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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Donald Williams Jr.: Dumb And Dangerous

     Donald Williams Jr., born and raised in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood to parents who physically abused him and spent their welfare money on crack, murdered a man in 1994. The 20-year-old with a low I.Q. and no idea how to make his way in civilized society, had assaulted his former girlfriend, then killed her boyfriend. Convicted of third-degree murder in 1996, the judge sentenced Williams to ten years in prison. (In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder convictions are almost always the result of plea deals.)

     Early in 2009, Williams began dating a woman from Reading, Pennsylvania named Maria Serrano. In May of that year, after letting him move in with her, Serrano kicked the 35-year-old out of her house. The infuriated ex-con took up residence in a halfway house in Reading.

     On June 25, 2009, Williams returned to Serrano's home. That night he raped her. But he didn't leave it at that. While she took a shower, he stabbed her with a screwdriver. Williams then threw the 49-year-old woman down her basement steps, doused her with gasoline, lit her up and left her for dead.

     To the 911 dispatcher, Serrano screamed, "Oh my God, I am bleeding! Hurry up! There is a fire, I am burning all over the place! There is a fire in the house! Hurry up!" Paramedics rushed the badly burned woman to the Lehigh Valley Burn Center near Allentown, Pennsylvania. On August 8, 2009, she died of her injuries.

     A Berks County prosecutor charged Williams, who was already in custody on the rape, arson, and aggravated assault charges, with first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in this case.

     The Williams trial got underway on September 12, 2013 before Berks County Judge Scott D. Keller and a jury of seven women and five men. When Assistant District Attorney Dennis J. Skayhan rested his case, there was no doubt who had tortured and murdered Maria Serrano. Before she died, the victim had identified Williams as her attacker. A state forensic expert had connected the defendant to the rape though his DNA.

     Public defender Paul Yessler put Williams on the stand. The defendant did not deny that he had raped, stabbed, and set fire to the woman he had thrown down a flight of stairs. In a bold and obvious lie that did not go over well with the jurors, Williams claimed to have "flipped-out" that night after catching Serrano having sex with his younger brother.

     Prosecutor Skayhan, as part of his closing argument, played the victim's 911 tape. Public defender Yessler, in his closing statement, emphasized the defendant's 83 I.Q., his ghetto upbringing, and his childhood abuse. In referring to Williams, Yessler said, "This guy did not have a chance from the get-go."

     Six days after the opening of the trial, the jury, after deliberating six hours, found Williams guilty of rape, arson, and first-degree murder. The defendant showed no emotion at the reading of the verdict.

     Because the prosecution sought the death penalty in this case, the judge scheduled a two-day sentence hearing. In arguing for the death sentence, prosecutor Skayhan focused on how the tortured victim had died a slow, agonizing death. Public defender Yessler, in pushing for life, highlighted the defendant's low I.Q. and inability to control his impulses.

     The jury, after deliberating two hours on the sentencing issue, informed Judge Keller that a consensus could not be reached. The judge had no choice but to sentence Donald Williams to life in prison without parole.

     In speaking directly to the convicted murderer, Judge Keller made no secret of where he stood on the question of punishment in this case. "You deserved the death penalty," he said without trying to disguise his disgust at the jury's performance. "It was torture in any man or woman's world. You inflicted a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim which is unnecessary, heinous, atrocious, and cruel."

     While few would disagree with the judge's analysis of this murderer, William's low I.Q. would probably have kept him out of the death chamber anyway. Appellate judges do not like the idea of executing mentally slow people. (It's possible that many low I.Q. defendants are simply good at playing dumb.)

The Art and Science of Crime Detection

Crime detection [in 1927] is not a secret art; anybody can do it if he has the wits, and the time, and patience to get all the facts, and if he knows enough of the ways of men and women. [That may have been true then, but not today. The modern detective must possess, among other skills and know-how, knowledge of substantive and procedural criminal law, computer navigation, forensic science, crime scene interpretation, criminology, forensic psychology, surveillance techniques, and methods of witness interview and criminal interrogation.]

Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) mystery novelist 

Take Your Thriller to Bed

Some people feel that the beach is the best place to read thrillers. They are wrong. The best place is in bed, in the wintertime, when the cold and dark match your mood--and when you are more susceptible to stories about creepy characters with unpleasant motivations.

Sarah Lyall, The New York Times Book Review, February 2, 2020

The Big Book Advance

     Within a period of four years, novelist Heather Demetrios received, for her first five books, advances amounting to $350,000. Demetrois quit her New York City job, and did not pay off her college loans. None of her novels did well. As a result, her next two advances were $35,000 and $20,000. In her August 17, 2019 article, "How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying," published in Forge, the novelist chronicled her writer's tale of woe. An excerpt:

     "If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come."

     "How would my life be different if a fellow writer or someone in the industry had told me that the money I'd be receiving for my advances was absolutely no indication of what I could make on future book deals? What pain could I have avoided if they had advised me not to spend that money as though there would be more where that came from? I suspect I may have avoided near nervous breakdown and not come so perilously close to financial ruin and creative burnout. But no one came forward."

     One could argue that people who aspire to be full time writers should first educate themselves on how publishing works. On this subject, there is a wealth of information available to aspiring writers. Moreover, publishers are not financial advisors. Apparently Demetrois wasn't taught the economics of the writing life in college.This is not surprising because liberal arts educations are not vocational, or practical. 

The 19th Century Diary

Because they had to preserve the family secrets, nineteenth-century women wrote for themselves as diarists much more frequently than they wrote memoirs. The diary allowed confidences no one else was supposed to hear. The mere act of sitting down to write an autobiography broke the code of female respectability, because doing so required a woman to believe that her direct experience, rather than her relationships with others, was what gave meaning to her life.

Jill Ker Conway, When Memory Speaks, 1998 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Richard Savage: The Classified Ad Hit Man

     In January 1985, Richard Savage, a Vietnam veteran with a criminal justice degree and a brief stint as a police officer, placed the following ad in Soldier of Fortune Magazine: "Gun-For-Hire: 37-year-old professional mercenary desires jobs. Vietnam veteran. Discrete and very private. Body guard, courier and other skills. All jobs considered."(Italics mine.) 

     In response to Richard Savage's ad, people asked him to guard gold in Alaska and to find men still missing in Vietnam. But most of the people who answered his ad wanted him to kill someone.

     Within weeks following the publishing of Savage's gun-for-hire ad, he accepted his first assignment, the murder of a 43-year-old businessman from Atlanta named Richard Braun. Savage dispatched a crew of three hit men to Atlanta to kill the murder-for-hire target.

     In June 1985, just before Mr. Braun climbed into his van, it blew up. He survived the blast, but two months later, Savage's hit men killed him with a hand grenade attached to his vehicle.

     Savage's murder-for-hire gang, in August 1985, were in Marietta, Georgia to kill Dana Free, a building contractor. Savage had been paid $20,000 for the hit by a Denver woman who was furious with Mr. Free over a business investment. Two of Savage's men planted a grenade under Mr. Free's car. The murder-for-hire target drove around for a day with the unexploded grenade attached to the underside of his vehicle. The following night, one of the hit men slid under the target's car to make adjustments. The next morning, as Mr. Free backed out of his driveway, the grenade shook loose and rolled out from under the car. After that, Mr. Free got the message that someone was trying to kill him. He went into hiding.

     In late August 1985, Richard Savage accepted a murder assignment from Larry Gray who wanted his ex-wife's boyfriend, a Fayetteville, Arkansas law student named Doug Norwood, killed. In October 1985, when Doug Norwood started his car in a University of Arkansas parking lot, it exploded. The law student escaped the blast with minor injuries.

     In January 1986, as Doug Norwood drove from his home to the university, he realized he was being followed. The murder-for-hire target called the campus police department and officers pulled over the suspicious vehicle. From the car, officers recovered a machine gun and arrested the driver, Michael Wayne Jackson, a member of Richard Savage's murder crew.

     When questioned by the police, Michael Jackson confessed that he had been hired by Richard Savage to kill Doug Norwood. According to Jackson, the mastermind, Larry Gray, had found Richard Savage through his gun-for-hire ad in Soldiers of Fortune magazine.

     In the spring of 1986, Michael Wayne Jackson and Richard Savage were convicted of a murder unrelated to the Doug Norwood case. The judge sentenced Savage 40 years in prison. A year later, Savage was convicted of the attempted murder of Doug Norwood and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

     In 1986, Soldier of Fortune magazine discontinued publishing the gun-for-hire ads.

     Doug Norwood, in January 1987, sued Soldier of Fortune for publishing Richard Savage's ad. Attorneys for the magazine filed a motion to dismiss the suit on grounds the First Amendment right to free speech protected the magazine. The judge denied the magazine's First Amendment claim.

     In 1989, Richard Savage and three members of his crew were convicted of the 1985 bombing murder of Atlanta businessman Richard Braun. Mr. Braun's son, in 1990, filed a wrongful death suit against Soldier of Fortune magazine for running the hit man's classified ad. In 1991, a jury in Atlanta awarded the plaintiff $12 million. The trial judge later reduced the damages to $4.3 million. An appeals court, in 1992, upheld the wrongful death verdict. In so doing, the appellate judge wrote:"The publisher could recognize the offer of criminal activity as readily as its readers obviously did."

     In August 1992, the magazine settled the Doug Norwood lawsuit out of court.

     Beginning in April 2016, after 40 years of publishing the magazine in print form, Soldier of Fortune became an online magazine. At its peak in the mid-1980s, the magazine sold 150,000 copies a month. 

The Homeless Problem

Most people are homeless because they are mentally ill, have a personality disorder, or are addicted to drugs. Everyone knows that. These seriously impaired people can't afford places to live because they are unemployed, and they are unemployed because of the way they are. Homelessness didn't cause their afflictions, it's the other way around. Therefore, giving them places to live will not solve their problems. In their houses, apartments, and homeless shelters they will still have personality disorders, be mentally ill, and/or abuse drugs. Homelessness can't be eradicated without fixing the people who are homeless. If for any reason that can't be accomplished, then there is no solution to the problem. While this is so obviously true, no politician will come on television and acknowledge that the lack of housing isn't the problem. These people are the problem. For society's sake, they need to be gathered up and cared for in shelters and other institutions. Politicians won't say this because it is true, and in politics, nothing kills a career more than telling the truth. As long as the country is run by hacks, incompetents, and crooks, vast numbers of people living on sidewalks, beaches, parks, and beneath interstate overpasses will remain a part of our national landscape. 

Crime Myths

In order for the momentum of a crime myth to be prolonged…myths must be accompanied by certain characterizations. Momentum is achieved if the crime problem has traits that either instill fear or threaten the vast majority of society in some appreciable way. Not unlike Greek mythology, modern crime myths must follow certain themes for success. There must be "virtuous' heroes, "innocent" victims, and "evil" villains who pose a clear and certain threat to the audience. Only then can a crime myth reach its potential. [There were two crime myths that dominated the 1980s: hundreds of serial killers running loose, and an epidemic of stranger kidnappings of children. More recently: the myth of a growing army of zombie meth and bath salts addicts roaming our streets in search of victims.]

Victor E. Kappeler, Mark Blumberg and Gary W. Potter, The Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice, Third Edition, 2000

Don't Show Your First Draft to Anyone

I would advise the beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them--without a thought about publication--and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.

Anne Tyler, 2001

The Appeal of The Flawed Character

     No one wants to read about perfect characters. Since no reader is perfect, there is nothing more disagreeable than spending free time immersed in a story about an individual who leaps tall buildings of emotion, psyche, body, and spirit in a single bound. Would anyone want a person as a friend, tediously perfect in every way? Probably not. Thus, a character possessing perfection in one area should possess imperfection in another area.

     Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood this, which is one of the reasons that his Sherlock Holmes has stood the test of time for more than one hundred years and counting. Holmes has the perfect intellect. The man is a virtual machine of cogitation. But he's an emotional black hole incapable of a sustained relationship with anyone except Dr. Watson, and on top of that, he abuses drugs. He has a series of rather quirky habits, and he's unbearably supercilious. As a character "package," he emerges unforgetably from the pages of Conan Doyle's stories. Consequently, it's difficult to believe that any reader of works written in English might not know who Sherlock Holmes is.
Elizabeth George, Write Away, 2004

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Hickory Street Four Murder Case

     On the night of January 9, 2013, 24-year-old Joshua Miner and his girlfriend, Alisa Massaro, 18, were drinking and doing drugs at a house in Joliet, Illinois, a town of 150,000 forty miles southwest of Chicago. They were partying in Massaro's Hickory Street home where she resided with her father, Phillip. Bethany McKee, an 18-year-old who lived in Shorewood, Illinois was at the booze and drug party as well. Adam Landerman, a 19-year-old whose father worked as a sergeant with the Joliet Police Department, rounded out the group. Mr. Massaro, the father of the host, was in the house that night.

     Joshua Miner, the oldest partygoer, possessed a serious criminal record. When he was sixteen he pleaded guilty to filming a child pornography video. In 2010, a jury convicted him of residential burglary. Instead of prison, the judge enrolled the heavy drug user into a boot camp program As the oldest and most criminally experienced member of the party group, Miner assumed the role of leader.

     Later that evening, Joshua Miner invited two more people to the Hickory Street house. These young men, Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin, were acquainted with the party attendees. The 22-year-old men no idea what lay in store for them.

     On Friday, January 11, 2013, Bethany McKee's father, a resident of Shorewood, Illinois, reported to the police that his daughter had just called him with a disturbing request. She and her friends needed help in disposing of the bodies of two men murdered a day or so earlier in the house on Hickory Street.

     When the Joliet police stormed into the Massaro home, they found two of the original partygoers, Minder and Landerman, still boozing it up, snorting cocaine, and playing video games. Eric Glover and Terrence Rankin were in the house as well, but they were dead. Both men had been strangled, and someone and had tied plastic bags around their heads.

     Bethany McKee had left the house before the police stormed into the dwelling. Police officers picked her up a short time later in Kankakee, Illinois. Alisa Massaro's father, the owner of the dwelling, was at the murder scene when police raided the house.

     Not long after being taken into custody, the four partygoers opened-up to detectives about the double murder. Joshua Miner informed his interrogators that he had lured Glover and Rankin to the party by giving them the impression they would be having sex with Massaro and McKee. Once in the house, Miner and Landerman strangled the victims to death. The victims were killed for their cash and drugs.

     Miner said he planned to dismember the bodies and dump the remains in a river or lake, or put the body parts into trash bags and curb them in another town on garbage day. Landerman, in furtherance of the garbage disposal plan, had purchased rubber gloves, bleach, a saw, and a blow torch. Police arrested the men before they had the chance to dismember the victims for disposal.

     Joshua Miner, in confessing to detectives, painted Alisa Massaro as a woman as depraved and sexually deviant as himself. According to the 24-year-old child pornographer, Alisa had fantasized about having sex with a dead man. (I'm not sure how that would work.) After Miner and the police officer's son strangled the victims, they lined-up their bodies side-by-side and covered them with a blanket. Miner and Massaro then engaged in sex on top of the corpses.

     Bethany McKee, the 18-year-old who had asked her father for help in disposing of the bodies, told detectives that Joshua Miner had planned to save the victims' teeth as trophies. After helping Miner murder Glover and Rankin, Adam Landerman, according to McKee, danced around the room and speculated about how much money the dead men carried in their pockets. Miner and Landerman then drove off in Eric Glover's car to score cocaine from Miner's drug supplier.

     On Monday, January 14, 2013, a Will County prosecutor charged the four suspects with two counts each of first-degree murder. The judge set bail for each defendant at $10 million. Fortunately for these defendants, Illinois did not have the death penalty. In the the local media, the accused killers were referred to as the "Hickory Street Four." The sensational nature of the case led to a court battle over how much information the authorities were allowed to share with reporters. Not long after the arrests, a judge issued a gag order in the case.

     In May 2014, Alisa Massaro, the daughter of the man who owned the Hickory Street house, pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery and two counts of concealing a homicide. Will County Judge Gerald Kinney sentenced her to ten years in prison. Given time served and other factors, Massaro could be out of prison in less than four years. As part of the plea deal, Massaro agreed to testify against the other three defendants at their upcoming murder trials.

     Joshua Miner and Bethany McKee, in separate murder trials in November 2014, were found guilty and sentenced to life without parole. The jury, in June 2015, found Adam Landerman guilty as charged. The Will County judge sentenced him to life without parole.    

Public Hangings

In Western communities [in the U.S.], lynchings were the preeminent social event, especially if the bank robber was well known. A local holdup man, or a stranger who had received enough publicity, could and did draw a crowd. Vendors sold popcorn, flags, peanuts, and cold drinks, giving the event a carnival atmosphere. Many small towns didn't have a court system, so there were a lot of impromptu executions. For towns that did have a sitting judge these hangings could be advertised a week or two in advance in order to give people a chance to attend. Hangings were a big boost to the local economy and a good chance for neighbors to get together. Of course, more than a few hasty hangings were not done in a professional manner, and many a bad guy slowly strangled to death with a sizable audience looking on.

L. R. Kirchner, Robbing Banks, 2003

Registered Sex Offenders

As of fall 2019, there were an estimated 752,000 people listed on state sex offender registries. Most people are so registered in Texas followed by California, New York, and Michigan. The District of Columbia and Vermont had the lowest number of registered sex offenders. These figures do not include people listed on the federal sex offender registry. If our criminal justice system was more concerned about the victims of these people, instead of being on lists, many of these predators would be in prison.

Protecting Items Shoplifters Want

     In our anything-goes time, shoplifting forbidden objects is more difficult than you might think. Take cigarettes: A lot of people used to shoplift them, particularly young people. That is no longer possible now that the law mandates that cigarettes be placed behind the cash register. You have to commit an armed robbery to steal smokes. Or take pornographic magazines, once widely stolen. Today, with Internet porn available at the click of a mouse, why bother shoplifting Playboy?

     But take condoms. After two decades of selling them on the open shelves, chain pharmacies, citing shoplifting in the 1990s, began locking them up. In the spring of 2006, an article about CVS doing so in its twenty-two D.C. stores appeared in The Washington Post.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011 

Everyone Has an Idea for a Novel

Getting ideas is the least difficult part of the fiction writing process. What's hard, really hard, is making those ideas come together in a well-conceived, compelling story. So many of these ideas that seem wonderful at first blush end up leading nowhere. They won't sustain the weight of a story. They won't spin out past a few pages. They won't lead to something insightful and true.

Terry Brooks, Sometimes the Magic Works, 2005 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Robert Girts: The Husband From Hell

     In 1992, Robert Girts and his third wife Diane lived in a house connected to a Parma, Ohio funeral home that employed the 42-year-old mortician as director and embalmer. On the morning of September 2, 1992, Girts and a couple of his friends were driving back to Parma from nearby Cleveland where they had been helping Girts' brother move. That day, Diane Girts didn't show up for her job that started at noon. A fellow employee, worried because she was never late for work, phoned the funeral home. A funeral company employee checking on Diane noticed that her car was still in the driveway. He went to the front entrance of the dwelling and called to her through the screen door. When she didn't answer he entered the house and found Diane's nude body in the bathtub. She had been dead for several hours.

     The death scene investigation revealed no evidence of foul play such as a burglary or signs of physical trauma. Moreover, detectives found no indication of suicide such as pills or a note. A forensic pathologist with the Cuyahoga County Coroner's Office performed the autopsy. Because the dead woman's post-mortem lividity featured a cherry color rather than purplish red, the forensic pathologist considered the possibility she had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The pathologist, however, ruled out this cause of death when Diane's blood-carbon monoxide level tested normal. Following standard autopsy protocol, the forensic pathologist secured a sample of the subject's stomach contents--an undigested meal of pasta salad--for toxicological analysis. (The undigested meal suggested Diane had been dead for more than twelve hours.) As a result of the inconclusive nature of the autopsy, the Cuyahoga Coroner ruled Diane Girts' death "undetermined."

     On September 20, 1992, 18 days after the funeral home employee discovered Diane Girts's body in the bathtub, Robert Girts contacted a detective working on the case to inform him that he had discovered a handwritten note that indicated that his wife had killed herself. In that document she had supposedly written: "I hate Cleveland. I hate my job. I hate myself."

     Robert Girts, the grieving husband, in his effort to control the direction of the investigation of his wife's sudden and unexplained death, informed detectives that she had been despondent over their recent move to Parma. Also, she had been having trouble with her weight and suffered depression over a series of miscarriages that suggested she wouldn't be able to give birth.

     The toxicological analysis of the decedent's stomach contents revealed the presence of cyanide at twice the lethal dose. Based on this finding, the coroner changed the manner of Diane Girts' death criminal homicide.

     In January 1993, a chemist acquainted with Robert Girts told detectives that at Girt's request in the spring of 1992, she had sent him two grams of potassium cyanide. Girts said he needed the poison to deal with a groundhog problem. Investigators believed the suspect had acquired the cyanide to deal with a wife problem. Detectives also knew that potassium cyanide was not used in the embalming process.

     Investigators learned that the murder suspect, in February 1992, had resumed an affair with an interior designer who had broken off the relationship after learning he was married. To get this woman back, Girts had assured her that he and Diane would be divorced by July 1992. Two months after Diane turned up dead in her bathtub, Girts informed his girlfriend that his wife had died from an aneurysm. Detectives considered Girts' relationship with this woman, along with monetary gain, the motive for the murder. Upon Diane's death he had received $50,000 in life insurance.

     Investigators digging into Girts' personal history in search of clues of past homicidal behavior discovered that in the late 1970s his first wife Terrie (nee Morris) had died at the age of 25. After the couple returned to Girt's hometown of Poland, Ohio after living in Hawaii, Terrie's feet swelled up and she became lethargic. In the hospital following a blood clot she slipped into a coma and died. Members of Terrie's family, who had tried to talk her out of marrying Robert Girts in the first place, wanted her body autopsied out of suspicion she had been poisoned. Robert wouldn't allow it.

     On Terrie's death certificate, the coroner listed the cause of death as a swollen heart. (That didn't make sense on its face because a "swollen heart" is not a cause of death.) Investigators learned that Girts' second wife had divorced him. Prior to her death, she had accused him of physical abuse.

     In 1993, as part of the investigation of Diane Girts's death by poisoning, Terrie Girts' body was exhumed and autopsied. While the forensic pathologist concluded that she had not died of a swollen heart, he could not find evidence that she had been poisoned. The fact Terrie had spent a month in the hospital before she died accounted for the fact there were no traces of poison in her body. Moreover, she had been dead fifteen years and had been embalmed.

     Charged with the murder of his wife Diane, Robert Girts went on trial in the summer of 1993. Except for a confession the defendant had allegedly made to an inmate in the Cuyahoga County Jail, the prosecution's case was circumstantial.

     After the prosecution rested its case, Girts took the stand and denied murdering his wife. On cross-examination the prosecutor asked the defendant if he had confessed to another inmate. The defense attorney objected to this line of questioning on the ground it was prejudicial. The judge overruled the objection. When the prosecutor asked this question again, Girts denied making the jailhouse confession. At that point, the idea that the defendant had confessed to an inmate had been planted in the minds of the jurors.

     The Cuyahoga County jury found Robert Girts guilty of poisoning his wife Diane to death. The judge sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole after twenty years. (This would have made him eligible for parole in 2013.)

     Girts appealed his murder conviction to the Eighth District Court of Appeals in Cuyahoga County on the grounds that the trial judge should not have allowed the prosecutor, on cross-examination, to bring up the alleged jailhouse confession. On July 28, 1994, the state appellate court agreed. Citing prosecutorial misconduct, the justices overturned Girt's murder conviction.

     At his retrial in 1995, Robert Girts did not take the stand on his own behalf. The prosecutor, in his closing argument to the jury, cited the defendant's refusal to testify as evidence of his guilt. The second Cuyahoga County jury found Girts guilty of murder. This time Girts appealed his conviction on grounds that by referring to his decision not to take the stand in his own defense, the prosecutor had violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination. On July 24, 1997, the state appeals court upheld the conviction.

     In 2005, after serving 12 years behind bars at the Oakwood Correctional Facility in Lima, Ohio, Girts appealed his 1995 murder conviction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Two years later, the federal appeals court, on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, reversed Girts' second murder conviction. The justices did not, however, order his immediate release from prison. But if the authorities didn't try him by October 11, 2008, he would be set free on $100,000 bond. When the prosecutors in Ohio failed to bring Girts to trial for the third time within the 180-day deadline, the twice-convicted killer walked out of prison.

     Robert Girts returned to Poland, a bedroom community south of Youngstown, Ohio. He moved in with a relative, and for a time reported twice a month to a probation officer at the Community Corrections Association. In the meantime, he filed a motion asking the appeals court to bar a third murder trial on grounds of double jeopardy. In March 2010, the federal appeals court denied Girts' motion The decision paved the way for a third murder trial.

     After his release from prison in November 2008, Girts married a woman named Ruth he met through the Internet. They lived in a trailer park in Brookfield, Ohio. On August 5, 2012, Ruth, a nurse who had just landed a job at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) in nearby Farrell, Pennsylvania, called her supervisor to say she was quitting because she was being stalked by her husband. Ruth told the supervisor she was afraid for her life, and was in hiding.

     The UPMC nursing supervisor passed this information on to the Southwest Regional Police Department in Belle Vernon. An officer with that agency relayed the report to Dan Faustino, the Brookfield Chief of Police.

     Brookfield officers drove out to the Girts' residence to check on Ruth Girts. Robert Girts met the officers at the dwelling. He said his wife wasn't there, and that he had no idea where she was. He consented to a search of the house which confirmed his wife's absence. Later that day, a Brookfield police officer contacted Ruth by phone. She told him she had quit her nursing job in Farrell in order to hide from her husband. She said he had threatened to kill her. Ruth was so afraid of Robert she even refused to tell the officer where she was hiding. Ruth did inform him of her husband's two murder trials in Cuyahoga County. This led Chief Faustino to inform the authorities in Cuyahoga County of the unfolding developments regarding Robert Girts in Brookfield, Ohio and Farrell, Pennsylvania. 

     On August 9, 2012, a judge granted a Cuyahoga County prosecutor's motion to convene an emergency bond revocation hearing. In light of Robert Girts' alleged threats against his wife Ruth, the authorities wanted him back behind bars. After hearing testimony from officials familiar with Robert Girts' murder trials and appeals, and Ruth Girts' recent accusations against him, the judge did not revoke his $100,000 bond. Instead, the magistrate restricted Girts' travel to destinations in Mahoning County where he lived. He could also travel to Cuyahoga County to attend scheduled court appearances. The judge ordered Girts to stay away from his wife.

     As the new phase of the Robert Girts murder saga unfolded, his 59-year-old wife remained in hiding.

     In January 2013, Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Jackson remanded Girts' bond and ordered him back to jail. Girts had been visiting  Ruth at her new job. On each occasion he brought her coffee. After drinking the coffee, Ruth would feel ill and vomit. Investigators believed Girts was poisoning her with antifreeze. (He had searched the Internet under the word "antifreeze.") Girts told detectives that his dog had stepped in the antifreeze and he was interested in the side effects. He also explained that he had been contemplating using antifreeze to kill himself. Ruth Girts did not seek medical treatment, or submit to toxicological tests.

     On January 31, 2014, in an effort to avoid a third trial for murdering his wife Diane in 1992, Girts pleaded guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. In open court he described how he had put cyanide in a saltshaker to poison her. Girts also pleaded guilty to insurance fraud.

     Following his guilty pleas, the authorities returned Girts to prison to serve a sentence of six to thirty years. The Ohio Parole Board, in August 2014, ruled that Girts would not be eligible for parole until 2023.

     Girts' attorney's filed an appeal with the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals arguing that the six to thirty year sentence was based on the wrong set of sentencing guidelines. Instead of using the sentencing rules applicable for 2014, the judge should have sentenced Girts to the guidelines in place in 1992, the time of the crime. The appellate judges agreed and set aside Girts' guilty plea and his sentence. In November 2015, the state supreme court declined to consider the case which meant that the appellate decision stood.

     On December 18, 2015, in a Cleveland court room, Robert Girts, in connection with the death of Diane Girts, pleaded guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and insurance fraud. The judge sentenced him to 12 years but gave him credit for time already served. That meant that Mr. Girts would remain a free man.

Crime in America

The founders [of our nation] would be astounded and alarmed at the level of serious crime in contemporary society. They could not have imagined that crime, and the fear of it, would so dominate people's daily habits and the political life of the nation. By their standards, they would certainly be gravely worried about the fate of the democracy they had worked so hard to establish.

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 1998

Language Over Story

If a novelist cares more for his language than for other elements of fiction, if he continually calls our attention away from the story to himself, we call him "mannered" and eventually we tire of him.

 John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist, 1983

Stephen King On What Is Good Fiction

Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Creating Vivid Characters

If you can't create characters that are vivid in the reader's imagination, you can't create a good novel. Characters are to a novelist what lumber is to a carpenter and what bricks are to a bricklayer. Characters are the stuff out of which a novel is constructed.

James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II, 1994

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Albert Hamilton: Courtroom Charlatan

     In 1908, Albert Hamilton self-published a brochure about himself called, That Man From Auburn.  In this piece of self-advertisement, the druggist from Auburn, New York presented himself as an expert in chemistry, microscopy, handwriting identification, ink analysis, photography, fingerprints, and forensic toxicology. He also claimed expertise in the fields of gunshot wounds, bullet identification, blood stain analysis, cause of death determination, anatomy, embalming, and toxicology. To match his impressive qualifications, he awarded himself a medical degree, and from then on was known as Dr. Hamilton.

     Hamilton came into prominence in 1915 when he testified for the prosecution as a firearms identification expert in a rural New York murder case. The defendant, Charlie Stielow, an illiterate farmhand who stood accused of shooting to death the elderly couple who owned the farm where he worked, was facing the death sentence. The jury found Stielow guilty of first-degree murder on the strength of a coerced confession, and the testimony of Albert Hamilton who identified a defect inside the barrel of the defendant's .22-caliber revolver as having left its individualistic mark on one of the fatal bullets. Having earned $50 a day for his work on the case, Hamilton impressed the jury with his enlarged photographs of the murder bullet. It all looked quite scientific.

     In reality, Hamilton's testimony was pure hokum. The science of firearms identification, as it came to be practiced in the mid-1930s, did not exist in 1915. The comparison microscope, an instrument essential to the comparison and analysis of firearms evidence, was invented in 1926. Nevertheless, Hamilton assured the jurors that the fatal bullet had been fired from the defendant's handgun. His findings went unchallenged by the defense, and no one seemed to notice that he hadn't even test-fired the so-called murder weapon. The judge sentenced Stielow to death.

    Two years later, after pair of felons confessed to the murder, the governor of New York formed a commission to review the case. The governor appointed Charles Waite, an investigator in the New York State Attorney General's office, to lead the inquiry. Waite took Stielow's revolver to a New York City police detective who knew about guns. An examination of the weapon convinced the officer that the revolver had not been fired in years. Moreover, a naked eye examination of the bullets the New York police officer test-fired from the .22-caliber revolver showed vastly different barrel marks than those on the murder slugs.

     As a result of these and other post-conviction findings, the governor granted Charlie Stielow, and another defendant in the case, full pardons. Charles Waite, having been introduced to the possibilities of forensic firearms identification, went on to become a prominent practitioner in the field. In 1922, he formed the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York City. The bureau, the first of its kind, was taken over in 1926 by Dr. Calvin Goddard, an Army surgeon and ordinance officer from Baltimore who became the most important and qualified firearms identification expert in the world.

     In 1923, two Italian-American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemo Vanzetti, were convicted of shooting a factory paymaster and his bodyguard to death in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The defendants' attorneys were seeking grounds for a new trial, and called upon the services of Albert Hamilton. Since the Sacco-Vanzetti case had been grabbing headlines for months, Hamilton eagerly got involved in the case.

     Nicola Sacco's conviction was based chiefly on the testimony of three firearms identification witnesses who said the bullet that killed the guard had been fired from his Colt .32-caliber handgun. The experts also believed that the gun the police found on Vanzetti had belonged to the slain guard.

     After examining the firearms evidence, Hamilton reported that the fatal bullet had not been fired from Sacco's gun, and the weapon that had been in Vanzetti's possession was not the weapon that had once belonged to the bodyguard. Relying on Albert Hamilton's report, the Sacco-Vanzetti defense team filed a motion for a new trial. To counter the motion, the prosecution acquired the services of two experts who had not testified at the trial.

     In November 1933, during the hearing on the motion for the new trial, Hamilton conducted an in-court demonstration involving two new Colt revolvers, and Sacco's handgun. The two Colt .32-caliber demonstration revolvers belonged to Hamilton. In front of the judge, and lawyers for both sides, Hamilton disassembled all three revolvers and placed their parts in three piles on the defense table. He then explained the functions of each part, and demonstrated how they were interchangeable. After reassembling the handguns, Hamilton placed the two new weapons back into his pocket, and handed Sacco's Colt to the court clerk. Before he left the courtroom, the judge asked Hamilton to leave his two guns behind.

     Several months later, when the judge asked one of the prosecution firearms experts to reinspect Sacco's revolver, the expert discovered that the barrel to Sacco's gun was brand new. Following an inquiry, Albert Hamilton admitted that the new barrel on Sacco's Colt had come from one of his revolvers. Although it was obvious to everyone that Hamilton had made the switch, presumably with a mistrial in mind, he denied any wrongdoing. Hamilton continued his association with the Sacco-Vanzetti defense, but he no longer played an important role in the case. He had destroyed his credibility as a firearms expert and witness.

     The Sacco-Vanzetti motion for a new trial was denied, and in 1927, the two men died in the electric chair. Prior to their deaths, Dr. Calvin Goddard, the most qualified firearms identification expert in the world, stated that Sacco's gun had in fact been the murder weapon. (Several modern firearms identification experts have examined the ballistics evidence in the case, and agree with Dr. Goddard's findings.)

     The barrel-switching incident in the Sacco-Vanzetti case apparently had little effect on Hamilton's phony career as a forensic scientist. Eight years after the Sacco-Vanzetti debacle, he testified for the defense in a New York murder case. In 1932, Stephen Witherell murdered his father, Charles. The defendant admitted shooting his father at point blank range with a Remington rifle he had stolen from his cousin. An expert with the New York City Police Department identified this rifle as the murder weapon.

     By the time the trial rolled around, Stephen Witherell had recanted his confession. He took the stand on his own behalf and denied shooting anyone. In fact, he denied the body in question was even his father's. (Decomposition and the massive gunshot wound to the victim's head had made the corpse unrecognizable.) Albert Hamilton took the stand, and testified that there were two gunshot wounds on the body: the head wound caused by a rifle, and a wound on the victim's hand, made by a handgun. Actually, there was no hand wound at all. The victim had lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Once again, Hamilton had proven that he was incompetent, and a charlatan.

     In 1934, Hamilton tried to insert himself in the Lindbergh kidnapping case by identifying a man named Manny Strewl as the writer of the ransom letters. Hamilton was not a qualified questioned document expert, and the writer of the extortion notes turned out to be Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The carpenter from the Bronx, an illegal alien from Germany with a criminal history in his home country, was executed in 1936 for the murder of the Lindbergh baby.

     Albert Hamilton continued to disgrace himself as an expert witness in several forensic fields for another ten years, making him one of the most notorious forensic charlatans in American history. If there is anything to learn from this man's career, it is that the woods are full of phony experts, and if judges let down their guards, we will have charlatans in our court rooms, and baloney in our verdicts.   

W.H. Auden on Murder

Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness. It is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) English-American poet

Plots Need Emotion and Action

There's a difference between an emotional plot and an action plot. If you write stories with emotional plots, it's really hard to get the other. But you've got to have both. The reader gets attached to all the characters, so there's emotional growth and inner turmoil. But it's triggered by something with such great dramatic possibilities. You have to have that outer tension of some kind. It doesn't have to be something cliche, like a car chase. But you need something on the outside. You can't just have inner tension.

Patricia Henley in Novel Ideas, Barbara Shoup and Margaret Love Denman, editors, 2001 

A Contemporary Review of a Future Classic

Whitney Balliett reviewed a novel for The New Yorker in 1961, saying, "[The author] wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." The book was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

"Of the Coming of John" by W.E.B. Du Bois

     In 1903, W.E.B, Du Bois included in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, a brilliant but haunting short story, "Of the Coming of John." In Du Bois's story, a young black man in coastal Georgia is sent off hundreds of miles to a school that trains black teachers. The entire black community where he was born had raised the money for his tuition. The community invests in John so that he can one day return and teach African American children who are barred from attending the public school. Casual and fun-loving, John almost flunks out of his new school until he considers the trust he's been given and the shame he would face if he returned without graduating. Newly focused, sober, and intensely committed to succeed, he graduates with honors and returns to his community intent on changing things.

     John convinces the white judge who controls the town to allow him to open a school for black children. His education has empowered him, and he has strong opinions about racial freedom and equality that land him and the black community in trouble. The judge shuts down the school when he hears what John's been teaching. John walks home after the school's closing frustrated and distraught. On the trip home he sees his sister being groped by the judge's adult son and he reacts violently, striking the man in the head with a piece of wood. John continues home to say goodbye to his mother. Du Bois ends the tragic story when the furious judge catches up with John with the lynch mob he has assembled.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014

Monday, November 22, 2021

Grace Anne Hall's Unusual Death

     Twenty-three-year-old Grace Anne Hall was last seen at eight o'clock on the evening of March 20, 2013. She was driving her 1997 silver-gray Toyota Camry in the Serra Mesa section of San Diego, California. The five-foot-seven, 150-pound blonde with tattoos on her upper back was reportedly on her way to an unknown location in the Los Angeles area city of Sherman Oaks for a job interview.

     According to detectives with the San Diego Police Department, Hall used her credit card in the Mira Mesa part of San Diego one week after her disappearance.

     On April 18, 2013, at nine-thirty in the morning, a San Diego patrol officer spotted Hall's Toyota parked in front of the Grab-n-Go Sub Shop in the Kearny Mesa community. According to witnesses, the vehicle had been sitting there for a week.

     When homicide investigators opened the Toyota's trunk, they discovered Hall's remains. An autopsy conducted by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office revealed no sighs of external trauma on Hall's body. In other words, she had not been bludgeoned, stabbed, strangled or shot.    

     Pending the results of toxicology tests, detectives began to consider the possibility of suicide. Hall's father, who she had been living with at the time of her disappearance, said the victim had been unemployed and was despondent. According to Lieutenant Jorge Duran of the San Diego Police Homicide Unit, "The more we discuss the case the more it seems this was not a homicide."

     On June 30, 2013, the San Diego County Medical Examiner announced the cause of Grace Anne Hall's death as acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Because she had ingested a quantity of automobile antifreeze, the medical examiner ruled the manner of death in this highly unusual case as suicide.

     According to suicide experts, it is extremely rare for a person to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. 

Kevin Wallin: "Monsignor Meth"

     In 1996, Father Kevin Wallin became pastor of the St. Peter's Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut. Six years later, the 50-year-old priest was transferred to the St. Augustine Parish in Bridgeport. Citing health and personal problems, Father Wallin asked for and was granted a sabbatical in July 2011. A year later, the Diocese of Bridgeport suspended Wallin from public ministry.

     While performing his duties as a Catholic priest, Father Wallin was buying and selling crystal methamphetamine out of his apartment in Waterbury.

     From September 20, 2012 to January 3, 2013, a state narcotics undercover agent purchased 23 grams of crystal meth from Wallin in six transactions. Because the priest was part of an interstate drug operation, the state turned the case over to the FBI.

     On January 3, 2013, FBI agents who had been working with the state drug task force arrested Father Wallin at his Waterbury apartment where searchers recovered a quantity of meth, drug paraphernalia, and drug packaging materials.

     Based on the state undercover buys, federal wiretaps, and informant drug purchases, Father Wallin was charged with the federal offense of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams of crystal meth. Four co-conspirators in California, between June and December 2012, had mailed the priest $300,000 worth of meth.

     Dubbed by the local media as "Monsignor Meth," Father Wallin also owned an adult video and sex toy shop in North Haven, Connecticut. 

     On April 2, 2013, the defrocked Wallin pleaded guilty before a federal judge in Hartford, Connecticut. Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge, on June 25, 2013 sentenced the 61-year-old drug dealer to 11 to 14 years in prison.

     In 2017, Kevin Wallin was let out of prison and placed on supervised release. In April 2018, Wallin failed a drug test, but instead of being sent back to prison, was placed on home confinement and ordered to enter a drug treatment program. Five months later, after failing another drug test, the federal judge send Wallin back to prison for another nine months.

Above the Law: The Jeffery Epstein Case

Perhaps the most important lesson of the Jeffery Epstein sex trafficking case is that the American criminal justice system does not come close to our founding fathers' concept that we are all equal under the law, and that no one is above the law. Moreover, it reminds us of the decadence of the rich and powerful in this country. Unfortunately, it has always been this way and will probably remain so. This criminal justice double standard will continue because the rich and powerful control our politicians. In other words, certain privileged criminal degenerates avoid justice.

The Key Element of Mystery Fiction

     Investigation is the meat and potatoes of mystery fiction. The sleuth talks to people, does research, snoops around, and makes observations. Facts emerge. Maybe an eyewitness gives an account of what he saw. A wife has unexplained bruises on her face. The brother of a victim avoids eye contact with his questioner. A will leaves a millionaire's estate to an obscure charity. A bloody knife is found in a laundry bin. A love letter is discovered tucked into last week's newspaper.

     Some facts will turn out to be clues that lead to the killer's true identity. Some will turn out to be red herrings--evidence that leads in a false direction. On top of that, a lot of the information your sleuth notes will turn out to be nothing more that the irrelevant minutiae of everyday life inserted into the scenes to give a sense of realism and camouflage the clues.

Hallie Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005

The Classic Short Story

There is something about the pace of the short story that catches the tempo of this country. If it is written with sincerity and skill it portrays a mood, a character, a background, or a situation. Sometimes it is not only typically American, it is universal in its feeling; sometimes its inherent truth is not a thing of the month, but of the years. When this is true, that short story is genuinely a classic as any novel or play.

Edna Ferber, One Basket, 1964 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Kurt Myers Killing Spree

      There there has been, over the years, several spree-shooting cases involving elderly white men. Generally, this is not a demographic usually associated with criminal homicide. What drives these older men to mass murder?

     At nine-thirty in the morning of Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 64-year-old Kurt Myers started a fire in his apartment building in the upstate New York village of Mohawk, 65 miles east of Syracuse. The tense, jittery loner with a full white beard was not married, and seldom spoke to his neighbors. Other than an old DUI arrest, he did not have a history with the police.

     After starting the fire, Myers walked around the corner to John's Barber Shop. He entered the place carrying a shotgun. Speaking to the  owner, John Seymour, Myers said, "Hi John, do you remember me?"

      "Yes, Kurt, how are you?"

     Without saying more, Myers raised his shotgun and shot the barber, wounding him severely but not killing him. Myers then fired on the three customers in the shop. Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, were killed on the spot. Ransear had been a retired corrections officer. Dan Haslauer, the third customer, was shot in the hand and hip. He survived the shotgun blasts.

     Having murdered two men and injuring two others, Myers climbed into his red Jeep and drove to Herkimer, a town of 7,770 one mile from Mohawk. At Gaffey's Fast Lube, he shot and killed employee Thomas Stefka, and a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections named Michael Renshaw. All of the shootings appeared random.

     By that Wednesday afternoon, a small army of police officers had Myers trapped inside an abandoned building in downtown Herkimer. At one point Myers fired at the police from a window. The stand-off dragged on through Wednesday and into Thursday. Joseph Malone, the chief of police of both Mohawk Valley towns, told reporters that Myers "...had come out of nowhere. He was not on our radar and hasn't caused any problems." A woman who for the past ten years has waited on Myers at a local bar said that "He wasn't a people person, and he would never talk to anyone."

     Myers worked as a machine operator in the early 1980s at Waterbury Felt, a manufacturer of industrial textiles. The Waterbury Felt executive who had hired him, Steve Copperwheat, ran into Myers three months earlier in a Walmart parking lot. The two men had not seen each other in ten years. Copperwheat described the encounter to a reporter with The Washington Post: "I yelled over to him, and he looked at me and said my name, said he was retired and just went booking away. It was almost like he didn't want anybody to know where he was. He was trying to be very distant, which surprised me." According to Copperwheat, Myers, who had never married, had been an exemplary employee who worked twice as fast as his fellow workers.

    Late Thursday morning, March 14, police officers stormed the abandoned building on Main Street. As the SWAT team entered the structure, Myers fired on the officers. The police returned fire, killing the 64-year-old mass murderer. An FBI dog was shot and killed in the exchange.

     When things went quiet again in Herkimer and Mohawk, citizens of these communities were left with six shooting victims, and the mystery of what turned Kurt Myers into a mass murderer at the age of sixty-four.

Acid Assaults

     In December 2012, a female employee of a company in Gotemba, Japan, a city 120 miles southwest of Tokyo, burned her feet in acid that had been poured into her shoes. The victim worked in a laboratory that produced carbon-fiber products. (In Japan it is customary for employees to remove their shoes when entering controlled areas.)

     The victim's feet were severely burned by hydrofluoric acid, a highly corrosive chemical. After gangrene settled into the assault victim's left foot, doctors had to remove the tips of five of her toes.

     On March 28, 2013, a prosecutor in Gotelmba charged Tatsujiro Fukazawa with attempted murder in the acid attack. The suspect worked in the laboratory with the victim. According to the police, Fukazawa had feelings for the woman who had rejected his romantic overtures. The acid planting was in revenge for that rejection. Although Fukazawa pleaded not guilty to the charges, he was convicted of the assault in 2015, and sentenced to seven years in prison.

     In 2013, two British girls were doused with acid while doing volunteer work in Zanzibar. Two years later, a South African teenage girl poured acid on her boyfriend's private parts. "I was just angry," she said "and all I wanted to do was to make him feel the pain I was feeling."

     According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, 1,500 people are attacked with acid every year. In addition to Japan, India has a long history of horrific acid attacks against women. In Afghanistan, Islamist extremists have thrown acid on girls' faces to scare them away from attending school.

    Anyone familiar with the annals of crime is aware that the ways people have found to be cruel to each other, to inflict pain and suffering, has no limit. 

Don't Write a Memoir to Preserve Memories

My advice to memoir writers is to embark upon a memoir for the same reason that you would embark on any other book: to fashion a text. Don't hope in a memoir to preserve your memories. If you prize your memories as they are, by all means avoid writing a memoir. It is a certain way to lose them. You can't put together a memoir without cannibalizing your own life for parts. The work replaces your memories.

Annie Dillard in Inventing the Truth, edited by William Zinsser, 1998 

Comedy Derived from Character

     One of the most famous lines in the history of comedy is from "The Jack Benny Show." Throughout his career, Benny developed the persona of the ultimate skinflint. On one show, a robber pulled a gun on Benny and threatened, "Your money or your life." Finally Benny spoke: "I'm thinking it over."

     For the cheapskate Benny persona, this was a rough decision that required some real thought. And it is a perfect example of comedy derived from character. This was not a joke superimposed onto a situation; it grew organically out of the Benny character.

David Evans in How To Write Funny, John B. Bachuba, editor, 2001 

Science Fiction Pioneer Edward Everett Hale

     The term "science fiction" hadn't been invented in 1870 when the American magazine Atlantic Monthly published the first part of Edward Everett Hale's delightfully eccentric novella The Brick Moon. Readers lacked a ready-made pigeonhole for it, confronted by a fantasy about a group of visionaries who decide to make a 200-foot-wide sphere of house-bricks, paint it white, and launch it into orbit.

     Jules Verne's From The Earth to the Moon had appeared five years earlier, so Hale's work was not unprecedented, but while Verne chose to sent his voyagers aloft using a giant cannon, Hale opts for the equally unfeasible but somehow more pleasing solution of a giant flywheel.

Andrew Crumey, "The Brick Moon," theguardian.com, May 14, 2011 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Henry Mapps Triple Murder Case

     Reggie Tuttle and his wife Kim lived in Rye, a southern Colorado town not far from Pueblo. The 51-year-old owner of a trucking company and his wife had three children at home and a 33-year-old daughter, Dawn Roderick, who lived with her husband and three children in Pueblo. Kim Tuttle worked on the culinary staff at the Parkview Medical Center.

     Henry Carl Mapps, a former long distance truck driver, resided in the Tuttle's mountainside home where he worked as an in-house handyman. The 59-year-old had once lived in Dimmitt, a town of 4,000 in the Texas panhandle. Prior to being taken in by the Tuttles, Mapps had lived out of his 2004 Chrysler Town & Country minivan.

     On November 27, 2013, a fire broke out at the Tuttle house. After extinguishing the blaze firefighters discovered the bodies of three adults in the fire-damaged dwelling. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, the three victims--Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle and their adult daughter Dawn Roderick--had been shot to death.

     Investigators determined that the killer had set the fire after committing the triple murder.

     When the killings occurred, three of the Tuttle children were visiting a relative. Handyman Mapps and his minivan had disappeared.

     A few days after the murders, investigators learned that Henry Mapps had passed checks drawn on the Tuttle's bank account. This made him a prime suspect in the case. A Pueblo County prosecutor charged Mapps with three counts of first-degree murder as well as arson, identify theft, and forgery.

     After the U.S. Marshals Office acquired a federal warrant for Mapp's arrest, police launched a nationwide manhunt for the six foot, 125 pound fugitive with red hair.

     On Saturday night, December 28, 2013, 700 miles from Rye, Colorado, U.S. Marshals and police officers arrested Mapps at a motel in Roland, Oklahoma. When taken into custody the suspect was not in possession of a gun. 

     Homicide investigators believed that Mapps murdered Reggie and Kim Tuttle for financial gain. They suspected he had killed Dawn Roderick simply because she happened to be in the house. If this were true, it was one of those instances in which decent, successful people brought a degenerate lowlife into their lives, a loser who secretly hated them and resented their material wealth.

     It was also possible that Mapps killed these three innocent victims out of a sense of entitlement to their money. If this were the case, Mapps was fortunate that the authorities in Colorado had only executed one person since 1977.

     In May 2014, following his guilty plea to triple murder and arson after the death penalty had been taken off the table, District Court Judge William Alexander sentenced Mapps to three consecutive life sentences.

Mom Sued For Ugly Baby

     In China, the old gag that goes, "At birth I was so ugly, the doctor slapped my mother," may be more reality than humor.

     Jian Feng married a beautiful woman who didn't tell him that she had been made attractive by a plastic surgeon in South Korea. Mr. Jian's bride had spent $100,000 for cosmetic surgery on her eyes, nose, and lips. Prior to the work done on her face, Mrs. Jian had been physically ordinary, and at best, plain. She would not have landed the superficial Mr. Jian without the surgery, and had he known that her beauty was not genetic, he wouldn't have married her. Mr. Jian assumed that his wife's beauty had been a gift of nature, and not the work of a gifted surgeon.

     On 2011, Mrs. Jian gave birth to a baby girl. The father, expecting the infant to reflect his own good looks and his wife's radiant beauty, was handed a child he considered downright ugly. He found the baby so unattractive, Mr. Jian was certain he couldn't have been the father. He not only accused his wife of having extramarital sex with another man, he accused her of having illicit sex with an ugly man. There was no way Mr. Jian was going to raise and support someone else's homely child. The infuriated husband demanded a DNA paternity test.

     Mrs. Jian found herself in a lose-lose situation. She could falsely confess to having sex with an unattractive lover, or tell her husband about the cosmetic surgery. The hapless, but faithful wife came clean about her past facial enhancement.

     Mr. Jian's spirits were not lifted by the fact his wife had not cheated on him, and that the baby in question was his own flesh and blood. He not only divorced his wife, he filed a civil suit against her on the grounds that their marriage had been based on false pretense. (She should have counter-sued on grounds that she had married him under the pretense he was a decent person.) In November 2012, the judge (presumably a man), by essentially declaring the baby a defective product purchased as a result of false advertising, awarded Mr. Jian the U.S. equivalent of $120,000 in damages.

Writing to O.J.

     I have been accused of the crime of murder, a double murder. The State of California charged me on June 17, 9994 with the deaths of my former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and arrested me later that same day. Since the day of my arrest I have had to defend myself not only in court but in the eyes of the public and the news media. In this book I am speaking publicly for the first time since my arrest, for two reasons.

     First and foremost, I want to respond to the more than 300,000 people who wrote to me. I want to thank you, I want to tell you those letters were a godsend. People wrote not only in the United States but from all over the world. Their letters started coming right after my arrest. Most were supportive, most of them gave me hope--all of the made me feel still part of the world. I first heard about my mail when a female deputy sheriff, on my second day in jail, said, "We've got a problem. We've got too many letters for you." They had received more letters for me in one day than they had for all the other prisoners, some 6,000 prisoners, at the Los Angeles County Jail. [These letters were written before the Simpson murder trial.]

O.J. Simpson, I Want to Tell You, 1994

A Generation of Semi-Literates

     Can you tell a pronoun from a participle; use commas correctly in long sentences; describe the difference between its and it's?

     If not, you have plenty of company in the world of job seekers. Despite stubbornly high unemployment, many employers complain that they can't find qualified candidates.

     Often, the mismatch results from applicants' inadequate communication skills. In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and write clearly….

     Experts differ on why job candidates can't communicate effectively. Bram Lowsky, an executive vice president of Right Management, the workforce management arm of Manpower, blames technology. "With Gen X and Gen Y, because everything is shorthand and text, the ability to communicate effectively is challenged," he said. "You see it in the business world, whether with existing employees or job candidates looking for work."

     Others say colleges are not doing a good job. In a survey of 318 employers published earlier this year by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and conducted by Hart Research Associates, 80 percent said colleges should focus more on written and oral communication….

Kelley Holland, "Why Johnny Can't Write, and Why Employers are Mad," CNBC, November 11, 2013

Jules Verne, The First Science Fiction Writer

Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and other contemporary novelists, Jules Verne became the world's first full-time science fiction writer. He wrote nearly a hundred novels, some simply tales of travel and adventure but most based upon scientific speculation. He sent his characters around the world in a submarine in Twenty Leagues Under the Sea 1870 and around the moon in a huge artillery shell in From Earth to the Moon, 1865.

L. Sprague de Camp, L. Sprague de Camp, 1972

Friday, November 19, 2021

The Randy Alana Murder Case

     In 2013, 50-year-old Sandra Coke, a capital case investigator for the federal public defender's office headquartered in Sacramento, California, resided in Oakland with her 15-year-old daughter. As a federal investigator in cases involving death row inmates who had appealed their sentences, Coke interviewed them, their family members, and acquaintances for the public defenders office in the Eastern District of California. The job often involved travel around California and into other states.

     In May 2013, someone broke into Sandra Coke's home and stole her beloved cocker spaniel, Ginny. After that, in her spare time, Sandra ran down leads regarding her pet's whereabouts by posting missing dog flyers around her neighborhood. The posters offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to Ginny's return.

     On Saturday, August 3, 2013, someone called Sandra with information about the dog. At eight-thirty the following evening, Sandra left her house to meet with the person who had called about Ginny. Before leaving the dwelling, Sandra told her daughter that she'd be gone no more than thirty minutes. When she did not return to the house as promised, her daughter reported her missing to the Oakland Police Department.

     Doing some detective work of her own, the missing woman's daughter tracked her mother's two iPhones using a GPS application. One of the phones had been dumped along a highway near Richmond, California. The other device had been ditched in Oakland.

     At seven-forty-five the evening following Sandra Coke's disappearance, Oakland police found her 2007 Mini Cooper convertible parked two miles from her home. In a quest for leads regarding her whereabouts, officers removed bags of evidence from the Coke residence. Included among the items seized were two laptop computers.

     A few days into the missing person's case, investigators developed a suspect from Oakland named Randy Alana. The 56-year-old career criminal had been seen with Sandra Coke on the night she went missing. The two had dated twenty years earlier.

     In June 2012, Alana was paroled from a fifteen-year prison sentence for armed robbery. He also had convictions for kidnapping and rape, and was registered in California as a high-risk sex offender. The fact he and Sandra had been together on the night she went missing raised the possibility of murder.

     For Randy Alana, this was not the first time he became a suspect in a murder case. In September 1983, Alameda County, California prosecutor Russ Giutini charged the then 26-year-old criminal with using a hammer to beat to death Marilyn Pigott, a woman he had known since elementary school. Pigott had been murdered on August 13, 1983 in her North Oakland apartment.

     In June 1984, while awaiting his murder trial in the Alameda County Jail, Alana and a fellow inmate named James Hodari Benson were accused of killing 40-year-old Al Ingram. The victim had been stabbed 93 times. Alana and Benson were members of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang. They killed Ingram under the false belief he was a police informant.

      In the fall of 1984, the jury in the Marilyn Pigott murder trial deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Alana. In his second trial, the jury acquitted him because the witnesses who testified against him were "street types." In the Pigott case, Prosecutor Giutini managed to convict Alana of receiving stolen property in connection with his possession of the murder victim's ring.

     In 1986, as a defendant in the Al Ingram murder trial, the jury couldn't reach an unanimous verdict on the issue of Alana's guilt. The judge declared a mistrial. James Hodari Benson was convicted of the murder in 1987. A year later, Alana pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the Benson case in return for a prison sentence of six years.

     Police officers, on August 6, 2013, arrested Randy Alana on a parole violation and booked him into the Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin, California. The magistrate denied Alana bail.

     Three days after Alana's arrest, a Contra County search and rescue team near Lagoons Valley Park, an unincorporated area in Solano County outside of Vacaville, California, found Sandra Coke's body in a creek bed. She had been strangled to death.

     Former Alameda prosecutor Russ Giutini, in speaking to a CBS reporter, described Alana as a good-looking career criminal who was cunning and manipulative.

     On August 18, 2013, in a jailhouse interview, Randy Alana told a reporter with The Oakland Tribune that he and Sandra Coke had been in love and had planned to get married. During the past several months, according to Alana, they had shared a house and regularly attended the Harmony Missionary Baptist Church. "I'm being treated like a suspect," he said.

     In November 2013, an Alameda County prosecutor charged Alana with murder in connection with Sandra Coke's death. Al Wax, Alana's longtime criminal defense attorney, calling the case against his client "very weak and circumstantial," asked a judge in June 2014 to dismiss the case. The judge denied the defense motion to drop the charges. The case would progress to the trial stage.

     The Randy Alana murder trial got underway on March 16, 2015 in the Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland. Prosecutor Colleen McMahon, in her opening remarks to the jury, said that after the defendant stole Sandra Coke's dog Ginny on May 9, 2013, he tried to extort $1,000 from her for the pet's return. She didn't file charges against him, and didn't pay him the ransom. She did, however, speak to his parole officer, accusing Alana of stealing her car, abducting her dog, and stealing her daughter's expensive headphones. This discussion led to Alana's incarceration that spring and summer for violating his parole.

     Infuriated that Coke had spoken to his parole agent, the defendant, on August 3, 2013, strangled Coke to death in the rear seat of her Mini Cooper parked behind the Nights Inn in North Oakland.

     Defense attorney Al Wax, in his opening statement, said that without an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecution's case was entirely circumstantial and insufficient.

     Over the next four weeks, prosecutor McMahon presented her evidence that included incriminating surveillance camera footage, cellphone data, and records from the defendant's electronic ankle monitor. When police officers arrested him on August 6, 2013 in Dublin, California, Alana was in possession of the murder victim's car keys and credit cards.

     Two of the defendant's former cellmates at the Santa Rita County Jail took the stand for the prosecution and testified that following his arrest, he remarked that while he had assaulted many women in the past, things didn't look good for him this time.

     Prosecutor McMahon, to establish motive, played a recording of a phone call from Alana to Sandra Coke made on May 9, 2013 from the Santa Rita County Jail. In that call, Alana expressed his rage at her for getting him into trouble with his parole officer.

     A 40-year-old homeless woman took the stand and said that just hours after Sandra Coke's murder, the defendant took her, in his "wife's" Mini Cooper, to a motel in Oakland where they smoked crack and she gave him oral sex.

     Randy Alana took the stand on his own behalf on April 20, 2015. Under direct examination by defense attorney Wax, the defendant gave an account of his activities on the day of Coke's murder, a story he was telling for the first time. According to Alana, on August 3, 2013, he and Sandra Coke, in her Mini Cooper, followed two people she believed would lead them to her dog Ginny. At the point of destination, a crack house in Richmond, California, he went inside to smoke dope while she remained outside talking to the unidentified people.

     When Alana came out of the crack house, Sandra asked him to take her car and and bank card and withdraw cash from her bank account. When he returned to the crack house with the money, she was gone, presumably murdered by these mysterious people.

     On May 4, 2015, the last day of Alana's self-serving testimony, prosecutor McMahon, during a blistering cross-examination, poked several holes in the defendant's story. The next day, following the testimony of the defendant's 33-year-old daughter from a short-lived marriage in the 1980s, the defense rested. The judge excused the jury until May 18, 2015.

     On May 20, 2015, after the closing arguments, the jury, following a two-hour deliberation, found Randy Alana guilty as charged. He faced up to 96 years in prison.

     The Alameda County judge, on June 18, 2015, before sentencing the murderer to 131 years in prison, called Alana a "black hole that sucks the life out of anything positive." 

Novels That Inspired Real-Life Murders

     At his sentencing hearing in 1981, after he was convicted of John Lennon's murder, Mark David Chapman read aloud from J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye: I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over…I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all."

     The Catcher in the Rye was the book Chapman had been reading at the crime scene when he was arrested. It was the book that held, as he claimed, his message for the world. He was standing at the cliff; he was just doing his work.

     A few years later, the serial killers Leonard Lake and Charles Ng embarked on what they called "Operation Miranda," a violent spree of torture, rape and murder named for the woman abducted by a deranged butterfly collector in John Fowles' novel The Collector, which they cited as their inspiration.

Leslie Jamison, The New York Times Book Review, September 14, 2014 

The Russian Writers

I like the great Russian writers best of all--Tolstoi, Chekov, and Dostoevsky. I think it is because they seemed to feel that truth is more important than all the fancy skillful words, than belles lettres. I, personally, don't like writing where the package is fancier and more important than the contents. Perhaps that is why the Russians translate so well, because the important thing to them is what they felt, saw and thought. Life is more important to them than literature.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write, originally published in 1938 

Novels By Teenagers

I always wanted to be a novelist, from the time that I was a little kid and first learned that such a job existed. I decided to attempt my first novel when I was a teenager, and I thought it was going to be easy--that I'd no doubt be published before I graduated from high school. It obviously didn't work that way. It would be ten years of learning the craft and abandoning novels that weren't working before I had my first novel published. [In recent years a handful of teen written coming-of-age novels have been published.]

Marissa Meyer in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2013 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Rabbi Bernard Freundel Criminal Voyeurism Case

     For 25 years, Modern Orthodox Rabbi Bernard "Barry" Freundel was the spiritual leader of the Kesher Israel Synagogue in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Former U.S. Senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were members of Rabbi Freundel's congregation.

     A resident of O Street in Washington, the 62-year-old rabbi was known for his success in helping women convert to Orthodox Judaism. An expert on Jewish law, Rabbi Freundel held the position of Vice President of the Vaad (Rabbinical Counsel) of Greater Washington. He also worked as a professor at nearby Townson University where he taught courses on Judaism and ethics. As a widely known expert on these subjects, the rabbi was a visiting scholar at Princeton, Yale, and Cornell, and regularly presented guest lectures at Columbia University and the University of Chicago.

     While Rabbi Freundel enjoyed a sterling reputation in academia and among the vast majority of his congregants, concerns were raised in 2012 regarding his treatment of women undergoing conversion under his guidance. Several women going through the process complained that the Rabbi enjoyed wielding power over their lives. For example, they felt coerced into performing clerical duties such as organizing his files, opening his mail, paying his bills, taking dictation, and responding to emails on his behalf. Moreover, these vulnerable women felt pressured to donate money to the rabbi's favorite causes.

     On October 14, 2014, the roof collapsed on Rabbi Freundel's personal and professional life of privilege and respect when officers with the Washington D.C. Police Department placed him under arrest. He was charged with six counts of misdemeanor voyeurism.

     Rabbi Freundel stood accused of installing a clock radio equipped with a hidden video camera in a synagogue shower room. He had allegedly filmed women showering before taking their ritualistic purification baths in a large tub called the mikvah.

     Jewish women and women converting to Judaism are required under Orthodox religious law to immerse themselves in the mikvah every month after menstruating and before having sex with their husbands.

     Shortly after Rabbi Freundel's arrest, Jewish authorities suspended him without pay from his position at the Kesher Israel Synagogue.

     On October 20, 2014, a Townson University spokesperson announced that the school had opened an internal Title IX investigation to determine if the rabbi had practiced gender or sex discrimination at the university. The school banned the former Judaism and ethics professor from its campus which is located in Maryland between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

     The Freundel voyeurism scandal triggered a discussion and inquiry into the possible widespread abuse of female converts by Orthodox rabbis.

     Rabbi Freundel pleaded not guilty to the charges and was set free after posting his bail. If convicted of all six counts, he faced up to six years behind bars.

     On February 11, 2015, several of the rabbi's alleged victims met with federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C. The meeting had been called to discuss the benefits of a plea bargained deal in the case. Prosecutors, in discussing the Freundel investigation, said that since 2009 the former rabbi had secretly filmed 152 women. Of these crimes, 88 were more than three years old and therefore couldn't be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations. Prosecutors did not reveal to the media how the victims at the meeting responded to the idea of a plea bargained deal for the ex-rabbi.

     Freundel, on February 19, 2015, pleaded guilty to having secretly videotaped 52 naked women as they prepared to immerse themselves in the ritual bath.

     On May 16, 2015, after sixteen of his victims--some in tears--addressed the court, Judge Geoffrey Alprin sentenced Bernard Freundel to six and a half years in federal prison. 

"The CSI Effect"

Television shows like CSI, Forensic Files, and The New Detectives created public knowledge and interest in forensic science, and ramped up scientific expectations for those involved in real-life criminal investigation and prosecution. Prosecutors call this "the CSI effect," the expectation among jurors that the prosecution will feature physical evidence and expert witnesses. The CSI effect, according to some, has also caused jurors to expect crime lab results far beyond the capacity of forensic science. In cases where there is no physical evidence, some prosecutors either eliminate potential jurors who are fans of these TV shows or downplay the necessity and importance of physical evidence as a method of proving a defendant's guilt. Some academics, based on studies, deny the existence of the CSI effect. Most prosecutors, however, are certain it exists.

The Writer in Hollywood

They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze...In twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity.

Character in Rod Serling's play, Velvet Alley

The Conceit Of The Biographer

Biography is a vain and foolhardy undertaking: Its essential conceit, that the unimaginable distance between two human beings can be crossed, is unsupportable; each of us is inherently unknowable. The biographer may be able to locate his subject in place and time--to describe the clothes he wore, the food he ate, the jobs he held, the opinions he expressed--but the subject's inner essence, by its very nature, is forever inaccessible.

Jonathan Yardley, Misfit, 1997 

Selecting a Story's Point of View

Sol Stein, in Stein on Writing, notes that without a solid understanding of point of view--meaning the character whose eyes are observing the action, the perspective from which a story is told--the writer cannot fully exploit his talent. Stein has this advice for the beginning novelist: "Do not mix points of view within the same scene, chapter, or even the same novel. It is unsettling to the reader. If you mix points of view, the author's authority seems to dissolve. The writing seems arbitrary rather than controlled. Sticking to a point of view intensifies the experience of a story. A wavering or uncertain point of view will diminish the experience of the reader." 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Professor Rainer Reinscheid's Revenge

     Rainer Klaus Reinscheid was an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. The 48-year-old lived in the Orange County city of 223,000, thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles, with his second wife, two stepchildren, and his 14-year-old son from his first marriage.

     In March 2012, Reinscheid's son, Klaus Stubbe, a student at Irvine's University High School, got in trouble for stealing something from the student store. As punishment, the assistant principal assigned the boy trash pick-up duties during the school's lunch hour. Shortly after this mild disciplinary action, a worker at the Mason Park Preserve adjoining the high school campus, found the boy hanging from a tree in a wooded area of the park.

     Professor Reinscheid blamed his son's suicide on the assistant principal who had disciplined the boy. On April 26, 2012, the distraught father, on his cellphone, emailed his wife details of his intention to take out revenge on his son's death. His plan, in general, included shooting 200 students at University  High School, murdering the assistant principal, and raping as many high school girls as he could. Once he had accomplished his mission, he'd kill himself.

     In one of two emails to his wife that day, the revenge-minded professor wrote: "I need a gun, many guns, and then I have the ride of my life. I will give myself a wonderful ending with Klaus very soon. I like this plan, finally a good idea." Two days later, in another email, Reinscheid said that while he was casing out the high school campus, he had fantasized about having sex with every girl he had seen.

     On July 4 and 19, 2012, a series of small fires broke out in Mason Park Preserve. Fire fighters also responded to a fire someone had set outside the home of University High School's assistant principal. Following the two fires in the park, the Irvine police beefed up patrols at the preserve. At 12:45 in the morning of July 24, police officers patrolling the park caught Professor Reinscheid igniting newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. He was starting the fire not far from where his son had committed suicide. The officers arrested him on the spot. The next day, charged with arson, Professor Reinscheid posted his $50,000 bond, and was released from custody.

     Police investigators, after linking Reinscheid to three incendiary fires at the high school, and the one at the assistant principal's house, charged the professor with four additional counts of arson, and a count of attempted murder. By now, detectives had discovered the emails Reinscheid had sent to his wife detailing his intent to seek revenge for his son's suicide. Although the content of these emails--private musings rather than threats sent to targeted individuals--were not considered chargeable criminal offenses, police re-arrested the professor on the additional arson and attempted murder charges. (Whether or not the professor's very specific revenge emails is a crime poses an interesting legal question. Had the emails suggested a conspiracy, and he had acted upon that plan by buying a gun, it would have been an offense. Had there been an agreement with a fellow conspirator to carry out the crimes, the fires would have been acts in furtherance of that conspiracy.)

     The Orange County prosecutor, using the revenge emails as evidence that Rainer Reinscheid was a danger to society, asked that he be held in custody without bail. The judge agreed, and denied the professor bond.

     On July 27, 2012, the Irvine police re-arrested Professor Reinscheid in his office at the University of California. When they took him into custody, he was drafting a document on his computer giving his wife power of attorney over his finances. When searching his car, officers found a red folder containing a newly drafted and signed last will and testament.

     Reinscheid pleaded guilty in July 2013 to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson, and resisting or obstructing an officer. Reinscheid faced a maximum sentence of 18 years behind bars.The Orange County prosecutor had dropped the attempted murder charge. A month later, on the first day of his sentencing hearing, Reinscheid said, "I lost my son, and then I lost myself. Now, I am asking you, your honor, and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy." Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany where he could find work to support his family. The ex-professor acknowledged that his career in academia was over.

     School superintendent Tracy L. Walker, in a statement read aloud at the hearing, wrote: "That tragedy [the boy's suicide] cannot serve as justification for terrorizing a school community and staff members who have dedicated their lives to helping others."

     On the second day of Reinscheid's sentence hearing, the judge heard from the University High School assistant principal whose house Reinscheid tried to burn down. The school administrator said that his life will never be the same.

     In an effort to mitigate his client's criminal rampage, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer noted that his client had been "self-medicating" with drugs he had ordered online. The professor had also been drinking a lot of wine. The drugs and the alcohol, according to the attorney, had led to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons.

     On August 22, 2013, the judge sentenced the former professor to 14 years and 4 months in prison.