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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Novels Without Plots

A novel without a plot is like a car without an engine. It isn't going anywhere.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Emily Lambert Murder Case

     In September 2013, Emily Lambert, a third grade teacher at the O Henry Elementary School near Plano, Texas, a suburban community just north of Dallas, divorced her husband Donavan. The couple had daughters aged four and five. Emily and Donavan, following the break up, remained on good terms.

     Shortly after the divorce, the 33-year-old resident of Lewisville began dating a man from Euless, Texas named Robert Early.

     On Saturday, March 1, 2014, Lambert and Early were booked into the Stevens Best Western Inn in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He was on a work assignment and she had accompanied him for the weekend. The next morning, Early called the Carlsbad Police Department and reported Emily missing.

     When questioned by police officers, the 33-year-old Early said he and his missing girlfriend had left the motel bar--the Blue Cactus Lounge--at eleven-thirty the previous night. When they got back to their room they argued. Emily became so angry she stormed out of the motel. When she didn't return in the morning, he called the police.

     Mr. Early described Emily Lambert as five-foot-six, 175 pounds, with long blond hair and a large tattoo of an owl on her back. He said she had left the room without her wallet and her cell phone.

     At four-thirty in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 4, 2014, police officers discovered the body of a female that matched the description of the woman missing from the Best Western Inn. The corpse was found in a field off State Road 31 near Loving, New Mexico, eight miles southeast of Carlsbad. Officers identified the body as Emily Lambert.

     That night detectives questioned Robert Early at the Carlsbad Police Department. In the course of the interrogation session, he confessed to killing his girlfriend.

     After returning to their room after an evening of drinking at the motel bar, the couple got into a physical fight that led to her being knocked unconscious. From the room, Early carried Emily to his silver 2007 Hyundai Elantra.

     With Emily in the Hyundai, Robert drove to a remote area. When he took Emily out of the car, she regained consciousness. They fought again, and this time he knocked her out with an air pump. He tied one end of a rope around her neck and closed the other end in the passenger's side car door. With her tethered to the vehicle, he climbed behind the wheel and dragged her body to where it was found.

     At one o'clock that morning, Carlsbad officers booked Robert Early into the Eddy County Detention Center on the charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. The judge set his bail at $1 million.

     In May 2015, a jury sitting in Carlsbad, New Mexico found Robert Early guilty as charged. The judge sentenced Early to the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Writers As Wimps

Writers love to complain and wail about how difficult it is to write. Oh the suffering, the pure agony of putting words on paper. What a load of crap. You know what's hard work? Try bailing hay, moving furniture, digging coal, or serving food in a restaurant full of human eating machines and their misbehaving kids. No one is forced to write, and no one wants to hear writers crying in their beer. If writing doesn't come easy to you, either quit doing it or shut up about how hard it is. Please.

Thornton P. Knowles

Gabe Watson and The Honeymoon Murder Case

     On October 11, 2003, 26-year-0ld David Gabriel "Gabe" Watson married Tina Thomas, the human resources manager for a small, southern department store chain. The couple met while students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Shortly before getting married, Tina, in anticipation of her honeymoon, took beginning scuba diving lessons that included eleven dives in a flooded Alabama quarry. Gabe, a more experienced diver, had taken advanced courses. He had also made a total of 55 dives, 40 of which had been in the quarry. In 1999 he became certified as a rescue diver.

     Ten days after the wedding, Gabe and his 26-year-old wife began their Australian honeymoon. In Sydney, they visited the Taronga Zoo and attended a Shakespeare play at the Sydney Opera House. On October 22, 2003, the honeymooners began a 7-day dive expedition on the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Day one of the adventure involved being taken, on the Townsville Dive Company's vessel "Spoilsport," to the historic Yolonga shipwreck, 48 nautical miles southeast of Townsville in Queensland, Australia. Gabe and Tina were accompanied by rescue divers Dr. Doug Milsap and Dr. Stanley Stutz, an emergency room physician from Chicago.

     Shortly into the dive, Dr. Stutz saw Watson swim to his wife and embrace her. When they separated, Gabe began swimming to the surface as she sank to the sea bed where she drowned. Rescuers recovered Tina Watson's body not far from the shipwreck.

     When asked to explain what happened to his wife, Gabe said he and Tina, shortly after going into the sea, had encountered strong currents. She panicked, and as he approached to help, she knocked off his mask and air regulator. He couldn't hold her. She floated away and began to sink. Because of an ear problem, Gabe said he was unable to go after her. As she drifted to the bottom of the ocean, he swam to the surface to summon help.

     On October 27, 2003, five days after the drowning, detectives with the Townsville Police Department questioned Gabe Watson. He said that during the struggle he had tried but failed to activate his wife's buoyancy control vest. "I remember," he said, "shouting through my regulator, 'Tina, Tina, Tina.' In the back of my mind I was thinking these people [the other divers] could see us, or at least think something odd was going on. I pretty much lost it."

     Members of the Australian State Dive Squad assisted in the investigation of the drowning by conducting reenactments of Tina's dive. Several members of the investigation team had problems with Gabe Watson's explanation of the drowning, and suspected foul play. In the meantime, the tabloid press in Australia, England, and the United States called Tina's death "The Honeymoon Murder," and by implication, portrayed Gabe Watson as a cold-blooded killer motivated by his wife's life insurance.

     Four years passed with nothing happening in the case. Then, on November 13, 2007, the story jumped back in the news when the authorities in Australia held an inquest into Tina Watson's death. (I'm not sure why, after four years, the authorities decided to re-open the case. Perhaps it was pressure from Tina Watson's family.) Back in the U.S., on August 15, 2008, Gabe Watson married a woman named Kim Lewis. Three months after his second marriage, an Australian grand jury indicted him for murdering his first wife in October 2003.

     Watson, in May 2009, returned to Australia on his own accord to face the murder charge. A month later, in the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, he pleaded guilty to the crime of manslaughter. While he had not intentionally killed his wife, Watson was admitting that he had been criminally negligent in not saving her. The Australian judge, believing that the defendant had not murdered his wife, that he had loved her, and felt guilty that he hadn't saved her, sentenced Watson to one year in prison. The judge criticized the media he believed had journalistically convicted Watson of murdering his wife.

     The one-year prison stretch infuriated Tina Watson's family, and prompted the Australian prosecutor to appeal the sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeals. In September 2009, the three-judge appeals panel hardened Watson's punishment to 18 months behind bars.

     If Gabe Watson thought the matter of his first wife's 2003 death was behind him, he was wrong. In October 2010, a grand jury sitting in Birmingham, Alabama indicted him on charges of murder for pecuniary (monetary) gain, and kidnapping by deception--allegedly luring her to Australia so he could drown her. A month after the Alabama indictment, Watson, having served his 18 months in the Australian prison, was free. Sort of.

     On November 25, 2010, the Australian authorities deported Watson back to America. Before they did, however, the U.S. Attorney General gave them assurances that if convicted, Watson would not be sentenced to the death penalty. As soon as he got off he plane in the U.S., Watson was taken into custody. The prosecutor in Alabama asked the judge to deny Watson bail, but in December a judge set his bond at $100,000. Watson made bail and was able to help his attorneys prepare for his trial.

     Watson's defense team lost two key legal arguments. First, that the United States did not have jurisdiction in a death that occurred in Australia; and second, that trying him twice for the same drowning amounted to double jeopardy. The prosecutor in Alabama argued successfully that he had jurisdiction because, according to his theory of the case, Watson had planned to kill his wife in Alabama for the travel and life insurance benefits. (As it turned out, Watson was not the beneficiary of his wife's life insurance policy, her father was.) Double jeopardy didn't apply in this case because Watson's first conviction was in another country.

     Gabe Watson's attorneys were prepared to argue that Tina Watson's death had been a tragic accident caused by her inexperience as a diver and a previously diagnosed heart problem. On the other side, the prosecutor hoped to convince the Alabama jury that Watson had switched off his wife's air supply, held her in a bear hug until she died, turned her air back on, then let her sink to the ocean floor.

     Colin McKenzie, a diving expert involved in the original Australian investigation had concluded that "a diver with Watson's training should have been able to bring Tina up." But after reviewing Tina's and Gabe's diver logs certificates and her medical history, McKenzie changed his mind. Based on this new information, the expert concluded that Gabe Watson should not have been allowed in the sea with a woman with no open water scuba diving experience.

     The Watson murder trial got underway on February 13, 2012 in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the jury of eight women and four men were empaneled, the prosecutor, Don Valeska, and defense attorney Joe Basgier, made their opening statements.

     On February 21, after Valeska had presented the bulk of his case, the trial took a bad turn for the prosecution. Valeska had put funeral director Sam Shelton on the stand and was directing his testimony toward how, at Tina Watson's funeral, the defendant had asked about retrieving his wife's engagement ring from the casket. The prosecutor intended this line of questioning to establish the monetary motive behind the killing. Judge Tommy Nail, from neighboring Montgomery County, did not like what he heard. Interrupting the prosecutor's direct examination, the judge said, "I took my grandmother's engagement ring when she was buried. I think it's quite common." Turning to the witness, Judge Nail asked, "Is it common?" In response to the judge's question, the funeral director answered, "It's quite common."

     Still fuming, Judge Nail excused the jury, then spoke to prosecutor Valeska: "You mean to tell me that [Gabe Watson] bought the engagement ring, married her, he and his family paid for a wedding, he planned and paid for a honeymoon half way around the world, all so he could kill her to get an engagement ring he had bought for her in the first place?"

     Although the jurors didn't hear Judge Nail rip the heart out of the prosecutor's case, it became clear where the judge stood on the issue of the defendant's guilt. Suddenly a conviction, a risky proposition from the beginning, looked like a long shot.

     Judge Tommy Nail, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, directed a verdict of not guilty after the prosecutor rested his case. In the judge's opinion, viewed in a light most favorable to the state, there was not enough evidence to make a prima facie case of guilt against Gabe Watson. As a result, there was no need for a defense. The trial was over.

     Only Gabe Watson knows if he killed his wife. In my view, the Alabama prosecutor should have left well enough alone after Watson's 2009 guilty plea and his 18 months in the Australian prison. There was simply no hard evidence in this case of a premeditated murder. Moreover, this weak case cost the state of Alabama a lot of money. Several of the prosecution's witnesses had been flown over from Australia. Sometimes prosecutors, attracted by the limelight and the chance of convicting a big-fish defendant, go too far. Both of the judges in this case--the one in Australia, and Judge Nail--did not believe Gabe Watson had murdered his wife. The prosecutor knew this, but went ahead with the case anyway.

     A book about the case called A Second Chance for Justice by a pair of Australian criminology teachers came out in February 2013. Dr. Asher Flynn lectured at Monash University. Dr. Kate Fitz-Gibbon taught criminology at Deakin University. According to the authors, the Australian authorities accepted Watson's guilty plea to save money. The authors believe Gabe Watson murdered his wife.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Animal Suffering

I've adapted to the reality of human tragedy. Sickness, violent death, war, poverty and crime is in the news every day. What I can't endure is the mere thought of an animal being abused. There must be something profoundly wrong with me for not being as generally sensitive to human suffering. Could it mean that I like animals more than people. I hope not.

Thornton P. Knowles

Alan Randall: The Insane Cop Killer Who Wasn't That Crazy

     During the winter of 1974, 16-year-old Alan A. Randall committed more than a dozen burglaries in and around Summit, Wisconsin, a town of 4,000 in Waukesha County. In January 1975, Randall broke into the Summit Police Department. When officers Wayne Olson and Robert Atkins pulled up to police headquarters in their patrol car, Randall, instead of either giving himself up or making a run for it, opened fire on the officers, killing them both. The burglar-turned cop killer drove from the scene in the dead officers' bullet-ridden police vehicle. That night, he committed another burglary, then went home to bed.

     Tried as an adult two years later, the jury found Alan Randall guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. (He had also been charged with murdering his neighbor, a man named Ronald Hoeft. Due to procedural problems with the prosecution in that case, that charge was dropped.) Because Randall's attorney had raised the defense of legal insanity, the trial went into a second phase centered around the issue of his mental state at the time of the murders. The jury, having heard testimony from psychiatrists who had diagnosed Randall of having a personality disorder, found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

     Today, a defendant with a so-called personality disorder would not be adjudged legally insane because people with this disorder are not psychotic, or in any way delusional. They are fully aware of what they have done, and know that the act of murder is wrong. In other words, these defendants are not insane, they are bad. Ted Bundy had a personality disorder, John Hinckley was nuts.

     Having been declared legally insane, Alan Randall, rather than being sent to prison for a specific period of time, was packed off to a mental institution for an indefinite period. He would be eligible for release when psychiatrists said he was cured of his mental illness. Since Randall was not insane, he was, at least in theory, eligible for release the day they admitted him into the Central State Hospital in northeast Wisconsin.

     In 1980, doctors took Randall off his anti-psychotic medication. A model patient--the best mental patients are the ones who aren't insane--Randall was transferred to the Mendota Mental Institution in Madison where he was allowed to work full time at an art gallery.

     In 1989, Randall's attorney began petitioning the court for his release on grounds he had been cured of the mental illness that had caused him to commit the murders fourteen years earlier. By now, Randall's psychiatrists had dropped the personality disorder diagnosis. In 1990 and 1991, judges denied Randall's quest for freedom. In 1992, the shrinks quit spending time with this mental patient altogether. Randall didn't need psychiatrists who had plenty of real mental patients to deal with.

     Randall lost another bid for freedom in 1995. Finally, in April 2013, after 36 years in a mental institution, a six-member jury recommended that the 54-year-old cop killer be released back into society. Since Randall had not been sent to the mental institution to be punished, the issue wasn't whether he had been punished enough. Because he wasn't crazy, he didn't belong in a mental institution. The patient was not let out of the facility immediately because it would take several months to find him a suitable home in some county other than Waukesha.

    While Randall's release order did not create public outrage, some of the murder victims' relatives were disappointed. A widow of one of the murdered officers told reporters that in her opinion, Mr. Randall, who had never publicly apologized for the murders, was not contrite. Waukesha District Attorney Brad Schimel said there was no basis upon which the state could appeal the jury's recommendation to free this killer of two cops.

     Alan Randall's attorney, Craig Powell, assured reporters that his client posed no threat to the community. "He's a much different person now than when he was a kid." Had Alan Randall been sentenced to prison in 1977 instead of being committed to a mental institution, he would have been eligible for parole as early as 1992. That, of course, doesn't mean that he would have been released so soon after the murders.

     In September 2013, Alan Randall, the cop killer who lived 36 years in an insane asylum, became a free man. I'm not sure what's worse: losing your mind in prison, or remaining sane in a mental institution.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The So-Called "Golden Years"

Losing touch with you youth is a hard pill to swallow. Thinking of yourself as middle-aged is a difficult adjustment. What's really tough is going from "I'm getting old" to "I am old." Old age often brings illness, uselessness, and the feeling that one should apologize for still being alive. The golden years? Give me a break.

Thornton P. Knowles

Yoselyn Ortega: The Nanny From Hell

      Kevin Krim grew up in Thousand Oaks, California where he was a high school football star. The Harvard graduate met his future wife Marina at an Italian restaurant in Venice Beach. They were married in 2003. Marina had grown up in Manhattan Beach, California. Kevin worked in Los Angeles, then took a job with Yahoo in San Francisco. The couple, in 2009, moved to New York City.

     In October 2012, the Krims, now with three children--Lucia, age 6, Nessie, 3, and 2-year-old Leo, lived on Manhattan's upper west side in a second-floor, 3-bedroom apartment in the LaRochelle Building on West 75th Street. The $10,000 a month apartment is a block from Central Park, and not far from the Museum of Natural History, and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Marina, a stay-at-home mother, kept a daily online journal of her children's daily lives.

     Two years ago, the Krims hired 48-year-old Yoselyn Ortega, a nanny who had been referred to them by Ortega's older sister Celia who, as a nanny herself, med Marina and Lucia at a ballet lesson. A naturalized U.S. citizen from the Dominican Republic, Yoselyn lived in Manhattan's Hamilton Heights neighborhood then moved to an apartment on Riverside Drive in Harlem a few miles from the Krims. She lived with her son, sister, and niece.

     The Krims became very close to Ortega (they called her "Yosi"), and in February 2012, accompanied her to the Dominican Republic where they visited her family. Whenever the Krims left town for an extended period with the children, they bought Ortega a flight back to her native country. Recently, according to the nanny's relatives, she had been seeing a psychologist. Members of her family have said the nanny was having financial problems. For extra money, she had been selling cheap cosmetics and jewelry to residents of her tenement building.

     On Thursday afternoon on October 25, 2012, Marina took 3-year-old Nessie to a swimming lesson. She left Leo and Lucia in the apartment with the nanny. At 5:25 that evening, when Marina and Nessie returned to the apartment, they found the place dark. Marina assumed that Yoselyn Ortega had taken the two children out for a walk.

     Marina and Nessie returned to the lobby, and from the doorman, learned that Ortega and the children had not left the building. Marina re-entered the apartment, and when she walked into the bathroom, saw Leo and Lucia lying in the bathtub covered in blood. The children had been slashed and stabbed with the bloody kitchen knife lying on the floor next to Ortega who was bleeding from a wound in her neck. (The nanny had also slashed her wrists.)

     Several neighbors heard Marina scream, "You slit her throat!" Later the distraught mother was heard saying, "What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I have no children."

     Paramedics rushed the unconscious nanny to the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Medical Center where she underwent emergency surgery. Marina was taken to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital for sedation. Kevin Krim, returning from a business trip to San Francisco, was met at the airport with the news of his children's deaths. He was also taken to the hospital where they sedated him.

     On Friday, October 26, 2012, detectives were unable to question Ortega who was hooked up to a respirator. The nanny was expected to survive her wounds. Investigators believed Ortega murdered the children, then stabbed herself in the neck about the time the victims' mother entered the apartment.

     Yoselyn Ortega is the youngest of six siblings who grew up in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. Her sister Celia emigrated to the United States in the early 1980s after graduating from accounting studies at Santa Ana College in Santiago. Yoselyn later joined her older sister in America. She worked as the manager of a print shop in Manhattan, then after separating from the father of her son, returned to the Dominican Republic. After awhile, she returned to New York City. According to family members, she loved the Krim children. Before the murders, she had been acting strangely from some kind of emotional stress.

     Prior to her hospital-bed arraignment on November 28, 2012, Yoselyn Ortega's attorney asked the judge to bar the press from the hearing on the grounds his client was too "pathetic" to be seen. Judge Lewis Stone denied the request. "There are things that become uncomfortable with respect to the press. That is the cost that we must bear in connection with the civil liberties." he said.

     In a June 2013 Rikers Island jail interview of Ortega by a reporter with the New York Daily News, the inmate denied killing the children. "I didn't do that," she said. "Those are all lies." The brief interview ended abruptly when Ortega said, "My lawyer told me not to talk. I'm not supposed to say anything."  Later that month, a Manhattan judge at Ortega's competency hearing, ruled that she was mentally fit for trial. Ortega's attorney, Valerie Van Leer-Greenberg, appealed that decision.

     In August 2013, before the same Manhattan judge, Dr. Ankur Saraiya took the stand and said that while Ortega "had suffered some brain damage when she slit her throat, it was not enough to interfere with her fitness." The judge reaffirmed his initial finding that this defendant was mentally competent to stand trial.

     In April 2018, after dozens of delays, a jury sitting in New York City rejected Ortega's insanity defense and found her guilty of double murder. The judge sentenced her to life in prison.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Novel "Ulysses"

James Joyce's 1922 novel Ulysses is generally considered by English professors and high-brow literary critics to be one of the most important works of modern literature. In reality, virtually no one but English professors who have assigned the novel to their hapless students have plowed through this stream-of-consciousness tome. Students burdened with the task of reading Ulysses can't wade through it either. Most of them struggle to even make sense of the Cliff Notes version of the book. Forcing novels like this on students may be one of the reasons most students, when they get out of college, never read another book. Novels that require the intervention of an English professor to interpret them aren't worth reading and shouldn't be used as murder weapons in the killing of fiction.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Gavin Smith Murder Case

     A native of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, Gavin Smith, in 1973, graduated from Van Nuys High where the six-foot-six basketball player caught the attention of UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Two years later, Smith played on the UCLA team that won the NCAA college basketball championship.

     In 1994, following a lackluster career as a television and theatrical film actor, Smith became a film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox working out of an office in Calabasas, California. He resided with his wife Lisa and their three sons in the West Hills area of the San Fernando Valley.

     By 2010, Gavin Smith was plagued by financial and marital problems. His marriage had gone sour after Lisa became devoutly religious. Following her conversion, Gavin began having affairs. He and Lisa had purchased their West Hills home when the Los Angeles area real estate market was booming. After the 2008 recession, the market value of the dwelling declined significantly. The Smiths ended up owing more on the house than it was worth. The couple wanted to sell the house but couldn't afford the loss.

     Because of the marital disharmony, Gavin, in the spring of 2012, lived with a friend in Oak Park, a community not far from his house in West Hills. At ten at night on May 1, 2012, he drove off in his black 2000 Mercedes-Benz 500E. He did not return.

     At the Oak Park residence, Smith left behind his cellphone, credit cards, a shaving kit, and other personal belongings. To investigators, this indicated his intention to return to his friend's house. The next day, when he didn't show up for work, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office opened a missing person investigation. As the days passed without a sign of Smith or his vehicle, volunteers began handing out flyers. Friends and family also posted a $20,000 reward. The Sheriff's office created a special hotline number for tipsters. None of these efforts bore fruit.

     Investigators learned that Smith had been having an affair with Chandrika Creech, the wife of convicted drug dealer John Creech. On June 8, 2012, deputies searched the Creech home and were seen leaving the dwelling carrying several boxes and a computer. A few days later, a judge sentenced John Creech to eight years in prison for selling drugs.

     On March 14, 2013, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Sheriff's Office Homicide Bureau, held a press conference to announce that the authorities had located Smith's missing Mercedes. The vehicle had been found on February 21, 2013 at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch area of San Fernando Valley. The car contained traces of Mr. Smith's blood and other evidence of foul play. Detectives have linked the storage place to a person with close ties to John Creech.

     Lieutenant Dolson said, "We believe Gavin Smith was murdered." The detective also named John Creech as a person of interest in the case. Investigators were still looking for Gavin Smith's body.

     In May 2014, a Los Angeles County judge ruled Mr. Smith legally deceased.

     On Thursday November 6, 2014, Lieutenant Larry Dietz of the Los Angeles Coroner's Office confirmed that remains found by hikers on October 26 belonged to Gavin Smith. The hikers stumbled across the decomposed body and pieces of clothing in a shallow grave in the desert 70 miles from Los Angeles in Antelope Valley not far from Palmdale, California.

     In January 2015, the police arrested John Creech for Gavin Smith's murder. Creech's attorney said that the two men had gotten into a fight that led to the victim's accidental death.

     According  to testimony from the May 2015 grand jury hearing on the case, Creech had ambushed the victim at a lover's lane rendezvous involving Smith and Creech's estranged wife Chandrika Cade. As Creech punched the pinned down Smith, he yelled at Chandrika that she would be next. She fled the scene and took refuge in a nearby house.

     After allegedly killing Gavin Smith, Creech stored the victim's body in the garage of a bodybuilder he knew named Stan McQuary. A few day's later, Creech returned to his friend's garage in a rented van  that he used to transport Smith's body to the shallow grave in the desert.

     In September 2017, a jury in Los Angeles found John Creech guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to eleven years in prison.