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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Cody Lee Johnson's Short Honeymoon and Sudden Death

     Cody Lee Johnson and Jordan Lin Graham, residents of Kalispell, Montana, began dating in late 2011. The couple became engaged in December 2012, and on June 29, 2013, were married. While couples who indulge themselves with lavish weddings are just as likely to be divorced as people who get hitched in city hall, family members and guests who attended the Johnson extravaganza didn't expect this marriage to end so quickly--and so violently.

     As it turned out, Cody Johnson was just as clueless as his wedding guests. The 25-year-old groom had no idea that his 22-year-old bride wanted the wedding more than the marriage. Almost immediately after the big ceremony she confided to friends that she already regretted marrying Johnson. When she uttered the pledge "until death do us part" this bride, instead of thinking of spending the rest of her life with this man, may have been contemplating widowhood within a matter of days.

     On the morning of July 8, 2013, when Cody Johnson didn't show up for work, his parents reported him missing to the Kalispell Police Department. As could be expected, a local officer questioned the missing man's wife of nine days. For a woman with a missing husband, she seemed awfully calm and collected.

     According to Jordan, Cody had stormed out of the house the previous night following their exchange of angry words. He had gone off in a dark-colored car bearing Washington state license plates with unidentified friends. She had no idea where he went or what could have happened to him.

     On the night Cody supposedly left the house with the mysterious men, Jordan, in a text message to a friend, said that prior to Cody's disappearance she had planned to break the news to him regarding her second thoughts about their marriage. Three days later, in an email, Jordan informed another acquaintance that Cody had gone hiking in nearby Glacier National Park with friends where he had probably fallen and died.

     On July 11, 2013, the newlywed reported to Glacier National Park officials that she had spotted Cody's body at the foot of a cliff in the Loop Trail area of the park. She had gone to that place in search of her husband because "it was a place he wanted to see before he died." Park officials considered this story absurd, and more than a little suspicious.

     The next day, operating on Jordan's information, searchers located Cody's body in an area so steep and rugged a helicopter had to be employed to recover his corpse.

     Members of Cody Johnson's family who suspected Jordan of murdering her new husband called for an investigation of his death. Since he had died in a national park, the FBI took over the case.

     On July 16, 2013, while being questioned by Special Agent Steven Liss, Jordan admitted that she had lied to the local police about the circumstances of her husband's disappearance. He had not gotten into a car with friends that night. That evening, following a heated argument, Jordan and Cody had driven to the park to cool-off. They continued fighting, however. While standing at the viewpoint above the cliff, he grabbed her by the arm. Jordan said she removed his hand and gave him a shove which propelled him over the cliff. She admitted that she had pushed him in anger, but denied an intention to kill him. In other words, Cody Johnson's death was a tragic accident.

     Two months went by following Jordan's FBI interrogation without an arrest in the case. Members of Cody Johnson's family were wondering if this woman would get away with murder. But on September 9, 2013, FBI agents took Jordan Graham Johnson into custody on the federal charge of second-degree murder. A few days later, represented by a pair of federal public defenders, Jordan appeared before a U. S. Magistrate in Missoula. The judge denied her bail.

     If convicted as charged, Jordan faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. While the federal prosecutor had the motive, opportunity, and means for murder, the case against this defendant was entirely circumstantial. It would be difficult, in the absence of an eyewitness or confession, for the prosecution to prove that the defendant intended to commit murder.

     In March 2014, Jordan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder following the closing arguments at her trial. The judge sentenced her to 30 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, in handing down his sentence, pointed out that the defendant had initially lied and changed her story about what happened to her husband. Moreover, she never apologized or showed remorse. After admitting her guilt, she claimed she had felt "physically ill" at the prospect of having sex with her husband. She told a friend that she was afraid of what he might expect her to do.

     Jordan Johnson, shortly after being sentenced, requested a new trial on the grounds that her plea agreement had been "illusory" and a "hollow formality." Judge Molloy denied her motion. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Professor Kirk Nesset Child Pornography Case

     Dr. Kirk Nesset taught contemporary literature at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts school located in Meadville, a western Pennsylvania town about 90 miles north of Pittsburgh. In 2007, the then 49-year-old professor won the Heinz Literature Prize awarded by the University of Pennsylvania for his short story collection, Paradise Road. In addition to literary prestige, the award came with a $15,000 cash prize.

     In August 2014, in Arizona where Professor Nesset had a second home in Prescott, a sex offense investigator working undercover traced two pornographic movies to Nesset's computer billing address in Meadville. The films depicted two 8-year-old girls having sex with men. A month after this discovery, a detective with the Pennsylvania State Police found another pornographic film Nesset had purchased online. This movie featured a naked girl who was about six.

     In September 2014, FBI agents and officers with the Pennsylvania State Police, pursuant to a search warrant, took Nesset's hard-drive from his home in Meadville. Over the next several days forensic computer experts found, on the professor's computer, 540,000 images of children. While not all of the images were pornographic, at least 36,000 of them featured erotica or photographs depicting female child sexual molestation. One of the professor's computer files contained more than 1,000 images and movies depicting babies. In one film, a man had sex with an infant during a diaper change.

     Professor Nesset's computer revealed that he had been collecting child pornography since November 2005. (He had, no doubt, began collecting this kind of material long before that.)

     A federal prosecutor in Erie, Pennsylvania, on October 1, 2014, charged Kirk Nesset with possessing, receiving, and distributing child pornography. FBI agents and officers with the state police booked him into the Crawford County Jail on the federal charges.

     At Nesset's arraignment, the federal magistrate released him on a $10,000 unsecured bond. As a condition of his release the suspect was required to wear an electronic monitoring device. Shortly after posting his bail, the 57-year-old resigned from Allegheny College. Classes at the school were cancelled for a day during which time students could seek counseling.

     When questioned by FBI agents, Nesset said his massive child pornography collection allowed him to "release steam." He also explained that looking at child pornography gave him "solace." He said his sexual viewing preference involved girls 10 to 13-years-old.

     Professor Joe Tompkins, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at Allegheny College, in an October 4, 2014 opinion piece in The Campus, the school newspaper, wrote the following regarding what he considered the school's over-reaction to the Nesset case: "We should ask ourselves, are there "sexual predators" simply outside the realm of civilized behavior, or are they actually over-conforming to the cultural norms--norms that result in all too frequent incidents of not only child porn, but related instances of pornographic media, male violence and sexual assault against women (of which there have been numerous cases at Allegheny)? Indeed, we're fooling ourselves to think these are completely unrelated matters…."

     An Allegheny student, in response to Professor Tompkins' article, wrote: "I completely agree that pornography is a more overt extension of the way women are implicitly abused by our androcentric culture, and I agree that culture is largely to blame. I agree that largely, Kirk Nesset is being dehumanized as a fluke in our community, instead of a product of the culture…."

     What a load of academic drivel from an ivory tower egghead and a liberal arts student. It's society's fault that a 57-year-old man gained "solace" from watching another man have sex with an infant? Is this what American higher education had devolved to?

     Enjoying child pornography is criminally deviant behavior, and purchasing it is not a victimless crime. Children were being horribly abused because of people with Kirk Nesset's sexual appetite.

     On April 6, 2015, at the U.S. District Courthouse in Erie, Pennsylvania, the former college professor pleaded guilty to one count each of possessing, receiving, and distributing child pornography. At his sentencing hearing scheduled for August 10, 2015, Nesset faced five to forty years in prison. Because he cooperated with the authorities and pleaded guilty, his attorney hoped the judge would hand down a light sentence.

     In July 2015, federal judge David Cercone postponed Nesset's sentencing to October 5, 2015 in order that his supporters could attend the hearing. (Only in academia would a person like Nesset have supporters.) Following a second sentencing postponement, the judge, on February 8, 2016, sent the former professor to prison for six years and four months. This was, in my view, an extremely light sentence.

     In December 2016, eight of the children depicted in Nesset's internet porn collection filed suit against the former professor in federal court. The plaintiffs, identified by pseudonyms, sought $150,000  apiece plus compensatory and punitive damages.
    

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Father Edward Belczak Embezzlement Case

     Reverend Edward Belczak, the pastor of the 2,500-member St. Thomas More Catholic Church in the Detroit suburb of Troy, Michigan, lived extremely well for a priest who made less than $30,000 a year. In 2005, the well-known and popular 60-year-old man of the cloth purchased, with a $109,578 down payment, a luxury condo in Palm Beach, Florida from his longtime church administrator, Janice Verschuren.

     In late 2012, an internal audit of Reverend Belczak's church commissioned by the Archdiocese of Detroit, led the auditors to suspect that the priest, during the period 2004 to 2012, embezzled at least $429,000 from the parish. The archdiocese reported the audit results to the local police who turned the case over to the FBI.

     Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, in January 2013, suspended Reverend Belczak. Church administrator Verschuren, suspected of helping the pastor divert church money, resigned.

     Father Belczak's suspension did not sideline him altogether. With advanced permission from the archdiocese, he was allowed to conduct church services at other parishes throughout the Detroit area. He also continued to draw his salary.

     On April 23, 2014, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson announced that a federal grand jury sitting in Detroit had indicted Reverend Belczak and Janice Verschuren of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud. According to the indictment, Belczal had purchased the Palm Beach condo with funds he had diverted from a parish bank account.

     Another act of theft alleged in the grand jury true bill involved the unlawful taking of $420,204, money bequeathed to the church following the death of a parishioner. That money, according to FBI investigators, had ended up in a secret money-market account in Belczak's name. Forensic accountants with the FBI reported that the 69-year-old priest and his 67-year-old former manager diverted more than $700,000 of the church's money, then filed false financial reports to the archdiocese in Detroit in an attempt to cover the embezzlements. If convicted as charged, the defendants faced up to twenty years in prison.

     Shortly after the indictments came down, Father Belczak's attorney, Jerome Sabbota, in speaking to reporters said, "My client is innocent. He is not happy. Nobody who gets indicted is happy. He looks forward to doing what he has to do."

     Following the priest's suspension in January 2013, many of his parishioners expressed their belief in his innocence. One of his supporters created a website called, "Friends of Father B." The internet site featured photographs of a smiling Father Belczak conducting a variety of church related activities. Supporters were also encouraged to write letters of support to Archbishop Vigneron and even to Pope Francis. (The pope had his own problems with Vatican related embezzlements involving staggering sums of money.) Believers in Father Belczak were asked to donate money to his legal defense fund.

     The "Father B" website also included a statement from the accused priest written after his suspension from St. Thomas More Church. Father Belczak wrote: "I would have never expected a year like this, yet I am at peace with all that has happened. Losing my job, home, and good reputation has brought me to my knees and here I found God awaiting me. His grace has never left me and His assurance continues to direct me. I sense his presence every day working on my behalf and I struggle to align myself to His time frame and not my own. I am reminded daily that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, perceiving as real what is not yet revealed to the senses."

     Faith is good I guess, but in the world of criminal justice, a good lawyer is even better. Imagine, if you will, a teenager confessing to Father Belczak that he had shoplifted something from Walmart. There is petty theft and there is grand theft. If FBI agents and the federal prosecutor were right about Father Belczak, he was not a petty thief, and the parishioners who supported him were victims of his crimes.

     As it turned out, Father Belczak was a big time thief. In September 2015, Father Belczak pleaded guilty to mail fraud in connection with stealing $573,000 from his church. As part of the plea deal, the priest agreed to forfeit the plush Florida condo he had purchased with parish money. The proceeds from the sale of the Palm Beach condo would go back to the parish in the form of restitution.  When asked why he had pleaded guilty, the priest replied, "Because I am."

     After the guilty plea, fifty parishioners and a handful of priests wrote letters to the federal district judge asking for a lenient sentence in the Belczak case.

     On January 1, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow sentenced Father Belczak to 27 months in prison. In speaking to the court, Father Belczak said, "I have stained the reputation of being a priest. I ask for the forgiveness of St. Thomas More parishioners."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Dr. Thomas Dixon Love Triangle Murder-for-Hire Case

     The casts in murder-for-hire plots feature three principal characters: the instigator/mastermind who solicits/contracts the homicide; the hit man (or undercover agent playing the triggerman role); and the victim, the person targeted for death. While these cases, in terms of the principal actors, have a somewhat common anatomy, they differ widely according to the socio-economic status of the participants, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the specific motive behind the murder plots.

     On July 11, 2012, someone broke a window and climbed into the Lubbock, Texas home of Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, the 57-year-old chief pathologist of the Covenant Health System in that city. The intruder shot Dr. Sonnier to death. The victim lived alone, and because nothing had been taken from the house, police ruled out robbery as the killer's motive.

     Later on the day of the murder, Lubbock detectives questioned Dr. Sonnier's girlfriend in an effort to determine who may have had a reason to kill the doctor. When she mentioned she had been having trouble with her former boyfriend who insisted on seeing her even though she was dating Dr. Sonnier, the detectives had a suspect, and a potential motive. Their person of interest was a 48-year-old prominent plastic surgeon named Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon who practiced in Amarillo, Texas, a panhandle city 120 miles north of Lubbock. Because the homicide detectives didn't think that Dr. Dixon had climbed into Dr. Sonnier's house through a window and personally shot him, they considered the possibility of a murder-for-hire conspiracy. But who was the hit man?

     Less than a week after the murder, detectives caught a break. A longtime friend and former business associate of Dr. Dixon's told investigators that David Neil Shepard had killed Dr. Sonnier. According to the informant, Shepard, who had attempted suicide two days after Dr. Sonnier's murder, told him Dr. Dixon had given him three bars of silver worth $9,000 as an advance on the hit. (On June 15, 2012, Shepard sold one of the bars for $2,750.) Shepard told the informant that after watching Dr. Sonnier's house for weeks, he broke in through a window and murdered him.

     Because the suspected hit man revealed to the snitch information only known to crime scene investigators, the tipster's story rang true. (Shepard had described, for example, how he had muffled the sound of his gun, and  how many times he fired the weapon.)

     The 51-year-old accused hit man had a crime history of two convictions for theft and burglary. Detectives believed David Shepard and the plastic surgeon had met on the day before Dr. Sonnier's murder. The fact Shepard had sold the bar of silver at an Amarillo pawn shop tended to support a piece of the informant's story.

     On July 16, 2012, police in Amarillo arrested Dr. Thomas Dixon and David Shepard on charges of capital murder. The suspects were booked into the Lubbock County Criminal Detention Center under $10 million bond each.

     This murder-for-hire case was especially newsworthy because the accused mastermind and his victim were physicians. The case was also unusual because David Shepard was much older than the typical hit man. But the love triangle motive was fairly common.

     In April 2013, the mother and sons of Dr. Sonnier filed a wrongful death suit against Dr. Dixon. However, before the civil action could proceed, the murder case had to be resolved within the criminal justice system.

     The suspected hit man, David Neal Shepard, in September 2013, pleaded guilty to breaking into Dr. Sonnier's home and stabbing and shooting him to death. The judge sentenced him to life.

     Lubbock County prosecutor Matt Powell announced in November 2013 that the state would seek the death penalty against Dr. Dixon, the accused mastermind behind Dr. Sonnier's murder.

     In November 2014, at the conclusion of Dr. Dixon's three-week capital murder trial, the jury of six men and six women, after eight hours of deliberation, were unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Judge Jim Bob Darnell declared a mistrial.

     Doug Moore, the jury foreman, in speaking to the media following the mistrial, said that although the case against Dr. Dixon was strong, two jurors refused to find him guilty. The foreman described these jurors as being not very bright. "For me the evidence of guilt seemed very clear," he said.

     Shortly after the mistrial, the judge denied the defendant's request for a reduction of his $10 million bond. However, in September 2015, the judge reduced Dixon's bail to $2 million. A few days later the accused murder-for-hire mastermind paid $200,000 and was released from jail pending the disposition of his second trial.

      On November 19, 2015, the jury in Dr. Dixon's second trial found him guilty of capital murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the chance of parole.

      

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Ice Cream Truck Wars: Sno Cone Joe Versus Mr. Ding-A-Ling

     When imagining men who sell ice cream products out of good humor trucks, one envisions jolly Mr. Rogers types dressed in white. But in reality, why would these people be any different than people who drive taxi cabs, UPS trucks, and buses. Not that there's anything wrong with those folks.

     In the 1970s and 80s, Robert Pronge, the driver of a New Jersey Mister Softee's Truck, moonlighted as a contract killer. Pronge became known for his use of cyanide to complete many of his assignments. (He dropped the poison in his targets' whiskey and beer, not their Mister Softee cones.) On occasion, however, he'd keep his victims cooling in the Mr. Softee truck until he could permanently dispose of their corpses. The hit man, referred to in certain circles as "Mr. Softee", ended up being murdered by Richard Kuklnski, the prolific Gambino family contract killer known as the "Ice Man." Kuklnski had introduced Mr. Softee to the idea of using cyanide as a murder weapon. Pronge, as far as anyone knows, is the only hit man in history who hauled dead bodies around in an ice cream truck. But compared to Kuklnski who killed more than 200 men for money, Mr. Softee was an amateur. Unlike Kuklinki who was a cold-blooded sociopath, Mr. Softee was a bit crazy and unpredictable. He did, however, sell a lot of ice cream, and from all accounts, loved children.

The Ice Cream Truck War

     In Gloversville, New Jersey, 34-year-old Joshua Malatino, the owner of the local Sno Cone Joe franchise, also sold a lot of ice cream. His 21-year-old girlfriend, Amanda Scott, helped him operate his good humor truck. Business was good in Gloversville until a rival good humor man rolled into town in his Mr. Ding-A-Ling truck.

     Mr. Malatino, aka Sno Cone Joe, decided to harass his business rival, 53-year-old Brian Collis aka Mr. Ding-A-Ling. On April 16, 19, and 28, 2013, Malatino, with his Sno Cone Joe jingles blaring from his truck, tailgated Mr. Ding-A-Ling around town. Whenever Mr. Collis stopped to service a customer, Sno Cone Joe would pull up behind Mr. Ding-A-Ling and offer the consumer free ice cream. At one point, Malatino allegedly phoned Mr. Ding-A-Ling headquarters in Latham, New Jersey and said, "I own this town!"

     On May 3, 2013, a local prosecutor charged  Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott with harassment and misdemeanor stalking. If convicted, Sno Cone Joe and Sno Cone Jane (just kidding) faced up to three months in jail. According to Gloversville Police Captain John Sira, Malatino drove a different ice cream truck operator out of town the previous summer.

     In April 2015, a Fulton County judge dismissed the charges against Joshua Malatino and Amanda Scott. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

The James Sullivan Murder-For-Hire Case

     In 1977, James Sullivan, a 34-year-old owner of a liquor distributorship in Atlanta, married Lita McClinton, a debutante from of of the city's socially prominent families. She was black and he was white, and her parents, Emory and Jo Ann McClinton, were not pleased with the marriage. Sullivan was a flashy self-made millionaire who had grown up poor on the mean streets of Boston. Ten years older than his bride, he had been married before. Having learned from experience how costly a divorce could be, Sullivan had talked Lita into signing a prenuptial agreement that limited her, in the event of a divorce, to a three-year annual stipend of $90,000. The contract allowed her to keep all of the jewelry she had acquired during the marriage.

     The newlyweds moved into an opulent townhouse in an Atlanta subdivision called Buckhead. Sullivan purchased a second house, four years later, in Palm Beach, Florida. While in Florida vacationing without his wife at his new oceanfront property Sullivan met Hyo-Sook-Choi Rogers, a young woman from South Korea who went by the name Suki. In August 1985, fed up with her husband's infidelity, Lita kicked him out of the Atlanta townhouse. She also filed for divorce and announced that that she was contesting the enforceability of the prenuptial agreement.

     Shortly after the breakup a domestic court judge granted Lita $7,000 a month in temporary alimony. The cash-strapped Sullivan, burdened with four car payments, a $900,000 balloon mortgage on the Palm Beach mansion, and a girlfriend to impress and keep happy, sold his Atlanta liquor distributorship. Although he had convinced the judge to lower the alimony payments to $2,500 a month, Sullivan had not paid Lita any money. His refusal to pay forced her back into court. Sullivan was also pressing the judge to enforce the prenuptial contract. Through her attorney, Lita demanded, in addition to the monthly alimony payments, the townhouse, one of the Mercedes, and $200,000 cash. At this point James Sullivan had already spent $100,000 in lawyer fees, and he saw no end in sight to the outflow of money. The divorce was bleeding him dry financially.

     At eight-thirty in the morning of January 16, 1987, a resident of the Buckhead condominium complex saw a man approach Lita Sullivan's front door carrying flowers. The door opened and the man disappeared inside. A few seconds later the neighbor heard two gunshots in rapid succession. The man who had delivered the flowers ran out of the house, climbed into a car, and drove off. The witness found Lita Sullivan in the foyer lying on her back with her face covered in blood. A dozen pink, long-stemmed roses lay on the floor next to her body. The neighbor called 911 and tried to stop the bleeding by pressing a towel against Lita's face. She died in the ambulance as it raced to the hospital.

     The autopsy revealed that Lita had been shot in the face at close range by a .9mm pistol. Investigators at the scene recovered the shell casings and determined that the shooting had not been motivated by robbery. As a result, detectives came to the conclusion that the murder was a contract killing orchestrated by the victim's husband. At the time of Lita's murder her estranged husband was in Palm Beach, Florida. There was no question that Lita's death would save Sullivan a lot of money.

     A month after Lita's murder James Sullivan married Suki Rogers. Detectives still hadn't identified the triggerman, located the murder weapon, or acquired solid evidence linking Sullivan to the homicide. Nevertheless, in September 1987, a Fulton County Grand Jury sitting in Atlanta indicted Sullivan for the contract murder of his wife. A few months later a judge set aside the indictment on the grounds it was based entirely on motive.

     With the murder investigation dead in the water, the FBI took over the case. (Criminal homicide is not a federal offense unless it is committed under special circumstances such as in the course of a kidnapping, bombing, bank robbery, organized crime activity, or pursuant to an interstate conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Under Title 18 United States Code Section 1958, a single interstate telephone call in furtherance of a murder plot will give the FBI jurisdiction. In 2006 FBI agents were involved in 78 murder-for-hire cases.)

     Three days before Lita Sullivan's murder someone from a Howard Johnson Motel in Atlanta had made a collect call to the phone in James Sullivan's house in Palm Beach, Florida. The call had been placed from room 518 which had been registered to a Johnny Furr. Forty minutes after the murder, someone using a pay phone at a highway rest stop just outside of Atlanta had called James Sullivan's house. That conversation lasted less than a minute. FBI agents, unable to identify Johnny Furr, assumed the name was an alias. The federal investigation stalled, and for the second time, the Sullivan case went dormant.

     In 1990, James Sullivan became embroiled in yet another fight to save his assets from a wife who was divorcing him. This time it was Suki. The investigation into Lita's murder sprang back to life when Suki, testifying in a divorce proceeding, claimed that Sullivan had threatened to have her killed by the man he had paid to murder Lita. Questioned by the FBI, Suki said that Sullivan never mentioned the hit man by name. The federal prosecutor went ahead with the case anyway, and in November 1992, James Sullivan went on trial for paying an unidentified man to murder his estranged wife Lita. Following Suki's testimony, which comprised the principal evidence against the defendant, the judge, ruling that the government had failed to present enough proof to establish a prima facie case, directed a verdict of not guilty. James Sullivan walked out of the federal court house that day a free man.

     Emory and Jo Ann McClinton, convinced that James Sullivan had paid to have their daughter Lita murdered, filed a wrongful death suit against their former son-in-law. The plaintiff's case, filed in Atlanta, hinged on the testimony of Suki Rogers and the phone calls between Atlanta and Sullivan's Palm Beach home just before and after the fatal shooting. The identity of the triggerman, however, remained a mystery. The jury, applying the lesser burden of proof that applies to civil trials, found in favor of the McClintons, awarding the plaintiffs $4 million in damages.

     In late 1997, more than ten years after Lita Sullivan's murder, a woman from Beaumont, Texas named Belinda Trahan gave the Atlanta police the missing piece of the Sullivan case puzzle. She identified Johnny Furr as her ex-boyfriend Anthony Harwood, a forty-seven-year-old truck driver from Albemarle, North Carolina. After they had broken up, Harwood continued to visit her in Texas. Belinda described Harwood as a violent, abusive man who had repeatedly threatened to kill her if she told the police that he was the man who had delivered the roses and shot James Sullivan's wife.

     According to Belinda Trahan, two weeks before Lita Sullivan's murder, she and Harwood had conferred with James Sullivan in an Atlanta restaurant where Sullivan handed Harwood an envelope stuffed with $12, 500 in cash. The men had first met in November 1986 when Harwood hauled Sullivan's household goods from Georgia to Florida. Sullivan told the truck driver that he wanted his gold-digging wife murdered and offered him $25,000 to do the job.

     Interrogated by Atlanta detectives in January 1998, Harwood admitted that he had taken the hit money and that he was the Johnny Farr who had called Sullivan from the motel before and after Lita Sullivan's murder. Shortly after the shooting Harwood had called Sullivan in Palm Beach and said, "Merry Christmas Mr. Sullivan, your problem has been taken care of." Harwood refused to admit, however, that he was the man who had delivered the flowers and shot Lita McClinton in the face. He claimed that he had just been the getaway driver for the triggerman, a guy he only knew as "John the Barber." Although detectives didn't believe that "John the Barber" existed, the prosecutor allowed Harwood to plead guilty to the lesser homicide offense of voluntary manslaughter. In return, Harwood promised to testify against the prosecutor's main interest in the case, James Sullivan. Harwood's refusal to take responsibility for being the hit man did not, in any way, weaken the murder-for-hire case against the mastermind.

     A Fulton County Grand Jury, for the second time, indicted James Sullivan for the murder of Lita McClinton. On April 24, 1998, before the police took him into custody, Sullivan fled to Costa Rica. From there he traveled to Panama, Venezuela, and Malaysia before settling in Thailand where he purchased a luxurious beachside condominium. Under his true name he opened a bank account, acquired a driver's license, and lived with a Thai woman who assumed the role of housekeeper and wife. As fugitive from American justice, James Sullivan was living the good life in a tropical paradise.

     Five years after fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, Sullivan, on the FBI's most wanted list, still resided in Thailand. The Royal Thai police arrested Sullivan in 2002 after the television series "American's Most Wanted" featured his case. A viewer who knew of Sullivan's whereabouts called the FBI. Sullivan fought extradition and lost. In March 2004, the FBI brought him out of Thailand and placed him in the Fulton County Jail. Still a man of means, Sullivan prepared for his upcoming trial by hiring a team of first-rate defense attorneys. True to his working-class, Irish roots, he was not going down without a fight.

     The murder-for-hire trial, shown on Court TV, got underway on February 27, 2006. If the jury found the defendant guilty of the 19-year-old murder the jurors  could sentence him to death or put him away for life. Either way, the 64-year-old convict would die in prison. For Sullivan, the stakes were high.

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the testimony of Belinda Trahan and her former boyfriend, Anthony Harwood. Trahan, a slender 41-year-old with long blond hair and a sophisticated demeanor, told the jury that she may have given Harwood the idea of posing as a deliveryman. Three days before the murder, when he expressed concern that Lita Sullivan might not open her door to a stranger, she had said, "Anyone knows if you want to get a woman to answer the door all you have to do is take her flowers." When Harwood returned to North Carolina after the murder he had said to her, "The job is done."

     Anthony Harwood, already convicted of voluntary manslaughter and serving a twenty-year sentence, took the stand to repeat his "John the Barber" story. His testimony against James Sullivan, however, was devastating. The prosecutor asked the 55-year-old witness if he felt remorse for his involvement in Lita McClinton's murder. The witness replied, "I guess I do, by what you may call proxy. I believe we're all accountable for our acts, but I guess if you get down to the brass tacks of it, it all began with Mr. Sullivan."

     On the advice of his attorneys the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. With only two witnesses, the defense presented its case in less than an hour. On March 13, 2006, following the two-week trial, the jury, after deliberating less than an hour, found James Sullivan guilty as charged. The judge sentenced him to life without the chance of parole. For Lita McClinton's parents, after a nineteen-year ordeal, justice had been done. But it had come at a high price. Anthony Harwood, the man they believed had killed their daughter, in return for his testimony against the mastermind, had been given a twenty year sentence. If Harwood's girlfriend had called the police instead of recommending that he deliver her flowers, their daughter may not have been murdered.

     

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Joe Rickey Hundley: The Airline Passenger Who Slapped a Baby

     On February 8, 2013, Jessica Bennett, a passenger on a Delta Air Line flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Atlanta, sat in row 28 seat B next to Joe Rickey Hundley. Jonah, her black 19-month-old adopted son (she is white) sat on her lap. Hundley, the 60-year-old president of an aircraft parts manufacturing company in Hayden, Idaho had been knocking down double vodkas and made the passengers seated around him uncomfortable with his belligerent remarks and attitude. At one point Hundley, in an obnoxious fashion, told Jessica Bennett that the kid was too big to be sitting on her lap.

     As the plane descended into Atlanta, the change in cabin pressure caused Jonah to cry. Aware that Hundley was becoming increasingly annoyed with the boy, Bennett did her best to calm her son down. But the child was in pain and continued to bawl. Hundley, unable to control his anger, turned to Bennett and said, "shut that [N-word] kid up!"

     Stunned by what she had just heard, Bennett asked, "What did you say?"

     Hundley pushed his lips next to Bennett's ear and repeated the racial slur. He then did something even more outrageous and unexpected; he slapped Jonah in the face with an open hand, cutting the child below his right eye. This did not, obviously, stop the crying.

     Passengers and crew, aware of the intoxicated, loud and bellicose passenger, rushed to Bennett's aid to make sure the angry drunk didn't hit the boy again. When the executive from Idaho walked off the plane in Atlanta he was met by a couple of FBI agents.

     Later that day Hundley was charged in federal court with assaulting a child younger than 16. If convicted, Hundley faced a maximum sentence of one year in prison. According to court records, Hundley, in 2007, pleaded guilty in Virginia to the misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend.

     Joe Hundley denied slapping the boy on the plane. His attorney, Marcia Shein, told reporters that she planned to plead him not guilty. Pointing out that her client was on a personal flight to visit a sick relative, Shein wanted the public to know that Mr. Hundley was under a lot of stress and was distraught. "He's not a racist. I'm going to make that clear because that's what people are suggesting. There's background information people don't know about, and in time it will come out."

     Attorney Shein, in her public relations effort on Hundley's behalf, mentioned that her client had been getting hate mail. "Hopefully," she said, "this situation can be resolved. Both people are probably very nice. No one should rush to judgment."

     Joe Hundley lost his job over the slap heard around the world. On February 17, 2013, the head of Hundley's parent company, AGC Aerospace and Composites Group, a corporation headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, issued a statement which read: "Reports of the recent behavior of one of our business unit executives while on personal travel are offensive and disturbing. We have taken this matter very seriously and worked diligently to examine it since learning of the matter. As of Sunday [February 17] the executive is no longer employed with the company."

     The slapped boy's father, Josh Bennett, told a reporter that, "We want to see this guy do some time."

     In October 2013, Mr. Hundley pleaded guilty to assault after the Assistant United States Attorney indicated that he would be satisfied with a six-month prison sentence. When it came time for sentencing, however, the federal judge ignored the prosecutor's suggestion. On January 6, 2014, the judge sentenced Hundley to eight months in a federal lockup. In justifying the stiffer sentence, the judge cited the defendant's prior assault conviction.
      

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ruby Klokow Murder Case

     In 1957, 21-year-old Ruby Klokow, a resident of Sheboygan, a Michigan Lake town of 50,000 in southern Wisconsin, physically abused and murdered her 6-month-old daughter, Jeaneen. Following the baby's suspicious death Klokow told the police the child had fallen off the sofa. Although the autopsy revealed two brain hemorrhages, a partially collapsed lung, and three scalp bruises, injuries inconsistent with a fall from a couch, the Sheboygan County Corner ruled the baby's death accidental. As a result of this bogus manner of death ruling, the police did not conduct a homicide investigation. This stunning example of criminal justice incompetence (or indifference) was particularly tragic because the dead child had a two-year-old brother, and Klokow would give birth again.

     In 1964, Ruby Klokow's infant son Scott died mysteriously in his crib. Given the suspicious death of her daughter Jeaneen seven years earlier, it's hard to understand why the authorities in Sheboygan didn't investigate the passing of this child. (Had there been an autopsy there would have been signs of past injuries caused by abuse.)  Instead of putting this homicidal mother away for life, local criminal justice personnel made it possible for this woman to continue practicing her sadistic style of parenting.

     Finally in 2008, Klokow's 53-year-old son James who was two-years-old when his mother murdered his sister Jeaneen, came forward with his own story of parental abuse. According to James Klokow, his mother repeatedly beat him as far back as he could remember. At school he would lie to his teachers regarding how he had collected all of the bruises on his body that included choke marks on his neck. His mother frequently made him stand in a corner all day long during which time she threw knives and scissors at him. She also blinded him in one eye. When he turned thirteen, James, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, ran away from home. After that he was abused by a series of foster parents until the age of eighteen.

     After James Klokow came forward with his story of child abuse, Judy Post, Ruby Klokow's younger sister, told the authorities that Ruby had physically abused her when they were children. Post also reported having seen Ruby throw her infant daughter Jeaneen to the ground.

     In February 2011, a Sheboygan County prosecutor charged the 74-year-old Klokow with second-degree murder in the 1957 death of Jeaneen. A forensic pathologist took the stand at a preliminary hearing and testified that the infant's autopsy revealed injuries too severe to have been caused by a fall off a sofa. Klokow's attorney, after getting her released on bail, delayed matters by claiming that his client was not mentally competent to stand trial.

     On February 25, 2013, the day Ruby Klokow was scheduled to go on trial for the murder of her daughter, she entered a plea of no contest to the second-degree murder charge. Klokow, who had admitted killing Jeaneen, was scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2013.

     Sheboygan County Judge Angela Sutkiewicz, pursuant to the plea-bargain agreement worked out between the defendant's attorney and the prosecutor, sentenced Klokow to 45 days in jail and ten years probation.

     To reporters following the no contest plea, Klokow's attorney Kirk Obear said that trying his client for murder after all of these years would be "unfair" because so many witnesses have died. The defense attorney went on to say that Klokow was "dealing with a lot of heartache." (Give me a break--serial child abusers don't experience heartaches--they give them.)

     District Attorney Joe DeCecco, in explaining to the media why he signed-off on the plea deal, mentioned Klokow's age and poor health. (Who cares about this woman's health?) The prosecutor also said that because the statute of limitations did not allow him to charge Klokow with the lesser homicide offense of manslaughter he had to prove a case of murder which, under the circumstances, may have been difficult. (So what?)

     It's not that the prosecution in this case didn't have evidence. In addition to the defendant's confession, the district attorney had her sister's testimony and a compelling witness in her son, James Klokow. In my opinion this prosecutor, in the name of justice, should have pushed forward with the trial. What did he have to lose? What was the point of 45 days in jail and ten years of probation?

      Had the jury found this woman guilty of second-degree murder she would have died in prison where she should have been all along. No contest? What kind of plea is that to child abuse and murder? In this case justice was denied in 1957, and after 56 years, denied again.

   

     

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Danford Grant Massage Parlor Rape Case

     In 2011, 47-year-old Danford Grant and his wife Jennifer lived in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, Washington with their 5-year-old son, 8-year-old daughter, and a 16-year-old boy from Mr. Grant's former marriage. A graduate of the University of Washington School of Law, Danford was a litigation partner at Bailey Grant and Onsanger, a prestigious Seattle law firm. Grant had handled appeals before the Washington State Supreme Court and before the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Years earlier he had been a King County prosecutor.

     Grant's 38-year-old wife Jennifer, an attorney herself, worked in the Seattle City Attorney's Office as a supervisor. She had worked in that office since the mid-1990s. To the casual observer these successful attorneys living in the big, fancy house with their beautiful children represented the American dream come true.

     As is often the case, superficial appearances can be misleading. It seemed that Danford Grant had a problem controlling his sexual urges around women. Because of his unwanted sexual advances, female paralegal employees at the law firm had nicknamed him "Dirty Dan." And this wasn't the worst of it.

     Early in 2011, using the last name Hunter, Grant received a massage from a 45-year-old Asian masseuse in Bellevue, Washington. After the massage he grabbed the woman and told her to remove her pants. When she refused and broke down in tears Grant left the parlor.

     Grant purchased a massage in June 2011 at the Carnation Chinese Massage Clinic in Greenwood, Washington. He grabbed the masseuse and had a condom in his hand when a noise from the hallway outside the room ended the assault. The victim of the attempted rape quit her job at the Greenwood parlor and opened a massage operation out of her home in Shoreline, Washington.

     On August 19, 2012, Grant had an appointment under the name Pete with the Asian masseuse he had tried to rape in Greenwood. When she cracked her front door in response to his knock she immediately recognized him as the man who had tried to rape her at her previous place of employment. Before the masseuse could close the door he pushed his way into her house and raped her.

     On August 28, 2012, the attorney returned to the massage clinic in Bellevue where he raped the 45-year-old masseuse at knife point. After the assault the victim realized this was the Mr. Hunter who had tried to rape her in early 2011.

     Not long after the Bellevue attack Grant raped a massage clinic cashier in Seattle. He attacked the woman in his Honda Pilot after identifying himself as a police officer.

     Danford Grant, at 9:30 on the night of Monday, September 24, 2012, returned to the massage clinic in Greenwood where, after the message, he pulled out a pocket knife and demanded sex with the Asian masseuse. She said she'd go along if he put away the knife then informed him that she had HIV. To that he replied, "Me too." He then slipped on a condom and raped the victim.

     After the sexual assault employees of the massage parlor called the police. Later that night Grant returned to the clinic. When employees tried to detain him, he fled on foot. Just after midnight on September 25, 2012, police officers arrested Grant and booked him into the King County Jail.

     King County prosecutor Valiant L. Richey, on September 28, 2012, formally charged the prominent Seattle attorney with four counts of first-degree rape and several lesser offenses. The judge set Grant's bail at $3 million.

     In October 2012 Grant posted his reduced bail and was confined to house arrest. Four weeks after the Greenwood massage clinic rape, detectives located the suspect's missing Honda Pilot. They found it parked in the garage of Jennifer Grant's aunt. (He had raped the massage clinic cashier in Seattle in this SUV.)

     The day after her husband's arrest, Jennifer Grant and her aunt moved Danford's SUV from where it had been parked near the massage parlor in Greenwood to the aunt's house in Auburn. Jennifer insisted that she had moved the vehicle at the direction of her husband's attorney, David Allen. She denied intentionally hiding potential evidence against her husband from the police.

     Inside the rape suspect's SUV searchers found a realistic looking pellet gun, a cell phone, an iPad, a laptop computer, a black stocking cap, and a bottle of Cialis.

     In November 2012, Jennifer Grant filed a petition for legal separation from her husband. The couple remained married but would divide their assets and debts. Danford Grant, under the terms of the separation separation would be liable for child support. After six months either spouse could ask the family court judge to convert the separation into a divorce.

     On March 6, 2013, The Seattle Times reported that investigators recovered the September 24, 2012 rape victim's DNA from Danford Grant's underwear. One of the suspect's attorneys, Richard Hasen, told the reporter that, "Much of the DNA evidence actually favors the defense." The defense attorney acknowledged that his client had been a regular customer at several Asian massage parlors where he had been a problem client. "But that doesn't mean he was raping everyone there," said Hasen.

     On June 2013, Jennifer Grant resigned from her position in the Seattle City Attorney's Office. The Danford Grant rape trial was scheduled for the spring of 2014. If convicted as charged the once prominent attorney could be sent to prison for up to 45 years.

     On May 7, 2014, Danford Grant pleaded guilty to five counts of third-degree rape and one count of first-degree burglary. On May 19, 2914, the King County Superior Court Judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. The day after the sentencing, officers transported Grant to the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton where they placed him in the "intensive management unit," an area segregated from the general prison population. Danford Grant, for his own protection, would have to spend 23 hours a day in a one-man cell.

    

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Reann Murphy Murder Case

     In September 2013, 9-year-old Reann Murphy and her mother moved into an apartment above a maintenance garage in a trailer park outside Smithville, Ohio thirty miles southwest of Akron. Jerrod Metsker, an unemployed 24-year-old, lived nearby in his mother's trailer. Metsker spent a lot of time playing with neighborhood kids who were less than half his age. He had built a playhouse made of blankets near his home.

     At four in the afternoon of Saturday, December 14, 2013, Reann, with her mother at work and her mother's live-in boyfriend in the apartment, went outside to play with the neighborhood children. When darkness fell the other kids went home. Reann did not.

     At eight o'clock that evening, Reann's mother, Kelly Jones, reported her daughter missing. A party of police officers, firefighters, and trailer park residents went door-to-door in search of the girl. Jerrod Metsker, who was seen building a snowman with Reann just before she disappeared, joined in the search.

     At one-thirty the next morning a searcher discovered Reann's body buried beneath garbage inside a trailer park trash bin.

     On Sunday, December 15, about twelve hours after the discovery of the corpse in the trash bin, deputies with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office, armed with an arrest warrant, knocked on the Metsker trailer door. When no one responded officers acquired a key from a family member and entered the dwelling. Inside the trailer police officers arrested Jerrod Metsker.

     Officers booked the suspect into the Wayne County Jail on the charges of aggravated murder, kidnapping, and rape. The judge ordered Metsker held on $1 million bond. The judge also assigned a public defender to represent the suspect. Metsker pleaded not guilty.

     In her preliminary autopsy result report, Wayne County Coroner Dr. Amy Jolliff revealed the victim's manner of death to be homicide. According to the coroner, Reann had been strangled to death by ligature. Dr. Jolliff also stated that the child had been raped. The Wayne County prosecutor announced that the state intended to pursue the death penalty against Metsker.

     On June 11, 2014, Jerrod Metsker pleaded guilty to aggravated murder as well as rape. The judge sentenced the defendant to two life sentences without the possibility of parole. Earlier, the victim's parents, Richard Murphy and Kelly Jones, had asked the state to drop its pursuit of the death penalty.


     

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore Murder Case

     In 2006, an illiterate, 37-year-old part time sanitation worker from Lakeland, Florida named Abraham Shakespeare (what a name for an illiterate), won the state's $30 million jackpot lottery. Shakespeare elected to accept the $17 million lump-sum payout. Soon after winning the money, he purchased fancy cars, jewelry, furniture, and a $1.7 million mansion in his hometown. Over the next two years, the soft-touch millionaire who couldn't tell $6,000 from $60,000, spent, lent, and gave away 90 percent of his fortune. Like so many big lottery winners before him, Shakespeare was beleaguered and overwhelmed by needy relatives, greedy acquaintances, and complete strangers begging him for  hand-outs. The money had taken over his life and brought him problems he hadn't had before hitting it big.

     In late 2008, the confused, depressed, and vulnerable lottery winner met a 36-year-old predatory fortune-hunter named Dorice "Dee Dee" Moore who befriended him with the claim she was writing a book about how people take advantage of lottery winners. (Such as by claiming to be writing a book on how people take advantage of lottery winners.) Shakespeare fell for the ploy, and by early 2009, Moore, as his financial advisor, was looting what was left in his bank accounts.

     On April 6, 2009, the former millionaire, now with just $14,000 in the bank, disappeared. His family, however, didn't report him missing for seven months. During this period, Dorice Moore paid people to tell Shakespeare's mother that they had spotted her son around town in the company of a woman. Moore even paid one of the missing man's friends to send the mother a forged letter from Abraham. (Since he couldn't write, this should have raised eyebrows.) Moore also hired an impersonator to fake a phone call to Shakespeare's mom.

     By November of 2009, police started investigating Moore as a suspect in Shakespeare's disappearance. Officers, while searching her home in Plant City, Florida, found the missing man's mummified remains in her backyard beneath a thirty-by-thirty foot slab of concrete. The forensic  pathologist who performed the autopsy dug two .38-caliber slugs out of the corpse. Shakespeare had died after being shot twice in the chest.

     Following her arrest on February 3, 2010, Moore told her police interrogators that Shakespeare had been murdered by five shadowy drug dealers. She knew two of them by the names Ronald and Fearless. The others she didn't know. The detectives questioning her, because they had been investigating the murder, didn't buy the drug dealer story.

     The Moore murder trial got underway on November 29, 2012 in Tampa, Florida before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Emmett Battles. In his opening remarks to the jury prosecutor Jay Pruner said that Moore, after stealing $1.3 million from Shakespeare, shot him to death on April 6, 2009. She and an accomplice buried his body behind her house under the concrete.

     In addressing the jurors, defense attorney Bryon Hileman said his client had been trying to protect Shakespeare's dwindling fortune from people trying to take advantage of him, and that the lottery winner had fallen in with dealers who had killed him over a drug deal. Regarding the prosecution's case, Hileman pointed out that the state could not link the defendant to the .38-caliber revolver used in the crime. Moreover, Dorice Moore had not confessed, and no eyewitnesses would be testifying against her. According to the defense attorney, the prosecution's case was weak and circumstantial.

     Following several days featuring prosecution witnesses who testified that the defendant had paid them to cover-up Shakespeare's disappearance, the state rested its case.

     Defense attorney Hileman did not put Dorice Moore on the stand to testify on her own behalf. During Hileman's closing argument to the jury, Moore sat at the defense table and sobbed loudly. On December 11, 2012, following a three-hour deliberation, the jury found Moore guilty of first-degree murder.

     Before sentencing the 40-year-old Moore to the mandatory life sentence without parole, Judge Battles called her "cold, calculating, and cruel." According to the judge, she was "probably the most manipulative person this court has ever seen."  

     In less than three years, Abraham Shakespeare's good luck turned into a nightmare that led to his murder. This case is a good example how, when it comes to money, big winners can quickly turn into big losers. Mr. Shakespeare should have secured good financial advice, found a way to avoid all of the freeloading beggars, then paid someone to teach him how to read and write. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Steven Fortin Murder Case: Conflicting Bite Mark Testimony

     In 1994, police found the body of 25-year-old Melissa Padilla in a concrete pipe along Route 1 near Woodbridge, New Jersey. Naked from the waist down, she had been beaten and sexually assaulted. The killer had bitten her on the chin and left breast. Padilla had been abducted the night before from a nearby convenience store in the Avenel section of Woodbridge. The police had no suspects, and the investigation quickly died on the vine.

     In April 1995, the state police in Maine contacted the Padilla case investigators with a lead. They had arrested 31-year-old Steven Fortin for the sexual assault of a female state police officer who had been bitten on the chin and left breast. Fortin was also living in Woodbridge at the time of Padilla's murder. Although the suspect denied involvement in the New Jersey homicide, he pleaded guilty, in November 1995, to the assault in Maine. The judge sentenced him to 20 years.

     Five years after entering prison in Maine, the authorities in New Jersey put Fortin on trial for the murder of Melissa Padilla. The prosecution's key witness, FBI criminal profiler Robert Hazelwood, connected the defendant to the Padilla murder by noting similarities in its criminal MO to the sexual assault in Maine. The jury in New Jersey, on the strength of this testimony, found Fortin guilty. In February 2004, the New Jersey Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the grounds it was not supported by sufficient evidence.

     New Jersey prosecutors retried Steven Fortin in 2007. This time they had physical evidence connecting him to the victim. A DNA analyst testified that the defendant could not be excluded as the primary source of the saliva recovered from the Marlboro cigarette butt found near Padilla's body. According to this expert, only one out of 3,500 people could be linked to this evidence. Moreover, the defendant could not be excluded as the DNA source of the blood and tissue traces found under the victim's fingernails.

     Dr. Lowell J. Levine, one of the pioneers in the field of crime scene bite mark identification, a forensic odontologist from upstate New York, had compared photographs of the victim's bite mark wounds (The photographs did not include a ruler measuring the marks because the photographer didn't recognize the bruises as teeth marks.) with photographs of the defendant's front teeth. Dr. Levine noticed a space between Fortin's lower front incisors that corresponded to a space in the mark on the victim's left breast. Dr. Levine testified that although he could not say to a scientific certainty that the defendant had bitten the victim, he could not exclude him as the biter.

     Dr. Adam Freeman, a forensic dentist from Westport, Connecticut, testified that in his study of 259 bite mark cases, the largest study of its kind, he found only 5 cases in which the attackers had bitten their victims on the chin and the breast. Dr. Freeman's testimony helped link the defendant, circumstantially, to the sexual assault in Maine for which he had pleaded guilty.

     Steven Fortin's defense team countered Dr. Levine with another world renowned forensic odontologist, Dr. Norman Sperber, the chief forensic dentist with the California Department of Justice. Dr. Sperber had testified for the defense at the first trial, but the jury had disregarded his testimony. He, like Dr. Levine, had testified for the prosecution in the 1979 trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. Since then, Dr. Sperber had appeared as an expert witness in 215 trials. According to his analysis, Steven Fortin could not have made the bite marks on Melissa Padilla's body. According to Dr. Sperber: "The tracing of his [Fortin's] teeth doesn't even come close to the crime scene bite marks." The forensic odontologist went on to say that bite mark analysis has limitations as a form of crime scene associative evidence. It was not as reliable, he said, as DNA and fingerprint identification. "Skin is a serious limitation for bite mark analysis because it rebounds and is movable," he said. "Bite mark evidence is not a true science."

     On December 4, 2007, the jury of nine men and three women, after deliberating nine hours, found Steven Fortin guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault. The judge sentenced him to life plus twenty years.  

      

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Dr. Arnold Smith Murder-For-Hire Case

     In Greenwood, Mississippi, attorney Lee Abraham got wind of a murder-for-hire plot against him by two husbands of women he had represented several years before in a pair of divorce cases. The attorney had reason to believe that a local physician, 70-year-old Dr. Arnold Smith, and a 54-year-old brickmason named William Paul Muller, were the masterminds behind the plan to kill him. Apparently these men still hated the lawyer who had won settlements for their wives. Instead of moving on with their lives, they wanted revenge.

     On Saturday night, April 28, 2012, two agents with the Mississippi Attorney General's Office who were investigating the case were in Abraham's office talking to him about the alleged murder plot. That night, 23-year-old Keaira Byrd and his 25-year-old accomplice Derrick Lacy burst into the law office. (According to some reports, the agents knew the hit men were coming and were waiting for them.) Byrd, armed with an assault rifle, and wearing a ski mask, fired the first shot. The agents returned fire, killing Byrd on the spot. Derrick Lacy was shot in the lower back. One of the attorney general agents received a minor wound. Attorney Abraham, the target of the hit, escaped injury.

     Derrick Lacy, as he was airlifted to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, told an investigator that he had overheard Dr. Smith offer Keaira Byrd money to kill the lawyer.

     The day after the shootings, a Leflore County prosecutor charged the oncologist and the brickmason with conspiracy to commit murder. The arraignment magistrate denied Dr. Smith bail. William Paul Muller paid his $250,000 bond and was released. On his Facebook page, Mr. Muller proclaimed his innocence.

     Following Dr. Smith's arrest, his attorney arranged to have him evaluated by a mental health expert who concluded that the physician was not mentally competent to stand trial. In January 2013, in response to the prosecution's request, Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ordered Dr. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     Because of institutional overcrowding, a hospital bed for Dr. Smith didn't become available until June 4, 2013. (Mississippi must have a serious problem with mental illness.)

     On October 8, 2014, Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Dr. Arnold Smith mentally unfit to stand trial and ordered that the 71-year-old physician be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

     As of December 2015, no trial date had been set regarding suspects William Paul Muller and Derrick Lacy. Another man, Cordarious Robinson, had been charged with conspiracy to murder attorney Abraham. Prosecutors believe that Robinson helped hire Keaira Byrd for the hit.

     In November 2016, Hinds County Chancery Judge Denise Owens ordered that Dr. Smith be transferred from the the state hospital to a private facility, the Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services in Hattiesburg, where he would receive treatment as an out patient. The transfer was based on the diagnoses of a pair of Tulane University psychiatrists. As an out patient, Dr. Smith would be allowed to live in his Jackson home with his current wife.

     The alleged murder-for-hire target, attorney Lee Abraham, filed a civil lawsuit against Dr. Smith that is scheduled for trial in March 2017.

     The criminal case against the alleged murder-for-hire hit man and his accomplices has not, as of December 2016, gone to trial. The same is true regarding the suspected murder-for-hire mastermind Dr. Arnold Smith who is presumably mentally fit to face conspiracy to murder charges as well as a felony-murder doctrine charge related to Kearia Byrd's police involved shooting death.   

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Karen Sharpe: The Grandmother From Hell

     Karen Sharpe, a 54-year-old resident of New Straitsville, Ohio in the southeastern part of the state, was as far from Norman Rockwell's version of a grandparent as you can get. Sharpe, who strikingly resembled a hungover Winston Churchill in a long, ratty wig, had custody of her daughter's two girls, ages 13 and 11. A person like grandma Sharpe having custody of her granddaughters meant that the girls' mother must have been dead, homeless, in drug rehab, or in prison.

     The oldest of Sharpe's granddaughters had a metal plate in her head as a result of abuse from another family member. This fact did not deter grandma Sharpe, on January 19, 2014, from punching the 13-year-old in the face. Ten days after that assault, this monster grandparent took out her rage--perhaps drunken--on the younger sister. Unbeknownst to Sharpe, the 13-year-old recorded that assault on her cellphone.

     When the 11-year-old granddaughter accidentally stepped on Sharpe's sore foot [she probably hurt it kicking a Golden Retriever], grandma forced the girl to the floor and stuffed a pair of heavily soiled men's underwear into her mouth. [Whose underwear?] Grandma Sharpe added to the girl's misery and horror by taping the disgusting garment into place, then ordering the child to swallow the fecal matter. [If you are eating breakfast stop now because it gets worse. Sorry.]

     The domestic depravity continued. When Sharpe removed the tape, the girl vomited on the floor. The sadistic grandmother responded by ordering the child to lick up the mess.

     The victim's sister, after secretly recording her grandmother's obscene cruelty, called the police. Police officers, after reviewing video, immediately arrested Karen Sharpe. Child services personnel placed the girls into temporary foster homes.

     A Hocking County prosecutor charged Sharpe with kidnapping (a felony which includes confinement), and misdemeanor counts of assault and child endangerment. The thoroughly disgusted officers booked the suspect into the Southeastern Regional Jail. The judge set her bond at $1.1 million.

     The next day at the Hocking County Municipal Court, Sharpe pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted of kidnapping, she faced up to ten years in prison.

     Hocking County sheriff's deputy Ed Downs told a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch that the crime was the "most disgusting, heinous" case of child abuse he'd ever seen."

     On June 3, 2014, Karen Sharpe was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser offense of endangering children. Hocking Common Pleas Judge John T. Wallace sentenced the degenerate to three years in prison.

     The public officials responsible for this guilty plea should be thrown out of office. For a crime against nature like this there are no mitigating circumstances. A case like this makes a mockery of our criminal justice system.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Gary Irving: The Bail Jumping Rapist

     In 1978, a jury in Norfolk County, Massachusetts found 18-year-old Gary Irving guilty of three counts of rape with force, unnatural acts, and kidnapping. Irving had knocked one of his victims off her bike, dragged her to a secluded area, and viciously raped her. He had threatened a second rape victim with a knife. The convicted rapist faced up to life in prison.

     Immediately following Irving's guilty verdict and sentencing, the rapist's attorney asked Judge Robert Prince to extend his client's bail a couple of days so Irving could make final arrangements before being packed off to prison.

     The prosecutor in the case, Louis Sabadini, pointed out that if Irving was not sent straight to prison, he would flee. Extending bail to a convicted rapist who was facing at least 35 years in prison was simply out of the question. This young man was a violent, sexual predator.

     Judge Prince shocked the prosecutor and the rape victims' families by granting Irving the weekend to settle his affairs before his incarceration. Irving took this opportunity to flee the state. Except perhaps for Judge Prince, Irving's bail jumping surprised no one.

     If there was anything surprising in the Irving case, it was how long it took the authorities to find this rapist and put him behind bars where he should have been living since 1978.

     In trying to find this fugitive the police received plenty of help from reality television. The Irving bail jumping case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," "Unsolved Mysteries," and "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol." It seemed that Gary Irving had somehow left the planet.

     On Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 35 years after Judge Prince set the rapist free, local police and FBI agents arrested Irving at his home in Gorham, Maine where the 52-year-old had been living under the name Gregg Irving. (He hadn't even bothered to change his last name.)

     On July 14, 2014, Judge George Singal sentenced Gary Irving to 47 years. The 57-year-old won't be eligible for parole until he's 84.

     What can you say about a judge who made such a reckless decision? What was he thinking? Could he have been that stupid, or were his motives more complicated, and perhaps pathological? One can only hope that Mr. Irving, during his 35 years of freedom, didn't rape more victims. If he did, Judge Prince was his accomplice. (The judge has since died.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Can A Liar Beat the Polygraph?

     In order for a polygraph (lie detection) test result to be accurate, the instrument must be in good working order; the polygraph examiner must be properly trained and experienced in question formation and line-chart interpretation; and the subject of the test--the examinee--must be a willing participant in the process. Not  everyone is suited for polygraph testing, including people who are ill, on drugs, under the influence of alcohol, extremely obese, retarded, or mentally unbalanced. (In America that's a lot of people.)  Criminal suspects who are emotionally exhausted from a police interrogation do not make good polygraph subjects. Children and very old people should not be placed on the lie detector, either.

     The polygraph instrument measures and records the examinee's involuntary, physiological (bodily) responses to answers to a set of ten yes or no questions. The examinee should know in advance what he will be asked. Based upon changes in the examinee's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing patterns, and galvanic skin response, the examiner will draw conclusions on whether the subject told the truth or lied. Polygraph examiners are not recognized in the criminal court system as expert witnesses, therefore polygraph results are not admissible as evidence of guilt in criminal cases.

     Congress passed a federal law in 1988 that prohibited the use of the polygraph as a private sector pre-employment screening measure. It is widely used, however, in law enforcement as an investigative tool, and as a way to screen job applicants.

     Over the years, more and more local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have required job applicants to submit to polygraph tests. These law enforcement job candidates are typically asked if they've ever sold drugs, stolen significant amounts of money or merchandise from their employers, or are in serious debt. Employment candidates may also be asked if they have omitted anything important from their resumes or job applications.

     In 2013, more than 73,000 Americans were either given polygraph tests as part of the federal job application process, or were tested to determine if they should be allowed to keep their jobs. Federal agencies involved in national security such as the National Security Administration, the FBI, and the CIA, periodically put employees on the polygraph to make sure they haven't gone rogue. Other federal agencies that require periodic screening tests include the DEA, ICE, the Secret Service, ATF, and the Postal Inspection Service.

     Not everyone is a fan of the polygraph technique. Generally, there are two kinds of polygraph critic. There are the anti-polygraph people who object to this form of lie detection because they believe the instrument and the technique is junk science and therefore no more reliable than a flip of a coin. The other group objects to polygraph use because they believe the instrument is utilized to violate the privacy of those tested. Critics in this camp accuse polygraph examiners, and the people who hire them, of abusing the process by digging for dirt that is unrelated to the job application process.

     Over the years there have been numerous high-profile examples of FBI and CIA spies who avoided detection for years even though they were subjected to regular polygraph testing. Aldrich Ames, the counterintelligence CIA officer convicted of spying in 1994, must have found a way to beat the polygraph screening test. (I do not believe that suspects in specific criminal cases can lie to competent examiners and get away with it.) This was also true of FBI agent Robert Hanssen who was convicted of thirteen counts of espionage in 2001.

     Russell Tice, the National Security Administration whistleblower who was one of the first to leak evidence of the NSA's spying on U.S. citizens, revealed that during his 20-year career in counterintelligence, he beat the polygraph a dozen times. Mr. Tice believed that due to political correctness and lawsuits, polygraph tests have become easier to manipulate. He has said that beating the employment screening examination had actually become easy. Over the years Mr. Tice and others have published, in print and online, instructions on how to beat the polygraph.

     Polygraph examiners ask what they call relevant, irrelevant, and control questions. Irrelevant questions such as "Have you ever eaten pasta?" are intended to set the baseline of a truthful response. Control questions are designed to create a baseline or point of reference for deceptive responses. To do that, polygraph examiners ask subjects questions likely to produce deceptive answers. In other words they want the subject to lie. For example: "Have you ever lied to your parents?" or "Have you ever cheated on a test?" Most subjects, when they answer "no" to these questions, are lying. Relevant questions are ones that directly address the point of the polygraph examination. In a national security employee screening test an employee with access to classified information might be asked if he or she has leaked classified documents to a journalist. To determine if the subject is telling the truth about not leaking information, the polygraph examiner compares the physiological responses to the relevant query with the subject's responses to the control and irrelevant questions.

     According to those who have made it their mission to teach people how to beat the polygraph, manipulation techniques, or so-called "countermeasures," center around how the examinee should respond to the control and relevant questions. In answering a control question designed to produce a deceitful physiological baseline, the subject, while telling the expected lie, should bite his tongue. The idea here is to cause the polygraph instrument to record a strong physiological reaction to the subject's lying. When asked a relevant question the answer to which will be a lie, the subject is instructed to find a way to distance himself from the question by daydreaming, counting backward, or slowing down his breathing.

     If this countermeasure works, the relatively mild responses to the relevant questions, when compared to the wild reactions to the control questions, might lead the polygraph examiner to conclude that the examinee had told the truth.

     Law enforcement job applicants are better off simply telling the truth and hoping for the best. Very few people have the presence of mind and discipline to successfully employ these polygraph manipulation tricks. As for national security employees who are either spies or future whistleblowers, they have nothing to lose by trying these techniques. Notwithstanding Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and Russell Tice, fooling a competent polygraph examiner is a lot easier said than done. And that is no lie.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Harold Sasko Murder Case

     Harold Sasko lived in a middle-class, ranch style home in suburban Lawrence, Kansas with his chocolate labrador Oliver. The 52-year-old businessman owned three CiCi's Pizza restaurants, one in Lawrence and two in Topeka. In 2014, Mr. Sasko informed the woman he was dating at the time that one of his employees, a 18-year-old named Sarah Brooke Gonzales McLinn, would be temporarily staying at his house. He said she needed help with her drug problem and wanted to separate herself from street gang influence. McLinn, a former employee at CiCi's Pizza Buffet in Lawrence, worked at a local Bed, Bath & Beyond store.

     On Friday, January 17, 2014, a member of McLinn's family reported  her missing. The relative informed officers with the Lawrence Police Department that the 18-year-old had been missing for three days. They became concerned when she didn't show up for a family dinner on January 14.

     On January 17, 2014, pursuant to the missing persons investigation, a Lawrence police officer knocked on Mr. Sasko's door. When the resident didn't answer, the officer looked through a window and saw a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

     The body in the house turned out to be Mr. Sasko's. He had been murdered and the killer had presumably driven off in his 2008 Nissan Altima. Mr. Sasko's dog Oliver was also missing. A local judge issued a warrant for Sarah McLinn's arrest as a prime suspect in the Sasko murder.

     At ten-thirty Saturday night, January 25, 2014, 1,560 miles from the murder scene, Everglades National Park rangers in Dade County, Florida arrested Sarah McLinn. They found her sleeping in the park after hours in the back of the murdered man's car. She also possessed Oliver, Mr. Sasko's dog. The park rangers took McLinn into custody on charges related to the possession of illicit drugs.

     The authorities in Florida also discovered in the Nissan what detectives believed to be the Sasko case murder weapons--two knives and an ax. The day after her arrest on the drug charges, the district attorney of Douglas County, Kansas charged McLinn with first-degree murder.

     At a press conference on January 27, 2014, Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib told reporters that, "Based upon our investigation, evidence suggests Ms. McLinn gained control over Mr. Sasko and then killed him." According to the police chief, the victim had been attacked with an "edged instrument." Moreover, Mr. Sasko had not been conscious when he died. Chief Khatib said that Mr. Sasko was murdered on January 14, the day McLinn went missing. He did not identify a motive. The suspect, however, had confessed.

     On February 1, 2014, McLinn, after waiving an extradition hearing in Florida, was transported back to Kansas where officers booked her into the Douglas County Jail. The judge set her bond at $1 million.

     According to Sasko case investigators, McLinn, several hours after the murder, was in Bishop, Texas, a small town 100 miles from the Mexican border. She had stopped at two gas stations in Bishop, about 900 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas.

     Carl Cornwell, McLinn's attorney, told reporters that the issue in the case would center on his client's motive to kill, not on whether or not she had committed the murder.

     The Sasko murder trial got underway on March 5, 2015 in the Douglas County Courthouse. Prosecutor Charles Branson told the jury in his opening remarks that Sarah McLinn had carefully planned Mr. Sasko's murder.

     Defense attorney Carl Cornwell, in his opening address to the jury, said his client had not been in control of herself when she killed the victim. The murder, according to attorney Cornwell, had been committed by Alyssa, one of the defendant's multiple personalities.

     Lawrence police detective Robert Brown took the stand for the prosecution and testified that prior to the murder, McLinn had searched Google with the key phrase "neck vulnerable spots." In her confession she admitted stabbing the victim then slicing his throat. When asked by the detective why had she murdered Mr. Sasko, she said, " I wanted to see someone die."

     Detective Brown testified that the defendant had disabled the victim by crushing six sleeping pills and pouring the powder into his can of beer. A toxicology report confirmed the presence of this substance in the victim's system.

     The key witness for the defense, Dr. Marilyn A. Hutchinson, a psychologist, testified that during the 17 hours she spent with McLinn, the defendant spoke to her as four personalities--Sarah, Alyssa, Myla, and Vanessa. Based on these interviews, Dr. Hutchinson diagnosed McLinn as suffering from Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), a psychological condition once called Multiple Personality Syndrome. According to Dr. Hutchinson, Alyssa had told the defendant to murder the victim.

     Defense attorney Cornwell rested his case without putting Sarah, Alyssa, Myla or Vanessa on the stand.

     On March 20, 2015, the jury, after deliberating just four hours, found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Six months later the judge sentenced Sarah McLinn to fifty years in prison.

     The Sasko case illustrates that a defense attorney, regardless of how idiotic the defense, can find a courtroom psychologist to go along with it. Fortunately, most juries are smart enough to cut through the nonsense.

     

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Pittsburgh's Depression Era Cops

     In the 1930s a young man didn't get on the Pittsburgh Police force by passing a test. He got the job because he had pull--a priest he knew, a relative in uniform, or the sponsorship of a ward chairman. Most recruits had ended their schooling early, in some cases so early they couldn't read or write. Some came from neighborhoods where joining the police force was considered an act of treason. Had it not been for the Great Depression, many of these men would have found work in the mills, driving a truck, or in the building trades. But when the bottom fell out of the employment market, police department jobs looked good. This was a  time when people who couldn't find work either lived off their relatives, stole, begged, or starved.

     In those days, the city didn't supply its officers with the tools of the trade. A rookie had to purchase his own uniform, badge, billy club, gun, and call-box key. If he planned on firing his revolver, he'd have to buy his own ammunition, and if he wanted to hit what he shot at, he'd have to arrange for his own firearms training.

     One night on Pittsburgh's South Side, a rookie responding to a grocery store hold-up saw the robber running out of the place with a gun in his hand. The young cop, in fumbling with his second-hand revolver, accidentally shot the hold-up man in the shoulder. The wounded robber stopped in his tracks, dropped his gun, and surrendered. But before the rookie could collect his thoughts, a pair of seasoned patrolmen come on the scene and took credit for the arrest. By stealing the pinch, the veterans got promoted to the detective bureau. The rookie got nothing but a little wiser. This was police training, 1930's style.

     Every cop in Pittsburgh began his career as a substitute officer. Subs were expected to attend roll-call at the beginning of each shift--three times a day--until someone was needed to replace a regular officer who hadn't shown up for duty. A sub might report for work three times a day for weeks before getting an assignment. If a sub didn't get work he didn't get paid, and when he was assigned temporary shift duty, he was paid what the man who had called off earned. Cops who joined the force in the 1930s worked from three to six years as subs before they got on the job full time.

     A few Pittsburgh cops had German backgrounds, and some were Italian, but most were Irish because the city was controlled by Irish politicians. But this western Pennsylvania mill town wasn't all Irish. The city had a thriving Chinatown as well as Polish, Russian, German, and Italian neighborhoods. Most of the city's black population lived in the Hill District, a neighborhood east of the downtown business district. One of the best-known and respected foot patrolman of the era was a black officer who walked the beat on the South Side, and on the Hill, a pair of black cops in plainclothes worked vice. But black cops were never promoted, and only white officers were allowed inside a patrol car.

     During the depression sprawling shanty-towns sprung up around the city. There was a large encampment in the woods near Tropical Avenue in the Banksville section of town. The residents of this makeshift ghetto fed and clothed themselves off a nearby garbage dump. On the fringes of downtown, homeless people the police called "cavemen" camped in caves they had dug out of the hillsides. Occasionally a caveman or two would drink too much moonshine and stagger into the business district where the police would scoop them up and haul them off to jail in a paddy wagon.

     A pair of devastating floods hit Pittsburgh in 1936 and 1937, and downtown, police in rowboats had to rescue customers and employees from the second story of Kaufman's Department Store. In 1936, a Pittsburgh patrolman lost his life when he slipped into the swollen Ohio River between two barges.

     In the thirties, Pittsburgh police officers directed traffic, operated the city run ambulance service, rode paddy wagons, or walked a beat. There were a handful of detectives, vice cops, and a few patrol car and motorcycle officers. Sergeants and lieutenants and their clerical personnel worked inside a dozen station houses throughout the city. Station number 1 was located downtown, number 2 on the Hill, 3 in Lawrenceville, 4 in Oakland, 5 in East Liberty, 7 on the South Side, and so on.

     In those days cops didn't carry two-way radios. They kept in touch by telephoning the station every hour or so from call-boxes situated along their beats. Patrol cars were equipped with one-way radios which meant that radio messages could be received in the car but not transmitted. To acknowledge a transmission from the radio dispatcher, one of the patrol car officers had to telephone the station from a call box.

     Since law enforcement is an around-the-clock operation, the workday was divided into three, eight-hour shifts, or "turns" as Pittsburgh cops called them. In the old days, every station house had a sergeant on duty during each turn. These sergeants exercised absolute authority over the cops on the beat and they seldom left the station except to check on a patrolman suspected of sleeping or drinking on the job. Offending patrol officers were assigned so-called "penalty beats" for thirty days. These beats were located in the remote sections of the city and involved long walks between call-boxes.

     Officers on patrol shook doors, reported in on call-boxes, and handled disturbances such as barroom fights and domestic flare-ups. Downtown, cops wearing white gloves directed traffic while officers on paddy wagon duty hauled drunks, crazy people, tramps, and prostitutes to jail. The ambulance crew picked up the sick, the old, and the injured, and carried corpses, often ripe, down endless flights of hillside stairways. Beat cops, besides maintaining order, rendered a variety of unofficial social services. A distraught wife could speak to a patrolman about her drunken husband and the officer might walk into the bar and yank the domestic slacker onto the street for a lecture and a warning.

     In the 1930s, Pittsburgh police officers were paid in cash. In many police households there was a difference between what the officer earned and the amount he turned over to his wife. In other words, a lot of cops skimmed a little off the top for themselves. One police officer's wife, after her husband suffered a heart attack, went to the station to pick up his pay. When she counted it out, she thought they had given him a raise. A cop they called "Bullet" because he was quick to use his gun, hid a fifty-dollar bill in the barrel of his revolver. When confronted by a rabid dog, he shot his gun, and his stash.

     The prohibition era featured a wave of violent crime in New York and Chicago, and in Pittsburgh, three bootleggers from Stowe Township, the Volpe brothers, were gunned-down on the Hill in a St. Valentine's Day style massacre. The Volpes were murdered on the corner of Chatam and Wylie Streets by rival bootleggers from New York City.

     Pittsburgh in the 1930s had it share of whorehouses, at that time called "sporting houses," and a few of them were palatial. The most spectacular sporting house was located on the North Side where Three Rivers Stadium once sat. The police called this cluster of cathouses the "blackberry patch." The madams paid local politicians and ranking police officers for protection. One whorehouse proprietor even built a special men's room for cops on the beat. Detectives used prostitutes as confidential informants, and every so often a vice cop would arrange an illegal, whorehouse abortion for the daughter of a judge or prominent politician.

     Gamblers rolled dice in pool halls, bars, after-hour clubs, and casinos. Ordinary citizens played the daily number for a nickel or a dime--a racket said to have originated in Pittsburgh by Gus Greenlee, Bill Synder, and a guy named Woggie Harris. The gambling bosses paid for police protection, but every so often the cops would raid a joint to remind the racketeers what they were paying for.

     Policing in the 1930s was nothing like it is today. Cops were all male, mostly Irish, poorly educated, and undertrained. There were no hiring standards, and corruption was institutionalized. Because there was almost no public accountability, police brutality was simply part of the job. While the official pay was extremely low, cops made up the difference through petty graft. If a police officer could handle himself physically, and kept his political fences mended, he had a job for life. For most people, the depression era was a terrible time, but for cops, it was, in many ways, the best of times.           

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Stacey Sutera Stalker Murder Case

     Early in 2010, Robert McLaughlin, a 62-year-old retired U.S. Postal employee from Painesville, Ohio, a Lake County town in the northeastern part of the state, asked Stacey Sutera out for a date. The 37-year-old teacher who lived in Canfield, a suburban town located on the western edge of the Youngstown metropolitan area, informed McLaughlin that she had no interest in him romantically. The two had known each other fifteen years. McLaughlin gave no indication that he had been hurt and angered by the rejection. Sutera said she hoped the two could remain, if not friends, at least friendly acquaintances.

     Stacey Sutera's rejection of a much older man who had no reason to expect that he had any chance of developing a relationship with this young, attractive woman, changed her life in a way she could not have predicted, or imagined. The rejection turned this otherwise unremarkable, cowardly man into a stealthy and insidious monster.

     Stacey Sutera's prolonged nightmare began on March 26, 2010 when someone used a key to scratch-up her car in the parking lot of a grocery store. Three months later, the superintendent of the Columbiana School District started receiving emails about a sexually oriented website that falsely featured Sutera. The anonymous writer of the emails began sending messages to Sutera in which he threatened to ruin her reputation. These emails were signed, "Your Enemy For Life." During this period, Sutera, who had remained in touch with McLauglin, spoke to him about her problem. He responded with sympathy and concern.

     On July 29, 2010, Sutera filed a report with the Canfield Police Department which detailed the Internet harassment. Sutera had no idea who hated her enough to wage such a malicious campaign against her. Following the police report, Sutera's tormentor scratched a derogatory slur on her car, and began harassing her with a series of prank telephone calls.

     In September 2010, Sutera received a fake, used condom in the mail, a gang item sold online to people out for revenge. The following month, Sutera's teaching colleagues received, through the mail, business cards bearing the teacher's name and address. The cards advertised Sutera's willingness to perform sexual acts for a fee. At this point it was obvious that Sutera's stalker had dedicated his life to ruining hers.

     Stacey Sutera's ongoing nightmare intensified on December 1, 2010 when her stalker poisoned her dog to death. A week later, Canfield detectives learned that Robert McLaughlin had purchased the fake condom online, and had created the sexually explicit websites designed to embarrass and scandalize Sutera. When police officers informed Sutera who had been stalking her, she was stunned. What had she ever done to this man to incur his wrath? Why did he think she deserved to be treated like this?

     On December 8, 2010, detectives with the Canfield Police Department searched McLaughlin's home in Painesville. The officers discovered information linking the suspect to the malicious website, a mailing list of Sutera's colleagues, the phony sex act business cards, photographs of her, and miscellaneous pornographic material. The next day detectives arrested McLaughlin on charges of pandering obscenity and menacing by stalking.

     Sutera, on the day of McLaughlin's arrest, filed for a civil protection order before Judge Eugene J. Fehr of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. The judge granted the order which barred McLaughlin from possessing a firearm, and prohibited him from any further contact with Sutera. The order would remain in effect until July 2015. In her affidavit in support of the protection order, Sutera had written: "McLaughlin's actions are clearly designed to cause me mental illness and fear of physical harm. I live in constant fear. My dog has been killed. My daughter and I are in danger."

     Robert McLaughlin, on December 17, 2010, after eight months of stalking Stacey Sutera, pleaded guilty in a Mahoning County Court to menacing by stalking. The judge sentenced him to six months in jail. Six months for ruining a woman's life. The judge had given Sutera just six months of temporary protection from a malicious nutcase.

     Sutera, on January 8, 2011, filed a civil suit against McLaughlin claiming infliction of emotional stress, libel, and invasion of privacy. The plaintiff sought $1.5 million in damages.

     A Mahoning County grand jury, in the spring of 2011, indicted McLaughlin on the felony charges of pandering obscenity, and three counts of possessing criminal tools (his computer). That fall the defendant pleaded guilty to these charges, and on November 29, 2011, Judge Maureen A. Sweeney shocked Sutera, her family, and friends by sentencing this aggressively vicious stalker to five years of probation. McLaughlin was also sentenced to 500 hours of community service and fined $2,500. The judge ordered him to enroll in an anger-management program. He would also have to register in the county as a Tier-I sex offender.

     From Sutera's point of view, McLaughlin's sentence amounted to a slap in the wrist. The fact he would not serve time behind bars guaranteed that he would continue his program of personal destruction. Sutera suffered from multiple sclerosis and ulcers, and had nothing to look forward to but a future of worry and fear. Robert McLaughlin, a nobody and loser who couldn't handle being rejected by someone out of his league, had ruined the life of a once productive mother and teacher. Anger-management? Community service? Probation? (The local prosecutor and the Ohio parole and probation  people had signed-off on these ridiculously lenient sentences.)

     On February 8, 2012, a neighbor found Stacey Sutera lying dead outside her Carriage Hill apartment. She had been shot at close range. That day, a Mahoning County judge issued a warrant for Robert McLaughlin's arrest on the charge of capital murder. After harassing Stacey Sutera for almost two years, this degenerate, who should have been in prison, waited for the 40-year-old to come out of her dwelling. On the last day of her life, this degenerate stalker put a bullet in her head.

     The day after he murdered Sutera, the 64-year-old McLaughlin used the same gun to kill himself at his mother's gravesite. Who knows why this loser felt the need to take his life near his dead mother? Who cares? In McLaughlin's Painesville storage unit, investigators found a suicide note in which he had written out his plans to murder Sutera, and then kill himself. It's tragic that he hadn't killed himself a couple of years earlier after Sutera had rejected him. In his case, suicide would have been more effective than talking to some anger management counselor.

     Stacey Sutera had been powerless to protect herself from a man she knew would eventually kill her. She had reached out to the police and the courts for help and got nothing because the local criminal justice system was more concerned about protecting Robert McLaughlin's rights than Sutera's safety. Did the sentencing judge actually believe that an anger-management counselor could fix Robert McLaughlin? One wonders how many other women in Mahoning County, and elsewhere, are being stalked by men who will eventually murder them.