6,865,000 pageviews


Friday, September 30, 2022

The Gilbert Collar Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Gilbert Thomas Collar grew up in Wetumpka, Alabama, a town of 6,000 within the Montgomery metropolitan area in the central part of the state. The 135-pound, 5-foot-7 high school wrestling star was enrolled at the University of South Alabama, a 15,000-student university located in Mobile, Alabama. Collar, a social sciences major, wanted to become a high school teacher and wrestling coach.

     A university police officer named Trevis Austin, at 1:23 in the morning of Saturday, October 6, 2012, heard someone banging loudly on one of the campus police station's windows. Upon investigation of this noise, the officer encountered Gilbert Collar, nude and crouched into a fighting stance. The muscular young man, who challenged the officer to a fight, obviously appeared to be out of his mind. When Gilbert Collar made an aggressive move toward Trevis Austin, the officer drew his weapon, backed-off and warned the threatening 18-year-old to settle down. Collar rushed toward the campus cop several times, and each time the retreating officer ordered the man to stop and desist. The out of control student took a knee, rose and charged the officer again. This time officer Austin shot the young man once in the chest. The attacking freshman stumbled, regained his footing, rushed toward the officer again, then collapsed and died.

     University police officer Trevis Austin was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation conducted by the Mobile County District Attorney's Office and the local sheriff's department. An important aspect of the inquiry involved reviewing the surveillance camera footage of the bizarre confrontation. Some of the questions to be answered included whether or not the student and the officer who shot him knew each other. Investigators also wanted to determine if Mr. Collar had a  history of mental illness and/or drug use. The autopsy and toxicological would answer the question of drugs.

     Jeff Glass, Gilbert Collar's high school wrestling coach told a reporter that "He [Collar] was a kind soul. He was never aggressive to anyone off the mat. He was a 'yes sir, no sir' kind of guy." Chis Estes, an 18-year-old who grew up with Collar, reportedly said, "Gil was a very 'chill' guy, mellow and easy-going. That's why I don't understand the story that he attacked the cop."

     According to the toxicology report, Gilbert Collar had gotten high on a laboratory drug that mimics the effects of LSD. He had taken the drug at the BayFest music concert on the night of the deadly encounter. Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, at a press conference, announced that the student had assaulted others prior to his death.

     In 2013, a grand jury sitting in Mobile County cleared officer Trevis Austin of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.

     In the wake of the grand jury no bill, members of Gilbert Collar's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against former officer Austin and the university. In 2015, pursuant to that suit, former Tallahassee police chief Melvin Tucker, on behalf of the plaintiff, rendered an expert opinion regarding whether the officer's use of deadly force in the case was appropriate.

     In his report, made public in May 2015, Mr. Tucker concluded that officer Austin had used excessive force in violation of his department's deadly force policy. Melvin Tucker wrote that the officer should either have retreated or used non-lethal means to subdue the student.

     Mr. Tucker noted in his report that over the past 131 years only three police officers in the state of Alabama had been killed by an unarmed assailant. The use of force expert wrote that in 2012, not a single police officer in the United States had died as a result of being disarmed by an arrestee.

     This was one of those difficult cases that no matter how it was resolved, won't satisfy anyone. From the campus police officer's point of view, he was confronted by an aggressive, muscular young man who was apparently out of his mind and intent on engaging him in a wrestling match. For all the officer knew, he was dealing with a drug-crazed man with supernatural strength. (The officer was 5-foot-eleven and the student 5-foot-seven.) Had these two gotten into hand-to-hand combat, there was a possibility that the attacker could have ended up with the officer's gun. Even if the officer had been equipped with a taser device, there was no guarantee it would have subdued this aggressive, out-of-control subject, particularly with the LSD type drug in his system.

     Looking at this case through the eyes of Gilbert Collar's friends and relatives, it's easy to understand why they have questions regarding this student's sudden and violent death. His mother Bonnie said this to a reporter: "Freshmen kids do stupid things, and campus police should be equipped to handle activity like that without having to use lethal force." Although Gilbert Collar was not a kid, college freshmen are known to do stupid things. But taking off your clothes in the middle of the night and without provocation or notice attacking a police officer goes beyond youthful stupidity. 

The Stiletto Heel Murder Case

     At four in the morning on Sunday, June 9, 2013, a resident of the Parkline condominium  high rise in Houston's upscale Museum District called 911 to report a possible domestic disturbance in an adjacent apartment. When police officers knocked on the door of the 18th floor residence they were met by a woman covered in someone else's blood.

     The woman who answered the door that morning was 44-year-old Ana Lila Trujillo, a former message therapist who was visiting the home of a University of Houston research professor employed in the school's  biology and biochemistry department. The officers found Professor Alf Stefan lying face-up in a pool of his own blood. The 59-year-old researcher in the field of women's reproductive health lay sprawled on the floor in the hall between the entranceway and the kitchen. The dead man had ten puncture wounds in his head and fifteen to twenty such wounds to his neck and chest. The death scene had all the markings of an overkill murder committed by someone who was enraged and out of control.

     The blood-covered Trujillo told the Houston police officers that the professor, her boyfriend, had physically attacked her. In defending herself she struck him with the stiletto heel of one of her pumps. When questioned by detectives at police headquarters Trujillo asked for a lawyer then clammed-up.

     Later that Sunday, Ana Trujillo was booked into the Harris County Jail on the charge of murder. The next day she walked free after posting $100,000 bond.

     Since Ana Trujillo and Professor Stefan were alone in his apartment, the prosecution would have to make a circumstantial case of murder based upon the physical evidence and the character of the defendant and the history of her relationship with the professor.

     On April 10, 2014, a jury in Houston, Texas found Ana Trujillo guilty of capital murder. The prosecutor had successfully portrayed her as a self-serving, violent woman who lived in her own world. The Trujillo defense failed to make the case that she had killed an abusive lover in self-defense.

     Based on the advice of her attorney, the defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf.

     The judge sentenced Ana Trujillo to life in prison.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Jason Smith Murder Case

     Dr. Melissa Ketunuti, a 35-year-old pediatrician, was a second-year infectious disease fellow and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine in downtown Philadelphia. The Thailand native lived in a central city town house not far from the hospital. Except for her 6-year-old pit bull/lab mix, she lived alone. Dr. Ketunuti had resided at this address for three years, and was in the process of rehabilitating the dwelling.

     On Monday, January 21, 2013, Dr. Ketunuti left her town house around nine in the morning to run some errands. She planned to return to her home at ten-fifty to meet with an exterminator with a pest-control company headquartered in Newtown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ketunuti was having mice problems. When the doctor's dog walker came to the house at twelve-thirty, she smelled smoke, and upon investigation, discovered Dr. Ketuniti dead in her basement. The terrified woman called 911.

     Homicide detectives and crime scene technicians arrived at the town house to find a still smoldering, badly burned corpse. The victim's face had been so severely charred by the fire it was unrecognizable. The fully dressed woman was lying face-down and had been hogtied with her wrists and ankles bound behind her back. The killer had left a length of cordage around the victim's neck suggesting that before being set on fire she had been strangled.

     Based on the dead woman's apparel and other points of identity, investigators assumed that the murdered woman in the basement was Dr. Melissa Ketunuti. Detectives found no signs of forced entry or indications of a sexual assault. Because it didn't appear than anything had been taken from the premises, the killer had not been motivated by theft.

     As investigators began tracing the victim's activities that morning, and gathering footage from neighborhood surveillance cameras, the city of Philadelphia posted a $20,000 reward for information leading to the identification and arrest of this murderer. The next day, a local community group added $15,000 to the incentive.

     On Wednesday, January 23, 2013, homicide investigators were in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a sprawling suburban Bucks County community 25 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The officers were in town questioning a 37-year-old pest-control subcontractor named Jason Smith. Smith lived in a powder-blue, two story house surrounded by a white picket fence still displaying Christmas decorations. The exterminator lived there with his girlfriend, their young daughter and the girlfriend's stepfather.

     Surveillance camera footage in Dr. Ketunuti's neighborhood showed Smith, who had been scheduled for a service call at the murder victim's house that morning, walking toward the doctor's town house at ten-fifty. (The house itself was off-camera.) The tall, thin exterminator wore a NorthFace jacket and work gloves, and carried a satchel. Just before noon, Smith was video-recorded driving his silver Ford F-150 pickup out of the neighborhood. Before leaving he circled the block two times. While in Levittown, officers searched Smith's house, his trash can and his truck. Investigators took a computer out of the dwelling, and from the Ford F-150, seized a jacket and a pair of work gloves.

     The next day, at nine o'clock in the evening, detectives returned to Levittown to arrest Jason Smith. They took him into custody as he, his girlfriend and their daughter watched "American Idol." Charged with first-degree murder, arson, abuse of corpse and risking a catastrophe (burning down the neighborhood), Smith was locked up and held without bail.  During the arrest, the family's dog, a boxer named Tyson, charged the arresting officers and was shot dead.

     According to a statement released by a Philadelphia law enforcement spokesperson, Jason Smith and Dr. Ketunuti, while in the doctor's basement, got into some kind of argument. The suspect punched her to the floor, jumped on top of her and used a length of rope to strangle her to death. In an effort to destroy physical evidence that might link him to the body, Mr. Smith set fire to the victim's clothing with his lighter. (The body contained no traces of an accelerant.)

     Jason Smith, except for a 2004 DUI conviction, had no criminal record. He told his interrogators that he was addicted to prescription painkillers, and that when arguing with the pest-control customer in her basement, he "snapped." According to Smith, when the doctor "belittled" him, he flew into a murderous rage.

     A friend of the suspect, in speaking to ABC News, revealed that Jason Smith, as a child, had a difficult time controlling his anger. The friend remembered that in his childhood, Smith had problems with pyromania.

     In April 2013, at a preliminary hearing before Philadelphia Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni, homicide detective Edward Tolliver read Jason Smith's murder confession into the record. According to Detective Henry Glenn, the victim, at the time of her violent death, was wearing riding boots. Dr. Ketunuti's hands and feet had been tied behind her with a leather strap from horse gear. Smith, in his confession, told the detectives that he had bound the victim's ankles with a riding stirrup. He used a length of rope to strangle her.

     After murdering Dr. Ketunuti in her home, Smith drove to another pest extermination job in New Jersey.

     At the preliminary hearing, Jason Smith's attorneys, James A. Funt and Marc Bookman, did not contest the murder charge but asked the judge to dismiss the arson count because their client had not intended to burn down the building.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Philadelphia found Jason Smith guilty of first-degree murder, arson, risking a catastrophe, and abuse of corpse. The judge sentenced Smith to life in prison plus 17 to 34 years.  
     Jason Smith appealed his conviction and his sentence, and lost both appeals.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Charles and Shirley Severance Murder Case

     Charles Severance and his wife Shirley, both seventy years old, had lived thirty years in Sterling, Colorado, a rural plains community 110 miles northeast of Denver. In 2014, the couple allowed their grandson, Brendan Johnson, a recent high school graduate without prospects, to take up residence in their modest, single-story home.

     These decent grandparents had no idea that Brendan and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Cassandra Rieb, had been planning to murder them for their house, their 2009 Chevrolet pickup truck and $20,000 in the elderly couple's bank account. According to the harebrained murder plan, Brendan Johnson would smother his grandfather as he slept while Cassandra Rieb, in similar fashion, killed Shirley Severance.

     During the early morning hours of May 20, 2014, the grandson, accompanied by his sociopathic girlfriend, launched their attack on Mr. and Mrs. Severance. But as is often the case involving killers who are dimwitted, things did not go according to plan, and certainly not smoothly. Mr. Severance fought against his homicidal grandson. During the struggle, Brendan, unable to smother his grandfather, placed his hands around his neck to strangle him. Mr. Severance couldn't breathe, lost his strength, then died.

     While Brendan Johnson was killing his grandfather, his girlfriend had problems dispatching Mrs. Severance. As she fought against being smothered, Shirley Severance begged for her life and offered to give the couple money. Cassandra Rieb discontinued her assault and allowed Brandon Johnson to finish the job. The killer's grandmother pleaded with him to stop the attack. She again begged for her life, and asked for a drink of water. As the victim drank from the glass, Brendan pulled out a knife to slit her throat. She moved, and the knife instead sliced her in the jaw.

     When the 70-year-old woman tried to escape, Johnson used the knife to stab her repeatedly. "Why are you doing this to me?" she cried.

     "You know why," the killer replied. Shirley Severance died a few seconds later.

     The double murder not only failed to unfold as planned, it produced a bloody crime scene that the degenerate killers had to clean up. The murderers dragged both bodies into a bedroom where they remained for a day while Johnson and Rieb did their best to clean up the blood and dispose of other physical evidence. But what were they supposed to do with the bodies?

     After scrubbing the murder site, the couple loaded Mrs. Severance into Mr. Severance's pickup truck and hauled her to a wooded area near a reservoir outside of town. At that spot, they cut off her head and set fire to the corpse.

     Two days after the murders, Johnson and Reib returned to the dump site outside of Sterling, placed Mrs. Severance's charred remains back into the truck, and drove the body thirty miles to an area near Lorenzo, Nebraska. At that place they buried the murder victim in a shallow grave.

     Mr. Severance's body remained at the murder scene because he was too heavy to carry to the truck. When planning how to dispose of the bodies, the killers failed to account for the victim's weight.

     On May 29, 2014, a few days after forging and cashing two checks on the Severance bank account for a total of $4,500, Brendan Johnson called 911 to report that he had just discovered his grandfather's body in his house. He also reported that his grandmother was missing.

     Police officers, in response to Brendan Johnson's phony 911 call met the grandson and his girlfriend at the tiny house on Third Avenue. In the bedroom, the officers came upon Mr. Severance's decomposing corpse.

     Questioned that day at the police station, Johnson said his grandfather had died of a heart attack, and that he had no idea what happened to his grandmother. According to the grandson, prior to Mr. Severance's death, the old man had given him the pickup truck as a gift. He said his grandfather had also given him the $4,500 drawn from his bank. Detectives didn't buy his story.

     When asked to take polygraph tests, the young killers confessed. Cassandra Rieb led officers to the place outside of Lorenzo, Nebraska where detectives discovered Shirley Severance's charred and dismembered remains. During her session with the polygraph examiner, Rieb said, "The plan was to kill them so he [Brendan] could get their inheritance. Together we went and we did it together. We had agreed to do it together, obviously. Like one gets one [of the victims] and one gets the other."

     On June 3, 2014, a Logan County prosecutor charged the young couple with two counts of first-degree murder along with several lesser offenses. Johnson and Rieb were booked into the county jail. The judge denied the murder suspects bond.

    In April 2015, Cassandra Rieb, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon. The judge sentenced her to consecutive terms of 48 years and 32 years, respectively. Under Colorado law, Rieb had to serve at least 75 percent of her sentence behind bars.

     In May 2015, Brendan Johnson, after initially pleading not guilty to murder and fourteen lesser charges, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The plea brought an automatic sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

     Crimes like this make it difficult not to support the death penalty. 

Monday, September 26, 2022

Ethel Anderson: The Unrepentant Child Molester

     In 2011, Ethel Anderson, a 29-year-old teacher at the Mango Elementary School in suburban Seffner, Florida outside of Tampa, resided in Riverside with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. Anderson had recently been named the Diversity School Teacher of the Year.

     In December 2011, Teacher of the Year Anderson began tutoring a 12-year-old math student in her home. Over the next three months, she and the boy exchanged 230 pages of test messages in which she described, in vivid language, her lust for the child. Anderson also expressed her anxiety over feeling unattractive because of her weight. In these exchanges, the boy used the name Dirty Dan. No one reading this material would have guessed that Dirty Dan was a 12-year-old kid communicating with one of his public school teachers. The online exchange between teacher and student, while a bit puerile, was pretty raunchy.

     In February 2012, the teacher-student affair ended following a spat. The angry kid got his revenge by telling his mom everything. It's hard to imagine what was went through the mother's mind when her son described receiving oral sex from a woman paid to teach him math. The couple, according to the boy, also simulated various sexual acts while fully clothed. The boy's tutor also fondled him.

     The mother, perhaps worried that school officials and police officers would take the teacher's word over her son's, confronted Anderson before alerting the authorities. During that meeting, the teacher admitted having an inappropriate relationship with the boy. The student's mom, having clandestinely audio-taped the conversation, went to the police with the evidence. 

     Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, in March 2012, charged Ethel Anderson with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Following the teacher's arrest, the school suspended her without pay. Eight months later, Ethel Anderson resigned.

     The child molestation trial got underway in Tampa on September 18, 2013. The boy, now 14, took the stand for the prosecution. "I felt she was like my real girlfriend," he said. "She said I was her boyfriend and she loved me. I was thinking, 'I'm living a guy's dream...dating my teacher.' "

     According to the young prosecution witness, Anderson told him she planned to leave her husband because he wasn't a good father and didn't communicate with her. As time went on, however, the student began having doubts about the relationship. "I'm dating a girl I'm in love with and she thinks of me as a kid. It didn't feel right."

     On the third and final day of the trial, defense attorney William Knight, in a bold move, put his client on the stand. Rather than plead some kind of emotional breakdown, drinking problem or addiction to drugs, the former school teacher denied having physical contact with the boy, essentially calling him a liar. Claiming that the 12-year-old had tried to instigate a sexual relationship, Anderson said, "He attempted, at one point, to grab me in an inappropriate manner. He attempted to kiss me and I pushed him off."

     Regarding her sexually vivid text messages, the defendant said they were nothing more than "sexual therapy" tools to get the boy to focus on his studies. "I recognize it was explicit and inappropriate, but it was all fantasy," she said. "He was going through puberty. He couldn't connect with his family. He was always thinking sexually. My purpose was to get his attention."

     Prosecutor Peters, in a blistering cross-examination of the defendant, asked, "You want the jury to believe that you were in fantasyland to help the boy? Was that part of your training as a teacher? So by giving in to these sexual fantasies he did better in school?"

     "Sometimes, yes," Anderson replied.

     Defense attorney Knight, in his closing remarks to the jury, pointed out that the prosecution had not presented one piece of physical evidence proving any kind of sexual contact between his client and the student.

     When it came her turn to address the jury, the prosecutor called the former teacher's attempt to explain herself "remarkable," and "amazing in its audacity." The state attorney told the jurors that "everything the defendant told you defies logic and common sense."

     On December 19, 2013, following the guilty verdict, Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, calling Ethel Anderson a parent's worst nightmare, sentenced the former teacher to 38 years in prison. 
     In hindsight, this defendant should have pleaded guilty in return for a lesser sentence. She rolled the dice and lost.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Teacher Lee Riddle: "Cup Checks" at Widefield High

     In 2009, Lee Riddle, a 25-year-old graduate of the University of Michigan, began teaching German at Widefield High School outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado. By all accounts he was a popular and outstanding teacher with a spotless record at the school. But in November 2013, Mr. Riddle lost his good name and his career as well.

     On November 15, 2013, the El Paso County (Colorado) Sheriff's Office received a tip that the 29-year-old teacher had made inappropriate physical contact with several male students ages 15 to 17. One of the complaints involved the teacher grabbing boys between the legs in what the teacher called "cup checks." (Cup check refers to the procedure used to verify the appropriate installation of protective athletic gear for the groin area.)

     The principal of Widefield High placed Mr. Riddle, who denied the allegations, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

     On November 18 and 19, 2013, investigators with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office questioned several of Mr. Riddle's male students. All of the boys said they had experienced such classroom encounters with the teacher, behavior that put Mr. Riddle in an extremely bad light.

     According to investigators, the suspect had "cup checked" several students, pinched one boy's nipple and called him "Cutie," spoke graphically to students about gay sex, showed sexually explicit cellphone photographs, and while giving one boy a ride home, asked him if he were bisexual.

     On November 20, 2013, an El Paso County prosecutor charged Lee Riddle with 18 counts of sexual assault on a child under 18 by a person of trust. The suspect pleaded not guilty to all counts. The judge set his bail at $25,000.

     Mr. Riddle's trial got underway in August 2014 in Colorado Springs. A week later, the jury found the defendant guilty of all charges. School officials immediately fired him.

     At Riddle's sentencing hearing in November 2014, the judge, before handing down the sentence, noted that the convicted man didn't appreciate the seriousness of his crimes due to the fact that none of the boys had been physically injured. The judge, noting the seriousness of these offenses, sentenced the 31-year-old former teacher to an indeterminate sentence that would keep him behind bars for a minimum of eight years.

     Compared to many lesser sentences given to rapists and pedophiles, this sentence seemed a bit harsh.  

The First American Executed by Gas

     On February 8, 1924, a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America executed by cyanide gas. He died in the gas chamber inside the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. Over time, eleven states adopted the cyanide chamber as the official method of execution. From 1924 to 1999, 594 persons died in these gas chambers. In 1960, asphyxiation executioners in California killed a man named Caryl Chessman. He perished in the cyanide room for the crimes of kidnapping and rape. He is the only person in U.S. history to be executed for a crime other than murder. The gas chamber, compared to the rope, the firing squad, the electric chair and lethal drugs, is the cruelest way to dispatch murderers. Death by cyanide took between six and eighteen agonizing minutes, and for those witnessing the execution, it produced  a gruesome tableau. It was the only form of capital punishment that required the condemned man to contribute to his death by breathing within a chamber filled with cyanide gas.

The Michelle Boyer Double Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2014, 40-year-old Jonathan Masin, an employee of Texas Instruments, broke up with Michelle Boyer, a fellow employee at the corporation. Three years earlier, Michelle Boyer and her husband, Charles Hobbs, were divorced. The 45-year-old Boyer lived in a house in Dallas not far from her ex-husband's place.

     Jonathan Masin, a resident of Murphy, a quiet suburban community northeast of Dallas, had left Boyer for a 38-year-old woman named Amy Picchiotti. Amy, a physical trainer, had left Larry Picchiotti, her husband of seven years, in March 2014. Amy, the mother of two young girls, moved in with Masin.

     Michelle Boyer reacted with anger when Masin left her for another woman, a person she had considered a friend. She made her feelings known by sending her former boyfriend threatening emails and text messages.

     At eight in the morning of Saturday, May 10, 2014, Jonathan Masin's father, concerned about his son, called the local police department and requested a welfare check at his house in Murphy.

     Inside the dwelling, in separate rooms, officers found the bodies of Amy Picchiotti and Jonathan Masin. The partially clothed, barefooted couple had been shot to death with a handgun. Neighbors later told the police they had heard what might have been gunshots at 6:30 that morning.

     In Dallas, thirteen miles from the murder scene, police officers came upon Michelle Boyer's SUV parked on the street in front of her ex-husband's house. They found her slumped behind the wheel with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The suicide gun matched the caliber of the firearm used to murder Picchiotti and Masin.

     Inside the vehicle, officers recovered a suicide note that described the double murder in Murphy. According to one of Boyer's friends, she felt that Amy Picchiotti had stolen Jonathan Masin from her. The jilted woman felt betrayed and extremely angry. While the authorities did not release the text of the suicide note, the motive behind the double murder presumably involved revenge.

     The longtime Murphy city manager, James Fisher, told reporters there hadn't been a criminal homicide in this community as long as he could remember.  

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Michael Curry Murder Case

     At 5:30 in the evening on August 29, 1985, Michael L. Curry called the Columbus, Georgia Police Department and reported that someone had entered his home while he was at work and murdered his pregnant wife and his two children.

     At the gory murder scene, police discovered that 26-year-old Ann Curry, her four-year-old daughter Erika and 20-month-old Ryan had been bludgeoned to death with an axe. The murder weapon, taken from its place of storage in the family garage, was lying next to Ann Curry's body. Detectives noticed that Michael Curry didn't have any of the crime scene blood on him, suggesting that he hadn't checked to see if any of his family members were still alive. Investigators also found it unusual that Curry had called the police department directly instead of 911.

     Other features of the murder scene bothered investigators. Someone had broken a small glass window near a back door secured by an interior deadbolt lock. The broken window was consistent with an intruder reaching in and unlocking the door. But the window had been smashed from the inside of the house and the door was still locked. If the Curry family had been murdered by an intruder or intruders, how did they get in, and what was their motive? Nothing had been stolen from the house, drawers and closets had not been rifled through and Ann Curry had not been sexually assaulted. If intruders had come to the dwelling to kill Ann Curry and her children, why didn't they bring their own murder weapons? (Later, crime lab personnel found no blood or bloody fingerprints on the axe. The killer had obviously sanitized the weapon.) Was this triple murder a crime of passion or a planned, cold-blooded execution?

      When questioned by the police, Michael Curry said he had left his place of employment at 9:40 that morning to buy a small fan for his office. At 12:55 (according to the retail receipt) he purchased the item at a K-Mart store before returning to his office at 1:10 in the afternoon. He remained in his office until quitting time then drove home, arriving at his house shortly before 5:30 in the evening.

     In tracing the activities of Mrs. Curry and the children on the day of their deaths, investigators learned they had shopped that morning at a Sears store. After visiting her parents in Columbus, Ann headed home, arriving there at 12:37 PM. If Michael Curry had slaughtered his family he had committed the murders between 12:37 and 12:55 PM, an 18-minute window of opportunity.

     Looking into Michael Curry's recent history, investigators learned he was having an affair and spending nights drinking at bars with friends. Witnesses told detectives that Michael Curry felt trapped by a growing family he couldn't afford. He longed for a bachelor's lifestyle, but couldn't afford a divorce and the resultant child support responsibilities.

     Because the forensic pathologist who performed the victim's autopsies couldn't pinpoint their times of death either within or without the 18 minutes of opportunity, Michael Curry didn't have an airtight alibi. But that also meant that a prosecutor couldn't prove the killings took place during the 18-minute timeframe.

     Following a murder inquest held in February 1986, the Muscogee County District Attorney, with no confession, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence linking Michael Curry to the murder scene, decided not to pursue the matter further. Since investigators had no other suspects, the case remained in limbo until January 2009 when a new district attorney, Julia Slater, took office. The Curry murder case came back to life as a cold case homicide investigation.

     Prosecutor Slater theorized that on the day of the murders, when shopping for a desk fan, Michael Curry saw his family at Sears. Realizing this was his opportunity to free himself of his family burden, he drove home to lay in wait. To protect himself from what he knew would be a bloody massacre, he either put on a jumpsuit or a pair of coveralls. He next smashed the window next to the backdoor to stage an intrusion. When his wife and his two children entered the house at 12:37, he attacked them with the axe. After disposing of his blood-spattered coveralls, he rushed to the K-Mart store where he purchased the fan. (When he returned to his office at 1:10 that afternoon, fellow employees noticed he was drenched in sweat.)

     On May 20, 2009, after a Muscogee Grand Jury indicted Michael Curry for murdering his pregnant wife and their two children, detectives arrested him at his home in Dalton, Georgia. He went on trial in April 2011 at the Muscogee County Superior Court in Columbus. Public defender Bob Wadkins argued that his client had an alibi, and that the state's case, based solely on circumstantial evidence, didn't rise to the level of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Attorney Wadkins chose not to put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On April 27, 2011, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. Judge John Allen sentenced the 54-year-old Michael Curry to three consecutive life sentences. The convicted killer wouldn't be eligible for parole until he had served 30 years behind bars. The best he could hope for was to be set free at age 84.

      Defense attorney Bob Wadkins appealed Michael Curry's conviction on grounds his client had been found guilty on insufficient evidence. On June 9, 2012, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the jury verdict.  

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Andrew McCormack Murder Case

     On September 23, 2017, 31-year-old Andrew McCormack and his one-year-old daughter entered their home in Revere, Massachusetts. McCormack had returned to the house after finishing a carpentry job at a friend's place. Shortly after arriving home, Mr. McCormack called 911 and reported that someone had entered the dwelling in his absence and murdered his wife. 

     Police officers found 30-year-old Vanessa Nasucci lying face down on the bedroom floor with a garbage bag over her head. The bag had been taken from the kitchen trash container. When a first responder removed the bag it became obvious that the Vanessa Nasucci had been brutally beaten. An autopsy revealed she had also been stabbed many times and strangled. 
     The murder bedroom gave off a strong scent of bleach and there were chemical burns on the victim's body. Investigators believed the killer had used bleach to destroy crime scene evidence. A large kitchen knife was missing from the kitchen butcher's block and there was no evidence of forced entry into the house. Moreover, the victim had not been sexually attacked, and nothing had been stolen from the dwelling. The fact the killer had taken the time to sanitize the crime scene suggested that Vanessa Nasucci had not been murdered by an intruder. Suspicion immediately fell up the husband, Andrew McCormack.
     Detectives quickly determined that the couple's marriage had been on the rocks. To support his $500-a-day cocaine habit, Andrew McCormack had drained his wife's credit card accounts, forged checks on her bank account and had even stolen her wedding ring. On the day of the murder, after finishing the carpentry job, McCormack took his 1-year-old daughter with him to East Boston where he purchased cocaine from his drug dealer. 
     Shortly before her murder, Vanessa Nasucci, a second grade teacher at Connery Elementary in Lynn, Massachusetts, told her husband that she planned to sell the house and hire a divorce attorney. 
     A week after the murder, police officers arrested Andrew McCormack on the charge of first-degree murder. He was booked into the Suffolk County Jail. Through his attorney, the suspect pleaded not guilty. The magistrate denied him bail. 
     The Andrew McCormack murder trial got underway in mid-October 2019 in a Suffolk County courtroom. The prosecution, without a murder weapon, an eyewitness, confession or physical evidence connecting the defendant directly to the murder had an entirely circumstantial case. What the prosecutor had was a strong case of motive, means and opportunity, and the argument that, given the facts of the case, it was unreasonable to conclude that anyone other than the defendant had committed this murder.
     The defense relied heavily on reasonable doubt, and the position that investigators never considered the possibility that someone other than Andrew McCormack had murdered his wife.
     On November 16, 2019, following eleven days of testimony, the jury, after deliberating a week, found Andrew McCormack guilty of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing on December 2, 2019, the convicted killer said this to the judge: "I did not murder her. There is someone else getting away with murder." 
     The Suffolk County judge sentenced McCormack to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  

Homeowner Shot in Wrong House Raid

     During the early morning hours of June 27, 2006, a total of 100 federal, state and local drug enforcement agents and officers raided 23 homes in Decatur, Huntsville, Madison and Hartsville, Alabama. The raids culminated a two-year investigation of a Mexican-based cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine trafficking operation doing business in the northern part of the state. That morning, officers with the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force arrested 29 people, including Jerome Wallace, a 28-year-old who lived on Honey Way, a dirt road in rural Limestone County. A police Officer arrested Jerome as he stood in his front yard while task force members, in search of him, broke into the wrong house down the road. The wrong house these officers raided belonged to Wallace's uncle, Kenneth Jamar.

     Just before daybreak, several vans rolled down Honey Way, and parked across from Kenneth Jamar's house. Agents with the DEA, ATF, FBI and ICE, as well as the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, along with Alabama state troopers and SWAT teams from Huntsville and Madison County, alighted from their vehicles. A few seconds after one of the officers yelled, "Open Up! Police!" they broke into the house through the front door. Even if the 51-year-old semi-invalid with severe gout and a pace-maker had heard the officers announce themselves, he could not have made it to the door in time to let them in. Had he tried, Mr. Jamar would have walked into a flash bang grenade explosion.

     Mr. Jamar, in his bedroom when he heard his front door bashed open and the stun grenade go off, picked up his pistol. SWAT team officers, when they kicked open Mr. Jamar's bedroom door, saw him standing next to his bed holding the handgun. Armed with semi-automatic rifles, the officers opened fire. One of the 16 bullets from their rifles hit Mr. Jamar in the hip, another in the groin and a third in the foot. He went down without firing a shot.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Jamar, in critical condition, to a hospital in Huntsville where he spent two weeks in the intensive care unit. After searching his house, the police confiscated Mr. Jamar's gun collection. Because the SWAT team had broken into the wrong house, the Limestone County prosecutor chose not to charge Mr. Jamar with attempted assault.

     In the days and weeks following this police involved shooting, newspaper accounts of the raid were sketchy because Mike Blakely, the sheriff of Limestone County, the official heading up the internal investigation of the incident, did not release much information to the media. According to Sheriff Blakely, the officers had to "neutralize" a man who was "aggressively resisting." When a reporter asked the sheriff to comment on the wrong house aspect of the raid, he said, "I guess you could call it a clerical error over the address, but I don't think Jamar's dwelling even has a street address." This begged the question: if Mr Jamar's house didn't have a street address, how could there have been "a clerical error over the address?"

     Because the SWAT officers who shot Kenneth Jamar were not personally responsible for the wrong house raid, and had fired their weapons in self defense, they were cleared of criminal wrongdoing. Kenneth Jamar, in June 2008, filed a $7.5 million lawsuit in federal court claiming that the city of Huntsville, and other entities had violated his civil rights. In April 2011, the Huntsville city council voted to settle Kenneth Jamar's suit for $500,000.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Lori Isenberg Poison-Murder Case

      In 2018, Laurcene "Lori" Barnes Isenberg, the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Cooperative, a non-profit organization created to help low-income families, resided with her 68-year old husband, Larry Isenberg, in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Mr. Isenberg had a 39-year-old son from a former marriage. His 66-year-old wife had four daughters from her first husband. 

     On the morning of February 13, 2018, Lori Isenberg called 911. To the emergency dispatcher she reported that while boating with her husband on Lake Coeur d'Alene, he had fallen overboard.

     As a water recovery team searched for Mr. Isenberg, Lori Isenberg told deputies with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office that her husband had been ill with the flu, but had insisted on taking her on a boat ride that morning. While attempting to restart the boat's stalled electric motor, he toppled into the water. When she couldn't find him, she called 911 from his cellphone, 

     In a written police statement, Lori Isenberg described her husband's fall this way: "He stood up, looked at me with a confused look on his face and started to fall over. I jumped up and tried to get him, but I tripped on the heater and banged my head and couldn't reach him in time." 

    Searchers were unable to recover Mr. Isenberg's body. At this point the authorities presumed he had drowned as a result of a boating accident. Perhaps he'd suffered a stroke, lost his balance and toppled out of the boat. At this point no one believed that his death had been the result of foul play. 

     The day following Mr. Isenberg's presumed death, Lori Isenberg put the family home up for sale. She also gave her daughters personal items that were once owned by Mr. Isenberg. 

     On February 24, 2018, with Larry Isenberg still missing and presumed dead, FBI agents arrested Lori Isenberg on 40 counts of federal wire fraud and one count of theft. Over a period of years, the Executive Director of North Idaho Housing Coalition had created thousands of forged invoices that enabled her to embezzled $570,000 from the non-profit organization. Her four daughters, having knowingly received some of the stolen money, were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft. 

     After pleading not guilty to the charges, a federal magistrate set Lori Isenberg's bail at $2 million. She was held in the Kootenai County Jail on the federal charges. 

     On March 1, 2018, Larry Isenberg's body was seen floating near the shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, based on the results of a toxicological analysis that showed a lethal dose of the drug diphenhydramine in Mr. Isenberg's system, ruled his manner of death homicide by poisoning. Diphenhydramine is an ingredient commonly found in over the counter sleeping aid and pain pills. The forensic pathologist did not publicly reveal how Mr. Isenberg had been given the poison.

     Investigators with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, with Lori Isenberg as the prime suspect, launched a murder investigation. In the course of that inquiry detectives learned that in late 2017, when Mr. Isenberg and his wife were vacationing in Florida, she made an Internet inquiry about rental boats, lake currents, weather conditions and water depths pertaining to another Coeur d'Alene area lake called Lake Pend Oreville. While on that Florida trip, detectives had reason to believe that Lori Isenberg tried to kill her husband with diphenhydramine. As for motive, homicide investigators believed that Lori Isenberg was afraid that if her husband learned she had embezzled from her employer, he would divorce her.

     Detectives also learned that just weeks before Larry Isenberg's death, his wife had made handwritten changes to his will. As a result of these crude alterations, the will devised 80 percent of his estate to her four daughters. 

     In the spring of 2019, Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to defrauding North Idaho Housing Coalition of $570,000. The judge sentenced her to five years in federal prison. Her daughters were sentenced to three years probation, community service and were ordered to pay back the stolen money they had received.

     A Kootenai County grand jury, in January 2020, indicted Lori Isenberg on the charge of first-degree murder for poisoning her husband to death, then throwing him off the boat into the waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene. At the time of the indictment Lori Isenberg was serving time for wire fraud and theft at a federal prison. 

     In March 2020, due to COVID-19, the Idaho Supreme Court delayed all criminal jury trials in the state. Lori Isenberg's murder trial was postponed to August 3, 2020. The trial was postponed again to September 14, 2020, then again to early 2021.

     In February 2021, Lori Isenberg pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Three months later the judge sentenced her to life in prison.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

An FBI Agent Brought Down by Heroin

     Matthew Lowry grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. His father worked as an officer with the Prince George's County Police Department and his mother was an active member of their Baptist Church. Matthew graduated in 1999 from the Grace Brethren Christian School in Clinton, Maryland where he played soccer, wrestled and was a member of the National Honor Society. A few years after graduating from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in Criminology he became a Special Agent with the FBI.

     In 2013, Agent Lowry was assigned to the FBI field office in Washington, D.C. where he was part of a task force that focused on drug crimes along the borders of D.C, Maryland and Virginia. He resided in a two-bedroom townhouse in the district with his wife Shana who worked as a senior territory manager for a global pharmaceutical company. His father, retired from the Prince George's Police Department, held the position of assistant police chief at an Anne Arundel County law enforcement agency.

     In August 2013, Special Agent Lowry began stealing packets of heroin from the Washington Field Office's evidence room. He had been taking prescription medication for an old injury but had switched to heroin.

     Stealing heroin from the field office's evidence room was easy. Agent Lowry checked out packages of the contraband on the pretext of having the narcotics tested at the FBI Laboratory. Instead, he removed a quantity of the substance from each packet, cut what was left with either the supplement Creatine or the laxative Purelax, weighed the packages on a digital scale to bring them to their original weights, then returned the attenuated heroin to the evidence room in bags with new stickers signifying they had been sealed.

     Agent Lowry got away with his thefts because of the lack of supervision and checks and balances built into the evidence handling procedure at the FBI field office.

     On September 29, 2014, Agent Lowry's bureau colleagues lost track of him. That night, they found the 33-year-old slumped over the wheel of his FBI car. The vehicle had run out of gas near the Washington Navy Yard.

     Inside Lowry's car agents found opened packets of heroin scattered about. They also found a shotgun and a pistol, evidence seized from a drug raid that was never logged into the evidence room.

     The Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Office suspended Agent Lowry pending the outcome of an internal investigation conducted by agents from other field divisions. In 2014, federal prosecutors, as a result of Lowry's evidence-handling scandal, had to dismiss drug charges against 28 defendants.

     The Lowry case caused high level bureau administrators to institute an internal review of the evidence handling procedures in all 56 FBI field offices.

      On March 3, 2015, a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. charged the former agent with 20 counts of obstruction of justice, 18 counts of falsification of records, 13 counts of conversion of property and 13 counts of possession of heroin. 

    On March 31, 2015, Lowry's attorney announced that his client had pleaded guilty in federal court.

    U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, on July 9, 2015, sentenced Matthew Lowry to three years in prison. The judge denied Lowry's plea for home detention on the grounds that his crimes had tainted dozens of major FBI drug cases.

The Orlando Hall/Bruce Carnell Murder Case

      In September 1994, 23-year-old Orlando Hall ran a marijuana trafficking operation in Arkansas. That month, he and 21-year-old Bruce Carnell drove to Arlington, Texas to confront a man Hall believed had stolen $5,000 from him. At the man's apartment, Hall and Carnell encountered his16-year-old sister who was home alone. When Lisa Rene refused Hall and his accomplice entry, they broke into the apartment and kidnapped her. In the car on their way back to Arkansas, Hall and Carnell raped Lisa Rene. At a hotel in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the men, over at two day period, continued to rape and torture her.

     From the hotel in Pine Bluff, Orlando Hall and Bruce Carnell drove the victim to a nearby park where they dug a grave, hit their victim with a shovel, then buried her alive.

     Because the Lisa Rene kidnapping involved the crossing of the Texas/Arkansa state lines, the case was handled as a federal kidnapping offense, a death penalty crime when the kidnapped person is harmed or killed.

     Following the kidnapping convictions of Orlando Hall and Bruce Carnell in1996, federal judges sentenced the men to death.

     In 2019, because Bruce Carnell had an I.Q. of 69, a federal judge reduced his sentence to life.

     On November 19, 2020, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene, Orlando Hall was executed by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Abernathy/Walker Sex Trade Case

     On February 5, 2003, a judge sentenced 20-year-old Rasul Abernathy, a resident of Coatesville, a Philadelphia suburb in eastern Pennsylvania, to three to ten years for selling drugs. He began serving his time at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in nearby Chester, Pennsylvania. Two months later, prison authorities transferred Abernathy to SCI-Greenburg, a Westmoreland County facility east of Pittsburgh in the southwestern part of the state.

     On March 28, 2005, after serving slightly more than two years behind bars, Rasul Abernathy was granted parole. He returned to the Philadelphia area. After twenty months of freedom, Mr. Abernathy violated the conditions of his parole and landed back at SCI-Chester. Prison administrators, on February 6, 2007, transferred him back to the state prison in Greensburg.

     On January 28, 2008, 29-year-old Postauntaramin Walker, a resident of North Versailles, a community outside of Pittsburgh, began working as a corrections officer at SCI-Greensburg. That's where she met inmate Rasul Abernathy. Upon his parole on September 24, 2008, Rasul Abernathy moved in with the prison guard.

      Mr. Abernathy, in June 2012, encountered a 16-year-old girl who had run away from a western Pennsylvania juvenile facility. The girl accepted his invitation to live with him and Postauntaramin Walker. Walker was still employed as a prison guard at SCI-Greensburg. She knew the girl was wanted by the authorities.

     A month after taking the runaway in, Abernathy and Walker turned the girl out as a teen prostitute. They posted online ads featuring provocative photographs of the young sex worker. To ease the girls's anxiety over turning tricks, her ex-con and corrections officer handlers kept her supplied with marijuana, alcohol and pain pills. Abernathy set the young prostitute's fees and took care of the business end of the vice operation. When the girl refused to cooperate, her handlers beat her.

     In October 2012, the girl reached out to a former counselor she liked. She told the counselor about her life as an involuntary prostitute, but out of fear, did not identify her captors. The counselor notified the authorities. A short time later the police picked the girl up and placed her back into the juvenile facility.

     Five months after re-entering the juvenile detention center, the girl escaped. She called Rasul Walker who welcomed her back into the sex trade. A few weeks after the young prostitute and her pimps were re-united in North Versailles, prison authorities transferred Walker across the state to SCI-Chester. Abernathy, Walker and their young sex worker moved into an apartment in Coatesville outside of Philadelphia.

     In March 2013, one of Abernathy's ex-con acquaintances raped the young prostitute. Instead of punishing the rapist, Abernathy shrugged off the assault by calling it a "learning experience." The incident motivated the teen to run off and return to the Pittsburgh area. A few weeks later, she was back in the juvenile facility where she spilled the beans, this time identifying Abernathy and Walker as her pimps.

     Back in the Philadelphia area, Abernathy and Walker were busy pimping out a 17-year-old male prostitute.

     In November 2013, realizing that her career as a Pennsylvania corrections officer was about to end, Walker quit showing up for work at SCI-Chester.

     In January 2014, a federal grand jury sitting in Philadelphia indicted Abernathy and Walker on charges of child sex trafficking and conspiring to engage in sex trafficking. The indictment pertained to the exploitation of the runaway girl. (The defendants' use of the internet to promote their sex trade made the offense federal.)

     FBI agents arrested Abernathy and the former state corrections officer in Philadelphia shortly after the indictment. Two months later, the same grand jury charged Abernathy, 32, and Walker, 34, with forcing the 17-year-boy into the sex trade. The defendants also faced state charges of kidnapping, promoting prostitution, assault and other offenses related to the corruption of minors.
     Postauntaramin Walker and Rasul Abernathy, after pleading guilty to kidnapping and promoting prostitution in January 2015, were each sentenced to ten years in federal prison.

Getting Away With Rape

     In August 2011, in Louisville, Kentucky, 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich, while drinking with two teenage boys she knew, passed out drunk. The boys took advantage of her condition by having sex with her. This, in most states, including Kentucky, was rape. If that wasn't bad enough, the rapists photographed each other committing the crime and put the photographs on the Internet.

     When Savannah Dietrich learned of the humiliating photographs, and the fact they had been published, she and her parents reported the crime to the Louisville Metro Police Department. The two minors were then charged with the felony of first-degree sexual abuse. Since the juveniles had photographed each other in the act, they had no choice to plead guilty. But for some reason, the prosecutor, in return for their guilty pleas, promised a lenient sentence.

     Following the defendant's June 26, 2012 plea hearing before Jefferson County District Judge Dee McDonald, Savannah Dietrich posted several tweets on her Twitter account in which she named the two boys who had pleaded guilty to her sexual assaults. By doing this, she had violated the judges's order not to reveal information about the case, especially the identities of the assaulting juveniles.

     The attorneys representing the two minors, asked Judge McDonald to hold Dietrich in contempt of court. If found in contempt, the rape victim faced up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine. (Much more time behind bars than the boys who had assaulted her would spend.)

      Savannah Dietrich, in speaking to a Louisville reporter with The Courier-Journal, said, "So many of my rights have been taken away by these boys. I'm at the the point that if I have to go to jail for my rights, I will do it. If they really feel it's necessary to throw me in jail for talking about what happened to me--then I don't understand justice."

     On Monday, July 23, 2012, the lawyers representing the juveniles awaiting their sentences, withdrew their motion to have Dietrich held in contempt of court. In a single day, an online petition on change.org had brought 62,000 signatures in support of Dietrich's decision to publicize the identities of her assaulters. It was obvious that members of the public believed these boys, so afraid of being publicly embarrassed and humiliated by their cruelty and criminality, deserved to be exposed by their victim.

     In September 2012, a judge ruled that documents pertaining to the Dietrich case had to be released to the public. As a result, it was revealed that a prosecutor had told the victim to "Get over it (the rape) and see a therapist." The documents also revealed that the victim's 16-year-old attackers had committed the assault because they believed it would be "funny."

     The sex offenders, in October 2012, were sentenced to 50 hours of community service. The boys also were ordered to undergo sex-offender counseling. When they reached the age of 19 they could file motions to have their guilty pleas withdrawn and the case dismissed. If granted that request, their criminal records would be expunged. 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Alexander Kinyua Cannibalism Murder Case

     Cannibalism by cold-blooded serial killers, or psychotics under the influence of mind-altering drugs, is a rare form of criminal homicide. In 1936, Albert Fish, a child molester, serial killer and cannibal, died in Sing Sing's electric chair. He was believed to have eaten 28 children. Ed Gein, a Wisconsin butcher (a really disturbing thought) robbed graves, committed serial murder and ate (and sold) human flesh. In 1968, the authorities sent Gein to a state mental institution for life. Another Wisconsin man, Jeffery Dahmer, killed and ate the parts of dozens of young homosexual men. When arrested in 1991, the police found heads and other body parts in his refrigerator. One of Dahmer's fellow inmates bludgeoned him to death in 1994.

     In May 2012, the big true crime stories in the news involved cannibalism. In Miami, a police officer killed Rudy Eugene as he ate most of a homeless man's face along a busy highway. Rudy Eugene is believed to  have been under the influence of a LSD-like drug called bath salts. His victim was in critical condition but survived the attack. In Montreal, Canada, a porn actor named Luka Magnotta stabbed and dismembered  a man on videotape. The victim's torso was found behind Magnotta's apartment building. Magnotta mailed the dismembered man's body parts to two addresses in Ottawa. 

The Alexander Kinyua Case

     Alexander Kinyua, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student at Morgan State University in Baltimore, lived with his family in Joppatowne, an unincorporated bedroom community in southwest Maryland. A top student at Morgan State, this native of Kenya was in the ROTC program at the school. Kujoe Agyie-Kodie, a 37-year-old immigrant from Ghana who attended Morgan State as a graduate student, roomed in the Kinyua family home.

     At dawn on Friday, May 25,  2012, Agyie-Kodie, wearing at T-shirt and shorts went out for a jog. He left his wallet and his cell phone at the Kinyua house. When he didn't return, Alexander Kinyua's father, Anthony Kinyua, reported him missing to the Harford County Police.

     On Tuesday, May 29, 2012, Alexander Kinyua's brother, while in the basement laundry room, discovered two tin cans hidden beneath a blanket. Inside one of the containers he found a human head, and in the other, two hands. Confronted by his brother, Alexander Kinyua said the bloody objects were not human. The sibling ran to the second floor to fetch his father. When the two of them returned to the basement, Alexander was washing out a pair of empty cans.

     Anthony Kinyua called the Hartford County detective who was looking for Kujoe Agyei-Kodie. At the Kinyua house, the detective and his partner found the head and two hands hidden on the first floor of the dwelling. The officers questioned Alexander who admitted murdering Agyei-Kodie with a knife, then dismembering his body. He also confessed to eating the dead man's heart and part of his brain. Shortly thereafter, the detectives found the headless corpse in a dumpster on the parking lot of the nearby Town Baptist Church.

     Alexander Kinyua was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He was held without bail at the Harford County Detection Center.

      At the time of his arrest Alexander Kinyua was on bail for severely beating a fellow student three weeks earlier at Morgan State University. He had  blinded the victim's left eye and fractured his skull, arm, and shoulder. In the days leading up to this vicious assault Alexander Kinyua's behavior had been erratic and bizarre.

     Forensic psychiatrist Steven Hoge, the director of the Columbia-Cornell Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship Program in New York City, wrote in an article that cannibalism was usually the product of mind-altering drugs, psychosis, or both. As for the pathological motive behind this kind of violence, Dr. Hoge said that human flesh eaters were trying to "capture the power or the spirit of their victims."

     On August 19, 2013, Alexander Kinyua pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible due to legal insanity. As a result, he would remain incarcerated in a mental institution until psychiatrists ruled him mentally healthy enough to rejoin society. 
     Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Kinyua, as of this writing, remains a patient at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Jessup, Maryland.

The Lawrence Capener Knife Attack

     On Sunday morning, April 28, 2013, all hell broke loose inside St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mass had just ended and the choir had begun its final hymn when a 24-year-old man who had been nervous acting and fidgety throughout the service vaulted over several pews toward the front of the church. Lawrence Capener, the crazed churchgoer, possessed a knife which he used to stab the choir director, Adam Alvarez, several times.

     Gerald Madrid, the church flutist, came to Adam Alvarez's rescue by attempting to put Lawrence Capener into a bear hug. During the scuffle, Capener, before collapsing to the church floor under the weight of other churchgoers who mobbed him, stabbed the flutist five times in the back. Daren De Aquero, an off-duty Albuquerque police officer, put the subdued assailant into handcuffs.

     Greg Aragon, an off-duty Albuquerque Fire Department Lieutenant, treated the choir director, the man who came to his aid, and a female member of the choir who had been slashed by Capener's knife. None of the victims incurred life-threatening injuries.

     As Lawrence Capener was led out of the church, an elderly parishioner spoke to him. She said, "God bless you, forgive yourself."

     "You don't know about the Masons," the attacker replied.

     Later that Sunday, a local prosecutor charged Lawrence Capener with three counts of aggravated battery. A magistrate set his bail at $250,000.

     After detectives advised Mr. Capener of his Miranda rights, the subject informed his interrogators that he was "99 percent sure" that the choir director was a Mason involved in a conspiracy "that is far more reaching than I could or would believe." He apologized for stabbing the flutist and the woman in the choir.

     While Capener did not belong to the 3,000-member church, his mother was an active parishioner. He had recently graduated from a community college and had started a new job. According to people who know him, Lawrence Capener struggled with mental illness.

     In February 2014, Carpener's attorney petitioned the court to lower his bail so he could live at home under the supervision of a GPS device. The judge, after hearing from Carpener's victims, denied the request. The trial was scheduled for September 2014.

     On September 29, 2014, pursuant to a plea deal, a judge sentenced Lawrence Capener to five years in prison with one year credit for time spent in jail. 
     In June 2016, five days before he was scheduled for early release, Capener punched a prison guard. The assault kept him behind bars until his release on parole in April 2017. 
     The man who almost murdered three people and assaulted a prison guard served less than three years in prison. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Female Pedophile: The Tabatha Partsch Case

     In the 1980s, criminologists believed that 80 percent of molested boys were victimized by men, and that 95 percent of sexually assaulted girls were victims of adult males. More current research suggested these figures did not reflect the true number of female pedophiles.

     Female pedophiles can be placed into three general categories: women who target children under six; those who molest adolescents; and women who assault children with a male partner. Female pedophiles who were themselves victimized tend to target their own children. So-called self-made female offenders tend to prey upon victims outside the home. These pedophiles acquire access to children as trusted daycare workers, relatives, school teachers and coaches.

      The female pedophiles who are most likely to grab headlines are the school teachers who have sex with adolescent males. According to criminologists who study these women, they lack self-esteem, are co-dependent and are afraid of rejection. They tend to romanticize their victims as ideal partners who truly understand them. There seems to be an epidemic of this type of female pedophilia. For some reason many of these offenders teach English.

     Many female pedophiles avoid prison because prosecutors believe they are more difficult to convict than their male counterparts. Convicted women receive lighter sentences than males who commit the same crimes. Journalists, when referring to women so accused, use words like "had sex with," or "affair," instead of "rape" or "molestation."

The Tabatha Partsch Case

     Tabatha Partsch, a 39-year-old middle school teacher, lived in Claysburg, a town of 1,500 in central Pennsylvania about 35 miles south of Altoona. In September 2011, a 14-year-old boy who had been to Partsch's house told a police officer he'd seen Partsch take a girl his age into her bedroom and lock the door.

     The Greenfield Township Police acquired, in March 2012, a day-long exchange of text messages between Partsch and a 12-year-old boy. Partsch instructed the kid to skip school and come to her house, noting that if his parents found out, she'd hide him. Partsch also suggested they exchange nude photographs of each other.

     Detectives learned that Partsch had been involved in several sexually explicit conversations with other boys she was possibly grooming. In one of her texts, she wrote, "We can do stuff, maybe touch each other."

     Shortly after midnight on March 29, 2012, police officers from several local jurisdictions arrived at Partsch's house with a search warrant. Among other items, they seized nine cellphones, two computers, and a Playstation 3 video game console. Officers found nude photographs of children on several of the recovered cellphones.

     Over the next few weeks detectives questioned several children who had spent time at Tabatha Partsch's dwelling. According to these children, the suspect had showed them Internet pornography, supplied them with cigarettes and alcohol, and sexually molested them. According to an 11-year-old boy, Partsch forced him to sexually assault a 5-year-old girl.

     On July 13, 2012, a detective, accompanied by a Blair County social worker, questioned the suspect at her home. Partach said she hadn't placed the sexually explicit photographs on her cellphones and denied sexually molesting anyone. All of the children were making things up and lying, she said.

     Ten days following the interview, police officers took Tabatha Partsch into custody. Charged with 18 felonies related to child sexual abuse, she was placed into the Blair County Jail on $150,000 bond. Richard Consiglio, the Blair County District Attorney, charged Partsch with child rape, statutory indecent assault, disseminating explicit material to minors and corrupting minors. Questioned by a local reporter, Consiglio noted that convictions in trials involving young prosecution witnesses were not sure things. At least in this case, not much time has passed since the alleged crimes took place.

    In November 2012, following her guilty plea, a Blair County judge sentenced Tabatha Partch to fifteen to thirty years in prison. (In November 2013, Partsch's 34-year-old husband, Patrick, was sentenced to 8 to 28 years for his involvement in the child molestations.)

     In late 2014, Judge Daniel J. Milliron ordered a review of the case by the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board. The board, on July 5, 2015, found that Tabatha Partsch, under the terms of Megan's Law, met the criteria to be declared a sexually violent predator. That meant that Partsch would be required, once out of prison, to register annually with the local police for the rest of her life. Moreover, once she was released from the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pennsylvania, Partsch would undergo monthly counseling for the duration of her 15 years on probation. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The "Tiger King" Murder-For-Hire Case

      From February to June 2006, the animal rights group PETA conducted an investigation into the activities of a big cat breeder and private zoo owner named Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage. The 42-year-old owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, a ramshackle petting zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, called himself "Joe Exotic." Maldonado-Passage, in addition to owning the zoo, supplied tiger cubs to the cruel petting zoo industry. 

     PETA activists had been trying to shut down Maldonado-Passage's operation for several years. The PETA investigation revealed the Wynnewood zoo's tigers were beaten, deprived of food and denied basic veterinary treatment. As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Maldonado-Passage $25,000 for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. 

     In 2011, the Humane Society conducted an investigation of Maldonado-Passage's animal park. An undercover Humane Society investigator, after working at the private zoo for four months, reported that tigers were beaten and whipped during training. Moreover, visitors to the zoo were bitten and attacked by tiger cubs that were too old to be near people. Tiger cubs that were so young they hadn't opened their eyes were handled by park visitors, traumatizing the animals.

     The results of these investigations did not result in the shutting down of Maldonado-Passage's operation.

     Joseph Maldonado-Passage, in 2015, ran for the office of U.S. President as an Independent candidate. He had also run for Governor of Oklahoma, a race he also lost.

     In 2016, after the deaths of 23 tiger cubs at the Wynnewood Animal Park, PETA members rescued 39 abused tigers, two bears and two baboons from the zoo. The place was still not shut down.

     Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue, a 69-acre animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida, had also been trying to put Maldonado-Passage out of the big cat breeding and petting zoo business. She sued Maldonado-Passage for his unauthorized use of her Big Cat Rescue's trademark, and in 2016, won a million-dollar civil judgment against him.

     As his debts mounted, Maldonado-Passage harassed Baskin with online videos in which he accused her of all sorts of criminal behavior. In order to escape his financial responsibilities, Maldonado-Passage transferred ownership of the animal park to his mother. A federal judge ruled this transfer of ownership void, an attempt by Maldonado-Passage to defraud his creditors. 

     Enraged and desperate, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, in November 2017, paid an unnamed man $3,000 to travel to Tampa, Florida and murder his nemesis, Carole Baskin. The murder-for-hire mastermind promised to pay the hit man an additional $7,000 when he finished the job. For some reason, the would-be assassin failed to carry out his assignment.

     In December 2017, Maldonado-Passage reached out to another unnamed man and asked him to murder the animal rights activist. This person went straight to the FBI. Later that month, Maldonado-Passage and an undercover FBI agent met. At one point during the recorded conversation, Maldonado-Passage said, "Just follow her into a small parking lot and just cap her and drive off." Maldonado-Passage offered to pay the FBI agent $10,000 for the hit.

     On September 5, 2018, Timmothy J. Downing, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, acquired an indictment against Joseph Maldonado-Passage charging him with two counts of murder-for-hire, several counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, and multiple counts of crimes against wildlife.

     FBI agents, two days after the indictment, arrested Maldonado-Passage in Gulf Breeze, Florida. He was booked into the Santa Rosa County jail to await extradition back to Oklahoma. 

     The Maldonado-Passage murder-for-hire trial got underway on March 25, 2019. After six days of testimony in which the defendant took the stand and claimed that he hadn't been serious when he solicited Carole Baskin's murder, the jury found him guilty as charged. 

     Several months after the conviction the federal district judge sentenced the 56-year-old Maldonado-Passage to 22 years in prison. Attorneys for Maldonado-Passage said they would appeal.

     Following Maldonado-Passage's sentencing, Carole Baskin, on her Big Cat Rescue website, posted this: "Because of his constant threats to kill me, I have found myself seeing every bystander as a potential threat. My daughter, my husband, my mother, my staff and volunteers have all been in peril because of his obsession with seeing me dead."

     In March 2020, Maldonado-Passage, while serving his time at a federal prison in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, filed a $94 million civil suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agent and a former business partner he blamed for his arrest and conviction.

     Netflix, in March 2020, aired "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," a several part documentary that made Maldonado-Passage a pop culture celebrity. The following month, the animal abuser and murder-for-hire mastermind was featured on the cover of People Magazine.

     In June 2020, a federal district judge granted Carole Baskin and her animal rescue group control of Maldonado-Passage's Oklahoma zoo. Homes would be found for all of the abused animals.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Yale Professor Samuel See's Jailhouse Death

     Samuel Ryan See grew up in California's Central Valley where he attended California State University in his hometown of Bakersfield. After acquiring his Bachelors of Arts degree, Mr. See earned a Ph.D from the University of California, Los Angeles.

     In May 2013, the 34-year-old assistant professor of English and American Studies at Yale University married Sunder Ganglani, a former student at the Yale School of Drama. The two men took up residence in a house in New Haven, Connecticut. 
     Professor See's academic focus, as described on his Facebook page, included "British and American Modernist Literature and Sexuality Studies." In addition to writing about sexual orientation in modern literature, Professor See moonlighted, under the alias Ryan Cochran, as a male escort. In one of Ryan Cochran's Internet profiles, he described himself as loving sex and being with men. "I can get into all kinds of sexual and social situations--just name your pleasure. I'm down to earth, humble [really?], personally generous, and horny a lot of the time." Professor See was, in other words, a male prostitute.
     Dr. See, on leave from Yale University during the fall semester 2013, was not getting along with his 32-year-old husband. On September 18, 2013, officers with the New Haven Police Department, after responding to a domestic call at See's residence, arrested him and Sunder Ganglani for breaching the peace and third-degree assault. 
     After a judge issued orders of protection requiring that the two men stay away from each other, Mr. Ganglani moved to New York City. 
     At five in the evening of Saturday, November 23, 2013, Sunder Ganglani, in violation of his protection order, showed up at the New Haven house to retrieve some of his possessions. Two hours later the estranged couple were engaged in a heated argument. The fight became so intense a third man in the house called the police. 
     When the responding officers couldn't calm down the combatants, they placed both men under arrest for violating their protection orders. This infuriated Dr. See who couldn't believe he was being arrested in his own home. The situation escalated when See fought against being handcuffed. In the scuffle with officers, Professor See fell and sustained a cut above his right eye. 
     While being escorted in handcuffs to the police vehicle, Samuel See, in addressing the arresting officer, said,  "I will kill you. I will destroy you."
     Following his treatment at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, police officers booked the professor into the police department jail on the additional charges of interfering with police and second-degree threatening. He was placed into a cell at nine-fifteen that night.
     At six o'clock the next morning, when a guard checked on Professor See, he found the prisoner unresponsive. The officer called for paramedic help then tried to revive Dr. See with CPR. Fifteen minutes later, emergency service responders pronounced the inmate dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed Dr. See's autopsy ruled out trauma as the cause of death. (The professor did not hang himself, cut his wrists or had been attacked by another prisoner.)

     In January 2014, Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill announced that Professor See had died of a heart attack brought on by methamphetamine and amphetamine intoxication. The manner of death went into the books as accidental.

     In September 2014, a See family lawyer, after reviewing police and hospital records, told reporters that Mr. See may have died of either neglect or mistreatment at the jail. Attorney David Rosen pointed out that Professor See's death had not been reported to the police for three days after his passing. Although the family was considering filing a wrongful death suit against the authorities, their lawyer conceded that there probably wasn't enough evidence of official negligence or wrongdoing to support such an action. 

America's Oldest Murder-For-Hire Mastermind

     Dorothy Clark Canfield, born and raised in Montgomery County, Texas in the eastern part of the state, began a life of crime at the rather late age of 57. In 1986, in Huntsville, Texas, a Walker County judge sentenced Canfield to seven years probation following a felony theft conviction. A few months after she got off probation in 1993, she pleaded guilty to forgery in Montgomery County. The judge in that case sentenced the 64-year-old forger and thief to ten years probation. In 2009, after being convicted of passing forged checks at the age of 80, Dorothy Canfield was sent to prison for two years.

     Shortly after being released from prison in early 2011, Canfield formed a company in Willis, Texas called International Profession Placement Services. Between September 2011 and September 2012, at least seven undocumented residents each paid Canfield to "facilitate" their immigration paperwork for residency or citizenship in the United States. According to a Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Canfield's operation was a scam. In November 2012, the prosecutor charged Canfield with stealing between $20,000 and $100,000 from her clients. A magistrate set her bond at $100,000.

     On April 4, 2013, while incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail 30 miles north of Houston, 84-year-old Dorothy Canfield decided to hire someone to murder the assistant district attorney in charge of her case. She also wanted the hit man to beat-up the district attorney so bad he'd be hospitalized for three weeks. Canfield took inspiration from the recent Texas murders of the Kaufman County District Attorney, his wife and one of his assistant prosecutors. By killing the Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, Robert Freyer, and incapacitating his boss, D. A. Brett Ligon, Dorothy Canfield hoped to buy some time in her theft case.

     In search of an assassin, Canfield reached out to a fellow inmate who promptly reported Canfield's inquiry to the Texas Rangers Office. On April 5, the elderly murder-for-hire mastermind met with an undercover investigator who showed up at the jail posing as a contract killer. In the recorded conversation that followed, Canfield offered the phony hit-man $5,000 for assistant prosecutor Robert Freyer's murder, and half of that amount for the beating of Freyer's boss, District Attorney Brett Ligon.

     Ten days after the Montgomery County Jail murder-for-hire meeting, Texas Rangers Wende Wakeman and Wesley Doolittle showed Canfield staged crime scene photographs depicting the murders of the Montgomery County prosecutors. The elderly inmate, showing no remorse at the sight of the men she had tried to have killed, confessed to the murder plot.

     Dorothy Canfield was charged with solicitation of capital murder and solicitation to commit aggravated assault on a public figure. She remained incarcerated in the Montgomery County Jail under $500,000 bond.

     In August 2014, Canfield pleaded guilty to the theft and murder solicitation charges. At her sentencing hearing, her attorney asked Judge David Walker to grant the 85-year-old probation. The defense attorney argued that because of his client's poor health and age, she was not a danger to society. Unmoved, the judge sentenced the career thief and murder-for-hire mastermind to 53 years in prison. 

Friday, September 9, 2022

The Modern History of The Death Penalty

     While the death penalty is still lawful in 32 states, only Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas actually execute their death row inmates. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that the death penalty itself amounts to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

     Since the mid-1980s, the states that carry out the death penalty have used lethal injection as the principal method of execution. Considered a more humane way to kill condemned prisoners than its predecessors the electric chair and the gas chamber, the use of drugs instead of electricity and lethal gas is more a matter of appearance--aesthetics if you will--than concern for the condemned.

     From 1976 through 2019, 1,300 state and federal inmates were executed by lethal injection. Four states--Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia--still allow death row prisoners to choose between deadly drugs and the electric chair.

The Electric Chair

     On August 6, 1890, William Kemmler, a convicted murderer serving time at New York's Auburn Prison, earned the distinction of becoming the first person in America to die in the electric chair. The state of Ohio followed New York by replacing hanging with electrocution in 1897. Massachusetts adopted the chair in 1900, New Jersey in 1906, and Virginia in 1908. By the 1930s most of the death penalty states used the electric chair as the primary method of execution. The other states killed their death row inmates by gas, by firing squad or by rope. The state of Kansas continued to hang its prisoners into the early 1960s.

     The state of Nebraska was one of the last jurisdictions to employ the electric chair as its sole method of killing murderers. In February 2008, the practice ended when the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that electrocution was in itself cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state's constitution.

The Electric Chair's Golden Era

     In the 1920s and 30s, Robert G. Elliott, an electrician from Long Island, the official executioner for six eastern states, electrocuted 387 inmates. For his work he charged $150 an execution. When he threw the switch (or turned the wheel) on two or more inmates at one prison visit, he discounted his fee. Some of Elliott's most infamous clients included Bruno Richard Hauptmann (1936), the killer of the Lindbergh baby; Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray (1928), the killers of Ruth's husband Albert; and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1927), the Italian anarchists convicted of killing a Boston area bank guard. Mr. Elliott, somewhat of a celebrity, and obviously proud of his singular contribution to the American system of criminal justice, wrote a memoir called Agent of Death. The book came out in 1940. Long out of print, it is today in the libraries of true crime book collectors.

Electrocuting Fat People

     In 1981, Allen Lee "Tiny" Davis murdered a pregnant woman and her two children during a home invasion robbery in Jacksonville, Florida. A year later a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In 1998, as Davis' execution date approached, the 54-year-old's death house attorney argued that the 355-pound inmate was too heavy for the state's 76-year-old electric chair. Since its construction in 1923, the Florida state electric chair had dispatched 200 prisoners. In recent years the chair had been involved in some unsightly executions. For example, death house witnesses in 1997 saw flames shoot from a condemned man's head. So, in 1998, following this unpleasant tableau, the prison, with "Tiny" Davis in mind, oversaw the construction of a new, heavy-duty electric chair. The new device could easily handle a 355-pound guest. On July 8, 1999, the executioner sent 2,300 volts through the metal cap on the fat man's head for two minutes. It wasn't pretty, there was some blood and a little groaning, but the new chair did its job.

The Gas Chamber

     Death in a gas chamber usually took six to eighteen minutes. The execution ritual began with the condemned inmate being led into the death chamber and strapped into a chair by his arms, waist, ankles and chest. A mask was placed over the prisoner's face, and the chamber sealed. The executioner poured sulfuric acid down a tube into a metal container on the floor, a canister that contained cyanide pellets. The mixture of the chemicals produced a cloud of lethal gas.

     An open curtain allowed witnesses to observe the inmate inside the chamber. At the designated moment, the executioner hit an electric switch that combined the chemicals that produced the killing agent.

     The gas chamber was an expensive form of execution. Moreover, one could argue that because the condemned man contributed to his own death by breathing in the gas, it was the most cruel. Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton, a toxicologist, first proposed the gassing of death row inmates to the state of Nevada in 1921. That year, state legislators abolished the electric chair in favor of the gas chamber. On February 8, 1924, a Chinese immigrant named Gee Jon became the first person in America to be executed by gas. He died in the chamber inside the Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City.

     Eventually adopted by eleven states as the official method of execution, lethal gas killed 594 prisoners in the U.S. from 1924 to 1999.

The Caryl Chessman Case

     Caryl Chessman was an armed robber and serial rapist who spent most of his adult life behind bars. In 1948, a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of 17 counts of robbery, kidnapping and rape. Among his crimes, he had kidnapped a 17-year-old girl named Mary Alice Meza out of her car and forced her to give him oral sex. He committed a similar offense against another victim, Regina Johnson. Under California law at the time, a kidnapping that involved bodily injury was a capital offense. Under this law, the judge sentenced Chessman to die in the gas chamber.

     Following his highly publicized trial, Chessman continued to argue his innocence through essays and books. His two memoirs, written behind bars, became bestsellers. During his twelve years on San Quentin's death row, Chessman filed dozens of appeals and managed to avoid eight execution dates. Following his failed last-minute attempt to avoid death with a writ of habeas corpus filed with the California Supreme Court, Chessman died of asphyxiation on May 2, 1960 in San Quentin's gas chamber. He is the only person to die in the gas chamber for a crime other than murder.

Lethal Injection

     By the 21st century, state executioners were injecting death row inmates with a three-drug cocktail that included pentobarbital. When the European manufacturers of this deadly drug stopped exporting it and other killing agents to the United States, executioners found themselves in a fix. Some began using a single drug--usually pentobarbital if they had it--while others concocted new, experimental cocktails made of drugs available in the United States.

     Anti-capital punishment activists used the lethal drug supply problem to further their push to have the death penalty abolished altogether. But for these crusaders, if it wasn't the inhumanity of using untested drugs, it was something else. Death house attorneys and political activists objected to executing prisoners who, when they committed their murders were under eighteen; were fat with hard-to-find veins; who had low I.Q.s; and in the case of a Missouri murderer named Russell Bucklew, wasn't healthy enough to be humanely executed.

The Clayton Lockett Case

     In 1999, an Oklahoma criminal named Clayton Lockett tortured then buried alive an 18-year-old girl who had been unfortunate enough to cross this predator's path. On April 29, 2014, the executioner at the state penitentiary in McAlester administered a three-drug cocktail of Midazalam (to render him unconscious), Vecuronium (to stop his breathing), and potassium chloride (to stop his heart).

     Seven minutes after the drugs went into Lockett's body he was still conscious. He moved his head and tried to get off the gurney seventeen minutes into the execution. Finally, 43 minutes after being injected, the 38-year-old died of a heart attack. It wasn't a perfect, well-oiled killing, but in the end the drugs worked.

     By describing Lockett's death as torture, a horrible ordeal and a nightmare, death house lawyers, anti-capital punishment crusaders and people in the media who supported their cause, exploited Lockett's "botched" execution for all its worth. Suddenly, executing a sadistic rapist and cold-blooded murderer by lethal injection became cruel and unusual punishment. For those who were not losing sleep over Clayton Lockett's bumpy ride into eternity, listening to this hand-wringing was cruel and unusual punishment.

Back to Bullets

     In 2014, politicians in Utah, Wyoming and Missouri proposed bringing back the firing squad. In Utah, legislators abolished death by firing squad in 2004, citing the excessive media attention surrounding this form of execution. Still, murderers sentenced before 2004 had the option to die by shooting. In 2010, Ronnie Lee Gardner, a man who fatally shot a Salt Lake City attorney in 1985 in Gardner's attempt to flee the court house, selected the firing squad over lethal injection. Five police officers used .30-caliber Winchester rifles to carry out Gardner's execution. Unlike Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, Mr. Gardner died instantly. Nevertheless, those who opposed capital punishment, fretted that the executioners might miss their target, causing a slow and painful death. There was, however, a simple solution to this problem: give each executioner two bullets.

The Return of the Electric Chair

     On May 22, 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam signed a bill allowing the state to electrocute death row inmates in the event the state was unable to acquire the proper drugs for the execution. Lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed the bill the previous month with most people in the state supporting the new law. According to a 2014 Vanderbilt University poll, 56 percent of registered voters in the state welcomed the return of the chair.

     Corrections officials in Tennessee were also dealing with the lethal drug shortage. Electricity, on the other hand, didn't come from Europe and was in good supply.

     In Tennessee, Daryl Holton, in 2009, was the last man in the state to die in the electric chair. In 1997, the Gulf War veteran murdered his three sons and a stepdaughter with a high-powered rifle in their Shelbyville, Tennessee  garage. Death by electrocution was his choice of execution.