Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Calling All of Michael Jackson's Creditors

by Robin Sax

The buzz on the news is all about how tragic Michael Jackson's death is tragic. And for his fans, his family and loved ones, it certainly is. But is it a tragedy for the people he owes money to - or do those creditors lose the ability to pursue their claims as a result of Michael's death?

Based on recent news stories, Michael Jackson had a lot of creditors. It is the responsibility of the "personal representative" of his estate (or living trust - if he had one) to evaluate those claims, to compromise them and/or to cause those claims to be paid. An estate cannot be finally distributed until all of the creditor's claims are resolved.

Michael Jackson's biggest creditor is likely to be the IRS - in the form of estate taxes. Estate taxes are due 9 months after Michael's death. The tax is 45% of the value of his assets in excess of his $3.5 million lifetime exemption against those taxes (less the value of the debts he owed). The personal representative will likely need to sell assets to raise the cash to pay the estate tax.

There is a possibility of deferring tax on his music-related assets so that payment of the tax on those assets can be made over 15 years. That deferral provision will likely be used, as the cash generated by those types of assets comes in over time but the estate tax (unless deferred) is due 9 months after death. However, the value of those assets must equal more than 35% of his total assets in order for the deferral to be available. If this threshold isn't met, the music assets may need to be sold to raise money to pay that tax.

The IRS gets paid first - before any other creditor.

Any other creditor can seek payment from the personal representative, but must first follow special probate rules. These rules require the filing of the right papers with the probate court in order to preserve the creditor's right to pursue those claims. Creditors need to be sure to familiarize themselves with these rules and file their claims in a timely fashion, or they could very well find that their claims are barred. (The time for filing can be as short as 4 months after the personal representative of the estate is appointed by a court, and can never be longer than 1 year from the date of Michael's death.)

Keep in mind that the IRS and other creditors get paid before the beneficiaries of Michael's estate. Until those tax and creditor issues are resolved, the estate cannot be finally distributed. It is likely that this process will take years - at least 2 years and potentially many, many more.

That doesn't mean, however, that his children won't have access to cash for their support during the period of estate administration. The children (through their guardian) could ask the court to provide for their support until the probate estate is ready to be distributed by filing a petition requesting a "family allowance" if there is the probate of a will (or an intestacy). This option is unavailable if there is no probate or intestate administration.

So, if Michael's creditors file their claims properly Michael Jackson's death probably won't inhibit their ability to collect. But if they don't learn enough about the vagaries of California probate law, they could lose their right to pursue their claims. In other words - if they snooze, they lose!

Made Off With Plenty

by Donna Pendergast

Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison yesterday. The appropriately named Madoff pled guilty on March 12th to eleven felony counts including mail fraud, wire fraud, perjury, money laundering, securities fraud, theft from an employee benefit fund and false filings with the Securities Exchange Commission for running a Ponzi scheme valued at over fifty billion dollars.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin referred to Madoff''s crimes as "extraordinary evil" at sentencing stating that "this type of manipulation is not just a bloodless crime that takes place on paper but one instead that takes a staggering toll."

Although many of the victims present in the courtroom were pleased with the sentence, they all understand that a a century and a half of largely symbolic punishment will do little to help the legions of persons that were financially wiped out by the fraud of staggering proportions perpetrated on victims who trusted Madoff with their money, their future and their retirement dreams

Now 71 years old, Madoff will spend the rest of his days on earth in a cell that is a far cry from the opulent residences that he shared with his wife and family. Maybe a few months of that kind of existence will convince Madoff that his heinous acts are more than "an error of judgement", a "problem" or a "tragic mistake" which were the terms that he used at sentencing to refer to his elaborate financial ruse

But then again probably not

The victims, who at sentencing referred to Madoff as a "monster" and a "
psychopath" were right on base. Working as a prosecutor for over two decades I have come across my share of clinical psychopaths over the years. Although the psychopaths that I normally deal with commit crimes of a violent nature, they share plenty in common with Bernie Madoff. Lying, manipulation, coldness and lack of empathy are the hallmarks of a psychopath, a person who exploits relationships and persons with abandon and without remorse. Bernie Madoff certainly fits the bill on all points.

For those who wonder whether Madoff ever thinks of the persons that he has ruined, the answer is complex. He thinks about them he doesn't care in a way that a normal person can relate to. He cares that he got caught. He cares that his luxurious life has been taken away but he won't lay awake at night thinking about the daily struggles that his victims will have to endure.

His courtroom statements were very telling about what is important in the mind of Bernie Madoff. How can one stand in a courtroom looking in the eyes of persons who have been ruined by your actions, and refer to your misdeeds as an "error of judgement?" Those words alone pretty much say it all. The man understands but fails to care that he has condemned scores of persons to a life of poverty and struggle. His later feeble attempts at apology were overshadowed by the references to his "problem" and his "tragic mistake," the same tragic mistake that he kept making over and over while in the process imprisoning his victims in their own version of hell.

Judge Chin noted at sentencing that not a single letter had attested to Madoff''s good deeds or charitable activities further commenting that the silence was telling.

The silence is telling? The silence is deafening and yet says it all.

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

Monday, June 29, 2009

Babysitter Turns Crime Sleuth

by Susan Murphy Milano

What do a babysitter and a former mob boss Frank Cullotta, co-author with Denny Griffin on the book "Cullotta" have to do with answers to a 28-year-old McHenry County, Illinois unsolved homicide of a bar owner and his employee?

On June 2, 1981, in McHenry, Illinois the bodies of Ronald Scharff and his barmaid Patricia Freeman were discovered. The local authorities had the man, the motive, and the evidence shortly after the crime. For some reason police sat on the evidence and the case went cold.

Last year a former babysitter to Scharff’s son Paul, now grown with a family of his own who at the time of his father’s murder was only ten years old began asking questions about the 1981 unsolved murder. The babysitter's father also happened to be best friends with the deceased Ronald Scharff. The former babysitter googled the names of Anthony Spilotro head of a violent street crew with whom the movie
casino was based played by actor Joe Pecsi, and others from the notorious “hole in the wall gang.” On her Internet search the book “Cullotta,” co-authored by retired veteran cop, tuned author and radio show host Dennis Griffin appeared.

The book is based on the life of Frank Cullotta, who happened to be a childhood friend of Chicago Outfit enforcer
Anthony Spilotro. Frank Cullotta in the early 1980s joined Spilotro's violent Las Vegas street crew. The former mobster committed crimes ranging from robbery to murder, and later turning government witness in its investigation of the mob's influence in Las Vegas.

When the former babysitter turned crime sleuth read the book "Cullotta," there is was in black and white on page 130, providing enough details to the June 2, 1981 murders of bar owner Ronald Scharff and waitress Patricia Freeman at the P.M. Pub in McHenry, IL.

Frank Cullotta named "hole in the wall" crew member Larry Neumann as the killer of Scharff and Freeman. After serving time in prison with Neumann, Cullotta introduced him to Spilotro's gang. As Cullotta recalled during his law enforcement debriefing, Neumann admitted committing the murders. Larry Neumann was angry when he learned earlier that evening bar owner Ronalld Scharff had thrown his ex-wife out of the tavern.

The feds provided McHenry authorities with information on the man and the motive. Ronald Scharff had been killed for the perceived slight. Patricia Freeman was murdered because she was a witness in the wrong place at the time. Instead of arresting Larry Neumann and closing the case McHenry County detectives went out of their way to discredit Cullotta's details of the crime. Those detectives have since retired.

Larry Neumann died in prison in 2007 after a lengthy criminal career that included at least six murders, including a 1956 triple homicide from which he managed to gain release.

Since discovering and reading the book, Paul Scharff has been working with McHenry Detectives to get his father’s case closed. And with the unlikely pair of co-authors Denny Griffin and Frank Collutta who set out to tell a tale of one man’s life in the mob, could have never predicted the
book would take on a unique and important journey, Justice!

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Weather and Animal Helpers

by Andrea Campbell

Some scientists have always thought that weather is often the forgotten factor in crime rates. Is there a relationship between temperature and aggression? Here are some findings, what do you think?

• Assaults are highest in the summer months and lowest in winter months
• Assaults are negatively correlated with wind speed and levels of humidity (most assaults seem to occur on dry days)
• Family disturbances are positively correlated with ozone activity
• Fewer violent crimes are reported on cold days, for example, the crime rate in New Your City was very low during the blizzard of 1996

Some of these may seem intuitive, meaning, people don't function or aren't as aggressive on bad weather days—that's a given. But I do know that law enforcement are especially vigilant on full moons as well, what can be drawn from this conclusion?

Weather and Temperature Clues

Police questioned a man as to where he had been all evening. The man claimed he was home watching TV. One of the officers noted his coat was hanging on a chair dripping from the rain outside. Weather did not help his case. Cases have been recorded where murderers have upped the thermostat before leaving a room to alter the time of death estimation because extreme cold and extreme heat will both alter the coroner’s results. This and other stories illustrate how valuable weather conditions, temperatures, wind speed, sun glare and other phenomenon can effect cases, alibis and time of death estimations.

Animals and Animal Hair

A burglar in southern China was heading into a house to break into a family’s safe inside. The owner, Sham Man-ling, came home and got into a kicking, screaming brawl with him. Mimi, Man-ling’s Persian cat, sprang from a shelf and clawed the robber, who ran away.

Mack, a parrot, was just as courageous. When a criminal tried to steal tools from D’Light, a store in Glendale, California, Mack, who lived at the store, jumped on him, pecked him furiously, and
squawked. In self-defense, the burglar yanked out Mack’s feathers, hit the bird’s head and threw him unconscious to the ground. Still, Mack had detained the burglar long enough for police to respond to the store’s alarm.

In addition to courage, animal hair and feathers have been used as evidence. Dog hair clinging to the suspect’s clothes has been used to identify killers and feathers have shown up in the barrel of a gun. Police also routinely check nests in outdoor scenes because animals are fond of collecting loose artifacts.

Good News for Fingerprint Technology

Technological advances are common in the computing industry and forensic science has benefited from these new advances as well. There is a promising new development for
AFIS (Automated fingerprint identification system). The automation of narrowing the field of candidates for a potential match is getting faster.

Before a latent print can be entered into AFIS, the forensic science fingeprint examiner must carefully mark distinguishing characteristics of the full or partial print.

According to the
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the manual human process of the mark-up is being automated with something called: Automatic Feature Extraction and Matching (AFEM).

This past April, results of an evaluation where researchers used a data set of 835 latent prints and 100,000 fingerprints from real cases was tested. The AFEM software extracted distinguishing features of latents and compared them against the 100,000 fingerprints. For each print, software gave up a list of 50 candidates that the fingerprint specialist had compared by hand. Most identities were found in the top ten.

For more information about the companies that participated and the results of the test:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Special Courts for Returning Vets? What Do We Owe Them?

by Diane Dimond

In America, everyone is supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. But we’ve got a growing group, a particular class of defendants, entering American courtrooms who I believe need special consideration. They are soldiers returning from war.

Several studies conclude that between 30% to 40% of the approximately 1.6 million vets of Iraq and Afghanistan will "face serious mental-health injuries" like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and problems from traumatic brain injuries. Experts in the field report both those conditions are linked to anti-social and criminal behavior.

Now, to me those numbers–up to 40% of the troops afflicted–seem high. But if it’s even half that number, that’s too many brave souls returning home needing special help. So, what do we do with soldiers, who put their lives on hold to go to a foreign land to fight for our liberty, when they come home and get into trouble with the law?

To be clear, I’m not referring to the highly publicized cases where a returning soldier has committed murder. Those cases have caused many to think, Well, you train these young men to kill . . . they come home and kill.

But there is no research, let me repeat that, there is no research, to indicate vets commit violent crimes more often than civilians. In fact, if you extrapolate government statistics for murders committed by men ages 18 to 24, it’s the civilian who is more likely to kill someone, not the vet. I’m referring here to those anti-social, behavioral problems experts report that so many of our returning soldiers suffer from in silence. Problems with substance abuse, paranoia, flashbacks, and bursts of unexplained temper, problems so debilitating the vet takes out their frustrations on loved ones or commits suicide.

Judge Robert Russell in Buffalo, New York (below right) noticed the trend last year. Disturbed after seeing some 300 vets come through his court, he started what’s believed to be the nation’s very first “Veteran’s Court” for those having problems re-adjusting to civilian life. The charges against these defendants range from public drunkenness and assault, driving while intoxicated, drug-related offenses, disturbing the peace, theft, domestic violence, and other emotion-driven violations.

The goal of this specialized court is to intercept troubled veterans before they spiral down and get lost in our already overwhelmed criminal justice system.

The soft-spoken Judge Russell figured everyone would benefit if the vets could answer for their crimes in a special place that offered treatment not just punishment and a courtroom staff that included veteran advocates and assigned mentors. No veteran who appears can fall back on the self pitying thought that, "No one here knows what I’ve been through," because everyone in the room completely understands. Judge Russell is firm, however, demanding atonement and adherence to a one- to two-year individualized treatment plan. He meets regularly with each veteran face-to-face to follow the progress. Failures get the original sentence for their crime.

“Many of our vets have a warrior mentality,” Judge Russell explained in a radio interview. “Some perceive that treatment may be for the weak and we’re working to change that paradigm.” Judge Russell instills the idea that “the real courage and strength comes from the warrior who asks for help.” He’s encouraged by the progress he’s seen.

Criminal justice professionals all across America realize when the soldiers start streaming home they will also have to grapple with the problem of their re-adjustment to society. So, Judge Russell’s special Veteran’s Court idea has been studied nationwide and has now either been adopted in or is being considered by several other states including Alaska, Pennsylvania, California, and Arizona.

One supporter is retired Air Force Colonel and Attorney Billy Little, who told the Arizona Republic, "One of the things that [has] offended me is seeing a veteran who is self-medicating with alcohol or marijuana or meth and going to court and standing side by side with some gangbanger or lifetime criminal and being treated the same as them."

I can’t think of a bigger travesty. To answer the soldier’s service with a jail sentence for behavior that might very well stem from their service makes a mockery of their bravery. To toss the offending veteran in prison alongside the truly hardened criminal is akin to society saying they aren’t worth the trouble.

We already have about 2,000 Special Treatment Courts in America to help those struggling with addiction. There are another 200 Mental Health Courts and both have been successful in strategic support and treatment for Americans in need. Don’t our returning soldiers deserve a special place too?

It really all comes down to this: By the very virtue of these veterans sacrifice for our freedom does the country owe them something extra upon their return? Of course we do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Justice for Angie-Part 2

by Donna Weaver

Angie Yarnell and her mother, Marianne Asher-Chapman were very close. Angie was even maid of honor at her mother's wedding (Marianne and Angie pictured left). Mother and daughter talked on the phone frequently and saw each other often. So when Angie did not show up at her niece's birthday party at Marianne's home, her mother knew something was horribly wrong. She called and left several messages for Angie.

After leaving a final message that "if she (Angie) didn't call me by the next morning. I was going to drive to her house and bang on the door", it was Angie's husband, Mike, who showed up at Marianne's door. Mike took Angie's two dogs and drove to Marianne's Holts Summit home and told her that the last time he had seen Angie was exactly seven days before, on October 25, 2005. He said that Angie had left him for another man.

The following morning after Mike's visit, Marianne made the 90-minute drive from her house to Mike and Angie's Ivy Bend home. She says one of the first things she noticed was that 2 freezers were missing from the house. Marianne says that Angie had told her in a recent phone conversation about how she had been filling the freezers, stocking them up with meat for the coming winter. The same day, Marianne files a missing persons report with the Morgan County Sheriff's Office. She says another thing that went missing shortly after that was Mike's truck, and as far as she knows, there was no effort by law enforcement to locate either the truck or the freezers after she filed the missing persons report on Angie.

Two weeks later, Marianne received a postcard from Angie, postmarked November 8, 2003, saying that she was on her way to Texas with someone named Gary to visit Gary's family and that she would call when they were settled. It was this postcard that eventually proved to be Mike Yarnell's undoing.

Marianne says that Angie confided in her that there was trouble in her three year marriage to Mike. Angie said Mike was "verbally and emotionally abusive." Marianne also states that approximately 2-3 weeks before Angie disappeared Angie told her, "Mike said he didn't love me anymore and that he never loved me."

In the meantime, Ra'Vae Edwards kept the story of Angie's disappearance alive in the News Tribune hoping that someone would come forward with new information.

Mike Yarnell Disappears

Two years after Angie was reported missing, Marianne received a call from the
Montel Williams Show. They had read Ra'Vae Edwards' coverage of Angie's story in the News Tribune and asked Marianne to appear on the show to talk about Angie's disappearance.

Five days after the segment aired on national television, Mike Yarnell disappeared. It seems Yarnell had a habit of disappearing when he was in trouble. Some years before marrying Angie, he fled to Mexico after going AWOL from the Navy. He was arrested there on drug charges and spent 3 years in a Mexican prison.

Then Marianne and Ra'Vae hatch a brilliant plan: Marianne, as his mother-in-law, files a missing person report for Mike Yarnell in March of 2008.

Yarnell is Found

Marianne's missing person report on Mike Yarnell eventually leads to his arrest--but not at first.

When Mike Yarnell applies for a job at an Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, a background check is run as part of the employment process and it is discovered he is a not only a missing person, but a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Angie. However, when law enforcement in Morgan County are first notified that Mike Yarnell has been found, they told authorities in Biloxi to let him go.

Marianne was convinced the postcard she received from her daughter two weeks after her disappearance was not written by Angie. She suspected it was Mike who had written the note to her mother saying she was running away with another man.

Reporter Ra'Vae Edwards contacted Peggy Walla, a Forensic Handwriting Document expert who agreed to analyze the postcard. Comparing the writing to both samples of Mike and Angie's handwriting, Walla definitively determined that it was indeed Mike who had written and sent the postcard to Marianne saying Angie had left for Texas.

Armed with this new information, Marianne takes it to Morgan County investigators who travel in August 2008 to Biloxi where Mike Yarnell still resides. Yarnell spoke to authorities about his missing wife and admitted to sending the postcard to Marianne, but provided no other information at that time about what really happened to Angie.

Yarnell Confesses to Killing Angie

In early November 2008, Mike Yarnell is arrested in Mississippi and jailed in Morgan County, Missouri on charges of forgery and tampering with physical evidence for writing and mailing the postcard to Marianne, trying to make her believe that Angie was alive and well.

Then in December 2008, more than five years after Angie disappeared, Yarnell makes a startling confession to Morgan County detectives. He admitted that during a domestic dispute on Oct 26, 2003, he shoved Angie off of the deck of their Ivy Bend home causing her to fall 4 feet to her death. He said that "after he sat with her awhile, he freaked out, then loaded her body in the car intending to drive her to Versailles."

Yarnell said he freaked out again, turned the car around, returned home to pick up the couples' canoe, and drove Angie's body to a boat ramp on the Lake of the Ozarks. He said he then put Angie into the canoe and rowed about 4 miles to an island. But when Yarnell reached the island, he said his adrenaline rush had passed and he was unable to get Angie's body onto the shore and lost her in the water.

Detectives were unable to locate Angie's body where Mike said he left her.

The trial of Michael Shane Yarnell for the murder of his wife Angie had been set for September 2009. But on Monday, June 8, 2009, Mike Yarnell was sentenced to seven years in prison as part of a plea agreement for murdering his wife. Many people were incredulous over the deal made by Morgan County, Missouri Prosecuting Attorney, Marvin Opie just six months after Yarnell confessed to killing Angie.

Marianne says the confession and plea agreement doesn't change anything--she will continue to search for Angie's body. She believes that if Angie is found, her remains will tell a different story than the one Mike Yarnell confessed to.

Marianne says she feels obligated to help other families with missing loved ones. She says she keeps a sign on her refrigerator that says, "The duty of a good citizen is to keep her mouth open"

In 2007, Marianne, along with Peggy Florence, whose daughter Jasmine Haslag also disappeared, formed Missouri Missing, an organization dedicated to support families of missing persons and spread awareness in the cause of the missing and unidentified.

It is possible Mike Yarnell could end up doing as little as three years in prison for murdering his wife. In the meantime, Marianne Asher-Chapman's life sentence of heartbreak goes on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

No Justice for Angie--Part 1

by Donna Weaver

Every family with a missing murdered loved one knows all too well how elusive justice can be-- myself included. But I cannot imagine how devastating it must be to finally have justice within your grasp only to have it slip right through your fingers.

The trial of Michael Shane Yarnell for the murder of his wife Angie had been set for September 2009. But on Monday, June 8, 2009, Mike Yarnell was sentenced to seven years in prison as part of a plea agreement for murdering his wife. Many people were incredulous over the deal made by Morgan County, Missouri Prosecuting Attorney, Marvin Opie.

As part of the plea agreement, Opie agreed to accept Yarnell's offer to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the first degree if all other charges against him were dismissed. Yarnell was originally charged with second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, first and second degree involuntary manslaughter, forgery, and tampering with physical evidence. Mr. Opie did not return a phone call at the time of this publication.

Ironically, it was the forgery charge that led to Mike Yarnell's confession years after the fact of murdering his wife Angie during what he claimed was a domestic dispute.

That Mike Yarnell is serving a prison sentence at all for Angie's murder can be attributed to the love and courageous perseverance of her mother, Marianne Asher-Chapman, and the tenacity and heart of one lone journalist, Ra'Vae Edwards, formerly a reporter for the News Tribune.

I hope you will be as outraged and horrified as I am over Mike Yarnell's plea agreement and sentence after reading how events unfolded in the disappearance and murder of Michelle Angela "Angie" Yarnell.

October 25, 2003 was the last day anyone saw 28-year-old Angie Yarnell alive. One week later, Mike Yarnell told Angie's family that she left him for another man after she failed to show up at her mother's home for her niece's birthday party.

Two weeks later, Marianne received a postcard from Angie, postmarked November 8, 2003, saying that she was on her way to Texas with someone named Gary to visit Gary's family and that she would call when they were settled. It was this postcard that proved to be Mike Yarnell's undoing.

Mike Yarnell didn't file for divorce. He knew Angie would never be coming back.

Tomorrow, in Part 2: Angie's disappearance, a botched investigation, and Mike Yarnell's surprising confession.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sarah's Back—With a Novel Reward for True Crime Buffs

The American Library Association's Booklist magazine calls Singularity, the first Sarah Armstrong mystery, one of last year's "Best Crime Novel Debuts." It's been a long wait for book two in this exciting new series. In fact, most of us will have to hang in there a bit longer, until July 21st, when Blood Lines hits stores. But now there's good news: One lucky WCI reader is about to move to the head of the line.

How? A contest, one that'll show off your knowledge of true crime. The prize: an ARC, an Advanced Review Copy, of Blood Lines, personalized and autographed by the author, WCI's own Kathryn Casey.

Praise is already pouring in for Blood Lines. Booklist calls it "a strong sequel." Library Journal says Blood Lines is "engrossing and well-written." Publishers Weekly says the second Sarah Armstrong mystery is "enjoyable," and "Casey successfully taps into celebrity obsessed culture." Enter the contest, win, and nearly a month before its pub date, you'll have your own copy!

To whet your appetite, here's a taste:

In Blood Lines, Cassidy Collins is living the dream. The latest teen singing sensation and the darling of the fan magazines, Collins has money and fame. She's escaped her humble beginnings to become a star. Everything is perfect for Collins, except for one complication, a potentially fatal one: the stalker who threatens to take her life.

Meanwhile, Faith Roberts believes her dead sister, Billie Cox, is contacting her from beyond the grave. What does Billie want Faith to know? Is she trying to tell her who pulled the trigger?

A year after tackling the most dangerous case of her career, the Texas Ranger's lone profiler, Sarah Armstrong, is back and charged with untangling two troubling cases that take her from Houston oil mansions to behind the scenes at rock concerts and the world's biggest rodeo. In the end, Sarah's forced into a battle of wits with a brilliant criminal intent on murder.

And now for our contest. Below are excerpts from ten true-crime classics. The first reader to correctly guess the authors and titles of all ten will win an autographed ARC of Blood Lines. You may list your answers in the comments to this post or by e-mailing us at womenincrimeink@yahoo.com. This contest will remain open until we have a winner. Good luck!

1) “I think that you can infer from the evidence that a fight developed in the master bedroom between Colette and the defendant. . . . You know those words—‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.’ I believe those words were said, but not from fear of intruders. . . . They were said as Kimberly came to the master bedroom to find out what was going on between her mother and father.”

2) “[The boy] had a coughing fit, so I stuffed a pillow under his head. Then I turned off the lights. . . . The taping came later, after I’d tied both the women in their bedrooms. . . . Dick carried the flashlight when we went to tape [the father] and the boy. . . . I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up until the moment I cut his throat.”

3) “Sharon looked at her and was crying and begging, ‘Please don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. I don’t want to die. I want to live. I want to have my baby. . . . ' Susan said she looked Sharon in the eye and said, ‘Look, bitch, I don’t care about you. I don’t care if you’re going to have a baby. You had better be ready. You’re going to die, and I don’t feel anything about it.’ ”

4) “He and Danny had attended a drive-in movie, he said, and returned to Mercer House after midnight. Back at the house, [Danny] suddenly went wild . . . smashed an eighteenth-century English grandfather clock. Then . . . he grabbed one of William’s German Lugers . . . [and] aimed it directly at Williams, who was sitting behind his desk.”

5) “It was 3:00 a.m. when [she] arrived at the Chi Omega house. . . . She heard a loud thump. . . . A moment later, she heard running footsteps in the corridor above. . . . And then she saw him, a slender man, wearing a dark jacket. . . . A ‘Toboggan’ . . . was pulled down over the top half of his face. She saw him only in profile, but she could make out a sharp nose. The man was crouched over, his left hand on the doorknob. And in his right hand, incredibly, he held a club, a club that seemed to be a log.”

6) “Johnny asked, ‘Where’s the baby?’ . . . The patrolman directed him toward a closed door. . . . The room was obviously a nursery, but the pleasant aroma of baby talcum was mixed with the smell of death. . . . The blood seemed everywhere. It had coagulated on the mattress to form a grotesque halo around the baby’s head. His curly brown locks were matted and dyed a dark red. He looked so innocent and helpless, not much bigger than the stuffed animals surrounding him.”

7) “There was this man, standing there in the middle of the road. He looked like he needed help. I stopped the car, and got out. He wanted my keys. He just reached in through the window and shot my kids. . . . He shot me too.”

8) “I wasn’t fifty feet out of the driveway when my car was blocked. . . . I thought, It’s my turn to get whacked for Lufthansa. I saw this guy in a windbreaker who popped up alongside the car and jammed a gun against the side of my head. For a second, I thought it was over. Then he screamed, ‘Make one move, motherfucker, and I’ll blow you away!’ That’s when I began to relax. That’s when I knew they were cops. Only cops talk that way. If it had been wiseguys, I wouldn’t have heard a thing. I would have been dead.”

9) “Suddenly the doorbell rang. With a whoop, Robert ran to the foyer. Myra followed him. Just as the child put his hands on the knob, his grandmother felt something was wrong. . . . A strange man pushed his way in and stood in dominance. Though in her seventies, Myra's senses were sharp and her powers of observations clear. She would never forget how this intruder looked, even though her heart was rising in her throat. She first noticed his eyes . . . ‘wild eyes, like great big marbles rolling about. And glistening like they had a coat of shellac on them. . . .’ It seemed he was wearing a sorrel-colored wig, with a strip of greenish cloth dangling about his head. And in his hand, casually held as if it were nothing but a stone picked up at random from a plowed field, was a gun.”

10) “ ‘School children make nice targets,’ he threatened. ‘I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning . . . and pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.’ ”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Susan Atkins, Up for Parole . . . Again?

by Kathryn Casey

Time flies.

Need an example? It’s been more than a year since May 8, 2008, when I wrote a short post for WCI, spreading the news that Charles Manson groupie and convicted murderer Susan Atkins (seen with Manson in the courtroom in the photo at the left) suffers from brain cancer and was expected to die within weeks. Seems that since then Susan’s taken the lyrics to that old Bee Gees’ song to heart, and she’s Stayin’ Alive!

Please don't take this wrong. I'm not being flip, and I do understand that we're talking about life and death. But I have to ask: What’s the deal? How could someone given weeks to live still be alive more than a year later? The impression we were all given back then from those close to Atkins was that she was flat on her back and in horrible condition, waiting for the soon expected arrival of the grim reaper. Of course, at the time Atkins was asking for a compassionate release from prison, which was denied in July 2008.

Maybe some of you in the medical community can comment on whether or not this is a common turn of events with a brain tumor? As far as I know, it may be. I'm far from an expert. Yet since I write about crime all the time, I have to admit that I'm a bit of a skeptic. My first thought was: Did the folks around Atkins perhaps exaggerate the seriousness of her condition last year, to stir up sympathy and support for springing her while she still had time to live on the outside?

The irony is that a full year has lapsed, and Atkins is not only still alive but up for parole again. She was scheduled for a hearing in May, only to have it cancelled when not enough board members were available. The hearing is currently rescheduled for September 2 in Los Angeles. Her husband has said that if she's still alive, Atkins will attend, even if she has to be wheeled in on a gurney.

In the meantime, the controversy surrounding Atkins bid for release hasn't died either. Some of those who saw Atkins as a monster, the wide-eyed killer who stabbed Sharon Tate while the heavily pregnant woman begged for her life, have pointed at Atkins’ nearly four decades as a model prisoner and come out favoring her parole. Included is Manson prosecutor turned bestselling author Vincent Bugliosi, who has said Atkins deserves mercy, arguing against the stance that “just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her."

In contrast, Sharon Tate's younger sister, Debra, hasn’t changed their opinion on what should happen to Atkins and the rest of the Manson clan. "They all should live out their natural years in institutions," she's said. Why? If they are released, Tate has said, "I can't trust that they won't inspire other individuals to do similar acts."

Will Atkins cling to life long enough to make the September hearing? Who knows? Her husband described her current condition to CNN as dire. He says Atkins is barely able to speak, a leg has been amputated, much of her body is paralyzed and she has to be fed. If she does make it to September, it seems certain that this will be her last bid for freedom.

Hmmm. On second thought, are we sure about that?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Here Kitty Kitty

by Pat Brown

My daughter, Jennifer, the tough child abuse detective, called me the other evening in tears. One of her kittens, Baby Norris, was in a freak accident; a board fell on it causing a bad concussion. She had arrived home from work and found the kitten lying under the board, unconscious, blood coming out of its nose. She took it to the emergency animal hospital where she forked out hundreds of dollars for medicine she hoped would prevent brain swelling and save the cat's life. The doctors didn't seem all that hopeful that the medicine would work, but Jennifer felt she had to do all she could to help the kitten survive. After two treatments she took the still near comatose cat home. She put Baby Norris in bed with her and stayed awake most of the night watching him. He was still alive but weak in the morning and so she called for her brother to come over and stay with him while she was at work. She called home regularly for updates on Baby Norris's condition.

What makes Jennifer's concern doubly touching is that Baby Norris wasn't even a kitten she was keeping; it was one of the five she was giving away. And she didn't ask Daddy Norris, the future owner, to help with the bill. She felt responsible for the accident and so she forked out the money herself on a cat that, if it lived, wasn't even going to be her cat.

The story has a happy ending. Baby Norris made a complete recovery and went off to his new home.

A little Bronx kitty didn't fare so well. Tiger Lily, an adorable orange and brown kitten with big pointed ears, was tortured and murdered by 17-year-old Cheyenne Cherry. Cherry tossed Tiger Lily into a kitchen oven, closed the door, turned up the heat, and roasted the poor creature to death. Apparently, Cherry thought it was pretty funny and no big deal as she "doesn't like cats" anyway. Besides, she wanted to get back at her roommate and I am sure she got a big giggle thinking about her ex-friend's face when she opened the oven door and found the charred body of her beloved pet inside.

A week after that despicable story came out, we hear that a Florida teenager has been arrested in string of brutal cat slayings, charged with torturing, mutilating, and murdering at least nineteen of his neighbor's cats. Eighteen-year-old
Tyler Hayes Weinman is accused not only of horrific abuse of animals, but also of displaying their mutilated bodies in grotesque positions on the lawns of their owners. Weinman, the serial cat killer, like the coldblooded Cheyenne Cherry above, has no empathy for either animals or humans and gets his kicks out of causing extreme suffering, both physical and emotional, to other living creatures.

These two disgusting so-called human beings join a long list of violent psychopaths who enjoyed torturing and murdering animals in their youth. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer liked to stick heads of animals on sticks in his yard. Serial killer
Edward Kemper decapitated his pet cat and stuffed it down the disposal just like he did his mother sometime later. Child murderer Earl Shriner stuck firecrackers into dog's rectums and spree killer Andrew Cunanan liked to stick lit matches into the eye's of crabs and then watch them stagger around blindly. And let's not forget the Columbine mass murderers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who bragged to their friends that they got a kick out of mutilating animals.

The list of killers who started violent crime careers with animals abuse is extremely lengthy. If fact, studies cited by the Humane Society found 46% of serial killers admitted to committing cruelty to animals as juveniles and 50% of school shooters had a history of animal cruelty. I can bet the numbers are actually much higher but some psychopaths hide their crimes better than others and some are simply lying about their past maltreatment of animals.

Does this mean all young people who torture and kill animals will become serial killers or mass murderers? No, but I think society needs to recognize the danger we are putting innocent people in when we don't deal with these psychopaths harshly enough. It is not okay to give them probation or a few weeks or months in jail and then send them back into our neighborhoods. It isn't even okay to suspend their sentence if they agree to get psychiatric help because no amount of therapy is going to cure them of their sadistic desire to inflict pain and suffering on others.

So what do we do with serial killers who haven't yet chosen humans as their prey? Our country is huge and our population transient. Neighbors often don't know each other at all and there is no way for citizens to be aware these predators are in their communities.

I think it is time we require violent repeat offenders and violent offenders of one extremely heinous crime to be registered, tracked, and "outed" just like sex offenders. In olden days, criminals had a harder time hiding because everyone knew who the bad guy was in their neighborhood. We should return to those days: if the violent criminal tries to hide among people who don't know him, we should do those people a favor and rat him out.

Violent offenders don't need a break; innocent people do.

Go Directly to Jail and DON'T Collect $175,000

by Kathryn Casey

Think the system is broken? Tired of hearing about money handed over to the very folks who cause the problems? Okay, picture this: a U.S. district judge is sentenced to 33 months in a federal prison, a stint he began just yesterday. Do you think that judge should be off the federal payroll? Samuel Kent apparently doesn't understand the logic.

Kent's crime? Obstruction of justice, for lying to a judiciary panel about his alleged sexual misconduct. His sentence came down May 11th. In a plea deal, Kent, 59, admitted that he lied about his sexual conduct with two employees. (Kent is the first federal judge in history to be indicted for alleged sexual crimes.) In return, prosecutors dropped five sexual abuse charges. Many argued that the sentence was way lenient. Disappointing but the end of story? It seemed so on June 3rd, when Kent tendered his resignation.

The catch: He wants to be paid for another year..

On what grounds does Kent argue he's entitled to keep collecting his $174,000 a year salary and benefits until June 1, 2010? Because he needs the money and the health insurance. (Like the hundreds of thousands of unemployed and uninsured Americans don't?) And, perhaps more to the point, he figures he can get away with it. Why? Because he hopes it could take that long for Congress to get around to impeaching him.

"Impeachment is going to be brutal. It's going to be ugly, and it's going to be nasty," says well known Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin. Kent's attorney, DeGuerin charges that now that Kent has tendered his resignation, the only reason lawmakers could have to move on an impeachment is to get face time on TV and grandstand.

You know, some of us (my hand is raised) disagree. Let's review what Kent is alleged to have done. Consider the testimony of Cathy McBroom, one of two former employees who testified she was harassed by Kent: "He had one arm around my waist and was using the other arm to pull up my blouse and bra, exposing my entire breast. He also tried to force his hand down my skirt." Later, McBroom says a drunk Kent pushed her face toward his crotch and demanded oral sex.

In my humble opinion, it's Kent's behavior that's brutal, ugly, and nasty, not impeachment.

What's happening to Kent is deserved. He's not the victim; he's the perpetrator. Kent admits he tried to force himself on McBroom, a former case manager, and Donna Wilkerson, his secretary. He realizes he's going to serve time. He just doesn't want to give up the cash. (Kudos to McBroom and Wilkerson for having the courage to expose a federal judge. That couldn't have been easy.)

This is Kent's second attempt to stay on the federal dole. Earlier, he requested that he be allowed to retire on disability due to depression and psychiatric issues, which would have ensured him a paycheck for the rest of his life. That, thankfully, was denied.

So, what's to be done? The good news is that it's underway. Spurred by the judge's continued quest to collect a paycheck, on Wednesday, June 3, Congress began hearings that will undoubtedly lead to impeachment.

"This is a clear cut case," Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif, told the Associated Press. Lungren is right. It's a no-brainer. My question is: Why has this taken so long? Kent pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced in May. Notice the photo of Judge Kent at the top, waving? Glad to see him go, but I'm not sure why he thinks we're supposed to subsidize the trip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Rover Reliable?

by Katherine Scardino

I have recently been reviewing some material having to do with some evidence that the State of Texas wants to introduce in a death penalty trial scheduled to begin in October 2009. I am truly astounded that the prosecutors would even consider this evidence as appropriate for a case where a man can lose his life.

I have always heard of dogs sniffing cars, purses or other belongings of citizens to see if they are “holding” drugs. Dog scent evidence is pretty commonplace around the courthouses where I practice law. Lawyers are always trying to figure out a way to outsmart these drug-sniffing dogs who have been trained to find controlled substances - and they usually do. I once had a dog alert on me at the Houston international airport, because I had an apple in my purse that I had purchased in Mexico but “smuggled” into the United States.

My client was accused of capital murder in 1992. He was tried in 1994, and because of other circumstances that we do not need to discuss in this article, his case was overturned by the Fifth Circuit and remanded for a new trial in 2006. From 1994 until 2006, this man lived on Texas’ Death Row. Now, he is in the county jail where the offense occurred awaiting trial.

So, we are working on his case; things going along pretty normally. About a month or so ago, I received an email from the prosecutor advising me that he has obtained a search warrant from some magistrate (not the district court judge who will hear this case) to go to that county jail and obtain scent evidence from my client through swabs of certain areas of his body. That all sounds like it might be OK - except that the prosecutor plans on having a dog smell my client’s scent and then attempt to connect my client’s scent to the scent of this 1992 evidence that has been stored in cans in an abandoned jail since 1994. In case your math is about like mine - that is 15 years ago. So, the bottom line is this: can a dog small your scent and then sniff the 15 year old evidence and make a valid connection between your scent and the evidence? And, if one assumes that this is legitimate science and credible, then it is proof that the defendant is connected to the crime.

The defense team is obviously not going to take this lying down - right? So, we do some research. One of the interesting articles we found is from Florida and from the
Orlando Sentinel newspaper today. The article discusses three men who spent twenty-something years in prison for crimes that DNA now proves they did not commit. Each of these three men was convicted by the prosecution using a German shepherd named “Harrass”. The articles indicates that the only way the owner of Harrass was discredited was by the judge testing the dog himself. Is that what it really takes? Does a judge have to step down off the bench, take the dog by its leash, and see if the dog actually alerts to a valid scent without his owner/trainer. Apparently, the dog did not alert to anything when the judge was testing him.

We have in our jurisdiction an owner/trainer of three dogs who are just as wrong as Harrass was in Florida. We have a situation where my client could be sentenced to death and part of the State’s case will rely on the dog sniffing lineup of 15 year old evidence. Do you think a dog can connect a scent to evidence that is this old?

What about the legal “reliability” of scientific evidence? Is it really scientific evidence - or is it just junk science? And, if it is just junk science, why are we using it to possibly execute a citizen?

But, the real problem has to do with the mindset of the prosecutors who are willing to use this evidence to convict a man of capital murder and possibly obtain a death sentence. Am I the only one who is scared to death about people in our world who would be willing to present this evidence to a jury and argue to this jury that the evidence is valid and reliable?

I need a judge who is willing to step off the bench and get his hands dirty - like the judge in Florida.....

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Sign of the Times...."Sexting"

by Robin Sax

Sexting is a relatively new term in our lexicon, referring to the sending of a sex image through a text message (combine the word sex and “texting” and you get sexting). You may be surprised to find out that sexting can send a young person to jail. Even more, it can cause him/her to be convicted of the dissemination of child porn and be forced to register as sex offender -- for life.

In October of last year a Texas eighth-grader spent the night in a juvenile detention center after his football coach found a nude picture on his cell phone, sent by fellow student. In January of this year three western Pennsylvania high school girls were charged with child pornography for sending semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves. Last month in Indiana a teenage boy was indicted on felony obscenity charges for sending a photo of his private parts via “sext” to several female classmates.

There is nothing new to the notion that technology has created a bucket-load of new crimes. But like everything else, the technology is ahead of legislators and the criminal justice system. If a 16-year-old girl willingly sends a naked picture of herself to her same aged boyfriend, are we shocked? It seems relatively harmless, right? Maybe… or depending on the jurisdiction and the prosecutor it could be considered a crime (that is, sending and possessing child porn). It all depends on which way you view it. Is it innocent child play or criminally dangerous behavior?

Taking it a step further, what happens when that 16-year-old boyfriend forwards that “sext message” to 100 people, or even just three of his closest friends? Besides the fact that it is mortifying to the young girlfriend (and invading her privacy), the boy could be subjected to charges of disseminating child porn, a crime that can includes jail and a l
ifetime registration as a sex offender. Now, I am not here to argue that the child should not be punished. Of course there should be consequences. But should that 16-year-old now be a registered sex offender? I say hell no!

We can argue whether or not the boyfriend’s actions should be considered criminal or merely a boyish prank. But the bigger issue is whether or not this 16-year-old can really be considered a sexual predator that belongs on a
sex registration list. I do believe the boy should be punished, charged with harassment, bullying, or whatever. Requiring registration, however, in this case only does one thing: undermines the sex offender registry. As parents and citizens, we need to know what we are talking about when we refer to sex offenders. Most people agree that this list should be reserved for the “true” predators and molesters who have a likely chance of recidivism (repeating the crime of seeking young victims as sexual prey). When you hear child porn you think an adult with pictures of a pre-pubescent or barely pubescent child. Not 16-year-olds sending pictures of themselves naked.

l states see my argument and agree. Here are some recent legislative developments around the country:

Vermont lawmakers introduced a bill in April 2009 to legalize the consensual exchange of graphic images between two people 13 to 18 years old. Passing along such images to others would remain a crime. In Ohio, a county prosecutor and two lawmakers proposed a law that would reduce sexting from a felony to a first-degree misdemeanor, and eliminate the possibility of a teenage offender being labeled a sex offender for years. In Cincinnati the proposal to lesson sexting was supported - even by the parents of Jessie Logan, an 18-year-old who committed suicide after a naked picture of herself (which she sexted) was forwarded to people in her high school. Utah lawmakers lessened the penalty for sexting for someone younger than 18 from a felony to a misdemeanor.

But more needs to be done; specifically in the areas of parenting and educating our teens. The
National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, a private nonprofit group whose mission is to protect children, along with CosmoGirl.com, surveyed nearly 1,300 teens about sex and technology. The result: 1 in 5 teens say they have sexted even though the majority knows it could be a crime, they continue to do it.

So, friends, I ask you…where do you stand on what do about “sexting??” Let me know I what your thoughts....email me at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Heaven Spelled Backwards

by Donna Pendergast

Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards) Buchanan was only 5-years-old when she disappeared, three days after her graduation from pre-school. Allegedly last seen riding her scooter in the parking lot of the Charlotte Arms Apartments in Monroe, Michigan, Nevaeh was reported to have been last seen by a young neighbor around 6:30 pm on May 24th. Whether or not that was the last time that she was seen by family or friends remains to be seen.

Into Thin Air

Nevaeh's mother, Jennifer Buchanan, has had her ups and downs in life. Arrested on a charge of First Degree Home Invasion she was found guilty of breaking into homes to support a drug habit in 2006. Nevaeh's grandmother, Sherry Buchanan, was granted custody of Nevaeh while her daughter was incarcerated. After Jennifer was released from jail she lived with her mother and her daughter in the run down apartment at Charlotte Arms

Jennifer Buchanan has told police that she spent the afternoon hours watching television at the apartment along with Nevaeh. She told police that Nevaeh left the apartment around 6:30 pm to go a friend's apartment in the same building. According to Jennifer's statement to police, a few minutes after Nevaeh left the apartment, another child who lived in the building knocked on the door to tell her than Nevaeh was out riding her scooter in the street which Jennifer interpreted as being the parking lot of the apartment building. When Jennifer got down to the parking lot, she was unable to find Nevaeh but found her scooter abandoned by the side of the building.

Jennifer claims to have searched the surrounding area for 45 minutes finding no trace of Nevaeh. She eventually informed the apartment manager that Nevaeh was missing. After an unsuccessful canvass of the apartment building, the police were called around 8:30 pm.

A Disturbing Revelation

A task force from the
Monroe County Sheriff's Department, the Michigan State Police , and the FBI was formed to search for Nevaeh and an Amber Alert was issued. As the police investigation progressed, it was learned that Jennifer Buchanan had befriended and had exposed her daughter to to convicted sex offenders, George Kennedy 39 y/o and Roy Smith 48 y/o. George Kennedy was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl behind a gas station in 2002. Roy Smith, a friend of Kennedy's, was convicted in the sexual assault of a woman who claimed that he raped her twice in his car in 1991. Jennifer Buchanan has stated that she knew about Kennedy's past, but that she had confronted him about it and he had been "honest with her about it". She also told police that she knew that Smith attended classes with Kennedy so she figured that he had been convicted of the same sort of offense. Buchanan has also stated in a television interview that Kennedy had become a sort of "father figure" to Nevaeh. Both Kennedy and Smith, whose parole conditions forbid contact with children or anyone who has children, are now both in jail on possible parole violations.

A search warrant issued early on in the investigation stated that a friend of Nevaeh's claimed that he had seen a man stab Nevaeh in the woods near the apartment building. The boy's mother has subsequently discounted that information, stating that the boy saw nothing. The blood from a knife recovered from Kennedy's hotel room was tested and determined not to match Nevaeh's
DNA. The police have not released further information about that blood, including whether or not the blood was human blood.

A Horrifying Discovery

On June 4, a father and son who were out fishing stumbled across a ghastly discovery. They noticed what appeared to be quick drying cement over a disturbed area of ground down a steep embankment a few feet away from the
River Raisin in Monroe County. After kicking away a piece of cement they observed human flesh and contacted police authorities. On Tuesday, the body was confirmed as being young Nevaeh's. She had been buried in a shallow grave with a quick drying cement poured on top of her small body.

An initial investigation by the medical examiner has determined that there is no evidence of outward trauma to Nevaeh's body, discounting the earlier information in the search warrant that she was stabbed. Authorities have indicated that it may be several weeks before the cause of death can be determined or ruled on.

So Many Unanswered Questions

While focusing on Kennedy and Smith, the police investigation has apparently not ruled out Nevaeh's mother as a person of interest either. She has been questioned multiple times, and last week gave permission for the police to search her apartment. Jennifer Buchanan has publicly stated that she has no involvement in the girl's disappearance, and walked off the Nancy Grace show the other night while under intense grilling from the host.

While many questions remain unanswered, one thing remains clear, heaven spelled backwards spells Hell.

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