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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Writing Quote: Sportswriter Red Smith

The best sportswriters know this. They avoid the exhausted synonyms and strive for freshness elsewhere in their sentences. You can search the columns of Red Smith and never find a batsman bouncing into a twin killing. Smith wasn't afraid to let a batsman hit into a double play. But you will find hundreds of unusual words--good English words--chosen with precision and fitted into situations where no other sportswriter would put them. They please us because the writer cared about using fresh imagery in a journalistic form where his competitors settle for the same old stuff. That's why Red Smith was still king of his field after half a century of writing, and why his competitors had long since been sent--as they would be the first to say--to the showers.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, first published in 1975

Friday, August 30, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Methods of Prisoner Execution

It has been, and still is, a matter of opinion whether, if you wish to kill your undesirable, it is better to let him died quietly in a concentration camp, flay him until he dies, hurl him over a precipice, burn, drown, or suffocate him; or entomb him alive and leave him to perish slowly in the silence of his grave; or asphyxiate him agonizingly in a lethal chamber, press him to death or cut off his head; or produce a sort of coma by means of an electric current that grills him in parts....It is all a matter of taste, temperament, and fashion.

Charles Duff (1894-1966) A Handbook On Hanging, 1961

Writing Quote: Truman Capote's Betrayal

One of the most public and wholesale rejections of a writer occurred in 1975, when Esquire published "La Cote Basque," an early chapter from Truman Capote's novel-in-progress Answered Prayers. Capote's women friends from New York's cafe society were horrified by the exposure of their secrets and promptly banished him from their inner circle. According to his editor, Joe Fox at Random House, "Virtually every friend he had in this world ostracized him for telling thinly disguised tales out of school, and many of them never spoke to him again." Their little writer friend, the elfin troublemaker, had taken things just a little too far. Capote crossed a line he claimed he hadn't known existed, though he confessed to a certain amount of delicious anticipation before the piece ran, and he agreed to be photographed for the magazine's cover with a fedora wickedly tilted atop his head while he pared his fingernails with a very long blade.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest For the Trees, 2000

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Christopher Deedy: The Federal Agent Tried for Murder

     On November 4, 2011, 27-year-old Christopher Deedy, a U. S. State Department Special Agent from Arlington, Virginia, was in Hawaii as a member of the State Department's Diplomatic Security unit. Deedy and the other federal agents were in Honolulu to protect Hilary Clinton and President Obama at the upcoming Asian Pacific Economic Conference scheduled for November 7 through November 13.

     On the night of November 4, Deedy and a couple of his friends were bar-hopping in the city. At 2:30 the following morning, the off-duty agent, dressed in shorts, flip-flops, and a dress shirt that covered the 9 mm Glock on his hip, were having coffee at a McDonalds. Kollin K. Elderts, a 23-year-old Hawaiian man who had been arrested in 2008 for disorderly conduct, and in 2010 for driving under the influence, was giving a white McDonalds customer he didn't know a hard time. Elderts called this man, Michael Perrine, a "haole," a Hawaiian word used by the locals as a racial slur against Caucasians of European decent. Perrine, who had been minding his own business, said he didn't understand why Elderts was singling him out for this verbal abuse. "I'm a local, too," he said. "I live here."

     Agent Deedy walked over to Elderts' table and asked him why he was picking on Mr. Perrine. Mr. Elderts did not appreciate the interference. Angry words escalated into a physical confrontation. What happened next depends upon who is telling the story. The only facts not in dispute are these: Agent Deedy and the Hawaiian man fought. At some point in the confrontation the agent pulled his gun and fired three shots. One of the bullets hit and killed Mr. Elderts.

     The Honolulu coroner retrieved a single bullet from Elderts' body. Detectives dug two slugs out of a McDonald's wall. The autopsy report revealed that Elderts had consumed marijuana and cocaine that night. He also had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, a percentage well above the state's legal limit for driving.

     Not long after Mr. Elderts' death, a state grand jury in Honolulu indicted agent Deedy for second-degree murder. Assistant deputy prosecutor Janice Futa choose not to include, as a backup charge, the lesser offense of manslaughter. That meant it was second-degree murder or nothing. Deedy posted his $250,000 bail and returned to Virginia to await his trial.

     The Elderts shooting death exacerbated racial tensions in Hawaii. The local media compared the killing of an unarmed man of color by a white man with the Treyvon Martin case that was unfolding at the time in Florida. According to narrative created by reporters and correspondents in the print and television media, Treyvon Martin had been killed by a wannabe cop; Elderts had been shot to death by a federal law enforcement officer. For Christopher Deedy, the timing was not helpful.

     The Deedy murder trial got underway in a Honolulu courtroom in mid-July 2013. Circuit Court Judge Karen Ahn oversaw the selection of seven men and five women for the jury. Six of the jurors were of Hawaiian decent. The other members of the jury were Caucasian. Prosecutor Futa, with the defendant's wife and parents looking on, delivered her opening statement to the jurors. In the prosecution's version of the facts, Deedy's first shot missed Mr. Elderts. The second shot, fired before the two men fell to the floor and fought, killed the victim. The defendant's third shot missed.

     In describing her theory of the case, Prosecutor Futa said, "The defendant...draws from his right hip area the gun. Kollin [Elderts] turns around and sees him and the defendant is within three feet of Kollin Elderts and fires his gun. He misses Kollin. Now having been shot at by the defendant, Elderts lunges toward him reaching for the gun. They grapple in front of the [McDonalds] counter and [another] shot rang out. After the shots, Kollin falls on top of the defendant onto the floor. The third bullet was fired. After the third bullet was fired, the gun jams."

     In her opening statement, the prosecutor portrayed Deedy as an inexperienced agent (George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop) who had consumed alcohol against State Department policy while carrying a firearm. Deedy had "stuck his nose" in the situation at McDonalds "that was not his business." Futa informed the jurors that the McDonald surveillance videotape of the incident was "frustratingly fuzzy."

     The defense version of the shooting differed from the prosecution's theory. According to the defense, it was the third shot, fired when the two men were fighting on the floor, that killed Mr. Elderts.

     Defense attorney Brook Hart, in addressing the jury, said, "The evidence will show that the defendant used a number of measured steps to try to sway Mr. Edlerts...from his violent assault. Referring to Elderts' racial slur, Hart said, "These are now fighting words. This is a threat of violence. This is what Deedy is trained to respond to, although he wasn't here to respond to the laws of harassment or bullying. He's a federal agent and his job is to serve the community." (His job was to protect Clinton and Obama.)

     According to the defense attorney, when the defendant showed Elderts his State Department badge and credentials, Elderts said, "What, you gonna shoot me? You got a gun? Shoot me. I'm gonna gut you."

     Attorney Hart informed the jurors that the State Department authorizes its agents to carry weapons when they are off-duity. She said that her client, on the night of the shooting, was not intoxicated.

     As in the Treyvon Martin case where George Zimmerman's head injuries proved valuable to the defense, Attorney Hart pointed out that Agent Deedy's nose had been broken and his face badly pummeled. In summing up, the defense attorney said, "Special Agent Deedy was compelled to discharge his gun resulting in the death of Elderts. Agent Deedy acted responsibly and in self-defense."

     On August 6, 2013, following 18 days of prosecution testimony, attorney Hart put the defendant on the stand. Agent Deedy testified that on the night in question, Mr. Elderts had drawn his attention with his "hysterical laughing" and taunting of Mr. Perrine. When Elderts ignored the McDonalds cashier's request to leave Mr. Perrine alone, Deedy walked over to Elderts' table and asked him what was going on. Sounding a bit self-important, the witness said, "From my trained perspective I believed it was appropriate for me to intervene, to further assess the situation because this was not a mutual interaction going on."

     When Agent Deedy interceded on Mr. Perrine's behalf, Elderts called him a "haole." According to the witness, "I needed to portray a stronger command presence." This is when he identified himself as a federal law enforcement officer. (The surveillance footage shows Deedy displaying his badge and credentials.) Not impressed, Mr. Elderts continued to taunt the agent. When Elderts slid out from behind his table, the agent knew there would be trouble. In describing this moment to the jury, Deedy said, "I think I was in actual shock. This was very quick, there was a lot going through my head. My brain was going in a thousand directions."

     Attorney Hart asked her witness, "Why didn't you just leave the restaurant?"

     Deedy answered that because he was a trained law enforcement office, he couldn't responsibly back down. "I injected myself into the situation because I sensed the propensity for violence. For me at this point to run would be irresponsible."

     Agent Deedy described to the jury how he had tried to disable Elderts with a kick to his left shin. He missed and hit the meaty part of his opponent's thigh. At that moment the agent knew he was in for a fight. When his attacker tried to grab his gun, the defendant said he had no choice but to utilize deadly force in defense of his life.

     The defense rested after three days of the defendant's testimony. The case went to the jury on August 15, 2013. On Monday, August 19, the jury foreman advised Judge Ahn that the panel could not reach an unanimous verdict. Judge Ahn declared a mistrial. The defendant was free to accompany his wife and his parents back to Virginia. His second trial was set for the spring of 2014.

     Following the verdict, prosecutor Futa told reporters that she was "very disappointed." She said she didn't regret not giving the jury the manslaughter option. Defense attorney Hart, in speaking to the press, said that her client "pleaded not guilty and is not guilty. "The jury," she said, "did not find him guilty."

     Because the jury did not acquit agent Deedy, he is not home free. Not only that, Kollin Elderts' family has sued him for wrongful death. Even if Christopher Deedy is eventually acquitted, he would have been better off calling the police and walking out of McDonalds that night.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Crime Bulletin: Kids Who Kill

Nationwide, there are more than 2,000 inmates in 43 states serving life sentences without the chance of parole for murders they committed when they were juveniles. These child and early teen killers make up a fraction of those kids who have committed murder but received lighter sentences. This is not a good sign for our society. 

Writing Quote: The Writer's LIfe

Before I entered publishing, I believed, like most people, that the life of a writer was to be envied. As one of my heroes, Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) wrote, "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip." Now I understand that writers are a breed apart, their gifts and their whips inextricably linked. The writer's psychology is by its very nature one of extreme duality. The writer labors in isolation, yet all that intensive, lonely work in the service of communicating, is an attempt to reach another person. It isn't surprising, then, that many writers are ambivalent, if not altogether neurotic, about bringing their work forward. For in so doing, a writer must face down that which he most fears: rejection. There is no stage of the writing process that doesn't challenge every aspect of a writer's personality. How well writers deal with those challenges can be critical to their survival.

Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees, 2000

Monday, August 26, 2013

Trump University

     In May 2005, Donald Trump added a new service to the far reaching and diverse Trump brand. (Bottled water, neckties, golf courses, resorts, hotels, office buildings, condominiums--you name it.) Aspiring entrepreneurs in search of their fortunes could enroll at Trump University, an online educational institution that offered courses and seminars in real estate, asset management, entrepreneurship (If you need to go to school to become an entrepreneur, forget it.), and wealth creation. Trump University tuition ranged from $1,500 to $35,000. This was a lot of money for a "university" that didn't confer college credits or an accredited degree. Enrollees knew this, of course. They were attracted to the Trump name and all it stood for. Fair enough. That's why students endure Massachusetts to attend Harvard.

     Donald Trump himself appeared in televison ads for the school that led prospective students to believe that the course instructors had been handpicked by The Donald. The targeted customers were promised a free, 90-minute seminar where they would learn how to make money in real estate through a "systematic method of investing." The free seminar acted as a pitch for the three-day real estate seminar that cost $1,495. The Trump school also offered the so-called "Trump Elite" educational packages that included personal mentorship programs that cost between $10,000 and $35,000.

     Trump University, in June 2010, changed its name to The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after bureaucrats with the New York State Department of Education declared the use of the word "university" in the company name misleading. (Just how stupid would a prospective student have to be to think this was a real university?) The state authorities also felt that because the institution wasn't licensed, accredited, or bonded by the state, it was not a legal operation. Perhaps this is the real reason New York injected itself into the business of Mr. Trump's school. The government wasn't getting it's cut of the action.

     In May 2011, six years after the founding of Trump University, the New York Attorney General's Office, under Eric T. Schneiderman, launched an investigation of Trump's online educational service. State investigators were looking for evidence of "illegal business practices." The attorney general opened the case against Trump after Trump University graduates from New York and four other states complained they had been misled by deceptive advertisement. (According to Attorney General Schneiderman, some of the "Trump Elites" thought they had purchased the right to meet Donald Trump in person. Instead, they were photographed next to a live-size poster of the man.) At this point, The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative had essentially ceased doing business.

     The state of New York, in August 2013, filed a $40 million civil suit against the Trump institution. In its quest for restitution, the attorney general's office accused Trump and his operatives of illegal business practices in the form of "false promises." In the suit the plaintiff described Trump University as "an elaborate bait-and-switch" operation.

     Attorney General Schneiderman, in a statement released to the media, said that Donald Trump and his people had made false promises to persuade more than 5,000 students--including 600 New Yorkers--"to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn't afford for lessons they never got." (They got one lesson, only suckers think they can get rich by going to a seminar.) According to the attorney general, "Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers' advancement through costly programs, and caused real financial harm. Trump University, with Donald Trump's knowledge and participation relied on Trump's name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand. No one, no matter how rich or famous they are, has a right to scam hardworking New Yorkers. Anyone who does should expect to be held accountable." (Really? The biggest scam artists are government employees. Who's holding them accountable?)

     As could be expected, the Trump organization went on the offensive. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told an Associated Press reporter that he had testimonials from 11,000 former students who had been "extremely satisfied" (odd combination of words) with Trump University. According to attorney Cohen, the attorney general's illegal business practices suit was laden with "falsehoods."

     George Sorial, another Trump lawyer, accused Attorney General Schneiderman of being politically motivated. According to Sorial, Schneiderman had filed the suit after Donald Trump refused to contribute to his campaign. "This [the lawsuit] is tantamount to extortion," he said.

     Critics of higher education generally might wonder why the New York Attorney General's Office wasn't going after other educational institutions that charge huge amounts of money for diplomas that, in the job market, are worthless. Why wasn't he, for example, suing Columbia University, Brooklyn College, or the University of Buffalo for deceptive business practices?  

Criminal Justice Quote: Christopher Hitchens on The Atrocities of Hanging

Having resolved to be done with the vulgar populist spectacle of the public execution, the British Establishment decided to become demure to the point of obsession. Hangmen became more like anonymous civil servants; secrecy and discretion veiled the proceedings; pious little notes posted on the front gates of prisons where the only public notification that a "working-off" had taken place at all. Yet an assiduous reporter or attorney could compile a whole anthology of atrocity and indecency, lurking shadily behind this pretense. The hangman who took a little too much drink to steady his hand; the plastic underwear proffered to female victims; the rope that slipped and causes slow strangulation; the rope that was poorly judged and caused decapitation; the rope that broke; the second and third attempts to "work off" miscreants who didn't expire the first time.

Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to The Handbook of Hanging (2001 reprint of 1961 edition) by Charles Duff

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Self-Deluding Criminals

Criminologist Robert J. Kelly interviewed several inmates at Rikers Island in New York City, and observed that "in their own words, my inmates see themselves as putty in the hands of fate." They blamed bad luck, coincidence, unforeseen circumstances--the victims shouldn't have been there, the cops shouldn't have shown up. The inmates could not explain what they did in terms of their own moral choices; they had to explain it in terms of forces beyond their control. It isn't just because criminals aim to get away with their crimes, it's also because they need to live with them. "A frank and sincere acknowledgment of responsibility would result in a collapse of the psyche," notes Kelly. Criminals are compelled to reconstruct events in such a way that the aftermath is bearable. They need to maintain a sense of self-worth. Announcing to themselves in the mirror "I am evil" is not a popular option.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997

Criminal Justice Quote: Coaxing Clues From a Corpse

The typical American goes into the ground injected with three to four gallons of preservatives. But a sizable segment of our over-sanitized culture will always escape quick processing. Prominent among this population: the abandoned and the murdered. In theory, their moldering bodies--slumped under bridges, forgotten in bed, or dumped along roadsides--retain the natural if repulsive clues that might disclose time of death. For reasons as sensible as sensory, police are quick to pass these unvarnished dead to the next line of custody--the coroners and medical examiners whose job it is to coax secrets from a corpse.

Jessica Snyder Sachs, Corpse: Nature, Forensics, and the Struggle to Pinpoint Time of Death, 2001

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Recreational Murder: Killing For Fun

     No society has been free of criminal homicide. People have always murdered for sex, money, and revenge. While deviant and unlawful, this form of homicidal behavior is at least human. However, murdering a total stranger for the thrill and power of taking a life reflects a form of moral depravity that borders on inhuman. In the United States recently, in three separate cases, three white people have been murdered in cold blood by black teenage boys who didn't know their victims and had no reason whatsoever to kill them. If these senseless, random black on white killings mark the beginning of a criminal trend, America is in trouble. No one will be safe, and race relations will deteriorate.

The Murder of Christopher Lane

     On Friday, August 16, 2013, Christopher Lane, an Australian who attended Oklahoma's East Central University, was in the town of Duncan visiting his girlfriend. That afternoon, while jogging along Country Club Road, Lane caught the attention of three black teenagers as he ran passed the place where they were hanging out. One of the boys said, "There's our target."

     The trio piled into a black vehicle with 17-year-old Michael Dewayne Jones behind the wheel. James Francis Edwards, Jr., 15, climbed into the front passenger seat. Chancy Luna, a 16-year-old, sat in the back of the car armed with a .22-caliber handgun. As the vehicle pulled up behind the college baseball player, Luna shot him in the back. As the car sped off, Lane staggered then collapsed on the side of the road.

     Witnesses who heard the gunshot saw a black vehicle drive away as Lane staggered and collapsed. Several people ran to Lane's aid. As a woman called 911, another bystander performed CPR on the fallen student. Christopher Lane died on the side of the road.

     A few hours after the shooting, detectives, while reviewing surveillance camera footage, noticed a black vehicle pull in behind a hotel shortly after the murder. Eleven minutes later the car drove off. Three hours after the murder, a police officer spotted the car in front of a house on Country Club Road. This led to the arrests of Jones, Edwards, and Luna.

     According to reports, Edward and Luna, when questioned by detectives, denied any knowledge of the murder. Michael Jones, the 17-year-old driver, confessed. "We were bored," he said, "and didn't have anything to do so we decided to kill somebody."

     Prosecutor Jason Hicks charged Edwards and Luna with first-degree murder. Michael Jones has been charged as an accessory to the murder. On August 20, a judge denied Edwards and Luna bail. Jones is being held on $1 million bond. At the arraignment, prosecutor Hicks said, "I'm appalled. This is not supposed to happen in this community."

     Earlier in the year, James Edwards tweeted that "90 % of white ppl are nasty. #HATE THEM." A few days after the George Zimmerman acquittal, the 15-year-old tweeted, "Ayeee I knocced out 5 woods" (a derogatory word for white people).

The Murder of Baby West

     On Thursday morning, March 21, 2013, in the small southeastern Georgia coastal town of Brunswick, Sherry West pushed her 13-month-old son in a stroller not far from her house in the Old Town historic district. Two young black males approached the 41-year-old mother and her child a quarter after nine that morning. The older kid, described by Sherry West as between 13 and 15-years-old, pulled a handgun and demanded money. The robber's companion, as described by the victim, looked to be between 10 and 12-years old. The older boy, who was wearing a red shirt, when told by the mother that she didn't have any money, said, "Well, I'm going to kill your baby."

     The terrified mother tried to use her body to protect her son. "Please don't kill my baby," she pleaded.

     The  young robber, after pushing the mother aside, shot the sleeping child in the face. Before fleeing on foot, the gunman shot Sherry West in the leg. A second bullet grazed her head. As the boys ran off, the wounded mother called 911, and tried in vain to save her baby by administering CPR.

     The next day, police arrested 17-year-old DeMarquis Elkins on charges of aggravated assault, robbery, and murder. The prosecutor charged his 15-year-old friend, Dominique Lang, with felony-murder.

     Following a change of venue, DeMarquis Elkins is currently on trial for murder in Cobb County north of Atlanta. Dominique Lang is the state's star witness.

The Murder of Delbert Belton

     On Wednesday evening, August 21, 2013, 88-year-old World War II veteran Delbert Belton was waiting for a friend in the parking lot outside of the Eagles Lodge in Spokane, Washington. Two black teenagers approached the elderly man and began hitting him in the head with heavy flashlights. The young men, both dressed entirely in black, fled the scene with the old man dying on the lot. Mr. Belton, who had been shot on the beaches of Okinawa in 1945, died later that night. His friends had called him "Shorty."

     The next day police officers arrested a juvenile who turned himself in. On August 26, the police arrested 16-year-old Kenan D. Adams-Kinard. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Professor Rainer Reinscheid's Revenge

     Rainer Klaus Reinscheid was an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. The 48-year-old lived in the Orange County city of 223,000, thirty miles southeast of Los Angeles, with his second wife, two stepchildren, and his 14-year-old son from his first marriage.

     In March 2012, Reinscheid's son, Claus Stubbe, a student at Irvine's University High School, got in trouble for stealing something from the student store. As punishment, the assistant principal assigned the boy trash pick-up duties during the school's lunch hour. Shortly after this mild disciplinary action, a worker at the Mason Park Preserve adjoining the high school campus, found the boy hanging from a tree in a wooded area of the park.

     Professor Reinscheid blamed his son's suicide on the assistant principal who had disciplined the boy. On April 26, 2012, the distraught father, on his cellphone, emailed his wife details of his intention to take out revenge on his son's death. His plan, in general, included shooting 200 students at University  High School, murdering the assistant principal, and raping as many high school girls as he could. Once he had accomplished his mission, he'd kill himself.

     In one of two emails to his wife that day, the revenge-minded professor wrote: "I need a gun, many guns, and then I have the ride of my life. I will give myself a wonderful ending with Klaus very soon. I like this plan, finally a good idea." Two days later, in another email, Reinscheid said that while he was casing out the high school campus, he had fantasized about having sex with every girl he had seen.

     On July 4 and 19, 2012, a series of small fires broke out in Mason Park Preserve. Fire fighters also responded to a fire someone had set outside the home of University High School's assistant principal. Following the two fires in the park, the Irvine police beefed up patrols of the preserve. At 12:45 in the morning of July 24, police officers patrolling the park caught Professor Reinscheid igniting newspapers soaked in lighter fluid. He was starting the fire not far from where his son had committed suicide. The officers arrested him on the spot. The next day, charged with arson, Professor Reinscheid posted his $50,000 bond, and was released from custody.

     Police investigators, after linking Reinscheid to three incendiary fires at the high school, and the one at the assistant principal's house, charged the professor with four additional counts of arson, and a count of attempted murder. By now, detectives had discovered the emails Reinscheid had sent to his wife detailing his intent to seek revenge for his son's suicide. Although the content of these emails--private musings rather than threats sent to targeted individuals--were not considered chargeable criminal offenses, police re-arrested the professor on the additional arson and attempted murder charges. (Whether or not the professor's very specific revenge emails is a crime poses an interesting legal question. Had the emails suggested a conspiracy, and he had acted upon that plan by buying a gun, it would have been an offense. Had there been an agreement with a fellow conspirator to carry out the crimes, the fires would have been acts in furtherance of that conspiracy.)

     The Orange County prosecutor, using the revenge emails as evidence that Rainer Reinscheid was a danger to society, asked that he be held in custody without bail. The judge agreed, and denied the professor bond.

     On July 27, the Irvine police re-arrested Professor Reinscheid in his office at the University of California. When they took him into custody, he was drafting a document on his computer giving his wife power of attorney over his finances. When searching his car, officers found a red folder containing a newly drafted and signed last will and testament.

     Reinscheid pleaded guilty in July 2013 to six counts of arson, three counts of attempted arson, and resisting or obstructing an officer. Reinscheid faced a maximum sentence of 18 years behind bars.The Orange County prosecutor had dropped the attempted murder charge. A month later, on the first day of his sentencing hearing, Reinscheid said, "I lost my son, and then I lost myself. Now, I am asking you, your honor , and many other people, to forgive me and show mercy." Reinscheid said he wanted to return to his native Germany where he could find work to support his family. The ex-professor acknowledged that his career in academia was over.

     School superintendent Tracy L. Walker, in a statement read aloud at the hearing, wrote: "That tragedy [the boy's suicide] cannot serve as justification for terrorizing a school community and staff members who have dedicated their lives to helping others."

     On the second day of Reinscheid's sentence hearing, the judge heard from the University High School assistant principal whose house Reinscheid tried to burn down. The school administrator said that his life will never be the same.

     In an effort to mitigate his client's criminal rampage, defense attorney Joshua Glotzer noted that his client had been "self-medicating" with drugs he had ordered online. The professor had also been drinking cheap wine. The drugs and the wine, according to the attorney, had led to a "perfect storm" that provoked the arsons.

     On August 22, 2013, the judge sentenced the former professor to 14 years and 4 months in prison.

Criminal Justice Quote: Flawed Eyewitness Memories

I describe a study I'd conducted in which subjects watched a film of a robbery involving a shooting and were then exposed to a television account of the event which contained erroneous details. When asked to recall what happened during the robbery, many subject incorporated the erroneous details from the television report into their account. Once these details were inserted into a person's mind through the technique of exposure to post-event information, they were adopted as the truth and protected as fiercely as the "real," original details. Subjects typically resisted any suggestion that their richly detailed memories might have been flawed or contaminated and asserted with great confidence that they saw what their revised and adapted memories told them they saw.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memory, 1994

Criminal Justice Quote: The Liberation Hypothesis

In 1975, a criminologist named Freda Adler shook up her field by publishing a book called Sisters in Crime in which she proposed, with undeniable excitement, that female aggression and criminality were going to catch up with men's. [This has not happened.] As the opportunities opened up by feminism led women to assert themselves, they would adopt more traditionally masculine methods of self-empowerment. Adler envisioned the change primarily in economic terms, as one in which women went for the gold, just as men did, legitimately or illegally, depending upon what avenues were open to them. If their only means were deviant, due to poverty or lack of skill, then their self-assertion would take place within the context of crime. The traditionally higher involvement of African-American women in criminal enterprise would be balanced as white women joined them. White-collar women might engage in embezzlement or insider trading; unemployed women would settle for extortion, trafficking, or robbery. [Only a tiny percentage of robbers are women.] But it would happen. As support for her argument, Adler pointed to the rising crime rates of young women, and to the outbreak of women's prison riots, among other 1970s trends. 

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Female Serial Killers in the Annals of Murder

     Can you name the serial killer who struck in the back of a military helicopter flying at 4,000 feet on a mission? Or the one who, at the age of eleven, killed two victims? Or the one who danced and socialized with a California governor? Some would know to name Genene Jones, Mary Bell, and Dorothea Puente--three females. But for the rest of us, we never knew there were female serial killers. That is, except for that lesbian hooker--the one they made the movie about--Aileen Wuornos. While the names of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer, or the monikers of the Boston Strangler, Son of Sam, the Green River Kiler, and BTK are familiar to all, ask us to name a few female serial killers and we usually stop right after Aileen. Were there others?

     Yes, many actually. About one out of every six serial killers is a woman.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Lawsuits Are Important

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

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

Richard Dworkin, Law's Empire, 1986

Criminal Justice Quote: The Emotional Makeup of a Serial Killer

After speaking at length to more than eighty [serial killers], I have found that serial murderers do not relate to others on any level that you would expect one person to relate to another. They can play roles beautifully, create complex, earnest, performances to which no Hollywood Oscar winner could hold a candle. They can mimic anything. They can appear to be complete and whole human beings, and in some cases are seen to be pillars of society. But they're missing a very essential core of human relatedness. For them, killing is nothing, nothing at all. Serial murderers have no emotional connection to their victims. That's probably the most chilling part of it. Not only do they not care, but they also have no ability to care.

Dr. Helen Morrison, My Life Among the Serial Killers, 2004

Monday, August 19, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Identification of Cremated Bodies

Dental devices can be helpful in identifying a cremated individual. Even though dental crowns seldom end up in the urn, dental posts, made of stainless steel or titanium, which are used to affix artificial crowns onto small tooth stumps, can be extremely important. Not only do they vary considerably in chemical composition, in size and in shape (each brand looks very different), but they are often altered by grinding the ends when the dentist inserts them into the tooth. These altered tips can be compared with dental radiographs or dental x-rays and be identified absolutely individually. They will show up in dental x-rays before death, and again in x-rays taken of the cremated remains. They can be as unique as fingerprints, because the dentist has shaped them to fit a particular tooth.

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Criminal Justice Quote: The Black Widow Killer

     The only really popular conception that has endured of a female serial killer through the decades is of the one who kills a string of husbands or lovers for profit. We even have a readymade moniker for her: the Black Widow.

     For some reason we imagine the Black Widow as a creature of the past, from a time long ago when poisons were readily sold over the counter and record keeping of identifies was haphazard. She could lure, seduce, marry quickly, discreetly kill, and vanish several times over before anyone would notice.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Discovery ID's "Murder in Amish County" to be Rebroadcast

     On Sunday, August 18 at 11:00PM, the Discovery ID channel is rebroadcasting, as part of their Deadly Devotions series, Murder in Amish County. The episode features scenes from my book, Crimson Stain. The new, expanded edition of Crimson Stain is available from:

1. CreateSpace, and


A Kindle edition of the book will also be available soon.

Crimson Stain tells the true story of a tragic and brutal murder in an Old-Order Amish community in rural Pennsylvania.

The new edition of Crimson Stain includes an extensive epilogue featuring developments in this true-life Amish murder drama to the present time. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Origins of Violent Behavior in Women

A more compelling culprit [for violent behavior in women] than hormones may be the wiring of the human brain, in a way that does not discriminate one sex from the other....Frontal lobe damage, for example, can cause perfectly calm people to lose their impulse control, which is usually governed by the cerebral cortex. They revert to the most primal emotions, zooming from annoyance to homicidal fury in a matter of seconds, with no mood in between. We know this in its less extreme form as "hair-trigger temper." Its more voluble expression is called "episodic aggression," or "rage attacks." But why would it affect only men?...How many women undergo this Jekyll and Hyde transformation? Thousands? The scientific literature is mum. Men are the standard bearers of violence, and masculine violence is the measure.

Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad, 1997 

Criminal Justice Quote: Does The Death Penalty Deter Murder?

When we look closely into it, there are two categories of people who commit murder: (1) Those who are sane (know the nature and quality or consequences of their act) but hope to escape the penalty; (2) Those who are insane, and these either do not know or do not care what they do. Homicides are either the one or the other, so it is difficult to appreciate the deterring effect of the death penalty upon their minds. I am not a psychologist or metaphysician, or even a theologian, so I cannot resolve this difficult problem except by saying that, if a man knows what will happen as a result of an act of his, and hopes so strongly to escape the consequences that he actually commits the act, a contemplation of the possible penalty does not seem to hinder him.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 2001 reprint of 1961 edition 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Oppressive Government

Although we give lip service to the notion of freedom, we know the government is no longer the servant of the people but, at last, has become the people's master. We have stood by like timid sheep while the wolf killed--first the weak, then the strays, then those on the outer edges of the flock, until at last the entire flock belonged to the wolf.

Gerry Spence, From Freedom to Slavery, 1993

Criminal Justice Quote: Charles Manson

Why does Charles Manson continue to compel us? Not because he reflects the dark heart of the 1960s but because he exemplifies a more far-reaching darkness, the one inside ourselves. As he said at his trial, "I am what you made me"--like any persuasive liar, nurturing his deceptions from a kernel of truth.

David Ulin in reviewing Jeff Guinn's new book, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Art of Dismemberment

To profane a dead body by cutting it to pieces has always seemed, at least to our Western eyes, an act of bestial brutality. It is one thing to do murder. It is quite another to destroy the murder victim's identity, and this is the effect of dismemberment.....

     Taking apart a fresh human body is no mean task. You will work up a sweat doing it. I have seen every tool imaginable used for this grisly purpose, from the ancient stone choppers used by early man millions of years the Rambo knives, hacksaws and chain saws of today. It is a bloody, messy, dangerous business. Saws and knives can slip and wound you while you are using them. Bone itself can be quite sharp; I have been cut by broken bones while working with remains....

    Many dismemberments are done in bathtubs--more things come out of bathtubs than bathtub gin....Most of my [dismemberment] cases seem to involve motorcycle gang members or people involved in the drug trade.

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Criminal Justice Quote: The Role of the Forensic Pathologist in Serial Murder Cases

In serial murders, the random factor inspires the most fear--the idea of a wandering murderer, moving from community to community, unknown to all. Anonymous killers are the most difficult to find. There are all kinds, from Jack the Ripper to Son of Sam, and we really don't know how many of their murders are solved. They have us at another disadvantage--many of them operate across state lines, while we are confined to our own territory. The FBI has begun to profile the deaths by computerizing the murder method and the victim's characteristics, but catching multiple murderers still depends mainly on good police work. Most of those who are caught know their victims, and their methods fall into patterns. The role of the medical examiner is to confirm the victims--that is, to certify that they are victims of a particular killer--and to find the pattern.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judeth Adler Hennessee), 1989

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Are Women as Violent as Men?

     When women commit violence the only explanation offered has been that it is involuntary, defensive, or the result of mental illness or hormonal imbalance inherent with female physiology: postpartum depression, premenstrual syndrome, and menopause have been included among the named culprits. Women have been generally perceived to be capable of committing only "expressive" violence--an uncontrollable release of bottled-up rage or fear, often as a result of long-term abuse at the hands of males: Battered Woman Syndrome or Battered Spouse Syndrome. It has been generally believed that women usually murder unwillingly without premeditation.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Criminal justice quote: Eyewitness Misidentifications

Advances in the social sciences and technology have cast a new light on eyewitness identification. Hundreds of studies on eyewitness identification have been published in professional and academic journals. One study by the University of Virginia Law School Professor Brandon L. Garett found that eyewitness misidentifications contributed to 76 percent of the cases overturned by DNA evidence.

Matthew Mangino, criminal defense attorney and criminal justice blogger at, August 3, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Debunking JFK Assassination Conspiracy Theories

     Gerald Posner had been working for years with his editor, Bob Loomis [Random House], on a book called Case Closed about the assassination of President John Kennedy. There had been some credible attempts to penetrate the mysteries [of the case], but they'd been overlain in the public imagination by thirty years of conspiracy stories. Posner's manuscript proved that these were paranoid garbage. I was impressed by his assembly of incontrovertible medical, ballistics, and scientific evidence proving that there had been no gunman on the grassy knoll; Lee Harvey Oswald had been the lone rifleman firing three shots over eight seconds. Everywhere around town [New York] when I mentioned that we [Random House] had a sensation, I got the same response: "Not another Kennedy book! Give us a break!" Bookstore buyers reacted the same way. How could we make people pay attention when the sensation was that there was no sensation? Clearly we had a big marketing problem.

     This was a profoundly important book. The ever prudent Bob Loomis had let a few academics and journalists of invincible integrity have sight of the manuscript. Tom Wicker, the veteran political reporter and columnist of The New York Times, was seized by the significance. Posner's work, he said, could do much to restore faith in government and democracy because it demolished the insidious insinuations that the highest officials of the U. S. government had been involved in their president's murder....

     Case Closed was not only a hugh best seller but a blast of cold air on the fetid distortions; it was a contribution to a nation's sanity and faith in its institutions. The conspiracy industry, of course, saw our book and ad campaign as another conspiracy. I was warned we'd be sued, and we were. But we won every court case.

Harold Evans, (former president of Random House), My Paper Chase, 2009

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Derek Medina: The Facebook Wife Killer

     After dating a few months in late 2009, Derek Medina and Jennifer Alfonso got married. Because he was the jealous type and extremely controlling, they frequently fought. Early in 2012 Jennifer had enough. They divorced, but a few months later, after Medina talked her into it, they remarried. For Jennifer this turned out to be a terrible mistake.

     In 2013, the 31-year-old Medina and his 26-year-old wife lived with her ten-year-old daughter from a previous relationship in a townhouse in South Miami, Florida. She worked as a server at a nearby Denny's Restaurant. He had a job as a property manager at a Coral Gables condo, the most recent of his string of short-term employments.

     Medina had self-published six online books with rambling, nonsensical titles like, How a Judgmental and Selfish Attitude is Destroying the World We Live Because the World is Vanishing Our Eyes. He had also written a book about one of his passions--ghost hunting. Medina had dedicated his most recent work--How I Save Someone's Life and Marriage and Family Problems Thru Communication--to Jennifer.

     In addition to being a prolific writer, with 143 videos featuring himself on YouTube and Facebook, Median fancied himself a public person. As an extra on some TV drama, he had gotten a taste of the entertainment world. On YouTube, his handful of fans could see him hitting golf balls, playing pick-up basketball, showing off his tattoos, riding in a boat, and having a drink poolside with his wife. Derek Medina was a poster-boy for today's culture of cheesy narcissism where everyone is an aspiring celebrity.

     On the morning of August 1, 2013, Medina, on his Facebook page, published a disturbing photograph of his bloodied wife lying dead on a linoleum floor. In the message accompanying the death scene photograph, Medina wrote: "I'm going to prison or [getting the] death sentence for killing my wife. My wife was punching me and I'm not going to stand anymore with the abuse so I did what I did. Hope you understand me. Love you guys. Miss you guys. Take care Facebook people. You'll see me in the news."

     At noon on the day he shot and killed Jennifer, Medina walked into a South Miami police station and informed officers that he had shot his wife to death. He told homicide detectives that Jennifer had threatened to leave him which led to a heated argument. According to Medina's account of the killing, he grabbed his pistol from a closet on the second floor and pointed it at Jennifer who had followed him up the stairs. After he put the pistol back into the closet, the couple returned to the kitchen where she took possession of a knife. He wrestled the knife out of her hand, but the fight continued with her punching and kicking him. Media told the detectives he walked upstairs, retrieved the gun, then shot his wife to death in the kitchen. At the time of the killing, her daughter was in a second-floor bedroom.

     After killing Jennifer, Median changed his clothes and drove to his parents' house. He left the little girl behind with her dead mother. He did not call 911, but posted the photograph of Jennifer's corpse and the accompanying message on Facebook before turning himself into the authorities. He wanted his Facebook fans to be the first to know what he had done.

     Later that afternoon, police officers with the South Miami Police Department, armed with a search warrant, entered the townhouse where they found the victim and the 10-year-old girl. At the request of the police, Facebook personnel removed the death scene photograph from the site. A Miami-Dade County prosecutor charged Derek Medina with first-degree murder.

     Jennifer Alfonso's former boss at Denny's told a reporter that Media was so jealous he didn't want his wife working at night, or even to talk to other people on the telephone. Every time she threatened to leave him and they fought, he'd beg her forgiveness and promised to change. The former boss said that after one of their fights, she would come to the restaurant  "bruised up."

     An reviewer posted the following comment regarding Medina's 42-page book on how he had saved a marriage: "Medina hits the bulls' eye with this definitive guide to marriage. He pulls no punches as he gives out advice to die for. Don't waste time and grab a copy at this killer price, as we are sure to hear more about this rising star in the news...."

     The local magistrate denied Derek Medina bond. In all probability, if he doesn't plead guilty, he'll claim self-defense. If he does that, based on the details of his confession, he will be convicted of first-degree murder. The fact he posted the photograph of his wife's corpse reveals the malice behind this murder.


Criminal Justice Quote: Dr. William Maples on Forensic Anthropology

     A forensic anthropologist is not a medical doctor, though he has a Ph.D. and has studied anthropology in college. We specialize in the human skeletal system, its changes through life, its changes across many lifetimes, and its variations around the world. We are part of the larger field of physical anthropology, or biological anthropology as it is known today, which is concerned overall with the human body and all its variations. My specialty, physical anthropology, is distinct from other fields such as cultural anthropology and archaeology....

     My field of expertise is the human skeleton. Though some pathologists insist on doing their own skeletal examinations along with autopsies, I can confidently say that there are very few cases in which a forensic anthropologist--someone like me--could not add a great deal of useful information to what a pathologist can discover. I have had pathologists exclaim frankly in my hearing, when confronted with a skeleton: "Gee, I'm not used to looking at these without the meat on them!"

Dr. William R. Maples, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, 1994

Criminal Justice Quote: Hanging Women

It is not very long ago [cir 1960] since it was alleged in Parliament [England] that pregnant women were carefully nursed in prison until the time when, after giving birth to the child...they could be handed over to the hangman. We now live in a more sentimental age, and, although this is still permissible by law, it is simply not done. It will be obvious even to the most innocent reader that not to hang pregnant women may be one way of encouraging sexual misconduct as a means to escape the gallows. Is it not ridiculous and immoral that a woman who has committed murder should escape the death penalty by amusing herself with the first man she meets? There is on record the case of a pregnant woman who procured an abortion, and after the event was arrested on a murder charge. She was found guilty and duly hanged; had she not procured the abortion, she would be alive today.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, (a 2001 reprint of the original 1961 satire) 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Lethal Injections: The History of Death House Pharmacology

     By 2010, 35 states still impose the death penalty in cases involving inmates who have committed the most heinous murders. Not all of these states, however, actually carry out the executions. In the states that do, the mode of execution is lethal injection. The electric chair has been replaced by chemicals. Inmates are no longer electrocuted, they are poisoned to death.

     Death house executioners, in dispatching the condemned, administer a lethal cocktail comprised of three drugs. The first drug to go in--sodium thiopental--renders the recipient unconscious. The second chemical paralyzes the inmate while the third stops his heart. The key ingredient in the cocktail, the vodka in the screwdriver as it were, is the sodium thiopental, a drug used by all of the states where death row prisoners are actually executed.

     Late in 2010, the only company that manufactured sodium thiopental--mainly used as an anesthesia, and to induce medical comas--announced a shortage of the drug. A spokesperson for the Hospira company blamed the scarcity on a problem with the manufacturer's raw material suppliers. Cut off from the drug, executions in California, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Maryland were delayed.

     In December 2010, the executioner in Oklahoma who sent 58-year-old John David Duty to his grave for killing a cellmate, substituted sodium thiopental with a sedative used to treat severe epilepsy. The drug, pentobarbital, sold under the brand name Nembutal, was manufactured by a Danish company called Lundbeck. The pharmaceutical was also used to put down animals.

     In August 2011, an executioner in Virginia used pentobarbital as part of the lethal mix to kill a 30-year-old inmate named Jerry Jackson. Jackson had been convicted in 2002 for breaking into 88-year-old Ruth Phillips' house where he raped and murdered the woman. Phillips woke up to find him burglarizing the place. When she confronted the intruder, he sexually assaulted, then killed her. Following the Jackson execution, the Lundbeck company, objecting to one of its products being used to kill inmates, restricted the drug's distribution in an effort to keep it out of America's execution chambers.

     In 2011, 23 death row prisoners in the United States were either buried or cremated with pentobarbital in their blood. In Ohio that year, for the first time in the nation, an executioner dispatched a prisoner by using pentobarbital only. Death penalty opponents, claiming that the one-drug method caused inmates to die more slowly, objected to the procedure.

     In March 2012, with the cost of pentobarbital going through the roof, the state of Texas spent $1,200 on the deadly cocktail used to kill 52-year-old Keith Thurmond. The condemned man had been convicted in 2002 of murdering his estranged wife and her lover during an argument over child custody.

     Texas prison administrators, in July 2012, adopted Ohio's one-drug policy in an effort to save taxpayers' money. The executioner injected pentobarbital into 33-year-old Yokamon Hearn fourteen years after he had murdered a Dallas stockbroker. A death chamber physician pronounced the prisoner dead 25 minutes following his lethal injection.

     In 2012, the states of Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Georgia also began executing inmates with pentobarbital only.

     Correction officials in Texas, in July 2013, announced that they were running out of pentobarbital. Because the European Commission, in December 2011, had ordered companies in the European Union to stop exporting the drug to the United States for execution, states had no way of replenishing their supply of the drug. Because several prisoners were scheduled to die during the second half of 2013, this was a problem for the people tasked to kill them.

     Execution states will either have to find another lethal drug that's available on the market, dust off their old electric chairs, or stop executing prisoners. I'm sure they'll find another drug. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Charles Duff's Satiric Take on Hanging

I am not greatly concerned with the condemned man, but rather with the system, for it is the system that can be improved. The death of an individual is a trifle when we think of war and the general slaughter and butchery that is synonymous....What is the death of even the most important individual? And cannot death itself, even death by execution, be made, and frequently is made, into an admirable thing?...Christianity itself might not have taken its great hold upon the imagination of the world if Christ had not been executed. Out of evil good can come; and the end justifies the means.

Charles Duff, A Handbook on Hanging, 1961

Criminal Justice Quote: Trial Lawyers

     They might best be called the shock troops of the legal profession, the ones called in when all else has failed. After the niceties of early legal wrangling, it is up to the trial lawyers to right wrongs, prosecute or defend the accused and see that--for at least one side--truth wins out in the courtroom's bright glare.

     Of course, real-life courtroom lawyers know that real-life cases seldom are won solely on the basis of flowery oratory. Instead, it's a matter of mastering an extraordinary complex set of facts and presenting them to jurors in a way that convinces them there is only one possible right version: their client's. And witnesses who confess on the stand, freeing an unjustly accused person, are even rarer; litigation rules now leave few opportunities for dramatic flourishes of that sort.

T. Summer Robinson in Emily Couric, The Trial Lawyers, 1988

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: The Mystery of Why People Commit Crimes

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

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

Writing Quote: Writing Narrative History

Historians have always crafted narratives. War. Peace. Political battles. Feuds in the hollers. Floods on the Mississippi. Hurricanes. Strikes. Assassinations. Voyages to known and unknown places. Trials of the century. Personal quests. Leaders with uncommon touches and tragic flaws. This is the stuff of great narrative and the stuff of narrative history, stories about the past told with verve and drama but also with strong arguments and thick footnotes.

Lee Gutkind, Keep it Real, 2009 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

State Agents Execute Baby Deer Giggles: Keeping America Safe

     Lest anyone think that American law enforcement isn't insanely militarized, the story of a SWAT-like raid of an animal shelter in search of a state-condemned baby fawn should settle the question once and for all.

     In early July 2013, a family living in Illinois across the state line from Kenosha, Wisconsin, rescued a baby fawn that had been abandoned by her mother. The animal lovers who discovered the deer in their backyard, called the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha. Personnel at the no-kill shelter agreed to take custody of the abandoned deer.

     An unidentified busybody, shocked that the shelter housed a wild animal without the required state-issued permit, alerted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). After the agency received the anonymous tip, DNR agents dedicated to maintaining the peace and dignity of the great state of Wisconsin, sprang into action. Rather than one agent simply driving out to the shelter to inform the St. Francis personnel that they needed to acquire a permit for the baby deer (the day will come when we will have to get government permits for everything), DNR agents assigned to the case arranged for aerial photographs of the animal shelter and the contraband deer. (It's too bad Obama didn't lend the agency one of his drones. Terrorists--unlicensed deer--what's the difference?)

     Employees of the rogue animal shelter had named the 35-pound fawn "Giggles" because of the sounds she made.

     On July 15, 2013, a heavily armed squad of nine DNR agents accompanied by four deputy sheriffs rolled up to the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in several police vehicles. (The local SWAT tank was currently being used to transport a captured check-passer who had been caught in possession of two unregistered ballpoint pens. Just kidding.) It's hard to image what the idiot in charge of this SWAT-like operation was thinking. Did these officers expect armed resistance from the shelter workers? We all know how dangerous these kind of people can be. Perhaps the agents were afraid of Giggles. Unarmed deer in the wild have been known to charge hunters.

     As the DNR agents began executing their search warrant--that's right, they actually went to the trouble of bothering a judge for a search warrant--confused and concerned shelter employee were corralled near a picnic area. A false move at this point could have gotten one of them killed. This was serious business.

     The woman in charge of the shelter under siege informed one of the agents that Giggles was being taken the next day to a wildlife reserve. This relevant information fell on deaf ears. Armed law enforcement warriors on important crime-fighting missions do not allow themselves to be distracted by interfering bystanders.

     Not long after the armed invasion of the animal shelter, a DNR agent walked proudly out of the barn with a body-bag thrown over his shoulder. Giggles, still alive, was in the sack. One of the outraged shelter workers who assumed the agent had killed Giggles, asked why he had killed the fawn. (Giggles was tranquilized and dispatched by government officials later that day.)

     The  DNR agent, in response to the obvious question of why, said, "That's our policy." Of course, policy! That explains everything. The government has its policies and we have to shut up and live with those policies. What would a citizen know about policy?

     The animal shelter employee, obviously not impressed with the DNR policy of armed animal shelter raids in search of unlicensed baby deer scheduled for execution, said, "That's one hell of a policy!"

     Following the idiotic raid and execution of Giggles, shelter worker Ray Schultz said this to a local reporter: "I spent 22 years in the Air Force and two years in Vietnam and I've never seen such totally unnecessary, senseless cruelty."

     Cindy Schultz, the president of the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter, described the DNR raid to a reporter: "This was like the Gestapo coming in. Giggles didn't pose any threat. She was petrified. She wasn't even sick. There was no reason to kill her."

     It's bad enough that we have to live under the control of a growing army of mindless bureaucrats blindly enforcing stupid and unnecessary laws and regulations. It's even worse that these idiots have guns, and operate under the false belief they are keeping America safe.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: Why Serial Killers Kill

The notion that male serial killers kill only for sexual purposes and that they kill only strangers is long outdated. Serial killers will also kill for power, profit, belief, and politics and some will kill friends, neighbors, and family members. And female serial killers can kill for the same reasons as males do.

Peter Vronsky, Female Serial Killers, 2007

Writing Quote: Why Nonfiction Writers Get Rejected

Nonfiction writers write too much about themselves and what they think without seeking a universal focus so that readers are properly and firmly engaged. Essays that are so personal that they omit the reader are essays that will never see the light of print. The overall objective of a writer should be to make the reader tune in, not out....The uninspired writer will tell the reader about a subject, place, or personality, but the creative nonfiction writer will show that subject, place, or personality in action.

Lee Gutkind, Keep it Real, 2009

Friday, August 2, 2013

Investigative Journalism: A Dying Profession

     With the weak economy, and competition from cable TV, news bloggers and other forms of online reporting, only a handful of newspapers can afford the costly services of highly trained and experienced investigative reporters. Investigative journalism has been in decline since the Watergate days of Woodward and Bernstein. Today, some of the biggest news scoops (EG John Edward's love child) are scored by reporters with the grocery store tabloids. In terms of political reporting, the fourth estate, as a journalistic check on governmental power, is not holding up its end of the bargain. This is particularly true with regard to the print media. In the world of cable TV investigative reporting, the U. S. Department of Justice recently charged Fox News reporter James Rosen with being an accomplice to espionage for merely talking to a government leaker.

     Today, what passes for investigative reporting is often hack journalism that reflects the reality that just because a story is based on facts doesn't make it true. For example, it may be a fact that some drunken yahoo filed a police report claiming that space aliens gave him a saucer ride from Parkersburg, West Virginia to Washington, D. C. But just because the story involves a first-hand account backed up by a police document, doesn't make it true.

     The following are quotes by investigative reporters on the stature and nature of this fading profession:

We really didn't define reporting as investigative until 1964. That's when the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting went to the old Philadelphia Bulletin for an expose on how police officers were running a numbers racket out of the station house. Before then, that category had been called "Local Reporting."

Mike McQueen

General reporters [as opposed to investigative reporters] usually lack detailed knowledge of the subject they are reporting on. They are in a hurry. They work on stories chosen by their news desks from an agenda set by major news sources and media (local or national). They seek quotes from spokesmen: managing directors, police superintendents, public relations officers, secretaries of organizations and pressure groups.

David Spark

One good reason many good reporters stay away from [investigative reporting] is they don't like hassling people nor do they want to be hassled. That's part of the job I don't like either, but I'm willing to put up with it because I believe such work is important. I don't like confronting government figures with the fact they have lied about something or that they have done something irregular or illegal. It's an unpleasant experience. I don't particularly like the sneers I get back from such people.

Jack Nelson

An investigative reporter must have brass, for once it is discovered what he is up to, he is bound to be confronted with solid opposition. Furthermore, even after having developed a substantial product, he must be willing to fight to have it published....Then he's got to defend it when it's attacked by those who may suffer by the exposures contained in the story or series.

Peter Bridge

I think investigative journalism has become a lot rarer because it takes time and it takes a lot of resources and it's just harder to do. It's a lot easier to do these quick easy stories.

Russ Kirk

Investigative reporting is a money-loser for journalistic corporations. It's expensive, stories my not pan out, and you make a lot of enemies.

Burt Glass

You might start a story thinking you are going to look at how the city health department administers vaccines but...find that the story's really about the city's mismanagement in general.

Bob Woodward

I tell them [story sources] how I work. I tell them they have to go on record. I tell them I am going to be asking other people about them, that even though I find them really nice people, I am going to have to check them out....I say to them, "Once you agree to talk to me, that's it. You don't really have control, but you do have control to the degree you want to participate. And once you are on the record, if there's something you don't want me to know, then don't tell me because its going to be on the record."

Susan Kelleher

Secondary sources are most useful when they lead to primary documents. The legislative hearing transcript would be a primary document, as would be a real estate deed, political candidate's campaign finance report, lawsuit, insurance policy, discharge certificate from the military. Documents can be just like human sources can be, because, after all, documents are prepared by humans. However, unlike humans, documents do not talk back, do not claim to have been misquoted.

Steve Weinberg

Criminal Justice Quote: Politics and Corruption in the Medical Examiner's Office

Becoming the chief medical examiner of New York City [in 1978] was a fulfillment....I envisioned the office as independent, scientific, apolitical. Pure. Robert Morgenthau, the district attorney of Manhattan, saw it as an arm of the DA's office, with a malleable medical examiner doing his bidding. But if the DA needs a rape in order to prosecute, should the ME somehow find evidence consistent with a rape? If the police say their prisoner died of a heart attack and not a choke hold, should the ME oblige with a death certificate that says cardiac arrest? What is really wanted is an elastic man, one who will stretch and bend his findings to suit the DA's needs and the political climate. Truth and excellence play no part in this arrangement. Numbers are what count, getting convictions for the DA, and the ME's office exists for that purpose. Its own purposes are always subordinate to somebody else's agenda. The DA and his numbers look good for a while, but the ME is degraded and his work suffers. The office succumbs to creeping corruption, a little bit here, a little bit there, until it begins to resemble the old coroner system it replaced.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner (with Judith Adler Hennessee), 1989

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Quote: Lee Gutkind on Creative Nonfiction

[The term] "creative nonfiction" precisely describes what the form is all about. The word "creative" refers simply to the use of literary craft in presenting nonfiction--that is, factually accurate prose about real people and events--in a compelling, vivid manner. To put it another way, creative nonfiction writers do not make things up; they make ideas and information that already exist more interesting and often more accessible.

Lee Gutkind, Keep It Real, 2009

Criminal Justice Quote: Dr. Michael M. Baden on Forensic Pathology

     Medical examiners are the only doctors whose patients are dead and therefore silent. They cannot explain why they died, so we have to find out in other ways. We are the detectives of death--we visit the scene; we examine the medical evidence and the laboratory findings and put them together with the circumstances and the patient's medical history. Through the autopsy, we make the body speak to us. Deciphering the message is an art as well as a science.

     Our medical specialty is forensic pathology. We know about the three kinds of unnatural death--suicides, homicides, and accidents. We are trained to analyze traumatic injuries--gunshot and stab wounds, blunt force, and poison. Our work is different from that of the hospital pathologists who autopsy bodies to study the ravages of disease. Our methods are different from those of doctors who care for the living and whose concern is more the treatment than the cause. We want to know how the knife went in, from above or below, and where the person who wielded it was standing; which bullet hole was the entrance and which the exit and where the shot came from. Medically, these things may be irrelevant, but in a courtroom they are extremely significant in deciding the cause and manner of death and reconstructing how it happened.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, Unnatural Death: Confessions of a Medical Examiner, 1989