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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Brittany Norwood: Cold-Blooded Killer

     In some cases, when it comes to predicting who is capable of committing bloody, premeditated murder, you can't tell the book by its cover. This is particularly true in a murder committed in 2011 by a 29-year-old woman named Brittany Norwood.

     Norwood played high school soccer in Kent, her hometown outside of Seattle, Washington. She continued her career as an athelete at Stony Brook University on Long Island. At Stony Brook, her soccer teammates accused the 5 foot, 120 pound player of stealing cash from them. A member of the team reported the thefts to the coach who chose to ignore the allegations.

     In 2011, Norwood was working as a sales clerk at a downtown Bethesda, Maryland store called Lululemon Athletica where upper-middle class customers bought $98 yoga pants and $58 running shirts. Jayna Murray, a 30-year-old graduate student at John Hopkins University, worked in the store with Norwood. Although the two young women were not close friends, they worked well as a sales clerk team.

     At 9 P.M., March 11, 2011, the two Lululemon clerks closed the doors to the public, and began shutting down the shop for the night. Forty-five minutes later, pursuant to one of the chain's anti-employee theft measures, Jayna and Brittany checked each other's handbags for unpurchased store merchandise. This led to Jayna's discovery of a pair of yoga pants in Brittany's purse. As they walked out the door, Jayna told her fellow employee that she would have to report the attempted theft to the store manager.

     On her walk to the Metro station, Brittany, as a ruse to get Jayna back into the store where she could talk her out of reporting the incident, phoned Jayna to tell her that she had left her wallet in the shop. Since Jayna possessed the key to the store, the two clerks headed back to Lululemon.

     As soon as Brittany and Jayna re-entered the store at 10:05, Norwood made her pitch. But it was to no avail, Jayna had already called the store manager. There was nothing she could do. This infuriated Norwood, and led to a shouting match overheard by employees of a nearby Apple store. The screaming and shouting turned violent when Norwood picked up a heavy metal rod used to support a mannequin and bludgeoned Jayna in the back of the head, crushing her skull. As Jayna staggered toward the store's rear exit, Norwood beat her with a hammer, then picked up a knife and repeatedly stabbed her.

     Norwood's assault lasted six minutes, and produced, on the dying victim, 332 wounds which included a severed spinal cord and 83 defensive injuries.

     In an effort to make the murder look like a violent store invasion, Brittany Norwood tossed mops, brooms, and chairs around the shop, used a pair size 12 Reebok sneakers to track bloody shoe prints about the crime scene, and inflicted minor injuries on herself. She then bound her own hands and feet with pieces of rope, and waited overnight on the restroom floor. The next morning, the store manager found Jayna Murray dead in the back hallway, and Brittany Norwood in the bathroom tied up and moaning.

     On the morning after the murder, from her hospital bed, Norwood told detectives that two intruders in ski-masks had attacked her, and killed Jayna. According to Norwood, one of the attackers, a white man making racial slurs (Norwood is black), threatened to cut her throat if she resisted. "It was my fault because I left my wallet," she said.

     From the beginning, detectives had problems fitting the crime scene evidence to Norwood's story. Six days after the crime, the prosecutor charged Norwood with first-degree murder. Under Maryland law, first-degree, premeditated murder carried a sentence of life without parole. Second-degree murder, on the other hand, involved a sentence of 30 years maximum with a chance of parole after 15 years. Although the defendent didn't make a full confession, she did not maintain her innocence. Her attorney's defense consisted of the argument that the killing was a spontaneous homicide, or second-degree murder.

     Norwood's trial, held in the Montgomery County court, got underway in November 2011, and lasted 6 days. The defense attorney didn't put on a single witness, relying instead on his closing statement to the jury. His client was not, he told jurors, "in a right state of mind" when she attacted the victim. The murder, he said, "was the product of an explosion."

     The jury didn't buy the defense theory of the case, and after deliberating less than an hour, returned with their verdict: they found Norwood guilty of  first-degree murder. This meant the sobbing defendant would spend the rest of her life behind bars, with no hope of parole.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Michael Philpott Arson-Murder Case

     Michael Philpott of Derby, England, a city of 250,000 in the central part of the country, was an eccentric, violent man who domineered and abused his women. He was also lazy, and had a taste for group sex. In December 1978, the 21-year-old, angry that his 17-year-old girlfriend planned to leave him, stabbed her 27 times. When Kim Hill's mother tried to intervene, Philpott thrust the knife into her 11 times. Prior to these attacks, Philpott had punched and slapped Kim Hill, and on one occasion had broken several of her fingers.

     After the jury found Philpott guilty of two counts of attempted murder, the judge sentenced him to seven years in prison. The man who had tried to kill two women, served only three years and two months of his sentence. In 1991, another judge sentenced Philpott to probation after he pleaded guilty to head-butting another man. Several years after that, Philpott pleaded guilty to a road-rage related assault.

     The aging control-freak/hippie became a minor TV celebrity in England after appearing on the "Jeremy Kyle Show." A year later the volatile eccentric was featured in a documentary on English television.

     In 2011, the 55-year-old Philpott was living with his wife, his girlfriend, and eleven children in a 3-bedroom,  two-story house in Derby. The unemployed oddball who rarely bathed had fathered 17 children with five women. Four of the children living in the house had been produced by Philpott with his live-in mistress, Lisa Willis. (Another man was responsible for Willis' fifth child.) The remaining six children belonged to Philpott and his 45-year-old wife, Mairead.

     On February 11, 2012, Lisa Willis, who had been under Philpott's thumb since she was 17, made her escape. She told Philpott that she and her kids were going swimming. The six of them left the house and didn't return. Three days later, when the 29-year-old ex-mistress came back to the house to collect clothing and other items, Philpott got physical. The police came and kept the peace while she gathered her belongings and left.

     Philpott's relationship with Willis deteriorated further after she sued for custody of their four children. On May 1, 2012, he filed a false police report claiming that she had threatened his life. The revenge-seeking former lover began telling his friends that he, his wife, and one of Mairead's regular sexual partners, Paul Mosley, had concocted a plan that would get his children back. The scheme was this: they would start a small fire in the house, save the six children, then blame the arson and attempted mass murder on Lisa Willis. The plan was not only harebrained, it was dangerous.

     At 12:45 in the morning of May 11, 2012, as the children--five boys and a girl between the ages 5 and 13--slept in a bedroom on the second floor, Philpott ignited a puddle of gasoline in the hallway outside the bedroom. Outside, he climbed a ladder to the bedroom window, but couldn't smash a hole large enough to enter the house and save the children. In a state of panic, he dialed 999 (England's 911) and screamed, "I can't get in!"

     By the time the children were removed from the burning house, five of them were dead. The sixth child died a few days later in the hospital.

     The police, after Philpott accused Lisa Willis of setting the fire, took her into custody. They released her shortly thereafter when it became obvious she had nothing to do with the arson. Investigators quickly figured out who had started the fire and why.

      Philpott and his wife moved out of their fire-damaged house and into a motel. Police bugged their motel room, and in one of the electronically intercepted conversations, Philpott told his wife to "Make sure you stick to the story."

     The Michael Philpott, Mairead Philpott, and Paul Mosley manslaughter trial got underway in February 2013. Following the eight-week trial, the jury, on April 2, found all three defendants guilty as charged. The next day, at the sentence mitigation hearing, Michael Philpott's attorney, Anthony Orchard, asked the judge for the minimum sentence. The barrister said, "Despite Mr. Philpott's faults he was a very good father and loved those children. All the witnesses, even Lisa Willis, agree on this. There is no evidence at any stage that he deliberately harmed any of them." (He did, however, in an extremely reckless manner, use his children as pawns in a plot to frame his ex-mistress of a serious crime. I don't believe that qualifies him as a "very good father." That makes him, in my view, a mass murderer. In the United States these defendants would have been tried under the felony-murder doctrine, a more serious offense than manslaughter.)

     On April 4, 2013, Mrs. Justice Thirlwall of the Nottingham Crown Court, sentenced Michael Philpott to life with a minimum term of 15 years in prison. The judge said, "I have not the slightest doubt that you, Michael Philpott, were the driving force behind this shockingly dangerous enterprise."  Judge Thirlwall went on to describe this defendant as a "deliberately dangerous man," with "no moral compass."

     The judge sentenced Mairead Philpott and her lover Paul Mosley to 17 years in prison. I think these people, under the circumstances, got off light.

   

   

      

Monday, April 25, 2016

Melissa Townsend's 911 Call

      In March 2013, 27-year-old Melissa Townsend, a resident of Indian Harour Beach, a small community on southern Florida's Atlantic coast, called 911 with a less than urgent problem. Her young children were misbehaving. To the dispatcher, Townsend said, "I need a police officer to scare the shit out of my kids. They need to learn respect, and they need to learn that people in law enforcement have authority. They need to learn that lesson."

     The 911 dispatcher replied, "Okay. But we're not coming out to raise your kids for you."

     Ignoring the dispatcher's response, Townsend said, "They need to learn that. You know what I mean?"

     The dispatcher, who probably wasn't sure what was going on in this caller's mind, sent police officers to her house on the chance there was some kind of emergency. The officers rolled up to the dwelling to find the young mother intoxicated. Because Townsend was on probation, and not allowed to consume alcohol, the officers took her into custody for the probation violation. That's when all hell broke out.

     Ignoring her own advice to her kids about respecting law enforcement authority, Townsend resisted arrest, and in the process, kicked one of the officers in the groin.

     At the police lockup, Townsend, still out of control, repeatedly banged her head against the jail wall, and had to be taken to the hospital. She was charged with child neglect (being drunk) and battery of a police officer.

     What started out as a silly 911 call turned into something more serious. Townsend, for reasons that went beyond her intoxicated emergency call, eventually lost custody of her children. (I have not been able to determine the disposition of Townsend's probation violation and police assault cases. It would not be unreasonable to assume, however, that she ended up in prison.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

J. Edgar Hoover's Legacy: A Street Agent's Perspective

     When Clint Eastwood's film, "J. Edgar," came out in 2011 my wife and I went to see it. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio as J. Edgar Hoover, the film interested me because of its emphasis on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, and the fact I was a street agent during Hoover's last six years in office (1966-1972). The film's version of the Lindbergh case overplayed the FBI's role in the crime scene investigation near Hopewell, New Jersey and the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann two and a half years later in Flemington, New Jersey. Although dotted with other factual errors that are minor, the treatment of the 1932 abduction and murder of the Lindbergh baby, was, on the whole, complete. As for J. Edgar Hoover himself, except for scenes with his dominating mother (Judi Dench) and Clyde Tolson, his right-hand man who loved him (Arnie Hammer), the film also caught the flavor and essence of Hoover's 48-year career as director of the FBI and America's most famous and powerful lawman.  

     Looking back on my six years as an FBI agent, I will say this without equivocation: Hoover's agents did not imagine him as presented in the film by Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. We did not see the director as a repressed homosexual who was scared to death of his mother. Agents saw him as a powerful figure who terrorized presidents and was so devoted to the bureau and his own image as an incorruptible crime fighter and warrior against the internal communist threat, he would destroy anyone who tarnished him or the FBI. As a result, in the minds of Hoover's street agents, crime fighting became secondary to avoiding the director's wrath.

     Pursuant to Hoover's impossible standards of performance and agent comportment, every field agent, every day, couldn't help violate one or two of the director's thousands of rules and regulations. Agents who got caught breaking these rules, rules continuously promulgated by Hoover and his palace guards. paid the price in the form of disciplinary transfers to undesirable field offices. For example, no one wanted to work at the field division headquarters in Billings, Montana. More than a few bureau rules violators were fired "with prejudice." Nobody knew exactly what "with prejudice" meant except that it was not good. When agents of the Hoover era tell war stories, their tales are usually not about their cases. Most likely they feature administrative horror stories.

     J. Edgar Hoover's career can be viewed from the perspective of twentieth century history or from the field agent's point of view. What follows is my take on J. Edgar Hoover as an employer and law enforcement administrator during his last six years in office.

     I had been a new agent just a few days when I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. In those days, before the magnificant FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, new agents attended seven weeks of classwork in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, D.C. and seven weeks of firearms training on the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.  Every day in D.C., our FBI instructors came into the classroom armed with horror stories designed to instill fear of the director. To a man, these instructors had that "I'm-dead-but-still-walking persona". One of them, a SOG (Seat of Government) agent from the D.C. administrative headquarters, a man who conjured up the image of a demented butcher, kept reminding the class that to survive in Mr. Hoover's FBI one had to have balls made of brass. I took this to mean we were in for a lot of low blows.

     New agents were reminded over and over again that the worse thing they could do was embarrass the bureau. Blowing an investigation was one thing, but embarrassing the bureau was serious. By bureau, the instructors meant J. Edgar Hoover. The director did not forget, did not forgive, and took everything personally. Every infraction--a missed bureaucratic deadline, putting a scratch on a bureau car, not calling the office every two hours when not at work or at home--constituted a personal assault on Hoover's good name. It was simply un-American to embarrass the director of the FBI.

     Hoover's ideal FBI agent consisted of a thin white male with high morals, a clean-cut appearance, and a law degree. Over the years the director had managed, through careful media manipulation, to make the G-man the cultural hero, and the outlaw, the villian. Physically, if a job candidate didn't fit Hoover's model of the all-American agent, it didn't matter how smart, brave, or moral he was. Hoover didn't tolerate mustaches, beards, pot bellies, long hair, or missing teeth. If you had a tattoo, forget it. The director didn't accept anyone who was color-blind or had less that 20-20 vision. Short, slightly overweight, and bulldog-faced, Hoover, based on looks alone, would not have hired himself. There were a handful of black men in the bureau, but no Hispanics, Asians, or women.

     Once in the FBI, agents had to maintain a height/weight ratio that conformed to ideal life insurance policy standards. Most agents, as they approached middle age, had trouble keeping their weight under control, and dreaded the monthly weigh-ins held either in the chief clerk's desk or in the SAC's (special agent in charge) office under the supervision of the boss's secretary. Notwithstanding the weight restrictions, there were a lot of older agents obviously over the pound limit.

     Within the weight control program, as in all of Hoover's bureaucratic obsessions, cheating and false reporting with the knowledge and approval of the office brass were rampant. But according to the regulations, an agent who was more than ten pounds over the weight limit two months in a row could be transferred to another field office. The bureau's weight program gave the SAC a lot of power. If he wanted to unload an agent he didn't like, the boss could enforce the rule. So could a SOG inspector on a field office witch hunt. The office transfer, as a means of punishment, gave Hoover a powerful and arbitrary tool that disrupted families and broke up marriages. This from a never married man who disapproved of divorce.

     Director Hoover also enforced a severe and detailed dress code. Agents had to wear blue, brown, gray or black suits. He forbade pin stripe suits and colorful buttoned-down or patterned dress shirts. Approved bureau footwear did not include suede shoes, loafers, or cowboy boots. (When I worked in west Texas, most agents wore fancy cowboy boots to fit in with the Texas Rangers.) Agents playing it safe shoe-wise went the wing-tip route. As for head wear, all agents were supposed to wear those felt, narrow-brimmed business hats even though a bareheaded President Kennedy had rendered the fedora out of style.

     In a dress code more detailed and complicated than the U.S. Constitution, an agent caught wearing a sports coat or a loud tie could get written-up. Unlike modern agents who wear jackets and ballcaps emblazoned with the letters FBI, or walk around in combat gear, Hoover's men looked like 1950s IBM executives and insurance men.

     To distinguish his agents from uniformed cops and city detectives who supposedly killed a lot of time by hanging around donut shops and diners drinking coffee, Hoover forbade his agents to drink coffee on the job. Taking clandestine coffee breaks with other agents therefore required a lot of trust (agents had to be aware of office snitches) and made a common workplace ritual an act of subversion. Agents were constantly on the lookout for safe coffee drinking hideaways. Bureau coffee drinkers couldn't get attached to a single restaurant or diner because to avoid detection, they had to keep moving.

     One of Hoover's most unreasonable and counterproductive rules, a decree that reflected his lack of experience as a criminal investigator, concerned when agents could tackle the heavy paperwork burden the director had himself mandated. Between 9 AM and 5 PM, agents were only allowed to be in the field office ninety minutes. They were supposed to use this limited time to review their case files, make phone calls, and dictate reports and FD 302s (witness statements) to office stenographers. Agents were to spend the rest of the day out on the street investigating crime, tracking down fugitives, and uncovering subversion. As opposed to the image of the lazy detective hanging around the office all day drinking coffee and shooting the bull, Hoover wanted his investigators to be men of action.

     The director's office-time restriction ignored the fact that in detective work, every hour of investigation can create two hours of paperwork. To meet Hoover's strict reporting deadlines, agents had to do much of their pencil-pushing in parked cars, public libraries, restaurants, and for those brave enough to risk it, at home. Otherwise, if an agent saved all of his paperwork for the office after 5 PM, he'd end up preparing 302s and written reports well into the evening.

     In the morning, agents were expected to sign-in for work before seven. For those who worked in big city offices, that meant getting up at five. Agents were also required to log in plenty of overtime which meant the sign-in and sign-out registers never came close to reflecting reality. For example, when an agent arrived at the office at seven, the guy just ahead of him would be logging in at five-thirty. If the agent who signed in just after this person wrote down his actual time of arrival, he had committed an act  called "jumping the register," a serious violation of the agent's unwritten code of conduct. In Hoover's FBI, honesty was not  always the best policy.

     When I left the bureau it felt like I had escaped from prison. The only aspect of the job I really missed involved working with first-rate people. One of Hoover's greatest sins was the way he abused his personnel. He recruited the best then treated them like dirt. From a street agent's perspective, that is Mr. Hoover's legacy.        

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dareka Brooks: The House-Call Hooker Robbery Case

     On May 1, 2013, a home-alone 14-year-old in Prospect Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, decided to avail himself of the services of a prostitute. (The kid must have been watching that old Tom Cruise movie.) Since he wasn't old enough to drive, the hooker would have to come to him. Through a website designed for sexual liasons, the adventurous youngster arranged to have  23-year-old Dareka Brooks, a prostitute from Milwaukee, come to his house.

     The moment the hooker strolled into the suburban home, she took charge. She ordered the excited kid to go into his bedroom and take off his pants. As the hapless kid sat on his bed anticipating the real-life version of his wildest fantasies, the whore walked into the room and introduced him to the reality of her world. She sprayed his face with pepper juice, grabbed his iPad and piggy bank, and got the hell out of there. This was not what the boy had expected.

     The stunned, ripped-off underage John could have avoided the wrath of his parents by lying about his lost iPad and piggy bank. Instead, he called the police with a description of the prostitute and her car.

     A detective "pinged" the victim's iPad after Brooks turned it on. This allowed the investigator to track the hooker to a motel in Elk Grove Village ten miles from Prospect Heights. Officers arrested Brooks at the motel where they recovered the kid's iPad and his piggy bank.

     After being charged with armed robbery, a judge ordered Dareka Brooks held on $10,000 bond.

      On June 17, 2014, in exchange for her guilty plea, the judge sentenced Dareka Brooks to five years in prison. Robbery in Illinois carries a maximum sentence of thirty years. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rob Morrison Domestic Abuse Case

     Spousal abuse is a serial crime committed by angry husbands across America's socio-economic landscape. Wives are beaten in trailer parks, upscale apartment buildings, suburban tract homes, and in million-dollar houses in gated neighborhoods. Husbands seldom abuse their wives in public or in front of friends and relatives. Because it's largely a hidden crime, no one knows how many wives are exposed to domestic violence.

     Every so often we are reminded of the domestic abuse problem when a well-known, successful man is arrested for hurting his wife. If she is a celebrity as well, it's a big news event. If the alleged perpetrator and his victim are both members of the news media, it's an even bigger story.

     The domestic violence arrest of a New York City anchorman married to a TV reporter was a reminder that even successful, high-profile women are vulnerable to spousal abuse.

     Former Marine and combat correspondent who covered the war in Afghanistan, Rob Morrison, in 1989, began anchoring NBC television's weekday morning show, "Today in New York." He and his wife Ashley, a reporter for CBS-TV, lived in an apartment on Manhattan's upper West Side. Between 2003 and 2009, Ashley, alleging spousal abuse, called the New York City Police Department seven times. While only one of these calls resulted in her husband's arrest (the files of this case were sealed), NYPD police reports paint Rob Morrison as a hard-drinking, verbally abusive bully with a taste for internet pornography.

     In 2009, the couple purchased a million-dollar house in the upscale, suburban town of Darien, Connecticut. Ashley worked as a correspondent on the CBS news show, "MoneyWatch." Rob left NBC that year to anchor, in New York City, a CBS program called "News at Noon." During his first year at CBS, Rob wrote a column for the Huffington Post about raising his son titled, "Daddy Diaries: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Anchorman."

     Around two in the morning on Sunday, February 17, 2013, officers with the Darien Police Department rolled up at the Morrison residence. Ashley Morrison's mother, Martha Risk, had called 911 from her home in Columbia, Indiana. The mother reported that her son-in-law, during an argument with her 110 pound daughter, had grabbed her by the throat. Rob Morrison, the subject of the long-distance complaint, told the responding officers to "get the hell out of my house."

     Rob Morrison's scratched and bleeding nose and swollen lip, and the red hand-marks on Ashley's neck, provided the Darien officers with enough physical evidence of domestic violence to support an arrest. According to the police report, as officers escorted Rob Morrison from the house in handcuffs, he said that if released from custody, he'd return to the dwelling and kill his wife. (Morrison denied making that threat.) Throughout his encounter with the police, Morrison remained belligerent.

     Later that Sunday, notwithstanding the alleged death threat against his wife, Morrison walked out of jail after posting a $100,000 bond. The next day he showed up for work at the TV station, and when asked about his nose and fat lip, Morrison didn't mention his arrest, or the domestic violence charges that had been filed against him. (When his arrest became news, the anchorman's superiors at CBS were not happy.)

     On Tuesday, February 29, 2013, in a Stamford, Connecticut court, Rob Morrison was formally charged with felony strangulation, second-degree threatening, and disorderly conduct. Judge Kenneth Povodator ordered the defendant out of the house in Darien, and pursuant to an order of protection, instructed him to stay 100 yards from his wife, except when they were at work. Judge Povodator, in referring to the Darien police report, said, "It not only reflects a serious incident, it reflects the likelihood of a serious history [of domestic violence]."

     In speaking to reporters after the hearing, Morrison blamed his problems on his wife's mother, the source of the 911 domestic disturbance call. He said, "Don't piss-off your mother-in-law is the moral of this story."
   
     On Wednesday, February 20, Rob Morrison announced that he had resigned from his $300,000-year-job at WCBS-TV. To reporters he said, "My family is my first and only priority right now, and I have informed CBS management that I need to put all of my time and energy into making sure that I do what's right for my wife and son....I did not choke my wife. I've never laid hands on my wife. I was just as surprised by that particular charge as probably everyone else."

     Had Morrison not resigned, he may have been suspended, or fired. Moreover, there were people who were not surprised by the domestic violence charges against the anchorman. One of those persons was Morrison's mother-in-law, Martha Risk who, on February 20, told a reporter with the New York Daily News that Rob Morrison had been abusing Ashley for ten years. She said, "You wonder when you are going to get another call, if it's going to be [from] the hospital. How bad is she hurt this time? You have such a horrible feeling in yourself....This has gone on for too long." Risk told the reporter that when her son-in-law called her early Sunday morning, he was "drunk as a skunk." The moment he hung up she called 911.

     In April 2014, the local prosecutor dropped the charges against Morrison following his completion of a domestic violence program. But in mid-June, less than two months after going through the program, Darien police arrested Morrison for domestic harassment. Within a period of three days he had allegedly called his estranged wife 121 times.

     Ashley Morrison told police officers she was afraid that if she caused her estranged husband to be arrested he would kill her. Fearing for her life, she and her son fled to Florida about the time officers took Mr. Morrison into custody.

     At Morrison's arraignment, the judge issued a more restrictive protection order, then set the suspect's bail at $50,000. Shortly thereafter, the ex-TV man posted bail and went home.

     In October 2014, Morrison pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of breach of peace. Judge Erika Tindill sentenced him to six months probation.

     To reporters after the plea hearing, the former television anchorman said he avoided going through a trial in order to move on with his life. "In my mind," he said, "this is a way to move forward."
     

Monday, April 18, 2016

Forensic Pathology: Terry Garner's Strange and Mysterious Death

     Caution: If you're having bacon and eggs this morning, skip this blog.

     By all accounts, Terry Vance Garner, a farmer from Riverton, Oregon, a small town 140 miles southwest of Eugene, loved his hogs. While most adult pigs weigh between 250 and 300 pounds when taken to market (a nice way of saying when turned into bacon and ham), the 69-year-old farmer owned several sows as heavy as 700 pounds. Once, one of these huge female pigs bit him when he accidentally stepped on a piglet.

     At 7:30 in the morning on Wednesday, September 26, 2012, Mr. Garner walked out to the hog pen to feed the animals. At 2:30 that afternoon, a relative who went looking for him, came across his dentures, hat, pocket knife, cigarettes, and chunks of his body. The body parts and personal items were found inside the hog enclosure. It appeared that Mr. Garner had been consumed by the pigs he had gone out to feed.

     Although sudden, unexplained deaths call for autopsies, the forensic pathologist for Coos County didn't have enough of a corpse to open up and examine in an effort to determine the dead man's cause and manner of death. The best the authorities could do was to take what was left of the farmer--mainly bones--to a forensic anthropologist at the University of Oregon.

     The forensic scientist didn't shed much light on how Mr. Garner had lost his life. A dentist identified the farmer through his false teeth.

     Because forensic pathology didn't determine what had caused this man's death, several scenarios were possible, none of which were proven forensically. If Mr Garner had stumbled, or had been knocked over by a hog, then eaten alive, the manner of his death was accidental. If Mr. Garner had suffered a heart attack and died while attending to his pigs, his death would have been classified as natural. If one assumed that the farmer had intentionally offered himself up as hog feed, then his death would have gone into the books as a suicide. If it had been a suicide, it was probably a first-of-its-kind case.

     There was also the possibility that Mr. Garner had been murdered. If this was how he died, it would not have been the first time a killer relied on pigs to dispose of a corpse. If the farmer had been shot, and the bullet did not exit his body, the slug would be inside one of the hogs. While foul play was a possibility, it seemed an unlikely scenario in this case.

     Without an eyewitness, a suicide note, a bullet, or an autopsy report, the cause and manner of this man's death is a mystery.

         

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Historic Rick Jackson Fingerprint Misidentification Case

     In 1997, detectives in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a community outside of Philadelphia, arrested Rick Jackson shortly after Jackson's friend, Alvin Davis, was stabbed to death in Davis' apartment. In the interrogation room, detectives showed Jackson a crime scene photograph of a bloody latent print found near the body. According to a pair of fingerprint examiners with the Upper Darby Police Department, one of whom was also a police superintendent, that latent  had been left at the scene by Jackson.

     Rick Jackson didn't deny that he had been in Davis' apartment, but he denied killing him, and said he was certain the bloody print wasn't his. Jackson was actually relieved when he realized that the police were basing their case on a misidentified print. He figured that once the police realized their mistake, they would look elsewhere for a suspect.

     With Jackson so insistent that the bloody print wasn't his, Michael Malloy, his attorney, took the unique step of having it examined by outside experts Vernon McCloud and George Wynn. The retired FBI fingerprint examiners had 75 years of experience between them. Both men had been certified by the International Association of Identification (IAI). (Only a handful of the nation's fingerprint examiners have gone through the rigorous IAI certification process.) Wynn and McCloud, to their amazement, found that the bloody crime scene latent was not Rick Jackson's.

     The district attorney, confronted with a defense bolstered by a pair of prominent fingerprint experts who disagreed with the local examiners (who were not IAI certified), pushed forward with the trial anyway. In anticipation of the then unheard-of-situation of fingerprint examiners squaring off against each other in court, the district attorney brought in a fingerprint expert from another state to add quantity if not quality to the prosecution's case.

     In 1998, the Jackson case went to trial, and the jury, despite the conflicting fingerprint testimony, found Jackson guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

     Vernon McCloud and George Wynn were so concerned abut the fingerprint misidentification in the Jackson case, they asked the IAI to gather a group of experts to review the evidence. When the IAI panel agreed that the crime scene latent was not the convicted man's, the district attorney began to doubt his own experts, and sent a photograph of the bloody print to the FBI Lab for analysis. The examiners in Quantico, Virginia, agreed with McCloud and Wynn and the IAI panel. Rick Jackson had been sent to prison on the strength of a misidentified crime scene latent.

     In December 1999, after Rick Jackson had spent two years behind bars, his conviction was set aside, and he was set free. The out-of-state fingerprint examiner who testified at the trial was fired, but the Upper Darby examiners were not disciplined or prohibited from future fingerprint work. Moreover, they would continue to insist that they had been right, and all the experts were wrong. In 200l, Rick Jackson filed a civil suit against the examiners and the Upper Darby Police Department. He lost the case.

     The Jackson case is historic because it is one of the first cases in which the identification of a crime scene latent was successfully challenged by the defense. This and later misidentification cases raised serious questions about the scientific backgrounds and qualifications of police department fingerprint examiners. Today, because of law enforcement budget cuts, there are fewer fingerprint examiners working in the nation's police departments than there were ten years ago. As a result, latent fingerprint identification plays less a role than it once did in our criminal justice system.

     The Jackson fingerprint case is just another example of how forensic science, as once envisioned by its pioneers, has turned out to be a failed promise. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Darrin Campbell Murder-Suicide Case

     In the mid-1980s, Darrin Campbell, a business major at the University of Michigan, met his future wife Kimberly, a student at Central Michigan University. They both worked in Lansing as aides in the Michigan state legislature. She graduated from college, and he went on to earn a master's degree in business administration.

     In 2004, the couple and their son Colin and daughter Megan moved from San Antonio, Texas to Tampa, Florida where Darrin had an executive position in finance with a large corporation. In 2012, Darrin and Kimberly sold their house for $750,000. They moved into a $1 million rental mansion owned by a former professional tennis player named James Blake.

     The Blake-owned estate featured a 6,000-square foot, five-bedroom house, a swimming pool and spa, and several tall palm trees. Located in Avila, a gated community known for its resident sports figures and CEO's, the mansion rented for $5,000 a month. At this point in his career, Darrin Campbell worked as a business executive for VASTEC, a Tampa based digital records company.

     Darrin and his family settled into the lavish lifestyle expected of residents of this exclusive community. They drove fancy cars, the children attended an expensive private school, they bought all-year passes to Disney World, and spent a lot of money decorating their home for Christmas.

     While on the surface, the Campbell family represented prosperity and the American dream come true, Darrin had plunged them deep into debt. He owed back taxes on a vacant lot in Odessa, Texas that he had purchased for $294,000 in 2006. The tuition cost of sending Colin and Megan to the Carrollwood Day School amounted to $37,000 a year. Darrin had maximized his credit card limits, and couldn't see a way out of the financial hole. The stress of living a lie had broken him down. His American dream had become a nightmare.

     In July 2013, Darrin purchased a .40-caliber Sig Sauer handgun from Shooters World, a gun store and shooting range in Tampa. Less than a year later, on May 4, 2014, he purchased $650 worth of fireworks at a Tampa area Phantom Fireworks outlet. He told the fireworks clerk he was filling out his Fourth of July shopping list. Shortly after picking up the fireworks, Darrin bought several gasoline containers.

     At five-forty-five on the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014, a resident of the Avila community called 911 to report a fire and explosion at the Campbell home. The fire and subsequent explosion almost completely demolished the structure. In the course of determining the cause and origin of the blaze, investigators discovered the charred remains of two adults and two children. The bodies were presumed to be Darrin and Kimberly Campbell and their 18-year-old son Colin, and their 15-year-old daughter, Megan.

     The Hillsborough County medical examiner, a few days after the fire, confirmed the identifies of the victims. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies, all of the victims had been shot to death.

     On Friday, May 9, 2014, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Colonel Donna Lusczynski held a press conference in which she characterized the four Campbell deaths as a case of murder-suicide. According to officer Lusczynski, Darrin Campbell, after murdering his wife and two children with the Sig Sauer handgun, had placed fireworks around the house, poured gasoline on the bodies, then lit a match. At that point he shot himself to death. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Birth of SWAT Policing

     In 1967, amid a period of civil unrest in the form of anti-Vietman War protests and race riots, the Los Angeles Police Department formed 15 four-man paramilitary units to protect the department's facilities. Members of these Station Defense Teams possessed street-patrol backgrounds and prior military service. These were not, however, full-time assignments. The concept of combat-trained paramilitary police units came from an officer named John Nelson who passed the idea on to Inspector Darryl Gates who in turn presented the idea to the top brass. Gates wanted to call these units Special Weapons and Attack Teams, but this was considered a bit too militaristic for a civilian agency. In 1969, these units became known as Special Weapons and Tactical (SWAT) teams.

     On December 9, 1969, when police officers tried to serve search warrants for illegal weapons at the Black Panther headquarters at 41st Street and Central in Los Angeles, the occupants fired on the officers with shotguns and automatic rifles. SWAT teams from around the city were called to the scene. Following a four-hour gun battle between six Black Panthers and 200 officers, the shooters in the house surrendered. Three SWAT team members and three Black Panthers had been wounded.

     Following the Black Panther shoot-out, police administrators concluded that SWAT team response times would be improved by reassigning the 15 teams dispersed throughout the county to police headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. In 1971, SWAT team assignments became full-time positions. The Los Angeles Police Department, for several years, was the only law enforcement agency in the country with a paramilitary capability.

     Four years after the Black Panther violence, the Los Angeles SWAT force consisted of six, ten-man teams. Each team had two five-man units called "elements," with a leader, two "assaulters," a scout, and a rearguard officer. SWAT weapons included a .245-caliber, bolt-action sniper rifle, two .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles, and a pair of shotguns. Officers were also equipped with service revolvers and gas masks. Dressed in their helmets, gloves, and body armor, they could not be distinguished from combat troops.

     On May 17, 1974, six members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) barricaded themselves inside a house on East 54th Street at Compton Avenue, and ignored orders from the police to surrender peacefully. The domestic terrorists responded to tear gas canisters lobbed into the premises by opening fire on three SWAT teams and hundreds of regular police officers who had gathered at the scene. The police returned fire, eventually wounding all six occupants.

     When the smoke cleared, 3,772 shots had been fired by SLA members. Thousands of bullets had been fired by the police. The shoot-out ended when a fire broke out inside the house, burning the dwelling to the ground. The occupants either died from bullet wounds or from the blaze. Investigators speculated that the fire started when a bullet hit a Molotov cocktail or a tear gas grenade. Millions of people across the country watched as the gun battle unfolded on live television.

     Although there was little sympathy for the terrorists who had fired on the police, the Los Angeles Police Department was criticized for allowing the situation to evolve into a scene of urban warfare. The department responded by tightening SWAT unit admission standards and upgrading the paramilitary training to reduce the occurrence of such spectacular violence.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Carla Hague Poisoning Case

     In 2013, Judge Charles Hague lived with his wife of 45 years outside of Jefferson, Ohio in the northeastern part of the state. Since 1993, he had been an Ashtabula County common pleas juvenile/probate judge. Carla, his 70-year-old wife, had retired years earlier as a nurse. The judge and Carla, parents of grown children, enjoyed a reputation in the community as outstanding citizens.

     As is so often the case, outward signs of domestic tranquility are misleading. This unfortunate reality applied to Mr. and Mrs. Hague. The problem within that marriage exploded to the surface on September 15, 2013 when Carla telephoned one of her sons. She said the judge had become ill after consuming a glass of wine. Upon arrival at the house, the son took one look at his father and dialed 911.

     Paramedics rushed the stricken judge to a local hospital from where medical personnel flew him to the Cleveland Clinic for emergency care. Following several days of treatment in Cleveland, the judge returned home to recuperate.

     Judge Hague's relatives, on September 19, 3013, notified the Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office of foul play suspected in the judge's sudden illness four days earlier. More specifically, the relatives accused Mrs. Hague of spiking her husband's wine with antifreeze. (A toxicological analysis of the judge's blood confirmed the presence of ethylene glycol, a toxic ingredient in antifreeze.)

     Sheriff's deputies arrested Carla Hague on December 2, 2013 on suspicion of attempted murder. Officers booked her into the Ashtabula County Jail. Eighteen days later, an Ashtabula County grand jury indicted the suspect of contaminating a substance for human consumption. She also stood accused of attempted murder.

     Carla Hague did not deny putting the antifreeze into her husband's wine. Her intent, she said, was not to kill the judge but to make him slightly ill. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis, a serious respiratory condition. In Carla's opinion, her husband had been adding to his health problem by drinking too much. She hoped that if the wine made him ill he would cut back on his use of alcohol.

     At her arraignment, Carla pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted murder. She posted her $100,000 surety bond on December 24, 2013.

     On June 16, 2014, the local prosecutor, with Judge Hague's consent, allowed the defendant to plead guilty to felonious assault. In speaking to a reporter, judge Hague said, "I have no anger or animosity. I am beyond that. I'm gad to have this huge black spot behind us. I have moved on with my life. Carla can get on with hers." (Presumably they will be getting on with their lives without each other.)

     Following the guilty plea, the judge sentenced Carla Hague to two years in prison with eligibility for release in six months.

   

     

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chad Wolfe's Mysterious Death

     On Thursday night, March 14, 2013, Chad Wolfe and Jessica Price, his girlfriend of ten years, boarded Delta Flight 2233 out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania en route to Atlanta and their final destination, Tampa, Florida. Wolfe resided in West Newton, a Westmoreland County town of 3,000 twenty-five miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The 31-year-old worked in a Sewickley Township body shop with his father. Chad and Jessica planned to meet up with friends in Tampa, rent a car, then drive to Daytona Beach to participate in Bike Week festivities. They also planned to visit a few automobile auctions.

     The couple flew into the Tampa International Airport from their layover in Atlanta just before midnight. The couple had been arguing. Chad took an elevator from the third floor of the main terminal to the 7th floor parking garage while she picked up their luggage from baggage claim. When Jessica returned to the main concourse with the luggage, Chad wasn't there. When she couldn't find Chad, she alerted an airport security officer who organized a search party.

     At ten o'clock the next morning, airport maintenance workers found Chad Wolfe's body lying on top of an elevator car stopped at the third floor of the main terminal. In his pocket, investigators found an empty Xanax bottle. (He had a prescription for Xanax and Paxil.)

     Investigators found, on the seventh floor not far from the bank of elevators, Chad's cellphone and carry-on case. This discovery raised questions of what Chad was doing in the parking garage, and how did his body end up on top of the third floor elevator car.

     The authorities who looked into this mysterious death, certainly a suspicious one, came to the conclusion that Chad Wolfe had somehow accidentally fallen down the elevator shaft. But the young man's father, Garland Wolfe, didn't believe his 150 pound son had the strength to pry open the elevator doors. Don Cassell, an elevator expert, agreed. According to Mr. Cassell, opening the doors of a working elevator with one's bare hands is next to impossible.

     Jessica Price revealed that Chad had taken a Xanax pill to ease his anxiety about flying, He had also consumed a drink on the plane. Did her confused boyfriend go to the parking garage to smoke a cigarette? Still, how did he get into the elevator shaft?

     In May 2013, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner issued the report on Chad Wolfe's death. The cause of this young man's demise went into the books as "blunt force impact to the head and neck." The manner of death: an accident.

     According to the medical examiner's report, the deceased had Alprozolam and Paxil in his system. In the report, a forensic investigator wrote: "It appears the deceased forced open an elevator door to gain entry into the elevator shaft."

     According to a report submitted months later by the airport, witnesses on Wolfe's flight from Atlanta to Tampa said that Wolfe had been drinking alcohol, popping pills, and acting rudely on the plane. At the airport, a witness saw a belligerent man banging on the seventh floor elevator door. Tampa airport detective Kevin Durkin, the lead investigator in the case, concluded that Wolfe forced open the landing doors on the elevator. He then wrapped his arms and legs aground "the elevator cable inside the shaft with the intention to slide down the cable to the elevator car roof. As he descended down the elevator cable, friction wounds caused him to let go."

     Detective Durkin concluded that Wolfe fell to his death by hitting the top of the elevator car.

     In October 2014, Chad Wolfe's parents filed a lawsuit against Tampa International Airport claiming that a malfunctioning elevator had caused their son's death. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Eric Toth: Pedophile On The Run

     Born in 1982, Eric Toth grew up near Indianapolis, Indiana. He earned good grades in high school where he was considered self-centered and eccentric, and when he wanted to be, charming and manipulating. Abused as a child, he suffered bouts of depression and engaged in compulsive lying.

     The lanky young man enrolled at Cornell University in New York State. A year later he transferred to Purdue University at Calumet (Indiana) where he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in elementary education. During his college years he told several people he was an agent with the CIA.

     Upon his graduation in 2002, Toth volunteered at an elementary school in Indianapolis where he worked as a teacher's aide. His intense interest in boys between the ages 8 and 11 led to parental complaints and concerns. The principal, suspecting that Toth was a pedophile, terminated his association with the school. A lot of parents were glad to see him go.

     In 2003, Toth drifted around the midwest, always inserting himself into environments that put him in proximity to young boys. In 2004 and part of 2005 Toth worked as a counselor at a boy's camp in Madison, Wisconsin. It was at this camp he made videotapes of himself engaging in various sexual activities with several boys. When his behavior began to raise suspicion, he moved on. Moving on is what pedophiles do when too many people get suspicious.

     In the fall of 2005, administrators at the Beauvior Elementary School attached to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., hired Toth to teach third grade. Many of the students in this small prestigious Catholic School came from families of wealth and political power.

     Toth's enthusiasm for his job included tutoring children for free and even babysitting them at their homes. His gung-ho work attitude made him a popular teacher at the school. But his excessive familiarity with his male students, including having boys sit on his lap, raised eyebrows and suspicions.

     In 2008, a fellow Beauvior employee found disturbing photographs on a school camera assigned to Toth. The pornographic pictures featured the teacher and several boys. The school's principal confronted Toth, then fired him on the spot. After a security officer escorted Toth out of the building and off the campus, the principal called the police. The delay gave Toth the head start he needed to get out of town and disappear.

     Based upon the photographs recovered from Toth's camera, a federal prosecutor charged him with producing and possessing child pornography. This made Toth a fugitive from the law.

     A month after the Beauvior principal kicked Toth out of Beauvior Elementary, a car that had been rented under the name Jay Kellor turned up at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.  Inside the Honda, FBI agents found child pornography linked to Toth's tenure as a boy's camp counselor in Wisconsin.

     In the rented vehicle, agents also discovered a suicide note signed by Toth. According to the handwritten document, the authorities would find his body on the bottom of a nearby lake. A search of that lake failed to turn up Toth's remains. The FBI considered the suicide note a fake, a ploy to throw agents off his trail.

     Toth, going by the name David Bussone, showed up in January 2009 at the Lodestar Day Rescue Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Toth volunteered to help homeless man complete their 12-step alcohol and drug addiction treatments. He told his colleagues at the rescue center that he had been an educator at an elite east coast school, and that the experience had turned him against wealth and the materialistic lifestyle. He said he had taken a five-year oath of poverty, and had re-dedicated his life to helping the downtrodden.

     In the meantime, FBI agents across the country were still searching for Toth. The federal manhunt received a boost when the Toth case appeared on the television show, "America's Most Wanted." One of the homeless men at Lodestar saw the segment and recognized David Bussone as Eric Toth. The next day, realizing that he had been identified, the fugitive pedophile disappeared again.

     In July 2009, under a another pseudonym supported by stolen identification documents, Toth turned up at a hippie commune in Austin, Texas. One of the members of the community found Toth a job at an Austin computer repair shop called P.C. Guru. Toth worked at the store two and a half years during which time he tutored grade school boys for free. He also gave the mother of two of his students financial aid.

     The FBI, on April 10, 2012, replaced Osama bin Laden on the Bureau's Top Ten Most Wanted List with Eric Toth. In October of that year Toth used a fake passport, under the name Robert Shaw Walker, to flee to Nicaragua. He took up residence in a house in Esteli, a town 90 miles north of the capital, Managua. Toth told people he met that he had come to Nicaragua to write a book.

     On April 18, 2013, while attending a social function, Toth ran into an American tourist who recognized him. Two days later, Nicaraguan police officers surrounded his house in Esteli. Following the arrest, officers found 1,100 images of child pornography Toth had downloaded from the Internet onto his personal computer.

     Four days after his capture in Nicaragua, Toth was back in Washington, D.C. sitting in jail awaiting his trial.

     On December 13, 2013, Toth pleaded guilty before a federal judge to three counts of child pornography and two counts of identify theft. He faced up to 30 years in prison.

     On March 11, 2014, the judge sentenced the 32-year-old pedophile to 25 years in federal prison. At his sentencing Toth said, "I don't pretend that anything I could say here today would ever make up for what I did. Everything the prosecutor said about me is true."

   

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Hugo Ramos Murder Case

     At two-thirty in the afternoon of Monday September 15, 2014, Hugo Ramos and his three children--ages one to seven--were traveling on U.S. Route 20 in Lorain County 35 miles west of Cleveland. Ramos pulled his 2002 Acura off to the side of the road. The 28-year-old climbed out of the car and walked into the traffic flow on the busy highway. After almost being run over by an 18-wheeler, Ramos returned to his car.

     With his children still in the car, Ramos poured a container of gasoline on himself and lit a match. A passing motorist saw a man on the side of the highway consumed by flames. The motorist grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out the fire.

     Paramedics loaded the badly burned man onto a helicopter and flew him to the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Although in critical condition, Ramos told emergency personnel that he had killed his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his three children. He said they would find 25-year-old Glorimar Ramos-Perez in a small apartment at the rear of a house on Newark Avenue in Cleveland.

     At three that afternoon homicide detectives with the Cleveland Police Department arrived at 3638 Newark Avenue where they found Glorimar Ramos-Perez's body. She had been stabbed to death.

     The Cuyahoga County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Ramos remained for a period in critical condition at the MetroHealth Medical Center. His children were in the care of the Lorain County Children's Services.

     On August 19, 2015, a jury sitting in Cleveland rejected Hugo Ramos' insanity defense. The jurors found Ramos guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, felonious assault, domestic violence and endangering children.

     At the trial, the prosecution and defense put on dueling psychiatrists who gave testimony regarding the defendant's mental state at the time of the crimes. The jurors chose to believe the state's expert who declared Ramos legally sane.

     The judge sentenced Ramos to life in prison.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Brenda Delgado Murder-For-Hire Case

     At quarter to eight on the night of Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 35-year-old dentist, Dr. Kendra Hatcher, parked her car in the garage of her upscale Dallas, Texas apartment complex. As Dr. Hatcher did so, a man hiding in the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee driven by a woman, jumped out of the vehicle and approached her. It was at that moment the assailant shot the dentist one time with a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol, killing the victim on the spot. After stealing two of Dr. Hatcher's purses, the shooter climbed back into the Jeep and was driven off by his driver.

     On Friday, September 4, 2015, detectives with the Dallas Police Department arrested 23-year-old Crystal Cortes on suspicion that she had been the person behind the wheel of the Jeep Cherokee. Cortes, during her interrogation, confessed to her role in the robbery-murder. She also identified the shooter as 31-year-old Kristopher Love.

      After a week or so into the Hatcher murder investigation, detectives came to believe that robbery had not been the motive behind the killing. The officers suspected the slaying had been the culmination of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by a 33-year-old dental hygiene student at Stanford-Brown College named Brenda Delgado.

     Two months before the murder, Delgado, a Mexican citizen, and her boyfriend, 38-year-old dermatologist Dr. Ricardo Panigua, had broken up following a two-year relationship. After the split, Dr. Panigua began dating Dr. Kendra Hatcher. Detectives suspected that Delgado had the dentist murdered out of jealousy and rage.

     When questioned by investigators, the murder-for-hire suspect admitted lending Crystal Cortes the Jeep Cherokee, and meeting with Cortes and the suspected hit man, Kristopher Love. She met with the murder suspects at a Dallas apartment complex a few days before the killing. Delgado, however, denied being the mastermind behind a plot to have her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend murdered. That, she claimed, had been Love's idea.

     On September 11, 2015, a Dallas County prosecutor charged Crystal Cortes with capital murder. Police officers booked her into the Dallas County Jail under $500,000 bond. Cortes' attorney, George Ashford III, told reporters that his client, before what she believed was just going to be a robbery, had tried to call and warn Dr. Hatcher of the hold-up plot. The lawyer said that after the killing, Mr. Love had threatened to kill Cortes' 6-year-old son if she went to the authorities.

     According to Cortes, Brenda Delgado had promised her and the hit man free prescription drugs if they robbed Dr. Hatcher. Also, Delgado had allegedly paid Cortes $500 to drive Kristopher Love to the robbery scene. Just before Love climbed out of the Jeep in the victim's parking garage, Cortes asked him how much money Delgado had paid him to commit the robbery. Love replied, "That's none of your business."

     On October 3, 2015, Dallas detectives arrested Kristopher Love on suspicion of capital murder. At the time he was taken into custody, Love was still in possession of the murder weapon. A magistrate set his bail at $2.5 million. In Texas, a capital murder conviction can lead to the death penalty.

     About the time Kristopher Love was arrested, a Dallas County prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Brenda Delgado. At that time, the murder-for-hire suspect's whereabouts were unknown.

     In speaking to reporters regarding Delgado, Major Max Geron of the Dallas Police Department, said: "Ms. Delgado was involved in the planning and the commission of Kendra Hatcher's murder."

     On April 7, 2016, a spokesperson with the FBI announced that murder-for-hire fugitive Brenda Delgado had been placed on the bureau's "Ten Most Wanted" list. A day later, the authorities in Torreon, Mexico took the fugitive into custody.

    Before Delgado can be extradited back to Texas, the U.S. prosecutor would have to agree not to pursue the death penalty against the suspect. According to the Mexican authorities in charge of the case, it could take up to a year to complete the extradition process. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Patrick Dunn Vigilante Murder Case

     If you check your local sex offender registry, you will probably be shocked by the length of the list. (You may also be shocked to find out who's on it.) The shear number of American men who have been convicted of raping women and children is staggering. When considering these depositories of depravity, all kinds of questions come to mind, including why there are so many sex offenders in America. And has it always been this way?

     Everyone knows that rapists and pedophiles tend to be repeat offenders, and the harm they inflict on their victims is serious and long-lasting. This reality begs the question of why these registered sex offenders are out of prison. If you follow media crime reporting, you regularly come across cases where men with extensive sex conviction histories, after getting out of prison, are arrested for the same kinds of offenses. Are judges and parole board members idiots? For example, under what rationale would a man who has raped a child ever be let out of prison? Why are American judges so lenient in these cases? Other than first degree murder and aggravated assault, what is worse than rape? Could these judges be so naive as to believe these pathological offenders can be rehabilitated? Or is it simply that our prisons are so full of drug war arrestees there's no room for sex offenders?

     Patrick Dunn and Gary Blanton rented rooms in the same house near Sequim, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwestern corner of the state. Dunn, 34, had served time for assault and various drug related offenses. Twenty-eight-year-old Gary Blanton, in 2001, had been convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl when he was in high school. In June 2012, Blanton had been charged with child abuse. As a result of the rape conviction, Blanton was a registered sex offender in a state data bank the public can access.

     In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 2, 2012, Dunn, armed with a 9 mm pistol, shot and killed Gary Blanton. After shooting the victim several times, Dunn drove his rented car a few miles to the home of 56-year-old Jerry Ray, another registered sex offender. In August 2002, Ray had been convicted of raping two children, ages seven and four. After shooting Mr. Ray to death, Patrick Dunn abandoned his car on a remote road on the Olympic Peninsula.

     After receiving 911 calls regarding a suspicious person on foot near Sequim, deputies with the Clallam County Sheriff's Office came upon Dunn's abandoned rental vehicle. Inside, next to a box of 9 mm rounds, officers found a note signed by Dunn in which he took responsibility for killing Blanton and Ray, stating that "it had to be done."

     The following afternoon, after a three-hour manhunt featuring a Customs/Border Patrol helicopter, and tracking dogs, police found Dunn hiding in a woodshed deep in the forest. Later that Sunday, Dunn told his interrogators he had murdered Gary Blanton and Jerry Ray because they were sex offenders. The suspect said he had also intended to kill a third sex offender who lived in Jefferson County, and had planned to kill more registered sex offenders.

     On Monday, June 4, 2012, a judge informed Patrick Dunn that he had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The magistrate appointed Dunn an attorney, and denied him bail. If convicted of the two murders, Dunn would be eligible for the death penalty.

     In August 2012, Dunn pleaded guilty to both murders (some would call them hate crimes) to avoid the death penalty. On September 18, 2012, Superior Court Judge S. Brook Taylor sentenced Dunn to two life sentences without the possibility of parole.

     After the sentencing, the Clallam County prosecutor, in referring to a cluster of people associated with the dead sex offender's victims who were in the courtroom to show support for Patrick Dunn, said this to reporters: "It is unfortunate there are people who admire what he [Dunn] did. It is despicable and disgusting." One of Dunn's courtroom supporters, a relative of a sexual victim, called Dunn a "hero." Gary Blanton's widow called the Washington state sex registry a "hit list." (The authorities had classified Blanton and Ray as "level-two" sex offenders which meant they considered the risks of them re-offending as "moderate." One might argue that if there is any risk of re-offending, the state should error in favor of the public.)

     While Patrick Dunn got what he deserved for committing cold-blooded double murder, the fact there are those who consider him a hero reflects the frustration many people have over what they perceive as the criminal justice system's failure to protect women and children from sex offenders.


     

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Governor Haley Barbour And His Pardons of Dangerous Criminals

     In January 2012, in his last days in office, Haley Barbour, the two-term Republican governor of Mississippi, granted pardons to 208 prisoners. Among those released were inmates who had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, and aggravated assault. Forty-one of those pardoned were behind bars because they had killed someone. Five of the freed men had been working at the governor's mansion as trusties. Two of them had murdered their wives, and another had killed a man during a robbery. These were not white collar criminals, they were dangerous men. And none of them had been pardoned because they had been wrongfully tried, or were innocent.

     News of Barbour's puzzling and disturbing show of clemency to so many violent criminals stunned the families of the people these inmates had victimized. That shock soon turned to outrage. People were asking why convicted murderers were working at the governor's home in the first place, and why Barbour had felt compelled to set so many of them free. Didn't he have any regard for the nature of their crimes, and the feelings of their victims? Southern conservatives were supposed to be tough on criminals. Had this politician lost his mind? Mississippi legislators were now looking into restricting the governor's pardoning powers.

     One of the inmates Barbour pardoned, David Glenn Gatlin, had good reason to believe he would never walk free. In 1994, a jury found Gatlin, then 23, guilty of murder, aggravated assault, and burglary. Gatlin had walked into the home of his estranged wife and shot her in the head as she held their 6-week-old child. She died on the spot. Gatlin then turned his gun on Randy Walker, and shot him in the head. Walker survived the assault, but is still dealing with the consequences of the head wound.

     The trial judge, who obviously wanted Gatlin to spend the rest of his life behind bars (and not working a cushy job at the governor's house), sentenced him to life on the murder verdict, plus 20 years for aggravated assault on Randy Walker. The judge added another 10 years for the burglary. Had Randy Walker died from the bullet Gatlin had fired into his head, Gatlin would have been eligible for the death sentence. Modern medicine, and a skilled emergency room surgeon, had saved Gatlin from death row, and a future lethal injection.

     David Gatlin not only didn't feel bad about murdering his wife and trying to kill Randy Walker, he promised, if he ever got out of prison, to finish the job on Walker. Thanks to Governor Haley Barbour, Gatlin would get the chance. If he actually carried out this threat, it would be appropriate to send Governor Barbour to prison to finish out Gatlin's sentence. Perhaps Barbour would end up back at the Governor's mansion where, instead of pardoning dangerous killers, he'd be trimming the shrubbery and cutting the grass.

    After the release of documents from the Mississippi Attorney General's Office, it became clear that Governor Haley Barbour had done more than just release killers back into society. He and his wife Marsha had made sure that two of them, David Gatlin and another mansion trusty, could drive away from prison in their own cars.

     On the morning of January 6, 2012, two days before Gatlin and a trusty named Charles Hooker were scheduled for release, Marsha Barbour called a nearby car dealership to arrange the purchase of two used cars for the inmates. A member of the governor's staff had already helped the men acquire their driver's licenses. That afternoon, a staff member drove Gatlin and Hooker, in a state car, to the lot where Hooker purchased a 2007 Ford Focus, and Gatlin a Chevrolet HHR. The inmates used certified checks drawn on Bank Plus to purchase the vehicles. Two days later, the inmates' cars were delivered to the governor's mansion.

     The documents pertaining to the preferential treatment of these murderers did not reveal how these men obtained their bank accounts. Moreover, there were no documents showing who actually paid for the cars. Governor Barbour and his wife, as well as members of the former governor's staff, were not talking, except to say that no laws had been broken.
     

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Killing of Peyton Strickland

     Shortly before midnight on December 1, 2006, 18-year-old Peyton Strickland, a welding student at Cape Fear Community College, was at home playing a video game with his roommate, a student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. When Strickland heard knocking at his front door, he got up with the game controller in his hand to answer it. Outside the house, sixteen police officers--nine SWAT team members from the New Hanover Sheriff's Office, three with the Wilmington Police, and four officers with the University of North Carolina Police Department--were poised to charge into the dwelling.

     Peyton Strickland and a University of North Carolina student who lived elsewhere, had allegedly struck a third student with a blunt object and had stolen two of his Playstation 3 game consoles. (The probable cause underlying the search warrant was based on information from an unreliable informant.) The police were at his door to arrest him for armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and breaking and entering.

     Police officers at the front entrance saw Strickland approaching them through the door glass. For some reason, Strickland stopped, turned and walked back into the house. That caused an officer to strike the door with a battering ram. As Strickland turned in response to that noise, a deputy sheriff fired five shots, two of which passed through the door hitting Strickland in the head and chest, killing him on the spot. The officer discharged his weapon because he had confused the sound of the battering ram for gun shots coming from inside the house. Another deputy shot and killed Strickland's two dogs.

     The Hanover County sheriff placed three deputies on paid leave pending the results of the internal investigation of the shooting. The sheriff fired the deputy who had fired the fatal shot.

     A grand jury indicted the former deputy in December 2006 for second-degree murder, but a judge set aside the indictment due to a clerical error. (The grand jury foreman had checked the wrong box on an indictment document.)

     In July 2007, the Hanover County prosecutor presented the case to a second grand jury, but only 12 of the 18 jurors voted to indict the ex-deputy.

     Peyton Strickland's parents sued New Hanover County for the wrongful death of their son. In February 2008, pursuant to an out of court settlement, the county paid the plaintiffs $2.45 million. Nine months later, the family sued the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and their police department for leading the deputies to Peyton's door on the word of an unreliable informant. The defendants in that case, in February 2010, asked the court to dismiss the civil suit out on grounds of sovereign immunity. The judge allowed the case to go forward, and in July 2011, a North Carolina appeals court affirmed that decision. (As of April 2016, this legal action has not been resolved.)

     The Strickland case illustrates one of the hidden costs of militarized policing. Every year, city, county, and state governments pay out millions of dollars in civil damages and court settlements created by bungled SWAT raids and excessive force cases.


Saturday, April 2, 2016

Beware of the Naked Guy: Crazy Nude Men on Drugs

     In recent years, dozens of naked men high on meth, PCP, synthetic marijuana, or bath salts violently assaulted, murdered, and in a few cases, ate part of their victims. These hallucinating assailants shed their clothing because the designer drugs caused their bodies to abnormally heat-up. Police officers, after their taser guns failed to bring these rampaging, drugged-up zombies under control, had to shoot a few of them.

Abraham Luna: The Nude Nutcase From Tarpon Springs

     Police officers in Tarpon Springs, a Florida town of 23,000 in Pinellas County not far from Tampa, received a strange call at 6:50 Monday morning, November 26, 2012. Residents of a neighborhood near the Tarpon Springs Golf Course had seen a man running about with nothing on but a pair of construction boots. (The nude man was later identified as 30-year-old Abraham Luna.) By the time patrol officers rolled into the area, Luna, a resident of Tarpon Springs, was gone.

     The following day, at 4:17 in the morning, a Tarpon Springs officer tried to pull over a nude man driving a white van at high rates of speed on U.S. Route 19. The officer discontinued his pursuit of Luna when the van crossed into Pasco County. As a result, Luna escaped arrest.

     Fifteen minutes after eluding arrest in Pinellas County, Abraham Luna pulled into a 7-Elven store along Route 19 in Holiday, Florida. The nude man walked into the store, and without provocation, started shoving, scratching, and punching a male employee. "What's wrong with you?" the clerk exclaimed.

     "You asked for it," Luna replied.

     When a second 7-Eleven employee told Luna to leave, the naked assailant strolled out of the store and climbed back into his van. But instead of pulling back onto the highway, Luna gunned the vehicle toward the store, stopping just before crashing into the building. He next got out of the van, and tried to open the door of a car that belonged to one of the store clerks. Unable to steal the employee's vehicle, Luna climbed back into his van and drove north in the southbound lane.

     The brief police pursuit of Luna on Route 19 ended when the van sideswiped a patrol car driven by a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy. Luma jumped out of the van and ran, but was quickly apprehended by a deputy who jolted him with a taser device.

     The Pinellas County prosecutor threw the book at Luna, charging him with aggravated assault, aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer, reckless driving, aggravated fleeing to elude arrest, driving with a revoked license, and violation of his probation.

     Luna, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007, was incarcerated in the Pinellas County Jail in Land O' Lakes, Florida. After his arrest, Luna explained his nudity to reporters by saying it was a shock tactic that gave him an advantage in fights.  Fortunately, the tactic of being nude did not protect him against being shocked by the police.

Coco Bennett: Nude Man With Samurai Sword

     The San Jose police, on New Year's Day 2013 at eight in the morning, received a call regarding a man, later identified as 29-year-old Coco Bennett, carrying an assault rifle in a residential neighborhood. Bennett climbed into a pickup and drove out of the area before the police arrived.

     San Jose officers came upon Bennett's truck a few miles from where he had been seen with the assault rifle. As they approached his truck, the nude driver exited the vehicle carrying a large, samurai sword. "You're going to have to kill me," Bennett said.

     Instead of shooting Bennett, the officers at the scene called in San Jose's Crisis Intervention Team. Following a two-hour stand-off involving 32 police officers, the naked man ran toward a nearby fence. When he tried to climb the barrier, Bennett fell and dropped his sword. Officers took this opportunity to take him into custody. From Bennett's truck officers recovered his AR-15 assault rifle. Had he come out of his truck armed with the AR-15, Mr. Bennett would have been shot to death.

     After being treated at a local hospital for minor injuries, Bennett was taken to the Santa Clara County Jail.

The Naked Connecticut Church Intruder

     The day after Coco Bennett's arrest in San Jose, a nude Gary Pohronezny burst into the St. James Catholic Church in Killingly, Connecticut. The 41-year-old from Brooklyn, New York barged into the church at one-thirty in the afternoon, interrupting a religious service attended by adults and several school children. A member of the congregation called 911, and after a brief scuffle, officers took the naked man into custody.

     Charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police, Pohronezny ended up in a hospital in Putnam, Connecticut where he underwent psychiatric evaluation.

The Naked Home Intruder

     A Miami homeowner, on January 3, 2013, was awakened at five o'clock in the morning by the sound of his barking dog. The man causing the commotion, a naked home invader named Jeffrey Delice, was choking the pet. When the 20-year-old intruder tried to bite and choke the resident of the home, the homeowner shot him in the foot. Delice, high on drugs, was charged with a variety of offenses including burglary, assault, and resisting arrest.

     Note: Since I couldn't find any news updates on any of these men, I assume these cases were handled outside of the criminal justice system.

   

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Nadia Malik Suspicious Death Case

     In February 2014, 22-year-old Nadia Malik resided with her one-year-old daughter and her parents in Broomall, Pennsylvania, a Delaware County suburb in the Philadelphia area. The one-year-old's father, Nadia's estranged boyfriend, 25-year-old Bhupinder Singh, lived with their four-year-old daughter at his parents' apartment in Solon, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. In 2012, the couple had an infant that, according to court documents, died suddenly under "suspect circumstances."

     Nadia and Bhupinder reportedly had a relationship described as "strained, on/off, and violent." Nadia had recently been fired from her job as a CVS pharmacy assistant in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania for missing too much work. 
     On February 9 and again on February 10, 2014, Nadia Malik sent text messages to her brother Faud Malik and her friend Thomas Singh (no relation to Bhupinder) informing them that Bhupinder was holding her against her will in a car. On February 9, Thomas Singh reported Nadia missing to the Lansdowne, Pennsylvania Police Department. (Shortly thereafter the case was transferred to the Marple Township police.) 
     On February 12, 2014, investigators traced Bhupinder Singh, through Nadia's cellphone, to his parents' apartment in Solon, Ohio. At the arrival of the police that day, Singh tried to escape out the back door but was arrested before he ran very far. Officers took him into the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center on a probation violation warrant issued out of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. 
     Singh, who claimed to have no knowledge regarding Nadia's whereabouts, had scratches on his face and a black eye. He told his interrogators the injuries were sustained in a fight he had with Nadia. The last time he saw her was on February 11, 2014 in Delaware County. He left her in his father's black 2007 Nissan Altima and took a bus to his parents' home in Solon. When arrested, Singh possessed Nadia's cellphone and her driver's license.  
     At ten-thirty on the morning of Thursday, February 20, 2014, an anonymous tipster called the Marple Township Police Department regarding a black 2007 Nissan Altima with heavily tinted windows parked on 30th Street near Market Street in Philadelphia. Police officers found eight parking tickets on the vehicle. 
     In the reclined front passenger seat of the Nissan, officers found Nadia Malik positioned on her side as though she had been sleeping. The dead woman was fully clothed with a duffel bag resting on top of her head. The car also contained a pile of clothing, loose change, and prescription bill bottles issued to Bhupinder Singh.
     The first parking ticket on the car had been issued on February 10, a few blocks away at 23rd and Market Streets. The second citation was issued on February 12 when the Nissan was parked in an emergency zone on Market Street. The first ticket placed on the car where it was found on February 20 had been issued two days earlier. 
     Based on the parking ticket history, Nadia Malik either died between February 18 and February 20, several days after Bhupinder Singh's arrest. If she had died before that, someone had moved the Nissan with her dead body in it.
     A Philadelphia forensic pathologist performed the autopsy on Friday, February 21, 2014. A spokesperson for the medical examiner's office announced there were no signs of physical trauma on Malik's body. The spokesperson did not reveal the time of death in the case, a vital piece of information, or the cause and manner of death.

     On October 16, 2014, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office announced that toxicological tests on Malik's body had not solved the mystery of what killed her or how she  had died.

     In February 2015, a year after Malik's suspicious death, the authorities released information regarding the February 28, 2012 death of Malik's 3-month-old daughter, Alina Singh. Paramedics had found the child next to her mother in a car parked near a Chinese restaurant in the Delaware County town of Springfield. The unresponsive infant was pronounced dead later that day. The Delaware County Medical Examiner ruled the cause of Alina's death as cachexia--a type of muscle atrophy commonly called "wasting syndrome." The manner of the child's death remained "undetermined."

     Detectives with the Philadelphia Police Department continued to investigate Nadia Malik's death as a possible murder case. When questioned by the police in Ohio, Bhupinder Singh said he had fled to Ohio on a Greyhound bus out of New York City after arguing with Malik on matters "concerning their relationship."

     After being found guilty in April 2014 of violating his probation, Singh spent a month in jail. Upon his release on parole, he took up residence in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. According to a police spokesperson in February 2015, detectives still considered Bhupinder Singh a suspect in what they believed was Malik's homicidal death.

     In July 2015, Nadia's brother, 32-year-old Khaled Malik, offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for his sister's death. As of April 2016, no arrests have been made in this mysterious case.