More than 3,700,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Stephen Glass: Discredited Journalist to Ethical Lawyer?

     Stephen Glass, whose father is a physician and his mother a nurse, grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Chicago's North Shore. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he moved to Washington, D.C. In 1995, Glass joined the staff of "The New Republic," a hip magazine read by influential political insiders referred to by some as the onboard magazine of Air Force One.

     Ambitious, talented, and eager to please his editor and colleagues, Stephen, in 1996, began dolling up his pieces by fudging quotes and doctoring anecdotes. He continued to fictionalize his nonfiction work through 1997. Early in 1998, Glass submitted stories that were completely made up, accompaning these pieces with phony footnotes, fake email correspondence, and manufactured interview notes.

     Stephen's editor, Charles Lane, became suspicious when he couldn't cooberate the young journalist's sources in several of his submissions. This caused an internal review which led to Stephen's termination in May 1998. (The scandal is the subject of a TV docudrama called "Shattered Glass.") During his tenure at "The New Republic," Glass fabricated thirty-six articles, about half of his journalistic output. (As a free-lancer, he had also fabricated stories for three other publications.)

     After being thrown out of journalism, Glass became a law student at Georgetown University. After acquiring his degree, he moved to New York where he passed the bar exam. After a short stay in New York, Glass took up residence in Los Angeles. Although he passed the California bar exam, because of his history as a journalist, he did not apply to become a licensed attorney. Instead, he took a job as a para-legal at a Beverly Hills law firm.

     In 2003, Glass published an autobiographical novel called "The Fabulist" in which he glossed over the extent of his journalistic fraud. Reviewers were unkind, and the public uninterested. Glass had lost his credibility as a journalist and as a novelist. Moreover, a lot of people were put off by his attempt to capitalize on his journalistic crimes.

     Glass, in 2005, applied for admission to the California Bar. The bar committee, finding him morally unfit to become a lawyer, denied him membership. He appealed the decision to the state bar court which, in 2010, found in his favor. The state responded by appealing the bar court's decision to the California Supreme Court.

     On January 26, 2014, the California Supreme Court denied Glass his license to practice law. In its ruling, the justices noted that "Glass' journalistic dishonesty was not a single lapse of judgement but involved significant deceit sustained unremittingly for a period of years." Moreover, according to the high court, Glass' journalistic lying took place "while he was pursuing a law degree and license to practice law, when the importance of honesty should have gained new meaning for him."

     While no one would dispute the fact there are rotten apples in the legal profession barrel, at least this rotten apple won't be joining them. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Alix Tichelman: A Hooker, Heroin, and a Dead Millionaire on a Yacht

     Alix Catherine Tichelman described herself on her Facebook page as a fetish ("bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism") model with more than 200 "client relationships." In plain words, the 26-year-old worked as a Silicon Valley prostitute. Her "clients" were wealthy Johns willing to shell out big fees for the rope, the whip, and who knows what else.

     If one believed Tichelman's Facebook entries, the self-described high-end hooker graduated from high school in Deluth, Georgia before studying journalism at Georgia State University in Atlanta. (Maybe in college she heard that journalists were whores and decided to make real money in that profession.) Tichelman started her sex worker career at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club.

     In early 2012, Tichelman began dating Dean Riopelle, the lead singer of a rock-and-roll band called "Impotent Sea Snakes." (Catchy.) Riopelle also owned the Masquerade Night Club in Atlanta, a popular music venue. Interestingly enough, Riopelle had earned a degree in construction engineering from the University of Florida. Eventually Tichelman moved into Riopell's luxury home in Milton, Georgia.

     On September 6, 2013, officers with the Milton Police Department responded to a domestic call that originated from the Riopelle house. Tichelman, the caller, accused her boyfriend of physical abuse. He returned the favor with assault accusations of his own. The officers departed without taking anyone into custody.

     On September 19, 2013, Tichelman dialed 911 and to the dispatcher said, "I think my boyfriend overdosed on something. He, like, won't respond." Tichelman, in response to the emergency dispatcher's questions, said Riopelle's eyes were open but he was unconscious. She described his breathing as "on and off." The dispatcher overheard the caller say, "Hello Dean, are you awake?"

     When the 911 dispatcher asked Tichelman how she knew her boyfriend had overdosed on something, she said, "Because there's nothing else it could be." The dispatcher inquired if the overdose was intentional or accidental. "He was taking painkillers and drinking a lot," came the reply.

     Dean Riopelle died a week later at a local hospital. The medical examiner's office, following the autopsy, identified the cause of death as excessive heroin and alcohol consumption. The medical examiner ruled the death an accident.

     On November 23, 2013, about a month after Dean Riopelle's overdose fatality, a 51-year-old Google executive from Silicon Valley named Forrest Timothy Hayes enjoyed Tichelman's purchased company on his 50-foot yacht. (The vessel has also been described as a powerboat.) Later that day, the authorities discovered Hayes dead in one of the boat's bedrooms. (The yacht was not at sea.)

     In the course of the investigation into this sudden death, detectives with the Santa Cruz Police Department viewed the yacht's videotape footage that revealed just how the executive had died. Tichelman was seen injecting Hayes with what investigators presumed to be a shot of heroin. Immediately after the needle went in, he clutched his chest and collapsed. Tichelman responded to the obvious emergency by finishing her glass of wine then gathering up her belongings. As she casually strolled out of the bedroom, she stepped over Hayes' body. She did not call 911.

     Santa Cruz detectives, on July 3, 2014, executed a search warrant at Tichelman's parents' home in Folsom, a upscale Silicon Valley community. Her father, Bart, was CEO of a tech firm that offered "energy efficient infrastructure" for data centers. At the Tichelman house, detectives carried away the suspect's laptop. On the computer, investigators found that Tichelman, just before Hayes' death, had made online inquires regarding how to defend oneself if accused of homicide in a drug overdose case.

     On July 4, 2014, an undercover Santa Cruz officer, through the website SeekingArrangement.com, lured Alix Tichelman to a fancy hotel on the pretext of being a John willing to pay $1,000 for a session featuring fetish sex. The officer took the hooker into custody on suspicion of criminal homicide in the yacht owner's death.

     At her arraignment on July 10, 2014, the judge informed the suspect she faced a charge of manslaughter along with several drug related crimes. She pleaded not guilty to these offenses. The judge set her bail at $1.5 million.

     Homicide detectives, in the wake of Forrest Hayes' suspicious death, were looking into the Dean Riopelle overdose case. As a result of the Hayes case, SeekingArrangement.com was shut down. This upset Silicon Valley prostitutes who said they used the site to screen Johns with histories of violence. Affluent sex worker clients in the valley also used the site to arrange hooker dates. (I guess if you're a whore, doing business in an area populated by a lot of rich nerds is a good thing.)

   On May 18, 2015, Alix Tichelman pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and numerous drug offenses in connection with Forrest Hayes' fatal overdose. Larry Biggam, the lawyer who negotiated the plea bargain on Tichelman's behalf, told reporters that although his client had been sentenced to six years in prison, she will only spend three years behind bars.

     The Tichelman case illustrates the difference between immoral and illegal behavior. While not raising a hand to save a dying man is a highly immoral act, in law it is merely a minor form of criminal homicide.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Kurt Cobain's Sudden Death: Suicide or Murder-For-Hire?

     Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of the band Nirvana. Married to Courtney Love, he had a history of heroin addiction, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder. In April 1994, following a stint at a drug rehabilitation facilty, Courtney Love reported him missing and suicidal. She hired celebrity private investigator Tom Grant to find him.

     On April 8, 1994, a worker hired to install security lighting at Kurt Cobain's Seattle estate found the 27-year-old dead in the space above his garage referred to as "the greenhouse." The lighting installer found Cobain lying on the floor with a severe head wound and a shotgun (purchased for him by a friend) resting on his chest. Cobain's left hand was wrapped around the barrel. Nearby lay a one-page handwritten note.

     The King County Medical Examiner, Dr. Nicholas Hartshorne, determined the cause of death to be a point blank shotgun blast to the head. The forensic pathologist estimated that Cobain had died on April 5, three days before the discovery of his body. (When someone is reported missing it's not a bad idea to search his house and garage.) According to a toxicologist, "The level of heroin in Cobain's bloodstream was 1.52 milligrams per litre." Dr. Hartshorne ruled the manner of Cobain's death a suicide.

      Sometime after the manner of death ruling, Courtney Love told an editor from Rolling Stone that Cobain had tried to kill himself in Rome by taking 50 Rohypnol pills.

     Tom Grant, the private investigator hired to find Cobain, along with a pair of true crime book writers, and others, believed that Kurt Cobain was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by Courtney Love for his inheritance. Grant and his supporters believed the killer drugged Cobain with heroin, shot him, then staged the sucide. They thought the physical evidence in the greenhouse and the findings in the toxicology report made murder a more plausible manner of death than suicide.

     The Cobain murder theory proponents argued that the death scene did not contain the amount of blood one would expect from a point blank shotgun blast to the head. (Several forensic pathologists have noted that a shotgun shot inside the mouth often results in less blood.) In support of this theory, Tom Grant has pointed out that Cobain's latent fingerprints were not found on the death scene shotgun. (People do not leave identifiable fingerprints on everything they touch. Therefore, the fact that Cobain's latents were not lifted from the gun doesn't prove anything. For all we know, crime scene investigators bungled the job.)

     Regarding the death scene suicide note, Grant and his supporters also subscribed to the theory the document was really a letter written by Cobain announcing his plan to leave his wife and the music industry. The private investigator tthought the last few lines at the bottom of the page had been written by Courtney Love. Five forensic document examiners hired by the TV shows "Dateline NBC" and "Unsolved Mysteries" examined a photocopy of the note. One of the handwriting experts concluded that the entire document was in Cobain's hand. The other four weren't sure if the last lines were added by someone else.

     Those who believed that someone had murdered Cobain argued that he had been so heavily drugged he couldn't have pulled the trigger. Of the five forensic pathologists who considered this issue, two believed that Cobain had built up enough tolerance to have the strength to kill himself. The other three forensic pathologists were not sure.

     In anticipation of the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, a cold-case investigator with the Seattle Police Department spent weeks in February and March 2014 reviewing the case file. On March 21, 2014 a Seattle police spokesperson announced that while the cold-case detective discovered four rolls of undeveloped death scene photographs, the investigator found nothing that sustained the conclusion that Cobain was murdered.

     The newly discovered death scene photographs did not depict Cobain's corpse but rather syringes, a tainted spoon, a lighter, and other personal items strewn across the floor near his body.

     Based upon what I know about this case, I think the weight of evidence supports suicide. The fact that Cobain was holding the barrel of the gun (referred to as the death grip) suggests he was the shooter. If someone had shot Cobain, that person would not have been able to place the dead man's hand around the barrel like that. Moreover, the vast majority of murder-for-hire cases unravel quickly after the hitman, or someone the mastermind had reached out to, spills the beans. To my knowledge that did not happened in this 20 year old case.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Gilberto Valle Cannibal Cop Case

     Gilberto Valle, a 6-year New York City police officer assigned to the 26th Precinct in Harlem, lived with his wife and child in the Forest Hills section of Queens. On an online dating site called OKCupid, the 28-year-old police officer described himself as a "very calm individual" with "an endless supply of hilarious short stories from work that can't be made up. I'll try anything," he wrote, "and I'm not picky at all." According to his online profile, Valle had attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens and the University of Maryland, College Park.

     Based upon an investigation conducted by the FBI over several months, officer Valle was not calm, or funny. And what he was willing to try was more than a little disturbing. 
     According to court documents related to the federal investigation, Gilberto Valle, and several unnamed co-conspirators, had used the Internet to acquire potential female victims to kidnap, rape, torture, murder, cook, and eat. In his search for targets, Valle had used federal and state law enforcement crime-victim databases. The suspect corresponded with his like-minded co-conspirators through online dating forums.

     In addition to his use of the Internet to identify and lure women, Valle conducted physical surveillances of their homes and workplaces. He used this data to draw up and revise detailed kidnap/murder "operation plans." 
     In February 2012, Valle, in an online communication with a co-conspirator who had expressed a desire to rape a woman, offered to kidnap a victim for this man for a fee of $5,000. Pursuant to his offer, Valle wrote: "It is going to be hard to contain myself when I knock her out, but I am aspiring to be a professional kidnapper, and that's business." Later in the conversation, Valle wrote: "She will be alive. I think I would rather not get involve in the rape. You paid for her. She is all yours, and I don't want to be tempted the next time I abduct a girl." 
     On July 2, 2012, Valle and a co-conspirator conducted a disturbing online conversation in which Valle wrote: "I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus. Cook her over a low heat, keep her alive as long as possible."
     "How big is your oven," asked the co-conspirator. 
     "Big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs...the abduction will have to be flawless...I know all of them."
     In another Internet exchange regarding a specific woman, Valle wrote: "I can just show up at her home unannounced, it will not alert her, and I can knock her out, wait until dark and kidnap her right out of her home."
     Valle's co-conspirator offered Valle some kidnap advice: "You really would be better to grab a stranger. The first thing the police force will do is check out [the victim's] friends [as suspects]."
     "Her family is out of state."    
     "I have anesthetic gasses," replied the helpful co-conspirator.
     "I can make chloroform here," Valle replied. 
     In another July 2012 conversation, one of Gilberto Valle's co-sickies asked, "How was your meal?"
     "I am meeting her on Sunday," came the reply. 
     FBI agents, on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, arrested Gilberto Valle at his home on charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and intentionally and knowingly accessing a computer without authorization. (The bureau moved in because Valle had recently had lunch with a woman the FBI feared he would abduct.) From Valle's home in Queens, agents seized a computer that contained personal data--names, addresses, physical descriptions, and photographs--of 100 women. Valle's computer also held hundreds of incriminating emails and instant message chats between the suspect and his co-conspirators. 
          In March 2013, a jury in Manhattan found the defendant guilty as charged. In July 2014, however, a federal judge, except for the count of illegally using the federal databank to target victims, overturned Valle's conviction. Instead of facing up to life in prison Valle walked out of the jail having already served enough time to satisfy the punishment for the lesser offense.

     This judge did not believe Valle's writings and behavior rose above the expression of his bizarre fantasies. In America people are punished for criminal actions, not thoughts. This was a close and controversial decision.