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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Killer Boobs: Criminal Suffocation by Breasts

     In April 2010, Claire Smedley from Blackpool, England told a British newspaper reporter that she had nearly killed her boyfriend with her size 40LL breasts. (While I know bullet calibers, I have no idea what 40LLs look like other than they are big.) With her boyfriend Steven's face buried in her super-bust, Claire misinterpreted his flailing for oxygen as sexual excitement. After barely escaping breast asphyxiation, Steven ended the relationship and vowed only to date flat-chested woman. (Just kidding.)

     In Germany, a lawyer named Tim Schmidt claimed that his girlfriend, a woman armed with a pair of 38DDs attempted to suffocate him by breast. Mr. Schmidt described his near-death experience to a German newspaper reporter: "I asked her why she wanted to smother me to death with her breasts. She told me: 'Pleasure--I wanted your death to be as pleasurable as possible.' " (Really? I can't image, as I'm fighting for my last breath, thinking, these babies are nice.)

     Ambulance personnel and Snohomish County sheriff's deputies, shortly after midnight on Saturday, January 12, 2013, responded to a 911 domestic disturbance call from a mobile home in the Airport Inn Trailer Park outside Everett, Washington. Residents Donna Lange and her boyfriend (who was not named) had been drinking alcohol and smoking pot all night with a man and two other women. The 51-year-old Lange and her boyfriend had gotten into a fight. The fight escalated and moved to the back of the trailer house. At some point, Lange allegedly threw the 5-foot, 7-inch, 175 pound man to the floor. The 5-foot, 6-inch, 195 pound Lange then climbed on top of the downed drunk and passed out. The victim lay trapped under her body with his face buried in her breasts. (I'm not making this up.)

     When the police and the medics stormed into the trailer, they found the boyfriend still lying on the floor. He was not breathing. In his hands were clumps of Lange's hair. CPR didn't help, and upon arrival at the Swedish Hospital in Edmonds, medical personnel pronounced the 50-year-old boyfriend dead. Cause of death: suffocation.

     Questioned at the hospital, Donna Lange told police officers that she had no knowledge how her boyfriend had died. A few days later, a Snohomish County prosecutor charged Donna Lange with second-degree manslaughter. (A lesser homicide charge involving an accidental death caused by reckless behavior, or during the commission of a crime that was not a felony.) If convicted, Lange could be sentenced to a maximum five years in prison. (I can find no record that the prosecution went through with this case. I suppose the charges were dropped or Lange pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was fined or put on probation. Any update would be appreciated.)

     Just when you think there is nothing new in the world of deviant behavior or unnatural death, a case like this comes along. 

Good Interview Subjects

I hate writing about anyone who is familiar with the press or has a "story." I like to write about people who don't necessarily see what their story is, or what my interest might be. I like subjects who really know how to enjoy life or are immersed in whatever they are doing fully.

Adrian Nicole Leblanc in Robert S. Boynton's The New Journalism, 2005

Writing as a Process of Discovery

Many people think that writers are wise men who can impart to them the truth or some profound philosophy of life. It is not so. A writer is a skilled craftsman who discovers things along with the reader, and what you do with a good writer is you share the search; you are not being imparted wisdom, or if you are being imparted wisdom, it's a wisdom that came to him just as it came to you reading it.

Shelby Foote in Conversations with Shelby Foote (1989) by William C. Carter 

The Intimidation Effect of Gratuitous Violence

     Demonstrations of the ability to kill, including killing innocent people, is a common entry test in criminal or violent illegal organizations....It is also used to induce fear. Members of the Aryan Brotherhood, an infamous U. S. prison gang, when entering a new prison would often carry out a demonstration killing or stabbing in order to terrorize the inmate population....

     Going from fact to fiction, in The Long Goodbye, a film by the late Robert Altman based on Raymond Chandler's novel, a gangster hits his girlfriend with a soda bottle and then snarls at Philip Marlowe: "Now that's someone I love. Think what could happen to you."

Diego Gambetta, Codes of the Underworld, 2009

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Pastor Danny Kirk Murder Case

     At eleven o'clock on Monday morning, October 29, 2012, in Forest Hill, a suburban town outside of Fort Worth, Texas, Derrick Birdow crashed his Ford Crown Victoria into the Greater Sweethome Missionary Baptist Church. The 850-member congregation was founded in 1995 by Reverend Danny Kirk, a former football star at East Texas State University.

     Shortly after the sedan smashed into the brick building, the 53-year-old pastor came out of the church to investigate the source of the commotion. He encountered 33-year-old Birdow who, after plowing into the structure, climbed out of his car apparently unhurt. With no warning, Birdow shoved Pastor Kirk against the car and began punching him in the head.

     John Whitaker, a church maintenance employee, when he saw a man punching the pastor, ran outside to help him. While Whitaker was able to punch the attacker several times, his blows didn't faze Birdow who broke away from the altercation and fled into the church with the pastor and the janiter in pursuit.

     The church secretary, aware that a crazy man had plowed his car into the building, had attacked the pastor, and was now inside the church, locked herself in her office and called 911. "My pastor is bleeding, he's been attacked," she said. "I'm not going out there. I need help real fast. Send policemen. I do need an ambulance."

     The 911 dispatcher asked, "Does your pastor know him?"

     "I have no idea," answered the frightened secretary.

     Inside the church, Derrick Birdow ran to the music room where he grabbed an electric guitar. As John Whitaker turned a corner in the hallway, Birdow used the instrument to blindside him with two blows to the head. Seriously injured, Whitaker went down. Birdow then began beating Pastor Kirk with the guitar, turning the scene into a blood-bath.

     When officers with the Forest Hill Police Department burst into the church, they saw Birdow, covered in the minister's blood, beating him to death with the church musical instrument. One of the officers, through the use of a taser gun, subdued the crazed attacker enough to slap on the handcuffs. As the police hauled the violent intruder to a patrol car, he continued to resist. After placing the suspect into the back of the cruiser and returning to the church, the officers realized they had not arrived in time to save Reverend Danny Kirk. Derrick Birdow had beaten the pastor to death.  

     A short time later, a police officer checking on Birdow in the back of the patrol car, found him unresponsive. Paramedics arrived at the scene, couldn't find a pulse, and rushed him to the John Peter Smith Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

     In 2004,  a Tarrant County judge sentenced Derrick Birdow to a five-year prison sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Birdow had also been convicted in the county for the possession of controlled substances, DUI, and charges related to domestic violence. According to one of this man's relatives, Birdow had been having some "issues," and he hadn't "been himself." Birdow had also "been going through some stuff. He's not a happy dude." (Well, that explains everything.) Derrick Birdow was not a member of Pastor Kirk's congregation, but his children may have attended the church. It is not known if Reverend Kirk and his killer were acquainted.

      In February 2013, Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani ruled that Derrick Birdow had died of PCP ingestion.

     There should be no place more peaceful on a Monday morning in suburban Fort Worth than a Baptist church. But in America, when it comes to mayhem and murder, no place is off-limits. Nevertheless, the beating death of a Baptist minister at his own church by a man wielding an electric guitar, even by U.S. standards of drug-addled crime and mental illness, is more than unusual.


Science and Technical Writing

     Take a class of writing students in a liberal arts college and assign them to write about some aspect of science, and a pitiful moan will go around the room. "No! Not science!" the moan says. The students have a common affliction: fear of science. They were told at an early age by a chemistry or a physics teacher that they don't have "a head for science."

     Take an adult chemist or physicist or engineer and ask him or her to write a report, and you'll see something close to panic. "No! Don't make us write!" they say. They also have a common affliction: fear of writing. They were told at an early age by an English teacher that they don't have "a gift or words."

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1976 

Joseph Wambaugh on Writing Narrative Nonfiction

When I write nonfiction, obviously I was not there when the events occurred. I write in a dramatic style--that is, I employ lots of dialogue. I describe feelings. I describe how the events must have taken place. I invent probable dialogue or a least possible dialogue based upon all of the research that I do.

Joseph Wambaugh in Janet Malcolm's The Journalist and the Murderer, 1990

Signs a Suspect is Lying

     A lying suspect [under interrogation] will speak in fragmented or incomplete sentences such as "It's important that...." He also may feign a memory failure when confronted with a probing question or in responding to a direct accusation of lying. The person will respond with a half-lie, such as "I don't remember," "As far as I know," or "I don't recall;" or, the person my try to bolster his answer with such phrases as "To be perfectly honest with you," or "To be quite frank." [When politicians speak, they are always being "frank."]

     The more sophisticated liars may use the same type of evasions, but they usually plan beforehand so that their answers include a protective verbal coating, such as: "At this point in time," If I recall correctly," "It is my understanding," " If my memory serves me right," or "I may be mistaken but...." By using these tactics, lying suspects seek to establish an "escape hatch" rather than risk telling an outright lie.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

Challenging Fingerprint Experts

     During the first ninety years of fingerprint history, defense attorneys whose clients' latent fingerprints were found as the scenes of crimes had one option--plead them guilty in return for a lighter sentence. No one considered questioning the credibility or competence of a fingerprint expert, and no one dared challenge the scientific reliability of fingerprint identification. Fingerprints either matched or they didn't. There was nothing to challenge.

     Those days are over. Since 2000, there have been numerous cases of latent fingerprint misidentification in the United States and Europe. As it turns out, many fingerprint experts in the United States are undertrained, dishonest, and biased in favor of the police. Most of the nation's competent examiners are overworked due to crime lab budget cuts. Today, it is not unusual for a criminal trial to feature dueling fingerprint experts. This is not good for forensic science, or the criminal justice system.   

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Brinda Sue McCoy Attempted Suicide By Cop Case

     Brinda Sue McCoy, a 48-year-old registered nurse, lived with her husband Frank and their 5 children in Cypress, California, a suburban town of 47,000 in Orange County. Frank McCoy, a former Cypress Councilman and commander with the Long Beach Police Department, was chief of police in Oceanside, a southern California city of 174,000. Frank McCoy had been chief of the 260-member department since 2006. His wife Brinda worked at Hoag Hospital in the Orange county town of Newport.

     At seven in the evening of December 16, 2010, Brinda, while alone in her house and feeling "overwhelmed and distraught," called friends and relatives to inform them of what songs to play at her funeral. Earlier in the day she had argued with her husband and her son.

     Under the influence of prescription medicine to calm her down, and a few martinis, Brinda called 911 for "police assistance." She had recently read a news account about police in another town killing a man wielding a garden hose nozzle. She thought she might be able to get the local police to kill her. Since this would end her suffering, she thought her death would be a relief to friends and family.

     When members of the Cypress Police Department responded to the call, Brinda refused to come out of the house. During the standoff, the distraught woman appeared at a window with a pistol in her hand. She pointed the gun at her head, at the ceiling, then at the police outside. After being warned that if she discharged the gun police officers could get hurt, Brinda fired a shot out the window in the direction of police officers positioned behind a parked pickup truck. The police did not respond in kind. Twenty minutes later, she fired again.

     About an hour after the shootings, the police talked Brinda out of her house. As she crawled out the front door, members of a SWAT team subdued her with a beanbag gun.

     Following 72 hours of observation at a local hospital, police took Brinda McCoy into custody. She posted her $250,000 bail and was released.

     Charged with five counts of police assault with a firearm, felonies that could send her to prison for 30 years, McCoy went on trial in an Orange County court on May 24, 2012. Twenty-five days later, after the defendant testified on her own behalf for two days, the jury, after deliberating 5 hours, found Brinda McCoy guilty on all counts. She would await her September 10 sentencing under house arrest.

     In 2011, the police in the United States shot 50 women, killing about half of them. Most of these women were armed with knives, and had histories of mental illness. Most of them, like Brinda McCoy, did not have criminal records. Many of these police involved shootings were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

     Had Brinda McCoy been a mental case or a drug addict in Philadelphia, Chicago, or Miami, she would have been shot. But in Orange County, California, where the officers knew they were dealing with the disturbed wife of a police chief, they were patient and used nonlethal force.

     Four days after she was released on bail to await her sentencing, police officers found Brinda bleeding in her back yard following an attempted suicide. Judge Francisco Briseno ordered the police to take the suicidal woman into custody for her own protection.

     Prior to Brinda McCoy's sentencing date, Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Olivier, in a rare legal action, agreed to retroactively modify the charges against the defendant by removing the firearm discharge count, the conviction of which carried a mandatory 20-year sentence. In return, defense attorney Lew Rosenblum withdrew his motion for a new trial.

     On September 7, 2012, Judge Briseno sentenced Brinda McCoy to fifteen years in prison. Had the charges against her not been modified after the fact, she would have been sentenced to 30 years behind bars.

     As deputy sheriffs escorted McCoy out of the courtroom in handcuffs, she spoke to her husband, relatives and others there to support her. "Thank you guys," she said. "Everyone, I love you."

     Justice was not done in this case. Fifteen years in prison for a mentally ill woman who tried to use the police to commit suicide was way too harsh.