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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Morena Costello's Revenge

     In January 2010, when Bella Costello died of heart failure while being treated at the Staten Island University Hospital, his distraught 38-year-old daughter, Morena Costello, blamed the 65 year old's doctors and nurses for his death. Morena had been caring for her ailing father, a retired musician, in his home in the Port Richmond section of Staten Island. Following his demise she sank into deep depression, and brooded over the role she believed doctors and nurses played in his death.

     In late July 2010, Morena, who blamed two of her father's doctors and a pair of nurses for Mr. Costello's fate, reached out to a friend who was at the time in trouble with the law. Morena informed this man that she was looking for someone to kill the doctors and the nurses she believed responsible for his death. At first the murder-for-hire intermediary brushed the request off as the frustration of a grieving daughter. But as time passed, and after a series of phone conversations, her friend became convinced that Morena Costello was dead serious when she said she wanted these healthcare workers murdered. She meant business, and there was no way he could talk her out of her murderous mission.

     Morena's friend, after notifying the FBI of Costello's intentions, called her on October 22, 2010 with the news he had located a hitman. The contract killer would be in touch with her soon. Five days later, Morena and the "hit man," an undercover FBI agent, met in his car. The FBI recorded the meeting with a hidden camera in the agent's vehicle.

     Morena showed the agent a photograph of her father and a copy of his death certificate. She handed him a handwritten list containing the names, addresses, work schedules and physical descriptions of the people she wanted the hitman to murder. She said she wanted these people to suffer like her father had suffered. When the agent asked Costello specifically what she wanted him to do with the people on the list, she pointed to the word "death" on her father's death certificate. She also wrote him a note that read: "Just do it." To seal the deal, Costello handed the agent $400 as downpayment for the murders. Upon receipt of the blood money the agent identified himself and took Costello into custody.

     Following Morena Costello's arrest, a federal grand jury returned a murder-for-hire indictment. Her attorney, while not presenting his client as innocent of the murder for hire plot, told reporters that Morena was seriously depressed and psychotic.

     On October 18, 2012, before a federal judge in a Brooklyn, New York district court, Morena Costello pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of obstruction of an investigation. In June 2013, the judge sentenced Costello to three years' probation. She could have received up to 57 months in prison.

     Had this woman reached out to the wrong person (or from her point of view the right person), who knows how many people might have been murdered? The fact she was depressed and having mental problems would have not made her victims any less dead. As a mastermind in a murder-for-hire solicitation case, Morena Costello got away with conspiracy to mass murder.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Mark Berndt: The Elementary Teacher From Hell

     People without sexual perversions are normal in generally the same way. Sexual perverts, on the other hand, are deviant in disturbingly diverse ways. Adults who use innocent children to satisfy their perverse sexual compulsions are not mentally ill in the sense they are detached from reality. To other adults, even to people they work with every day, they can seem normal. Sexually perverse elementary teachers are hard to detect because they victimize kids who are under their control. Sometimes the children don't even know they are being victimized. Teachers like this can get away with sexually abusive behavior for decades. Most of them probably die before they are caught. Short of launching McCarthy-like witch hunts, how can these sexual predators be identified and stopped?

     Mark Berndt, a 61-year-old third grade teacher at the Miramonte Elementary School in Florence Firestone, an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County, began teaching at the school in 1979. Miramonte, situated in a hispanic neighborhood is in the Los Angeles Unified School District comprised of hundreds of campuses and 650,000 students. During his tenure at Miramonte, Berndt, according to his personnel file, had performed up to school standards without a single disciplinary action taken against him. Moreover, he had never been arrested for anything more serious than a traffic violation.

     In October 2010, a technician at a CVS drugstore in the South Bay area of Los Angeles came across a set of disturbing photographs of grade school boys and girls depicted in situations suggesting a bizarre form of sexual bondage. The film processor, as mandated by state law, notified the Redondo Beach Police Department. On December 2, 2010 the Redondo police turned the 40 photographs over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.

     In some of the photographs Mark Berndt either had his arm around a third grade boy or girl or his hand covering their mouths. Some photographs showed children with live bugs crawling on their faces. Other kids were either blindfolded or had their mouths covered with clear tape. Some of the girls were depicted holding spoons up to their mouths containing a white liquid. Children were also pictured about to eat cookies topped with a substance later identified as the the teacher's semen. (In Berndt's classroom trash can police recovered a blue plastic spoon containing traces of his semen.)

     Detectives with the sheriff's office's Special Victims Unit started identifying the students in the photographs for interview. On January 3, 2011 a detective showed up at the Miramonte school to question Berndt. The teacher refused to speak to the investigator without first consulting with an attorney.

     A former fourth grade student of Berndt's, a woman who was now 30, told detectives that in 1990 she and two other girls spoke to a school counselor about their teacher's odd, inappropriate behavior. They had seen him, seated at his desk at the front of the room, playing with himself. The counselor accused the girls of making up the story. As a result nothing came of their complaint. (In 1993, police investigators looked into similar complaints against Berndt. The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, on grounds the police had not gathered sufficient evidence against the teacher, decided not to pursue the case. Presumably, school officials knew of the investigation.)

     Shortly after Berndt refused to be interviewed by the police, school administrators removed him from the classroom. A month later, in February 201l, they fired him. (Actually, he wasn't fired. School officials induced him to retire by offering him $40,000 which he accepted. Firing a public school teacher is no small feat.) While the parents of the children depicted in the photographs were told of the investigation, the police kept the general public in the dark. (Placed under police surveillance, Berndt, between the time of his discharge and arrest, was not in contact with children.)

     On January 30, 2012, following a 13 month investigation, the Berndt case went public with his arrest at his home in Torrance, California. A search of his dwelling resulted in the discovery of 400 photographs similar to the ones seen by the CVS employee. (A normal person, knowing that he was under police investigation, would have destroyed these photographs. The fact that Brendt didn't revealed how  important these photos were to him. It was recommended that children depicted in the photographs be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.) Charged with 23 counts of lewd acts against minors, Mr. Brendt was hauled off to jail where he was held on $23 million bond. The criminal charges against him pertained to his contact with children ages 6 to 10 from 2008 to 2010.

     On February 3, 2012, police officers arrested a second Miramonte teacher on charges unrelated to the Berndt case. Martin B. Springer, 49, was charged with three counts of committing lewd acts in connection with the alleged fondling an 8-year-old girl in one of his classes. He was fired and held on $300,000 bail. From Alhambra, Mr. Springer had taught at the school since 1986. The judge who set bail decreed that if Springer made his bond he was to wear an ankle monitoring device and to stay 250 feet away from schools and parks. On February 7, 2012, one of the two girls who accused Springer of fondling recanted her story.

     A lawyer representing "Jane Doe 1," one of Berndt's victims who ate a sugar cookie laced with the teacher's semen, announced plans to sue the Los Angeles Unified School District. The plaintiff claimed that the school district did not take adequate steps to prevent Berndt from repeatedly abusing his students after numerous complaints had been filed against him. (Following Berndt's arrest, seven more students came forward with allegations of abuse.)

     On February 6, 2012, perhaps in response to allegations of an institutional cover-up, the 88 teachers and 40 staff employees at Miramonte were suspended with pay. They were replaced by a substitute crew of teachers and clerks.

     The Miramonte situation continued to worsen on February 7, 2012 when the mother of a former fourth grader told the Los Angeles Times that in 2009 a 50-year-old female teacher's aide wrote three love letters to her then 11-year-old son. One of the letters read, "...when you get close to me, even if you give me the chills, I like that. Don't tell nobody (sic) about this!"

     In November 2013, Mark Berndt pleaded no contest to 23 counts of lewd acts on children. The judge sentenced the 62-year-old former elementary teacher to 25 years in prison. According to Berndt's defense attorney his client was "remorseful and apologetic." The lawyer said that Berndt had entered a plea to spare his victims the ordeal of a trial. (Berndt had spared himself the ordeal of a trial and made the deal to get a lighter prison sentence.) 

     On November 21, 2014, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced that it had agreed to pay nearly $170 million in court settlements related to the Berndt pedophilia case. The settlement involved more than a hundred students.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Mandy Matula Murder Case

     Twenty-four-year-old Mandy Matula lived with her parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, a town of 60,000 12 miles southwest of Minneapolis. A graduate of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, she worked for the Eden Prairie Public Works Department. In high school Mandy had been a standout softball player.

     In September 2012 Mandy Matula ended her relationship with David Roe, a 24-year-old from Victoria, Minnesota who had been a classmate of her's at Eden Prairie High School. From 2007 to 2009 Roe had attended the University of St. Thomas where he played football. After the break-up he and Mandy remained friends.

     On the night of Wednesday, May 1, 2013, David Roe showed up at the Matula house and asked to speak with Mandy. Leaving her cellphone and purse in the dwelling, she and Roe sat outside the house in his 2013 Ford Escape SUV. Around eleven-thirty that night Roe drove off with Mandy in the vehicle.

     Mandy didn't return home that night and didn't show up for work in the morning. This prompted her worried mother to call David Roe to find out what happened to her. According to him, they had continued their discussion in Miller Park near the Matula house. Following an argument, Mandy got out of his vehicle. He presumed she had walked home. Mrs. Matula, at eight-thirty that morning called the Eden Prairie Police Department and reported her daughter missing.

     As the last person seen with Mandy Matula, David Roe was the obvious person of interest in her disappearance. For that reason a detective with the Eden Prairie Police Department, on Thursday, May 2, 2013, asked him to come to the police station for questioning. That afternoon, after getting out of his SUV in the police department's parking lot, Roe put a handgun to his head and shot himself.

     Paramedics rushed David Roe to the Hennepin County Medical Center. At three the next morning he died from his self-inflicted head wound.

     As a result of David Roe's suicide, investigators lost the best lead they had regarding Mandy Matula's whereabouts and status. A search of Roe's vehicle produced a note that, according to the police, contained "limited writing."

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, 300 volunteers searched Miller Park for Matula's body. In the Victory Lutheran Church parking lot a searcher found a .40-caliber bullet.

     In October 2013, Mindy Matula's body was found in a shallow grave not far from where she went missing. A forensic firearms identification expert determined that Matula had been shot by the same gun David Roe had used to kill himself. Investigators believed the murder had taken place at the Victory Lutheran Church. After murdering Matula Roe had disposed of her body where it was later found.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Janet and William Strickland Murder-For-Hire Case

     Seventy-two-year-old William Strickland lived with his 64-year-old wife Janet thirty years in the same house in south Chicago. Their neighbors considered them a happy couple. Mr. Strickland, a dialysis patient, may have been a contented husband, but his wife Janet wanted him dead.

     In February 2013, Janet Strickland informed her 19-year-old grandson--also named William Strickland--that she was "sick" of his grandfather and wanted him "gone." By "gone" she meant murdered. The old guy had money in the bank that couldn't be spent until he was "gone." Janet wanted that money and she wanted it now.

     In one of their discussions about Mr. Strickland's fate, Janet told her grandson that she had decided against hiring an outside hit-man because she wanted the job done now. Young William, anticipating a share of his grandfather's wealth, said he would assassinate his namesake. Grandma sealed the deal by giving the young man his grandfather's handgun, a weapon he kept around the house for protection.

     At three-thirty on the afternoon of March 2, 2013, Janet Strickland said good-bye to her husband as he stepped out of the house to await a ride to his dialysis treatment. The murder target had been standing on the sidewalk a few minutes when he was approached from behind by his grandson. The younger William Strickland, using his grandfather's handgun, shot the elderly man six times in the back. Mr. Strickland fell to the ground and died.

     A few days after what the Chicago Police first considered a random robbery-murder--a common crime in the Windy City--Janet Strickland purchased her grandson a new car. A red one. She also went furniture shopping for herself.

      Young William rewarded himself with an expensive sound system for his new car, a pair of high-end sneakers and a fancy cellphone. He also spent some of his grandfather's money at his favorite tattoo parlor. With old guy dead, life was good.

     Detectives arrested William Strickland on the charge of first-degree murder on March 30, 2013. He confessed to the execution-style homicide and identified his grandmother as the mastermind behind the deadly get-rich-quick plot.

     On April 6, 2013 police officers took Janet Strickland into custody. She confessed as well. The murder-for-hire grandmother and her assassin grandson were held on $50,000 bond in the Cook County Jail.

     On February 19, 2016 a jury in Chicago, after deliberating less than three hours, found William Strickland guilty of his grandfather's murder. Judge James Linn, on March 23, 2016, sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

     Janet Strickland went on trial a month later and was found guilty as charged. The judge sentenced the 67-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to eighteen years in prison.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Blaming Victims of Rape: The Omar Best Case

     In 1996, 18-year-old Omar Best, a product of the mean streets of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to indecent assault and attempted rape in return for a light sentence. Fourteen years later, after being linked to the 1999 abduction and rape of another Philadelphia woman, a judge sentenced Best to 7 to 15 years in prison.

      Omar Best, in 2011, pleaded guilty to raping yet another woman in Philadelphia. This conviction brought him a sentence of 15 years. A year later, while serving time at the State Correctional Institution called Grateford in southeast Pennsylvania, Best sexually assaulted a female prison worker. Following that crime and breach of prison security, state corrections authorities transferred Omar Best to Rockview, the State Correctional Institution near Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in the central part of the state not far from Penn State University. Best was later convicted of that crime.

     At Rockview, notwithstanding Best's history as a serial rapist, he had access to the prison's central office where a 24-year-old female employee performed clerical duties. On July 17, 2013, the young prison clerk complained to her supervisor that whenever the 36-year-old rapist came into the office on the pretext of emptying the trash can she felt threatened and endangered. The young woman's complaint fell on deaf ears. Best, who had no assigned duties in the central office, continued to have access to the premises.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of July 25, 2013, Omar Best entered the central office and grabbed the young clerk from behind preventing her from alerting security with her distress whistle. He choked her until she passed out then sexually assaulted her for 27 minutes before prison guards subdued him.

     In May 2014, a jury found Best guilty of rape. Four months later, the judge sentenced the inmate to life in prison under the career criminal three strikes doctrine.

     Following an investigation into why this prison employee had been exposed to such danger, the head of the state corrections department fired Rockview superintendent Marirosa Lamas. Seventy Rockview corrections officers were transferred to other prisons. Rockview administrators moved the central office to a more secure location within the institution.

     The Rockview prison rape victim, in April 2014, filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department of Corrections, the victim's former supervisor, Best's cellblock manager and former Superintendent Lamas. The civil action defendants were accused of administrative negligence that resulted directly in the plaintiff's prison rape.

     The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office had the responsibility of answering the suit on behalf of the state. In his written defense brief, a senior deputy attorney general claimed that the "plaintiff had acted in a manner which in whole or in part had contributed to the events." [Events?] In other words, the rape victim, through her contributory negligence was responsible for her life-threatening ordeal.

    The rape victim's attorney, Clifford Rieders, reacted sharply to the state's defense strategy. He said this to reporters: "It's victim shaming at its worst. It's total bunk. It's throwing something out there so they can have it on record. They have no evidence of that. It has no substance, but it's just the way some lawyers litigate. It's insulting to women generally who face rape cases only to be told it's their fault." The local district attorney who had prosecuted Best for the prison rape agreed with the plaintiff attorney's claim of victim bashing.

     Following a firestorm of criticism, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office responded with a written statement that in part read: "This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning the [contributory negligence] defense will be pursued throughout the entire case." The attorney general's office spokesperson also said that Attorney General Kathleen Kane had not been aware her senior deputy had included that particular defense in his answer to the rape victim's suit. (The suit was later settled out of court.)

      In 2014, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was indicted for leaking confidential grand jury information pertaining to a 2009 criminal investigation. She was later charged with perjury. In August 2016 Kane was found guilty as charged and sentenced to 10 to 23 months in prison.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Nicolas Holzer Mass Murder Case

     Some of the most disturbing and puzzling murder cases are ones that even from the killer's point of view make no sense. The good-boy Eagle scout who murders his parents in their sleep or guns down teachers and students at his school falls into this category. A young mother who drowns her baby in the bathtub or a longtime employee who shows up at work one day with mass murder on his mind are cases that defy understanding.

     Out-of-the-blue murders committed by noncriminal types who didn't exhibit symptoms of mental illness are frightening because they can't be predicted and therefore prevented. The murderers in these cases simply blindside their victims. Such cases are insidious in their straightforward banality. The feeling they create is this: no place is safe and no one can be trusted. We are all in danger.

     In 2004, after he and his wife Juana were divorced, Nicolas Holzer gained custody of his two sons who were one and three-years-old. Three years later Mr. Holzer and the boys moved into his parents' house in Goleta, California, a town of 30,000 ten miles northwest of Santa Barbara.

     Just after elven o'clock on the night of Monday, August 11, 2014, 45-year-old Nicolas Holzer called 911 and without emotion informed the dispatcher that he had just killed his family.

     When deputies with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office rolled up to the Holzer house on Walnut Park Lane not far from the University of California at Santa Barbara, they were met at the front door by the composed but bloodstained 911 caller.

     Inside the dwelling deputies discovered the blood-covered bodies of William Holzer, 73, Sheila Holzer, 74, and their two grandsons, Vincent, 10 and Sebastian who was thirteen. They had been stabbed to death by a pair of large kitchen knives.

     A calm and collected Nicolas Holzer informed the officers that he first murdered his father in the den. He then stabbed the boys to death as they slept in their beds. He said he killed his mother last. Officers found her body lying in the hallway outside the boys' bedroom.

     When asked why he had wiped-out his family Nicholas Holzer simply said, "I had to." He added that in killing them he had fulfilled what he believed was his destiny. This, of course, made no sense whatsoever.

     Also dead in the house was the family pet, an Australian Shepherd.

     The Holzer residence had not been visited in the past by police officers responding to domestic violence calls. And detectives, at least in the initial stage of the investigation, found no evidence of prior mental illness.

     Charged with four counts of first-degree murder, Nicolas Holzer was held in the Santa Barbara County Jail without bond. Because California had recently abolished the death sentence, Mr. Holzer, if convicted as charged, faced life behind bars. His attorney, a month after the killings, said he planned to plead his client not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Holzer's ex-wife Juana, in August 2016, filed a wrongful death suit against the mass murder suspect.

     In August 2018, a jury in Santa Barbara County, after rejecting the insanity defense, found Nicolas Holzer guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. At his sentencing hearing Holzer's attorney said, "Nicolas Holzer is not evil or heatless and he loved his family very much, but when his delusional beliefs escalated they overtook his ability to be rational.

     The judge sentenced Holzer to four life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Annette Morales-Rodriguez and the C-Section Murders

     In October 2011, Annette Morales-Rodriguez, a 34-year-old mother of three, lived with a boyfriend who expected that she would give birth to their baby within a matter of days. But that wasn't going to happen because she had been faking her pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez had lied to this man twice before about being pregnant, and in the past, to avoid exposure as a liar and a fake, had falsely reported a pair of miscarriages. Running out of time and desperate, Morales-Rodriguez decided to kidnap a woman about to give birth, and steal the fetus by performing a crude Caesarean section using knowledge she had acquired from watching a show on the Discovery Channel.

     In search of a victim and her baby, Morales-Rodriguez showed up at a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee where she encountered 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz who was in her 40th week of pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez lured her intended victim into her car by offering her a ride home. Along the way, Morales-Rodriguez stopped at her house to change her shoes while the unsuspecting Ramirez-Cruz waited outside in the car. When Morales-Rodriguez didn't make a timely return to the vehicle, her passenger walked up to the house, knocked on the door and asked if she could use the bathroom.

     Shortly after letting the pregnant woman into her home, Morales-Rodriguez smashed her in the head with a baseball bat, then choked her until she passed out. After binding the victim's hands and feet and covering her nose and mouth with the duct tape, Morales-Rodriguez sliced into the pregnant woman's body with a X-Acto knife exposing the fetus. After removing the baby boy from his dead mother, Rodriguez realized she had killed the newborn as well.

     After she deposited Rameriz-Cruz's blood-soaked body in her basement, Morales-Rodriguez called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had just given birth to a baby that wasn't breathing. Paramedics who rushed to the scene confirmed that the infant was dead. At this point, the emergency responders had no reason to suspect foul play. They cleaned off the infant, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to the woman who had just murdered it.

     When the medical examiner performed the autopsy, it became obvious that the baby had been removed from its mother's body by an amateur. This crude procedure had caused its death. A police search of Morales-Rodriguez's house resulted in the discovery of the disemboweled corpse with the duct tape still in place. According to the forensic pathologist, Ramirez-Cruz had died of blood loss and asphyxiation. The baby had been stillborn.

     Following her arrest, in a videotaped interrogation at the Milwaukee police station by detective Rodolfo Gomez, Morales-Rodriguez explained in Spanish how her boyfriend's expectations had caused her to kidnap and home-C-section the young pregnant woman. In other words, she had murdered a pregnant woman to save her relationship with her boyfriend.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Morales-Rodriguez went on trial in early September 2012. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charges on the ground it had not been her intention to kill the mother and her baby.

     On September 20, 2012, the jury of six men and six women found the defendant guilty as charged. Because Wisconsin doesn't have the death penalty, Annette Morales-Rodriguez faced a mandatory life sentence. It was up to the judge to determine if she would be eligible for parole.

     Given the fact this woman had brutally murdered a stranger and killed the victim's baby through a crude C-section, Judge David Borowski, on December 13, 2012, sentenced Rodriquez to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The Michael Khunhausen Murder-For-Hire Case

     Michael Kuhnhausen, in the fall of 2006, tried to talk his wife Susan out of divorcing him, but she was determined to end the marriage. Mr. Kuhnausen, the 58-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores in Portland, Oregon, depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits she received from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior divorced him he would end up homeless and broke. Michael had suggested marriage counseling but Susan was finished with him. He felt that his estranged wife had pushed him into a corner and had one option: to pay someone to kill her before the divorce became final. He had to find a hit man, but where does one go to find an assassin?

     In 2005, when Michael worked for the adult video chain, he had hired 59-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Haffey had also been convicted of robbery, burglary and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Mr. Kuhnhausen had every reason to believe that this lifelong criminal was an excellent candidate for his murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Mrs. Kuhnhausen's life insurance payout. Dazzled by the prospect of so much easy money, Edward Haffey jumped at the chance to kill his former boss' wife.

     On September 6, 2006, Haffey, using the house key Michael had given him, entered Susan Kuhnhausen's Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from his backpack and waited for his prey. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing his wife that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded home invasion killing.

     As six in that evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway alongside her house. She let herself into the dwelling and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of her head. She turned and came face-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before Haffey could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get the hit man into a chokehold. Susan squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes, Haffey stopped breathing and went limp.

     With a dead hit man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The responding police officers sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled and the intruder had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as the authorities were concerned, this tough woman had eliminated a violent criminal from the community. She was, in the eyes of the police and residents of her neighborhood, a crime-fighting hero. 

     A detective found, in Haffey's backpack, a day-planner with the September 6 notation: "Call Mike." When the investigator came across Michael Kuhnhausen's cell phone number in the dead man's planner, a different picture began to emerge. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn't, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn't explain Haffey's possession of the house  key and the fact he had known the alarm code. Once detectives learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became the suspect in a murder-for-hire case. 

     Edward Haffey's autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of this death, Haffey's body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to successfully pull off the hit. As it turned out Mr. Haffey had been an unworthy candidate to carry out Michael's murder assignment.

     Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey's, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local television news and called the police. In August 2006 Mr. Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. Haffey had wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn't help kill a person for a mere $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.

     Three days before the murder-for-hire date, Haffey told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into some big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said the husband was paying him $25,000 upfront and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when he heard about the case in the news, also called the police.

     According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Edward Haffey to death, Jones had driven the would-be hit man to an Applebee's Restaurant where Haffey met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. On the way to the restaurant, Haffey told Jones that he was meeting with a man who was willing to pay him $50,000 to kill his wife.

     On September 14, 2006, eight days following the botched hit, police officers arrested Michael Kuhnhaussen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, Edward Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house though a window in order to steal drug money.

     In August 2007, Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and conspiracy charges. A month later, just before the judge sentenced him to the shockingly light sentence of ten years in prison, Kuhuhanusen said, "I hurt a lot of people over the past year and I'm sorry. That's all I can say, I'm sorry."

     On June 16, 2014, Michael Khunhausen died while serving his time at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon. He was 65.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Dr. Thomas Dixon Love Triangle Murder-for-Hire Case

     The cast in a murder-for-hire plot features three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide; the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role); and the victim, the person targeted for death. While these cases, in terms of the principal actors, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-economic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other and the specific motive behind the murder plots.

     On July 11, 2012, someone broke a window and climbed into the Lubbock, Texas home of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, the 57-year-old chief pathologist of the Covenant Health System in that city. The intruder shot Dr. Sonnier to death. He had also been stabbed. The victim lived alone, and because nothing had been taken from the house, police ruled out robbery as the killer's motive.

     Later on the day of the murder Lubbock detectives questioned Dr. Sonnier's girlfriend in an effort to determine who may have had a reason to kill the doctor. When she mentioned she had been having trouble with her former boyfriend who insisted on seeing her even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier, the detectives had a suspect, and a potential motive. Their person of interest was a 48-year-old prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon who practiced in Amarillo, Texas, a panhandle city 120 miles north of Lubbock. Because the homicide detectives didn't think that Dr. Dixon had climbed into Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and personally shot him, they considered the possibility of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. But who was the hit man?

     Less than a week after the murder detectives caught a break. A longtime friend and former business associate of Dr. Dixon's told investigators that David Neil Shepard had killed Dr. Sonnier. According to the informant, Shepard, who had attempted suicide two days after Dr. Sonnier's murder, told him Dr. Dixon had given him three bars of silver worth $9,000 as an advance on the hit. (On June 15, 2012, Shepard sold one of the bars for $2,750.) Shepard told the informant he entered Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and murdered him.

     Because the suspected hit man revealed to the snitch information only known to crime scene investigators, the tipster's story rang true. (Shepard had described, for example, how he had muffled the sound of his gun, and  how many times he fired the weapon.)

     The 51-year-old accused hit man had a crime history of two convictions for theft and burglary. Detectives believed David Shepard and the plastic surgeon had met on the day before Dr. Sonnier's murder. The fact Shepard had sold the bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop tended to support a piece of the informant's story.

     On July 16, 2012, police in Amarillo arrested Dr. Thomas Dixon and David Shepard on charges of capital murder. The suspects were booked into the Lubbock County Criminal Detention Center under $10 million bond each.

     This murder-for-hire case was especially newsworthy because the accused mastermind and his victim were physicians. The case was also unusual because David Shepard was much older than the typical hit man. But the love triangle motive was fairly common.

     In April 2013, the mother and sons of Dr. Sonnier filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Dixon. However, before the civil action could proceed, the murder case had to be resolved within the criminal justice system.

     The suspected hit man, David Neal Shepard, in September 2013, pleaded guilty to breaking into Dr. Sonnier's home and stabbing and shooting him to death. The judge sentenced him to life.

     Lubbock County prosecutor Matt Powell announced in November 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Dr. Dixon, the accused mastermind behind Dr. Sonnier's murder.

     In November 2014, at the conclusion of Dr. Dixon's three-week capital murder trial, the jury of six men and six women, after eight hours of deliberation, were unable to reach an unanimous verdict. Judge Jim Bob Darnell declared a mistrial.

     Doug Moore, the jury foreman, in speaking to the media following the mistrial, said that although the case against Dr. Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as being not very bright. "For me the evidence of guilt seemed very clear," he said.

     Shortly after the mistrial the judge denied the defendant's request for a reduction of his $10 million bond. However, in September 2015, the judge reduced Dixon's bail to $2 million. A few days later the accused murder-for-hire mastermind paid $200,000 and was released from jail pending the disposition of his second trial.

      On November 19, 2015, the jury in Dr. Dixon's second trial found him guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

John McAfee: A Troubled and Turbulent Life

     In 1994, 49-year-old John McAfee, a computer tycoon who developed anti-privacy software and helped pioneer instant messaging, sold his Silicon Valley company for $100 million. About this time, following twenty years of drug abuse, he suffered a heart attack. In 2007, after losing all but $4 million of his fortune on bad investments, McAfee moved to Belize, a small Central American country south of Mexico and east of Guatemala on the Atlantic coast. McAfee moved into a house in San Pedro's Mata Grande subdivision.

     According to media reports John McAfee had slipped back into a lifestyle of hallucinogenic drugs like crystal meth and bath salts that made him erratic, paranoid and according to his neighbors, dangerous. In April 2012, the Belize police raided his home looking for drugs and guns. Although some weapons were seized and he was taken into custody the police quickly released him. No charges were filed. (Later, McAfee donated handcuffs, tasers, batons, firearms and other law enforcement items to the police department.)

     A few months after McAfee's arrest, a group of residents of the Mata Grande subdivision submitted a written complaint against him to the authorities in San Pedro. McAfee's neighbors complained about his security guards who "walked around with shotguns at night up and down the beach." According to the complainants, the guards "shine spotlights right into peoples' eyes at night and act aggressively with their guns, chambering a bullet [a round] and nonsense such as this. People are scared to walk down the beach at night as a result. The tourists are terrified." The neighbors also didn't like the taxi cab and delivery truck traffic to and from McAfee's house at all hours of the night. (According to reports, the cabs often delivered prostitutes to his home.) In addition, McAfee's four security dogs frightened and harassed residents of the subdivision. One of the dogs supposedly bit a tourist.

     On November 7, 2012, one of McAfee's neighbors, Gregory Faull, a 52-year-old builder from Florida, filed a formal complaint with the San Pedro mayor's office. Faull accused his 67-year-old neighbor of recklessly firing off his guns and exhibiting "roguish behavior." Faull also complained about McAfee's loud and aggressive attack dogs.

     There was no question that McAfee's neighbors considered him, if not insane, an unstable drug-addled gun nut in the mold of the gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson. Photographs surfaced showing McAfee posing with a variety of pistols, rifles and shotguns. One of the photos depicts the skinny, bearded and bare-chested millionaire pressing the muzzle of a pistol to his temple.

     On Sunday morning, November 11, 2012, Gregory Faull's 39-year-old Belizean housekeeper, Laura Tun, found him on the second floor of his house lying face-up in a pool of blood. Someone had shot him in the back of the head. The police found a 9 mm shell casing on the floor near his body. There was no sign of forced entry and the dead man's iPhone and laptop computer had been taken. Mr. Faull had been murdered the night before.

     John McAfee immediately emerged as a suspect in his neighbor's murder. The police went to his house that Sunday to question him. He wasn't home and no one knew his whereabouts.

     Two days after the murder, McAfee was still at large. A spokesperson for the Belize Ministry of National Security publicly urged him to come in for questioning. Not long after that, McAfee, in a telephone interview with Joshua Davis, a writer for Wired Magazine, said he was in hiding. According to McAfee, "they [the police] will kill me if they find me." The so-called person of interest in the Faull murder case told the journalist that his four dogs had been poisoned by the Belizean authorities as part of a vendetta against him. He claimed that he was unarmed, accompanied by a young woman and had to move from place to place to stay ahead of the police.

     On November 16, 2012 John McAfee told a reporter for CNBC that he had spent six days hiding from the police at his compound on Ambergris Caye, a stretch of island just off the Belizean coast. When the police searched his property, he hid by burying himself in sand with a cardboard box over his head that allowed him to breathe. He denied any knowledge of Mr. Faull's death.

     On December 5, 2012 the authorities arrested John McAfee in Guatemala, but a week later, a Guatemalan judge ruled his detention illegal and released him.

     Deported from Guatemala, John McAfee, on December 12, 2012 arrived in Miami aboard an American Airlines flight.

     In May 2013, McAfee was living in Oregon working on a book and a film project about his troubled, turbulent life. That month his house in Belize went up in flames. In speaking to a Fox News reporter about the fire, McAfee said, "I believe that there are a few with great power in Belize that will go to great lengths to harm me. This fire was not just a strange coincidence."

     In speaking to a reporter with the Huffingtonpost in July 2013, Mr. McAfee, in reference to Gregory Faull, said, "I never killed anyone, it's not my style."

     Gregory Faull's daughter, in November 2013, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against McAfee in an Orlando, Florida federal court. The plaintiff, in a press release, stated: "The Faull family intends to pursue all possible avenues to ensure the individual or individuals responsible for the death of Gregory Faull are brought to justice…The true facts will come to light as to how and by whom Gregory met his end."

     In September 2015, McAfee announced that he was running for president under his own creation, the Cyber Party. According to McAfee, as president of the United States, he would address the problem that "national leaders have little or no understanding of the cyber science upon which national finance, military systems and every aspect of social systems to television and automobiles are based." 
     In June 2000, while McAfee was living in Barcelona, Spain, the Unites States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee announced that McAfee had been indicted for tax evasion and related offenses. According to the federal prosecutor, McAfee, during the period 2014-2018, had failed to file tax returns. Authorities in Barcelona, Spain arrested McAfee in October 2000. 
     On June 23, 2001, the day before he was to be extradited to the United Sates, a prison guard in Barcelona found John McAfee dead in his cell. According to prison authorities the 75-year-old committed suicide.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Cracker Barrel Murders: No Escaping Kevin Allen

     In June 1995, the day he received word that he and his wife were divorced, 35-year-old Kevin E. Allen assaulted his girlfriend, Janice Koerlin. A few months later, the diagnosed manic-depressive from Kirtland, Ohio, a town 20 miles east of Cleveland, married Koerlin. In September of that year, police arrested Allen after he tried to suffocate his new wife with a pillow. This was a man who had no business being around women. This was a man who needed to be locked up.

     In 2004 Kevin Allen filed for personal bankruptcy for the second time. (He had filed for bankruptcy in 1991.) Four years later the police in North Royalton, Ohio arrested him. He was now married to his fifth wife with whom he had fathered two daughters. Mr. Allen was charged with theft and burglary.

     In March 2011, Kevin and his fifth wife Katherina, who went by Kate and was ten years younger than him, lived in Strongsville, Ohio with their daughters Kerri and Kayla. That year Kevin and Kate filed for personal bankruptcy. They were in debt $60,000. Although Kevin Allen, with his short, thinning gray hair and his trimmed white beard looked like a friendly guy, he continued to be a bellicose bad-tempered husband. People went out of their way to avoid him. In 2011, Allen went several months without paying his gas bill and threatened to shoot anybody from the utility company who came to his place to shut if off. A gas company employee did go to the house, but with a police escort.

     In early April 2012, the domestic abuse had gotten so intense and frequent, Kate and the girls moved into a friend's house. On April 12, Kate decided to take Kerri and Kayla to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in nearby Brooklyn, Ohio to celebrate Kerri Allen's tenth birthday. Kate had invited her estranged husband and in the relative safety of a crowded restaurant planned to inform Kevin that she wanted a divorce.

     After the late dinner, while still at the Cracker Barrel, Kate broke the news that she was leaving him. Infuriated, Kevin stormed out of the restaurant, but instead of driving home, he circled the parking lot in his silver Jeep Liberty. Worried that Kevin might become violent, Kate, at 8:40, called 911. "I'm having some spouse problems," she said.

     Kate informed the 911 dispatcher that she had just told her estranged husband that she was leaving  him, and he hadn't taken it very well. At that moment, Kevin Allen was outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant driving around the parking lot. A few minutes later, as Kate spoke to the 911 dispatcher, Kevin re-entered the restaurant and approached her and the children carrying a single barrel shotgun. The local police rolled up to the scene just as Kevin disappeared inside the building.

     The police officers, aware that Kevin Allen had gone into the restaurant armed with a shotgun, decided to remain outside. They were afraid that if they went in after him innocent bystanders would get shot in the cross-fire. The police were also worried that Allen, if confronted inside, might take a hostage.

     When Kevin Allen got to his wife's table, without saying a word, he shot her and their two children. The transcript of the 911 call, just before the shooting went like this:

DISPATCHER: "Wait in the lobby for the officers. Do not go outside. Let them talk to him, okay? "

KATE: "He's here and the police are here, too. I have to..." (Gunfire could be heard on the dispatcher's end.)

DISPATCHER: "Ma'am?"

     After murdering his wife and his daughter Kerri, and seriously wounding Kayla, Mr. Allen walked out the front door of the restaurant where he encountered the police. When he refused to drop his shotgun the police opened fire killing him on the spot.

     When Kevin Allen strode into the Cracker Barrel carrying the shotgun bedlam broke out with patrons running for cover. The manager helped many diners exit the place through a rear door. None of the customers were injured.

     Medics  rushed Kayla Allen to a nearby hospital where she survived her wounds. People criticized the officers for not immediately entering the restaurant. But they were faced was a difficult dilemma. Had the police gone in, more people could have been killed. In reality there is only so much the police can do. The police cannot always save families from abusive, murderous husbands. For Kate Allen and her children there was no escaping this violent, manic depressive man.

Friday, February 17, 2023

The Lee D. Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     Lee D. Smith lived with his wife Lana and their daughter in Basehor, Kansas, a suburban community of 5,000 across the line from Kansas City, Missouri. The 37-year-old and his wife had been arguing about money which led to his decision to hire someone to kill her.

     On May 8, 2012, Mr. Smith offered the job to a man who seemed interested. The husband drove the potential hit-man to his wife's place of work and showed him where she parked her car. Smith also outlined her daily routine and described what she looked like to the man he hoped would kill her. He even offered this man advice on how to accomplish the job. He suggested catching his murder target's attention by calling out her name then shooting her when she turned in response. The man solicited for the murder accepted the assignment and was given $400 in upfront money. The murder-for-hire mastermind promised the rest--$1,800--when his wife was dead.

     The next day, instead of carrying out the murder of Lana Smith, the would-be hit-man went to the police. Working as an undercover operative he called Mr. Smith and reported that he was holding his wife and his daughter hostage. Did Mr. Smith want them both murdered? Smith instructed the informant to release his daughter but kill his wife.

     The undercover operative, an hour later, called Smith back. He informed the murder-for-hire mastermind that his wife was dead. They agreed to meet later that afternoon at a grocery store where Smith would pay the hit-man the balance due on the murder contract. Before he had a chance to meet the hit-man, Smith received a call from a police officer who asked him to come to the station to pick up his daughter. When Smith showed up for the girl officers took him into custody.

     The local police turned the Lee Smith case over to the FBI, and on May 28, 2012, an Assistant United States Attorney in Kansas City charged Smith with soliciting his wife's murder. In October of that year Smith pleaded guilty to the federal charge.

     A federal judge in Kansas City, on February 28, 2013, sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to eight years in prison. Eight years. Had Smith picked a hit-man who had been willing to complete the job his wife would be dead. How was this any different than Smith putting a gun to his wife's head, a firearm he mistakingly believed was loaded, and pulling the trigger? Eight years for this cold-blooded murder attempt was extremely lenient--and wrong.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

The Marissa Alexander Stand Your Ground Assault Case

     Marissa Alexander, when she married Rico Gray in June 2010, was six months pregnant with their child. She had two children from a previous marriage and Gray had five with five other women. One of his sons, and two of Marissa's children, lived with them in their rented Jacksonville, Florida home. She was 30 and he was 35.

     Rico Gray had physically abused his former partners and was beating up Marissa. In July 2010 he had thrown his pregnant wife across the room then given her a black eye with a head butt. Marissa and her children moved out of the house and into her mother's place. She also filed for an order of protection against her husband.

     At the domestic violence injunction hearing, Rico Gray reportedly said this to the judge: "I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking...or what I might do...hit them, push them." The judge granted the order of protection.

     Marissa had the baby on July 23, 2010 and on August 1 returned to the rented house to gather up more of her clothes. While there she showed Gray a cellphone photograph of their baby. After she entered the bathroom Rico Gray looked through her cellphone and came across text messages she had sent to her former husband that suggested she planned to leave Mr. Gray permanently and get back with her ex-spouse. Enraged, Gray stormed into the bathroom and allegedly said, "If I can't have you, no one can." He put his hands on her throat, threw her against the door and threatened to kill her.

     Breaking free, Marissa ran into the attached garage and from her car grabbed her handgun. (It was licensed.) She returned to the house (She claimed she couldn't exit the dwelling through the garage because the automatic door opener didn't work) and encountered Gray standing in the kitchen next to his two sons. Fearing for her life, she (according to her account) fired a warning shot into the air. (Ballistics analysis, however, suggested that the bullet hit a wall and ricocheted up into the ceiling.)

     Rico Gray called 911. In reporting the shooting to the dispatcher he sounded more angry than frightened. A short time later the house was surrounded by a SWAT team. Marissa was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. (Three counts because she had allegedly endangered three people.) Under Florida's so-called 10-20-life law, any person convicted of aggravated assault involving the discharge of a firearm was subject to a mandatory 20 year sentence.

     A few days after her arrest Marissa was released on bail under orders from the judge to stay clear of her husband. But four months later, Marissa, in violation of the judge's order, went back to the house and punched Gray in the face. She would later plead no contest to domestic battery.

     With the approach of Marissa's aggravated assault by handgun trial, prosecutor Angela Corey, explained to the defendant that if convicted she could be sentenced to 20 years. The prosecutor offered her a deal: if she pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, the judge would sentence her to three years in prison. Marissa rejected the plea bargain offer.

     In defending Marissa Alexander her attorney planned to rely on Florida's "stand your ground" law that was in the news as a result of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin  murder case. (Angela Corey, the state's attorney in Marissa's case was the leading special prosecutor in the February 2012 Sanford, Florida shooting.) Under the "stand your ground" self-defense doctrine a person who is threatened with death or serious bodily injury in a place where he has a right to be has no duty under the law to retreat and can meet force with force.

     In a pre-trial hearing on the stand your ground issue, Judge James Daniel ruled that the law didn't apply to Marissa Alexander because she had no reason to fear for her life in that confrontation with her husband. The defendant could therefore not rely on self-defense and the stand your ground doctrine.

     On March 16, 2012 a jury found Alexander guilty of the three aggravated assault counts. The judge, bound by Florida's 10-20-life law, sentenced her to 20 years in prison.

     Critics of mandatory sentencing laws, along with anti-domestic violence advocates, expressed outrage over the outcome of the Marissa Alexander case. Other than winning an appeal, Marissa Alexander's only other legal remedy involved a grant of clemency by Florida Governor Rick Scott. For that to happen a member of the state clemency board would have to initiate the action. Marissa could only make application herself after she has served half of her sentence.

     In the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin murder trial, on July 13, 2013, the jury found defendant Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder. He was also acquitted of the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter. In this case the jury of six women found that because Zimmerman reasonably feared for his life during a fight with Trayvon Martin, the neighborhood watch leader was legally justified in standing his ground and eventually using deadly force against the 17-year-old. The jury had accepted the defense theory that at the time of his death the 17-year-old was on top of the defendant, banging his head against the sidewalk. Following the February 2012 shooting Mr. Zimmerman told police officers that he had been afraid the attacker would get control of his handgun.

     In 2013, an appeals court overturned Marissa Alexander's conviction on procedural grounds. The prosecutor immediately announced a second trial that was later scheduled for December 1, 2014. Marissa Alexander remained in custody pending the outcome of the second trial.

     On November 24, 2014, after spending 1,030 days behind bars, Marissa Alexander accepted a plea deal that consisted of two years probation during which time she would wear an electronic ankle bracelet. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Karen Sharpe: The Grandmother From Hell

     Karen Sharpe, a 54-year-old resident of New Straitsville, Ohio in the southeastern part of the state was as far from Norman Rockwell's version of a grandparent as you can get. Sharpe, who strikingly resembled a hungover Winston Churchill in a long ratty wig, had custody of her daughter's two girls, ages 13 and 11. A person like grandma Sharpe having custody of her granddaughters meant that the girls' mother must have been dead, homeless, in drug rehab or in prison.

     The oldest of Sharpe's granddaughters had a metal plate in her head as a result of abuse from another family member. This fact did not deter grandma Sharpe, on January 19, 2014, from punching the 13-year-old in the face. Ten days after that assault the monster grandparent took out her rage--perhaps drunken--on the younger sister. Unbeknownst to Sharpe, the 13-year-old recorded that assault on her cellphone.

     When the 11-year-old granddaughter accidentally stepped on Sharpe's sore foot the grandma forced the girl to the floor and stuffed a pair of heavily soiled men's underwear into her mouth. [Whose underwear?] Grandma Sharpe added to the girl's misery and horror by taping the disgusting garment into place, then ordering the child to swallow the fecal matter. 

     The domestic depravity continued. When Sharpe removed the tape, the girl vomited on the floor. The sadistic grandmother responded by ordering the child to lick up the mess.

     The victim's sister, after secretly recording her grandmother's obscene cruelty, called the police. Police officers, after reviewing video, immediately arrested Karen Sharpe. Child services personnel placed the girls into temporary foster homes.

     A Hocking County prosecutor charged Karen Sharpe with kidnapping (a felony which includes unlawful confinement) and misdemeanor counts of assault and child endangerment. The thoroughly disgusted officers booked the suspect into the Southeastern Regional Jail. The judge set her bond at $1.1 million.

     The next day at the Hocking County Municipal Court, Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted of kidnapping she faced up to ten years in prison.

     Hocking County sheriff's deputy Ed Downs told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that the crime was the "most disgusting, heinous" case of child abuse he'd ever seen."

     On June 3, 2014, Karen Sharpe was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of endangering children. Hocking Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace sentenced the degenerate to three years in prison.

     The public officials responsible for this guilty plea should have been thrown out of office. For a crime against nature like this there are no mitigating circumstances. Such a case makes a mockery of our criminal justice system.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Climate Change and Crime Rates

     On August 1, 2013, in the academic journal Science, three University of California at Berkeley researchers published an article entitled "Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict." The authors, based on their analysis of sixty other studies, concluded that even small increases in temperature causes rises in assaults, rapes and murders as well as increases in group conflicts and war. The researchers believed this to be true in the United States and around the world.

     The authors' prediction of rising temperatures and rising crime rates assumed a global temperature increase of at least four degrees Fahrenheit over the next fifty years. The authors predicted that between now and 2050, the world will experience a 65 percent increase in war and civil unrest. Citing spikes in assaults, domestic violence, rape and murder in the United States during heat waves, the researchers predicted that worldwide the rate of these crimes will jump 16 percent.

     Criminologists, psychologists and psychiatrists have been arguing for decades over the causes of crime. Overpopulation, broken homes, failing schools, poverty, drugs, hormones, personality disorders, mental illness, depression, childhood abuse, pornography, guns, spiritual decay and violent video games have been blamed for violent crime in the United States.

     The truth is, no one has figured out why some people commit serious crime and others do not. Social scientists who study criminal behavior agree on just two things: young people commit more crimes than older citizens; and men tend to be more violent than women. When considering why people act the way they do, too many variables makes a unifying theory impossible.

    The three University of California at Berkeley academics, none of whom were a criminologist, psychologist or psychiatrist, claimed that global warming was a key factor in the cause of violent behavior. These researchers were not only linking violent behavior to climate, they told us exactly how much crime will go up depending on how hot it got. 

     Over the years social scientists have published a lot of nonsense. This is particularly true when the subject involves the causes of crime. Based upon the reaction of other academic researchers to this Berkeley study, there was widespread skepticism of the global warming/crime theory, and that the key to understanding human behavior can be found in crime and weather statistics. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

The Ruby Klokow Murder Case

     In 1957, 21-year-old Ruby Klokow, a resident of Sheboygan, a Michigan Lake town of 50,000 in southern Wisconsin, physically abused and murdered her 6-month-old daughter, Jeaneen. Following the baby's suspicious death, Klokow told the police the child had fallen off the sofa. Although the autopsy revealed two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung and three scalp bruises, injuries inconsistent with a fall from a couch, the Sheboygan County Corner ruled the baby's death accidental. As a result of this bogus manner of death ruling the police did not conduct a homicide investigation. This stunning example of criminal justice incompetence (or indifference) was particularly tragic because the dead child had a two-year-old brother and Ruby Klokow would give birth again.

     In 1964, Ruby Klokow's infant son Scott died mysteriously in his crib. Given the suspicious death of her daughter Jeaneen seven years earlier, it was hard to understand why the authorities in Sheboygan didn't investigate the passing of this child. (Had there been an autopsy there would have been signs of past injuries caused by abuse.)  Instead of putting this homicidal mother away for life, local criminal justice personnel made it possible for this woman to continue practicing her sadistic style of parenting.

     Finally, in 2008, Klokow's 53-year-old son James who was two-years-old when his mother murdered his sister Jeaneen, came forward with his own story of parental abuse. According to James Klokow, his mother repeatedly beat him as far back as he could remember. At school he would lie to his teachers regarding how he had collected all of the bruises on his body that included choke marks on his neck. His mother frequently made him stand in a corner all day long during which time she threw knives and scissors at him. She also blinded him in one eye. When he turned thirteen, James, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, ran away from home. After that he was abused by a series of foster parents until the age of eighteen.

     After James Klokow came forward with his story of child abuse, Judy Post, Ruby Klokow's younger sister, told the authorities that Ruby had physically abused her when they were children. Post also reported having seen Ruby throw her infant daughter Jeaneen to the ground.

     In February 2011, a Sheboygan County prosecutor charged the 74-year-old Klokow with second-degree murder in the 1957 death of Jeaneen. A forensic pathologist took the stand at a preliminary hearing and testified that the infant's autopsy revealed injuries too severe to have been caused by a fall from a sofa. Klokow's attorney, after getting her released on bail, delayed matters by claiming that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 25, 2013, the day Ruby Klokow was scheduled to go on trial for the murder of her daughter, she entered a plea of no contest to the second-degree murder charge. Klokow, who had admitted killing Jeaneen, was scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2013.

     Sheboygan County Judge Angela Sutkiewicz, pursuant to the plea-bargain agreement worked out between the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor, was asked to sentence Klokow to 45 days in jail and ten years probation.

     To reporters following the no contest plea, Klokow's attorney Kirk Obear said that trying his client for murder after all of these years would be "unfair" because so many witnesses have died. The defense attorney went on to say that Klokow was "dealing with a lot of heartache."

     District Attorney Joe DeCecco, in explaining to the media why he signed-off on the plea deal, mentioned Klokow's age and poor health. The prosecutor also said that because the statute of limitations did not allow him to charge Klokow with the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter, he had to prove a case of murder which, under the circumstances, may have been difficult. 

     It's not that the prosecution in this case didn't have evidence. In addition to the defendant's confession, the district attorney had her sister's testimony and a compelling witness in her son, James Klokow. This prosecutor, in the name of justice, should have pushed forward with the trial. What did he have to lose? What was the point of 45 days in jail and ten years of probation?

    Judge Sutkiewicz, apparently disgusted with the lenient plea deal, sentenced Klokow to ten years in prison. While judges rarely disregard the terms of a plea deal, in this case such an action was justified.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Fingerprint Identification Fish Story

     On June 21, 2012, Haans Galassi, during a weekend camping trip in remote northern Idaho, decided to go wakeboarding on Priest Lake. While being pulled across the lake by a speedboat, the 31-year-old from Colbert, Washington got his hand caught in a towline loop. After being dragged a distance through the water, Galassi looked at his bloodied hand and realized he had been seriously injured. He left the lake that day minus four fingers.

     On September 11, more than two months after Galassi's mishap, Nolan Calvin, while cleaning a trout he had caught in Priest Lake eight miles from were Galassi's fingers went into the water, found, in the fish's belly, a human finger. The cold water had preserved the body part well enough for the fisherman to put it on ice for safe keeping.

     Not sure if he had found the remains of someone who had drowned or had been dumped in the lake, Mr. Calivn turned his find over to officers with the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. The sheriff, in turn, sent the finger to the state crime lab for possible identification.

     At the crime laboratory, a fingerprint expert made an inked impression of the fingertip and submitted it to the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) computer. The computer matched the submission to a print in the databank that belonged to Haans Galassi.

     Bonner County Detective Gary Johnson telephoned Galassi and informed him of the recovery. Since the finger, maintained in an evidence freezer, was in such good shape, the detective asked if Galassi wanted it for a possible reattachment. Although Galassi didn't seem interested in reuniting with his finger, Detective Johnson decided to keep it a few weeks in the event its owner changed his mind. A few days later, Galassi informed the sheriff's office that he had called his doctor to determine if the finger could be put back on his hand. When the doctor got back to him, he would advise the sheriff's office and they could go from there.

     As strange as this case is, it is not the first time body parts have been retrieved from fish. Usually the carriers of these human remains--arms, legs, and torsos-- are sharks pulled from the ocean. Perhaps this is the first time a trout gave up a missing finger. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Reehallio Carrroll Indian Reservation Murder Case

     Twenty-one-year-old Reehallio Carroll, a burglar and thief addicted to alcohol and drugs, lived on the Navajo Indian Reservation in northwestern New Mexico. Just after midnight on November 1, 2009 he broke into a house trailer at the reservation's St. Bernard Mission, an outpost inhabited by nuns attached to the Order of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. The trailer Carroll forced his way into was the home of 64-year-old Sister Marguerite Bartz.

     Carroll knew he was breaking into an occupied dwelling. (Under common law, breaking into an occupied home at night, by itself, was a capital crime.) Carroll entered Sister Marguerite's home to steal cash and anything he could sell to support his addictions. If the nun who lived in the house got in his way, that would be her problem.

    Sister Marguerite confronted the burglar when he entered her bedroom. Instead of backing out of the trailer, Carroll hit her in the head six times with his flashlight. As the nun lay bleeding and semi-conscious on the floor of the room the home invader kicked and stomped her.

     With Sister Marguerite dying in a pool of her own blood, Reehallio Carroll rummaged through her trailer home for cash and valuables. Before leaving the scene and driving off in the nun's car, Carroll returned to the bedroom. To make sure he would be leaving a dead woman behind he finished the victim off by tying a shirt around her neck and mouth.

     The following morning when Sister Marguerite failed to show up for Mass one of her mission colleagues discovered her corpse.

     A couple of days after the cold-blooded killing police officers arrested Reehallio Carroll. He was driving his victim's car.

     Because crimes committed on Indian Reservations are federal offenses, the FBI took charge of the case. An assistant United States attorney out of Albuquerque charged Carroll with first-degree murder, a crime that under federal law carried a mandatory life sentence.

     On April 5, 2013, U. S. District Court Judge William Johnson accepted Reehallio Carroll's plea to second-degree murder. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Carroll, in June 2013, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

     Members of Sister Marguerite's family, as well as her fellow nuns at St. Berard's, approved of the guilty plea and reduced sentence. They spoke of "forgiveness, redemption and rehabilitation." Mr. Carroll got off light because he murdered a nun. Had he killed a police officer or a politician no one would be talking about forgiveness.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Bite Mark Evidence on Trial: The William Richards Murder Case

     In 1993, 44-year-old William Richards and his wife Pamela, while building a house near Hesperia, California in the high desert in San Bernardino County, lived in a motor home. Because there were no power lines near the property, a generator in a nearby shed provided the electricity. William worked as a swing shift electrical engineer at a manufacturing plant in the town of Corona. His 40-year-old wife had a job as a waitress. The following account of what happened on August 10, 1993 is based on William Richards' statement to the police.

     That night, William Richards clocked out of the plant in Corona at 11:03. When he arrived home shortly after midnight he noticed there were no lights on in the trailer. He re-started the generator in the shed, and as he walked toward his front door, stumbled over his wife's half nude body. Someone had smashed the 5-foot-2, 126 pound woman's head with a heavy object. Mr. Richards called 911.

     Deputies from the San Bernardino Sheriff's office arrived at the scene at twelve-thirty that morning. The officers did nothing to protect the crime scene while they waited for the arrival of the homicide detectives. The investigators didn't show up until 3:15, and when they did, decided to wait until daylight before processing the crime scene. In the meantime, officers walked around the site and did nothing to keep several dogs off the property. (When they did begin the crime scene investigation the officers realized dogs had kicked dirt on Pamela Richards' body.)

     From the beginning, homicide detectives considered William Richards the prime suspect in the murder. Blood spatter patterns suggested the victim had been partially undressed after the bloody attack in an effort to stage a sexual assault.  Investigators found no signs of forced entry into the dwelling and no physical evidence of an intruder such as foreign shoe impressions and tire tracks. (If there had been such evidence, it could have been trampled by the police.) Moreover, nothing had been stolen from the trailer. Investigators believed that Pamela Richards had been bludgeoned by a blood-stained steppingstone. The forensic pathologist would find that she had also been strangled.

     As for motive, detectives believed that the suspect, after he learned that his wife planned to leave him for another man, had killed her in a fit of rage. The fact that Richards and his wife, over their twenty-year marriage, openly had affairs and had already agreed to separate, cast doubt on this motive to kill her. Without a confession or an eyewitness, the San Bernardino County prosecutor had a weak, circumstantial case against William Richards. The fact the crime scene investigation had been bungled also hurt the prosecution's case. Nevertheless, the prosecutor charged Richards with first-degree murder. Police arrested him on September 3, 1993.

     In July 1994, after the jury voted six to six on the question of William Richards' guilt, the judge declared a mistrial. Just three days into his second trial in October 1994, the judge, due to improper communications with a juror, declared a second mistrial. In January 1995, the jury deadlocked eleven to one for his guilt. This led to a third mistrial.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor, on his fourth try in July 1997, bolstered the state's case with the testimony of Dr. Norman Sperber, the renowned forensic odontologist (dentist) from San Diego who had testified at Ted Bundy's serial murder trial in Florida. Dr. Sperber testified that in his expert opinion the crescent-shaped impression on Pamela Richards' hand was consistent with having been made with the defendant's front teeth. The odontologist said that only two percent of the U.S. population could have made this crime scene bite mark.

     To counter Dr. Sperber's testimony, the defense presented another respected forensic dentist, Dr. Gregory Golden, the Chief Forensic Odontologist of San Bernardino County. Dr. Golden testified that the photograph of the victim's bite mark was such poor quality he couldn't make a conclusive determination in the case. When pressed by the prosecutor on cross-examination, Dr. Golden said that he could not eliminate the defendant as the maker of the crime scene bite mark.

     Based on the new bite mark evidence, the jury in Richards' fourth trial found him guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. The convicted man continued to maintain his innocence.

     In 2000, lawyers with the California Innocence Project entered the case on William Richards' behalf. A re-evaluation of the forensic evidence in the murder case led to a petition before a San Bernardino County judge to overturn Richards' murder conviction. The hearing on this motion took place in 2009 before Judge Brian McCarville.

     Since Mr. Richards' fourth trial, new technology had made it possible to sharpen the photographic image of the crime scene bite mark. Dr. Norman Sperber took the stand and declared that after analyzing the enhanced photograph, it was his expert opinion that the questioned bite mark had not been made by Mr. Richards. Two other forensic dentists agreed with this analysis, and a third testified that he could not render a conclusive opinion either way.

     A DNA expert testified that the bloody steppingstone contained DNA evidence that had not come from the defendant. A forensic hair and fiber identification expert testified that a 2-centimeter follicle taken from under one of the victim's fingernails did not match samples taken from her husband.

     Judge McCarville, based on the bite mark, DNA and hair follicle testimony, overturned William Richards' murder conviction.

     The San Bernardino County prosecutor appealed Judge McCarville's ruling to the California Supreme Court. On December 3, 2012, in a 4-3 decision, the state's highest court reinstated Richards' murder conviction. According to the majority justices, the forensic evidence presented at the 2009 hearing did not prove the convicted man's innocence. (Once convicted, the burden of proving innocence shifts to the defendant.) These justices did not believe the forensic dentists had completely ruled out Richards as the source of the crime scene bite mark.

     The dissenting judges did not agree with this interpretation of the new bite mark testimony. As these three justices saw it, three of the four odontologists, including Dr. Norman Sperber, stated that the convicted man was not the source of this crime scene evidence. Since it had been this evidence that had finally led to Richards' murder conviction, its absence supported the position that the state had not carried its burden of proving this man's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

     In September 2014, a new law went into effect in California that would make it easier for William Richards' attorneys to have his conviction overturned. Under this legislation, whenever an expert witness changed his or her opinion, as Dr. Sperber did in the Richards case, the initial testimony would be classified, by law, as false evidence. If that evidence played a vital role in the guilty verdict, the expert's repudiation was grounds for overturning the conviction.

     Citing the new law, Richards' attorneys asked the California State Supreme Court to reconsider the case and throw out the murder conviction.

     On May 27, 2016, the California Supreme Court overturned Richard's 1997 first-degree murder conviction. Following this decision, the San Bernardino District Attorney decided not to retry the case.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Charles Severance Triple Murder Case

 Nancy Dunning 

     In 2003, Nancy Dunning, a 56-year-old real estate agent, lived with her husband who was the sheriff of Fairfax County in Alexandria, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. A community activist, Mrs. Dunning organized arts festivals and other events including a farmer's market. 
     On December 5, 2003, when Nancy failed to show up for a lunch date at the Atlantis Restaurant in the Bradlee Shopping Center, her husband John and their 23-year-old son Chris went to the house to check on her. They found Nancy lying dead in the foyer. She had been shot several times. There was no forced entry and nothing had been taken from the dwelling. 
     Homicide investigators theorized that the victim had been murdered when she answered her front door. Detectives were unable to identify a suspicious man caught on a nearby Target outlet surveillance camera that morning. Just before her death, Nancy had shopped at that Potomac Yard Target store. 
     A $100,000 reward failed to attract any productive information. The case remained unsolved for more than a decade. There was some speculation that Nancy Dunning had been the target in a murder-for-hire plot. John Dunning died in 2012. 
 Ronald Kirby 
     Ronald Kirby lived with his wife Anne Haynes and their two children in Alexandria, Virginia. The 69-year-old, in 2013, was the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He had worked at the agency for 25 years and was a nationally known transportation expert. 
     Mr. Kirby, who took pride in taking the bus or Metrorail to work every day, played tennis and often accompanied his wife to dance classes. He was also an avid Washington Redskins fan. 
     On November 11, 2013, a relative found Mr. Kirby dead just inside the front door to his home. He had been shot several times in the torso. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered that morning between ten and noon. As in the Dunning case, there was no forced entry and the crime wasn't motivated by theft. Investigators had no idea who committed this murder and no clue as to why. 
 Ruthanne Lodato 
     Norman and Ruthanne Lodato lived in the North Ridge neighborhood of Alexandria a little more than a mile from where Ronald Kirby was murdered. Ruthanne's 89-year-old mother Mary Lucy Giammittoria resided in the house with them. The couple employed a caregiver to help with Ruthanne's mother. Norman Lodato was an active member of the North Ridge Citizen's Association and Ruthanne was a locally well-known piano teacher with a program called Music Together in Alexandria. 
     At eleven-thirty on the morning of February 6, 2014, Ruthanne and her mother's caregiver were shot when they answered a knock at their front door. The shooter fired several bullets into the 59-year-old Ruthanne Lodato and a single bullet into the caregiver. Mrs. Lodato died on the spot. The other woman survived her wound. 
     Seconds after the two women were shot, a next door neighbor looked out her window when she heard a dog barking. The witness saw a bald man with a beard in a tan jacket run across the Ladato front yard. The suspect appeared to be in his fifties or sixties. The authorities released a sketch of this white suspect's face. 
     There were similarities in the Dunning, Kirby and Lodato murders. The victims lived in Alexandria, Virginia and were shot with a small-caliber handgun in the morning when they answered their front doors. The victims were active, high-profile members of the community and they shared an interest in the arts. They did not, however, know each other. 
     On March 6, 2014, Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook told reporters gathered at a news conference that ballistics evidence suggests a link between the three murders. The victims had been shot by bullets of the same caliber that featured rifling striations that were generally similar. As a result, detectives were looking for a serial killer.

     In February 2014, police arrested a 55-year-old suspect in the Ruthanne Lodato case named Charles Severance. Severance, with long white hair and a matching beard, was identified by Janet Dorcas, the healthcare aide the shooter had wounded. Another witness had seen Severance driving in the area about the time of Lodato's murder.

     Mr. Severance, an eccentric who had graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in mechanical engineering had run for political office in 1996 and 2000 and on both occasions had lost. As part of his election platform, Severance wanted public educators to incorporate country dancing in their curricula.

     In the suspect's voluminous essays, manifestos and notes, investigators found this passage: "Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder." The passage did not, however, mention any victim by name. A forensic psychiatrist for the state diagnosed Severance as having a "personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features."

     As for motive for murdering Lodato, Kirby and Dunning, prosecutors believed Severance killed these three strangers because they represented Alexandria's elite. Following a child custody battle that he had lost, Severance, as the theory went, developed an intense hatred of Alexandria that he took out on the three high-profile victims.

     The Charles Severance triple murder case went to trial in Fairfax, Virginia in November 2015. Without a murder weapon, confession or physical evidence connecting the defendant to any of the three murder scenes the prosecution's case was relatively weak. A forensic ballistics expert tied the Lodato murder, the one with the eyewitness, to the Kirby and Dunning killings.

     Following the three-week trial, the jury, after deliberating fifteen hours, found Charles Severance guilty of all three murders. The judge sentenced him to three life sentences.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Sparing the Life of a Cold-Blooded Killer

     In 1991, 19-year-old Robert Campbell and another violent criminal abducted a 20-year-old bank clerk as she filled her car with gas at a Houston service station. The victim, Angela Rendon, had just purchased a bridal gown for her upcoming wedding.

     The two degenerates drove Rendon to a field where they robbed, raped and beat her. After the vicious assaults, Campbell ordered the terrified victim to run for her life. As she fled her captors, Cambell calmly shot her in the back.

     A year after this senseless, cold-blooded murder, a jury found Campbell guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In this depressing case there has never been a question of Campbell's murderous intent or guilt.

     After living twenty-two years as a death row inmate, Robert Campbell was finally scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night, May 13, 2014. University of Texas law professor Laurie Levin, one of Campbell's death house attorneys working feverishly to save his life, filed a last-minute motion for a stay of execution with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Levin based the federal petition on the fact the Texas Department of Corrections had not revealed the manufacturing source of the pentobarbital purchased for the execution. 

     According to this eleventh-hour plea, prisoners had a right to know whether or not the pentobarbital has been manufactured under "pristine conditions" that would assure that the drug was safe. (What is safe in an execution drug? Pentobarbital is not supposed to be safe--it's supposed to kill.)

     According to Professor Levin, if Campbell's execution was not blocked the results could be "disastrous." (Again, from the executioner's point of view, the results are supposed to be disastrous.)

     On another save-the-killer front, death house lawyers claimed that Campbell, with an I.Q. of 69, was too stupid to execute pursuant to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbid states from executing criminal dimwits. (People with low I.Q.s go to college, get elected to congress, drive cars and vote. When they murder innocent victims in cold blood, why can't they be executed?)

     Robert Campbell's energetic and devoted legal team asked Texas Governor Rick Perry to grant an executive stay of execution on Campbell's behalf.

     On May 13, 2014, the day he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, the federal court of appeals stayed Campbell's execution. Had the executioner dispatched him, Campbell would have been the first condemned man to be put to death since the executioner in Oklahoma ran into trouble disposing of another sadistic cold-blooded killer, Clayton Lockett. Had Campbell been executed as scheduled according to the wishes of the jury that had found him guilty, he would have been the eighth death row inmate killed that year by the state of Texas.

     In 2017, Robert Campbell was re-sentenced to life in prison. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Don Willburn Collins Murder Case: Robert Middleton's Long, Painful Death

     Robert Middleton, on June 28, 1998, turned eight. Early in the evening of his birthday, his 13-year-old neighbor, Don Willburn Collins, doused him with gasoline and set him on fire. Robert survived the attack, but suffered third-degree burns over most of his body. The crime took place in Splendora, Texas, a small town in the Houston metropolitan area.

      Don Willburn Collins confessed to the police, was arrested and spent several months in juvenile detention. He was not, however, prosecuted as a juvenile or an adult for the assault. According to the Montgomery County prosecutor in charge of the investigation, the state did not have enough evidence against Collins to go forward with the case. As a result, the authorities had no choice but to release the suspect. (Collins had taken back his confession and there were procedural problems associated with the investigation.)

     Over the years, Robert Middleton underwent 100 painful surgeries and many skin grafts that still left him horribly disfigured. In 2011, after being diagnosed with skin cancer, Robert, in a videotaped deposition given shortly before his death at the age of 23, revealed that two weeks before the arson-assault, Don Collins had sexually molested him. Collins had set his victim on fire to prevent him from reporting the rape.

     The medical examiner, finding that Middleton's cancer was caused by his burns, ruled his death a homicide. Following this cause and manner of death determination, detectives with the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office conducted a seven-month cold-case investigation into the 1998 sexual molestation and subsequent arson.

     Three years after Collins set Robert Middleton on fire, a jury found him guilty of sexually molesting an 8-year-old boy. At the time of that rape, Collins was fifteen. For that offense he spent four years in juvenile detention. The assault took place in San Jacinto County, Texas.

     In 2012, Robert Middleton's parents won a $150 million wrongful death suit against Collins. Because the man who had set fire to their son was homeless, the plaintiffs knew they would never collect the civil judgment.

     A Montgomery county judge, in 2013, transferred the Collins/Middleton case from juvenile to adult court after the district attorney charged Don Willburn Collins with felony-murder in connection with Middleton's delayed death. Under the felony-murder doctrine, a person who commits a felony is culpable for any death that occurs in the commission of that crime. In the Collins case, the underlying felony was sexual assault. While the sexual crime didn't cause Middleton's death, it lead to the arson that in turn caused the cancer that killed the victim. (The arson-assault wouldn't work as the underlying felony because the statute of limitations on that offense had run out. The sexual assault, however, wasn't reported until 2011.)

     In terms of the law, the prosecution in the Collins case faced a felony-murder causation problem. The prosecutor had to directly link the arson to the sexual attack. There was also the passage of time between the rape and the victim's cancer death. In the old days before crimes were codified, there was a common law principal related to criminal homicide called the year and a day rule. If the victim of an assault died a year and one day after the attack, too much time had passed to allow a murder charge.

     Collin's attorney challenged the transfer of his client's case into adult court. In 1998, under Texas law, a person under the age of 14 could not be charged as an adult with a capital offense. Collins was 13 when he allegedly raped then set fire to the victim. (In 1999, state legislators dropped the age to ten.)

     In October 2014, State District Judge Kathleen Hamilton approved a request by Collins' attorneys to move the murder trial out of Montgomery County. E. Tay Bond, one of the defendant's lawyers, had argued that the intense publicity the case received would make it difficult for his client to get a fair trial locally. Mr. Bond said, "I think the degree of shock as to what happened to Robbie Middleton has created a fervor in the community where people have decided that Don Collins is in fact guilty of something. They would convict him just based on emotion instead of an objective review of the evidence or lack thereof in the case."

     On January 10, 2015, Judge Hamilton heard arguments on the Collin's defense motion to suppress statements the defendant had made to police sixteen years earlier regarding setting the victim on fire. Two days after the oral arguments, the judge decided that because the interview room had not been approved by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department Board, she had no choice but to exclude this evidence from the prosecution's case. Judge Hamilton noted, however that "the officers involved in the 1988 statements had not acted in bad faith." But because Texas law did not provide for good-faith exceptions to the rules in the Family Code, the judge's hands were tied.

     In looking for evidence against the defendant, detectives questioned a man who had served jail time in juvenile detention with Collins who claimed that Collins had threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to Robert Middleton.

     On February 4, 2015, in a Galveston, Texas courtroom, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Blackburn, in his opening statement to the jury, made up of six men and six women, said, "Our case is based on the testimony of adults who came forward and can tell you what the defendant did when he and Robbie Middleton were children. Witnesses will tell you that he poured gasoline on Robbie Middleton in 1998 and set him on fire."

     Defense attorney Tay Bond told the jurors they should not expect the prosecution to present eyewitnesses to this crime because there weren't any.

     Dr. David Herndon, a burn surgeon and chief of staff at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Galveston took the stand as the prosecution's first witness. He said the burns the victim had suffered had eaten through his fat tissue into his muscle. The doctor said Middleton's burns were among the worst he had ever seen. For surviving 13 years, the doctor said he considered Middleton a "miracle."

     Dr. Herndon was followed to the stand by three physicians who testified that the cancer that eventually killed the victim had been caused by his burns.

     Over the next several days, prosecutor Blackburn put on witnesses who testified that Collins had bragged to them about what he had done to Robbie Middleton. One of these witnesses, an inmate at a juvenile detention center who served time with Collins, said the defendant had raped him then threatened to burn him the way he had set fire to the Middleton boy.

     Defense attorney Bond, in his closing remarks to the jury, again stressed the fact there were no eyewitnesses to the crime or physical evidence linking his client to Middleton's burning.

     Prosecutor Blackburn, in his closing statement, called the defendant a "monster" and a "child rapist."

     On February 9, 2015, the jury in Galveston, Texas found Don Collins guilty of capital murder. Following the verdict, attorney Bond promised to appeal the conviction on grounds that trying Collins as an adult for a crime committed when he was thirteen was unconstitutional.

     Judge Blackburn sentenced Collins to forty years in prison.

     On April 4, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Collins' murder conviction.