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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Juan-Carlos Cruz Murder For Hire Case

     Celebrity chef Juan-Carlos Cruz, having lost forty-three pounds, tried to lose about 120 more--his wife. Cruz is a 1993 graduate of the California Culinary Academy. As a pastry chef at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, he created delectable treats for such celebrities as Jack Nicholson, Oprah Winfrey, and Julia Roberts. Too much sampling, however, had Cruz looking like the Pillsbury Doughboy. He enrolled in the Discovery Health Body Challenge 3 on cable TV, lost a lot of weight, and gained his own Food Network show, Calorie Commando.

     In May 2010, Cruz, then age forty-eight, was arrested for trying to hire three homeless men to kill his wife, attorney Jennifer Campbell. The couple had been sweet on each other since high school, but he, at least, had soured on the romance. Lucky for her, the prospective hit men found Cruz's offer not to their taste and contacted the police. Cruz ended up starring in a police video production, The Chef Is Toast. He was sentenced to nine years in prison, where he can work in the kitchen whipping up aphrodisiac dishes for the other inmates from his new cookbook--this is true--The Love Diet. 

The Monday Murder Club, Miscellany of Murder, 2011


Monday, June 24, 2013

James "Whitey" Bulger And His Mob Hit Man John Martorano

     James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston area mobster and head of the Winter Hill Gang, went into hiding in 1995 after rogue FBI agent John Connolly tipped him off about an upcoming federal indictment. For years Bulger had avoided arrest by informing on other gangsters to the FBI. (Agent John Connolly is serving a life sentence for his longterm involvement with Bulger and his murderous gang.)

     In June 2011, FBI agents arrested Bulger in Santa Monica, California where he had lived 16 years in an apartment complex with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greg. The fugitive and his companion had been living under the names Charlie and Carol Gasko. He was in his 80s.

     Bulger is currently being federally tried in Boston on 32 counts of murder, homicides he either committed himself or ordered. John V. Martorano, a professional hit man allegedly employed by the accused murder for hire mastermind, is one of the prosecution's most important witnesses. In 2007, Martorano cut a deal with the government to testify against the infamous Boston mobster. Since then, after confessing to twenty murders, Martorano has been a free man. Three of the hit man's victims were innocent bystanders, including a man Martorano mistakenly shot because he was driving a car similar to the intended target's vehicle. (Even so-called "professional" hit men are notoriously incompetent.) After carrying out one of his contract murders, Martorano would summon mob underlings to dispose of the body. Most of his victims were buried.

     On June 18, 2013, Bulger's attorney, Henry Brennan, during his cross-examination of the 72-year-old witness, asked Martorano if he considered himself a serial killer. "No," the witness replied. "Serial killers kill until they get caught or stop. I confessed my murders. (Wow, good for you!) Serial killers kill for fun. They like it. I never liked it. I never had any joy." (Poor man, it's rough being a contract killer.)

     "No satisfaction?" the defense attorney asked.

     "None." Later in his testimony, Martorano insisted that he was a "nice guy." Moreover, he never thought of himself as a hit man or professional killer. "I didn't enjoy killing anybody," he said. "I enjoyed helping a friend if I could."

     "Does that make you a vigilante--like Batman?" Attorney Brennan asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. Later in the cross examination, the defense lawyer asked this prosecution witness to describe how he felt about murdering three innocent bystanders.

     "I did feel bad. I still feel bad. It was the worst thing I did."

     Mr. Martorano's testimony gives us a rare peek into the mind of a mobbed-up contract killer. Only a cold-blooded sociopath could, with a straight face, portray himself as a nice guy and a victim. This hit man wants us to believe that he didn't like killing people for money, that he did it to help others. What a guy. What a nice guy. Give me a break. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Black Forest Wildfire: An Arson-Murder Case

     A wildfire is generally defined as an uncontrolled fire in an area of combustable vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area. Fires of this nature can be brush fires or forest fires. Wildfires are caused naturally by lightening strikes and accidentally by careless campers. Occasionally controlled fires set by government fire officials to reduce highly combustable underbrush grow out of control and burn down the entire forest. Wildfires are also caused by arsonists whose motives are usually pathological.

     At two in the afternoon of Tuesday, June 11, 2013, a fire that started in the Black Forest north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, quickly raged out of control. When finally contained and extinguished on Thursday, June 20, the blaze had killed two people, destroyed 509 homes, and blackened 22 square miles of land. The Black Forest disaster is the most destructive wildfire in the history of the state.

     Fire investigation specialists with the ATF, the U. S. Forestry Service, and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office have ruled out nature and accident as the cause of the Black Forest Wildfire. That leaves arson, and because the blaze killed two people, the case is being handled, under the felony-murder doctrine, as an arson-murder investigation.

     At the suspected area of the wildfire's origin, investigators were seen crawling on their hands and knees in search of physical clues pertaining to the method of ignition, and the identity of the fire setter.

     In terms of establishing the cause of a fire--locating its point of origin or origins--the debris analysis of a structural fire generally provides a more complete and clearer picture of the fire's cause. Signs of an incendiary structural fire might include heavy burning and intense heat at a spot without an ignition source, multiple points of origin, and traces of an accelerant such as gasoline. These arson indicators usually don't exist at the scene of an intentionally set wildfire.

     Because wildfires begin in remote areas, there are usually no eyewitnesses to the event. In home and business arson cases, investigative leads include the standard motives of insurance fraud and the elimination of a business competitor. In fatal fires, all of the motives that go with criminal homicide are available to the investigator. These leads and pool of usual suspects are rarely available in wildfire arson cases.

     If the Black Forest arsonist is identified, it will probably be because he couldn't keep his mouth shut. Someone--a former girlfriend, an ex-wife, a cellmate, or a drinking buddy--will have to come forward with incriminating evidence. Once that occurs, there is always a good chance of a confession based upon a plea arrangement.

     

Friday, June 21, 2013

Aaron Hernandez and the Murder of Odin Lloyd

     If there's one subject Americans are more interested in than crime, it's sports. A news story that features a current member of the NFL and the murder of another football player will automatically achieve high-profile case status. If the National Football League player becomes a suspect in the homicide, the story will attract even more media attention. In print and television journalism, the marriage of sports and crime comprises a union made in heaven.

     In 2010,  the New England Patriots drafted tight end Aaron Hernandez. Two years later, they signed him to a multi-million dollar, five-year contract. The deal included a $12.5 million signing bonus. From Bristol, Connecticut and of Puerto Rican descent, the 22-year-old played college football at the University of Florida. He recently purchased, from former Patriots player Ty Warren, a $1.3 million, 5,600-square foot North Attleborough mansion with a home gym and indoor swimming pool. North Attleborough, Massachusetts, a town south of Boston on the Rhode Island State Line, is  home to several Patriot players because of its proximity to Gillette Stadium.

     According to several news sources, a 30-year-old man named Alexander Bradley claimed to have been shot in the face by Hernandez at a Miami strip club. The incident, which was not reported to the police, allegedly happened last February. Bradley, who lost an eye, filed a civil suit against Hernandez on June 13, 2013. The plaintiff alleges that when Hernandez pointed the gun at his face, it accidentally discharged. Back in 2007, detectives in Gainesville, Florida questioned Hernandez about a shooting that occurred after Florida's loss to Auburn. Hernandez and a friend of his from Connecticut had been in a nightclub not far from the shooting. He was never a suspect in the case.

     On Monday, June 17, 2013, at five-thirty in the evening, a citizen came upon a body in an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's house. In speaking to reporters, the man who discovered the copse said, "I saw an African-American male, probably 25-35 years old, decently dressed. He was stiff and motionless. One of the police officers...said it looked like the guy had been shot somewhere else and dumped here."

     The body found in the clearing off John Dietsch Boulevard, was 27-year-old Odin L. Lloyd, a semi-professional linebacker with the Boston Bandits. Crime scene investigators found, not far from Lloyd's corpse, an Enterprise rental car with Rhode Island plates. The vehicle, a 2013 Chevrolet Suburban SUV, had been rented in Hernandez's name. Lloyd had been dating the sister of Shayanna Jenkins, Hernandez's girlfriend.

     Investigators have learned that on the night of the murder, Hernandez, Lloyd and two other men were drinking together at a bar in Dorchester. The men left the bar in a car driven by Hernandez. Later that night (early the next morning), three men were seen on a surveillance camera entering Hernandez's house. The men entered the dwelling not long after neighbors had heard gunshots around three-thirty in the morning coming from the Hernandez house. This has led detectives to theorize that Lloyd had been shot in Hernandez's dwelling then hauled to the dump site where the rented SUV was abandoned. Hernandez and the two other men then returned to the house in another vehicle.

     At 5:00 PM on Tuesday, the day following the discovery of Odin Lloyd's body, a dozen police officers arrived at Hernandez's home armed with a search warrant. Detectives with the Massachusetts State Police and the North Attleborough Police Department spent several hours inside the mansion. Later that evening, a police officer was seen carrying a box out of the football player's house.

     The authorities have not charged Aaron Hernandez with a crime, and have not classified him, at least publicly, as a suspect in Lloyd's killing. As of this writing, the police have not articulated the nature of Hernandez's relationship with the dead man. We don't know why the SUV rented in the NFL player's name was at the crime scene. Moreover, the medical examiner's office has not announced the cause and manner of Odin Lloyd's death. Because this is already a high-profile case, detectives will be under a lot of pressure to get results, and get them fast.

     On Friday, June 21, 2013, the authorities in Boston issued a warrant for Hernandez's arrest. He has been charged with obstruction of justice in the Lloyd case. According to reports, Hernandez destroyed the hard drive to his home security surveillance system. He also smashed his cell phone, and after Lloyd's death, hired a crew to clean parts of his house. Additional charges could filed against the professional football player.

     Police arrested Hernandez at his home on Wednesday, June 26 on the charge of murder. Homicide investigators believe that the suspect had brought in two of his hoodlum friends from Connecticut to  help him murder Mr. Lloyd. As for motive, Hernandez was angry at the victim after Lloyd spoke to a group of men in a bar. Apparently Hernandez didn't approve of these people. The day after the arrest, the Boston Patriots cut Hernandez from the team.

     It seems to me that Hernandez's attorney is in for a losing battle, particularly if there is DNA evidence, and the two thugs cut a deal with the prosecution. Perhaps the attorney, as a defense, should consider pathological stupidity.

     On June 27, news sources were reporting that detectives with the Boston Police Department were looking into a possible connection between Hernandez and a July 16, 2012 double murder in Boston's South End. Correla deAbreau, 29, and Safiro Teixeira, 28, both of Dorchester, were killed when someone fired into their BMW from a silver SUV with Rhode Island plates. Detectives believe the murders stemmed from a fight that broke out at Cure, a South End nightclub. Odin Lloyd may have had information regarding Hernandez's role in the double murder.
      

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Daniel Ellsberg on NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

     I was overjoyed that finally an official with high access, good knowledge of the abusive system that he was revealing was ready to tell the truth at whatever cost to his own future safety, or his career, ready to give up his career, risk even prison to inform the American people.

     What he was looking at and what he told us about was the form of behavior, the practice of policy that's blatantly unconstitutional. I respect his judgment of having withheld most of what he knows, as an information specialist, on the grounds that its secrecy is legitimate and that the benefit to the American people of knowing it would be outweighed by possible dangers. What he has chosen on the other hand, to put out, again confirms very good judgment.

Daniel Ellsberg, 1971 Pentagon Papers Leaker, June 12, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Stiletto-Heel Murder Case

     At four in the morning on Sunday, June 9, 2013, a resident of the Parkline condominium  high rise in Houston's upscale Museum District, called 911 to report a possible domestic disturbance in an adjacent apartment. When police officers knocked on the door of the 18th floor residence, they were met by a woman covered in someone else's blood.

     The woman who answered the door that morning was 44-year-old Ana Lila Trujillo, a former message therapist who was visiting the home of a University of Houston research professor employed in the school's  biology and biochemistry department. The officers found Professor Alf Stefan lying face-up in a pool of his own blood. The 59-year-old researcher in the field of women's reproductive health, lay sprawled on the floor in the hall between the entranceway and the kitchen. The dead man had ten puncture wounds in his head, and fifteen to twenty such wounds to his neck and chest. The death scene had all the markings of an overkill murder committed by someone who was enraged and out of control.

     The blood-covered Trujillo told the Houston police officers that the professor, her boyfriend, had physically attacked her. In defending herself, she had struck him with the stiletto heel of one of her pumps. When questioned by detectives at police headquarters, Trujillo asked for a lawyer then clammed-up.

     Later that Sunday, Trujillo was booked into the Harris County Jail on the charge of murder. The next day she walked free after posting her $100,000 bond.

     Since Trujillo and Professor Stefan were alone in his apartment, the prosecution would have to make a circumstantial case of murder based upon the physical evidence and the character of the defendant and the history of her relationship with the professor.

     On April 10, 2014, a jury in Houston, Texas found Ana Trujillo guilty of capital murder. The prosecutor had successfully portrayed her as a self-serving, violent woman who lived in her own world. The Trujillo defense failed to make the case that she had killed an abusive lover in self-defense.

     Based on the advice of her attorney, the defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf.

     The judge sentenced Trujillo to life in prison.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Secrecy and the Myth of Transparency in Government Generally and Policing in Particular

     There is nothing more ludicrous than a politician, standing in front of a television camera with a straight face, telling citizens that our government is transparent. By transparent, meaning open and honest in the way it operates in our best interest. That, of course, is pure baloney. Government, on all levels and across the board, is secretive. It is in the nature of the beast, and for good reason. If the pubic ever fully discovers what our "public servants" are really up to, there would be much less government.

     In many ways, the government functions a lot like organized crime. Government protects itself through a code of silence, whistleblower intimidation, perjury, evidence tampering, and the shielding of the leaders from criminal culpability. And like soldiers in the Mafia, government employees are in for life. To expose the government, investigators would have to rely on the same tactics the FBI used on the Mafia. Problem is, the FBI is part of the government.

     Anyone who trusts the government, or accepts as truth what politicians and bureaucrats tell us, is either a fool or an idiot who deserves the government that we've allowed to grow into a Frankenstein type monster. There may come a time when the public does figure out what's going on in government, but by then it may be too late to do anything about it.

     Anyone who knows anything about policing--federal, state, and local--knows that law enforcement agencies do not welcome public scrutiny. Police officers hate cellphone cameras, civilian review boards, oversight committees, police commissions, and other watchdog groups. Cops also hate their fellow officers assigned to internal affairs units. For decades, police administrators, working hand-in-hand with friendly politicians, have engaged in shameless fear-mongering to scare the public into putting up with highly militaristic, zero-tolerence, policing tactics. Because very little in law enforcement is on the level, it's in the best interest of our police authorities to keep civilians in the dark. It has been this way since the beginning of professional policing

     Alex Bustamante, the Inspector General for the Los Angeles Police Department, a police watchdog group, recently presented his oversight board with a report that detailed how LAPD administrators handled use of non-lethal force cases. These police-involved incidents include body holds, punches, baton strikes, and the firing of Tasers and bean-bag guns. Such cases account for 95 percent of the department's use of force incidents.

     According to the inspector general's report, while lethal force cases are investigated internally by a special investigations unit, the less serious cases are merely reviewed by regular field supervisors. The supervisors in charge of these inquiries make certain that statements by involved officers and witnesses are not recorded. Moreover, departmental policy dictates that only a single account of a use of force incident is written up for the record. And that account is from the officer's point of view. As a result, these reports often do not present the true story of the incident under review. This, of course, is the intended result. These are essentially cover-up exercises. Public employees have become masters of the white-wash.

     Inspector General Bustamante told reporters that the above LAPD internal policies and procedures have made it impossible for his group to assess the quality of these in-house investigations. Moreover, there is no way for the watchdog group to determine if LA cops are abusing their power.

     Government agencies, to maintain their authority and to grow, need to operate in secret. It's a matter of institutional survival. As far as most politicians and bureaucrats are concerned, the public has no right to know anything. We are told by our government leaders that it is our job to trust them. In law enforcement the message to the public has always been: leave policing to the professionals. We know what we are doing, and do not need you sticking your nose into our business. In other words, we don't work for you, you work for us, so shut up and go away.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Murder by Poison

     Poisoning is a method of murdering a person without leaving any inconvenient and incriminating clues like bloodstains, knife-wounds, marks of strangulation or crude bludgeoning. With luck, the murder might even be put down to death from natural causes. That, quite simply, is the reason why poisoning was the favorite method of murder for thousands of years: because it was virtually undetectable, its effects indistinguishable from hear attack or a stroke....

     Ancient Rome is the first society on record where poison was used on a large scale, almost indiscriminately, as a matter of policy by the rulers. But we know that the Greeks used poison much earlier, referring to aconite [a toxin derived from the aconitum plant] as the "queen of poisons", for example. And certainly poison was known and widely used in the East, the Arabs and the Indians in particular being great practitioners in the deadly uses of venom.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Writing Quote: Sylvia Plath on Not Writing

I was getting worried about becoming too happily stodgily practical: instead of studying [John] Locke, for instance, or writing--I go make an apple pie, or study The Joy of Cooking, reading it like a rare novel. Whoa, I said to myself. You will escape into domesticity and stifle yourself by falling headfirst into a bowl of cookie batter. And just now I pick up the blessed diary of Virginia Woolf...and she works off her depression over rejections from Harper's (no less!--and I can hardly believe that the Big Ones got rejected, too!) by cleaning out the kitchen.

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), the American poet who committed suicide in England, The Writer's LIfe (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ashley Barker: The Elementary Teacher Who Lied Her Way Out of the Classroom

     Ashley Barker started teaching first grade at the Laurel Elementary School in central Florida's Polk County in the fall of 2011. In November, just two months into her first year at the school, Barker began asking, through emails to her principal, for days off due to illness. At first Barker reported a problem with kidney stones, then later that month, informed the principal that she was undergoing a medical treatment for a cyst.

     In January 2012, Barker, via email, informed her boss that due to a brain infection, her body was shutting down. After reporting to the school that she was dying, and probably wouldn't make it through the night, Barker made a remarkable recovery.

     The elementary school teacher's next series of emails requesting paid sick leave involved the declining health of her father. According to Barker, her dad suffered from a heart problem that was life threatening. At one point she reported that he didn't have much time to live. By November 2012, Barker had sent 120 illness related emails to the principal who had authorized 35 days of paid sick leave.

     In January 2013, Barker reported to her principal that one of her fellow teachers had threatened to kill her. (The accused teacher strongly denied the charge.) A week after the accusation, Barker claimed that a man wearing a ski mask had threatened her life if she pursued the case against the other teacher. She said the masked man had ambushed her in the school parking lot.

     Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff's Office investigated Barker's accounts of the threat by the teacher and the masked man, and were unable to confirm, through other witnesses and various leads, that the crimes had taken place. In May 2013, when confronted by skeptical detectives, Barker confessed that she had made up the threats against her life. She also admitted that her requests for sick leave had been based on lies. She was never ill, and her father had not been dying of a bad heart. She had made these stories up to get out of work. (And perhaps to get sympathy and attention.)

     The superintendent of the Polk County School District suspended Ashley Barker without pay. The school administrator also planned to recommend dismissal. Barker has acquired an attorney, and says that if she's fired from the Laurel Elementary School, she will fight the dismissal in court. (It will be interesting to see if the teacher's union backs her case.)

     The Ashley Barker case reveals that in public education, if a teacher wants a day off, all she has to do is claim illness without supporting documentation. Moreover, it shows that public school teachers are hired without extensive background investigations. If Barker ends up keeping her job, we will also learn that public school employees, regardless of their behavior, cannot be fired. 

Criminal Justice Quote: NSA's Spying on Millions of U. S. Citizens

[The National Security Agency collecting of 3 billion phone calls a day] doesn't look like modest invasion of privacy....We're talking about trolling through a billion phone records a day. The Founding Fathers didn't want that. I think the American people are with me. Young people who use computers are with me.

Rand Paul, U. S. Senator, June 9, 2013

Writing Quote: A Bad Review for Catch-22

Whitney Balliett reviewed a novel for The New Yorker in 1961, saying, "[The author] wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior that children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." The book was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing Quote: Albert Camus on Lying Politicians

Every time I hear a political speech...I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people's anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble--yes gamble--with a whole part of their life and their so-called "vital interests."

Albert Camus, novelist and philosopher (1913-1960) in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

[It seems that nothing has changed since Camus' death.] 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Montia Parker: The Teen Pimp

     Montia Marie Parker lived in Maple Grove, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 18-year-old cheerleader was one of 1,800 students who attended Hopkins High School. In February 2013, Parker sent a text message to a 16-year-old member of the cheerleading squad asking if the girl was interested in performing sexual acts for money. The Hopkins High School sophomore, who received special education services due to "developmental cognitive delay," had been telling her friends that she needed money.

     In response to the senior cheerleader's query, the 16-year-old, in a return text, said yes. She didn't want to engage in sexual intercourse for money, but she would perform oral sex for paying clients. Montia Parker asked the girl to send photographs of herself that were "not too nasty but kind of cute." When Parker received the photographs, she posted them on Backstage.com, a website that advertises juvenile prostitution.

     Parker, on March 5, 2013, drove the high school sophomore to an apartment building in a nearby community to service a client willing to pay for oral sex. "You're up!" Parker said to her passenger as she pulled up to the address. The 16-year-old entered the building, and when she returned, handed Parker $60. The young pimp deposited the money into her bank account.

     The next morning, Parker, identifying herself as her young sex worker's mother, called the school and reported that her "daughter" wasn't feeling well and would staying at home that day. The young pimp drove her novice prostitute that morning to a John's house in Brooklyn Park. When the teenager met the John, he insisted in engaging in sexual intercourse. To the reluctant girl, Parker said, "You'll be fine. I didn't drive up here for nothing. Eventually you will need to have sex." The 16-year-old offered oral sex, but not sexual intercourse. The John refused, and the high school girls departed without a sale.

     The sophomore's mother noticed changes in her daughter's behavior, and had also learned that she had skipped school on the pretext phone call. When the mom checked her daughter's cellphone, she discovered the text messages pertaining to prostitution. She called the police.

     On May 22, 2013, police officers, on charges of sex trafficking and promoting prostitution, booked Mantia Parker into the Hennepin County Jail. The next day the suspected pimp posted her $50,000 bond. If convicted as charged, Parker faced a maximum prison sentence of twenty years and a $50,000 fine. She was being represented by a lawyer from the county public defender's office.

     While the sex trafficking in young girls by adult men is common criminal activity, a teenager pimping a fellow teen is not so common.

     

Writing Quote: Journal Writing for Authors

In writing your journal give primary attention to detail; for it is detail which organizes and preserves experiences for your future self or some other reader. General statements like "We had a wonderful time," or "It was a dismal morning" make a mockery of the whole procedure, for they evaluate experience without recreating it. I kept long journals from ages two to twenty-two, chronicling events and describing emotional states, but again and again missing the physical immediacy of the experience, the tiny hooks by which experience could have been caught and held. I failed to record how we looked, what we saw, the minor eccentricities of circumstances which gave special character to a day. I ignored these elements not only through lack of training but through misplaced priorities: I mistakenly assumed that one could discuss the heart of things without discussing the immediate details of life.

Robert Grudin in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Is NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden a Hero?

Edward Snowden [the NSA leaker] is a hero because he realized that our very humanity was being compromised by the blind implementation of machines in the name of making us safe. Unlike those around him, who were too absorbed in their task to reflect on their actions and pause in the pursuit of digital omniscience, Snowden allowed himself to be "disturbed" by what he was doing. More in the midst of technology that most of us will ever be, Snowden disengaged for long enough to be human and to consider the impact of what he was helping build. He pressed pause. Thank heavens our intelligence agencies are staffed by people like Snowden, not robots. People who can still think....In the coming months, I expect a campaign to be waged against this young man that will make the one against Daniel Ellsberg [the "Pentagon Papers" leaker] look like child's play. His enemies have the full force of the machine--every e-mail he's written and every phone call he's made--to use against him. This won't be pretty....

Douglas Rushkoff, CNN columnist, June 10, 2013 

Writing Quote: Elements of a Book Review

A good book review should do an evocative job of pointing out quality. "Look at this! Isn't this good?" should be the critic's basic attitude. Occasionally, however, you have to say, "Look at this! Isn't it awful?" In either case, it's important to quote from the book....Criticism has no real power, only influence.

Clive James, poet and author, 2013 interview 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Donald Harvey: Angel of Death

     Note: This week the Smithsonian Network, as part of their series "Catching Killers," is airing an episode called "Cause of Death" which features cases showing the important role autopsies play in homicide investigations. One of the murders featured in "Cause of Death" is the Donald Harvey angel of death case in which the male nurse poisoned dozens of his patients. I appear in this episode which airs on the following dates: Monday, June 10: 8PM and 11PM; Tuesday, June 11: 5PM; Thursday, June 13: noon; and Saturday, June 15: 1AM. Below is a summary of the Donald Harvey serial murder case.

Donald Harvey: Angel of Death

     In 1975, after working briefly as a hospital orderly in London, Kentucky, 23-year-old Donald Harvey took a job with the Veteran's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. As the years passed, a pattern emerged. When Harvey was on duty, patients died. Finally, after ten years, and the deaths of more than 100 patients on his watch, the orderly was fired. He was terminated because several hospital workers suspected he was poisoning patients under his care. After Harvey left the medical facility, the death rate plummeted. Terminating Donal Harvey turned out to be good medicine, at least at the VA hospital.

     Shortly after his firing, Harvey was hired across town at Drake Memorial Hospital where the death rate began to soar. As he had done at the VA facility, Harvey was murdering patients by either lacing their food with arsenic, or injecting cyanide into their gastric tubes. The deaths at Drake, like those at the VA hospital, were ruled as naturally caused fatalities. While suspicions were aroused, it was hard to imagine that this friendly, helpful little man who was so charming and popular with members of his victims' families, could be a stone-cold killer.

     As clever and careful as Harvey was, he made a mistake when he poisoned John Powell, a patient recovering from a motorcycle accident. Under Ohio law, victims of fatal traffic accidents must be autopsied. At Powell's autopsy, an assistant detected the odor of almonds, the telltale sign of cyanide. This was fortunate because most people are unable to detect this scent. The forensic pathologist ordered toxicological tests that revealed that John Powell had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. Donald Harvey had been the last person to see Mr. Powell alive, and John Powell would be the last person he would murder.

     The Cincinnati police arrested Harvey, and searched his apartment where they found jars filled with arsenic and cyanide, and books on poisoning. Notwithstanding this evidence, the Hamilton County prosecutor believed that without a confession there might not be enough evidence to convince a jury of Harvey's guilt. The suspect, on the other hand, was worried that if convicted, he would be sentenced to death. So Harvey and the prosecutor struck a deal. In return for a life sentence, Donald Harvey would confess to all of the murders he could remember. Over a period of several days, he confessed to killing, in Kentucky and Ohio, 130 patients.

     When asked why had he murdered all of those helpless victims, the best answer Harvey could muster was that he must have a "screw loose." Forensic psychologists familiar with the case speculated that the murders had given Harvey, an otherwise ordinary and insignificant person, a sense of power over the lives of others. Harvey pleaded guilty to several murders and was sentenced to life. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Big Brother Government in America

I think [NSA's spying on the phone records of millions of Americans] is one of the most outrageous examples of the stepping on the Constitution I've heard. They have no right to phone records....It is illegal, it is unconstitutional, and it is deplorable. I didn't like it when they did it during the Bush administration, and I don't like it when they're doing it now. They have taken the Patriot Act, which I think was the most dangerous act passed, and they have taken and abused it. You talk about fascism? You're getting damn close to it.

Bob Beckel, liberal pundit, on Fox News, June 7, 2013


Writing Quote: Vices of Modern Journalism

I'm still a sucker for the romance of journalism, but I'm also a realist. My adult lifetime graduate course has taught me that my profession's virtues, like those of the Greek heroes, often become its vices. Its very successes--illuminating the civil rights revolution, helping open America's eyes to Vietnam or Nixon's depredations or financial mismanagement--induced excess. Reporters wanted to be famous, rich, influential. As a media writer, I've reported on a new generation of windbags, of callow people who think they become investigative reporters by adopting a belligerent pose without doing the hard digging, of bloviators so infatuated with their own voice they have forgotten how to listen, of news presidents who are slaves to ratings, and of editors terrified they may bore readers. As in any profession, some folks take shortcuts.

Ken Auletta, Backstory: Inside the Business of News, 2003

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Writers Quote: Mickey Spillane on Writing

Mickey Spillane, addressing a Mystery Writer's of America convention, warned his fans not to look closely for symbolic depth in his novels. Of his famous protagonist, Spillane said, "Mike Hammer drinks beer, not cognac, because I can't spell cognac."

James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark, The Writer's Home Companion, 1987

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Drugs and Crime

The great availability of illicit drugs contributes not only to more frequent crime but to more serious crime. The man who steals from stores and houses may have ideas about bank robberies flash through his mind, but without drugs he is too fearful to carry them out. Once he is on drugs, barriers to more daring ventures are overcome. The drugs do not cause a person to obtain a sawed-off shotgun and hold up a liquor store, or for that matter, commit any other crime. They simply make it more feasible for him to eliminate fears for the time being in order to act upon what he has previously considered. That is, drugs intensify and bring out tendencies already present within the individual user. They do not transform a responsible person into a criminal. The criminality comes first, the decision to use drugs later.

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

[I believe this concept holds true in the relationship between mental illness and violent crime. Violence is not a symptom of mental illness. However, when a violent person loses his mind, the tendency already present in the person manifests itself. The mental illness merely releases the violence.]

Criminal Justice Quote: Lavish IRS Spending

In hindsight, many of the [IRS] expenses that were incurred [$50 million worth of spending for a series of lavish training conferences] should have been more closely scrutinized or not incurred at all, and were not the best use of taxpayer dollars.

IRS official Faris Fink to members of the House Oversight Committee, June 6, 2013 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mayhem On Kindergarten Graduation Day in Cleveland

     Just before eleven o'clock on Friday morning, May 31, 2013, as the attendees of a kindergarten graduation ceremony walked out of the Michael R. White Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio, two teenage girls got into a fistfight  over a spilled cup of punch. Instead of pulling the girls apart, family members from both sides jumped into the fray as the recent kindergarten graduates looked on in horror.

     One of the combatants in the Friday morning gang brawl pulled out a hammer. (A hammer? Who brings a hammer to a graduation ceremony? Well, maybe in Cleveland.) Another kindergarten parent weighed-in with some kind of club. Someone called 911. The caller, perhaps hoping for a fast response from the Cleveland Police Department, falsely reported that shots had been fired. (That usually brings the police flying, but not always. In Detroit it takes a lot more than that.)

     Not long after the 911 call, police officers rolled up to the Michael R. White school. While more than a dozen people were punching, kicking, and rolling around on the ground, officers only arrested seven adults and one juvenile. There were scrapes and bruises, and some pulled-out hair, but none of the graduation day brawlers were seriously injured. The unnamed arrestees, most of whom were women, have been charged with aggravated rioting.

     I can't help wondering what Mr. Rogers would have said to these kindergarten graduates about their brawling parents. Perhaps it would be something like: "You are special, but your folks are jerks." 

Writing Quote: Dealing With Reviews

Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.

E. M. Forster, in Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pedro Portugal: Kidnapped and Tortured in Queens, New York

     Pedro Portugal owned a small accounting and tax firm in the Jackson Heights section of Queens, New York. On the afternoon of April 18, 2013, as the 52-year-old married father of six walked to his car on Roosevelt Avenue, he was approached by a man who called out his name and flashed a police badge. Suddenly this man and an accomplice wearing a ski mask grabbed Mr. Portugal and forced him into a SUV driven by a third man who had his face covered as well.

     The abductors, after placing a cloth bag over the victim's head, drove him to an abandoned warehouse in Long Island City, Queens where they had set up a makeshift apartment. Along the way one of the abductors held a knife to Portugal's stomach. They told the victim he would be killed if his mother in Quito, Ecuador didn't pay a $3 million ransom.

     Shortly after snatching the businessman off the street in broad daylight, the man who had flashed the fake badge, identifying himself as "Tito," called Portugal's mother with the ransom demand. While the Ecuadorean family owned some property, they did not have $3 million in ransom money. Immediately after the initial ransom demand, a member of Portugal's family notified the authorities in Ecuador who in turn reported the crime to the New York Police Department.

     The kidnapped man's mother, who demanded proof that her son was alive, spoke to him several times on one of the kidnapper's cellphone. In one of these conversations, the victim told his mother that "they're going to hurt me. They're going to cut off my fingers."

     Detectives were able, by tracing the phone calls, to identify three suspects, men with criminal histories who regularly traveled between the U. S. and Ecuador. The New York City Police Department sent five detectives to Ecuador who worked closely with the Ecuadorean police as well as officials with the U. S. State Department.

     In the weeks following the abduction, Mr. Portugal's captors burned his hands with acid, punched him in the face and body, and threatened to kill him. In the meantime, detectives began surveilling the Long Island City warehouse after a police officer noticed pizza being delivered to the abandoned building. At night, officers saw a light coming through a warehouse window.

     On May 20, 2013, six New York City detectives, disguised as building inspectors, entered the warehouse. Inside they found Mr. Portugal. The abductor guarding the victim that day fled the building but was arrested a few blocks from the warehouse. The victim, whose hands were bound with nylon rope, said, "I've been kidnapped. They got nothing."

     The suspect arrested near the warehouse was Dennis Alves, a 32-year-old Ecuadorean who lived in Queens. Later that day the police arrested Eduardo Moncayo, a 38-year-old from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Moncayo had been the man with the phony police badge. The third member of the abduction crew, 35-year-old Acuna Corona, also lived in the Queens.

     Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown charged the three suspects with kidnapping and first degree unlawful imprisonment. If convicted, all three men could be sentenced to 25 years to life. They are being held without bail.

     According to Eduardo Moncayo, the mastermind behind the kidnapping for ransom plot was an Ecuadorean named Claudo Ordonez, also known as "Doctor." Ordonez allegedly paid the three-man abduction team $5,000 for the snatch, and $800 a week each to guard Mr. Portugal in the warehouse. Mr. Ordonez is currently at large.

     Eduardo Moncayo, in a jailhouse interview with a reporter with the New York Daily News, said, "I made a mistake, but I'm not a criminal." (I don't see how one can mistakenly abduct a man and for a month torture him. That's a crime, and the person who commits it is a criminal. People don't go to prison for making mistakes, they go to jail for committing crimes--like this one. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Birth of the IRS

1913 wasn't a very good year. 1913 gave us the income tax, the 16th Amendment and the IRS.

Ron Paul

Writing Quote: Isaac Asimov on Criticism

     Criticism and writing are two different talents. I am a good writer but have no critical ability. I can't tell whether something I have written is good or bad, or just why it should be either. I can only say, "I like this story," or "It was easy to read," or other such trivial nonjudgmental remarks.

     The critic, if he can't write as I do, can nevertheless analyze what I write and point out flaws and virtues. In this way, he guides the writer and perhaps even helps the writer.

     Having said all that, I must remind you that I'm talking about critics of the first caliber. Most critics we encounter, alas, are fly-by-night pipsqueaks without any qualification for the job other than the rudimentary ability to read and write. It is their pleasure sometimes to tear down a book savagely, or to attack the author rather than the book. They use the review, sometimes, as a vehicle for displaying their own erudition or as an opportunity for safe sadism.

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: IRS and the Mafia

The IRS! They're like the Mafia, they can take anything they want!

Jerry Seinfeld 

Writing Quote: Writing for Children

Books for kids need to be very entertaining. No preaching, no hidden messages, no condescending tone, no didactic stuff. Kids are smart: don't underestimate their bull detector. Contemporary kids have access to a lot of information, so don't even try to fool them....Kids like fantasy, imagination, humor, adventure, villains and suspense.

Isabelle Allende, novelist, 2013 interview 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Senseless Crime

The common motive behind many crimes that appear senseless is kicks--the thrill of doing the forbidden. There is excitement in thinking about crime, bragging about crime, executing the crime, making the getaway, and celebrating the triumph. Even if the offender is caught, there is excitement in dealing with the police, in trying to beat the rap, in receiving notoriety, and, if it gets that far, the trial proceedings.

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

Crime Bulletin: Tyler Deutsch Sticks Six-Week-Old Baby Into a Freezer

   Tyler Deutsch lived with his girlfriend and her six-week-old baby girl in a trailer house in Roy, Washington, a town of 800 outside of Tacoma. On Saturday, May 25, 2013, while the baby's 22-year-old mother was away from the trailer, Deutsch closed the baby into a freezer to stop her from crying. Deutsch fell asleep, and an hour later, as his girlfriend walked into the dwelling, the 25-year-old removed the baby. The infant, wearing only a diaper, had been exposed to a temperature of ten degrees.

     The mother--who for some reason has not been identified in the media by name--tried to call 911. Deutsch, however, not wanting to get into trouble with the law, took the phone out of her hand. The frantic mother ran to a neighbor's place where she made the emergency call.

     Paramedics rushed the unresponsive baby to the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital were physicians managed to revive her. The infant, with blisters on her skin, had a body temperature of 84. Doctors also determined that the baby had a broken arm and leg as well as a head injury.

     Deputies with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office took Deutsch into custody. According to reports, he told the officers that by deep-freezing the baby he was trying to help her. A local prosecutor charged Deutsch with attempted murder, assault of a child, criminal mistreatment, and interfering with reporting domestic violence. The suspect is being held in the Pierce County Jail without bond.

     Besides not revealing the identify of the baby's mother, local reporters have also failed to establish if Deutsch is the victim's father. Moreover, we don't know if he's mentally deficient or insane. As a result of weak news reporting, we also don't know if Deutsch has a job or a criminal record. The fact the baby has broken bones and a head injury suggest a history of child abuse.

     While there is obviously a lot more to this story, we may never know the details, particularly if Deutsch pleads guilty. We are told, by a vast army of celebrity reporters, everything there is to know about idiots like Justin Bieber and Lindsay Lohan. But in cases like this, we are often left in the dark. 

Writing Quote: Dominick Dunne on Book Tours

These days, publicity tours are very important. If you are asked to go one one, go. Not everyone is asked. I always feel honored when my publisher asks me to go on the road or appear on television chat shows. I've become very good at it. I know how to sell my book. If the conversation veers away to another topic, I have learned how to bring it back to the book. Nothing annoys me more than to hear writers in the various television green rooms around the country bitch and moan about how boring the book tours are, or how exhausting. Get into it. Have fun. Most of the people you meet are great. You're selling your books, and you're building your reputation. what's so bad about that?

Dominick Dunne (1925-2009), true crime writer and TV personality in Jon Winokur's book, Advice to Writers, 1999

PRESS RELEASE: Upcoming Discovery Channel show on Amish murder and release of a new edition of CRIMSON STAIN


     On Tuesday, June 4, at 9:00 pm, Discovery ID will launch a new crime series that focuses on unusual subcultures and secret societies called Deadly Devotion. The first one-hour episode, Murder in Amish County, features the March 1993 murder of Katie Gingerich, an Amish wife and mother of three young children. Her brutal killing and evisceration took place in an old-order Amish enclave near Mill Village, a rural community in northwest Pennsylvania. The episode includes an interview with Jim Fisher, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Edinboro University and author of Crimson Stain, the definitive account of the case. Murder in Amish County also features re-enactments based on scenes from the book.

     Katie Gingerich’s husband, Edward, convicted of involuntary manslaughter but found mentally ill in 1994, served four years in a minimum-security prison. In January 2011, Mr. Gingerich hanged himself in a barn outside of Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania. At the time of his death he was living with one of his former attorneys.

     A revised and expanded edition of Crimson Stain will soon be available through Amazon.com in both Kindle and paperback formats.  The new edition features an extensive epilogue chronicling Ed Gingerich’s troubled life between his prison release in 1998 to his death twelve years later.
   
     Jim Fisher is the author of nine nonfiction books. Two of his books were nominated for Edgar Allan Poe Awards by the Mystery Writers of America.  He currently publishes Jim Fisher True Crime, a blog about crime, forensic science, policing, and writing. Retired from Edinboro University in 2004, Fisher taught courses on criminal investigation, criminal law, and forensic science. A graduate of Westminster College and Vanderbilt University Law School, Fisher was a Special Agent with the FBI from 1966 to 1972. He has been featured in other Discovery ID crime shows, and over the years has appeared on numerous television and radio programs.

    The Gingerich episode of Deadly Devotion was produced by Lion TV in New York City. For more information, contact Matthew Hall at 212-206-8636.

UPDATE: The trade paperback version of the book is now available, at CreateSpace and at Amazon. The Kindle edition of the book will be released soon as well.

To view clips of the Deadly Devotion episode on the Gingerich case, go here

Monday, June 3, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: IRS Targeting of Conservative and Other Groups

As IRS agents we are controlled by many, many people. We have to submit many, many reports. So the chance of two [Cincinnati] agents going rogue and [targeting groups] could never happen....In my mind I still hear people saying that we were low-level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to the people in D. C. So, take it for what it is. They [IRS administrators in Washington] were basically throwing us under the bus.

Cincinnati IRS agent, May 2013 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Kyle Dube's Plot to Kidnap Then Rescue Nichole Cable Turned to Murder

     On the night of May 12, 2013, in Glenburn, Maine, 15-year-old Nichole Cable left her parents' home to meet a friend down the road from her house. She was under the false belief that the message she had received on her Facebook page was from Bryan Butterfield. The high school sophomore did not return home. The morning following her disappearance, Nichole's mother reported her missing to the police.

     At the request of investigators, officials at Facebook traced the message ostensibly from Bryan Butterfield to a 20-year-old man named Kyle Dube who lived in his parents house in Orono, Maine. Detectives questioned Dube's girlfriend Sarah Mersinger who revealed that Dube had used the fake Facebook account to lure Nichole out of the house that night so that he could kidnap her.

     According to Kyle Dube's brother, the idea behind the abduction involved Kyle later finding and rescuing the girl so that he could look like a hero. But something went wrong and the victim ended up dead. Dube's brother told detectives that Kyle had dumped the body in the woods near the community of Old Town, Maine. The brother said that Kyle's sexual advances toward the 15-year-old had been rejected. Dube's harebrained kidnapping plot and phony rescue scheme had been motivated by his desire to have sex with the girl.

     Police officers from a dozen police agencies, with the aid of cadaver dogs and hundreds of civilian volunteers, searched the woods near Old Town for Nichole's body. In the evening of May 20, 2013, one of the searchers came across the corpse.

     The next day, police officers arrested Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. In confessing to his interrogators, Dube said he had used the phony Facebook account to lure Nichole out of her parents' house. As she walked down the road to meet her friend Byran Butterfield, Dube hid in the woods wearing a ski mask. After ambushing the victim, Dube covered her mouth with tape and put her in the back of his father's pickup truck. When he checked on Nichole after driving to a remote spot near Old Town, Kyle discovered that she had died from suffocation. He left her body in the forest covered in branches.

     On May 22, 2013, a Penobscot County grand jury indicted Kyle Dube on the charge of murder. He is being held in the county lock-up without bail. 

Writing Quote: Stephen King on Bad Writers

No matter how much I want to encourage the man or woman trying for the first time to write seriously, I can't lie and say there are no bad writers. Sorry, but there are lots of bad writers. Some are on-staff at your local newspaper, usually reviewing little-theater productions or pontificating about the local sports teams. Some have scribbled their way to homes in the Caribbean, leaving a trail of pulsing adverbs, wooden characters, and vile passive-voice constructions behind them. Others hold forth at open-mike poetry slams, wearing black turtlenecks and wrinkled khaki pants; they spout doggerel about "my angry lesbian breasts" and "the tilted alley where I cried my mother's name."...While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great one out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: Cooperating With the IRS

We'll try to cooperate fully with the IRS, because as citizens we feel a strong patriotic duty not to go to jail.

Dave Barry 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Writing Quote: B. R. Myers on Prize-Winning Novels

In later 1999 I wrote a short book called Gorgons in the Pool. Quoting lengthy passages from prize-winning novels, I argued that some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks. The greater point was that we readers should trust our own taste and perception instead of deferring to received opinion....A thriller must thrill or it is worthless; this is as true now as it ever was. Today's "literary" novel, on the other hand, need only evince a few quotable passages to be guaranteed at least a lukewarm review. It is no surprise, therefore, that the "literary" camp now attracts a type of writer who, under different circumstances would never have strayed from the safest crime-novel formulae, and that so many critically acclaimed novels today are really mediocre "genre" stories told in an amalgam of trendy stylistic tics.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002

[This is a groundbreaking book that exposes the bad writing of, among others, "literary" novelists Don DeLillo, Annie Proulix, Paul Auster, David Guterson, and Cormac McCarthy.]