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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: How Arsonists Set Fires

Arsonists hardly ever simply strike a match to light a fire, using any combustible material at hand such as a piece of paper or a curtain. Such a course of action is too uncertain, since a fire lit in this way may burn itself out very quickly. Usually, an accelerant is used. A flammable liquid such as kerosene [or gasoline] is poured over a wide area of carpets and furnishings, before the match is applied. This ensures that a hot fire will follow and that the building be ablaze long before any firefighters arrive. However, what most arsonists do no know is that traces of such accelerants can be detected, even after the fire has destroyed the building. Small amounts of accelerant will seep into carpets, floorboards, plaster, brickwork and other materials and will not be consumed by the fire. The cooling effect of the water used to quench [extinguish] the fire will slow down the rate of evaporation of the accelerant and enough will usually remain to be detected.

Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu, Forensics, 2012 

Writing Quote: Movies About Writers

     Writers like watching movies about themselves. It gives us something to do. My doctor father used to scoff at movies about doctors because he was always finding fault with some diagnosis or treatment. I don't know how cops or lawyers feel about their portrayals. Politicians are usually shown as corruptible. Teachers as sad. Writers are variously crazy (Jack Nicholson in "The Shining"), reckless (Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys"), cranky (Van Johnson in "23 Paces to Baker Street"), self-destructive (Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend"), without principle (William Holden in "Sunset Boulevard") and/or flailing (Paul Giamatti in "Sideways"). Nothing to argue with, really.

     What we are not shown doing in movies is writing. Composers are shown composing because we can listen to their flights of fancy on the soundtrack. Painters are shown painting because one can actually see art in progress. Kirk Douglas did some very good van Gogh impressions. Ed Harris went so hog wild in "Pollock," one was tempted to go out and buy an original Harris. But writers are rarely shown laboring at the craft....I suppose there's nothing visually dramatic in what we do, though we can get quite worked up about crumpling little balls of paper, tossing them on the floor, then turning our heads this way and sometimes that.

Roger Rosenblatt, 2013   

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: According to Criminalist Dr. Lonnie Athens Violent Behavior is Not a Psychological Trait

[Criminologist Dr. Lonnie] Athens emphasizes and reemphasizes that violentization is a social process, requiring interaction with others, and that as such it changes over time. Psychological processes are obviously involved in the conversion of a brutalized novice into a dangerous violent criminal, but these do not harden into enduring psychological traits: "Psychologists have been caught up for over a half a century in a rather vain quest to discover the psychological traits which distinguish violent and nascent violent criminals from ordinary people. This quest has been stymied in no small part because the psychological traits, or more precisely, psychological processes, which violent criminals manifest do not remain constant, but change as they undergo new social experiences over the course of their violence development."

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

Writing Quote: Stephen King on Moral Fiction

     I've written a lot of stories about desperate people in desperate situations, and it gets to the point where you say to yourself: Here's a guy who's building something in his garage. He's all by himself, and he's hammering a nail into the board and hits his thumb instead, and blood spurts out. Now, does this guy say, "Oh, pickles"? Use your imagination. In other words, what I'm talking about is telling the truth. Frank Norris, who wrote The Pit, McTeague, and other naturalistic novels that were banned said: "I don't fear; I don't apologize because I know in my heart that I never lied. I told the truth." And I think the real truth of fiction is that fiction is the truth; moral fiction is the truth inside the lie. And if you lie in your fiction, you are immoral and have no business writing at all.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dr. Barbara Kirwin on Forensic Psychology

The profession of forensic psychology, a recent fusion of psychology and the law, is practiced by a minority of licensed psychologists in the United States and taught in a handful of graduate programs....I use the traditional tools of my trade--trained observation, clinical interviews, detailed history-taking, and psychological tests--combined with the street smarts I've gained as a narcotics parole officer and by interviewing hundreds of murderers. But sometimes I must rely on psychological guerrilla tactics, like agreeing with a psychotic's delusions, entering his hallucinations, or stoking a defendant's enthusiasm about drugs, sex, or guns. In these ways, I cull the killers who have no inkling of the wrongfulness of their crime from those who know exactly what they have done. In other words, I try to separate the mad from the bad.

Dr. Barbara R. Kirwin, The Mad, The Bad, and the Innocent, 1997

Writing Quote: Gore Vidal on Fame

Recently, I observed to [an interviewer] that I was once a famous novelist. When assured, politely, that I was still known and read, I explained myself. I was speaking, I said, not of me but of a category to which I once belonged that no longer exists. I am still here, but my category is not. To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker, or speedboat designer.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012), Screening History, 1992

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Murderer Kimberly McCarthy Dies by Lethal Injection

     In 1997, 36-year-old Kimberly LaGayle McCarthy, a nursing home occupational therapist living in Lancaster, Texas fifteen miles south of Dallas, was hooked on crack cocaine. Married to Aaron Michaels, the founder of the New Black Panther Party, McCarthy possessed a criminal record that included forgery, prostitution, and theft of services. She and Michaels had one child, a son.

     On July 21, 1997, McCarthy telephoned her neighbor, Dorothy Booth, to inform her she was coming to Booth's house to borrow a cup of sugar. In reality, the purpose of the visit was to murder and rob the 71-year-old former El Centro College psychology professor. In Booth's home, McCarthy stabbed the victim five times with a 10-inch butcher's knife before repeatedly clubbing the dying woman with a heavy candelabrum.

     In stealing the victim's diamond wedding ring, McCarthy used the big knife to cut off Booth's finger. In possession of the murder victim's credit cards and ring, McCarthy drove from the murder scene to a pawn shop in Booth's Mercedes-Benz. The next day, police officers booked McCarthy into the Dallas County Jail on the charge of murder.

     The McCarthy case went to trial a year after the brutal, cold-blooded murder. The defendant's attorney tried to convince the jury that the victim had been murdered by a pair of unnamed drug dealers. The prosecution, however, linked the defendant to the murder knife through DNA analysis. Following a short deliberation, the jury found McCarthy guilty as charged.

     At the sentencing hearing, the Dallas County District Attorney, through DNA evidence, connected McCarthy to two similar murders committed in December 1988. Maggie Harding, 81-years-old, had been stabbed with a knife then clubbed with a meat tenderizing mallet. Jettie Lucas, 85, had been stabbed then beaten with a claw hammer. Both victims had been robbed. (Although indicted in both of these cases, McCarthy did not go to trial for these murders.)

     On November 24, 1998, the judge who had presided over McCarthy's murder trial, sentenced her to die by lethal injection. McCarthy would spend the next fifteen years living on death row at the Texas state prison in Huntsville, Texas.

     As is common practice in death penalty cases, McCarthy's legal team filed a series of appeals. In 2002, a federal appellate court granted McCarthy a new trial. The Dallas County District Attorney, relying on the DNA evidence connecting the defendant to the Booth murder scene, re-tried McCarthy a few months after the appeals court decision. The second jury required little time in finding her guilty. The judge presiding over the second trial sentenced her to death.

     In July 2002, four years after Dorothy Booth's murder, McCarthy's attorneys, having exhausted all other appellate remedies, asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their client's appeal. The high court declined to entertain the condemned woman's case. The prison authorities in Texas set McCarthy's execution for January 29, 2013.

     On January 29, 2013, a few hours before McCarthy's appointment with Huntsville's executioner, the governor granted the 52-year-old prisoner a temporary stay of execution. A month before the new execution date, April 3, 2013, the lethal injection was re-scheduled for June 26, 2013.

     At 6:27 in the evening of June 26, twenty minutes after the executioner administered the lethal dose, a doctor pronounced Kimberly McCarthy dead. The execution was witnessed by the murder victim's daughter, granddaughter, and godson. The executed woman's attorney, University of Texas Law Professor Maurie Levin, told reporters that her client's case had been plagued by "shameful errors" of racial bias during the jury selection phase of McCarthy's trials. Levin also claimed that McCarthy's had been denied effective legal representation.

     Kimberly McCarthy was the first woman executed in the United States since 2010. Thirteen women, since 1976, have been put to death. During this period, executioners across the country have dispatched 1,300 men. Nationwide, there are currently 63 women on death row. 

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

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

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

The Monday Murder Club, Miscellany of Murder, 2011

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A House Burglar's Bump in the Night

     Ross Wilson, a man in his mid-forties with six children who didn't live with him, resided in a rental house in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Fairfield, a suburb of Hamilton on New Zealand's Northern Island. Mr. Wilson, who worked at a sales job in Hamilton, had, within the past year, moved to Fairfield from Porirua, Wellington, New Zealand. He recently told his relatives that he hated living among drug dealers and other criminals but couldn't afford a safer neighborhood.

     In March 2013, after someone broke into his house, Mr. Wilson posted the following on his Facebook page: "To the scumbag who burgled my house--I hope I'm there to watch when Karma comes and [screws] you up."

     Just after midnight on June 19, 2013, Tom Smith [not his real name], broke into Ross Wilson's house. As the 21-year-old burglar crept through the dark, he bumped into Mr. Wilson's corpse as it hung from the end of a rope. The thief screamed so loud, several of Mr. Wilson's neighbors called 911 to report a domestic disturbance. The terrified burglar ran out of the house. When he arrived at his own place of residence, Smith called the police and reported what he had encountered at the scene of his crime.

     The Hamilton County police believe that Mr. Wilson had hanged himself a couple of days before Smith's criminal intrusion. A few of Mr. Wilson's relatives have urged the local prosecutor to charge Smith with burglary. Because Smith had been scared witless, the authorities have decided not to bring charges against him even though he has been in trouble with the law. The local police hope that this burglar has been scared straight by his deceased burglary victim. 

Writing Quote: Stephen King on Fear

How many things are we afraid of? We're afraid to turn off the lights when our hands are wet. We're afraid to stick a knife into the toaster to get the stuck English muffin without unplugging it first. We're afraid of what the doctor may tell us when the physical exam is over; when the airplane suddenly takes a great unearthly lurch in midair. We're afraid that the oil may run out, that the good air will run out, the good water, the good life. When the daughter promised to be in by eleven and it's now quarter past twelve and sleet is spatting against the window like dry sand, we sit and pretend to watch Johnny Carson and look occasionally at the mute telephone and we feel the emotion...that makes a stealthy ruin of the thinking process.

Stephen King, Secret Windows: Essays and Fiction on the Craft of Writing, 2000

Criminal Justice Quote: Unqualified Criminal Profilers

     Only proper data collection and thorough research can bring credibility to [forensic behavioral] profiling....Currently, there are no professional standards or licensing requirements for this line of work. When self-proclaimed profilers repeat the same terminology as qualified profilers, detectives, the media, and the public believe them.

     For example, my research on five hundred-plus serial murder cases shows that most serial killers are not clever at alluding police; they get caught through their own mistakes or a tip from the public. My work has also found that serial killers are consistent in their behaviors over time. These conclusions challenge cherished myths, myths that many have exploited for ill-gotten gain by charlatans masquerading as scientific profilers. What is really sad is how many in the media and law enforcement believe them, and how many lives are lost as a result.

Dr. Maurice Godwin, Trackers: Hunting Down Serial Killers, 2005

Monday, June 24, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

     "No satisfaction?" the defense attorney asked.

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Is the Death Penalty Fairly Administered?

A majority of Americans accept or even favor life in prison without parole as an alternative to execution. It is the uneven application of the death penalty that will spell its downfall; the nature of the crime has become far less important than the zeal of prosecutors and where they practice. Even within the same state, a rural county can have five people on death row, which might be exactly the same number as an adjacent urban county with ten times the population and 200 times the number of murders.

Abraham Verghese, professor of medicine, 2000

Writing Quote: The Five Ws in Modern Journalism

[Print and TV] reporters in journalism textbooks try to provide readers and viewers with what they need to know and try to produce stories that answer Who?, What?, When?, Where?, and Why? Journalists in real world news markets are driven, either consciously or indirectly, to produce stories that are generated by a different set of Five Ws: Who cares about information? What are they willing to pay, or others willing to pay to reach them? Where can media outlets and advertisers reach them? When is this profitable? Why is it profitable? These economic concerns help predict media content and explain why information in news reports differs from an accounting of a day's most significant events.

James T. Hamilton, All the News That's Fit to Sell, 2004

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Black Forest Wildfire: An Arson-Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Criminal Justice Quote: Spilled Blood in Crime and Literature

     Blood is the great bedrock of forensic science, the foundation of murder detection itself. When a body is found, very often death from natural causes can be assumed. But if blood is discovered on the corpse, the the ugly question of murder arises.

     Most murders involve the spilling of blood, and from earliest times the written records abound with references to that red substance which pumps through all our veins and arteries. The Bible is full of allusions to blood: the spilling of blood, blood sacrifice and so on. Shakespeare too had his way with blood--blood feuds, ties of blood, blood-lust, blood money--and who can forget Lady Macbeth's obsession with the blood of her victim?

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Cost of Freedom

Freedom in America works best for those who can afford it. As the fellow said in The Grapes of Wrath, "You're just as free as you've got Jack to pay for it." It is not as much an idea as a commodity. It is not as much a liberated state of being as it is an item on the shelf that, along with the purchaser, may be purchased. It is not as much a right as a component of commerce.

Gerry Spence, From Freedom to Slavery, 1993

Writing Quote: Headlines Over Content

An inescapable truism about journalism is that form dictates content. The form of journalism--gimme a headline, gimme a story in the next hour or two, and gimme it in 500 or 250 words--subverts the content. It's easy for someone who is allowed 20,000 words and months to report a New Yorker story to say this, but it's nevertheless true that most editors don't allow reporters enough time or space to get a story's facts and context right.

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

Friday, June 21, 2013

Aaron Hernandez and the Murder of Odin Lloyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: The Serial Killer Hysteria of the 1980s

     Psychiatry is not to blame for the emergence of the late-twentieth-century fictional monster known as the serial killer, but the psychiatric concept of criminal violence as an unconsciously motivated explosion of rage bolsters the credibility of what is in fact a bureaucratic invention....

     Ultraviolent criminals sometimes commit a series of murders....Such serial homicides are enacted most commonly by violent drug dealers, professional murderers and armed robbers in the course of doing business....The notion of an irrational, predatory "serial killer" emerged in the early 1980s amid widespread hysteria about dangers to children from pornographers, satanic cults, lethal day-care centers and kidnappers....The 1983 [Senate] hearings on child kidnapping and serial homicide by the Juvenile Justice Subcommitee, chaired by Senator Arlen Spector, [was] the public forum from which emerged the popular notion of a multitude of predatory serial killers scourging the land....

     Specter's subcommittee estimated that there had been as many as 3,600 "random and senseless [serial] murders" in 1981; by the time that number had whispered its way around the circle of public discussion, it was inflated to estimates of 4,000 or 5,000 serial-killer victims per year ( out of about 23,000 total U. S. homicides)....The actual number of [serial killer] victims is closer to two hundred a year. [That may have been true in the 80s and 90s, but the number of yearly victims is now much lower than 200.]

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999 

Writing Quote: Slow Writers

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham

[If it takes a month to write the first paragraph, maybe this writer should be doing something else. Short of that, maybe she should start out with the second paragraph, then call it the first.] 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Searching for Jimmy Hoffa: Who Cares Where He Is?

     In 1967, in a Chattanooga, Tennessee courtroom, a federal jury found Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa guilty of pension fraud and jury tampering. Four years later, another crook, Richard Nixon, pardoned him. While serving his time in prison, Hoffa lost control of the mobbed-up union and all of the Teamster union's pension money.

     On July 30, 1975, the 62-year-old ex-union boss disappeared. Hoffa was last seen outside a Detroit area restaurant getting into a car occupied by several men. At the time, the FBI presumed that Hoffa had been the victim of a contract murder orchestrated by a crime boss who didn't want to relinquish control of the Teamsters union, and all of that easy money.

     Earlier this year, a reputed mobster in his 80s, Tony Zerilli, told a New York City TV reporter that Detroit based organized crime figures wanted the ex-Teamsters boss dead. Mafia hit men had lured Hoffa to a meeting at the Machus Red Fox Restaurant, abducted him, and drove him to a farm owned by a mob underboss. According to Zerilli, the killers dragged the bound and gagged Hoffa out of the car, hit him with a shovel, then buried him alive under a cement slab in the barn.

     In June 2013, FBI agents, convinced that Tony Zerilli's information was "highly credible," were once again looking for Hoffa's remains. Agents, a cadaver-sniffing dog, and two forensic anthropologists from Michigan State University, were at the possible burial site located in Oakland Township twenty miles north of where Hoffa was last seen.

     For decades, people have joked about Hoffa resting in peace beneath a Meadowlands stadium end-zone in New Jersey just outside of New York. The basis of this speculation incorporates the common wisdom that New Jersey crime boss Anthony Provensano of the Genovese family had arranged the hit.

     Last October, FBI agents took soil samples from the yard of a home in suburban Detroit. The search was launched by a tipster who claimed he had seen a body buried in that yard one day after Hoffa's disappearance. Nothing came of that search.

     On Wednesday, June 19, 2013, following three days of digging, FBI agents, the cadaver dog, and the scientists left the Oakland Township site without finding Jimmy Hoffa's remains.,

     All of the mobsters who have been linked to Hoffa's abduction, murder, and burial are dead. This makes, in my view, the search for his remains 38 years after his death a waste of the FBI's time. These government resources should be applied to missing person and homicide cases that are still fresh, criminal investigations that could produce meaningful results.

     Jimmy Hoffa was a mobster murdered by mobsters in a bygone era. At this late date, what difference does it make where his bones are buried? I miss not thinking of Jimmy Hoffa every time someone scored a touchdown at the Giant's stadium in New Jersey.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Daniel Ellsberg on NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Erle Stanley Gardner: A Writing Machine

Erle Stanley Gardner is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest author of this century. It was his habit to tape 3-by-5 inch index cards around his study. Each index card explained where and when certain key incidents would occur in each detective novel. He then dictated to a crew of secretaries some ten thousand words a day, on up to seven different [mystery] novels at a time.

The Writer's Home Companion (1987) edited by James Charlton and Lisbeth Mark

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Loss of Freedom From the Fear of Crime

When physical safety becomes a major problem even for the middle classes, we must of necessity become a heavily police, authoritarian society, a society in which the middle classes live in gated and walled communities and make their places of work hardened targets....Both the fear of crime and the escalating harshness of the response to it will sharply reduce Americans' freedom of movement and peace of mind. Ours will become a most unpleasant society in which to live.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

[Politicians are exploiting our fear of domestic terrorism to authorize faceless government bureaucrats to spy on virtually every American citizen. While the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable searches still protects people charged with crimes, it no longer protects the rest of us from extremely intrusive governmental spying. The president of the United States is impatient with us for not trusting the government. I'm impatient with him for thinking we are idiots. If voters don't rise up and throw the politicians who support the president on this issue out of office, we will be running towards Gomorrah.] 

Writing Quote: E. B. White on Writing Clearly

The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. Because I have the greatest respect for the reader, and if he's going to the trouble of reading what I've written--I'm a slow reader myself and I guess that most people are--why, the least I can do is make it as easy as possible for him to find out what I'm trying to say, trying to get at. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.

E. B. White (1899-1985), the author of the classic book, The Elements of Style, in For Writer's Only (1994) by Sophy Burnham 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Norwegian Kindergarten Students Taste Their Teacher's Blood

     In March 2013, in Sola, Norway on the country's western coast, kindergarten teacher Inger Lise Soemme Anderson pulled off a show-and-tell stunt that in its degree of stupidity matches what we have come to expect in U. S. education. Anderson came to class one day with a vial of her own blood which she poured onto a plate. The teacher invited her students, kids between the age three and six, to dip their fingers into the red liquid. At least twelve kids touched their teacher's bodily fluid. When the students asked how to clean their bloody fingers, Anderson illustrated the solution by inserting one of her fingers into her mouth. Her students, as one might expect, followed suit.

     While putting someone else's blood into your mouth is on its face disgusting, it's also a good way to contract a dangerous blood transmitted disease. If an American teacher did what the Norwegian teacher is accused of, she would probably be charged with child endangerment.

     The head of the Norwegian school fired the teacher who was a temporary employee. A judge ordered Anderson to undergo tests for Hepatitis B and AIDS. If the results of these tests have come back, this information has not been published.

      Mind boggling cases like this are particularly disturbing because they reveal how difficult it is to shield vulnerable children from teachers who are either incredibly stupid or perverted.


Criminal Justice Quote: The Jukes Family

Sociologist Richard Dugdale made a study of a family called the Jukes and wrote a book about them, The Jukes (1877). In attempting to prove that criminal characteristics are inherited, Dugdale studied the entire Jukes clan descended from the original sire in New York in the early nineteenth century. Two of his sons married their illegitimate sisters, and Dugdale traced the entire seven hundred descendants. All were either prostitutes or criminals, save for a half a dozen.

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Writing Quote: Your Favorite Author

There are writers you admire, for the skill or the art, for the inventiveness or for the professionalism of a career well spent. And there are writers--sometimes the same ones, sometimes not--to whom you are powerfully attracted, for reasons that may or may not have to do with literary values. They speak to you, or speak for you, sometimes with a voice that could almost be your own. Often there is one writer in particular who awakens you, who is the teacher they say you will meet when you are ready for the lesson.

James D. Houston in The Writer's Life (1997) edited by Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Stiletto-Heel Murder Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     The judge sentenced Trujillo to life in prison.  

Criminal Justice Quote: Criminologist Lonnie Athens on the Cause of Violent Crime

That violent criminals decide to act violently based on their interpretation of a situation would be a radical discovery when psychiatry, psychology and sociology assign violent acts to unconscious motivations, deep emotional needs, inner psychic conflicts or sudden unconscious emotional outbursts. But [Dr. Lonnie] Athens [an American criminologist] quickly discovered that violent criminals interpreted the world differently than did their law-abiding neighbors, and that it was from those differing interpretations that their violence emerged. Violent acts, he began to see, were not explosions: They were decisions.

Richard Rhodes, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, 1999

Writing Quote: Journalism and the Cult of Political Correctness

Amity Schlaes, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote an article in The Spectator in January 1994, describing the white middle class' fear of blacks after Colin Ferguson murdered six whites on a Long Island commuter train, and after a jury in Brooklyn acquitted a young black despite powerful evidence that he had murdered a white. She wrote that whites were frightened because Ferguson's "manic hostility to whites is shared by many of the city's non madmen." When copies of the article were circulated among Schlaes' colleagues at the Journal, she became an outcast. A number of her co-workers would get out of the elevator when she got on. People who had eaten with her in the staff cafeteria refused to sit at the same table. A delegation went to the office of the chairman of the company that owns the Journal. It did not matter that Schlaes had pointed out that minorities were the greatest victims of minority crimes, or that nobody could show that a single element of her article was untrue or inaccurate. "Her crime," wrote the then editor of The Spectator, Dominic Lawson, "was greater than being merely wrong. She had written the truth, regardless of the offense it might cause. And in modern America, or at least in the mainstream media, that is simply not done."

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1997

[Today, if a mainstream journalist wrote that many America's have become afraid of Muslims, the results would likely be the same.]  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Murder by Poison

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

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

Brian Marriner, On Death's Bloody Trail, 1991

Writing Quote: Sylvia Plath on Not Writing

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

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

Friday, June 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: A Bad Review for Catch-22

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Writing Quote: Albert Camus on Lying Politicians

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Montia Parker: The Teen Pimp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Writing Quote: Journal Writing for Authors

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

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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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

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

Douglas Rushkoff, CNN columnist, June 10, 2013 

Writing Quote: Elements of a Book Review

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

Clive James, poet and author, 2013 interview 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Donald Harvey: Angel of Death

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

Donald Harvey: Angel of Death

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Big Brother Government in America

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

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

Writing Quote: Vices of Modern Journalism

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

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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rewards: Good Investigative Technique or Buying Good Citizenship?

     In response to crimes that create public outrage and/or fear--abducted children, missing women found dead, venerated objects vandalized or stolen, acts of terrorism, serial killings, and highly publicized murders--law enforcement agencies almost always post monetary rewards for information leading to the capture and successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The highest rewards come from the federal government. The U.S. State Department put up $25 million for the head of Osama Bin Laden, and $2 million for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger, the Boston mobster suspected of 18 murders. For years, both of these fugitives lived normal lives in public view. Bin Laden was killed last May, and Bulger, on the lam since 1995, was caught last year in California.

     Allthough the federal government pays out more than $100 million a year in rewards, and claims this money is well-spent, there is no emperical evidence that monetary incentives play a significant role in bringing criminals and terrorists to justice. Reward offerings may not only be ineffective, they may actually have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.

     In cases where rewards have been posted, there is no data that indicates the percentage of instances in which the monetary incentive produced a positive result. Moreover, in those cases where reward seekers did come forward with important information, we don't know if those cases would have been eventually solved anyway. There is a real possibility that the police are substituting rewards for old-fashioned shoe leather. The question is: do rewards serve the public, or are they merely public relations gimicks for lazy investigators?

     In my opinion, the overuse of rewards encourages citizens not to cooperate with the police unless they are paid. In many high profile murder cases, the first thing the police do is offer a big reward. I think this sends the following message to the perpetrators:: "We don't have a clue, and we are desperate for a lead."

     My principal objection to law enforcement rewards, particularly in nationally publicized cases, involves the extra investigative hours it takes to run down all of the false leads created by tipsters hoping for a piece of the reward money. The publicity alone draws out of the woodwork all manner of false confessors, phony eyewitnesses, visionaries, psychics, psychotics, and people bored and lonely. Adding a reward incentive to this mix exacerbates the problem.

     Whether they help or hinder, and I doubt we will ever know for sure, rewards are here to stay. Law enforcement administrators love them, and the public has come to expect them. I think they are, at best, a criminal investigative placebo.    

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime in American Life and Politics

The founders [of our nation] would be astounded and alarmed at the level of serious crime in contemporary society. They could not have imagined that crime, and the fear of it, would so dominate people's daily habits and the political life of the nation. By their standards, they would certainly be gravely worried about the fate of the democracy they had worked so hard to establish.

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

[I wonder what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would make of SWAT teams and police tanks.] 

Writers Quote: Mickey Spillane on Writing

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

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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Drugs and Crime

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Lavish IRS Spending

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

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

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mayhem On Kindergarten Graduation Day in Cleveland

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Dealing With Reviews

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: Inadequate Prison Sentences for Violent Criminals

Inadequate prison terms have become a major problem. A Brookings Institute study finds that, on average, the serious criminal commits twelve serious crimes a year. That means that a criminal sentenced to ten years and let out in four will, on average, commit seventy-two violent crimes during the time he should have been put in prison. Other studies put the number of violent crimes per year per criminal even higher. Newspapers routinely tell of murders committed by men out on probation, parole, or released early for good behavior.

Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 1996

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pedro Portugal: Kidnapped and Tortured in Queens, New York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criminal Justice Quote: The Birth of the IRS

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

Ron Paul

Writing Quote: Isaac Asimov on Criticism

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

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

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

Isaac Asimov, I Asimov: A Memoir, 1994

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: IRS and the Mafia

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

Jerry Seinfeld 

Criminal Justice Quote: Anti-Death Penalty Argument

Our criminal justice system is fallible. We know it, even though we don't like to admit it. It is fallible despite the best efforts of most within it to do justice. And this the most compelling, persuasive, and winning argument against a death penalty.

Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York 

Writing Quote: Writing for Children

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

Isabelle Allende, novelist, 2013 interview 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Senseless Crime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Quote: Dominick Dunne on Book Tours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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