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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Roberto Roman Cop Killer Murder Cases

     Just after midnight on January 5, 2010, Deputy Josie Fox of the Millard County Sheriff's Office and her partner were watching, from a distance, a suspicious car and a pickup truck parked along the road near the tiny central Utah town of Delta. There had recently been a series of burglaries which had drawn the officers to the area. When the two suspicious vehicles departed the scene in opposite directions, Deputy Fox followed  the 1995 Cadillac DeVille. The officers knew the identity of the man in the other vehicle, the pickup truck. He was a known drug user named Ryan Greathouse who also happened to be Deputy Fox's brother.

     After Deputy Fox called in the license number of the Cadillac, registered to 38-year-old Roberto Miramontes Roman, the police dispatcher forwarded instructions to have the vehicle pulled over. A few minutes later, Deputy Fox radioed that she had pulled over Roman and was exiting the patrol car.

     Deputy Fox did not transmit further messages and was not responding to calls from the dispatcher. Concerned that the deputy's encounter with the driver of the Cadillac had resulted in her injury or death, Millard County Sergeant Rhett Kimball proceeded to the site of the stop to investigate. When the deputy rolled up to the scene, he saw Fox's patrol car lights flashing and the deputy lying on the road in a pool of blood. The 37-year-old police officer had been killed by two bullets fired at close range into her chest. (I imagine the bullets had pierced her bullet-proof vest.) Roberto Roman and his 1995 Cadillac were gone.

     After fleeing the scene en route to Salt Lake City, Roberto Roman got stuck in a snowbank near Nephi, Utah. He called his friend, 35-year-old Ruben Chavez-Reyes, for help. Chavez-Reyes pulled the Cadillac out of the snowbank, and from there the two men continued on to Salt Lake City. Along the way, Roman tossed the murder weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle, out the car window. When the two men arrived at their destination, Roman switched license plates with Chavez-Reyes. (He did not, however, clean traces of Deputy Fox's blood off his Cadillac.) Later that morning, Roman told his friend that he had "broke a cop," meaning that he had killed a police officer.

     Deputy Fox's partner, later that morning, questioned Ryan Greathouse at his home. The deceased deputy's brother said he had purchased drugs from the man in the Cadillac, a dealer he knew as "Rob." Greathouse gave the deputy Rob's phone number which identified this man as Roberto Roman. The deputy then informed Greathouse that Roman had shot and killed his sister with an AK-47 assault rifle.

     The next day, Millard County deputies arrested Roberto Roman whom they found hiding in a shed in Beaver, Utah. Once in custody, Roman provided the officers with a full confession. The suspect told his interrogators that when the patrol officer pulled him over outside of Delta, he was angry because he was being careful not to speed or cross over the center line. Furious that the cop was pulling him over simply because he was "Mexican," Roman shot her twice with his assault rifle. He did not know he had murdered the sister of the man who had just purchased meth from him.

     The Millard County prosecutor charged Roberto Roman with aggravated first-degree murder as well as with lesser weapons and evidence tampering offenses. If convicted of murdering a police officer, under Utah law, Roberto Roman faced the death penalty.

     In April 2010, more than four months after the shooting death of his sister, Ryan Greathouse was found dead from a meth overdose in the bedroom of a Las Vegas apartment.

     In 2011, Judge Donald Eyre presided over a two-day hearing to determine if Robert Roman would qualify for the death penalty. The judge, after listening to the testimony of psychologists, ruled that the defendant was "mentally retarded," and as such, ineligible under Utah law for execution. This ruling disappointed and mystified a lot of people. (I would imagine that most cop killers are either high on drugs and/or stupid. Since intoxication and mental dullness are not criminal defenses, I don't see why people who are not bright are spared execution. Moreover, courthouse psychologists think all criminals are stupid and should therefore be judged differently from their more intelligent counterparts. Psychologists should not be allowed inside a courthouse unless they have been charged with a crime.)

     The Roberto Roman murder trial got underway on August 13, 2012 in the Fourth District Court in Spanish Fork, Utah. After the prosecution rested its case four days later, the defendant took the stand on his own behalf. Rather than admitting his guilt as he had in his police confession, Roberto Roman offered the jurors a completely different story, one that was both self-serving and implausible.

     On the night of Deputy Fox's death, the defendant and the officer's brother Ryan Greathouse, were riding around in Roman's Cadillac smoking meth. When Deputy Fox pulled the car over outside Delta, Ryan, who was crouched down in the vehicle, grabbed the AK-47 and shot Fox in the chest, unaware he had just murdered his sister. After the shooting, the two men went their separate ways. The beauty of this story involved the fact Ryan Greathouse was not in position to contest the defendant's version of the murder.

     Prosecutor Pat Finlinson, in his closing summation, reminded the jurors of the physical evidence that supported the prosecution's theory of the case. The victim's bullet wounds indicated that the AK-47 had been fired at an angle consistent with being discharged by the driver of the Cadillac. Moreover, the defendant's fingerprints, not Ryan Greathouse's, were on the assault rifle.

     On August 20, 2012, a week after the Roberto Roman trial began, the jury, after deliberating eight hours, found the defendant not guilty of the aggravated first degree murder of Deputy Josie Fox. The jurors, in defending their unpopular verdict, said that without Roman's confession, they didn't have enough evidence to find him guilty.

     Roberto Roman became the first Utah defendant charged with the murder of a police officer to be acquitted since 1973. The jury did find him guilty of the lesser offenses pertaining to the assault rifle and the evidence tampering. On October 24, 2012, the judge sentenced Roman to the ten year maximum sentence for those crimes.

     The not guilty verdict in the Roberto Roman murder trial shocked and angered the law enforcement community, friends and relatives of the slain police officer, and a majority of citizens familiar with the case. Had Ryan Greathouse not died between the time of the shooting and Roman's trial, this case may have had a different ending. For a stupid person Roberto Roman had done a good job of beating a strong circumstantial case.

     In May 2013, David Barlow, the United States Attorney for the District of Utah, announced that a federal grand jury had returned an 11-count indictment against Roberto Roman for, among other crimes, the murder of Deputy Josie Fox. U.S. Attorney Barlow said, "The fact that Mr Roman had already been tried before a state court had no influence or affect on the federal murder charge [arising out of the same conduct]." In other words, according to this federal prosecutor, the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy didn't apply in this case.

     The new federal charges against Roman, in addition to murder, included, among other offenses, drug trafficking and illegally firing a gun in the death of a police officer. If convicted as charged, Roman faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

     In May 2014, Roman's attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictments on grounds their client should not have to stand trial for a federal murder charge related to the same crime. Attorney Jeremy Delicino said, "In layman's terms, the Untied States seeks a second chance to rectify what it believes the jury got wrong the first time. In blunt colloquial terms, the Unites States seeks a do-over."

     In response to the defense motion to dismiss the indictments, lawyers for the prosecution asserted that the U.S. Supreme Court had held that federal and state governments can prosecute a person for separate crimes based upon the same conduct.

     On September 30, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen ruled that prosecuting Roberto Roman for federal offenses related to the police officer's murder did not constitute double jeopardy. The federal case could therefore go forward.

     On February 6, 2017, a jury sitting in a Salt Lake City courtroom found Roberto Roman guilty of eight federal charges that included the murder of Deputy Fox. U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffen, in April 2017, sentenced Roman to life in prison plus 80 years. "Criminals must know that killing a law enforcer in the line of duty means that they will never go free," he said.



      

An Eye For An Eye

The biblical precept, "An eye for any eye and a tooth for a tooth" belongs to an era that predates courts. It enjoins the injured party not to wreak vengeance beyond the injury he has suffered. In this sense it is the beginning of the idea of justice.

Ronald Irving, The Law Is An Ass, 2011 

A Good Writing Day

I know perfectly well how to have a good writing day: get up around six, get a quick breakfast, at my desk before seven for an uninterrupted three hours of solid work (invariably the most productive segment of the day); a break at ten to fetch the mail, then back to work--resisting, by sheer strength of character, the seductions of the mail--until noon. Break again to [take a walk], get lunch, read the paper. Back to the desk for another productive couple of hours, until concentration fades; sag away from the desk about four, get a nap, feed and exercise the dogs, and begin, cocktail in hand, to read whatever it is I'm reading at the time. Piece of cake. I get a writing day like that, oh, at least once a month.

John Jerome, The Writing Trade, 1992 

The Premature Aging of Prostitutes

Their faces go before their time, their skin coarsens, their speech turns foul until at last it is true to say they are almost completely de-womanized in every gentle aspect of that word. This, like the mark of Cain on the brow of the murderer, is the stigmata of prostitution which none can escape.

John Gosling, head of Scotland Yard's vice squad in the 1950s, in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J.P. Bean, editor, 2003 

The Unhappy Vocation

Novel writing is considered a profession and I don't think it is a profession. I think that everyone who does not need to be a writer, who thinks he can do something else, ought to do something else. Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think that an artist can ever be happy.

Georges Simenon, Paris Review, Summer 1955 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Levi Chavez Murder Case

     Levi Chavez, a 26-year-old officer with the Albuquerque, New Mexico Police Department, at nine o'clock on the night of October 21, 2007, called 911 to report that his wife had committed suicide with his department-issued Glock 9 pistol. Responding officers with the APD found, at the Chavez home in Los Lunas, 26-year-old Tera Chavez. The officers found the woman in the master bedroom with a massive exit bullet wound at the base of her skull. Next to her body officers saw the 9 mm Glock that still had a round in its chamber. Nearby lay the fatal bullet's spent shell casing and, detached from the handgun, its clip. It appeared that the barrel of the gun had been inserted into the dead woman's mouth.

     Officer Chavez informed his fellow officers that he and his wife had been having marital problems for years, and that on countless occasions the mother of two, who worked at a beauty salon as a hairdresser, had threatened to kill herself.

     Because it was apparent that Tera Chavez had been dead for several hours, the crime scene officers wanted to know the circumstances under which Levi had discovered his wife's corpse. In response to that question, Chavez said he last saw his wife on Friday morning, October 19 before going on duty at the APD. That night, he decided to stay over at his girlfriend Deborah Romero's house. Romero was also a member of the Albuquerque Police Department.

     According to Levi Chavez, on Saturday, October 20, Tera called him 176 times. He ignored her calls by turning off his cellphone. Chavez said he spent Saturday night with Romero, and the next day, when Tera didn't call him, he began to worry. Later that Sunday evening, Levi said his mother told him that Tera had not shown up for work that day at the beauty salon. At that point he rushed home to find that his wife had committed suicide.

     In 2007, the Albuquerque Police Department, due to a series of questionable police-involved shootings, and allegations of institutional corruption and departmental cover-ups of officer wrongdoing, was under investigation by the FBI. Shortly after Tera Chavez's sudden and violent death, critics of the APD accused the department of helping officer Chavez cover up the murder of his wife by destroying crime scene evidence. Because the police department had such a bad reputation, and a police officer's wife had died under suspicious circumstances, Detective Aaron Jones of the Valencia County Sheriff's Office took charge of the homicide investigation.

     Detective Jones, who suspected that Levi Chavez had murdered his wife eighteen to twenty hours before he called 911, had to back off when Dr. Patricia McFeeley, the state medical examiner, ruled Tera's manner of death a suicide. In November 2007, Detective Jones showed Dr. McFeeley crime scene photographs that caused her to change Tera Chavez's manner of death to "undetermined." Despite Jone's efforts, the homicide investigation eventually died on the vine.

     In April 2011, three and a half years after Tera Chavez's death, following a cold-case murder investigation, Dr. McFeeley changed the manner of death in the case to "criminal homicide." Assistant Sandoval County District Attorney Bryan McKay charged Levi Chavez, who was no longer on the police force, with first-degree murder in his wife's death.

     The Chavez murder trial got underway on June 3, 2013 before Sandoval District Court Judge George Eichwald. In his opening remarks to the jury, lead prosecutor McKay presented the state's theory that the defendant had murdered his wife sometime between late Saturday night, October 20, 2007 and the early morning hours of Sunday, October 21. After shooting his wife in the mouth with the Glock 9 pistol, the defendant staged a suicide by placing the gun, the shell casing, and the clip next to her body.

     Levi Chavez's trial attorney, David Sema, a lawyer well known in New Mexico for representing several high-profile criminal defendants, told the jurors that his client's wife had committed suicide over her husband's extramarital affairs.

     Detective Aaron Jones took the stand for the prosecution. According to the Valencia County homicide detective, the Glock magazine found next to the victim's body was "unseated." By that, the witness meant it wasn't locked into the butt of the gun. This suggested that after the weapon had been discharged, the shooter had pressed a button to release the clip.

     DNA expert Alanna Williams, who in 2007 worked for the New Mexico Crime Laboratory, but was now employed by the APD, testified that she had tested the Glock and a pair of sweatpants found in the Chavez home washing machine for DNA. Williams said she had found blood on the muzzle of the pistol that contained the victim's DNA. On the handgun's grip, the forensic scientist found a mixture of Tera's and the defendant's DNA. The sweatpants, believed to have been worn by the defendant, contained DNA from the victim.

     Dr. Patricia McFeeley, now the former medical examiner, testified that the death scene Glock had been inserted at least one inch into Tera Chavez's mouth. The fatal bullet had vaporized the victim's brainstem. The forensic pathologist explained that the victim, after being shot, couldn't have pressed the button that released the magazine from the butt of the pistol.

     One of the defendant's mistresses, APD officer Regina Sanchez, took the stand. In September 2006 she and Levi began an intimate relationship. A month later, Sanchez, believing that Chavez was in the process of divorcing Tera, allowed him to move in with her. After the witness received an angry call from Tera Chavez, he moved out.

     Rose Slama, another of the defendant's girlfriends, testified that he told her that when Tera shot herself, he was in the house taking a shower.

     After the prosecution rested its case on June 26, 2013, defense attorney David Sema put Dr. Alan Berman, a suicide expert who lived in Washington, D. C., on the stand. Based on Tera Chavez's diary entries, text messages, medical history, and two notes in her handwriting found at the death scene, Dr. Berman said he believed that she suffered from low self-esteem and self-hate due to her emotionally abusive relationship with her philandering husband. She had been, in the witness' opinion, depressed as well. According to the psychologist, these factors combined to create what he called "acute risk factors for suicide."

     Dr. Berman read several text messages Tera had sent to her husband between August and October 2006. In one such message she had written: "I am a loser. I've failed at everything, especially you. I want to die." In another text she had said, "I'm tired of being your dumb wife. You treat me like shit...please respect me...I have a job."

     Prosecutor McKay, on cross-examination, asked the "suicideologist" to read Tera Chavez's last diary entry, dated July 12, 2007, which read: "...so goodbye to the person I used to be. Welcome a new day. Happiness!" Dr. Berman testified that he did not believe this statement was inconsistent with a suicidal mindset.

     On July 1, 2013, a crime scene reconstruction expert took the stand for the defense. In the course of demonstrating to the jury how Tera Chavez, after shooting herself in the mouth with the Glock, had pressed the button that released the magazine, failed to eject the magazine pursuant to his theory of what happened. In other words, the demonstration failed.

     Defense attorney Sema, on July 9, 2013, presented his star witness. Dr. Charles V. Wetli, the former medical examiner of Suffolk County, New York, had testified for the defense in dozens of high-profile murder cases. According to the forensic pathologist, had the defendant shoved the pistol into his wife's mouth, he would have broken some of her teeth. According to Dr. Wetli, Tera Chavez, in killing herself, had turned the gun upside down and used her thumb to pull the trigger.

     Prosecutor McKay's associate, Assistant District Attorney Anne Keener, on cross-examination, showed Dr. Wetli a death scene photograph that appeared to show that one of Tera's lower teeth had been chipped. When asked if one of the dead woman's teeth had been broken, the forensic pathologist said, "It's possible." Prosecutor Keener asked Dr. Wetli if he had visited the death scene or personally examined Tera Chavez's corpse. He said that he had not.

     The second major defense witness, the defendant himself, took the stand on July 11, 2013. In describing his discovery of his dead wife on the night of October 21, 2007, Levi Chavez said, "I turned on the light and it was like terror. I couldn't believe what I was seeing." The defendant told the jury that he blamed himself for Tera's suicide, and felt that God was saying to him: "This is all your fault." Chavez assured the jurors that he had found religion, and had not cheated on his second wife. At several points during his direct examination by attorney Sema, the defendant broke down in tears.

     On cross-examination, prosecutor Bryan McKay asked the former police officer why he had left his loaded department-issued gun "with a woman who was depressed and talked about possibly hurting herself. You had small children in the house."

     "We had," the defendant replied, "an attempted break-in. A truck was stolen right out of our driveway when she was there. And yes, I had small children in the home, but this is exactly why I left the gun in the house. (Regarding the theft of Levi's 2004 Ford F-250 truck, Tera allegedly told her fellow beauty salon workers that he and his "cop buddies" had staged the theft as part of an insurance scam. Prosecutor McKay had attempted to get this information before the jury, but Judge Eichwald had suppressed it.)

     On July 16, 2013, the jury, after ten hours of deliberation, found the defendant not guilty.

The Nonfiction Writing Class

In your nonfiction writing class [the professor should] always be ready to "tie in" whatever you're talking about with its application out in the world. Undergrads are terribly conscious they they'll soon become human beings, and are delighted to know that some of the stuff they're learning may be useful after they leave this artificial hothouse called college. As a writing teacher you'll have more of an advantage in this regard than teachers of most of the other "humanities" courses.

Martin Russ, Showdown Semester, 1980 

Why Sherlock Holmes Didn't Stay Dead

     Sherlock Holmes died in 1893 but then came back to life ten years later. After writing twenty-four Holmes stories in six years, Arthur Conan Doyle had grown weary of the popular hero and wanted to focus on writing historical novels. So he figured he could put an end to the whole thing by having Holmes plunge to his death from Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, holding his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarity, in a mutual death grip.

     Although public outcry was enormous, Doyle remained adamant about not bringing Holmes back. Ten years later, though, McClure's magazine in the United States offered Doyle $5,000 per story if he'd bring his detective back to life. That was the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in today's money, and Doyle couldn't resist. His first story had Holmes coming out of hiding after ten years, and Doyle wrote Holmes stories for a quarter of a century before retiring himself and his detective for good in 1927.

Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo, It Takes a Certain Type To Be a Writer, 2003 

The Gangster's Court House Cure

When these organized crime figures go on trial they all show up in wheelchairs or on crutches. Suddenly they have bad hearts or livers and are about to die. Of course after the case they're all very healthy again. They must go to Lourdes and get cured. Even Butchie Miceli walked away, without his crutches. This guy had multiple sclerosis. Found a cure the minute they said "probation!" Great cure.

Joe Delaney, New Jersey police chief in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J.P. Bean, editor, 2003 

John Gardner On Writer's Block

The best way of all for dealing with writer's block is never to get it. Some novelists never do. Theoretically there's no reason one should get it, if one understands that writing, after all, is only writing, neither something one ought to feel deeply guilty about nor something one ought to be inordinately proud of. The very qualities that make one a novelist in the first place contribute to block: hypersensitivity, stubbornness, insatiability, and so on. Given the general oddity of novelists, no wonder there are no sure cures.

John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist, 1983 

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Ira Bloom Murder-For-Hire Case

     In the domestic battle over who gets what in a divorce, one of the most contentious issues centers around who will acquire principal access to, and responsibility for, the children. Parents who believe they have received a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. A few of these parents, motivated by hatred, the need for control, and the desire to win, have resorted to murder.

     Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made Portnov as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. The couple lived in Enfield, Connecticut.

     In the summer of 2004, following a string of restraining orders, Zhanna divorced Bloom and gained custody of their 8-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his 3-day-a-week visitation schedule, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 custody hearing, Bloom began planning to have his ex-wife murdered.

     Following their divorce, Bloom moved to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a town outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife's death, and commit the mistake most murder-for-hire masterminds make: reach out to the wrong person to help him carry out his mission. Bloom asked his friend Donald Levesque, a petty criminal and drug snitch who claimed underworld connections, to find a hitman who would carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor's office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist. Bloom wanted the hit man to rape then kill his ex-wife. Pursuant to his plan, the killer would dump her body somewhere in Hartford, Connecticut.

     Levesque, snitch that he was, went to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tax and Firearms (AFT) where he informed agents of Bloom's murder-for-hire scheme. (Levesque was a regular, paid ATF confidential informant.) Because murder-for-hire is a state as well as a federal offense, the ATF had jurisdiction in the case.

     The informant told ATF agents that Ira Bloom had promised him $15,000 out of his dead ex-wife's $100,000 life insurance payout. Working with local law enforcement agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the ATF launched its investigation.

     On July 8, 2005, Levesque and Bloom met in a restaurant in Enfield. The snitch wore a hidden recorder and had driven a car to the meeting that was wired for sound. To the amazement of the officers and agents surveilling the meeting, Bloom arrived with a woman he had just met. Seated in a booth, Bloom began talking about his battle to regain custody of his son. He said, "I'm really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12, I'll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything's gone. I mean, she's dead."

     Before the meeting broke-up, Levesque, acting on instructions from his ATF handlers, asked Bloom for a hand-drawn map showing the route to the target's place of employment. "You think I'm gonna give you a map?" Bloom said. "We'll all go to jail." But the snitch persisted, and a few minutes later, the mastermind sketched a crude map on a napkin.

     In Levesque's car outside the restaurant, he and Bloom, with the mastermind's date sitting in the back seat, continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest, the officers and agents rushed the car. Just before being yanked out of the vehicle, Bloom looked at Levesque and said, "Don, what did you do to me?"

     In October 2006, Ira Bloom was tried in Hartford, Connecticut before a federal jury. While the defendant did not take the stand on his own behalf, his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more that his client's blowing off steam to impress his date. The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. Following a series of appeals, federal judge Alfred V. Covello, in April 2008, sentenced the 48-year-old Bloom to the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison.

Releasing Serial Killer Henry Lee Lucas

I told them before I ever left prison that I was going to commit crimes, told the type of crimes I was going to commit, and they wouldn't believe it. They said I was going regardless of whether I liked it or not. And the day I got out of jail is the day I started killing. [Lucas, over a 13 year period, murdered more than 200 people.]

Henry Lee Lucas in The Book of Criminal Quotations, J. P. Bean, editor, 2003 

Bret Easton Ellis On His First Novel

When I was writing my first novel, I had no serious hopes of publishing it. I was sophisticated enough to know that twenty-year-olds don't publish novels. I was writing it because I enjoyed writing and because it was cathartic. Some people release their pain and anxiety through, oh, I don't know, playing sports, or a hobby, or through sex or drugs. Writing for me was always a great stress reliever. It was Joe McGinness who thought the book had commercial potential, so he showed it to his agent. Less Than Zero was published in May 1985.

Bret Easton Ellis, Paris Review, Spring 2012 

Charles Bukowski on Trial Lawyers

The language of the lawyer is the language of the trickster. It's an inhuman language, a sub-language. And justice is hardly ever served. Justice is just forgotten. Our court system are just swamps of dark and devious jargon. It's just a wash of dull, crippled, masked wordage put before a jury of twelve imbeciles or a bored judge.

Charles Bukowski

Tom Clancy On Novel Writing

Writing a novel is an endurance contest and a war fought against yourself, because writing is beastly hard work which one would just as soon not do. It's also a job, however, and if you want to get paid, you have to work. Life is cruel that way.

Tom Clancy in Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron, 2002 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Donald Williams Jr.: A Man Unfit For Civilized Society

     Donald Williams, Jr., born and raised in a crime-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood to parents who physically abused him and spent their welfare money on crack, murdered a man in 1994. The 20-year-old with a low I.Q. and no idea how to make his way in civilized society, had assaulted his former girlfriend, then killed her boyfriend. Convicted of third-degree murder in 1996, the judge sentenced Williams to ten years in prison. (In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder convictions are almost always the result of plea deals.)

     Early in 2009, Williams began dating a woman from Reading, Pennsylvania named Maria Serrano. In May of that year, after letting him move in with her, Serrano kicked the 35-year-old out of her house. The infuriated ex-con took up residence in a halfway house in Reading.

     On June 25, 2009, Williams returned to Serrano's home. That night he raped her. But he didn't leave it at that. While she took a shower, he stabbed her with a screwdriver. Williams then threw the 49-year-old woman down her basement steps, doused her with gasoline, lit her up and left her for dead.

     To the 911 dispatcher, Serrano screamed, "Oh my God, I am bleeding! Hurry up! There is a fire, I am burning all over the place! There is a fire in the house! Hurry up!" Paramedics rushed the badly burned woman to the Lehigh Valley Burn Center near Allentown, Pennsylvania. On August 8, 2009, she died of her injuries.

     A Berks County prosecutor charged Williams, who was already in custody on the rape, arson, and aggravated assault charges, with first-degree murder. The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty in this case.

     The Williams trial got underway on September 12, 2013 before Berks County Judge Scott D. Keller and a jury of seven women and five men. When Assistant District Attorney Dennis J. Skayhan rested his case, there was no doubt who had tortured and murdered Maria Serrano. Before she died, the victim had identified Williams as her attacker. A state forensic expert had connected the defendant to the rape though his DNA.

     Public defender Paul Yessler put Williams on the stand. The defendant did not deny that he had raped, stabbed, and set fire to the woman he had thrown down a flight of stairs. In a bold and obvious lie that did not go over well with the jurors, Williams claimed to have "flipped-out" that night after catching Serrano having sex with his younger brother.

     Prosecutor Skayhan, as part of his closing argument, played the victim's 911 tape. Public defender Yessler, in his closing statement, emphasized the defendant's 83 I.Q., his ghetto upbringing, and his childhood abuse. In referring to Williams, Yessler said, "This guy did not have a chance from the get-go."

     Six days after the opening of the trial, the jury, after deliberating six hours, found Williams guilty of rape, arson, and first-degree murder. The defendant showed no emotion at the reading of the verdict.

     Because the prosecution sought the death penalty in this case, the judge scheduled a two-day sentence hearing. In arguing for the death sentence, prosecutor Skayhan focused on how the tortured victim had died a slow, agonizing death. Public defender Yessler, in pushing for life, highlighted the defendant's low I.Q. and inability to control his impulses.

     The jury, after deliberating two hours on the sentencing issue, informed Judge Keller that a consensus could not be reached. The judge had no choice but to sentence Donald Williams to life in prison without parole.

     In speaking directly to the convicted murderer, Judge Keller made no secret of where he stood on the question of punishment in this case. "You deserved the death penalty," he said without trying to disguise his disgust at the jury's performance. "It was torture in any man or woman's world. You inflicted a considerable amount of pain and suffering on a victim which is unnecessary, heinous, atrocious, and cruel."

     While few would disagree with the judge's analysis of this murderer, William's low I.Q. would probably have kept him out of the death chamber anyway. Appellate judges do not like the idea of executing stupid people. (In my opinion, many low I.Q. defendants are simply good at playing dumb.)


Recognizing Truth From Deception in the Interrogation Room

     A truthful suspect will give concise answers because he has no fear of being trapped. The person knows that truth is being told and has no reason to qualify or to delay answers. Furthermore, the truthful suspect is not afraid to say the interrogator is wrong in suspecting him. The truthful suspect is also able, without any difficulty, casually to answer an irrelevant question such as "By the way, where do your children go to school?" and he is more apt to quickly correct an interrogator who makes a mistake about some irrelevant detail. The liar is less likely to do so.

     As a test to discern whether the suspect's mind is free and clear, the interrogator may deliberately err when referring to such matters as the suspect's home or business address. Usually, the truthful person will correct the interrogator, but the liar, due to his concentrated mental concern with deception, may completely miss the error. The lying suspect may be so disorganized that he will even delay giving his own home or business address.

     Truthful suspects will not only respond directly, they also will speak with relative clarity. Liars, however, tend to mumble or talk so softly that they cannot be heard clearly. Perhaps they hope that if they lie softly, they will be misunderstood; then, if later confronted with the falsity of an answer, they can deny it was said or else allege that they did not understand the question. On the other hand, some liars may speak at a rapid pace or may display erratic changes in the tone or pitch of their voices. Similarly, a verbal response coupled with nervous laughter or levity is a common attempt to camouflage deception.

Fred E. Inbau, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, 1986

The Blog Writer

     A lot of blogs about writing are self-centered, and that's fine, but a truly personal blog limits your reach. If there's one thing I've learned about the Internet it's that users come to it to see "What's in it for me?" They want valuable content that speaks to their needs.

     Most writing blogs--and blogs in general--are about the writer of the blog, not about the user. I write my blog to give readers valuable content because I know that's what they want from me. They don't care about my personal life. My readers visit me for writing and publishing advice, so that's what I dish up.

Mary Kole in Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, edited by Chuck Sambuchino, 2013 

Bad Schools Don't Create Criminals

The criminal delinquent praises virtually anyone who lets him do what he wants and reviles anyone who imposes limits. A group of adult inmates in a Minnesota prison brainstormed 77 ideas in response to being questioned about how schools could help eliminate crime. Their suggestions revealed a perspective unchanged from childhood, namely that schools should cater to the student and make few demands of him. Among the inmates' suggestions were "more spontaneity," "dump dress codes," "more rap sessions," "supervise kids and not teach them," "let kids teach some classes," "let students choose teachers." Additional proposals were offered, but most were directed toward giving students free reign while requiring little personal responsibility.

Dr. Stanton E. Samenow, Inside the Mind of the Criminal, 1984 

Nature Writing

Nature writing often requires an ability to understand and interpret the findings of science. If you do not have the education or career credentials for writing about these subjects, you can rely on others who are experts, or you can write as a lay naturalist, an astute observer. However, the onus of accuracy is upon you. Although nature writing rests on science, the essay form leaves plenty of room for the writer's interaction with the environment, including one's inner emotional landscape as well as the outer landscape of the setting. One of the best ways to improve your skill in nature and outdoor writing is to read examples of it, as well as books on how to write this specialized kind of writing.

Elizabeth Lyon, A Writer's Guide to Nonfiction, 2003 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Dead Pedophile and One Less Pimp

     When frustrated citizens come to believe the criminal justice system is failing them--police focusing on the wrong crimes, prosecutors making too many plea deals, and judges issuing light sentences--there is a chance people will start enforcing the law themselves. Some will do it for self-protection, others for revenge, and still others to make their communities safer for everyone. Because the nation's rates of violent crime are low compared to earlier times, this is not about to happen on a large scale. But parents of elementary school children are concerned about the pedophiles that are living in our neighborhoods. And parents of teen-age girls have a lot to worry about, particularly in the era of social media, and widespread drug use.

One Less Pimp

     Barry Gilton and Lupe Mercado lived with their four children in the Bayview District of San Francisco not far from Candlestick Park. Gilton, 38, had been a San Francisco Municipal Railway operator since 2008. A year ago, the couple's 17-year-old daughter (who has not been identified by name) ran off to southern California. The worried parents went to the police but (according to them) received little help. They added their daughter's name to several exploited children's registries which failed to produce results.

     Gilton and Lupe Mercado began seeing their daughter's name and photograph in internet escort service ads. They also learned she was being pimped out by 22-year-old Calvin Sneed, a member of the Nutty Block Gang in Compton, California.

     Detectives in southern California believe that the parents, on May 27, 2012, tracked Sneed to Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. That night, according to the police, Gilton approached Sneed on foot as the suspected pimp sat in his Toyota Camry, and, using a 9-millimeter pistol, fired nine shots into his car. Although he wasn't hit by any of the bullets, Sneed received injuries from shards of glass from his windshield.  His girlfriend drove him to the hospital where he refused to cooperate with the police.

     On June 2, while the 17-year-old girl and the pimp were in the Bay area to visit one of her sick relatives, she and her parents, who were still trying to get her away from Sneed, argued. Two days later, at two in the morning, someone using a .40-caliber Glock handgun shot Sneed four times as he drove his Camry in the Bayview District near Gilton and Mercado's home. Later that morning, he died in a nearby hospital. The police believe Gilton shot the alleged pimp from his Mercedes-Benz SUV.

     Shortly after Calvin Sneed was shot to death, police arrested the girl's parents. Gilton and Mercado have been each charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They are each in custody under $2 million bail. Their daughter is living with relatives.

     Prosecutors usually come down hard on murder defendants who have taken the law into their own hands. The message they want to send is this: leave law enforcement to the authorities. If everyone acted this way, no one would be safe. The authorities, aware that some in the community applaud people who take the law into their own hands, want to deter this kind of behavior.

A Dead Pedophile

     It happened on a Saturday this June on a ranch off County Road 302 near Shiner, Texas, a small town 130 miles west of Houston. Ted Smith (not his real name) and his family were hosting an afternoon barbecue. Mr. Smith had hired a 47-year-old Mexican man he knew to take care of the horses and do other chores on the day of the get-together.

     When the 23-year-old rancher heard cries of help coming from his barn, he found the hired-man sexually molesting is 4-year-old daughter. Ted Smith, with his bare hands, killed the pedophile on the spot. After saving his daughter, the rancher called 911.

     The Lavaca County sheriff, Micah Harmon, told reporters that it is unlikely Mr. Smith will be charged with criminal homicide. "He told me," the sheriff said, "that it wasn't his intent for this individual to lose his life. He was just protecting his daughter."

     The case is being investigated by the Texas Rangers. A local resident expressed the prevailing opinion in the community when he said, "I think he [the molester] got what he deserved." If the father is charged with criminal homicide, I can't image any jury finding him guilty.

     The killing in Texas is different from the one in California. The killing of the pedophile wasn't premeditated like the murder of Calvin Sneed. Stalking and killing a pimp is not the same as finding a man molesting your daughter. If the parents in California are found guilty, they could face long prison sentences. It would be an outrage if the authorities in Texas even charged Mr. Smith.

     The authorities in Lavaca County, Texas released the tapes of the 911 call from the father who beat his daughter's molester to death. (The dead man has been identified as Jesus Mora Flores, a Mexican national working in the U.S. on a permanent resident card.) The father, obviously distraught, and on the verge of panic, said, "I need an ambulance. This guy was raping my daughter and I beat him up and I don't know what to do. This guy is fixing to die on me man, and I don't know what to do."

     A Lavaca County grand jury decided not to indict the father. District Attorney Heather McMinn told reporters that "under the law, deadly force is justified to stop a sexual assault....All the evidence indicated that is what was occurring."

Drugs and Crime

The great availability of illicit drugs contributes not only to more frequent crime but to more serious crime. The man who steals from stores and houses may have ideas about bank robberies flash through his mind, but without drugs he is too fearful to carry them out. Once he is on drugs, barriers to more daring ventures are overcome. The drugs do not cause a person to obtain a sawed-off shotgun and hold up a liquor store, or for that matter, commit any other crime. They simply make it more feasible for him to eliminate fears for the time being in order to act upon what he has previously considered. That is, drugs intensify and bring out tendencies already present within the individual user. They do not transform a responsible person into a criminal. The criminality comes first, the decision to use drugs later.

Dr. Stranton E. Samenow, Inside the Criminal Mind, 1984

[I believe this concept holds true in the relationship between mental illness and violent crime. Violence is not a symptom of mental illness. However, when a violent person loses his mind, the tendency already present in the person manifests itself. The mental illness merely releases the violence.]

Writing the First Draft

     All writing begins life as a first draft, and first drafts are never (well, almost never) any good. They're not supposed to be. Expecting to write perfect prose on the first try is like expecting a frog to skip the tadpole stage.

     Write a first draft as though you were thinking aloud, not carving a monument. If what you're writing is relatively short--a financial report, a book proposal, a term paper--you might try doing your first draft in the form of a friendly letter. The person at the other end could be someone real or imagined, even a composite reader.

     Relax and take your time, but don't bog down, chewing your nails over individual words or sentences or paragraphs. When you get stalled, put down a string of X's and keep going. What you're writing now will be rewritten. If it is messy and full of holes, so what? It's only the first draft, and no one but you has to see it.

Patricia T. O'Conner, Words Fail Me, 1999

The Mystery of Why People Commit Crimes

     It's like the old staple of 1930s gangster movies: why does one person become a criminal and the other a priest? Or from my perspective, why does one become a serial killer, another a rapist, another an assassin, another a bomber, another a poisoner, and yet still another a child molester? And within these crime categories, why does each commit his atrocities in the precise way he does? The answer lies in one fundamental question that applies to every one of them:
     Why did he do it?
     The who? follows from there.
     That's the mystery we have to solve.

John Douglas [criminal profiler] and Mark Olshaker, The Anatomy of Motive, 1999

Writing the Novel's Opening Line

My favorite struggling writer is the Billy Crystal character in the movie Throw Momma From the Train who spends much of the film trying to write the first line of the book that will free him from his crippling writer's block. "The night was," he writers over and over, never getting beyond those first three words. In the end, comic and harrowing events in his life cause him to throw away the line and just start writing. The lesson is, there is no magic opening line. The magic is what creates the line in the first place.

Loren D. Estleman, Writing the Popular Novel, 2004 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Adaisha Miller's Sudden, Mysterious Death

     On Detroit's west side, on July 8, 2012, 24-year-old Adaisha Miller attended a Saturday night fish fry hosted by Isaac Parrish and his wife. Miller, a certified massage therapist, came to the backyard party with a friend acquainted with the 38-year-old Detroit police officer throwing event. Isaac Parish, a beat patrolman for 16 years, did not know Miller before the get together.

     That night, Officer Parrish carried his department-issued Smith & Wesson M & P 40 semiautomatic pistol on his right side in a soft holster tucked inside his waistband covered by his shirt. In Detroit, officers have the option of carrying their firearms when off-duty. There are not, however, supposed to be armed if their blood-alcholol level is 0.02 percent or above. (In Michigan, the blood-alcohol threshold for a DUI conviction is 0.08 percent.) In essence, Detroit officers are prohibited from carrying their handguns if they consume alcohol, period.

     Thirty minutes after midnight on the night of the party, Adaisha Miller, while either hugging the officer, dancing with him side-by-side, or dancing on her knees behind him (I have a hard time picturing this), touched or tugged at his waist in a way that caused his firearm to discharge. The gun not only went off, the bullet entered Miller's chest, pierced a lung, hit her heart, and exited her lower back. She died later that day at a local hospital.

     According to Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Wayne County Medical Examiner, the path of the bullet through Miller's body did not reveal the victim's position relative to the gun's muzzle (end of the barrel) which was pointed toward the ground. Because the Smith & Wesson M & P 40 is designed for police and military use, it does not have a safety switch. However, the trigger must be pulled back all the way before the gun will fire.

     Months after Adaisha Miller's sudden demise, the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office declared her death "accidental."

     Because it was hard to construct a scenario, based on the facts at hand, that explained exactly how this accident occurred, Adaisha's death remains a mystery. Less than 24 hours after Miller's death, a lawyer surfaced in the case talking about a potential lawsuit against the Detroit Police Department. Attorney Gerald Thurswell, in speaking to a local reporter, said, "We believe 100 percent that this death was caused as a result of a negligent act of somebody. If somebody was negligent then someone's responsible for the injuries and death caused as a result of their negligent act." This lawyer has hired a private investigator to look into the shooting.

     In February 2017, Adaisha Miller's mother, Yolanda McNair, was part of a demonstration outside the Detroit courthouse. The protesters were mothers of children who had been killed by Detroit police officers. McNair told a reporter that in her opinion, justice was not done in the case of her daughter's death. The lawsuit was pending. 

Stephen King on Reading Good and Bad Novels

     One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose. Reading Valley of the Dolls and Bridges of Madison County is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with the superstar guest lecturers thrown in.

     Good writing, on the other hand, teaches the learning writer about style, graceful narration, plot development, the creation of believable characters and truth-telling. A novel like The Grapes of Wrath may fill a new writer with feelings of despair and good old-fashioned jealousy--"I'll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand"--but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer to work harder and aim higher.

Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Lawsuits Are Important

     It matters how judges decide cases. It matters to people unlucky or litigious or wicked or saintly enough to find themselves in court. Learned Hand, who was one of America's best and most famous judges, said he feared a lawsuit more than death or taxes. Criminal cases are the most frightening of all, and they are also the most fascinating to the public. But civil suits, in which one person asks compensation or protection from another for some past or threatened harm, are sometimes more consequential than all but the most momentous criminal trials. The difference between dignity and ruin may turn on a single argument that might not have struck a judge so forcefully, or even the same judge on another day. People often stand to gain or lose more by one judge's nod than they could by an general act of Congress or Parliament.

     Lawsuits matter in another way that cannot be measured in money or even liberty. There is inevitability a moral dimension to an action at law, and so a standing risk of distinct form of public injustice. A judge must decide not just who shall have what, but who has behaved well, who has met the responsibilities of citizenship, and who by design or greed or insensitivity has ignored his own responsibilities to others or exaggerated theirs to him. If this judgement is unfair, then the community has inflicted a moral injury on one of its members because it has stamped him in some degree or dimension an outlaw. The injury is gravest when an innocent person is convicted of a crime, but it is substantial when a plaintiff with a sound claim is turned away from court or a defendant leaves with an undeserved stigma.

Richard Dworkin, Law's Empire, 1986

Writing Quote: Procrastination

     A primary reason writers procrastinate is in order to build up a sense of deadline. Deadlines create a flow of adrenaline. Adrenaline medicates and overwhelms the censor. Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.

     What writers tell themselves while they procrastinate is that they just don't have enough ideas yet, and when they do, then they'll start writing. It actually works exactly backward. When we start to write, we prime the pump and the flow of ideas begins to move. It is the act of writing that calls ideals forward, not ideas that call forward writing.

Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, 1999

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pedophiles in Hollywood: Hey Kid, You Want to be a Star?

     While child sexual molestation takes place behind closed doors, pedophiles groom their potential victims in plain sight. They do this in classrooms, churches, gymnasiums, and day care centers--anywhere vulnerable children are subjected to the influence and control of adults. They also do it in Hollywood where parents eagerly offer up young, aspiring actors and entertainers to pedophiles working as talent managers, agents, publicists, acting coaches, and casting directors.

Jason James Murphy

     In Edmonds, Washington, 19-year-old Jason James Murphy, an aspiring actor working as a camp counselor, met and began grooming a 5-year-old boy for sexual encounters. In December 1995, an employee of the Hazelwood Elementary School in Lynnwood, Washington, saw Murphy kissing this boy who was now 7. The teacher notified the police who took Murphy into custody on a child molestation charge. Murphy's family posted his bail and shortly after his arrest he was released.

     In January 1996, Murphy's fixation on this child was so intense he disguised himself as a woman and lured the boy from the elementary school. Murphy and the abducted child flew to New York City and checked into a hotel. After a massive police hunt for the missing victim followed by a segment featuring the case on "America's Most Wanted," a New York City hotel clerk who recognized Murphy and the boy notified the authorities. A short time later, FBI agents rescued the child, and arrested Murphy. Eight months after that a federal jury found Murphy guilty of kidnapping and child molestation. He served 5 of his 7 year sentence behind bars.

     Four years after getting out of federal prison, Murphy moved to West Hollywood, California where he registered as a sex offender under his legal name, Jason James Murphy. Under California law, there were strict rules regarding the circumstances under which a registered sex offender can work with children under 16. The law also required registered sex offenders to notify law enforcement if they changed their names or use aliases.

     Murphy, under the professional name Jason James, became a successful freelance child actor casting director. He worked on films such as "Bad News Bears," "The School of Rock," and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Director and co-producer J. J. Abrams hired him as a freelancer on "Super 8."

     On November 17, 2011, J. J. Abrams, having been tipped off by his manager David Lonner who had just learned of Jason James' true identity, informed Paramount Pictures, the studio that released "Super 8." Someone at Paramount called the police.

     Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, on December 9, 2011, arrested Murphy on charges he had violated California's sex offender registry regulations. Violations of these laws were felonies that carried sentences of up to three years in prison. Murphy's attorney blamed the arrest, and the attention it drew from the media, on the highly publicized Penn State child molestation story that was breaking at the time. The lawyer also claimed that the people who had hired Murphy as a casting director knew his full, legal name. Mr. Murphy had not been accused of molesting any of the children he had worked with professionally.

     On May 2, 2012, a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge dismissed the charges against Murphy on the grounds that all the studio executives who used his services were aware of the casting director's true identity.

Martin Weiss

     Less than two weeks after producer J. J. Abrams notified Paramount Pictures of who Jason James really was, Los Angeles detectives with the Topanga Division's Sexual Assault Unit arrested 47-year-old Martin Weiss, a Hollywood manager who specialized in child actors. Weiss stood accused of committing 30 to 40 sexual crimes against an aspiring singer and musician he represented from 2005 to 2008. The sexual encounters allegedly took place at Weiss' apartment/business office in Santa Monica, and at his home in Woodland Hills. After being taken to the Los Angeles County Jail, a judge set his bond at $300,000.

     According to the alleged victim, now 18-years-old, the molesting stopped when he turned 15. After that, he and Weiss parted ways. The victim didn't report the abuse then because he didn't think anyone would believe his story. But after the Penn State scandal became big news, the victim decided to report his abuser, and come forward with evidence that backed up his story.

     On November 15, 2011, the victim confronted Weiss at his apartment in Santa Monica, and secretly taped their conversation. (In the Penn State case, the victim's mother taped her confrontation with former football coach and child molester Jerry Sandusky.) In discussing their past relationship, Weiss did not deny having sexual relations with his accuser. When Weiss' accuser compared his victimization with that of Jerry Sandusky and the boys he molested, Weiss reportedly replied, "Those kids didn't want it." Weiss' accuser pointed out that his sexual encounters with Weiss, acts that took place when he was 11 and 12, had also not been consentual.

     Martin Weiss, at a December 15 pretrial hearing, entered a plea of not guilty. If convicted as charged, the owner of Martin Weiss Management faced up to 34 years in prison.

     Paula Dorn, the co-founder of the non-profit child talent support organization BizParentz Foundation, reportedly said that, over the years, she and members of her group have heard rumors of Weiss' sexual relationships with some of his clients. But without any hard evidence of sexual abuse, no one reported this to law enforcement.

     On June 1, 2012, Martin Weiss pleaded no contest to two counts of a lewd act with an 11-year-old client. The judge, Leslie Dunn, sentenced Weiss to one year in the Los Angeles County Jail. He also received five years probation, had to register as a sex offender, and stay away with people under 18. In return for the plea, the prosecutor dropped 6 other sex offense charges against  him.

      Martin Weiss got off easy.

      A Documentary on Pedophilia in Hollywood

     On June 13, 2016, The Week magazine published an article about a column by Oliver Thring that had appeared recently in The Sunday Times (London) regarding pedophiles in Hollywood. What follows is an excerpt from the The Week piece:

     "...Serial child abusers lurk among the legions of directors, managers, and agents, sheltered by powerful friends and their own wealth. One agent who managed high-profile child stars was convicted of molesting a boy and trafficking in child pornography, and he spent eight years in jail. Others, though, are never exposed or return to work in Hollywood after serving just a few months in prison--and their old pals hire them to work with children again. Those who speak out are shamed or silenced. Actor Corey Feldman, for example, went public after the abuse he and Corey Haim suffered for years. Both actors went on to abuse alcohol and drugs, and Haim died at age 38. But Feldman's tell-all memoir was dismissed as unreliable because of his drug addiction….Oscar nominated director Amy Berg has a made a documentary about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Hollywood, in which five former child actors describe their abuse and name names. But though An Open Secret was well received at Cannes, Berg can't get a distributor. Hollywood bigwigs just don't want the story told."

A Pay-to-Pee Program Initiated by an Idiot Elementary School Teacher

     Two Vancouver, Washington third graders said they wet their pants after their teacher would not let them use the bathroom. The students, both girls, said the reason for the denial was that they hadn't accumulated enough pretend money to pay for the privilege. The unidentified teacher will not be punished as a result of an internal investigation of the incident by representatives of the teacher's union. A separate investigation of the incident has been triggered by a mother's complaint….

     The alleged incidents occurred May 15 at Mill Plain Elementary School. The pretend money is designed to teach students about the value of money. [Here's an idea: to demonstrate the value of money, the teacher can refuse to pay her union dues. The next day, the students can discuss the lesson with their new teacher.] Students earn the fictional funds by doing their homework, for example, or by being nice to others. [In real life you don't get paid for that.] They can spend it to buy pizza [take that, Mrs. Obama!] or pointless items like a squirt gun. [If a kid brings this purchase to school, he'll need real money for bail.] Students say they must also use the fake cash to pay for bathroom breaks.

     The unidentified teacher expects a seemingly high imaginary price for toilet time: $50. [Hey, if you ever had the urgent need to go, $50 is peanuts. If this teacher were smart, she'd charged the little buggers real money for bathroom breaks.]

     A statement by Evergreen Public Schools said that all students, including students who don't have enough fake money are allowed to use the bathroom in cases of an emergency. [Really?]

Eric Owens, "Pay-To-Pee Teacher Faces No Discipline," The Daily Caller, May 25, 2014   

The Innocent Youth Fallacy

     My brother Ed is a criminal lawyer who often handles juvenile cases. He once told me, "I look at some of my young clients and tell myself, 'That's a kid.' Then I say to myself, 'That's also a criminal.'" Perhaps none of us can easily resolve this conflict in our own minds.

     The television version of crime usually portrays middle-aged offenders or victims. When the young are there, they are portrayed as innocents corrupted by those older. This is the innocent youth fallacy.

     Are you people really so innocent? I have heard many people say, "Let's keep the young offenders separate from the hard-bitten older offenders, who will be a bad influence on them." If you ask the prison officials, they tell you something different. The young offenders give them the most trouble. The reason to keep the ages separate is to protect the older prisoners from the young thugs.

Marcus Felson, Crime & Everyday Life, Second Edition, 1998

Writing Your Gripping Crime Novel

     You know you're reading a great mystery novel when you're up at three in the morning, unable to put it down. When you finally fall asleep, the characters go romping around in your dreams. When you get to the final page, you smack yourself in the head because the solution seems obvious in retrospect yet came as a complete surprise.

     Page-turning suspense. Rich characterization. A credible surprise ending. Sounds pretty simple, but writing a mystery novel is not for the faint of heart…Be prepared to keep three or four intertwined pots spinning. Get ready to master the art of misdirection so readers will ogle those red herrings you've sprinkled while ignoring the real clues in plain sight. Don't be surprised when you find yourself riding herd on a load of characters who won't go where you want them to.

     On top of that, you'll need dogged determination and intestinal fortitude to stick with it, through the first draft and endless revisions, until your words are polished to lapidary perfection. It wouldn't hurt, either, to have the hide of a rhinoceros to withstand the inevitable rejections. Talent being equal, what separates many a published mystery writer from an unpublished one is sheer stamina. Only gluttons for punishment need apply.

Halle Ephron, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, 2005

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Reverend Creflo Dollar: Megaproblems at the Megachurch

     In 1986, prosperity minister Creflo Dollar started World Changers International Church in suburban Atlanta's College Park, Georgia. Housed in the World Dome, a golden-domed structure that houses a 8,500-seat sanctuary, the megachurch boasts a membership of 30,000. Through his Creflo Dollar Ministries, the silver-tongued pastor had become a wealthy man with his real estate holdings, a stable of breeding horses, and thirty books to his name. Reverent Dollar charged up to $100,000 for one of his rousing, motivational talks.

     In 2007, United States Senator Charles Grassley launched a congressional investigation of Creflo Dollar and five other wealthy televangelists to determine if these preachers were using church-owned airplanes, luxury homes, and credit cards for personal use. While no tax evasion charges were filed in connection with the inquiry, senators decried the lack of governmental oversight of these religious goldmines.

     Pastor Dollar's problems became more personal, and hit closer to home on June 8, 2012. His 15-year-old daughter called 911, and reported that the reverend had assaulted her. Deputies with the Fayette County Sheriff's Office who responded to the mansion spoke to the daughter and her 19-year-old sister who said she had witnessed the incident.

     According to the older Dollar sibling, her father and the alleged victim had been arguing over whether the girl should go to a party. The witness told deputies that Pastor Dollar grabbed his daughter by the shoulders, slapped her in the face, choked her for five seconds, then threw her to the floor. The officers noticed fresh scratch marks on the complainant's neck. The police handcuffed Reverend Dollar and hauled him off to the Fayette County Jail. ( On January 25, 2013, after Pastor Dollar completed an anger management program, the Fayette County prosecutor dropped the assault charges.)

     Just before ten in the morning of October 24, 2012, 51-year-old Floyd Palmer, a former janitor at the  World Changers International Church, walked into a chapel where 25 members of the congregation were being led in prayer by Greg McDowell. Palmer calmly walked up to the stage where the 39-year-old volunteer staff member stood, and shot him dead. After murdering this husband and father, Palmer walked casually out of the World Dome, climbed into his black Subaru station wagon, and drove off. Reverend Dollar was not in the church at the time, and no one else was shot.

     A few hours after the church killing, local police and U.S. Marshals arrested Floyd Palmer outside a Macy's store in a shopping mall in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. The police had spotted Palmer's vehicle in the parking lot. Taken into custody without incident, the suspect was placed into the Fulton County jail where he was held without bond.

     Floyd Palmer was a psychotic and violent person in what seems to be a growing population of dangerous nut cases. In June 2001, when Palmer was part of a security detail at a Baltimore mosque, he shot a fellow employee named Reuben Jerry Ash. After shooting Ash in the back, Palmer tried to fire again, but his handgun jammed. Bystanders ran toward Palmer to disarm him. He fired at them but the gun still didn't work. Fortunately no one was killed, but the shooting left Reuben Ash paralyzed.

     At his pretrial psychiatric examination, Palmer said that members of his family, and Ray Lewis, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens, were out to get him. Palmer pleaded guilty to attempted murder, and was committed to a mental hospital. Three years later, Palmer shot and wounded another Baltimore man. For that attempted murder, Mr. Palmer spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital.

     In September 2015, a Fulton County judge ruled Floyd Palmer mentally competent to stand trial for murder.

     A Fulton County jury, in May 2016, found Floyd Palmer guilty of first-degree murder but mentally ill. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

     When violent mental cases like Floyd Palmer are allowed to live among us, no one is safe, not even a man inside a church leading a prayer service. I can't imagine that Mr. Palmer would have been hired to clean the church if the people who employed him knew of his violent background. If they did, and hired him anyway, they are fools who will have to answer for their bad judgment.  

Blue Collar Versus White Collar Crime

Essentially, the term "white collar" crime is regrettable. In my view, it is the product of class snobbery, and is the Edsel of criminological terminology. Let's say the socially connected president of a prestigious savings and loan institution is indicted and convicted on a charge of stock fraud, manipulation and theft. So we call the act a white collar crime. But if the same sort of crime is committed by an Italian-American Mafioso who used to make his living by hijacking trucks, then we call it something else. But the act is the same, whether the perpetrators wear blue collars or white! On top of this, the term obscures the additional fact that the so-called white collar criminals are increasingly allied with the blue collars on many of these criminal ventures. Why is the fence a blue collar criminal and receivers of stolen property lily-white? Why is the man who hijacks a truckload of shrimp with a pistol inferior, in some sense of terminology, to the manufacturer who robs the public with his defective products?

Thomas Plate, Crime Pays! 1975 

Learning to Write

     You learn to write by writing. It's a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it's true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.

     If you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you would be a better writer after six months. You wouldn't necessarily be writing well--your style might still be full of clutter and cliches. But you would be exercising your powers of putting the English language on paper, gaining confidence and identifying the most common problems.

William Zinsser, On Writing Well, originally published in 1975

What is Neonaticide?

     The day you are born is the day you are most likely to be the victim of homicide. This cheerless statistic holds true whether you live in Stockholm or South Yarra [Australia]. The perpetrator will almost certainly be you mother. She will most likely be under 25, unmarried, still living at home or in poor circumstances, either still at school or unemployed, emotionally immature and astonishingly secretive. She has carried you to term without telling a soul of your existence. And somehow the parents with whom she resides never suspect she is with child.

     Now that you are born, it's not depression or psychosis that moves her to murder you. Mental illness rarely plays a part in this sort of killing. Nor is she overwhelmed by the feeling that life is simply too harsh for such a defenseless little creature for whom she cares a great deal.

     There is rarely great violence in the manner in which she kills you, her newborn child. She may simply abandon you to the elements. The only intense feeling she has is the desire to see you gone. She may even deny that you exist at all.

     This is the profile of a neonaticide, the murder of a newborn in its first 24 hours of life, a form of infanticide peculiar to industrialized countries. Most people…probably never heard of neonaticide. There is no separate provision for neonaticide in criminal law. People are either charged with manslaughter or murder, or more rarely, infanticide….

     Mairead Dolan is a professor of forensic psychiatry at Monash University and Assistant Director of research at the Victorian Institute for Forensic Mental Health [in Australia]. She is co-author of a draft paper, "Maternal Infanticide and Neonaticide in Australia: A Forensic Evaluation." Dolan says that few neonaticides are reported because bodies are never found or reported to the authorities, or the cause of a death remains unknown. She also says there is an acceptance that coroners sometimes incorrectly rule a death accidental in actual homicide cases. "It is also accepted they can be reluctant to think the worst without supporting evidence," she says….

     Baby Haven laws have been enacted in most of the U.S.'s 50 states over the past eight years. They provide for a mother to abandon her newborn baby without fear of being charged with criminal abandonment. In the U.S. and European experience, the abandonment usually takes place at a hospital or at a police or fire station, where special hatches have been built into the walls. There are limits to the age of the children that can be abandoned, and there are frequently provisions for the mother to be reunited under certain circumstances….

John Elder, "Sins of the Mother: The Tragedy of Neonaticide," The Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2010

     

Writing For Television

TV writing is for people who hate being alone more than they hate writing.

Matthew Weiner, The Paris Review, Spring 2014 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Kayleigh Slusher Murder Case

     In 2014, three-year-old Kayleigh Slusher lived with her mother, Sara Krueger, 23, and Krueger's 26-year-old boyfriend, Ryan Scott Warner. The couple and the toddler resided in Unit 7 at the Royal Garden apartment complex in east Napa, California.

     Over the past five years, Warner had been in and out of bay area jails for a variety of crimes including assault and possession of drugs. When his former girlfriend, Ashley Owens, refused to abort their child, Warner had sent her a series of threatening text messages that read: "I hope the kid dies," "I will scalp you," and "I will bust out your teeth with a pipe." Warner was obviously a violent man who didn't like children, or women.

     Since June 2012, Napa police officers had been called to the Krueger apartment more than a dozen times on reports of domestic disturbance, theft, vandalism, and unwanted persons. By any standard, Unit 7 at the Royal Garden complex was a dangerous place to raise a child. And a lot of relatives and neighbors knew this. The only people who seemed oblivious to the situation were the police and the child welfare authorities. Unfortunately, these were the only people with the power to protect Kayleigh Slusher.

     On January 27, 2014, a neighbor called the Napa police and requested a welfare check at Unit 7. According to the caller, Krueger and her boyfriend were using drugs and not feeding the little girl. They were also making a commotion and fighting with each other. Police officers visited the apartment that day and didn't find drugs or evidence of narcotics use. The officers also observed Kayleigh who seemed okay. The officers did not notify child protective services. They left things as they found them.

     A Krueger relative, worried about the little girl, called the authorities two days later. On January 29, police officers returned to the apartment, examined the girl, and left. This would be the last day of Kayleigh's short life.

     At 11:50 AM on Saturday, February 1, 2014, a police dispatcher in the bay area city of Richmond received an anonymous call from a man who had "something to get off his chest" about Sara Kreuger and her boyfriend. According to the tipster, the boyfriend, a guy named Brian or Ryan, had done something bad to Krueger's daughter.

     That day, two police officers arrived at Unit 7, knocked on the door, and didn't get a response. A neighbor informed the officers that the day before, January 31, 2014, a man and woman, presumably the occupants of the unit, left the apartment. The little girl was not with them. Using a key they had acquired from the apartment complex manager, the officers entered the dwelling.

     In one of the bedrooms the officers found Kayleigh in bed covered in blankets up to her neck. Next to her body lay a doll. She was dead, and cold to the touch. She also had bruises around her eyes and blood in her nostrils. (A forensic pathologist would determine the cause of death to be "multiple blunt impact injuries to the head, torso, and extremities." The pathologist also found evidence of prior child abuse and neglect. Manner of death: Homicide.)

     The following day, February 2, police arrested Krueger and Warner at a BART station in El Cerrito, California. According to the murdered girl's mother, she found Kayleigh dead when she returned to the apartment on the afternoon of January 30, 2014. Krueger said she placed the body into a plastic bag and stored it for awhile in a freezer before tucking the little corpse into the bed.

     Sara Krueger and Ryan Warner were booked into the Napa County Jail on charges of murder and felony assault of a child causing death. If convicted as charged, they faced up to 25 years to life in prison.

     On February 25, 2014, at the murder suspects' arraignment before Napa Superior Court Judge Mark Boessenecker, the couple pleaded not guilty. The judge denied both suspects bail.

     In June 2015, the dead child's father, grandmother and grandfather filed a lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court against the Napa Police Department and Napa County Child Welfare Services for failing to investigate reports of child abuse.

     In May 2017, separate juries found Ryan Warner and Sara Krueger guilty of first-degree murder. Napa County Judge Francisca P. Tisher, in July 2017, sentenced both defendants to life without parole.

The U. S. Supreme Court and the Death Penalty

     Furman v. Georgia is among the oddest Supreme Court cases in American history. Decided in 1972, it struck down every death penalty statute in the nation as then practiced without outlawing the death penalty itself. The ruling, based on the constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment," stunned even the closest court watchers. The death penalty seemed impregnable. It was part of the bedrock of American's legal system, steeped in the intent of the founders, the will of most state legislatures and the forceful--if occasional--ruling of the courts.

     The 5-4 vote in Furman reflected a striking political split: all five members of the majority were holdovers from the Warren Court, known for its liberal decisions, while all four dissenters were recent appointees of Richard Nixon, who had won the White House with a carefully orchestrated law-and-order campaign. And notably, each justice wrote his own opinion in Furman, meaning there was no common thread to the case, no controlling rationale. The decision ran several hundred pages, the longest handed down by the court at the time....

     About 1,300 people have been executed since [1976] with Texas putting its 503rd prisoner to death just weeks ago. A clear majority continues to support the death penalty, though the fear of wrongful conviction appears to be growing, and evidence suggests that juries welcome the option of life in prison without parole. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has tightened the reins of capital punishment in recent years, ruling that the executions of the mentally retarded, people under 18 and those convicted of rape, even the rape of a child, are unconstitutional. For death penalty abolitionists, however, the promise of Furman must seem a distant, bitter memory.

David Oshinsky in reviewing A Wild Justice by Evan J. Nandery for The New York Times Book Review September 1, 2013

William Noble on Writing Styles

     When I speak of good, clean prose, of grammatically correct phrasing, I'm talking about writing that has no redundancies and no awkward, self-conscious parts. You're carried forward by the lilt of the writer's style where words and phrases have purpose, and where the music of words will create a harmony of word sounds. In simple writer-editor language, writing such as this "works."

     But remember, it's style you're really considering, and you don't want to get bogged down in a maze of rules and procedures. Your individuality makes itself known through your style, and sometimes the techniques that don't work for one writer might work for another.

William Noble, Noble's Book of Writing Blunders, 2006

Becoming a FBI Criminal Profiler

     Contrary to the impression given in such stories as The Silence of the Lambs, we don't pluck profiling candidates for the Investigative Support Unit right out of the Academy….It doesn't work that way. First you get accepted by the Bureau, then you prove yourself in the field as a first-rate, creative investigator, then we recruit you for Quantico. And then you're ready for two years of intensive, specialized training before you become a full-fledged member of the unit.

     A good criminal profiler must first and foremost show imagination and creativity in investigation. He or she must be willing to take risks while still maintaining the respect and confidence of fellow agents and law enforcement officers. Our preferred candidates will show leadership, won't wait for a consensus before offering an opinion, will be persuasive in a group setting but tactful in helping to put a flawed investigation back on track. For these reasons, they must be able to work both alone and in groups.

     Once we choose a person, he or she will work with experienced members of the unit almost in a way a young associate in a law firm works with a senior partner. If they're at all lacking in street experience, we send them to the New York Police Department to ride along with their best homicide detectives. If they need more death investigation, we have nationally recognized consultants…in the field offices where they develop a strong rapport with state and local departments and sheriff's offices.

     The key attribute necessary to be a good profiler is judgement--a judgment based not primarily on the analysis of facts and figures but on instinct. It's difficult to define, but…we know it when we see it.

John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, Journey Into Darkness, 1977 

Novel Writing: A Calling Or A Job?

There is something dreary about wanting fiction writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose, so often unmentionable in a society enamored of professionalism, distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn't turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka, or Fernando Pessoa, or Wallace Stevens, or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer--independent of publication or readership or "career"--is always a writer. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.

Benjamin Moser, The New York Times, January 27, 2015


Friday, October 13, 2017

The Frye Case in the History of the Polygraph

     The prototype of the modern polygraph instrument was invented in 1921 by a graduate physiology student at the University of California at Berkeley named John Larson. While attending the university, Larson worked as a "college cop" at the Berkeley Police Department under the progressive police chief, August Vollmer. It was Vollmer who asked Larson to invent a device that could determine if a criminal suspect was telling the truth or lying. In researching the work of others who had tried to find a method of scientific lie detection, Larson read an article by a lawyer named William Marston who believed that when people lie they come under stress, which raises their blood pressure. (Marston, oddly enough, was also the creator of the comic superhero, Wonder Woman.)

     Polygraph test results, because of questions of scientific reliability, have never been admitted in a criminal court as proof of a defendant's guilt. Ironically, the case most frequently cited as precedent for polygraph exclusion, is United States v. Frye, a federal appeals court decision that arose out of a murder case that had involved William Marston's lie detection methodology. At the time, John Larson's polygraph, a significantly more sophisticated instrument, had not been fully developed.

The Frye Case

     On November 25, 1920, almost a year after John Larson had joined the Berkeley Police Department, and a few months before he had read William Marston's article on blood pressure and scientific lie detection, a black man named James Frye shot and killed a wealthy physician, also black, in Washington, D.C. Frye had murdered Dr. Robert W. Brown in his office at 8:45 in the evening. Another physician witnessed the shooting, and ran after Frye as he fled the building. The chase came to an abrupt end when Frye took a shot at his pursuer. The eyewitness did not know Frye, so all the police had to go on was a general description of the killer.

     On August 21, 1921, seven months after the murder, the police arrested Frye on a robbery case, and while being grilled on that matter, he confessed to killing Dr. Brown. Over the years, the facts of this case have become more myth than reality. Dr. James E. Starrs, a forensic science scholar, and professor of law at George Washington University, set the record straight in 1981. In a paper Dr. Starrs presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences that year, Starrs presented the Frye case myth as follows: James Frye admitted to killing Dr. Brown because a friend told him that if he did so, he would receive part of the reward money that had been put up by the victim's family. When Frye realized that as the killer, he was not eligible for the reward, he repudiated his confession. It was at this point Frye's attorney hired William Marston to test his client's honesty.

     According to the Frye case myth, Marston's lie detection test confirmed that the defendant was telling the truth when he denied committing the murder. But because the trial judge refused to allow Marston to take the stand on the defendant's behalf, the jury found Frye guilty. The judge sentenced him to life in prison. According to this version of the case, the friend who had talked Frye into confessing, admitted killing the doctor. As a result, after serving three years in prison, Frye walked free.

     The above version of the Frye case makes a good story, and sheds favorable light on scientific lie detection. If the trial judge had been more open minded, an innocent man would not have been convicted. According to Professor Starrs, however, the above account of the Frye case was grossly inaccurate. In reality, the defendant had withdrawn his confession on the advice of his attorney, Richard V. Mattingly. By the time the case went to trial, Frye had concocted an alibi. He claimed that at the time of the murder, he had been visiting a woman named Essie Watson.

     In his 1938 book, The Lie Detector Test, William Marston wrote that he had been called into the case by Mattingly a few weeks before the trial because the defense attorney couldn't find any witnesses to support his client's alibi. Marston, on June 10, 1922, gave Frye his systolic blood pressure test, a primitive method that involved nothing more than a standard blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. After each question put to Frye, Marston simply took his blood pressure. Compared to John Larson's polygraph, Marston's technique was crude, and unreliable. Larson was a scientist, Marston was an attorney.

     After Marston administered his lie detection exam, he announced that James Frye had told the truth when he denied committing the murder. In his book, he wrote, "No one could have been more surprised than myself to find that Frye's final story of innocence was entirely truthful! His confession to the Brown murder was a lie from start to finish."

     James Frye went on trial for the murder of Dr. Brown on July 17, 1922 in Washington, D.C. before Judge William McCoy. Defense attorney Mattingly's case was based entirely on William Marston's lie detection results. When he tried to put Marston on the stand as an expert lie detection witness, the prosecutor objected on the grounds that scientific lie detection was not reliable. The judge agreed. Without the lie detection evidence, Mattingly had no choice but to put his client on the stand. This did not turn out well for the defense.

     The jury, after deliberating three hours, found the defendant guilty of second-degree murder, a verdict that spared Frye the death sentence. Having been in court during the argument over the reliability of Marston's lie detection technique, the jurors decided not to send Frye to his death. As Marston put it in his book, "As far as James Frye was concerned, the [lie detection] test undoubtedly saved his life. No jury could help being influenced by the knowledge that Frye's story had been proved truthful by the lie detector."

     Richard Mattingly appealed Fry's conviction on the grounds Judge McCoy had erred in excluding William Marston's lie detection test results. In 1993, the circuit court of appeals in the District of Columbia upheld Judge McCoy's exclusion. Judge Van Orsdel wrote the appellate court's opinion that established the test used today for the admission of expert testimony based upon new scientific principles. Judge Van Orsdel wrote: "Just when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrative stages is difficult to define. Somewhere in this twilight zone the evidential force of the principle must be recognized, and while courts will go a long way in admitting expert testimony deduced from a well recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs."

     Although Judge Van Orsdel set the general standard for the admission of new scientific evidence, his opinion didn't indicate exactly what he objected to in Marston's lie detection procedure. It was not clear whether the judge questioned the underlying principle that lying causes measurable changes in a person's blood pressure, or if he objected to Marston's systolic blood pressure test as a method of gathering and recording this data for interpretation. The judge may have rejected both the scientific principle behind Marston's test, and the technique itself.

     If the Frye court's rejection primarily involved the lie detection technique rather than the scientific principle behind it, then it was Marston's systolic blood pressure evidence, not John Larson's polygraph, that was being ruled inadmissible in the Frye case. If this was true, then it could be argued that the Frye decision has been inappropriately cited all of these years as precedent for the court exclusion of polygraph evidence.

     As for James Frye, he was paroled from the District of Columbia Prison at Lorton, Virginia on June 17, 1939. He had served 18 years behind bars, and died in 1953 at age 58. If it hadn't been for William Marston's unsophisticated and unreliable lie detection test, he may have died a lot sooner.    

The Presumption of Innocence Myth

     Probably the least questioned and most believed government lie is also the most famous maxim of the American judicial system: that all persons are presumed "innocent until proven guilty" beyond a reasonable doubt. This presumption of innocence is a standard taught to the youngest of school children and which the government hails as a founding principle of justice because it presumes that, like the oft-repeated Lord Justice William Blackstone ratio, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer."

     Of course, "innocent until proven guilty" has been at the core of Western judicial systems since biblical times. We are indoctrinated so thoroughly that the average person rarely considers whether the phrase is true or not. Yet when we carefully examine the system, we find that it does not function as the government would like us to believe. Beneath the surface of various platitudes, the falsity of the presumption of innocence becomes readily apparent.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Lies The Government Tells You, 2010