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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Kleber Cordova Bathtub Murder Case

     On May 9, 2008, at 7:30 in the morning, 29-year-old Kleber Cordova called 911 and reported that his wife had accidentally hit her head on their bathtub faucet and slipped, unconscious, under the water. He said he had tried but failed to lift his 4 foot 10 inch, 125 pound wife out of the tub.

     First responders to the Morristown, New Jersey home found a nude Eliana Torres submerged on her back with her face directly under the spout. Given cardiopulmonary resuscitation and rushed to the Morristown Memorial Hospital, the 26-year-old woman died five days later without regaining consciousness.

     Kleber Cordova and Eliana Torres had a one-year-old son and an eight-year-old daughter who attended second grade at the Normandy Elementary School. Cordova, his wife, and their eight-year-old girl had been born in Ecuador and were in the United States illegally. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, on the day of the bathtub "accident," rushed to the Morristown hospital from her home in Danbury, Connecticut.

     Cordova, when questioned by the police at the  hospital a few hours after his 911 call, said he had arrived home from his night job to find his wife lying face-up in the bathtub with water from the spout pouring directly into her mouth. After failing to remove her from the tub, Cordova had called for help. The next day, aware that his wife was still alive and could possibly regain consciousness, Cordova asked to speak with detectives.

     In a video-taped statement given in Spanish through an interpreter, Cordova changed his story. During the week prior to the bathtub incident, he and Eliana had been arguing. She had informed Kleber that she had a boyfriend and planned to leave him. That morning, after she asked him for a divorce, he want "crazy" and held his wife's head under the water for about three minutes. To make the drowning look like an accident, Cordova removed her wet clothing and hid the garments in his car. (The interrogators had not warned Cordova of his Miranda rights, but since he had initiated contact with them, the judge, in a preliminary hearing, ruled the confession admissible.)

     Charged with the murder of his wife, Cordova was placed in the Morris County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

     On March 23, 2009, Morris County prosecutor John McNamera offered Cordova a deal. If he pleaded guilty to murder, the judge would sentence him to 30 years in prison. If tried and found guilty, he could receive up to 75 years in prison. Cordova rejected the offer. He would take his chances with a jury.

     The Cordova murder trial began in early March, 2012 at the Morris County Superior Court in Morristown, New Jersey. Assistant prosecutor Brian DiGiamaco did not show the jury Cordova's video-taped confession because a judge had ruled it inadmissible. The prosecutor put the defendant's daughter, now twelve years old, on the stand. On the morning in question, the eight-year-old girl awoke to the sound of her mother's cries for help. From the bathroom Eliana had screamed, "God help me!" in Spanish. The witness said she walked into the bathroom where she saw water splashing out of the bathtub. Her father was leaning over her mother who was clawing at his face. (When the police spoke to Cordova at the hospital they noticed fresh scratches on his face.) Cordova, when he realized that his daughter was standing nearby, said, "Everything is all right, go to your room." Fearing that her father would get angry if she disobeyed, the girl returned to her room, closed the door, and sat on her bed.

     From her bedroom, the witness heard someone turn off the bathtub water. Her father then walked out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. She could hear his wet sneakers on the kitchen floor. The witness said she took this opportunity to re-enter the bathroom and check on her mother. That's when she saw "the thigh part of her body" in the tub and a lot of water on the floor. Frightened, the little girl ran back to her bedroom.

     Later that morning, in the hospital waiting room, the defendant told his daughter not to say anything about what she had seen. The victim's mother, Rita Valverde, was sitting nearby and overheard Cordova say this to his daughter.

     On cross-examination by Cordova's attorney, public defender Jessica Moses, the defendant's daughter acknowledged that the first time she accused her father of killing her mother was in December 2008, several months after the incident. The defense attorney, in this line of questioning, hoped to convince the jurors that detectives had wrangled this story out of the eight-year-old. (Since the incident, the witness had been living with her grandmother, Rita Valverde, who had moved from Connecticut to Florida.)

     On March 28, 2012, the victim's sister, Zaida Solis, took the stand and testified that three days after Cordova's arrest he had said this to her: "How could I do that to the love of my life?" The defendant also told his sister-in-law that the drowning had "happened fast," and that he was sorry about it. According to Cordova, on the night before the bathtub attack, Eliana had phoned her boyfriend in front of her husband. The next morning she demanded a divorce.

     After the state rested its case, Jessica Moses asked Judge David Ironson for a judgment of acquittal on the grounds the prosecution had not made a prima facie case against her client. If she did not prevail on that request, the public defender asked for a reduction of the charge from murder to passion/provocation manslaughter. "There is no evidence to support a murder conviction," she argued.

     In opposition to the public defender's reduced charge motion, assistant prosecutor Maggie Calderwood asserted that the defendant had killed his wife "knowingly," and "on purpose." Judge Ironson denied the public defender's motions. The murder charge would stand.

     Jessica Moses didn't have much of a defense beyond a character witness who said Cordova worked hard as an overnight cleaner at a Morristown restaurant and a hospital security officer who saw the defendant faint after visiting his unconscious wife. Cordova did not take the stand on his own behalf.

     In her closing argument to the jury the public defender said that the defendant's daughter had changed her story when questioned by the police months after her father called 911. The defense attorney, in explaining why Cordova had taken off his wife's clothing and hid them in his car, said he "panicked" after the 911 dispatcher asked him a series of questions regarding what had happened in the bathroom. He staged the scene as an accidental drowning because he was sure the authorities would accuse him of murder. As evidence that the killing was not premeditated, the public defender pointed out that two days before the struggle in the bathtub, Cordova bought his wife a new computer and paid an extra $99 for a one-year warranty.

     On April 5, 2012, after deliberating two hours, the jury found Kleber Cordova guilty of murdering his wife. The defendant showed no emotion as the foreman read the verdict.

     The judge, on July 24, 2012, sentenced Kleber Cordova to fifty years in prison. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Deadly Bay Area Limousine Fire

     On Saturday, May 4, 2013, Nerizo Fojas, a recently married 31-year-old registered nurse from Fresno, California entertained eight of her friends and fellow nurses at a bachelorette party in Oakland. At nine that night, the newlywed and her guests climbed into a white, 1999 Lincoln stretch limousine en route to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Foster City, the site of her bridal shower. Orville Brown, the 46-year-old who had been driving as a chauffeur for two months, had picked up the nine women for the 40-mile trip from Oakland to Foster City.

     At ten o'clock, as the limousine crossed the San Mateo Bridge on Highway 92 about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, one of the passengers tapped on the partition that separates the driver from the passengers. At first Brown couldn't hear what this passenger was saying over the car music. When he heard others in the back yelling, "smoke, smoke!" he pulled out of the westbound lane and brought the Town Car to a stop at the side of the bridge.

     In a matter of seconds after Brown exited the limo, the rear passenger and trunk areas of the vehicle burst into flames, engulfing the passengers. Four of the women managed to escape the sudden inferno by crawling through the 3 foot by18 inch driver's partition opening. Five of the nurses, including Nerizo Fojas, were burned to death as they waited to squeeze through the partition opening.

     The dead women were so badly burned they had to be officially identified through dental records. Two of the women who survived the fire were in critical condition.

     Nerizo Fojas had been working at the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno for two years. Prior to living in Fresno she had resided in Oakland. She and her husband had planned to travel to her native Philippines in June for a second wedding ceremony.

     San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault told reporters that "it was almost impossible for [the victims] to get out as the fire was moving so fast." As cause and origin experts investigate the fire scene, forensic pathologists performed autopsies and ordered toxicology tests.

     It is rare for a motor vehicle not involved in an accident to burst into flames. The fact the fire had spread so fast suggests that something highly flammable had been near the origin of the fire. (A good many car fires that are not incendiary are electrical in nature.) According to the chauffeur, he had informed his passengers that smoking in the vehicle was prohibited. Orville Brown and other witnesses reported that the fire was not accompanied by an explosion.

     On May 7, 2013, Nelia Arelllano, one of the passengers, told a television reporter from San Francisco that the driver of the limo ignored her when she first yelled at him to stop the car. By the time he pulled over the fire had engulfed the rear area of the vehicle. (Stretch limousines have doors at the front and back but not along the elongated section of the car.) The San Jose company that operated the limo, Limo Stop, was licensed and insured.

    In 2014,  fire scene investigation specialists from San Mateo and Alameda Counties determined that the limo fire had been started by a "catastrophic failure" of the suspension system of the 1999 converted Lincoln Town Car that caused its drive shaft to rub on the vehicle's undercarriage, producing friction and sparks that started the fire in the rear passenger section.

     The California Public Utilities Commission fined Limo Stop $20,000 for having nine passengers in the vehicle, one over the limit. On appeal the amount was reduced to $5,000.

     In 2014 and 2015, families of four of the five women who died in the limo settled lawsuits with numerous companies associated with the vehicle fire. In May 2016, the husband of the fifth victim, Aldrin Geronga, filed a wrongful death suit against the Ford Motor company. According to this plaintiff's attorney, "Ford knew there were problems fifteen years ago." 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case: The Polygraph as an Interrogation Tool

     Several years ago, a story went around about an ingenious small town cop who hooked a young thief up to a copy machine the kid thought was a lie detector. When the suspect gave an answer the interrogator didn't like, he hit the print button causing a sheet of paper to come out of the copier that read, "Not True." The suspect, convinced he had been caught by a sophisticated lie detection instrument, confessed. Whenever I told this story in class, I said it happened in West Virginia, and that the judge, offended by the cop's clever dishonesty, threw the confession out.

     The copy machine-as-polygraph story probably didn't happen in West Virginia, or anywhere else. But it illustrates an important point about scientific lie detection, and how the polygraph technique can be used by examiners to coax confessions out of guilty suspects. The debate over polygraph accuracy, in this context, is not relevant. What does matter is this: most criminal suspects who happen to be guilty, believe the polygraph works. In the right hands it can be an effective interrogation tool. A few years ago, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation made public a video-tape of a murder suspect's polygraph examination and follow-up interrogation. The transcript of this session reveals how a professional polygraph examiner/interrogator can acquire a confession.

The Jorelys Rivera Murder Case

     On Friday, December 2, 2010, 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera, a resident of the River Ridge Apartment complex in Canton, Georgia outside of Atlanta, went missing. Three days later police officers found her body in a dumpster not far from where she had been abducted. Ryan Brunn, a 20-year-old newly hired maintenance man had lured the girl into a vacant apartment where he had raped and murdered her.

     On the day following the discovery of the murdered girl's body, Keith Sitton, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, gave the suspect a polygraph test. What follows is the word-for-word account of that session:

SITTON: Regarding that girl, do you intend to answer the [polygraph] questions truthfully?

BRUNN: Yes.

SITTON: Did you participate in any way in causing the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

SITTON: Do you know for sure who caused the death of that girl?

BRUNN: No.

     In discussing the results of the polygraph test with Brunn, Sitton said, "I can see you're not doing good on this test. Those [last two] questions are really bothering me."

     "I promise you. I'll take the test again," Brunn replied. His voice was weak, and he was obviously nervous.

     "There's something on this that you're not telling us. Something that you're keeping to yourself. What is it you're holding back? Because we're going to solve this thing. It's just written all over you. Something's bothering you."

     "I'm not bothered at all."

     "You haven't told the complete truth about everything."

     "I have," Brunn replied.

     The GBI agent asked Brunn about having been accused of sexually fondling a young girl in Virginia: "You know what I'm talking about," he said.

     "I don't."

     "Remember, I said you had to be 100 percent truthful. I asked you [on the polygraph] if anyone made accusations. So what you have done is told me a lie.

     "They put things in that child's head. I'm a good person. I didn't do nothing to that little Spanish girl, and I didn't do nothing to the other girl [the one in Virginia].

     The next day, Sutton questioned Brunn again. He informed the suspect that according to the polygraph he had lied. To this, Brunn said, "I should have told the truth straight up. But I didn't. I was scared." At this point, Brunn made a full confession. He said he had raped the girl, cut her throat, wrapped her in a garbage bag, and dumped her body in the trash compactor.

     On January 17, 2011, Ryan Brunn pleaded guilty to murdering Jorelys Rivera. The judge sentenced him to life without parole. A year later, while serving his time at the Georgia State Prison, Brunn used his sweatshirt to hang himself.

     

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Turkish Severed Head Murder Case: Killing a Serial Rapist

     Nevin Yildirim lived with her husband and two children, ages two and six, in a village in southwestern Turkey. In January 2012, her husband left home to work at a seasonal job in another town. Shortly after Mr. Yildirim began working at the other place, a 35-year-old member of the village named Nurettin came to Nevin's house and raped her. This married father of two threatened to shoot Nevin's children if she reported the crime to anyone.

     By August 2012, after months of being raped on a regular basis by Nurettin, Nevin was five months pregnant with his child. When she visited a clinic regarding an abortion, a health care worker informed her that her pregnancy was too far along for that option. In Turkey, abortions are illegal after the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

     On August 28, 2012, when Nurettin came to Nevin's house to rape her again, she pulled her father-in-law's rifle off a wall rack and shot him. As the wounded Nurettin reached for his handgun to return fire, Nevin shot him again. Hit with her second slug, he tired to run, but stumbled and fell. As he lay on the ground cursing her, Nevin fired a third bullet, this one into his genitals. The rapist went silent, and a few seconds later, died where he lay in a pool of his own blood.

     The woman who had just killed the man who for months had been raping her, laid down her rifle and picked up a kitchen knife that she then used to decapitate him. She picked up the detached head by the hair and carried it triumphantly to the village square. To a group of men sitting around a coffee house, Nevin, still gripping her rapist's head as it continued to drip blood from the base of the severed neck, said, "Here is the head of the man who played with my honor."

     As the coffee house drinkers looked on in horror, Nevin Yildirim tossed her blood trophy. The severed head rolled along the ground and came to rest in the public square. A short time later, a local police officer took the blood-splattered woman into custody.

     A few days after the killing, in speaking to her court-appointed lawyer who came to the local lock-up, Nevin reportedly said, "I thought of reporting [Nurettin] to the military police and to the district attorney, but this was going to make me a scorned woman. Since I was going to get a bad reputation, I decided to clean my honor, and acted on killing him. I thought of suicide a lot, but couldn't do it. Now no one can call my children bastards....Everyone will call them the children of the woman who cleaned her honor."

     On August 30, 2012, at the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder, Yildirim told the magistrate she didn't want to keep her rapist's baby and that she wished to die. The public prosecutor advised the court he had ordered psychiatric evaluations of the defendant.

    Nevin Yildirim gave birth to her rapist's child on November 17, 2012.

     On March 25, 2013, the district judge found Yildirim guilty of murder. Before he handed down the sentence, the judge ordered police officers to remove feminist protesters from the courtroom.

     After clearing the courtroom of protesters, the Turkish judge imposed the maximum punishment of life in prison. Among women in Turkey and others around the world, the verdict and sentence created an uproar. Had Nevin Yildirim committed the exact crime in the United States, she would have been charged with second or third-degree murder. Her attorney would have had the option of putting on either an insanity or battered woman defense. If found guilty, her punishment wouldn't be anything close to life behind bars. In the U.S. a case like would likely be resolved through the plea bargaining process that would lead to much lighter sentence.

   

     

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Wayne Mills Murder Case

     Jerald Wayne Mills grew up in the town of Arab, Georgia in the northern part of the state. At the University of Alabama where he played football, he earned a degree in education. But instead of becoming a teacher, Mills formed a band and for fifteen years performed primarily on the college circuit.

     Mills, in 2010, was charged with driving under the influence and reckless endangerment after he bumped a police officer who was standing on the side of the highway. Between tours in 2013, Mills busied himself by working on his seventh album. The 44-year-old was married and had a 6-year-old son.

     A friend of Mills, Chris Ferrell, owned the Pit and Barrel Bar located in downtown Nashville. In July 2013, police arrested Ferrell on charges of domestic violence and vandalism. The complaining witness in the case was a bartender he dated. Notwithstanding that arrest, Ferrell possessed a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

     In mid-November 2013, Ferrell and his bar were featured on a TV series on the Spike Network called "Bar Rescue." In the series, experts helped save struggling bars and nightclub businesses.

     During the early morning hours of Saturday, November 23, 2013, Wayne Mills and a handful of friends and acquaintances were drinking with Chris Ferrell in his bar after it had closed. Just before five that morning an argument broke out between Mills and Ferrell. The trouble started when Mills lit up a cigarette in the non-smoking section of the bar. The two men became so angry, bystanders, fearing violence, left the premises.

     Shortly after 5 that morning, a small group of people outside the Pit and Barrel heard three gunshots. One of the bystanders called 911.

     Police officers arrived at the bar to find Mills dead or dying from three shots to the head. One of the bullets had entered the back of his skull. A short time after being taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors pronounced Mills dead.

     Chris Ferrell told detectives that fearing for his life, he had shot his friend in self defense. As the only witness to the shooting, detectives accepted Ferrell's account pending further investigation and the results of the autopsy. The bar owner was not taken into custody.

     Detectives with the Davidson County Police Department, for ten hours following the fatal shooting, worked under the false belief that the man shot by Ferrell was Clayton Mills, a Nashville songwriter. Given the fact several people who knew Wayne Mills had witnessed his argument with Ferrell, then heard gunshots, it's hard to image how detectives didn't immediately acquire the true identify of the victim. And why had it taken them so long to sort out their mistake?

     On November 26, 3013, a spokesperson for the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office announced that while a forensic pathologist had performed the autopsy on Wayne Mills, results of that post-mortem work would not be released for up to fourteen weeks. The spokesperson also refused to say if Mr. Ferrell had sustained injuries from the fight.

     In the meantime, Wayne Mills' friends, fans, and family, having heard that one of Ferrell's bullets had entered the back of Mills' head, questioned the believability of the self defense claim.  A rumor surfaced that the shooting occurred when the men were standing on opposite sides of a physical barrier.

     On December 6, 2013, a Davidson County grand jury indicted Chris Ferrell on one count of second-degree murder. Following the indictment, the bar owner turned himself over to the police. Officers booked Ferrell into the Davidson County Jail and the judge set his bail at $150,000. At a bond hearing on December 16, the judge lowered Ferrell's bail which led to his release from custody.

     In January 2014, the Nashville Medical Examiner's Office released the Mills autopsy report. The victim had been killed by a single bullet to the back of the head. The absence of gunpowder staining around the entrance wound suggested the shot had been fired from a distance of at least eighteen inches. The shooting victim had also suffered two broken ribs, abrasions on his head and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh and right knee. According to the toxicology report, Mills had a blood-alcohol level of .221, three times the legal limit for driving intoxicated. He also had amphetamine in his system.

     The Wayne Mills murder trial got underway in Nashville on March 2, 2015. In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Wesley King said that the victim had been shot in the back of the head as he was leaving the bar.

     Defense attorney David Raybin told the jury that the defendant wouldn't have murdered his best friend, that the killing had been in self defense. "He [Mills] was my client's best friend. My client loved him and cared for him and wouldn't murder him," Raybin said. "Never in the ten years they had known each other was there ever a harsh, loud episode between them."

     Prosecutor King put songwriter Thomas Howard on the stand who testified that he saw Ferrell smack a cigarette out of Mills' hand that made Mills angry. "At that point Mills got up and turned around and said, "You ever smack my hand like that again, I'll kill you." Howard said he heard gunshots as he left the bar.

     After the prosecution rested its case on March 4, 2015, the defense attorney put 24-year-old Nadia Markum on the stand. She had been in the bar that night and said Mills and Ferrell were yelling at each other. While she didn't recall the specifics of the argument because she was drunk, she remembered Wayne Mills throwing a glass to the floor. Right after she exited the bar she heard three shots.

     On Markum's cross-examination, prosecutor King got the witness to admit that when questioned by the police, she had said, "All that Mills did was smoke a cigarette." She had also told detectives that Mills was trying to leave the bar when he was shot.

     Defense attorney Raybin, as his final defense witness, put Chris Ferrell on the stand. The defendant testified that Mills became agitated when he couldn't get a cab. "I can't get a cab!" he said. "There are no whores, and no f-ing cocaine here. Why am I here?" At the time of the outburst, Ferrell was walking around the bar turning out lights in anticipation of closing up the place. It was then Mills lit a cigarette.

     The defendant testified that he asked Mills to put out the cigarette. Mills refused, saying that he had helped "build this bar." Ferrell said he reached across the bar and grabbed the cigarette out of Mills' mouth, crushed it and threw it on the floor. Mills responded to this by saying, "If you ever take a cigarette from me again, I will kill you!" According to the defendant, he told Mills to leave the bar but not with the drink he held in his hand. To that Mills said, "If you talk to me like that again I'm going to f-ing kill you." Mills then threw his drink to the floor, smashing the glass into pieces, "You know what?" he said, "I'm going to f-ing kill you!"

     The defendant said that in response to that threats to his life "I fired in fear. I panicked. I believed he had a weapon."

     On March 6, 2015, the jury found Chris Ferrell guilty of second-degree murder. On April 28, 2015, at his sentence hearing, Chris Ferrell, in addressing the court, said, "I stand here today with the heaviest heart, conscious and soul. I will carry the memory of that horrible night forever. I am so sorry for my actions that in an instant changed so many lives." The judge sentenced Ferrell to twenty years in prison.

     

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Shaken Baby Syndrome and the Problem of Dueling Experts

     When a presumably healthy baby dies in his or her crib for no apparent reason, and there is no evidence of foul play, rather than classifying the cause of death as "unknown," or "undetermined," a coroner or medical examner will usually call the fatality a "sudden infant death syndrome" (SIDS) case. Although this is the same as ruling the death as "undetermined," it sounds more scientific. At one time, the parents of SIDS babies found themselves under clouds of suspicion. Today, as a result of scientific study of these cases, forensic pathologists are attributing natural death causes in infant deaths that earlier would have been classified as SIDS fatalities.

     The "shaken baby syndrome" (SBS) refers to signs of physical trauma found in children under six who have been violently shaken. When a baby or toddler is shaken too hard, the victim's brain is jarred against the skull, causing it to bleed and swell. Most pediatricians and forensic pathologists believe that to diagnose SBS, they must find, at minimum, evidence of subdural hematoma (brain hemorrhaging), retinal bleeding (broken veins in the eyes), and cerebral edema (liquid on the brain that causes it to swell). The conventional wisdom had been that a child with these injuries who had neither been in a car accident or fallen from a two-story window had been violently shaken. Supportive evidence of SBS might include trauma to the neck and spine, bruises on the arms and torso, and broken ribs.

     In the late 1990s, a handful of pediatric researchers began to question the science behind the standard SBS diagnosis.Could cerebral edema and blood in the eyes and brain have other causes such as vitamin deficiency, disease, or reactions to vaccines and drugs? Diseases thought to cause symptoms of SBS included hypohosphatasia, brittle bone disease; Alagilles's Syndrome, a liver ailment; Bylers Disease (a liver disorder common among the Amish); and glutaric acidura (acid buildup in infants that causes paralysis and retinal bleeding). Some experts believe that a relatively short fall to a hard surface, say from three feet, can cause damage to the brain similar to that found in SBS victims.

     Because there is no agreement among pediatricians and forensic pathologists what physical evidence of SBS consists of, homicide trials involving defendants accused of shaking infants to death often involve dueling expert witnesses testifying against each other.

Shirley Ree Smith Case

     In 1997, a jury in Van Nuys, California convicted Shirley Ree Smith of shaking her seven week old grandson to death. The prosecutor convinced the jury that Smith had shaken the baby to stop him from crying. The medical examiner, in explaining why there wasn't as much cerebral bleeding as one might expect in a SBS case, said the baby had been shaken so violently the blood vessels in the brain stem suffered "shearing," casusing instantaneous death without bleeding due to the fact the baby's heart had stopped beating. The autopsy had failed to produce evidence of brain swelling or retinal bleeding.

     The Smith defense put two forensic pathologists on the stand who classified the death as a SIDS case, noting that the baby had jaundice, a heart murmer, and low birth weight. The jury accepted the prosecution's version of the facts, and found Shirley Ree Smith guilty. She received a sentence of fifteen years to life.

     A state court of appeals upheld the conviction. The Ninth Circuit federal court of appeals, however, in 2006, reversed the conviction and ordered Smith released from prison on the grounds the jury had missclassified the baby's death as a SBS fatality. The state prosecutor appealed the case reversal to the United States Supreme Court.

     On October 31, 2011, the supreme court, in a 6 to 3 decision, reinstated Shirley Ree Smith's homicide conviction. This meant she would have to return to prison. The six justices upheld a longstanding legal principle that an appeals court cannot substitute its judgment for a jury's. The high court, recognizing the jury in the Smith case may have relied on the wrong forensic pathologists, reminded the Ninth Circuit Court that judges in jury trials cannot decide the law and the facts. If Shirley Ree Smith had a remedy in law, it would have to be in the form of executive clemency.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Cracker Barrel Murders: No Escaping Kevin Allen

     In June 1995, the day he received word that he and his first wife were divorced, 35-year-old Kevin E. Allen assaulted his girlfriend, Janice Koerlin. A few months later, the diagnosed manic-depressive from Kirtland, Ohio, a town 20 miles east of Cleveland, married Koerlin. In September of that year, police arrested Allen after he tried to suffocate his new wife with a pillow. This was a man who obvioulsy had no business being around women. This was a man who needed to be locked up.

     In 2004, Allen filed for personal bankruptcy for the second time. (He had filed for bankruptcy in 1991.) Four years later, the police in North Royalton, Ohio arrested him, now married to his fifth wife with whom he had fathered two daughters, on charges of theft and burglary.

     In March 2011, Kevin and his fifth wife Katherina, who went by Kate and was ten years younger than him, lived in Strongsville, Ohio with their daughters Kerri and Kayla. That year Kevin and Kate filed for personal bankruptcy. They were in debt $60,000. Although Kevin Allen, with his short, thinning gray hair and his trimmed white beard looked like a friendly guy, he continued to be a bellicose, bad-tempered husband. People went out of their way to avoid him. In 2011, Allen went several months without paying his gas bill, and threatened to shoot anybody from the utility company who came to his place to shut if off. A gas company employee did go to the house, but with a police escort.

     In early April 2012, the domestic abuse had gotten so intense and frequent, Kate and the girls moved into a friend's house. On April 12, Kate decided to take Kerri and Kayla to the Cracker Barrel restaurant in nearby Brooklyn, Ohio to celebrate Kerri Allen's tenth birthday. Kate had invited her estranged husband, and in the relative safety of a crowded restaurant, planned to inform Kevin that she wanted a divorce.

     After the late dinner, while still at the Cracker Barrel, Kate broke the news that she was leaving him. Infuriated, Kevin stormed out of the restaurant, but instead of driving home, he circled the parking lot in his silver Jeep Liberty. Worried that Kevin might become violent, Kate, at 8:40, called 911. "I'm having some spouse problems," she said.

     Kate informed the 911 dispatcher that she had just told her estranged husband that she was leaving  him, and he hadn't taken it very well. At that moment, Kevin Allen was outside the Cracker Barrel restaurant driving around the parking lot. A few minutes later, as Kate spoke to the 911 dispatcher, Kevin re-entered the restaurant and approached her and the children carrying a single barrel shotgun. The local police rolled up to the scene just as Kevin disappeared inside the building.

     The police officers, aware that Kevin Allen had gone into the restaurant armed with a shotgun, decided to remain outside. They were afraid that if they went in after him, innocent bystanders could get shot in the cross-fire. The police were also worried that Allen, if confronted inside, might take a hostage.

     When Kevin Allen got to his wife's table, without saying a word, he aimed his shotgun and fired on her and their two children. The transcript of the 911 call, just before the shooting went like this:

DISPATCHER: "Wait in the lobby for the officers. Do not go outside. Let them talk to him, okay? "

KATE: "He's here and the police are here, too. I have to...." (Gunfire could be heard on the dispatcher's end.)

DISPATCHER: "Ma'am?"

     After murdering his wife and his daughter Kerri, and seriously wounding Kayla, Allen walked out the front door of the restaurant where he encountered the police. When he refused to drop his shotgun, the police opened fire, killing him on the spot.

     When Kevin Allen strode into the Cracker Barrel carrying the shotgun, bedlam broke out with patrons running for cover. The manager helped many diners exit the place through a rear door. None of the customers were injured.

     Medics  rushed Kayla to a nearby hospital where she survived her wounds. People have criticized the officers for not immediately entering the restaurant. But they were faced was a difficult dilemma. Had the police gone in, more people could have been killed. In reality, there is only so much the police can do. They cannot always save families from abusive, murderous husbands. There was no escaping Kevin Allen.

     

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Emani Moss: The Brutal Life and Death of a Girl Georgia Failed to Protect

     In 2004, prosecutors in Gwinnett County, Georgia charged Eman Moss with assaulting the biological mother of his one-year-old daughter, Emani. Because Eman attacked his girlfriend in front of their daughter, the prosecutor also charged him with second-degree child cruelty. In return for his guilty plea, the judge sentenced Eman Moss to probation.

     Six years after the domestic assault, Eman and his daughter resided in Lawrenceville, an unincorporated suburb of Atlanta. Eman's new girlfriend, Tiffany Nicole Brown, lived in the apartment with them. In March 2010, the six-year-old told a teacher at Cooper Elementary School that she was afraid to go home with her bad report card.

     Emani's extreme fear of being punished at home prompted an inquiry by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. After finding evidence of abuse, the child protection agency turned the case over to the Gwinnett County Police Department.

     Gwinnett County investigators determined that Tiffany Brown, the girlfriend of the Emani's father, had repeatedly beaten the girl with a belt. On Emani's body doctors found scars, abrasions, scabs, and bruises on her chest, arms, back, and legs. A Gwinnett County prosecutor charged Tiffany Nicole Brown, an elementary school teacher, with first-degree child cruelty. Eman, the girl's father, was charged with child cruelty as well.

     Pursuant to an agreement with the prosecutor, Tiffany was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree child cruelty. Because he and his girlfriend promised to take parenting classes, the charges against Eman were dropped. (The child services agency had signed-off on the plea bargain.) Everybody came out ahead in the deal except Emani who remained exposed to abuse. (I don't know if Tiffany Brown kept her teaching job.)

     In July 2012, Gwinnett County detectives opened another child abuse case on Eman and Tiffany whom he had since married. When investigators were unable to find sufficient evidence to back up Emani's claims that she was being beaten and denied food as punishment, the police closed the case. Shortly after being abandoned again by the government, the nine-year-old ran away from home. After finding Emani, the authorities not only returned the child to her private hell, they charged her as a runaway juvenile.

     At four in the morning on Saturday, November 1, 2013, Eman Moss called 911 from the Coventry Pointe apartment complex in Lawrenceville. Moss told the 911 dispatcher that his daughter had consumed some kind of poison and died. He said her body was in the apartment and that he was thinking of committing suicide. (Unfortunately this turned out to be a hollow threat.)

     Gwinnett County police officers encountered Eman outside the apartment complex standing in a breezeway. The 30-year-old led the officers to a trash can in the recreation area. Inside the garbage bin officers discovered the badly burned body of a girl. The girl in the trash was ten-year-old Emani Moss.

     The county medical examiner's office ruled the girl's death a homicide. According to the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, Emani had died of starvation. Her body had been burned postmortem. The medical examiner did not believe she had been poisoned.  (A toxicology report would later confirm the lack of poison in the girl's system.) According to the pathologist, the dead girl had endured periods of up to twelve days without food. She had been dead about three days.

     Eman and Tiffany Moss, charged with first-degree murder, cruelty to children, and concealing a body, were booked into the Gwinnett County Detention Center. The magistrate denied them bail.

     On June 8, 2015, Eman Moss pleaded guilty to the charge of felony-murder. As part of the plea bargain deal, he agreed to testify against his wife, Tiffany. Detectives believed that Tiffany had been the driving force behind the murder. Mr. Moss, according to investigators, had played a passive role in his daughter's torture and death. He had failed to protect her. In return for his plea, Eman Moss was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Tiffany Moss, if found guilty as charged, could be sentenced to death.

    In November 2015, Tiffany Moss pleaded guilty to first-degree child cruelty and was sentenced to five years probation under the state's First Offender Program.
     

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Happened To Wall Street Reporter David Bird?

     David Bird, a 55-year-old journalist with the Wall Street Journal who covered the world's energy markets--OPEC and such--lived with his wife Nancy and their two children in central New Jersey's Long Hill Township. Although he underwent a liver transplant operation in 2005, Mr. Bird was an avid hiker, biker, and camper. The Boy Scout troop leader, in 2013, ran in the New York City Marathon. His children were ages 12 and 15.

     On Saturday, January 11, 2014, after he and his wife had put away their Christmas decorations, David said he wanted to take a walk and get some fresh air before it started to rain. At 4:30 PM, dressed in a red rain jacket, sneakers, and a pair of jeans, the six-foot-one, 200 pound, gray-haired reporter walked out of his house. Shortly thereafter it began to rain, and rain hard.

     Two hours after David Bird started his walk in the neighborhood, his wife became worried. He hadn't returned home and it was still raining. To make matters worse, Dave had been suffering from a gastrointestinal virus. Nancy Bird called the Long Hill Township Police Department to report her husband missing.

     Over the next three days police officers and hundreds of volunteers searched the neighborhood and nearby wooded areas for the missing journalist. The searchers were assisted by dogs, a helicopter, and people riding all-terrain vehicles and horses. Volunteers also distributed hundreds of missing persons flyers.

     Notwithstanding the effort to locate Mr. Bird, he was nowhere to be found. It seemed he had disappeared without a trace.

     The fact the missing man left his house without the anti-rejection medication he took twice a day in connection with his liver transplant made finding him all the more urgent. Without that medicine he would surely become ill.

     On January 16, 2014, police officers learned that someone in Mexico, the night before, had used one of David Bird's credit cards. The card was supposedly used four days after Bird's disappearance. Investigators, without a clue as to where David Bird was, or why he went missing, considered the possibility that his disappearance had something to do with his reporting on recent middle east crude oil price changes.

     On March 18, 2015, at five o'clock in the evening, two men canoeing on the Passaic River in New Jersey about a mile from David Bird's home, spotted a red jacket amid a tangle of branches. From that spot emergency responders retrieved a male corpse.

     Dr. Carlos A. Fonesca with the Morris County Medical Examiner's office and forensic dentist Dr. Mitchell M. Kirshbaum identified the remains as David Bird. The day after the discovery, Morris County prosecutor Frederic M. Knapp said an autopsy would be conducted to determine Mr. Bird's cause and manner of death.

     A few days later, a Morris County spokesperson revealed that Mr. Bird had drowned. Investigators found no reason to suspect foul play. Since Mr. Bird's death wasn't homicide or natural, it was either the result of suicide or an accident.

     In June 2015, a spokesperson for the Morris County Medical Examiner's Office ruled the manner of death accidental. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Jerome Sidney DeAvila Murder Case

     Jerome Sidney DeAvila, a Stockton, California pedophile with a long history of sex crimes, was sentenced to a prison psychiatric hospital after a child molestation conviction in 2011. The 38-year-old criminally insane sexual predator should have remained in custody for the remainder of his life. Although allowing this man back into society guaranteed more victims, state parole officials released him from the prison mental facility in May 2012. Correction officials did not let DeAvila out because he was no longer dangerous. They freed him because some judge determined that the state psychiatric hospital was too crowded.

     DeAvila, just one of thousands of violent criminals the state of California, had been paroled early because there was no room for them in its prisons and jails. Because getting into prison and jail had become so difficult in the state, parole violators like DeAvila had no incentive to comply with the conditions of parole. DeAvila was supposed to wear a GPS tracking device around his ankle that triggered an alarm if tampered with. Removing the device constituted a parole violation. Because removing tracking devices didn't lead to jail time, many parolees decided not to wear them. As a result, DeAvila's parole officer had no idea where he was or what he was up to.

     The Stockton police, on February 13, 2013, arrested DeAvila for the tenth time since his release from the state psychiatric facility. Every one of his arrests involved violations of the terms of his parole, and included public drunkenness, possession of drugs, and the removal of his GPS tracking device. On each these occasions, officers booked him into the San Joaquin County Jail.

    Before the court ordered the thinning out of the state's prison and jail population, parole violators would be held in county jails until their state parole revocation hearings. If found in violation, they'd be sent back to prison to serve up to another year behind bars.

     In DeAvila's case, he'd only spend a few nights in the San Joaquin lockup before being released back into society. Following his tenth parole violation arrest on February 13, 2013, he remained in the overcrowded San Joaquin Jail one week before walking free.

     On February 26, 2013, just six days after DeAvila's last jail release, neighbors discovered the corpse of Rachael Russell, the parole violator's grandmother. Her body had been dumped in a wheelbarrow sitting in her backyard. Later that day, Stockton police officers arrested the high-risk parolee for the rape, robbery and murder of his grandmother. When taken into custody he was wearing her jewelry.

     It had taken a murder to get this man off the streets of Stockton, California. But DeAvila's arrest for murder meant that some other criminal would be set free to make room for him. Instead of grossly overpaying politicians and bureaucrats, the state needs to expand its prison and jail system. Maybe it's time to worry more about the safety of law obeyers and less about prison conditions involving violent criminals.    

     In August 2013, Rachael Russell's daughter and son (DeAvila's mother and uncle) sued the state and San Joaquin County. The plaintiffs claimed that after this dangerous man violated his parole for the tenth time, he should not have been released from the county jail. According to the suit, parole agents who supervised DeAvila knew he was a danger to the 76-year-old victim.

     In April 2014, DeAvila pleaded guilty to rape, robbery, and murder. The judge sentenced him to 25 years to life. The civil suit is pending. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Arthur Morgan III: A Narcissistic, Remorseless Child Killer

     By November 2011, Imani Benton, a 26-year-old resident of Lakehurst, New Jersey, had terminated her relationship with Arthur Morgan III, the father of their two-year-old daughter, Tierra. The couple had fought constantly, and on several occasions had taken each other to court. He continued to deny the breakup even after she returned the engagement ring and the other jewelry he had given her. The two of them had also traded accusations of child abuse. As a result of Benton's domestic complaints, state child protection agents conducted four separate investigations that ended up clearing Morgan of these accusations. As a result, he continued to have access to his daughter.

     On November 15, Morgan's boss at Creative Building Supplies Company in Lakewood, New Jersey fired him.

     On November 21, 2011, just eight hours after he had called Imani Benton a bad mother and a whore, Morgan made arrangements with her to take Tierra to see a movie about dancing penguins. Four hours after Morgan promised to return the toddler, the girl's mother called the police to report Tierra missing.

     Police officers from thirteen New Jersey law enforcement agencies looked for the girl and her missing father. The search came to an end when searchers found Tierra's body in Shark River Park twenty miles north of her Lakehurst home.

     Homicide investigators believed that Arthur Morgan had dropped the girl's car seat, with her strapped into it, fifteen feet into a creek that ran below an overpass. The partially submerged car seat had been weighed down by a car jack. The drowned girl, still wearing her Pink Hello Kitty hat, had landed in three feet of water. (According to the father who did not deny throwing his daughter off the bridge, he heard her scream as he got back into his car.)

     After leaving his daughter to drown in the creek beneath the overpass, Arthur Morgan drove to a friend's house where he had a few drinks. The next day, he boarded a train for San Diego, California.

     At four in the afternoon on November 29, 2011, agents with the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Morgan at a house in San Diego. (He was arrested on a federal unlawful flight to avoid prosecution warrant. These UFAP warrants are dismissed after the fugitive is returned to the local jurisdiction.)

     Back in New Jersey a few days after his apprehension, Morgan faced the charge of first-degree murder. Over the objection of his court-appointed lawyer, the arraignment judge set Morgan's bond at $10 million. Peter J. Warshaw Jr., the Monmouth County prosecutor in charge of the case, said he would seek the maximum penalty of life without parole. (New Jersey abolished the death penalty.)

     The Arthur Morgan child murder trial got underway in a Freehold, New Jersey Superior Court on March 12, 2014. In his opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Warshaw accused the defendant of killing his daughter simply because he was angry that Imani Benton had ended their relationship. According to the prosecutor, Morgan killed Tierra to get back at his former girlfriend. Mr. Warshaw called the killing a "knowing and purposeful murder" motivated by pride and revenge.

     The public defender told the jurors that her client was merely guilty of reckless manslaughter, a lesser degree of criminal homicide that carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Given the undisputed facts of this case, that would turn out to be a hard sell.

     The murdered girl's mother, Imani Benton, took the stand as the prosecution's star witness. To the jury, Benton read a letter the defendant had sent her from the San Diego jail shortly after his arrest. In that letter, Morgan, in justifying the murder, accused members of Benton's family of abusing Tierra. He referred to their behavior as "heinous and depraved." Morgan also blamed the girl's mother for her death: "You should have come with us to the movie. It would have been so different, I'm sure. That was the plan, to go as a family."

     Regarding the defendant's self-serving letter, Imani Benton testified that, "If I would have gone to the movie, we wouldn't have gone to the movie. We all would be dead."

     One of the defendant's co-workers at the Lakewood lumber yard testified that Morgan had been paid every Tuesday, and by Friday, he was broke. According to Tulio Bazan, the defendant spent a lot of money on clothes. "He showed me the Gucci sunglasses, a Gucci wallet, and the Gucci shoes." Morgan told the witness that the wallet itself cost him $400.

     In mid-April 2014, the jury in Freehold, New Jersey, following a short period of deliberation, found Arthur Morgan guilty as charged.

     Six weeks after the guilty verdict, at his May 28, 2014 sentence hearing, the convicted murderer apologized to Imani Benton for the breakdown of their relationship. (He didn't apologize for killing their daughter.) "I want to say I'm sorry for the deterioration of what I thought was a beautiful friendship between the two of us that blossomed into a daughter. For anybody that was truly affected by this, I hope we can all heal from the situation, knowing that Tierra is in a better place." (In other words, he was the victim in this story.)

     As one might expect from a narcissistic sociopath with a god-complex, the convicted murderer whined about the media coverage of the trial. He said he didn't like newspaper photographs that depicted him as either angry or inappropriately jolly. He informed the court that had he known that reporters would make negative comments about his designer court room attire, he would have dressed more modestly.

     The complaining sociopath also rambled on about how badly his murder victim had been treated by members of Benton's family. He contrasted that behavior to how, before he murdered his daughter out of wounded pride, he had been such an excellent father.

     Judge Anthony Mellaci, Jr., before handing down Morgan's sentence, lamented that New Jersey no longer imposed the death penalty. "You'd be candidate number one for it's imposition," he said. "Your actions were horrific, unthinkable and appalling. This child was alive when she was placed in the water in pitch darkness. She had to suffer the unthinkable action of having water rush in and fill her lungs while strapped into that car seat. This child suffered before she died."

     Judge Mellaci sentenced the remorseless sociopath to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The William Keitel Murder Case

     William Keitel and his wife Michele were married in 1989. The couple resided a few miles north of Pittsburgh in Ohio Township, Pennsylvania. In October 1996, following a tumultuous marriage and two children--William, 5 and Abbee, 3--William and Michele separated. Shortly after the split, Michele, 35, became engaged to Charles Dunkle, a 34-year-old from nearby Moon Township.

     In the evening of New Year's Day 1998, 45-year-old William Keitel sat in his Mercedes in the parking lot of the Stop 'N Go convenience store on Mount Nebo Road. He and his father, William Keitel senior, were waiting for Michele to arrive with the children pursuant to an a prearranged exchange. As on numerous occasions in the past, Michele had either forgotten about the exchange or was late.

     At nine-thirty that night, after William called the police, Michele, accompanied by the children, her father, and her fiancee, pulled into the convenience store lot.

     As William pulled out of the Stop 'N Go parking lot with his children in the car, Michele saw that he was armed with a handgun. (William had been issued a permit to carry the .38-caliber revolver.) Screaming that he had a gun, Michele ran after the Mercedes as it eased back onto Mount Nebo Road.

     William, realizing that his estranged wife was chasing his car, pulled into a neighboring beer distributorship parking area and climbed out of his vehicle with the gun in his hand. As Michele, her father--Mr. Charles Walker--and Charles Dunkle rushed him, William shot Dunkle in the chest at close range. With Michele on her knees next to Dunkle's body, William placed the barrel of the .38 to her forehead and pulled the trigger. When Mr. Walker tried to disarm William, the father-in-law was shot in the stomach.

     Michele Keitel and Charles Dunkle died on the beer distributorship's parking lot. Charles Walker survived his bullet wound. The Keitel children witnessed the mayhem a few feet away from their father's car.

     Charged with first-degree murder of Michele Keitel, third-degree murder of Charles Dunkle, and the aggravated assault of Charles Walker, William Keitel went on trial in Pittsburgh in October, 1998. His attorney, William Diffenderfer, presented a case of self defense that included putting his client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. Allegheny County prosecutor Edward Borowski, in the murder of Michele Keitel, sought the death penalty.

     The jury, following the one-month trial, found William Keitel guilty as charged. The jurors, however, rejected the death sentence by an eight to four vote. In January 1999, Common Pleas Judge Jeffery A. Manning sentenced Keitel to life in prison without parole. Three months later, prison administrators assigned him to the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.

     In 2010, William Keitel's 18-year-son, a high school senior, died when his car collided with a telephone pole.

     At one in the afternoon of August 2, 2013, after returning to his cell following a work assignment, William Keitel's 43-year-old cellmate beat him severely. The 59-year-old convicted murderer was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Altoona, Pennsylvania where, nine days later, he died from the beating.

     The federal appeal of William Keitel's conviction and sentence pending before the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia died along with him. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Peter Lizon: The Husband From Hell

     Peter Lizon, a 37-year-old native of the Czech Republic, lived with his wife Stephanie and their one-year-old son along a rural road in Leroy, West Virginia not far from Charleston in the western part of the state. The front yard to the rundown house featured a pair of signs that read: "No Trespassing," and "Guard Dog on Duty." The couple raised chickens and goats.

     On June 18, 2012, 43-year-old Stephanie and her husband were in Parkersburg, West Virginia about 50 miles south of Leroy. Peter had come to town to return a rototiller he had rented from the Bosley Rental & Supply Company. After Peter returned the item, Stephanie came back to the store alone. Walking with a pronounced limp, she said she wanted to get away from her husband, and asked if she could hide in the building until he left town. She did not want anyone in the store to call the police.

     When she came out of hiding, an employee of the rental store gave Stephanie the address of a local domestic violence shelter, and money for cab fare. Again, the obviously battered woman asked that no one call the authorities.

        At the domestic violence shelter, Stephanie, using a false name, informed her hosts that her husband had kept her in chains for ten years during which time he tortured her with hot clothing irons and frying pans. He had hobbled her by smashing her feet with a hay bailer, and periodically stomped her feet to keep them mutilated and swollen. With her ankles in shackles, she had given birth to a fully developed stillborn child whose corpse had been buried on their property. Her one-year-old son had been born at home with her in shackles. The child had never been seen by a physician.

     An employee of the shelter took 45 photographs of Stephanie's scars and bruises that included burns on her back and breasts. After being examined in the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital, the women at the shelter purchased Stephanie a bus ticket to her parent's home in Alexandria, Virginia. She refused the ticket because she didn't want to abandon her son who was home with his father. Someone at the shelter called the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

     On July 5, after sheriff's deputies searched the house in Leroy, and seized, among other things, a Sunbeam iron, they arrested Peter Lizon on the charge of malicious wounding. Incarcerated in the South Central Regional Jail under $300,000 bond, Lizon denied physically abusing his wife.

     Lizon's attorney, Shawn Bayliss, told local reporters that the allegations against his client were the "fabrications of a fertile imagination or a feeble mind, one of two." The attorney (I presume court appointed) didn't stop there. "My client's spouse," he said, "has never even filed a petition seeking a domestic violence protection order. She would say, and he [Peter Lizon] would agree, domestic violence has not been part of his history." Attorney Bayliss, advertising himself as the man to see if your wife accuses you of assault, in explaining away the evidence of abuse on Stephanie Lizon's body, said, "But in the most common terms, not every injury is intentional. Not every bruise is the result of some violent act. The point of all that is, don't rush to judgement until you know all the facts." The attorney's remarks infuriated domestic violence protection advocates who worried that such statements discouraged battered women from coming forward.

     On the morning of Friday, July 13, 2012, Peter Lizon appeared in the Jackson County Magistrate Court in Ripley, West Virginia for his preliminary hearing. He sat at the defense table with two attorneys. An obviously frightened Stephanie Lizon took the stand, and in response to prosecutor Katie Castro's questions, denied that her husband had physically abused her. She explained checking into the domestic violence center under a false name as simply a ploy to avoid arguing with her husband that day in front of their one-year-old son. When asked how she had acquired the burn scars on her back and breasts, the witness said they were the result of accidents. And what about her swollen and mutilated feet? And the shackle scars on her ankles? Were these from accidents as well? Yes, answered the witness.

     Following the testimony of witnesses from the rental store and the domestic violence shelter, and the introduction of the 45 photographs depicting Stephanie's scars and bruises, the magistrate bound the case over for trial. Jackson County prosecutor Katie Castro would have to make her case through third-party witnesses, and the physical evidence of abuse.

     Craig Tatterson, the special prosecutor in the case, in August 2012, moved to have the charges against Peter Lizon dropped. According to Tatterson, because the statements made to the women at the Family Crisis Center are hearsay and could not be used in court, there was not enough evidence for the state to go forward with the case. In October 2012, a grand jury sitting in Jackson County refused to indict Peter Lizon. The local prosecutor decided not to present the case again and dropped all charges.

      

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Stephanie Lazarus Murder Case

     In the early 1980s, Stephanie Lazarus, a student at UCLA, fell in love with John  Ruetten who also attended the university. After college, Lazarus and Ruetten continued to see each other, and even took trips together. But for Ruetten, it wasn't a serious relationship. In 1984, Stephanie joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a patrol officer. A year later, Ruetten shocked her with the news that he was marrying a woman named Sherri Rasmussen. Lazarus responded to the revelation by becoming hysterical. At the hospital where Rasmussen worked as a nursing supervisor, the jilted, distraught cop confronted her rival. At one point Lazarus threatened that if she couldn't have John Ruetten, nobody could  have him. Notwithstanding Lazarus' smoldering objection, Ruetten and Rasmussen were married in November 1985.

     On the morning of February 24, 1986, Sherri Ruetten (nee Rasmussen), still employed at the hospital, called in sick. Stephanie Lazarus also took a day off from the LAPD. At six that evening, John Ruetten returned to his townhouse in the San Fernando Valley to find his wife of three months sprawled on her back on the living room carpet. Dressed in a red robe and a pink T-shirt, Sherri Ruetten  had been struck over the head with a heavy vase, tied-up, beaten, bitten, and shot to death. The Los Angeles County coroner estimated that the 29-year-old victim had been murdered around noon.

     A crime scene investigator, in the era before DNA identification, had the presence of mind to swab the victim's bite mark with cotton and place the sealed evidence in the coroner's freezer. (From saliva, a forensic serologist could determine the donor's blood type.) Detectives on the case, thinking that Sherri Ruetten had interrupted a burglar, did not suspect officer Stephanie Lazarus. The investigation went nowhere.

     In 1993, the LAPD promoted Lazarus to detective. That year she married a fellow police officer, and shortly thereafter the couple had a daughter. In 2005, the LAPD formed a squad of cold-case investigators who re-opened hundreds of old, unsolved murders that featured biological evidence capable of being DNA tested. The 1986 Sherri Ruetten case fell into that category. In 2005, a DNA analysis of the saliva traces swabbed from the victim's bite wound revealed that the killer was a woman. While members of Sherri's family suspected that Stephanie Lazarus had killed Sherri, the LAPD, perhaps unwilling to investigate one of their own, stayed with the intruder theory. (Female burglars are extremely rare.)

     In 2009, after Stephanie Lazarus retired from the force as a highly decorated detective specializing in art theft, the cold-case investigators turned their attention to her. That year, a detective who had followed the suspect to a Costco store, retrieved a soda can she had thrown into a trash container. A DNA analyst compared saliva traces from the soda can to the Rasmussen bite mark residue. The comparison resulted in a partial DNA match. This linkage to the murder scene provided detectives with probable cause to take Lazarus into custody.

     With Lazarus in custody, an investigator had the opportunity to swab the inside of her mouth for a higher quality saliva sample. According to DNA expert Jennifer Francis, the sample from the suspect's mouth matched the crime scene saliva. This meant that Stephanie Lazarus was the only person in the world who could have bitten Sherri Ruetten. The district attorney's office charged the retired police officer with first-degree murder. A judge set her bail at $10 million. Lazarus would await her trial in the Los Angeles County Jail.

     The Lazarus trial got underway on February 6, 2012. Deputy District Attorney Paul Nunez, after showing the jury of six men and six women the murder scene photographs, spent the first week establishing the integrity of the DNA evidence. He also emphasized how it proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had murdered Sherri Ruetten. Defense attorney Mark Overland aggressively cross-examined the prosecution's DNA experts in an effort to plant seeds of doubt regarding the reliability of physical evidence this old.

     On February 14, the prosecutor put John Ruetten on the stand. The 53-year-old witness described how the defendant had reacted to the news he was marrying Sherri Rasmussen. To calm her down, he agreed to have sex with her. After the murder, the idea that Lazarus had killed his wife never crossed Ruetten's mind. Detectives had told him that Sherri had been murdered when she interrupted a burglar.

     Prosecutor Nunez, on February 16, 2012, put his last witness on the stand, a FBI criminal profiler who testified that the killer had staged part of the murder scene to throw off investigators. According to this witness, the victim's townhouse, with its alarm company sign on the door and its location in plain view of other houses, was an unlikely target for a burglar.

     Mark Overland, in his two-day defense presentation, attacked the DNA evidence. He tried to convince jurors that the 1986 bite mark saliva had degraded and had been contaminated. The defense attorney also put a fingerprint examiner on the stand who testified that none of the murder scene latents belonged to the defendant. Overland rested his case without putting the defendant on the stand. (I believe, in a case involving prosecution DNA evidence, that was a mistake.)

     In his closing remarks to the jury, Deputy District Attorney Nunez said the DNA evidence against the defendant was "overwhelming." The prosecutor identified the motive in the murder as jealousy. The defense attorney asked the jurors to disregard the DNA evidence which he characterized as "compromised." During the closing arguments, the defendant looked on without outward signs of emotion.

     On March 8, 2012, after deliberating a little more than a day, the jury found Lazarus guilty of first-degree murder. Not long after the verdict, the Rasmussen family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the LAPD and the city.

     On May 10, 2012, the judge sentenced the 51-year-old Lazarus to 27 years in prison. A civil judge, in 2013, dismissed the Rasmussen wrongful death suit against the police department.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Female Teachers Who Seduce High School Boys: A Serious Crime?

     Meredith Powell began teaching math at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington in September 2012. In January 2014, the unmarried 25-year-old started sending sexually explicit text messages and erotic videos to one of her 15-year-old male students. She followed this up with sexual encounters (oral sex) with this boy and another 15-year-old student in her classroom.

     In February 2014, the police got involved after Powell wrote a letter to the girlfriend of one of the boys. In that letter she apologized for her "unprofessional" and "drunken" text messages.

     Following a brief investigation, Tacoma police officers arrested Meredith Powell for having sex with two of her students. A Pierce County prosecutor charged the teacher with two counts of child rape and several lesser offenses. After her release from the county jail on bond, the superintendent of the Tacoma School District placed the accused on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the case.

     In July 2014, Powell pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

     At Powell's sentencing hearing on August 29, 2014 before Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank Cuthbertson, Shannon McMinimee, the attorney for the school district, urged the judge to impose a tough sentence. McMinimee reminded the judge that this teacher had committed child rape. (No doubt the school district wanted the judge to send a message to other teachers in the system that having sex with a student was a serious crime.)

     The defendant's attorney, Wayne Fricke, in arguing for a light sentence, called his client "an upstanding individual who went through a rough patch last fall. She didn't handle the situation well and got herself into this situation," he said. (Had the defense attorney said this in reference to a male client who'd had sex with a female student, he would have been laughed out of court.)

     The defendant rose to her feet, and speaking to the judge, said, "I feel like words can't even express how sorry I am. I wish I could take back what happened to the students I failed. Sorry doesn't take away anything that happened, but I hope they [her victims] can move forward with as little impact as possible. I pray every day for the two boys. I'm heartbroken over the suffering I caused them and their families."

     When it came time to hand down his sentence, Judge Cuthbertson said, "This is difficult, this is different, this is not what we usually see. Everything suggests this is out of character for you. But again, you need to understand the severe impact this case has had not only on the victims but on their families."

     The judge sentenced the former teacher to five years. However, he suspended all but six months of that penalty. As part of the sentence the judge ordered Powell to enroll in a program for first-time sex offenders.

     Upon hearing the sentence, the victims' parents could be heard cursing as they stormed out of the courtroom. The attorney for the school district told reporters that she had hoped for a longer period of incarceration. She said the state had revoked Powell's license to teach.

     It seems that when a male teacher has consensual sex with a 15-year-old female student, he will almost always be sentenced to at least two years in prison, often longer. This sentencing double standard suggests that some judges, in cases where the defendant is a woman and the student is male, believe that boys are crime victims in name only. Girls, on the other hand, are true victims of adult male dominance.
     

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Men Who Kill Prostitutes


     The term "serial killing," coined by FBI profilers in the 1980s, pertains to two or more unrelated murders in distinctly separate incidents. In other words, killings with "cooling off" periods in between. At any given time, according to FBI experts on the subject, there are between twenty and fifty serial killers going about their deadly business. I believe, based on national homicide statistics, that the number is closer to twenty. America produces 85 percent of the world's serial killers. While these murderers fall into several groups according to their motives, MO, and psychological profiles, they are all sociopaths who feel no guilt or remorse.

     Serial killers who rape, torment and kill women--often runaways, prostitutes and others who live transient lives--are called lust killers. (In England they call them "recreational killers.") These men are primarily motivated by sex and sadism and have nothing but disdain for their victims. Before they actually kill anyone, most of these sociopaths fantasize about violent sex. At some point, their fantasies turn into reality. These predators prey on prostitutes because they are easy targets. A street walker will go missing, and no one will report it for days or weeks, if at all. Moreover, the police are not likely to give such cases much attention. As criminal homicides, these cases are difficult to solve because many of the bodies cannot be identified, and there is no substantial relationship between the victims and their killers.  

     What follows are the broad profiles of nine lust killers. Two of these men are black, and all of them murdered prostitutes. In no particular order, they are:

Garry Ridgway
Seattle, Washington
white male; born 1949; 90 victims (1982-2000)

     Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, is America's most prolific lust killer. This childhood bed-wetter with a low IQ grew into a religious fanatic fixated on prostitutes. A loner and an outdoorsman, Ridgway, divorced three times, had a son by his second wife. He targeted street walkers who worked in Seattle and dumped their bodies on the banks of the Green River. He painted trucks for a living.

Arthur Shawcross
Rochester, New York
white male; born 1945; 12 victims (1988-1989)

     In 1972, before Shawcross started killing prostitutes, he raped and murdered two children in Watertown, New York. After serving fourteen years in prison, he began targeting street walkers in Rochester, dumping their bodies in the Genesse River. Although he had a low IQ, he had served in the U.S. Army. He confessed to his murders before dying in 2008.

Bobby Joe Long
Tampa Bay, Florida
white male; born 1953; 10 victims (1984)

     As a child growing up in Kenova, West Virginia, kids teased Long because he had an extra X chromosome that caused him to grow breasts. As a child he suffered several head injuries, and slept in his mother's bed until he was a teenager. Prior to killing women in the Tampa Bay area, Long raped at least fifty women in Fort Lauderdale, Ocala and Miami where he was known in the press as the "Classified Ad Rapist." In 1974, he married his high school girlfriend with whom he fathered two children. They divorced in 1980. Three years later, Long moved to Tampa Bay and in 1984 began abducting, raping and murdering women, most of whom were prostitutes. He took his victims to his apartment where he either stangled or bludgeoned them, or cut their throats. One of his victims escaped which led to his arrest and conviction. Long confessed to deriving sadistic pleasure from his crimes. He is currently on death row.

Maury Travis
St. Louis, Missouri
black male; born 1965; 12-20 victims (2000-2002)

     This hotel worker from Ferguson, Missouri outside of St. Louis, took prostitutes to his home where, in a basement torture chamber, he raped, tortured, and stangled his victims. He video-taped many of his atrocities. When investigators searched Travis' house, they found bondage equipment, a stun gun, and newspaper clippings featuring news of his murders. In 2002, he committed suicide in his St. Louis jail cell. In a letter to the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Travis boasted that he had killed seventeen prostitutes.

Kendall Francois
Poughkeepsie, New York
black male; born 1971; 8 victims (1996-1998)

     This necrophiliac high school hall monitor took prostitutes to his home where he killed them by strangulation. His hatred of street walkers stemmed from the fact one of them had infected him with HIV. When the police searched his home, they found the decomposing bodies of several victims. He is serving a life sentence at the Attica Correctional Facility.

Robert Lee Yates
Spokane, Washington
white male; born 1952; 16 victims (1986-1988)

     After working as a prison guard, Yates embarked on a medal-winning, nineteen year career in the U.S. Army where he flew cargo planes and helicopters. All of his victims worked the streets in the skid row section of Spokane. He's currently on death row at Washington State Penetentiary.

Robert Hansen
Anchorage, Alaska
white male; born 1939; 21 victims (1980-1983)

     This bipolar baker and police academy drill instructor came from a dysfunctional family and was bullied at school. Before he began killing prostitutes, he burned down a school bus garage in Pocahontas, Iowa. Known as a quiet loner, Hansen fathered two children. He kidnapped his victims in Anchorage then released them into the Alaskan wilderness where he hunted them down like animals.

Doug Clark
Los Angeles, California
white male; born 1948; 8 victims (1980)

     Along with his accomplice Carol M. Bundy, Clark became known as one of the "Sunset Strip Killers." The boiler operator at a Jergens Soap Factory fantasized about killing women during sex then, with the help of Bundy, graduated to the real thing. He shot his victims in the back of the head. At his trial he represented himself. He's now on death row. Carol Bundy, pursuant to a plea bargain, is doing life.

Dayton Leroy Rogers
Portland Oregon
white male; born 1953; 6 victims (1983-1987)

     A mechanic who fixed small engines and was deeply in debt, Rogers took his victims into the woods where he raped and stabbed them to death. All of his victims were runaways hooked on dope. He's currently awaiting his fate on Oregon's death row.

     The disturbing thing about all of these men is that they did not stand out in any way. They did not look like monsters, and in their daily lives did nothing that revealed who they really were. Notwithstanding their homicidal activities, they seemed ordinary. That's what made them so dangerous. And it also made them hard to catch.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Randall Price: Small Town Cop Kills Mentally Ill Antagonist

     Along a dirt road in Cottageville, South Carolina on May 16, 2011, Officer Randall Price of the Cottageville Police Department shot and killed Bert Reeves, a local construction company owner and the town's former mayor. They were both 40-years-old, had an antagonistic history between them, and, at the time of the shooting, were engaged in physical combat. The backgrounds of both men involved conflict and trouble. Reeves, shot in the chest, died from his wounds at a local hospital. The chief of the six-man police department, consisting of only two full-time patrol officers, placed Officer Price on paid administrative leave pending the investigation of the shooting by detectives with the state.

     Mayor Reeves, in 2004, scolded a town officer for not writing enough speeding tickets to pay for his job. ( With 10,000 vehicles passing through town every day on a major route between Charleston and Waterboro, Cottageville was a notorious speed trap.) In March 2006, a sheriff's deputy arrested Reeves for driving 103 mph in a 55 mph zone. Three months later, another deputy warned Reeves for driving 71 in a 55 mph area. In July 2006, Reeves suffered a serious brain injury after flipping his pickup. That November, the mayor reported his wife and children missing. He said they had been taken against their will by unidentified people angry at him over some business deal "turned ugly." As it turned out, the wife and kids had left on their own volition to get away from Reeves. A month later, after the state revealed that Reeves had traces of marijuana in his blood when he wrecked his truck, the mayor resigned. About a month before the fatal shooting, Reeves had complained about Officer Price's arrest of one of his relatives on an alchol related charge.

     Officer Randall Price, before joining the Cottageville force in May 2008, had, two years earlier, been fired from the Blockville Police Department over a claim of excessive force. In 2001, he had been fired from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for criminal domestic violence, and in 1999 from the McCormick County Sheriff's Office for unsafe driving. During an eleven year period, Price had held jobs with eight different law enforcement agencies. He was the quintessential small town gypsy cop.

     In September 2011, Cottageville Mayor Margaret Steen laid off Officer Price. The police department, she said, couldn't afford to keep him on paid administrative leave pending the completion of the shooting investigation. The former mayor shot by Price had been Steen's nephew.

     In September 2012, Bert Reeves' ex-wife Ashley, on behalf of their two children, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the town of Cottageville and other defendants. According to her attorney, Mullins McLeod, on the day in question, officer Price drove out to Nut Hatch Lane where he blocked the former mayor in with his patrol car before shooting him in the chest. The plaintiff accused the defendant town of negligently hiring a cop with a history of police brutality. According to the lawsuit, because town officials knew that Officer Price was out to get Mr. Reeves, they were negligent in not firing him.

     In August 2013, Lake Summers, the attorney representing the town, released civil suit documents that portrayed Bert Reeves, in the years before his death, as a mentally unstable and dangerous man. One of these documents included Mayor Margaret Steen's deposition transcript. Steen, the dead man's aunt, testified that shortly before the shooting, while she was at work in the town's municipal building, Reeves pulled his car up behind Officer Price's cruiser and started blowing his horn. The mayor, in an effort to defuse the situation, told the officer to ignore Reeves and go about his business. After Officer Price drove off, Reeves informed the major that he had been "this close to getting" Officer Price.

     According to Mayor Steen, Reeves looked as though he was under the influence of drugs that day. She testified that he was "acting wild and crazy." The mayor advised her nephew to take his complaints about Officer Price to the chief of police. Bert Reeves did not take her advice. In recalling that moment, the mayor said, "and he [Reeves] got this look on his face and he pointed and said, 'I'm going to get him now' and took off like a bat."

     The mayor, worried that there would be a dangerous confrontation involving her nephew and the police officer, immediately notified chief of police John Craddock of the situation. A short time later, Chief Craddock informed the mayor that Officer Price had killed Bert Reeves.

     Mercer Reeves, in his civil suit deposition, revealed that his brother Bert, in November 2006, had been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility after he threatened to harm members of his family. According the brother, Bert had threatened to kill his cousin, and talked about harming a police officer.

     Ashley Reeves, in responding to attorney Summer's deposition transcripts, admitted that Bert had gone through a rough period before and immediately after their June 2007 divorce. In 2006, he had threatened to burn down their house. The family court judge granted the divorce on grounds of Bert's adultery. Although the children remained with her, the judge granted her ex-husband visitation rights. "He was a really good father to his children," Ashley said. The lawsuit plaintiff asserted that her husband's difficulties with mental illness had nothing to do with his being wrongfully shot to death by Officer Price.

     According to a state toxicology report, Bert Reeves, at the time of his death, was not under the influence of illicit drugs. However, he did have in his system, at "therapeutic levels," three prescription drugs designed to treat anxiety.

     There was no third party witness to this police-involved shooting. Moreover, the event was not caught on videotape. As a result, all investigators had to go on was Randall Price's version of the incident. This and the fact Bert Reeves was mentally disturbed and angry in the hours before his death resulted in no criminal charges against the former police officer.

     On October 2, 2014, testimony in Ashley Reeves' wrongful death suit against Randall Price, the town of Cottageville, and its police department, got underway in federal court in Charleston, South Carolina. Former Cottageville police chief John Craddock took the stand for the defense on October 14, 2014. According to this witness, Bert Reeves, just before Randall Price shot him, was swinging at the officer.

     Throughout the trial, plaintiff's attorney McLoad painted Randall Price as a loose cannon cop who had been frequently disciplined and fired for his on-duty bad behavior with several law enforcement agencies.

     The federal jury, on October 15, 2014, finding that the village of Cottageville had been negligent in hiring Randall Price, awarded the Reeves family $97.5 million. This award was a staggering financial blow to a community that couldn't afford it.

    

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Deputy Shaquille O'Neal And The Botched SWAT Raid

     In 2006, Michael Harmony, a lieutenant with the Bedford County Sheriff's office, commanded the battle against child pornography in south central Virginia. Lieutenant Harmony headed a high-profile regional task force called Blue Ridge Thunder. Shaquille O'Neal, the 7 foot 1, 325-pound center for the Miami Heat professional basketball team, an off-season reserve deputy with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, was a member of the regional task force. The sheriff had enlisted the famous basketball player, also a gun-carrying reserve officer in Miami Beach, as the public face of the area's anti-child pornography campaign. O'Neal had accompanied the Blue Ridge Thunder team on several military-style child pornography raids.

     In September 2006, a cyberspace undercover investigator assigned to the task force, downloaded child pornography via an Internet Provider (IP) address. Based on this information, a local magistrate subpoenaed Fairpoint Communications, the source IP, requiring the company to identify the person or persons at this IP site. The IP complied, providing the authorities with the name of A. J. Nuckols, a resident of Gretna, Virginia. The police didn't know it, but someone at Fairpoint Communications had misread the subpoena. Therefore the identification of the Nuckols family in connection with the IP address was a mistake. Without further investigation into the identify of Mr. Nuckols and his family, the police used this faulty information to acquire a warrant to search his house.

     Mr. Nuckols, a 45-year-old tobacco and cattle farmer, lived with his wife, Lisa, an elementary school teacher, on a farm near Gretna. Two of their children, ages 12 and 16, lived at home. Their 21-year-old daughter attended a nearby college. The family kept their one computer, mostly used by the children for homework, in their living room. The parents didn't know their own email address, and rarely shopped online or downloaded information from the Internet. There was nothing in their histories, lifestyle, or associations that suggested any connection to child pornography.

     Saturday morning at 10:30 A.M., September 23, 2006, two officers from the Blue Thunder Task Force knocked on the Nuckol's front door. Invited into the house by Lisa, they informed her of the warrant allowing them to search the dwelling for child pornography. "I was in shock," Lisa later told a newspaper reporter. "At first it was not just disbelief. I told them, 'We don't live that way.' "

     As the police officers spoke to Lisa Nuckols, a fleet of police cars from Bedford and Pittsylvania Counties rolled up to the house. Suddenly ten officers, dressed in black and camouflage, and wearing flak jackets, were moving about the yard carrying semiautomatic weapons. Mr. Nuckols, working near the barn, looked across the field and saw all the police vehicles. Fearing that something awful had happened to his wife, or one of his children, he jumped into his truck and sped to the house.

     "What's going on?" Mr. Nuckols asked as he climbed out of the pickup. Instead of getting an answer, one of the officers dropped into a shooting position, aimed his pistol at the farmer, and said, "Turn around and put your hands on the truck." Another member of the team handcuffed Mr. Nuckols behind his back. As they led him toward the house, Lieutenant Michael Harmony reportedly said, "Had a rough day? It's about to get a whole lot worse."

     Lieutenant Harmony informed Mr. Nuckols that he or someone in his family was suspected of having downloaded child pornography from 150 web sites. The police were there to search the house for evidence of this crime. Later, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, Mr. Nuckols expressed how he felt at that moment: "When it finally became clear what they were there for, I was just flat-out mad. They came and assaulted my family for something we had nothing to do with."

     The Nuckols children came home at 2 P.M. from a high school cross-country meet. The police, still in the house, asked them if they had downloaded child pornography. The children were as stunned by the accusation as their parents. Ninety minutes later, the officers departed, taking with them the family computer, DVDs, videotapes, and other personal belongings. Before he left, Lieutenant Harmony told Mr. Nuckols that the child pornography investigation would take between six and nine months to wrap up, noting that the state crime lab was backed up.

     At one point durng the siege, Mr. Nuckols recognized the famous basketball player. "You're Shaquille O'Neal," he said. The big man, dresssed like the others, and armed, replied that his name was Tony. Nine days later, when the Nuckols family learned that the search and seizure had been based on an erroneous IP address identification, O'Neal denied involvement in the raid. However, after the Bedford County Sheriff's Office confirmed his participation, he admitted his role.

     After the raid, before they were aware of the mistake, Lisa Nuckols told neighbors and friends what happened. Worried that she might lose her job, she advised the principal and the school superintendent as well. In his letter to the newspaper editor, Mr. Nuckols wrote: "When you come into someone's home, that's an intrusion. I feel the same about the raid as I would about any assault on our home and family. A robber would be wrong, and these officers were wrong. No matter what the spin the police put on it, the public will always believe it's wrong. People can't believe this happens in this country."

     In response to the criticism following the revelation that the Blue Ridge Thunder team had raided the wrong house, Lieutenant Harmony blamed the Fairpoint Company. According to him, the IP had made the mistake, not the police. Lieutenant Mike Taylor with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff's Office, though not a participant in the raid, apologized to the Nuckols family.

     Shaquille O'Neal, however, took another approach by accusing Mr. Nuckols of exaggerating his account of the raid to make the police look bad. When members of the media questioned him about his role in the operation, the basketball player reportedly said, "We did everything right, went to the judge, got a warrant. You know, they [the Nuckols] made it seem like we beat them up, and that never happened. [Well good for you Shaquille.] We went in, talked to them, took some stuff, returned it--bada bam, bada bing."

     If there is one thing in law enforcement rarer than a slam dunk case, it's an apology for shoddy police work.