Monday, March 31, 2008

Donna Pendergast on TLC tonight!

"Lady in the Lake"

Catch Murder Prosecutor Donna Pendergast on a Dateline special shown tonight at 8:00 on "Real Life Mysteries" from The Learning Channel:

From the program:

Northern Michigan, lovely and unspoiled with tiny towns on crystal lakes, is a tourist paradise. Beautiful clear days give way to dark, dark nights. Nights that hold a multitude of secrets, some of them bone-chilling. Florence and Mark Unger loved the lake country. It was a favorite getaway for them and their children—perfect, really, until it became forever the place of unspeakable tragedy. . . .

Attorney Donna Pendergast led the prosecution. Daughter of a Detroit cop, Pendergast has been called Michigan’s best prosecutor. This was her 93rd murder case. This time Pendergast had her work cut out for her. She had a tough opponent and a weak case. There was no DNA evidence. No fingerprints.

“But we had circumstantial evidence,” Pendergast said. “And we believed with what was admissible as evidence, that we could present a pretty clear picture for the jury."

And so began a trial that would last nearly nine weeks and would include mountains of conflicting evidence. Detailed pathology reports, a recreation of Mark's walk down to the water that morning, a wooden mock-up of the deck railing, and explicit animations—all of it leading to very different conclusions.

Pendergast said, “In this case it was pretty clear—that this woman was not just scared, but terrified of the dark. And the bottom line is, if you believed that she truly was afraid of the dark, then she simply would not have stayed out on the deck where it’s pitch-black. Then his story failed from the get-go.”

Find out the rest of the story tonight on TLC at 8:00!

Separating Fact from Fiction

by Andrea Campbell

Do you remember the television show "Qunicy, M.E."? It was a long time ago and I’d say that forensic science and crime-scene drama on television has increased twenty-fold since then. Even the primetime shows such as 20/20, Primetime, and 48 Hours
have gone to the crime drama format. And for good reason: we love a mystery, we love to see stories about desperate people, and we love to see some kind of resolution. The problem lies mainly with the last element, the resolution part. Since everything on the “tube” (or should I say flat screen now?) is wrapped up in these neat, 30-60-90 minute formats (not counting commercial breaks), it gives the impression that things went smoothly from discovery, to arrest, and subsequently to conviction. Wow! if only real-life crime and cases were that condensed, we’d have to think about other things, like crime prevention (a not-so-novel idea that gets short-shrift).

I give a talk called The CSI Effect: 7 Key Differences Between TV Crime Drama and Reality. It’s amusing and I even bring props, but the scary thing is, it’s true stuff. For time’s sake and word count in this article today, we’ll take just one element I address: manpower. Television, for the sake of simplicity, has taken the jobs of twenty or more real-life criminologists and law enforcement, and rolled them into a small cast of easily-recognizable characters, maybe four or five. Okay, if you are in Podunk hill country with a population of 900, you probably know all the characters you’re going to meet at a crime scene. Get into the average, medium-sized city, however, and there is a crowd! For starters, you’ve got the “first responders,” the patrolmen of the local police department who are dispatched to the scene because of a 911 call, when a citizen discovers a body. (Outdoors it could be a hunter, berry-picker or just someone in recreation.)

The police cordon off the area, and detectives (from the police department), and the M.E. or coroner will be alerted to show up. (The difference between a medical examiner and a coroner are: 1) education - the M.E. is a
doctor of pathology; 2) appointment vs. election - the coroner is an elected position and political in nature; and 3) jurisdiction - they can both pronounce death but if the manner is a suspicious death such as a homicide, suicide, or undetermined, the examination of the body at the morgue is generally done by a medically trained pathologist conducting an "autopsy.") Now most times a city has officers who are trained to collect evidence. They are called crime-scene techs, or criminalists, or any number of outfit names like CSU, crime-scene investigators, etc. Their job is to photograph the scene, collect evidence properly, and preserve chain of custody between the scene and the lab.

At the laboratory (in Arkansas we have a state crime lab), the evidence is brought in and given to lab evidence technicians at Intake, who log-in the materials, make sure the paperwork is sacrosanct, and then later, funnel it to the correct department for scientific analysis. All the while this is going on, the detectives are looking up information for identification purposes, notifying the families, conducting interviews, checking on reports and canvassing the neighborhood, if necessary, for witnesses, etc. Whew! A lot of things swirling around and many people have been linked to the scene per their own special job.

Why, if we count only those I’ve mentioned thus far, we could have between 10 to 12 people, and the evidence hasn't even begun to be processed forensically! Okay, so I’m running out of column inch here, but suffice it to say, that upwards of 20 to 30 people can eventually have touched this case in the capacity of their jobs—and the phones haven’t been silent this whole time because crime doesn’t wait for the first case to be finished. I know you get it, it’s just not something everyone thinks about when they consider the realities of working on a homicide, rape case, or other serious felony. So there’s something to think about when you watch TV.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


by Donna Weaver

I just don't understand
the delay. Get your warrants, and DIG!

Earlier this month, it was reported that human remains may have been found near Barker Ranch, once the hideout of Charles Manson and his followers. Barker Ranch now resides on national park property, and nearby Myers Ranch was once owned by a Manson Family member and also served as the cult's hideout.

Testing equipment from Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory indicated the presence of two clandestine graves and a possible third gravesite after search dogs from Mammoth Lakes Police Department and
Necrosearch--a nonprofit organization that specializes in locating clandestine gravesites--indicated the possible location of human remains.

But Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze stated on Friday that he believes further testing is necessary. In a written statement, Lutze said:

"Myers Ranch is private property, Barker Ranch is national park property. . . . Both are compelling reasons to be as cautious as possible and use every reasonable testing method available before disturbing the ground with excavation."

Last week
it was reported that former Inyo County detective John Little said he was told by his former supervisor in 1974 to investigate the possibility of human remains buried at Barker Ranch.

"He said I should go up and take a look around the Barker Ranch and try to find four grave sites somewhere around 150 yards from the building," Little said. "At that time, there wasn't a lot of really good forensic techniques to find things. Imagine what you could find with the sonar stuff they have now."

Until the suspected grave sites are excavated we won't know for sure if they contain human remains, and, if so, how they came to be buried there. Whether or not these possible unidentified remains are victims of Charles Manson or his followers isn't the point. According to The Doe Network Unexplained Disappearances Geographic Index, in California there are 49 reports of men, women, and children who disappeared without explanation between 1944 and 1974, with a total of 901 disappeared persons up until the year 1999.

As a survivor of a homicide victim whose remains have never been found, I can tell you that statistics alone cannot capture the fear, horror, frustration, and pain felt by those who know and love a person who has suddenly vanished from their lives. There have to be several families wondering in anguish if their loved ones could be buried in unmarked graves in Inyo County, California. Those families should not have to wait one minute longer than necessary for an answer, and ownership of the property is not a sufficiently compelling reason to make them wait.

Ink Blotter - March 30

Ink Blotter

We have a bone or two to pick with some cases in the news, beginning with the bones recently found on the Manson family ranch (pictured below). The skeletal remains do not appear related to Manson. So whose bones are they? Less of a mystery: The bones discovered inside a suitcase in a pond on Staten Island (see video below). Those remains belong to missing mom Amy Giordano, whose disappearance and murder were profiled last week by WCI's Pat Brown on Nancy Grace. Another cable show might be linked to the dismemberment of Giordano: HBO's The Sopranos. And yesterday, the ground search resumed to locate the remains of Stacy Peterson. Will a spring search unearth the body of the mother who disappeared last fall? Last, but not least, we have the skeletons found in the closets of once-powerful politicians. It's old news that the former Governor of New York and a Texas D.A. resigned from office after their clandestine affairs came to light. More recently, we've learned that both prosecutors resigned to dodge criminal investigations. But one may not be safe from prosecution. When ex-D.A. Chuck Rosenthal stepped down last month, he sidestepped a state investigation. But since Rosenthal was found in contempt of court last Friday, rumor has it the Justice Department might be digging up the former prosecutor's inconsistent statements in federal court. The feds won't have far to dig. But will they choose to prosecute? Join us this afternoon in the Ink Blotter (blue box at right, midway down the page), where you can share your views and exchange ideas with some of our contributors. Leave your prints on our blotter today between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. EDT.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mystery Man - Skip Hollandsworth

by Skip Hollandsworth

Hello, all you women in crime. I am thrilled to be writing for you, and I just want you to know, right off, that you'll no doubt see many of your own postings stolen by me for my own stories. I apologize in advance, but sorry, that's what you get for putting out such a good blog.

So anyway, in the March issue of Texas Monthly, the editor decided to put one of my crime stories, of which I write about two to three a year for the magazine, on the cover. The story was about the questions swirling around the mysterious death of a pretty young blonde Baptist preacher's wife in Waco. Did she, as the police originally believe, commit suicide? Or was she murdered by her husband, who led a secret second life in Waco, the home of Southern Baptists, as a sexual predator? You can find the story, "The Valley of the Shadow of Death," in the archives at

It is rare that Texas Monthly goes with crime stories on the cover like it did in previous years - say, like, the 1970s and '80s - mainly because there is so much crime writing and true-crime television shows today that cover the territory. I mean, if I'm onto a crime story that's pretty decent, I'm competing almost immediately with big-city newspapers that send a reporter to do a long piece and I'm also competing with producers from the network magazine shows. I literally had the Waco Baptist preacher story to myself for a couple of weeks and suddenly here comes 20-20, Dateline, 48 Hours - and even a new true-crime show that TNT is producing for its fall schedule. It's called "Shadow of a Doubt," and according to show's producer who sent me an e-mail: "The program will be taking a fresh look at the most riveting true crime stories that captured the nation. Our series will profile cases that have a notable degree of reasonable doubt."

I'm not sure the story would have made the cover were it not for another story I wrote that was also put on the cover back in July 2007, about a nurse in a small north Texas town who suddenly decided to kill everyone who came into the town's hospital. She became one of the most prolific serial killers in Texas history, knocking off more than 20 residents in a four-month period before getting caught. (See "The Angel of Death," which can also be found in our archives.) In that case, the television shows didn't go after the story. (They were probably tired of killer nurses.) The newspapers didn't stay on the story either after the initial headlines, mainly because the nurse refused to give any interviews or provide any insight into why she went on such a murderous rampage. For once, I had everything to myself - truly a rare treat. And I had the time to win over the nurse and get her talking - and what she said provided truly tantalizing clues about her determination to bring down an entire town. The editor of the magazine, whose original cover story for July wasn't working out, made a gamble and decided to stick the nurse story on the cover. To all of our surprise, it sold like gangbusters.

The final results are still not in on the sales for the Baptist preacher story. But since then, I've already made another pitch for a crime story to be put on the cover. The editors thought about it, and they decided to run it as a 2,000 word column. Oh, well, can't win them all.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mystery Man - New Clue

Still scratching your head? . . . Maybe this will help:

When our debut Mystery Man was just a boy, he lived in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he was the son of a preacher man. Oh, yes he was. And he'll be writing about religion and crime tomorrow. Turns out they're not such distant cousins.

For earlier clues, visit here and here.

Really, THIS Time I am Telling the Truth!

by Pat Brown

A myth about interviewing leads one to believe that a crack interviewer will know just the right thing to get even a psychopath to confess. There is an old story about criminal profiler John Douglas who cleverly plans a strategy to push the buttons on the suspect in the brutal rape and murder of 12-year-old Mary Frances Stoner. Darrel Gene Devier is brought in to a carefully staged interview room by a huge team of law enforcement. Files are stacked up (most of them are fake) with his name conspicuously displayed on them. Then the investigator talks about the blood spatter he knows is on Devier's clothes (though there is actually no evidence). Now the suspect is very unnerved. But the key, Douglas says, to breaking this man down, is the big, bloodied rock he used to kill the girl. It is placed on a table in the room.

Devier can't keep his eyes off the rock.

Douglas explains the methodology and the results of this psychological strategy:

I warned the interrogators that they'd have to sink to Devier's level. They would need to project blame onto the victim by suggesting that she'd seduced him. Allowing Devier a face-saving scenario was their only chance of getting a confession because Devier knew that Georgia is a death penalty state.The instant Devier entered the interrogation room, he was transfixed by the rock. He started sweating, breathing hard and cowering. As planned, interrogators projected blame onto the victim. Devier got really quiet. An innocent man will scream and protest, but a guilty man will listen to what you have to say if you've surprised him with a chance to save face.

This may sound like a pretty brilliant ruse conducted by a skilled interrogator but Devier's confession had nothing to do with saving face. It had everything to do with saving his butt.

I will use a more recent case as an example of how this works. Keep in mind that a psychopath has no empathy or shame so he feels no remorse nor does he care what you think about him. He only does what is he thinks will get himself the best results. Clever though the interrogator may be, the manipulation has less to do with psychology than conning the suspect into believing you have more evidence than you do so he will confess.

Recently in Maryland an interrogation was videotaped. The video shows exactly why this is true. Gary Smith, a former Army Ranger, is being questioned about the shooting of his roommate, a fellow Ranger. He tells three stories.

Story One: Smith tells the police he arrived home to find his friend, Michael McQueen, dead. No gun was present at the scene.

Obviously the police label this a homicide as dead men do not get rid of guns. They focus in on Smith, something he was hoping they would not do. But now that they have focused on him, he has to come up with a good story to get them to go away. He decides he will convince them it is a suicide.

Story Two: Smith weeps and tells the police he altered the crime scene because he was afraid he would be accused of killing McQueen. He said he came home and found his roommate slumped over in the chair, the gun on the floor below his right hand. He guessed his buddy had found Smith's gun from under the counter where it was hidden. He took the gun and threw it in the lake. Smith swears on his dead buddy's grave this was the truth.

The police let him know that his story isn't adding up. The gun hadn't been in the house under the counter; they learned it had just been brought from his mother's house. Now Smith knew that it would seem like a premeditated homicide if he brought the gun the night the man was killed. He needed a more believable story.

Story Three: Smith brought the gun to the house that night and either left it on the counter or on the floor. He warned his roommate the gun was loaded but while he was in the shower, he heard the gun go off. With so little time between his arrival and the gunshot, Smith figures the police will believe the shooting could have been accidental.

The police have evidence that the blood-spatter patterns do not match Smith's story. Plus, if Smith's statement were true, the gun should have been on the floor below McQueen's right hand. But that's where the TV remote control was found, not the gun.

Smith has been inching closing and closer to the truth, not because the interrogator is breaking down his psychological barriers, but because each time he believes the police have a certain added bit of damning information, he reassesses his situation and decides what is the next best thing he can say to get the lowest penalty possible.

At this point in the interview, Smith has admitted to bringing the gun and being in the house when the gun went off and altering a crime scene by removing and disposing of the weapon that killed McQueen. He tried to be totally innocent and get no charge, but when he couldn't get around the gun issue, he was willing to admit to disposing of the gun because this is by far a lesser charge than murder.

Now the police are letting him know the blood-spatter pattern contradicts his story. And in this interview saga, the remote control becomes Douglas's bloody rock. Look, they say. Look at that television remote control over there. We think, Mr. Smith, that he had that in his hand when he died and he wasn't holding the gun.

Now for the confession. Smith believes they have him cornered. He stares at the remote and tries desperately to come up with the next best story that will keep him out of the electric chair. He needs to believe the police will accept this story and charge him accordingly. He will confess but not out of remorse or because he wants to save face. He wants to get out of a death penalty conviction. What will his story be? What story will the investigator offer for Smith to agree with so that he thinks he will get out of the most serious charge? Readers?

Mystery Man - New Clue

Still trying to figure out who will be writing for us tomorrow? . . . Here's another clue, which we've added to the Mystery Man Clue Box: His subject? A tantalizing case being produced for 48 Hours. Look for his column tomorrow at Women in Crime Ink. Meantime, if the suspense is killing you . . . check back here. We will leave at least one more clue for you.

WCI Contributor Diane Fanning at Texas Bookfest

A Woman's Point of View

Just because we're Women in Crime Ink doesn't mean we stay in front of our computers all the time. Far from it. Here's today's point of view from contributor Diane Fanning--and it's not her screen saver:

Where in the world is Diane? She's a featured author at the Best Southwest Bookfest in Texas. Thursday night, Diane participated in a panel entitled "Booked on Crime: Working Together for Justice." Fellow panelists included UT Professor Dr. John W. Stickels of the Innocence Project of Texas . . . Kerry Max Cook, author of Chasing Justice: My Story About Freeing Myself After Two Decades on Death Row . . . and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

The panelists spoke on their work with the wrongfully convicted and what can be done to bring justice to those failed by our system. The motto of the Innocence Project is "Justice is truth in action." We're proud to have one of our contributors participating in that action.

The conference is open to the public. Events through Saturday.

For details, visit See Diane's post on Kerry Max Cook here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mystery Man - Coming Soon!

Who will it be? Some clues: This award-winning journalist has spent two decades covering crime for one of the nation's most prestigious magazines. In his articles, he's delved into the psyches of such notorious women as Andrea Yates, Darlie Routier, and Clara Harris. And when we describe him as "award winning," we're not kidding. His prizes include a National Headliners Award and a "Writer of the Year" award for the City and Regional Magazine Awards. He is a four-time finalist for the National Magazine Awards, the magazine biz's equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, and his work has been included in such publications as Best American Crime Writing and Best American Magazine Writing. A documentary filmmaker as well as a television producer, he has sold options for about a dozen of his stories to various film studios. Two were turned into network movies for NBC and CBS, and a third story has been optioned as a feature film by Jennifer Aniston’s production company. He has appeared on CNN, Court TV, Dateline, Fox News, and a host of newsmagazine shows. Still unsure? One final clue: He has the cover story for the March issue of the magazine he writes for—and did we mention he also serves as Executive Editor? We're delighted he'll be guest blogging here at Women in Crime Ink this Saturday, March 29th. His subject? A tantalizing case being produced for 48 Hours. Don't miss our debut Mystery Man. He's worth getting up early on Saturday morning to read!

No Two Days Are the Same

by Connie Park

As an investigator in Homicide, it didn't take me very long
to realize that no two days are the same. I have been proud to serve as a police officer with the Houston Police Department, having spent time in Patrol, Major Offenders, and for the past seven years or so as an investigator in the Homicide Division.

In 2001, I was one of two investigators in a case involving a very dangerous man named Kenneth Headley. In Southwest Houston one afternoon, I arrived on a scene to see a man laying in the street. He had been shot, his brains blown through the back of his head.

With the exception of one brave woman (I will call her "Roxanne"), any witnesses to this awful crime opted to leave this victim dead in the street. Roxanne told us that she was in the car with Kenneth Headley and the victim, and at some point they began to argue over a petty drug dispute. Headley resolved the dispute by ordering the victim out of the car and then shooting him in the head.

Afterward, Roxanne said that Headley threatened her, along the lines of "If you say anything about this, I will do the same thing to you." She was terrified but had the guts to remain at the scene to tell her story.

Roxanne was shown a lineup. She identified Headley as the man who shot the victim in the head. We presented the case to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and filed a charge of Murder on Headley. The case was assigned to the 228th District Court. We soon met with prosecutors. We all knew that Roxanne was a drug addict. Then the problems we had hope to avoid, started. Roxanne disappeared. Without her, a murderer would walk free and be given the opportunity to kill again. But, like I said, no two days are the same.

As the case wound through the customary court settings, we looked long and hard for Roxanne, without success. The case was set for trial and we were hoping for a miracle, that Roxanne would reappear. A few weeks before trial, she did. I found out that she had been arrested under a bridge with a small amount of crack cocaine. I knew that we had to talk to her. The prosecutor and I met with her on many occasions, trying to persuade her to continue to do the right thing and not to be afraid. As we expected, she was upset and not very cooperative.

I knew that we had to have her to see that justice was served for this victim who had been executed in the middle of a public street. I reminded Roxanne of that and asked her, "What if that victim had been someone in your family? Does this monster who did this deserve to be out in the free world?" At last, Roxanne saw where I was coming from. It took an empathetic approach from us, an approach without threats and warnings. I wanted Roxanne to know that we cared about her, not just as a witness on one of our cases, but as a human being. She appreciated that, and the case went to trial.

I learned more about Kenneth Headley. I learned that he was a suspect in another violent offense in Baltimore, Maryland and that he had lied in order to convince a prosecutor up there to foolishly recommend probation for a hardened criminal.

But I had faith that we would reach the right result in the Houston case. Roxanne and I and many other HPD officers testified and we told the truth. Throughout the case, we worked hand in hand with the prosecutor, who is now a district court judge. The jury found Kenneth Headley guilty of Murder and gave him the life sentence he deserved. As a result of our perseverance and desire to seek the truth, Headley will not get the opportunity to kill again. And that is what makes what we do so rewarding.

We in the criminal justice fields have the opportunity to affect people's lives in a positive way, people who have had to sort through the wreckage of witnessing a horrible crime or ease the pain of a relative of a defenseless victim who fell prey to a criminal like Kenneth Headley. I have seen people murdered because they refused to agree to a man's request to have an abortion. I have seen people murdered over a $20 crack cocaine. I have seen people murdered over gang turf and for looking at someone the wrong way. But all I have to do is to remind myself about what I learned when I met Roxanne and had the misforutne of meeting Kenneth Headley, to know that I will be ready for it. After all, no two days are the same, and that is why I do what I do.

Note: Connie Park was recently added as a regular contributor for Women in Crime Ink. Because her bio was not posted on launch day, we are printing it here:

Connie Park is a homicide detective. Eight of Connie's 13 years with the Houston Police Department have been spent investigating murders and kidnappings. She is presently assigned to the Cold Case Unit. Ten years ago, Connie was selected to work in the Major Offenders Division, assigned to the Asian Gang Task Force, where she was able to utilize her language skills to translate Korean. During her work with the Task Force, Connie received training from various Federal Agencies. Connie obtained her business degree from Texas A&M University.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lawyers and Innocent Clients

by Katherine Scardino

One question criminal defense lawyers get asked almost daily is: "How can you represent a person you know or think may be guilty?" That question is usually asked with a snarl on the person’s face. By "snarl," I mean the lip is curled up, eyes are narrowed, and a judgmental and totally disgusted expression is on his or her face. It’s the kind of facial expression that provokes most of us Type A personalities to start screaming and hitting. B
ut, over the years, I have learned to calmly respond to this question this way: Because it is the right thing to do.

I tell my juries that when their son is stopped by a police officer for a traffic offense, after he has had a beer on the way home with one of his buddies, then the lawyer is not such a bad guy (or girl) after all. The officer, of course, smells that one beer and then begins the usual "side of the road" routine - fingers to the nose test, walk and turn, lift your leg, etc. and if you dare to refuse, off to the Station your son will go. Or, even if you don’t refuse, the officer most likely will take your son to the police station and offer him the chance of performing these same tests in front of a video camera and then the grand opportunity to prove his innocence - the intoxylizer. When you, the parent, get that dreaded phone call saying, "Come get me, HELP!" . . . what is the very next thing you will do? Call a lawyer.

But let’s analyze that. Why is it OK to call a lawyer for a child who has been arrested (and you know he is not guilty) but not OK for a lawyer to represent some unfortunate, indigent person accused of murder, rape, or robbery? Not everyone is guilty, believe it or not, and everyone is deserving of a lawyer. Even Atticus Finch knew that - and he lived (on the stage and movie screen) 40 years ago.

In 1997, I tried a capital murder case where the man was accused of murdering his wife and her sister by bludgeoning the two women to death. There were many holes in the story on both sides. The State began a series of shenanigans, ending with Chuck Rosenthal, who was a prosecutor at that time, telling the lab doing the DNA testing not to talk to me. He believed that the lab had "his" evidence and they were not to let me know the results. That was only one in a long line of incidents involving withholding evidence, manipulating the evidence, and generally making every attempt to get an innocent man convicted. He failed. The jury saw through the attempts at "smoke and mirrors" and totally acquitted this man.

I was told that this was the first "not guilty" from a jury in a death capital case in Harris County, Texas in 25 years. While I am not surprised at this statistic, I am morally appalled. Do you really think it is possible to go 25 years and every person accused of capital murder for that length of time is guilty? There is not even one little innocent person in the bunch? I do not believe that, and I cringe to think of the number of people who died at the hands of moralistic, "guilty at all costs" prosecutors.

We now hear of inmates being released from prison because DNA has proven them innocent - and I mean "actually" innocent - not some quirk occurring in the procedure of the trial. That should make every honest, law-abiding citizen shiver with dread. How would you like to be sitting on a jury having to decide whether a person lives or dies - and you make the wrong decision?

I am now representing a man named Anthony Graves (pictured right). Anthony and a co-defendant, Robert Carter, were charged with capital murder of six people in 1992. In 1994, Anthony was tried in Brazoria County, Texas, on a change of venue from Burleson County after Carter had already been convicted and sentenced to death. Anthony had two lawyers appointed to represent him. Anthony is a soft-spoken, clear headed, fairly smart man. He was about 27 or 28 years old in 1992. He was convicted and sentenced to death after Carter testified against him and told the jury that he committed the killings along with Anthony Graves.

What the defense lawyers did not know was that Carter had told the State’s investigator, a Texas Ranger, and ultimately, the Assistant District Attorney handling the case, that Anthony Graves did not have anything to do with these killings.The night before Carter was to testify in Graves’ trial, the Assistant DA, his investigator, Carter’s lawyer, and one or two Texas Rangers visited Carter in his jail cell. They wanted to know what Carter was going to say about Graves.

Carter immediately stated that Anthony did not have anything to do with the murders. The Assistant DA told Carter that if he did not testify, he was going to charge his wife with capital murder, because he suspected at that time that she had something to do with the killings. So Carter recanted and told the Graves jury that the two went on this killing spree together.

They neglected to tell the defense lawyers that Carter made an exculpatory statement about Graves’ innocence, which they are required to do under our rules of procedure. Ultimately, Graves’ case was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct by the Fifth Circuit, which then ordered a retrial.

During Graves’ appellate process, Robert Carter was executed, but the astounding thing is that on the gurney - about five minutes away from meeting his Maker - he once again said, "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it." How powerful can that be? But the powers that be in Burleson County still do not believe Carter’s retractions about Graves, and Graves will stand trial again in July 2008.

This is the type of case that defense lawyers lose sleep over! It is a lot easier on the brain and the emotions to represent someone you know or feel fairly sure is guilty. Your work is the same - the intensity is not. So, now, after 24 years of practicing law, when I hear that question "How do you represent people you know are guilty?" I tell them it is easy because there may be that one truly innocent person sitting next to me at counsel table, and I welcome the opportunity to be his lawyer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

CLINTON v. OBAMA and McCAIN, TOO: Where Do They Stand On Crime?

by Robin Sax

Decision 2008 consumes television 24/7. From CNN to FOX to Comedy Central, it’s all election all the time. It is not the typical Republican vs. Democrat or Democrat vs. Republican mudslinging (at least not yet). For now it is all about who is going to take the Democratic party. Will it be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Who will take on the Republicans? Who can beat John McCain?

Who knew that the primaries could be so exciting? It’s no wonder that the talking heads are talking their heads off. This is big stuff. It’s bigger than political parties. It’s bigger than gender, it’s bigger than race. It’s all of it in one election and then some. Will our country continue to break new ground in creating political history?

For most Americans, crime is a key issue. And no wonder. This is the day of missing (and dead) co-eds, cops who kill girlfriends and wives, students who shoot on college campuses, moms who drown their kids, and Internet sex scandals to name just a few. And if it were not for these elections these crime stories are what the pundits would be pontificating about.

So, what is Barack’s stance on crime? What is Hillary’s platform? Just how conservative is John McCain? I, myself, had no clue until I began writing this article. I could tell you their differences on the economy, health care, the war, and immigration, but have not heard a thing about crime.

Granted, crime is not usually the defining issue in the primaries. But with the election in only 223 days wouldn’t you like to know what your candidate thinks about gun control, sex offenders, Three Strikes, juvenile crimes, drugs, defendant’s rights, and gangs? I certainly would. For now we are supposed to be satiated with a few throwaway sound bites. And why do we have to wait until it’s McCain vs. Obama or McCain vs. Clinton, to know which candidate wants to take a bite out of crime?

Clinton has been described as more prosecution oriented and leans toward more law and order than her counterpart Obama. According to Bob Egelko in the San Francisco Chronicle, “The two differ on crime-related issues that have a lower profile but affect many thousands of prisoners, most of them minorities - the disparity between sentences for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, and the merits of federal mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. On both, Clinton lines up with the prosecution, Obama with the defense.” Interestingly, both favor capital punishment, in certain circumstances.

So here’s where they stand on crime:






Supports death penalty but has tilted her campaign to focus on Innocence Protection Act to divert attention away from her support of capital punishment by legislating that all people executed would participate in DNA testing.

Believes death penalty does little to deter crime, but there are some crimes--mass murder, the rape and murder of a child--that warrant it. On the other hand, the way capital cases were tried in Illinois at the time was so rife with error, questionable police tactics, racial bias, and shoddy lawyering, that 13 death row inmates had been exonerated.

Supports the most broadened use of the death penalty. Has voted “YES” to limit death penalty appeals.


Supports sensible gun control legislation. In her words: “We have to enact laws that will keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals and mentally unbalanced persons. Congress should have acted before our children started going back to school. I realize the NRA is a formidable political group; but I believe the American people are ready to come together as a nation and do whatever it takes to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.”

Respects 2nd Amendment, but local gun bans ok. Provide some common-sense enforcement on gun licensing. In
2000, co-sponsored bill to limit purchases to 1 gun per month.
Keep guns out of inner cities--but also problem of morality. Ban semi-automatics, and more possession restrictions.
NO on prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers.

Believes that the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is a fundamental, individual Constitutional right. “We have a responsibility to ensure that criminals who violate the law are prosecuted to the fullest, rather than restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens," he said. "Gun control is a proven failure in fighting crime. Law- abiding citizens should not be asked to give up their rights because of criminals--criminals who ignore gun control laws anyway.”


Favors a distinction between crack and powder cocaine in order to minimize racist impact of current laws. No retroactive application.

Favors a lower sentencing guideline for crack-related crimes, and bring them closer to sentences for powder cocaine. Favors applying the new terms retroactively to current prisoners.

Wants to establish a DEA office in New Orleans to stop drugs along that region.

Wants to increase penalties for selling drugs, supports the death penalty for drug kingpins, favors tightening security to stop the flow of drugs into the country, and wants to restrict availability of methadone for heroin addicts. He said the Clinton administration was “AWOL on the war on drugs” and he would push for more money and military assistance to drug-supplying nations such as Colombia.


Believes mandatory sentencing is too widely used. Thinks we need more diversion programs. But supports "Three Strikes" laws, particularly for violent offenders.

Seeks to promote fairness in the criminal justice system. Wants to ban racial profiling, eliminate disparities in criminal sentencing.

Stricter sentencing for repeat and violent offenders.


Hillary was one of 44 Democrats who voted for the anti-gang bill—increased penalty for gang association.

Voted against anti-gang bill due to concern about racist effects of its use. Therefore, no extra penalty for gang association.

Supports programs that provide job training and placement services for at-risk youth.


Spend more money on programs to help identify and work with “at risk” kids. Need more hotlines and workers to identify early warning signs for homicidal or suicidal kids.

Wants to provide funding for military-style "boot camps" for first-time juvenile felons.

Supports prosecuting more children as adults who commit violent crimes.

Believes in increased penalties for crimes committed on school grounds.

Believes in prosecuting youths accused (unless extremely young) of a felony as adults.


Clinton sponsored the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Under this act the government would provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any violent crime that is motivated by prejudice based on the race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim or is a violation of hate crime laws.

Wants to strengthen the enforcement of hate crimes legislation.

McCain agrees that funding should be increased for community policing programs. “Increases should be implemented with state and local government commitments,” he says. With regard to “hate crimes”: “All but 13 states have hate crimes statutes. Federalizing all such crimes will simply obstruct justice by forcing them into clogged federal courts.”


Favors a national coordinated effort of the Amber Alert. Supports stricter sentences for sex offenders.

Supported bills with greater restrictions on sex offenders.

McCain sponsored the Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act

Establish a national database at the FBI to track each person who has been convicted of a criminal offense against a minor or a sexually violent offense; or is a sexually violent predator.


Mandatory sentencing has been too widely used. Clinton says: “We have to do all of these things:

 We do have to go after racial profiling. I've supported legislation to try to tackle that.

 We have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.

 We need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system.”

Believes in legislation to videotape defendant interrogations and confessions.

Wants to recruit more and better public defenders by initiating loan forgiveness programs

Supports programs to provide prison inmates with vocational and job-related skills and job-placement assistance when released.

Supports programs to provide prison inmates with drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

So, what does this mean? If crime is YOUR one and only issue, then McCain is your man, but not by much. Neither Clinton nor Obama are soft on crime. But in the end, as a fellow blogger Jeralyn on Talk Left said, “To say Obama is more progressive on crime issues or that he takes the defense line while Hillary toes the prosecution line, is not accurate. Neither one is particularly progressive or defense oriented. Their minor differences are just that, minor.” The ultimate question is, will any of the nominees turn into a president that will pave the way as a leader in crime and punishment? That, ladies and gentleman, remains to be seen.

*Update: See Cynthia Hunt's post on Republican V.P. nominee Sarah Palin's stance on crime:

Monday, March 24, 2008

What Does it Mean to be Crazy?

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

You may be surprised by my title and use of the work "crazy." That's not exactly a politically correct medical term, but when you listen to a psychiatrist's private conversations it's one that's used frequently. It's shorthand for, "Boy, did I just see someone who was really sick." What is meant by that is that the person in front of us is either acting bizarrely (standing in the middle of the street gesticulating wildly and talking to the sky) . . . listening to voices in his head or responding to visions you and I can't see (if you've ever had a really high fever you might have experienced this; it's called delirium) . . . believes something entirely off the wall (the CIA has planted a bug in my head--remember you have to be careful with delusions, one day the CIA may indeed be capable of that!) . . . or his speech is so unintelligible he doesn't make sense to anyone (the technical term is "word salad," a little of this, a little of that . . .) .

So when I'm speaking with a group of psychiatrists I'm pretty sure we all know the shorthand. But when you are trying to translate "crazy" to a courtroom it becomes much more complicated. The medical and legal definitions are entirely different.

In the Andrea Yates trial I was asked to determine if Yates (pictured above) was legally insane at the moment she drowned her children. So I had to put my medical definition through the lens of a legal one: Was Andrea Yates legally insane at the time she killed her children?

There is no standard psychiatric definition of the word insane and it's not one we use in regular conversation. In a courtroom in Texas insane means the following: does the person know at the time the crime was committed the difference between right and wrong? From a medical understanding of psychotic illness (crazy) that definition is hard to interpret. Obviously the jury found it difficult as well. In the first trial she was found guilty, in the second trial, not guilty by reason of insanity.

To make matters more confusing, the legal definition of insanity changes depending on which state you live in. You can commit the same heinous crime and be insane in Texas, but by definition not insane in Connecticut. Excuse me for saying so, but that's CRAZY. Whereas Texas uses a much older and more constricted definition of insanity (McNaughton Rule), Connecticut uses a more modern definition (American Law Institute). The advocates who worked so tirelessly for the defense in the Andrea Yates trial have been working to have the legal definition of insanity changed in Texas to a more modern standard. Good luck getting that passed in a state that still struggles over the execution of those with mental retardation.

There's a new case getting the attention of the media here in Houston that will test the stomachs of those chosen to sit on the jury. Joshua Royce Mauldin (pictured left) is currently on trial for putting his two-month-old baby daughter in a microwave for ten seconds. She suffered second- and third-degree burns over parts of her body and currently is living with relatives. Mr. Mauldin has pled not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the Houston Chronicle, he has a history of mental illness and claims to have heard voices. He felt a "weird sensation" come over him right before he put her in the oven.

I have not interviewed Mr. Mauldin or consulted with any of the psychiatrists who have. Is he legally insane? I don't know. That's going to be for the jury to decide. The jury will have to make sense of a complicated psychiatric history and conflicting testimony from mental health professionals. Is he crazy? No doubt. Is he sick? Absolutely. There's something seriously wrong with someone who can do that to another human being. But in the state of Texas the defense will have to prove that at the time of the crime he didn't know what he was doing was wrong. In this instance, I bet that will be a hard case to make.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Remember Meredith Emerson

by Kathryn Casey

Meredith Emerson is my hero. Even in death, she symbolizes the strength of victims caught in horrific circumstances who employ every means possible to fight back.

Emerson, as you may know, was brutally murdered by a piece of human scum named Gary Michael Hilton. There’s no doubt that she became a victim, as many do, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case, Emerson’s and Hilton’s paths crossed while she was hiking with her dog in the north Georgia mountains on New Year’s Day. The reason he gave for choosing her as his next victim: “because she was a woman.”

(Makes you want to throw up, doesn’t it?)

At first, Hilton, 61, pretended to befriend Emerson, 24. They talked and walked together. He couldn't keep up, and she split off on her own. He waited in ambush, threatening her with a knife. The reason I’m so proud of Emerson, a graduate of the University of Georgia, is that she immediately fought back. Hilton told police that Emerson grabbed at his knife and baton. “She wouldn’t stop,” Hilton said. “She wouldn’t stop fighting and yelling at the same time. So I needed both to control her and silence her.”

How did he control her? He pummeled her with his fist so hard that he blackened both her eyes, broke her nose, and his hand. But Emerson still didn’t give up. For four days, he kept her captive, telling her he only wanted her money. She bought time by playing a cat and mouse game, continually giving him the wrong PIN number for her ATM card. “She was doing everything she could to stay alive, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan, has said. “It’s not something you can train for. Instinct kicks in… She nearly got the best of him.”

Hilton finally told her he would release her. Instead, he tied her to a tree, made himself some coffee, and then untied her and cracked her skull with a car jack handle. Afterward, he decapitated her corpse. But hey, Hilton insists he’s an old softie; he couldn’t bring himself to kill Emerson’s dog.

A true piece of human debris, Hilton has pled guilty to Emerson’s murder in return for a life sentence without the death penalty. Meanwhile he’s under suspicion in the deaths of a North Carolina couple and indicted in Florida for a similar murder, that of a woman named Cheryl Dunlap whose decapitated body was found in the woods last December. In that case, the death penalty is still on the table.

A decade ago Hilton helped produce and came up with the plot of a horror movie named “Deadly Run,” about a serial killer who hunts women in the woods. Emerson must have had her attacker sized up. From the moment he attacked, she undoubtedly understood that he would kill her, and she fought back with every ounce of strength and cunning she could muster. I remember back in the seventies, when I was coming of age, and women were advised not to fight an attacker/rapist, to ride out whatever happened in hopes that they’d stay alive. “Don’t risk angering him,” experts warned. Now we know most rapists are passive/aggressive and fantasize about control. When a woman fights, they usually flee.

Still, there are those, like Hilton, who don’t give up. How do we know what to do if we’re ever under attack? According to the statistics, we’re almost always better off fighting back and using whatever means we have not to be abducted. The majority of victims removed from the original site of the attack are found dead.

Although it could be argued that it would have been wiser to have a walking companion or pick a more heavily traveled route, once Hilton confronted her, Emerson did exactly the right thing. A man who fantasized about murdering women in the woods for more than a decade (evidence: the horror film) wasn't going to let her survive. She did all she could to stay alive, hoping someone would find her. Tragically, that didn't happen.

Monsters like Hilton will always be among us. But for today, right now, let’s all take a moment to applaud the incredible courage of Meredith Emerson.

Live by the Sword, Die by the Shank

by Donna Pendergast

A final chapter was written in an upstate New York prison last month. Larry Davis, 41, was murdered in the yard of the Shawangunk Correctional Facility when inmate Luis Rosado stabbed him repeatedly with a nine-inch homemade metal shank. It was an ironic ending to a violent and notorious life.

Feared On the Streets

Davis, the youngest of fifteen children, was known on the street as a violent individual with a nasty temper. He terrorized the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up. No stranger to guns, drugs, and violence, Davis was feared by most everyone in the neighborhood and had a long record of arrests and convictions by the time he was 20 years old. Suspected in the execution-style murders of four Bronx drug dealers—as well as the murder of a drug dealer in Manhattan, and the unrelated murder of another Bronx drug dealer--the New York police department attempted to effect an arrest of Davis on a fateful day in November of 1986.

Holed up in a Bronx apartment and armed with a 16-gauge sawed off shotgun and a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, Davis fired four shotgun blasts and nine pistol shots, wounding six New York City police officers, two critically, during the attempted arrest.

Fortunately, Bronx-Lebanon hospital was across the street and all of the wounded officers were rushed there after the shootings and survived.

Leaving behind a .32 caliber revolver, which would later be linked to the Manhattan drug killing, and another .45 caliber weapon, which would be tied by ballistics to the four dead Bronx drug dealers, Davis carried a shotgun as he escaped through a window and past police troops.

After the shootings, the once-feared Davis became a folk hero to some in the neighborhood. His newfound claim to fame: wounding the six officers as well as eluding capture for 17 days during a massive manhunt. He was seen by some as a symbol of black resistance against white police intimidation in the black community.

He was apprehended on the fifth of December in 1986, when police received a tip that Davis was seen entering the Bronx housing project where his sister lived. After an efficient and uneventful arrest, neighborhood residents were seen and heard chanting LAR-RY! LAR-RY! as Davis was taken from the building.

The Courtroom Chronicles

The courtroom saga surrounding the trials against Davis was nothing short of astonishing and bizarre. In March of 1988, after a nine-day jury deliberation, Davis was acquitted of the murders of the four Bronx drug dealers despite overwhelming evidence. This acquittal apparently was based on unsubstantiated assertions by radical defense attorneys
William Kunstler and Lynne Stewart that Davis had been framed by authorities.

The jury selection for the Bronx shootout with police officers began in April of 1988. Davis was charged with nine counts of Attempted Murder and eight counts of Weapons Possession. With William Kuntsler again representing Davis, a mistrial was declared during the lengthy jury selection in May 1988. The prosecution concurred in Kuntsler's motion for a mistrial with both sides leveling charges of racist tactics in the selection of the jurors. A second mistrial occurred in June of 1988, after a dispute over the removal of the only white juror. Both sides agreed to this mistrial, fearing that the lengthy jury selection had tainted all of the jurors.

The retrial for the police shootings finally began in October 1988. Attorney Kunstler argued self defense by Davis. On November 20, 1988, after five days of jury deliberations, Davis was acquitted of the Attempted Murder charges against all police officers to the outrage of the police and most members of the community. He was convicted of six of the eight counts of Weapons Possession. Later juror interviews revealed that the jurors had believed the defense's unsupported assertions that Davis was an "innocent young kid" who got recruited by a few corrupt police officers who later wanted to silence him and that the shootings were Davis's only way out.

In a later trial, Davis was once again acquitted, this time for the murder of the Manhattan drug dealer Victor LaGombra. The not-guilty verdict came despite ballistic evidence matching the .32 caliber revolver left behind during the police shootings to the .32 caliber weapon used to shoot LaGombra.

In 1991, Davis was found guilty in the unrelated murder case of the other Bronx drug dealer, Raymond Vizcaino, whom Davis shot through a door. Davis was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Having already been sentenced to 5 to 15 years on the weapons possession charges, this consecutive sentence ensured that Davis wouldn't be eligible for parole until 2016. Defiant to the end, Davis repeatedly told the sentencing judge, "I ain't afraid of you," until the judge expelled Davis from the courtroom, continuing the sentencing without the defendant's presence.

Davis's prison stay was as tumultuous as his out-of-prison lifestyle. He racked up multiple disciplinary citations for assaulting inmates, assaulting corrections staff, fighting, and other threatening behavior. It was behavior that would continue to the end.

The Rest of the Story

And now as Paul Harvey would say . . . "for the rest of the story," the side that very few people know:

Another police officer was taken down by Larry Davis in that notorious incident. But he wasn't taken down by a bullet, and he certainly wouldn't stay down for long.

could be written about Vernon Geberth, former New York City Police Commander who now lectures around the country teaching his classes on Practical Homicide Investigation, Advanced Homicide Investigation, and Sexual Homicide Investigation.

This blog would be pages and pages long if I attempted in any way to explain who Vernon is and what he has accomplished but if you
link to his Web site it will give you a flavor. Suffice to say I have learned much from the master whose motto is "We work for God" and who refers to his devotees as disciples. His textbook Practical Homicide Investigation is widely regarded by investigators as the "bible" of homicide investigation.

I met Vern through work over ten years ago and have remained fast friends with him ever since. I always knew that he left the New York Police Department over "political reasons." He never told me what they were. I never asked. I recently learned what those political reasons in the wake of Davis's killing.

As Vern said after Davis's murder:

This man was a vicious wanton killer responsible for the deaths of six individuals (four in one incident) whom he would kill for their crack and cash. When we finally identified him as our murder suspect he should have been assigned to our Bronx Homicide Fugitive Unit. However, our illustrious Chief wouldn't allow that because he felt quote "I don't believe in elitists let the local detective squad handle this." And, so every time that Larry Davis was located we had to scramble a team to apprehend him. THAT'S how people get hurt. I tried to talk common sense to the arrogant Chief but he wouldn't listen. So on that fateful night when detectives scrambled to the Fulton Avenue apartment in the Bronx where Davis was hiding we almost lost six of New York's finest to an armed thug. After the shooting Davis was made into some sort of ghetto hero and the whole case took on racial overtones as the department put together an impossible but politically correct apprehension plan which was designed to protect Larry Davis and made it extremely difficult to capture him. That was when I committed commander-cide. I ordered 38 Black and Hispanic undercover officers to infiltrate the building that he was presently hiding in, which was in direct violation of the Chief of the Department's apprehension plan and Larry Davis was captured without incident. Needless to say, I would have to retire after this event since I had challenged the beast by taking independent and effective action which provoked the high command. BUT, it was worth it in the long end. I retired with my back straight and my head high with the respect of my troops."

Larry Davis left his back uncovered last month but your back is still straight, Vern. I've learned a lot from you about murder but now you've taught me the meaning of "STAND UP GUY" as well. As always, THANKS from a disciple!

Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.