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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Serial Arsonist: Burning Hollywood

     Robbers and thieves commit their crimes for financial gain. Arsonists, on the other hand, set fires for a variety of reasons. As a result, motive and criminal profiling is an important lead in arson investigations. Regarding motive, unlawful firesetters generally fall into one of two categories: rational and irrational. The rational arsonists can be put into two groups: people who set fires for direct gain, and those who do it for indirect benefit or gain. Direct gain arsonists torch their homes, cars, and businesses for the insurance money. (Jaunuary is usually a busy month for these people.) The indirect gain fire is set, for example, as retaliation, revenge, competitor elimination, or to cover-up another crime such as homicide. People who set fires for reasons that make sense are usually not repeat offenders. If they do repeat their crimes, it's rarely more than twice.

     Arsonists who are irrationally or pathologically motivated are almost always young men. They are powerless losers who are mad at the world. They set fires to get even with society, to experience feelings of power, to play the role of hero, and in a small percentage of cases, for sexual gratification. Many of them have had problems at school, with their parents and with the police. Some are mildly retarded, others have mental health problems. Older pathological firesetters often have drug and/or alcohol addictions.

     Because the vast majority of serial arsonists are pathological firesetters who have no regard for human life, they are the most dangerous. Unlike rational firesetters, they tend to hang around the fire scenes soaking up the excitement they have created. When taken into custody, they should be interrogated by arson investigators trained and experienced in questioning this type of suspect. For the pathological arsonist, the bigger the fire the bigger the rush. Serial arsonists have been know to set several fires in one night.

     In California, a serial arsonist set 15 fires in Hollywood and 4 fires in neighboring West Hollywood during the early morning hours of Friday, December 30, 2011. Dozens of residents were rousted from their homes. The only injury involved a firefighter who fell while battling one of the blazes. Many of the structural fires were started when the arsonist set fire to vehicles parked nearby. All of the firess were set in an area of four square miles.

     In 2008 and 2009, in and around Coatesville, Pennsylvania in the eastern part of the state, a group of arsonists set 23 fires. One of the arsons killed an 83-year-old woman. Dozens of homes were destroyed, and many residents were displaced. In 2009 the police arrested five arsonists. The oldest, a 25-year-old volunteer firefighter, had responded to his own fires. The rest were young, unemployed men with histories of mental illness and problems with the law. One of the firesetters, a 19-year-old misfit, matched the classic profile of a pathological arsonist. He set a number of copy cat house fires simply for the excitement. The fact these dwelling were occupied at the time only enhanced his experience.

     When the police apprehend the California arsonist, it will be interesting to see how closely he matches the profiles of the Coatesville firesetters.

UPDATE: "I hate America."

     The authorities, on January 2, charged 24-year-old Harry Burkhart with setting more than 50 fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and in the San Fernando Valley. From Frankfurt, Germany, Burkhart had been upset over his mother's immigration problems. He had recently attended her hearing in immigration court. When taken into custody, Burkhart reportedly said, "I hate America." He is being held in the Los Angeles County Jail without bail. Since his arrest, there have been no further arson fires.

     Burkhart and his 53-year-old mother Dorothee came to the United States from Neukirchen, Germany in October 2011. Just before leaving Germany their house went up in flames. Arson investigators, after locating to separate points of origin, suspect the fire had been intentionally set to defraud the insurance company. In Germany, Dorothee Burkhart has been charged with 19 counts of fraud, crimes unrelated to the house fire. One of the counts involves defrauding the surgeon who had enlarged her breasts.

     A few weeks ago, police in Los Angeles pulled Dorothee Burkhart over for a traffic violation. The traffic stop led to her recent appearance in immigration court. The prospect of being deported apparently set off Harry Burkhart's firesetting spree.  Dorothee and her son have been living in an apartment in Hollywood.

UPDATE

     Before coming to the U.S., Burkhart and his mother resided for awhile in Vancouver, Candada. In March 2010, a Vancouver team of psychiatrists, in connection with a civil court case, examined Harry Burkhart. The battery of shrinks diagnosed him as suffering from autism, severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. The police in Vancouver, in the wake of the LA fires, are looking into the possibility that he set a series of fires in that city. A German national, Burkhart was born in Chechnya.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Whackademia: Nutty Professors 4

Give 'Em Hell, Professor

     Southern Indiana University Theater Professor Robert Broadfoot yelled as some of his students, allegedly calling one of them the "B-word." (I presume that stands for bitch rather than butthead, bumpkin, or bastard.)  Frustrated that some of his students were lax about their assignments, and didn't seem to care about the course, Professor Broadfoot, according to a report in the school newspaper, "made aggressive gestures and used bad language." One of Broadfoot's students reportedly said, "I don't think it was necessary, I think everyone has their problems...but he shouldn't take it out on his students, it's not fair." Poor thing. Wait until you get into the real world. Perhaps the professor was taking out his problems on his students because they were his problem. Another theater student thought it was "inappropriate" for the professor to be singling out those who weren't performing (pun intended) in class. If this complaintant gets a job, he or she may be in for a shock. One way to avoid being singled out is to do your work.

     I taught 32 years, and had criminal justice majors who wanted to be police detectives and FBI agents complain that they couldn't find me when they needed something signed. I yelled at students, and rarely missed an opportunity to humiliate them. I didn't do this to prepare them for real life, I did this to prepare them for college. I also enjoyed it. (Just kidding, I think.) Unlike poor Professor Broadfoot, I managed not to get myself fired. Kids who want to be cops and kids who want to be on stage are obviously different. Had I been in the theater department, I wouldn't have lasted a week.

Dumbing Up

     Professors really don't like to be fired. It's undignified, and shatters their exhalted self images. As a result, in academia, wrongful terminations lawsuits are not uncommon. What is uncommon, however, is a plaintiff/professor who prevails in one of these cases.

     In November, former New York University Professor Jose Angel Santana sued the school after they denied him reappointment in August 2011. According to Santana, he had been fired because of his Cuban and African American heritage. Hired in September 2008 as an assistant visiting professor in the acting school with an annual salary of $70,000, Santana claims he was discriminated against because of his race and color. But the plaintiff didn't leave it at that. According to the suit, the straw that broke the camel's back involved the grade Santana had given to a student in his graduate class called, Directing the Actor II. It was this claim that brought Santana and his suit into the national news. The D-grade that sent Santana packing had been given to the famous actor, James D. Franco. Oh boy.

     According to Santana, Franco had only attended two of the courses' fourteen sessions. This gave the professor no choice but to give Franco, in the spring of 2010, the bad grade. Despite the D, Franco, the holder of a Master's Degree of Fine Arts from Columbia, earned his Master's Degree from NYU's Film Production Department. Currently pursuing a Ph.D in English at Yale, Franco is now on NYU's Tisch School faculty, teaching a course on adopting poetry into film. (Huh?) So, the student who got the D is teaching at the school that fired the professor who gave it to him. No wonder the ex-professor is in such a snit. But wait, in this academic drama, there is more.

     According to plaintiff Santana, Mr. Franco has rubbed salt into his wound by making disparaging remarks and inaccurate statements about him in public. For one thing, Franco has called Santana's course an "acting class" when it was in fact a directing class. Santana says he didn't give Franco a D for bad acting, but for missing class. In other words, Mr. Santana wasn't grading Mr. Franco's acting ability, he was grading his attendance ability. Mr. Franco wasn't a bad actor, he was just a bad attender.

     I'm lucky that before I retired none of the students I gave Ds to got rich and famous. I didn't have many bad actors, but I did have my share of bad attenders.

Contributing to What ?!

     In Menlo Park, California, Stanford University Professor Bill Burnett and his wife Cynthia hosted a party for their son and 44 high school students. (What were they thinking?) The kids were celebrating the last football game of the season. The parents had made it clear that alcoholic beverages were prohibited. Well, as you can imagine, booze found its way into the Burnett house. When the basement party got loud and a neighbor complained, police entered the house, found the alcohol, and hauled the professor and his wife off to jail in handcuffs. Charged with 44 counts of contributing to a minor's delinquency, Professor Burnett faces up to a year behind bars.

     While it is not unreasonable to assume that these 44 students are being taught or coached by at least one pedophile who will never see the inside of a jail cell, it's professor Burnett and his wife who have criminally endangered the welfare of these kids. If the Burnetts are guilty of anything, it's stupidity. If they hadn't hosted the party, the kids could have gotten drunk in a Walmart parking lot. In law enforcement it's not about arresting the right people, it's about arresting who you can.

Anger Mismanagement in High Education

     In 2007 police arrested a New Hampshire professor who threatened to kill a colleague for turning him in for a parking violation that resulted in a ticket. Because the university alerted its staff to report the threatening professor if he stepped on compus, he sued the scholl for defamation. The plaintiff lost his case at the trial level, and lost again on appeal. The court battle took two years to resolve. And it was all over a parking ticket. Welcome to academia.

     In 2010, a then professor of criminology and sociology at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts, using a variety of Facebook usernames, threatened to kill a New Orleans police officer. The 58-year-old professor, in accusing the officer of raping his girlfriend in 2007, urged to officer to "own up to what you did," and hinted of having friends in a Hell's Angels biker gang pay him a visit. In December 2011, a federal judge, after the professor had pleaded guilty, fined him $5,000 and sentenced him to three years probabion.




       

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Case of the Stray Bullet

     On Friday night, December 16, a 15-year-old Amish girl named Rachel Yoder, while on her way home in a horse-drawn buggy from a Christmas party at an Amish produce farm, fell dead out of the rig with a bullet in her head. She died not far from her central Ohio home in Wayne County. The girl's brother found her when he saw the horse walking around her body. The Summit County medical examiner, without the benefit of an investigation, ruled the death a homicide. This manner of death ruling triggered speculation the girl had been murdered at the behest of Bishop Sam Mullet, the cult like leader of the band of renegade Amish outlaws recently charged with a series of Ohio home invasion, hair-cutting felonies. (See: "Bishop Sam Mullet: Amish Outlaw," November 25, 2011.)

     A few days after Rachel Yoder's death, the local sheriff announced she had been killed by a stray bullet fired a mile and a half away by a young Amish man cleaning is muzzle-loading rifle. (A rifle loaded through the muzzle end of the barrel. I don't know if this gun was a modern replica or an antique.) The Amish girl's death, according to the gun cleaning theory, was simply a freak accident. The sheriff says he has not ruled out a negligent homicide charge. (Such a charge would be ridiculous. If the Amish man had been clearning his gun in Starbucks, that's one thing, but in Amish country?)

     You could drive around the most violent neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, and Detroit twenty-four hours a day for twenty years, and never catch a stray bullet. Rachel Yoder had been riding in her buggy in the country, a bullet (I don't know the caliber) fired a mile and a half away not only found her, it killed her. For me, that's hard to believe. After traveling that far, a bullet, particularly one fired from a muzzle-loader, loses its velocity and the force to become deadly. This theory of Rachel Yoder's death is so farfetched, a writer who put such a scene into a mystery novel would be laughed out of the business. But, if a firearms identification expert matches the fatal bullet to the Amish man's rifle, then this is what happened.

     One of Rachel Yoder's Amish neighbors was quoted as follows: "We can't understand how it could happen, but I guess it was the Lord, maybe. Her time was up is what we think." I'll tell what I think--on second thought, I better not, other than to say I don't subscribe to that line of reasoning. In my view, if Rachel Yoder was not murdered, she died of extreme bad luck.

UPDATE

   On September 11, 2012, 28-year-old Marion Yoder pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. The Holmes County judge sentenced the Amish man to six months in the county jail, but suspended all but 30 days of the term.  Because I can't imagine a jury convicting this man of negligent homicide, I don't see the wisdom in the guilty plea. While the level of negligence in this case might support a civil wrongful death action, it does not rise, in my view, to criminal recklessness. Putting a man in jail for a freak accident is not my idea of criminal justice. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reckless Writing: Crimes Against Language

     In the world of sloppy crime reporting, guns shoot "rounds," indictments are "squashed," homes are "robbed," crime scenes are investigated by "criminologists," and negligent drivers are charged with "wreckless driving." Also, criminal suspects are "allegedly arrested."

     Rifles and handguns shoot bullets, not rounds. The bullet is the projectile, the round is comprised of the bullet (usually lead made from a used car battery) and the cartridge case which contains the gun powder. The round is the whole package. In semi-automatic handguns--pistols--cartridge cases are automatically ejected, and can become crime scene evidence. In revolvers, cartridges remain in the handgun. The term "firearm" generally applies to revolvers and pistols.

     Criminal indictments, "true bills" handed down by grand juries, are quashed. Bugs are squashed. An indictment is an early step in the criminal justice process which merely indicates there is enough evidence to justify moving the case forward to the trial stage. Indicted subjects are still presumed innocent.

     Since the crime of robbery is theft by force or threat of force, a crime against persons--homes and cars cannot be robbed. Homes can be burglarized. Burglary is an unlawful intrusion into a dwelling or occupied structure motivated by the intent to commit a crime--usually theft. It is a crime against property. Cars are broken into for purposes of theft.

     Reporters often use "murder" and "arson" inappropriately. These are legal terms. An intentionally set fire--an incendiary fire--is not an arson until someone is found guilty of unlawfully setting it. A killing or homicide becomes murder after someone is found guilty of unlawfully, and intentionally, taking a life.

     A criminologist is a sociologist interested in criminal subgroups such as juvenile delinquents, prison inmates, or prostitutes. They are usually academics who think about the causes of crime, and invent terminology crime writers consider mealy-mouthed and vague such as "anti-social behavior" which runs from first-degree murder to a burp in church. Criminalistics (an unfortunate term coined in 1947 by Dr. Paul Kirk), refers to a form of forensic science practiced by crime scene investigation experts interested in latent fingerprints, blood stains, bullets, cartridge cases, tire tracks, and other types of physical evidence commonly found at the scenes of crime. Criminalists analyze physical evidence for the purpose of interpreting the crime scene and identifying the people who were there. Criminologists are usually found in the classroom, criminalists are found at crime scenes, in crime labs, and in courtrooms.

     A wreckless driver is a careful one who has not had a wreck. A grossly negligent driver can be charged with reckless driving.

     Criminal suspects who are taken into custody have not been allegedly arrested. The arrests are facts. Until proven guilty, they are the alleged perpetrators of the charges against them.

     Not to sound like a fuddy-duddy (I don't even know if that's a word), it would be nice if journalists who cover the U. S. Supreme Court would quit calling the nine justices the "supremes." It makes me think of the motown singing trio.   

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Cost of Free Speech: Watch What You Say About Iowa

     A sickening combination of political correctness, cultural touchiness, and the profit motive has killed the kind of rough and tumble journalism once practiced by H. L. Mencken and the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens. It's been replaced by the kind of feel-good public relations slop you see on morning TV. Today, a journalist takes a risk attacking anyone other than a politician or a celebrity. (I don't have a problem mocking and exposing politicians and celebrities, but why just them?) Stephen Bloom, a journalism professor at the University of Iowa, recently said some unflattering things about certain lower class Iowans. It's the kind of writing you rarely see anymore, especially from a professor. (If free speech has an arch enemy, it's the university.) The professor from Iowa is now paying the price for speaking his mind in print.

     In an essay Stephen Bloom wrote called, "Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life," published on December 9 on "The Atlantic" magazine website, Bloom, in questioning whether Iowa was worthy of being the nation's first caucus state, portrayed certain Iowans in a pretty bad light. For example, he says the rural citizens of the state "...are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Anne, that 'the sun'll come out tomorrow.' Bloom described the municipality of Keokuk as a "depressed, crime-infested slum town," and other Iowa communities as "skuzzy" and "slummy." Ouch.

     As could be expected, Bloom's opinions and observations angered and offended many people, including some of his fellow journalism professors, current and former students (particularly those from Keokuk I'd imagine), the university administration, local politicians ( pandering idiots who I am sure share Bloom's opinion of these "hard-working Americans"), and of course, rural Iowans with bad teeth and a drug habit.

       In response to his description of the lower rung of Iowa's socio-economic ladder, Professor Bloom has received threatening emails which have sent him into hiding until the firestorm of indignation burns itself out. (Next fall he is scheduled to teach a semester at the University of Michigan.) In discussing his situation to a media blogger, Bloom said, "...I don't want some of those crazy people who are reading everything they want into my story to know where I am." To avoid adding fuel to the fire, Professor Bloom has turned down offers to appear on several cable TV news shows. (I don't blame him. Who wants to be spit on by a red-faced talking machine like Chris Matthews?)

     Bloom's incendiary essay comes at a time when the University of Iowa's master's degree program in journalism is in trouble. (Not to be confused with Iowa's famous Writer's Workshop.) The program lost its accreditation last year because it lacked a sufficient number of students. The undergraduate program, not doing well either, is operating on provisional accreditation. David Perlmutter, the director of the journalism school, is worried that the Bloom flap will dissuade prospective journalism majors from applying to the program. Perhaps the director should worry about the message this firestorm is sending to students already enrolled in the crippled (should I use that word?) journalism program.

     To his credit, Perlmutter said this to the "Des Moines Register," "I'm nobody's editor. I'm nobody's publisher. We don't want the kind of system where somebody has to send me something before it gets published, and I'm supposed to censor it...."

     The president of the university, Sally Mason, apparently not a big fan of fee speech, sent an open letter to "The Atlantic" disowning Professor Bloom and his essay. "Please know that he does not speak for the University of Iowa." If Iowans didn't already know this, Bloom had described them correctly. With a degree of pandering one can expect from a university president (these people are worse than politicians), Mason laid it on: "What defines Iowans are their deeds and actions and not some caricature." If this piece of puiblic relations crap had been written by a graduate of the school's journalism program, the program should be shut down.

     Professor Bloom has attributed all the fuss to the state's need to protect its first-in-the-nation caucuses. "There's a financial incentive for the Iowa media not to rock the caucuses' boat," he said. "Political advertising means revenue for newspapers, TV and radio stations."

     Fortunately for Professor Bloom, he's tenured. (I'm usually not a fan of tenure--professors should be fired like everyone else--but in this case, I am.)

       

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Senseless" Killings: The Mystery of Why

     Occasionally murder-suicides occur that cannot be explained or understood. While the vast majority of murders are either motivated by greed, lust, power, fear, or rage, every once in awhile someone takes a life for no apparent reason. These cases are disturbing because there is a need to make sense out of such deviant, violent behavior.

     In 1958, Dr. Marvin Wolfgang (1924-1998) at the University of Pennsylvania, in his classic text, "Patterns in Criminal Homicide," coined the term "victim precepitation." According to Wolfgang, in a high percentage of criminal homicides, the victim contributed to his or her fate by being the first to begin "the interplay of criminal violence" such as drawing a weapon, or striking the first blow. In terms of motive, these homicides are easy to understand.

     In his 1967 book, "The Subculture of Violence," Wolfgang found that 90 percent of criminal homicides are crimes of passion that are "unplanned, explosive, and determined by sudden motivational bursts." These killers act so quickly on their impulses there is simply no time for reasoning or restraint. Homicide investigators are familiar with subjects who have killed people for the smallest of reasons such as a casual argument over an insignifcant point, a minor insult, or a mild frustration over something trivial. Investigators call these killings "simplicity of motive" cases.

The Virginia Tech Murder-Suicide

     Around noon on Thursday, December 8, Ross Ashley, a part-time business student at Radford University, walked up to a Virginia Tech University police car and shot the officer, Deriek Crouse, to death. Ashley, after killing the 39-year-old campus police officer, ran off. Shortly after the murder, Ross Ashley took his own life.

     In the wake of this case, the question everyone asked was, why? Ashley was not a Virginia Tech student, he had no connection to the man he killed, and possessed no history of violence or serious mental illness. There was, however, something out of kilter in Ashley's life. The day before he had robbed his landlord's office and took the keys to a Mercedes-Benz. He had also purchased a gun some time earlier and had been to a shooting range. But how do these events foreshadow murder-suicide?

     Nothing in Marvin Wolfgang's books gives us a clue to criminal homicides like this one. And combing through the details of Ross Ashley's life won't help. The killer himself may not have known why he was doing what he did. Some murders, and suicides, cannot be explained or understood.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Criminal Dimwits: The Murder-For-Hire "Mastermind"

     The three main characters in a murder-for-hire scheme are the mastermind, the hitman, and the target. Bit players include enablers, advisors, and hands-on accomplices. No category of crime features a wider variety, in terms of age, occupation, background and socio-economic class, than the murder-for-hire mastermind. One thing they have in common is the stupid belief they will get away with their homicides. They almost always get caught because their idiotic hitmen either leave evidence behind or can't keep their mouths shut.

Dr. Mavoltuv Borkuhova

     Dr. Mavoltuv Borkuhova, a 34-year-old Queens, New York physician, paid her cousin $20,000 to kill her husband, a Forest Hills dentist. On October 28, 2007, the hitman, Mikhail Mallayev, shot Dr. Daniel Malakov to death in broad daylight as he watched his 4-year-old daughter play in a public park near their home. The mastermind and her husband were in the midst of a bitter divorce and fight over custody of the child.

     In 2009, the hitman, whose latent fingerprints were lifted from the murder weapon's makeshift silencer, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life. That year a jury found Borkukhova guilty as well. The doctor is serving a life sentence without parole.

Pastor Tracy "TB" Burleson

     Even for players caught up in a murder-for-hire drama, Tracy "TB" Burleson and his wife Pauletta, were an odd couple. They both had criminal records.The 44-year-old Houston area preacher had been convicted of mail fraud in connection with the theft of payroll checks. Pauletta had been charged in 1997, 2005, and 2006 with physically abusing the couple's two adopted sons by beating them with boards and extension cords. Found guilty in two of these cases, the 56-year-old pastor's wife received probated sentences. Tracy, quite the ladies' man, had a son from a previous relationship named Darnell Fuller. Rounding out this cast of oddballs was 32-year-old Tyonne Palmer-Pollard, the pastor's mistress. Palmer-Pollard, whille having an affair with the preacher, was also having one with his 20-year-old son, Darnell.

     Burleson's wife Pauletta knew her husband had a mistress, but had no idea he was plotting her murder so he could marry Tyonne. She also didn't know that the pastor had promised Darnell a piece of her $60,000 life insurance payout if he knocked her off.

     On May 18, 2010, at ten-fifteen at night, Darnell Fuller, a Texas Southern University pre-nursing student, walked up behind his stepmother in the driveway of her northwest Harris County house and shot her in the back of the head, killing her on the spot. After the execution style murder, the hitman entered the woods across from the house and came onto another street where Tyonne Palmer-Pollard picked him up and drove him to a place where he cleaned himself up. Later that night they disposed of the murder weapon. (Fuller later directed detectives to the gun.)

     For the pastor-mastermind, his son the hitman, and their mistress accomplice, the case unraveled quickly and two of them were indicted, arrested, and tried. The pastor was convicted of capital murder in September 2010 and sentenced to life without parole. Tyonne Palmer-Pollard went on trial in October 2011, and while convicted as an accomplice in the murder-for-hire case, received a light sentence of seven years. The defense attorney had successfully portrayed Tyonne as a hard-working nursing assistant who cared for her three children as well as a chronically ill friend. She had, according to her defense attorney, fallen in with some bad people. While obviously true, what kind of people fall in with bad people? The jury also found the accomplice guilty of tampering with evidence.

     Darnell Fuller, the hitman who confessed and testified against his father and their mistress, has yet to be tried. In return for Fuller's cooperation, the prosecutor is not seeking the death penalty or life without parole. As is often the case in murder-for-hire sentencing, masterminds are treated more harshly than their cold-blooded triggermen. This is because they are usually the first to confess and make a deal.  

Julio Perez

     In October 2011, a hitman and his accomplice pleaded guilty in San Benito, Texas to the murder of 39-year-old Sonia Perez. The accomplice in the March 31, 2010 murder, 21-year-old Daniel Castaneda, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the case. (Compared to Tyonne Palmer-Pollard, a stiff sentence.) The hitman, 37-year-old Daniel Lopez, received life without parole.

     According to the confessions of Castaneda and Lopez, the victim's husband, Pentecostal preacher Julio Perez, wanted Sonia Perez murdered for her $120,000 life insurance benefit. The accomplice supplied the handgun, and Lopez, the hitman, hid in the back of the third grade teacher's minivan. Lopez forced the victim to pull off a deserted road along a sugar cane field outside of Rio Hondo, Texas. It was there he shot her twice in the back of the head. Lopez committed this cold-blood murder on the promise of $25,000 from the life insurance payout.

     Preacher Perez, unless he makes a deal with the prosecutor, will go on trial next year for capital murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.   

Monday, December 19, 2011

Travelatrocity: Horrors of Commercial Aviation

     There was a time, I suppose, when travelers considered commercial flying an exciting, pleasurable and even romantic experience. Since that bubble burst decades ago, air travel has become increasingly unpleasant. The ordeal begins at the airport with long lines, footwear inspections, strip searches, pat-downs, and body scanning. The misery continues in-flight with diminished amenities, germ-infested air, surly flight attendants, and drunken, bellicose, and over-sized passengers. Back on the ground, passengers are faced with delays in getting off the plane, missed connections, and lost, misplaced, and damaged luggage. If he were alive, Orville Wright would take the bus.

Standing Room Only

     In July, during a seven-hour U.S. Airways flight from Anchorage, Alaska to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 57-year-old Arthur Berkowitz stood the entire trip. When he took his seat on the plane, the spot next to him was empty. A late, very obese passenger came on board and took that seat and half of Berkowitz's. On takeoff and landing, Berkowitz remained squeezed into his seat but was unable to fasten his seat-belt. During the rest of the flight, he strolled about the crammed cabin annoying the flight attendants.

     Following Mr. Berkowitz's complaint, the airline offered him a $200 voucher for his trouble. When Berkowitz declined the offer, U. S. Airways closed his case and issued this statement: "We have attempted to address this customer's sevice concerns, but offering increasing amounts of compensation based on threat of a safety violation isn't really fair - especially when the passenger himself said he didn't follow the crew members' instructions and fasten his seat belt."

Adventures on Jet Blue

     In November, Anibal Mercado, an eighteen year veteran of the New York City Police Department, was returning home from the Dominican Republic on a Jet Blue flight when 22-year-old Antonio Ynoa, four rows behind him, launched into a loud verbal attack on two female flight attendants. Ynoa had gone wild after the attendants told him the bar was closed and refused to bring him soda to mix with the duty-free rum he had brought on board. Seated next to this out of control jerk were two mothers holding babies. The verbal assault turned physical when Ynoa punched a male flight attendant four times in the face.

     Officer Mercado confronted Ynoa and identified himself as a New York City cop. After a brief struggle, Mercado wrestled the drunk to the ground until a flight attendant arrived with a set of flex hand restraints. (The fact they keep handcuffs on planes says it all.) Although cuffed, Ynoa continued to yell and cuss at his captors. He also spit on officer Mercado.

     An hour after the fracus, New York Port Authority police met the plane and took Ynoa into custody. As they hauled him off the plane, he kicked at the arresting officers. Ynoa has been charged with assaulting and interfering with a flight crew. The chance of being confined in a tube thirty thousand feet off the ground with a jerk like Ynoa does not make flying a relaxing way to travel.

     A few days before Mr. Ynoa blew his top, passengers who were stuck eight hours in a Jet Blue plane as it sat at a tarmac in Connecticut during an October snow storm, sued the airline. Because of the delay, the airline could also be fined, by the Department of Transportation, $27,500 per passenger. Guess who will end up paying that tab?

Barroom Brawl in the Sky

     In November, fifteen minutes before a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta landed in Baltimore, an intoxicated William D. Barna punched the man seated next to him. Two air marshals broke up the fight and seated Barna away from the other passengers. Barna fell asleep for a few minutes, then woke up and attacked one of the air marshals. The drunk and the marshals rolled up and down the aisle until the federal officers subdued the bellicose passenger. A couple of weeks later, an U.S. magistrate judge ordered Barna to undergo five to seven days of alcohol rehabilitation then spend four weeks as a patient in some kind of unspecified program designed to--what?--change his personality?

Baggage Theft

     Heightened airport security has made carry-ons less convenient. As a result, airline passengers are checking in more luggage. Besides added fees for this, and the risk of having baggage misdirected, lost or damaged, there is always the chance that airline baggage handlers will help themselves to your stuff. Recently, twelve American Airlines baggage handlers at Kennedy International Airport in New York, were convicted of baggage and freight theft. These airline employees were caught rifling through passengers' belongings for perfume, liquor, and electronic devices. They also stole laptops, jewelry, and items of clothing. According to one of the thieves, everyone was doing it. And we thought airline cargo was being inspected.

Spread 'em Grandma

     A few days ago an 85-year-old woman trying to board a Florida bound plane at JFK in New York, declined to pass through the body scanning machine because she feared the technology would play havoc with her defibrillator. Instead of patting her down, TBA agents took her to a room where they waterboarded her until she admitted the defibrillator was a bomb--just kidding. They gave the old lady a strip search. In the process, she banged her leg against her walker, causing it to bleed. She also missed her flight. My advice to grandma--stay in Florida. You will avoid humiliation and injury, and the skys over America will be much safer. Thank you TBA.

     Someone needs to tell the idiocrats who establish airport security protocol that there is such a thing as being too careful. But instead of applying reason, common sense, and governmental descretion to airline security, Senator Charles Schumer of New York, and some other politician, in the wake of grandma's strip search, have come up with a typically stupid idea that, as one might expect, expands the bureaucracy. Senator Schumer wants what he calls "Passenger Advocates" stationed at every airport to function, I guess, as quasi-magistrates to render decisions in cases involving outrageously inappropriate TBA enforcement practices.This will be a big help. George Orwell, an exceptionally creative writer, couldn't have made this stuff up. I find it amazing that anyone still writes fiction.

Alec Baldwin: Hero or Heel?

     The TV and movie star recently delayed an American Airlines' take-off because he refused to turn off his cellphone until he finished playing some word game. Before leaving the plane, Baldwin insulted and swore at the flight attendants (could this be true?!) who had ordered him, under the electronics-turn-off-before-we-take-off rule, to shutdown his cellphone.

     A few days later, Mr. Baldwin (really a sweet guy) apologized to the passengers he had held up, but let fly at the airline industry. Citing "paramilitary" security procedures, filthy planes, barely edible meals, and reduced flight amenities, Baldwin, in his blog, wrote: "Air travel has devolved into an inelegant experience akin to riding a Greyhound bus." It should be pointed out, in defense of Greyhound bus travel, that you don't have to turn off your cellphone at any point en route. Moreover, I doubt the articulate Mr. Baldwin has ever been on a Greyhound bus.

     The Baldwin dust-up has triggered a serious discussion over the necessity of the cellphone prohibition. ABC News aviation analyst and pilot (and novelist) John Nance, in an article published in "Time," said, "Airlines wrote the scripts that phones can interfere with the systems of the aircraft. But there is zero evidence [to support this]." In other words, this no electronics policy may be based on a myth. It should be noted that American Airline pilots are allowed to us iPods in the cockpit during take-off, in-flight, and while landing. (The image of a pilot playing with his iPod during landing is not a good one.)

     So, back to Mr. Baldwin. Is he a hero or a heel? I guess that depends on how your feel about the actor, and commerical aviation.    

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Hygiene Defense in the Sandusky Case

     Former football coach Jerry Sandusky's lawyer in the Penn State sexual molestatin case, pursuant to his "hygiene" defense, says his client's only "crime" was teaching young boys how to soap themselves in the shower. This one is right up there on the lawyer embarrassment scale with the "Twinky" defense raised years ago in a San Francisco murder case. (The defendant blamed his homicidal outburst on a sugar-high brought on by excessive Twinky consumption.) If I remember correctly, the Twinky defense worked. But it was California. As loopy as that criminal justification was, it makes more sense than the hygiene defense.

     My first male teacher was an eigth grade physical education guy who insisted we all take showers after gym class. In response to objections over this policy, the coach reminded us that if the President of the United States found it necessary to take a daily shower, we lowly West Virginia hillbillies should do the same. It made sense to me. Had our gym teacher taken it upon himself to follow us into the shower to give us hands-on instruction on how to soap ourselves, he would have been a pedophile. Fortunately for us, he didn't do that. He just didn't want us to stink.

     What do you think would have happened if Coach Sandusky had sent each of his kids home with a consent form allowing him, in the name of hygiene, to soap-up these boys? How many parents would have signed that waiver? How many would have gone to Coach Paterno? Or better yet, the police?

     Sandusky's attorney should give us a break. Does he think we are stupid? I think he does.

Murder on the Band Bus

     On December 15, the associate medical examiner of Orange County, Florida, Dr. Sara Irrgang, released the results of her autopsy of Robert Champion, the Florida A & M drum major who died on November 19 on a charter bus outside an Orlando Hotel following a football game. The 26-year-old died from "shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma." The forensic pathologist found extensive contusions (bruising) to Champion's chest, arms, shoulder and back. His interior tissues were bruised as well. He passed away within an hour of his injuries. Repeatedly punched, he died like a person being stoned to death. He did not have drugs or alcohol in his system.

     Investigators in the case have uncovered evidence of financial crimes related to the funding of the marching band. Florida Governor Rick Scott has called for the president of Florida A & M to be suspended. This request has upset many A & M students who do not want the president of the school removed. A crowd of the president's student supporters gathered outside the governor's mansion to protest.

     It's not clear to me why, under these circumstances, A & M students would come to the aid of the school's president. One would think they would be protesting against deadly hazing, and the possibility of university embezzlement.

The Case of the Stupid Movie

     This weekend my wife and I saw "Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows" starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as Dr. Watson. After sitting through this picture without the benefit of popcorn, candy or the stuff Mr. Holmes smokes in his pipe, I think I can deduce how this insipid flick came into being. I can see a producer describing, to a computer guy and a screenwriter, visually stimulating scenes, then telling the computer animater and the scriptwriter (in real life a husand and wife team) to organize a story around the visuals without worrying about plot, or for that matter, the audience. In following these instructions, the animater and screenwriter produced a cartoonish combination of one of those Johnny Depp pirate films, a Harry Potter vehicle, and a super-hero whammy. I won't give away the ridiculous ending even though it would save you money and two hours of boredom. The only tension associated with this movie is deciding whether to stick it out because you paid for it, or to walk. Not even one star for this dog. It's a good thing Arthur Conan Doyle is dead.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Walmartology: Crime in Consumerland 5

A Breach of Security

     On December 5, a customer at a Grove City, Ohio Walmart took his son to the restroom at one-thirty in the afternoon and waited outside near the electronics section of the store. The 9-year-old boy came out of the restroom and reported to his father that a man had held a cellphone under the stall to video tape or photograph him going to the bathroom. The father confronted this person who happened to be 28-year-old Okey Belcher, a Walmart store detective. Belcher denied video taping the boy, explaining that he had dropped his cellphone and was picking it up.

     After the police questioned the boy and Belcher, the officers acquired a search warrant for the suspect's cellphone. The search produced enough evidence to justify Belcher's arrest. He was charged with pandering obscenity involving a minor, a second-degree felony. Because Belcher's iPod contained 100 images of naked children, he was also charged with the federal crime of child pornography. Belcher admitted to a Grove City police officer that he had downloaded child pornography onto his laptop computer as well. A search of his computer revealed 100 digital films depicting juveniles engaged in sexual activity.

     Belcher is currently in state custody pending a hearing before a federal magistrate. If convicted of the federal charges, he could face up to twenty years in prison.

A Sticky Problem

     In Cartersville, Georgia, someone has been planting syringes in clothing sold at the local Walmart. Since November 29, eight needles have turned up in various garments. The syringes, found in the pockets of men's and women's pants, and in boxes containing bras, pajamas, and socks, are the type used by people with diabetes. Customers pricked by the needles risk hepatitis or HIV. The syringes have been sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory for analysis.

Busting an Old Fence

     In 2008, when the police searched 66-year-old Marin Moreno's home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they found thousands of dollars worth of merchandise that had been stolen from Target and Walmart stores. Moreno pleaded guilty to paying shoplifters to steal designated items from the stores, merchandise he sold at a local flea market. In return for his plea to the fourth-degree felony of receiving stolen goods, the judge sentenced Moreno to probation.

     The police, in May 2010, arrested Moreno for possession of merchandise his shoplifters had stolen from Walmart and seven other stores. He was charged with racketeering and criminal solicitation. A judge revoked his probation on the 2008 case, sending him back to the Metropolitin Detention Cener to serve out that sentence. On December 8, 2011, after Moreno pleaded guilty to the racketeering and criminal solicitation charges, a judge sentenced him to nine years, suspending all but two. With good behavior and credit for time served, Morino will spend less than a year behind bars. Because the defendant had a sick wife who required care, the judge had gone easy on the old fence.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

     In Waldorf, Maryland, Walmart employees spotted 22-year-old Timothy Clark stuffing video games under his clothing. As soon as he hit the parking lot, police officers arrested Clark who was in possession of $635 worth of stolen video games and game accessories.

     Timothy Clark had picked the wrong day to steal from Walmart. The store was crawling with cops, fifty of them who were there shopping with underpriveleged kids who had been given gift cards by a local charity. As a bonus, the kids also learned that crime doesn't pay. (Why tell them otherwise?)

A Sad Story

     In December, police arrested Elizabeth Elisha Halfmoon inside a Tulsa, Oklahoma Walmart. She had been in the store six hours trying to manufacture methamphetamine from commerical fluids on sale. The arresting officer, in seizing the bottle containing the ingredients being mixed, suffered a chemical burn. Halfmoon said she was trying to cook meth in the store because she was too broke to buy the drug.

Bullets Over Walmart

     On Saturday afternoon, December 3, two police officers were involved in an undercover drug deal unfolding in the Walmart parking lot in Strongsville, Ohio. At some point in the transaction, a gunfight erupted between the narcs and two of the drug suspects. The gun fire sent Walmart customers ducking and running for cover. The gun play ended when a bullet struck one of the suspects, 27-year-old Lawrence McKissic. As the ambulance drove off with the wounded suspect, Walmart customers continued to come and go as though nothing had happened. The store remained open throughout the incident.

Boxstore Murder

     Lilia Blandin was having problems with her husband, Avery. On October 30, 2011, the police had charged him with criminal domestic violence after he allegedly punched her in the face and abdomen. The 38-year-old woman worked for the Woodforest Bank inside the Walmart store in Greenville County, South Carolina. At one-thirty in the afternoon on Saturday, December 10, Avery Blandin entered the store with a knife. Following a brief argument with Lilia, he stabbed her to death. He fled from the bloody scene but wrecked his car not far from the store. Deputy sheriffs took him into custody without incident.

     Customers at Walmart were appalled that the store remained open for business through the slaying and its aftermath. One shopper said, "I saw there was blood everywhere, on the ground, on the table, on the wall." Customers were kept away from the immediate crime scene which was not compromised by the management's decision not to let a murder interfere with Christmas shopping.

   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Knowing the Score in the Sandusky Case

     Jerry Sandusky, after waiving his preliminary hearing at the Centre County Court House in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, vowed to "fight for four quarters." I presume this means he will maintain his innocence until the Penn State sexual molestation scandal is resolved. His attorney, Joe Amendola, after comparing the case to some historic Penn State football victory, said, "This is the game of his [Sandusky's] life." Someone should tell former coach Sandusky and his attorney that this criminal scandal is not a football game to be won or lost. This is real, and it's about determining an accused sex molester's guilt or innocence. And if Sandusky is found guilty, what his sentence should be.

     While sports metaphores have unfortunately become an intregal part of the English language--we all strike out, drop the ball, tackle the problem, and when desperate, throw hail-Mary passes--the use of football metaphores by the defendant and his lawyer in the Penn State pedophile scandal seems inappropriate.

     Sandusky and his attorney, in my view, should call a time out on football metaphores.  

A Band of Sadists?

     On December 13, three members of the Florida A & M University marching band were arraigned in a Tallahassee court on charges of hazing related batteries. The defendants, who made bail, have been charged with beating fellow band member Bria Shante Hunter with fists and a metal ruler. The alleged crime involved the victim's initiation into the "Red Dawg Order," a band clique for students from Georgia. Hunter was beaten so severly she suffered a borken femur and blod clots in her leg.

     This band related violence occured three weeks before Florida A & M drum major Robert Champion died in a hazing incident following a football game in Orlando. ( Mysteriously, the coroner's office has said it has not determined Champion's cause of death.) I would image that a high school kid who enters Florida A & M instead of the U.S. Marine Corps, and joins the marching band instead of the football team, probably doesn't anticipate physical abuse and hellish hazing.

Pass More Laws, Arrest More People

Misdemeanor Burping

   This May, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a 13-year-old student "burped audibly" in physical education class, the PE teacher called a school "resource officer" to deal with the disruption. The resource oficer summoned a city police officer who came to the school, handcuffed the boy, and hauled him off to a juvenile detention center.

     The burping boy, while not charged with a crime, was suspended for the rest of the school year. While in custody, the boy's captors gave him a risk assessment test. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being extremely dangerous, the boy scored a 2. My guess is that if Mr. Rogers had taken this test, he would have scored a 2 as well. Perhaps the Dalai Lama would have pulled a 1. The kid's parents have filed a lawsuit.

Eating While Shopping

     In Makiki, Hawaii, a couple, while shopping with their 3-year-old daughter, got into trouble when they each ate a sandwich they didn't pay for when they went through the check-out line. The offenders offered to pay $10 for what they had consumed, but it was too late. The cops came, took them into custody, and seized thier hyserical child. The parents got their daughter back after posting $100 bail.

     I can imagine, as the cops are investigating the couple at the scene of the crime, retail thieves rolling shopping carts full of groceries out of the store.

Ignition Key Kids

     In Pennsylvania, the police, over the past eighteen months, have arrested ten parents for leaving their children in casino parking lots while they were inside gambling. These lousy parents were appropriately charged with the misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of children. But for state legislators who are paid to pass laws, and in the process keep their jobs, one criminal statute covering this behavior is not enough. So they have proposed two more laws.

     One of the bills would make it a misdemeanor to leave children younger than 14 in vehicles parked on casino property, and double the fines on casinos if they fail to report such incidents to the police and social service agencies. The second bill requires casinos to post signs warning gamblers not to leave unattended children in their parking lots. But what about gambler/parents who leave dogs with their children? I think we need a third bill to more specifically define "unattended." And perhaps as fourth bill to protect the dogs.

     So, what about the kids who are left in front of bars while their parents are inside getting drunk? Or parents who leave their children in Walmart parking lots while shoppers are being mugged, cars are being stolen, and murder-for-hire deals are being negotiated in nearby vehicles? Are these crime victims legislative chopped liver?

     I have an idea. Why don't we require every business, under penalty of law, to post signs and report any evidence of bad parenting in and around their facilities? And while we are at it, let's make it a federal crime. It could be called the Omnibus Good Parenting Act of 2011.

     If passing unnecessary window-dressing legislation solved our social problems, America would be paradise on earth. And politicians would be heros instead of self-serving busybodies.

    

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Drug War Shock Troops

     American law enforcement has become zero tolerant, more violent, and militarized. Local, state, and federal teams of elite paramilitary special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams regularly patrol big-city streets and break into homes unannounced. Officers on routine patrol carry high-powered semi and fully automatic weapons. Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country either has its own SWAT unit or has officers who are members of a multijurisdictional force. The barrier between the U.S. military and domestic law enforcement has broken down. The police have become soldiers and military personnel now function as civilian law enforcers. Paramilitary police officers wear combat gear, are transported in army-surplus armored personnel carriers, receive special-forces training, and view criminal suspects as enemy combatants. Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies field teams of military-trained snipers. In many jurisdictions, the "public servant" concept of policing has been replaced by the "occupying force" model. The idea of community policing has become outmoded. If one didn't know any better, one would think that the nation is in the grip of an historic crime wave. Today, compared with the 1930s and the late 1960s through the 1970s, the current rate of violent crime is much lower.

     Every year SWAT teams conduct forced entry, no-knock raids into 40,000 to 50,000 homes in search of illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia. In many jurisdictions all drug-related search warrant executions involve SWAT team entries. Once a law enforcement agency forms a paramilitary unit, the officers on the team must be kept busy to stay sharp. For this reason, the great majority of SWAT raids in this country involve low-risk police work and are therefore unnecessary.

     The predawn, no-knock SWAT raid into a private home has become the signature of the government's escalating war on drugs. Even when the raids are not in some way botched, as when officers break into the wrong house, innocent bystanders, including children, are injured, manhandled, and/or traumatized. Following these raids, residents are left with broken doors, windows, and furniture as well as ransacked rooms. Occasional the "flashbang" grenades the raiders use to disorient occupants cause injuries and start fires. It is not uncommon for subjects of these raids, thinking that their homes are being invaded by criminals, to pick up guns in self-defense. These people are often shot and killed. If they shoot and kill a police officer, they go to prison. In these cases it doesn't matter that the defendants didn't know who they were shooting at. Some end up on death row.

Minneapolis SWAT

     Acting on information from a narcotics snitch, a Minneapolis SWAT team of eighteen officers, on the night of February 16, 2010, used a battering ram to enter the apartment rented by Rickia Russell. The 30-year-old occupant heard her front door being smashed open followed by the sound of a flashbang grenade rolling into her living room. Upon explosion, the percussion device ignited her sofa and seriously burned her leg. As Russell lay face-down on the floor with her hands cuffed behind her back, she tried to tell the officers about her charred limb. They told her to shut up.

     The officers, armed with a warrant alleging that someone named David Conley was selling drugs out of this apartment, found no narcotics, drug paraphernalia, guns, or any other contriband or evidence of a crime. Rickia Russell did not know a David Conley. The SWAT team had obviously raided the wrong apartment. But instead of apologizing and offering to repair the damage they had caused, the police arrested Russell for the misdemeanor of operating a "disorderly house." The authorities, however, never followed through with a formal charge.

     On December 9, 2011, the Minneapolis City Council offered Russell, who had suffered permanent injuries from the flashbang grenade, a million dollar settlement. This horribly botched police operation was not the first botched paramilitary police raid in Minneapolis

The Vang Khang Raid

     Vang Khang, his wife Yee Moua, and their six children, hill people from Laos, lived in a high-crime neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis. Just before midnight on December 16, 2007, Yee Moua, while watching television, heard window glass shatter. Thinking that criminals were breaking into the house, she bolted up the stairs to where her husband and children were sleeping.

     Awakened by the commotion, Mr. Khang grabbed his shotgun, and hearing heavy footsteps advancing up the stairs, fired a warning shot through his bedroom door. Khang didn't know it, but he had opened fired on officers with the Minneapolis Police Department's Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF). The paramilitary unit had broken into the wrong house in search of street-gang guns and drugs. The exchange of gunfire that erupted after Khang's warning shot included 22 bullets from VOTF officers and two more blasts from Khang's shotgun, pellets that struck the body armor of two of the officers. The moment Khang heard his children yelling, "It's the police!" Khang, who miraculously had not been shot, dropped the shotgun and raised his arms. A few seconds later, he was on the floor with a boot planted in the middle of his back.

     The Minneapolis Police, quickly realizing that their informant had directed them to the wrong house, did not take Khang into custody. VOTF offiers, leaving behind broken windows and bullet holes in the bedroom wall, left the house without apologizing to the family they had endangered and traumatized.

     Seven months after the bungled raid, the Minneapolis police chief awarded the VOTF officers who had raided the wrong house, medals of valor for "bravery in action under fire." In December 2008, the Minneapolis City Council approved a $600,000 settlement for the Khang family.

     Paramilitary policing in Minneapolis has been expensive, and a threat to public safety.

    

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Shots Fired: Two Days, Nine Shootings

     On Friday and Saturday, December 9 and 10, 2011, the police, in separate incidents in Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, California, Illinois, and Missouri, shot nine people, killing four of them. As in most police involved shootings, five of the cases received cursory media coverage. Four of the more newsworthy shootings are featured here.

Suicide By Cop in Hollywood

     A month ago, Tyler Brehm, an unemployed 26-year-old from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, moved into a Hollywood, California apartment with his girlfriend. On December 6 they broke up, and on Friday December 9, at ten-fifteen in the morning, Brehm, armed with a 40-caliber handgun, began walking down the middle of Sunset Boulevard toward Vine Street. He shot several times into the air then fired several bullets into a silver Mercedes-Benz coup driven by music industry executive John Atterberry, hitting the victim in the neck and face. Atterberry later died from his wounds. Pedestrians who were aware of what was happening ran for cover. A few bystanders thought they were witnessing the filming of a movie scene. As Brehm fired his weapon, he screamed that he was going to die.

     Two Los Angeles police officers, one of whom was providing security on a nearby movie set, ordered the gunman to drop his weapon. Having run out of ammunition, Brehm pulled a knife. The officers fired four or five times, killing Brehm on the spot.

     Brehm did not have a criminal record. According to one of his Hollywood neighbors, "He wasn't a bad guy, he just got fed up." Another area resident reported that Brehm and his girlfriend had recently moved out of their apartment. "I could tell that he was an unstable person," this neighbor said, "but I don't know the details on what actually made him snap."

     This police shooting has all the earmarks of a suicide by cop case. Although such deaths have become quite common, this police involved shooting drew media attention because it took place in the heart of Hollywood, the town of broken dreams.

Death of a Shoplifter in a Wheelchair

     At four-thirty in the afternnon on Saturday, December 10, loss prevention officers at the Sears store in Visalia, California approached a shoplifting suspect in a wheelchair. The 29-year-old man wheeled out the back door of the store with the security officers in pursuit. When the officers confronted the suspect, he brandished a knife. As the knife-wielding shoplifter rolled into a nearby Marshalls Department Store, the security officers called the police.

     As the police entered Marshalls, the suspect wheeled out the back door. Confronted outside, he lept from the chair and lunged at the officers with his knife. The officers shot him, and he died on the spot.

Suicide By Cop in Chicago

     At eight o'clock Saturday night, December 10, police officers responded to a call regarding a man with a gun at the Western Cermak Pink Line train station in Chicago. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found 55-year-old Frank Steponaitis holding a gun to his head. Ordered to drop the weapon, Steponaitis pulled a second gun and pointed it at the police. The officers opened fire, killing Mr. Steponaitis. According to court records, the dead man had a history of alcoholism and psychiatric treatment.

Double Murder, Car Chase, and Shooting

     In Salem, Missouri at six-thirty in the evening, during an argument with his ex-wife and her boyfriend over custody of their 2-year-old son, 44-year-old Mavin Rice allegedly pulled a gun and killed both adults. The dead woman's 6-year-old daughter heard the gunshots from another room and called 911. Rice, a former Dent County (Missouri) deputry sheriff, drove off with his son in his white station wagon. After leaving the boy with his current wife, Rice headed north on U.S. Route 63 toward Columbia, Missouri.

     Police picked up Rice's trail through his cellphone signals which led to a high-speed vehicle chase that ended at nine-thirty in the parking lot of the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The hotel is just blocks from the grounds of the state capitol.

     The fleeing ex-cop ran from his car into the lobby of the luxury hotel where hundreds of doctors, nurses and their families were attending an annual Christmas party. Other hotel guests included a youlth hockey team. The pursuing officers shot Rice as he ran past the lobby elevators toward the swimming pool. Rushed to a local hospital, Rice is expected to survive his wounds.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

Coaches: Masters of Their Universe

     Pedophilia has been a hidden aspect of boy's athletics. The problem has been brought to the surface by the coaching scandals at Penn State, the Citadel, and Syracuse University. Are these rare cases, or is this a major social and criminal problem? Just how many of these sexual preditors are coaching our children?

     As reported recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Michael Soto, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto, estimates that between 1 and 3 percent of men are sexually attracted to children 12 and under. Dr. Soto believes pedophilia is not a learned behavior but the result of something different in the brains of men sexually attracted to children. Studies have shown that about a third of these men were abused sexually as children. Dr. Soto thinks this childhood abuse might trigger a physiological predisposition.

     Dr. Thomas Plante, a psychological professor at Santa Clara University who has studied and treated pedophiles (including hundreds of priests), estimates that 5 percent of all men have a predilection to be sexually attracted to children. According to a recent interview the professor gave to New York Times reporter Lynn Zinser, not all of these men act on their deviant attraction. But still, any way you figure it, our country is crawling with sexual preditors who work in jobs that bring them into contact with children. And what better position could there be for such men than coaching sports?

     Pedophiles who sell insurance, drive trucks, or work in factories, unless they are involved in organizations like the Boy Scouts, YMCA or Big Brother, will draw suspicion when they engage in any of the behavior asociated with pedophilia. This would include excessive interest in boys under 12, buying them gifts, taking them places overnight, and laying hands on them. Athletic coaches do these things as a matter of routine.

     Pedophile coaches get away with their crimes because of the nature of the offense and the psychological make up of their victims. Boys who play sports serve at the pleasure of their coaches who they desperately want to please. These victims are reluctant to report being abused because they not only fear their coaches, they don't think anyone will believe them. Moreover, they're worried that the other players will think they are homosexuals. These boys are powerless in a culture dominated by sports fans and ex-jocks where coaches are kings. Even victims' fathers are afraid to offend coaches for fear of hurting their sons' athletic futures.

     In Pennsylvania, the way state authorities handled the 1998 sexual molestation allegations against Penn State coarch Jerry Sandusky illustrates why pedophile coaches are rarely brought to justice. Under Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services Law, Department of Public Welfare (DPW) social workers have the authority to "indicate" someone as a child molester. This determination is not made public, and is outside the criminal justice system. An employer of such a designee is informed of the status, this person is barred from contact with children, and a criminal background check is initiated.

     In the 1998 Sandusky case, the DPW worker was informed that the coach had been accused of sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy in a locker room shower. On June 1, the DPW official and a detective with the university police department questioned Sandusky in the Penn State weight room. The coach admitted showering with the boy and said he felt bad about that. Whether he admitted hugging the boy at that time is not clear. The DPW investigator later declined the opportunity to monitor an electronically eavesdropped conversation between coach Sandusky and the alleged victim's mother. In that confrontation, the coach admitted hugging the boy in the shower.

     The DPW social worker did not find "substantial evidence" of sexual abuse in this case. Had he done so, Coach Sandusky would have been barred from any contact with children through his charity, The Second Mile. His superiors at Penn State, including coach Joe Paterno, would have been alerted to the potential problem. The DPW official's decision, as well as Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar's refusal to prosecute the case, allowed coach Jerry Sandusky continued access to children.

     Looking back at the 1998 allegations, many child protection workers believe there was substantial evidence of sexual abuse, and that Coach Sandusky should have been kept away from young boys. (The DPW handling of the 1998 case is covered in Moriah Balingit's article, "Ex-DPW Worker Discusses 1998 Sandusky Case," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 11, 2011.)

     Because of our national obsession with athletics, we are sacrificing our children to the gods of sports--the coaches. New laws and greater awareness, in the face of this obsession, will not protect young atheletes. Pedophiles do not believe that what they do to kids is wrong. Therefore they can't be shamed or humiliated. They respond to their accusers with anger and defiance. And whether these men are coaches, elementary school teachers, or priests, they know how to use and abuse their power. And as long as they have this authority, they will continue to molest children under their control.       

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How to Spot a "Polidiopath"

     What do you get when you cross a sociopath with a superficial, dishonest, humorless, thin-skinned idiot? You get an idiot-politician, or, if I may coin a term, a "polidiopath." When I imagine such a person dozens of well-known politicians leap to mind. And I imagine, unless you are a "polidiopathophile," it's the same with you.

     I suspect that most polidiopaths are in high office because in politics, polidiopathy rises to the top. These are people who never admit they are wrong, go to extreme lengths to cover-up their mistakes, scandals and crimes, and when confronted with their blunders and follies, blame others. They are extremely sure of themselves as leaders, and almost always lead us in the wrong direction.

     Polidiopaths give themselves away by what they do in the name of public service. The following is a short list of behaviorial patterns that makes it easy to spot one. Polidiopaths:

1.  Make compaign promises they know, and we know,  they won't keep.

2. Pass feel-good, window-dressing laws that do more harm than good.

3. Create terrible economic problems then take credit for useless or harmful corrective legislation.

4. Lie boldly and badly to cover-up their blunders, crimes, and embarrassing behavior.

5. Never admit, in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, that they are wrong.

6. Blame others for the effects of their over-governance.

7. Do whatever it takes to destroy their political enemies.

8. Use insider information to make killings in the stock market.

9. Sell their votes to special interests.

10. Pander to voters' lowest instincts.

     Spotting polidiopaths in Washington and in our state capitals is as easy as spotting stars on a clear night. Getting them replaced by decent people is obviously not so easy. Low congressional approval ratings will not do the trick. In a republic, politicians reflect the citizens they represent. Before we get better leaders, we need to be better ourselves.

Charles Bukowski on Writers and Writing

     According to Christopher Hitchens, "The reflections of successful writers on other writers, can be astonishingly banal." While probably true, this does not apply to southern California's Charles Bukowski. Before he died in 1994 at 73, Bukowski, the author of thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories, and six novels, had plenty to say about the writer and his craft. While he is one of my favorite authors, I don't think Bukowski was the nicest guy around. His anti-social personality and noir attitude about life is reflected in some of the following quotes. Nice guy or not, Bukowski was interesting, and he could write.

Writing is a sick habit to break.

I can write more truly of myself than of anybody that I know. It's a great source of material.

I liked [Ernest] Hemingway for clarity, I loved it, yet at the same time I didn't like the literary feel of it...there was a upper snobbishness attached....When you come in from the factory with your hands and your body and your mind ripped, hours and days stolen from you, you can become very aware of a fake line, a fake thought, of a literary game.

Why do poets consider themselves more elevated than the garbage man, the short story writer and the novelist?

The job of a writer is to write, all else is nonsense that weakens mind, gut, ability and the natural state of being.

Poetry? Well, it's not much, is it? A lot of posing and prancing and fakery, wordplay for its own sake.

I am not so worried about whether I am writing any good or not, I know I write a valley of bad stuff. But what gets me is that nobody is coming on that I can believe in or look up to. It's hell not to have a hero.

I have to write a lot of poems to keep from going crazy; I can't help it. I often write ten to twelve poems a day and then top the whole thing off with a short story.

You know, I've tried the starving writer bit....I write better with a few bucks in my pocket.

I have to drink and gamble [horses] to get away from this typewriter. Not that I don't love this old machine when it's working right. But knowing when to go to it and knowing to stay away from it, that's the trick.

Starvation and obscurity and not necessarily signs of genius.

If there is anything good about my writing it is the roughness, the quality of not being literary.

There is hardly such a thing as a modest writer. Especially a modest bad writer.

It has always been the popular concept for the writer to starve, go mad, suffer, suicide. I think it's time for the editors and publishers to starve, suffer, go made and suicide.

Yes, I drink when I write fiction. Why not? I like things to be entertaining. If I feel entertained at this machine maybe somebody else will feel that way too.... 

Friday, December 9, 2011

J. Edgar Hoover: Devil With the Blue Dress

     If the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to 1972 thought much about his legacy, he probably hoped to be remembered as the man who professionalized criminal investigation, and elevated the image of the FBI agent. As the man responsible for the FBI fingerprint bureau, crime laboratory, National Police Academy, and the "FBI Bulletin," one could argue that Mr. Hoover played a positive role in the history of 20th Century American law enforcement.

    Hoover's critics, and there are many of them, portray him as a power-hungry phony who, over four decades, abused his power. Although a dozen or so books have been published about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI under his directorship, he probably wouldn't be remembered at all by the general public had there not been a book published in 1993 by the Irish journalist (some would say tabloid journalist) Anthony Summers.

     In "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," Summers, relying on information from the embittered wife of a Hoover crony, paints Hoover as a cross-dressing homosexual. Ronald Kessler, a former FBI agent and author of "The Secrets of the FBI," considers the cross-dressing story a fabrication by a vengeful woman who later served time for perjury. While most FBI historians agree with Mr. Kessler on this, the image of Hoover wearing a dress and high-heels has stuck. This is how he is remembered, or at least referred to, by people influenced by supermarket celebrity rags, and late-night TV.

     Clint Eastwood's new movie, "J. Edgar," had it not focused so much on the Lindbergh kidnapping case and Hoover's strange relationship with his mother and his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson, may have triggered a public debate over Hoover's place in the history of American law enforcement. Instead, the discussion has been about the film itself.

     Agents who worked under Hoover, many of whom belong to the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, are outraged by the movie. As an agent who worked in Hoover's FBI and is not a member of the organization, I remember being surprised that agents who complained bitterly about working conditions under the director (see: "J. Edgar Hoover: A Field Agent's Perspective," November 15, 2011) suddenly became Hoover cheer leaders after they retired and joined the group.

     On the other side of the debate, critics of the film accuse Clint Eastwood of glossing over Hoover's abuse of power and the corrupting influence he had on the agency. It seems that in making this film, Eastwood managed to offend everyone, including regular movie goers who think the flick is too long, and worse, boring and off-putting.

     As for J. Edgar Hoover and the memory of him, it looks like he's not getting out of that dress any time soon.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hellementary Education: Cases For Home Schooling

     I hated gradeschool because my parents moved a lot, I was ugly (buck-toothed), and stupid. My career as a public school student hit bottom when I flunked seventh grade in Wellsburg, West Virginia. (My mother saved all of my report cards, even the two I produced in seventh grade.) As bad as my elementary school memories are, I have to admit that my teachers--all women--were okay. Moreover, I was never bullied, sexually molested, taught by a drug-addled instructor, taken into police custody for classroom misbehavior, or told by my second grade teacher that the Santa Claus bit is a load of crap. Compared to the elementary school experience today, I had it pretty good. (Apparently, the hell of elementary education is universal. According to Christopher Hitchens: "...no self-respecting Brit can write about his early education without at least some reference to sadism and misery...")

The In-House Pedophile

     No one knows how many child molesters are in elementary education, or what percentage of elementary school teachers are pedophiles. Based on the anecdotal evidence consisting of news reports featuring teachers charged with sexual molestation, and/or possession of child pornography, there is reason for concern.

     On December 5 in Tucson, Arizona, a judge sentenced elementary teacher Joseph Chanecka, 44, to seven years in prison and lifetime probabion after the defendant pleaded guilty to possessing 300,000 child pornographic images on his computer. The judge could have sentenced Chanecka to 25 years behind bars but gave him a break because he had already lost his home, fiancee, and their newborn son. Chanecka said he was "extremely sorry" for his "foolish behavior." (I wouldn't call possessing 300,000 pornographic images "foolish" behavior. I would call it "pathologically criminal" behavior.) A shrink who examined Chenecka  assured the judge there was little chance the defendant will re-offend.

     In Toms River, New Jersey on December 6, detectives arrested a 38-year-old elementary computer science teacher charged with one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of second degree sexual assault. On the same day, in Orlando, Florida, a 50-year-old elementary teacher was arrested for child molestation. This teacher was already in custody for downloading images of child pornography. He had been behaving "foolishly" this way for more than a decade. (My recommendation for this guy--call in the shrink from Tucson.)

     In Shawnee, Oklahoma, police on December 1 arrested a former "Teacher of the Year" for taking photographs of some of her third grade students dancing around in bras and panties. (Bras?) The kids were attending a pizza party at the teacher's home.

Cracking Down on Fourth Grade Sex Offenders

     In Philadelphia, members of a police special victrims unit arrested three boys--ages ten and eleven--on charges of attempted rape, deviant sexual intercourse, and unlawful restraint in connection with a November incident that allegedly took place in an elementary school restroom. The complaintant was an 8-year-old boy the defendants had allegedly bullied. He is now attending another school. After this incident, students in the West Philadelphia school must now go the the restroom in pairs. According to common law, children under the age of seven are incapable of forming criminal intent, and therefore cannot be held culpable of crimes requiring this element. Between the ages seven and fourteen, children, under common law, were presumed incapable of criminal intent. I don't see how the authorities in Philadelphia  will be able to establish the requisite criminal intent in these cases.

High on Teaching or Teaching High

     This month, a tenured fourth grade teacher at the Wilson Elementary School in Granite City, Illinois was charged with possessing heroin and drug paraphernalia. She posted her $15,000 bond and was released. An internal hearing is scheduled to determine if she can be suspended without pay.

     In Boone County West Virginia, a kindergarten teacher, after being pulled over for running a stop sign, consented to a search of her car which led to a charge of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The teacher admitted to consuming hydrocodone while on her lunch break.

The Criminalization of Brown-Nosing

     In Alabama, it's a violation of the state's ethics law for a legislator to accept a gift from a citizen. The law has recently been expanded to include public school teachers and their students. According to the director of  the Alabama Ethics Commission, "Something of relatively insignificant value--a candle, a coffee mug--is fine. It just can't be a $50 gift to Cosco or Target." Education spokesperson Kathy Kilgor told reporters that elementary school teachers do not like this new rule. "That was a little bit, I think, hurtful, condescending, to think we couldn't accept something from a caring student. That's kind of important to them. Not only is it hurtful to us, it's hurtful to the child."

     You bet. This stupid rule will deny Alabama students the opportunity to practice a skill absolutely necessary to get ahead in their future careers--sucking up and bribery. This is so hurtful.

There's No Santa?! Big Deal

     A second grade teacher in Nanuet, New York broke the news to her students that the Santa thing is a crock. I assume this educator believes it's never to early to lay life's truths on her naive students. You know, prepare them for the "real world." But why did she stop with the Santa myth? Why didn't she tell them that in a few years at least half of them will be obese, on drugs, under-employed and divorced? And that all of them are going to die? Hell, after that, none of them would give a crap about Santa and reindeer that can fly.        

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jerry Sandusky: Self-Portrait of a Pedophile

     Pedophiles are bold, commit their crimes under our noses, and think we are stupid. Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach charged with 40 counts of child molestation, by granting CNN a four-hour interview, must think we are beyond stupid. In that interview, conducted over two days last week, Sandusky admitted the following: giving money and gifts to disadvantaged boys; staging wrestling matches in his home; arranging sleep-overs; taking boys on overnight trips; sleeping alone with them in hotel rooms; blowing on their stomachs; and taking showers with them. He admitted that his own wife had expressed concerns over his preoccupation with these boys. And coach Paterno didn't like it either.

     A few weeks ago, Sandusky told a TV sportscaster, on national television, that he touched boys while showering with them. I can't decide, if in the minds of America's pedophile population, if Sandusky is a dream or a nightmare. Could he possibly believe that non-pedophiles will interpret his admitted relationships with these boys as nonsexual? Sandusky is sounding a lot like a national spokesperson for NAMBLA.

     Jerry Sandusky has self-profiled himself as a pedophile. He's also self-prosecuting himself before the American public. His public defense of himself is unprecedented, and, in my view, extremely incriminating. We are not that stupid. (See: "Edgar Friedrichs, Jr: The Profile of a Pedophile," November 9, 2001 and "Criminal Intent in the Sandusky Case," November 16, 2011.) 

Witch Hunt: The Politician's Cry

     Herman Cain, on December 3, 2011, under allegations of sexual harassment and a thirteen year affair wth a woman he helped financially, dropped out of the presidential race. He has denied all of the charges, and claims he has been the victim of character assassination and a political witch hunt. Assuming that all of the allegations against him are completely false, is Herman Cain the victim of a witch hunt?

     It's probably true that the media has in general over-reported the story, and the left-wing media with relish. But that's just the lazy, low-hanging fruit picking kind of journalism we have today, and it applies to everyone in the public light. Herman Cain may be the victim of a bunch of lying women and easy, pandering news reporting, but in my opinion he has not been the victim of a witch hunt, political or otherwise.

     The term "witch hunt," used figuratively, applies to a government investigation and/or prosecution of innocent or harmless people. The term has been applied to describe the McCarthy era's hunt for communists working inside our government, and criminal cases involving railroaded defendants later proven to be innocent. An example of a criminal justice witch hunts includes the McMartin pre-school case where Los Angeles prosecutors created public hysteria by falsely and recklessly accusing dozens of California pre-school owners and teachers of child molestation. The wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three young men ("The Memphis Three") accused of satanic murder qualifies as a witch hunt. The members of the Duke Lacrosse team falsely accused of rape is another. People who believe (as I do) that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent of JonBenet's murder consider them victims of a police and media driven witch hunt.

     A legitimate victim of a political witch hunt is former California Congressman Gary Condit who was falsely implicated by the media in the 2001 murder of Chandra Levy, a political aide in his office. The scandal, fueled by hack, tabloid reporting by the mainstream media, ruined Condit's political career.

     Politicians who, in my view, have falsely claimed witch hunt victim status include: Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters, Rick Renzi, Tom Delay, Jim Trafficant, William J. Jefferson, Cythia McKinney, Robert Torricelli, RandyCunningham, and an endless list of others. And let's not forget former Congressman Anthony Wiener.

     The term "witch hunt," as used by politicians, has been so attenuated it has lost its true meaning. Compared to what the media and law enforcement authorities did to Gary Condit, the McMartin pre-school defendants, and Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, the Herman Cain affair is nothing more that hardball politics and tabloid journalism. Politics has always been a dirty business, and the candidates know this going in. What happened to Herman Cain may have been unfair and unjustified, but it wasn't a witch hunt.   

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lizzie Borden to O. J. Simpson: The Sad History of Forensic Science

     The historical trajectory of forensic science can be illustrated by three celebrated murder trials: The Lizzie Borden case in 1892; the 1932 murder of the Lindbergh baby and trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann; and the O. J. Simpson double murder and marathon trial of the mid-1990s. Starting with the Borden case, the arc rises to the Lindbergh investigation and trial, then falls to the bungled Simpson crime scene investigation and subsequent trial featuring investigative and forensic incompetence, hired-gun testimony, and televised courtroom showboating and baffoonery.

Lizzie Borden

     While Lizzie Borden may have had the opportunity, motive, and means of hacking her stepmother and father to death in their Fall River, Massachusetts home on August 4, 1892, the police, without the benefit of forensic serology and latent fingerprint identification, had no way to physically link her to the bludgeoned victims, or to the never identified hatchet believed to be the instrument of death.

     In England, the year of the Borden murders, a biologist named Francis Galton published the world's first book on fingerprint classification. As early as 1880, another Englishman, Henry Faulds, had been writing about the use of finger marks (latent prints) as a method of placing suspects at the scenes of crimes. When Mr. and Mrs. Borden were brutally beaten to death in Fall River, the so-called "exchange principle"--conceived by the French chemist Edmond Locard--that a criminal leaves part of himself at the scene of a crime and takes part of it with him--had not evolved from theory into practice. In 1901, nine years after Lizzie Borden's arrest, scientists in Germany discovered a way to identify and group human blood, a forensic technique that, had it existed in 1892, may have changed the outcome of the Borden case.

     The all-male jury at Lizzie Borden's spectator-packed trial, without being presented with physical evidence linking the 32-year-old defendant to the bludgeoned and bloodied bodies, and believing that upper-middle-class women were too genteel for such brutality, found her not guilty. Had expert witnesses identified the stain on her dress as human blood, and matched a bloody crime scene latent to one of her fingers, the evidence, albeit circumstantial, may have convinced the jurors of her guilt. Assuming that she did in fact commit the double murder, Lizzie, confronted by investigators in possession of such damning, physical evidence, may have confessed, or in the very least, made an incriminating remark.

Bruno Richard Hauptmann

     In 1935, when Bruno Richard Hauptmann, an illegal alien from Germany living in the Bronx went on trial in Flemington, New Jersey for the March 1, 1932 murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, America had confidence in forensic science, and considered it the wave of the future. Because no one had seen the 35-year-old defendant climb the homemade, wooden extension ladder to the second story nursery window at the Lindbergh estate near Hopewell, New Jersey, prosecutors didn't possess direct evidence of his guilt. Moreover, no one knew exactly how Hauptmann had killed the baby--had he been stangled, suffocated, or bludeoned to death?--or even exactly where the murder took place. (A truck driver who had pulled over to relieve himself along the road, found the baby's remains in a shallow grave about two miles from the Lindbergh house.) If Hauptmann were to be convicted, it would have to be entirely on physical evidence. In other words, jurors, based on the physical evidence and its expert analysis, would have to infer his guilt.

     Having eluded detection for two and a half years following the hand-off of $50,000 in ransom money to a shadowy figure in a Bronx cemetery, the kidnapper had been passing the ransom bills, identified by their recorded serial numbers, around New York City. In September 1934, a squad made up of FBI agents, troopers from the New Jersey State Police, and officers with the New York City Police Department, pulled Hauptmann out of his car in Manhatten as he drove from his rented house in the Bronx to Wall Street where he had lost $25,000 in the stock market. From his wallet, the arresting officers recovered one of the ransom bills, and back at his house, found bundles of the ransom money--totaling $14,000--hidden in his garage. Confronted with this and other circumstantial evidence of his guilt, Hauptmann, a low-grade sociopath, refused to confess.

     At Hauptmann's January 1935 trial, the most publicized and celebrated event of its kind in America, and perhaps the world, eight of the country's most prominent questioned document examiners testified that Hauptmann had written the note left in the nursery as well as the fourteen ransom negotiation letters sent to the Lindberghs prior to the cemetery payoff. A federal wood expert from Wisconsin took the stand and identified a board from the kidnap ladder as having come from Hauptmann's attic floor. This witness also matched tool marks on the ladder with test marks from the blade of Hauptmann's wood plane. (Although a carpenter by trade, Hauptmann had not used his tools since the ransom payoff in April 1932.)

     On February 14, 1935, the jury, based upon Hauptmann's possession of the ransom money, and the physical evidence linking him to the extortion documents and the kidnap ladder, found him guilty. On April 3, 1936, following a series of appeals, prison personnel at the state penitentiary in Trenton, New Jersey strapped him into the electric chair and threw the switch. The handful of protestors gathered outside the death house, when informed of Hauptmann's execution, went home.

O. J. Simpson

     Sixty years after Hauptmann's execution, detectives in Los Angeles arrested O. J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman. The blooding knifings occured at a time when most big city detectives had at least some college education, and months of police academy training. Human blood could not only be identified as such and grouped, it could be traced, through DNA science, to an individual donar. Unlike the Borden murders, the double homicide in California produced identifiable blood stains, drops and pools at the death site, in Simpson's vehicle, and inside his house. The prolonged, nationally televised trial featured the testimony of DNA analysts, crime scene technicians, blood spatter interpretation witnesses, footwear impression experts, and forensic pathologists. The Simpson trial introduced forensic DNA science to the American public, and could have been a showcase for forensic science in general. Instead, the case featured investigative bungling, batteries of opposing experts, prosecutorial incompetence, and a jury so confounded by the conflicting science, they found Simpson not guilty of a crime most people believe he committed.

     Like Lizzie Borden, O. J. Simpson, while acquitted, was not exonerated. He was destined to live out the rest of his life in that gray area between innocence and guilt. In the Borden case, prosecutors did the best they could with what they had. In the Simpson case, the state squandered cutting edge science and an embarrassment of riches in physical, crime scene evidence. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the Simpson case is this: in a time of cutting edge science and relatively high-paid, well-educated police officers, criminal investigation has become a lost art, and forensic science, a failed promise.