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Friday, May 31, 2013

Disneyland Vendor Christian Barnes Plants Dry Ice Bomb in Mickey's Toonstown Section of Park

     At four in the afternoon of May 28, 2013, parents who had brought their children to Mickey's Toontown section of Anaheim, California's Disneyland, were startled by a small but loud explosion that tore the lid off a trash can near a kiddy ride called Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. While no one suffered injuries from the blast, officials of the famous theme park evacuated the Toontown area. (How was Disneyland? Oh, we had a blast.)

     At the site of the low-order explosion, detectives found fragments of a plastic water bottle which led them to conclude that a so-called dry ice bomb had been the source of the explosion. A maker of such a device adds chunks of dry ice to a quarter-full bottle of water. Once sealed, the water warms the dry ice which produces carbon dioxide that builds inside the container and eventually ruptures the bottle. These simply made little bombs, if moved, can blow off the handler's fingers. As booby traps, dry ice bombs function as little anti-personnel devices.

     Because dry ice is used at Disneyland to keep refreshments like ice cream and sodas cold, detectives figured there was a good chance the bomber worked for the theme park. As it turned out, they were right.

     On Wednesday, May 29, 2013, officers with the Anaheim Police Department arrested a 22-year-old man from Long Beach named Christian Barnes. Barnes, a so-called "outdoor vending cast member," peddled soda drinks and bottled water from a mobile cart. Charged with possession of a destructive device in a public place, the Disneyland employee was booked into the Orange County Jail. A magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     It's hard to imagine a rational motive for a crime like this. Some kid dropping a piece of garbage into that trash can could have lost his hand. The fact that Barnes worked at the theme park suggests he doesn't have a criminal record.

     On Thursday, May 30, Barnes pleaded not guilty to the felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The judge reduced his bail to $500.000.

     Big theme parks have been relatively safe places from crime. Recently, at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, a grandmother, after getting off the Dinosaur ride, found a .380-caliber pistol on her seat. She handed the gun over to a park attendant. A few minutes later, a man returned to the site and claimed the weapon. It had fallen out of his pocket during the bumpy ride. Security personnel escorted him out of the park. (Who would go to a place inhabited by live, exotic animals and ride a fake Dinosaur?)

     The Disney Animal Kingdom incident exposes the reality that millions of people walk through hundreds of turnstiles into parks all over the country without being searched or exposed to metal detectors. There is no way to keep guns and dry ice bombs out of these places. If going to a theme park becomes as inconvenient and intrusive as getting on an airplane, Mickey and his friends will find themselves alone among the Roger Rabbit rides and phony dinosaurs.


     According to prosecutors, Barnes allegedly placed dry ice into two water bottles and locked one inside his vending cart. When a co-worker came to take over the cart, one of the bottles exploded. Barnes then took the second bottle and placed it in the trash can. That device went off a short time later after a park janitor removed the trash bag and put it on the ground.


Criminal Justice Quote: Suspects More Likely to Confess in Private

The principal psychological factor contributing to a successful interrogation is privacy--being alone with the person under interrogation. This we all seem to instinctively realize in our own private or social affairs, but in criminal interrogations it is generally overlooked or ignored. For instance, in asking a personal friend or acquaintance to divulge a secret, we carefully avoid making the request in the presence of other persons; we seek a time and place when the matter can be discussed in private. Likewise, when anyone harbors a troublesome problem that he would like "to get off his chest," he finds it easier to confide in another person alone rather than in the presence of a third party....In criminal interrogations, where the same mental processes are in operation, and to an even greater degree by reason of the criminality of the disclosure, interrogators generally seem to lose sight of the fact that a suspect or witness is much more apt to reveal his secrets in the privacy of a room occupied only by himself and his interrogator than in the presence of an additional person or persons.

Fred E. Inbau and John E. Reid in Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1962

Writing Quote: How to Get a Literary Agent

Choosing an agent is a lot like choosing a hairdresser. [I currently don't have an agent or a hairdresser.] If you know a bunch of writers and most writers do because who else is home all day?) ask the successful ones who represents them. [In reality, writers with agents hate to be asked this.] If you don't know any writers, look at books by authors you admire and see which agent the author thanked in the acknowledgements. Send five to ten of these agents a resume, cover letter, and proposal for what you're trying to sell (it's imperative that the prospective agent knows that you have a money-making project in mind). Interview the agents who respond positively and pick the one you like best. If no one responds positively, send your stuff to another five to ten agents. Don't take it personally. Think of it as practice in handling rejection. (Believe me, you'll need all the practice you can get.)

Margo Kaufman in Jon Winokur's Advice to Writers, 1999

[Avoid any agent who charges an upfront fee. A vast majority of the successful agents have offices in New York City. Retaining a fee-agent with an office in Youngstown, Ohio is worse than having no agent at all. Here's the catch-22: It's difficult getting commercially published without an agent, and it's hard to get an agent if you're not published.]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Colorado Governor Grants Mass Murderer Nathan Dunlap a Death Sentence Reprieve

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

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

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

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

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

     The governor's reprieve guarantees that Dunlap will live until January 15, 2015, the last day of Hickenlooper's first term. If he loses his bid for re-election, the new governor could let the reprieve stand or go ahead with the execution. Dunlap's fate will certainly become a gubernatorial campaign issue. (Hickenlooper, by granting the reprieve, has guaranteed Dunlap a lot more "notoriety.")

     In justifying his decision to spare Dunlap's life, Hickenlooper rhetorically asked, "Is it just and moral to take this person's life? Is it a benefit to the world?" (A lot of people would answer, "Yes!" If death row inmates could vote, I'm sure they would all vote democratic.)

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: People Who Work With Criminals Burnout

The greatest occupational hazard to people working with criminals [counselors, social workers, and parole agents] is not physical attack. More serious is a rapid burnout of enthusiasm, commitment, and interest. Mention the word "burnout" to people in corrections, and they will solemnly nod. Increasing numbers of idealistic, genuinely concerned young Americans are entering corrections, eager to do a good job. Almost immediately, they confront a huge array of obstacles for which they are poorly prepared. Despite the fact that their clients are the most difficult anywhere, they think they are expected to accomplish what parents, teachers, employers, clergymen, and others failed at for years.

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

Writing Quote: B. R. Myers on The "Literary" Novelist

The joy of being a [literary] writer today is that you can claim your work's flaws are all there by design. Plot doesn't add up? It was never meant to; you were playfully reworking the conventions of traditional narrative. Your philosophizing makes no sense? Well, we live in an incoherent age after all. The dialogue is implausible? Comedy often is. But half the jokes fall flat?  Ah! Those were the serious bits. Make sure then, that your readers can never put a finger on what you are trying to say at any point in the book. Let them create their own text--you're just the one who gets paid for it.

B. R. Myers, A Reader's Manifesto, 2002
[This is an outstanding, groundbreaking book.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One Less Baby-Killer in Ohio: Say Goodbye to Steve Smith

     On the night of September 29, 1988, in the northern Ohio town of Mansfield, 31-year-old Steve Smith walked into his live-in girlfriend's bedroom carrying her six-month-old daughter. Smith was nude and had been drinking. The lifeless infant in his arms bore bruises and cuts.

     Kesha Frye took her daughter to a neighbor's house where she called 911. At the hospital doctors tried for an hour to revive Autumn Frye before pronouncing the baby dead. An autopsy revealed that the infant had been raped.

     A year after his arrest, Steve Smith went on trial for aggravated murder. On the advice of his attorneys, the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty as charged, and the judge sentenced him to death.

     On April 2, 2013, after living twelve years on death row, Smith appeared before the Ohio Parole Board that was considering his petition to reduce  his sentence to life. Smith admitted raping the infant, but said he hadn't intended to kill her. The parole board and Governor John Kasich denied Smith's motion for a life sentence.

     At ten-thirty in the morning of May 1, 2013, the Ohio executioner at the state prison in Lucasville injected a lethal dose of pentobarbital into the body of the 46-year-old prisoner. Steve Smith's 20-year-old daughter and a handful of others watched him go. If the baby-killer made a statement before the pentobarbital got into his system, his last words have not escaped the prison. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The "Lock-'em-Up Era

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Detective Fiction as Literature

It may well be that when the historians of literature come to discourse upon the fiction produced by the English-speaking peoples in the first half of the twentieth century, they will pass somewhat lightly over the compositions of the "serious" novelists and turn their attention to the immense and varied achievement of the detective writers.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English playwright, novelist and short story writer

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Edison, New Jersey Officer Michael Dotro Accused of Firebombing Police Captain's House

     Michael A. Dotro, a nine year veteran of the Edison, New Jersey Police Department, worked in the internal affairs unit. Since the 36-year-old officer had a history of misconduct complaints, including charges of excessive force, he didn't seem to be the right person for the job. But nothing within the Edison Police Department was right.

     For years, officers on this police force had been engaged in a civil war. Cops were suing each other, and there were accusations that detectives in the internal affairs unit were gathering information on local politicians and others, and ignoring citizen complaints of police brutality.

     In 2005, a member of the Asian-Indian community who had been arrested by officer Dotro accused him of police brutality. Amid citizen protests, and a lot of bad publicity, Dotro was administratively cleared of any wrongdoing.

     Three years after the excessive force complaint, Dotro got into a fistfight with his 68-year-old neighbor, Dennis Sassa. Mr. Sassa claimed that the then 31-year-old officer had punched him in the face six times. The dispute revolved around a shed that sat on Dotro's property. Both men filed assault charges, and both were acquitted in municipal court. (Shortly before the fight, someone had torched a shed on Mr. Sassa's property. Flames from the structure had spread to a camper and to Sassa's house.)

     Edison Police Captain Mark Anderko considered Michael Dotro unfit to be an officer of the law. Captain Anderko and officer Dotro were on opposing sides in the departmental civil war. With 24 years on the force, Captain Anderko served as the top aide to Chief Thomas Bryan. Anderko resided in a two-story colonial home in Middlesex County's Monroe Township with his wife, their two children, and his 92-year-old mother.

     At four in the morning of Monday, May 20, 2013, someone firebombed Captain Anderko's home. The family dog alerted Anderko's wife who woke up the other four occupants of the dwelling. No one was injured, but the fire destroyed the front section of the house where the children had been sleeping.

     On Thursday afternoon, May 23, 2013, officers with the Edison Police Department arrested Michael Dotro and searched his Manalapan, New Jersey home. Charged with five counts of attempted murder and aggravated arson, a Superior Court judge set the officer's bond at $5 million. He is incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail. Following the arrest, Chief Byran placed officer Dotro on paid administrative leave. (The accused cop receives an annual salary of $118,000. Law enforcement is no longer a low-paying occupation.)




Criminal Justice Quote: Penal Codes

The penal code...can be read as a kind of Sears Roebuck catalogue of norms; it lists things considered reprehensible, and tells us, by the degree of punishment, roughly--very roughly--how reprehensible they are. Groups that dominate society display their power most brutally and nakedly in the police patrols, riot squads, and prisons; but power expresses itself also in the penal codes and in the process of labeling some values and behaviors as deviant, abnormal, dangerous--criminal, in other words.

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

Writing Quote: Novel Advice

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

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Skylar Neese: Murdered in Cold Blood By Two Sixteen-Year-Old Girls

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

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

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

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

     On January 3, 2013, almost six months after Skylar Neese was seen on camera getting into the car, Rachel Shoaf, one of Skylar's 16-year-old friends, confessed that she and another 16-year-old girl had lured Neese into the car that night for the purpose of killing her. According to Shoaf, they had stabbed Skylar to death and drove her body into Pennsylvania where, at a remote spot near the town of Waynesburg about 30 miles northwest of Star City, they dumped her body. When the girls ran into difficulty digging a grave, they simply covered the corpse with branches. (If Shoaf articulated a motive for the murder, that has not been revealed. The identity of the other girl is also under wraps. People in Star City, however, have figured out who she is.)

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

     On May 1, 2013, Rachel Shoaf pleaded guilty to second degree murder before a judge in a Monongalia County Circuit Court. She is currently incarcerated in a juvenile detention center awaiting her sentencing. The local district attorney has indicated that he plans to recommend a sentence of twenty years. Under West Virginia law, second degree murder carries a maximum sentence of forty years. The other defendant in the Neese murder case is awaiting her trial. In all probability she will also enter a guilty plea.

     I find it odd that this case hasn't attracted more attention from the national media. I'm guessing that if this murder had taken place in Los Angeles, New York City, or Chicago, it would have developed into a big crime story. Sixteen year old, middle class girls do not go around stabbing each other to death in cold blood. Where are the TV crime profilers, criminologists, and murder shrinks? For me, this strange and disturbing case is reminiscent of Chicago's Leopold and Loeb case in 1924. That murder involved a couple of young, well-educated men from good families who killed an innocent boy simply to see if they could commit the perfect crime. They didn't, of course, and were both sentenced to life in prison. (They both got out of prison before their deaths, however.)


Writing Quote: Stephen King on His Place in the Pantheon of Writers

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

Stephen King, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Adapting to Prison

Prison socializes an inmate to act hyper-rationally. It teaches him patience in planning and pursuing his goals, punishes him severely for his mistakes, and rewards him generously for smart action. No wonder that inmates are such ardent optimizers. A clever move can shorten one's sentence, save one from rape or a beating, keep one's spirits high, or increase one's access to resources. There is little space for innocent and spontaneous expressions of emotion when they collide with fundamental interests. Brutal fights, self-injury, and rapes can all be explained as outcomes of carefully calculated actions. Paradoxically, much of the confusion in interpreting prison behavior arises from both a failure to understand the motives of inmates and an unwillingness to admit that outcomes judged as inhuman or bizarre may be consequences of individually rational action.

Marek M. Kaminski, Games Prisoners Play, 2004

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Types of Criminal Behavior

It is conventional to draw a line between property crimes, crimes against the person, morals offenses, offenses against public order, and regulatory crimes. Social reactions depend on the type of crime. Typologies are not very systematic; but they can be illuminating. For example, there are what we might call predatory crimes--committed for money and gain; usually, the victims are strangers. These are the robberies and muggings that plague the cities and inspire much dread. There are also lesser and greater crimes of gain: shoplifting, minor embezzlements, confidence games, cheats, frauds, stock manipulations in infinite form. There are also what we might call corollary crimes--conspiracies, aiding and abetting, harboring criminals; also perjury, jail break, and the like. Much rarer are political crimes--treason, most notably; also sedition, and, in larger sense, all illegal acts motivated by hatred of the system, and which strike out against the constituted order. There are crimes of desperation--men or women who steal bread to keep from starving, addicts who steal or turn a trick to support their habit. Some crimes are thrill crimes--joyriding, shoplifting at times, acts of vandalism, and the like; some of these, too, can be little bursts of petty treason. There are crimes of passion--violence generated by thwarted love, jealousy, hatred that rises to the level of obsession. There are also crimes of addiction--crimes that arise from failure of control; crimes that stem from what some of us might consider flaws of character, or overwhelming temptation; this can be as minor as public drunkenness, or as horrific as rape. Lastly, there are what we might call subcultural crimes--acts that are defined as crimes of the big culture, yet validated in some smaller social group; Mormon polygamy in the nineteenth century, for example.

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

Writing Quote: Margaret Atwood on Unlikable Characters in Fiction

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

Margaret Atwood, novelist,  2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Crime Bulletin: FBI Agent Kills Suspected Terrorist Ibragim Todashev

     In 2008, the U. S. Government granted 22-year-old Ibragim Todashev, an immigrant from the turbulent Russian region of Dagestan and Chechya, political asylum. (Todashev had been in the county some time before that.) The mixed martial arts fighter attended college in the Boston area. In 2010, officers with the Boston Police Department arrested the hot-tempered Chechen after he used his car to cut off another motorist in a road rage incident. According to the police, Todashev had threatened the other driver by yelling, "You say something about my mother, I will kill you."

     Todashev, after moving from Watertown, Massachusetts to Orlando, Florida, ran into trouble with the law again. On May 4, 2013, he got into an argument with a father and his son over a parking space at an Orlando Shopping Mall. Todashev split the son's lip and knocked out several of his teeth. Charged with aggravated battery, the unemployed Chechen spent the night in jail before posting his $3,500 bond.

     In the aftermath of the April 15, 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Todashev, an acquaintance of Tamerlan Tasarnaev, the terrorist killed on April 19 in a shootout with the police, became the subject of investigations conducted by the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police. In interviews with FBI agents and officers with the Massachusetts State Police, Todashev had reportedly implicated himself in a September 11, 2011 triple murder that took place in Waltham, Massachusetts. In that case, three young men were found in an apartment with their throats slit. The killer or killers had sprinkled marijuana over their bodies. One of the victims was an amateur boxer who knew Todashev and the Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

     On Wednesday morning, May 22, 2013, an FBI agent accompanied by two investigators with the Massachusetts State Police were in Todashev's Orlando home interrogating him about the Waltham murders, his relationship with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and his possible involvement as a co-conspirator in the Boston bombing plot. At some point in the interrogation, Todashev lunged at the FBI agent who shot him dead. (According to some news reports, Todashev attacked the agent with a knife. In other reports the knife isn't mentioned. It has also been reported that just before the attack, the suspected terrorist was about to sign a confession related to the triple murder.)

     According to media reports, Imbragim Todashev had Tamerlan Tsarnaev's phone number in his cellphone. The FBI agent who shot Todashev was treated at a local hospital for minor injuries. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Public Opinion in High Profile Criminal Trials

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

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

Writing Quote: Market Oriented Publishing

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

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

Dubravka Ugresic, Thank You For Not Reading, 2003

Criminal Justice Quote: Is Attorney General Eric Holder a Prosecutor or Politician?

I was raised--professionally--in the Public Integrity Section [of the Department of Justice]. I started in 1976, stayed there 12 years. [The Public Integrity Section] was formed after Watergate by then head of the Criminal Division, Dick Thornburgh, who ultimately became attorney general.

Eric Holder, U. S. Attorney General

(Holder authorized the FBI search of Fox News journalist James Rosen's phone records on grounds of suspected solicitation of espionage. Mr. Rosen, who was soliciting information from a government leaker, was simply doing his job as a reporter. Dick Thornburgh would not have approved of this governmental trampling of the First Amendment.) 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Criminal Justice Chaos: Rogue, Out of Control Law Enforcement

     In America, law enforcement is inefficient, heavy-handed, militaristic, zero-tolerant, and out of control. Virtually every law enforcement agency in the country has a SWAT team used for predawn, no-knock raids in the hopeless war on drugs. Wrong houses are raided and innocent people are injured and killed. (Family pets are frequent victims as well.) Cops are using taser guns on misbehaving kids, and police officers are regularly shooting mentally ill adults.

     U. S. Secret Service agents on duty to protect the president have hired prostitutes. The FBI has accused a television journalist of criminal behavior for simply doing his job. IRS agents have targeted more than 400 groups because of their political and religious beliefs. The tax collectors have also harassed the president's political opponents with audits and other forms of intimidation. ATF agents have shipped hundreds of assault rifles to Mexico where they have ended up in the hands of drug lords. Border Patrol officials have released illegal aliens who have been charged with felonies. American drones have killed four U. S. citizens without due process. (Contrast the drone-killings with the bleeding-heart governor of Colorado who recently commuted a mass murderer's death sentence to life.)

     In California and other states, convicted rapists and pedophiles are serving their sentences on unsupervised parole and re-offending at an alarming rate. Federal officers have recently lost track of a pair of terrorist snitches who, after being given new identifies, entered a witness protection program. These two terrorists left the program and have disappeared from government view. The president, who seems reluctant to concede that organized terrorism is a problem, wants to shut down Gitmo, and to bring terrorists to justice in civilian courts rather than military tribunals.

     As federal and local law enforcement agencies abuse their power, pandering politicians keep passing unnecessary criminal laws. Thanks to sexual harassment related regulations promulgated by the Executive Branch, college students, already burdened by university-imposed speech codes, are losing their First Amendment rights. A student can be punished criminally simply for saying the wrong thing.

    Our criminal justice system, in general, has become irrational, uncontrollable, too politicized, and much too intrusive for a nation founded on the principles of individual rights and due process.


Criminal Justice Quote: How the Fear of Crime Affects Our Lives

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

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

Writing Quote: Whodunits and Thrillers

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

David Lodge, The Practice of Writing, 1996

Razor Blades in Doughnuts: Utah Couple Try to Pull Off Product Liability Scam

     Michael Condor and his girlfriend Carol Leazer-Hardman worked at a Dollar Tree store in a shopping plaza in Draper, Utah, a town of 40,000 midway between Salt Lake City and Provo. On March 6, 3013, Condor called the Draper Police Department to report that he and his 39-year-old girlfriend had discovered fingernail-sized pieces of razor blade in doughnuts they had eaten. One of their fellow Dollar Tree employees, while chewing on one of the doughnuts the couple had brought to the store, cut her mouth on a razor blade shard. Because the fellow-worker didn't swallow the blade fragment, she escaped serious injury.

     Hospital X-rays revealed that Leazer-Hardman and her 35-year-old boyfriend had each swallowed a piece of razor blade. (I can't find any information regarding their medical status, or if the razor blade pieces they had swallowed have been surgically removed.)

     Condor and Leazer-Hardman informed the police they had purchased the deadly doughnuts at Smith's Food & Drug Store located in the same shopping plaza as the Dollar Tree store. Once notified of the razor blade scraps, Smith's Food & Drug pulled the tamper-proof-packaged doughnuts off their shelves.

     Detectives faced the challenge of determining how the razor blade fragments found their way into the doughnuts. These foreign objects had either gotten into the product at the out-of-town bakery prior to packaging, or had been inserted afterward by someone at the retail location. Given the tamper-proof nature of the packaging, the latter scenario seemed unlikely.

     Condor and Leazer-Hardman, upon being questioned separately by detectives, confessed to placing the sharp objects into the doughnuts. Desperate for money to get out of debt, they had concocted the harebrained scheme in an effort to acquire a civil suit settlement from Smith's Food & Drug Store.

     A Salt Lake City prosecutor charged the couple with aggravated assault and filing a false police report. I presume they are no longer working at the Dollar Tree.

     While I find this case fascinating, local media reportage of the doughnut tampering scam was thin and mediocre. In my view, people who would risk their lives and the life on an innocent victim pursuant to a shake-down swindle are worthy of study. Who was the mastermind behind this potentially homicidal plot? Do the suspects have histories of fraud and other larceny related crimes? Are these people sociopathic, drug-addled, crazy, or simply stupid? Where are the crime reporters? 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Two FBI Agents Killed in Training Exercise Accident

     In 1984, the FBI, in preparation for the Olympics in Los Angeles, formed an elite counterterrorism hostage rescue team comprised of so-called "assaulters," and snipers. Trained in scuba diving, rappelling from helicopters, and close combat tactics, the hostage rescue agents were equipped with military-style gear and assault weapons.

     Unlike FBI SWAT teams that only train a few days a month, members of the hostage rescue unit prepare full-time. This highly militarized squad is more comparable to Navy Seal Team 6 and U. S. Army Delta units. The elite FBI counterterrorism team is headquartered at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

     Since its inception, agents in the rescue unit have responded to 850 incidents including last month's Boston Marathon Bombings. Members of this civilian combat force have also responded to situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     On Friday night, May 17, 2013, twelve miles off the Virginia Beach coastline, two hostage team members participating in a maritime counterterrorism exercise, fell to their deaths into the Atlantic Ocean. Forty-one-year-old Christopher Lorek and forty-year-old Stephen Shaw were rappelling from a helicopter when the aircraft suddenly tilted because of a strong gust of wind. As the pilot struggled to regain control of the helicopter, the agents, loaded down with gear, lost their grips and fell.

     By the time the agents were pulled out of the ocean, one of them was dead. The other hostage team member died at a hospital in Norfolk. The men were killed by blunt force trauma. Both agents were married and lived with their wives and children in the northern Virginia town of Quantico.

     During the past thirteen years, six other FBI Agents have died in the line of duty. There are currently 14,000 special agents in the bureau. 

Writing Quote: Joseph Wambaugh on Writing Narrative Nonfiction

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Signs of Lying Versus Indicators of Truth

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

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

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Last Words of Executed Prisoners: Steven Wood

You're not about to witness an execution; you're about to witness a murder. I've never killed anybody, never. This whole thing is wrong...Warden, if you're going to murder someone, go ahead and do it. Pull that trigger. Goodbye.

Steven Wood, 31, executed September 13, 2011 by lethal injection in Texas

Writing Quotes: True Crime Writers on Their Genre

I define a true crime book as one involving a murder. It's not about art theft, it's not about governmental cover-up. It's really a case involving a murder in which there's an investigation and usually a trial....The best of the true crimes give you some insight into characters, usually the character of the killer, and the situation that produced the crime.

Charles Spicer

...crime does pay--especially if you are a writer.

Tom Byrnes

The [true crime] market is women, and the ideal perpetrator is a white male serial sex killer, or conspiring white couple sex killers, or anyone who kills before, after, or during sex.

Burl Barer

The main audience for true crime works, according to publishing houses, is generally the middle class with more women than men buying the books. There is also a fairly strong teen market, and books of regional interest have specialized markets. For example, both Texas and the Pacific Northwest are strong locals for the true crime market.

Vicky Munro

All [true crime] stories must be post-trial, with the perpetrators convicted and sentenced at the conclusion....We also prefer that cases involve not more than three suspects....Do not pinpoint the guilty person too early in the story because it kills suspense...Use active writing, avoid passive constructions. Remember that detectives probe, unearth, dig up, ferret out, determine, deduce, seek out, ascertain, discover, hunt, root out, delve, uncover, track, trace, and inspect.

Jim Thompson

I prefer an unpublicized case in which I am the only person writing about it because the people involved are so much more willing to cooperate and be interviewed. Publishers, of course, want a story that's been splashed all over television, magazines, and newspapers.

Don Lasseter

I start every book with the idea that I want to explain how this seven or eight pounds of protoplasm went from his mommy's arms to become a serial rapist or serial killer. I think a crime book that doesn't do this is pure pornography.

Jack Olsen 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Public's Fascination With Crime and Criminals

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

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

Ex-Philadelphia Cop Richard De Coatsworth: From Hero to Heel

     In September 2007, when Richard De Coatsworth was a 22-year-old rookie on the Philadelphia Police Department, he pulled over a suspicious vehicle occupied by four men. Three of the suspects jumped out of the car and fled. As the young officer alighted from the patrol car to give chase, the fourth suspect blasted him with a shotgun. Notwithstanding the gunshot wound to the lower portion of his face, officer De Coatsworth chased the gunman while calling in for help. Although he eventually collapsed, other officers apprehended the shooter. (The assailant was later convicted and sentenced to 36 to 72 years in prison.)

     Officer De Coatsworth, following his medical recovery, was promoted to an elite highway patrol unit. In 2008, the National Association of Police Organizations named him that year's "Top Cop."

     In February 2009, Vice President Joe Biden invited Officer De Coatsworth to sit next to Michelle Obama at the President's address to the Joint Session of Congress. The officer was seen on national TV sitting next to the First Lady in his ceremonial police uniform. In his brief law enforcement career, officer Richard De Coatsworth had achieved full hero status. It was at this point that his life and career began to deteriorate.

     Just seven months after appearing with Michelle Obama, De Coatsworth was accused of excessive force after he shot a motorcyclist in the leg. In November 2011, the hero-cop was under investigation by the Internal Affairs Office for fighting with a fellow officer. A month later, after having amassed, during his brief tenure as a police officer, nine civilian complaints of assault, abuse, and misconduct, De Coatsworth retired from the force on full disability.

     Two months after leaving the police department, De Coatsworth was charged with threatening a woman in the Port Richmond section of the city.

     On May 1, 2013, De Coatsworth, after meeting a woman in a downtown bar, forced her into acts of prostitution out of the Day's Inn on Roosevelt Boulevard. At two in the morning of Thursday, May 16, 2013, De Coatsworth showed up at this woman's home in the Fishtown-Kensington section of the city.
At her residence, De Coatsworth allegedly forced the 21-year-old and another woman her age to perform oral sex on him at gunpoint. The next day, immediately after the ex-cop departed the house, the woman he had allegedly forced into prostitution at the Day's Inn, called the authorities.

     On Saturday, May 18, a prosecutor charged Richard De Coatsworth with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, trafficking in persons, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault. At his arraignment, the magistrate judge set the defendant's bail at $25 million for each of the women. The judge added another $10 million bond in connection with an unrelated charge involving De Coatsworth's alleged May 9 assault of his live-in girlfriend. In total, the ex-police officer has been charged with 32 felonies. His bail is the highest in the history of city, and probably the state.


Criminal Justice Quote: Origins of the Drug War

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

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Writing Quote: Science Fiction Novelist Philip K. Dick

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

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

Police Kill Andrea Rebello and the Robber Who Took Her Hostage

     Andrea Rebello and her twin sister Jessica attended Hofstra University located in Hempstead, Long Island. In 2012, the second-year students from Tarrytown, New York moved from the dormitory into a rented, two-story house a half block from the campus.

     On Thursday night, May 16, 2013, Andrea, Jessica, Jessica's boyfriend John Kourtessiss, and a third student named Shannon Thomas, were celebrating the end of the school year at McHebes Bar in Hempstead. The four students returned to the twin's off-campus dwelling a little after midnight.

     At two-thirty in the morning of Friday, May 17, 30-year-old Dalton Smith, a wanted criminal with a long history of robbery and assault convictions, entered the unlocked front door of the Rebello house wearing a ski mask and carrying a 9 mm handgun with a filed-off serial number. (Smith was wanted on an April 25, 2013 warrant for absconding from parole.)

     Once inside the house, Smith asked the occupants where they kept their cash. One of the victims told the armed intruder there were valuables on the second floor. Unsatisfied with what he found in the upstairs bedrooms, Smith said, " I saw you at the bar drinking. I know you have more money than this!" Smith asked if any of the students could withdraw money from a bank account. Shannon Thomas said she would bring Smith cash from a nearby ATM. Smith sent Thomas out for the money. He told her she had eight minutes to return. If she wasn't back by then, he'd start killing people. Once out of the house, Thomas called 911. (Nobody said criminals were bright.)

     When a pair of officers with the Nassau County Police Department rolled up to the robbery scene, they saw Andrea Rebello's twin sister Jessica running out the front door. Dalton Smith and Andrea were on the second floor while John Kourtessiss hid behind the living room couch. The officer who had been with the Nassau Police Department twelve years, and before that the New York City Police, entered the dwelling.

     Once inside the house, the police officer encountered Smith as he descended the stairs holding Andrea Rebello in a headlock with his gun pointed at her face. "I'm going to kill her," he said. When Smith turned his pistol toward the officer, the officer fired eight shots at the hostage-taker, killing him on the spot. One of the bullets hit Rebello in the head, killing her as well.

     In the wake of the fatal shootings, the police officer, who has not been identified, placed himself on sick leave. The police involved shooting will be the subject of an internal investigation. There should also be an inquiry as to why a career robber like Dalton Smith was out on parole. No doubt there will be questions why the officer didn't call in a SWAT team and a hostage negotiator.

     Shortly after the fatal shooting incident, Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale traveled to Tarrytown where he explained Andrea Rebello's death to her parents. I don't believe most police administrators would have the fortitude to face the parents of a child accidentally shot by one of their officers. Over the years, officers with the Nassau County Police Department have not shot many citizens.



Criminal Justice Quote: The Wiseguy Persona

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

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

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Writing Quote: Writing As A Lonely, Insecure Occupation

     The writer's life is inherently an insecure one. Each project is a new start and may be a failure. The fact that a previous item has been successful is no guard against failure this time.

     What's more, as has often been pointed out, writing is a very lonely occupation. You can talk about what you write, and discuss it with family, friends, or editors, but when you sit down at that typewriter, you are alone with it and no one can possibly help. You must extract every word from you own suffering mind.

     It's no wonder writers so often turn misanthropic or are driven to drink to dull the agony. I've heard it said that alcoholism is an occupational disease with writers.

Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Kai McGillvary and the Hatchet Hitchhiker Murder Case

     On February 1, 2013, a CNN reporter in Fresno, California interviewed a 24-year-old homeless drifter named Caleb "Kai" McGullvary. The long-haired, backpack-carrying, bandana-wearing hitchhiker who went under the names Kai Lawrence and Kai Nicodermus, described, in a rambling, profane-laced TV interview, how he had thwarted an assault on a female Fresno area utility worker.

     On the day in question, McGillvary had hitched a ride with a manifestly insane driver who intentionally tried to run over the female utility employee. The large man behind the wheel jumped out of his car, and as he approached the injured woman said, "I am Jesus and I am here to take you home." (By home the driver was not referring to the victim's place of residence.) When the mentally ill assailant began punching the helpless woman, McGillvary pulled a hatchet out of his backpack and used it to subdue the attacker by whacking him in the head a couple of times.

     According to media reports, the crazy man, a month earlier, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a murder charge. (This begs the question: what was this guy doing out in society?) The utility worker underwent surgery for her non-life-threatening injuries. Her mentally ill assailant was charged with attempt murder. (I presume this man has not posted bail in the attempted murder case. But who knows? The crime was committed in California.)

     Kai McGullvary's television interview went viral with more than 4 million YouTube hits. An instant cyber-culture celebrity, the self-named "Hatchet Hitchhiker" appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where he informed America that he prefers to be thought of as "home-free" rather than homeless. (He is also "car-free", "job-free",  and probably "money-free" as well.) The story of McGillvary's hatchet intervention in the Fresno assault was also featured on The Colbert Report. 

     On Saturday, May 11, 2013, the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" was seen in New York City's Times Square in the company of a 73-year-old lawyer named Joseph Galfy, Jr. That night, Mr. Galfy took McGillvary back to his house in Clark, New Jersey, a town 20 miles west of the city. According to reports, the drifter spend two nights with Galfy who lived in the house by himself.

     On Monday morning, May 13, 2013, when Mr. Galfy failed to show up for work at the law firm, a fellow employee asked local police officers to make a welfare check at his residence. Inside the tidy, brick dwelling, officers found the lawyer lying dead in his bed wearing socks and his underwear. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Mr. Galfy had been bludgeoned to death. Detectives believed the victim had been murdered sometime on Sunday.

     On Tuesday, the day after the discovery of Mr. Galfy's corpse, Kia McGillvary, on his Facebook page, asked his readers what they would do if they awoke in a stranger's house to the realization they had been drugged and sexually assaulted. One Facebook commentator suggested hitting the rapist with a hatchet. To that McGillvary responded, "I like your idea."

     Late Thursday night, May 16, 2013, police officers arrested the "Hatchet Hitchhiker" at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Philadelphia. Officers noticed that McGillvary had cut his hair to change his appearance. Currently held on $3 million bail, the freedom-free suspect will be shipped back to Union County, New Jersey where he faces a charge of murder in connection with Joseph Galfy's violent death. 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Salem Witch Trials

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: The IRS Scandal

The IRS calling taxpayers their "customers" is like a rapist calling his victims "girlfriends."

Keisha Jackson 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Where is Shane Franklin Miller?

     In 2013, Shane Franklin Miller, a twice convicted marijuana grower and distributor, lived with his 34-year-old wife Sandy and their two daughters in a two-story house surrounded by pine trees in northern California's Shasta County. The 45-year-old and his family resided in the rural community of Shingletown located 230 miles northeast of San Francisco. The Miller property was also home to a small flock of alpacas, two horses and a pony that grazed not far from the house. The Miller family kept to itself.

     At 7:45 on the evening of Tuesday, May 7, 2013, someone from the Miller household called 911 to report a shooting. Upon arrival at the Miller dwelling, deputies with the Shasta County Sheriff's Office discovered the dead bodies of an adult woman and two elementary school-aged girls. The victims, Sandy Miller and her daughters Shelly and Shasta, had each been shot several times. (Detectives believe the 911 call had been made by one of the victims.)

     Officers who searched the house, a shed, and the detached garage found several guns. They did not, however, find Shane Miller or his pickup truck. Shortly after the discovery of the mass murder scene, law enforcement officers in the region began looking for Shane Miller.

     Late on Wednesday, May 8, police officers in Humboldt County 200 miles west of the murder scene found Shane Miller's abandoned 2010 Dodge Mea Cab pickup. The gold-colored truck equipped with a camper shell was found near the town of Petrolia, California. Miller, who grew up in the forests and canyons of Humboldt County, owns a cabin in the area.

     Law enforcement officers involved in the manhunt for the man suspected of murdering his wife and two daughters consider him armed and dangerous. In 2002 Miller was convicted of possessing a machine gun as an ex-felon. Detectives have not identified a motive for the mass murder.

     On May 14, a week after the mass murder, the authorities, following a massive search, began scaling back the operation. Miller, if he is alive, is probably still hiding in the California wilderness. This could be one of those murder cases without a clear resolution, a case that remains a mystery.

Criminal Justice Quote: What is Crime?

     There is no real answer to the question, what is crime? There are popular ideas about crime: crime is bad behavior, antisocial behavior, blameworthy acts, and the like. But in a very basic sense, crime is a legal concept: what makes some conduct criminal, and other conduct not, is the fact that some, but not others, are "against the law."...

     All sorts of nasty acts and evil deeds are not against the law, and thus not crimes. These include most of the daily events that anger or irritate us, even those we might consider totally outrageous. Ordinary lying is not a crime; cheating on a wife or husband is not a crime; charging a huge markup at a restaurant or store is not, in general, a crime; psychological abuse is (mostly) not a crime.

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

Writing Quote: Isaac Asimov On Writer's Block

     The most serious problem a writer can face is "writer's block." This is a serious disease and when a writer has it he finds himself staring at a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter (or blank screen on the word processor) and can't do anything to unblank it. The words don't come. Or if they do, they are clearly unsuitable and are quickly torn up or erased. What's more, the disease is progressive, for the longer the inability to write continues, the more certain it is that it will continue to continue....

     A writer can't put anything on paper when there's nothing left (at least temporarily) in his mind. It may be, therefore, that writer's block is unavoidable and that at best a writer must pause every once in a while, for a shorter or longer interval, to let his mind fill up again.

Isaac Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994


Friday, May 17, 2013

Did State Department Officials Commit Involuntary Manslaughter in the Four Benghazi Deaths?

     There are, theoretically, two sets of perpetrators criminally responsible for the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the three Americans--Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone S. Woods--who fought the terrorists who attacked the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. These four men were murdered in the first degree by Islamist terrorists. State Department officials who knowingly, or at least recklessly failed to perform their duty to protect the Benghazi compound and its personnel could, theoretically, be prosecuted for negligent homicide. (This theoretical discussion of homicide law as applied to the Benghazi deaths does not take into consideration procedural issues of jurisdiction or sovereign immunity.)

     In many states involuntary manslaughter is also called negligent homicide. The offense involves victims who have been killed as a result of defendants' reckless or highly negligent behavior. For example, a drunk driver who runs over and kills a pedestrian will likely be charged with involuntary manslaughter. It is a lesser homicide offense because the culpable party did not intend to take a life. In most states, pursuant to sentencing guidelines, defendants found guilty of involuntary manslaughter are sentenced to 10 to 16 months in prison. Generally, the more reckless the behavior, the more serious the sentence.

     Take the hypothetical case of an apartment building fire that results in the death of a tenant. Assume that fire scene investigators determine that the blaze quickly raged out of control because of a sprinkler system that had fallen into disrepair. If fire safety inspectors had repeatedly cited the owner of the building with code violations pertaining to a faulty sprinkler system, broken fire-escapes, and blocked exit doors, the landlord could be held criminally culpable for the tenant's death. The appropriate charge would be involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. The landlord, by knowingly or recklessly putting his tenants at risk, had violated his legal duty to protect them from fire. In cases like this, prosecutors have to prove a direct causal link between the defendants' negligent behavior and the victims' deaths.

     In the weeks and months prior to the terrorist attack of the U. S. Consulate in Benghazi, State Department officials in Washington received a steady stream of warnings from the Ambassador and others that the Islamist threat in the region was severe, immediate, and growing. The CIA had warned the State Department that ten Islamist militias including members of Al Qaeda had set up training centers in Benghazi. Moreover, the consulate, already attacked by terrorists, was under constant enemy surveillance. British diplomats and their staff had already fled the city. American Red Cross personnel, feeling threatened by terrorism and political instability in the region, had also departed. Ambassador Stevens, aware of the impending danger, pleaded with State Department officials to send help in the form of added security.

     Under these conditions, a reasonable and prudent person would expect that security at the U. S. Consulate would either be beefed-up, or the foreign service personnel in harm's way would be pulled out of the danger zone. Instead, Ambassador Stevens received a State Department cable signed by Hillary Clinton proposing a scaling back of consulate security, a proposal that was carried out. Despite repeated requests for added protection, Ambassador Stevens and his people, already in harm's way, were placed, by their colleagues in Washington, into even greater danger. (While it is not necessary in criminal law to prove motive, the only explanation that makes any sense regarding why the State Department knowingly placed Ambassador Stevens and his people in such danger is politics.)

     Ranking State Department officials have a legal duty to protect the people they send to dangerous places. In the Benghazi case, these officials breached that responsibility. Unfortunately, no one will be held criminally responsible for not protecting these four Americans. A few low-level bureaucrats may lose their jobs while the people truly responsible for this dereliction of duty will probably not even be held politically accountable.

     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while testifying before a Congressional Committee on the Benghazi affair, said something to the effect, "Who cares how these men died?" Since I believe the Ambassador and the other three Americans were essentially murdered by politicians and bureaucrats, I found this comment not only ironic but offensive.

     It is not surprising that because of the Benghazi outrage and the other government scandals involving the IRS and the Department of Justice, an increasing number of citizens do not believe or trust politicians and bureaucrats and the political pundits and journalists who lie for them. Watergate involved the cover-up of two burglaries. Benghazi involves the cover-up of four homicides.


Criminal Justice Quote: The Sociopathic Criminal

     The criminal values people only insofar as they bend to his will or can be coerced or manipulated into doing what he wants. He has been this way since childhood, and by the time he is an adult he has a self-centered view of the world in which he believes that he is entitled to whatever he wants. Constantly he is sizing up his prospects for exploiting people and situations. To him the world is a chessboard, with other people serving as pawns to gratify his desires. This view of life is not only expressed in his actions but also pervades his fantasies.

     The criminal conjures up visions of himself as a super-criminal, dramatically pulling off big scores that outdo the exploits of the most legendary figures. Typical of his fantasies are masterminding a worldwide diamond smuggling operation, working for a syndicate as a hit man, and living lavishly from the proceeds of multimillion-dollar holdups. By no means limiting his fantasies to crime, the criminal fancies himself at the top of the heap in any undertaking. He is the medal of honor combat hero, the secret agent, or the sleuth who cracks a murder case that has stymied an entire police department. He also envisions himself as the self-made millionaire luxuriating in a palatial seaside home, with his Rolls Royce, harem of women, retinue of servants, private jet, and yacht.

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

Writing Quotes: Isaac Asimov on Style

I have deliberately cultivated a simple and even colloquial style....In the past, virtually all writing was ornate. Read a Victorian novel, for instance. Read even Dickens, the best of all the Victorians. It is only comparatively recently that writing has, in the hands of some writers, become simple and clear....But how does one go about writing clearly? I don't know. I presume you have to start with an orderly mind and a knack for marshaling your thoughts so that you know exactly what you want to say. Beyond that, I am helpless.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992), I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994    

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Leila Fowler Murder Case

     Barry Fowler lived with his fiancee and his three children in Valley Springs, a central California town of 7,500 60 miles southeast of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

     On Saturday evening, April 27, 2013, Barry Fowler's 12-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter were home alone while he attended a little league baseball game. That evening, Crystal Walters, the children's mother, received a call from her son who reported that an intruder had just run out of the house. Crystal called 911 and informed the dispatcher that, "My children are at home alone and a man just ran out of our house. My older son was in the bathroom and my daughter started screaming. He [the boy] came out and a man was in the house. They [the children] said they're okay. My daugher is freaking out right now." (It is not clear if the mother also spoke to her daughter about the incident.)

     Deputies with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, upon arrival at the Fowler house, found the 8-year-old girl, Leila Fowler, bleeding to death from several stab wounds. (She died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital. Based on the context of Crystal Walter's 911 call, I presume Leila was stabbed sometime between her brother's call to their mother and the arrival of the police.)

     The victim's 12-year-old brother described the intruder as a tall man with long, gray hair. At some point after the man ran off, the boy discovered his dying sister. (I don't know if crime scene investigators recovered a bloody knife, made a blood spatter analysis, or collected the clothing worn by the brother.) According to media reports, the officers found no evidence that theft had been a motive for the intrusion. Moreover, there was no physical evidence of a break-in. (The intruder could have gained entry by knocking on the door.)

     The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy determined the cause of death to be shock and bleeding. The manner of death, of course, was homicide by stabbing.

     Investigators with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office, operating on the intruder theory, launched a massive manhunt for Leila Fowler's killer. The investigation included rounding up and questioning the area's registered sex offenders. With a murderous home invader on the loose, residents of the community locked their doors and loaded their guns.

     A week or so into the murder investigation, rumors surfaced that detectives now considered the Fowler boy as their prime suspect. On May 11, two weeks after the murder, deputies arrested the victim's 12-year-old brother. Detectives also searched the Fowler house and walked away with several knives. (This suggests they did not have the murder weapon.) Charged as an adult with second degree murder, the Fowler boy was placed into a juvenile detention center.

     At a press conference following the boy's arrest, Sheriff Gary Kuntz said, "Citizens of Calaveras County, you can sleep a little better tonight."

     On May 13, two days after the arrest, the murder suspect's father told an Associated Press reporter that he will believe his son is innocent until he sees evidence that proves otherwise. "If they have the evidence, well that's another story. We're an honest family," Barry Fowler said. (I presume that detectives interrogated the boy without acquiring a confession.)

     On May 15, 2013, after a closed juvenile hearing, attorney Mark Reichel, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter, said that his young client may have lied about encountering a long-haried man in the house. Reichel added that such an admission is not evidence of the boy's guilt. "How does a 12-year-old commit the perfect crime?" he asked. (I wonder how a guilty kid his age could withstand police questioning without confessing or at least giving himself away.)

     The murder suspect's second attorney, Steve Presser, raised doubts that his client was old enough to assist in his own defense. "Can a 12-year-old be psychologically, intellectually, and emotionally mature enough to aid his attorneys in defending himself against the most serious of charges? We have no reason to have any doubts about our client's innocence," he said. "We have questions. Why do the police think the minor did this?...And how did it not lead to an immediate arrest and take 2,000 hours of resources by the sheriff's office and the FBI?" 

Criminal Justice Quote: Mafia Violence

The history of the Mafia is a history of bloodshed and murder. Consider the poor bastard who ran afoul of some members of the Gambino crime family. They cut some holes in him, hung him over a bathtub, and drained all the blood out of his body. These are not rare occurrences or unusual crimes. Wiseguys routinely commit acts of nauseating grisliness. Forget about when someone is already dead and they cut up his body with chain saws and butcher knives like they were carving up a side of beef. We're talking about what they do to people when they are still alive. All sorts of body parts are cut off....Eyes have been gouged out, heads caved in, bones sledge-hammered, and bodies crushed. Weapons include golf clubs, steel bars, brass knuckles, baseball bats. Blood literally runs in little rivers when wiseguys decide to use knives and even swords. Guns, of course, are the most common weapon, and the most humane. A couple of quick ones to the back of the head makes you one of the lucky ones.

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

Writing Quote: What's Real in Fiction and Nonfiction

     I have long been intrigued by how often readers of fiction want to know which parts really happened to the author, whereas readers of nonfiction want to know which parts are made up. In both cases...there is a vague implication that the authors are cheating.

     These seemingly paradoxical obsessions, I think, reflect a universal human desire to distinguish what's real, in order to make sense of potentially overwhelming sensory experience. The ultimate reality is that we can't truly distinguish what's "real" in our perceptions, any more than nonfiction authors can avoid shaping "reality" by the way they recount events or fiction writers can avoid drawing on personal experience when ostensibly making up stories.

Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, 2013 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writer's Bulletin: Survivor Winner John Cochran and Why Almost Every Celebrity "Writes" a Book

     John Cochran, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, is the new winner of the TV reality show Survivor: Caramoan (Philippines). Last year Cochran, a self-described nerd, came up short as a contestant on Survivor: South Pacific. As a result of his extended media exposure, he currently qualifies as a D-list television celebrity. This means he will probably spend the rest of his life trying to maintain that status. For most people, the taste of even minor fame ends up being a life-long curse.

     Survivor host Jeff Probst, after announcing the winner of the million dollars that comes with the title  "sole survivor", asked Mr. Cochran if he intended to practice law now that season 26 has come to an end. In other words, was he returning to a real-life existence. Cochran, a fan of the show since he was thirteen, predictably answered that he was not entering the field of law. In response to Probst's inquiry as to where the new reality TV star was going from here, Cochran said he'd like to write. The man who  had outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted his reality TV competitors, in explaining why he thought he had the talent to write, said, "I have the gift of gab." Well there you go. If you can talk you can write. But what would a person who has spent his entire life in a classroom write about?

     Because the vast majority of real writers--people who can write and have acquired expertise in a subject or field they can write about--are not famous. And publishers don't have the money to turn them into celebrities through advertising, book-tours, and publicists. For that reason, nobody knows about their books. Most real writers need day jobs to survive and support their writing.

     Publishers love celebrities because they don't have to spend money to make them famous. Celebrity worshipers will come to their book-signing events for photo-ops and autographs. The book on sale is nothing more than a souvenir. Celebrity journalists will invite them to appear on TV shows to talk about and promote their vacuous books.

     The fact that many celebrities can barely read let alone write is not a problem because real writers can be hired to write their books for them. A few celebrities have even published book-length fiction written by professional novelists. In the celebrity drivel genre, the lines between nonfiction and fiction are blurred anyway.

     You don't have to be Sylvia Browne to predict what's coming next for sole survivor Cochran. In a few short months some ghost-writer will crank out  a book with the newly-minted celebrity's name on the cover. The work will probably be marketed as an inspirational memoir encouraging socially awkward geeks to follow their dreams. (I weep for the tree that will die for this one.)

     Mr. Cochran's memoir/inspirational book will come in handy when he joins the celebrity motivational speaker circuit. When that string begins to run out and his fame starts to fade, Cochran will have to come up with an idea for a second ghost-written book. (Maybe the ghost writer will give him the idea.) If Cochran follows the footsteps of other D-celebrities on the decline, his second book will be some kind of tell-all that reveals just enough to rekindle his sagging career as a celebrity. His fans will read about how he struggled and overcame some problem such as drugs, alcohol, fame, self-esteem, binge eating, depression, or some illness. It will be, of course, motivational. If he can help just one person--that kind of book.

     While the last thing we need in America is another lawyer, we need a couple of newly ghost-written celebrity books even less. I would advise Mr. Cochran to exchange reality TV for simple reality. He has a law degree from Harvard that cost someone a lot of money. He should find some way to use it.

Criminal Justice Quote: Criminal Interrogations

     There is a gross misconception, generated and perpetuated by fiction writers, movies, and TV, that if criminal investigators carefully examine a crime scene, they will almost always find a clue that will lead them to the offender, and that, furthermore, once the criminal is located, he will readily confess or otherwise reveal guilt, as by attempting to escape. This however, is pure fiction.

     As a matter of fact, the art and science of criminal investigation have not developed to a point where the search for an the examination of physical evidence will always, or even in most cases, reveal a clue to the identify of the perpetrator or provide the necessary legal proof of guilt. In criminal investigations there are many instances where physical clues are entirely absent, and the only approach to a possible solution of the crime is the interrogation of the criminal suspect. Moreover, in most instances, these interrogations must be conducted under conditions of privacy and for a reasonable period of time. They also frequently require the use of psychological tactics and techniques that could well be classified as "unethical," if we are to evaluate them in terms of ordinary, everyday social behavior. [Examples of "unethical" behavior would include referring to incriminating evidence that doesn't exist. Criminal interrogators don't call this lying, they call it acting.]

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogations and Confessions, 1986

Writing Quote: Dealing With Rejection

Lee Pennington has been published in more than 300 magazines--and rejected so many thousand times that in one six-month period he papered al four walls of a room with rejection slips. ("I loved getting the 8 by 11 rejections more than the 3 by 5 ones because they covered more space.) He has also filled scrapbooks with rejection slips, used them for coasters, and given rejection parties--invitations written on the back of rejection slips. 

[I have received form rejections letters a year after the books in question were published by other publishers.]

Rotten Reviews & Rejections, 1998

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Should Parents Search Their Children's Rooms?

     In Tempe, Arizona, a cleaning lady, in May 2013, discovered what looked like an improvised explosive device (IED) in an 18-year-old boy's bedroom. She took the suspicious-looking object to the local fire station where it was x-rayed and determined to be a live bomb capable of detonation. Members of a bomb squad disabled the device. While not a big IED, the bomb was powerful enough to  destroy property and even kill people.

     The cleaning lady, when questioned by detectives, showed them photographs she had taken of other items in Joshua Prater's room that included bomb-making materials. Police officers, after searching Prater's room, took him into custody. He has been charged with possession of an explosive device. Bomb making is dangerous business. This kid is lucky he didn't blow up his room and himself.

     According to media reports, the bomb-marker's parents told detectives that friends of their son's taught him how to make IEDs. (The old bad-influence defense.) While it is hard to imagine parents who would allow their child to build bombs in his room, it is not clear if these parents knew what their son was up to before the cleaning lady took action.

     This story makes you wonder if today's parents know what their children are doing. It also raises the touchy issue of whether or not parents should regularly search their kids' rooms. I think they should. While invading their child's privacy may make many parents feel guilty, they should do it anyway. This form of parental control will also create a lot of outrage and angst. Nobody likes to be compared to Hitler.

     Recent studies have shown that kids today have extremely high opinions of themselves. (I blame this on Mr. Rogers.) They also feel entitled to things they are unwilling to work for. Parents should remind themselves that children are notorious liars, and profoundly ignorant of how things work in real life. Kids think they know everything because they know so little.

     In a parent's home, a child has no legal right to privacy. In the domestic environment, parents are the cops, prosecutors, and judges They have a right to know, and the duty to find out, if their kids have drugs, pornography, guns, or bombs in their rooms. And the only way to be absolutely certain that they do not possess these things involves periodic searches. Children should not be allowed to lock their doors. If they do have locks, parents should have the keys. Kids need to know that privacy is for adults. When they live in their own homes and clean their own rooms, mom and dad can be locked out.



Criminal Justice Quote: Bad Schools Don't Create Criminals

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Last Words of Executed Prisoners

I just want everyone to know that the prosecutor is a sorry son-of-a-bitch.

Edward Ellis, executed March 3, 1992

Writing Quote: The Humiliating Life Of The Writer

Humiliation is not, of course, unique to writers. However, the world of letters does seem to offer a near-perfect microclimate for embarrassment and shame. There is something about the conjunction of high-mindedness and low income that is inherently comic; something about the presentation of deeply private thoughts--carefully worked and honed into art over the years--to a public audience of strangers, that strays perilously close to tragedy. It is entirely possible, I believe, to reverse Auden's dictum that "art is born out of humiliation."

Robin Robertson, editor, Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame, 2004

Monday, May 13, 2013

David Tarloff and the Insanity Defense: Just How Crazy Was He?

     Psychiatrists diagnosed David Tarloff with schizophrenia in 1991 when the 23-year-old was in college. Over the next seventeen years, the Queens, New York resident, on twelve occasions, ended up in a hospital mental ward. There was no question that the man was mentally ill.

     Tarloff lived with his mother in a Queens apartment until 2004 when she moved into a nursing home. By 2008, the 40-year-old schizophrenic had convinced himself that his mother was being abused by nursing home personnel. That's when he concocted a plan to rob Dr. Kent Shinbach, the psychiatrist who had initially treated him in 1991. With the money he hoped to acquire by using the doctor's ATM code, Tarloff planned to pull his mother out of the nursing home and take her away to Hawaii.

     In February 2008, after making several phone inquiries, Tarloff learned that Dr. Shinback had offices on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In preparation for the robbery, Tarloff purchased a rubber meat mallet and a cleaver that he packed into a suitcase filled with adult diapers and clothing for his mother.

     On February 8, 2008, Tarloff showed up at  Dr. Shinbach's office armed with the meat cleaver and the mallet. But instead of encountering his robbery target, he was confronted by Dr. Kathryn Faughey, the 56-year-old psychotherapist who shared office space with Dr. Shinbach.

    In the Manhattan doctor's office, Tarloff smashed Faughey's skull with the mallet, then hacked her to death with the meat cleaver. He also attacked Dr. Shinbach when the psychiatrist tried to rescue his colleague. Tarloff fled the bloody scene on foot and was taken into custody shortly thereafter. Dr. Shinback survived his wounds.

     The Manhattan District Attorneys Office charged Tarloff with first degree murder. The defendant's attorney acknowledged what his client had done, but pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. If a jury found that at the moment Tarloff killed Dr. Faughey, he was so mentally ill he couldn't appreciate the nature and quality of his act, they could return a verdict of not guilty. Instead of serving a fixed prison term, Tarloff would be placed into an institution for the criminally insane. The length of his incarceration would be determined by the doctors who treated him. If at some point the psychiatrists considered him sane enough for society, he could be discharged from the mental institution. (It is for this reason that most jurors are uncomfortable with the insanity defense, particularly in cases of extreme violence.)

     Under American law, criminal defendants are presumed innocent and sane. That means the prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense, in insanity cases, has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence (a less rigorous standard of proof) that the defendant was out of touch with reality when he committed the homicide. Since even seriously psychotic murder defendants are aware they are killing their victims, not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts are rare. This is particularly true in rural communities where jurors prefer to send mentally ill murderers to prison.

     David Tarloff's murder trial got underway in March 2013. A month later, following the testimony of a set of dueling psychiatrists, the case went to the jury. After ten days of deliberation, the jury foreman informed the judge that the panel had not been able to reach an unanimous verdict of guilt. The trial judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor in charge of the case announced his intention to try David Tarloff again. Cases like this tend to be won or lost in the jury selection process. Given the history of the insanity defense, the odds of a guilty verdict favors the prosecution. The prosecutor, the second time around, will probably beef-up his roster of psychiatric witnesses. 

Criminal Justice Quote: What Causes Schizophrenia?

There is no question that psychiatric problems can be inherited--we know this from studies comparing identical twins with fraternal twins. Identical twins are genetically the same, meaning that they share 100 percent of their DNA, whereas nonidentical (fraternal) twins share only 50 percent of their genes. Studies looking at the concordance rate of schizophrenia--that is, how commonly both siblings develop the same disorder--have found a concordance rate of 10 percent in nonidentical twins, versus 40 percent in identical twins. This implies that genetics plays a significant role in schizophrenia. But what is that role? Answering that question has been devilishly hard, and the latest landmark study found that we are much further away from identifying such genes than we ever thought.

Dr. Daniel J. Carlat, Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry, 2010

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Writing Quote: The Shared Experiences of Writers

Writers have helped me when members of my own family could not. Some writers have been closer than dear friends, even though I never have seen them in the flesh. For example, when I have read some of Somerset Maugham and his The Summing Up, the lucidity of his view of the writing profession illuminated dusky corners in my mind....I have been helped by other writers.

Margaret Culkin Banning, in Writer's Roundtable, 1959 

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime in Black Communities

     Experiencing a violent crime rate of 2,137 per 100,000 of the population, Detroit is the nation's most dangerous city. Rounding out Forbes Magazine's 2012 list of the 10 most dangerous cities are St. Louis, Oakland, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Baltimore, Stockton, Cleveland, and Buffalo....In most of these cities, blacks have been mayors, chiefs of police, school superintendents and principals and have dominated city councils....

     Law-abiding poor black people suffer the nation's highest rates of criminal victimization from assaults and homicides. More than 50 percent of homicide victims are black.

     In addition to victimization, the level of lawlessness in many black communities has the full effect of a law banning economic growth. That's because the thugs are equal-opportunity thugs who will rip off a black-owned business just as they'd rip off a white-owned business....

Walter Williams, columnist, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Keith Richards and Drugs

I've never had a problem with drugs. I did have a problem with cops.

Keith Richards, "The Rolling Stones"

Psychic Detective Sylvia Browne Pronounced Amanda Berry Dead on the Montel Williams Show

     The biggest load of crap I can envision is a bus-full of psychic detectives en route to a charlatan convention in Las Vegas. Real detectives who give these frauds credibility by consulting them should be busted back to the street for wasting time and taxpayer money.

     A study in England published in 1996 pitted people who claimed to be psychic detectives against undergraduate psychology students. Each participant in the experiment was handed an item from a real crime scene and asked to utter whatever popped into their minds regarding the offense. As it turned out, the psychics as well as the students did no better at making accurate comments than could be expected  from mere chance. The results of this study showed that the only difference between a psychic and an ordinary person is the ability to act, and to lie with a straight face. Over the years, similar findings that discredit psychics have been replicated numerous times by other researchers. (Conducting a serious study to determine if psychics are bogus is like conducting a massive study to confirm that the earth is round.)

     In the wake of the Cleveland kidnapping case, it has been revealed that in 2004 the celebrity psychic detective Sylvia Browne, appearing on the "Montel Williams Show," told Amanda Berry's mother Louwana Miller that her daughter was "in heaven and on the other side" when in fact she was living in hell in Cleveland, Ohio. According to psychic Browne, Amanda Berry's last words were, "Goodbye, mom, I love you." (Over the years Browne has been a regular on the Montel Williams program.)

     Earlier this year, Sylvia Browne told a Fox columnist that her "God-given gift" was her DNA. "I was just born this way," she said, straight-faced. Revealing her deep love of self, pathological phoniness, and gift for the absurd, Browne continued: "Why did Beethoven create symphonies and everything? (I'm a big fan of Beethoven's everything.) Why did he play the piano when he was three years old? I was just born with this. My grandmother and my mother was and my son is, and we go back 300 years. It may be a genetic thing." (Perhaps DNA researchers have found the BS gene.)

     Given the fact that so many Americans believe in ghosts, big-foot, flying saucers, Elvis sightings and the like, I doubt Sylvia Browne's Amanda Berry misfire will knock her off television. That's my unpsychic prediction. I don't have it, my mother didn't have it, and neither does my son. And I don't know anyone whose family doesn't go back 300 years.

     If there ever would be a bus full of psychic detectives rolling toward a charlatan convention in Las Vegas, Sylvia Browne would be driving the vehicle wearing a blindfold with peep holes.