystifying or terrifying--chasing viruses, finding undiscovered planets, dusting off dinosaurs or teasing venomous snakes. [Science can also be about fraud, scandal, and greed.]

Michelle Nijhuis, "The Science and Art of Science Writing," The New York Times, December 9, 2013

Hunter S.Thompson and the Decline Of True Journalism

New journalism is a term that Tom Wolfe has been trying to explain, on the lecture stump, for more than five years and the reason he's never been able to properly define "new journalism" is that it never actually existed, except maybe in the minds of people with a vested interest in the "old journalism"--editors, professors and book reviewers who refused to understand that some of the country's best young writers no longer recognized "the line" between fiction and journalism. [If you want to write fiction, write fiction. Don't pretend to be a journalist.]

Hunter S. Thompson in Hunter S. Thompson: The Gonzo Letters, edited by Douglas Brinkley, 2000

Charles Bukowski On Humor

Humor is good when it stems from the truth. In fact, truth alone is often humorous. But the humor of artifice--whose worst device is exaggeration--always makes me a little ill because it is just another con game…I suppose that the worst is Bob Hope with his flip little cute exaggerations and his name droppings. I don't keep up much with the world and he drops these names I never heard of, all supposing to mean something.

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

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Cracker Barrel Murders: No Escaping Kevin Allen

     In June 1995, the day he received word that he and his wife were divorced, 35-year-old Kevin E. Allen assaulted his girlfriend, Janice Koerlin. A few months later, the diagnosed manic-depressive from Kirtland, Ohio, a town 20 miles east of Cleveland, married Koerlin. In September of that year, police arrested Allen after he tried to suffocate his new wife with a pillow. This was a man who had no business being around women. This was a man who needed to be locked up.

     In 2004, Allen filed for personal bankruptcy for the second time. (He had filed for bankruptcy in 1991.) Four years later, the police in North Royalton, Ohio arrested him, now married to his fifth wife with whom he had fathered two daughters, on charges of theft and burglary.

     In March 2011, Kevin and his fifth wife Katherina, who went by Kate and was ten years younger than him, lived in Strongsville, Ohio with their daughters Kerri and Kayla. That year Kevin and Kate filed for personal bankruptcy. They were in debt $60,000. Although Kevin Allen, with his short, thinning gray hair and his trimmed white beard looked like a friendly guy, he continued to be a bellicose, bad-tempered husband. People went out of their way to avoid him. In 2011, Allen went several months without paying his gas bill, and threatened to shoot anybody from the utility company who came to his place to shut if off. A gas company employee did go to the house, but with a police escort.

     In early April 2012, the domestic abuse had gotten so intense and frequent, Kate and the girls moved into a friend's house. On April 12, Kate decided to take Kerri and Kayla to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in nearby Brooklyn, Ohio to celebrate Kerri Allen's tenth birthday. Kate had invited her estranged husband, and in the relative safety of a crowded restaurant, planned to inform Kevin that she wanted a divorce.

     After the late dinner, while still at the Cracker Barrel, Kate broke the news that she was leaving him. Infuriated, Kevin stormed out of the restaurant, but instead of driving home, he circled the parking lot in his silver Jeep Liberty. Worried that Kevin might become violent, Kate, at 8:40, called 911. "I'm having some spouse problems," she said.

     Kate informed the 911 dispatcher that she had just told her estranged husband that she was leaving  him, and he hadn't taken it very well. At that moment, Kevin Allen was outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant driving around the parking lot. A few minutes later, as Kate spoke to the 911 dispatcher, Kevin re-entered the restaurant and approached her and the children carrying a single barrel shotgun. The local police rolled up to the scene just as Kevin disappeared inside the building.

     The police officers, aware that Kevin Allen had gone into the restaurant armed with a shotgun, decided to remain outside. They were afraid that if they went in after him, innocent bystanders could get shot in the cross-fire. The police were also worried that Allen, if confronted inside, might take a hostage.

     When Kevin Allen got to his wife's table, without saying a word, he shot her and their two children. The transcript of the 911 call, just before the shooting went like this:

DISPATCHER: "Wait in the lobby for the officers. Do not go outside. Let them talk to him, okay? "

KATE: "He's here and the police are here, too. I have to..." (Gunfire could be heard on the dispatcher's end.)

DISPATCHER: "Ma'am?"

     After murdering his wife and his daughter Kerri, and seriously wounding Kayla, Allen walked out the front door of the restaurant where he encountered the police. When he refused to drop his shotgun, the police opened fire, killing him on the spot.

     When Kevin Allen strode into the Cracker Barrel carrying the shotgun, bedlam broke out with patrons running for cover. The manager helped many diners exit the place through a rear door. None of the customers were injured.

     Medics  rushed Kayla Allen to a nearby hospital where she survived her wounds. People criticized the officers for not immediately entering the restaurant. But they were faced was a difficult dilemma. Had the police gone in, more people could have been killed. In reality, there is only so much the police can do. The police cannot always save families from abusive, murderous husbands. For Kate Allen and her children, there was no escaping this violent, manic depressive man.

Criminologist Edwin Sutherland On The Death Penalty

The death penalty does not fit into the system that is being developed for the treatment of criminals, which is individualization on the basis of the character and personality of the offender rather than punishment on the basis of the crime committed. Some criminals, of course, cannot be reformed by known methods, but there are none whose reformation should not be attempted. The death penalty, as a compulsory penalty for any offense, is therefore an anachronism or rapidly becoming such. [What if serial killer Ted Bundy could be reformed, then what?]

Edwin Sutherland (1883-1950)

The Execution of Charles Warner

     Oklahoma's first execution in nine months was carried out at 7:28 Thursday night January 15, 2015. The state of Oklahoma pronounced Charles Warner dead from lethal injection. Warner, who was sentenced to death for the 1997 rape and murder of an 11-month-old girl, had his last minute appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court denied. Less than 90 minutes later he was dead…

     Warner offered a full statement before the execution in which he said that he apologized for the pain he caused by his crime. He said he was not a monster.

     This was the first execution in the state since the execution of Clayton Lockett which did not go as planned. Lockett's execution in April 2014 went wrong when one of his veins failed. The lethal drug was not injected directly into his blood and his death was drawn out. Executions in the state were suspended until authorities conducted an investigation into the process. Changes were implemented…

     After Warner's microphone was turned off, he said loud enough to be heard: "No one should have to go through this. I'm not afraid to die. We are all going to die."

"Convicted Child Killer Charles Warner Executed," Fox News, January 15, 2015 

Charles Dickens' Postmortem Literary Re-evaluation

     After Charles Dickens died in 1870, his reputation--though not his popularity--dipped. Yes, he was a supreme entertainer, but the author of "A Christmas Carol" and "A Tale of Two Cities" couldn't really be considered a serious writer in a world of Hardy and Meredith and Conrad and James. And other popular writers had come along and won large readerships--Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and, of course, Kipling, the most talented of them all, whose reputation has fluctuated even more that Dickens's, given his fatal identification with imperialism. 

     But, as these things happen, before the end of the century the tide had begun to turn. A reconsideration of Dickens by the impressive novelist and critic George Glassing, published in 1898, made large claims for his art, and then, in 1906, the prodigious young G.K. Chesterson (long before his "Father Brown" mysteries made him, too, a popular writer) published a reconsideration of [Dickens] with such wit, sympathy and sheer brilliance that Dickens was back in play as a major literary force. Meanwhile, of course, the world had gone on reading him, happily ignorant that he was a has-been.

Robert Gottlieb, "Dickensworld," The New York Times Book Review, November 8, 2021

When the Cure Can be Worse than the Malady

Unusual [exactly how unusual?] but serious side effects with pramipexole [used to treat restless leg syndrome] include impulse-control disorders (compulsive eating, gambling and hypersexuality have been reported). Long-term use of pramipexole is associated with a side effect called "augmentation," which is a worsening in RLS symptoms.

Dr. Keith Roach, syndicated column, June 2021

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Archaeological Protection Gone Wild: The Lynch Case

     In 1979, Congress passed the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) which made it a federal crime to excavate, remove, damage, alter, and/or deface (without a government permit) archaeological resources from federal and Indian lands. Under ARPA, an "archaeological resource" was an item of past human existence, or archaeological interest, more than a hundred years old. First time ARPA offenders, in cases where the value of the artifacts and the cost of restoration and repair of the damaged archaeological site was less than $500, could be fined no more than $10,000 or imprisoned for more than one year. However, if the value or restoration costs exceeded $500, the offender faced fines up to $20,000 and imprisoned for two years on each count. Under ARPA, federal authorities could pursue violators civilly or in criminal court, imposing fines and confiscating vehicles and equipment used in the commission of the prohibited activity.

The Ian Martin Lynch Case

     Although he didn't know it at the time, 23-year-old Ian Martin Lynch made the mistake of his life when he picked up a human skull lying among hillside rocks on an uninhabited island off the shores of southeastern Alaska. In July 1997, Lynch and two of his friends were deer hunting on public land in an area called the Warm Chuck Village and Burial Site. They had no knowledge of this place, were unaware it had once been the home of Native Americans, and were not looking for prehistoric artifacts. There were no indications, other than the skull the men had stumbled upon, that the site was an ancient grave site.

      While exploring the area while his friends were breaking camp, Lynch scraped the dirt away from the back of the skull then picked it up for a closer look. He guessed the skull, and the bones scattered around it, had been there for some time because of the absence of clothing. He had no way, however, of knowing that the remains he had found were archaeological resources.

     Shortly after taking the skull home, Lynch decided to turn it over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service Office in Anchorage. He described how he had come in possession of it to a government employee and revealed the circumstances surrounding his discovery. A short time later, an agent with the Forest Service asked him to come to the federal building for an interview.

     When the Forest Service agent asked Lynch if he knew the skull was old, the interviewee said, "So, I mean, it's definitely been there for awhile. Oh, man, it's definitely old. There's not a stitch of clothing or nothing with it." (To make a federal case against Mr. Lynch the Forest Service agents had to establish he knew, or should have known, that he was taking away a skull more than a hundred years old.)

     The Forest Service archaeologist for the region examined the evidence but was unable to  determine the age of the skull. That prompted the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) to call in a physical anthropologist to determine, through visual analysis, the age of the head. This expert also declined to scientifically declare the skull an archaeological resource. The AUSA, determined to establish a crime under ARPA, sent the skull out for carbon dating. This analysis revealed that it was at least 1,400 years old. This opened the door for a federal prosecution.

     In 1998, a federal grand jury sitting in Anchorage returned an indictment charging Ian Martin Lynch with a felony ARPA offense. If convicted, he would face up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. Lynch's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground the government had not met its burden of proving that Lynch, in taking the skull, had sufficient knowledge to establish the requisite criminal intent to violate this law. Specifically, the prosecution had not proven that Lynch knew the skull was an archaeological resource.

     The U.S. District Judge, reasoning that Lynch's picking up the skull was "a wrong in itself," ruled that the prosecution did not have to prove that Lynch had specifically intended to commit the crime. Based on this legal rationale, the judge denied the defense's motion to dismiss the indictment. In response to this ruling, Lynch pleaded guilty to the single ARPA count while retaining his right to appeal the judge's decision. In 1999, the judge sentenced Lynch to six months in prison and fined him $7,000 to cover the costs of the burial site restoration. (Lynch had picked up one bone, what restoration?) At his sentencing, Lynch told the judge he had not intended to offend Native Americans. He remained free on bail pending the results of his appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

     In 2000, the federal court of appeals overturned the ARPA conviction. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, one of the three jurists on the panel, wrote: "The Government must prove that a defendant knows or had reason to know he was removing an 'archaeological resource' before that defendant can be found guilty of an ARPA offense."

     The reversal of Lynch's conviction made sense, but what didn't make sense was why the U.S. Forest Service, and the federal prosecutor in Alaska, went after Mr. Lynch in the first place. Congress, in passing ARPA, intended to punish and deter the for-profit looting of archaeological sites. Mr. Lynch was not even an artifact collector. It's hard to believe that federal law enforcement officers would waste taxpayers' money by pursing such a questionable case. And finally, what kind of judge would sentence a harmless defendant like Mr. Lynch to six months in prison?

How Criminal Friendly Politicians Create Crime

     Legislators, state and federal, are famous for writing laws affecting subjects they know nothing about. That's why so many laws produce what they call unintended consequences. This is particularly true regarding laws pertaining to crime, criminals, and criminal justice.

     In 2014, legislators in California passed the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, a misleading title given to a statute that in fact had nothing to do with reducing crime. Politicians passed the law to keep non-violent criminals out of prison. These boneheaded legislators apparently didn't know that a lot of non-violent crimes are serious enough to destroy the quality of life in a community. In this context, non-violent does not necessarily mean petty.

     Prior to the 2014 legislation, the theft of property worth more than $450 constituted a felony that carried a prison sentence. If, for example, a shoplifter stole ten items from a store that added up to more than $450 in merchandise value, that crime was a felony even though each individual item fell below the misdemeanor-felony cutoff.

     Pursuant to California's new law, for an act of shoplifting to qualify as a felony, the stolen merchandise had to exceed $950, and, that sum could not represent the total value of the things stolen. In other words, if out of thirty stolen items, not one piece of merchandise was worth more than $950, the theft was still a misdemeanor even though the total loss to the store amounted to, say, $2,700.

     Statewide in California, after the passage of the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, the rate of shoplifting crime went through the roof. And why wouldn't it? If a shoplifter, or a gang of shoplifters got caught, they'd pay a fine and go free. And quite often the fine was far less than the value of the items stolen. In California and other states with similar laws, shoplifting simply became, particularly for organized retail theft gangs, a profitable business. However, owning a store was no longer a profitable enterprise. And who was to blame for that, the geniuses in the California state legislature.

      California's decriminalization of retail theft led to a new crime wave of what could be termed "organized retail looting." That crime wave hit cities like Vacaville, California. Vacaville, a suburban community in Solano County in the northern part of the state 35 miles west of Sacramento, became vulnerable to gangs of hooded criminals who entered stores, overwhelmed the staff, and make off with armloads of stolen merchandise. These so-called grab and dash rings targeted stores in shopping centers located near major freeways. One minute they were in the store looting the place, and the next minute they were gone, lost in freeway traffic. These criminals did not have to worry about being pursued by police cars because departmental policy prohibited high-speed freeway chases.

     Since the 2014 passage of this criminal friendly legislation, annual store shoplifting losses more than doubled in the state.  
     The California legislature, in effect, created a new category of organized crime that turned suburban shopping centers into ghosts plazas. 

The Accidental Killer

There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows; rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for the sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors; asexuals, and people who just aren't that happy and don't know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. An exhaustive search yielded no research on such people, and nothing in the way of therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, or therapists who specialize in their treatment. 

Alice Gregory, "The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer: How Do You Live After Unintentionally Causing a Death?" Annals of Psychology, September 18, 2017

What the Best Law Schools Don't Teach

     For generations, many of our best law schools have failed in their mission to educate first-rate trial lawyers. Indeed, it is fair to say that most first-rate trial lawyers did not attend first-rate law schools. The law school at which I teach--Harvard--bears some of the responsibility. Back in the nineteenth century, its dean, Christopher Columbus Langdell, developed the appellate-case method of teaching substantive law, legal doctrine, legal theory and procedure. Emphasis is placed on appellate decision--that is, opinions rendered by courts of appeals, primarily on issues of law...

     What American law schools often do not teach--at least do not teach well enough--are the basic skills of advocacy: how to prepare a case, how to examine a witness, how to argue before a jury, how to write a brief and how to argue before appellate judges. One of the understandable reasons why law professors don't emphasize these skills is that many of them simply do not have experience or expertise in them. Law professors are selected, at least in many schools, not because of their skills as practicing lawyers, but because of their reputations as legal scholars and teachers.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters To A Young Lawyer, 2001

What an Editor Doesn't Like in a Children's Book

I hate to see [in a children's book] a whiny character who's in the middle of a fight with one of his parents, slamming doors, rolling eyes and displaying all sorts of stereotypical behavior. I hate seeing character "stats" ("Hi, I'm Brian. I'm 10 years and 35 days old with brown hair and green eyes.") I also tend to have a hard time bonding with characters who talk to the reader ("Let me tell you about the summer when I...")

Kelly Sonnack in 2013 Children's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2012 

Saturday, June 26, 2021

John McAfee: A Troubled and Turbulent Life

     In 1994, 49-year-old John McAfee, a computer tycoon who developed anti-privacy software and helped pioneer instant messaging, sold his Silicon Valley company for $100 million. About this time, following twenty years of drug abuse, he suffered a heart attack. In 2007, after losing all but $4 million of his fortune on bad investments, McAfee moved to Belize, a small Central American Country south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Atlantic coast. McAfee moved into a house in San Pedro's Mata Grande subdivision.

     According to media reports, John McAfee had slipped back into a lifestyle of hallucinogenic drugs like crystal meth and bath salts that made him erratic, paranoid, and according to his neighbors, dangerous. In April 2012, the Belize police raided his home looking for drugs and guns. Although some weapons were seized and he was taken into custody, the police quickly released him. No charges were filed. (Later, McAfee donated handcuffs, tasers, batons, firearms and other law enforcement items to the police department.)

     A few months after McAfee's arrest, a group of residents of the Mata Grande subdivision submitted a written complaint against him to the authorities in San Pedro. McAfee's neighbors complained about his security guards who "walked around with shotguns at night up and down the beach." According to the complainants, the guards "shine spotlights right into peoples' eyes at night and act aggressively with their guns, chambering a bullet [a round] and nonsense such as this. People are scared to walk down the beach at night as a result. The tourists are terrified." The neighbors also didn't like the taxi cab and delivery truck traffic to and from McAfee's house at all hours of the night. (According to reports, the cabs often delivered prostitutes to his home.) In addition, McAfee's four security dogs frightened and harassed residents of the subdivision. One of the dogs supposedly bit a tourist.

     On November 7, 2012, one of McAfee's neighbors, Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old builder from Florida, filed a formal complaint with the San Pedro mayor's office. Faull accused his 67-year-old neighbor of recklessly firing off his guns and exhibiting "roguish behavior." Faull also complained about McAfee's loud and aggressive attack dogs.

     There was no question that McAfee's neighbors considered him, if not insane, an unstable, drug-addled gun nut in the mold of the gonzo journalist, Hunter Thompson. Photographs surfaced showing McAfee posing with a variety of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. One of the photos depicts the skinny, bearded, and bare-chested millionaire pressing the muzzle of a pistol to his temple.

     On Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, Gregory Faull's 39-year-old Belizean housekeeper, Laura Tun, found him on the second floor of his house lying face-up in a pool of blood. Someone had shot him in the back of the head. The police found a 9 mm shell casing on the floor near his body. There was no sign of forced entry and the dead man's iPhone and laptop computer had been taken. Mr. Faull had been murdered the night before.

     John McAfee immediately emerged as a suspect in his neighbor's murder. The police went to his house that Sunday to question him. He wasn't home and no one knew his whereabouts.

     Two days after the murder, McAfee was still at large. A spokesperson for the Belize Ministry of National Security publicly urged him to come in for questioning. Not long after that, McAfee, in a telephone interview with Joshua Davis, a writer for Wired Magazine, said he was in hiding. According to McAfee, "they [the police] will kill me if they find me." The so-called person of interest in the Faull murder case told the journalist that his four dogs had been poisoned by the Belizean authorities as part of a vendetta against him. He claimed that he was unarmed, accompanied by a young woman, and had to move from place to place to stay ahead of the police.

     On November 16, 2012 McAfee told a reporter for CNBC that he had spent six days hiding from the police at his compound on Ambergris Caye, a stretch of island just off the Belizean coast. When the police searched his property, he hid by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head that allowed him to breathe. He denied any knowledge of Mr. Faull's death.

     On December 5, 2012, the authorities arrested John McAfee in Guatemala, but a week later, a Guatemalan judge ruled his detention illegal and released him.

     Deported from Guatemala, John McAfee, on December 12, 2012 arrived in Miami aboard an American Airlines flight.

     In May 2013, McAfee was living in Oregon working on a book and a film project about his troubled, turbulent life. That month his house in Belize went up in flames. In speaking to a Fox News reporter about the fire, McAfee said, "I believe that there are a few with great power in Belize that will go to great lengths to harm me. This fire was not just a strange coincidence."

     In speaking to a reporter with the Huffingtonpost in July 2013, McAfee, in reference to Gregory Faull, said, "I never killed anyone, it's not my style."

     Gregory Faull's daughter, in November 2013, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against McAfee in an Orlando, Florida federal court. The plaintiff, in a press release, stated: "The Faull family intends to pursue all possible avenues to ensure the individual or individuals responsible for the death of Gregory Faull are brought to justice…The true facts will come to light as to how and by whom Gregory met his end."

     In September 2015, McAfee announced that he was running for president under his own creation, the Cyber Party. According to McAfee, as president of the United States, he would address the problem that "national leaders have little or no understanding of the cyber science upon which national finance, military systems and every aspect of social systems to television and automobiles are based." 
     In June 2000, while McAfee was living in Barcelona, Spain, the Unites States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee announced that McAfee had been indicted for tax evasion and related offenses. According to the federal prosecutor, McAfee, during the period 2014-2018, had failed to file tax returns. Authorities in Barcelona, Spain arrested McAfee in October 2000. 
     On June 23, 2001, the day before he was to be extradited to the United Sates, a prison guard in Barcelona found John McAfee dead in his cell. According to prison authorities the 75-year-old committed suicide.

Dangerous Mothers: The Mystery of Postpartum Psychosis

By the time Andrea Yates drowned her children, she believed that Satan was inside her, and that the only way to protect her daughter and four sons from a similar fate was to kill them and send them to paradise. In the wake of Yate's trial--and in the trials of other women who hurt or neglect their children during bouts of postpartum psychosis--coverage has tended to dwell on the least useful question: How could any sane woman kill her kids? A better question...would inquire about the factors (biological, cultural and environmental) that make some women vulnerable to episodes of acute, severe mental illness in the period after they become mothers.

Kim Brooks, The New York Times Book Review, November 15, 2020

The Good Lawyer

About once a day I'm asked to recommend a "good lawyer" to someone. Often I can come up with the name of someone appropriate with whom I have actually worked or whose work I have observed close up. Sometimes he was my co-counsel or opponent. Other times I may have read the trial transcript of a case in which she was lead counsel. But for many lawyers, all I have to go on is their reputation, and that can be more a product of careful public relations than of proven excellence. I have seen lawyers with great reputations come into court unprepared and do terrible jobs.

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

The Romance Novel: A Genre Deserving Respect

     The detractors of romance novels--usually people who haven't read any--often say the stories are simplistic and childish, and they contain no big words and very little plot--just a bunch of sex scenes separated by filler and fluff. A common view of romance is that there's only one story; all the authors do is change the characters' names and hair color and crank out another book.

     Critics of romance also accuse the stories--and their authors by extension--of presenting a world in which women are helpless. Romance, they say, encourages young readers to fantasize about Prince Charming riding to their rescue, to think their only important goal is to find a man to take care of them. The books are accused of limiting women by idealizing romantic relationships, making women unable to relate to real men because they're holding out for a wonderful Harlequin hero.

     In fact, rather than trailing behind the times, romance novels have actually been on the cutting edge of society. Long before divorce was common, for instance, romance novels explored the circumstances in which it might be better to dissolve a marriage than to continue it…

     Even early romances often featured working women and emphasized the importance of economic independence for women. While some heroines are indeed young, inexperienced, and in need of assistance, the usual romance heroine is perfectly competent. Finding her ideal man isn't a necessity; it's a bonus.

     Modern romance novels tell a young woman that she can be successful, useful, and valuable on her own; that there are men who will respect her and treat her well; and that such men are worth waiting for.

Leigh Michaels, On Writing Romance, 2007 

The Longevity Of Children's Literature

It's striking how long children's book can last. One explanation may be the way in which they're read. They become part of our emotional autobiographies, acquiring associations and memories, more like music than prose. Another explanation may lie in the fact that children's books are designed with re-reading in mind. For all children's writers are conscious that his or her books may be re-read by children themselves.

S. F. Said, The Guardian, February 16, 2015 

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Harvard Bomb Hoax Case

     At 8:40 in the morning of Monday, December 16, 2013, officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a bomb threat via email. The sender of the email wrote that "shrapnel bombs" were hidden in Emerson, Thayer, and Sever Halls as well as in the Science Center. As more than 100 police, federal agents, and emergency personnel rushed to the university, Harvard security officers began evacuating the four buildings. The bomb threat came on the first day of final exam week.

     Four hours after the threat, after bomb searchers failed to find any suspicious devices, faculty, students and others were allowed back into the buildings. The feared terrorist attack turned out to be a hoax.

     Shortly after the bomb threat disruption that had little effect on students, university sob-sisters sprang into action. In an all-student email from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students were advised that if they felt unable to take an exam for any reason "including anxiety, loss of study time, lack of access to material and belongings left in one of the affected buildings, or travel schedule" they could skip the final and take a grade based on coursework to date. (At Harvard, professors not only make it easy for academic slackers, they provide them with a menu of excuses. No wonder kids want to get into this school.)

     Because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences email came under intense ridicule, the professors sent a followup memo that required bomb threat affected students to acquire documentation from the school's mental health service. (Universities today have mental health services. In the old days, if you went nuts at college your parents yanked you out of school. As a result, you tried not to let the place get to you.)

     Later on the day of the bomb hoax, investigators traced the email threat back to a 20-year-old Harvard sophomore named Eldo Kim. The naturalized citizen from South Korea graduated from high school in Mukilteo, Washington. He played the viola and had interned with a newspaper in Seoul. On the staff of the Harvard Independent, Kim's academic focus involved psychology and sociology.

      On the day of the disruption, FBI agents arrested Eldo Kim on federal charges related to the bomb threats. If convicted as charged, he faced up to five years in prison. He could also be fined $250,000. Freed on $100,000 bond, the authorities released Kim to the custody of his sister who resided in Massachusetts.

     According to Ian Gold, the federal public defender appointed to represent the bomb hoax suspect, Kim had emailed the bomb threat to avoid taking a final exam in his government class. Attorney Gold told reporters that his client had been having difficulty coping with his studies and the upcoming anniversary of his father's death. "It's finals time at Harvard," attorney Gold said. "In one way, we're looking at the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm…It's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."

     Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in addressing the media, took issue with the "great deal of academic pressure" defense. Dershowitz pointed out that due to run-away grade inflation, it's very difficult to flunk out of Harvard. The median grade awarded to Harvard students is A-minus. "I doubt that anyone who got into Harvard would fail a government exam," said Dershowitz. "People come to Harvard with major problems. It's not that Harvard causes them." (I once read that professors at the Ivy League schools are intimidated by their students. For that reason they function more like camp counselors than teachers.)

     After confessing to the bomb hoax, Eldo Kim pleaded guilty in return for probation and mandated counseling. He was also also kicked out of school. 

The Devil's Horns Killer

     Caius Veiovis, 34, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, faced up to life in prison after being found guilty of three counts of murder, intimidation of a witness and kidnapping. Veiovis kidnapped and killed three Pittsfield men…The victims were last seen on August 28, 2011 at an apartment shared by two of the murdered men.

     After the verdict was delivered on Friday September 26, 2014, Veiovis told the jurors, "I will see you all in hell." The verdict came after jurors deliberated for more than 36 hours over six days in a Springfield, Massachusetts court. News photographs of Veiovis show his implanted devil's horns and facial tattoos.

"Convicted Killer with 'Devil Horns' Threatened Jurors," Standard Media Company, September 30, 2014  

Jason "Eyeball" Barnum

     A man nicknamed "Eyeball" because of a tattoo that darkened the white part of his right eye [he also has numerous tattoos on his face and bald head] pleaded guilty Friday January 2, 2015 to the [nonfatal] shooting of an Anchorage, Alaska police officer. The judge sentenced him to 22 years in prison.

     The suspect also pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary and third-degree possession of a weapon. The shooting took place when police were investigating home burglaries and car thefts. Officers were inspecting a hotel in 2012 when Barnum opened fire from a bathroom. Two officers shot back, striking Barnum in the arm. One of the officers was injured in the shoot-out. Barnum later confessed to committing thefts and burglaries to feed his heroin addiction…

     At his sentencing hearing Barnum said, "Everybody knows that I'm not the nicest guy. I understand that what I did was wrong. I can't take none of it back." In explaining his criminal behavior, Barnum deflected some of the blame to the Alaska Department of Corrections, saying he left prison in 2010 with nowhere to go and nothing to do. I was living on the streets, and I tried to get a job, but of course my beautiful face didn't allow me to do that." [Eyeball" decided to make himself look like a carnival freak. They didn't do that to him in prison. Today, fast foot places desperate for employees would offer him a bonus to work for them.]

" 'Eyeball' Man Sentenced For Shooting Officer," Associated Press, January 3, 2015 

Interpreting Blood Spatter Patterns

     Drip and flow patterns are the infamous O.J. Simpson patterns that became known worldwide. A drip pattern occurs when a drop of blood drips into another liquid, usually more blood. If a person is bleeding and the drops are hitting an already formed puddle on the floor, a drip pattern will result. A flow pattern is blood that has been dropped in a trail. Though these types of patterns can be caused by other occurrence, they are traditionally represented by someone bleeding on the move, fleeing the scene of a crime.

     Splashed stains are similar to drip stains, though usually a little larger. They result from blood being projected with little force exerted on them and they usually disperse in a radial pattern. Think of splashing in terms of a mud puddle. If you jump in the puddle, the mud splashed in a radial pattern away from itself…

     Projected patterns are associated with a larger volume of blood that is acted upon with a significant amount of force. One of the classic examples of this pattern is an arterial spurt, seen in violent crimes when there is sharp force trauma or, in other words, a stabbing or slashing. If the all-too-familiar jugular vein is slashed, it will most certainly create this pattern.

     Satellite patterns are created when blood that was originally part of a bigger stain leaves that stain through some type of force. A drop of blood that is flying through the air will not separate without another force acting upon it. Think of it in terms of dropping blood at a significant height. When the drop hits a surface, it goes through four actions: contact, dispersion, displacement, and collapse. When blood contacts a surface, it flattens out. If there is enough volume and force to break the surface tension of the blood drop when it hits, it will disperse, sending blood out in all directions. If the force is great enough, it will displace. The displaced blood leaves the original parent stain, causing what is called satellite spatter. Satellite spatter is merely small stains leaving a larger stain. Finally, the blood drop will collapse back on itself with the vast majority of the blood collecting back together….

     Cast-off patterns are patterns that are created by blood being slung off an object, such as a bloody baseball bat, that is in motion or when the object suddenly stops…These patterns are traditionally found in a linear fashion, representing a swinging or chopping motion, and can help define where a person was when the pattern was created…These patterns are one of the three patterns that have caused the most debate among the bloodstain experts…

Jarrett Hallcox and Amy Welch, Bodies We've Buried, 2006  

Living With the Fear of Crime

Crime affects all of us. There is little we do without thinking, however briefly, that we might be victimized. Nearly every time we turn around it seems we risk being cheated, robbed, attacked, or preyed upon in some other insidious manner. Our cities turn into ghost towns at night because we fear to go out. We are afraid to keep jewelry, silver, and other precious possessions in our homes; so we must resort to safes, locks, deposit boxes, and security systems. Fearing sexual assault, women who live alone bar their windows, severely restrict where they go by themselves, and even fear to have their names on a mailbox or in a telephone book. Municipal parks and swimming pools are no longer oases in the asphalt for they have been taken over by muggers, robbers, and drug traffickers. People are threatened with weapons and even murdered so their assailants can grab a few dollars. When we shop for clothes we are inconvenienced by security precautions that limit how many items we can try on, and we are afraid to leave our own clothes in the changing rooms. We fear for our children because the public schools are beset with disorder, vandalism, drugs, thefts, and violence. [And don't forget the pedophiles.] Fear that our medicine or food will poison us is no longer a paranoid's delusion. Such things have happened from coast to coast.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Stories Come From Characters

     People wonder where writers get their ideas. Must they first experience what they write? Do they really rush wildly around looking for story ideas? Good writers look for "characters," because ideas grow as freely from characters as apples from trees. Every character grows not one but many fresh, unique, writable stories.

     Writers who want to write good stories or plays must know their characters better than they know themselves. Better--because most of the time we are unaware of the motivating forces within us. Strange but true, it is easier to create a living, three-dimensional character than an unreal, one-dimensional character.

Lajos Egri, The Art of Creative Writing, 1990 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Dr. Thomas Dixon Love Triangle Murder-for-Hire Case

     The casts in murder-for-hire plots feature three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide; the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role); and the victim, the person targeted for death. While these cases, in terms of the principal actors, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-economic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the specific motive behind the murder plots.

     On July 11, 2012, someone broke a window and climbed into the Lubbock, Texas home of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, the 57-year-old chief pathologist of the Covenant Health System in that city. The intruder shot Dr. Sonnier to death. He had also been stabbed. The victim lived alone, and because nothing had been taken from the house, police ruled out robbery as the killer's motive.

     Later on the day of the murder, Lubbock detectives questioned Dr. Sonnier's girlfriend in an effort to determine who may have had a reason to kill the doctor. When she mentioned she had been having trouble with her former boyfriend who insisted on seeing her even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier, the detectives had a suspect, and a potential motive. Their person of interest was a 48-year-old prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon who practiced in Amarillo, Texas, a panhandle city 120 miles north of Lubbock. Because the homicide detectives didn't think that Dr. Dixon had climbed into Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and personally shot him, they considered the possibility of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. But who was the hit man?

     Less than a week after the murder, detectives caught a break. A longtime friend and former business associate of Dr. Dixon's told investigators that David Neil Shepard had killed Dr. Sonnier. According to the informant, Shepard, who had attempted suicide two days after Dr. Sonnier's murder, told him Dr. Dixon had given him three bars of silver worth $9,000 as an advance on the hit. (On June 15, 2012, Shepard sold one of the bars for $2,750.) Shepard told the informant he entered Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and murdered him.

     Because the suspected hit man revealed to the snitch information only known to crime scene investigators, the tipster's story rang true. (Shepard had described, for example, how he had muffled the sound of his gun, and  how many times he fired the weapon.)

     The 51-year-old accused hit man had a crime history of two convictions for theft and burglary. Detectives believed David Shepard and the plastic surgeon had met on the day before Dr. Sonnier's murder. The fact Shepard had sold the bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop tended to support a piece of the informant's story.

     On July 16, 2012, police in Amarillo arrested Dr. Thomas Dixon and David Shepard on charges of capital murder. The suspects were booked into the Lubbock County Criminal Detention Center under $10 million bond each.

     This murder-for-hire case was especially newsworthy because the accused mastermind and his victim were physicians. The case was also unusual because David Shepard was much older than the typical hit man. But the love triangle motive was fairly common.

     In April 2013, the mother and sons of Dr. Sonnier filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Dixon. However, before the civil action could proceed, the murder case had to be resolved within the criminal justice system.

     The suspected hit man, David Neal Shepard, in September 2013, pleaded guilty to breaking into Dr. Sonnier's home and stabbing and shooting him to death. The judge sentenced him to life.

     Lubbock County prosecutor Matt Powell announced in November 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Dr. Dixon, the accused mastermind behind Dr. Sonnier's murder.

     In November 2014, at the conclusion of Dr. Dixon's three-week capital murder trial, the jury of six men and six women, after eight hours of deliberation, were unable to reach an unanimous verdict. Judge Jim Bob Darnell declared a mistrial.

     Doug Moore, the jury foreman, in speaking to the media following the mistrial, said that although the case against Dr. Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as being not very bright. "For me the evidence of guilt seemed very clear," he said.

     Shortly after the mistrial, the judge denied the defendant's request for a reduction of his $10 million bond. However, in September 2015, the judge reduced Dixon's bail to $2 million. A few days later the accused murder-for-hire mastermind paid $200,000 and was released from jail pending the disposition of his second trial.

      On November 19, 2015, the jury in Dr. Dixon's second trial found him guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

A Gravesite Theft

     Police charged a woman with stealing an item from a baby's gravesite at Mansfield Memorial Park in Mansfield, Ohio. Detective John Sigler said Frieda Kay Shade, 54 of Mansfield, turned herself in on April 23, 2014. She explained to authorities that she took a stuffed toy animal from the grave of Hayden Sheridan because a dog was running loose in the area and she didn't want the dog to destroy the toy. Sigler said Shade's attorney, Charles Robinson, said Shade will plead not guilty to one count of theft, a first-degree misdemeanor.

     Detective Sigler said several people came forward and identified Shade as the suspect after a video camera the police had set up near the gravesite captured a woman taking the toy. The footage was played in the social media where it received several thousand hits.

     "The video is there," said attorney Robinson, "we're not denying that. But the video evidence does not show what a person is thinking. There are mitigating circumstances. We have sympathy for the child who has expired."

     According to Mansfield Municipal Court records, Shade had made several appearances in court for criminal and civil charges that include passing bad checks, unauthorized use of property, and evictions. Shade had two open cases in Richland County Common Pleas Court in reference to state taxes.

     The parents of the deceased boy believed his grave has been targeted by thieves over the years who have stolen flowers, wreaths, and toys. That led the police department to set up a surveillance camera, the kind typically used by hunters, near the gravesite in July 2012. [In October 2014, a Mansfield municipal judge sentenced Shade to 30 days in jail and fined her $250. Had Kay Shade stolen the toy from a store, she probably not would have been sentenced to jail.]

"Woman Charged in Theft From Child's Grave," The Mansfield News Journal, April 25, 2014 

Speculative Biography

      Of the 16,000 books produced about Abraham Lincoln since his death 155 years ago, not one, in the view of the historian and biographer David S. Reynolds, fits the definition of a "full-scale cultural biography." Reynolds, the author and editor of 16 books on 19th-century America, has set out to fill that void with Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, a prodigious and lucidly rendered exposition of the character and thought of the 16th president as gleaned through the prism of the cultural and social forces swirling through America during his lifetime.

     More character study than narrative biography, this Lincoln portrait, fully 922 pages of text, goes further than most previous studies in probing the complexities and nuances of the man: his tastes, likes, dislikes, the quality of his thinking, the evolution of his ideas--all shaped and molded by the society around him. At the same time, Reynolds succumbs to a pitfall in drawing conclusions about how particular Lincoln experiences influenced his later thoughts and actions when no evidence for such casual effects is discernible. The author employs speculative language abundantly, as when he writes within one three-page section: "Must have been also saddened by," "could not have been moved by," "could have exposed him to," "must have also been aware," and "appears to have been influenced."

Robert W. Merry, "More Than Just Honest," The New York Times Book Review, November 15, 2020

Attorney Alan Dershowitz On Career Versus Family

We've all heard the cliche that "nobody on their death bed ever regretted not having spent more time at the office." The reality is that there are many people who should regret not having spent more time at work. These are the people who failed to achieve their potential because of laziness or misplaced priorities. We rarely hear their deathbed regrets: "Damn, I should have spent more time working and less time with my ungrateful kids and the wife who left me for a more successful guy."

Alan Dershowitz, Letters to a Young Lawyer, 2001

Children's Books: The Importance of Pictures

      Like most children learning to read, I leaned heavily on illustrations to help me understand and enjoy stories. Images provided a bridge to comprehension when words were little more than mysterious hieroglyphs. But as I became more comfortable with the words and moved on to chapter books and novels in upper elementary school, I missed that extra layer of story the art had provided.

     Illustrations can arm apprehensive new readers with confidence, particularly if they're visual learners. They also offer a space in the story to pause, to reflect on the meaning of what one has just read. To read a book with pictures is to place oneself in those images, connecting more deeply to the characters and their world.

Lauren Castillo, "Animal Magnetism," The New York Times Book Review, October 4, 2020

Novel Readers Want Action

Authors of so-called "literary" fiction insist that action, like plot, is vulgar and unworthy of the true artist. Don't pay any attention to misguided advice of that sort. If you do, you will likely starve trying to live on your writing income. Besides, the only writers who survive the ages are those who understand the need for action in a novel.

Dean R. Koontz, suspense novelist, 2000

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Michael Khunhausen Murder-For-Hire Case

     Michael Kuhnhausen, in the fall of 2006, had tried to talk his wife Susan out of divorcing him, but she wouldn't change her mind. She was determined to end the marriage. The 58-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores in Portland, Oregon, depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits she received from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior, divorced him, he would end up homeless and broke. Michael had suggested marriage counseling, but Susan said that she was finished with him. Michael felt that his estranged wife had pushed him into a corner. He had convinced himself that he had only one option: to pay someone to kill her before the divorce became final. But first he had to find a hit man. Where does one find an assassin?

     In 2005, when Michael worked for the adult video chain, he had hired 59-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Haffey had also been convicted of robbery, burglary, and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Kuhnhausen had every reason to believe that this lifelong violent criminal was an excellent candidate for his murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Susan's life insurance payout. Dazzled by the prospect of so much easy money, Haffey jumped at the chance to kill his former boss' wife.

     On September 6, 2006, Haffey, using the house key Michael had given him, entered Susan Kuhnhausen's Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from his backpack, and waited for his prey. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing his wife that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded home invasion killing.

     As six in the evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway alongside the dwelling. She let herself into the house and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of her head. She turned and came face-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before Haffey could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get the hit man into a chokehold. Susan squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes, Haffey stopped breathing and went limp.

     With a dead hit man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The responding police officers sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled, and he had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as the authorities were concerned, this tough woman had eliminated a violent criminal from the community. She was, in the eyes of the police and residents of her neighborhood, a crime-fighting hero. 

     A detective found, in Haffey's backpack, a day-planner with the September 6 notation: "Call Mike." When the investigator came across Michael Kuhnhausen's cell phone number in the dead man's planner, a different picture began to emerge. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn't, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn't explain Haffey's possession of the house  key, and the fact he had known the alarm code. Once detectives learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became the suspect in a murder-for-hire case. 

     Edward Haffey's autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of this death, Haffey's body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to successfully pull off the hit. As it turned out, Haffey had been an unworthy candidate to carry out Michael's murder assignment.

     Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey's, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local television news and called the police. In August 2006, Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. Haffey had wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn't help kill a person for a mere $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.

     Three days before the murder-for-hire date, Haffey told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into some big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said the husband was paying him $25,000 upfront and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when he heard about the case in the news media, also called the police.

     According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Edward Haffey to death, Jones had driven the would-be hit man to an Applebee's Restaurant where Haffey met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. On the way to the restaurant, Haffey told Jones that he was meeting with a man who was willing to pay him $50,000 to kill his wife.

     On September 14, 2006, eight days following the botched hit, police officers arrested Michael Kuhnhaussen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house though a window in order to steal drug money.

     In August 2007, Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and conspiracy charges. A month later, just before the judge sentenced him to the shockingly light sentence of ten years in prison, Kuhuhanusen said, "I hurt a lot of people over the past year and I'm sorry. That's all I can say, I'm sorry."

     On June 16, 2014, Michael Khunhausen died while serving his time at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon. He was 65.

Forensic Document Examination

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing, and various writing instruments. Ninety percent of a document examiner's work has to do with the comparison of known handwriting samples with questioned writing such as bank robbery notes, ransom documents, mail bomb package addresses, threatening letters, handwritten suicide notes, and disputed signatures in wills, insurance policies and contracts.

     It's the forensic document examiner's job to determine if the questioned handwriting is genuine or forged. This aspect of the science is based on the principle that a person's handwriting is unique and consistent.

     Forensic document examiners do not draw conclusions about a writer's personality from his handwriting. That is the function of graphology, a branch of psychology that is not hard science. Graphologists who also function as forensic document examiners are not members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and should not be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses.

     Graphologists who do testify as expert witnesses belong to their own professional organization called the World Association of Document Examiners. Most judges have not learned the difference between these two sets of handwriting identification practitioners. Because of the graphologists, the dueling expert problem flourishes in this field of forensic science. Many critics of this branch of forensic science consider handwriting identification to be too subjective to be true science. The entire profession has been under attack for decades.

     Legitimate document examiners utilize chemistry, specialized photography, computer science, and microscopy in their work. A few specialize in the restoration of charred and burned documents. There are no schools for this kind of work. A document examiner's education and training is in the form of on-the-job experience in federal, state, county, and city crime laboratories. A few learn the trade in private crime labs and from examiners in private practice.

     Because documents and handwriting are common pieces of physical evidence in virtually every type of crime, criminal investigators rely heavily on this branch of forensic science. It is therefore important that the field maintains its scientific integrity.

Retail Theft Law

     The laws vary in different states, but in most places security personnel may legally stop a shoplifting suspect once he leaves what is known as the paying area of the store. These laws provide that a retail store or its employees have the right to detain suspected shoplifters. Detaining a person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time is not considered an arrest, and the store will not be liable to the person detained. However, retailers must notify their local police departments as soon as possible. That is if the retailer wants to press charges. Otherwise, the shoplifter can be detained then released after the stolen merchandise is recovered and/or the shoplifter pays for the item or items.

     In most states it is considered retail theft to conceal goods on one's person while still inside the store. The shoplifter does not have to walk past the cash register to be eligible for apprehension. The concealment itself creates a presumption of theft and probable cause for detention.

Why No One Reads Literary Fiction

 ...a novelist tasked with reviewing a scholarly analysis of a novelist's work...is akin to asking the electrician to take a look at the plumbing. Scholars and novelists have fundamental differences about how to understand works of fiction. The best fiction is, to some degree, ineffable [too great or extreme to be expressed in words]--no matter how deeply she digs, the reader of a masterly work cannot precisely explain what she has experienced. [In other words, the novel doesn't make any sense or the reader is just too stupid to comprehend the great author's work.]

Ayana Mathis, The New York Times Book Review, September 13, 2020

A Pretentious Reflection on Books

Books come to stand for various episodes of our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. They accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses--they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our skin. 

Richard Baker, Princeton Architectural Press, 2021

The Autobiographical Novel Versus the Memoir

Perhaps everyone has a story to tell, but many never get around to telling them, and many others tell them poorly. Many people have led fascinating lives, but falter when they attempt to tell their stories. Often, this is because they focus on content rather than form. There's a difference between a memoir and a novel. A memoir is supposed to be true. A novel isn't. The difference between fact and fiction. It's a complex distinction, and some writers blur the distinction to good effect. Others, claiming they want to write fiction, really want to write memoirs. If you base a story on an actual event, but refuse to alter it because "that's the way it really happened," you probably want to write a memoir instead of a story.

Robin Hemley, Turning Life into Fiction, 2006

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Criminal Homicide or Justified Killing?

     In 2010, in Kalispell, Montana, a town of 20,000 in the northwest corner of the state, 38-year-old Dan Fredenberg, a divorced father of two, met and started dating a 20-year-old cocktail waitress named Heather King. After Heather became pregnant with twins, she and Fredenberg got married. The marriage didn't work out. He drank too much, they had financial problems, and he was a bit of a lady's man. The couple fought and talked frequently of divorce.

     In June 2012, Heather informed her husband that she was having a friendly but nonsexual relationship with Brice Harper, a 24-year-old resident of Kalispell. Dan Fredenberg did not take the news very well and was jealous. (He probably didn't believe the nonsexual part.) That month the two men were involved in a nonphysical confrontation at Fat Boy's Bar & Grille in Kalispell.

     On September 22, 2012, Brice Harper called Heather Fredenberg with a request. He was moving out of town the next day and wondered if she could come to his duplex and help him clean house. Heather put her twin sons into her car and made the five minute trip to Harper's dwelling. That day, while at Harper's place, Heather and her husband exchanged angry text messages. When they spoke on the phone, Fredenberg asked his wife if she was with Harper. She didn't answer his question so he swore at her and hung up.

     At eight-thirty that night, Heather, about to leave Harper's house, put the twins into her car. Before going home, she asked Harper to ride around the block with her. Perhaps he could determine what was making the clunking noise coming from under the hood of her car. Harper climbed into the vehicle. They hadn't traveled far when Heather realized they were being followed by her husband. When she pulled back into Harper's driveway to drop him off, Heather suggested that he go directly into his house and lock the doors. Harper replied that he was not afraid of her husband. He also told her he owned a gun. Anticipating trouble, Heather backed out of the driveway, but did not pull away from Harper's house.

     Dan Fredenberg, who was not armed, climbed out of his car, walked up Harper's driveway and into his garage through the open door. Harper came out of his house and into his garage carrying a handgun. From a distance of a few feet he shot Fredenberg three times.

     As Dan Fredenburg bled on the floor of Brice Harper's garage, Heather Fredenberg ran to her dying husband who said, "Call 911." He was pronounced dead a short time later at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

     Ed Corrigan, the Flathead County attorney, had to determine if under Montana's so-called "castle doctrine" (because a man's home is his "castle" he does not have to retreat from using deadly force against an intruder) Brice Harper had committed murder. Did this killer have the legal right to stand his ground against an unarmed intruder in his garage?

     In most of the twenty states that justify the killing of a home invader by the dwelling's legal occupant, the castle doctrine is an affirmative defense to criminal homicide. This means that the use of lethal force under these circumstances is presumed unjustified, placing the burden of proving this defense on the accused. (The defendant must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, a less rigorous evidentiary standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt needed to rebut the presumption of innocence.)

     In Montana, the state legislature, in 2009, modified this self-defense doctrine by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution. In other words, the state had to prove that the homicide defendant's actions were outside the castle doctrine. On October 9, 2012, the county attorney, in a 4-page letter to the Kalispell Police Department, announced his decision not to prosecute Brice Harper for criminal homicide. Prosecutor Ed Corrigan wrote that under Montana's revised statute, "you [referring to the defendant] didn't have to claim that you were afraid for your life. You just have to claim that he [the victim] was in the house illegally. [An attached garage is considered part of a dwelling.] If you think someone's going to punch you in the nose or engage in a fistfight, that's sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force."

     It is not good jurisprudence to write a law that makes the use of deadly force, under certain circumstances, legal. There is a danger this type of law will encourage violence. The better approach is to allow the use of deadly force, under clearly defined circumstances, as a homicide defense, a defense the accused has the burden of proving.

     In another state, Brice Harper would probably have been prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter on the grounds he had used excessive force against an unarmed man. In his defense, he could have argued that he felt that his life was in danger, and because the confrontation took place in his house, he didn't have to retreat. Bruce Harper may have had a difficult time convincing a jury that his life was in danger. Moreover, jurors may not have liked the fact he had been fooling around with the dead man's wife. 

The Mandy Matula Murder Case

     Twenty-four-year-old Mandy Matula lived with her parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a town of 60,000 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis. A graduate of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, she worked for the Eden Prairie Public Works Department. In high school, Mandy had been a standout softball player.

     In September 2012, Mandy ended her relationship with David Roe, a 24-year-old from Victoria, Minnesota who had been a classmate of Matula's at Eden Prairie High School. From 2007 to 2009 Roe had attended the University of St. Thomas where he played football. After the break-up he and Mandy remained friends.

     On the night of Wednesday, May 1, 2013, Roe showed up at the Matula house and asked to speak with Mandy. Leaving her cellphone and purse in the dwelling, she and Roe sat outside the house in his 2013 Ford Escape SUV. Around eleven-thirty that night, Roe drove off with Mandy in the vehicle.

     Mandy didn't return home that night and didn't show up for work in the morning. This prompted her worried mother to call David Roe to find out what happened to her. According to Roe, they had continued their discussion in Miller Park near the Matula house. Following an argument, Mandy got out of his vehicle. He presumed she had walked home. Mrs. Matula, at eight-thirty that morning called the Eden Prairie Police Department and reported her daughter missing.

     As the last person seen with Mandy Matula, David Roe was the obvious person of interest in her disappearance. For that reason a detective with the Eden Prairie Police Department, on Thursday, May 2, 2013, asked him to come to the police station for questioning. That afternoon, after getting out of his SUV in the police department's parking lot, Roe put a handgun to his head and shot himself.

     Paramedics rushed David Roe to the Hennepin County Medical Center. At three the next morning, he died from his self-inflicted head wound.

     As a result of David Roe's suicide, investigators lost the best lead they had regarding Mandy Matula's whereabouts and status. A search of Roe's vehicle produced a note that, according to the police, contained "limited writing."

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, 300 volunteers searched Miller Park for Matula's body. In the Victory Lutheran Church parking lot, a searcher found a .40-caliber bullet.

     In October 2013, Mindy Matula's body was found in a shallow grave not far from where she went missing. A forensic firearms identification expert determined that Matula had been shot by the same gun David Roe had used to kill himself. Investigators believed the murder had taken place at the Victory Lutheran Church. After murdering Matula, Roe had disposed of her body where it was later found.

Bad Times at "60 Minutes"

The verbal harassment I [Ira Rosen, producer and investigative reporter at "60 Minutes"] experienced from Mike Wallace and other TV big shots was, in a word, criminal. I was trapped with Wallace.

Ira Rosen, Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at "60 Minutes", 2021

Science and Science Fiction

     There is a co-dependency between science and science fiction. Many scientists and engineers acknowledge that science fiction helped to spark their imagination of what was possible in science…

     Sometimes science fiction authors just make things up, but untutored imaginings tend not to make the best science fiction. As JBS Haldane put it: "the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." We need scientific input to sustain a rich science fictional imagination…

     Some science fiction writers are (or were until retirement) full-time scientists and academic researchers in their own right. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who coined the term "Big Bang", claimed to write his science fiction in order to publish ideas that would not fit into scientific journals. Back in the 1960s, Fred Pohl edited The Expert Dreamers and Groff Conklin edited Great Science Fiction by Scientists, with stories by George Gamow, JBS Haldane, Fred Hoyle, Julian Huxley, Norbet Weiner, and others. Some authors who were originally researchers have been successful enough to quit the day job in favor of fiction…

     Not all science fiction writers have science PhDs. Many of the Golden Age writers had little formal education. James White, for example wanted to be a medical doctor, but couldn't afford the training; that didn't stop him writing the marvelous alien doctors in space series called Sector General. Many science fiction writers have arts and humanities backgrounds, yet manage to write good hard science-based science fiction.

Susan Stepney, The Guardian, January 21, 2015

The Romance Novel's Leading Man

The theme of the man who is "saved by the love of a good woman" is common in both life and romance. In reality, savior complexes are dangerous because they encourage women to stay with abusive mates, but that is another story, one that belongs in "women's fiction" rather than "romance." What matters in a romance context is that healing the wounded hero is a fantasy of incredible potency.

Mary Jo Putney,  romance novelist

Traditionally, the [romance novel] hero is the Byronic type--dark and brooding, writhing inside with all the residual anguish of his shadowed past, world-weary and cynical, quick-tempered and prone to fits of guilt and depression. He is strong, virile, powerful, and lost. Adept at many things that carry with them the respect and admiration of the world (particularly the world of other males), he is not fully competent in the arena where women excel--the arena of his emotions, which are violently out of control.

Linda Barlow, romance novelist

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell that serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz, romance novelist

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't as well educated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for a frazzled, overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, romance novelist

Children's Books Are Not Watered Down Adult Literature

Children's books are not watered down adult books. They demand certain abilities of their authors, not the least of which is that of being able to tap into the minds and souls of young people and to project the voice of those people to the reader. You, as an experienced adult, have to see things objectively and yet have the ability to recall feelings and attitudes and viewpoints of your early years to the point that you can write about children convincingly.

Barbara Seuling, How to Write a Children's Book and Get It Published, 1991

Monday, June 21, 2021

Annette Morales-Rodriguez and the C-Section Murders

     In October 2011, Annette Morales-Rodriguez, a 34-year-old mother of three, lived with a boyfriend who expected that she would give birth to their baby within a matter of days. But that wasn't going to happen because she had been faking her pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez had lied to this man twice before about being pregnant, and in the past, to avoid exposure as a liar and a fake, had falsely reported a pair of miscarriages. Running out of time and desperate, Morales-Rodriguez decided to kidnap a woman about to give birth, and steal the fetus by performing a crude Caesarean section using knowledge she had acquired from watching a show on the Discovery Channel.

     In search of a victim and her baby, Morales-Rodriguez showed up at a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee where she encountered 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz who was in her 40th week of pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez lured her intended victim into her car by offering her a ride home. Along the way, Morales-Rodriguez stopped at her house to change her shoes while the unsuspecting Ramirez-Cruz waited outside in the car. When Morales-Rodriguez didn't make a timely return to the vehicle, her passenger walked up to the house, knocked on the door, and asked if she could use the bathroom.

     Shortly after letting the pregnant woman into her home, Morales-Rodriguez smashed her in the head with a baseball bat, then choked her until she passed out. After binding the victim's hands and feet and covering her nose and mouth with the duct tape, Morales-Rodriguez sliced into the pregnant woman's body with a X-Acto knife exposing the fetus. After removing the baby boy from his dead mother, Rodriguez realized she had killed the newborn as well.

     After she deposited Rameriz-Cruz's blood-soaked body in her basement, Morales-Rodriguez called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had just given birth to a baby that wasn't breathing. Paramedics who rushed to the scene confirmed that the infant was dead. At this point, the emergency responders had no reason to suspect foul play. They cleaned off the infant, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to the woman who had just murdered it.

     When the medical examiner performed the autopsy, it became obvious that the baby had been removed from its mother's body by an amateur. This crude procedure had caused its death. A police search of Morales-Rodriguez's house resulted in the discovery of the disemboweled corpse with the duct tape still in place. According to the forensic pathologist, Ramirez-Cruz had died of blood loss and asphyxiation. The baby had been stillborn.

     Following her arrest, in a videotaped interrogation at the Milwaukee police station by detective Rodolfo Gomez, Morales-Rodriguez explained in Spanish how her boyfriend's expectations had caused her to kidnap and home-C-section the young pregnant woman. In other words, she had murdered a pregnant woman to save her relationship with her boyfriend.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Morales-Rodriguez went on trial in early September 2012. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charges on the ground it had not been her intention to kill the mother and her baby.

     On September 20, 2012, the jury of six men and six women found the defendant guilty as charged. Because Wisconsin doesn't have the death penalty, Annette Morales-Rodriguez faced a mandatory life sentence. It was up to the judge to determine if she would be eligible for parole.

     Given the fact this woman had brutally murdered a stranger and killed the victim's baby through a crude C-section, Judge David Borowski, on December 13, 2012, sentenced Rodriquez to life in prison with no chance of parole.