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Monday, October 31, 2022

Earmark Identification in the David Wayne Kunze Case

     In the early morning hours of December 16, 1994, near Vancouver, Washington, an intruder entered James McCann's bedroom and bludgeoned him to death. In another bedroom, the burglar fractured the skull of McCann's son who managed, after the attack, to crawl outside where the 20-year-old was discovered by a passerby. Questioned at the hospital, the boy told the police he hadn't gotten a good look at the attacker whom he described as 25 to 35 years old, dark complexioned, about six feet tall and of medium build. George Miller, a fingerprint examiner with the Washington State Crime Lab lifted a latent ear-print off the surface of James McCann's bedroom door. The killer had apparently pressed his head against the door listening for signs of activity before entering the room. Miller processed the house for fingerprints as well, but they all turned out to belong to occupants of the dwelling.

     Although he had red hair and didn't otherwise fit the general description of the killer, the police suspected David Wayne Kunze, the 45-year-old ex-husband of the woman James McCann was about to marry. When Kunze learned of the upcoming marriage four days before the murder he was upset. This led investigators to suspect Kunze attacked the victims out of jealousy and rage. The intruder had stolen McCann's television set, VCR, stereo speakers and wallet, an aspect of the case detectives explained away by theorizing that Kunze took these things to throw investigators off his trail. Convinced that the scene had been staged to look like a burglary, the police made no effort to identify a homicidal intruder through the missing property. David Kunze consented to a search of his truck, boat, storage locker and safety deposit box. Detectives found nothing in those places that connected him to the McCann home invasion and murder.

     Three months passed without further developments in the investigation. Then Michael Grubb, a criminalist with the Washington State Crime Lab, compared the partial ear-print latent with photographs of Kunze's left ear and concluded that it "could have been made by David Kunze." Six months later, on September 21, 1995, Kunze voluntarily agreed to have fingerprint examiner George Miller and Michael Grubb take seven exemplar prints of his left ear. The criminalists applied hand lotion to the suspect's ear, then placed panes of glass against it using various degrees of pressure. Following that procedure, the criminalists dusted the glass with fingerprint powder then lifted the prints with transparent tape.

     Michael Grubb compared the seven exemplars with the crime scene ear latent and concluded that "David Kunze is the likely source for the ear-print and cheek-print that were lifted from the outside of the bedroom door at the homicide scene." George Miller, the crime lab fingerprint analyst, declined to offer an opinion regarding the identification of the crime scene ear latent. He said he identified fingerprints, not earmarks. In June 1996, a year and a half after the murder, and eight months after Michael Grubb identified the crime scene ear-print, the Clark County prosecutor charged David Kunze with aggravated murder, assault, robbery and burglary.

     In a pretrial motion to exclude the ear-print identification, Kunze's attorney petitioned the judge for a so-called Frye hearing. In 1923, a U. S. District Court in Washington D. C. held that lie detection technology had not been accepted in the general scientific community as a legitimate science. As a result, lie detection results did not constitute admissible evidence. This ruling became known as the "general acceptance test." To determine if latent ear-print identification was an accepted function within the forensic science community, the prosecutor and defense attorney in the Kunze case offered expert witnesses on both sides of the issue in a Frye hearing held in December 1996. This would be the most thorough, in-depth judicial/scientific review of ear-print identification in legal and criminalistic history.

     On the issue of latent ear-print identification as a legitimate forensic science, the prosecution presented three advocates against the defense's twelve witnesses, who, in varying degrees, were not enthusiastic about this form of pattern analysis. Michael Grubb, the manager of the Washington State Crime Lab in Seattle who had identified the crime scene ear-print as probably Kunze's, testified that comparing an earmark to a known ear print was not unlike other forms of impression identification. A criminalist who specialized in bullet-striation and tool-mark identification, Grubb said that if you can analyze patterns made by tires, shoes, fingers, gun barrels, and tools, you can render an opinion on the source of an earmark.

     The next prosecution witness, Alfred V. Iannarelli, said he had studied the evidence in the McCann murder case and was certain that the crime scene earmark was an "exact" match to Kunze's left ear. Iannarelli had never worked in a crime lab, had not been to college and had testified only once as an expert witness. He had been a deputy sheriff with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the chief of campus security at California State University at Hayward. From 1948 to 1962, Iannarelli had photographed 7,000 ears and from this database concluded that no two ears are the same. He had also devised an ear classification system based upon twelve "anthropometric measurements," a system featured in his 1964 book, The Iannarelli System of Ear Identification. In 1989, Iannarelli self-published a second edition of this text, titled Ear Identification which included a section on latent earmark analysis. He was unable, however, to cite any ear-print studies other than his own, which explained why his books didn't contain bibliographies.

     In ear-print identification, it became clear there were no texts other than Iannarelli's, no community of experts, no section within any crime lab that specialized in this kind of work and no professional organizations or certifying bodies. Besides Mr. Iannarelli, there was one other analyst devoted solely to this form of identification. If anyone could claim to be an internationally known ear-print expert, it was a police officer from Amsterdam named Cornelius Van der Lugt. It was therefore not surprising that Van der Lugt had examined the McCann murder scene evidence and was the third prosecution expert at the Frye hearing. Van der Lugt had become interested in the ear-print identification field after reading Iannarelli's books in the early 1990s, and had since analyzed ear-print evidence in 200 cases in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and several countries in Western Europe. He had testified as an expert in six trials, all of which were in Holland where judges, not juries, determined a defendant's guilt or innocence.

     According to Cornelius Van der Lugt, many suspects, when presented with his expert ear-print analysis, confessed and pleaded guilty. In one case, a suspect admitted putting his ear to the door, but denied breaking in to the structure. Van der Lugt never worked in a crime laboratory, attended college, or received any kind of formal training in science. He was certain, however, that David Kunze was the source of the McCann murder latent ear-print. As part of his Frye testimony, Van der Lugt praised the work done by Michael Grubb and George Miller in obtaining the seven ear-print exemplars, noting how they had varied the amount of pressure against the ear until the known and crime scene prints looked alike. When asked if ear-print identification, as a forensic science, was accepted around the world, Van der Lugt said that it was.

     While the Kunze prosecution could not have put on a stronger case for ear-print identification, it was arguably not enough to meet the Frye standards. In other words, at least in theory, Kunze's defense attorney could not win the Frye debate without mounting an anti-ear-print case. Leaving nothing to chance, the defense hit back with a dozen impressive witnesses, leading off with Dr. Ellis Kerley, a physical anthropologist and former president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Dr. Kerley said it was reasonable to assume that no two ears were the same, but he wasn't sure this uniqueness would always reveal itself in a crime scene earmark. He didn't consider Iannarelli's books works of science, and didn't approve of Van der Lugt's technique of getting an exemplar to match a crime scene latent by varying the pressure against the suspect's ear. "We don't do that in science...because we're not trying to make them look alike," he said. In Dr. Kerley's opinion, ear-print identification had not achieved general acceptance in the forensic science community.

     Andre Moenssens, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, the author of articles and law school texts on forensic science, and a former fingerprint expert in Belgium, testified that the "forensic sciences...do not recognize, as a separate discipline, the identification of ear impressions. There are people in the forensic science community, the broader forensic science community, who feel that it can be done. But if we are talking about a general acceptance by scientists, there is no such general acceptance....To my knowledge, there has been no investigation in the possible rate of error that comparisons between known and unknown ear samples might produce."

     Following the Frye testimony of ten other recognized forensic scientists who did not consider latent ear-print identification a true science, the judge ruled that ear-print identification had in fact gained general acceptance in the scientific community. The decision was stunning in that it was so out of sync with the weight of the expert testimony. It was certainly bad news for David Kunze because the prosecution had no case without the ear-print evidence.

     The case went to trial on June 25, 1997. The prosecutor chose not to put Alfred Iannarelli on the stand, but the jury heard the testimony of state criminalist Michael Grubb, and the ear-print guru Cornelius Van der Lugt. The prosecution ear-print analysts were followed to the stand by a jailhouse informant who claimed that Kunze had confessed to him while in custody. The prosecution rested its case without identifying the murder weapon, connecting the defendant to the crime scene through DNA or fingerprints, or linking him to any of the items taken from house.

     For some reason, the Kunze defense attorney did not call upon the testimony of Dr. Ellis Kerley, Professor Andre Moenssens, or any of the other anti-ear-print Frye witnesses. As a result, the jury found David Kunze guilty of aggravated murder, burglary and robbery. The judge sentenced him to life without parole.

      David Kunze appealed his conviction, and in 1999, a three-judge panel ruled that "the trial court erred by allowing Michael Grubb and Cornelius Van der Lugt to testify that Kunze was the likely or probable source of the ear latent, and that a new trial was therefore required. The appellate court instructed the prosecutor in the second trial not to prejudice the defense by referring to the first trial and the resulting conviction. The appellate judges didn't want the second jury to know that Kunze had been found guilty on the strength of ear-print identification.

     In March 2001, ten days into the second trial, the prosecutor made reference to the earlier conviction. The presiding judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial. The prosecutor, after several jurors announced that had the case gone to them, they would have acquitted the defendant, announced that a third trial would not be scheduled. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Dr. Jon Norberg's Nightmare: False Accusations of Rape

    Dr. Jon Norberg, an orthopedic surgeon in Fargo, North Dakota who specialized in hands, elbows and upper extremities was estranged from his wife Alonna, a former pediatrician who suffered from Sjogren's Syndrome, a rare immune system disorder. In 2011, the couple, in their early 40s, were in the midst of a contentious divorce and child custody battle. In June of that year, Dr. Alonna Norberg filed a complaint with the Fargo Police Department in which she accused her estranged husband of endangering her life by repeatedly, and without her consent, injecting her with the powerful anesthetic drug propofol. (This drug gained notoriety after Michael Jackson overdosed on it in 2009.) According to Mrs. Norberg, Dr. Norberg had injected her with the drug thirty times between September 2010 and June 2011. The complainant also accused her husband of rape. She told detectives that on the morning of June 17, 2011, she awoke to discover physical evidence that her husband, while she was under the influence of the drug, had forced her to have oral sex. She found, on the nightstand next to the bed, a bottle of Diprivan (a propofol brand).

     On August 2, 2011, a prosecutor with the Cass County State Attorney's Office charged Dr. Jon Norberg with gross sexual imposition, a class AA felony that carried a maximum sentence of life. For injecting his wife with propofol, the surgeon was also charged with reckless endangerment, a class C felony that could put him in prison for up to five years. As a result of these criminal charges, Dr. Norberg took a leave of absence from his medical practice. (The State Board of Medical Examiners would later suspend his medical license indefinitely.) Following his arrest, arraignment and release from custody on bail Dr. Norberg pleaded not guilty to both charges.

     On November 7, 2012, Cass County prosecutor Reid Brady, in his opening remarks to the jury, said, "At the end of this case you will know that the defendant defied dangerous risks by unsafely using propofol on his wife. You will know that he obsessed with sex so much that he perpetrated sex acts on her when he knew she was unaware."

     Defense attorney Robert Hoy, in his opening address to the jury, said that Alonna Norberg had concocted the drug and rape allegations to get the upper hand in the couple's divorce and child custody battles. The defendant had injected his wife with the drug three times to alleviate her pain from Sjogren's Syndrome and to help her sleep.

     Two days into the trial, Dr. Alonna Norberg took the stand as the prosecution's principal witness. For two days she gave, in a breathless manner, graphic and dramatic testimony of being constantly drugged, and on the one occasion raped under its influence. "I remember," she said, "looking around thinking I've got to get up and I got to get away...It was just true true horror because I was choking and I couldn't get his mouth away, I couldn't get my body away."

     Following her testimony, Alonna Norberg walked out of the courtroom and did not return to the trial. On November 14, 2012, Robert Knorr, Alonna's father, took the stand and testified regarding an October 28, 2012 meeting he had with Dr. Norberg at the defendant's request. At this meeting in a Fargo restaurant, Dr. Norberg suggested, for the benefit of all parties, that his estranged wife recant her accusations. According to this witness, the defendant had said, "She could either say that it was a dream or that she was lying or that she didn't remember." Mr. Knorr believed the defendant thought it would be in the best interest of the entire family if this matter did not go to trial. The witness said, "I told him there was no way that was going to happen." Following Robert Knorr's testimony the state rested its case.

     Under defense attorney Robert Hoy's direct questioning, Dr. Harjinder Virdee, a Fargo psychiatrist with 35 years experience, painted a psychiatric portrait of the defendant's accuser that undermined her credibility. Dr. Virdee had spent more than 100 hours reviewing Alonna Norberg's extensive medical history comprised of hundreds of documents. The psychiatrist had also conducted a five-hour interview with the former pediatrician. According to the witness, Alonna was a compulsive nonstop talker who dominated the session.

     Regarding Alonna Norberg's accusations against her husband, it was Dr. Virdee's expert opinion that they were false. The accuser's description of what happened to her was simply too detailed and graphic to ring true. A person under the influence of the drug propofol could not recall what had happened to them is such detail.

     According to Alonna Norberg's medical file, she had been diagnosed with more than fifteen mental illnesses and disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder; anxiety; histronic and narcissistic personality traits; depression; violent mood swings; and chemical dependency. At no time in the past decade had Alonna Norberg been taking fewer than twenty medications. Occasionally during this period she was ingesting more than fifty different drugs at one time. Many of these prescriptions involved opioid medication such as the addictive oxycodone. "She's got everything," Dr. Virdee said. "If you go through her medical notes there are umpteen diagnoses in the records. It jumps from one thing to another, one [doctor's] visit to the next. She is ill, she is psychiatrically ill."

     Based upon her review of Alonna Norberg's vast psychiatric history, Dr. Virdee added a new diagnosis. In Dr. Virdee's medical opinion, Alonna Norberg suffered from what the psychiatrist called fictitious disorder, a condition or personality trait in which people either fabricate symptoms or intentionally produce symptoms to gain attention and sympathy. (This sounds a lot like the Munchausen Syndrome Disorder.)

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Reid Brady pointed out that Dr. Virdee was the first doctor to diagnose Alonna Norberg with the syndrome called fictitious disorder. "I'm the only doctor," she replied, "that has reviewed all the records as well. It's hard to wonder how she became a physician if she can't tell the difference between all these drugs. Her credibility is very low."

     Kori Norborg, the defendant's sister-in-law, took the stand and testified that Alonna's accusations were motivated by her fear that because of her drug addiction she would lose custody of the couple's two children.

     In his closing argument to the jury, defense attorney Hoy said, "There is not one shred of physical evidence to support their [the state's] case. Everything else...originates with Alonna Norberg. Desperate people do desperate things."

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, the jury, after a quick deliberation, found Dr. Jon Norberg not guilty of both charges. Given the circumstances surrounding these accusations, the charges should never have been filed in the first place. 

     In March 2013, a Fargo judge granted Dr. Norberg primary custody of his children. Five months later an official with the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners reinstated his medical license. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Pastor Arthur Burton Schirmer: The Singing Minister of Death

     In 1968, Arthur Burton "A.B." Schirmer, an ordained Methodist minister, married his first wife Jewel whom he met while they were 20-year-old students at Messiah College in southeast central Pennsylvania. In the late 1970s, as pastor of the Bainbridge and Marietta United Methodist Churches in southeastern Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, Schirmer and his wife Jewel sang duets at area churches and camp meetings. Later his son and two daughters joined the gospel group billed as the "Singing Schirmer Family."

     In 1978, Schirmer and his family moved to the town of Lebanon in southeast central Pennsylvania where he had been named pastor of the Bethany United Methodist Church (UMC). He and his wife Jewel lived in the church parsonage.

     On April 24, 1999, the 50-year-old Bethany church pastor called 911 at 2:15 in the afternoon to report that when he returned to the parsonage after a jog he found his wife Jewel lying unconscious at the foot of the basement stairs. Jewel Schirmer died the next day at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

     The forensic pathologist with the Lebanon County Coroner's Office who performed the autopsy noted that the deceased woman had, wrapped around one leg, an electrical cord from a Shop Vac. She was also barefoot. The pastor's wife had suffered a fractured skull and possessed numerous bruises on her upper body. The coroner's office reported that Jewel Schirmer had died from a traumatic brain injury and ruled her manner of death as "undetermined." While her obituary stated that she had died a "natural death" from falling down a flight of stairs (actually an accidental death), the coroner's office listed Jewel Schirmer's demise as undetermined because her injuries seemed too severe to have been caused by a fall down a flight of steps. Because his wife's death was not ruled a homicide there was no police investigation into the incident and no criminal charges filed against the singing minister.

     In 2001, the year he became pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reeders, an eastern Pennsylvania town in Monroe County, A.B. Schirmer married his second wife, 49-year-old Betty Jean Shertzer, a music teacher.

     On July 15, 2008, motorists driving along State Route 715, a wooded, two-lane highway not far from Reeders, saw a PT Cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road next to a guardrail. Betty Schirmer was sitting in the front passenger's seat that was soaked in blood. She was bleeding from the head and was unconscious. The passersby noticed severe bruising on the right side of her face. The vehicle showed only minor damage and the pastor was uninjured. Although he possessed a cellphone, one of the motorists called 911.

     The next day, at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Betty Jean Schirmer died of "sustained multiple skull and facial fractures" and "brain injury." At the pastor's request his second wife's body was cremated before it could be autopsied.

     To the officer investigating the supposed traffic accident, the pastor said he had been driving his wife to the hospital after she complained of a pain in her jaw. While traveling between 45 and 55 MPH he lost control of the car after oversteering to avoid a deer. The vehicle swerved back and forth across the road before slamming into the guardrail. Although Betty Schirmer's head injuries seemed out of proportion to the damage to the car, the authorities did not investigate the 56-year-old woman's death as a possible homicide. The fact the dead woman's husband was a Methodist minister probably had a lot to do with that decision. Had the authorities known about the circumstances surrounding the death of the pastor's first wife Jewel, they might have looked closer into Betty Schirmer's suspicious demise.

     On October 29, 2008, violent death raised its ugly head again in Pastor Schirmer's life. On that day, Joseph Musante, the husband of the pastor's personal assistant, was found dead in the church office behind the pastor's desk. Mr. Musante had been shot in the head in an apparent suicide. Investigators looking into the case were curious to know why this active member of the Reeders UMC congregation had taken his own life in the pastor's office. In pursuing that lead, investigators learned that Pastor Schirmer was having an affair with the dead man's wife, Cynthia.

     A.B. Schirmer's proximity to the untimely, violent deaths of two wives and the husband of his personal assistant and lover, kickstarted a criminal investigation of his second wife Betty's July 2008 death. The fact the pastor was having an affair at the time of the so-called fatal traffic accident on State Route 715 added what had been missing until now: a motive for murder. Pursuant to the homicide investigation, the police conducted a search of Schirmer's church living quarters and found incriminating evidence: massive blood stains from Betty Schirmer, stains someone had tried to clean-up.

     The discovery of blood stains in the Reeders Church parsonage provided homicide investigators with a plausible narrative of Betty Jean's death: the pastor had bludgeoned her in the parsonage, put her bleeding body into the PT Cruiser, staged the traffic accident on the remote highway, then sat in the car with his unconscious wife waiting for her to die. Before she passed away, passing motorists came along, and one of them called 911. The next day she died, and shortly after that she was cremated without an autopsy. With the death of the pastor's personal assistant's husband three months later, the path had been cleared for the pastor's third marriage to Cynthia.

     After A.B. Schirmer became a prime suspect in this second wife's death, the pastor left the ministry. He joined a three-person evangelical singing group called "Beroean." 

     To bolster their case that this man of God had murdered his second wife, the police consulted an expert in traffic accident investigation. According to this expert, the damage to Schirmer's PT Cruiser suggested that when he hit the guardrail he was only traveling 25 MPH, a speed that would not have resulted in Betty Schirmer's severe head trauma and brain damage.

     In July 2010, the county coroner, a forensic pathologist named Dr. Samuel Land, ruled Betty Schirmer's manner of death a homicide. This opened the door to a criminal prosecution.

     Former pastor A. B. Schirmer, on September 13, 2010, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police. He was charged with the murder of his second wife Betty. He also faced the charge of evidence tampering. At the time of his arrest, the gospel singer was engaged to be married for the third time. The ex-pastor awaited his upcoming murder trial in the Monroe County Correctional Facility where he was incarcerated without bail.

     On September 17, 2010, the Monroe County prosecutor convened a grand jury to look into the death of Jewel Schirmer. Dr. Wayne Ross, the forensic pathologist for Lancaster County, had studied photographs and other material pertaining to the 1999 death in the Lebanon UMC parsonage. Dr. Ross informed the grand jurors that the skull fracture Jewel had supposedly incurred from a fall down the basement steps would have required at least 750 pounds of pressure, a force way out of proportion to an accidental spill of this nature. Moreover, the forensic pathologist testified that the cuts to the victim's face were "highly suspicious and could have been caused by an object striking her head. There were 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face," Dr. Ross said, "as well as numerous abrasions and contusions throughout her upper body and arms." According to Dr. Ross, one of the bruises was in the shape of a handprint.

     Based on Dr. Ross' testimony and other evidence presented at the Monroe County Grand Jury session, Dauphin County Chief Deputy Coroner Lisa Potteiger changed Jewel Schirmer's manner of death from "undetermined" to "homicide." The Monroe County District Attorney charged the paster with first-degree murder.

     In March 2013, after a jury found Schirmer guilty of murdering Jewel Schirmer, a Monroe County judge sentenced the former minister and possible serial killer to life in prison.

     In September 2014, a jury found the former pastor guilty of murdering his wife Betty Jean in 2008. A Lebanon County judge sentenced Schirmer to an additional 40 years in prison. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

The Julia Merfeld Murder-For-Hire Case

     Early in 2013, 27-year-old Jacob Merfeld and his wife Julia moved from Keyport, a small Monmouth County town in eastern New Jersey, to Muskegon, Michigan. While they settled into their Muskegon apartment, the couple's two children, a 4-year-old daughter and a boy who was two, were cared for by Jacob's parents in neighboring Wisconsin.

     There was nothing about Jacob Merfeld, a member of the U. S. Coast Guard, or his 21-year-old wife that seemed out of the ordinary. To the outside world they appeared to be a typical middle-class couple doing their best to raise their children and succeed in life.

     In late March 2013, Julia told co-worker Carlos Ramos that she wanted out of her marriage. She said that although her husband was a nice guy who treated her well, she had found someone else, a person she wanted to live with. While Ramos found this revelation mildly provocative, what she said next shocked him.

     Julia, over a period of several days, talked about how her husband's death would be so much better for her than a divorce and all that went with such a prolonged, complicated process. For one thing, a divorce would be embarrassing, and it would break Jacob's heart. So this was her plan: She would pay Carlos Ramos $50,000 out of her husband's $400,000 life insurance policy if he murdered him. The money would be paid to the hit man in $10,000 installments.

     When this ordinary, unexceptional young wife and mother offered Carlos Ramos $50,000 to commit cold-blooded murder, he didn't take her seriously enough to notify the authorities. He figured she was either joking or just blowing off steam. The cool, unemotional way Julia discussed having her husband dispatched by a contract killer made the whole proposition, while shocking, seem unreal.

     Carlos Ramos started to change his mind about Julia Merfeld as she continued to talk about her murder-for-hire fantasy and his role in it as her hit man. He eventually decided that she meant business, and that his best course of action involved notifying the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office about her deadly plan. He certainly had no intention of becoming a hired killer. The fact she even considered him a candidate for such an assignment boggled his mind and convinced him there was something profoundly wrong with this woman. She spoke of murdering another human being the way one would speak of squashing a cockroach.

     On April 9 and 10, 2013, an undercover officer with the Muskegon County Sheriff's Office who posed as a hit man, met with Julia Merfeld in the officer's car in a Fruitport Township parking lot. With the hidden camera running, the murder-for-hire mastermind explained her reasons for such a drastic solution to a common problem: "It's not that we weren't getting along," she said. "But as terrible as it sounds, it was easier than divorcing him. You know, I don't have to worry about the judgment of my family. I don't have to worry about breaking his heart." 

     Julia Merfeld instructed the phony hit man that she didn't want him to kill Jacob as part as a staged burglary that turned violent. Her reason for not wanting him to do that was self-serving: she didn't want to scare off the person she hoped would move into the apartment with her after Jacob's death. Besides, an indoor killing would be, in her words, "messy."

     Julia said she wanted the hit man to do his job in such a way that wouldn't cause Jacob a lot of pain. She recommended the breaking of his neck. (This woman had obviously seen movies featuring trained killers adept at fatally snapping necks. In real life, breaking a person's neck is not an efficient or easy way to commit murder.) The undercover cop remarked that he usually killed people with guns and knives. Throughout the murder-for-hire conversation, the officer repeatedly told Julia that he was going to put two bullets in Jacob's "noggin." To that she repeatedly responded, "Okay."

      The murder-for-hire mastermind informed the undercover officer that she did not want to know in advance when he planned to commit the murder. "It would be better if you surprised me," she said. "The more shocked I am when it happens, the better. I just want to make it as non-suspicious as possible."

     At one point during her two meetings with the sheriff's deputy, Julia asked, "What happens if you are caught?" The officer assured Julia that as long as he or an associate kept receiving the hit money installments, her name would be kept out of the investigation. (It's hard to image anyone stupid enough to believe that a captured hit man would not immediately roll over on the mastermind.)

     Toward the end of their second meeting on April 10, 2013, Julia Merfeld handed the undercover officer $100 in upfront money to show that she was serious about having her husband murdered. She also gave the officer a floor-plan to the apartment, a photograph of  her husband and written directions to the apartment complex where she hoped the hit man would kill Jacob as he walked out of the building. At this point, the man Julia thought was a contract killer displayed his badge and placed her under arrest.

     A Muskegon County prosecutor charged Julia Charlene Merfeld with solicitation to commit murder. The local magistrate denied her bail.

     On June 27, 2013, faced with the certainty of a conviction based on the videotapes of her conversations with the undercover officer, Merfeld pleaded guilty to the solicitation charge. Three days later, as she stood before the sentencing judge, the defendant said, "I do not believe I'm above punishment. I know what I did was wrong and I take full responsibility. My tears are for remorse, not pity."

     Julia's husband, the man she tried to have murdered, also spoke at the sentencing hearing. Jacob Merfeld told Judge William C. Marietti that he had forgiven his wife because she was a "godly woman who did an ungodly thing." Jacob asked the judge not to send his wife to prison.

     Judge Marietti sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to six to twenty years behind bars, a light sentence given the circumstances of this case.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Freddie Lee Hall: Should Murderers With Low IQs Be Spared The Death Penalty?

     Throw a ball in any maximum security prison and it will bounce off a lot of stupid men. If these vicious rapists, thugs and murderers were smart, most of them wouldn't be behind bars. Moreover, it's not stupidity that makes a person violent. Most stupid people obey the law and wouldn't hurt a fly. So, just because a cold-blooded, sadistic killer has a low IQ is no reason to cut him a break when it comes time for the death penalty. Take Freddie Lee Hall.

     In February 1978, 33-year-old Freddie Lee Hall was out on parole in connection with a recent conviction for assault with intent to rape. Given his long history of violent crime, it was hard to believe he wasn't in prison. Hall and one of his criminal associates, on February 21, 1978, were in Leesburg, Florida looking for a car to steal for use in an armed robbery.

     That afternoon Hall and his accomplice spotted 21-year-old Karol Hurst coming out of the Pantry Pride Grocery Store. She was seven months pregnant. As Hurst walked toward her car the men accosted her and forced the terrified victim into Hall's vehicle.

     Hall drove off with the abducted woman in his car. The accomplice followed in the victim's vehicle. Hall drove Hurst to a wooded area where the two thugs raped and beat the victim savagely before, execution style, they shot her to death. To hide the body Freddie Hall dragged the pregnant corpse deeper into the woods.

     That night, in the murdered woman's car, Hall and his friend drove to the convenience store in Hernando County they planned to hold up. As they sat in the parking lot waiting for the right moment to strike, a suspicious clerk inside the store called the sheriff's station. The sheriff's office happened to be across the street from where Hall and his accomplice were casing out the robbery.

     Deputy Lonnie Coburn pulled into the parking lot and confronted the suspicious men. After getting the drop on the deputy, Hall shot the officer to death with the deputy's service revolver.

     A jury found Freddie Lee Hall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder on June 23, 1978. Jurors, by an eight to four vote, recommended the death penalty. The judge, four days later, sentenced Hall to death row.

     At Hall's sentencing hearing his lawyers argued that their client was too stupid to execute. Hall had been classified by public school officials in the 1960s as "mentally retarded." Ten years before his death sentence Freddie Hall had scored as low as 60 and as high as 80 on IQ tests. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental Disorders, an IQ of 70, plus or minus five points, represents the upper range of intellectual disability.

     Over the years Hall's anti-capital punishment attorneys arranged to have him examined by a battery of psychiatrists and other medical practitioners who declared the death row inmate mentally disabled.

     In 2002, the United States Supreme Court barred states from executing "mentally disabled" prisoners. The high court left the determination of who is so afflicted to the states. In Florida, as measured by an IQ test, the threshold for concluding that an inmate is mentally disabled is a score below 70. 

     On March 3, 2014, appellate attorneys appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Freddie Lee Hall. The death house lawyers, in challenging Florida's mental threshold for execution, argued that IQ tests alone were insufficient in establishing mental disability.

     Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out the brutality of Hall's crime and noted that it had taken several steps for Hall to abduct then kill the pregnant woman. The killing of the police officer was certainly premeditated. Didn't the crime itself reflect sufficient mental capacity?

     On May 27, 2014, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that defendants whose IQ scores are near 70 should not be executed. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted that states should not "view a single factor as dispositive in determining intellectual disability." As a result of this high court decision, Freddie Lee Hall avoided execution. 
 
     If a criminal is smart enough to read, get a driver's license, plan a robbery and make an effort not to get caught, he should be smart enough to execute. People who are murdered by stupid people are just as dead as those who are murdered with people with IQs higher than Freddie Lee Hall's. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Gary Melius Attempted Murder Case

     Born in 1945 in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York, Gary Melius began his career as a plumber, became a builder and eventually made his fortune in real estate. In 1984 he bought a decaying 1919 French-style chateau on Long Island's Gold Coast. The Huntington, Long Island property called Oheka Castle was featured in the classic film "Citizen Kane." Melius turned the 109,000-square foot chateau into a luxury hotel, catering facility and wedding venue. He also resided there.

     A close associate of former U.S. Senator Alphonse D'Amato and contributor of hundreds of thousands of dollars to republican and democrat politicians, Melius was a force in Long Island politics. In 2010 the Oheka Castle hosted the wedding of the disgraced ex-congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide.

     Like most rich and powerful men in politics, Gary Melius cultivated enemies. In February 2014 he conferred with law enforcement officials regarding evidence he acquired involving political bribery and witness tampering. Melius claimed to have proof of corruption that would send several high ranking government officials to prison.

     In 2013 Gary Melius was at the heart of a political scandal that led to the resignation of Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale.

     Mr. Melius had also made enemies in the business world. He was caught up in a legal battle over control of a company called Interceptor that manufactured ignition locks designed to curb drunken driving. On February 21, 2014, at a company shareholder's meeting, Melius announced that he planned to name a new board of directors.

     Melius accused the company's founder John Ruocco of mismanagement and financial improprieties. Ruocco responded by calling Melius a "political fixer." In December 2013 a judge, siding with Melius stripped Ruocco of much of his ownership of the company.

     At half past noon on Monday, February 24, 2014, just after Mr. Melius sat down behind the wheel of his Mercedes in the valet parking lot at Oheka Castle, a masked gunman approached the front driver's side window of the vehicle. The assailant fired a shot that hit Melius in the forehead. As the gunman fled the scene in a get-away car the wounded 69-year-old climbed out of the Mercedes and stumbled  back into his house.

     The injured man's daughter drove her father to Syosset Hospital. From Syosset he was transferred to the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset. It was there he underwent emergency surgery. Mr. Melius survived the shooting.

     In speaking to reporters shortly after the assault, Deputy Inspector Matthew C. Lewis, the Commander of the Suffolk County Police Department's Major Crimes Bureau, said, "This looks to be a targeted crime." In other words, Mr. Melius may have been the victim of an attempted assassination, and perhaps the target in a murder-for-hire plot.

     In August 2014, Mr. Melius told a reporter that the police had investigated his adopted son as a possible suspect in the shooting. Thirty-four-year-old Thomas Melius, just days before his father was shot, got out of prison after several months of incarceration related to a drug case. The father pointed out the lack of physical evidence connecting his son to the assault. Mr. Melius said he believed that one of his political enemies was behind the shooting.

     In February 2015, on the one year anniversary of the case, the Suffolk County Police Department raised its reward for tips leading to the arrest of the assailant to $100,000.

     On the second anniversary of the unsolved attempted murder, February 24, 2016, the Suffolk County Police released portions of a surveillance video the day Mr. Melius was shot. The video depicts the victim walking to his car in the parking lot of the castle when the gunman exits his vehicle and fires through his target's driver's side window. The Suffolk Police also announced that the FBI had entered the case.

     Regarding the release of the surveillance video, Mr. Melius told reporters that it was about time, and that he hoped the publicity would cause someone to come forward with the shooter's identity.

     As of this writing, the Gary Melius attempted murder/assault case remains unsolved.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Michael A. Dotro: A Rogue Cop in a Dysfunctional Police Department

     Michael A. Dotro, a nine year veteran of the Edison, New Jersey Police Department, worked in the internal affairs unit. Since the 36-year-old officer had a history of misconduct complaints, including charges of excessive force, he didn't seem to be the right person for the job. But nothing within the Edison Police Department was right.

     For years, officers on this police force had been engaged in a civil war. Cops were suing each other, and there were accusations that detectives in the internal affairs unit were gathering information on local politicians and others and ignoring citizen complaints of police brutality.

     In 2005, a member of the Asian-Indian community who had been arrested by officer Dotro accused him of police brutality. Amid citizen protests, and a lot of bad publicity, Dotro was administratively cleared of any wrongdoing.

     Three years after the excessive force complaint, Dotro got into a fistfight with his 68-year-old neighbor, Dennis Sassa. Mr. Sassa claimed that the then 31-year-old officer had punched him in the face six times. The dispute revolved around a shed that sat on Dotro's property. Both men filed assault charges, and both were acquitted in municipal court. (Shortly before the fight, someone had torched a shed on Mr. Sassa's property. Flames from the structure had spread to a camper and to Sassa's house.)

     Edison Police Captain Mark Anderko considered Michael Dotro unfit to be an officer of the law. Captain Anderko and officer Dotro were on opposing sides in the departmental civil war. With 24 years on the force, Captain Anderko served as the top aide to Chief Thomas Bryan. Anderko resided in a two-story colonial home in Middlesex County's Monroe Township with his wife, their two children and his 92-year-old mother.

     At four in the morning of Monday, May 20, 2013, someone firebombed Captain Anderko's home. The family dog alerted Anderko's wife who woke up the other four occupants of the dwelling. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed the front section of the house where the children had been sleeping.

     On Thursday afternoon, May 23, 2013, officers with the Edison Police Department arrested Michael Dotro and searched his Manalapan, New Jersey house. Charged with five counts of attempted murder and aggravated arson, a Superior Court judge set the officer's bond at $5 million. He was incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail. Following the arrest, Chief Byran placed officer Dotro on paid administrative leave. (The accused cop received an annual salary of $118,000.)
     In September 2017, after numerous court delays, Michael A. Dotro pleaded guilty to aggravated arson. The judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Pastor Elder Ulysses Woodard Attempted Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2016, Pastor Elder Ulysses Woodard and his wife Alisha started the True Word of Deliverance Church of God in Prichard, Alabama. In early February 2020, the couple, experiencing serious marital problems, separated. The estrangement from his wife caused Pastor Woodard, a man who had for years suffered from mental illness, considerable distress. The 44-year-old told friends that he was lost without his wife.

     On the night of February 21, 2020, Alisha Woodard was the featured speaker at the Women of God Through Promise Conference at the True Cornerstone Church in Mobile, Alabama. The event was hosted by Pastor Derek Scott Gandy. 

     Shortly after eleven o'clock that night, at the conclusion of Alisha Woodard's sermon, her estranged husband showed up at the True Cornerstone Church and approached Pastor Gandy. "Pastor," he asked, "can I talk to my wife please?"

     Soon after the Woodards met in the parking lot outside the church they began arguing. With church parishioners looking on, Elder Woodard grabbed his wife's arm and pulled her screaming to his car. From the vehicle, Pastor Woodward retrieved a handgun and shot his wife in the chest. After wounding his wife, Woodard climbed into his vehicle and drove off, leaving her bleeding on the church parking lot. 

     Police officers arrived at the scene at 11:23 as paramedics attended Alisha Woodard. The medical responders rushed the wounded woman to a nearby hospital where she would be treated for a non-life threatening wound.

     Around midnight, police officers spotted Pastor Woodard in his car. The vehicle pursuit that followed led back to the True Cornerstone Church's parking lot. When officers approached the pastor's car he put the handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. Upon killing himself his car lurched forward and crashed into the church.

     A few days after the attempted murder-suicide, Pastor Woodard's sister told a reporter that her brother suffered from mental illness and reached out to his Christian friends for help. According to her, the church, having failed to help her brother, was responsible for his death. He was, she said, a "true mighty man of god."

Sunday, October 23, 2022

An Amish Nightmare: The Shaken Baby Misdiagnosis

     On December 23, 1999, Liz Glick, the 4-month-old daughter of Samuel and Liz Glick, Amish dairy farmers in Dornsife, Pennsylvania, died in the hospital two days after her parents had found her unconscious in her crib. The baby had been ill with a fever and had been vomiting. At the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, pediatricians experienced in treating Amish babies determined that the infant had died of vitamin K deficiency, a genetic and sometimes dietary condition associated with babies born at home and breastfed who have not been given the vitamin through precautionary shots or formula. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency include bleeding in the brain and eyes as well as the presence of bruises caused by normal handling and movement.

     Dr. Michael Kenny, a pathologist at Geisinger, performed the autopsy and, as Kate Rush would later report in "Genomics in Amish Country," concluded that the baby had died of a "closed-head injury" (as opposed to a "penetrating head injury" caused by a bullet, stabbing instrument, or a blunt object.) Since Dr. Kenny was not the medical examiner, and it was not his job to make an official manner of death ruling, that decision fell to the county coroner, an elected official without a medical degree. Instead of conferring with pediatricians familiar with Amish patients, the coroner took the unusual step of convening an inquest, a jury-empannelled hearing to determine if the death was suspicious enough to warrant a full-scale criminal investigation. (The coroner's inquest, as a first step in the criminal justice process, while still available in most states, is an antiquated way of determining manner of death.)

     Dr. Kenny's "closed-head injury" finding, combined with the bruises and the brain and eye bleeding, led the coroner's jury to rule that Liz Glick may have been the victim of a shaken baby syndrome (SBS) homicide.

     The Glick case became national news when a child protection agency speculated that the other seven Glick children, in the wake of the coroner's jury decision, were in danger. For their own protection the children were placed in foster homes until the Pennsylvania State Police, and perhaps a jury at a murder trial determined if the parents had committed criminal homicide. The Glick children were split up and sent to non-Amish (English) foster parents, an action that stunned and terrified the residents of this traditional central Pennsylvania community.

     The plight of the Glick family caught the attention of Dr. Holmes Morton, a Harvard trained pediatrician who in the 1980's had treated Amish patients at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. Dr. Morton had moved to Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where in 1989, he had founded a nonprofit clinic in the heart of Amish country called the Clinic for Special Children, specializing in the treatment and study of illnesses and disorders affecting the Amish. Supported by donations and fund-raising events, the clinic incorporated a state-of-the-art laboratory for the diagnosis and study of biochemical genetic disorders. Dr. Morton should have been one of the first experts consulted by the authorities in the Glick case. He was well-known, had expertise pertinent to the case and was local. No one, however, sought his opinion on the cause of the Glick baby's death.

     Without being asked, Dr. Morton conducted his own inquiry into the Glick baby's medical history. A few days later, he announced that the infant had been born with a genetic liver condition that rendered her body incapable of breaking down vitamin K. The symptoms of vitamin K deficiency--the bleeding in the brain and eyes, and the severe bruising--could easily be mistaken for signs of SBS. In Dr. Morton's opinion, the Glick child had not been killed by shaking. There had been a terrible mistake; this baby's death had been of a natural cause.

     But criminal investigations are like freight trains--once they get rolling they are hard to stop. Even though Dr. Morton had thrown his body across the tracks, the train kept coming. Weeks passed. Finally, in February 2000, the case went before a state medical advisory board of physicians. The doctors heard testimony from several pediatricians who agreed with Dr. Morton's diagnosis. The panel of physicians voted to recommend that the manner of death in the Glick case be changed to natural.

     The local coroner, in light of the physicians' recommendation, changed his cause of death ruling, and shortly thereafter, the child protection agency gave the Glick children back to their parents. A month later, the district attorney announced that Samuel and Liz Glick were no longer the targets of a homicide investigation. One can only guess how far down the criminal justice track the prosecution train would have rolled had it not been for Dr. Morton's intervention. One or both of these parents could have been sent to prison. 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Alix Tichelman Case: A Hooker, Heroin, and a Dead Millionaire on a Yacht

     Alix Catherine Tichelman described herself on her Facebook page as a fetish ("bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism") model with more than 200 "client relationships." In plain words, the 26-year-old worked as a Silicon Valley prostitute. Her "clients" were wealthy johns willing to shell out big fees for the rope, the whip and who knows what else.

     If one believed Tichelman's Facebook entries, the self-described high-end hooker graduated from high school in Deluth, Georgia before studying journalism at Georgia State University in Atlanta.  Tichelman started her sex worker career at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club.

     In early 2012, Tichelman began dating Dean Riopelle, the lead singer of a rock-and-roll band called "Impotent Sea Snakes." Riopelle also owned the Masquerade Night Club in Atlanta, a popular music venue. Interestingly enough, Riopelle had earned a degree in construction engineering from the University of Florida. Eventually Tichelman moved into Riopelle's luxury home in Milton, Georgia.

     On September 6, 2013, officers with the Milton Police Department responded to a domestic call that originated from the Riopelle house. Tichelman, the caller, accused her boyfriend of physical abuse. He returned the favor with assault accusations of his own. The officers departed without taking anyone into custody.

     On September 19, 2013, Tichelman dialed 911 and to the dispatcher said, "I think my boyfriend overdosed on something. He, like, won't respond." Tichelman, in response to the emergency dispatcher's questions, said Riopelle's eyes were open but he was unconscious. She described his breathing as "on and off." The dispatcher overheard the caller say, "Hello Dean, are you awake?"

     When the 911 dispatcher asked Tichelman how she knew her boyfriend had overdosed on something, she said, "Because there's nothing else it could be." The dispatcher inquired if the overdose was intentional or accidental. "He was taking painkillers and drinking a lot," came the reply.

     Dean Riopelle died a week later at a local hospital. The medical examiner's office, following the autopsy, identified the cause of death as excessive heroin and alcohol consumption. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.

     On November 23, 2013, about a month after Dean Riopelle's lethal overdose, a 51-year-old Google executive from Silicon Valley named Forrest Timothy Hayes enjoyed Tichelman's purchased company on his 50-foot yacht. (The vessel has also been described as a powerboat.) Later that day, the authorities discovered Hayes dead in one of the boat's bedrooms. The yacht was not at sea.

     In the course of the investigation into this sudden death, detectives with the Santa Cruz Police Department viewed the yacht's videotape footage that revealed just how the executive had died. Alix Tichelman was seen injecting Hayes with what investigators presumed to be a shot of heroin. Immediately after the needle went in he clutched his chest and collapsed. Tichelman responded to the obvious emergency by finishing her glass of wine then gathering up her belongings. As she casually strolled out of the bedroom she stepped over Hayes' body. She did not call 911.

     Santa Cruz detectives, on July 3, 2014, executed a search warrant at Tichelman's parents' home in Folsom, an upscale Silicon Valley community. Her father, Bart, was CEO of a tech firm that offered "energy efficient infrastructure" for data centers. At the Tichelman house, detectives carried away the suspect's laptop. On the computer investigators found that Tichelman, just before Hayes' death, had made online inquires regarding how to defend oneself if accused of homicide in a drug overdose case.

     On July 4, 2014, an undercover Santa Cruz officer, through the website SeekingArrangement.com, lured Alix Tichelman to a fancy hotel on the pretext of being a john willing to pay $1,000 for a session featuring fetish sex. The officer took the hooker into custody on suspicion of criminal homicide in the yacht owner's death.

     At her arraignment on July 10, 2014, the judge informed the suspect she faced a charge of manslaughter along with several drug related crimes. She pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge set her bail at $1.5 million.

     Homicide detectives, after Forrest Hayes' suspicious death, were looking into the Dean Riopelle overdose case. As a result of the Hayes case, SeekingArrangement.com was shut down. This upset Silicon Valley prostitutes who said they used the site to screen johns with histories of violence. Affluent sex worker clients in the valley also used the site to arrange hooker dates. 

   On May 18, 2015, Alix Tichelman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and numerous drug offenses in connection with Forrest Hayes' fatal overdose. Larry Biggam, the lawyer who negotiated the plea bargain on her behalf told reporters that although his client had been sentenced to six years in prison, she would only spend three years behind bars.

     The Tichelman case illustrates the difference between immoral and illegal behavior. While not raising a hand to save a dying man is a highly immoral act, in law it is a lesser form of criminal homicide.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Steven Capobianco Murder Case

     On Sunday night, February 9, 2014, 27-year-old Carly Scott, a resident of Makawao, a town on the Hawaiian island of Maui, received a call from Steven Capobianco. Carly Scott's 24-year-old ex-boyfriend and father of her unborn child said his truck was stuck in a ditch off the Hana Highway near mile marker 30 in the Keanae area.

     Carly left her house that night with her pit bull mix Nala in her 1997 Silver Toyota 4Runner. On Monday morning, when Carly Scott didn't show up for work, her mother reported her missing to the Maui police. That day, friends and family of the missing 5-foot-10, 160 pound woman with shoulder-length red hair, drove up and down the Hana Highway looking for her. They were concerned she might have driven off a cliff.

     That morning, February 10, 2014, one of Carly's sisters, Kimberly Scott, spoke to Steven Capobianco who said that after Carly had pulled him out of the ditch, the two of them proceeded on the highway with her following behind his truck. At some point he didn't see her headlights anymore.

     At six in the evening of Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Carly's friends came across the missing woman's SUV in Haiku, Maui. The vehicle, completely gutted by fire, had been rolled over onto its side. The burned-out Toyota was lying in a pineapple field off Peahi Road that led to a popular surfing spot known as "Jaws." Carly Scott was not in the vehicle. (Her dog Nala had turned up two days earlier in Nahiku.)

     The day after her friends found Carly's torched 4Runner in the pineapple field, Mileka Lincoln, a reporter with Hawaii News, interviewed Steven Capobianco. The ex-boyfriend confirmed that on Sunday, the night Carly went missing, she helped him get his truck out of the ditch. Later, the two of them headed toward Haiku 25 miles up the road. She followed behind, and when he reached Twin Falls, he looked in his rearview mirror and didn't see her headlights. Capobianco drove home and assumed that Carly had made it back safety to her house.

     "I sent her a text that said, 'Thank you,' but I figured she was working. That's why she didn't get back to me right away." [Apparently Carly had a late night job.]

     According to Steven Capobianco, "It wasn't until the cops showed up at my house at 5:30 in the morning the next day [Monday February 10] that I realized something was wrong." Capobianco told the reporter that Maui police questioned him at the police station where he took a polygraph exam. When he asked how he had done on the lie test, a detective informed him that according to the instrument, he had not told the truth.

     To the reporter, Capobianco insisted that he "absolutely" had not hurt his ex-girlfriend. "I mean," he said, "it's understandable that I'm probably the prime suspect, so they're [the police] not going to tell me details (of the case)." 

     The missing woman's ex-boyfriend said they broke up several years ago but had remained friends. He said that they "occasionally hooked-up."

     "Were you excited about being a dad?" asked the reporter.

     "Sort of. It was unexpected. She didn't tell me right away, but it was growing on me." At one point, Capobianco indicated that he didn't know for sure if he was the father of Carley Scott's unborn child.

     On Thursday night, February 13, 2014, 16-year-old Phaedra Wais, the missing woman's half-sister, found a skirt, shirt and bloodstained bra in a remote area off the Hana Highway. When Wais reported the find to the police, an officer told her not to disturb the evidence and wait for a detective. The girl ignored this advice and drove the garments to the police station in Kahuiui. Later, police officers found a jawbone, fingertips and hair follicles near this site.

     In an unrelated matter, Maui police, in April 2014, arrested Steven Capobianco on the charge of first-degree burglary. The judge set his bail at $10,000. Capobianco stood accused of breaking into a Haiku woman's apartment in September 2013 and stealing two computers and her jewelry. Police recovered the stolen property in a search of the suspect's house.

     The garments found by Phaedra Wais belonged to her missing half-sister. A forensic scientist ended hope that Scott was alive by identifying the jawbone, fingertips and hair as being hers. This meant the missing person case had turned into a homicide investigation.

     On July 18, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Maui indicted Steven Capobianco of murder and arson. According to the language of the true bill, the suspect had "intentionally or knowingly caused Carly Scott's death in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner that manifested exceptional depravity."

      Steven Capobianco pleaded not guilty to the murder and arson charges.

     On December 28, 2016, a jury in Maui, in the entirely circumstantial case, found Steven Capobianco guilty of second-degree murder and arson. 
     On March 24, 2017, the judge sentenced Steven Capobianco to 40 years for second-degree murder and 10 years for arson. The sentences were to run consecutively that meant the 27-year-old could serve up to 50 years in prison.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Deputy Shaquille O'Neal And The Botched SWAT Raid

     In 2006, Michael Harmony, a lieutenant with the Bedford County Sheriff's office, commanded the battle against child pornography in south central Virginia. Lieutenant Harmony headed a high-profile regional task force called Blue Ridge Thunder. Shaquille O'Neal, the 7 foot 1, 325-pound center for the Miami Heat professional basketball team, an off-season reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, was a member of the regional task force. The sheriff had enlisted the famous basketball player, also a gun-carrying reserve officer in Miami Beach, as the public face of the area's anti-child pornography campaign. O'Neal had accompanied the Blue Ridge Thunder team on several military-style child pornography raids.

     In September 2006, a cyberspace undercover investigator assigned to the task force downloaded child pornography via an Internet Provider (IP) address. Based on this information, a local magistrate subpoenaed Fairpoint Communications, the source IP, requiring the company to identify the person or persons at this IP site. The IP complied, providing the authorities with the name of A. J. Nuckols, a resident of Gretna, Virginia. The police didn't know it, but someone at Fairpoint Communications had misread the subpoena. Therefore the identification of the Nuckols family in connection with the IP address was a mistake. Without further investigation into the identify of Mr. Nuckols and his family, the police used this faulty information to acquire a warrant to search his house.

     Mr. Nuckols, a 45-year-old tobacco and cattle farmer, lived with his wife, Lisa, an elementary school teacher, on a farm near Gretna. Two of their children, ages 12 and 16, lived at home. Their 21-year-old daughter attended a nearby college. The family kept their one computer, mostly used by the children for homework, in their living room. The parents didn't know their own email address, and rarely shopped online or downloaded information from the Internet. There was nothing in their histories, lifestyle or associations that suggested any connection to child pornography.

     Saturday morning at 10:30 A.M., September 23, 2006, two officers from the Blue Thunder Task Force knocked on the Nuckol's front door. Invited into the house by Lisa, they informed her of the warrant allowing them to search the dwelling for child pornography. "I was in shock," Lisa later told a newspaper reporter. "At first it was not just disbelief. I told them, 'We don't live that way.' "

     As the police officers spoke to Lisa Nuckols, a fleet of police cars from Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties rolled up to the house. Suddenly ten officers, dressed in black and camouflage and wearing flak jackets were moving about the yard carrying semiautomatic weapons. Mr. Nuckols, working near the barn, looked across the field and saw all the police vehicles. Fearing that something awful had happened to his wife, or one of his children, he jumped into his truck and sped to the house.

     "What's going on?" Mr. Nuckols asked as he climbed out of the pickup. Instead of getting an answer, one of the officers dropped into a shooting position, aimed his pistol at the farmer, and said, "Turn around and put your hands on the truck." Another member of the team handcuffed Mr. Nuckols behind his back. As they led him toward the house, Lieutenant Michael Harmony reportedly said, "Had a rough day? It's about to get a whole lot worse."

     Lieutenant Harmony informed Mr. Nuckols that he or someone in his family was suspected of having downloaded child pornography from 150 web sites. The police were there to search the house for evidence of this crime. Later, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Mr. Nuckols expressed how he felt at that moment: "When it finally became clear what they were there for, I was just flat-out mad. They came and assaulted my family for something we had nothing to do with."

     The Nuckols children came home at 2 P.M. from a high school cross-country meet. The police, still in the house, asked them if they had downloaded child pornography. The children were as stunned by the accusation as their parents. Ninety minutes later, the officers departed, taking with them the family computer, DVDs, videotapes, and other personal belongings. Before he left, Lieutenant Harmony told Mr. Nuckols that the child pornography investigation would take between six and nine months to wrap up, noting that the state crime lab was backed up.

     At one point durng the siege, Mr. Nuckols recognized the famous basketball player. "You're Shaquille O'Neal," he said. The big man, dresssed like the others, and armed, replied that his name was Tony. Nine days later, when the Nuckols family learned that the search and seizure had been based on an erroneous IP address identification, O'Neal denied involvement in the raid. However, after the Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed his participation, he admitted his role.

     After the raid, before they were aware of the mistake, Lisa Nuckols told neighbors and friends what happened. Worried that she might lose her job, she advised the principal and the school superintendent as well. In his letter to the newspaper editor, Mr. Nuckols wrote: "When you come into someone's home, that's an intrusion. I feel the same about the raid as I would about any assault on our home and family. A robber would be wrong, and these officers were wrong. No matter what the spin the police put on it, the public will always believe it's wrong. People can't believe this happens in this country."

     In response to the criticism following the revelation that the Blue Ridge Thunder team had raided the wrong house, Lieutenant Harmony blamed the Fairpoint Company. According to him, the IP had made the mistake, not the police. Lieutenant Mike Taylor with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, though not a participant in the raid, apologized to the Nuckols family.

     Shaquille O'Neal, however, took another approach by accusing Mr. Nuckols of exaggerating his account of the raid to make the police look bad. When members of the media questioned him about his role in the operation, the basketball player reportedly said, "We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they [the Nuckols] made it seem like we beat them up, and that never happened. We went in, talked to them, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing."

Monday, October 17, 2022

What Happened To Teleka Patrick?

     Raised in New York City, Teleka Patrick graduated from the Bronx High School of Science before earning her Bachelor of Science Degree at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. Three months after graduating from medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, Teleka, in June 2013, began her four-year residency at Western Michigan University. She moved into the Gull Run apartment complex in Kalamazoo.

     At seven o'clock in the evening of December 5, 2013, Teleka Patrick was caught on a parking lot surveillance camera at the Borgess Medical Center where she worked. She had just finished her shift. From the hospital, a male co-worker gave her a lift to the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. A hotel surveillance camera recorded Patrick entering the lobby dressed in a black hoodie and dark slacks.

     According to a Radisson employee, the woman in the hoodie tried to rent a room using cash. Because she did not show any identification, the person on the front desk refused to register her.

     At eight o'clock, Teleka Patrick got a ride back to her car at the Borgess Medical Center in a hotel shuttle van. The shuttle driver later described her behavior as nervous. He said she ducked between cars to avoid being spotted. From the medical center parking lot that night, Taleka Patrick went missing.

     Two hours after Patrick returned to the medical center, an Indiana State Trooper 100 miles from Kalamazoo came across, off Interstate 94 in Portage, an abandoned light-gold 1997 Lexus ES 300. The vehicle, registered to the missing woman, had a flat tire.

     Inside the Lexus, officers found a wallet containing Teleka Patrick's driver's license and credit cards. The car also contained pieces of the missing woman's clothing and a small amount of cash. The car keys were gone along with Teleka's cellphone.

     A bloodhound later traced Patrick's steps from the abandoned vehicle to the freeway where her trail went cold. A search of the area surrounding the car failed to produce any clues to her whereabouts.

     According to Carl Clatterbuck, a Kalamazoo private investigator hired to find Patrick, the missing woman's ex-husband and a former on-again off-again boyfriend, were not suspects in her disappearance.

     In late December 2013, several YouTube videos made by Patrick surfaced. Unfortunately, they raised more questions than answers. One of the videos, produced in early November 2013, featured a table in her apartment containing an elaborate breakfast spread. The narrator, identified as Patrick, says, "I just wanted to show you what I made. If you were here this would be on your plate." In another video, she addressed an unknown person as "baby," and "love."

     On January 1, 2014, Ismael Calderon, married to the missing woman from 2000 to 2011, told a Grand Rapids, Michigan television reporter that his ex-wife suffered from a serious mental problem. The illness led her to believe she was being followed. "This is a tragedy," he said. "I don't think she's hiding somewhere. I think she's being held against her will or the worst. I think that Teleka had this fear of first, being branded with a mental illness. Second, the practical fear of losing her career."

     The next day, a 46-year-old Grammy-nominated gospel singer and Grand Rapids, Michigan pastor named Marvin Sapp said he had filed a protection order against Teleka Patrick three months before she disappeared. According to Reverend Sapp, she had sent him 400 love letters, joined his congregation and contacted his children.

     On April 6, 2014, a man fishing on Lake Charles in the northern part of Indiana saw something floating in the water. It turned out to be a body, and the corpse was Teleka Patrick. The lake had been frozen over during the winter. According to a family member, Patrick had been on her way to Chicago to visit a relative.

     Three days after the discovery of Patrick's body, the Porter County, Indiana Coroner's Office announced that Teleka Patrick had died from asphyxiation from drowning. In Michigan, according to Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller, Patrick's drowning had been accidental. As a result, the criminal investigation of this unexplained death was closed.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Michael Barbar Murder Case

      In 2009, 51-year-old Michael Barbar, a native of Lebanon, lived with his wife Maysam and their two daughters, ages 10 and 6, in a two-story house in Perris, a Riverside County town of 70,000 in southern California. Michael had a 19-year-old daughter from a former marriage who didn't live with him and Maysam.

     In mid-August 2009, Michael learned that his 43-year-old wife, at the time attending cosmetology school, had not been faithful to him. According to information that had come to his attention, Maysam, over the past six months, had been with three other men. He also learned that the 6-year-old Tamara, the child he had helped raise from birth, had been conceived as a result of Maysam's affair with a man in 2000.

     Some time after receiving this disturbing information, Michael Barbar checked Tamara out of school early one day and took her to a McDonald's where he swabbed the inside of her mouth for a DNA sample. On November 6, 2009, the paternity test revealed that she was not his child.

     On the night of November 13, 2009, after handcuffing his wife behind her back during sex, Michael Barbar wrapped an electrical cord around her neck and strangled her to death. He then placed her nude body face-down on the master bedroom floor and covered it with a blanket.

     In Tamara's bedroom, Barbar coiled a television cable around the girl's neck as she slept. When the 6-year-old awoke and struggled, he bashed her head against a bedpost twenty times, crushing her skull. In a third bedroom, Tamara's 10-year-old sister heard Tamar's cries and the sounds of violent death. After Tamara's murder,  the terrified girl heard her father carrying what sounded like trash bags out of the house. The next morning, Barbar's surviving daughter discovered her sister's body. The door to the master bedroom was locked. She called 911.

     Following the double murder, Michael Barbar drove to nearby Cabazon, California where, at the Morongo Casino, he played the slots. The next morning, he drove east to Deming, New Mexico, a border town 60 miles west of Las Cruces. His plan was to enter Mexico then fly to his homeland of Lebanon. On November 15, 2009, the police in Deming interrupted his escape by taking him into custody.

     In early June 2012, Michael Barbar went on trial in a Riverside County Superior Court for the murders of Maysam and Tamara Barbar. Because he was being tried for a double, premeditated murder, the defendant, under California law, was eligible for the death penalty. Barbar's defense attorney, while he didn't deny that his client had committed the homicides, argued that the killings had not been premeditated. According to the defense version of the case, when Michael confronted Maysam with the paternity test results, she had mocked him with a smirk. So enraged by the victim's smirk, Barbar snapped and killed his wife and the 6-year-old who was not his daughter. As a result, this was a crime of involuntary manslaughter. (Sometimes defense attorneys are paid to embarrass themselves. This was one of those cases.)

     Prosecutor John Aki offered the jury of seven women and five men a wealth of evidence that showed the defendant's preparation and planning for the killings. Mr. Barbar, in anticipation of his murders, had acquired a set of fake identification, rented a car, researched flight schedules between Mexico and Lebanon, and had withdrawn $30,000 from his bank account. On July 13, 2012, after only three hours of deliberation, the jury found the 54-year-old defendant guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

     On July 30, 2012, the penalty phase of the trial before the same jury got underway. For Michael Barbar, the two possible outcomes involved life without parole, and state imposed death. On August 10, 2012, the jury recommended that Judge Edward Weber sentence Michael Barbar to death.

     Crime scene investigators, on the morning after the murders, had found, among Michael Barbar's possessions, a copy of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood. In that book, the two men who murdered a Kansas farm family in 1959 were hanged. Mr. Barbar, however, would not end up dangling at the end of a rope because in California, regardless of the wishes of a jury and the law, they do not execute anyone. 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Chelsea Becker Fetus Murder Case

      On September 10, 2019, 25-year-old Chelsea Cheyenne Becker gave birth to a stillborn baby at the Adventist Health Medical Center in Hanford, California. Child Protective Services had taken Becker's previous three children from her. Her children had been taken and placed into other families because of Becker's addiction to methamphetamine and other drugs. In 2016, her son had been born with a meth addiction. 

     Because of Chelsea Becker's history of drug addiction, the still birth of her fourth child led to a police inquiry. When questioned by detectives shortly after the birth, Becker admitted using meth just four days before the stillbirth. She was in her eighth month of pregnancy. 

     A forensic pathologist with the Kings County Coroner's Office conducted an autopsy and ruled the baby's death a homicide due to "toxic levels of methamphetamine" in the new born's system. 

     Kings County District Attorney Keith L. Faqundes, under Section 187 of the California Penal Code that defined the crime of murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice," charged Chelsea Becker with murder. According to the charge, the baby's death resulted from "the reckless or indifferent unlawful conduct of a mother."

     On November 6, 2019, police officers took Chelsea Becker into custody at a house in Visalia, California. She was booked into the Kings County Jail on the charge of murder. The magistrate set her bail at $5 million and appointed her a public defender.

     When the Chelsea Becker murder case became a news item locally and nationally, a team of lawyers backed by Advocates For Pregnant Women took over the case from the public defender. Lawyers with the pro-abortion group filed a petition with a California Superior Court asking for a dismissal of the murder charge on grounds Section 187 of the penal code did not apply to Chelsea Becker's case.

     On June 4, 2020, the superior court judge denied the defendant's motion to dismiss. By doing so, the court ruled that Section 187, a law passed in 1970, did apply to stillborn deaths caused by drug addiction. 

     California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, on August 7, 2020, filed an Amicus Curie (friend of the court) brief on Chelsea Becker's behalf before the California Supreme Court. In the brief, Becerra wrote: "Section 187 of the California Penal Code was intended to protect pregnant women from harm, not charge them with murder. Our laws in California do not convict women who suffer the loss of their pregnancy. The law has been misused to the detriment of women, children, and families."

     In a press release associated with the California Supreme Court filing, the state attorney general said: "We will work to end the prosecution and imprisonment of Ms. Becker so we can focus on applying the law to those who put the lives of pregnant women in danger."

     In a statement to reporters, District Attorney Faqundes responded to Attorney General Xavier Becerra's brief this way: "This case is not about a stillbirth, it is a case about a mother's overdose of a late-term viable fetus."

     On December 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court declined to intervene in the Chelsea Becker Murder case. That meant the case would move forward toward trial.

     In May 2021, Kings County Superior Court Judge Robert Shane Burns dismissed the murder charge against Chelsea Becker on grounds related to criminal intent. The judge ruled the prosecution had failed to present sufficient evidence that the defendant had taken the drugs with the knowledge that such behavior would cause a stillbirth.

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Justin Schneider Sexual Assault Case

     In 2017, 34-year-old Justin Schneider, a husband and father, worked as an Air Traffic Controller at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. In August 2017, at an Anchorage service station, he asked a 25-year-old woman he didn't know if he could give her a lift. She said yes and climbed into his vehicle.

     Instead of driving the woman to her destination, Schneider took her to a remote area where he grabbed her, put his hands around her throat, and threatened to kill her if she screamed. The victim passed out and when she awoke, Justin Schneider zipped up his trousers after he had masturbated on her. He gave her tissue to clean off the semen. He told her that he hadn't really intended to kill her, that it was just a threat to keep her quiet. She grabbed her belongings and alighted from the vehicle. As he drove off she had the presence of mind to note his license plate number.

     From the side of the road the victim used her cell phone to call 911 in which she provided the attacker's license plate registration. After being examined at a local hospital, the victim picked Justin Schneider out of a police lineup.

     Following his arrest, a grand jury sitting in Anchorage indicted Mr. Schneider on counts of kidnapping and felony assault, crimes that together carried a prison sentence of up to 99 years. Shortly thereafter, the prosecutor in charge of the case dropped the kidnapping charges because the woman had gotten into Schneider's vehicle willingly. (In Pennsylvania and most other states, simply restraining a person in a vehicle against their will constitutes kidnapping.)

     Following the indictment, Justin Schneider lost his air traffic control job.

     On September 22, 2018, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannik allowed Schneider to plead guilty to one count of second-degree felony assault. Judge Michael Corey sentenced Schneider to two years in prison then suspended the prison time by giving him credit for a year in jail. The judge sentenced this violent sex offender to a year of house arrest. Moreover, Mr. Schneider was not required to register as a sex offender.

     Justin Schneider did not have to register as a sex offender because under Alaska law, "physical contact with bodily fluid such as semen" did not qualify as a sex crime.

     It's not surprising that the disposition of this case caused a public uproar. In defending the state's handling of this case, a spokesperson with the Alaska Department of Law announced that the plea deal had been based on an expert's opinion that Mr. Schneider would not re-offend. This absurd rationale did not attenuate the criticism of the prosecutor or the judge.

     In responding to the public outrage over the Justin Schneider case, Alaska's governor Bill Walker said he planned to propose legislation that would make "coming in contact with semen" a sex offense that carried a sentence of two to twelve years in prison plus registry as a sex offender. Even those who believed the word of a politician were still angry about how the authorities had handled this case.

     Justin Schneider said the experience had made him a better person. But what about his victim? How did his "experience" affect her? No one asked because no one in Alaska's criminal justice system cared.

The Woodrow Karey Murder Case

     Over the past several years, places of worship have become places of sudden, violent death. Preachers, a church organist, and a handful of congregants have been murdered inside their churches. Most of these homicides occurred during religious services. Some of the killers belonged to the church while others were outsiders. All of these murderers were caught, and most of them were pathologically motivated.

     None of the church murders involved acts of terrorism. Notwithstanding these bizarre incidents, inside a church on Sunday or any other day is still one of the safest places to be. This is not true in many middle eastern countries as well as other places around the world where there is religious persecution and terrorism.

The Killing of Pastor Ronald J. Harris

     Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the southwest part of the state. At 8:30 Friday evening, September 27, 2013, 53-year-old Woodrow Karey, armed with a shotgun, walked into the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles. Pastor Ronald J. Harris was standing in front of the church preaching to sixty revival service congregants when Mr. Karey blew him off his feet with a blast from his shotgun. As the preacher lay bleeding on the church floor, Woodrow Karey stood over him and fired a second shot into his head, killing Reverend Harris instantly.

     As congregants, including the pastor's wife, mother and daughter scrambled for cover, Woodrow Karey walked out of the church. Shortly thereafter, the shooter called 911. He identified himself and informed the dispatcher of what he had just done. Kerey said he wanted to turn himself in and informed the 911 dispatcher where the police could find him.

      Shortly after Woodrow Karey's 911 call, deputies with the Calcasieu Parrish Sheriff's Office took him into custody without incident. Before being hauled off to jail, the shooter took the officers to a wooded area where he had hidden a .22-caliber pistol and the murder weapon.

     Detectives believed that Woodrow Karey shot Ronald Harris because the pastor and Karey's wife Janet were having an affair.

     A parish prosecutor initially changed Woodrow Karey with second-degree murder. He was held on $1 million bond at the Calacasieu Corrections Center. According to reports, Mr. Karey did not have a criminal record. The authorities did not reveal if he had a history of mental illness.

     In December 2013, pursuant to a plea agreement, a grand jury indicted Karey for the lesser offense of manslaughter. The judge reduced his bail to $500,000. In Louisiana, manslaughter carried a sentence of 10 to 40 years. The defendant's trial was scheduled for late 2014.

     In June 2014, a second grand jury indicted Karey for the more serious homicide of second-degree murder. However, in January 2015, Calcasieu Parish Judge Clayton Davis, on the grounds the prosecution reneged on their promise only to pursue manslaughter in the case, threw out the second indictment.

     In June 2015, an appellate court reinstated the second-degree murder charge. The Karey defense appealed that decision and on September 7, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted Mr. Karey a stay, further delaying the resolution of this so called "open and shut" case.

     Woodrow Karey finally went on trial in April 2018. The defendant's wife Janet Karey took the stand for the defense and testified that Pastor Harris, over a period of 14 years, had repeatedly raped her. The defendant took the stand on his own behalf and said he had killed the minister after learning of what the victim had done to his wife.

     Following the closing arguments, the case went to the jury. After deliberating three hours, the jury stunned virtually everyone in the courtroom with the verdict of not guilty. After five years behind bars, Mr. Karey was a free man.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Munchausen Syndrome by Media

     In 2014, Mindy Taylor, a 35-year-old wife and mother of two, resided in Chillicothe, Ohio, a town of 21,000 in the south central part of the state. She had grown up in Smithton, Pennsylvania, a coal mining village in Westmoreland County 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

     Taylor, in January 2014, created a website called "Mindy's Army: No One Fights Alone," in which she announced to the world that years of heart disease, multiple strokes and lupus had weakened her for her most recent health crisis--intestinal cancer that had spread to her liver. As a result of these conditions she couldn't sit very long, couldn't sleep and was too nauseated to eat. Moreover, she suffered double vision.

     According to Mindy Taylor, doctors in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio as well as in Texas were working to treat her ailments. A clinical trial was about to begin on her behalf that gave her hope she might not die from her illnesses.

     Mindy Taylor kept her social media supporters updated through a medical/fundraising blog at CaringBridge.org. On February 16, 2014, she posted the following message: "This isn't just about me. It's about anyone that is fighting with an illness or cancer…Stay positive and always try to do the next right thing."

     That February, Taylor's parents hosted a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at the Smithton Fire Social Hall. The event raised $7,000 for Taylor's cause.

     On February 24, 2014, Taylor's local newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, published a front-page article featuring her daily struggle with terminal illness. In the long piece, Taylor was quoted as saying: "I am preparing for the worst."

     Shortly after the publication of the feature article, a reader called a local law enforcement agency and in reference to Taylor's story, said, "It's a lie. You should check it out." An investigator did just that which led to a subpoena for Mindy Taylor's medical records. As it turned out, she had been lying about the status of her health. She did not suffer from cancer or the other life-threatening illnesses.

     A Ross County grand jury, on April 11, 2014, indicted Mindy Taylor on the felony charge of fourth-degree grand theft. Through her blog, she had raised $21,000. This sum did not include the $7,000 raised at the spaghetti dinner in Pennsylvania. The theft indictment shocked everyone, including members of Taylor's family. 

     Following the indictment, Taylor's attorney, Jeff Benson, told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that his client was returning all of the donated money. He said Taylor had left her job with the Chillicothe school system in 2012, and currently received Social Security disability benefits. The attorney did not reveal the nature of her disability.

     In July 2014, the Ross County prosecutor agreed to drop the charges against Taylor after she completed a 12-step "Diversion" program run by the prosecutor's office. The program, a form of probation, was intended give nonviolent, first-time offenders a chance to prove themselves to be worthy citizens and erase their criminal records. The program, among other things, required Taylor to attend counseling sessions twice a month, perform 250 hours of community service and give $3,000 to the Southern Ohio Cancer Survivors Organization.

     While Mindy Taylor was not terminally ill with cancer, she may have suffered from a personality disorder involving the use of fabricated or self-inflicted illness to attract attention and sympathy. Women who make themselves sick for this purpose possess a syndrome called Munchausen. Women who make their children ill for sympathy and attention suffer from Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. More recently, psychologists have revealed what they call Munchausen Syndrome by Media, a personality disorder in which women gain attention and sympathy through false illnesses publicized on the internet. None of these syndromes, however, are recognized in law as valid criminal defenses.

The Oleg Sokolov Murder Case

     On the night of November 7, 2019, Oleg Valeryevich Sokolov, the decorated Napoleonic era historian, author and professor at Saint Petersburg State University in Saint Petersburg, Russian, physically assaulted his girlfriend, 24-year-old Anastasia Veshchenko. She had been a student of his, and upon graduation, had moved into his apartment. That night, after being beaten, Veshchenko called her brother and informed him of the assault. She said Professor Sokolov attacked her because she attended a birthday party with a friend.

     That night, not long after notifying her brother of the assault, Anastasia Veshchenko called her brother back and told him that the dispute had been resolved and that all was well.

     During the early morning hours of November 8, 2019, the 63-year-old professor, in his flat, killed Anastasia Veshchenko by shooting her with a sawed-off shotgun. Following the murder, Sokolov dismembered his victim in the bathtub, placed her body parts in garbage bags and stored them in his spare bedroom. 

     On November 9, 2019, with his dead girlfriend's mutilated body still in his apartment, Professor Sokolov hosted a party.

     On the morning after the party, the intoxicated killer walked along the Moika River not far from his flat. He was recorded on a CCTV camera throwing bags into the water. At one point he stumbled and fell into the water. People who witnessed his fall saved him by pulling him out of the drink. Someone called the police.

     When officers searched Professor Sokolov's backpack they discovered a bag containing a pair of female arms. At that point Sokolov informed the police he had murdered his girlfriend. He led the officers back to his apartment where the officers found what remained of Anastasia Veshchenko's body. They also seized the shotgun, several firearms and the saw the professor used to dismember his girlfriend.

     While at the murder scene with the police officers, the professor, in an attempted suicide, stabbed himself with a dagger. Following treatment at a nearby hospital he was arrested on charges of murder and illegal possession of firearms. 

     Oleg Sokolov, not long after his arrest, pleaded guilty to the murder and gun charges. 

     On June 9, 2020, following delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sokolov's sentencing hearing got underway in Saint Petersburg. At the proceeding, a government witness informed the court that in 2008, in Moscow, Oleg Sokolov had tied Ekaterina Ivanova to a chair and beat her. The assault took place because Ivanova threatened to leave him after learning that he was married. Nothing came of that assault.

     A psychiatrist for the state testified that at the time he murdered Anastasia Veshchenko, Mr. Sokolov was sane and knew exactly what he was doing.

     The defendant, testifying from within a glass enclosure, explained that he had killed his girlfriend in a fit of anger. He said he had thought she was the perfect woman, but instead she had "turned into a monster."

     Judge Yulia Maximenko sentenced Oleg Sokolov to 12 years and six months, a term to be served at a "strict regime penal colony." No one, including the prosecutor and Anastasia Veshchenko's parents, objected to the lenient sentence.