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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Elements Of Literary Style

A writer's literary style consists mainly of the words he uses and the order he puts them in. That's called, respectively, diction and syntax. In terms of word selection, a pompous or insecure writer will use "multiple" instead of "many"; "impacted by" instead of "affected"; and "individual" instead of "person." Such a writer also uses many more words than necessary. Regarding syntax, an academic author might write: "A good time was had by all." A so-called "literary" novelist might say it this way: "By all, a good time was had." An author with readers will write: "We had a blast."

Thornton P. Knowles

Murdering Jocelyn Earnest: A Circumstantial Case

     On December 19, 2007, a friend discovered the body of 38-year-old Jocelyn Earnest just inside the front door of her house in Pine Bluff, Virginia. The victim had been shot in the back of the head. Next to her body lay a .357 magnum revolver and a typewriten suicide note that in part read:

     To Mom
          I'm sorry for what I've done. Please forgive me. Wes [the victim's estranged husband] has put us in such a financial bind--can't recover. My new love will not leave the family.
     Love,
     Jocelyn

     The heat inside Earnest's house had been jacked up to 90 degrees and there were no signs of forced entry. The dead woman's dog, a black Labador, was locked in a crate without food or water in a back bedroom.

     Investigators immediately suspected that Jocelyn Earnest had been murdered, and the scene staged to look like a suicide. Detectives knew that people who kill themselves and leave notes rarely type them. In searching Jocelyn's two home computers, investigators did not find drafts of this document. And the word choice and syntax of the note was inconsistent with the writing style found in the victim's handwritten journals. The police suspected that the furnace had been turned up to alter the body's decomposition rate to throw off the biological time of death determination. Apparently the killer had wanted the police to believe Jocelyn had been killed earlier in the day, perhaps to support an alibi.

     Suspicion immediately fell on the victim's estranged husband, Wesley Earnest who had moved out of the house a year earlier. As an assistant high school principal, he lived and worked 200 miles away in Chesapeake, Virginia. Jocelyn had been employed as a financial services manager in Lynchburgh, Virginia. Although together they had been earning $200,000 a year, they were deeply in debt. Wesley, over Jocelyn's objection, had built a three million dollar, seven thousand square foot mansion on nearby lake property. The $6,000 a month mortgage on this second home they couldn't sell because it was financially under water, had put them $1 million in debt. On top of this, Wesley found himself faced with the disasterous financial consequences of divorce.

     Wesley Earnest claimed he hadn't been to the Pine Bluff house for at least a year. After he had moved out, Jocelyn had changed the locks. Investigators, however, could connect him to the crime scene in two ways: he had purchased the .357 magnum, and two of his latent fingerprints were on the typewritten note next to the body. Two days before his estranged wife's death, the suspect had borrowed a pickup truck from a friend. When he returned the vehicle two weeks later, it had new tires. Detectives believed Wesley had changed out the tires to avoid a crime scene tire track match-up.

     Investigators also read the victim's journal, handwritten in seventeen notebooks. Several of the entries, however, written from Jocelyn's point of view, were in Wesley Earnest's hand. These forged additions portrayed the suspect in a favorable light. However, in one of the notebooks the victim had written: "If I die, Wesley killed me and he probably shot me."

     Wesley admitted to detectives that he had girlfriends, but claimed that  his wife had known about these affairs and approved of them. At his place of employment in Chesapeake, however, he told co-workers he was single.

     In May 2009, the $3 million house on the lake burned to the ground. Cause and origin fire investigators ruled the cause "undetermined." Because the place was heavily insured, the fire accrued to Wesley's financial benefit.

     Wesley Earnest went on trial in March 2010 for the murder of his wife. His attorney, in an effort to uncouple the defendant from the typewritten crime scene note, contested the forensic reliability of latent fingerprint identification. (Perhaps the defendant would have better served by offering an innocent explanation for the presence of his prints.) The defense attorney also put his client on the stand to testify on his own behalf. The defendant told the jurors that he had purchased the .357 revolver as a gift for his wife so she could protect herself. He portrayed Jocelyn as having been distraught over their financial problems. He also said she was having trouble with the woman who was her new lover.

     The jury, a few days after listening to the defendant, after deliberating less than four hours, found him guilty of murdering his wife.

     A month following the conviction, before Earnest was sentenced, a posting on a newspaper web site revealed that the jurors had read Jocelyn's journal. The trial judge had not wanted the jury to see this evidence. The notebooks had been inadvertantly put into a box that found its way into the jury room. In July 2010, the judge declared a mistrial.

     In November 2010, in Amherst, Virginia, Earnest went on trial again for the murder of his wife. His attorney, once again, put him on the stand to claim his innocence. On cross-examination, the prosecutor got Earnest to admit that in 2006 he had forged entries into his wife's journal. When asked how he had gotten into the Pine Bluff house he had been locked out of, Earnest said he had climbed through an unlocked window. In so doing, the defendant revealed to the jury how he may have entered the house to murder his wife. The second jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

     In December 2012, a three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction and life sentence for Wesley Earnest.

     No one saw Wesley Earnest enter the Pine Bluff house and shoot his wife. No one claimed he had confided to them he had commited the crime. And he never confessed to the police. All the prosecutor had was what looked like a staged suicide, a motive, and a pair of latent prints on a suspect suicide note. But, with these two juries, the prosecution had enough evidence to convict. By comparison, the circumstantial cases against Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson were much stronger than the case against Wesley Earnest. But Anthony and Simpson got off, and Earnest didn't. While I believe the two juries in the Earnest case returned the correct verdicts, uniformity of results is not a characteristic of the American system of justice.         

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Writer Lured To Hollywood

In Rod Serling's play, Velvet Alley, a novelist in reflecting on being lured to Hollywood to write for the movies, says: "They give you a thousand dollars a week [1960s] until that's what you need to live on. And then every day you live after that, you're afraid they'll take it away from you. It's all very scientific. It's based on the psychological fact that a man is a grubbing, hungry little sleaze. It twenty-four hours you can develop a taste for caviar. In forty-eight hours fish eggs are no longer a luxury, they're a necessity."

The Jerame Reid Police-Involved Shooting Case

     Two-thirds of the residents of Bridgeton, New Jersey, a Cumberland County town of 25,000 south of Philadelphia, are either Hispanic or black. On the night of December 30, 2014, Bridgeton police officers Roger Worley and Braheme Days pulled over a Jaguar for running a stop sign. Officer Worley, the white officer, was behind the wheel of the patrol car.

     Officer Days, the black officer, approached the passenger side of the Jaguar and asked the two men in the car how they were doing. The passenger, 30-year-old Jerame Reid, said, "Good, how you doing, officer?"

     A few months earlier, officer Days had arrested Jerame Reid for possession of drugs. As a teenager, Reid had been convicted of shooting at police officers. The judge sent him to prison for twelve years.

     A few seconds after approaching the Jaguar, officer Days spotted a handgun in the glove compartment. He said, "Don't move! Show me your hands!"

     On the other side of the vehicle, officer Worley pointed his gun at the driver, Leroy Tutt. Mr. Tutt sat in the driver's seat with his hands sticking out of the car door window where they could be seen. Officer Worley called for backup.

     Officer Days reached into the Jaguar and removed a silver handgun from the glove box. To the vehicle's occupants he said, "You reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     One of the men in the stopped car said, "I got no reason to reach for nothing." Again officer Days warned, "Hey Jerame, you reach for something you're going to be (expletive) dead!"

     As Jerame Reid opened the front passenger door, he said, "I'm getting out of the car." By now officer Worley had joined officer Days on that side of the vehicle. Both officers had their guns drawn. Reid climbed out of the vehicle, and when he stood up, his hands were raised to the level of his chest in the officers' plain view.

     A few seconds after Jerame Reid exited the Jaguar, officer Days shot him. Officer Worley also fired his gun but missed his target.  The shot man collapsed to the ground and died on the spot. He did not possess a firearm.

     The entire police-involved shooting incident was caught on the officers' dashboard camera. The chief of police placed both officers on administrative leave and turned the case over to the Cumberland County prosecutor's office.

     Shortly after receiving the case, Cumberland County prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae recused herself from the inquiry because she had personal ties to officer Days. First Assistant prosecutor Harold Shapiro took over the investigation.

     Critics of the way the authorities handled the case called for either a special prosecutor or an intervention by the state attorney general's office. Protestors, notwithstanding the fact that Jerame Reid and the officer who shot him were black, claimed racism.

    In February 2015, three months after Reid's death, a local newspaper reported that in 2011, Jerame Reid had filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the Cumberland County Department of Corrections, Warden Robert Balicki, and three corrections officers. Reid claimed the jail guards assaulted him in October 2009. According to Reid, the officers, without provocation or justification, repeatedly punched, kicked and pepper sprayed his face then threw a bucket of water on him as he lay on the cell floor.

     As a result of the beating, Reid said he suffered broken ribs and a fractured left orbital bone that left him without sensation and nerve damage to his lips and cheek area. According to court documents, the encounter began after Reid confronted another inmate over stolen belongings. The accused inmate told correction officers that Reid possessed a sharp object.

     Responding jail guards handcuffed Reid and placed him into another cell. According to the plaintiff, after he made a comment to one of the officers, they gave him the beating. (The officers alleged that Reid threw the first punch.)

     Reid's lawyer, in court documents, said the corrections officers, after an internal investigation, were disciplined for not filing a use of force report. The matter was not referred to the local prosecutor's office for investigation.

     As a result of the plaintiff's death, the lawsuit against the county and the others was dismissed.

     After a federal prosecutor decided not to pursue the shooting incident against the officers, the case, in April 2016, went before a local grand jury. The grand jurors declined to indict either officer. In July 2016, members of Reid's family settled a federal lawsuit against the police department for an undisclosed amount. Case closed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Mystery Of Advanced Math And Intellectual Superiority

For me, math is adding, subtracting, multiplying, fractions, and percentages. Beyond that, math is a mystery I was never able to solve. Maybe that's because I'm not smart enough to figure out the clues. I'll  have to live with knowing there's a universe of knowledge out there beyond me. Does that make me feel inferior? Hell yes. On a good day, if I stretch intellectually, I can touch the bottom of mediocrity. The thing is though, having great self-worth is the worst thing for a novelist. I guess that's why I'm a fairly good crime writer. Anyway, I don't think I have the personality for brain excellence. Being intellectually excellent is a burden I don't have to carry.

Thornton P. Knowles

John Hinckley Jr.: How To Shoot a U. S. President And Three Others And End Up Living The Good Life

     Most Americans are uncomfortable with the criminal law doctrine that if you kill or try to kill someone in the throes of mental illness you should not be punished, but instead be treated and cured of the ailment that caused your deviant behavior. Criminal defense attorneys realize that the not guilty by reason of insanity plea is a tough sell. Juries just don't buy it. But occasionally there are exceptions to this criminal justice aversion. Take the case of John Hinckley, Jr. Although it is hard to believe, Mr. Hinckley tried to kill the president of the United States and did not go to prison. Most people think that even considering the release of this would-be-assassin back into society is a notion more insane than John Hinckley himself.

     John Hinckley Jr., at 2:27 in the afternoon of March 30, 1981, shot President Ronald Reagan in the chest and lower right arm with a six-shot, .22-caliber revolver. The president was leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The 25-year-old shooter also wounded White House press secretary James Brady and two others in the presidential party. All of the victims survived, but Mr. Brady was paralyzed for life.

     At his trial in federal court, Hinckley's attorneys pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the defense, Hinckley had been obsessed with the film actress Jodi Foster who had played the role of a 12-year-old prostitute in the movie "Taxi Driver." Hinckley had seen the film fifteen times and had written Foster several fan letters. In the movie, New York City cab driver Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro, attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senator who was running for president. Hinckley claimed to have shot the president and the others in an attempt to gain favor with the young actress.

    At the trial, a battery of defense psychiatrists testified that John Hinckley, a man who suffered from psychosis and severe depression, also possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. Notwithstanding the fact the defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he shot the president and the others, and knew that what he was doing was wrong, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. If that wasn't bad enough, the verdict left open the possibility that Hinckley could one day live outside a mental institution.

     Over the next 34 years, Mr. Hinckley spent most of his time at St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 2006, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Hinckley could spend three days a month at his mother Jo Ann's house in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over time, this judge allowed Hinckley more time outside the hospital in the company of his mother at her luxury home overlooking the 13th hole of an exclusive golf course. Federal prosecutors, at each of these sentencing hearings, fought against granting Hinckley more freedom.

     In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, against the strenuous objects of prosecutors, granted Mr. Hinckley the right to live with his mother, now 88-years-old, 17 days out of every month. The judge allowed this freedom after psychiatrists testified that Hinckley's psychosis and depression had been in remission for decades. The doctors did concede that Hinckley still possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. (In the D.C. area, throw a stick and it will hit nine people with the same disorder.) As a condition of his expanded freedom, Mr. Hinckley was required to check in regularly with his doctors and to keep taking his medication.

     Judge Friedman, pursuant to the Hinckley ruling, urged President Reagan's shooter to take music therapy classes and to do volunteer work at a local hospital.

     From all appearances, John Hinckley had it pretty good. When in Williamsburg he drove around in a Toyota Avalon, went to the movies, ate out, took long walks, shopped, played his guitar, and painted. Because he did not receive Social Security or Medicare benefits, Hinckley's out of hospital expenses were picked up by his family and amounted to between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. This did not seem to be a horrible existence for a man who had knowingly tried to kill the president of the United States.

     On April 22, 2015, Hinckley's tireless attorneys and their psychiatrists were back in federal court to gain even more freedom for their client. At the hearing, doctors from St. Elizabeths urged the judge to allow Hinckley to move out of the psychiatric facility permanently. Barry Levine, Hinckley's principal lawyer, told the court that his client had not shown "a hint of dangerous behavior."

     On the third day of the Hinckley hearing, Dr. Giogi-Guarnieri, one of Hinckley's psychiatrists, testified that the presidential shooter wanted to start a band and desired to publish his music anonymously. Mr. Hinckley, however, did not want to perform publicly. According to Dr. Giorgi-Guarnieri, Mr. Hinckley also wanted to start dating a girl he met at a National Association for the Mentally Ill meeting.

     Federal Judge Paul Friedman, on July 27, 2016, ruled that Hinckley will begin his permanent "convalescent leave" on August 5, 2016.  Hinckley now lives full-time with his mother in Virginia. 

Thornton P. Knowles On America As a Nation of "Heroes."

America is a nation of "heroes." There are tens of thousands of them. Television news readers and commentators often refer to all military personnel, law enforcement officers, and firefighters as heroes. There are, of course, true war heroes, brave cops, and heroic firefighters. But all of them? If everybody is a hero, then no one is. In the fields of education, literature, science, business, law, and medicine, there are real heroes, but we seldom hear of them. I guess there are even political heroes, but at the moment, I can't think of any.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Birth of Modern U. S. Policing

     The major revolution in American police history occurred when the historic fears of a militaristic police force were replaced by concern over daytime disorder. It was not until the mid-1840s that Americans abandoned the constable-night-watch for a police department which emphasized preventative patrolling during the day as well as at night. American cities were then experiencing a tremendous population increase....Large numbers of people who did not know how to live in congested places were flooding to the city. If they were from European cities, they interjected a foreignness into the American city which was not appreciated. Homogeneity was lost and new forms of control--proper public constraints on demeanor and behavior--needed to be enforced in the daytime.

     Police arrest reports in the late 1854 and early 1855 indicate that such offenses as drunkenness, disorderly conduct, fighting, and resisting police made up the major police problem. The old constable-detectives were too few in number for such a task, and the quest for an urban discipline inspired the creation of the modern police in the 1840s and 1850s.

Frank Thomas Morn, Pioneers in Policing, 1977

Monday, January 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On B. Traven's Concept Of Anonymous Authorship

B. Traven, the pen name of the mysterious author of dozens of novels--notably, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre--believed that all books should be published anonymously. He based this belief on the notion that readers, by knowing in advance who the author is, will expect and demand a certain kind of book. Since writing for publication is an ego-driven activity, it's not surprising that authors would be vehemently against the idea. Most readers would be as well. Once a reader finds an author or authors they like, they are usually hesitant to try anyone new.

Thornton P. Knowles 

The Sudden and Strange Death of FBI Agent Stephen Ivens

     At eight o'clock Monday evening, July 30, 2012, a pair of hikers walking in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California came upon a foul odor. In the brush behind St. Francis of Xavier Catholic Church, they discovered the skeletal remains of a man. The initial investigation by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office indicates that the hikers had stumbled upon Stephen Ivens. Near his body death scene investigators recovered a handgun.

     Stephen Ivens, a 35-year-old FBI agent assigned to the Los Angeles Field Division, had been missing since he walked away from his Burbank home on the morning of May 11, 2012. Blood hounds had traced his scent to the Verdugo Mountains where a search party of FBI agents, local police, and volunteers had looked for him.

     A married father of a 2-year-old son, Ivens had been an FBI agent a little more than three years. Before going into the bureau he had been a Los Angeles police officer. The white, 6 foot, 160 pound bespectacled agent had worked on counterterrorism cases. Because his FBI-issued revolver had been taken from the house, Ivens was presumed armed when he walked off that morning.

     According to the agent's wife Thea, Special Agent Ivens had been depressed and distraught which led many to suspect he left the house that morning with the intent of killing himself. But the fact he was an FBI agent who worked on counterterrorism matters also led to speculation of international intrigue and foul play.

     A few weeks after his disappearance, the authorities stopped looking for Ivens, and the media ignored the case. This added fuel to the possibility of foul play, and a government cover-up. After Ivens' body was found behind the church one and a half miles from his home, questions regarding the reasons behind his disappearance went unanswered. The big mystery involved whether or not Ivens' death--suicide or otherwise--was related to his counterterrorism work. According to Ivens' wife, he had been depressed to the point of a breakdown. The source of his distress, while related to his FBI job, was not caused by his counterterrorism assignment. He couldn't sleep, and before leaving for work each morning, suffered anxiety attacks. The exact source of his stress was not made public.

     Ivens' wife Thea, who never gave up hope that he was alive, continued searching for him after the authorities had given up. During his 80-day disappearance, she maintained a blog and a website devoted to his return.

     Because Ivens' remains were found just three-quarters of a mile from where the cadaver dogs had picked-up his scent, conspiracy theorists interpreted this fact as evidence that he had been murdered somewhere else, then placed behind the church where he could be easily found. People invested in this scenario disregarded a Burbank police officer's comment that "Every indication is that he [Ivens] has been there from the first day."

     On August 6, 2012, Craig Harvey, the Chief Coroner Investigator with the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office announced that Stephen Ivens had shot himself in the head with a handgun. The death had been ruled a suicide. The authorities revealed that the FBI agent had been despondent, but didn't say why.

     While FBI agents don't disappear everyday and stay missing for 80 days, the national media didn't show much interest in the Stephen Ivens case. Even the media in southern California didn't give the story a lot of attention. If Ivens had been even a minor celebrity, particularly someone in the entertainment industry, the media would have been all over his disappearance. There would have been daily press conferences, a three-page feature in People Magazine, headlines in the supermarket tabloids, and candlelight vigils attended by an army of fans. (Ivens' wife did stage one candlelight vigil in McCambridge Park to raise awareness of the case.)  So-called celebrity investigative journalists would have dug into every corner of Ivens' life. At this point, there wouldn't be much not known about the man, his marriage, his work, and why he left home.

     The mystery and controversy surrounding this case will only grow with time. The fact the media was so disinterested will add fuel to speculation of foul play.