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Friday, November 27, 2015

Pastor-Involved Shooting in a Detroit Church

     Detroit is a violent and dangerous place. Law abiding citizens who can afford to, leave the city for the suburbs. Nowhere is safe, and no one in this dysfunctional city is immune from crime and violence. Even pastors in their churches are vulnerable. It's been this way for quite some time and there's no indication that change is in the air.

     In 2012, criminals attached Pastor Marvin Williams at a downtown Detroit intersection. At gunpoint they took his wallet and stole his car. In July 2014, a man wielding an ax attacked and killed an off-duty police officer working as a church security guard. The fact that churches in the city employ security guards says it all.

     In july 2015, following a wave of general shootings in Detroit, several leaders in the religious community issued a public plea for citizens to take action to stop gun violence. (The only way to control gun violence is through aggressive law enforcement, ambitions prosecutors, and hanging judges. Citizens, for the most part, are helpless.)

     On October 18, 2015, a 36-year-old Detroit pastor named Keon Allison shot and killed 26-year-old Deante Smith during religious services at the City of God nondenominational church on Grand River Avenue on the city's north side. Pastor Allison shot Deante Smith, a member of his congregation, several times with his Glock pistol. Smith was shot when he charged the preacher wielding a brick and a hammer.

     Paramedics rushed Mr. Smith to the Botsford Hospital where he died of his gunshot wounds. Pastor Allison, after being questioned at a nearby police station, was released without being charged with a crime.

     Deante Smith had worked for a manufacturing company in Troy, Michigan. In 2012, he got married, and for a period of time he and his wife lived with Pastor Allison, a man Smith considered a mentor and father figure. The relationship went sour when Smith, a player for the semi-professional Michigan Lightening football team, suspected that his minister was sleeping with his wife. In addition to that suspicion, Smith came to believe that the baby his wife had given birth to was the pastor's child.

     Deante Smith's employer in Troy had placed him on suspension after he and Pastor Allison had a loud argument outside the manufacturing facility. The company offered Smith anger management classes.

     In the days leading up to the church shooting, Smith posted several messages on his Facebook page that foreshadowed the deadly Sunday confrontation. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Three-Way Sex, An Unhealthy Cop, and a Ridiculous Lawsuit

     William Martinez, an Atlanta police officer who lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia with his wife Sugeidy and their 7 and 9-year-old sons, wasn't feeling well. While only 31, Martinez had a history of high blood pressure, and had been told by doctors he was at risk for clogged arteries. After experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains that radiated into his arms, Martinez, on March 5, 2009, made an appointment with Dr. Sreenivasulu Gangasani at the Cardiovascular Group in Lawrenceville. The physician examined Martinez, and scheduled a stress test to be conducted eight days later.

     At three in the morning of March 12, 2009, the day before his stress test, Martinez and a male friend were in an Atlanta airport motel having a threesome with a woman. When, in the throes of this activity, Martinez rolled off the bed and became unresponsive, one of his sex partners called 911.

     EMT responders failed to revive Martinez at the motel. A short time later he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. The officer had died of atheroschlerotic coronary artery disease (hardening of the arteries).

     A few months after Mr. Martinez died from sexual exertion at the Atlanta motel, his widow sued Dr. Gangasani and the Cardiovascular Group for malpractice. According to the plaintiff, the heart doctor had failed to warn Martinez that strenuous physical activity might kill him.

     The defendant's attorney, Gary Lovell Jr., argued that Mr. Martinez, a man who knew he had a bad heart, and had a history of ignoring doctors' orders, was solely responsible for his own death. Instead of administering his own stress test in the motel room, Mr. Martinez should have waited for the treadmill version at the cardiovascular facility. While walking on a treadmill at the medical center might not have been as exciting as 3-way sex, it was less stressful, and a lot safer. If Mr. Martinez was smart enough to be an Atlanta police officer, he should have known this. (With his bad ticker, I'm surprised he was in law enforcement. He must have had a desk job.)

     The Martinez malpractice case went to trial on May 21, 2012. Eight days later, the Gwinnett County jury awarded the widow $3 million. The damages would have been $5 million had the jury not found Mr. Martinez 40 percent liable for  his own demise. Apportioning personal responsibility in this case involved an interesting calculation that begged the question: exactly how did the jury come up with that percentage?  Dr. Gangasani did not cause Mr. Martinez's heart condition, nor did he give the patient permission to have a middle-of-the-night sex orgy. Dr. Gangasani was a heart specialist, not a life coach. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Luka Magnotta Cannibal Killer Case

     Tenants in a working-class Montreal, Canada neighborhood complained of a bad smell coming from a pile of garbage behind their apartment building. At ten in the morning on May 29, 2012, when the janitor opened a suitcase at the site of the odor, he discovered a man's bloody torso.

     At 11:15 that morning, in Ottawa, at the Conservative Party headquarters, Jenni Bryne, a top political advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, opened a box that had been mailed to that address. As she opened the package, Bryne was hit by a terrible odor and recoiled at the sight of dried blood. She immediately called 911 which brought the Ottawa police, a hazmat unit, and officers with the Emergency Special Operations Section. The box contained a human foot and a note indicating that six other human body parts were in the mail.

     At 9:30 that night, the Ottawa police announced they had found a second severed body part mailed from Montreal. It was a hand found inside a piece of mail intercepted at the Ottawa Postal Terminal.

     On Wednesday morning, May 30, crime scene investigators and hazardous materials officers entered an apartment in the building where the janitor had found the suitcase containing the blood splattered torso. The masked searchers were interested in a second-story studio apartment rented by a 29-year-old tenant named Luka Rocco Magnotta.

     Luka Magnotta, a stripper, model, and bisexual actor in low-budget adult films who used the names Eric Clinton Newman (his born name) and Vladimir Romanov, had lived in the apartment about four months. Originally from Toronto, Magnotta had an Internet presence that included uploaded videos of animal cruelty. Two years earlier, a video appeared on the Web featuring Magnotta placing a pair of kittens inside an airtight bag then using a vacuum cleaner to suck out the air. He also had a blog under his name called "Necrophilia Serial Killer Luka Magnotta" that featured the following quote: "It's not cool to the world being a necrophiliac. It's bloody lonely. But I don't care." Magnotta was also the author of an Internet article titled, "How to Completely Disappear and Never be Found" in which he laid out a six-step program for changing one's identify.

     On May 25, four days before the gruesome discovery at the Montreal apartment, an uploaded 11-minute Internet video on an Alberta-based website called "Best Gore," showed a man being stabbed, his throat slashed, and his head cut off by an unidentified killer in a dark hoodie. The man in the video also severed the victim's limbs, then committed sexual and cannibalistic acts on the corpse. A dog in the dimly lit room ate part of the body. The snuff video was called, "1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick." The Canadian authorities believed the torso found behind Magnotta's apartment building, as well as the mailed body parts, belong to the man seen murdered online. Investigators also theorized that Luka Magnotta was the killer/cannibal in the video.

     In Apartment 208, crime scene investigators believed they were at the site of the videoed murder/dismemberment. Detectives also thought the torso found behind the building came from this apartment. The walls and floor were splattered in dried blood and in the bedroom they found a blood-soaked mattress.

     A forensic pathologist examined the torso and the two mailed body parts and found that the remains belonged to the same person.

     Luka Magnotta, the subject of a massive international manhunt, was described as a slightly built man who was five-foot-eight with short black hair and blue eyes. The authorities searching for the fugitive believed he was hiding out in Europe under a false identity.

     The man believed to have been killed in the snuff film was identified as a student from China named Jun Lin. The 33-year-old had been attending Concordia University in Montreal. He had been going out with Magnotta and was last seen on May 24, 2012. Lin was an undergraduate in the engineering and computer science department.

     Montreal Police Commander Ian Lafreniere believed that Magnotta was hiding in France. The fugitive was immediately placed on Interpol's equivalent of the FBI's most wanted list. A Toronto transsexual who had a sexual relationship with Magnotta, informed the police that the porn actor used drugs and possessed a bad temper.

     In 2010, after Luka Magnotta posted the disgusting video involving the kittens, a London reporter with The Sun newspaper questioned him for an article. In an email to The Sun, Magnotta warned that his next uploaded snuff video would not involve cats. "Once you kill, and taste blood, it's impossible to stop," he wrote. After the animal cruelty video was published, animal rights activists in Canada tried to get the authorities to intervene.

     On Monday, June 4, 2012, seven  police officers in Berlin, Germany, acting on a tip from a person who recognized Magnotta, arrested him in an internet cafe. At first Magnotta gave the officers a false name, then said, "You got me." Magnotta was in the cafe reading about himself on the Internet.

     On the day following his arrest, as Magnotta appeared before a German judge on the matter of his extradition back to Canada, staff members at two private boy's school in Vancouver, British Columbia, each received a package that had been mailed from Montreal. The package to the False Creek Elementary school contained a human foot. The parcel opened at St. George's contained a hand. The body parts belonged to Jun Lin. The authorities were still searching for the victim's head.

     Several months following his extradition back to Canada, Magnotta acquired an attorney named Luc   Leclain who argued that his client should be tried for the lesser homicide offense of second-degree murder because the Crown could not prove premeditation in Jun Lin's killing. In May 2013, following a week-long preliminary hearing involving thirty witnesses for the Crown, the Court of Quebec judge ruled that the prosecution had enough evidence to justify trying Magnotta for first degree-murder.

     In addition to first-degree murder, Luka Magnotta stood charged with the lesser offenses of causing indignity to Jun Lin's body (in the U. S. it's called abuse of corpse), broadcasting obscene material, using the postal service to send obscene material, and the harassment of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament. The Quebec judge scheduled Magnotta's first-degree murder trial for September 14, 2014.

     Luka Magnotta's murder trial got underway on Monday December 15, 2014 before Justice Guy Cournoyer of the Quebec Superior Court. His attorney, Luc Leclair, tried to convince the jury that the defendant, a schizophrenic, committed the murder is a psychotic state that had rendered him legally insane and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity.

     The Magnotta jury did not buy the insanity defense and found the defendant, on December 23, 2014, guilty of first-degree murder. The jurors also found him guilty of the lesser offenses. Judge Cournoyer sentenced Magnotta to life in prison for first-degree murder and gave him 19 years behind bars for the other offenses.

     

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Paul Tarver and The Unknown Hitman

     In September 2001, when Keisha Lewis of Canton, Ohio informed her former boyfriend, Paul Tarver, that she was three months pregnant with his baby, he was not happy. He made it clear that he did not want to be a father. Tarver told Keisha to get an abortion, and if she didn't, he would not support the kid. Keisha said she had no intention of aborting the pregnancy, and would have the child with or without his support.

     Two months later, Keisha and Paul were still fighting over whether she should get an abortion. When Tarver realized she was not going to changer her mind, he threatened to kill her if she didn't end the pregnancy. Keisha said she was reporting him to the police, but didn't follow through on her threat. Perhaps he was just bluffing. After the arguing and threats, Paul Tarver suddenly stopped coming around. Keisha figured he had moved out of her life for good.

     On March 7, 2002, a week before the baby was due, Paul Tarver popped back into Keisha's life, and seemed to be a different man. He apologized for the fighting and the threats, and offered to make amends. He said he wanted to remain friends--for the baby's sake--and in the spirit of good will, he offered to take her out to dinner. Relieved that her baby's father was no longer an enemy, she accepted his invitation.

     A few days later, Paul and Keisha, in the cab of his Ford Ranger pickup, pulled into the spacious parking lot surrounding Canton's Country Kitchen restaurant. Although Keisha was nine months pregnant and had trouble walking, Paul parked the truck in a remote section of the lot far from the restaurant. Keisha had just opened the passenger's door and was about to alight from the vehicle when a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and gloves stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to slide across the seat so he could squeeze into the truck.

     The armed kidnapper ordered Tarver to drive to a chicken hatchery a few miles from the restaurant where the gunman ordered him to hand over his ring, watch, and wallet. The kidnapper shot Keisha in the abdomen, Tarver in the foot, then jumped out of the truck and ran into the nearby woods. Using his cellphone, Tarver called 911.

     Surgeons, although able to save Keisha's life, could not save the fetus. Doctors treated Tarver's wound which was minor. Keisha suffered major nerve damage that would leave her with a permanent limp.

     Detectives with the Canton Police Department trying to identify the kidnapper didn't have much to go on. Keisha could only provide a general description of the assailant, and Tarver wasn't much help either. Investigators did recover the three shell cases from the shooting scene. A forensic firearms identification expert matched the crime scene firing pin impressions to a .380 Carpati pistol recovered from the site of another Canton shooting. In tracing the history of the gun, police learned that one of the owners was a man who had once worked with Paul Tarver. Detectives also questioned a man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Tarver had called several times just prior to the assault. During the interrogation, the Pittsburgh man broke down and cried, then terminated the questioning.

     In October 2002, a Stark County prosecutor at Paul Tarver's murder-for-hire trial presented a weak, circumstantial case against him. The police had still not identified the triggerman. The defendant's attorney did not put his client on the stand in own defense. If he had done so, the jury would have learned about Tarver's long history of drug trafficking and robbery. Perhaps because the defendant did not take the stand to deny that he had paid someone to end his girlfriend's pregnancy, the jury found him guilty.

     The judge sentenced Paul Tarver to 31 years to life. Paul Tarver continued to maintain his innocence, and the triggerman was never identified. This was one of a handful of murder-for-hire cases in which the mastermind was convicted without the testimony or even the identify of the hitman.
      

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Diana Costarakis Murder-For-Hire Case: The Mother-in-Law From Hell

     Diana Reaves Costarakis lived on Buggy Whip Drive in Middleburg, an unincorporated community in northern Florida thirty miles southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The 70-year-old grandmother, in September 2013, asked an unidentified intermediary for advice on how to find a hit man to murder her daughter-in-law, Angela Costarakis. The person the elderly murder-for-hire mastermind reached out to took the request seriously enough to report Costarakis to the Duval County Sheriff's Office in Jacksonville.

     As the standard investigative protocol in murder solicitation cases, murder mastermind Costarakis received a call from an undercover officer who offered to do the job. But first, they would have to meet in person in order for the first installment of the hit money to exchange hands. If the suspect agreed to a face-to-face meeting with the phony contract killer, a videotaped event that normally took place in a box store parking lot, the case would proceed.

     Diana Costarakis told the man on the phone that she would like to meet with him. She agreed to bring with her $500 in cash, the first downpayment for the hit. (It's amazing that almost every murder-for-hire mastermind falls for this trap. These people are so desperate to have someone killed they lose the ability to think straight.)

     Diana Costarakis, on Wednesday, October 9, 2013, met with the undercover cop in the parking lot of a Home Depot store in Jacksonville. With this meeting, she believed she was moving forward in her scheme to have Angela Costarakis murdered. She handed the phony hit man $500 in cash, and promised a second downpayment of $1,000 the next time they met. Upon completion of the job, Costarakis said she would  come up with an additional $3,500. Having someone killed, while a fairly simple, straightforward task, didn't come cheap.

     As a further incentive for the contract killer, the mastermind informed him that the murder target usually wore expensive jewelry, untraceable diamonds that could be fenced without risk. To facilitate the successful completion of the hit man's assignment, Costarakis provided the undercover cop with a photograph of her daughter-in-law, a description of her car, and her home address.

     The next day, in the same Home Depot parking lot, the homicidal grandmother handed the undercover cop the $1,000 in cash. In response to the question of why she wanted Angela Costarakis taken out, the mastermind described her daughter-in-law as a drunk who drove around intoxicated with her 6-year-old daughter in the car. Not only that, the murder-for-hire target, who was in the process of divorcing the mastermind's son, was moving to Denver with her boyfriend. According to the suspect, the couple planned to take the little girl with them. (Most real hit men don't care why the mastermind wants the target murdered.)

     When asked if she was sure she wanted to go ahead with the murder plot, Costarakis replied, "If you don't kill her, I will."

     Having acquired all the evidence he needed, the undercover cop flashed his badge and arrested the suspect on the spot. After reading Costarakis her Miranda rights, she asked to consult with an attorney before speaking to the police. As a result, there was no interrogation and forthcoming confession.

     Charged with criminal solicitation and criminal conspiracy, Diana Costarakis was placed in the Duval County jail where she was incarcerated without bond. She was arraigned on October 31, 2013.

     The day following the murder-for-hire arrest, Angela Costarakis, the target of her mother-in-law's wrath, told a local television reporter that "I am beyond sad and it breaks my heart because it messes up the family. I have compassion. I don't want to see anyone spend the rest of their life in jail. However, I am still just not dealing with it. I just found out. I have not wrapped my head around it." The murder target said she did not have plans to move to Denver with her daughter.

     On August 27, 2014, Diana Costarakis pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit a capital felony. In October 2014 the judge sentenced the 71-year-old murder-for-hire mastermind to seven years in prison

     

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Driving While Stupid

     On October 13, 2015, 23-year-old Whitney Beall, while driving from one bar to another in her 2015 Toyota Corolla in Lakeland, Florida, recorded her alcohol intoxication by video on the social media app Periscope. "Let's have fun! Let's have fun!" she repeatedly exclaimed into the little camera. Also: "Hi everybody in different countries. I really hope you don't mind that I drive, because in the USA it is really important."

     Beall declared herself unfit to drive when she said, " I'm driving drunk and this is not cool. I haven't been arrested yet, and I really don't hope so." A few minutes later she announced this into the video camera: "I'm driving home drunk, let's see if I get a DUI."

     Several people watching the live-steamed video called 911 to report the drunken driver who was exhibiting her condition to the world.

     Lakeland patrol officer Mike Kellner spotted a 2015 Toyota Corolla being driven on the wrong side of the road. He pulled the car over and encountered the social media sensation, Whitney Beall.

     Beall and her car reeked of alcohol, and her eyes were bloodshot and glassy. In addressing the officer, Beall made a series of slurred, rambling statements that included the claim she was lost and driving on a flat tire.

     After failing the field sobriety test, Officer Kellner took the suspect into custody. After refusing to take a breathalyzer test, officers booked Beall into the Polk County Jail on the charge of driving under the influence.

     The day following her DUI charge, Beall made bond and was released from custody. To a reporter she said, "It was a big mistake and I'm learning my lesson." Fortunately, this idiot's "big mistake" and learning experience didn't cost someone his or her life.

     

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Steven L. Robbins: The Convicted Murderer Who Walked Out of the Cook County Jail

     On May 12, 2002, 34-year-old Steven L. Robbins got into a fight at a party in Indianapolis with a man from Kentucky. During the altercation, Robbins shot 24-year-old Richard Melton to death. Eighteen months later, the Gary, Indiana native was found guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to sixty years in prison. (Robbins wasn't eligible for parole until 2029.)

     On Tuesday, January 29, 2013, Robbins, now 44, was transported from the state prison in Michigan City, an Indiana town 50 miles east of Chicago, to the Cook County Jail. Robbins had a court hearing the next day pertaining to a 1992 Illinois felony charge.

     On Wednesday, after the judge informed Robbins that the old charge against him had been dismissed in 2007 (why did they summon him to Illinois to tell him that?), the prisoner was returned to the Cook County Jail.

     Corrections officers responsible for hauling Robbins back to Indiana, on Thursday, January 31, called the Cook County Jail to alert officials that they would pick up Robbins for his trip back to prison. That's when the Indiana authorities learned that Robbins had been released from custody the previous evening at seven o'clock. Because no one at the Cook County Jail knew that Robbins was serving a sentence in Indiana for murder, he simply walked out of the massive lock-up through the main door.

     The fact that Steven Robbins had been transported to Chicago to face charges that were dismissed five years ago, suggested there was something profoundly wrong with the corrections bureaucracy in both states. It went without saying that some major corrections SNAFU led to Robbins' easy escape from the Cook County Jail.

     On February 1, 2013, police in the southern Illinois town of Kankakee arrested Robbins at the home of a friend. He was watching TV. The Cook County Sheriff, in an unusual move, took responsibility for the foul-up. "We let people down, no mistake about it." Fortunately, while loose, Robbins did not commit any serious crimes.  For Robbins, the easy part was getting out of the Cook County Jail. Staying out proved more difficult. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Rashad Owens Murder Case

     At midnight on March 13, 2014, a patrol officer in Austin, Texas tried to pull over a vehicle without its headlights on that made an illegal left turn onto an I-35 frontage road. The driver of the car, a 21-year-old rapper from Killeen, Texas named Rashad Owens, refused to stop for the officer. A short time later, in the process of avoiding arrest, Owens drove through a barricade on Red River Street. The street had been blocked off for the South by Southwest film, media, and music festival.

     An intoxicated Owens, at a top speed of 55 miles per hour, plowed his car into thirty festival goers, killing four of them and injuring the others. After driving into the crowd with his headlights off, Owens led police officers on a chase that culminated in his arrested after he fled his vehicle on foot.

     A Travis County prosecutor charged Owens with two counts of capital murder (in some jurisdictions called first-degree murder) and 24 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was held in the Travis County Jail without bond.

     The Owens murder trial got underway in Austin on November 2, 2015. In her opening remarks to the jury, prosecutor Amy Meredith told the jury that because the defendant knew his action put the people on Red River Street in mortal danger, the charges of capital murder in this case were appropriate. The prosecutor argued that Owens had acted with intent and malice, key elements in the offense of capital murder. While the prosecution was not seeking the death penalty, if convicted, Owens would be sent to prison for life without the chance of parole.

     Rick Jones, Owens' attorney, argued that capital murder was not an appropriate charge in the case because his client, while intending to flee the police, did not intend to kill anyone. The defense attorney pointed out that the defendant did not know Red River Street had been closed to traffic. (What did he think the barricade was for?)

     The prosecution began its case with a police dash cam video showing Owens failing to stop for the patrol officer.

     The case went to the jury of seven women and five men on November 6, 2015. The defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf. After just three hours of deliberation, the jurors found Rashad Owens guilty as charged.

     This case will be appealed, and one of the legal points will probably include the issue of criminal intent, or lack thereof, to commit capital murder. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Charles D. Young Murder-For-Hire Case

     In May 2005, high school senior Charles D. Young met 17-year-old Wendy Smith (not her real name) at a military ball in Spokane, Washington. He asked her out, and after a month of dating, they began to fight. Typically, after one of their arguments, Charles would stand all night beneath her window, or the next day, follow her around after school. When Wendy tried to end the relationship, he threatened to kill himself. After ten months of enduring Young's weird and obsessive behavior, Wendy told him that she had found someone else. This was not true, but she wanted this strange kid out of her life. Charles refused to take no for an answer, and became Wendy's full time stalker.

     Three months after the breakup, Charles suddenly lost interest in Wendy and slipped out of her life. A few weeks after that, in July 2006, Wendy's parents got in touch with Charles and gave him news he didn't like. Their daughter was pregnant with his child. Charles angrily insisted that the baby couldn't be his, and said that a paternity test would prove it.

     After his initial reaction to the news that he would soon become a father, Charles changed his tone. Following a series of meetings with Wendy and her parents, Charles expressed a desire to help raise the child. But when he stopped communicating with his ex-girlfiend and her parents, they figured they had seen the last of him. They were wrong.

     Back home in Colville, Washington, Charles asked a friend if he knew how much it would cost to have someone killed. A few days later, Charles offered this person $3,000 to either murder or seriously injure his former girlfriend. The main idea, Charles said, was to kill the fetus. If the mother survived, that would be okay with him. The friend, convinced that Charles was serious, contacted the Stevens County Sheriff's Office.

     On October 11, 2006, a few days before Wendy's due date, Charles met an undercover officer in the  town of Suncrest a few miles north of Spokane. With the tape recorder running in the officer's car, Charles said he would pay $3,250 to have the problem with his ex-girlfriend "disappear." Charles said he didn't care if the girl lived or died as long as the fetus was destroyed. The murder-for-hire mastermind handed the officer a photograph of Wendy and a handmade street map showing where she lived. Charles then took out $1,620 in twenty-dollar bills and handed it to the undercover officer. He promised to pay the balance of the hit money when the job was done. After pocketing the money, the officer placed the 18-year-old under arrest. That evening, Charles D. Young found himself inside the Stevens County Jail. The next day the magistrate set his bond at $1 million.

     The Stevens County prosecutor charged Young with solicitation to commit first-degree murder and solicitation to commit first degree-murder of a fetus. A conviction on either charge qualified him for life behind bars.

     In April 2007, Charles Young was allowed to plead guilty to the solicitation of manslaughter. His lawyer described his client to the court as an intelligent young man who had received bad advice regarding his responsibilities as a father. The defense attorney said that his client had apologized to Wendy and her parents.

     The Stevens County judge, in February 2009, sentenced Charles D. Young to six years in prison. The judge justified his extreme leniency on the grounds that this murder-for-hire mastermind had only intended to have the unborn child murdered. The sentencing judge must have forgotten about Young's indifference to whether or not his hit man also murdered or seriously injured the child's mother.

     It's cases like this that undermine one's faith in our criminal justice system. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Chinese Sex Dungeon Murder Case

     In August 2009, 33-yeear-old Li Hoa and his wife lived in a apartment complex in Luoyang City, a municipality in central China's Henan Province. Li, a former firefighter, worked in the city's Quality and Technical Supervision Bureau. (I have no idea what he did for the city.) That August, Li Hoa finished building, beneath his apartment building's basement, a three-level living space complex that consisted of a flight of stairs that led down to a tunnel/crawl space that dropped to a pair of adjacent rooms four meters beneath the basement floor. (The tunnel dropped a few feet then made a right angle turn into the living quarters.)

     Li Hoa furnished the rooms, each the size of a small jail cell, with a bed, a chair, a toilet, and a hot plate for heating food. He also wired these underground boxes for electricity, and supposedly did all of this work in a clandestine fashion. (According to Li, his wife thought he had an extra job working as a night watchman.)

     Between August 2009 and September 2011, Li Hoa kidnaped six women in their twenties from area nightclubs, karaoke bars, and salons, and held them captive in his underground rooms. Li raped his prisoners, forced them to perform in pornographic web videos that viewers could upload for a fee, and escorted the women into the city where they worked for him as prostitutes.

     In 2010, Li forced three of his sex slaves to help him beat one of their fellow captives to death. He did this to instill fear and discipline into his sex slaves. He buried the victim's body beneath one of the cells. Less that a year later, Li and three of his women murdered a second prisoner. They buried her body near the first murder victim.

     Li Hoa's sex dungeon operation came to an end in September 2011. One of his unsupervised prostitutes, instead of returning to the underground prison with his money, went to the police. When the captive didn't return to her subterranean quarters as scheduled, Li realized that she had escaped and that his days as a sex slave master were over. He borrowed 1,000 yuan from his sister to help finance his flee from the police, but got caught before leaving the city. (The sister later pleaded guilty to harboring a criminal in return for a probated sentence.)

     Li Hoa faced charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, running a prostitution enterprise, and the distribution of pornography for profit. The three women he had coerced into helping him commit the two murders were convicted of criminal homicide. The judge sentenced two of these defendants to probation, and the third to three years in prison.

     On November 3, 2012, a judge in Luoyang City sentenced Li Hoa to death. Unlike in America where death row inmates often live decades beyond their convictions, Li Hoa died by firing squad on January 21, 2012.

     Although there is much I don't know about this case, I find it hard to believe that Li Hoa's wife didn't know what he was doing beneath the apartment building. Moreover, it's hard to believe that Li built his  underground dungeon in secret. The case reeks of official corruption. I also suspect that in the cases of the missing bar girls, the police were not working that hard to find them.      

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Philip Chism Murder Case

     Colleen Ritzer, a 2011 magna cum laude graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, taught ninth grade math in Danvers, a suburban town of 26,000 20 miles northeast of Boston. The 24-year-old teacher lived in Andover with her siblings and parents. She was working toward a masters degree in school counseling at Salem State University.

     On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, when a Danvers school ninth-grader named Philip D. Chism missed his four o'clock soccer practice, and didn't show up for a junior varsity team dinner, members of the team went looking for him. Philip and his 34-year-old mother Diana moved to the Boston area from Tennessee at the start of the school year. That evening she reported him missing. Investigators learned that at six-thirty that night, Chism was seen leaving the Hollywood Hits movie theater in Danvers.

     That Tuesday night, Colleen Ritzer's parents reported her missing when she didn't return home from school and wasn't answering her cellphone. Danvers police officers, in searching the high school for Ritzer, found splashes of blood in the second-floor student girl's restroom. A short time later, around midnight, officers found Ritzer's body in a patch of woods behind the school's athletic fields. She had been stabbed and slashed to death with a sharp instrument.

     A review of surveillance camera footage showed Philip Chism using what appeared to be a recycling bin--a blue, plastic garbage can on wheels--to move the dead woman into the nearby woods. About the time officers found the body behind the school, police officers in the town of Topsfield just north of Danvers spotted Chism walking along Route 1.

     Chism told his interrogators that he was in Colleen Ritzer's algebra class held during the school's final period. Because he had been doodling instead of paying attention that day, she asked him to stay after class. At 3:30, he followed her into the students' restroom. (The faculty bathroom had been occupied. One of the school's 200 surveillance cameras caught Chism, as he followed the teacher into the restroom. He was seen putting on a pair of white gloves.)

     Inside the girl's restroom, Chism punched the teacher in the face, then slit her throat with a box cutter. After the killing, he used the recycling bin to transport the body outside the building into the woods behind the sprawling campus. Police found the garbage can 100 feet from the corpse. It had been pushed over an embankment.

     After murdering Colleen Ritzer, Chism changed his bloody clothes, ate at a Wendy's restaurant, then walked to the movie theater where he watched the Woody Allen film, "Blue Jasmine." He paid for the fast food and the movie with a credit card.
 
     Classmates described the tall, athletic student as quiet and shy. Some of his classmates labeled him antisocial and strange. He was a good student and the leading scorer on the junior varsity soccer team.

     The district attorney of Essex County charged Philip Chism as an adult with assault and murder. At the boy's October 23, 2013 arraignment in a Salem district court, the student pleaded not guilty.

     According to court documents in Tennessee, Diana, the boy's mother, married Stacy Chism in September 1998 when she was 19 and he was 23. Philip was born four months later. A year later, Diana gave birth to a girl. She filed for divorce in March 2001, but three months later the couple reconciled. Not long after that they separated again.

      On October 26, 2013, through her attorney, Diana Chism issued a statement expressing sorrow for the Ritzer family.

     Philip Chism, as an inmate awaiting his trial at the Department of Youth Services facility in Dorchester, Massachusetts, had trouble conforming to the institutions rules and regulations. For one thing, he refused to attend classes. As a result he spent his mornings and afternoons sitting at a table in the facility's main room. A staff member posted at a station behind a low wall kept an eye on inmates in the large, open room.  Behind the observation station an employee-only hallway led to a locker room that featured a bathroom.

     On June 2, 2014, a 29-year-old female corrections officer, a member of the staff who had known Chism for several months, got up from her post and walked down the hallway to the locker room. The 15-year-old rose to his feet, kicked off his sandals, and in a crouched position to avoid detection, moved  quietly toward the hallway.

     When the staffer came out of the restroom, Chism grabbed her by the neck with both hands and started choking her. She managed to remove his right hand which allowed her to scream for help. Before other members of the staff came to her aid, Chism punched the woman several times in the face.

     Charged with attempted murder by strangulation, Chism, on July 23, 2014, appeared in a Suffolk County Court for his arraignment. The judge set his bail at $250,000. His attorney had nothing to say to reporters.

     On March 3, 2015, following legal arguments pursuant to an evidentiary hearing in Essex County District Court in anticipation of Philip Chism's murder trial, Judge David Lowy ruled that the defendant's confession at the Danvers police station had been coerced and was therefore inadmissible evidence. The judge did allow into evidence the bloody box cutter and other key pieces of physical evidence. Also allowed into evidence were the items seized from Chism's pockets and backpack. This evidence included the murder victim's identification, credit cards, and a pair of her underwear.

     The Coleen Ritzer murder trial, scheduled for October 17, 2015, was delayed after a judge ordered Chism to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine if he was mentally competent to stand trial.

     On November 2, 2015, at the start of his mental competence hearing, Chism refused to enter the courtroom, banged his head against the floor and told a psychologist he heard voices and hoped that someone would shoot him. The next day the judge ruled Chism mentally unfit to stand trial. Whether he is eventually convicted of murder or not, Philip Chism will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental institution.
   
     

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The David Pichosky/Rochelle Wise Murder Case

     In 2008, a year after his wife died of breast cancer, David "Donny" Pichosky, on a blind date arranged by his children, met Rochelle Wise. Donny, an active member of Toronto, Canada's Shaarei Shomayin Synagogue, a modern Jewish Orthodox congregation, retired after selling his office-carpet business in the North York section of the city. Rochelle, a divorcee, had retired in 2005 as a teacher and vice principal of the Bialik Hebrew Day School just outside of Toronto. She was also the founding director of the Crestwood Valley Day Camp. Shortly after their blind date, the couple were married.

     In 2013, the 71-year-old Pichosky and his 66-year-old wife were wintering in Venetian Park, an affluent island neighborhood in Hallandale Beach, Florida, a town of 38,000 located between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Surrounded by canals and waterways, the snowbirds resided in a stucco townhouse amid palm trees and the other pastel-colored dwellings. Donny and Rochelle must have felt safe living in this gated, security guard-patroled retirement enclave. (In 2012, there had been four criminal homicides in Hallandale Beach.)

     On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, Danny and Rochelle failed to show-up for a lunch date with a neighbor. The friend made several calls to the couple that were not returned. The next day, at six-thirty in the evening, a friend with a spare key entered the townhouse to check on the couple. The neighbor found Donny and Rochelle dead. Shortly after the discovery, a spokesperson with the Hallandale Beach Police Department announced that the Canadian retirees had been murdered.

     According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, the Canadian Couple had been murdered in their home. The cause of their deaths: asphyxiation either by hand or by ligature.

     In April 2013, Hallandale Chief of Police Dwayne Flurney told a reporter with the Miami Herald that detectives were looking for an intruder or intruders who had been motivated by robbery. Rochelle Wise's wedding band--valued at $16,000--was missing from the dwelling. Investigators asked local pawn shop operators to report anyone coming to their places of business with the platinum, five half-carat white diamond ring. (I presume the ring and it's description has been entered into the National Crime Information Center data base.)

     A month before publicizing the missing ring, the police released a video taken from a neighbor's surveillance camera that showed a woman walking toward the rear of the murdered couple's home. That person remained unidentified. Detectives believed the murders were committed by two people.

     Cases involving home invasion criminal homicides in places once considered relatively safe from crime make residents of that community quite fearful. The double-murder in Venetian Park put a lot of pressure on the local police to identify and catch the perpetrators.

     On January 8, 2014, a spokesperson for the Hallandale Beach Department held a press conference on the Pichosky murder case. It had been almost a year since the double murder. According to the spokesperson, crime scene investigators recovered DNA profiles of two women from the murder site. This DNA evidence did not match anyone who had access to the Pichosky home.

     In addition to the DNA, a partial shoe print left at the murder scene was identified as an Adidas model shoe that had been out of production since 2000. Over the past year, detectives had questioned more than fifty people in the investigation of the case. A $57,000 reward had been posted for information leading to the identify of the killer or killers.

     This is one of those frustrating cases where the police  have physical evidence but no suspects to match it to. Eventually someone will identify a suspect. Once that happens, the resolution of the case will be in the hands of the forensic scientists. It's just a matter of time.

     In January 2015, Jamie Wise, Rochell's son, wrote a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott requesting the appointment of another law enforcement agency to take over the unsolved murder case. "What is desperately needed," he wrote, "is a fresh set of eyes, an independent investigation by an experienced entity capable of cultivating new leads through diligence, openness and the willingness to collaborate more purposely with agencies throughout the state."

     As of November 2015, the Hallandale Beach Police Department remained in charge of the still unsolved double-murder.
 
    

Monday, November 2, 2015

Police Sexual Misconduct: The Adam Skweres Case

     Let's say two women, in separate cases, accused a police officer of sexual misconduct. Should that cop, while these allegations are being investigated, remain on duty, or be placed on administrative leave? According to Ocean City (Maryland) Police Chief Bernadette Di Pino, a member of the executive committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), there are no national guidelines or policies dealing with this question. In Maryland, an uncharged officer can be taken off the street if the allegations seem credible. In most jurisdictions, however, accused officers stay on the job until they are charged with a crime. That's how cases like this are handled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

     Adam Skweres, after graduating from Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, joined the U.S. Army Reserves and served a tour of duty in Iraq. In 2005, after taking a few college courses, the 29-year-old applied for a job with the Pittsburgh Police Department. As part of the hiring process, city psychologist Dr. Irvin P. R. Guyett, in determining if Skweres was psychologically fit for police duty, reviewed the results of the candidate's background investigation. Based on polygraph test results, what neighbors and others said about the applicant, his financial history, and the psychologist's interview of the candidate, Dr. Guyett concluded that Skweres was "not psychologically fit for police work." (Dr. Guyett had been evaluating police candidates for 20 years.)

     Unwilling to take no for an answer, Skweres appealed Dr. Guyett's findings and the rejection of his application to the civil service commission. In 2006, the city appointed another psychologist, Dr. Alexander Levy, to re-evaluate the candidate. Dr. Levy, after presumably looking at the same data available to Dr. Guyett, found Skweres "psychologically suited for police work." Based on this second expert opinion, the city allowed Skweres to join the next available police academy class. Upon graduation from the police academy the new officer was assigned to the Zone 3 station on Pittsburgh's south side.

     In June 2008, a woman filed a sexual misconduct complaint against Officer Skweres. After this woman had testified as a victim in one of his cases, Skweres, as he escorted her out of the courtroom, asked to speak to her privately. Skweres said he knew that this woman and her husband were dealing with the county office of Children, Youth and Families (CYF). If she agreed to give him oral sex, Skweres would write the CYF a positive letter on their behalf. If she refused, he would write the agency a negative letter. He allegedly said that he just needed 30 minutes of her time. The woman refused, and filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department.

     Two weeks later, Officer Skweres told a woman who had been in a minor traffic accident that he was writing her up, but the ticket would disappear if she gave him oral sex. According to this woman's complaint, Skweres looked at his sidearm and told her that if she told anyone about his proposal, he'd make sure she never spoke to anyone again.

     Although presented with two credible citizen complaints of coercion and sexual misconduct against one of its officers, supervisors at the Pittsburgh Police Department, because they didn't have sufficient cause, did not remove Officer Skweres from active duty. Pursuant to regulations enforced by the local Fraternal Order of the Police, this officer, until charged with a crime, would stay on the job.

     In December 2011, Officer Skweres entered a home in the Belthoover section of the city where the girlfriend of a man he had recently arrested lived. After asking her how much she loved the arrestee, Skweres allegedly offered to help the boyfriend if she stripped and performed oral sex on him. In making the proposal, which was more of a demand, he unclipped his holster to intimidate her. This woman filed a complaint with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Officer Skweres remained on duty.

     Officer Skweres, on February 11, 2012, showed up at the home of a girlfriend of another man he had arrested. Indicating that he knew he was being surveilled, and didn't want to be recorded, Skweres communicated with the woman by writing messages on a notepad. He instructed her not to talk, and told her to lift her skirt to show she wasn't wearing a wire. (He was not being watched.) When Skweres did speak, he did so in the kitchen where he had water running in the sink to cover his voice.

     After offering to help this woman's incarcerated boyfriend, Skweres allegedly forced the victim to give him oral sex. He cleaned himself off with a towel, put it into his pocket, and left the house. This victim reported the crime to the FBI.

     Five days later, at 5:15 P.M., officers with the Pittsburgh Police Department arrested Officer Skweres at his home. Charged with official oppression, indecent assault, rape, and criminal coercion, Skweres was placed into the Allegheny County Jail where for his protection he was isolated from the other inmates. A judge set his bond at $300,000. The department suspended Skweres without pay.

     On February 21, 2012, detectives searching Officer Adam Skweres's house and SUV found marijuana and crack cocaine. His lawyer told reporters that his client would be pleading not guilty to the sexual misconduct and criminal coercion charges.

     In defending the police department's decision not to remove Officer Skweres from active duty after the 2008 complaints, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told a reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it wasn't until the fourth alleged victim filed her complaint with the FBI that the department had the "hard evidence" they needed to make the arrest and take this officer off the street. The head of the police union told the same reporter that officers can't be taken off duty simply because a civilian makes a complaint. "If we remove someone every time an accusation was thrown at an officer, we wouldn't have any officers on the street who are hardworking and aggressive." (Really? Are there that many citizen complaints?)

     Samuel Walker, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, a nationally known author and scholar on the subject of policing, said the following to a reporter with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "Common sense would say if you have suspicions about this person's conduct, you take [him] off the street, period. If there were two [complaints] back in 2008, that raises the significance of it even further. There should have been something done."

     On March 11, 2013, Adam Skeweres pleaded guilty to 26 counts of sexually assaulting five women he encountered while on duty. The judge sentenced him to three to eight years in prison followed by ten years of probation. The judge also ordered the former police officer to register as a sex offender.

     

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Doris Payne: The Shoplifter From Hell

     Slab Fork, West Virginia, a tiny unincorporated community in the southern part of the state, is the birthplace and childhood home of one infamous person. That person, born on October 10, 1930, is Doris Payne.

     In 1950 Doris and her family moved from West Virginia to Cleveland, Ohio where she began her notorious, lifelong career as a retail thief. Over the next 65 years Doris collected 20 aliases, 10 social security numbers, 9 dates of birth, and dozens of shoplifting arrests in places such as Monaco, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Toyko. Most of her arrests, however, occurred in the United States.

     Payne's criminal career mainly featured her stealing expensive jewelry from high-end stores like Saks Fifth Avenue. Her modus operandi was simple: she would ask the store clerk to show her so many pieces of jewelry that the sales employee lost track of what was out of the showcase. Payne waited for the clerk to become distracted at which point she would scoop up an item, put it into her pocket, and walk out of the store.

     In 2003, at the age of 73, Payne got caught stealing a fancy ring in Los Angeles. On September 23, 2005, police arrested her for shoplifting at a high-end store in Las Vegas.

     In January 2011, the elderly woman with the sticky fingers was caught stealing a diamond ring from a store in San Diego. That theft brought her a prison sentence of two years.

     In Costa Mesa, California, on January 2013, a Saks Fifth Avenue store detective caught Doris Payne removing the price tag from a $1,300 Burberry trench coat. (She probably planned to walk out of the store wearing the garment.) She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years behind bars. However, because of prison overcrowding in the state, a judge released Payne from custody after she had served only three months of her sentence.

     In 2013, Doris Payne was featured in a television documentary called "The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne." The film included interviews with Payne herself along with her daughter and son, her best friend, and police officers from around the country. The documentary was marketed as a rags to riches story of how a poor, single, African-American mother from the segregated 1950s wound up as one of the world's most notorious jewel thieves.

     In July 2015, the 85-year-old retail thief got caught stealing a $32,000 diamond-studded David Yurman engagement ring from a store in the South Park Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. Following her arrest she made bail and fled the state.

     On Monday October 26, 2015, a loss prevention officer at the Saks Fifth Avenue store in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta saw Doris Payne pocket a set of Christian Dior earrings and walk out of the store. When police officers ran a crime history check on the suspect they realized they had nabbed the notorious thief and fugitive who was wanted on a warrant out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

     Shortly after the authorities booked Payne into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, she paid her $2,500 bond and was released. Her attorney, Scott McCullers told reporters that Payne planned to plead not guilty to her latest shoplifting arrest. The lawyer said that because of the 2013 TV documentary about his client's life of crime, she was being persecuted.

     With an upcoming theatrical film about her life starring Halle Berry, Doris Payne will become even more infamous. Perhaps the good folks in Slab Fork, West Virginia will open a museum to celebrate the life of their most noteworthy former resident. Halle Berry could speak at the grand opening.