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Friday, October 21, 2016

The Dillon Taylor Shooting: Suicide by Cop

     At seven in the evening of August 11, 2014, in South Salt Lake City, Utah, a 911 caller reported that "some gangbangers" who "were up to no good" near a 7-Eleven convenience store had "flashed" a gun. The three suspicious persons, described as young white males, turned out to be 21-year-old Dillon Taylor, his 22-year-old brother, and their 21-year-old cousin.

      When Salt Lake City police officer Bron Cruz responded to the call he immediately called for backup. As two other officers arrived at the scene, the three young men walked into the 7-Eleven. The officers, not wanting to confront the suspects inside the store, waited outside. When Taylor and the other two came out of the store, officer Cruz yelled, "Let me see your hands!"

     Dillon Taylor's brother and his cousin immediately complied with the officer's command by raising their hands. Taylor ignored the order, turned from the officers, and walked off. After a few steps he placed both of his hands into his waistband as he walked away. "Get your hands out now!" shouted officer Cruz.

     Upon being told for the second time to show his hands, Taylor turned and faced the officers. "Show your hands!" officer Cruz demanded. Instead of complying with the officers command, Taylor said, "Nah, fool." At that critical moment, Taylor made a move police officers interpret as a gun-drawing motion. The suspect suddenly hoisted his shirt with his left hand and then quickly removed his right hand from his waistband.

     Officer Cruz responded to Taylor's hand action by opening fire. Hit in the chest and stomach, Taylor collapsed to the ground.

     Immediately following the shooting, officer Cruz rolled Taylor onto his stomach and handcuffed him behind the back as witnesses screamed, "They shot him!"

     "Stay with me buddy," officer Cruz said to the downed man as he rolled the body to its side and applied gauze to one of the bullet wounds. "Talk to me, buddy. Talk to me. Medicals are on the way, man, okay?"

     The shot, handcuffed man on the ground remained unresponsive as officer Cruz put on a pair of latex gloves and began searching Taylor's pockets and rummaging through his clothing. "What the hell were you reaching for, man?" Officer Cruz asked. The officer shook Taylor's arm and said, "Stay with me, man. Come on." To no one in particular the officer said, "I can't find a weapon on him!"

     Paramedics pronounced Dillon Taylor dead at the scene. The police chief placed officer Cruz on paid administrative leave pending an investigation by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. According to the medical examiner's office, Dillon Taylor, at the time he was shot, had a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent, well above the .08 percent required for driving while intoxicated.

     When questioned by district attorney's office investigators, officer Bron Cruz said, "I was scared to death. The last thought that went through my mind when I pulled the trigger was that I was too late. And because of that, I was gonna get killed."

     Following the police killing of Dillon Taylor, friends and supporters put up a Facebook page called "Justice for Dillon Taylor." The site attracted 3,300 followers. Kelly Fowler, the attorney for the Taylor family, blamed the fatal shooting on a police culture that has become paranoid and hostile to the public.

     In mid-August 2014, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh discussed the Taylor case in connection with the Michael Brown shooting that occurred a couple of weeks earlier in Ferguson, Missouri. In comparing the two cases, Mr. Limbaugh was offended that the media covering the Taylor shooting didn't mention that officer Cruz was black and the man he shot was white. "They are referring to the officer as 'other-than-white,' " he said. In analyzing the two cases, Limbaugh pointed out that unlike Michael Brown, a black who was shot by a white officer, Dillon Taylor, a white kid, "didn't resist arrest. He didn't hit the cop. He didn't flee and yet he was shot dead."

     On September 30, 2014, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, based upon an investigation that relied heavily on officer Cruz's body-cam footage, announced that his office has ruled the shooting of Dillon Taylor legally justified. In a letter to Police Chief Chris Burbank, the prosecutor wrote: "By the time Dillon Taylor drew his hands from his waistband, officer Cruz's belief that Taylor was presenting a weapon was reasonable." This officer, in the district attorney's opinion, reasonably perceived a threat to his life.

     Officer Cruz had shot Dillon Taylor because a 911 caller had reported seeing a gun on a person who matched Taylor's description. When this possibly armed suspect refused to show his hands after being given simple and understandable law enforcement commands, then made a gun-drawing move, the officer shot him in self defense. This raises the obvious question: why did this young man behave in such a reckless manner, virtually inviting the officer to shoot him? Perhaps the answer to that question lies in Facebook postings made by Taylor just days before his death.

     On August 7, 2014, just four days before the incident, Taylor had written: "I feel my time is coming soon, my nightmares are telling me. I'm gonna have warrants out for my arrest soon…All my family has turned and snitched on me. I'll die before I go do a lot of time in a cell. I'm trying to strive and live but I litterly (sic) can't stand breathing and dealing with shit. I feel like god (sic) cant (sic) save me on this one…"

     Two days later, on August 9, 2014, Taylor posted the following on Facebook: "I finally realize I hit rock bottom. I'm homeless and I haven't slept in two days. Yesterday all I ate was a bag of chips and today a penute (sic) butter and jelly sandwich. I can't go to my brother's…I'm not welcome at any family members' [house] or they call the cops. I'll kick it with a friend until they go to bed and I have to leave…Its (sic) about my time soon."

     When young men and women enter the law enforcement field, they probably don't envision being used by people like Dillon Taylor to end their misery though suicide by cop. Police officers who are involuntary accomplices to suicide should not be charged with criminal homicide.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Bradley Stone Mass Murder Case

     Bradley William Stone, a 35-year-old former Marine reservist, resided with his wife Jen, a media analyst, in the town of Pennsburg thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He married Jen in September 2013 following his divorce from his first wife Nicole. Nicole had filed for divorce in March 2009 and since that time she and Bradley had been embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their two daughters. On December 9, 2014, a family court judge denied a petition from Bradley that ended the court fight in Nicole's favor. He did not take this defeat in stride.

     Bradley Stone served as a Marine reservist from 2002 to 2011 during which time he spent a couple of months in Ramadi, Iraq where he monitored a computer screen that tracked missiles. After convincing his superior officers that he suffered from asthma, they sent him back to the states.

     In October 2010, Stone was diagnosed with 100 percent service connected post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time of his honorable discharge in 2011, he had risen to the rank of sergeant. In October 2013, Stone filed 17 VA disability claims for problems that included traumatic brain injury,  muscle and joint pain, sleep apnea, and headaches.

     Following his military service, and during the height of his domestic war with his estranged then ex-wife Nicole, Stone received psychiatric treatment at the Lanape Valley Foundation in the Doylestown Hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder. (Some former Marines with PTSD questioned Stones' diagnosis noting that he hadn't seen combat.)

     In 2013, a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge sentenced Stone to one year probation following his second driving while intoxicated conviction.

     At four-thirty in the morning of Monday December 15, 2014, six days after Bradley Stone lost the child custody battle, police officers were dispatched to a house in Lansdale, Pennsylvania 28 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Nicole Stone's mother, 57-year-old Joanne Gilbert and her mother, 75-year-old Patricia Hill, resided in that house. Police officers found both women dead.

     Bradley Stone's ex-mother-in-law lay in her bed with a slashed throat. Her mother lay on the floor with a gunshot wound to her right eye. The scene of this double-murder was awash in the victims' blood.

     Shortly after the discovery of the two Bradley Stone ex-in-laws, a 911 call was made from an apartment complex in nearby Lower Salford where Stone's 33-year-old ex-wife Nicole resided. A neighbor in the Pheasant Run apartments reported hearing a disturbance followed by three or four gunshots that came from Nicole's unit. Following the disturbance, the neighbor saw Stone putting his daughters into a green Ford and driving off. (Stone dropped the girls off at an acquaintance's house in Pennsburg. They were unharmed.)

     In Nicole Stone's apartment police officers found her lying on her bed with two gunshot wounds to her face. On the bed lay the murder weapon, Bradley Stone's .40-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol.

     At eight o'clock that morning in southeastern Pennsylvania, police officers in the town of Souderson discovered three more victims of Bradley Stone's murderous rage. Patricia Flick, Nicole's sister, was found hacked to death in her home. Her husband Aaron and her 14-year-old daughter Nina had been bludgeoned and slashed. Anthony Flick, Nicole's 17-year-old nephew, in fighting off an ax-wielding Bradley Stone, had lost fingertips, sustained lacerations to his hands and arms, and suffered a fractured skull. He survived the attack by barricading himself in a room on the third floor of the house. Paramedics rushed the seriously wounded teenager to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia.

     Later that Monday, Bradley Smith, the subject of an intense police manhunt, confronted a man walking his dog in Doylestown. Wearing camouflage clothing, Stone demanded the man's car keys. Instead of acquiring access to a vehicle, Stone found himself looking down the barrel of the man's handgun. The mass murderer was last seen running into a nearby wooded area.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, SWAT team officers looking for Stone in Pennsburg,  came across his body in the woods a half mile from his home. He had managed to hack himself to death.

     Neuropsychology professor Eric Zillmer of Drexel University, in speaking to reporters about the mass murder-suicide, said he didn't believe that Stone's murderous rampage had anything to do with PTSD. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ronald W. Brown: The Child Porn Puppeteer

     In 1992, puppeteer Ronald Wilson Brown started his entertainment enterprise, Puppets Plus. (It's the "plus" part of his act that turned out to be disturbing.) Brown performed with his hand-puppets for thousands of kids at shopping malls, schools, churches, and birthday parties throughout the Tampa Bay area. (Serial killer John Wayne Gacy entertained children with his clown act.) Beginning in 1997, Brown, through his so-called Kid Zone Ministry, hosted weekly gatherings at the Gulf Coast Church in his hometown of Largo, Florida. Ronald Brown also worked for the Christian Television Network, using his puppets to warn kids against viewing pornography. (Here's a simple rule: When some clown or guy with puppets wants to talk to your kid about pornography, even if it's in a church, get the hell out of there. If it's on TV, turn it off.)

     The outgoing puppeteer, a resident of the Whispering Pines mobile home park in Largo, regularly invited neighborhood boys and girls between the ages 5 and 12 to his trailer for pizza and candy. (Brown lived in an area populated by young families as evidenced by all the playgrounds near his home.)  He was also Facebook friends with several of the local kids who knew him as the "Cotton Candy Man." This neighborhood comprised an excellent hunting ground for a pedophile.

     In 1998, when a police officer pulled Brown over for a traffic violation, the cop noticed several pairs of boys' underwear in the car. When asked why he had children's undergarments in his vehicle, Brown explained that the clothing belonged to his puppets. (Puppets need underwear?) Whether or not the officer bought Brown's story, nothing came of the traffic cop's observation.

     In 2012, agents with the Department of Homeland Security were conducting an international child pornography investigation that led to 40 arrests in six countries. The child pornography ring, headquartered in Massachusetts, centered around an online chat room where sexual degenerates from around the world could communicate with each other. Ronald Brown, the 57-year-old puppeteer from Largo, Florida, was a regular presence on the pedophile site.

     In one conversation with a man from Kansas named Michael Arnett, Brown wrote that he wanted to kidnap a child, tie him up, lock him in a closet, then eat him for Easter dinner. "I imagine him wiggling and then going still," he wrote. Brown also mentioned a female toddler he knew who made his mouth water, describing how human flesh tastes when prepared in various ways. Michael Arnett sent Brown a photograph of a strangled 3-year-old girl. Turned on by the sight of a dead toddler, Brown replied that this was how he'd "do" the young boy he wanted to kill and consume.

     On July 19, 2012, Homeland Security agents, pursuant to a search of the puppeteer's Largo mobile home, seized CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, micro disks, and VHS tapes containing images of nude children in bondage positions. Some of the youngsters had been posed as though they were dead.

     The day following the search, the federal officers took Ronald Brown into custody. When interrogated, he identified the boy he said he wanted to kidnap and eat as a 10-year-old he knew from church. Brown referred to his Internet musings as being "in the realm of fantasy."

     On July 24, 2012, at Ronald Brown's arraignment, the Assistant United States Attorney informed the defendant he had been charged with conspiracy to kidnap a child and possession of child pornography. The judge set a date in August for Brown's bond hearing. Two days later, federal agents and deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office returned to Brown's mobile home where they removed more evidence from the dwelling. Agents and deputies were seen walking out of the place carrying boxes and bags containing who knows what.

     In July 2013, following his guilty plea in federal court, the judge sentenced the 58-year-old Brown to twenty years behind bars. The sentence also included probation for life if he ever got out of prison alive.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Frederick Harris III Murder Case

     In 1987, when he was 20-years-old, Pittsburgh area (Penn Hills) resident Frederick Harris III joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in psychology. In 1996, Harris left the National Guard and the Army Reserve with the rank of first lieutenant.

      From December 1997 until May 2000, Harris worked as a correctional officer at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, Pennsylvania. In May 2000, he trained as a case worker for Allegheny County Children and Youth Services, but didn't stay beyond his six-month probationary period.

     Despite his college degree and military background, Harris' life began to unravel due to mental illness that included bipolar disorder. In 2001, he was treated at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh where the psychiatrist prescribed a mood stabilizer. By 2004, he was living on a disability payment of $800 a month. In December 2004, at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Harris participated in group therapy sessions that lasted until November 2005.

     In 2009, Harris pleaded guilty to insurance fraud after he lied to his insurance company about how his motorcycle had been stolen. The judge sentenced him to six months probation.

     Harris pleaded guilty in April 2011 to criminal trespass in a bizarre case. After a real estate agent showed him a $500,000 home in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, Harris moved into the vacant house without permission. He stocked the refrigerator with food and slept in a sleeping bag. When police officers came to evict him, they found Harris hiding in a closet. The judge sentenced the house squatter to probation, the terms of which he quickly violated.

     In May 2012, an assistant Allegheny County prosecutor charged Harris with the assault and harassment of his sister Angela in her home. Harris put her into a headlock and dragged her into a bedroom where he punched her several times. That day, police officers arrested him at a Pittsburgh area homeless shelter. Declared mentally incompetent to stand trial, the judge sent Harris to Torrance State Hospital for treatment. Upon his release from the mental institution, Harris pleaded guilty to the assault and harassment charges. The judge sentenced him to seven months in the Allegheny County Jail plus seven years of probation. Upon his release from the Allegheny County Jail, the authorities incarcerated Harris at a state prison in Westmoreland County in connection with his probation violation in the criminal trespass case. He remained behind bars in Westmoreland County until March 2013.

     Harris' father, in 2014, kicked his son out of his Forest Hills home after the 47-year-old tried to choke him. The homeless man's mother, Olivia Gilbert and her husband Lamar, had allowed Harris to move in with them at their home in Penn Hills, a suburban community a few miles northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

     On Tuesday December 16, 2014, at two in the afternoon, Harris' sister Angela called the police to report that she hadn't heard from her mother and stepfather since Saturday December 13. Officers, in response to the welfare check call, met Angela Harris at the Gilbert house.

     From the outside, the Penn Hills residence looked normal. Because the house was locked and the officers didn't have probable cause to force their way in, Angela Harris kicked open a back door.

     Olivia Gilbert, 73, and her 76-year-old husband Lamar didn't seem to be home. A police officer, finding the master bedroom door locked, jimmied his way into the room to find Frederick Harris III lying under covers on the bed. While Harris was breathing and didn't appear injured or sick, he didn't move or speak.

     Paramedics removed Frederick Harris from the Gilbert house on a stretcher and took him to the Forbes Regional Hospital where doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him physically.

     From the hospital, deputies with the Allegheny County Sheriff's Office put Harris in a patrol car and drove him to downtown Pittsburgh to be questioned at the department's homicide unit. The officers transported Harris from the police vehicle to the interrogation room in a wheelchair. When deputies asked him questions, Harris closed his eyes and refused to speak.

     Back at the Gilbert residence, detectives made a series of gruesome discoveries. In the garage deputies found three trash cans containing knotted garbage bags. One trash can contained two heads. Another bag held human arms, legs, feet, hands, and Mr. Gilbert's torso. The third trash can contained a section of a blood-soaked blue carpet that had been cut from an area near the basement laundry room. This bag also held five bloody knives. (A latent fingerprint expert would later connect the suspect to one of the garbage bags.)

     In the laundry room, officers found dried blood spatter and three bottles of bleach. They also recovered a bottle of anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner. Although parts of the laundry room had been scrubbed, a crime scene luminol test revealed the presence of blood.

     Detectives at the murder site found a receipt that showed that the three garbage cans had been recently purchased at a Home Depot store in nearby East Liberty.

     Back at the Allegheny County Sheriff's office, deputies found, in one of the suspect's pockets, a handwritten note signed "Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert" that thanked Frederick for house sitting while they were on vacation. The note contained a PS that read: "Don't answer the door for anyone."

     While questioning Harris his interrogators noticed a relatively fresh laceration on the palm of his right hand.

     On December 17, 2014, an Allegheny County assistant district attorney charged Frederick Harris III with two counts of murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The judge denied the suspect bail.

     According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office, Mr. Gilbert had died from a stab wound to his torso. The forensic pathologist found that Mrs. Gilbert, whose torso was missing, had died  "by sharp instrument." (Investigators suspect Mrs. Gilbert's torso and other body parts were picked up by refuse workers and taken to a landfill.)

     In September 2016, in an Allegheny County court room, the jury found Frederick Harris III guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abuse of corpse. The defendant's attorney had failed to convince the jurors that someone else had committed the murders. The judge sentenced Harris to life without parole.


Monday, October 17, 2016

The Michelle Byrom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1999, 42-year-old Michelle Byrom lived in Luka, Mississippi, a small, rural town in the northeastern part of the state. She resided with her abusive 58-year-old husband, Edward Byrom Sr. and their 25-year-old son, Edward Byrom Jr.

     On June 4, 1999, Edward Byrom Sr. was found dead in the bedroom of his house. He had been shot in the head at close range. Sheriff David Smith of Tishomingo County brought young Edward in for questioning. According to Edward Jr., his friend Joey Gillis had committed the murder on behalf of his mother, Michelle Byrom. The dead man's son said that after the shooting, he went to the hospital where his mother was being treated for double pneumonia. When he informed her that Gillis had shot Edward Sr. as planned, Michelle instructed him to return to the house to make sure his father was dead. If in fact the shot had been fatal, young Edward was to call 911 and report the homicide.

     Edward Byrom Jr. told Sheriff Smith that his mother had promised to pay Gillis $15,000 from her husband's $150,000 life insurance policy.

     Joey Gillis, when questioned by the sheriff, denied any involvement in the murder case. A test to determine if he had recently fired a gun proved negative. (A gunshot residue test on Edward Jr., however, turned out positive. The dead man's son also led deputies to the murder weapon, a World War II 9 mm handgun that had belonged to his grandfather.)

     After interrogating Edward Byrom Jr. for several hours, the sheriff questioned Michelle Byrom at the hospital. The heavily medicated patient, after being told that her son had confessed to the murder-for-hire plot, made statements interpreted by the authorities as incriminating.

     A Tishomingo County prosecutor charged Joey Gillis with capital murder. Edward Jr. and his mother were charged with conspiracy to commit capital murder. If convicted as charged, they each faced the possibility of being sentenced to death.

     In early 2000, Edward Byrom Jr., while incarcerated in the Tishomingo County Jail, wrote his mother four letters in which he exonerated her and confessed fully to his father's murder. According to his revised account of the shooting, on the day of the killing, his father had slapped him in the face and called him a no good bastard. After brooding awhile in his bedroom, Edward Jr. found the 9 mm handgun and used it to shoot his father in the head.

     According to young Byrom, when he was interrogated by the sheriff, "I gave him one BS story after another to save my ass….I was scared, confused, and high. I just started spitting out the first thought that turned out to be this big conspiracy theory. It was all BS, that's why I had so many different stories."

     In October 2000, Michelle Byrom went on trial for conspiracy to kill her husband for his life insurance money. While Joey Gillis, the supposed triggerman, did not testify, Edward Jr., having recanted his jailhouse confessions to his mother, took the stand for the prosecution.

     Michelle Byrom's attorney decided to withhold the introduction of her son's jailhouse letters until Edward Jr.'s cross-examination. But when it came time to enter the letters into evidence, the judge ruled they could not be introduced mid-trial. While the defense attorney was allowed to grill Edward Jr. about the contents of his confessions, not having the actual letters as exhibits hurt the defense.

     On November 18, 2000, the jury found Michelle Byrom guilty as charged. On the advice of her attorney, she waived her right to a jury-determined sentence, instead putting her fate into the hands of the trial judge. This turned out to be an unwise decision. The judge handed Michelle Byrom the death sentence.

     In 2001, Joey Gillis, the alleged triggerman, in return for a lighter sentence, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and accessory after the fact. Upon his release from prison in 2009, he denied having any involvement in Mr. Byrom's murder.

     Edward Byrom Jr. also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Rewarded for his testimony against his mother, he walked out of prison in August 2013.

     In the meantime, death row attorneys working on Michelle Byrom's behalf had appealed her conviction on the grounds she had not received adequate legal representation. In 2006, the Mississippi Supreme Court, in a five to three decision, ruled that Byrom's trial attorney's performance had not prejudiced her case. Bryom's appeal for a new trial was denied.

     In March 2014, the Mississippi Supreme Court took up the Byrom appeal again. This time the justices ruled in her favor by reversing the murder-for-hire conviction and remanding the case back to the state circuit court for a new trial. The 57-year-old had been on Mississippi's death for more than thirteen years.

     Following the Mississippi Supreme Court ruling, a local prosecutor re-charged Byrom with conspiracy to murder her husband.

     On July 15, 2015, Michelle Byrom, while maintaining her innocence, pleaded no contest to the murder conspiracy charge. As part of the plea deal, the judge sentenced her to time served. For the first time in 16 years, she was free.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Ryan Walton Double Murder Case

     Real estate developer Michael Walton and his wife Lynda resided with their 18-year-old daughter Shelby in a $1.4 million mansion a few miles from downtown Katy, Texas, a suburban community of 14,000 outside of Houston. Residents of the Lake Pointe Estates gated community referred to the two-story Walton house as "the governor's mansion" because the 54-year-old entrepreneur had developed the subdivision.

     Mr. Walton and his 52-year-old wife had three other children who didn't live with them. Their daughter Shelby, who had just finished her senior year at Katy High School, was planning to attend college in the fall.  Donald Walton, the oldest, was 28. His brother Derrick Walton was 24, and the youngest son, Ryan, had just turned twenty.

     At five o'clock in the afternoon of Thursday, May 29, 2014, 24-year-old Derrick Walton entered the mansion to find his parents dead on the first floor of the dwelling. He called 911.

     When deputies with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office responded to the 911 call, they discovered that Michael and Lynda Walton had been shot to death. Near their bodies, deputies found spent shell casings from a small caliber pistol. Because the gun was not in the house, the officers ruled out murder-suicide.

     While deputies found evidence of a forced entry, the interior of the dwelling had not been ransacked, and nothing appeared to have been stolen. From neighbors, investigators learned that the couple had been last seen alive at seven that morning.

     A surveillance camera at one of the subdivision's exits showed 20-year-old Ryan Walton driving out of the community in his mother's blue BMW. He was seen leaving the enclave at nine o'clock Thursday morning, two hours after his parents were seen alive.

     Shortly after the 911 call, homicide investigators questioned Ryan Walton's three siblings. Ryan's whereabouts, however, were unknown. Estranged from his parents over some unidentified conflict, Ryan had moved out of the house three weeks earlier. He had also dropped out of Texas A & M University at Corpus Christi. (In 2011, the Walton's youngest son had been arrested for possession of marijuana.)

      On Friday, May 30, 2014, the sheriff of Fort Bend County declared Ryan Robert Walton a person of interest in the Walton double murder case.

     An off-duty Fort Bend sheriff's deputy, at thirty minutes past noon on Saturday, May 31, 2014, spotted Ryan Walton behind the wheel of his mother's stolen BMW. The officer pulled the car over in the town of Rosenberg, a community twenty miles from the murder scene.

     That Saturday afternoon, officers booked Ryan Walton into the Fort Bend County Jail on two counts of murder. The judge denied him bond.

     On July 3, 2014, a Fort Bend grand jury indicted Ryan Walton on two counts of capital murder. In Texas, that meant he was eligible for the death penalty. Six weeks later, at an arraignment hearing, the defendant's court-appointed lawyer pleaded his client not guilty to the murder charges. More than a dozen of the suspect's family and some of his friends attended the hearing. None of them agreed to talk to reporters.

      On September 21, 2016, Judge James Shoemake, pursuant to a plea bargain deal, sentenced 22-year-old Ryan Walton to life with the possibility of parole after 30 years in prison. Because there was no trial, and very little news coverage of this case, the motive behind the murders remained a mystery. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives have linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Mr. Smith legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van  that he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     As of October 2016, no trial date has been set in the case.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Adam Lee Brown: The Pedophile Who Tried to Infect His Victims With HIV

     When 27-year-old Adam Lee Brown was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1990, he was HIV positive. The married military computer technician, while serving in southern California, had picked-up the virus after having affairs with homosexual men. Furious that he had contracted the disease, Brown told his estranged wife that he would somehow get revenge. He didn't say how, or who would be the target of his fury.

     In 1992, Brown was living in the logging town of Roseburg, Oregon. The son of a pastor, Brown became the lay preacher at the Fair Oaks Community Church in nearby Sutherlin. That year, over a six-month period, Adam Brown sexually molested, and tried to infect, dozens of 5 to 10-year-old boys he met through friends and a women he knew who babysat in his neighborhood. Once he had lured a boy to his home, Brown would either drug the child or force him to drink alcohol. He also showed his victims pornographic videos, and after raping them, promised to stab them with knives and scissors if they told anyone. He also assured the boys that if they informed their parents what he had done to them, they would burn in hell. A 5-year-old boy, told his parents, and then the police, that Brown had smeared semen into a scratch on the victim's arm. (The boy obviously didn't use the term semen.)

     In the fall of 1993, Douglas County District Attorney William Marshall charged Adam Brown with 49 counts of rape and attempted murder. This was the first case in the country involving a pedophile who had tried to kill his victims by infecting them with HIV.

     For some reason, District Attorney Marshall allowed Brown to plead no contest to only 4 of the 49 counts. After Brown pleaded no contest to 3 counts of sodomy, and one count of child endangerment, the judge, in December 1993, sentenced him to 16 years in prison.

     On October 5, 2004, after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, Oregon's corrections authorities released Adam Brown on parole. The freed pedophile was ordered to register as a sex offender, and was barred from frequenting places where children regularly congregate. His parole expired in 2020. (Parole, in my opinion, is a stupid idea designed to provide a lot of useless government jobs. The federal government got rid of it years ago.)

     At two in the afternoon of Sunday, July 1, 2012, Adam Brown, now 49 and still a pedophile, was loitering around the entrance to the men's room at a Wendy's in Portland, Oregon. When an unaccompanied 10-year-old boy approached the restroom, Brown grabbed the child, pulled him inside, and locked the door. As the abductor stabbed the struggling boy, the victim's father heard his screams and ran to help. But the frantic parent couldn't save his boy because Brown had locked the door. When a Wendy's  supervisor unlocked the men's room, Brown pushed the wounded boy out of the restroom and locked himself inside. A group of employees held the door closed so Brown couldn't escape until the police arrived.

     As paramedics rushed the badly injured boy to a nearby hospital, patrol officers with the Portland Police Department spoke to Brown through the men's room door. Brown refused to come out, and claimed to possess a gun. A hostage negotiator, following a two-hour standoff, coaxed Brown out of the restaurant. When taken into custody, the pedophile had a knife, but no firearm.

     The district attorney in Multnomah County charged Adam Lee Brown with attempted murder, sexual abuse, kidnapping, and assault. The subject was held in the Multnomah County Jail on $2 million bond. The injured child underwent emergency surgery and recovered.

     Adam Lee Brown pleaded guilty in October 2012 to sexual abuse and kidnapping. Judge Julie Frantz, before sentencing the 49-year-old to 33 years in prison, said, "The crimes you committed are horrific and absolutely unspeakable."

     It's hard to understand why a pedophile who had raped and tried to infect his victims with the HIV virus was allowed, in 1992, to plead no contest to such a small number of reduced charges. Prosecutors are put in office to protect the public, not to go soft on sexual predators. Offenders like Adam Brown should be imprisoned for life. The notion that pedophiles will not re-offend, or be prevented from victimizing vulnerable children through legal restrictions on where they can live or go, is stupid and irresponsible. Under the terms of Brown's parole, was he allowed to patronize fast-food restaurants popular with children?

     The Adam Brown case reveals why the only place for a pedophile is in prison.       

Thursday, October 13, 2016

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, 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, 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 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 Jones' 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 aunt'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. (Job hunting, thug style.) 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 Jones' relatives were in the courtroom as the judge announced his verdict. "We love you," they said. "This too shall pass."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Did Jeffrey Pyne Murder His Mother?

     On the surface, it looked like 22-year-old Jeffrey Pyne had a great life with a promising future. He had graduated from the West Highland Christian Academy in Milford, Michigan as class valedictorian. After high school, he attended the University of Michigan-Flint where he majored in biology. But at home, in Highland Township, Jeffery had serious problems with his 51-year-old mother, Ruth.

     In 1998, when Jeffrey was 8-years-old, Ruth Pyne was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Over the next decade, she became increasingly difficult to live with, and violent. For some reason, Jeffery had become the prime target of his mother's wrath which had subjected him to physical and verbal abuse. In July 2010, after the police arrested Ruth for trying to manually strangle her son, Jeffrey's father, Bernie Pyne, filed a petition with the court to have his wife institutionalized. In the commitment petition, Mr. Pyne wrote: "She has invented a religion that deems all medication a form of sorcery and will not take her medication for that reason."

     Ruth Pyne's refusal to take her bipolar medicine, the cause of her bellicose behavior, created most of the friction between mother and son and led to many heated arguments. Following in-patient treatment at a Michigan mental health facility in 2010, Ruth Pyne returned home. But nothing changed. She refused to take her medication and continued to torment her son.

     On May 27, 2011, at 2:30 in the afternoon, Bernie Pyne and his ten-year-old daughter Julia came home to find Ruth dead in the garage. She had been bludgeoned and stabbed. Because nothing had been stolen from the garage or the house, and the victim had not been sexually assaulted, it didn't seem likely that this woman had been murdered by a stranger.

     According the the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, Ruth Pyne had received at least 12 vicious blows to the head from a two-by-four. Her attacker then stabbed her in the neck 16 times. It was possible that the stab wounds were postmortem. The overkill nature of the assault led investigators to believe the victim had been murdered by someone who knew her well, and hated her guts.

     Crime scene technicians found traces of the dead woman's blood on faucet handles in the laundry room where they believed the killer had washed his or her hands. The crime scene investigators found no blood on the inside knob of the garage man-door which was standing partially open. Had the killer left the garage through this doorway, the door operating knob would have contained traces of the victim's blood. Inside the dwelling, crime scene technicians found no signs of blood or other physical evidence of the killing. Detectives speculated that the killer felt he or she had enough time after the murder to clean up the house before Mr. Pyne and his daughter returned home and discovered the body.

     Since Ruth Pyne's murder appeared to be an inside job, suspicion immediately fell on Jeffery Pyne who had been, as far as anyone could tell, the last person to see his mother alive. On the day of the murder, detectives with the Oakland County Sheriff's Office questioned Jeffery at police headquarters. The suspect, when asked to account for himself that afternoon, said, "She got home from grocery shopping. I helped her bring the groceries in." According to Jeffery, his mother was alive when he left the house at one-thirty that afternoon to plant lilac bushes at the home of one of his former high school teachers. After working at the teacher's house, he drove to his part time job at Spicer Orchards.

     Crime scene investigators, on the day of the murder, combed Jeffrey Pyne's car for physical traces of the murder. They found nothing. A forensic analysis of Jeffrey's clothing also produced negative results.

     When officers questioned Jeffrey at the sheriff's office that afternoon, detectives noticed fresh blisters on both of his hands. When asked about the blisters, Jeffrey said he had gotten them earlier in the day planting lilacs at the teacher's house.  In response to a question about his relationship with his mother, Jeffrey said, "I've never had a problem with her. The only issue I had is I wanted her to take her medicine." At the conclusion of the interview, detectives were certain Jeffrey Pyne had fatally bludgeoned and stabbed his mother.

     In October 2011, five months after the murder, Oakland County District Attorney John Skrzynski charged Jeffrey Pyne with first-degree murder.

     The Pyne murder trial got underway in Pontiac, Michigan on November 16, 2012. In his opening statement to the jury, prosecutor Skrzynski said, "This was an angry killing that was the result of years of living with a difficult person who was bipolar." The defendant's attorney, James Champion, pointed out that the state could not link his client to the murder through physical evidence, and that all of the prosecution's proof was circumstantial, and weak.

     The strongest witness for the prosecution turned out to be the school teacher who had hired Jeffrey to do odd jobs around her house. According to her testimony, Jeffrey had planted the lilacs four days before his mother's murder. This was a credible witness who broke the defendant's alibi.

     The testimony phase of the Pyne murder trial came to a sudden close on December 14, 2012 when defense attorney Champion announced that he did not have any witnesses to present. In Champion's mind, he didn't need any witnesses because the prosecution had failed to carry its burden of proof.

     On December 18, 2012, the jury found the defendant guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder. Judge Leo Bowan had the option of sentencing  Jeffery Pyne to up to 60 years behind bars. He could also hand down the minimum sentence of seven years in prison.

     Jeffrey Pyne  maintained his innocence. The bloody clothes he would have worn when he killed his mother were not recovered. Those who believed Jeffrey Pyne innocent argued there were no bloody clothes to recover.

     On Saturday January 12, 2013, the CBS crime series "48 Hours," in an episode called "The Perfect Family," aired an account of the Pyne case. The segment featured interviews of Ruth Pyne's sister and Jeffrey's father.

     Judge Bowan, on January 29, 2013, sentenced Jeffrey Pyne to a minimum of twenty years in prison.