Friday, October 29, 2010

The Darkest Crimes

by Katherine Ramsland 

Over the summer, a production team for the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel filmed my commentary as the recurring expert for American Occult, a proposed series on extreme crimes with supernatural associations. I have written a number of articles and books about vampires, ghosts, satanic activities, forensics, and serial killers, as well as interviewing occult practitioners firsthand and watching certain rituals. All crime has an element of darkness, certainly, but an obsession with occult power that precipitates murder--especially serial or mass murder--is entirely black.

The producers from M2 Pictures sent me background information on each case before we spent several long days discussing every aspect, from methods to motives. Despite the diversity among these cases, the desire for supernatural power emerged as a unifying theme. (Note: Wanting it is not the same as getting it.) We have centuries of proof to the contrary, but some people still believe that serving Satan with human sacrifice guarantees a larger-than-life return. They like the risk, but they also seek to be marked as “special,” “mysterious,” or in possession of some great secret.

On October 30, ID will show all three episodes--six cases--of these creepy crimes. We go inside the sinister worlds of self-professed vampires, cannibals, and Satanists, to consider the psychology behind the deadly rituals. But let me just say something first about the ID network. When Court TV met its demise a couple of years ago, it left a big hole for crime fans. Investigation Discovery jumped in to fill it and has been building itself as America’s leading source for investigation TV. It’s a cable network, so you have to look for it, but crime fans who try it are pleasantly surprised. ID has done some remarkably innovative series--including one devoted to female offenders. They have formed partnerships with established news organizations and production companies to bring investigative and current affairs programming to (so far) over 71 million U.S. households. Speaking for myself, I’m happy to know that someone is making documentaries about these infamous offenders and crimes. I use them all the time for teaching.

So, back to American Occult. Each episode features two unique stories about mysterious deaths, kidnappings, or rituals. I've published 38 books and more than 900 articles, many of which focus exclusively on occultic crimes, and on the programs I lead viewers through the bizarre twists and turns. Thanks to the cases I’ve explored, I can offer readers an in-depth analysis of the worlds of these killers, explaining their thought processes, their beliefs, even their delusions, as well as how their crimes relate (or don’t) to the broader scheme of some dark subculture.

The showings begin at 8 p.m. ET with “Savage Sin,” in which a tip led police to the mutilated body of a woman in a field outside Chicago. Soon, victim after victim turned up dead, all of them female and all mutilated in a similar manner. Then, a survivor described how she’d been abducted and horribly violated. Her information led to the arrest of the “Ripper Crew," a group of young men (mugshots, above) who purportedly worshiped the devil by cannibalizing female body parts. From this story, we move right to a priest in Ohio who murdered a nun, leaving a ritualized crime scene with an inverted crucifix. Although the case went cold, new leads opened it up and brought the surprising killer to justice.

If you’re still with me, “Blood Lust” depicts a group of students in Fall River, Massachusetts , who discovered the body of a local prostitute. Her skull was completely crushed in what looked like a primeval ritual. Another murder three months later evinced the same pattern, leading investigators to a secret underground cult of devil worshipers. Once this case is cracked, we move on to a real Halloween tale of a woman who’d barely escaped a man claiming to be a vampire. He’d been draining her of blood, fully expecting to kill her, as he’s suspected of having done to many others.

In the final hour, we have “Evil Sacrifice.” In this story, the rumors of a religious cult and a missing family led police to a man who believed he was God. After the cult members left their compound, the authorities discovered a mass grave. Then comes our last story, also from the Midwest: When police responded to an emergency call at the Ohio home of Terry and Marilynn Brooks, they found a shocking homicide and learned that one of the Brooks’ sons had a dark and terrible secret. The photo right is an ID photo of Jerry Brooks' collection of satanic books.

It’s an interesting way to spend the evening before Halloween. 

Dr. Katherine Ramsland teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Ramsland has master’s degrees in both clinical and forensic psychology from, respectively, Duquesne University and Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as a Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Her latest book is The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds (Berkley).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Extreme Measures

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Walking about the tree-lined, red-brick covered campus of San Diego City College, you can feel a hopeful energy. This multi-cultural, inner-city campus attracts bright teenagers, middle-aged professionals, recovering addicts and suburban housewives all seeking some sort of growth and advancement. As former adjunct psychology faculty at City College, I feel a deep sadness about the recent campus murder of 19-year-old student Diana Gonzalez.

Diana Gonzalez, the teenage mother of a 9-month-old baby, was found brutally murdered beyond recognition, in a restroom. She had recently filed a restraining order against her husband, Armando Perez, 37, though the order had not yet been served. In her police report Diana stated her husband kidnapped and raped her over a three-day period, dragging her to a series of motels. At one point he allegedly strangled her to the point of unconsciousness. Diana's parents were apparently so worried about her that they drove her to and from her night class. When she didn't make it back to the car, they called police.

The San Diego District Attorney's office failed to press charges against Armando Perez on the violence charges Diana reported. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis refuses to answer questions about the case ,citing "on-going investigation" as the reason. The prime suspect, Armando Perez, remains free. His abandoned car was found in Tijuana, Mexico, a few days after Diana's murder.

Depending on the type of survey used, between 600,000 and six million domestic violence cases are reported each year. In the year 2000, 1,247 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That same year, 440 men nationwide were murdered by an intimate partner. These statistics show how difficult it is to predict which cases will escalate to homicide and which cases will not. Law enforcement and domestic violence experts know the challenges of protecting domestic violence victims. Once two people have sex with one another, they often continue to replay a drama of passion and violence. Studies show that domestic violence disturbance calls often place police in danger. Children in violent homes are more likely to be abused. I've worked with children injured while trying to protect a parent. One of my clients witnessed the beating of a woman by a man and was punched while trying to rescue her. Victims often continue contact with perpetrators, violating mutual restraining orders, frustrating therapists and security professionals alike.

It appears Diana did everything she could do legally to protect herself from further violence. She filed the police report and restraining order, gave consistent statements and attempted to stay away from her husband. However ,he still got to her. He stalked her. Diana's husband allegedly kidnapped her, after lying in wait, and, for three days, raped her. He also apparently stalked her at school. He has been officially charged with her murder with a "lying -in-wait" allegation, making him eligible for the death penalty.

Victims of intimate partner violence and stalking experience significant negative psychological and physical health symptoms. Anxiety, depression, stress-related illnesses and deteriorating health result from living in chronic fear. Dr. Pati Beaudoin says that victims of stalking experience social isolation, exhaustion, desperation, diminished concentration, and communication problems. At a time when clear thinking is required for self-defense, victims often feel cloudy headed, disoriented, numb.

Dr. Brian Spitzberg reports that one type of high-risk stalker is what he calls the organized stalker, a controlling individual motivated by hate. Violent stalkers often have what Dr. Spitzberg calls a power orientation, characterized by domineering behavior, a strong masculine sex role identity, and distrust. These traits, combined with social incompetence evidenced by jealousy, obsessional thinking and a lack of empathy, are strong predictors of violent behavior. Armando Perez demonstrated an extreme lack of empathy by leaving his infant child motherless and his three children from his previous marriage fatherless.

Armando Perez was married to Olga Vera-Perez for 14 years. They created three children. Armando abused Olga by choking her in 2009. He then moved on to abuse Diana. Casey Gwinn, president of the National Family Justice Center Alliance in San Diego, said about this case, "Based on the evidence we had and based on the evidence I've seen, and, as 20 years as a prosecutor, it appears to me that charges should have been filed in this case." Diana reported a history of more than 20 domestic violence incidents involving Perez. "Somebody should have been interviewing her about those," Gwinn said. "If they were misdemeanors the city attorney could have filed them." The system failed to protect Diana Gonzalez.

Threat assessment expert Gavin de Becker cautions against restraining orders in many situations of domestic violence. If someone abides by the law they might be deterred by it so therefore probably don't need one. If the perpetrator engages in criminal conduct, they already show a disregard for the law. A restraining order can provoke the individual to act out violently as they might see the order as a hostile threat requiring retaliation or as a threat to their dominance. In Diana's case, the restraining order had no effect, as it had not been served. The only effect it may have had was to give Diana and her family a false sense of security.

Naturally, anyone in Diana's position would yearn to return to a sense of normalcy after the trauma she endured. Going back to school to better her life and the life of her child was an honorable thing to do. Unfortunately, in domestic violence/stalking cases, a woman faces the greatest danger when she separates from her abuser. To protect yourself from a violent stalker, sometimes you must exercise extreme measures:
  • Take a leave of absence from school, work, or any familiar places known to the stalker.
  • Go to a domestic violence shelter. Shelter services provide a 60 to 70 percent reduction in incidence and severity of re-assault.
  • Consult a threat-assessment professional. You can find referrals from the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals.
  • Consult private security professionals. Follow their advice.
  • Think like a stalker. How could someone find you? Where are you most vulnerable?
  • Leave town. Don't stay with any known relatives or friends. Instead, stay with friends of friends or people unknown to the stalker.
  • Get a second phone number for your personal calls. Leave the old phone number to receive messages so you can screen calls from the stalker and monitor his mood.
  • Get a guard dog.
  • While driving, make sure you're not followed. Test this by making four left turns.
  • Hire a private investigator to monitor your stalker.
Not everyone can afford to implement all of these suggestions. However, you can increase your likelihood of survival the more you take responsibility for your own protection. Law enforcement reacts to crimes already committed or in progress. Depending on police to protect you may not ensure your safety. You may have to do things outside the boundaries of normal life. You may have to take extreme measures.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fact v. Fiction

By Kathryn Casey

A while bac
k when my latest true crime book, Shattered, debuted, I wrote a post on a writer's life, talking about my experiences as a working author. I hope I didn't dissuade any of you from trying it. A couple of my friends have told me that I'm a bit disillusioning on the subject, but I've always believed that people need to hear the truth, and writing is a pretty tough way to make a living. There are those authors who write one book and hit The New York Times list. (Why God, not me?) But for most of us, it's a long, competitive road.

Perhaps part of the reason I see writing as I do is that I've spent so many years writing non-fiction crime books, in other words, true crime. Covering a big case is a monumental task. I manage to turn out about a book a year, but there's always a lot of angst as I work my way through a long list of interviews, collect mountains of testimony and court documents, and spend weeks locked up in a courtroom listening to evidence. It's been tough at times, but as I've probably said here before, because I say it often, the years spent writing true crime have also been an education in law enforcement, especially homicide investigations.

The bottom line is that for the past couple of decades, I've focused on writing about real murder cases. Looking back, it's been a good way to learn a lot about what what happens behind the scenes in a sensational murder investigation. Now, for the other truth: It also plants scenes in your head, ones you can draw from when you take another step, moving from fact to fiction.

I did that about five years ago--actually a bit longer than that--when I first sat down to write my mystery series. The first book, Singularity, took me years to finish. I started and stopped a bunch of times. I guess I was having a hard time freeing my imagination and allowing it to stray from the facts. The second book in the series, Blood Lines, came out last year. And yesterday, ta dah, the third debuted, The Killing Storm.

Although I didn't think about it while writing, I used a lot of my true crime experience when pulling it together. First, the missing kid case in the book. I did an article on a group of missing kid cases for Ladies' Home Journal years ago. I've never forgotten the experience. The parents even decades later were still on the edge of their emotions, praying daily that their children would be found. Is it always that way? No. Of course, not. All you have to do is look at Casey Anthony for an example of the polar opposite.

Then there's the ritualistic slaying of longhorns in the book. In The Killing Storm, someone is murdering the beasts and drawing strange symbols on their sides. My heroine, Sarah, has to decipher the clues that eventually appear to be connected not only with the longhorn killer but the fate of the missing child. Where did that come from? When I was working on the book, I remembered a group of Florida murders a profiler friend told me about, in which symbols weren't used but another medium of communication was. In that case, the victims' bodies were mutilated and positioned in certain ways to spell out the killer's motives. The crime scene photos were frightening but at the same time, I hate to admit this, rather morbidly fascinating.

Finally, the storm in my book. Here, I didn't have to go out in search of an experience. I live in Houston, so every so many years a hurricane comes calling. I'm sure all I need to say is that The Killing Storm was written following Hurricane Ike for all of you to understand my inspiration. In the book, the storm is a ticking clock, propelling the action. It becomes imperative for the boy to be found before the hurricane hits. If not? The unthinkable will happen.

I guess all those years of first-hand experience have paid off, because the reviews have been great, from Kirkus calling the book "pulse-pounding," to Publisher's Weekly saying it's "the best in the series so far." Library Journal honored it with a star, and Booklist said, "solid crime fiction with a real feel for the humanity of the characters."

So, after years of covering real murders, I'm now making it all up, and it's fun. There's so much that's exciting about writing fiction, from being able to twist and turn a plot to birthing your characters, including attributes and foibles. After all these years as a true crime writer, with fiction, I'm finally in control. And you know what? I like it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Television Shows for Armchair Detectives

We have a guest editor today, Jay Smith and the folks at the Criminal Justice University. I love lists, and this is a particularly good one. I might add some of my own at the end.

10 Shows for the Criminal Mind 

There are many television shows airing that follow the lives of detectives and investigators that are assigned various crime cases. While some of the shows are summaries of real-life events and others are fiction they are all definitely intriguing. The following are 10 shows that will keep the criminal minds entertained:

"Snapped": "Snapped" is an American television crime series that airs on the Oxygen network that recalls the real life events of women who have committed or attempted to commit murder. Each episode details the events that occurred and includes clips of the trials, interviews with people that were involved in the case (family, law enforcement, attorneys, etc) and sometimes the accused themselves. The episodes end with the verdict and sentence of the case and an updated summary of where each defendant stands. 

"Cold Case Files": "Cold Case Files" is a documentary style series that airs on A&E hat follows the investigations of cases that were never solved and then reopened many years later. Referred to as “cold cases” by detectives, these cases have been opened again because of emerging technological advances in forensics, recent breakthroughs in the case, or witnesses who come forward years later. The episodes of this show have been known to be used by law enforcement agencies across the country for training purposes. 

"Forensic Files": Forensic Files is a documentary type show that airs on truTV and shows how forensic science is used to solve crimes. The show follows one case per episode, from the initial investigation to the legal resolution, with reenactments and, in some cases, name changes, for privacy. The show also features medical examiners, coroners and forensic detectives and specialists involved with the case and clips of their interviews are shown. Some of the best and most well-known forensic analysts in the country have also appeared on the show. 

"America’s Most Wanted": "America’s Most Wanted" is an American television show that airs on Fox and is meant to assist law enforcement in capturing fugitives that remain on the run. Many of the fugitives, who are wanted for murder, rape, kidnapping, child molestation, armed robber, and terrorism, and white collar crimes, are also on the FBI’s Most Wanted lists. The show has been fairly successful; over 1,100 people have been captured from being shown on the air. 

"48 Hours Mystery": "48 Hours Mystery" is a program that airs on CBS that presents true crime documentaries and mysteries. The show does not use a host and rather is narrated by the reporter who was assigned the story and is also known to report on special cases such as past or current shocking events that were made media headlines. This program has been known to be quite popular and has received over 20 Emmy awards. 

"Law & Order": "Law & Order" is a police and law related drama series that is often based on real events that have made headline news or recently occurred. The show is usually separated into two parts: the investigation of the crime and the capture of the suspect, followed by the prosecution of the District Attorney’s office in the second part and is usually shown from the prosecution’s point of view. At the time of its cancellation, Law & Order was known as the longest running crime drama on American prime time television. 

"The Closer": "The Closer" is an American crime drama series that originally aired on TNT that follows a police detective that leads the Crime and Homicide Unit (depending on the season), teams that are assigned to deal with high profile murder cases. Each episode portrays the aspects of Los Angeles culture as it interacts with law enforcement and highlights issues of public policy, honor, faith, and government responsibility. 

"CSI": "CSI" is an American drama television series that follows criminalists who use evidence to solve brutal murders. Many episodes on the show feature lengthy scenes that focus on technical work, experiments and tests that usually involve high-tech technology and gadgets that don’t exist. The series is also known for using unusual, close-up camera angles and graphic and sometimes gory portrayals of murders. 

"NCIS": "NCIS" is a drama television series that premiered on CBS that revolves around a fictional team of agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. This team conducts investigations involving the Marine Corps and the US Navy and is often assigned to high profile cases including terroristic threats, deaths, kidnappings and bomb situations. 

"Bones": "Bones" is a crime drama series that premiered on Fox and is based on forensic anthropology and focuses on cases concerning the human remains found by FBI agents and given to a forensic anthropologist for analyzing. The show is based loosely on the life of Kathy Reichs, who is a forensic anthropologist and also produces the show. 

Thanks to Jay Smith from the Criminal Justice University.

Now, I'd like to add a couple of my own TV shows worth watching: 

"The Glades": A new favorite with me. This show is about Jim Longworth, a Chicago detective who moves to Florida after a debacle with his previous squad commander. The episodes follow his investigation, including scenes with the medical examiner, and the series portrays a lot of mental investigative research. 

"ID: Investigative Discovery": This Discovery Channel has a variety of topic and subject categories, ranging from Solved, to Deadly Women, Unusual Suspects, Wicked Attraction (about couples who commit crime) and, one I have yet to watch: Who the Bleep Did I Marry? 

"Hawaii Five-O": A remake of the original series that was so popular long ago when television was free. We did get the lowdown on the phrase, "Book 'em, Dano-0," but I don't know how this new one will hold up; it looks very action-oriented.

And keep an eye on the new shows in the genre: "Detroit 1-8-7" and "The Whole Truth" on ABC; "Blue Bloods" and "The Defenders" on CBS; "Nikita" on the CW; and "Outlaw," "Undercovers," "Chase" and "Law & Order: Los Angeles" on NBC. And, a surprise, the BBC has a "Law & Order-UK." Feel free to leave comments about what you like and don't like.

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Land or on Water

by Pat Brown

Women in Crime Ink contributor Dr. Lillian Glass recently wrote a post concerning her belief that Tiffany Hartley, the wife of missing jet skier, David Hartley, has not been telling the truth concerning his disappearance on Falcon Lake on the Texas-Mexico border. Peter Hyatt, a statement analyst, also came out early on with his dissection of Hartley's comments and has said she is being deceptive. Many people have noted something seems wrong with Tiffany's "story," as she calls her version of the event. However, quite a few people, including the Texas authorities, believe she is telling the truth. I won't recount all the details and deceptions here; I want to focus on where I think the event occurred.

I believe she is telling the truth... sort of. She is describing the murder of her husband by drug dealers. She says she did not have any reason to want to kill her husband. I believe her. I just don't believe she is telling the truth about where the event went down. This could be why some of her story rings true and parts of it make no sense. This could also be why certain "facts" change. She may want us to believe her story, so she tries to make it as convincing as possible, fixing things a bit as time goes on without giving up the whole truth. If she is being deceptive, she may be trying to save herself from the inside of a jail cell.

Sometimes when people lie about a tragic crime, which they are guilty of committing or having some sort of involvement in, they change the time it happened or the location of where it happened to eliminate themselves. I think Tiffany may be doing this. I think the murder occurred and Tiffany escaped, but I think the whole thing may have gone down on the shore and not on the lake. I think no boats came after them, just men. Replace the "water" with "land," and "boats" with "men," and see if her story doesn't now seem to make a whole lot more sense.

I had problems with her story. but it all came together for me with Tiffany's recent emphatic statement that her husband's body would be found on land. Why would it be found on land if he were shot on the water? Why wouldn't the cartel just get the heck out of Dodge as soon as they committed the crime? On water, they would be out in the open where they could be seen if they wasted time retrieving his body and trying to trail his jet ski behind their boat or riding off on it. Most bodies are just left where they go down if time is limited to deal with. The only reason Tiffany should be so sure the body is on land is because that is where she saw it last and it makes sense for the killers to then go bury or burn the body, because they have it right there with them in Mexican territory. The jet ski would be right there on their shore, and it makes sense they would then hide it or paint it and sell it.

Tiffany doesn't seem to be very mad at her husband's murderers. She stated on "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" that "we just want David back. And maybe they can't provide a body, I don't know. But they can provide something of evidence... And then we'll go away." Really? You will just leave them alone and not seek justice even though they brutally killed your husband and destroyed your life? Tiffany keeps saying she just wants the body back so she can "move on" and they can "move on." She wants them to be able to go back to dealing drugs and murdering people? How generous! I guess as long as she gets proof he is dead, the insurance money will come in and she can "move on," even if only a couple of weeks have gone by. And why would anyone be so naive as to think a drug cartel would give up evidence that could lead to them, especially one that just sent the head of the lead investigator back in a suitcase? Out of the kindness of their hearts? Because they want Tiffany and David's family to have closure? Unlikely.

By the way, Tiffany and David don't look a bit Mexican, so mistaken identity is not a motive. I doubt the cartels would shoot just anyone, just in case, and bring unnecessary attention to themselves.

So, on to where the murder occurred. When they were leaving the "area," men waved at them. This happens when you are being friendly or saying good-bye, not when you are about to go gun down people. Tiffany also recounts having conversations with the killers, over the sounds of the jet skis and boats and gunshots. It sounds more like parties involved are toe to toe, not bouncing around on the water. Sometime in the scenario, David Hartley gets shot in the forehead, according to Tiffany's story, but that she did not know he was shot in the head until she turned over his body, which had been face down in the water (also, she used two fingers and pointed to her forehead on television when describing the shot that killed him). She commented on how the killers got so close to her she found herself looking down the barrel of a gun. All of these descriptions sound like an encounter one might experience during a drug transaction gone bad... on land.

After David gets shot, Tiffany tries to lift him "onto the jet ski," but he is too heavy. If she tried to get him to his feet on land, he would be too heavy as well. She asks him, "What should I do? What should I do?" I think he would tell her to run, and I would guess she would run to her jet ski and take off and not look back until she was far enough away to take a chance on checking to see if they were following her.

Another fascinating statement Tiffany makes is that she would take a bullet for David because he took one for her. How is that? If they were both simply trying to outrun shooters, wouldn't he just have been the unlucky schmuck who got hit? He wouldn't have done anything spectacular, like trying to save Tiffany. But, on land, maybe he did step in front of her to protect her and got shot. And maybe the reason Tiffany got away was that three men were not shooting at her with machine guns, just one man with a handgun whose clip ran out giving her time to flee.

Those three boats were more likely three men. If one takes the whole scenario and moves it from the water to the land, the way it went down starts to add up. Try it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to Make a Heart-Stopping Salad

by Deborah Blum

One evening, in the early summer of 2008, a Colorado sheriff's deputy named Jonathan Allen came home to find that his wife had made him a "special" dinner. Waiting on the table was his favorite spicy spaghetti dish and a big leafy bowl of salad.

As he told investigators later, some of those leaves in the salad were startling bitter. But his wife told him it was just a spring mix. He assumed it contained another of those trendy herbs that people use to liven things up. "Make sure you eat your greens," she added. "They're good for you."

So, he didn't worry when his toddler daughter tried to grab a bite and his wife, Lisa, reached out to stop the child. It was only a few hours later, when he was rushed to hospital suffering from severe stomach cramps and a wildly speeding heart, that he started to worry. And wonder.

After his stomach was pumped and the contents analyzed, Allen was no longer puzzled by his symptoms. The bitter taste was traced to leaves from a familiar and beautiful ornamental shrub, one growing in the family garden, in fact. Allen survived but he did not return to his home in the suburban Denver town of Golden, Colorado. He carefully stayed away while authorities launched an investigation into exactly how foxglove leaves got into the dinner salad.

And this year--about six months ago--42-year-old Lisa Leigh Allen pleaded guilty to felony assault, avoiding a trial for attempted murder with what The Denver Post called a "lethal plant." She was sentenced in mid-March to four-and-a-half years in prison.

A lethal plant is definitely one way to describe foxglove but--and, I have to admit, the description made me laugh--also definitely too simplistic. Yes, the foxglove plant is poisonous, but the very properties that make it poisonous also make it the source of some of our most important heart medications. I'll give that paradox away when I tell you that the common foxglove belongs to a family of plants with the Latin name of Digitalis. The plant that ended up in the Colorado deputy's summer salad is formally called Digitalis purpurea, but it also goes by some wonderfully evocative common names such as Witch's Glove, Bloody Fingers, and Dead Man's Bells.

Plants in the Digitalis family are packed with sugar-rich organic molecules called glycosides that can directly affect the rhythmic beat of the heart. The most important of these is called digoxin, or sometimes just digitalis, and is used to treat cardiac arrhythmias and to strengthen contractions of the heart. The knowledge that foxglove extracts affect the heart is nothing new--it was first reported in 1785 by a British physician named William Withering--but medical understanding of how it works is fairly recent.

For instance, digoxin (and a related compound digitoxin) are known to trigger a cascade of chemical reactions which increase the amount of calcium delivered to muscle cells. This increases the strength of the muscular contractions, thus giving new power to a weakened heart beat. Digitalis can also stimulate the nerves which regulate the internal pacing of the heart beat.

So, at the prescribed dose, digitalis is the opposite of lethal--a life-saving compound, in fact. But the proper dose is extremely small, and the body sounds warning bells if digitalis levels get too high. Early symptoms include nausea, stomach cramps, headaches and even hallucinations. It won't surprise you to know that the worst effect of digitalis poisoning is on the heart--its powerful effect on the heart muscle varies, depending on the individual, but an overdose can either slow the beat to a complete halt or speed it to a point of lethal over-taxation.

Thus, Jonathan Allen's early warning symptoms--the stomach cramps, the acute nausea, the racing heart beat--added a little more evidence to the case against his wife. The prosecution was also helped by searching her computer's hard drive, where investigators found a search history for foxglove, digitalis, and the homicidal possibilities. "I couldn't fathom that my wife was trying to kill me," Allen said during his wife's sentencing hearing. He was writhing with pain shortly before calling for an ambulance: "I went to bed and laid next to her. She said, 'It's probably just stress from your job.'"

Testimony in the sentencing hearing also detailed a very troubled marriage. Lisa Allen and her father testified that her husband was possessive and physically abusive and he had warned her that she would never be able to leave. Jonathan Allen said she and her family had been telling such lies about him for years. Even the judge finally wondered out loud why the couple hadn't separated, as both of their families had urged earlier.

It would have been, after all, a much better option than mixing up a heart-stopping salad.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Thomas? Not Anita Hill

by Cathy Scott

What is up with Virginia Thomas? On a recent weekend, Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, called Anita Hill’s voice mail and made a bizarre request.

In her message, Mrs. Thomas, seemingly out of the blue, asked for an apology from Hill for accusing the future Supreme Court associate justice of sexual harassment back in 1991 during his confirmation hearings--this, nearly two decades later. She won't get an apology.

Anita Hill has moved on--a long time ago, in fact--and perhaps Virginia Thomas should do the same. Now a professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Hill, after receiving the message, first alerted campus security, because she thought the voice mail was a prank. She, unfortunately, has since learned that it was no joke. Yep, Mrs. Thomas had, indeed, left Ms. Hill the message, all these years later. Brandeis officials turned the matter over to the FBI.

According to a transcript of the call made available to the Boston Globe, the recorded voice said:

Good morning, Anita Hill. It's Ginni Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something.

I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay, have a good day.
Say what ? Lest anyone forget the sordid details from two decades ago, Anita Hill, after being called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said under oath that Thomas, who was married to Virginia at the time, had repeatedly made crude and inappropriate sexual comments in the workplace, boasting of his sexual prowess, and referencing pornographic novels. (I'll leave the exact details of the alleged comments to your imagination and not repeat them here).

Clarence Thomas adamantly has denied the allegations, calling them “a high-tech lynching.”

Hill recently told the Globe that she has nothing to apologize for and does not intend to retract her accusations that Thomas made sexually suggestive remarks to her when she was an aide and he was her boss at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

I certainly thought the call was inappropriate, Hill said in a recent statement. I have no intention of apologizing, and I stand by my testimony. No further explanation is needed. I testified truthfully about what my experience was back in the 1980s.

For her part, Virginia Thomas, a Tea Party activist, confirmed to The New York Times that she was serious about wanting an apology. Here's Mrs. Thomas' official statement:

I did place a call to Ms. Hill at her office extending an olive branch to her after all these years, in hopes that we could ultimately get passed what happened so long ago.

That offer still stands. I would be very happy to meet and talk with her if she would be willing to do the same. Certainly no offense was ever intended.

The New York Times opined that the he said-she said confrontation between Ms. Hill and the future Justice Thomas “deeply divided the country during what became a national debate about the nature of sexual behavior in the workplace.”

In addition, the paper reported, “Ms. Hill’s descriptions of unseemly conduct and his adamant denials produced one of the most polarizing Supreme Court confirmation battles of modern times.” In the end, the U.S. Senate confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52 to 48. And he's been on the high court bench ever since.

Public interest in and debate over Hill's testimony has been said to be responsible in large part for modern-day public awareness of sexual harassment.

As for Mrs. Clarence Thomas, whatever it was--an agenda?--that prompted her, at this long-ago juncture, to reach out and touch Anita Hill is baffling. Virginia Thomas has not explained, other than to confirm making the call and leaving the message.

Perhaps the FBI, in its inquiry, will get to the bottom of the ordeal and provide answers. And maybe Anita Hill can be left alone.

Photos courtesy of The Associated Press.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bullying: A Product of Our Times?

by Katherine Scardino

Nowadays, we raise children in a New World. For most of us, we did not reach maturity after spending our days (and nights) playing video games, sending e-mails, texts and instant messages on our computers, iPads, PCs, smartphones. We picked up our telephone and talked to our friends for hours on end with a parent telling us to “Hang up the phone!” Or, we had actual one-on-one conversations with people. We actually took the time to speak to the person behind the counter at the dry cleaners, the grocery, or the bookstore. We did not get online to order food, books or other household and personal supplies and services.

Could the bullying problem in today’s society be somehow related to our acquiescence as parents in allowing our children to forget how to interact with other people? Could the problem be exacerbated by our lack of parenting in teaching our children how to be sensitive and kind to others?

Recently, some children have done the unthinkable. They have committed suicide. How could this happen in this free, open-to-all society we're supposed to have? How could other children treat their classmates with such cruelty, as if ... ? Some people think the world is a better place now that we are universally connected through technology and the Internet. But, do you really think it is better that young people today are asocial? For the most part, the today's youth have never had to “socialize” the way their parents did as part of their daily routines. I am willing to bet that kids today could go for days on end and never actually speak out loud to another person. We have raised a crop of desensitized zombies--people who have no sense of hurt feelings. That is the only logical explanation for bullying.

Asher Brown was a 13-year-old straight-A student in Houston, Texas. Tyler Clementi was 18, a college freshman who played violin in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old from a small city in central California, loved French fries and Pokamon cards. Billy Lucas was a 15-year-old from Indiana who showed horses. Justin Asberg from Minnesota was 15 and posted his cello music on YouTube. Their common element is that these children are now dead. They all committed suicide because they were being harassed, tormented and bullied because their peers thought they were gay, or because they were, in fact, gay.

There are other events of bullying because of race, physical or intellectual disability, socioeconomic status, grade-point average, or any of a multitude of characteristics that may set these children apart from the other “normal” kids. But, it is more likely that a young person will be bullied because of their sexual preference than any other reason. Who are these rude, homophobic, arrogant, spoiled brats? Are they our children who have never had to talk openly with others? Are they our children whose parents were never around to teach them the “softer” side of being human? The side that allows us to look at another person and say, “I am sorry you have this problem. How can I help you?” What has happened to the Golden Rule? Whether you are religious or not, you will have to admit that the “do unto others” rule seems to make sense.

Some of our most respected television actors and actresses, Ellen DeGeneres for one, have stepped up and publicized the problem in various ways--statements in the press, videos on YouTube. But the solution is home-grown. It starts at home with the parents. Parents must realize that they can longer use a television, video game, computer, iPod, iPad, or smartphone as an in-house babysitter. As parents in a free society, we are afforded the opportunity to choose whether to have children. So, upon making the decision to become a parent, adults have to act responsibly and actually be parents.

Do we need a “cultural shift,” as some of the activist groups say, that includes anti-bullying legislation, suicide helplines, training for teachers and other school personnel? If this cultural shift includes getting parents to do their job at home, then that is good. None of us can continue to stand by while our children are subjected to the physical and emotional violence that occurs among peer groups in schools, extracurricular activities, or even in the streets of our own neighborhoods. Protecting young people from bullying is just as essential to their healthy development as making sure they have good teachers and access to health care.

When we hear that the Federal government wants to step in and make more legislation against bullying, we should tell the government, "This is not your job. This is our job." When all people in our society become aware that bullying is not just part of growing up, that it is a form of violence against another human being, then the bullies will get a clear message that their behavior is unacceptable.

But, who are these bullies? Are they just kids growing up tough? Are they truly just mean-spirited, spoiled kids? Are we supposed to teach our kids to be as tough as the bullies are to protect themselves? "Punch the little thug wannabees in the belly!" Is that the solution? It might be in some instances. But, we must not allow ourselves to be swathed in the horrors of indifference. Bullying leads to violence, and that violence can become lethal without responsible intervention. We have to teach our children, our teachers and our coworkers that bullying is not only unacceptable, but it bears consequences that are sometimes unthinkable and irreversible. The bottom line is these lessons start with the parents at home. I can only hope we are not too late.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oksana Needs Reputation Rehab!

by Robin Sax

Less than four months ago, Oksana Grigorieva was the “poster child” of the domestic violence victim. She garnered much support and even sympathy after the details of the January 6, 2010 domestic abuse detail surfaced. Mel Gibson’s taped rant and tirade sent chills down the spines of even the most hardened of people. No one thought Mel would survive this one. It seemed clear, to all, he was going down this time. To make sure I wasn't missing something, I called a few of my detective buddies at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station and found that they concluded as similarly as I---that Mel Gibson committed a crime against Oksana and if it were any other person, he or she would have been arrested on the spot.

The evidence (compared to the typical DV case) was overwhelming--a report from Oksana, taped calls corroborating Oksana’s words, a suspect clearly afflicted with anger, among other issues, medical records and statements consistent with the injuries, and another victim who says similar crimes have happened to her.

So how is that in four short months the tides have changed so much that Oksana is not only disbelieved, but she is loathed and Mel is coming out seemingly clean? Are the coming and goings of 39 lawyers, as reported by TMZ, a sign that Oksana’s case is weak or that no one can take control? Is the difficulty because of Oksana or because of the people around her? Are there just too many ego driven people who want a piece of celebrity, so much so that they cannot get a cohesive plan together? Whatever the reasons are, the state of the case is most telling.

Mel’s camp has succeeded in the court of public opinion because they have been rock solid in how and where they fight the battle. They have a strategy, and the team works together. You don’t see Stephen Kolodny or Blair Berke being quoted all over the place. You see a solid team with a solid division of labors with no credit or stardom needed. You don't see Mel's lawyers releasing evidence to TMZ before it gets to the sheriff and DA. And if you don’t think this matters, think again.

As the DA’ s office is deciding what to do about filing domestic violence charges against Mel and/or extortion charges against Oksana, be aware that the Los Angeles District Attorney has a written policy mandating the filing Deputy DA to consider the likelihood of successful prosecution. And what better way to tell what potential jurors are thinking than reading what the wing nuts are saying on TMZ? Twelve-hundred negative comments per post doesn't bode well for successful prosecution.

Please do not get me wrong here. I am not saying there is not a case for domestic violence against Mel, but what I am saying is the lack of laser focus by Team Oksana has made the chances for the DA’s office to engage less likely. Remember, the prosecutor has the sole discretion of whether or not to file a case, and, if they don’t feel that they can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, they don’t need to file it.

The best piece of PR in this case would be a filing by the DA on Mel and a rejection of the extortion charged on Oksana. And instead of Team Oksana making that happen, they have been too busy giving quotes to TMZ, arranging Oprah, and booking People, all of which have backfired.

So, Team Oksana, take a lesson from the Fortune 500 companies when they are in crises. I am not saying the lame basics, like “be transparent.” You need to go further--choose a leader (a real leader, one who has Oksana’s best interest at heart), be honest, be available, be forthcoming, and, by all means, fight your battle in the courtroom. We are all watching your every single move, and you must think beyond today, as we will remember this case not for the details, but for how it was handled.

Friday, October 15, 2010

(Frank) Murphy's Law

by Donna Pendergast

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice is the home to the prosecutor's office and the Criminal Circuit Courts in Wayne County, Michigan. Named for a former Michigan governor and, later, a United State Supreme Court justice, "the Murph," as it is known for short, is a twelve-floor concrete structure surrounded on two sides by jails. It looms over Gratiot Avenue, a main artery leading into downtown Detroit.

A stark example of the appropriately named Brutalist style of architecture, the raw concrete high-rise is symbolic of the gritty nature of the business that takes place inside its walls. If those walls could only speak, the stories that they could tell. Having spent three years as a prosecutor at the Murph, I can tell you that it is a universe unto itself. I often used to say that a book a day could be written about what transpires within those walls. That is probably a conservative estimate. Things happen within the Murph on a daily basis that cause the uninitiated to drop their jaws in disbelief. A common saying for those desensitized to the drama is "only at the Murph" as they shake their heads over yet another bizarre story.

An introduction to the Murph begins at the multiple glass entry doors in the front, guarded by sheriff's deputies, through which all visitors (other than judges) must enter. Prosecutors, police officers and court staff wearing identification are waved through a lane on one side of the entrance. Defense attorneys, jurors, defendants and other visitors wait in lines often out the doors to pass through several lanes of metal detectors, much like those at an airport.

Once through the bottleneck, a bizarre parade of characters jumble together in a mob race to enter the bank of elevators just around the corner. People often stand two or three deep waiting for the privilege of packing themselves tightly into the elevator cars. There are no distinctions on the elevator; attorneys, defendants and court personnel pack together like sardines to travel to their intended destinations.

The characters who troll the Murph's hallways are often straight from central casting. Everyone knows "The Chief" a distinctively raspy voiced defense attorney named Robert Mitchell who often walks around cigar in mouth and takes no guff from his clients. And no one who has been initiated to the Murph bats an eye when Assistant Prosecutor Luke Skywalker announces his name on the record in court. Yes, there truly is an assistant prosecutor who legally changed his name to Luke Skywalker. Only at the Murph

The top four floors of the Murph house the prosecutors offices. Levels two through eight are taken up by courtrooms, four to a floor, two at each end of the hallway. Wooden benches line each side of the hallway between those courtrooms. Victims, families, lawyers and defendants camp out on those benches while awaiting court hearings and during breaks in the action. On any given day, TV crews from the local or even national news can be seen moving through those halls, equipment in hand, rushing to cover the the drama unfolding in one courtroom or another. Robbery, rape and murder are the standard fare for any courtroom at the Murph, and there is never a dull moment. Bomb threats requiring evacuation and building disasters like the overflowing toilet that recently flooded out two courtrooms are commonplace and barely cause comment as people scurry about their business.

The tension can often be felt in the air. Placing defendants, victims and their families in close proximity often makes for a volatile situation. Emotions are often raw and the drama can be intense. Fights and brawls can break out in a flash in the halls or even courtrooms. The sheriff's deputies assigned two or three to a courtroom are well trained to respond in a split second. They are so used to trouble and so attuned to the mood of their surroundings that a raised voice in the hallway brings them to their feet and out the door in a split second. When the all-too frequent fight or brawl breaks out, multiple deputies appear seemingly out of nowhere to squelch whatever situation is about to boil over or has boiled over already. Yet, despite the fights and drama, I've never felt threatened or unsafe while working at the Murph.

Despite my lack of fear, dangerous situations can and do occur in the Murph. Recently, a potential disaster was avoided when the chief judge received a note advising him that a defendant scheduled for trial in his courtroom the next day was armed with a knife and intended to go after the judge to kill him. A search of the prisoner's holding cell just a short distance from the judges bench revealed a homemade knife. As it turns out, the informant sending the note had been prosecuted by the judge years earlier when the judge was an assistant prosecutor and had felt he had been treated fairly. He wanted to make sure that the judge who had once put him in prison was warned about the potential danger to his life. Only at the Murph.

On another occasion, a defendant who was out on bond during trial did go after the judge. As soon as the jurors were taken out of the courtroom post-verdict, the defendant jumped over a table and lunged at the judge. The defendant had secreted a large razor blade in the cuff of his leather jacket and managed to make it through the metal detectors undetected. The courtroom deputies brought the defendant to the ground before he reached the judge, but, in the process, one deputy was badly cut in the arm. The hysterical jurors who heard the courtroom commotion from the sanctuary of their jury room had to be calmed down by another judge, while the first judge insisted on traveling to the hospital with his deputy. Only at the Murph.

Maybe that's why the movie "Presumed Innocent" and scenes from the new TV hit "Detroit 187" were filmed in the Murph. When it comes to drama, it doesn't get any better.

Just another day at the Murph.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No Justice in Oklahoma

by Susan Murphy Milano

For more than a decade, the Oklahoma Medical Justice For The Dead is the tip of the iceberg of what families have endured, going back to the year 2000 and the unsolved murder(s) of their family members. Autopsies are stamped "suicide" as if the medical examiner's office is branding justice for victims as if they were cattle.

One by one, the crime scene photos tell each victim's story. The blood-spattered walls, the entry and exist wounds of bullets, an appliance cord around a neck to burn patterns, and body position upon entry. The Examiner's Office has practiced a brand of cover up and corruption without regard for truth and justice.

Chanda Turner, just 23 years old, was shot to death at her home in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, on July 12, 2000. Her boyfriend claimed she shot herself while he slept through the sound of gunfire and later found her outside on the back steps after she was dead. Crime scene photos depict blood throughout the inside of the home, including on the mattress he claimed he was asleep on. The mattress had been stripped of sheets; no one asked where they went. There were more signs of cleanup in the bedroom, including a bottle of cleaning solution on the floor. The boyfriend had fresh scratches on his arms, and Chanda was covered in bruises. There were signs of a struggle in the living room, including broken furniture.

On January 6, 2004, Sheila Deviney's mobile home (fire photo, right), located about one mile east and one mile south of Maysville, Oklahoma, burned to the ground. Deviney, 30, was murdered. It should be no surprise that Sheila Deviney had been married to an abusive, controlling man. They had a court date about past-due child support scheduled for the next day. According to eye witnesses, her ex-husband was at the home, although, by law, he was not allowed on the premises. He and another friend destroyed evidence and took items from the home. And, as of last week, the medical examiner's office has set a deadline in 2012 regarding the destruction of Sheila's tissue samples. And there is a $50,000 reward being offered by Oklahoma business people in this case.

Tom Horton (left) had been a beloved and respected teacher for twenty five years in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, before he was killed by a shotgun blast in his home on December 10, 2008.

Many family members sounded the alarm of foul play, they pointed out obvious evidence of a homicide to local authorities which fell on deaf ears.

Medical Investigator John Miller, who is not a physician and who also obstructed the performance of an autopsy in Chanda Turner's case, classified the death a suicide. No autopsy was perfomed, despite Tom Horton dying of an unattended, violent death by firearm. The family's repeated requests for an autopsy were denied. Without benefit of an autopsy or other direct scrutiny by any pathologist, Horton’s death remains incorrectly classified as a suicide. The family called attention to physical evidence in other areas of the dwelling corroborating homicide, all of which the ME's Office met with hostility.

Faced with an overwhelming number of inconsistencies and physical evidence, five individuals from Wynnewood, including two of Horton’s sons, two family friends and a former student, began the arduous task of seeking justice in Garvin County, up to and including the petitioning for a grand jury.

Landon Edwards, or "Hopper," (pictured, right) was just 26 years of age when he was found murdered in Guymon on August 30, 2008. The autopsy photos in this case tell a much different story than what the Oklahoma ME's office listed on his death certificate.

At the time, according to family accounts, "[Landons'] girlfriend claimed to have found him upon awaking at 8:38 a.m." Supposedly, Landon hung himself less than 10 feet from where she slept, in a room that had no door between her and the victim. The facts speak for themselves. The victim's position at the scene did not support that of a self-induced death, or suicide.

As you are reading this, I am in Oklahoma, under what many consider a hostile environment. Threats have been implied that I will not leave the state in anything other than a body bag. During my ten days in Oklahoma, I will be visiting crimes scenes with family members, participating in press conferences, legislation and meeting with various officials.

The Roth Show will be taking daily reports live from me as I make appearances in and around Oklahoma. Dr. Laurie Roth and her associates have committed themselves to helping keep me safe while I'm there.