6,910,000 pageviews


Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Selena Irene York Poisoned Smoothie Case

     Selena Irene York and her teenage daughter, after falling on hard times, were taken in by 79-year-old Ed Zurbuchen who let them live in his Vernal, Utah home. On September 29, 2008, Mr. Zurbuchen's 33-year-old house guest gave him a peach smoothie. Shortly after drinking it he was taken to the hospital complaining of dizziness, face numbness and speech difficulties. At first, doctors thought he had suffered a stroke. After four days in the hospital Mr. Zurbuchen underwent a series of liver and kidney tests that revealed he had ingested ethylene glycol, the main ingredient in anti-freeze.

     Although Selena York had given Mr. Zuburchen the drink that had made him sick and herself the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, and had taken control of his bank account, Mr. Zurbuchen didn't want to press charges against her. Without the victim's cooperation and testimony, the Uintah County prosecutor didn't have a case. In 2009 the poisoning suspect and her daughter moved to Eugene, Oregon. Although the authorities in Utah believed Selena York had tried to murder Ed Zurbuchen, the investigation went cold.

     On April 2011, the poisoning case came back to life when the Uintah County prosecutor received a letter from Joseph Dominic Ferraro, Selena York's former boyfriend and the father of her child. Ferraro, who was in jail for sexual assault, had been living with York and his daughter in Eugene, Oregon. According to Ferraro, York had bragged to him about poisoning a man in Utah in an effort to kill him so she could take over his estate. Since Selena York had drained Joseph Ferraro's bank accoun and sold both his cars while he was in jail, he believed her story. And so did the authorities in Utah.

     In June 2011, police arrested Selena York in Eugene on the charge of attempted murder. After being extradited back to Utah, York, in exchange for the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery, confessed to poisoning Mr. Zuburchen. She said she had purchased the smoothie at a nearby store, dumped out half of its contents then poured in the antifreeze. After his death she planned to gain power of attorney over his estate. Before she left Utah after the failed homicide, York forged a check on the victim's bank account for $10,000.

     In December 2011 Selena York was allowed to plead no contest to the reduced charges of aggravated assault and forgery. Two months later the judge sentenced her to three consecutive five-year prison terms.  Had Mr. Zubuchen died of poisoning, York would have been eligible for the death sentence. Had she not ripped-off Joseph Ferraro (who was convicted of 21 felony sexual abuse counts), she would have gotten away with attempted murder. This woman was a dangerous sociopath who should never get out of prison.

     Mr. Ferraro, the father of York's child who informed on her, was sentenced to ten years in prison on the sexual abuse case. However, he won an appeal that led to the overturning of his conviction. The trial judge had improperly denied Ferraro's motion to postpone his trial in order to acquire more time for his attorney to prepare his defense. The Lane County prosecutor, rather than schedule a second trial, allowed Ferraro to plead guilty to a single count of second-degree sodomy. Sentenced to three years on that charge, the sex offender walked free because he had already served four years on the multiple felony conviction. Because of a legal technicality, this sexual criminal got off light. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Parents Versus State: Control Over a Child's Healthcare

     In Ohio, doctors at Akron Children's Hospital in April 2013 diagnosed 10-year-old Sarah Hershberger with lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Amish girl's parents, Andy and Anna Hershberger, when told that 85 percent of the patients treated for this illness survive, agreed to a two-year chemotherapy program. After the first round of the chemotherapy, the tumors on Sarah's neck, chest and kidneys were diminished.

     In June 2013, after a second round of chemotherapy treatment made their daughter extremely ill, the Hershbergers decided to stop the treatment. They took this action against the advice of cancer doctors who warned them that without the chemotherapy Sarah would die.

     The hospital authorities, believing they were morally and legally bound to continue treating the girl, went to court to take away the parents' right to make medical decisions on their daughter's behalf.

     Andy and Anna Hershberger, in September 2013, took Sarah to an alternative cancer treatment center in Central America where doctors put the girl on a regimen of herbs and vitamins. When the family returned to the United States hospital scans showed no signs of the lymphoma.

     On October 13, 2013, an Ohio appellate court judge granted Maria Schimer, an attorney and licensed nurse, limited guardianship over Sarah Hershberger. The guardianship included the power to make medical decisions on her behalf over the objections of her parents.

     Shortly after the court ruling, the guardian sent a taxi out to the family farm near the village of Spencer, Ohio to fetch Sarah and take her to the hospital in Akron for additional chemotherapy. When the cab arrived at the Medina County home located 35 miles southwest of the Cleveland metropolitan area the family was gone.

     A few weeks later, pursuant to a welfare check on Sarah Hershberger, deputy sheriffs went to the farm and found the place still unoccupied. And no one in the Amish community seemed to know where the Hershbergers had gone. If members of this Amish enclave knew the family's whereabouts they weren't cooperating with the authorities. Attorneys for the Hershberger family appealed the guardianship ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court on issues related to religious freedom.

     If Sarah Hershberger's fate remained in her parents' hands and she died from cancer, Mr. and Mrs. Hershberger could face negligent homicide charges. Moreover, people who helped them avoid the authorities could be charged as accomplices to the crime. The right of religious freedom did not match the right of a child to receive life-saving healthcare. Being given vitamins and herbs as a cancer cure, while less painful than the immediate aftermath of chemotherapy, did not qualify, in the eyes of the medical profession and the law, as adequate healthcare.

     On December 6, 2013, according to media reports, the court appointed guardian decided not to force Sarah Hershberger to undergo further chemotherapy treatments. The family's whereabouts were still unknown.

     In October 2015, MRIs and blood work performed at the Cleveland Clinic revealed that Sarah Hershberrger showed no signs of cancer and appeared to be in perfect health. As a result of these medical tests the family judge ended the court-ordered guardianship of the Amish girl. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Erika Murray's Squalid House of Horrors

     In 2001, 17-year-old Erika Murray met a 25-year-old McDonald's employee from Framingham, Massachusetts named Ramon Rivera. They moved into his parents' home where less than a year later she gave birth to their first child. Three years later, when they were expecting their second child, they moved into a home a few blocks from the police department in Blackstone, Massachusetts, a town of 10,000 on the Rhode Island state line 50 miles southwest of Boston. The dwelling was owned by Rivera's sister who resided there as well. At that time Rivera had a job at a Staples office supply store as a sales clerk.

     In 2006, Rivera's sister moved out of the house. A year after that, a social worker with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) visited the house on St. Paul Street following a complaint of filthy living conditions. The DCF employee recommended some household upgrades. Because the children didn't seem in danger the social worker closed the case.

     After Ramon Rivera made it clear to Erika Murray that he didn't want any more children, Erika, in 2011, gave birth to a girl. Somehow she had managed to keep the birth a secret. To conceal the true identify of the infant, she told Rivera she was babysitting the child for another woman. In April 2014, Murray, in secret, gave birth to the couple's fourth child. She explained away that baby with the same babysitting story. As a result of the secrecy surrounding the births of her last two children there are no official records of their existence.

     On August 28, 2014 the second oldest child in the house went to a neighbor and asked, "How do you get a baby to stop crying?"

     The neighbor entered the house on St. Paul Street with the 10-year-old boy and was shocked by what she encountered. The crying 5-month-old was covered in feces. Inside the dwelling there were piles of trash one to two feet deep that included used diapers. The neighbor called the police.

      Police officers and DCF personnel found the interior of the Murray/Rivera house infested with flies, various other bugs and mice. The four children were immediately removed from the dwelling and placed into temporary foster care.

     Officers also found, in the basement of the house, a marijuana plant beneath a grow-light. Officers also came across jars of marijuana buds and bags of cannabis. Officers booked Ramon Rivera into the Worcester County Jail on charges of possession and cultivation of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

     On Wednesday night, September 10, 2014, police officers in Hazmat suits armed with a search warrant returned to the 1,500 square foot house. Amid the squalor they found a dead dog and two dead cats. In a closet they discovered the remains of a baby. The following day searchers recovered the bodies of two more infants.

     On September 10, at his marijuana charges arraignment, the judge released the 37-year-old Rivera from custody on his own recognizance.
 
     The younger children, the two born in secret, had spent their lives inside that house. The 3-year-old had poor muscle tone and couldn't walk. The baby showed signs of having lived entirely in the dark and had maggots in its ears.

     Murray's court-appointed attorney, Keith Halpern, said this to reporters about his client: "She was frozen in this nightmare. She couldn't get out of it." The attorney telegraphed his defense by suggesting that Murray was mentally ill.

     On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Worcester County prosecutor John Bradley announced that at least two of the infants whose remains were found in Murray's house had been alive for some period of time. The children were dressed in onesies and diapers. A third infant was found in a backpack.

     The judge, at Erika Murray's October 14 bail hearing set the 31-year-old mother's bond at $1 million. Earlier, at her arraignment, she pleaded not guilty to all charges.

     Murray's boyfriend and the father of her children, Ramon Rivera, claimed that he did not know about the dead infants. The authorities did not charge him in connection with the gruesome discoveries inside his house. According to the prosecutor, Erika Murray had instructed her two oldest children to lie to their father about the babies.

     On December 29, 2014, a grand jury sitting in Worcester, Massachusetts indicted Erika Murray on two counts of murder, one count of fetal death concealment related to the remains of the three babies and two counts of assault and battery in connection with the neglected and abused children. According to prosecutor John Bradley, two of the dead babies had lived from one week to a month.

     In speaking to reporters, the prosecutor said that the defendant admitted to investigators that knowing that her boyfriend didn't want any more children after the first two, they continued to have unprotected sex. She gave birth to all of the babies in the home's only bathroom and birthed the children herself. She hid their tiny corpses among the trash in the squalid dwelling.

     At her arraignment hearing, Erika Murray pleaded not guilty to all five of the grand jury charges. Her attorney, Keith Halpern, argued that the prosecution had no physical evidence regarding how long the babies had been alive or how they had died. He said, "The forensic pathologist testified before the grand jury that it was impossible to determine the cause of death of all three dead infants. The evidence of severe harm to the younger children is clear. The issue in this case is Ms. Murray's state of mind. The children were not the only ones that never left that house. She lived in those conditions for years and hardly ever left that house."

     Outside the courthouse, in speaking to reporters, the defense attorney said that his client had laid one of the babies down for a nap, came back an hour or two later and found the infant dead.

     On December 22, 2016, defense attorney Helpern argued at a preliminary hearing that the police search of the defendant's house on September 10, 2014 exceeded the scope of the warrant and was therefore unconstitutional. As a result, according to the attorney, the evidence recovered pursuant to that search was inadmissible

     On March 13, 2017, Judge Janet Kenton-Walker denied the defense motion to suppress the evidence produced by the search in question. That meant that the murder case would proceed to trial. In the meantime, Erika Murray was held, without bond, at the Western Massachusetts Regional Correctional Center in Worcester. 
     In May 2019, Erika Murray was allowed to plead guilty to child assault and animal abuse. Judge Kenton-Walker sentenced her to six to eight years in prison with credit for the four plus years served while awaiting trial. Following her release from prison, Murray would be on probation for five years during which time she could not be alone with children under the age of ten.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The Celina Cass Murder Case

     In July 2011, eleven-year-old Celina Cass lived in West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, a village of 800 in the northern part of the state not far from the Vermont/Canadian border. She resided in an apartment with her mother Louisa, her stepfather Wendell Noyes, her 13-year-old sister Kayla and 22-year-old Kevin Mullaney, the son of her mother's former boyfriend.

    Luisa Cass, on July 26, 2011, reported Celina missing. The mother last saw her daughter at nine the previous night before Celina and Kayla slept over at a friend's house. (Details of what happened that night and exactly when Celina went missing were sketchy.)

     Celina's disappearance triggered a massive search that involved 100 police officers, hundreds of searchers, police dogs and thousands of missing person posters. The FBI posted a $25,000 reward.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of August 1, 2011, a person spotted a body at the edge of the Connecticut River about a half mile from Celina Cass' apartment. The corpse, found at a popular fishing spot near a dam and a railroad trestle, turned out to be the missing girl. (For some reason, emergency personnel did not pull the body out of the river until ten-thirty that night.)

     The medical examiner, without revealing the cause of death, ruled the case a criminal homicide. Following the autopsy a mortician cremated the corpse. 

     Within a few months following the murder, Louisa Cass and Wendell Noyes, her 47-year-old husband, separated. In 2003, psychiatrists diagnosed Noyes with paranoid schizophrenia and committed him to a state mental facility. The diagnosis and commitment took place after Noyes broke into the home of an ex-girlfriend and threatened to hurt her. After that commitment and release, Mr. Noyes was in and out of several psychiatric wards.

     On January 10, 2012, police officers arrested Kevin Mullaney, the son of Louisa Cass' former boyfriend. The 22-year-old stood accused of a variety of crimes that included forging Lousia Cass' signature on a $250 check. Officers booked him into the Coos County Jail on charges of receiving stolen property, reckless conduct and possession of a weapon by a felon.

     A jury, on June 12, 2012, found Kevin Mullaney guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to two to six years in prison.

     In December 2013, with the Celina Cass murder still unsolved, the apartment she and her family resided in went up in flames. No one was hurt. (The cause and origin of that fire was not publicly revealed.) Louisa and her daughter Kayla moved in with Kevin Mullaney's father.

     Residents of the New Hampshire community were frustrated that the Cass murder case remained unsolved. New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young told an Associated Press reporter in July 2015 that the case was still being actively investigated. However, Marcia Laro, the victim's paternal grandmother, told that reporter that she hadn't spoken to an investigator for well over a year.

     The New Hampshire Attorney General's office, on June 20, 2016, announced that detectives working on the Cass case had arrested Wendell Noyes, the victim's stepfather. Louisa Cass, the girl's mother, in speaking to a local television reporter, said, "I hope he rots."

    In February 2017, the state attorney general's office dropped the murder charge against the 54-year-old Wendell Noyes on the ground he was mentally unfit to stand trial. Instead, Noyes was committed to the state psychiatric hospital for a minimum of five years. If at any point the patient's doctors consider him mentally fit, the murder charge could be refiled. As of November 2022, Mr. Noyes has not been charged with murdering Celina Cass. With a long history of mental illness, it is unlikely Wendell Noyes will ever be tried for this murder.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Suspicious Deaths of Max Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau

     Rebecca Zahau was born on March 15, 1979 in the town of Falam in northwestern Burma. Her family moved to Nepal and then to Germany before coming to the United States in 2000. The family settled in Saint Joseph, Missouri.

     In 2008, Zahau was living in Scottsdale, Arizona and married to a man named Neil Nalepa. At this time she started dating 50-year-old Jonah Shacknai, the CEO and founder of Medicis Pharmaceutical Company. The unmarried mogul with a pair of former wives, lived in Scottsdale. In 2011, Shacknai moved into a historic mansion in Coronado, California that had been built in 1908 by John D. Spreckel. Mr. Spreckel had owned the nearby Hotel del Coronado as well as other southern California real estate.  The 13,000 square-foot dwelling featured 27 rooms and a guest house.

     In February 2011, Rebecca divorced Neil Nalepa and moved into the San Diego County mansion with Jonah Shacknai and Max, his 6-year-old son from his second wife. The 32-year-old live-in girlfriend worked as a technician in an ophthalmologist's office.

     On July 11, 2011, Rebecca Zahau and her visiting 13-year-old sister Xena were in the Coronado mansion looking after 6-year-old Max Aaron Shacknai. That morning Rebecca called 911 to report an accident. Max, while running down an elevated hallway or balcony above the lobby-like entrance to the house, had gone over the banister.  Next to his body lay the large chandelier that had hung from the ceiling not far from where the boy had fallen. Investigators with the Coronado Police Department assumed the boy had grabbed the chandelier to break his fall. He suffered spinal cord injuries and serious head trauma and had slipped into a coma.

     The next day, Rebecca Zahau drove Xena to the airport for her flight back to Saint Joseph, Missouri. She also picked-up Jonah Shacknai's brother Adam who had arrived on a flight from Memphis. That evening, Zahau, Adam, Jonah, and a friend of Jonah's ate dinner at a McDonald's. Adam and Rebecca returned to the mansion while Jonah and Max's mother, Dina Shacknai (nee Romano), sat at their son's bedside. Later that night, Jonah called Rebecca to report that Max wasn't going to make it. They were taking the boy off life-support.

     The next day, July 13, 2011 at 6:45 in the morning, Adam Shacknai called 911 and reported that he had discovered Rebecca Zahau hanging by the neck from the balcony. She was nude. Acting on instructions from the 911 dispatcher Adam cut down the body.

     Deputies from the San Diego Sheriff's Office found the dead woman lying on the back lawn of the mansion. She had been gagged with a blue, long-sleeve cotton T-shirt that was also wrapped around her neck with the sleeves tied into a double knot. Her hands were bound behind her back with a length of red rope. Her ankles were also tied together with a piece of the red cordage. On a bedroom door not far from where Adam Shacknai found Rebecca hanging, someone in cursive writing using black paint had written: "She saved him you can save her."

     Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the San Diego County Medical Examiner, performed Rebecca Zahau's autopsy. He found four hemorrhages under her scalp (but no lacerations), and evidence of tape residue on her legs. The forensic pathologist found traces of blood on her legs as well.

     On July 16, 2011, Max Shacknai died. Ten days later, Dr. Lucas announced that the boy had died from brain swelling and cardiac arrest. The medical examiner determined the manner of death to be accidental. Dr. Lucas's ruling in the death was immediately questioned by a trauma physician who had treated the boy. In this doctor's opinion, someone had tried to suffocate the child before throwing him off the balcony. In other words, he had been murdered.

      With news of Rebecca Zahau's bizarre death, people began speculating about whether or not a murderer had staged a suicide. Some of these commentators said that no woman had ever taken off her clothes, gagged herself, bound her hands and ankles then hanged herself. Late in July, 2011, San Diego Sheriff's Office Sergeant Roy Frank said this to a reporter: "There are documentations of incidents throughout the country where people have secured their feet and hands to commit suicide. They do it to make certain they can't escape if they change their minds."

     On September 2, 2011, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, amid rampant speculation of foul play, announced that Rebecca Zahau's death was a suicide. Distraught over Max Shacknai's accident on her watch she had hanged herself. The sheriff's office had therefore closed the case.

     Four days after Sheriff Gore's press conference, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, in response to a massive wave of skepticism regarding his manner of death ruling, issued the following statement regarding the hemorrhages under Zahau's scalp: "Because there was evidence that she went over the balcony in a non-vertical way she may have struck her head on the balcony on the way down." In addressing the blood on Zahau's legs, the forensic pathologist identified the cause as either her menstrual period, or an intrauterine device. The medical examiner offered no explanation for the presence of the tape residue on her legs.

     The next day, September 7, 2011, Dr. Maurice Godwin, a private forensic consultant from Fayetteville, North Carolina with a Ph.D in criminal psychology, told a reporter that Zahau's death had all the earmarks of a "ritualistic killing" and that the suicide had been staged. In Dr. Godwin's opinion, someone had dazed Zahau with a blow to the head then tossed her off the balcony.

     In the same newspaper article, Dr. Lawrence Kobilnsky, a DNA expert who taught at City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, opined that the medical examiner's suicide manner of death determination was "premature." Dr. Kobilnsky said he believed that someone had delivered a substantial blow to Zahau's head. The forensic scientist said, "The chances of bumping into the railing, going over the balcony and hitting your head four times is highly unlikely."

     Dr. Werner Spitz, a highly respected forensic pathologist, in the same piece, said he thought the San Diego medical examiner's manner of death ruling in the case made sense.

     In the summer of 2011, Rebecca Zahau's family hired a lawyer from Seattle named Anne Bremner to represent their interests in the case and to pressure the San Diego Sheriff's Office to re-open the investigation of Zahau's death. According to one of Zahau's sisters, a nurse practitioner who had spoken to her almost every day, Rebecca had no psychiatric history and had never attempted suicide. Attorney Bremner, pursuant to the family's quest to have the case re-investigated, asked the San Diego County District Attorney and the state Attorney General to get involved. The district attorney's office and the attorney general declined.

     On November 15, 2011, Dr. Cyril Wecht, the celebrity forensic pathologist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, appeared on the "Dr. Phil" television show to voice his professional opinion regarding the cause and manner of Rebecca Zahau's strange and sudden death. Dr. Wecht, at the behest of attorney Anne Bremner, had performed a second autopsy of the victim's exhumed body. While he found Dr. Lucas' initial autopsy thorough, Dr. Wecht questioned the medical examiner's suicide manner of death determination. Wecht said the four hemorrhages beneath the scalp could not have been caused by hanging. "You have to have blunt force trauma for that," he said. "You have something of a rounded, smooth surface that impacts against the scalp, this not producing a laceration." According to Dr. Wecht, Zahau could have been knocked unconscious, which would explain why her body did not have any defense wounds from a struggle. The former coroner of Allegheny County agreed that the woman had died from hanging, but believed her manner of death should be changed from "suicidal" to "undetermined."

     Dina Shacknai, Max Shacknai's mother, in order to acquire the boy's autopsy photographs, filed a suit against the San Diego Medical Examiner's Office on April 12, 2012. Dina and her supporters were looking for proof that someone had murdered the 6-year-old boy. They did not believe the wounds on his head had been caused by the fall. (It's not clear if they suspected Rebecca or her sister Xena, or what motive they assigned to the homicide.)

     On July 16, 2012, the one-year anniversary of Max Shacknai's death, Dina Shacknai and her attorney, Angela Hallier, held a press conference in Phoenix. According to the lawyer, the family possessed information from "privately retained experts" that proved the 6-year-old had been murdered at the Coronado mansion.

     On August 6, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coronado Police Department confirmed they had met with Dina Shacknai and her attorney regarding Max Shacknai's death. Police investigators agreed to read the report containing the opinions of forensic scientists who believed the boy could have been murdered. One of those experts, Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist with the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office, reportedly believed that Max was too small to have gone over the balcony railing. Moreover, she believed his head injuries were not consistent with a fall.

     So, what happened to Max Shacknai and Rebecca Zahau? Within a period of two days, they both went over different balconies in the same house. What were the odds of that? If Rebecca had killed herself over the boy's fall, why did she do it in such a bizarre and suspicious way? And what was the meaning of the message painted on the bedroom door? And who wrote it?

     Assuming that Max had been thrown off the balcony to his eventual death, who did it, and why? If Rebecca had been murdered, was it in revenge for the boy's homicide? And finally, will these questions ever be answered?

     On September 10, 2012, a spokesperson for the Coronado police announced there would be no reinvestigation of 6-year-old Max Shacknai's death. 
     In July 2013, Rebecca Zahau's family, believing that her death was the result of criminal wrongdoing, filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against Adam Schackai. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant battered Rebecca then hanged her from the mansion's balcony.

     On March 11, 2016, following a flurry of defense motions in response to the plaintiffs' suit, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. 
     In January 2019, the jury in the wrongful death case found Adam Schackai responsible for Rebecca Zahau's death. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $5 million in damages.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Jeffrey Ferguson's One-Drug Execution

      Several years ago anti-capital punishment activists and death house lawyers began making a fuss over the fact that several states had recently executed condemned prisoners with a single toxic drug, pentobarbital. In the past, executioners used a three-drug cocktail. Because the other two drugs were manufactured in countries that opposed the death penalty, these chemicals were no long available for this purpose in the U.S. Since the rope, the electric chair, the firing squad and the gas chamber were no longer execution options, states that still executed perpetrators of the most heinous murders had no choice but to make do with pentobarbital. This fact enraged anti-capital punishment advocates who considered the one-drug send-off as cruel and unusual punishment. But this was nothing new. Capital punishment opponents object to the death penalty, period. They would complain if these ruthless, cold blooded killers were tickled to death.

     In Missouri, when judges and the governor were confronted with the choice of executing a prisoner with pentobarbital or commuting his sentence to life, they chose the deadly dose. This was not good news for Jeffrey Ferguson, a 59-year-old kidnapper, rapist and murderer who had been living on Missouri's death row for nineteen years.

     At eleven o'clock on the night of February 10, 1989, in St. Charles, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, 34-year-old Jeffrey Ferguson and his friend Kenneth Ousley pulled into a Shell gas station not far from Interstate 70. Across the street at the Mobile station a 17-year-old employee named Kelli Hall was out front checking the fuel level in one of the station's underground gas tanks. The teenager caught Ferguson's eye.

     Ferguson, with Ousley in his Chevrolet Blazer, pulled into the Mobile station. Ferguson got out of his SUV, approached the girl and ordered her at gunpoint into the vehicle. The two men, with the girl in the backseat, drove off with the intention of raping and killing her.

     In a remote area a few miles from St. Charles, Ferguson and Ousley tortured, raped then murdered Kelli Hall by shooting her in the head with a .32-caliber handgun. They dumped her body in a farmer's field in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

     Two weeks after the senseless and random lust killing, the owner of the St. Louis County farm stumbled across the victim's corpse near a shed. The teenager was naked except for a pair of socks.

     In1993 Kenneth Ousley pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole. Two years later Jefffrey Ferguson went on trial for kidnapping, rape and first-degree murder. Taking the stand on his own behalf, the sociopath claimed that he could not have participated in the rape and murder because at the time he was passed out drunk in his truck. This story contradicted the defendant's confession to detectives shortly after his arrest.

     The jury found Jeffrey Ferguson guilty as charged and recommended the death penalty. The judge sentenced him to death in December 1995. (At that time most Americans were wrapped up in the O. J. Simpson double murder case.)

     After he had been in prison for a few years, Ferguson expressed deep remorse for raping and murdering the 17-year-old girl. He also became religious, counseled inmates and helped start a prison hospice program. All the while his team of attorneys appealed his case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost all of their appeals.

     Shortly after midnight on March 26, 2014, following a burst of last-minute pleas for a stay of execution, the executioner at the state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri injected Ferguson with the lethal dose of pentobarbital. While several death penalty sob sisters pointed out in horror that Ferguson did not die quickly, the drug eventually did its job.

     St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, in speaking to reporters following the execution, said that Ferguson's good deeds in prison did not make up for what he had done to that innocent teenager. The prosecutor called Ferguson's crime "unspeakable," a word Ferguson's supporters would use to describe his death.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Anthony Giancola: From Teacher to Cocaine-Crazed Spree Killer

     Anthony (Tony) Giancola, as a student at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida just south of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County, showed a lot of promise. He played football, was class president and had the lead role in the school play, South Pacific. Although accepted for admission at West Point, he attended the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

      Mr. Giancola began his teaching career in 1991 at the Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center, a K-12 school for at-risk children with special needs. By 2005 he was head of the school. In the summer of 2006, Pinellas School District administrators made Tony Giancola principal at the Van Buren Middle School in Tampa. Although he made $90,000 a year, he had a $100-a-day cocaine habit. In February 2007, the principal purchased cocaine, in his school office, from an undercover narcotics officer. After the drug transaction the officer arrested Giancola and searched his car where he found marijuana and two glass pipes containing traces of cocaine. The narcotics arrest ended Mr. Giancola's education career and led to a year in jail followed by three years of probation.

     In 2009, Tony Giancola's wife divorced him, and a year later, in St. Petersburg, police arrested him as he sat in his car at three in the morning. He was charged with violating his probation, prowling and loitering. At this point in his life Mr. Giancola was a mere shadow of his former self and living on the fringes of society.

     On Friday, June 22, 2012, at 10:45 AM in Lealman, Florida, a Pinellas County town 20 miles west of Tampa, Tony Giancola walked into a group home and stabbed 27-year-old Justin Vandenburgh who died at the scene. Next, he stabbed Mary Allis, 59, who would die later that day at a local hospital. Giancola, using the same knife, attacked 25-year-old Whitney Gilber, and Janice Rhoden, 44. These women survived their stab wounds.

     After stabbing four people at the group home, Giancola drove to nearby Pinellas Park, and at the Kenvin's Motel, attacked the man and woman who ran the place with a hammer. The married 57-year-olds were taken to the hospital and treated for serious injuries. Both of these victims, however, survived.

     At 11:30 on the morning of the Kenvin's Motel rampage, Tony Giancola pulled his Ford sedan up to a house in Penellas Park and asked a group of people sitting on the front porch where he could meet a prostitute. When they told him to get lost, he plowed his car into the porch, injuring three women and a man. A witness at the scene took down the license number to his car.

     As Giancola drove from the hit and run scene he struck a 13-year-old boy riding a bicycle. Kole Price, who received minor injuries from the collision, was struck again by Giancola who was intentionally trying to run him down. The boy found protection behind a telephone pole.

      After trying to kill the boy on the bicycle, Giancola drove to a nearby Egg Plotter restaurant where he called his mother. Shortly after the call she and his sister put the blood-covered Giancola into their car and drove him to the mother's house. When Giancola climbed into the car he said, "You'll be proud of me, I just killed 10 drug dealers."

     When Tony Giancola and the two women arrived at his mother's house, she called the sheriff's office. But before deputies arrived at the dwelling he was gone. A short time later police officers found Giancola hiding in a clump of brush next to a canal in St. Petersburg.

     In the course of Giancola's crime spree, the former school principal had stabbed four people, killing two of them. He attacked the two motel operators with a hammer, injured four people on the porch and ran over a boy on a bicycle. The Pinellas County prosecutor charged Tony Giancola with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and several counts of aggravated assault. If convicted as charged he faced the death penalty.

     Other than being high on cocaine, investigators don't know why Giancola attacked these eleven people. There was nothing connecting the groups of victims to each other, or to Giancola. Police believed the murders and assaults were spontaneous and random.

     In September 2013, to avoid death by lethal injection, Anthony Giancola was allowed to plead guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to several life sentences, terms to run consecutively.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore Murder Case

     In 2006, an illiterate 37-year-old part time sanitation worker from Lakeland, Florida named Abraham Shakespeare (an ironic name) won the state's $30 million jackpot lottery. Mr. Shakespeare elected to accept the $17 million lump-sum payout. Soon after winning the money he purchased fancy cars, jewelry, furniture and a $1.7 million mansion in his hometown. Over the next two years the soft-touch millionaire who couldn't tell $6,000 from $60,000, spent, lent and gave away 90 percent of his fortune. Like so many big lottery winners before him, Abraham Shakespeare was beleaguered and overwhelmed by needy relatives, greedy acquaintances, grifters and complete strangers begging him for hand-outs. The money took over his life and brought him problems he hadn't had before hitting it big.

     In late 2008 the confused, depressed and vulnerable lottery winner met a 36-year-old predatory fortune-hunter named Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore who befriended him with the claim she was writing a book about how people took advantage of lottery winners. (Such as by claiming to be writing a book on how people take advantage of lottery winners.) Mr. Shakespeare fell for the ploy and by early 2009, Dorice Moore, as his financial advisor, was looting what was left in his bank accounts.

     On April 6, 2009 the former millionaire, now with just $14,000 in the bank, disappeared. His family, however, didn't report him missing for seven months. During this period, Dorice Moore paid people to tell Shakespeare's mother they had spotted her son around town in the company of a woman. Moore even paid one of the missing man's friends to send the mother a forged letter from Abraham. (Since he couldn't write, this should have raised eyebrows.) Moore also hired an impersonator to fake a phone call to Shakespeare's mom.

     By November of 2009 police started investigating Dorice Moore as a suspect in Mr. Shakespeare's disappearance. Officers, while searching her home in Plant City, Florida found the missing man's mummified remains in her backyard beneath a thirty-by-thirty foot slab of concrete. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy dug two .38-caliber slugs out of the corpse. Mr. Shakespeare died from being shot twice in the chest.

     Following her arrest on February 3, 2010, Dorice Moore told her police interrogators that Shakespeare had been murdered by five shadowy drug dealers. She knew two of them by the names Ronald and Fearless. The others she didn't know. The detectives questioning her, because they had been investigating the murder, didn't believe the drug dealer story.

     The Moore murder trial got underway on November 29, 2012 in Tampa, Florida before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Emmett Battles. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Jay Pruner said that Moore, after stealing $1.3 million from Shakespeare, shot him to death on April 6, 2009. She and an accomplice buried his body behind her house then poured concrete over his grave.

     In addressing the jurors, defense attorney Bryon Hileman said his client had been trying to protect Shakespeare's dwindling fortune from people trying to take advantage of him, and that the lottery winner had fallen in with dealers who had killed him over a drug deal. Regarding the prosecution's case, Hileman pointed out that the state could not link the defendant to the .38-caliber revolver used in the crime. Moreover, Dorice Moore had not confessed, and no eyewitnesses would be testifying against her. According to the defense attorney, the prosecution's case was weak and circumstantial.

     Following several days featuring prosecution witnesses who testified that the defendant had paid them to cover-up Shakespeare's disappearance, the state rested its case.

     Defense attorney Hileman did not put Dorice Moore on the stand to testify on her own behalf. During Hileman's closing argument to the jury, Moore sat at the defense table and sobbed loudly. On December 11, 2012, following a three-hour deliberation, the jury found Moore guilty of first-degree murder.

     Before sentencing the 40-year-old Moore to the mandatory life sentence without parole, Judge Battles called her "cold, calculating, and cruel." According to the judge, she was "probably the most manipulative person this court has ever seen."

     In less than three years, Abraham Shakespeare's good luck turned into a nightmare that led to his murder. This case is a good example how, when it comes to money, big winners can quickly turn into big losers. Mr. Shakespeare should have secured good financial advice, found a way to avoid all of the freeloading beggars, then paid someone to teach him how to read and write. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Criminal Investigation As A Thinking Person's Game

     Successful investigators are intelligent, analytical people who like to solve problems and figure things out. They are also curious, competitive and well-organized in their work habits. They are unafraid of complexity, pay attention to detail, are articulate and can express themselves on paper. Dedicated investigators are lifelong students, people who embrace new challenges and tough assignments. They are not only intelligent, they train themselves to think clearly, draw relevant conclusions and keep bias out of their calculations.

     Individuals who make first-class detectives are often not suited for general police work, and a good cop will not necessarily turn into a competent investigator. The fields of law enforcement (peace keeping and order maintenance) and criminal investigation are vastly different functions that appeal to different kinds of people. The uniformed officer, often having to act quickly and decisively, instead of thoughtful discretion, is more likely to behave pursuant to a detailed code of rules and regulations committed to memory. Training a police officer is therefore nothing like preparing someone for criminal investigation. For that reason, criminal investigators should be recruited from an entirely different pool of candidates. For example, there is no reason to require trainee investigators to be as physically fit as uniformed police officers. Moreover, there is no reason to train future investigators on how to issue traffic tickets, handle drunks, bust drug suspects or deal with domestic disturbance situations.

     The gap between policing and criminal investigation widened as law enforcement agencies, focused on drug enforcement, and concerns with terrorism, became more paramilitary in nature. Even small police departments field SWAT teams that keep sharp by arresting deadbeat dads, bad check passers and shoplifting suspects. As the police have become less interested in criminal investigation, the public, having been educated by the O. J. Simpson case, and hooked on TV shows like "CSI," "The New Detectives," and "Forensic Files," have become increasingly more interested in, and knowledgeable about, the art and science of criminal investigation. This has widened another gap, one between public expectation and police performance.

     Until general policing and criminal investigation are recognized and treated as separate vocations, criminal investigations of major, difficult crimes will continue to be regularly bungled. It is becoming increasingly difficult to think of a celebrated case that hasn't suffered from what could be at best termed mediocre detective work. In America, people who commit criminal homicide, not a particularly clever group of criminals, have a one-third chance of either avoiding detection or arrest. One in a hundred arsonists end up in prison and child molesters have a field day. For the law breaker, America is the land of opportunity. And it is not because the U. S. Supreme Court has handcuffed detectives. Blaming democracy and due process for investigative failures has become second nature to investigators unwilling to face up to their inadequacies.

     Crime solution rates reveal just how bad our criminal investigators are doing. Only 20 percent of all criminal cases lead to an arrest. The crime solution rate hasn't changed since the FBI started keeping crime records back in 1933. The reason for this has to do with the fact that criminal investigation, as a function of the American criminal justice system, has never been a priority. This reality has created decades of public frustration and disillusionment. Instead of fixing the problem, the law enforcement community has tried to indoctrinate the public into believing that solving one out of five crimes is the best that can be expected. It's the old war-is-hell excuse. Even in baseball, batting 200 is considered mediocre.

     Investigative trainees are not only drawn from the wrong well, they are improperly trained by instructors who emphasize methods and techniques designed to resolve cases quickly rather than correctly. The emphasis is on the acquisition of direct evidence in the form of eyewitness identification and the confession rather than the more time consuming, and complex gathering and interpretation of physical evidence; an endeavor that requires special training and more complicated thinking. Perhaps this is why so many crime scenes are either ignored, or improperly processed. This also explains why there are so many false confessions and people sent to prison on the strength of questionable line-up and mug shot identifications. Another method of quickly getting a case off the books involves the use of unreliable jailhouse informants who testify against defendants to get off the hook themselves. The plea bargaining process that accounts for 90 percent of the convictions in this country masks how police detectives go about their business. Because there are so few criminal trials there is no way to know how many confessions are illegally acquired, or how many searches are not based upon adequate probable cause.

     Because most detectives are not accustomed to digging deeply into a crime, that is peeling away layers and layers of leads, they are often stumped when merely scratching the surface of a case fails to reveal the perpetrator. There is also the problem of what could be called the veteran rookie, the uniformed cop who after fifteen years on patrol is rewarded with detective duty. These veteran rookies are not only ill-equipped to be investigators, they are often burned-out bureaucrats eyeing retirement.

     The use of task forces and team investigations attenuate investigative responsibility and produces poor results. A single, competent investigator will out perform a team of fifty amateurs without direction or vision spinning their wheels around a case.

     Only a handful of college level criminal justice programs include credible courses on criminal investigation. Most criminal justice courses are in the areas of policing, corrections and the sociology of crime. Too many criminal investigation courses are taught by academics teaching out of textbooks, or worse, by retired cops earning a little part time money by regaling students with war stories. This begs the question: can a qualified practitioner/lecturer teach college students how to become competent, well-rounded criminal investigators? Even if the classroom is filled with serious students who want to become investigators, the answer is, unfortunately, no. The most a criminal investigation professor can do is educate students about the art and science of criminal investigation. While this will not turn criminal justice majors into detectives, it might enhance a student's police training and the all-important apprenticeship that should follow the police academy.

     At the very least, besides the basic crime solving techniques--crime scene work, interviewing, interrogation and the like--students should be exposed to a philosophy or theory of crime solution that includes the proper attitude, mind set and core investigative values that competent detectives possess. They can be taught how to recognize the elements of a solid investigation and identify cases that are incomplete or flawed. If nothing else, students should come away from the course knowing the basic dos and don't of criminal investigation. Outstanding criminal investigators are the products of a solid education, good training, a long internship, close on-the-job mentoring and relevant experience.         

Monday, November 21, 2022

Murder in a Small Town: The 1957 Fordney-Barber Case

     In 1957, whenever someone in the United States committed murder, the story almost always made the front page of the local newspaper and led the TV news that night. Today there is an explosion of murder-suicide cases across the nation, but in the 1950s such mayhem, particularly in small town America, was virtually unheard of. But it did happen, and it happened on May 28, 1957 in a small town in western Pennsylvania.

     John D. Barber and his wife Grace, a childless couple, adopted 8-year-old Judy Rose in 1946. The family resided in Grove City, Pennsylvania. In 1953, when Judy turned fifteen the family moved fifteen miles west to New Wilmington, a quiet borough of 1,800 in Amish country ninety minutes north of Pittsburgh. The Barbers took up residence in a modest home at 256 North Market Street near the center of the one-redlight town.

     Two years after moving to New Wilmington, the home of Westminster College, Mr. and Mrs. Barber separated. Grace moved a few miles north where she took up residence in Blacktown in adjacent Mercer County. At the time, Mr. Barber, a small aircraft pilot and member of the Shenango Valley Flying Club, worked the night shift at a factory twenty miles west in Youngstown, Ohio. Following her parents' separation Judy elected to remain in New Wilmington with her father.

     In September 1956, at the beginning of her senior year at Wilmington Area High School, Judy Barber announced her engagement to Homer Miller, a young man from Grove City who had joined the Marine Corps. Notwithstanding her engagement to Miller, Judy continued to see Theodore George Fordney, a 28-year-old New Wilmington postal worker she had been involved with since July 1956. Early in 1957, following Homer Miller's discharge from the Marine Corps, Judy returned his engagement ring. She continued to go out with Ted Fordney, a man ten years her senior.

     On May 21, 1957, Mr. Barber, in anticipation of Judy's graduation from high school the following week, bought her a car. Although she had been a mediocre student with a lot of absences, Judy had lined-up a job as a secretary in a department store in the nearby town of Sharon. Having flown several times in a small plane with her father, Judy aspired to someday become an airline stewardess.

     Ted Fordney, Judy's on and off boyfriend, had, in 1945, quit high school during his senior year. Ted, a slender, clean-cut kid of average height who was known as an excellent swimmer and diver, while no more of a prankster than many students in his class of 33, alway seemed to be the boy who got caught. According to his friend Kenny Whitman, Ted was one of those bad luck guys who walked around under a cloud. Before dropping out of school, Fordney and Whitman washed dishes at The Tavern, a New Wilmington restaurant known throughout western Pennsylvania.

     Growing up in New Wilmington, Ted was raised by his mother. No one seemed to know much about his father, George A. Fordney. After leaving school Ted joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Lee, Virginia. In May 1947, fresh out of the service, he worked at the Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company in Youngstown, Ohio. In 1953 he landed a job at the post office in New Wilmington. He also joined the New Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department.

     In 1957, Ted, 29-years-old, still single and working at the post office, resided in a two-story dwelling at 512 West Neshannock Avenue. The house was owned by his mother. His 54-year-old mother, Mary Virginia (Fischer) Fordney, a practical nurse, lived and worked in Florida. For several months Ted had been living with terrible pain caused by a slipped disc in his spine. Because he couldn't stand for any period of time he missed a lot of work at the post office.

     On May 21, 1957, Ted underwent an operation at the Jameson Memorial Hospital in New Castle to repair his ruptured disc. Mrs. Fordney returned to New Wilmington from New Orleans to take care of her son as he struggled to recover from the operation. Mrs. Fordney had been in New Orleans visiting Madeline, one of Ted's three grown sisters.

      Six days following his hospital stay, Ted ran into his lifelong friend, Kenny Whitman. When Kenny asked Ted why he hadn't been around to visit, Ted said the pain in his back was so intense he couldn't sit very long in a car.

     Judy Barber, although she continued to date Ted Fordney, occasionally entertained younger men at her house. Whenever this happened, a jealous Ted would drive slowly back and forth on North Market Street past her home. On Monday, May 27, 1957, just four days before her high school graduation, Judy and a Westminster College freshman from West Hartford, Connecticut named Warren Howard Weber, watched a late night television movie at her house. At one o'clock that night the college student left the North Market Street dwelling and walked back to his dormitory.

     The next morning, May 28, at nine o'clock, John Barber returned home after working the night shift at the factory in Youngstown, Ohio. In the front hallway to the house Mr. Barber discovered his daughter's dead body sprawled out on the floor. She was dressed in a pair of blue polka-dot pajamas and white, knitted socks. An electrical cord from a vacuum cleaner had been wrapped tightly around her neck and knotted. There were no signs of forced entry into the house and Mr. Barber did not see any indication that his daughter had struggled with her killer.

     Mr. Barber picked up the telephone and reported his daughter's murder to an officer assigned to the Pennsylvania State Police Barracks in New Castle, a town of 50,000 nine miles south of New Wilmington. After speaking with the Troop D officer, Mr. Barber called Ted Fordney's house and spoke to his mother. Mrs. Fordney, immediately following Mr. Barber's call, checked her son's bedroom and saw that his bed had not been slept in the previous night. Where was he? After seeing his car parked near the house, Mrs. Fordney walked into her back yard where she found Ted about five feet from the porch sprawled next to a .12-gauge shotgun. He had blasted himself in the face.

     Back at the Barber house, shortly after officers from the state police arrived at the death scene, Dr. Frank C. McClenahan, a local physician, came to the dwelling to examine Judy Barber's corpse. The doctor, based on the fact that rigor mortis had not set in, estimated that the girl had been murdered sometime between two and four that morning.

     Two state police officers, Sergeant Harold Rise and Corporal William S. O'Brien, were assigned the task of getting to the bottom of the two violent deaths. At the Barber house, Trooper O'Brien noticed that the killer had ripped the vacuum cleaner cord out of the wall so violently the plug had detached.

     At the Fordney house, investigators found Ted's wallet, watch and some loose change on his dresser drawer which led them to theorize that before killing himself in the back yard he had emptied his pockets. On his bedroom walls the officers notices scratch marks that could have been made by the fingernails of a man in severe pain. The investigators did not find a suicide note.

     Later on the morning of Ted Fordney's suicide, after police officers and firemen had left the Neshannock Avenue house, Mrs. Fordney called the Sharp Funeral Home a few blocks away. Bob Brush, a 19-year-old who happened to be visiting his friend Pete Sharp at the funeral home that day, accompanied Pete and his brother Bud to the Fordney residence. Bob, a 1956 high school graduate, lived on North Market Street a few houses from the murder scene. While Bob was acquainted with Judy Barber, he only knew Ted Fordney as the older guy with a bad back who spent every day during the summer at the New Wilmington public swimming pool. In the back yard of the Fordney house, Bob Brush took one look at the man lying next to the shotgun and turned away in horror. 

     Dr. Lester Adelson, the forensic pathologist with the Cleveland Crime Laboratory who three years earlier had examined the body of Marilyn Shepard, the murdered wife of Dr. Sam Shepard, performed the Judy Barber autopsy. Dr. Adelson noticed a fresh abrasion on the victim's left temple that suggested the killer had knocked her out before wrapping and tying the cord around her neck. According to the pathologist's estimation, the five-foot-tall high school senior had died of asphyxiation by ligature sometime between two and four on the morning of Tuesday, May 28, 1957.

     Warren Weber, the Westminster College freshman who had been with Judy just hours before the murder, contacted the state police almost immediately after he got word of her death. That Tuesday afternoon Lawrence County District Attorney Perry Reeher and County Detective Russell McConhay questioned the shaken student at the county courthouse in New Castle. Weber informed his interviewers that between ten-thirty and eleven o'clock the previous night he and Judy had seen a man peeking into one of the living room windows. The only thing Weber recognized about the man was that he had a crew-cut. Judy told him that she thought the window peeper was Ted Fordney.

     Troopers Rice and O'Brien questioned several witnesses who had seen Ted Fordney, at ten-thirty Monday night, walking toward the Barber house. Witnesses had also seen the victim and Fordney riding around town in her new car in the afternoon and evening of the day before her death. According to some of Judy's girlfriends, she did not want to marry Ted and was thinking of ending their relationship. Whenever she entertained a boy her age Ted would pay Judy a visit shortly after her date went home.

   New Wilmington weekend police officer John D. Kyle questioned Ted Fordney's next-door neighbor, Mrs. Elmer Newton who said that she and her husband, between four and five o'clock Tuesday morning, heard a noise they thought was thunder. Officer Kyle presumed the couple had heard Ted Fordney shoot himself in the head.

     At this point in the investigation the homicide investigators as well as the Lawrence County District Attorney believed that Ted Fordney had gone to the Barber house an hour or so after the college student had gone home. Judy let him in, they argued and he punched her on the side of the head. As she lay unconscious on the hallway floor he wrapped and tied the electrical cord around her neck. After returning to his house Ted grabbed his shogun, walked into the back yard, and shot himself in the face.

     On Wednesday morning, May 29, the day after the murder-suicide, the dead girl's father allowed himself to be interviewed by reporter Bryant Artis with The Pittsburgh Press. Artis' comprehensive front-page article about the mayhem in New Wilmington featured a large yearbook photograph of Judy Barber. According to John Barber, just minutes after reporting his daughter's murder to the Pennsylvania State Police, he telephoned Ted Fordney. "I called him simply because he knew everybody in town," the father said. Regarding his daughter's relationship with a man ten years older than her, Mr. Barber said, "He wouldn't show up for a month at a time. But they both loved to dance and off they'd go." Asked about his feelings toward Ted Fordney, Mr. Barber said, "It's not fair to accuse him until we know."

     Lawrence County Coroner John A. Meehan, Jr. held the coroner's inquest in New Castle at the country court house on August 6, 1957. Following the three hour session in which six witnesses testified, the coroner's jury, after deliberating twenty minutes, delivered its verdict. The inquest jurors found that Judy Barber had been strangled to death by Theodore Fordney who committed suicide shortly after the murder. This meant there would be no further investigation into these deaths. The case was closed.

     Because no one saw Ted Fordney murder Judy Barber, and he did not confess, the case against him was entirely circumstantial. Moreover, there was no physical evidence connecting Mr. Fordney to the killing. According to reportage in the weekly New Wilmington Globe, forensic scientists at the state police crime lab in Butler had found hair follicles from the victim on the sweeper cord. Latent fingerprints had been lifted from the ligature, but because they were partials, they could not be identified.

     Warren Weber, the Westminster College student from Connecticut did not return to New Wilmington. And who could blame him? He had come to a small, quiet community to end up having a date murdered just hours after he left her house. It probably dawned on Weber that Ted Fordney could have come to the Barber house that night with his shotgun. Before turning the gun on himself, Fordney could have murdered him along with the girl.

     Ted Fordney's mother, on February 1, 1996, while living in a convalescent home in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, died at the age of 93.

      Ted Fordney did not have a history of criminal violence and he had never been treated for any kind of mental illness. So what could have driven this ordinary man to commit murder and suicide? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact he was in extreme pain. It is possible he was taking pain-killing drugs that had altered his personality. (In the 1950s, patients suffering from post-surgical pain often took a powerful, over-the-counter drug called Paracetamol. Even in small doses, Paracetamol was known to cause kidney, liver and brain damage. If combined with even small amounts of alcohol the drug was especially dangerous.)

      The memories of Judy Barber and Theodore Fordney, today remembered by a handful of people, are intertwined forever as they lay buried in the same cemetery outside of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. In criminal homicide, the smaller the town, the bigger the murder.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Who Killed the Barajas Children and Murdered Jose Banda?

     On the night of December 7, 2012, the pickup truck carrying the Barajas family--David and Cindy and their four children--ran out of gas on a dark narrow country road near Alvin, Texas thirty miles southeast of Houston. Because they were 100 yards or so from their home, Mr. Barajas asked his boys, David who was 12 and 11-year-old Caleb, to push the truck the rest of the way. At eleven o'clock, when they were within 50 yards of their house, another vehicle plowed into the back of the pickup. The crash killed David instantly and seriously injured his brother who died later that night in the hospital. Mr. Barajas suffered minor injuries. His wife Cindy and their two daughters were not hurt in the accident.

     Deputies with the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, when they looked inside the vehicle that slammed into the Barajas pickup, found 20-year-old Jose Banda. Having been shot once in the head, Banda was breathing but unresponsive. (I don't know if he had been shot from the passenger's or driver's side of the car.) The officers found him slumped over in the front passenger's seat. He died in the hospital a few hours later. Deputies searched both vehicles and the area surrounding the accident without finding a gun. There were indications that Mr. Banda had been drinking.

     While the county coroner ruled Jose Banda's death a homicide, the person who shot him was a mystery. If David Barajas or his wife had shot Banda for killing their two boys, where was the gun? Could someone besides Banda have been behind the wheel of vehicle that crashed into the pickup? Could that person have shot Banda and fled the scene with the murder weapon before being spotted by members of the Barajas family? This would explain why the deputies did not find the murder weapon.

     In speaking to a reporter, Brazoria County sheriff's deputy Dominick Sanders said, "We are not sure if Banda was shot before or after the wreck." (If shot before the wreck, the murder might have caused the accident. If this is what happened, was the shooter inside the car or along the road?)

     Deputy Sander did not say if David Barajas and his wife had been subjected to gunshot residue tests to determine if they had recently discharged a firearm. Moreover, the sheriff's office did not indicate if Mr. Banda had been shot at close range, or if a shell-casing has been recovered from the scene. (If the area around Banda's entrance bullet wound featured gunpowder staining, he had been shot from a distance no farther than eighteen inches. The more powder staining, the closer the range.)

     A week after the fatal accident and criminal homicide, the deceased boys' parents, in hiding following Facebook threats, had not been questioned by the police. (This was not good investigative technique.) According to the boys' uncle, Gabriel Barajas, his brother remembered the accident in a "blur."

    Tests revealed that Jose Banda had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of his death. Forensic gunshot residue tests showed that Mr. Barajas had not fired a gun that night.

     On February 10, 2013, notwithstanding a lack of evidence in the case, a Brazoria County grand jury indicted David Barajas, Jr. for murder of Jose Banda. If found guilty, Barajas faced up to life in prison. Upon his arrest Mr. Barajas maintained his innocence.

     On August 27, 2014, after a one-week trial, the jury found David Barajas not guilty. Without a murder weapon, an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecutor simply did not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the community supported and had sympathy for the defendant from the start.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Matthew Hinson Murder Case

     William C. Pettry lived with his wife and three children 50 miles from Chicago in Lake Villa, Illinois. On Friday, October 7, 2012, the 42-year-old self-employed contractor and his best friend, Nick Viverito, flew to Jacksonville, Florida from Milwaukee to attend a Sunday Chicago Bears-Jacksonville Jaguars pro football game.

     On Saturday, the night before the game, Pettry and his 42-year-old friend were eating and having drinks at an upscale Irish restaurant called Fionn MacCools located near their hotel. Around midnight, Pettry and Viverito were sitting at a table on an outside patio visiting with other Chicago Bears fans. Matthew Hinson, his wife and another woman, people who lived in the area, were nearby waiting for inside seating. The two men from Illinois exchanged smalltalk with the 28-year-old Hinson and the two women with him.

     Shortly after Matthew Hinson, his wife and the other woman walked inside the restaurant to their table, William Pettry walked into the bar to get more drinks. When he didn't return to the patio after twenty minutes, his friend began to wonder where he was. About this time a waitress approached Viverito and said, "Hey, your friend, he's not breathing at the bar. He's full of blood." Viverito ran into the restaurant where he found William Pettry on the floor bleeding profusely from his neck. Nurses who happened to be dining at the restaurant were trying to stop the bleeding and resuscitate the seriously wounded man. William Pettry bled to death on the floor of the bar.

     According to witnesses, Matthew Hinson, using a small pocketknife, had slit Pettry's throat, then walked out of the restaurant. The two men had been sitting on a bench when Hinson stood up, pulled out his knife and ran the blade across Mr. Pettry's neck. As he left the place, Hinson made a cutting motion across his throat with his finger. Jacksonville police officers stopped his car as he was pulling out of the parking lot. Following a brief scuffle, they took Mr. Hinson into custody.

     Matthew Hinson admitted to the arresting officers that he had killed the man in the bar with his pocketknife. Angry words had not been exchanged between the two men. The attack had been entirely by surprise, and unprovoked. While Hinson didn't tell the police why he had murdered a total stranger, witnesses informed the officers that he had attacked Pettry out of jealously and rage. He didn't like the fact the victim had spoken to his wife. The murder had nothing to do with sports rivalry.

     Matthew Hinson, charged with criminal homicide, was held in the Jacksonville County Jail without bond. In speaking to reporters, county police Lieutenant Rob Schoonover said, "Hinson calmly and in cold blood cut the victim's throat and walked out of the restaurant." In 2006, Hinson had pleaded no contest in Florida's Clay County to driving under the influence. Beyond that he had no criminal record that anyone could find.

     On Saturday, October 13, 2012, current and former Chicago Bears team members held a fundraiser for the Pettry family. The proceeds came from the auctioning of Bear-related sports memorabilia.

     In crime fiction, because murder is such a deviant and evil act, murderers are either motivated by extreme hatred, greed or lust. But in real-life, so-called spontaneous murders--killings without corresponding motivations--are common. They are committed by homicidal time bombs like Matthew Hinson.

     On May 21, 2013, two months before his trial date, Hinson pleaded guilty to second degree-murder. At his sentencing hearing on July 18, 3013, Hinson's attorney, public defender Kate Bedell, told Circuit Judge Suzanne Bass that his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse.

     The judge sentenced Matthew Hinson to life in prison.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Murdered in Honduras

     Beauty queen Maria Jose Alvarado, as Miss Honduras, represented a country that had the world's highest murder rate for a place not at war. From 2005 to 2013 the murder of Honduran woman and girls increased by 263 percent. The 19-year-old university student resided in Teguigalpa, the Honduran capital. She had been participating in beauty pageants since she was a young girl.

     In Latin America where beauty pageants are popular, winners often become celebrities and TV personalities. While Alvarado hoped to become a diplomat after graduating from the university, she worked as a model on the popular Honduran television game show "X-O Da Dinero." In her spare time she played volleyball and football (soccer).

     On the night of November 13, 2014, Maria Alvarado was at a resort/spa outside of Santa Barbara, a city 240 miles west of her home. She was there to attend a birthday party for her sister's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz.

     That night after the party, Alvarado, her 23-year-old sister Sofia Trinidad Alvarado and Plutarco were seen getting into a champagne colored car.

     The next day, when Maria failed to board a plane for London to participate in the early rounds of the  120-contestant Miss World pageant, she and her sister were reported missing.

     On Tuesday November 18, 2014, officers with the Honduran National Bureau of Investigation arrested Sofia Alvarado's boyfriend, Plutarco Ruiz. Pursuant to the arrest, the officers seized a champagne colored car and a pickup truck. They also recovered a .45-caliber pistol.

     Under police interrogation Mr. Ruiz confessed to murdering his girlfriend and her sister, the beauty queen. After he and the women left the party Plutarco Ruiz and Sofia Alvarado got into a heated argument regarding the fact she had been dancing with another man. At some point, out of a jealous rage, Ruiz pulled out the .45-caliber handgun and shot her in the head. He shot Maria twice in the back as she tried to flee the scene.

     Ruiz and an accomplice loaded the two corpses onto the back of a pickup truck and hauled the bodies to a remote spot along the banks of the Aguagual River near the town of Arada 25 miles from Santa Barbara.

     On Wednesday November 19, 2014, police officers recovered the bodies lying on top of each other in a shallow grave near the river. Maria Alvarado was wrapped in a brown plastic sheet.

     Officers with the Honduras National Bureau of Investigation, on the day they arrested Ruiz, took five suspected accomplices into custody. The officers arrested Aris Maldonado Mejia, Antonio Ruiz Rodriguez, Ventura Diaz, Elizabeth Diaz and Irma Nicolle.

     In June 2017, after a jury found Plutarco Ruiz guilty of double murder, the Honduras judge sentenced him to 45 years in prison. The others involved in the murders were convicted and sent to to prison for sentences ranging from five to ten years.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Kristopher Gartrell Murder Case

     On November 25, 2018, when the cleaning lady arrived at the home of 87-year-old Virginia Barbour outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, she found the house in disarray. When the cleaning lady couldn't locate the homeowner, she called the police.

     When officers with the Pennsylvania State Police rolled up to the scene they found Virginia Barbour's body wrapped in a sheet and stuffed beneath her bed. The killer responsible for strangling her to death had stolen her 2012 Chevrolet Impala and what was later determined to be $1,200 worth of coins. The killer had also tried to burn down the house in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence. The fire did not take and went out by itself.

     The day following the murder, detectives developed 48-year-old Kristopher Gartrell as a suspect in the case. According to Gartrell's girlfriend, he had murdered the elderly victim. Gartrell had allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend if she went to the police. 

     Police officers took Kristopher Gartrell into custody at the Presidential Inn in Gettysburg. At the time of his arrest Gartrell was in possession of the dead woman's car and coin collection.

     When interrogated by detectives, Gartrell confessed to entering the victim's unlocked house for the purpose of robbing her. After he forced Virginia Barbour to show him where she kept the coins, he tied her up and raped her twice. Following the sexual attacks, Kristopher Gartrell strangled the victim, stuffed her body under the bed then set fire to the room. He left the scene in the victim's car.

     Officers booked Mr. Gartrell into the Adams County Jail on charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, arson and robbery. Given the number and seriousness of the charges the magistrate denied Gartrell bond.

     Further investigation revealed that Kristopher Gartrell was registered in South Carolina as a sex offender. In 1997 he had been convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He had also been convicted of kidnapping. A parole board in South Carolina released Gartrell from prion in March 2018. In August of that year the authorities placed Gartrell on South Carolina's "19 Most Wanted" list after he failed to report to his probation agent.
     In May 2019, following his guilty pleas to sexual assault and murder, the judge sentenced Kristopher Gartrell to life in prison.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Persecuting Robert Kraft: The Asia Day Spa Case

     Robert Kraft, a Harvard Business School graduate and paper products tycoon worth about $6.6 billion, purchased the NFL's Boston Patriots franchise in 1994 for $176 million. In New England, Mr. Kraft and his team were loved, everywhere else they were not. He was probably the highest profile team owner in the league. What happened to him in 2019 made him known even to people who don't follow professional football.

      On February 22, 2019, the chief of the Jupiter, Florida Police Department held a press conference to announce the results of a 6-month prostitution sting involving a local massage parlor called Asia Day Spa.

     According to the Asia Day Spa's website, the spa offered a "variety of massage modalities" that included services that cost patrons $59 for a half-hour and $79 for a full hour.

     Several female employees of the spa had been charged with prostitution. Twenty-five suspected johns had been charged as well. The men were charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution, a misdemeanor that carried, for the first time offender, up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. That was not big news. That was not the real reason the chief of police had called a press conference.

     The big news, the bombshell, was that Robert Kraft was one of the johns caught up in the vice dragnet. According to the chief of police, the 78-year-old had visited the spa on two occasions in January 2019. He had allegedly been recorded on hidden police surveillance cameras engaging in sexual activity with two Asia Day Spa employees.

     Robert Kraft, when he was in Florida, lived in a double apartment in a luxury waterfront development he owned in Palm Beach. According to the police report he had made the two 35 -minute trips to Jupiter in a chauffeur driven car.

     A spokesperson for Mr. Kraft told reporters that "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."

     On May 9, 2019, Palm Beach County Judge Joseph Marx sealed more than 100 hours of Asia Day Spa police video recordings, including footage allegedly depicting Robert Kraft's sexual activities. The judge wrote: "Defendants are guaranteed a fair and impartial trial by jury, and not a trial by community or in the press."

     Judge Marx, on May 20, 2019, decided that prosecutors in the Asia Day Spa case could not use the video recordings of Robert Kraft and the others as evidence at their trials. The judge ruled that the "dragnet" videos violated the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of lawful spa customers.

     On December 28, 2019, Florida's attorney general asked for a three-judge appellate panel to reverse the lower court's exclusion of the Asia Day Spa videos. The attorney general argued that without hidden surveillance cameras prostitution sting operations would be impossible. Without this evidence the state had no case.

     Robert Kraft issued a statement that in part read: "I know I have hurt and disappointed my family, my close friends, my co-workers, our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard."

     Every year in the United States, undercover vice cops arrest roughly 7, 500 men for patronizing adult prostitutes. They do this at a time when jurisdictions like the state of California have essentially legalized retail theft, the public use of heroin and parole violation. Prosecutors in several big cities do not prosecute people for breaking into cars, robbery, possession of heroin and resisting arrest.
     In September 2020 the prosecutor dropped the charges against Robert Kraft and the other alleged johns.
     Lei Wang, the manager of the Asia Day Spa pleaded guilty in December 2020 to one count of soliciting another to commit prostitution. The 41-year-old was sentenced to one year probation and fined $5,000. Three other female spa employees pleaded guilty to misdemeanor offenses and received probation. 

     Prosecuting men who patronize prostitutes, in a nation overwhelmed with serious crime, is an outlandish waste of law enforcement resources. Nothing destroys faith in a criminal justice system more than selective law enforcement.  

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Steven Zelich Murder Case

     On June 5, 2014, a highway worker cutting high grass along a road in Geneva, Wisconsin, a town in Walworth County 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee, exposed a pair of large suitcases. The overpowering odor of rotting flesh caused the highway employee to notify the police.

     Each of the suitcases contained a badly decomposed body of a woman. Through dental records the authorities identified the women as 37-year-old Laura Simonson and 21-year-old Jenny Gamez. The forensic pathologist, due to the condition of the bodies, could not establish their causes of death. Neither woman, however, had been shot.

     One of Laura Simonson's relatives reported the mother of seven from Farmington, Wisconsin missing on November 22, 2013. While her cause of death was unknown, before she died someone had tied a rope around her neck. That person also stuffed a ball attached to a collar into her mouth. The gag collar looked like a device commonly used by sadomasochists in bondage/slave sexual activity. According to family members, Simonson had struggled with mental illness.

     No one had been looking for the younger woman, Jenny Gamez. According to her foster parents, Gamez had left their home in Cottage Grove, Oregon to start a new life. In 2008, as a fifteen-year-old, she had given birth to a son. The baby's father, in 2010, gained full custody of the child. In keeping with the sadomasochistic theme of the case, someone had tied Gamez's hands behind her back.

     On June 27, 2014, police officers arrested 52-year-old Steven M. Zelich at his home in West Allis, Wisconsin. Zelich had been seen with each woman on separate occasions in Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Wisconsin prosecutor charged Zelich with two counts of hiding a corpse.

     In 1989, the then 27-year-old Zelich started working in West Allis as a police officer. Three years later, following an off-duty altercation with a prostitute, the chief of police forced him to resign. Since 2007 Zelich had been an employee of a contract security guard company.

     Zelich's sexual tastes, in light of evidence of bondage associated with the bodies in the suitcases, led detectives to suspect he was the last person to see these women alive. On a bondage and sadomasochism website, Zelich solicited sexual partners with the following message: "Seeking no limit enslavement, imprisonment, captivity, animalization ideally in a farm/caged situation."

     Following his arrest, Zelich told detectives he met the 21-year-old Gamez through the sex website. In November of 2013 he spent several nights with her in a Kenosha County Hotel where they had sadomasochistic sex that included bondage. Upon her accidental death in the course of this activity, he stuffed her body into a suitcase and took the corpse home.

     After connecting with the 37-year-old Laura Simonson through the sadomasochistic Internet site, she and Zelich engaged in bondage sex at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Rochester, Minnesota. This took place on November 21, 2013. Simonson had checked into the motel under her own name but never checked out. After she died while having sex with him, Zelich placed her body into a suitcase that ended up in his house with the other corpse.

     In late May or early June 2014 Zelich dumped the suitcases along the road in Geneva, Wisconsin. According to Zelich's attorney, the women, as willing participants in rough sex, died accidentally. By dumping the suitcases along the road, Zelich wanted the bodies to be discovered. The attorney did not believe that homicide charges in this case would be appropriate.

     In January 2016, Steven Zelich pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree homicide as well as one count of hiding a corpse. The judge, in March 2016, sentenced Steven Zelich to 35 years in prison.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The Dr. Robert Ferrante Poison Murder Case

     In 2013, Dr. Robert Ferrante and his wife, Dr. Autumn Klein, lived with their 6-year-old daughter in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Ferrante held the positions of co-director of the Center of ALS Research and visiting professor of neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Dr. Klein, with offices in Magee-Woman's Hospital in the Kaufman Medical Building, was chief of women's neurology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and an assistant professor of neurology, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at the University of Pittsburgh.

     Dr. Ferrante, twenty-three years older than his wife, met her in 2000 when they lived in Boston where she was a medical student and he worked at a hospital for veterans. They were married a year later. In 2010 Dr. Ferrante left his job at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital to join the University of Pittsburgh's neurological surgery team. Dr. Klein moved to Pittsburgh with him.

     Dr. Klein, who was forty-one, was having difficulty getting pregnant with her second child. Her 64-year-old husband had been encouraging her to take a nutritional supplement to help her conceive. On April 17, 2013, Dr. Ferrante sent Autumn a text message in which he inquired if she had taken the supplement. She wrote back: "Will it stimulate egg production, too?" Nine hours after Dr. Klein sent that message she collapsed in the kitchen of the couple's Schenley Farms home.

     Emergency personnel rushed Dr. Klein to the University of Pittsburgh Medial Center (UPMC) in Oakland. On the kitchen floor next to her body paramedics noticed a bag of white powder later identified as Creatine, a nutritional supplement. Shortly after the patient was admitted into the hospital, a UPMC doctor ordered tests of her blood. When a preliminary serological analysis revealed a high level of acid, the doctor ordered toxicological tests for cyanide poisoning.

     Dr. Klein died on April 20, 2013. Three days later, at Dr. Ferrante's insistence, her body was cremated. As a result there was no autopsy.

     Dr. Karl Williams, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, based on the toxicology reports, determined that Dr. Klein had died of cyanide poisoning. The forensic pathologist ruled her death a homicide.

     Cyanide kills by starving the cells of oxygen. A lethal dose for a human can be as small as 200 milligrams--1/25th the size of a nickel. The poison acts fast and metabolizes quickly. The toxic substance can be undetectable from one minute to three hours after ingestion. Had samples of Dr. Klein's blood not been taken upon her admission to UPMC, there would have been no physical evidence of poisoning beyond the contents of the bag of white powder found lying on the victim's kitchen floor.

     Two weeks after Dr. Klein's death, detectives with the Pittsburgh Police Department launched a homicide investigation with Dr. Ferrante as the prime suspect. Officials at UPMC placed the neurologist on leave and denied him access to his laboratory. A police search of the lab resulted in the discovery that 8.3 grams from a bottle of cyanide was missing. Detectives learned that Dr. Ferrante had purchased a half-pound of the poison on April 15, 2013, two days before his wife collapsed in their home. Dr. Ferrante had used a UPMC credit card to buy the cyanide and had asked the vendor to ship it to his lab overnight. Detectives believed the suspect, in his laboratory, mixed the cyanide--a substance not related to his work--into the dietary supplement.

     According to friends of the victim, Dr. Ferrante had been a controlling husband who was jealous of his wife's fast-rising career. Moreover, he suspected that she was having an affair with a man from Boston. Dr. Klein had told friends she was planning to leave the doctor. Another possible motive involved the fact Dr. Ferrante did not want his wife to have another child.

     On April 13, four days before she fell ill, Dr. Klein sent one of her friends a text message regarding a trip she planned to take to Boston by herself. In that message she wrote: "Change of plans. Husband is coming to Boston. Told me 'to keep me out of trouble.'"

     "Oh, dear," replied the friend. "Did you know you were in trouble?"

     "I feel like I have been in trouble for a long time now," Dr. Klein answered.

     On July 24, 2013, an Allegheny County prosecutor charged Dr. Robert Ferrante with first-degree murder. The next day, as Dr. Ferrante drove back to Pittsburgh from St. Augustine, Florida, a West Virginia state patrol officer arrested him on I-77 near Beckley. According to the doctor's attorney, William Difenderfer, his client was on his way to surrender to the Pittsburgh police.

     Dr. Ferrante's arrest for the murder of his wife caused him serious financial problems. Except for $280,000 the suspect was allowed to use for legal expenses and a possible fine, a judge seized his assets. In August 2013, his 6-year-old daughter's maternal grandmother who was caring for the girl in Maryland, petitioned a family court judge for child support.

     The Ferrante murder trial got underway on October 20, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following jury selection, the attorneys for each side presented their opening statements. Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Lisa Pelligrini asserted that the defendant had murdered his wife because she wanted to have a second child. The prosecutor also said that Dr. Ferrante thought his wife was having an affair.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer pointed out the circumstantial nature of the prosecution's case, inconsistent crime toxicology reports regarding cyanide in Dr. Klein's blood, and an absence of an autopsy.

     Dr. Christopher Holstege, a University of Virginia professor and the author of the text, Criminal Poisoning, Clinical and Forensic Perspectives, took the stand as the prosecutor's key expert witness. Dr. Holstege testified that the victim's symptoms ruled out everything but cyanide poisoning.

     Defense attorney William Difenderfer put three forensic experts on the stand. Dr. Robert Middleberg, vice president of a private crime lab in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, said tests at his facility of Dr. Klein's blood were inconclusive.

     Dr. Middleberg's testimony was backed up by Dr. Shaun Carstairs of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego and former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht. Dr. Wecht, a forensic pathologist, had testified in dozens of celebrated murder cases around the world.

     As his last witness, Diffenderfer, in a surprise and risky move, put the defendant on the stand to testify on his own behalf. As could have been anticipated, the prosecutor's blistering cross examination revealed numerous inconsistencies in Dr. Ferrante's statements to the authorities.

     On Friday November 7, 2014, the jury found Dr. Ferrante guilty of first-degree murder, an offense in Pennsylvania that came with a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

     Through his appellate attorney Chris Eyster, Robert Ferrante appealed his conviction on the ground that the prosecution had not had sufficient probable cause for the search warrant that produced evidence that incriminated his client. The lawyer also raised questions regarding the laboratory that concluded that the victim had been killed by poison.

     In September 2016, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning upheld the Ferrante conviction.

     In October 2017, appellate attorney Chris Eyster petitioned a three-judge Superior Court panel to grant Robert Ferrante a new trial. According to Eyster, Dr. Autumn Klein's post-mortem kidney donation could not have taken place had the organ been irreparably damaged by poison. The lawyer also attacked the reliability of the toxicological tests performed by Quest Diagnostics. In his motion, Eyster argued that the Ferrante prosecution failed to reveal before the murder trial that a Quest subsidiary, the Nichols Institute, paid a $40 million fine for a 2009 federal misbranding conviction, and $241 million more to settle the related litigation. Quest/Nichols, according to federal prosecutors in that case, sold misbranded tests to various laboratories that were unreliable.

     When the Superior Court judges denied Ferrante's appeal, his attorneys filed a series of new appeals based upon inadequate counsel. In August 2019, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey manning dismissed most of these appeals but ruled that Ferrante's argument that his trial attorneys had erred when they withdrew his request for a jury drawn from outside Allegheny County had enough merit to justify a hearing.
     In May 2021, the appellate judge denied Ferrente's petition for a new trial. The 73-year-old is serving his life sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, Pennsylvania.