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Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Miami Beach Check-Out Line Murder Case

     On Monday December 1, 2014, at the M & L Market in Miami Beach, Florida, 58-year-old Mohammed Hussein found himself standing in the express check-out line behind a man with a basket overloaded with groceries. Mr. Hussein, the father of two, complained to this shopper that he was in the wrong line, that he had far too many items to check out. The express line violator ignored Mr. Hussein and continued to unload his grocery basket.

     When Mr. Hussein again objected to what the shopper in front of him was doing, the man told him to mind his own business. This led to an exchange of angry words. In the midst of the argument, the offending shopper, without warning, delivered a vicious backhand that knocked Mr. Hussein off his feet.

     The unconscious victim fell backward and his head bounced off the grocery store floor. Blood immediately began pooling around his skull. As the man who struck him fled the store an employee called 911.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Hussein to the Ryder Medical Center where he slipped into a coma with a fractured skull and severe bleeding on the brain. Back at the M & L Market, detectives viewed surveillance camera footage of the assault.

     On Thursday night December 11, 2014, officers with the Miami Beach Police Department arrested 53-year-old Roger Todd Perry at his home in Palm Beach County. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Perry with felony battery of Mr. Hussein. Shown the surveillance camera footage and informed that several witnesses had picked him out of a photo line-up, Mr. Perry confessed to striking Mr. Hussein in the grocery store check out line.

     Two days after officers arrested Roger Perry, Mohammed Hussein passed away. His autopsy revealed that he had died of "complications of blunt force head injury." Perry was booked into the Miami-Dade County Jail.

     On December 15, 2014, the Miami-Dade County prosecutor upgraded Roger Perry's felony battery charge to second-degree murder. At his arraignment on the murder charge, Perry asked the judge, "Did that man pass away?"

      Mr. Perry's attorney, public defender Elliot Snyder, in arguing for a bail amount the defendant could afford, told the arraignment judge that his client was mentally unstable. According to the defense attorney, Roger Perry suffered from two disorders: bipolar and post-traumatic stress. Attorney Snyder also cited a 2002 Broward County case involving two elderly men who got into a fight at a movie theater. The victim hit his head and died. The prosecutor charged the 74-year-old suspect with manslaughter. The defendant pleaded guilty to that charge in exchange for a six month jail sentence.

      The judge ordered an evaluation of Perry's mental condition and denied him bond.

     Residents at Roger Perry's apartment complex told reporters that the murder suspect had indicated that he had been a member of the Marine Corps.

     On September 30, 2016, Roger Perry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

The Tyler Hadley Murder Case

     In 2011, 17-year-old Tyler Hadley, a sullen, introverted, bizarre-acting kid who avoided eye contact with people, lived with his parents in Port St. Lucie, a sprawling suburban community 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, Florida. His parents, Blake and Mary Jo Hadley, had moved to Port St. Lucie from Fort Lauderdale in 1987 to be closer to Blake's parents who lived in the neighboring town of Stuart.

     Mr. Hadley worked for the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant as a watch engineer. Mary Jo, who suffered bouts of depression, was an elementary school teacher. Tyler's older brother Ryan attended college in North Carolina.

     As a child, Tyler, a polite well-behaved kid, was close to his parents. He tossed football with his father and enjoyed being with his family in their backyard swimming pool. But by the time he entered Port St. Lucie High School, Tyler had become an eccentric, hyper kid who seemed to be looking for trouble.

     In 2010, Tyler pleaded guilty to burglary. He also, that year, set a fire in a nearby park. In April 2011 the authorities charged Tyler with aggravated battery after he attacked one of his friends. In June of that year he got drunk and urinated on another friend's bed. When daily counseling sessions didn't work, his mother committed him to a mental health clinic.

     On July 16, 2011, Tyler made it known he was throwing a big party at his house that night. He said his parents were out of town and that he had the place to himself. By midnight, a hundred kids, most of whom didn't know the host, were in the Hadley house drinking, making out, and smoking pot.

     The partygoers put out their cigarettes on the carpets and walls and littered the place with empty beer bottles and cans. They completely vandalized the dwelling.

     As a friend of Tyler's was about to leave the party, Tyler pulled him aside and said, "Dude, I did something. I might go to prison. I might go away for life. I don't know, dude, I'm freaking out. I know you're not going to believe me, no one will believe me. I freaking killed somebody."

     The friend didn't want to hear this. "Don't be telling me that sort of thing," he said. "I don't need to know." With that the intoxicated friend stumbled out of the house and drove away.

     To another partygoer Tyler said, "I'm going to kill myself."

     "Why would you do that," the friend asked.

     "Cause I did something really bad. If I get caught, I'll be in jail for a long time."

     At one o'clock that morning, Tyler spoke to his longtime friend, Michael Mandell. "I killed my parents," he said.

     "Yeah, right," replied Mandell.

     "I'm being real. I'm not lying to you. If you look closely enough, you will see signs." Tyler and his friend walked out of the house toward the garage where, in the parking lot, Mandell saw the cars that belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hadley. When Tyler turned on the lights inside the garage, his friend noticed a bloody shoe print.

     Back in the house, with the party still raging, Tyler took Mandell to the master bedroom. The door was closed and there were streaks of dried blood on its exterior surface. Inside the room, Michael Mandell saw a leg sticking out from beneath a pile of chairs, dishes, pillowcases, books, a coffee table, and blood-soaked towels. Michael backed out of the room and Tyler closed the door.

     Tyler's best friend listened intently as Tyler described how, earlier in the day, he had murdered his parents. Just before five o'clock that afternoon, in anticipation of the murders, he hid his parents' cell phones. He swallowed three Ecstasy pills, and with a claw hammer from the garage, bashed his mother's head in as she sat at the family computer. When his father responded to his wife's screams, Tyler attacked him with the hammer. Mr. Hadley died on the spot.

     After hammering his parents to death for no reason, Tyler wrapped their heads in towels and dragged them into the master bedroom. He next spent hours trying to clean up the gore using Clorox wipes and a sponge mop.

      Michael Mandell, after hearing his friend's detailed account of how he had murdered his parents eight hours earlier, stuck around and partied for another 45 minutes during which time he posed for selfies with his murderous buddy.

     At two in the morning, some kid announced that there was another house party in town. Shortly thereafter, fifteen cars filled with drunk and stoned kids departed the Hadley house. The stampede caused such a commotion a next door neighbor called the police.

     When the two Port St. Lucie police officers knocked on the Hadley front door there were still twenty kids partying in the dwelling. Tyler answered the door and promised to keep the noise down. The officers left.

     At four in the morning the party was still going strong. Kids were starting to notice, however, that their host was acting strange. Someone partygoer notified Michael Mandell of his friend's behavior that caused him to call the Crimestoppers hotline. Mandell's description of what he had seen and heard from Tyler hours earlier brought the police back to the Hadley house.

     Just before dawn, police officers called Tyler out of the house and placed him under arrest. They discovered, in the master bedroom, the bodies of his parents. A local prosecutor charged Tyler with two counts of first-degree murder. The judge denied the murder suspect bail. At the St. Lucie County Jail, Tyler became an immediate celebrity inmate.

     On February 19, 2014, less than a month before his double murder trial was to begin, Tyler Hadley pleaded no contest to murdering his parents.

     Hadley's public defender attorney, at the sentencing hearing on March 20, 2014, asked Judge Robert R. Makemon to sentence his client to two concurrent 30-year sentences with a case review after 20 years. The judge, however, sentenced Hadley to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Katie Stockton's Secret Births and Three Dead Babies

     In 2004, 24-year-old Katie Stockton and her 4-year-old son lived with her parents in a rural home near Rockton, Illinois in the northern part of the state. After becoming pregnant in March of that year, Stockton continued using cocaine, and kept her pregnancy secret. On December 17, 2004, under clandestine circumstances, Stockton gave birth to a living baby.

     Because she didn't want anyone to know about the baby's existence, Stockton stuffed the breathing infant, the placenta, and her bloody garments into an orange shopping sack that she placed into a white, plastic trash bag. Knowing the consequences of her act, the new mother dumped the trash bag and the baby alongside a road 100 feet from her parent's house.

     Days later, the baby was found dead from either exposure or suffocation. A forensic toxicologist determined that the infant--referred to as Baby Crystal--had been infected with hepatitis. The baby also had traces of cocaine in her system.

     Detectives questioned Katie Stockton about the murdered infant. She denied having given birth to the baby. She also refused to provide the authorities with a sample of her DNA. Without enough evidence to support a court order requiring Stockton to supply the DNA evidence, the case fizzled-out.

     Four years later, Baby Crystal's murder was under investigation by a team of cold-case homicide detectives who considered Stockton the prime suspect. An officer who had the suspect under surveillance recovered a cigarette butt she had discarded. The DNA on the cigarette butt matched the bloody clothing found inside the trash bag with the dead baby.

     Detectives, in August 2009, arrested Stockton on the charge of first-degree murder. Notwithstanding the DNA results, she denied being Baby Crystal's mother. Shortly after the arrest, investigators located Stockton's blue Saturn that had been parked for years in an impound lot. Police officers searched the car, and in the trunk, found the skeletal remains of two other infants. The babies had been stuffed into a pair of bags hidden beneath the spare tire.

     Stockton was not charged with the murders of the two infants in the car because forensic pathologists couldn't establish if the babies had been born alive. Later DNA analysis revealed that the infants in Stockton's vehicle were Baby Crystal's sisters. The three dead babies had been fathered by three different men.

     In February 2013, Stockton, facing life in prison (Illinois abolished its death penalty), pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in hopes the judge would show her mercy. At her April 5, 2013 sentencing hearing before Winnebago County Judge John Truitt, public defender David Doll asked that Stockton be given a prison term of 25 years. The defense attorney described his client as a good person who struggled with drug addiction.

     The defendant, in speaking directly to Judge Truitt, said, "I was in a very dark place for many years. I apologize to those I hurt and ask forgiveness. I'm truly sorry for the pain and hurt they have endured."

     Judge Truitt, apparently unmoved by the murder defendant's apology, sentenced the 32-year-old woman to 50 years behind bars. Without the possibility of parole, Stockton will probably spend the rest of her life in prison. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Mary Whitaker Murder Case

     In the summer months for the past 35 years, 61-year-old Mary Whitaker played violin for the Chautauqua Institution Symphony Orchestra in western New York not far from the Pennsylvania line. She lived in a one-story home outside of Westfield, New York. During the rest of the year the New York City resident played for the Westchester Philharmonic.

     On Tuesday night, August 19, 2014, someone drove 43-year-old Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, 30, from Erie, Pennsylvania to Westfield, New York. Both men, with long histories of crime, had met a few months earlier at an Erie homeless shelter. After their driver dropped them off, Conklin broke into an apartment near a bar and stole several guns that included a .22-caliber rifle.

     From the site of the burglary, the two criminals walked to Mary Whitaker's rural home on Titus Road. With Conklin hiding nearby, Sanford rapped on her door. When she responded to his knock, he said he had run out of gas and needed to use her phone. After she handed him her cellphone, Conklin came out of hiding with the rifle in hand and said, "This is a robbery." A moment later, Conklin shot Whitaker in the chest. She screamed and grabbed the gun that went off again in the struggle. The second bullet entered her leg.

     Following the shooting, the robbers dragged the bleeding woman into her garage where they left her  dying while they ransacked her house for items to steal. Upon returning to the garage, Conklin ordered his accomplice to kill the victim. Sanford stabbed the wounded Whitaker in the throat.

     As Mary Whitaker bled to death in her garage, the two cold-blooded killers drove back to Erie in her Chevrolet HHR. They had also stolen her checkbook and credit cards.

     Upon the discovery of Whitaker's body, police in Chautauqua County, aware that Jonathan Conklin had been in the area, immediately suspected him of burglarizing the apartment and murdering the violinist.

     On Friday morning, August 22, 2014, after using Whitaker's credit cards to buy a flat screen television and some clothing at Walmart, Erie detectives took Conklin and Sanford into custody.

     On the day of their arrest, the suspects appeared before a federal magistrate on charges of interstate transportation of a stolen motor vehicle, carjacking, and federal firearms violations. In Chautauqua County, New York, Conklin and Sanford faced state charges of first-degree murder, burglary, and robbery.

     A Chautauqua County grand jury in January 2015 indicted Conklin and Sanford on charges of second-degree murder, burglary, robbery, and criminal use of a firearm. Four months later, the Chautauqua County district attorney announced that the suspects would be tried together in January 2016. Conklin was represented by an attorney with the local public defender's office while Sanford had a defense lawyer from Fredonia, New York.

     In September 2015, Charles Sanford pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Jonathan Conklin. Conklin, facing a sure-fire conviction, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder a month later.

     In May 2016, the judge sentenced Charles Sanford to fifteen years to life. Jonathan Conklin received a sentence of twenty-five years to life.

     Cases like this remind us that we live among predatory, cold-blooded killers who ought to be behind bars but are not.


     

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The William and Christopher Cormier Murder Case

     Sean Dugas was an active participant in the community of enthusiasts devoted to the role-playing fantasy game, "Magic: The Gathering," a more violent version of "Dungeons & Dragons." The 30-year-old former reporter with the Pensacola Journal News shared a house in Pensacola with 31-year-old twins William and Christopher Cormier. At one time, the brothers had been part of the so-called "Magic community," but had lost interest.

     According to the police version of events, during the early morning hours of August 27, 2012, the Cormier twins murdered Sean Dugas by bludgeoning him with a hard object. Motivated by the intent to steal Dugas' $25,000 to $100,000 collection of Magic game cards, the murder took place in the rented Pensacola dwelling.

     Later on the morning of Sean Dugas' death, his girlfriend, with whom he had made plans to have lunch, stopped by his house. She knocked on the door, and when no one answered, left a note. Over the next couple of days, Dugas did not return his girlfriend's phone calls or text messages.

     On September 7, 2012, Dugas' girlfriend returned to his house to find it unoccupied and, except for a TV set, empty. She couldn't believe Dugas had moved out of the house without telling her. According to a neighbor, two men, four days earlier, had been at the house with a U-Haul truck. The girlfriend, after another week of not hearing from Dugas, reported him missing.

     On September 3, 2012, the Cormier twins, after buying a large plastic container at Walmart for Dugas' body, loaded up the U-Haul truck. Later that day they rolled up to their father's house in Winder, Georgia, a small town 45 miles northeast of Atlanta. They dug a hole in their father's backyard, lowered in the plastic container holding Dugas' body, then filled the grave with concrete. (The brothers told their father they had buried a dog.)

     Police investigators in Pensacola learned that the Cormier twins had sold Magic fantasy cards in Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia. People who knew Dugas told the police that he had recently spoken of moving to Georgia with William and Christopher Cormier.

     On October 8, 2012, detectives in Pensacola asked the police in Winder to locate the twins. At the Cormier house, officers noticed the fresh digging in the backyard. Shortly thereafter, a crew unearthed Dugas' concrete entombed remains.

     Police arrested the Cormier brothers the day the remains were found. They were initially charged with concealing the death of another. Two days later, after a forensic pathologist identified Dugas' body through dental charts and facial bone CT scans, a prosecutor in Pensacola charged the defendants with first-degree murder. Pending extradition to Florida, the brothers were held, without bail, in Georgia.

     In February 2014, the Cormier twins, in separate Pensacola murder trials, were found guilty as charged. In William's case, the jury deliberated only thirty minutes before reaching its verdict. The judge sentenced William Cormier to life without parole. His brother received a sentence of twenty-five years to life.

    

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Michael Marin Poison Pill Arson Case

     Former Wall Street trader Michael Marin lived alone in a $3.5 million, 10,000 square-foot mansion in Biltmore Estates, a high-end neighborhood in Phoenix. The attorney and art collector who owned original Picasso sketches among other valuable paintings, had scaled six of the world's seven tallest mountains. In May 2009, he had reached the summit of Mr. Everest. The 51-year-old had four grown children.

     While Michael Marin had been able to climb Mr. Everest, he had not been able to climb out of debt. Besides falling behind in his Biltmore Estates mortgage, Marin couldn't keep up the $2,500-a-month payments on a second home and owned $34,000 in back taxes. He had amassed numerous other debts as well.

    During the early morning hours of July 5, 2009, flames broke out in Marin's Biltmore Estates mansion. Wearing scuba gear to protect himself from the smoke and toxic gases, Marin escaped through a second-story window of the burning house by climbing down an emergency rope ladder.

     The fire insurance pay-out to a policy holder who was in deep financial trouble raised suspicion that the blaze had been intentionally set, and motivated by insurance fraud. Marin's convenient, well-prepared, and bizarre escape from a dwelling engulfed in flames added to the suspicion he had torched the dwelling. (There aren't too many inhabitants in houses consumed by flames who escape down a rope ladder in scuba gear.) This financially-strapped man was either very lucky, extremely prepared for a fast-developing fire, or an arsonist.

     After fire scene investigators found several points of origin and traces of accelerants at these separate fire starts, the arson investigators declared the fire incendiary. Since Michael Marin was the last person in the dwelling before the blaze, and had a rather obvious motive for burning the place down, the Maricopa County prosecutor charged him with arson of an occupied structure, a felony that carried a 10 to 20 year sentence. When taken into custody in August 2009, the former high-roller and adventurer said he was "shocked" that anyone would accuse him of such a crime.

     On Thursday, June 28, 2012, a Maricopa County jury found the 53-year-old defendant guilty of arson. Just seconds after the verdict was read, Michael Marin popped something into his mouth then took a swig from a sports bottle. His face turned red, he started to cough, then convulsed and collapsed to the floor. Fire personnel who happened to be in the courtroom (it was an arson case) rushed him to a local hospital where he died a few hours later.

     The quickness of Marin's demise after putting something into his mouth led to speculation he took some kind of poison pill.

     On July 27, 2012, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office revealed that Mr. Marin had lethal traces of cyanide in his system. Investigators had also found a suicide note Marin had written shortly before his death.

     In the annals of crime there is rarely anything new. It's all been done before. But Michael Marin's dispatching of himself with a poison pill like a captured cold war spy added a new line to the history of crime. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Team Stomping and Kicking: The Football Player Assault Case

     California University of Pennsylvania, one of 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Learning, sits on 290 acres in California Borough 35 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh. A good number of its 8,600 students come from southwestern Pennsylvania.

     Shortly after midnight on Thursday October 30, 2014, California University student Shareese Asparagus, a 22-year-old from West Chester, Pennsylvania, walked out of a restaurant on Wood Street in the college town. She was with her 30-year-old boyfriend, Lewis Campbell, also from West Chester. He did not attend California U.

     The trouble started outside the restaurant when a California University football player, accompanied by four of his teammates, said something to the young woman that offended her. This led to an exchange of angry words that prompted Lewis Campbell to step in to defend his girlfriend.

     The football players reacted to the situation by punching and kicking Mr. Campbell to the pavement. As he lay injured on the ground, the assailants kicked and stomped him into unconsciousness. As the teammates strolled away from their battered victim, they chanted, "football strong!"

     As paramedics loaded Mr. Campbell into a medical helicopter, they noticed a shoe print on his face. Emergency personnel flew the unconscious man to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh where physicians determined that the lower part of Mr. Campbell's brain had shifted 80 degrees. The beating had caused the victim serious brain damage.

     Later on the day of the gang assault in front of the off-campus restaurant, as Mr. Campbell lay in the intensive care unit, police officers showed up at football practice armed with arrest warrants for five California University players. Taken into custody that afternoon were: James Williamson, 20, from Parkville, Maryland; Corey Ford, 22, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jonathan Jacoma Barlow, 21, from the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh; Rodney Gillin, 20, from West Lawn, Pennsylvania; and D'Andre Dunkley, 19, from Philadelphia.

     Police officers booked the five college football players into the Washington County Correctional Facility on charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, harassment, and conspiracy. The judge set each man's bail at $500,000.

     On Friday October 31, 2014, interim California University President Geraldine M. Jones issued the following statement: "California University does not tolerate violent behavior, and the five student-athletes charged in connection with this incident [incident?] will face university sanctions, along with any penalties imposed by law. The police investigation is continuing and the rights of these accused will be upheld. But in light of these allegations, I asked Coach Keller to cancel Saturday's game [with Gannon University]. Behavior has consequences, and all Cal U students, including student-athletes, must abide by our Student Code of Conduct if they wish to remain a part of our campus community. [Aggravated assault hardly falls into the category of a college code of conduct violation.] At the same time, it must be clearly understood that the actions [crimes] of a small group of individuals are not representative of our entire student body, nor of all Cal U student-athletes. [Then what do these "actions" represent?] I ask our entire campus community to recommit to our university's core values, and to demonstrate through their words and their actions the best that our university can be."

     Good heavens, what a mealy-mouthed public relations department response to a vicious attack worthy of a violent street gang. Where is the outrage in this statement?

     The charges against James Williamson were dropped after surveillance footage revealed that he had not participated in the beating. In response, Williamson filed a lawsuit against the district attorney, the police and the borough.

     Corey Ford, on June 7, 2016, pleaded no contest to assault. He received, in return, a sentence of one to two years in prison. (Ford had earlier pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run that killed a bicyclist in Washington, D.C. In that case the judge had sentenced him to 36 months in federal prison.)

     In July 2016, Rodney Gillin and D'Andre Dunkley, in return for their guilty pleas, received sentences of probation.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Bogus Bite Mark Evidence In The Douglas Prade Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     In August 2012, DNA analysis of the crime scene trace evidence revealed that none of the associative evidence came from Douglas Prade. (The DNA work was performed by the DNA Lab Diagnostic Center in Fairfield, Ohio.) Summit County Judge Judy Hunter, on January 29, 2013, ordered the release of the 66-year-old prisoner.

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

     But later that day, after the Ohio Supreme Court reversed the appeals court re-incarceration order, Prade was released from jail.

     Douglas Prade, an innocent man, had spent 15 years in prison on the bogus bite mark testimony of a junk forensic scientist. Over the past two decades, there have been dozens of wrongful convictions based on bite mark identification.

     Cold case investigators should re-open this murder case in an effort to identify the real killer. But this won't happen because prosecutors won't admit they sent an innocent man to prison.    

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Kim Pham Murder Case

     Just after midnight, Saturday January 18, 2014, 23-year-old Annie Hung "Kim" Pham was waiting to get into the Crosby Bar and Nightclub in downtown Santa Ana, California. The 2013 graduate of Chapman University stood amid others roughly her age eager to enter the club. The festive atmosphere suddenly turned ugly when Pham inadvertently stepped in front of a cluster of club-goers posing for a photograph outside of the bar.

     Members of the group being photographed voiced their displeasure over the so-called "photobomb".  This led to an exchange of angry words between Pham and the others. Shortly thereafter, fists started flying and Pham ended up on the ground being kicked and stomped. Several young bystanders recorded the melee on their cellphones.

     The group Pham had angered included 25-year-old Vanesa Tapia Zavala, her boyfriend, and another couple. When Kim Pham, sprawled at the feet of her attackers, stopped moving, Zavala and her friends walked away leaving the unconscious woman where she lay.

     Doctors at a nearby hospital pronounced Kim Pham brain-dead and placed her on life-support until her organs could be harvested.

     On Monday, January 20, 2014, detectives with the Santa Ana Police Department, after reviewing several cellphone videos of the deadly brawl, arrested Vanesa Zavala on the charge of murder. Officers booked the suspect into the Orange County Jail where she was held on $1 million bond. If convicted as charged, Zavala faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years to life.

     On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, doctors removed Kim Pham from life support. A few hours later hospital authorities pronounced her dead.

     While investigators were trying to identify the other people in Zavala's group, a coalition of Santa Ana businesses offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to their arrests.

     Following Zavala's arraignment hearing, her attorney, Kenneth Reed told reporters that Zavala herself had been knocked to the ground in the fight. Referring to his client, the lawyer said, "Your life is fine, you have a 5-year-old son, you go out one night on a Friday with your boyfriend and then your life is turned upside down and you find out someone is killed. No matter what the situation is, you're going to be devastated." [For yourself or the victim? Devastation is an emotion, one of many emotions experienced by the living. Kim Pham felt nothing.]

     Attorney Michael Molfetta, the attorney representing a member of Zalava's group who has not been charged in the case, told reporters that Kim Pham threw the first punch. Okay. So the others stomped her to death in self defense?

     On January 28, 2014, an Orange County prosecutor charged 27-year-old Candice Marie Brito with murder in the Pham case. To reporters, Brito's attorney Michael Molfetta lashed out against the victim: "Ms Pham has been anointed a saint," he said. In contrast, his client has been "vilified internationally."

     Brito, from Santa Ana, was held in the Orange County Jail on $1 million bond.

     In July 2016, a jury sitting in a Santa Ana court room found Zavala and Brito guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Orange County Judge Thomas Goethals sentenced both defendants to six years in prison. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The David Bowen Murder-For-Hire Case

     The Bowens were an unlikely couple. Forty-four-year-old Daniel, a political ward captain, worked as a janitor at the Chicago Cultural Center. He and his wife, Anne Treonis-Bowen, an attorney with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, were in the midst of a nasty divorce that included a custody battle over their daughters who were five and six. Daniel couldn't stand the idea that his wife, the one with the better job, the one who would end up with the house and most of the marital assets, was about to become the dominant person in their children's lives. She would make all of the parental decisions while he'd be relegated to the role of a visiting ex-spouse. Daniel Bowen considered this a humiliating attack on his manhood. It was the hatred of his wife, not the love of his children, that drove this man to murder.

     In February 2004, Daniel Bowen offered his childhood friend, Dennis McArdle, $2,000 in upfront money to kill Mrs. Bowen. After the hit man completed the job, and the victim's life insurance paid off, the murder-for-hire mastermind would pay McArdle another $20,000. Bowen also offered his friend a cushy, low-level city job.

     McArdle, a convicted felon, alcoholic, drug addict and incompetent bungler with no prospects and nothing to lose, accepted the contract murder assignment. From a man he barely knew, McArdle purchased, for $500, a .38-caliber revolver with a homemade silencer that didn't work when he and Bowen test-fired the gun in the basement of the cultural center. Bowen scheduled the murder for March 4, 2004, a day when he would be in the company of others, and thus have an airtight alibi.

     As murder plots go, this one was simple. McArdle was to shoot the wife after she parked her car that morning at the Chicago Transit Authority station southwest of the city. On the morning of the hit, wearing a ski mask and latex gloves, McArdle walked up behind the victim in the station parking lot and shot her once in the back of the head. To make the shooting look like a robbery rather than an execution style murder, McArdle took the victim's handbag. The ploy, to the trained eye of an investigator, was transparent.

     Although this amateur hitman had worn gloves to avoid linking himself to the shooting, had disposed of the victim's wallet, and got rid of the murder weapon, he took Mrs. Bowen's purse back to his apartment building where he hid it in the basement. A few days later, the owner of the apartment building found the handbag, and inside it, a prescription bottle bearing the murdered woman's name. The landlord called the police. Because McArdle was the only resident of the building with a connection to the murder victim, he became the prime suspect in the case.

     Ten days after Anne Treonis-Bowen's execution, detectives brought McArdle in for questioning. The 42-year-old suspect, suffering from cirrhosis and hepatitis, quickly confessed and agreed to testify against Daniel Bowen.

     In September 2004, while awaiting trial in the Cook County Jail, Daniel Bowen hanged himself. A month later, a judge sentenced McArdle to 35 years in prison.

    The Bowen case is yet another example that murder-for-hire, like ransom kidnapping, is a desperate crime committed by dimwits and fools.