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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Michael Williams: The Amtrak Stabber

     On Friday December 5, 2014, Michael Williams boarded Amtrak Blue Water Service Train 364 in Chicago en route to its final destination, Port Huron, Michigan. The 44-year-old, a ten-year U.S. Army veteran, had spent time at the VA hospital in Saginaw, Michigan where he had been treated for mental illness. Upon his release from the hospital, doctors had prescribed him anti-psychcotic medication.

     Shortly after Williams boarded the train, he became agitated and made passengers around him feel uncomfortable and nervous. Just before the train rolled into the Amtrak station in Niles, Michigan in the southwestern part of the state ten miles north of South Bend, Indiana, several passengers called 911 to report a potential disturbance involving a man who was behaving irrationally.

     By the time officers with the Niles, Michigan police department boarded the train against the flow of passengers hurrying to get off, Williams had stabbed a conductor and three passengers, one of whom was a seriously wounded woman.

     The responding police officers handcuffed Williams behind his back after subduing him with a stun gun. By using non-lethal force against a crazed, knife-weilding man who had already stabbed four people, these officers, in the wake of the Michael Brown case, avoided killing another black man. Under the circumstances, had these officers used deadly force, they would have been justified.

     The wounded Amtrak conductor and passengers were taken to a nearby hospital where they were listed in stable condition.

     After a Berrien County, Michigan prosecutor charged Michael Williams with four counts of assault with intent to murder, the judge set his bail at $1 million. The judge also ordered a psychiatric evaluation to determine the suspect's mental competence to understand the charges against him as well as his ability to help his attorney defend him against the charges.

     On October 25, 2015, Michael Williams was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. According to members of his family, he had recently struggled with delusions and paranoia. Instead of prison, the judge sent Williams to a mental institution where he would remain until sane enough to safely rejoin society.

     

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Webster-Parkman Murder Case: Bones in the Furnace

     Over the past 100 years, science has played a vital role in tens of thousands of criminal cases. The publicity associated with some of these investigations and trials has advanced the cause of forensic science. In many of these cases a clever criminal is outfoxed by a well-trained, dedicated investigator relying on physical clues and expert analysis. This is the image that has helped advance forensic science and criminalistics by sparking public interest and court acceptance of physical evidence and expert testimony. (Ironically, it was the O. J. Simpson double murder, a case that involved poor police work, and a criminal who was not clever, that popularized DNA.)

      Celebrated cases remind us that good police work can triumph over bad criminals and that justice can be achieved. Cases that have captured and held the attention of the media and the imagination of the public have tended to involved heinous crimes, cases involving diabolical or unlikely suspects, circumstantial evidence in the form of physical clues, defendants who vigorously maintain their innocence, inspired detective work, and satisfying and/or dramatic verdicts.

     In America, science first played a vital and dramatic role in a celebrated criminal investigation and trial that took place more than 160 years ago.

The Historic Webster-Parkman Case

     On Friday afternoon November 23, 1849, Dr. George Parkman, a 60-year-old physician and former anatomy professor at Harvard's Massachusetts Medical College in Boston, paid a visit to Dr. John Webster, a highly respected professor of chemistry and mineralogy at the institution. Dr. Parkman, having given up the practice of medicine to engage in real estate and other business ventures, came from a prominent New England family and was quite wealthy. The purpose of Dr. Parkman's visit that day to Dr. Webster's college laboratory was to collect on a series of loans he had made to the chemistry professor. It seemed that Dr. Webster enjoyed a rather extravagant life-style that kept him in debt to Dr. Parkman and other creditors.

     Dr. Parkman was seen entering the little building that housed Dr. Webster's laboratory at 1:45 that afternoon, the last time anyone saw Dr. Parkman alive. Dr. Parkman's mysterious disappearance created a lot of attention and concern among his family, friends, and colleagues. The college posted a $3,000 reward for information leading to the identify and apprehension of the doctor's abductor or abductors.

     The following Saturday, Dr. Webster appeared at the home of Dr. Parkman's brother, Reverend Francis Parkman, and informed him that he had last seen his missing brother in his (Webster's) chemistry lab the previous Friday. Dr. Webster even acknowledged that Dr. Parkman had come to see him about a debt.

     On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Webster, who had been acting rather strangely since Dr. Parkman's disappearance, gave the college janitor, a man named Ephraim Littlefield, a turkey. Littlefield had been helping Professor Webster in his laboratory the day Dr. Parkman went missing. Although the janitor was not in the room during Dr. Parkman's visit, he had overheard bits of their heated conversation. When Littlefield learned of Parkman's disappearance he became suspicious.

    After receiving the turkey from Dr. Webster, the janitor felt certain the chemistry professor had something to do with his creditor's disappearance. The next day, Littlefield snuck into Webster's chemistry lab to search for Parkman's body. When he touched the brick wall of the assay oven it was still warm. (The oven was built inside a vault that was locked.) To see what was inside, Littlefield, with his wife standing guard as a lookout, broke through the wall with a chisel and crowbar. Inside, he saw what looked like a human pelvis and two parts of a leg. He notified the authorities.

     When told he was under arrest for the murder of Dr. Parkman, Dr. Webster denied any knowledge of the crime. When one of the arresting constables informed him of the discovery in his assay furnace, Dr. Webster, referring to the janitor, said, "That villain! I am a ruined man!"

     Shortly after being placed into his jail cell Dr. Webster tried to kill himself by taking a strychnine pill.

     On December 13, 1849, the coroner's jury announced its verdict: "All the remains have been demonstrated to be parts of one and the same person; and those parts of the human frame have been identified and proven to be the remains and parts of the body and limbs of Dr. George Parkman...that he was killed...by blows and wounds inflicted upon him by the hands of Dr. John W. Webster."

     A grand jury indicted Dr. Webster for first-degree murder on January 26, 1850. He trial was scheduled for March 19 at the Supreme Judicial Court House in Boston.  Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw would preside. The case would be prosecuted by George Bemis, the assistant attorney general of Massachusetts.

     Dr. Webster tried to retain the legal services of two prominent defense attorneys of the day, Daniel Webster (no relation) and Rufus Choate. Both lawyers declined to take the assignment. As a result, Webster retained the services of a less well-known but competent attorney named Pliny Merrich.

     The Parkman murder case had made headline news in American for nine months. On the opening day of the trial, thousands of people gathered outside the Boston court house. Many had been standing outside the building all night in hopes of getting a courtroom seat. During the twelve-day trial 60,000 courtroom spectators witnessed the proceeding.

     The heart of the prosecution's case consisted of the medical and dental testimony pertaining to the identity of the remains in Dr. Webster's assay furnace. In order to convict the defendant of murder, the state would have to establish the corpus delecti, which in this case consisted of the victim's skeletal and dental remains.

     The prosecution's first medical witness to take the stand, Dr. Woodbridge Strong, an expert in anatomy and the burning of human flesh, informed the court how he disposed of cadavers by burning them in fires fueled by wood. "There is always a difficulty in getting rid of human remains by fire," he said, "on account of attracting suspicion by the smell. I have been called upon by neighbors or the police several times on this account." Dr. Strong testified that he had looked at the human parts found in Dr. Webster's furnace and "there was nothing dissimilar from what I should have expected to find in Dr. Parkman's body."

     Dr. Frederick S. Ainsworth, a professor of anatomy at Harvard College, testified that the remains in question had not been dissected in his department. (Dr. Webster claimed the remains in his furnace belonged to a cadaver.) Dr. Ainsworth said, "All subjects in my department are injected with fluid to preserve them from decomposition. In these remains which were produced by Littlefield [the janitor] I saw no appearance of the use of such fluid. My impression was that the person who cut them up had no anatomical knowledge."

     The next medical witness, Dr. Charles T. Jackson, testified that he "knew the late George Parkman very well. He was a tall, slender man of somewhat peculiar figure. I saw nothing in the remains dissimilar from what I should suppose was Dr. Parkman's formation."

     The physicians and police officers who had examined Dr. Webster's laboratory had noticed what looked like bloodstains on the wall near a sink and stains on the laboratory floor. In 1850, the ability to scientifically distinguish human from animal blood didn't exist. As one witness put it: "I can distinguish human blood from that of lower animals but not from that of higher animals such as an ox, for instance."

     On the fourth day of the trial, the prosecution put on its most important witness, Dr. Nathan Keep, a surgeon-dentist who had practiced in Boston for 30 years. Dr. Keep testified that he had made teeth for Dr. Parkman and that "Dr. Parkman's mouth was a very peculiar one, so marked in respect to its shape and the relation of the upper and lower jaws that the impression of it on my mind was very distinct." Dr. Keep said that when he saw the teeth that had been found in Dr. Webster's furnace along with the other remains, he "...recognized them as being the same teeth that I had made for Dr. Parkman three years before....On comparing the largest fragment with the model [a plaster cast of Dr. Parkman's dentition] the resemblance was so striking that I could no longer have any doubt they were his." Every so often, in the midst of his testimony, Dr. Keep would break down and cry.

     Oliver Wendell Homes, the famous writer and physician and professor of anatomy and dean of the medical college had examined the fleshy parts found in the assay furnace--the thorax, pelvis, two thighs, and the disarticulated leg--and found them consistent with Dr. Parkman's anatomy.

     Most of the fifth day of the trial was taken up by the testimony of the janitor and his wife. Three days later, the prosecution rested.

     The Webster defense opened with witnesses who said they had seen the defendant in places other than the college on the day of the murder. Next came the character witnesses, then the testimony most vital to the defense. Dr. William T. G. Morton, a dentist who made false teeth took the stand and said: "I see no particular marks about these teeth [the furnace remains] to identify them. I should think nothing should be judged from this material....My impression is that if [the furnace teeth] were placed among a dozen others which I can produce, I should not be led to pick it out from any peculiarity." (The dueling expert problem is as old as forensic science itself.)

     The defense rested without putting Professor Webster on the stand. In Massachusetts at that time, defendants in capital trials were not permitted to take the stand on their own behalf. Murder defendants, because of their self-interest, were considered too biased to make competent witnesses. They were, however, allowed to address the jury directly prior to its deliberation. These speeches were not given under oath or subjected to cross-examination. Professor Webster, in his fifteen minute address, denied his guilt and criticized his own counsel.

     Three hours following Dr. Webster's speech, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder. The judge sentenced him to death. Six months later, with his execution just a few days off, the condemned man wrote out a full confession. After killing Dr. Parkman with a stick of wood, Webster dragged the body into an adjoining room and stripped off his clothing which he burned. Then came the dissecting part. "My next move was to get the body into the sink which stands in the small private room. By setting the body partially erect against the corner and getting up into the sink myself, I succeeded in drawing it up. There it was entirely dismembered. It was quickly done as a work of terrible and desperate necessity. The only instrument used was the knife found by the officers in the tea chest and which I kept for cutting corks. While dismembering the body a steady stream of water was running through the sink carrying off the blood in a pipe that passed through the lower laboratory. There must have been a leak in the pipe for the ceiling below was stained immediately around it."

     On August 20, 1850, Dr. Webster was hanged.    


     

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Michael Khunhausen Murder-For-Hire Case

     Michael Kuhnhausen, in the fall of 2006, had tried to talk his wife Susan out of divorcing him, but she wouldn't change her mind. She was determined to end the marriage. The 58-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores in Portland, Oregon, depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits she received from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior, divorced him, he would end up homeless and broke. Michael had suggested marriage counseling, but Susan said that she was finished with him. Michael felt that his estranged wife had pushed him into a corner. He had convinced himself that he had only one option: to pay someone to kill her before the divorce became final. But first he had to find a hit man. Where does one find an assassin?

     In 2005, when Michael worked for the adult video chain, he had hired 59-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. Haffey had also been convicted of robbery, burglary, and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Kuhnhausen had every reason to believe that this lifelong violent criminal was an excellent candidate for his murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Susan's life insurance payout. Dazzled by the prospect of so much easy money, Haffey jumped at the chance to kill his former boss' wife.

     On September 6, 2006, Haffey, using the house key Michael had given him, entered Susan Kuhnhausen's Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from  his backpack, and waited for his prey. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing the murder target that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded, home invasion killing.

     As six in the evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway alongside the dwelling. She let herself into the house and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of her head. She turned and came face-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before Haffey could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get the hit man into a chokehold. Susan squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes, Haffey stopped breathing and went limp.

     With a dead hit man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked to a neighbor's house and called 911.

     The responding police officers sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled, and he had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as the authorities were concerned, this tough woman had eliminated a violent criminal from the community. She was, in the eyes of the police and residents of her neighborhood, a crime-fighting hero. Chalk up one for the homeowner.

     A detective found, in Haffey's backpack, a day-planner with the September 6 notation: "Call Mike." When the investigator came across Michael Kuhnhausen's cell phone number in the dead man's planner, a different picture began to emerge. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn't, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn't explain Haffey's possession of the house  key, and the fact he had known the alarm code. Once detectives learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became the suspect in a murder-for-hire case. As crimes like this go, this one had come out badly for the hit man.

     Edward Haffey's autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of this death, Haffey's body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to successfully pull off the hit. As it turned out, Haffey had been an unworthy candidate to carry out Michael's murder assignment.

     Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey's, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local television news and called the police. In August 2006, Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. Haffey had wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn't help kill a person for a mere $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.

     Three days before the murder-for-hire date, Haffey told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into some big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said the husband was paying him $25,000 upfront and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when he heard about the case in the news media, also called the police.

     According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Edward Haffey to death, Jones had driven the would-be hit man to an Applebee's Restaurant where Haffey met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. On the way to the restaurant, Haffey told Jones that he was meeting with a man who was willing to pay him $50,000 to kill his wife.

     On September 14, 2006, eight days following the botched hit, police officers arrested Michael Kuhnhaussen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen's lawyer, in speaking to reporters, insisted that his client was innocent. According to the defense attorney, Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house though a window in order to steal drug money.

     In August 2007, Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to the attempted murder and conspiracy charges. A month later, just before the judge sentenced him to the shockingly light sentence of ten years in prison, Kuhuhanusen said, "I hurt a lot of people over the past year and I'm sorry. That's all I can say, I'm sorry."

     On June 16, 2014, Michael Khunhausen died while serving his time at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario, Oregon. He was 65.
     

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Anthony Elonis Supreme Court Case: Free Speech Versus the Right Not To Be Threatened

     Anthony Elonis, an employee at an amusement park in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was upset when his wife Tara left him in May 2010. The couple had two children.

     In October 2010, obviously fuming over his wife's departure, Elonis posted the following message on Facebook: "If I only knew then what I know now…I would have smothered your [Tara's] ass with a pillow, dumped your body in the back seat, dropped you off in Toad Creek, and made it look like rape and murder." Later he wrote: "There's one way to love ya but a thousand ways to kill ya. I'm not gonna rest until your body is a mess, soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts."

     On November 4, 2010, Tara Elonis, fearful of what her estranged husband might do to her, convinced a judge to issue a protection order against him. Three days later, on Facebook, he responded with more threats. In the context of discussing the federal law that makes it a crime to threaten the president of the United States, Anthony Elonis wrote: "I also found out that it's incredibly illegal…to go on Facebook and say something like the best place to fire a mortar launcher at a house would be from the cornfield behind it because of easy access to a getaway road and you'd have a clear line of sight through the sunroom."

     Elonis illustrated his Facebook posting with a map of the proposed mortar assault, his estranged wife's house. "Art," he wrote, "is about pushing the limits. I'm willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are You?"

     About this time Elonis also used Facebook to threaten his fellow employees at the amusement park. He published a Halloween photograph of himself holding a fake knife to a co-worker's throat. He captioned the image: "I wish."

     Elonis' boss, after seeing the Facebook post, fired Elonis and reported him to the FBI.

     A federal prosecutor charged Elonis under a law that makes using the Internet to threaten another person with harm a crime. The case went to trial in 2011 and resulted in Elonis' conviction.

     During Elonis' three year stretch in federal prison, his attorney filed a First Amendment appeal arguing that the federal government had violated his client's right to free speech.

     The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Elonis' First Amendment challenge of his conviction. Under federal case law, so-called "true threats" are not protected as free speech under the First Amendment. To constitute a criminal act, such a threat does not have to be carried out. Moreover, prosecutors do not have to prove even an intent to carry out the threat. (Conspiracy offenses require an overt act and criminal attempt crimes must include a substantial step toward the commission of the crime.)

     In a 2003 Supreme Court decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the law was intended to protect people "from the fear of violence and from the disruption that fear engenders."

     At his criminal trial in 2011, Elonis' attorney argued that threats alone are not harmful and that they therefore come under the protection of the First Amendment. Elonis took the stand on his own behalf and testified that he had not made a "true threat" against his estranged wife because he didn't have any intention of hurting her. In justifying his Facebook threats, he said, "This was for me therapeutic." He said it helped him deal with the pain of losing his wife.

     The victim, Tara Elonis, took the stand for the prosecution and said, "I felt like I was being stalked. I felt extremely afraid for me, my children, and the lives of other family members."

     The principal constitutional issue before the Supreme Court involved whose point of view--the people who threaten or the people who are threatened--was the governing rationale. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) weighed in on Elonis' behalf. Attorneys for the activist group wanted a higher legal standard for the criminalization of speech to avoid sending people to prison over misunderstandings. The ACLU asked the court to make speech a crime only when the prosecutor could establish a clear intent to carry out the threat.

     On June 1, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, reversed the Elonis conviction. (I do not agree with this decision. The victim's fear of an attack in this case was reasonable, therefore the threat was real and constituted a crime. Criminal intent can be reasonably inferred from a person's actions and words.)

     

Friday, January 27, 2017

Pastor Arthur Burton Schirmer: The Singing Minister of Death

     In 1968, Arthur Burton "A.B." Schirmer, an ordained Methodist minister, married his first wife Jewel whom he met while they were 20-year-old students at Messiah College in southeast central Pennsylvania. In the late 1970s, as pastor of the Bainbridge and Marietta United Methodist Churches in southeastern Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, Schirmer and his wife Jewel sang duets at area churches and camp meetings. Later his son and two daughters joined the gospel group billed as the "Singing Schirmer Family."

     In 1978, Schirmer and his family moved to the town of Lebanon in southeast central Pennsylvania where he had been named pastor of the Bethany United Methodist Church (UMC). He and his wife Jewel lived in the church parsonage.

     On April 24, 1999, the 50-year-old Bethany church pastor called 911 at 2:15 in the afternoon to report that when he returned to the parsonage after a jog, he found his wife Jewel lying unconscious at the foot of the basement stairs. Jewel Schirmer died the next day at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

     The forensic pathologist with the Lebanon County Coroner's Office who performed the autopsy noted that the deceased woman had, wrapped around one leg, an electrical cord from a Shop Vac. She was also barefoot. The pastor's wife had suffered a fractured skull, and possessed numerous bruises on her upper body. The coroner's office reported that Jewel Schirmer had died from a traumatic brain injury, and ruled her manner of death as "undetermined." While her obituary stated that she had died a "natural death" from falling down a flight of stairs (actually an accidental death), the coroner's office listed Jewel Schirmer's demise as undetermined because her injuries seemed too severe to have been caused by a fall down a flight of steps. Because his wife's death was not ruled a homicide there was no police investigation into the incident, and no criminal charges filed against the singing minister.

     In 2001, the year he became pastor of the United Methodist Church in Reeders, an eastern Pennsylvania town in Monroe County, A.B. Schirmer married his second wife, 49-year-old Betty Jean Shertzer, a music teacher.

     On July 15, 2008, motorists driving along State Route 715, a wooded, two-lane highway not far from Reeders, saw a PT Cruiser sitting on the shoulder of the road next to a guardrail. Betty Schirmer was sitting in the front passenger's seat that was soaked in blood. She was bleeding from the head and was unconscious. The passersby noticed severe bruising on the right side of her face. The vehicle showed only minor damage, and the pastor was uninjured. Although he possessed a cellphone, one of the motorists called 911.

     The next day, at the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Betty Jean Schirmer died of "sustained multiple skull and facial fractures" and "brain injury." At the pastor's request, his second wife's body was cremated before it could be autopsied.

     To the officer investigating the supposed traffic accident, the pastor said he had been driving his wife to the hospital after she complained of a pain in her jaw. While traveling between 45 and 55 MPH, he lost control of the car after oversteering to avoid a deer. The vehicle swerved back and forth across the road before slamming into the guardrail. Although Betty Schirmer's head injuries seemed out of proportion to the damage to the car, the authorities did not investigate the 56-year-old woman's death as a possible homicide. The fact the dead woman's husband was a Methodist minister probably had a lot to do with that decision. Had the authorities known about the circumstances surrounding the death of the pastor's first wife Jewel, they might have looked closer into Betty Schirmer's suspicious demise.

     On October 29, 2008, violent death raised its ugly head again in Pastor Schirmer's life. On that day, Joseph Musante, the husband of the pastor's personal assistant, was found dead in the church office behind the pastor's desk. Mr. Musante had been shot in the head in an apparent suicide. Investigators looking into the case were curious to know why this active member of the Reeders UMC congregation had taken his own life in the pastor's office. In pursuing that lead, investigators learned that Pastor Schirmer was having an affair with the dead man's wife, Cynthia.

     A.B. Schirmer's proximity to the untimely, violent deaths of two wives and the husband of his personal assistant and lover, kickstarted a criminal investigation of his second wife Betty's July 2008 death. The fact the pastor was having an affair at the time of the so-called fatal traffic accident on State Route 715 added what had been missing until now: a motive for murder. Pursuant to the homicide investigation, the police conducted a search of Schirmer's church living quarters and found incriminating evidence: massive blood stains from Betty Schirmer, stains someone had tried to clean-up.

     The discovery of blood stains in the Reeders Church parsonage provided homicide investigators with a plausible narrative of Betty Jean's death: the pastor had bludgeoned her in the parsonage, put her bleeding body into the PT Cruiser, staged the traffic accident on the remote highway, then sat in the car with his unconscious wife waiting for her to die. Before she passed away, passing motorists came along, and one of them called 911. The next day she died, and shortly after that, was cremated without an autopsy. With the death of the pastor's personal assistant's husband three months later, the path had been cleared for the pastor's third marriage to Cynthia.

     After A.B. Schirmer became a prime suspect in this second wife's death, the pastor left the ministry. He joined a three-person evangelical singing group called "Beroean." (Cases like this remind me of why I prefer nonfiction over crime fiction. No one would believe a detective novel with this plot.)

     To bolster their case that this man of God had murdered his second wife, the police consulted an expert in traffic accident investigation. According to this expert, the damage to Schirmer's PT Cruiser suggested that when he hit the guardrail he was only traveling 25 MPH, a speed that would not have resulted in Betty Schirmer's severe head trauma and brain damage.

     In July 2010, the county coroner, a forensic pathologist named Dr. Samuel Land, ruled Betty Schirmer's manner of death a homicide. This opened the door to a criminal prosecution.

     Former pastor A. B. Schirmer, on September 13, 2010, in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania State Police. He was charged with the murder of his second wife Betty, and with tampering of homicide evidence. At the time of his arrest, the gospel singer was engaged to be married for the third time. The ex-pastor awaited his upcoming murder trial in the Monroe County Correctional Facility where he was incarcerated without bail.

     On September 17, 2010, the Monroe County prosecutor convened a grand jury to look into the death of Jewel Schirmer. Dr. Wayne Ross, the forensic pathologist for Lancaster County, had studied photographs and other material pertaining to the 1999 death in the Lebanon UMC parsonage. Dr. Ross informed the grand jurors that the skull fracture Jewel had supposedly incurred from a fall down the basement steps would have required at least 750 pounds of pressure, a force way out of proportion to an accidental spill of this nature. Moreover, the forensic pathologist testified that the cuts to the victim's face were "highly suspicious, and could have been caused by an object striking her head. There were 14 separate impact injuries to her head and face," Dr. Ross said, "as well as numerous abrasions and contusions throughout her upper body and arms." According to Dr. Ross, one of the bruises was in the shape of a handprint.

     Based on Dr. Ross' testimony, and other evidence presented at the Monroe County Grand Jury session, Dauphin County Chief Deputy Coroner Lisa Potteiger changed Jewel Schirmer's manner of death from "undetermined" to "homicide." The Monroe County District Attorney charged the paster with first-degree murder.

     In March 2013, after a jury found Schirmer guilty of murdering Jewel Schirmer, a Monroe County judge sentenced the former minister and possible serial killer to life in prison.

     In September 2014, a jury found the former pastor guilty of murdering his wife Betty Jean in 2008. A Lebanon County judge sentenced Schirmer to an additional 40 years in prison. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Dr. Melvin Morse Child Abuse Case

     Dr. Melvin L. Morse, after earning his medical degree in 1980 from George Washington University, interned in pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Dr. Morse completed his residency in pediatrics at Children's Hospital in Seattle then set up a private practice in the city. The young doctor also held the position of Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington.

     In the late 1980s, through his nonprofit organization called The Institute for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, Dr. Morse interviewed hundreds of children who had been declared clinically dead. These interviews led him to believe that children, too young to have been indoctrinated in religion and the belief in an afterlife, experienced near-death telepathic conversations and encounters with dead friends and relatives. (A manipulating interviewer of children who has an agenda can get them to believe anything.)

     Cashing in on the results of his interview results, Dr. Morse, in 1991, published his first book. Co-authored by a writer named Paul Perry, it was called Closer to the Light. The book made The New York Times bestseller's list for three months and was eventually published in 19 languages in 38 countries. An accomplished self-promoter with a good publicist, the new-age guru appeared on the Larry King and Oprah Winfrey shows.

     During the height of his doctor/feel-good-author fame, the pseudoscientist appeared on ABC's "20-20," NBC's "Unsolved Mysteries," and "Dateline," as well as "Good Morning America" and the "Tom Snyder Show." Dr. Morse was also the subject of dozens of uncritical articles in major newspapers and serious magazines.

     In 1992, in the midst of his fame, Dr. Morse and his co-author cranked out a follow-up book called Transformed by the Light. The second work didn't do nearly as well as Closer to the Light. The doctor and his co-author's last book, Where God Lives: The Science of the Paranormal and How Our Brains Are Linked to the Universe, came out in 2001. (The science of the Paranormal?)

     In 2012, the 58-year-old celebrity pediatrician lived with his second wife Pauline in Sussex, Delaware along with his five and 11-year-old daughters. (I don't know what prompted his move from the state of Washington to Delaware, or when that took place. I do know he had gone through a contentious divorce from his first wife.) A look at Dr. Morse's bizarre website ramblings about "big ideas" that had drawn people to him from all over the world suggested that he had lost contact with reality. (How does a highly educated pediatrician go from physician to the publisher of junk science in the first place?)

     On July 12, 2012, an incident involving Dr. Morse and his 11-year-old daughter marked the end of his credibility, even among his new-age followers. After pulling into his driveway that day, his daughter, for some reason, refused to get out of the vehicle. The doctor pulled her out of the car by the ankles and dragged her across the gravel into the house where he gave her a spanking. Later in the day, the daughter informed a neighbor of what happened to her. The neighbor reported the girl's story to the police.

     The following day local police officers arrested Dr. Morse. State child protection agents got involved in the case and took his daughters into protective custody.

     On Monday, August 6, 2012, Dr. Morse's 11-year-old daughter, while being questioned by officers with the Delaware State Police at the Child Advocacy Center, accused her father of subjecting her to what he called "water boarding." On at least four occasions, beginning in May 2009, Dr. Morse held her face under running faucets in the kitchen and the bathroom causing tap water to shoot up her nose. The abuse replicated the sensation of drowning. While Dr. Morse tortured the girl, her 40-year-old mother looked on. The accuser's 5-year-old sister reportedly informed police officers that she had witnessed the water boarding.

     A local prosecutor charged Dr. Melvin Morse and his wife with felony counts of reckless endangerment, endangering the welfare of a child, and conspiracy to commit assault. Police officers took them into custody on Tuesday, August 7, 2012. After brief stints in the Sussex Correctional Institution, the couple made bail ($14,500 each) and was released.

     Attorney Joe Hurley publicly questioned the credibility of his client's 11-year-old daughter, suggesting that she might have made false accusations to get attention.

     Two days after the water boarding arrests, Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock announced that Dr. Morse presented a "clear and immediate danger to public health" if permitted to continue practicing medicine. The state official ordered the emergency suspension of his Delaware medical license.

     On April 11, 2014, Superior Court Judge Richard F. Stokes sentenced Dr. Morse to three to five years in prison. The judge denied a motion by Morse to remain free on bail while his attorney appealed his case. Dr. Morse said he was under treatment for prostate cancer. The judge sentenced the doctor's wife to probation.

     Dr. Morse was released from the Sussex County Correctional Institution in 2016. According to a corrections official, Morse had undergone a transformation in prison. Following his release, Dr. Morse co-founded The Recidivism Prevention Program, a company supposedly dedicated to assisting addicts and former inmates in the development of spiritual awareness that will facilitate their re-entry into society. (Here we go again. I predict another round of new age self-help books and TV appearances.)
           

     

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Douglas and Kristen Barbour Child Abuse Case

     Douglas B. Barbour was a prosecutor in the Pennsylvania State Attorney's Office headquartered in Harrisburg, the capital of the state. The 33-year-old attorney was assigned to the district office in Pittsburgh, located in the western part of the state. He and his 30-year-old wife Kristen resided in Franklin Park, a borough of 14,000 just north of the city. In March 2012, the couple, through a religious organization called Bethany Christian Services, adopted a 5-year-old boy and an 11-month-old girl. The children were from Ethiopia.

     On September 14, 2012, Dr. Rachel Berger at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, examined the Barbour children. The 6-year-old boy had been brought to the hospital with hypothermia--his body temperature was 93.6--rapid breathing, and skin lesions caused by prolonged exposure to urine. He weighed 47 pounds and was severely malnourished.

     The girl, 18-months-old, had breathing difficulties, retinal hemorrhaging, brain injury, and healing fractures in her femur and a toe. (Kristen Barbour told Dr. Berger that the toddler had suffered several accidental falls.) As a result of the toddler's head trauma, she was blind in one eye, perhaps permanently. The little girl was also malnourished. (Tests would later reveal that the healing bone fractures were not the result of disease.)

     Dr. Berger, suspecting child abuse, notified the Allegheny County Police Department. The boy was admitted to the hospital's urgent care center and the girl placed into protective custody. In the doctor's report, she wrote this about the 6-year-old boy: "[He is] the victim of significant neglect and possible emotional abuse over a prolonged period of time."

     After spending six days in the hospital, the boy, having gained seven pounds, was taken to A Child's Place, a children's abuse facility at the Mercy Health Center in Pittsburgh.

     On October 2, 2012, detectives with the Allegheny County Police Department questioned the boy at the Mercy Health Center. According to the child, whenever he soiled his pants, his parents made him eat his meals in the bathroom.

     Two days after speaking to the 6-year-old, the police arrested Douglas and Kristen Barbour. They were charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and in the case of their 18-month-old daughter, aggravated assault, a felony offense. Regarding the boy, the couple faced charges of simple assault, a misdemeanor. The state attorney general's office suspended Douglas Barbour without pay pending the outcome of the case.

     Detectives searched the couple's suburban home in Franklin Park and found, in the boy's bedroom, nothing but a mattress and a sheet. There were no toys, window coverings, wall decorations, or anything else that made the place livable.

     According to an employee of the adoption service, Mrs. Barbour had complained that the boy was "rude, defiant, and very difficult." She also complained that both children ate too much.

     On June 23, 2014, Douglas and Kristen Barbour pleaded no contest to two counts each of endangering children. Mr. Barbour pleaded to misdemeanor counts while his wife pleaded to felony charges. As part of his plea deal, Mr. Barbour received a probated sentence. Although his wife faced three to twelve months in jail, her attorney asked for probation. The couple relinquished their parental rights, and the children remained in foster care.

     In September 2014, the judge sentenced Kristen Barbour to six to 12 months to be served at the minimum security prison at Mercer, Pennsylvania. Douglas Barbour, in March of 2015, resigned from the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

    

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What Happened to Kristi Richardson?

     In 1979, Ronald Richardson and his wife Kristi started the Richardson Trucking Company, a Casper, Wyoming business that specialized in the transportation of oil and gas industry equipment.

     On April 29, 2013, Ronald Richardson, at age 63, died. Kristi, his 60-year-old widow, took control of the company. She resided in an affluent suburb of Casper, a city of 55,000 in the central part of the state that had become the center of a booming oil and gas industry that had brought crime and violence to a community with a traditionally low crime rate.

     Late in the afternoon of October 6, 2014, Kristi Richardson drove to her daughter Amber's house a block from her residence to drop off a birthday card and visit her grandchildren. At seven-forty that evening, she took a routine call from one of her drivers. The next call, one made to Kristi's cellphone at eleven that night, went unanswered.

     The next morning, when Kristi Richardson didn't show up for work at the trucking company, an employee called the house. When no one picked up the phone, the employee notified the owner's daughter.

     Because all of the doors were locked at Kristi's house, her daughter gained entry into the dwelling by using a garage door opener. Kristi's car sat in the garage and her purse, containing her credit cards and $800 in cash, lay on the kitchen counter.

     In the bedroom, Amber found her mother's cellphone lying on the bed. The only items missing from the home were Kristi's garage door opener and a hoodie she regularly wore. The daughter reported her mother missing to the Casper Police Department.

     Over the next several days, officers with the Casper Police Department, Natrona County Sheriff's Office, fire and EMS personnel, and citizen volunteers searched for the missing woman. The authorities used a helicopter to search parts of Casper Mountain.

     Members of Kristi's family, who believed she had been the victim of foul play because she never left the house without her car, posted a $25,000 reward for information regarding her disappearance and whereabouts. Kristi's daughter told a reporter that "I believe someone was at the house before she got home."

     The Casper Star Tribune reported that crime scene investigators had found traces of blood and urine on the missing woman's bed. Detectives were looking into the possibility that Kristi had been abducted and murdered by either an employee, customer, or business competitor.

    In February 2015, Casper police officers executed a search warrant on a credit report of a man who wanted to have a romantic relationship with the missing woman. Prior to the search, detectives had interrogated this man as a "person of interest."

     As of January 2017, Richardson remained missing and no arrests have been made in the case. The missing woman's family has offered a $250.000 reward for information regarding her disappearance. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Demacio Bailey Murder Case: Living and Dying in South Chicago

     Johnson College Prep, a charter school on Chicago's South Side, a place of learning and hope for students preparing for higher education, exists amid ignorance and violent crime in Englewood, one of the city's worst neighborhoods. Parents who have children in the school, founded in 2010, support it in many ways that includes active membership in the PTA. Unfortunately, there is nothing these dedicated parents can do about Chicago's violent crime and high murder rate.

     In December 2014, identical twins Demario and Demacio Bailey were sophomores at Johnson College Prep. Demacio played on the junior varsity football and basketball teams. His brother was in the school's Marine Corps Junior ROTC program and was a member of the choir. The twins had a 3-year-old brother and a brother who was 19 and attending Northwestern Illinois University. The Bailey twins were outstanding students with bright futures.

     The twins' mother, aware of the dangers of living on Chicago's South Side, drove or escorted her sons everywhere. As time went on, however, the boys wanted more freedom. As a result, they were allowed to get themselves to school on their own.

     On Saturday December 13, 2014, the twins, en route to Demacio's basketball practice, boarded the No. 29 State Street bus that took them to 63rd street a few blocks from Johnson College Prep. They got off the bus at half-past noon and were walking through a dark viaduct toward the school when they were approached by four young street thugs intent on robbing them.

     When Demacio refused to hand over his coat, a fight broke out. Demacio ended up on the ground with one of the assailants on top of him. Demario yelled, "Get off him!" and pushed the robber off his brother. One of the attackers pulled out a handgun. As Demacio ran from the scene, he heard a gunshot. When he turned to make sure his brother was fleeing with him, he saw Demario lying on the ground. The robbers had run off toward Wabash Avenue.

     Paramedics pronounced Demario Bailey dead at the scene from a bullet to his chest.

     That Saturday evening, just hours after the robber shot Demario Bailey to death near the charter school, police officers arrested 17-year-old Carlos Johnson at his home six blocks from the murder scene. An assistant Cook County state's attorney charged Johnson with first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. The judge denied the suspect bail. On Sunday, the prosecutor charged the other three suspects with murder. According to reports, the teens, just before Demacio Bailey's murder, robbed two other people.

     The principal of Johnson College Prep, in a press release, called for Martial Law on Chicago's South Side to deal with the out-of-control crime and violence.

     Martial Law was not imposed, and violence in the city increased. In 2016, 762 people were murdered in Chicago. That year in New York, the nation's largest city, there were 334 homicides. Also in 2016, 4,368 people were shot in the nation's most violent city.

     As of January 2017, none of the teens charged in the Demacio Bailey murder have been brought to justice. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Jose Manuel Martinez: Cartel Hit Man

     Most contract killers are inexpensive amateurs who get caught after their first murders. Their more professional counterparts, career criminals, mostly carry out their murder assignments for organized crime bosses. These hit men are harder to catch because they operate in the shadows of the underworld. But every so often a cold-blooded killer like 51-year-old Jose Manuel Martinez emerges from the shadows.

     In late 2013, authorities on the Mexican-Arizona border arrested Martinez as he tried to cross into the U.S. A warrant for his arrest had been issued out of Lawrence County, Alabama where he had been charged with murdering a man execution style in 2013. According to the authorities in Alabama, Martinez shot the victim because of a disparaging remark he had made about Martinez's sister.

     Authorities in Florida also wanted Martinez in connection with a pair of murders in 2006. In California, where Martinez spent brief periods in state prison for drug and theft convictions, the police considered him a suspect in a series of home-invasion robberies. These crimes took place in late 2012 and early 2013.

     Martinez lived on and off in Richgrove, California, a small farming community in Tulare County in the central part of the state about 40 miles north of Bakersfield.

     While incarcerated in the Lawrence County Jail in Alabama where he awaited his June 2014 murder trial, Martinez told detectives that over the past 35 years he had operated as a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel. According to Martinez, he had murdered forty men since 1980.

     On April 8, 2014, prosecutors in two central California counties--Tulare and Kern--charged Martinez with eleven contract killings committed between 1980 and 2011. Nine of the murders took place in Tulare County and two in Kern County. A prosecutor in Santa Barbara County in southern California charged Martinez with the ninth California murder. If convicted of these "lying in wait" murders, Martinez would be eligible for the death penalty.

     Manuel Martinez confessed to the following contract killings:

     On October 21, 1980, Martinez shot 23-year-old David Bedolla to death near Lindsay, California. Bedolla was driving to work with his wife, brother, and brother-in-law in the car.

     Martinez, on October 1, 1982, shot two ranch workers near Santa Ynez, California. Sylvester Ayon, 30, died in the shooting. The other ranch hand, a 17-year-old, survived his bullet wounds.

     On October 19, 1982, 22-year-old Raul Gonzales disappeared from his home in the Tulare County town of Earlimart. A rancher in nearby Portersville found Gonzales' body in a field two days after Martinez had shot him to death.

     Another resident of Earlimart, 29-year-old Domingo Perez, went missing from his home on April 8, 1995. Six weeks later, a farm worker stumbled upon his bullet-ridden body in an orange grove north of Martinez's home town of Richgrove.

     On the night of February 14, 2000, Martinez entered the Pixley, California home of 56-year-old Santiago Perez and shot him to death as he slept in his bed. The victim's four young children were in the house when Martinez murdered him.

     Jose Alvarado, a 25-year-old from Kern County, was found shot to death on a dirt road outside of McFarland, California. Martinez had executed him by shooting him point blank in the head. This murder took place on February 15, 2007.

     Also in Kern County, Martinez, on March 23, 2009, shot 52-year-old Juan Baustista to death. Martinez committed this murder in an orange grove near McFarland, California.

     On September 27, 2009, in Earlimart, Martinez abducted 45-year-old Joaquin Baragan. Three days later a rancher found the victim's body on the bank of the Deer Creek Canal outside of town. Baragan had been shot in the back of the head.

     Gonzalo Urquieta, another Earlimart resident, was kidnapped by Martinez on February 15, 2011. Two days later, the 54-year-old's body was found in an orange grove near Richgrove. He had been shot numerous times at close range.

     In June 2014, Martinez pleaded guilty to the 2013 murder in Alabama. the Lawrence County judge sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

     In October 2015, Martinez pleaded guilty in California to the nine Tulare County murders. He also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of another man in that jurisdiction. On November 3, 2015, the Tulare County judge sentenced the serial killer to ten consecutive life sentences.

      

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What Happened to Shane Montgomery?

     In November 2014, 21-year-old Shane Montgomery, a catholic high school graduate from the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, was a senior at nearby West Chester University. On Wednesday night November 26, 2014, Montgomery, his cousin and a couple of friends were barhopping in Philadelphia.

     In the early morning hours of Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, Montgomery and his group were drinking at Kildare's Irish Pub on Main Street in Philadelphia's Manayunk neighborhood. At some point Montgomery got separated from his friends in the crowded bar. At 1:45 AM he accidentally bumped into the DJ's table. The bouncer ordered the student out of the pub. Montgomery apologized and left the premises.

     Montgomery, after he was seen leaving the bar, did not return home. Friends and family were unable to get in touch with him by phone and he didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner. Concerned, his family filed a missing persons report with the Philadelphia Police Department.

     On Friday November 28, 2014, volunteers circulated missing persons notices around the Manayunk neighborhood. The posters featured a photograph of the missing college student along with a picture of the Celtic cross tattooed across his shoulder blades. The 5-foot-11 inch, 140-pound missing person, when he left the bar, was dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweatshirt.

     The search for Shane Montgomery included the use of dogs, a helicopter, and boats on the Schuylkill River that flows alongside Manayunk's Main Street. Five-hundred volunteers searched the riverbank, the footpath, and the railroad tracks that run parallel to the street.

     A cellphone tower in Lower Merion Township had picked up a signal from Montgomery's cellphone a little less than an hour after he left Kildare's. The phone itself was not recovered. At the bar, there was no video surveillance footage for detectives to review.

     On Sunday November 30, 2014, a FBI task force joined in the hunt for the missing student. A $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to his whereabouts.

     Shortly after noon on Saturday January 4, 2015, a volunteer diver from the Garden State (New Jersey) Underwater Recovery Unit found Shane Montgomery's body in three feet of water near the Schuylkill riverbank not far from the Manayunk bar where he was last seen. Two weeks earlier a diver from the same unit found Montgomery's car keys in the water near the river bank 800 yards upriver from where his body was recovered.

     Shane Montgomery's uncle, on January 5, 2015, told reporters that the medical examiner's office had completed its autopsy and had ruled the young man's drowning death an accident. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

August Vollmer: The Forgotten Father of Community Policing

     In the modern-day struggle between the opposing models of law enforcement--community-based policing in which officers interact with citizens as public servants versus militaristic policing comprised of cops who see themselves as crime fighters in a hostile environment--the concept of community policing is losing out. The rise of police militarism parallels the escalating war on drugs aided by the growing fear of domestic terrorism. The emergence of shock-and-awe policing and zero-tolereance peace keeping at the expense of police-community relations and the advancement of professionalized criminal investigation would have concerned August Vollmer, the now forgotten police administrator who envisioned an entirely different future for American law enforcement.

     In 1905, the citizens of Berkeley, California banded together to rid themselves of the prostitutes, gambling houses, and opium dens operating openly in their town. The man they elected to do the job was a 29-year-old uneducated mail carrier who promised to clean things up. Reform candidate August Vollmer kept his campaign promises, and as a result, rose from town marshall to chief of police, and, within a period of 16 years, became president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and one of the most influential police administrators in the country.

     During his law enforcement career, Vollmer introduced advances in police training, established concepts of effective personnel deployment, developed methods of dealing with juvenile offenders, established one of the nation's first fingerprint bureaus, maintained and used crime statistics, and crusaded for the use of science in crime detection. Over the years, Vollmer hammered out a theory of police professionalism later adopted by J. Edgar Hoover when he became director of the FBI in 1924.

     Vollmer did not believe in capital punishment and became skeptical of J. Edgar Hoover's efforts to rid America of the "Red Menace" in the late 1940s and early 50s. He spoke out against the KKK at the peak of its power. After Pearl Harbor, he formed a committee to seek humane treatment for Japanese-Americans who were interred in prison camps. Vollmer also spoke out against the so-called "third-degree" as an interrogation technique.

     In 1919, Vollmer placed an ad in the school newspaper at the University of California soliciting student applicants for jobs as police officers. Over the years, hundreds of full-time college students applied for these positions. Vollmer's "college cops" included Walter Gordon, the department's first black officer, John Larson, the future inventor of the polygraph, and V.A. Leonard who became a well-known writer and criminal justice educator.

     Hundreds of Vollmer's proteges became police administrators like O.W. Wilson who became chief of the Chicago Police Department. Others became forensic scientists, lawyers, military leaders, and politicians. By the late 1940s, at least 25 police chiefs around the country had served under August Vollmer.

     In 1924, Vollmer took leave of the Berkeley Police Department to reorganize and head the Los Angeles Police Department. There he established hiring standards and set up a crime lab and a crime records bureau. He formed a vice squad, and created a bank robbery unit to combat the epidemic of bank hold-ups in the city. Notwithstanding his efforts to professionalize the Los Angeles Police Department, Vollmer was unable to eliminate the graft and political corruption that had become ingrained in the organization. After a year in Los Angeles where he had lost political support for his reform agenda, Vollmer resigned in defeat. He had learned that big city police departments, unlike law enforcement agencies in college towns like Berkeley, were almost impossible to control.

     Following his retirement from the Berkeley Police Department in 1932, Vollmer visited Scotland Yard, the Surete in France, and dozens of other European police departments. He wrote four books and continued to survey and reorganize troubled law enforcement agencies in the United States. He became a law enforcement professor at the universities of Chicago and California.

     In 1955, at the age of 79, Vollmer ended his life by shooting himself with his service revolver. Suffering from Parkinson's Disease and cancer, he didn't want to become a burden. His wife had predeceased him and they had no children. Before ending his life, he called the Berkeley Police Department to report his own suicide. He had willed his papers and extensive criminal justice library to the University of California at Berkeley. His archives are located at the university's Bancroft Library.

     

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Derek Ward Murder-Suicide Case

     Patricia Ward resided in an apartment complex on Secatogue Avenue in Farmingdale, an unincorporated village of 8,000 in the western Long Island town of Oyster Bay, New York. The 66-year-old taught English at Farmingdale State College's Long Island Educational Opportunity Center, an institution attended by high school students preparing for college.

     The assistant professor's son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, lived with her in the Farmingdale apartment. The unemployed son, over the past ten years, had experienced problems with the law and his mental health. In 2003, the schizophrenic young man was convicted of criminal mischief. In that case, the judge fined Ward and placed him on probation for a year.

     In 2006, police in Nassau County arrested Ward for possession of drugs and a 9 mm handgun. That judge sentenced him to 45 days in jail and three years probation.

     Just before eight o'clock at night on Tuesday October 28 2014, Derek Ward attacked his mother with a kitchen knife. After stabbing her several times in their apartment, he cut off her head then dragged the headless body down the stairs through the apartment lobby and onto Secatogue Avenue.

     After depositing his decapitated mother on the street in front of their apartment, Ward walked about a mile to a set of Long Island Railroad tracks. From there, he threw himself in front of a speeding commuter train rolling east from Penn Station in Manhattan. The impact killed him instantly.

     When police officers arrived at the Ward apartment complex they found Patricia Ward lying in the street about ten feet from her head.

     Neighbor Nick Gordon told a reporter with The New York Post that, "I saw the body laying right in front and her head was across the street near the corner. There was blood all over. You can see smears going down the stairs." Other neighbors, when they saw Patricia Ward's body thought they were looking at a Halloween prank. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Harvard Bomb Hoax Case

     At 8:40 in the morning of Monday, December 16, 2013, officials at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts received a bomb threat via email. The sender of the email wrote that "shrapnel bombs" were hidden in Emerson, Thayer, and Sever Halls as well as in the Science Center. As more than 100 police, federal agents, and emergency personnel rushed to the university, Harvard security officers began evacuating the four buildings. The bomb threat came on the first day of final exam week.

     Four hours after the threat, after bomb searchers failed to find any suspicious devices, faculty, students and others were allowed back into the buildings. The feared terrorist attack turned out to be a hoax.

     Shortly after the bomb threat disruption that had little effect on students, university sob-sisters sprang into action. In an all-student email from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, students were advised that if they felt unable to take an exam for any reason "including anxiety, loss of study time, lack of access to material and belongings left in one of the affected buildings, or travel schedule" they could skip the final and take a grade based on coursework to date. (At Harvard, professors not only make it easy for academic slackers, they provide them with a menu of excuses. No wonder kids want to get into this school.)

     Because the Faculty of Arts and Sciences email came under intense ridicule, the professors sent a followup memo that required bomb threat affected students to acquire documentation from the school's mental health service. (Universities today have mental health services. When I was in college, if you went nuts your parents pulled you out of school. That's why you tried not to go crazy.)

     Later on the day of the bomb hoax, investigators traced the email threat back to a 20-year-old Harvard sophomore named Eldo Kim. The naturalized citizen from South Korea graduated from high school in Mukilteo, Washington. He played the viola and had interned with a newspaper in Seoul. On the staff of the Harvard Independent, Kim's academic focus involved psychology and sociology.

      On the day of the disruption, FBI agents arrested Eldo Kim on federal charges related to the bomb threats. If convicted as charged, he faced up to five years in prison. He could also be fined $250,000. Freed on $100,000 bond, the authorities released Kim to the custody of his sister who resided in Massachusetts.

     According to Ian Gold, the federal public defender appointed to represent the bomb hoax suspect, Kim had emailed the bomb threat to avoid taking a final exam in his government class. Attorney Gold told reporters that his client had been having difficulty coping with his studies and the upcoming anniversary of his father's death. "It's finals time at Harvard," attorney Gold said. "In one way, we're looking at the equivalent of pulling a fire alarm….It's important to keep in mind we're dealing with a 20-year-old man who was under a great deal of pressure."

     Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, in addressing the media, took issue with the "great deal of academic pressure" defense. Dershowitz pointed out that due to run-away grade inflation, it's very difficult to flunk out of Harvard. The median grade awarded to Harvard students is A-minus. "I doubt that anyone who got into Harvard would fail a government exam," said Dershowitz. "People come to Harvard with major problems. It's not that Harvard causes them." (I once read that professors at the Ivy League schools are intimidated by their students. For that reason they function more like camp counselors than teachers.)

     After confessing to the bomb hoax, Eldo Kim pleaded guilty in return for probation and mandated counseling. He was also also kicked out of school. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The FBI Crime Laboratory: The Dark Years

     Until the mid-1990s, all of the forensic scientists working in the FBI Crime Lab had at least three years experience in the field as ordinary special agents. Staffing the lab with former criminal investigators (J. Edgar Hoover's idea) was supposed to make them better forensic practitioners. Critics of this policy believed it made them part of a law enforcement team instead of independent forensic scientists. Moreover, by basing the hiring criteria on specal agent qualifications, the FBI Lab was not attracting or being staffed by first-rate scientists.

Agent Versus Agent

     Special Agent Michael P. Malone had earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, and taught high school science for two years before he joined the FBI in 1970. After working four years in the field as a criminal investigator, Malone was assigned to the FBI Crime Lab. During his 25 years as a hair and fiber analyst, Malone testified in hundreds of criminal trials. He became popular as a prosecution expert, testifying in dozens of high profile cases where the fate of the defendant depended upon his identification of a crime scene hair or fiber. As an expert witness he was confident and hard to rattle, and he knew how to impress a jury.

     In the early 1990s, Frederic Whitehurst, an FBI Lab bomb residue analyst who identified chemical components of explosive substances, alerted lab supervisors to problems in the trace evidence section of the facility. Whitehurst complained that the laboratory was so dirty physical evidence was always in danger of being contaminated. Whitehurst was especially critical of hair and fiber analyst Michael Malone whom he accused of allowing his loyalty to police and prosecutors to attenuate his independence and objectivity as a forensic scientist. In memos to the director of the lab, Whitehurst pointed out that hair and fiber identification was an inexact and subjective process, making this form of crime scene identification highly unreliable. The whistleblower noted that Malone's testimony had sent many defendants to prison, some of whom might have been innocent.

     When Whitehurst's internal complaints fell on deaf ears, he began writing long, detailed letters to Michael Bromwich, the U. S. Department of Justice inspector general. Between 1991 and 1994, Whitehurst wrote Bromwich 237 letters. In September 1995, the inspector general launched an investigation after ABC's "Prime Time Live," having gotten hold of some of these letters, aired a story about Whitehurst's campaign to improve the FBI Lab. In April 1997, almost six years after Whitehurst began documenting problems in the nation's largest crime lab, Bromwich issued a 517-page report critical of the laboratory. Bromwich singled out seven lab employees, including Michael Malone, whom he described as having provided "false testimony." The inspector general recommended Malone for disciplinary action.

     Two years later, a second Department of Justice investigation revealed that Agent Malone had made hair and fiber identification errors in four homicide cases in the Tampa Bay area. In the same report detailing these findings, Department of Justice investigators also criticized Whitehurst for overstating the forensic implications of his scientific analysis in some of his own cases. Whitehurst, who had been transferred to the paint identification unit of the lab, was suspended. After the bureau denied his petition for reinstatement, Whitehurst retired and entered private practice. To some, Whitehurst was a hero. To the FBI however, he was a traitor. He was a whistleblower, the lowest form of bureaucratic life.

     Michael Malone denied lying under oath or playing fast and loose with hair and fiber evidence. He blamed the FBI Lab scandal on jealous colleagues whom he described as incompetent. Regarding those cases in which DNA analysis had exonerated defendants whose hair he had identified as being at crime scenes, Malone blamed overzealous prosecutors who overstated the implications of his findings. Following the inspector general's investigations and recommendations, Malone was reassigned back to the field. He retired in December 1999. To the FBI, Special Agent Malone was the hero.

     Today, the head of the FBI Crime Lab hires employees on the basis of their backgrounds in science. Even for crime lab civilians, maintaining scientific objectivity is not easy. But there is no question that the lab is far superior now than it was during those dark years. And as is often the case in governmental scandals that result in improved conditions, it was a courageous whistleblower that made it all possible.    

Monday, January 16, 2017

The William Spengler Mass Murder-Suicide Case

     In past years, murder-suicide in the United States has accounted for about five percent of all criminal homicides. In 2011, 1,300 murderers, almost all of them men, took their own lives after killing their victims. A vast majority of murder-suicide victims are ex-girl friends and estranged wives. These deadly  attacks regularly feature alcohol and drug intoxication, mental illness, depression, and a variety of personality disorders. In terms of motive, none of these killings make any sense to a rational person.

     While nationwide, criminal homicide has been on the decline for decades, murder-suicide has been on the rise. In a country steeped in a culture of violence that seems to be populated by a growing number of people who are unable to cope with modern life, this is hardly a surprise. Criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, and police administrators are clueless about how to reverse this trend. That's because nobody knows what's causing the drug addiction and mental instability in this country, or what it is that's making these disturbed people so murderous and self-destructive. Blaming this wave of pathological murder on guns, video games, and excessive crime reporting is either political or simply puerile.

     In the annals of crime, 2012 might be remembered as the beginning of an era of the killing spree culminated with the self-inflicted death of the mass murderer. That year, eighteen men, after murdering three or more people, killed themselves. The following homicidal rampage took place on December 24, 2012 in upstate New York.

William Spengler: The Suicidal Sniper

     In 1980, 33-year-old William Spengler lived in the suburban Rochester area town of Webster, New York with his mother Arline and his 92-year-old grandmother. They resided in a middle-class home in a neighborhood of seasonal and year-round houses on a narrow Lake Ontario peninsula. Shortly after William's grandmother was found dead at the foot of their basement stairs, the Monroe County district attorney charged Spengler with first-degree murder. William confessed to beating his grandmother to death with a hammer. (Since rational people don't bludgeon their grandmothers to death, the motive behind this murder was pathological, and therefore beyond rational comprehension.)

     Because Spengler agreed to plead guilty, the prosecutor lowered the murder charge to manslaughter. The judge sentenced the defendant to eight to 25 years in prison. (The prosecutor may have been worried about a successful not guilty by reason of insanity defense.)

     In 1997, after serving 16 years behind bars, Spengler attended his first parole hearing. The inmate, when he learned at the proceeding that his presence at the hearing was not mandatory, said this to the parole panel: "Then it's not worth the time and effort." The parole officials denied Spengler his release. Since he hadn't expected to get out of prison, this was no surprise. The surprise came six months later when these same officials granted Spengler his supervised release. The man who had murdered a 92-year-old woman walked out of prison in 1998 after serving two-thirds of his maximum sentence. (In the  American system of criminal justice, there are very few crimes that the government doesn't forgive. Judges and penologists seem adverse to the punishment rationale justifying sentencing and incarceration. In cases like this, whether or not the murderer has been rehabilitated should be irrelevant.)

     In 2006, while residing with his mother Arline and his older sister Cheryl in the dwelling next door to the house where he had murdered his grandmother, Spengler's term of supervised parole expired. Because he was a convicted felon, Spengler, under New York law, was not allowed to possess any kind of gun.

     In October 2012, Spengler's mother Arline passed away. Although he hated his 67-year-old sister Cheryl, Spengler had loved and doted on his mother. Since his parole in 1998, the gaunt, bearded loner had lived a quiet, uneventful life in the house across the road from Lake Ontario. Because of his low profile, very few people in the town of 43,000 knew he existed. After Arline's death, William, in possession of a small arsenal that included handguns, rifles, shotguns, and a lot of ammunition, began planning arson, mass murder, and suicide. Spengler's years of living in obscurity would soon come to an end.

     Two hours before dawn on December 24, 2012, the 62-year-old ex-felon torched his house and set fire to his car. In possession of a .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, and a Mossberg pump-action 12-gauge shotgun, Spengler took up a position behind a small hill not far from his burning house. It was from here he planned to ambush the first responders to the fires he had started.

     At 5:35 that morning, two members of the West Webster Volunteer Fire Department rolled up to the blaze in a firetruck. Spengler used his .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster to kill 19-year-old Tomasz Kaczowka and his firefighting partner Michael Chiapperini, 43. When John Ritter, an off-duty officer with the Greece, New York Police Department pulled his car alongside the firetruck in an effort to shield the two firefighters, Spengler shot and wounded him. Two firefighters who arrived at the scene in their own vehicles, Joseph Hofstetter and Theodore Scardina, were also wounded by the sniper on the hill.

     An hour or so later, the four firefighters and the wounded police officer where taken out of the line of fire by a SWAT operated armored vehicle. As Spengler house fire began to spread to other homes, SWAT officers used the armored truck to evacuate 33 residents of the neighborhood. Amid all of the confusion, William Spengler slipped away. Before it was all over, seven homes burned to the ground.

     At eleven o'clock that morning, police officers found William Spengler dead on a nearby beach. He had used one of his guns to shoot himself in the head. (There were no police bullets in him.) From a few feet from his body, officers recovered a typed, three-page, rambling suicide note that contained the line: "I still have to get ready to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down, and do what I like doing best, killing people."

     On Christmas day, arson and homicide investigators found Cheryl Spengler's charred remains in the fire debris. A forensic pathologist determined that Spengler's sister had been killed before the fire.

     I'm not sure what the span of 32 years between William Spengler's first homicide and his mass killing-suicide tells us about people who commit murder. Maybe the lesson is this: People who beat old women to death ought to be put in prison for life. This case also illustrates how difficult it is to enforce gun laws already on the books.

     

      

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Roger Bowling Murder Case

     Around the first of July 2012, Danielle Greenway's 39-year-old ex-boyfriend, Roger K. Bowling, asked if he could stay with her and her fiancee until he got back on his feet after a run of bad luck. The 32-year-old Greenway and Chris Hall, ten years her senior, lived on a well-kept, tree-shaded neighborhood in Allen Park, Michigan, a suburban working class community south of Detroit. She was employed by a cleaning service and Hall was an electrician. Although Greenway and Bowling had broken up five years ago (he was the jealous, controlling type), she agreed to let the beefy, bald ex-boyfriend move into their basement.

     On Thursday, July 17, 2012, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer on routine patrol saw a body, missing its head, hands, and feet, floating in the Detroit River. A U.S. Coast Guard boat crew discovered a second nude body floating in the river on the east side of Detroit. The hands, feet, and head were missing from this corpse as well. Later in the day, a fisherman saw four hands, four feet, and two heads lying in the sand beneath two feet of water along the shore of an abandoned park. The fisherman also discovered a suitcase lying in the water near the body parts.

     The next day, Chris Hall's sister, who hadn't had contact with him and Greenway since July 14, went to their house in Allen Park and pounded on the front door. When she didn't get any response, she reported the couple missing.

     Later that day, officers with the Allen Park Police Department entered the house. Inside, detectives found evidence that someone had tried to clean-up large amounts of blood. In the garage, the police discovered two spent bullets and a bullet fragment that had been fired from a .40-caliber pistol. They also recovered a .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun registered to Roger Bowling.

     The dismembered remains were those of Danielle Greenway and Chris Hall. The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies estimated they had been shot to death sometime between the 14th and 16th of July, 2012.

     The Wayne County District Attorney's office charged Roger Bowling with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of mutilation of a body. On Tuesday night, July 24, 2012, officers arrested Bowling at the Greenway/Hall residence. Two days later, detectives recovered the couple's missing 2005 GMC Safari van found parked a few blocks from the house. The vehicle contained physical evidence linking Bowling to the double murder.

     As officers escorted Bowling out of the Wayne County courtroom following his arraignment, Danielle Greenway's mother yelled, "burn in hell."
 
     At the defendant's preliminary hearing on August 20, 2012, Assistant Wayne County medical examiner Jeffrey Jentzen testified that Hall was shot six times, including twice in the head. Greenway had been shot once, through the mouth.

     Roger Slick, a 35-year-old who has known Roger Bowling since first grade, testified that Bowling was angry because Greenway was dating someone else. "We would talk about how we could get rid of our problems--get rid of our women," the witness said. "I talked about taking my wife to the swamp. We'd drink beer and talk about it. I didn't do it. I had the thoughts. I was very upset at that time in my life." This witness testified that when he heard about the deaths of Greenway and Hall, after thinking about it for a few days, he decided to tell the police about these conversations with Bowling. Slick said he believed Bowling used his father's boat to dispose of the bodies. "That was the boat we used to go on. We talked about dropping bodies off in Lake Huron."

     Bowling's attorney, Mark L. Brown, pointed out that there are no eyewitnesses linking his client to the murders. He said that without a confession or an eyewitness the case against his client was entirely circumstantial.

     On September 17, 2014, following a five-week trial, the Wayne County Circuit Court jury found Roger Bowling guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of corpse mutilation. The judge, on October 10, 2014, sentenced Bowling to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Mark Stobbe Murder Case

     In the spring of 2000, 42-year-old Mark Stobbe, the former senior advisor to Roy Romanon, the premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, moved his family from Regina, Saskatchewan to St. Andrews, Manitoba, a rural community north of Winnipeg. The new senior communications advisor for Manitoba premier Gary Doer, moved his wife Beverly Rowbotham and their two sons into a sprawling old house in the country.

     In his new position as the premier's communications strategist, the tall, 350-pound political operative left his house most days at six in the morning and didn't return until eleven at night. This left his wife Beverly alone all day with their sons in a run-down house in the middle of nowhere. Her husband's new job, and the move, had placed Beverly and the marriage under stress.

     At 2:30 in the morning of October 25, 2000, Mark Stobbe telephoned Betty Rowbotham, his wife's sister, to inform her that Beverly had gone missing. Earlier in the day, Beverly had been to the Safeway grocery store in Selkirk, 12 kilometers from the house. Because the boys had acted up in the store, she had returned home without completing her shopping. That evening, Beverly had driven back to Safeway to finish the job. Mark said he had fallen asleep in bed with one of his sons and woke up to find that Beverly had not returned from the store. Worried that something had happened to her, he called the police, and several hospitals.

     Ten minutes after the call, Betty arrived at her sister's house. The police were still on their way. Shortly after her arrival, Mark went into the backyard where he used a hose to water down something. Ten minutes later, he was back inside where he greeted the first officer to arrive at the scene. While the RCMP officer was questioning Mark, the detective received a call from his office. They had found Beverly, dead in her car, with massive blunt-force wounds to her head. Her Ford Crown Victoria was parked at a gas station in Selkirk. The police recovered Beverly's purse in the vehicle, but her wallet was missing. The killer had also removed the $7,000 ring she had been wearing.

     Based on the RCMP's initial investigation, it appeared that Beverly Rowbotham had been murdered in her backyard where investigators had found fragments of her skull and clumps of her hair. In the garage, where her Ford had been parked, crime scene officers found two large blood stains on the floor, and one on the wall. Also in the garage, police recovered two blood-soaked tissues and a bloody towel, evidence that the killer had tried to clean up. In the car abandoned in Selkirk, the police discovered traces of blood on the victim's purse. They eventually located Beverly's missing wallet on the bank of the Red River, not far from the gas station.

     In the beginning, investigators figured that Beverly had been murdered sometime that night while her husband and children were asleep in the house. But why would the killer put her body in the Ford, and drive it to Selkirk? And how did the killer get to the murder scene in the first place?

     As the investigation moved forward, detectives became more skeptical of Mark Stobbe's account of his whereabouts and activities on the night of the murder. They began to suspect that he had killed his wife. As Stobbe's questionings became more accusatorial, he continued to deny having anything to do with his wife's death. He also insisted that he and Beverly were not having marital problems. Over the next several months, the police chased down 240 tips, and interviewed 400 people. But it wasn't until the DNA reports started coming in did the investigation start getting some traction.

     According to DNA analysis of the crime scene evidence, the bloodstains in the garage and in the backyard had come from the victim. The blood stains on the towel and tissues belonged to Mark Stobbe. And there were stains that comprised a mixture of his and his wife's blood. There were, however, DNA traces at the scene that belonged to an unidentified male. The spots of blood on Beverly's handbag found in her car had also come from an unidentified man.

     By 2001, RCMP investigators had focused their attention on Mark Stobbe as the primary suspect in the murder. According to his story, Beverly had not completed her shopping that day because one of the boys had misbehaved at the grocery store in Selkirk. But a store surveillance tape showed that she had been in the place almost an hour, and her cash register receipt indicated she had spent $108.32, an amount equal to her average purchase. The investigators also considered Stobbe's differing accounts of his activity on the night of the murder incriminating. He told some people that he had fallen asleep in front of the television, and he told others that he had been in bed with one of his sons.

     In January 2001, the RCMP acquired a warrant allowing them to tap Stobbe's home telephone. After listening in to 1,000 hours of his phone conversations, they heard nothing directly incriminating. In a February 28, 2001 conversation between the suspect and Betty Rowbotham, his former sister-in-law, she informed him that the police were gathering physical evidence from his backyard. To that he replied, "Damn it all." Toward the end of the phone call, Stobbe said, "I feel horrible."

     The Rowbotham/Stobbe case eventually hit a wall, and for several years, lay dormant. In 2008, almost eight years after Beverly Rowbotham's murder, the Crown charged Mark Stobbe with second-degree murder. He was arrested, made bail, and pleaded not guilty to the charge.

     On January 16, 2012, Stobbe's trial got underway in the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg. Representing the Crown, Wendy Dawson, in her opening statement to the jury, laid out the prosecution's theory of the case: On the night of October 24, 2000, the defendant, during a heated argument with his wife in the backyard of their house, hit her in the head 16 times with a hatchet. He dragged her body into the garage, hit her again, stuffed the body into her Ford, then drove to the gas station in Selkirk. Using a bicycle he had put into the trunk, he rode back to St. Andrews. Along the way, Stobbe tossed his dead wife's wallet into the Red River to lead investigators into thinking Beverly's killer had robbed her. Stobbe also removed her ring. Back at his house, he waited a few hours before calling the police and his sister-in-law. Before the RCMP arrived, Stobbe used a garden hose in an attempt to wash away physical evidence in his backyard.

     Stobbe's attorney, Tim Killeen, assured the jury that Beverly Rowbotham had been bludgeoned to death by an unidentified intruder who had been lying in wait outside her house. The defense attorney pointed to the unidentified male DNA found on her purse, and in the garage.  

     During the next several weeks, the Crown put 70 people on the stand, including several witnesses who testified that on the night in question, they had seen an overweight man riding a bicycle between Selkirk and St. Andrews. None of these witnesses, however, specifically identified the defendant as the man on the bike.

     On March 7, 2012, the defense put on its case which depended almost entirely on the defendant's taking the stand on his own behalf. If just one juror believed Mark Stobbe's account, there would be no conviction. If all of the jurors believed that he might be telling the truth, there would be an acquittal. It was all up to the defendant.

     Under direct examination by attorney Tim Killeen, Stobbe denied killing his wife. "I've spent a lot of nights looking out that window, wondering," he said. When Stobbe learned of his wife's death, "It was confirmation of my worst fears. What it meant was that I was 50 to 60 feet away when she was killed....I should have been able to stop it. I was completely useless in helping her." The defendant, at this point, broke down on the stand.

     The following day, Crown prosecutor Wendy Dawson began her cross-examination of the defendant. She asked Stobbe why he hadn't filed an insurance claim for his wife's $7,000 ring. "You didn't make a claim," she said, "because the ring wasn't stolen. You took it off her hand before you brutally killed her." Stobbe said he hadn't bothered filing a claim because he just didn't care about the ring's value.

     The prosecutor tried to get the defendant to admit that his marriage was under considerable stress. Didn't his long hours at work with his wife alone in the house with the children have an adverse effect on their relationship? "I think it would be fair to say," he replied, "that she wanted me around more, but...she understood that the long hours were part and parcel of my job. She never made a suggestion to me that I change my career."

     Wendy Dawson cross-examined the defendant for five days. In keeping him on the hot seat for so long, the prosecutor risked making him an object of sympathy in the eyes of some of the jurors. On March 22, 2012, the attorneys made their closing arguments. The prosecutor said she didn't want Stobbe to get away with the "near perfect murder of his wife." She said the circumstantial evidence against him was "overwhelming," and that the defendant had "demonstrated all the hallmarks of a dishonest, lying witness. He couldn't keep his story straight," she said. "Certainly he should have been able to hear a cry for help from his wife, or a commotion in the garage. This was a crime of rage."

     In his closing argument, defense attorney Tom Killeen admitted there were reasons for the police to suspect his client, but suspicion alone was not enough to convict a man of murder. The Crown, he said, has not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. "Mr. Stobbe has to prove nothing," he said.

     On March 27, 2012, after 82 witnesses and 100 hours of testimony, Judge Chris Martin gave his instructions to the jury. Mark Stobbe's fate was now in the hands of twelve jurors.

     After deliberating two days, the jury found Mark Stobbe not guilty. The prosecutor, with no solid evidence of a motive, no murder weapon, weak eyewitness testimony, and the unknown male DNA on the victim's purse, simply didn't carry, in the minds of this jury, its burden of proof. Some of the jurors may have believed that Stobbe had murdered his wife, but belief and proof beyond a reasonable doubt are not always the same.