Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009: Crime In Review

 by Robin Sax 

It’s that time again — the very end of the year.  In addition to looking to the future (charting goals and resolutions), this is a chance for us to reflect upon 2009 and learn.  Blogs, TV shows, newspapers and magazines are looking at the year: the good and the bad, the trends and the hook-ups, the births and the deaths. From my perspective, this is an opportune time to examine the top crime stories of 2009.  After perusing dozens of media outlets, I’d like to remind you specifically of 12 crime stories -- one for every juror on a panel -- from 2009, in no particular order. Some represent justice, truth, and closure; others illustrate injustice, missed opportunities, and evil. These stories affected us all, directly or indirectly:

1.     Roman Polanski reignited: This case is about more than just the facts of Polanski’s offenses (which are indeed major). Polanski stole time, resources, and energy from the State of California for years, actually, decades. He accepted no responsibility for his actions, nor for the deal he chose to strike.  The best case would be for Polanski to come back and face a California judge, take his medicine, and receive the same sentence he bargained for in the first place (assuming the LA District Attorney). We're all fascinated by a man who lived freely for three decades, suffering no consequences for leaving the country to escape the law. So, man up Polanski!  Not just privately; teach your Hollywood buddies a lesson too!  Teach them not to blame the victim, not to minimize the damages caused by sexual assault; and not to deny the realities of the crime.  Tell Whoopi that you committed real rape, and you are finally going to take real responsibility! Once you do, we can all move on in 2010.

2.     Jaycee Duggard found:  Don’t get me wrong; this case represents one of the great outcomes in the criminal justice system!  And a big fat shout-out to Berkeley Events Manager Lisa Campbell and Berkeley Police Officer Ally Jacobs for not missing opportunities as the California Department of Corrections and the Contra Costa Police had done so many times before. This case may be the first time we heard law enforcement actually call it like it was -- a case of “missed opportunities.”  Missed opportunities no longer!  Nancy Garrido, wife of Phillip Garrido, may be the real monster in the 1991 abduction of 11-year-old Jaycee Duggard. True, her husband, Phillip Garrido, is a horrific figure who kidnapped Jaycee and held her captive for 18 years. Garrido, a registered sex offender, kept Jaycee (and her two kids, fathered by him) in a tent in the backyard. But Nancy Garrido knew and said nothing. Jaycee was returned to her family in September. What did we learn? We need to take a closer look at the way we use registered sex-offender lists and, perhaps more importantly, how we monitor sex offenders all the way around. 

3.     Balloon Boy takes off:  I hate to give this case any more attention, but it represents so much of the decade that I have to mention it. The balloon boy case illustrates the worst of media and the most pathetic things people will do to exploit it. I was shocked that so many news stations (almost all of them!) covered this loose-balloon chase with such intensity.  I mean, it was surreal -- a giant Chef Boyardee cap sweeping the skies and Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room tracking trajectories of falling balloons.  Why was it so popular? Because TMZ rules the media these days, and our society can't get enough of this type of buzz. It looked like traditional news outlets were trying, for once, to trump TMZ. (Get over it, TMZ rules!) The silver lining: at least mom and dad Heene pled guilty and were sentenced expeditiously.  I have never seen justice take off so fast…. a lot faster than it would have taken to get a real television show made.  

4.     Two tragic massacres -- Fort Hood and The Tacoma police murders: Nidal Malik Hasan and Maurice Clemmons both committed terrible acts of violence when they carried out their (unrelated) massacres. One similarity: both Hasan and Clemmons targeted official personnel in their shooting rampages, Hasan on a military base and Clemmons at police officers. Hasan, a 39-year-old military psychiatrist, was never suspected as being capable of massacre. Similarly, Clemmons, a 37-year-old parolee, got a second chance to live out in society precisely because he wasn’t seen as a threat. Clemmons was granted clemency by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee – putting forth the case (successfully) that he was rehabilitated.  Obviously, those around both Hasan and Clemmons got it wrong; they didn't see that either man was a violent sociopath. What can we learn from these tragedies? I honestly don’t think there is an answer here. This type of senseless violence occurs more often than any of us care to review. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. We also pray and hope that this type of crime doesn’t make the list in 2010. 

5.     Annie Le found dead: We were all horrified when Annie Le was found dead inside the wall of a research lab on the day she was supposed to be married. Lab technician Raymond Clark was arrested and charged with her murder. Investigators zeroed in on Clark early in the investigation after he failed a lie detector test and was found to have defensive wounds on his body, scratches on his arms and back and a bruised eye. In addition, his attempts to clean up the crime scene (where Le was last) and DNA evidence led to his arrest.  We were reminded, yet again, that even the guy-next-door-type can be capable of murder.

6.     Cherish Lewis still in jail: The case of Cherish hasn't made headline news. It stands for all such worthy cases that don't get national media attention. Cherish is the mother of five-year-old Jaelyn Rice. An Ohio judge ordered Cherish to hand her child over to an abusive father. When Cherish refused, she was jailed. Her child is in hiding with relatives, and the predator-father is free. This is a case of true injustice where the system got it totally wrong. I highlight these types of unknown important cases as a co-host on radio show "Justice Interrupted" (with Stacy Dittrich), which will be relaunching next month. Find out more at

7.     Amanda Knox convicted of murder: The conviction of this American student for the murder of her British roommate sent ripples of shock and scrutiny across the U.S. media waves. I can't say Amanda didn't do it, based on what I saw of the evidence presented; none of us can say for sure what happened that night. I can say this though: I don't think Amanda would have been convicted of murder if she were tried for the same crime in the United States. I believe this case raises a very important issue: American students traveling abroad for international education should be afforded some protections. There was clearly some questionable prosecutorial conduct in this case. But since the U.S. lacked jurisdiction, diplomats could do nothing once the sentence was handed down. I don't believe that's fair. We should learn from this case to help prevent further miscarriages of justice in future international trials. 

8.     Shaniya Davis sold for sex: Little Shaniya was sold by her mother and ended up dead. I applaud the prosecutors in the Davis case for calling this crime what it is: human trafficking, and not labeling it just another case of sexual assault and murder. There is true evil out there, unfortunately, and this case is an example of what an evil, desperate mother can do to her own child. We need to get the word out that human trafficking for sex is a problem not just in Thailand or Cambodia, but right here at home in North Carolina and other states. 

9.     Chris Brown’s attack: Rihanna’s battered face hitting TMZ was a huge moment this year. Many people in this country still believe that domestic violence isn’t prevalent anymore. Well, this case reminded us all that it's still around and can and does affect everyone. I believe that while Brown got special treatment as a rap-music superstar, he was forthright in taking responsibility for his crime and at least reminded us that we need to pay attention to domestic violence. Brown pled to a felony, and he suffered some public humiliation. I think Brown got a little better deal than what he would have if the case had gone to trial -- but that's the nature of a plea deal. The real big shocker was when Rihanna went back to him! She really let down thousands of female fans who counted on her to behave as a role model after the attack. While the crimes de jour may change from year to year, we must remember that we still have a long way to go to stem violence against our loved ones.  

10.  Michael Jackson’s death: Dr. Conrad Murray is the sideshow to this final Michael Jackson explosive controversy.  It seemed as though the world stopped for a bit when news of Jackson’s death hit the airwaves in June.  Jackson’s Facebook page jumped from 800,000 fans to 7 million the week following the self-proclaimed King of Pop’s passing.  But the controversy over Jackson's doctor still rages. I know we'll be hearing a lot more about this one in 2010. Murray probably will be charged early next year after prosecutors present their case to a grand jury. I don’t think L.A. wants to lose another celebrity trial. Dr. Murray will probably be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Right now Jackson's death is being treated as a homicide investigation (simply because homicide investigators handle cases in which the victim died in the presence of another person – in this case Conrad Murray).  Thousands of media outlets will continue to follow this case. Get ready L.A.!

11.   Anthony Sowell’s rampage: This Cleveland rapist, if convicted, is the perpetrator of one of the most gruesome series of crimes in recent history. He lived in a townhouse duplex filled with the rotting bodies of women he had raped and strangled to death. Police found bodies in upstairs bedrooms, the living room, a crawl space, a shallow grave in the backyard and another grave in the basement. There were at least 11 victims.  The real question in this unspeakable case: neighbors and officials who did nothing about the horrendous smell wafting from the home. Neighbors knew something was off about Sowell. Some said he reeked so terribly himself that their eyes would water. City officials who inspected the street blamed the smell on backed up sewers or Ray's Sausage Company, housed in an adjacent building. Had the signs been heeded earlier -- among them Sowell’s strange behavior and the stench coming from his house -- perhaps some of the women might have been saved and more deaths prevented. This is a cautionary tale (a gruesome one) for us all to pay attention to our surroundings, follow our instincts, and report and pursue strange things -- even odors -- that seem out-of-place.

12.  Bernie Madoff’s scheme exposed: Madoff ran the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. He cheated thousands of investors of some $50 billion. The federal government exposed the scheme in December ’08. Madoff pled guilty to 11 felony counts in March of  ’09, making him the highest profile white-collar criminal in recent memory. Madoff's scheme wiped out dozens of charities and the life savings of entire families; he totally ruined many innocent lives. Madoff wants everyone to believe he was the only one who knew of the fraud. That's hard to believe, since his brother, two sons, niece, and other family members held high-level positions in the firm. Now the 70-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison. The Madoff scandal seemed to be at the epicenter of the economic meltdown and will undoubtedly shake the financial community for years to come. 


FleaStiff said...

>Polanski stole time, resources, and energy
>from the State of California for decades.
Perhaps you mean the improper comments of a prosecutor resulted in decades of delay and distraction.
>He accepted no responsibility for his actions
Not true. He did indeed accept responsibility for his rather minor actions, the usual and customary sentence for which would have been 90 days of probation.
>best case would be for Polanski to come back
Even the appellate court indicated the case should be settled without requiring Polanski to return to the court.

FleaStiff said...

>Shaniya was sold and ended up dead.
The mother acted in accord with the same values she would have instilled in her daughter had she lived.

FleaStiff said...

Cleveland rapist: strange odors were reported.

Bernie Madoff: People who use social encounters to make financial decisions and who are impressed by exclusivity of access deserve to be cheated. All those earnings statements had been suspiciously rosy and suspiciously uniform for quite some time ... and many people knew it!

Robin Sax said...

If you want to read about Los Angeles' top crime stories, check out

Anonymous said...

As always Robin you are doing a great job. Thanks for updating us.

You hold our attention, educate us and make us want more.

Love and best wishes for your birthday.

Anonymous said...

1. Your opinions disgust me. Since when is sodomizing and drugging a 13-yr. old child "minor?!"
2. Shaniya was only visiting her mother as her father had full custody for obvious reasons. Know your facts.