Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Circumstantial Evidence: Proof or Persecution

by Pat Brown

Today we are supposed to be getting the lowdown on the FBI's case against Dr. Bruce Ivins and I hope like heck they really have some solid evidence linking Ivins to the anthrax attacks. If it turns out they have nothing but an assortment of "interesting facts that might warrant further investigation," then claiming Ivins is the culprit is downright appalling.

Now anyone who knows me or has heard me give commentary on news shows may point out that I usually speak quite bluntly and say that someone looks mighty darn guilty, that I have little question that they committed a particular crime. I then list the various pieces of circumstantial evidence.

So why am I so upset when I see headlines about Ivins declaring "Homicidal Anthrax Maniac Plans Murder of Coworkers" or "Mad Scientist Obsessed with Sorority Near Anthrax Mailbox" or "Crazed Anthrax Killer Gets Porn at Secret Mailbox"? Because many of these facts are unsubstantiated, meaningless, taken out of context, and woven together as "proof" of unquestionable guilt that the FBI has found the anthrax culprit and the case is solved.

Sometimes circumstantial evidence is indeed strong enough to have little doubt of an individual's guilt. At other times, it is only good enough to encourage more investigation. With respect to fairness and a person's reputation, we ought not to confuse or manipulate the two different levels of quality of such evidence.

A couple of recent cases illustrate this point. The first one made major news last week when a police SWAT team raided the home of Cheye Calvo in a "no-knock" drug raid, blasting through the door, shooting down the family dogs, and terrorizing the residents of the home. The story has spread like wildfire across the Internet and the police action has received much condemnation.

Here are the basic facts of what went down: Drug dogs hit on a package containing 32 pounds of marijuana at a package facility in Arizona. The parcel was addressed to one Trinity Tomsic of Berwyn Heights, Maryland. Law enforcement there set up a sting operation, allowing the package to continue on its way to be delivered by one of their own to the home of Cheye Calvo.

Calvo was working at the time of the delivery and his mother-in-law, who lived with Calvo and his wife Trinity, told the delivery man to leave the package on the porch. When Calvo arrived home from work, he noted the package and carried into the house, dropped it unopened onto a table and went to change his clothes.

Moments later, all hell broke loose. The SWAT team blasted into the house, shot Calvo's beloved black Labradors, and for the next three hours Calvo and his mother-in-law—handcuffed and kneeling on the floor—were interrogated. The dogs lay dead nearby in pools of blood. Nothing in the house was found and no arrests were made.

If this had happened in a ghetto, perhaps no one would have taken note. However, Cheye Calvo is not just an upstanding citizen but the mayor of Berwyn Heights, a small, peaceful suburban town just one mile from the University of Maryland. Both Calvo and Tomsic have jobs working with the government, do much charity work, and are pillars of the community. Most everyone in town is outraged and appalled by this horrific incident.

A rally was held in protest of the police action and in support of the Calvo family. Most think they are unwitting and innocent victims of some drug ring using their address as a drop and someone else was intending to intercept the package before the Calvos even saw it. Some think they were set up.

So, are they guilty or innocent? I personally don't know but I can "prove" Cheye Calvo is guilty the FBI "Bruce Ivins" way, by picking and choosing which circumstantial evidence I will focus on and developing my theory to prove Calvo committed the crime of purposefully receiving illegal drugs.

The police must have had excellent reason to believe the Calvos were planning to receive the package, knew what was in it, and were involved in some sort of shady dealings or they would not have taken the huge risk of public outrage by carrying out a "no-knock" raid on the well-respected mayor of a peaceful, middle-class town.

The idea that the Calvos were just used as a drug drop location with someone else planning to intercept the package does not hold water. The police were surveilling the house and no one else was seen waiting for the package. Surely the police investigated the possibility that the delivery man could be in on the drug operation and they cleared him of any involvement. This leaves Calvo or Tomsic as the intended recipient.

Cheye Calvo was in Arizona (pure hearsay) around the time the package was sent. By not sending it to himself, but putting his wife's name on it, he distances himself from the package if ever he is questioned about it. The package is not his and was not sent to him.

Calvo planned to receive the package and then remove the contents to a secure location without the knowledge of his wife or mother-in-law. The package was delivered on a day Trinity Tomsic worked into the evening, allowing Calvo to come home and deal with package before Trinity's arrival.

He likely told his mother-in-law that he was expecting a package and, because it contained items for the yard, to just leave it on the porch. He had to have given this instruction to his mother-in-law because the porch had no overhang and it is unlikely she would leave a package addressed to her daughter out in the elements (heavy afternoon thunderstorms) if she thought it could be damaged.

Calvo would not want the package in the house before he could take care of it because his two black Labradors might rip open the package and damage the contents. When Calvo arrived home and carried the box in, he placed it on a table out of reach of the dogs.

Motive would be a question in this case. Although Calvo claims he is vehemently anti-drugs, because he and his wife have no children they may feel less restraint concerning recreational use of marijuana. However, 32 pounds is a lot of marijuana and worth $60,000 to 100,000 on the street, so one would suspect a financial motive. The Calvos recently sold one house and bought another with a good number of months passing where they had both houses in their possession (double mortgage payments) and the huge housing slump may have caused the sale of the first house to plummet $50,000-$100,000. This could cause quite a financial crisis for the Calvos in spite of their reasonably secure employment with the government.

Why would Cheye Calvo risk that security and lifelong benefits associated with working for the government just to make a quick buck? He may have thought his job as mayor eliminated most of the risk of such an undertaking. Should the police show up at his door, he would simply deny, as he did, that he knew anything about the package or what was in it, and who would question him? He is the mayor and well-loved in the town.

The chances of the police finding out about the package were statistically low (and both Calvo and his wife deal in statistics in their work), so the chances were high that the package would get through and their financial problems would be solved.

Have I convinced you that Cheye Calvo is guilty? Are you ready to see him arrested? I sure hope not. I have taken the few facts that exist and I have added conjecture and theory to weave them into a guilty scenario. While the facts may be thought-provoking and warrant further investigation and even a search warrant, this is the limit of what can be determined at this point in time.

All I actually know is:

1. A package containing 32 pounds of marijuana was addressed to Trinity Tomsic at the proper address.

2. Tomsic's mother told the delivery man to leave the package outside.

3. There is no overhang on the front porch.

4. Calvo brought the package into the house and left it unopened on the table.

5. Trinity Tomsic was not at home at the time of the delivery.

I also know but left out or misconstrued:

1. Neither Calvo nor Tomsic has a criminal record.

2. They both have good jobs.

3. They both donate a lot of their time to public service and charitable work.

4. They both have good reputations.

5. The townspeople love and support them.

6. They do not live ostentatiously.

So far, Cheye Calvo and Trinity Tomsic have not had their characters assassinated like Bruce Ivins. Until and unless an investigation finds additional evidence to prove the Calvos are truly involved in drugs, I can see nothing in their behavior or characters to condemn them (even if there are some curious points that make one do the profiling thing and analyze the possible scenarios).

Casey Anthony, however, is the exact opposite. Casey looks guilty as heck and I don't mind saying this. First of all, she is a liar. This is a fact, not a guess or conjecture. She is also a pathological liar. Fact. She didn't report her daughter missing for 31 days. Unbelievable fact. She has a car with a trunk that smells like a dead body. Fact. She is seen partying and smiling after he daughter went missing. Fact. She is not cooperating with the police. Fact.

I cannot assassinate this woman's character by saying she likely killed her child because she has accomplished that without my help. I think there is ample circumstantial evidence that points to Casey killing Caylee. Not just one or two or three interesting possibilities but a dozen or so facts that build a pretty solid case for guilt.

Bruce Ivins may be guilty of the anthrax attacks, but it won't be because he supposedly had a thing for a particular sorority or because some bizarre social worker with a criminal history claims he is homicidal, or because someone says he got porn at a secret mailbox. First of all, I have no idea of the validity of any of these claims, and, secondly, they do not prove a link to the anthrax attacks. If they were all true, then, yes, certainly, these verified facts would make me want to look more carefully at the man. According the government, we will have answers today.

A fair amount of circumstantial evidence equals probable cause for further investigation. An excessive amount of circumstantial evidence or extremely strong circumstantial evidence may constitute proof of guilt if altogether the evidence is convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. A sketchy amount of circumstantial evidence twisted and magnified is nothing but persecution.


Leah said...

As always Pat, your posts are very interesting and informative.

The one thing that bothers me about Ivins is that he committed suicide. While that, in and of itself doesn't prove guilt, it does give you a little clue about his mental and psychological welfare. I don't know very many innocent individuals that would kill themselves because they are being wrongly charged with a crime. Usually this brings about a defensive mechanism that makes them want to fight for their life.

Ultimately, because he did take his own life and presumably over the impending charges, I hope he is guilty. Otherwise there will be two problems as a result of the FBI investigation. [1] The real anthrax killer is still out there and [2] an innocent man died because the FBI tormented him.

Pat Brown said...

I hope Ivins is guilty for the same reason.

As to taking one's life, under normal circumstances I would agree that this should be a sign of guilt. But, it seems Ivins was spiraling downward for so long, tormented by the accusations (if he was innocent), hounded by the FBI, and watching his career and life being destroyed. He was supposedly self-medicating with various substances and by the time the social worker said all that stuff about him he may just not have been able to handle being raked over the coals anymore and also felt he was going to railroaded (if innocent) to prison where he would then have to spend the rest of his days. I might kill myself if under those conditions.

By the way, reread the article. When it was first posted, it was missing about five paragraphs which why it may not have made total sense!

Anonymous said...

but he wasn't just suicidal - he had threatened to take others down with him, showing homicidal tendencies, getting a bulletproof jacket and things that someone like Cho (VT massacre) outfitted himself with. i think Ivins is guilty as sin. i'm glad they caught him. wish he could have been put on trial so we could have some real answers. Ivin's is the type that wouldn't let it get that far - didnt want to be exposed - leave it a mystery. whatever. no mystery to me. the guy was a toxin on society - he proved that by showing his true colors in the end and threatening to take innocent people down with him.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone say Olympic Park bombing? How guilty did Richard Jewell look? The dude was innocent. He died a premature death to

Leah said...

Thanks Pat. I was a lot confused about the Calvo part of the post until you added the other paragraphs. So, was there indeed marijhauna in the package?? You mentioned that nothing was found and no arrests were made. In any case there ought to be repercussions for state and federal police when they raid like that and kill pets and make a huge mess of someone's home for no reason at all. No wonder there are so many anti-government people around.

Pat Brown said...

The package did contain 32 pounds of marijuana but nothing else apparently was found in the home.

I can understand a "no-knock" raid (which apparently is some question no over it ever being issued by a judge) IF there is ample supporting evidence that the suspect is guilty of dealing in drugs and a regular approach would allow evidence to slip away. If the "no-knock" raid is necessary, then shooting the dogs might also be necessary because of the danger they present to the police officers (and those that claim Labs would just lick them is not always true and the cops cannot risk being attacked, bitten, and distracted while trying to get the situation under control - and they don't know if someone is going to come down the stairs with a gun in each hand and try to battle the cops).

I had hoped the law enforcement agencies in this case had good reason for their actions, but, at the moment, they are not looking to good.

Pat Brown said...

Anonymous, we have no idea if the accusations made by the social worker with alcohol and drug problems who also has a criminal record, have a shred of truth to them. For the moment, we have no confirmation from any one else that Ivins planned to kill his coworkers. It is possible this woman made up those accusations at the behest of the FBI or in a ploy to get attention for herself or she misconstrued what Ivins said. Unless we get some other evidence that he really intended to take such action, we cannot claim to KNOW he was homicidal.

Leah said...

Of course if there is good evidence that it was a drug house they should have done a "no knock" raid. But they had plenty of time after they were alerted about the package in Phoenix to investigate the couple before taking off like bulls in a china shop. Most people know who durg addicts are, especially cops. The mayor and his wife, if he ran for election, are an open book already. Anything bad about them would have some out during the campaign. Anybody can address a package of drugs and mail it to someone. doesn't mean they ordered it. Hell, I get mail all the time for provious owners of my house and I have lived there for 4 years. This is incerdibly sad and I read where this has happened to other people. Guess this made the news because it was the mayor's home that was raided this time. Ok, now I am pissed.

Pat Brown said...

The fact the box contained 32 POUNDS and not a few ounces is one of the big issues here.

One, no drug ring wants to waste that quantity of weed and money putting it some place they aren't going to be able to get it. The house is an unlikely choice because it is easily observed (not hidden by trees or in an out of the way place) so witnesses could note someone going onto the property. The house is fenced with dogs. There were better choices nearby. So, unless it was the route driver, odd that their house would be selected and the mayor's wife's name on the package.

On the other hand, one wonders what investigation was done to determine if they WERE the intended recipients and if there was enough reason to do the raid.

We are waiting to find out.

Leah said...

I guess there wasn't a return address on the package. It almost sounds like political revenge. Keep us posted.

Pat Brown said...



::rolls eyes::

Leah said...

OMG...I hope the FBI feels very intelligent tonight! Thanks for the update Pat. I wonder how long it took them to figure it out.

Leah said...

I meant to also say this in my earlier post....I still think based on everything that Feds knew, the no knock raid was totally inappropriate. It is so fortunate that no person was injured and that the mother didn't have a heart attack or a stroke because of the raid. Never mind the poor dogs which I am sure the feds aren't losing any sleep over.

At some point LE is going to have to get better at their job.

I am still pissed.