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Monday, January 24, 2022

The Emily Dearden Attempted Murder Case

     In 2013, 46-year-old Kenneth Dearden, a prominent real estate developer, resided with his wife Emily in a house they had purchased in 2000 for $562,000 in Yonkers, New York. The couple's two daughters lived with them in the house at 82 Ponfield Road West.

     Mr. Dearden, originally from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, had served in the Air Force. He had a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and a masters from Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands. He and his wife were married in July 1996. Mr. Dearden had founded his company, DW Capital Associates, and was president of the Yonkers Downtown/Waterfront Business Improvement District.

     Emily Dearden, originally from Englewood, New Jersey, had a bachelor's degree in psychology from Northwestern University and master's degrees from Columbia University and Widener University. The 45-year-old held the position of senior psychologist for the New York City Police Department.

     At three-thirty in the morning of November 14, 2013, Kenneth Dearden awoke with a searing pain in his jaw. His pillow was soaked in blood and his wife Emily was not in bed with him. Mr. Dearden made his way to the first floor where he found Emily lying on the family room floor with her eyes closed. After being quickly revived, she said an intruder had hit her in the head.

     At a nearby hospital, doctors determined that Mr. Dearden had been shot. The bullet had entered his head near the base of the skull and lodged in his left cheek after passing through one of his carotid arteries. (He spent eight days in the hospital and underwent three operations.) Mrs. Dearden did not seek medical attention.

     Later that morning, when detectives showed up at the Dearden house to investigate the shooting, they were surprised to find Mrs. Dearden washing her nightclothes instead of being at the hospital with her husband. Apparently unfazed over the fact an intruder had struck her in the head and shot her husband, she asked the officers if they had a warrant to search the dwelling. (Because it was a crime scene, they didn't need one.)

     In the basement of the house officers found four pistols including two derringers that were consistent with the caliber of the attempted murder weapon. The handguns belonged to Mrs. Dearden. She said they had been given to her by her father. (Forensic tests to match one of these firearms to the slug removed from the victim's head were inconclusive.)

     Detectives, from the onset of the case questioned the home invasion theory. There were no signs of forced entry: the family Rottweiler who slept in a doggie bed outside the master bedroom had not awakened Mr. Dearden, the home intrusion alarm had not been activated, and nothing had been taken. In other words, Emily Dearden's story didn't make sense to investigators.

     Detectives were also suspicious of the fact the victim's wife had waited until the next day to visit her husband at the hospital. Moreover, on the day of the shooting, she had met David Warren Roudenbush, a man she had been having an on-and-off again affair with since early 2011, at a restaurant in Yonkers. Investigators wondered why she had chosen to meet with Roudenbush instead of visiting her husband in the hospital.

     The investigation into the attempted murder stalled. Detectives did not identify an intruder, and no charges were brought against the victim's wife. She remained a suspect, however.

     In August 2014, Emily Dearden filed for divorce. About this time NYPD officials relieved her as the department's senior psychologist. They reassigned her to "administrative duties."

     Kenneth Dearden, on November 14, 2014, in a Westchester County Court, filed a civil suit against his estranged wife. According to the lawsuit, the shooting had been a "sadistic attack by an adulterous wife on her husband." As for the motive behind the assault, the plaintiff accused the defendant of shooting him so she could keep the marital home, avoid a contentious divorce, and never have to admit her infidelities to her family and friends.

     According to Mr. Dearden's version of the case, David Warren Roudenbush, after divorcing his wife, had pressured Mrs. Dearden to leave him. As a result of the shooting, the victim claimed he suffered mental anguish and the fear of being attacked again.

     On November 21, 2014, the district attorney of Westchester County announced that Emily Dearden had been charged with attempted second-degree murder. Later that day the accused turned herself in to the authorities. At her arraignment the judge set her bail at $150,000 which she immediately posted to avoid going to jail. The judge ordered Emily Dearden to stay away from her husband and their children.

     Following the criminal charge, the suspended Dearden handed her NYPD identification card over to an Internal Affairs Bureau official. Her attorney told reporters that his client had not shot Mr. Dearden and that the lawsuit had been filed as retaliation for her having filed for divorce.

     Following her May 2015 indictment for attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon, Emily Dearden pleaded not guilty at the arraignment in Yorkers. Her attorney, Paul Bergman, told reporters that "Dr. Dearden is confident she will prevail in this case." If convicted as charged, the defendant could face up to 25 years in prison.

     In February 2017, Emily Dearden pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder. Judge Barry Warhit sentenced her to a three and a half year prison term.

     Three and a half years in prison for shooting her husband in the head while he slept. This is a good example of plea bargain justice.

The Search For Clues

It is through clues that we form our opinion about the facts of a case. This is only one alternative: to catch the culprit red-handed.

Theodore Reik, The Compulsion to Confess, 1959

The Gory, Perverse Stuff of Fiction

Is there a subject too daunting, a perversion too kinky to mention? Show a writer a taboo and we'll turn it into a story. Pedophilia? Nabokov's Humbert Humbert has been there, done that. The recent craze for zombie fiction offered an orgy of the restless undead feasting on human flesh. Genre novels serve up all sorts of grisly horrors and murder, and the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray suggests that readers have no problem with sex beyond the vanilla. Even love between the species finds its expression in fairy tales like The Frog Prince and Beauty and the Beast.

Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review, July 20, 2014 

Too Much Backstory

Too much backstory kills a children's book by slowing the pace to a crawl. This is especially deadly in a young adult novel, where pacing is generally faster than in adult books.

Ricki Schultz in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2013 

Literary Voice Versus Authority

In fiction, the writer's voice matters; in reporting, the writer's authority matters. The writer of fiction must invent; the journalist must not invent. We read fiction to fortify our psyches and in the pleasure that fortification may give us. We need journalism to learn about the external world in which our psychics have to struggle along, and the quality we most need in the reporter is some measure of trustworthiness. Good journalists care about what words mean.

John Hersey, The Writer's Craft, 1973 

Influential Book Reviews

A good book review should do an evocative job of pointing out quality. "Look at this! Isn't this good?" should be the critic's basic attitude. Occasionally, however, you have to say, "Look at this! Isn't it awful?" In either case, it's important to quote from the book. Criticism has no real power, only influence.

Clive James, poet and author, 2013 interview 

First Novel Expectations

Highly autobiographical first novels are out of fashion. Budding writers are expected to cast their eyes away from themselves. And yet in our culture of instant gratification and celebrity, a writer's reputation can depend almost exclusively on the critical reception of a first novel. The problem is twofold: we expect first novels to be works of non-autobiographical genius well before a writer has time to mature.

Rosalind Porter, findarticles.com, 2005 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Keith Little Murder Case

     At ten-thirty in the morning of New Year's Day 2011, police were called to the Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland where they discovered maintenance supervisor Roosevelt Brockington's body in his basement boiler room office. Someone had stabbed Brockington 70 times in the face, neck, chest, and back. The 40-year-old victim had a 12-inch knife stuck in his neck. This was clearly a crime of passion committed by someone who hated the victim.

     Five days after the murder, a Suburban Hospital worker reported seeing Keith Little, a maintenance employee, washing a pair of black gloves and a ski-mask in chemically treated water. The police recovered these items from the trash outside the boiler room and took Little, already a suspect, into custody.

     On February 3, 2003, in an earlier case, Keith Little had allegedly killed his maintenance boss in Washington, D.C. This victim, Gordon Rollins, had been shot six times. The jury in the 2006 murder trial found Little not guilty. He walked out of court a free man.

     Investigators in the Bethesda murder case had reason to believe that Little hated Mr. Brockington. In 2009, Little had threatened to "get him" after the maintenance supervisor changed his working schedule. As a result of that adjustment, Little had to give up a second job at the federal court house in Greenbelt, Maryland. More recently, Brockington had given the 50-year-old suspect a negative performance evaluation that kept him from receiving an annual pay raise.

     DNA analysts at the Montgomery County Crime Laboratory determined there was not enough trace evidence on one of the gloves to declare the presence of blood. A second analysis by a private firm, Bode Technology, found no evidence of blood either, but did find evidence after applying a serology test that can detect more diluted traces. According to these results, the glove contained DNA from the victim, the suspect, and an unidentified person.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Little went on trial on December 2, 2011 at the Montgomery Court House in Rockville, Maryland. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ronald Gottlieb, in his opening statement to the jury, pointed out that the police found no traces of blood in the defendant's home, car, or work locker. As for the motive behind the murder, Gottlieb asserted that several former maintenance employees could have been angry with the victim. At this point the prosecution had a stronger case than the defense.

     On December 6, 2011, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marielsa Bernard ruled that the prosecution could not introduce the results of the DNA test linking defendant Little to the glove that supposedly contained traces of the victim's blood. The judge felt the disparity of lab results rendered this evidence unreliable.

      Judge  Bernard also prohibited the prosecution from making any mention of Little's previous trial in which he was found not guilty of killing his maintenance boss in Washington, D.C. This information, according to the judge, was too prejudicial to the defendant's current case.

     The Montgomery County prosecutor, notwithstanding the procedural setbacks, went ahead with the case. On February 13, 2012, the jury found Keith Little guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Documenting Physical Evidence

     One of the cornerstones of professional scientific practice is the documentation and recording of experimental results in order that they can be subject to both reproduction and scrutiny by peers. The concept of reproducibility ensures that the given hypothesis carries weight and is not just a random finding, while at the same time allowing others to attempt to replicate findings, further adding to the credibility of the theory….Forensic science…has a burden to ensure the reliability and validity of its results, not just in theory, but also in practice.

     Documentation of the location of material evidence itself is usually required in the form of tracking its whereabouts at any given time in order to satisfy that the chain of custody has not been broken and that the evidence has been legitimately transferred between parties without alteration or amendment in such a way that the opportunity for alteration or tampering, whether intentional or not, has been minimized. A large part of the successful defense argument during the O. J. Simpson trial rested on the fact that there was extremely poor handling and documentation of the physical evidence that raised serious doubts as to its integrity.

     However, chain of custody requirements, which detail the physical location of evidence during its progression through all phases of collection, analysis, and storage, are still insufficient by themselves in documenting the results of forensic inquires. Like any good scientist, forensic examiners are required to detail, in addition to the physical condition of evidence given to them, exactly what they did with the evidence, and why the results of such inquiries have led to the conclusions they did. Documentation of the analysis of forensic samples allows the expert's data and method to be subject to, and subsequently withstand, rigorous examination,.

C. Michael Bowers, Forensic Testimony, 2013

Paragraph Length

     The length of your paragraph has a big influence on voice. As with sentences, you want to vary the length of your paragraphs to prevent a sense of stagnation or predictability. But beyond that, you can manipulate the feel of your voice by leaning toward long, winding paragraphs or short, snappy ones or somewhere in between.

     Generally a new paragraph signals a shift in thought, either major or minor, or a jump in time or space. But there is a lot of room for interpretation on when you want to make these paragraph shifts. Some writers may cram a bunch of thought shifts into a single paragraph while other writers may separate each thought in a new paragraph. Similarly, you could move freely through time and space in a single paragraph or use a new one for each shift.

Hardy Griffin in Writing Fiction, Alexander Steele, editor, 2003 

The Viewpoint Character

     Who should narrate (or be your viewpoint character) in fiction? A major character? A minor one? A few characters? What difference does it make? How will it impact the work as a whole?

     Choosing a narrator is not a choice to be made lightly, yet unfortunately many writers make the choice without giving it much thought. Generally, they automatically assign the task to the protagonist. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this choice--in fact, most often, it is the correct one--but problems can arise if the decision was made without taking time to consider why this person has merit as a narrator, what perspective he has to offer, what he brings to (or how he detracts from) the telling of the story, and how his perspective might differ from others'.

Noah Lukeman, The Plot Thickens, 2002 

Bad Review Payback

A lady who was once married to Salman Rushdie had one of her novels published just as the famous fatwa was handed down on him. I gave the book a bad review. I was surprised that her pretty awful novel got a solemn, respectful review in The New York Times and everywhere else I looked. I was probably the only literate person in America who hadn't heard about the fatwa, and when I found out, I was sorry for what I had written. The poor woman had enough to worry about. A few years later, she got hold of one of my novels to review for the Washington Post and she killed me! She said I wrote "embarrassing surfer prose." Oh, the agony!

Carolyn See, Making a Literary Life, 2002 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Donnie Cleveland Lance Double Murder Case

     Sometime between the hours of midnight and five in the morning of November 8, 1997, 40-year-old Donnie Cleveland Lance kicked in the front door of a house in Maysville, Georgia and murdered his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Mr. Lance killed the boyfriend, Dwight "Butch" Wood Jr., by shooting him twice with a shotgun. He murdered his ex-wife, Sabrina "Joy" Lance, by beating her to death with the butt of the weapon.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Donnie Lance went on trial in February 1999. The prosecution, without a confession, an eyewitness, the murder weapon, or any physical evidence connecting the defendant to the crime scene, had a relatively weak, circumstantial case. Besides the testimony of a pair of jailhouse snitches who claimed Lance had, while in custody, talked about killing his wife and her boyfriend, the prosecutor had to rely on the defendant's motive and past bad behavior.

     During his marriage to Joy Lance as well as after the divorce, the defendant had stalked, beaten and kidnapped her. He had, on numerous occasions, threatened to kill her, and once asked one of her relatives what it would take to "do away with her."

     In April 1999, the jury found Donnie Lance guilty as charged and sentenced him to death.

     Lance's appeals attorneys contested the death sentence on grounds that the trial lawyer had failed to present evidence of the defendant's serious mental impairment due to low I.Q., brain injuries caused by car wrecks, a gunshot wound, and prolonged alcoholism. In April 2009, a Georgia appeals court re-sentenced Donnie Lance to life in prison.

     The Lance case prosecutor appealed this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court which, in 2010, reinstated the death sentence.

    On September 2019, a state appellate court denied Lance's request for DNA testing and a new trial. In early January 2020, the United States Supreme Court declined to halt the scheduled execution.

     On January 29, 2020, at the state penitentiary at Jackson, Georgia, 66-year-old Donnie Lance was put to death by lethal injection.

Utah's Firing Squads

     The last person put to death by firing squad in the United States was John Albert Taylor, a convicted child killer executed in Utah in 1996. He was the 49th person executed by firing squad in that state.

     A Utah firing squad consists of five volunteer police officers from the county in which the crime occurred. One of the squad's rifles is loaded with a blank. No member of the squad knows which rifle contains the blank.

     Utah abolished death by firing squad in 2004 and now uses lethal injection to kill its inmates. But the law was not retroactive so inmates with a death sentence imposed before that date can choose between firing squad and lethal injection. An inmate who chooses the firing squad sits in a specially designed chair that restrains his or her arms, legs, and chest. The head is loosely confined so that it remains upright.

     The condemned inmate wears a dark blue outfit with a white cloth circle attached by Velcro over the heart. Sandbags behind the chair catch the four bullets and prevent ricochets. Some twenty feet in front of the chair stands a wall with five firing ports. The inmate may read a final statement before the warden places a hood over his or her head. The firing squad takes aim at the white cloth circle and fires simultaneously at the warden's command. The bullets rupture the heart, lungs, and major arteries, causing near instant death from shock and hemorrhage. The lower part of the chair in which the prisoner sits contains a pan to catch the flow of blood and other body fluids that rush out of the prisoner's body.

Billy Wayne Sinclair and Jodie Sinclair, Capital Punishment, 2009 

Narrative True Crime Classics

I think Capote's book and mine are formally similar, but vastly different. Obviously, I'd be the first to state that if he hadn't done In Cold Blood, it's conceivable that I wouldn't have thought of taking on The Executioner's Song. Nonetheless, it's also possible that something about The Executioner's Song [about the execution of an Utah killer named Gary Gillmore] called for doing it in the way I chose. In any event, its flavor is different from In Cold Blood [about the murder of a Kansas farm family in 1959]. Truman retained his style. Not the pure style--he simplified it--but it was still very much a book written by Truman Capote. You felt it every step of the way. The difference is that he tweaked it more, where I was determined to keep the factual narrative. [Capote created composite characters and invented events. In recreating the murder trial, he had the defense put on its case first.] I wanted my book to read like a novel, and it does, but I didn't want to sacrifice what literally happened in a scene for what I wanted to see happen. Of course, I could afford to feel that way. I had advantages Truman didn't. His killers were not the most interesting guys in the world, so it took Truman's exquisite skills to make his work a classic. I was in the more promising position of dealing with a man who was quintessentially American yet worthy of Dostoyevsky. If this were not enough, he [Gillmore] was also in love with a girl who--I'll go so far as to say--is a bona fide American heroine. I didn't want, therefore, to improve anything. Dedicated accuracy is not usually the first claim a novelist wishes to make, but here it became a matter of literary value. What I had was gold, if I had enough sense not to gild it.

Norman Mailer, The Spooky Art, 2003

Writer Humiliations

Writers can only moan to each other about all this, really: the humiliating reading to an audience of two, the book signing where nobody turns up, the talk where the only question is "Where did you buy your nail varnish?" Nobody is really going to care, are they, if we sit alone unloved beside our pile of books, approached only once in the two hours and that by a woman who is trying to flog us her self-published book on recovering from breast cancer? Or that we wait, alone in the darkness, on the deserted platform at Newark station, the only reading matter a VIOLENT ASSAULT: WITNESSES WANTED sign swinging in the wind, until we realize we've missed the last train home.

Deborah Moggach, in Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

Publishing a First Novel

If you are not some kind of celebrity, are unpublished, and do not have the services of a literary agent, the odds of getting a first novel published are not good. The aspiring writer has about one in a thousand chance of getting a commercial publisher to bring out his or her's first work of fiction. The odds are better than the lottery, but that's about it. There are just too many novelists and not enough readers. And to make matters worse, because acquisition editors have no idea what will sell and what won't, most first novels that are published bomb. But if you have to write a novel, do it. Get it out of your system. Who knows?

Friday, January 21, 2022

Careers in Forensic Pathology

     Forensic pathologists are physicians educated and trained to determine the cause and manner of death in cases involving violent, sudden, or unexplained fatalities. The cause of death is the medical reason the person died. One cause of death is asphyxia--lack of oxygen to the brain. It occurs as a result of drowning, suffocation, manual strangulation by ligature (such as by rope, belt, or length of cloth), crushing, or carbon monoxide poisoning. Other causes of death include blunt force trauma, gunshot wound, stabbing, slashing, poisoning, heart attack, stroke, or a sickness such as cancer, pneumonia, or heart disease.

     For the forensic pathologist, the most difficult task often involves detecting the manner of death--natural, accidental, suicidal, or homicidal. This is because the manner of death isn't always revealed by the condition of the body. For example, a death resulting from a drug overdose could be the result of homicide, suicide, or accident. Knowing exactly how the fatal drug got into the victim's body requires additional information, data that usually comes from a police investigation. When the circumstances of a suspicious death are not ascertained or are sketchy, and the death was not an obvious homicide, the medical examiner (or coroner) might classify the manner of death as "undetermined."

     The autopsy, along with the crime-scene investigation, is the starting point, the foundation, of a homicide investigation. If something is missed or mishandled on the autopsy table, if the forensic pathologist draws the wrong conclusion from the evidence, the investigation is doomed.

     Up until the 1930s, before the English forensic pathologist Dr. Bernard Spilsbury glamorized the profession through a series of high-profile murder case solutions, forensic pathology was called "the beastly science." Today, in the U.S., there are about 400 practicing forensic pathologists. For medical examiner and coroner systems to work properly, we need at least 800 of these practitioners. On average, about 35 of the 15,000 students who enroll in medical school every year graduate to become forensic pathologists.

     Forensic pathologists in the United States are overworked. Given the nature of the job, they are under constant pressure from politicians, prosecutors, homicide investigators, families of the deceased, and the media. The pay is relatively low, they often work in unsanitary morgue conditions, and in many jurisdictions, have run out of space to store dead bodies. Many forensic pathologists have burned out, and more than a few have had mental breakdowns.    

Vehicle Arson

     Automobiles seem to be very combustible…they contain flammable liquids, have many electrical circuits, and their interiors are made of combustible material. Combine that with a careless smoker and you have a vehicle fire, or so you would think. But actually, with new technology, most interiors are fire resistant--a cigarette will seldom ignite a seat cover or a floor mat, the fuel systems are designed with safety in mind, and the electrical circuits are shut off by fuses and other interrupt devices.

     Accidental vehicle fires do occur, but the fire generally remains in one compartment, i.e. engine, trunk, glove compartment or interior.

     There are two types of vehicle arsonist: amateur and professional. An amateur is usually behind on his car payments and desperate to rid himself of the car. He knows that the vehicle must be declared totaled by his insurance company, so he will go for mass destruction. The professional criminal uses vehicle arson to conceal other crimes: stolen cars used during the commission of a crime, or a homicide, for example.

     In general, after driving a car to a remote location, the arsonist will completely dowse the interior and exterior of the vehicle with a combustible material such as gasoline and set the fire. A one-to five-gallon gas can is generally found at the scene. Using five gallons is quite dangerous, and the arsonist may end up like the car if the flammable vapors have saturated the area.

     The arsonist might make what are known as trailers by pouring a stream of gasoline from the vehicle to a location he feels is far enough away from the vehicle to ignite it safely. These types of fires are easily tagged as arson because of the evidence left behind.

Mauro V. Corvasce and Joseph R. Paglino, Modus Operandi, 1995 

The Anxious Writer

Writer's block usually manifests out of anxiety. This is simple to say, but when you're a writer, anxiety is a way of life. So don't be hard on yourself. There are just too many variables that are out of your control, and it's normal for you to be anxious. The key is not to let it overwhelm you. According to the Mayo Clinic, general anxiety disorder symptoms can include restlessness, being keyed up or on edge, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue, irritability, impatience, being easily distracted, muscle tension, trouble falling or staying asleep, and excessive sweating. [If being a writer causes this, stop writing.]

N. M Kelby, The Constant Art of Being a Writer, 2009

Reading Horror Fiction

     I write horror novels because I want to scare sleeping minds awake and expose readers to things they don't already know, so they'll see things they've never seen from viewpoints they've never experienced, and question assumptions they've never questioned.

     Of course some people get grumpy when you wake them, angry when your stories don't validate their beliefs, and uncomfortable if they see something of themselves in the monsters you create. But as Marquis de Sade wrote in response to his critics, "Evil recognizes evil, and the recognition is always painful."
C. Dean Anderson in On Writing Horror, Mort Castle, editor, 2007  

Satire in Fiction

     Satire is the opposite of truth telling. Satire is a big lie mobilized to get a comic effect. Sometimes the lie is mere exaggeration, sometimes it is a complete invention. Either way, satire is an attack weapon. It inflates the faults and foibles of powerful people or conventional ideas, with the intention of making them look ridiculous. "Humor belongs to the losers," said Garrison Keillor, and that's what satire is about. It's a kind of revenge, often very sweet and always triggered with anger.

     Jonathan Swift was the father of modern satire. In scathing books like A Tale of a Tub, The Battle of the Books, and Gulliver's Travels, Swift mocked the pretensions and prejudices of his own time. His technique was quite simple and works as well today as it did in the 1700s. He picked his target, imagined a fantastic metaphor and exaggerated everything. For example, in Gulliver, he created a deadly satire on prejudice with the story of the "Big Endians" and the "Little Endians," two groups locked in eternal battle over which end to open a boiled egg.

     Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller crafted marvelous satires on the Second World War, using Swift's tools of exaggeration, fantasy and aggressive ridicule. But contemporary satire is harder. Politics and popular culture have moved almost beyond the reach of ridicule. It's difficult to come up with something so bizarre that it won't actually happen before your piece appears in print. So satire can be risky for a fiction writer, who always risks being upstaged by reality.

David Bouchier in How to Write Funny, John B. Kachuba, editor, 2001

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Dr. Pamela Fish: The Disgraced DNA Expert

     In 1990, prosecutors in Cook County, Illinois charged John Willis with several counts of rape in connection with a series of sexual assaults committed in the late 1980s on Chicago's South Side. Willis, a petty thief, and illiterate, denied raping the women even though several of the victims had picked him out of a lineup.

     The only physical evidence in the Willis case was a scrap of toilet paper containing traces of semen. Police took this evidence to the Chicago Police Lab where it was examined by Dr. Pamela Fish. Dr. Fish had come to the lab in 1979 with bachelor's and master's degrees in biology from Loyola University. Ten years later, after taking courses at night, she earned a Ph.D in biology from Illinois Institute of Technology. According to her handwritten lab notes, Dr. Fish determined that the secretor of the semen had type A blood. John Willis had type B blood thereby excluding him as the rapist. Dr. Fish reported, however, in contradiction to her lab notes, that the semen on the tissue possessed type B blood. She testified to this at Willis' 1991 trial. The jury, in addition to believing in Dr. Fish, believed eleven prosecution rape victim/eyewitnesses that identified the defendant as the rapist. The jury found Willis guilty and the judge sentenced him to 100 years in prison.

     Eight years later, a south Chicago rapist confessed to these sexual assaults after being linked to the crimes through DNA analysis. An appeals judge set aside the Willis conviction and he was set free. On the day of his release, Dr. Fish, now the head of  biochemistry testing at the state crime lab, spoke at a DNA seminar for judges. (The Chicago Police Lab had been incorporated into the Illinois crime lab system in 1996.)

     The Willis reversal led to a 2001 review of Dr. Fish's cases by the renowned DNA expert from Berkeley, California, Dr. Edward Blake. Dr. Blake studied nine cases in which Dr. Fish had testified that her blood-typing tests had produced inconclusive results. Dr. Blake found that Dr. Fish's test results had actually exonerated the defendants involved, and that she had given false testimony at those trials. Dr. Blake characterized Dr. Fish's work as "scientific fraud."

     In the summer of 2001, a state representative at a legislative hearing on prosecutorial misconduct suggested to the head of the Illinois State Police that Dr. Fish be transferred out of the crime lab into a position where she could do less harm. (In the public sector this is considered harsh employee discipline.) The police administrator ignored the recommendation.

     In 2002, three more Illinois men, in prison for rape since 1987, were exonerated by DNA. Dr. Fish had testified for the prosecution in all three cases. Two years later, after the state paid John Willis a large settlement for his wrongful prosecution and incarceration, the state refused to renew Dr. Fish's employment contract. Rather than firing Dr. Fish, the state reluctantly refused to rehire her. (I would image that Dr. Fish's forensic misbehavior did not keep her from enjoying her government retirement benefits.)

     In 2006, Marlon Pendleton, two years after his release from an Illinois prison where he'd been wrongfully incarcerated thirteen years on a rape conviction, sued the Chicago Police Department and Dr. Fish. The plaintiff accused Chicago detectives Jack Stewart and Steven Barnes, of manufacturing a false line-up identification against him. (These cops were notorious for this kind of  behavior.) He accused Dr. Fish of perjury in connection with her DNA testimony at the trial, testimony that convinced the jury he had raped the victim. The Illinois Court of Claims awarded Pendleton $170,000 for his wrongful conviction. (In 2011, Pendleton was convicted of murdering his girlfriend in 2008. The judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison.)

     In 2017, Dr. Fish was employed as a biology teacher at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, Illinois.

On Being Shot

      If it takes ten or twelve seconds to lose consciousness from blood loss (and consequent oxygen deprivation to the brain), why, then, do people who have been shot so often collapse on the spot? It doesn't just happen on TV.

     I posed this question to Duncan MacPherson, a respected ballistics expert and consultant to the Los Angeles Police Department. MacPherson insists the effect is purely psychological. Whether or not you collapse depends on your state of mind. Animals don't know what it means to be shot, and, accordingly, rarely exhibit the instant stop-and-drop.

     Not everyone agrees with the psychological theory. There are those who feel that some sort of neural overload takes place when a bullet hits. An area of the brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) is responsible for the sudden collapse. The RAS can be affected by impulses arising from massive pain sensations in the viscera. Upon receiving these impulses, the RAS sends out a signal that weakens certain leg muscles, with the result the person drops to the ground.

Mary Roach, Stiff, 2003 

A Phony Anecdote?

     Jason Biggs' wife, Jenny Mollen, published her memoir, I Like You Just The Way I Am: Stories About Me and Some Other People in which she recounts a story about buying a hooker for Jason to have sex with while she watched. [I don't know which one of these people is the celebrity.] Mollen and her husband appeared on "The View" on June 17, 2014 to promote her book. However, she shied away from the hooker story. Guest host Candace Cameron Bure [no idea] said she wasn't a fan [of hiring prostitutes for one's husband].

      "I have a sense of humor, but I have a hard time finding humor in that," Bure said. She felt Mollen wasn't being genuine.

     "This is not a habitual thing on our part," Jason Biggs said. "We don't have a group of prostitutes who come in and out of our house on a regular basis. My wife found the whole thing to be quite hysterical even while it was happening. She was actually on the bed, watching, eating a bag of potato chips, laughing. So you can imagine, I wasn't really performing to the best of my abilities. Also, said prostitute wasn't engaging with my wife the way I hoped she would so it all kind of fell apart, and the rest is in the book."

Seth Richardson, "Jason Biggs Recounts His Time With a Hooker While His Wife Watched," The Daily Caller, June 20, 2014

Tastes in Fiction

Any novelist who's ever stood in a bookstore, watching as someone picks up a copy of their book and pauses before returning it to the shelf, knows there's no logical explanation for why particular books appeal to particular people. Over time, though, readers do tend to make intuitive decisions. Someone who wants a fast-moving story may seek out what she imagines is a plot-driven novel. Someone who wants to spend time in close quarters, getting to know a person like herself, or perhaps like no one she's ever met, may choose what appears to be a character-driven novel. And someone who tends to pepper margins with exclamation points, who calls a friend to shout, "Listen to this line!," may gravitate to a book preoccupied with language.

Meg Wolitzer, "Life Intervened," (a review of Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley), The New York Times Book Review, March 16, 2014 

Journalism School

There are parallels between journalism and clinical psychoanalysis. Both the journalist and the psychoanalyst are connoisseurs of the small, unregarded motions of life. Both pan the surface for the gold of insight. Journalism, with its mandate to notice small things, was always congenial to me. I might have also liked being an analyst. But I never would have gotten into medical school. I never went to journalism school, either. When I started doing journalism a degree from a journalism school wasn't considered necessary. In fact, it was considered a little tacky. [If journalism schools still exist, given the sorry state of the profession, one wonders what kind of people they attract, and what is being taught there.]

Janet Malcolm, Paris Review, Sprint 2011 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Alexander Edwards: The Babysitter From Hell

     In 2013, Melissa Delp lived in south central Virginia with her two daughters and her boyfriend, Daniel Janney. On December 22, 2013, the couple's friend, 20-year-old Alexander Edwards, came to the Concord, Virginia house to babysit the girls, both of whom were under 13-years-old.

     While the 35-year-old mother and her 32-year-old boyfriend were away from the house, their babysitter used a home tattooing kit to ink the girls under his care.

     When Delp and Janney returned home, the girls had their names tattooed on their shoulders. Janney, with the help of the girl's mother, tried to remedy the situation by removing the tattoos with a hot razor blade. This extremely painful procedure made matters worse by exposing the youngsters to infection and permanent scarring.

     Beyond being alarmingly stupid, why would these adults maim the girls in a futile attempt to erase the babysitter's unwanted ink? Perhaps Delp and Janney were worried that if the authorities got wind of the forced tattooing, they would get in trouble with the law for being negligent parents.

     On January 16, 2014, a teacher noticed, on one of the girls, the inflamed and scabbed aftermath of Janney's botched attempt to remove the unauthorized tattoo. The scarred girl, when pressed by the teacher, spilled the beans regarding the source of her condition. The concerned teacher reported the possible child abuse case to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office. She also called child protection services.

     Two days later, deputies booked the tattooing babysitter, Alexander Edwards, into the Campbell County Adult Detention Center in Rustburg, Virginia. The 20-year-old faced felony charges of malicious wounding, child abuse, and abduction. (Abduction includes unlawful confining or restraint.)

     On January 18, 2014, deputies also arrested Melissa Delp and Daniel Janney. Placed into the county jail in Rustburg, the couple faced felony charges of malicious wounding and child abuse.

     Michael Mucklow, owner of the Go! Tattoo removal service in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, heard of the involuntary tattooing in Virginia and offered to help. Mucklow believed he could mitigate the damage by removing what was left of the tattoos by using laser technology. There was nothing he could do, however, about the physical and emotional trauma caused by Janney's alleged razor blade removal attempt.

     On August 2014, Melissa Delp pleaded guilty to felony child abuse. The judge sentenced her to eight years in prison.

     On March 2, 2016, following the additional charges of rape and sodomy (of the 12-year-old girl); solicitation to commit a felony (Edwards asked a potential hitman to kill several witnesses against him); conspiracy to commit murder; and attempted murder, the Campbell County judge sentenced Alexander Edwards to two life terms in prison.

     The judge sentenced Daniel Janney to a year and two months in prison after he was convicted of felony wounding. 

The Miranda Case

     On June 13, 1966, by a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court rendered the landmark Miranda v. Arizona decision. Based on the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which states that "No person…shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself," Miranda expanded the meaning of these simple words.

     The court held that even voluntary confessions by a suspect in police custody would no longer be admissible as evidence, unless the police first warned the suspect that (1) he had the right to remain silent, (2) anything he said might be used against him in court, (3) he had the immediate right to a lawyer, and (4) he could get a free lawyer if he couldn't afford one. The person being interrogated then had to expressly waive those rights before any questioning could proceed. Should interrogators make the slightest omission or error in this warning, evidence subsequently acquired from the suspect could be declared inadmissible.

     In this single decision, four veteran criminals, convicted after voluntarily confessing to separate crimes, had their convictions overturned. The first was a three-time convict who admitted to a robbery after being identified by two victims. The second forged stolen checks from a purse-snatching in which the victim was killed. The third, a veteran bank robber, confessed after being told of his rights, but didn't explicitly waive them. The fourth, arrested for kidnapping and rape, was identified by his victim, and later confessed "with full knowledge of my legal rights, understanding that any statement I make may be used against me." He hadn't, however, been formally advised of his right to have a lawyer present.

     Even though these confessions weren't "involuntary in traditional terms," writes Chief Justice Earl Warren for the majority, "in none of these cases did the officers undertake to afford the appropriate safeguards…to insure that the statements were truly the product of a free choice."

    According to the Court's majority opinion, "In each of these cases, the defendant was thrust into an unfamiliar atmosphere and run through menacing police interrogation procedures. The potentiality for compulsion is forcefully apparent, for example…where the indigent Mexican defendant was a seriously disturbed individual with pronounced sexual fantasies [author's note: the man had been judged mentally competent to stand trial], and where the defendant was an indigent Los Angeles Negro who had dropped out of school in the sixth grade."

Robert James Bidinotto, "Subverting Justice," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinatto, ed., 1994

The "Bukowski Man"

In the age of the memoir, some writers confess to shoplifting in order to advance themselves, and others profess to be aghast at the crime. Ron Rosenbaum, the author of provocative books on Hitler and Shakespeare, once wrote a column for the New York Observer lampooning the white, middle-class shoplifter he labeled "Bukowski Man" [Charles Bukowski, LA underground, noir poet and novelist], whom he described as a "drunk, suburban poseur likely to shoplift the Beats, Kerouac's On The Road, Ginsberg's Howl, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, anything by Paul Auster and William S. Burroughs, some French writers, Kafka, Bukowski, and books about sex and marriage." Rosenbaum pointed out that "Bukowski Man" was laboring under the delusion that by stealing he was embracing writers who wallowed in the "lower depths." He said, "Petty and debased ideas of liberation" drive Bukowski Man to shoplift. 

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Adjectives and Adverbs

     The overall effect of a manuscript encumbered with adjectives, adverbs and the inevitable commas in between makes for slow, awkward reading--which these writers would find out for themselves if they only took the time to read their own work aloud.

     Manuscripts heavy on adjectives and adverbs can be spotted by an agent or editor immediately--sometimes even in the first few sentences--by looking for a plethora of commas (which inevitably separate a string of adjectives), or in the case of a writer who doesn't even know how to use commas, by looking to the nouns and verbs and then looking to see if adjectives or adverbs precede (or succeed) them.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Literature and Rhetoric Professors

I must say that of all the types and kinds and classes of people I've encountered over the years, literature  professors and rhetoricians are the sorriest of the lot. After six years of peripheral but daily contact I've found them to be morally timid, petulant, unimaginative, joyless, insincere, petty, ineffectual, self-righteous, emotionally shallow, and thoroughly uncharitable. In general, they comprise a kind of secular priesthood--monk-like creatures who lurk palely in academic cloisters, out of touch with the very life they're supposedly preparing their students to enter. Moreover, they read too many books.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Christina Schumacher's Involuntary Commitment

     In 2011, Ludwig "Sonny" Schumacher lived in Essex, Vermont with his wife Christina and their son and daughter. They had been married 17 years and their marriage was falling apart. The couple also had problems with their professional lives.

     After retiring from the Vermont National Guard as a Colonel and a F-16 pilot, Schumacher accepted an executive position with the Timberiane Dental Company in South Burlington, Vermont. Christina worked as a financial officer with the GE Healthcare Corporation, a company she had been with for more than twenty years.

     In July 2011, Christina petitioned a family court judge for an order of protection against abuse from her husband. In support of her request, Christina claimed that their 15-year-old daughter was afraid of her father. "My daughter," she wrote, "is fearful and has said if I do not file this petition she will file her own. She is now staying with friends." According to the protection order petition, Mr. Schumacher had struck Christina in the face in front of the girl. He had also abused his wife by grabbing her arm and pulling her hair. The family court judge denied the protection request.

     In 2012, after Christina's job at GE Healthcare was eliminated, she landed a position with an Internet firm called, MyWebGrocer. A few months later, she quit that job. Ludwig Schumacher ran into employment problems himself that year. Officials at Timberiane Dental fired him.

     In July 2013, a judge granted Christina a temporary order of protection against her husband after he tipped his 14-year-old son Gunnar's bed upside down with the boy in it. According to the court petition, Mr. Schumacher kept the boy pinned to the floor by pressing his knee against his back. When Gunnar broke free, the father allegedly threw him to the floor. Christina cited this and other incidents of her husband's out-of-control rage to illustrate a "pattern of abuse which causes fear" for her and her son.

     Ludwig Schumacher appealed his wife's protection of abuse order and won. The family court judge ruled that the description of events in Christina's petition did not constitute domestic abuse by a parent as defined by Vermont law.

     Christina, on September 3, 2013, filed for divorce on grounds that her 49-year-old husband had been unfaithful, abusive, and mentally ill. Shortly after the divorce filing, he moved out of the house and rented an apartment in Essex. In cross-filing for divorce, Mr. Schumacher described Christina as mentally ill, noting that during the summer of 2013, she had received intensive mental health treatment at the Seneca Center at the Fletcher Allen Health facility in Burlington.

     Ludwig Schumacher, on Tuesday, December 17, 3013, called Essex High School stating that his son Gunnar would be absent two days due to "a family situation." A day later, at two in the afternoon, a friend of Gunnar's went to the Schumacher apartment where he found Gunnar and his father dead.

     The 14-year-old boy had been strangled and his father had hanged himself. Mr. Schumacher left behind a long suicide letter explaining why he had murdered his son and killed himself.

     On the day after the discovery of her dead husband and son, a doctor informed Christina that if she didn't check herself into a psychiatric ward at the Fletcher Allen Health Care facility in Burlington, she would be taken into custody by the authorities and put into the hospital without her consent. Because Christina had once told her sister that if anything happened to her children she would kill herself, the doctor felt he was acting in her best interest. Christina insisted that she did not need mental health treatment. All she wanted to do was grieve with her 17-year-old daughter. The doctor followed through on his threat by having Christina involuntarily committed to the mental ward.

     On December 30, 2013, Christina called the Burlington Free Press and asked the newspaper to investigate her situation, saying that the state had no basis to hold her against her will in the mental facility. While Vermont law did not require a prompt judicial review of involuntary mental health commitments, the publicity Christina received from newspaper stories prompted a judicial hearing.

     On January 22, 2014, after three hours of testimony before a Superior Court judge in Burlington, the judge said he disagreed with Christina's mental illness diagnosis and the assessment that she was a danger to herself and others. The judge ordered her release after five and a half weeks in the psychiatric ward.

Jimmy Carter on the Legal Profession

     We have the heaviest concentration of lawyers on Earth--one for every five hundred Americans; three times as many as are in England, four times as many as are in Germany, twenty-one times as many as are in Japan.

     We have more litigation, but I am not sure that we have more justice. No resources of talent and training in our society are more wastefully or unfairly distributed than legal skills. Ninety percent of our lawyers serve ten percent of our people.

Jimmy Carter, 1978 in The Law is An Ass, Ronald Irving, editor, 2011 

Crime Novelist James Ellroy

James Ellroy [The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, American Tabloid, and others] is a cult. For many, he's a you're-in-or-you're out cult, because he's intense and absolute and violent in every respect--emotionally, linguistically, and physically. He's a brash writer who spins marvelously complicated, suspenseful plots. He is fluent in local period dialect that captures everything dirty, transient, prejudiced, profane, and provincial about the way cops and robbers, movie stars, and politicians talk. His thick, relentless dialogue (fully peppered with all the nasty racist and sexist things you might imagine that hard-boiled cops would say) combines with a compressed, impressionistic aesthetic that puts the language somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and Ulysses. 

Minna Procter, Bookforum, Oct./Nov./Dec., 2014 

Democracy Versus Dictatorship

The difference between a Democracy and a Dictatorship is that in a Democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a Dictatorship you don't have to vote.

Charles Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories, 1968

The Writer as Optimist

All writers are optimists. We have to be. In order to be a writer, you need to believe in four things. First, I have a book to write. Second, I can write it. Third, I can get it published. And fourth, that someone will read it. That's about as optimistic as it gets.

Margaret Atwood, novelist, 2013 interview 

Monday, January 17, 2022

Heather Elvis: Missing and Presumed Murdered

     Heather Elvis, a 20-year-old employee of a bar and restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, lived with a female roommate at the River Oaks Apartments in the city. Her parents, Terry and Debbie Elvis, lived nearby. At three in the morning of Wednesday, December 18, 2013, Heather called her roommate from her cellphone about 45 minutes after being dropped off at River Oaks by her date. She called to report how the evening with the young man had worked out.

     On December 19, 2013, Heather Elvis' abandoned 2001 Dodge Intrepid was found parked at the Peachtree Landing along the Waccamaw River in the town of Socastee just outside of Myrtle Beach. The dark green vehicle had not been involved in an accident. Parked about nine miles from the River Oak Apartments, the car did not contain Elvis' purse or her cellphone.

     On Friday, December 20, after Heather Elvis failed to show up for her scheduled shift at the Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery, her parents, Terry and Debbi Elvis, reported their 5-foot-1 inch, 118-pound daughter missing.

     The next day, under the supervision of the Horry County Police Department, 300 people spent ten hours combing the woods and ponds in the vicinity of the abandoned car.

     On January 3, 2014 another search party made up of law enforcement officers and volunteers, aided by several K-9 units and searchers riding horses and ATVs, continued the hunt for the missing young woman.

     Lieutenant Robert Kegler with the Horry County Police Department, on January 6, 2014, told a Fox News reporter that detectives had questioned several people in connection with the disappearance. While the young man who had dropped Heather off at her apartment after the date in the early morning hours of December 18 was not a suspect, some of the uncooperative men interviewed by detectives were being scrutinized.

     At 8 PM on Monday, January 6, 2014, television crime host Nancy Grace devoted a segment of her show to the Heather Elvis missing persons case. A $25,000 reward was posted for information leading to the discovery of the missing young woman.

     At seven o'clock on the morning of Friday, February 21, 2014, officers with the Horry County Police Department, South Carolina State Police, and U.S. Marshal's Office, executed a search warrant at a house in Myrtle Beach occupied by 37-year-old Sidney Moorer and his 41-year-old wife Tammy. Officers spent eleven hours at the dwelling. Cadaver dogs searched the property without result. Two pickup trucks were taken away from the house and officers were seen placing several boxes into a white police van.

     A prosecutor, following the search of the Moorer house, charged Sidney and Tammy Moorer with indecent exposure and obstruction of justice. It was reported that Tammy, angry at Heather because she and Sidney had been involved in a sexual relationship, sent her nude pictures of herself and Sidney. In January 2014, Tammy Moorer told a reporter that Sidney had sex with Heather Elvis in his car "a total of three times." According to Tammy, Sidney ended the relationship when he realized that "something wasn't right about her."

     On February 24, 2014, a Horry County prosecutor charged Sidney and Tammy Moorer with Heather Elvis' kidnapping and murder. They were held without bail. Elvis' body had not been found.

     In 2016, the Horry County prosecutor, without Heather Elvis's body, dropped the murder charges against the Moorer couple. That year, Sidney Moorer was tried for kidnapping Heather Elvis. That trial ended with a hung jury. A few months later, a jury found Sidney Moorer guilty of obstructing justice in the Heather Elvis kidnapping case. The judge sentenced him to ten years in prison.

     In October 2018, Tammy Moorer was tried for kidnapping. After testifying on her own behalf, the Horry County jury found her guilty. The judge sentenced Tammy Moorer to 30 years in prison.

     In September 2019, Sidney Moorer was retried on the kidnapping charge. The jury found him guilty, and the judge sentenced him to 30 years behind bars.

     As of January 2022, the body of Heather Elvis has not been found.

The "Moral Idiot"

Over a century ago, French psychiatrists coined the term "moral idiot" to describe the type of personality who seems to be utterly lacking in conscience and unable to conform his conduct to prevailing cultural norms. Such people were later called psychopaths (a term from the Greek, meaning, literally, disease of the soul). With the rise of behaviorism, social psychology, and the emphasis on environmental influences on the shaping of the individual's personality, the term was dropped in favor of the word "sociopath." For decades, psychologists viewed this morally nonconformist flaw as the result of deficits in a person's socialization experiences, often as a result of poverty, discrimination, or some other environmental deprivation or hardship. The person's lack of social conformity--and human caring--was now laid at the doorstep of society. Sociopaths were thought to be acting out the behaviors they had learned in adapting to harsh realities.

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

The Appeal of Whodunits and Thrillers

The whodunit and the thriller are in their most typical manifestations deeply conventional and ideologically conservative literary forms, in which good triumphs over evil, law over anarchy, truth over lies.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996

Eighteenth Century Autobiography

In the eighteenth century, autobiography was one of the highest forms of literary art. Fiction was deemed unworthy, while narration of facts was aesthetically and philosophically pleasing. This prevailing convention overwhelmed fiction to such a degree that many novelists passed their works off as non-fiction, sometimes by creating prefaces written by supposedly real characters who vouched for the authenticity of the story. Whether readers really believed in the truth of these stories is hard to say.

Preface by W. Lloyd Garrison in Frederick Douglass, The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, 1845  

Dealing With a Bad Review

Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.

E. M. Forster, in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Dr. Lisa Tseng: When Does a Physician Become a Drug Dealing Murderer?

     In California, as in most states, a cocaine dealer can be convicted of second-degree murder if a person he sold the drug to dies of an overdose. Such a conviction is based on what is referred to as the felony-murder doctrine which holds that if in the commission of a felony (selling cocaine) someone dies, the felon can be held criminally culpable for that death. The element of criminal intent applies to the commission of the felony, not the resultant death. In other words, it doesn't matter that the cocaine dealer didn't intend to kill one of his or her customers. It's still murder.

     Dr. Hsiu-Ying (Lisa) Tseng and her husband ran a storefront medical clinic in Rowland Heights, California, an unincorporated community of 50,000 in Los Angeles County's Gabriel Valley. The clinic had a reputation among prescription drug addicts as a place one could go to acquire prescriptions for drugs such as Xanax, Oxycodone, Methadone, Soma, and Vicodin. Dr. Tseng allegedly issued prescriptions for these pain and anti-anxiety drugs without asking too many questions, or requiring an acceptable medical reason.

     In 2010, reporters with the Los Angeles Times linked Dr. Tseng's drugs to eight overdose deaths. (Not all of the people who overdosed had acquired the prescriptions from the doctor, many of her patients had sold the drugs to others who overdosed on them.) According to the Times, Dr. Tseng, from 2007 through 2010, had written more than 27,000 prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety medicine.

     In March 2012, state, county and federal narcotics officers arrested Dr. Tseng for murder in connection with the 2009 overdose deaths of three men in their twenties, all of whom had gotten prescription drugs at the Rowland Heights clinic. The authorities also charged Dr. Tseng with 20 felony counts of prescribing drugs to patients with no medical need for the medicine. (If this government-imposed standard were enforced strictly across the country, we'd need a dozen new prisons just for physicians and chiropractors. Street corner cocaine dealers would see their businesses shoot through the roof.) The 42-year-old doctor was placed in the Los Angeles County Jail under $3 million bond.

      At the time of Dr. Tseng's arrest, there had only been a handful of prescription drug/felony-murder overdose prosecutions in the country. The Tseng case was the first of its kind in Los Angeles County. In June 2012, at a preliminary hearing before judge M. L. Villar de Longoria in a Los Angeles Superior Court to determine if the state had sufficient evidence to move the case to the trial phase, the assistant district attorney put on several witnesses. (In preliminary hearings held to determine if the government has a prima facie case, there are no defense witnesses.)

     An undercover DEA agent took the stand and said he (or she) had been prescribed pain and anti-anxiety drugs without exhibiting tangible evidence of a physical injury. (What are the physical signs of chronic back pain?) Several family members of Tseng's patients testified that they had begged the doctor to quit issuing their addicted relatives prescription drugs. A representative of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office said he had warned Dr. Tseng that many of her patients were dying of prescription drug overdoses.

     On June 25, 2012, after three weeks of testimony, Judge Villar de Longoria ruled that Dr. Tseng could be held over for trial on the three murder charges. The judge, in justifying the ruling, told the defendant that she had "failed to heed repeated red flags" that her patients were drug addicts." (Since it's the role of a jury to make fact determinations like this, the judge's remarks were, in my opinion, inappropriate.)

     Assuming that Dr. Tseng had in fact intentionally or recklessly issued prescriptions to drug addicts, prosecuting her for second-degree murder was risky jurisprudence in a country with millions of prescription drug junkies. Retailers who sell booze aren't prosecuted for murder when drunks kill themselves in car wrecks. Gun dealers who sell firearms to people who use the weapons to blow their brains out aren't prosecuted for murder.

     If convicted of three counts of murder because she prescribed pills to junkies who overdosed on the drugs, Dr. Tseng faced up to life in prison. This was at a time when residents of 18 states, including California, could legally buy "medical" marijuana.

     In October 2015, a jury in Los Angeles County Superior Court found Dr. Tseng guilty of second-degree murder. The judge, on February 5, 2016, sentenced Tseng to 30 years to life in prison.

     In 2017, Dr. Tseng appealed her conviction to California's 2nd District Court of Appeals. In December 2018, the 3-judge panel found there was overwhelming evidence that the appellant, in prescribing drugs to patients who had overdosed, had been recklessly indifferent to their lives. Dr. Tseng's attorneys appealed this decision to the California Supreme Court which, in March 2019, declined to review her case. Her conviction stood.  

The Floorwalker

If you were arrested in a department store for shoplifting in the 1950s and 60s, it was probably by a female store detective, then referred to as a floorwalker. These middle-aged women were tough, quick on their feet masters of retail surveillance. They'd blend into the shopping environment then spring into action to apprehend the unsuspecting thief. It was a dangerous job that took skill, stamina, focus, and courage. These anonymous crime fighters were the unsung heroes on the front lines of American law enforcement.

Goodbye "Literary" Fiction

I think literary fiction has fallen prey to campus navel gazing and has lost touch with ordinary humanity. And it has the audience to prove it.

Jack Hart in Telling the Story by Peter Rubie, 2003

Test Your Children's Manuscript on Adults

My child would enjoy the phone book if I sat her on my lap and read it to her. Test your children's manuscript on discerning adults and ask, "Does it engage you?"

Stephen Roxburgh, Byline, January 2000

The Art of the Possible

Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I'm borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn't exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.

Ray Bradbury, The Paris Review, Spring 2010 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Corriann Cervantes Murder Case

     Jose Reyes and Corriann Cervantes, 17 and 15 respectively, attended the Clear Path alternative school in Clear Lake, Texas, a Greater Houston community in southeast Harris County. (Kids enrolled in the school had learning disabilities, low I.Q.s, and/or personality disorders.)

     A passerby at four in the morning on Saturday February 8, 2014, noticed an open door at the El Camino Real apartment complex in Clear Lake. When the man entered the abandoned apartment he saw a half-nude woman with her head bashed in. The victim turned out to be Corriann Cervantes.

     At the murder scene, detectives determined that Cervantes had been bludgeoned to death with a toilet tank lid and an ashtray. According to a Harris County forensic pathologist, the victim had been raped before her assailant or assailants murdered her. On her abdomen someone had carved an upside-down cross. The killer or killers had placed various religious trinkets around her bloody corpse.

     The day following the gruesome discovery, police received a call from one of Jose Reyes' relatives who reported that the teenager admitted that he and a 16-year-old classmate named Victor Alas had raped and murdered the girl in the abandoned apartment.

     At the police station, Reyes told detectives that he and Atlas had taken Corriann Cervantes to the vacant apartment where they raped her. When she tried to leave, they beat her to death with the toilet tank lid and ashtray, then carved the cross into her body. They placed the religious items around her body. Reyes told his interrogators he sold his soul to the devil. He and his friend had raped, murdered, and mutilated the girl so they could sell their soul to the devil.

     Police officers booked Reyes into the Harris County Jail on the charge of capital murder. Because of his age he was not eligible for the death penalty. However, if convicted as an adult, he could be sentenced up to life in prison without parole.

     On Monday, February 10, 2014, police officers took 16-year-old Victor Alas into custody. Charged with capital murder as well, the prosecutor referred Alas to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Authority. If convicted as a juvenile offender, the teen faced a maximum prison sentence of 40 years.

    At his first court appearance, Jose Reyes was all smiles. He obviously enjoyed the media attention--a nobody who was suddenly a somebody. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     The Jose Reyes murder trial began on Monday December 8, 2014 in the Harris County Courthouse before District Judge Brook Thomas. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor John Jordan said the defendant, his accomplice Victor Alas, and Corriann Cervantes went to the vacant apartment that night after consuming alcohol and smoking marijuana at a friend's house. While the sex was initially consensual, the encounter degenerated into a brutal beating, repeated stabbings, torture, disfigurement, and murder.

     Reyes and Alas, according to prosecutor Jordan, gouged out Cervantes' eyes as she begged for her life. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy found pieces of porcelain embedded in her face. "What happened in that apartment," Jordan said, "was sadistic."

     Defense attorney Jerald Graber, in his address to the jurors, argued that his client should have been charged with a lesser form of criminal homicide than capital murder. Mr. Graber said the state could not prove that the defendant had committed an intentional homicide in the commission of an underlying felony such as kidnapping or sexual assault, the legal requirements of a capital murder conviction. (This was an absurd argument. The second Reyes and his friend kept Cervantes from leaving the apartment they committed the crime of kidnapping. Moreover, the consensual sex had quickly turned to rape.)

     On December 9, 2014, the second day of the trial, prosecutor Jordan put 19-year-old Miranda Leal on the stand. Leal was one of two people the defendant had bragged to about the Cervantes murder. According to the witness, Reyes told her he stabbed the victim while having sex with her. He said the Devil ordered him to do what he had done to the girl. While providing Leal details of the horrific crime, Reyes laughed and smiled as he talked about it.

     According to Miranda Leal, Reyes, in bragging about the murder, performed a freestyle rap about a threesome with a girl that led to torture and murder. To prove that he wasn't making any of this stuff up, Reyes showed Leal a cellphone photograph of himself, his friend Victor, and a girl having sex.

     Miranda Leal testified that the defendant revealed to her how he had choked, bludgeoned, then stabbed the victim in the face and torso with a screwdriver. When Cervantes tried to escape the attack he "clotheslined" her then hit her in the head with the porcelain toilet tank lid, breaking it in half. The witness said the defendant's story was so bizarre and sick she didn't believe it until she learned that Cervantes' body had been found in the vacant apartment.

      Miranda Leal was followed to the stand by Agapita Gonzales, the second person Reyes had confided to. According to this witness, "he said somebody wanted his soul." Gonzales revealed that the defendant's account of his activities that night caused her to fear for her own life. At times during her testimony she broke into tears.

     On the third day of the Reyes murder trial, prosecutor Jordan introduced letters the defendant had written from the Harris County Jail in which he claimed the Devil watched him that night and directed his activities. Reyes had written, "He [the Devil] was standing there, watching me and Victor. It's all good. It's what the Devil asked for."

     After the prosecution rested its case, defense attorney Graber did not put his client on the stand. In his closing remarks to the jury, the defense lawyer assured the jurors that finding the defendant guilty of a lesser homicide offense would not mean that Corriann Cervantes was denied justice.

     On December 11, 2014, the jury, after deliberating just one hour, found the defendant guilty of capital murder, a crime that carried a mandatory life sentence without parole.

     Victor Alas went on trial, as an adult, in May 2015. On June 18, 2015, the Harris County, Texas jury found the defendant guilty of capital murder. Like Jose Reyes, Victor Alas would spend the rest of his life behind bars. 

Chris Hedges on American Institutions

We now live in a nation where doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the press destroys information, religion destroys morals, and our banks destroy the economy.

Chris Hedges [A journalist, book author, and Senior Fellow at the Nation Institute in New York City who specializes in American politics and society.] 2013  

The Vacuous Interviewee

Some people love to talk about themselves. A few people love to talk about themselves but don't say much that is useful. They say such things as "The Lord made me do it," or "I've got to hand it to my teammates." [Being a sports journalist must be brutal.] Your job as an interviewer is to turn the subject into a storyteller. Ask questions so layered, so deep, and so odd that they elicit unusual responses. Take the person to places he wouldn't normally go. Ask questions that require descriptive answers.

Jacqui Banaszynski in Tell True Stories, 2007, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Editors 

"Fraudlit"

The Japanese have a word, "Tsundoku," for all the books people buy but don't read. I think we should create a word for all the celebrity memoirs that fans buy that weren't written by the celebrity. Let's call this genre, "fraudlit."

The Birth of a Character

Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write most entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page.

Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings, 1984 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Problems in Forensic Science

     Practitioners of forensic science fall generally into three groups: police officers who arrive at the scene of a crime whose job it is to secure the physical evidence; crime scene technicians responsible for finding, photographing, and packaging that physical evidence for crime lab submission; and forensic scientists working in public and private crime laboratories who analyze the evidence and, if the occasion arises, testify in court as expert witnesses. While uniformed police officers and detectives may be trained in the recognition and handling of physical evidence, they are not scientists, and do not work under laboratory conditions. As a result, a lot can, and does, go wrong between the crime scene investigation and the courtroom.

     Television series like "CSI" generated public knowledge and interest in forensic science, even ramping up scientific expectations for those involved in real-life criminal investigation and prosecution. Prosecutors called this the "CSI effect," the expectation among jurors that the prosecution will feature physical evidence and expert witnesses. The CSI effect also caused jurors to expect crime lab results far beyond the capacity of forensic science. Some prosecutors either eliminate potential jurors who are fans of "CSI," or downplay the necessity and importance of physical evidence as a method of proving a defendant's guilt. Prosecutors who lost cases have been known to blame their defeats on the CSI effect. Criminal justice scholars who have investigated the CSI effect disagree over whether it had much impact on trial results.

    While public expectations of forensic science are high, persistent problems within the various forensic fields have kept scientific crime detection from living up to its full potential. Because a shortage of qualified personnel caused DNA testing logjams, rapists, pedophiles, and serial killers have been given extra time to commit more crimes. The shortage of DNA analysts also placed a heavy burden on crime lab personnel, creating problems of quality control. Over the years, dozens of crime lab DNA units were temporarily closed when audits revealed sloppy work, scientific errors, unqualified analysts, weak supervision, poor training, and evidence contamination. Even the highly regarded FBI Laboratory experienced problems with DNA analysis and other forms of forensic identification. Crime labs in Detroit, Boston, Raleigh, Houston, New Haven, and Los Angeles have had serious quality control problems.

     Ironically, advances in DNA technology exposed problems in other fields of forensic science. For example, DNA analysis revealed that experts overstated the identification value of human hair follicles and bite-mark impressions. Hundreds of criminal defendants, if not thousands, were sent to prison on what many experts considered unreliable forensic evidence.

     A critical shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists has adversely affected the overall quality of homicide investigation. Overworked forensic pathologists are prone to take shortcuts and make mistakes. In many cases of suspicious death, autopsies were not performed.

     The field of latent fingerprint identification, while still considered the gold standard of forensic science, came under attack as a result of a handful of high-profile misidentifications. These cases revealed that not all fingerprint examiners are properly trained, and that many have either failed or never taken proficiency tests. Moreover, many fingerprint experts lacked scientific objectivity. This was particularly true of examiners who, as police officers, saw themselves as part of a law enforcement team. Forensic scientists must be loyal to their science, even when it displeases the people who employ them. This takes courage and independence.

     There are fakes, incompetents, and charlatans in every profession, but over the years a series of high profile cases featured the so-called experts from hell, forensic scientists whose false testimony helped convict innocent people. Many of these experts were hired guns willing to testify for whatever side was willing  to pay for their testimony. It's alarming how long these phony forensic scientists practice before they are exposed and defrocked. Forensic science is also plagued by well-meaning but incompetent practitioners as well as experts who are either blinded by media attention, or bow to prosecutorial pressure. Maintaining a firewall between science and criminal prosecution is a constant challenge, one that is not always met.

     Jurors are often called upon to make judgments in trials in which experts representing each side the case offer contradicting opinions. When jurors are faced with opposing experts, they tend to disregard the physical evidence entirely. The dueling expert problem can seriously diminish the credibility of forensic science itself. Judges reluctant to exclude the testimony of witnesses who are not real experts, place the problem on the laps of jurors who are not qualified to distinguish the true scientists from the fakes.

     Most of the problems in forensic science are caused by personnel shortages, poor quality control, and the inherent difficulties of crime scene investigation. These are pressures imposed by the adversarial nature of our trial process, the lure of pseudoscience, and the evolving character and complexity of science itself. Over the past twenty-five years, the emphasis in American law enforcement has been the escalating war on drugs, anti-terrorism, and controlling inner city street gangs. Criminal investigation and forensic science took a back seat to these priorities. And now, to make matters worse, law enforcement itself is under attack by politicians and activists who want to defund the police.

The Last Meal

The number of death sentences in the United States have dropped significantly over the past twenty years. However, as of 2021, the death penalty was still legal in 31 states and in most of these jurisdictions it was customary to give a condemned prisoner, on the eve of his or her execution, a special last meal of the condemned person's choice. ( Corrections officials use the term, "special meal.") In Florida, for example, the final meal can only cost up to $40 and must be prepared locally. In 2011, Texas abolished the last meal request for death row inmates. According to a 2013 study, inmates who professed their innocence were two-times more likely to decline the last meal request. Many death row inmates talk about what they will order years in advance of their executions.

Rip-Off Writing Class

When Katherine Anne Porter taught creative writing at the University of Virginia, her method was to sit the student writer down and read his story to him aloud. That's all there was to it, or so I've heard tell. I've also heard tell that one student, before his story was half read, broke down and ran out of class. [I would have been right behind him, all the way to the registrar's office to get my tuition back.]

John Casey in The Writing Life, 1995 

Authorship

There should be no such thing as a ghost writer or an as-told-to author. If you didn't write the book, you should not be allowed to claim authorship. Literature's great benefit from this rule would be the elimination of the so-called "celebrity memoir."

Joseph Heller's Work Ethic

I work almost constantly. For a novelist without hobbies, weekends don't make much difference. Most people don't enjoy weekends anyway; they don't know what to do with Sundays.

Joseph Heller in Fiction Writer's Market, edited by Jean M. Fredette, 1985. Joseph Heller is best known for his novel Catch 22, 1961.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Jason Beckman: The Murderous Son

     In 2009, 17-year-old Jason Beckman lived with his 52-year-old father, Jay Beckman, in South Miami, Florida. The South Miami High School student's mother had died of cancer in 1998 when he was six. Mr. Beckman, since 2006, had been a South Miami City Commissioner.

     In the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Jason Beckman called 911 to report an accidental shooting that had killed his father.  Police officers found Jay Beckman in his bathroom shower stall with his face blow away from a close-range shotgun blast.

     When questioned at the police station, Jason Beckman said he had taken his father's Browning Citori 12-gauge, double barrel shotgun out of the closet and assembled it. He carried the gun into his father's bathroom to show him that he knew how to assemble and load the weapon. In the bathroom he slipped and fell causing the shotgun to discharge. The boy claimed that his father's death had been a tragic accident. At this point, although Jason's story didn't make a whole lot of sense, detectives had no reason to suspect an intentional killing.

     A local prosecutor, on the theory the fatal shooting had been an accident, charged Jason Beckman with manslaughter by firearm, a lesser homicide offense involving negligent behavior rather than specific criminal intent.

     As the investigation into the violent death progressed, detectives began to question whether the shooting had been an accident. Among Jason's belongings investigators found a list of people he said he wanted to kill. Jay Beckman's name was at the top of the hit list. A Beckman neighbor told officers that Jason, for years, had made no secret of the fact he planned to kill his father some day. Jason's friends came forward and confirmed the boy's hatred of his father and his stated plans to murder him.

     Jason, when questioned by detectives a second time, stuck to his original account of the shooting. He did, however, say that his father had threatened to kill him.

     In light of the new, incriminating evidence, the prosecutor upgraded the charge against Jason Beckman to first-degree murder. Investigators now believed the killing had been intentional and pre-meditated.

     The Beckman trial got underway on November 4, 3013. Prosecutor Jessica Dobbins, in her opening statement to the jury, said, "We are here today because the defendant regularly talked about his hatred for his father and his desire to kill him." Defense attorney Tara Kawass told the jurors that Jason was not an aggressive person. "No one was scared of him," she said.

     On November 8, two of the defendant's classmates took the stand for the prosecution. According to both witnesses Jason kept a list of people who had crossed him. Moreover, the defendant had told several people, "countless times," that he hated his father and intended to kill him.

     Jailhouse snitch Michael Nistal took the stand for the prosecution. In 2008 the burglar had been involved in a high-speed police chase that ended with his brother being shot to death by the police. In 2009, while incarcerated at the Turner Guilford Knight Correction Center in West Miami, one of Nistal's fellow prisoners--Jason Beckman--told him why he had murdered his father.

     According to the jailhouse informant, just before the shooting, Jason had asked his father what he thought of an actress named Megan Fox. Nistal testified that, "Jason's father told him he [Jason] wouldn't know what to do with that. So he [the defendant] went and got a shotgun and blew his father's head off." After the shooting, according to Nistal, Jason poked his father's body to see if he was still alive.

     Nistal testified that Beckman had told him that he planned to beat the murder rap by claiming the shooting was an accident or by asserting self-defense or insanity. According to the witness, Jason knew right from wrong and was not mentally ill when he committed the murder.

     Tara Kawass, Beckman's attorney, did her best to convince the jury that testimony from jailhouse snitches was notoriously unreliable. She said that Nistal, who was serving a seven-year stretch in prison, had exchanged his bogus testimony for a lighter sentence. Attorney Kawass did not put her client on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On November 8, 2013 the jury, at eight o'clock that night, announced its verdict. The jurors found Jason Beckman guilty as charged. In Florida, first-degree murder brought a sentence that ranged between 25 years and life.

     The defendant, when he heard the verdict, shook his head. "I don't understand," he said. "I really don't."

     In December 2014, when Judge Rodney Smith sentenced Beckman to life in prison, he said, "You had no remorse. You even told your fellow inmate you were glad your father was dead." 

Methamphetamine

In my opinion, the number one drug that poses the greatest threat to our society is methamphetamine, also known as meth or crystal meth. Meth is a highly addictive and powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system. It causes mood swings, anxiety, euphoria, depression, delusional thinking, paranoia, and even permanent psychological damage. Prolonged use of meth can cause damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs, which can ultimately lead to death.

Phil Chalmers, Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, 2009

You're a Writer, So What?

I'm so revolted by writers taking themselves seriously that, as a kind of protest, I've de-prioritized the role of writing in my life. I do it when I've not got anything better to do--and even then I often do nothing instead.

Geoff Dyer, British novelist, 1992

A Writer's Education

For a person whose sole burning ambition is to write--like myself--college is useless beyond the sophomore year.

William Styron (1925-2006) American novelist

Style: One's Literary Personality

The writer's personality and his personality on the page are not necessarily identical, but often there is a resemblance, not unlike that between an owner and his dog. A writer's work emanates from his personality, ego, sensitivities, and blind spots, his projections and unconscious wishes. All these contribute to what we eventually call style. Not everyone can arrive at a party and command the room; most writers are more inwardly focused. But even for those whose personal style attracts attention, the proof is always, finally, on the page.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Natasha Vanwasshenova: The Perils of Prostitution

     On November 23, 2010, Jonathan Hood, a resident of Rochester, Michigan, called a Dearborn escort service and requested a hooker and $80 worth of heroin. The 38-year-old John, in the midst of a divorce, was under the influence of alcohol and heroin when 28-year-old Natasha Vanwasshenova arrived at Hood's suburban Detroit home with the requested drug.

     After consuming more heroin and booze, Mr. Hood and the prostitute soaked in his hot tub for 30 minutes after which he took a cold shower. While having sex with Vanwasshenova shortly thereafter, Mr. Hood died. After Vanwasshenova called 911she tried to revive Mr. Hood then waited for the EMS personnel and the police.

      The forensic pathologist with the Oakland County Medical Examiner's office who performed the autopsy ruled that Jonathan Hood had died of a heroin overdose. The forensic pathologist noted that Mr. Hood had an enlarged heart and significant blockage in one of his arteries.

     Since, according to this forensic pathologist, Vanwasshenova's heroin had killed Mr. Hood, a local prosecutor charged her with delivering a drug that caused the user's death. Arrested on this criminal homicide offense, Vanwasshenova, if found guilty, faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     Sitting in her Oakland County jail cell, Vanwasshenova must have wondered how having sex with a 38-year-old man had killed him, and why she was being held responsible for his death. Heroin, while not good for you, was not arsenic. Had she known the authorities would charge her for causing her trick's demise, she might not have stuck around for the police.

     Vanwasshenova's court appointed attorney, Charles Toby, when he read the autopsy report, wondered why the forensic pathologist hadn't taken Mr. Hood's enlarged heart and blocked artery into consideration in the cause of death ruling. With that in mind, attorney Toby asked Dr. Kirit Patel, the Chief Cardiologist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, to review the autopsy. Dr. Patel, after reading the police and autopsy reports, concluded that Jonathan Hood had died of "acute coronary thrombosis," not a heroin overdose. His weak heart had failed under the stress of the drug, booze, hot tub, cold shower, and sex.

     In light of Dr. Patel's post-mortem analysis, the local prosecutor reduced the charge against Vanwasshenova to delivering a controlled substance. Oakland County medical examiner, Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, amended Mr. Hood's cause of death to heart attack.

     In May 2012, after spending 14 months in the county jail, Vanwasshenova pleaded guilty to the drug delivery charge. She also apologized to Mr. Hood's relatives who were in the courtroom. Judge Leo Bowan sentenced her to two years probation and ordered her released from custody.
     Attorney Charles Toby, noting that his client had been in jail for 14 months on a minor drug crime, objected to the probated sentence. If Vanwasshenova returned to prostitution, she would violate the terms of her probation, and if caught, could end up serving the rest of her drug delivery sentence behind bars. Perhaps her experience with Mr. Hood would point Vanwasshenova, the mother of four, in another direction, career-wise.