Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Most Everything I Know About Trying High-Profile Cases I've Learned From My Ex-Husband, John Henry Browne

by Anne Bremner,
with contributions by Bob Sims

John Henry Browne is defending accused killer Robert Bales. Bales is the Pacific Northwest-based soldier who allegedly gunned down 17 civilians in Afghanistan.

Before the world knew any of the specific details of this case or who the victims were, it knew all about the accused -- and the defenses. And it knew why.

Nature abhors a vacuum. And what a vacuum of information from the military there was. John stepped up and immediately filled it. He spoke of the four stressful deployments, post-traumatic stress disorder, a head injury, financial woes, and the personal strife Bales has experienced. Sentiment prevailed. "I am not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial," John said. Many agreed. Suddenly, public conversation was elevated beyond this case to the prosecution of the war itself.

John Henry Browne was a hippie in the 1960s. When we were married I remember him talking fondly of those halcyon days, describing San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, a mecca for the Hippie movement. He knew every nook and cranny in that neighborhood from his travels. He brought memories of Buena Vista Park during the Summer of Love 1967 come to life when he told me his stories. (I recently found an old picture of him with hair streaming past his shoulders and a drooping hippie moustache, one I used for a birthday invitation for him once.) John walked the walk as a hippie. He protested against the Vietnam War. He never served.

Many people talk of the 1960s as a time of protest, casual sex and civil unrest, a time in which some people think very little was accomplished for bettering American society. I disagree. Positive changes did come. In time. Women's rights and civil liberties improved by leaps and bounds. We steadily climbed out of the chasm of racism. The Vietnam War was ended. And from that time of momentous social change came John Henry Browne.

He has waited all his life for this case. He is made for this case. He will put the war on trial and he will win. It's ironic that decades after his period of discontent in the 60s, and on the eve of his expected retirement, John is handling the most important case of his career -- and one of the most important in this country's history.

Rules in dealing with the media in such a highly publicized case? Be brief and be quiet. Deliver a message that resonates. Tell the truth. Humanize your client. Use your case as a platform for public conversations about the greater good. Be accessible. Be relentless. Never, never, never ever quit.

I have learned all of this -- and more -- from my ex-husband John Henry Browne.

And that's why I know he will win.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tragedy of the Trayvon Martin Homicide: A Profiler's View

Trayvon Martin
by Pat Brown

When the news reports started rolling in on the homicide of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by Sandford, Florida neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, the first thought that went through my head was, "I hope justice prevails," but then my second thought was, "Oh, this is going to get nasty." I am already being proven right on my latter thought but as to justice being meted out properly, I am not sure the national emotional outburst over this case with its racial overtones is going to interfere with that. What makes so much of this case difficult is the murky waters of what really happened and who was justified in doing what and who was profiling who and who was profiling out of racism and who was not.

Let's take a look at how the first news reports (blithely paraphrased and made simple for impact) brought the incident to light (and the left and the right are general categories for the purposes of pointing out the issues, not for saying everyone is so "black and white" and absolute on the incident) :

The left: White dude chases down innocent black child and wastes him.
The right: Citizen protecting his neighborhood shoots thug while defending his life.

Then, more information comes out:

The left: Okay, not-totally White dude scares the crap out of innocent not-so-small teen and teen hits stalker in fear and then not-totally White dude shoots teen dead when all teen has is Skittles in his pocket.

The right: Okay, the citizen is a bit aggressive trying to keep his neighborhood safe and maybe shouldn't have followed the kid but he has the right to shoot someone who then becomes the physical aggressor and smashes in his nose and is on top of him beating him on the ground.

The left: Regardless of who did what first, George Zimmerman is clearly a racist because he profiled Trayvon Martin as up to no good for no reason other than he was black and wearing a hoodie and standing around and he said "f***ing coons" on the 911 call to the police, so it is a hate crime.

The right: Trayvon was suspended from school so he obviously is a troublemaker and he was acting shady in Zimmerman's neighborhood and Zimmerman never said "f***ing coons" on the 911 tape but "f***ing goons,"or "f***ing tools," or "f***ing cons," etc.

Whew! Okay, so what do I think? I think this is going to be a mess for a long time no matter how you slice it or view it. But, here is my profiler's take.

George Zimmerman
Let's start with George Zimmerman. He has got some issues that is for sure (read Gina Simmons previous Women in Crime post, Anger, Race, and Psychology in the Trayvon Martin Case)  but some of Zimmerman's black friends say he is all broken up about the shooting and isn't a racist. From what I have read, he is a wannabe cop, the neighborhood ninja, the overzealous protector of the community. My guess is he might qualify for a personality disorder and be more into his role as superhero than he is into being concerned about the welfare of the local citizens or being a racist of any sort. He clearly overstepped his bounds and should have left the approach of Trayvon up to the police unless he saw the young man attacking someone. In other words, causing another bodily harm is only acceptable if you are in fear of being severely injured or killed or someone else is likely to be severely injured or killed. Even with Florida Stand-Your-Ground laws which removes the duty to retreat and permits the citizen to fight force with force and still claim self-defense, you still can't actually be the one who is the aggressor because that makes you the perpetrator and not the victim.

Zimmerman was not in that position at the time he saw Trayvon walking away from him, so he clearly moved in on Trayvon, with or without his gun drawn, and Trayvon reacted either in self-defense or a fit of anger at being harassed without proper cause. I think Zimmerman's defense lawyer has his work cut out for him to prove that he in no way threatened Trayvon and Trayvon, if he punched him, did not do so when Zimmerman made a physical move on him or tried to draw his gun on him. Just because Zimmerman ended up on the ground at one point with Trayvon standing over him as one witness claims to have seen (and the supposed broken nose and damage to the back of Zimmerman's head could be the result of one punched that knocked him backwards and no further aggression), this doesn't mean Trayvon wasn't the defender and well within his rights to take Zimmerman down.

Alternatively, there is the possibility that Zimmerman followed Trayvon, not too closely and Trayvon turned on him, approached him aggressively, started cussing at him and then assaulted him at which point Zimmerman though he was going to die and pulled his gun from his holster/waistband and shot Trayvon. In this case, Zimmerman may have been stupid and annoying but if at no point did Trayvon actually have a claim to being in fear of being severely injured or killed, he would have no right to claim self-defense any more than Zimmerman if there was no immediate threat. Of course, Trayvon isn't around to speak of his emotions or Zimmerman's behavior at the time, so we will have to rely on direct and circumstantial evidence hopefully handled with a scientific objectiveness and not runaway emotion.

Okay, so right now, I am on the fence as to who was defending himself and who was the aggressor. I have to say since Zimmerman clearly escalated the whole incident and was armed at the time, it is my opinion he was far more responsible for the ensuing events than a seventeen-year-old kid who didn't see it coming.

I do want to stop and look at the issues of racial profiling and racism, both of which I think may have been blown way out of proportion in this case. Let me take you to an example that happened in my own son's experience.

I was visiting my friend, Jenny, at her home in a cul-de-sac. My son came to pick me up in my little red Mazda Miata convertible. He pulled in front of her house and was patiently waiting with engine running. All of a sudden, the woman from across the street comes straight towards the car, and standing in the middle of the street, she starts blasting an air horn and asking what he was doing there. My son was a bit taken aback as he had never had this happen before. Here was a white woman in her sixties dressed in a housecoat barking at him, a twenty-eight year old biracial young man dressed in a t-shirt, demanding that he tell her what business he had on her street. How did he react? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if many men of his age might not say "Bitch, this is a public street; mind your own damn business." Some might have even called her a racial slur.

My son said, "Ma'am, I am waiting on my mother who is inside visiting her friend, Jenny." To which the woman replied, "Oh, sorry, we have had a bunch of drug dealers and burglars around the neighborhood and I keep an eye out for anyone who doesn't belong." Then when I came out, she apologized to me as well.

My sons, David and Jeremy
Why did my son behave so politely? Well, first of all because he immediately recognized the woman in the housecoat as an overzealous neighborhood watch type of lady, the kind who shows up every month at the town council meeting and drives everyone nuts. Basically, it never really occurred to him that this white lady was dangerous or was being racist, just that she was a bit bats. And, truthfully, the lady wasn't being racist; I think she would have approached a white boy in a hoodie with the same zeal and not bothered to approach a fifty-year-old black man dressed in a suit with a Bible on his dashboard. She profiled incorrectly but not with any real racial bias.

I asked my son how he might have reacted if George Zimmerman was trailing him down the street. He had to stop and think about that. The first problem he had was that  Zimmerman wouldn't have been a uniformed cop in which case he would know he should be polite for a good reason if questioned. Nor would Zimmerman have on the uniform of the Guardian Angels who you know are out patrolling the neighborhood. And he wouldn't look like an old crazy lady, but a young crazy man, possible a psychopath will ill intentions, or an asshole looking for trouble.

What then if my son had turned on Zimmerman and said, "What the f*** is your problem, dog?" And Zimmerman got all loud and obnoxious and moved in on him. My son works as a bouncer and I can see him taking defensive action not realizing that the man had brought a gun to a fistfight. It is one thing to have a concealed weapon for the purposes of protecting oneself in a surprise attack but bringing hardware to a fight that should be with fists is a bit sneaky and dangerous and premeditated; almost rings of entrapment, some kind of set-up.

Okay, so I am still having trouble getting Zimmerman out of the wrong here, but let's check out the racist issue. I am not convinced this was racial in any way, that Zimmerman wouldn't have chased down a white teenage thug looking boy either. I didn't find his description to the police very racially biased...just a calm description of the "suspect" and a general term of "asshole" to describe people getting away with crime in the neighborhood. I didn't hear any spouting of racist slurs throughout his conversation with 911.

Of course, there is that bit he muttered under his breath during that call that has become the explosive "smoking gun" that is making this "clearly" a hate crime. Zimmerman is supposed to have muttered, "F***ing coons," and it sure does sound like that.

I listened to those two words over and over and I still had problems with turning "coons" into "goons" or into anything else nonracist... until I asked myself if there could be any less objectionable thing he might have muttered offhandedly at that moment, and I came up with "F***ing cones." In other words, when he parked and exited the car in chasing down Trayvon and he might have hit or stepped on a road cone, those two words might be just a normal expletive one might let out at that moment. So I listened over and over again and it does sound more like "F***ing cones" to me. How will we know? I would guess the crime scene photos ought to let us know if there were traffic cones at that location or any other object or possible circumstance to influence Zimmerman into saying something that sounded like "coons." If not, interviews with everyone possible is necessary to find out whether Zimmerman was the type to ever say use such ugly derogatory racist language or not.

So, until I learn absolutely that Zimmerman has uttered racial slurs in his past, I will not assume he is being racist. A possible aggressor, a troublemaker, a bad profiler, an annoyance, a fool, and a dangerous whack job, but not necessarily a racist.

Let's not forget that there are youths of all races and cultural backgrounds that trouble our neighborhoods. In my own town, there are some bratty kids who play in the streets and dance in front of cars and make nasty comments when we slow to drive by. We have had break-ins in my town and there are signs of gang activity here. My town has become much thuggier looking in recent years, with young men and women of all colors in hoodies and other clothing that makes many citizens raise an eyebrow as to the character of the young people within them. Regardless of the right to dress as one pleases, certain clothing sends certain messages and it behooves parents to make sure their sons and daughters don't look or act like criminals when walking about the neighborhood just to be on the safe side. But, back to the issue at hand, at this point (unless Zimmerman is proven to be a racist or that Trayvon chased him down and assaulted him), I think George Zimmerman was "gunning" to be a hero and Trayvon ended up being the unsuspecting victim of Zimmerman's overactive zealous power trip. We shall see how it all plays out; let's just hope it is on the evidence and not the result of a bunch of political, personal, and emotional issues. The tragedy of the killing of Trayvon Martin is bad enough, but I hope we don't add to that, the tragedy of fueling racial division if this case turns out not to be about racism at all.

Now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords! Only the Truth by Pat Brown

Everyone loves Sweet Billy Ray!

Harkening back to the writing styles of the earlier American authors – John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, and Carson McCullers, Only the Truth is a story of soul searching, a psychological mystery which examines the question, “Whom should one love and when should one quit doing so?” Billy Ray, a lonely and rather slow, uneducated African-American man living in the mountains of Tennessee, runs across a mysterious young woman at the railroad tracks. She asks to go home with him and Billy Ray takes her with him as she requests. He comes to love this woman, Charlene, unconditionally. She is the only woman he has ever loved, and life is finally good for Billy Ray. Then Charlene shoots the neighbor and burns down the neighbor’s house. His happy life destroyed, a confused and devastated Billy Ray is at a loss. Is the woman he loves “just a troubled girl” or a psychopathic killer? Billy Ray sets out on a quest to find the truth, only the truth, whether it leads him to be able to save Charlene from a death sentence or it frees him from her spell.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anger, Race and Psychology in The Trayvon Martin Case

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

After 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot last month by a neighbor as he walked home from a convenience store, it poked the deep wound of racial injustice in this country. As more protests mount and African American leaders shout out for justice in this case, we should all seek to understand the emotional and psychological issues that led to this young man's death.

It's likely that Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, had some unresolved anger issues. As a psychotherapist who specializes in anger and conflict management, in my opinion Zimmerman's comments to emergency and non-emergency police revealed smoldering anger. As he speaks to the police dispatcher he mutters what sounds like a racial slur. He also says, "These a**holes. They always get away."

Perhaps Zimmerman experienced a heightened threat sensitivity, anxiety or paranoia. As neighborhood watch captain he likely perceived any stranger walking through the area as a potential threat. The 46 calls he made to police, in the months prior to the Martin shooting, suggest he took his volunteer position very seriously. Zimmerman, angry about recent burglaries in the area, may have suffered from irrational fears that warped his perceptions.

All of us fall victim to perceptual biases that cloud our judgement and decision-making abilities. The confirmation bias makes us see only the information that confirms our prior beliefs, while ignoring evidence that contradicts them. When racial prejudice mixes with the confirmation bias, we often won't even see behavior outside the stereotype. You can't make decisions based on evidence that you can't see.

Anger distorts our perception by narrowing our focus to the perceived threat. Our brain uses short cuts, called heuristics, to rapidly sort through information. The availability heuristic leads us to make decisions based on what easily comes to mind from our memory. So if we've been reading lots of news reports about terrorist attacks and we hear a loud boom, our first thought might be "we've been attacked by terrorists."

Trayvon Martin likely felt fear in his last moments of life as well. Walking through the neighborhood, talking on the phone to a girl, he may have felt pretty relaxed until he saw a large white man following him. He allegedly mentioned this to the girl. She said she told him to run. Witnesses reportedly heard cries for help, a shot, and then nothing.

In 2005 Zimmerman was twice accused of either criminal misconduct or violence. He reportedly had a spotty employment history and financial problems. As a teen he was the victim of a minor criminal assault. When people feel like victims they often act like abusers, as fear leads them to overreact to minor events. Zimmerman, feeling a renewed purpose as neighborhood watch captain, may have felt a warped sense of urgency about a young black man on his street.

Strong emotions and preexisting anxiety distort perception. You see threats when they are not there. After the 9/11 attacks I worked a 12 hour day. A patient told me they contacted the FBI regarding information they had related to the attacks. Tired and stressed I got into my car, late at night, tossed my purse on the passenger seat and heard a strange crunch. The seat was covered with glass. I leaped out of my car and my first thought, "terrorist." After I got my heart rate under control I noticed that the window was broken and a black trash container was stolen.

The availability heuristic led me to a perceptual error clouded by fatigue and anxiety. This happens to all of us. In my case, no one was harmed by my distortion of perception. Unfortunately for the Martin family, Zimmerman carried a concealed weapon, and apparently felt entitled to use it.

Photos courtesy of David Shankbone and bMethe.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

America’s Newest ‘Most Wanted’ List

In the unlikely event they make a movie of my life story a good place for the opening scene would be the post office in Albuquerque where my Mother used to take me as a child.

Scene one, act one, would be me making a bee-line to the bulletin board displaying the FBI’s 10 most wanted list. The future crime writer transfixed.

“So that’s what a murderer looks like,” I always thought to myself, leaning in to the grainy black and white photos. I would peer deep into the eyes of the fugitive bank robber or kidnapper to try to find a clue as to what made these men turn so bad. (Back then, the list was all men) I admit it – I was a strange child.

Today, another fugitive list has caught my attention. Its complied by the Office of the Inspector General at Health and Human Services and it highlights those involved with one of the fastest growing crime sectors in America: Health care fraud. As our population ages and government programs literally pour money into elder care this type fraud has become a multi-million dollar a year problem. Looking at the O.I.G. web site brings back memories of my post office visits. The site has photos (in color!) of the 10 Most Wanted health care fugitives. Two are women. And because this is the digital age there is a videotaped message from the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations, Gerald Roy who says the feds are currently looking for 170 criminals who’ve defrauded at least 400 million dollars from our health care programs. But Roy only hints at who these people are.

 “Some criminals may be hiding overseas,” he says. “But fleeing the country is not a get out of jail free card. We have a global reach. We regularly work with domestic and foreign law enforcement agencies to bring these fugitives to justice in the U.S.” Here’s what Roy didn’t say and what I glean from studying this Most Wanted web site: A vast majority of suspects facing fraud charges hail from foreign countries. Many of them are now suspected of fleeing to India, Russia, Nigeria, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Columbia. They have names like Gautam Gupta and Anupal Gayen. Others have Hispanic surnames like Gonzales, Velazquez and Lopez. One of the women on the Most Wanted List is Ekaterina Shlykova.

All of them have been charged with various schemes to bilk Medicare or insurance companies for goods and services that were not needed, not prescribed or never even delivered to the patient. They preyed on people in states with large elderly populations like Florida and Arizona. They also operated in California, Michigan, Illinois, Rhode Island, Texas and New York. I don’t bring this up as a way to bash foreigners. In fact, among those on the “Also Wanted” Inspector General’s list is a brazen American psychotherapist from Hawaii who the feds say fraudulently billed about $1 million to his state’s Medicaid program and various insurance companies for therapy sessions he shortchanged or didn’t bother to conduct. He did the same thing in Colorado in the early 80’s. Dr. Carlos Warter was found hiding in Argentina last year and is now fighting extradition back to the States.

No. This isn’t about condemning the actions of all non-citizens but facts are facts. One of the highest rates of health care fraud in the country is in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, New York where a majority of residents are immigrants from Russia. In a recent story about a $250 million dollar fraud scheme in Brighton Beach the New York Times reported, “The city’s Russian-speaking immigrant population, many of whom grew up under a Communist system that bred disdain for the rules (has) … a willingness to cheat to get around them.”

In Miami, Florida, the nation’s other hot-spot for health care fraud, a trio called the Benitez Brothers and twenty co-conspirators allegedly pocketed $110 million in ill-gotten Medicare payments. Most defendants have pleaded guilty but the brothers – Carlos, Luis and Jose – are still at large. The point in bringing this problem to light is to remind folks that crime fighting can start with you. If a health care provider asks you to sign a form for a service or a medical item you never got – physical therapy, a wheelchair, a scooter, a hospital bed or elbow or knee braces – report it to the O.I.G. Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS . Suspect fraud if you get a notice from your insurance company that they paid for an un-delivered service. If you are one of America’s 25 million diabetics and you are getting too many lancets or test strips via those mail order pharmacies many insurance companies make us use these days, chances are someone is illegally profiting from it. Chances are good that if a health care provider is cheating you they’ve cheated others and investigators need to know about it to build a case. And if you can, check out that spiffy web site I found and take a close look at the mug shots there. If you know something about one of the fugitives there – say something! It’s time we all became active in fighting this multi-million dollar crime.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Unemotional Monotone and Many Shoulder Shrugs for Survivor Producer Accused of Killing His Wife

by Dr. Lillian Glass

Reporters from 48 Hours went into the prison in Mexico to interview Bruce Beresford- Redman, the Survivor Producer accused of killing his Brazilian born wife Monica and the mother of his young daughter and son.

In my view as a body language expert, I see many signals of deception n his very unemotional and monotone interview. The interview is loaded with shoulder shrug which can often be a huge “tell” in terms of determining whether or not someone is being truthful or not.

He starts of f the interview by saying “I didn’t kill my wife”. There is a shoulder shrug at the end of this statement.

Then he says “We were getting along splendidly.” As he said this he shakes his head “No “as opposed to shaking it “Yes”. When someone’s body language and nonverbal actions contradict their words, they are usually lying. Then we see another shoulder shrug of deception at the end of the statement. Also the word “splendidly” is very unusual. It is not a word commonly used. Oftentimes when someone I trying to manufacture the truth they will throw in these flowery words which can be a red flag .

He says “The next morning she wasn’t back. I was really nervous. As he says this there is another shoulder shrug complete without any vocal emotion.

Here are some of his other comments during the interview and associated body language “tells”.

“She sort of disappeared” is also said with a shoulder shrug. How does one “sort of disappear”? That is a very telling comment in my view.

“I collapsed (shoulder shrug indicating possible deception) and went numb. Actually he shold gave said he went nub and then collapsed, not the other way around.

As he describes his wife for the cameras as being funny and warm, he shakes his head no. Still shaking his head No he says “ She was as lovely a person on the inside as she was on the outside.” There was an accompanying shoulder shrug as he said this. He concludes with “She was amazing.” As he shakes his head “No.” He also shakes his head “No” as he says “She had this accent like listening to honey through gauze.” “He goes on to say “It was beautiful. It was mellifluous,” as he shrugs his shoulder once again.

“There weren’t issues going on at the time,” was also followed by a shoulder shrug.

Her cell phone was so damaged and shattered that you had to shout to make yourself heard, so she didn’t take it with her.” This statement was also followed by a shoulder shrug.

And finally, the shrugs go on and on as he said “ I want to help find someone who killed my wife.”

When one looks at the body language of his sister in law, it says it all. Her eyes are opened very wide as she speaks and you can see the white around her eyes indicating fear and anger as she speaks of her sister. She never wanted to believe that Bruce had anything to do with her sister's death as she stated, but now every part of her body says the opposite.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Justice: An Elusive Concept

by Donna Pendergast

The concept of
justice is sprinkled throughout the scriptures and is an ideal that is sought in many arenas of daily life. People seek justice to create a proper ordering of random things and persons within a society, in the enforcement of laws, to solve disagreements between persons and in response to criminal behavior.

But what is true justice in the case of an almost unimaginable act of criminal depravity? What is justice for a purposeful act of harm and violence where one persons gratification comes from stealing the life of another human being? In the case of a purposeful serial murderer like Coral Watts, who may have murdered as many as a hundred beautiful and talented women, can there ever really be justice for the family and friends who were the peripheral victims of such a diabolical and depraved predator?

I struggle with these concepts on a daily basis while prosecuting homicide cases and when dealing with the survivors, the family and the friends of a person whose life was callously snuffed out by by an act of senseless violence. In the depths of pain and misery survivors look to the prosecutor to guide them through the nuances of an unfamiliar criminal justice system and to obtain justice for them for an incomprehensible loss. Often the families look to the prosecutor as a sort of lifeboat who will save them from disaster and fix the circumstances that put them in touch with the justice system. Unfortunately, as prosecutors we can't fix anything we can only try to do justice, whatever that is, by seeking a conviction.

In seeking justice for the survivors, there are things that you learn, some of them the hard way. After having prosecuting over 100 murder trials I have learned NOT to say "I understand how you feel." As one survivor pointed out very early on, I don't understand how they feel and never could. Instead I've learned to say "I understand that I can't understand what you are going through but I have dealt with other families in this situation many times before and here is the benefit of my experience.

I have also learned to expect what often happens after a verdict even if it's a favorable verdict. Many survivors describe a hollow feeling after a jury verdict in a homicide trial because even a guilty verdict will never bring back a loved one.
Accordingly, I've learned to caution families that there will likely be a letdown after the verdict as they adjust to the new reality that the fight is over but the pain goes on. The mother of a man beat to death by a pack of savage brothers and their friends several levels below "Deliverance" grade caliber once said to me after the verdict "I thought I would feel better but I don't," not a surprisingly revelation considering the testimony that she had to sit through including the fact that her son and his friend had been chopped up and fed to pigs. It was closure after eighteen long years of wondering what had happened to her son who had disappeared while on a hunting trip up north, but closure at a terrible cost.

But the question remains "Is a jury verdict that one is guilty of homicide and subsequent resultant incarceration in prison true justice?" The dictionary defines justice in a number of ways. One definition defines justice as the ideal morally correct state of things and persons. Another entry defines justice a what is fair.

The question remains whether or not anything can be morally correct or fair when dealing with the senseless obliteration of a human life. Without delving into the complex and gut wrenching arena and dodging the land mines associated with the debate over the death penalty (maybe a subject for another day) I've come to the conclusion that there is no true justice for survivors rather justice as we can best do it under a horrendous set of circumstances and with an imperfect system.

Unfortunately true justice and true closure for the survivors remains an impossible dream.

Statements made 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, March 12, 2012

Virtopsy: Is It Feasible?

by Andrea Campbell
(photo left:Jensen Larson/Discovery Health: TV Guide site)

If only the world of television was closer to reality or even on the horizon of probability, examinations for evidence and especially the cause of death would be so much easier. Take for example, the autopsy. This is a grueling, back-breaking process calling for much determination, the correct tools, and years of knowledge. Breaking skin with cutting tools, using saws to split through cartilage and bone is a difficult, highly specialized and tedious task. If it could only be done in a high-tech manner such as what we see on television shows such as Bones and CSI—with detailed scans and video images of what lay inside—so, can it?

Virtopsy Up for Opinion

According to an article for Newswise from Johns Hopkins Hospital, high-tech “Virtopsies” are not total reality and the more traditional physical examination of autopsy is ‘still the gold standard for determining cause of death’ experts claim. “The latest virtual imaging technologies–including full-body computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, X-ray and angiography are helpful, they say, but cannot yet replace a direct physical inspection of the body’s main organs.”

Pathologist Elizabeth Burton, M.D., deputy director of the autopsy service at Johns Hopkins, reiterates that traditional autopsies to determine how and why someone died are less frequently performed, but the original methodology is still the basic process used. According to an article written in the January online Annals of Internal Medicine by Burton, along with Johns Hopkins clinical fellow, Mahmud Mossa-Basha, M.D., they offer their own opinion as to why the numbers of conventional autopsies have steadily declined over the past decade and why, despite this drop, the virtopsy is unlikely to properly replace it anytime soon.

Autopsy Drawbacks

A recent German study using the conventional method of both autopsy and imaging, versus just virtopsy, showed that the diagnoses using both techniques together netted more accuracy then just the virtual version alone which failed to find almost double the new diagnoses as the conventional version.

Problematic Concerns of Both

"Medical problems most commonly missed or not seen by autopsy included air pockets in collapsed lungs (which could have impeded breathing) and bone fractures, and the most common diagnoses missed by imaging were heart attack, pulmonary emboli and cancer,” says Burton. She believes that imaging results can also create question because most tissue examples need to be physically examined for analysis. Costs may also be prohibitive as imaging equipment costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and full-body CT scans for example can run about $1,500 each, which, when added to device purchasing and maintenance fees, make vitropsy an awfully expensive option.

One of the positive reasons for imaging usage on the other hand, are that the body can remain closed; and Virtopsy detects internal bleeding, and hidden fractures hard to find in a traditional autopsy. And it is also best at something like following bullet trajectories in gunshot victims, where the track is easiest to follow from the unique image perspective.

“Steady progress in imaging technology is refining conventional autopsy, making it better and more accurate,” says Mossa-Basha, a clinical fellow in neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins. “Physicians really need to be selective and proactive—even before a critically injured patient in hospital dies—in deciding whether an autopsy is likely to be needed and, if so, whether to approach the family in advance. Only in this way do we ensure that we are using the latest scanning devices appropriately during autopsy and when it is most effective in producing the most accurate-as-possible death certificates.”

For additional information, visit the National Institutes site at:


For some interesting real life cases on autopsy and the subsequent evidence, visit:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Criminal Profiler Pat Brown's New Novel: Only the Truth

Harkening back to the writing styles of the earlier American authors – John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, and James Cain - Criminal Profiler Pat Brown's Only the Truth is the story of a simple, rather slow, uneducated man, Billy Ray, who loves a mysterious woman who appears out of nowhere and comes to live with him. Two years later, she shoots their neighbor and burns down the neighbor’s home. He stands by helplessly as the woman he loves is arrested, jailed, and charged with premeditated murder. His happy life turned upside down, Billy Ray sets out to find the truth about his Charlene, whether the truth leads to his ability to save her life or it frees him from her spell. Available at Amazon for only $2.99!

Q&A with Pat Brown

Q: What made you write a fiction book?

A: I have actually written a few short stories before but, one day, I just got an idea for a mystery novel and I saw the main character, Billy Ray, living in his little house up in the mountains and I started writing. Next thing I knew he had run into Charlene at the train tracks and the story started to develop.

Q: Did you write an outline of the story or did it just unfold?

A: I have to say that, for me, writing fiction is an amazing experience! No, I did not plan out a beginning, middle, and end for this story; it truly did just happen as I wrote it. It is almost a surreal experience in that the characters take on a life of their own as one's fingers hit the keys on the computer, do things one does not expect them to do, and I was just as surprised by the twists in the story as its readers will be! I had to keep writing just to find out what happened!
Q: Are your main characters based on real people in your life?
A: Actually, they are all composites of people. Billy Ray is a combination of two men I know, one being a simple country boy and the other a city man who was a bit of a criminal but had an oddly kind heart. Charlene is a composite of a couple of interesting patients I ran into during my sign language interpreting career, girls who seemed quite sweet but there was definitely something concerning about their behaviors and personalities. The police chief wasn't based on anyone I know but he definitely should be played by The Rock if the book ever becomes a movie ::laughs::.

Q: Does criminal profiling feature heavily in the book? 
A: Since I am a criminal profiler, I can't help but present my characters as real people with real psychological issues. There is nothing fabricated about the kind of thinking and behaviors the reader will encounter in the book. 

Q: Why did you self publish this book?

A: I have two new books coming out with traditional publishers: How to Save Your Daughter's Life (HCI) in September 2012 and The Murder of Cleopatra (Prometheus) in early 2013. I wanted this book to come out now, while I have six months to concentrate on publicizing it and, besides, one thing great about self-publishing (besides not having to wait one or two years to see your book in print) is that an author can offer the book to readers at such a reduced price because the middle man is effectively eliminated. For only $2.99, readers can enjoy a new mystery novel at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a book published by a regular publisher.

Q: Anything else you would like to say about Only the Truth?

A: Yes. I love Billy Ray. One thing about fiction is that you get very emotional over your characters. You feel like you know them and want other people to know them. I feel sad if Billy Ray and Charlene and Chief Williams and the others in the story remain anonymous. I want people to know them. So, oddly, if people don't read my nonfiction books or if they don't like them, I don't take it nearly as personally than if people don't read or like Only the Truth! Strange, eh? I am so protective of my characters and I want the best for them. I want their story to be heard.

Only the Truth available at Amazon for $2.99 on Kindle OR on your desktop with a free download application. Coming soon to B&N and Smashwords.