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Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunando Sen: Two NYC Subway Murders in One Month

     New York City, compared to urban murder centers like Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., is a relatively safe place to live. In Chicago, with 500 criminal homicides so far this year, residents of that city were 3.7 times more likely to be homicide victims than New Yorkers. In 2012, New York was the site of 414 criminal homicides, a 19 percent decrease over 2011. This will mark the lowest number of homicides in New York City in 40 years. In 1990, with 2,262 homicides, the city was five times more dangerous than it is today. But even in the Big Apple, murder can raise its ugly head anytime, and in places that are normally safe. These unexpected, high-profile cases, particularly if they suggest a dangerous trend, create a degree of pubic fear out of proportion to the low risk of victimization.

     On Thursday morning, December 27, 2012, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, 46-year-old Sunando Sen stood on the elevated platform at the subway stop at Queens Boulevard and 40th Street. Mr. Sen, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Calcutta, India twenty years ago, was on his way to work. Six months earlier, Sen had started the New Amsterdam Printing Company, a small copying shop located on Manhattan's upper west side. Mr. Sen resided with three roommates in a small apartment in Elmhurst, Queens.

     As Sunando Sen waited for the Flushing-bound No. 7 train, a heavyset Hispanic woman in her late 20s paced the subway platform behind him. This woman, wearing a blue, white, and gray ski jacket and Nike sneakers, was mumbling to herself. She took a seat on a wooden bench near the north end of the platform, then, as the train rolled into the station, rushed up to Mr. Sen, and from behind, pushed him off the platform onto the tracks below.

     When the train ground to a stop, Mr. Sen's crushed body was pinned under the second subway car. His sudden, violent death had come out of nowhere, a reality that makes this kind of murder so frightening. Nobody is safe from that kind of bad luck.

     After pushing Mr. Sen in front of the train, the woman ran up the subway station stairway onto Queens Boulevard where she disappeared into the crowd. In addition to descriptions provided by at least five eyewitnesses, detectives had access to grainy, black and white images of the suspect from a surveillance camera positioned at the top of the subway stairway.

     Two days after the murder, on December 29, New York City detectives arrested  31-year-old Erika Menendez who said she pushed Mr. Sen to his death because she thought he was a Muslim. Menendez has been charged with murder as a hate crime which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. According the the New York District Attorney's Office, Menendez said this to her police interrogators: "I pushed a Muslim off the train [platform] because I hate Hindus and Muslim ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers. I've been beating them up."

     Erika Menendez and her victim had never met. She had killed a total stranger, a mild-mannered, hardworking man who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

     New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a moment of uncharacteristic political candor, admitted that there is nothing anyone can do to prevent mentally ill people from pushing innocent victims in front of subway trains. We have to have the trains, and there is no way to keep crazy people off the street. If you throw a ball into a group of fifteen or more people, it will bounce off at least two individuals suffering from some kind of serious mental illness. Moreover, one of those persons will be off his medication. Since most mentally ill people do not walk around in baby steps talking to themselves, it's not always possible to spot and avoid them. Nobody really knows how many out of control meth users and paranoid schizophrenics off their medication are wandering around our big city streets. Also unknown is how many of these people are capable of murder.

     On December 30, 2012, a 30-year-old mentally ill street vendor named Naemm Davis pushed Ki-Suck Han in front of a train at the Times Square Station in mid-town Manhattan. Davis has been charged with second degree murder. His attorney is claiming that Davis acted in self-defense. The 58-year-old victim had a wife and a daughter, and lived in Queens. He and Davis didn't know each other, but had argued after Mr. Han asked Davis to stop frightening other subway patrons. At the time of his death, Mr. Han had been drinking vodka.

UPDATE

     Since 2005, police officers have been called to Erika Menendezs' home five times on reports of a mentally disturbed person behaving violently. On one of these occasions she threw a radio at a police officer. In 2003, police arrested her for punching a 28-year-old man in the face. He had been a visitor in her family's home. That case was dismissed when the victim dropped the charges. Later that year Menendez assaulted a stranger on the street near her house. As she punched and clawed him in the face, she accused the victim of having sex with her mother. According to members of her family, the mentally ill woman becomes violent when she stops taking her anti-psychotic medication. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crime Takes a Christmas Day Break

     Merry Christmas to everyone. Thank you for visiting my blog. I will resume posting true crime stories and comments tomorrow. It has been a pleasure and honor writing for you.
Best,
Jim

Friday, December 21, 2012

Daniel Wozniak: A Bad Actor in a Double Murder Case

     Daniel P. Wozniak and his fiancee Rachel Buffett lived in the Camden Martinique apartment complex in Costa Mesa, an Orange County town of 120,000 located 37 miles south of Los Angeles. Wozniak was active in community theater, and Buffett, a 23-year-old aspiring actress, had played princess roles at Disneyland. On a few occasions, the couple had performed together in dramatic plays and musicals in and around Orange County.

     Daniel Wozniak had a problem. The 26-year-old was not only broke, he owned money to everyone he knew. On May 22, 2010, four days before his wedding, Wozniak decided to murder Samuel Herr, another community theater actor who lived in the Camden Martinique apartment complex. It was Wozniak's understanding that Herr, a 26-year-old Army combat veteran who had served in Afghanistan, had $50,000 in the bank. After killing the actor whom he owed $500, Wozniak planned to use the dead man's ATM card to withdrawal cash from his bank in $400 increments over a period of months. Wozniak had decided to murder Sam Herr at the Liberty Community Theater located on the Joint Forces Military Training Base in Los Alamitos.

     On May 23, 2010, on the pretense he needed help moving boxes, Wozniak lured his intended victim to the theater. The two young actors were in the theater attic when, as Herr bent over to pick up a box, Wozniak shot him in the back of the head with a .38-caliber revolver. The combat veteran fell to his knees and looked up at Wozniak and said, "I have just been--something happened. I just got electrocuted." Wozniak pulled the trigger again, but the gun jammed. After fixing the problem, Wozniak fired another bullet into his victim's head.

     Wozniak left the theater in possession of Herr's cellphone, wallet, and ATM card. Before he reaped the monetary benefits of Herr's murder, there was another person Wozniak had to kill. Once he dispatched his second victim, he would return to the theater and deal with Herr's corpse.

     Daniel Wozniak intended to kill Juri "Julie" Kibuishi, a 23-yar-old fellow community actor who lived in the Camden Martinique complex. He'd murder Kibuishi in Sam Herr's apartment, and stage the crime in a way to make homicide investigators think that Herr, Julie Kibuishi, and the dead woman's boyfriend had been involved in a love triangle. Wozniak figured that detectives would think the boyfriend, having caught Kibuishi with Herr, had murdered them both, then disposed of Herr's body. (I think it was Truman Capote who said that the most talented actors were also the most stupid. If this is true, then Daniel Wozniak must have been one talented actor.)

     Using Herr's cellphone, Wozniak sent Julie Kibuishi a text message asking her to come to the murdered actor's apartment. Shortly after Kibuishi showed up as requested, Wozniak shot her twice in the back of the head. The cold-blooded killer removed her clothing, and posed her in a kneeling position with her head resting on Herr's bed. With a felt-tip pen, Wozniak wrote: "All yours, f--- you" on Kibuiski's sweater.

     The next day, May 23, 2010, Wozniak returned to the military base and the Liberty Theater where, in the attic, he used an ax and a saw to cut off Herr's head and both of his hands. Leaving the torso in the theater, Wozniak drove to El Dorado Park in Long Beach where he disposed of the victim's head and hands. Wozniak stupidly thought that by doing this, he had made the dismembered corpse in the attic unidentifiable.

     Later that day, Wozniak met with a 17-year-old boy he knew from the local acting community. Wozniak, once again revealing his stupendous lack of intelligence, gave the teenager Herr's debit card and talked him into using it at various ATM locations. (I presume Wozniak promised the kid a small piece of the action.)

     Homicide detectives with the Costa Mesa Police Department investigating Julie Kibushi's murder and the disappearance of Sam Herr, began monitoring Herr's bank card activity. They began staking out an ATM location at a pizza parlor in Long Beach where the card had been used several times. Three days after the murders, detectives confronted the 17-year-old after he made a withdrawal. The kid said he had pulled a total of $2,000 from the account, money he had turned over to Daniel Wozniak.

     On the eve of Wozniak's wedding, May 25, police arrested him at a place in Huntington Beach called Tsunami where his brother was hosting his bachelor's party. At the police station the next day, Wozniak told his interrogators that "I killed Sam first, and then I killed Julie." Wozniak also led detectives to the spot in El Dorado Park where he had dumped Herr's body parts. Officers went to the Liberty Theater where they recovered the rest of Sam Herr's remains.

     An Orange County prosecutor charged Daniel Wozniak with two counts of first degree murder. The prosecutor indicated an intention to seek the death penalty in the case. Wozniak is being held in the Orange County Jail without bond.

     On November 20, 2012, more than two years after the double murder, Costa Mesa detectives arrested Wozniak's 38-year-old brother Timothy on the related charge of accessory after the fact. The police also arrested Wozniak's former fiancee, Rachel Buffett on the same charge. According to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, Buffett had fabricated a story about Sam Herr intended to mislead detectives and throw suspicion off Wozniak. After spending several days behind bars, Buffett made bail. If convicted, she could be sent to prison for up to 44 months. According the the 25-year-old aspiring actress, she had no idea her fiancee had murdered Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

   

        

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ka Pasasouk: Quadruple Murder in Northridge by a Man Who Should Have Been in Prison

     In Los Angeles, Ka Pasasouk began using drugs, assaulting people, and stealing things years before his first criminal conviction as a 23-year-old in 2004. The husky, heavily tattooed street criminal was sent to state prison that year for auto-theft. After serving a few months behind bars, Pasasouk, in 2006, was back in prison after being convicted of robbery and the crime of assault likely to produce great bodily injury. In 2010, after being out of prison for more than a year, a judge sentenced Pasasouk to three years for stealing cars. On January 18, 2012, after being placed under the supervision of the Los Angeles Probation Department, Pasasouk was back on the street living his life of methamphetamine, violence, and theft.

     On September 19, 2012, Ka Pasasouk pleaded no contest to the possession of meth in a Van Nuys Superior Court before Judge Jessica Silvers. Fateema Johnson, a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office had accepted the plea in return for Pasasouk's promise to enter a county drug rehabilitation program pursuant to a recent voter approved ballot measure called Proposition 36. The goal of this program involved sending nonviolent drug offenders into rehab instead of prison. Since Pasasouk was a violent, habitual criminal, he was not the kind of person California voters had in mind when they approved this measure.

     At the September 2012 hearing in Van Nuys, a member of the Los Angeles County Probation Department  objected strongly to the terms of Pasasouk's plea arrangement. The probation officer pointed out that Pasasouk had not checked in with his probation agent since January. Moreover, according to a report submitted to Judge Silvers by the probation department: "The defendant is an ineligible and unsuitable candidate for continued community supervision. It is recommended that probation be denied, and that the defendant be sentenced to state prison."

     Judge Jessica Silvers, on the recommendation of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, handed down suspended sentence on the meth possession case, placed Ka Pasasouk back under the supervision of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, and ordered him to enter the drug rehabilitation program.

     Pasasouk, who had no intention of entering a drug program, didn't even bother to check in with his probation agent. In November 2012, when Pasasouk failed to appear in her courtroom to show proof that he was making drug rehabilitation progress, Judge Silvers issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

     At four-thirty Sunday morning, December 2, 2012, Ka Pasasouk and three associates--two women and one man--were outside a rundown, unlicensed boarding house in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Northridge in the San Fernando Valley. Pasasouk and his companions were yelling at four people--two men and two women--with whom they had some kind of property dispute. Pasasouk, who was holding these people at gunpoint, suddenly shot and killed all four of them.

     Following the quadruple murder, Pasasouk and his accomplices drove to Las Vegas in a black Audi. That night, the police in Las Vegas spotted the car parked at the Silverton Hotel & Casino. Following an all-night surveillance while the arrest warrants were being prepared in Los Angeles, the police took Pasasouk and the others into custody. They are currently being held in the Clark County Jail.

     A week after the arrests in Las Vegas, a spokesperson with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office admitted that Ka Pasasouk should not have been placed on probation following his meth arrest. In recommending the drug rehabilitation program instead of prison, the DA's office had made a terrible mistake.

     Had Pasasouk been sentenced to prison in Jaunuary 2012 instead of being placed on probation, he would have served his sentence and been out on the street prior to December 1, the date of the murders. However, had the judge in 2010 given him a stiffer sentence, Pasasouk would not have murdered the four people in Northridge. The problem in California is that the state is broke, and the prisons are overcrowded. As a result, people like Ka Pasasouk are free to walk the streets. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Josh Brent and Jovan Belcher: NFL Players, Their Crimes, The Media and The Law

    The number of people killed by intoxicated drivers has been on the decline for a decade. Since the FBI doesn't keep track of this kind of killing specifically, we don't know how many drunk drivers are convicted of homicide. Every year, 16,000 people are killed in alcohol and drug related traffic accidents, but a certain percentage of those killed are the drivers themselves.

     Under state law, an intoxicated driver who causes a fatal traffic accident is guilty of an unintentional criminal homicide called, depending on the jurisdiction, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or vehicular manslaughter. Defendants convicted of this lesser degree of homicide usually receive sentences that range from five to fifteen years in prison. The severity of punishment in these cases depends upon the driver's DUI history, the degree of intoxication, and the recklessness of the driving. Over the years, however, judges have become increasingly less lenient in vehicular homicide convictions.

     Every year, the police in the United States make about 1.5 million DUI arrests, and unless they pull over someone like Lindsay Lohan, these events are not newsworthy. The same is true for the vast majority of vehicular homicide cases which receive minor coverage in the local press and on television news. However, when a drunk driving fatality involves several children, an entire family, or a car full of teenagers, the media pays more attention, but they are still local news events.

     In the early morning hours of December 8, 2012, near the southern California town of Victorville, a man named Ilich Ernesto Vargas, while driving the wrong way on I-15, crashed head-on into another vehicle. The 28-year-old driver of the other car, David Ahmed of Fort Irwin, received minor injuries. But the accident took the life of Vargas' passenger, 50-year-old Kellie Sue Hughes. The California Highway Patrol officer who took the drug-crazed Vargas into custody at the scene, had to employ his taser. Vargas had broken a leg in the crash.

     The fatal traffic accident on I-15 that has all the signs of a vehicular homicide case, generated two paragraphs in the Los Angeles Times, and mention the next day on local television news. To date there has been no follow-up on this story by the Los Angeles media.

     On the morning Ilich Vargas crashed his car and killed his passenger in southern California, Josh Brent flipped his Mercedes and killed his passenger in Dallas, Texas. While the police in both fatal traffic accidents suspected that the drivers were intoxicated, and therefore potential vehicular homicide defendants, the crash in Dallas has attracted the attention of the national media. The Dallas case is big news because the driver, Josh Brent, plays football for the Dallas Cowboys. The fact that his 25-year-old passenger, Jerry Brown, was a teammate, makes the story even more media significant, particularly in the wake of the recent murder-suicide involving Jovan Belcher, an NFL player for the Kansas City Chiefs.

     As a potential vehicular homicide case, there is nothing in the Brent accident that sets it apart from all the other fatalities beyond the identities of the driver and his dead passenger. From the standpoint of the victims' families in these cases, all of these accidents are tragic. And to varying degrees, these fatalities ruin the lives of the intoxicated drivers. But this isn't enough by itself to make these events newsworthy. In the Josh Brent case, the added ingredient is sports. It's really a sports story.

     It should come as no surprise that in a country where a single NFL football game generates three times more media attention than the typical crime, weather, political, war, or business related story, that Josh Brent's status as a professional football player has made his situation so important. Print journalists and cable TV correspondents, as well as sports broadcasters and pundits, have gone on and on about the effect of the tragedy on the other players, and of course, the team. There have also been media discussions about how to combat substance abuse among our professional athletes.

     Correspondents and reporters in the news and sports media are using the Josh Brent case and the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide as a jumping off point for long, detailed essays on the possible effects of head trauma in the NFL. Has the sport of football become too violent? (Most fans would say yes, that's exactly how we like it.) Is football responsible for player depression, off-the-field domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and murder? If it is, what can we do about it?

     In American culture, professional athletes are special people, and as such, are treated differently than ordinary citizens. Their problems are our problems, indeed, our responsibility. Prior to the intense media coverage of their tragedies, you probably never heard of Josh Brent, Jerry Brown, or Jovan Belcher. Had these men not been professional football players, you still wouldn't know their names.

     While we are, in theory at least, all equal under the law, we are not equal under the glare of the media. This may not be a good thing for Josh Brent. The magistrate in his case set his bail at $500,000, ten times higher than what is normal in cases like this. If Josh Brent is convicted of vehicular homicide (I image he will plead guilty), the judge might take advantage of his celebrity to make an example out of him. It that happens, we are not equal under the law either.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jerry Sandusky Complains About Prison Conditions, Lost Pension

     On December 7, 2012, a corrections officer at the Blair County Jail in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania near Altoona, found 62-year-old Aaron Dishong hanging dead in his suicide-prvention cell. In November, Dishong, in an effort to murder his ex-girlfriend, had set a house on fire that killed a 3-year-old boy instead. Apparently Dishong's intense remorse over the boy's death led to his suicide.

     When reading about the suicide of a man who had done a terrible thing, my mind jumped to Jerry Sandusky, another Pennsylvania inmate who for decades did terrible things to dozens of young boys. The former Penn State football coach, convicted in June 2012 of sexually molesting ten children, is serving a thirty to sixty year sentence at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania east of Pittsburgh.

     Because Jerry Sandusky is a sociopath who deep in his heart doesn't believe pedophilia is wrong, and that he's therefore a victim of a corrupt criminal justice system, the thought of suicide would not cross his mind until all hope was lost. And even then, it is unlikely he would give his victims and others the satisfaction of his death.

     Instead of sitting in his cell feeling guilty about the lives he has directly and indirectly ruined, the 68-year-old pedophile is defiant, and combative. He and his lawyers are currently discussing his post-conviction sentencing motions and appeals. (For example, Sandusky blames his trial attorney for his conviction. He believes that had he taken the stand on his own behalf he could have convinced the jurors of his innocence. In reality, he hadn't been able to convince sports broadcaster Bob Costas that he wasn't a child molester. A typical sociopath, Sandusky has no insight into his own repulsiveness.)

     Karl Rominger, one of Sandusky's post-trial attorneys, in speaking to an Associated Press reporter recently, said, "I was meeting with a man [Sandusky] who was ready to press forward, who has regenerated his energies and has clearly devoted his time and energy to perfecting that appeal. His fight is 100 percent back." Really? Is this supposed to make us feel better? Are we supposed to say, "Yea Jerry!" Forgive me, but I would rather be reading a story about Jerry Sandusky's prison suicide than his resurgence as a sociopathic pain in the ass.

     On November 21, 2012, attorney Charles Benjamin wrote a letter on Sandusky's behalf to the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) appealing the forfeiture of his client's $59,000 a year pension. "We trust," the lawyer wrote, "that SERS, upon further reflection, will agree that no legal basis exists for forfeiture of Mr. Sandusky's vested retirement benefits." When Sandusky retired in 1999, he collected a $148,000 lump sum benefit. By September 2012, when the state cut off his benefits, Sandusky had received a total of $900,000 in pension payments. Under Sandusky's circumstances, most pensioners would leave well enough alone. But Jerry Sandusky is not like most people. He's a sociopath and sociopaths feel entitled, no matter what. Who cares about his "vested interest?" His victims have a vested interest in his misery.

     Jerry Sandusky not only wants to keep the state pension money rolling in, he is not happy with his living conditions at the state prison. Because of the nature of his crimes, and his high profile inmate status, prison officials are holding Sandusky in protective custody. This means he is alone in his cell 23 hours a day during the week, and locked in his cell around the clock on weekends. The prisoner is allowed two phone calls a month, and has been issued a television set.

     In speaking about Jerry Sandusky's living hell in Greene County, Pennsylvania, attorney Rominger said this: "It's a tough life. And I know some people in the public will say, 'who cares?' " Well Mr. Rominger, you took the words right out of my mouth.         

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Actor Sherman Hemsley's Disputed Will and Delayed Burial

     Born in 1938, Sherman Alexander Hemsley studied acting as an adolescent at the Philadelphia Academy of Dramatic Arts. He served four years in the Air Force, and worked eight years as a postal clerk while acting in New York City workshops and theater companies. In 1973, Hemsley became a regular on the popular television sitcom, "All in The Family." Two years later, he began starring as George Jefferson in the spin-off show, "The Jeffersons." In that sitcom, Hemsley played the role of a feisty, bigoted owner of a dry cleaning chain. In his later years, the actor retired and took up residence in El Paso, Texas.

     The 74-year-old actor, on July 24, 2012, died from complications related to lung cancer. At the time of his death he had been scheduled for radiation and chemotherapy treatment. Had Mr. Hemsley died in California, because he was a celebrity, his body would have been autopsied pursuant to state law. Since there was no reason to think that Hemsley's manner of his death was anything but natural, the authorities in Texas did not arrange an autopsy.

     According to Mr. Hemsley's last will and testament, his entire estate, valued at $50,000, would pass to Flora Enchinton Bernal, his live-in friend and manager. But when two people came forward to challenge the disposition of Mr. Hemley's assets, Bernal could not proceed with his funeral and burial. As a result, his remains were put on hold at the San Jose Funeral Home in El Paso. Probate battles are not uncommon, particularly following the deaths of wealthy people. However, due to the size of Mr. Hemsley's estate, one would not have predicted such a challenge.

     The first person to challenge the Hemsley will and claim the dead actor's estate was the deceased's half-brother and former manager, Richard Thornton. In his probate petition, the resident of Philadelphia questioned the will's authenticity by casting doubt on Hemsley's signature that "looked like a tracing." (I don't know if this was the opinion of a qualified forensic document examiner or Tornton's.)

     The second challenger to enter the probate battle was Hemsley's cousin, Reverend Michael George Wells, the minister at Philadelphia's Arch Street United Methodist Church. On August 16, 2012, Reverend Wells officiated at a memorial service held for his cousin at the Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Philadelphia.

     By October 2012, because of the probate challenges, Sherman Hemsley's body had still not been buried. Probate court judge Patricia Chew scheduled a hearing for November 9, 2012 to resolve the dispute.

     A few weeks before the hearing, Reverend Wells, in speaking to a reporter with the El Paso Times, pointed out that Flora Bernal, the beneficiary, had not been on good terms with the deceased actor. When the reporter asked the reverend why he was going to such lengths over such a tiny estate, Reverend Wells said he believed Hemsley's estate was much larger than $50,000. "We are family," he said, "and we are not looking for money. But if we are entitled to something, we don't want anyone else to have it."

     As the probate hearing grew near, Reverend Michael Wells continued to wage his probate battle in public. To a Fox News correspondent he said, "What the media needs to know is that Sherman Hemsley's body being in the refrigerator for this amount of time is unnecessary and uncalled for. He could have been buried with his family within a week or ten days of his passing. His will...was found seven days after he died. No one reached out to me, my mother, or any person with a relationship to Sherman. In the beginning they said he died of natural causes. Then it came out he had cancer. [Cancer is a natural manner of death.] We have no knowledge of the doctors, hospitals, no one talked to us about his cancer....[Flora Bernal] knows my family, this is what perplexes me. I called there on June 1, and why did she not tell me Sherman was dying of cancer? There needs to be an investigation."

     On November 9, 2012, Judge Chew ruled that Sherman Hemsley's last will and testament was valid. That put an end to the probate challenges. On November 21, following a service at the Cielo Vista Church in El Paso, Mr. Hemsley was buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery.

     You can choose who to put in your will, but, as they say, you can't choose your relatives.     

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New York City Subway Murder: Naemm Davis Pushes Ki-Suck Han in Front of Train

     At 12:30 PM on Monday, December 3, 2012, 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han stood with other New Yorkers waiting for their trains at the Times Square subway station at 49th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Mr. Han, who was currently unemployed, had once owned a midtown dry cleaning business. He had come into Manhattan from his home in Queens to renew his Korean passport. That day, Naemm Davis, a 30-year-old homeless man wandered about the platform above the tracks mumbling to himself, and alarming some of the subway travelers. Mr. Han (who reportedly had been drinking), asked Davis to stop bothering the other people. The two men exchanged angry words, and following a brief scuffle, Davis threw Mr. Han off the subway platform onto the tracks below.

     Dozens of subway patron looked on as Mr. Han struggled to pull himself off the tracks and back up to the armpit-high platform. He couldn't make it, and after being on the tracks for about a minute, was hit by a southbound train that did not have time to stop. A medical student from the Beth Israel Medical Center went to Mr. Han who was face down on the tracks, and still alive. The student rolled him over and tried to save him by beating on his chest. Some of the people standing on the subway platform used  their cellphones to video Mr. Han as he lay on the tracks below. (A short time later, Ki-Suck Han died at Saint Luke's Hospital.)

     The next day, police officers arrested Naemm Davis in midtown Manhattan. While being questioned by detectives, Davis said, "He [Han] wouldn't leave me alone, so I pushed him. I saw him get hit by the train. I said to him, '[expletive], get out of my face.'"

     On Tuesday, December 4, the day of Davis' arrest, the New York Post, on its front page, published a large photograph of Mr. Han standing between the tracks and the platform wall with the back of his head to the camera as he looked toward the oncoming train. The oddly tranquil photograph, taken just moments before impact, featured the headline "DOOMED" and the caption: "Pushed on the subway track, this man is about to die." The photograph had been taken by R. Umar Abbasi, a freelance photo-journalist who just happened to be on the train platform that day. Mr. Umar sold the image to the New York Post for an undisclosed amount.

     The subway station murder, a homicide that in its own right would have created widespread fear and anger, sparked public outrage over the fact no one on the train station platform had reached down and pulled Mr. Han to safety. People also wondered why Mr. Abbasi, instead of getting a dramatic and newsworthy photograph, hadn't dropped his camera to save this man. And editors at the New York Post  were under fire for simply publishing Abbasi's picture.

     R. Umar Abbasi, against a tidal wave of criticism, tried to defend his behavior on the New York Post website. The photographer wrote that he had flashed his camera 49 times with the intent of catching the attention of the subway motorman. "I wanted to help the man," he wrote, "but I couldn't figure out how to help. It all happened so fast. I had no idea what I was shooting. I'm not even sure it was registering with me what was happening. I was just looking at that train coming." Abbasi said he didn't understand why others who were closer to the tracks didn't try to save Mr. Han.

     Media critics have taken issue with the New York Post for what they consider the unethical journalistic act of buying and publishing Mr. Abbasi's photograph of the doomed Mr. Han. A pundit named Lauren Ashburn called the act "profit-motive journalism at its worst."

     Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," a weekly TV talk show about the media, in recognizing that Mr. Han's murder comprised every subway traveler's nightmare, was less critical of The New York Post. Mr. Kutz did "wonder why the photographer's first instinct was to take pictures." To me, the answer to that question is obvious: Mr. Abbasi is a photo-journalist. He is not a police officer, firefighter, or paramedic. Mr. Abbasi is not in the business of saving lives but in the business of taking pictures. In terms of instinct, the media critic's first instinct is to complain about the media than talk about the man who threw Mr. Han in front of the train. (I think if people had more time to react, if Mr. Han had been on the tracks a little longer, someone would have pulled him to safety.)

     On Wednesday, December 5, Charen Kim, a lawyer representing Mr. Han's wife Serim, told reporters that the family had been shocked by the New York Post photograph. The family doesn't understand why no one helped Mr. Han. During the the press conference, the lawyer didn't mention Naemm Davis, the man responsible for Mr. Han's death.

     Naemm Davis is being held without bail on the charge of second degree murder. He has a history of drug related arrests in Pennsylvania and New York.

     In a December 7, 2012 jailhouse interview with a reporter with the New York Post, Naeem Davis said he had been coaxed into shoving Mr. Han off the platform by voices in his head that he couldn't control.

     At his January 15, 2013 arraignment hearing Davis pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. According to police documents, Davis told investigators that the victim had "rolled like a bowling ball" when he fell onto the subway tracks. Because Davis was seething over a comment an acquaintance had made two days earlier about his Timberland boots, his "head wasn't where it was supposed to be that day. He [Ki-Suck Han] came at the wrong time."

     At the hearing, Defense attorney Stephen Pokart argued that Han, who had started the fight, was pursing his client. Prosecutor James Lin countered by pointing out how the defendant's statements reveal that he did not feel threatened and acted out of anger and malice.

     

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dan Fredenberg Shot To Death in Brice Harper's Garage: Murder or Justified Killing?

     In 2010, in Kalispell, Montana, a town of 20,000 in the northwest corner of the state, 38-year-old Dan Fredenberg, a divorced father of two, met and started dating a 20-year-old cocktail waitress named Heather King. After Heather became pregnant with twins, she and Dan got married. The marriage didn't work out. He drank too much, they had financial problems, and he was a bit of a lady's man. The couple fought, and talked frequently of divorce.

     In June 2012, Heather informed her husband that she was having a friendly but nonsexual relationship with Brice Harper, a 24-year-old resident of Kalispell. Dan Fredenberg did not take the news very well and was understandably jealous. (He probably didn't believe the nonsexual part.) That month the two men were involved in a nonphysical confrontation at Fatt Boy's Bar & Grille in Kalispell.

     On September 22, 2012, Brice Harper called Heather Fredenberg with a request. He was moving out of town the next day and wondered if she could come to his duplex and help him clean house. Heather put her twin sons into her car and made the five minute trip to Harper's dwelling. That day, while at Harper's place, Heather and her husband exchanged angry text messages. When they spoke on the phone, Dan asked his wife if she was with Harper. She didn't answer his question so he swore at her and hung up.

     At eight-thirty that night, Heather, about to leave Harper's house, put the twins into her car. Before going home, she asked Harper to ride around the block with her. Perhaps he could determine what was making the clunking noise coming from under the hood of her car. Harper climbed into the vehicle. They hadn't traveled very far when Heather realized they were being followed by her husband. When she pulled back into Harper's driveway to drop him off, Heather suggested that he go directly into his house and lock the doors. Harper replied that he was not afraid of her husband. He also told her he owned a gun. Anticipating trouble, Heather backed out of the driveway, but did not pull away from Harper's house.

     Dan Fredenberg, who was not armed, climbed out of his car, walked up Harper's driveway and into his garage through the open door. Harper came out of his house and into his garage carrying a handgun. From a distance of a few feet, he shot Fredenberg three times.

     As Dan Fredenburg bled on the floor of Brice Harper's garage, Heather, screaming at the top of her lungs, ran to him. "Call 911," he said. Pronounced dead a short time later at the Kalispell Regional Medical Center, these had been his last words.

     Ed Corrigan, the Flathead County attorney, had to determine if under Montana's so-called "castle doctrine" (because a man's home is his "castle," he does not have to retreat from using deadly force against an intruder), Brice Harper had committed murder. Did this killer have the legal right to stand his ground against an unarmed intruder in his garage?

     In most of the twenty states that justify the killing of a home invader by the dwelling's legal occupant, the use of deadly force is an affirmative defense to criminal homicide. This means that the use of lethal force under these circumstances is presumed unjustified, placing the burden of proving this defense on the accused. (The defendant must prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, a less rigorous evidentiary standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt needed to rebut the presumption of innocence.)

     In Montana, the state legislature, in 2009, modified this self-defense doctrine by shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution. In other words, the state has to prove that the homicide defendant's actions were outside the castle doctrine. On October 9, 2012, the county attorney, in a 4-page letter to the Kalispell Police Department (the dead man's father was a retired police officer), announced his decision not to prosecute Brice Harper for criminal homicide. Prosecutor Ed Corrigan wrote that under Montana's revised statute, "you [referring to the defendant] didn't have to claim that you were afraid for your life. You just have to claim that he [the victim] was in the house illegally. [An attached garage is considered part of a dwelling.] If you think someone's going to punch you in the nose or engage in a fistfight, that's sufficient grounds to engage in lethal force."

     It is not, in my view, good jurisprudence to write a law that makes the use of deadly force, under certain circumstances, legal. There is a danger that this type of law will actually encourage violence. The better approach is to allow the use of deadly force, under clearly defined circumstances, as a homicide defense, a defense the accused has the burden of proving.

     In another state, Brice Harper would probably have been prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter on the grounds he had used excessive force against an unarmed man. In his defense, he could have argued that he felt that his life was in danger, and because the confrontation took place in his house, he didn't have to retreat. In my view, Harper may have had a difficult time convincing a jury that his life was in danger. Moreover, jurors may not have liked the fact Harper had been fooling around with the dead man's wife.
   

       

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Lindsay Lohan Crime-Wave: The Petty Offenses of a Hollywood Has-Been

     The only person more pathetic than an old Hollywood has-been is a young Hollywood has-been. Over the past five years, Lindsay Lohan has slipped from successful television actress, theatrical film star, and recording artist to a D-list celebrity whose principal claim to fame is her rap sheet. And even her arrest record is D-list. Most of her crimes involve cocaine, alcohol, driving under the influence, a bellicose personality, and a sociopath's disrespect for the law and the criminal justice system.

     Other than being rich and infamous, there is nothing about the 26-year-old that distinguishes her from your everyday, common garden variety substance abusing loser. Because she has money, Lohan is well-dressed in court, and has better legal representation than your ordinary petty offender. That is one of the reasons why, notwithstanding numerous probation violations, she has spent so little time in jail. Because the actress is such a clear reflection of America's culture of drugs, booze, narcissism, and entitlement, I would nominate Lindsay Lohan as Time magazine's upcoming Person of the Year. (Just kidding, I think.)

     In May 2007 the police arrested Lohan for driving under the influence and possession of cocaine after she lost control of her Mercedes in Beverly Hills. Two months later, in Santa Monica, Lohan got into an argument with a female motorist whom she chased in her SUV. The actress was again under the influence, and in possession of cocaine. She had also been driving with a suspended license. Later that summer, in return for pleading guilty to misdemeanor cocaine use and driving under the influence, the judge sentenced Lohan to one day in jail, ten days of community service, and three years probation during which time she had to enter an alcohol education program.

     On November 15, when it came time to serve her 24 hours behind bars at the jail in Lynwood, California, the sheriff, due to overcrowding, released her after she had endured 84 minutes in stir. (I'm surprised this experience hasn't led to a ghost-written prison memoir.)

     In October 2009, the judge who had sentenced Lohan following her cocaine and driving under the influence plea, extended her probationary period one year because she'd been too busy (attending Justin Bieber concerts and the like) to complete drunk-driving school. Six months later, after Lohan skipped a court date to attend the Cannes Film Festival, the judge issued a bench warrant for her arrest. After the police took her into custody on the bench warrant, Lohan posted the $100,000 bail and was released. She left the booking center with an alcohol-monitoring device around her ankle. According to the judge, if Lohan didn't stop boozing and snorting cocaine, he'd revoke her bail and she would be incarcerated. Lohan was also ordered to undergo, on a weekly basis, random drug and alcohol testing.

     About two weeks after being fitted with the ankle monitor, Lohan activated the device while attending a MTV Movie Awards party In response, the judge ruled that she had violated her probation. As a result, the judge raised her bail $100,000. Her bail bondsman covered the increase which allowed Lohan to remain free.

     On July 6, 2010, the judge sentenced Lohan to 90 days in jail for failing to attend her court-ordered weekly alcohol education classes. Two weeks later, Lohan showed up at the jail to begin her sentence. After 13 days behind bars, the sheriff released his famous prisoner due to facility overcrowding. In September 2010, Lohan's probation was again revoked after a random drug test revealed cocaine in her system. Instead of being sent back to jail like a common drug addict, the authorities shipped Lohan off to the Betty Ford rehabilitation facility.

     A staff worker at the Betty Ford Center, in December 2010, accused Lohan of attacking her after the staff employee asked Lohan to take a drug/alcohol test. The staffer later dropped the charges. (I wonder how much that cost.)

     In February 2011, police arrested Lohan in connection with the felony theft of a $2,500 necklace from a Venice, California jewelry store. She pleaded not guilty and made bail. A month later, the judge in Lohan's 2007 cocaine/DUI case, revoked her probation and sentenced her to 120 days in the Lynwood jail. She was also ordered to complete the 480 hours of community service. In the meantime, she pleaded guilt to the misdemeanor theft of the $2,500 necklace.

     After a few days behind bars, the sheriff, citing overcrowding, kicked Lohan out of jail again. (I don't buy the overcrowding rationale. I think jail personnel simply found housing this pain-in-the-neck celebrity too disruptive, and not worth the effort.) While Lohan served the remainder of her jail sentence under house arrest, she failed to complete the required 480 hours of community service. As a result, the judge revoked her probation again, and kicked up her bail another $100,000. (They put her bail bondsman on suicide-watch. Just kidding.)

     On March 14, 2012, the LAPD investigated Lohan for allegedly bumping a person with her car outside a Hollywood nightclub, then fleeing the scene. The LA prosecutor in charge of the matter, citing lack of evidence, dropped the case. In September, Lohan took her one-woman crime-wave to the east coast. While outside a fancy Manhattan hotel, she clipped another person with her car, then sped off. Again, no charges were filed. A month later, Lindsay and her mother Dina allegedly got into a fight at the family home on Long Island. No charges were filed in that case either.

     Police officers in New York City, on November 29, 2012, arrested Lohan on suspicion of misdemeanor battery in connection with the alleged assault of a woman at a Manhattan nightclub. The supposed victim, a psychic named Tiffany Mitchell, claimed that Lohan, after called her a "f-ing Gypsy," punched her in the face. (You would think a psychic would see the punch coming.)

     Lohan's ongoing trouble with the law might have finally caught up with her. While she was still on probation from the necklace theft, the police in Santa Monica, on the day of the alleged assault of the psychic, filed new charges against Lohan that are related to her June 2007 cocaine/DUI case. Lohan is accused of giving false information to a police officer, obstructing justice, and reckless driving. All of these offenses carry jail sentences. But if history is any guide, when it comes time to put this celebrity behind bars, the joint will be full. I think the big victim in all of this is Lohan's bail bondsman.

UPDATE

     On December 3, 2012, the IRS seized Lohan's bank accounts. According to the government, she owes $233.904 in unpaid taxes for the years 2009 and 2010. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Byron Smith Kills Teen Home Invaders: Self Defense or Murder?

     On November 21, 2012, the day before Thanksgiving, a resident in a neighborhood in Little Falls Township south of Little Falls, Minnesota, phoned the Morrison County Sheriff's Office to report a suspicious car parked at the foot of his driveway. To the officers who rolled up to the red Mitsubishi Eclipse, the lone occupant of the vehicle, 17-year-old Nicholas Brady, said that he and his 18-year-old cousin, Haile Kifer, had been riding around when they ran out of gas. He was a junior at Pillager High School in Little Falls, and Haile was a year ahead of him. She had left the vehicle to find a gas station. One of the deputies gave Brady, a nice-looking kid interested in wrestling and the martial art of taekwondo, a ride home. His cousin Haile, a high school gymnast, diver, cross country runner, and softball player, had nothing in her background that would arouse a police officer's suspicion.

     Byron Smith, a 64-year-old retiree, lived in a modest, township home located a few miles north of Little Falls. In recent months, Mr. Smith had been plagued by a series of home burglaries believed to have been committed by teenagers looking for drugs, money, and guns. In October 2012, burglars had broken into his house and stolen weapons and other items. The fact Byron Smith had been a physical security expert who specialized in preventing criminal intrusion into government buildings, had added to to his frustration and anger over being a repeat burglary victim. 

     In 2007, Byron Smith, after serving overseas in places like Bangkok, Thailand, Beijing, China, and Cairo, Egypt, retired from the U.S. State Department. He had been one of a handful of highly trained security engineers responsible for making our embassies and consulates difficult for terrorists and spies to physically penetrate. An expert on anti-intrusion building design, locks, access control, alarms, video surveillance,  protective lighting, and physical barriers, Smith had overseen the construction and renovation of these government facilities. 

     Byron Smith's job not only required technical knowledge and experience, it came with top security clearance. This meant he had been thoroughly investigated for mental illnesses, personality disorders, and possible substance abuse. Moreover, he had to live a straight-arrow lifestyle to avoid the potential of blackmail. Mr. Smith was also familiar with handguns and assault rifles. It is not difficult to understand why this man had a particular dislike, even hatred, for criminal intruders. 

     On Thanksgiving night, November 22, 2012, a day after the Morrison County Deputies checked out the suspicious Mitsubishi south of Little Falls, Byron Smith, while sitting in his basement, heard the sound of breaking window glass. The sound of footsteps on the first floor told him that he had at least two burglars in his dwelling. The government retiree grabbed his Ruger Mini-14 assault rifle and waited. 

     Mr. Smith readied his rifle when he saw the feet of one of the burglars on his basement stairs. When the intruder's torso come into view, Mr. Smith fired twice, striking and killing Nicholas Brady. Mr. Smith dragged the 17-year-old's corpse into the basement and laid it out next to his workbench.  

     Not long after he had killed the high school student, another set of feet appeared on the stairway. As Haile Kifer descended into Smith's basement far enough for the homeowner to see up to her waist, he fired the Ruger. The girl collapsed and her body tumbled down the steps. She was still alive, and gasping for air. Byron Smith interpreted the sounds the wounded girl made as she struggled for air as laugher. He tried to shoot her again, but his rifle jammed. Mr. Smith dragged Haile deeper into his basement and laid her body next to her cousin Nicholas. After securing a handgun, Mr. Smith placed its muzzle under the girl's chin. He pulled the trigger, killing her. 

     Instead of calling the police and reporting that he had shot and killed two intruders in his house, Byron Smith decided to spend the night with the dead bodies lying in his basement. The next morning, Smith called a neighbor and asked if he could recommend a good attorney. The neighbor replied that he didn't know any lawyers. At this point Smith informed the neighbor that he had killed a couple of burglars the previous night. He asked the neighbor to call the authorities. 

     While homicide investigators were processing the death scene, deputies searched Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi parked a few blocks from Mr. Smith's house. The officers identified the vehicle as the suspicious car they had checked on the day before. At that time they had questioned Nicholas Brady, the boy who lay dead in Smith's basement. Inside the car, searchers found six bottles of medicine that had been prescribed to a Little Falls Township man named Richard Johnson. They also recovered a jar of pennies and some foreign coins. 

     A Morrison County prosecutor, based upon Byron Smith's account of the shootings, charged him with two counts of second degree murder. While under Minnesota law the occupant of a dwelling can legally use deadly force against an intruder, the homicide defense doesn't apply if the burglar was killed after the threat had been neutralized. Byron Smith, when describing to the police what happened to Haile Kifer, said, "If you're trying to shoot somebody and they laugh at you, you go again." Mr. Smith characterized his follow-up shooting of the girl as a "good clean finishing shot under her chin up into the cranium." Neither of the teen intruders had been armed. 

     On Sunday, November 25, 2012, three days after the fatal shootings, 68-year-old Richard Johnson, upon returning to his Little Falls Township home after vacationing in Spain, found that it had been ransacked by intruders. The burglars had used a crowbar to smash a sliding glass door. The home invaders had stolen bottles of prescription medicine Mr. Johnson took to treat diabetes and high cholesterol. The burglars had also taken a collection of foreign coins and some pennies. The police had recovered these items three days earlier from Haile Kifer's red Mitsubishi. Investigators figured that Brady and Kifer had burglarized Mr. Johnson's home on the day before Thanksgiving about the time one of Johnson's neighbors reported the suspicious car. 

     Byron Smith was held in the Morrison County Jail on $2 million bond. 

     It seemed that Nicholas Brady and Haile Kifer had been breaking into older people's homes looking for drugs, money, and guns. House burglary is a dangerous business, and it had gotten these youngsters killed. They were smart kids and should have known better. As for the man who shot them, his life, at least as he knew it, is over. But Byron Smith should have known that the way he killed the 18-year-old girl, burglar or not, was murder. You can shoot home invaders, but the law won't let you execute them.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Ira Bloom Murder-For-Hire Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The David H. Petraeus Scandal: Bring in the Spin Doctors, Celebrity Lawyers, and Media Hired-Guns

     In today's America, fame is power, and unless you're someone like Jerry Sandusky, it generally doesn't matter if you acquired it by hitting home runs, with musical talent, or having your sex-tape go public. Fame can also be fleeting, and can turn into a curse. According to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of the 1920s aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, "Fame is a kind of death because it arrests life around the person in the public eye. If one is recognized everywhere, one begins to feel like Medusa. People stop their normal life and actions and freeze into staring mannequins."

     Anne Lindbergh, a private person who did not want to be famous (her father Dwight Morrow was a wealthy and well-known banker) lived before the age of television and the dawn of America's celebrity culture. While fame made Charles Lindbergh rich and powerful, it led to the kidnap and murder of his first child. Today, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean is remembered by many as a Nazi sympathizer who cheated on his wife. (The latter is true.) Charles Lindbergh's fame did not fade, but it did become a nightmare for him and his wife. He died in 1974 harboring an intense hatred of the media.

     In Charles and Anne Lindbergh's day, there weren't many famous people. Today, there are thousands of celebrities. There are so-called A-list stars down to D-list personalities. Many of these people pop onto the public stage, make a big splash, then just as suddenly, pass into obscurity. For people who crave public attention, the loss of fame is their own form of death.  Film actors, successful athletes, and TV personalities, in an effort to gain some control over their reputations and images, hire public relations professionals who help them create favorable personas and manipulate the media. Knowing a celebrity through the media is like knowing a cartoon character. Charles Lindbergh might have benefited by hiding behind a fictitious persona created by a public relations expert. But in those days, media consultants and news manipulators didn't exist for people who weren't movie stars.  

     Today, even for people who want to become famous, overnight fame brought on by public scandal is not the best way to achieve celebrityhood. For these folks, the question becomes, how can I turn bad publicity into an asset? In other words, how can I create a phony but positive persona, and most important of all, hold onto my fame? This is where the professional scandal lawyers, spin masters, and public relations specialists enter the picture to manage the publicity fallout.

     The current sex/political/national security scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, his former mistress Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley, the Tampa area social-climber who received Broadwell's threatening emails and contacted the FBI, illustrates how the second phase of a national political scandal unfolds. The Petraeus scandal is now being managed, from the inside, by four well-known media management hired-guns who have been brought in for damage control, image rehabilitation, and fame exploitation that could include lucrative book deals, movie rights, and television gigs. The fact professional media spin doctors, legal advisors, and news manipulators exist reflects the celebrity-obsessed nature of our popular culture. Simply being represented by one of these high-profile media experts confers celebrity status on the scandalized client.

     David Petraeus, the scandal's central figure, is being represented by Robert B. Barnett, a Washington, D.C. super-lawyer who has represented our last three presidents. Barnett is also known for negotiating big money book deals for his clients. The fact Petraeus' career came to a premature end as a result of a sex scandal will accrue to his monetary benefit when it comes time to negotiate the advance for his future memoir. The average reader is much more interested in illicit sex that the war in Afghanistan.

     Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' ego-stroking, opportunistic mistress, is being handled by Dee Dee Myers, the former Clinton White House press secretary. Since her time with Bill Clinton (a public relations handful) Myers has kept up her public profile as a cable TV talking-head. (These people prefer to be called television pundits.) Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer and former lover, has made it known to  her friends and acquaintances that important people have been encouraging her to run for the U.S. Senate. This notion sounds absurd until you realize that it doesn't take much to do the job of a senator. Really. You accept special interest money and cast votes, usually without any idea of what you're voting for. We may have, one day, if Dee Dee Myers has anything to do with it, a Senator Broadwell.

     Jill Kelley, the bankrupt Florida party hostess whose complaint to the FBI ignited the Petraeus scandal, is being represented by Abbe D. Lowell, the top Washington, D.C. lawyer who got John Edwards, the disgraced ex-senator and presidential candidate, off the hook. (Edwards was accused of using campaign money to keep his mistress and the mother of his "love child" in comfort and hiding while he ran for president.) Edwards is not in the White House, but thanks to attorney Lowell, he's not in prison. Who knows, we may see Mr. Edwards back on the campaign trail.

     Even Natalie Khawam, Jill Kelley's twin sister who had prevailed upon Mr. Petraeus and General John R. Allen to write letters on her behalf in a messy child custody case, has armed herself with celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. The famous "wronged-woman" attorney has already held a news conference at Washington's Ritz-Carlton Hotel aimed at correcting "misconceptions" about her client.

     Media hired-gun Dee Dee Myers, in speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, laid out her Paula Broadwell mission statement as follows: " To help Paula and her legal team (wow, she now has a legal team), navigate a crowded media environment, manage incoming requests, and ensure that her story is accurately told." (These people have "stories," us ordinary folks merely have daily routines.)  Dee Dee went on to say, "It's really impossible for anyone in Paula's situation to manage the daily avalanche of interview requests, let alone rebut rumors, correct supposed misconceptions and put the client's story in a sympathetic light." Who better to make a person like Paula Broadwell "sympathetic" than Dee Dee Myers, one of Bill Clinton's former bimbo-erruption spin doctors. All of this is enough to make you sick.

UPDATE

     According to reports, David Petraeus has been offered teaching positions at four universities. He is also weighing book offers from several publishers, and is contemplating various positions as a television commentator. This is a former general who has no intention of fading away. This guy is on a mission to become even more famous. Big surprise. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

General Jeffrey Sinclair: Above the Law?

     In 1985, after graduating from West Virginia University, Jeffrey Allen Sinclair began his career in the U.S. Army as an officer and a paratrooper. He served at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overseas, Sinclair was stationed in Germany and in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. As he rose in rank, Sinclair served two tours in Iraq and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. This high-profile, highly decorated officer rose to the rank of Brigadier General. In July 2010, General Sinclair became the Deputy Commanding General of the 82nd Airborne Division in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

     In May 2012, the 50-year-old One-Star General was removed from his command in southern Afghanistan and sent home to Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he was named Special Assistant to Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the Commanding General of the 18th Airborne Corps. General Sinclair's transfer from a position of leadership in Afghanistan to a desk job in the states raised eyebrows and inquiries from the media. The Army, however, refused comment on the reason behind the general's sudden removal from command.

     The reason behind the Army's action against General Sinclair became public on September 26, 2012 with the announcement that criminal charges had been filed against the general, and that an Article 32 hearing had been scheduled to determine if Army prosecutors had enough evidence to move the case forward to a full court-marital trial before a military judge and jury. (An Article 32 hearing is the military version of the civilian grand jury.)

     The Army, at this point in the case, refused to provide detailed information regarding the nature of the charges against the general except to reveal that the most serious charges were sexual offenses. Although court-martial cases against high-ranking officers are extremely rare, the media didn't pay much attention to this story.

     General Sinclair's Article 32 hearing, held at Fort Bragg, the Fayetteville, North Carolina home to the 82nd Airborne Division, got underway on Monday, November 5, 2012 before hearing officer Major General Perry L. Wiggins. For the first time, the specific allegations against the general became a matter of public record. The most serious accusations involved forcible sodomy committed on five women--four military subordinates and one civilian--in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, Fort Hood, and Fort Bragg between 2007 and 2012.

     Lesser charges against General Sinclair included possession of pornography; use of alcohol while deployed; engaging in inappropriate relationships; misuse of government travel charge cards; and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to court documents, the General is also accused of trying to silence a victim by threatening her career and life, and the lives of her relatives.

     Major General James Higgins, the defendant's commanding officer, testified that he launched an investigation after a female captain accused General Sinclair of forcing her to have sex with him over a period of three years. According to accounts of this testimony as reported in the Fayetteville Observer, the general's sexual encounters with several women occurred "in a parking lot, in his office in Afghanistan with the door open, on an exposed balcony at a hotel, and on a plane where he allegedly groped a woman." (One of these encounters involved an accusation of rape.) When subordinates confronted the general with his out-of-control behavior with women, he reportedly said, "I'm a general, I'll do whatever the [expletive] I want."

     On Tuesday, November 6, the second day of the Article 32 hearing, the female Army captain took the stand and testified that the defendant had initiated their three-year sexual affair in 2008 while they were stationed at a forward operations base in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone about their relationship. On two occasions, the Brigadier General, following a conversation in which the captain tried to end the relationship, exposed himself, then forced her to perform oral sex. In Afghanistan, Sinclair was so controlling, he told the captain how much water she could drink as well as where and when she could use the bathroom.

     On several occasions, during the captain's testimony, she broke down in tears. Seated at the defendant's table, the general rolled his eyes, sighed audibly, and glared at his former aide. The witness avoided eye contact with the general. "I was extremely intimidated by him," she said. "Everyone in the brigade spoke about him like he was a god." The witness said she had taken his threats seriously because of his Ranger training and his reputation of fearlessness in battle. The captain reported the general after finding messages from another woman in his email account.

     On cross-examination, the general's attorney tried to portray this witness as a jilted lover seeking revenge. The defense attorney also pointed out that his client had passed a polygraph test in which he denied forcing the captain into oral sex. The cross-examining lawyer also introduced explicit test messages the captain had sent to the general in which she referred to him as "Mr. Sexy Pants." The witness had also expressed her love and admiration for General Sinclair, comparing him, in a birthday card inscription, to General Washington, a man he admired. In response to the cross-examiner's questions, the captain, at one point said, "In a (expletive)-up way, I still love him. I don't want him to be mad at me."

     The next day, prosecutors put a second woman on the stand who testified that she first met the general when she was a staff sergeant serving in Afghanistan. They did not have a sexual relationship, but over the years stayed in touch. In 2011, when the witness was married and a captain, the general asked her to send him nude photographs of herself. (They hadn't seen each other in years.) After several of these requests, the captain downloaded photographs from a porn site, cropped the head of a model onto a woman posing nude, and sent the photographs to Sinclair. The general didn't realize the images where not of the captain. For her participation in this bizarre exercise, the Army had issued this officer a letter of reprimand.  

     Another female officer took the stand and testified that in 2010 she sent the general photographs of her breasts. At the time they were both stationed at Fort Bragg. The major, a company commander under Sinclair, has been disciplined in this matter for so-called "indecent acts."

     On November 8, in her closing argument, defense attorney Major Elizabeth Ramsey, painted the general's primary accuser as a scorned lover who was trying to ruin the life of an outstanding warrior and patriot. "Her lies are her fury, and these charges are Jeff Sinclair's hell," she said.

     The prosecutor, Lieutenant-Colonel William Helixon, in his closing presentation, drew a different picture of the defendant by stating that, "General Sinclair has engaged in a deliberate, degrading course of conduct where he targets his subordinates to satisfy his abhorrent desires."

     Under the military system of justice, there are no minimum sentencing guidelines. This means that even if the case goes to trial and the general is convicted of all charges, he could avoid punishment. The judge could demote him, allow him to retire, dismiss him from the Army, or send him to prison for life. Experts on military justice who are following this case do not think the general, if convicted, will be sent to prison.

     On November 15, 2012, about a week after the close of the four-day Article 32 hearing (the hearing officer has not yet made his ruling regarding whether the case will proceed to court-martial), General Sinclair's wife Rebecca, in an 800-word opinion column for the Washington Post, blamed her husband's infidelity on "the stress of war." Mrs. Sinclair said she is certain the sex offense charges against the general will be dropped. So, if we are to take the general's wife seriously, he wasn't a horny control freak abusing his power. He was merely a man under stress.

     The Sinclair case didn't generate much media interest until the sex-scandals regarding Generals David H. Petraeus and John R. Allen became news. Even though General Sinclair has been charged with crimes that could put him away for life, the scandals involving David Petraeus, Paula Broadwell, and Jill Kelley have dominated the news. That's because Petraeus was Director of the CIA and a key player in the Benghazi massacre.

     

Saturday, November 17, 2012

David Petraeus and the Disgraced Celebrity Sociopath Syndrome

       In a celebrity-obsessed nation under the leadership of sociopaths who play by their own rules, sex scandals are predictable and common. This is particularly true in a country under constant government surveillance. The current political/sex scandal involving ex-CIA Director David H. Petraeus; Marine General John R. Allen; and their power and influence groupies, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, should not surprise anyone.

     Sociopaths exist in all walks of life. They populate prisons, halls of government, television studios, movie sets, police departments, corporations, sports arenas, churches, and military bases. When these highly intelligent, super-ambitious, amoral narcissists find themselves in positions of power and authority, they often behave as though the rules of society and the laws of the land do not apply to them. They stupidly believe they can get away with reckless, outlandish, and often puerile behavior that eventually brings them down.

     People who aren't sociopaths have a difficult time understanding why a former top general and Director of the CIA would risk his marriage, career, reputation, and the nation's national security on a 40-year-old ego-stroking opportunist like Paula Broadwell. The same question has been asked about President Bill Clinton. Why did the leader of the free world risk his marriage, career, and the dignity of his office by engaging in White House sex with an intern? How could Marine General John R. Allen allow himself to get tied-up with an aspiring influence peddler and social climber known for lavish parties and crushing personal debt? What could possibly explain why these high-level government officials would let themselves get involved with a pair of reality television types? These men are not alcoholics, on drugs, or insane. And they surely aren't stupid.

     The only explanation for this kind of reckless behavior that makes any sense is sociopathy. The generals did these things because sociopaths feel entitled, and immune from scrutiny and criticism. These powerful men knew better, but sociopathy is a personality disorder that overrides the ability to restrain oneself.

     Someone once said that old generals don't die, they just fade away. While that may be true for some, for hard-core sociopaths like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, fading away is not an option. Look at Larry King. The poor guy looks like he has a week to live, but refuses to slip into obscurity. He can't. They will have to carry the former talk show host off the stage. A sociopath who gets a taste of fame is like a vampire getting its first taste of blood. They are hooked for life.

     Disgraced celebrity sociopaths are a sad but interesting story. They almost always find a way to get back into the limelight. Following the obligatory apology tour, the disgraced sociopath often resurfaces as the promotor of a ghost-written memoir bearing his name. Take ex-congressman Anthony Wiener. It's just a matter of time before we will see this disgraced politician on television talking about his memoir, My Package (or something like that.) Sociopaths who became well-known because they possess some kind of expertise, often end up as cable television commentators. Regular people who publicly embarrass themselves feel too ashamed to leave the house. Not so for sociopaths who are born without a sense of shame. When it comes to embarrassment, they are bullet-proof.

     The disgraced, celebrity sociopath can't live without attention, and because he has a personality disorder rather than a curable illness, change is out of the question. It's my guess that former general and ex-CIA director David Petraeus will not fade away. As for Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley, expect to see these sociopaths on a reality television series featuring married women who become mistresses and/or confidants of powerful men.

     

Ralph Godbee: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Chief of Police

     I guess it's not surprising that a crime-ridden city in long decline has a troubled and shrinking police department and a disgraced chief. Between 2000 and 2010, 750,000 middle-class residents of Detroit moved out of the city to the suburbs. Today, there are 700,000 people living in a city that in the 1950s had a population of 2 million.

     So far in 2012, a whopping 283 victims have been murdered in Detroit, a ten percent increase over the same period last year. There are cities the size of Detroit that have under 20 murders a year. Over the past twelve months, Detroit's murderers have been dumping their victims' corpses around several decaying inner city neighborhoods. Because the police don't patrol these districts, the bodies lay around for days, even weeks, rotting and stinking up the city. It's hard to believe there is a place like this in America. (If you want a miniature version of Detroit, drive over to Youngstown, Ohio, another troubled city. Camden, New Jersey, a town of 77,000 with 59 homicides so far this year, is another decaying, crime-ridden place.)

     Because of massive budget cuts, the Detroit Police Department has gotten smaller while the crime problem has gotten bigger. Police response time, even to major crime scenes, has significantly slowed. Recently, a man who had just committed a murder called the Detroit Police Department and asked to be picked-up. When no one showed, the killer had to walk to a precinct station to turn himself in. In Detroit, it's actually hard to get arrested.

     When Ralph Godbee jointed the Detroit Police Department in 1986, the city, while a shell of its former self, had not entered its final stage of decline and decomposition. The 19-year-old high school graduate, after just a few years on patrol, was assigned to the elite Executive Protection Unit. (That's how it works in a lot of police departments, you have to have someone upstairs who likes you.) In 1995, when Godbee was just 26, the chief named him commander of the unit.

     Seven years after taking over the Executive Protection Unit, Chief Jerry Oliver appointed Godbee commander of the 1st Precinct. In 2005, Godbee made Assistant Chief of Police, but three years later, was demoted. Godbee retired, and started a private security consulting agency. Just a year into Godbee's retirement, Chief Warren Evans brought him back into law enforcement by making him the Assistant Chief of Police.

     In July 2010, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing promoted Ralph Godbee to interim chief of police after Chief Warren Evans had to step down as a result of a sexual affair he had with a subordinate police officer. The following month, Godbee, after having taken up with the same female officer, Lieutenant Monique Patterson, filed for divorce. Notwithstanding Godbee's relationship with officer Patterson, Mayor Bing promoted him to the permanent position of chief of police.

     The beginning of the end of Chief Godbee's law enforcement career came on October 2, 2012 when Mayor Dave Bing suspended him for thirty days. The assistant chief, Chester Logan, took over his duties. Like his predecessor, Warren Evans, Godbee's problem involved having an affair with a subordinate departmental employee. In Godbee's case, the woman was an internal affairs officer named Angelica Robinson.

     Angelica Robinson's attorney said this to a reporter with the Detroit Free Press: "She was trying to cut it off (I hope he didn't mean this literally) and he [Godbee] didn't like that. And apparently she was very depressed, and the concern was whether or not she was going to take her own life, and Godbee got wind of that. I guess he tried to intervene." Other Detroit media outlets reported that Angelic Robinson became upset after discovering that Godbee may have been attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in San Diego with another woman.

     Ralph Godbee, on October 4, 2012, announced his intention to step down as Detroit's chief of police. Retired Detroit police officer David Malhalab, a longtime Godbee critic, in speaking to a reporter with The Detroit News, said: "Godbee was a stink bomb waiting to go off. I've said from day one that because of his past actions, he shouldn't have been the face of the DPD. But [Mayor Bing] went ahead and appointed him anyway. Now he's reaping the consequences of his bad choices."

     In police work, the higher up the ranks you go, the less power you have. The cop on the street, armed with the discretionary power of arrest, exercises the real muscle. Moreover, the street officer is protected by civil service, and the police union. A street cop can abuse his authority and behave in a manner unbecoming a police officer and still keep his job. The chief, on the other hand, is wedged between the rank-and-file and the major, and is vulnerable to politics and bad publicity. Chief Godbee knew this, but risked his career and good name anyway. He may or may not have turned out to be a effective police administrator, but we will never know because of his reckless choices.

     Ralph Godbee's career, like the sad city of Detroit, started in glory, and ended in ignominy. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ex-Con Lawrence Jones: Murder-Suicide at a Fresno Chicken Plant

     During the past thirty years, hundreds of government and private sector employees have gone ballistic and murdered two or more of their fellow workers, then have killed themselves. While workplace shooting sprees have become relatively common, they still produce local headlines, and for a few days, national television coverage.

     News accounts of these violent outbursts almost always feature the question of why. What motivated the employee to commit mass murder, then take his own life? (About 85 percent of these killers are male.) Was the killer mainly motivated by the intent to murder, or to commit suicide? If suicide, why the murders? If murder, why the suicide?

     Many workplace killers are disgruntled, revenge-seeking employees with emotional problems and histories of mental illness and violence. The increasing frequency of these blood baths might reflect the deteriorating mental health of a nation devolving into a culture of violence, materialism, and entitlement.

     Employers of these homicidal workers are often accused, after the fact, of lax job applicant screening procedures. This is unfair because under federal law, employers are not allowed to ask job seekers all kinds of pertinent questions, including if they have histories of drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental illness. Whether or not a job applicant has ever been arrested is, by law, none of the employer's business. All of this information, of course, is relevant to the question of the applicant's fitness and qualifications for employment.

     Employers in workplace shooting cases are usually sued for having failed to recognize and react to signs of future workplace violence. But to be fair, there is no sure-fire way to identify employees who will "go postal." Quite often, employees who have been fired for violent and threatening workplace behavior return to the job weeks, months, and even years later with murderous and suicidal intentions. There is no way to predict or prevent this type of behavior. Police officers patrol the streets, and are now present in many public schools, but they are not in our homes and places of employment where the real danger lies.

     Lawrence Jones of Fresno, California is a good example of someone an employer shouldn't hire. The 42-year-old, since his early 20s, had been in and out of prison for armed robbery, assault, auto theft, and gun-related crimes. He had spent most of  his adult life behind bars. In September 2011, three months after his last parole, Jones began working at Apple Valley Farms, a chicken processing plant in Fresno. He was hired because there aren't many people willing to work in places like this. For fourteen months, Jones did his job, then something happened to set him off.

     At eight-thirty on the morning of November 6, 2012, four hours into his shift, Jones walked up to 32-year-old Salvador Diaz who was working in the grinding room. Because of the sound of the machinery, and the fact employees wore noise-protection gear, no one heard Jones shoot Mr. Diaz in the back of the head with his 4-shot .357 Derringer pistol.

     After murdering Mr. Diaz execution-style, Jones entered the deboning room of the plant and executed Manual Verdin, 34. Jones then wounded 28-year-old Arnuflo Conrriguez, and shot Fatima Lopez in the back as she fled the scene. Jones pressed the muzzle of his Derringer to the back of Estevan Catono's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately for the 21-year-old intended victim, the gun was out of rounds.

     After killing two of his fellow employees, and wounding two others, Jones walked out of the plant, re-loaded the handgun, and fatally shot himself in the head.

     At this point in the case, investigators do not have a motive for the killings, nor do they know if these victims had been targeted. In all probability, these workers were simply unlucky by being at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is doubtful that their violent deaths will ever be fully explained.

     Fatima Lopez was treated at a local hospital and released. Arnuflo Conrriguez remains in serious condition at Fresno's Community Regional Medical Center.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Jeff Hall: A Dead Neo-Nazi and His Homicidal Kid

     Jeff Hall, the 32-year-old head of a ragtag southern California chapter of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), a Neo-Nazi organization comprised of malcontents and fools, lived in Riverside, a suburban community east of Los Angeles. Hall resided with his second wife and five children from his first and second marriages. The unemployed plumber's helper associated with a band of losers like himself who regularly gathered at his two-story house to get drunk and stagger around in Nazi uniforms amid swastika banners and other indicia of skin-headed idiocy. To make sure that even the most casual observer could immediately recognize him as a disgruntled failure, Jeff Hall exhibited, on the back of his shaved had, a large tattoo featuring a cross and a skull.

     Instead of taking 10-year-old Joseph, Hall's oldest child and only boy, to baseball games and amusement parks, the father dragged his son to Neo-Nazi rallies and and other fascist gatherings. Hall once took Joseph to the Mexican border where he taught the kid how so spot illegal aliens. (I presume in anticipation of all-out war with the invaders from the south.) Hall occasionally patrolled the border wearing night-vision goggles and carrying an assault rifle.

     To compound his role as a lousy father, Jeff Hall physically and verbally abused his son. The child's teachers couldn't control him. As a result, the boy had been expelled from nine schools in four years.  His first expulsion came when he was only five. He had a habit of stabbing teachers and students with a pencil. Since no school wanted the boy, he had to be home-schooled by his Neo-Nazis parents. (I'd like to see those lesson plans.) Child welfare workers had visited the Hall residence 23 times between 2003 and 2010, but didn't see fit to remove the boy and his younger sisters from this environment. (Assuming these social workers knew who the man was, you would think the massive portrait of Adolph Hitler over the mantle would at least suggest a problem. Why were the child protection people at the house in the first place?)

     Jeff Hall, following the contentious divorce from Joseph's mother, married Krista McCary. (The fact he ended up with custody of some of the children makes you wonder about the first wife.) The second marriage was on the rocks because Jeff had a girlfriend and had informed Krista that he wanted a divorce. (The fact this guy found at least three women who wanted to be with him is more than a little disturbing. I guess it's true that there is a woman--or women--for everyone. I mean, what could be more romantic that an unemployed Neo-Nazi with a massive tattoo on the back of his bald head?)

     Just past midnight on Sunday, May 1, 2011, Jeff Hall, after a night of drinking with his girlfriend, returned home to find that Krista had locked him out of the house. Hall found an open window, climbed into the dwelling, and  fell asleep on the sofa.

     At four in the morning, when young Joseph realized that his father was conked-out on the couch, he sprang into action. The boy retrieved a .357-caliber revolver of his father's closet, crept down the stairs, and from a distance of a foot, shot his father behind his left ear. Instead of being murdered by a black man, a Jew, or an illegal alien, Jeff Hall had been dispatched by his 10-year-old son. Krista McCary called 911.

     Nine days following the fatal shooting of the Neo-Nazi, Riverside County prosecutor Michael Soccio charged Joseph Hall with criminal homicide. The boy would be tried as a juvenile, and if convicted, could be held in state custody until he turned 23.

     The youngster's murder trial got underway on October 30, 2012. In his opening statement, prosecutor Soccio said that the boy had killed his father to stop the abuse. Matthew Hardy, Joseph's defense attorney who had pleaded his client not guilty by reason of insanity, in speaking to the jurors, said, "If you were going to create a monster, if you were going to create a killer, what would you do? You'd put him in a house where there's domestic violence, child abuse, and racism." The defense attorney also floated the theory that his client's stepmother, Krista McCary, had manipulated the boy into killing his father because Mr. Hall was going to throw her out of the house.

     Riverside police officer Michael Foster, one of the first responders to the scene that night, testified that the boy told them what he had done to his father. Foster said, "He [the defendant] was sad about it, he wished he hadn't done it. He asked me about things like, 'do people get more than one life?' things like that. He wanted to know if [his father] was dead or if he just had injuries."

     Officer Robert Nonreal testified that one of the defendant's younger sisters had asked the boy why he hadn't shot his father in the stomach as planned.

     Krista McCary, the defendant's stepmother since the boy was two, took the stand and testified that on the day before the murder, her husband had been at the house drinking with his Neo-Nazi buddies. After driving his guests home, Hall sent her several profanity-laced text messages telling her that he wanted a divorce. Mr. Hall also ordered his wife out of the house. (The prosecutor presented this line of testimony to establish one of the defendant's motives for the murder--to keep the family together.) McCary, who had initially informed the police that she had murdered Hall, explained on the stand that she had done this to protect her stepson.

     On the second day of testimony, the prosecution played the video of Joseph Hall's rambling confession as he sat fidgeting in a chair wearing ankle chains. He explained to his interrogators that after watching a TV episode of "Criminal Minds" featuring a boy who had killed his abusive father and had not arrested, he didn't think he would be punished for shooting his father. One of Joseph's younger sisters followed him to the stand with testimony that the defendant had planned four days to murder his dad.

     On Monday, November 5, the prosecution planed to put a San Bernardino psychologist on the stand to testify that the defendant, at the time he shot his father to death, was legally sane. The judge, because this witness had testified at a preliminary hearing that the boy was competent to stand trial, barred his appearance.

     After the prosecution rested its case, the defense put a psychologist on the stand who testified that the boy had been bashed in the head as an infant. He had also been beaten with a belt, sexually abused, and forced to eat off the floor. At this point in the trial, the prosecution asked for and was granted a postponement until January 7, 2013. The state needed time to find another psychologist to evaluate the boy, and testify that he was sane when he killed his father.

    On January 14, 2013, Riverside County Superior Judge Jean Leonard found the defendant legally responsible for his father's death. The judge, however, opted for the lesser charge of second degree murder because she did not believe the killing had been premeditated.