Friday, February 27, 2009

What Would You Think?

by Diane Fanning

If someone you loved, or even someone you knew, were accused of a crime would your first response be to seek refuge in denial? I’ve always believed that I’d be able to look truth in the eye and accept it, no matter how distasteful or horrendous. I did, at least, until a recent event occurred just blocks from my home.

For years, we’ve all watched the neighbors and friends of serial killers, mass murderers, pedophiles and others express shock when crimes are disclosed so close to their doorsteps. How many times have we heard: “He was a nice guy, a quiet guy, a good neighbor?” How many red flags sprouted out of his front lawn while no one took note?

Even more amazing to anyone looking at a crime from an objective distance are the family members that never noticed. The estranged husband of Susan Smith stood beside her as she sobbed coast to coast. He believed in her innocence. We, the public, believed in her innocence.

The wife of BTK Dennis Rader claimed cluelessness about her husband’s crime. (below: decades old snapshot of the Rader family)

Many scoffed at her ignorance—others refused to believe she knew nothing. How could she climb into bed with him night after night and not know about his secret life?

Kathleen Peterson had no idea that her husband Michael led a double life—outwardly heterosexual and monogamous but engaging in sex with men at the Y, trolling the Internet for homosexual pornography and even contacting male escorts on-line. Kathleen didn’t know until the last night of her life. Her murder kept Michael’s secret for a while—but not for long.

And yet, when the evidence of his responsibility for this homicide came cascading around him, family members stood by his side refusing to accept his culpability—seeing him as persecuted instead of prosecuted. No surprise that his biological sons since questioned about involvement in the cover-up made public displays of denial in their best interest.

But what of Martha and Margaret? Michael was guardian of those two girls from the time they were very small. They stuck with him through the trial and through his appeals. He was convicted of murdering the mother figure in their lives but he was also suspected of responsibility for the similar death of Martha and Margaret’s biological mother, Liz Ratliffe, sixteen years earlier. And yet, they found their refuge in denial—in the place where facts are irrelevant and emotion trumps evidence.

The proclivity for denial doesn’t end with murder. Many times, stalwart family members hearing accusations of serial rape have stood up denying the guilt of a son, brother, husband or father—even when confronted with the panties of victims stuffed in the corner of his dresser drawer. Learning of charges of pedophilia, some still deny even after learning that their loved one’s computer was filled with thousands of indecent images of children.

So how would you react? How would I? I’d like to think that because of my background, I could be objective and stand always in defiance of the siren call of denial. And then I read the headline about someone I knew—someone I respected—and I stumbled.

The high school Criminal Justice teacher, a man in his sixties, retired from law enforcement, was
accused of sexual impropriety with a teenage girl in one of his classes. My denial rose up like floodwaters, bearing indignation on its crest.

I was certain th
at the student was making it up in typical adolescent drama queen fashion. She didn’t get the grade she wanted or she felt humiliated in class, or she couldn’t get the letter of recommendation she wanted. I knew it had to be her fault, her problem, her vindictiveness. I refused to accept the possibility that this man I knew was at fault in any way.

I remained there for two days, certain of his innocence. Then the newspapers told the story of his text messages to the girl. He expressed his infatuation with her in vivid words. He wanted to leave his wife to be with her. It was like cold water in my face.

My first thoughts were amazement at the stupidity of this man. Former law enforcement and a criminal justice teacher and yet he leaves a text message trail? After assimilating those facts, I was overcome with outrage. Outrage at the teacher for betraying the trust placed in him by the students, the school, the parents—by society itself.

And outrage at myself for my willingness to believe the worst about the girl who had the courage to stand up to his behavior, face the possibility of embarrassment in her community and the ostracizing by her classmates—the girl who was willing to do the right thing.

Yes, my denial only lasted two days but it was a source of inner shame. I suppose I should be more tolerant in my judgment of myself. After all, denial is a natural, protective reaction to stress. I don’t think I can manage to cut myself that much slack but I do know I can do it for others.

After all, perpetrators on all levels strive for stealth—some perform exquisitely, others are bumbling idiots. Who am I to judge those who are taken in by these manipulators?

When I see a parent submerged in a deep well of
denial, I’ll be empathetic of their unenviable situation. When I see a spouse certain of their loved one’s innocence, I won’t automatically suspect their involvement in the other’s crime or its cover-up. When I see a mother prostrate from the burden of a child’s guilt, cobbling together a flawed alibi to protect the babe she bore, I will understand.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Albuquerque Isn't the First, Nor Will It Be the Last

by Stacy Dittrich

The FBI estimates there are upwards of 80 serial killers roaming the United States at any given time. To "bubble people" (my own term for those who don’t pay attention to crime or believe it could happen to them), this number sounds outlandish. But to others in law enforcement, or those who stay glued to their televisions—transfixed on the most current high-profile crimes—80 seems a bit on the mild side of estimated serial murderers. Perhaps this is why many of us weren’t reeling in shock at the recent discovery of the remains of 10 bodies outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Law enforcement officials believe many or most victims to be drug addicts or prostitutes; no great loss to society right? Wrong! These victims were someone’s daughter, sister, and one of the victims, Victoria Chavez (pictured left), was found with the remains of her unborn fetus. Now, if one of the victims had been Britney Spears we couldn’t possibly escape the media coverage, but there has been very little in the Albuquerque case. It makes one wonder if America is becoming numb to violent crime. That should tell us something about the current state of our country. You can read the FBI crime stats that say crime isn’t on the rise until you’re blue in the face, but I can attest to the fact that police administrators do a damn good job of fudging numbers when compiling crime stats before they are turned over to the FBI.

Canada certainly isn’t numb to crime. If you can recall the case of the serial killing pig farmer, Robert Pickton (pictured right), the nation was in shock over his mass murders. Pickton confessed to the murders of 49 women, many of whom were ground up with pork and given to family and friends, while others were simply fed to the pigs. Out of 60 missing women in the Vancouver area, Pickton was responsible for the majority. If America becomes focused on a crime where the body count is high, it’s mainly for the purpose of an upcoming true-crime book or movie of the week. For some Americans, it’s entertainment.

In the Albuque
rque case, housing projects sat to the south and east of where the remains were located and were frequently subjected to flooding, something the residents complained about incessantly to the property owner. To alleviate the problem, the landowner dug culverts around the property, which brought forth the first set of bones that were discovered by hikers. As law enforcement descended upon the area, they discovered the grim mass burial site. Unfortunately, two of the suspects police are eyeing closely—Fred Reynolds, a local pimp, and Lorenzo Montoya—are dead. Tying the murders down between 2001 and 2006, police are confident they are dealing with one killer.

America’s geographical region is quite large, with many remote areas consisting of deserts and mountains. The notion of other mass graves that we may never know or discover truly overwhelms the mind. I once stood by while a homicide victim was dug up from a backyard where the remains had been for over three years. Had a relative not confessed to get out of other crimes, the body most likely would have never been found. This was on a heavily populated street less than a mile outside of a city. Imagine what else is out there across the country?

I’ll try not to. In fact, I think I’d like to start living in a bubble.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dating Violence That Doesn't Have To Happen

by Diane Dimond

Since when is it okay for your date to scream at you, punch you with a closed fist, bite you, or pull out clumps of your hair? Whoever said it was acceptable to obsessively harangue a date via the Internet or cell phone texting? I'm thinking it is, like, NEVER, EVER okay for anyone to do that to another human being, but apparently not all young people agree with me.

Headlines about a pair of dynamic young singers, Chris Brown and his girlfriend Rihanna (pictured above), and their out-of-control behavior sent shivers down my spine. It seems that every day we learn a little bit more about what happened to leave the beautiful Rihanna bruised and bloodied.

Both these young stars were supposed to appear at the recent
Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Neither made it. On the night before the ceremony Rihanna was found by police in an expensive sports car outside a pre-Grammy party. By all reports she was crying, bruised all over her face, bleeding from her nose and a split lip and she had bite marks on several areas of her body. It wasn’t long before her 19-year-old boyfriend, Chris Brown, had lawyered up and turned himself in to local police.

We now learn this celebrity couple had been fighting for many days leading up to the Grammy telecast. They’d been
seen at a nightclub furiously screaming expletives at each other while a gaggle of record executives (read: Adults) stood around and did nothing.

As a postscript: Chris Brown
issued a mealy mouthed, semi-apology a couple of days later saying he was "saddened" by what happened, but without ever even mentioning Rihanna's name. Did he think the matter should just go away because he apologized? If so, Brown is no better than the serial batterer who keeps telling the spouse, "Gee, honey, I love you. That will never happen again!" Frankly, I was glad to see that two of Brown's big-time endorsement deals (Wrigley's gum and the "Got Milk?" campaign) were pulled after his arrest on assault charges. The investigation, by the way, continues. I wonder if we'll ever see the famous (infamous) Chris Brown in court?

According to battered women's groups that follow such things,
reports of dating violence are up nationwide these days. The New York Times reports that serious and permanent injuries, sometimes even death, have been the result more and more often. I wonder if adults are doing enough to counter-balance the explosive celebrity antics our young people see and read about nearly every day. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Courtney Love, Christian Bale, Dennis Rodman, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston–all involved in tabloid scream fests and physical confrontations. Do our young people think these kinds of relationships are cool? They can’t possibly mistake violent and abusive behavior for true love, can they?

Several states are stepping up to educate kids who are tethered to the Internet and cell phones in a way that makes harassment so much easier than when we were young and dating. In Texas, where
two young girls were murdered by angry boyfriendsone by stabbing, the other by shootingthe school district was ordered to set a strict standard of what constitutes dating violence. In Rhode Island, after 23-year-old Lindsay Anne Burke (pictured left) had her throat slashed by her boyfriend with whom she’d had a “tumultuous two year long relationship,” the state passed a law mandating classes on dating violence for middle and high school students. Indianapolis now trains public school officials to recognize the early signs of abuse following the stabbing and dismemberment of Heather Norris by her boyfriend. In New York City, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene revealed dating violence (or the reports of it) has gone up 40% since 1999.

And its not just abuse by young men against young women. The bullying, verbal abuse, and physical violence works both ways. It happens when one of the people in a relationship has a fundamental lack of self-esteem, a feeling deep within that this is all they are ever going to get, all they deserve. As with an addiction they keep going back for more and more.

My husband and I once took into our home a woman and her two young sons who were fleeing constant domestic abuse. We helped this forty-something-year-old mother relocate, get a job, some state aid, and get her children into new schools. She was about to move from our place into her own apartment–a first for her. Then, one day we came home and she was gone, returned to the husband who’d beaten her for years. She left us a short note saying, in effect, she knew no other life.

Well, we can help make sure the new generation of young people never thinks like that. Our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, our grandchildren need to know they are valued human beings who always deserve respect. THEY DON’T HAVE TO SETTLE FOR "LOVE" DISGUISED AS ABUSE. That's what Lindsay Anne Burke settled for, and the so-called "love of her life" murdered her.

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline cites a study that found 1 in 5 teenagers say they’ve been physically threatened by someone with whom they are in a serious relationship. At their Web site there is a great teaching tool. It’s a list daters can reference to judge the health of their relationships. Sit down with the young person in your life and go over it with them. Does your boyfriend/girlfriend act jealous, put you down, text you excessively, threaten to kill or hurt you or themselves if you leave, try to stop you from talking to family and friends, force sex or hit, slap, or push you?

Whenever I see media coverage of some celebrity couple’s fight, first, I wonder if it’s really true. Maybe it’s a PR fabrication designed to get some media coverage. But isn't that a sick, twisted way to get some attention? In Rihanna's case, when you’re found outside in the dark, bleeding and bitten, that’s no game. For her it would seem its long past the time to learn some self respect and move on. I saw a headline on a supermarket tabloid the other day which supposedly
quoted Rihanna: “But I Still Love Him!” Ugh. I hope that’s not true.

Violence at the hands of another is not cool, it never will be! It’s dangerous and self-destructive. Our kids should learn that—from us—before it’s too late.

Run, Scream, and Don't Get in the Car!

by Kathryn Casey

As far as we know, Susana De Jesus, 37, was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. On Monday, February 2nd, at 9:15 p.m., De Jesus walked out of the woman's clothing store, where she worked as an assistant manager, in Pearland, Texas, south of Houston, with a co-worker, probably tired and looking forward to going home. Her shiny new Cadillac was in the parking lot, and as she approached it, a man appeared out of the darkness wearing a ski mask and flashing a gun. He forced her into her car, and drove off. At the time of this writing Susana De Jesus remains missing.

This past weekend, a second Houston-area woman went missing, 27-year-old Sabrina Pina. Again, it appears she was abducted from a department store parking lot, this time in the middle of the afternoon. Sadly, Pina's body was found in a ditch yesterday. (As of this morning [Wednesday], it appears investigators are near an arrest and Pina may have known her killer.)

Reading about DeJesus and Pina, I started thinking about someone I've known for a long time, John Denholm. Until he retired last year, John (photo below left) was the lieutenant in homicide and robbery in the Harris County Sheriff's Office. Law enforcement's loss is the defense bar's gain, since John finished law school a while back and has signed on with Houston's Musick Law Firm. I considered John's 31 years in law enforcement and thought it would be a shame to waste all that knowledge, so I asked him to answer questions on how not to end up with our picture or the photos of our children on a missing flier. Here's his advice:

KC: Do you have any tips to prevent becoming a target?

JD: Here's a laundry list: Don’t flash large sums of money in stores. Don’t wear large or conspicuous pieces of jewelry. Be alert to who is around you or who may be paying special attention to you. Park in well-lighted areas. Scan the area before you leave the store. Look for suspicious persons as you walk to your car. Lock your doors the instant you get in the car. Take a look at your surroundings before exiting your car. Disable the automatic unlock when you put the car in park. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. I tell people to “trust your gut,” because that little feeling is your primal fear instinct trying to warn you of a predator.

Here's a personal story about your primal instinct. Back in the late 1970s, I was working as a Killeen Police Officer. My wife was at home one afternoon with my infant son. There was a knock on the door. Without looking, she opened the door. Standing in the door was a stranger, in a dark shirt and tattoos. She told me later, that the instant she opened the door she knew had made a mistake. The guy looked over her shoulder and down the hall, and in a slightly eerie tone asked her, “So, is your husband home?”

My wife was scared bad right then. Her primal instinct was warning her. Fortunately, Cruiser, my 70-pound mutt, went right through the door and latched onto the guy's thigh, drawing blood. The man ran off. My wife was lucky. She could have been raped and strangled, and to this day believes Cruiser saved her life. Let me add something else. I NEVER took a burglary report at a house where there was a big dog.

KC: What do we do if we're approached in a parking lot?

JD: Start walking the other way. If pursued, scream. If caught, fight.

KC: Do you ever get in the car with an abductor, or is it always better to take your chances and run/scream.

JD: I will tell you what I tell my wife, my sisters, and my daughter: If you get in a car you are as good as dead, so you might as well fight for your life right then and there.

If you fight, people might see you and come to your aid. There might even be a concealed license handgun holder nearby. Even if no one helps, they will probably call 9-1-1. Yes, fight, even if he has a gun. Ninety-seven percent of people shot in combat, with heavier weapons than you encounter in a parking lot, survive. Basically, even if you are shot, you have a good chance of surviving. Don’t panic just because you are bleeding. You would be amazed at how much blood you have to lose before you even pass out, let alone die. Your best defense is a survival mindset that no matter what: I’m not getting in the car, and I AM NOT DYING!

KC: What if the guy has a gun? Does that change your response?

JD: No. But let me clarify, it's one thing if someone walks up to you, points a gun and says, "Give me your money." Statistically, you're way better off handing over your wallet or purse. Or if they want it, let them take your car. Don’t confuse a robbery with someone trying to force you into a car. They have mayhem on their mind.

KC: What's the biggest mistake people make when confronted by someone who means them harm?

JD: They underestimate the danger.

KC: What do we tell our kids to help keep them safe?

JD: Same thing they told us when we were kids. Stick together, stay away from strangers, and don’t get in a strange car. Teach kids how child predators try to trick them. Tell them to scream if someone tries to grab them.

KC: What's the smartest thing you ever saw a potential victim do to prevent a crime?

JD: A woman was driving home late one night. A truck hit her in the back of her car. BEFORE getting out to check, she called her husband and told him that she was just involved in an accident. It occurred right at the entrance to the subdivision. He jumped in his car and was there in two minutes. Just in time to see the truck drive off, and someone drive off in his car. Unknown to him, his wife had just been abducted and was being held in the truck, while the other crook was driving off in her car. The husband had a split second to decide, and he made the right decision: He chased the truck.

In the meantime, the wife started fighting and actually bit the crook’s little finger off. He crashed the truck and was captured, and is currently serving life in prison. There's no doubt in my mind that if this woman hadn't called her husband and fought, she would have been raped and murdered, and maybe even burned up in her car.Let me address this, if someone hits your car and you don’t like the area or who did it, crack your window and tell them you’ll pull into a parking lot where there are other people. If the person drives off, get their license. You can fix a car, but you can’t restore a life. While not a common technique to abduct or rob, it has happened.

One more thing: police impostors. If a car is unmarked but used for traffic, it will have tax exempt license plates. If it doesn’t, don’t run but don’t stop until a marked car arrives. If the person really is the police, there will be plenty of patrol cars soon enough. But use common sense. We're not talking about an unmarked car running radar on the freeway. We’re talking about the guy who tries to stop you on a dark road.

KC: Do we worry too much about crime?

JD: Yes. We do worry too much. The media is lazy. It is far easier to pay a “stringer” $100 a story to run calls off the police radio, than actually have a news department that does real journalism. I used to call the 5 a.m. news the carnage report, because all it is was the overnight shootings, fires, and car crashes. Is it any wonder Wall Street was robbing the country blind while the news was reporting on the Lacy Petersen murder or Brittany’s breakdown?But in reality, your chances of being a victim of violent crime are pretty slim. Most people who get murdered are involved in illegal activity, or living a lifestyle that invites trouble. If you're not selling dope or sleeping with someone else’s spouse, or shooting pool in bar a 1:00 a.m., you probably won’t get killed. When you consider the victims of violent crime per capita, you understand that you truly are fairly safe.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Skeleton Tales

by Andrea Campbell

Question: If a skeleton is found walled up in a crumbling old house, what can the skeleton tell a forensic pathologist about itself? I assume sex, and if there were any injuries, like if he or she got bonked on the head before being walled up. Old broken bones, that sort of thing. But what else would we know about the deceased? Would it be mummified? Would there be any clothes left? Time of death is 20-30 years previous. How involved is the forensic pathologist going to be with the case? In your experience, are FP’s more likely to be men or women?

There’s a lot here to consider, let’s see where it goes. I’d like to define some positions before we get down to the bones. Definition: “Forensic pathology” involves the investigation of sudden, unnatural, unexplained or violent death. A medical examiner will typically be a forensic pathologist and, in his capacity within the criminal justice system, he will be called a “medical examiner” or m.e. If he has not been appointed, he will remain a forensic pathologist.

A regular pathologist (without the “forensic” designation, will be affiliated with a hospital.) By virtue of being appointed though, the forensic pathologist takes on a new title, Medical Examiner. And to define this still more, a coroner is an “elected official” who does not have to have any medical degree whatsoever. His position is based on English common law and, often, the coroner was the man who made the funeral arrangements. There are still many coroners in the United States.

Since the body in this case is so old, the m.e. may take a stab

(sorry, puns just seem to show up) at estimating time since death but, most likely, after making out a report (chain of command)—he will call in a forensic anthropologist, a specialty primarily concerned with the identification and examination of human skeletal remains.

The Forensic Goal, regardless of condition, is to identify the remains, determine the circumstances of unexplained death. (And also be able to testify in court, if need be.)

Where the forensic anthropologist is headed:

The first questions s/he will answer: • Are the bones human? • How many are present? • What is the time since death? • What is the manner of death? The main and most important job left to the anthropologist is to be able to determine major biological characteristics such as, age, sex, race or ethnicity, and stature. These are what are referred to as specific group characteristics.

“Individual” biological traits such as a pattern of dental restoration, evidence of a previous trauma or medical condition, and any unusual biological characteristics help to define the victim further, giving focus to a more specific age, sex or race group.

In the lab, investigators will examine small structures on the skeleton such as any small changes at the joint; for example, the elbow or knee might indicate a type of injury. They will look for bumps on the bone, which can indicate the site of a well-healed fracture. Perhaps they will stumble on an empty tooth socket would indicating tooth loss either shortly before death or during the recovery phase. (The way to determine the difference would be evidenced by the healing process.) And, basically, they are looking for characteristics that are either normal or abnormal because, if they are abnormal, they may have forensic significance.

Another notion, which is just as important as these biological determinations is being able to identify circumstances leading to the findings and judgment of what happened to the remains since death! By this I mean, questions concerning the state of the body: was the body moved? Time determination since death? Did trauma occur on the bones before, during or after death? I can tell you how a forensic anthropologist determines certain things, but that is for another question.

The medical examiner will be available for consultation and court testimony as long as needed for the case. (S/he works for the state.) The investigative detective assigned to the case will most likely be at an autopsy but, if not, she will still follow up with the M.E. in the lab.

Mummification of a corpse depends on the temperature and dryness of the area because heat and drying is the main ingredient. There should be clothes or artifacts if they were left behind. Their condition is another thing, meaning, moths may have eaten wool, termites may have eaten wood, worms may have ingested adipocere (body fat), and so forth, but without animals present, there is no reason why artifacts such as clothes would not be present.

Here is what a typical Forensic Anthropologist report may have on it:

Summary of Physical Characteristics on an Adult Skeleton

Case #______ Date________

  • Sex:
  • Age:
  • Race:
  • Height:
  • Distinguishing dental profile:
  • Handedness:
  • Ante-mortem trauma:
  • Peri-mortem trauma
  • Post-mortem trauma:
  • Disposition of body:
  • Time since death:
  • Pathology:
  • Build:
  • Comments or summary:
Suggested reading: Human and Nonhuman Bone Identification: A Color Atlas by Diane L. France (CRC Press, 2009). This is an expensive book for professionals but you may be able to order it through your library using Interlibrary Loan. Wonderful color exemplars.

The Bone Detectives: How Forensic Anthropologists Solve Crimes and Uncover Mysteries of the Dead by Donna M. Jackson (Little, Brown, 1996). This is a wonderful older book because the photography is so compelling; it is also oversized, but specifically for the children’s market. Jackson does a good job of outlining the job of a forensic anthropologist and includes a couple of well-known historical forensic cases.

Final comment: Women can do anything men can do within the criminal justice system.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Rihanna and Chris Brown Find Women in Crime Ink

Women in Crime Ink’s Susan Murphy-Milano found herself in the thick of the Rihanna/Chris Brown fiasco when she was quoted in over a dozen news and media pieces, including Associated Press, People magazine, and, regarding the domestic violence incident involving the two high-profile entertainers. Murphy-Milano, a violence expert and victim’s advocate, was contacted extensively about her knowledge of domestic violence victims.

The night before the Grammy Awards, Chris Brown allegedly assaulted his long-time girlfriend, pop-star Rihanna, after a pre-Grammy award show at mega-producer Clive Davis’s party. According to news reports, Brown allegedly received a text message that escalated the verbal altercation into a physical assault. Photographs of the pummeled pop-star Rihanna appeared on numerous Web sites this past Thursday, prompting a public outcry and an LAPD internal investigation. Women in Crime Ink declines to publish this photograph due to the nature of the crime.

Although under scrutiny by law enforcement and public opinion, Murphy-Milano does see a positive side to the violent incident, as told to the Associated Press.

"I think she could be a very important voice and a tool for other people," she said of Rihanna. "She could turn this around," Murphy-Milano said, and tell others, " 'Don't be me.' "

This story and others simply show that the contributors of Women in Crime Ink are clearly the experts in the criminal justice field.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sex Education in Schools: Private Lessons

by Lucy Puryear, M.D.

It seems to me that there are more and more reports in the news of female teachers having sexual relationships with their male students. We're all very aware of male teachers taking advantage of their female students. When that happens most of us are not surprised; older men and younger women are a dyad familiar throughout the ages. The man is attracted to the girl's youth and adoration; she is attracted to his power and the prestige of being the chosen one.

Male teachers and their students are a ubiquitous story. One of my good friends in high school married our physics teacher twenty years her senior, one week after graduation. We were all fascinated, jealous, and grossed out. My English teacher once asked me to sit on his lap; I declined. My Spanish teacher got down on his knees after class and told me I was beautiful. I was 15. He must have been 40. I laughed and quickly walked out of the room. But were I more vulnerable or insecure or confused, maybe I would have pursued a special relationship with him. I'm sure I'm not the only ones with stories.

In those days we didn't consider these men sex offenders, though we should have. We just considered them weird teachers to stay away from. I made sure to never be alone in the room with either teacher again. Today male teachers taking sexual advantage of their young students are tried and punished. It is not tolerated.

But I don't remember stories of any female teachers taking advantage of male students. Was it going on and we just didn't know about it? Were the guys too proud or too ashamed to tell? And a 35-year-old female teacher marrying an 18-year-old kid was taboo. Okay for men, but no way for women.

The times have changed. Either more women are taking advantage of their male students or we are more aware that any teacher sexually engaged with any student is a sexual assault, whether consensual or not. Mary Kay Letourneau (pictured above with student Vili Fualaau) opened the door into the world of female teachers having relationships with their male students. She was sentenced twice for having a sexual relationship with Fualaau, starting when he was twelve.

Our very our Women In Crime Ink contributor Kathryn Scardino recently defended a Spring teacher who was accused of giving oral sex t0 two football players. According to the Houston Chronicle, Shannon Hrozek (pictured right) was given ten years of deferred adjudication, and agreed to surrender her teacher's license. Reading the comments of the public in response to this case was enlightening. Many applauded the two young men for getting serviced. Others pointed out that were this a male teacher with a female student the sentence would have been much more grave. We would be looking at a registered sex offender as opposed to a teacher who might have done two young men a "favor."

It is assumed that males are not harmed by having sex with an older woman, whereas young girls must be forced and taken advantage of. It is hard for many to imagine that a young boy could have sex unwillingly. But let me be perfectly clear: Any time there is a differential in power between two people, potential coercion exists. This is true for a doctor and patient, lawyer and client, pastor and parishioner, reporter and source, and teacher and student. Any time there is an inequality in a relationship the relationship cannot, by definition, be consensual.

It is the responsibility of the doctor, lawyer, pastor, reporter, and teacher to err on the side of restraint—even if the other party is "asking for it," professing love, or seems to not be harmed. It doesn't matter if the student, or patient, or client walks in to the room naked, begging to be taken. It is ethically and often legally required for the person in power to say no. Teachers need to be reminded of the power they hold in a child's eye and what a privilege it is to be given this power. A young boy assaulted by his teacher has been abused, even if others think him lucky.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Defense Attorneys Tell Clients to Shut Up

by Pat Brown

We see it over and over, again and again, especially in this 24-hour-a-day media world we live in: suspects giving interview after interview on nationally televised news shows—CNN, FOX, and MSNBC, and, if they get the opportunity, The Today Show and CBS's Early Show as well. They are like moths drawn to camera lights. They speak of their innocence, they give details of the crime, and, if they are Drew Peterson, talk about their dating life and send out a few winks to the ladies. All this public attention gets the suspect two possible results: a bad image and/or a prison sentence.

First off, if the person is a psychopath, he or she will not understand that their behavior on-camera is not coming across all that well to the public and a future jury. Scott Peterson? He was cold as ice with a smirk you just wanted to wipe off his face. Casey Anthony? Each time she opens her mouth, she just digs herself a deeper hole. With each interview, they increase the public's negative opinion of them.

The other risk these new television stars run is slipping up in their interviews; a bit of truth may escape or their retelling of the story may not match a previous version, sending up red flags to the investigators. Everything that is said on television can be used against them in the courtroom, so each word spoken is like playing Russian roulette with one's freedom.

A good example of a client who should have listened to his attorney's admonition to shut up would be Dino Pantazes. On March 30, 2000, the idyllic life of Clara and Dean Pantazes came to an abrupt end with the discovery of Clara shot to death in their suburban Maryland garage. Their successful life and partnership—a long happy marriage and the booming family businesscame to a devastating finale.

Worse yet, Dean Pantazes, known as "Dino" to his friends and family, was arrested a month later and charged with ordering the execution of his wife. Relatives on both sides of the family stood staunchly behind Dino, swearing up and down that Dino would never have committed such a crime. They believed the police had rushed to justice and unfairly condemned a man who dearly loved his wife.

However, Dino was not your ordinary man. He was a bail bondsman, a man who made his living from dealing with some the worst criminals the Washington D.C.-area had to offer. And, being a bondsman, violence and sordid behavior can become normal features of life, criminal behavior can become ordinary.

Did Dino succumb to this world and find his wife a liability? Did he, as police believed, want out of the marriage to enjoy an alternative lifestyle, taking up with transgendered prostitutes like Mimi Kim Young (pictured left) who would later testify that Dino asked her to kill his wife? Was Clara on to some bad behavior by Dino and wanted a divorce? Or was he the loving husband and family man his supporters believed him to be? The story was heartbreaking.

A former Prince George's County bail bondsman convicted of hiring a prostitute to kill his wife was sentenced yesterday to life in prison without parole, despite his pleas that he was an "innocent lamb" tortured by police and framed by headline-seeking prosecutors.

"I am a victim, not only by the loss of my wife, but because of the judicial proceedings," Dean J. "Dino" Pantazes, 46, told Prince George's Circuit Judge James J. Lombardi.

Weeping in the courtroom, Pantazes said that police suspected him of the killing immediately after they arrived at his Upper Marlboro home on March 30, 2000.

I had met Dino and Clara once when I was working as a private detective. When this story broke, I couldn't really remember them clearly nor did I have any opinion as to Dino’s character. I do remember being stunned that it was the Pantazes that were in the news because they were pretty much fixtures next to the courthouse in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and the Pantazes name was synonymous for decades with bail bonds in Prince George’s County. So, while I couldn't attest to what kind of guy Dino was, I found it hard to believe, from a distance, that this man would hire a hit on his wife and business partner.

Then I read a newspaper story in the Washington Post that changed my mind. Dino had given an interview to the press and as soon as I read his words, I could see good reason for him to be a suspect in his wife’s murder. He had made two fascinating statements that struck me as very concerning. The first was a comment on the killing:

Dino stated: “I had no reason to want her dead. No insurance policy out on her. Greeks don’t get divorced. That’s the ultimate shame, and we wouldn’t have done that. She was my best friend.”

Is there a sentence here that does not belong? What does getting divorced have to do with killing Clara? Dino was admitting that he WOULD have a reason to kill his wife in spite of the fact he said he didn’t have one. Dino is informing us that he could not divorce his wife because that would be the worst humiliation imaginable. One would think murder would be the ultimate shame . . . but, according to Dino, asking for a divorce would be worse.

Dino went on to make the second fascinating statement: “Now I know what O.J. felt like when he was accused of killing his wife," Dino said. "He didn’t do it either and was hunted down for it.”

Huh? Was he the last person in America to believe in O.J.’s innocence? This is a man who had worked on the fringes of law enforcement for years. He knew criminals and he knew evidence. He undoubtedly was aware there was a mountain of evidence against O.J. Simpson. So, why this statement? I believe Dino was already preparing for his defense. He was pandering to his future jury, which in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was bound to be heavily African-American. This bereaved and innocent man was already calculating his trial strategy.

Dino Pantazes should have avoided anyone with a camera or a pen and paper.

Now many of us are watching the saga of little missing Haleigh Cummings of Satsuma, Florida. Her father, Ronald Cummings, and her caretaker, Daddy's 17-year-old girlfriend, Misty Croslin, have been doing interview after interview, show after show.

Armchair detectives on the blogs have been analyzing these two every time they tell their story. While neither Ronald nor Misty has been labeled a suspect in the disappearance of Haleigh, I bet there are defense lawyers across the nation shouting at their television sets, "Just shut up already! They might be totally innocent of any wrongdoing, but, if they are not, they should take the advice of these attorneys and just say, "No comment."

Dino got nailed and is serving life in prison. The conviction was based mostly on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony. But, in the end, it was Dino's big mouth that got him caught and put away.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Grief for the Missing

by Donna Weaver

Sometimes when a perpetrator is apprehended for the abduction and murder of a child or adult it is reported that they are a suspect in the disappearances of other victims. What is it like for the families of these victims who have no answers? Their heartbreak is something I call “suspended grief.” Currently, there are few resources and little information available to assist families of missing persons in coping with the specific elements of their “suspended grief.” Traditional victim assistance services are frequently not available to these families.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Information Center (NCIC), in the U.S., there are an estimated 58,200 child victims of non-family abductions; 50,930 active missing adult cases; and 6,218 active cases of unidentified persons. However, most investigators and law enforcement agencies agree that this represents a fraction of the true number of cases since it is not mandatory for local police agencies to enter adult missing person cases in NCIC. Many cold cases were never entered into the system simply because of the limits of technological resources at the time, and I have found in some instances that cases originally entered in a local agency’s system were subsequently purged to make room for new cases.

For example, as of 2004, more than half (51%) of the nation’s medical examiners' offices had no policy for retaining records—such as x-rays, DNA, or fingerprints—on unidentified human remains. Sadly, there are many such cases sitting in boxes covered by layers of dust in local police storerooms and warehouses—or worse yet—none exist at all.

In 2007, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) called the number of missing persons and unidentified human remains in our Country a crisis, labeling it a “a mass disaster over time.”

The nation’s legislators are beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem of missing persons and unidentified victims in the United States. Congress recently implemented legislative provisions allowing families of missing persons to submit DNA samples to the FBI’s national CODIS database, previously used solely for criminal DNA identification, and cases are being retrieved from many thousands of individual police jurisdictions across the country, moving toward a uniform national reporting and filing system.

In the spring of 2005, NIJ assembled federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, medical examiners and coroners, forensic scientists, key policymakers, and victim advocates and families from around the country for a national strategy meeting in Philadelphia. The meeting, called the “Identifying the Missing Summit,” defined major challenges in investigating and solving missing persons and unidentified decedent cases. The result was the formation of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUS.

NamUS was set to roll out in three phases culminating in two fully functional searchable databases: the Unidentified Decedents database and Missing Persons database in 2009. This is a huge advancement in the cause for the missing and unidentified.

However, statistics alone cannot capture the fear, horror, frustration, and pain felt by those who know and love a missing person. So what is it like living day-to-day for many of those left behind ?

According to the psychology books, there are four stages of grief: shock and denial; intense concern; despair and depression; and recovery. Rarely does this occur as progressive stages towards the resolution of grief when a loved one is missing and presumed dead. Grief becomes “suspended” and those left behind become victims themselves. The act of confronting and expressing the emotions generally associated with grief does not bring relief or enable a progression to the next stage towards resolution and recovery. Therefore, the emotional changes associated with the four stages of grief can be experienced, and re-experienced, for long periods, sometimes for the rest of one’s life.

I have found in my discussions with victims whose loved one is missing that they usually compare feelings they have experienced at the death of someone else close to them, as if in a desperate attempt to understand or gain a frame of reference in order to try to cope. Virtually all of these surviving victims have pointed out that the emotional changes they feel because their loved one is missing and presumed dead bears little resemblance to the grief they felt when someone else they love had died.

Emotional changes are commonly intensified and prolonged when a loved one is missing. Often these feelings are compounded by guilt—wondering if they did all that they could to find the person, or guilt related to going on with life, such as dating, re-marrying, or having more children because it is often perceived as giving up on the missing person before there is proof of death.

When missing person cases go cold, surviving loved ones frequently feel betrayed and abandoned by police and the justice system, which adds to their feelings of despair, helplessness, isolation, and anger. As the passing of time starts to be counted in years . . . hope, no matter how slight, often remains of finding a loved one alive, even as survivors struggle to balance this with the acceptance of the inevitable death of their missing loved one.

Prolonged intense concern also is often inevitable for many victims. The need to keep the memory of the missing person alive becomes an alternative to the overwhelming despair and depression caused by considering the reality of never finding their loved one, or knowing what their loved one experienced, or who is responsible for their disappearance and death. In many cases, “what if” and countless other questions are all survivors have in the absence of knowing the details of their loved one’s fate.

Dealing with and controlling thoughts of the missing person suffering similar horrifying fates known to have happened to other victims who were discovered months or years after they disappeared is very difficult. How can a person put such a terrible experience behind them when they do not have the barest of details to reconcile the event in their mind?

Currently, traditional victim resources related to missing persons cases generally serve victims of disaster, war, or genocide. In these types of situations, the cause of the disappearance is usually known to some degree, if not readily apparent, and large numbers of people have suffered a similar experience at once. Those left behind when a child is abducted by a stranger, or an adult disappears because they may be a victim of foul play, cannot relate to those circumstances or the emotional effects on their lives. Perhaps because in the case of war or disaster people come together as a group for support and recovery of a shared experience which is a result of something, the cause of their pain is an event shared by all, or a known, common enemy.

These are but a few of the particular issues that influence the emotions of these grieving survivors. And it is but one more consideration in determining the devastation to individuals, and the cost to society as a whole, when offenders are permitted to be free to offend again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Jury Duty and How NOT To Get Picked

by Kelly Siegler

How do you feel when you get that familiar jury summons to appear in court on some future date? Excited? Nervous?

Maybe you're one of those people who simply toss it into the trash?

If you are one of those people, why are you avoiding jury duty? Because you think you have too much going on that day or because it will cost you money if you show up rather than go to work? Or maybe because that is a civic responsibility "for other people"?

Ever thought about what would happen in our criminal justice system if every responsible citizen thought they were too busy or too "important" to report for jury duty?

The system would utterly collapse; that's what would happen. Can you imagine what our juries would be like if they were totally made up of citizens who wanted to be on a jury?

When someone who resides in
Harris County and who is either a registered voter OR has a Texas driver's license gets summoned for jury duty, the procedure they are required to follow is pretty typical. They are encouraged to visit a Web site where they can read all about what exemptions they can legally use or what might truly disqualify them or how to reset their jury duty if their designated date is not convenient for them.

As a lawyer with enough experience picking juries or should I say, "trying to pretend like I knew what the heck I was doing when I picked juries," let me give you a clue. . . .

There is a really easy way to get out of being picked for a jury by either side's lawyers.

It's called answering the questions. Answering every question. In minute detail. Ad nauseum. Until everyone gets tired of hearing the sound of your voice.

Because the more you talk, the more you increase the odds of being struck by one side or the other, if not both. Remember jury "selection" is not really that at all; no individual juror is selected at all.

In reality, the six or twelve people lucky enough to make the final jury are really "what's left" when all of each side's strikes are gone and their juror numbers happen to be low enough in the panel to make it on the jury.

Why do I say talk and answer the lawyer's questions A LOT? Because a good many years ago when I was a new prosecutor in felony district court and on a day when I was charged with the responsibility of picking a jury in a routine no-big-deal possession of
crack cocaine case, I made the big mistake of NOT listening to a lady called down for jury duty.

I selected (which really means that I did not exercise a strike on) a very verbose, very opiniona
ted, but very state's oriented lady on the panel because I was so busy focusing on her answers that I did not listen. Had I listened I would have appreciated that she was SO opinionated and SO strong and SO disagreeable that eleven other people would never be able to stand being in the same small room with her long enough to come to two (guilt AND punishment) independent verdicts!!

But I was young, and can we say naive? The very experienced and wise judge who presided over that trial called it in a heart beat and asked me what I was thinking as soon as all twelve jurors were seated in the jury box. I responded that she gave all "state's oriented" answers to all of the questions put to her. And he sagely replied, "Maybe so, but they will be ready to strangle her before they're done."

And he was right.

Since that day and that trial, which I pretty quickly lost, I have given a name to jurors like that lady with personality traits like hers. I call it the "bow-up" factor.

Bow [Bo] up.

You know. People who "bow up" over any little thing, who are always getting worked up over things that most others would consider petty or insignificant. People who enjoy arguing. Who like to be contrary and difficult.

We all know people like that. If you're one of those kind of people, just let your true colors shine through if you get called down for jury duty. You ought to be safe.

If you aren't one of those people and you want to
get OFF of jury duty, then the first step is to keep on talking.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Our Lost Children

by Katherine Scardino

Erin was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1987. She had an older sister and two parents struggling with substance abuse—her mother even used drugs during her pregnancy with Erin. Her mother did not last long with this family—she left when Erin was barely a year old. The children stayed with their biological father, who was a chronic alcoholic. At age 4, Erin and her sister went to live with an aunt in another state. Her father was struggling with a heroin addiction, but this new home with their aunt was as bad as the last. The aunt was physically and emotionally abusive to both girls and was finally arrested for drug smuggling.

At age 6, Erin met her stepbrother, who was 13 years old and had developed a penchant for anal sex—with Erin, which went on for several years. During this time, Erin’s older sister began giving her alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. Erin was not yet 8-years-old, but she would already—like so many adults—drink to the point of passing out, probably as a way to deal with the sexual abuse.

When Erin was around eight years old, CPS woke up and became involved with the family. The girls were put into foster homes for a while, but went back home with their father and his wife. The heroin addiction had been dormant for a while, but it again reared its ugly head around this time, but the children knew what to do to avoid a bad situation—they smoked joints and drank alcohol. It was not until Erin made an allegation of sexual abuse against her father that CPS placed the girls in a foster home. At that point, Erin was labeled as "emotionally disturbed." She and her foster brother become sexually active—the same foster brother who fathered a child with Erin’s older sister.

At age 12, Erin was reunited with her birth mother and the girls moved in with their mother for a while. This "reunion" was seen on the Maury Povich show. The audience saw a gorgeous, red-haired, green-eyed young girl. They did not see an emotionally disturbed, sexually active, drug addicted child. The audience did not know that she was using cocaine and had been raped by three males while on cocaine. At age 14, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. (What a surprise!) She remained there for 30 days, and when it was time for her to be discharged, no one wanted her. She went to an emergency shelter and called her father. CPS allowed her to live with him again.

By age 16, Erin was not only stripping at cheap beer joints but she began prostituting to maintain her drug habit, which now had progressed to daily crack, in addition to alcohol and pot. At no point did CPS intervene and court order treatment or provide alternative options to help her. Her life was spiraling out of control. She was living on the streets or with anyone who had a roof over their head.

Erin is now twenty-one years old. She has experienced sexual abuse, rape, suicide attempts, abandonment, family dysfunction, drug abuse, neglect, multiple psychiatric/drug hospitalizations. She has also just pleaded to 40 years in prison for the murder of a young man—during a robbery—with her druggie boyfriend. This life in prison should be a piece of cake for her.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Getting Away With Murder, Not Once, But Twice?

by Susan Murphy-Milano

The house located at 392 Pheasant Court, Bolingbrook, Illinois, became a cold case crime scene four years after a botched local "good old boys" police investigation.

The major screw-up also resulted in an incorrect autopsy report on a 2004 closed-case file.

Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow asked the court for permission to exhume the body of its former resident, Kathleen Savio. On February 21, 2008, her death was reclassified as a homicide.

My God, if those walls could speak, what would they reveal? A wife, devoted mother of two boys, and nursing student, isolated from anyone who would answer her pleas for help—including the police department employing her husband, Sgt. Drew Peterson. And the Will County State’s Attorney to whom she repeatedly sought out assistance as evidenced by one of several letters sent to the Will County State’s Attorney’s office.

Kathleen’s life and fight for survival makes the game show contestants' battles on Survivor look like child’s play.

Consider for a moment the
life of any woman married to a person trained to kill, a man who upon graduation from the police academy is issued a firearm and a badge to protect our streets from criminals. Imagine being the wife of a man who comes home after his shift and terrorizes his own family members. When the person harming her is himself in law enforcement . . . where is a woman in this position, enduring a daily battleground, going to go for help?

In my professional opinion, the answer to this question does not exist.

A police officer's wife must take extraordinary measures just to get the police to respond, and, if she’s lucky, to write a report. In Kathleen’s case, the Bolingbrook police documented going to the home 19 times out of a possible 90 or more undocumented calls where police did not write a report or arrest their watch commander Sgt. Drew Peterson.

If Stacy Peterson had not vanished off the face of the planet, the truth about Kathleen Savio’s death would have remained in the Closed Case file cabinet collecting dust. Speaking of case files, if Illinois State Police investigators reviewed one by one each of Drew Peterson's arrest and case files over his twenty-nine year law enforcement career, I am confident that they would no doubt uncover important information and clues in solving one or both of these cases.

The grand jury has been convening for more than a year on Wife #3, Kathleen Savio, and Wife #4, Stacy Peterson. This past week brought a victory of sorts, as the appellate court allowed the family of Kathleen Savio to re-open and gain control of the estate Drew Peterson was trying block.

While we continue to watch Drew Peterson draw attention to himself like a circus act in the media, remember, it cost two women their lives. Do I believe the body of Stacy Peterson will be recovered? In my opinion, no.

In the case of Kathleen Savio, I am holding my breath, hoping the State’s Attorney, James Glasgow is able to bring justice in a court of law for these women, their children, and their families.