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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Elisa Lam's Corpse Found in a Los Angeles Hotel's Water Tank

     The Cecil Hotel, a downtown, 600-room, fourteen-story building at 7th and Main near Los Angeles' Skid Row district, could be a setting in a southern California noir film. (I'm thinking of the hotel in the movie "Barton Fink.") In the 1920s and 30s several guests and visitors were murdered in the place. A woman jumped to her death from a hotel window in the 1960s. In 1985, Richard Ramirez, "The Night Stalker," occasionally roomed on the fourteenth floor. The hotel put the serial killer in proximity to prostitutes, fourteen of whom ended up dead by his hand. In 1991, during Jack Unterweger's stay at the hotel, the Austrian murdered several of the neighborhood's working girls. The Cecil's new owners made improvements to the 2-star budget hotel in 2007. Half of the hotel's inhabitants are permanent residents.

     On January 26, 2013, Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old University of British Columbia student from Vancouver, Canada, checked into the Cecil Hotel. During the first five days of her vacation to Los Angeles, Elisa called her parents regularly. She stopped phoning on January 31, and the next day her worried parents, the owners of a vancouver restaurant, reported their daughter missing to the Los Angeles Police Department. 

     Police officers searched the hotel without result. In reviewing surveillance camera footage, detectives came across a two-minute clip of the missing woman standing by herself in a hotel elevator. Lam is seen pushing all of the floor-buttons, obviously frustrated that the elevator door won't close. For a minute or so she seems to be hiding in the corner of the elevator before stepping out into the lobby or a hallway. She can be seen just outside the elevator gesturing as though she's talking to someone off-camera. 

     On Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, a maintenance worker on the hotel roof investigating complaints of low water pressure, made a terrible discovery. To his horror he found a young woman's body in one of the four cylindrical tanks that provide the hotel's water. The corpse had been floating in the cistern for two and a half weeks. As suspected, the maintenance man had found Elisa Lam.  

     Guests at the Cecil Hotel had been drinking, brushing their teeth, and showering in water contaminated by a decomposing corpse. During the week before the maintenance man's roof-top discovery, there had been customer complaints of funny tasting drinking water, and showers that started off with a black spray. 

     The Cecil Hotel has remained open, but has been placed on "flush only" status by the Los Angeles County Health Department. (Following the discovery of the body, the city added more chorine to the hotel's drinking water.) After the recovery of Lam's remains, guests checking into the $64 a night hotel were required to sign waivers warning them they were staying at the Cecil "at their own risk and peril." (People were still checking-in?) 

     Los Angeles detectives have been treating the case as a suspicious death, but have not determined what happened to Lisa Lam, or how her body ended up in the hotel water supply. (I presume there was no evidence of foul play in her room.) To get to the hotel roof, one has to have access to a locked and alarmed door. The only other way to the top of the building involves climbing the fire escape. 

     According to her parents, Elisa's travel plans had included a trip to Santa Cruz in the central part of the state. There have been no reports regarding why Santa Cruz was on her vacation itinerary. A few news sources have indicated that the young woman might have been "mildly depressed".

     On February 29, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office announced that the autopsy did not reveal Elisa Lam's specific cause of death. (This means she hadn't been shot, bludgeoned, stabbed or knifed. That leaves strangulation or drowning. Apparently the forensic pathologist was unable to determine if she had been dead or alive when she went into the water.) Toxicological tests to determine if Lam was taking medication, was intoxicated, or addicted to drugs, will take six to eight weeks to complete. The spokesperson said that while foul play is a possibility, Lam's  death could have been an accident. (An accident? How did a hotel guest accidentally end up in a roof-top water tank? What would she be doing on the roof? What would she be doing in the tank? In my opinion, detectives should be operating on a strong presumption of criminal homicide. I would be working the polygraph examiner overtime.)


     The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's office announced, on June 20, 2013, that Elisa Lam's death was an accident. Really? How does one accidentally drown in a roof-top water tank? Did a witness see Lam on the hotel roof? Was she swimming in the tank? In my opinion, this ruling doesn't make any sense. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Presumed Suicide of "Storage Wars" Character Mark Balelo

     The one thing truly real about "reality" TV is that the character/actors on these shows can have complicated and troubled lives off-camera. This may have been true for Mark Balelo, a 40-year-old Simi Valley auctioneer who appeared regularly on A& E's "Storage Wars." The series features a team of auctioneers who travel around southern California selling off the contents of reclaimed storage units. The handful of regular buyers who bid for the unseen locker contents comprise the stars of the show. These regular bidders each play to their assigned character roles featuring a lot of false bravado and fake trash-talking. Each week they compete with each other to see who profits most from their blind purchases. (They also compete for screen time.) The show has become so popular there have been spin-off series set in Texas and other venues. (Dave Hester, a former "Storage Wars" star, recently sued the show. According to the plaintiff, producers salt the storage units with valuables to make the episodes more exciting.)

     Mark Balelo, born in Portugal, came to America from Brazil at age fourteen. He lived in Simi Valley where he owned and operated a gaming store called The Game Exchange. In 2011, Balelo opened his auction house, Balelo, Inc. That year, as the character "Rico Suave," Balelo, who'd show up at auction sites carrying a bag filled with $50,000 in cash, began bidding against the show's stars. In 2011, Balelo made his "Storage Wars" mark when he purchased a $1 million Superman comic book that had been missing from the actor Nicolas Cage's collection for ten years. Balelo returned the 1938 Action Comics edition to its former owner.

     Through the reality TV show, Balelo developed a larger-than-life persona of  the high-rolling, playboy/entrepreneur. He promoted this phony image on his Facebook page with statements like: "I fly private planes, race cars, and love going to Las Vegas and put on a show. I own several businesses and participate in many TV shows including "Storage Wars." I am currently working on a new reality show of my own."

     In 2011, at the height of his "Storage Wars" notoriety, Balelo served 45 days in the Ventura County Jail after violating the terms of his 2010 probated sentence stemming from a 2009 drug conviction. He had been caught transporting a gun he had acquired pursuant to a storage unit purchase.

     On Saturday, February 9, 2013, the Simi Valley police arrested Mark Balelo for being under the influence of a controlled substance, and the possession of methamphetamine. On Sunday, after making bail, Balelo asked his fiancee to come to his office. According to his girlfriend, Balelo was so distraught over his drug arrest he was afraid that if he were left alone he'd harm himself. After they talked awhile in the auction house office, Balelo took a nap. When he awoke he said he felt a lot better. His fiancee, no longer worried about him, went home.

     On Monday morning, February 11, 2013, an auction house employee found Mark Balelo slumped in his car parked inside the company garage. The engine was running, and Balelo was not breathing. According to the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office, Mark Balelo had died of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide and exhaust fumes.

     On February 19, 2013, the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office officially declared Mark Balelo's death a suicide. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

James Wells and the Kodiak Island Coast Guard Double Murder Case

     There are locations in the country where murder, while still shocking, is commonplace and therefore predictable. This is true in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and St. Louis. In the sparsely populated regions of the United States, criminal homicide is usually an uncommon event, and double-murder is unheard of. But wherever there are people, even if just a few of them, murder can raise its ugly head. That's what happened in Alaska at the Coast Guard Base on Kodiak Island, 250 miles southwest of Anchorage.

     Home to Coast Guard cutters, helicopters, and rescue swimmers who come to the aid of mariners on the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean, the base is populated by 1,300 Coast Guard and civilian employees. The Base is located near Kodiak, a town of 6,300. The Base's Communications Station, the Coast Guard's "ears in the sky", monitors radio traffic from ships and planes.

     At eight in the morning of April 12, 2012, a civilian employee of the Communications Station, upon entering the rigger building where radio antennas are repaired, found the bodies of two fellow employees. Both men had been shot to death. The victims were identified as 51-year-old Richard Belisle and James Hopkins, 41. Belisle, a former Petty Officer, had stayed on at the station as a civilian employee after his retirement. Petty Officer 1st Class Hopkins was an Electrician's Mate.

     Because the men had been murdered on U.S. Government property, the FBI has investigative jurisdiction in the case. Agents are working on the double-murder with Alaska State Troopers. Investigators believe that the victims had been shot to death as they arrived for work sometime between seven and eight that morning. The obvious suspects were employees of the base who had access to the secured rigger building.

     One of the Communication Station employees who came under suspicion was 61-year-old James Michael Wells. Wells lived with his wife Nancy in the community of Bells Flats on Kodiak Island located six miles from the base. Wells' blue 2001 Honda SUV was seen near the murder scene on the morning of the crime. He also owns a white Dodge Ram pickup truck. A week after the murders, FBI agents searched Wells' house. They did not, at that time, take him into custody.

     On May 17, 2012, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, feeling the heat over the still unsolved double murder, issued one of those meaningless press statements to the effect that her department has put its full weight and resources behind the investigation.

     FBI agents, on February 2013, arrested James Wells on two charges of federal murder. The U.S. Magistrate denied the suspect bail. Two weeks later, Wells' wife Nancy, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, said, "I have faith in my husband's innocence. I have faith in the quality of the investigation."

     As of this writing, the FBI has not revealed the motive behind the murders, nor the nature of the evidence incriminating James Wells.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Megan Thode: The C-Plus College Student From Hell

     In 2009, Megan Thode, a graduate student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, looked forward to earning her master's degree in counseling and human services. To acquire the degree which she would need to qualify for a state counseling license, Thode had to earn at least a B grade in her fieldwork class taught by Professor Amanda Eckhardt. Professor Eckhardt, however, upset the applecart when she issued Thode a C-plus. That's when all hell broke out at Lehigh University. (In academia, this is what passes for major conflict.)

     While colleges and universities have established procedures for student grade appeals, unless a disgruntled student can prove that the professor made an error in calculating the grade, the student doesn't have a chance. (Some students, notwithstanding these policies, get their grades changed by becoming such pains-in-the-neck they wear their professors down. In our sob-story culture everyone has a gut-wrenching tale of woe. Kids who brown-nosed their way through high school are the best at this. Most professors, however, will fight to the death over a contested grade.) Megan Thode and her father, a Lehigh professor, met with Professor Eckhardt who explained that the C-plus was based on the fact Thode's score for the class participation phase of the course was a zero out of a possible twenty-five. Ouch. The goose-egg bumped her down a full letter grade. (In the old days, parents of college kids didn't get involved in their academic affairs. Back then, college-aged people were supposed to be entering adulthood.)

     When Professor Eckhardt said she would not change Thode's fieldwork grade, the frustrated student filed an internal grievance against her. Thode not only demanded that her grade be changed to a B, she expected the professor to apologize to her in writing for the C-plus, and to compensate her for the adverse financial consequences of being an unlicensed counselor. Thode did not get her grade bumped up, there was no apology, and no compensation. Having exhausted her in-house administrative remedies, Thode got herself a lawyer. (This is also new. In the past, bringing a lawyer into a situation like this was unheard of. Back then, lawyers had better things to do.)

     Through her attorney, Richard J. Orloski, Megan Thode filed a $1.3 million lawsuit against Lehigh University and Professor Eckhardt in which the plaintiff alleged breach of contract and sexual discrimination. (Exactly what contract the school and professor violated is unclear.) As to the sexual discrimination charge, Thode claimed that she had been punished by her professor because she, Thode, was a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights. (It would be almost impossible to find a college professor anywhere who didn't strongly support gay and lesbian rights. If Thode had supported free speech and gun rights, the lawyer may have had a case.)

     Thode's suit came to trial in February 2013 before Northhampton County Judge Emil Giordano. The plaintiff's attorney, in addressing the bench, said that as a result of the defendant professor's low grade, his client had "literally lost a career." (Counseling is now a "career"? Good heavens.)

     Neil Hamburg, the attorney representing Professor Eckhardt and Lehigh University, in making the case that this lawsuit was absurd, said, "I think if your honor changed the grade, you'd be the first court in the history of jurisprudence to change an academic grade"

     Judge Giordano indicated his agreement with the defendant's attorney when he said, "I've practiced law for longer than I'd like to admit and I've never seen anything like this."

     Attorney Hamburg, in defending Professor Eckhardt's evaluation of the plaintiff's academic performance, acknowledged that on paper Thode had been an excellent student. But regarding her classroom participation, Hamburg said that the student "showed unprofessional behavior that included swearing in class, and, on one occasion, having an outburst in which she began crying. She has to get through the program," the attorney said. "She has to meet the academic standards."

     Since there is nothing in the professor-student relationship that guarantees the student a good grade, or even a passing grade, there was no breach of contract in this case. And without solid proof of the defendant's sexual discrimination based on a dislike of people who supported gay and lesbian rights, the suit fails on that rationale as well.

     If the plaintiff prevailed in her case, it would create an employment boom in the legal profession, at least until college grades became a thing of the past. In time, students would be able to acquire their degrees without any proof they had learned anything. Eventually, there would be no need for classrooms or campuses. This would lower the cost of a college education. Career fast-food servers would all have Ph.Ds. Students could simply buy diplomas online, and colleges professors across the nation would lose their ivory tower jobs and end up flipping burgers with everyone else.

     On February 14, 2013, Judge Giordano ruled in favor of Professor Eckhardt and Lehigh University. He wrote: "Plaintiff has failed to establish that the university based the awarded grade of a C-plus on anything other than purely academic reasons. With this decision, Judge Giordano dealt a blow to the legal profession, but saved higher education. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vickie Jo Mills and The Eye-Drop Poisoning Case

     Dr. Harry Johnston, since June 2009, had been treating Thurman Nesbitt for a mysterious illness. The 45-year-old patient, a resident of McConnellsburg in central Pennsylvania, suffered from nausea, low blood pressure, and breathing difficulties. Dr. Johnston, suspecting that his patient was being poisoned, had his blood analyzed. On July 27, 2012, the serology tests revealed the presence of tetrahydrozolin, a chemical found in over-the-counter eye-drops.

     On August 10, 2012, troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police arrested Nesbitt's girlfriend, Vickie Jo Mills. The 33-year-old McConnellsburg woman, on probation for forgery, admitted putting Visine drops into her boyfriend's drinking water. Mills told her interrogators that she had been making Nesbitt sick since June 2009. She said it had never been her intention to poison her boyfriend to death. To the obvious question of why she had done this, Mills explained that she had made Nesbitt sick in an effort to get him to pay more attention to her.

     Most women who use illness to attract attention make themselves sick pursuant to a syndrome called Munchausen. In Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, these women make their children sick. It's not clear why Mills thought poisoning her boyfriend would improve their relationship.

     The Fulton County prosecutor charged Vickie Jo Mills with ten counts of aggravated assault which carried a combined maximum sentence of 240 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. Shortly after her arrest, the authorities released Mills on a $75,000 surety bond.

     On October 16, 2002, the district attorney dropped nine of the ten counts in return for the defendant's guilty plea. A Fulton County judge, on February 14, 2013, sentenced Mills to two to four years in prison.

     It's odd that something you can put into your eyes will make you sick if you put it into your stomach. This is the first poisoning case that I'm aware of that involved eye-drops. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius: Girlfriend's Death Accident or Murder?

     In South Africa, 26-year-old Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Paralympic champion and 2012 Olympics sprinter, is a hero and household name. Born without fibulas, Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday. In America, he has appeared on the cover of GQ Style magazine, and made last year's People's list of "Sexiest Man Alive." The athlete's Twitter followers number 230,000. Because he competes with carbon fiber prosthetic blades, Pistorius is known around the world as the "Blade Runner."

     In 2009, Oscar Pistorius moved into an upscale neighborhood near Pretoria with his three dogs. In his house nestled amid an enclave of dwellings surrounded by a high, razor-wire-topped wall, Pistorius kept a handgun by his bedside, a baseball bat and cricket bat behind his bedroom door, and a machine gun near a window. Over the past few years Pistorius had crashed one of his cars, his boat, and had injured himself on a dirt bike.

     In September 2009, Pistorius spent 17 hours in jail after being charged with common assault, a charge based upon a complaint filed by Cassidy Taylor-Memmory, a student at the University of Pretoria. The student accused him of slamming a door on her during a fight at his house following a party. In November 2012, he threatened to "break the legs" of a South African football (soccer) player whom he believed had slept with his then girlfriend. The director of public prosecutions decided not to go forward with the case.

     In the tradition of dashing, world-class athletes, the blade runner, in 2013, was dating a tall, blond cover-girl. Reeva Steenkamp, however, was more than just a trophy-squeeze. The 30-year-old South African face of Avon cosmetics, and recent contestant on a South African reality TV show, possessed a law degree. She was also a spokesperson on behalf of the nation's battered and raped women. Steenkamp was better educated than her boyfriend, and just as famous.

     On Thursday, February 14, 2013, Steenkamp had been scheduled to speak at a Johannesburg school. It was going to be one of those follow-your-dreams motivational talks. (When you're not smart, beautiful, or healthy, there are no dreams to follow. I'm not a fan of this "look-at-me" genre of speeches. I think they do more harm than good.) Reeva Steenkamp didn't make it to the school that day. Instead of seeing a celebrity, kids would be watching her on television news. So much for chasing your dreams.

     During the early morning hours of February 14, 2013, Pretoria police officers and paramedics responded to a report of a shooting at Oscar Pistorius' luxury house. The first responders found Reeva Steenkamp lying on the floor bleeding from several gunshot wounds. Paramedics pronounced the woman dead.

     Oscar Pistorius told the officers he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder. He had shot her four times through a bathroom door. Accidental killings of this nature are not uncommon in South Africa, one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world. There were 16,766 home invasions in the nation last year.

     Because the police had been previously called to the Pistorius house on domestic violence complaints, and the overall look of the death scene, the police arrested one of People magazine's most sexy men on suspicion of murder.

     On Friday, February 15, Oscar Pistorius, after being formally charged of murder, broke down in tears as he stood before magistrate Desmond Nair. The magistrate postponed the suspect's bail hearing to give prosecutors time to make their case of premeditated murder.

     The Pistorius affair might remind some American true crime buffs of the Phil Spector murder case in southern California. While Spector wasn't a hero or household name, he had been an eccentric icon in the music business. The homicides are similar in that women were shot to death in the homes of these men in cases without third-party eyewitnesses. Spector, who claimed the dead woman had committed suicide by shooting herself in the mouth, was convicted after two trials. The Pistorius case, because it involves an internationally known athlete and a beautiful young woman at the peak of her fame, will remain in the world's headlines until it is resolved. The Spector case received little media attention outside of southern California. In all probability, the Pistorius case, like the Spector murder, will feature forensic ballistics, blood spatter interpretation evidence, and dueling criminalists.


     According to the City Press, the local Pretoria newspaper, police found a bloody cricket bat at the scene of the alleged murder. According to the paper, Steenkamp's skull had been crushed.

     Neighbors reported having heard a couple arguing in the Pistorius house at l:10 that morning. They next heard intermittent gun shots starting at 3:30 AM. Police have found steroids in the house which has prompted speculation that Pistorius killed Steenkamp in a steroid-fueled rage. It appears that the suspect's claim that he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder is out the window. Pistorius might be heading toward an insanity plea.    

Friday, February 15, 2013

Steven Brooks: Nevada State Legislator Accused of Death Threats and Domestic Violence

     Even in Nevada where hardball politics and corruption often go hand-in-hand, state assemblyman Steven Brooks has embarrassed and frightened his fellow politicians. In November 2012, the former Las Vegas city councilman and second-term state legislator, along with a few other democrats in the lower house, tried to unseat the democratic assembly speaker, Marilyn Kirkpatrick. The speaker fought-off the challenge to her throne, and Brooks, as the leader of the failed insurrection, was relegated to legislative oblivion. As long as Marilyn Kirkpatrick ran the Nevada assembly, Steven Brooks had no future in politics.

     While Steven Brooks never directly threatened speaker Kirkpatrick, in speaking to others, he allegedly indicated his intent to shoot her dead. On January 19, 2013, after word of Brook's threats had reached the speaker, she reported the matter to the Las Vegas police. Visibly upset, Kirkpatrick said she was worried that an armed Brooks would find her and pull the trigger.

     Shortly after talking with speaker Kirkpatrick, officers encountered Brooks in his car at a traffic stop. Brooks informed the police, who asked him to open his trunk, that as a Nevada state assemblyman he could deny them permission to search. When officers lifted the trunk lid they found, in a shoebox, a .357-revolver and 41 rounds of ammunition. In explaining his possession of the firearm and the ammunition, Brooks said he had attended a National Rifle Association seminar for legislators earlier in the day. This turned out to be a lie.

     After seizing the revolver and the ammunition officers arrested assemblyman Brooks on the felony charge of intimidating a public officer with physical force. Released on $100,000 bail, Brooks hired a publicist who set-up a press conference to be held on January 22 in his capitol office in Carson City. Brook's attorney, to the dozen reporters who showed-up for the conference, announced that his client couldn't be present at the press conference because he had been hospitalized with a digestive disorder.

     Three days after the press conference no-show, the Las Vegas police responded to Brook's home on a domestic disturbance call. The officers hauled the assemblyman to a nearby hospital for psychiatric evaluation. The next day, the politician returned home. Insisting that his medical problems were physical and not mental, and proclaiming his innocence to the threat charges, Brooks rejected a suggestion from the assembly leadership that he take a leave of absence.

     On February 10, 2013, the Las Vegas police responded to another domestic disturbance call from the assemblyman's residence. He had allegedly assaulted a member of his family. When officers arrested Brooks outside his house he became combative and before being subdued, grabbed for an officer's gun.

     Charged with domestic battery and obstructing police, officers booked Brooks into the Clark County Detention Center. The judge set his bail at $4,000.

     In March 2014, ex-Nevada assemblyman Brooks pleaded no contest to evading a police officer and resisting arrest. The judge, pursuant to the plea deal, sentenced him to two years eight months in prison. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Two Hit-and-Run Cases In Youngstown, Ohio: Was Robert Brown the Victim of Premeditated Murder?

     On the night of February 2, 2013, Robert Brown was walking to his pickup truck from Duka's Bar on Youngstown, Ohio's south side. As the 23-year-old and a friend were crossing the street that Saturday, a speeding car ran him down and kept going. Brown, who was engaged to be married, died of his injuries shortly after the hit-and-run.

     Five days after Brown's violent death, the Youngstown Vindicator published an article about a candlelight vigil in Brown's honor to be held in front of Duka's Bar on Friday evening, February 8. Brown's mother Jewell and his fiancee Bianca Caradine had organized the event.

     The day after the newspaper article, fifty people were gathered at the spot of the fatal hit-and-run. At 6:30 that evening, a vehicle described by witnesses as a white Pontiac with its headlights off, smashed into a couple of parked cars before plowing into the gathering of Brown's family and friends. As the car sped from the scene, it dragged one of the victims, 19-year-old Tyler Austin, 70 feet.

     Five young men were rushed to the St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown where Tyler Austin, the most seriously injured, was in critical condition. (The other four victims have been treated and released.)

     The day after the candlelight vigil, the Youngstown police received a tip regarding a damaged vehicle that may have been involved in the hit-and-run. The car, parked outside a house in Youngstown, was a 1997 white Pontiac Sunfire. Officers had the suspect vehicle towed to the police impound lot where it would be processed for evidence that might link it to the crime. The police did not arrest the owner or anyone else associated with this vehicle.

     It doesn't seem likely that the vigil hit-and-run was some kind of fluke coincidence. If one assumes that the second hit-and-run incident was connected to Robert Brown's death a week earlier, it follows that he could have been the victim of a premeditated murder. This begs the questions: who murdered Robert Brown, and why? 

Finger Crime: Penelope Soto's Criminal Gesture

     Your fingers can get you into a lot of trouble. Citizens who flip-off police officers are often arrested for disorderly conduct. School kids who make firearms gestures with their hands are suspended. And if you raise your middle finger while standing before an arraignment judge, they will haul you off to jail. If you don't believe this, ask Penelope Soto.

     On February 4, 2013, 18-year-old Penelope Soto, having been charged with the illegal possession of Xanax, stood before Miami-Dade County Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat. Pursuant to the judge's decision regarding the amount of Soto's bail, he inquired about her assets. When the judge asked Soto specifically how much her jewelry was worth, she laughed.

     Visibly annoyed by Soto's casual attitude in his court room, the judge said, "It's not a joke, you know. We're not in a club, be serious about it."

     "I'm serious about it," Soto replied. "You just made me laugh. I apologize. It's [her jewelry] worth a lot of money."

     "Like what?" the judge asked.

     "Like Rick Ross. It's worth money."

     Judge Rodriguez-Chomat, who had no idea who Rick Ross was [a south Florida rapper], again became annoyed. He asked Soto if she had taken any drugs in the past 24 hours.

     "Actually, no," she replied.

     Judge Rodriguez-Chomat set Soto's bail at a very low $5,000. Moving onto the next case, he said, "Bye, bye."

     Instead of thanking the judge for his leniency, Soto replied, "Adios."

    Obviously irritated by Soto's flippant response and dismissive attitude, the judge summoned her back to the bench and upped her bail to $10,000. Still a relatively low amount.

     Now it was Soto's turn to be angry. "Are you serious?" she exclaimed.

     "I am serious," he replied.

     As she was being escorted out of the court room, Soto turned back to the judge, blurted "F-you," and flipped him the finger.

     Shocked and obviously angered by this prisoner's disrespect, Judge Rodriguez-Chmat cited Soto for contempt of court. He sentenced her on the spot to thirty days in jail.

     Penelope Soto is either very stupid, or was under the influence of drugs when she swore at the judge and gave him the finger. If this young woman doesn't watch her mouth and her finger inside the jail, she'll be punished even more severely.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Carolyn Dukeshire: Florida Keys Woman Murders Neighbor Over Can of Beer

     In and around the town of Conch Key, an unincorporated community in the Florida Keys, 62-year-old Carolyn Dukeshire was known as "The Sea Hag." (When I first saw Dukeshire's mug shot, my first thought was that Hulk Hogan had been arrested on a bad day.)

     On the night of July 29, 2012, Martin Mazur and his friends, after an evening of drinking at the Brass Monkey Bar, were sitting outside of his dwelling finishing off a few beers. His neighbor, Carolyn Dukeshire, approached the group and asked Mazur if he had a cold Busch Light for her. "I have absolutely nothing for you," he replied.

     Mazur's last words had barely left his mouth when Dukeshire pulled out a handgun and shot him five times. The victim was hit in the stomach, back, and wrist. He died a few hours later at a nearby hospital.

     One of the witnesses to the murder called 911. Deputies from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office arrested Dukeshire at the scene of the shooting. Charged with first degree murder, the judge denied her bail. (Prior to the murder, Dukeshire had not been arrested for any serious crimes.)

     On January 31, 2013, the defendant, after submitting a statement to the judge that she felt bad about murdering Martin Mazur over a can of beer, was allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder. The judge sentenced The Sea Hag to thirty years in prison. It's doubtful that she will live long enough to see her next beer. 

Alice Boland: Mental Case With Gun Attempts to Murder South Carolina Prep School Employees

     On May 15, 2005, 21-year-old Alice Boland from Beaufort, South Carolina was waiting in line at U.S. Customs at the Pierre Trudeau/Dorval International Airport in Montreal, Canada. After waiting longer than she considered appropriate, Boland lost her temper and became loud and unruly. When customs officials and others tried to calm the irrational young woman, she began screaming threats. "Give me a gun!" Boland screamed, "I am going to kill you. I am going to kill President Bush with a gun. Just give me a gun. I am going going to find a gun and kill you all." Boland's public outburst revealed an unbalanced mental state and an obsession with guns and murder, a dangerous combination.

     Officers with the Montreal Police Department took the American into custody. The next day, after a psychiatric evaluation and Boland's written promise to return to Canada to appear at a later court date, the authorities released her to the custody of her father who had flown to Montreal to accompany her back to South Carolina. (I'm sure the Canadian authorities were glad to get this crazy American out of their country.)

     Ten days after Boland's mental melt-down in Montreal, a deputy with the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office accompanied by a Secret Service Agent, paid her a visit at home. (I'm guessing that between the time of the incident and the officers' visit, Boland had been receiving psychiatric treatment at some mental facility.) The deputy and the Secret Service agent, shortly into the interview, realized that Boland was still fuming over having to wait in line at the Montreal airport. The secret service agent asked Boland if she still harbored anger toward President George W. Bush. "Yes, hell yes," she replied. "I would shoot him. I would shoot him and the entire U.S. Congress. If I had a gun, I would shoot you, too." This was not what the deputy and the secret service agent had expected to hear.

     The Beaufort County deputy placed Boland into handcuffs. The officers also searched the Boland house for guns, seizing an air rifle. The officers hauled Boland to the Beufort County jail on charges of making terroristic threats. To that offense, Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. After paying her bail, Boland's parents committed their daughter to a psychiatric facility. Psychiatrists at the institution found that Alice Boland was mentally ill. In 2009, the criminal charges her were dropped.

     On February 1, 2013, Alice Boland was in Walterboro, South Carolina, a town of 6,000, 50 miles northwest of the coastal city of Charleston. Although federal law prohibits the sale of guns to mentally ill people, the 28-year-old former mental patient was in Colleton County to buy a firearm. She must have lied on the federal background check form because Bolton walked out of the store that day carrying a new Taurus PT-22 pistol.

     On Monday, February 4, Alice Boland showed-up in downtown Charleston outside Ashley Hall, the state's only all-girl preparatory school. It was just before noon, a time when parents were waiting in the carpool line to pick-up their children. After pacing back and forth just outside the school's iron-rod fence, Boland pointed her .22-caliber handgun at a school administrator and pulled the trigger. The gun didn't discharge. Boland next aimed the pistol at an English teacher, but the gun still didn't work. (She didn't realize the pistol was in the locked position.)

     Arrested by Charleston police officers, Boland, charged with two counts of attempted murder and other offenses, was incarcerated at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston. The judge set her bail at $900,000. In all probability she will once again plead insanity. The police have not revealed a motive for the attempted murders, or if Boland knew her targets.

     It appears that notwithstanding federal gun control legislation, a mentally ill person can walk into a gun store and buy a firearm. Boland has not only spent time in a mental ward, she had made repeated threats to assassinate the president of the United States. If this is how gun control laws are enforced, what's the point of new gun legislation?  Enacting more laws won't reduce the rate of gun violence in the United States. Gun-control politicians, while not the smartest people around, know this but have to pander to their anti-gun constituents. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Did Mailman Daniel Villasensor "Go Postal" With Girl in Park?

     On Monday afternoon, February 4, 2013, Daniel Villasensor, a 55-year-old U.S. Post Office employee who'd been on the job since 1981, was in a public park outside of Los Angeles. Dressed in his postal uniform, Villasensor asked an 11-year-old girl directions to the public restrooms. After the girl directed him to the facility, Villasensor accidentally entered the women's section. He realized his mistake and quickly retreated from the women's room. Outside the facility he was greeted by the girl and her friend who laughed and made fun of him.

     Apparently infuriated and humiliated by what he considered taunting, the postman pushed the 11-year-old girl. When the frightened kid ran, he gave chase. Villasensor caught up with the girl, and according to reports, grabbed her by the throat and began choking her. Employees of Bristow Park heard the young victim's screams and came to her rescue.

     Villasensor, with the park employees approaching, let the girl go, ran to his car and drove out of the park. Deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office arrested him a short time later.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor has charged the postal worker with felony cruelty to a child, and assault on park property. Daniel Villasensor has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The judge set his bail at $100,000.

    Villasensor, who was on duty at the time of the alleged attack, has been placed unpaid leave.

     This is one of those crime stories that, without more information, doesn't make a lot of sense. Why would a man who has worked for the federal government 32 years attack an 11-year-old girl for laughing at him?  Is he married? Does he have children? One also wonders what Villasensor was doing in the park, and why he couldn't find the public restrooms? If he had been delivering mail, he should have been familiar with the area. Was he there with someone else? Does he live near the park? Since this is not a headline case, we may never know the answers to these and other questions.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bus Driver Kwanda Carpenter Blackmailed by Two High School Boys

     On January 11, 2013, a married, 33-year-old Bessemer City, North Carolina high school bus driver contacted school authorities with an unusual complaint. Kwanda Carpenter reported that a pair of high school boys who claimed to have had sex with her were trying to blackmail her for $60.

     According to Facebook messages sent to the bus driver by Malik Ty Mel Moore and Donja Phillips, the high school students threatened to "call the police and report that she had raped them" if she didn't cough-up the sixty bucks.

     Moore and Phillips, when questioned by detectives with the Gaston County Sheriff's Office, accused Carpenter of picking them up in her car at ten o'clock on the night of October 3, 2012. According to the boys, Carpenter drove them to a secluded spot on a dead-end street where she had "sexual contact" with them in the vehicle. After that, she drove the boys home.

     Following Carpenter's complaint to school officials, they suspended her with pay. (She made $12.91 an hour.)

     On January 16,  five days after she reported the extortion to the school, police arrested Carpenter at her home on two counts of sexual activity with a student by school personnel other than a teacher. The magistrate set the bus driver's bail at $5,000.

     Malik Ty Mel Moore and Donja Phillips have been charged with blackmail. (These boys are lucky that stupidity isn't a criminal offense. If it were, blackmailing somebody on Facebook would be stupid in the first degree.) Kwanda Carpenter has denied having had sexual contact with the students. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Convicted Cop Killer Ronell Wilson Impregnates Prison Guard to Avoid Death Sentence

     New York City detectives James V. Nemorin and Rodney J. Andrews had arranged an undercover gun buy to take place on Staten Island on March 10, 2003. The officers had purchased a .357-Magnum revolver from Ronell Wilson the day before. The detectives showed up at the meeting place with $1,200 in cash to buy a Tech-9 handgun from Wilson. Instead of making the deal, Wilson, who intended all along to rob the undercover officers, shot each of them in the head with a .44-caliber handgun.

     Ronell Wilson was convicted of the murders in 2005 and sentenced to death. But his death sentence was set aside a few years later when New York State's death penalty statute was declared unconstitutional.

     In December 2006, Wilson was found guilty in a federal district court in Brooklyn of murdering the police officers. The judge sentenced him to death under the federal law. Wilson's attorneys challanged the death sentence on the grounds that Wilson was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the lethal injection. Wilson's lawyers presented his case before a Brooklyn federal judge in November 2012. (The case is pending.)

     In August of 2012, prison informants at the Metropolitan Detection Center, a federal lock-up in Brooklyn, told correction authorities that Ronell Wilson had been having sex with a female guard named Nancy Gonzales. (Gonzales and Wilson had been having sex since March 2012.) In an effort to avoid the death sentence, Wilson intended to impregnate the corrections officer. (Not bad thinking for a mentally retarded guy.) In a letter to another inmate, Wilson wrote, "I just need a baby before the pigs try to take my life."

     The 29-year-old prison guard, in a recorded telephone call to her boyfriend, an inmate in a New York state prison, admitted having sex with Wilson in his cell. "I took a chance because I was so vulnerable and wanted to be loved," Gonzales said. "And now I am carrying his child."

     On February 5, 2013, FBI agents arrested the eight-month pregnant prison guard at her home in Huntington, Long Island. At her Brooklyn arraignment, the judge charged Gonzales with having sexual intercourse with an inmate. If convicted of this federal offense, she could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. Because Gonzales will be the mother of an infant, she probably won't serve any prison time.

     On Wednesday, February 6, the 72-year-old father of NYPD detective Rodney Andrews, in speaking to a reporter with the New York Daily News, said he doesn't believe the man who murdered his son should receive mercy just because he impregnated a female corrections officer. "Put him to death for what he did. If he had 20 children I wouldn't change my mind. That baby will be better off with that father not being around."

     Notwithstanding Mr. Andrew's plea, Ronell Wilson's ploy to avoid a lethal injection may indeed end up saving his worthless life. 

Christopher Dorner: A Rogue Ex-LAPD Officer's Spree of Murderous Revenge

     On Sunday night, February 3, 2013, a woman walking to her car in an Irvine, California condo parking structure discovered the bodies of a couple in their twenties slumped in the front seat of a white Kia. The victims, each shot more than once in the head from close range, were identified as Keith Lawrence and his fiancee Monica Quan. The pair had met at Concordia University where they were basketball stars. Lawrence was employed as a public security officer on the campus of the University of Southern California. Monica Quan, for the past two seasons, was an assistant women's basketball coach at the University of California Fullerton.

     The double murder, occurring in America's safest city, baffled detectives who couldn't figure who would want to kill this couple. (Robbery had been ruled out as a motive. See: "Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan: Engaged Jocks Found Dead in Irvine, CA Condo Garage," February 6, 2013.)

     At a press conference held on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, Irvine Chief of Police David Maggard announced that his detectives had identified a suspect in the double murder. The suspect, 33-year-old Christopher Dorner, was still at large, his whereabouts unknown. In January 2009, Dorner had been fired from the LAPD. The attorney who represented him before the Board of Rights Tribunal, and handled his appeal of the board's ruling of dismissal in October 2011, was Monica Quan's father, Randal Quan. (Captain Quan, after retiring from the LAPD in 2002, began practicing law.)

     Chief Maggard identified, as a key piece of evidence linking Christopher Dorner to the Lawrence/Quan murders, a 11,300-word, 20-page "manifesto" the Naval Reservist and ex-cop had posted on his Facebook page. Addressed to "America," and titled "Last Resort," Dorner outlined a plan and rationale for murdering everyone associated with his 2009 dismissal from the LAPD. (Officer Dorner had accused a fellow officer of excessive force in the arrest of a schizophrenic man. An internal investigation revealed that Dorner had made false statements in the case. For that reason he was fired.)

     In his manifesto, Dorner makes specific reference to his former attorney, Randal Quan. He wrote: "I never had the opportunity to have a family of my own, so I am terminating yours." In the rambling document, Dorner accuses Randal Quan of suppressing evidence that would have exonerated him.

     In reference to his intended victims in general, Dorner wrote: I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether off or on duty. You will now live the life a a prey. Whatever pre-planned responses you have established for a scenario like me, shelve it. The violence of action will be high. There will be an element of surprise where you work, live, and sleep....I know I will be vilified by the LAPD and the media. Unfortunately this was a necessary evil that I do not enjoy but must partake and complete for substantial change to occur within the LAPD and reclaim my name....Self preservation is no longer important to me. I do not fear death as I died long ago on January 2, 2009. I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people."

     One doesn't have to be a forensic psychiatrist to interpret Dorner's manifesto as the deluded, grandiose ravings of an angry, revenge-seeking man suffering from serious mental illness. In this document he comes off as the proverbial ticking time-bomb.

     Later on the day of Chief Maggard's press conference, Christopher Dorner was in San Diego where he tried to steal a boat. As he drove to Corona, California 60 miles east of Los Angeles, he tossed his wallet out the window of his vehicle. At 1:25 the next morning, he shot at two Corona police officers who were working a security detail. A bullet from Dorner's rifle grazed one of the officers who could not pursue Dorner because other bullets had disabled their patrol car.

      At 1:45 Thursday, February 7, in the neighboring town of Riverside, Dorner pulled up alongside a patrol car in his 2005 Nissan Titan pickup. The police car was stopped at a traffic light. Dorner opened fire on the unsuspecting officers, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The suspect, described as a six-foot, 270 black man with a shaved head, sped from the scene.

     Los Angeles detectives in Torrance early Thursday morning, shot at a pickup truck they believed was being driven by the fugitive. In fact, the vehicle was occupied by 71-year-old Emma Hernandez and her 47-year-old daughter Margie Carranza. Mother and daughter were delivering the Los Angeles Times. Emma Hernandez was shot twice in the back and is in stable condition. Emma was treated at a nearby hospital for injuries to her finger and was released. (This police involved shooting reflects a degree of panic and revenge on the part of these officers.)

     The U.S. Marshals Service and 10,000 police officers have launched a manhunt for Dorner from California to Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. His last known address was in La Palma, California in northern Orange County not far from Fullerton.

     On Thursday evening, February 7, the manhunt centered in Big Bear Lake country 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles where schools and ski resorts were being shut down. SWAT teams, officers with bloodhounds, and other law enforcement searchers were in the area after the discovery of Dorner's burned-out pickup trick. The area was also being searched from the air. Back in Los Angeles, every station house was locked-down and under armed guard.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Six Spanish Tourists Raped by Acapulco, Mexico Gang

     Acapulco, the famous vacation mecca in the Mexican state of Guerrero on the country's Pacific Coast, has become increasingly more dangerous. Once an oasis amid rampant drug gang violence, the crime has filtered into the city. The violence comes from rival drug cartels fighting for control of drug routes from South America.

     In 2010, 20 million Americans visited Acapulco. Today, following travel warnings issued by authorities in the United States and Great Britain, hotel occupancy rates in the city have fallen to 46 percent. It's the threat of crime that is killing Acapulco's tourist industry.

     On February 1, 2013, a pair of Mexican tourists returning from a beach east of Acapulco were shot and wounded by members of a masked self-defense squad at an improvised roadblock. To defend their neighborhoods against drug gang violence, citizen self-protection units have sprung up throughout the region. The tourists were fired upon because they failed to stop at the roadblock. (The tourists probably thought the men blocking the road were drug criminals.)

     At two in the morning of Monday, February 4, 2013, five men wearing face-masks broke into a beach bungalow on the outskirts of Acapulco. The picturesque beach house had been rented by a Mexican woman, six Spanish women, and seven Spanish men. The armed intruders, motivated by robbery and "to have some fun," tied-up the seven men with phone cords and bikini straps. Over the next five hours, the robbers raped the six Spanish women. The rapists spared the Mexican woman because of her nationality. The rape victims were in their twenties.

     According to the Guerrero state attorney general, if investigators determine that the crime was related to drug cartel activity, the case will be turned over to the federal authorities. Military checkpoints have been set up in an attempt to quickly identify and arrest these violent intruders. The crime has attracted international media attention, and presents a nightmare for Acapulco's tourism business, an industry already suffering from Mexican drug violence.

     To a large extent, Mexico's out-of-control crime problem, and the corruption of its government, is caused by America's insatiable appetite for drugs. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan: Engaged Jocks Found Dead in Irvine, CA Condo Garage

     Keith Lawrence, a 27-year-old public safety officer on the campus of the University of Southern California and his fiancee, Monica Quan, a 28-year-old assistant women's basketball coach at California State Fullerton, had recently moved into a condominium complex in the Orange County town of Irvine. Some of the units in the complex, located near the University of California Irvine, cost more than $1million. For the past eight years, Irvine has been named by the FBI as America's safest city.

     In 2002, Monica Quan graduated from Walnut High School located in the town of that name in the San Jose Hills of the San Gabriel Valley. As a star on the women's basketball team, Quan set records for making the most three-pointers. Her father, Randal Quan, was the first Chinese-American to rise to the rank of Captain in the Los Angeles Police Department. After retiring from the force in 2002, Quan became chief of campus police at Cal Poly in Pomona. (Six months after taking the job, he was fired.)

     After graduating from Walnut High School, Monica Quan played basketball for Cal State Long Beach. From there she transferred to Concordia University in Irvine where she starred in basketball while earning her degree in exercise and sports science. Following assistant coaching positions at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks and Diamond Bar High School, Quan, in 2011, joined the coaching staff at California State Fullerton.

     Keith Lawrence met Quan at Concordia University where he was a basketball standout. (Before Concordia, Lawrence played for Moorpack College.) After graduating with a degree in business in 2008, Lawrence completed a police certification program run by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. In 2012 the former basketball star began working as a security officer at USC.

     At nine o'clock on the night of Sunday, February 3, 2013, a resident of the Irvine condo complex, while walking to her car in the parking structure, saw a young couple slumped over in the front seat of a white Kia. The man was seated behind the wheel. He and the woman next to him had been shot to death. The victims were identified as Keith Lawrence and Monica Quan. The white Kia was parked on the top floor of the parking structure.

     Homicide detectives have ruled out robbery as a motive for the shootings, and consider murder-suicide possible but unlikely. Access to the condo garage requires a key code, and every inch of the structure is in view of surveillance cameras. Homicide investigators are reviewing hours of video footage from these cameras in hopes of catching a break in the case.


     Irvine Police Chief David Maggard, at a press conference, identified former LAPD officer Jordan Dorner as a suspect in the double murder. The 33-year-old has incriminated himself in a multi-page "manifesto" containing death threats against several people. Apparently Lawrence and Quan are mentioned in that document.

     Monica Quan's father Randal, after leaving police work, became an attorney. In October 2011, he represented Dorner before the LAPD disciplinary board that fired him. Dorner's last known address is in La Palma, California, a northern Orange County town not far from Fullerton. The fugitive is believed  to be driving a blue, 2005 Nissan Titan pickup truck. He is considered armed and dangerous. 

FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives

     In 1949, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover started the bureau's top ten wanted program as a way of involving the public in the apprehension of the nation's worst criminals. As of June 2012, 497 fugitives have made the list. Patricia Hearst was one of only eight women ever considered bad enough to make the program. (The bureau had a hell of a time catching her.) Since the inception of the program, 94 percent of top ten fugitives have been captured. A third of these apprehensions involved tips from member of the public.

     Today, information that leads to the arrest of a top ten fugitive earns the tipster a $100,000 reward. (In the 1950s, the man who turned in the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton was murdered for his troubles. The tipster had ignored advice from the New York police not to go public. After that, law enforcement agencies, to encourage people to come forward, began offering rewards.)

     What follows is the current roster of the FBI's top ten most wanted fugitives:

Joe Luis Saenz

     In July 1998, Saenz shot and killed two Los Angeles gang rivals. Two weeks later, he raped and murdered his girlfriend, and in October of that year, murdered a fourth person.

Glen Steward Godwin

     In 1987, while serving time for murder in California's Folsom Prison, Godwin escaped. Later that year the police in Mexico arrested him for dealing in drugs. While serving time in Mexico, Godwin murdered a fellow inmate, and five months later, escaped.

Eduardo Ravelo

     A Texas grand jury indicted Ravelo in 2008 for trafficking in heroin, marijuana, and cocaine. The capo with the Barrio Azieca crime enterprise had been an active interstate drug racketeer since 2003.

Semion Mogilevich

     In April 2003, a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania indicted Mogilevich for his role in a stock fraud that cost investors $150 million. The public corporation, headquarters in Bucks County, collapsed in 1998.

Jason Derek Brown

     In November 2004, Brown murdered an armored car guard in a robbery outside a Phoenix a movie theater.

Eric Justin Toth

     Toth, a graduate of Purdue University and a former private school teacher, was indicted in 2008 on charges related to child pornography. The computer expert stands accused of producing, for the Internet, child pornography in the state of Maryland.

Alex Flores

     Flores, in July 2000, kidnapped and murdered a 5-year-old Philadelphia girl. The victim's strangled and stabbed body was found three months later in a nearby apartment.

Robert William Fisher

     Fisher is accused of the April 2001 murder of his wife and two young children in Scotsdale, Arizona.

Fidel Urbina

     In March 1998, Urbina beat and raped a woman in Chicago. Seven months later, while free on bail, he assaulted, raped and strangled to death another woman. His last victim was found in the trunk of a burned-out car.

Victor Manuel Gerena

     In 1983, Gerena, in the commission of a $7 million robbery of a Connecticut security company, took two employees hostage at gunpoint. After placing his hostages in handcuffs, Gerena injected them with a toxic substance to further disable them.

     All of the fugitives on the top ten list but the swindler Mogilevich, were in their 20s and 30s when they committed their crimes. Mogilevich was in his 50s.


Monday, February 4, 2013

The Baseball Bat as a Deadly Weapon

     If there is a one-stop shopping place for people contemplating criminal homicide or aggravated assault, it's the sports store. Would-be assailants can choose from a wide variety of handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, ropes, and baseball bats.

     Two-thirds of all criminal homicides in the United States involve handguns. Knives come in second as the weapon of choice, accounting for about 14 percent of all homicidal deaths. Blunt objects--hammers, clubs, tire irons, and baseball bats--come in third at about five percent. That leaves hands, fists, feet, rifles, shotguns, ropes, pillows, poisons, bath tubs, vehicles, and matches.

     In 2011, of the 12,664 criminal homicides perpetrated in the United States, 500 were committed with blunt objects of which aluminum baseball bats were the most popular. While no one knows exactly how many people are assaulted every year by bat wielding assailants, the number would have to be in the several hundreds. (It is a fact that more people are murdered every year by baseball bats than assault rifles.)

     In 2001, corrections authorities in Texas finally got around to executing Adolpho Gil Hernandez who, in 1988, used a baseball bat to murder a 69-year-old woman in the course of a Lubbock robbery. More recently, in June 2012, a jury in Bend, Oregon found Richard Clarke guilty of murdering Matthew Fitzhenry in October 2010. Clarke, who beat the victim to death with a baseball bat, was sentenced to life in prison.

     Every year, police officers in the United States shoot dozens of people who threaten them with baseball bats. More than half of these police involved shoots are fatal.

     In New Castle, Pennsylvania, a former mill town of 26,000 in the west central part of the state not far from the Ohio line, a man attacked women with a baseball bat.

     At nine o'clock in the evening on January 20, 2013 New Castle police responded to a call involving a fight outside a city house. Matthew Green, armed with a baseball bat, was fighting with his girlfriend's son who possessed a metal pipe. According to witnesses, the 49-year-old Green chased the son onto the front porch where he tried to hit him with the bat. Green missed and smashed the porch banister instead. A witness to the fight sprayed mace in Green's face. The bat wielding assailant responded by using the weapon to break his girlfriend's left arm.

     While incarcerated in a holding cell, Matthew Green complained of chest pains, and asked for an ambulance. On his way to the hospital, Green informed the ambulance crew that he had previously suffered a heart attack. Police notified hospital personnel that Green was under arrest for aggravated assault and other crimes. Officers, however, did not accompany him to the hospital.

     Shortly after being admitted, Matthew Green, after faking the heart attack, walked out of the hospital. No one knew where he went. (He could have returned to the scene of the fight and attacked his girlfriend again.) Later that night, officers arrested Green at his home and hauled him to the Lawrence County Jail.

     At Matthew Green's arraignment hearing, the district magistrate set his bond at $1,000. Given the fact this man had used a baseball bat as a deadly weapon, then escaped police custody by faking a heart attack, the judge set Green's bail extremely low. This lenient magistrate might as well have given the alleged assailant a bus ticket to Florida.




Sunday, February 3, 2013

Law School Admissions at a 30-year Low: What Does That Mean?

     For the country's 200 law schools, 2013 is not going to be a good year. In 2004, law schools admitted 100,000 students. This fall, only 54,000 students will be seeking a legal education, a 30-year low in enrollment. There are two main reasons for this stunning drop-off: a lousy job market, and the staggering cost of a legal education. It's a double-whammy, who wants to pay all of that money to become an unemployed attorney?

     With annual law school tuition costs ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 or more, the average law graduate enters the job market $125,000 in debt. Only 55 percent of these graduates find full time positions that require passage of a state bar exam. And a good number of those jobs are not financially rewarding. Over the past several years, various law profession surveys have revealed a continuous drop in job satisfaction among practicing attorneys.
          Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in promoting her memoir My Beloved Life on Oprah, said that "... being a lawyer is one of the best jobs in the whole wide world, because every lawyer, no matter whom they represent, is trying to help someone..." What a load of crap. In an article about the legal profession in Time Magazine, author Paul Campos points out that after twenty years as a federal judge, Sotomayor is detached from "any sense of the increasingly severe problems faced by so many members of the legal profession. For young law graduates, especially, Sotomayor's words about service and happiness are likely to ring hollow."

     To make his point, Paul Compos cited part of a letter he received from a young lawyer who entered the field $150,000 in debt. The lawyer wrote: "Over the last six years, I have discovered that I hate our system of justice, our courts, our law and everyone remotely connected to them. I hate the actual work of being a lawyer and having to deal with other lawyers. Being chained to the computer and phone every day feels like torture. It has affected my physical and mental health negatively..."

     The diminishing prospects of a lucrative and satisfying career as a lawyer exists because there are too many practitioners at a time when fewer citizens need the services of an attorney. People who used to hire lawyers can find answers to their law questions on the Internet which also provides a wide variety of legal forms. For example, if you need a simple will, a lease agreement, an employment contract, or a loan document, go online. Law firms are also employing paralegal personnel to do work once done by lawyers.

     As a result of fewer young people entering the legal profession, many law schools have reduced faculty and staff. Several institutions are also offering tuition discounts, and accepting less qualified applicants. Some in the profession have suggested conferring law degrees after two rather than three years of schooling. Costly law classes are also being replaced with cheaper field training programs.

     So, what does all of this mean for the future of the legal profession? I think it means that to keep 200 law schools in business, less qualified practitioners will be funneled into the profession. In the long run, this will make the lawyer problem even worse. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Texas Prosecutor Mark Hasse Assassinated Near Kaufman County Court House

     Mark Hasse graduated from Southern Methodist University Law School in 1981. In 1988, as an assistant prosecutor in the Dallas County, Texas District Attorney's Office, he became a certified police officer which gave him the right to carry a concealed firearm. In Dallas, Hasse was in charge of the D.A.'s organized crime unit. He was also president of the Dallas Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

     In July 2010, Mark Hasse moved to Kaufman, a northeast Texas town of 6,700 35 miles southeast of Dallas where he joined the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office as the lead felony prosecutor.

     Just before nine in the morning of Thursday, January 31, 2013, two men ambushed the 57-year-old prosecutor as he got out of his car in a parking lot near the Kaufman Court House used by judges and prosecutors. The men, dressed in black and wearing ski-masks and bullet-proof vests, shot Hasse five times. Doctors at the nearby Texas Presbyterian Hospital pronounced him dead a short time later.

     Following the execution-style murder, witnesses saw two man in a late model silver Ford Taurus speed from the scene. In a search for suspects, homicide investigators began combing through the prosecutor's caseload. One of Hasse's 400 case ssignments involved a probe of Aryan Brotherhood activities.

     The authorities have posted a $20,000 reward leading to the identification and arrest of the prosecutor's assassins. In all probability homicide detectives are looking for a connection between the Ford Taurus and a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.

     At a Thursday January 31 press conference, Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland said, "I hope the people who did this are watching, because we're very confident that we're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in. We're going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."   

Arthur Douglas Harmon: Plaintiff in a Phoenix Lawsuit Kills His Opponent, Two Others and Himself

     Arthur Douglas Harmon lived with his wife and grown son in a north Phoenix residential neighborhood. Last April, the 70-year-old sued a Scottsdale corporation that had hired him to refurbish office cubicles at two California call centers. Harmon had been paid $30,000 of the $47,000 agreed-upon sum. The company, however, asked for the return of the $30,000 on the claim that Harmon had not performed the work. Harmon responded by suing the firm for breach of contract.

     On the morning of January 29, 2013, Harmon was present at a lawsuit settlement session before a mediator held at a law firm housed in three-story north Phoenix office complex. At ten-thirty, at the end of the mediation session, Harmon pulled a handgun and shot Steven Singer, the 48-year-old CEO of the company he had sued. (Mr. Singer was pronounced dead at a local hospital.) Harmon also shot and wounded Singer's lawyer, 43-year-old Mark P. Hummels, and Nichole Hampton. (Hummels is in critical condition, and 32-year-old Hampton, shot in the hand, is expected to recover fully.) Spent shell casings at the scene indicate that Harmon used two pistols in the attack.

     As the white-haired, 6-foot, 220 pound shooter, wearing a red shirt and blue jeans, fled the scene, he shot at a person who tried to follow him to take down the license number of his car. Harmon drove from the office complex in his white, 2013 Kia Optima.

     Later that afternoon, a SWAT unit rolled up to the Harmon residence located about five miles from the site of the mass shooting. Detectives were present to arrest Harmon and search his house. A SWAT officer using a megaphone called the fugitive out of the dwelling. Harmon's son came to the door and informed the officers that his father was not home. The son refused to let the police enter the house without a search warrant. (I'm not sure they needed one.)

     As the search warrant was being issued by a judge, police officers waited outside the Harmon residence. Once issued, police officers searched the dwelling and removed several items from the house. A short time later, Harmon's cellphone was found in the front yard of a house three miles from where he lived.

     On Thursday afternoon, on January 31, 2013, police is Mesa, Arizona spotted Harmon's white Kia parked in the lot of a Bass Pro store. Nearby, they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. People who had known this man described him as an unfriendly loner.

     The whole idea of a legal system is to resolve disputes without resorting to violence. But in a nation with what appears to be a growing population of angry malcontents, fewer people seem willing to play by the rules. When these unhappy people don't get what they want, they kill people, and often themselves. As a result, no place is safe, and there is nothing the government can do to stop this. Any politician who says otherwise is either a liar or a fool.