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Saturday, October 31, 2015

No Protection from Scottye Miller, the Stalker Who Murdered Tricia Patricelli

     Scottye Leon Miller, a violent, sociopathic stalker of ex-girlfriends and other women unfortunate enough to have crossed his path, lived in Burien, Washington, a King County town of 33,000 located south of Seattle. Between 2002 and 2010, Miller had stalked, harassed, threatened, and assaulted several women. His arrest record featured 15 domestic violence related convictions, and six court protection order violations. It was just a matter of time before he killed one of his victims.

     In 2008, the violent ex-con started dating Tricia Patricelli, a 30-year-old mother of two daughters who lived in the nearby city of Auburn. In January of the following year, Miller forced his way into Patricelli's apartment and assaulted her in front of her children. A local prosecutor charged the 30-year-old subject with burglary and third-degree assault. The defendant pleaded guilty and received a short sentence in the King County Jail. (Burglary is a felony, the judge should have sentenced Miller, given his criminal record, to twenty years.)

     Miller served less than a year in jail on the Patricelli burglary/assault conviction. In January 2012, Tricia Patricelli called 911 and reported that he had threatened to kill her, and was chasing her in the parking lot of the apartment complex. "Please hurry, he is going to kill me!" she screamed. The police arrived and took Miller into custody. To the responding officers, Patricelli said, "You don't know who you are dealing with. He is going to kill me."

     Scottye Miller, convicted of fourth-degree assault and harassment, was sentenced to another short stretch in the King County Jail. The fact he was behind bars, however, did not stop this man from continuing to terrorize his victim. While serving his time, Miller wrote Patricelli letters in which he promised to kill her when he got out of jail. Apparently in King County, victims of stalking and assault do not get relief even when their offenders are in custody. For a victim of this type of crime, this reality must be frightening as hell.

     Scottye Miller, on October 12, 2012, walked out of jail a free man. This meant serious trouble for Tricia Patricelli, the object of the serial stalker's obsession and pathological wrath. The criminal justice system, at this point, had no solution for Patricelli's life-threatening predicament. It didn't take a psychic detective to predict bad things for this vulnerable woman.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of October 30, 2012, just two weeks after Miller's release from the King County Jail, neighbors heard the screams of a woman coming from Tricia Patricelli's apartment. Moments after the woman went silent, witnesses saw a man meeting Miller's physical description walk out of the building. Someone called 911.

     Responders to Patricelli's apartment found that Miller had stabbed her to death in the bathroom. He had stabbed his ex-girlfriend in the face, neck, torso, and back--22 times in all. Police arrested him shortly thereafter at a nearby bus stop. Miller denied any knowledge of the stabbing, but admitted that he had sent the dead woman text messages in which he had threatened to kill her. Miller told the arresting officers that he had been dating the victim for four years, and had lived with her, on and off, during half of that time.

     Shortly after Patricelli's murder, investigators found three bloody knives, a pair of blood-stained gloves, and the victim's cellphone at the foot of a fence near the apartment complex. One of the knives was 8 inches long. During a second interrogation, Scottye Miller confessed to the killing. He said that in the midst of a fight in Patricelli's apartment, he just "snapped." After "snapping," Miller slipped on a pair of gloves, and using the three knives he had brought with him to Patricelli's place, started stabbing her. The bloody assault ended up in Patricelli's bathroom where she died.

     On November 15, a King County judge arraigned Miller on the charge of first-degree murder. The homicidal stalker was back in jail under $1 million bond.

     In December 2013, a jury found Miller guilty of first-degree murder. Two weeks after the verdict the judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     The Scottye Miller case reminds us of a frightening truth about our criminal justice system. The police cannot arrest dangerous people for what they might do in the future. Law enforcement authorities only spring into action after the harm is done. In this case it was too late to protect the victim's life. Our system of criminal justice is designed more for the protection of the criminal than it is for the safety of the victim. Women being stalked, threatened with death, and assaulted by pathological criminals like Scottye Miller cannot look to the police or the courts for protection. They either have to flee and hide, buy themselves a gun and do the job themselves, or hire a contract killer. None of these options are good, but neither is being hounded, assaulted, then murdered by some low-life sociopath in your own bathroom.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

David Kwiatkowski: The Hospital Worker Who Infected Patients With Hepatitis C

     David Kwiatkowski traveled around the country working as a hospital temp in cardiac catheterization labs as a radiology technician. From January 2007 to September of that year, the 29-year-old worked at the Oakwood Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Michigan, his home state. From November 2007 to March 2010, Kwiatowski was employed in six hospitals in Poughkeepsie, New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore and Clinton, Maryland.

     On April 1, 2010, the itinerate lab technician landed a job in Phoenix at the Arizona Heart Hospital. Eleven days later, a fellow employee found him out cold in the men's locker room. After testing positive for cocaine and marijuana, the hospital fired him. Less than a week later, Kwiakowski was in Philadelphia working at Temple University Hospital. That job lasted less than a month. That May the roving temp was employed at a hospital in Hays, Kansas. A month after taking the job in Kansas, Kwiatkowski's drug usage caught up with him. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C. After a month or so at the Hays Hospital, the infected temp was in Warner Robins, Georgia at the Houston Medical Center. (There must be a shortage of radiology technicians. Wasn't anyone keeping track of this guy?)

     Two years after Kwiatkowski was fired from the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix, he began work in the cardiac catheterization unit at the Exeter Hospital in Exeter, New Hampshire. On May 12, 2012, six weeks after the temp started work at Exeter, the hospital experienced a hepatitis C breakout involving 32 patients and former patients.

     Because the infected patients had all received cardiac catheterization procedures at Exeter, David Kwiatkowski came under suspicion. Investigators began looking into his bizarre work history, and learned he had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in June 2010. Fellow hospital employees, based on the temp's erratic behavior, and the fresh needle tracks on his arms, suspected he was a drug addict. (Why didn't any of these people speak up? What kind of zombies do we have working in our hospitals?) Kwiatkowski's roommate told investigators that he had found needles in their apartment. When confronted by his roommate, Kwiatkowski said he had cancer. The hospital fired the radiology temp on May 24, 2012.

     Following a month-long investigation, FBI agents determined that Kwiatkowski had injected himself with syringes meant for patients. These syringes were filled with Fentanyl, a painkiller more potent than morphine. Patients were then infected with syringes Kwiatkowski had refilled with a saline solution. Patients had not only been denied relief from pain, the temp had given them hepatitis C.

     On July 13, police in Marlborough, Massachusetts responded to a call from a Holiday Inn regarding a guest who had overdosed on drugs. Officers found David Kwiatkowski in a stupor amid pills scattered about the hotel room. He had also written a suicide note. Medics transported him to a nearby hospital.

     A federal grand jury sitting in New Hampshire, on July 19, 2012 indicted Kwiatkowski for acquiring controlled substances by fraud, and for tampering with a consumer product (the hospital syringes). If convicted of these offenses, he faced up to 24 years in prison. On the day of his indictment, FBI agents arrested Kwiatkowski at the Marlborough hospital where he was recovering from his drug and alcohol overdose.

     When interrogated by the FBI, Kwiatkowski denied stealing the syringes and switching out their contents. Moreover, he said he didn't use drugs. When asked how the 32 patients at the Exeter Hospital had contracted hepatitis C, the suspect said, "You know, I'm more concerned about myself, my own well-being. I've learned here to just worry about myself. And that's all I care about now." Spoken like a true sociopath.

     David Kwiatkowski was held in the Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire. In that state alone, he came into contact with more than 3,000 patients, people who had yet to be tested for hepatitis C.

     In August 2013, Kwiatkowski, pursuant to a plea agreement, admitted that he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people." After pleading guilty to fourteen federal drug theft and tampering charges, a judge sentenced him to 39 years in prison.

     

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Police Officer's Strange and Unlawful Requests

     In 2014, 27-year-old Patrick Quinn worked as a uniformed patrol officer for the Cypress-Fairbanks School District in suburban Houston, Texas. On August 11 of that year, while driving his patrol vehicle, officer Quinn pulled over a motorist in northwest Harris County. Following the stop, the officer examined the female driver's insurance card and found that her car insurance had expired. Quinn also informed the driver that he detected the odor of marijuana in the vehicle.

     Officer Quinn, after he secured the stopped driver's permission to search her car, placed the suspect in the backseat of his patrol vehicle. A search of the motorist's car resulted in the discovery of a marijuana grinder. Officer Quinn advised the detainee that he could arrest her for possession of drug paraphernalia. At that point the patrol officer stunned the woman with the revelation that he had a foot fetish. If she allowed him to sniff and lick her bare feet, he wouldn't take her into custody.

     Not wanting to be arrested, the motorist removed her boots and socks. But instead of availing himself of the woman's feet, officer Quinn asked her to remove and give him her underwear. Before the woman could comply with that request, the patrol officer changed his mind and let her go.

     The day following her harrowing encounter with the disturbed cop, the woman reported the bizarre and frightening incident to the authorities. Detectives with the Harris County District Attorney's Office launched an investigation.

     Police officers arrested Patrick Quinn after detectives identified him through his latent fingerprints on the victim's insurance card.

     The Cypress-Fairbanks School District fired Mr. Quinn after a Harris County prosecutor charged him with two counts of official oppression. In the course of the investigation leading up to the arrest, detectives had found three other women who had been victims of the officer's deviant propositions.

     On October 22, 2015, in a Houston Courtroom, Patrick Quinn pleaded guilty to one count of official oppression. The judge sentenced him to a year in the Harris County Jail.

     

Monday, October 26, 2015

Getting Physical Over Chicken Wings

     Anyone familiar with crime knows that people commit serious criminal acts over extremely trivial matters. Criminologists label this phenomenon simplicity of motive. I call it stupidity.

     At nine-thirty Thursday night September 17, 2015, in Aliquippa, a small western Pennsylvania town north of Pittsburgh, Kim L. Adamson got into an argument with another female patron of Warwos Bar and Lounge. The dust-up started when Adamson ate the other woman's chicken wings.

     Immediately following the chicken wing flap, the two women separated and continued drinking apart from each other. But the argument flared up again with more angry words passing between the combatants. This time the conflict culminated with the 50-year-old chicken wing eater smashing a beer bottle into her adversary's head. The blow caused contusions and cuts to the victim's head and face.

     The attack, caught on a surveillance camera in the bar, led to charges of aggravated assault and related lesser offenses.

     Because bars are inhabited by people consuming alcohol, they can be dangerous places, especially when chicken wings are involved. In all probability, this case will be resolved with a guilty plea to simple assault. Unless Adamson was on parole or has a significant criminal record, the judge will sentence her to a couple years probation.   

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Pedro Maldonado Murder-Suicide Case

     In 2013, Pedro Maldonado and his wife Monica, citizens of Ecuador, South America, were living in the United States on expired visas. The couple resided in a gated community in Weston, Florida thirteen miles west of Fort Lauderdale. The Maldonado's 17-year-old son Pedro Jose Maldonado, Jr. attended Cypress Bay High School where he was a drummer in the band. The older Maldonado son, Jose, was a student at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

     Mr. Maldonado and his 47-year-old wife not only faced deportation back to Ecuador, they were in serious financial trouble. An exporter of police supplies to South America, he had recently lost most of his business. In September 2013 the couple's drivers' licenses expired. As people living in the country illegally, they could not renew their licenses and drive legally.

     Due to his citizenship and financial problems, the 53-year-old Maldonado must have felt helpless and doomed. Facing a bleak future he slipped into depression to the point of becoming suicidal.

     On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, at four-fifteen in the afternoon, Mr. Maldonado telephoned a friend in Miami and gave him some shocking news. According to Maldonado, he had killed Monica and their son Pedro in the family's Weston townhouse. Maldonado said he had shot them the day before with arrows fired from a crossbow. When asked where he was calling from, Maldonado said he had checked into a motel near Lake City, Florida. The stunned recipient of this phone call immediately notified the authorities.

     In Weston, Florida, Broward County sheriff's deputies, at six that evening, entered the Maldonado townhouse where they discovered the dead bodies of Monica and her son Pedro. They had each been shot in the head with small arrows or darts fired from a crossbow that featured a pistol grip. (I am assuming that the victims had been shot while they slept.)

     On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, about seven hours after Pedro Maldonado called his friend in Miami with the startling news, deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office spotted his SUV parked outside the Cabot Lodge Motel near the intersection of Interstates 10 and 75 near Lake City, 100 miles east of Tallahassee. Shortly thereafter police officers evacuated the motel and called in a SWAT team and a crisis hostage negotiator.

     SWAT officers, after receiving no response from Maldonado's room, entered the motel at two in the morning on Wednesday, December 4. The officers found Mr. Maldonado dead in the bathroom. He had used a knife to slit his throat. (I don't know how long Maldonado waited to kill himself after his call to his friend in Miami.)

     Investigators, in piecing together the sequence of events that unfolded over the previous two days, learned that Maldonado, after murdering his wife and youngest son in the Weston townhouse, drove 460 miles north to Tallahassee where he checked into a motel. Just after seven o'clock Tuesday morning, December 3, 2013, Maldonado shot his 21-year-old son Jose in the ear with  a crossbow dart. Having failed to make a killing shot, the father tried to choke his oldest son to death. Following a struggle, the young man managed to escape.

     Jose did not report his father's attempted murder to the police until after he learned what had happened to his mother and his younger brother.

     Neighbors in Weston described Mr. Maldonado and his family as quiet people who kept to themselves. The only sounds anyone heard coming from the townhouse involved the boy's practice sessions with his drums. Mr. Maldonado did not have an arrest record in the United States. Moreover, the local police had never been called to the house to mediate a domestic dispute.

     That Pedro Maldonado committed suicide is not shocking. What is a mystery is why he decided to end the lives of his wife and sons. When the American dream ended for the father, he must have decided that if he couldn't have it, neither could his wife and two sons. This case reflects the fact that there are things in life and crime that will never make sense. This is particularly true in the world of suicide and murder.
    

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Problems in Forensic Science

     Practitioners of forensic science fall generally into three groups: police officers who arrive at the scene of a crime whose job it is to secure the physical evidence; crime-scene technicians responsible for finding, photographing, and packaging that physical evidence for crime lab submission; and forensic scientists working in public and private crime laboratories who analyze the evidence and, if the occasion arises, testify in court as expert witnesses. While uniformed police officers and detectives may be trained in the recognition and handling of physical evidence, they are not scientists, and do not work under laboratory conditions. As a result, a lot can, and does, go wrong between the crime scene investigation and the courtroom.

     Television series like "CSI" have generated public knowledge and interest in forensic science, even ramping up scientific expectations for those involved in real-life criminal investigation and prosecution. Prosecutors call this the "CSI effect," the expectation among jurors that the prosecution will feature physical evidence and expert witnesses. The CSI effect has also caused jurors to expect crime lab results far beyond the capacity of forensic science. Some prosecutors either eliminate potential jurors who are fans of "CSI," or downplay the necessity and importance of physical evidence as a method of proving a defendant's guilt. Prosecutors who have lost cases have been known to blame their defeats on the CSI effect. Criminal justice scholars who have investigated the CSI effect disagree over whether it has had much impact on trial results.

    While public expectations of forensic science are high, persistent problems within the various forensic fields have kept scientific crime detection from living up to its full potential. Because a shortage of qualified personnel has caused DNA testing logjams, rapists, pedophiles, and serial killers have been given extra time to commit more crimes. The shortage of DNA analysts has also placed a heavy burden on crime lab personnel, creating problems of quality control. In the past few years, dozens of crime lab DNA units have been temporarily closed when audits revealed sloppy work, scientific errors, unqualified analysts, weak supervision, poor training, and evidence contamination. Even the highly regarded FBI Laboratory has experienced problems with DNA analysis and other forms of forensic identification. Recently, crime labs in Detroit, Boston, Raleigh, Houston, New Haven, and Los Angeles have had serious problems.

     Ironically, advances in DNA technology have exposed problems in other fields of forensic science. For example, DNA analysis has revealed that over the years, experts have been overstating the identification value of human hair follicles and bite-mark impressions. Hundreds of criminal defendants, if not thousands, have been sent to prison on what many experts now consider unreliable forensic evidence.

     A critical shortage of board-certified forensic pathologists has also adversely affected the overall quality of homicide investigation. Overworked forensic pathologists are prone to take shortcuts and make mistakes. The shortage has meant that in many cases of suspicious death, autopsies are not performed.

     The field of latent fingerprint identification, while still considered the gold standard of forensic science, has recently come under attack as a result of a handful of high-profile misidentifications. These cases have revealed that not all fingerprint examiners have been properly trained, and that many have either failed or never taken proficiency tests. Questions have also been raised regarding the scientific objectivity of many fingerprint experts. This is particularly true of examiners who, as police officers, see themselves as part of a law enforcement team. Forensic scientists have to be loyal to their science, even when it displeases the people who employ them, a stance that takes courage and independence.

     There are fakes, incompetents, and charlatans in every profession, but over the years a series of high-profile cases have featured the so-called experts from hell, forensic scientists whose false testimony has helped convict innocent people. Many of these experts from hell are hired guns willing to testify for whatever side is willing  to pay. The alarming aspect of these expert-from-hell stories is how long these forensic scientists practice before they are exposed and defrocked. Just below the expert from hell on the damage scale are the well-meaning but incompetent forensic scientists as well as the experts who are either blinded by media attention, or bow to prosecutorial pressure. Maintaining a firewall between science and criminal prosecution is a constant challenge, one that is not always met.

     Jurors are often called upon to make judgments in trials in which experts representing each side offer opinions that contradict. When jurors are faced with opposing experts, they tend to disregard the physical evidence entirely. The dueling expert problem is destroying the credibility of forensic science itself. Judges reluctant to exclude the testimony of witnesses who are not real experts, dump the problem on the laps of jurors who are not qualified to distinguish the true scientists from the phonies.

     Most of the problems in forensic science are caused by personnel shortages, poor quality control, the inherent difficulties of crime scene investigation, the pressures imposed by the adversarial nature of our trial process, the lure of pseudoscience, and the evolving character and complexity of science itself. Over the past twenty years, the emphasis in American law enforcement has been the escalating war on drugs, anti-terrorism, and controlling inner city street gangs. Criminal investigation has taken a back seat to these priorities. As long as this is the case, the many problems facing forensic science will not be solved, and will probably get worse.

     The history of forensic science has been one of false hope, missed opportunities, and failed expectations. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Marcel Melanson: High-Profile Firefighter, Arsonist and Thief

     In 1998, 22-year-old Marcel Melanson joined the fire department in Los Angeles County's Compton, California. While the ambitious and popular firefighter succeeded at his job, he wasn't good at managing his financial affairs. In 2005, the state of California filed a $29,000 tax lien against him. Two years later, the IRS hit him with a $80,240 tax lien.

     Melanson became a minor celebrity in 2009 as a regular participant in a BET Network reality TV series called "First In." A TV crew followed the fire battalion chief as he led a rescue team that came to the aid of victims of traffic accidents and street crime. About this time, Inked Magazine featured Melanson's elaborate tattoos on his back, arms and neck.

     The crime-ridden city of Compton, like its celebrity firefighter, had run into financial problems. The municipality, due to a revenue shortfall and bloated budgets, had disbanded its police department. In June 2010, members of the Compton City Council, in anticipation of bringing back the police force, authorized the purchase of $1.7 million in communications equipment from the Motorola Corporation. Melanson, an emergency communications expert, sat on a three-person technology committee that oversaw the purchase of this equipment.

     By 2011, the city of Compton was on the verge of insolvency. As a result, the police department was not coming back and the city was stuck with hundreds of radios that cost $2,500 a piece. The city stored the excess communications equipment at the Compton Fire Department.

     In December 2011, a fire broke out and quickly spread at the Compton Fire Department in the area housing the surplus radio equipment. Arson investigators determined that the fire had been intentionally set and that Marcel Melanson was the only person in the station at the time of the fire. Detectives with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office discovered that prior to the blaze, someone had stolen thousands of dollars worth of the radios. Further investigation revealed that over the past several months the thief had been selling the stolen property, one radio at a time, on Internet sites like EBay. Theft detectives, by 2013, had recovered fifty of the stolen communication units.

     In February 2013, Melanson, the prime suspect in the thefts and the arson, was fired. Deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office, at eleven o'clock on the morning of May 15, 2013, arrested the 37-year-old at his home in Torrance, California. Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose charged the former celebrity firefighter with arson, grand theft, and embezzlement. If found guilty as charged, Melanson faced up to ten years in prison. A judge set his bail at $350,000.

     Investigators believed that Melanson set the fire to cover his radio equipment thefts. The suspect's attorney, Robert Rico, publicly insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, a Long Beach Fire Department arson investigator had initially reported that the Compton fire was not arson, then later changed his mind.

     While a firefighter committing arson is not that unusual, firefighters rarely torch a fire station. Due to the celebrity element in this particular case, Melanson's arrest attracted a lot of southern California media attention. People who knew him and worked with the former high-ranking firefighter had a hard time believing he was guilty as charged.

     In April 2014, Melason pleaded no contest to felony arson and embezzlement by a public official. In June, the judge sentenced him to three years and four months in prison and ordered him to pay $517,477 in restitution. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dereck Taylor Holt: The Home Invading Ex-Mennonite

     While ordinary crime in America has been on the decline, pathological, irrational offenses against persons seem to be on the rise. Crime has become largely inexplicable. Young men have shot up schools, shopping malls, theaters, and even hospitals. A man in New York City was pushed in front of an oncoming subway train, while in a small town in Pennsylvania, a music teacher shot his ex-wife to death as she played the organ in church. Every week there's a new murder-suicide case in the news. To write about crime today is to write about mental illness, personality disorder, and drug abuse.

     The changing nature of crime and criminal behavior in this country reflects a population of people who are losing the ability to cope with modern life. Politicians, desperate to appear honest, competent, and useful, fall all over themselves with ridiculous, feel-good laws that are irrelevant to the sources of these social problems. Instead of more cops, SWAT teams, and gun restrictions, the country needs more psychiatrists. America is mentally ill.

     At nine in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, two elderly Mennonite sisters invited a nice looking young man, who said he was an insurance salesman, into their house. Both in their late eighties, the sisters lived in a brick, ranch-style home on Indiantown Road in rural Lancaster County in the heart of southeastern Pennsylvania's Amish country. (Mennonites, devoted to the plain, simple life, are more modern that their old-order Amish counterparts. Unlike the Amish, they do not practice shunning.)

     Dereck Taylor Holt, the 22-year-old man who entered the Clay Township house that morning, was not an insurance salesman. The former Mennonite, with no fixed address, chided the frightened sisters for being members of the church, and railed angrily against the religion. He then repeatedly shocked the elderly women with a stun gun, and between periods in which he read Bible passages to his victims, slapped, kicked, and punched them. Holt used duct tape to bind his captives' hands and feet, then ransacked the house in search of cash and valuables.

     During the bizarre, sadistic home invasion, an elderly Mennonite friend of the sisters came to the house and knocked on the door. Holt pulled this woman into the home where he shocked and assaulted her before binding the visitor in duct tape. Following the two-hour ordeal, Holt used household cleaning substances he took from the house to remove his latent fingerprints from the scene. Before leaving the ransacked house and the terrified women, Holt destroyed their Bible.

     At 4:20 that afternoon, the three Mennonite victims were discovered by a relative of the sisters who called 911. The women were rushed by ambulance to Ephrata Hospital. One of the victims had an heart attack, the other a broken shoulder, and the third was treated for bleeding on the brain. (The victims would survive their ordeals.)

     The next day, officers with the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police arrested Dereck Taylor Holt. Officers booked him into the Lancaster County Jail on charges of burglary, aggravated assault, unlawful restraint, theft, and a Pennsylvania hate crime called ethnic intimidation. The judge set Holt's bond at $1 million.

     In May 2013, Holt pleaded guilty to all of the charges except ethnic intimidation. At his August 2013 sentencing hearing before Lancaster County President Judge Joseph Madenspacher, Holt, in a five-minute statement, said: "I'm not a heartless being. I'm not an empty carcass incapable of contributing to society. But I can't defend my actions. This was the culmination of a long, two-year addiction to substances. These actions wouldn't have happened without my alarming abuse of mind-altering prescription medication."

     Judge Madenspacher sentenced Holt to 12 to 40 years in prison where he would receive psychiatric treatment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Tamir E. Rice Police-Involved Shooting Case

     On Saturday November 22, 2014, a 911 dispatcher in Cleveland, Ohio received a call from a person at the Cudell Recreation Center on the city's west side. According to the emergency caller, a boy on a swing set was scaring people by pulling a handgun out of waistband and pointing it at other people at the playground. The 911 caller added that the gun was probably a fake.

     Two Cleveland police officers responded to the call. When the officers arrived at the playground they saw what looked like a semi-automatic handgun lying on a bench. The boy in question, 12-year-old Tamir E. Rice, walked over to the bench, picked up the gun and stuck it into his waistband.

     The police officers pulled their weapons and ordered the boy to raise his hands. Instead of complying with the command, Tamir Rice reached for the gun. One of the officers fired two shots. A bullet pierced the boy's abdomen.

     Paramedics rushed Tamir Rice to MetroHealth Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. The next day, he died.

     As it turned out, the pistol in the boy's possession was a pellet gun that did not have the orange safety tip attached to the muzzle to distinguish it from its real counterpart. The Airsoft replica gun fired plastic pellets.

     The two police officers, one a first-year rookie and the other a ten-year veteran, were placed on administrative leave. In advance of a full internal investigation, it appeared that the boy had not pointed the gun at the officers and had not threatened them verbally. Investigators gathered surveillance video footage and interviewed witnesses. The detectives who looked into the shooting determined that the rookie officer had fired the fatal shot.

     The results of the internal investigation were submitted to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

     The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association told reporters that the officers had not been told that the gun was probably a replica.

     On October 11, 2015, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office released a pair of reports on the Tamir Rice shooting by retired FBI agent Kimberley Crawford and Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Lamar Sims. The use of force experts commissioned by Cuyahoga County concluded that the rookie patrolman who shot Rice had exercised a reasonable use of force because the officer had reason to perceive Tamir Rice as a serious threat. The 911 dispatcher had described the boy as a man waving and pointing a gun.

     Member of the Rice family voiced their disapproval of the independent police-involved shooting report. A Cuyahoga County grand jury will determine if criminal charges against the officer are appropriate. In light of the independent police shooting report, an indictment in this case seems unlikely. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Guma Aguiar Missing Person Case

     Guma Aguiar's parents immigrated to the United States from Brazil in 1979 when he was two-years-old. The family, from Rio deJaneiro, settled in Pompano Beach, Florida. After college, Guma, a born-again Christian, moved to Texas where, working with his uncle in the oil and gas business, he made a fortune.

     In 2012, the 35-year-old millionaire was living in Fort Lauderdale with his wife Jamie and their four children. The family resided in a $5 million, six-bedroom mansion located in the exclusive oceanside  neighborhood called Rio Vista.

     Aguiar, after converting to Orthodox Judaism, began donating millions of dollars to charitable causes in Jerusalem where he was considered a hero philanthropist. Others considered Aguiar a rich, eccentric man who was losing touch with reality. (Aguiar, according to reports, had spent some time in mental wards. I do not know the extent or nature of his mental health problem.) His marriage to Jamie, whom he'd met in high school, had become a tumultuous relationship. On one occasion he had sued Jamie for divorce, then later withdrew the petition. In April 2012, Jamie Aguiar's attorney challenged the prenuptial agreement she had signed. The following month, Guma transferred guardianship of his $100 million estate ("in the event of my incapacity") from his wife Jamie to his mother, Ellen Aguiar. This, too, was challenged by Jamie's legal representatives.

     On June 18, 2012, Jamie Aguiar informed Guma that she intended to file for divorce. An hour later, at 8:30 in the evening, Guma was seen driving his twin-engine, fiberglass powerboat "T.T. Zion" through Port Everglades toward the Atlantic Ocean. Just after midnight, employees of a beachfront bar called Elbo Room spotted a boat in rough seas drifting toward the beach. The craft came to rest on shore with its navigation lights still on, the shifter in gear, and the keys in the ignition. Guma Aguiar was not in the boat.

     That morning, while investigators searched Aguiar's boat, the Coast Guard launched a search-and-rescue operation. Inside the abandoned craft, officers recovered the owner's wallet, his iPhone, a black T-shirt, and a pair of flip-flops. According to the boat's GPS system, Aguilar had traveled at high speeds two miles northeast of his house before the craft turned around and started drifting back to the shore. Aguiar had left his wedding ring at home.

     After three days, the Coast Guard called off the search-and-rescue mission. Several weeks after Guma's disappearance, Jamie, engaged in a battle against her mother-in-law for control of the $100 million estate, fired her missing husband's chief financial officer. At this point in the case, everybody had a lawyer which was costing the family $1 million a month in legal fees. (In big money disputes like this, the lawyers are always the big winners. When they're finished with the case, there usually isn't much left for anyone else.) The Rio Vista mansion has been put on the market along with Aguiar's 75-foot yacht, and his twin-engine powerboat.

     So, what happened to Guma Aguiar? Did he go out for a quick swim and drown? (Did taking an evening swim in the ocean by himself conform to past behavior?) Did mental illness and a hatred for his wife drive Guma to suicide? Assuming he went into the sea, was it unusual that the Coast Guard searchers didn't find his body? Why hadn't his corpse washed up on shore somewhere in this populated area?  Could he be alive?

     Jamie Aguiar's attorney told reporters that he believed that Guma, after faking his own death, fled to the Netherlands where he was hiding out, or living under a false identity. The attorney suspected that Guma was in the Netherlands because a close business associate of his had recently relocated there.

     On December 29, 2015, a judge in Broward County declared Guma Aguiar legally deceased. This paved the way for the settlement of his estate. A court in Israel where Aguiar owned property will decide whether to accept the Florida court ruling.
 
      I think it's unlikely that Guma Aguiar faked his own death, then disappeared into thin air. It seems to me the money trail would lead investigators right to him. I think he either downed accidentally or committed suicide. The history of mental illness points to suicide, but statistics suggest a downing accident. (Eighty percent of all drownings are accidental.) I'm sure there are some who believe this Florida millionaire was murdered. There doesn't seem to be evidence of foul play in this case--blood on the boat and so on-- but anything is possible when a lot of money is involved.

      

Monday, October 5, 2015

Chinese Mom Sued For Having an Ugly Baby

     In China, the old gag that goes, "At birth I was so ugly, the doctor slapped my mother," may be more reality than humor.

     Jian Feng married a beautiful woman who didn't tell him that she had been made attractive by a plastic surgeon in South Korea. Mr. Jian's bride had spent $100,000 for cosmetic surgery on her eyes, nose, and lips. Prior to the work done on her face, Mrs. Jian had been physically ordinary, and at best, plain. She would not have landed the superficial Mr. Jian without the surgery, and had he known that her beauty was not genetic, he wouldn't have married her. Mr. Jian assumed that his wife's beauty had been a gift of nature, and not the work of a gifted surgeon.

     On 2011, Mrs. Jian gave birth to a baby girl. The father, expecting the infant to reflect his own good looks and his wife's radiant beauty, was handed a child he considered downright ugly. He found the baby so unattractive, Mr. Jian was certain he couldn't have been the father. He not only accused his wife of having extramarital sex with another man, he accused her of having illicit sex with an ugly man. There was no way Mr. Jian was going to raise and support someone else's homely child. The infuriated husband demanded a DNA paternity test.

     Mrs. Jian found herself in a lose-lose situation. She could falsely confess to having sex with an unattractive lover, or tell her husband about the cosmetic surgery. The hapless, but faithful wife came clean about her past facial enhancement.

     Mr. Jian's spirits were not lifted by the fact his wife had not cheated on him, and that the baby in question was his own flesh and blood. He not only divorced his wife, he filed a civil suit against her on the grounds that their marriage had been based on false pretense. (She should have counter-sued on grounds that she had married him under the pretense he was a decent person.) In November 2012, the judge (presumably a man), by essentially declaring the baby a defective product purchased as a result of false advertising, awarded Mr. Jian the U.S. equivalent of $120,000 in damages.

     

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Say Goodbye to Kelly Gissendancer

     Since only a handful of states actually execute cold-blooded murderers, death by lethal injection has become a relatively unusual event. Rarer still are the executions of women. Even in the heyday of capital punishment few women died at the end of a robe or in the electric chair. While women are no less capable of unspeakable evil than men, killing a woman, at least since the dawn of the 20th century, hasn't seemed quite appropriate.

     In Georgia, where executions are still carried out, the authorities hadn't executed a woman in 70 years. That made the September 30, 2015 execution of Kelly Renee Gissendancer so newsworthy, and to many, barbaric.

     The 47-year-old death row inmate of 18 years received her lethal injection shortly after midnight soon after the U. S. Supreme Court declined to intercede on her behalf.

     In 1998, a jury found Gissendancer guilty of arranging to have her boyfriend kidnap and stab to death her husband Douglas. A jury found the hit man, Gregory Owen, guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder. The judge sentenced Mr. Owen to life in prison. Prosecutors, with the help of Owen as a key witness, secured Gissendancer's first-degree murder conviction.

     Over the years Gissendancer's death house attorneys based their appeals for clemency on the fact she was not present when her boyfriend committed the murder on her behalf. Moreover, the defense lawyers argued that their client had found religion and had been a model prisoner. They said she felt bad about ordering the hit. Apparently the governor of the state and a majority of the Supreme Court justices, officials who could have saved her life, were unmoved by those arguments.

     Gissendancer was the 16th women executed in the United States since the U. S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. She is survived by three adult children.

     

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Paul Johnson Kidnap/Rape/Fugitive Case

     In June 1990, Paul Johnson and his half-brother Vance Roberts kidnapped 17-year-old Andrea Hood off the street in Portland, Oregon. After the victim climbed into Roberts' pickup truck, the two men drove her to Roberts' house in the city where, over a period of 36 hours, they repeatedly raped her in a bedroom converted into a soundproof torture chamber. They locked Hood in a closet and at times chained her to a bed.

     On the second day of her captivity Hood managed to free herself, smash a bedroom window, and escape.

     Police officers, when they searched Vance Roberts' house, found chains and other items of torture and restraint.

     After Paul Johnson and Vance Roberts pleaded not guilty at their arraignments, a Washington County prosecutor took the case to a grand jury which indicted the half-brothers on charges of kidnapping and rape. Both men maintained their innocence.

     In February 1991, as Johnson and Roberts awaited trial, their mother bailed them out of jail. Both men immediately fled and remained at large until Vance Roberts surrendered to the authorities in 2006.

     In 2007, a jury found Vance Roberts guilty as charged. The key evidence against him involved the testimony of Andrea Hood and Michaelle Dierich, a woman kidnapped and raped by the half-brothers in 1988. The judge sentenced Roberts to 108 years in prison. He continued to insist that he was innocent.

     In September 2015, the Portland kidnap/rape case and its fugitive Paul Johnson were featured on the CNN TV show "The Hunt With John Walsh." Shortly after the episode aired, a tip came in regarding Johnson's whereabouts.

     On Monday September 29, 2015, U. S. Marshals in Guadalajara, Mexico arrested Paul Johnson as he walked to an electronics store. The fugitive of 24 years had been living in that country under the name Paul Bennett Hamilton.