Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Prosecutor's New Clothes and Amanda Knox

by Mark Waterbury, PhD., with Anne Bremner

We all remember the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen. Charlatans convinced the vain Emperor that they could weave fabric so fine, so beautiful, that only an idiot or incompetent would fail to see it. Not wanting to admit that he couldn’t see the fabric himself, the Emperor bought a pricey outfit and paraded about before his people.

The people, not wanting to be thought of as idiots or incompetents, all praised his fine clothes. They outdid one another in describing the beauty of the fabric and how perfectly it all fit together.

It was left to a child to point out the obvious: The Emperor had no clothes. Once the child spoke, the floodgates opened and everyone could admit the truth that lay before their eyes all along.

Now, at the appeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito in their trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, we see prosecutor Giuliano Mignini’s absurd charade of guilt coming apart at the seams. The prosecutor, it seems, has no clothes either. Much of the unraveling took place in just the last week. First, a report from court-appointed independent experts who are reviewing the DNA profiling evidence on two items claimed to be critical by the prosecution, was leaked to Italian media.

The experts report that they have found nothing. No blood on a kitchen knife that the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon, not even between the blade and the handle where it would have surely been wicked up and trapped. Neither did they find enough DNA to profile. The finding that there is no DNA or blood anywhere on the knife marks the beginning of the end for that critical item of evidence.

That result was not a surprise. It was an ordinary kitchen knife that did not match the wounds, did not match an imprint left at the scene, no blood was found on it in the first round of tests with TMB, and the profiler system reported “too low” for DNA. But it had woven, like the Emperor’s invisible fabric, into apparently damning evidence with a breathtakingly simplistic line, “Amanda’s DNA on the handle, Meredith’s on the blade.” Only an idiot or incompetent could fail to see that that meant guilt.

When presented in court it was carried in its own glass case, under armed guard in a melodramatic show. It was scientific nonsense, and now everyone can see it. That knife had nothing to do with the crime. It was also the beginning of the end for the bra clasp that was literally kicked around on the floor by investigators for 47 days, dug out from under a throw rug, dropped back on the floor, then finally retrieved.

The prosecution had no physical evidence whatsoever that associated Raffaele with the crime. So, they sent a team back in after the 47 days to fetch some in the form of that clasp. We learned from that same leaked report that there is no DNA to be found on the clasp. It was claimed by the prosecution to have contamination-level DNA on it from an unknown number of sources, one of them possibly being Raffaele. But now, nothing can be found. Why? Because it seems, the clasp has been stored, for years, in a jar of liquid. Not only has any DNA long since rotted away, the clasp itself has actually rusted. Any competent forensic investigator knows that DNA samples must be kept dry or they will decompose.

This leaves us with a question similar to ones that seem to come up again and again in this case while analyzing the prosecution, their forensics experts, and the judges in the court of first instance. Were they really so incompetent as to not know this? Or could it be that the destruction of the clasp evidence was not a mistake? We may never know. All that is certain is that the clasp will go down as a kind of monument to bad evidence handling.

The prosecutor’s new clothes looked even shabbier when Monica Napoleoni, the head of the polizia unit in charge of the hotly disputed interrogations of both Raffaele and Amanda, failed to show up to testify in court. The astonished judge fined her 300 Euros. There was a recess while they tried to contact her, but she could not be found. Oops! Got the wrong day of the week? The prosecution said that they didn’t really need her after all, but she will be summoned nevertheless. It is not the first time.

Why is it that key witnesses for the prosecution seem to no longer want to appear in court? But it was the testimony of Antonio Curatollo, also known as Toto, a perpetually homeless heroin addict that most clearly laid bare the prosecutor’s new clothes. Toto had been hailed as a “Superwitness,” a role he had practice at playing since this was no less than his third appearance as a critical witness in a murder trial. The man doesn’t get around much, but a lot must go down within sight of his perch on the park bench where he lived.

Toto testified in the trial that he saw Amanda and Raffaele engaging in a heated discussion in the plaza near her home, hanging out for hours on the evening of the murder. This contradicted their alibis that they were at Raffaele’s apartment that night. There were deep problems with Toto’s testimony from the outset, but these had been papered over, and he had emerged as the single, solitary, prosecution eyewitness who the defendants were near the crime scene. He had testified that he was sure of the night and the time because people had costumes on, and there were buses taking people off to the discos.

Trouble is, the buses and costumes are recollections of Halloween night, the night before the murder took place. There were neither costumes nor buses on the night of the murder, November 1, All Saint’s Day, a more sober holiday.

In answer to a question from the presiding judge, Toto explained that although he was addicted to heroin at the time of the events, heroin was not a hallucinogen. He replied that he lived “at home” when asked about his residence, but home turned out to be Capanne prison, where he is serving a sentence for sale of Heroin. He was uncertain about what day Halloween falls on and professed not to know why he is in prison. He was clear about where he relieved himself, in the bushes near the plaza. An assistant prosecutor, Manuela Commodi, dismissed Toto’s multiple contradictions, saying that it doesn’t matter that he confused the night of the murder with Halloween, since we know where Amanda and Raffaele were on Halloween.

But the leaked report, the no-show, and the almost-childlike statements of a bewildered man have now spoken for all to hear, and revealed for all to see - the prosecutor has no case.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Casey Anthony Drama Approaches Final Act

As we get closer and closer to the trial of Casey Anthony for the murder of her toddler daughter Caylee, it is looking more likely that the end will be anticlimatic.  Instead of terminating in one explosive scene after another on a tense courtroom stage, it appears as if it will end with an abrupt drop of the curtain as Casey whispers "guilty."  A last minute plea bargain seems nearly inevitable.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me saying that Casey is too narcissistic to accept any level of responsibility for her actions, and her lead attorney Jose Baez is too arrogant and media-hungry to let this one go.  Those arguments have merit.  But many stubborn clients have succumbed when they truly accept the real possibility that the curtain call will be a lethal injection.

You see the signs of willingness to deal on both sides.  Baez is acting reckless with the judge--burning bridges through neglect and frontal assault.  He's missed the judge's deadlines even after being cited for the same offense.  Then last week, he topped it all with a motion for a rehearing.  He wrote that Judge Perry had inaccurate facts and was biased.  He didn't ask the judge to recuse himself.  He simply threw a gauntlet.

The defense did have a point--albeit a small one.  The judge did incorrectly describe the room where Casey had her initial lengthy discussion with law enforcement but everyone understood his meaning.   Did Baez and costar Cheney Mason really think the judge would give them a do-over by allowing a rehearing?  If they did, they were wrong.  He denied that request, like so many others.

The victim: Caylee Anthony
The defense is also sounding desperate.  Baez's voice even quavered during arguments about evidence last week.  He's acting like a man who knows that if he can't get the evidence thrown out, he doesn't have a chance at trial.  I'm surprised he hasn't filed a motion denying the existence of Caylee Anthony.

Before this week is out, they'll all be back in the courtroom where Baez and Mason will argue about the inclusion at trial of the stain in the car trunk, all references to the smell of the car and dismissal of any mentions of the heart sticker placed on the duct tape fastened over little Caylee's mouth.

Judge Perry may give him one or two wins in his mountains of motions but not enough to weaken the state's case appreciably. Baez is not the country's most brilliant legal mind but even he can understand how dire things look for his client.

On the other side of the aisle, the prosecutors are feeling the pressure of budgetary concerns and the ruling that there has been sufficient pre-trial publicity to warrant not selecting jurors from Orlando or Orange County.  Rather than make a change of venue, Judge Perry decided to import a jury from elsewhere.

When Ninth Judicial Circuit Court spokesman Karen Levey estimated the cost of supporting that sequestered jury for eight weeks would be $360,000, an outcry arose.  Lydia Gardner, the clerk of circuit courts in Orange County said that without more funding from the state senate, the court could not afford a trial for Casey Anthony.  Florida, like just about every other state in the Union, is seeking to cut expenses, not to find places to dole out taxpayer dollars.

To me, it seems the stage is set for a plea bargain.  And it could come at the very last moment.  I sat in the courtroom on the first day of jury selection for the Richard McFarland trial and it happened right before my eyes.  I found it hard to believe that an agreement was not reached before that moment in time.

Will the players in the Casey Anthony drama all gather on the stage before a packed courtroom audience and the eager cameras of In Session for a performance that will never begin?  Or will the show go on?
May 9 is less than six weeks away.

Diane Fanning is the author of MOMMY'S LITTLE GIRL, the only published book about the tragic fate of little Caylee Anthony.  When the Casey Anthony trial begins, you'll find daily updates of the case on Diane Fanning's blog, Writing is a Crime.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Los Angeles Street Gangs: Bloods & Crips

by Women in Crime Ink

Following is an excerpt from the book The Rough Guide to True Crime, which includes a section on organized crime. Within that is an overview about the street gangs of Los Angeles.

Successive waves of migration to the West Coast have resulted in California being home to a bewildering array of street gangs, hiker gangs, Triads, and other criminal outfits.

Other lesser-known groups include Mongols MC, a motorcycle band founded in 1969 and based in the southern part of the state (although it has chapters elsewhere, including in Scandinavia). The Mongols have a record of being successfully infiltrated by federal agents, leading to arrests and convictions for violent crimes and racketeering. In October 2008, a judge granted a controversial injunction to ban the club logo, which depicts a Mongolian warrior wearing shades. Also active are the Satanas, a Filipino American street gang in Los Angeles, the United Bamboo Gang, a large Taiwanese Triad; the Mars 18, one of several gangs whose membership is largely drawn from L.A.’s El Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Honduran communities (the gang is known simply as El Criminal in El Salvador); and the Black Guerrilla Family, an African-American prison gang with a tough agenda of overthrowing the government.

Los Angeles is the metropolis of street gangs and gangland criminals. Perhaps its most notorious gangs are two African-American outfits, the Bloods and the Crips. The Crips started in the neighborhoods of West Los Angeles around 1970. The smaller neighborhood gang consolidated and joined forces under the leadership of Stanley “Tookie” Williams and Raymond Washington. Soon, other gangs started renaming themselves, incorporating the word “Crips” into their new names – gangs such as the Main Street Crips, Kitchen Crips, 5 Deuce Crips, and Rollin 20 Crips – appeared on the streets.

There are estimated to be at least 30,000 Crips. But unlike the hierarchically organized Mafia and Asian gangs, this mainly black gang is more of a loose federation. Williams wrote a memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, in which he termed the Crips a “fighting alliance.”

In 1973, a Crips group was formed in Compton, in South Central L.A. It called itself the Piru Street Boys and became powerful and well organized. It has been in the nature of the loosely organized black gangs that bloody feuds develop in the absence of a regimented structure. And so it was with the Pirus, who broke off violently from the rest of the Crips, calling themselves Bloods instead. The rivalry and factionalism continues today.

One of the Crips founding members was a man called Buddha, who wore a blue bandana together with blue jeans and a blue shirt. When he was killed in 1973, gang mourners wore similar bandanas as a mark of respect and, with that gesture, the Crips adopted the gang color that identifies them today. Crips gang members wear blue articles of clothing, shoelaces, hat, hair rollers, and canvas belt. In some cities, members wear light blue. They generally write their graffiti in blue, tagging their gang names on walls to mark their territorial boundaries and to publicly taunt their enemies or rivals. They use terms like “BK” (Blood Killer) and “PK” (Piru Killer). Crips also refer to one another as “Cuzz” and use the letter “C” to replace the letter “B” in their conversations and writings (for example, “Meet me at the cusstop” or “that guy has crass calls”). Conversely, Bloods wear the color red and refer to one another as “Blood,” “Piru,” or “CK” (Crip Killer).

As for tattoos, a teardrop by an eye can indicate that its wearer is a murderer. In the past, black gang members eschewed tattoos, but that’s changed; today, members are tattooing themselves in the same manner as the traditional Hispanic gangs that sport multiple tattoos identifiable to certain gangs, helping police ID crime suspects’ affiliations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Daycare Terror

by Katherine Scardino

Last month, a tragic event occurred in my hometown of Houston, Texas. On February 25, 2011, four children were killed, and three children were injured, in a daycare fire.  The fire erupted at a residence that also served as a child-care facility called Jackie’s Child Care.

The owner of the home, Jessica Tata, lived in the home and also owned and operated the daycare center. The fire broke out at about 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon. When firefighters arrived, they found two injured children outside the home and learned there were five more children trapped inside the burning house. Firefighters were able to rescue the children who were trapped inside and took all seven to the hospital. Three of the children died the following day in the hospital, and a fourth child died in the hospital a day later. The victims of this horrific accident ranged in age from 18 months to three years old.

So, what happened? Where was owner and supposed responsible adult Jessica Rene Tata when the fire broke out? JTata, age 22, was seen on local television walking around the scene during the rescue of the children. A neighbor reported that Tata was not at home when the fire broke out, and several neighbors reported seeing Jessica arriving home with bags of groceries  after the fire started. Neighbors' accounts, later corroborated with in-store video footage, proves that Tata had left the children alone during nap time to go grocery shopping at Target.

Alone? What was she smoking? Who in their right mind would leave a house full of young, sleeping children alone to go shopping? No one seems to know exactly how long she was gone, but store security cameras show she was inside Target for at least 13 minutes.  Apparently, it was long enough for a pan of oil left on a hot burner on the stove to catch fire.  By the time Tata returned home, smoke had engulfed her home and was billowing out of the windows.

After the fire was extinguished, Tata refused to talk to the police, referring them to her attorney. Shortly after, Tata fled Houston. She got on an airplane for Nigeria before the district attorney’s office could file charges against her. Some were very upset that the district attorney's office was slow in getting her charged, arrested and into police custody. 

Jessica Tata remained in Nigeria until yesterday, March 22. Apparently, some family members who live there and other people in Houston helped the U.S. Marshals Service, Interpol, and Nigerian officials track her down and bring her back to Texas to face the 14n state criminal charges that have been filed against her. The charges include manslaughter, six charges of reckless injury to a child, three charges of abandoning a child under age 15, and a federal charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. She has a lot of defending to do, that’s for sure.

Jackie's Child Care Center was a registered daycare home with the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. A registered daycare is the least regulated type of facility. Generally, home daycare facilities are less expensive than larger, more popular facilities, and, therefore, cater more toward families who cannot afford $900-plus per month in child-care costs. But you would think parents would at least look at the home daycare facility, ask questions about training, listen to the classroom for interaction, count the number of children versus caregivers, and be informed by checking licensing information. This is just basic stuff. 

Jackie’s Child Care was been inspected twice over the past three years by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. Two violations were found last year: The facility was missing required carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Reports show that these issues were fixed immediately after being reported. However, faulty equipment was not to blame in this tragedy. Had a responsible adult been present at the home when the fire started, it is more likely than not that all of the children could have been saved before the fire got out of control.

Unfortunately, Texas laws do not help the parents very much. For instance, to run a  registered child care center, you must have a GED or a high school education, be CPR certified, pass a background check, and attend 20 hours of training to be in charge of a classroom of children. To have someone paint my fingernails, they have to have 600 hours of training. For someone to cut my hair, they must have 1,200 hours of training. Yet, to take care of our precious children requires only 20 hours. 

Minimum standards set forth by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services say that Jackie's Child Care was authorized to have up to six children in her facility full time, with the allowance of six additional children for after-school care only. These same regulation standards maintain that registered child-care facilities are only inspected once every two years, unless reports of neglect or abuse are made. Who would leave their babies with a 22-year-old woman who could legally watch up to 12 children at one time? Not to mention that this fire started during school hours, meaning that Tata should have had  only six children in her care to be in compliance with state regulations.

As a result of this disaster and tragedy, the Houston City Council is working to pass a new city ordinance requiring all home-based daycare operators to register with the city and submit to a safety inspection every year. If this ordinance is passed, home-based daycare operators would be required to pay $100 plus a $25 administration fee for the annual inspection which would be performed by the Houston Fire Marshals office. The state license held by Jessica Tata cost $37.

Although this change is small, at least it’s a start. Despite the obvious need for better regulation of home child care facilities, I know that most of these facilities take very good care  of their children, and that events like this are rare. The best way to prevent a tragedy like this is to be completely informed about the people to whom we entrust our children, and that is ultimately the job of parents. No amount of state regulation will do more than parents being actively involved in their children's daycare by visiting often, popping in unannounced, and maintaining constant communication with daycare providers. Pay attention. Ask questions. Ignorance is not bliss when your child's health, safety, and well-being are concerned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Should Teens Be Charged as Adults?

We don't let children vote and we don't let children sign contracts, but once they're old enough to drive, they should be able to stand trial for murder ...?

Prosecuting children as adults is a touchy subject, especially from the perspective of one who advocates on behalf of children. A brutal, callous case that occurred in September 2010 got me thinking about this very topic. On that evening, 81-year-old George Baker was indiscriminately attacked while walking down the main street of sleepy Lynchburg, Virginia, after attending his granddaughter's wedding. The Tempe, Arizona, resident was on his way back to his hotel from the reception when two 16-year-old boys and one 13-year-old boy randomly attacked him.

A police search-warrant affidavit connected with the arrest of the three juveniles describes how, immediately before the attack, one boy had told their female companions that he was going to hit the next person he saw, thinking this would impress the girls. That boy then struck the elderly gentleman, who fell to the ground. The second boy then kicked the unconscious Mr. Baker in the head. Mr. Baker, who had extensive head injuries, died at the hospital early the next morning.

The three teenage boys were arrested after being identified by witnesses to the attack. All have been charged with murder. The two 16 year olds were charged as adults, in accordance with Virginia law.

But is that correct? And who decides? Treating a child like an adult can be a decision made either by the court or by the prosecutor. The leading U.S. Supreme Court decision of Kent v. United States actually delineates the factors that should be considered in making this determination – namely, the seriousness of the crime, the suspect's age and the suspect's criminal past. Most people do not understand that serious reflection goes into the decision to try a child as an adult. In fact, by an eerie coincidence, Virginia's current policies governing how and when to prosecute juveniles as adults was being reviewed by the Virginia State Crime Commission during the very week of Mr. Baker's attack.

The discussion surrounded proposed legislation that would allow a juvenile's lawyer to appeal the transfer of violent-crime charges to a non-juvenile court. Proponents of charging juveniles as adults cite the actual reduction of juvenile crime in Virginia since a 1996 law change, which requires the automatic transfers of murder and similar aggravated-malice charges to adult courts for juveniles over 14. Who knows whether this week's events will have a bearing on the final decision about what the state does with violent juveniles? At least the topic is being intelligently and systemically debated.

These decisions don't come easy–and they shouldn't. Children are our future, and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. The only way to decide if it is an appropriate choice is to weigh the facts. In this case, the factors as we know them are:

    •    At least one of the three defendants had a premeditated plan.
    •    Two of the three are 16 – of age to drive (and even to consent to sex) in most states.
    •    The victim was a particularly vulnerable 81-year-old man who was by himself – and, by all witness accounts, doing nothing to provoke the attack.
    •    The crime showed a great degree of callousness: The boys allegedly continued to kick and beat Mr. Baker when he was on the ground and not resisting.
    •    This is not the boys' first interaction with law enforcement.
    •    The boys have been associated with a local gang.

Given all of that, is it bad that the children in this case (not every case) are being treated like adults? I say no – and kudos to prosecutors in Virginia for holding the perpetrators accountable for this despicable crime. The defendants – nicknamed The Lynchburg Teens – were tried for murder and convicted in the beating of George Baker.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Murderitaville: Solved and Unsolved Serial Cases

by Elizabeth Gerardin 

In March 2000, an inconsequential woman is lured to a busy parking lot where she is abducted and murdered. Eleven years later, the case remains open. In February 2004, a young girl is abducted beneath a surveillance camera. By the time her sexually assaulted body is located, the incriminating videotape has been broadcast internationally. Two years later, a multi-millionaire serial pedophile is charged with defrauding Medicare of more than $17 million. 

In between these crimes are many others.

They are all related.

She was 25, single, and lived with her parents in Bradenton, Florida. She had lupus. She had borne a daughter in her late teens who she had given to the child’s father to raise. She  quit a dead-end job at a medical lab in nearby Sarasota after qualifying for disability.

She must have had second thoughts about relinquishing her daughter because in 1994 she initiated custody proceedings that were still ongoing in 2000. Around 5:30 PM on March 27, 2000, she received an anonymous phone call. A man told her he had information crucial to her custody case that he would share if she would meet him at the parking lot of the local WalMart.

Her parents begged her not to go.

Later, her father found her abandoned car in the parking lot with the lights on and the keys in the ignition. Two days later her nude and battered body was found face down in the mire of a popular mudbogging area 1200 feet away.

Nine years later, I spoke with a local homicide detective about a cold case article for a crime rag. He selected Tara Reilly and told me they knew who killed her and why. All they wanted from the article was some heat to apply additional pressure and perhaps encourage a witness to come forward. He explained they knew her child’s father ordered the murder and one of his employees had committed it. And in fact, other mutual friends were witnesses to the act that was staged as a sex crime.

This begged the question, was there any proof? Actually, no, there wasn’t. There was no DNA and after initial questioning the two suspects did what only the guilty do – they lawyered up. Oh, and the other proof of guilt – it’s always the husband or the boyfriend.  Yet he managed to impregnate two other women he didn’t marry, who had also taken him to court and they were still above ground. The detective shared details of the crime scene that could not be released, as it was still an open case; these details did not indicate this murder was the contract hit on a bothersome ex. 

I wrote basically what he requested, and did so reluctantly, because I thought it was a lame investigation. I believed it was not a murder to eliminate a petitioner in a court case, a case that she was losing anyway, but a crime committed by someone who enjoyed what he did, someone who had experience along those lines. And when has any group of people ever been able to keep a secret of this magnitude for years?

On the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday 2004, 12-year-old Carlie Brucia was walking home from a sleepover in Sarasota Florida. As she cut across a car wash lot, she was approached by a man. She appeared to recognize him. They spoke briefly and hand in hand they walked away. There was no struggle nor did she appear to be frightened or reluctant; if there is any expression on her face, it is a slightly quizzical look. How do I know this? I have watched these 18 seconds over 100 times. I watch her leave the realm of childhood and enter the valley of the shadow, one in which her life expectancy is no longer measured in decades or years–t is down to minutes. She and her captor walk out of the frame of the camera and poof–she is gone.

Unlike Tara Reilly’s, Carlie’s abduction-murder will be solved in days. Actually in about two days, since her abductor, Joseph Smith, managed to commit the most heinous of crimes within the range of a surveillance camera. Once the film was enhanced, the name emblazoned across the pocket of his mechanic’s shirt became visible and people watching the broadcasts called in to identify him. He wasn’t hard to locate either – he had been picked up shortly after the abduction for an unrelated drug offense and was in the Sarasota County jail.

Joseph Smith was convicted of her abduction, rape, and murder in 2005 and sentenced to death. Smith had one of the best public defenders in the state, and one of the few who was death-qualified. Adam Tebrugge is the antithesis of the Machiavellian defense attorney. I have seen him post trial while co-counsel is heading to a bar to celebrate an acquittal, or drink away the sting of a conviction. Adam always declines; he is going to church to pray.

Facing a jury out for blood, Adam presented as mitigators the fact that Smith was a long-time drug addict lacking the ability to formulate premeditation; he loved his daughters and was kind to animals, none of which was compelling.

The sex murder of this young girl was horrendous. She suffered greatly and experienced excruciating fear. Crimes such as these compel one to ask, what is the nature of evil within a human being that erodes any sense of decency or compassion for a child?
What made Joseph Smith a monster? No answer seemed forthcoming.

Joseph DeGregorio

In 1981, Joseph DeGregorio was 24 and ambitious. A native of Brooklyn, he had managed to win a million dollar settlement against a New York hospital when he alleged an injury by a security guard. He used some of his windfall to help a 13 year old boy from the hood who suffered from a rare from of cancer. Soon the 13 year old and his 15 year old brother were under the sway of DeGregorio who convinced their mother to let him adopt the younger boy and bring them both to Florida where they set up housekeeping in Sarasota in 1983.

Over the years, DeGregorio “adopted” many young boys he wanted to “help.” Their mothers always agreed. Thirteen years later, the younger of the brothers made the following allegations to a Sarasota detective who gave the following sworn testimony: He alleges he has known DeGregorio since he was 13 and was molested as a child by DeGregorio. He identified 7 other boys he alleges DeGregorio molested. He alleges DeGregorio adopts boys from dysfunctional families and gets them because he has money.

By the late 1990s, DeGregorio estimated his fortune at almost $40 million. The infusion of wealth did not discourage him from suing creditors to avoid satisfying his debts. His business, Acculab Inc., maintained a staff of in-house lawyers and doctors. He even sued the local gas station to avoid paying his corporate fuel bills. He sued a cop who attempted to question him over stalking two teens that were the victims of his road rage. He sued the teens and their parents for petitioning the court for a restraining order. He sued an employee for saying his company might go bankrupt; he sued his neighbors over slights. He prosecuted a 15-year-old “adopted son” he alleged attempted to extort money from him by an accusation of molestation. Needless to say, no one dared to comment on the steady stream of young and disturbed boys living with him.

Highly intelligent and ruthless, his talent lay in the selection of his victims – he could always find the boy whose single mother was broke, jobless, homeless, miserable and offer her a job and an apartment, but one too small to accommodate her child who he would graciously offer to take home to keep his own “son” company. The mothers were always compensated, some lavishly and for long periods of time. Affidavit after affidavit tells the same story:

"No, I never told anyone; my mother sent my sister into foster care when she told her our brother molested her. No, I never told anyone; my mom was evicted when she got fired–we went to our church and the elder knew Joey and said he would help. No I never told; I was ashamed."
Other affidavits alleged that DeGregorio occasionally conducted liaisons with women, that technically he was bi, but preferred young boys. One affidavit alleged the affiant accompanied DeGregorio on trips to New York for business. When asked what the business entailed, he answered that DeGregorio had business with John Gotti and visited him in jail. There was speculation regarding money laundering through his different lab facilities, several in Florida and one in Las Vegas.

When the victim is also the beneficiary of gifts, money, security, vacations, it is more confusing because the despoiler alternates the carrot and the stick, skewing reality. But without exception each of DeGregorio’s victims, as adults, were testaments to ruined lives. None ever recovered from the experience.

After almost 23 years of manipulating the legal system in Sarasota, DeGregorio was brought down by an employee who approached the feds with a qui tam, or whistleblower’s suit. The employee presented evidence that DeGregorio had systematically defrauded Medicare of at least 17 million dollars. When the feds seized his computers and documents, they found child pornography. Lots of it. Held without bail, his victims began to come forward.

Their stories were horrifying.

He issued death threats against witnesses, victims, and cops from his jail cell, offering fortunes to prisoners about to be released. An offered bribe to facilitate an escape finally landed him in solitary.

After his business went bankrupt and his assets seized, his in-house attorneys left him in the hands of a public defender and he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for multiple counts of sexual battery/victim younger than 12. His subsequent appeal was denied.

Another Cold Case

A few weeks after I wrote the Tara Reilly article, I was looking for another cold case and went to neighboring Sarasota. I told the homicide detective about my last article and he stated, "I know who killed Tara Reilly."


He had been one of the detectives working the Carlie Bruscia murder and he said that while Joseph Smith refused to discuss Brucia, he wanted to talk about his involvement in the death of Tara Reilly, a murder that was outside the Sarasota jurisdiction.

The detective continued to tell me that Joseph Smith and his younger brother John had been brought to Florida in their teens by a wealthy serial pedophile. That the pedophile continued to control them well into adulthood with money, drugs, blackmail, Baker Acts, carrots and sticks. That he continued to engage them both in sexual activity as a form of dominance even after Joseph Smith married. That this pedophile was the most dangerous and brilliant sociopath he had ever encountered. And thank God, Joseph DeGregorio would never see the outside of a cell again. 

But Tara Reilly? What happened?

Tara Reilly worked for DeGregorio at Acculab. She had left to take disability but she attended a New Year’s Eve party there in 1999. She claimed that she was sexually assaulted after the party by Joseph DeGregorio and Joseph and John Smith. She was terrified and waited a couple of months before approaching us. At the time of her death she was coming forth with her allegations and DeGregorio knew that.

"Did you share this information with the Bradenton detectives?"

"Oh, yeah… they didn’t want to hear it cause it conflicted with their boyfriend theory."

Joseph Smith had several previous arrests for violent attacks on women.

The Sarasota prosecutor said on the record that he could not discuss the sexual assault of Tara Reilly because even long after her death, the case was open, but he felt confident of the detectives’ assessments.

Sometimes when I watch the video of Carlie walking into oblivion, I wonder if Smith has any insight into the source of his rage. Heroin and cocaine, even in copious amounts, did not silence his demons. The wife he loved and the daughters he adored did not silence them either. Even facing the death penalty, he did not offer his early victimization at the hands of DeGregorio as a mitigating factor in his crime. I never told; I was ashamed.

Several years ago a grim-faced Patricia Davis, mother of the Smith brothers, signed an affidavit swearing that DeGregorio was the legal guardian of her younger son. At that time John Smith was in his late 30s, still living with his captor.

In 2006 she stood outside the Acculab facilities glaring at federal agents who filled three box trucks with evidence against her sons’ molester, her benefactor. Did her son’s rage manifest itself against females as betrayers, collaborators? Was it easier to blame the mother who turned a blind eye than to blame the predator?

Consider this: In America where even people living below the poverty line have a television and the much of the population is insulated from the real terror and depravity of existence, genuine evil is understood primarily as the plot of a horror movie. Terrible things happen, but they occur in the context of entertainment where there is a hero, a villain, a beautiful woman and all loose ends are resolved within 120 minutes.

Living in denial is, for some, the only option. Since the beginning of time, people have created myths to try and explain the unexplainable. America is a country of laws, where we must believe that our system of justice is capable of protecting even its most vulnerable citizens.

Perhaps that is our modern myth.

I called the agency that was still investigating the Tara Reilly murder and spoke to the sergeant. "Are you aware of the theory that Joseph Smith murdered Tara Reilly?"

His boredom radiated across the phone lines.

"Yeah, I’m aware of it. When you get into the Tara Reilly case, there are trails that go down trails that lead down other trails… ."

He was through talking and no longer listening.

Where he saw trails that meandered and diverged into other trails, I saw a straight line.

Elizabeth Gerardin is an investigator for a Florida law firm and a certified pistol instructor who occasionally works cold cases for local law enforcement agencies.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

'How to get Away With the Ultimate Murder,' Author Unknown

Late last week, a Michigan jury found Doug Stewart guilty of the murder of his wife, Venus Stewart, who was abducted from just outside her parents' home in Michigan April 26, 2010. The relationship had a documented history of violence. Venus Stewart filed for divorce and moved out of the marital home. Doug Stewart, according to police reports, was furious with her sending text messages and emails, demanding she return with the kids or “you know what will happen if you don’t.” Once she was finally able to leave the toxic and dangerous environment, as in all intimate partner violence relationships, the abuser went into action plan mode. 

The victim files numerous police reports and has court orders of protection; she tells friends and family she is in fear for her life. Why? Because he lost ownership, power and control over the person with whom they married. In the inner workings of an abuser’s mind, “till death do us part” is now their goal.

As an angry abuser, not wanting the person with whom I am in a relationship to leave, I am going to boil over like hot liquid on a stove. And, as an abuser, I have a lot of time to think out a plan of action. In the beginning, after the victim leaves, I am going to threaten the person where no one else can hear me. I will make a victim's life unbearable during the divorce process, especially in court mandated mediation meetings with mental health evaluators, while sitting dressed neatly and showing the world what a wonderful person I am. The moment the session is over I will shoot those looks of "now you did it" and "you are going to pay for this if you do not return to me." Next, as custody of the kids is being determined, as an abuser, I am outraged and think about how "she is not getting away with this alive."

I then, as the abuser, figure out where to get that special "handbook" available to members only in an eBook format that the recently formed "secret society of abusers" are all reading, titled How to Get Away With the Ultimate Murder, author unknown.

For some abusers, in my expert opinion, the handbook has worked in cases where the victim has vanished without a trace. There must be a chapter in the "handbook" on how to correctly lawyer up, as you will notice with each person of interest in cases where the wife is reported missing, the last person to see them no longer cooperates with authorities. In the blink of an eye, most persons of interest hire a fairly skilled defense attorney in the early stages. The legal hired armor acts as the shield or the mouth piece for the only person, once again in my expert opinion, behind the vanishing act of their loved one. Perfect example is the upcoming trial for the murder of missing mother Renee Pernice. Her husband, Shon Pernice, who is awaiting trial, secured an attorney immediately.

Isn't it rather strange that the victim is often the mother of their children, estranged wife or girlfriend? And, more often than not, they are going through a divorce or custody battle. And, yes, I need to mention that a person is innocent until proven guilty.

All of these cases have a common theme: The person has been erased from the planet, never to be seen or heard from again. A common theme does not make one guilty of the crime, but it is highly unusual that the person with whom the relationship has ended, in cases of intimate partner violence, does not have a motive. The facts, although circumstantial, do carry a lot of weight but is often not enough for a grand jury indictment, unless you have a body.

The prosecutor, John McDonough, went ahead and tried the Stewart case without a body. Not an easy task. But, he had enough circumstantial evidence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Douglas Stewart was found guilty by a jury of first-degree premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder. Stewart is scheduled for sentencing sometime next month. The remains of Venus Stewart have yet to be found.

Venus Stewart is still missing. Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Michigan State Police White Pigeon Post at 269-483-7611 or Rockford Regional Dispatch Center at 616-866-6666.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Charlie Sheen's Body Language Says 'Crazy Like a Fox'

by Dr. Lillian Glass

After watching Charlie Sheen on his recent home videos and on CNN with Piers Morgan I am more convinced than ever that he has gotten over on everyone. Yes, there is no doubt that he appears as though he is in some type of manic phase with his constant movement, high level of anger and agitation, and pressured speech rate. But if you listen carefully between the lines, Charlie knows exactly what he is doing. And no doubt Charlie will come out ahead of this as far as making money goes and being even more popular than ever before. Having said that, if he is in his manic phase and if he is drinking and drugging along with it, there is a super high risk he may get even more angry and violent and either do himself in or do physical harm to others.

In my latest book Toxic Men, I write about Sheen being one of the most toxic men based on his alleged history of violence towards women. He was accused of beating a woman up back in the 90′s. He shot Kelly Preston, John Travolta’s wife, in the arm once when they were dating. He threatened and abused ex wife Denise Richards. His Christmas fiasco with holding a knife to Brook Mueller’s throat also shows his extreme violent tendencies .

So, based on this, there is a high probability that Charlie may physically harm or even kill someone out of his uncontrolled anger and rage. Another possibility is that he may accidentally kill himself by ingesting either too much of something or a combination of something. I say accidentally because there is no question that Charlie appears to have narcissistic tendencies. While delusions of grandeur often accompany a manic phase, what is really confusing is that Charlie’s delusions of grandeur are a reality.

He thinks he can get millions of followers to rally behind him, and guess what? He can! He thinks he can make million and millions from representing product, and guess what? He can! He thinks he will be a huge film star. And guess what? He will be! People will flock to see his movie just to see how he turned out. Can he get insured? Absolutely. He is so cleaver that before any physicals or drug tests are done he will make sure he is clean, just like he did when he recently took a test with cameras rolling.

The fact that he is in such great shape at his age, complete with ripped abs, and with all the partying he has done is also impressive to many fans as well as non fans.

Battle Against the CBS Suits

CBS absolutely knew who they hired when they hired Charlie. They knew he could do the role, but what he didn’t know was that he could do it so well and make the show such a hit and a cash cow for them.

That is why they let him get away with so much for so many years, turning a blind eye. They felt that his personal life was his personal life, and as long as he showed up on the set and did what he was supposed to do, it would be no problem. In fact, they were of that mindset when Charlie had his latest binge in New York City hotel and caused a public embarrassment. While most companies would immediately fire an employee after such a fiasco, or after the fiasco in Aspen at Christmas when Charlie put a knife to his wife’s throat and CBS turned a blind eye.

In show business, bad press may be good press. It keeps your name out there. His bad-boy behavior certainly didn’t hurt his image or CBS's ratings. So they kept him on. A long as he made money for them, they did not care what he did in his off-camera life. Charlie knew that, and he knew he was safe with his $2 million income an episode. So he had no worries.

During this last binge, the only reason he was given a break in production was that CBS knew Charlie was their cash cow and wanted him to take care of whatever ailed him. They were willing to wait until he sorted himself out. They were willing to give him 30 days or longer to dry out in a rehab facility and put the show on hiatus until he returned. Charlie was the show, so they were willing to wait for him.

But Charlie didn’t want to wait. He didn’t want to be in rehab. He didn’t think he needed to have anything rehabbed. He loved his life. He loved that he could get away with anything. He loved that he could have any woman or as many women as he wanted. He loved the hookers and prostitutes and having two women at once. He loved the fights and the high drama inside and outside of his life. He loved his his kids. He loved the drugs and drink. He loved getting whatever he wanted at the snap of a finger. And most of all he loved Charlie as we have all seen on his many interviews. The common theme is Charlie loves Charlie and considers himself omnipotent.

CBS knew he was getting out of control and believing his own press as being the greatest and even God-like, as we have all seen in his on-camera musings. When Charlie wanted to get back to work a day or so later instead of taking off the 30 days or whatever it took to get “well,” CBS for the first time in Charlie's life said "No!" They really wanted him to sort himself out and at the same time wanted to show they were the one who were in control and had the power, not Charlie.

So Charlie, like any spoiled child who doesn’t get his way, went on a tirade and threw a tantrum. He took his tantrum to the airwaves to tell everyone how bad and awful the producer Chuck Lorre was to him.

This no doubt freaked out my dear friend, public relations maven Stan Rosenfeld, who, no doubt, said "No way! You can’t do that! This is career suicide to trash your producer in public! I am having nothing to do with this! I am out of here!" This didn’t phase Charlie in the least, as he certainly didn’t need a PR person to get press. Everyone in the media clamored to get some airtime or press time with him. In a few day period he generated major league press all by himself by appearing on every major morning and entertainment show including CNN's Piers Morgan.

While he was an angry mess on every morning show and shocked viewers with his rhetoric and outrageous sayings, the ratings went through the roof. People never saw this Charlie Sheen before. They always saw a clean and funny watered down version of him on Two and a Half Men. Now, they saw him raw and angry. I even commented about him on CBS’s "The Insider" saying how angry and hostile he looked body language wise.

Charlie on CNN

When Charlie arrived at the CNN Studios to do Piers Morgan’s show, there was tension in the air. I was even at the CNN studio shooting the Nancy Grace Show and everything there seemed to be on lock down.

There was a heaviness and nervousness in the air, and people were walking on eggshells. You couldn’t roam around freely as usual and there were only certain rooms you could be in. Security was everywhere and in full force. It was because Charlie was on the loose, and no one knew what would happen. Would he fly off the handle? Would he harm someone? So as a precaution, they wanted to keep everyone away from him and out of his path.

When I walked out of the CNN studio to get into my limo, a throng of paparazzi three-feet deep were waiting outside for Charlie, to take his photo, as soon he emerged from doing Piers Morgan’s show. Because they were so anxious and camera-trigger happy, they immediately began flashing away at me when someone yelled out, "That’s Dr. Glass," Then, the multitude of questions and cameras came at me as I was asked what I thought about Charlie Sheen on CNN as I was getting into my limo. Since I didn't see the show at the time because I was busy filming the Nancy Grace show, I had nothing to say except that I didn’t get to see it.

I did manage to see the show while I was in an airport in Salt Lake City that Sunday. Charlie was not as angry on the show. In fact he was hilarious at times. He was bright and sharp, and clearly knew what he was doing and saying. He did not seem crazy at all. In fact, Peirce also remarked that he didn’t think Charlie was crazy and actually thought Charlie was great and charming.

The Cardinal Sin in Hollywood

But those who did not find Charlie's interview charming was CBS. Charlie committed the Cardinal sin in Hollywood, biting the hand that feeds him. He was discussing money, whether or not he would return, and the negotiation process. This is a huge no-no. That is why there are agents and lawyers. You cannot discuss this on the air. It made CBS look bad as well as all producers.

Because of Charlie's popularity, he used his forum to, in essence, badmouth his employers and put them in a bad light. They could have none of that, and rightfully so. So, they fired him last Monday. They clearly had enough of him making them look like the bad guy when all they did was give him a chance to sort himself out.

Charlie was shocked and no doubt went on a binger as he ranted and raved and looked even more out of control and manic than ever on his homemade reality show. He looked awful as he had no makeup or hairstylist to make him look good. It was just raw Charlie.

When his kids were taken away, it was sad and horrible, but the right thing to do as kids cannot be anywhere near this man now. He seemed to take it in stride, but when the reality sets in that he will not be seeing his kids when he wants to, it will no doubt have a huge emotional impact on him. Maybe that will be the catalyst for him to sort himself out. One thing is for certain: He truly loves those kids, and that was evident on the video.

Charlie will Fight his Firing and Will Probably Win

Charlie's legal battle with CBS is far from over and no doubt a settlement will take place. No one wants a drawn-out trial, which would keep this ugly situation alive. It won't look good for CBS as Charlie's growing popularity would make them look like the big, bad wolf, even though they were not. Marty Singer, a great contracts attorney who also specializes in defamation against celebrities, will make sure Charlie comes out ahead, and he will, from a financial point of view.

I think CBS would rather settle than see the likes of Charlie on the set of Two and a Half Men. I am sure that producers would rather stick hot coals in their eyes than see Charlie show up on the set again. There is talk of replacing him with Rob Lowe, whom I have known for years. That would be a great move, in my view. Besides being funny, Lowe is definitely easy on the eye and would attract a lot of female viewers.

Charlie Capitalizes on his Infamy

On his latest home reality show, he was funny. I even laughed out loud. He gets under the table and takes a swig of something and says he isn’t going to tell us what it is because he hasn’t gotten paid for it. So, now it is all about money as we hear how he is getting this offer and that offer. Charlie will probably make more money than ever and make more of a name and a brand for himself than ever before. He will probably make so much that he may end up producing his own movies and end up one of the biggest moguls and powerhouses in Hollywood. Since he is such a porn-star aficionado, perhaps he may even produce some porn as well.

The money machine has started the sound of ka-ching already. There is a winning T-shirt line and a Tiger’s Blood drink and "I'm on a Drug Called Charlie Sheen" T-shirts. “Pulling a Charlie Sheen” will no doubt become part of our vernacular. I am sure that "troll" T-shirts are on the way. Maybe there will even be a cartoon series and a reality show or even a film called “Charlie's Trolls." The point is that Charlie has reached the tipping point in a good way, and his money-making machine has become viral with his Charlieisms.

With social media and good old marketing, Charlie doesn’t need CBS. If he doesn’t kill himself with drugs or end up in prison for hurting or killing someone, Charlie has a lucrative future ahead of him. Even though CBS gave him the boot, Hollywood being what it is and seeing how much he can make will give him yet another chance. Someone else will offer him a show, either cable, NBC or ABC. No doubt it will be a hit. Film offers will come in, and people will flock to see train wreck, crazy Charlie.

But as I said, Charlie is not crazy. He may be manic and angry and hostile, but Charlie is still  a funny, talented, consummate actor, as we have even seen in his over-the-top ratings on his own reality show. Charlie clearly knows what he is doing. Charlie is bigger than ever and is here to stay, unless he does himself or someone else in.