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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Readers And Haters Of " Reader's Digest"

According to the writer Jefferson D. Bates, "If you want to find examples of clear, tightly edited prose, you'll look a long way to hunt down anything better than you can encounter in any issue of the much maligned Reader's Digest." The people who hold this popular, mainstream publication in such low esteem are the the intellectual elite made up of academics and the literary and journalistic intelligentsia. These smug, self-righteous blowhards detest anything that smacks of God and country. And they ridicule anyone professing so-called "middle class values." Because the Reader's Digest carries stories featuring patriotism and faith, it appeals to middle class, "middle-brow" readers who also demand writing that is straightforward, unpretentious, entertaining, informative and accessible.  The high-brows who snicker at the Digest, also turn their noses up at genre fiction, instead preferring "literary" novels, a brand of fiction that to the general public is essentially unreadable. None of this would matter except for the fact that these pretentious show-offs have taken over the university, literary journals, and perhaps even worse, schools of journalism. To be sure, no professor would be caught dead with a Reader's Digest in his Volvo.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Eli Weaver/Barbara Raber Murder Case

     In 2009, Eli Weaver, his wife Barbara, and their five children resided in central Ohio's Amish heartland. He owned a gun shop near his Wayne County farm near Apple Creek. Over the past several years, leaders of the Amish community had thrown him out of the church for running around with English women he had met online. Eli would ask for forgiveness, be accepted back into the fold, then get into trouble again with the same un-Amish behavior.

     The 23-year-old Amish man, in 2003, met Barbara Raber, a woman who had grown up Amish but had left the church. The 33-year-old from Millersburg, Ohio made extra money driving Amish people from place to place. The relationship between Eli and his driver eventually became sexual.

     Beginning in the fall of 2008, Weaver and Raber began discussing how to murder his wife. In 2009, they exchanged a series of text messages in which they discussed various plans on how to pull off the crime.

      At seven on the morning of June 2, 2009, one of the Weaver children ran to a neighbor's house with shocking news. Someone, during the night, had shot and killed his mother in her bed. Eli, at that moment, was fishing on Lake Erie. The neighbor and the boy entered the Weaver house where Barbara  Weaver lay in her blood-soaked bed with a gaping gunshot wound in her chest.

     At 11:30 that morning, Wayne County Coroner Dr. Amy Joliff pronounced Barbara Weaver dead at the scene. Dr. Lisa Kohler, the Summit County Chief Medical Examiner, performed the autopsy. According to the forensic pathologist, the victim had been killed by a single shotgun blast to the right side of her chest. Several shotgun pellets were removed from the corpse. Dr. Kohler estimated the time of death as sometime between midnight and three o'clock that morning.

     John Gardner, a firearms expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation identified the death scene pellets as number six shot. While this ammunition could have been fired from shotguns of four different gauges, the firearms identification expert believed the murder weapon was a .410-gauge shotgun.

     Detectives with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office seized two .410 shotguns from Eli Weaver's gun shop. Officers also recovered a box of .410 shells with one round missing. Investigators in the murder house found an amount of cash sitting on a table suggesting that robbery had not been the motive in this killing.

     Questioned by detectives upon his return from the Lake Erie fishing trip, Eli denied any involvement in his wife's murder.

     On June 10, 2009, detectives arrested Eli Weaver after he confessed to helping Barbara Raber murder his wife. She had pulled the trigger while he was fishing.

     That day, pursuant to a search of Raber's house in Millersburg, officers found a notebook in which she had written out a list of various poisons. At the police station following her arrest, she denied knowledge of the murder. She explained the incriminating text messages to and from Eli as nothing more than joking around.

     The day after Raber's arrest, upon further questioning, the suspected trigger woman admitted going to the Weaver house around four in the morning armed with a .410-gauge shotgun. Eli had left the basement door unlocked for her. She said her intent was merely to frighten Barbara Weaver, but when she entered the bedroom, the gun discharged accidentally. Raber's interrogators didn't buy the accidental shooting story, but asked her to sign a written statement to that effect. She refused and asked to see a lawyer. The interrogation, at that point, came to an end.

     On August 17, 2009, Eli Weaver agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. As part of the plea deal, he promised to testify for the prosecution at Barbara Raber's murder trial.

     The Raber murder trial got underway on September 16, 2009 in Wooster, Ohio with Judge Robert J. Brown presiding. Wayne County prosecutor Edna J. Boyle, following testimony from the county coroner, the medical examiner, and several police officers, put Dena Unangst on the stand. Unangst had been the defendant's cellmate at the Wayne County Jail. According to this witness, Raber admitted to her that she had purchased a .410 shotgun after Eli Weaver, on numerous occasions, begged her to murder his wife. Raber also asked Unangst if she knew how long a fingerprint could last on a gun. (Under ideal conditions, 50 years or more.)

     Gun store owner Larry Miller took the stand and testified that the defendant had purchased a .410 on November 15, 2008.

     On September 30, 2009, prosecutor Boyle put the shunned Amish man on the stand. Elie Weaver, now 29, testified that when he mentioned getting rid of his wife, a woman he didn't love, Raber "ran away with the idea." At one point, during one of their homicide planning conversations, she gave him a bottle of what she called "poison pills." Eli said he rejected poisoning as a way of killing his wife.

     On the day before the murder, Eli informed Raber that at three the next morning he would be leaving the house on a fishing trip. He'd leave the basement door open for her. Shortly after he left the house that morning, Raber sent him a text in which she asked how she was supposed to see in the dark. "It's too scary," she wrote. Eli advised her to take a flashlight.

     At 3:25 AM Raber texted, "I'm scared, where are you?" Texting that he was in Wooster, Eli cautioned Raber not to leave anything behind at the murder scene.

     According to the prosecutor's star witness, on June 9, 2009, the day before Eli and his trigger woman were arrested, they had a conversation in his barn. She described the night she killed Barbara Weaver and said she was "sorry for everything." Before parting company, Raber asked Eli how to clean a gun so it looked like it hadn't been recently fired.

     Assistant public defender John J. Leonard tried to convince the jury that Eli Weaver, not his client, had murdered the victim. The defense attorney described Raber's incriminating statement to detectives as the product of fear and confusion. Leonard rested his defense without putting Barbara Raber on the stand.

     On October 1, 2009, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged. Judge Brown sentence the 39-year-old woman to 23 years in prison. Eli Weaver had been sentenced by this judge the day before to 15 years to life.

     Weaver's light sentence illustrates, from the point of view of a guilty murder mastermind, the value of pleading guilty and testifying against an accomplice. Raber's sentence, given the cold-bloodedness of the killing and the innocence of the victim, was also extremely lenient.  

Friday, February 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Destructive Power Of Knowledge

Perhaps we overvalue knowledge and great intelligence. It was, after all, the smart boys who drastically shortened the history of life on this planet by producing the atomic bomb. How intelligent was that? Knowledge is not only power, it's vanity, and it can be dangerous. Advanced intelligence and knowledge does not necessarily come with morality or wisdom. It can, and has, been put to terrible use. Humans have outsmarted themselves into oblivion.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Terry Bean Sexual Abuse Case

     Terry Bean, the 66-year-old Portland, Oregon real estate developer, co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, and a prominent member of an organization called the Human Rights Campaign, had friends in very high places.

     Bean had friends in positions of power because he was a big-time fund raiser (bundler) for politicians in the democrat party. Bean raised $500,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election and shoveled money into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Bean also gave Obama $70,000 of his own money.

     Bean's political money funneling resulted in several visits to the White House, a trip on Air Force One, and photograph-taking sessions with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

     At a 2009 Human Rights Campaign dinner, the President thanked Mr. Bean, calling him a "great friend and supporter." (The best way to make friends with a dog is to give it bacon. The best way to make friends with politicians is to give them cash. Dogs are a lot cheaper and make better friends.)

     In 2013, Terry Bean and his 25-year-old boyfriend, Kiah Lawson, were photographed together under a picture of George Washington in the White House library. Not long after that, the couple experienced a nasty break-up. The fractured relationship would cause both men a lot of problems, problems money can't fix.

     In 2014, investigators in the Portland Police Department's Sex Crime Unit began looking into allegations made by Kiah Lawson that Bean had secretly made video tapes of men having sex in his bedroom. When questioned by detectives, Bean returned the favor by accusing Lawson of using these videotapes to blackmail him for money.

     The Bean/Lawson sex/extortion investigation took a darker turn when Lawson confessed that he and Bean had used the iPhone app Grindr to arrange a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old boy, a tryst that took place, according to Lawson, on September 27, 2013 at a hotel in Eugene, Oregon.

     In late November 2014, a Lane County grand jury indicted Bean and Lawson on counts of third-degree sodomy and third-degree sexual abuse. Following their arrests, the suspects made bail and were released from custody.

     One of Bean's attorneys, Kristen Winemiller, told reporters that her client was the true victim in the case. She said, "Over the course of several months in 2013 and 2014, Terry Bean was the victim of an extortion ring led by several men known to law enforcement. His current arrest is connected to the ongoing investigation of that case in which Mr. Bean has fully cooperated. No allegation against Terry Bean should be taken at face value."

     On September 1, 2015, Terry Bean offered the alleged victim $225,000 as a civil court settlement. In return, the San Diego teen agreed not to cooperate with the prosecution. Lane County Deputy District Attorney Erik Hasselman told the judge that without the boy's cooperation, the state could not go forward with the prosecution. Shortly thereafter, Circuit Judge Jay McAlpin dismissed the case against the prominent gay activists.

     In speaking to reporters, prosecutor Hasselman said, "I think this result offends justice."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The American Dream Of Becoming Famous

Why do so many Americans want to be famous? Do they know that fame will not bring them wisdom, happiness, love, or even money? Don't they know it often brings disgrace, humiliation and misery? Why do they seek fame, and what does it say about our culture?

Thornton P. Knowles

Arming School Teachers: Bad Idea

     What's easier--turning a law enforcement officer into a school teacher, or converting an educator into a cop? In the wake of the mass murder in Parkland, Florida, a few politicians, including the president of the United States, are talking about providing school teachers with firearms training. These teachers, under this proposal, would not be packing heat primarily for self-protection. They would be carrying guns to protect students against armed killers. This responsibility would essentially turn them into peace officers. That's a bad idea because there's a lot more to law enforcement that knowing how to fire a gun. Criminals and homicidal maniacs know how to use guns. That doesn't make them cops.

     Teaching a person how to shoot a gun more or less accurately is not that difficult. But finding the right person to arm, then training that individual when to use deadly force, requires more than a few shooting lessons. Every year, trained and experienced law enforcement officers shoot unarmed people. If police officers can make use-of-force mistakes, one can only image how many teacher cops would shoot the wrong person. Shoot or don't shoot situations often require spit-second decision-making under extremely difficult circumstances.

      Just being a competent teacher in today's environment of jerk parents and difficult students is tough enough. The added life and death responsibility of protecting kids from armed intruders would turn some of these cops-with-a-gun into mental cases. Empowering teachers who are not allowed to lay a hand on unruly students to blow away armed intruders is a formula for insanity. An insane teacher who is armed to the teeth is not my idea of how to make schools safer.

     Every year, hundreds of gun owners shoot themselves, and people close to them, accidentally. Guns have a way of going off when they're not supposed to. Even trained police officers unintentionally shoot themselves when cleaning their weapons, or when practicing at firing ranges. In law enforcement, they refer to these embarrassing  incidents as accidental discharges. Inside a school building, an accidental discharge could result in the death of a student.  

     Those who propose putting guns into the hands of school teachers haven't said how many educators should be issued weapons. There are about 100,000 schools in the U.S. So if just five teachers in any given school building are armed, that's 500,000 armed teachers. With a half million amateur cops walking around our schools with loaded weapons, these places, still relatively safe havens for children, would become less secure. (Studies have repeatedly shown than children are safer in schools than at home.)

     I would argue that any school teacher willing to volunteer themselves to be the front-line defense against a heavily armed intruder intent on mass murder, should quit teaching and join a SWAT team. Teacher-cops will not only make schools more dangerous, they'll make public education worse than it already is. (I'm also against placing armed security guards into schools. If these people were capable of professional law enforcement work, they would be cops. But at least school guards don't have to protect and teach.)

     Bad ideas--so-called solutions that make the problem worse--often arise in the wake of disasters like the one in Parkland, Florida. The idea, the goal, should be to keep guns out of the school, not bring them in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Novelist's Curse

At my advanced age, I still seek approval of my writing. Among my many weaknesses of character, this one bothers me a lot. I fear I will never outlive this vanity. I struggle hopelessly to make my writing good enough to compensate for my failings as a person. No novel can be good enough to alter the character of its creator. I believe that many novelists are flawed, vain people, and while this is our curse, it keeps us writing.

Thornton P. Knowles

A Scotland Yard Detective's Malpractice

     Ryan Coleman-Farrow joined London, England's Metropolitan Police Department (commonly referred to as Scotland Yard) in 2000. As a bright and ambitious officer, he rose to the rank of junior detective, then became a detective constable (DC). Assigned to the Kingston-upon-Thames area in southwest London, DC Coleman-Farrow, as a member of a specialized unit, investigated sexual offenses.

     In late 2005, the detective and his wife were divorced, and less than a year later, Coleman-Farrow was diagnosed with skin cancer. Problems in a police officer's personal life are not supposed to affect his professional duties, but in this officer's case, they did affect his performance as a sex crime investigator.

     In 2010, investigators with the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), in addressing numerous citizen complaints that DC Coleman-Farrow had neglected his professional responsibilities and had attempted to cover-up his failings, launched an investigation of the detective. The internal inquiry focused on 32 of DC Coleman-Farrow's cases during the period January 2007 to September 2010.

     Investigators with the IPCC, in reviewing DC Coleman-Farrow's work in the 32 cases involving rape and pedophilia, found that this officer had deliberately sabotaged prosecutable crimes just to lighten his caseload. In several instances, the Scotland Yard detective had falsely informed victims that their cases had been dropped for lack of evidence. Coleman-Farrow had also reported to his supervisors that victims in these cases had withdrawn their criminal complaints. The detective failed to submit crime scene evidence for crime lab analysis, and fabricated forensic reports that indicated negative results.

     When questioned by IPCC investigators, Coleman-Farrow admitted that he had lied to his supervisors and to crime victims. He also confessed to destroying physical evidence, and to fabricating crime lab reports. The author of the IPCC report described Coleman-Farrow as "a rogue officer who deceived his colleagues and concocted evidence to cover his tracks."

     The IPCC findings led to DC Coleman-Farrow's dismissal from Scotland Yard. In May 2012, a month after his firing, the Crown's Prosecution Service charged the former officer with 13 counts of misconduct in public office. According to prosecutor Mark Heywood, the defendant had "wilfully engaged in conduct amounting to an abuse of the public's trust."

     In September 2012, the 30-year-old former sex crime detective pleaded guilty to all 13 counts of public office misconduct. At his sentencing hearing on October 23, 2012, Coleman-Farrow's defense counsel, Robert Atchley, in arguing for leniency before Judge Alistair McCreath, said, "This was not corruption and not even laziness....These failures were due to poor health over part of three years. His [Coleman-Farrow's] major failing is not sharing it [his health problems] with anyone else, and in particular those he worked for." (It seems to me this officer's "major failing" was letting rapists and child abusers off the hook. One of these offenders had raped his 96-year-old mother.)

     Judge MCreath, before handing down his sentence, said this to the defendant: "In all 13 cases you failed to take steps that were appropriate and necessary for a full and proper investigation whether by failing to take statements or to gather exhibits [physical evidence] or to pass material on to other agencies for further investigation or analysis."

     Judge McCreath sentenced Ryan Coleman-Forrow to sixteen months in prison. In my view, the former investigator got off light.    

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On A Gal Named Nola

In my mid-twenties, I had a five-year relationship with a woman from Weirton, West Virginia named Nola Contendre. Nola possessed a volatile, hair-trigger temper and an inclination toward physical violence. I think she inherited her bellicosity from her father, a moonshiner and cockfighting promoter who was considered the godfather of the local hillbilly Mafia. Three days after I ended the on-and-off-again affair, Nola walked into a ginmill in town called Custer's Last Shot. I was drinking with a large woman I barely knew but was nonetheless deeply in love with. Nola strode into the joint accompanied by a six-inch barrel, blue steel, Model 10 Smith & Wesson six-shot revolver with one of those beautifully carved walnut handles. Although this was an impressive weapon, it was a bit too heavy for Nola to properly control. As she struggled to remove the S & W from her handbag, she squeezed one off into her big toe. To Nola's credit, the wounded woman was still able to free the handgun and fire a second shot in my direction. The bulled whizzed passed my ear into a Johnny Cash poster (it got him in the guitar) hanging on the wall outside the men's room. The bullet sailed into the pissery where it killed a 60-year-old urinal. By then, a half dozen drunks had managed to get poor Nola to the floor where they separated her from the would-be murder weapon. A year later, and here the story gets sad, a guard at the state pen found Nola hanging dead in her cell. All said, she was one hell of a gal. I like women, but as a matter of survival, I never married.

Thornton P. Knowles

An Outrageous Case Of Domestic Abuse

     Patrol officers spend much of their time responding to late night and early morning domestic violence calls involving alcohol, drugs, abusive men, and battered women. (These young officers, mostly from middle-class backgrounds, must eventually develop an extremely low opinion of lower-class citizens.) Constant exposure to the underbelly of American culture is one of the drawbacks of police work.

     On January 15, 2012, at 7:40 in the evening, police officers in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, a suburban community outside of Philadelphia, were summoned to a domestic disturbance at an unusual place. The 911 call had originated from the maternity ward in Lower Merion's Lankenau Huspital. The victim of the assault (her name has not been made public) had given birth two days earlier.

     Richard Lavon Davis, Jr., while visiting his girlfriend, the mother of his child, became agitated when he and the new mother couldn't agree on the baby's name. Davis, who had been holding the infant, laid it in its crib when the argument heated up. After screaming and cursing, Davis lost complete control of himself. The enraged father kicked a rolling table toward the chair where the mother sat. When she rose to her feet, Davis punched her twice in the face, knocking her onto the hospital bed. (I guess if you're going to get assaulted, a hospital room is not a bad place to be.)

     The day after the maternity ward attack, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Wallis Brooks charged the 23-year-old father with simple assault, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years.

     A year after the hospital assault, Davis pleaded guilty to punching the new mother in the maternity ward. On February 15, 2013, Montgomery County Judge Joseph Smyth sentenced him to eight to twenty-three months in the county jail. The sentence included 96 hours of community service, and mandatory domestic violence counseling. (Why 96 hours instead of 100 or 84? And counseling? What kind of person needs to be told that punching the mother of your new-born child is wrong? What will keep this man from punching-out the anger management counselor?)

     In speaking to the press following the sentencing hearing, prosecutor Brooks said, "....he assaulted a new mother and his conduct was outrageous....It's absurd that an argument over the name of the child would lead to this kind of physical violence against a defenseless woman who is just recovering from one of nature's most beautiful experiences, the birthing of a child."

     The convicted man's attorney, Gregory Nestor, told reporters that his client was "....quite remorseful about what he did." (If there's any remorse in this case, it should be on the part of the woman this man impregnated.) The lawyer, in speaking highly of his client, said, "That by coming into court and pleading guilty and accepting the sentence...indicates his acceptance of responsibility for his actions." (Pardon me--but that's one big load of defense attorney crap.)

    The sentence in this case was a joke. If Davis was capable of hitting the mother of his 2-day-old baby, what else was he capable of?