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Sunday, July 31, 2022

Murdered Over Nothing

     Just because murder is a serious crime does not mean that murderers always have equally serious motives to kill. In the world of criminal homicide the motive does not always match the crime. Authors of detective novels give their fictitious murderers good reasons to kill such as revenge, big money, passionate sex, jealous love and burning hatred. In the victimology of crime fiction the killer and the killed usually know each other well. In novels, murderers are, if not nice people, fascinating folks with interesting reasons to commit the ultimate crime.

     In real life people who commit criminal homicide are often wildly insane, drug-addled or just plain stupid. Nonfiction killers are frequently uninteresting people who kill for trivial idiotic reasons. Quite often in real life the murder victim is as insane, drug-addled or stupid as the person who killed him. In the more tragic cases these mindless murderers take the lives of decent people who simply had the misfortune of being in the wrong place. If there is anything interesting in these under-motivated murder cases it is the fact they are real. The advantage of writing about nonfiction crime is that these cases do not have to make a whole lot of sense. They just have to be true. Fiction on the other hand has to be believable. Fiction has to make sense.

The Trigger-Happy Mr. Dunn

     At 7:40 in the evening of November 20, 2012, Michael D. Dunn and his girlfriend pulled into a service station in Jacksonville Florida. That day the couple had attended the wedding of Mr. Dunn's son. The 45-year-old software developer and his girlfriend were en route to Dunn's home 160 miles away in Satellite Beach Florida. Mr. Dunn parked his vehicle and waited behind the wheel as his girlfriend entered the gas station's convenience store.

     Mr. Dunn had pulled into the service station alongside a SUV occupied by three teenagers who were listening to music Mr. Dunn considered much too loud. He asked the boys to lower the sound level. The kids didn't take kindly to his request which led to an exchange of angry words. Suddenly Michael Dunn picked up a handgun and fired eight shots into the car. Two of the bullets struck 17-year-old Jordan Davis who was sitting in the back seat. The high school junior, who was about to start his first job at McDonald's, died in the SUV.

     The shooter's girlfriend ran out of the convenience store and as she climbed into Dunn's vehicle asked, "What's going on?"

     "I just fired at those kids," Dunn replied as the couple drove away.

     The next day police officers arrested Michael Dunn at his home in Satellite Beach. (A witness had written down his license number.)  Dunn told his police questioners that he had fired his pistol in self-defense after one of the kids in the SUV pointed a shotgun at him. Dunn's self-defense justification suffered a blow when investigators failed to find any weapons in the SUV. (There were no drugs in the car and none of the boys had ever been in trouble with the law.)

     In May 2013 a grand jury sitting in Jacksonville Florida indicted Michael Dunn of first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. On October 17, 2014 after a jury found Dunn guilty as charged the judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole.

James Pak: The Angry Landlord

     In 2006 James Pak sold his Korean Yankee Landscape Company, a Biddeford Maine business he had owned since 1964. In 2012 Mr. Pak was living with his wife in a cape cod-style home in the town of Bedford located 15 miles south of Portland. He rented out an apartment attached to his house to 44-year-old Susan Johnson who lived there with her son, 19-year-old Derrick Thompson. Derrick worked as an auto detailer at a nearby car dealership. His girlfriend, Alivia Welch, worked as a waitress at a local coffee shop. She was eighteen.

     Around six o'clock in the evening of December 29, 2012, Bedford police officers responded to a call to defuse a dispute between Mr. Pak and his tenants. The 74-year-old landlord was upset because Derrick Thompson and his mother had parked their cars in his driveway. (The town had banned overnight parking on the street to clear the way for snow removal crews.) After speaking with Mr. Pak and his renters the officers left the scene without taking anyone into custody.

     At seven that night, shortly after the police thought they had resolved the dispute, they were called back to the Pak house on reports of shots being fired in the rented apartment. Upon their arrival the officers discovered that Mr. Pak had shot Derrick Thompson and his girlfriend Alivia Welch, killing them both. He had also shot and wounded Mr. Thompson's mother, Susan Johnson.

     Following a three-hour police stand-off at his home James Pak surrendered to the authorities. Among other crimes he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. After pleading guilty on February 3, 2016 the judge sentenced James Pak to two life sentences.

Street Gang Killings

     Drug dealers and members of street gangs regularly murder each other over minor slights, petty arguments and even disrespectful looks. For these habitual criminals it's their chosen way of life. Unless some innocent bystander goes down in the cross-fire the general public couldn't care less about these deaths. One violent crook is dead and his killer is off to prison for life. From a societal standpoint these cases are hardly tragedies.

     Michael Dunn and James Pak were murderers who weren't career criminals or drains on society. Because they were not stupid their homicidal behavior makes even less sense. These men ruined their lives over nothing. And their victims did nothing to deserve their sudden and violent deaths. That is what makes these spontaneous homicides so tragic and hard to understand.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Derek Ward Murder-Suicide Case

     Patricia Ward resided in an apartment complex on Secatogue Avenue in Farmingdale, an unincorporated village of 8,000 in the western Long Island town of Oyster Bay New York. The 66-year-old taught English at Farmingdale State College's Long Island Educational Opportunity Center, an institution attended by high school students preparing for college.

     The assistant professor's son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, lived with her in the Farmingdale apartment. The unemployed son, over the past ten years, had experienced problems with the law and mental health. In 2003 the schizophrenic young man was convicted of criminal mischief. In that case the judge fined him and placed him on probation for a year.

     In 2006 police in Nassau County arrested Derek Ward for possession of drugs and a 9 mm handgun. That judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail and three years probation.

     Just before eight o'clock on the night of October 28 2014, Derek Ward attacked his mother with a kitchen knife. After stabbing her several times in their apartment he cut off her head then dragged the headless body down the stairs through the apartment lobby and onto Secatogue Avenue.

     After depositing his decapitated mother on the street in front of their apartment Derek Ward walked about a mile to a set of Long Island Railroad tracks. From there he threw himself in front of a speeding commuter train rolling east from Penn Station in Manhattan. The impact killed him instantly.

     When police officers arrived at the apartment complex they found Patricia Ward lying in the street about ten feet from her head.

     Neighbor Nick Gordon told a reporter with The New York Post that, "I saw the body laying right in front and her head was across the street near the corner. There was blood all over. You can see smears going down the stairs." Other neighbors when they saw Patricia Ward's body thought they were looking at a Halloween prank. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

Raymond Clark: The Panhandler Arsonist

     Thirty-eight-year-old Raymond Sean Clark, a homeless panhandler, regularly loitered outside the 7-eleven store on the Pacific Coast Highway in Long Beach California. Clark made a habit of annoying customers who patronized the convenience store by begging them for money and cigarettes. He had become an unwelcome fixture in the neighborhood. 

     At five in the afternoon of April 12, 2013, as Jerry Payne sat outside the 7-eleven store in his Toyota 4-Runner, the 62-year-old was approached by Clark who asked him for money. 

     When Mr. Payne refused to give Clark a handout the transient poured a bottle of gasoline into the SUV and tossed in a match. The vehicle and its occupant were immediately engulfed in flames. (The fire was so intense customers and employees in the convenience store had to escape through a back door.)

     After Good Samaritans pulled Mr. Payne out of the burning vehicle, paramedics rushed him to Torrance Memorial Hospital, a medical facility that specialized in burn patients. With third-degree burns on his chest and face the victim was in critical condition.

     Police officers arrested Raymond Clark around the corner from the fire. Charged with attempted murder, he was held in the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center under $502,200 bail. When Mr. Payne died from his burns the prosecutor elevated the charge against Raymond Clark to murder.

     In April 2014, a year after the deadly assault, Jerry Payne's family filed a wrongful death suit against the 7-Eleven convenience store chain and the city of Long Beach. The plaintiffs based the civil action on the theory that the attack had been foreseeable therefore preventable. According to the plaintiffs, both the owner of the store and the police had known that Raymond Clark was aggressive and dangerous.

     Assistant City Attorney Monte H. Machit described Mr. Payne's death as an "absolute tragedy." However, he said, Long Beach could not be held accountable for every "random act of violence that took place in the city."

     In March 2015 the plaintiffs dropped the wrongful death suit against the city of Long Beach.

     Prosecutors, in September 2017, announced they would not seek the death penalty against Raymond Clark.  
     In January 2022 Mr. Clark pleaded guilty to murder and arson. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life in prison.

Searching Your Kid's Room

     A few years ago in Tempe, Arizona, a cleaning lady discovered what looked like an improvised explosive device (IED) in an 18-year-old boy's bedroom. She took the suspicious-looking object to the local fire station where it was x-rayed and determined to be a live bomb capable of detonation. Members of a bomb squad disabled the device. While not a big IED, the bomb was powerful enough to  destroy property and even kill people.

     The cleaning lady, when questioned by detectives, showed them photographs she had taken of other items in Joshua Prater's room that included bomb-making materials. Police officers, after searching Prater's room took him into custody. He was charged with possession of an explosive device. Bomb making is dangerous business. This kid was lucky he didn't blow up his room and himself.

     According to media reports, the bomb-marker's parents told detectives that their son's friend taught him how to make the IED. While it's hard to imagine parents who would allow their child to build a bomb in his room, it was not clear if these parents knew what their son was up to before the cleaning lady took action.

     Several months after Prater's arrest he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. The judge sentenced him to one year probation. 

     Do parents know what their children are up to?  Should parents regularly search their children's rooms? 
     Studies show that most children have high opinions of themselves. They also feel entitled to things they are unwilling to work for. They can also be notorious liars and profoundly ignorant of how things work in real life. They think they know everything because they know so little.

     In a parent's home a child has no legal right to privacy. In the domestic environment, parents are the cops, prosecutors and judges They have a right to know, and the duty to find out, if their kids have drugs, pornography, guns or bombs in their rooms. And the only way to be absolutely certain that they do not possess these things involves periodic searches. Children should not be allowed to lock their doors. If they do have locks parents should have the keys. Kids need to know that privacy is for adults. When they live in their own places mom and dad can be locked out.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Douglas and Kristen Barbour Child Abuse Case

     Douglas B. Barbour was a prosecutor in the Pennsylvania State Attorney's Office headquartered in Harrisburg, the state capital. The 33-year-old attorney was assigned to the district office in Pittsburgh. He and his 30-year-old wife Kristen resided in Franklin Park, a borough of 14,000 just north of the city. In March 2012 the couple, through a religious organization called Bethany Christian Services, adopted a 5-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl. The children were from Ethiopia.

     On September 14, 2012 Dr. Rachel Berger at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh examined the Barbour children. The 6-year-old boy had been brought to the hospital with hypothermia, rapid breathing and skin lesions caused by prolonged exposure to urine. He weighed 47 pounds and was severely malnourished.

     The girl, 18-months-old, had breathing difficulties, retinal hemorrhaging, brain injury and healing fractures in her femur and a toe. (Kristen Barbour told Dr. Berger that the toddler had suffered several accidental falls.) As a result of the toddler's head trauma she was blind in one eye, perhaps permanently. The little girl was also malnourished. (Tests would later reveal that the healing bone fractures were not the result of disease.)

     Dr. Berger, suspecting child abuse, notified the Allegheny County Police Department. The boy was admitted to the hospital's urgent care center and the girl placed into protective custody. In the doctor's report she wrote this about the 6-year-old boy: "[He is] the victim of significant neglect and possible emotional abuse over a prolonged period of time."

     After spending six days in the hospital the boy gained seven pounds. He was taken to A Child's Place, a children's abuse facility at the Mercy Health Center in Pittsburgh.

     On October 2, 2012 detectives with the Allegheny County Police Department questioned the boy at the Mercy Health Center. According to the child, whenever he soiled his pants, his parents made him eat his meals in the bathroom.

     Two days after speaking to the 6-year-old the police arrested Douglas and Kristen Barbour. They were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and in the case of their 18-month-old daughter, aggravated assault. The state attorney general's office suspended Douglas Barbour without pay pending the outcome of the case.

     Detectives searched the couple's suburban home in Franklin Park and found, in the boy's bedroom, nothing but a mattress and a sheet. There were no toys, window coverings, wall decorations or anything else that made the place livable.

     According to an employee of the adoption service, Mrs. Barbour had complained that the boy was "rude, defiant and very difficult." She also complained that both children ate too much.

     On June 23, 2014 Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts each of endangering children. Mr. Barbour pleaded to the misdemeanor counts while his wife pleaded to the felony charges. As part of his plea deal Mr. Barbour received a probated sentence. Although his wife faced three to twelve months in jail, her attorney asked for probation. The couple relinquished their parental rights and the children remained in foster care.

     In September 2014 the judge sentenced Kristen Barbour to six to 12 months to be served at the minimum security prison at Mercer, Pennsylvania. Douglas Barbour, in March of 2015, resigned from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

What Happened to Shane Montgomery?

     In November 2014, 21-year-old Shane Montgomery, a catholic high school graduate from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia was a senior at nearby West Chester University. On Wednesday night November 26, 2014 Montgomery, his cousin and a couple of friends were barhopping in Philadelphia.

     In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day Montgomery and his group were drinking at Kildare's Irish Pub on Main Street in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood. At some point Montgomery got separated from his friends in the crowded bar. At 1:45 AM he accidentally bumped into the DJ's table. The bouncer ordered the student out of the pub. Montgomery apologized and left the premises.

     After he was seen leaving the bar, Shane Montgomery did not return home. Friends and family were unable to get in touch with him by phone and he didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner. Concerned, his family filed a missing persons report with the Philadelphia Police Department.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, volunteers circulated missing persons notices around the Manayunk neighborhood. The posters featured a photograph of the missing college student along with a picture of the Celtic cross tattooed across his shoulder blades. The 5-foot-11 inch 140-pound Montgomery, when he left the bar, was dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt.

     The search for Shane Montgomery included the use of dogs, a helicopter and boats on the Schuylkill River that flows alongside Manayunk's Main Street. Five-hundred volunteers searched the riverbank, the footpath and the railroad tracks that run parallel to the street.

     A cellphone tower in Lower Merion Township picked up a signal from Montgomery's cellphone a little less than an hour after he left Kildare's. The phone itself was not recovered. At the bar there was no video surveillance footage for detectives to review.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, a FBI task force joined in the hunt for the missing student. A $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to his whereabouts.

     Shortly after noon on Saturday January 4, 2015, a volunteer diver from the Garden State (New Jersey) Underwater Recovery Unit found Shane Montgomery's body in three feet of water near the Schuylkill riverbank not far from the Manayunk bar where he was last seen. Two weeks earlier a diver from the same unit found Montgomery's car keys in the water near the river bank 800 yards upriver from where his body was recovered.

     Shane Montgomery's uncle, on January 5, 2015, told reporters that the medical examiner's office had completed its autopsy and had ruled the young man's drowning death an accident.

     In March 2019, a jury sitting in Philadelphia found that the Kildare Irish Pub owner had to pay $525,000 in damages to the family of Shane Montgomery for serving the student alcohol after the student was manifestly intoxicated.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Murder Most Rare: The Anna Mae Blessing Case

     In January 2018, 92-year-old Anna Mae Blessing moved into a condo in Fountain Hills Arizona with her 72-year-old son Thomas Blessing and his 57-year-old girlfriend who owned the dwelling.

     Around nine-thirty in the morning of July 2, 2018 Thomas Blessing was in his mother's bedroom arguing with her over plans to send the elderly woman to an assisted living facility. She did not want to live in such a place and said so in no uncertain terms as the argument became heated. With her son's girlfriend looking on, Anna Mae Blessing pulled a handgun from the pocket of her robe and shot her son several times at close range. He died on the spot.

     After shooting her son to death the old woman pointed the gun at her dead son's girlfriend who managed, following a brief struggle, to disarm her. At that moment Anna Blessing pulled a second gun from her robe, a weapon the girlfriend knocked out of her hand.

     Once she had separated the elderly shooter from her weapons the girlfriend called 911. At ten that morning members of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene. The deputies found the 92-year-old sitting quietly in a reclining chair. As officers led the murder suspect from the condo in handcuffs she said, to no one in particular, "You took my life, so I took yours."

     Officers booked the suspect into the Maricopa County Jail on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault. A magistrate set her bail at $50,000. At one point during her booking the murder suspect said, "Put me to sleep." An official close to the case speculated that after murdering her son Mrs. Blessing had planned to take her own life.

      In January 2019 Anna Mae Blessing, while awaiting her murder trial, died in the Maricopa County Jail.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Failed Policing Leads to Vigilantism

     In the summer of 2013, Mary (not her real name), a 15-year-old with Down Syndrome worked a few hours a week at a coffee shop in southwest Detroit called Cafe Con Leche. On July 17 Mary did not show up for her two-hour shift that began at 3:30 PM. The shop's owner, Jordi Carbonell, called Mary's legal guardian who lived a few blocks away. (Mary's mother had died of cancer in 2006.)  The legal guardian informed Mr. Carbonell that Mary had left the house on time for her four-block walk through the Hubbard Farms neighborhood. Shortly after Mr. Carbonell's call, Mary walked into the shop. When asked why she was late Mary said she had been with a friend.

     That evening, Mary shocked her legal guardian by telling her that she had been raped that afternoon by a neighborhood man named Bill (not his real name) who invited her to his apartment. According to Mary, Bill had kissed her, told her to undress then raped her. She said he used his cellphone to take photographs of her in the nude.
     Bill, who referred to himself as Super Fly and an Aztec Warrior, was known in the neighborhood for his strange and often confrontational behavior. The 43-year-old was generally disliked by residents of the area who considered him an oddball. He had big, puffy hair and walked around in shorts and high socks. In January 2012 a judge had committed Bill to a mental health facility. According to a psychiatrist who treated him there, Bill was severely depressed. The doctor had written: "He feels hopeless and helpless. He plans to kill himself by hanging."
     Mary's guardian reported Mary's claim of rape to the Detroit Police Department on the day the girl reported the crime to her, July 17, 2013. A member of the sex crimes unit asked a medical technician to gather physical evidence from Mary for possible DNA analysis.  Because of the complainant's limited communication skills, a detective,  five days after the complaint, brought in a specialist to question her. 
     Mary's guardian became concerned when twelve days passed without anything happening in the case. On July 29, twelve days following the alleged crime, police officers took Bill into custody. When detectives questioned him he refused to cooperate. Before booking him into the Wayne County Jail an officer swabbed his cheek for a DNA sample. 
     The lead investigator on Mary's case asked the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office to charge Bill with rape. An assistant prosecutor in the office, in denying the request, asked for more evidence. The prosecutor recommended that detectives search Bill's apartment. (Apparently the police didn't search the apartment when they took Bill into custody.) 
     On July 31, 48 hours after taking the rape suspect into custody, the police, without a criminal charge had no choice but to release Bill back into the community. Two days later, 16 days after the rape report, police officers searched Bill's apartment. They seized a bed sheet, a blanket and a cellphone. 
     On August 5, 2013, Mary's guardian and members of the community who were following the case with great interest were surprised to learn that the officer in charge of the investigation, 19 days after the rape report, had just sent Mary's rape kit to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. At this point in the investigation detectives couldn't even prove that the complainant had engaged in sex. 
     In response to criticism and neighborhood outrage over the way the case was being handled, a Detroit police administrator blamed the rape kit submission delay on the fact that during this crucial period in the case the sex crime unit moved its offices to a new headquarters. When it became obvious that this excuse only created more anger and frustration in the community, the police administrator promised an internal investigation. This did not silence the critics. As far as neighborhood residents were concerned a rapist lived among them under the nose of the police. Instead of handling a rape case properly, investigators were focused on moving their offices. In the Detroit Police Department the crime of rape was obviously low priority. 
     On August 11, 2013, 24 days after Mary's rape report, a man on a bicycle carrying a baseball bat rode up to Bill as he walked along the street not far from his apartment building. "You like raping little girls?" the man asked as he began whacking Bill in the legs with the bat. A witness to the assault called 911. After the beating, as he limped along the sidewalk back to his apartment, Bill was attacked by five men who as a group punched and kicked him. By the time Detroit Police officers arrived at the scene Bill was on the ground and his assailants were gone. An ambulance took Bill to a nearby hospital.
      When released from the hospital Bill did not return to his dwelling. On the night of his beatings someone broke into his apartment and spray-painted "rapist" on the outside wall near the windows to his residence. The next day the building owner hired an armed security guard to make nervous tenants feel safer. 
    No arrests were made in connection with the assaults on the neighborhood rape suspect.

     This Detroit rape case split the neighborhood into two camps. One group was in support of the vigilantism while others deplored the idea of citizens taking the law into their own hands. One thing they all agreed on was this: the Detroit Police Department, by bungling the investigation, had created the environment for vigilantism. 
     Bill was never charged with rape.

Ice Cream Truck Wars: Sno Cone Joe Versus Mr. Ding-A-Ling

     When imagining men who sell ice cream products out of good humor trucks one envisions jolly Mr. Rogers types dressed in white. But why would mobile ice cream vendors be any different than people who drive taxi cabs, UPS trucks and buses. Not that there's anything wrong with those folks.

     In the 1970s and 80s Robert Pronge, the driver of a New Jersey Mister Softee's Truck moonlighted as a contract killer. Pronge became known for his use of cyanide to complete many of his assignments. (He dropped the poison in his targets' whiskey and beer, not their Mister Softee cones.) On occasion, however, he'd keep his victims cooling in his Mr. Softee truck until he could permanently dispose of their corpses. The hit man, referred to in certain circles as "Mr. Softee", ended up being murdered by Richard Kuklnski, the prolific Gambino family contract killer known as the "Ice Man." Mr. Kuklnski had introduced "Mr. Softee" to the idea of using cyanide as a murder weapon. In all probability Robert Pronge is the only hit man in history who hauled his dead bodies around in an ice cream truck. But compared to Richard Kuklnski who killed more than 200 men for money, "Mr. Softee" was an amateur. "Ice Man" Kuklinki was a cold-blooded sociopath while "Mr. Softee" was just crazy. He did, however, sell a lot of ice cream and from all accounts loved children.

The Ice Cream Truck War

     In Gloversville New Jersey 34-year-old Joshua Malatino, the owner of the local Sno Cone Joe franchise, also sold a lot of ice cream. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Amanda Scott, helped him operate his good humor truck. Business was good in Gloversville until a rival good humor man rolled into town in his Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck.

     Mr. Malatino, aka Sno Cone Joe, decided to harass his business rival, 53-year-old Brian Collis aka Mr. Ding-A-Ling. On April 16, 19 and 28, 2013, Joshua Malatino, with his Sno Cone Joe jingles blaring from his truck tailgated Mr. Ding-A-Ling around town. Whenever Mr. Collis stopped to service a customer Sno Cone Joe would pull up behind Mr. Ding-A-Ling and offer the consumer free ice cream. At one point Mr. Malatino allegedly phoned Mr. Ding-A-Ling headquarters in Latham New Jersey and said, "I own this town!"

     On May 3, 2013 a local prosecutor charged  Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott with harassment and misdemeanor stalking. If convicted, Sno Cone Joe and Sno Cone Jane (just kidding) faced up to three months in jail. According to Gloversville Police Captain John Sira, Mr. Malatino had forced a different ice cream truck operator out of town the previous summer.

     In April 2015 a Fulton County judge dismissed the charges against Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Psychic Detective Sylvia Browne

     While some people believe in fortune tellers, soothsayers, spoon benders, people who communicate with the dead and so-called psychic detectives, the pairing of the words "psychic" and "detective" is beyond ridiculous. Nevertheless there are criminal investigators who take psychic detectives seriously and confer with them. One of the most famous psychic detectives was a woman named Sylvia Brown who died in 2011 at the age of 77.

      Sylvia Browne grew up in Kansas City Missouri. In 1964 she moved to southern California where she set up shop as a psychic. Ten years later, perhaps in an effort to create the indicia of legitimacy, she founded the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research.

     During her career Browne wrote 50 "nonfiction" books of which 22 appeared on The New York Times bestsellers list. 

     Sylvia Browne achieved fame and fortune through her regular appearances on the TV shows "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Montel." Her television exposure also helped her promote her books.

     While the psychic detective offered her services in dozens of celebrated crimes her predictions never resulted directly in the solution of a murder or the location of a missing body. (For example, in a missing persons/murder case Sylvia Browne told Montel Williams that the body was on the bottom of a small lake in Connecticut. The woman's remains were later found several hundred miles away.)

     One of Sylvia Browne's high-profile goofs involved the Cleveland kidnapping case featuring Amanda Berry. Browne told the victim's mother that her daughter was dead when in fact she was being held prisoner in Cleveland Ohio by Ariel Castro.

     Psychic detectives wouldn't exist if producers stopped putting them on television. While it is doubtful that any person smart enough to be a TV producer actually believes in psychics, a large segment of the TV-watching public does believe in them. That's why psychic detectives are on TV. Moreover, if you're on the tube you are perceived as legit. Media exposure can be a phony stamp of approval.

     For millions of Americans living in a land of magical thinking, psychic detectives are perceived as visionaries who can see and know things ordinary people can't. In reality, psychic detectives give false hope, create investigative wild-goose-chases and make TV hosts look foolish in the eyes of people who can think straight.

Homeless Crime Victims

     During the early morning hours of July 3, 17 and 19 in 2012 someone in downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Hollywood, stabbed two homeless men and a women while they slept outdoors. The attacker fled the scenes leaving the wounded victims, all in their 50s, with large hunting knives stuck in their backs. None of the street people were robbed and they all survived their wounds. Beyond the similar MOs the assaults were linked by so-called "death warrant" notices left at each stabbing site. The typewritten documents were signed by a person using the name David Ben Keyes.

     Los Angeles detectives found a Facebook entry under the above name which included a photograph of a black man in his mid-30s. Police officers distributed copies of this photograph around the skid row neighborhoods where the homeless lived. Street people were advised to spend their nights in shelters until the stabber himself was identified and taken into custody. 

     At 8:40 in the evening on Friday July 20, 2012 a man who identified himself as Courtney Anthony Robinson called 911 and claimed responsibility for the three stabbings. The 37-year-old said he would surrender to the police at the Hong Kong Express Eatery in downtown Hollywood. When officers took Robinson into custody they noticed that he matched the Facebook photograph of David Ben Keyes. When asked why he had stabbed the sleeping street people the arrestee assured his captors that this information would "come out in the court proceedings." There was no indication that Robinson knew his victims.

     According to David Ben Keyes' Facebook page he was a musician and writer from Santa Barbara California. In his Facebook profile, laden with schizophrenic sounding nonsense about his intent to restructure the "Holy Roman Catholic Church and Empire," Keyes-Robinson claimed to be the CEO of a $250 billion Beverly Hills entertainment corporation. In reality he was homeless like the people he had stabbed.

     On the day of his arrest Mr. Robinson was charged with three counts of attempted murder. He was held under $500,000 bond at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles.

     In February 2015 a jury found Robinson guilty as charged. In the second phase of the trial to determine if the stabber had been sane at the time of the attacks the same jury found the defendant legally insane and therefore not criminally culpable for the crimes. The judge ordered that he be sent to the Patton State Hospital where he would stay until the psychiatrists deemed him sane enough to be released back to the streets.

     Most crimes against the homeless are committed by mentally ill street people off their anti-psychotic medication. At one time insane people who were dangerous were held in mental institutions. Thanks to do-gooders who fought to set them free they now live on the streets. Some spend their nights in shelters but many prefer to remain outdoors around the clock. These are the people most vulnerable to assault and murder committed by offenders like Robinson.   

When a "Celebrity" Dies

     In California, by law, any time a "celebrity" dies suddenly and unexpectedly the body must undergo an autopsy. This is because of the media and the disturbing fact that in America celebrities are more important than the rest of us. (There are thousands of suspicious deaths every year that should but do not receive autopsies because of the shortage of forensic pathologists.) In Hollywood, to die suddenly without an autopsy is a posthumous insult.

     It's easy to understand, for example, why Natalie Wood's sudden and unexpected drowning death in 1981 made headlines. She was a beautiful and famous Hollywood actress, and her husband, a potential suspect in the case, was also a star. This celebrity death had all the makings of an O.J. like media spectacle. But when "Coroner to the Stars" Dr. Thomas Noguchi ruled the death an accident he killed the story. Decades later the Natalie Wood case regularly raises its head in the tabloids as a potential murder.

     If a wife from Buffalo New York fell off a boat into Lake Erie after arguing with her accountant husband only a handful of people would have heard about the death in the local media. At best this death would engender a cursory investigation then slip into permanent oblivion.

     The regular re-opening of the Natalie Wood case has been more of a tabloid media event than a serious cold case homicide investigation. It's more about entertainment than the administration of justice.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Japan's Black Widow

     Japan is home to one of the fastest aging populations in the world. Japanese people are living longer and fewer of them live with their adult children. 

     Japanese men and women in their 70s whose spouses have died are lonely and vulnerable to a variety of crimes that includes murder. Many of them, desperate for companionship in their so-called golden years, access online dating services that cater to lonely senior citizens,

The Black Widow

     In 1964 18-year-old Chisako a bright, ambitious high school graduate from Muko, a small industrial suburb of the city of Kyoto, married a truck driver who later started a small printing company. Although Chisako had the intelligence and desire to attend college her conservative parents, not wanting to waste a higher education on a woman, denied her that opportunity. She ended up working as a bank clerk, a job she felt was beneath her.

     In 1994 Chisako's husband suddenly fell ill and died at the age of 54. The authorities determined his death to be natural, and pursuant to custom in Japan, his body was cremated.,

     In 2004 the 48-year-old Chisako married the 67-year-old president of a small drug company. Two years later he got sick and died. With no reason to suspect foul play the authorities listed his death as natural. His remains were also cremated.

     In May 2008, after being married to Chisako for less than two months, a 75-year-old landowner became ill and suddenly died. Two months after that the 73-year-old clothing boutique owner Chisako was dating suddenly dropped dead. Although this was the fourth man connected to Chisako by marriage or romance to die suddenly, this man's passing did not catch the attention of law enforcement. As a result it was labeled a natural death. It seemed that when it came to partners this woman had a lot of bad luck. She was, however, becoming rich.

     In 2012, after Chisako's 71-year-old fiancee fell off his motorcycle and died, the police, now suspicious, ordered a blood test that revealed the presence of the poison cyanide. This man had been murdered and Chisako became the prime suspect in the case.

     While under investigation for the poisoning murder of her fiancee, Chisako married again, this time to a 75-year-old man named Isao Kakehi. Mr. Kakehi, a longtime widower, had a substantial savings account and owned his own home. One month after marrying Chisako he ended up dead on the floor of his dwelling. Following the initial cause of death ruling of heart failure, a test of Isao Kakehi's blood revealed a lethal dose of cyanide.

     In November 2014 detectives with the Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested Chisako Kahehi on suspicion of murder in the death of Mr. Kakehi and the death of the poisoned fiancee who fell off his motorcycle in 2012. When the fiancee died from cyanide poisoning Chisako was dating at least two other elderly men. Chisako's arrest probably saved their lives.

     Detectives in December 2014 recovered a small bag of cyanide that had been hidden in a plant pot Chisako Kakehi had thrown away.

     According to investigators the suspected serial killer's M.O. had been simple and direct. She used the online dating services to find lonely and moderately wealthy men whom she showered with romantic emails professing her undying love. Shortly after she married these men she pressured them to change their wills to make her the sole beneficiary of their estates.

     Chisako Kakahi, dubbed by Japan's tabloid media as the "Black Widow," had amassed $8 million of her victims' money. Since she was richer than her last two or three victims, money may not have been her primary motive. She may have killed these men out of anger and resentment against a male-dominated society that did not recognize her worth.

     During her November 2017 murder trial Kakehi confessed to murdering three of her husbands and attempting to kill a fourth. The judge sentenced Chisako Kakehi to death.

    This serial murder case highlighted a problem in Japan's criminal justice system. Because of a critical shortage of forensic pathologists in Japan, autopsies were not conducted on six of Kakehi's suspected eight victims. In 2014 only 11.7 percent of Japan's so-called "unusual deaths" resulted in autopsies. In England that percentage was 40 percent. In Sweden, 95 percent. In the United States, with so many drug overdoses, suicides and murder, while no statistics are available regarding this percentage, it is probably lower than Japan's.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Home Alone in Manchester

     In July 2014, a man named Jerusalem Monday, his wife and three of their children left their apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire for a one-month visit to Nigeria Africa. They left their twin 9-year-old boys in the care of Jerusalem's 25-year-old brother Giobari Atura who, according to the plan, had agreed to temporarily move into the apartment with the boys.

     Giobari Atura, instead of taking up residence with his charges, told his nephews that he'd stop by their apartment three times a week to bring them food and see how they were doing. As it turned out the uncle didn't even keep that promise. This became a real problem when the parents didn't come home in a month as planned. By November 2014, five months after they left the U.S., they were still in Nigeria.

     The boys took care of themselves. On school days they got up in time to get on the bus. They ate breakfast and lunch at the school. The kids had no food in the apartment and didn't have access to a phone.

     Someone at the boys' elementary school got wind of their plight and called the State Division of Children, Youth and Families. After a social worker with the agency spoke with the twins she notified the Manchester Police Department and took the twins into protective custody.

     Detectives reached out to the parents in Nigeria who said they had been delayed in Africa due to illness and passport problems. They promised to return home within a couple of weeks. Mr. Monday said that his brother had been assuring him telephonically that the boys were fine. The father said he had no idea his sons had been living alone in the apartment.

     The abandoned boys told detectives how they had managed to get by on their own. They said they had been lonely and missed their family.

     In December 2014 Hillsborough County prosecutor Michael Valentine charged Giobari Atura with the misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of a child. The judge set his bail at $500. (I could not find a disposition of the Atura case. He had been scheduled for trial in August 2015.)

     Upon the parents return to the U.S. in December 2014 they gained custody of the twins. The local prosecutor decided not to charge them with a crime.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

NFL Players, Their Crimes, The Media and The Law

    The number of people killed by intoxicated drivers has been on the decline for a decade. Since the FBI doesn't keep track of this kind of killing specifically, no one knows how many drunk drivers are convicted of homicide. 

     Under state law an intoxicated driver who causes a fatal traffic accident is guilty of an unintentional criminal homicide called, depending on the jurisdiction, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter. Defendants convicted of this lesser degree of homicide usually receive sentences that range from five to fifteen years in prison. The severity of punishment in these cases depends upon the driver's DUI history, the degree of intoxication and the recklessness of the driving. Over the years, however, judges have become increasingly less lenient in vehicular homicide convictions.

     Every year police in the United States make about 1.5 million DUI arrests, and unless they pull over someone famous, these events are not newsworthy. The same is true for the vast majority of vehicular homicide cases which do not receive much media notice. However, when a drunk driving fatality involves several children, an entire family or a car full of teenagers, the media pays more attention. But these cases are still treated as local or regional news stories.

     In the early morning hours of December 8, 2012, near the southern California town of Victorville, a man named Ilich Ernesto Vargas, while driving the wrong way on I-15, crashed head-on into another vehicle. The 28-year-old driver of the other car, David Ahmed of Fort Irwin, received minor injuries. But the accident took the life of Vargas' passenger, 50-year-old Kellie Sue Hughes. The California Highway Patrol officer who took the drug-crazed Vargas into custody at the scene had to employ his taser. Vargas had broken a leg in the crash.

     This fatal traffic accident on I-15 generated two paragraphs in the Los Angeles Times and a mention the next day on local television news. There was no follow-up by the Los Angeles media.

     On the morning Ilich Vargas crashed his car and killed his passenger in southern California, Josh Brent flipped his Mercedes and killed his passenger in Dallas, Texas. While the police in both fatal traffic accidents suspected that the drivers were intoxicated, and therefore potential vehicular homicide defendants, the crash in Dallas attracted the attention of the national media. The Dallas case was big news because the driver, Josh Brent, played football for the Dallas Cowboys. The fact that his 25-year-old passenger, Jerry Brown, was a teammate, made the story even more media significant, particularly in the wake of the recent murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher, an NFL player for the Kansas City Chiefs.

     As a potential vehicular homicide case there was nothing in the Josh Brent accident that set it apart from all the other fatalities beyond the identities of the driver and his dead passenger. From the standpoint of the victims' families in these cases all of these accidents were tragic. And to varying degrees, these fatalities ruined the lives of the intoxicated drivers. But this wasn't enough by itself to make these cases newsworthy. In the Josh Brent case the added ingredient was sports. It was mainly a sports story.

     It should come as no surprise that in a country where a single NFL football game generates three times more media attention than the typical crime, weather, political, war or business related story, that Josh Brent's status as a professional football player made his case so important. Print journalists and cable TV correspondents, as well as sports broadcasters and pundits babbled on and on about the effect of the tragedy on the other players, and of course the team. 

     Correspondents and reporters in the news and sports media used the Josh Brent case and the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide as a jumping off point for discussions on the possible effects of head trauma in the NFL. Had the sport of football become too violent?  Was football responsible for player depression, off-the-field domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and murder? 

     In American culture professional athletes are special people and as such are treated differently than ordinary citizens. Their problems are our problems, indeed, our responsibility. Prior to the intense media coverage of their tragedies most people never heard of Josh Brent, Jerry Brown or Jovan Belcher. Had these men not been professional football players most people still wouldn't know their names.

     While we are in theory all equal under the law, we are not equal under the glare of the media. This may not have been a good thing for Josh Brent. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000.

     In January 2014 a jury found Josh Brent guilty of manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail and ten years of probation. The fact he played professional football probably explains the light sentence.

Prosecutor Alex Hunter And The JonBenet Ramsey Case: A Profile In Courage

     An early morning emergency call that a child had been kidnapped brought a pair of Boulder Colorado police officers to John and Patsy Ramsey's three-story house on December 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey informed the officers that she had found a handwritten ransom note inside the house on the stairway. Fearing that her 6-year-old daughter JonBenet had been kidnapped for ransom, she called 911. After a cursory sweep of the 15-room dwelling the patrol officers called for assistance.

     During the next two hours, amid friends and relatives who arrived at the house to console the family, police set up wiretap and recording equipment to monitor negotiations with the kidnappers. At one point in the afternoon Boulder detective Linda Arndt asked John Ramsey to look around the house for "anything unusual." Thirty minutes later he and one of his friends discovered JonBenet's body in a small basement room. Her mouth had been sealed with duct tape and she had lengths of white rope around her neck and right wrist. The rope around her neck was tied to what looked like the handle of a paintbrush.

     In the months following the murder police officers, prosecutors, media and most Americans believed that someone in the family had killed the tiny beauty queen. But if this were the case, who had written the two and a half page ransom note? Forensic document examiners eliminated John Ramsey as the ransom note writer and all but one handwriting expert concluded that Patsy Ramsey had probably not authored the ransom document. Evidence also surfaced that an intruder could have entered the house through a broken basement window.

     On June 14, 2006, after a 13-year battle with ovarian cancer, Patsy Ramsey died at the age of 49. John Ramsey later remarried.

     When Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter's announced in 1999 that his office would not prosecute the Ramseys due to lack of evidence, the media reported that the grand jury looking into the murder agreed with the prosecutor's assessment. But on January 28, 2013, according to ABC News reportage, while the grand jury didn't find sufficient evidence to charge the Ramseys with murder, the grand jury did find enough evidence to indict the parents for child abuse that resulted in the victim's death. Notwithstanding this grand jury finding, Alex Hunter stood firm in his decision not to prosecute the parents.

     According to Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood, Alex Hunter was "a hero who wisely avoided a miscarriage of justice." Most true crime pundits familiar with the Ramsey case agreed with attorney Wood. The Ramseys were not only victimized by their daughter's killer and incompetent homicide investigators, they were victims of a tabloid-like media that falsely portrayed them as child murders.

       While the Ramsey case is still open, investigators do not appear close to solving the murder. JonBenet would have turned 27 this year. 

Monday, July 18, 2022

Leatrice Brewer: The Woman Who Killed But Didn't Murder Her Three Children

     In 2002 21-year-old Leatrice Brewer, while living with her grandmother, had her first baby, a girl she named Jewell. Leatrice and the baby's father, Ricky Ward, broke up shortly after the birth. Leatrice and her grandmother, Maebell Mickens, lived in New Cassel New York, a suburban community on Long Island 20 miles east of New York City.

     Brewer's grandmother, and her mother Pearly Mae Mickens, were mentally ill drug addicts. Leatrice, already showing signs of insanity, worked as a filing clerk at a law firm. She also had a part time job as a sales assistant at a Kohl's department store.

     Not long after the birth of her daughter Jewell, Leatrice began dating a man from Queens named Innocent Demesyeux. Less than a year later she gave birth to their son Michael. Leatrice continued to live with her grandmother, Maebell Mickens. Maebell, to help support her drug habit, was not above panhandling on the streets of New Cassel. At this time Leatrice continued to struggle with severe bouts of depression and drug dependancy.

     In 2006, Leatrice Brewer had a second child with Innocent Demesyeux, a boy who inherited his father's unusual first name. Shortly after Innocent's birth Maebell Mickens kicked Leatrice and her children out of her house.

     Leatrice Brewer and her three kids moved in to a small second-story apartment on Prospect Street in New Cassel. Without financial help from the children's fathers Leatrice continued to hold down two jobs. She also received rental assistance, food stamps and a stipend from the federal Women, Infants and Children program.

     As early as 2003 caseworkers from the state's Child Protective Service agency received complaints filed by neighbors and family members accusing Leatrice of child neglect. Every so often one of the fathers would call the local police to report that Leatrice, a six-foot woman who weighted more than 200 pounds, had hit one of the children. Notwithstanding these complaints she never lost custody of Jewell, Michael or Innocent.

     By 2007 Leatrice Brewer was too drug-addled and mentally ill to hold down a job. For days she would simply disappear from the apartment, leaving the child-raising to her 6-year-old daughter Jewell.

     In late February 2008 Leatrice called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had stabbed Jewell and drowned her in the bathtub. The distraught mother said she had also drowned Michael and Innocent. After talking to the 911 dispatcher she tried to kill herself by swallowing a concoction of household cleaning chemicals. When it appeared she couldn't commit suicide by poisoning herself, Leatrice Brewer jumped out of her second-story bedroom window.

      The mother's second attempt to kill herself also failed. Instead of the morgue she ended up at the Nassau University Medical Center with an injured back. The next day a county prosecutor charged her with three counts of murder.

     While being treated at the hospital, Leatrice Brewer told a visiting relative that "the voices took control and I had to do it."

     According to a battery of court-appointed psychiatrists, Leatrice Brewer suffered from a major depressive disorder that caused her to kill her children. She had been under the delusion that killing her kids would save them from something worse than death--the effects of voodoo.

     In 2009, Leatrice Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect. The judge sent her to a state psychiatric facility where the 28-year-old would reside and be treated until mental health experts and drugs made her sane enough to rejoin society.

     The Brewer case came back into the news in 2013 when Leatrice petitioned a judge for her share of her children's $350,000 estate. (I do not know the source of this wealth. Perhaps a wrongful death lawsuit had been filed against the state on the children's behalf that resulted in a court settlement.) Normally, under New York's Son of Sam law, convicted criminals are prohibited from profiting from their crimes. But in this case, Brewer, rather than being convicted of triple murder, had been found not guilty by reason of insanity. This raised the legal question of whether or not, under these circumstances, she was entitled to the money.

     In November 2013 a judge ruled that pursuant to the Son of Sam law Leatrice Brewer was not entitled to a piece of her dead children's estate.
     As of July 2022 Leatrice Brewer remains a patient at the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center at Long Island New York. 

Newsworthy Murder Cases

     Most murders quickly slip into media oblivion. A few attract local or regional interest for a period of time. Only a handful become national news and even fewer rise to what could be called celebrity crime status. Celebrated crimes of the twentieth century would include the Lindbergh kidnapping, the O. J. Simpson murders and the John F. Kennedy assassination. The twenty-first century has not seen its first truly celebrated murder. But over the past two decades there have been many newsworthy homicides.

Twenty-five types of murders cases that often become, if not celebrated, at least highly newsworthy:

* Murder cases featuring strong suspects with no confession, eyewitnesses or physical clues.
* Serial murders with plenty of physical clues but no suspects.
* Dismemberment cases involving innocent and unlikely victims.
* Carefully planned murders by physicians, priests, professors and other high profile suspects.
* Black widow poisoning cases involving a string of dead husbands.
*Angel of death hospital poisonings involving several patients.
* Murder investigations that feature either brilliant or bungled police work.
* Murder-for-hire cases involving unlikely masterminds.
* Murders featuring professional athletes as either victims or suspects.
* Sudden and suspicious death cases involving dueling cause and manner of death testimony.
* Murders involving questionable blood spatter, ballistic and human bite mark evidence.
* Murder trials involving obvious suspects but missing bodies. (So-called no-body cases.)
* Murders involving evil kids from upper-middle class families.
* Love triangle murder cases involving prominent people and plenty of sex.
* Murders involving TV and Movie actors.
* Major mafia hits.
* Domestic bombing cases involving many victims.
* Mass school shootings.
* Murders featuring unusual motives.
* Murders involving unusual murder weapons.
* Murderous armored truck heists.
* Murder trials involving the acquittal of obviously guilty defendants.
* Murder cases featuring the conviction of innocent defendants.
* Cold case murders solved by modern forensic science.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The Franciscan Friar Daniel Montgomery Murder Case

     Daniel Montgomery grew up in King of Prussia Pennsylvania, a town outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Catholic high school he studied religion in the midwest and became a peace activist. In 1994 the 28-year-old joined the Franciscans, a Catholic religious order. An odd, socially awkward man with a volatile temper and a foul mouth, Friar Montgomery didn't get along with his church colleagues and superiors.

     In July 2002, after being bounced from one church to another, the misfit friar ended up in Cleveland at St. Stanislaus, a church located in the city's Slavic Village neighborhood. He didn't fit in well at St. Stanislaus either. The friar offended church employees, parishioners and 68-year-old Pastor William Gulas, affectionately known as "Father Willie." After three students at the church school accused Daniel Montgomery of touching them inappropriately, Father Gulas, in late November 2002, informed the troubled friar that he was being transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake, Indiana.

    At nine in the morning of December 2, 2002, when extinguishing a fire in Father Gulas' rectory office, firefighters stumbled upon his corpse. When questioned that morning by the police, Daniel Montgomery said that when the fire broke out he had been asleep in his second-floor bedroom. A ringing telephone awoke him at which time he smelled smoke, then called 911. After trying to put out the fire he fled the church without realizing that Father Gulas was in the burning first-floor office.

     On the day after the St. Stanislaus fire the Cuyahoga County Coroner announced that the blaze had not killed Pastor Gulas. Someone had shot the priest in the chest then torched his office.

     On December 8, 2002, detectives brought Friar Montgomery in for further questioning. Following what evolved into a seven-hour interrogation he confessed to murdering the St. Stanislaus pastor. The friar had been angry about being transferred to the church in Indiana. He had gone into the pastor's office that morning to ask Father Gulas to vacate the order. According to Montgomery, upon entering the pastor's office, he had said, "I can't [expletive] take it anymore." The angry friar then shot Father Gulas in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver he had purchased the day before from an employee of a neighborhood convenience store. 

     After killing the pastor, Daniel Montgomery dropped the revolver (which was never found) and walked down the hall where he acquired the red butane lighter he used to ignite papers on Father Gulas' desk. After setting the fire he returned to his room and fell asleep. A call from a parishioner woke him up.

     A Cuyahoga County grand jury, in January 2003, indicted Daniel Montgomery on the charge of aggravated murder. Nine months later the defendant pleaded guilty to a lesser homicide charge in order to avoid the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to 24 years to life. He began serving his time at the state prison in Marion Ohio.

     In the spring of 2011, a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter named John P. Martin decided to look into Montgomery's case. (Montgomery was now maintaining his innocence.) The journalist's investigation led to a four-part Inquirer series published in July 2011. Pursuant to his claims of innocence, Daniel Montgomery, through his new attorney, Barry Wilford, had filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea in order that the case could go to trial. Attorney Wilford based his argument for reopening the murder case on three principal points: The prosecution had withheld exculpatory evidence; interrogators ignored signs that Montgomery was confessing falsely; and his defense attorney, Henry Hilow, did not provide him with the best defense.

     Problems in the prosecution's case against Montgomery included the fact the police never recovered the murder weapon. On the charred floor of Pastor Gulas' office fire investigators found an open toolbox that once contained $1,600 in bingo proceeds. Father Gulas kept the padlocked box in his office safe. On the morning of the murder, a parishioner who supposedly had financial problems was seen coming out of the pastor's office. Assuming this was true, could this man have committed the murder? Another mystery in the case involved the fact that Pastor Gulas' cellphone ended up in the hands of a convicted drug dealer.

     On the issue pertaining to the adequacy of Montgomery's trial defense, attorney Wilford argued that his client had not wanted to plead guilty. To back up this claim Mr. Wilford cited parts of two letters Montgomery had sent to attorney Hilow months before his guilty plea. In a letter dated February 23, 2003 in which Montgomery asked to meet again with the psychiatrist who had examined him shortly after the murder, he wrote: "I was in a state of schizophrenia that produced severe delusions in my thinking, causing me to make false statements on December 8, 2002 at the police interrogation. At that time I was suffering from delusions of grandeur that perhaps if I was no longer to be a Franciscan, then I was to be a martyr for a sinner, the killer and arsonist who committed the crime." On July 7, 2003 Daniel Montgomery had written: "I am firmly convinced that I must plead my innocence and follow God's law, which is above human law." 

     At the July 2011 hearing to determine if the Gulas murder case should be reopened and a trial convened, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Salem Awadallah argued that there was nothing in Montgomery's motion to justify setting aside his guilty plea and going to trial. She pointed out that Montgomery had failed a polygraph test that had been arranged by attorney Wilford. The prosecutor noted that while the Cleveland police interrogation lasted seven hours, no evidence has been presented showing that Montgomery's confession had been coerced. (I presume he was given his Miranda rights. In 2002, detectives in Cleveland did not routinely record their interrogation sessions.)

     Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Joan Synenberg, on December 31, 2012, denied Daniel Montgomery's motion for a murder trial. She did not accompany her ruling with a written decision. Whenever an educated adult defendant confesses and pleads guilty, without strong evidence of a false confession or equally powerful evidence that someone else had committed the crime, the conviction will usually stand. In this case Daniel Montgomery had failed to overcome the presumption of his guilt.

     In April 2013 the judge sentenced Daniel Montgomery to 24 years to life in prison.

Jesse Dimmick: Suing Your Victims

     Jesse Dimmick and another man were suspects in the September 7, 2009 beating death of 25-year-old Michael Curtis, a murder that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The authorities arrested the other man but Dimmick remained at large. On September 12, 2009 when police officers in Kansas encountered Mr. Dimmick driving through the state in a stolen van Jesse Dimmick refused to pull over. A high-speed vehicle chase ensued.

     In Dover, a suburb of Tokeka the fleeing suspect crashed the stolen vehicle near a house occupied by Jared and Lindsay Rowley. To hide from the police he forced his way into the newlywed's home and held them hostage at knife-point.

     To calm the armed intruder the Rowleys fed him Cheetos and Dr. Pepper as he watched the movie "Patch Adams." The terrified hostages  promised that when the armed intruder left their house they would not call the police. Later that night when he fell asleep the Rowleys slipped out of the dwelling.

     A short time after the hostages escaped, the home invader awoke to the sounds of a Topeka SWAT team storming into the dwelling. Officers cornered Dimmick in the bathroom and wrestled him to the floor. In the course of the scuffle a police sergeant's AR-15 accidentally discharged. The bullet entered Dimmick's back as he lay face-down on the floor. The officer, a 21-year veteran of the force, was placed on a three-day leave of absence for not having the rifle's safety on.

     In May 2010, a jury in a Shawnee County Kansas court found Jesse Dimmick guilty of two counts of kidnapping. The judge sentenced the defendant to eleven years in prison.

     The Rowleys, in October 2011, sued Jesse Dimmick for causing them emotional stress. At the time he was incarcerated in the Adams County Jail in Brighton Colorado awaiting his trial in the Michael Curtis murder case. The victims of the home invasion were seeking $75,000 in damages. A month later Mr. Dimmick filed a counter-suit against his former hostages in which he sought $235,000 in damages. He accused the Rowleys of breaching their oral contract not to notify the authorities. Because he couldn't find a lawyer to take his case, Mr. Dimmick represented himself in the action. His damages were based on medical bills related to the police caused gunshot wound and his pain and suffering as a result.

     In January 2012 a Shawnee County judge dismissed Jesse Dimmick's counter-suit against the Rowleys. Eight months later he was back in court, this time as a plaintiff in a civil action against the Topeka Police Department. Based on his assertion that he had been seriously injured as a result of Sergeant Guy Gardner's negligent handling of the AR-15, Dimmick was asking the city to reimburse him $185,000 for his medical bills, $150,000 for future economic loss and $100,000 for his pain and suffering. In this civil action Mr. Dimmick had professional legal representation.

     On September 13, 2012 the civil case jury, after deliberating two hours, found that the Topeka SWAT officer had not been negligent or at fault in Dimmick's accidental shooting. The jurors obviously did not want this plaintiff to benefit in any way from his invasion of the Rowley home.

     A Kansas appeals court, in September 2012, upheld the Dimmick kidnapping conviction.

     In May 2013 Dimmick pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Michael Curtis murder case. The Adams County Colorado judge sentenced him to 37 years in prison.

      A month after Dimmick's murder conviction, Shawnee County District Judge Franklin Theis dismissed the Rowley lawsuit against him on procedural grounds. The Rowleys were free to refile the action. 

Saturday, July 16, 2022

The Steven Pratt Murder Cases

     In 1984 15-year-old Steven L. Pratt lived in an Atlantic City New Jersey apartment complex with his mother, Gwendolyn Pratt. One night in April of that year Steven and his friends were hanging out in the hallway outside his apartment when the next-door neighbor, Michael Anderson, complained of the noise. Following an argument between Steven Pratt and his neighbor, Pratt's friends dispersed.

     For Steven Pratt the dispute with his neighbor remained unresolved. That night he went into his apartment and came out armed with a lead pipe. When he confronted his neighbor with the weapon, Michael Anderson grabbed the pipe from him and used the weapon to bloody the teen's face.

     The next day a humiliated Pratt borrowed a handgun from an acquaintance and returned to the apartment complex where he shot Michael Anderson twice, killing him on the spot.

     After crime scene investigators had completed their work Steven Pratt's mother, knowing what her son had done, marched him down to the police station. Under police questioning the teen confessed.

     An Atlantic County prosecutor charged Steven Pratt with first-degree murder and tried him as an adult. The young defendant took the stand on his own behalf and told the jurors that when he pulled the trigger the gun just clicked and didn't go off. He kept squeezing the trigger until the bullets came out.

      The jury, presented with evidence of a cold-blooded killing, found the boy guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to thirty years in prison.

     Pratt's attorney appealed the conviction on the ground his client should have been tried as a juvenile. According to the appeal Steven Pratt had "emotional impairments" that reduced his intellectual age to less than seven years. The appellate judge affirmed the conviction.

     On Friday October 10, 2014, after serving most of his thirty-year sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, Mr. Pratt became a free man. Having no place to stay he moved in with his 64-year-old mother who lived in a house on the west side of Atlantic City.

     At two o'clock in the morning of October 12, 2014, one of Gwendolyn Pratt's neighbors heard a loud argument coming from her house. The neighbor, having been accused of being too quick to call the police on her neighbors, resisted the urge to call 911. Steven Pratt had been out of prison less than two days.

     At six-thirty that morning someone did call 911 to report a disturbance at the Pratt residence. At the scene police officers found Gwendolyn Pratt dead from massive blunt force trauma to her head. The officers also found Steven Pratt and took him into custody.

     Later in the day of Gwendolyn Pratt's murder police officers booked her son into the Atlantic County Justice Facility on the charge of first-degree murder. The judge set Steven Pratt's bail at $1 million.

     In February 2017 Steven Pratt pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing his mother. A month later the judge in Atlantic City sentenced Pratt to 25 years in prison. According to the judge, the 48-year-old Pratt would not be eligible for parole until he served 85 percent of his sentence.

     The Stephen Pratt case lends credence to the view that certain criminals are beyond the reach of rehabilitation. While these prisoners should not be released back into society there is no way to identify them as hopeless cases before they reoffend. Nothing is less reliable than predicting human behavior. 

The Jovan Belcher Murder-Suicide Case

     Jovan Belcher grew up on Long Island New York where at West Babylon High School he starred in wrestling and football. In 2009, after graduating from the University of Maine, he signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an un-drafted free agent. By 2012 the 6-foot-2, 228 pound former special teams player had made the starting line-up as a linebacker.

     In late October 2012, about six weeks after Belcher's live-in girlfriend Kasandra Perkins gave birth to their daughter, the 22-year-old mother moved out of the split-level house she had shared with the 25-year-old Belcher in southeast Kansas City. The former student at Kansas City's Blue River Campus of the Metropolitan Community College took up residence in Austin Texas with her cousin who was married to a Kansas City Chief's player named Jamaal Charles. Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher had been arguing and there were indications that he had been depressed and under stress.

     Just before Thanksgiving 2012 Kasandra Perkins and her three-month-old baby returned to Kansas City where they resumed living in the quiet, middle-class residential neighborhood with the football player and his mother Cheryl Shepherd. At 7:50 Saturday morning, December 1, 2012, Jovan Belcher's mother called 911 to report a shooting. The police arrived to find that Jovan had shot Kasandra Perkins several times with a handgun. (She died a short time later in the hospital. The baby had been in another room.) After the murder, Mr. Belcher left the house in his black Bentley en route to the Arrowhead Stadium complex five miles away.

     The football team's general manager Scott Pioli as well as head coach Romeo Crennel and an assistant had just walked out of the practice facility when Belcher drove onto the parking lot and climbed out of his car. The distraught football player walked up to the three men, and while holding a handgun to his temple, thanked them for all they had done for him. Jovan then turned his back on the general manager and the two coaches and shot himself in the head. He killed himself as police cars rolled up to the scene.

     The Jovan Belcher case made a big splash in the media because it featured two subjects of great interest to the public--violent crime and sports. And there were other elements in the tragedy that made it particularly newsworthy. Gun control advocates and sports pundit Bob Costas cited the case as an example of American's gun culture. (The handgun Belcher used on Perkins and himself had been purchased legally.)

     Had this NFL player been taking performance-enhancing drugs or had been hooked on meth, bath salts, or cocaine, the media focus on the murder-suicide would include America's drug culture. There was also the issue of how brutal the game of football had become and the physiological effects of this violence on its participants. Over the past few years scientists and medical researchers have found a link between routine hits to the head and brain disease, memory loss, dementia and depression. The suicide of Junior Seau, the former San Diego star, brought attention to the debate over the long-term effects of football on its players.

     According to reports, Mr. Belcher, at the time of the murder-suicide, had been combining alcohol with pain-killing drugs. Moreover, he had a history of violence against women.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Kenneth Buck: A Petty Criminal Who Turned Violent

     In 2012, Kenneth Arnold Buck, a 20-year-old homeless resident of Chandler Arizona who had a history of shoplifting and petty theft in California entered a church in Chandler to use the bathroom. Inside the building he encountered the man who taught music at that church. Buck pulled a knife and demanded that the victim turn over his cellphone and wallet.

      Following the robbery, the music teacher followed Kenneth Buck onto a city bus where he confronted him. Mr. Buck responded by breaking into tears, throwing his knife to the bus floor and giving back the stolen items.

     After pleading guilty to robbery, Kenneth Buck served three months in the Maricopa County Jail. The judge had also sentenced him to three years probation.

     In January 2013, Chandler police officers arrested Kenneth Buck for public intoxication. At the time of his arrest he was carrying a small quantity of marijuana. The judge added two years to his probation.

     On November 21, 2014, after Mr. Buck violated the terms of his probation by changing his place of residence without his probation officer's permission, and missing several drug tests, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

     At one in the afternoon of Monday January 5, 2015 police officers in Chandler spotted a man driving a Dodge pickup truck that matched the description of the vehicle associated with a local burglary. The truck bore fictitious out-of-state license plates and was being driven by Kenneth Buck.

     Once he realized the police were tailing him, Kenneth Buck stepped on the gas and ran a red light. The officers gave chase. After driving a couple of blocks Mr. Buck slid open his rear window and started firing shots at the pursing police car. The officers responded with a volley of their own.

      The pursuit came to an end when Kenneth Buck pulled the truck to a stop, climbed out of the vehicle and continued to fire at the officers. In the exchange of gunfire he was hit several times. Although seriously wounded, Buck managed to climb back into the pickup and drive off. After a short distance the Dodge came to a stop. Inside the vehicle officers found the 22-year-old slumped dead behind the steering wheel.

     Notwithstanding Kenneth Buck's record of relatively minor crime, he turned out to be a dangerous person who could have killed a police officer. 

Tattoos As Human License Plates

     A mother in Georgia got into trouble for taking her 10-year-old son to a tattoo shop where he got tattooed in honor of his dead brother. The local prosecutor's office charged the woman with child cruelty. Under Georgia law only physicians and osteopaths can tattoo people under 18. (Why would a doctor ink a kid in the first place?) This story got me thinking about tattoos and the role they play, and have played, in the identification of criminals and their victims.

     Not too long ago people most likely to get a tattoo were enlisted military personnel, prison inmates and members of street gangs. Truman Capote, the author of "In Cold Blood," once told a journalist that of the dozens of mass murderers and serial killers he had interviewed, all of them had tattoos. Today, that would surprise no one. In 2006, according to a Pew Research Center survey, more than 36 percent of people between the ages 18 and 40 had at least one tattoo. This percentage is probably much higher now. (It seems that 90 percent of college and professional football and basketball players are tattooed. This is also true of boxers.) 

     Tattoos, along with clothing, personal belongings, fingerprints, scars, moles and teeth are helpful in the identification of corpses that have been dumped in the water, in fields and in the woods. In 1935, two fishermen caught a shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia. They took the live fish to a local aquarium where it disgorged a human arm that had been severed by a knife. The arm also bore a distinctive tattoo that led to the identification of a murder victim named James Smith. Smith had been an ex-boxer with a history of crime. The case became known as the Shark Arm Murder.

     The police routinely ask crime victims and eyewitnesses if the suspect had any tattoos. Former prison inmates and members of street gangs unwillingly assist law enforcement by identifying themselves as such through their inked, individualized body markings. In England in the late 1800s, before criminal identification bureaus adopted fingerprints, identification clerks took note of arrestees' tattoos and their locations, data classified and filed for future retrieval. Today, in California, the CALGANG database consists of a collection of gang tattoos. The state of Florida has a database that features about 372,000 tattoos of people who have been arrested there.

     In 2010 Michigan State University licensed tattoo matching technology to Morpho Trak, the world's leading provider of biometric (eye, hand, signature and voice ID) identification systems. Corrections and law enforcement officers use the tattoo database to identify criminal suspects and homicide victims.

     Dr. Nina Jablonski, head of the anthropology department at Penn State says that "Tattoos are part of an ancient and universal tradition of human self-declaration and expression." In some cases these tattoos express anti-social attitudes and declare that their owners have histories of crime.

The Hot Fajitas Lawsuit

     America has become a litigious society overrun by personal injury lawyers in search of deep-pocket defendants (once called ambulance chasers) and greedy, bogus plaintiffs looking for a big payday at the expense of the rest of us. You can't escape these hungry, aggressive lawyers who advertise on billboards and around the clock on television. This is why it is so gratifying to witness the demise of a frivolous personal injury suit.

     Hiram Jimenez and his brother, in March 2010, were sitting in a booth at Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar in Westampton New Jersey. When the waitress placed a sizzling hot skillet in front of Jimenez, he said to his brother, "Let's have a prayer."

     When Mr. Jimenez bowed his head in prayer over the hot fajitas dish, he heard what he described as a "loud sizzling noise and a pop sound" followed by a burning sensation on his face. He tried to push the food off the table but it landed on his lap.

     Claiming "serious and permanent" injuries because the waitress failed to warn him of the dangerous and hazardous fajitas grease she had exposed him to, Mr. Jimenez filed a personal injury suit against the California-based chain of 1,900 restaurants. The plaintiff sought an undisclosed amount of money as a result of the waitress' negligence.

     A New Jersey trial judge dismissed the burning fajitas case stating that a restaurant does not have a legal duty to warn patrons about food dangers that are open and obvious. Mr. Jimenez appealed this ruling.

     In February 2015 a two-judge appellate court panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of the Applebee's suit noting that the sizzling hot fajitas platter constituted a "self-evident" hazard.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Charles D. Young Murder-For-Hire Case

     In May 2005 high school senior Charles D. Young met 17-year-old Wendy Smith (not her real name) at a military ball in Spokane Washington. He asked her out, and after a month of dating they began to fight. Typically, after one of their arguments Charles would stand all night beneath her window or the next day follow her around after school. When Wendy Smith tried to end the relationship Young threatened to kill himself. After ten months of enduring his weird and obsessive behavior Wendy told Mr. Young she had found someone else. This was not true, but she wanted this strange kid out of her life. Charles refused to take no for an answer and became Wendy's full time stalker.

     Three months after the breakup Charles Young suddenly lost interest in Wendy and slipped out of her life. A few weeks after that, in July 2006, Wendy's parents got in touch with Charles and gave him news he didn't like. Their daughter was pregnant with his child. Charles angrily insisted that the baby couldn't be his and said that a paternity test would prove it.

     After his initial reaction to the news that he would soon become a father, Charles changed his tone. Following a series of meetings with Wendy and her parents, Charles expressed a desire to help raise the child. But when he stopped communicating with his ex-girlfriend and her parents they figured they had seen the last of him. They were wrong.

     Back home in Colville Washington Charles asked a friend if he knew how much it would cost to have someone killed. A few days later Charles offered this person $3,000 to either murder or seriously injure his former girlfriend. The main idea, Charles said, was to kill the fetus. If the mother survived that would be okay with him. The friend, convinced that Charles was serious, contacted the Stevens County Sheriff's Office.

     On October 11, 2006, a few days before Wendy's due date, Charles met an undercover officer in the town of Suncrest a few miles north of Spokane. With the tape recorder running in the officer's car Charles said he would pay $3,250 to have the problem with his ex-girlfriend "disappear." He said he didn't care if the girl lived or died as long as the fetus was destroyed. The murder-for-hire mastermind handed the officer a photograph of Wendy and a handmade street map showing where she lived. Charles then took out $1,620 in twenty-dollar bills and handed it to the undercover officer. He promised to pay the balance of the hit money when the job was done. After pocketing the money the officer placed the 18-year-old under arrest. That evening Charles D. Young found himself inside the Stevens County Jail. The next day the magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     The Stevens County prosecutor charged Young with solicitation to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first degree-murder of a fetus. A conviction on either charge qualified him for life behind bars.

     In April 2007 Charles Young was allowed to plead guilty to the solicitation of manslaughter. His lawyer described his client to the court as an intelligent young man who had received bad advice regarding his responsibilities as a father. The defense attorney said that his client had apologized to Wendy and her parents.

     The Stevens County judge, in February 2009, sentenced Charles D. Young to six years in prison. The judge justified his extreme leniency on the grounds that this murder-for-hire mastermind had only intended to have the unborn child murdered. The sentencing judge must have forgotten about Young's indifference to whether or not his hit man also murdered or seriously injured the child's mother.

    Cases like this undermine one's faith in our criminal justice system. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Kenneth Caplan's Road Rage

     On Tuesday November 11, 2014 in Houston Texas, Kenneth Caplan, while driving on the 610 South Loop highway with a female passenger in his car, cut in front of another vehicle nearly causing a collision. The 20-year-old woman who was cut off honked her horn angrily at the reckless driver. She should have left her response at that.

     The angry young motorist, in retaliation, passed the offending driver and cut in front of him. This infuriated the man who pulled his vehicle up alongside the woman who had cut him off. Kenneth Caplan lowered the front passenger's side window, raised a handgun, and with his female rider leaning back to give him a clear shot, fired a bullet into the young woman's car.

     The highway shooter's target heard a ringing in her ear and started to bleed from the head. As she pulled off the highway to call 911 the man who shot her drove away.

     Paramedics rushed the 20-year-old woman to Memorial Hermann Hospital where doctors treated her for a bullet wound that was not life-threatening. Three days later physicians released her from the hospital.

     On Wednesday November 26, 2014, Houston police officers took 32-year-old Kenneth Caplan into custody at his home. While road rage shootings in big cities was not uncommon, the identify of this highway shooter made the case a bit unusual. Kenneth Caplan was a Deputy Harris County Constable for Precinct 6. When he shot the motorist, Deputy Caplan was off-duty and out of uniform.

     Following his arrest Mr. Caplan admitted shooting into the young woman's car. He said he had a right to shoot into the vehicle because the driver was driving erratically.

     Police officers booked Caplan into the Harris County Jail on the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The judge set his bail at $200,000.

     A spokesperson for the Harris County Constable's Office announced that Caplan's law enforcement credentials had been collected and that he was no longer employed by the office.

     The victim of the shooting told reporters that "I feel like I got a taste of death." Indeed, and perhaps she learned a lesson about the dangers of road rage. A lot of motorists are ticking time bombs and it doesn't take much to set them off.

     In May 2016, Kenneth Caplan pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. In a newspaper interview Mr.  Caplan said he suffered from PTSD and had childhood onset of bipolar disorder after growing up in an abusive family. (With this background, how did he become a cop.) The judge sentenced Kenneth Caplan to 20 years in prison.

The Connie Villa Murder Case

      When Adam and Connie Villa were married in 2005 she had a 5-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. He was a member of the Arizona National Guard. The couple and the child, Aniarael Macias, resided in Casa Grande, a suburban community 50 miles south of Phoenix. In 2006 Adam Villa served a year in Iraq with his National Guard unit. By 2010 the couple had three children of their own.

     Adam and Connie Villa were divorced in 2012. Following the break-up the battle over legal custody of the children began.

     On Christmas day 2013 Adam Villa called 911 to report that his wife had stabbed him in the chest and that he was driving himself to the hospital. Police officers rushed to the Villa residence where they encountered Connie Villa holding a knife to her chest. Officers subdued the distraught 35-year-old woman and called for an ambulance.

     The three younger Villa children, ages three, five and eight, were in the house when the police arrived. The youngsters informed the officers that their mother had forced them to consume what turned out to be a narcotics-based prescription drug.

     In the bathroom officers discovered the body of 13-year-old Aniarael Macias. Because there were no marks on her officers assumed that Connie Villa had poisoned the girl to death with prescription drugs.

     While 33-year-old Adam Villa remained in stable condition at the Casa Grande Regional Medical Center, physicians at the Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix treated Connie Villa for superficial self-inflicted knife wounds. The three children, although there were traces of opiates in their bodies, were fine. The siblings were placed into the custody of relatives.

     On Sunday December 29, 2013, upon her release from the hospital, detectives took Connie Villa into custody. When questioned at the police station she admitted stabbing her husband and poisoning their three children. In the bathroom, after being unable to force Aniarael to ingest the prescription drug, the mother strangled her daughter to death with her hands.

     Detectives asked Connie why she had killed her oldest child, stabbed her husband and tried to poison the little ones to death. She said she was afraid the judge would grant custody of the children to her ex-husband. 

     On January 8, 2014 Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles charged Connie Villa with premeditated first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, kidnapping and four counts of child abuse. The suspect, through her public defender attorney, pleaded not guilty to all charges. She was held in the Pinal County Jail without bond.

     In June 2014 a Pinal County Superior Court judge approved the prosecution's request to seek the death penalty in the case.

    After pleading guilty to first-degree murder in July 2017, Pinal County Judge Jason Holmberg sentenced Connie Villa to life without parole plus 155 years. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Brinda Sue McCoy Attempted Suicide-By-Cop Case

     Brinda Sue McCoy, a 48-year-old registered nurse, lived with her husband Frank and their 5 children in Cypress California, a suburban town of 47,000 in Orange County. Frank McCoy, a former Cypress Councilman and commander with the Long Beach Police Department was chief of police in Oceanside, a southern California city of 174,000. Frank McCoy had been chief of the 260-member department since 2006. His wife Brinda worked at Hoag Hospital in the Orange county town of Newport.

     At seven in the evening of December 16 2010 Brinda McCoy, while alone in her house and feeling "overwhelmed and distraught," called friends and relatives to inform them of what songs to play at her funeral. Earlier in the day she had argued with her husband and her son.

     Under the influence of prescription medicine to calm her down and a few martinis, Brinda called 911 for "police assistance." She had recently read a news account about police in another town killing a man wielding a garden hose nozzle. She thought she might be able to get the local police to kill her. Since this would end her suffering she thought her death would be a relief to friends and family.

     When members of the Cypress Police Department responded to the call Brinda McCoy refused to come out of the house. During the standoff the distraught woman appeared at a window with a pistol in her hand. She pointed the gun at her head, at the ceiling, then at the police outside. After being warned that if she discharged the gun police officers could get hurt, she fired a shot out the window in the direction of police officers positioned behind a parked pickup truck. The police did not respond in kind. Twenty minutes later she fired again in the general direction of the officers. 

     About an hour after the shootings a police officer talked Brinda McCoy out of her house. As she crawled out the front door members of a SWAT team subdued her with a beanbag gun.

     Following 72 hours of observation at a local hospital Brinda McCoy was taken into custody. She posted her $250,000 bail and was released.

     Charged with five counts of police assault with a firearm, felonies that could send her to prison for 30 years, McCoy went on trial in an Orange County court on May 24, 2012. Twenty-five days later, after the defendant testified on her own behalf for two days, the jury, after deliberating 5 hours, found Brinda McCoy guilty on all counts. She would await her September sentencing under house arrest.

     In 2011 police officers in the United States shot 50 women, killing about half of them. Most of these women were armed with knives and had histories of mental illness. Most of them, like Brinda McCoy, did not have criminal records. Many of these police involved shootings were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Had Brinda McCoy been a mental case or a drug addict in Philadelphia, Chicago or Miami, she would have probably been shot. But in Orange County California where the officers knew they were dealing with the disturbed wife of a police chief, they were patient and used nonlethal force.

     Four days after she was released on bail to await her sentencing, police officers found Brinda bleeding in her back yard following an attempted suicide. Judge Francisco Briseno ordered the police to take the suicidal woman into custody for her own protection.

     Prior to Brinda McCoy's sentencing date, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivier, in a rare legal action, agreed to retroactively modify the charges against the defendant by removing the firearm discharge count, the conviction of which carried a mandatory 20-year sentence. In return, defense attorney Lew Rosenblum withdrew his motion for a new trial.

     On September 7, 2012 Judge Briseno sentenced Brinda McCoy to fifteen years in prison. Had the charges against her not been modified after the fact she would have been sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

     As deputy sheriffs escorted McCoy out of the courtroom in handcuffs she spoke to her husband, relatives and friends there to support her. "Thank you guys," she said. "Everyone, I love you."

     Justice was not done in this case. Fifteen years in prison for a mentally ill woman who tried to use the police to commit suicide was too harsh.