Monday, December 6, 2010

Where is the Outrage?

by Pat Brown

I doubt we can find very many people who feel bad for Ingmar Guandique, the man convicted of killing Chandra Levy. My own heart is not bleeding for him. On the other hand, my brain is about to explode. Why am I hearing no outcry about this frightening guilty verdict that the jury arrived at after an incredibly short trial with pitiful evidence? It is hard to see how any prosecutor would have even wanted to try this case with what he had to work with. It is horrifying that a jury would convict on emotion rather than solid facts. As much as I have never been totally enamored with the Innocence Project's overuse of DNA to disqualify all other solid evidence, they and I agree that this miracle conviction is a stomach-turning travesty. While Guandique is hardly innocent, as far as criminal matters go, he did attack two women and has a history of other criminal activities. Past criminal activities of an individual do not prove a similar criminal activity is that individual's doing unless evidence proves it so.

There, my fellow citizens, is the problem. Guandique was a good scapegoat; no, a great scapegoat. No one cares if Guandique stays in prison for decades. In fact, even I prefer he remains incarcerated forever. I don't really give a fig about Guandique's suffering because he is clearly a predator and hardened criminal who needs to be behind bars. But, I do care that our justice system is convicting people without credible evidence.

First, let's take a look at what evidence got Guandique a life sentence for the murder of Chandra Levy:
  • He attacked two other women within the same park, though he did not succeed in either raping or killing them. He was, in fact, trying to rob them.
  • An inmate who knew Guandique in prison said Guandique confessed to him.
No witnesses put Guandique on the trail at the time Levy was theoretically murdered. No evidence was found in Guandique's home linking him to the murder. Guandique, a known thief, did not steal Levy's ring or her Walkman. The only DNA evidence from the crime scene came from Levy's leggings, and, although it was from a male, it did not match Guandique. There was no videotaped confession with details only the killer would know. In fact, the details of the supposed confession Guandique made to his prison mate were not very convincing. Guandique passed the polygraph.

Recap: DNA from the crime scene does not match Guandique and nothing else links him to Levy's murder.

Why are we not all raising hell over this? Guandique could have committed the crime, but so could Condit or one of his buddies, and so could I, for that matter. We really don't know if Guandique is guilty (and neither does that jury), and we don't know if Chandra Levy's murderer is still at large. This is not justice.

Now, let's take a look at other cases that haven't gotten near a courtroom for lack of enough evidence for the prosecutor to feel comfortable presenting the case.

The case I wrote about in my book, The Profiler: My Life Hunting Serial Killers and Psychopaths, is a good example. My suspect in the case, Walt Williams, is still free in spite of:
  • He confessed to being on the path near the location of the murder at the time of the murder.
  • The night of the murder, he threw away all the clothing he had worn (including his shoes) after being on the path where the homicide occurred.
  • He wrote a story about killing people in the park just weeks before the victim was found murdered in a park.
  • He said the following day to the girlfriend who had ended their relationship hours before the murder in response to her question if he was going to do something stupid (like suicide), "You don't know what I have already done."
  • He covered his body in long pants and long sleeves the day after the murder in spite of the fact the temperature was in the high eighties
  • He failed the polygraph and gave a phony alibi.
  • There is no DNA left from the crime that does not match him.
Walt Williams remains free because there is not enough conclusive evidence to convict him. He could have been a nut job who was coincidentally near the area of a crime and because he is a bizarre person, he said and did strange things that made him look like he should be the killer. I tend to think this is not the case, but I agree with the prosecutor that even though the evidence is strong enough to make him the number one person of interest, it is not absolute proof that he committed the crime.

What about the man who said he murdered Ronni Chasen, the Hollywood publicist, for $10,000? By the time I got on "The Early Show" and gave commentary on this crime, the story went like this: The police had been doing surveillance on a man named Harold in connection with the shooting of Chasen. Ronni Chasen was shot in her car as she drove home from a film premiere through the quiet streets of Beverly Hills. Chasen had been shot five times in the chest and shoulder through her passenger window as she waited at a light.

Some pundits claimed it was a hit because the killer used a 9mm pistol with cop-killer ammunition (hollow-point bullets) and made a tight pattern of his shots. So, the theory was a professional hit man had killed Ronni on behalf of either someone in her will or someone who was angry with her. When the police moved in on Harold, a middle-aged ex-felon with weapons and drug charges on his record, at his crummy Hollywood hotel, he pulled his weapon and blew his brains out. He had told someone he would never allow himself to be taken back to prison.

I was asked, "Could Harold be the killer of Ronni Chasen?" I said it was possible. I did not believe the shooting to be all that professional because I also own a 9mm with that ammo, and I could shoot a pretty tight pattern if my target was only a few feet away. I surmised that if the police had followed information from Chasen's life to Harold, and Harold blew his brains out as soon as the police showed up, maybe he was linked to the crime, knew why the police were there and he offed himself. He could be a good suspect, because, although he wasn't a professional hit man (and, as I said above, I didn't think the murder had to be a professional hit), he was a thug who needed money, and I wouldn't doubt he would be willing to kill to get some.

Bombshell tonight: Harold is no longer a good suspect. Turns out, Harold was a bit off his rocker. He was going around telling all kinds of crazy stories, including one that he killed Chasen and another that he wanted to go out in a big blaze. Someone called America's Most Wanted with that tip and they turned the tip into police. There was nothing linking good ol' Harold to Chasen except his own big mouth, plus the gun he used to kill himself was not used to kill Chasen.

Oh, but, there is the point. Let's say someone wants to put the Ronni Chasen's murder to bed, close it out, considered it solved. All that has to be done is for a story to go out that another ex-felon heard that Harold sold a 9mm after Chasen's murder to someone whose name he can't remember. If Harold had survived the shot to his head, he could have been hauled into court and the ex-felon could testify to Harold selling off the murder weapon (or one like the murder weapon. "One like" is terminology commonly used to convict people without actually having the solid evidence).

Remember, you heard it here if the case is closed with the deceased Harold as the guilty party.

So, how does this happen in our criminal justice system and our courts, this use of scapegoats to close cases? And why?

The why part is the most important. For the prosecution to move forward with a case that lacks conclusive evidence, or for the police department to close a case without solid proof of the suspect being dead and guilty, there has to be a reason. The most likely scenario involves a case that is really dogging the police department. Either the press is making their lives miserable or the family and community just won't let it rest. It gets to the point where closing out the case would stop the negative publicity in its tracks. The Chandra Levy trial came on the heels of a major police trashing by a series of articles written in The Washington Post.

The Martha Moxley murder case got Michael Skakel convicted on little-to-no evidence after former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman published his book, Murder in Greenwich, condemning the police of incompetence. The 2003 Florence Jean Hall murder in Covington, Tennessee, was closed with the conviction of an ex-felon employee on a questionable confession and zero physical evidence, in my opinion, because the fairly wealthy family had some pull in town. Otherwise, the family of this woman would have come under more serious scrutiny and James David Johnson would never have been convicted (or they would have been convicted with him). Politics and expedience are the motivators behind taking a weak case to court.

So, this leaves the question, if the prosecutors were so successful with these weak cases, why aren't more people railroaded? The answer is the proper ingredients have to be in the mix and it has to be worth it. The important ingredients are an emotional case the community wants resolved, a very sympathetic victim with devastated family members in the courtroom, a darned good political and economic reason to take the risk, and a really good fall guy that the jury is all too happy to convict.

Guandique? Total low-life criminal. Michael Skakel? A smug Kennedy with a big mouth who says stupid things. James David Johnson? A dangerous ex-con who is no loss to the community.

So why isn't Walt Williams on the list? First of all, Williams has no criminal record. Most scapegoats are ex-convicts or felons that look the part (Michael Skakel was an anomaly in the scapegoat world). The case is twenty years old, the family of Anne Kelley has never made waves, the community hardly remembers the crime and the media never has given the murder more than a short paragraph right after it happened. Maybe if my book makes enough of a stir or it gets made into a movie depicting the police and prosecutor in the worst way, then Walt Williams will be brought in and a jury will convict him in spite of that pesky reasonable doubt issue. Or, maybe, to prove me wrong, they will simply claim that newly found DNA matches a deceased sex murderer in prison and close the case down without showing us the actual DNA match. Or, worst of all, maybe they will find a rapist who just happened to be in the area at the time and railroad him.

Maybe they will say it was Ingmar Guandique because, after all, Anne Kelley was murdered in a park, too! I am sure they can convince a jury that this would have been the first crime for the then ten-year-old illegal immigrant, a violent product of the El Salvadorian Civil War and the Mara Salvatrucha aka MS -13 gang, big for his age and already a violent predator. Ingmar Guandique raped and murdered Anne Kelley as an initiation to the gang which operates in the area of her murder (and it is actually true the MS-13 gangs exist within a half mile of the homicide location; the path passes through their territory).

Before you start labeling this theory ridiculous and not worthy to be presented in a court of law, go back and look over the evidence that got Guandique convicted of Chandra Levy's murder. There isn't any.


Mary Vaughn said...

Politics, politicians and rich and powerful will out. Everyone knows it. What good is outrage if you have no money/power to enforce it?

t2sister said...

I thought of many things to say... but truly it all comes down to one word... yep.Oh and I agree with Mary Vaughn too..

California Girl said...

I don't think the Chasen murder is solved but I think it will make a book full of twists and turns when it is. As for Michael Skakel, he isn't a Kennedy at all. He is related to a woman who married into the Kennedy family but he is not of the Kennedy bloodline.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Ingmar Guandique, what do you propose we all do, Pat?

Charlene said...

You really drove home the point that people do get railroaded and I totally agree that this is the case here, but as anonymous said, what can we do? It's writers like you and the Innocence Project that truly make a difference. Can't wait to read your book!

Pat Brown said...

I think the the outrage has to be combination of family, victims' organizations, legal associations, media, and citizens who speak out against outrageous prosecutorial and jury decisions. We need to be outspoken about people being convicted without reasonable evidence and about killers being left in society because the wrong person is in prison. We need to question a system that allows this kind of nonsense.

Deborah Blum said...

This is just terrifically smart and exactly right, Pat. I'm so impressed with the kind of great and thoughtful reporting that you're doing here.

Anonymous said...

May be we could draw up a plan of action, Pat.