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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.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Jessica Herrera's Vehicular Homicide Trials: When Is An Accident a Crime?

     All drivers occasionally speed, cross the center line, roll through stop signs, and get distracted. There is no such thing as perfection behind the wheel. No one wants to cause an accident, particularly one that results in injury or death. Whenever a driver's carelessness causes or contributes to a traffic accident that results in the death of another driver or passenger, a prosecutor has to decide if this act of negligence rises to the level of criminal homicide. Ordinary negligence that falls short of recklessness--the total disregard for the safety of others--is treated as a civil wrong rather than a criminal act. Vehicular homicide applies to motorists who are driving extremely fast, are drunk, high on drugs or fleeing from the police.

     On June 11, 2011, in Santa Barbara County, California, Christopher Martinez slowed down on Highway 246 east of the town of Lompoc to turn into a driveway that led back to a winery. The 28-year-old was showing up for his first day of work. As he slowed to negotiate the turn, Jessica Herrera, driving the car behind him, rear-ended his vehicle. The collision pushed Martinez's car into the opposite lane where it was struck broadside by a pickup truck carrying two people.

     Paramedics rushed Christopher Martinez to the Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria with severe head trauma and a collapsed lung. He died the next day.

     A Santa Barbara County prosecutor charged the 22-year-old Herrera with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, a crime that carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. In May 2012, the Herrera trial jurors voted seven to five for conviction which caused the judge to declare a mistrial.

     Prosecutor Mark Smith decided to retry Herrera on the vehicular homicide charge. On February 8, 2013, the second trial got underway in the Santa Barbara County Court in Lompoc. In his opening remarks to the jury prosecutor Smith accused the defendant of driving too fast for conditions (65 mph in a 55 mph zone) and being inattentive.

     Herrera's attorney, Dillon Forsyth, argued that the crash that took Christopher Martinez's life was a tragic accident. To the jury he said, "There is no evidence a crime occurred. This is a circumstantial case. There is really no credible evidence that what occurred was anything but an accident. The fact is we simply don't know what happened." The defense attorney also pointed out that there were no signs that a driveway was coming up and that brake lights and turn signals on Martinez's car might not have been working.

     On February 13, 2013, after more than a day of deliberation, the jury reported to the judge that it was deadlocked eleven to one in favor of conviction. Another hung jury, another mistrial.

     It is surprising that so many jurors in these two trials had voted for conviction. Even assuming Jessica Herrera had been driving ten miles over the speed limit at the time of the accident she was not criminally responsible for Christopher Martinez's death.

     On February 28, 2013, at a hearing in the Santa Barbara County in Lompoc, Judge James F. Iwasko dismissed the Herrera case after prosecutor Mark Smith said the district attorney's office would not seek a third trial. To have gone forward with a third trial in this case would have amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.  

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. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

England's Pakistani Men Child Sex Scandal

     In Rotherham, a city of 250,000 in northern England, five men from the Pakistani community were convicted in 2010 of grooming teenage girls for rape. The victims were trafficked across northern England by crews made up of Asian men. The high-profile trials brought to light other child sex exploitation rings run by Pakistani men in the cities of Rochdale, Derby and Oxford.

     English authorities, responding to public pressure in the wake of the trials and accusations, asked Alexis Jay, the former chief social worker for the Scottish government, to investigate the scandal and publish a report on the depth and scope of the criminal operation. She released her report on August 25, 2014.

     Ms. Jay and her investigators determined that from 1997 to 2013, 1,400 girls, some as young as eleven, were sexually assaulted in the massive criminal enterprise. They were gang-raped, beaten and threatened. The author of the report wrote: "There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told someone."

     How could so many girls be exploited, by so many men, for so long? According to Alexis Jay, "Police regarded these child victims with contempt." Moreover, a good number of these children were known to child protection agencies. Police chiefs, detectives and council members chose to believe the sex was either consensual or the allegations of rape were false. These crime were, according to the report, "effectively suppressed."

     In some instances, parents who tried to rescue their children from the exploitation operators were themselves arrested. (Police bribery was rampant.) In the report, Alexis Jay wrote: "The collective failures of political and police leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual abuse exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham."

     Following the publication of Ms. Jay's shocking report, Roger Stone, the head of the Rotherham City Council resigned. Outraged parents and others called for the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire to step down as well. The commissioner told reporters he had no intention of resigning. No one else in the public sector took responsibility for the scandal, and not one law enforcement official was disciplined. 
     In May 2017, BBC One aired a three-part drama called "Three Girls" that featured three girls from the town of Rochdale who were repeatedly abused by nine Pakistani men who were tried and convicted on rape and related offenses. Their sentences ranged from 16 to 19 years in prison. Later in 2017, "Three Girls" was followed by a BBC documentary on the Rochdale case called "The Betrayed Girls."

Monday, March 6, 2023

See No Evil: Getting Away With Pedophilia

     Why are so many serial pedophiles able to go so long without being caught and brought to justice for their atrocious crimes? Many of these sexual predators never see the inside of a courtroom or a prison. Who knows how many of these sex offenders go to their graves unpunished. The two principal reasons for this unfortunate reality involves the pedophile victims' youth and vulnerability, and the fact that adults who suspect pedophilia remain silent.

     Many pedophiles, particularly men in positions of authority, people like high school coaches, school principals, men of the cloth and leaders in the community, openly associate with and cavort with young boys in ways that should make their colleagues, friends, and relatives suspicious. Yet no one reports these suspected pedophiles to law enforcement or other people of authority. The parents of these potential victims are even left in the dark. Why is that?

     People who should raise their voices but don't are either indifferent (I don't want to get involved), afraid of the consequences of being wrong, or in denial.

     It seems the more serious the suspicion the less likely people harboring the suspicion will come forward. This is especially true when the men under suspicion are prominent or powerful.

     If these same men, instead of pedophilia, were suspected of petty corruption or incompetence, many people in the know would report them, especially if there was something to gain by doing so. This is because petty corruption and incompetence are shortcomings that are so common they are believable, and in many cases, presumed. Moreover, such accusations involve subjective judgments. If the accuser is wrong, no harm, no foul. Wrongfully accusing someone of pedophilia, however, could have serious consequences for the accuser. Moreover, even if the accuser is right but the case against the suspect cannot be proven, the accuser could end up in court as a defendant in a defamation case. Pedophiles know this, and therefore go about their depraved business with confidence they will not be exposed and put behind bars.
     In recent years, what could be called a cultural pro-pedophilia movement has been underway in an effort to normalize adult sexual relations with children. This may explain why pedophiles who are caught seem to be receiving lighter sentences. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

The Des Moines Register And The Journalism Of Personal Destruction

     Carson King, a 24-year-old resident of Altoona, Iowa, a town located in the Des Moines metropolitan area, was a big fan of University of Iowa football. He had attended the university but did not graduate. He and his father worked at the Prairie Meadows Casino not far from his home.

     On Saturday, September 14, 2019, Carson King arrived early for the University of Iowa versus Iowa State University football game. Viewers of ESPN's television program, "College GameDay," saw Mr. King, among a group of fans, holding up a homemade sign that read: "Busch Light supply needs replenished." The tongue-in-cheek request for beer money donations included King's Venmo username. (Venmo is a payment service owned by PayPal. Account holders can transfer funds to others via a mobile phone app.)

     When donations started rolling in, the surprised football fan used the money to buy a case of beer. But as more people and companies sent money, Carson King announced that he was giving the money to the University Of Iowa Family Children's Hospital. When his generosity came to the attention of the Anheuser-Busch Company, the corporation promised to match the hospital donations made through Mr. King. Several other companies, seeing a good public relations opportunity, followed suit.

     By mid-September, 2019, Carson King had raised more than a million dollars for the children's hospital. The Anheuser-Busch Company called King an "Iowa Legend" and promised him a one-year supply of beer in cans bearing his name and likeness.

     Suddenly enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame, Carson King traveled to New York City where he appeared on television shows broadcast on CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News.

     Aaron Calvin, a 24-year-old reporter with the Des Moines Register, while putting together a profile piece about the local media sensation, came across tweets King had posted in 2012 when he was sixteen. The tweets, written for his friends, made fun of black women. They were no doubt racist in nature.

     When interviewing Carson King for the article on September 24, 2019, the reporter showed him the 8-year-old racist tweets. When King admitted they were his, Aaron Calvin informed him they would be included in the Des Moines Register article scheduled to be published online that evening.

     Carson King, confronted with the fact his embarrassing tweets were being made public by the Des Moines Register, attempted to get ahead of the story by calling a press conference at which time he said, "Obviously I've made mistakes in my past, everyone has. And I really hope people see at this point in my life, I'm grown, I'm caring, I'm generous. I hope that is what people focus on."

     On September 25, a spokesperson for Anheuser-Busch, without mentioning Carson King's tweets, announced that the company would not produce the beer cans bearing his name and face. While the corporation would honor its promise to match the money King had already raised for the children's hospital, it had cut ties with him.

     After the Register published the King profile and the offensive tweets, it soon became apparent that the pubic did not take kindly to the paper's decision to publish this embarrassing and humiliating information. There were calls for Carol Hunter, the paper's executive editor, to publicly apologize to Carson King.

     In response to the negative backlash, Carol Hunter published an op-ed defending her decision to include Carson King's tweets in the profile. She wrote: "Our initial stories [about Carson King] drew so much interest that we decided to write a profile of King, to help readers understand the young man behind the homemade sign and the outpouring of donations to the children's hospital. The Register had no intention to disparage or otherwise cast a negative light on King. In doing background for such a story, reporters talk to family, friends, colleagues, and professors. We check out court and arrest records as well as other pertinent [italics mine] records, including social media activity. The process helps us to understand the whole person. As journalists, we have the obligation to look into matters completely, to aid the public in understanding the people we write about and in some cases to whom money is donated."

     Carol Hunter's op-ed brings to mind Janet Malcolm's famous quote about the dirty business of journalism: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse."

     In the executive editor's op-ed, she claimed that the Register's hit-piece on Carson King had nothing to do with the beer company's pullout.

     Hunter's op-ed did not produce the result the editor had hoped for. In fact, it made matters worse for her and the paper because the public saw it for what it was.

     If matters weren't bad enough for the editor and the Des Moines Register, it got even worse. On September 26, 2019, the paper reported that Aaron Calvin, the author of the Carson King profile, had posted his own racist tweets. As a result, the paper fired Mr. Calvin.

     The embattled executive editor, in explaining Calvin's dismissal, wrote that the newspaper's employees "must review and agree to a company-wide social media policy that includes a statement that employees do not post comments that make discriminatory remarks, harassment, threats of violence, or similar content. We took the action because there is nothing more important in journalism than having readers' trust."

     Aaron Calvin, the now ex-reporter who, by exposing Carson King, had opened himself up to scrutiny, said, "I have deleted previous tweets that have been inappropriate or insensitive. I apologize for not holding myself to the same standards the Register holds others."

     The day after Calvin made that statement, BuzzFeed.News came out with a story in which Aaron Calvin took back his apology. He said he had been directed by the Register to apologize, and did so in hopes of saving his job. He now felt abandoned and betrayed by his former employer. "I never was trying to hold Carson to any kind of 'high standard' or any kind of standard at all," he said. "I was trying to do my job as a reporter and I think I did so to the best of my ability."

     In the BuzzFeed piece, Aaron Calvin accused "right wing ideologues" of discovering and publishing his offensive tweets, some of them going back to 2010. "This event," he said, "has set my entire life on fire." 

     Mr. Calvin was right about one thing; there were no so-called "high standards" at play here. If the Des Moines Register had high standards, Carson King's high school tweets would not have been included in his profile.  Mr. King was not a celebrity, or someone running for political office. He was a regular guy trying to do something good for his community. That is more than what can be said about Carol Hunter and the Des Moines Register.

     Fortunately for Carson King, even in the era of intense political correctness, public opinion landed in his favor. Carol Hunter, feeling the public's wrath over the paper's gratuitous cruelty, in a note to the paper's readers, wrote: "We hear you. You're angry, you're disappointed, and you want us to understand that."

     It's probably too optimistic to hope that the journalistic malpractice by the Des Moines Register will at least embolden more people to stand up to hack journalists and the self-righteous Twitter mobs who have been sucking the life out of free speech, and human decency.

      Following the Des Moines Register article, Carson King raised another million dollars for the children's hospital.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

The Myth of Governmental Transparency

     There is nothing more ludicrous than a politician, standing in front of a television camera with a straight face, telling citizens that our government is transparent. By transparent, meaning open and honest in the way it operates in our best interest. That, of course, is pure baloney. Government, on all levels and across the board, is secretive. It is in the nature of the beast, and for good reason. If the public ever fully discovered what our "public servants" are really up to, there would be much less government. Because a large segment of our media has been corrupted by big government this is not likely to happen.

     In many ways, the government functions a lot like organized crime. Government protects itself through a code of silence, whistleblower intimidation, perjury, evidence tampering and the shielding of the leaders from criminal culpability. And like soldiers in the Mafia, most government employees are in for life. To expose the government, investigators would have to rely on the same tactics the FBI used on the Mafia. Problem is, the FBI is government, and is part of the problem.

     Anyone who trusts the government and accepts as truth what politicians and bureaucrats tell us is either a fool or an idiot. There may come a time when the public does figure out what's going on in government, but by then it may be too late to do anything about it.

     Government agencies, to maintain their authority and to grow, need to operate in secret. It's a matter of institutional survival. As far as most politicians and bureaucrats are concerned, the public has no right to know anything. We are told by our government leaders that it is our job to trust them. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens should never trust government again. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Geoffrey Portway: The Degenerate Dungeon Master

     In 2009, a Milford, Massachusetts hotel manager named Robert Diduca mistakenly sent an internet image of a sexually abused 18-month-old boy to a federal investigator. This led to a federal child pornography and abuse sting operation called Operation Holitna. By 2013, the worldwide investigation resulted in 51 arrests and the rescue of 160 sexually abused children. Operations like this exposed the massive scope and depth of child abuse in the United States and abroad.

     In 2010, shortly after the launching of Operation Holitna, state and federal investigators intercepted online communications between 39-year-old Geoffrey Portway and Michael Arnett, a fellow sexual deviate and child pornographer from Kansas. Portway, a computer operator and British citizen, through a variety of online forums, sent Arnett 4,500 pornographic images of young boys who had either been injured, mutilated or murdered.

    Using the Internet name "Fatlongpig" (cannibal-fetish site slang for human flesh cooked for human consumption), Portway sent thousands of messages that revealed his fevered desire to rape, murder and eat young boys. To his pornographic pen pal in Kansas, Portway wrote: "I want to eat...the two boys you will bring me. Perhaps not today, but it will happen. That is all I live for....I am serious. It is the only thing that gets me up in the morning."

     On July 27, 2012, when state and federal officers raided Geoffrey Portway's house in Worcester, Massachusetts, the officers discovered a carefully designed and equipped rape/cannibal/murder dungeon in the suspect's basement. What officers found left no room for imagination or interpretation. This pervert obviously planned to imprison, murder, dismember and eat his young abductees. With this in mind, Portway had constructed a metal, four-foot-long, three-foot-wide, two-foot-high cage that contained locking hardware and an opening for food delivery. Officers also found a box of latex rings used for castrating calves, a set of butcher's knives, various restraining devices, a bottle of bleach, a child-sized coffin and two small freezers.

     Mr. Portway's extensive DVD collection featured titles like "Cannibal," "Criminal Lovers" and "Hansel and Grettel." One of the films in his possession, "Cannibal Ferox," contained a tagline that read: "Make them die slowly." Portway also possessed books such as Cannibal Sacrifice by Garry Hogg. The Englishman's computer contained child pornographic images of tens of thousands of boys. (In cases like this there seems to be no limit to the size of a pervert's collection of child pornography.)

     Assistant United States Attorney Stacy Dawson Belf charged Geoffrey Portway with the federal crimes of solicitation to kidnap a child and the distribution and possession of child pornography. In May 2013, faced with an overwhelming amount of evidence against him, the wannabe child rapist/killer/cannibal signed a plea agreement that could result in a prison sentence of 18 to 27 years.

     At his sentencing hearing on September 17, 2013, Portway's attorney, Richard Sweeney, in arguing for a sentence of 20 years or less, said his client had never "laid a hand on any minors." According to the defense attorney, "There's pornography, there's a fantasy world, there's no child. Geoffrey lived in a fantasy world where he did live-action role playing, did things online unrelated to child porn and cannibalism. A lot of the chats that he had were, in his mind, fantasy."

     Attorney Sweeney, in an obvious attempt to garner sympathy for Mr. Portway, said his client had a history of mental problems dating back to middle school when he expressed his own desire to be eaten. The attorney informed the court that his client realized he was gay at age eight but was afraid to tell his father who was homophobic.

     Prosecutor Belf pointed out that Portway "can only claim fantasy because he hadn't done it yet."

     After hearing the prosecutor and the defense attorney make their sentencing arguments and recommendations, U. S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman sentenced Geoffrey Portway to 26 years and 8 months in prison. After serving his time in the United States, Portway would be deported to England. Federal corrections authorities registered him a Level 3 Sex Offender. (Sex criminals in this category are believed the most likely to re-offend.) 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

J. Edgar Hoover's FBI Crime Laboratory

     Shortly after becoming the FBI's fourth director in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover envisioned a national crime laboratory under the auspicies of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover had been influenced by August Vollmer, the innovative chief of the Berkeley, California Police Department and John H. Wigmore, author and professor at Northwestern University Law School.

     August Vollmer and Wigmore had pioneered the formation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab formed in Chicago in the wake of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre. These practitioner/scholars believed that the developing fields within forensic science, coupled with highly trained criminal investigators, would someday bring victory over crime. Hoover had already made the image of the latent fingerprint the unofficial logo of the FBI. A FBI crime laboratory would advance Hoover's goal to create the ideal crime fighter--a highly educated, well-trained scientific crime detection professional.

     In April 1931, Hoover sent Special Agent Charles A. Appel, Jr. to Chicago to enroll in a short course sponsored by the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory that at the time was a private, fee-charging lab partially funded by the University of Chicago. Most of the lab's cases consisted of forensic document examination, firearm identification (then called forensic ballistics), and research and development in the polygraph, a newly developing field of scientific lie detection. (In 1938, the Scientific Crime Detection Lab would be taken over by the Chicago Police Department.) Hoover also sent agent Special Agent Appel to police departments in St. Louis (in 1906 the first police department to establish a fingerprint identification bureau), New Orleans and Detroit, the only law enforcement agencies besides Berkeley and Los Angeles that operated crime labs.

     The FBI Technical Laboratory, with Charles Appel as its head, opened its doors on November 24, 1932 (in 1942 it was renamed the FBI Laboratory) in a nine-by-nine foot room in the Southern Railway Building at Thirteenth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Special Agent Appel, its director and only employee, performed firearm identification work. Appel used the newly invented comparison microscope and a device designed for the examination of gun barrel interiors. To produce forensic exhibits of bullets, Appel utilized basic photographic equipment. The FBI Lab, as advertised by Hoover, provided evidence analysis and testimony for the bureau as well as for any local law enforcement agency that requested forensic analysis. Hoover also promised research and development in the various forensic science fields. Hoover's ambitious undertaking eventually made the FBI an indispensable and highly visible cog in the nation's crime fighting machine.

     By 1940, the laboratory, now located at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, employed firearm identification experts, questioned document examiners, forensic chemists, physicists, metallurgists specializing in tool mark identification, forensic geologists (soil examinations), hair and fiber analysts, forensic serologists (blood and bodily fluids examinations) and latent fingerprint identification experts. The laboratory, employing over a hundred people, had gotten so large Hoover divided the lab into three sections: questioned documents; physics and chemistry; and latent fingerprint identification. At this time, only fifteen police departments and sixteen states operated crime labs. The FBI Lab continued to grow. By 1958, it employed two hundred scientific, clerical and administrative personnel.

     The FBI Laboratory, by the end of the 1980's, had grown into the busiest and most famous crime lab in the world. It had also become one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC. But even in its heyday, because of the quantity of forensic examinations and laboratory hiring criteria, there were problems with the quality of some of the work. The FBI Lab was the biggest and the most famous, but not the best. Overwhelmed by a staggering caseload, Hoover did not hire top-rate scientists. Moreover, there was not time for research and development. This led to some bad science and a problem with scientific objectivity.

     The FBI lab had to compete for personnel with a growing number of city, county and state crime labs. Because the FBI only hired lab employees who also met the criteria for the position of special agent, not all of the lab personnel had sufficient scientific backgrounds.  All FBI Lab personnel (except clerical employees) were first sent into the field to work as agents for three years. Many of these agents had to be dragged kicking and screaming back to DC to work inside the lab. Some of these agents had used their degrees in science to get into the FBI to become investigators, not bureau crime lab criminalists. Moreover, the close identification with law enforcement created by three years in the field worked against scientific objectivity. (The FBI, after Hoover's death, changed its crime lab hiring criteria.)

     J. Edgar Hoover died in office in May 1972. By 1990, there was nothing left of his reputation and status as an American law enforcement pioneer. The mere mention of his name on a TV sitcom or a late night talk show brought instant laughter. Once a powerful and innovative man, Hoover, like so many other American historical figures--Charles Lindbergh for one--had been reduced by a tabloid culture and hack journalism into a character you might find in an underground comic book. The post-Hoover image of the FBI agent, while having lost some of its luster, did not go down with the Hoover ship. Notwithstanding his fall from grace, Hoover's most profound contribution to the art and science of criminal investigation, the FBI Crime Laboratory, is still considered the gold standard of forensic science in America.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case: Crime of the Century

    Today marks the 91th anniversary of the Lindbergh kidnapping case. The following is a thumbnail account of the crime of the 20th Century:

     On the night of Tuesday, March 1, 1932, someone climbed into the second-story bedroom of Charles and Anne Lindbergh's house near Hopewell, New Jersey and snatched their 20-month-old son, Charles, Jr. After being the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in April 1927, Charles Lindbergh had became internationally famous. Colonel Lindbergh and his wife were living in their recently built mansion in the remote Sourland Hills in central New Jersey. The kidnapping made headlines around the world and for months would dominate the news.

     Upon arrival at the scene of the crime, the police discovered the homemade ladder the kidnapper had used to gain entry into the house. That wooden, three-piece extension ladder, and a ransom note containing several misspelled words and a symbol comprised of two intersecting circles and three holes, were the key crime scene clues. (Several other ransom letters containing the same symbol and exact misspellings would be sent to the Lindberghs, and would lead to the payment of a $50,000 ransom, on April 2, 1932. A ransom intermediary paid the money to a shadowy figured in a cemetery in the Bronx. Despite the exchange of ransom money, the Lindbergh baby was not returned.)

     On May 12, ten weeks after the kidnapping, a truck driver relieving himself in the woods stumbled upon the partially decomposed body of the Lindbergh child in a shallow grave about two miles from the Lindbergh estate. The police identified the remains by matching his homemade undershirt with the cloth remnant from which it had been cut by his English nursemaid, Betty Gow. Other points of identity included the abducted child's teeth, hair, dimple on his chin and overlapping toes. Decomposition made fingerprint identification impossible.

     The investigation, spearheaded by the New Jersey State Police, was painstaking and remarkably professional, but plagued by false suspects and wild-goose chases. The case floundered for two and a half years until a Manhattan, New York gas station attendant penciled a customer's car license number on a $10 gold certificate given to him in payment for the fuel. This was a large bill in those days, and because the country had converted to green-back bills, the gas station attendant was suspicious enough to jot down the license number. A bank clerk, aware the Lindbergh ransom had been made up of gold notes, called the police, and, as it turned out, this bill had been part of the ransom pay off. (The police had a list of the ransom bills' serial numbers, and knew that dozens of them had been spent in The Bronx and Manhattan.)

     Investigators traced the license number to Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German-born carpenter in the country illegally who lived in The Bronx with his wife Anna and their young son. Hauptmann, who met the description of the man who received the ransom money in the Bronx cemetery, possessed a criminal record in Germany. The police arrested him the next day, and in his garage, found $14,000 of the unspent ransom money. Hauptmann had quit his carpenter job on the day the ransom money had changed hands, and during the next two and a half years, in the midst of the Great Depression, had invested and lost $35,000 in the stock market.

     In January 1935, Hauptmann went on trial for murder in Flemington, New Jersey. The sensational trial lasted six weeks and produced front-page newspaper headlines around the world. The prosecution offered the jury two theories of how the child had died. The kidnapper had either killed the baby in his crib, or had dropped him while climbing down the ladder which had split. Eight prominent handwriting experts testified that the 36-year-old defendant had written all fourteen of the extortion letters, including the note left in the nursery. Four other prosecution forensic document examiners had been held back to testify on rebuttal, but they were not needed because the Hauptmann defense failed to produce a qualified expert to say that Hauptmann had not written the ransom documents.

     A federal wood expert from Wisconsin named Arthur Koehler testified that the carpenter tools in Hauptmann's garage had left their unique marks on the kidnap ladder. He also identified one of the boards on the ladder, called Rail 16, as having once been part of a floor plank in Hauptmann's attic. Investigators also found a sketch of the ladder in one of the defendant's notebooks.

     The intermediary who had delivered the ransom money to the man in the cemetery, John F. Condon ("Jafsie"), identified Hauptmann as the man he had given it to. Colonel Lindbergh, who had waited in the car that night as the ransom exchanged hands, testified that Hauptmann's voice was the voice he had heard coming from the cemetery. Several other witnesses testified they had seen Hauptmann near Hopewell on the day of the crime. Another witness, a movie cashier, identified Hauptmann as the passer of a ransom bill.

     Although the prosecution's case was circumstantial--Hauptmann didn't confess and no one saw him kidnap or murder the baby--it was based on physical evidence and expert testimony. The Hauptmann defense, by comparison, was weak in the face of the handwriting and wood evidence. As an alibi, Hauptmann and his wife claimed they were together at her place of employment in New York City on the night of the kidnapping. Hauptmann further maintained that he had earned the money he had been spending by playing the stock market. The defendant said he had received the ransom bills found in his garage from a business associate named Isidor Fisch who had given it to him in a shoe box. (About a year before Hauptmann's arrest, Fisch had returned to Germany where he died of tuberculosis. At the time of his death he was penniless.) According to Hauptmann, he had no idea what was in the shoe box until he opened it and found the cash. Since Fisch owed him money, Hauptmann felt he had the right to spend some of it. He never let on to his wife that he had found the money, and denied knowing it had anything to do with the Lindbergh case. People came to refer to this account as the "Fisch story."

     Hauptmann's chief defense attorney, a Brooklyn attorney named Edward Reilly, tried to prove that the kidnapping had been an inside job by implicating the Lindbergh servants working in concert with John Condon, and others. He failed miserably, putting on the stand a motley assortment of crackpots, criminals, and obvious liars who embarrassed and hurt Hauptmann's case. Hauptmann took the stand on his own behalf, and turned out to be an unsympathetic witness who got caught in several lies that incriminated him further. Unable to produce one qualified witness to counter the handwriting and ladder evidence, and unable to satisfactorily explain possessing all of that money for so long, the Hauptmann defense degenerated into tragic burlesque, then collapsed.

     On February 13, 1935, after 32 days of testimony, the jury found Hauptmann guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in the electric chair. Hauptmann's attorneys immediately appealed the case, but the New Jersey Appellate Court unanimously affirmed the conviction. Following a 30 day reprieve, two hearings before the New Jersey Court of Appeals and Pardons, and a last minute stay of execution, Hauptmann, on April 6, 1936, died in the electric chair at the state prison in Trenton. Only a handful of protestors stood outside the prison that night, and when told of Hauptmann's electrocution, they quickly dispersed and went home.