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Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Phil Spector Murder Case

     In the morning of February 3, 2003, Los Angeles County Sheriff deputies responded to a call from the Alhambra mansion owned by Phil Spector, the 67-year-old music producer who became famous in the 1960s for his "wall of sound." In the foyer, the deputies found 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair. She had been shot once in the mouth by the .38-caliber Cobra revolver lying on the floor under her right hand. When the fatal shot had been fired, Clarkson and Spector were the only people in the house.

     Spector's chauffeur told the police that at five in the morning, he heard a noise that sounded like a gunshot. Shortly after that, he said Spector came out of the mansion carrying a handgun. According to the driver, Spector had said, "I think I killed somebody."

     The music producer had met the victim the previous night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip where the struggling actress worked as a hostess for $9 per hour. When the nightclub closed for the night, she accompanied Spector back to his house for a drink. According to Spector's account of the death, Lana Clarkson committed suicide.

     The crime scene investigation and the analysis of the physical evidence featured forensic pathology, the location of the gunshot residue, and the interpretation of the blood spatter patterns. Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Dr. Louis Pena visited the death scene, and conducted the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, at the autopsy, found bruises on the victim's right arm and wrist that suggested a struggle. A missing fingernail on Clarkson's right hand also indicated some kind of violence just prior to the shooting. Her bruised tongue led Dr. Pena to conclude that the gun had been forced into the victim's mouth. Its recoil had shattered her front teeth. Clarkson's purse was found slung over her right shoulder. Since she was right-handed, and would have used that hand tho hold the gun, the deputy coroner questioned suicide as the manner of death. Based on his crime scene examination and autopsy, Dr. Pena ruled Lana Clarkson's death a criminal homicide. The police arrested Spector who retained his freedom by posting the $1 million bail.

     Blood spatter analysts from sheriff's office criminalists concluded that after the shooting, Spector had pressed the victim's right hand around the gun handle, placed the revolver temporarily into his pants pocket, later wiped it clean of his fingerprints, then laid it near her body. From the bloodstains on his jacket, the government experts concluded he had been standing within two feet of the victim when the gun went off. The absence of her blood spray on a nearby wall led the spatter analysts to believe that Spector had been standing between the victim and the unstained surface when he fired the bullet into her mouth. Gunshot residue experts found traces of gunpowder on Spector's hands.

     The forensic work performed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office and the sheriff's department had not been flawless. A dental evidence technician had lost one of the victim's teeth; a criminalist had used lift-off tape to retrieve trace evidence from the victim's dress which had interfered with the serology analysis; and the corpse had been moved at the scene, causing unnatural, postmortem blood flow from her mouth which compromised that aspect of the blood spatter analysis

     The Phil Spector murder trial got underway in May 2007. On June 26, the government rested its case. The defense led off with Dr. Vincent Di Maio, the former chief medical examiner of Bexar County, Texas. Dr. Di Maio, considered one of the leading experts on the subject of gunshot wounds, testified that he disagreed with the prosecution's experts who had asserted that blood spatter can travel only three feet from a person struck by a bullet. Dr. Di Maio said blood can travel more than six feet if a gun is fired into a person's mouth, the pressure from the muzzle gas that is trapped in the oral cavity creates a violent explosion. "The gas," he said, "is like a whirlwind, it ejects out of the mouth, out of the nose."  Because 99 percent of intra-oral gunshot deaths are suicides, Dr. Di Maio opined that Lana Clarkson had killed herself. In Di Maio's 35 years as a medical examiner, he had seen only "three homicides that were intra-oral."

     In an aggressive cross-examination by the deputy district attorney, Dr. Di Maio was asked how much he had been paid for his work on the case. The former medical examiner said that his bill was $46,000, which did not include his trial testimony. Courtroom spectators laughed when Dr. Di Maio told his cross-examiner that the longer he kept him on the stand, the more it would cost the defendant.

     On September 18, 2007, the Spector jury, following a week of deliberation, announced they were deadlocked seven to five. Two days later, the judge sent them back to the jury room with a new set of instructions on how to determine reasonable doubt. In the Spector trial, the celebrity experts for the defense (including Dr. Henry Lee) did more than just muddy the water by pointing out mistakes and erroneous conclusions by the government's experts. They had offered a conflicting scenario backed by their interpretations of the physical evidence. In circumstantial cases like this, deadlocked juries are to be expected. The hung jury is what Phil Spector paid for, and it's what he got. The jury remained split, and the judge had to declare a mistrial.

     The second trial, this one not televised, got underway on October 20, 2008. The case went to the jury on March 26, 2009, and 19 days later, the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Two months later, the judge sentenced Phil Spector to 19 years to life. In May 2011, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The California Supreme Court, when it declined to review the case, guaranteed that Mr. Spector will die in prison. Because so many high-profile forensic scientists disagreed on the interpretation of the physical evidence in this case, it will not be a positive landmark in the history of forensic science.

Phil Spector Post Conviction

     In 2006, while awaiting his first murder trial, Spector married Rachelle Short. In 2016, he filed for divorce, claiming she was blowing through his $35 million estate. While he sat in prison, she had purchased a $350,000 airplane, an Aston Martin and a Ferrari, expensive plastic surgery, expensive jewelry, and two houses for her mother. Spector also claimed that Short had failed to pay $700,000 in taxes, and was sending him only $300 a month in prison spending money. When the divorce came through, the judge awarded Short $37,000 a month in spousal support plus $14,000 a month for housing costs.
     On January 17, 2021, Phil Spector died at the age of 81.

The Legal Definition of Death

     Andrew Lyons shot a man in the head in September 1973 and left him brain-dead. When Lyon's attorneys found out the victim's family had donated his heart for transplantation, they tried to use this in Lyon's defense: If the heart was still beating at the time of surgery, they maintained, then how could it be that Lyons had killed him the day before? They tried to convince the jury that, technically speaking, Andrew Lyons hadn't murdered the man, the organ surgeon had.

     The judge would have none of it. In the end, Lyons was convicted of murder. Based on the outcome of the case, California passed legislation making brain death the legal definition of death. Other states quickly followed suit.

Mary Roach, Stiff, 2003 

The First Paragraph

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

Having the Correct Word

When writing, we will never, of course, deploy all the words we've learned. But a writer with an expansive vocabulary is much like a visual artist with many colors at his command. Regardless of the painting he's working on, he will always have the right colors available when he needs them. So, too, with a large vocabulary, you develop a sensitivity or feel...for the exactly correct word for a thought or experience.

Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling, 2016

A Compelling Story is Timeless

In fiction, the technical problems of shaping a story to make it interesting to read, to provide for suspense, to find the logical points where the story should begin and end, don't change much in whatever time or culture the story's being told.

Northrop Frye, literary scholar, 2001

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Nehemiah Griego "Good Boy" Mass Murder Case

     People murdered in their homes are usually killed by a family member. Cases involving husbands who kill their wives, and women who take out their husbands, are fairly common and therefore not particularly shocking. But when a "good" kid with no history of violence, drug abuse, or mental illness carefully executes his entire family for no apparent reason, the public takes notice. Suddenly parents look at their sulking, surly children in a new light. What in the hell was going on in their callow minds? A parent might wonder if his or her child has watched too much violence on TV. And if there's a gun in the house, it might not be a bad idea to put it under lock and key. But in most cases, when parents think about children who murder, they think about other people's kids. Murder is something that happens to others.

    Pastor Greg Griego, the 51-year-old father of two boys and two girls, probably never considered himself a candidate for murder. Griego, the former pastor of one of Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest Christian churches, lived with his 41-year-old wife Sarah and their four children at the end of a semi-rural road on the southwestern edge of the city. As a young man in California, before finding Jesus and entering the ministry, Greg Griego had been a member of a street gang. As one of Albuquerque's religious leaders, he volunteered as a prison chaplain and had overseen the Straight Street program sponsored by the Bernalillo County Jail.

     On Friday night, January 18, 2013, 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego, after he and his mother had a mild disagreement, waited until he was sure she and his three siblings were sound asleep. Mr. Griego was not home at that time. Just before one in the morning, Nehemiah took possession of a .22-caliber pistol he found in his parents' closet. He stepped lightly into his mother's bedroom where she was sleeping in bed next to his 9-year-old brother Zephania. Nehemiah raised the 10-shot pistol and fired several bullets into his mother's head. When his younger brother refused to accept the fact his mother had just been murdered, Nehemiah forced the boy to look at her bloody face. The 15-year-old then fired several slugs into Zephania's head.

     In his sisters' room, Nehemiah shot and killed Jael, age 5, and 2-year-old Angelina. Nehemiah returned the handgun to the closet and pulled out an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Armed with the weapon, he waited in a downstairs bathroom for his father's return. After waiting five hours for his father to come home, Nehemiah opened up on Mr. Griego as he walked by the bathroom doorway, killing him on the spot.

     On his cellphone, Nehemiah sent his 12-year-old girlfriend a photograph of his murdered mother's face. He also called the girl and reported what he had done as what he planned to do. Nehemiah informed his friend that he was driving to the local Walmart in the family van where he intended to randomly kill as many people as possible. He said he expected to be killed in an exchange of gunfire with the police.

     Nehemiah's girlfriend talked him into driving to Pastor Griego's church where they could discuss all of this further. Nehemiah spent the rest of the day at his girlfriend's house. Police officers took him into custody later that night.

     A Bernalillo County prosecutor charged Nehemiah Griego with two counts of murder and three counts of child abuse. (I don't know why he wasn't charged with five counts of murder.) Perfectly coherent, Nehemiah provided his interrogators with a detailed account of the mass killing. He said he was annoyed with his mother and had recently entertained thoughts of homicide and suicide. The boy expressed no feelings of guilt or remorse.

    Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston, at a news conference on January 22, 2013, said that Nehemiah had been "involved heavily in violent video games" before he murdered his family. The games included "Modern Warfare," and "Grand Theft Auto." The boy had also talked about killing his young girlfriend's parents.

     According to relatives, Nehemiah was an outgoing boy who loved music and hoped one day to serve in the military.

     The cold-blooded mass murder shocked Nehemiah's relatives, his friends, and his teachers. No one had seen this massacre coming. 

     By February 2015, no trial date had been set for the Griego family murders. The case had stalled for several reasons. In 2013, the judge assigned to preside over the trial took an extended leave of absence and was not replaced. The boy's defense attorney delayed progress throughout 2014 by requesting one mental health evaluation after another for his client. (Griego had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.) In the meantime, Nehemiah Griego remained incarcerated at a juvenile detection facility.            

     Finally, after the boy pleaded guilty in March 2016, the judge enraged many in the community by sentencing him as a juvenile. Under New Mexico law, this meant that Griego would walk free as a rehabilitated youth when he turned 21. Six years in custody for the cold-blooded murder of five people.

     In December 2019, nearly seven years after Nehemiah Griego murdered his parents and three siblings, Judicial District Judge Alisa Hart re-sentenced the 22-year-old to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Charles Manson Follower Bruce Davis

     On August 8, 2014, California governor Jerry Brown reversed a parole board and denied the release of a former Charles Manson follower who served more than 43 years in prison. It was the third time a California governor denied the release of Bruce Davis 71, a member of the murderous Manson Family convicted in the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald "Shorty" Shea.

     In March 2014, the parole board once again found that Davis was suitable for parole based on his age, conduct in prison--he became a born-again Christian, earned a doctoral degree in philosophy of religion, ministers to other inmates--and other factors. The governor lauded Davis for his efforts to improve himself. However, he wrote his his five-page decision that the evidence shows that Davis "currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison." 
     [Davis posed an unreasonable danger to Brown's political future if released. Asserting that he was still dangerous was ridiculous. He shouldn't be released because of what he did. In 2017, Davis was denied parole for the fifth time, and in November 2019, after another parole board recommended his release, Governor Gavin Newson denied the parole. The parole board, in January 2021 again recommended release for the born-again-Christian and again the governor denied it. Davis is 79.]

"California Governor Denies Manson Follower Parole," Associated Press, August 9,  2014 

Are All Males Potential Murderers?

When a murder occurs, the search is for motive as well as weapon. Hypotheses generally center around passion, greed, and uncontrollable anger. All of the above related factors have often been seen as at least comprehensible, if deplorable. After all, some say, how can a man stomach his wife's affair with another man or her consideration of another relationship? Although money as a reason for murder is perceived as unacceptable knavery, acquisition of financial resources is recognized as a goal toward which, of necessity, most strive throughout most of their lives. Regarding uncontrollable rage, anger is an emotion with which everyone must struggle, and all deal with it imperfectly. "A man can take just so much," has been one way the killer's apologist has attempted to explain an apparently senseless murder.

Constance A. Bean, Women Murdered By The Men They Loved, 1992 

Who's Afraid of Frankenstein?

     For the modern reader, Frankenstein fails in its intention to depict and evoke horror. In part this is a failure of style, and in part is a failure of technique--the author dwells too little on grisly details. We have to take the horror too much secondhand. Though the events of the novel are horrifying--three murders, a wrongful conviction, another death--the author, for whatever reason of sensibility or youth, chooses not to make a spectacle of them.

   While Frankenstein worked in its day, it has since become a model of what not to do if you really want to frighten the reader.

Jane Smiley, 13 Ways of Looking at The Novel, 2005

Favorite Characters

I like to read stores where people suffer a lot. If there's no suffering, I kind of tune out…I do have a weakness for funny characters who can't shut up to save their lives.

Gary Shteyngart, The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2014

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The John Sexton Murder Case

     Ann Parlato was 94 and lived by herself in a white stucco house in the Regency Park section of New Port Richey, Florida. Just after midnight on September 17, 2010, one of Ann Parlato's neighbors heard a "thump" coming from her house. The next-door neighbor, alerted by the sound, saw, through Parlato's kitchen window, her "lawn man" standing at Parlato's sink. Thinking that the man in the window was doing chores around Parlato's house, the neighbor didn't call the police. He did, however, jot down the license number to the man's pickup truck.

     About eight hours after the next-door neighbor saw the man through Ann Parlato's kitchen window, another neighbor, Dori Cifelli, found Parlato's front door ajar. She entered the dwelling and saw, on the living room floor, a pair of legs sticking out from under a white sheet. This neighbor called 911.

     Police officers found a bludgeoned and stabbed elderly woman beneath the sheet. Ann Parlato's upper torso had been burned, she had defense wounds on her arms and hands, and her fingernails were broken. Crime scene investigators encountered blood throughout the house. There were spatter patterns and stains on carpeting, walls, the ceiling fan, and in the bathroom sink and shower stall. Officers recovered the cap from a bottle of bleach, and in a sink, found cigarette butts and a pair of women's underwear. The victim's master bedroom had been ransacked, and the killer had used Parlato's washing machine. Scattered throughout the dwelling were clippings from the dead woman's freshly mowed lawn.

     The next day, homicide detectives, after speaking to the next-door neighbor who had seen the lawn man through the kitchen window, and jotted down the license number to his truck, questioned John Sexton at his Pasco, Florida home about a mile from the murder scene. When told that Ann Parlato had been murdered, the 49-year-old suspect said, "Oh, wow, that's horrible. I kind of liked her." Sexton said he had befriended the elderly woman by mowing her yard.

     When asked where he was at midnight, September 27, Sexton yelled to his third wife Catherine, "What time did I get home, about 10:30?"

     Catherine yelled back, "He's lying. He got home about 2 AM."

     During the interview, Sexton's hands and legs were shaking. He had a fresh cut on his middle finger, and the officers noticed what looked like a blood stain on his pants. The detectives asked the suspect to accompany them to the police station where he would be asked to provide a formal statement. Sexton said he had no problem doing that.

     At police headquarters, after being warned of his Miranda rights, an interrogator pressed Sexton regarding his whereabouts at midnight on the night of the murder. "I couldn't have been there at midnight," he answered.

     "A neighbor saw you in the kitchen."

     "I wasn't in the kitchen," Sexton insisted.

     "So the neighbor next door is absolutely lying? Seeing mirages or something? When he writes down your tag number?"

     "I guess so," came the reply.

     Following the interrogation, the officers informed John Sexton that he was under arrest for the murder of Ann Parlato. Charged with first degree-murder, he faced a mandatory life sentence. He was also eligible for the death penalty. Mr. Sexton would not be returning home that day to his third wife Catherine.

     According to Catherine Sexton, she had met John at a swingers club. As a husband he had cheated on her regularly. (Big surprise from a guy you meet at a swingers club.) In May 2010, the couple moved to Pasco where they took up residence in a house with Catherine's mother and her mom's boyfriend. Catherine described her husband as an atheist who drank heavily, photographed naked women, and occasionally took antidepressant medication that had been prescribed to her. Catherine informed detectives that her husband, a habitual liar, sociopath, and sex addict, was also an erotic fire-setter. His second wife left him after he threw their 6-week-old daughter across the room. Catherine, in a bit of an understatement, used the term  "deviant" in describing her husband.

     John Sexton's murder trial got underway on April 16, 2013. The next day, following the opening statements, the prosecution put two DNA experts on the stand who linked the defendant to the murder scene in a variety of ways. Blood on Sexton's clothing and under his fingernails had come from the victim. According to one of the DNA analysts, Sexton's saliva connected him to a crime scene cigarette butt.

     A prosecution criminalist testified that bloody shoe impression on the victim's linoleum floor "showed the same class characteristics" as the defendant's boots.

     On April 18, 2013, Dr. Jonathan Thogmartin, the Pasco County Medical Examiner who had visited the murder scene and performed the autopsy, testified that Ann Parlato had died from blunt force trauma to the head. The killer had crushed Palato's face, dislocated her upper spine, and fractured her ribs. He also stabbed the victim, had postmortem sex with the corpse, then tried to destroy the body by setting it on fire.

     After the prosecution rested its case on April 18, the defense called the next-door neighbor to the stand who had seen the lawn man through the victim's kitchen window. The witness testified that he had failed to pick the defendant out of a police photograph line-up.

     Sexton's third wife Catherine took the stand as a character witness. "I believe in his innocence," she said.

     At the close of the testimony phase of the trial, the opposing attorneys presented their closing arguments. The defense attorney talked about a crime scene knife that contained someone else's DNA. The judge issued her instructions to the jurors, and on April 19, the case went to the jury. Following a short deliberation, the jury found John Sexton guilty of first degree-murder.

     On Friday, December 13, 2013, Judge Mary Handsel sentenced John Sexton to death. The condemned man, aware that it took decades to execute people like him, told reporters that he had hoped for the death penalty. He said it meant that his appeals would proceed more quickly than if he had been sentenced to life. 

Can Police Interrogators Lie?

     Courts have long upheld the rights of interrogators to lie to suspects, with a single exception, which stems from an 1997 Supreme Court decision. In that case, Bram v. United States, the court held that a confession was not admissible if it came from threats or "direct or implied promises," such as an assurance that a suspect would be treated more leniently if he confessed, or more harshly if he did not. Despite the restriction on both "direct" and "implied" promises, in the years since 1997, courts have tended only to reject confessions when there was evidence of an explicit threat or promise.

     Since then, the practices of interrogators have grown more nuanced, to include threats and promises that are merely and subtly implied, and therefore more often accepted in courtrooms as legitimate. Even when an explicit threat or promise is made, it can be difficult for an interrogation suspect to prove that coercive techniques were used, as most interrogations are not recorded in their entirely, and a detective's word can carry more weight with a jury than that of the accused.

Sarah Burns, The Central Park Five, 2011

The Thriller

The crime fiction thriller is an extension of the fairy tale. It is melodrama so embellished as to create the illusion that the story being told, however unlikely, could be true.

Eric Ambler in The Mystery Lovers' Book of Quotations, edited by Jane Horning, 1988 

Not All Crimes Are Book Worthy

Why are some true crimes turned into books, while others barely make the national papers? It will hardly come as a staggering surprise to find that publishers choose only those cases that are out of the ordinary: so, while murder is a favorite topic for books, "domestic" murders are not, unless several people in the family are killed. The sort of case that attracts a book publisher is likely to involve a large-scale crime, a mass or serial murder or a murderer who has been freed and has killed again or perhaps a murderer who almost got away with it.

Philip Rawlings, britsoccrim.org, 1995 

Journalists Don't Like To Be Scrutinized

Photographers don't like to be photographed. Surgeons require nearly twice the amount of anesthesia ordinary patients require to undergo surgery. Journalists are the least receptive to professional scrutiny by their colleagues. They react, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes with the utmost deliberation, to avenge themselves.

Renata Adler, Gone, The Last Days of the New Yorker, 1999

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Philip Chism Murder Case

     Colleen Ritzer, a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, taught ninth grade math in Danvers, a suburban town of 26,000, 20 miles northeast of Boston. The 24-year-old teacher lived in Andover with her siblings and parents. She was working toward a masters degree in school counseling at Salem State University.

     On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, when a Danvers school ninth-grader named Philip D. Chism missed his four o'clock soccer practice, and didn't show up for a junior varsity team dinner, members of the team went looking for him. Philip and his 34-year-old mother Diana had moved to the Boston area from Tennessee at the start of the school year. That evening she reported him missing. Investigators learned that at six-thirty that night, Chism was seen leaving the Hollywood Hits movie theater in Danvers.

     That Tuesday night, Colleen Ritzer's parents reported her missing when she didn't return home from school and wasn't answering her cellphone. Danvers police officers, in searching the high school for Ritzer, found splashes of blood in the second-floor student girl's restroom. A short time later, around midnight, officers found Ritzer's body in a patch of woods behind the school's athletic fields. She had been stabbed and slashed to death with a sharp instrument.

     A review of surveillance camera footage showed Philip Chism using what appeared to be a recycling bin--a blue, plastic garbage can on wheels--to move the dead woman into the nearby woods. About the time officers found the body behind the school, police officers in the town of Topsfield just north of Danvers spotted Chism walking along Route 1.

     Chism told his interrogators that he was in Colleen Ritzer's algebra class held during the school's final period. Because he had been doodling instead of paying attention that day, she asked him to stay after class. At 3:30, he followed her into the students' restroom. (The faculty bathroom had been occupied. One of the school's 200 surveillance cameras caught Chism, as he followed the teacher into the restroom. He was seen putting on a pair of white gloves.)

     Inside the girl's restroom, Chism punched the teacher in the face, then slit her throat with a box cutter. After the killing, he used the recycling bin to transport the body outside the building into the woods behind the sprawling campus. Police found the garbage can 100 feet from the corpse. It had been pushed over an embankment.

     After murdering Colleen Ritzer, Chism changed his bloody clothes, ate at a Wendy's restaurant, then walked to the movie theater where he watched the Woody Allen film, "Blue Jasmine." He paid for the fast food and the movie with a credit card.
 
     Classmates described the tall, athletic student as quiet and shy. Some of his classmates labeled him antisocial and strange. He was a good student and the leading scorer on the junior varsity soccer team.

     The district attorney of Essex County charged Philip Chism as an adult with assault and murder. At the boy's October 23, 2013 arraignment in a Salem district court, the student pleaded not guilty.

     According to court documents in Tennessee, Diana, the boy's mother, married Stacy Chism in September 1998 when she was 19 and he was 23. Philip was born four months later. A year later, Diana gave birth to a girl. She filed for divorce in March 2001, but three months later the couple reconciled. Not long after that they separated again.

      On October 26, 2013, through her attorney, Diana Chism issued a statement expressing sorrow for the Ritzer family.

     Philip Chism, as an inmate awaiting his trial at the Department of Youth Services facility in Dorchester, Massachusetts, had trouble conforming to the institutions rules and regulations. For one thing, he refused to attend classes. As a result he spent his mornings and afternoons sitting at a table in the facility's main room. A staff member posted at a station behind a low wall kept an eye on inmates in the large, open room.  Behind the observation station an employee-only hallway led to a locker room that featured a bathroom.

     On June 2, 2014, a 29-year-old female corrections officer, a member of the staff who had known Chism for several months, got up from her post and walked down the hallway to the locker room. The 15-year-old rose to his feet, kicked off his sandals, and in a crouched position to avoid detection, moved  quietly toward the hallway.

     When the staffer came out of the restroom, Chism grabbed her by the neck with both hands and started choking her. She managed to remove his right hand which allowed her to scream for help. Before other members of the staff came to her aid, Chism punched the woman several times in the face.

     Charged with attempted murder by strangulation, Chism, on July 23, 2014, appeared in a Suffolk County Court for his arraignment. The judge set his bail at $250,000. His attorney had nothing to say to reporters.

     On March 3, 2015, following legal arguments pursuant to an evidentiary hearing in Essex County District Court in anticipation of Philip Chism's murder trial, Judge David Lowy ruled that the defendant's confession at the Danvers police station had been coerced and was therefore inadmissible evidence. The judge did allow into evidence the bloody box cutter and other key pieces of physical evidence. Also allowed into evidence were the items seized from Chism's pockets and backpack. This evidence included the murder victim's identification, credit cards, and a pair of her underwear.

     The Coleen Ritzer murder trial, scheduled for October 17, 2015, was delayed after a judge ordered Chism to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine if he was mentally competent to stand trial.

     On November 2, 2015, at the start of his mental competence hearing, Chism refused to enter the courtroom, banged his head against the floor and told a psychologist he heard voices and hoped that someone would shoot him. The next day the judge ruled Chism mentally unfit to stand trial.

     In February 2016, Philip Chism went on trial for the murder, rape, and robbery of Coleen Ritzer. After the jury found him guilty as charged, Superior Court Judge David Lowry sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He was also sentenced to a 40-year prison term for the rape and robbery. Under the terms of these sentences, Chism would remain behind bars for at least 40 years. He would not be free before he reached the age of 54.

     In Massachusetts, a juvenile who commits first-degree murder cannot be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The victim's family in the Chism case criticized that law.

Bank Robbery: The Lost Romance

Today's bank robbers, are, for the most part, crude amateurs possessing little of the romantic aura of yesteryear's brigands. Today, the fine art of illegally removing capital from a financial institution has often been reduced to the practice of crude thuggery or impulsive strong-arm holdups. This is not to say that old-style desperados were invariably suave or elegant; they were not. However, there was something about the old-time robber that captured the American public's attention and, frequently, admiration. The perception begs the question: "How were the old-times different from today's petty thugs?" [What difference? Many of the old-time bank robbers were worse. Billy The Kid was a vicious cretin, and John Dillinger, a generation later, was a cold-blooded killer. Nothing romantic about that.]

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Writers Workshops

     Writer's workshops around the country reflect wildly different assumptions about what the work should be, what the goals are, and how progress might be measured. Some are simply therapy sessions, attempting to create a warm, nurturing environment in which writers are encouraged to express themselves, release their creative energies without fear, and see what happens. Some have a political agenda--feminist art, black art, social protest art. Some have an aesthetic agenda--minimalism, realism, metafiction, etc. There are writer workshops specializing in horror fiction, detective fiction, children's fiction, science fiction, and so on.

     There are workshops that have almost nothing to do with writing, where the texts are little more than an excuse for primal scream catharsis on one hand or new age channeling on the other. So it follows that in talking about a writer's workshop it must be made clear just whose workshop is under discussion.

Frank Conroy in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

The Origins of the True Crime Genre

It is generally held that the genre of true crime has been around since the latter part of the 19th century. As a precursor to these nonfiction accounts of crime, writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and William Thackeray borrowed incidents and characters from real crimes for their novels.

Vicky Munro, crimeculture.com, 2001 

Dictating Student Tastes in Literature

For many years now, literary academics high and low have preempted serious criticism, have been riding hard on students who are so unused to general reading that they have little taste of their own and are glad to be told how to read…This supposedly will get these students closer and closer to the work of art. What nonsense. What gets us closer to a work of art is not instruction but another work of art.

Alfred Kazin, Writing Was Everything, 1995

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Diane McDermott Murder Case

     Americans have enjoyed detective fiction since the 1930s. The early police detectives of literature and film were far more impressive than their thick-skulled, real-life contemporaries. In the U.S., criminal investigation, as practiced by the police, didn't become anything resembling a profession well into the 20th Century. The first widely read criminal investigation textbook didn't come out until 1958. (Criminal Investigation by Charles O'Hara) Colleges and universities didn't start criminal justice programs until the early 1970s, and most of them were puerile.

     As late as the 1950s and 60s, police detectives, instead of employing interrogation techniques to acquire confessions, simply beat suspects until they broke down and confessed. In the 1940s, Fred Inbau of Northwestern University Law School, developed a set of interrogation techniques designed to psychologically induce admissions of guilt without the use of force. As a polygraph examiner in the Chicago Crime Lab, he knew that confessions beat out of people by the Chicago Police were unreliable, not to mention inhumane. Inbau's methods, however, weren't universally practiced until after the 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. detectives liked the third-degree, and old habits were hard to break.

     During the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, police detectives didn't routinely conduct professional crime scene investigations, take detailed notes, write complete case reports, or submit physical evidence to crime labs. Crimes were not systematically investigated and solved, and if a case didn't present an obvious suspect, detectives quickly closed it. Crime novelists and their readers loved murder mysteries, cops didn't. Homicide detectives regularly ignored or bungled murder cases, no one knew how to investigate arson, and burglars were rarely caught because these crimes did not produce eyewitnesses. Most rape complaints received no investigation whatsoever. Cops who wore suits and carried gold badges were detectives in name only. (The word "detective" wasn't introduced into the English language until 1853 when Charles Dickens coined the term in his novel Bleak House.)

     Today, police detectives are well-paid and have access to cutting edge forensic science. They also can avail themselves of all sorts of relevant education and training. Still, in some big cities, small towns, and suburban communities, criminal investigations are regularly bungled due to indifference, laziness, corruption, and a shortage of qualified personnel. Modern law enforcement is principally focused on street crime and the war on drugs. Criminal investigation has taken a backseat to these law enforcement priorities. (The nation's crime labs are also underfunded and understaffed.) 

The Diane McDermott Case

     A murder ignored by the police in 1967 drew attention in the spring of 2012 because the victim's son, a TV actor named Dylan McDermott, prevailed upon the authorities to take a second look at his mother's violent death. The Diane McDermott case is one of thousands of suspicious deaths in the past 100 years never investigated seriously or competently by the police.

     In 1967, Diane McDermott lived in a Waterbury, Connecticut apartment with her 5-year-old son Dylan, her 7-month-old daughter Robin, and John Sponza, her 27-year-old boyfriend. In February of that year, Sponza shot Diane McDermott in the head at point-blank range, placed a handgun next to her body that wasn't the firearm he had shot her with, then called the police. Sponza, a heroin addict with organized crime connections, told detectives with the Waterbury Police Department that Diane had picked up the gun he had been cleaning and accidentally shot herself in the head.

     Police interviews of Dylan McDermott, neighbors, and friends of the victim contradicted Sponza's claim that he and Diane rarely argued. Dylan said he had seen the boyfriend, who had once locked him out of the apartment, point a gun at his mother. Moreover, the two of them were often heard yelling at each other.

     Following a cursory investigation, the Waterbury Police closed the McDermott case as an accidental shooting. Four years later, police in Waltham, Massachusetts found Sponza's body in the trunk of a car parked in front of a a grocery store.

     The fact Sponza had murdered Diane McDermott in 1967 before DNA and other forensic science breakthroughs did not excuse the bungling of this case. (I don't know if McDermott's body had been autopsied, or if a forensic pathologist had recovered the fatal bullet. Media coverage of the case was focused on the actor's angst.) Even if the fatal slug had been too damaged for microscopic comparison with a test-fired bullet from the death scene handgun, a forensic firearms identification expert could have determined if the two projectiles were the same caliber. The victim's hands could have been tested for traces of gunshot residue, and the firearm next to her body could have been processed for latent fingerprints.

     In June 2012, Dr. H. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner for the state of Connecticut, reviewed the McDermott case file and concluded that the gun next to the victim's body was too small a caliber to have fired the fatal shot. In his report, Dr. Carver wrote, "The wound also showed that the murder weapon had been pressed to the back of the head." (This suggested that the victim had been autopsied, and photographs had been taken.)

     Since people don't accidentally shoot themselves in the back of the head, Diane McDermott had obviously been murdered, and the last person to have seen her alive was John Sponza.

     While the detectives in charge of the McDermott case could have been incompetent, lazy, or simply indifferent, they may have also been corrupt. Although the Connecticut criminal justice system failed to do its job in this case, John Sponza ended up where he belonged, dead in the trunk of a car.

The Eyewitness

Before a witness can recall a complex incident, the incident must be accurately perceived at the onset; it must be stored in memory. Before it can be stored, it must be within a witness's perceptual range, which means that it must be loud enough and close enough so the the ordinary senses pick it up. If visual details are to be perceived, the situation must be reasonably well illuminated. Before some information can be recalled, a witness must have paid attention to it. But even though an event is bright enough, loud enough, and close enough, and even though attention is being paid, we can still find significant errors in a witness's recollection of the event, and it is common for two witnesses to the same event to recall it very differently.

Elizabeth Loftus, Eyewitness Testimony, 1979

J. Edgar Hoover on the Criminal Mind

A criminal does not look upon himself as such. You must accept this as an axiom if you ever are to learn the slightest rules about protecting yourself, your home and your family. His viewpoint is this: he wants something. That is the end of the matter. Wanting it, he feels he should have it. No ideas of justice ever enter his mind; if they do, they are quickly swamped by selfishness. The old excuse of "I did not stop to think" was never true, although this alibi for crime has worked to the amelioration of sentences until it is threadbare. The true statement, which is rarely voiced, is: "I did not stop to think of anyone but myself."

J. P. Bean, editor, The Book of Criminal Quotations, 2003. J. Edgar Hoover was Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972.

Short Story Word Economy

Unlike most novels, great short stories make us marvel at their integrity, their economy. If we went at them with our red pencils, we might find we had nothing to do. We would discover there was nothing that the story could afford to lose without the whole delicate structure collapsing like a souffle or meringue. And yet we are left with a feeling of completeness, a conviction that we know exactly as much as we need to know, that all of our questions have been answered.

Francine Prose in On Writing Short Stories, edited by Tom Bailey, 2000

Stephen King's Daily Word Production

I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That's 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book--something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh. On some days those ten pages come easily; I'm up and out and doing errands by eleven-thirty in the morning. More frequently, as I grow older, I find myself eating lunch at my desk and finishing the day's work around one-thirty in the afternoon. Sometimes, when the words come hard, I'm still fiddling around at teatime. Either way is fine with me, but only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Monday, October 18, 2021

The Brandon O'Brien Minneapolis Street Mob Assault/Robbery Case

     Minneapolis, Minnesota, a midwestern city of about 425,000, has an overall crime rate higher than 97 percent of other cities in the United States. In 2017, crime in Minneapolis was up 5 percent from the year before. And in 2018, while property crime rates in the city fell slightly, the rates of violent offenses--murder, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and rape--went up.

     Minneapolis Chief of Police Medaria Arradondo, in 2018, asked the 13-member city council to approve funding for an additional 100 officers. The department's 880 sworn officers were unable to maintain an adequate level of order maintenance in the growing city. Council members, preferring to spend taxpayer money on social programs, declined.

     In late 2018 and early 2019, the violent crime problem in Minneapolis continued to get worse, overwhelming the understaffed police department. Still, local politicians did nothing to protect the city's residents and visitors.

     A report by a criminal justice research group regarding the degree to which the Minneapolis Police Department was unable to enforce the law in the city, stunned concerned citizens. In 2018, due to the police manpower shortage, police officers were not available to respond to 6, 776 high priority 911calls that included shots being fired, officer down, sexual assaults, and stabbings.

     In August 2019, the uncontrolled lawlessness in Minneapolis brought national attention to the city following the publication of three videos that depicted, in gruesome detail, mobs of black teenagers and young adults beating and robbing physically impaired young white men. All of the unprovoked attacks took place during the day, in public, and in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

     Brandon O'Brien was out celebrating his birthday not far from the Minneapolis Twins baseball stadium when he was suddenly surrounded by a mob of joyful robbers who punched him to the ground, stripped him of his trousers, beat him with his belt, kicked him in the face, jumped on his body, and rode over him with a bike. His attackers took his cellphone and left the battered and bleeding victim lying unconscious on the pavement.

     The 24-year-old victim of this brutal and gratuitous violence, among other injuries, suffered a serious concussion that left him with memory loss and the inability to sleep. As a result of being viciously assaulted by a mob of strangers in public, the traumatized Brandon O' Brien would live in fear of his life.

     Outside a steakhouse not far from where the robbery mob accosted Brandon O' Brien, a gang of criminals set upon two young men whom they beat by repeatedly punching and kicking them until both victims ended up unconscious on the ground.

     The third incident of mob violence in Minneapolis involved another street robbery and another young man left laid out cold on his back.

     In response to these roving criminal mobs in search of vulnerable victims to viciously assault in broad daylight, Chief of Police Arradonda requested adding 400 sworn officers to the department by 2025.

     Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey responded to his city's lawlessness by proposing 14 additional police officers. A few members of the city council said they would be willing to support an additional 30 officers.

     From their ridiculously weak responses to what most reasonable people would consider a public safety crisis, the city's politicians, not vulnerable themselves to street crime, revealed just how unconcerned they were about the dangers of living in Minneapolis.

     On September 17, 2019, thanks to a team of Hennepin County Sheriff's Office investigators and detectives from the city, officers arrested 18 black males between the ages 15 to 27 believed by investigators to have been involved in the mob-style assaults.

     A spokesperson for the Minneapolis Police Department told reporters that the mob suspects were not charged with hate crimes because they did not target their victims because they were white. These young men were singled out for assault because they were physically impaired.

      Adrian Cooper, a 25-year-old from Brooklyn Center, a city of 33,000 in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, was taken in custody for the Brandon O'Brien assault and one of the other violent robberies. At first Cooper denied involvement in the O'Brien attack then admitted that he had "gotten in his licks." He was charged with first-degree robbery, aiding and abetting first-degree robbery, and third-degree riot. 
     Cooper, as of this writing, is the only suspect named in the street robbery/assaults. Since his arrest, nothing has appeared about these mob assaults on the Internet. This includes whether or not Adrian Cooper pleaded not guilty, or if he was released on bail. It is as though these public safety atrocities never happened.

The Threat to Civil Liberty

An important tenet of civil liberties is that the greatest danger to liberty comes from the powerful state. The greatest disasters throughout history have been inflicted by states. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stalinist murders, the Holocaust, the Cambodian genocide--all were inflicted by governments. Hence, the focus of civil libertarian concerns has always been on the abuse of power by state actors.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

Bad Journalism

     On Thursday January 8, 2015, a newspaper in Kentucky retracted a front-page story after publishing a racist quote attributed to Hardin County Sheriff John Ward that turned out to be false. The quote, published in the Elizabethtown News-Enterprise read: "Those who go into the law enforcement profession typically do it because they have a desire to shoot minorities."

     Sheriff Ward said he did not come close to making such an outlandish statement…According to Sheriff Ward, he said in the interview that cops enter the profession "because they have a desire to serve the community."

     How Ward came to be quoted so falsely was unclear, but the paper's editor, Ben Sheroan, retracted the article…He said that "disciplinary steps have been taken" [Like what?] and that "this error involved a failure to follow established production processes in our news department."

"Kentucky Newspaper Retracts 'Major Error' In Police Story," The Daily Caller, January 8, 2015 

The Science in Science Fiction

There's a great deal of evidence that the laws of nature are the same throughout the universe. This fact enables us to make reasonable guesses about what sorts of things might exist in other parts of it. We would not expect, for example, to find civilizations growing in atmospheres consisting principally of hydrogen and oxygen. The laws of chemistry make such an atmosphere too unstable to exist, on Earth or anywhere else. Nor would we expect to find real counterparts of that hoary old cliche of monster movies, giant spiders exactly like Earthly tarantulas but a hundred times larger. A really determined science fiction writer could concoct plausible aliens that superficially looked somewhat like big spiders, but inside, they would have to be very different.

Stanley Schmidt, Aliens and Alien Societies, 1995 

Aspiring Novelists, Start Small

A young fiction writer should try everything, but some literary forms will come more naturally to him than others. Short stories are more within his scope than longer forms, and he will learn most by making many beginnings and endings--the hardest parts of any piece of writing.

Wallace Stegner, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, 2002 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Levi Chavez Murder Case

     Levi Chavez, a 26-year-old officer with the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department, at nine o'clock on the night of October 21, 2007, called 911 to report that his wife had committed suicide with his department-issued Glock 9 pistol. Responding officers with the APD found 26-year-old Tera Chavez in the master bedroom with a massive exit bullet wound at the base of her skull. Next to her body officers saw the 9 mm Glock that still had a round in its chamber. Nearby lay the fatal bullet's spent shell casing and, detached from the handgun, its clip. It appeared that the barrel of the gun had been inserted into the dead woman's mouth.

     Officer Chavez informed his fellow officers that he and his wife had been having marital problems for years, and that on countless occasions the mother of two, who worked at a beauty salon as a hairdresser, had threatened to kill herself.

     Because it was apparent that Tera Chavez had been dead for several hours, the crime scene officers wanted to know the circumstances under which Levi had discovered his wife's corpse. In response to that question, Chavez said he last saw his wife on Friday morning, October 19 before going on duty at the APD. That night, he decided to stay over at his girlfriend Deborah Romero's house. Romero was also a member of the Albuquerque Police Department.

     According to Levi Chavez, on Saturday, October 20, 2007, his wife Tera called him 176 times. He ignored her calls by turning off his cellphone. Chavez said he spent Saturday night with Romero, and the next day, when Tera didn't call him, he began to worry. Later that Sunday evening, Levi said his mother told him that Tera had not shown up for work that day at the beauty salon. At that point he rushed home to find that his wife had committed suicide.

     In 2007, the Albuquerque Police Department, due to a series of questionable police-involved shootings, and allegations of institutional corruption and departmental cover-ups of officer wrongdoing, was under investigation by the FBI. Shortly after Tera Chavez's sudden and violent death, critics of the APD accused the department of helping officer Chavez cover up the murder of his wife by destroying crime scene evidence. Because the police department had such a bad reputation, and a police officer's wife had died under suspicious circumstances, Detective Aaron Jones of the Valencia County Sheriff's Office took charge of the homicide investigation.

     Detective Jones, who suspected that Levi Chavez had murdered his wife eighteen to twenty hours before he called 911, had to back off when Dr. Patricia McFeeley, the state medical examiner, ruled Tera's manner of death a suicide. In November 2007, Detective Jones showed Dr. McFeeley crime scene photographs that caused her to change Tera Chavez's manner of death to "undetermined." Despite Jones' efforts, the homicide investigation eventually died on the vine.

     In April 2011, three and a half years after Tera Chavez's death, following a cold-case murder investigation, Dr. McFeeley changed the manner of death in the case to "criminal homicide." Assistant Sandoval County District Attorney Bryan McKay charged Levi Chavez, who was no longer on the police force, with first-degree murder in his wife's death.

     The Chavez murder trial got underway on June 3, 2013 before Sandoval District Court Judge George Eichwald. In his opening remarks to the jury, lead prosecutor McKay presented the state's theory that the defendant had murdered his wife sometime between late Saturday night, October 20, 2007 and the early morning hours of Sunday, October 21. After shooting his wife in the mouth with the Glock 9 pistol, the defendant staged a suicide by placing the gun, the shell casing, and the clip next to her body.

     Levi Chavez's trial attorney, David Sema, a lawyer well known in New Mexico for representing several high-profile criminal defendants, told the jurors that his client's wife had committed suicide over her husband's extramarital affairs.

     Detective Aaron Jones took the stand for the prosecution. According to the Valencia County homicide detective, the Glock magazine found next to the victim's body was "unseated." By that, the witness meant it wasn't locked into the butt of the gun. This suggested that after the weapon had been discharged, the shooter had pressed a button to release the clip.

     DNA expert Alanna Williams, who in 2007 worked for the New Mexico Crime Laboratory, but was now employed by the APD, testified that she had tested the Glock and a pair of sweatpants found in the Chavez home washing machine for DNA. Williams said she had found blood on the muzzle of the pistol that contained the victim's DNA. On the handgun's grip, the forensic scientist found a mixture of Tera's and the defendant's DNA. The sweatpants, believed to have been worn by the defendant, contained DNA from the victim.

     Dr. Patricia McFeeley, now the former medical examiner, testified that the death scene Glock had been inserted at least one inch into Tera Chavez's mouth. The fatal bullet had vaporized the victim's brainstem. The forensic pathologist explained that the victim, after being shot, couldn't have pressed the button that released the magazine from the butt of the pistol.

     One of the defendant's mistresses, APD officer Regina Sanchez, took the stand. In September 2006 she and Levi began an intimate relationship. A month later, Sanchez, believing that Chavez was in the process of divorcing Tera, allowed him to move in with her. After the witness received an angry call from Tera Chavez, he moved out.

     Rose Slama, another of the defendant's girlfriends, testified that he told her that when Tera shot herself, he was in the house taking a shower.

     After the prosecution rested its case on June 26, 2013, defense attorney David Sema put Dr. Alan Berman, a suicide expert who lived in Washington, D. C., on the stand. Based on Tera Chavez's diary entries, text messages, medical history, and two notes in her handwriting found at the death scene, Dr. Berman said he believed that she suffered from low self-esteem and self-hate due to her emotionally abusive relationship with her philandering husband. She had been, in the witness' opinion, depressed as well. According to the psychologist, these factors combined to create what he called "acute risk factors for suicide."

     Dr. Berman read several text messages Tera had sent to her husband between August and October 2006. In one such message she had written: "I am a loser. I've failed at everything, especially you. I want to die." In another text she had said, "I'm tired of being your dumb wife. You treat me like shit...please respect me...I have a job."

     Prosecutor McKay, on cross-examination, asked the "suicideologist" to read Tera Chavez's last diary entry, dated July 12, 2007, which read: "...so goodbye to the person I used to be. Welcome a new day. Happiness!" Dr. Berman testified that he did not believe this statement was inconsistent with a suicidal mindset.

     On July 1, 2013, a crime scene reconstruction expert took the stand for the defense. In the course of demonstrating to the jury how Tera Chavez, after shooting herself in the mouth with the Glock, had pressed the button that released the magazine, failed to eject the magazine pursuant to his theory of what happened. In other words, the demonstration failed.

     Defense attorney Sema, on July 9, 2013, presented his star witness. Dr. Charles V. Wetli, the former medical examiner of Suffolk County, New York, had testified for the defense in dozens of high-profile murder cases. According to the forensic pathologist, had the defendant shoved the pistol into his wife's mouth, he would have broken some of her teeth. According to Dr. Wetli, Tera Chavez, in killing herself, had turned the gun upside down and used her thumb to pull the trigger.

     Prosecutor McKay's associate, Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener, on cross-examination, showed Dr. Wetli a death scene photograph that appeared to show that one of Tera's lower teeth had been chipped. When asked if one of the dead woman's teeth had been broken, the forensic pathologist said, "It's possible." Prosecutor Keener asked Dr. Wetli if he had visited the death scene or personally examined Tera Chavez's corpse. He said that he had not.

     The second major defense witness, the defendant himself, took the stand on July 11, 2013. In describing his discovery of his dead wife on the night of October 21, 2007, Levi Chavez said, "I turned on the light and it was like terror. I couldn't believe what I was seeing." The defendant told the jury that he blamed himself for Tera's suicide, and felt that God was saying to him: "This is all your fault." Chavez assured the jurors that he had found religion, and had not cheated on his second wife. At several points during his direct examination by attorney Sema, the defendant broke down in tears.

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Bryan McKay asked the former police officer why he had left his loaded department-issued gun "with a woman who was depressed and talked about possibly hurting herself. You had small children in the house."

     "We had," the defendant replied, "an attempted break-in. A truck was stolen right out of our driveway when she was there. And yes, I had small children in the home, but this is exactly why I left the gun in the house. (Regarding the theft of Levi's 2004 Ford F-250 truck, Tera allegedly told her fellow beauty salon workers that he and his "cop buddies" had staged the theft as part of an insurance scam. Prosecutor McKay had attempted to get this information before the jury, but Judge Eichwald had suppressed it.)

     On July 16, 2013, the jury, after ten hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.

The Fear of Violent Criminals

Most people dread becoming the victim of a heinous violent crime more than any other crime because they fear that without any real provocation on their part, someone could gravely harm them. People justifiably fear that merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and by saying and doing the wrong thing or not saying and doing the right thing to the wrong person, they or someone they care about could be seriously injured, maimed, or killed. The likelihood of this happening in our present society is not so remote as to make this a groundless or needless worry for any individual, including those most heavily shielded from the vagaries of social life.

Lonnie H. Athens, The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals, 1992

A Mobster's Regrets

How I could have put Cosa Nostra ahead of loyalty to my wife and my kids is something I will always have to live with. All my life, growing up, I thought that people who went to school and put their noses to the grindstone were nerds, taking the easy way out. I know now that I was the one who took the easy way that I didn't have the guts to stay in school and try. That was the tough road, which I didn't take.

Sammy "The Bull" Gravano in Jerry Capeci, Wiseguys Say the Darndest Things, 2004. Gravano was a hit man for John Goti Jr., the boss of New York's Gambino family. 

The Elements Of Literary Style

A writer's literary style consists mainly of the words he uses and the order he puts them in. That's called, respectively, diction and syntax. In terms of word selection, a pompous or insecure writer will use "multiple" instead of "many"; "impacted by" instead of "affected"; and "individual" instead of "person." Such a writer also uses many more words than necessary. Regarding syntax, an academic author might write: "A good time was had by all." A so-called "literary" novelist might say it this way: "By all, a good time was had." An author with readers will write: "We had a good time."

The First English Story of Space Flight

Bishop Francis Godwin wrote the first story in English of flight into space. His The Man in the Moon, 1638 had birds pull a raft through space to the moon. He anticipated Newton's theory of gravity and had the pull of the moon much lighter than that of the earth.

Lester del Ray, The World of Science Fiction, 1979

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Spontaneous Human Combustion

     Soak a rag in linseed oil, ball it up and throw it into a bucket. This rag, as a result of a chemical reaction that creates heat, will eventually catch on fire and burn. Fire scientists call this reaction spontaneous combustion. Under the right conditions, all kinds of material will self-combust. So, can the human body, under the right conditions, catch on fire from within? People who believe that a body can self-generate ignition temperature heat, call this phenomenon human spontaneous combustion.

     For decades, fire investigators around the world have been baffled by fire death scenes involving a badly burned corpse lying in bed or sitting in a stuffed chair. In these cases the middle section of the body has been almost completely consumed by fire suggesting high, localized temperatures. In the immediate vicinity of the body, and in the room, there is very little burning. This fire pattern seems out of joint with normal fire spreading behavior. To add to this cause of origin mystery, investigators at these sites--encountered mostly in Great Britain--find no traces of fire accelerants such as gasoline. Are these fires accidental, arson/murder, or something else altogether?

     In December 2010, fire fighters in Ireland discovered a 76-year-old man dead in his sitting room. It looked as though someone had lit him up, but there seemed to be no source of heat other than the blaze in the fireplace. Except for some charring on the ceiling above his chair, the room did not burn. Although the man's body was almost completely consumed by the fire, investigators found no evidence that an accelerant had been used to jack-up the heat.

      The Irish coroner, having ruled out accident and arson as the manner of death, declared the cause as spontaneous human combustion.

     In the 1980s, the American fire scientist, Dr. John de Haan, conducted an experiment in which he set fire to a pig wrapped in cloth. The low-heat, long-burning fire almost completely consumed the hog without creating high ambient temperatures. Dr. de Haan called this the "wick effect." The cloth held the flame like a wick while vapors from the pig's heated fat slowly burned like candle wax.

     As it turns out, most so-called spontaneous human combustion fire scenes have involved people who had been drinking in bed or in their chairs while smoking. They fell asleep and their clothing caught on fire. In the Irish case, a spark from the fireplace had probably ignited the man's clothing.

The Baby Rahul Case

     In May 2012, Rajeshawri Kamen, a 23-year-old farm worker, gave birth to a son named Rahul. The mother and her 26-year-old husband, Karnan Perumal, already had a 2-year-old girl. The couple resided in a village in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

     The baby was a month old when his parents rushed him to the hospital. According to their account of what happened, they were outside of their hut when they heard Rahul scream. They ran to him and found the baby on fire. They saw flames on his belly and right knee. The father put out the fire with a towel.

     After being treated at the local hospital and released, Baby Rahul, during the next two months, caught on fire at least three more times. The child was badly burned but survived. The couple's neighbors, believing that the baby was haunted by an evil spirit that caused the combustion, and that the fire could spread to their huts, forced Rajeshwari and her husband to move to a nearby village where Rahul caught on fire again.

     Dr. Naarayan Babu, the head of pediatrics at the Kilpaul Medical Hospital in the city of Chennai, told a reporter with The New York Times that "We are in a dilemma and haven't come to any conclusion [regarding the cause of the fires]. The parents have said that the child burned instantaneously without any provocation. We are carrying out numerous tests. We are not saying it was spontaneous human combustion until all investigations are complete."

     On August 20, 2013, the Times of India reported that upon completion of the hospital tests, doctors found no evidence of spontaneous human combustion in Baby Rahul's case. Dr. Jagan Mohan, head of the burn unit at the Kilpauk Hospital, told reporters that "There is no such thing as spontaneous human combustion. The possibility of child abuse exists and needs to be explored."

     Baby Rahul's parents denied setting fire to their baby. The boy's father, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, said, "Some people don't believe us, and I am scared to return to my village and am hoping for some government protection. There is also the fear that our child could burn once again."

     On April 15, 2015, Baby Rahul was discharged from the hospital and sent home to his parents. Police and child welfare authorities were told to monitor the child's health. After that, this mysterious case dropped out of the news.

     Since Baby Rahul was not the victim of spontaneous human combustion, he was either burned accidentally or on purpose. It's hard to image how a baby could be accidentally burned on four or more occasions. Moreover, if there was something in the home that caused the fires, why wasn't the baby's sister also burned?

     Notwithstanding forensic evidence to the contrary, there are those who still believe spontaneous human combustion is real. This is not surprising since strong opinions are not always based on what people know, but what they want to believe.

"A Reader's Manifesto": B. R. Myers Exposes Mediocre Writers Posing As Literary Lions

     In his controversial analysis of what passes for modern literary fiction, B. R. Myers, in "A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose," uses the works of prize-winning novelists Paul Auster, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, David Gusteson, and Annie Proulix as good examples of bad writing. Since I find these "great writers" virtually unreadable, I'm a big fan of Myers' 2002 book. In his Preface, Myers lays out his basic intent and theme: "In late 1989 I wrote a short book called 'Gorgons in the Pool.' Quoting lengthy passages from prize winning novels, I argued that some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks. The greater point was that we readers should treat our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion." Wow, what a refreshing and helpful idea! Finally, someone was saying that the problem isn't you, the reader--but them--the pretentious literary critics who have been for years pushing this rubbish on serious readers of fiction. Here are some passages from this honest and courageous book:

One way that contemporary writers like to lower our expectations for their work is to claim that something as inadequate as language can never do justice to the complexity of what they're trying to say.

You don't have to read anything published after 1960 to know at once what you're in for: a tale of Life in Consumerland, full of heavy irony, trite musing about advertising and materialism, and long, long lists of consumer artifacts, all dedicated to the proposition that America is a wasteland of stupefied shoppers. Critics like to call this kind of thing "edgy" writing, though how an edge can be maintained on either style or theme after fifty years of blunting is anyone's guess. This will always be foolproof subject matter for a novelist of limited gifts.

Anyone who doubts the declining literacy of book reviews need only consider how the gabbiest of all prose style is invariably praised as "lean," "spare," even "minimalist."

A thriller [genre novel] must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "literary" camp now attracts a type of writer who, under different circumstances, would never have strayed from the safest crime-novel formulae, and that so many critically acclaimed novels today are really mediocre "genre" stories told in a collection of trendy stylistic tics.

At the 1999 National Book Awards Ceremony Oprah Winfrey told of calling Toni Morrison to say she had to puzzle repeatedly over many of the latter's sentences. According to Oprah, Morrison's reply was: "That, my dear, is called reading." Sorry, my dear Toni, but it's actually called bad writing. Great prose isn't always easy but it's always lucid; no one of Oprah's intelligence ever had to puzzle over what Joseph Conrad was trying to say in a particular sentence.

The American literary press is faced with a clear choice. It can continue plugging unreadable new books until the last advertiser jumps ship, and the last of the stand-alone book-review sections is discontinued--as "The Boston Globe" was in 2001--or it can start promoting the kind of novels that will get more Americans reading again. 

Rape: A Serial Crime

The odds that any given rape was committed by a serial offender are around 90 percent.

Jon krakauer, Missoula Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, 2015

Agatha Christie on Marrying Well

An archeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she is the more interested he is in her.

Agatha Christie (1930-1976). Bestselling British mystery novelist who was married to an archeologist. 

Free Speech

Most people who profess to support and respect the constitutional right to free speech do so only when the speech in question doesn't, in some way, offend them. In reality, very few people, including journalists, truly believe in or understand the rationale for this basic constitutional safeguard against oppressive government. Perhaps the people who hate free speech the most are politicians. That's because they have so much to hide from American voters. It's been this way for a long time and seems to be getting worse because so-called journalists are now in the business of protecting these corrupt leaders.

Friday, October 15, 2021

How Many Psychiatrists Are Mentally Ill?

     Over the years, numerous studies and surveys have confirmed the conventional wisdom that people who enter the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy were mentally and emotionally disturbed as children. A relatively high percentage of these mental health professionals develop drinking problems, suffer depression, become paranoid, struggle with anxiety, and eventually become suicidal. (Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-babble and mind-talk, killed himself.)

     Authors Robert Epstein and Tim Brewer, in a July 1, 1987 Psychology Today article, wrote: "Mental health professionals are, in general, a fairly crazy lot--at least as troubled as the general population. This may sound depressing...but having crazy shrinks around is not in itself a serious problem. In fact, some experts believe that therapists who have suffered in certain ways may be the very best therapists we have."

     According to one group of researchers, while psychiatrists account for just 6 percent of all doctors, they make up 33 percent of the sexual crimes committed by doctors. This study also revealed that the percentage of sexual molestation offenses by psychiatrists is 37 times higher than that of the general public. It is not surprising that almost all psychiatrists are patients of other shrinks.

     In 2012, fifty-six-year-old Jackson Dempsey, a psychiatrist with offices in Medford, Oregon, served as the psychiatrist for Jackson County. Dempsey, who walked his dog on the national forest trails outside Ashland, did not like the mountain bikers who regularly sped past him on the downhill runs. He decided to wage a guerrilla war against the bikers.

     In June and July 2012, Dr. Dempsey strung nylon ropes across the trails in an effort to booby trap the bikers. He also littered the trials with nails, and placed tree branches in the bikers' paths. As a result of his clandestine work, three mountain bikers were injured.

     Police officers arrested Dr. Dempsey in July 2012 after a witness saw him setting a biker trap. A local prosecutor charged the shrink with assault and reckless endangerment, a pair of misdemeanor offenses.

     On May 1, 2013, Dr. Dempsey pleaded guilty in return for a 30-day sentence in the Jackson County Jail. Pursuant to his plea agreement, he apologized to the mountain bikers, his family, and the local mental health community. Dr. Dempsey resigned his position as the county psychiatrist. He was also prohibited, as a condition of his probation, from going near the national forest trails for a period of two years. He was also ordered to pay $2,400 in restitution to his victims.

     William Roussel, one of the bikers injured by a Dr. Dempsey trap, told reporters that he didn't believe that Dr. Dempsey's apology to the bikers was sincere. Another of Dr. Dempsey's mountain trail victims told a local TV reporter that, "I don't understand how someone with six to eight years of [advanced] education could...do this." There are at least two answers to that victim's question: Just because someone is well-educated doesn't mean this person is mentally sound (or for that matter, smart). Moreover, Dr. Dempsey is a member of a profession populated by nuts.

     In the fall of 2013, the Oregon Medical Board reviewed Dr. Dempsey's criminal case. While calling his behavior "dishonorable," and "detrimental to the community," the board chose not to suspend or revoke his medical license. (The board could have pulled his license and fined him up to $10,000.) In other words, Dr. Dempsey's behavior was anti-social enough to send him to jail but not bad enough to remove him from the medical profession. So much for professional standards.

     Shortly after being professionally exonerated by the medical board, Dr. Dempsey opened a private practice in Grants Pass, Oregon. 

Truth Is Often Stranger Than Fiction

In the course of a single week (July 2019) we learned that a recluse had died and was completely consumed by his dogs; a woman was arrested for living three years with her dead mother; a man murdered a woman and posted photographs of her body on social media; and a mother in a doctor's office published a video of her daughter licking a tongue dispenser and returning the tainted object to the medical supply cabinet. 

The Corpse That Wasn't Dead

     A coroner declared a 78-year-old Mississippi man dead at his home, but later, in the body bag, the man woke up. Both a hospice nurse and a family member called Holmes County Coroner Dexter Howard to say Walter Williams of Lexington had passed on February 26, 2014. As the mortician/coroner prepared the body for embalming at the funeral home a few hours later, the coroner witnessed what he described as a miracle--a leg moving from inside the zipped bag.

     The coroner watched Mr. William's chest rise and descend with every breath and called for an ambulance to take him to a hospital. He told the family the good news. [Sick people are put into an ambulance, and if they don't make it, end up riding in a hearse. Mr. Williams started out in the hearse and ended up in an ambulance.]

Nicole Hensley, "Mississipi Coroner Finds No Pulse, Then Man Wakes Up In Body Bag," New York Daily News, February 28, 2014 

Theme in Children's Literature

If an editor says your children's story is "slight," this may mean you have no significant theme. Don't blurt out your theme. Let it emerge from the story. If you must come out and say it, do it in dialogue, not narration. Avoid preaching. Children's stories should be explorations of life--not Sunday school lessons. Keep your theme positive. If writing about a special problem, offer constructive ways for your reader to deal with it.

Aaron Shepard, The Business of Writing For Children, 2000

The Pompous Writer

     Sometimes it takes courage to drop our pretensions, to choose use instead of utilize, rain instead of precipitation, arithmetic instead of computational skills. An idea expressed in simple English has to stand on its own, naked and unadorned, while ostentatious words sound impressive even when they mean nothing.

     Not all pompous writers are showing off or covering up their ignorance. Some are just timid, imagining that their ideas are flimsy or flawed or silly, even when they aren't. If you've done your homework, you shouldn't have to disguise your ideas with showy language. Be brave. Write plainly.

     The truth about big, ostentatious words is that they don't work as well as simple ones.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Pedophile Donald James Smith And The Murder Of Cherish Perriwinkle

     On Friday night, June 21, 2013, 8-year-old Cherish Perriwinkle and her mother Rayne were shopping at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida. At seven that night, 56-year-old Donald James Smith, a registered sex offender with an extensive criminal record, struck up a conversation with Rayne who informed him that she had fallen on hard times. She said she wanted to buy a dress for Charish in anticipation of a visit from the girl's father. Unfortunately, she couldn't afford the purchase. Donald Smith, a total stranger, said he wanted to help. He said he had a Walmart gift card they could use to buy food and clothing.

     Donald Smith, following a conviction in 1993 for attempted kidnapping and selling obscene materials, served five years in prison. The Jacksonville man also became a registered sex offender. In 2009, Smith was charged with felony child abuse after making obscene calls to a 10-year-old girl. In that case, he threatened to harm the victim while impersonating a social worker with the Florida Department of Children and Families. Smith eventually pleaded guilty to the felony charge and in return received a light sentence. On May 31, 2013, after serving 438 days behind bars, Smith walked out of the Jackson County Jail a free man.

     From the Dollar General store, Smith drove Cherish and Rayne Perriwinkle to a nearby Walmart. While Rayne looked at dresses, Smith, telling Cherish that he was going to buy her a meal at the in-house McDonalds, snuck off with the girl. Instead of going to McDonalds, Smith put Cherish in his white-colored van and drove off.

     At eleven o'clock that night, when Rayne Perriwinkle realized that her daughter had left Walmart with Smith, she called 911 and reported her missing. The terrified mother described Donald Smith and his van. At six the next morning, Donald Smith, his vehicle, and the missing girl were subjects of an Amber Alert.

     Just before nine that Saturday morning, a police officer investigating a traffic accident on I-95 spotted Smith's van as it passed by in the southbound lane. A few minutes later, a Jacksonville County Deputy Sheriff pulled Smith over and took him into custody. Cherish Perriwinkle was not in the van, and Smith was not talking.

     About an hour after Smith's arrest, the police received information regarding a white van that had been parked the previous night in the woods near a church four miles from the Walmart where the victim had been abducted. That tip led to the discovery, in the woods near the church, of the missing girl's corpse.

     On Sunday, June 23, 2013, Donald James Smith pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, sexual battery, and first-degree murder. The arraignment magistrate denied the registered sex offender bail.

     In May 2014, Duval County Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper set Smith's trial for October of that year. The prosecutor's office had announced its intention to seek the death penalty in the case. Smith's attorney, public defender Mark Shirk, asserted that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial, particularly in a capital case.

     In September 2014, with the mental competency issue still unresolved, the judge postponed the Smith trial to early 2015.

     Public defender Shirk, in February 2015, asked the court to remove him from the Smith case due to a conflict of interest that pertained to his representation of a man who had knowledge of Donald Smith's involvement in the Perriwinkle murder. The following month, Judge Cooper appointed Julie Schlax as Smith's new attorney. This meant another case postponement.

     In January 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Florida's death-penalty procedure of allowing a judge to decide if a person convicted of capital murder lives or dies violated a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury. A few months after the ruling, the governor signed state legislation that required at least 10 of 12 jurors to support an execution over life without parole.

     Defense attorney Schlax, prior to her client's scheduled April 2016 trial, filed a motion for an indefinite delay. Schlax argued that her client could not be legally sentenced to death because Florida's unconstitutional procedure was in effect when he was charged with first-degree murder. Judge Mallory Cooper granted the defense motion. That meant the Donald James Smith murder trial was on hold until a judge resolved this legal issue.

     In November 2017, a judge denied Smith's motion to take the death penalty off the table. The judge set Smith's trial date for February 2018.

     In May 2018, after being found guilty of first-degree murder and rape, Judge Mallory Cooper, with the support of the jury, sentenced Donald J. Smith to death.

The Fear Of Being Murdered By A Stranger

     Before I coined the term serial killer in the mid-1970s, such murders were referred to as stranger murders to differentiate them from murders in which the victim is killed by those he or she knew, usually family members.

     One reason that Jack the Ripper frightened those who heard or read about him when he was active [in 1888 London] was the notion that he killed strangers--leading to the idea that ordinary people out for a walk at night would now have to be afraid of any stranger who crossed their path. At that time, such murders were entirely uncommon in Great Britain and everywhere else. The great individual killers (as opposed to military ones) in history had been of the Bluebeard sort, those who killed their wives, one by one, or massacred their families. For most people the emotional components of intra-familial violence seemed understandable; most people, at some time or another, had considered raising an angry hand toward a spouse or a child, and could comprehend how, in a fit of rage, such an emotion could escalate into murder. But the emotional components of stranger murder seemed incomprehensible.

Robert K. Ressler, I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997

"Petty" Crime and the Quality of Life

A bored kid smashes your rural mailbox with a baseball bat. A careless woman at the supermarket lets her grocery cart roll into your car. Someone swipes a chair from your front porch. Thanks to a drive-by thief, your newspaper is not in its box. A neighbor's dog leaves a pile of himself on your freshly cut yard. You receive ten calls a day from con artists trying to get into your bank account. On the way to work you step around a drug addict passed out on the sidewalk. You can't sleep because the people living above you host loud parties (and fill your apartment with the smell of pot). If these are crimes at all, they're considered petty. Petty crimes. They are only petty, however, if they happen to someone else. In the American criminal justice system, the "petty crime" victim's perspective is all but ignored.

The Unfinished Novel

You've always wanted to write a novel, but you haven't been able to. Not yet, you haven't. Perhaps you've been too intimidated to even begin. (Who do I think I am?) Or you've started writing several novels over the years, each with abundant hope and enthusiasm, but you soon become discouraged when the characters in your head did not breathe on the page. Or maybe you keep pulling the same novel out of the desk drawer whenever you have some downtime, and you work on it again for a week or a month--you feel a feverish sense of urgency--and the novel keeps growing, year after year, but seems unwilling to resolve itself, and then, alas, the so-called real world summons you, or you lose confidence in your creative or organizational abilities, and you shove the manuscript back into the drawer and push your chair away from the annoying desk. Well, you should know that you are not alone. We've all done the same thing. Writing is hard, and it's harder for the writer than it is for anyone else.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010

Anecdotes in Fiction

Little nuggets of economy and compression, interpolated stories--anecdotes that one character tells another within the body of a narrative--change the pace of that narrative and illuminate a character who is revealed by the content of the story, by the manner of its telling, and finally by what the reader concludes about the purpose that the anecdote is intended to serve. [Most readers, I suspect, could do without these often boring and pretentious breaks in the story.]

Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer, 2006 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

"The Dingo Ate My Baby" Case

     According to Lindy Chamberlain, on August 17, 1980, while she, her husband Michael, and their three children were camping near Ayer's Rock in Australia's outback, she saw a dingo (a wild dog) come out of the family's tent with her 9-week-old baby in it's mouth. "The dingo's got my baby!" she screamed. The infant, named Azaria, was never found. The incident grabbed headlines around the world. In Australia, the media portrayed Lindy Chamberlain as a remorseless killer.

     In Darwin, at the Magistrates Court, a coroner's inquest jury found no cause to charge the parents with criminal homicide. This was not a popular verdict, and in 1981, a second coroner's jury heard evidence in the case. This time, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were ordered to stand trial for the murder of Azaria.

     Although the prosecutor lacked evidence of a crime--he didn't even have a body--the trial jury found Lindy guilty of first-degree murder. The media applauded the verdict, and the judge, bending to public opinion, sentenced her to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain, found guilty of accessory after the fact, received a suspended sentence.

     In 1985, a hiker found a piece of the baby's clothing in a dingo's den near Ayer's Rock. Presented with this new, exonerating evidence, an appellate court, in 1987, overturned the convictions. Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison. Many Australians were not happy with this decision. The following year, a movie came out about the case called "A Cry in the Dark" starring Meryl Streep as Lindy Chamberlain.

     Because many people in Australia believed that Lindy Chamberlain had murdered her baby, the authorities, in anticipation of a retrial, convened a third coroner's inquest in Darwin's Magistrates Court. The jury in the 1995 inquiry returned an open verdict, declaring the cause and manner of the baby's death unknown.

     On February 24, 2012, the Magistrates Court in Darwin was, for the fourth time, the site of a coroner's inquest into the death of the Chamberlain baby. Lindy Chamberlain had asked for the hearing to clear her name. Specifically, she wanted the coroner's jurors to change Azaria's manner of death from "unknown" to "accidental death by animal attack." Both parents, now divorced, were in the courtroom to hear testimony bearing on the case.

     According to an expert on such matters, from 1990 to 2011, there were 239 dingo attacks in Queensland, Australia. Since 1982, at least three children had been killed by wild dogs. These statistics were presented to make Lindy Chamberlain's account of her baby's death seem less farfetched. While public opinion had already shifted in her favor, she wanted to make it official.

     The coroner's verdict exonerated the Chamberlains of any wrongdoing in the death of their child. While there has never been any evidence of foul play in this case, there will always be, notwithstanding the coroner's verdict, doubters. And a lot of this doubt can be traced back to the irresponsible journalism in this case. In this regard, the case is not unlike the JonBenet Ramsey murder case in the United States.

     As late as 2016, Lindy Chamberlain was still speaking publicly about her ordeal. Surprisingly, she held no grudge against those responsible for her wrongful imprisonment.