Friday, December 31, 2010

How to Combat Fear and Loathing in 2011

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

The late gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson once said, “Call on God, but row away from the rocks.” He wrote the drug-crazed romp, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that inspired the title for this post. Fear and loathing grow during economic slumps. News reports of double-dip recessions, inflation, deflation, terrorism, war, crime and corruption whip up a frothy mess of fear and anxiety. When we read about hate crimes, terrorism and neighborhood bomb factories, we sometimes feel helpless and confused. Fear and helplessness often inspire us to look for someone or something to blame. We want a cause for our predicament and we want to know whose butt to kick.

Conservatives blamed homosexuals for hurricane Katrina. Political pundits blame illegal immigrants for our high unemployment rate. Democrats blame Republicans, and the G.O.P. accuses the liberals. We look for scapegoats to blame for everything from global warming to the economy. Crimes of hate often start with fear-based anger.

Fear and anxiety take their toll on the nervous system. Short-term stress, like the jitters you feel before giving a speech, can be good for you by boosting norephinephrine levels, fostering creative thought and memory formation. Long-term fear and anxiety, like the stress of living with an angry alcoholic, overworks the limbic system, hippocampus and amygdala. This bad stress can mess with memory formation, weaken the immune system, and increase risk for depression and anxiety.

Anger and stress management experts know that hostile thoughts like, “They’ve messed with me for the last time!” keep people hyper-alert and sensitive to attack. It compresses you into a wound-up, ready-to-pounce state of arousal. Over time this can threaten your mental health and well-being. In the short run it can feel good to blame others for our present problems. We take the heat off of ourselves and put it outside of our responsibility. Psychologists call this the defense mechanism of projection. Like a movie projector, we light up others with the movie we have in our own mind. We see our own inner fears and hostilities acted out by the feared other.

Unfortunately, anxiety and anger narrow our ability to think creatively, problem-solve and see clearly. Our survival depends on quick thinking, keen observation and good judgment. Instead of looking for someone to blame, claim responsibility for the problem. Taking responsibility empowers us to change what we must. For example, if you feel angry about the economy, your job, your finances, I suggest that you ask yourself these five questions:
  • “What is my problem?”
  • “What did I do that contributes to my problem?”
  • “What did I neglect to do that contributes to this problem?”
  • “What can I do now to improve the situation?”
  • “Who can I enlist for support or information to help me improve the situation?”
Asking these five questions mobilizes your can-do spirit. The first question, “What is my problem?” helps you stop worrying about things that aren’t your concern. The next questions focus your thinking on solutions. In contrast, fear and loathing keep you in a steaming vat of helpless tension with nowhere to go but down.

So the next time you find yourself blaming unions, or management, the poor, immigrants, rich people, the government, take a deep-cleansing breath. Ask yourself the five questions. Feel your heart rate return to normal. The philosopher Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 2011 is a brand new year, rich with possibilities. Row. Row. Row.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Tragic Life of Kelsey Smith-Briggs

No matter what the circumstances, it is a tragic event when a 2 year old dies.  It's even worse when the child is murdered. Kelsey Smith-Briggs lost her life on October 11, 2005 at her home near Meeker, Oklahoma.

This death troubles me more than usual because of the many problems and questions that hang in the air more than five years later. My first concern is that the people hired by the state to look after the best interests of the children of Oklahoma, clearly did not perform their duty. No question about that since a judge awarded Kelsey's father more than half-a-million dollars because of their dereliction of duty.

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that Kelsey was being abused. The question was, by whom?  Her stepfather,  her father, her stepmother, her mother, her grandmothers? Did it all happen in one household or in multiple homes? The poor little girl suffered two broken legs and a broken collar bone in the year leading up to her death. 

Family members on both sides pointed the finger of blame at one another. The animosity between the two sides had escalated since Lance Briggs and Raye Dawn Smith had divorced before Kelsey was born. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services and Judge Craig Key could not sort out all the claims and counter-claims but transferred custody several times with varying of levels of visitation to the various parties. They never completely removed her from the situation where she was clearly in danger or reported her injuries to law enforcement.

Initially, the state charged stepfather Mike Porter (right) with first degree murder. Later, they added a charge of child sexual abuse. It all fit together.  The reports of suspicions injuries to Kelsey began at the same time that Porter entered her life. Prosecutors claimed that she died after Porter delivered a hard blow to her abdomen. Her mother Raye Dawn Smith was under suspicion but continued to cooperate with police, wanted an autopsy--although Porter objected--and hired a private investigator to look into her daughter's murder. 

At first, child neglect charges were expected to be filed against Raye Dawn. Filing a neglect complaint seemed reasonable to me. In another case, I felt that Rusty Yates should have been charged with child neglect when his wife Andrea drowned all five of their children. But he was not. 

This apparent legal bias baffles and disturbs me. Men are traditionally seen as the protectors of their families and, yet, fathers never seem to be held accountable when they do not fulfill that role. On the other hand, mothers are often charged with a crime for not protecting their child. The legal system does not place equal responsibility on both parents. A man is assumed free of blame while a woman is assumed guilty unless she loses her own life protecting her child.

Four months after the toddler's death, the state brought two charges against Raye Dawn (left): child neglect and enabling child abuse. But who committed the abuse? It seems logical to me that if you can determine who killed the little girl, it should lead you directly to the person responsible for her abuse. But no one has ever been convicted of Kelsey's murder; the state of Oklahoma has held no one responsible. 

The only person who testified that he witnessed multiple incidents of Kelsey's mother abusing her daughter--Mike Porter, the same person the state charged with murder. The prosecutor told the jurors that they knew Porter was responsible for the sexual abuse and murder of Kelsey but still he made a deal with the devil. Did they really think that an individual who sexually molested and murdered a 2-year-old child would tell the truth? Did they not realize he would lie to save himself?

Apparently. they did but didn't care. They made an offer: They'd drop the murder charge and give him a 30-year sentence if he would plead guilty to enabling child abuse and testify against Raye Dawn. Prosecutors allowed him to lie on the stand about his own involvement in the child's death, contradicting, in their closing arguments, his testimony. Aside from his testimony and the anecdote revealed by a suspiciously last-minute addition to the witness list, there was no evidence that Raye Dawn was the person who abused Kelsey. There was innuendo. There was circumstantial evidence.  But one thing was clear: Raye Dawn was not present when her daughter died.

The identical charge they placed against Raye Dawn was enabling child abuse. She was found guilty got a twenty-seven-year sentence.  Was there any proof that she was aware that Mike Porter abused her child? No. Even the Meeker police put the broken collarbone down as an accident. And the Department of Human Services report indicated that the broken legs were either caused by Raye Dawn or by Lance's parents. The judge ruled that there was no way to know who had committed the abuse.

The emotionally overwrought trial of Raye Dawn was filled with unanswered questions. If Raye Dawn is guilty only of sins of omission in not protecting her daughter, she has served enough time. If Mike Porter did, as the evidence indicates, sexually assault and murder the toddler, he should man-up and tell the truth for Kelsey's sake--to give that poor child a measure of justice denied to her by the courts and the prosecution. I don't see that happening. Parents in Oklahoma can only hope he doesn't live long enough to walk out of prison a free man.

This case has become such a tangle, it is impossible to be certain of much. Two things, in my mind, are without dispute: The system failed Kelsey when it did not protect from abuse and murder, and they failed her again when they denied her the justice of convicting her killer of murder.

When the Casey Anthony trial begins next year, you'll find daily updates of the case on Diane Fanning's blog, Writing is a Crime.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Revisiting the First Amendment

by Katherine Scardino

A few weeks ago, one of our very fine contributors, Stacy Dittrich, wrote a blog for Women in Crime Ink about the scumbag (her word, but joined by me!), Phillip Greaves, who wrote the how-to book on being a good pedophile. It is hard to believe that one of our human race could and would write a book about doing harm to our children. I cannot even imagine a more low-class, vile subject for a book available to the world via the Internet and

However, this vile subject is one that we have to talk about because it reaches far beyond Greaves and the subject of how to be a pedophile. In 1775 and 1776, our forefathers crafted a very powerful document, known as the Constitution of the United States of America, which is the supreme law of the land that we live by today. The First Amendment to the Constitution deals with freedom of speech, and you must note that it is the First Amendment. I believe it could have been decided by these fervent and patriotic men that freedom of speech was the most important right that they wanted their descendants to honor. Why? It is possibly due to the fact that the first Americans fled England because they were not allowed to express their desires or opinions about their personal or political lives. They did not want their new world to evolve into the same type of environment that they had just escaped.

So, today, we are in a quandary. There is a man from Colorado named Philip Greaves, and if you looked up the word pedophile in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, you would probably see this idiot’s photograph. I hate to even write his name in this article, because I would not want to add to his obvious need for publicity. But he wrote a book detailing how to conduct yourself as a pedophile. Truly disgusting!

There are people, as Ms. Dittrich stated, who are “defending this type of behavior, all for the sake of the good old United States Constitution.” I am a person who is defending everyone’s right to freedom of speech, as long as that free speech does not break any existing laws on obscenity and pornography. Yes, I will defend the right of every U.S. citizen to be free to speak their minds on any subject they wish, as long as it is legal. I know of no one who would welcome a world where we, as citizens, could be criticized, or worse, thrown in jail for speaking one’s mind.

Remember back in the early '70s during the Vietnam debacle when 19-year-old college student Paul Cohen was convicted of disturbing the peace when, inside a Los Angeles courthouse, he wore a T-shirt saying “F*** the Draft.” The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction, and opined that it was not illegal for him to wear that T-shirt since it was his constitutional right to speak his views.

Now, I will openly admit that announcing one’s opinion on a current event via a T-shirt is very different from Greaves’ how-to book. I heard legal affairs writer Jeffrey Toobin state his opinion on CNN last Sunday evening on AC360. Mr. Toobin said he believed it was not against the law for this scumbag to write a book on this subject since it depicted no photographs, only words. Herein lies the issue. What exactly is pornography? U.S. Supreme Court justices have struggled to establish an appropriate balance between the protection of free speech and the laws that are enacted to curtail the spread of pornography.

In the 1982 case of New York v. Ferber, which was also cited by Ms. Dittrich in her article, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a state statute that prohibited anyone from knowingly producing, promoting, directing, exhibiting, or selling any material showing a sexual performance by a child under the age of 16. It defined sexual performance as any performance that included “actual or simulated sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality, masturbation, sado-masochistic abuse, or lewd exhibition of the genitals.” This means that, like obscenity, child pornography enjoys no First Amendment protection and the government can restrict its availability to everyone. In the case of electronic or computer transmission, it is a federal offense to knowingly receive child pornography.

So, what is obscene material? In 1973, the Supreme Court decided in the case of Miller v. California that obscene materials are defined as those that the average person, applying contemporary community standards, find, taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest; that depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law; and that, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. The Miller decision provided states greater freedom in prosecuting alleged purveyors of obscene material because, for the first time since prior cases, a majority of the court agreed on a definition of obscenity.

The community standards portion of the decision is of particular relevance with the rise of the Internet, as materials believed by some to be explicit can be accessed from anywhere in the nation, including places where there is a greater concern about obscenity than is found in other areas of the nation. Perhaps the community where this man initially wrote this book (Colorado) is more lenient than the community where he mailed a copy to the FBI agent (Florida) and where he is currently in jail unable to make his $15,000 bond.

I have to ask, however, is it illegal to write a book describing how to be a good prostitute? Prostitution is illegal, just like child pornography and child sexual abuse. Why is it okay for genitalia to be exposed in photographs found in Hustler or Playboy magazines? Just because the subject matter is not one which some of us, although obviously not all of us, find appropriate does not mean it is illegal. The people who enjoy reading and viewing this material have the right to do so. We have the right not to read or view the material or to contribute any money to the sales of these publications.

So, the issue for the legal pundits and authorities will boil down to whether the words written by this imbecile from Colorado constitutes child pornography and is obscene material. I will not read this book, so I cannot state a firm opinion one way or the other. However, I do believe that it is important material for a solid discussion of our First Amendment to the good old United States Constitution, and I always welcome that.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Amanda Knox: 'I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams'

by Anne Bremner

In the three years since Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were arrested in the murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, public opinion appears to have swung in their favor in Italy and abroad. Crime novelist Doug Preston says this may have an effect on the appeals trial, which opened with a preliminary hearing this month. While Amanda didn't make it home for the holidays this year, she may be home for Christmas next year.

The shift in opinion began when the original prosecutor in the Knox/Sollecito case, Giuliano Mignini (photo right), was convicted of abuse of office and sentenced to 16 months in prison. Then, the original trial judge, Giancarlo Massei, issued his massive 427-page conclusion. At least here in America, many judicial experts were disturbed, if not shocked, by the sheer amount of unsupported surmise, conjecture, and speculation that formed the backbone of the opinion. The loquacious Massei speculated freely, without offering evidence, about such basic issues as motive, the murder weapon(s) used, how the murder was committed, and why.

Also during the past year, a range of American experts re-examined and/or commented on the forensic and DNA evidence, which was exactly the kind of independent examination that the original trial court had denied the defense. These experts include the notable FBI special agent Steve Moore, a DNA expert and former Air Force scientist Mark Waterbury, criminologists Paul Ciolino and Larry Kobilinsky, and forensic specialist Ron Hendry. All concluded that the evidence collection had been grossly incompetent and that the scientific analysis of that evidence was deeply flawed. The DNA experts said the DNA conclusions, crucial to the conviction, had been deliberately manipulated and did not meet even the most minimal international standards. None of these scientists had been hired by the Knox family or accepted fees for their work, making it hard to question their independence.

This past weekend, the Italian Courts ordered a complete independent review of the forensic evidence. This was a major victory for Amanda. It is a good sign that the names have been made known in advance of the January 22, 2011 trial date, which suggests a more open process this time around. It is important to maintain the spotlight, demanding professionalism and expecting that an unjust verdict will be overturned so all parties concerned may finally move on and an innocent young woman can put this nightmare behind her for good.

Criminalist Mark Waterbury explains that if the forensic review burrows down into identification details, alleles and profile correspondences, they are deliberately missing the point. Larger issues render that evidence meaningless. You can't just twist a knob and make a new machine, technique or protocol. The standards that were not met are not meaningless red tape, but, rather, necessary steps to produce valid results.

One can directly witness Italian criminologist Stefanoni using very poor sample acquisition techniques, yet she is the same person who claimed that she had never seen contamination in her lab. She also testified that she "only changed gloves after handling a specimen that was particularly contaminated with blood." Material transfer is a surface energy phenomenon. It does not require dripping liquids to happen. Pet a cat. I rest my case. Stefanoni betrays ignorance of the basic physics of materials that cause the most contamination and is not competent to claim that those physics do not apply to her.

This speaks directly to her further claims about the knife, that DNA could not possibly have come from contamination in a lab full of Meredith's DNA. No responsible researcher would make such a claim. Many of the details of her unique test have not yet been revealed, which further compromises the integrity of the results. Full disclosure of the DNA data files and procedures to both the reviewers and the defense is critical.

Will Knox and Sollecito be acquitted? Per Preston, nearly 50 percent of all Italian criminal convictions are overturned on appeal. Indeed, in Italy, so common are reversals, that you are not actually considered convicted until you’ve been convicted on appeal. This is the main reason Mignini has not lost his job as he continues to appeal his own sentence for abuse of office. He is still acting as a prosecutorial consultant in the Knox appeal, and he has been busy filing criminal slander charges against many of his critics in Italy and America.

Everything hinges on whether the appeals court will decide to retry the case or just re-examine certain parts. Sources in Italy say that the judiciary would like to find a way to convict Amanda on lesser charges, proclaim time served, and get her out of the country. That would save face for the powerful interests who convicted her in the first place, while getting rid of a thorn in the side of U.S.-Italian relations. Italians are deeply embarrassed at the bright light this case has shone on their criminal justice system. They are acutely aware of its shortcomings and have been trying to reform it for years, and they are not happy that its flaws are on display in this case, exposed to outside criticism.

Among the many "Friends of Amanda Knox" are prominent authors, judges, attorneys, scientists and law enforcement experts such as Doug Preston, Paul Ciolino, Michael Heavey, Tom Wright, Mark Waterbury, Bruce Fisher, Charlie Wilkes and myself. Our Christmas wish this year was granted as the court in Perugia embarked upon an ongoing examination and criticism of the forensic evidence in the Knox case. Even world-renowned forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht has offered his assistance to Amanda Knox as she continues her quest for vindication. John Douglas, the inventor of modern FBI criminal profiling methods, declares in the current issue of Maxim magazine that "Amanda Knox is innocent." Let's hope Amanda is granted her dream of justice and freedom--if not during this holiday season, then certainly sometime soon in the coming months.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Risky Business

by Pat Brown

Prostitution is the world's oldest profession and also the most dangerous. Recently, we have had a spate of homicides with victims who put their lives at risk to earn money in the sex trade. Yet, interestingly, the last few times I commented on these homicides, the television shows I was on decided not to report this aspect of these women's lives; the idea is not to lessen the horribleness of the crimes by insinuating that they deserved what they got or that they are less important as victims than a student, a churchwoman, or a middle- or upper-class professional woman.

I can appreciate the concept of presenting a victim of violent crime in a rosier light; she is someone's daughter, sister or mother, and she is loved by her family regardless of her choice of activity. But, it is also a damaging and dangerous concept. Damaging because it can prevent useful information from being offered that might lead to the killer, and dangerous because other women involved in prostitution in a certain jurisdiction might not get the warning they need to avoid being the next victim of a dangerous predator.

Three recent cases I have commented on come to mind.

One is the "Lady in the Suitcase" crime out of East Harlem, New York City. A chilling video of a man dragging a suitcase along the streets of the city has been broadcast repeatedly with the hope someone will recognize the leather-jacketed man who left the suitcase on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building and then just walked away. The name of the victim was known very quickly and not likely because she had her ID on her. Betty Williams, 28, has been arrested some fourteen times in her life. Arrests which include drug involvement, theft, and trespassing. She spent jail time on Rikers Island, which indicates to me she has had a rough life and deals with some tough characters. It would be important to find out whether she has dabbled in prostitution. As it stands, we have no information indicating this, but serious drug users often need to earn money in a hurry. If prostitution is one of Betty's activities, her killer could be a john or not. If she hasn't worked on the streets, then he could be a boyfriend, a drug dealer, or a fellow drug user. The truth will help focus the investigation.

While it is always a possibility that Betty was grabbed off the street by a man who had no connection with her or her activities, it is highly unlikely. The fact that her body was found in the suitcase fully clothed, strangled, and with trauma to the head indicates she was in her killer's apartment and that the crime was not premeditated. Usually when a victim ends up in a piece of luggage, it means the murderer did not plan to kill the victim, which is why he got stuck with a body in his home. Then, he had no way to get the body out of there without being noticed, hence the need for zipping up the victim in a suitcase and toting her down the stairs or elevator and out of his residence.

So, Betty probably knew her killer, and why she might have been in his apartment is very important to figuring out who the perpetrator is. If one wants useful tips, it helps to give people information that will lead them to link someone to the victim or some activity they have in common. Keeping Betty's background a secret is not going to help get justice.

We also have two serial killers on the loose who are clearly targeting prostitutes. One, the "Kensington Strangler," is in the Philadelphia area. Even though the first two victims were both prostitutes, and DNA from the killer matched in both crimes, no warning went out to women working the streets that they could be next. Consequently, a third prostitute became the victim of the same serial killer.

Up in Long Island, a serial killer appears to be getting his victims off of Craigs List's adult service ads. Yet, when I did a TV show on the topic, two of the possible victims were identified, respectively, as a tourist and a local woman. It sounded like some guy was grabbing women off the street as they walked home, or was using some ruse to get them into his car. But this was not accurate. The women were running ads on Craigs List and were going to someone's home to provide their services. Knowing this and getting this information out is crucial in identifying this sexual psychopath and letting women know not to respond to customers in the vicinity of the dump site where four bodies have been found on an isolated beach. Or, at least not to go without letting the john know that his information is being recorded and that the woman is going to have a driver waiting in the car for her.

Not all risky behavior is the reason for women becoming victims, but sex, drugs, and alcohol tend to top the list, and we need to know if these issues are linked to victims so we can catch their killers. We also need to know if they are overly kind, naive, or happy-go-lucky because these not-so-bad behaviors can also put a woman in a situation where she becomes the unlucky victim of a psychopath who catches her in his evil little web. All behaviors are important to recognize in both the victim and the perpetrator; the truth will get someone arrested and put away, hopefully, for good.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Coming Onto the Landscape: Veterinarians at Crime Scenes

by Andrea Campbell

I am one of those people who cannot watch animal cruelty television shows. If I think Animal Planet TV might be covering something on that order, I have to move on. It’s a good thing, though, that others can stomach the work. Melinda Merck is one of the founders of the first veterinary forensic science program in the United States. It takes place at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Merck is one of the few top veterinarian specialists who was trained in processing crime scenes involving animals.  You might remember her if you followed the Michael Vick case, because Melinda Merck was the person federal investigators called in to work the Vick dog fighting compound, where the remains of eight pit bulls were buried on the football star’s property.

Nicknamed “Animal CSI”

Many states today need the services of this type of investigator due to a good thing—the toughening of animal-cruelty laws. We’ve talked enough about behavioral profiling to know that it is not a stretch to understand that people who kill and torture animals are often a stone’s throw away from potentially harming people or committing other serious crimes, so the demand for animal investigators is growing.


 Other Assorted Animal Crimes

Crime scene processing and preserving evidence of abuse and neglect is also needed for puppy mill operations, animal hording, dog fighting, ritualistic animal sacrifice and other abuse pursuits. The skill sets are basically the same in terms of forensic evidentiary collection at human crime scenes: analyzing hair, fibers, blood splatter and instances of insect activity and plant growth, which are clues used to work the cases.

Merck said, “With animal cruelty, there are usually no witnesses—or reluctant witnesses—and certainly the victims can’t testify, even if they’re alive. So they’re always evidence-based cases.”

Training Ongoing

About 200 people have already been trained in this specialty due to a collaborative effort between the ASPCA and the University’s William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine. A certification program is ongoing and classes are running now regularly.

But, the process has evolved over time. Previously, Merck was a private vet in Atlanta who wanted to analyze some maggots found on animals to determine a time of death. She contacted Jason Byrd, a forensic entomologist who has traveled the world at the summons of other crime scene investigators, because she needed help interpreting the life cycles of insects—one of the telling clues on decomposing bodies. Merck then joined the ASPCA in Atlanta and continued to turn to Byrd for his expertise. Soon they organized workshops at the University of Florida, and it was helped along by the first international veterinary forensic science conferences in May of 2008. The ASPCA also funded the program to the tune of $300,000. Merck moved to Gainesville in August 2009 to jump into the new studies with both feet.

Dog-Fighting Ring Exposed

Last year, Merck brought together university trained science teams to work 25 different crime scenes for a reality-based crime. The investigation was essential in helping to dismantle the largest suspected dog-fighting ring in United States history. Some 400-plus pit bulls were rescued from six states and the whole endeavor led to 26 arrests.

The Vick Case Details

According to an interview Merck gave to Mitch Stacy with The Associated Press, some of the evidence found from excavating two mass graves in the Michael Vick case indicated that the killing of those animals on site was by hanging, shooting, drowning or slamming their bodies to the ground, in addition to the bites they had suffered, which were inflicted by the dog fighting. “’What we reconstructed was not consistent with his version of events," Merck says of Vick. Vick was convicted of conspiracy and running a dog fighting ring in 2007 and served 18 months in prison.

Other New Animal Detectives

Cheryl Clark of San Diego was a veterinarian for more than 30 years and took the course in Florida. Her group study unearthed potential evidence as they were assigned a typical crime scene scenario. One group might investigate animals being shot, while another group might stumble onto animal’s stabbings—all part of the training process. Clark admits that all vets see suspected abuse cases, but she claims her goal was to get more precise knowledge in order help other vets and increase widespread appeal for the discipline. Clark said, “I want to help animals on a more global scale, so I think the way to do it is to prosecute abusers and try to get laws changed and improved.”

We heartily agree.

Dr. Merck is the author of Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigations (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).  She is also the co-author of the book entitled Veterinary Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty: A Guide for Veterinarians and Law Enforcement (Humane Press).

Photo of states laws: Copyright © 2010 ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND
Reprinted with permission of the ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An Almost Perfect Murder

by Deborah Blum

In the fall of 1923, an out-of-work painter named Harry Freindlich took out a $1,000 life insurance policy on his wife Leah and then smothered her in bed.

He also, rather ingeniously, set the scene to look like an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. He was caught, thanks to some extremely smart chemical detective work by New York City's fledgling forensic science department.

I came across this case while researching my recent book The Poisoner's Handbook, and it has always struck me as a pitch-perfect example of why chemistry is so essential in criminal investigations. We're accustomed to forensic detective work now but during the 1920s, it was more of an interesting idea than a reality. The Freindlich murder was one of those cases that helped convince a skeptical police force that science could actually help them.

Freindlich was desperate for money at the time. He was just desperate really, jobless and unable to pay the rent, much less provide food for his family. Their home was a bare step above living on the street anyway, a battered tenement on Manhattan’s lower East side. The paint was peeling off the walls; the floors were splintered. They’d been patching the appliances together with cardboard, glue, solder, anything. It was these one of these cracked appliances that gave him the idea--a gas light in the bedroom with a troublesome broken fitting that he had soldered back together more than once.

On an early October morning, Freindlich put a pillow over his wife’s face, pressing it tight until she quit breathing. He then tossed the pillow aside and wrenched apart the soldered light. When he heard the hiss of the gas, he hurriedly left the room, closing the door sharply behind him, leaving his dead wife lying beside the baby son she’d brought to bed with her. As the police pieced it together, he then walked out of the apartment, not trying to save the baby or any of other children sleeping there.

The tossed-aside pillow had dropped right on top of the sleeping infant. The little boy abruptly woke and began crying, struggling to get free. The Freindlich’s oldest child, a ten-year-old boy, heard his baby brother wailing and ran in to see what was wrong. He tried to shake his mother awake, but she didn’t respond no matter how hard he shook her. Now sobbing, he grabbed the baby and ran to the apartment next door. The neighbor grabbed a candle and hurried to check the darkened apartment. When she saw the dead woman in the bed, she ran to the grocer’s place downstairs to call the police.

At first, it easily looked like just another accident, maybe a suicide. Leah had been a sweet woman, the neighbors told the police, but worn down, just tired out. Yet there was something about the neighbor’s story that started to bother the beat cops. If there was a lethal amount of carbon monoxide in a room, it almost always ignited in the presence of fire. Apartments in the city blew up on a semi-regular basis when someone unwittingly struck a match in a gas filled room. The city medical examiner, Charles Norris, kept a file full of pictures showing blackened walls and fragmented furniture.

If gas poisoning had killed Leah Freindlich, there should have been enough carbon monoxide to flash to fire when the Good Samaritan ran in with her candle.

Back at the morgue, the pathologist was suffering from a similar sense of disbelief. The dead woman was sheet pale, all wrong for carbon monoxide poisoning, which tended to flush the skin pink. Before beginning an autopsy, he drew blood samples from her body and asked for a quick analysis from the laboratory of Alexander Gettler, the department's newly hired forensic chemist.

The lab report confirmed everyone’s doubts: The blood was loaded with carbon dioxide. This is actually a classic symptom of suffocation. We normally inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. If someone is being smothered by a pillow, the lungs can't exhale the gas and it instead backs up in the bloodstream. So Gettler's analysis strongly suggested deliberate suffocation.

Equally important, he found no evidence of carbon monoxide saturation of the blood, nothing to suggest that she had been breathing that notably poisonous gas. The pathologist looked more closely at the body, and hidden in the hair at the back of her neck he found a black bruising of fingerprints where someone had pressed, desperately tight.

Freindlich broke into sobs when he was arrested, begging the police to take him to the roof so that he could throw himself off. He couldn’t have killed his wife, he said. No one could have wished her harm. He couldn’t go to jail; what would happen to his children? He wanted his old life back. He wished he'd never come up with this evil scheme.

And, he undoubtedly wished that New York City had never hired that first forensic chemist.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shame by Any Other Name

by Cathy Scott

My childhood friend Vickie Pynchon, an attorney and mediator, has written a piece about restorative justice. "I'm asked about restorative justice from time to time," Pynchon says. "It's all about accountability, amends and reconciliation. Powerful stuff.  Take a look." Thus, here is a fascinating, heady piece about just that. It seems only fitting during this holiday season to talk about amends and reconciliation.

by Victoria Pynchon

Shame. We all know it in one form or another: tripping over absolutely nothing at the local mall, emerging from the restroom trailing a white flag of toilet paper, laughing last and loudest in a room suddenly gone silent, waving happily toward a friend only to realize we are beckoning to a complete stranger.

These are mild forms of shame--embarrassment, if you will. Yet the feeling of sudden exposure makes us flush red in the face, temporarily lose coherence, and engage in an elaborate public pantomime in a futile attempt to regain our dignity. We look to see who is watching, pull the toilet paper quickly from our shoe and stretch our arms as if yawning rather than mistakenly greeting a stranger. We tell an off-color joke and no one laughs. As a result, we flush red and our hands become damp. Staring with mortification at the floor, we sheepishly mumble, "My friends thought it was funny." Any little fig leaf will do. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, we find ourselves naked, hear the voice of another, and are suddenly afraid.

Because the painful experience of shame is believed to deter anti-social and criminal conduct, it has long been a staple of our criminal justice system. Its purpose has been to accomplish moral education about the wrongfulness of the crime and to prevent its occurrence through social and self-disapproval. The concept of reintegrative shaming was first introduced by restorative justice theoretician John Braithwaite as a means of 
distinguishing between shame that stigmatizes criminal offenders (and thus increases crime) from shame that condemns wrongdoing but forgives and respects the offender, hopefully reducing recidivism and decreasing crime.

Braithwaite suggests that labeling criminal offenders as such "will actually reduce crime when the labeling is respectful and focused on the act rather than the person and where disapproval is terminated by ceremonies of forgiveness and apology." Others contend that labeling is inherently stigmatizing and likely to increase recidivism.

In criminal restorative justice circles, the beneficial affects of reintegrative shame are meant to be accomplished by a restorative justice conference or victim-offender mediation (hereinafter called VOMs). These  VOMs bring together victims and their loved ones; offenders and their friends and family; and, caring members of the community for the purpose of discussing the consequences of the crime and what can be done to set it right. Guided by a restorative justice mediator, the parties are meant to engage in a process of respectful dialogue, resulting in the expression of accountability, remorse and apology by the offender; and forgiveness by the victim leading to the participants' entry into a restitution agreement.

Restorative justice theorists and practitioners assert that censuring the offender's criminal behavior and its deleterious effect on the victim without stigmatizing him will engender  empathy for the victim and accountability in the offender, thus reducing recidivism. Whether participation in a single VOM can accomplish such far-reaching goals has been the  subject of much debate in restorative justice circles. A thorough understanding of the origins and effects of shame by restorative justice theorists and practitioners--together with shame-reducing practices and post-offender shame-reduction recovery programs--are absolutely necessary if restorative justice is to achieve its rehabilitative goals.

The challenge of restorative justice is the same as the daily challenge of being human in community with others. If we invite offenders to assist their brethren when they step up to the restorative-justice plate, they will give their fellows courage, strength and heart.

Because our earliest experiences of helplessness relate to our size, strength and intelligence, only anger and its explosive cousin, rage, allow us to prove to ourselves and others that we are powerful instead of weak, competent rather than stupid, large rather than small. Thus do many shame-suffused individuals respond to chronic shame in an attack mode, particularly those who feel endangered by the depths to which their self-esteem has been reduced. Such individuals experience shame as a threat to their physical well-being and lack the ability to trust and rely upon others.

Shame thus serves as a barrier to one's capacity to achieve empathy and develop conscience.

The distinction between guilt and shame in moral development is not a trifling matter of purely semantic interest. Guilt arouses emotional discomfort in response to our transgressions against others. By age 2 children develop the ability to empathize with the feelings of another and by age 3 to evaluate their own conduct against objective behavioral standards. As soon as we are able to experience shame and guilt, we instinctively attempt to regulate our emotional state by engaging in spontaneous acts of confession and reparation. It is guilt, therefore, not shame, that discourages us from engaging in wrongdoing.

This restorative-justice challenge is long-term and ongoing. It involves us all. We seek forgiveness by forgiving; love and compassion, by loving and giving; strength by acknowledging our weakness; and integrity by uncovering our shame. If we reveal ourselves in all our human fallibility, we can stop pretending and move toward the process of loving and healing. Are these extravagant expectations? I think not.

 Victoria Pynchon is an attorney-mediator with ADR Services, Inc. in Century City and a commercial arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association. She is a co-founder of the She Negotiates Training and Consulting firm. Pynchon's book, A is for A**hole, the Grownups' ABCs of Conflict Resolution, was released by Reason Press in October 2010.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Top 8 Stories of 2010

by Robin Sax

Eight cases, why not? Everyone else can do a Top 10 list -- here are my Top 8 from 2010:
8. Casey Anthony going to trial 

In the case of Casey Anthony,  the mother who allegedly murdered her child Caylee, the jury will want to know how a mom, an attractive, normal woman, could do such a thing to her own daughter. The most damning evidence against Casey Anthony -- the reason, the answer to why she might murder her own daughter, the smoking motive: she didn't want to be a mother anymore.  Anthony wanted to party and be free, and so researched a murder method (chloroform) and went ahead and got rid of her daughter one mile from their home. Sounds like an awful scenario. But it may very well be true. That Casey Anthony is a party girl who killed little Caylee in favor of a liberating, carefree life is not a new theory. But the jailhouse letters and inmate interviews support the idea that she was too young to have a kid and could not hang with being a mom, that she wanted freedom from everything, and that she was willing to do absolutely anything to get that freedom - including murdering her 2-year-old baby. This case may top the list for next year when it goes to trial.

7. Bruce Beresford Redman's wife's murder

Beresford Redman, former Survivor producer, went on vacation to Cancun with his wife, who was found strangled to death adjacent from the Moon Palace Resort. Factors that tend to show that he is guilty: the 3 different life insurance policies he took out on his wife's life within 3 months, including the accidental death and dismemberment policy; witnesses that will attest to fighting the night before her mysterious death; a weak, if not lame, excuse that she went shopping but whoops didn’t bring a cell phone and left at 8:30 am (who does that in Cancun while on vacation?); scratch marks on his neck; inconsistencies in his accounts and the accounts of witnesses; need I go on?  Face it people, we live in a judgmental society. We size people and situations up all the time. We draw conclusions over cocktails, in lunchrooms, and in op-ed pieces, like this one.  I say Bruce (and Richard) it’s time to think of a new PR strategy because this one isn't working! We'll see what happens.

6. Mitrice Richardson murder -- any closer?

This 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate mysteriously vanished after walking out of the Lost Hills Sheriff's station nearly three months ago. According to the Los Angeles Times, authorities believe that Mitrice had gone without sleep for as many as five nights before she was arrested for not paying her bill at a Malibu restaurant. They think she may have had a major mental breakdown, including possibly suffering from bipolar disorder. This begs the question, why didn't anyone at the Lost Hills sheriff's station notice anything strange about Mitrice's mood and behavior? Tragically, the body of Mitrice was found this year (she went missing in September of 2009). Richardson's body was found naked, and her bra and jeans were found apart from her body. The search is still in motion for her killer. 

5. Mel Gibson and Oksana domestic violence blow-up/out

After the details of the January 2010 domestic abuse incident surfaced against Mel Gibson, and the taped rant and tirade were released, the incident chills down the spines of even the most hardened people. No one thought Mel would survive the abuse against Oksana Grigorieva, his girlfriend and mother of one of his children. It seemed clear to all he was going down this time, at least in PR if not as a criminal. To make sure I was not missing something, I called a few of my detective buddies at Lost Hills Sheriff's station back in January and found that they concluded as similarly as I -- that Mel Gibson committed a crime against Oksana and if it were any other person, he or she would have been arrested on the spot. The evidence, when compared to that of a typical domestic violence case, was overwhelming. A report from Oksana, taped calls corroborating Oksana’s words, a suspect clearly afflicted with anger among other issues, medical records and statements consistent with the injuries, and another victim who says similar crimes have happened to her. But the tides shifted to disbelief of Oksana and the case virtually died out. It's unlikely that we'll see much justice in this case.

4. John Gardner confession to killing Chelsea King & Amber Dubois 

How could a man who admittedly molested a 13-year-old girl in 2000 serve only five years in jail when he could have served 30? How could he wind up living yards away from an elementary school? In this case, there are lots of questions but only one answer: It should have never happened. There is no excuse, justification or mitigation that can comfort the King or Dubois family for the murder and rape of their beloved daughters. These are deaths that simply could have been avoided. I participated in a press conference and rally this year to help shed light on the horrible parol system in California that could allow this kind of monster out on the streets. Where is the public outcry on this parole supervision crisis? Where is the accountability? Why are these parolees not being properly supervised and monitored by parole agents? Where is the governor of the State of California on this? Why do these parole administrators continue to have their jobs? Shouldn't they be held accountable for these resulting disasters? How many more innocent people have to be murdered for the department to make changes? How many more innocent victims have to suffer at the hands of roaming parolees?

3. Lindsay Lohan saga

Lindsay Lohan has an appetite for destruction. What can we learn from the recent media blitz on Lindsay Lohan besides just a baffling dose of "why" when watching all of her legal debacles? You may expect me to come up with some hidden message or special lesson here but sometimes the obvious is the hardest to digest. The lesson from LiLo's case: don't drink & drive.  I would like to use my platform and big mouth to rant a little about the issue of driving under the influence. Most of you reading this probably have driven home buzzed at some point in your life. Don't do it again. It's not worth it. Just call a cab or a friend if you have had too many drinks. Not only because you don't want to go to jail like our Ms. Lindsay, but because you want to prevent tragedies. Life is too short. We see that Lindsay did get some celebrity justice but, sadly, there doesn't seem to be enough of time on these celebrity news shows to discuss the dangers of getting a DUI and how rampant, and deadly, the practice of drinking and driving is.

2. Human Trafficking on Craigslist and other sites

Websites like Craigslist, MySpace and MyRedBook have facilitated and spurred new growth in child/human trafficking and prostitution within the United States. The Internet has made it possible for pimps and traffickers to sell and solicit children from thousands of miles away. Savvy online criminals can easily pick up at-risk children and runaways through social networking sites. Craigslist seems to be at the forefront of the online solicitation of children in America, and indeed came under fire in 2010 for this practice. Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said any ad on Craigslist that enables human trafficking and child exploitation is completely unacceptable and that his company works tirelessly with law enforcement to help stop the attackers on their site ... really? Well, I think we will be hearing a lot more about the Craigslist site in 2011. Tragically, human trafficking of children for the sex industry is a rapidly growing domestic crisis. Yes, here right in America!

1. Ronni Chasen's murder mystery

The police are convinced that the shooting of Ronni Chasen, a wealthy and respected Beverly Hills publicist, was not a professional hit and that 43-year-old Harold Martin Smith acted on his own with the motive being a robbery, albeit a botched robbery. But there have been a ton of rumors and speculation. It is possible that all the premature speculation generated too many unanswered questions to what really happened to Chasen on November 16. Some questions, that are harder than others, contradict Beverly Hills Police Department statements that 43 year old ex-con Harold Smith rode his favorite bike to commit an armed robbery with Chasen the random victim. BHPD will hopefully come forth very soon with convincing information to legitimize their theory that this was not a merciless contract murder that took the life of this vital member of the entertainment industry. Until then, the questions remain. Rest in peace, Ronni Chasen. We will continue to press on as we know you would have.