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Friday, January 29, 2016

Football Coach Philip Foglietta and the Poly Prep Cover-Up

     The Poly Prep Country Day School is an elite, nursery to 12th grade private boy's academy located on two campuses in Brooklyn, New York. Poly Prep's middle and high school buildings are located in the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn while the lower grades are on the Park Slope campus. As is often the case in schools where the sports program plays an important if not vital role in the institution, faculty member and renowned football coach Philip Foglietta enjoyed icon status during the years 1966 to 1991.

     In 1966, Coach Foglietta's first year at Poly Prep, a male student accused him of sexual molestation. A school administrator informed the boy's parents that an internal investigation revealed the accusation to be false. Moreover, if this student continued to make slanderous claims of this nature, the boy would face "severe consequences." The administration's handling of this case not only silenced the accuser, it became the school's future modus operandi in such matters.

     After 25 years as Poly Prep's most successful football coach, Foglietta unexpectedly retired in 1991. In honor of his legendary coaching career and important contributions to the institution, the school hosted a gala celebration held at the Manhattan Athletic Club. Members of the Poly Prep community, and the public at large, were not told of the real reason behind the coach's "retirement." He had been forced to quit as a result of accusations of "sexual misconduct."

     Following Coach Foglietta's death in 1998, Poly Prep established a memorial fund and solicited donations in his name. Four years later, in a letter to all alumni, the Poly Prep administration revealed that for years Coach Foglietta had been suspected of sexually abusing his students. According to this 2002 letter, administrators had "recently received credible allegations that sexual abuse had occurred at Poly Prep more than 20 years ago by a faculty member/coach who is now deceased." Everyone familiar with the school knew that coach was Philip Foglietta. The author of this revealing letter promised a thorough internal investigation of the accusations. (If the school actually conducted such an inquiry, no report of it surfaced. Moreover there was no indication that these "credible" accusations were ever passed on to the police.)

     In 2004, a Poly Prep alumnus named John Paggioli, alleging that as a student he had been sexually molested by Coach Foglietta, filed a lawsuit against the school. A year later, a judge, citing New York State's statute of limitations on such claims, dismissed the action. (In New York, a sexual abuse claimant must file suit within five years of his or her eighteenth birthday.)

     On October 26, 2009, twelve Poly Prep alumni, claiming sexual abuse by Coach Philip Foglietta, filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) suit against the school in the Brooklyn District Federal Court. The plaintiffs alleged a 40-year criminal conspiracy to quash and cover-up student complains of sexual abuse allegedly committed by Poly Prep's greatest football coach.

     According to court documents, current and former Poly Prep headmasters knew that Coach Foglietta had sexually abused "dozens if not hundreds of boys." The plaintiffs alleged "Poly Prep administrators had...knowledge of Foglietta's sexual abuse of numerous boys at or near the school, but condoned and facilitated Foglietta's criminal behavior because he was a highly successful football coach and instrumental in raising substantial revenue for the school."

     In filing a RICO action, a technique the FBI used to cripple the Mafia, the Poly Prep plaintiffs were using this federal law as a way around the statute of limitations. These lawyers were asking the court to consider a sexual abuse defendant's repeated misrepresentations and deceitful conduct as a legal justification to override the application of the statute of limitations. These attorneys were attempting to create a legal exception to the doctrine that bars legal relief in older cases.  

     On August 28, 2012, in a 40-page decision, Judge Frederic Block of the Brooklyn District Federal Court, allowed two of the twelve plaintiffs to go forward with their RICO claims against current and former Poly Prep administrators. If these plaintiffs prevailed under the RICO statute, other institutions like universities and churches could be faced with a flood of sexual abuse lawsuits previously blocked by statutes of limitations. For this reason future sexual abuse plaintiffs and their potential defendants were closely following the the Poly Prep RICO suit.

     On December 26, 2012, the school settled the landmark lawsuit out of court. As a result, there would be no legal precedent for other victims in old cases. In February 2014, the school issued a formal apology to all of the students sexually abused by the iconic coach and serial child molester. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Amy Senser Hit and Run Homicide Case

     Amy Senser and her husband Joe lived in Edina, Minnesota, an upscale Minneapolis suburb. Joe Senser, a NFL tight end with the Minnesota Vikings in the early 1980s, co-owned four Minneapolis-St. Paul area sports bars. A knee injury had ended his 4-year career with the Vikings. The businessman and sports commentator was a well-liked local celebrity. His attractive, 45-year-old wife Amy was also well-inown and popular. But on the night of August 23, 2011, Amy and Joe Senser's successful lives would take a sudden and tragic turn.

     On the night that changed everything for the Senser family, Amy and her daughters were attending a Katy Perry concert at the Xcell Energy Center in St. Paul. Ninety minutes into the show, Amy developed a headache and decided to drive home. She called Joe who agreed to pick up the girls after the concert.

     According to Amy's version of what happened, while driving Joe's Mercedes-Benz SUV on I-94's Riverside exit off-ramp, a poorly lit section of the highway under construction, she felt a jolt and thought she'd hit a pothole or had bumped a construction barrel. In fact, the right front of her vehicle had hit and killed a man from Laos named Anousone Phantauong. The 38-year-old chef at a Thai restaurant was pouring gasoline into his car that had rolled to a stop on the shoulder of the exit ramp.

     After the collision, Amy got lost, and called her husband. At one point, in her confusion, she came full circle and got off the interstate using the same Riverside exit. This time the area was lit up with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles. She did not associate this activity with the earlier jolt she had felt from either a pothole, or a construction barrel.

     The next morning, according to Amy Senser's account, Joe called her outside and asked how the Mercedes' right headlight and fog light had gotten knocked out. By then, they both had seen TV reports of Phantauong's death, and the search for the hit and run driver. Realizing what had happened the previous night, the Sensers called their lawyer, and later that day, surrendered the damaged Mercedes to the police.

     In speaking to the police, Amy admitted that just before the Katy Perry concert, she had gone to a nearby restaurant where she had consumed less than a full glass of wine. She insisted, however, that she had not been intoxicated when her car hit and killed Mr. Phantauong. Investigators believed she had been drunk, and because of that, had not stopped after plowing into the victim. Detectives were convinced she wanted to sober up before reporting the fatal accident.

     In November 2011, the Hennepin County prosecutor, Deborah Russell, charged Amy Senser with three vehicular related felonies: driving in a grossly negligent manner; leaving the scene of an accident; and failure to promptly report an accident. If convicted of all three charges, the defendant could face up to 30 years in prison. Because she hadn't confessed, and no witness to the accident had come forward, the case against Amy Senser was entirely circumstantial. To find her guilty, the jury would have to infer her state of mind that night. If they believed her testimony, they would have to acquit her.

     To find the defendant guilty of reckless driving, the jury would also have to infer she had been intoxicated at the time of the accident. The fact she had clipped Mr. Phantauong, a man who had placed himself in harm's way by standing just off a poorly lit exit ramp, was not, by itself, enough to establish gross negligence on her part. If the jurors did not find that she was drunk, they would probably not find that the accident was a result of reckless driving.

     The highly anticipated, media intense Amy Senser trial commenced on April 23, 2012. In an effort to prove that the defendant had been driving drunk that night, prosecutor Russell put a motorist on the stand. Shortly after the accident, the witness saw, on I-94, a Mercedes SUV being driven in an erratic manner. The witness passed this vehicle when it slowed to 40 MPH, and when she looked into her rearview mirror, noticed that the car's right front lights were out.

     Defense attorney Eric Nelson put on only one witness, Amy Senser. The defendant denied she had been intoxicated when her car hit what she thought was a pothole or a construction barrel. As for her erratic driving on I-94, she had dropped her cellphone between the seat and the center console, and was trying to fish it out.

     On May 2, 2012, the jury of 7 men and 5 women, after a grueling deliberation period of 19 hours, found Amy Senser guilty of two of the three felonies. Jurors acquitted the defendant of the gross negligent charge. Amy, who faced up to 20 years on prison, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read.

     At a post-trial press conference, attorney Eric Nelson said he would appeal his client's conviction on the grounds she had met the requirements of the state accident notification law. One of the jurors who spoke to reporters said, "It was just a very challenging case for us to come to a consensus."

     On July 10, 2012, the judge sentenced Amy Senser to 41 months in prison.

     Corrections authorities, on April 24, 2014, released Amy Senser from the Shakopee Women's Prison after she had served all but six months of her prison stretch. On October 20, 2014, following the completion of a six-month work release program, Senser, having served her hit-and-run sentence, was free.

   
   

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Execution of Ex-Cop Manuel Pardo After 24 Years on Death Row

     In 1979, after having served four years in the Navy, 22-year-old Manuel Pardo graduated from the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) academy at the top of his class. Following his involvement in a Miami-Dade County ticket-fixing scandal in 1980, Pardo was kicked out of the FHP. Shortly after his discharge, Pardo secured a job with the police department in the small Miami-Dade County town of Sweetwater. In 1981, Pardo and four other officers faced numerous complains of police brutality, charges that were quickly dismissed by a local prosecutor.

     The following year, Officer Pardo, after saving a two-month-old boy's life by reviving him with CPR, was awarded a public service medal. Manuel Pardo, in the fall of 1983, graduated from a local community college with a two-year associates degree in criminal justice. Just when officer Pardo's future looked the most promising, his career in law enforcement came to an abrupt end when he committed perjury at the 1985 trial of a drug dealer.

     From January to April 1986, the ex-cop embarked on a deadly crime spree in the Miami area. Within a period of three months, in the course of robbing dozens of drug dealers, Pardo murdered six men and three women. He documented his execution-style killings by taking crime scene photographs of his victims, and writing up detailed accounts of the murders in his diary. Pardo also put together a scrapbook comprised of newspaper clippings of his crimes. It was during this period that Pardo collected Nazi memorabilia, and professed a deep respect for Adolph Hitler.

     Because Pardo used his murder victims' credit cards, homicide detectives in Miami-Dade County quickly identified him as the man behind the drug dealer robbery/murders. Pardo's killing spree came to an end with his arrest in 1987. Eager to take credit for, and even brag about his murders, Pardo confessed to nine homicides.

     At Pardo's 1988 trial, his defense attorneys raised the insanity defense which fell apart when the defendant took the strand on his own behalf. Jurors couldn't believe it when he told them that, "I'm ridding the community of this vermin and technically it is not murder because they are not human beings. I am a soldier, I accomplished my mission and I humbly ask you to give me the glory of ending my life and not let me spend the rest of my days in the state prison."

     The jury found Manuel Pardo guilty of nine counts of first-degree murder. The judge then granted the defendant's wish by sentencing him to death. Pardo became a death row inmate at the Florida state prison in the town of Starke.

     Instead of his life ending gloriously with a quick execution, Pardo, thanks to his anti-death penalty attorneys, languished on death row for 24 years. In filing their appeals in state and federal courts, Pardo's lawyers argued that because this killer had not been mentally competent, he should never have been tried in the first place. Over the years, the various appellate court judges rejected this argument and upheld Pardo's conviction and death sentence.

     In 2012, as Pardo's execution date approached, his attorneys, in a last ditch effort to save him, tried a new appellate approach. The state of Florida had recently altered the combination of drugs used by the executioner to dispatch condemned prisoners. The lawyers argued that if prison officials improperly mixed the lethal concoction, the anesthetic effect of the lethal dose might be compromised. If this happened, the execution might be painful, and therefore inhumane and in violation of Mr. Pardon's civil rights. A federal judge rejected the appeal. That meant that Pardo's execution would go forward as scheduled.

     At 7:45 in the evening of Tuesday, December 11, 2012, the executioner at the state prison in Starke, injected the 56-year-old Pardo with the lethal cocktail of drugs. Since the new combination did its job, we will never know if Mr. Pardo felt any pain. But one thing is sure, this sociopathic murderer did not die in glory.

     

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sandy Ford: The Murder-Suicide Pact That Killed Five

     In 2009, Chris and Mandy Hayes lived with their four children, ages seven, six, three, and two, in Sylvania Township, Ohio, a community of 20,000 ten miles northwest of Toledo not far from the Michigan state line. Because their 6-year-old son had "behavioral problems" and required extra attention, Mandy Hayes' parents, Sandy and Randy Ford, agreed to temporarily care for and house their other three children. The grandparents resided in west Toledo.

     In the fall of 2012, Chris and Mandy Hayes decided it was time to reunite the family under the same roof. Their troubled son had received a lot of help and was now on medication. This decision, however, did not sit well with Sandy Ford, the 56-year-old grandmother who did not want her three grandchildren leaving her home. Mother and daughter quarreled repeatedly over whether it was safe to return 10-year-old Paige, 6-year-old Logan, and 5-year-old Madalyn to their parents' home in Sylvania Township.

     On November 6, 2012, at 5:50 in the evening, officers with the Toledo Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call at the Ford residence. Mandy Hayes and her mother had gotten into a fight over the children that led to the grandmother being taken to the hospital for injuries to her shoulder and eye. According to the police report, Sandy Ford told officers that the "family crisis is continuing while the children are at the mother's home in Sylvania Township."

     The Hayes children were scheduled to move back into their parents' home on November 7, 2012, but when it was time for the switch, the police were summoned when another fight broke out between the children's mother and grandmother. The next day, under police escort, the three children were transferred back to the family home in Sylvania Township. This did not, however, end the domestic feud.

     On November 8, the day she lost physical custody of her three grandchildren, Sandy Ford and her 32-year-old live-in son Andy, began preparing for mass murder and suicide. Early on Monday morning, November 12, 2012, Sandy and her adult son boarded up the doors and windows to the Ford's unattached, double garage. Later that morning, at twenty after eight, Mandy Hayes delivered her three children to Whiteford Elementary. Sandy Ford, who had been waiting for them in the school lobby, intercepted the children and escorted them out of the building and into her car. Sandy transported her grandchildren from Sylvlania Township to her home in west Toledo.

     The grandmother drove her blue Honda Civic into the garage next to the family pickup. She (or Andy) unplugged the overhead garage door operating system, and threw the manual locking latch. The children, carrying snacks and coloring books, and accompanied by two dogs and a cat, climbed into the back seat of the car. Sandy, or her son, ran a hose from the pickup truck's exhaust into the Honda via a back seat window. After someone started the pickup, Andy and his mother joined the children and the pets in the back seat of the Honda.

     That morning, at ten o'clock, officials from the Whiteford Elementary School in Sylvania Township called Mandy Hayes to report that her children were not in class. At the mother's request, a police officer drove to the Ford residence in west Toledo. He knocked on the door, and when no one answered, he left the scene. (The officer must not have heard the truck running in the unattached garage.) The police returned to the Ford home several times that morning and early afternoon, but did not enter the dwelling.

     Randy Ford, the 60-year-old grandfather, spoke to a police officer stationed outside the house when he arrived home from work at 2:30 that afternoon. Mr. Ford entered the dwelling, and inside found "suspicious" notes from his wife and the grandchildren that suggested murder-suicide.

     At 3:30 that afternoon, a member of the fire department broke into the garage with a sledgehammer. The emergency responder discovered Sandy Ford, Andy Ford, and the three Hayes children. They had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The pets were dead as well.

     On November 15, Mandy Hayes told a local television correspondent that "I don't know what happened. They [her mother and brother] weren't in their right minds. That's all I can say. Something snapped...I just can't explain it, really." To the same TV reporter, the children's father said, "I think she [Sandy Ford] really did not want those kids to ever come home, is what the deal was there. She felt she was their mother." 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Sierra "CeCe" Sims Kidnapping Hoax

     High school basketball standout Sierra "CeCe" Sims, in August 2008, arrived at Alabama's Auburn University with a full athletic scholarship. As a high school player in Brentwood, Tennessee, CeCe had led her team to three regional titles. The five-foot-seven inch point guard, a former Teen pageant contestant, also played the guitar. (Her father, Tommy Sims co-wrote the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit, "Change the World.")

     The 18-year-old college freshman, once a member of the Auburn Tiger's women's basketball team, a powerhouse in the Southeastern Conference, had to deal with being away from home, academic life on the university level, and living up to expectations on the basketball court.

     Shortly after arriving at the university, CeCe began drinking heavily every night. In late September 2008 she called her mother Kathie and said she wanted to come home. Kathie told her distraught daughter to talk to coach Nell Fortner. Taking her mother's advice, CeCe called the coach. When CeCe hung up the phone after their chat, the coach felt that everything would be fine for the freshman prospect.

     The next morning, when CeCe failed to show up for the six o'clock practice, Fortner became concerned. When the coach made inquiries regarding CeCe's whereabouts, her roommate said at 2:30 that morning she had stormed out of the dormitory and rode off into the night on her bicycle. None of her acquaintances had seen her since.

     Not long after campus searchers couldn't find CeCe, university officials asked the authorities to issue an Amber Alert. Eighteen hours later, a parol officer looking for the missing student almost hit CeCe with his patrol car. When the officer approached the girl, she said, "I'm CeCe Sims."

     Questioned at the local police department, CeCe told detectives she had been kidnapped by a man and a woman who pulled up alongside her in a pickup truck. After being dragged into the vehicle, the abductors forced her to drink alcohol and take pills. As a result of being drugged, she couldn't recall in detail what had happened to her.

     Under close questioning by detectives, CeCe's story didn't hold up. In an effort to get the student to reveal where she had been since leaving the dorm at 2:30 the previous morning, officers threatened her with the possibility of being charged with a crime. Notwithstanding that threat, she stuck to her highly implausible story.    

     The police did not open a kidnapping investigation, and CeCe was not charged with false reporting. She dropped out of school and returned home to Brentwood, Tennessee.

     In 2014, CeCe Sims, now 23, posted a video on the Internet acknowledging that she had indeed made up the kidnapping story in September of 2008. When she left the dormitory that night she had ridden her bike to a nearby Walmart where she hid for almost eighteen hours.

     According to CeCe Sims, the pressure at Auburn had been too much for her. "I didn't want to disappoint my parents," she said, "so I thought, what better way to say I was kidnapped? That way I wouldn't have to quit and be known as a quitter."

     When the story broke regarding CeCe and the kidnapping hoax, former Auburn coach Nell Fortner described to an ABC reporter the pressure student/athletes are under at schools like Auburn. "Your schedule might take you to the Bahamas or to Hawaii. They are going to get a great education….But they pay heavily for that because working out is tough. They are up at five in the morning, and they don't get to bed until eleven at night."

     Following the scandal, Sierra CeCe Sims moved in with her parents while she pursued a career in the music business. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Debra Milke Murder-For-Hire Case

     In December 1989, 25-year-old Debra Milke lived in Phoenix, Arizona with her 4-year-old son Christopher and James Styers. Milke rented a room in Styers' house. A few days before Christmas, Milke asked Styers to drive Christopher to the mall so he could visit Santa Claus. Instead of taking the boy to the shopping mall, Styers and a friend drove him to a secluded ravine outside of town where Styers shot the boy three times in the head. Detectives and prosecutors believed that Debra Milke had arranged the murder of her son for a $50,000 insurance payout. (The insurance policy, part of her employment package, amounted to $5,000.)

     Styers confessed to the homicide and was convicted of first degree-murder. At his trial, neither he nor his friend implicated Milke in the alleged murder-for-hire plot. No other witnesses came forward with incriminating evidence against the mother.

     Evidence that Debra Milke had plotted the murder came from a Phoenix detective named Armando Saldate. According to the detective, Milke told him that her role in the conspiracy to murder her son had been "a bad judgment call." Milke's interrogation had not been recorded and Saldate was the only officer involved in her questioning. Milke proclaimed her innocence from the beginning and denied making any kind of confession to Detective Saldate or anyone else. A local prosecutor, relying on the detective's credibility, charged Milke with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, child abuse, and kidnapping.

     Detective Saldate, at Milke's October 1990 murder trial, testified that the mother had confessed to him regarding her role in her son's homicide. The defendant took the stand, professed her innocence, and called the detective a liar. As is often the case, jurors believed the police officer over the defendant. The jury returned a guilty verdict. A few months later, the judge sentenced Debra Milke to death.

     As it turned out, Detective Armando Saldate was in fact a notorious liar. Prior to his interrogation of Milke he had been caught committing perjury in four criminal trials. His credibility was so comprised judges refused to accept into evidence confessions this detective had acquired.

     On March 14, 2013, Chief Federal Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned Milke's conviction and vacated her sentence. The 49-year-old had been on Arizona's death row for 22 years. Based on Detective Saldate's history of perjury and other incidents of police misconduct, Judge Kozinski ruled that Milke's confession should have been excluded from her trial. Without this dishonest detective's tainted testimony, the prosecution had no case. In rationalizing his decision, Judge Kozinski wrote: "No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone's life or liberty."

     On September 6, 2013, Judge Rosa Mroz of the Maricopa County Superior Court set the 49-year-old prisoner free on $250,000 bond. County prosecutors said they planned to bring Milke back to trial by the end of that month. Once again, the prosecution would seek the death penalty. The defendant's attorneys petitioned the Arizona Court of Appeals to throw out the first-degree murder charge.

     On December 12, 2014, a three-judge panel on the state appeals court ruled that a retrial in the Milke case would amount to double jeopardy. According to the court, "The failure to disclose evidence calls into question the integrity of the system and was highly prejudicial to this defendant." The appellate court ordered the dismissal of all charges against Debra Milke.

    

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Sherri Lynn Wilkins Vehicular Murder Case: Fatal Hypocrisy

     Nobody likes a hypocrite. We are particularly offended (and intrigued) when people we generally admire such as physicians, professors, clergymen, law enforcement officers, generals, teachers, certain celebrities, and counselors commit crimes or behave badly. However, because of low expectations, we are less shocked when politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers, and Wall Street types break the law or act like jerks. In terms of what we expect from people, there are different standards of behavior. For example, in murder-for-hire cases, the upper-middle class mastermind is almost always considered more immoral, and criminally culpable, than the lower-class hitman. This is true even when the contract killer has murdered a complete stranger simply for the money.

     Years ago, when the head mistress of an elite New England girl's school shot and killed her lover in a fit of jealousy, this otherwise ordinary criminal homicide became a celebrated case. Ministers have gone to prison to having their wives killed, and FBI agents have been convicted of first-degree murder. On a smaller criminological scale, the public is shocked when female public school teachers are caught having affairs with their male students. I remember a case involving a high-profile gun control advocate who shot an intruder with an unregistered firearm. These cases attract media attention because they feature hypocrisy.

     In October 2012, Colin McGrattan, an anger management counselor in Stockton, California, murdered his ex-wife, her sister, and the victim's aunt before killing himself. McGrattan had recently lost a legal dispute with his former spouse. Unable to control his anger, he killed three people and himself. On matters of anger management, this man obviously wasn't able to take his own advice.

     Even though we have low expectations for politicians and bureaucrats, cases occasionally pop up that are egregious enough to, if not shock us, grab our attention. In 2007, Sheila Burgess, a Massachusetts political fund-raiser for democrat candidates, collected her reward when Governor Deval Patrick appointed her to the position of State Highway Safety Director. Since this was a political appointment, it's not surprising that Burgess didn't have experience in the fields of public safety, transportation, or public administration.

     On August 24, 2012, Burgess, while driving her state-issued vehicle on a sunny, Sunday afternoon near Milton, Massachusetts, drove off the road, wrecked the car, and injured herself in the head. Although she told the police she had swerved off the highway to avoid an oncoming vehicle, she may have been texting.

     The Highway Safety Director's traffic accident prompted a newspaper inquiry into Burgess' driving history. On November 18, 2012, the day after the paper revealed that Sheila Burgess had a record of 34  traffic violations, the governor removed her from office. (Because she's a government employee, full dismissal was out of the question.) Instead of firing this woman, the governor assigned Burgess to a "different role" within the same department. As director of the agency, Burgess' annual salary had been $87,000.

Sherri Lynn Wilkins

     In the fall of 2010, 50-year-old Sherri Lynn Wilkins began counseling substance abusers at the Twin Town Treatment Center in Torrance, California. In charge of the evening group sessions, she counseled up to 50 drug and alcohol abusers at a time. It was her job to help these people either get sober or stay off drugs. While Wilkins had earned a degree in drug counseling from Loyola Marymount University, it was her background as an alcoholic and heroin addict that in the bizarre world of substance abuse counseling that qualified her for the position. While giving her street credibility, the fact she "had been there" also meant she might relapse, an event that, in my opinion, would not be in the best interests of the people she was being paid to help. (I've often wondered if it might be a better idea to employ counselors who have managed to get through life without getting hooked on drugs or booze. Maybe this would give them a different kind of credibility. But I don't know the first thing about counseling, and the only thing I'm hooked on is coffee and sugar.)

     Sherri Lynn Watkin's background, before she began her counseling career, is as follows: In 1992, a Los Angeles County judge sentenced her to 16 months in jail for petty theft. Two years later, another judge sent her away for nine years for burglary. All of her crimes were related to her substance addiction. In May 2010, the Los Angeles police arrested Wilkins for hit and run in Torrance. Because she had not been driving under the influence, the case against her was dropped. But in July 2010, the authorities in Los Angeles charged Wilkins with leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence of a controlled substance. For some reason this case was also dismissed.

     At eleven-thirty on the night of November 24, 2012, Sherri Wilkins, while speeding west on Torrance Boulevard, slammed into 31-year-old Phillip Moreno who was crossing the street near his home. The impact knocked Moreno out of his shoes and threw him up on the hood of Wilkins' car. Wilkins continued driving with the dying man lying on her hood, his body lodged into her windshield.

     At a traffic light two miles from where Moreno had been struck and thrown up onto the car, several motorists swarmed Wilkins' vehicle and grabbed her ignition key. An ambulance rushed Mr. Moreno to a local hospital where, a few hours later, he died. Los Angeles police officers took the substance abuse counselor into custody. Watkins' blood-alcohol content registered twice the legal limit for driving.

     On November 27, a Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Sherri Wilkins with vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence. She was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail under $2.25 million bond.

     In April 2014, a jury in Terrance found Sherri Wilkins guilty of second-degree murder as well as several lesser offenses including hit-and-run. Two months later, Superior Court Judge Henry Hall sentenced the 54-year-old to 55 years to life in prison. The judge said, "Ms. Wilkins demonstrated an extraordinary callousness in fleeing the scene and trying to shake Mr. Moreno's body off her car. Ms. Wilkins is not what we normally see. She's not a classic violent criminal. But you have to evaluate her history. (According to her own testimony, Wilkins' drug addiction started after she was involved in a traffic accident at the age of fifteen. Her back had been broken, and she suffered shattered bones in her ankles and legs. She began medicating herself with heroin because it was "cheaper than going to the doctor.") In justifying the stiff sentence, Judge Hall added, "She had an insatiable desire to become intoxicated."

     Wilkins' attorney, Deputy Public Defender Nan Whitfield, said she would appeal the sentence. To reporters outside the courthouse, Whitfield said, "Nobody likes a drunk driver. Because she was a drug and alcohol counselor, she's held to a higher standard."

     


Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Killed the Barajas Children and Murdered Jose Banda?

     On the night of December 7, 2012, the pickup truck carrying the Barajas family--David and Cindy and their four children--ran out of gas on a dark, narrow country road near Alvin, Texas thirty miles southeast of Houston. Because they were 100 yards or so from their home, Mr. Barajas asked his boys, David who was 12, and 11-year-old Caleb, to push the truck the rest of the way. At eleven o'clock, when they were within 50 yards of their house, another vehicle plowed into the back of the pickup. The crash killed David instantly, and seriously injured his brother who died later that night in the hospital. Mr. Barajas suffered minor injuries. His wife Cindy and their two daughters were not hurt in the accident.

     Deputies with the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, when they looked inside the vehicle that slammed into the Barajas pickup, found 20-year-old Jose Banda. Having been shot once in the head, Banda was breathing but unresponsive. (I don't know if he had been shot from the passenger's or driver's side of the car.) The officers found him slumped over in the front passenger's seat. He died in the hospital a few hours later. Deputies searched both vehicles and the area surround the accident without finding a gun. There were indications that Mr. Banda had been drinking, a fact that has not yet been confirmed through an analysis of his blood.

     While the county coroner ruled Jose Banda's death a homicide, the person who shot him is a mystery. If David Barajas or his wife had shot Banda for killing their two boys, where was the gun? Could someone besides Banda have been behind the wheel of vehicle that crashed into the pickup? Could that person have shot Banda and fled the scene with the murder weapon before being spotted by members of the Barajas family? This would explain why the deputies did not find the murder weapon.

     In speaking to a reporter, Brazoria sheriff's deputy Dominick Sanders said, "We are not sure if Banda was shot before or after the wreck." (If shot before the wreck, the murder might have caused the accident. If this is what happened, was the shooter inside the car or along the road?)

     Deputy Sander did not say if David Barajas and his wife had been subjected to gunshot residue tests to determine if they had recently discharged a firearm. Moreover, the sheriff's office did not indicate if Banda had been shot at close range, or if a shell-casing has been recovered from the scene. (If the area around Banda's entrance bullet wound featured gunpowder staining, he had been shot from a distance no farther than eighteen inches. The more powder staining, the closer the range.)

     A week after the fatal accident and criminal homicide, the deceased boys' parents, in hiding following Facebook threats, had not been questioned by the police. (This was not good investigative technique.) According to the boys' uncle, Gabriel Barajas, his brother remembered the accident in a "blur."

    Tests revealed that Jose Banda had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of his death. Forensic gunshot residue tests showed that Mr. Barajas had not fired a gun that night.

     On February 10, 2013, notwithstanding a lack of evidence in the case, a Brazoria County grand jury indicted David Barajas, Jr. for murder of Jose Banda. If found guilty, Barajas faced up to life in prison. Upon his arrest Mr. Barajas maintained his innocence.

     On August 27, 2014, after a one-week trial, the jury found David Barajas not guilty. Without a murder weapon, an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecutor simply did not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the community supported and had sympathy for the defendant from the start.
     

Friday, January 8, 2016

Score One For The Devil: The Arkansas Church Murder Case

     Every once in awhile you hear of a homicide that reminds you that regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, you can be murdered. It's a sobering thought, but it's true. There are people among us, ordinary-looking people, pushing carts at Walmart, driving around in SUVs, watching their kids play soccer, sitting in movie theaters, and eating in restaurants, that for little or no reason, will take your life. As Charles Lindbergh said after the kidnapping and murder of his son in 1932, life is like war.

     On Sunday morning, June 6, 2010, Patrick Bourassa, a 34-year-old drifter with a shaved head, an ordinary face, and a tattoo featuring three skulls and a flaming dragon, was driving in eastern Arkansas on Highway 64. Slightly tall, thin, and clean-cut, Bourassa, if placed in a group of men his age, wouldn't stand out. Originally from Danielson, Connecticut, he had recently worked in a Dotham, Alabama barbecue restaurant, and had tended bar in Phoenix, Arizona and Wichita, Kansas.

     At eight-thirty that Sunday morning, as Bourassa drove west toward the small town of Hamlin, Arkansas, 80-year-old Lillian Wilson was alone inside the Central Methodist Church. She had gone there to pick-up donation baskets that had been used to collect money for victims of a recent storm. As Bourassa approached the town, his car broke down. Leaving the vehicle along the highway, he walked to the church, and forced his way into the building.

     About an  hour after Bourassa broke into the Methodist Church, he pulled into a nearby Citgo station driving Lillian Wilson's car. A few miles down the highway from the gas station, he used Wilson's credit card to buy food at a Sonic convenience store.

     As Patrick Bourassa drove west through Arkansas, the pastor of the Central Methodist Church discovered Lillian Wilson's body lying on the floor between two pews. She had been bludgeoned to death with a heavy brass cross.

     On Thursday of that week, police arrested Bourassa in Bremerton, Washington on Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle. He still possessed Lillian Wilson's car, and admitted to the arresting officers that he had murdered the old woman in the Arkansas church.

     On June 16, 2010, after waiving extradition, Bourassa and his attorney stood before a judge in Wynne, Arkansas. Advised that he had been charged with capital murder and several lesser charges, Bourassa pleaded not guilty. He awaited trial without bail in the Cross County Jail.

     On Monday, April 2, 2012, in Wynne, Arkansas, the jury selection phase of Bourassa's capital murder trial got underway. A week later, the prosecutor showed the jury a video-tape of the defendant re-enacting how he had picked the brass cross off the communion table and used it to beat Lillian Wilson to death. In response to why he had killed an old woman he didn't know, Bourassa said it was because he became enraged when she told him that God loved him and would forgive him.

     Bourassa's attorneys did not dispute the fact their client had killed Lillian Wilson. It was their mission to convince the jury to find Bourassa guilty of a lesser homicide charge in order to save him from execution. To get that result, the defense put two expert witnesses on the stand. A psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist testified that Bourassa was genetically predisposed to violence. These mental health practitioners told the jury that the defendant had suffered childhood abuse, and was bipolar. Moreover, he had a personality disorder. (No kidding.) Because these experts were not saying that Bourassa was not guilty by virtue of legal insanity, the relevance of this testimony was not clear. Surely they were not trying to make the jurors feel sorry for this man.

     On April 13, 2012, after four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourassa guilty of capital murder as well of the the lesser charges. The defendant, at the reading of the verdict, showed no emotion. Having found Patrick Bourassa guilty, the jury had to either sentence him to life in prison or death. The next day, after deliberating two hours, the jury sentenced Bourassa to life without parole. The jurors had spared this killer's life because they didn't think Lillian Wilson, the woman he had murdered, would approve of the death sentence. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Nuzzio Begaren Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the southern California city of Santa Ana, Nuzzio Begaren married a 36-year-old state corrections officer named Elizabeth. The 40-year-old groom had a daughter from a previous marriage who was ten. Three days after the wedding, Nuzzio bought a $1 million insurance policy on his new wife's life. This meant that Elizabeth Begaren stood between her husband and a million dollars. Buying the life insurance had been the first step on Nuzzio's path to wealth. Getting someone to murder his wife comprised step two.

     Finding someone to kill his wife was the easy part of Nuzzio's murder-for-hire scheme. He simply offered $4,800 in cash to friends who belonged to a Los Angeles criminal gang. On the night of January 17, 1998, the murder-for-hire mastermind took Elizabeth and his daughter shopping at a mall in Burbank. While shopping in Macy's, he gave Elizabeth the cash to hold for him. She placed the money into her purse, unaware she was carrying the pay-off for her own demise.

     As Nuzzio, Elizabeth, and his daughter drove home in the blue Kia Sportage, they were followed by a Buick Regal driven by 24-year-old Guillermo Espinoza. Three other gang members were in the vehicle. At eleven o'clock, as Nuzzio pulled onto the off-ramp of the 91 Freeway in Anaheim, the Buick pulled up alongside Nuzzio and ran him off the road. Three of the LA gangsters got out of the Buick, and as Nuzzio climbed into the back seat of the Kia to be with his daughter, Elizabeth made a run for it as the hit men approached.

     The hit men quickly caught up with Nuzzio's terrified wife. In begging for her life, she pulled out her correction officer's badge. That's when Guillermo Espinoza shot her in the head and chest. The shooter grabbed the dead woman's handbag, returned to the Buick with the other two men, and drove off.

     Nuzzio Begaren told officers with the Anaheim Police Department that the men behind his wife's cold-blooded murder had targeted his family at the shopping mall and followed them home. "There was no reason for someone to follow us," he said. "We have no enemies." Nuzzio described the gangsters' car as a dark blue, late 1970s Oldsmobile. He gave detectives a license number that didn't check out. Nuzzio described the four men in the Oldsmobile as a pair of blacks, and two men who were either white or Latino. "When they saw the badge," he said, "they shot her. She was dying, lying face down in the blood, with her badge in her hand." Nuzzio described his dearly departed wife as someone who had been "full of joy."

     Detectives believed that Nuzzio was full of something else. But the investigation went nowhere, and the case eventually died on the vine. It looked as though Nuzzio Begaren had gotten away with murder.

     In February 2012, police officers arrested the 55-year-old Begaren in Rancho Cucamonga, California. An Orange County grand jury had indicted him for soliciting the murder of his wife. Guillermo Espinoza had been indicted as well, but his whereabouts were unknown. (In 2011, when he learned that cold case detectives had reopened the case, Espinosa went underground.)

     Begaren went on trial on August 21, 2013 in a Santa Ana court for conspiracy to murder his wife for financial gain. (Guillermo Espinoza was still at large.) Orange County prosecutor Larry Yellin, in his opening statement to the jury, told of a piece of torn-up paper found near the murder scene that bore the victim's handwriting. Elizabeth had scribbled "light blue" and had written down the license number of the car that had been following them. The plate number belonged to a light blue Buick Regal, the vehicle driven that night by Guillermo Espinosa.

     Prosecutor Yellin informed the jurors that gang members Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval, both of whom had been in the Buick that night, were going to testify for the prosecution. According to these men, the defendant had arranged his wife's murder for the insurance money. The murder-for-hire mastermind had wanted the killing to look like a highway robbery turned fatal.

     Defense attorney Sal Ciula told the jury that Rudy Duran had been pressured into cooperating with the authorities. According to the defense attorney, if Duran worked with the prosecution, "he would become a witness instead of a defendant. He [Duran] made the obvious choice."

     The heart of the prosecution's case involved the $1 million life insurance police and the testimony of the alleged hit men, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval. The essence of the Bergaren's defense involved attacking the credibility of the two key prosecution witnesses.

     On September 6, 2013, the jury, after deliberating three days, found the defendant guilty of hiring Espinoza and Sandoval to murder his wife. On October 4, 2013, the judge could put him away for 25 years to life.

     In October 2013, Rudy Duran and Jose Luis Sandoval pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Both men were sentenced to time served and were released from jail. Guillermo Espinoza, as of January 2016, was still at large.


        

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Yale Professor Samuel See's Jailhouse Death

     Samuel Ryan See grew up in California's Central Valley where he attended California State University in his hometown of Bakersfield. After acquiring his Bachelors of Arts degree, See earned a Ph.D from the University of California, Los Angeles.

     In May 2013, the 34-year-old assistant professor of English and American Studies at Yale University married Sunder Ganglani, a former student at the Yale School of Drama. The two men took up residence in a house in New Haven, Connecticut. 
     Professor See's academic focus, as described on his Facebook page, included "British and American Modernist Literature and Sexuality Studies." In addition to writing about sexual orientation in modern literature, See moonlighted, under the alias Ryan Cochran, as a male escort. In one of Ryan Cochran's Internet profiles, See described himself as loving sex and being with men. "I can get into all kinds of sexual and social situations--just name your pleasure. I'm down to earth, humble [really?], personally generous, and horny a lot of the time." Professor See was, in other words, a male prostitute.
     Dr. See, on leave from Yale University during the fall semester 2013, was not getting along with his 32-year-old husband. On September 18, 2013, officers with the New Haven Police Department, after responding to a domestic call at See's residence, arrested See and Sunder Ganglani for breaching the peace and third-degree assault. 
     After a judge issued orders of protection requiring that the two men stay away from each other, Ganglani moved to New York City. 
     At five in the evening of Saturday, November 23, 2013, Ganglani, in violation of his protection order, showed up at the New Haven house to retrieve some of his possessions. Two hours later the estranged couple were engaged in a heated argument. The fight became so intense a third man in the house called the police. 
     When the responding officers couldn't calm down the combatants, they placed both men under arrest for violating their protection orders. This infuriated See who couldn't believe he was being arrested in his own home. The situation escalated when See fought against being handcuffed. In the scuffle with officers, Professor See fell and sustained a cut above his right eye. 
     While being escorted in handcuffs to the police vehicle, See, in addressing the arresting officer, said,  "I will kill you. I will destroy you."
     Following his treatment at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, police officers booked See into the police department jail on the additional charges of interfering with police and second-degree threatening. He was placed into a cell at nine-fifteen that night.
     At six o'clock the next morning, when a guard checked on Professor See, he found the prisoner unresponsive. The officer called for paramedic help then tried to revive Dr. See with CPR. Fifteen minutes later, emergency service responders pronounced the inmate dead.

     The forensic pathologist who performed Dr. See's autopsy ruled out trauma as the cause of death. (From this I assume the professor did not hang himself or cut his wrists. And he wasn't attacked by another prisoner.)

     In January 2014, Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill announced that professor See had died of a heart attack brought on by methamphetamine and amphetamine intoxication. The manner of death went into the books as accidental.

     In September 2014, a See family lawyer, after reviewing police and hospital records, told reporters that Mr. See may have died of either neglect or mistreatment at the jail. Attorney David Rosen pointed out that Professor See's death had not been reported to the police for three days after his passing. Although the family was considering filing a wrongful death suit against the authorities, the lawyer conceded that there probably wasn't enough evidence of official negligence or wrongdoing to support such an action. 
     

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Cyanide Poisoning of Urooj Khan: Murder, Suicide or Accident?

     Urooj Khan immigrated to the U. S. from India when he was twenty-three. He worked hard, saved his money, and by 2012, the 46-year-old owned three dry cleaning shops on Chicago's North Side where he lived with his wife Shabana Ansari and his 17-year-old stepdaughter, Jasmeen. Mr. Khan also owned five condos worth $250,000.

     In June 2012, after returning from his hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia where Mr Khan promised himself he would live a better life--and quit buying lottery tickets--he paid $60 at a 7-Eleven store near his house for two instant scratch-off cards. After scratching off the second ticket, Mr. Khan yelled, "I hit a million!"

     On June 26, 2012, at the Illinois Lottery Ceremony, Mr. Khan, with is wife, stepdaughter, and a few friends looking on, accepted the oversized mock check for $425,000. (After opting for the lump sum payment, that sum was left after taxes.) Khan said he'd donate some money to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Chicago, and use the rest of his winnings to pay bills and grow his business.

     On July 20, 2012, the day after the Illinois Comptroller's Office issued Mr. Khan his $425,000 check, and before he had an opportunity to cash it, the lottery winner had dinner in his modest West Roger's Park neighborhood home with his wife Shabana Ansari and Jasmeen. After dinner, Mr. Khan said he didn't feel well and went to bed. A short time later, he screamed that he was suffocating. Ambulance personnel rushed Mr. Khan to a nearby hospital where doctors pronounced him dead.

     After a routine toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood for narcotics, alcohol, and carbon monoxide poisoning (his skin had turned pink), the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office determined his cause of his death to be heart disease. The manner of Mr. Khan's death went into the books as natural. Pursuant to an internal medical examiner's office rule that dead people over the age of 45 who do not show signs of trauma are not autopsied, Mr. Khan was buried without a post-mortem examination. (The age limit has been since raised to 50.)

     On August 15, 2012, Mr. Khan's widow cashed the $425,000 lottery check.

     Five months after Urooj Khan's sudden and unexpected passing, one of his relatives called the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office. According to this unidentified family member, Mr. Khan had been poisoned to death.

     Acting on what must have been a credible tip, Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina ordered further toxicological testing of Mr. Khan's blood. This led to a rather shocking discovery: Mr. Khan had died from a lethal dose of cyanide. As a result of this finding, the medical examiner's office changed Mr. Khan's cause of death to cyanide poisoning. His manner of death, however, still had to be determined through a homicide investigation conducted by detectives with the Chicago Police Department. (According to reports, investigators questioned Mr. Khan's widow for four hours.)

     Cyanide is an extremely toxic white powder that has a variety of industrial applications. It can also be found in some pesticides and in rat poison. Small doses of cyanide either swallowed, inhaled (gas chambers used it), or injected, denies the body's blood cells oxygen. Death from this poison, a form of asphyxia called histoxic hypoxia, while agonizing, is quick. To disguise its bitter taste, a cyanide poisoner would be wise to mix a small amount into a plate of spicy food.

     Poisoning, as a mode of criminal homicide, was popular in the 19th Century before the dawn of pharmacology. Because there was no way to scientifically identify abnormal quantities of toxic substances in the body, no one knows how many wives, prior to 1900, poisoned their husbands to death. (In the era before forensic toxicology, homicide cops called cyanide "inheritance powder.")

    In modern times, murder and suicide cases involving cyanide and other poisons are rare. In June 2012, the month Mr. Khan won his lottery money, millionaire Michael Markin, moments after a jury found him guilty of arson, swallowed a cyanide pill. Minutes later he died while sitting at the defense table. Markin's death was so unusual it received nationwide publicity.

     On January 8, 2013, the day Medical Examiner Stephen Cina announced the planned exhumation of Urooj Khan's remains, his wife, Shaban Ansari, told an Associated Press reporter that she wasn't the relative who had requested the more sophisticated toxicological test. She said she had no idea who that person was, and that she "...didn't think anyone had a bad eye for [her husband], or that he had an enemy." The widow refused to provide details of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Khan's death. She said talking about his passing was too painful.

     In late January 2013, information surfaced that after Mr. Khan won the lottery, his 32-year-old wife and his siblings, a daughter from a previous marriage and his stepdaughter Jasmeen, began fighting over the money. According to Mr. Khan's brother Imtiaz and his sister Meraj, after his death, Shabana Ansari tried to cash the lottery check to avoid giving Khan's daughter her fair share. In November 2012, homicide detectives had searched the West Roger's Park home for traces of the cyanide. The five month period between Mr. Khan's death and the criminal investigation made solving the case difficult.

     In early February 2013, the authorities exhumed Urooj Khan's 5-foot-5, 198-pound body from a Chicago cemetery and transported it to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. Forensic pathologists collected samples of his hair, fingernails, stomach contents, and tissue from his major organs for tests to determine if he had been poisoned to death. Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina told reporters that given the length of time Mr. Khan's body had been in the ground, he was not certain that toxicological tests would produce positive results. According to Dr. Cina, "cyanide over the postmortem period can evaporate from the tissues." Dr. Cina said he remained convinced, however, that Mr. Khan had been the victim of a criminal homicide.

     A few weeks after the exhumation, Dr. Cina, at a press conference, said that while earlier toxicological tests revealed a lethal dose of cyanide in Mr. Khan's blood, the poison was not detected in his tissues or digestive system. "In this case," the forensic pathologist said, "due to advanced putrefaction of the tissues, no cyanide was detected."

     The fact Mr. Khan had died without a will led to a bitter dispute between his widow and his stepdaughter Jasmeen over his estate. In December, pursuant to a court settlement, the probate judge awarded Shabana the three dry cleaning shops, the five condos, and two-thirds of the lottery winnings. Jasmeen got a third of the lottery payoff.

     As of January 2016, no one regarding Mr. Khan's death had been charged with a crime.

      

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Lawrence Capener Knife Attack

     On Sunday morning, April 28, 2013, all hell broke loose inside St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mass had just ended and the choir had begun its final hymn when a 24-year-old man who had been nervous acting and fidgety throughout the service vaulted over several pews toward the front of the church. Lawrence Capener, the crazed churchgoer, possessed a knife which he used to stab the choir director several times.

     Gerald Madrid, the church flutist, came to Adam Alvarez's rescue by attempting to put Lawrence Capener into a bear hug. During the scuffle, Capener, before collapsing to the church floor under the weight of other churchgoers who mobbed him, stabbed the flutist five times in the back. Daren De Aquero, an off-duty Albuquerque police officer, put the subdued assailant into handcuffs.

     Greg Aragon, an off-duty Albuquerque Fire Department Lieutenant, treated the choir director, the man who came to his aid, and a female member of the choir who had been slashed by Capener's knife. None of the victims incurred life-threatening injuries.

     As Capener was led out of the church, an elderly parishioner spoke to him. She said, "God bless you, forgive yourself."

     "You don't know about the Masons," the attacker replied.

     Later that Sunday, a local prosecutor charged Lawrence Capener with three counts of aggravated battery. A magistrate set his bail at $250,000.

     After detectives advised Capener of his Miranda rights, the subject informed his interrogators that he was "99 percent sure" that the choir director was a Mason involved in a conspiracy "that is far more reaching than I could or would believe." He apologized for stabbing the flutist and the woman in the choir.

     While Capener does not belong to the 3,000-member church, his mother was an active parishioner. He had recently graduated from a community college, and had started a new job. According to people who know him, Capener struggled with mental illness.

     In February 2014, Carpener's attorney petitioned the court to lower his client's bail so he could live at home under the supervision of a GPS device. The judge, after hearing from Carpener's victims, denied the request. The trial was scheduled for September 2014.

     On September 29, 2014, pursuant to a plea bargain deal, a judge sentenced Lawrence Capener to five years in prison.