Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Grandma Bandits

by Kathryn Casey

I'm not used to seeing suspects who look like grandmothers. Oh, there's the occasional black widow like
Betty Neumar, women of a certain age who have a trail of dead husbands and suddenly someone adds up two and two and gets, surprise, four, the four being that they may not all have died of natural causes. But for the most part, grandmothers aren't the predominant demographic for murderers, rapists, or, I would have thought, bank robbers.

So when I read about the "Grandma Bandit," as the FBI is calling her, I've got to admit that I was pretty shocked. I mean, does she look like a bank robber (photo top left)? A school crossing guard, Wal-Mart greeter, short order cook, or the sweet but maybe a little eccentric lady who lives next door? Sure. But a bank robber?

It seems however, if one believes the FBI, that's exactly what this matronly woman is doing in the surveillance photo from last Friday, not once but twice, to two Houston banks, four miles apart. Not only that, she's described in the news articles as brazen. She drove up in her white SUV, walked inside, confronted a teller, and threatened to pull a weapon. She didn't bother to wear a disguise, and, unlike some bank robbers, offered no excuses, for instance that she has her Medicare supplement, a tummy tuck or cataract surgery to pay for.

I know this isn't a laughing matter. I mean, somebody could get hurt, plus she's stealing other people's money. But she just appears to be such an unlikely candidate for a bank robber. The FBI spokesman theorized that in this dour economy more desperate people are turning to crime to pay the bills.

Wondering how often this has happened before, I Googled the phrase, "grandma bank robber," and up popped another case, that of a woman in 2008 who robbed the same Chino, California, bank twice, once lifting her shirt to expose a device with wires attached to her chest, presumably a bomb. (photo above right) At the time, she said she was being victimized by others, and a note she presented read: "Please help this lady. She's strapped."

I don't know if they mentioned that her hair looks like a white wig, but in the description in the BOLO -- be on the lockout for -- it did point out that she wore prescription glasses. In a later photo from another robbery, she wore a dark wig and a sweatshirt with a hood that made her look a little like a geriatric Unibomber. I looked but couldn't find anywhere that she'd been identified and/or arrested. I'm hoping that if she was forced into this crime spree, she's safe now. (If you know how this case was resolved, comment and tell us.)

A little more Googling and another Grandma Bandit turned up, in 2007, this time in Pittsburgh. This particular senior citizen, Marilyn Devine, was 76 years old. According to the news articles, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 months of house arrest and 20-years probation. At the time, Devine's husband, Ray, claimed that his wife was in a sad state around the time of the robbery, needing money to help their son, "because that's just the kind of mom she is."

So what did this session of Net surfing teach me? To remember that stereotypes are often wrong and that it's dangerous to jump to conclusions about what type of person does what. Sadly, people of any age can be desperate enough to break the law, even grandmas.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New or Pending Science on the Horizon

by Andrea Campbell

I had a difficult time choosing what to write for today. I often forget what I've told you, and I don't want anything to be too remedial—people have become pretty savvy with all the forensic information on current cases in the news. So I thought I would make a small departure and tell you about some new science or new ideas that are either in the works or coming down the pike, so-to-speak.

Sharing Faces

First the International Justice and Public Safety Information Sharing Network, also called Nlets (thank you, who could remember the other?) has just decided to coordinate policies for putting together an exchange service to share drivers' license photos. This was listed as a top priority of law enforcement for a long time. A pilot program is underway in North and South Carolina and Virginia. It would also allow them to share electronic images from motor vehicle departments for the sole purpose of identification. It seems like such a no-brainer, wonder what the hang-up is or was getting it going? (Link: See for more information)

Face Recognition

Speaking of faces, the images on surveillance videos are really bad most of the time. The businesses either recycle the tapes, or have old (or even nonworking) cameras. A computer program is being developed to improve the image processing technology. The underlying technology is supposed to have face detection algorithms. I'm told that shape and appearance models lock on to the three-dimensional shape of the face in each video frame. This technology allows it to be rotated to a frontal view. That way a frame-to-frame registration of the face is combined and then a higher resolution is constructed. Yes, it sounds like something we've seen in the movies. Another idea, Active 3D Face Capture, is the brainchild of NIJ-sponsored project with the help of GE Global Research and PPR. It would set up video surveillance for large areas like a schoolyard or parking lot (where images get lost in the haze and bad resolution).


Not so much a technology but a database, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or NamUs, is the first online repository for missing person records and unidentified decedent cases. It will eventually consist of two databases, one with records of no-name decedents and the other with missing persons reports. It was launched in July 2007. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, medical examiners and coroners handle about 4,400 unidentified decedent cases every year and 1,000 of those remain nameless. (Link See:

Cell Phone Forensics

Obviously the cell phone has progressed and affords us major capabilities now such as: voicemail, music or MP3 players, camera, video camera, voice recorder, Web browser, email, text messenger, address book, calendar, notepad, games, applications and more. And law enforcement know that any technology that can be used for legitimate uses can also be made to handle illegal aims as well. The potential for cell phones holding evidence cannot be overlooked. What is however overlooked is, the capability of police officers and detectives knowing how to preserve and retrieve all this data correctly. There are hurdles with an infinite number of custom-designed operating systems, different network providers, unfamiliar file systems, proprietary cables, chargers and connectors. For investigators who find this information overwhelming (who doesn't?) state, local and federal agencies are trying to create strategies for handling cell phone technology and disbursing it to investigative agencies. (Link See: also look for Cell Phone Forensics: An Overview & Analysis Update, NIST,

Chemical Signatures

I thought this was a very cool product because I have talked to law enforcement officers who work drug cases! The danger is horrendous. I doubt if any agencies here have one of these: a handheld meth-detection unit. It's called the ID-2 from Decatur Electronics. It allows an officer to pick-up trace elements of methamphetmine or pseudoephedrine without physical contact. Yep, it reads through the baggie. The scanner pulses ultraviolet photoemission spectroscopy to detect the elements of meth chemicals as they react to the light. (Link See:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Did She "Ask for It"? Does it Matter?

By Pat Brown

A victim is a housewife, college student, go-go dancer, model, teacher, nun, virgin, slut, whore, churchgoer, caretaker, drug user, pervert, cop, criminal, social worker, thief.

She may be sweet. She may be a bitch. She may not have deserved it. Then, again, maybe she sorta did.

What a victim is, and what a victim does, doesn't matter. Or, what a victim is, and what a victim does, makes all the difference.

Over and over, we hear that the behavior of the victim is not the issue. No one deserves to be murdered. No one deserves to be raped. Even the suggestion that the victim might have in some way contributed to her unfortunate demise is considered blasphemy. When pushed, it might be admitted, in a politically correct manner, that the victim "may have lived a high-risk life-style that increased her chance of becoming a victim." This is a nice way of saying the victim's personal decisions and behavior got her in trouble. Her unfortunate choices range from opening the door without knowing who is on the other side, jogging at dusk, or working the streets as a prostitute.

The continued white-washing of the victim's character, and the refusal to examine her actions, can make it harder to find, profile and try attackers. We think we are doing women a favor when we refuse to acknowledge that their behavior helped make them victims. We are, in fact, clouding the thinking of investigators and jurors in their abilities to identify and convict the perpetrators of rape and sexual homicide.

Let's examine how this political viewpoint of women's responsibility has affected these areas.

The investigation of a sexual homicide depends heavily on accurate information about the victim. Victimology includes the past history of the victim, the personality and habits of the victim in the recent months prior to the crime, and the activities and relationships the victim was involved with in the minutes, hours, and days before the murder.

The desire to believe that a totally crazy bogeyman appeared out of nowhere and, for no reason, murdered this totally innocent person, keeps many relatives and friends from informing the police investigators of dangerous activities and habits that could have set up the victim as the target in the killer's crime. Since the victim didn't deserve to be killed, then nothing she could have done should be relevant to her death.

This belief wastes valuable time and leads that could have led them rapidly to the perpetrator. The longer it takes for truthful information to reach the police, the more time the offender has to move or eliminate evidence, create alibis and generally disappear under the radar. When investigators accept this bogeyman theory, they too can overlook important information.

Still, investigators mustn't carelessly attribute risky behaviors as factors leading to a rape or murder. A prostitute is not necessarily murdered by a john, nor is a drug dealer always killed over drugs. Hitchhikers aren't necessarily murdered by the people who pick them up. It's entirely possible that none of the victim's less-than-desirable behaviors contributed in any way to her death. A drug-using prostitute with a real mean streak could be hit over the head and dragged into the bushes on her way home from church. The perpetrator may have no clue to her personality or lifestyle. She was just there; a victim of opportunity.

Wonderful traits can make someone a target as well. Take the horrific case of Annie Le (left with her fiancé), Yale student killed by a worker in the lab. She was beautiful, brilliant, sweet and friendly ... maybe too sweet and too friendly. Maybe she was overly polite to someone she should have avoided or maybe she was just so perfect and successful that her killer resented her existence. Good traits can get you killed, too.

Investigators must analyze all elements of victimology before making any conclusions. Even after a theory is developed, room must be left for the other possibilities, regardless of how unlikely. Paying close attention to all aspects of the victim's life as quickly as possible increases investigative leads and brings to police attention suspects who might  otherwise have gone undiscovered. 

In the courtroom, the defense often focuses on the victim's character. In a strange twist of reasoning, the politically correct refusal to make the victim responsible in any way for her fate allows the defense to assassinate her character.  

Because no one deserves to be killed, and no one contributes to the killer's choice of victim or decision to kill, then the victim must be totally innocent and the perpetrator must be totally guilty -- a hard case to prove. 

When the issue is seen so black and white, the jury is emotionally prepared to love the victim and hate the perpetrator. Then the defense presents their well-dressed, humble, intelligent, well -loved family man defendant. And then it proceeds to chip away at the victim's character (Jasmine Fiore, right, the model killed by her quickie-Las Vegas-marriage hubby) by, say, noting that she had numerous sexual relationships over the recent months (one of the other boyfriends could have done it), she frequented bars (oh, yeah, she could have picked up a freak), she did drugs (a low-life drug dealer probably offed her), she was a real flirt and wore provocative clothing (she asked for it ... oops ... not politically correct, but, hey, maybe she was into freaky sex and s/m), and she was not very nice sometimes (geez, maybe she really upset this guy and he lost it). 

Now that the victim has been so degraded in the eyes of the jury, they feel guilty if they put Mr. Nice Guy Defendant away for a crime, well, gee, for a crime that seems like any of the victim's acquaintances could have committed or that the victim herself encouraged. 

The truth gets lost in the jury's emotional response -- disappointment that the victim wasn't perfect. Oddly enough, it is easier to convict a murderer who killed during a drug deal, because character isn't an issue for either the prosecution or defense. The killer and the victim are both criminals. The only issue is the fact that the victim was killed. The trial then focuses on the evidence, not personality. (I am not saying this is cut and dried. Certainly defense attorneys still play the-defendant-is-a-nice-guy game, but the jury is not so conflicted over what to focus on to reach its verdict.) 

The issue in court should not be whether the girl was "easy," but whether she was easy prey, a vulnerable target for the offender. It should be stressed to the courts that these easy catches are often practice runs an offender uses to hone his skills before he goes after more difficult game --people with less risky behavior. When the concept of "good versus evil" raises its head in a court of law, the jury loses the gray area in between. If the defendant is "evil," then the victim must be "good." If the victim is not "good," then the defendant is not "evil" -- and neither gets justice.

A good example of this was the OJ Simpson case. When Nicole Simpson's character was raked over the coals, she went from being the innocent party to being the guilty party. This in turn made OJ the innocent party, unjustly accused. Anyone less than totally evil could not have committed such a heinous act; therefore, OJ couldn't have done it because he is no longer totally evil (as Nicole Simpson is no longer totally innocent). 

The focus of the argument in court is skewed. We should not be concerned about innocence or guilt of the perpetrator in relation to the victim. Nor should we focus on the innocence or guilt of the victim in relation to the perpetrator. We should simply be convicting the defendant if he has committed the crime, regardless of the relationship between them, and in spite of any behavior of the victim that rendered her the status of victim.

Did he commit the crime?
Let's take two examples of rape occurring at the same location. Both victims claim they were raped at a party. Both victims are college students. Both victims are deaf. Everyone at the party was deaf (Gallaudet University, the only university for the deaf in the world, pictured left). The perpetrators were both deaf. Both victims and both perpetrators were drinking. Victim One said she entered a back bedroom willingly with the suspect. The suspect started kissing her, which she allowed. The suspect pulled her onto a bed and started removing her underpants from under her skirt. The room was dark, and though she signed "no" to him repeatedly, he continued and then attempted sexual intercourse. She tried to push him off, but as she was drunk, she had little success. The suspect ejaculated quickly, got up, pulled on his pants and staggered out of the room. Did he commit a rape? 

Victim Two was on her way to the bathroom when the suspect came up behind her and shoved her into a back room. He pushed her to the floor and started pulling off her clothes. She struggled, but as she was very inebriated had little strength. Each time she tried to push him off, he shoved her back on the floor. He had sexual intercourse with her, ejaculated, got up, spit on her and left the room. Did he rape her?

Both victims came to the hospital. Both had semen evidence in the vagina. Neither showed any other injuries. The district attorney refuses to take either case to court because he claims to have no proof of rape. While both cases fit the societal definition of rape (the male is supposed to have asked and received permission for the sexual act in question), the legal definition of rape is another matter, and proving it is another matter still. 

The offender must have committed an act in which the victim is forced or coerced into participating. Victim One entered the room willingly with the suspect. She made no effort to turn on the light which would have enhanced her ability to communicate with the male. The male pulled (not pushed) her onto the bed and although she claims she pushed on his chest to get him off, she did so ineffectively; the suspect did not receive a clear indication of her refusal to have intercourse. During intercourse she did not attempt to cause him any kind of pain such as biting or stabbing him with her fingernails. She says she did not want to hurt him. She claims she was not particularly scared. His actions, although not welcomed, were not threatening. 

Because she could have taken precautions upon entering the room to ensure communication and she could have inflicted some sort of pain as an indication of objection, this victim clearly did not take action to prevent the event from occurring. The suspect may well have had no clue he was committing a sexual act against her will.

Victim Two did not enter into the back room of her own free will. She gave no indication of a desire to have sexual relations with the suspect. By shoving her into the room and pushing her to the floor, his aggression put the victim in a state of fear. When she tried to push him off, she made it clear she didn't want to have sex with him. She said she was afraid to try to hurt him because he might react violently. At a party with no hearing guests, screaming would have brought no help. At the end of the sexual activity, the perpetrator spit on her, clearly indicating his contempt for her and his awareness that she had not been a willing partner. 

There is sufficient circumstantial evidence here to prove a forcible sexual act.

Suppose both these cases actual were tried in a court of law. The jury learns that Victim One is a virgin and rarely drinks. Victim Two is rather promiscuous and is on the pill. Victim Two also hits up a party every week. In this profiler's opinion, both of victims' characters and behaviors could have led the perpetrators to the choices they made. The victims' choices of response to each suspect's acts established or negated the legal definition of forcible sexual activity. 

When Victim One went willingly into the room, virgin or not, she negated that she was being forced. By not attempting to turn on the light, she negated her desire for clear communication. By not attempting to inflict any kind of injury to the suspect that would make him question her desire for the sexual act, she negated that he was forcing her.

Victim Two, however, was forced into the room. That clearly establishes that the activity was forced. If Victim Two at that point turned and signed "Hey, Big Boy, let's do it!" she would have established consent and negated any forcible issue. Instead, his actions showed he was forcing sexual activity on her. If, in court, the jury feels sorry for the virginal Victim One and doesn't think one more round of sex is a big deal to the more sexually experienced Victim Two, then no one receives justice. 

All victims of crime are indeed victims, but we mustn't ignore victim behaviors that can help us identify the offender; we mustn't over-focus on their behaviors and characters in court, and we should learn from those victims just how certain behaviors can make us victims as well.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Seven Days of Rage

by Paul LaRosa

My new book on the Craigslist Killer case“Seven Days of Rage” – was just published and here’s what bothers me most about the feedback so far: the idea that it's somehow okay to murder and attack prostitutes. All three of suspected killer Philip Markoff’s victims were sex workers. One describes herself as an escort, another as a stripper, and the dead woman – Julissa Brisman (photo left) – told friends she gave erotic or sensual massages.

I expected criticism when the book was released because, as I’ve learned from writing three previous true crimes books, there is always criticism. Usually, the flack is directed at me for making oodles of money off these cases (definitely not true), and this time I expected that a fair number of people would be offended that the book was written and released well before Markoff stands trial. I understand the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” but I was not troubled by it in this instance because, frankly, I’ve never seen or heard of such damning evidence against a defendant as there is against Markoff. His lawyer, a good one, is going to have to pull a Houdini to get his client out of this one.

What gets to me is the large number of viewers and readers who posted comments in the forums of both “48 Hours Mystery” and the Boston Globe (I co-wrote this book with Globe police reporter Maria Cramer), who think the Craigslist Killer’s three victims deserve what they got because of what they did for a living. Certainly, by choosing to be sex workers, they were inviting trouble, but does that make Markoff’s alleged crimes any less violent and cruel because of what his victims did for a living? To many people out there, the answer is ‘yes’ as if these women were somehow less than human.

It's so easy to pass judgment when you've never met these victims. But I've spoken to Trisha Leffler, the Craigslist Killer’s first victim (photo right), quite a bit as I prepared the book and television program. I can tell you that, although I believe she’s misguided in her chosen line of work, she’s a sweet person who keeps her word. And she is all too human – she lives with her parents, has trouble meeting her car payments, and is trying to make ends meet these days by selling scented candles.

As for the Craigslist Killer’s only murder victim, Julissa Brisman, well, all you have to do is look at her mother’s face to realize that she too was a real person who meant a lot to her family and friends – whether she was a sex worker or not!! Julissa’s mother Carmen is heartbroken and has taken down all the photographs of her daughter that once adorned the walls of her New York apartment. She can no longer bear to look at them and thinks about what happened to the precious girl she raised as a single mother. The holes on the walls, where those photos once hung, are a very sad reminder of the toll murder takes no matter what line of work the victim happens to be involved in.


"Seven Days of Rage: The Deadly Crime Spree of the Craigslist Killer" is Paul LaRosa's fourth true crime book. In addition to being an author, Paul is a long-time producer for CBS's 48 Hours.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Real or Rumor? Tupac's Murderer Charged.

by Cathy Scott 

It always amazes me when I see a rumor picked up by a media outlet, regardless of how small that outlet is. So I was once again surprised a couple weeks ago when I got an e-mail from a TV producer asking about an arrest in the 13-year-old murder case of platinum-selling rapper Tupac Shakur.

I put on my sleuth cap and started digging. This is what was first reported, from
Backseat Cuddler, a gossip site that got Tupac fans and the hip hop world hyped up:

BREAKING NEWS - Tupac Shakur Killer Has Been Arrested In Las Vegas

I just received a message from my source in Las Vegas that Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Tupac died on September 13, 1996. On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He died six days later of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest at the University Medical Center. Tupac Shakur was a rapper, actor, and social activist. Story developing…..
That prompted “Gossip Headlines” to print this reaction, which, in turn, prompted three pages of comments from readers:

Arrest Made?

OMG, OMG, O-M-G, if this is true, hip-hop is about to go into a tailspin!!! According to BackSeatCuddler, Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada!!! It was there in Sin City 13 years ago (September 13 marked the 13th anniversary) where the legendary rapper was shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s BMW after leaving a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tupac died six days
later from respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest caused by multiple gunshot wounds. See Original Story For More.

Wow, I thought to myself, how could I have missed that one? Maybe it had to do with Notorious B.I.G.’s case, I thought. And that was odd too, because Las Vegas reporters would have been all over the story. A source wasn’t listed in the postings. So I checked TV and print sites and there were no mentions of an arrest. Then I reached out to my law enforcement contacts in Las Vegas and Nevada.

“No,” said a source in the Los Angeles area, “there haven't been any arrests in the Tupac and Biggie cases here.”

Then I called the homicide unit of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and talked with a spokesperson. “There haven’t been any arrests in that case,” she said.

I put out a few more feelers. I came up empty. The only news involving Tupac, who, besides being a rapper, was an actor and poet, is that the
Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, runs, is partnering with Woodruff Library to prepare Tupac’s writings and papers for scholarly research. The Tupac Shakur Collection is currently housed within the Woodruff Library's Archives and Special Collections Department. It features Tupac’s handwritten lyrics, personal notes and fan correspondence, among other items.

Meanwhile, the rumor about an arrest in Tupac's case coincided with the 13th anniversary of his murder. As a result of the anniversary and the rumor, record sales for Tupac’s music went through the roof. And sales for books about Tupac took off too. The warehouse manager at
Huntington Press, my publisher for The Killing of Tupac Shakur, said sales had jumped and orders from were especially high.

Other than that, it's been fairly quiet on the Tupac front. So much for a “developing story.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Houston’s “Teen Killer”

by Katherine Scardino

In 2006, Ashley Benton was a 16-year-old high school student who had never had any experience with the police. On one fateful day, she made a bad choice. She went with a group of her friends, members of a gang called “Crazy Crew,” to an inner city park near her Houston home.

At the park, a brawl erupted between Crazy Crew and the notorious gang called
“MS 13," known for its violence. That penchant for violence was apparent on that fateful day, when a gang member swung an aluminum baseball bat at her head, saying “Fuck you, bitch. I’m going to fuck you up.” Ashley responded by pulling out a knife she bought at a local store for $8.00 and stabbed Gabriel Granillo in the heart. He died.

Ashley lived and was charged with murder, with a possible punishment range of probation to life in prison. The prosecutors wanted to send a message to gang kids that they were going to be punished, and they labeled Ashley a “cold bloodied gang-banger," who deserved a life sentence.

To get that punishment, Ashley had to be certified by a juvenile court judge to stand trial as an adult. Her family hired an attorney and the legal proceedings began. She was ultimately certified as an adult and went through the year-long legal process in the adult criminal court in Harris County, Texas, noted for its tough stance on crime and criminal defendants - young or old, male or female. However, luckily for Ashley Benton, the first lawyer called out for legal help from a local lawyer named
Brian Wice. Well-known in Houston for his expertise in the appellate process, Brian has been successful in setting aside verdicts and getting new trials for many clients. When Brian met his new client, he immediately believed her self-defense claim and that she didn't intend to kill Granillo.

In June 2007, after hearing all the evidence presented by both the State and the defense, the jury deliberated but failed to reach a unanimous decision, and the judge declared a mistrial. The State offered a plea bargain, which was rejected by Ashley. One can only imagine how hard it must have been for that young girl to reject a plea bargain and once again place her life in the hands of her lawyers and the Texas criminal justice system. The possibility of life in prison is terrifying and most of us would do anything to avoid that possibility. However, after a long negotiation process with the prosecutors, Brian and his defense team obtained a new offer from the prosecutors, and this time Ashley took it. Instead of murder, she pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and was placed on five-years deferred adjudication probation, with some stiff conditions.

At this point, there is nothing really unusual about the saga of Ashley Benton. Defendants are placed on probation often - not as likely on a charge of murder, but it does happen. What is unusual comes later.

After two years, Brian Wice filed a motion to terminate Ashley's probation early. By then, Ashley Benton had done all the requirements her judge ordered. She'd worked three jobs at one time in order to raise the money to reimburse the victim’s family for the funeral expenses, and performed thousands of hours of community service, with no assistance from anyone. Why? Ashley was determined to show the court, her lawyers, and the prosecutor that she was going to make something of her life. She wanted the opportunity to continue her education away from Houston, and to work and support herself without having the probation on her record, a stigma which prevents many from obtaining decent paying jobs. Ashley Benton wanted to reclaim her life.

After a hearing in court last week, the judge agreed.

Now this is the exceptional part: the hard line prosecutor didn't object. In fact, after the judge ruled, Ashley turned and hugged the prosecutor - that was the photograph in the Houston newspaper the following morning. It certainly got my attention. I've never had a client, even after a favorable ruling, turn and hug the person who tried to convince a jury to send her to prison for the rest of her life. That one photograph told a great story: a story that said that there are prosecutors who realize justice doesn't always mean prison. Justice can mean giving an accused citizen a second chance.

I know there are some of you who will ask, “What about the victim?” The bottom line here is that both Ashley and Gabriel Granillo placed themselves in that situation in that park on that terrible day. There is no doubt that, armed with the baseball bat, he threatened Ashley. Some members of the jury in June 2007 believed he threatened her with her life. Granillo took a risk; he lost. That's the way the events played out. And the end of this story is that Ashley Benton is getting a rare second chance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Murderer Among Them: Random Act or Was Raymond Clark a Ticking Time Bomb?

by Robin Sax

Raymond Clark stands accused of strangling Annie Le to death in a Yale lab basement. Investigators charge that Clark flew into a rage because he thought Le was flouting the rules of the lab, where he oversaw the cleanliness of the cages and was charged with keeping order. Clark and Le had known each other through their respective work at the lab.

A study “Murder by Manual and Ligature Strangulation,” by Helina Hakkanen, tells us that research on homicidal strangulation has shown that “in a high percentage of cases, the offender and the victim have some kind of previous relationship (usually family or friends) and that as much as 75% of the victims are females and infants.” In the study, the most frequent motives for homicidal strangulation were rape, sexual jealousy, and personal rivalry.

While many call this a case of work place violence, we must not separate a defendant's past from the crime he's charged with. Analyzing a case, we all can look at signs and symptoms and try to see whether the writing was on the wall. Was this a random act, or was Raymond Clark a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode?

Let's take a look at his history. This isn't the first time Clark has shown aggressive jealousy. The first time that we know about is an alleged sex crime. If that incident had been prosecuted and he'd been found guilty, Clark would have had to register as a sex offender, putting him on the radar. Perhaps that would have been enough for the folks at Yale to be concerned about whom they were hiring…and maybe they would have passed on his application.

The New Haven Independent reported that Clark was accused of harassing a 16-year-old girlfriend in high school. Clark was an athlete at Branford High. During his 2003 senior year at Branford, his girlfriend claimed he once forced her to have sex with him. She said when she tried to break up, Clark confronted her at the school and defaced her locker. Although she talked to police, she refused to press charges. Yet she worried enough to ask police to warn Clark to stay away from her. Since the case was never prosecuted, Branford police have refused to release the paperwork on the case.

So how is Raymond Clark acting now that he has been charged with Le’s murder?

“He's just somber,” said Lt. John Bernard of the New Haven Community Correctional Center (reported by The NY Daily News on September 18th). “It's his first time in jail. This is all new to him. He hasn't cried. He hasn't said a word to anyone.”

Investigators zeroed in on Clark early in the investigation after he failed a lie detector test and was found to have defensive wounds on his body, scratches on his arms and back and a bruised eye. In addition his attempts to clean up the crime scene (where Le had been, before she was reported missing) and DNA evidence led to his arrest.

Clark's past relationship in high school suggests the signs for aggressive behavior were there, but could anyone have imagined he could commit such a murder?

Some say no. For instance, Lufeng Zhang worked with Clark in the Yale lab and thinks the police may have the wrong man. “He's a nice man, always,” Zhang said (CNN report, Sept. 18).

CNN also recorded some of Clark’s former friends thoughts:

High school friend Lisa Heselin remembers Clark “as a jokester, kind of a class clown. Everybody knew him. Everybody liked him.” She and others who knew Clark in high school are shocked that he was arrested in connection with Le’s murder. “They can’t believe it, and then, of course, you’re reminiscing, like, ‘Oh my God, remember when we went over to his house, and we all hung out?’ You don’t expect somebody you grew up with to be involved in something like this.”

Maurice Perry, a friend of Clark's since first grade, says he doesn’t believe his longtime pal is guilty: “This is not the Raymond Clark that I know. I’ve known him so long, I just can’t picture him doing something like this.” Asked if he ever knew Clark to be violent, Perry replied, “Not at all. I've known him to be outgoing, happy, athletic, and fun. Violent, not at all.”

Unfortunately, these reports from friends are pretty typical when it comes to cases like this. Those close to a defendant rarely think their loved one or friend is capable of a brutal crime. But we all know from history and experience that even the guy-next-door can be capable of murder. Shame on us for not seeing the writing on the wall.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Justice Before Mercy"

by Susan Murphy Milano

Laurie Asplund was sexually assaulted at a Christian camp in the 1970s. The former pastor began his advances during a trust game that the man of God played with the teenager. Asplund was sexually assaulted more than 40 times from summer 1974, when she was 14 years old, to spring 1976, when she was 16.

Justice finally caught up with former pastor Russell J. Lesser, now 64, who had moved to Bryson City, N.C. For three years, Asplund worked on the case with law enforcement. In late June 2009, Lesser was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually assaulting Asplund in the mid 1970s.

The State of Wisconsin kept the case open because Lesser moved out of state. Otherwise, he would have never been convicted. As it stands, he went on to work in other states in the meantime. I’m sure he had access to others, as he was a Youth for Christ Campus Life minister.

During his sentencing, Lesser asked for the court’s mercy and apologized to his victim, the now-50-year-old Laurie Asplund.

“I’d like to take that one year out of my life,” Lesser said. “I’m so deeply sorry for it.”

In her new book “Justice Before Mercy” Asplund is coming forward with her story in an effort to remove the stigma associated with sexual assaults. She wants victims to know it's not their fault and hopes her message will help others to feel empowered and confront their fears.

In the book Asplund talks about the fear of rejection and the reasons why it was so hard for her to talk about her traumatic experiences. “I didn’t know if people would believe me,” Asplund writes. “He was this gregarious, fun-loving and well-liked adult who many parents liked very much.

Laurie Asplund is a licensed professional counselor who works primarily with abused and neglected children, as well as with people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Using this combination of clinical knowledge and journalistic talent, Asplund tells a unique and educational story about just what it takes to survive and find justice 35 years later.

Friday, September 18, 2009

When Violence in the Workplace is not Workplace Violence

by Pat Brown

There has been an arrest in the gut-wrenching murder of Annie Le, the Yale grad student who was to be married the day her body was found. Raymond Clark, the lab tech who worked in the same building as Le, has been brought into custody, police stating that DNA linked him to the crime. I couldn't be happier that they got the guy who took the life of this most promising young woman.

I am concerned, terribly concerned, however, about a statement released by New Haven Police Chief James Lewis: “I think it’s important to note this is not about urban crime, not about university crime, not about domestic crime — but an issue of workplace violence, which is becoming a growing concern around the country.”

Let's define this label. Workplace violence is generally said to be “incidents where people are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health.”

The issues that lead to rage are supposed to be connected specifically to the work environment: you aren't getting the job done, you are always late, you are teaming up with the boss against me, I didn't get a raise, everyone is gossiping about me, etc. Not included in this description is a male psychopath's ego problem: needing superiority over women and proving his manhood by attacking them. This kind of assault happens everywhere: on the street, in the park, in the victim's home, in school, and, sometimes, yes, in the workplace. But the motive has nothing to do with the workplace itself and, therefore, should not be considered workplace violence. It is not; it is violence that took place at work.

My phone started ringing early this morning as soon as the news media heard Chief Lewis's statement. They had also learned of text messages sent between Clark and Le on the day of Le's murder.

ABC News reported that detectives had found texts exchanged between Miss Le and Mr Clark arranging to meet on the day she disappeared. Mr Clark texted her early that morning to ask for a meeting to discuss the cleanliness of the cages of the research mice.

"Wow!" they said, "It comes as quite a surprise that this crime was not what many thought it was (including you)." The text messages seemed to prove to them that Annie Le was not targeted by a psychopath who had a thing for her, but by an employee who lost his cool because of his unhappiness with her work ethics.

So, now the motive for this brutal homicide, the strangulation of Annie Le, is supposed to be dissatisfaction with a co-worker's performance, a crime of workplace violence. I say no, it is not a matter of workplace violence and nothing else. True, there was an act of violence at the victim's place of employment (or research work), and the alleged killer was also an employee at that location, but the the issue was not about cleanliness of mice habitats nor a workplace disagreement that erupted into a violent rage. To claim this crime is workplace violence is absolutely untrue and terribly damaging to the awareness of what this crime was really about - a psychopath's rage against women, one of the most prevalent crimes in this country.

This malignant psychopathy, with females as targets is expressed in serial homicides, rapes, and domestic murder. "The bitch made me do it" is a common refrain among male psychopaths. The psychopath faults his victim for making him feel less of a man and decides she deserves punishment; or he feels society has disrespected him, and he decides to conveniently blame his failures on the women of that society. Why? Targeting someone smaller and physically weaker makes his assault easier to enact, ensures victory over the victim, and, through conquest, helps him regain his sense of importance and omnipotence.

Annie hurt Clark's ego, whether she knew it or not; "The bitch thinks she better than me, smarter than me, and she isn't even interested in me at all." Clark decided to teach Annie a lesson she would never forget (or survive). He would finally be the winner (in his own demented mind). This kind of murderer is very similar to mass murderers and serial killers in motive and psychology. They're motivated by rage, and the victim must be humbled (raped, terrified, lowered to a subservient position) and, sometimes, destroyed.

Raymond Clark was not upset over Annie's treatment of mice. He was upset over Annie Le's treatment of him. After all, if he was such an animal lover, he wouldn't choose to work in a lab that essentially harms and kills animals. It's also not reasonable that he would single out Annie Le as an "animal abuser" over all others who work in the lab. He may have texted Annie that he had an issue with her handling of the mice and requested to meet her in the lab, but this was a ruse and excuse to see her and confront her over her treatment of him.

Clark had issues with women, power and control, similar to psychopathic serial killers and rapists. He has been accused of rape by his girlfriend in high school. Neighbors says he was very controlling with his fiancée. Clark also joined an Asian club in high school. Since he is likely a psychopath, he wouldn't have joined to help the community but to find Asian women he thought would be easier to control and dominate than American-born women.

Clark likely obsessed over why (in his mind) Annie believed she was better than him just because she was a grad student and he was just a lab worker. He probably thought that was why she didn't want to date him, or talk to him, or flirt with him, or whatever. Psychopaths have ego problems and Annie likely did not feed his ego. He built a rage against her, and now that she was getting married, she really wouldn't have anything to do with him. Clark was also getting married and likely feeling pushed around by his fiancée as the wedding approached (as men usually do little of the wedding planning and women are all gung-ho in this area). This probably made him feel even more powerless (much like the Craig's List killer, Philip Markoff (pictured left), the med student who was attacking women just as he was about to walk down the aisle).

Both impending marriages may well have escalated Clark's rage at women, and he decided to go for a last-ditch attempt at proving himself with Annie. She objected to his advances or pressures, and he killed her.

This is male psychopathic violence against women that happened in the workplace, but it was not workplace violence. Raymond Clark was not upset about Annie's treatment of the mice in the lab, just the big rat (on right) in the lab that she unfortunately believed was a decent human being.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

OJ revisted: The Prosecutors' Biggest Mistakes

by Women In Crime Ink

We decided it could be fun to take a look back at sensational cases and voice our opinions on what went right, what went wrong, or who was really responsible. Yesterday on Good Morning America O.J.'s ex-girlfriend, Christie Prody (photo below left), said he made incriminating statements during their 13 years together and that she believes he's guilty of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson (below right), and Ron Goldman.

It just seemed the perfect time to take a look back and ask the question: In his 1995 murder trial, what were the
O.J. prosecutors' biggest mistakes. Here's what WCI members had to say:

Laura James: They made their biggest mistakes in jury selection.

Kathryn Casey: There were, of course, multiple issues; in addition to moving the trial out of the more affluent part of L.A., where the murders took place, they drew it out too long, bogging the jury down with minutia. They had a good case. They needed to get to the point.

Andrea Campbell: Oh, where do I begin! The first problem was that the prosecution did not anticipate what the defense was doing. The crime scene had too much traffic. They didn't make the blood evidence clear to the jury. The "gloves don't fit" scenario was painful. Was there no one there to bring up the fact that leather shrinks when soaked? The blood trail to his home did not receive an adequate presentation. The fact that Simpson was a celebrity meant there was already a Sisyphus-type, push-up-the-hill, stone-rolling ahead of the prosecution team, yet they often got side-tracked by their own personalities-like the grilling of Mark Furman (that was a travesty). There's more to discuss, but who has time?

Robin Sax: There were so many mistakes. Many were due to the prosecutors, many due to the judge, and the most due to the jury. The biggest prosecutorial mistake was not allowing Bill Hodgman to be the lead prosecutor. He was and is a genius, he has amazing presence and advocacy skills, and he would have had that matter what obstacles he had to overcome.

Susan Murphy-Milano: There were so many mistakes.

The Former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi (who prosecuted the Manson trial) wrote a book called Outrage: The Five Reasons O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder. Bugliosi was very critical of prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. He faulted them, for example, for not introducing the note Simpson wrote before trying to flee. Bugliosi contended that the note "reeked" of guilt and that the jury should have been allowed to see it. He also pointed out that the jury was never informed about items found in the Bronco: a change of clothing, a large amount of cash, a passport and a disguise kit. The prosecution during this media circus felt these items of evidence would bring up emotional issues on Simpson's part that could harm their case, despite the fact that the items likely could be used to flee.

In addition, Simpson made an incriminating statement to police about cutting his finger the night of the murders. In the book, Bugliosi took Clark and Darden to task for not allowing the jury to hear the taped statement. Bugliosi also said the prosecutors should have gone into more detail about Simpson's abuse of his wife. He said it should have been made clear to the mostly African-American jury that Simpson had little impact in the black community and had done nothing to help less fortunate blacks. Bugliosi pointed out that, although the prosecutors obviously understood that Simpson's race had nothing to do with the murders, once the defense "opened the door" by trying to paint Simpson falsely as a leader in the black community, the evidence to the contrary should have been presented, to prevent the jury from allowing it to bias their verdict. Vince Bugliosi also criticized the prosecution's closing statements as inadequate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who's Crazy? And Should the Jury Be Told?

by Women in Crime Ink

In the first of an ongoing series asking WCI contributors to weigh in on cases and issues, we posed the question: While not legally insane, some murderers have other types of mental illnesses, personality disorders and the like. Should those be considered when deciding guilt/innocence? What about sentencing?

Read on, to find out what WCI's bloggers think about this important issue:

Laura James: A defendant's "personality disorder" falls under the "so what" category for me. I'd bet half the people I know could be diagnosed with a "personality disorder."

Kathryn Casey: It’s not relevant. We're not talking about severe mental illness here, where someone doesn't understand the difference between right and wrong, which is the legal test for insanity. These people are capable of working with attorneys to defend themselves, although their frequent tendency toward pathological lies can get in the way. (It's not smart to lie to one's own lawyer and leave him/her unprepared.) Lots of folks have personality disorders, yet they don’t commit murder. Should this come up at all, it should be in sentencing. I honestly think severe poverty and childhood abuse are more mitigating factors.

Andrea Campbell: I do believe that the mentally ill fall into a crevice when it comes to society. No one wants to claim or protect them most of the time. And I do think their mental condition should be made known during trial. But I don't think we need to cut slack for heinous crimes or felonies. I've always been torn on this issue, but justice needs to keep dangerous people out of society. I guess that either means a mental health facility or incarceration.

Diane Fanning: Murderers, with anti-social personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and perhaps even borderline personality disorder, are people who understand the difference between right and wrong but just don’t care about the law, about the people around them, or about their victims. A violent offender with one of these disorders is a danger to society but also to those who guard them in prisons. They should not be viewed as equal to a person suffering from severe mental illness, who if given proper treatment and medication may be able to lead positive and productive lives. Adults with severe personality disorder are unlikely to ever move beyond their condition and thus, it should have no bearing on guilt or innocence.

In sentencing, juries should consider the personality disorders of violent offenders, but not to mitigate the offenses. Instead, it should help deliver sentences that ensures these individuals are not allowed to roam free and prey on innocent victims.

Robin Sax: Everyone who commits a murder MUST have a personality disorder; the personality disorder makes him a murderer who should be punished.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is the Answer Malignant Narcissism?

by Diane Fanning

If the question is Casey Anthony, it may very well be. Dr. Erich Fromm coined the phrase, but Dr. Otto Kernberg became the expert on it. He defines malignant narcissism as being in the middle of the spectrum ranging from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and full-blown psychopathology.

We are all born
narcissistic. As an infant, our world view is that everything and everyone is connected to us and exists to fulfill our needs. Another spike in our narcissistic tendencies occurs in adolescence. It is natural to be self-centered at this point in our development, but we are expected to grow beyond it. Healthy adults maintain a small amount of narcissism, but it stops far short of self-obsession.

That characteristic is clearly demonstrated by
Casey Anthony. When she was released from jail in the summer of 2008, she was happy and focused, offering smiles and hugs to everyone. Her immediate focus was on taking a shower and getting a home-cooked meal. It was not on her missing toddler who she had not seen for months.

In the days to follow, she made it clear she was enjoying the attention of being in the national media spotlight. She bragged about the special treatment she received in jail, claiming that everyone there loved her. She suggested signing autographs to raise money for her attorney. She expressed a desire to go on the radio with
Howard Stern.

But one subject she never raised was Caylee Marie Anthony — a frightening epitaph for a young daughter.

Looking at Casey Anthony’s life seems like a study of narcissism. She used and took from others, diving her world into two camps — those who had something to give her and those who didn’t. She manipulated the first group and ignored the second. She had an inflated sense of her importance and expected all in her orbit to treat her as if she were an exceptional person, above the rules that constrained all others. At the same time, that feeling of superiority was coupled with an endless need for praise and adoration. Although she could be char
ming and winsome, it all was a carefully constructed mask designed to hide a storehouse of envy and resentment.

Pathological lying was her hallmark; selective empathy a tool to use to get what she wanted; and manipulative of all those around her — a trait seen in spectacular display when you examine her interactions with her parents. She also presented an inability to tolerate boredom, always seeking more fun and excitement, always willing to do anything to attract attention — from making out with another woman on the dance floor to the provocative consumption of a banana for the camera. She did anything and everything she could to pull the focus off of everyone else and onto her.

One of the indicators that her behavior moved into the realm of malignant narcissism is the escalation in a few short years. She started with a white-lie reputation in her middle teenage years, moved on to grandiose lies to enhance her image in her late teens, and by the age of 21, she was capable of creating complex fantasies about the fate of her daughter. She persisted in her lies in the face of proof of her dishonesty. She told the same stories again and again as if repetition would make them true.

The other characteristic that seems to push her beyond Narcissistic Personality Disorder is the presence of
narcissistic rage. It seems evident in a jail conversation with her parents. She grows impatient with her parents’ concerns and their desire to express them. Finally she erupts, pulling the phone from her ear, uttering inarticulate snarls, clenching her teeth, contorting her face and forming tight fists with such intensity, she was momentarily incapable of speech.

Did little Caylee see that rage? Did it lead to her death? With Caylee gone, we may never know with any certainty just as without Casey’s complete cooperation, we may never be able to conclusively fit her
into the proper category of personality disorder. There are many overlapping symptoms that make it difficult to accurately diagnose.

But we don’t really need a proper psychiatric label for Casey because no matter where we place her, her actions speak loudly of the presence of evil. We may not be able to accurately define evil, but we know it when we see it. And there is simply no better word to describe the murder and heartless disposal of an innocent child.

Diane Fanning’s tenth true crime book, MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL: Casey Anthony and her Daughter Caylee’s Tragic Fate, will be released on November 3 by St. Martin’s Press.