Friday, December 26, 2008

The Year in Review: Top Criminal Cases of 2008

by Robin Sax

It’s that time again—our chance to reflect upon the year just ending. It’s time to look at the good and the bad, the trends and the hook-ups, and the births and the deaths. From my perspective as a member of Women in Crime Ink, I’d like to examine the crime stories that represent justice, truth, and closure for the many lives that were affected by crime.

So, after perusing the papers, magazines, and the Web from the last year, I’d like to remind you of these 12 cases (one for every juror on a panel) from 2008.

1. Vati-Con

Italian “businessman” Raffaello Follieri received a 4½ year prison sentence for defrauding investors of millions of dollars. Most of us had never heard of Follieri prior to these events, and those who did know his name only knew it because he was the boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway. But Follieri has now made a name for himself. According to prosecutors, he spent years claiming ties to the Vatican, even saying he was the Vatican Chief Financial Officer, to induce investments in his real estate company, the Follieri Group. But the money never went into his business–it went towards funding Follieri’s lavish lifestyle. When caught, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering.

2. Joseph Fritzl

One of the more bizarre cases that came to light this year was that of Josef Fritzl, a 73-year-old electrician in Austria. It was discovered that Fritzl had been imprisoning his own daughter, Elizabeth, in the windowless cellar of his family’s home for 24 years. More appalling was the fact that he had been torturing and sexually abusing his now 42-year-old daughter the entire time.

She had actually given birth to seven of his children. Fritzl brought three of the children out of the cellar, claiming that Elizabeth had joined a religious cult and then left the children on his doorstep. Fritzl’s horrific activities were only discovered after one of the three children still being held in the cellar with Elizabeth became ill and was taken to a doctor. These three children had never seen sunlight before authorities came to release them. Fritzl admitted to imprisoning and repeatedly raping his daughter, and prosecutors have also charged him with the murder of one of the seven children–an infant who became ill and died for lack of medical treatment.

3. Eve Carson

Eve Carson was the 22-year-old Student Body President at University of North Carolina. On March 5, 2008 she was found dead on the side of the road in Chapel Hill–killed by a gunshot to the head. Her SUV was found about a mile away. What seemed like a completely random crime has now been linked to the murder of Duke University graduate student Abhijit Mahato, who was also shot in the head, in his own apartment. Laurence Lovette had been charged in the murder of Mahato, and Lovette along with Demario Atwater were charged with Carson’s murder. Both Lovette and Atwater have criminal records. These killings have caused many in North Carolina to look to the state legislature to crack down on gang violence.

4. O.J. Simpson

In a flashback to 1994, we got to see O.J. Simpson at the defendant’s table yet again this year. This time, he and co-defendant Clarence Steward were convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary and conspiracy. The crime occurred in late 2007, when Simpson and his accomplices were arrested for robbing the Palace Station Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas. Although Simpson claimed he was simply trying to retrieve his sports memorabilia after it had been stolen from him, he and his gang were charged with robbery while in the Palace Station hotel. Simpson received 9 to 33 years in Nevada state prison and Steward was sentenced to 7½ to 27 years. The four other co-defendants received probation after taking plea deals in return for testifying against Simpson at trial.

5. Northern Illinois University Shooting

Early 2008 saw yet another school shooting that left several dead and many in shock. This time the shooter was armed with a shotgun and two handguns, and opened fire on a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. The shooter, a former student of the university, turned the gun on himself at the end of his short rampage. Although there didn’t appear to be a motive, the shooter caused 22 injuries and 6 deaths. It was the fourth U.S. school shooting in one week’s time.

6. Canada Bus Murder

On a Canadian Greyhound bus traveling from Edmonton to Winnepeg, 22-year-old passenger Tim McLean was suddenly and unexpectedly stabbed by Vince Weiguang Li, the man sitting next to him. The other passengers fled from the bus as Li repeatedly stabbed McLean. Once outside the bus, they watched as Li beheaded McLean and then began cutting off parts of the corpse and eating it. Li has been charged with second-degree murder, and has been found fit to stand trial. Testimony began in November 2008.

7. Jennifer Hudson

A shocking Hollywood crime occurred with the triple murder of singer/actress Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother, and nephew on October 24, 2008. Hudson’s mother and brother were found shot in their home, and her nephew’s body was found three days later in an SUV. After several weeks, William Balfour, the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, and home invasion. According to prosecutors, Balfour had met his estranged wife, Hudson’s sister, at her home the day of the crime. Police believe the crimes were committed in the heat of passion after Balfour found out his estranged wife was dating another man. Balfour had previously served time in jail for attempted murder, vehicular hijacking, and possession of a stolen vehicle.

8. Texas Polygamist Ranch

In April 2008, authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch just outside Eldorado,Texas, which is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The 1,700-acre community became of interest after Texas Child Protective Services and other authorities received several tips that underage girls were being forced into marriage and sexual relations with older men. All the children were removed from the ranch by Protective Services until the Court of Appeals determined that there was not enough evidence of immediate danger to have taken the children. In June, the children were returned and the FLDS Church is said to have renounced underage marriage. Still, to date, twelve FLDS men have been indicted on a variety of charges, including bigamy, performing unlawful marriages, sexual assault of child, and tampering with evidence.

9. Caylee Anthony

Probably the most publicized crime story of the year is the disappearance and murder of Caylee Anthony. The two-year-old was reported missing by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, on July 15, 2008, after Caylee’s mother, Casey, would not produce her. Cindy originally stated that she was alarmed after not seeing her grandchild in weeks, and because she had smelled the odor of a dead body coming from the trunk of Casey’s car. Unfortunately for authorities, the stories told by Cindy and Casey became more and more muddled. Casey indicated that a babysitter was with Caylee when she disappeared, but the Anthonys did not know the alleged babysitter. In addition, Caylee had been missing for a least a month prior to the grandmother’s call, but Casey never alerted authorities to her daughter’s disappearance.

During their investigation, police found hair samples and stains, as well as traces of chloroform in Casey’s trunk. Casey has been arrested four times since her daughter’s disappearance, although three of the arrests were not for Caylee’s murder. However, the fourth arrest came after Casey was indicted by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, child abuse, aggravated manslaughter, and four counts of lying to investigators.

There have been many leads from people who claim they saw Caylee in different places since her disappearance. But the most promising lead came on December 11, 2008, when the remains of a small child were found in the woods near the Anthonys’ home. The remains have recently been identified as those of Caylee.

10. Anand Jon

A win for the good guys came in November 2008. Too often Los Angeles juries are not associated with the word “guilty.” Well, thanks to the amazing work of prosecutors Mara McIlivain and Frances Young, Anand Jon was convicted of many counts of sexual assault. Anand Jon Alexander (born 1973 in India) is a former fashion designer turned convicted rapist who had previously appeared on America's Next Top Model” and rose to fame in the fashion industry prior to being convicted of several counts of sexual abuse.

Jon was born in South India, and came to the U.S. to study at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and later at Parsons. He sold collections at stores including Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, and Luisa Via Roma in Florence, Italy. His clothes had been modeled by and designed for celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Rosario Dawson, Lawrence Fishburn, Gina Torres, Oprah Winfrey, and Janet Jackson.

In March 2007, Jon was arrested in in Beverly Hills on rape and related charges based on the allegations of numerous aspiring models. He was also charged with committing a lewd act on a child. After investigating, prosecutors added 15 additional felony counts to the list, and Jon was required to surrender his passport and ordered not to leave the country. He pleaded “not guilty” to all charges.

On November 13, 2008, Jon was convicted of 16 out of 23 counts of sexual abuse, including the forcible rape of seven women and girls aged 14 to 21. Jon is scheduled to be sentenced on January 13, 2009. Because the case involves special circumstances against multiple victims, the penalty is a mandatory life sentence, making him eligible for parole in 67 years (2075). Jon still faces charges in New York and is also under investigation for similar charges in Texas and Massachusetts.

11. Anthony Pellicano

Anthony Pellicano is a former high-profile Los Angeles private investigator who recently served a sentence in federal prison for illegal possession of explosives. He was arrested on February 4, 2006, for unlawful wiretapping and racketeering charges.

On May 15, 2008, after acting as his own lawyer and enduring a nine-day jury deliberation, Pellicano was found guilty on 76 of 77 counts related to racketeering, along with four co-defendants. However, a parade of wealthy witnesses admitted they knew about, paid for and listened to wiretaps, but were not charged. They included Alec Gores, a billionaire corporate buyout specialist; Freddy DeMann, a music executive who was once Madonna’s manager; Adam D. Sender, a hedge fund manager and onetime movie investor; and Andrew Stevens, an actor turned movie producer. Summing up, the prosecuting attorney stated that he chose to attack the supply rather than the demand, the way that vice investigators attack pimps and prostitutes rather than johns, because “that’s how you make a dent in it.” The johns in this case were the likes of Bert Fields, Brad Grey, Ron Meyer, Michael Ovitz and Chris Rock, all of whom paid Pellicano for services rendered.

“If the government has no plans to go higher than Pellicano, this is a depressingly pedestrian effort that shows a lack of ambition,” commented John C. Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on white-collar crime, as quoted in the NY Times story on the verdict.

In a subsequent six-week Federal Court trial, Pellicano was convicted of wiretapping and conspiracy to commit wiretapping. Facing 78 guilty counts, Pellicano was sentenced in December 2008 to 15 years in prison, and ordered (with two other defendants) to forfeit $2 million.

12. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter a.k.a “Clark Rockefeller”

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. “Clark Rockefeller” is a German citizen who allegedly kidnapped his daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, on July 27, 2008. He was apprehended on August 2, 2008, and the daughter was returned to her mother, who lived in England.

Through fingerprint analysis, the FBI has confirmed that he is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of Bergen, Upper Bavaria in Germany. Alexander Gerhartsreiter, who lives in Bergen, identified "Rockefeller" as his brother, stating that they are the sons of a painter and homemaker, not the industrialists and philanthropists whose name symbolizes 20th Century American wealth and power.

Reportedly, Gerhartsreiter came to the United States as a West German foreign exchange student in 1979. Although his family states that Christian Gerhartsreiter was born 21 February 1961, he maintained that he was born 29 February, 1960. “Rockefeller” also told Boston police that his mother was Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s, which Carter has denied.

On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney announced confirmation of the true identity of the individual who used the aliases Clark Rockefeller, Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, and Chip Smith, among others. According to their report, his real name was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Gerhartsreiter was conclusively identified by means of forensic examinations conducted by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

When Gerhartsreiter, using the name Clark Rockefeller, was arrested, his fingerprint impressions were taken by FBI agents in Baltimore and by Boston Police when he was returned to Massachusetts. Those fingerprints were compared to latent fingerprints lifted from a variety of sources. They match a latent print lifted from a wine glass in Boston collected at the time of the search for "Rockefeller" and his daughter earlier in the month. Those fingerprints also match a latent print developed from a document in Gerhartsreiter's immigration file from the early 1980s.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is being held on charges he kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter last summer. He's also been named a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance of a California couple.


Anonymous said...

That’s so sad. I can’t understand how these criminals ignore from the low and personal conscience. I guess they don’t have conscience. I feel compassion and pain for the victim's families. There’s no justification for commit such horrible crimes. They should be dead by hanging. I wonder how the criminal's mind works. I think that there is connection between the criminal's past and childhood, and the crime that has been committed by criminal.
I hope that the justice will make, and the victim’s families won’t be suffering more. That’s a lot of criminal cases in one year. Something must be done to decrease this.

glenn Adams said...

Toner Cartridge,
As in any culture, or in any community spread across this great Nation, there are those who refuse or are unable to adapt to a civilized society, skirting the rules and laws that guide the rest of us through life. Fortunately they are the exception rather than the rule. Due to their selfish need to fulfill their evil desires or sexual fantasies, their lack of empathy for others, as well as their self assurance of remaining anonymous or stealth by hiding behind their masks of normalcy (at least in the darkness of their minds), they resort to the unimaginable, or unconscionable..
These psycopathetic predators, who know no boundaries of sanity, prey on unsuspecting innocent victims. Many of these predators hone their skills with each innocent victim devoured, increasing confidence and causing escalation.
Although, most of these predators have an uncanning ability to shield their motives, their expressionless face, hiding behind their fake smiles, combined with their lifeless eyes can not conceal this lie...

The only effective weapon that we all possess, is our natural born instincts of detection:
Be cautious, adhere to personal safety rules, and 'Trust your Natural Instincts'.

We all have to be on guard 24/7 and look out for each other..

Things are not always as they seem..

DNA Laws are the Solution, IMO. About half of the States have DNA Laws. GA now has 'Meredith's DNA Law(Meredith Hope Emerson: Blood Mtn Hiker) due to her courageous and Heroic fight to bring down a Serial Killer: Gary Michael Hilton, which preyed on unsuspecting Innocent Victims for almost 5 decades.

If your State doesn't have these Laws, demand them. Predators are recidivist and hone their skills with each evil act comitted.