Monday, August 31, 2009

A 911 Deadly Outcome

by Susan Murphy Milano

On January 17, 2008, a handful of strangers witnessed something suspicious and called 911 to report it a North Point, Florida, emergency dispatcher. Several minutes later, the dispatcher received a chilling yet composed 911 call from a woman pleading for her life with an abductor. The woman was on the man's cell phone as he drove her to his home, where he sexually assaulted and later killed her. The woman was 21 years old and the mother of two young sons, and her name was Denise Amber Lee.

Denise Amber Lee is a hero in my book. The daughter of a police detective, she fought back by kicking and screaming in the car, drawing attention to her terrifying ordeal in hopes someone would help. And she thought enough in the midst of a crisis to find a cell phone in her abductor's car and use it to call 911, so an emergency dispatcher could overhear her begging him to let her go. In the process, Denise managed to provide her name and as much information as she could before the call was lost.

Several minutes after Denise’s call, Jane Kowalski, another stranger, called 911 and reported what looked like a child in a car “being held against her will.” Kowalski stayed on the phone with the emergency dispatcher for nine minutes, giving a blow-by-blow account of what she saw until losing sight of the man and woman in the green Camaro. But emergency dispatchers never relayed that call to police officers on the street; Kowalski called during a dispatcher shift change. The two poorly trained dispatchers were later suspended from the police department.

Two days later, Denise Lee's body was found with a bullet to the head, buried in a shallow, sand-filled grave.

During last week's trial, Denise's 911 call was played for the jury. Many others came forward to testify, including Kowalski, a computer consultant from Tampa. What Kowalski saw on that awful day ultimately cost Denise Lee her life. As a witness for the prosecution, Kowalski was able to place abductor and victim together in the car. And when shown random photos at the police station, Kowalski easily identified the abductor: Michael King, 38, an unemployed plumber.

On Friday, after deliberating for two hours, a Florida jury found King guilty of kidnapping, sexual battery, and first degree murder. King, who awaits sentencing, faces the death penalty.

This tragedy is a victory for justice as well. People who didn't know Denise Amber Lee took the time to report a crime. Jane Kowalski took matters a step further and followed the car on a hunch something was wrong, without any regard for her own safety. And Denise Amber Lee did everything humanly possible to escape death.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Horse’s Mouth

by Sheryl McCollum

I sat with the ex-Imperial Wizard of the KKK this week. The purpose of this meeting was to gain insight on this hate group in order to best work on an existing case.

When you sit two feet from a man who has physically harmed others, burned down a church, and verbally abused a race of people, a knee jerk reaction is to be repulsed and to wonder, Why aren't you in prison? Once you get past those reactions, you start to see how his knowledge can be useful.

The ex-wizard, “JC,” grew up poor in the Los Angeles projects and joined the KKK at the age of 14. A former wrestler, he now works at the FBI academy at
Quantico as a trainer, speaking out against hate groups. Throughout our encounter, “JC” was open, honest, straightforward, and very clear about the workings of the Klu Klux Klan. He explained the organization's recurring tactics, its activities, and its resurgence since the election of President Obama.

One of the things he explained to me is the way such groups view alliances. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a commonly heard phrase in such organizations. Hate groups help other hate groups, in order to destroy their enemy. There is no loyalty. Hate groups will sell weapons to other groups, if they believe the buyers can assist in furthering their cause.

Let's look at another such insider:
Joe Valachi. A mobster, he was the first to publicly acknowledge La Cosa Nostra's existence. His testimony was broadcast on radio and television and published in newspapers. Because of him, organized crime no longer had the advantage of invisibility. In his testimony before Congress in 1963, Valachi gave the names of over 300 mafioso while detailing the inner working of the mob, including its organizational structure, political ties, and crimes. At the time, then Attorney General Robert Kennedy said that Valachi’s testimony gave "meaning to much of what we know and brings the picture into sharper focus.”

Not all intelligence experts are hate-group or organized-crime family members.
Frank W. Abagnale is a con man turned FBI trainer. Who better to teach young agents about fraud, embezzlement, and forgery than a master con man? The subject of the hit movie Catch me if you Can, Abagnale is a great teacher because he has not only researched but committed these crimes. With his knowledge and experience, he can explain how to best thwart these criminals.

Others are taking the training one step further and making ex-criminals police officers. The island nation of Fiji takes hardened criminals and turns them into cops. They see this as a way to rehabilitate former criminals and to give them a way to use their knowledge to fight crime. It's also a great way to keep tabs on your usual suspects.

Maybe some of you have watched the Discovery Channel's It Takes a Thief, in which two uniquely qualified experts break into homes to show homeowners just how defenseless their houses are to pros. The two experts are reformed ex-cons who know well the art of B&E.

Please keep in mind that criminals can serve in many ways. They have knowledge and an expertise in a certain type of crime and can train or assist police in preventing, fighting, or better understanding that crime. Whether they are called confidential informants, cooperating individuals, or substantial assistance, they have expertise the average police officer lacks. Having criminals work with police is also a great way to keep an eye on them. Remember: Keep your enemies closer – so to speak.

Bottom line: If I want to know how to make a pound cake, I ask Betty Crocker. If I want to know how the Smith & Wesson .50 Magnum handles, I ask Leslie Bailey. If I want to know about the KKK, I go to the source.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can You Get DNA from Bullshit?

by Laura James
(cross-posted; art via)

It's a clever business strategy, I'll give them that.

It goes like this:

One: In your dungeon laboratory, develop a way to fabricate forensic samples of DNA from a particular person -- a way to create a "fake" sample.

Two: Write a paper that explains precisely how anyone with a chemistry background can fake a DNA sample and
publish it on the internet.

Three: Call into question the fundamental reliability of every DNA sample ever taken into evidence anywhere, because, after all, you've now proven they can theoretically be faked.

Four: Form a corporation to develop a patented method of detecting faked DNA evidence.

Five: Market your sorry-not-free "authentication assay" to every law enforcement agency on earth as "necessary for maintaining the high credibility of DNA evidence in the judiciary system."

Finally: Land a feature in the New York Times.

Alas, all this has already happened. The company is called Nucleix.

It is immoral, unethical, and offensive to me that these men have done this. But they have. One small group of misguided souls has actually managed to think up a way to undermine the best method of forensic science ever discovered. In doing so, they managed to craft whole new arguments for defense attorneys (and the occasional stupid prosecutor) to try on unsophisticated jurors. Already the ACLU is yapping about it.

I hope this fake DNA boondoggle is not taken seriously and gets no more media attention than it already has. I also hope others will call them out on this. That Andrew Pollack and the New York Times
helped to promote this obscenity with no apparent regard for the ethics of doing so was in and of itself offensive to me and only confirms my low opinion of that newspaper. In this piece, the Times again proves itself a corporate tool.

If this company (Nucleix, not the Times) had an ounce of integrity, the cure it is marketing for the disease it invented would be as readily available on the Internet as the instructions for "faking" DNA results.

Women In Crime Ink on Deadly Women

by Women in Crime Ink

The second season of "Deadly Women" on Investigation Discovery covers four centuries and seven countries, revisiting female killers and their crimes. Each episode features Candice DeLong, a former FBI agent and profiler, Dr. Janis Amatuzio, a forensic pathologist, and multiple female murderers.

In tonight's episode, "Blood for Money," Women in Crime Ink's Diane Fanning talks about Celeste Beard, the case Kathryn Casey wrote about in SHE WANTED IT ALL . Celeste had it made when she left her waitress job to marry Steve Beard, a multi-millionaire. But she threw it all away when she convinced her lesbian lover that Steve had to die.

This season, Diane and Kathryn will appear in additional episodes of Deadly Women. Watch for them. And tonight, make sure you don't miss Diane on "Blood for Money," at 9 pm eastern, on Investigation Discovery's Deadly Women.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CSI and Me

by Kathryn Casey

A few years back, I sat across a desk from Henrico Police Captain Jan Stem in his Richmond, VA, office, talking about the Piper Rountree case. Rountree (photo left), a Houston attorney, was charged with murdering her ex-husband, University of Richmond professor Fred Jablin (with Piper in photo right below). It was a particularly violent conclusion to a War-of-the-Roses-style divorce, two years of domestic warfare. Rountree hadn’t liked the outcome of the divorce; a self-envisioned super mom, she’d lost custody of the couple’s three kids. The police figured that she’d attempted to right what she perceived as a great wrong by ambushing Jablin in the family driveway while their kids slept upstairs in the house.

Yet another example of how motherly love can go tragically askew.

Talking with Stem that day, it was obvious that the evidence against Rountree relied heavily on such modern-day devices as cell phones and the Internet. It got me thinking about how many of the cases I now investigate rest on evidence unheard of when I started writing about crime fresh out of journalism school as a fledgling reporter for Houston City Magazine back in the eighties.

At the appropriate moment, I asked Stem, a middle-ager like myself, who’d been in the crime game for a couple of decades, to quantify for me how much the cop business had changed throughout his career. Stem ran a thick hand through his soft brown hair and frowned. Shrugging, he said, “Old fashioned police work is still important, but almost everything’s different these days.”

The case, the subject of my book Die, My Love (HarperCollins 2007) is fascinating, full of twists and turns and terror in the night. But that day in Stem’s office, another murder was on my mind as well, the first murder case I ever covered, the one we at Houston City called the “Piney Woods Love Triangle.” It happened in and around a small East Texas middle school, back in the mid-eighties. The victim, Bill Fleming, was a young football coach. The accused was none other than the principal, one Hurley Fontenot, a courtly man with an East Texas drawl. Both Fleming and Fontenot were married, and both had affairs with the school secretary, a pretty, dark-haired woman with a self-effacing manner, Laura Nugent.

There’s no doubt that the prosecution had a circumstantial case: Fontenot and Fleming had been feuding over Nugent for months. Testimony pegged the principal as the last one seen with the coach the afternoon he disappeared. But there was potential forensic evidence as well: Bill Fleming’s decomposing body found dumped in a deserted oil field, nearly a week after the murder, and human blood spray in the inside of the 4H camper Fontenot had on his pickup that weekend. The truck and camper were cleaned at a car wash the day after Fleming’s disappearance, but police found diluted human blood collected on the truck axle as well.

But remember, this was 1984, a lifetime ago in the CSI business.

I spent seven weeks in a Livingston, TX, courtroom as prosecutors and well-known Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin battled it out. Today it would be a simple matter. Even with a single bone or a wad of spit, DNA could be collected and mapped, compared to the blood in the trailer and on the axle. Back then, however, DNA was just a theory. At that time – and remember this is just a little over twenty years ago – police labs couldn’t even type blood from a corpse in an advanced state of decomposition. The bottom line: Prosecutors had no way to convincingly tie the blood inside the trailer and on Hurley Fontenot’s truck axle to Bill Fleming.

Still, we’re talking about human blood, not something normally found inside a trailer or sprayed inside a camper. And there must have been a considerable amount to mix with the car wash water and collect on the axle. How could the defense explain that? For much of the trial, I thought the blood evidence would be the prosecutors’ ace in the hole.

The defense attorney offered an alternate possibility. The blood didn’t belong to Bill Fleming at all, DeGuerin countered. Family-man Hurley regularly used the trailer and pickup to transport household garbage cans to the dump. Inside were plastic bags, some of which contained his wife’s menstrual pads. That wasn’t all. When DeGuerin asked Mrs. Fontenot some rather embarrassing questions, she explained that she was enduring what women today call menopause and which they then euphemistically referred to as “the change,” and that she was thus experiencing an unusually heavy flow.

Although I never quite understood how blood could have not only come off the pads, but leaked through garbage bags and the garbage cans, so much that it splattered inside the trailer and collected on the axle, I guess the jury did. The four men and eight women charged with deciding his fate acquitted Hurley Fontenot.

Hurley wasn’t a healthy man. He had heart problems, and not much later he died. No one else was ever prosecuted for Bill Fleming’s murder. Whenever questioned about the case, prosecutors said they believed they had the right man but simply lost in the courtroom. To this day, DeGuerin says he doesn’t believe Fontenot committed the murders. But, of course, we’ll never know. With Fontenot acquitted and deceased, there’s no reason to do DNA on Bill Fleming or the found blood, that is if any of the evidence even remains stored in a cold case box.

So, when I sit back and look at a case like Piper Rountree’s, as fascinating as it is, with all the advantages of modern police work, I can’t help but recall the decades-old murder of Bill Fleming. It reminds me how long I’ve been covering courtrooms, and how many safeguards science offers today to ensure that a jury’s decision is based on real evidence. When done correctly, modern science has the power to free the innocent and condemn the guilty.

One of Us, On E! Tonight

by Women In Crime Ink

What's even more fun than a program entitled Billionaire Crime Scenes? Watching a WCI regular dish on an amazing case. Tonight, 10 p.m. ET, explore murder among the wealthy on the E! channel. WCI's own Kathryn Casey will offer insight into the the bizarre case of Celeste Beard, a 32-year-old country club waitress who married a multimillionaire TV tycoon, only to convince her gay lover to shotgun him down! For those of you who haven't yet read it, the Beard case is explored in depth in Casey's fascinating book: SHE WANTED IT ALL.

Without a doubt, the Beard case has it all: sex, money, madness. "This is the strangest case I've ever covered," says Casey. "And that's saying something!" Casey, who has a book signing tonight at Murder by the Book in Houston, will have her TiVo set. If you're not close enough to drive over for the signing, turn on E! and settle in for a treat. In addition to the Beard case, the program will feature the cases of New Yorker Robert Durst, Edmond Safra and Ted Maher, Charlie White and Darin White, Susan Cummings and Roberto Villegas, Ted Ammon and Danny Pelosi.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It Never Ends: The Trauma of Sexual Assault

By Robin Sax

Is it hard to believe that a victim of sexual assault still feels vulnerable 22 years later, at the age of 82? I don’t think so at all. But when I read an article in the LA Times (August 17, 2009) about Arline Mathews, who is fighting the release of the serial rapist who attacked her in 1987, I was struck by her words: "I have a responsibility to my sisters in the world to do what I can to prevent his going free.”

Arline Mathews is still fearful of her attacker, Lloyd Anthony Roy, and still worries he might rape her or someone else once he's released. The article describes her as feeling brushed off, or dismissed as paranoid, because she's afraid Roy will come back to get her. She's convinced the justice system won't protect her. In the L.A. Times, she said, “He told me many times that he would kill me, that he'd killed others.”

The Times article focuses on a question that puzzles many: how a serial rapist who targets seniors was allowed to plea-bargain to a sentence short enough to let him re-offend? I, too, want to know why he was sentenced to so little time, given what seemed like a tight case against a really bad dude. The prosecutor bundled eight sexual assaults pinned on Roy, allowing him to only plead guilty on only three.

Besides the seemingly unjust sentence, I was struck even more by the brutal impact of the sex crime on Arline Mathews. Roy repeatedly and believably threatened to kill her, saying he'd done so to others. He rambled on about preferring to assault older women because, he said, they are weaker and less likely to struggle. At one point, he whispered, "I usually smother my victims."

Roy has a mental-fitness hearing set for August 2011, after which he will most likely be released into society. Under previous California sentencing rules, invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago, inmates are released,without a parole hearing,after they serve half their sentences. For Roy, now 57, that means he'll have served 22 years of his 44-year sentence. The only hope of keeping him in custody is for Department of Corrections mental health experts to find that he has a mental disorder making him so dangerous to others that he must be confined to a mental hospital.

You may think, “Of course the Department of Corrections will find that he’s still a danger to society,” but don’t bank on it. The mental-health evaluators in such hearings rely on the inmate’s case file and use standard psychological tests, which measure a violent predator’s likelihood to re-offend. His victims won't be interviewed, nor their pain taken into consideration, during the evaluation. That's not very comforting to Arline Mathews -- or to me. Nor should it be; state records show that in the last 13 years, only two percent of the 27,000 sex offenders evaluated were confined to a mental hospital after release from prison.

A small consolation for Mathews is this: if her attacker is set free, he may have to register as a sex offender. His name on a sex-offender registry would allow her to find out where he is living. Although it may do little to help ease her personal fears, it will alert others.

Mathews may also choose to get a restraining order against her attacker – but understandably, that may not help to ease her fears.

What are the lasting effects of a sexual assault on the psyche of the victim? It may seem obvious that victims continue to suffer at any age, even many years after the attack. The American Journal of Psychiatry finds rape victims are significantly more depressed, generally anxious, and more fearful than people who haven't experienced a sexual attack.

What are the raw numbers telling us? According to U.S. Department of Justice document, Criminal Victimization in the United States, victims reported close to 200,000 rapes or sexual assaults the past year. But it's estimated that only 16% of rapes and sexual assaults are actually reported to the police (“Rape in America: A Report to the Nation”). One in six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates 93 percent of rape victims are female.

Mathews was attacked by a stranger. But the notion that strangers attack women in shadowy parking lots or slip in through windows at night is exaggerated. The reality: attackers are often acquaintances, friends of friends, or colleagues -- people whom victims know and may even trust. In one survey, only two percent of those who said they were sexually assaulted also said the attacker was a stranger.

The Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) is a national non-profit organization that provides emotional and practical support to trauma victims. It reports that almost all rape victims suffer severe and long-lasting emotional damage -- from rape and from attempted rape.

In fact, the sexual aspects of rape aren't the most shocking and damaging. TIP lists five distinct, lasting shocks of rape: 1) It is sudden and arbitrary. 2) It seems life-threatening. 3) It's meant to violate the target physically and/or render her helpless. 4) The victim is forced to participate in the crime. 5) The victim cannot prevent the assault or control the assailant; her normal coping strategies fail. She is a victim of someone else's rage and aggression.

Besides the physical violation, sexual assault violates basic beliefs and assumptions about her environment (that it is safe and predictable), about other people and relationships (that she can trust others and share mutual respect), and about herself (her competence, self-confidence, and self-esteem). She comes face-to-face with her vulnerability to serious harm.

Therefore, sexual assault is emotionally expensive: it usually costs the victim her sense of safety, control, trust, autonomy, integrity, and self-esteem.

Arline’s case is an example of the worst of the worst. It’s the worse type of crime, the worst type of predator, with the worst emotional result. Like Arline, I feel it's my duty to make you aware so that you, too, can do your part to ensure that Lloyd Anthony Roy stays in prison, where he belongs.

What can you do? Send a letter to the California Department of Corrections, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, the governor, the state attorney general, and blog, advocate, and let your voices be heard!

Monday, August 24, 2009

**Breaking News***Real Life in Reality Television?

By Stacy Dittrich

Frequently when I turn on the news, I hear the anchor say, “Seriously, folks, we really don’t make this stuff up.” I was a little behind the eight ball this week and out of touch, so when I happened to walk past my television and heard, “…the body of the mutilated model found in a suitcase was identified by breast implants,” I paused. What was I hearing? A new drama series? A warped comedian? No, none of these. I was listening to the report of a brutal and vicious murder that took place days earlier. If using serial numbers on breast implants to identify the victim wasn't strange enough, the murder's other details clearly have the makings of a movie of the week.

Jasmine Fiore, 28, was an aspiring model and Playboy hostess. Early reports claimed Fiore was a former Playboy model—a claim the magazine vehemently denied. Probably the most credible gig Fiore had under her belt was a brief appearance on a late-night party-line ad.

This past March, she met aspiring reality-TV show star Ryan Alexander Jenkins, 32, marrying him just a few weeks later. Just three months after the wedding, Fiore was having an under-the-radar fling with a former boyfriend, Robert Hasman, in Los Cabos, Mexico, while Jenkins was off filming his show. Known to be violently jealous, Jenkins would have gone over the edge right then had he found out. A month prior to the murder, Jenkins was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence for punching Fiore in the arm with such force it knocked her into a swimming pool—fully clothed. He was scheduled to appear in court for that charge in December.

Understandably, Fiore was terrified of Jenkins and his violent temper. Friends say she kept a second (secret) cell phone, because Jenkins searched her phone on a nightly basis, reading all her text messages and e-mails. The day before her murder, Fiore sent a series of text messages to Hasman, stating she wanted to visit him in Las Vegas. The week of her murder, Fiore and Jenkins checked into the L’Auberge Del Mar Hotel near San Diego, CA. On Friday morning, August 14, Jenkins was caught on a hotel surveillance video leaving the hotel carrying a suitcase—alone. Later that day, Hasman received a text from Fiore’s phone that said, “suck it.” Authorities believe Fiore was already dead. The next day, Fiore’s body was found in an Orange County dumpster, stuffed into a suitcase. Her teeth and fingers had been removed, in a gruesome attempt to hide her identity.

Considering Jenkins' history, coupled with the fact he reported Fiore missing, law enforcement set their sights on him. A nationwide manhunt ensued in hopes of locating Jenkins, who'd already escaped to his native Canada. I feel certain authorities used every available resource to locate Jenkins in hopes of bringing him to justice. Murder is murder. However, anyone who goes so far as to pull the teeth and cut off fingers of a victim rises to an entirely different level of disturbed. I don't think many people realize the force required to pull 32 teeth, one by one, from someone's mouth.

Then, late last evening, Canadian officials announced that Jenkins was found dead in a hotel on the outskirts of Hope, British Columbia. He'd died by hanging in an apparent suicide. Very few details are known at the time of this posting. However, based on my experience in law enforcement, I know the investigation will continue. Authorities still have the task of processing the suicide scene with an eye toward uncovering evidence linking Jenkins to the murder scene and body dump.

The tragedy of all this is that Jasmine Fiore should have had a long life ahead of her. No matter what her lifestyle entailed, she didn't deserve to die, especially not such a horrible and gruesome death. For her surviving family members, that notion alone will haunt them for years to come.

Friday, August 21, 2009

BLOOD LINES at Murder by the Book

By Kathryn Casey

Okay, here's the plot: This coming Wednesday, August 26th, at 6:30 p.m., I'll be in Murder by the Book, at 2342 Bissonnet, in Houston's Rice Village area, talking about crime writing, and pretty much just hanging out having fun with the staffers and the folks gathered to meet me. It'll be an evening filled with laughter (I hope; I have tried to work on a couple of jokes), murder and mystery.

The occasion is my first book signing for Blood Lines, the second Sarah Armstrong mystery. Sarah's the Texas Ranger I invented, the protagonist in the series. This particular book's set in Houston, but one reason I chose a ranger was so my main character could traipse all over Texas without worrying about jurisdictional lines. Hey, it's a big state; why not show off all of it?

Anyway, my dad always cautioned me when I was a kid not to get "the big head," which in dad language meant ego. So rather than tell you about the book, which I'm quite proud of, here's what the critics have had to say about Blood Lines:

"The second entry in the Armstrong case file is a strong sequel to Singularity. Both plot lines are clever and carefully scripted. But it’s the evolving back story of Armstrong and her daughter—coping with the death of Armstrong’s husband—that gives this series extra depth and offers the promise of something special." Wes Lukowsky, Booklist.

"Verdict: Engrossing and well written," Jo Ann Vicarel, Library Journal.

"Enjoyable.... Casey successfully taps into celebrity-obsessed culture," Publishers Weekly.

"[Sarah Armstrong is] an impressive character.... Both mysteries play out nicely against the Texas backdrop, right up to the white-knuckle finale," Sandra Martin, Romantic Times.

"The author does a crafty job portraying the demanding young diva, dealing with family issues and tracking killers. BLOOD LINES is a sweet beach read with decent, compassionate characters and several scumbags." Jane Sumner, the Dallas Morning News.

"Casey deftly switches between investigations, working in Sarah's personal life as well as the interesting minutia involved in following tenuous leads," P.G. Koch, The Houston Chronicle.

"Casey knows how to keep readers turning the pages to get to the stirring conclusion," Glenn Dromgoole, the Abilene Reporter.

A particular honor: Blood Lines has been chosen as the November selection by the wonderful Pulpwood Queens. Very exciting!

So, why not drive over to Murder by the Book this coming Wednesday and listen to my little talk, try to figure out what the jokes are supposed to be and chuckle a bit (even if they're not funny), then stay around long enough to meet a few people, including me? I'd be delighted to shake your hand and sign your book!

Thursday, August 20, 2009


by Lisa R. Cohen

So here’s the new project I’m immersing myself in – a different side of Crime, Ink. But first, some history.

In 1996 I was producing for ABC News PrimeTime Live. I traveled to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, site of the film Dead Man Walking and one of the most notoriously brutal prisons in American history.

Correspondent Cynthia McFadden and I were profiling Susan Sarandon, the actress who played Sister Helen Prejean in the movie, but the piece had spun away from us and we found ourselves in the death chamber at Angola, interviewing Sister Helen herself. She understood the value of a good visual.

From there, it was just a short hop – ok, a very long one - to a one-hour PrimeTime Live special on the death penalty called “Judgment at Midnight.” Cynthia and I and a very talented production team installed cameras on Death Row, including two fixed cameras clamped to a condemned man’s cell bars round the clock.

We followed him for days, finally to the door of the death chamber, where we watched him walk in. Along the way, we also interviewed his family, the family of his victims, the lawyers for both sides, the guards, and his fellow death row inmates. And we spent a lot of time with Warden Burl Cain, who gave the orders for his death, a very media savvy man who told us, “If you’re going to be for the death penalty, you ought to see the way it all happens… see it from my shoes.”

It was a profound and humbling experience. Now, thirteen years later, I’m back at Angola for a look at another kind of death penalty. This time our story takes place inside the infirmary, following the lives – and deaths – of hospice patients who’ve been given months to live because of diseases like liver failure, cancer, or heart disease. Old men’s diseases inside walls where 9 out of every ten inmates is serving life, until they die, inside these walls.

But the story is less about the terminal patients than it is about the hospice staff, the men who care for the patients until they die, then care for their successors until they die, and on and on. The staff is made up of fellow inmates, also serving life sentences. Most are killers who will now see death in a different way, up close, lingering, with plenty of time to know and develop ties to the dying. For many it is the first time they’re developing these kinds of ties to anyone, as they help feed, bathe, carry or wheel their patients around. As the end approaches, they’ll change their patients’ diapers, sit with them round the clock in a vigil, pray with them, and finally, help to bury them.

In our proposed documentary, we’ll ask questions about what that work does to someone who cared so little about life before this. We’ll ponder redemption. I’d like to think I’m going into this with an open mind. But I wonder what the preconceptions of my readers here are.

Here is the link to the five-minutes-and-change trailer that came of our trip there last month. We’ll use it to raise funds and interest, to get our project made. The documentary is tentatively titled ONE LAST SHOT. Your comments are welcome. And if anyone has a better title to suggest, we're open to ideas.

Watch here:

Or go to:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moms from Hell

by Kathryn Casey

Lately the Mom-from-Hell phenomenon has consumed residents of my hometown, Houston, slapping us in the face every morning over our cereal and orange juice. During the past month, the Houston Chronicle's front pages have displayed photos of a beautiful young mother charged with committing a despicable crime against her infant son and a supposedly dedicated nurse who allegedly sat back and let her boyfriend turn her young daughter's life into a living hell.

Case one, photo above, Katherine Nadal, in March 2007 the mother of a five-week-old boy. What did Nadal do? Well, according to her ex-husband, she first spent a night partying and taking drugs, then argued with him about whether or not their infant son should be circumcised. It seems Nadal was in favor and her husband wasn't. The next day, prosecutors argued, Nadal took a knife and cut off her infant son's penis and testicles, then unemotionally watched him bleed, nearly dying, as the EMTs she called attempted to save his life.

A former cheerleader, Nadal's nothing if not consistent. Last Friday, when she stood to hear the jury's verdict -- a resounding guilty -- she stared blank-faced around the courtroom. Jurors apparently didn't believe Nadal's contention that the family's mini-dachshund bit off the infant's genitals. Experts during the punishment phase argued that the child will never have a normal life, be able to have children, and may be in danger of committing suicide throughout his teenage years. For this horrible act, the jury sentenced Nadal to 99 years.

Case two is just as horrifying, the on-going heartbreak of the short and terrifying life of little Emma Thompson, the cute, red-headed four-year-old pictured on the right. Before she died, Emma came to the attention of Houston's Child Protective Services when she contracted genital herpes. One would think perhaps that should have been enough to take the child away from her mother. Apparently CPS disagrees. Emma's mom, Abigail Young, is a nurse, described as a gifted one at that. How did she explain her daughter's STD? A dirty toilet seat. Next thing we know, little Emma was beaten to death.

Granted, CPS didn't know that Young was living with Lucas Ruric Coe, reportedly pond scum already well known to the agency. That's Coe and Young pictured below. Among his past brushes with the law: assault with a deadly weapon, criminal mischief and injury to a child. He'd been investigated by CPS three times in unrelated charges involving another girlfriend's child.

When CPS investigated the herpes blisters found in Emma's mouth, hands and genitals, Young insisted she lived alone with Emma and her two older daughters, ages 11 and six. "She denied having a boyfriend," a CPS spokesperson has said.

The day Emma died, her mother rushed her to the hospital. But first, Young apparently tried to repair some of the damage from the horrendous beating the child received by attempting to super-glue her cracked skull. At autopsy, Emma had 80 bruises, a fractured skull, brain hemorrhage, and a vaginal tear. She also suffered blunt-force trauma to her abdomen, the death blow.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has ordered an investigation into why CPS didn't remove little Emma when the herpes was diagnosed, which might have saved her life. Meanwhile, the rest of us shake our heads and wonder how any mother could do the things Nadal and Young are charged with. Sometimes reading the morning newspaper is enough to make me sick.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Criminal Profiling Basics

by Andrea Campbell

In John Douglas’s book, Mindhunter, he describes how he and others on an FBI team compiled the 1992 Crime Classification Manual, one of the most valuable tools used by profilers today. Douglas tells us about the operative style, which involves interviewing convicted murderers and rapists across the country. The task at hand: 1) study the crime, 2) talk to experts, 3) talk to perpetrators, 4) interpret those clues and 5) draw conclusions from patterns.

Douglas says the first step in profiling is advance preparation: checking police files, studying crime-scene photos, discerning autopsy protocols, reading trial transcripts, and looking for clues to motive or personality.

One of the first hurdles FBI agents faced in prison interviews was cutting through self-serving or self-amusing games convicts played. Douglas found he had to portray a persona, to sell the subjects his ideas to keep them interested so they would go along. He also says that contrary to popular belief, “just because someone acts like a maniac, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.”

Part of the interview process replicated that used by any good reporter: the who (who are the victimizers, who are the victims?), what, where, when, how and why of any story. Key here, along with drawing out the narrative, was observing interviewees’ behavior, including body language, and being able to pounce first. Sexual killers, for example, become skilled in domination, manipulation and control. Some can be quite charming, according to those who met with Ted Bundy. Some were so convincing, Douglas hesitantly admits, that after many interviews, agents went back, checked the killer’s record, and even contacted police in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, to ensure they had locked up the right guy!

Some of the things FBI researchers found in the course of their conversations: victimizers often had relationship problems with women, and they often dealt with other stressors, such as financial problems or debt. Some had abilities above their job level, some drank heavily, some felt helpless in the face of life's frustrations. Many had a terrible childhood or upbringing. Often agents found killers had taken photos or other souvenirs from their victims. Some visited their victim’s grave site or even rolled in the dirt to relive the pleasure of killing. In the end though, Douglas concludes that serial killers and rapists are hardest to catch of all violent criminals because their motivations are more complex. The patterns are more confusing, since they feel no compassion, guilt or remorse.

Profiling Basics

The premise that all profilers operate under is this: To know the offender, look at the crime. Or, as Douglas says, “If you want to understand the artist, look at his work.” The trick is that there is no trick. Simply put, the criminologist is collecting a bunch of disparate and seemingly unrelated clues and turning it into a convincing narrative. But there is more to it.

In addition to evaluating a wide range of evidence and data, they must walk in the shoes of both offender and victim. They recreate crime scenes in their minds; learn as much as possible about the victims to imagine their horror -- to put themselves in the victims' place and feel the emotions they experienced as they screamed with no hope for help. The other watchwords for the process include: Behavior reflects personality.

First off, the offender is an unknown subject, hereafter referred to as UNSUB. As part of the basic background the criminologist needs to know:

  • What’s in the medical examiner's report, such as the nature and type of wound or wounds, cause of death, whether there was sexual assault, and if so, what kind?

• What was in the preliminary police report?

• What did the first officer see? Was the scene altered? Were there any changes (i.e., dignity moves like covering the face)?

• What do crime-scene photos and schematic drawings (where all directions and footprints are noted) show?

• Time of day, condition of location, signs of a fight, documents, letters, etc.; telephone calls made, position of the victim, check of closets, furniture, blood spatter, collecting of physical, trace, or impressions evidence.

• Anything taken? Even subtle objects like a lock of hair, a barrette, etc. need to be anticipated. (And so as not to be influenced on first pass-through, profilers always request that police notes should be on the back of photos.)

The “victim profile” is prepared. Some questions to be answered are: High- or low-risk victim? What did she say or do? Did she fight back? Why was she selected over all other potential victims? How? Who? In actuality, the victim profile can be every bit as extensive as the killer’s.

Methodology Means more Questions

Criminal (and victim) profiling is knowing about race, personality, job, home life, car, hobbies, familiarity with the area, relationship to police. Was the criminal organized or disorganized? Is there a violent crime in the past? Is the criminal on parole? Are there known stressor factors, such as a commemorative date? Is there any evidence of posing or staging? So many questions, so little time.

As Dr. Park Dietz says, “. . . none of the serial killers . . . has been legally insane, but none has been normal either. They’ve all been people who’ve got mental disorders. But despite their mental disorders, which have to do with their sexual interests and their character, they’ve been people who knew what they were doing, knew what they were doing was wrong, but chose to do it anyway.”

Definitions of some terms involved in criminal profiling:

psychotic — being legally insane, out of touch with reality. (“. . . voices made me do it.”)

psychopath or sociopath — knows right from wrong and consciously chose to do wrong. Lacks conscience or remorse.

necrophilia — sexual stimulation from seeing, touching corpse.

necrostuprum — theft of corpse for sexual pleasure.

lust murder — sexual compulsion to kill.

psychometric tests — administered by a forensic psychologist, they involve motives, background, family life.

modus operandi — What the perpetrator does to commit the crime. It is learned behavior, and it can change.

signature — What the perpetrator has to do to fulfill himself; it doesn't change.

staging — Offender tries to throw off investigators by making them believe a different crime occurred. I.e.: A rapist tries to make his intrusion look like a burglary.

posing — The signature; leaving the victim in a certain posture

serial offender — Doesn't stop till caught or killed. Learns by experience, tends to get better. Virtually all are male.

anthropophagy — Sexual gratification achieved through cannibalism

gerontophilia — Sexual obsession in which elderly victims are raped and murdered.

pedophilia — Having sex with children

Myths or common beliefs:

• Serial killers want to be caught. Not really. They're demonstrating their power over society by coming close to getting caught, and then showing their smarts by evading capture. They keenly desire infamy, but they would rather their fame be anonymous.

• Crime is all about people who know each other. Not any more, although family associations are statistically still the most violent.

• Witches, werewolves and vampire stories may be about actual murderers. True.

• Compulsion to kill: When circumstances didn't favor the success of their crime, perpetrators refrained from committing it. They were not compelled to act.

Bibliography: • Douglas, John and Mark Olshaker. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. New York: Scribner, 1995. • Feldman, Philip M. Criminal Behavior: A Psychological Analysis. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978. • Kelly, Delos. Criminal Behavior: Text and Readings in Criminology. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. • Mactire, Sean. Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists and Other Criminals Think. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1995. • Roth, Martin. The Writer’s Complete Crime Reference Book. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1990. • Territo, Leonard and Max. L. Bromley and James B. Halsted. Crime and Justice in America: A Human Perspective, St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1995. • Wingate, Anne, PhD. Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1992.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Black Man, a White Man, and a Brown Man walk into a.....

by Pat Brown

Most of us are a bit sick of arguing about the Gates/Crowley racial profiling incident, but now Bob Dylan and Shahrukh Khan have made headlines in two similar incidents, and it is truly worth comparing the three events.

Bob Dylan was wandering around a New Jersey neighborhood when he experienced "Walking while White." A woman called the police when she saw a suspiciously acting man on her front lawn in the pouring rain. When the police showed up, Dylan was walking down the street, a public street. The police stopped him and asked him for an ID. He could not produce one. The police officer asked him his name, and he told her Bob Dylan. She didn't believe him. Why would a famous singer be all alone, soaking wet, looking for houses for sale in a rainstorm? Why would he be wearing two raincoats? The police officer, Kristie Buble, figured the guy was likely a mental patient from a nearby hospital.

I think that was a valid suspicion. I ran into Obama's "cousin" the other day at CNN. She was on the lobby phone, the one guests of the show use in the evening to contact security to come down and bring us up. My hit time had been moved up, and I needed to get upstairs quickly and the woman was talking and talking on the phone. Another man had entered the building at the same time; he could see she was having a problem with whomever she was speaking, so he asked if he could help. She told us she was Obama's cousin and had just come from Providence Hospital after being treated for an injury (she had a bandage on her ankle and a plastic band around her wrist). She had an East African accent and told us she needed to get upstairs. She pointed to the curb through the glass front doors and told us she had a limo waiting for her. There was one at the curb.

Now, the gentleman with me believed the woman was Obama's cousin. He was a kindhearted man and told her he would take her upstairs. I was standing behind her, waving my hands at the man and mouthing "Noooooo!" I called upstairs and security came down and "helped" the woman.

The man asked me how I knew the woman wasn't Obama's cousin. First off, I just couldn't see why Obama's cousin wouldn't have a better way to get into CNN than beg from the lobby. Secondly, I didn't see why she wanted to talk to someone there after all the major people had gone home for the day. Also, the woman came from Providence Hospital, not exactly a top hospital, and no one goes there if they have better options; the hospital usually serves the poor. Finally, there is a homeless shelter just a few blocks away, and anyone who knows the area near Union Station in DC is aware that a lot of panhandlers and mentally unstable people hang in the vicinity.

Of course, Obama had an aunt who was an illegal alien and lived in a housing project, so who knows, the woman could have been telling the truth, but having reasonable suspicion when someone says or does strange things should not be considered unfair treatment or racial profiling.

I don't think Officer Buble can be faulted for questioning Bob Dylan as he not only was a scruffy, bedraggled white guy in the Latin quarter of town, but a citizen called in because he had trespassed on someone's property. A person acting suspiciously, possibly committing a crime, is then asked for an ID and cannot produce one. Furthermore, the person behaving strangely claims to be a big shot. Does Dylan's story sound just like Gates? You bet! The only difference is Gates got nasty and Dylan was polite. Gates ended up in handcuffs and Dylan got a ride back to his hotel in order to prove who he was. That Officer Buble even did that is pretty impressive. So, to me, neither citizen/police interaction was an example of racial profiling.

However, now we have one. All over the headlines in the last couple of days is a much more troubling incident. Shahrukh Khan, known as the King of Bollywood, megastar famous the world over (except here in the US) was flying to New Jersey to attend an Indian Independence Day celebration. He got stopped by the Newark immigration folks and grilled for what he says was two hours (they say it was only a little over an hour). Shahrukh said he "felt angry and humiliated by the experience and believes he was stopped because of his Muslim surname." After a bit of time passed and Shahrukh had time for his raw emotions to settle, he gave this statement: "I think it's a procedure that needs to be followed, but an unfortunate procedure."

Now, anyone who knows me knows that if I worked Newark security at the airport I would have detained Shahrukh Khan for a much longer time and I would have locked the door. But that is beside the point. The question is, with concern for national security and the safety of airline passengers, was it unreasonable to detain Mr. Khan, and what should have been the red flags that would cause him to be pulled aside, grilled, and told he couldn't make a phone call? Many, including Indians, say this secondary security procedure is common, and Shahrukh Khan should not be exempt just because he is a movie star.

Okay, I agree with this to a degree. There have been movie stars involved in terrorist activities.

Sanjay Dutt, a very popular Indian actor, was sentenced in 2007 to six years in prison for illegally procuring weapons for the 1993 Mumbai train bombings. So, no one is beyond questioning. But I would hope anyone who is detained and questioned would have this occur because there was a true red flag that went up for some reason. I remember reporting a burning tire in a park in my neighborhood, waiting until the police arrived and then immediately being asked if I set the fire! I remember being incensed that this was the thanks I got for trying to prevent a dangerous fire that might spread to homes in the area. I could see nothing about my report or my appearance that should have made the officer suspicious. I felt humiliated that I had to defend myself and prove myself innocent when I had acted properly and honorably.

I believe Shahrukh Khan acted quite decently as well. He is not the type of man to cause a ruckus; he is a personable, very polite man. He is Muslim but does not toss out prayer rugs in the airport; he is married to a Hindu woman. He is terribly honest and open and has a sense of humor about himself (Read my past post about Shahrukh Khan on Women in Crime Ink). So, I don't believe he did anything to cause problems. What then was the red flag?

I would have to agree with Shahrukh that he was detained simply because his name was Khan. Ironically, Shahrukh was on a publicity tour for his new movie, My Name is Khan, a film about racial profiling post 9/11! He isn't the only Khan to believe this is true. Another Bollywood actor, Zayed Khan, says that when he has traveled with a large group of people of varying nationalities and religions, he is the guy who gets pulled aside and questioned.

I know there are certain things that flag travelers for further scrutiny. I find that if I wear a suit and carry a briefcase I am far more likely to be pulled over and have my carry-ons rummaged through than if I wear a flowered sundress and carry a straw bag. They must have their reasons. And I suppose the reasoning used with Shahrukh and all the other Khans is that a Khan is more likely to blow up an airplane than a Sonnenburger or a Chung. But I think that is probably little comfort to the many Khans who are detained on religion alone and not because of behavior.

One can argue that Muslims should routinely be detained while traveling; for officials to say that wasn't the reason Shahrukh Khan was held is ridiculous. Of course it was. There were no behaviors that were concerning, his passport was in order, and he didn't have any weapons on him. He was detained because he was Muslim. This is a fact.

If the United States is going to do this, then they ought to admit it. Racial profiling is occurring at airports and we should confess that this is true. We should simply say that since 9/11, we have been very unnerved about terrorism, and since the terrorism against us has largely been by Muslims, we require Muslims traveling to our country to receive extra scrutiny. We apologize for the inconvenience and we feel sad that so many honorable Muslims must go through this procedure because of a small number of extremists.

I think if we were honest and polite in our dealings, Shahrukh Khan may not have been so offended by the actions of the officials. Sometimes we may be forced to profile by sex, race, or religion, but we should have the backbone to admit that is what we are doing.

I personally love strong security for airline travel, but I think the overly aggressive profiling of anyone with a Muslim name is unsettling. At least there should be some concerning behaviors as well. A black man seen in a white neighborhood should not be stopped unless he is also running down the street with a television on his shoulders. A white man should not be stopped in a black neighborhood unless he is seen trying to jimmy a door open with a screwdriver. And a brown man should not be stopped at airport security unless he is looking around nervously, muttering the word "bomb", or telling his friend he just got an email from wanted terrorist Dawood Ibrahim.

I also am expecting Obama to invite Shahrukh to the White House for ... well, for a Diet Pepsi, since Khan is a Muslim.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ohio Honors One of Their Own- Stacy Dittrich

By Robin Sax

Women in Crime Ink's Stacy Dittrich is a wonder: a beautiful blond, intelligent woman, and a tough cookie. She is a 16-year law enforcement officer and a former detective. I know she sounds like something out of a movie, but Stacy is a real person. A woman of many talents who deserves to be recognized for not only helping to break down barriers for women in crime, but also as someone who has made a deep and lasting impact on her field.

Stacy’s pursuit of justice and her quest to bring people into the world of crime solving has landed her in the media spotlight. She's written books that capture our imaginations and appeared as a commentator on many high profile shows including: Fox, The Nancy Grace Show, E! True Hollywood In Crime, The War On Crime, The Dana Pretzer Show and others. Stacy has been recognized by former Ohio Attorney General, Jim Petro, for her contributions to the field of law enforcement. And now Stacy is being honored by Representative Margaret Ann Ruhl of the Ohio House of Representatives.

I have the privilege of co-hosting Justice Interrupted with Stacy, a radio blog show dedicated to providing justice for those whose lives have been interrupted by rape, murder, sexual predators of children, unexplained disappearances, domestic violence, and cold cases.

I am proud of Stacy, my colleague and friend, for her many accomplishments, and I'm grateful to the Ohio House of Representatives for honoring such a deserving woman. Way to go Stacy!!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Women In Crime Give Back: An Intern Program

by Women In Crime Ink

The antiquated saying “kids should be seen and not heard” is obsolete. No one knows more than Women in Crime Ink's contributors how valuable it is to be heard!

To give the next generation of young women a place to express their opinions, we're announcing the WCI Intern Program. High school and college interns now have a forum to speak out, to share their concerns, advice, and experience, to promote teens' crime awareness. A three-month stint under the direction of a WCI professional, the internship offers young women valuable experience in writing, researching, and blogging. It will give them a place to test ideas, voice opinions and open up to new possibilities. We are all excited to launch this new program! Please join WCI in welcoming our first intern: Cassie Nelson.

A high-school senior, Cassie, 17, worked this summer for prosecutor Robin Sax. Dedicated and tenacious, Cassie is pursuing her goal of becoming a lawyer. Working for Robin, Cassie tested her desire to advocate for victims, write articles, and research today's most difficult legal issues. She found she loved criminal law and wants to use her passion to protect women, children, and elders. Besides being passionate about human victims, Cassie is devoted to protecting animals. As our first intern, Cassie's article on Chris Brown follows this post. For information on how to apply for an internship, please contact any of the Women In Crime Ink bloggers or e-mail us at