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Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Fear of Kids: Are Teachers Losing Their Minds?

Marie Waltherr-Willard's Fear of Kids

     Marie Waltherr-Willard, a Spanish/French teacher, began teaching French in 1976 at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2009, after 33 years at the high school, the language teacher was transferred against her wishes to a middle-school where she had to teach 7th and 8th graders Spanish. The move took place after the high school French program went online.

     In the middle of the 2010-2011 school year, Waltherr-Willard abruptly retired and began receiving her monthly pension payments based on an annual retirement income of $70,000. In June 2012, the retired teacher filed a federal lawsuit against the school district under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her disability: a pathological fear of young children, a phobia she said had been diagnosed in 1991.  The former teacher claimed that by forcing her to teach middle-schoolers, her employers had discriminated against her by refusing to recognize and take into consideration her disability. The plaintiff's attorney claimed that, as a result of her forced early retirement, his client lost $100,000 in potential income.

     According to the plaintiff, being around middle-school school kids had shot her blood pressure up to stroke levels. Moreover, the little buggers pushed her into a state of general anxiety, mental anguish, and gastrointestinal illness. The civil trial was scheduled for February 2014.

     A U.S. District Court judge dismissed Waltherr-Willard's ridiculous lawsuit in June 2014. In February 2015, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision. (Lawsuits like this remind us there are too many lawyers.)

The Red Pen Alert: Abusive Grading

     The idea that marking up a student's test or homework with red ink upsets kids who don't appreciate criticism, isn't new. (Ever since Mister Rogers started telling children that they were all extremely special, most of them can't handle the sad truth that 90 percent of us, on a good day, are ordinary.) Since 2008, hundreds of schools across the country have replaced the insidious red grading pencils and pens with writing instruments that produce colors that are less aggressive and mean. (I can't imagine a kid who got an F on a test feeling better about himself because the F is written in a nice shade of blue.)

     Education researchers at the University of Colorado published a study that confirmed the theory that marking up a kid's work in red as opposed to more neutral colors caused unnecessary anger and embarrassment. Red ink splashed all over a paper supposedly makes the lousy student feel more harshly criticized. Assuming this is true, so what? What's wrong with criticism with a little zip? If students are offended by red ink, they can solve the problem by doing better work. (Maybe the geniuses at the University of Colorado should come up with strategies for that.) I'd like to get my hands on that study, and in red ink, write: "You people are idiots?" (Is that too harsh?)

Radical Anti-Bullying Advice From a Knucklehead

     Gabrielle Jackson was a sixth grader at the Central Middle School in Moline Acres not far from St. Louis, Missouri. Gabrielle complained to her mother, Tammie Jackson, that bullies at school were making lewd and insensitive comments regarding her large bust. Tammie called the school district to report the sexual harassment of her daughter and was not pleased with the response to her complaint. Over the phone, an unidentified employee of the school district suggested that the 13-year-old student have her breasts surgically reduced. Presumably the anti-bullying expert didn't provide this mother specifics regarding just how small the breasts would have to be to disinterest bullies. Moreover, if the plastic surgeon got carried away and made them too small, kids might bully her for being flat chested.

Zero Tolerance for Paper Guns

     On January 22, 2013, Melody Valentin, a fifth grader in a Philadelphia elementary school, inadvertently took a folded piece of paper to school that roughly resembled a handgun. Her grandfather had fashioned the toy weapon. When Melody realized what she had brought to school, she threw the paper gun into a classroom trash can. A fellow student who witnessed Melody's attempt to ditch the contraband, squealed. The teacher seized the evidence, hauled the offender to the front of the class, and gave her hell for being so reckless with all of their lives. Later that night, the distraught girl's mother found her daughter in the bathroom crying. As a result of the negative attention, some of her classmates were calling her a murderer.

     This example of schoolhouse hysteria came on the heels of an incident in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania involving a pre-schooler suspended for threatening to shoot a playmate with her pink Hello Kitty soap bubble gun. School officers called the incident a "terroristic threat." (See: "The Kindergarten Terrorist: The Hello Kitty Soap Bubble Conspiracy," January 22, 2013.)

     I'm afraid these school employees are so stupid they are immune from ridicule and embarrassment. (Still, I try.) Obviously there are bright, competent elementary and middle-school teachers and administrators, but just how outnumbered are they by all the fools and idiots?

     

Can Problems in Forensic Science Be Fixed?

     The nature of science itself, and the fact that forensic science is a service mainly delivered by the government, makes solving its problems a real challenge. Science is complex, constantly in flux, and often subject to disagreement. Government is slow, resistant to change, and difficult to hold accountable. The difficulty in dealing with the government generally is exacerbated by the convoluted structure of our criminal justice system, and the adversarial nature of the trial process. Today, trials are more about winning and losing than achieving truth and justice.

     Most problems in forensic science can be placed into one of three categories: personnel, jurisprudence (courts and law), and science itself. Many of these problems--cuts in governmental funding, the quality of law enforcement personnel, and what legislators and judges do and don't do--are beyond the control of forensic scientists. For these and other reasons, forensic science in America will continue to perform well below its potential. This arm of the criminal justice system therefore represents a failed promise. The gap between reality, and what television viewers see on the CSI shows, is widening.  

The "Mainstream" Novel

Authors often believe that if a novel can only be categorized "mainstream" that it will automatically ship to stores in large quantities and sell to customers in big numbers. That belief is naive. So-called mainstream novels can sell in tiny numbers. That is even more true in the category of literary fiction. Authors with such labels face a double struggle in building their audience. For one thing, they cannot tap into the popularity of an existing genre. They must build from the ground up, creating a category where none existed before--their own. It can be a tough job.

Donald Maass, The Career Novelist, 2001 

The Immigrant as a Literary Protagonist

During the late 1990s, we saw the rise of a new literary subject: the postcolonial immigrant. In the metropoles of the North Atlantic--in London and New York, Paris and Toronto--the protagonist emerged: a parvenu, an outsider with a sturdy work ethic, a grocer or taxi driver seeking to make it in his or her new home. There were geographical variations, but central to these narratives was the direction of movement. The postcolonial subject moved from the outside in, from the former colony to the metropole, from beyond to the imperial center. Gatsby-like, he or she often tested the outer limits of the American dream--that still regnant myth about capitalist self-making. The narrative arc was that of the arriviste: a story not only of assimilation and the arduous passage toward citizenship but also of accumulation and the trials of "making it."

David Marcus, "Dangling Man," Bookforum, Dec/Jan, 2015 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Death Penalty in China

     In China, the Chengguan are municipal law enforcement officers considered a notch below regular cops. As enforcers of city ordinances, these low-level officers have a national reputation for over-enforcement and brutality. This is particularly true in the way these enforcers handle unlicensed street vendors.

     Over the years members of the Chengguan have been accused of physically abusing hundreds of street vendors. Since 2001, sixteen of these licensing offenders have been beaten to death. In July 2013, in Hunan Province, the government paid $150,000 to the family of a watermelon vendor killed by a Chengguan officer. In China, these ordinance enforcers are extremely unpopular, feared, and even hated by millions of chinese citizens.

     In May 2009, in the city of Shenyang in northeast China, Chengguan officers arrested a 33-year-old street vendor named Xia Junfeng. Xia, a laid-off factory worker who sold sausages and kabobs from an unlicensed street cart, dreamed of sending his son to art school in Beijing. His wife held two jobs as a cleaning lady and baker at a school.

     While being given the third-degree in a police interrogation room, Xia, with a knife he used to slice meat, stabbed two Chengguan cops to death. A local prosecutor charged Xia with two counts of first-degree murder.

     One of the Chengguan officers Xia stabbed had a long history of police brutality. In 2008, the officer broke the arm of a woman he had arrested for selling umbrellas without a license.

     At his murder trial in November 2009, Xia pleaded not guilty on grounds of self-defense. The prosecution asserted that Xia's repeated stabbing of the officers went beyond what was necessary to defend himself. According to the defendant, had he not used deadly force, the officers would have beaten him to death. Xia's attorney put six witnesses on the stand who testified to Xia's beating at the hands of these officers.

     Testifying on his own behalf, Xia said, "He [one of the arresting officers] began to beat me as soon as I entered the [interrogation] room. His fists pounded my head and ears. As I tried to run outside, I came face-to-face with another officer. Right away he grabbed my collar to stop me. He also struck me with his fist...and kicked at my thighs." When Xia put his hand down to protect his groin area, he felt the knife he kept in his pocket. This was the instrument he used to stab both of the officers to death. (Why wasn't Xia searched pursuant to his arrest? Do these officers receive any training?)

     The trial judge found Xia Junfeng guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Xia's wife, Zhang Jing, took up her husband's crusade by publishing a blog. As a result, both she and the condemned man became famous as his case worked its way through the appellate process. Because there had been prosecutorial improprieties at the trial, Xia's supporters were confident his conviction would be overturned.

     In 2011, while millions of Chinese citizens were expressing online sympathy for the street vendor convicted of killing two Chengguan officers, justices on the nation's supreme court upheld his conviction and sentence. "The crime he committed was heinous," wrote one of the justices. "The method he used was extremely cruel and the results serious. He should be punished to the full extent of the law."

     On September 25, 3013, millions of Chinese citizens were outraged by Xia Jonfeng's execution by lethal injection. On the popular website Sina.com, 28 million people had posted messages of support for the man who had killed two members of the hated Chengguan police. Following Xia's execution, Chinese censors were busy scrubbing commentary on dozens of blogs protesting the death of the man who had come to represent resistance against oppressive Chinese law enforcement.

     In China, public support for capital punishment has diminished over the years. Ten years ago the authorities were executing 12,000 prisoners a year. In 2012, 3000 Chinese prisoners died by firing squad or lethal injection.

     

Isaac Asimov on Writing Science Fiction

I can write nonfiction science without thinking because it requires no thought. I already know it. Science fiction, however, is far more delicate a job and requires the deeper and most prolonged thought.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov, 1996 

The Sins of Book Reviewers

There is the critical sin of covetousness, which may cause the book critic to seek fame at the expense of the author whose work he exploits. The closely associated sin of envy leads to the denigration of the work of others for the hidden purpose of self-aggrandizement. To indulge the sin of gluttony is to bite off more than one is prepared to digest, denying others the right to partake. To be lustful is to indulge an inordinate desire for the gratification of one's sense of power. The deadly sin of anger leads to the loss of one's composure and sense of balance during the inevitable exchanges of differing opinion. The deadly sin of sloth is to repeat accepted lies about an author or body of work because the critic is too lazy to dig out the truth.

Carlos Baker in Opinions and Perspectives From "The New York Times Book Review," edited by Francis Brown, 1964 

The Locard Exchange Principle in Forensic Science

     The theory that a criminal perpetrator leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime, and takes a piece of the crime site with him, was postulated in 1911 by Dr. Edmund Locard in Lyon, France. Referred to as the Locard Exchange Principle, this concept, along with the idea of interpreting physical evidence to reconstruct what took place at the site of a criminal act, is the basic rationale behind crime scene investigation. The term "associative evidence" describes items that, pursuant to the Locard Principle, can connect a suspect to the scene of an offense. 

America's First Bomb Murder Case

The earliest case which I have found of the use of a bomb to commit murder was in 1854, when William Arrison sent one to the head of an asylum where he had been confined.

Thomas M. McDade, The Annals of Murder, 1961

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Constitutional Right to Give Your Kid a Stupid Name

     Generally, because of the First Amendment right of free speech, there is nothing the government can do to stop a parent from giving a kid a weird and arguably stupid name. The only remedy for victims of bad names is to legally correct the problem when they become adults. Recent examples of ridiculous names include Ruger, Irelynd, Blaze, Cinsere, D'Artagnan, Abeus, Troolio, and Dusk. (I once had a student named Misty Dawn. For some reason, movie stars have a tendency to to burden their children with bad names.)

     Several years ago in New Jersey, the parents of a 3-year-old they had named Adolph Hitler Campbell, sued a bakery for refusing to write that name on the boy's birthday cake. While the bakery won the suit, the state of New Jersey did not have the authority to have little Adolph Hitler re-named.

     If you can name an innocent child Adolph Hitler, you can pretty much name a kid anything you want. There are, however, a few limitations to this right. In most states a name cannot be an Arabic number, an obscenity, or a symbol. Names that are extremely long are also forbidden. So, could a mother lawfully name her kid Promiscuous or Fecal? I don't know, probably.

     Jaleesa Martin, a resident of Newport, Tennessee, a town of 7,000 in the rural foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains, gave birth to a boy in January 2013. The boy's father, a man named McCullough, wanted his son to have his last name. The mother wanted to give the child her last name. The couple did agree, however, on the baby's first name--Messiah. (Good heavens.)

     To settle this domestic dispute, Jaleesa Martin, in the summer of 2013, asked child support magistrate Lu Anna Ballew to approve the name Messiah DeShawn Martin. Following the hearing in August 2013, Magistrate Ballew ordered the parents to name their child Martin DeShawn McCullough.

     The magistrate said she disapproved of the child's first name because "the word 'messiah' is a title and it's a title that has been earned by one person and that person is Jesus Christ." Moreover, Ballew reasoned, that first name "could put him [the boy] at odds with a lot of people, and at this point he has no choice in what his name is. (What kid does have a choice in this matter?)

     In announcing that she was appealing the magistrate's decision, Jaleesa Martin told reporters that "I was shocked. I never intended on naming my son Messiah because it means God, and I didn't think a judge could make me change my boy's name because of her religious beliefs." (The mother could have pointed out that in 2012, more babies were named Messiah than Donald, Philip, Bruce, or Gary.)

     On September 18, 2013, Judge Satan Forgety (just kidding, his first name is Telford), overturned the magistrate's ruling. Pursuant to an agreement reached by the parents, the kid's name was changed to Messiah DeShawn McCullough. (The boy had siblings named Micah and Mason.)

     While Judge Forgety's ruling was a good day for the First Amendment, I'm not sure it was a good day for little Messiah.  

Story Versus Plot

Let us define a plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. "The king died and then the queen died" is a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king." This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is a story we say, "and then?" If it is a plot we ask "why?" That is the fundamental difference between these to aspects of the novel.

E. M. Forster (1879-1970) Aspects of the Novel, 1927

Discussing Writing Works-in-Progress

I find it helps a lot to talk to friends or editors immediately after I return from a reporting trip. It puts me in a storytelling mode. Even though I'm less preoccupied with producing a seamless narrative then I used to be, I do feel that narrative energy is crucial to distinguishing a story from a research report. When you are telling a story to a live human being [as apposed to a reader] you get a sense, immediately, of what people respond to. It gets you outside of your own head. And often people ask questions that I haven't thought of--questions that force me to look at the reporting in a new way.

Ron Rosenbaum, in Robert S. Boynton's The New Journalism, 2005 [Most writers of fiction do not discuss works-in-progress.] 

A Stupid College Course

Lady Gaga may not have much class but now there is a class on her. The University of South Carolina is offering a class called Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame. Mathieu Deflem, the professor teaching the course describes it as aiming to "unravel some of the sociologically relevant dimensions of the fame of Lady Gaga with respect to her music, videos, fashion, and other endeavors." [No wonder sociology majors end up working at Walmart or in the mall.]

Michael Snyder, "20 Completely Ridiculous College Courses Offered at U. S. Universities," theeconomiccollapseblog.com, June 5, 2013 

Who Cares About Black Murderers?

Are you white? Do you pay attention to black murderers? It must be because you're a racist. Wait, you don't pay attention to black murderers? It's because you are a racist. Why aren't you paying attention to black murderers? You racist.

Daniel Greenfield, "Washington Post Claims White People are Racist for Not Caring About Motives of Black Murderers," frontpagemag.com, September 22, 2013

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Killer Boobs: Criminal Suffocation by Breasts

     In April 2010, Claire Smedley from Blackpool, England told a British newspaper reporter that she had nearly killed her boyfriend with her size 40LL breasts. (While I know bullet calibers, I have no idea what 40LLs look like other than they are big.) With her boyfriend Steven's face buried in her super-bust, Claire misinterpreted his flailing for oxygen as sexual excitement. After barely escaping breast asphyxiation, Steven ended the relationship and vowed only to date flat-chested woman. (Just kidding.)

     In Germany, a lawyer named Tim Schmidt claimed that his girlfriend, a woman armed with a pair of 38DDs attempted to suffocate him by breast. Mr. Schmidt described his near-death experience to a German newspaper reporter: "I asked her why she wanted to smother me to death with her breasts. She told me: 'Pleasure--I wanted your death to be as pleasurable as possible.' " (Really? I can't image, as I'm fighting for my last breath, thinking, these babies are nice.)

     Ambulance personnel and Snohomish County sheriff's deputies, shortly after midnight on Saturday, January 12, 2013, responded to a 911 domestic disturbance call from a mobile home in the Airport Inn Trailer Park outside Everett, Washington. Residents Donna Lange and her boyfriend (who was not named) had been drinking alcohol and smoking pot all night with a man and two other women. The 51-year-old Lange and her boyfriend had gotten into a fight. The fight escalated and moved to the back of the trailer house. At some point, Lange allegedly threw the 5-foot, 7-inch, 175 pound man to the floor. The 5-foot, 6-inch, 195 pound Lange then climbed on top of the downed drunk and passed out. The victim lay trapped under her body with his face buried in her breasts. (I'm not making this up.)

     When the police and the medics stormed into the trailer, they found the boyfriend still lying on the floor. He was not breathing. In his hands were clumps of Lange's hair. CPR didn't help, and upon arrival at the Swedish Hospital in Edmonds, medical personnel pronounced the 50-year-old boyfriend dead. Cause of death: suffocation.

     Questioned at the hospital, Donna Lange told police officers that she had no knowledge how her boyfriend had died. A few days later, a Snohomish County prosecutor charged Donna Lange with second-degree manslaughter. (A lesser homicide charge involving an accidental death caused by reckless behavior, or during the commission of a crime that was not a felony.) If convicted, Lange could be sentenced to a maximum five years in prison. (I can find no record that the prosecution went through with this case. I suppose the charges were dropped or Lange pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined or put on probation. Any update would be appreciated.)

     Just when you think there is nothing new in the world of deviant behavior or unnatural death, a case like this comes along. 

Good Interview Subjects

I hate writing about anyone who is familiar with the press or has a "story." I like to write about people who don't necessarily see what their story is, or what my interest might be. I like subjects who really know how to enjoy life or are immersed in whatever they are doing fully.

Adrian Nicole Leblanc in Robert S. Boynton's The New Journalism, 2005

Writing as a Process of Discovery

Many people think that writers are wise men who can impart to them the truth or some profound philosophy of life. It is not so. A writer is a skilled craftsman who discovers things along with the reader, and what you do with a good writer is you share the search; you are not being imparted wisdom, or if you are being imparted wisdom, it's a wisdom that came to him just as it came to you reading it.

Shelby Foote in Conversations with Shelby Foote (1989) by William C. Carter 

The Intimidation Effect of Gratuitous Violence

     Demonstrations of the ability to kill, including killing innocent people, is a common entry test in criminal or violent illegal organizations....It is also used to induce fear. Members of the Aryan Brotherhood, an infamous U. S. prison gang, when entering a new prison would often carry out a demonstration killing or stabbing in order to terrorize the inmate population....

     Going from fact to fiction, in The Long Goodbye, a film by the late Robert Altman based on Raymond Chandler's novel, a gangster hits his girlfriend with a soda bottle and then snarls at Philip Marlowe: "Now that's someone I love. Think what could happen to you."

Diego Gambetta, Codes of the Underworld, 2009

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Pastor Danny Kirk Murder Case

     At eleven o'clock on Monday morning, October 29, 2012, in Forest Hill, a suburban town outside of Fort Worth, Texas, Derrick Birdow crashed his Ford Crown Victoria into the Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church. The 850-member congregation was founded in 1995 by Reverend Danny Kirk, a former football star at East Texas State University.

     Shortly after the sedan smashed into the brick building, the 53-year-old pastor came out of the church to investigate the source of the commotion. He encountered 33-year-old Birdow who, after plowing into the structure, climbed out of his car apparently unhurt. With no warning, Birdow shoved Pastor Kirk against the car and began punching him in the head.

     John Whitaker, a church maintenance employee, when he saw a man punching the pastor, ran outside to help him. While Whitaker was able to punch the attacker several times, his blows didn't faze Birdow who broke away from the altercation and fled into the church with the pastor and the janiter in pursuit.

     The church secretary, aware that a crazy man had plowed his car into the building, had attacked the pastor, and was now inside the church, locked herself in her office and called 911. "My pastor is bleeding, he's been attacked," she said. "I'm not going out there. I need help real fast. Send policemen. I do need an ambulance."

     The 911 dispatcher asked, "Does your pastor know him?"

     "I have no idea," answered the frightened secretary.

     Inside the church, Derrick Birdow ran to the music room where he grabbed an electric guitar. As John Whitaker turned a corner in the hallway, Birdow used the instrument to blindside him with two blows to the head. Seriously injured, Whitaker went down. Birdow then began beating Pastor Kirk with the guitar, turning the scene into a blood-bath.

     When officers with the Forest Hill Police Department burst into the church, they saw Birdow, covered in the minister's blood, beating him to death with the church musical instrument. One of the officers, through the use of a taser gun, subdued the crazed attacker enough to slap on the handcuffs. As the police hauled the violent intruder to a patrol car, he continued to resist. After placing the suspect into the back of the cruiser and returning to the church, the officers realized they had not arrived in time to save Reverend Danny Kirk. Derrick Birdow had beaten the pastor to death.  

     A short time later, a police officer checking on Birdow in the back of the patrol car, found him unresponsive. Paramedics arrived at the scene, couldn't find a pulse, and rushed him to the John Peter Smith Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

     In 2004,  a Tarrant County judge sentenced Derrick Birdow to a five-year prison sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Birdow had also been convicted in the county for the possession of controlled substances, DUI, and charges related to domestic violence. According to one of this man's relatives, Birdow had been having some "issues," and he hadn't "been himself." Birdow had also "been going through some stuff. He's not a happy dude." (Well, that explains everything.) Derrick Birdow was not a member of Pastor Kirk's congregation, but his children may have attended the church. It is not known if Reverend Kirk and his killer were acquainted.

      In February 2013, Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani ruled that Derrick Birdow had died of PCP ingestion.

     There should be no place more peaceful on a Monday morning in suburban Fort Worth than a Baptist church. But in America, when it comes to mayhem and murder, no place is off-limits. Nevertheless, the beating death of a Baptist minister at his own church by a man wielding an electric guitar, even by U.S. standards of drug-addled crime and mental illness, is more than unusual.


Science and Technical Writing

     Take a class of writing students in a liberal arts college and assign them to write about some aspect of science, and a pitiful moan will go around the room. "No! Not science!" the moan says. The students have a common affliction: fear of science. They were told at an early age by a chemistry or a physics teacher that they don't have "a head for science."

     Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you'll see something close to panic. "No! Don't make us write!" they say. They also have a common affliction: fear of writing. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don't have "a gift or words."

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1976 

Joseph Wambaugh on Writing Narrative Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, obviously I was not there when the events occurred. I write in a dramatic style--that is, I employ lots of dialogue. I describe feelings. I describe how the events must have taken place. I invent probable dialogue or a least possible dialogue based upon all of the research that I do.

Joseph Wambaugh in Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Signs a Suspect is Lying

     A lying suspect [under interrogation] will speak in fragmented or incomplete sentences such as "It's important that...." He also may feign a memory failure when confronted with a probing question or in responding to a direct accusation of lying. The person will respond with a half-lie, such as "I don't remember," "As far as I know," or "I don't recall;" or, the person my try to bolster his answer with such phrases as "To be perfectly honest with you," or "To be quite frank." [When politicians speak, they are always being "frank."]

     The more sophisticated liars may use the same type of evasions, but they usually plan beforehand so that their answers include a protective verbal coating, such as: "At this point in time," If I recall correctly," "It is my understanding," " If my memory serves me right," or "I may be mistaken but...." By using these tactics, lying suspects seek to establish an "escape hatch" rather than risk telling an outright lie.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Challenging Fingerprint Experts

     During the first ninety years of fingerprint history, defense attorneys whose clients' latent fingerprints were found as the scenes of crimes had one option--plead them guilty in return for a lighter sentence. No one considered questioning the credibility or competence of a fingerprint expert, and no one dared challenge the scientific reliability of fingerprint identification. Fingerprints either matched or they didn't. There was nothing to challenge.

     Those days are over. Since 2000, there have been numerous cases of latent fingerprint misidentification in the United States and Europe. As it turns out, many fingerprint experts in the United States are undertrained, dishonest, and biased in favor of the police. Most of the nation's competent examiners are overworked due to crime lab budget cuts. Today, it is not unusual for a criminal trial to feature dueling fingerprint experts. This is not good for forensic science, or the criminal justice system.   

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Brinda Sue McCoy Attempted Suicide By Cop Case

     Brinda Sue McCoy, a 48-year-old registered nurse, lived with her husband Frank and their 5 children in Cypress, California, a suburban town of 47,000 in Orange County. Frank McCoy, a former Cypress Councilman and commander with the Long Beach Police Department, was chief of police in Oceanside, a southern California city of 174,000. Frank McCoy had been chief of the 260-member department since 2006. His wife Brinda worked at Hoag Hospital in the Orange county town of Newport.

     At seven in the evening of December 16, 2010, Brinda, while alone in her house and feeling "overwhelmed and distraught," called friends and relatives to inform them of what songs to play at her funeral. Earlier in the day she had argued with her husband and her son.

     Under the influence of prescription medicine to calm her down, and a few martinis, Brinda called 911 for "police assistance." She had recently read a news account about police in another town killing a man wielding a garden hose nozzle. She thought she might be able to get the local police to kill her. Since this would end her suffering, she thought her death would be a relief to friends and family.

     When members of the Cypress Police Department responded to the call, Brinda refused to come out of the house. During the standoff, the distraught woman appeared at a window with a pistol in her hand. She pointed the gun at her head, at the ceiling, then at the police outside. After being warned that if she discharged the gun police officers could get hurt, Brinda fired a shot out the window in the direction of police officers positioned behind a parked pickup truck. The police did not respond in kind. Twenty minutes later, she fired again.

     About an hour after the shootings, the police talked Brinda out of her house. As she crawled out the front door, members of a SWAT team subdued her with a beanbag gun.

     Following 72 hours of observation at a local hospital, police took Brinda McCoy into custody. She posted her $250,000 bail and was released.

     Charged with five counts of police assault with a firearm, felonies that could send her to prison for 30 years, McCoy went on trial in an Orange County court on May 24, 2012. Twenty-five days later, after the defendant testified on her own behalf for two days, the jury, after deliberating 5 hours, found Brinda McCoy guilty on all counts. She would await her September 10 sentencing under house arrest.

     In 2011, the police in the United States shot 50 women, killing about half of them. Most of these women were armed with knives, and had histories of mental illness. Most of them, like Brinda McCoy, did not have criminal records. Many of these police involved shootings were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Had Brinda McCoy been a mental case or a drug addict in Philadelphia, Chicago, or Miami, she would have been shot. But in Orange County, California, where the officers knew they were dealing with the disturbed wife of a police chief, they were patient and used nonlethal force.

     Four days after she was released on bail to await her sentencing, police officers found Brinda bleeding in her back yard following an attempted suicide. Judge Francisco Briseno ordered the police to take the suicidal woman into custody for her own protection.

     Prior to Brinda McCoy's sentencing date, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivier, in a rare legal action, agreed to retroactively modify the charges against the defendant by removing the firearm discharge count, the conviction of which carried a mandatory 20-year sentence. In return, defense attorney Lew Rosenblum withdrew his motion for a new trial.

     On September 7, 2012, Judge Briseno sentenced Brinda McCoy to fifteen years in prison. Had the charges against her not been modified after the fact, she would have been sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

     As deputy sheriffs escorted McCoy out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she spoke to her husband, relatives and others there to support her. "Thank you guys," she said. "Everyone, I love you."

     Justice was not done in this case. Fifteen years in prison for a mentally ill woman who tried to use the police to commit suicide was way too harsh.

Criminal Justice Quote: The Salem Witch Trials

The famous Salem witchcraft crisis erupted early in 1692 when several young women began exhibiting bizarre behavior: incoherent screaming, convulsions, crawling on the ground, and barking like dogs. Some people believed that the Devil himself was present in the community and blamed this on a slave woman named Tituba. The trial of Tituba and two of the young women only escalated the crisis. Suspects were encouraged to name other witches, and they responded enthusiastically. The search for witches quickly spread throughout Salem and to neighboring towns. The original girls identified more than fifty "witches" in Andover [Massachusetts], even though they did not personally know anyone in the town. By the end of the summer, nineteen accused witches had been executed, and seven more were sentenced to die. Giles Corey was pressed to death under heavy weights for refusing to confess to witchcraft. The term "witch hunt" eventually entered the American language as a description of persecution for political or religious beliefs.

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

The Wiseguy Persona

The wiseguy does not see himself as a criminal or even a bad person; he sees himself as a businessman, a shrewd hustler, one step ahead of ordinary suckers. The wiseguy lives by a vastly different set of rules than those observed by regular people, rules that were fashioned by their criminal forefathers and proven to work by generations of mobsters before them. Wiseguys exist in a bizarre parallel universe, a world where avarice and violence and corruption are the norm, and where the routines of most ordinary people hold dear--working good jobs, being with family, living an honest life--are seen as the curse of the weak and stupid. Wiseguys resemble us in many ways, but make no mistake: they might as well be from another planet, so alien and abnormal are their thoughts and habits.

Joseph D. Pistone, The Way of the Wiseguy, 2004

Science Fiction Novelist Philip K. Dick

As a result of our media's obsession with the alleged connection between artistic genius and madness, Phil Dick was introduced to mainstream America as a caricature: a disheveled prophet, a hack churning out boilerplate genre fiction, a speed-freak. None of these impressions of Phil, taken without awareness of the sensationalism that generated them, advances our understanding of his life and work. Today the myth of Philip K. Dick threatens to drown out what evidence remains of his turbulent life.

David Gill in Anne R. Dick's The Search for Philip K. Dick, 1995

The Appeal of Whodunits and Thrillers

The whodunit and the thriller are in their most typical manifestations deeply conventional and ideologically conservative literary forms, in which good triumphs over evil, law over anarchy, truth over lies.

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rapist Lee Kaplan And His Amish Victims

     On Thursday, June 16, 2016, officers with the Lower Southampton Township Police Department, operating on a children-in-danger tip, visited the home of 51-year-old Lee Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan resided in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Feasterville located in Bucks County twenty miles northeast of Philadelphia. When the police officers entered the Kaplan dwelling they encountered twelve girls, ages six months to eighteen. Several of the children responded by running about the house in panic searching for places to hide.

     When questioned by the police, Lee Kapan explained why the girls were living in his house. In 2012, a former Amish couple from the Lancaster County town of Quarryville named David and Salvilla Stoltzfus, in return for money from Kaplan to help the couple keep their farm, gave him their 14-year-old daughter. Mr. Kaplan and the Stoltzfuses were partners in a metalwork business in Quarryville.

     According to Mr. Kaplan, since 2012, he and the Stoltzfus teenager had produced two children. Their daughters were six-months and three years old. The other nine girls in the house were also Stoltzfuses.

     Mr. Kaplan was the only adult living in the Feasterville house. None of the girls had birth certificates or social security numbers.

     Police officers booked Lee Kaplan into the Bucks County Jail on numerous offenses that included rape, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minors. The twelve girls were placed into protective custody.

     David and Savilla Stoltzfus were also taken into custody on charges of conspiracy of statutory sexual assault and child endangerment. Kaplan and the ex-Amish couple were all held on $1 million bond. Mr. Stolzfus told the police that when he gave up his children, he had no idea he was breaking the law. In fact, after researching the issue online, he was convinced the transfer was legal.

     On Saturday, June 18, 2016, one of Kaplan's neighbors told a local reporter that she had complained about Lee Kaplan to the authorities three years ago. Kaplan's windows were boarded up and his yard was overgrown with uncut grass and weeds. According to this neighbor, the children were occasionally let out of the house, and when she did see them, "They were so sad and fearful. That's what made me call. I've been telling my husband for years that 'something isn't right.' " (This neighbor saw something, said something, and nothing happened.)

     Another one of Lee Kaplan's neighbors in Feasterville told a reporter that Kaplan seemed "weird" and that the neighbor now wished he had called the police.

     On June 18, 2016, police officers executed a search warrant at the Kaplan house. Officers also searched a greenhouse on the property where the long-haired, bearded resident grew Avocado trees. As officers searched the property, several chickens wandered about the place. Inside the house, officers discovered several air mattresses, a large catfish tank, and an elaborate and expensive model train layout. Following the search, the authorities impounded Lee Kaplan's two vehicles, a blue conversion van and a white sedan.

     According to another neighbor, the girls were occasionally seen working in Kaplan's vegetable garden. He also took them to a nearby Dollar Store and a local hotdog restaurant. Kaplan and the oldest Stoltzfus girl, according to this witness, had been seen in public holding hands.

     According to the Lower Southampton Township Public Safety Director, "We don't know if maybe there were babies born that were destroyed or whatever, but that's not the case as far as we can tell."

     An investigation of the Stoltzfuses revealed that in 2001 Mr. Stoltzfus borrowed $300,000 from an Amish run institution called the Old Order Amish Helping Program. At the time, Mr. Stoltzfus operated a scrap metal business in the small Lancaster County town of Kirkwood. Eight years after taking out the loan to keep his business going, Stoltzfus lost the property to foreclosure. At this point he left the Amish faith, became a born again Christian, and sued the Old Order Amish Helping program for initiating the foreclosure and forcing him out of business. In his lawsuit, Mr. Stoltzfus claimed that the Amish wanted to close him down because they didn't approve of him doing business "with an individual of the Jewish faith named Lee Kaplan." A judge dismissed the Stoltzfus lawsuit a few months later.

     The scrap metal business was sold at a sheriff's auction for $342,000. The Stoltzfuses, in 2011, filed for bankruptcy.

     In digging into Lee Kaplan's past, investigators learned that he had graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1983. In 1994, he and his wife Virginia bought a house in the Melrose Park section of Cheltenham for $110,000, a place they worked hard to refurbish. Kaplan and his wife rented rooms in the house to students at a local university.

     According to a Cheltenham man who had lived next door to the Kaplan and his wife from 1994 to 2003, Kaplan was "born again, but not as a Christian. He was a born again Jew--a Jew for Jesus."

     In 2003, Lee Kaplan sold the house in Cheltenham for $250,000. Around this time he and his wife got divorced. After that, Kaplan drastically changed his looks by letting his hair and his beard grow out.

     On June 6, 2017, a Bucks county jury found Lee Kaplan guilty of 17 counts of rape. According to the prosecutor, Kaplan had "brainwashed the Stoltzfus family, seeking "power, manipulation and control." The 47-year-old rapist will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

     

The Romance Novel's Leading Man

The theme of the man who is "saved by the love of a good woman" is common in both life and romance. In reality, savior complexes are dangerous because they encourage women to stay with abusive mates, but that is another story, one that belongs in "women's fiction" rather than "romance." What matters in a romance context is that healing the wounded hero is a fantasy of incredible potency.

Mary Jo Putney,  romance novelist

Traditionally, the [romance novel] hero is the Byronic type--dark and brooding, writhing inside with all the residual anguish of his shadowed past, world-weary and cynical, quick-tempered and prone to fits of guilt and depression. He is strong, virile, powerful, and lost. Adept at many things that carry with them the respect and admiration of the world (particularly the world of other males), he is not fully competent in the arena where women excel--the arena of his emotions, which are violently out of control.

Linda Barlow, romance novelist

There is a place in romance, in my own fantasies, for the laconic cowboy, for the over-civilized power broker, for the gentle prince and the burned-out spy. They all have their appeal, their merits, their stories to tell. But the vampire myth strikes deep in my soul. Deep in my heart I want more than just a man. I want a fallen angel, someone who would rather reign in hell that serve in heaven, a creature of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hate. A creature of life and death. The threat that kind of hero offers is essential to his appeal.

Anne Stuart Krentz, romance novelist

In the romance novel the domineering male becomes the catalyst that makes the empowerment fantasy work. The heroine isn't as big as he is; she isn't as strong, as old, as worldly; many times she isn't as well educated. Yet despite all these limitations she confronts him--not with physical strength but with intelligence and courage. And what happens? She always wins! Guts and brains every time. What a comforting fantasy this is for a frazzled, overburdened, anxiety-ridden reader.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, romance novelist

Lust as a Motive for Murder

The Marquis de Sade knew whereof he spoke. As the first of the seven deadly sins, lust commands a special place in the lexicon of transgression. It's a trigger-happy emotion that can turn from inarticulate ardor to homicidal mania on a dime. Lust is the sin that drives ordinary people to extraordinary measures, one corpse--or more--at a time.

A Miscellany of Murder, The Monday Murder Club, 2011

The Zealous Attorney

The zealous attorney is the last bastion of liberty--the final barrier between an overreaching government and its citizens.

Alan M. Dershowitz, 1982

Your Book is Published: Now What?

Examining the first copy of your book is a mixed experience. On the one hand, proof now rests in your hand that you indeed wrote a book. This exciting thought lasts for about six seconds then the mind turns elsewhere: couldn't my publisher have found a better typeface for the jacket? Next time, I'm going to hire a professional photographer to take a good author picture. I wonder how long it will take before my book shows up on remainder tables. I wonder if it's going to get panned. I wonder if anyone will read it at all.

Ralph Keyes, The Writer's Book of Hope: Encouragement and Advice From an Expert, 2003

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Nathan Dunlap: Keeping a Cold-Blooded Mass Murderer, Sentenced to Death, Alive

     In December 1993, a supervisor employed by the Chuck E Cheese family eating place and entertainment center in the suburban city of Aurora, Colorado outside of Denver, fired 19-year-old Nathan Dunlap for refusing to work extra hours. The pizza cook told his fellow workers that the boss had made a fool of him, and that he planned to get even.

     On December 14, 1993, Dunlap, while playing basketball with friends, said, in reference to his former place of employment, that he was going to "kill them all and take the money." Later that day, Dunlap walked into the Chuck E Cheese establishment and, in cold blood, shot five employees, killing four of them.

     A jury, in 1996, found Nathan Dunlap guilty of four counts of murder. The judge sentenced the convicted killer to death. Three years later, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld Dunlap's conviction.

     In early May 2013, after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to hear Dunlap's clemency appeal, an Arapahoe County judge scheduled Dunlap's execution for the week of August 18, 2013. Dunlap would be the first prisoner executed in the state in fifteen years. Friends and relatives of the murdered Chuck E Cheese employees were elated.

     Those who had been waiting twenty years for Dunlap's execution were crestfallen when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, at a May 22, 2013 press conference, announced that he had granted "Offender No. 89148" a temporary reprieve. (During the news conference, Governor Hickenlooper never mentioned Dunlap by name. When asked why, he said, "I don't think he needs any more notoriety.")

     The governor's reprieve guaranteed that Dunlap would live until January 15, 2015, the last day of Hickenlooper's first term. If he lost his bid for re-election, the new governor could let the reprieve stand, or go forward with the execution. Dunlap's fate becamea gubernatorial campaign issue.

     In justifying his decision to spare Dunlap's life, Hickenlooper rhetorically asked, "Is it just and moral to take this person's life? Is it a benefit to the world?" (A lot of people would answer, "Yes!")

     In reacting publicly to the governor's reprieve, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Braucher said, "There's going to be one person, one person in this system who goes to bed with a smile on his face tonight. And that's Nathan Dunlap. And he's got one person to thank for that smile. That's Governor Hickenlooper."

     The father of one of Dunlap's victims, in speaking to a reporter with the Denver Post, said, "The knife that's been in my back for twenty years was just turned by the governor." 

      Governor Hickenlooper was elected to a second term in office. It's not clear what role the Dunlap reprieve played in that victory,

     In April 2017, a U.S. District Court judge denied the Dunlap legal team the right to lobby Governor Hickenlooper for permanent clemency. The death house defense team wanted to spend $750,000 in taxpayer money to present psychiatric evidence that Dunlap's murders were the result of a traumatic childhood.

     As of this writing, Governor Hickenlooper has not issued this cold-blooded mass murderer permanent clemency. The killer's defense team is still working hard to keep this killer alive.

Editing Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls"

     [There was a time when editors like Maxwell Perkins of Scribner's and Sons played a hands-on role in getting a book ready for publication. Those days are long gone. In the 1960s, editor Don Preston had the almost impossible job of getting a glitzy, gossipy novel by an amateurish writer named Jacqueline Susann into publishable form. The manuscript, entitled Valley of the Dolls, became a national bestseller thanks in large part to Don Preston's editorial skills. This is Preston's evaluation of Susann's manuscript]:

     "...she is a painfully dull, inept, clumsy, undisciplined, rambling and thoroughly amateurish writer whose every sentence, paragraph and scene cries for the hand of a pro. She wastes endless pages on utter trivia, writes wide-eyed romantic scenes that would not make the back pages of True Confessions, hauls out every terrible show biz cliche...lets every good scene fall apart in endless talk and allows her book to ramble aimlessly....I really don't think there is a page of this manuscript that can stand in present form. And after it is done, we will be left with a faster, slicker, more readable mediocrity." [Ouch.]

Don Preston as cited in Barbara Seaman's Lovely Me: The Life of Jacqueline Susann, 1987

A Realistic Take on Justice?

I find the public passion for justice quite boring and artificial, for neither life nor nature cares if justice is ever done or not.

Patricia Highsmith, crime novelist 

Detective Fiction Gets No Respect

The reading of detective stories is simply a kind of vice that, for silliness and minor harmfulness, ranks somewhere between crossword puzzles and smoking.

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972)  The literary critic who wrote, in 1945, the famous New Yorker article, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Mr. Wilson was not an Agatha Cristie fan or a lover of genre crime fiction. He was, in that regard, a literary snob. 

Last Words of Executed Prisoners: Wesley Allan Dodd

I was once asked by somebody, I don't remember who, if there was any way sex offenders could be stopped. I said no. I was wrong.

Wesley Allan Dodd, executed in the state of Washington on January 5, 1993. Per his request, he was hanged. 

The Death Penalty Debate in America

     To some extent, the debate about capital punishment has been going on almost since the founding of the Republic. At that time, each state, following the English tradition, imposed death for a long list of felonies. But the same humanism that posited the equal value of all men and animated democracy necessarily led to many questions about a punishment that vested such fierce power over citizens in the state and assumed individuals were irredeemable. Thomas Jefferson was among the earliest advocates of restricting executions, and in 1794, Pennsylvania limited capital punishment to first-degree murder. In 1846, Michigan became the first American state to outlaw capital punishment for killers.

     For most Americans, the death penalty debate goes no further than asking whether they "believe" in capital punishment. There is good reason for this, of course, because the threshold issues define us so profoundly as individuals and as a society that it is almost impossible to move past them. What are the goals of punishment? What do we think about the perfectibility of human beings and the perdurability of evil? What value do we place on life--of the murderer and the victim? What kind of power do we want in the hands of government, and what do we hope the state can accomplish when it wields it?

Scott Turow, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer's Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty, 2003

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Volga Adams: New York City's Biggest Psychic Swindler

     Mrs. Frances Friedman of Manhattan's Upper West Side had been a widow for eight years. In September 1956 she visited a psychic parlor on Madison Avenue run by Volga Adams, a self-appointed gypsy princess. Adams advertised her services in the form of a large drawing painted on her storefront window of a hand, palm facing out. Mrs. Friedman hoped the psychic--"Madam Lillian"--would read her horoscope and identify the source of her depression.

     Volga Adams, a gypsy psychic well known to detectives on the NYPD Pickpocket and Confidence Squad, quickly diagnosed Mrs. Friedman's problem. "There is evil in you," she proclaimed with great authority. Adams instructed her client to go home and wrap an egg in a handkerchief that had belonged to her husband then put these two items into a shoe made for a left foot. The psychic instructed Mrs. Friedman to return to the parlor the next day with the handkerchief and the egg. At this point, Mrs. Friedman should have had the good sense to walk out of the shop and not return.

     As instructed, the prospective mark returned to the gypsy psychic's place of fraud. Adams opened up an egg she had switched with the real one. The phony egg contained a small plastic head. The greenish-yellow head featured a pair of horns, pointed eyebrows, and a black goatee. According to Adams, the presence of the devil's head in the egg was a bad sign. It meant that Mrs. Friedman was cursed. But why?

     Phase two of Volga Adam's psychic confidence game involved handing the victim a dollar bill that had a rip in it. Friedman was told to take the currency home, put it in a handkerchief, and wear it near her breast for two days.

     Upon her return to Volga Adam's scam parlor, Madam Lillian, following a prayer in a foreign tongue, opened the handkerchief to find a mended dollar bill. This "miracle" supposedly revealed the source of Mrs. Friedman's curse. The money her husband had left her upon his death was the problem. Money, the root of all evil, had cursed the widow. If Mrs. Friedman wanted to rid herself of the monetary curse, she would have to give Madam Lillian all of that money, cash she would ritualistically burn. Once that was done, the widow's happiness would return. Divesting herself of the filthy lucre would also clear up her troublesome skin rash. Who would have guessed that this gypsy princess was also a dermatologist.

     A few days after the miracle of the mended dollar bill, Mrs. Friedman withdrew money from six bank accounts and cashed in all of her government bonds. She delivered the $108,273 in cash, stuffed in a paper bag, to another Madison Avenue psychic parlor. (In 1956, that was a lot of dough.)

     Volga Adams suggested that Mrs. Friedman, having rid herself of the evil money, leave the city for a few days to enjoy some "clean air." This is called "cooling the mark." The next day, as Madam Lillian left town herself, her mark headed for the Catskill Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania. A perfect score.

     For a period of a year after Volga Adams bilked Mrs. Friedman out of her life's savings, she cooled the mark with regular phone calls, made collect, from various places around the country. Back in Manhattan in the fall of 1957, Adams informed Mrs. Friedman that she needed another $10,000 to remove traces of the lingering evil underlying the victim's curse. Mrs. Friedman, obviously unaware that she had been swindled, gave Adams the cash. She turned over the money on the condition that the psychic not destroy it, and later return it to her. After she had given the cold-blooded swindler $108, 273, Mrs. Friedman barely had enough money to support herself. A couple months after walking off with the $10,000, Volga Adams called the victim and announced that she could only return $2,000 of the $10,000. The psychic said she was in Florida and would be returning to New York City soon.

     The con game had run its course. Volga Adams did not return to Manhattan, and she quit calling the victim. Thanks to Madam Lillian, Mrs. Friedman not only remained cursed with depression, she was now broke. Finally, she picked up the telephone and called the police. When detectives with the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad heard Mrs. Friedman's story, they recognized the M.O., and knew that Madam Lillian was Volga Adams, one of the city's most notorious con artists.

     Following her indictment in New York City for grand larceny, the 42-year-old defendant went on trial in February 1962. Five weeks later, the jury of five women and seven men informed the judge that they were deadlocked and could not reach an unanimous verdict. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor scheduled a second trial for May 1963. Volga Adams avoided that proceeding by pleading guilty to a lesser theft charge. After the judge handed the defendant a suspended sentence, she left the city. But before she departed for Florida, Adams placed a curse on the prosecutor. "No woman will ever love him," she predicted.

     Volga Adams continued preying on vulnerable (and in my view stupid) women. A few years after Madam Lillian left Manhattan, Frances Friedman died. At the time of her death, she was lonely, humiliated, and depressed. Thanks to the gypsy princess, Mrs. Friedman died broke.

      

Origins of the War On Drugs

The war-on-crime atmosphere of the 1930s influenced national drug policy, solidifying the belief that drugs were a criminal rather than a medical or social problem. A national panic over marijuana broke out in the 1930s. The movie Reefer Madness, for example, offered a sensationalized picture of marijuana's allegedly evil effects. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act established harsh penalties for the possession and sale of marijuana. Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics [now the DEA], imitated [J. Edgar] Hoover, whipping up public fears in order to build a bureaucratic empire. In a popular magazine article, "Marijuana: Assassin of Youth," he painted a terrifying picture of the "sweeping march" of marijuana addiction, causing murder, rape, robbery, and other "deeds of maniacal insanity."

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

Market Oriented Publishing

     Trivia has swamped contemporary literary life and become, it seems, more important than the books. A book's blurb is more important than the book itself, the author's photograph on the book jacket is more important than its content, the author's appearance in wide-circulation newspapers and on TV is more important than what the author has actually written.

     Many writers feel increasingly uncomfortable in such a literary landscape, densely populated with publishers, editors, agents, distributors, brokers, publicity specialists, bookstore chains, "marketing people," television cameras, photographers. The writer and his reader--the two most important links in the chain--are more isolated than ever.

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading, 2003

Public Opinion in High Profile Criminal Trials

Why should [trial lawyers] care about public relations? Their job is to persuade judges and jurors, not the public or the pundits. But the jurors come from the same public that would be watching the preliminary hearing on television. And judges, too, are human beings, who are influenced by public opinion.

Alan M. Dershowitz, Reasonable Doubt: The Criminal Justice System and the O. J. Simpson Case, 1996

Margaret Atwood on Unlikable Characters in Fiction

I have been idiotically told that I write "awful" books [novels] because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of the book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodness, there are the Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine.

Margaret Atwood, novelist,  2013

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Alisha Noel-Murray Murder-For-Hire Case

     Omar Murray, a Jamaican-born ironworker resided with his wife Alisha Noel-Murray in a Brooklyn row-house owned by Alisha's mother. The couple, married three years, had moved into the Brownsville neighborhood in early 2012. Omar was thirty-seven. His wife, a home health aide with Visiting Nurse Service of New York, was just twenty-five. A religious man, Omar regularly attended the Full Gospel Assembly of God Church in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

     On Sunday, February 24, 2013, as Omar Murray entered his Lott Avenue house at one in the afternoon, he was approached by a man who shot him once in the chest. The victim stumbled into the house and collapsed in the entrance hallway. At the time of the shooting, Alisha was in the house recovering from surgery. She locked herself in her bedroom and called 911. Mr. Murray died a few hours after being rushed by ambulance to the Brookdale University Hospital.

     The next day, New York City Detectives arrested three local men in connection with the murder. Dameon Lovell told interrogators that the dead man's wife had been his lover. Together they had come up with the idea of having Omar murdered in a staged robbery. The 29-year-old murder-for-hire co-mastermind said that Alisha Noel-Murray wanted to cash in on her husband's two life insurance policies.

     In 2009, shortly after they were married, the couple took out a policy with National Benefit for $530,000. Sometime later they insured Mr. Murray's life for another $150,000.

     Kirk Portious, a 25-year-old with a history of violent crime, confessed to being the hit-man. The prosecutor charged Portious and Lovell with first-degree murder. The third man taken into custody, 22-year-old Dion Jack, drove the getaway vehicle. He was charged with hindering prosecution. The judge set his bail at $5,000. Portious and Lovell were held without bond in the jail on Riker's Island.

     Funeral services for the murder victim were held at the Full Gospel Assemble of God Church on Friday night, March 8, 2013. Omar Murray's widow, who had not been charged with a crime, sat in the front pew chewing gum. Omar's uncle, in speaking to a New York Daily News reporter outside the Crown Heights church, said, "To see her [Alisha] sitting there with her crocodile tears makes me sick. We know she killed our Omar. Where is the justice?"

     Alisha Noel-Murray, to the same reporter, said, "I'm not hiding from no one....This is ridiculous."

     In June 2016, Alisha Noel-Murray was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mr. Murray's death. Both life insurance companies refused to pay out the benefits on the ground local prosecutors had charged her as a murder-for-hire mastermind. She sued the National Benefit Life Insurance company and lost.

     Portious and Lovell awaited their murder trials while incarcerated on Riker's Island.

     In March 2017, Dameon Lowell pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a 25 year to life prison sentence.

     On June 8, 2017, a jury in Brooklyn, New York found Alisha Noel-Murray guilty of first-degree murder. Dameon Lowell's testimony helped convict her. A week later, a separate jury found Kirk Portious, the hit man, guilty of the same offense. In all probability, when the murder-for-hire mastermind and her hit man are sentenced later in June, they will be sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.  

The Public's Fascination With Crime and Criminals

People seem to have an insatiable appetite for reading about true crime....Many in the cast of [true crime] characters are professionals, or semi-professionals whose lives revolve around matters of crime. Lay people, too have a role--as jurors, for example. There is also, of course, the story of a much larger cohort of lay men and women: people accused of breaking the law; and their victims. Their stories are not, in the main, pleasant or uplifting; the lives caught up in these webs are so often ruined and wasted lives; through these pages parade example after example of foolishness, vice, self destruction, selfishness, evil, and greed. They are stories with few, if any heroes; and few, if any happy endings. But [these stories] are important to the country; and they exert a weird fascination.

Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, 1993


How the Fear of Crime Affects Our Lives

Crime affects all of us. There is little we do without thinking, however briefly, that we might be victimized. Nearly every time we turn around it seems we risk being cheated, robbed, attacked, or preyed upon in some other insidious manner. Our cities turn into ghost towns at night because we fear to go out. We are afraid to keep jewelry, silver, and other precious possessions in our homes; so we must resort to safes, locks, deposit boxes, and security systems. Fearing sexual assault, women who live alone bar their windows, severely restrict where they go by themselves, and even fear to have their names on a mailbox or in a telephone book. Municipal parks and swimming pools are no longer oases in the asphalt for they have been taken over by muggers, robbers, and drug traffickers. People are threatened with weapons and even murdered so their assailants can grab a few dollars. When we shop for clothes we are inconvenienced by security precautions that limit how many items we can try on, and we are afraid to leave our own clothes in the changing rooms. We fear for our children because the public schools are beset with disorder, vandalism, drugs, thefts, and violence. [And don't forget the pedophiles.] Fear that our medicine or food will poison us is no longer a paranoid's delusion. Such things have happened from coast to coast.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

Novel Advice

If you want to be remembered as a clever person and even as a benefactor of humanity, don't write a novel, or even talk about it; instead, compile tables of compound interest, assemble weather data running back seventy-five years, or develop in tabular form improved actuarial information. All more useful than anything "creative" most people could come up with, and less likely to subject the author to neglect, if not ridicule and contempt. In addition, it will be found that most people who seek attention and regard by announcing that they're writing a novel are actually so devoid of narrative talent that they can't hold the attention of a dinner table for thirty seconds, even with a dirty joke. [Ouch.]

Paul Fussell in Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers, 1999

Signs of Lying Versus Indicators of Truth

     Any suspect who is overly polite, even to the point of repeatedly calling the interrogator "sir" may be attempting to flatter the interrogator to gain his confidence. The suspect who, after being accused says "No offense to you, sir, but I didn't do it," "I know you are just doing your job," or "I understand what you are saying" is evidencing his lying about the matter under investigation. A truthful suspect has no need to make such apologetic statements, or even to explain that he understands the interrogator's accusatory statements. To the contrary, the truthful suspect may very well react aggressively with a direct denial or by using strong language indicating anger over [even] an implied accusation.

     A suspect who "swears to God" or offers to "swear on a stack of Bibles," or utters other oaths to support his answers, is, in many instances, not telling the truth. Typical examples of expressions used by lying suspects who try to make their statements believable are: "I swear to God, sir," or "With God as my witness." The suspect may even go so far as to state "on my poor dead mother's grave, sir." On the other hand, truthful suspects are confident of their truthfulness and do not need such props. The interrogator should bear in mind, however, that within some cultural surroundings, swearing and similar expressions may be rather commonplace, and do not necessarily mean that the suspect is lying.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Ronald J. Harris Murder Case: There's No Such Thing As An "Open And Shut" Case

     Over the past few years, places of worship have become places of sudden, violent death. A few preachers, a church organist, and a handful of congregants have been murdered inside their churches. Most of these homicides occurred during religious services. Some of the killers belonged to the church while others were outsiders. All of these murderers were caught, and most were pathologically motivated.

     None of the church murders involved acts of terrorism. Notwithstanding these bizarre incidents, inside a church on Sunday or any other day is still one of the safest places to be. This is not true in many middle eastern countries as well as other places around the world where there is religious persecution and related terrorism.

Pastor Ronald J. Harris

     Lake Charles, Louisiana is located in the southwest part of the state. At 8:30 Friday evening, September 27, 2013, 53-year-old Woodrow Karey, armed with a shotgun, walked into the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles. Pastor Ronald J. Harris was standing in front of the church preaching to sixty revival service congregants when Karey blew him off his feet with a blast from his shotgun. As the preacher lay bleeding on the church floor, Karey stood over him and fired a second shot into his head, killing Reverend Harris instantly.

     As congregants, including the pastor's wife, scrambled for cover, Woodrow Karey walked out of the church. Shortly thereafter, the shooter called 911. Karey identified himself, and informed the dispatcher of what he had just done. (He did not reveal why he had murdered the pastor.) Kerey said he wanted to turn himself in, and informed the 911 dispatcher where the police could find him.

     In a matter of minutes after Woodrow Karey's 911 call, deputies with the Calcasieu Parrish Sheriff's Office took him into custody without incident. Before being hauled off to jail, the shooter took the officers to a wooded area where he had hidden a .22-caliber pistol and a shotgun.

     A parish prosecutor initially changed Woodrow Karey with second-degree murder. He was held on $1 million bond at the Calacasieu Corrections Center. According to reports, Mr. Karey did not have a criminal record. The authorities did not reveal if he had a history of mental illness or some kind of grievance against the pastor or the church.

     In December 2013, following  a plea agreement, a grand jury indicted Karey for the lesser offense of manslaughter. The judge reduced his bail to $500,000. In Louisiana, manslaughter carried a sentence of 10 to 40 years. The defendant's trial was scheduled for late 2014.

     In June 2014, a second grand jury indicted Karey for the more serious homicide of second-degree murder. However, in January 2015, Calcasieu Parish Judge Clayton Davis, on the grounds the prosecution reneged on their promise only to pursue manslaughter in the case, threw out the second indictment.

     In June 2015, an appellate court reinstated the second-degree murder charge. The Kaey defense appealed that decision and on September 7, 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court granted Karey a stay, further delaying the resolution of this "open and shut" case. 

Shoplifting Versus Kleptomania

In its condemnation of kleptomania as an euphemism for the shoplifting of the well-to-do, America followed England. More attention was paid to the crime and how to stop it than to the disease and how to cure it. Founded in 1850 as a private security company [and investigative agency], the Pinkerton National Detective Agency established a division to catch shoplifters after the Civil War and most of the major department stores took advantage of it. Pinkerton detectives pursued shoplifters, while socialists, transcendentalists, and humorists lampooned kleptomaniacs as proof of democracy's failure. In his 1888 essay, "A New Crime," Mark Twain writes, "In these days, too, if a person of good family and high social standing steals anything, they call it KLEPTOMANIA, and send him to the lunatic asylum." …A lifelong advocate for free speech, suffragism, and a classless society, the anarchist Emma Goldman derided kleptomania. In a speech she gave in 1896 Pittsburgh, she denounced it as yet another strategy the wealthy enacted to steal from the poor.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

What's Keeping You From Writing?

     If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. Who am I? What right have I to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You're a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle....

     Writing is work, hard work, and its rewards are personal more than financial, which means most people have to do it after hours. But if writing is work, learning to write isn't necessarily painful. To the contrary, silence is pain that writing relieves.

Richard Rhodes, How to Write, 1995

     

Theodore Dreiser on American Literary Criticism

To sit up and criticize me for saying "vest" instead of "waistcoat"; to talk about my splitting the infinitive and using vulgar commonplaces here and there, when the tragedy of a man's life is being displayed, is silly. More, it is ridiculous. It makes me feel that American criticism is the joke that English authorities maintain it to be.

Theodore Dreiser in Theodore Dreiser, by Phillip L. Gerber, 1964 

Who Killed Jesse James?

     Did Bob Ford really kill the notorious outlaw Jesse Woodson James on April 3, 1882 in his house high atop Lafayette Street in St. Joseph, Missouri? If not Jesse, then who met his maker, courtesy of Bob Ford's revolver, on that fateful day?...

     Some say the assassinated man was an unwitting stand-in by the name of Charlie Bigelow. Others announce that there were in truth two Jesse Jameses: one, the true Jesse Woodson James, and the other, Jesse R. James, who was a Jesse Woodson James look-alke who could fool even Jesse's older brother Frank. In life and death, he passed himself off, it is said, as the authentic Jesse...

     Jesse James died on April 3, 1882 in St. Joseph, Missouri when he was shot in the head by a single bullet that did not exit his skull. In light of scientific findings, the claims of those who say that someone else died in Jesse's place, and that Jesse lived on to father additional children, are worse than nonsense. They are ludicrous in the extreme.

James E. Starrs (with Katherine Ramsland), A Voice for the Dead, 2005

  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

China's Shocking Murder Story the Government Tried To Suppress

     At 7:15 in the morning of Monday, March 4, 2013, Mr. Xu parked his gray Toyota RAV 4 near the supermarket where he worked. He ran into the building, turned on the heat, and returned to the parking lot. To his horror, Mr. Xu discovered that someone had stolen his SUV along with his two-month-old baby who was in the backseat. The car thief probably didn't know the vehicle was occupied.

     The distraught father called the police department in Changchun City, a sprawling megalopolis of 8 million people in northeast China's Jilin Province. Mr. Xu also called a local radio station which broadcast periodic bulletins that included descriptions of the stolen car and the missing baby. Eight thousand police officers were alerted as well as thousands of taxi cab drivers. All of these people, including listeners of the radio station, were on the lookout for the stolen Toyota and its infant passenger, a baby named Xu Haobo.

     Almost immediately a variety of Internet social media sites picked up on the ongoing story. Most people following the case assumed that once the car thief realized he had inadvertently abducted the car owner's child, would deposit the infant in front of a hospital or some other public place.

     The next day, the car had not been recovered and the baby was still missing. Perhaps the car thief was also a kidnapper seeking a ransom. At five in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 5, a man named Zhou Xijun turned himself in to the Changchun police. According to the 48-year-old resident of Gongzhuling City, about an hour after he took Mr. Xu's car, he strangled the baby to death. Mr. Xijun said he buried the corpse in the snow off a country road.

     While the Xu Haobo story was widely circulated in China's Internet social media, Xinwenhua News, the official Jilin Province newspaper, did not report the murder. According to an independent journalist who uses the name "Yingshidian," the Communist run Provincial Propaganda Department had censored reportage of the case. The story was suppressed because it lent credence to concerns that criminals in China were losing all respect for human life. Stories like this were bad for tourism as well.

     A relative of the murdered baby, on a Chinese web site similar to YouTube, criticized the police for not finding the car thief before he murdered Xu Haobo. The relative accused the police of gross negligence in the case.  (Reportedly, the baby was killed an hour after the car theft which renders this criticism unreasonable.)

     Like all high-profile murders, the Xu Haobo case has spawned a lot of rumors. One story going around is that Zhou Xijun, the man who confessed to the car theft and murder, is covering for his son, Zhou Lei. Rumor has it that the son murdered the baby and is on the run from the police.

     The senseless murder of the baby in the stolen car has become one of the most talked about crimes in China's recent history. The murdered infant's mother has been treated for a mental breakdown at the 208 People's Liberation Army Hospital.

     Public outrage has led for calls that the baby's killer be punished with "lingchi"--the slow dismemberment of the prisoner's body.

     In May 2013, a judge in Changchun, China found Zhou Xijun guilty of murder. The convicted man was hanged six months later. (In 2013, 3,000 criminals were executed in China. In 2002, 12,000 were hanged.) 

Voltaire's Science Fiction Novel

When it became known that the earth was only one of a family of planets circling the sun, the question arose: was there life on other planets? Many later speculated about this. In his Micromegas (1752), the French writer Voltaire brought to earth an eight-mile-high visitor from Sirus and a slightly smaller native of Saturn. Because of their size, these beings found it hard to decide whether there was intelligent life on earth.

L. Sprague de Camp, 3000 Years of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1972 

John Steinbeck's Journal

Here is the diary of a book [The Grapes of Wrath] and it will be interesting to see how it works out. I have tried to keep diaries before but they don't work out because of the necessity to be honest. In matters where there is no definite truth, I gravitate toward the opposite. Sometimes where there is definite truth, I am revolted by its smugness and do the same. In this however, I shall try simply to keep a record of working days and the amount done in each and the success (as far as I can know it) of the day. Just now the work goes well. It is nearly the first of June [1938].

John Steinbeck, Journal of a Novel, 1969 

The Politics of Gun Violence

     When politicians talk about the epidemic of gun violence in the country, they seldom address the problem honestly. Driven by political correctness, politicians focus on shootings involving spree killers, and armed men in suburbia who mistake family members and neighbors as intruders. Anytime a gun enthusiast at a gun show accidentally shoots someone, the media is all over the accident.

     While politicians are not the brightest people around, they know that gun violence is principally about young black men shooting other young black men in cities big and small across the country. The fear of being labeled racists keeps politicians from stating the obvious. That fear, by the way, is well-grounded.

     Black males are ten-times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their white counterparts. That's because so many of them live in high-crime neighborhoods, and participate in dangerous activities. Every year, 3,000 to 4,000 black men are murdered by handguns. Roughly 30,000 are wounded. In March 2013, during a three-day period in Chicago, 38 black men were shot to death. On any given night in many big cities, ambulances deliver up to 35 black males to emergency rooms with gunshot wounds.

     On average, treating a patient who has been shot costs $322,000. This form of inner-city violence costs U. S. taxpayer about $12 billion a year. The bill is significantly higher if you include loss of work, rehabilitation, court, and incarceration costs.

     Since the vast majority of these shootings involve illegally possessed handguns, the current gun control debate is nothing more than political grandstanding, and a waste of time. Politicians should be talking about how to reduce violent, inner city crime instead of imposing more regulations on law abiding gun owners. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Cold-Blooded Murder of Skylar Neese

     Sixteen-year-old Skylar Neese lived in an apartment in Star City, West Virginia with her parents David and Mary Neese. Sky City is a town of 1,800 outside of Morgantown, the home of West Virginia University. The community, located in the northern part of the state, is a few miles south of the Pennsylvania state line.

     On the night of July 6, 2012, Skylar came home from her part time job and bid her parents goodnight. Just before midnight, a surveillance camera directed at the apartment complex caught the A-student at University High School climbing out of her bedroom window. The camera also recorded her getting into a car occupied by two girls her age. When Sklar's parents discovered their daughter's bedroom empty the next morning, they reported her missing.

     The police questioned the 16-year-old driver of the car seen on the surveillance tape who said she had dropped her friend off at her apartment an hour after Skylar had snuck out of her bedroom. In the initial stage of the investigation, the authorities operated under the theory that Skylar Neese was a runaway.

     Over the next several weeks, fliers bearing the missing girl's photograph were placed on hundreds of utility poles and distributed to dozens of local businesses. The FBI, suspecting foul play, entered the case. Several of Skylar's fellow students were chatting about the case on the social media. One student eventually went to the police after hearing two 16-year-old girls discussing how they had murdered Skylar Neese. This student at first assumed the girls were joking, and for that reason didn't alert the police right away.

     On January 3, 2013, almost six months after Skylar Neese was seen on camera getting into the car, Rachel Shoaf, one of Skylar's 16-year-old friends, confessed that she and another 16-year-old girl had lured Neese into the car that night for the purpose of killing her. According to Shoaf, they had stabbed Skylar to death and drove her body into Pennsylvania where, at a remote spot near the town of Waynesburg about 30 miles northwest of Star City, they dumped her body. When the girls ran into difficulty digging a grave, they simply covered the corpse with branches.

     If Shoaf articulated a motive for the murder, that was not revealed. Police later arrested Sheila Eddy on the charge of first-degree murder.

     Police officers from several law enforcement agencies, on January 16, 2013, found a badly decomposed corpse in Greene County's Wayne Township. The body was preliminarily identified as Skylar Neese, but the identification was not officially announced until March 13, 2013.

     On May 1, 2013, Rachel Shoaf pleaded guilty to second-degree murder before a judge in a Monongalia County Circuit Court. She was incarcerated in a juvenile detention center awaiting her sentencing. The local district attorney indicated that he planed to recommend a sentence of twenty years. Under West Virginia law, second-degree murder carried a maximum sentence of forty years.

     Sheila Eddy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in January 2014 and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. A month later, the judge sentenced Shoaf to 30 years in prison.

     I find it odd that this case hasn't attracted more attention from the national media. I'm guessing that if this murder had taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago, it would have developed into a big crime story. Sixteen year old, middle class girls do not go around stabbing each other to death in cold blood. Where are the TV crime profilers, criminologists, and murder shrinks?

     This strange and disturbing case was reminiscent of Chicago's Leopold and Loeb case in 1924. That murder involved a couple of young, well-educated men from good families who killed an innocent boy simply to see if they could commit the perfect crime. They didn't, of course, and were both sentenced to life in prison. (They both got out of prison before their deaths, however.)


   

Stephen King on His Place in the Pantheon of Writers

Somebody asked Somerset Maugham about his place in the pantheon of writers, and he said, "I'm in the very front row of the second rate." I'm sort of haunted by that. You do the best you can. The idea of posterity for a writer is poison....

Stephen King, 2013

The "Lock-'em-Up Era

     "Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people." James Q. Wilson's blunt declaration in 1975 captured perfectly the hard-line anticrime mood that was to dominate the country for the next twenty years. Persistent high rates of violent crime, public hysteria over drugs, and worsening race relations fostered a "lock-'em-up attitude toward criminals. The result was a spectacular increase in the number of prisoners, from 240,593 in 1975 to 1 million by January 1996. The incarceration rate of 330 per 100,000 population was eight times higher than that of many western European countries and was rivaled only by the rates in South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

     Nothing better illustrated the "lock-'em-up attitude than the fate of Gary Fannon, sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole at age 18 for possessing 650 grams of cocaine. The draconic Michigan drug law under which he was sentenced was typical of those in many states. There was also the case of Jerry Williams the so-called "pizza thief." One of the first persons convicted under a 1994 California "three strikes and you're out" law, he was sentenced to twenty-five years to life for stealing three slices of pizza.

[We seem to be starting the twenty-first century with the "let-'m out" attitude.]

Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, Second Edition, 1998

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Crystal Mangum Murder Case

      In 2006, 27-year-old Crystal Mangum claimed that three Duke University lacrosse players gang-raped her at a team party. The students had hired her as a stripper. The case grabbed national headlines because the accused were privileged young white men and the victim was working-class black.

     When it became obvious that Mangum had fabricated her story of rape, North Carolina's attorney general declared the three Duke students innocent. The case ruined the career of Mike Nifong, the politically ambitious Durham County prosecutor who had championed Mangum's false allegations. The  state bar association disbarred Nifong for his bad faith and overzealous prosecution of the innocent college students. The Duke Lacrosse case represented what can happen when politics and race override the pursuit of justice.

     Another Durham County prosecutor, in February 2010, charged Crystal Mangum with attempted murder in connection with a row she had with her live-in boyfriend. According to the victim, she trashed his car then set fire to a pile of his clothes. At the time of the fire, children were in the apartment.

     Just before the trial, the prosecutor replaced the attempted murder charge with felony-arson and contributing to the abuse of minors. In December 2010, a jury found Mangum guilty of the child abuse charge after failing to reach a consensus on the felony-arson count. The judge sentenced Mangum to the amount of time she had served in jail awaiting trial.

   A 911 operator in Durham, North Carolina, on April 3, 2011, received an emergency call from the nephew of a 46-year-old man named Reginald Daye. Mr. Daye, another Mangum boyfriend, shared an apartment with her. The 911 caller said, "It's Crystal Mangum. The Crystal Mangum! I told him [Daye] she was trouble from the damn beginning!"

    According to this 911 caller, Mr. Daye needed emergency medical assistance. Crystal Mangum had stabbed him with a kitchen knife.

     Paramedics rushed Reginald Daye to Duke University Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to repair the knife wound. Police officers arrested Mangum that day at a nearby apartment. Charged with assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill, the police booked Mangum into the Durham County Jail. The magistrate set her bond at $300,000.

     Ten days after his surgery Reginald Daye died from the knife attack. The prosecutor immediately upgraded the charge against Mangum to first-degree murder.

     In February 2013, Mangum gained temporary freedom after someone posted her bond. Acting as her own attorney, she claimed she had killed Reginald Daye in self defense.

     By the time the Mangum murder case went to trial on November 11, 2013, the accused had acquired the services of two defense attorneys. Assistant District Attorney Charlene Franks, in her opening remarks before the jury, said that the defendant, armed with a kitchen knife, had chased the victim down. Ten days later he died from his wounds.

     According to the defense version of the case, Mangum, to protect herself against an enraged and jealous boyfriend, locked herself in the bathroom. When Daye kicked down the door and started beating her, she used the kitchen knife to "poke him in the side." According to the defense, Daye had died not from the stabbing but from complications arising from his surgery.

     On November 22, 2013, the jury, after a six-hour deliberation, rejected Mangum's version of the events leading up to Reginald Daye's violent death. The panel found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mangum to a minimum 14 years in prison. At maximum, she could spend 18 years behind bars.

     If Crystal Mangum is released after serving her minimum sentence, she will walk out of prison at age 48. If she conducts herself behind bars like she has lived her life on the outside, she's in for a difficult 14 years.