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Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Jessica Hernandez Police-Involved Shooting Case

     In Denver Colorado at six-thirty in the morning of Monday January 26, 2015, two police officers responded to a call about a suspicious vehicle. The officers knew that the parked car, occupied by five people, had been reported stolen. According to the police version of the story, as the officers approached the vehicle it lurched toward them. Both officers opened fire, hitting and killing the driver who turned out to be 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez. The car struck one of the officers in the leg.

     Bobbie Diaz, the mother of a 16-year-old girl who was in the stolen car at the time of the shooting was in bed when she heard four gunshots followed by a man yelling, "Freeze! Get out of the car! Get down!"

     When Diaz went outside to investigate she saw police officers pulling young people from the car. They yanked Jessica Hernandez out from behind the steering wheel and handcuffed the unresponsive girl. One of the teens in the group screamed, "She's dead! She's dead!"

     Another witness to the police shooting, neighborhood resident Arellia Hammock, told a reporter she heard three gunshots that morning. In referring to the teenagers involved, she said, "They shouldn't have stolen a car. But the cops are too fast on the gun. You've got stun guns. You've got rubber bullets. Why do they have to shoot all the time?"

     One of the occupants of the stolen car offered a version of the incident different in a very important way from the official police account. According to this witness the vehicle didn't move toward the officers until after they killed the driver.

     The Denver chief of police, pursuant to departmental policy in such matters, placed both officers on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation into Hernandez's death. The inquiry was . conducted by three separate agencies: the Denver Police Department, the district attorney's office and a civilian oversight organization called the Office of Independent Monitor.

     At a vigil held that night for Jessica Hernandez, residents of the neighborhood critical of the police  held signs protesting the shooting. One of the signs read: "Your Badge Is Not a License to Kill."

     Two days after the fatal shooting, 200 angry protestors gathered outside Denver's District 2 police station. An official with the independent civilian oversight organization reported to the media that in the past seven months Denver police officers had fired four times at vehicles they perceived as threats.

     According to the Denver Police Department's use of deadly force guidelines, officers in cases like this are urged to step out of the way of approaching vehicles rather than to open fire. Moreover, if the driver of the vehicle is hit, the car or truck could become an unguided missile.

     Because Denver police cars were not equipped with dashboard cameras, shooting investigators would have to rely on witness accounts of the incident. It would have been helpful to detectives if the incident had been caught on a neighborhood surveillance camera.

     Not long after the fatal shooting Jessica Hernandez's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

     In June 2016, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges against the police officers involved in Jessica Hernandez's death. The officers were returned to duty.
   
     In April 2017 the city of Denver and Jessica Hernandez's family settled the wrongful death lawsuit for $1 million. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Gregory Randall Murder Case

     In May 2014, 57-year-old Gregory Randall and his 52-year-old girlfriend Angela Marie Cavalero lived in a house on Locus Road in Laughlintown, Pennsylvania in Westmoreland County just east of metropolitan Pittsburgh. They had lived together for slightly more than a year. Mr. Randall, a short-tempered, violent man, had a history of committing criminal assault and making terroristic threats.

     On May 7, 2014 Angela Cavelero lost her temper when Mr. Randall refused to accompany her to her mother's house for a visit. The argument intensified when she threw a TV frozen dinner into his face. Mr. Randall responded by picking up a hammer and beating Cavelero in the head 29 times. She died on the spot.

     After killing his girlfriend, Randall fled the scene. The next day someone discovered Angela Cavelero's body and called the police.

     On May 13, 2014 police officers arrested Gregory Randall at his ex-girlfriend's house in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh area town in Allegheny County. The authorities returned the murder suspect to Westmoreland County where he was booked into the county jail on the charge of first-degree murder. Randall told his interrogators that because of his diminished mental capacity due to a traffic accident when he was 19 he had no memory of beating his girlfriend to death.

     In Pennsylvania, a first-degree murder conviction calls for a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

     Randall's attorneys delayed his case by filing motions asking the court to find him mentally incompetent to stand trial.

     While in the Westmoreland County Jail awaiting his trial Mr. Randall told an inmate exactly how and why he had killed his girlfriend.

     In 2018, judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio declared Randall mentally competent and set his trial date for September 9, 2019.

     On September 3, 2019, Randall, pursuant to an arrangement agreed upon by his attorneys and the Westmoreland County District Attorney, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder. Judge Bilik-DeFazio sentenced the 62-year-old to 40 to 60 years in prison. Given his age, it is unlikely Mr. Randall will ever taste freedom again.

The Reshad Riddle Murder Case

     Reverend David Howard had just finished his Easter service on Sunday March 31, 2013 at the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in the northeastern Ohio town of Ashtabula. As congregants began to file out of the church Reshad Riddle entered the building carrying a handgun and yelling something about God and Allah. A couple of church members grabbed the minister and ushered him to safety inside an office in the back of the building. Other congregants hit the floor and dialed 911 on their cellphones.

     The 25-year-old gunman walked up to Richard Riddle who was Reshad Riddle's 52-year-old father and shot him in the head. The victim died on the spot. Waving the gun in the air Reshad Riddle screamed that the murder had been "the will of Allah. This is the will of God," he yelled.

     Police officers stormed into the church and took the killer into custody before he shot anyone else.

     In 2006 Reshad, then 18, was charged with felonious assault and kidnapping in connection with his attempt to cut his girlfriend's throat. A year later he was arrested for another felonious assault. Riddle was charged again in 2009 for possession of cocaine and tampering with evidence.

     Ashtabula Chief of Police Robert Stell told an Associated Press reporter that "There was no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising," he said. 

     After a local prosecutor charged Reshad Riddle with aggravated murder and he was booked into the Ashtabula County Jail. The judge set his bond at $1 million.

     On December 20, 2013 a judge declared Reshad Riddle incompetent to stand trial. In this ruling the judge relied on the testimony of two psychiatrists who had examined the defendant.

     In December 2014, Ashtabula County Judge Ronald Vettel, based upon the findings of psychologist Thomas Gazely, officially declared Riddle legally insane. On January 15, 2015 the judge sentenced Reshad Riddle to life at the Northeast Behavioral Health Care System in Cleveland, Ohio.

     The lifelong incarceration reflected the belief that Riddle's mental illness was not manageable and that he would remain a danger to society as long as he lived.  

A Light Sentence For A Child Molester

     In December 2018, an 18-year-old woman from the Western Pennsylvania town of New Castle went to the local police with a terrible complaint. When she was 9-years-old a 36-year-old man named William Quigley began sexually molesting her. He continued to have indecent sexual contact with her until she was 11 when the molestation escalated to sexual intercourse. The girl was raped by this man for another two years.

     When taken into custody, William Quigley confessed to the almost five-year sexual relationship with the minor. The Lawrence County District Attorney charged him with rape and several lesser sexual offenses.

     In September 2019, pursuant to a plea agreement, a Lawrence County judge sentenced the 45-year-old child rapist to 5 to 12 years in prison followed by three years of probation.

     A man who sexually molests a 9-year-old girl for two years and rapes her for almost another three should not be sentenced to less than 20 years in prison. William Quigley should not have been allowed to plead guilty in return for such a lenient sentence.

     What's also disturbing about this case is that no one in the New Castle community seemed upset by Quigley's light sentence.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Airline Mechanics Are Supposed To Keep Planes In The Air, Not On The Ground

     On July 17, 2019 American Airlines Flight 2834 with 150 passengers aboard was about to depart from Miami en route to Nassau, Bahamas when an error message appeared in the cockpit that caused the Boeing 737-800 to taxi back to the gate and be taken out of service. The passengers were taken off the plane and put on another flight.

     Maintenance inspectors found that someone had inserted a piece of foam into a tube that obstructed the aircraft's flight navigation system. Specifically, the foreign object affected the pilot's ability to monitor air speed, pitch and other flight data.

     Following an investigation into the matter, Miami FBI agents, on September 4, 2019, arrested 60-year-old Abdul-Majeed Marquf Ahmed Alani, an airline mechanic who had worked at American Airlines since 1988.  He was a U.S. citizen who was born in Baghdad, Iraq.

     A local Assistant United States Attorney charged Alani with sabotaging an aircraft.

     Alani told his federal interrogators that he had been upset about the stalled contract negotiations between the airline and the mechanics union. He said the labor dispute had hurt him financially and that he tampered with the plane's navigation system to cause a flight delay in anticipation of overtime work. Alani insisted that it had not been his intention to harm the aircraft or endanger its passengers.

     Mr. Alani had also worked as an aircraft mechanic for Alaska Airlines. But in 2008, after working there twenty years during which time he was also employed at American Airlines, he was fired. Alaska Airlines let him go because he had made several maintenance mistakes. In 2010 Alani sued Alaska Airlines for wrongful termination due to discrimination based on his national origin. He lost his case. The FAA briefly suspended his airlines mechanic license.

     On September 6, 2019 American Airlines fired the suspected aircraft saboteur and in March 2020 he was convicted of sabotaging an aircraft. The federal judge sentenced Mr. Alani to 37 months in prison. 

Robert And Tiffany Williams' Nouveau Riche Nightmare

     Robert and Tiffany Williams of Montoursville Pennsylvania thought they had $1,000 in the BB&T Bank. Then someone deposited an extra $120,000 into their account. Aware that their bloated bank account had to be some kind of a banking fluke, and that the money was therefore not theirs, they decided to spend a good bit of it anyway. Perhaps the mistake would go unnoticed. Why rock the boat by calling the bank and pointing out their error?

     And spend it they did. The couple purchased, among other things, a camper, a new SUV and a race car. Being generous with someone else's money, they gave $15,000 to friends in need. During a ten day period, the couple withdrew more than $100,000 from their inflated account.

     In June 2019 a call from the bank put an end to the Williams' spending spree. They were informed what they already knew: the large deposit into their account had not been a gift from heaven but the result of a bank teller's mistake.

     As a result of the banking error, the Robert and Tiffany Williams' account at the BB & T Bank was overdrawn by $107,416. The couple owned the bank that money and the debt had to be paid immediately or the authorities would be notified. Without that kind of cash Tiffany Williams asked the bank if she and her husband could pay back what they owed on an installment plan.

     Paying back the bank in installments was not an option. Robert and Tiffany Williams had spent money that belonged to someone else and now they had to pay it back in one lump sum or face the possibility of jail.

     In September 2019, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, after confessing they knew at the time they spent the money that it was not theirs, were booked into the county jail on three counts of felony theft. They each posted $25,000 bail and were released.

     The IRS has been known to send large tax refunds to the wrong people. The smart recipients take immediate steps to return the money. The ones that are not so smart treat the mistake as a windfall and end up facing federal charges of theft.
     In February 2020, after the couple pleaded guilty to felony theft, the judge sentenced them to seven years probation and ordered them to repay the money they stole. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

In England the Criminalizing Insult

     Forty-six-year-old Peter Nelson, an IT consultant with GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceutical company in the United Kingdom, lived with his wife and three children in a $1.8 million five-bedroom home in Ascot, Berkshire. On June 2, 2018, the 20-year employee of the drug company was traveling from London to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil aboard an 11-hour British Airways flight. Having had more than a few drinks, Mr. Nelson was asleep when awoken by flight attendant Sima Patel-Pryke who asked him for his food order.

     Enraged over being so disturbed, Nelson lashed out at the attendant. "You Asians," he yelled, "think you are better than us. I don't want to be served by your lot. I've paid your wages for the last 20 years." The out-of-control passenger demanded to be served by a "white girl."

     Peter Nelson's verbal outburst reduced the flight attendant to tears and caused the pilot to authorize the cabin crew to break out a "restraining kit" and inform the unruly passenger that if he continued disrupting the flight he would be "arrested."

     Upon his return to England, Peter Nelson was charged with one count of racially aggravated abuse. The criminal charge and the publicity that followed resulted in Nelson's discharge from the pharmaceutical company.

     The Peter Nelson racially aggravated abuse trial got underway in August 2019 before a jury sitting in Iselworth Crown Court. In his opening remarks to the jury, Crown Prosecutor Michael Tanney said, "It's no mere mischief to say he bullied and ranted and shouted. At one point, after a sustained targeting of Ms. Pryke, she began to back away in fright and became tearful."

     Representing the defendant, Lauren Sales informed the jurors that Mr. Nelson's wife, as a result of the publicity regarding her husband, had broken down under stress and had to be hospitalized. "He has lost his job. He was the breadwinner of the family. It is life changing for Mr. Nelson. He and his wife have taken their children out of school because it's an international school. The children feel they cannot go to the gates of the school and stand in the playground." According the Barrister Sales, the family might be forced to return to New Zealand.

     The Crown Court jury found Mr. Nelson guilty as charged. Before sentencing the defendant, Judge Edward Connell said, "You plainly displayed a contemptuous attitude towards the staff from the onset. When Ms. Pryke, simply doing her job, came to wake you up to take your food order you took immediate offense at her having the audacity to wake you up. It seems that was the beginnings of what turned out to be an opportunity for you to get upset without any justification at all. That manifested itself in the most unpleasant of ways. It was thoroughly unpleasant conduct by you."

     A bit longwinded, the judge continued his pre-sentence lecture: "It's quite plain, albeit this wasn't the most serious case the court hears, that it had an impact on Ms. Pryke who we heard in evidence was upset and ended up in tears because of your behavior. It was clearly unacceptable and I'm entirely satisfied it was contributed by the fact you drank a significant amount of alcohol during the course of the flight. I accept that this conviction will have profound ramifications for you and your employability so I'm persuaded that this can be dealt with as a financial penalty.

     Judge Connell fined Peter Nelson $2,450. He also had to pay $615 in compensation to the victim and $4,300 in prosecution costs.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Sharena Nancy Kidnap-Murder Case

     Twenty-one-year old Paul D. Johnson resided in the Westmoreland County Pennsylvania borough of Delmont located along Route 22 on the eastern edge of suburban Pittsburgh. He was the father of a 23-month-old girl named Nalani. During the summer of 2019 Mr. Johnson began an intermittent romantic relationship with 25-year-old Sharena Islam Nancy, a woman he had met through social media.

     On Saturday, August 31, 2019, Paul Johnson and his daughter were in Sharena Nancy's black, 2017 Toyota Yaris. Nalani was in the back of the car strapped into a car seat. At five o'clock that Saturday an argument broke out between Johnson and Nancy. At the intersection of Bryant Street and Clay Drive in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, Mr. Johnson told Sharena Nancy to stop the car so he and his daughter could get out.

    When Mr. Johnson got out of the Toyota and was about to remove his daughter from the car, Nancy drove off with the child. In a state of panic, Mr. Johnson called Nancy's cellphone several times without getting a response. He then called 911 and reported that his daughter had been kidnapped by Sharena Nancy in a black Toyota Yaris with Lyft and Uber stickers on the front passenger side of the vehicle.

     The authorities, based upon Mr. Johnson's kidnapping report, put out a regional Amber Alert requesting information regarding the whereabouts of the Toyota driven by Sharena Nancy with Nalani Johnson in the back seat.

     The Amber Alert quickly brought responses from witnessed who had spotted Nancy's car. She was also captured on a surveillance camera at a Sheetz service plaza in Murrysville, a nearby Allegheny County borough. From the service plaza, Nancy, according to witnesses, traveled east on Route 22. About an hour after the abduction a witness saw Sharena Nancy's car in the Indiana County town of Blairsville.

     Just before 7:30 that Saturday evening, back in Allegheny County, an officer with the suburban Penn Hills Police Department spotted the black Toyota Yaris and pulled it over. Sharena Nancy was behind the wheel but Nalani Johnson and her car seat were not in the vehicle. The officer took Nancy into custody on suspicion of kidnapping.

     Questioned by Allegheny County detectives and FBI agents, Sharena Nancy had quite a story, one that accused Nalani Johnson's father of enlisting her help in selling his daughter to an unidentified woman for $10,000.

     According to the kidnapping suspect, Paul Johnson instructed her that Saturday to drive her car, with Nalani in it, eastward toward a service station on Route 22 in Monroeville, a town located in Westmoreland County. Nancy claimed that Johnson assured her that along the way, about 20 minutes into the trip, a woman standing along the side of the highway would flag her over.

     In telling this outlandish tale, Sharena Nancy said that she came upon a woman along Route 22 standing near a silver colored SUV with out of state plates. The woman waived her to a stop. It was at that time Nancy handed over Nalani along with the child's car seat.

     After passing off Nalani as instructed by her father, Nancy said she continued driving east to Indiana County's Blairsville where she turned around and headed back to Penn Hills. It was there she was stopped by the police officer and taken into custody.

     Officers booked Sharena Nancy into the Allegheny County jail on charges of kidnapping a minor, interference with the custody of a child, and concealing the whereabouts of a child. The magistrate denied her bail.

     On September 3, 2019, law enforcement authorities in Indiana County announced that Nalani Johnson's body had been found by a person or persons they did not identify. The corpse was discovered in Pine Ridge Park near Blairsville about 37 miles east of Penn Hills from where she had been abducted. The body was not far from the Chestnut Ridge Golf Course. Witnesses had reported seeing Sharena Nancy's black Toyota near the course on Saturday August 31.

     A private forensic pathology group, under the auspices of the Indiana County Coroner's Office, performed the autopsy and determined that Nalani Johnson had been smothered.

     On September 5, 2019, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala told reporters that "there is no evidence that anyone other than Sharena Nancy was responsible for the child's being taken from Penn Hills and ultimately being placed in that field or in the woods in Indiana County." 
     In April 2022 Sharena Nancy pleaded guilty to kidnapping and third-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 15 to 30 years in prison.

       

The David Pichosky/Rochelle Wise Murder Case

     In 2008, a year after his wife died of breast cancer, David "Donny" Pichosky, on a blind date arranged by his children, met Rochelle Wise. Donny, an active member of Toronto, Canada's Shaarei Shomayin Synagogue, a modern Jewish Orthodox congregation, retired after selling his office-carpet business in the North York section of the city. Rochelle, a divorcee, had retired in 2005 as a teacher and vice principal of the Bialik Hebrew Day School just outside of Toronto. She was also the founding director of the Crestwood Valley Day Camp. Shortly after their blind date the couple were married.

     In 2013, the 71-year-old Pichosky and his 66-year-old wife were wintering in Venetian Park, an affluent island neighborhood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, a town of 38,000 located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Surrounded by canals and waterways, the snowbirds resided in a stucco townhouse amid palm trees and the other pastel-colored dwellings. Donny and Rochelle must have felt safe living in this gated, security guard patrolled retirement enclave. (In 2012 there had been four criminal homicides in Hallandale Beach.)

     On Wednesday, January 9, 2013 Danny and Rochelle failed to show-up for a lunch date with a neighbor. The friend made several calls to the couple that were not returned. The next day, at six-thirty in the evening, a friend with a spare key entered the townhouse to check on the couple. The neighbor found Donny and Rochelle dead. Shortly after the discovery, a spokesperson with the Hallandale Beach Police Department announced that the Canadian retirees had been murdered.

     According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office the Canadian Couple had been murdered in their home. The cause of their deaths: asphyxiation either by hand or by ligature.

     In April 2013 Hallandale Chief of Police Dwayne Flourney told a reporter with the Miami Herald that detectives were looking for an intruder or intruders who had been motivated by robbery. Rochelle Wise's wedding band--valued at $16,000--was missing from the dwelling. Investigators asked local pawn shop operators to report anyone coming to their places of business with the platinum, five half-carat white diamond ring. 

     A month before publicizing the missing ring the police released a video taken from a neighbor's surveillance camera that showed a woman walking toward the rear of the murdered couple's home. That person remained unidentified. Detectives believed the murders were committed by two people.

     The home invasion criminal homicide in a place once considered relatively safe from crime made residents of that community fearful. The double-murder in Venetian Park put a lot of pressure on the local police to identify and catch the perpetrators.

     On January 8, 2014 a spokesperson for the Hallandale Beach Department held a press conference on the Pichosky murder case. It had been almost a year since the double murder. According to the spokesperson, crime scene investigators recovered DNA profiles of two women from the murder site. This DNA evidence did not match anyone who had access to the Pichosky home.

     In addition to the DNA, a partial shoe print left at the murder scene was identified as an Adidas model shoe that had been out of production since 2000. Over the past year detectives had questioned more than fifty people in the investigation of the case. A $57,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the identify of the killer or killers.

     This was one of those frustrating cases where the police had physical evidence but no suspects to match it to. 

     In January 2015, Jamie Wise, Rochell's son, wrote a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott requesting the appointment of another law enforcement agency to take over the unsolved murder case. "What is desperately needed," he wrote, "is a fresh set of eyes, an independent investigation by an experienced entity capable of cultivating new leads through diligence, openness and the willingness to collaborate more purposely with agencies throughout the state."

     The Hallandale Beach Police Department remained in charge of the still unsolved double-murder.

     In April 2016, Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy told reporters that the best lead in the case involved crime scene DNA phenotyping that pointed to a pair of unidentified females. Flourney said that the constant running the DNA profile through CODUS, the U.S. DNA database, had to date failed to identify the killers. 
     As of June 2022 the Wise/Pichosky murder case remained unsolved.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Kosta Karageorge's Football Concussions, Depression and Suicide

     In 2009 Kosta Karageorge graduated from Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio, a suburb north of Columbus where the 6-foot-5, 285-pound athlete wrestled and played football. After high school Karageorge continued his wrestling career at nearby Ohio State University.

     In the fall of 2014 the 22-year-old fifth year senior joined the Ohio State football team as a walk-on. The defensive lineman played in one game in which he recorded a single tackle against Penn State.

     During his football playing years, Karageorge suffered several concussions, the last one occurring in September 2014.

     At one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday, November 26, 2014, Kosta Karageorge sent his mother what she considered a disturbing text message. He wrote that if he had been an embarrassment to the family he apologized, stating that his concussions had affected his behavior. Thirty minutes later, Karageorge left his apartment on East 7th Avenue in Columbus. He told his roommates he was upset over an incident involving his girlfriend and needed to take a walk.

     Karageorge did not return to his apartment that morning and failed to show up for the six AM football practice. He left his wallet in his apartment and did not possess any form of identification. He was dressed that morning in black sweatpants, black Timberland boots and a dark hoodie with the letters FOC on it. He had a short beard and had recently shaved his head.

     At five in the afternoon on the day Mr. Karageorge left his apartment and didn't return, his mother, after not hearing from her son all day, reported him missing to the Columbus Police Department. His earlier text message, and the fact he usually kept in daily touch with his family, caused her concern.

     Columbus detectives traced the missing football player's cellphone through GPS technology to West 3rd and Elmwood Avenues in the Grandview Heights section of the city. Officers, however, did not find his phone. He could have walked to that neighborhood, taken public transportation or accepted a ride with someone.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, 150 volunteers distributed hundreds of posters around the city that featured a photograph of the missing student. A group of former Ohio State football players put up a $1,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, five days after he went missing, a searcher found Karageorge's body in a dumpster several blocks from his apartment. The authorities identified him by his tattoos. Detectives believed that Karaageorge had used the handgun found near his body to shoot himself in the head.

     The Franklin County coroner ruled Kosta Karageorge's death a suicide.

Daniel Chong: Missing In Action In The War On Drugs

     The years 2011 and 2012 were not good ones for federal law enforcement. The AFT was embarrassed by the Fast and Furious debacle; an ICE agent shot his supervisor, then was shot and killed by another agent; an ICE officer was convicted of embezzling a huge sum of government money; TSA screeners were accused of taking bribes from drug smugglers; and Secret Service agents were caught partying with prostitutes in Columbia. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pulled one of the most bone-headed blunders in the history of the federal government's war on drugs.

     On Saturday April 21, 2012, 23-year-old University of California at San Diego engineering student Daniel Chong was smoking pot in a house in University City with eight of his friends. That day DEA agents raided the place as a suspected Ecstasy pill distribution center. The agents recovered 18,000 Ecstasy pills, several guns, ammunition and other drugs, and took Chong and the other eight suspects into custody.

     After the nine arrestees were fingerprinted, photographed and questioned at the DEA office in Kearny Mesa, agents released one suspect, took seven to a detention facility and placed the handcuffed Daniel Chong into a holding cell in the DEA office complex. Although being swept up in a federal drug raid was bad enough, Daniel Chong's ordeal had just begun.

     Because Chong was placed into a windowless 5 by 10 foot room with no sink or toilet, he didn't expect to be there very long. But as the hours dragged on, and no one came to release him or take him elsewhere, Chong began to worry. To call attention to his isolation he screamed for help and frantically kicked at the door. Still, no response. Hungry, in need of a bathroom, scared and in a state of panic, Chong began to lose control of his body and his emotions.

     A day or so into his confinement, Daniel Chong found a plastic bag containing white powder a previous detainee had hidden inside a folded blanket. Chong ingested the powdery stuff which turned out to be methamphetamine. (You can be cavity-searched at the airport, but apparently not in a DEA office.) The abandoned office prisoner drank his own urine, and by his third day in captivity, began hallucinating. In an effort to kill himself the prisoner used his teeth to break out the glass in his eyewear, then swallowed the shards. As DEA personnel went about their business just yards from him, Chong, locked into his private hell, completely lost his mind.

     On Saturday, April 25, four days into his ordeal, someone in the DEA office discovered Mr. Chong. They had simply forgotten about him. (I'm not sure why the people Chong had been arrested with didn't alert someone, or make inquires with the DEA. It's really hard to believe that someone can go missing inside a law enforcement facility.) When the bureaucrat discovered the incoherent, waste-covered, raving drug detainee, he weighed 15 pounds less than when they had placed him into the room. Had he been there much longer, the DEA people would have discovered a corpse.

     Rushed to Sharp Memorial Hospital, Daniel Chong, suffering from a failing kidney, a perforated lung, severe dehydration and numerous other ailments, was placed into an intensive care unit. He left the hospital four days later.

     On May 2, 2012 Daniel Chong's attorney announced his plan to file a $20 million lawsuit against the DEA.

     On August 1, 2013, the DEA settled the Chong case out of court for $4.1 million.         

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Eugene Maraventano Murder Case

     Sixty-four-year-old Eugene Maraventano, his wife Janet and their 27-year-old son Bryan lived in Goodyear, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. On April 6, 2013 Maraventano called 911 to report he had killed his wife and son. To the dispatcher he said, "I can't kill myself. I stabbed them to death. My wife had cancer."

     When police officers rolled up to the two-story stucco house they encountered Mr. Maraventano walking out of the dwelling wearing clothing soaked in his own blood. (He had murdered his 63-year-old wife and their son four days earlier but had just attempted suicide.)

     Inside the Maraventano house police discovered Janet Maraventano dead in the master bedroom. The carpet, bed and bedroom door were stained with the victim's blood. A bloody 14-inch kitchen knife lay on the nightstand next to the bed.

     In another bedroom officers discovered Bryan Maraventano dead on the floor not far from the doorway. He had been stabbed as well.

    Later on the day of the 911 call, a police interrogator asked Mr. Maraventano the obvious question: Why did he kill his wife and son? The subject explained that he suspected he had infected his wife with a sexually transmitted disease he had picked up from patronizing prostitutes when he worked in New York City. After her cancer diagnosis he was worried she would test positive for HIV. He had killed his wife to spare incurring her wrath and disapproval.

     As to why he had murdered his son, Mr. Maraventano said that the young man had no life. He didn't have a job or a girlfriend and just sat around the house all day playing video games. He figured his son had some kind of mental disability and wouldn't be able to make it on his own.

     After the cold-blooded murder, Maraventano tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists and putting a plastic bag over his head. When he couldn't commit suicide using those techniques, he placed a knife handle against a wall and pushed himself into it. That didn't work either so he gave up trying.

     Following treatment for his self-inflicted wounds at a local hospital, Eugene Maraventano, charged with two counts of first-degree murder, was placed in the county jail under a $2 million bond.

     In June 2018, officers with the Arizona Department of Corrections found 69-year-old Eugene Maraventano dead in his cell. He had hanged himself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Zumba Prostitution Case

     Alexis Wright co-owned and operated Purd Vida, a fitness studio in downtown Kennebunk, a seashore town of 10,000 25 miles south of Portland, Maine. The 29-year-old Wright taught Zumba, an arduous Latin inspired dance workout in rented space above a hair salon and flower store. The studio operated across the street from where Wright's business partner, 57-year-old Mark Strong Sr. sold insurance and worked as a private investigator. The pair opened Purd Vida in early 2010 and in two years grossed about $150,000.

     In September 2011 someone tipped off the local police that some of Wright's male Zumba students were getting more than a good dance workout. According to the snitch (or snitches) these clients were paying the instructor for sex and there were a lot of these customers. The idea of a house of prostitution operating in this quaint upscale community was, for the media and those with a taste for the prurient, a scandal made in heaven.

     On February 14, 2012, officers with the Kennebunk Police Department, the Maine State Police and the Drug Enforcement Agency, armed with a search warrant, raided Purd Vida. The officers seized a hard drive that contained 100 hours of video-recorded sex acts featuring Wright, her business partner Mark Strong, Sr. and dozens of local men who may or may not have also been learning how to do the Zumba. Some of the taped sex sessions had porn film-like titles. Members of the police raiding party also walked off with boxes of business records which included a list of 150 sex clients. In Wright's office the cops found a massage table and a video camera sitting on a tripod.

     In July 2012 the police arrested Mark Strong Sr. on 59 misdemeanor counts of operating a house of prostitution. The York County prosecutor began issuing summons to men on Wright's client list which meant they would eventually have to appear in court to answer misdemeanor charges of engaging the services of a prostitute. (These court appearances would be matters of public record.)

     According to officials familiar with the Purd Vida investigation some of Wright's clients were lawyers, cops, accountants, local politicians, businessmen, firefighters and a local TV personality.

     On October 9, 2012, following their indictments, Alexis Wright and Mark Strong Sr. were arraigned in a district court. Wright had been charged with 106 misdemeanor counts of accepting money for sex and invasion of privacy. (The taped tricks had been secretly recorded.) Both defendants were released on their own recognizance after pleading not guilty to all charges.

     Stephen Schwartz, the attorney representing two of the alleged johns who had received summons, filed a motion to stop the authorities from releasing the 150 names on Wright's client list.

     Laura Dolce, the editor of the York County Coast Star promised to publish the names on the so-called "list of shame." In justifying the decision to publicize the list, Dolce said this to a CNN correspondent: "Many in the community would prefer we not print the names at all. There are people in this community who had their names dragged through the mud for months because people believed they are on the list. We also believe that printing the names of those charged with engaging a prostitute is the fair thing to do...to help set the record straight, and put to rest the ugly rumors that continue to circulate throughout town." (Publishing the names would also sell a lot of newspapers.)

     After the district court judge denied attorney Schwartz's motion to suppress Alex Wright's client list, the attorney appealed the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. In speaking to reporters, attorney Schwartz said, "We believe very strongly that their names ought not be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case in which the government, we believe, will have a difficult time proving. We fully expect that they [Wright and Strong] won't be convicted, but the damage is done once the horse is out of the barn."

     On October 16, 2012, the judge cleared the way for the authorities to release the names, addresses and ages of 21 suspected johns who have been issued summons to appear in court on December 5, 2012. Their ages ranged from 34 to 65, and all but two were from Maine. One was from Boston and the other New Hampshire. One of the men accused of paying to have sex with Alexis Wright was 58-year-old James Soule, the former mayor of South Portland, Maine.

     Mark Strong Sr., Wright's business partner, issued a statement in which he said, "I never had sex with [Wright] for money. The charges against me are untrue. I will be vindicated in a jury trial."

     In March 2013, following his conviction on 13 counts of prostitution, Judge Nancy Mills sentenced Mark Strong Sr. to 20 days in jail and a $3,000 fine. The judge sentenced Alexis Wright, on twenty counts of prostitution, to ten months in the York County Jail. She was released after serving six months of her sentence.
     In the course of the scandal 21 names on the infamous client list were released to the public. None of the johns were prosecuted in connection with the case.

Crematorium Fires

     Crematoriums are all about fire, that's where they incinerate bodies. So, a fire at a crematorium is nothing unusual. However, if an overweight corpse burns too hot the excessive lava-like body fat can leak out of the incinerator and take the fire to places it doesn't belong. That's when the fire department, as strange as it sounds, is called out to extinguish a crematorium fire.

Henrico County, Virginia
     In October 2014 a 500-pound corpse was being burned at Southside Cremation Services not far from Richmond. The body was not burned slow enough (it should take five hours to incinerate a 300-pound corpse) and the body fat melted too quickly and leaked out of the fire chamber. By the time firefighters arrived the building's roof was engulfed in flames.

Cincinnati, Ohio
     In April 2017 a fire broke out at the Hillside Chapel Crematory when an obese corpse's body fat leaked out of the chamber onto the floor. The body fat, acting like a combustion accelerant, seeped into the flooring and started a hot-burning fire that had to be put out by the fire department.

Nitro, West Virginia
     On October 25, 2019, at ten-forty-five in the morning, a fire broke out at the Cooke Funeral Home just outside of Charleston. The cause: the super-heated body fat from an overweight corpse. Employees called 911 and kept the fire from spreading to the rest of the building by using a pair of  fire extinguishers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Isaac Tiharihondi Mass Murder Case

     Uganda native Israel Ahimbisibwe, after being ordained in the Episcopal Church of Uganda, came to the United States where he earned three masters' degrees and a Ph.D. His masters' degrees came from the Theological Seminary at Princeton University, Harvard Divinity School and Rice University in Houston where he earned his doctorate after completing graduate research at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

     The 51-year-old Reverend Doctor held the position of Vicar of the Redeemer Episcopal Church in Houston. He resided in a west Houston apartment complex with his 47-year-old wife Dorcus and their son Israel Ahimbisibwe Jr. who was five. Pastor Ahimbisibwe's 17-year-old son Emmanuel attended a private school in California. Isaac Tiharihondi, his 19-year-old son, graduated in 2014 from Houston's Memorial High School.

     Isaac told his father that he had joined the Marines and would report for duty on February 6, 2015. The pastor didn't believe his son and this led to an argument and bad feelings between the two of them.

     On Sunday evening February 1, 2015, Redeemer church members Keever Wallace and his wife Brooke knocked on the pastor's apartment door after the vicar, his wife and their son failed to show up that morning for church. No one came to the door that morning and the pastor did not return calls to his cellphone.

     The next day, at nine in the morning, Brooke Wallace returned to the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When no one responded she contacted the manager of the complex who had a key.

     The building manager called the Houston Fire Department and waited for the arrival of the emergency personnel before entering the Ahimbisibwe apartment. When members of the fire department discovered three dead bodies inside the dwelling they notified the police.

     In one of the bathrooms, Houston police officers found the bodies of the vicar, his wife and their 5-year-old son. The parents had been severely beaten to death with a lamp, baseball bat and hammer. The boy had been bludgeoned and stabbed in the neck and back.

     Investigators found no evidence of forced entry and no indication that the killer had taken anything from the apartment.

     On Wednesday February 4, 2015, in Jackson, Mississippi 350 miles from Houston, police arrested Isaac Tiharihondi, the vicar's 19-year-old son on a Texas warrant charging him with triple murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Hines County Detention Center in Raymond Mississippi where he would await extradition back to Houston.

     Isaac Tirarihondi had been staying at a Jackson Mississippi motel. His mother had told friends that she was worried about him. He had lied about the Marines and was depressed.

     On February 1, 2016 Isaac Tiharihondi pleaded guilty to three counts of capital murder. The judge, pursuant to the plea agreement, sentenced Tiharihondi to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On the day of his sentencing, the unemotional killer remained silent as to why he had committed such a horrific crime. 

Getting Out of Prison

     In 2010 Tony Maycon Munoz-Mendez, an illegal alien from Guatemala with at least two arrests for driving while intoxicated in Georgia, resided with his girlfriend in a town outside of Atlanta.

     In the spring of 2014 Gwinnett County prosecutor John Warr charged Munoz-Mendez with raping his girlfriend's daughter during a two-year period beginning in 2010 when the girl was ten. Munoz-Mendez maintained his innocence and was supported in his claim by the victim's mother. (The child was removed from the home and placed with a foster family. Her mother was later charged with second-degree child cruelty.)

     While awaiting his trial in the Gwinnett County Jail the accused child rapist wrote a letter to the judge in which he said: "I have no family here in the United States to help me out and I have to rely on myself on everything, and it's hard. I know I am innocent."

     In April 2015 a Gwinnett County jury found the defendant guilty of several counts of rape and aggravated child molestation. The judge sentenced Munoz-Mendez to three life sentences.

     The convicted rapist began serving his time at the Rogers State Prison in nearby Reidsville Georgia.

     At 11:30 on Friday morning, October 25, 2019, officials at Rogers State Prison mistakenly released the 31-year-old child rapist back into society. The people responsible for this stupendous foul-up didn't get around to notifying law enforcement that Munoz-Mendez was on the loose until the following Monday. (They either didn't catch the error until then or deliberately delayed notification.)

     Prison spokesperson Lori Benot released a press statement that didn't explain exactly how this corrections fiasco had unfolded. The escape had been, according to the release, a bureaucratic error. 

     On Wednesday, October 30, 2019, U.S. Marshals and ICE agents arrested the prison escapee in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, a town across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. The apprehension took place about 500 miles north of Rogers State Prison in Reidsville, Georgia. If anyone was held accountable for this bureaucratic foul-up it was not made public. 

Monday, June 20, 2022

North Korea: Living In A Country Without Civil Rights

     What a nightmare it must be to live in a country without a criminal justice system. In North Korea there is no constitution that protects citizens against the power of the state. There is no free press, independent judicial branch or any form of procedural due process such as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. In nations without criminal justice systems leaders eliminate political opponents by criminalizing dissent or manufacturing crimes against people they fear or don't like.

     In North Korea citizens accused of breaking the law have the burden of proving their innocence beyond a reasonable doubt. Guilt is a forgone conclusion for the criminally accused and punishment is swift, cruel and often brutal.

     In October 2012 North Korea's young Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un ordered the execution of Kim Chol, the vice minister of the army. Chol was put to death for drinking and carousing around during the official mourning period following the death of the boy leader's father, Kim Jong-il. The once high-ranking military leader who allegedly disrespected Kim Jong-il's death was not hanged, electrocuted, beheaded or gunned down by a firing squad. Kim Chol's executioners forced him to stand at a marked spot, aimed a zeroed-in mortor round, then fired a shot that blew him to bits. One second he was there, the next he was not.

     In North Korea capital punishment prisoners do not linger on death row up to fifteen years while their appellate attorneys and anti-capital punishment advocates try to save their lives. When the time comes to execute them they are not eased into eternity with a carefully prepared cocktail of drugs. In North Korea there are no last meals, last words or last anything except the condemned person's last breath.

     In 2003 when the Supreme Leader's son Kim Jong-un returned from boarding school in Switzerland he met and established a relationship with a famous North Korean singer named Hyon-Song-wol. Hyon was a member of the Unhasu Orchestra, the Wangjaesan Light Band and the Morganbong Band. She had recorded a string of hits that had propagandistic titles like "Footsteps of Soldiers," "I love Pyongyang" and "We Are Troops of the Party."

     The Supreme Leader, who did not approve of Hyon Song-wol, ordered Kim Jong-un to break off the relationship. After Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, his son, the new Supreme Leader, married Ri Sol-ju, also a singer with the Unhasu Orchestra. Hyon, his ex-girlfriend, married an officer in the North Korean military and had a baby. There were rumors, however, that Kim Jong-un continued to see Hyon. The young Supreme Leader's wife reportedly resented her husband's former girlfriend and wanted her out of Kim Jong-un's life. Permanently.

     On August 17, 2013 North Korean authorities arrested Hyon Song-wol and eleven singers, dancers and musicians with the Unhasu Orchestra. Hyon and the others were charged with breaking the nation's laws against pornography. Specifically, they were accused of making and selling videos of themselves performing sex acts, charges that were patently false and absurd.

     Just three days after being falsely charged with pornography Hyon Song-wol and the others were lined up against a wall and machine-gunned to death. After family members were forced to watch the state slaughter their loved ones they were hauled off to labor camps.

     Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo's Waseda University, an expert on North Korean affairs, told a reporter with England's The Daily Telegraph that Hyon Song-wol and the other entertainers had been executed for "political reasons" related to Kim Jong-un's wife.

The Aaron Trejo Murder Case

     In December 2018 16-year-old Aaron Trejo played high school football in Mishawaka, Indiana, a town of 48,000 in the northern part of the state. His girlfriend, 17-year-old Breana Rouhselang, was a Mishawaka High School cheerleader. She was pregnant with Trejo's child, and at eleven o'clock on the night of Saturday, December 8, 2018, Trejo asked Rouhselang to meet him behind his house to discuss the pregnancy.

     The next morning, Sunday December 9, 2018, Breana Rouhselang's mother, when her daughter didn't return home went to Aaron Trejo's house and asked him if he had information regarding Breana's whereabouts. Trejo told Mrs. Rouhselang that he and Breana had planned to meet that night but she never showed.

     Mrs. Rouhselang, on that Sunday, reported her daughter missing to the Mishawaka Police Department. Later that day police officers found an item belonging to the missing girl near a Mishawka restaurant. In the dumpster behind the restaurant officers found Breana's body. A black plastic bag covered the girl's head and upper torso. She had been stabbed in the chest.

     When questioned by detectives Aaron Trejo confessed to killing Breana Rouhselang. He said he tried to strangle her with her scarf, stabbed her in the chest, covered her upper body with the plastic bag then tossed her body into the dumpster. He threw his knife and the victim's cellphone into the St. Joseph River. Trejo said he had been angry that Rouhselang, six months pregnant, had waited too long to get an abortion. He said he had planned for a week to murder Breana and their unborn child.

     On Monday, December 10, 2018 a St. Joseph County prosecutor charged Aaron Trejo with murdering Breana Rouhselang. The prosecutor also charged the suspect with the level 3 felony of killing her fetus. If convicted as charged he faced up to 80 years in prison. The suspect was held in the St. Joseph County Jail without bond.

     On October 30, 2019 Aaron Trejo pleaded guilty to the charges of first-degree murder and feticide.

     A Joseph County Superior Court Judge, on January 9, 2020, sentenced Trejo to 65 years in prison. 

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The George Wayman Murder Case

     In 2016 31-year-old Veronica Rene Castro lived in a travel trailer in Bellevue Texas, a remote Clay County community near the Oklahoma border 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Castro resided with her three-year-old son Dominic Tra'Juan Castro and the boy's 18-year-old stepfather George Coty Wayman. Wayman, a violent dimwit with a facial tattoo, had a criminal record that included a recent stretch in prison.

     Shortly after three in the afternoon on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 someone from the Castro dwelling on Buffalo Springs Road called 911 to report a shooting. When deputies with the Clay County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene they found the Castro toddler shot once in the back of the head.

     Emergency personnel airlifted the seriously wounded boy to the United Regional Health Care System in Wichita Falls Texas. At ten-forty-five the next morning Dominic Castro died.

      George Wayman, when questioned at the scene of the shooting by the police said the boy had been accidentally shot when he jumped on the bed where a 9mm handgun had been placed. The physical evidence at the scene failed to support this scenario. Moreover, several people in the bedroom who had witnessed the shooting had a different story.

     According to the eyewitnesses Mr. Wayman, angry at the toddler for jumping on the bed, aimed the gun at the boy's head and shot him.

     A Clay County prosecutor, on May 18, 2016, charged George Wayman with capital murder. (In Texas the intentional killing of a child under six constituted a death penalty offense.) The accused murderer was booked into the Clay County Jail under $550,000 bond.

      In December 2016 following George Wayman's guilty plea a Clay County judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Extreme Cruelty: The Samilya Brown Murder Case

     On October 30, 2019, police officers and medics responded to a 911 call from a house on the 1700 block of Folsom Street on the north side of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. A 4-year-old girl had fallen from a second-story window of the house and landed on some chairs, seriously injuring her face. The child was rushed by ambulance to Jefferson University Hospital then transferred to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia where she was listed in critical condition.

     The injured girl was being cared for by 38-year-old Samilya Brown who had gained custody of her from Zya Singleton, the girl's mother. Singleton gave up custody of her daughter two years earlier because she didn't have the means to support her. She granted custody to Brown, who was married to her stepbrother, because she didn't want the child placed into foster care.

     When questioned by police officers at the scene regarding how the child had gone out the window Samilya Brown said the girl fell while playing with a cat.

     On November 3, 2019 Zya Singleton's daughter died from her injuries and a serious blood infection. Because she had not died from natural causes the city medical examiner performed an autopsy. What the forensic pathologist discovered was shocking.

     The medical examiner discovered evidence that the girl had been the victim of years of physical abuse. Her body was covered with burns from some kind of acid, human bite marks and healed-over puncture wounds. The tiny victim had an incised wound that had been stitched up by an amateur, a cut that had become seriously infected. The child was also malnourished. The medical examiner also concluded that the girl's recent head trauma was not consistent with a fall.

     The forensic pathologist, presented with evidence pointing to a history of abuse at the hands of an extremely cruel adult, ruled the child's death a criminal homicide.

     When interrogated by homicide detectives, Samilya Brown admitted that she had been the one who had stitched up the girl's cut. She denied, however, causing any of the other signs of physical trauma found on the victim's body.

     On November 12, 2019, Philadelphia County District Attorney Larry Krasner charged Samilya Brown with murder and several lesser offenses. Child protection agents removed Brown's four biological children from her house. According to reports these children showed no signs of physical abuse.
     In May 2022, after confessing to the prolonged torture of the 4-year-old girl in her custody, Samilya Brown was allowed to plead guilty to third-degree murder, a crime that in Pennsylvania carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11, 2022. Brown should have been charged with second-degree murder, an offense punishable by life in prison.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Ingrid Lederhaas-Okum: The Thieving Employee

     On July 1, 2013 at 8:45 in the evening, three men walked into the jewelry store inside the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, smashed a glass jewelry display case, scooped up $200,000 in Rolex watches then ran out of the hotel.

     While the Atlantic City smash-and-grab theft was considered a fairly big haul it was nothing compared to what a jewelry thief could steal working from the inside.

     On Tuesday, July 2, 2013, the day after the Borgata Hotel smash-and-grab, FBI agents arrested Ingrid Lederhaas-Okum at her upscale home in Darien, Connecticut. A federal prosecutor charged the 46-year-old vice president in charge of product development at the Tiffany flagship location on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue with stealing $12 million worth of jewelry from the famed store.

     FBI agents working the case believe that between November 2012 and February 2013 the executive had checked out more than 165 pieces of jewelry that were not returned to the store. The missing merchandise included diamond bracelets, platinum and gold diamond drop and loop earrings, platinum and diamond rings and platinum and diamond pendants. Lederhaas-Okum stood accused of selling the checked-out pieces of jewelry to another company. Federal investigators believed the suspect used her husband and one of her friends as sales intermediaries.

     After Tiffany & Company auditors couldn't find the 165-plus pieces of merchandise in the store's inventory the firm fired Lederhaas-Okum. She had held the position of vice president since January of 2011. Lederhaas-Okum began working for the company in 1991 following her graduation from Georgetown University.

     Igrid Lederhaas-Okum pleaded not guilty to the jewelry theft charge.

     In terms of stolen merchandise and cash, retailers in general are hit the hardest by employee thieves who steal three times more than shoplifters and robbers combined. Quite often the most trusted and longtime employees are the thieves who do the most damage. Most of them are eventually caught. A few of these so-called internal thieves avoid prosecution by agreeing to pay restitution. Occasionally, a retailer will decline to prosecute a dishonest employee because such an action would create unwanted publicity. Most of the time, however, inside retail thieves who have stolen large amounts of cash or merchandise end up in prison.

     It's hard to understand why a trusted, high-paid executive would risk everything by stealing from his or her employer. Some prominent high-end thieves steal because they are living beyond their means, have large medical expenses, are compulsive gamblers or addicted to drugs. Some employees simply enjoy the thrill of enriching themselves at the expense of their employers. 

     On December 23, 2013, following her guilty plea to one count of Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property, U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe sentenced Lederhaas-Okum to one year and one day in federal prison. By any standard, given how much she had stolen, this employee thief got off light.

"Breaking Bad" at Henderson State University

     Henderson State University is a public liberal arts school with 3,500 students in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, a town located 70 miles southwest of Little Rock. On October 8, 2019 a powerful odor that came from the university's Reynolds Science Center forced the closing of the chemistry laboratory. The inquiry that followed revealed the elevated presence of benzyl chloride, a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The identity of this chemical prompted an investigation by the university police department.

     Two days after the closure of the university chem lab the president of the school placed 45-year-old Terry David Bateman, an associate professor and director of the undergraduate research department, on administrative leave. Bateman had been with Henderson State University since 2009.

  The university president also placed 40-year-old Bradley Allen Rowland on administrative leave. Rowland was an associate professor in the chemistry department.

     On October 29, 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency okayed the re-opening of the chemistry lab. The investigation into the potentially criminal activities of the two professors by the campus police department produced enough evidence to bring in narcotics specialists with the Clark County Sheriff's Office.

     On November 15, 2019 a Clark County prosecutor charged professors Terry Bateman and Bradley Rowland with the manufacture of methamphetamine. The suspects were booked into the Clark County Jail.
     In October 2021, a Clark County jury found Terry Bateman not guilty. A month later Bradley Rowland pleaded guilty to manufacturing methamphetamine and was sentenced to 120 days in the county jail and six years probation. The former professor was also ordered to pay a $150,000 fine to cover the cost of the methamphetamine lab clean up. 
     For many, the arrests of the college professors suspected of cooking meth brought to mind the popular television series "Breaking Bad" that was broadcast on the AMC channel from 2008 to 2015. The drama followed the life of Walter White, a high school chemistry professor from Albuquerque, New Mexico who became a major underworld figure as a world-class meth cook. 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Stanwood Elkus Murder Case

     As a young man who grew up in southern California's Orange County, Ronald Franklin Gilbert, the son of a physician, played in a rock band and worked as a stockbroker. In the late 1980s he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a doctor. In 1993 Dr. Gilbert joined the Orange County Urology Group housed at the Hoag Health Center in Newport Beach. The Huntington Beach resident, as a urologist, treated patients with prostrate cancer and bladder conditions as well as with a variety of sexual dysfunctions. He performed vasectomies, prostate surgery and other urology related medical procedures. Dr. Gilbert's colleagues considered him one of the best in his field.

     Stanwood F. Elkus, a 75-year-old retired barber from Elsinore, California told a friend on January 27, 2013 that Dr. Gilbert had botched his prostate surgery 21 years earlier at a Veteran's Administration hospital. (While Dr. Gilbert had worked at that VA facility then, there was no record of him operating on Mr. Elkus.) To his friend, Elkus said, "I had surgery and now I am worse than before the surgery." According to Elkus, Dr. Gilbert's operation had aggravated his incontinence problem rather than fix it.

     The following afternoon at 2:30 Stanwood Elkus showed up at the Hoag Health Center for his appointment with Dr. Gilbert. He had made the appointment using a fake name. Fifteen minutes later, when Dr. Gilbert walked into the examination room, the patient shot him several times in the upper body, killing him instantly.

     After the shooting, Mr. Elkus emerged from the examination room holding a .45-caliber handgun. "Call the police," he said. "I'm insane."

     Newport Beach police officers arrived at the doctor's office eight minutes after the murder. They disarmed and arrested Elkus in the examination room. A few hours later police officers searched the shooter's home in Lake Elsinore.

     On Wednesday, January 30, 2013,Stanwood Elkus stood before an Orange County arraignment judge who officially charged him with murder. The judge set Elkus' bail at $1 million. The prisoner was booked into the Orange County Jail.

     On May 9, 2014 Stanwood Elkus settled a wrongful death suit brought by members of Dr. Gilbert's family. To shield his assets from the civil suit plaintiffs Mr. Elkus tried to transfer his ownership of eight houses and condominiums in Lake Forest, Huntington Beach and Lake Elsinore to his sister. A judge granted the plaintiff's injunction that stopped the real estate transactions. The accused murder's assets were valued at $2 million.

     In August 2014 the murder suspect's attorney Colleen O'Hara entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy told reporters that he planned to prove that Mr. Elkus, at the moment he killed Dr. Gilbert, was sane. "We are very confident in our evidence," he said.

     On August 21, 2017, an Orange County Superior Court jury found Elkus guilty of first-degree murder. In so doing jurors found that the defendant was sane at the time of the killing. A month after the guilty verdict the judge sentenced Stanwood Elkus to life in prison plus ten years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Homicidal Schizophrenics: Individual Rights Versus Public Safety

     In February 2009 Joseph Hagerman III, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, stopped taking his antipsychotic medication. He had stopped taking his medicine twice in the past and had experienced psychotic episodes. This time, however, he decapitated his 5-year-old son and injured his wife who tried in vain to protect the boy.

     Following his arrest Mr. Hagerman, in a jailhouse interview with a local TV reporter, said he had killed his son because he believed the boy had become the antichrist.

     A few months after the homicide a jury in Virginia Beach Virginia found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Under Virginia law this meant that Hagerman would be sent to a mental institution instead of prison. He would remain at the hospital until his doctors and a judge declared him sane enough to rejoin society.

     In late 2016 doctors at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg Virginia recommended to the court that Joseph Hagerman be granted conditional release from the institution. According to the psychiatrist, this patient, over the past few years, had been given 48-hour passes that had not caused any problems. He had been, according to the hospital staff, a model patient.

     A Virginia circuit judge acting upon the psychiatric recommendation ordered that Mr. Hagerman be given two independent mental health evaluations.

     On May 9, 2017, following the testimony of two psychiatrists and Mr. Hagerman's father, the judge ordered the patient's conditional release from the hospital. Pursuant to this decree Mr. Hagerman was required to live at an adult foster care facility during the week. On weekends he was allowed to reside with his parents.

     Under the judge's order Mr. Hagerman would also receive periodic visits from social workers and psychiatrists who would check to make sure he was still taking his antipsychotic medication.

    At the conclusion of the sanity hearing Mr. Hagerman's sister told a local television correspondent that, "I just want to let the community know that my brother is a very loving, generous, Christian man. He had a wonderful family, and it was an unfortunate incident. [Italics mine.] Everyone needs to get educated on mental illness."

     The fact that a child died because his mentally ill father, for the third time, had stopped taking his medication was perhaps cause for concern. Compassion for the mentally ill is well and good but so is the need to protect people who will cross this man's path. One doesn't need to be highly educated on the subject of mental illness to know that the behavior of a homicidal schizophrenic is extremely unpredictable. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Thomas Fritz Murder Case

     Thomas Fritz grew up in Sylvania, a suburb of Toledo Ohio. In 1997 he joined the Ohio National Guard and six years later served a year in Iraq with a Guard military police unit. The 30-year-old graduated from suburban Toledo's Owens Community College in 2004 with an associates degree in criminal justice. His aspirations for a career in law enforcement came to an end in 2006 when, after having sexual intercourse with a woman who had passed out drunk, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery. The judge, who declared Fritz a "sexually oriented offender," sentenced him to one year in an Ohio prison.

     In December 2011 Thomas Fritz moved into a white two-story house in Blissfield, Michigan, a small town in the southeastern part of the state 20 miles northwest of Toledo. The 38-year-old shared the dwelling with his girlfriend, 33-year-old Amy Merrill and her two sons from a previous relationship. Fritz and Merrill also had a toddler of their own. In late June 2012 Merrill ended her relationship with Fritz who continued to reside in the Blissfield house with her and the children.

     Late Friday night on July 13, 2012, there was an altercation in the Blissfield house which at the time was occupied by Amy Merrill, her 24-year-old sister Lisa Gritzmaker and their 52-year-old mother Robin Lynn McCowan. Thomas Fritz opened fire on the family with a rifle, killing Amy Merrill and her sister Lisa Gritzmaker who was 8-months pregnant. The mother, Robin Lynn McCowan was wounded.

     After Fritz fled the murder scene in his maroon 2002 Honda, the wounded Robin Lynn McCowan called 911. A Lenawee County prosecutor charged Thomas Fritz with two counts of open murder and one count of assault with intent to commit murder.

     A man Thomas Fritz had worked for owned a remote cabin in Tyler County, West Virginia 80 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fritz had stayed at this cabin before. After murdering his wife and her sister and wounding their mother, Fritz headed for West Virginia.

     The Tyler County cabin sat deep in the woods off Cow House Road three miles south of a wide spot in the highway called Sistersville, a village comprised of a store and one gas station. Someone who spotted Fritz driving through town called the sheriff's office. On Tuesday, July 17, 2012 a U.S. Marshal saw Fritz, armed with a rifle, enter the cabin. By nightfall the place was surrounded by U.S. Marshals and Tyler County sheriff's deputies.

     That night, while surveilling the cabin officers heard a gunshot from inside. After firing teargas canisters into the hide-out, officers entered the structure where they found Thomas Fritz dead in a back bedroom with a bullet in his head. Inside the cabin officers found two assault rifles, a shotgun and a gas mask.    

Monday, June 13, 2022

The Michael Nolan Murder-Suicide Case

     Michael Nolan resided in his 86-year-old father's house in Brentwood, New Hampshire, a town of 4,200 in the southern part of the state. The 47-year-old son and his father, Walter Nolan, shared the two-story house in a tree-shaded neighborhood restricted to people 55 and older.

     At four in the afternoon of Monday, May 12, 2014 a neighbor on Mill Pond Road called 911 to report shouting and screams coming from the Nolan residence. Ten minutes later officer Stephen Arkell, a part time 15-year veteran of the Brentwood Police Department, pulled up to the scene and was let into the house by Walter Nolan, the owner of the dwelling.

     Four minutes after officer Arkell entered the Nolan house Derek Franek, an officer with the Fremont Police Department, arrived at the scene. Inside the house officer Arkell, as he spoke to the older man, was shot and killed by Walter Nolan's son Michael. When officer Franek entered the dwelling through the front entrance Michael Nolan opened fire on him. Both the Fremont officer and the senior Mr. Nolan managed to escape the house without being shot. Once outside officer Franek radioed that an officer was down and that he had been fired upon by someone inside the Nolan dwelling.

     Officer Franek's urgent call brought a New Hampshire state SWAT unit and the Seacoast Regional Emergency Response Team. Walter Nolan, in a state of shock and unable to communicate coherently with police officers, was taken by ambulance to Exeter Hospital.

     Inside the police-surrounded house Michael Nolan poured gasoline throughout the dwelling, lit a match, then began shooting out a window at the SWAT officers. When the SWAT police fired back a bullet hit a propane gas line that touched off a massive explosion.

     At six o'clock that evening, thirty minutes after the propane blast blew off a third of the roof, firefighters began dousing the charred structure with water. Firefighters remained on the scene until nine-thirty that night.

    Cause and origin arson investigators combing through the debris found Michael Nolan's remains. Lying next to his body the officers found three handguns, three rifles and a cache of ammunition.

     Brentwood police officer Stephen Arkell, killed in the line of duty, left behind a wife and two teenage daughters. He was 48-years-old.

     Although a forensic pathologist performed an autopsy on Michael Nolan the medical examiner's office did not immediately reveal if he had been shot to death by the SWAT police, died in the fire or had killed himself.

     According to neighbors Michael Nolan rarely spoke to anyone and spent most of his time in his room watching television. Police officers had not been called to the Nolan residence in the past and Michael did not have a criminal record.

     In May 2015, the authorities, under pressure from the local media, released the results of the joint investigation of the case by the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office, the State Police Major Crime Unit and the ATF. According to the report, Mr. Nolan had shot himself to death before the house exploded. In the report he was described as a "stressed out" alcoholic gun enthusiast.

The Trigger-Happy Constable

     On November 2, 2011 at 3:30 in the afternoon Jefferson County Constable David Whitlock, while shopping in a Louisville, Kentucky Walmart where he worked off-duty as a retail security officer, received a call on his cellphone regarding a possible shoplifter. Constable Whitlock approached the suspect, Tammy Lee Jamian, aka Tammy Ortiz as she sat in her car in the parking lot. When Whitlock reached the vehicle the suspect started to drive away. Her car ran over Whitlock's foot so he shot her in the arm and hand.

     In Kentucky constables were elected under the state constitution that gave them powers of arrest in the enforcement of traffic laws. They also served certain types of warrants. Whitlock, in 2000 and 2002, had been charged in a couple of theft cases. Other law enforcement officers had criticized him for carrying a gun without the proper firearms training. While in Kentucky constables were not required to undergo special law enforcement instruction, Whitlock claimed to have taken 122 hours of deadly force classes. According to a Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Whitlock failed the shooting portion of the course and was sent home.

     In a newspaper interview following the Walmart shooting Whitlock told the reporter he spent 20 to 25 hours a week writing citations for illegal parking in fire lanes and handicapped spots. He also patrolled Louisville making sure addresses were visible on buildings as required by law.

     Tammy Lee Jamian, with an arrest record for burglary, theft and prostitution, claimed she was not shoplifting in the store and that Constable Whitlock, when he confronted her in the parking lot, did not identify himself as a police officer. She drove off because she thought she was being mugged. Referring to Whitlock, Jamian's attorney told a reporter "This cowboy shot an unarmed woman for shoplifting. He didn't know if she was Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde or Sister Teresa. He just shot her."

     On November 11, 2011 Louisville Councilman Rick Blackwell called for the state legislature to remove Whitlock as a Jefferson County Constable. According to the councilman Whitlock violated three state laws: deputizing staff members, failing to file monthly reports to the county clerk and using oscillating blue lights on his car.

     In October 2012, pursuant to his guilty plea to charges of wanton endangerment and second-degree assault, Whitlock agreed never to work in law enforcement again. After he completed a diversion program, the prosecutor dropped the charges against the former constable.

     In Louisville, on January 27, 2014, David Whitlock announced his plan to run for a seat on the Metro Council. He lost.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Randi Chaverria: The Rise and Fall of a High School Teacher

     In 2005, Randi Chaverria (her future married name) graduated from Baylor University with a degree in fashion design. Upon graduation she studied abroad in Florence, Italy. When she returned to the United States Chaverria acquired a job as an assistant designer at Dillard's corporate office in Little Rock, Arkansas. While working in Little Rock she met and married Eric Chaverria. After five years in Arkansas the couple and their two children moved to Paris, Texas where Randi worked as a store manager for a retailer called Maurice's. In 2013, after six years in retail management, Randi Chaverria began teaching fashion design at a Paris, Texas high school.

     In 2016, Randi Chaverria and her family moved to Round Rock, Texas, a city of 100,000 within the Austin, Texas metropolitan area. At Round Rock High she taught fashion design as a Family and Consumer Science teacher. Two years later her husband joined the school's teaching staff.

     In May 2018, Randi Chaverria, at the annual Round Rock School District banquet, was named the 2019 secondary teacher of the year. Upon receiving the honor the 35-year-old teacher told the audience that "The most important role of a teacher is to help shape future generations to become successful members of the community. More than any curriculum I teach my students," she said, "I hope that they will walk away from my classroom thinking of ways that they can make a difference in their community and impact the lives of others for the better."

     On November 18, 2019 officials with the Round Rock School District were informed that the local police department had received an e-mail from the parents of an 18-year-old male student who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with his teacher, Randi Chaverria. According the teen the relationship had gone on for several weeks.

     The school was also informed that the fashion design teacher and the student had exchanged text messages that suggested a sexual relationship that included, on two occasions in October 2019, the teacher performing oral sex on the student in her classroom. The student also told detectives that Chaverria had called him several times to arrange sexual encounters. When questioned about this Chaverria reportedly did not deny the affair.

     On November 19, 2019, the day after the school learned of the police investigation Randi Chaverria resigned from Round Rock High School.

     A few days after her resignation, a Williamson County prosecutor charged Randi Chaverria with conducting an improper relationship with a student, a felony that carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

     The disgraced teacher, on November 26, 2019 turned herself into the police. After being booked into the Williamson County Jail, Chaverria posted her $25,000 bail and was released. (As of this writing there is no disposition of this case posted on the Internet. In all probability the charges were dropped.)

     While female teacher sexual encounters with male students has become fairly common the Chaverria case was unusual because of the age of the teacher. In most of these cases the women are in their early twenties. Randi Chaverria was 36. 

The Patrick Wetter Police-Involved Shooting Case

     At three-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday January 6, 2015 a drunk or drugged-up 25-year-old gang member named Patrick Wetter kicked in the front door of a young adult group home in Stockton, California. Residents of the home barricaded themselves into a bedroom and called the police.

     Three police officers accompanied by Rocky, a Dutch Shepherd who had been on the force five years, arrived at the scene to find Wetter armed with a knife and trying to break into one of the group home's bedrooms. The officers ordered the crazed man to surrender. When Wetter ignored the command the K-9 handler deployed Rocky to subdue him. The intruder responded by stabbing Rocky in the shoulder.

     When the K-9 officer tried to retrieve his wounded dog Wetter threatened  him with the knife. That's when the other two officers opened fire, hitting Wetter several times. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

      Six months earlier Stockton police officers had arrested Wetter for carrying a concealed knife and resisting arrest. The gang member posted his bond and walked out of the county jail.

     Officers rushed Rocky to an emergency veterinary hospital in Stockton. A veterinarian at that facility concluded that Rocky required surgery. After spending the night in Stockton, Rocky was transferred to a veterinary hospital in Sacramento where he had the operation. The surgery was successful and Rocky recovered from his wounds.

     The two officers who shot Patrick Wetter to death were placed on three-day administrative leave. The officers were returned to duty after the shooting was ruled justifiable. 

Breaking Into a House Can Be Fatal

     Eighty-year-old Thomas Greer lived in Bixby Knolls, a neighborhood in Long Beach, California. Mr. Greer came home at nine o'clock on the night of July 22, 2014 and found two burglars in his house. He shot and killed one of them who, prior to being shot, said, "Don't shoot me, I'm pregnant. I'm going to have a baby."The homeowner shot her anyway.

     At a press conference regarding the shootings Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell said the woman, 28-year-old Andrea Miller, showed no outward signs of being pregnant.

     Officers arrested Andrea Miller's accomplice, 26-year-old Gus Adams, on charges of residential burglary and murder. Because she had been killed during the commission of a felony perpetrated by Mr. Adams, he was charged with criminal homicide under the felony-murder doctrine. The judge set Adams' bail at $1 million.

     Both Miller and Adams had criminal histories involving burglary. Investigators believed the couple had broken into Mr. Greer's home three times before. When Mr. Greer returned home that night and encountered the intruders, the suspects attacked him, hitting him with their fists and body slamming him to the floor, breaking his collar bone.

     While Gus Adams tried to pry open Mr. Greer's safe the victim snuck into a room where he grabbed his .22-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver. As Greer opened fire the burglars fled through the garage and into an alley. Greer chased after them firing his gun. One of his bullets hit Andrea Miller who died in the alley.

     On July 29, 2014 police officers arrested Gus Adam's 49-year-old mother, Ruby Adams on suspicion she had acted as a lookout in the burglary of the Greer home. The judge set her bail at $175,000.

     The authorities also announced that according to the medical examiner's office Andrea Miller was not pregnant.

     In January 2015 the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office decided not to prosecute Thomas Greer for killing Andrea Miller.

     Ruby Adams, in April 2016, pleaded no contest to residential burglary. The judge sentenced her to three years in prison.

     In August 2016, a jury acquitted Gus Adams of felony-murder but found him guilty of first-degree residential burglary and elder abuse. The judge sentenced him to 12 years behind bars.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The White Van Scare

     Before the Internet we had the urban legend, scary myths spread by word of mouth. One such legend was called "The Hookman." This myth featured a young couple parked in a lover's lane. Over the car radio they hear that a homicidal lunatic with a hook for a hand had escaped from a local mental institution and was roaming the area's back roads. When the couple arrived home that night they discovered, dangling from one of the car door handles, a hook.

     In the Internet era the urban legend has been replaced by scarelore, a term that refers to vague terrifying news items published on social media, scary tales that have no basis in fact. Quite often scarelore stories involve shadowy men committing terrible crimes against helpless women and children.

     The scarelore that  made the rounds in 2019, mainly through Facebook, featured men in white commercial vans who patrol shopping center parking lots looking for young women to abduct. When the kidnappers saw a vulnerable young woman pull into the lot, they'd wait until she walked away from her car then park next to it. When she returned, these men would throw her into their van and drive off. The abducted women became sex slaves and were ultimately killed for their body parts.

     The spread of the white van myth was not good for drivers of white commercial vans of which there are a couple hundred thousand in circulation at any given time. At the height of the abduction scare many white van drivers were harassed by citizens or reported to the police. In November 2019 an innocent driver of a white van in a Memphis, Tennessee parking lot was shot to death by the police.

     Jack Young, the mayor of Baltimore, in a December 2019 television interview added credibility to the white van abduction hoax when he said this: "We're getting reports of some people in white vans trying to snatch up young girls for human sex trafficking and selling body parts. So, we have to be careful because there is so much evil going on, not just in the city of Baltimore, but around the country. Don't park near a white van and make sure you keep your cellphone in case somebody tries to attack you."

    Even for a politician this was a stupid thing to say. Shortly after Mayor Young raised the abduction alarm the chief of police of Baltimore came forward and told reporters that his department had received no reports of white van abductions. Moreover, a spokesperson for the FBI announced that there had been no reports of white van kidnappings nationwide.

     After the mayor helped spread the white van scarelore Facebook issued the following statement: "Posts with this [white van] claim have been rated as false by third party fact checkers and we are dramatically reducing their distribution. People who see these false posts on Facebook and share them, or have already shared them, will see a warning they're false."

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Sharon Voit Murder-For-Hire Case: Until Death Do Us Part

      The person who once said that marriages start in bed and end up in court wasn't thinking of murder. Some marriages end up with one of the parties in court and the other in the morgue. Wives engineer the deaths of their estranged husbands out of fear they will be left penniless following the divorce. For women trapped in bad marriages, murder, compared to divorce, is quicker and a lot more satisfying. Homicidal husbands want their wives dead to avoid legal fees, the divvying up of the marital estate, alimony and the expense of child support. Familiarity can breed contempt and divorce can breed criminal homicide. In the world of murder-for-hire the contentious divorce is perhaps the number one motive.

The Sharon Voit Case

     On July 13, 1995 Dr. Kerry Voit and his wife Sharon were watching television with their three daughters in the den of their home in the tranquil village of Golf on the northern outskirts of Chicago. At a quarter to ten Dr. Voit, stating that he was tired and wanted to retire for the night in that room, switched off the TV. This enraged his wife and in the scuffle that ensured Sharon Voit took a punch in the eye. Dr. Voit suffered scratches on his arm and came away from the fight with a bruised leg. Sharon ordered her husband out of the house and when he refused to leave she phoned the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

     The deputies who responded to the domestic disturbance received conflicting stories from the Voit daughters. Two of the girls sided with their father and the third with Mrs. Voit. The officers decided not to arrest anyone but ordered Dr. Voit, a successful downtown Chicago dentist, to leave the house for 72 hours. He spent the next few nights in Harwood Heights at his mother's house.

     Not long after the police call a family court judge ordered the Voits into marriage counseling, but it was too late for that. The couple continued to fight and for the next year or so, Dr. Voit moved back and forth between his mother's place and the family home. In the summer of 1997 he moved out permanently.

     The Voit marriage had been an unhappy one from the start. As a 22-year-old dental hygienist, Sharon had helped put Kerry through dental school then worked in his office until their first child. They had talked about divorce many times but he didn't want to split up because he thought the divorce would ruin him financially. As a result the couple found themselves trapped in a marriage that brought them both misery. Finally, Sharon decided that she couldn't take it anymore. That's when she began thinking of murder.

     In the spring of 1999, while talking with Carl Poe, the husband of the ice skating coach working with her youngest daughter, Sharon Voit said she wished she could find someone to have Dr. Voit "taken care of." Mr. Poe passed the comment on to his wife Robyn who dismissed it as a joke. Although Sharon didn't sound like she was joking Carl agreed with his wife's assessment of black humor bubbling up out of frustration and stress.

     Two months after the "taken care of" comment Mrs. Voit shocked Dr. Voit's friend, Matt Georgopolous, when she said, quite specifically, that the only way she could achieve happiness was to find someone who would kill her husband. Mr. Georgopolous didn't think she was joking and warned his friend that his life might be in danger. Dr. Voit laughed it off, explaining that Sharon was a mentally unstable person who was just letting off steam.

     On March 8, 2000, while conferring with Robyn Poe at an ice skating competition in Buffalo, New York, Sharon Voit asked the coach if she knew anyone who could "take Kerry out." Although alarmed by the question, Mrs. Poe decided to ignore Sharon's query although Carl had been right. This woman seemed deadly serious. In a restaurant two days later with Matt Georgopolous and Robyn Poe Mrs. Voit brought up the murder-for-hire subject again. Shortly after that she asked the family accountant if Dr. Voit had changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The accountant said he had no knowledge of such matters.

     When Dr. Voit learned of his wife's recent life insurance and hit man inquiries he decided to take the situation a little more seriously. He called a friend in the Cook County State Attorney's office and reported that Sharon might be trying to have him murdered. The prosecutor referred the complaint to the Chicago Police Department where Detective John Duffy took charge of the case. After talking to Dr. Voit and Matt Georgopolous the detective asked Tim Kaufmann, a deputy with the sheriff's office special operations branch, to enter the case as an undercover hit man.

     A few days after talking with Detective Duffy, Deputy Kaufmann called Sharon Voit and said, "I understand you have a problem you want taken care of." She responded by requesting a meeting the following afternoon in the parking lot of a local grocery store. The next day at one-thirty Sharon, behind the wheel of her SUV, pulled into the lot. After climbing into the officer's vehicle Sharon asked Deputy Kaufmann which one of her friends had spoken to him regarding her problem. The undercover cop replied that in his business that kind of information was confidential. Seemingly convinced that this man was in the business of killing people for money, Sharon set up a second meeting.

     On March 17, 2000 a covert police video surveillance team stood by as Sharon Voit pulled her SUV into another parking lot. Deputy Kaufmann, wearing a body microphone, climbed into her vehicle, and without specific reference to Dr. Voit asked if she were serious about solving her problem. "Yep," she replied, "it's gotta be done." She then asked how much it would cost. The undercover officer said it depended on how much money she could raise. About seven thousand dollars she replied.

     To establish his bona fides as a paid assassin Deputy Kaufmann said that after killing people for the United States government as a combat soldier in Viet Nam he had gone into business for himself. Being in the profession of taking people out didn't bother him at all. Regarding the Voit hit, he said he would do it in a way that would make the murder look like it had been committed by a robber. In discussing possible times and places, Sharon revealed that Dr. Voit had planned a scuba diving trip to the Bahamas the following week. Deputy Kaufmann said he would kill her husband in the Bahamas. To that Sharon replied that she didn't care where or how the job was done. She said she had no interest in details. She just wanted to have her "misery finished."

     Deputy Kaufmann told Sharon that he needed $600 in upfront money to cover the cost of his trip to the Bahamas. She could mail him the balance after he completed the job. The undercover cop handed her a slip of paper bearing the post office address where she could sent the rest of the money. Sharon next described her husband's daily routine and provided the officer with the address of his mother's house in Harwood Heights. The deputy said he had everything he needed except a photograph of the target and the expense money. They could meet again or she could get the photograph and the $600 while he waited in the parking lot. She replied that she would have what he wanted in less than an hour. Before he returned to his car to wait for the photograph and the money, Deputy Kaufmann asked Sharon if this was really what she wanted to do. She said yes; the man she wanted killed had made her life miserable. This was the only way she knew to relieve that misery. She had made her decision.

     An hour later Sharon Voit returned to the parking lot. As Deputy Kaufmann walked away from her vehicle with the photograph and the upfront money police officers swooped in and took her into custody. One moment she thought her problems were over, the next she was sitting in the back of a police car wearing handcuffs. When informed she had been talking to an undercover cop who had recorded the conversation, she admitting trying to hire the officer to kill her husband. Charged with solicitation of murder Sharon Voit landed in the Cook County Jail with her bond set at $10 million.

     After conferring with her attorney Sharon Voit decided to take back her confession and plead not guilty. The defense lawyer would argue entrapment, that the undercover officer had essentially talked his 51-year-old client into soliciting the murder of her husband. In support of this hard-to-establish defense the attorney would parse the recorded conversation, noting at one point that Voit had said, "Part of me wants him to get help so it would be better." The defense attorney also planned to highlight the absence of key words such as "hit man," "kill," "murder," and "dead." The attorney must have known that his defense, given the context of the case, would be a hard sell.

     Sharon Voit's trial, held in Skokie, Illinois, got underway in January 2003. As evidence of her guilt the prosecutor presented the testimony of the Poes, Matt Georgopolous and Detective John Duffy. Jurors also heard the taped conversation featuring undercover officer Tim Kaufmann and the defendant. The jury also learned that the defendant had given the officer $600 and the photograph of her husband.

     In anticipation of the insanity defense the prosecutor arranged, shortly after Sharon's arrest, to have her examined by a pair of state psychiatrists. The doctors took the stand and testified that in their expert opinions the defendant, at the time of her conversation with the undercover officer was legally sane and not suffering from the battered woman syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.

     Sharon Voit's attorney had asked Dr. Susan M. Nowak, a Chicago psychiatrist, to examine his client to determine if the effects of her marriage had made her especially vulnerable to being entrapped by an undercover cop. The trial judge accepted Dr. Nowak as an expert witness but decided to hear her testimony outside the presence of the jury. If Dr. Nowak convinced the judge that the undercover officer had entrapped the defendant he would direct a verdict of not guilty. Otherwise the case would go to the jury without Dr. Nowak's testimony.

     Dr. Nowak had investigated Sharon Voit's medical history that included reviewing court documents and psychiatric reports. The psychiatrist had also interviewed Sharon as well as two of her friends. The story of the defendant's life, as related to the court by the psychiatrist, portrayed Dr. Voit as a cruel and abusive husband. According to the doctor, Sharon met Kerry Voit when they were high school sophomores. Five years later they married and shortly after that he started hitting her. While working in the office as his dental hygienist Sharon caught him in the closet using cocaine with a female employee. Over the years the successful dentist had taken other women on lavish trips and gave them expensive gifts.

     The defense psychiatrist testified that Dr. Voit had forced Sharon to have video-taped three-way cocaine-laced sex with him and his friend Matt Georgopolous. The defendant also told Dr. Nowak that her husband, during "violent" sexual intercourse, would hold a pillow over her face against her will. She had threatened to divorce him several times but he and his attorney talked her out of going through with the legal proceeding.

     Dr. Nowak, to a degree of reasonable medical certainty, said that it was her expert opinion that the defendant, while not legally insane, possessed a "dependent personality disorder" that had rendered her vulnerable to police entrapment. The judge ruled that the doctor's testimony did not establish a legal case for entrapment. It wasn't that the judge didn't believe the defendant's characterization of her husband, he just didn't see how it related to the legal defense of entrapment. If anything, the defendant's marital history provided a strong motive for the murder solicitation.

    The Voit trial went forward without Dr Nowak's open court testimony. On January 10, 2003, following a five-hour deliberation, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. A few weeks later the judge sentenced Sharon Voit to 23 years in prison. Voit's next door neighbor told a reporter she was shocked by the verdict. "They were such a loving couple," she said. "They were just so proud of each other. He talked about what a good cook and golfer she was. She was proud of what a good dentist he was. As time goes by I guess you can't maintain that forever."