Friday, January 30, 2009

Back from the Dead

by Donna Weaver

Bennie Harden Wint was declared dead nearly 20 years ago when he disappeared while swimming off Daytona Beach, FL on September 25, 1989. Wint and his then-fiancee, Patricia Lynn Hollingsworth, had left their home in South Carolina after Hurricane Hugo, and talked of their wedding plans while staying in Daytona, according to the original police report. He also left behind a grieving mother and 4-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

Wint's body was just found—alive—during a routine traffic stop in North Carolina where he has been living with his common-law wife and teenage son under an assumed name.

Last Saturday, when a patrol officer pulled him over for having a broken light on his license plate in Weaverville, North Carolina, the man said his name was James Sweet, but could produce nothing to prove his identity. Weaverville police Sgt. Stacy Wyatt became suspicious when Sweet's name did not show up in any official databases, and arrested and booked him under the name "John Doe" for suspicion of driving without a license and giving false information.

Under questioning, the man admitted he faked his own death in 1989, and that he was in fact Bennie Wint. Wint explained to Wyatt how easily he made his getaway. "He told me he swam to the shore in knee deep water, walked off and never looked back."

Wyatt was skeptical at first, and did a little research on the Internet. What he found was a post on from a woman named Christi McKnight who said she was Wint's daughter. In the posting, dated February 5, 2007, McKnight said she was four years old at the time of her father's disappearance and that she was searching for her father in hopes of helping her dying grandmother.

"Doctors say she should have been dead a year ago, but they say she's holding on to one thing, and we believe that she is holding on to my father," McKnight wrote. "Benny is believed to have been seen in Florida back in '89 - '90 and some have said they've seen him in Hartsville, South Carolina, where his family is from."

Evidently, Wint's family members were not the only ones who had doubts about his death. Volusia County Beach Patrol Officer Scott Petersohn stated, "Even back then, it struck everybody as odd that we didn't recover the victim," he said. "That almost never happens." Drowning victims who aren't immediately found by the patrol, he said, typically are located floating in the water by the sheriff's helicopter or are washed up by the tide days later.

Wint's story was confirmed when he was positively identified through fingerprints taken when he was arrested on the current traffic violations. His reason for perpetrating his "disappearing act"? Wint was "paranoid" because he believed he was wanted on charges stemming from his involvement in a large-scale drug trafficking ring in South Carolina and he also feared for his life. Authorities confirmed there are no outstanding warrants for Wint.

At this time, officials say Wint in not facing any charges for faking his own death.

News reports do not say whether or not Wint has made contact with his dying mother or daughter who have been going through a living hell these past 20 years. Having a loved one myself missing for over 25 years, I understand their agony all too well. What I can't imagine doing is reconciling in my mind both being grateful he is alive and the pain of realizing he knowingly, callously, and selfishly put us through all we have suffered.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Toxicology: Poison, Drugs, and Chemicals

by Andrea Campbell

Q: Can you tell me more about toxicology and what a forensic toxicologist is all about?

A: The busiest department in a crime lab, hands down, has to be forensic toxicology. This science is essentially a specialty area of analytical chemistry, so think vials, jars, and lots of machinery to test them when you consider this area's discipline.

Toxicology, per se, is the science of adverse effects of chemicals, either natural or man-made, on living organisms. The job of a toxicologist is to detect and identify foreign chemicals in the body, with a particular emphasis on toxic or hazardous substances. There are several sub-groups of toxicology expert: a descriptive toxicologist performs toxicity tests to evaluate the risk that exposure poses to humans; a mechanistic toxicologist attempts to determine how substances exert deleterious effects on living organisms; and the regulatory toxicologist judges whether or not a substance has low enough risk to justify making it available to the public.

Toxins then, are materials that threaten the life of living things. Poisons are a subgroup of toxins. Toxic materials can come in many forms such as gas, liquids, solids, animal, mineral and vegetable. Toxins can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and organs. Some toxins have medicinal value and, if this is the case, the amount that is taken is significant to health, but—if abused, may cause irreparable damage. Toxins may have antidotes, but some do not.

Some toxins may disguise or mask themselves, whereas some are identifiable by their symptoms. Here are a couple of examples of toxins and their symptoms:

Acids (nitric, hydrochloric, sulfuric) = Burns around mouth, lips, nose
Aniline (hypnotics, nitrobenzene) = Skin of face and neck quite dark
Atropine (Belladonna, Scopolamine) = Pupil of eye dilated
Arsenic (metals, mercury, copper, etc.) = Severe, unexplained diarrhea
Carbon Monoxide = Skin is bright cherry red
Cyanide = Quick death, red skin, odor of peach
Nicotine = Convulsion
Opiates = Pupil of eye contracted
And so forth.

The true incidence of poisoning in the United States is unknown. Approximately 2 million cases are voluntarily reported to poison control centers each year, and officially, a rather steady figure of about 700 deaths by poisoning is reported each year. Children under age 6 account for the majority of poisonings reported, but adults account for the majority of deaths by poisoning, most of which is intentional rather than accidental.

Some common reported poisons are: household cleaning supplies, antidepressant medications, analgesics (aspirin, acetaminophen), street drugs, cough and cold remedies, cardiovascular drugs, plants, alcohol, gases and fumes, pesticides, asthma therapies, industrial chemicals, sedatives, food poisoning, insects and other animals.

It is not easy to distinguish toxic from nontoxic substances. A key principle in toxicology is the dose-response relationship. The toxic effects of substances are not side effects. "Side effects" are defined as non-deleterious, such as dry mouth, for example. Toxic effects are the undesirable results of a direct effect, like the result of too much stress on the body; in other words, the body is upset by physical, chemical or biological agents and it manifests itself as a reaction. Toxic reactions are classified as one of three reactions: pharmacological—with injury to the central nervous system; pathological—with injury to the liver; and genotoxic—causing the creation of benign or malignant neoplasms or tumors.

For certification as a toxicologist, an individual must possess a Ph.D. or doctorate in one of the natural sciences. Undergraduate degrees must also be in either biology or chemistry, usually. Certification is bestowed by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the expert may use the title of “Diplomate,” which must be renewed every three years. Board-certified toxicologists will never face difficulties qualifying as an expert witness. State crime laboratories may not have a toxicologist on staff, their functions being performed by a criminalist, a biochemist, a forensic biologist or other technician. These personnel would typically have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in any of the sciences.

A forensic toxicologist is normally presented with preserved samples of body fluids, stomach contents, and organ parts. They will have access to the coroner’s report which should contain information on various signs and symptoms as well as other postmortem data. The toxicologist needs a thorough knowledge of how the body alters or metabolizes drugs because few substances leave the body in the same state as when they entered.

Hooray for toxicologists, an overworked group and a much needed discipline in the realm of forensic science.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

To Believe or Not to Believe

by Pat Brown

The opening paragraph of the New York Times story reads:

This kind of story is sadly no longer out of the ordinary and, in these harsh economic times, many people feel the man must have been driven to take out his family; his world must have fallen apart and he no longer knew how he could care for his wife and children.

Mr. Ervin A. Lupoe, the family mass murderer, explains his actions in a two-page suicide fax to a local news station. He tells us because "he was despondent over a job situation and he saw no reasonable way out," he and his wife started planning their own deaths. His wife then encouraged the murder of their children with her comment, "Why leave the children to a stranger?" Furthermore, Mr. Lupoe wrote, the manager who later fired the couple had told the two of them "You should have blown your brains out rather than come to work."

Okay, hold up here! Psychopath alert! Psychopath alert!

First of all there was a dispute with the boss. Why? We haven't heard. Next Mr. Lupoe not only blames his employer for his rash decision to off his family but also insinuates the boss was responsible for actually idea of the murder-suicide. Finally, he claims his wife told him to kill their children, the eight-year old, the five-year old twins, and the two-year-old twins.

One of the traits of psychopathy is a refusal to accept responsibility for one's actions. Mr. Lupoe did this three times over within his fax. Pathological lying is another and, in his fax, we see this clearly as well. We also find out that he was under investigation for lying about employment to get child care. Then, after he sent the fax, he called the police and claimed someone else has shot his family. He apparently has trouble deciding which false story to go with.

Lupoe once had been charged (though not prosecuted) for carrying a concealed weapon which indicates he may have difficulty being a law-abiding citizen, another trait of psychopathy. He also exhibits quite a bit of egocentric and grandiose thinking, which his actions expose. Not only did he commit a horrific crime, he essentially bragged about it to the media. Finally, the hallmark trait of psychopathy is a lack of empathy. When Mr. Lupoe coldbloodly shot six innocent people, five of them little children who trusted him, he qualified himself quite well as a psychopath who cares nothing for other human beings.

As a criminal profiler, one of my jobs is statement analysis which involves reading the words of an individual and discerning what the person is really saying, what he is trying to accomplish with his communication. Is he being honest and open? Is he applying spin to make himself look better? Is he trying to manipulate someone? Is he attempting to justify some action to another or, perhap, just to himself? What does his statement say about him?

Many times the words of a criminal are quite eye-opening if you don't take them at face value and spend some time examining them. A great example is serial killer Harvey Louis Carignano.

“… I had a teacher who used to sit at my desk and we would write dirty notes back and forth. I was either 13 or 14 at the time – and just show me a 14-year-old boy anywhere who wouldn’t willingly and happily sit in a schoolroom and exchange porno notes with his teacher. I never got to lay a hand on her without getting slapped, but she would keep me after school and make me stand before her while she masturbated and called me names and told me what she was going to make me do – none of her threats she ever kept, damn it! The bitch wouldn’t even let me masturbate with her! I took my penis out and she beat the living shit out of me! She had enormously large breasts. She was truly a cruel woman…” (Berry-Dee, 2003)

How much of any of this is true is questionable considering who it is coming from. However, if we assume the possibility he is blaming the victims for his early behavior problems, I can rewrite his statement which is likely closer to the truth:

“… I had a teacher I used to write porn notes to and that got me in big trouble. I never got to lay a hand on her without getting slapped (because she was disgusted with me), but she would keep me after school (as punishment).Once she made me stand (in the corner) where I started masturbating and called her a bitch. I took my penis out and she beat the living shit out of me!”

I have no doubt Mr. Carignano had some social worker or a parole board member who believed this childhood experience really happened as he said it did; after all, such a sick relationship forged by his schoolteacher would surely damage a young boy and offer an explanation as to why Carignano turned out to be a vicious killer who lured women with personal ads and then raped and beat them to death with a hammer.

But simply accepting a psychopath's explanations for their behavior distorts history, their true motives, statistical studies, and the correct psychological understanding of criminal behavior. Worse, it may cause us to fail to recognize danger signals from psychopaths in our own communities and families until it is too late. While we don't want to be overly suspicious of every word that comes out of a human being's mouth, it wouldn't hurt us -and may well protect us - to be a little more skeptical of what we hear and read. In fact, it could save our lives.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Murder Survivor

by Jan Williams

December can be a long, dark month for someone living with the grief of bereavement. The media pulls out all the stops, with movies and stories about miraculous reunions, of sadness turned to joy and appreciation, and hard hearts moved to compassion. All of it underlines our great loss. Although this was my second holiday season without my boys, I found it difficult – in part because of the national obsession with the Caylee Anthony murder. Every article rubbed salt in a wound that is too raw and recent, and my heart was wrung with sympathy. My sadness was not just for Caylee but also for her grandparents and the rest of her extended family. You see, I know something of the hell that they are all facing.

On August 8, 2007, my daughter-in-law, Manling (photo left below), ran screaming out of her front door in Rowland Heights, California. The neighbors who rushed to her aid found my 27-year-old son, Neal, lying dead in a pool of blood. He had been stabbed repeatedly. A frantic search found my two grandsons, Devon, who had just turned 7, and Ian, three-and-a-half. They had both been smothered in their beds with a pillow. Manling was in police custody and, within a couple of days, was charged with 3 counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances. In a way, it was the end of my life as well – my life as I knew it had come to an abrupt halt, and I entered the world of a murder survivor.

Having a murder in the family brings along with it a lot of repercussions. You may be suffering unbelievable loss, but you are doing so in public. Reporters staked out my house and office, and my neighbors were asked to comment. I was followed after court hearings. Family photographs taken from my dead son’s MySpace page were plastered all over the front page of local papers. This made it easy for strangers to recognize and confront me in public, as though I was just another character on their favorite cop show. They were eager to pose their theories and hoped for inside information, but they failed to remember that I was a mother with a broken heart.

It was probably a good thing that I was still in shock during those early months.

Sadly, relationships don’t always survive a murder. Some friends watched me as though they expected me to go crazy. Others avoided me like the plague. Even those who were kind and sympathetic at first often quickly tired of the whole thing. As anyone with a long-term illness can tell you, people get fed up if you don’t get better right away. They want you to get back to normal – to be the person you used to be. The trouble is that that person is gone. There is no recovery. You have to reshape your entire life, and that takes time. We are an impatient society and expect a quick fix. So we murder survivors withdraw, little by little, until, before we realize what has happened, we have become marginalized. Loss follows loss!

If you are a fan of murder mysteries, as I was, you may believe that you have a good idea of how the process works. That may not be the case. By the time the police and defense had finished their investigations of the murder site and a hazardous materials cleanup had been arranged, six months had passed. The autopsy reports on my two beautiful little boys weren’t finished until after the first of the year, four months after their murders. Forensics took even longer. On CSI they may get their results in 10 minutes, but the reality was that it took until May 2008, ten long months, for the crime lab to finish their report. These delays caused delays in the court proceedings as well. I anxiously prepared for each court appearance, only to have nothing happen yet again.

The first time I heard any actual evidence was at the preliminary hearing this last November. Those people who wanted me to give them the inside scoop were wasting their time. I didn’t even know that the murder weapon was a sword until I read it in the local newspaper. It was at the preliminary that I learned that Neal had been stabbed 97 times. Ninety-seven times! How can a person stab someone 97 times? I am still trying to absorb it. The rest of the evidence waits for the actual trial. When will that be? Six more months? A year? No one can tell. Until that happens, I am left with a lot of questions and nothing but theories to answer them.

I think the speculation is the worst part – at least for me. I know that I will never understand the why of it, but I still would like to know more about the how. It is the speculation of others that is the most painful though. People who hear about the murders immediately ask, “What did he do?” Like in a rape case where a victim is presumed to have provoked an attack, spectators are certain that my son did something to provoke his murder. Their second question is even worse. They want to know if I had any “inkling” beforehand.

It’s not that I haven’t gone over every moment that I spent with my son and his family, looking for insight. Believe me; I’ve spent many sleepless nights doing just that. Unfortunately, hindsight is very different from real time. In all honesty I can tell you that there is absolutely nothing that would have alerted me to the possibility that my daughter-in-law might murder her family. It never occurred to me. When you know someone, no matter what your relationship (and I thought I had a good relationship with Manling), you may still be shocked if he or she commits murder. Why? You know them and have spent time with them. You know that they are human. And one of our fundamental beliefs about what it means to be a human being, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is that parents will always love and protect their children. The people we read about in the papers that do horrible things, they must be monsters. There must be something that sets them apart. Because if they seem normal, is anyone safe? The answer isn’t something you want to hear.

So, am glad to see the back of December. My journey through grief hasn’t ended, but I have jumped one more hurdle. I’m proud of that. And I hope that Caylee’s family and friends will have the strength to weather their journey. I wish them peace.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What Makes a Good Trial Lawyer

by Kelly Siegler

The opinions of individual trial lawyersif asked what makes a lawyer a good trial lawyer—would be as varied as their own egos. Most laymen and the average citizen called down for jury duty probably assume that all lawyers are good trial lawyers or ought to be anyway. Isn't that what they are paid to do? And way too many lawyers who call themselves trial lawyers, when they aren't, would in some way try to describe themselves in answering the question.

The simplest answer I've given before when asked this question is "
preparation." While that is certainly true and a huge part of what makes any trial lawyer good at what he does, preparation alone could never explain it completely. Or even come close. Lots of lawyers try their hardest to be prepared. But does that necessarily carry over to the "presentation" aspect, the part that catches a juror's attention convincingly? Does preparation lay the groundwork for a sought after verdict, even most of the time?

Probably not.

Then what does?

Eloquence perhaps. Tenacity. Aggressiveness. Intelligence. All of these qualities would seem to answer the question.

So do qualities like having a photographic memory or having a way with words. Having a commanding presence in the courtroom certainly helps.

Whatever adjectives you or others might use to try and describe what makes one lawyer a successful trial lawyer where another is not are probably all good answers. But what is that ONE quality or trait or characteristic without which a given trial lawyer fails to pass the test most of the time??

I believe it is the ability to know people.

To empathize with them. To understand what they must be thinking as you put on your case. To appreciate their unique perspectives. To see and hear your evidence and the opposing lawyer's case as if you were inside their minds and their hearts.

To evaluate what is going on inside the courtroom critically from someone's point of view besides your own.

Where does anyone, lawyer or not, get such a trait or ability?

Are you either born with the ability or not? Can a good trial lawyer lose such an ability the more successful he becomes if he allows himself to lose touch with his "old" way of thinking? Don't some people simply have no clue of what it means to understand others' perspectives?

Are how you are raised and where you are from two of the most important contributors to being able to understand, empathize and appreciate other people's opinions?

I would say that they are. For whatever reason someone might have been forced to or called upon to "get along" in the world or "adjust" to a difficult situation, contributes directly to making him deal with human nature. Because to deal with human nature, you have to try and understand it.

Then, when it comes time as a lawyer in a trial to critically decide which citizen would best serve as a favorable juror, you have a better understanding of that juror's possible perspective in viewing your evidence. As any witness testifies, you have a better appreciation of how that witness comes across to twelve, normal citizens. As you interview and prepare your witnesses for their time on the stand, you can prepare them in ways that others might not be able.

If you understand people, you have a different grasp of the words that not only might appeal to them, but also sing to them and stay with them.

Long after any trial lawyer has left the courtroom.

Friday, January 23, 2009

College School Violence

by Connie Park

Xin Yang, a 22 year old from Beijing, China, arrived in the United States on January 8, 2009, to pursue the American dream. She wanted to further her education and hoped for the opportunities that are available here to have a better life. Xin Yang began her studies as an accounting major at the prestigious business school at Virginia Tech less than a month ago. On January 21, 2009, her hopes and dreams came to an abrupt halt.

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on January 21st, Xin Yang and Haiyan Zhu, a 25 year old Chinese national student, and several of their friends were having coffee at the Au Bon Pain Café located at the Graduate Life Center on the Virginia Tech’s campus. Haiyan Zhu apparently was a friend who Xin Yang listed as her emergency contact. Shortly after 7:00 p.m., the Virginia Tech campus police received two 911 calls from the Graduate Life Center. Shortly after the calls, police arrived and discovered Xin Yang’s decapitated body at the location. There were seven witnesses who observed the horrific incident.

According to the
Collegiate Times, Virginia Tech’s newspaper, the police affidavit stated that the first arriving officer found Zhu holding Yang’s head and blood on his clothing. The murder weapon was a kitchen knife was recovered at the scene.

Virginia Tech’s Campus
Police Chief Wendell Flinchum stated that, “It was a horrific crime scene and the victim had been decapitated. There was no motive for the slaying.”

The alleged suspect, Haiyan Zhu, was charged with first degree murder and is being held without bond in the Montgomery County Jail. There have been no police reports or any kind of problems with Zhu in the past. Zhu is an international graduate at Virginia Tech from Ningho, China.

This incident comes shortly after the
Virginia Tech Massacre that occurred on April 16, 2007. The massacre was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Seung-Hui Cho, a 23 year old Virginia Tech student, killed 32 people and injured 21 people in two hours. The first shooting occurred at approximately 7:15 a.m. at a residence hall where he the two victims. Cho then proceeded to the opposite side of the campus to another residence hall and continued his rampage and shot additional victims. He eventually turned the gun and shot himself in the head.

Cho had a history of mental illness beginning in middle school where he was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression. In 2005, a judge deemed Cho mentally ill and that he was “an imminent danger to himself and others”. One professor asked Cho to seek professional counseling. Additionally, Cho was accused of stalking two female students in 2005.
It appeared that Cho was planning the shooting massacre for months. Police officials traced the handguns that were found by Cho’s body and found he had purchased the handguns back in February and March of 2007.

This brought on the debate of gun control laws again in the United States. As a result of this incident, there were rapid changes that were made to the Virginia gun laws. In addition, a major federal gun control law was signed that created tighter measures and standards with NICS-
National Institute Criminal Background Check System signed by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2008.

This Wednesday incident only brought back the horrible memories to the Virginia Tech students and faculty members.

In light of recent school campus violence, Congress and the Senate passed the
School Safety Law Enforcement Improvement Act on February 26, 2008. Senate bill S.2084 was sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Act provides the following:

-assistance programs to improve safety and security of school institution of higher education

-firm pilot programs to develop cutting edge programs for schools

-funding for school campus police

-improvement to the
Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act of 2003

-focuses on prevention

-incorporates the
Terror’s Hoax Improvement Act of 2007

The question still remains of why there has been an increase in school violence over the years and what solutions and programs will improve the safety and security issues.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

When Stalking Goes Hi-Tech

by Robin Sax

Caller I.D., digital cameras, email, online bank accounts, pda’s, social networking websites
—all are forms of technology that we use in our everyday lives to communicate, be readily accessible, preserve memories, and simplify our lives. In today’s fast-paced world, these modern technologies have become more than convenient--they have become necessities.

Unfortunately, as with all things, there’s a flip side to these very handy devices. They can be used against us by people who wish to do us harm or—at the very least—create havoc in our lives. Tech-savvy criminals can turn our favorite timesavers into tools to stalk, harass, and harm us.

While stalking and harassment are neither new crimes nor a new phenomenon, with the growth and expansion of technology the criminal’s stockpile of weapons has expanded. They no longer need to rely solely on using the postal service, or sneaking around a victim’s home, or listening on land lines to commit their crimes. As recent studies by the
United States Department of Justice show, 78% of stalkers use more than one means to contact and harass their victims.

There is no greater consequence of the misuse of technology than in cases of
stalking and harassment. Here, the combination of a criminal’s arsenal of technological weapons and the criminal’s desire for aggression puts the victim not only in a compromising position, but in a potentially lethal one.

So what can victims or would-be victims do to protect themselves in our high-tech society?
Alexis A. Moore, a cyber-crime expert, boiled it down to her “Top 5” tips to protect ourselves from high-tech stalkers and cyberstalkers.

1. Do not rely on
caller ID when deciding to answer the phone. Caller ID spoofing is a common practice used by high-tech cyberstalkers to deceive victims into answering the telephone to harass and frighten them. Those relying upon their Caller ID systems should be aware that for a small fee anyone may go online and purchase Caller ID spoof technology. This enables them to program their Caller ID to reveal any number and name they wish. Stalkers often use familiar telephone numbers to trick the unsuspecting victim into answering the phone. Screen your phone calls allow the answering machine to pick up and then answer. By allowing the answering machine to pick up, the stalkers may leave a message that could later be used as evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding. If it’s an important call, the calling party will leave a message. Be sure you stay in control of your safety and security!

2. Password protects all accounts including utilities. Passwords protect all accounts that will allow for this additional privacy protection measure. Besides adding a password to your accounts, also request to have the agency/entity contact you if there are any changes made to your accounts, including requests for account closures, electronic funds transfers or account cancellations. These techniques are often utilized by stalkers to maintain control over their victims. It is not uncommon for stalkers who have gone high-tech to cancel their victim’s utilities and telephones, make electronic funds transfers from their bank accounts, and/or close/cancel credit cards. Today, anyone sitting behind a computer screen can access an unsuspecting victim’s accounts without the risk of being tracked.

3. Notify family, friends and co-workers to withhold information about you from any third party. High-tech stalkers using caller-id spoofs and other means may contact third parties under false pretenses to obtain vital information about the victim’s activities and whereabouts. Anyone who contacts a third party for information about a possible victim should be given no information at all! High-tech predators can use the phone, e-mail or may send third parties ruses such as class reunions or even floral deliveries to find out the victim’s whereabouts and activities. In some cases predators have pretended to be law enforcement officers! Always ask for a call-back number to verify the caller’s identity and always error on the side of safety and privacy first. A good motto is always “Less information is best”!

4. Maintain old e-mail accounts and phone numbers and create new ones. When under siege by a high-tech stalker or cyberstalker, keep old cell phone and e-mail accounts open. A victim of stalking should use an old cell phone number, knowing that the stalker may access their present phone records and known e-mail accounts. To thwart a stalker or potential stalker, call and e-mail contacts you don’t do business with, make appointments by phone with doctors’ offices you won’t be treated by, attorneys you won’t be consulting with. In this way, you are throwing obstacles in the stalker’s path and keeping your daily activities private. An evasive cyberstalker will try to learn the victim’s activities and schedule, including appointments, to manipulate and harass their victims. Remember, you are you own best privacy advocate!

Place credit freezes on all 3 credit bureaus: Today, without an identity change, it is often impossible for many to protect their credit and personal information from attack by a vicious high-tech stalker. . Stalkers often will apply for credit using the victim’s name to damage his or her credit rating. If this happens, contact the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, and place a security freeze upon their credit bureau accounts, Simply ask for their particular policies and procedures to place the freeze upon your credit. This will save you endless hours to repair their your if the stalker attempts to tamper with it. An ounce of prevention is a pound of cure!

And just to add to the list, I offer five more to chew on:

1) Protect your personal information. Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have taken the world by storm. Always limit the personal information you put on your profile, pictures and messaging. Even if your profile is set to “private”, there is always a chance that tech-savvy criminals can get to you. Most of these sites have instant messaging capabilities, so there is really no reason to provide any additional contact information.

2) For both social networking sites and general emails, choosing a gender-neutral username can limit the amount of attention you receive. Cute, flirty or sexual usernames can easily draw the attention of a cyber stalker, or give online criminals the impression you are an easy target.

3) Avoid using a work computer or email account for personal use. If a cyber stalker uncovers the IP address used by a business, they can find out where you work.

4) PDA’s, cell phones, computers and email accounts all can be password protected. Locking these devices provides greater security for personal information should they ever fall into criminal hands. It’s also very important to choose passwords that will be difficult to guess or hack.

5) Online banking is another great modern convenience. But as online banking has grown, so have fraudulent websites and internet hacking. Always make sure that your online banking institution is legitimate and insured. The
FDIC website has more information on safe online banking.

To sum up, the best protection from internet crime comes from limiting the amount of personal information made available online. High-tech criminals can use anything from uploaded photos to an instant message with a friend to learn about their victim. Like many other innovations, our need for these technologies has flourished. Using these conveniences is perfectly fine so long as we take the right precautions to limit our risk.

It Doesn't Get Crazier Than This

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

In 2004 Andre Thomas killed his wife and children, cut their hearts out, put the hearts in his pocket, and walked outside. He then went home, put them in a plastic bag and threw them out. He stabbed himself three times in the chest and then walked into a police station to report his crime. What a horrible, heinous crime. He was understandably tried for capital murder. On the surface this looks easy--he turned himself in to the police and confessed his crime. He only needed to plead guilty and await his sentence. But while awaiting his trial in his solitary cell, he pulled his own eye out and ate it. Yes it's true, he plucked his own eye out and ate it, right there in his cell.

I have never evaluated Mr. Thomas, but according to newspaper reports he has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. His behavior now at least starts to make some sense. He suffers from delusions and altered reality. Maybe he hears voices. He reportedly believed that his family was possessed by the devil. Killing them was saving the world from evil. I couldn't find any report as to why he plucked his eye out. The prosecution suggested it was a ploy to appear insane. You've got to be kidding me.

I agree people try to fake mental illness to escape some form of punishment. I personally was duped by a fellow who showed up in the psych ward claiming to be a wolf. It took me about 30 minutes to figure out that his story was bogus and he was trying to find a warm place to stay for the night. He laughed when I told him that his diagnosis was that he was full of "s--t." He was quickly discharged.

Non-mentally ill people do not pluck their own eyes out for some secondary gain. People with
schizophrenia, when seriously ill, have been known to mutilate themselves in an attempt to cut off offending body parts, or kill themselves. I have personally witnessed one case of a man who cut off his own penis (fairly rare, but does happen), a man who cut off his arm with a circular saw, and a woman who slit her own throat. These persons had delusional "reasons" for doing these things and were "crazy" enough to be able to carry it out. I would propose that it would be close to impossible for any of us to pull out our eye voluntarily unless we were hallucinating on LSD or mushrooms. We would be temporarily "crazy."

In 2004 a judge declared Mr. Thomas competent to stand trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. While awaiting his sentence to be carried out, Andre Thomas last month plucked out his other eye and ate it. Yes really, he ate his other eye and is now blind.

The terrific blog,
Grits For Breakfast, posted on this story on January 9, 2009. The comments were amazing. Although there were several who were sympathetic with Mr. Thomas's mental health issues, many more suggested that he should be executed to put him out of his misery. Well that's one way to deal with the mentally ill in prison-- kill them.

To those of you who would suggest that I am soft on crime, consider this novel idea. How about we make mental health treatment available in the community to those who need it. Had Mr. Thomas been adequately treated and monitored he never would have killed his family or plucked out his eye. Three people would be alive today and an enormous amount of money would be saved keeping him out of the prison system. That's not soft on crime, that's preventing crime.

There are so many problems here. How do you find someone
competent to stand trial who is so severely mentally ill? The standard for competency is not very stringent. You have to understand the charges against you and be able to participate in your own defense. Those are easily met standards. How do lawyers and judges who may know next to nothing about mental illness evaluate the mental state of a defendant? By the time a defendant appears in court they have usually been medicated and no longer display obviously bizarre and crazy behavior. Someone who is no longer psychotic will often try to make logical sense out of the crime they committed and will say that they knew at the time that what they were doing was wrong.

There may be one way to make some sense out of the issue of the mentally ill who commit crimes. Several communities have
Mental Health Courts. These courts are in place for those defendants who have histories of mental illness before committing a crime, or committed a crime while mentally ill. The lawyers, judges, and others assigned to these courts have special training in mental illness and are equipped to knowledgeably handle these defendants. Instead of the revolving door from prison to back on the streets where psychiatric care is lacking, then back in prison when another crime is committed, these persons can be put into a system where follow-up is mandatory and resources are available. Another example of not being soft on crime, but preventing crime.

Harris County, Texas will soon have it's own mental health court.
Judge Jan Krocker's 184th District Court will hear felony cases of defendants diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe depression on a full-time basis. What a great idea: stop crime by making sure the revolving door is closed for those with mental illness. The perfect liberal and conservative agenda all rolled into one. Unfortunately for Mr. Andre Thomas and for his family it's too late in coming.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

R.I.P. Officer Mason Samborski

by Donna Pendergast

The cold and dreary day that marked the end of 2008 marked a different kind of end as well. Hours before the new year was rung in, Officer Mason Samborski was laid to rest before nearly a thousand police officers from around Michigan and across the country.

The new year would begin with a new type of life for his wife and one year old daughter, a life that would not include the presence of a loving husband and father. A devastated police department would begin 2009 still reeling from the shock, Officer Samborski's empty locker a stark reminder of what they had lost, and of the ever present danger that could change or end any one of their lives in the blink of an eye.

Having prosecuted two separate cases where a police officer was murdered in the line of duty, I am once struck by the senseless nature of this type of case. I am also once again reminded of the daily sacrifices that police officers make to keep our families and communities safe and secure.

It began with a traffic stop, it ended with a fight to the death. What happened in between is still being sorted out.

On December 28th, 2008 around 12:30 am, Officer Samborski stopped 16 year old Jonathan Belton in
Oak Park Michigan for an equipment violation. Belton reportedly had a criminal history for an assault on a public school's officer as well as illegally carrying a concealed gun. During the traffic stop Samborski discovered that the teen was driving without a drivers license. Belton told Samborski that he had a parent or guardian at a nearby apartment complex.

It is believed that Samborski wanted to give the teen a break and return him to his guardian rather than arrest him. Belton was placed in the back of Samborski's police car and transported to the apartment complex where something would go very wrong and Samborski would lose his life.

As it turns out Belton apparently had lied to Samborski and given him the address of a 15 year old female friend that he had met a few days before. It is believed that when Samborski discovered the fraud he tried to take Belton into custody and a struggle ensued in the hallway of the apartment complex.. During the struggle Samborski was shot once in the head. Although the police have not disclosed specific details it is widely believed that Samborski was shot with his own gun. Belton then fled in the jeep that he was originally stopped in.

After a wide ranging manhunt, Belton, accompanied by his father and pastor turned himself in to police authorities in nearby Detroit later that afternoon. He was later charged by prosecutors as an adult on the charges of First Degree Murder.

Some questions about the incident may never be answered. We may never know what motivated the teen to shoot an officer who was trying to help him. The prosecution does not have to prove motivation to prove the elements of the crime of First Degree Murder. But the issue of motivation begs a more obvious question. Can life be so cheap to a sixteen year old that he would shoot an officer to death over a relatively minor infraction?

In a
prior blog I discussed the differences between the juvenile and the adult brain. However, differences in brain maturity cannot be used as a free pass for violent acts that show an utter disregard for human life and authority.

At officer Samborski's funeral, Oak Park Public Safety Director John McNeilance said:

"It is a sad reality that an officer will go out and risk harm and death with adult offenders and now have to confront a subculture of juvenile violence often with those who have a disregard for authority to the point of taking a life."

There are many question still to be answered about the details relating to the end of Officer Samborski's life. The answers to those questions will not shed any light on the more troubling questions surrounding why Officer Samborski ever crossed paths with Belton in the first place.

Why was this teenager who already had a juvenile criminal history allowed to be out alone and unsupervised at 12:30 am? Where were his parents or guardians? Did he have a curfew?

It has been reported that Belton was driving his mothers car. There have been no reports that he took the vehicle without permission. Did his mother know that he was out driving around in the middle of the night? If yes, she had to know that he was an unlicensed driver. Why would she allow an unlicensed juvenile to drive around in the middle of the night?

The questions are endless, the answers are elusive. In the final analysis a dedicated police officer paid the ultimate price.

Rest in Peace Officer Mason Samborski! Your honor, courage and sacrifice will be remembered forever.

DECEMBER 28th, 2008

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

Monday, January 19, 2009

Death Row

by Katherine Scardino

I have recently visited someone on Death Row (Texas Death Row, pictured left). In my 24 years of working in the criminal justice field, I have never been there before. I have heard from other people how depressing it is, but it is impossible to put into words the immediate response your mind has to the meaning of this place. You know that you are walking into a space occupied by people who are looking at an "end date". That is something that none of us have to do. We all know, intellectually, that we will not live forever, and that at one point in time, we will die. But, we do not know when. Many of the tenants of Death Row have a date. They know when their heart will stop beating, when their lungs will no longer take a breath, when their brain will cease to function.

The Texas Death Row is located in Livingston, Texas, in the Polunsky Unit. It is about five miles off the main road and sits alone. It is a sad sight. I went there to visit an inmate named Michael Toney. I had been contacted by a lawyer working for one of the big law firms in San Francisco, the kind of law firm that is able to do free legal work for whomever they choose. It is the type of law firm that those who are involved with it just call it "the Firm". The Firm decided to dedicate free lawyer hours and effort to free Michael Toney off Death Row. The Firm, along with another lawyer named Jared Tyler, who works for the
Texas Defender Service, have been successful in getting Mr. Toney a new trial. That is where I enter the scene.

Michael Toney (pictured right) was convicted in Tarrant County in 1999 for a bombing that occurred there in November 1985. Yes, I said "1985". He was accused of placing an explosive device in a briefcase and setting the briefcase down in front of a trailer and subsequently killed three people. He obtained a reversal from the Fifth Circuit and a new trial as a result of misconduct by the State prosecutors in Tarrant County during his trial. It seems that they withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense lawyers, not to mention the fact that witnesses have recanted their testimony and State witnesses had different version of facts used to convict him. You can imagine how bad the problems had to be in a capital murder case in order for the Fifth Circuit to reverse his prior conviction.

I went to see Michael Toney with one of his lawyers, Jared Tyler. Jared and I sat in a cold room waiting for him to be brought in, unhandcuffed, and sat down behind a glass partition on a concrete stool. (Everything that can possibly be made out of concrete is concrete in the Polunsky Unit.) Mr. Toney arrived looking like he had just spent the last 10 years on Death Row. His complexion was pale and unhealthy, which is what inmates look like who have spent many hours in their cell with no access to a regular walk to the store in the sunshine.

I have always wondered about sensory deprivation. Can you imagine not touching another human being for years at a time. There have been many studies about the effect of sensory deprivation on inmates who are segregated or other people who choose to just be alone. Sensory deprivation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. It is one of the most favored measures used by the CIA in its "war on terror". It has so far been used on many detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the extreme - to the point of hallucinations of sight and sound, followed by a breakdown akin to psychosis.

Michael Toney sits in his 60 square feet of space 23 out of the 24 hours each day. During his one hour out of his cell, he must do his errands - like go to the Commissary, bathe, brush his teeth, plus try to work in a little sunshine. Sensory deprivation can change a person’s attitude and personality. It can make you paranoid, psychotic and generally mess up your mind.

I do not want to discuss today the crimes that were committed to cause Michael Toney or any of the inmates to be living at this facility. We all are well aware of the type of crime that results in a death penalty. As I said before, the people who live on Death Row are going to be executed at some point - except for Michael Toney, and I am going to try and work on that. But, they are human beings, even though they are treated and kept as animals. We keep them isolated, alone, no human contact, and then complain when they turn into an animal. We put our captured animals in cages in the zoo, and for the most part, they surely look peeved when I go to visit them. They are angry. The caged animals act angry. We read about an elephant attacking his trainer, a lion mauling a child, or some other horrid act - by an animal who should be in the wild but for us humans who think we must have a sample of their species in a cage for us to look at and point at and laugh at. They act angry - we shoot them. In the Polunsky Unit, when an inmate acts angry, he gets "written up" or deprived of his one hour of sunlight each day. Does anyone other than me see how ludicrous this is?

Michael Toney has something to look forward to. He has hope now. He talked about other inmates being jealous of his new trial. He was ready to get off Death Row and shipped to the Tarrant County Jail, where he will stay until a jury renders a verdict in his next trial. This time, I know that the verdict will be a lot different than the last one and I know that for one reason - all of the evidence will be presented to a jury - not just a part of it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Women in Crime Ink Joins Facebook!

The Women in Crime Ink fan page is officially up and running at Facebook. The up and coming social network for professionals, and those just looking for friends, boasts millions of members. Although several WCI contributors have their own Facebook page, we thought this would be a great way to come together with all of you!

At the Women in Crime Ink fan page, you can occasionally chat with a regular WCI contributor, talk to other WCI fans, start a discussion about a current or past WCI blog, and browse the WCI bookstore; a one-stop shop with all of the titles by your favorite WCI authors.

When you're done reading the current blog here at WCI, jump on over to Facebook, become a fan, write on the wall, and peruse the WCI bookstore for the latest thriller or true-crime book. We hope to see you there!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ten Years Later, Crime Scene Says Murder!

by Susan Murphy- Milano

"The crime scene was staged, rearranged to look like a suicide," according to forensic pathologist Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds.

Ronda Reynolds (pictured left) fulfilled her childhood dream by becoming a Washington State trooper and firearms instructor. She left the patrol a few months after she married to work in private security.

In early 1998, Ronda married Ron Reynolds, an elementary school principal in the small Lewis County town of Toledo, Washington. During their brief marriage, Ronda discovered her husband was having an affair. She confronted him. She told him the marriage was over and that she expected the $15,000 she put into the new marital home to be returned. That night, Ronda booked a flight to her mom's home in Spokane. She made arrangements just after midnight with a friend and veteran police officer to drive her early that morning to the airport. Crime Scene photos show she'd packed her bags and left a message to her husband on the bathroom mirror: "I love you, call me."

Within hours of leaving, Ronda was found dead on the floor of her master bedroom, in the closet,with the door open, just 15 feet away, where her husband claims to have been sound asleep. When Ron Reynolds was questioned, he told police Ronda was distraught and talked about killing herself.

The gruesome crime scene photo's tell a different story. (if you
go to the link, please be advised the photo's are on this site are graphic).

Jerry Berry was Lewis County's lead detective on the case and said "this appeared to have the earmarks of a staged homicide."But Berry faced serious evidence problems because he wasn't called to the scene until two hours after Ronda's body was found, and the crime scene had already been disturbed.

But, seven months after Ronda's death, Ron Reynolds' attorney wrote the department insisting they remove the cloud of suspicion and close the case. And "if you do not then we will." Berry says the sheriff's office caved, closing the case as a suicide over his objections. "They just basically wanted me to let it go,
leave it as a suicide, and move on and take on other cases and be done with it," Berry said.

Nearly 10 years after Ronda was found shot to death, a television station in Seattle took an interest in the case, launching their own investigation. The
ABC affiliate uncovered evidence and found experts who are convinced Ronda's murder was made to look like a suicide.

Her mother, Barb Thompson has fought to have her daughter's case re-opened. With more twists and turns than a tornado, a Washington court finally granted her motion for a judicial review. All she is asking is for the death certificate be changed to state the truth--homicide.

Detective Jerry Berry and Barb Thompson will also be guests on
Justice Interrupted radio, Tuesday, January 20, 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Scary Possibility

By Jenna Jackson

A man who has been on Death Row here in Texas for nearly 30 years could be getting out.

Jonathan Bruce Reed (pictured left) was convicted and condemned for the November 1978 rape-slaying, of Wanda Jean Wadle at her Dallas apartment. But, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled Dallas County prosecutors improperly excluded black prospective jurors from Reed’s trial and ordered him released unless prosecutors choose to retry him quickly.Prosecutors haven’t yet decided if they will re-try him. They say they need time to “dissect” the opinion, according to a story by Mike Gracyk of the Associated Press. The real question will be, CAN they re-try him? After 30 years, it’s hard to imagine what, if any, evidence remains preserved. Witnesses are probably dead or gone, and who knows if the victim’s family is even still around.

If they are—this is a terrible day for them. They probably thought this case was closed, even though the man a jury said was responsible hasn’t yet been executed.It seems it was pretty much the policy of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, at the time, to exclude black people from a jury in the belief that blacks empathize with defendants. Reed is white – but the Constitutional efforts remain the same.“Although we do not relish adding a new chapter to this unfortunate story more than 30 years after the crime took place, we conclude that the Constitution affords Reed a right to relief,” a three-member panel of the New Orleans-based court wrote in the ruling posted late Monday.

Reed has been on death row since September, 1979 making him among the longest-serving prisoners awaiting execution in Texas.
The 5th Circuit said Reed’s case mirrored the capital murder case of Thomas Miller-El, on Texas death row for nearly 20 years until the Supreme Court overturned his verdict, citing racial discrimination during jury selection. Miller-El last year took a life prison sentence as part of a plea deal.

In that case, the Supreme Court cited a manual—written by a prosecutor in 1969 and used for years later, that advised Dallas prosecutors to exclude minorities from juries. Documents in Miller-El’s case described how the memo advised prosecutors to avoid selecting minorities because “they almost always empathize with the accused.”

“Reed presents this same historical evidence of racial bias in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office,” the 5th Circuit panel said.It is a sad statement on our culture at the time that racial bias would be all but policy in one of the state’s largest district attorney’s offices. And I’m certain it wasn’t the only office in the state that followed such ridiculous notions. Thankfully, at least in most sectors, that sort of racial bias and ignorance is no longer tolerated.It does seem clear that—based solely on the racial bias issue, the Court had no choice but to overturn this case. The scary part is that it doesn’t seem like there was much doubt that Reed was the guilty party.

Reed, now 57, was identified as the man who attacked Wadle and her roommate, Kimberly Pursley, on November 1, 1978. He’d apparently entered their apartment by posing as a maintenance man. Pursley survived an attempted strangulation by feigning unconsciousness. Two other residents identified Reed as the man they saw in the apartment complex just before the time of the attack.

I’m sure nearly everyone in Texas knows the story of when serial killer Kenneth McDuff (pictured left) was released. McDuff was first convicted of three rapes and murders that took place in 1966. He was given the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court abolished capital punishment. He was released on parole in 1989 due to prison overcrowding.That release had disastrous consequences.

He began killing again a year after his release. He was arrested for the murder of 22-year-old Melissa Ann Northrup , and was suspected in at least three other murders. McDuff was eventually sent back to death row and executed November 17, 1998.

It seems to me that the only good solution in this case will be if prosecutors have enough evidence left to convince Reed to take a plea deal, similar to Miller-El’s, that will keep him locked up.I don’t know much of anything about Jonathan Reed, but anyone who has spent nearly three decades on death row has had to learn to adapt in order to survive. And those same adaptation skills don’t transfer into too many careers on the outside.

It’s a scary possibility that he could be released into the free world and left to his own devices.