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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Donald Williams Jr.: A Man Unfit For Civilized Society

     Donald Williams, Jr., born and raised in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood to parents who physically abused him and spent their welfare money on crack, murdered a man in 1994. The 20-year-old with a low I.Q. and no idea how to make his way in civilized society, had assaulted his former girlfriend, then killed her boyfriend. Convicted of third-degree murder in 1996, the judge sentenced Williams to ten years in prison. (In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder convictions are almost always the result of plea deals.)

     Early in 2009, Williams began dating a woman from Reading, Pennsylvania named Maria Serrano. In May of that year, after letting him move in with her, Serrano kicked the 35-year-old out of her house. The infuriated ex-con took up residence in a halfway house in Reading.

     On June 25, 2009, Williams returned to Serrano's home. That night he raped her. But he didn't leave it at that. While she took a shower, he stabbed her with a screwdriver. Williams then threw the 49-year-old woman down her basement steps, doused her with gasoline, lit her up and left her for dead.

     To the 911 dispatcher, Serrano screamed, "Oh my God, I am bleeding! Hurry up! There is a fire, I am burning all over the place! There is a fire in the house! Hurry up!" Paramedics rushed the badly burned woman to the Lehigh Valley Burn Center near Allentown, Pennsylvania. On August 8, 2009, she died of her injuries.

     A Berks County prosecutor charged Williams, who was already in custody on the rape, arson, and aggravated assault charges, with first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in this case.

     The Williams trial got underway on September 12, 2013 before Berks County Judge Scott D. Keller and a jury of seven women and five men. When Assistant District Attorney Dennis J. Skayhan rested his case, there was no doubt who had tortured and murdered Maria Serrano. Before she died, the victim had identified Williams as her attacker. A state forensic expert had connected the defendant to the rape though his DNA.

     Public defender Paul Yessler put Williams on the stand. The defendant did not deny that he had raped, stabbed, and set fire to the woman he had thrown down a flight of stairs. In a bold and obvious lie that did not go over well with the jurors, Williams claimed to have "flipped-out" that night after catching Serrano having sex with his younger brother.

     Prosecutor Skayhan, as part of his closing argument, played the victim's 911 tape. Public defender Yessler, in his closing statement, emphasized the defendant's 83 I.Q., his ghetto upbringing, and his childhood abuse. In referring to Williams, Yessler said, "This guy did not have a chance from the get-go."

     Six days after the opening of the trial, the jury, after deliberating six hours, found Williams guilty of rape, arson, and first-degree murder. The defendant showed no emotion at the reading of the verdict.

     Because the prosecution sought the death penalty in this case, the judge scheduled a two-day sentence hearing. In arguing for the death sentence, prosecutor Skayhan focused on how the tortured victim had died a slow, agonizing death. Public defender Yessler, in pushing for life, highlighted the defendant's low I.Q. and inability to control his impulses.

     The jury, after deliberating two hours on the sentencing issue, informed Judge Keller that a consensus could not be reached. The judge had no choice but to sentence Donald Williams to life in prison without parole.

     In speaking directly to the convicted murderer, Judge Keller made no secret of where he stood on the question of punishment in this case. "You deserved the death penalty," he said without trying to disguise his disgust at the jury's performance. "It was torture in any man or woman's world. You inflicted a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim which is unnecessary, heinous, atrocious, and cruel."

     While few would disagree with the judge's analysis of this murderer, William's low I.Q. would probably have kept him out of the death chamber anyway. Appellate judges do not like the idea of executing stupid people. (In my opinion, many low I.Q. defendants are simply good at playing dumb.)


Recognizing Truth From Deception in the Interrogation Room

     A truthful suspect will give concise answers because he has no fear of being trapped. The person knows that truth is being told and has no reason to qualify or to delay answers. Furthermore, the truthful suspect is not afraid to say the interrogator is wrong in suspecting him. The truthful suspect is also able, without any difficulty, casually to answer an irrelevant question such as "By the way, where do your children go to school?" and he is more apt to quickly correct an interrogator who makes a mistake about some irrelevant detail. The liar is less likely to do so.

     As a test to discern whether the suspect's mind is free and clear, the interrogator may deliberately err when referring to such matters as the suspect's home or business address. Usually, the truthful person will correct the interrogator, but the liar, due to his concentrated mental concern with deception, may completely miss the error. The lying suspect may be so disorganized that he will even delay giving his own home or business address.

     Truthful suspects will not only respond directly, they also will speak with relative clarity. Liars, however, tend to mumble or talk so softly that they cannot be heard clearly. Perhaps they hope that if they lie softly, they will be misunderstood; then, if later confronted with the falsity of an answer, they can deny it was said or else allege that they did not understand the question. On the other hand, some liars may speak at a rapid pace or may display erratic changes in the tone or pitch of their voices. Similarly, a verbal response coupled with nervous laughter or levity is a common attempt to camouflage deception.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

The Blog Writer

     A lot of blogs about writing are self-centered, and that's fine, but a truly personal blog limits your reach. If there's one thing I've learned about the Internet it's that users come to it to see "What's in it for me?" They want valuable content that speaks to their needs.

     Most writing blogs--and blogs in general--are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I write my blog to give readers valuable content because I know that's what they want from me. They don't care about my personal life. My readers visit me for writing and publishing advice, so that's what I dish up.

Mary Kole in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2013 

Bad Schools Don't Create Criminals

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help eliminate crime. Their suggestions revealed a perspective unchanged from childhood, namely that schools should cater to the student and make few demands of him. Among the inmates' suggestions were "more spontaneity," "dump dress codes," "more rap sessions," "supervise kids and not teach them," "let kids teach some classes," "let students choose teachers." Additional proposals were offered, but most were directed toward giving students free reign while requiring little personal responsibility.

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

Nature Writing

Nature writing often requires an ability to understand and interpret the findings of science. If you do not have the education or career credentials for writing about these subjects, you can rely on others who are experts, or you can write as a lay naturalist, an astute observer. However, the onus of accuracy is upon you. Although nature writing rests on science, the essay form leaves plenty of room for the writer's interaction with the environment, including one's inner emotional landscape as well as the outer landscape of the setting. One of the best ways to improve your skill in nature and outdoor writing is to read examples of it, as well as books on how to write this specialized kind of writing.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Dead Pedophile and One Less Pimp

     When frustrated citizens come to believe the criminal justice system is failing them--police focusing on the wrong crimes, prosecutors making too many plea deals, and judges issuing light sentences--there is a chance people will start enforcing the law themselves. Some will do it for self-protection, others for revenge, and still others to make their communities safer for everyone. Because the nation's rates of violent crime are low compared to earlier times, this is not about to happen on a large scale. But parents of elementary school children are concerned about the pedophiles that are living in our neighborhoods. And parents of teen-age girls have a lot to worry about, particularly in the era of social media, and widespread drug use.

One Less Pimp

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado lived with their four children in the Bayview District of San Francisco not far from Candlestick Park. Gilton, 38, had been a San Francisco Municipal Railway operator since 2008. A year ago, the couple's 17-year-old daughter (who has not been identified by name) ran off to southern California. The worried parents went to the police but (according to them) received little help. They added their daughter's name to several exploited children's registries which failed to produce results.

     Gilton and Lupe Mercado began seeing their daughter's name and photograph in internet escort service ads. They also learned she was being pimped out by 22-year-old Calvin Sneed, a member of the Nutty Block Gang in Compton, California.

     Detectives in southern California believe that the parents, on May 27, 2012, tracked Sneed to Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. That night, according to the police, Gilton approached Sneed on foot as the suspected pimp sat in his Toyota Camry, and, using a 9-millimeter pistol, fired nine shots into his car. Although he wasn't hit by any of the bullets, Sneed received injuries from shards of glass from his windshield.  His girlfriend drove him to the hospital where he refused to cooperate with the police.

     On June 2, while the 17-year-old girl and the pimp were in the Bay area to visit one of her sick relatives, she and her parents, who were still trying to get her away from Sneed, argued. Two days later, at two in the morning, someone using a .40-caliber Glock handgun shot Sneed four times as he drove his Camry in the Bayview District near Gilton and Mercado's home. Later that morning, he died in a nearby hospital. The police believe Gilton shot the alleged pimp from his Mercedes-Benz SUV.

     Shortly after Calvin Sneed was shot to death, police arrested the girl's parents. Gilton and Mercado have been each charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They are each in custody under $2 million bail. Their daughter is living with relatives.

     Prosecutors usually come down hard on murder defendants who have taken the law into their own hands. The message they want to send is this: leave law enforcement to the authorities. If everyone acted this way, no one would be safe. The authorities, aware that some in the community applaud people who take the law into their own hands, want to deter this kind of behavior.

A Dead Pedophile

     It happened on a Saturday this June on a ranch off County Road 302 near Shiner, Texas, a small town 130 miles west of Houston. Ted Smith (not his real name) and his family were hosting an afternoon barbecue. Mr. Smith had hired a 47-year-old Mexican man he knew to take care of the horses and do other chores on the day of the get-together.

     When the 23-year-old rancher heard cries of help coming from his barn, he found the hired-man sexually molesting is 4-year-old daughter. Ted Smith, with his bare hands, killed the pedophile on the spot. After saving his daughter, the rancher called 911.

     The Lavaca County sheriff, Micah Harmon, told reporters that it is unlikely Mr. Smith will be charged with criminal homicide. "He told me," the sheriff said, "that it wasn't his intent for this individual to lose his life. He was just protecting his daughter."

     The case is being investigated by the Texas Rangers. A local resident expressed the prevailing opinion in the community when he said, "I think he [the molester] got what he deserved." If the father is charged with criminal homicide, I can't image any jury finding him guilty.

     The killing in Texas is different from the one in California. The killing of the pedophile wasn't premeditated like the murder of Calvin Sneed. Stalking and killing a pimp is not the same as finding a man molesting your daughter. If the parents in California are found guilty, they could face long prison sentences. It would be an outrage if the authorities in Texas even charged Mr. Smith.

     The authorities in Lavaca County, Texas released the tapes of the 911 call from the father who beat his daughter's molester to death. (The dead man has been identified as Jesus Mora Flores, a Mexican national working in the U.S. on a permanent resident card.) The father, obviously distraught, and on the verge of panic, said, "I need an ambulance. This guy was raping my daughter and I beat him up and I don't know what to do. This guy is fixing to die on me man, and I don't know what to do."

     A Lavaca County grand jury decided not to indict the father. District Attorney Heather McMinn told reporters that "under the law, deadly force is justified to stop a sexual assault....All the evidence indicated that is what was occurring."

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.]

Writing the First Draft

     All writing begins life as a first draft, and first drafts are never (well, almost never) any good. They're not supposed to be. Expecting to write perfect prose on the first try is like expecting a frog to skip the tadpole stage.

     Write a first draft as though you were thinking aloud, not carving a monument. If what you're writing is relatively short--a financial report, a book proposal, a term paper--you might try doing your first draft in the form of a friendly letter. The person at the other end could be someone real or imagined, even a composite reader.

     Relax and take your time, but don't bog down, chewing your nails over individual words or sentences or paragraphs. When you get stalled, put down a string of X's and keep going. What you're writing now will be rewritten. If it is messy and full of holes, so what? It's only the first draft, and no one but you has to see it.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

The Mystery of Why People Commit Crimes

     It's like the old staple of 1930s gangster movies: why does one person become a criminal and the other a priest? Or from my perspective, why does one become a serial killer, another a rapist, another an assassin, another a bomber, another a poisoner, and yet still another a child molester? And within these crime categories, why does each commit his atrocities in the precise way he does? The answer lies in one fundamental question that applies to every one of them:
     Why did he do it?
     The who? follows from there.
     That's the mystery we have to solve.

John Douglas [criminal profiler] and Mark Olshaker, The Anatomy of Motive, 1999

Writing the Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Adaisha Miller's Sudden, Mysterious Death

     On Detroit's west side, on July 8, 2012, 24-year-old Adaisha Miller attended a Saturday night fish fry hosted by Isaac Parrish and his wife. Miller, a certified massage therapist, came to the backyard party with a friend acquainted with the 38-year-old Detroit police officer throwing event. Isaac Parish, a beat patrolman for 16 years, did not know Miller before the get together.

     That night, Officer Parrish carried his department-issued Smith & Wesson M & P 40 semiautomatic pistol on his right side in a soft holster tucked inside his waistband covered by his shirt. In Detroit, officers have the option of carrying their firearms when off-duty. There are not, however, supposed to be armed if their blood-alcholol level is 0.02 percent or above. (In Michigan, the blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI conviction is 0.08 percent.) In essence, Detroit officers are prohibited from carrying their handguns if they consume alcohol, period.

     Thirty minutes after midnight on the night of the party, Adaisha Miller, while either hugging the officer, dancing with him side-by-side, or dancing on her knees behind him (I have a hard time picturing this), touched or tugged at his waist in a way that caused his firearm to discharge. The gun not only went off, the bullet entered Miller's chest, pierced a lung, hit her heart, and exited her lower back. She died later that day at a local hospital.

     According to Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County Medical Examiner, the path of the bullet through Miller's body did not reveal the victim's position relative to the gun's muzzle (end of the barrel) which was pointed toward the ground. Because the Smith & Wesson M & P 40 is designed for police and military use, it does not have a safety switch. However, the trigger must be pulled back all the way before the gun will fire.

     Months after Adaisha Miller's sudden demise, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office declared her death "accidental."

     Because it was hard to construct a scenario, based on the facts at hand, that explained exactly how this accident occurred, Adaisha's death remains a mystery. Less than 24 hours after Miller's death, a lawyer surfaced in the case talking about a potential lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department. Attorney Gerald Thurswell, in speaking to a local reporter, said, "We believe 100 percent that this death was caused as a result of a negligent act of somebody. If somebody was negligent then someone's responsible for the injuries and death caused as a result of their negligent act." This lawyer has hired a private investigator to look into the shooting.

     In February 2017, Adaisha Miller's mother, Yolanda McNair, was part of a demonstration outside the Detroit courthouse. The protesters were mothers of children who had been killed by Detroit police officers. McNair told a reporter that in her opinion, justice was not done in the case of her daughter's death. The lawsuit was pending. 

Stephen King on Reading Good and Bad Novels

     One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose. Reading Valley of the Dolls and Bridges of Madison County is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

     Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy--"I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand"--but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Lawsuits Are Important

     It matters how judges decide cases. It matters to people unlucky or litigious or wicked or saintly enough to find themselves in court. Learned Hand, who was one of America's best and most famous judges, said he feared a lawsuit more than death or taxes. Criminal cases are the most frightening of all, and they are also the most fascinating to the public. But civil suits, in which one person asks compensation or protection from another for some past or threatened harm, are sometimes more consequential than all but the most momentous criminal trials. The difference between dignity and ruin may turn on a single argument that might not have struck a judge so forcefully, or even the same judge on another day. People often stand to gain or lose more by one judge's nod than they could by an general act of Congress or Parliament.

     Lawsuits matter in another way that cannot be measured in money or even liberty. There is inevitability a moral dimension to an action at law, and so a standing risk of distinct form of public injustice. A judge must decide not just who shall have what, but who has behaved well, who has met the responsibilities of citizenship, and who by design or greed or insensitivity has ignored his own responsibilities to others or exaggerated theirs to him. If this judgement is unfair, then the community has inflicted a moral injury on one of its members because it has stamped him in some degree or dimension an outlaw. The injury is gravest when an innocent person is convicted of a crime, but it is substantial when a plaintiff with a sound claim is turned away from court or a defendant leaves with an undeserved stigma.

Richard Dworkin, Law's Empire, 1986

Writing Quote: Procrastination

     A primary reason writers procrastinate is in order to build up a sense of deadline. Deadlines create a flow of adrenaline. Adrenaline medicates and overwhelms the censor. Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.

     What writers tell themselves while they procrastinate is that they just don't have enough ideas yet, and when they do, then they'll start writing. It actually works exactly backward. When we start to write, we prime the pump and the flow of ideas begins to move. It is the act of writing that calls ideals forward, not ideas that call forward writing.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, 1999

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pedophiles in Hollywood: Hey Kid, You Want to be a Star?

     While child sexual molestation takes place behind closed doors, pedophiles groom their potential victims in plain sight. They do this in classrooms, churches, gymnasiums, and day care centers--anywhere vulnerable children are subjected to the influence and control of adults. They also do it in Hollywood where parents eagerly offer up young, aspiring actors and entertainers to pedophiles working as talent managers, agents, publicists, acting coaches, and casting directors.

Jason James Murphy

     In Edmonds, Washington, 19-year-old Jason James Murphy, an aspiring actor working as a camp counselor, met and began grooming a 5-year-old boy for sexual encounters. In December 1995, an employee of the Hazelwood Elementary School in Lynnwood, Washington, saw Murphy kissing this boy who was now 7. The teacher notified the police who took Murphy into custody on a child molestation charge. Murphy's family posted his bail and shortly after his arrest he was released.

     In January 1996, Murphy's fixation on this child was so intense he disguised himself as a woman and lured the boy from the elementary school. Murphy and the abducted child flew to New York City and checked into a hotel. After a massive police hunt for the missing victim followed by a segment featuring the case on "America's Most Wanted," a New York City hotel clerk who recognized Murphy and the boy notified the authorities. A short time later, FBI agents rescued the child, and arrested Murphy. Eight months after that a federal jury found Murphy guilty of kidnapping and child molestation. He served 5 of his 7 year sentence behind bars.

     Four years after getting out of federal prison, Murphy moved to West Hollywood, California where he registered as a sex offender under his legal name, Jason James Murphy. Under California law, there were strict rules regarding the circumstances under which a registered sex offender can work with children under 16. The law also required registered sex offenders to notify law enforcement if they changed their names or use aliases.

     Murphy, under the professional name Jason James, became a successful freelance child actor casting director. He worked on films such as "Bad News Bears," "The School of Rock," and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Director and co-producer J. J. Abrams hired him as a freelancer on "Super 8."

     On November 17, 2011, J. J. Abrams, having been tipped off by his manager David Lonner who had just learned of Jason James' true identity, informed Paramount Pictures, the studio that released "Super 8." Someone at Paramount called the police.

     Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, on December 9, 2011, arrested Murphy on charges he had violated California's sex offender registry regulations. Violations of these laws were felonies that carried sentences of up to three years in prison. Murphy's attorney blamed the arrest, and the attention it drew from the media, on the highly publicized Penn State child molestation story that was breaking at the time. The lawyer also claimed that the people who had hired Murphy as a casting director knew his full, legal name. Mr. Murphy had not been accused of molesting any of the children he had worked with professionally.

     On May 2, 2012, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge dismissed the charges against Murphy on the grounds that all the studio executives who used his services were aware of the casting director's true identity.

Martin Weiss

     Less than two weeks after producer J. J. Abrams notified Paramount Pictures of who Jason James really was, Los Angeles detectives with the Topanga Division's Sexual Assault Unit arrested 47-year-old Martin Weiss, a Hollywood manager who specialized in child actors. Weiss stood accused of committing 30 to 40 sexual crimes against an aspiring singer and musician he represented from 2005 to 2008. The sexual encounters allegedly took place at Weiss' apartment/business office in Santa Monica, and at his home in Woodland Hills. After being taken to the Los Angeles County Jail, a judge set his bond at $300,000.

     According to the alleged victim, now 18-years-old, the molesting stopped when he turned 15. After that, he and Weiss parted ways. The victim didn't report the abuse then because he didn't think anyone would believe his story. But after the Penn State scandal became big news, the victim decided to report his abuser, and come forward with evidence that backed up his story.

     On November 15, 2011, the victim confronted Weiss at his apartment in Santa Monica, and secretly taped their conversation. (In the Penn State case, the victim's mother taped her confrontation with former football coach and child molester Jerry Sandusky.) In discussing their past relationship, Weiss did not deny having sexual relations with his accuser. When Weiss' accuser compared his victimization with that of Jerry Sandusky and the boys he molested, Weiss reportedly replied, "Those kids didn't want it." Weiss' accuser pointed out that his sexual encounters with Weiss, acts that took place when he was 11 and 12, had also not been consentual.

     Martin Weiss, at a December 15 pretrial hearing, entered a plea of not guilty. If convicted as charged, the owner of Martin Weiss Management faced up to 34 years in prison.

     Paula Dorn, the co-founder of the non-profit child talent support organization BizParentz Foundation, reportedly said that, over the years, she and members of her group have heard rumors of Weiss' sexual relationships with some of his clients. But without any hard evidence of sexual abuse, no one reported this to law enforcement.

     On June 1, 2012, Martin Weiss pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act with an 11-year-old client. The judge, Leslie Dunn, sentenced Weiss to one year in the Los Angeles County Jail. He also received five years probation, had to register as a sex offender, and stay away with people under 18. In return for the plea, the prosecutor dropped 6 other sex offense charges against  him.

      Martin Weiss got off easy.

      A Documentary on Pedophilia in Hollywood

     On June 13, 2016, The Week magazine published an article about a column by Oliver Thring that had appeared recently in The Sunday Times (London) regarding pedophiles in Hollywood. What follows is an excerpt from the The Week piece:

     "...Serial child abusers lurk among the legions of directors, managers, and agents, sheltered by powerful friends and their own wealth. One agent who managed high-profile child stars was convicted of molesting a boy and trafficking in child pornography, and he spent eight years in jail. Others, though, are never exposed or return to work in Hollywood after serving just a few months in prison--and their old pals hire them to work with children again. Those who speak out are shamed or silenced. Actor Corey Feldman, for example, went public after the abuse he and Corey Haim suffered for years. Both actors went on to abuse alcohol and drugs, and Haim died at age 38. But Feldman's tell-all memoir was dismissed as unreliable because of his drug addiction….Oscar nominated director Amy Berg has a made a documentary about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Hollywood, in which five former child actors describe their abuse and name names. But though An Open Secret was well received at Cannes, Berg can't get a distributor. Hollywood bigwigs just don't want the story told."

A Pay-to-Pee Program Initiated by an Idiot Elementary School Teacher

     Two Vancouver, Washington third graders said they wet their pants after their teacher would not let them use the bathroom. The students, both girls, said the reason for the denial was that they hadn't accumulated enough pretend money to pay for the privilege. The unidentified teacher will not be punished as a result of an internal investigation of the incident by representatives of the teacher's union. A separate investigation of the incident has been triggered by a mother's complaint….

     The alleged incidents occurred May 15 at Mill Plain Elementary School. The pretend money is designed to teach students about the value of money. [Here's an idea: to demonstrate the value of money, the teacher can refuse to pay her union dues. The next day, the students can discuss the lesson with their new teacher.] Students earn the fictional funds by doing their homework, for example, or by being nice to others. [In real life you don't get paid for that.] They can spend it to buy pizza [take that, Mrs. Obama!] or pointless items like a squirt gun. [If a kid brings this purchase to school, he'll need real money for bail.] Students say they must also use the fake cash to pay for bathroom breaks.

     The unidentified teacher expects a seemingly high imaginary price for toilet time: $50. [Hey, if you ever had the urgent need to go, $50 is peanuts. If this teacher were smart, she'd charged the little buggers real money for bathroom breaks.]

     A statement by Evergreen Public Schools said that all students, including students who don't have enough fake money are allowed to use the bathroom in cases of an emergency. [Really?]

Eric Owens, "Pay-To-Pee Teacher Faces No Discipline," The Daily Caller, May 25, 2014   

The Innocent Youth Fallacy

     My brother Ed is a criminal lawyer who often handles juvenile cases. He once told me, "I look at some of my young clients and tell myself, 'That's a kid.' Then I say to myself, 'That's also a criminal.'" Perhaps none of us can easily resolve this conflict in our own minds.

     The television version of crime usually portrays middle-aged offenders or victims. When the young are there, they are portrayed as innocents corrupted by those older. This is the innocent youth fallacy.

     Are you people really so innocent? I have heard many people say, "Let's keep the young offenders separate from the hard-bitten older offenders, who will be a bad influence on them." If you ask the prison officials, they tell you something different. The young offenders give them the most trouble. The reason to keep the ages separate is to protect the older prisoners from the young thugs.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998

Writing Your Gripping Crime Novel

     You know you're reading a great mystery novel when you're up at three in the morning, unable to put it down. When you finally fall asleep, the characters go romping around in your dreams. When you get to the final page, you smack yourself in the head because the solution seems obvious in retrospect yet came as a complete surprise.

     Page-turning suspense. Rich characterization. A credible surprise ending. Sounds pretty simple, but writing a mystery novel is not for the faint of heart…Be prepared to keep three or four intertwined pots spinning. Get ready to master the art of misdirection so readers will ogle those red herrings you've sprinkled while ignoring the real clues in plain sight. Don't be surprised when you find yourself riding herd on a load of characters who won't go where you want them to.

     On top of that, you'll need dogged determination and intestinal fortitude to stick with it, through the first draft and endless revisions, until your words are polished to lapidary perfection. It wouldn't hurt, either, to have the hide of a rhinoceros to withstand the inevitable rejections. Talent being equal, what separates many a published mystery writer from an unpublished one is sheer stamina. Only gluttons for punishment need apply.

Halle Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Megaproblems at the Megachurch

     In 1986, prosperity minister Creflo Dollar started World Changers International Church in suburban Atlanta's College Park, Georgia. Housed in the World Dome, a golden-domed structure that houses a 8,500-seat sanctuary, the megachurch boasts a membership of 30,000. Through his Creflo Dollar Ministries, the silver-tongued pastor had become a wealthy man with his real estate holdings, a stable of breeding horses, and thirty books to his name. Reverent Dollar charged up to $100,000 for one of his rousing, motivational talks.

     In 2007, United States Senator Charles Grassley launched a congressional investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for personal use. While no tax evasion charges were filed in connection with the inquiry, senators decried the lack of governmental oversight of these religious goldmines.

     Pastor Dollar's problems became more personal, and hit closer to home on June 8, 2012. His 15-year-old daughter called 911, and reported that the reverend had assaulted her. Deputies with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office who responded to the mansion spoke to the daughter and her 19-year-old sister who said she had witnessed the incident.

     According to the older Dollar sibling, her father and the alleged victim had been arguing over whether the girl should go to a party. The witness told deputies that Pastor Dollar grabbed his daughter by the shoulders, slapped her in the face, choked her for five seconds, then threw her to the floor. The officers noticed fresh scratch marks on the complainant's neck. The police handcuffed Reverend Dollar and hauled him off to the Fayette County Jail. ( On January 25, 2013, after Pastor Dollar completed an anger management program, the Fayette County prosecutor dropped the assault charges.)

     Just before ten in the morning of October 24, 2012, 51-year-old Floyd Palmer, a former janitor at the  World Changers International Church, walked into a chapel where 25 members of the congregation were being led in prayer by Greg McDowell. Palmer calmly walked up to the stage where the 39-year-old volunteer staff member stood, and shot him dead. After murdering this husband and father, Palmer walked casually out of the World Dome, climbed into his black Subaru station wagon, and drove off. Reverend Dollar was not in the church at the time, and no one else was shot.

     A few hours after the church killing, local police and U.S. Marshals arrested Floyd Palmer outside a Macy's store in a shopping mall in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The police had spotted Palmer's vehicle in the parking lot. Taken into custody without incident, the suspect was placed into the Fulton County jail where he was held without bond.

     Floyd Palmer was a psychotic and violent person in what seems to be a growing population of dangerous nut cases. In June 2001, when Palmer was part of a security detail at a Baltimore mosque, he shot a fellow employee named Reuben Jerry Ash. After shooting Ash in the back, Palmer tried to fire again, but his handgun jammed. Bystanders ran toward Palmer to disarm him. He fired at them but the gun still didn't work. Fortunately no one was killed, but the shooting left Reuben Ash paralyzed.

     At his pretrial psychiatric examination, Palmer said that members of his family, and Ray Lewis, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, were out to get him. Palmer pleaded guilty to attempted murder, and was committed to a mental hospital. Three years later, Palmer shot and wounded another Baltimore man. For that attempted murder, Mr. Palmer spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital.

     In September 2015, a Fulton County judge ruled Floyd Palmer mentally competent to stand trial for murder.

     A Fulton County jury, in May 2016, found Floyd Palmer guilty of first-degree murder but mentally ill. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     When violent mental cases like Floyd Palmer are allowed to live among us, no one is safe, not even a man inside a church leading a prayer service. I can't imagine that Mr. Palmer would have been hired to clean the church if the people who employed him knew of his violent background. If they did, and hired him anyway, they are fools who will have to answer for their bad judgment.  

Blue Collar Versus White Collar Crime

Essentially, the term "white collar" crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let's say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indicted and convicted on a charge of stock fraud, manipulation and theft. So we call the act a white collar crime. But if the same sort of crime is committed by an Italian-American Mafioso who used to make his living by hijacking trucks, then we call it something else. But the act is the same, whether the perpetrators wear blue collars or white! On top of this, the term obscures the additional fact that the so-called white collar criminals are increasingly allied with the blue collars on many of these criminal ventures. Why is the fence a blue collar criminal and receivers of stolen property lily-white? Why is the man who hijacks a truckload of shrimp with a pistol inferior, in some sense of terminology, to the manufacturer who robs the public with his defective products?

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Learning to Write

     You learn to write by writing. It's a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it's true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.

     If you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you would be a better writer after six months. You wouldn't necessarily be writing well--your style might still be full of clutter and cliches. But you would be exercising your powers of putting the English language on paper, gaining confidence and identifying the most common problems.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

What is Neonaticide?

     The day you are born is the day you are most likely to be the victim of homicide. This cheerless statistic holds true whether you live in Stockholm or South Yarra [Australia]. The perpetrator will almost certainly be you mother. She will most likely be under 25, unmarried, still living at home or in poor circumstances, either still at school or unemployed, emotionally immature and astonishingly secretive. She has carried you to term without telling a soul of your existence. And somehow the parents with whom she resides never suspect she is with child.

     Now that you are born, it's not depression or psychosis that moves her to murder you. Mental illness rarely plays a part in this sort of killing. Nor is she overwhelmed by the feeling that life is simply too harsh for such a defenseless little creature for whom she cares a great deal.

     There is rarely great violence in the manner in which she kills you, her newborn child. She may simply abandon you to the elements. The only intense feeling she has is the desire to see you gone. She may even deny that you exist at all.

     This is the profile of a neonaticide, the murder of a newborn in its first 24 hours of life, a form of infanticide peculiar to industrialized countries. Most people…probably never heard of neonaticide. There is no separate provision for neonaticide in criminal law. People are either charged with manslaughter or murder, or more rarely, infanticide….

     Mairead Dolan is a professor of forensic psychiatry at Monash University and Assistant Director of research at the Victorian Institute for Forensic Mental Health [in Australia]. She is co-author of a draft paper, "Maternal Infanticide and Neonaticide in Australia: A Forensic Evaluation." Dolan says that few neonaticides are reported because bodies are never found or reported to the authorities, or the cause of a death remains unknown. She also says there is an acceptance that coroners sometimes incorrectly rule a death accidental in actual homicide cases. "It is also accepted they can be reluctant to think the worst without supporting evidence," she says….

     Baby Haven laws have been enacted in most of the U.S.'s 50 states over the past eight years. They provide for a mother to abandon her newborn baby without fear of being charged with criminal abandonment. In the U.S. and European experience, the abandonment usually takes place at a hospital or at a police or fire station, where special hatches have been built into the walls. There are limits to the age of the children that can be abandoned, and there are frequently provisions for the mother to be reunited under certain circumstances….

John Elder, "Sins of the Mother: The Tragedy of Neonaticide," The Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2010

     

Writing For Television

TV writing is for people who hate being alone more than they hate writing.

Matthew Weiner, The Paris Review, Spring 2014 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Kayleigh Slusher Murder Case

     In 2014, three-year-old Kayleigh Slusher lived with her mother, Sara Krueger, 23, and Krueger's 26-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Scott Warner. The couple and the toddler resided in Unit 7 at the Royal Garden apartment complex in east Napa, California.

     Over the past five years, Warner had been in and out of bay area jails for a variety of crimes including assault and possession of drugs. When his former girlfriend, Ashley Owens, refused to abort their child, Warner had sent her a series of threatening text messages that read: "I hope the kid dies," "I will scalp you," and "I will bust out your teeth with a pipe." Warner was obviously a violent man who didn't like children, or women.

     Since June 2012, Napa police officers had been called to the Krueger apartment more than a dozen times on reports of domestic disturbance, theft, vandalism, and unwanted persons. By any standard, Unit 7 at the Royal Garden complex was a dangerous place to raise a child. And a lot of relatives and neighbors knew this. The only people who seemed oblivious to the situation were the police and the child welfare authorities. Unfortunately, these were the only people with the power to protect Kayleigh Slusher.

     On January 27, 2014, a neighbor called the Napa police and requested a welfare check at Unit 7. According to the caller, Krueger and her boyfriend were using drugs and not feeding the little girl. They were also making a commotion and fighting with each other. Police officers visited the apartment that day and didn't find drugs or evidence of narcotics use. The officers also observed Kayleigh who seemed okay. The officers did not notify child protective services. They left things as they found them.

     A Krueger relative, worried about the little girl, called the authorities two days later. On January 29, police officers returned to the apartment, examined the girl, and left. This would be the last day of Kayleigh's short life.

     At 11:50 AM on Saturday, February 1, 2014, a police dispatcher in the bay area city of Richmond received an anonymous call from a man who had "something to get off his chest" about Sara Kreuger and her boyfriend. According to the tipster, the boyfriend, a guy named Brian or Ryan, had done something bad to Krueger's daughter.

     That day, two police officers arrived at Unit 7, knocked on the door, and didn't get a response. A neighbor informed the officers that the day before, January 31, 2014, a man and woman, presumably the occupants of the unit, left the apartment. The little girl was not with them. Using a key they had acquired from the apartment complex manager, the officers entered the dwelling.

     In one of the bedrooms the officers found Kayleigh in bed covered in blankets up to her neck. Next to her body lay a doll. She was dead, and cold to the touch. She also had bruises around her eyes and blood in her nostrils. (A forensic pathologist would determine the cause of death to be "multiple blunt impact injuries to the head, torso, and extremities." The pathologist also found evidence of prior child abuse and neglect. Manner of death: Homicide.)

     The following day, February 2, police arrested Krueger and Warner at a BART station in El Cerrito, California. According to the murdered girl's mother, she found Kayleigh dead when she returned to the apartment on the afternoon of January 30, 2014. Krueger said she placed the body into a plastic bag and stored it for awhile in a freezer before tucking the little corpse into the bed.

     Sara Krueger and Ryan Warner were booked into the Napa County Jail on charges of murder and felony assault of a child causing death. If convicted as charged, they faced up to 25 years to life in prison.

     On February 25, 2014, at the murder suspects' arraignment before Napa Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker, the couple pleaded not guilty. The judge denied both suspects bail.

     In June 2015, the dead child's father, grandmother and grandfather filed a lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court against the Napa Police Department and Napa County Child Welfare Services for failing to investigate reports of child abuse.

     In May 2017, separate juries found Ryan Warner and Sara Krueger guilty of first-degree murder. Napa County Judge Francisca P. Tisher, in July 2017, sentenced both defendants to life without parole.

The U. S. Supreme Court and the Death Penalty

     Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, based on the constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment," stunned even the closest court watchers. The death penalty seemed impregnable. It was part of the bedrock of American's legal system, steeped in the intent of the founders, the will of most state legislatures and the forceful--if occasional--ruling of the courts.

     The 5-4 vote in Furman reflected a striking political split: all five members of the majority were holdovers from the Warren Court, known for its liberal decisions, while all four dissenters were recent appointees of Richard Nixon, who had won the White House with a carefully orchestrated law-and-order campaign. And notably, each justice wrote his own opinion in Furman, meaning there was no common thread to the case, no controlling rationale. The decision ran several hundred pages, the longest handed down by the court at the time....

     About 1,300 people have been executed since [1976] with Texas putting its 503rd prisoner to death just weeks ago. A clear majority continues to support the death penalty, though the fear of wrongful conviction appears to be growing, and evidence suggests that juries welcome the option of life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has tightened the reins of capital punishment in recent years, ruling that the executions of the mentally retarded, people under 18 and those convicted of rape, even the rape of a child, are unconstitutional. For death penalty abolitionists, however, the promise of Furman must seem a distant, bitter memory.

David Oshinsky in reviewing A Wild Justice by Evan J. Nandery for The New York Times Book Review September 1, 2013

William Noble on Writing Styles

     When I speak of good, clean prose, of grammatically correct phrasing, I'm talking about writing that has no redundancies and no awkward, self-conscious parts. You're carried forward by the lilt of the writer's style where words and phrases have purpose, and where the music of words will create a harmony of word sounds. In simple writer-editor language, writing such as this "works."

     But remember, it's style you're really considering, and you don't want to get bogged down in a maze of rules and procedures. Your individuality makes itself known through your style, and sometimes the techniques that don't work for one writer might work for another.

William Noble, Noble's Book of Writing Blunders, 2006

Becoming a FBI Criminal Profiler

     Contrary to the impression given in such stories as The Silence of the Lambs, we don't pluck profiling candidates for the Investigative Support Unit right out of the Academy….It doesn't work that way. First you get accepted by the Bureau, then you prove yourself in the field as a first-rate, creative investigator, then we recruit you for Quantico. And then you're ready for two years of intensive, specialized training before you become a full-fledged member of the unit.

     A good criminal profiler must first and foremost show imagination and creativity in investigation. He or she must be willing to take risks while still maintaining the respect and confidence of fellow agents and law enforcement officers. Our preferred candidates will show leadership, won't wait for a consensus before offering an opinion, will be persuasive in a group setting but tactful in helping to put a flawed investigation back on track. For these reasons, they must be able to work both alone and in groups.

     Once we choose a person, he or she will work with experienced members of the unit almost in a way a young associate in a law firm works with a senior partner. If they're at all lacking in street experience, we send them to the New York Police Department to ride along with their best homicide detectives. If they need more death investigation, we have nationally recognized consultants…in the field offices where they develop a strong rapport with state and local departments and sheriff's offices.

     The key attribute necessary to be a good profiler is judgement--a judgment based not primarily on the analysis of facts and figures but on instinct. It's difficult to define, but…we know it when we see it.

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Journey Into Darkness, 1977 

Novel Writing: A Calling Or A Job?

There is something dreary about wanting fiction writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalism, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn't turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer--independent of publication or readership or "career"--is always a writer. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.

Benjamin Moser, The New York Times, January 27, 2015


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Frye Case in the History of the Polygraph

     The prototype of the modern polygraph instrument was invented in 1921 by a graduate physiology student at the University of California at Berkeley named John Larson. While attending the university, Larson worked as a "college cop" at the Berkeley Police Department under the progressive police chief, August Vollmer. It was Vollmer who asked Larson to invent a device that could determine if a criminal suspect was telling the truth or lying. In researching the work of others who had tried to find a method of scientific lie detection, Larson read an article by a lawyer named William Marston who believed that when people lie they come under stress, which raises their blood pressure. (Marston, oddly enough, was also the creator of the comic superhero, Wonder Woman.)

     Polygraph test results, because of questions of scientific reliability, have never been admitted in a criminal court as proof of a defendant's guilt. Ironically, the case most frequently cited as precedent for polygraph exclusion, is United States v. Frye, a federal appeals court decision that arose out of a murder case that had involved William Marston's lie detection methodology. At the time, John Larson's polygraph, a significantly more sophisticated instrument, had not been fully developed.

The Frye Case

     On November 25, 1920, almost a year after John Larson had joined the Berkeley Police Department, and a few months before he had read William Marston's article on blood pressure and scientific lie detection, a black man named James Frye shot and killed a wealthy physician, also black, in Washington, D.C. Frye had murdered Dr. Robert W. Brown in his office at 8:45 in the evening. Another physician witnessed the shooting, and ran after Frye as he fled the building. The chase came to an abrupt end when Frye took a shot at his pursuer. The eyewitness did not know Frye, so all the police had to go on was a general description of the killer.

     On August 21, 1921, seven months after the murder, the police arrested Frye on a robbery case, and while being grilled on that matter, he confessed to killing Dr. Brown. Over the years, the facts of this case have become more myth than reality. Dr. James E. Starrs, a forensic science scholar, and professor of law at George Washington University, set the record straight in 1981. In a paper Dr. Starrs presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences that year, Starrs presented the Frye case myth as follows: James Frye admitted to killing Dr. Brown because a friend told him that if he did so, he would receive part of the reward money that had been put up by the victim's family. When Frye realized that as the killer, he was not eligible for the reward, he repudiated his confession. It was at this point Frye's attorney hired William Marston to test his client's honesty.

     According to the Frye case myth, Marston's lie detection test confirmed that the defendant was telling the truth when he denied committing the murder. But because the trial judge refused to allow Marston to take the stand on the defendant's behalf, the jury found Frye guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. According to this version of the case, the friend who had talked Frye into confessing, admitted killing the doctor. As a result, after serving three years in prison, Frye walked free.

     The above version of the Frye case makes a good story, and sheds favorable light on scientific lie detection. If the trial judge had been more open minded, an innocent man would not have been convicted. According to Professor Starrs, however, the above account of the Frye case was grossly inaccurate. In reality, the defendant had withdrawn his confession on the advice of his attorney, Richard V. Mattingly. By the time the case went to trial, Frye had concocted an alibi. He claimed that at the time of the murder, he had been visiting a woman named Essie Watson.

     In his 1938 book, The Lie Detector Test, William Marston wrote that he had been called into the case by Mattingly a few weeks before the trial because the defense attorney couldn't find any witnesses to support his client's alibi. Marston, on June 10, 1922, gave Frye his systolic blood pressure test, a primitive method that involved nothing more than a standard blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. After each question put to Frye, Marston simply took his blood pressure. Compared to John Larson's polygraph, Marston's technique was crude, and unreliable. Larson was a scientist, Marston was an attorney.

     After Marston administered his lie detection exam, he announced that James Frye had told the truth when he denied committing the murder. In his book, he wrote, "No one could have been more surprised than myself to find that Frye's final story of innocence was entirely truthful! His confession to the Brown murder was a lie from start to finish."

     James Frye went on trial for the murder of Dr. Brown on July 17, 1922 in Washington, D.C. before Judge William McCoy. Defense attorney Mattingly's case was based entirely on William Marston's lie detection results. When he tried to put Marston on the stand as an expert lie detection witness, the prosecutor objected on the grounds that scientific lie detection was not reliable. The judge agreed. Without the lie detection evidence, Mattingly had no choice but to put his client on the stand. This did not turn out well for the defense.

     The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, a verdict that spared Frye the death sentence. Having been in court during the argument over the reliability of Marston's lie detection technique, the jurors decided not to send Frye to his death. As Marston put it in his book, "As far as James Frye was concerned, the [lie detection] test undoubtedly saved his life. No jury could help being influenced by the knowledge that Frye's story had been proved truthful by the lie detector."

     Richard Mattingly appealed Fry's conviction on the grounds Judge McCoy had erred in excluding William Marston's lie detection test results. In 1993, the circuit court of appeals in the District of Columbia upheld Judge McCoy's exclusion. Judge Van Orsdel wrote the appellate court's opinion that established the test used today for the admission of expert testimony based upon new scientific principles. Judge Van Orsdel wrote: "Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrative stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and while courts will go a long way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs."

     Although Judge Van Orsdel set the general standard for the admission of new scientific evidence, his opinion didn't indicate exactly what he objected to in Marston's lie detection procedure. It was not clear whether the judge questioned the underlying principle that lying causes measurable changes in a person's blood pressure, or if he objected to Marston's systolic blood pressure test as a method of gathering and recording this data for interpretation. The judge may have rejected both the scientific principle behind Marston's test, and the technique itself.

     If the Frye court's rejection primarily involved the lie detection technique rather than the scientific principle behind it, then it was Marston's systolic blood pressure evidence, not John Larson's polygraph, that was being ruled inadmissible in the Frye case. If this was true, then it could be argued that the Frye decision has been inappropriately cited all of these years as precedent for the court exclusion of polygraph evidence.

     As for James Frye, he was paroled from the District of Columbia Prison at Lorton, Virginia on June 17, 1939. He had served 18 years behind bars, and died in 1953 at age 58. If it hadn't been for William Marston's unsophisticated and unreliable lie detection test, he may have died a lot sooner.    

The Presumption of Innocence Myth

     Probably the least questioned and most believed government lie is also the most famous maxim of the American judicial system: that all persons are presumed "innocent until proven guilty" beyond a reasonable doubt. This presumption of innocence is a standard taught to the youngest of school children and which the government hails as a founding principle of justice because it presumes that, like the oft-repeated Lord Justice William Blackstone ratio, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."

     Of course, "innocent until proven guilty" has been at the core of Western judicial systems since biblical times. We are indoctrinated so thoroughly that the average person rarely considers whether the phrase is true or not. Yet when we carefully examine the system, we find that it does not function as the government would like us to believe. Beneath the surface of various platitudes, the falsity of the presumption of innocence becomes readily apparent.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies The Government Tells You, 2010

When a Novelist Throws In The Towel

Nothing more horrible, no failure of nerve more acute, than to be a novelist and not write, to never write, perhaps to stop, to decide to stop, not to hope for writing or want it, to let go of writing, to swear it off like drugs or sex with the wrong person, or some other terrible compulsion that will finally tear one apart. The writer not writing is a wholly guilty party, like someone who through anger or neglect has killed off his own life's mate, counterpart, reason to live.

Jayne Anne Phillips in Eleventh Draft, edited by Frank Conroy, 1999

Government Gathered Crime Statistics

Criminal statistics are based on recorded criminality. This criminality consists of offenses which, having come to the notice of public authorities through complaints lodged by private citizens or directly as a result of police patrol, etc., are registered by such authorities. This recorded criminality is only a sample of the total criminality, the latter being an unknown quantity. [Police agencies are notorious for fudging local crime statistics to make it appear they are preventing crime and the jurisdiction is much safer than it really is. Official crime statistics are almost worthless.]

Thorsten Sellen, "The Significance of Records of Crime," in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, Editors, 1971 

Thornton P. Knowles on What It Takes to be a Writer

To be a writer you need, besides a little talent and a little time, two personality traits that seem contradictory: extreme self-centeredness and an inferiority complex. Normal people need not apply.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Bradley Stone Mass Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extreme Versus Ordinary Crime

Media focus on the most extreme variants of criminal behavior often causes people to forget that most crime does not involve stranger abductions, sadistic torture, chopping off of body parts, or using commercial airliners as bombs. Although the real-life catalog of bizarre and extreme crimes is filled with horror, tragedy, and untold human harm and loss, it includes an even longer list of more benign offenses that most TV producers would have no interest in devoting a one-hour prime time show to.

Jacqueline B. Helfgott, Criminal Behavior, 2008

The Demands of Writing for Young People

Writing for young people is a great responsibility, because their minds are impressionable and what they read can effect not only their current lives but their future ones as well. Writing for them should be approached with a serious regard for the possible influence of your words. Do not plan to write for children because you think it easy, or the writing does not need to be as good as that in books for adults. Requirements for good juvenile writing are far more strict than they are for adult fiction.

Lee Wyndham, Writing for Children & Teenagers, 1988

A Mafia Hit Man's Self-Analysis

I didn't want to go straight. No boring sessions with do-gooder social workers for this cookie. No BS therapy from a shrink who would say I hated my uncle. Forget denial and struggling to make ends meet on some begged-for, dead-end job. "You're a criminal pure and simple," I told myself, "so go for it whole hog."

Donald "Tony the Greek" Frankos in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Thornton P. Knowles on What It's Like To Be a Writer

Asking what it's like to be a writer is a lot like asking what it's like to be a dentist or an attorney. The answer depends on where you live, what you write, how successful you are, how old you are, if you're married, and how you think of yourself as a writer. But there is one thing that most writers do say about the writing life: it's lonely and frustrating. Writers seem to feel misunderstood by people who don't write and under-appreciated or ignored by the reading public. Feeling isolated and forced to compete with other writers, many authors complain that their books are not adequately promoted by their publishers. Otherwise, they're a contented group of workers.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Madrid Bombing Case

     On March 11, 2004, terrorists in Madrid Spain bombed a passenger train, killing 191 people. The Spanish National Police sent the FBI digital images of eight latent prints found at the bomb site. These images were fed into the FBI's Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a $640 million supercomputer housed in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The computer selected from its collection of 48 million fingerprints sets, 15 digital latent images as possible matches. Three FBI examiners matched one of the 15 possibles to a latent from Spain that had been left on a plastic bag containing bomb detonators. The FBI experts believed this print belonged to a 37-year-old lawyer from Portland, Oregon named Brandon Mayfield.

     If the FBI fingerprint experts were correct, Brandon Mayfield had been at the scene of the Madrid bombing. The fact that Mayfield, a former army lieutenant, had converted to Islam, heightened the FBI's suspicion that he had been involved in the deadly bombing.

     Fingerprint examiners in Spain agreed that Mayfield's print and the crime scene latent shared eight points of similarity, but the numerous dissimilarities kept them from declaring a match. The FBI responded by having a fourth bureau expert look at the evidence, and he too, declared a match. Shortly thereafter, FBI agents arrested Brandon Mayfield. In the meantime, the police in Spain announced that the crime scene latent belonged to an Algerian suspect, Ouhane Daoud.

     A team of FBI fingerprint experts traveled to Madrid, and when they compared Mayfield's fingerprint to the actual latent, realized their mistake. Blaming the misidentification on the low-resolution image of the digital print, the FBI apologized to Mayfield. However, when a panel of fingerprint experts reviewed the evidence, they found that the misidentification had nothing to do with the quality of the digitized latent. The four FBI experts had simply overlooked easily observed dissimilarities between the two prints.They had allowed their eagerness to identify a terrorist override their scientific objectivity. There may also have been an element of groupthink in the misidentification.

     Brandon Mayfield filed a lawsuit, and in November 2006, the federal government agreed to pay him $2 million in damages. The Justice Department augmented the settlement with an official apology, stating that misidentifications of this nature were rare. University of California at Irvine professor Simon Cole, disagreed. Responding to news of the settlement, he told a Los Angeles Times journalist that "this is a tip-of-the-iceberg phenomenon. The argument has always been that no two people have fingerprints exactly alike. But that's not what you need to have an error. What you need is for two people to have very similar fingerprints, and that's what happened here."

    For years, when FBI experts testified in criminal trials, they claimed that in the history of the bureau there had never been a fingerprint misidentification. They could no longer make this claim which wasn't true then, and isn't true now. Moreover, in the wake of the Madrid bombing case embarrassment, the FBI fingerprint examiner proficiency test came under attack. According to a FBI whistleblower, if the test was not so ridiculously easy, cheating would be commonplace.

     While juries and the American public believe deeply in the reliability of fingerprint identification, it is not hard science, and there will be mistakes.
     

The Finders Keepers Rule

     Four home remodelers no longer face criminal charges for spending $60,000 they had found hidden inside a home in western Pennsylvania…The theft and related charges were dismissed in December 2014 by a Washington County judge in what has become known as the "finders, keepers" case…

     The four men had been working as under-the-table laborers, fixing up an unoccupied house, when they found the money hidden in a second-floor dormer. The newest bills dated to the 1980s. The men didn't report the find and split the cash equally. The man they had been working for learned of the discovery and reported them to the police.

     The judge ruled that because the money's owner couldn't be identified, the four workers didn't have criminal intent to steal the cash.

"Charges Dismissed Against Crew That Found $60,000," Associated Press, January 2, 2015  

Fiction Versus Nonfiction Writing

Writing nonfiction is like carving a rock. It sits there. It's hard. It's big. And you whittle away at something concrete. Writing fiction is like pulling things out of the air. Nothing is there but invention. It's disconcerting, thrilling.

Marie Arana in Off the Page, Carole Burns, editor, 2008 

Courtroom Impostor

     A bizarre case in Summit County, Utah has led to the arrest of a woman who police say was impersonating a Utah attorney and handling cases in court, representing real clients under the attorney's name. Karla Carbo, 29, of South Jordan, Utah was arrested on December 30, 2014 and booked into the Summit County Jail for investigation of identify theft, two counts of forgery, and communications fraud. Investigators say she represented herself as an attorney in several jurisdictions and will likely face more charges.

     Carbo allegedly opened her own law office and hired a man who recently pass the bar but had no idea he was being hired by a fake attorney…On December 23, 2014, Carbo was allegedly in court representing a suspect in a 2008 criminal case…Carbo said her name was Karla Stirling Fierro. Karla Stirling is an actual attorney from Bountiful, Utah certified by the state bar association. Carbo allegedly used Stirling's real bar number…Stirling, while licensed in Utah, mainly practices in California…"I don't do any criminal work or personal injury cases," she said. "I've done business contracts, real estate…There shouldn't be any court files with my name on my bar number in Utah whatsoever."

     When the court contacted Stirling on December 23 with a question regarding the recently completed court matter, she had no idea what they were talking about…The Summit County Attorney's Office got a phone call from the Utah State Bar Association explaining that Fierro was not an attorney….

"Woman Accused of Impersonating Attorney in Court," ksl.com, December 31, 2014 

Thornton P. Knowles on Writing as the Self-Delusion Advocation

Writers must delude themselves into believing that what they have to say is either important or entertaining, that people will actually want to read what they write. Man, how we kid ourselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Halifax Mass Murder Plot

     On Thursday morning February 12, 2015, a caller on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Crime Stoppers tip line caused serious concern with a disturbing report. The tipster said that a 19-year-old James Gamble from Timberlea, Nova Scotia, a suburb of Halifax, as well as a woman named Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, 23 from Geneva, Illinois and a 20-year-old Nova Scotia man, Randall Steven Shepherd, planned to shoot as many shoppers as they could on St. Valentine's Day at the Halifax Shopping Centre on the west side of the city.

     The informant said the group had acquired the necessary weaponry to commit Canada's version of America's 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre. After committing the mass murder, the plotters planned to take their own lives.

     The persons identified by the RCMP tipster revealed through photographs and comments on an Internet chat stream their obsession with serial killers and bloody murder scenes. The American, Lindsay Souvannarath, had written messages on her Twitter account she didn't want posted until after her self-inflicted death.

     At one-twenty in the morning of February 13, 2015, police officers watching James Gamble's Timberlea residence, observed a couple believed to be the suspect's parents drive away from the house. After pulling the parents over, a detective called the house and spoke to their son.

     Gamble, whose house was now surrounded by an Emergency Response Team, told the detective on the phone that he was unarmed and ready to exit the dwelling. Instead, he shot himself to death in the house. Inside the suspect's home, besides the body, officers found three loaded rifles.

     An hour after the suicide in Timberlea, officers took Lindsay Souvannarath into custody when she flew into the Halifax International Airport from her home in Illinois. Police officers arrested Randall Shepherd who was at the airport to greet her.

     Shortly after her arrest, Souvannarath confessed to the conspiracy to randomly murder as many people as possible at the Halifax shopping mall.

     A local prosecutor charged the American woman and her alleged 20-year-old Nova Scotia accomplice with conspiracy to commit murder. In the meantime, detectives with Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Team were looking into the background James Gamble who had committed suicide. The investigators were trying to determine the extent of his participation, if any, in the mass shooting plot.

     At a press conference held on Saturday February 14, St. Valentine's Day, Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced that the mass murder plot was not "culturally motivated" or linked to Islamic terrorism. The justice minister called the murder conspirators "murderous misfits." Mr. MacKay acknowledged, however, that murderous misfits like the ones in custody could be exploited by terrorist organizations. He said, "An individual that would so recklessly and with bloody intent plot to do something like this I would suggest would also be susceptible to being motivated by groups like ISIS and others."

     On February 17, 2015, Charles Aukema, one of Lindsay Souvannarath's professors at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told a reporter with the Cedar Rapids Gazette that his former English student "knew how to put together a sentence and had a command of detail." The professor added, "Sometimes it was pretty sick detail."

     On April 11, 2017, Lindsay Souvannarath pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the Halifax mall murder plot. 

Prosecutorial Discretion

By law and by custom, a prosecutor has broad authority in prosecuting criminal cases, including the option to "screen out" or decide against pursuing a case at any stage. Soon after the police make an arrest, usually within twenty-four hours, the defendant appears before a judge, who determines whether the initial evidence indicates that this person has committed a crime. At this time and until trial, the prosecutor reviews the charges and makes a choice: prosecute, investigate, or go no further. The responsibility of making this call might be the most important one a prosecutor has. As it happens, many cases get screened out across the country for reasons that are hard to divine. For the most part, the exercise of "prosecutorial discretion" requires no formal process or oversight. A prosecutor does not have to explain his or her decision to proceed or dismiss a case and can even rely on gut instinct if he or she chooses. [Because they are elected officials, unpopular decisions by prosecutors can have political ramifications.]

Amy Bach, Ordinary Justice, 2009 

The Challenge Of Writing Romance Novel Love Scenes

Strong, appealing characters, sensuous writing, and an understanding on how to create sexual tension are the key elements of good romance novels. Writing strong love scenes that are neither too sappy nor too graphic is one of the challenges of the genre.

Judith Rosen in The Writer's Handbook, edited by Alfrieda Abbe, 2002 

FBI Undercover Operations

     Although it is not part of the career development program in the FBI, some agents volunteer for service as an undercover agent (UCA). All UCAs are volunteers, and there is no special compensation for performing these duties. Generally, UCAs must have a solid investigative background before being considered for such work and also receive the full support of their superiors. Their undercover activities may take place in the office territory to which they are assigned or another field office. Volunteers for this program are evaluated for their expertise and psychological suitability. Special training programs are also available at [the FBI training complex at Quantico, Virginia] to teach agents the tricks of pulling off an undercover assignment. [Undercover operatives have to be good actors.]

     The vast majority of undercover operations are criminal in nature, but intelligence-directed undercover operations also take place. Generally, undercover assignments fall into one of two categories. Group II operations can be approved by the Special Agent in Charge of the field division, with the concurrence of the local U.S. Attorney. Group IIs, as they are called, still require careful coordination and planning, but generally they are less sensitive, less dangerous, or shorter term, and less costly than other types of operations. 
     Group I undercover operations are the opposite. They may be dangerous, elaborate, lengthy, technically challenging, involve prominent personages, be very costly, or have foreign aspects involved. This group requires painstaking planning, substantial amounts of documentation, a lot of coordination, and minute review by a panel of senior FBI Headquarters and Department of Justice officials. 
     Perhaps the most legendary FBI Group I undercover operation was ABSCAM, a political corruption investigation that resulted in the conviction of members of Congress in the 1980s. Probably the most well known Group I operation was that of Special Agent Joe Pistone, who infiltrated the La Cosa Nostra (Mafia) with devastating results to the mobsters. So successful was Pistone in his role that he carried it out for years and was on the verge of becoming a "made guy" when the operation was terminated. His exploits were recounted in the book and movie that bears his undercover name, Donnie Brasco. 

Joseph W. Koletar, The FBI Career Guide

Thornton P. Knowles on the College English Department

The ability to craft beautiful sentences is useless without something interesting to write about. This is why most university English departments are essentially mental wards staffed by angry, depressed, and sometimes delusional professors who have contempt for their students, their fellow teachers, and themselves.

Thornton P. Knowles, The Psychology of Writing, 1976 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dereck Taylor Holt: The Home Invading Ex-Mennonite

     While ordinary crime in America has been on the decline, pathological, irrational offenses against persons seem to be on the rise. Crime has become largely inexplicable. Young men have shot up schools, shopping malls, theaters, and even hospitals. A man in New York City was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train, while in a small town in Pennsylvania, a music teacher shot his ex-wife to death as she played the organ in church. Every week there's a new murder-suicide case in the news. To write about crime today is to write about mental illness, personality disorder, and drug abuse.

     The changing nature of crime and criminal behavior in this country reflects a population of people who are losing the ability to cope with modern life. Politicians, desperate to appear honest, competent, and useful, fall all over themselves with ridiculous, feel-good laws that are irrelevant to the sources of these social problems. Instead of more cops, SWAT teams, and gun restrictions, the country needs more psychiatrists. America is mentally ill.

     At nine in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, two elderly Mennonite sisters invited a nice looking young man, who said he was an insurance salesman, into their house. Both in their late eighties, the sisters lived in a brick, ranch-style home on Indiantown Road in rural Lancaster County in the heart of southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. (Mennonites, devoted to the plain, simple life, are more modern that their old-order Amish counterparts. Unlike the Amish, they do not practice shunning.)

     Dereck Taylor Holt, the 22-year-old man who entered the Clay Township house that morning, was not an insurance salesman. The former Mennonite, with no fixed address, chided the frightened sisters for being members of the church, and railed angrily against the religion. He then repeatedly shocked the elderly women with a stun gun, and between periods in which he read Bible passages to his victims, slapped, kicked, and punched them. Holt used duct tape to bind his captives' hands and feet, then ransacked the house in search of cash and valuables.

     During the bizarre, sadistic home invasion, an elderly Mennonite friend of the sisters came to the house and knocked on the door. Holt pulled this woman into the home where he shocked and assaulted her before binding the visitor in duct tape. Following the two-hour ordeal, Holt used household cleaning substances he took from the house to remove his latent fingerprints from the scene. Before leaving the ransacked house and the terrified women, Holt destroyed their Bible.

     At 4:20 that afternoon, the three Mennonite victims were discovered by a relative of the sisters who called 911. The women were rushed by ambulance to Ephrata Hospital. One of the victims had an heart attack, the other a broken shoulder, and the third was treated for bleeding on the brain. (The victims would survive their ordeals.)

     The next day, officers with the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police arrested Dereck Taylor Holt. Officers booked him into the Lancaster County Jail on charges of burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, theft, and a Pennsylvania hate crime called ethnic intimidation. The judge set Holt's bond at $1 million.

     In May 2013, Holt pleaded guilty to all of the charges except ethnic intimidation. At his August 2013 sentencing hearing before Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher, Holt, in a five-minute statement, said: "I'm not a heartless being. I'm not an empty carcass incapable of contributing to society. But I can't defend my actions. This was the culmination of a long, two-year addiction to substances. These actions wouldn't have happened without my alarming abuse of mind-altering prescription medication."

     Judge Madenspacher sentenced Holt to 12 to 40 years in prison where he would receive psychiatric treatment.

Heroin Overdose Deaths: Give Cops Naloxone

     With deaths from heroin and opioid prescription pills soaring, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on April 3, 2014 announced a push to have law enforcement officers across the state carry a drug that is effectively an antidote to overdose. The program, to be funded primarily from $5 million in criminal and civil seizures from drug dealers, would help provide a kit with the drug, naloxone, and the training to use it to every state and local officer in New York. [Drug dealers, I image are behind this program. Fatal overdosing costs them customers.]

     The authorities have increasingly seen naloxone, also known under its brand name Narcan, as a potent weapon against a national surge in drug overdoses. Last month, the Justice Department encouraged emergency medical workers across the country to begin carrying the drug. The move to broaden access in New York is the latest tactic employed by state officials to combat abuse of pills and the rising specter of heroin use….In New York City, there was an 84 percent jump in heroin overdose deaths between 2010 and 2012….[While naloxone may save lives, it won't play a role in reducing drug abuse.]

     The drug naloxone, which has been available for decades in emergency rooms, works on the opiate molecules that attach to the brain and, during an overdose, fatally slows a person's breathing. Naloxone effectively bumps them away, restoring breathing in minutes and giving medical workers time to get a hospital.

     For years only paramedics carried the drug. In 2012, a pilot program in Suffolk County, New York trained emergency technicians and half the police officers to administer the drug….Last year, the New York Police Department trained some 180 officers to use the drug on Staten Island, which has the city's most acute problem with heroin and pill overdoses, saving three people in the first three months. The department is currently looking to expand the program across the borough and around the city.

     The state's Good Samaritan law protects those who call the police during an overdose, even if they too were using illegal drugs. Those who administer naloxone are also protected from liability. The drug, which is not habit forming and gives no high to an overdosing user, is nontoxic….

David Goodman, "New York Program to Help Police Get a Kit to Combat Overdoses," The New York Times, April 3, 2014