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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Leila Fowler Murder Case

     Barry Fowler lived with his fiancee and his three children in Valley Springs, a central California town of 7,500 60 miles southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     On Saturday evening, April 27, 2013, Barry Fowler's 12-year-old son Isiah and his 8-year-old daughter were home alone while he attended a little league baseball game. That evening Crystal Walters, the children's mother received a call from her son Isiah who reported that an intruder had just run out of the house. Crystal called 911 and informed the dispatcher that, "My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He [the boy] came out and a man was in the house. They [the children] said they're okay. My daughter is freaking out right now." 

     Deputies with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office upon arrival at the Fowler house found the 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler, bleeding to death from several stab wounds. (She died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. Based on the context of Crystal Walter's 911 call, Leila was presumably stabbed sometime between her brother's call to their mother and the arrival of the police.)

     The victim's 12-year-old brother Isiah described the intruder as a tall man with long gray hair. At some point after the man ran off the boy discovered his dying sister. (I don't know if crime scene investigators recovered a bloody knife, made a blood spatter analysis or collected the clothing worn by the brother.) According to media reports the officers found no evidence that theft had been a motive for the intrusion. There was no physical evidence of a break-in. The intruder could have gained entry by knocking on the door.

     The forensic pathologist who performed Leila Fowler's autopsy determined the cause of death to be shock and bleeding. The manner of death: homicide by stabbing.

     Investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, operating on the intruder theory, launched a massive manhunt for Leila Fowler's killer. The investigation included rounding up and questioning the area's registered sex offenders. With a murderous home invader on the loose residents of the community locked their doors and loaded their guns.

     A week or so into the murder investigation rumors surfaced that detectives now considered Isiah, the Fowler boy, as a prime suspect. On May 11, two weeks after the murder, deputies arrested the victim's 12-year-old brother. Detectives also searched the Fowler house and walked away with several knives. (This suggests they did not have the murder weapon.) Charged as an adult with second-degree murder the Fowler boy was placed into a juvenile detention center.

     At a press conference following Isiah Fowler's arrest Sheriff Gary Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

     On May 13, 2013, two days after Isiah's arrest, the murder suspect's father told an Associated Press reporter that he will believe his son is innocent until he sees evidence that proves otherwise. "If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family," Barry Fowler said. (Detectives must have interrogated the boy without acquiring a confession.)

     On May 15, 2013 after a closed juvenile hearing, defense attorney Mark Reichel in speaking to an Associated Press reporter said his young client may have lied about encountering a long-haired man in the house. Reichel added that such an admission was not evidence of the boy's guilt. "How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" he asked.

     The murder suspect's second attorney, Steve Presser, raised doubts that his client was old enough to assist in his own defense. "Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually and emotionally mature enough to aid his attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges? We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," he said. "We have questions. Why do the police think the minor did this? And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and take 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI?"

     In October 2015 a Calaveras County judge in a trial without a jury found Isiah Fowler guilty of second-degree murder. The juvenile's attorney appealed the conviction on the grounds the boy's confessions were unalike and not supported by the evidence. According to the defense the boy had been pressured by his father to cooperate with detectives.

     In February 2018 three judges on Californian's 3rd District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. 
     Isiah Fowler was retried for second-degree murder in June 2018. He was found guilty by Superior Court Judge Susan C. Harlan who sentenced the 17-year-old to 16 years to life in prison.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Invade Home, Get Shot: The Paul Slater Case

     On Friday, January 6, 2013 in Loganville, Georgia, a town of 11,000 30 miles east of Atlanta, Melinda Herman was at home watching her 9-year-old twins. She was working in her second-floor office. At one o'clock that afternoon Melinda looked out a window and saw a man she didn't recognize pull up in front of her upper-middle-class suburban home. The man, later identified as 32-year-old Paul Ali Slater had been released from jail in August 2012 after serving six months for simple battery and three counts of probation violation. Since 2008 this thief and burglar had been arrested seven times. He had six children.

     Melinda watched the man approach the house. He knocked on the front door and when she didn't answer he laid on the doorbell. Frightened, Melinda called her husband Donnie at work. (In late December, Donne had taken his wife to a shooting range where she had learned how to fire a .38-caliber revolver.) Donnie told Melinda to take possession of the firearm then hide in the attic with the children. He called 911.

     When Melinda looked out the window again she saw the man coming toward the house with a crowbar in his hand. As Paul Slater used the tool to break into the Herman home Melinda and the twins hid in a crawlspace closet.

     From inside the attic closet Melinda Herman could hear the burglar rummaging through the family's belongings. She became extremely alarmed when she heard the intruder enter the attic. Suddenly the closet door opened and there he was standing a foot from her and the children. Melinda raised the six-shot revolver and fired all of its bullets. Five of the slugs hit Slater in the face and neck. Four of these bullets passed through his body.

     The shot intruder fell face-down on the attic floor. As the blood started leaking from his bullet-ridden body he begged Melinda who was still pulling the trigger of the empty gun to stop shooting. Melinda and the children stepped over the home invader's body and ran out of the house. As they took refuge in a neighbor's place Mr. Slater managed to get to his feet and stumble out of the dwelling. He made his way to the SUV but a few houses down the street ran his car into a tree.

     The bloodied and badly wounded burglar crawled out of his SUV and collapsed on a nearby driveway where deputies from the Walton County Sheriff's Office found him. "Help me," he cried. "I'm close to dying."

     Emergency personnel rushed the wounded intruder to the Gwinnett Medical Center where he was placed on a ventilator.

    The local prosecutor charged Paul Ali Slater with first-degree burglary and other offenses.

      Paul Slater, following a remarkable recovery, pleaded guilty in April 2013. At his sentencing hearing a month later, he said, "I knocked on the door. I tried to take every precaution to make sure I was going into a vacant house. The times were tough for my family and I made the decision to commit a crime. I was going into the house to steal some jewelry.

     The judge sentenced Paul Slater to 10 years in prison.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Ira Bloom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the domestic battle over who gets what in a divorce one of the most contentious issues often centers around who will acquire principal access to and responsibility for the children. Parents who believe they have received a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. A few of these parents, motivated by hatred, the need for control and the desire to win, have resorted to murder.

     Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made Portnov as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. The couple lived in Enfield, Connecticut.

     In the summer of 2004 following a string of restraining orders, Zhanna divorced Bloom and gained custody of their 8-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his three-day-a-week visitation schedule, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 custody hearing Mr. Bloom began planning to have his ex-wife murdered.

     Following their divorce Ira Bloom moved to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife's death and commit the mistake most murder-for-hire masterminds make: he reached out to the wrong person to help him carry out his mission. Bloom asked his friend Donald Levesque, a petty criminal and drug snitch who claimed underworld connections, to find a hitman who would carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor's office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist. Bloom wanted the hit man to rape then kill his ex-wife. Pursuant to his plan the killer would dump her body somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut.

     Levesque, snitch that he was, went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (AFT) where he informed agents of Bloom's murder-for-hire scheme. (Levesque was a regular, paid ATF confidential informant.) Because murder-for-hire is a state as well as a federal offense the ATF had jurisdiction in the case.

     The informant told ATF agents that Ira Bloom had promised him $15,000 out of his dead ex-wife's $100,000 life insurance payout. Working with local law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts the ATF launched its investigation.

     On July 8, 2005 Donald Levesque and Ira Bloom met in a restaurant in Enfield. The snitch wore a hidden recorder and had driven a car to the meeting that was wired for sound. To the amazement of the officers and agents surveilling the meeting, Ira Bloom arrived with a woman he had just met. Seated in a booth Bloom began talking about his battle to regain custody of his son. He said, "I'm really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12 I'll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything's gone. I mean, she's dead."

     Before the meeting broke-up Donald Levesque, acting on instructions from his ATF handlers, asked Bloom for a hand-drawn map showing the route to the target's place of employment. "You think I'm gonna give you a map?" Bloom said. "We'll all go to jail." But the snitch persisted and a few minutes later the murder-for-hire mastermind sketched a crude map on a napkin.

     In Levesque's car outside the restaurant he and Bloom with the mastermind's date sitting in the back seat continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest local police officers and federal agents rushed the car. Just before being yanked out of the vehicle Ira Bloom looked at Levesque and said, "Don, what did you do to me?"

     In October 2006 Ira Bloom was tried in Hartford, Connecticut before a federal jury. While the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more that his client's blowing off steam to impress his date. The jury after deliberating three hours found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. Following a series of appeals federal judge Alfred V. Covello in April 2008 sentenced the 48-year-old Bloom to the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Christie Lynn Mullins Murder Case

     Christie Lynn Mullins resided with her parents on a residential street on the north side of Columbus, the central Ohio capital of the state. At one-thirty in the afternoon of Saturday August 23, 1975 the 14-year-old and her girlfriend of the same age were walking to the Woolco Department Store located in the Graceland Shopping Center a few blocks from their homes.

     Mullins' girlfriend had received a telephone call from a man who claimed to be a disc jockey at a local radio station. According to this man the radio station was sponsoring a cheerleading contest to be held at the department store at one-forty-five that afternoon. The winner of the event would be awarded a free pass to the Ohio State Fair. The girls were to wait for the man outside the store.

     When the girls arrived at the Woolco Department Store Christie Mullins' companion went inside to get the time. When she came out her friend was gone. She waited twenty minutes before going to another friend's house.

     At two o'clock that afternoon a man and his wife were walking in a wooded area behind the Woolco store. The couple spotted a man hitting something on the ground with a two-by-four board. Realizing he had been seen the man ran off. When the witness and his wife walked to the spot they found the partially clad body of a girl who had been bludgeoned to death.

     The local medical examiner identified the murdered girl as Christie Mullins. Her hands had been tied with telephone wire and she had been raped.

     The couple who discovered the body provided the police with a detailed description of the man they had seen at the crime scene. A few days later police officers arrested a man walking on the sidewalk in downtown Columbus. The suspect, a man named John Carman, did not fit the couple's description of the  crime scene assailant. Moreover, Mr. Carman suffered from severe mental retardation.

     Following an intense grilling at the police station John Carman confessed to killing Christie Mullins. Soon after he agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping, rape and murder. A judge sentenced him to life in prison. But shortly after his imprisonment the case became controversial when the public learned that the suspect possessed the mental age of a ten-year-old. The judge, a week after the story broke, appointed Mr. Carman a new defense attorney who immediately petitioned the court to allow his client to withdraw his guilty plea. The judge granted the motion.

     Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the guilty plea the state went forward with its case against Mr. Carman. In December 1977 John Carman went on trial for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Christie Mullins. During the week-long trial the prosecutor put a surprise witness on the stand. The so-called eyewitness to the crime, Henry Newell Jr., was at the time serving a stretch in prison for burning down his own home. The arson occurred about a year after Christie Mullins' murder.

     According to the prosecution's star witness the 27-year-old saw the defendant kill the victim behind the department store. Newell testified that after John Carman fled the crime scene, he, Newell, covered the dead girl's face with his shirt. He also said he had touched the board used to bludgeon the victim to death.

     After the defense attorney thoroughly discredited Henry Newell on cross-examination he put several witnesses on the stand who testified that at the time of the murder the defendant was on the other side of the city.

     The jury, after a short deliberation, found John Carman not guilty on all charges. The jurors found the alibi witnesses credible and suspected that the real killer was Henry Newell Jr. The jurors also believed that the defendant did not have the mental capacity to commit such a brutal murder.

     Notwithstanding the outcome of the murder trial and the belief by most people familiar with the case that Henry Newell Jr. had kidnapped, raped and murdered Christie Mullins, the police insisted that the jury had let a man guilty of an heinous crime go free.

     Henry Newell Jr. died in 2013 of cancer at the age of 63. By then, cold case homicide investigators with the Columbus Police Department had come to the conclusion that Newell had indeed committed the crime and that the police at the time had horribly bungled the investigation. Before he died Mr. Newell confessed to several people that he had murdered the girl.

     On November 6, 2015 Columbus police sergeant Eric Pilya, the head of the cold case unit, announced at a press conference that the detectives who worked on the case originally, now both deceased, had used "improper investigative techniques." Sergeant Pilya said he wanted to "formally and publicly apologize" to Christie Mullins' family who for years insisted that Henry Newell was the guilty party. 

Friday, October 27, 2023

Three Executions

Edward Harold Schad
     In 1968 42-year-old Edward Harold Schad strangled a male sex partner to death in Utah. Ten years later, on August 9, 1978, the paroled killer carjacked Lorimer Grove's Cadillac in Bisbee, Arizona. Police discovered Grove's body along a highway near Prescott, Arizona with a sash-like cord knotted around his neck. 
     After he murdered Mr. Grove, Edward Schad drove around the country in the stolen Cadillac cashing forged checks drawn on the dead man's bank account. Schad also made purchases with the victim's credit cards. A year later a jury found Mr. Schad guilty of first-degee murder. A judge sentenced him to death.
    At ten in the morning of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, at the Arizona State Prison at Florence, the oldest man on the state's death row received his lethal dose of pentobarbital. When the warden asked the 71-year-old if he had any last words, Schad said, "Well, after 34 years [on death row] I'm free to fly away home. Thank you, Warden. Those are my last words."       
Ronald Clinton Lott
     On September 2, 1986 26-year-old Ronald Clinton Lott broke into 83-year-old Anna Laura Fowler's home in Oklahoma City. The intruder beat, raped and strangled the victim to death. On January 11, 1987 Lott broke into the home across the street from Anna Fowler's dwelling. In that house he tortured, raped and murdered 93-year-old Zelma Cutler. 
     A jury in Oklahoma City found Ronald Lott guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to death. 
     At 6:06 in the evening of Tuesday, December 10, 2013 the executioner at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester administered Mr. Lott's lethal injection. The 53-year-old had no last words. Lott was the fifth Oklahoma prisoner to be put to death in 2013. 
Allen Nicklasson
     In August 1994, 22-year-old Allen Nicklasson met a convicted killer named Dennis Skillicorn at a drug rehabilitation center in Kansas City, Missouri. On August 22, 1994 Nicklasson, Skillicorn and a third man, Tim De Graffenreid, decided to drive across the state to St. Louis where they planned to buy drugs. En route Mr. Nicklasson's 1983 Chevrolet Caprice broke down on Interstate 70 near Kingdom City, Missouri. The next day, after a local mechanic worked on the car, the trio of violent losers got back on the road despite the mechanic's warning that the repairs had been temporary. Not long after resuming the trip the Chevy broke down again.
     On August 23 Richard Drummond spotted the three stranded motorists standing on I-70 next to the disabled Chevy. The 47-year-old AT&T supervisor pulled off the highway to help. When Mr. Drummond got out of his Dodge Intrepid Allen Nicklasson put a gun to his head and took him hostage. 
      Nicklasson ordered Drummond to drive the Dodge to a secluded place where he shot the good samaritan execution style in the back of the head. (The victim's body was found eight days later.) Years later, in recalling the moment he killed Drummond, Nicklasson said, "I felt euphoria. I finally got back for all the beatings I took as a child." 
     Two days after he murdered Richard Drummond Allen Nicklasson, with his two degenerate friends in the dead man's car, drove to Arizona where, in the desert, the Dodge broke down. The three men walked in the desert until they came upon a house occupied by Joseph and Charlene Babcock. Once inside the dwelling Nicklasson shot Charlene to death and forced her husband to drive the killers back to the broken down Dodge. It was there Nicklasson murdered Mr. Babcock and stole his car. 
     The three fugitives were caught shortly after the murders by police officers in Arizona. After being found guilty in that state of murdering Mr. and Mrs. Babcock, a judge sentenced Nicklasson to life in prison. Tim De Graffenreid, in return for his guilty plea and cooperation with the authorities, received life sentences in Arizona and later in Missouri. 
     In Missouri, following his conviction for the cold-blooded murder of Richard Drummond, a judge sent Nicklasson to death row. Another Missouri judge sentenced Dennis Skillicorn to death. In 2009 they executed Skillicorn for his role in the Drummond murder. 
     Allen Nicklasson's time finally came at 10:52 in the morning of December 11, 2013. The executioner at the Missouri State Prison in Bonne Terre injected the 41-year-old killer with enough pentobarbital to stop his heart. This murderer of three innocent helpless people had no last words. What could he say? 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Halifax Mass Murder Plot

     On Thursday morning February 12, 2015 a caller on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Crime Stoppers tip line caused serious concern with a disturbing report. The tipster said that 19-year-old James Gamble from Timberlea, Nova Scotia, a suburb of Halifax; a 23-year-old woman named Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath from Geneva, Illinois; and a 20-year-old Nova Scotia man, Randall Steven Shepherd planned to shoot as many shoppers as they could on St. Valentine's Day at the Halifax Shopping Centre on the west side of the city.

     The informant said the group had acquired the necessary weaponry to commit Canada's version of America's 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre. After the mass murder the plotters planned to take their own lives.

     The persons identified by the RCMP tipster revealed through photographs and comments on an Internet chat stream their obsession with serial killers and bloody murder scenes. The American, Lindsay Souvannarath had written messages on her Twitter account she didn't want posted until after her self-inflicted death.

     At one-twenty in the morning of February 13, 2015 police officers watching James Gamble's Timberlea residence observed a couple believed to be the suspect's parents drive away from the house. After pulling the parents over a detective called the house and spoke to their son.

     Gamble, whose house was surrounded by an Emergency Response Team, told the detective on the phone that he was unarmed and ready to exit the dwelling. Instead he shot himself to death in the dwelling. Inside the house, besides the body, officers found three loaded rifles.

     An hour after the suicide in Timberlea, officers took Lindsay Souvannarath into custody when she flew into the Halifax International Airport from her home in Illinois. Police officers also arrested Randall Shepherd who was at the airport to greet her.

     Shortly after her arrest Lindsay Souvannarath confessed that she and the others intended to randomly murder as many people as possible at the Halifax shopping mall.

     A local prosecutor charged the American woman and her 20-year-old Nova Scotia accomplice with conspiracy to commit murder. In the meantime detectives with Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Team were looking into the background of the conspirator who had committed suicide. The investigators were trying to determine the extent of his participation, if any, in the mass shooting plot.

     At a press conference held on Saturday February 14, St. Valentine's Day, Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced that the mass murder plot was not "culturally motivated" or linked to Islamic terrorism. The justice minister called the murder conspirators "murderous misfits." Mr. MacKay acknowledged, however, that murderous misfits like the ones in custody could be exploited by terrorist organizations. He said, "An individual who would so recklessly and with bloody intent plot to do something like this I would suggest would also be susceptible to being motivated by groups like ISIS and others."

     On February 17, 2015 Charles Aukema, one of Lindsay Souvannarath's professors at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told a reporter with the Cedar Rapids Gazette that his former English student "knew how to put together a sentence and had a command of detail." The professor added, "Sometimes it was pretty sick detail."

     On April 11, 2017 Lindsay Souvannarath pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the Halifax mall murder plot.

     In September 2018 the judge sentenced Lindsay Souvannarath to life. The judge sentenced Randall Steven Shepherd to ten years in prison.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Father Michael Kelly Repressed Memory Sexual Molestation Suit

     In 2008 a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred to as John TZ Doe pursuant to a court order not to reveal his identify, didn't remember being molested by Father Kelly until 2006. Although the statute of limitations ruled out criminal charges a civil suit could be brought against the priest and the church.

     In the lawsuit John Doe accused Father Kelly of molesting him in the 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, California. In September 2007, following the recovery of his "repressed memory," John Doe had filed a complaint with Bishop Stephen Blaine of the Stockton Diocese. Father Kelly, placed on administrative leave, denied the allegations. Following an internal investigation by diocesan officials, Father Kelly, in March 2008 was re-instated at St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

     The civil trial got underway on February 29, 2012 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Judge Bob McNatt ruled that the jury could not be told that Father Kelly was the subject of a pending sexual molestation investigation being conducted by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. According to the criminal complaint Father Kelly had molested a boy during the period 2000-2002 while he was pastor of St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California. (In 2004 Father Kelly was transferred to St. Joachim's in Stockton. Prior to his tenure in San Andreas Father Kelly had been pastor at churches in Sonora, Tracy, Modesto and Ceres, California.)

     Plaintiff's attorney John Manly put on several witnesses who as boys in the defendant's churches had been repeatedly tickled by the priest who also wrestled with them. According to this testimony Father Kelly had sexually touched and fondled them during these bouts of roughhousing.

     John Doe took the stand and spoke of being molested by the defendant on a walking trail outside of Stockton, in a motel room and in the priest's living quarters. In the motel room, the plaintiff said he had fallen asleep and when he awoke he and the priest were in bed naked. At the defendant's living quarters Father Kelly had removed the witness' clothing. John Doe said he then fell asleep and when he awoke he was fully dressed. (From this testimony, the plaintiff was asking jurors to infer that he had been drugged.) Pointing at Father Kelly the witness yelled, "You raped me, I was just a kid!"

     On March 20, 2012, San Francisco psychiatrist Anlee Kuo testified that in evaluating the reliability of John Doe's recovered memories of events that occurred when he was 10-years-old, she administered several tests that measured the validity of his accounts. The results of these tests convinced Dr. Kuo that his memories were accurate. Dr. Kuo pointed out that the repressed memory phenomenon was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Moreover, she said that repressed memory was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the psychiatrist, Father Kelly's sexual molestation has caused the plaintiff, as a 35-year-old adult, to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse.

     The next day defense attorney Thomas Beatty put Father Kelly on the stand. The priest told the jury that he had not sexually molested the plaintiff. On cross-examination, John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Father Kelly this: "At any time did you get under a blanket with [the plaintiff]?"

     "Of course not," came the reply.

     "Did you ever take him into the bathroom to disrobe?"

     "I absolutely deny it."

     "Did you ever take the [plaintiff] on a hike?"

     "I did not," answered the priest.

     Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin of Harvard University took the stand for the defense. Dr. Bodkin told the jury that repressed memories--also known as dissociative memory--is not a scientifically proven phenomenon. "Peoples' memories don't get better with time," he said. "They get worse. The plaintiff's story is difficult to believe."

     Following the lunch break on Friday, April 6, 2012 the case went to the jury of 10 women and 2 men. Because this was a civil trial only 9 votes were required for the jury to reach a verdict. Moreover, the standard of proof in a civil trial is less rigorous than in a criminal proceeding that requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial a plaintiff merely has to establish his case by a "preponderance of the evidence." That is the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant are more likely to be true than not.

     After deliberating for a day the jury found Father Michael Kelly liable for three of the sexual molestation allegations. The second phase of the trial, with the same jury, would focus on the dioceses' handling of child abuse allegations against Father Kelly and other priests. One of the other priests was Father Oliver O'Grady who had been convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography. The O'Grady case had cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in civil case settlements in more than 20 lawsuits. The jury also had the task of determining how much money to award John Doe.

     Immediately after the verdict the Bishop removed Father Kelly from the ministry Three hours later, speaking to 100 of his parishioners at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford, the ex-priest said, "The charges against me are untrue." When Michael Kelly reminded his supporters that he had passed two polygraph tests, they cheered. Because polygraph test results were not admissible in court the jury did not know this. The jurors also didn't know about the ongoing sexual molestation investigation involving Michael Kelly in Calaveras County. Under the laws of evidence, jurors, in making their decisions, are kept in the dark about a lot of things.

     Michael Kelly, on April 15, 2015 flew to his native Ireland for what he described as needed medical treatment. He was under subpoena to testify the next day in the second phase of the lawsuit in Stockton. John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, said that he believed the ex-priest received help in leaving the country. Kelly's attorney, Tom Beatty, said that he was "saddened by Father Kelly's illness and his devastation brought on by the finding of the repressed memory claim of abuse. I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present during the damages phase of the case but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk to him shortly." John Manly said that whoever helped Kelly to escape out of the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting. (Nothing came of this threat.)

     In August 2015, the Stockton Diocese settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Bishop Heather Cook Fatal Hit-And-Run Case

     Born in Syracuse, New York and raised in Baltimore, 30-year-old Heather Cook became an ordained minister in the Maryland Diocese of the Episcopal Church in 1987. Over the next several years she worked in Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

     On September 10, 2010, while serving as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Easton, Maryland in Caroline County, a police officer pulled Heather Cook over when he saw her driving on a shredded tire. Reeking of alcohol with vomit on her shirt, she appeared highly intoxicated. In her vehicle the officer found an empty whiskey bottle, a quantity of marijuana and a marijuana pipe. Cook, whose blood-alcohol level registered at three times the legal limit, admitted that besides consuming too much alcohol she had smoked pot.

     A Carolina County prosecutor charged the Episcopal minister with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cook pleaded guilty to DUI and in return the prosecutor dropped the drug related charges. The judge sentenced Heather Cook to supervised probation.

      The Episcopal minister, notwithstanding her problem with booze, drugs and the law, did not lose her job. Officials of the Maryland Diocese decided to give their wayward cleric a second chance. It was, after all, the Christian thing to do. (Had she been a cop, a lawyer or a UPS driver she would have been out the door.)

     In September 2014 officials in the church elected the 58-year-old cleric to the position of Bishop, making her the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church of Maryland. She became in the diocese's hierarchy the number two authority. This may not have been the church's wisest decision.

     On Saturday at two-thirty in the afternoon of December 27, 2014, while driving her green Subaru Forester station wagon on North Roland Park Road in northern Baltimore, Bishop Cook ran into a man riding a bicycle. Instead of pulling over and rendering aid the Bishop violated the laws of man and God by driving off.
     Paramedics rushed 41-year-old Tom Palermo, a man with a wife and two children, to a nearby hospital. Shortly upon arrival at the medical center Mr. Palermo died.

     According to local media reports of the hit-and-run incident, Bishop Cook, twenty minutes after the accident returned to the site of the fatal collision "to take responsibility for her actions." The authorities, however, did not take her into custody or charge her with a crime.
 
     Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Maryland Diocese, on December 30, 2014, announced that the church had placed Bishop Cook on administrative leave due to the possibility that criminal charges could be filed in the case.

     In speaking to reporters an eyewitness to the accident said Bishop Cook waited 45 minutes before returning to the scene. According to the witness, "She pulled up with a busted windshield and got out of the car. The police talked to her and put her in the back of the patrol car."

     On January 9, 2015 Bishop Cook turned herself into the authorities after being charged with felony vehicular manslaughter, criminal negligent manslaughter, failure to remain at the scene of an accident resulting in serious injury and death, using a text messaging device that resulted in an accident and driving while intoxicated.The judge set her bail at $2.5 million.

     Mr. Palermo's sister-in-law thanked Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby for filing the charges. "We are deeply saddened to learn of the events leading up to the senseless hit-and-run accident that claimed Tom's life and support the prosecutor's efforts to hold Bishop Heather Cook accountable for her actions to the fullest extent of the law," she said.

     In October 2015 Heather Cook pleaded guilty to vehicular Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, driving under the influence and texting while driving. The judge sentenced her to seven years in prison.

     In May 2017 the Maryland Parole Commission denied Cook's request for early parole. Members of the board denied the request because she never apologized for her crimes and showed no remorse for the damage she had done.

     Heather Cook petitioned, in May 2018, for home detention. That request was denied. Two months later, Cook asked for work release. After members of victim Thomas Palermo's family objected to Cook's petition that request was also denied.

     The authorities, in May 2019 released Heather Cook from prison after she had served a little more that three years of her seven-year sentence. Under the terms of her sentence she would be on probation until 2024.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Hannah Overton Murder Case

     Andrew Burd was born in Corpus Christi, Texas on July 28, 2002. The 16-year-old girl who gave birth to him had used, during her pregnancy, meth, crack cocaine, LSD and marijuana. The expectant mother had also consumed alcohol, took Xanax and smoked cigarettes. The baby's 17-year-old father worked for a traveling carnival. This infant should have been taken from his unfit parents at birth.

     Andrew was a year old when his mother took him to an emergency room with a broken arm. A doctor suspected child abuse and called Child Protective Services (CPS). Nothing came of the CPS investigation and the baby was returned to his mother. Eventually, after repeated evidence of child abuse, CPS agents, on the grounds that Andrew was in "immediate danger" took him from his young parents. The agency placed the two and a half-year-old toddler into foster care where he was shuffled from one home to another.

     In 2006 Corpus Christi residents Larry and Hannah Overton heard about Andrew Burd through their evangelical nondenominational church Calvary Chapel of the Coastlands. The couple resided in a modest ranch-style house with their four young children. Twenty-nine-year-old Hannah was six months pregnant at the time. Although the family struggled financially from what Larry Overton earned as a landscape lighting installer the couple expressed interest in adopting Andrew.

     In 1984, when Hannah Overton was seven-years-old, her father, Bennie Saenz, an evangelical preacher, was arrested and charged with murder. Convicted of bludgeoning a 16-year-old girl to death then dumping her body along the shore of Padre Island, the Corpus Christi preacher went to prison for 23 years. 

     Before her marriage to Larry, Hannah worked as a volunteer in an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico across the border from Corpus Christi. As a married couple Larry and Hannah had performed missionary work for their church. By all accounts they were decent people, loving parents who had never been in trouble with the authorities. Moreover, neither Larry or Hannah had a history of mental illness.

     In the spring of 2006 Andrew Burd joined the Overton family on a six-month probationary basis. On October 2, 2006, not long after the official adoption the four-year-old became suddenly ill. He began vomiting and struggled with his breathing. Hannah, instead of immediately calling 911, telephoned Larry at work. He rushed home. When Andrew became unresponsive the Overtons rushed him to a nearby urgent care clinic. When nurses at the clinic failed to revive Andrew with CPR, paramedics transported the boy to Corpus Christi's Driscoll Hospital.

     Medical personnel at the urgent care clinic, suspicious of child abuse, notified the police shortly after Andrew was admitted to the hospital. Within hours of Andrew's hospitalization police with the Corpus Christi Police Department searched the Overton residence.

     In the evening of October 3, 2006, Andrew Burd died. Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. The forensic pathologist, finding some bleeding of the brain, external scratches and bruises and twice the level of sodium in the dead child's blood, ruled the manner of death homicide. Dr. Fernandez identified the boy's cause of death as "acute sodium toxicity with blunt force trauma as a contributing factor." (Dr. Fernandez failed to note that the brain hemorrhaging could have been caused by the sodium content in Andrew's blood.)

     Child Protection Services agents took the other Overton children out of their home and placed them with relatives. (Eventually the children would be placed under the care of Hannah Overton's mother.) A few days after Andrew Burd's death, Corpus Christi detective Michael Hess, an investigator who specialized in child abuse cases, interrogated Hannah Overton at the police station. She had agreed to be questioned without the presence of counsel.

     Detective Hess made it clear that he believed that Hannah, feeling overburdened with so many young children had murdered her adopted son. "I don't see," he said, "what caused the trauma to the brain. I don't see what caused the salt content. Did you at any time strike him?" (At this point, Hannah Overton should have asked for an attorney.)

     The five-hour grilling at the police station ended without a confession. In his report, Detective Hess wrote: "It should be noted that during the entire conversation (conversation?) Hannah Overton showed no emotion." Notwithstanding Hannah Overton's insistence that she had done nothing to harm her adopted son, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, a child protection crusader, charged the mother of five (she had since had her baby) with capital murder. Under Texas law, if convicted as charged Hannah Overton faced life in prison without the chance of parole.

     The televised Hannah Overton murder trial got underway in Corpus Christi in August 2007. Prosecutor Eastwood, in her opening remarks to the jury, said, "We don't know precisely how she [the defendant] got [the salt] down Andrew, but we know that he [the child] was very, very, obedient."

     Dr. Ray Fernandez, the Nueces County Medical Examiner testified that he had seen "burn-like scarring" on Andrew's arm that had likely been caused by "contact with a hot surface." Judge Jose Longoria had ruled that Dr. Fernandez could not testify that blunt force trauma had contributed to Andrew's death. The judge, due to insufficient scientific evidence to back up this part of the pathologist's report, ruled it inadmissible.)

     Dr. Alexander Rotta, a pediatric critical care specialist from Indianapolis, Indiana, testified that "There were so many bruises and scratches [on Andrew's body] that it would be difficult to describe them all." Dr. Rotta told the jurors that the sodium content in Andrew's blood amounted to six teaspoons of salt. In the doctor's expert opinion Andrew Burd's death had not been accidental.

     After Detective Michael Hess played a video of the defendant's interrogation, one of the nurses who had performed CPR on Andrew at the urgent care clinic testified that the defendant, during the emergency did not behave like a panic-stricken parent. In fact, she often had a smile on her face. Two other urgent care clinic employees took the stand and gave similar testimony. One of these witnesses said that she heard the defendant tell someone at the clinic that the boy had stopped breathing after he had been "punished." (While children are "punished" all the time, jurors probably interpreted this comment as evidence of child abuse.)

     At the close of the state's case defense attorneys David Jones and Chris Pinedo brought Harvard educated forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek to the stand. Dr. Melinek identified the sores on Andrew's body as being consistent with mosquito bites that had been excessively scratched. The witness, on the issue of  how all of that sodium had entered Andrew's system, said that in all probability the child suffered from a rare eating disorder called pica. Children with this malady have an uncontrollable desire to consume inappropriate substances such as salt.

     Hannah Overton, who took the stand on her own behalf, did not come off as a convincing or even sympathetic witness. Her attorneys felt they had no choice but to put her on the stand. At this stage of the trial, given the testimony of the medical examiner, the pediatrician from Indiana and the urgent care clinic personnel, the jurors had probably made up their minds.

     The three-week trial came to an end when the jury, after deliberating eleven hours, found Hannah Overton guilty of capital murder. (She would eventually be sent to the maximum security women's prison outside of Waco, Texas.) Overton's attorneys, shortly after the verdict polled the jury. The defense attorneys were stunned to learn that all of the jurors had found the defendant guilty because she had not sought immediate medical help after her son's injury. None of the jurors had been convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had poisoned her child with salt.

     Two days after the guilty verdict, Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency room physician on duty at Driscoll Hospital the day Andrew arrived and the pediatrician who had resuscitated the patient before he was sent to the intensive care unit, wrote a letter to the Overton defense team. Dr. Cortes informed the lawyers that while he had been scheduled to testify for the prosecution, prosecutor Sandra Eastwood never called him to the stand. The doctor wasn't called because in his opinion Andrew Burd's death had been accidental. Dr. Cortes, had he taken the stand, would have testified that Andrew had been a hyperactive child who suffered from an autism spectrum disorder. (Dr. Cortes had studied Andrew's medical records.) This would account for the boy's inappropriate eating habits, obsessive scratching and picking, and head banging.

     In the months following the guilty verdict three prominent appellate attorneys--Cynthia Orr, John Raley and Gerry Goldstein--took an interest in the Overton case. The attorneys filed an appeal alleging newly discovered exonerating evidence, ineffective legal representation at trial and the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense by prosecutor Sandra Eastwood.

     In 2009 the Texas Circuit Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the Overton capital murder conviction. The justices found no proof that the state had known of Dr. Edgar Cortes' cause and manner of death opinion. The appellate judges also rejected the newly discovered evidence and ineffective counsel claims.

     In the spring of 2010 the Overton appellate team petitioned for the right to have access to the prosecution's file on the case. Prior to the trial prosecutor Eastwood, when asked by defense attorneys for access to documents related to Andrew's stomach contents, claimed that such a report didn't exist. The appellate attorneys, when they were given the opportunity to examine the prosecution's file found the gastric contents report. According to this document Andrew's stomach contents did not reveal elevated amounts of salt when he arrived at the urgent care clinic.

     Hannah Overton's appellate team also learned that prosecutor Eastwood had scheduled, for testimony, Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Dr. Moritz specialized in children's kidney diseases and in 2007 had published a paper on accidental child salt poisoning cases. Dr. Moritz had found that a vast majority of these cases involved boys between the age of one and six. Moreover, they had all had been in foster care or were from abusive homes. All of these boys suffered from the eating disorder, pica.

     Dr. Moritz told the appellate team that he had waited days in the Corpus Christi courthouse for his turn to take the stand. When the doctor told prosecutor Eastwood that he had to return to Pittsburgh she arranged for a video deposition that because of time was not completed. Had he taken the stand Dr. Moritz would have testified that in his expert opinion Andrew's death had been accidental.

     Appellate attorney Cynthia Orr, about the time of the Dr. Moritz revelation, received a letter from Anna Jimenez, the former Nueces County prosecutor who had worked on the Overton case with Sandra Eastwood. Regarding whether Eastwood had withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense, Jimenez wrote: "I fear she [Eastwood] may have purposely withheld evidence that may have been favorable to Hannah Overton's defense.

     In April 2011 Cynthia Orr petitioned the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for an evidentiary hearing on the Overton case. Ten months later, in February 2012, appellate judge Cathy Cochran ordered the Corpus Christi trial court judge to hold such a proceeding to entertain the appellate team's assertion that Hanna Overton, an innocent person, had been wrongfully convicted of murder.

     The evidentiary hearing began on April 24, 2012. Chris Pinedo, one of Overton's trial attorneys, took the stand. Pinedo testified that he had asked prosecutor Sandra Eastwood for a sample of Andrew's gastric contents that had been acquired by Driscoll Hospital personnel. Attorney Pinedo wanted to have an independent scientist analyze this evidence for sodium content. The defense attorney was told that such evidence did not exist. Because he acquired photographs of the stomach contents that had been taken at the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office, attorney Pinedo knew that he had been lied to.

    Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek testified that because Neuces County medical examiner, Dr. Ray Fernandez, had failed to adequately analyze Andrew's hypothalamous and pituitary glands, his cause and manner of death conclusions were questionable.

     Dr. Edgar Cortes, the emergency medicine pediatrician who had attended to Andrew at Driscoll Hospital before the boy's death took the stand and described how he had waited at the courthouse to testify as a prosecution witness. "I told Assistant District Attorney Sandra Eastwood, 'I hope you're going to come forward with some other [homicide] charge than capital murder because I don't think this was capital murder.' " When asked by attorney Orr why prosecutor Eastwood did not put him on the stand Dr. Cortes said, "I felt like the prosecution had its own theory about what happened." (That is fine as long as the prosecution's theory is backed up by proof beyond a reasonable doubt.)

     Dr. Michael Moritz, the clinical director of pediatric nephrology at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, one of the nation's leading experts on salt poisoning, took the stand on day two of the Overton evidentiary hearing. Dr. Moritz said he believed that if Andrew Burd had ingested a lethal dose of salt he had fed it to himself. The doctor testified that intentional, force-fed salt poisoning was extremely rare.

     Day three of the Overton hearing featured the testimony of former prosecutor Sandra Eastwood. In 2010 Eastwood had been fired from the Nueces County District Attorney's office after she had informed the district attorney that she had been romantically involved with a sex offender. During the Overton trial in 2007, Eastwood, an alcoholic, had been functioning under the influence of alcohol and prescription diet pills. Her responses to Cynthia Orr's questions were vague, confusing and often contradictory. The witness said that her drinking and pill taking had destroyed her memory of the Overton case. As a witness Sandra Eastwood came off more pathetic than evil.

     Eastwood's former assistant in the Overton case, Anna Jimenez, followed her to the stand. According to Jimenez, Eastwood had made the following comment to her: "I will do anything to win this case." Jimenez testified that in her opinion Sandra Eastwood's behavior during the Overton murder trial was "so far out." The witness testified further that she believed that Hannah Overton should have been charged with a lesser homicide offense. Regarding Eastwood's claim that the boy's gastric contents evidence did not exist, Jimenez said, "She is not truthful."

     On the sixth and final day of the Overton evidentiary proceeding, David Jones, one of Overton's trial attorneys, broke down on the stand. "I failed miserably," he said. "There's probably not a day since this verdict that I don't regret spending more time on this case. I should have done more."

     On June 1, 2012, a month after the conclusion of the Overton hearing, District Court Judge Jose Longoria issued his recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a 14-page opinion Judge Longoria explained why he saw no new evidence that would have altered the outcome of Overton's murder trial. "The court," he wrote, "concludes that all of the supposedly newly discovered evidence actually was clearly known and discussed at the time of the trial."

     Hannah Overton's appellate team, as well as a large group of people who believed she was an innocent mother who had been railroaded into prison by an overzealous prosecutor, were stunned by Judge Longoria's opinion. The imprisoned woman's fate rested with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In making their decision on whether or not to grant Overton a new trial, the appeals court justices were not bound by District Court Judge Longoria's recommendation.

     On September 18, 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 7 to 2 to grant Hannah Overton a new trial. The appellate judges cited problems associated with prosecutor Sandra Eastwood and criticized Overton's trial attorneys for not calling to the stand a salt poisoning expert.

     The Nueces County District Attorney, after losing the appeal, had four options. He could charge Overton again with capital murder, file lesser charges against her, offer a plea deal or simply dismiss the case. The prosecutor chose to try Overton again for capital murder.

     On December 16, 2014 a Nueces County judge set Overton's bond at $50,000. She posted her bail and was released from prison to await her second trial.

     In February 2016 Hannah and Larry Overton appeared on an episode of the Dr. Phil Show. The couple, in response to pointed questions by the host, denied intentionally poisoning Andrew or delaying his emergency medical care. They also denied abusing the boy. The show featured portions of the video taped police interrogation of Hannah that showed her laughing several times during the detective's questioning. She explained that it was nervous laughter. In defending what appeared to be examples of harsh treatment of Andrew, the couple pointed out that he had been an extremely difficult child to raise. Dr. Phil did not seem convinced the Overtons had been good to the boy, asking them if they had treated him worse than their biological children.

     In May 2017, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzales dropped the murder charge against Hannah Overton and declared her innocent in the death of her four-year-old son. Because she had been wrongfully convicted and behind bars for seven years, the Texas comptroller, on March 7, 2018, informed Overton that she would receive a check from the state in the amount of $573,333.33.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Donnie C. Lance's Death Sentence

     Sometime between the hours of midnight and five in the morning of November 8, 1997 40-year-old Donnie Cleveland Lance kicked in the front door of a house in Maysville, Georgia and murdered his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Mr. Lance killed the boyfriend, Dwight "Butch" Wood Jr. by shooting him twice with a shotgun. He murdered his ex-wife Sabrina "Joy" Lance by beating her to death with the butt of the weapon.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder Donnie Lance went on trial in February 1999. The prosecution, without a confession, an eyewitness, the murder weapon or any physical evidence connecting the defendant to the crime scene had a relatively weak, circumstantial case. Besides the testimony of a pair of jailhouse snitches who claimed Lance had while in custody talked about killing his wife and her boyfriend the prosecutor had to rely on the defendant's motive and past bad behavior.

     During his marriage to Joy Lance as well as after the divorce the defendant had stalked, beaten and kidnapped her. He had on numerous occasions threatened to kill her and once asked one of her relatives what it would take to "do away with her."

     In April 1999 the jury found Donnie Lance guilty as charged and sentenced him to death.

     Lance's appeals attorneys contested the death sentence on grounds that the trial lawyer had failed to present evidence of the defendant's serious mental impairment due to low I.Q., brain injuries caused by car wrecks, a gunshot wound and prolonged alcoholism. In April 2009 a Georgia appeals court re-sentenced Donnie Lance to life in prison.

     The Lance case prosecutor appealed this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court which in 2010 reinstated the death sentence.

    On September 2019 a state appellate court denied Lance's request for DNA testing and a new trial. In early January 2020 the United States Supreme Court declined to halt the scheduled execution.

     On January 29, 2020 at the state penitentiary at Jackson, Georgia, 66-year-old Donnie Lance was put to death by lethal injection.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Carlos Diaz Attempted Murder-Arson Case

     Carlos Diaz and Cathy Zappata were married in 2007. He worked at W. D. Auto Repair at Tenth Avenue and 207th Street in Harlem, New York. A year later the couple had a son. In 2010 Mr. Diaz lost his job at the body shop, and shortly after that his marriage fell apart. He became homeless, moving from one parking lot to another where he slept in his van.

     Although estranged from his wife Carlos Diaz refused to accept the fact they were finished as a couple. He resented it when she, to improve her looks, had cosmetic breast surgery and liposuction. She also made him jealous by going out with other men.

     On January 15, 2013 Diaz became enraged when he discovered that his estranged wife had sent a nude photograph of herself by cellphone to another man. The next morning, at eight o'clock, Carlos Diaz asked Cathy to meet him at a Pathmark parking lot on Ninth Avenue at 207th Street where he had spent the night in his van. The lot was a block from the auto body shop where he had once worked.

     As Cathy sat behind the wheel of her car her estranged husband sprayed the 38-year-old's face, head and neck with lighter fluid then ignited the accelerant with a blowtorch. With her entire head engulfed in flames Cathy managed to exit the vehicle and extinguish the fire by rolling in a puddle of water. The victim was rushed to Harlem Hospital's burn unit with second-degree burns on her lips, eyelids, nose, cheeks and neck. Her hair had been burned off to the scalp. Doctors listed her condition as critical.

     After setting his estranged wife on fire Mr. Diaz, in possession of a can of gasoline, entered the W. D. Auto Repair garage. He found the owner, Helson Marachena, the man who had fired him, in his office. Diaz doused the room with the accelerant, but when he tried to set fire to the place, his lighter wouldn't fire. The malfunctioning lighter gave Mr. Marachena the opportunity to escape.

     Later in the day the 35-year-old arsonist turned himself in to the New York City police. When questioned by detectives he said, "I had to teach her a lesson. To give her a little pain. Now she can worry about our kid and get serious instead of focusing on going out with other men." In relating how he felt when he discovered the nude photograph on his wife's cellphone, Diaz said, "I couldn't think straight. I wanted to pass out. I had to do something. I had to be a man about it. She hurt my pride." Diaz described his perception of his marriage this way: "She was my right arm. I did everything for her. I forgot all about my own life. I just worked to support her and to pay the rent. And this is what she does."

     Charged with attempted murder, arson, assault and attempted assault, Diaz was held at the city jail on Riker's Island. A magistrate denied him bail.

     On December 15, 2015 a jury in New York City took just four hours to find Carlos Diaz guilty of attempted murder and the other charges. Three weeks later the judge sentenced Diaz to 35 years to life in prison.

     Jealous boyfriends, discarded husbands and rejected suitors can be dangerous. In the annals of crime men like Carlos Diaz have done terrible things with fire, including mass murder. It's extremely difficult for women to protect themselves from angry, sociopathic losers who justify their acts of violence. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

The Un-Great Escape

     On May 12, 2002 34-year-old Steven L. Robbins got into a fight at a party in Indianapolis with a man from Kentucky. During the altercation Mr. Robbins shot 24-year-old Richard Melton to death. Eighteen months later the Gary, Indiana native was found guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to sixty years in prison. (Robbins wasn't eligible for parole until 2029.)

     On Tuesday, January 29, 2013 Steven Robbins, now 44, was transported from the state prison in Michigan City, an Indiana town 50 miles east of Chicago, to the Cook County Jail. Robbins had a court hearing the next day pertaining to a 1992 Illinois felony charge.

     On Wednesday, after the judge informed Robbins that the old charge against him had been dismissed in 2007 (why did they summon him to Illinois to tell him that?) the prisoner was returned to the Cook County Jail.

     Corrections officers responsible for hauling Robbins back to Indiana, on Thursday, January 31 called the Cook County Jail to alert officials that they would pick up Robbins for his trip back to prison. That's when the Indiana authorities learned that Robbins had been released from custody the previous evening at seven o'clock. Because no one at the Cook County Jail knew that Robbins was serving a sentence in Indiana for murder he simply walked out of the massive lock-up through the main door.

     The fact that Steven Robbins had been transported to Chicago to face charges that were dismissed five years earlier suggested there was something profoundly wrong with the corrections bureaucracy in both states. It went without saying that a major bureaucratic SNAFU led to Robbins' easy escape from the Cook County Jail.

     On February 1, 2013 police in the northern Illinois town of Kankakee arrested Robbins at the home of a friend. He was watching TV. The Cook County Sheriff, in an unusual move, took responsibility for the foul-up. "We let people down, no mistake about it." Fortunately, while loose, Robbins did not commit any serious crimes. For Robbins, the easy part was getting out of the Cook County Jail. Staying out proved more difficult. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Rickie Lee Fowler's Felony-Murder Death Sentence

     Sexually abused as a child and addicted to methamphetamine, Rickie Lee Fowler lived a life of violence and crime. On October 25, 2003, while riding in a van driven by David Valdez, Jr., Fowler tossed burning road flares out of the moving vehicle. The 22-year-old, angry because he and his family had been evicted from their home, wanted to start fires.

     During the next nine days the twelve wildfires that swept southern California's San Bernardino foothills scorched 442 square miles of land and burned 1,000 homes to the ground. Five people died of heart attacks while evacuating their fire-threatened dwellings.

     In 2004, after being interviewed as a possible arson suspect, Fowler was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. Two years later, David Valdez, Jr., the driver of the van, was shot to death.

     Fowler, while serving time on the burglary case, was convicted of repeatedly sodomizing an inmate. The judge in that case sentenced him to three terms of 25 years to life.

     In 2009, after Fowler confessed to starting the October 2003 wildfires, grand jurors in San Bernardino indicted him on one count of aggravated arson and five counts of murder. The homicide indictments were based on the felony-murder doctrine. Fowler, because he had committed a felony that directly led to the killing of five people, was criminally responsible for their deaths. While Fowler had only intended to commit arson, he should have foreseen the deadly consequences of his criminal acts. In most states convictions based on the felony-murder doctrine bring sentences of twenty years to life. No one convicted of an unintended homicide had ever been sentenced to death.

     In August 2010, when Fowler learned that the prosecutor was seeking the death penalty in his case, he took back his confession. Two years later a jury in San Bernardino found Rickie Fowler guilty of arson and the five counts of murder. The jurors also recommended the death penalty.

     On January 28, 2013 the trial judge sentenced Rickie Fowler to death. This unprecedented death sentence made the Fowler felony-murder case historic in the annals of law. Fowler's attorneys immediately appealed the sentence sentence as cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment.

      In December 2020 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the death penalty in this case did not violate Fowler's Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. His death sentence stood.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Cop Killers Rafael Jones and Chancier McFarland

     In October 2009 a Philadelphia judge sentenced Rafael Jones, a 21-year-old street thug, to four years in prison for a variety of crimes involving firearms. As a juvenile Mr. Jones had a record of drug dealing, auto theft and gun possession. He lived in a North Philadelphia neighborhood with his grandmother, Ada Banks. After serving two years behind bars Rafael Jones walked out of prison on parole. He returned to his high-crime neighborhood where, early in 2012, he was shot and wounded by another North Philadelphia criminal.

     Early in July 2012 police officers arrested Jones on a parole violation related to the illegal possession of a gun. While incarcerated in the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, Jones' state parole officer asked his grandmother, Ada Banks, if Jones could live with her under house arrest following his release from prison. She said no. Banks didn't want Jones back in his old neighborhood where he had gotten into so much trouble. She suggested that prison authorities send Jones to his aunt's house in a better part of the city. The parole officer, rather than make the arrangements with the aunt, instructed Jones' grandmother to send the parolee to his aunt's house when he got out of jail and showed up at her place.

     On July 25, at Jones' parole hearing, Common Pleas Judge Susan Schuman set August 8, 2012 as his release date. The judge emailed prison officials to instruct Jones to report directly to his grandmother's house where someone from the state board of probation and parole would outfit him with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet. (The judge wasn't aware that the grandmother was supposed to send Jones on to his aunt's house.) Signals from Jones' electronic device would be monitored in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. If Jones left the dwelling for an unauthorized reason, the parole office in Philadelphia would either receive an email or telephone alert from Harrisburg. Jones, although under house arrest, could leave the premises to look for a job, to complete his GED or to do community service work.

     On August 8, 2012, the day Jones got out of jail, the state parole officer didn't escort Jones from the prison directly to his grandmother's house where he was supposed to be outfitted with the electronic equipment. Instead, the parolee walked out of prison unsupervised. The fact he didn't report to his grandmother's house or check in to his aunt's place should not have shocked anyone. As one would expect, he returned to the streets in North Philadelphia where he wasted no time getting his hands on the tool of his trade, a handgun.

     At six in the morning of August 18, just ten days after leaving prison, Rafael Jones and 19-year-old Chancier McFarland, an associate with a long juvenile record of crime and violence who was currently out on bail in connection with a drug case, were prowling the North Philadelphia neighborhood in search of someone to rob. The two robbers in search of a victim came upon Moses Walker Jr., a 40-year-old Philadelphia police officer. After completing his night shift at the 22nd district police station in North Philadelphia the 19-year veteran of the force had changed into his street clothes and was walking toward the bus station.

     When confronted by Jones and McFarland who had been stalking him for robbery, Walker reached for his sidearm. Before the off-duty officer could protect himself the two muggers shot him in the chest, stomach and arm. Officer Moses Walker died on the street where he was shot.

     Following officer Moses Walker's murder, the city of Philadelphia and the police union posted a reward of $100,000 for information leading to the identification of the cop-killers. Several people came forward with information that led to Jones' arrest on August 24, 2012. Charged with murder and robbery, he was placed in custody without bail. On Sunday August 26 Chancier McFarland was arrested in Alabama.
 
     In June 2014, Chancier McFarland pleaded guilty to third-degree murder to avoid going to prison for life. He also agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of Rafael Jones. The judge sentenced McFarland to 20 to 40 years.

     On December 13, 2014, after a four-day nonjury trial, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart found Rafael Jones guilty of first-degree murder, robbery, conspiracy and three firearm offenses. The first-degree murder conviction carried a mandatory life sentence. 

     Several of Rafael Jones' relatives were in the courtroom as the judge announced his verdict. "We love you," they said. "This too shall pass."

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Harvard Bomb Hoax Case

     At 8:40 in the morning of Monday, December 16, 2013, officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a bomb threat via email. The sender of the email wrote that "shrapnel bombs" were hidden in Emerson, Thayer and Sever Halls as well as in the Science Center. As more than 100 police, federal agents and emergency personnel rushed to the university Harvard security officers began evacuating the four buildings. The bomb threat came on the first day of final exam week.

     Four hours after the threat, after bomb searchers failed to find any suspicious devices, faculty, students and others were allowed back into the buildings. The feared terrorist attack turned out to be a hoax.

     Shortly after the bomb threat disruption that had little effect on students, university sob-sisters sprang into action. In an all-student email from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students were advised that if they felt unable to take an exam for any reason "including anxiety, loss of study time, lack of access to material and belongings left in one of the affected buildings or travel schedule" they could skip the final and take a grade based on coursework to date. (At Harvard, professors not only make it easy for academic slackers they provide them with a menu of excuses. No wonder kids want to get into this school.)

     Because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences email came under intense ridicule, the professors sent a followup memo that required bomb threat affected students to acquire documentation from the school's mental health service. (Universities today have mental health services. In the old days if you went nuts at college your parents yanked you out of school. As a result you tried not to let the place get to you.)

     Later on the day of the bomb hoax, investigators traced the email threat back to a 20-year-old Harvard sophomore named Eldo Kim. The naturalized citizen from South Korea graduated from high school in Mukilteo, Washington. He played the viola and had interned with a newspaper in Seoul. On the staff of the Harvard Independent, Kim's academic focus involved psychology and sociology.

      On the day of the disruption, FBI agents arrested Eldo Kim on federal charges related to the bomb threats. If convicted as charged he faced up to five years in prison. He could also be fined $250,000. Freed on $100,000 bond, the authorities released Kim to the custody of his sister who resided in Massachusetts.

     According to Ian Gold, the federal public defender appointed to represent the bomb hoax suspect, Kim had emailed the bomb threat to avoid taking a final exam in his government class. Attorney Gold told reporters that his client had been having difficulty coping with his studies and the upcoming anniversary of his father's death. "It's finals time at Harvard," attorney Gold said. "In one way, we're looking at the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm…It's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."

     Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in addressing the media, took issue with the "great deal of academic pressure" defense. Dershowitz pointed out that due to run-away grade inflation it was difficult to flunk out of Harvard. The median grade awarded to Harvard students was A-minus. "I doubt that anyone who got into Harvard would fail a government exam," said Dershowitz. "People come to Harvard with major problems. It's not that Harvard causes them." (I once read that professors at the Ivy League schools are intimidated by their students. For that reason they function more like camp counselors than teachers.)

     After confessing to the bomb hoax Eldo Kim pleaded guilty in return for probation and mandated counseling. He was also also kicked out of school. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

The Marissa Edmunds Murder Case

     Just before midnight on January 11, 2018 in Ypsilanti, Michigan a resident of the Ypsilanti University Green Apartments looked out his window and saw two men wearing ski masks walking out of another section of the complex and climb into a car. As the vehicle sped off someone screamed, "They've killed her!" The apartment resident called 911.

     When Ypsilanti police officers responded to the 911 call they encountered 26-year-old Maxwell Flynn lying in the hallway near the crime scene. He had been shot in the chest but was alive. Inside the apartment officers found a 29-year-old man who had been grazed in the head by a bullet. The shooting victims were rushed to a nearby hospital. (They both survived their wounds.)

     Maxwell Flynn's 25-year-old girlfriend, Marissa Joy Edmunds, was found dead in the apartment from a gunshot wound to the head. None of the victims were students at the nearby Eastern Michigan University.

     The day following the shootings a spokesperson for the Ypsilanti Police Department informed reporters that detectives were looking for two men in their late twenties. One of the suspects, a black male, had been dressed in black and carrying a black backpack. The intruders had left the murder scene in possession of personal items and drugs they had stolen from the victims.

     In February 2018 Ypsilanti police officers arrested 29-year-old Orlando L. Whitfield of Ypsilanti Township. The second suspect in the case remained unidentified.

     Officers booked Mr, Whitfield into the Washtenaw County Jail on one count of open murder, one count of using a firearm in the commission of a felony and three counts of armed robbery. At his arraignment Orlando Whitfield pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

     Orlando Whitfield had a criminal record. In 2006 he had been convicted in Wayne County, Michigan of operating a motor vehicle with an invalid driver's license and fleeing from the police. The judge sentenced him to three years probation.

    In 2008, while still on probation from the Wayne County conviction, Orlando Whitfield was convicted in Washtenaw County of sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration. He was sentenced to ten years.

     Whitfield, a registered sex offender, had been out of prison two months when he was arrested for the murder of Marissa Edmunds.

     In July 2018, while incarcerated in the Washtenaw County Jail, Whitfield was charged with possession of a homemade knife or shank. At that time he was scheduled to be tried in February 2019 for Marissa Edmunds' murder but due to motions filed by his attorneys the trial had been delayed several times. During his stay in the Washtenaw County Jail Whitfield had been disciplined numerous times for fighting with his fellow jail inmates.

     On May 2, 2020, a Washtenaw County judge, in response to a motion filed by defense attorney Erika Julien, ordered the release of Whitfield from jail. He was placed under house arrest until his trial. According to his attorneys, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the diminished functioning of the local court system, their client, already behind bars for 28 months, was being denied a speedy trial. The defense team also argued that due to the shutdown they had been unable to acquire information from the prosecution that would help them with their defense.

     Marissa Edmunds' sister, Amanda Edmunds, responded to Whitfield's release this way: "Every [court] delay has been because of him [Whitfield]. He needs to be behind bars where he belongs. It all has to do with COVID-19, open the jail doors and let everyone out."
     After serving a period of time under house arrest Whitfield shed his electronic monitoring device and fled. A local judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
     On June 22, 2021 Orlando Whitfield turned himself in and was placed into the Washtenaw County Jail. Five days later he was found dead in his cell. According to investigators there was no indication of foul play in his death. 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

The History of the Polygraph

      The polygraph was invented in 1921 by Dr. John Larson, a 27-year-old University of California Berkeley medical student with a Ph.D. in physiology. Dr. Larson worked as a part-time police officer at the Berkeley Police Department under Chief August Vollmer. Larson had read a 1908 book called On The Witness Stand by the Harvard psychiatrist, Hugo Munsterberg who had been searching for a method of scientific lie detection since the turn of the century.

     In his chapter "The Traces of the Emotion" Dr. Munsterberg wrote that three physiological events take place whenever a person lies. First, the liar's blood pressure and heart beat increase; second, there are respiratory alterations; and third, telling a lie changes the person's galvanic skin response, or GSR. To measure GSR, Dr. Munsterberg used a galvanometer that picked-up variations in the body's resistance to electricity. (Munsterberg found that when the brain is excited emotionally the individual's sweat glands alter the body's resistance to electricity.)

     In 1921 Chief Vollmer asked his "college cop" to fashion a lie detection instrument detectives could use to detect deception in the people they interrogate. After working several weeks on the project Dr. Larson informed Vollmer that he had rigged an apparatus that could detect truth and deception, an instrument he called the polygraph.

     The cumbersome tangle of rubber hoses, wires and glass tubing was five feet long, two and a half feet high and weighed thirty pounds. The device could be taken apart and moved from one place to another, but it took an hour to set up.

     Larson's instrument advanced Munsterberg's technique in four ways. The polygraph recorded the physiological responses on a continuous graph while the subject was being questioned. This was an improvement over the technique of asking a question then taking the examinee's blood pressure. The second advantage involved the ability to adjust the instrument in order to control such variables as high blood pressure or extreme nervousness. Larson's invention also produced a tangible and permanent record of test results that could be later analyzed by other experts. And finally the polygraph detected and recorded the subject's breathing patterns in addition to blood pressure and pulse rate.

     In the spring of 1921 John Larson tested the polygraph on Chief Vollmer and members of the Berkeley Police Department. The results of these experiments convinced Vollmer that Larson had invented a device that would revolutionize the art and science of criminal investigation. Larson, as the department's polygraph examiner, began using the instrument to solve a series of petty theft cases at the University of California.

     Today, for a polygraph result to be accurate the instrument (vastly more sophisticated than Larson's invention) has to be in good working order. Moreover, the examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line chart interpretation. (Police polygraph examiners have to fight against their own bias.) Subjects have to be willing participants in the process, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, be obese, retarded or mentally ill. People who are very old or under fourteen do not make reliable polygraph subjects.
     In 1988 the U.S. Congress passed a law making it illegal for private employers to use the polygraph as a pre-employment screening device. Police departments and federal law enforcement agencies, however, use the polygraph for this purpose. At present, no court in the country allows the admission of polygraph results as evidence of defendants' guilt. On the other hand, defense attorneys can use polygraph findings as evidence of innocence.  

Saturday, October 14, 2023

How Criminal Friendly Politicians Create Crime

     Legislators, state and federal, are famous for writing laws affecting subjects they know nothing about. That's why so many laws produce what they call unintended consequences. This is particularly true regarding laws pertaining to crime, criminals and criminal justice.

     In 2014, legislators in California passed the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, a misleading title given to a statute that in fact had nothing to do with reducing crime. Politicians passed the law to keep non-violent criminals out of prison. These boneheaded legislators apparently didn't know that a lot of non-violent crimes are serious enough to destroy the quality of life in a community. In this context non-violent does not necessarily mean petty.

     Prior to the 2014 legislation the theft of property worth more than $450 constituted a felony that carried a prison sentence. If, for example, a shoplifter stole ten items from a store that added up to more than $450 in merchandise value that crime was a felony even though each individual item fell below the misdemeanor-felony cutoff.

     Pursuant to California's new law, for an act of shoplifting to qualify as a felony, the stolen merchandise had to exceed $950, and, that sum could not represent the total value of the things stolen. In other words, if out of thirty stolen items, not one piece of merchandise was worth more than $950, the theft was still a misdemeanor even though the total loss to the store amounted to, say, $2,700. Stupidity of this degree can only come from government. 

     Statewide in California, after the passage of the Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act, the rate of shoplifting crime went through the roof. And why wouldn't it? If a shoplifter or a gang of shoplifters got caught they'd pay a fine and go free. And quite often the fine was far less than the value of the items stolen. In California and other states with similar laws shoplifting simply became, particularly for organized retail theft gangs, a profitable business. However, owning a store was no longer a profitable enterprise. And who was to blame for that, the geniuses in the California state legislature.

      California's decriminalization of retail theft led to a new crime wave of what could be termed "organized retail looting." That crime wave hit cities like Vacaville, California. Vacaville, a suburban community in Solano County in the northern part of the state 35 miles west of Sacramento, became vulnerable to gangs of hooded criminals who entered stores, overwhelmed the staff and make off with armloads of stolen merchandise. These so-called grab and dash rings targeted stores in shopping centers located near major freeways. One minute they were in the store looting the place and the next minute they were gone, lost in freeway traffic. These criminals did not have to worry about being pursued by police cars because departmental policy prohibited high-speed freeway chases.

     Since the 2014 passage of this criminal friendly legislation, annual store shoplifting losses more than tripled in the state.  
     The California legislature in effect created a new category of organized crime that has turned suburban shopping centers and downtowns into blighted zones. 

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Meth Contaminated Home

     Methamphetamine is an addictive synthetic stimulant that causes the brain to release a surge of dopamine that depending upon how it is ingested and its potency creates a high that lasts from a few minutes to 24 hours. Meth comes in two forms, powder and rock. The powder can be snorted, smoked, eaten or dissolved into a drink. Rock, the crystalized form of the drug, is usually smoked or injected. One hit of the drug costs between $25 and $80. 

     Meth is addictive because it depletes the brain of dopamine. Once this happens users are unable to experience pleasure without the chemicals. Addicts who try to quit become depressed and in some cases psychotic. The prolonged use of meth permanently destroys the brain and can cause heart attacks and strokes.

     Manufacturing or "cooking" meth is a multi-step operation that takes 48 hours to complete. The process produces toxic fumes and there is always the potential for an explosion. There are a handful of large commercial super labs and thousands of small home laboratories. Super labs, like the one featured on the AMC TV series "Breaking Bad" are staffed by trained chemists who purchase the key ingredients--ephedrine and pseudoephedrine--in bulk from chemical suppliers. A super lab can manufacture more than 100,000 does per cook.

     Amateur meth cooks who operate home labs use chemicals derived from over-the-counter cold, cough and allergy medicines. These shade-tree chemists acquire ingredients such as ammonia and lye from everyday household items. For example, they can obtain red phosphorus by scraping it off matches. The operator of a home meth lab can only produce about 300 doses a cook, enough product for himself and a few sales.

     The vast majority of meth factories raided by narcotics officers are amateur operations. In 2011, drug enforcement agents in the U.S. seized 10,287 residential meth labs. (One of the largest meth lab raids occurred in San Jose, California where, in March 2012, DEA agents seized 750 pounds of meth with a street value of $34 million.) Because of the highly toxic nature of meth production these sites have to be professionally scrubbed.

The Bates Family

     Unfortunately for John Bates, his wife Jessie and their 7-year-old son, the state of Washington didn't have a meth disclosure law in 2007 when they purchased a house for $235,000 in Suquamish, a town near Seattle. Shortly after moving into the dwelling their son Tyler developed breathing problems. Mr. Bates developed a variety of unexplained symptoms and his wife kept getting horrible skin rashes. The family and their physicians didn't have a clue what was causing these ailments until a neighbor, 18 months after the onset of the illnesses, casually mentioned that the former occupant of the home had made his living cooking meth.

     A state inspection of the Bates home revealed that toxic chemicals had soaked into the carpets, walls, studs and flooring. Instead of shelling out $90,000 to replace the contaminated areas of the house, the Bates demolished the place and built a new home on the two-acre lot. The project cost them $184,000.
     The Bates regained their health and the state of Washington passed a residential meth lab disclosure law.  

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Failing to Stop a Murderous Serial Stalker

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010 Mr. Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008 the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Because home intrusion is a violent felony the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years in prison.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012 Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that Miller had threatened to kill her and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, Washington victims of stalking and assault did not get relief even when their offenders were in custody. For a victim of this type of crime this reality must have been frightening.

     Scottye Miller on October 12, 2012 walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of this serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Scottye Miller had stabbed Tricia Patricelli to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed her in the face, neck, torso and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. During a second interrogation Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's dwelling, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, 2012 a King County judge arraigned Scottye Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013 a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, hire a contract killer or buy a gun and do the job themselves. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered in your own bathroom by some low-life sociopath.