Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Detroit Breakdown, Motor City Shakedown

by Donna Pendergast

Last week Detroit Mayor Dave Bing issued a "call to action." Joining other local, state and federal officials Bing urged Detroit residents to take a place on the front lines of crime fighting efforts by acting as the eyes and ears of police to combat murder and gun crimes. "We've had enough," Bing said. "We as a community have to be upset. Everyone is tired of what has been happening in the city and it's time for it to stop."

In recent weeks Detroit's murder and gun rate have spiraled out of control with a sharp spike in homicides and several 24-hour spans that saw multiple persons wounded and killed by violence in the city. As of last Friday Detroit has recorded 230 homicides compared with 190 homicides at the same time last year. "We have to be upset. We have to be outraged at some of the things going on," Bing said.

Beginning September 1st Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee has instituted Operation Inside Out: Night Angels which requires officers assigned to desk jobs to work eight hours each week in high crime areas of the city. This will put 40-50 additional officers on the street at any given time. But will these efforts to move officers from desk duty to patrol make a difference? Even Bing recognizes that police work alone cannot solve a problem as pervasive as violence in Detroit. "Another thousand officers are not going to stop the crimes that go on," said Bing. "I am appalled as I read every morning, on a 24-hour basis, the crimes that are perpetrated by so many of our young people and are gun related."

So what is the answer to curbing Detroit's downward spiral? As the former Homicide Principal Attorney in the prosecutors office covering the city of Detroit, time and time again I have witnessed the death and destruction that goes hand in hand with gun violence. Yet, taking guns off of the street will not address a problem that goes much deeper. Perhaps more important is addressing the culture of turning a blind eye and refusing to turn in those who perpetrate heinous crimes against family, friends, neighbors and the community.

Witnesses who refuse to cooperate are a big problem not only in Detroit, but in communities across the nation. The "Don't Snitch" street code is killing neighborhoods. It is extremely difficult for the police and prosecutors to make cases without cooperating witnesses. Plain and simple an "anti-snitch" culture lets killers walk the street because people are too intimidated, frightened or reluctant to disclose what they saw. This widespread refusal to cooperate further perpetuates the cycle of allowing violent predators to think that they are unstoppable and further empowering them to commit more violent acts without fear of reprisal.

The reasons behind the "Don't Snitch" ethos are varied. Witnesses keep silent for fear of their lives. Many of the neighborhoods where these crimes occur are inter-generational neighborhoods. People know each other, they know each others' families and they know where they live. The problem is complicated by a misplaced loyalty to community that fails to recognize the honor of opposing crime, and weak bonds between the police and the communities they serve.

The problem has become much worse in the aftermath of the 2004 homemade DVD Stop Fuc****Snitching created by Rodney Bethea. This DVD became a national sensation with it's anti-cooperation subversive message that threatens "rats," "bitches," and "snitches" with violent retribution. In the video men purporting to be drug dealers threaten violence against anyone who cooperates with authorities by telling what they know about criminal activities. A particular target singled out for contempt were individuals who informed on others to get a lighter sentence for their own crimes.

As the DVD gained a national audience tee shirts began to appear around the country carrying the Stop Snitchin message and further driving home the message that all forms of cooperation with the police should cease. Shirts, bumper stickers, CD's and DVD's perpetuating the Stop Snitchin message became commonplace across the country and rappers helped spread the message with lyrics that shunned the idea of ratting on your friend or local thug.

These shirts were once widely available in gas stations and stores in urban communities but after public backlash many retailers pulled them from their shelves. They can still be found online. The Internet carries a vast array of paraphernalia carrying the Stop Snitchin message. The most common version of the Stop Snitchin tee shirt carries a stop sign with the message Stop Snitchin and bullet holes implying deadly harm to those who violate this creed. Another version of the shirt carries the message "Snitches are a dying breed" Yet another version of the shirt carries a picture of a rat in a circle with a line through it.

Although police and Prosecutors have been coping with reluctant witnesses for decades the metastasis of this omerta sort of code of silence from organized crime to social norm has become epidemic and has had a serious impact on law enforcement efforts. As this urban phenomenon has taken root in the neighborhoods of cities like Detroit, police and prosecutors have had to deal with the dilemma of confronting witnesses who are witnesses to a crime, addressing their fears of retribution and now convincing them that there is no dishonor in helping to right a community wrong.

So how do police and prosecutors gain community trust and counteract the Stop Snitchin message in neighborhoods that are being torn apart by senseless violence? How do we change attitudes that equate cooperation with authorities with weakness and dishonor? What can community leaders do to change attitudes that have become social norms in many communities that can least afford to perpetuate this sort of non-cooperation with authorities?

Community mobilization is necessary to counteract the message that turning in violent perpetrators is wrong. Community leaders must place pressure on retailers to stop spreading the Stop Snitchin message through shirts and other paraphernalia. A positive message must be spread through churches and other community organizations that emphasizes community cooperation and empowerment through standing together and standing up against crime. And the police must develop and nurture community relations to build bonds that foster cooperation between neighborhoods and those entrusted to protect them.

Ralph Godbee has it right, we really do need the citizens to be the eyes and ears of the police. It's the only way that Detroit has a chance.

*photo credit: brookewill

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Gay Panic Defense... Here We Go Again

As jurors begin their deliberations in the case of Brandon McInerney (photo left), a fourteen year old boy charged with first degree murder, my mind returns to the first case that introduced us all to the term gay panic defense.” For those unfamiliar with this case, a little background.

On February 12, 2008, fifteen year old Larry King was working in the computer lab of his middle school. At approximately 8:15 a.m. the defendant, classmate Brandon McInerney pulled out a 22 caliber revolver from his backpack and casually shot King in the back of the head. With the entire class looking on, McInerney calmly fired a second shot into his victim’s head, dropped the gun on the floor and walked out. He was picked up less than ten minutes later and just a few blocks from the school.

After numerous interviews and a thorough investigation it was revealed that McInerney had told one of King’s friends the day before, “say good-bye to Larry, ‘cause you’re never gonna see him again.” He also told several other people he was going to “shank” King. McInereney even attempted to recruit other classmates to kill King. It makes you wonder what King (photo right) could have possibly done to inspire such hate from his classmate. Well, wonder no more. His defense team laid it all out in their opening statement using what has sadly, become known as the gay panic defense. 

This insidious defense first came to prominence in the horrific murder of Matthew Shepard back in 1998. There, Matthew’s murderers claimed that he had “put the moves on them”, made come-ons and was flirting with them. This allegedly put them in such fear that they felt that they had to murder him. They asked a jury, through their attorneys, to excuse the brutal, fierce, inhumane beating they gave him before they tied him to a barbed wire fence and left him to die alone in a field. Why? All because Matthew supposedly made some unwanted sexual advances towards them. I find this offensive on so many levels, not the least of which is the obvious lack of correlation to the rest of the population. If an unwanted sexual advance or come-on was justification for murder, than the straight male population of this world would be cut by about two thirds. 

In the King case I take another exception. Gay Panic Defense? Doesn’t the very word panic infer that someone is out of control? That they are in immediate fear, they are experiencing an overwhelming terror? That’s not even close to what we have here. By all witness accounts there was no exchange, verbal or otherwise, between the two students that morning. There were threats indicative of planning and premeditation on the part of the defendant the day before. There were no allegations of physical touching by King. So what did cause this extreme reaction? This cold-blooded, calculating crime? 

Words. Yes, words. King had allegedly said to McInerney “I want you to be my valentine”. King was known to wear make-up and high heels to school, which is protected behavior under California’s anti-discrimination laws. There seems to be conflicting testimony as to whether King was sexually harassing other students by speaking to them like he did McInerney. The prosecution presented several witnesses that testified they never observed such behavior from King. The defense presented a teacher who said other students told her King “followed them into the bathroom.” Either way, there were no allegations of physical advances or touching. You can’t just shoot someone in the head twice because you don’t like what they say. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do feel some measure of sympathy for McInereny. He is, after all, a fourteen year old boy being tried in adult court. He is a boy with a troubled past. His mother had a criminal history and was addicted to methamphetamine. His father was a batterer who choked his wife almost unconscious after she accused him of stealing her eldest son’s ADHD medicine. This kid didn’t exactly have any role models. The police found white supremacist literature in his room. There are a whole host of reasons this kid turned out the way he did, but lets place the blame squarely where it lies and not on the victim. 

One of the problems with the gay panic defense is that, besides being patently offensive and not a legal justification, it vilifies an entire segment of the our population making them out to be freakish or abnormal. This is simply not acceptable, any more than it would be to victimize the mentally challenged, or people of other races or religions and then blame them for their own victimization, inferring that they were asking for it or deserved it. Boiled down to it’s simplest and ugliest terms it is nothing more than the “they’re different from me and I’m better” attitude. 

I understand the need the vigorously represent defendants in a court of law. I do. I get it. And this boy certainly needs defending, but to propound a defense that has no basis in law and is nothing more than a thinly disguised prejudice is irresponsible. 

This case is a tragedy on so many different levels. Two young lives have been ruined. One taken forever, another irreparably altered. 

As the jury continues to deliberate the fate of this young killer I am hopeful that while they will consider all of his issues they will flat out reject this blatant attempt to legalize prejudice.

photo: Angelina Cupcake

Friday, August 26, 2011

Failure to Test is a Failure of Justice

The evidence had been there all along. It had been sitting on a shelf inside a cold storage facility at the Houston Police Department for 12 years. After a determined detective tracked it down and sent it off to the lab for testing the state of Texas realized it had a found a serial rapist. The criminal’s name is Roland Ali Westbrooks and his story highlights why every state in the union should make testing of backlogged rape kits a top priority.

For more than two decades law enforcement has had the ability to take even the tiniest specks of evidence from a rape victim – bodily fluids, stray hairs, fingernail scrapings – and match the DNA findings to information stored in a national data base called CODIS. Every time a rape kit is processed the DNA print is supposed to be entered into CODIS. And the reason for this is simple: Rapists rape repeatedly. They hardly ever have just one victim.

One study on serial offenders puts the average number of a rapist’s victims at seven while another study puts it at 11. To put this in perspective, realize that if we get just one of these perps off the street we’ve prevented several future crimes. Every year in America there are roughly 200 thousand reported rapes and it is not just women who are attacked. 10% of all rape victims are men.

The first time we know Roland Ali Westbrooks struck was in August 1995. It was a nighttime home invasion and his victim was a complete stranger, a teenager girl alone in her bedroom. Houston police say as he put a pillow over the 16 year olds face he threatened to kill her if she screamed. The girl reported the attack immediately and submitted to a complete rape examination.

Like tens of thousands of other rape kits nationwide her evidence package was never processed and no one was ever arrested for her brutal assault. After a cold case detective re-opened the teen’s case earlier this year and ordered the DNA in her kit to finally be processed, her rapist was identified as Ronald Westbrooks. The good news was that he was already in jail! The bad news was that Westbrooks was in prison because he had been convicted of another rape – a crime that occurred in 1997 – two years after the attack on the teenager. That attack might never have taken place if the 16 year olds rape kit had been tested in a timely fashion. Police suspect Westbrooks left more victims and are investigating that now.

To be sure states have made some progress in winnowing down their backlog of rape kits. When I first wrote about this topic in 2008 there were 400,000 bundles of untested evidence. Today, the best estimates put the national number at about 180 thousand. But that’s still way too many.

Sometimes lab work isn’t necessary as police have already gotten a confession or the victim withdraws the complaint. But in too many other cases it becomes a matter of indifference, inconvenience or finances. Each test costs about $1,500.

In most jurisdictions it is still up to the discretion of the investigating detective whether to order up a full lab analysis of a rape kit. Usually the victim is never told whether her evidence has been processed or relegated to some shelf to gather dust I can think of no other crime where police have definitive evidence of a crime and fail to process it. I think it is unconscionable.

Information from these kits, entered into CODIS, would likely mean numerous outstanding sex crimes could be solved. The perpetrator could be identified, taken off the streets or slapped with a longer prison sentence if they are already behind bars like Roland Westbrooks. More importantly, victims could finally feel a sense of justice.

It’s already happening in Texas. The popular Texas-based blog Grits for Breakfast reports that when “Tarrant County tested their entire backlog they identified five serial rapists by matching the results to CODIS.” Imagine – five dangerous criminals were scooped up just by testing evidence that was already there!

May I be so blunt as to ask, “What the heck are we waiting for?” And don’t tell me it’s a matter of money. The money spent on processing these kits would be far less than what we would have to pay out to investigate and prosecute these rapists’ future crimes.

I call for a nationwide initiative to examine every relevant kit. Let’s get every state to dedicate one group of lab technicians to examine the most recent kits so as to stop currently active rapists. A second group should examine the oldest kits with an eye on the ones that might come up against a statute of limitations problem. Let’s get that information into CODIS and see how many more perps we can get off the streets.

The perfect tool is already sitting there if we would just use it! Anybody with me?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Casey, Michael, and Nancy

By Robin Sax  Casey Anthony, Michael Jackson, Nancy Grace … It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it? I wish I could say it was. It’s not only not a joke but it’s crux of a legal argument.  Imagine this --The King of Pop -- now being mentioned in the same sentence as -- wait for it, ‘Tot Mom.'   That’s right, Casey Anthony is casting a giant shadow in a courtroom thousands of miles away from her Florida legal extravaganza. Lawyers representing the doctor accused in the Jackson drug overdose case, are demanding jurors be sequestered in this case. Why? Because, they say, interest in the upcoming Conrad Murray trial will be bigger than the Casey Anthony trial. Murray’s Lawyers have even gone on to say, “There is a reasonable expectation that Dr. Murray’s trial will be the most publicized trial in history."   Now, let me say I don’t disagree. Some of you may actually remember I left the Los Angeles County DA’s office because of this case. I knew on June 25, 2009 (the day Jackson died) what lawyers are arguing now. This case would receive gavel-to-gavel coverage. Now before you balk about my self-promotion, think about it, our society is obsessed with crime, obsessed with celebrity, obsessed with drama, characters, LA, so it’s the perfect story. Knowing this was going to be the biggest case of my time, I was NOT going to miss the opportunity to opine, as I actually have the skinny, the insight, and know the nuances of my former offiice. The LA District Attorney’s office -- the players, the case, the evidence, and strategies -- will all be under intense scrutiny. Who better to cut through the hype than a former DA like me?   OJ was called ‘the trial of the century,’ but that was before the world-wide-web. OJ was covered via good old fashion cameras, radio, and reporters. But that was before Nancy Grace, bloggers, tweets and status updates. And Casey proved it – minute-by minute coverage paid off with sky-high ratings.  And she wasn’t even famous. 
When everybody’s jaws finally returned to normal after the Anthony not guilty verdict, the experts began discussing what kind of impact this case would have on the jury system. I was one of them. Was I surprised by the Anthony verdict? Not really. I know what it’s like to stand up in front of a packed courtroom for a big trial. I know what it means to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, and never discount the burden of proof, something I think the Florida prosecutors did.   This one is going to be big. I just hope that the DA in LA doesn’t watch too much of its own press, drink too much of their own Kool-Aid, or get too cocky, like the Florida prosecutors did. This case, while seemingly easy on the surface, is actually tough. There are many legal nuances presented by a case involving a drug like Propofol. Then, there is the question of whether Michael was responsible for his own demise or not. And even with the best lawyers, a smart judge, and a good jury, the DAs will have to do their job. And they will have to do it even better than they think.   Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor has previously said he doesn’t believe round-the-clock isolation of jurors is going to be necessary. And whether you agree or not, one must ask how much does the analysis, the talk, and the hype affect the case. Was Casey Anthony acquitted because her case got too much attention? I mean her jurors were sequestered after all. Face it people, circumstances impact all cases. Rampart haunted LAPD for years. Kobe Bryant and the DSK cases affect all rape cases. We are a knowledgeable society, and we will weigh in. But are we weighing in fairly? I mean how crazy is it - the “People versus Dr. Conrad Murray” is being dubbed, ‘The Jackson Trial.’ Michael’s family will be seated in that courtroom day-in and day-out. His parents, siblings and his children will watch, as Michael is once again center stage. His health, use of drugs, odd behaviors, and yes, the condition of his body after death, will be exposed for all to hear. TV, analysis or not, these circumstances will affect the case just as much as a camera, and yes, even Nancy Grace.  
The prosecutor in this case, Deputy District Attorney David Walgren, is a darn good lawyer. He’s fair and hard working, but in this post-Casey Anthony era, does he stand a chance? The evidence as laid out so far, seems to put Murray in a heap of trouble. But we’ve all seen what reasonable doubt can do to a jury. After Casey, I called for professional juries. The idea isn’t a new one, but it may be worth looking at. With 24 hour, seven days a week coverage of a case like this one, what pressures will Murray and his defense team face? What about the DA and his team? Can justice prevail? I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching, tweeting, and Facebooking just as I’ve planned since 2009.  Photo credit: ...ven y siente el RUIDO 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gabrielle Giffords Continues Her Valiant Fight

by Cathy Scott

For more than six months, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was kept in the dark, for her own protection and state of mind, about the deadly fate of six victims shot in the January shooting spree that nearly took her own life.

Now, in one of the most poignant moments in the tragic case comes the revelation that Giffords has learned the names of those who died at the hands of a crazed gunman. Prior to that, the senator was told that people had died, but she did not know who.

The 41-year-old Arizona Democrat learned those names after asking her husband for more details--including naming her personal aide Gabe Zimmerman, her friend U.S. District Judge John Roll, and 9-year-old constituent Christina-Taylor Green.

As one TV commentator put it after the news broke that she now knew, Giffords is not only recovering from her injuries but, on top of that, she is grieving the deaths as if they just happened.

It was not surprising that Giffords sensed there was more to the story she'd been told, especially given her slow but steady recovery and rehabilitation from the debilitating injury to the left side of her brain, caused by a lone bullet to her skull.

Giffords' spokesperson, C.J. Karamargin, confirmed with the Republic that Giffords was given the names just days before her surprise visit to Washington, D.C. in the U.S. House chambers to cast her vote for raising the nation's debt ceiling.

“She was deeply saddened by (the news)," Karamargin told the newspaper.

Giffords, who was wounded along with 12 others on January 8 by a lone gunman as Giffords met with constituents at a shopping center in Tucson, Arizona, has undergone brain surgery, facial reconstruction and therapy to regain her ability to walk and speak.

After she learned the news about her aide, she spoke with Zimmerman’s father, Ross, and personally offered her condolences. Giffords “still has some trouble with language, but there is no question that she can get her point across and her comprehension is 100 percent,” Zimmerman told the Republic. "It was Gabrielle – it was nice to talk to her."

Her would-be accused assassin, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial for the killings and alleged assassination attempt of Giffords. Loughner has been housed at a federal prison in Springfield, Missouri, where since July he has been on forced psychotropic drugs to stabilize his mental condition. His attorney fought unsuccessfully to prevent the medication from being given to his client.

Now that she knows the truth, Giffords is courageously continuing her rehabilitation at a center in Houston, Texas, working hard to improve and reclaim the life the gunman tried to take from her.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pursue Justice, Not Rumors

by Anne Bremner

A prominent world figure is arrested for the brutal rape of a hotel maid after he has boarded an Air France flight, perhaps hoping he can flee to a country without an extradition treaty. Soon after, the accused appears before cameras handcuffed like any common criminal. The news spreads shock and outrage around the world.

"The force of public opinion cannot be resisted," Jefferson said. Except by judges and juries.
Democracy in America is difficult. One of the most important protections in our criminal-justice system is the presumption of innocence. That protection is not necessarily extended to someone tried in the court of public opinion. In a society with freedom of the press, readers and viewers exposed to earnest yet incomplete reports of an incident jump to conclusions, especially when the accused's version is not immediately provided. The fallout lands not just on the accused, but also on family and friends.

Thomas Jefferson writes to Lafayette in 1823 about America's freedom of the press: "... The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

Fortunately, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. takes seriously his responsibility to examine evidence and make decisions to bring charges based on reason rather than emotion.

Many situations in life are ambiguous and can't be adequately explained or understood in a 90-second TV report, ten column inches in a newspaper, or breaking news on the Internet. The truth is usually complex, and people often don't turn out as bad as they are made out to be.

As a practicing attorney, I would not ask a jury to make a decision based on such limited information. In a trial it can take days, weeks or even months to set out and explain relevant facts so jurors can take as much time as they need to review and carefully analyze what was presented.

In this case, savvy news consumers need to recognize the natural limitations of what they are seeing or reading. When a report sounds too simple -- or too one-sided -- ask yourself who didn't get a chance to tell their story.

Don't join the rush to judgment. Pursue justice instead.

*Originally Posted May 27, 2011; NewYorkTimes.com

Photo Credits: Abode of ChaosOZinOHdonsutherland1

Friday, August 19, 2011

From Page to Script to Screen: The Long Way Around

 By Chuck Hustmyre

Last month I saw something really unique: the premier of my movie on the big screen in Los Angeles. Granted, it wasn’t at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, and it was only in Los Angeles to the extent that the premier was in Los Angeles County. At the Regency Academy 6 Theater on East Colorado Street in Pasadena to be exact, as part of the Action on Film International Festival.

But still... It was pretty cool.

How the movie and I got there was an adventure in itself.

I used to be a cop. A federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (now the agency has added “Explosives” to its already too-long name). But I’ve been a tinkerer writer since junior high when I started my first novel.

In 2004, I “sold” my new novel, House of the Rising Sun, to a tiny POD publisher in Oregon. No advance, just royalties. According to the publisher, the book sold just 100 copies and was his worst seller. Fortunately for me, an aspiring local movie producer bought one of those hundred copies. He called me and asked if I would write a script based on the book–for free, of course.

I had some experience with writing screenplays, so I said yes. That began a six-year odyssey of ups and downs. The producer brought on board a two-time Academy Award winner to direct, but even having two Oscars on the mantle didn’t help us overcome the number one obstacle to getting a movie made–finding the money to make it.

In 2010, with the local production group’s options long expired, I decided to strike out on my own. (Lest you think I spent all that time working on just this one project, I didn’t. In the intervening half-a-dozen years, I wrote two nonfiction books for Penguin, about 800 magazine and newspaper articles, and a crime novel for Dorchester.)

I sent out dozens of queries to producers, agents and managers, the vast majority of which were not answered. I even used a query service that blasted my pitch to thousands more industry people.

One producer–that’s all it ever takes–got back to me, but it wasn’t to buy my script. He had a question about the book business. I put the question to my book agent, who answered it, which in turn led the producer to pass my query on to a friend of his who was looking for a gritty crime thriller, something akin to House of the Rising Sun.

That producer optioned my script–again for free–and shopped it around to other producers who had production money.

The script went through a few hands, but it ended up at Berkshire Axis Media, a Toronto-based production company. Producer Mark Sanders bought the script from me, and even though the budget was only $1.5 million, he managed to land a notable cast: Danny Trejo of Machete fame, Amy Smart (Crash and The Butterfly Effect), Dominic Purcell (Prison Break), and WWE wrestling superstar Dave Bautista.

Meanwhile, my book agent shopped the novel around (the rights had reverted to me) and eventually sold it to Dorchester. Then Dorchester seemed to implode, and I was taking steps to cancel the sale, but the Dorchester ship seems to have righted itself. I got paid and the book came out last month in trade paperback and various eBook formats. I even talked the movie distributor, LIONSGATE, into letting me use the movie poster and DVD cover art for the cover of the novel.

So back to Grauman’s in Hollywood–I mean the Regency Academy 6 in Pasadena–where we were all set for the premier: me, my wife, producer Mark Sanders, some friends, even my mom was there, and then... nothing.

The Blu-ray copy the theater had didn’t work. The projectionist called Mark out of the auditorium. They disappeared for a while. About 20 minutes later, Mark showed back up, sweaty and short of breath.

He had run to Blockbuster to rent a copy of the movie, but the nearest Blockbuster was closed down. Then he went to Best Buy but he couldn’t find the movie. Finally, he discovered another Blockbuster that was still open, and he found the movie on the shelf.

Then I got to see my movie, on the big screen, in Los Angeles (County). And it was pretty cool.

CHUCK HUSTMYRE is a retired federal agent and the author of the novels House of the Rising Sun and A Killer Like Me and the Penguin true crime books Killer with a Badge and An Act of Kindness (now Unspeakable Violence). 

For more information visit www.chuckhustmyre.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chuck Hustmyre to Guest Post Tomorrow on WCI

We're excited to introduce another unique guest blogger on Women in Crime Ink. Crime writer, journalist, screenwriter and former ATF Agent Chuck Hustmyre will be joining us tomorrow.

Chuck Hustmyre spent 22 years in law enforcement and retired as a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). During his career he specialized in violent crime, narcotics, and fugitive investigations. Chuck wrote the screenplay for the LIONSGATE movie House of the Rising Sun, starring Dave Bautista, Danny Trejo, Dominic Purcell, and Amy Smart. He adapted the screenplay from his novel of the same title. He also wrote the upcoming novel A Killer Like Me.

Chuck is also the author of the true crime books An Act of Kindness (Penguin/​2007) and Killer with a Badge (Penguin/​2004). In addition to his fiction, Chuck is also an award-winning journalist, having written nearly 800 newspaper and magazine articles. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, truTV's Web site CrimeLibrary.com, The Baton Rouge Advocate, 225 Magazine, New Orleans Magazine, Psychology Today, and Homeland Security Today. His article "Blue on Blue: Murder, Madness, and Betrayal in the NOPD" (New Orleans Magazine, February 2005) was selected for the 2006 edition of HarperCollins' annual nonfiction book Best American Crime Writing.

  • 2009: first place, In Cold Blog's Detective Award for best true crime article, Missing: Caylee Anthony, (truTV's CrimeLibrary.com)
  • 2008: finalist, Press Club of New Orleans, feature writing, Violent Night: On the street with NOPD Homicide, (New Orleans Magazine)
  • 2007: second place, Press Club of New Orleans, investigative journalism, True Blue: Katrina and the Cops, (New Orleans Magazine)
  • 2006: finalist, Press Club of New Orleans, excellence in journalism, Blue on Blue: Murder, Madness, and Betrayal, (New Orleans Magazine)
  • The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News
  • The Line-Up, Fox News
  • Hannity's America, Fox News
  • The Live Desk, Fox News
  • Fatal Beauty: 15 Notorious Women, E! Network
  • Deadly Women: Born Bad, Discovery Channel
  • Mystery Writers of America
  • International Thriller Writers
  • National Press Club
  • The Authors Guild
Chuck Hustmyre currently lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and rides a Harley-Davidson.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Not Guilty'

by Katherine Scardino

I have read about all I care to read about Casey Anthony. But, it appears that the news media and every other American citizen have opinions about this woman.

The bottom line is this: Twelve members of a jury listened to every single word of the testimony and examined every single piece of evidence presented by the state of Florida in an attempt to convince each of them to render a verdict of guilty to capital murder. Each of those 12 people, plus the alternates, sat in the courtroom and listened to every single word each lawyer said to them during voir dire (jury selection).

Jury selection is the only time during a trial when the jurors and the lawyers, both for the defense and for the state, get an opportunity to have a conversation. That means that if there is any part of the conversation they do not understand, the juror can stop the lawyer and ask any question he or she wants answered. Their questions sometimes include the meaning of a legal term, or it might be a question about a hypothetical situation that a lawyer presents to the group of potential jurors in an effort to educate each juror about the facts they will be deciding, without giving the specific facts about their case.

In other words, a defense lawyer or a prosecutor is not allowed–at least in Texas–to stand in front of the jury panel and tell them the facts of their particular case. The lawyer may only present facts to them in a hypothetical situation to try and determine how that specific juror feels about a certain topic or whether that juror has had any experience with that specific topic. The easiest example would be a driving-while-intoxicated trial. The defense lawyer wants to find out the drinking habits of the juror, or whether he or she is a member of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). So, the hypothetical would contain facts close to, but not exactly the same, as the case on trial.

The Casey Anthony jury was sequestered. That means they went to a hotel each night with no televisions of any kind and no newspapers. They did not listen to all the Nancy Grace hype and the other screaming “talking heads,” nor did they read any of the newspapers relaying every opinion from every goofball who appeared in Florida to stand on the street in front of the courthouse each day.

Because of the sequestration, they were forced to make a legal decision based solely on the law given to them by the lawyers and, more importantly, by the judge without the extraneous information the rest of the world got. That is the way our rules and our Constitution are set up to prevent jurors from being influenced by outside opinions and the popular news media. The Constitution enforces our laws that state an accused person should be judged based solely on the law and the facts.

So, can we please accept the fact that Ms. Anthony’s jury acted fairly and nonprejudicially, and rendered a verdict in accordance with their instructions from the judge. You do not have to agree with it, nor do you have to like it. But, it is what it is. If you will stop for a moment and remember all the exonerations we have read about within just the last year. For a while there in Texas it seemed like we were releasing people on a weekly basis from prison after many years for a crime that person did not commit. Our system is not 100-percent perfect–ask my client, Anthony Graves, who was released after 18 years on death row once it was concluded by prosecutors after a first-time only competent investigation that he was in fact innocent. Many people have been released who have spent more years locked up than Mr. Graves.

So, if we all believe Casey Anthony is guilty but the jury believed otherwise, accept the jury’s verdict and get on with your lives. The system worked perfectly here. The 12 jurors did not believe the prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt that she murdered (intentionally taking another person’s life) her baby girl. They rendered a verdict they believed was the right one.

Now the news media is all in an uproar about the fact that Ms. Anthony is having to return to Florida to complete her probationary period. That is not much for murder. But remember, this probation is not for murder; it is for theft–stealing her friend’s checkbook, or some such thing. You want her to be inconvenienced in some manner for taking the life of her baby. But I don’t believe this will do it for you.

Take a deep breath. Remember our Constitution and our rules that we all have to obey. And, leave Casey Anthony alone. It is over. The jury has rendered a true verdict. And, these jurors do not have to answer to anyone, and especially not to Nancy Grace or any of the other media. Their deliberation and their verdict is their secret. It is really none of our business now.

Photo Credits: turtlemom4bacon; Caveman Chuck Coker; Lee Bennet

Monday, August 15, 2011

Forensic Sculptor Helped Bring Many to Justice

by Diane Dimond

A man died recently who I want you to know about. He operated in the shadow of law enforcement and you probably never heard his name. In his own very unique way he developed an expertise that helped bring justice to those who would otherwise never get it.

His name was Frank Bender, and when he died recently at the age of 70 at his home in Philadelphia, he was the best known in a rare breed of forensic sculptors.

Frank Bender somehow knew how to take a fleshless mummified human skull and reconstruct its face into an eerily perfect facsimile. To compare a photo of the dead person with a finished Bender sculpture would take your breath away.

Bender started his career as a commercial photographer and had an innate curiosity about human anatomy. That led the young Bender to visit the Philadelphia morgue, and he came away with a mysterious talent that would become sought after by law enforcement officials worldwide.

He reverently began each reconstruction by focusing on and minutely measuring certain points of the skull. Bender was then able to calculate how thick the tissue, muscles and skin would have been at any given point. Working with tissue-thin layers of clay he painstakingly followed the unique bone structure of each skull and, as Bender once explained his process to a USA Today reporter, his fingers just take over and he becomes his subject.

His finished projects were stunning renditions of the forgotten dead seemingly brought back to life. Once released to the public Bender’s work brought in tips which helped identify dozens of discarded bodies that might have gone to unmarked graves had it not been for his efforts. Over the years his work helped solve numerous murders and serial killings and led to the arrest of high profile fugitives.

Bender first reconstructed skulls for the Philadelphia Police Department and when word of his success spread he was called upon to help departments in other states. Then the FBI came calling, followed by Scotland Yard, the government of Egypt and in Mexico his work identifying the remains of a string of murdered woman became the basis for a book called, The Girl With the Crooked Nose.

is most publicized reconstruction came in 1989 and originated not from a skull but from an old photograph. Police in Westfield, New Jersey, had long been looking for a mild-mannered accountant named John List who was wanted for the 1971 murders of his wife, three children and his mother. The television program "America’s Most Wanted" commissioned Bender to craft a sculpture of what List would look like 18 years after the crime. He created an age-progressed jowly baldheaded bust and because he thought an aging accountant might wear glasses Bender plopped a pair of black horned-rimmed glasses on it. The glasses did the trick.

A woman in Virginia watching the program called the tip line to report her neighbor, an accountant named Robert Clark. A fingerprint check quickly revealed the man was really fugitive List. Sentenced to five life terms List died in prison in 2008.

One of Bender’s most notable reconstructions was on the skull of a young woman found near a stream in Boulder, Colorado in 1954. Working with the Vidocq Society, a group of professional crime fighters who tackle cold cases (which he helped establish in 1990), Bender used his unexplainable sixth sense to reconstruct her face. He also told investigators the victim had blonde hair and blue eyes. How could he possibly know that, they wondered? Fifty-five years after her remains were found, she was finally identified as 18-year-old Dorothy Gay Howard. A family portrait confirmed she was a stunning blonde with sky-blue eyes.

Frank Bender never made much money for his efforts. In the end, one of his meticulous creations brought in about $1,700. He worked as a fine artist and various other odd jobs to help pay the bills.

Bender never discriminated over which skull to rebuild but he had a passion to help solve crimes against children. Ted Botha the author of the aforementioned book was quoted in The New York Times' obit saying the diminutive Bender was “A fighter for justice. He’s almost like a little Captain America or something.”

His last reconstruction, created while he was dying of mesothelioma, came on the skull of a young boy found discarded in high grass along a North Carolina roadway. The 10-year-old's skeleton was still wearing tube socks and brand-new sneakers. In his pocket were neatly folded bills totalling $50.

The sculptor told a North Carolina newspaper why he had to make this his last work of art. “A child is so innocent,” Bender explained. “They have a whole life ahead, and it’s taken away. It all bothers me, but they bother me the most.”

You'd probably never heard of Frank Bender before now, but as he playfully identified himself on the outgoing message on his home answering machine. he was indeed “a re-composer of the decomposed.” A crime fighter par excellence.

Friday, August 12, 2011

No Sexy Body Language For 10 Year Old Girls!

Just when we have had enough of the Casey Anthony case and the manipulation and games surrounding her, there is something else which now outrages us: a 10-year-old all sexed up as a new French Vogue model.

This 10-year-old child is particularly upsetting, especially on the heels of the self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who essentially raped and molested young girls two years older than this model, all under the guise of spirituality.

There is something perverted about seeing a little girl with a provocative look, especially when she is not developed sexually. What is a child doing selling sex who has no sex hormones and no sexuality? The body language in the first photo is especially disturbing to me as it showcases her long legs via some high-heels. This is not a little girl dressing up in mommy’s big heels and an cocktail outfit. Instead, she is a professional model who is only 10 and wearing the most expensive clothing on the pages of an elite magazine.

The reason they chose a 10-year-old is to develop her until she is 18 and then get rid of her for a younger model. Gone are the days when a model’s career began after she finished high school or college. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds are now the norm. Why? Because they can work longer and save the magazine money by not having to spend it on photo retouches of a wrinkled or party-ridden face. They can now have a fresh, young look on their covers because their models are 10 years young.

The body language in the second photo is even worse with her snarl. Ten-year-olds need to smile, not snarl. Snarling indicates a certain type of sexual aloofness that a 10-year-old should never know about.

Then there is body language where she is on her tummy with her bottom showcased with cut-out patterns at the hip in a contrasting color. This is a sensual pose, as her leg is up. She’s got the snarl and is laden with jewelry that is way too old and expensive for anyone, let alone a 10-year-old.

And don’t tell me Brooke Shields starred in Pretty Baby when she was in a bordello scene at this girl’s age and turned out fine. Brooke is the exception to the rule. She is bright, Princeton educated, and had to grow up very fast as she became the parent to her alcoholic manager mother. Her mother played havoc on her nerves and in her life. It was her luck that she had an agent who believed in her, that got her the job with Suddenly Susan that put her back on top.

Even though the little model has famous parents, it means zero unless she has the ability to make something of herself on her own. Brooke knows firsthand the horrible side of being a working child actress and model. That is why you don't see her kids following in her footsteps.

I don’t like what I am seeing. Vogue definitely is getting eyeballs to pay attention to them at a time when magazines are barely surviving and are going under. As I see it, the only ones motivated to buy the magazine with the 10-year-old in provocative poses are child predators.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why is Keeping Children Safe Up For Debate?

by Dr. Michelle Golland

Why are we still debating whether children under the age of 13 should be allowed to walk alone to and from school? Is keeping our children safe really up for debate?

As a clinical psychologist, I often counsel victims of violent crime. Given the risks that children face in our time, it is naive and simply irresponsible to argue, as Lenore Skenazy does in her book Free-Range Kids, that because we were all raised in the 1970s in a "free" way, our kids should be as well.

In the '70s, our generation also didn't believe in sex education for our children and believed that being gay was a choice and should be demonized. We also didn't believe domestic violence was a problem, that the Catholic Church would never put children in harm's way, and seat belts and car seats weren't mandatory. Many things over the last 40 years–through studies, our intelligence, our emotional reactions, and plain mothers' intuition–have simply become obvious at this point in time. One of them is that young children should not be left alone in a public place–whether it is walking home from school or a friend's house, playing in a park, or playing in the front yard unsupervised. Would any of you even question putting your child in a car seat or forcing them to buckle up when you get into a car? Is that too restrictive? Not free enough for your taste?

I believe what is often the motivator for these free-living parents is that by allowing their kids to be independent, it frees up the parents to focus on themselves and also saves them the costs of childcare. The parents are simply choosing their own independence over their children's safety.

I do not agree that depriving our children of the freedom to walk home alone from school quells their sense of independence. Children develop independence in many ways that don't put them at risk. For example, when your kids choose their extracurricular activities–the clothes they wear, how they wear their hair, the decor of their bedroom, or the games the family plays on game night–this, in my opinion, gives your child a strong sense of independence and power at much less risk. The experience of independence is developed across time and in age-appropriate and safe ways. The argument that allowing a 9 year old to ride alone on public transportation promotes independence is ignorant and irresponsible. My 9-year-old son begs me to stay home alone while I take his sister to dance class. I in no way believe that is his cry for independence or that I should even consider it for a minute to promote his independence. He is a 9-year-old boy who wants to stay home and play Wii for as long as he can.

By saying this, I am in no way blaming the mother of Leiby Kletzsky. She is a single mother and these are very difficult issues to deal with. I am sure she would agree that if at all possible she would prefer to have her 8-year-old be with someone on his way to and from school. We can't expect an 8 year old to be able to handle dealing with a stranger, alone on a street, because, again, he is a child. I think we should look to these issue when thinking about giving children the "freedom" Lenore Skenazy is pushing for. Don't you?

You see, it is about maturity and ability to deal with different contingencies in one's environment. Younger children do not have the brain development to deal with issues like adults do. It is that simple. They can be manipulated and lured much easier than adults, which is why they are at greater risk.

It is sad that we live in an at-risk society. However, as we have seen on the news, there are many sex offenders living among us. And we simply cannot afford to place our kids in harm's way under the guise of "letting them live free."

There are two tracks to deal with sexual offenders:

1. Community Information and Protection of Children
This is composed of access to information regarding the location of registered sexual offenders, and includes where they can live within range of schools, libraries and parks. It also includes the enactment of the Amber Alert system and Megan laws.

I believe we need to take this further. We should have national guidelines for the training of our children in schools on how to be safe and protect themselves as much as possible from sexual predators. We need to create ways for our children to get to and from school with adult supervision.
Our schools should be community centers with access to after-care programs for working parents. It is imperative that we as a society deal with the issue of after-school care in a progressive and aggressive manner.

I do not think that it is paranoia to say that we should provide GPS devices for our children. In the case of Elizabeth Olten, the police were able to locate her body because of her cell phone. There are many GPS devices that you can give to your children that would enable the authorities to help locate your child. Devices can be placed in shoes or in backpacks and could be monitored by the Global Positioning Satellite System immediately. As we know, when a child goes missing, time is of the essence. We place a greater emphasis on locating our cars or our cell phones than our kids. Again, it's a risk-reward issue. To me, it's a no-brainer.

2. Sentencing and Civil Commitment of Child Sexual Offenders
We should all be upset at the differing sentencing guidelines for sexual offenders. I believe we need to make sexual crimes against children a federal offense, which would automatically mandate sentencing guidelines that are uniform for all states.

Mandatory federal sentences for child sexual abuse should be similar to Wisconsin's tough sexual offender statutes that include the following: Jessica's Law legislation (created in memory of Jessica Lunsford, who was kidnapped and killed by a sex offender who did not register in Florida) imposes a minimum 25-year sentence for those convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child. Another measure passed by Wisconsin lawmakers provides judges with the authority to give life sentences to offenders twice convicted of first-degree sexual assault (the previous maximum was 40 years). With the high rate of repeat offending by child sexual predators, it is imperative that sentencing guidelines are used to protect our children from pedophiles.

Kansas has enacted the Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1994, which was passed in response to concerns about recidivism rates among sex offenders. Under the law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, the state can commit individuals who are likely to engage in predatory acts of violence because of a mental abnormality or personality disorder. Few confined sex offenders are ever released. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has followed the issue since that state passed a civil commitment law in 1990. As of December 2004, the Institute reports that 3,493 people have been held for evaluation as sexually violent predators or committed for treatment, and 427 individuals have been discharged or released. This seems like a good alternative to keep sexual predators off the streets, but it is far more expensive than prison. Civil-commitment legislation was introduced in South Dakota as well, but lawmakers decided to create a no-parole provision for certain repeat sex offenders instead.

Given the clear danger of predatory child sexual abusers, as a nation we must come together and create clear and tough guidelines for repeat child sexual predators. We must educate our children about sexual offenders, and we must wake up to the reality that we can't live as if it is 1970. Sadly, we must wake up and deal with the reality that there are people who look for the window of opportunity to take a child, sexually assault them, and throw them away like garbage. These are real risks in the reality of our time.

We must take our shoes off at the airports, put our children in car seats, and not allow them to be alone in public places or walk home from school alone. Is it really that much of a hassle for us to take these measures? I would not want to be a parent who sits with the pain of having a child taken, assaulted, or even killed and know that I placed my child in danger when it could have been avoided.