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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Cynthia Brim: Removing a Mentally Ill Judge

      Cynthia Brim, a black woman from Chicago's south side graduated from the city's Loyola University Law School in 1983. In 1994 the 38-year-old lawyer, after working seven years in the Chicago Law Department, was elected to the position of Cook County Circuit Judge. She presided in the Markham Courthouse in south suburban Chicago. Most of her workload involved simple traffic cases. Elected to a six year term she would remain on the bench until Cook County citizens voted not to retain her. That hadn't happened to a Cook County judge in 24 years. In Chicagoland once on the bench always on the bench. In reality it's a lifetime position.

     By any standard Cynthia Brim was not a competent judge. In 2000, 2006, and 2012, years in which Brim was on the ballot for retention, the Chicago Bar Association did not recommend that voters retain her. According to the bar association Brim was not qualified nor fit for the relatively simple job of presiding over minor traffic offenses. Notwithstanding the bar association's stamp of disapproval Cook County voters kept her in on the job.

     On March 9, 2012 Judge Brim turned up at the Daley Center Courthouse in downtown Chicago where she threw a set of keys at and shoved a Cook County Sheriff's Deputy. Officers handcuffed the out-of-control woman and took her to a holding cell in the basement of the courthouse. A Cook County prosecutor charged Judge Brim with misdemeanor battery.

     A court-appointed psychiatrist examined the judge and concluded that when she committed the crime she was out of her mind. The day before her fight with the deputy, while sitting on the bench at the Markham Courthouse, Judge Brim had to be ejected from her own courtroom following a 45-minute rant on racism in the criminal justice system.

     Shortly after her arrest for battery a panel of Cook County supervisory judges suspended Brim for an indefinite period of time. While the fracas with the police officer represented her first brush with the law, the mental breakdown the day before her arrest fit into a long history of such irrational behavior. The woman was clearly unfit for the bench but because she held an elected office stripping Brim of her judgeship was next to impossible. Indefinite suspension was the next best thing. During that period, however, until her term ran out Brim was paid her annual salary of $182,000 a year.

     Joe Berrious, a Cook County Democratic machine boss told reporters that Judge Brim would receive the full support of the party in her next retention election.

     In November 2012 Cook County voters gave the suspended judge another six years in office.

     Judge Brim went on trial for battery in February 2013. She waived her right to a jury in favor of a trial by judge. Her attorney, in presenting a defense of legal insanity, revealed how unfit his client was for the bench. According to the defense attorney, Judge Brim, since becoming a judge, had been hospitalized for mental illness nine times. In describing Brim's skirmish with the deputy sheriff the attorney said, "This was not the action of a rational human being. This is someone acting pursuant to the symptoms of a mental disorder."

     The trial judge in the battery case found that when the defendant unloaded on the deputy she was legally insane. As a result he placed Judge Brim on probation and ordered her to stay on her antipsychotic medication.

     In an effort to get Judge Brim permanently removed from the bench, John Gallo, the attorney for the Judicial Inquiry Board, filed a complaint in August 2013 charging Brim with conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute." Attorney Gallo noted that after the incident in the downtown courthouse Judge Brim had been hospitalized three weeks for bipolar mood disorder.

     Attorney Gallo wrote that the day before the judge's arrest, while presiding over a traffic case, Brim suddenly launched into a 45-minute tirade in which she revealed that her grandmother had been raped by a white man. She also accused two Cook County police agencies of targeting Hispanics and blacks. "Justice is all about if you're black or white," she said before being forcibly removed from the courtroom.

     In March 2014 Judge Brim's case came before a judicial disciplinary panel comprised of an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, two appellate court judges, a pair of circuit court judges and two citizens. In a bid to save her $182,000 a year job Judge Brim spoke to the panel. Regarding her rant the day before her run-in with the police officer, she said, "I just broke like a pencil. It was totally inappropriate for me to say what I did at the time--or any other time."

     In an effort to convince the panel members that she was ready to return to the bench Judge Brim said, "I can serve as a judge with full capability as long as I continue to take the medication as prescribed. I've had two years to think about this, and I have a different perspective and understanding of my condition. I realize now I have to stay on my medications and see a psychiatrist on a regular basis."

     Attorney Gallo, in speaking to the inquiry panel, voiced his concern over whether it would be proper for Judge Brim to return to the bench. "Judge Brim," he said, "decided to go without any kind of psychiatric treatment of any sort after 15 years of these episodes while she was a sitting judge." Mr. Gallo informed the panel members that Brim had been hospitalized nine times for mental breakdowns since she took the bench in 1994. In one of her psychiatric meltdowns EMT personnel carried her out of the courtroom on a stretcher after she went catatonic. Gallo pointed out that the judge wasn't diagnosed with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder until 2009. By then she had been a judge fifteen years.

     On May 10, 2014, the Illinois Courts Commission removed Cynthia Brim from the bench. The commissioners had determined that she was unfit to preside over a courtroom. Following her removal, however, she began receiving her pension in excess of $150,000 a year. She also remained registered in the state to practice law.

The Sylvie Cachay Bathtub Murder Case

     Sylvie Cachay grew up as the daughter of a Peruvian-born physician who practiced in Arlington, Virginia. She studied fashion design in New York City and worked for clothing designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfinger and Victoria's Secret. In 2006 Cachay started her own swimsuit line called Syla. She resided in a So Ho apartment in Manhattan's meatpacking district.

     Early in 2010 the 33-year-old swimwear designer met 24-year-old Nicholas Brooks, a college dropout and unemployed party-boy with a history of patronizing prostitutes, consuming large amounts of alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Nicholas Brooks' father, Joseph Brooks, achieved a bit of fame by writing the 1970s hit song, "You Light Up My Life." The songwriter supported his son's party-boy lifestyle until 2009 when the elder Brooks was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting several women, most of whom were aspiring actresses. (In 2011 Joseph Brooks, facing the chance of a long stretch in prison, committed suicide.)

     Because of Nicholas Brooks' debauched lifestyle, funded by Cachay's credit cards, the couple had a turbulent relationship. They frequently broke up and then got back together again.

     On the morning of December 8, 2010 Cachay sent Brooks an email that read: "Nick, for the past six months I have supported you financially and emotionally. I am speaking with my credit card company and the police and I am going to tell them that I never allowed you to use my card. I don't care. Have fun in jail."

     Later on the day of Cachay's angry email the couple made up at her So Ho apartment. That night just after midnight the couple walked to the SoHo House, a luxury hotel not far from Cachay's dwelling. They checked into their room at 12:30 AM.

     Shortly after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House a hotel employee heard a man and a woman arguing loudly in their room. Thirty minutes later Brooks left the suite and was seen eating a steak in the hotel's dining room. Upon finishing his meal Brooks and a man who had come to the lobby to meet him left the hotel. A short time later they were having drinks at a nightclub called Employees Only.

     At three in the morning of December 9, 2010, about two and a half hours after Cachay and Brooks checked in to the SoHo House, a guest on the floor below complained to the front dest about water leaking through the ceiling. Hotel employees entered Cachay's room and found her dead in the overflowing bathtub. One of the stunned hotel employees called 911.

     New York City homicide detectives when they arrived at the hotel found the swimsuit designer in the bathtub wearing a sweater and a pair of underwear. The officers didn't notice any signs of physical trauma on the dead woman's body. At five-thirty that morning while the death scene investigators were still in the hotel room Nicholas Brooks returned to the suite. He agreed to be questioned at a nearby NYPD precinct station.

     Brooks admitted to his questioners that he and his dead girlfriend had been arguing in the hotel room before he left to eat his steak. After that he and a friend went out for drinks at a nearby nightclub. He said that when he left the hotel room Sylvie was alive.

     Following the autopsy, a forensic pathologist with the New York City Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Sylvie Cachay had died of asphyxia due to strangulation and drowning. The manner of death in her case was ruled criminal homicide.

     New York City detectives arrested Nicholas Brooks on January 4, 2011 on the charge of first-degree murder. At his arraignment hearing the magistrate denied the murder suspect bail. Brooks entered a plea of not guilty.

     The Cachay-Brooks murder trial got underway in New York City on June 7, 2013. In his opening remarks to the jury the assistant district attorney laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: the unemployed playboy had been using the victim to fund his taste for prostitutes, alcohol, marijuana, and expensive nights out on the town. When she threatened to cut him off and report him to the police he strangled or drowned her to death in the hotel bathtub.

     The New York City Medical Examiner's Office forensic pathologist took the stand early in the trial. According to the pathologist, "Bruises on the victim's neck, bleeding in her eyes, and abrasions inside her mouth were injuries consistent with [homicidal] asphyxiation."

     Through several prosecution witnesses the assistant district attorney presented the jury with emails in which Cachay had complained to her friends about Brooks' drinking, drug use, and late-night partying. In these emails she referred to the defendant as "the kid I'm dating," as her "man-boy," or as a "stoner" who had quit his job at a cupcake shop.

     The Brooks defense, through a forensic pathologist from Syosset, New York, presented evidence that Cachay's death had been accidental. According to Dr. Gerard Catanese the victim had drowned in the tub because she had sedatives, anti-depressants and muscle relaxers in her system. "That combination of drugs," Dr. Catanese said, "could account for her falling asleep, losing consciousness and sinking under the water and ultimately dying."

     On July 11, 2013, the jury, relying solely on circumstantial evidence, found Nicholas Brooks guilty of first-degree murder. As the verdict was read, friends of Sylvie Cachay, from their seats in the courtroom, cheered loudly. 
     The judge sentenced Nicholas Brooks to 25 years to life. Five years later an appellate court denied Brooks' appeal.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Father Michael Kelly Repressed Memory Sexual Molestation Suit

     In 2008 a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred to as John TZ Doe pursuant to a court order not to reveal his identify, didn't remember being molested by Father Kelly until 2006. Although the statute of limitations ruled out criminal charges a civil suit could be brought against the priest and the church.

     In the lawsuit, John Doe accuses Father Kelly of molesting him in the 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, California. In September 2007, following the recovery of his "repressed memory," John Doe had filed a complaint with Bishop Stephen Blaine of the Stockton Diocese. Father Kelly, placed on administrative leave, denied the allegations. Following an internal investigation by diocesan officials, Father Kelly, in March 2008, was re-instated at St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

     The civil trial got underway on February 29, 2012 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Judge Bob McNatt had ruled that the jury could not be told that Father Kelly was the subject of a pending sexual molestation investigation being conducted by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. According to the criminal complaint Father Kelly had molested a boy during the period 2000-2002 while he was pastor of St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California. (In 2004 Father Kelly was transferred to St. Joachim's in Stockton. Prior to his tenure in San Andreas Father Kelly had been pastor at churches in Sonora, Tracy, Modesto, and Ceres, California.)

     Plaintiff's attorney John Manly put on several witnesses who, as boys in the defendant's churches, had been repeatedly tickled by the priest who also wrestled with them. According to this testimony Father Kelly had sexually touched and fondled them during these bouts of roughhousing.

     John Doe took the stand and spoke of being molested by the defendant on a walking trail outside of Stockton, in a motel room, and in the priest's living quarters. In the motel room, the plaintiff said he had fallen asleep and when he awoke he and the priest were in bed naked. At the defendant's living quarters Father Kelly had removed the witness' clothing. John Doe said he then fell asleep and when he awoke he was fully dressed. (From this testimony, the plaintiff was asking jurors to infer that he had been drugged.) Pointing at Father Kelly the witness yelled, "You raped me, I was just a kid!"

     On March 20, 2012, San Francisco psychiatrist Anlee Kuo testified that in evaluating the reliability of John Doe's recovered memories of events that occurred when he was 10-years-old, gave him several tests that measured the validity of his accounts. The results of these tests convinced her these memories were accurate. Dr. Kuo pointed out that the repressed memory phenomenon was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Moreover, she said that repressed memory was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the psychiatrist, Father Kelly's sexual molestation has caused the plaintiff, as a 35-year-old adult, to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse.

     The next day, defense attorney Thomas Beatty put Father Kelly on the stand. The priest told the jury that he had not sexually molested the plaintiff. On cross-examination, John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Father Kelly this: "At any time did you get under a blanket with [the plaintiff]?"

     "Of course not," came the reply.

     "Did you ever take him into the bathroom to disrobe?"

     "I absolutely deny it."

     "Did you ever take the [plaintiff] on a hike?"

     "I did not," answered the priest.

     Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin of Harvard University took the stand for the defense. Dr. Bodkin told the jury that repressed memories--also known as dissociative memory--is not a scientifically proven phenomenon. "Peoples' memories don't get better with time," he said. "They get worse. The plaintiff's story is difficult to believe."

     Following the lunch break on Friday, April 6, 2012, the case went to the jury of 10 women and 2 men. Because this was a civil trial only 9 votes were required for the jury to reach a verdict. Moreover, the standard of proof in a civil trial is less rigorous than in a criminal proceeding that requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial a plaintiff merely has to establish his case by a "preponderance of the evidence." That is, the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant are more likely to be true than not.

     After deliberating a day the jury found Father Michael Kelly liable for three of the sexual molestation allegations. The second phase of the trial, with the same jury, would focus on the dioceses' handling of child abuse allegations against Father Kelly and other priests. One of the other priests was Father Oliver O'Grady who had been convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography. The O'Grady case had cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in civil case settlements in more than 20 lawsuits. The jury also had the task of determining how much money to award John Doe.

     Immediately after the verdict, the Bishop removed Father Kelly from the ministry Three hours later, speaking to 100 of his parishioners at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford, the ex-priest said, "The charges against me are untrue." When Michael Kelly reminded his supporters that he had passed two polygraph tests, they cheered. Because polygraph test results were not admissible in court the jury did not know this. The jurors also didn't know about the ongoing sexual molestation investigation involving Michael Kelly in Calaveras County. Under the laws of evidence, jurors, in making their decisions, are kept in the dark about a lot of things.

     Michael Kelly, on April 15, 2015, flew to his native Ireland for what he described as needed medical treatment. He was under subpoena to testify the next day in the second phase of the lawsuit in Stockton. John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, said that he believed the ex-priest received help in leaving the country. Kelly's attorney, Tom Beatty, said that he was "saddened by Father Kelly's illness and his devastation brought on by the finding of the repressed memory claim of abuse. I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present during the damages phase of the case but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk to him shortly." John Manly said that whoever helped Kelly to escape out of the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting. (Nothing came of this threat.)

     In August 2015, the Stockton Diocese settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million.

Dr.Thomas Woodrow Price: A Headmaster's Double Life

     In 2007 Dr. Thomas Woodrow Price, known to his friends as "Woody," became the headmaster of the Branson School, a private college preparatory institution in California's upscale Marin County in the San Francisco bay area. Students of the school--320 of them--paid an annual tuition of $39,475.

     The 54-year-old headmaster and his wife resided in the suburban community of Ross. Price's wife was the principal of the Prospect Sierra School, a private preparatory institution in El Cerrito, California. Dr. Price and his wife exemplified the upper middle class rewards of higher education and ambition. They were highly respected members of their affluent community.

     Thomas Price had earned a master's degree in education administration from Columbia University in New York City. He went on to acquire a doctorate in education leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, another Ivy League school. Before moving to Marin County he held administrative positions at the Newman School in New Orleans and the Abington Friends School in Philadelphia.

     On the evening of Friday October 3, 2014, deputies with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office responded to a 911 call from a young man who said his 21-year-old girlfriend was holed up in a hotel room doing drugs with an older man. The 911 caller identified his girlfriend as Brittany Hall and said she and the man were staying at the Hyatt Place off Highway 50 in Rancho Cordova, a suburban community 15 miles east of Sacramento. The hotel was located about 100 miles from Dr. Price's home in Ross, California.

     When Dr. Price answered his hotel room door he came face-to-face with two sheriff's deputies who asked about Brittany Hall. From the hallway outside of the single room the officers saw a young blond woman lying on the bed. They shouted her name but she didn't respond. The deputies pushed past the headmaster into the room where they revived the young woman who was obviously under the influence of narcotics.

      One of the officers described the hotel room as a "den of drug activity." Deputies seized, among drug paraphernalia, quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and prescription pills. The man who had rented the hotel room identified himself to the deputies as Dr. Thomas Price, the head of a prestigious prep school in Marin County.

     Officers booked Brittany Hall, a resident of Elk Grove, California, into the Sacramento County Jail on charges of drug possession with the intent to distribute. Dr. Price was booked on the same charges. The next day the headmaster posted his $75,000 bond and was released. Brittany Hall spent the weekend behind bars before someone bailed her out.

     Shortly after his arrest Dr. Price resigned from the Branson School. Although he told investigators that Brittany Hall had been a casual hookup, evidence surfaced that he had been involved with her for up to two years. At any rate it became obvious that Dr. Thomas Price had been living a double life.

     On April 2, 2015, Dr. Price pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor drug possession charges in return for three years probation. Brittney Hall received probation as well.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Jerame Reid Police-Involved Shooting Case

      On the night of December 30, 2014, in Brighton, New Jersey, a Cumberland County town of 25,000 south of Philadelphia, Bridgeton police officers Roger Worley and Braheme Days pulled over a Jaguar for running a stop sign. Officer Worley was behind the wheel of the patrol car.

     Officer Days approached the passenger side of the Jaguar and asked the two men in the car how they were doing. The passenger, 30-year-old Jerame Reid, said, "Good, how you doing, officer?"

     A few months earlier, officer Days had arrested Jerame Reid for possession of drugs. As a teenager Reid had been convicted of shooting at police officers. The judge sent him to prison for twelve years.

     A few seconds after approaching the Jaguar officer Days spotted a handgun in the glove compartment. He said, "Don't move! Show me your hands!"

     On the other side of the vehicle officer Worley pointed his gun at the driver, Leroy Tutt. Mr. Tutt sat in the driver's seat with his hands sticking out of the car door window where they could be seen. Officer Worley called for backup.

     Officer Days reached into the Jaguar and removed a silver handgun from the glove box. To the vehicle's occupants he said, "You reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     One of the men in the stopped car said, "I got no reason to reach for nothing." Again officer Days warned, "Hey Jerame, you reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     As Jerame Reid opened the front passenger door, he said, "I'm getting out of the car." By now officer Worley had joined officer Days on that side of the vehicle. Both officers had their guns drawn. Reid climbed out of the vehicle, and when he stood up his hands were raised to the level of his chest in the officers' plain view.

     A few seconds after Jerame Reid exited the Jaguar, officer Days shot him. Officer Worley also fired his gun but missed his target.  The shot man collapsed to the ground and died on the spot. He did not possess a firearm.

     The police-involved shooting incident was caught on the officers' dashboard camera. The chief of police placed both officers on administrative leave and turned the case over to the Cumberland County prosecutor's office.

     Shortly after receiving the case, Cumberland County prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae recused herself from the inquiry because she had personal ties to officer Days. First Assistant prosecutor Harold Shapiro took over the investigation.

     Critics of the way the authorities handled the case called for either a special prosecutor or an intervention by the state attorney general's office. Protestors, notwithstanding the fact that Jerame Reid and the officer who shot him were black, claimed racism.

    In February 2015, three months after Reid's death, a local newspaper reported that in 2011 Jerame Reid had filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, Warden Robert Balicki,and three corrections officers. Reid claimed the jail guards assaulted him in October 2009. According to Reid, the officers, without provocation or justification, repeatedly punched, kicked and pepper sprayed his face then threw a bucket of water on him as he lay on the cell floor.

     As a result of the beating Reid said he suffered broken ribs and a fractured left orbital bone that left him without sensation and nerve damage to his lips and cheek area. According to court documents the encounter began after Reid confronted another inmate over stolen belongings. The accused inmate told correction officers that Reid possessed a sharp object.

     Responding jail guards handcuffed Reid and placed him into another cell. According to the plaintiff, after he made a comment to one of the officers they gave him the beating. (The officers alleged that Reid threw the first punch.)

     Reid's lawyer, in court documents, said the corrections officers, after an internal investigation, were disciplined for not filing a use of force report. The matter was not referred to the local prosecutor's office for investigation.

     As a result of the plaintiff's death, the lawsuit against the county and the others was dismissed.

     After a federal prosecutor decided not to pursue the shooting incident against the officers, the case, in April 2016, went before a local grand jury. The grand jurors declined to indict either officer. In July 2016, members of Reid's family settled a federal lawsuit against the police department for an undisclosed amount.

The Paul Johnson/Vance Roberts Kidnap/Sexual Torture Case

     In June 1990, 20-year-old Paul Johnson and his half-brother Vance Roberts kidnapped 17-year-old Andrea Hood off the street in Portland, Oregon. After the victim climbed into Roberts' pickup truck the two men drove her to Roberts' house in the city where, over a period of 36 hours, they repeatedly raped her in a bedroom converted into a soundproof torture chamber. They locked Hood in a closet and at times chained her to a bed.

     On the second day of her captivity Hood managed to free herself, smash a bedroom window and escape.

     Police officers, when they searched Vance Roberts' house, found chains and other items of torture and restraint.

     After Paul Johnson and Vance Roberts pleaded not guilty at their arraignments, a Washington County prosecutor took the case to a grand jury which indicted the half-brothers on charges of kidnapping and rape. Both men maintained their innocence.

     In February 1991, as Johnson and Roberts awaited trial, their mother bailed them out. Both men immediately fled and remained at large for seventeen years until Vance Roberts surrendered to the authorities in 2006.

     In 2007, a jury found Vance Roberts guilty as charged. The key evidence against him involved the testimony of Andrea Hood and Michaelle Dierich, a woman kidnapped and raped by the half-brothers in 1988. The judge sentenced Roberts to 108 years in prison. He continued to insist that he was innocent.

     In September 2015 the Portland kidnap/rape case and its fugitive Paul Johnson were featured on the CNN TV show "The Hunt With John Walsh." Shortly after the episode aired a tip came in regarding Johnson's whereabouts.

     On Monday September 29, 2015, U. S. Marshals in Guadalajara, Mexico arrested Paul Johnson as he walked to an electronics store. The fugitive of 24 years had been living in that country under the name Paul Bennett Hamilton.

     In May 2016 Paul Johnson pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree kidnapping, six counts of first-degree sodomy, six counts of first-degree rape and three counts of first-degree sexual abuse. The Washington County judge sentenced the 46-year-old to 18 years in prison.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Robert H. Richards IV: The Case of the Rich Pedophile

     In 2005, 38-year-old Robert H. Richards IV resided with his wife Tracy and their three-year-old daughter and 19-month-old son. Mr. Richards, the heir to a pair of family fortunes, lived in a 5,800-square-foot mansion in Greenville, Delaware. He was a member of the du Pont family, the people who built a worldwide chemical empire, and was the son of a prominent Delaware attorney. Richards also owned a luxury home in the exclusive North Shores neighborhood near Rehoboth Beach.

     In October 2007 Richards' daughter, now almost six, told her grandmother, Donna Burg, that her father had sexually assaulted her several times in 2005. According to the girl her father had penetrated her with his finger at night in her bedroom. He told his daughter to keep what he had done to her a secret. The grandmother passed this information on to the victim's mother, Tracy Richards. The mother took her daughter to a pediatrician who confirmed that she had been sexually assaulted.

     In December 2007 a grand jury sitting in New Castle County indicted Robert Richards on two counts of second-degree rape. If convicted of the felonies Richards faced a mandatory prison sentence. Following his arrest he retained the services of a high-powered Delaware defense attorney named Eugene J. Maurer Jr.

     Having denied his daughter's accusations Richards agreed to take a polygraph test. When advised by the lie detection examiner that he had failed the test Richards confessed to sexually assaulting his daughter. He said he was mentally ill and in need of psychiatric treatment.

     In June 2008 attorney Maurer and New Castle County prosecutor Renee Hrivnak agreed on a plea arrangement. According to the deal Richards would plead guilty to one count of fourth-degree rape. This was not an offense that called for an automatic stretch in prison.

     Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, in January 2009, sentenced Richards to Level 2 probation. Under the terms of his sentence Richards would visit a case officer once a month. He also paid a $4,395 fine to the Delaware Violent Crimes Compensation Board.

     Judge Jurden, in justifying the probated sentence, wrote that prison life would be especially difficult for Mr. Richards and that he would not fare well behind bars. In her mind prison was for drug dealers, robbers and murderers, not for child molesters in need of psychiatric treatment.

     In March 2014, Robert Richards' ex-wife Tracy filed a lawsuit against him on behalf of their children. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages for assault, negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional stress on his daughter and her younger brother.

     According to the affidavit in support of the lawsuit, Richards, in anticipation of a second polygraph test in April 2010, expressed concern about something he had done to his son in December 2005. Richards was worried that he had sexually assaulted the then 19-month-old boy. Richards promised that whatever he had done to that child it would not happen again.

     Richards' incriminating remarks, sparked by the lie detector test he took in 2010 following his probated sentence for sexually assaulting his daughter, were not make public until Tracy Richards filed her lawsuit. The new information inflamed a public already angry over what seemed to be Richards' preferential treatment by the prosecutor and Judge Jurden.

    On June 28, 2014 Robert Richards' attorney negotiated a settlement agreement with his client's former wife. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. No charges were filed against Richards in connection with the possible molestation of his son.

Donald Eugene Borders: The "Three Women" Murder Case

     In 2003, 85-year-old Lottie Ledford lived by herself in a low-income neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, a town of 20,000 fifty miles west of Charlotte. As a younger woman Lottie had worked in the region's textile mills. On August 23, 2003 a relative discovered Lottie lying dead on her bed. Because of her age the police didn't suspect foul play. The Cleveland County Coroner ruled that Lottie Ledford had died of a heart attack.

     Bobby Fisher, Ledford's nephew, believed that his aunt had been murdered. Based upon his own observations and what the funeral director had seen and noted, Fisher knew that Ledford's face and arms had been covered in bruises. (Almost ten years later, in January 2013, Bobby Fisher's widow Barbara Ann, in speaking to a reporter said, "It looked as if someone had taken two fingers and pinched her nose and held her across the mouth.") The fact that someone had cut Ledford's telephone line also suggested homicide. Bobby Fisher pleaded with the Shelby police to launch a murder investigation but they ignored his request.

     On September 20, 2003, six weeks after Lottie Ledford's death, Margaret Tessneer's daughter and son-in-law went to Margaret's house at ten that morning. She didn't live far from Ledford's house. The couple had brought Tessneer a biscuit from Hardee's. The visitors found Tessneer's front door ajar. The couple entered the dwelling where they encountered the 79-year-old lying face-up on her rumpled bed. The dead woman had bruises on her face, arms and legs. Someone had pulled the telephone drop-line away from her house.

     The forensic pathologist who performed the Tessneer autopsy noted the bruises and concluded that the victim had been raped. While he ruled the manner of death in this case homicide the pathologist classified Tessneer's cause of death as"undetermined." 

     On November 10, 2003 in the same part of town a neighbor discovered Lillian Mullinax lying dead in her own bed. The 87-year-old's body was covered in bruises, her front door had been left ajar, and someone had cut her phone line. Following the autopsy Mullinax's cause of death went into the books as "undetermined."

     One didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that these three elderly women had been raped and murdered in their homes by the same man.

     In early 2004 local detectives investigating Margaret Tessneer's September 20, 2003 death became interested in a 53-year-old man named Donald Eugene Borders. After graduating from high school in 1977 Borders got married, worked in the region's textile mills and fathered two children. But in the 1990s he turned to crime and was arrested dozens of times for robbery, burglary and assault. In 2001 Borders was sent to state prison on a conviction for breaking and entering a home. After his release from custody in January 2003 Borders lived as a homeless man on the streets of Shelby.

     On March 20, 2004, after publicly asking for help in locating Borders, detectives found him living in a homeless shelter in Charlotte. Armed with an arrest warrant pertaining to a matter unrelated to the so-called "three women" murder case, Shelby officer James Brienza took the suspect into custody. Before hauling him to jail Brienza let the prisoner have a cigarette. When Borders finished his smoke Brienza saved the evidence for DNA analysis.

     A state forensic scientist, in August 2004, found trace evidence from Margaret Tessneer's underwear that revealed she had been raped. Following the passage of more than five years a DNA analyst matched the Tessneer murder scene evidence with the saliva on Border's cigarette butt.

     A Cleveland County Grand Jury, on December 28, 2009, more that six years after Margaret Tessneer's rape and killing, indicted Donald Eugene Borders for first-degree murder. He was taken into custody and held in the Cleveland County Jail without bond.

     Borders' trial got underway in Cleveland on January 5, 2013. On January 28, the jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Donald Eugene Borders to life in prison without the chance of parole. 
     While Borders was not charged with the murders of Dottie Ledford or Lillian Mullinax, the authorities believed he had murdered and raped these victims as well.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Anthony Taglianetti Love Triangle Murder Case

     In 2010, Anthony Taglianetti and his wife Mary resided with their four children in Woodbridge, Virginia. A former Marine, Mr. Taglianetti worked at the Marine Museum.  Later that year the couple separated. Mary and the children moved out of the house in Virginia and relocated in Saratoga Springs, New York.

     Shortly after taking up residence in Saratoga Springs Mary Taglianetti signed up with the online dating site Match.com where she met Keith Reed Jr. She did not tell the 51-year-old superintendent of the Clymer, New York school district that she was married. After Mr. Reed and the 40-year-old woman exchanged a few emails they met for dinner. Shortly after that they became romantically involved. Keith Reed still did not know that he was dating a married woman.

     Keith Reed, the father of three college age daughters, lived alone in the farming community of 1,500 70 miles southwest of Buffalo, New York. The school superintendent had been divorced for several years.

     In 2011, Mary Taglianetti, after reconciling with her husband, moved back to Woodbridge, Virginia. But in 2012, while still living with him and their children, she began exchanging sexually explicit emails and telephone calls with Keith Reed who still wasn't aware that she was married. The online relationship came to an end when Anthony Taglianetti discovered one of the lurid email messages Mary had forgotten to erase from her computer.

     A furious Anthony Taglianetti sent several angry emails to Keith Reed who insisted he had no idea the woman he had been swapping erotic emails with was married. Mr. Reed made it clear he wanted nothing more to do with Mr. Taglianetti or his dishonest wife.

     On September 23, 2012, Edward Bailey, the principal of Clymer Central High School, reported Keith Reed missing after the superintendent didn't show up for a conference in Saratoga Springs. Mr. Bailey went to Reed's house where he found his dog locked in the garage. Mr. Reed was not in the dwelling.

     Deputies with the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office questioned the missing man's neighbors who reported hearing gunshots coming from the vicinity of Reed's house around 9:30 PM two days before. On September 24, 2012 a deputy sheriff found Mr. Reed's body amid a row of thick shrubs about 150 feet from his house. He had been shot three times.

     Detectives working the case caught their first break when Mary Taglianetti, on September 26, 2012, informed them she suspected that Mr. Reed had been murdered by her angry and jealous husband.

     Investigators learned that on September 21, 2012 Anthony Taglianetti drove 350 miles to Clymer, New York where the detectives believed he shot and killed Keith Reed. According to the homicide investigators, Taglianetti, after murdering the victim, drove straight back to Woodbridge, Virginia. The next day he took one of his children to a local museum.

     A Chautauqua County prosecutor charged Anthony Taglianetti with second-degree murder. On September 30, 2012 U.S. Marshals and local police officers pulled the murder suspect over as he drove along a rural road in the Shenandoah Valley National Forest in Virginia. Inside Taglianetti's vehicle officers found a .367-Magnum revolver wrapped in one of his wife's offending emails.

     Through DNA analysis a forensic scientist identified Keith Reed's blood on the suspect's handgun. Ballistics tests revealed that this .357-Magnum had fired the death scene bullets.

     The Taglianetti murder trial got underway on October 31, 2013 in Chautauqua County, New York. District Attorney David W. Foley in his opening statement to the jury emphasized the physical evidence pointing to the defendant's guilt.

     Public defender Nathaniel L. Barone, in his opening remarks, said, "This is not a story of an affair gone wrong or a crazed husband seeking justice. It's not as simple as Mr. Taglianetti driving up and killing Keith Reed because of an email. That's not what happened. The defendant is innocent. Mr. Taglianetti did not murder Keith Reed Jr."

     The defense attorney, after declaring his client innocent, attacked Mary Taglianetti, one of the prosecution's star witnesses. He characterized her as a "master manipulator" and urged jurors to weigh her testimony carefully. "Mary Taglianetti is a liar," he said.

     On November 9, 2013, following the testimony of 46 witnesses over a nine day period, the jury of five women and seven men, after three hours of deliberation, found the 45-year-old defendant guilty as charged. On February 24, 2014 the Chautauqua County judge sentenced Anthony Taglianetti to 25 years to life in prison. 

The Debra Milke Murder-For-Hire Case

     In December 1989, 25-year-old Debra Milke lived in Phoenix, Arizona with her 4-year-old son Christopher and a man named James Styers. Milke rented a room in Styers' house. A few days before Christmas Milke asked Styers to drive Christopher to the mall so he could visit Santa Claus. Instead of taking the boy to the shopping mall Styers and a friend drove him to a secluded ravine outside of town where Styers shot the boy three times in the head. Detectives and prosecutors believed that Debra Milke had arranged the murder of her son for a $50,000 insurance payout. 

      James Styers confessed to the homicide and was convicted of first degree-murder. At his trial neither he nor his friend implicated Milke in the alleged murder-for-hire plot. No other witnesses came forward with incriminating evidence against the mother.

     Evidence that Debra Milke had plotted the murder came from a Phoenix detective named Armando Saldate. According to the detective, Milke told him that her role in the conspiracy to murder her son had been "a bad judgment call." Milke's interrogation had not been recorded and Saldate was the only officer involved in her questioning. Milke proclaimed her innocence from the beginning and denied making any kind of confession to Detective Saldate or anyone else. A local prosecutor, relying on the detective's credibility, charged Debra Milke with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse, and kidnapping.

     Detective Saldate, at Milke's October 1990 murder trial, testified that the mother had confessed to him regarding her role in her son's homicide. The defendant took the stand, professed her innocence, and called the detective a liar. As is often the case jurors believed the police officer over the defendant. The jury returned a guilty verdict. A few months later the judge sentenced Debra Milke to death.

     As it turned out, Detective Armando Saldate was in fact a notorious liar. Prior to his interrogation of Milke he had been caught committing perjury in four criminal trials. His credibility was so compromised judges refused to accept into evidence confessions this detective had acquired.

     On March 14, 2013, Chief Federal Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Milke's conviction and vacated her sentence. The 49-year-old had been on Arizona's death row for 22 years. Based on Detective Saldate's history of perjury and other incidents of police misconduct, Judge Kozinski ruled that Milke's confession should have been excluded from her trial. Without this dishonest detective's tainted testimony the prosecution had no case. In rationalizing his decision, Judge Kozinski wrote: "No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty."

     On September 6, 2013, Judge Rosa Mroz of the Maricopa County Superior Court set the 49-year-old prisoner free on $250,000 bond. County prosecutors said they planned to bring Milke back to trial by the end of that month. Once again, the prosecution would seek the death penalty. The defendant's attorneys petitioned the Arizona Court of Appeals to throw out the first-degree murder charge.

     On December 12, 2014, a three-judge panel on the state appeals court ruled that a retrial in the Milke case would amount to double jeopardy. According to the court, "The failure to disclose evidence calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to this defendant." The appellate court ordered the dismissal of all charges against Debra Milke.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Murder She Wrote: The Nancy Crampton Brophy Murder Case

     Sixty-three-year-old Daniel Brophy, a master gardener and expert on marine biology who also knew a lot about the growing of mushrooms, was the chief instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute located in the Portland, Oregon neighborhood of Goose Hollow. Brophy and his 68-year-old wife of 27 years, Nancy Crampton Brophy, resided in nearby Beaverton, Oregon.

     Nancy Brophy was a self-published author of nine "romance suspense" novels featuring, according to the author's website, "pretty men and strong women." She promoted her fiction which was available on Kindle on her website. All of her male protagonists were Navy SEALS.

     At eight-thirty on Saturday, June 2, 2018, officers with the Portland Police Bureau responded to a 911 call regarding a man who had been found shot to death in the culinary school's kitchen area. The authorities identified the victim as Danial Brophy. He had been shot with a 9mm pistol.

     Other than perhaps a disgruntled culinary student detectives didn't have a clue as to who had shot the instructor. Without an eyewitness they didn't have much to go on.

     On Sunday, June 3, 2018, the day following Chef Brophy's homicide, Nancy Brophy wrote the following on her Facebook page: "For my Facebook friends and family, I have sad news to relate. My husband and best friend, Chef Dan Brophy was killed yesterday morning...I am struggling to make sense of this right now."

     The next day, Nancy Brophy attended a candlelight vigil for her dead husband that was held outside the Oregon Culinary Institute.

     By July 2018 detectives had started thinking about the possibility that Mr. Brophy had been killed by his wife. In November 2011, on her blog "See Jane Publish," Nancy Brophy had posted a 700-word essay entitled, "How to Murder Your Husband." Regarding her marriage to Daniel Brophy, she wrote: "My husband and I are both on our second (and final--trust me!) marriage. We vowed, prior to saying 'I do,' that we would not end in divorce. We did not, I should note, rule out a tragic drive-by shooting or a suspicious accident."

      In her murder essay Brophy wrote that she and her husband had their "ups and downs but more good times than bad." The romance novelist also had plenty to say on the subject of murder: "I find it easier to wish people dead than to actually kill them...But the thing I know about murder is that every one of us have it in him/her when pushed far enough."

     In her treatise on how to get away with murder Nancy Brophy advised against hiring a hit man who are almost always caught and spill their guts. Do the job yourself, she wrote. 

     In Brophy's 2015 novel, The Wrong Cop, the female protagonist fantasizes about murdering her husband. In The Wrong Husband, also published in 2015, Brophy's female hero tries to flee an abusive marriage by faking her own death.

     On September 5, 2018, detectives with the Portland Police Bureau took Nancy Crampton Brophy into custody for killing her husband Daniel. At her arraignment hearing, the prosecutor charged her with murder and the unlawful use of a weapon. (Presumably the 9mm pistol.) The defendant pleaded not guilty and the judge denied her bail. Officers booked the homicide widow into the Multnomah County Jail where she would await her trial.

     In April 2020, Brophy's lawyer petitioned the court to have her released on bail due to the threat of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. The judge denied the request. 
     Nancy Brophy went on trial in early April 2022. The prosecution's key witness, the defendant's cellmate at the Multomah County Jail, testified that Brophy had described to her in detail how she had murdered her husband. Brophy did not take the stand on her own behalf.
     On May 25, 2022, the Multomah County jury found Nancy Brophy guilty of second-degree murder. The judge set her sentencing hearing for June 13, 2022.

The Lois Riess Double Murder Case

     On March 23, 2018, in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, Dodge County sheriff deputies went to the home of 59-year-old David Riess after his business partner reported that he hadn't seen him for two weeks. Riess's wife Lois had texted friends that Mr. Riess was not well and should not be bothered at home. At the Riess house police officers discovered David Riess's body. He had been shot to death with a .22-caliber gun that was not at the murder scene. Lois Riess was not in the house and no one knew where she was.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess' body Lois Riess began forging checks drawn on his bank account. The checks were cashed in south Florida.

     A few days after the discovery of Mr. Riess's body Dodge County, Minnesota prosecutor charged Mrs. Riess with the murder of her husband. At this point the missing 56-year-old murder suspect became known in the local media as "The Grandma Fugitive."

     While hiding in Fort Myers, Florida Lois Riess met Pamela Hutchinson, a woman who looked a lot like her. The 54-year-old Hutchinson lived in Bradenton, Florida but was staying in a hotel in Fort Myers where she had traveled to visit a friend.

     On April 5, 2018 Lois Riess shot Pamela Hutchinson to death in the victim's hotel room. Her body was discovered four days after the murder. Police officers recovered the murder weapon, a .22-caliber handgun from the scene. This weapon was determined to be the gun used to kill David Riess in Minnesota. Lois Riess had killed Mrs. Hutchinson, her lookalike, in order to use her identification. From Florida Riess drove to Texas in the murder victim's car.

     On April 10, 2018, a Lee County, Florida prosecutor charged Lois Riess with the first-degree murder of Pamela Hutchinson.

     On April 19, 2018, U.S. Marshals took "The Fugitive Grandma" into custody in South Padre Island, Texas. Riess was having a cocktail at a waterfront restaurant.

     Lois Riess, in December 2019, pleaded guilty to murdering Pamela Hutchinson in Fort Myers, Florida. The Lee County judge sentenced her to life in prison.

     Following Riess' guilty plea, the Dodge County authorities in Minnesota began the process of extraditing her back to that state to stand trial for the March 2018 murder of her husband.
     In April 2020 Lois Riess pleaded guilty to murdering David Riess. The judge sentenced her to life in prison without parole.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Mitchelle Blair Murder Case

     On Tuesday morning March 24, 2014, Wayne County court bailiff Lee Gordon and her crew entered an apartment in Detroit to evict the family and clear the property. The subjects of the eviction, 35-year-old Mitchelle Blair and her four children by two men, resided in the Martin Luther King Apartments, a low-income housing complex on the city's east side. Neither of the children's fathers lived in the dwelling and both owed thousands of dollars in child support.

     Shortly after 36th District Court bailiff Gordon and her crew entered the vacant apartment someone lifted the lid to a freezer that sat just inside the dwelling. In the freezer the eviction crew member discovered the frozen body of a girl inside a black plastic bag. Court bailiff Gordon called 911.

     Responding police officers and emergency personnel found, beneath the girl's frozen corpse, the body of a boy, also inside a black plastic container. The girl had on a pink jacket and the boy had been wrapped in a white sheet.

     A neighbor of Mitchelle Blair's told police officers that the mother of the dead children was babysitting a friend's baby in a nearby apartment. When taken into custody Mitchelle Blair said, "They're both dead. I did it." At the police station she confessed fully to killing her 13-year-old daughter Stoni Blair on May 25, 2013. The suspect said she later murdered her 9-year-old son, Stephen Berry. The mother said she made her 17-year-old daughter place the bodies into the home freezer.

     When asked by a detective why she had murdered her two children the suspect said she had killed them because they had sexually molested their 8-year-old brother.

     Officers booked Mitchelle Blair into the Wayne County Jail on suspicion of child abuse and murder.

     Social workers took the other two Blair children, the 17-year-old and her 8-year-old brother, into protective custody. Neighbors told investigators that they rarely saw the home schooled children outside of the housing unit.

     A spokesperson for the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office said the bodies would have to thaw before autopsies could be performed. The process would have to occur slowly to preserve potential evidence.

      A few days after the shocking discovery in the freezer detectives learned that over the years all four of Mitchelle Blair's children had been repeatedly beaten with a two-by-four board, burned with an ironing rod, whipped and choked with a belt. The bodies all bore scars of prolonged physical abuse.

     Autopsies determined that the two children in the freezer had died from multiple blunt force trauma and burns. The medical examiner ruled their deaths as homicide. The forensic pathologist found physical evidence of prior physical abuse.

     On March 29, 2015, Alex Dorsey, the father of the murdered 13-year-old girl told a reporter that he hadn't seen his child in two years. Every time he showed up at the housing complex to visit his daughter, Mitchelle Blair told him the girl wasn't home. Efforts by Dorsey to gain custody of his other child were contested by the county's child protection agency.

     On March 30, 2015, Mitchelle Blair's attorney, Wyatt G. Harris, told reporters that his client was being held in isolation at the Wayne County Jail. In a statement that was outlandish even for a defense attorney, Mr. Harris said, "She realizes she has some challenges to work through. I met with her and she's doing okay, but there are things she needs to get through and she'll get through them."

     Challenges? Doing okay?  How could this child abuser and double murderer be doing "okay"? Moreover, who cared how she was doing?

     At Blair's arraignment on April 2, 2015 the defendant entered a plea of not guilty to the charges of murder. The judge ordered a team of state and private psychiatrists to evaluate her to determine if she was mentally competent to understand the criminal charges against her.

     A few days after her arrest Wayne County Jail officials took Blair out of isolation and placed her into a cell with another person. Blair, shortly after the transfer, assaulted her cellmate.

     On July 17, 2015, Wayne County Judge Dana Hathaway, following Mitchelle Blair's guilty plea, sentenced her to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Zakieya Avery Exorcism Murder Case

     Zakieya Latrice Avery resided in a Germantown, Maryland row house with her four children, ages one through eight. Twenty-one-year old Monifa Sanford lived under the same roof with the Avery family. The women had met at a church called Exousia Ministries of Germantown. (It was one of 600 or more non-Catholic churches around the world where exorcism was practiced.) The 28-year-old mother of four and her husband, Martin Luther Harris, Jr., were separated. He lived in Los Angeles. Zakieya had once resided in Gaithersburg, Maryland where she had worked as a pharmacy technician.

     On Thursday night January 16, 2014, one of Zakieya Avery's neighbors in the community north of Washington, D.C. dialed 911 to report an unattended child inside a car outside the Avery house. When officers with the Montgomery County Police Department responded to the 911 call the child was no longer in the vehicle. Officers knocked on Avery's door but no one answered. The officers left the scene but reported the matter to a child protection agency.

     The next morning at 9:30 the concerned neighbor called 911 again. This time the caller reported a car with its doors standing open parked outside the Avery residence. A bloody knife lay on the ground near the vehicle.

     Upon the arrival of the police Zakeiya Avery ran out of the house through her back door but didn't get far. Inside the dwelling officers discovered the dead bodies of one-year-old Norell Harris and his two-year-old sister Zyana. The children had been stabbed several times. It appeared they had been attacked while sleeping. In another bedroom officers found five-year-old Taniya and eight-year-old Martello. These two children had also been stabbed but were alive. The two wounded siblings were rushed to a nearby hospital.

     Avery's adult housemate, Monifa Sanford, was also taken to a hospital where she was treated for cuts.

     Police officers took Zakieya Avery into custody at the scene. The next day detectives arrested Monifa Sanford. Both women were charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. Police officers booked the suspects into the Montgomery County Jail where they were held without bond.

     A few days after the murder arrests, Captain Marcus Jones, head of the major crimes unit, told reporters that Zakieya Avery thought her kids were possessed by the Devil which led to a botched exorcism procedure and the deaths. Monifa Sanford was in custody because she had assisted in the deadly ritual. According to the police officer both suspects had confessed.

     Avery's step-grandmother, Sylvia Wade, told a reporter with the Washington Post that Avery was "humble and meek" and said she loved her children. "I don't know what triggered it. She wasn't herself."

     In January 2015, after Monifa Sanford pleaded guilty to the assaults and two murders the judge declared her legally insane and sentenced her to an indeterminate incarceration at a state psychiatric hospital.

     On September 15, 2016 Zakieya Avery also pleaded guilty to the murders and the assaults. A Montgomery County, Maryland judge ruled that she was also legally insane at the time she attacked her children. Instead of prison the judge sent Avery to a maximum security psychiatric hospital where she would stay until her doctors declared her sane enough to leave the mental institution.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Hemy Neuman Murder Case

     In the late 1980s, Hemy Neuman, a young American engineer living and working in Israel, met his future wife Ariela, an Israeli-born school teacher. In 2010 the 47-year-old engineer and his stay-at-home wife were separated. Hemy had moved out of their lavish home in Cobb County, Georgia in August of that year. While Mr. Neuman had a high-paying job as a project manager with GE Energy, he was in financial trouble. His expensive lifestyle--the big house, luxury cars, expensive restaurants and elaborate vacations--had caught up with him. His three children were also attending college. Now his wife was filing for divorce.

     Ariela Neuman had kicked Hemy out of the house because she believed he was having an affair with a 36-year-old woman he had hired at GE. Neuman and Andrea Schneiderman, his suspected lover, denied the accusation. Andrea's husband, Russell "Rusty" Schneiderman, although he had a MBA from Harvard, was out of work. The couple had two young children.

     On the morning of November 18, 2010, Rusty Schneiderman dropped off his 2-year-old son at the Dunwoody Prep nursery school 15 miles north of Atlanta. As the father returned to his car Hemy Neuman walked up behind him, and with a .40-caliber Bersa handgun, shot him several times. Schneiderman fell dead at the scene. Neuman climbed into a rented Kia minivan and drove off.

     A week before the murder, Neuman, wearing a fake beard, had crept up to Schneiderman's house with the intent of shooting him there. Hemy's plan fell apart when his intended target came out of the house to check on a gas leak and saw this bearded man lying in his yard. When spotted by his murder target, Mr. Neuman jumped to his feet and ran off.

     When Hemy Neuman's wife Ariela learned of Rusty Schneiderman's murder in front of the Dunwoody nursery school she knew that her husband had killed the victim over Mr. Schneiderman's wife Andrea. Ariela Neuman called the police and filled them in on her estranged husband's affair with the dead man's wife. Ariela described her husband as a risk-taking control freak obsessed with money and his career.

     Several weeks after the police arrested Mr. Neuman on January 4, 2011 he admitted that he had murdered Rusty Schneiderman. He claimed, however, that at the time of the shooting he was so insane he didn't comprehend the nature and quality of his act. In other words, he was so crazy he didn't know right from wrong. After the killing Hemy Neuman regained his sanity, but when he pulled the trigger in front of the nursery school he was so mentally ill he didn't know what he was doing. That was his defense, temporary legal insanity. Investigators didn't buy it and neither did the prosecutor. If Neuman was crazy he was crazy like a fox.

     In February 2012, charged with malice murder (other states call it first-degree murder or capital murder) and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Hemy Neuman went on trial in a De Kalb County court in Decatur, Georgia.

     The prosecutor played for the jury of nine men and three women a video taped jailhouse interview of the defendant by psychiatrist Dr. Pamela Crawford. During the interview Neuman told Dr. Crawford that he had initially considered stabbing Rusty Schneiderman to death. But he changed his mind because it would be too messy. The defendant thought about poisoning his victim but rejected that idea as too complicated and unreliable. Staging a fatal accident had also crossed Neuman's mind, but in the end he settled on shooting the man to death at close range. He preferred this method because it was simple and sure-fire.

     Following the video of his interview of the defendant, Dr. Crawford testified that a truly delusional, psychotic person would not have gone through the above thought processes. A really crazy person would have acted impulsively without all of that thinking and planning. The defendant, in Dr. Crawford's expert opinion, wasn't crazy. The entire insanity defense was therefore a sham.

     For the defense, forensic psychologist Dr. Andriana Flores testified that Mr. Neuman suffered from an undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder accompanied by psychosis. (In other words, he had no history of mental illness.) According to the defense psychologist, Neuman suffered from delusions and a condition called erotomania. As an erotomania sufferer the defendant only thought he was having an affair with the wife of the man he shot to death.  And it got better: Before the killing, Hemy Neuman, according to Dr. Flores, had been visited by an angel who spoke in Oliva Newton-John's voice. This imagined angel had informed the defendant that Mr. Schneiderman's children were actually his. This revelation was reinforced by a message from a second angel who sounded like Barry White!

     On March 14, 2012 after two days of deliberation the jury, presented with three possible verdicts--guilty; not guilty by virtue of insanity; or guilty but mentally ill--found Hemy Neuman guilty but mentally ill. That meant that while he would receive mental health treatment, he'd get it while serving his time in prison. The next day the judge sentenced Hemy Neuman to life behind bars with no chance of parole.

     On Thursday, August 2, 2012, Andrea Sneiderman, the wife of the man Hemy Neuman had murdered, was charged with malice murder, criminal attempt to commit murder, racketeering, two counts of perjury, and two counts of insurance fraud. According the Andrea Schneiderman's indictment she and the convicted killer were having an affair. The couple had conspired to kill Rusty Schneiderman with the intent of "acquiring property, money and life insurance proceeds." The murdered man's wife had received a $2 million life insurance payment as well as $960,000 in various bank accounts.

     In July 2013, following a two-hour hearing, Judge Gregory Adams dropped the murder, racketeering and insurance fraud charges against Andrea Schneiderman. The prosecutor had lost confidence in the reliability of a key prosecution witness. She still faced thirteen other criminal charges related to the murder of her husband.

     Andrea Schneiderman, a month after the above hearing, was convicted of nine felonies in connection with the Neuman case. She did not testify on her own behalf. The jury found her guilty of four counts of perjury, three counts of giving false statements, one count of hindering the apprehension of a criminal and a count of concealing material facts.

     On August 20, 2013 at her sentencing hearing, Schneiderman's friends and family testified on her behalf. When it came her turn to speak to the court Andrea Schneiderman said, "Please let me go home to my kids. Please don't let them live without their mother." The De Kalb County District Attorney asked the judge to sentence Sneiderman to twenty years. Judge Adams sentenced her to five years in prison.

Assisted Suicide: The Willard Skellie Case

     In America, suicide is not a crime, but in all states but one, helping someone take their life is a form of criminal  homicide. In New York state the act of assisted suicide is prosecuted as second-degree manslaughter which carries a sentence of five to fifteen years.

     Willard F. Skellie and his wife Kathy lived in a two-story house in Glens Falls, New York 45 miles north of Albany. In 2012 Kathy Skellie suffered from mental illness and clinical depression. The 59-year-old woman also struggled with the side-effects of her anti-psychotic medication and experienced panic attacks whenever she left the house. As a result she spent days at a time locked into her bedroom. Early in 2012 she tried to kill herself with a knife.

     At the end of her rope, Kathy asked her 69-year-old husband to buy a gun and teach her how to use it. Knowing that she intended to use the weapon to commit suicide, Willard purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and showed his wife how to operate it. As he demonstrated how the shotgun worked Kathy made notes on a sheet of paper. When Willard loaded the gun, he altered the first two rounds so they wouldn't fire, hoping that two misfires would discourage Kathy from killing herself. Kathy took the loaded weapon to her room.

     On Friday, December 14, 2012, Willard Skellie went deer hunting in the morning and didn't return until evening. He went to bed that night without checking on Kathy. Early the next morning he went hunting again and when he returned to the house a few hours later forced his way into his wife's bedroom. He found that Kathy had used the shotgun to shoot herself in the head. He called 911.

     Officers with the Glens Falls Police Department asked Mr. Skellie if he had helped his wife take her own life. After he denied helping her in any way a detective asked if he'd be willing to take a polygraph test at the state police headquarters in Greenwich, New York. Mr. Skellie agreed to take the lie detection exam.

     On Sunday, December 16, 2012, when detectives informed Mr. Skellie that the polygraph examiner believed he had lied when he denied helping his wife kill herself, he confessed to his role in her death. Mr. Skellie also admitted destroying the notes Kathy had taken regarding how to operate the shotgun. In his confession, Mr. Skellie said, "She was in mental pain from everything. She just couldn't take it anymore."

     On the day of Mr. Skellie's confession, Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan charged him with tampering with physical evidence and second-degree manslaughter. Unable to post his $100,000 cash bail Mr. Skellies was incarcerated in the Warren County Jail.

     In May 2013, Willard Skellie pleaded guilty to helping his wife kill herself. Judge John Hall sentenced Mr. Skellie to five years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Richard Kirk Murder Case

     In 2014, Richard Kirk, 47, resided in Denver's Observatory Park neighborhood not far from the University of Denver. Richard and his wife Kristine purchased the upscale, Tudor style home in 2005. The couple had three soccer-playing grade school boys. Richard's friends described him as a religious, happy-go-lucky man devoted to his family.

     On December 23, 1993, while living in Dallas, Texas, Richard, then single, was charged with felony assault. The prosecutor dropped the charge to a misdemeanor offense then eventually dismissed the case altogether. At the time his future wife Kristine resided five miles away in a Dallas apartment. (Richard Kirk's alleged victim was not identified in the media.)

     In 2000 a police officer in Douglas County, Colorado arrested Richard for driving under the influence. (The disposition of this case is unknown.) These two incidents comprised the extent of Kirk's arrest record.

     At 9:32 on the night of Monday, April 14, 2014, 44-year-old Kristine A. Kirk called a 911 dispatcher in Denver to report a domestic disturbance at her residence. She said her husband had been smoking marijuana and was frightening their three young sons. According to Kristine he had also been hallucinating and talking about the end of the world. Most disturbingly he said he wanted her to shoot him to death.

     The dispatcher asked Kristine if there was a gun in the dwelling. The caller said yes, but it was locked inside a safe. The 911 call suddenly turned ominous when Kristine informed the dispatcher that her husband had gotten the handgun out of the safe and was holding it in his hand.

     About thirteen minutes into the 911 call the dispatcher heard a scream and then a gunshot. At that point the line went dead. The dispatcher immediately upgraded the 911 call from a domestic disturbance case to a "code 10"--a possible shooting.

     That night, two Denver police officers rolled up to the Kirk house on South St. Paul Street. Three minutes later one of the officers called for an ambulance and advised the 911 dispatcher that they "were going to need homicide."

     An officer put Richard Kirk into handcuffs and escorted him to the patrol car. From the backseat of the police vehicle, without prompting, the suspect admitted shooting his wife to death.

     The next day a local prosecutor charged Richard Kirk with first-degree murder. At his arraignment on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 the judge advised the suspect of the charge against him, assigned him a public defender and ordered him held without bail. Kirk showed no emotion as he stood before the magistrate.

     The media, as it often does in high-profile crimes, began assessing blame. In this case reporters were quick to note that since 2008, 911 response time at the Denver Police Department had grown longer. According to a police spokesperson, budget cuts and fewer officers on patrol had adversely affected police response time to domestic calls.

     Notwithstanding the 15 minute lapse between the victim's 911 call and the arrival of the officers, there was no way to know for sure if a faster police response would have saved Kristine Kirk's life.

     Because marijuana was legal in Colorado the media made a big deal over the fact that before allegedly murdering his wife Richard Kirk had smoked pot.

     In February 2017, blaming marijuana for the killing, Richard Kirk pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. On April 8, 2017 the judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison. Kirk had relinquished custody of his three sons to his dead wife's parents.

The Emily Lambert Murder Case

      In September 2013, Emily Lambert, a third grade teacher at the O Henry Elementary School near Plano, Texas, a suburban community just north of Dallas, divorced her husband Donavan. The couple had daughters aged four and five. Emily and Donavan, following the break up, remained on good terms.

     Shortly after the divorce the 33-year-old resident of Lewisville began dating a man from Euless, Texas named Robert Early.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lambert and Early were booked into the Stevens Best Western Inn in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He was on a work assignment and she had accompanied him for the weekend. The next morning Early called the Carlsbad Police Department and reported Emily missing.

     When questioned by police officers the 33-year-old Early said he and his missing girlfriend had left the motel bar--the Blue Cactus Lounge--at eleven-thirty the previous night. When they got back to their room they argued. Emily became so angry she stormed out of the motel. When she didn't return in the morning he called the police.

     Mr. Early described Emily Lambert as five-foot-six, 175 pounds, with long blond hair and a large tattoo of an owl on her back. He said she had left the room without her wallet and her cell phone.

     At four-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, 2014, police officers discovered the body of a female that matched the description of the woman missing from the Best Western Inn. The corpse was found in a field along State Road 31 near Loving, New Mexico, eight miles southeast of Carlsbad. Officers identified the body as Emily Lambert.

     That night detectives questioned Robert Early at the Carlsbad Police Department. In the course of the interrogation session he confessed to killing his girlfriend.

     After returning to their room after an evening of drinking at the motel bar the couple got into a physical fight that led to her being knocked unconscious. From the room Early carried Emily to his silver 2007 Hyundai Elantra.

     With Emily in the Hyundai, Robert drove to a remote area. When he took Emily out of the car she regained consciousness. They fought again, and this time he knocked her out with an air pump. He tied one end of a rope around her neck and closed the other end in the passenger's side car door. With her tethered to the vehicle he climbed behind the wheel and dragged her body to where it was found.

     At one o'clock that morning Carlsbad police officers booked Robert Early into the Eddy County Detention Center on the charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Carlsbad, New Mexico found Robert Early guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Early to the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

The William Simmons Murder Case: An Unlikely Conviction

     Kaelin Rose Glazier, a 15-year-old sophomore at South Medford High School in Rush, Oregon, disappeared on November 6, 1996 after watching a video in a house trailer with 16-year-old William Frank Simmons. The missing girl had skipped church that evening to meet her boyfriend, Clifford Ruhland, at Simmons' trailer. According to Simmons the boyfriend didn't show up, and after he and Glazier watched the video she departed.

     The local police, believing that the missing girl had run away from home, waited 21 days before investigating the case as an abduction and possible murder. Simmons, a big kid who had been in trouble with the law and was the last known person to have seen the girl alive became the first and only suspect in the investigation. Years passed, and without the girl's body, the case ground to a halt. Every once in awhile detectives would question William Simmons at the police station, and every time he would deny having anything to do with the girl's disappearance.

     People don't vanish into thin air. In 2008, 12 years after Glazier went to Simmons' trailer, a man mowing a field 80 feet from the place she was last seen uncovered skeletal remains. According to a forensic anthropologist the bones were consistent with the remains of a 15-year-old girl.

     At the recovery site investigators discovered a skull wrapped in duct tape, a tennis shoe, part of a bra, and some jewelry that had belonged to the missing girl. While the medical examiner officially identified the remains as Glazier's and ruled her death a homicide, the forensic pathologist could not determine the precise cause of death. The police theorized she had been suffocated or strangled. DNA evidence from the duct tape did not match the victim's boyfriend or William Simmons.

     On April 10, 2010, the local prosecutor charged William Simmons with murder, and as a backup charge, first-degree manslaughter. The motive: he had killed the girl after she had rebuffed his sexual advances. After killing her the suspect had supposedly dragged her body to the nearby field. (It's hard to believe it took 12 years for someone to find, 80 feet from where she was last seen, Glazier's remains. Was anybody really looking for her?)

     The Simmons murder trial got underway on February 14, 2012 in the Jackson County Circuit Court. The prosecutor, without an eyewitness, confession or physical evidence linking the 31-year-old defendant to the murder, had an extremely weak case. The state didn't even have a jailhouse informant or a murder weapon. All the prosecutor had was the defendant's so-called "motive, means, and opportunity," to commit the crime.

     William Simmons' attorney pointed out that motive, means, and opportunity did not comprise evidence. The defense lawyer reminded jurors that the murdered girl's boyfriend may also have had motive, means, and opportunity in the 16 year old case.

     The jury, after deliberating ten hours, voted 10 to 2 to find the defendant guilty of first-degree manslaughter. (The reckless killing of a person as opposed to an intentional murder.) In Oregon a defendant could be convicted of manslaughter on just 10 guilty votes. To find a person guilty of murder 12 votes are needed. The judge sentenced William Simmons to the mandatory 10 years in prison.

     At a hearing in May 2012 the convicted man's attorneys, Andrew Vandergaw and Michael Bertoff, in an effort to secure a new trial for their client, put a witness on the stand named Serena Beach. During the Simmons trial Beach had contacted the defense attorneys and said she had "vital information about the case." The lawyers, busy defending the accused man, didn't have time to investigate her allegations.

     According to Serena Beach, in 2003 or 2004, the murder victim's stepfather, Robert Glazier, told her that he "was there when Kaelin Glazier came into the world and was there when she went out." He allegedly said that he knew she was dead and that her body was "down the road."

     The 65-year-old stepfather, who had been questioned three times by detectives during the early stages of the missing persons investigation, took the stand at the hearing to determine if there was sufficient cause to convene a new trial. Mr. Glazier said he knew that some people considered him a suspect in the murder. He testified that there was a person he suspected in the case.

     Judge Benjamin Bloom denied the defense motion for a new trial. The attorneys for William Simmons appealed the judge's ruling.

     It's surprising that Judge Benjamin Bloom even allowed this case to go to a jury in the first place. Motive, means, and opportunity, while a guideline for identifying criminal suspects does not rise to proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (As evidenced in this case by the two not guilty votes.) The evidence in this case was not even enough to sustain liability in a civil wrongful death suit where the standard of proof is merely a preponderance of the evidence. In any other state the Simmons trial would have resulted in a hung jury.

     By any legal standard the William Simmons case represented an odd and unlikely homicide conviction. While Simmons may have been a good suspect and may have committed the crime, that was not enough evidence to put him behind bars for 10 years. If this were the standard of proof in all murder trials a lot of innocent people would end up in prison.

     In April 2020 the United States Supreme Court, in Ramos v. United States, set aside the un-unanimous jury verdict rules in Oregon and Louisiana on grounds such verdicts violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury. As a result the William Simmons homicide conviction was vacated. 
     William Simmons was not retried for the murder of Rose Glazier. No further arrests were made in this case.

Vehicles In The History of American Crime

     The invention and popularity of the automobile changed and defined the nature of criminal behavior in America and around the world. The motorized vehicle became the instrument and the fruit of crime. Cars, in the old days referred to as "machines," provided a degree of mobility that changed the nature of law enforcement as well. By 1920 police departments across the country were entirely motorized, and soon after that, they were equipped with two-way radios. In 1926, the U.S. Supreme Court, in U.S. v. Carroll, held that an automobile could be searched without a warrant if there was probable cause to believe the vehicle was being used in the commission of a crime. In those days the offense often involved the transportation of contraband liquor. A motorized America and the resultant mobility of the criminal contributed to the federalization of American law enforcement. By the 1930s, bank robbery, kidnapping, interstate car theft and transporting prostitutes across state lines (White Slave Traffic Act) became federal offenses investigated by the FBI. By 1947 the FBI Crime Lab featured a reference collection of tire treads against which crime scene impression could be compared.

     Many crime and police history buffs are fascinated with vehicles owned or used by serial killers, mafia bosses, depression era bank robbers and famous murder victims. People who collect and restore old cars are interested in this aspect of crime history as well. Police and crime museums around the country exhibit old police cars, paddy wagons and vehicles that had been used in historic regional crimes.

Bonnie and Clyde Death Car

     On May 23, 1934, a small army of cops in southern Louisiana ambushed the depression era outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. In a barrage of bullets the police riddled the couple's 1934 gray Ford sedan, killing them both. These folk-hero degenerates had stolen the deluxe sedan in Topeka, Kansas from a woman named Ruth Warren. (For awhile the car was known as the "Warren Death Car.") When the federal government refused to release the blood-soaked Ford, Ruth Warren, realizing its value as crime memorabilia, sued the government and won.

     From 1940 to 1952 the shot-up Ford was on exhibit at an amusement park in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1952 a man with the name Ted Toddy bought the car for $14,500. During the 1980s the Bonnie and Clyde vehicle sat on display at several casino-resorts in Nevada. In 2017 it could be seen at Whiskey Pete's Resort and Casino in Prim, Nevada. (In January 2012 at an auction in Kansas City, Missouri a collector bought two Bonnie and Clyde bank robbery guns. The Thompson submachine gun and the 1897 Winchester 12-gauge shotgun were recovered in 1933 from the couple's hideout in Joplin, Missouri. The collector paid $210,000 for the weapons.)

Al Capone

     The vicious prohibition era gangster from Chicago, during his murderous career as a bootlegger owned several cars. The vehicle most closely associated with Capone is a 1928 green Cadillac limousine. The armor-plated V-8, equipped with bullet-proof windows, sold for $621,500 at a 2010 auction in California. The fact President Franklin D. Roosevelt had used the car after Capone went to prison added to its value.

The Lindbergh Kidnap Car

     Bruno Richard Hauptmann, on the night of March 1, 1932, drove his 1930 blue Dodge sedan from the Bronx, New York to the Charles Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey. The 36-year-old unemployed carpenter used a homemade wooden extension ladder, compressed across the back seat of his car, to climb to the Lindbergh baby's second-story nursery window. In West Trenton at the New Jersey State Police Museum and Learning Center the kidnap ladder is on display. But the Museum does not possess the car Hauptmann used to commit the "crime of the century."

     In 1958, after the state of New Jersey sold Hauptmann's Dodge at auction for $800, it disappeared. If you own a 1930 4-door Dodge that was once blue, check the vehicle identification number against the VIN on record at the New Jersey museum. You might own an important piece of American crime history.

Ted Bundy's "Teaching Tool"

     Crime memorabilia collector Arthur Nash, in 2010, sold the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle owned by the executed serial killer Ted Bundy to the privately owned National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. (The museum opened in 2008.) In the 1970s Bundy lured many of his female victims into the car where many of them were raped and murdered. Museum speakers at the vehicle's unveiling, aware that critics would accuse them of using Bundy's death car to extract admission fees from true crime sickos, insisted they were using the Volkswagen as a "teaching tool." At the highly publicized unveiling one of the museum owners said, "Specifically, we don't recommend hitchhiking to anyone. This car represents a warning sign that you have to be careful."

JFK Assassination Vehicles

     Early in 2011, at an auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, a bidder paid $120,000 for the ambulance that had carried the slain president, on November 23, 1963, from Andrews Air Force Base to the Bethesda National Hospital in Maryland. There has since been a debate over the authenticity of this purchase. Some believe the ambulance is a fake.

     In 2012, the same auction house offered for sale the 1963 Cadillac hearse used to carry President Kennedy's body from the Dallas hospital to Air Force One at Dallas Love Field.

Other Infamous Vehicles

     A few other collectible crime cars include: John Dillinger's 1933 Essex-Terraplane; the 1931 black Lincoln owned by Dutch Schultz; O. J. Simpson's 1995 white Ford Bronco; and the D.C. Snipers's Chevrolet Caprice.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Tracey Richter: One Scheming, Dangerous Woman

     Tracey Richter's adversarial and bellicose history with her husbands is a cautionary tale for professional men trolling for wives. Her story is a real-life "Play Misty for Me" horror film featuring an attractive sociopathic revenge-oriented protagonist willing to do whatever it takes to dominate, humiliate, and defeat her male antagonists. In Tracey Richter's case her enemies were her estranged husbands. To stand between this woman and what she wanted, to incur her wrath, was like stepping in front on an oncoming train.

     In 1992 the Chicago native lived in Virginia with her first husband, a plastic surgeon named Dr. John Pitman. That year, Tracey Richter, then 27, pleaded no contest to the charge of discharging a firearm during an argument with him. In return for her plea she received a probated sentence. Before they were divorced in 1996 Tracey Richter accused Dr. Pitman of sexually abusing their 3-year-old son Bert. A judge eventually dismissed the case for lack of evidence. Following the divorce Tracey Richter and her son moved back to Chicago.

     In 1997 Tracey Richter met and began dating Dr. Joseph La Spisa, a Chicago based oral surgeon. That relationship soured when, pursuant to an attempt to extort $150,000 from the doctor, she accused him of sexual assault. Although later exonerated, the scandal cost Dr. La Spisa his dental practice.

     About the time she was making life miserable for Dr. La Spisa Tracey Richter met a man online from California named Michael Roberts. Shortly thereafter Tracey Richter married Mr. Roberts. They separated in 2000. The three-year marriage produced two children, ages one and three. At the time of the separation from Michael Roberts Richter was battling Dr. Pitman for custody of their 10-year-old son, Bert. If she lost this fight she would lose her son and the $1,000-a-month child support payments.

     In 2001, Tracey Richter, now 35, resided with her son Bert and the two younger children in Early, Iowa, a small town 100 miles north of Des Moines. On December 31 of that year she called 911 to report that she had just shot an intruder to death who, along with another man, had broken into her house and tried to strangle her with a pair of pantyhose.

     Upon arriving at the dwelling police discovered, in Richter's bedroom, the body of 20-year-old Dustin Wehde. He had been shot nine times with a pair of handguns Richter had retrieved from her home safe. The other man, she said, fled the scene when she opened fire on Wehde. (The other intruder was never identified because he didn't exist.)

     Detectives identified Dustin Wehde, a resident of Richter's neighborhood, as a depressed computer nerd who lived in his parents' basement. He had no criminal record, and as a timid type, was an unlikely candidate for home burglary and assault. Investigators also found it strange that Wehde had parked his car in Richter's driveway.

     In searching the dead man's vehicle police officers made a bizarre discovery. They found, on the front seat, a pink notebook in which Wehde had written that a "mysterious fellow" named John Pitman had hired him to kill Tracey Richter and her 11-year-old son. While the passage was in Wehde's handwriting, it didn't make any sense. Detectives couldn't find any evidence that Wehde and Richter's first husband had ever crossed paths, and the young man didn't come close to fitting the profile of a contract killer. Because the whole setup looked fishy, the police never considered Dr. John Pitman as a murder-for-hire mastermind. While detectives didn't buy Richter's account of the shooting, the Sac County prosecutor didn't bring charges against her and the case went into the books as a self-defense homicide.  Dustin Wehde's parents had to live with the fact their son had been murdered as part of the killer's plot to frame an ex-husband. 

     Shortly after shooting Dustin Wehde to death in her bedroom, Tracey Richter and her children moved to Omaha, Nebraska. In the meantime, the authorities in Iowa kept the existence of the pink notebook secret because to publicize it would have, among other things, scandalized Dr. Pitman. In 2002, Richter appeared on "The Montel Williams Show," a daily afternoon talkfest not unlike the OprahWinfrey show. In response to softball questions in front of a sympathetic studio audience, Richter told the horrifying story of how she had no choice but to take this intruder's life to save herself and her children. She came off as a hero.

     In 2004, after Richter and Michael Roberts were divorced, she told the police that her second husband had been a part of Dr. Pitman's conspiracy to have her killed. The authorities still weren't buying into this murder-for-hire business and never considered Mr. Roberts a suspect in Dustin Wehde's homicide.

     While residing in Nebraska Tracey Richter ran afoul of the law. In 2009, among other accusations of criminal deceit, she was convicted of welfare fraud and sentenced to probation.

     In 2010, Ben Smith, the new Sac County prosecutor, took office. As he had promised in his campaign for the job, Smith asked the Iowa Division of Criminal Justice to investigate the almost ten-year-old Dustin Wehde homicide. As part of that investigation a forensic ballistics expert determined that Wehde had been shot three times in the back as he lay on Richter's bedroom floor. This comprised, in the prosecutor's opinion, circumstantial evidence inconsistent with Richter's claim of self-defense.  

     At the conclusion of the state investigation of Dustin Wehde's suspicious death prosecutor Ben Smith charged Tracey Richter with first-degree murder. Under Smith's theory of the case Richter had lured the young man to her house and forced him at gunpoint to write in the pink notebook that her first husband, Dr. John Pitman, had hired him to kill her and her son. She then fired nine shots into his body then planted the notebook in his car in an effort to frame her former husband for solicitation of murder. Pursuant to this scenario, Dustin Whede had been nothing more than a sacrificial pawn in Richter's evil scheme to win the custody battle she was having with the father of her first-born child. If this was what took place, Tracey Richter was one cold-blooded sociopathic killer. A dangerous woman indeed.

     Granted a change of venue, Tracey Richter's murder trial got underway on October 23, 2011 in the Webster County town of Fort Dodge, Iowa. The defendant, now 45, and living in Omaha, had the support of her 20-year-old son Bert and the man she was currently engaged to marry. On November 7, 2011, the jury of six men and six women, in rejecting Richter's self-defense/contract murder version of Dustin Wehde's death, found her guilty as charged.

     Following this stunning verdict, Mr. Michael Roberts, Richter's second husband and father of her two younger children, praised the jurors. He told reporters that Richter had once tried to murder him through drugs and suffocation. Mona Wehde, Dustin's mother, in speaking to reporters on the day of the verdict said that her son's murder had destroyed her marriage and after the divorce her ex-husband committed suicide. She called the jury's decision "a blessing."

     In January 2012, shortly before Judge Kurt L. Wilke sentenced Richter to life in prison, she sent a letter to a Wisconsin prison inmate named James Landa. Mr. Landa, who had been convicted of sexually molesting a 12-year-old girl, had written to Richter following her conviction offering his moral support. (Whatever that meant.) Richter's letter to Landa contained personal information about her second husband, Mr. Michael Roberts. Among other pieces of information, Richter revealed his Social Security number, date of birth, physical description, and home address. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of this letter he suspected Richter of soliciting Mr. Roberts' murder. To reporters, Smith said, "I fear for Michael and his kids."

     In June 2012, from prison, Tracey Richter appeared on a "Dateline NBC" two-hour special on the Dustin Wehde murder case. To correspondent Dennis Murphy she stuck to her story of self-defense. Her son Bert appeared on the show to back up her account of the shooting. Her lawyer announced that the convicted killer had filed an appeal.

     From her cell at the Mitchelville, Iowa prison, Richter launched a child custody battle with second husband Michael Roberts over her two younger children, now ages 12 and 14. Roberts had the children with him in California and planned to escape Richter's reach by moving his family to Australia.

     On September 13, 2012, Iowa Judge Nancy Whittenburg, the judge who presided over this child custody fight, ruled that notwithstanding Richter's murder conviction she had not lost her right to regular visits with the children. This meant that Mr. Roberts, to satisfy the judge's decision, had to make visitation trips from California to Iowa and back. When Sac County prosecutor Ben Smith learned of Judge Whittenburg's ruling he called it "mind-boggling."