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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Nitrogen Gas Chambers: Send Them Off Laughing

     [A] new method of execution being proposed…is known as nitrogen asphyxiation, it seals the condemned in an airtight chamber pumped full of nitrogen gas, causing a lack of oxygen….Nitrogen gas has yet to be put to the test as a method of capital punishment--no country currently uses it for state-sanctioned executions. But people do die accidentally of nitrogen asphyxiation, and usually never know what hit them. (It's even possible that death by nitrogen gas is mildly euphoric. Deep-sea divers exposed to an excess of nitrogen develop a narcosis, colorfully known as "raptures of the deep, " similar to drunkenness or nitrous oxide inhalation.)…

     In late April 2014, Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc suggested to a state legislative committee that Louisiana should look into using nitrogen gas as a new method of execution, since lethal injection has become so contentious. "It's become almost impossible to execute someone," LeBlanc complained….

     "Nitrogen is the big thing," LeBlanc told the legislative committee. "It's a painless way to go. But more time needs to be spent studying that." The committee instructed LeBlanc to do some research on the subject and report back. In the meantime, Louisiana has delayed a pending execution….[In May 2014, Ohio delayed four executions due to the controversy over killing death row inmates with the single drug pentobarbital.]

Matt Mangino, "New Execution Method on the Horizon--Nitrogen Gas Asphyxiation," mattmangino.com, May 26, 2014

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Forensic Botany

One thing I tell police frequently is this: If you get a call of somebody breaking into a house, and you see somebody walking down the street as you pull up, as you question him, ask to see the cuffs of his pants. If he's climbed through a hedge or walked through a yard--most people have weeds around. Weeds get around in lots of clever ways; they often have little sticky parts that adhere to you shoes, or your shoelaces, or your pants cuffs, or they land in a pants cuff. If the suspect says, "Oh, I got those in my grandmother's yard," those particular weeds may not be there. So we've hooked people to certain crime sites though what kind of weeds have gotten stuck to them. Almost no one can lie about plant evidence.

Forensic botanist, in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

Writing Quotes: The "Hook"

     Some first lines are so powerful that you absolutely have to keep on reading. This is known as a "hook." Nearly all the great writers employ hooks in one form or another….

     Despite popular misconception, though, the hook is more than a marketing tool. At its best, it can be not only a propellant but also a statement of what you might expect from the text to come. It can establish a character, narrator, or setting, convey a shocking piece of information. The irony is there is only so much you can do with one line; thus it is a game: the less space you have to work with, the more creative you must become. It is not surprising then that hooks comprise some of the most memorable lines in literature.

     What is rarely discussed is the importance of the hook not only as an opening line but as an opening paragraph, not only an opening paragraph but as an opening page, not only as an opening page but as an opening chapter. In other words, the same intensity of thought applied to the opening line should not be confined to the opening line--a common malady--but rather applied to the text in its entirety. This takes endurance, focus and concentration; with this level of intensity, it might take several days to complete even one paragraph.

     Look at your first or last line and think of the agonizing effort you put into it. You knew you were in the spotlight, that it had to be good. How many times did you rewrite that one line? What would the rest of your manuscript be like if you agonized over each line the same way? It would take forever is probably your first thought….

     I am often amazed by how many manuscripts begin with good first lines--and good openings in general--and then fall apart; it is actually rare to see the intensity found in a first line (or last) maintained throughout a manuscript.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Friday, May 30, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: What is Trace Evidence?

     Trace evidence analysis is the section of the crime lab where, if they don't know where to send it, they send it to us. We get all kinds of oddball things in here. Feathers. We've had feathers come into the crime lab. Bird feathers.

     One case: A person was shot and killed outdoors, near a garage. The bullet went through the victim's down jacket. And then it hit a garage door and deflected off. In that garage door, in the bullet hole, there was a little feather. I think the defense's story was that the shooting was accidental, that the defendant had aimed at the garage, and the bullet deflected off it, and then it went into the victim.  We couldn't say for sure that the bullet hole feather was from the victim's jacket, but finding it on the garage door corresponds more to the person being shot and then the slug entering the door. The victim was hit first.

Trace evidence analyst in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

Criminal Justice Quote: Pundits Blame Guns and Society for Elliott Rodger's Murder Spree

     First Elliott Rodger murdered his three roommates with a knife, hammer and machete. Then he shot eight people, three of them fatally, and tried to run over several others in his car. After the bodies were taken away, everyone on television agreed that it was the fault of the guns.

     Rodger had been in therapy since he was eight and was seeing therapists every day in high school. He had a history of violent threats and physical assaults and the police had already gotten involved. He was on multiple prescription medications and had therapists whom he alerted to his plans by sending them his manifesto….

     In a country where a little boy with a pop tart chewed in the shape of a gun triggers immediate action, the professionals who cashed in on the killer's wealthy family were in no hurry to call the police. One even reassured his mother while the shootings were going on that it wasn't him.

     So it was obviously the fault of the guns which he bought with $5,000 from his family. The BMW he used to commit some of the attacks was given to him by his mother. Jenni Rodger, his British aunt, blamed America and guns for her nephew's massacre. "What kind of society allows this? How can this be allowed to happen? I want to appeal to Americans to do something about this horrific problem."

     Somehow a parenting failure is now the fault of an entire... country….

     Rodger's father issued a statement through his lawyer in support of gun control….It might have been more useful if instead of opposing [guns]; Peter Rodger had spent more time dealing with his son's problems.

     Guns did not kill six people. His son did….

Daniel Greenfield, "The 'You Didn't Do That' Society," frontpagemag.com, May 28, 2014 

Writing Quote: The Most Erudite Cities

  For the third straight year, Alexandria, Virginia has topped Amazon.com's list of the best-read cities. The online retailer announced that Alexandria, where many government workers from nearby Washington reside, ranks Number 1 for sales of books, newspapers and magazines in cities of 100,000 or more. Miami was second, with residents there eager for books and magazines on self-help, health and mind, and body topics. Knoxville, Tennessee, was third; followed by Amazon's home city, Seattle; and Orlando, Florida. Rounding out the top 10 were many college towns: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Berkeley, California; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Cincinnati; and Columbia, South Carolina.

"Alexandria, Virginia Tops Best-Read Cities List," Associated Press, May 25, 2014 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Role of Popular Music in Mass Shooting/Suicides

School shootings, like other mass murders and suicide clusters, reflects the culture of the times. The role of the media takes many forms in such events, but perhaps nothing rules and mirrors the culture of adolescents the way music does. Yesterday's swing and jazz, as remembered in bebop, the Lindy, the shimmy, and the Charleston, have evolved into the music that fills our world today: Rock and roll. New wave. Punk. Heavy mental. Grunge rock. Hip-Hop. Gangsta rock. Death rock. The beat, lyrics, groups and individual artists are held in high regard. Rock-star look-alikes are everywhere. And the fashion follows the music in more than clothing. Attitudes and beliefs systems are born from the messages communicated or reinforced through teen music.

Loren Coleman, The Copycat Effect, 2004 

Hellementary Education Quote: Kids Learn That Money Doesn't Buy Happiness

     Two Vancouver, Washington third graders said they wet their pants after their teacher would not let them use the bathroom. The students, both girls, said the reason for the denial was that they hadn't accumulated enough pretend money to pay for the privilege. The unidentified teacher will not be punished as a result of an internal investigation of the incident by representatives of the teacher's union. A separate investigation of the incident has been triggered by a mother's complaint….

     The alleged incidents occurred May 15 at Mill Plain Elementary School. The pretend money is designed to teach students about the value of money. [Here's an idea: to demonstrate the value of money, the teacher can refuse to pay her union dues. The next day, the students can discuss the lesson with their new teacher.] Students earn the fictional funds by doing their homework, for example, or by being nice to others. [In real life you don't get paid for that.] They can spend it to buy pizza [take that, Mrs. Obama!] or pointless items like a squirt gun. [If a kid brings this purchase to school, he'll need real money for bail.] Students say they must also use the fake cash to pay for bathroom breaks.

     The unidentified teacher expects a seemingly high imaginary price for toilet time: $50. [Hey, if you ever had the urgent need to go, $50 is peanuts. If this teacher were smart, she'd charged the little buggers real money for bathroom breaks.]

     A statement by Evergreen Public Schools said that all students, including students who don't have enough fake money are allowed to use the bathroom in cases of an emergency. [Really?]

Eric Owens, "Pay-To-Pee Teacher Faces No Discipline," The Daily Caller, May 25, 2014   

Writing Quote: Should You Join a Screenwriting Workshop?

There comes a time in every screenwriter's career when he feels the need to cease a solitary existence and enroll in a class or workshop. Before you jump in, be aware that many of these classes are taught by petty people. Of course not all workshops are evil. [I'm not so sure about that.] In fact, there are many wonderful workshops and teachers across the country. Just make sure the instructor of your workshop promotes constructive, not destructive, feedback, and the other students seem talented, supportive and serious. [My idea of good advice from workshop instructor: If you have real talent, get the hell out of this class. Movies today are crap, written by teams of hacks. Write a genre novel or get into nonfiction. Or better yet, get a real job.]

Richard Krevolin, Screenwriting in the Land of Oz, 2011

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Harold Montague's Ax-Wielding Rampage

     In 2010, 33-year-old Harold E. Montague lived in a single-story house with his wife Erricca, their two grade school children, and Erricca's disabled mother, Monica O'Dazier. The family resided on San Pedro Avenue in the central valley area of Las Vegas. Erricca worked outside the home while her husband cared for her mother who had cerebral palsy and suffered seizures. Harold had been his mother-in-law's principal caregiver for the past five years.

     At eleven-forty on the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2010, Harold Montague removed a medieval-style battle ax that hung on his wall and used it to hack his mother-in-law twenty times. Leaving the gravely wounded O'Dazier bleeding in the rear bedroom of the dwelling, Montague, with the bloody battle ax in hand, walked out onto Pedro Avenue where he encountered a young mother pushing her 4-month-old son in a stroller.

     Montague walked up to Sonia Castro and her son Damian, and started swing the weapon. He quickly hacked the baby to death, then struck Sonia several times in the head and hands as she tried to protect herself. During the murderous rampage, Castro begged her attacker to stop. Instead of letting up, Montague laughed in her face. With the dead baby under the overturned stroller, and the infant's mother on the ground with her jaw hanging loosely from her face, Montague walked back into his house.

     A neighbor, 52-year-old Teresa Garner, witnessed the attack and called 911. After making the emergency call, Garner ran to the victims. She found the baby dead, and Sonia alive but horribly disfigured, and bleeding profusely.

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious Monica O'Dazier to the University Medical Center. Sonia Castrol was taken to the same facility where she was listed in "extremely critical" condition. Both women would survive Montague's vicious attacks.

     Following a brief scuffle, Las Vegas officers arrested Harold Montague at his house. He told the officers that he had no memory of the assaults. They booked him into the Clark County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

     The next day, at Montague's arraignment, the judge denied him bail. At that hearing, defense attorney Norm Reed characterized his client as delusional and paranoid. The lawyer said he would have his client examined by a psychiatrist, and depending upon the results of that examination, make a decision as to whether he would plead his client legally insane.

     In October 2010, attorney Reed informed the court that he planned to put on an insanity defense. The judge set the trial for June 2011.

     By 2013, due to several postponements, the Montague case had not come to trial. At a preliminary hearing on December 6, 2013, attorney Reed put a Reno, Nevada psychiatrist named Dr. Tom Bittker on the stand. Dr. Bittker said that several interviews of Montague had given him a profile of this disturbed man's life. For example, as a child, Montague had been beaten, raped and emotionally tormented by his drug-abusing parents. At age six someone murdered the boy's father.

     According to Dr. Bittker, Harold didn't go beyond the fifth grade, and grew up in and out of a Las Vegas juvenile detention center. As an adult, he married Erricca, and fathered two children with her. She worked out of the house while he stayed at home, unable to hold down a job. In 2004, he began taking care of Erricca's mother.

     Dr. Bittker testified that in his expert medical opinion, when Mr. Montague attacked Monica O'Dazier, Sonia Castro, and little Damian, he was in the midst of a psychotic episode that included the delusion that God was speaking to him directly.

     Erricca Montague took the stand at the hearing and testified that for several days before the attacks, her husband's behavior had been bizarre. He hadn't slept for days, stopped eating, and refused to drink water. He spent his nights pacing the house and talking to himself.

     Following the preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that the defense had produced enough evidence to go forward with an insanity defense. (In Nevada as in most states, legal insanity is a so-called affirmative defense, which means the defendant has the burden of proving, with a preponderance of evidence, that he was insane at the time of the alleged criminal act.)

     On May 22, 2014, the Montague case came to an abrupt conclusion when attorney Reed announced that his client had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, and battery of a police officer. Under the plea agreement, the defendant will be sentenced on July 30, 2014 to life in prison without the chance of parole. In prison, he will receive treatment for his mental illness.

     The plea agreement meant that Sonia Castro would not have to testify at Montague's trial. Earlier, at a April 2010 preliminary hearing, she had testified that when she begged him to stop his murderous assault, he laughed at her. After the rampage, her jaw had to be surgically reattached. The attack had also left her with an irreparably damaged eye.

     Montague's guilty plea will also spare eyewitness Teresa Garner from the ordeal of re-living the crime in court. After Montague's ax-wielding madness, Garner suffered a nervous breakdown.

     Harold Montague, now taking anti-psychotic medication, has expressed a desire to apologize to his victims, and to explain that he had acted out of a psychotic delusion. I doubt that his apology and explanation will help his victims, people who have been permanently scarred physically and emotionally as a result of his bloody rampage.

     

Whackademia Quote: Parents Clueless Regarding College Debt

     Figuring out the best way to pay for college can be overwhelming even for the savviest families. A new survey suggests that many people have no idea where to start. Almost half of the people surveyed by the Credit Union National Association, a trade group, said they don't know how many loans their children will need to pay for college. About one-quarter of parents said they were also clueless on the total dollar amount their children would need to borrow to pay for their college….

     Here's the reality: The average college student graduating this year will walk away with $26,500 in student lean debt….The debt load averaged $25,500 for someone earning a bachelor's degree from a public four-year college; at private, for-profit colleges, it was $39, 950….Several reports suggest that college graduates are bogged down by their debt. People with student loan debt are less likely to own homes than those without college debt….

Jonnelle Marte, "Many Blind to College Loan Needs," The Boston Globe, May 25, 2014


Criminal Justice Quote: State Trooper Pulls Gun on Speeder

     With tensions apparently high following the fatal shooting of a state trooper, Michigan State Police Trooper Timothy Wagner claims he was being extra cautious when he drew his firearm and pointed it an a 18-year-old woman during a traffic stop in April 2014. The incident, caught on Wagner's dash cam, sparked allegations of excessive force and a formal investigation. Though no criminal charges were filed, even St. Joseph County prosecutor John McDonough said in a statement that what he heard come out of the trooper's mouth made him "sick to my stomach."

     The incident began after Wagner says he clocked the woman's red Pontiac going 77 mph in a 55 mph zone. The dash cam video shows the trooper activating his lights and siren before pulling a quick U-turn to pull over the driver. About 45 seconds after the U-turn, the woman pulled over to the side of the road.

     Wagner is seen getting out of his car with his handgun already drawn and pointed at the car. He slowly approaches the vehicle and orders the woman to get out. The trooper than handcuffs the woman and takes her back to his cruiser. [Welcome to the future of routine policing.]

     "I chased you for two miles doing almost 80 mph after I went right by you and turned around, that's the problem," the trooper can be heard telling the woman. "You really have to pay attention to what's going on."

     The woman apologizes and tells the trooper she didn't see him immediately. She does not deny she was driving too fast….The woman claimed there was a report of a burglary at her residence and she was in a hurry to get home. Wagner confirmed the burglary report and eventually let the woman go without a ticket, though he said he "probably should take her to jail."

     After reviewing the case, prosecutor McDonough decided there was not enough evidence to warrant criminal charges against the officer. However, he made his disapproval of the trooper's actions known. [The trooper made inappropriate comments to the woman, statements that have not been reported. It is these comments that caused the prosecutor to feel sick to his stomach.]

Jason Howerton, "After Hearing State Trooper's Comments to 18-Year-Old Woman, Even the County Prosecutor Said He 'Became Sick to My Stomach'," theblaze.com, May 20, 2014 

Writing Quote: David Brooks on George Orwell and C.S. Lewis

If you want to learn how to write, the best way to start is by imitating C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. These two Englishmen, born five years apart, never used a pompous word if a short and plain one would do. Orwell was a master of the welcoming first sentence. He wrote an essay called "England Your England" while sheltering from German bombs during World War II. Here is his opening: "As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me."

David Brooks, "Really Good Books, Part I," The New York Times, May 22, 2014 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Dino Gugglielmelli Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 2001, Dino Gugglielmelli, the owner of Creations Garden, a $48 million natural cream and nutritional supplement business, met Monica Olsen, a Romanian-born model twenty years younger than him. The 39-year-old tycoon had been married twice before. Both of those marriages had been brief.

     Not long after the two met, Monica moved into Gugglielmelli's six-bedroom, 7,000-square foot mansion on three acres north of Los Angeles. The couple married in April 2003, and by 2008, had two daughters. They also possessed a Maserati, a Porsche, and a BMW.

     The Food and Drug Administration, in 2009, tightened the federal regulations regarding the manufacture and marketing of nutritional supplements. This, along with the economic recession, took its toll on Gugglielmelli's business. By 2011, the company, along with his marriage, had collapsed.

     Dino Gugglielmelli, in October 2012, in filing for divorce, described Monica as a bad mother who "never made dinner for the children." According to court documents, Guggliemelli complained that nannies had raised the children, and domestic employees cleaned the house.

     In January 2013, after Mr. Gugglielmelli accused Monica of attacking him with a kitchen knife, she lost custody of the children and moved out of the mansion. Shortly after her departure, Gugglielmelli acquired a young girlfriend. Although he was facing bankruptcy, he lavished this woman with $200.000 in gifts. He used other people's money to impress his young squeeze.

     In the spring of 2013, the justice system exonerated Monica in the domestic knife assault case. A family court judge, in August of that year, was about to award her $300,000 in back alimony payments. The federal government, the economy, and his pending divorce was putting an end to Gugglielmelli's lavish style of living. He did not like what the future held for him.

     On October 1, 2013, Gugglielmelli met 47-year-old Richard Euhrmann in a Los Angeles restaurant. Euhrmann, a short time before this meeting, had gone to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office with information that Gugglielmelli had asked him to murder his estranged wife, Monica. For that reason, Euhrmann showed up at the restaurant wired for sound.

     During the meeting, Gugglielmelli allegedly offered his friend $80,000 to pull off the hit. "I'll be happy when it's over," he reportedly said. As the two men walked out of the restaurant, deputies took Gugglielmelli into custody.

     A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged the former millionaire with attempted murder and solicitation of murder. After being booked into the county's Men's Central Jail, the judge set Gugglielmelli's bond at $10 million.

     At a pre-trial hearing in late 2013, Gugglielmelli's attorney, Anthony Brooklier, described Richard Euhrmann, the man Guggliemelli had allegedly asked to kill Monica, as an opportunist and liar who had set up his client. (If this is true, I don't know what Euhrmann had gained from setting up his friend.)

     With her estranged husband behind bars for plotting to kill her, Monica moved back into the Gugglielmelli mansion.

     In May 2014, county jail officials moved the high-profile inmate into solitary confinement at the notorious Twin Towers correctional facility. The 9,500-prisiner complex, in 2011, was named one of the ten worst jails in the world. (I'm sure it's not a nice place, but this is hard to believe. I base this opinion on the fact I've watched a lot of "Locked Up Abroad" TV episodes.)

     After receiving word that several of Gugglielmell's fellow inmates had approached him with offers to kill Richard Euhrmann, the principal witness against Gugglielmelli, corrections officials had decided to isolate him from the jail population. Gugglielmelli was also denied the privilege of seeing visitors. Richard Euhrmann, fearing for his life, went into hiding.

     Monica, the alleged target of the murder-for-hire plot, said she also worried about being killed by a hit man. Traumatized by the case, she has put the mansion up for sale. She asked $3.5 million for the house. Monica was also trying to breathe new life back into her beauty cream and baby skin care business.

    On June 13, 2014 in San Fernando Superior Court, Gugglielmelli pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder. The judge sentenced him to nine years in prison.

Criminal Justice Quote: The Effects of Drug Enforcement

     Given large numbers of addicts, we start with a high level of demand. The effectiveness of law enforcement measures lowers the supply. The selling price, and hence the potential level of profit that accompanies the successful evasion or corruption of law enforcement efforts, rises. To the unprincipled traffickers in narcotics, this counterbalances the increased risk and justifies an increased counter-mobilization effort to evade and corrupt the law enforcement efforts and to increase the market by expanding the number of addicts. The investment in law enforcement then rises, the counter-investment goes up, and the vicious cycle rolls merrily along….

     The suppression approach is, of course, not simply one of increasing the number of police officers devoted to catching offenders. It also includes a demand for increasing police powers (which always carries with it increased infringement of the guaranteed constitutional liberties) and increasingly severe penalties….

     There is another aspect of the law enforcement approach to narcotics which tends to be self-defeating. The structure of the illegal narcotics business is that of a pyramid, or a series of interlocking pyramids resting on the same base. At the bottom of this structure and constituting the vast majority of individuals involved in the business are the addict-pushers. These are usually people impelled to narcotics by their own uncontrollable cravings who would otherwise be unable to support their habit. Consider an enforcement unit which has to justify its existence in the results it can show. Going after higher levels of the narcotics business pyramid, to say nothing of the apex or apexes, is a long, hazardous, and at best uncertain affair….

     By contrast, the addict-pusher is a sure bet. All that is needed is to keep an eye on him once he has been released from serving his sentence and, sooner or later, usually sooner, he will be caught selling or at least in possession. This poor wretch does not command the services of high-priced legal talent, and the case is quickly processed through the courts with a minimum of waste of police time. The result is an impressively large record of arrests and convictions for the individual officer and for the enforcement unit as a whole.

Isidor Cheim, Donald C. Gerard, and Robert S. Lee, "Drugs and Social Policy," in The Criminal in Society, Leon Radzinowicz and Marvin Wolfgang, Editors, 1994  

Criminal Justice Quote: Judge Orders Serial Rapist Christopher Evans Hubbart to Live in Palmdale, California

     A man who raped and assaulted at least 40 women has been ordered to live in a remote California community, despite objections from residents there. Christopher Evans Hubbart, who police believe may have had as many as 100 victims, will rent a small house in a rural area near the city of Palmdale. [To the owner of this house, I recommend a good fire insurance policy.] A Santa Clara judge heard objections at an all-day hearing on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 but issued his order two days later.

     Hubbart, 63, will have to wear a GPS ankle bracelet when released on July 7, 2014. [Recently in California, a woman was raped and murdered by a couple of paroles wearing GPS bracelets.] Hubbart has admitted raping and assaulting about 40 women between 1971 and 1982. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Police believe the number of victims to be closer to 100. [That's about one month of prison time for each rape. Welcome to the great state of California where rapists and pedophiles run free.]

     Released on parole in 1990, he was arrested two months later for a new attack and returned to prison. In 1996, corrections officials transferred him to a state mental hospital. Doctors there recently concluded that he was fit for release…[Perhaps Mr. Hubbart should live next door to one of these shrinks.]

     Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey spent months fighting the decision to release Hubbart…..Judge Gilbert Brown would only say that the court had reviewed all of the emails, petitions, cards and letters submitted in protest before he had reached his decision. [How about this: if Mr. Hubbart rapes another woman, this judge goes to prison as an accomplice.]

"Judge in California Orders Serial Rapist's Release," BBC News, May 23, 2014 

Hellementary Education Quote: Kiddie Poisoners Target Teacher

     Two Brooklyn, New York elementary school students have been arrested on suspicion of putting rat poison in a teacher's water bottle….The children, who are 9 and 12 and attend Public School 315 on Glenwood Road in Flatbush, were charged with reckless endangerment and assault. The teacher, who drank from the poisoned water bottle, is recovering….

     The incident occurred on Monday, May 19, 2014 and was brought to light by a parent whose child reported witnessing other students putting something in the teacher's drink. The mother called the school and reported the episode. But by then, the teacher had already ingested the tainted water.

     After being alerted, the teacher took the water bottle to the principal's office and went to see a private doctor, reporting mild nausea….

Marc Santora and Al Baker, "2 Brooklyn Pupil's Accused of Putting Rat Poison in Teacher's Water," The New York Times, May 21, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The New York City Bread Truck Heist

     The act of taking something that isn't yours, while against the law and anti-social, is not highly deviant behavior, nor is it commonly driven by mental illness. (For years psychologists and criminologists have been debating among themselves over whether so-called kleptomaniacs are sick or simply criminal. I'm in the simply criminal camp.) Theft is a specific intent crime committed in cold-blood, as it were. Schizophrenics don't go around swindling people, or stealing cars for chop shops. In court, accused thieves don't plead not guilty by reason of insanity. But in the case of a 30-year-old New York City man named David Bastar, that could change.

     On Monday, May 19, 2014, at three in the morning on Second Avenue near East 99th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side, the driver of a Grimaldi's Home of Bread truck left the vehicle running in front of a pizzeria. When the delivery man exited the pizza joint, his truck was gone.

     David Bastar, dressed only in a pair of briefs, had jumped into the $60,000 truck and drove off with $8,000 worth of baguettes, whole wheat rolls, loaves of sourdough, and other baked products. Instead of meeting up with a baked goods fence, Bastar, working off a set of instructions and a map left on the truck's front seat, delivered product to at least three restaurants.

     Later that morning, while driving the bread truck south on Lexington Avenue, Bastar began throwing loaves of bread out the window. As he crossed the 59th Street Bridge into Queens, Bastar became fixated on a Cadillac Escalade limousine driven by 43-year-old Armondo Sigcha. Sigcha was headed to La Guardia Airport to pick up customers.

     Once the stolen bread truck and the limo crossed the bridge, Sigcha realized that some nut in a delivery truck was following him too closely. The limo driver made several quick, evasive turns but couldn't get the truck off his tail. At this point, Sagcha asked his dispatcher to arrange to have an officer with the Port Authority meet him at the airport.

     When Bastar pulled the bread truck to a stop behind the limousine near La Guardia's Central Terminal, he was greeted by a Port Authority officer. The cop took one look at the underwear-clad bread truck driver and called for an ambulance to deliver him to a mental ward.

     After being evaluated at Elmhurst Hospital's Psychiatric Ward, officers escorted Mr. Bastar to the Queens Criminal Court where he was charged with criminal possession of a stolen vehicle, and driving without a license. The judge released the suspect to the custody of his baffled parents.

     Diana Bastar's, the accused truck thief's mother, told a reporter with The New York Post that she had no idea why her son had been bent on delivering bread. "I'm speechless," she said. "He's been estranged from us, so I really can't tell you want's going on."

     Following his arrest, Bastar told police officers that he had tailed the limousine into Queens because, "I thought I had to follow him to make the deliveries." 

Criminal Justice Quote: Crime Scene Fiber Evidence

     Fiber evidence can be horrendously confusing. There's probably about seven thousand dyes and pigments that are used in textiles. Any one of those requires about eight to ten unit processes to turn it into a usable chemical for dyeing. There are about twelve different ways to get dyes into textiles. There's about twenty-nine different dye categories. Any one color that you see in a garment rarely is the result of one dye. And there's all types of finishes, both chemical and physical, that change the final properties of the dye.

     And that's just color. That's not talking about the categories of polymer….

Fiber specialist in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

Criminal Justice Quote: Self Protection Over Police Protection

     It is a general misconception that the police exist to protect the public. This is true only in the most generic sense--i.e., once a criminal act is committed, and a suspect caught and convicted. Theoretically, he is locked up so that he cannot prey on other people. The problem is that someone has to be a victim before the criminal can be taken out of society. And many offenders commit dozens of violent acts before they are caught. This doesn't even taken into account the fact that the criminal justice system continually releases the most violent offenders.

     Since police are unable to protect citizens from violent attacks, many individuals feel that it is their own responsibility to protect themselves and their families. [When an intruder is breaking into your house while you are in the dwelling, you can call 911 and hope for the best, or shoot the intruder then call 911 to report the shooting.]

Robert A. Waters, The Best Defense, 1998 

Hellementary Education Quote: Clueless in the Bronx: Puerile Substitute Discusses Love Life With Fourth Graders

     A New York City substitute teacher was fired after she asked her 4th grade students for romantic advice about her relationship with two men. Cassandre Fiering, 45, asked students to act out conversations where they would play the part of the men, both of whom are in their 30s….The incident happened in June 2013 at Public School 189 in the Bronx. Fiering said she was stuck in the classroom with five students without a lesson plan while the rest of the class was on a field trip. So she decided to act out the conversations….

     Students allegedly said she called them her "munchkins" and told them to toilet paper one of the men's homes….The kids, who were asked to help her choose between the two men, advised Fiering to break up with the younger of the two men because he was not returning her calls. Fiering said the conversation was harmless, and that the kids thought it was fun….

     Fiering is also an actress who has had small roles in commercials, movies and television….She admitted that it was poor judgement to bring her romantic life into the classroom, but told a reporter with The New York News that she would appeal her dismissal. "I've been slandered," she said. "This is the biggest bunch of crap I've heard in my life."

     Fiering has since ended her relationship with both men….[This puerile woman was fired because she was a substitute employee and not in the teacher's union. Otherwise, she'd still be in the classroom.]

Ben Axelson, "New York Teacher Fired For Asking 4th Graders For Love Advice About Her Boyfriends," Syracuse.com, May 22, 2014 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Who Shot Blake Wardell To Death And Why?

     Blake Randell Wardell resided in Honea Path, South Carolina, a town in the northeast part of the state. In the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 14, 2014, the 26-year-old Wardell, a man his age named Timothy Fisher, Taylor Ann Kelly, and eight or nine others, were hanging out at a house in Honea Path. (The reporting on this case has been so weak there is no information regarding who owns or lives in this house.)

     At 2:45 that morning, someone in the group (presumably) called 911 to report a shooting. Deputies with the Anderson County Sheriff's office, upon arrival at the house, found Wardell unresponsive and bleeding from the chest as he lay in a pool of blood on the garage floor. Paramedics arrived but were unable to revive Wardell who they pronounced dead at the scene.

     According to those questioned at the death site, Wardell had found, in the house, an old bullet-proof Kevlar flak-jacket. He put on the vest and asked someone to test it out by shooting him. (That is such a stupid thing to do, it's hard to believe.)

     Taylor Ann Kelly, a recent graduate of Belton-Honea Path High School, took responsibility for the shooting death. She told the police that she had fired the small-caliber bullet that passed through the lining on the edge of the bullet-proof vest into Wardell's heart. (This doesn't make any sense. I presume detectives questioned the others at the scene who confirmed that Kelly was the one who had fired the fatal bullet.)

     Officers took the 18-year-girl into custody and booked her into the Anderson County Detention Center on the charge of involuntary manslaughter.

     In South Carolina, as in most states, the homicide offense of involuntary manslaughter involves, as criminal intent, the reckless disregard for human life. The fact the victim in this case had supposedly consented to being recklessly shot, would not comprise a legal defense to this charge. According to the law, there are certain things people cannot legally consent to. Being shot is one of them. In this state, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The judge set the 18-year-old suspect's bail at $10,000.

     On May 16, 2014, an Anderson County prosecutor reduced the charge against Taylor Kelly to accessory after the fact of a felony. According to investigators, she had lied to police officers about shooting the victim. She had apparently confessed to protect the real shooter in the case--25-year-old Timothy Fisher.

     The Anderson County prosecutor charged Fisher with involuntary manslaughter. Officers booked him into the county detention center. The authorities have not revealed exactly why the girl had lied for this man. Did she do it voluntarily? Are Kelly and Fisher in some kind of relationship? Does Fisher have a criminal record? What was his relationship to Blake Wardell? The police did say that neither alcohol nor drugs played a role in the shooting. (That's a surprise.)

     This is a case that calls for a careful and professional investigation to uncover possible motives for murder. The criminal investigation should also include a thorough forensic ballistics analysis which would include determining if the fatal bullet had actually passed through a bullet-proof vest. And finally, all witnesses to the shooting should be asked to take polygraph tests.

     

Criminal Justice Quote: What Men and Women Shoplift

For much of its six-century history, shoplifting--whether defined as disease or crime--was considered something women did. But since the 1980s, men have caught up. While men shoplift more, there are more female kleptomaniacs….In 2005, the Centre for Retail Research in the United Kingdom measured what men and women shoplift: Women steal cosmetics, clothes, jewelry, and perfume; men steal electronics, televisions, and hand-held power tools. Women shoplift from department and discount stores; men from home centers and hardware stores. Although 80 percent of all readers are women, the Centre discovered, most book shoplifters are men.

Rachel Shteir, The Steal, 2011

Criminal Justice Quote: Baytown, Texas Police Accused of Excessive Force

     After receiving a noise complaint, Texas police raided a Baytown house…where family members were celebrating a birthday….The partygoers--a Mexican family and friends--were apparently playing music too loudly. When the police showed up, they decided to enter the premises through a back gate and storm the house.

     Video footage of the raid shows officers…tackling several people, punching and kicking them, and repeatedly using tasers….The family claimed that a 54-year-old woman was shot with a taser five times as she sat in a chair doing nothing wrong. The woman does not speak English, and did not understand what police wanted from her….

     Ten small children were playing inside the house at the time of the raid, and some complained of pepper spray in their eyes….Police eventually arrested seven people for interfering with a public servant….

Robby Soave, "Police Attack Family Party, Taser Grandma, Use Pepper Spray Around Kids," The Daily Caller, May 12, 2014

     

Criminal Justice Quote: The Locard Exchange Principle in Action

We had a guy in the lab at the FBI who'd always send his teenage daughter out on dates wearing a big fuzzy acrylic sweater. He knew the sweater would transfer like crazy, and if her date brought her home later with a bunch of sweater fibers on him, he and the date were going to have a serious talk.

Max Houck, former FBI trace analyst in Crime Scene by Connie Fletcher, 2006 

Writing Quote: Adjectives and Adverbs: Manuscript Killers

     ….The overall effect of a manuscript encumbered with adjectives, adverbs and the inevitable commas in between makes for slow, awkward reading--which these writers would find out for themselves if they only took the time to read their own work aloud.

     Manuscripts heavy on adjectives and adverbs can be spotted by an agent or editor immediately--sometimes even in the first few sentences--by looking for a plethora of commas (which inevitably separate a string of adjectives), or in the case of a writer who doesn't even know how to use commas, by looking to the nouns and verbs and then looking to see if adjectives or adverbs precede (or succeed) them.

Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages, 2000

Friday, May 23, 2014

Condoms As Evidence in The War Against Prostitution

     One of the key justifications for the criminalization of prostitution is public health, to curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs. In New York City alone the government spends $1 million a year distributing free condoms with this very purpose in mind.

     Every year, New York City vice officers make 2,500 prostitution arrests. In a few cases, the fact that the sex trade suspect possessed more condoms than what is considered customary has been used as evidence of prostitution.

     Among sex workers, rumor has it that cops will arrest anyone in possession of more than three condoms. While there is not a three-condom rule, a lot of prostitutes no longer carry them in fear of being incriminated by this evidence. What can a prostitute say when the vice officer asks, "What are you doing with all of those condoms?"

     The New York City Department of Health conducted a study in 2010 that revealed that a third of the city's hookers didn't carry condoms as a measure to avoid incriminating themselves.

     Since more than 90 percent of prostitution arrests lead to plea bargained sentences, vice officers rarely need to make their cases using this type of evidence. In suburban New York's Nassau County, District Attorney Kathleen Rice has said that the evidentiary value of condoms does not outweigh the negative public health effect associated with the use of this prosecutorial technique. According to this prosecutor, "condom evidence is rarely of any value to a prosecution. If you need condom possession so badly in a case against a trafficker, you don't have a good case." Prosecutors in San Francisco and in Brooklyn, New York no longer use excessive condom possession as evidence in prostitution cases.

     In 2013, the New York State Assembly passed a bill banning the introduction of condom possession into evidence at sex trafficking trials. A supporter of this first-of-its-kind legislation, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, told a reporter with the New York Times that "Sex workers are not a politically appealing constituency to most lawmakers." The New York State Senate has not taken up the bill. (It's perhaps a bit ironic that politicians, who are whores themselves, aren't more attuned to the needs of these constituents.) 

Whackademia Quote: Overpaid University Presidents

     At the 25 public universities with the highest-paid presidents, both student debt and the use of part-time adjunct faculty grew far faster than at the average state university from 2005 to 2012, according to a new study by the Institute for Policy Studies…a Washington, D.C. research group.

     The study, "The One Percent at State U: How University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor," examined the relationship between executive pay, student debt and low-wage faculty labor at the 25 top-paying public universities. The co-authors, Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, found that administrative expenditures at the highest-paying universities outpaced spending on scholarships by more than two to one. And while adjunct faculty members became more numerous at the 25 universities, the share of permanent faculty declined drastically….

     Since the 2008 financial crisis, the report found, the leaders of the highest-paying universities fared well, largely at the expense of students and faculty….While the average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent from 2009 to 2012, to an average of $544,554, compensation for the presidents of the highest-paying universities increased by a third, to $974,006, during that period.

     The Chronicle of Higher Education's annual survey of public university presidents' compensation, also released Sunday [May 18, 2014], found that nine chief executives earned more than $1 million in total compensation in 2012-13, up from four the previous year, and three in 2010-11….But, the Chronicle found, chief executives were hardly alone among the highest-paid university officials. Athletic coaches made up 70 percent of the public university employees earning more than $1 million last year….

     As in several past years, the highest-compensated president, at $6,057,615 in this period, was E. Gordon Gee, who resigned from Ohio State last summer amid trustee complains about frequent gaffes. He has since become the president of West Virginia University….

     Others on the "most unequal" list were Pennsylvania State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the University of Washington.

Tamar Lewin, "Student Debt Grows Faster at Universities With Highest-Paid Leaders, Study Finds," The New York Times, May 18, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Legalese

     In 2001, the Economist magazine reported on a "worrying gap" between the language of the public and that of the legal profession. That gap grows wider every day, as legal English staunchly resists the changes rippling through everyday English. On the brighter side, this means that the law is less susceptible to silly fads…but it also means that the law is less and less accessible to each new generation.

     Legalese could even evolve into a foreign language in the not-too-distant future. Already, many linguists refer to the language of law as a "sublanguage," meaning that it's more than just a collection of jargon, but also has its own specialized rules of grammar and syntax [word order].

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

Criminal Justice Quote: Drunk and Disorderly in Tennessee

     A man was arrested after he tried to take advantage of an ATM and a picnic table at a local bar, according to the police. Murfreesboro, Tennessee police arrested Lonnie J. Hutton, 49 on the charge of public intoxication Friday, May 16, 2014 at the Boro Bar & Grille. "Mr. Hutton entered the bar and walked to the ATM," said officer Michael Rickland. "Once at the ATM Mr. Hutton pulled down his pants and underwear exposing his genitals. Mr. Hutton then attempted to have sexual intercourse with the ATM."

     The suspect then walked around the bar wearing no pants while he thrust his hips in the air, witnesses told the officer. Bar staff escorted Hutton outside…."Once outside," according to the officer, "Mr. Hutton exposed himself and engaged in same activity with a wooden picnic table."…The officer said Hutton appeared intoxicated and smelled of alcohol. He was transported to the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center where he is being held on $250 bond….[Next time you withdrawal cash from a ATM, try not to think of this case.]

"Man Held After Attempting Sex With ATM, Picnic Table," The (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal, May 20, 2014 

Hellementary Education Quote: Kids, Don't Take Grandma's Smack to School

     ….A Pennsylvania first-grader brought bags of heroin into school--giving some to at least one classmate before teachers caught him with a pocket full of drugs….Two days later, the boy's 56-year-old grandmother was arrested on charges of endangering the welfare of children and drug offenses for allegedly losing track of the heroin while babysitting….

     Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan expressed outrage over any child bringing a drug as potent as heroin into an elementary school. He also lashed out at the boy's school district for not doing more to inform parents as well as the authorities, including his office….

     According to a criminal complaint detailed by Hogan's office, Pauline Bilinski-Munion was babysitting her grandson and a 1-year-old baby on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at a residence in Modena, Pennsylvania. Bilinski-Munion had "brought heroin into the house and lost track of it," according to the district attorney's office, which referred to her as "a known heroin user."

     The next day, the 7-year-old brought several bags with him into Caln Elementary School. Teachers overheard the child talking about the bags, and later found nine bags of what proved to be heroin--with each bag stamped, "Victoria's Secret"--in the boy's pants pocket….The child initially claimed he found the heroin in the school yard, only to later admit he'd gotten them from home. The drugs were handed over to the Coatesville Area School District Police. 

     Another child's mother later claimed that she'd found an additional bag of heroin, with the same "Victoria's Secret" wording, on her 7-year-old as they were walking in a nearby mall….District Attorney Hogan faulted the school system for what he characterized as its "late and vague notification to parents about a dangerous and illegal substance," and failing to alert his office, which didn't start investigating until hearing about the story in the media on Saturday, May 7, 2014. 

     "The school district didn't call 911, didn't call the DA's office, did not freeze all the kids in one place, they did not call in emergency personnel to check all the kids to make sure they were OK," he told a local CNN affiliate.

     Following her arrest on Saturday, May 7, 2014, Bilinski-Munion was charged and held with bail set at $25,000….

Kevin Conlon and Greg Botelho, "DA: First-Grader Brings His Grandmother's Heroin to School," CNN, May 7, 2014 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Charity Johnson: The 34-Year-Old Tenth Grader

     In March 2013, 30-year-old Tamica Lincoln, the shift manager at a McDonalds in the east Texas town of Longview, took pity on a fellow-employee who identified herself as 15-year-old Charity Stevens. Stevens said she was an orphan who had been abused by her now dead parents. The five-foot, three-hundred pound girl said she needed a place to live.

     Feeling sorry for this child, Tamica Lincoln took her in and became Charity's unofficial guardian. Lincoln fed the girl, and bought her clothing. In the fall of 2014, Lincoln enrolled Charity as a tenth grade student at the New Life Christian School in Longview. To explain why there were no academic transcripts from previous schools, Charity said she had been home schooled. At the New Life Christian School, Charity made friends and earned good grades.

     Charity's life as a teenager came to an abrupt end on May 13, 2014 when Tameca Lincoln learned that the girl she had been taking care of, at 34, was four years older than her. Charity Stevens, in reality, was Charity Anne Johnson. Instead of being born in November 1997, she had entered the world in 1980.

     Upon the shocking discovery, Lincoln called the school, then notified the police. She wanted Charity Johnson out of her house.

     Following a brief police investigation, a Gregg County prosecutor charged Johnson with the misdemeanor offense of failing to identify herself to a police officer. Police officers booked the impostor into the county jail in lieu of $500 bond. (I don't know why Johnson wasn't charged with theft by deception.) According to the police, Johnson does not have a criminal record.

     Tamica Lincoln, in speaking to a local television reporter, said, "I sympathized with her, and invited her into my home. I took her in as a child, did her hair, got her clothes and shoes."

     All along, this good samaritan had been caring for an impostor. This case falls squarely into the "no good dead goes unpunished" category.

     (Years ago, as an FBI agent, I interrogated a bank robber in Dallas who, as a 28-year-old former high school football star, re-enrolled as a tenth grader and once again starred on the football field. He was caught two years later in a playoff game by a coach on the opposing team who remembered him from his original playing days. The impostor-turned bank robber said the second time around in high school comprised the best days of his life. After that, it was all downhill.) 

Criminal Justice Quote: On the Stand: The Forensic Expert

     One of the dangers I see in forensic science is that people sometimes start to believe their own hype. [Dr. Henry Lee is a good example of this.] Because you go to court, you're recognized as an expert; detectives and prosecutors pick you out because you're in the know, so they come to you and they want to know what's really going on. It does start to work on you after a while. And you [the expert] have to be very careful because sometimes it's easy to start to fall into that slot where you start to believe that you're really as good as the defense attorney or prosecutor says you are.

     This can affect your testimony.... I think we all go through it a little bit, but you can learn to deal with it. You recognize that this is not a good place to be, and so you back off, and you go back to doing what you do, and that is science, real science.

     But sometimes experts, in an effort to be the hero, or in an effort to be recognized as the best, start to overemphasize things, or to over-testify, or even to lie.

Latent Fingerprint Specialist, in Connie Fletcher, Crime Scene, 2006

Writing Quote: Novels Should Be About People, Not Ideas

You're writing a novel, and a novel is about people. It's not about ideas, or it's not only, or not principally about ideas. Don't start your writing with an idea or an emotion if you can help it, no matter how important that idea may be to you. If the idea is so urgent, and you have something to say about that idea that you think we need to hear, then write an essay. Or write an editorial, write a manifesto, write an ad, write a poem, write anything but a novel. We read novels for the people in them, not for the ideas, although we do expect that these people will have ideas. When we remember our favorite novels we remember the character who won our hearts.

John Dufresne, Is Life Like This? 2010

Criminal Justice Quote: John Hytrek: Another Victim of SWAT Excessive Force

     A rural northwest Iowa man who suffers from Parkinson's disease has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he was brutally pummeled by a SWAT team after a relative made false harassment allegations against him. The events giving rise to the excessive force lawsuit occurred in August 2012….Instead of speaking with the retaliatory relative, the sheriff's department in Pottowattamie County, Iowa…sent close to a dozen members of its SWAT team to the home of John Hytrek.

     Hytrek, 52, was working on a tractor in his driveway when the heavily armed cops jumped out of a van. Hytrek had previously warned the relative, who has a prior conviction for uttering false statements, to leave his property. "They ran for me with machine guns," Hytrek [told a local TV reporter]. "And I look at them, and I'm like, 'What?'"

     According to the lawsuit, the horde of SWAT members tackled the 52-year-old Parkinson's sufferer. His face slammed on a tire machine. The police officers punched him in the head at least five times. "I did not resist them, nothing," Hytrek told the TV station. "They could've come up to me and asked me what was going on, and they didn't."

     The lawsuit also alleges that the SWAT team positioned a sniper across the street to monitor the situation in case [the 52-year-old] with a degenerative disorder…tried anything.... Hytrek suffered serious injuries as a result of the melee--so serious that the SWAT team had to send him to the hospital before he could go to jail. He had a fractured eye socket. He also received a concussion and multiple cuts….

     A judge dismissed the false charges against Hytrek for harassment and assault in November 2012….

Eric Owens, "Machine Gun-Toting SWAT Team Blindsides Man, Pummels Him," The Daily Caller, May 19, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writing Quote: Movies About Writers Are Not About Writing

      Early in "Limitless" (2011), moviegoers see Bradley Cooper leaning over a keyboard, hands pressed prayerfully to face, waiting in agony for the words. Salvation arrives in the form of a pill that allows Cooper's character, the writer Eddie Morra, to use 100 percent of his brain instead of just 20. The words start coming, clear and fast; indeed, Eddie becomes so lucid that he gives up authorship for day-trading.

     Because no one wants to watch somebody typing, Hollywood often makes movies about writers who stop writing. It's easier, and more entertaining, to show them being…destroyed by fame or drink or premature success….

     On film, authorship is mostly a matter of occupational hazard. Woody Allen's "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) offers a…look at a novelist who writes from his own life, infuriating lovers and family members…."Wonder Boys"(2000), made from Michael Chabon's novel, combines New York trade publishing…with the provincial world of a M.F.A. [Masters of Fine Arts] workshops….

     The hard part is always trying to show writers doing what they actually do. The Michael Douglas character occasionally sits at his Selectric wearing a woman's bathrobe, like a pitcher's lucky underwear, trying to summon more phrases for his already overlong, inert manuscript….

     Martin Amis once observed that "a writer is, on the whole, most alive when alone." That's when he gets "on with the business of imagining other people." And that's why movies do a much better job of admiring authorship rather than conveying it….

Thomas Mallon, "Why Is It So Hard to Capture the Writer on Film?" The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Can You Sue a Police Dog?

     At 2:30 AM on March 22, 1997, a convicted felon named Anthony Dye was racing his Corvette through the streets of Elkhart, Indiana. The police were in hot pursuit. Dye pulled into his mother's driveway, got out of the car, and made a run for it. When the police caught up with him, Dye took a semiautomatic pistol from his waistband and opened fire. At that critical moment, a valiant police dog named Frei leapt into action, fastening onto Dye's leg, and, as it were, took a bite out of crime. Dye was arrested.

     Having been injured in the course of his arrest, Dye did what any red-blooded American would do. He brought a lawsuit--against Frei the police dog. [If Dye had a lawyer, that ambulance chaser should have been disbarred for filing such an action.] Dye argued that dogs are "persons" who can be sued, at least when they work for the police. Dye fought his way to the second highest court in the land, the United States Court of Appeals, which dismissed his claim.

     Dye's theory that a dog is a person [under the law] is not as far-fetched as you might think. In fact, he wasn't even the first person to sue a police dog. And some very respectable lawyers have argued that the legal definition of a person ought to be expanded, at least to include other primates. Laurence Tribe, Harvard's leading constitutional scholar, has maintained for years that chimpanzees should be considered persons under the constitution. [Does that mean they can't be illegally searched, or caged without a trial? Good heavens.]

Adam Freedman, The Party of the First Part, 2007

Criminal Justice Quote: Child Prostitution Pimp Gets 17 to Life

     Prosecutors say an Orange County, California man has been sentenced to 17 years to life in state prison for luring a teenager into prostitution. Chuncey Tarae Garcia received the sentence Friday, May 16, 2014 under a state law that increases penalties for human trafficking, especially the sex trafficking of children.,

     The 34-year-old was convicted in March 2014 of one count of human trafficking and one count of pimping a minor under 16, both felonies. Garcia was previously convicted of cocaine possession. Authorities say Garcia met the girl, a 14-year-old runaway identified as Jane Doe, last year through one of his prostitutes who recruited women for him.

     Garcia was arrested during a routine traffic stop for a broken headlight. The officer became suspicious when he saw the girl in the car.

"Man Sentenced Under State's Human Trafficking Law," Associated Press, May 17, 2014 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hellementary Education Quote: School's Failure to Protect Student Leads to Restraining Order Against Kindergarten Kid

     A father in Kenosha, Wisconsin has taken out a restraining order against his daughter's bully after the 6-year-old received death threats from a 5-year-ood boy in her kindergarten class. Brian Metzger says the boy has been bulling his daughter all year, kicking her, throwing rocks and sand in her face and making similar threats to other children at Prairie Land Elementary School.

     "She came home and said a student threatened her by saying, 'I want to slit your throat and watch you bleed,'" Metzger said….He took out the restraining order in a final attempt to protect his daughter when school officials failed to take the boy out of class. The school finally took the boy out of Metzger's daughter's class when he brought the restraining order to school on Tuesday night, May 13, 2014.

     When asked why they didn't act before, school spokesperson Tanya Ruder said, "There's always two sides to every story." [Tanya, what elementary education professor told you that? Here's an idea, why don't you make the little guy take a polygraph test? Good heavens, where are we getting these teachers?]

Ashley Collman, "Death Threats Caused Father to Take Out Restraining Order," MailOnline, May 16, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: Nutcase Plows Into TV Station, Holds Out Five Hours

     Authorities say a man claiming to be God slammed a stolen landscaping truck into a Baltimore area television station, then spent hours watching live TV news coverage of the scene before he was arrested by local police. Baltimore County law enforcement officials say the 29-year-old man was taken into custody at 4 PM on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. He had spent nearly five hours barricaded inside the WMAR-TV station in Townson, watching journalists deliver live reports from just outside the building.

     No one, including the suspect, was injured….Baltimore County Police Chief James Johnson said the man was "ranting and raving," and was "incoherent." [Maybe he should be on TV professionally--he'd fit in nicely with the other "journalists."]…

     The suspect was taken to a hospital where he would be evaluated before facing possible criminal charges.

"Man Crashed Into Maryland TV Station," Associated Press, May 14, 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

True Crime Book Review: "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" by Matthew T. Mangino

     Matt Mangino's new book, published in softcover by McFarland, a publisher of academic and nonfiction works, contains a detailed account of the murders, trials, appeals, and drama behind every execution that took place in 2010. The book includes gripping narratives of 63 murders, countless appeals and stays of execution, two suicide attempts, 41 last meals, 33 final statements, and 46 executions in states that include Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio, and Missouri.

     The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is a unique, skillfully written, tightly organized, and thoroughly researched collection of fascinating cases featuring an extremely important and controversial subject in American life.

     Mangino, a former prosecutor and an active columnist and blogger, is not only a criminal justice expert, he is a talented nonfiction author. His new book is highly recommended. 

Whackademia Quote: The Student-ATHLETE at Duke University

For years, professors had been sending distress signals to the Duke University administration involving the increasing surliness of many of their student-athletes. These were young people forced to miss multiple classes because of game schedules, to travel with their teams even when they were injured, to understand that their sports came before their studies, and who had thus become dismissive of the academic enterprise. One shocking report by a deeply concerned history professor characterized some of the athletes as "openly hostile" to intellectual endeavor. [So are their coaches and all of the school's rabid sports fans. Most fans would prefer that schools pay these kids and forget the pretense of giving them an education.]

Caitlin Flanagan, "Nothing to Cheer About," The New York Times Book Review, April 27, 2014 (a review of The Price of Silence by William D. Cohan)

Writing Quote: Novels Aren't About Happy People

It's more interesting to read about something being wrong than everything being right. Happiness threatens the things that every writing workshop demands: suspense, conflict, desire. It also threatens particularity. Happiness collapses characters into people who look just like everyone else, without the sharper contours of pathos to mark their edges and render them distinct. As Tolstoy famously tells us at the beginning of Anna Karenia: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Leslie Jamison, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, March 16, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: The Internet "Right-To-Be-Forgotten Rule" Versus Free Speech

     Google has received fresh takedown requests after a European court ruled that an individual could force it to remove "irrelevant and outdated" search results….An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behavior in office removed. A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to his pages about his conviction to be wiped. And a doctor wants negative reviews from patients removed….

     Google itself has not commented on the so-called right-to-be-forgotten ruling since it described the European Court of Justice judgement as being "disappointing." Nor has it released any figures about the number of takedown requests received since Tuesday, May 13, 2014….

     European Union (EU) Commissioner Viviane Reding described the decision as a "clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans" but others are concerned about the consequences that it will have for free speech.

     Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has criticized the ruling, calling it "astonishing" while free speech advocates at The Index on Censorship said the court's ruling "should send chills down the spine of everyone in the European Union who believes in the crucial importance of free expression and freedom of information."…

Jane Wakefield, "Politician and Pedophile Ask Google to 'Be Forgotten'," BBC, May 15, 2014 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Huntsville Mother Sues Over Son's Fatal Drug Arrest

     At eleven-thirty on the morning of June 13, 2013, Huntsville, Alabama drug officers in plainclothes ran toward a 17-year-old suspect immediately after he was handed two zip-lock bags of Ecstasy by an 18-year-old police informant. (No doubt the young snitch had been arrested and turned into an informant. Putting young drug arrestees into danger by flipping them into drug snitches is not, in my opinion, good police practice.) The recipient of the Ecstasy, only identified by his last name, Smith, saw the men approaching and walked off in the other direction. (The undercover officers are accused of not identifying themselves prior to Smith's arrest.)

     One of the drug officers grabbed the 130 pound, unarmed boy and threw him to the ground. Another officer pepper sprayed Smith in the face, handcuffed him, and kept him pressed to the ground with a knee in his back. With an officer's arm around his neck, the boy began to choke and struggle for air. 

     When the suspect lost consciousness, one of the arresting officers called for an ambulance. While awaiting for the arrival of the emergency crew, one of the cops, thinking that Smith had swallowed the bags of Ecstasy, inserted an oblong metal tool into his throat to retrieve the evidence. This tactic failed to locate the drugs. 

     Paramedics arrived at the scene at eleven-forty-five and spent the next twenty-two minutes trying to revive the boy. When they couldn't get Smith to  respond, the paramedics rushed him to a nearby emergency room. 

     At the hospital, doctors found no drug bag blockage in the boy's throat or airway. The teenager did have several broken ribs and contusions on his arms and face. On June 18, 2013, five days after the drug arrest, the Smith boy died. 

     In the autopsy report, a forensic pathologist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, wrote: "Because of the circumstances of this event, it is difficult to discern if the decedent died from a drug overdose or an asphyxia event exacerbated by either occlusion of the airway by the foreign object, or possible vascular occlusion associated with the neck restraint, [This is a bureaucratic, mealy mouthed way of raising the possibility that one of the arresting officers had strangled the boy to death.] or from a combination of all the events that transpired during the arrest." [What a load of crap.] 

     The Madison County Coroner, based on the autopsy results, ruled the boy's death "undetermined." One of the reasons the coroner could get away with this ridiculous ruling involved the fact that Smith's blood samples had been "discarded" before they could be tested for drugs. The coroner also sealed the autopsy report, a public document, for almost a year, denying the boy's parents key information related to his violent death. [This is a typical tactic in excessive force police cases.] 

     On March 27, 2014, the dead teenager's mother, Nancy Smith, sued the city of Huntsville, the police department, the chief of police, and four individual police officers. In this civil action, brought in federal court for unspecified damages, the plaintiff accuses these Huntsville officers of causing her son's death through a combination of excessive force and the insertion of the metal object into his throat to retrieve the bags of drugs he had supposedly swallowed. The chief of police stands accused of failing to provide adequate police training in the use of force. The department and the city of Huntsville are being sued for orchestrating a cover-up to protect the officers involved. 

     In my view, if the defendants in this wrongful death suit are smart, they will settle out of court. A trial might reveal an example of drug enforcement overkill at its worst. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Another Hair-Trigger Cop Shoots Unarmed Man

     An Alabama police chief has determined that one of his officers used "appropriate force" when the he arrived at the scene of a traffic accident and immediately shot an apparently unarmed Air Force airman. The airman, 20-year-old Michael Davidson, was shot in the chest and nearly bled out before receiving medical aid….Davidson was driving to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. He may have been driving erratically….

     After clipping another vehicle, Davidson pulled over to exchange insurance information with the other driver. Eventually, officer Phillip Hancock arrived on the scene. Accounts differ as to what happened next. Davidson's father claimed that Hancock shot his son almost immediately. "They couldn't have been there three or four seconds when I was shot," said Davidson, according to his father's account.

     Police Chief John McEachern, on the other hand, said that Hancock did not fire until coming to the erroneous conclusion that Davidson was a threat. Hancock ordered Davidson to put his hands on his head, and then fired, according McEachern….

     One shot hit Davidson, severely injuring his stomach and colon. He may have permanent damage, and it is likely that he will be physically unable to serve in the Air Force. The accounts agree that Davidson was unarmed when shot. He may have been holding his wallet, however. It's not clear whether officer Hancock mistook the wallet for a weapon. [When encountering police officers, even in traffic related situations, be very careful. Too many cops today are on the edge and have hair trigger mentalities. One wrong move, and they might shoot you.]

Robby Soave, "Cop Arrives at Traffic Accident, Shoots Air Force Airman, Chief Calls it 'Appropriate Force', " The Daily Caller, March 14, 2014 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Power of DNA

     Scientists first identified DNA in 1944. Much more recently, early in the twenty-first century, scientists successfully mapped the entire human genome, the sequence of genes on each DNA strand. DNA is found in skin cells, hair, blood, semen, saliva, even teeth and bone, and analysis of it is carried out by using a computer to compare and attempt to match two samples.

     We shed old skin cells and hair constantly, which is why DNA is so often found at the scene of a crime, and DNA samples can be obtained by swabbing inside the cheek or from an unwitting suspect's cigarette butt, coffee cup, or toothbrush.

     Only identical twins and clones have identical DNA. For anyone not a twin, finding a match between one's DNA and a specimen found at a crime site is as close as one can get to proof that the person was involved in the crime. [More accurately, it's concrete proof the DNA donor was there.] It's still circumstantial evidence, but juries tend to find it sufficient to convict a defendant. In the last few years, hundreds of convicted but innocent felons have been pardoned on the strength of DNA analysis.

Robert Mann, Ph.D. and Miryam Ehrlich Williamson, Forensic Detective, 2004 

Criminal Justice Quote: The Interrogation Room

     The interrogation room should be a small plain room about eight feet by ten. It should have one door with a small window, covered by material that can be easily removed from the outside to allow officers to view the subject when he is alone. The walls should be of a neutral color with nothing hanging on them. [No distractions.] A table or desk and two chairs should be the only furniture.

     Sit the suspect with his back to the door so he doesn't think about freedom. Sit directly in front of the suspect two to three feet away from him. You must be able to see the suspect's entire body to detect any movement. Never sit across a desk or table from a suspect because you won't be able to see his lower body or hands. [Not only that, a desk or table between you and the subject makes him feel less vulnerable.] It's better for just one interrogator in the room. [And never wear a gun during an interrogation.]

 Albert Joseph Jr., We Get Confessions, 1995 

Writing Quote: The Allure of Evil Characters

     It's a daring thing [for a "literary" novelist] to write about an evil person, especially in this day of autobiographical fiction, when readers assume most characters are thinly veiled self-portraits. And yet evil characters are usually dynamic and fascinating, upstaging all the goodie-goodies. [Crime novels are popular because the good guy is after the bad guy. Moreover, evil characters is one of the reasons behind the popularity of the true crime genre. For me, real villains are even more fascinating than fictitious ones.]

     Despite the allure of such characters, writers today usually avoid them, maybe because the whole category of Evil seems too theological or because modern psychology assumes that every bad act can be traced to childhood neglect or abuse and thus be explained away. [Novelists should familiarize themselves with the concept of sociopathy. Besides, who cares if a serial killer had a bad childhood?]

Edmund White, "Divine Decadence," The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2014 (Review of Lovers at the Chameleon by Francine Prose)

     

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Whackademia Quote: How Sex With Your Teacher Can Improve Your Grammar

     Hey kids! You want great grades, right? Well, a high school student in rural Oklahoma has figured out a surefire way to make it happen: just have sex with your English teacher. First-year English teacher Kalyn Thompson has been charged with second-degree rape for allegedly having a series of sexual escapades with one of her male students….

     Police say the Kellyville High School teacher gave the unidentified student a stellar 98-percent, straight A grade after their relationship took off. He had been flunking English just the semester before. The teenager was 18 at the time of the hanky-panky. Investigators know of at least two sexual encounters between the young lovers--one beside a lake and the other at the Renaissance Hotel in Tulsa… [An excellent hotel name for a young lad's sexual enlightenment.]

     The age of sexual consent in Oklahoma is 16. However, a separate state law forbids teachers from having sex with current or former students until the students have reached the ripe, old age of 21….As all teacher-sex relationships start these days, this one allegedly began through flirtatious text messages. The student was 17 at the time….

     A couple of Kellyville students saw Thompson siting in the student's truck around town. They snapped photos and took the images to school officers, who contacted the police. Thompson turned herself in to the authorities on Monday morning, May 12, 2014. She was released on bond….

Eric Owens, "Cops Say Rural Oklahoma Teacher Gave Flunking Student 98 Percent After Having Sex With Him," The Daily Caller, May 14, 2014 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Robert Campbell: Court Spares Life of Condemned Killer

     In 1991, 19-year-old Robert Campbell and another violent criminal abducted a 20-year-old bank clerk as she filled her car with gas at a Houston service station. The victim, Angela Rendon, had just purchased a bridal gown for her upcoming wedding.

     The two criminal degenerates drove Campbell to a field where they robbed, raped, and beat her. After the vicious assaults, Campbell ordered the terrified victim to run for her life. As she fled her captors, he calmly shot her in the back.

     A year after this senseless, cold-blooded murder, a jury found Campbell guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to death. In this depressing case, there has never been a question of Campbell's murderous intent or guilt.

     After living twenty-two years as a Texas death row inmate, Robert Campbell was finally scheduled to die by lethal injection on Tuesday night, May 13, 2014. University of Texas law professor Laurie Levin, one of Campbell's death house attorneys working feverishly to save his life, filed a last-minute motion for a stay of execution with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Levin based the federal petition on the fact the Texas Department of Corrections had not revealed the manufacturing source of the pentobarbital purchased for the execution. (If it hadn't been for this issue, there would have been something else for Levin to base an appeal on.)

     According to this eleventh-hour plea, prisoners have a right to know whether or not the pentobarbital has been manufactured under "pristine conditions" that would assure that the drug was safe. (What in the hell is a safe execution drug? Pentobarbital is not supposed to be safe--it's used to kill cold-blooded murders. We're not talking about medicine here.)

     According to Professor Levin, if Campbell's execution was not blocked, the results could be "disastrous." (Again, from the executioner's point of view, the results are supposed to be disastrous.)

     On another save-the-killer front, death house lawyers claimed that Campbell, with an I.Q. of 69, was too stupid to execute pursuant to a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that forbids states from executing criminal dimwits. (People with low I.Q.s can go to community college, teach school, drive cars, and vote. When they murder innocent victims in cold blood, why can't they be executed?)

     Robert Campbell's energetic and devoted legal team also asked Texas Governor Rick Perry to grant an executive stay of execution on Campbell's behalf.

     On May 13, 2014, the day he was scheduled to die by lethal injection, the federal court of appeals stayed Campbell's execution. Had the executioner dispatched him to hell, Campbell would have been the first condemned man to be put to death since the executioner in Oklahoma ran into trouble disposing of another sadistic cold-blooded killer, Clayton Lockett. Had Campbell been executed as scheduled according to the wishes of the jury that had found him guilty, he would have been the eighth death row inmate killed this year by the state of Texas. 

Criminal Justice Quote: Blaming Society for Crime

     What causes crime? Why do some individuals possess tendencies which lead them to commit acts of violence and predation: robberies, assaults, rapes, and other felonies? What sets the habitual or occasional criminal apart from the mainstream of society? More important, what can be done to "change" criminals into productive, law-abiding citizens?

     The theory that has partly governed public policy for many years is that crime is caused by an unjust society. A most eloquent spokesperson for this point of view was Ramsey Clark, who served as assistant attorney general in the Kennedy Administration and attorney general in the Johnson Administration. Here's how Clark described the crime problem in his well-known 1970 book, Crime in America:

     "If we are to deal meaningfully with crime, what must be seen is the dehumanizing effect on the individual of slums, racism, ignorance, and violence, of corruption and impotence to fulfill rights, of poverty, unemployment, and idleness, of generations of malnutrition, of congenital brain damage and prenatal neglect, of sickness and disease, of pollution, of decrepit, dirty, ugly, unsafe, overcrowded housing, of alcoholism and narcotics addiction, of avarice, anxiety, fear, hatred, hopelessness, and injustice. [Clark, in that run-on sentence, certainly covered the cause of crime waterfront. A writer he was not.] These are the fountainheads of crime. They can be controlled. As imprecise, distorted and prejudiced as our learning is, these sources of crime and their controllability clearly emerge to any who would see."

     And how would such conditions be changed? In that same book, Clark exclaims that it's a "matter of will." If society becomes willing, the conditions that cause crime can be changed, and then crime will be greatly reduced.

     Clark's theory has a plausible sound and anybody who visits a large state prison will find scores of inmates from deprived backgrounds. Some of them are not really criminals in the true sense of the word; they are simply badly adjusted and disturbed people who need to be institutionalized. There are others with personal problems that got them into trouble.

    But if a visitor searches out the professional criminals--both in prison and out--he may find that the theory doesn't hold up at all. These are men, and some women, who have numerous advantages in their lives and yet they seem to become criminals by deliberate choice.

Melvin D. Barger, "Crime: The Unsolved Problem," in Criminal Justice? Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994 

Criminal Justice Quote: Driving While Stupid

     State police in Louisiana say a 31-year-old Gonzales man is accused of driving to Troop A headquarters while drunk to file an accident report. Online booking records indicate that Patrick Ruffner remains in the East Baton Rouge Parish jail Monday, May 12, 2014, his bond set at $1,000….

     Trooper Jared Sandler says Ruffner called state police Saturday, May 10, 2014 to report that he had been in a hit-and-run accident on Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge. He was told to come to Troop A to fill out a crash report. When Ruffner got out of his SUV, a trooper smelled alcohol and gave him a field sobriety test and a breath test. Ruffner was booked with driving on a suspended license and with first-offense DWI.

"Man Allegedly Drove to Police Station While Drunk to File Accident Report," Associated Press, May 12, 2014 

Writing Quote: Reading J. D. Salinger As An Adult

     When I flick through my old copies of J. D. Salinger's stories, I see that all the passages my teenage self has identified as especially moving and wonderful are precisely those that now make me frown and recoil. Where once the angst and alienation of Salinger's heroes--their hypersensitivity to "phoniness"--filled me with awe and some sheepishness about my own capacity for compromise, I am now inclined to feel that phoniness, as much as any other human weakness, deserves a bit of sympathy. I can still enjoy the Catcher in the Rye if I read it with a sort of squint, maintaining the illusion of some separation between Holden's disaffected worldview and Salinger's. But by the time I get to the Glass stories, wherein the preternaturally brilliant and morally fine Glass children struggle to bear a world filled with second-rate English professors and inadequately nuanced productions of Chekhov, I have to give up. [When I discovered Catcher in the Rye as a seventh grader, I felt I was reading the best novel ever written. This book, among others, inspired me to be a writer. Last year, when I reread Catcher in the Rye for the first time, I found the novel a bit puerile, and forced.]

Zoe Heller, "Bookends," The New York Times Book Review, April 30, 2014  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Humiliation of a Working-Class Student in a Prestigious College or University

     Authors Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton, along with a team of researchers helping them produce a book that came out in 2014 called Paying For The Party: How College Maintains Inequality, embedded themselves in a freshman dormitory at an unnamed high-profile midwestern state school. The authors and their researchers kept up with a group of female students through college.

     While according to the conventional wisdom that higher education is a form of upward mobility that is an economic and social equalizer, the authors of this book found otherwise. They believe that a college education from a prestigious, expensive school rewards upper-middle class and rich students while treating their working-class counterparts more cruelly, often leaving these students isolated and adrift.

     The inequality manifests itself in the campus party/sorority scene referred to by the authors as the "Party Pathway" through the university experience. Many kids from well-to-do families select a college or university because of its rich party/social environment. (So, when a university is labeled "a party school," that's good for recruiters.)

     Rich kids, while not necessarily academically prepared for college, get accepted into these expensive schools because the institutions need their parents' money. Many of these less than academically gifted students navigate the university experience by taking bonehead majors like speech communication, criminal justice, elementary education, broadcasting, and women's studies. They don't learn anything useful, but they get their degrees, have a good time, and establish important social relationships. Because their families have connections, they also acquire good jobs.

     The poorer, more academically prepared students struggle to afford sorority fees, clothing costs, spring break trips, and bar tabs. These students are referred to by the rich kids as "wannabes." Students who can't keep up socially end up humiliated and unhappy. According to the authors of Paying For The Party, the most successful working-class students end up transferring to less prestigious, expensive institutions where they are happier and get a better education.
   

     

Criminal Justice Quote: Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

     ….How did psychiatry come to play a crucial role in criminal trials? Why do defense and prosecution psychiatrists often disagree drastically in their expert opinions? What good, if any, does psychiatry do in our courts? To begin to answer these questions, we must first look at how the insanity defense operates.

     Once the defense lawyer decides with the client to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the attorney calls in one or more psychiatrists to examine the defendant. Even though the psychiatrists may question the accused weeks or months after the act was committed, they are expected to determine exactly what the defendant was thinking during the moments surrounding the crime. Most particularly, did the accused know what he or she was doing was against the law or wrong? If so, was a choice made to commit the crime anyway, or was the behavior beyond the defendant's control? Was he or she driven to it by mental disorder? 

     Psychiatrists have no tests to reconstruct a past state of mind, but they nonetheless offer an opinion, because they are convinced that their "clinical skills" allow them to expertly determine questions of legal sanity. If they decide the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime, the defense lawyer has reason to go forward with an insanity plea. If they decide differently, the defense attorney may decide to start over by hiring another psychiatrist to examine the defendant. A psychiatrist who will reach the desired conclusions can usually be found. Neither judge nor jury learns of the prior psychiatrists, only of those the defense lawyer calls to testify that the defendant was legally insane at the moment of the crime.

Lee Coleman, "The Insanity Defense," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, editor, 1994