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Friday, March 31, 2023

Appalachia Noir: The Larry Paul McClure Murder Case

     Larry Paul McClure Sr., a registered sex offender served 17 years in prison for sexually molesting a young female relative. On February 14, 2019, the 55-year-old registered sex offender and his two daughters, 31-year-old Amanda McClure and 32-year-old Ann Choudhay, were together in their father's house in Skygusty, West Virginia. Amanda McClure's boyfriend, 38-year-old John Thomas McGuire was also in the dwelling that day. Skygusty, West Virginia is a small town in McDowell County in the southern part of the state near the Kentucky and Virginia state lines.

     John McGuire resided in Owatonna, Minnesota, a town of 25,000 located in the southern part of the state. His girlfriend, Amanda McClure, lived in Chisago, Minnesota, a small community 35 miles northeast of Minneapolis. Amanda had come to Skygusty, West Virginia with her boyfriend with the purpose of helping her father and her sister murder him.

     On Valentine's Day 2019, in the Skygusty house, Larry McClure Sr. hit John McGuire in the head with a wine bottle. The daughters tied up the unconscious victim, injected him with two vials of methamphetamine then looked on as their father strangled him to death.

     After killing John McGuire, Larry McClure Sr. and his daughters removed the dead man's clothing and buried him in the backyard. After disposing of the corpse, Mr. McClure and his daughter Amanda returned to the house where they had sex.

    A few days after burying John McGuire behind the Skygusty house, Larry McClure and his daughters dug up his body and moved it to a more remote area in the county. The trio deposited the corpse in another shallow grave, confident that if found, the decomposing body would not be connected to them.

     On March 11, 2019, Amanda McClure and her father drove to nearby Tazewell County, Virginia where they obtained a marriage license. A few days later, they were married in a small United Methodist church. Amanda, in applying for the marriage license, had listed the name of another man in place of her father's.

     More than seven months after John McGuire's cold-blooded murder, detectives in Minnesota, in the course of their missing persons investigation into the disappearance of Mr. John McGuire, received a tip that the missing man had been murdered and was buried in McDowell county, West Virginia. The caller implicated Larry McClure and his daughters. The Minnesota detectives called the authorities in West Virginia to inform them of the possible murder.

     On September 24, 2019, police officers in West Virginia, operating on the Minnesota tip, questioned Larry McClure Sr. on the pretext they were investigating his failure to comply with the terms of his sex offender registry. During that interview, Mr. McClure informed his questioners how he and his two daughters had murdered John McGuire. McClure said he didn't know exactly why his daughter Amanda wanted John McGuire dead, but did say she had planned his murder and had been spending Mr. McGuire's monthly Social Security checks. McClure led the police officers to the spot in McDowell County where he and his accomplices had buried the victim's body.

     A McDowell County prosecutor charged Larry Paul McClure Sr., Amanda McClure and Ann Marie Choudhay with first-degree murder. Police arrested Choudhay at her home in Boone, North Carolina. Amanda McClure was taken into custody at her residence in Chisago, Minnesota.

     On November 4, 2019, while incarcerated at the McDowell County Jail, Larry McClure Sr. wrote a letter in hand that read: "I just want it over. No trial. No taxpayer's money spent for a trial. It is hard for the state of West Virginia to fight against itself because I plead guilty! No contest. Thank you for your time in this matter."

      In July 2020, Amanda McClure pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. The judge sentenced her to 40 years in prison. A month later, Larry Paul McClure pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 55 years to life. Anna Marie Choudhary, following her second-degree murder plea in April 2021, was sent to prison for forty years. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Bernard Goetz: The Subway Vigilante

     In the 1980s, muggers, rapists and panhandling bums ruled the streets, trains and subway stations of New York City. The Bronx looked like a post World War II city that had been bombed to rubble. Prostitutes, pimps, x-rated store fronts, strip joints, three-card monte stands, street corner drug dealers and thieves selling their loot were entrenched in Manhattan's Times Square. New York had become a seedy, smelly, dangerous place. Tourism had dropped off and people doing legitimate business throughout the city struggled. Corrupt and incompetent politicians had let the Big Apple rot. Law abiding residents of New York were angry, frightened and fed-up. 

     In 1981, a gang of muggers in a Canal Street subway station beneath Manhattan beat-up and robbed 34-year-old Bernard Goetz. After the attack, Goetz, the owner of a small electronics business in Greenwich Village, started carrying a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.

     On December 22, 1984, at five-thirty in the evening, while riding the Number 2 train under Manhattan, four black teenagers approached Bernard Goetz and asked him for money. Believing that the youths were about to rob him, Goetz pulled out his S & W 38 and shot each kid once. The boys survived, but one of them, Darrell Cabey, was left brain-damaged and paralyzed.

     The subway shootings grabbed headlines in New York City and baffled the police who had no idea who shot the teens. Nine days after the incident, Bernard Goetz turned himself into the police and identified himself as the so-called "Subway Vigilante." The case had divided New Yorkers by race. Blacks vilified Goetz as a trigger-happy racist. Many whites hailed him as a crime-fighting hero. The subway vigilante case symbolized a citizenry fed-up with out-of-control street crime and a broken criminal justice system.

     Manhattan's district attorney, fearing massive civil disorder, threw the book at Mr. Goetz, charging him with attempted murder, assault, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon. In January 1988, the jury in the high-profile trial acquitted the defendant of all charges but the third-degree weapons offense. The judge sentenced Goetz to one year in jail. Nine months later he was free.

     In 1990, Darrell Cabey, the person Goetz paralyzed, sued him for $50 million. Six years later, the jury awarded Cabey $43 million in damages. That year Goetz declared bankruptcy.
     In 2001, Bernard Goetz ran for mayor. He lost and became a vegetarian activist who spent his time nursing injured squirrels. 

     On December 22, 2011, twenty-seven years to the day he was shot by Goetz on the train, James Ramseur was found dead of a drug overdose. Asked to comment on Ramseur's death by a reporter with the New York Daily News, Goetz said, "It sounds like he was depressed."
     On Friday, November 1, 2013, a female undercover cop cracking down on Ganja (a highly resinous form of cannabis) peddlers in Union Square Park at Fifth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, was approached by a tall, thin man in his sixties who asked if she wanted to get high. When the cop said yes, Bernard Goetz said he would go to his apartment and return with $30 worth of marijuana. Upon his return from his Greenwich Village dwelling with the weed, the undercover cop placed him under arrest. A Manhattan prosecutor charged Goetz with the misdemeanor offense of criminal sale of marijuana. Suddenly Bernard Goetz, the Subway Vigilante, was back in the news. 
     Shortly after Goetz's marijuana arrest, the prosecutor dropped the charges and Bernard Goetz, once a household name, returned to obscurity.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Conspiracy Theories: Their Appeal and Resiliency

     The contrary, unorthodox and often complicated interpretation of a newsworthy event often occurs after high-profile crimes and the unexpected deaths of celebrities. Conspiracy theories surrounding the deaths of famous people flourish when it's possible the well-known person could have been the victim of first-degree murder. For the conspiracy buff, it's even better if the suspected murderer is also a celebrity.

     Notwithstanding the fact that most conspiracy theories are in time debunked by more level-headed investigators, journalists and true crime writers, they often spring back to life decades after the event. Even the most outlandish conspiracy theories have long lives.

     Examples of celebrity murder conspiracies that have lived on through tabloid journalism and hack true crime writing include the sudden deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Bob Crane, George Reeves, and Curt Cobain. In all of these theories, the murder suspects were also famous.

     Conspiracy theories are fun and exciting real life parlor games. They are also comporting in the belief that if something big and earth-shattering occurs such as the assassination of a president, powerful, evil forces must be behind the murder. Otherwise, we have to accept the fact that American history can be changed in a second by the actions of an insignificant person for reasons that defy understanding. This reality made the murder of John Lennon so unsettling to his fans.

     When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016 in a remote region of west Texas, theories that he had been murdered popped up immediately in the news, notwithstanding the fact he was 79-years-old and in poor health. Because Scalia's death involved enormous political and ideological significance, it's not surprising that theories of his murder surfaced so soon. Theories of his murder persisted despite the fact officials determined he had died of a heart attack. The principal suspect in the Scalia murder scenario was President Obama. In the world of conspiracy theories it doesn't get better than this.

     Before Scalia's momentous passing, Rob Brotherton of the Los Angeles Times had this to say about conspiracy theories:

     "Conspiracy theories are not inherently "delusional." Given a handful of dots, our pattern-seeking brains can't resist trying to connect them. If you had claimed in 1972 that the burglary at the Watergate Hotel was, in fact, a plot by White House officials to illegally spy on political rivals and insure President Nixon's reelection, you'd have sounded like a nut. If you'd claimed that the CIA had given American citizens LSD, mescaline, and other drugs in secret mind-control experiments, you'd have been laughed off as a member of the tinfoil-hat crowd. Both conspiracies, however, were quite real. Dismissing all conspiracy theories (and theorists) as crazy is just as intellectually lazy as credulously accepting every wild allegation."

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe?

     At three in the morning on August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe's housekeeper, Eunice Murray, saw a light under the movie star's bedroom door. After knocking and getting no response, Murray called Monroe's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. The doctor arrived at the Brentwood, California hacienda shortly after being summoned and upon entering the bedroom found the 36-year-old actress dead. Following a considerable passage of time, Dr. Greenson called the Los Angeles Police. (Before alerting the authorities, Monroe's psychiatrist phoned Peter Lawford, an actor friend of Monroe's who rushed to the scene. Peter Lawford happened to be President John F. Kennedy's brother-in-law. Lawford was also rumored to have fixed the president up with Monroe.)

     The first detective didn't arrive at the scene until 4:30 that morning. Based on the state of Monroe's rigor mortis (postmortem body stiffening), the officer estimated the time of her death to be 12:30 AM, give or take an hour. In the bedroom the detective found 15 bottles of prescription drugs and an empty bottle of champagne. The scene was never processed for latent fingerprints.

     Because of the delay between the time of death and the arrival of the police, valuable evidence from the bedroom and the house could have been removed and destroyed. For example, Monroe was known to have kept a diary. Had she been sexually involved with President Kennedy and later with his brother Robert, the U.S. Attorney General, her journal might have contained revealing and embarrassing information related to, among other things, a motive for  her murder. The diary was never recovered. Monroe's phone records also turned up missing. Regardless of how Marilyn Monroe died, the case had all the earmarks of a cover-up.

     Five or six hours after Marilyn Monroe's sudden and unexplained death, her body was turned over to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office for autopsy. The so-called "Coroner to the Stars," Dr. Thomas Noguchi, performed the autopsy. According to all accounts, he did a thorough job which included a careful examination of Monroe's body for signs that she had been injected with something toxic. The forensic pathologist did not find any evidence of foul play.

     A toxicology test of Monroe's blood revealed high levels of Nembutal (38-66 capsules) and chloral hydrate (14-23 tablets). Based on Monroe's autopsy, the apparent circumstances surrounding the death, and the toxicology report, Dr. Noguchi ruled her death a "possible suicide."

     The medico-legal examination of the corpse, however, was not complete. Because the samples had been "lost," there was no toxicological analysis of Monroe's stomach and intestine contents.

     In 1982, twenty years after Marilyn Monroe's death, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office reviewed the case and issued a report. The cold case investigators, aware of the flaws and problems with the initial inquiry, concluded that Monroe had probably died of an accidental overdose. However, not everyone, then and now, ruled out the possibility of homicide. Perhaps the most popular theory of murder, and the motive behind it, involved keeping Monroe from spilling the beans about her affairs with the Kennedy brothers. The well known forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, publicly expressed his opinion that Monroe could have been injected with a toxic substance.

     In 2011, the Associated Press, anticipating the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe's death on August 5, 1962, attempted under the Freedom of Information Act to acquire the FBI's voluminous file on Marilyn Monroe.

     J. Edgar Hoover, as part of his war against domestic communism, monitored the activities of hundreds of novelists, actors, musicians, screenwriters, sports figures and politicians. In 1955, the bureau opened an on-going intelligence file on Marilyn Monroe. Agents kept track of where she went, what she did and who she associated with. FBI investigators conducted hundreds of confidential interviews of people who knew the actress. None of this information was made public.

     Nine months after its request for the Monroe FBI file, the bureau replied that the agency no longer possessed this material. The Associated Press then requested the files from the National Archives which also denied possession of the Monroe data.

     In January 2013, the FBI finally released its file on Marilyn Monroe. Heavily redacted, most of the information focused on Monroe's travels and associations with people suspected of being communists. There was no proof that Monroe was herself a communist, and no information that added insight into the manner of her death.

Monday, March 27, 2023

The High-Profile Sanford Rubenstein Rape Allegation

     On October 1, 2014, prominent Manhattan, New York defense attorney Sanford A. Rubenstein attended civil rights activist Al Sharpton's 60th birthday party at the Four Seasons restaurant. Following the gala affair, two female party attendees accompanied Rubenstein back to his penthouse apartment. One of these women, Iasha Rivers, sat on the board of Sharpton's civil rights organization The National Action Network.

     The 43-year-old board member's companion left the Rubenstein apartment sometime after midnight. Iasha Rivers, however, decided to spend the night with the rich lawyer. The next morning, Mr. Rubenstein's driver took her home.

     Iasha Rivers, 36-hours after being driven home from Rubenstein's penthouse, went to a hospital with bruises on her arms and vaginal bleeding. To hospital personnel, and later the police, she claimed that Sanford Rubenstein had drugged and raped her that night.

     In her police complaint, Iasha Rivers said that after her party companion left the penthouse, she began to feel "foggy" then lost consciousness. According to her account of that night, when she awoke, Mr. Rubenstein had her arms pinned and was raping her.

     The rape allegation against Mr. Rubenstein led to a three-month investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. On January 5, 2015, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance announced that after his investigators questioned dozens of witnesses, reviewed medical records, looked at surveillance camera footage, and considered toxicology results, he didn't have enough evidence to support a criminal charge against Mr. Rubenstein.

     In justifying his decision not proceed with this case, prosecutor Vance said that a toxicology test of the alleged victim's blood failed to show the presence of anything other than traces of alcohol and marijuana.

     Benjamin Brafman, Mr. Rubenstein's attorney, said this following the district attorney's announcement: "What happened in this case was consensual sex between two adults who were fully alert and fully awake throughout."

     Kenneth J. Montgomery, Iasha River's attorney, in calling the district attorney's office investigation "incredibly inept," accused investigators of ignoring evidence such as his client's bruised arms and a bloody condom that had been recovered from Rubenstein's apartment. The attorney criticized the district attorney for not presenting the case to a grand jury.

     In questioning the results of the toxicology test, Mr. Montgomery pointed out that his client did not use marijuana. "I think," he said, "they never wanted to pursue this case from the very beginning." The lawyer also announced that he had just filed a civil lawsuit against Mr. Rubenstein on behalf of his client.

     Mr. Brafman, speaking for his client, Mr. Rubenstein, said, "Rape is undoubtedly a serious offense; to falsely accuse someone of rape, however, is equally offensive."

     On January 6, 2015, the day following District Attorney Vance's announcement, The New York Daily News, citing a source within the NYPD, reported that officers had found, in Rubenstein's penthouse, a prescription for Viagra issued in Al Sharpton's name.

     Al Sharpton responded quickly to the tabloid's Viagra story. "I don't know anything about that," he said. "No, I don't know anything about that." According to the civil rights leader, this Daily News reportage was nothing more than a New York City police conspiracy to embarrass him. "If the motive of the cop was to embarrass me, at sixty years old, I am unembarassable."

     Rank and file New York City police officers had been offended by what they considered Al Sharpton's anti-cop rhetoric in the wake of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. Sharpton was considered by many to be an unrepentant race-baiter who used his clout in the black community to extort money from corporations afraid of being labeled as racist. It was not a stretch of the imagination to believe that New York City police officers would want nothing better than to embarrass this man. Al Sharpton's claim that he could not be embarrassed, based upon the history of his career, had the ring of truth.

     In March 2016, the attorney for Iasha Rivers and the attorney for Rubenstein quietly agreed to drop their clients' lawsuits against each other.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

One English Teacher's Version of "Show, Don't Tell"

     To fill the one-day absence of a high school English teacher, the principal of Options Public Charter School in the Capitol Hill section of Washington, D.C. arranged for a substitute through the Delaware based company SOS Personnel. On Friday October 17, 2014, a 22-year-old substitute from Fort Washington, Maryland named Symone Greene reported for duty at the D.C. charter school.

     During her first English class, Green flirted with a 17-year-old 11th-grade football player who helped out in the classroom passing out papers and retrieving supplies. Near the end of the class period the student gave the teacher his cellphone number. Over the next few hours the substitute teacher and the football player exchanged flirty, sexually-oriented messages. At one point the teen asked Greene if she considered herself "kinky." Her reply: "I don't tell, I show."

     When the 11th-grader returned to Green's classroom at three-thirty that afternoon, they were alone. The other students and teachers were attending a pep rally in anticipation of a football game that night.

     The student, encouraged by the earlier flirting, asked the substitute teacher if she would be willing to perform a number of sexual acts. The boy's request led to various sexual acts performed by the teacher behind the classroom desk. Greene didn't know it, but her young sexual partner secretly videoed the encounter on his cellphone.

     It's not surprising that the student almost immediately showed what he had recorded behind the desk to his teammates. The next day several more people viewed the videoed classroom encounter online.

     During the weekend following the publicized incident, Green and the boy continued to exchange text messages. He asked, "When u trying to see me again?" She replied, "Oo. u gona get me in trouble. Chill. We gotta be slick with it."

     On Monday October 20, 2014, a faculty member who viewed the sex video online reported it to a school administrator. The staff member called the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the D.C. Child and Family Services agency.

     After a detective telephoned Symone Greene to arrange an interview, she, apparently unaware of the video, texted the student and instructed him to tell the police that she "only helped him with his resume." She wanted him to say that "nothing else happened while we were in the classroom together."

   At the detective's urging, the student sent Green a text to which she angrily responded: "Omg…Don't talk to me ever again. I'm bout to be put in jail…This can ruin my whole life…Why couldn't u just keep it to urself?"

     On October 21, 2014, the Tuesday following the sexual encounter in Options Public Charter School room 266, officers with the Metropolitan Police Department arrested Symone Greene on the felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse of a minor. While the age of sexual consent in the District of Columbia was 16, that defense didn't apply in student-teacher encounters. 

     After the defendant pleaded not guilty to the sex charge, the judge released her from custody. Until the case was resolved, Green was required to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

     In July 2015, Greene pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of obstruction of justice. Judge Rhonda Reid Winston sentenced her to three years of probation. 

     Perhaps female secondary educations majors should be required to take a sex education course featuring how teenage boys behave after having sex with a teacher. For one thing, they all kiss and tell. In other words, they literally talk out of school. Moreover, some of them record their teacher sexual adventures. These education courses could be enlivened with dozens of recent case histories. And finally, a secondary education major assigned a research project might investigate why so many of the women who engage in sex with their students teach English.   

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Christopher Dorner: An Ex-LAPD Officer's Spree of Murderous Revenge

     On Sunday night, February 3, 2013, a woman walking to her car in an Irvine, California condo parking structure discovered the bodies of a couple in their twenties slumped in the front seat of a white Kia. The victims, each shot more than once in the head from close range, were identified as Keith Lawrence and his fiancee Monica Quan. The pair had met at Concordia University where they were basketball stars. Lawrence was employed as a public security officer on the campus of the University of Southern California. Monica Quan, for the past two seasons, was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of California Fullerton.

     The double murder, occurring in one of America's safest cities, baffled detectives who couldn't figure who would want to kill this couple.

     At a press conference held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, Irvine Chief of Police David Maggard announced that his detectives had identified a suspect in the double murder. The suspect, 33-year-old Christopher Dorner, was still at large, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2009, Dorner had been fired from the LAPD. The attorney who represented him before the Board of Rights Tribunal and had handled his appeal of the board's ruling of dismissal in October 2011 was Monica Quan's father, Randal Quan. (Captain Quan, after retiring from the LAPD in 2002, began practicing law.)

     Chief Maggard identified, as a key piece of evidence linking Christopher Dorner to the Lawrence/Quan murders, a 11,300-word, 20-page "manifesto" the Naval Reservist and ex-cop had posted on his Facebook page. Addressed to "America," and titled "Last Resort," Mr. Dorner outlined a plan and rationale for murdering everyone associated with his 2009 dismissal from the LAPD. (Officer Dorner had accused a fellow officer of excessive force in the arrest of a schizophrenic man. An internal investigation revealed that Dorner had made false statements in the case. For that reason he was fired.)

     In his manifesto, Christopher Dorner made specific reference to his former attorney, Randal Quan. He wrote: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, so I am terminating yours." In the rambling document, Dorner accused Randal Quan of suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him.

     In reference to his intended victims in general, Dorner wrote: I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether off or on duty. You will now live the life of a prey. Whatever pre-planned responses you have established for a scenario like me, shelve it. The violence of action will be high. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, and sleep...I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name...Self preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago on January 2, 2009. I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

     One doesn't have to be a forensic psychiatrist to interpret Dorner's manifesto as the deluded, grandiose ravings of an angry, revenge-seeking man suffering from serious mental illness. In this document he came off as the proverbial ticking time-bomb.

     Later on the day of Chief Maggard's press conference, Christopher Dorner was in San Diego where he tried to steal a boat. As he drove to Corona, California 60 miles east of Los Angeles, he tossed his wallet out the window of his vehicle. At 1:25 the next morning, he shot at two Corona police officers who were working a security detail. A bullet from Dorner's rifle grazed one of the officers who could not pursue Dorner because other bullets had disabled their patrol car.

      At 1:45 Thursday, February 7, 2013, in the neighboring town of Riverside, Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car in his 2005 Nissan Titan pickup. The police car was stopped at a traffic light. Dorner opened fire on the unsuspecting officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The suspect, described as a black man with a shaved head, sped from the scene.

     Los Angeles detectives in Torrance, California, early Thursday morning, shot at a pickup truck they believed was driven by the fugitive. In fact, the vehicle was occupied by 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter Margie Carranza. Mother and daughter were delivering the Los Angeles Times. Emma Hernandez was shot twice in the back and was listed in stable condition. Margie Carranza was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to her finger and released. 

     The U.S. Marshals Service and 10,000 police officers launched a manhunt for Christopher Dorner that extended from California to Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. His last known address was in La Palma, California in northern Orange County not far from Fullerton.

     On Thursday evening, February 7, 2013, the manhunt centered in Big Bear Lake country 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles where schools and ski resorts were shut down. SWAT teams, officers with bloodhounds and other law enforcement searchers were in the area after the discovery of Dorner's burned-out pickup trick. The area was also being searched from the air. Back in Los Angeles, every station house was locked-down and under armed guard.

      On February 9, 2013 searchers found Christopher Dorner's charred remains inside a burned cabin not far from his pickup truck.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Derek Medina: The Facebook Wife Killer

     After dating a few months in late 2009, Derek Medina and Jennifer Alfonso got married. Because he was the jealous type and extremely controlling, they frequently fought. Early in 2012 Jennifer had enough. They divorced, but a few months later, after Medina talked her into it, they remarried. For Jennifer this turned out to be a terrible mistake.

     In 2013, the 31-year-old Medina and his 26-year-old wife lived with her ten-year-old daughter from a previous relationship in a townhouse in South Miami, Florida. She worked as a server at a nearby Denny's Restaurant. He had a job as a property manager at a Coral Gables condo, the most recent of his string of short-term employments.

      Derek Medina had self-published six online books with rambling nonsensical titles like, How a Judgmental and Selfish Attitude is Destroying the World We Live Because the World is Vanishing Our Eyes. He had also written a book about one of his passions--ghost hunting. Medina had dedicated his most recent work--How I Save Someone's Life and Marriage and Family Problems Thru Communication--to his wife Jennifer.

     In addition to being a prolific writer, with 143 videos featuring himself on YouTube and Facebook, Median fancied himself a public person. As an extra on some TV drama, he had gotten a taste of the entertainment world. On YouTube, his handful of fans could see him hitting golf balls, playing pick-up basketball, showing off his tattoos, riding in a boat and having a drink poolside with his wife. Derek Medina was a poster-boy for cheesy narcissism where everyone is an aspiring celebrity.

     On the morning of August 1, 2013, Medina, on his Facebook page, published a disturbing photograph of his bloodied wife lying dead on a linoleum floor. In the message accompanying the death scene photograph, Medina wrote: "I'm going to prison or [getting the] death sentence for killing my wife. My wife was punching me and I'm not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did. Hope you understand me. Love you guys. Miss you guys. Take care Facebook people. You'll see me in the news."

     At noon on the day he shot and killed his wife, Medina walked into a South Miami police station and informed officers that he had shot her to death. He told homicide detectives that Jennifer had threatened to leave him which led to a heated argument. According to Medina's account of the killing, he grabbed his pistol from a closet on the second floor and pointed it at Jennifer who had followed him up the stairs. After he put the pistol back into the closet, the couple returned to the kitchen where she took possession of a knife. He wrestled the knife out of her hand, but the fight continued with her punching and kicking him. Media told the detectives he walked upstairs, retrieved the gun, then shot his wife to death in the kitchen. At the time of the killing, the victim's daughter was in a second-floor bedroom.

     After killing his wife, Median changed his clothes and drove to his parents' house. He left the little girl behind with her dead mother. He did not call 911, but posted the photograph of Jennifer's corpse and the accompanying message on Facebook before turning himself into the authorities. He wanted his Facebook fans to be the first to know what he had done.

     Later that afternoon police officers with the South Miami Police Department, armed with a search warrant entered the townhouse where they found the victim and the 10-year-old girl. At the request of the police, Facebook personnel removed the death scene photograph from the site. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Derek Medina with first-degree murder.

     Jennifer Alfonso's former boss at Denny's told a reporter that Media was so jealous he didn't want his wife working at night, or even to talk to other people on the telephone. Every time she threatened to leave him and they fought, he'd beg her forgiveness and promised to change. The former boss said that after one of their fights, she would come to the restaurant "bruised up."

     An Amazon.com reviewer posted the following comment regarding Medina's 42-page book on how he had saved a marriage: "Medina hits the bulls' eye with this definitive guide to marriage. He pulls no punches as he gives out advice to die for. Don't waste time and grab a copy at this killer price, as we are sure to hear more about this rising star in the news..."

     The local magistrate denied Derek Medina bond.

     In November 2015, following a short trial in which Medina did not testify on his own behalf, the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. On February 5, 2016, the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Nicholas Helman Ricin Case: Beware of the Jilted Nerd

     In 2013, 19-year-old Nicholas Helman lived with his mother in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a town of 8,000 in Montgomery County within the Philadelphia metropolitan area. One of the young man's neighbors in the Eleanor Courts apartment complex described Nicholas as the kid you went to school with for twelve years but don't remember.

     Helman, a quiet, unassuming Eagle Scout, worked at the Target store in Warrington, Pennsylvania. He also spent a lot of time searching for geocaches--objects that were hidden and could be found through GPS coordinates posted on the Internet. Casual acquaintances thought that Helman was much younger than nineteen.

     In the summer of 2013, Helman met a young woman his age at an Eagle Scout picnic. They began dating and he fell in love. When she left him for another man in November 2013 the devastated Helman began sending threatening emails to the new boyfriend. When the object of his wrath brushed off his threats, Helman decided to poison his competitor to death. This was not behavior befitting an Eagle Scout.

     On March 7, 2014, Helman confided to a fellow Target employee that he had just placed an envelope in his rival's mailbox that contained a scratch-and-sniff birthday card laced with ricin, a deadly poison. (Ricin is a protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal.) Helman bragged to his confidant that anyone who came into contact with his ricin would be dead in a few days.

     Helman identified his poison target as his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, a man who lived in Warminster, a Bucks County town 40 miles north of Philadelphia. The shocked employee wasted no time in calling the police.

     Police officers, on the day Helman confided in his fellow worker, went to the Eleanor Courts apartment complex to question the suspect. Upon their arrival they arrested Helman as he tried to sneak off carrying a backpack and a piece of luggage.

     Under police questioning Mr. Helman admitted that he had placed an envelope containing a birthday card in his rival's mailbox. He said his intent was to scare his ex-girlfriend's boyfriend, not to hurt him. He was motivated by the desire to get the girl back. Helman claimed that the birthday card was harmless.

     Police officers found, in Helman's backpack, a white bottle labeled "sodium hydroxide" that contained a crystal-like powder. The suspect also possessed a recipe in a notebook that listed ingredients such as caster beans, sodium hydroxide, mixing materials and other substances.

     Investigators telephoned the poison target's residence and spoke to his mother who said her daughter had just left the house to fetch the mail. The police caller instructed the mother to put the mail back into the box and wait for the police.

     Nicholas Helman was taken into custody and booked into the Montgomery County Jail on the charge of harassment. Shortly after the hazardous materials team retrieved the plain white envelope without a stamp, address, or return address, Helman posted his $50,000 bond and was released from custody.

     After toxicological testing confirmed that the birthday card contained ricin, a Bucks County prosecutor charged Nicholas Helman with attempted first-degree murder. On March 19, 2014, FBI agents and local police officers, backed up by a SWAT team, surrounded the Helman apartment. Following a two-hour standoff, the suspect surrendered to the authorities. A judge denied Helman bail pending a psychiatric evaluation.

     The next day, police officers found a stash of ricin tucked under a gas manhole cover in Hatboro not far from Helman's apartment.

     In November 2014, Nicholas Helman pleaded guilty to the attempted murder charge as well as the offenses of attempted aggravated assault and risking a catastrophe. In July 2015, Judge Alan Rubenstein sentenced the 21-year-old to twenty to forty years in prison. The judge called Helman's crime "extraordinary" and compared his behavior to that of a terrorist. "You are bright. You are articulate. You are responsive," said the judge. "But I don't think you appreciate the damage you have caused people very close to you."

     As deputies led Helman out of the courtroom in handcuffs, the prisoner wept as he said goodbye to family members. It was doubtful that in prison Mr. Helman would encounter many other Eagle Scouts.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Leroy Kuffel: A Police Pension For a Sex Offrender

     Round Lake Beach is a northern Illinois town of 26,000 on the Wisconsin state line. In 2009, Round Lake Beach police officer Leroy Kuffel, a 29-year veteran of the force, got into serious trouble. In February and March of that year, the 52-year-old cop had sex with his son's ex-girlfriend. She was sixteen. Following his arrest, Kuffel admitted giving the teen gifts and taking her out to dinner, but he denied having sexual relations with the minor.

     In January 2010, following a three-day trial in a Lake County court, the jury found Kuffel guilty of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. (Had the girl been a few months younger, he could have been charged with statutory rape.) The state prosecutor recommended that Kuffel be sentenced up to seven years in prison. The defendant's attorney pushed for a probated sentence. In speaking to the court, Kuffel apologized for what he called "bad decisions."

     Sentencing-wise, Judge Daniel Shanes took the middle ground. He sentenced Kuffel to sixty days in the county jail followed by thirty months of nighttime incarceration at a halfway house where the inmate would be allowed to work during the day. The judge also ordered the ex-police officer to seek sex offender treatment. (Since Kuffel considered his relationship with the minor nothing more than a "bad decision," what good that would do.) At the conclusion of the thirty-month work-release program, Kuffel would be under probation for three years.

     On September 20, 2009, while working during the day and spending nights in custody, Kuffel began receiving his $48, 000 a year police pension. Following a legal challenge by Round Lake Beach municipal authorities, the town's mayor, in January 2013, announced that Illinois state law required that Kuffel, notwithstanding his sex offense conviction, be paid his police pension.

     Under Illinois law, no pension benefits will be paid to a retired police officer convicted of any felony relating to, arising from, or in connection with his law enforcement job. Since Officer Kuffel had been off-duty when he had sex with the minor, the above law did not apply to him. (One could argue that Kuffel's victim might have been intimidated or impressed by the fact he was a cop.) Had Kuffel, while off-duty, murdered his wife, under Illinois law, he'd still be eligible for his pension benefits.

     By 2013, Kuffel's increased monthly pension benefits were based on an annual  income of $53,709. When the ex-cop turned 65, he would rake in $70,079 a year. If Kuffel lived to the year 2026, he will receive, in total pension benefits (not including health care), more than $1 million. Not bad for a registered sex offender.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Killing Home Invaders: The Byron Smith Murder Case

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, a resident in a neighborhood in Little Falls Township south of Little Falls, Minnesota phoned the Morrison County Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious car parked at the foot of his driveway. To the officers who rolled up to the red Mitsubishi Eclipse, the lone occupant of the vehicle, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, said that he and his 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer, had been riding around when they ran out of gas. He was a junior at Pillager High School in Little Falls and Haile was a year ahead of him. She had left the vehicle to find a gas station. One of the deputies gave Brady, a nice-looking kid interested in wrestling and the martial art of Taekwondo, a ride home. His cousin Haile, a high school gymnast, diver, cross country runner and softball player, had nothing in her background that would arouse a police officer's suspicion.

     Byron Smith, a 64-year-old retiree, lived in a modest, township home located a few miles north of Little Falls. In recent months Mr. Smith had been plagued by a series of home burglaries believed to have been committed by teenagers looking for drugs, money and guns. In October 2012, burglars had broken into his house and stolen weapons and other items. The fact Byron Smith had been a physical security expert who specialized in preventing criminal intrusion into government buildings added to to his frustration and anger over being a repeat burglary victim. 
     In 2007, Byron Smith, after serving overseas in places like Bangkok, Thailand, Beijing, China and Cairo, Egypt, retired from the U.S. State Department. He had been one of a handful of highly trained security engineers responsible for making embassies and consulates difficult for terrorists and spies to physically penetrate. An expert on anti-intrusion building design, locks, access control, alarms, video surveillance, protective lighting and physical barriers, Smith had overseen the construction and renovation of these government facilities. 
     Byron Smith's job not only required technical knowledge and experience, it came with top security clearance. This meant he had been thoroughly investigated for mental illnesses, personality disorders and possible substance abuse. Moreover, he had to live a straight-arrow lifestyle to avoid the potential of blackmail. Mr. Smith was also familiar with handguns and assault rifles. It is not difficult to understand why this man had a particular dislike, if not hatred, for criminal intruders. 
     On Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2012, a day after the Morrison County Deputies checked out the suspicious Mitsubishi south of Little Falls, Byron Smith, while sitting in his basement heard the sound of breaking window glass. The sound of footsteps on the first floor told him that he had at least two burglars in his dwelling. The government retiree grabbed his Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle and waited. 
     Mr. Smith readied his rifle when he saw the feet of one of the burglars at the top of his basement stairs. When the intruder's torso come into view Mr. Smith fired twice, striking and killing Nicholas Brady. Mr. Smith dragged the 17-year-old's corpse into the basement and laid it out next to his workbench.  
     Not long after he had killed the high school student, another set of feet appeared on the stairway. As Haile Kifer descended into Smith's basement far enough for the homeowner to see up to her waist, he fired the Ruger. The girl collapsed and her body tumbled down the steps. She was still alive, and gasping for air. Byron Smith interpreted the sounds the wounded girl made as she struggled for air as laugher. He tried to shoot her again, but his rifle jammed. Mr. Smith dragged Haile deeper into his basement and laid her body next to her cousin Nicholas. After replacing his rifle with a handgun, Mr. Smith placed the muzzle under the girl's chin and pulled the trigger. 
     Instead of calling the police and reporting that he had shot and killed two intruders in his house, Byron Smith decided to spend the night with the dead bodies lying in his basement. The next morning he called a neighbor and asked if he could recommend a good attorney. The neighbor replied that he didn't know any lawyers. At this point Smith informed the neighbor that he had killed a couple of burglars the previous night. He asked the neighbor to call the authorities. 
     While homicide investigators were processing the death scene, deputies searched Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi parked a few blocks from Mr. Smith's house. The officers identified the vehicle as the suspicious car they had checked on the day before. At that time they had also questioned Nicholas Brady, the boy who lay dead in Smith's basement. Inside the car searchers found six bottles of medicine that had been prescribed to a Little Falls Township man named Richard Johnson. They also recovered a jar of pennies and some foreign coins. 
     A Morrison County prosecutor, based upon Byron Smith's account of the shootings, charged him with two counts of second-degree murder. While under Minnesota law the occupant of a dwelling can legally use deadly force against an intruder, the homicide defense didn't apply if the burglar was killed after the threat had been neutralized. Byron Smith, when describing to the police what happened to Haile Kifer, said, "If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again." Mr. Smith characterized his follow-up shooting of the girl as a "good clean finishing shot under her chin up into the cranium." Neither of the teen intruders had been armed. 
     On Sunday, November 25, 2012, three days after the fatal shootings, 68-year-old Richard Johnson, upon returning to his Little Falls Township home after vacationing in Spain, found that it had been ransacked by intruders. The burglars had used a crowbar to smash a sliding glass door. The home invaders had stolen bottles of prescription medicine Mr. Johnson took to treat diabetes and high cholesterol. The burglars had also taken a collection of foreign coins and some pennies. The police had recovered these items three days earlier from Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi. Investigators figured that Brady and Kifer had burglarized Mr. Johnson's home on the day before Thanksgiving about the time one of Johnson's neighbors reported the suspicious car. 
     Byron Smith was held in the Morrison County Jail on $2 million bond. 
     It seemed that Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer had been breaking into older people's homes looking for drugs, money and guns. House burglary is a dangerous business and it had gotten these youngsters killed. They were smart kids and should have known better. As for the man who shot them, his life, at least as he knew it, was over. Byron Smith should have known that the way he killed the 18-year-old girl, burglar or not, was murder. You can shoot home invaders, but the law won't let you execute them.

     On April 29, 2014, after three hours of deliberation, the jury found Byron Smith guilty of two counts of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Monday, March 20, 2023

The Lonnie Kocontes Cruise Ship Murder Case

     In 1991, Orange County, California attorney Lonnie Kocontes and Micki Kanesaki, a paralegal working in the same law firm, met and began dating. They married in 1995, and in 2002 were divorced. After the break-up they continued to live together in their jointly owned Mission Viejo house.

     On May 21, 2006, the couple, in an effort to rekindle their relationship, boarded the cruise ship Island Escape in Spain bound for Italy. Five days later Kocontes reported his ex-wife missing. He said he had awakened on the morning of May 26 to find his ex-spouse gone from the cabin.

     The next day, Kanesaki's body washed up on the Mediterranean shore near the town of Calabria in southwest Italy. The Italian police boarded the Island Escape to question Kocontes and members of the crew. According to the dead woman's ex-husband, the 52-year-old had left their cabin at one in the morning on May 26 for a cup of tea. She never returned. Kocontes told the officers that Kanesaki had been threatening to commit suicide.

     Not long after Kanesaki's death at sea, Kocontes, in speaking to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, said, "I was committed to this woman. I loved her with all my heart. I wish I never had gone on the cruise."

     Micki Kanesaki's death was not investigated until Kocontes, in 2008, began transferring more than $1 million from the dead woman's bank accounts into joint accounts he held with his new wife. FBI agents and Orange County detectives came to believe that the lawyer had strangled Kanesaki to death on the ship then threw her body into the Mediterranean. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered somewhere between Sicily and Naples. The authorities also suspected that Kocontes had planned the murder in Orange County, California before the cruise and was motivated by money.

     On February 15, 2013, Federal Marshals arrested Lonnie Kocontes at his home in Safety Harbor, Florida. He stood charged in Orange County, California with one count of special circumstances murder for financial gain. The suspect awaited his extradition in the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. The minimum sentence the 55-year-old could face was life without the possibility of parole. Because he was accused of murdering someone for money, Kocontes was eligible for the death sentence.

     Shortly after Kocontes was extradited back to California, his third wife provided information to Orange County investigators that incriminated him in Kanesaki's death. In May 2015, two of Kocontes' fellow inmates at the Orange County Jail told his lawyer that Kocontes had asked them to murder his third wife. Before killing the murder-for-hire target, the hit men were supposed to make her sign a letter that accused the police of forcing her to lie about his involvement in Kanesaki's death. The defense attorney turned this information over to the local authorities who charged Kocontes with solicitation of murder and several lesser offenses.

     In December 2018, the judge presiding over the Kocontes murder trial declared a mistrial after testimony revealed that some of Kocontes' taped jailhouse conversations violated the lawyer-client privilege. 
     Lonnie Kocontes, in June 2020, was retried for the 2006 cruise ship murder of his wife. The jury found him guilty as charged. Three months later, the judge sentenced the 62-year-old to life without the possibility of parole.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Hair Salon Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     Radcliffe F. Haughton, a 45-year-old former Marine who lived in Brown Deer, Wisconsin outside of Milwaukee, was estranged from his wife Zina. He resided with their 13-year-old daughter. Zina Haughton and her 20-year-old daughter from another marriage worked as hair dressers at the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin eleven miles west of downtown Milwaukee.

     Radcliffe Haughton had moved to the Milwaukee area ten years ago from Cook County, Illinois where he had grown up in the Chicago suburban communities of Northbrook and Wheeling. When he departed Illinois he left behind a history of arrests for disorderly conduct and domestic violence. In Brown Deer he became known to the local police who arrested him several times for similar offenses.

     In January 2011, neighbors called the police when they saw Haughton throwing clothing out a window then pouring tomato juice on his wife's car. Officers came to the house and saw him through a window holding a rifle. They ordered him out of the house but he refused. After a 90-minute standoff the officers left the scene without taking him into custody. Zina Haughton said she didn't want her husband taken into custody. He was later charged with disorderly conduct, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to anger management counseling.

     On October 2, 2012, police officers were called to a gas station in Brown Deer by a witness who saw Zina Haughton barefoot and badly bruised in the face. Zina told the police she had been assaulted by her husband who had threatened to kill her. Still, she did not want him arrested. Officers went to the house where they spotted Radcliffe through a window. When he refused to come out of the dwelling the police departed.

     Two days later, when Zina Haughton approached her car in the hair salon parking lot she discovered that someone had slashed her tires. The next day police officers arrested Radcliffe and charged him with disorderly conduct and destruction of property. That day, Zina acquired a temporary restraining order against him. The 42-year-old embattled wife also petitioned the court for a permanent protection decree. In her request for a permanent injunction, Zina said that Radcliffe was convinced she was cheating on him. In a jealous rage he had threatened to kill her by setting her on fire. He had also promised to kill her if she reported his threats to the police. She said she feared for her life. On October 18, 2012, the judge issued an order requiring Radcliffe Haughton to avoid contact with his wife for a period of four years. 

     On Sunday morning, October 21, 2012, Radcliffe Haughton pulled up to the two-story, 9,000-square-foot building that housed the Azana Salon and Spa. He alighted from the taxi cab at 11:09 and walked into the salon armed with a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun. Once inside, he opened fire on the helpless occupants. Mr. Haughton shot seven women inside the salon, killing his wife and two other women identified as Cary L. Robuck, 35 of Racine, and 38-year-old Maelyn M. Lind from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

     Amid the chaos of women fleeing for their lives as Haughton walked around the salon firing and reloading his pistol, he set a small fire in the building.

     When police officers and SWAT units rolled up to the scene women were running out of the smoking salon. Haughton escaped out a back door but when he came around a corner of the building he saw the police and re-entered the salon.

     The four women Haughton had shot but didn't kill, made it out of the building and were rushed to the Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. (All of these victims survived their wounds.)

     At four in the afternoon of the deadly rampage, the police, during the course of a search of the building found the shooter. Radcliffe Haughton had locked himself in a room, and with the pistol he had used on his victims, shot himself in the head.

     As is often the case in murder-suicides, some of the people who knew Radcliffe Haughton told reporters that he was a nice and friendly guy. They were shocked that he could do such a thing. These people were probably mere acquaintances who really didn't know him.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Angela Nolen Murder Solicitation Case

     In 1995, 30-year-old Angela Nolen married 46-year-old Paul "Jay" Strickler. She taught kindergarten at the Sontag Elementary School in the western Virginia town of Rocky Mount. He worked as an administrator in the Franklin County School System's central office. In 2002, the couple adopted a baby girl.

     After 17 years of marriage, Angela Nolen, in October 2012, asked a Franklin County Juvenile and Domestic Relations judge for an order of protection against her estranged husband. Nolen, in asking for the protection order, accused Strickler of physically abusing her and their 9-year-old daughter. The judge, believing that Nolen had "...proven the allegation of family abuse by a preponderance of the evidence" (a civil standard of proof less rigorous than proof beyond a reasonable doubt), granted Angela Nolen's request. Pursuant to the protection order, Mr. Strickler could not have any interaction with his estranged wife and could only contact their daughter by phone for five minutes three times a week.

     Two months after the issuance of the domestic protection order, Angela Nolen and Jay Strickler were divorced. The judge granted her full custody of the child, and he agreed to sell her his share of the house. Not long after that, Angela Nolen decided to have her ex-husband killed.

     Early in February 2013, the kindergarten teacher and her friend, Cathy Warren Bennett, the nurse at the Sontag Elementary School, began plotting Jay Strickler's murder. Like most aspiring murder-for-hire masterminds, these middle-class women didn't have a clue where to acquire the services of a hit-man. Cathy Bennett, on Nolen's behalf, reached out to a man she hoped would do the deed. In furtherance of the deadly plot, the 37-year-old school nurse handed the candidate for the contract killing a sheet of paper containing information about the target of the homicide.

     As is often the case, the man Cathy Bennett approached to commit the murder for money went directly to the police. As a result, on the night of February 19, 2013, the man who accepted Angel Nolen's advance payment of $4,000 for the hit was an undercover police officer. According to the audio-taped murder-for-hire conversation between the undercover cop and the mastermind, the hit-man would receive another four grand when he completed his mission.

     Police officers arrested Angela Nolen on the morning after she met with the man she thought was going to kill Jay Strickler. Charged with solicitation to commit murder, the authorities incarcerated Nolen at the Western Virginia Regional Jail. She was held without bail. If convicted as charged, Angela Nolen faced a maximum sentence of forty years behind bars.

     The Franklin County prosecutor charged Cathy Bennett, Nolen's intermediary, with conspiracy to solicit murder. A judge set her bail at $60,000.

     Both employees of the Sontag Elementary School were suspended without pay. Strickler, the 63-year-old target of Angela Nolen's alleged murder plot, had recently retired from the school system. In speaking to a reporter with the Roanoke Times, Strickler said that his ex-wife had wanted him dead so she wouldn't have to pay for her share of the house. "That scares the hell out of me," he said. "I am just so glad the state police found out about this [plot]. I'm afraid for my life. I still feel that way. If someone knocks on my door, I won't answer it. I'll call 911. I'm extremely sad and I'm extremely worried."

     On June 26, 2013, Angela Nolen pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit murder.

     On December 23, 2013, the Franklin County judge sentenced Angela Nolen to five years. However, pursuant to the plea bargain, the murder-for-hire mastermind would only have to spent 18 months of that sentence in prison.
     The judge, pursuant to Cathy Warren Bennett's guilty plea, sentenced her to 18 months behind bars.

     Murder-for-hire cases are not shocking because people hire hit-men. The surprising part often involves who these masterminds are. When we think of kindergarten teachers and school nurses, murder-for-hire doesn't spring to mind. Perhaps it's reasonable to assume that a desperate Angela Nolen felt she had run out of options. But the school nurse, what was she thinking?

     It's a shame that someone didn't convince this amateur homicide plotter that murder-for-hire was not an appropriate remedy for her problem. Aside from the morality issue, amateur masterminds are always caught and convicted. Moreover, in cases where the target is actually murdered, they get the longest prison sentences. Judges and juries usually hate the murder-for-hire mastermind more than they do the hit-man. As it turned out, the mastermind in this murder solicitation case got off light.
      

Friday, March 17, 2023

Gun, Badge and Mental Illness: A Dangerous Mix

     A frustrated cop with a short fuse and a gun can be dangerous. Being threatened at gun-point by an out-of-control police officer isn't any less frightening than being mugged by an armed robber. It may even be worse because if you're killed by a cop, people will assume you were doing something wrong. If you're not killed, and complain, who's going to take your word over a police officer's? That's when it's helpful to have credible witnesses, and better yet, surveillance camera footage.

     Eighteen-year-old Ryan Mash, on April 9, 2013, was in his pickup truck with two friends at a McDonald's in Forsyth County, Georgia. As he waited at the take-out window for his order, Scott Biumi, a sergeant with the Dekalb County Police Department, got out of the vehicle idling behind the pickup. Biumi approached the truck and stationed himself between Mash and the McDonald's service window. The young men in the truck noticed a police badge attached to the belt of the angry McDonald's customer who was yelling at Ryan Mash.

     "Stop holding up the drive-thru," the officer screamed. As the stunned young men tried to comprehend what was happening, a berserk Biumi continued to chew-out Mash. At one point in the tirade, he said, "You never know who you're dealing with."

     "No sir, I don't," Mash replied.

     "Keep your mouth shut!" Buimi warned.

     "I'm sorry for the inconvenience," Mash replied.

     The 48-year-old officer returned to his vehicle, but before the McDonald's food came out of the window, Buimi returned to the driver's side of the pickup. This time the officer pulled his gun and pointed it at the terrified driver. "You don't want to mess with me!" Biumi shouted. After dishing out another thirty seconds of verbal abuse, the gun-wielding cop returned to his vehicle.

     Before pulling out of McDonald's (on this day not a happy place), one of Mash's passengers jotted down the license number to the gunman's car. The entire confrontation was also recorded by a McDonald's surveillance camera.

     Later in the day of the McDonald's drive-thru blowup, deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office took officer Biumi into custody on the charge of aggravated assault. The following day, the Dekalb County police officer was released from jail on a $22,000 bond.

     Sergeant Biumi was placed on administrative leave with pay. The incident, in addition to an investigation by the Dekalb County Internal Affairs Office, was looked into by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council.

     The  Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council suspended Biumi's law enforcement certification which denied him employment as a police officer in the state. In December 2013, after Biumi's guilty plea, a judge sentenced the ex-cop to ten years probation.

     In March 2014, a year after officer Biumi's meltdown in the McDonald's drive-through, an Atlanta television station aired an update on the case. According to the piece, officer Biumi had struggled with mental illness, serious depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety for 25 years while he was on the force. During this time he also had suicidal tendencies.

     Buimi's McDonald's incident victim, Ryan Mash, told the TV reporter that, "I was terrified. The second I saw the gun I blacked out. If it had been me that pulled a gun on somebody, I would be in jail right now.

     To the reporter, Mark Bullman, Mash's attorney, sarcastically asked, "Someone who disassociates himself from reality is a person you give a gun to and expect to enforce the law? I believe the county bears a significant responsibility."

Thursday, March 16, 2023

The J. Everett Dutschke Ricin Poison Case

     Ricin is a naturally occurring protein found in the caster oil plant. The pulp from just eight caster beans can kill an adult. As little as 500 micrograms of the poison, an amount that would fit on the head of a pin, can be fatal. Delivered through the air, injected or swallowed, ricin is 6,000 times more toxic than cyanide. There is no antidote for this poison.

     In 1978, an assassin used ricin to kill Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian writer, dissident and defector. The killer used the tip of an umbrella to deliver the ricin as Markov waited for a bus in London. The victim died four days after being pricked by the deadly umbrella.

     Ricin was used as a warfare agent in Iraq during the 1980s. In 2004, someone sent a ricin-laced letter to U. S. Senator Bill Frists. The letter was intercepted at a mail sorting facility outside of Washington, D. C. The sender was never identified.

     On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings, postal workers at a mail-handling facility outside of Washington discovered a suspicious letter addressed to U.S. Senator Roger Wicker. The letter to the senator from Mississippi turned out to be laced with ricin. Dated April 8, 2013 and postmarked Memphis, Tennessee, the envelope did not include a return address.

     A second ricin letter, one addressed to President Obama, was also intercepted at an off-site D.C. area mail-handling center. Both letters were signed, "I am K.C. and I approve of this message."

     FBI agents, on April 17, 2013, arrested a 45-year-old man from Corinth, Mississippi on federal charges related to the two ricin mailings. The suspect, Paul Kevin Curtis, had used the phrase "I am K. C. and I approve of this message" on his Facebook page. Curtis had a history of mental illness and a handful of misdemeanor arrests. When he wasn't posting online political rants, Curtis worked as an impersonator of celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Bon Jovi and Prince.

     On April 23, 2013, after searches of the suspect's home, vehicle and computer failed to provide incriminating evidence, the charges against Curtis were dropped. A federal judge ordered his release from jail. Following his release from custody, the father of four told reporters that he had been framed by J. Everett Dutschke, a long-time personal enemy from Tupelo, Mississippi.

     According to media reports, Mr. Dutschke was awaiting trial on a child molestation charge. In 2007 he ran for a seat in the Mississippi state legislature. In that race he lost to the incumbent. FBI agents searched Dutschke's house for evidence linking him to the case.

     A third ricin letter, one that linked Paul Kevin Curtis and Everett Dutschke to the case, actually reached its intended target. The receiver of this piece of mailed poison was an 80-year-old Mississippi judge. In 2004, Judge Sadie Holland presided over an assault case that sent Curtis to jail for six months. Judge Holland was linked to Mr. Dutschke through a long-running political feud between their families.

     After opening the threatening letter, Judge Holland called the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The judge was not poisoned by the letter.

     FBI agents, on April 27, 2013, arrested Everett Dutschke in connection with the ricin poison cases. In May 2014, following his guilty plea, U.S. District Court Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen, Mississippi, sentenced J. Everett Dutschke  to 25 years in prison followed by five years of supervised release.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Narcy Novack Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on April 6, 2009, a neighbor discovered the body of 86-year-old Bernice Novack in the laundry room of her house. Lying in a pool of blood, the widow of Ben Novack Sr., the man who owned the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, had a cracked skull, a broken front tooth and a fractured finger. Notwithstanding blood droplets throughout the dwelling, the Broward County Medical Examiner ruled her manner of death as accidental. Fort Lauderdale detectives concluded that the elderly woman had slipped and fell to her death.

      Three months after Bernice Novack's "accident," her son, Ben Novack, Jr., the heir to the family fortune, was found bludgeoned to death in a Rye Brook, New York hotel room. This death was not an accident. The victim's wife, Narcy Novack, a 52-year-old former Hialeah, Florida stripper originally from Ecuador, told police she discovered her murdered husband when she returned to the Rye Town Hilton suite after having breakfast downstairs. Mr. Novack, a successful convention planner, was in the suburban New York City community managing an AmWay convention.

     The Novack marriage had been stormy. According to reports, Ben Novack enjoyed a variety of bizarre sexual fetishes and was having an affair with a porn actress who called herself Rebecca Bliss. 

     The FBI took charge of the investigation (murder-for-hire is a federal crime) and from the beginning suspected a contract killing orchestrated by Narcy Novack, the dead man's wife. One investigative lead led to another, and on February 2010, a pair of Miami hoods, Alejandro Garcia and Joel Gonzales confessed to being paid $15,000 to murder Bernice and Ben Novack. According to the hit men, Narcy Novack and her 58-year-old brother Cristobal Veliz, were the murder-for-hire masterminds. (The confessions caused the Broward County Medical Examiner to change the manner of death ruling for Bernice Novack from accidental to homicidal.)

     In April 2010, the assistant United States Attorney for the southern district of New York charged Narcy Novack and Cristobal Veliz with racketeering, money laundering and two counts of first-degree murder. Under the federal statute, if convicted of murder for hire, the brother and sister defendants faced mandatory life sentences. Prosecutor Andrew Dember believed Narcy, fearing that her husband was going to leave her for the porn actress, instigated the double murder in order to inherit the estate.

     The Novack/Veliz trial commenced in White Plains, New York on April 23, 2012. While cell phone records implicated both defendants along with other pieces of circumstantial evidence, the heart of the government's case consisted of the testimony of the two hit men who had agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the prosecution.

     According to the cold-blooded killers, Narcy Novack told them that her husband was a pedophile who engaged in weird sexual acts. At 7 o'clock on the morning of her husband's murder, Narcy let Garcia and Gonzales into the fourth floor suite as Mr. Novack slept. The executioners began beating the victim with hand-held dumbbells. At one point during the 17-minute beating, Narcy handed the hit men a pillow to stifle the dying man's screams.

     After Garcia and Gonzales cleaned-up in the dead man's bathroom, they left the hotel. (Gonzales had broken his sunglasses in the attack and had left pieces in the room. Contract killers almost always leave incriminating evidence behind.) After the hit men exited the scene Narcy Novack went to the convention site to have breakfast. She returned to the suite at 7:45 AM, "discovered" her husband's blood-soaked body and called 911. (The hit men also told the jury how they had murdered Mrs. Novack in Fort Lauderdale.)

     On June 8, 2012, the prosecution rested its case. Defense attorney Howard Tanner did his best to discredit Gonzales and Garcia as a couple of mobsters who would say anything to get lighter sentences for the murders of Ben Novack and his mother. He also tried to cast suspicion on Narcy Novack's 36-year-old daughter May Abad who, upon her mother's conviction, would inherit the family fortune. In describing the prosecution's case, attorney Tanner called it "flimsy and weak."

     The murder-for-hire case went to the jury on Monday, June 18, 2012. Two days later the jury found Narcy Novack and Cristobal Veliz guilty of orchestrating the killings. By law, both would spend the rest of their lives in prison. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

The Jaren Lockhart Murder Case

     Jaren Lockhart lived with her fiancee at the Capri Motel in New Orleans and worked as an exotic dancer at the Temptations Strip Club in the French Quarter. She had a 3-year-old daughter but did not have custody of the child. On Tuesday night, June 5, 2012, the 23-year-old showed up for her shift at the Bourbon Street club and worked until the early morning hours of the next day. When she didn't return to the Capri on Wednesday, her fiancee reported her missing to the New Orleans police.

     Late in the afternoon of Thursday, June 7, workers pumping sand onto the beach at Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, discovered a female torso that had washed up from the Gulf of Mexico. Early Saturday, June 9, 2012, a fisherman on the beach at Pass Christian came across the lower portion of a human leg. Later that day, searchers in Long Beach, Mississippi found a female head that had washed ashore.

     The body parts had come from Jaren Lockhart who had been stabbed in the chest, her presumed cause of death. Investigators with the Hancock County, Mississippi Sheriff's Office didn't know where the victim had been murdered, or exactly when. Moreover, detectives didn't have a murder weapon, a motive or any suspects. The Capri Motel, Lockhart's $50-a-day residence, mainly housed gulf oil workers and French Quarter bar employees. Detectives wondered if she had been murdered by someone living at the motel.

     A review of the Temptations Strip Club's surveillance tapes showed Lockhart, on the night of June 5, 2012, walking along Bourbon Street and into the club accompanied by two people identified as 28-year-old Margaret Sanchez and Sanchez's boyfriend, Terry Speaks, 39. The couple, who appeared to be acquainted with Lockhart, resided in Kenner, Louisiana.

     Investigators, in checking out Speaks, learned that he was a federal fugitive for failing to register as a sex offender in connection with a 2003 case involving a 14-year-old girl in North Carolina. Speaks also had convictions for assault and domestic violence. Because Speaks and Sanchez were now prime suspects in Lockhart's murder, the FBI stepped up its investigation to find and arrest Speaks on the federal, North Carolina sex offender registration warrant.

     On June 12, 2012, police in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, pulled Speaks and Sanchez over in a routine traffic stop. He had dyed his hair orange and she had colored her hair blue. Speaks jumped out of the car, scaled a fence and ran into the woods. Police caught the fugitive and turned him over to the FBI. The police took Sanchez into custody for harboring a sex offender. Speaks was extradited to North Carolina where he was held on $1 million bond. Sanchez was held on $35,000 bail.

     A few months after his arrest, the authorities extradited Speaks back to Louisiana to stand trial for Jaren Lockhart's murder. Sanchez was also charged with murder in the Lockhart case. Investigators believed the suspects had killed Lockhart in Louisiana, then dumped her remains in Mississippi.

     In June 2015, a jury in a Jefferson Parish court found Terry Speaks guilty of second-degree murder. The defendant had fired his attorneys before the trial and had represented himself. For the killing and dismemberment of Jaren Lockhart, Judge Stephen Grefer sentenced Speaks to life in prison.

     On June 20, 2016, Margaret Sanchez pleaded guilty to manslaughter and obstruction of justice in the Lockhart killing. Judge Grefer sentenced her to forty years in prison.

     Because Terry Speaks didn't confess, and Sanchez didn't go to trial, the motive behind the killing and dismemberment of Jaren Lockhart remained unknown.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The Arthur Douglas Harmon Murder-Suicide Case

     Arthur Douglas Harmon lived with his wife and grown son in a north Phoenix residential neighborhood. In April 2012, the 70-year-old sued a Scottsdale corporation that had hired him to refurbish office cubicles at two California call centers. Harmon was paid $30,000 of the $47,000 agreed-upon sum. The company, however, asked for the return of the $30,000 on the claim that Harmon had not performed the work. Mr. Harmon responded by suing the firm for breach of contract.

     On the morning of January 29, 2013, Arthur Harmon was present at a lawsuit settlement session before a mediator held at a law firm housed in three-story north Phoenix office complex. At ten-thirty, at the end of the mediation session, he pulled a handgun and shot Steven Singer, the 48-year-old CEO of the company he had sued. (Mr. Singer was pronounced dead at a local hospital.) Harmon also shot Singer's lawyer, 43-year-old Mark P. Hummels and a woman in the room named Nichole Hampton. (Both would survive their wounds.) Spent shell casings at the scene indicated that Harmon used two pistols in the attack.

     As the white-haired, 6-foot, 220 pound shooter, wearing a red shirt and blue jeans, fled the scene, he shot at a person who tried to follow him to take down the license number of his car. Harmon drove from the office complex in his white, 2013 Kia Optima.

     Later that afternoon, a SWAT unit rolled up to the Harmon residence located about five miles from the site of the mass shooting. Detectives were present to arrest Harmon and search his house. A SWAT officer using a megaphone called for the fugitive to come out of the dwelling. Harmon's son came to the door and informed the officers that his father was not home. The son refused to let the police enter the house without a search warrant. (I'm not sure they needed one.)

     As the search warrant was being issued by a judge, police officers waited outside the Harmon residence. Once issued, police officers searched the dwelling and removed several items from the house. A short time later, Mr. Harmon's cellphone was found in a front yard three miles from where he lived.

     On Thursday afternoon, on January 31, 2013, police is Mesa, Arizona spotted Harmon's white Kia parked in the lot of a Bass Pro store. Nearby they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. People who knew this man described him as an unfriendly loner.

     The whole idea of a legal system is to resolve disputes without resorting to violence. But in a nation with what appears to be a growing population of angry malcontents, fewer people seem willing to play by the rules. When these unhappy people don't get what they want they kill people, and often themselves. As a result no place is safe and there is nothing the government can do to stop this form of violence. 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Douglas Prade Murder Case

     At ten-thirty in the morning of Thanksgiving Day 1997, a medical assistant found 41-year-old Dr. Margo Prade slumped behind the wheel of her van in the doctor's office parking lot. The Akron, Ohio physician, shot six times with a handgun at close range, had fought with her murderer. Physical evidence of this struggle included buttons ripped from Dr. Prade's lab coat, a bite mark on her left inner arm and traces of blood and tissue under her fingernails.

     A few months after the murder, Akron police arrested the victim's husband, Douglas Evans Prade. Captain Prade, a 29 year veteran of the Akron Police Department, denied shooting his wife to death. He insisted that at the time of the killing he was in the workout room of the couple's Copley Township condominium complex.

     In 1997, DNA science, compared to today, was quite primitive. As a result, DNA tests of trace evidence from the bite mark and the blood and tissue under the victim's fingernails were inconclusive. DNA analysts were unable to include or exclude Captain Prade as the source of this crime scene evidence.

     Video footage from a security camera at a car dealership next to the murder scene revealed the shadowy figure of a man climbing into Dr. Prade's van at 9:10 in the morning of her death. A hour and a half later, the man exited the murder vehicle and was seen driving out of the parking lot in a light-colored car. Homicide detectives never identified this man who could not have been taller than five-nine. The suspect, Captain Prade, a black man, stood over six-foot-three. Had investigators focused their efforts on identifying the man in the surveillance video, they may have resolved the case. But detectives had their minds set on the victim's husband and ignored all evidence that pointed in a different direction.

     To make their case against Captain Douglas Prade, detectives asked a retired Akron dentist named Dr. Thomas Marshall to compare a photograph of the death scene bite mark to a dental impression  of the suspect's lower front teeth. According to Dr. Marshall, the only person who could have bitten Dr. Prade was her husband. The suspect's known dental impressions, according to the dentist, matched the crime scene evidence perfectly. At the time, before advanced DNA technology exposed bite mark identification analysis as junk science, Dr. Marshall's identification carried great weight.

     In September 1998, following a two-week trial in a Summit county court, the jury, after deliberating only four hours, found Douglas Prade guilty of murdering his wife. The only evidence the prosecution had pointing to the defendant's guilt was Dr. Thomas Marshall's bite mark identification. Without the dentist's testimony, there wouldn't have been enough evidence against Douglas Prade to justify his arrest.

     Following the guilty verdict, the defendant stood up, turned to face the courtroom spectators, and said, "I didn't do this. I am an innocent convicted person. God, myself, Margo and the person who killed Margo all know I'm innocent." Common Pleas Judge Mary Spicer sentenced Douglas Prade to life without the chance of parole until he served 26 years. Shortly thereafter, the prisoner began serving his sentence at the state prison in Madison, Ohio. At that point he expected to die behind bars.

     In 2004, attorneys with the Jones Day law firm in Akron and the Ohio Innocence Project took up Douglas Prade's case. After years of motions, petitions, reports and hearings, an Ohio judge ordered DNA tests of the saliva traces from the bite wound, scrapings from the victim's lab coat and scrapings from under Dr. Prade's fingernails.

     In August 2012, DNA analysis of the crime scene trace evidence revealed that none of the associative evidence came from Douglas Prade. (The DNA work was performed by the DNA Lab Diagnostic Center in Fairfield, Ohio.) Summit County Judge Judy Hunter, on January 29, 2013, ordered the release of the 65-year-old prisoner.

     On March 19, 2014, an Ohio appeals court decided that the new DNA evidence did not prove that Mr, Prade didn't murder his wife. The appellate judge said that Prade's release from prison was a mistake and that he should be taken back into custody. The morning after that decision Mr. Prade found himself back behind bars.

      In March 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

     Douglas Prade's attorneys began appealing his conviction through the federal appellate court system. After the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Prade's motion for a new trial, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. On November 6, 2019, America's highest court refused to hear the appellant's case. This essentially exhausted Douglas Prade's legal remedies.

    Douglas Prade is serving his time at the Lorain Correctional Institution in Lorain, Ohio. The 72-year-old will be eligible for parole in 2025.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Prosecutorial Misconduct: The Michael Morton Case

     The criminal trial, as designed, is not the most efficient method of getting to the factual truth of a matter. Too much relevant evidence is excluded from the jury to make this the main purpose. The principal goal of a trial, at least in theory, is not to produce information, but to produce due process and justice. Prosecutors, as officers of the court, have a legal and ethical duty not to pursue defendants in cases involving weak or exonerating evidence. But some do, because regardless of the evidence, their priority is to convict, and to win.

The Michael Morton Case

     In 1987, a jury found Michael Morton guilty of beating his wife to death a year earlier in their Austin, Texas home. The prosecution, based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, convinced the jury the defendant had killed his wife because the night before she had sexually rebuffed him. Mr. Morton, a supermarket manager, claimed that an intruder had murdered his wife that morning after he had left for work.

     The judge sentenced Michael Morton to life in prison. In 2005, attorneys for the prisoner began petitioning the court to have a bandanna found near the murder site tested for DNA. The Williamson County district attorney (who had not prosecuted Morton) fought this request for six years. He did this on advice from Ken Anderson, the man who prosecuted Mr. Morton and had since become a judge.

     In 2010, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing of the blue bandanna as well as other physical evidence associated with the murder case. DNA analysts found that the bandanna contained the murder victim's blood mixed with the DNA of a man named Mark A. Norwood, a convicted felon with an extensive criminal history. At the time, Mr. Norwood lived 12 miles from the murder scene. Norwood had also been a suspect in a similar 1988 murder case. The police arrested Mark Norwood and charged him with the Morton homicide.

     In December 2011, after living 25 years behind bars, Michael Morton walked out of prison exonerated and free. His lawyer and attorneys with the New York based Innocence Project asked for a "Court of Inquiry," a special hearing to determine if prosecutor Ken Anderson broke laws or rules of ethics by withholding evidence that would have exonerated Mr. Morton in 1987.

     Morton's attorneys discovered that prosecutor Anderson had withheld the transcript of a telephone conversation between a police officer and the defendant's mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a "monster"--not his father--attack and kill his mother. Also withheld were statements from neighbors who had seen a man park a green van and walk into the woods behind the murder house.

     In the Morton case there were other claims of prosecutorial misconduct. If the Court of Inquiry agreed with Morton's legal team, former prosecutor, now judge, Ken Anderson would face bar association disciplinary action and possible criminal prosecution.

     In November 2013, Ken Anderson agreed to give up his law practice in return for a jail sentence of ten days for hiding exculpatory evidence in the Morton case. The consensus among people familiar with the case leaned strongly toward the notion that Mr. Anderson had gotten off light.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

The Stephen Perry Murder-For-Hire Case

     We'd be in real trouble in this country if criminals were smart. Among the least intelligent members of the criminal class are murder-for-hire masterminds. Take Stephen Perry.

     In May 2012, two months after he moved out of the house in Indianapolis he shared with his wife, 27-year-old Stephen Perry filed for divorce. He and his wife Allison had been married since December 2009. The couple, $200,000 in debt, had been fighting over a small inheritance left by Stephen's mother following her death in October 2011. He accused his estranged wife of stealing $15,000 of that money.

     In early December 2012, Mr. Perry approached a man he worked with at the Valvoline Instant Oil Change in suburban Indianapolis. Perry asked Adrian Howard if he'd be interested in killing his estranged wife. If Howard wasn't interested in doing the job himself, perhaps he could recommend a hitman. "I know ya'll [black men] know people," Perry said.

     At first Adrian Howard thought Stephen Perry was joking, but the more Perry persisted with his murder solicitations the more Mr. Howard took him seriously. Finally, Howard began secretly audio-taping their murder-for-hire conversations. At one point, Perry said, "I just want this to be over and done with. So if she dies, I can drop the divorce lawsuit. She's dead, and I'm free."

     As payment for the hit Stephen Perry offered Adrian Howard $15,000 and a machine that printed counterfeit money. (If Perry had a machine that made money, why did he have to have his wife murdered?) The mastermind also gave Howard a slip of paper with his wife's name and address and offered to draw a floor plan of her grandparent's house where she lived. Perry instructed Mr. Howard not to kill the old people or hurt the family dog.

     In late December 2012, the Indianapolis police, after reviewing the taped murder-for-hire conversations, took Stephen Perry into custody. Charged with conspiracy to commit murder, he was held in the Hamilton Country Jail on $250,000 bond.

     On December 11, 2013, The Indianapolis Star published an interview of the would-be hit man, Adrian Howard. "I didn't know what he was capable of," said Mr. Howard. "Maybe he was joking. Maybe he wasn't." Howard said that Perry had picked him as a potential trigger man because he was black and had a criminal record. "I was offended," he said. "Maybe I was a street person before, but I'm out here trying to live my life the best I can. Stephen Perry often talked down to me like I was the scum of the earth, because I had been in prison."

     On April 11, 2014, following a short trial, the jury in the Hamilton Superior Court found Stephen Perry guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, a Class A felony punishable up to 50 years in prison. On May 23, 2014, the judge sentenced the murder-for-hire mastermind to five years behind bars.

     Some judges have soft spots for stupid people.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Criminal Homicide or Justified Killing?

     In 2010, in Kalispell, Montana, a town of 20,000 in the northwest corner of the state, 38-year-old Dan Fredenberg, a divorced father of two, met and started dating a 20-year-old cocktail waitress named Heather King. After Heather became pregnant with twins, she and Fredenberg got married. The marriage didn't work out. He drank too much, they had financial problems and he was a bit of a lady's man. The couple fought and talked frequently of divorce.

     In June 2012, Heather informed her husband that she was having a friendly but nonsexual relationship with Brice Harper, a 24-year-old resident of Kalispell. Dan Fredenberg did not take the news very well and was jealous. (He probably didn't believe the nonsexual part.) That month the two men were involved in a nonphysical confrontation at Fat Boy's Bar & Grille in Kalispell.

     On September 22, 2012, Brice Harper called Heather Fredenberg with a request. He was moving out of town the next day and wondered if she could come to his duplex and help him clean house. Heather put her twin sons into her car and made the five minute trip to Harper's dwelling. That day, while at Harper's place, Heather and her husband exchanged angry text messages. When they spoke on the phone, Fredenberg asked his wife if she was with Harper. She didn't answer his question so he swore at her and hung up.

     At eight-thirty that night, Heather, about to leave Harper's house, put the twins into her car. Before going home, she asked Harper to ride around the block with her. Perhaps he could determine what was making the clunking noise coming from under the hood of her car. Harper climbed into the vehicle. They hadn't traveled far when Heather realized they were being followed by her husband. When she pulled back into Harper's driveway to drop him off, Heather suggested that he go directly into his house and lock the doors. Harper replied that he was not afraid of her husband. He also told her he owned a gun. Anticipating trouble, Heather backed out of the driveway but did not pull away from Harper's house.

     Dan Fredenberg, who was not armed, climbed out of his car, walked up Harper's driveway and into his garage through the open door. Harper came out of his house and into his garage carrying a handgun. From a distance of a few feet he shot Fredenberg three times.

     As Dan Fredenburg bled on the floor of Brice Harper's garage, Heather Fredenberg ran to her dying husband who said, "Call 911." He was pronounced dead a short time later at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center.

     Ed Corrigan, the Flathead County attorney, had to determine if under Montana's so-called "castle doctrine" (because a man's home is his "castle" he does not have to retreat from using deadly force against an intruder) Brice Harper had committed murder. Did this killer have the legal right to stand his ground against an unarmed intruder in his garage?

     In most of the twenty states that justify the killing of a home invader by the dwelling's legal occupant, the castle doctrine is an affirmative defense to criminal homicide. This means that the use of lethal force under these circumstances is presumed unjustified, placing the burden of proving this defense on the accused. (The defendant must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, a less rigorous evidentiary standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt needed to rebut the presumption of innocence.)

     In Montana, the state legislature, in 2009, modified this self-defense doctrine by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution. In other words, the state had to prove that the homicide defendant's actions were outside the castle doctrine. On October 9, 2012, the county attorney, in a 4-page letter to the Kalispell Police Department, announced his decision not to prosecute Brice Harper for criminal homicide. Prosecutor Ed Corrigan wrote that under Montana's revised statute, "you [referring to the defendant] didn't have to claim that you were afraid for your life. You just have to claim that he [the victim] was in the house illegally. [An attached garage is considered part of a dwelling.] If you think someone's going to punch you in the nose or engage in a fistfight, that's sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force."

     It is not good jurisprudence to write a law that makes the use of deadly force, under certain circumstances, legal. There is a danger this type of law will encourage violence. The better approach is to allow the use of deadly force, under clearly defined circumstances, as a homicide defense, a defense the accused has the burden of proving.

     In another state, Brice Harper would probably have been prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter on the grounds he had used excessive force against an unarmed man. In his defense, he could have argued that he felt that his life was in danger, and because the confrontation took place in his house, he didn't have to retreat. Bruce Harper may have had a difficult time convincing a jury that his life was in danger. Moreover, jurors may not have liked the fact he had been fooling around with the dead man's wife.