Saturday, May 31, 2008


Watch Oxygen tomorrow night to see Murder Prosecutor Donna Pendergast featured in a new episode of Oxygen's Captured series. The network describes Captured as "an engrossing true-crime series that places women at the center of solving mysteries."

"The Missing Hunters" explores the mysterious disappearance and murder of two Michigan hunters bludgeoned to death by two brothers who chopped up their bodies and fed the parts to pigs. Their vehicle and their bodies were never recovered.

The 1985 crime was "an evil so dark," Pendergast said in her closing arguments, "your worst nightmare pales in comparison." Glaring at the brothers on trial, Pendergast told jurors "Their human faces are nothing more than masks for monsters."

It took the jury just two hours to convict both of first-degree murder. Their attorneys are appealing.

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox told reporters he has no doubt the verdict will stand. "We have the best prosecutor in the state doing the case,'' he said of Pendergast.

The elderly father of a 27-year-old victim addressed the media: "I was glad to see them cuffed, and I can't wait to see them in chains.''

Thanks to the successful prosecution--in a case without a trace of physical evidence--this father got to see just that when the brothers were sentenced to life without parole.

Tomorrow night, you can see Pendergast secure justice in a brutal cold case that captured the nation's attention from the moment the hunters went missing twenty-five years ago. This case has also been featured on A&E's Cold Case Files and is the subject of the true-crime book Darker than Night.

Click here to watch the preview.

"The Missing Hunters"
Oxygen Network
Sunday, June 1, 2008
10:00 p.m. EDT

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Teenage Brain (Or Lack Thereof)

by Donna Pendergast

As every parent of a teenager knows, the teenage brain is different from the adult brain. All jokes aside, some of these differences have neurobiological and neuropsychological underpinnings. Although the adolescent brain is fully grown in size it is a long way from mature. Along with everything else in the body the brain changes significantly in adolescence.

According to recent studies and neuroimaging research the prefrontal cortex of the human brain, which controls planning, emotion, impulse control, and the ability to assess future consequences, is not fully developed until one is in their early- to mid-twenties. This research confirms that the distinction between teenagers and adults is more than one of age. It is one of physiological maturation.

Is an immature brain an excuse for committing a crime? The hot-button issue in juvenile criminal justice today is how to deal with the physical reality of brain development while demanding accountability for crimes committed by teens.


A key difference between adolescent and adult brains concerns the frontal lobe. During maturation, the human brain develops from front to back. The largest part of the brain, the frontal lobes, are in the front part of the cerebrum, the most sophisticated area of the brain. The size of the frontal lobes does not change significantly during the adolescent years but there are dramatic changes in their composition. A small area of the frontal lobes, the prefrontal cortices, are the last areas of the brain to evolve during the development process.

The adolescent brain truly is a work in progress. Two processes are taking place at a rapid rate: pruning, the process by which unnecessary nerve synapses (gray matter) in the frontal lobe are eliminated) as well as myelination, involving white matter that envelops connections to stabilize them. This conversion of gray to white matter is critical to making the brain's operation more efficient and developing the neural networks regulating behavior. The frontal lobes regulate the amygdala, the brain's emotional center, which controls anger, fear, recklessness, and gut responses.

A fully developed prefrontal cortex helps adults predict the consequences of their actions. In adolescents, the less developed prefrontal cortex affects the adolescent's ability for mental reasoning, decision-making, and assessment of consequences.


What are the
implications of adolescent brain development on the juvenile justice system? Because their brains are not fully mature, teens have a more limited capacity to self-regulate their impulses. Teens do not handle social pressure and other stresses the way adults do. However, despite brain immaturity, the fact remains that the vast majority of teens do not commit Columbine-type massacres and other forms of violent crime.

Is the greater question what is wrong with our country that we have such a pervasive problem with violent juvenile crime? Other developed countries do not have anywhere near our violent juvenile crime rate.

It's easy to know what to do with a teen such as
Jean Pierre Orliewcz. Orliewcz (pictured right) was recently tried in the Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit for stabbing to death an acquaintance and then telling him "just let it take over" as his victim lay dying in a pool of blood on a garage floor. Orliewcz then beheaded his victim and used a blow torch in an attempt to obliterate the victim's fingerprints and further conceal his identity. He later told authorities that he was "excited" by the idea of killing someone and getting away with it. At his sentencing last month, the judge told Orlewicz "There is a difference between mental illness and evil. You are tantamount to evil."

Clearly we cannot allow juveniles to be exonerated from any consequences for their criminal actions. An immature brain should not entitle juvenile offenders to a "get out of jail free card." Teenagers who demonstrate a vicious and callous disregard for human life must not be allowed to blame their actions on an undeveloped brain and walk away from their crime. But what about the criminal cases that are less clear-cut and do not involve the taking of a human life?

Neuroimaging research alone cannot determine an adolescent's criminal responsibility. Imaging is not diagnostic and you cannot do a scan to settle moral and legal questions. The big issue is: How do we balance necessary deterrence and the need to protect society with the best practices that encourage rehabilitation of a juvenile offender? There are no easy answers.

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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why A Man of Faith Lost Faith in the Death Penalty

Hunt for Justice by Cynthia Hunt

I spent my 27th birthday covering the execution of pickax murderess Karla Faye Tucker.

The Death Row Woman Who Divided a Nation

Her crime was sadistic. The jury that sentenced her to death heard a tape of Tucker bragging that she had orgasms as she and an accomplice hacked their two victims to death. Later, Tucker had a jailhouse conversion to Christianity that was so compelling even death penalty advocates like Rev. Pat Robertson pleaded with then Texas Governor George W. Bush to commute her sentence.

Leading up to the execution, I did emotional interviews with people from all sides of this case.

One Tucker juror cried as she told me she stood by her death sentence decision but that Tucker’s execution would be the second worst day of her life, second only to a loved one’s death.

Even the Victim’s Family Disagreed

I did an exclusive interview with the victim’s grown children who had never spoken publicly. They wanted to see Tucker die. During the interview, their father became so upset reliving his wife’s murder he had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance.

But even this victim’s family was split. The brother of this very same victim actually forgave Karla Faye and fought to have her life spared.

On February 3, 1998, that divided family witnessed Karla Faye Tucker (pictured left) die after a lethal injection. As I turned 27, I reported her death to an equally split nation.

Not since Karla Faye Tucker has there been a person who could capture the attention of both sides of death penalty debate and make them reconsider their position—until now.

Documentary Airs Tonight

Two documentary filmmakers will introduce us to such a person in their film, “At the Death House Door.” The documentary airs Thursday night on the Independent Film Channel.

The film tells the story of Pastor Carroll Pickett, a plain-spoken prison chaplain who witnessed ninety-five executions on Texas Death Row.

A Man of Faith's Conversion

Pickett, a Presbyterian minister, began his career as a prison preacher who believed in capital punishment because of his grandfather’s own murder and a prison siege that killed two people from his own congregation, but he never told anyone what he thought.

“If I said I was for capital punishment, the inmates would’ve never talked to me," Pickett says. "If I said I was against it, I’d been fired so I kept my mouth shut.”

But after fifteen years of watching executions, he decided capital punishment was not just, moral, or a deterrent. Now, thirteen years after his retirement, Pickett tells the story of the ninety-five executions he witnessed, a story he did not seek to tell.

The Death Tapes

After each execution, Pickett recorded his thoughts on a cassette tape. He says he needed to talk and the only thing in his house was a tape recorder. He never intended for the tapes to be used, but when he casually mentioned them to some filmmakers who were doing research, they persuaded him to share those tapes. Their focus of their film immediately changed to the post-execution thoughts of this pivotal man.

On these tapes, Pickett describes each execution in both large and small detail. He says what it is like to pray with the killers, what the condemned said to him, and what each man did as the lethal cocktail flowed into his veins. Pickett watched the execution of Ronald O'Bryan (pictured above). He was put to death for poisoning his son's Halloween candy with cyanide.

Preacher Accuses Texas Officials of Covering Up Botched Execution

Pickett describes how something had gone wrong with one of the executions. He says he watched the inmate die a slow, agonizing death that took eleven minutes.

"That’s not, to me, either Christian or American or Texan,” Pickett told a group. He says that Texas officials intentionally lie when they claim there has never been an execution with complications.

The film explores the case of Carlos De Luna, a man Pickett and many others believe was innocent. The documentary covers the facts of the case and shakes the confidence of citizens who think only the guilty make it to the death chamber.

Through Reverend Pickett, this film should raise new questions and concerns in the hearts of many Americans about capital punishment and how often we should use it.

A Texas Execution Few Opposed

When I think of this never-ending debate, my thoughts always drift to another case and the twin daughters of murder victim, Dr. Claudia Benton (shown below). Her little girls were only in the sixth grade when the so-called “railroad serial killer,” Angel Maturino Resendez, broke into their home, beat their mother to death, and raped her post mortem. Texas executed him in 2006. I think Benton’s daughters who are now grown must feel better knowing that monster is no longer on this earth.

At least Resendez died with a last meal, prison chaplain, and a final statement, which is a lot more than the good doctor, the school teacher, the preacher and his wife or any of the other almost dozen victims had when that monster executed them.

More Executions Expected in Coming Months

I’ll be tuning in tonight for
Pickett’s story. In April, the United States Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s method of capital punishment by lethal injection. That decision means more inmates will likely be put to death in the coming months.

Whatever side you are on, there is something to learn from a humble man of God who watched ninety-five convicted killers take their last breath.

"At the Death House Door" Premieres Thursday, May 29 Independent Film Channel 9:00 p.m. EDT

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Lover's Lane" Unsolved Murders

by Jenna Jackson

A young couple, newly in love and looking forward to their lives – brutally murdered and left where their killer likely thought no one would discover them. Nearly 18 years ago, Cheryl Henry and Andy Atkinson met up with the wrong person/s, and two young lives, full of promise, ended.

In the summer of 1990, the bodies of Henry, 22, and her boyfriend, Atkinson, 21, were found in an undeveloped, wooded area of Houston where young people often went to park and kiss. Both had been tied up with rope and their throats slashed. Henry had been raped.

For almost two decades, detective Billy Belk worked the case for the Houston Police Department's Homicide Division. Other cases would come and go – but this one stayed with him through the years. Unfortunately, there was only so much he could do with the little amount of evidence they had. There were no eyewitnesses. Semen was collected from Henry's body at the scene -- but DNA testing was in its infancy and wasn't much help at that point.

But Belk made sure the evidence they did have was properly collected – and it finally paid off. A week after Belk retired, he got a phone call. The DNA from semen found on Henry’s body had just been matched to an unsolved rape that happened that same year. A 30-year-old exotic dancer who worked at GiGi’s, a topless club in Houston, had been raped in her apartment.

Now a 48-year-old Realtor, the woman still clearly remembered that terrifying night, just two months before Henry and Atkinson were killed – and the face of the man who raped her. Police have now released a composite sketch of the suspect. She said he was a white man in his mid-30s, about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds with brown hair, brown eyes, a possible mustache and olive skin.

Like the rape victim, Cheryl Henry had worked at a similar club in Houston -- Rick's Cabaret. Henry's boyfriend Atkinson occasionally worked the door at Dreams Street, another southwest Houston club, which his father managed. With the DNA link, police can refocus their investigation based on the likelihood that the man who raped both women frequented or worked at local strip clubs.

The “Lover’s Lane” slayings may be Houston’s most notorious set of unsolved murders.

"It's a bad Hollywood movie," Michael Miller, an HPD homicide investigator who inherited the case from Belk, his former partner, told the Houston Chronicle last week when the news broke. "Somebody came up on them, tied them up and marched them out to the woods. These two knew they were going to die."

Miller says he knows there are other victims out there – and he hopes someone will recognize the sketch and call him. Even the smallest lead could help him track down this rapist and killer, who could still be at work today.

Over the years, the victims’ families and the police department have kept these murders in the limelight. As a producer for 48 Hours, I've seen what these families go through -- it is an unspeakable nightmare to lose a loved one in this manner. But to never know who did this -- and never have them pay in any way for what they've done -- is beyond comprehension. 48 Hours has looked into this case a handful of times – as have many other media outlets. But there has never been a break with as much potential as this one.

It will definitely still be an uphill battle to find this man. It will take a lot of pounding the pavement (something the cops on this have been doing since day one) – and a huge stroke of luck. But at least it’s something – and hopefully it will get people talking.

Because the composite is of the killer 18 years ago, he obviously will have aged and will look different. But the hope is that someone will recognize him as he looked back then – and give the police a lead.

These families lost two loved ones; their lives ended before they really even began. Hopefully the progression of new DNA science – and the steadiness of old police work – will finally create a break in this case.

If you know anything, no matter how small, call Detective Michael Miller at 713-308-3946 or 713-308-3600.
Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and charging of a suspect. Call 713-222-8477.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Shaking Hands with the Devil

by Kathryn Casey

I wonder sometimes about evil, true evil.

Over the years, I've had the fortune or misfortune, depending on one's viewpoint, of interviewing some really bad folks. Many times, I've shown up at a jail or prison, signed myself in, checked my purse in a small locker, then, with two pens and a notebook, if they don't allow a tape recorder and tapes, I've followed a guard through a maze of doorways to a small room, where I sit and wait. I'm often nervous, considering what questions I want to ask, which are most important to get answered. Before long, the person I've come to see walks in. I stand up and reach out my hand, which is taken by someone who has committed a truly heinous crime, most often the murder of another human being. I smile and say, "Hello."

Not everyone in jail, of course, is guilty. And not all the guilty are monsters. I'm talking here about those, however, who have committed horrible crimes without remorse. Talking to them, I must admit, can be unsettling. We share no frame of reference when it comes to basic principles, morals, ethics, even empathy. It is, however, part of my job as a crime writer to attempt to understand such human beings, and I try.

With these types of offenders, there's a question I don't bother asking: "How could you have done such a terrible thing to that woman . . . man . . . child?"

I don't ask, because I already know. Truly evil human beings don't have the ethical struggles the rest of us endure. They simply don't care about the wife or husband who stands in their way, the kid next door, the woman down the street, or the teenage boy walking home late at night. They don't see others as equals. Let's face it, in the view of a true narcissist, the rest of us are all expendable.

A lot of people ask if researching the books I write has changed me as a person. I believe it has, but, perhaps, not in the way one would expect. Yes, I lock my doors and windows. I park under lights in parking lots. I try not to go to dangerous places after dark, unless I have to, and then, I'm as careful as I can be. I understand that sometimes, perhaps when I'm least expecting it, I may encounter a monster in the shadows. While others might doubt the existence of evil, I don't. I have shaken hands with it, heard its voice, and looked into its eyes.

Serial killers, murderers, rapists, thugs, hate-mongers, pedophiles, they're out there. It's true. But, and this may surprise you: in my opinion, not as many of them as we sometimes fear.

For every horrible criminal I've met, I've had the good fortune of encountering hundreds of truly good people, the kind who work hard to raise their families, are charitable toward others, who would never think of victimizing another individual. They understand, in their core, that every other person has as much right to live life to the fullest, to be happy, to be able to work to support their families, as they do.

I've met victims and their families who suffered tragedies so horrific, so life-shattering that I believe the same fate would have sent me to my grave. Yet, they continue not just to exist, but to grab life with both hands and to reach out to others. Some founded organizations to help other victims or push for new laws in hopes of sparing other families the same horrors. Even with all that's happened to them, to their loved ones, they worry about all of us.

At a recent book club gathering I was invited to attend, someone asked a woman, a retired schoolteacher with a kind face who'd spent decades guiding the lives of her young students, why she reads true crime. "I want to understand why people do the things they do," she said. "I don't understand how some people are capable of such terrible acts."

So, next time I'm sitting in a prison talking to an inmate who has committed a brutal murder, I'll think about all the good folks out there who need to understand the true nature of evil to figure out how to stop it. And I'll consider that Houston school teacher, when I ask the monster the questions I need answered to explain the essence of pure evil.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Officer Rodney Johnson's Last Call

by Connie Park

When Houston police officer Rodney Johnson received the department's Badge Number 5913, he took the oath to protect and serve the citizens of Houston, Texas. Years later, on September 21, 2006, Officer Johnson was policing the city when he made what should have been a routine traffic stop. What happened in that brief moment changed the course of many lives--a tragic moment no one can reverse.

Officer Johnson stopped Juan Leonardo Quintero on traffic for speeding. Johnson handcuffed him and placed him in the back seat of his police cruiser. While Officer Johnson was sitting in the front driver’s seat of the vehicle filling out paperwork, he was shot not once, but four times in the back of the head by the suspect he had handcuffed. Quintero had managed to retrieve a pistol from his waistband. Though he had been shot, Officer Johnson somehow was able to press the emergency button in his patrol car. That was the last thing Johnson did before he died, the “last call” he made as a police officer.

Quintero (pictured right) was taken into custody to the HPD homicide office where he gave a videotaped confession to Sergeant David Ferguson. In his statement, Quintero said that he shot the officer because he thought that Johnson had disrespected him--that Officer Johnson should have just given him a ticket rather than taking him into custody. Quintero demonstrated in the video how he managed to retrieve the pistol and fire it while he was in handcuffs. It turned out that Quintero was illegally in the United States. He was charged with capital murder of a police officer and pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Quintero’s attorneys claimed that Quintero suffered from mental disease or defect and was unable to understand what he was doing. Quintero was facing the death penalty for the brutal murder of Officer Johnson.

On May 8, 2008, it took only six hours for Harris County jurors in Houston to come back with a guilty verdict for Quintero. Now it was up to the jurors to decide on sentencing, which, in a Texas capital murder case, consists of two options: life in prison without parole or the death penalty. During the State's compelling closing arguments in the punishment phase, prosecutors John Jordan and Denise Bradley asked the jurors to follow and interpret the law, which, they argued, would clearly show that Quintero deserved the death penalty and that he posed a future threat or danger to society.

“You look for some humanity in this defendant," Assistant District Attorney Jordan said, referring to the videotaped confession. "You look for some emotion, some heart, some soul in this defendant. You can watch it twenty times and you won’t find it.”

Prosecutor Bradley addressed Quintero directly: “You’re a threat in the back seat of a patrol car. You’re a threat anywhere. We can’t protect ourselves from Juan Quintero."

Quintero’s attorneys stated that brain damage caused their client to suffer from mental disease and that his actions that day were a result of "freak circumstances.” The attorneys asked the jurors to show some mercy on Quintero.

Naturally, prosecutor Bradley countered by asking whether Quintero showed any mercy when he shot Officer Johnson four times in the back of the head.

On May 20, 2008, the jurors decided to sentence Quintero to life in prison without parole. This stunned everyone in the courtroom, including Quintero and his attorneys. Prosecutors were shocked, as were Johnson’s wife, Joslyn Johnson, his family members, friends and brothers and sisters in blue. This was a senseless act where Officer Johnson was executed and murdered. This was a case where the death penalty was the right and just punishment.

Officer Johnson was not only a coworker of mine, but I was fortunate to have been friends with him and with his wife, Sergeant Joslyn Johnson (pictured left). I remember a couple of years ago I asked him what makes a good marriage and how he and Joslyn got along so well. He told me that he was just lucky to have Joslyn as his wife. As for everyone who knew him, Rodney was a big teddy bear and a jokester.

Officer Johnson will not only be remembered as a fallen hero who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He will also be remembered as a great and respected man. During a victim's impact statement to the court, Officer Johnson's sister, Susan Johnson, told everyone in the courtroom that “Rodney was bigger than life” and that he was a loving husband, father, brother, son, and brother in blue. He loved his family and his job as an officer. Rodney was proud to wear his badge and uniform and to protect and serve the City of Houston. She stated that what Quintero did on September 21, 2006, will affect their lives forever but that Quintero will never be able to take away the cherished memories they have of Rodney.

I can’t even fathom the pain Joslyn and Rodney’s children and other family members have gone through since they received the phone call and learned that Rodney had been killed. But what I can say is that we, Rodney’s brothers and sisters in blue, feel an emptiness and sadness only officers can describe. It’s what bonds officers together and what makes us a family. It’s the oath we all took to protect and to serve and Rodney was doing exactly that on the day he was shot and killed by Quintero. Rodney’s caring and selfless acts will have an unforgettable impact on our lives forever and we are all blessed to have known him.

We will continue to love and pray for Joslyn and the kids and Rodney’s family members. But, most importantly, we will never forget Rodney and he will be in our hearts forever.

We will also carry in our heavy hearts the thought of if and when our “last call” will be.

Friday, May 23, 2008

New Life for a Cold Case

by Diane Fanning
Military investigators, the justice of the peace, and the medical examiner all agreed—Colonel Philip Shue committed suicide. The circumstances of Shue’s demise always made me skeptical. Now, five years later, a judge validated my suspicions by ruling his death a homicide.
Shue, a 54-year-old Air Force psychiatrist, left his home in Boerne, Texas, on April 16, 2003, at 5:30 in the morning to go to work. He never got there.
His 1995 Mercury Tracer was found at 8:15, on Interstate 10 where his car veered off the road and bounced off of one tree and slid sideways into another. He was headed in the wrong direction to get to his job but, still, accident seemed logical to me, at least at first.Until I heard about what the emergency responders saw. Shue was dressed in his army fatigues and his military boots. Duct tape hung from his wrists. Duct tape wrapped around his boots. His nipples were cut off. A two-inch deep cut ran down his chest with smaller cuts around it. The little finger of his left had had been cut off. Doesn’t sound like an accident, does it? A suicide? Then why was he wearing his seatbelt? And why weren’t his removed body parts and his wallet with his driver’s license and other identification in the car?A look into Shue’s recent history raised even more questions. Since 1999, he’d been receiving anonymous letters warning him that his life was in danger. In August 2000, he wrote to a life insurance company: “Please be advised that my life remains threatened. Thoroughly examine my death for evidence of foul play even if , on the surface, the cause would appear natural or accidental.” Shue was worth a lot dead: his ex-wife had a $1 million policy on his life, his current wife had $1.5 million and there was an additional $250,000 in coverage through the Air Force.Duct tape, mutilation, missing identification, threatening letters and three life insurance policies? Sure sounds suspicious to me.Add to that the evidence of his recent actions. People who commit suicide rarely make plans for the future just before taking their own lives. Shue did. The day before, he picked up his lawn mower from the repair shop, ordered contact lens and confirmed upcoming dinner plans with a friend. That night, Philip and his wife Tracy (right) signed a contract to buy a new 3800 square foot lakefront home in Birmingham, Alabama. Philip had just been accepted into the psychiatric forensic fellowship program at the University of Alabama and they were ready to move. They were both excited about this new development in their lives.
That morning before he left his house, he took his vitamins and talked about coming home early to cut the grass and clean the pool. He said he wanted to spruce the place up before they put it on the market.Police were tightlipped about their investigation but did say that Shue apparently was “abducted and somehow abused.” Kendall County Sheriff’s investigator went so far as to say that Shue was not in control of the car when it crashed.No one was surprised when Bexar County Medical Examiner Vincent DiMaio issued an autopsy report declaring that Shue died from head injuries, including multiple skull fractures, caused by the collision. But many were stunned when DiMaio said that Shue’s wounds were self-inflicted and he committed suicide by deliberately running off the road. Tracy Shue, Philip’s friends and colleagues including the fellow psychiatrist who provided counseling to Shue refused to believe that conclusion. Nonetheless, the grand jury backed the medical examiner’s finding.Tracy hired Forensic Pathologist Cyril Wecht to perform a second autopsy. He released his report in April 2004. He wrote: “I do not agree that this death can be simply labeled as a suicide. It is more likely that another person(s) played a role in his death.”There was a cell phone in the car and Shue did not call for help. DiMaio believed this reinforced the ruling of suicide. Wecht contradicted that assessment writing that the face of the phone was bloody indicating that Shue may have attempted to use it.Tracy filed claims against the two insurance companies who carried policies that named ex-wife Nancy Shue as the beneficiary.
Finally, in June 2008, her negligence claim against USAA Life Insurance Company entered the courtroom. In civil court, Kendall County Court at Law Judge Bill Palmer, after listening to testimony and reviewing 2,100 exhibits, cleared the insurance company of negligence but he also issued a statement that Shue’s death was a homicide.As Tracy left the courtroom, she said: “That’s all I ever wanted. It’s been all about the truth.”Now District Attorney Bruce Curry needs to decide if he is going to bring the Judge before the grand jury to explain his reasoning. It’s time to re-open the investigation into Philip Shue’s death.

WCI Q & A: A Survivor of Polygamy Speaks Out

by Kathryn Casey

In an earlier post, I blogged about a custody battle I covered in the early nineties for a national magazine. In it, Janet Johanson (photo left), an Oregon educator, tried to gain custody of her six nieces and nephews. Her sister had died of breast cancer, and the children were living with the Vaughn Fischer family in the polygamous town of Hildale, Utah. Johanson’s sister, Brenda, had entered into a spiritual marriage and become Fischer’s third wife just before her death, and Fischer and his first and only legal wife were attempting to adopt the children as well. The case was a clash of lifestyles and beliefs, and more than that, for Johanson, a last-ditch effort to save her sister’s children from what she viewed as a life of misery and pain. In the end, she lost. The Utah Supreme Court gave the children to the Fischers.

When the
raid in Eldorado took place, I contacted Johanson again, this time asking her to share her views with WCI’s readers. The following is our Q&A.

KC: Tell us about yourself, where you work, what you do today.

JJ: I am currently raising two internationally adopted deaf children, and have/continue to work as an administrator of several deaf agencies/programs (educational, non-profit agencies, government, and private corporation).

KC: Please give us a brief overview of your personal knowledge of polygamous communities. How do you know what it’s like inside this culture?

JJ: I first became aware of the practices of this group when my half-sister was taken by her mother to Utah and then married to her stepfather. She disappeared. During the following years we always sought her out when we visited Salt Lake City, mostly unsuccessfully. When I was a junior at Brigham Young University, she finally made contact with our family in an attempt to recruit my younger sister. I was the one who converted instead. I was given to a man thirty-seven years older than myself, and also disappeared. I stayed in that relationship for seven years, suffering physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse. I lived in Salt Lake City within this group from 1978 - 1986. I was very close to my sister and her children and we started family traditions together (holidays, birthdays, picnics, campouts). When I was ordered to sever ties with my sister by my husband, I defied him, resorting to climbing out of my bedroom window so I could be with my sister and her family.

KC: Why did you leave?

JJ: After my sister Brenda sought and obtained a release from her husband, who was abusing her and her children, she became sick with breast cancer at the age of 35. FLDS members were quick to claim that her affliction was the result of her disobedience. I was shocked out of my “be obedient and keep quiet” mindset and realized that this was not a religion; it was a cult. I left in 1986, and began making preparations for my sister and her family to join me in Oregon.

KC: After your sister’s death, we met when you were fighting to keep your nieces and nephews from being adopted by a polygamous couple. Why did you want to prevent the Fischers from adopting your sister’s children?

JJ: The main reason I wanted to prevent the Fischers from adopting my sister’s children is became I loved them. They were the family I’d been unable to have with the old man I was married to. I was present at Janelle’s birth (she is named for me), and also knew Deanna from the day she was born (they stayed in my home for a while to recuperate). Having already lost my sister, I could not bear to lose more of my family, especially to people who had no interest in them other than to gain status in the community. I had just completed my master's degree in educational administration; rehabilitation counseling; and multi-handicapped education. I was working as a college administrator, and had resources available to help her children achieve her/their dreams.

KC: Have Texas authorities been trying to do the right things for the children of Eldorado? If not, what more should they be doing?

JJ: Yes. They have a difficult job, and they have taken on what will be a thankless position. They do need to ensure they don't victimize the children further. None of the experiences of these social workers, guardian ad litems, court-appointed special advocates, lawyers, public defenders, and foster care providers has prepared them for the mindset and culture of this community. They need to find people like me to help them, who have come out and who have been able to find balance in their daily lives. I'd like to see more psychologists and anthropologists involved in doing research based studies and recommendations on how to rehabilitate the victims (children, mothers who have been brainwashed and also the boys/young men who have been thrown out and shunned).

KC: Is it right to take these children away from their mothers? Their fathers? The only community they know?

JJ: Yes, because they do not have the ability at this time to realize the degree of abuse they have all been subjected to. I would like to see, in the near future, attempts made to unite children with their mothers, just one mother, and given intensive family counseling and support so they can start to build normal family units. Who made the choice to put these children in danger? The men, then the women. The children are now dealing with the consequence of the men's decisions to further their position within the group by blindly following Warren Jeffs and his minions.

KC: What about yesterday's decision, that the raid was illegal? It appears many if not all of the children may be returned to their parents.

JJ: I'm stunned, but then, not again so surprised. The "religion card" was played, and once again, the children are paying the price for society's reluctance to stand up for those who are unprotected. The Germans/Dutch/Austrians/Polish people did not stand up for the Jews. . . . Is Texas not going to stand up for the children? In retrospect, will the descendents of this community become the next generation of "Lost Boys" and "Child Brides" who are so emotionally damaged they cannot ever function in our society?

KC: Does religious freedom enter in here at all?

JJ: No. It’s not a religion. It may have started from religious roots, but it's been perverted by its leaders jockeying for power, money, and sex.

KC: What about the rights of parents to not have their children removed by the state?

JJ: They have the same right to due process that any parent who has endangered their child has.

KC: How widespread is polygamy in the U.S.? Is there much more than we imagine?

JJ: Yes. and it keeps growing as different families and groups are splintered off. There are many, like the families in the HBO series “Big Love,” who "assimilate" in normal society, while living secret lives behind closed doors and tall fences. The children in those communities are at as much risk. Despite what these people promote as the advantages (many mothers to attend to children), most of these children are neglected when mothers and fathers play favorites with their own biological children, and a lesser wife's children are disenfranchised.

KC: Are the Eldorado children being singled out? If so, what should be done about the thousands of children in Colorado City/Hildale, the polygamous enclaves on the Arizona/Utah border?

JJ: I certainly hope that the authorities in those areas where other enclaves are located are realizing their failure to protect the children in their jurisdictions. The home study done of the Vaughn Fischer family in 1988, during our adoption case, for instance, is a revolting travesty. Brenda's children were forced to respond in the way that they did because of threats.

KC: Is polygamy always a bad situation for the children?

JJ: Yes. The normal checks and balances provided by schools, social service agencies, public health services, police, churches, neighbors, and family are not there to protect the children.

KC: You mentioned “Big Love” on HBO. It depicts an odd and dysfunctional but loving suburban family. Are there polygamous households that are healthy for children?

JJ: No. In "Big Love," we see the children struggling with the “code of secrecy” and trying to rationalize the behavior of the adults in the household to their peers. You also see favoritism to specific children from the three mothers. The type of love that develops in these family structures is not the deep "agape" love that comes from healthy, nurturing, caring relationships, but rather, a custodial type of love.

KC: If you could sit down with the mothers from Eldorado, what would you tell them?

JJ: Learn to question. No man is the authority that they should bow to. You have the right to be loved by someone who loves just you, and who wants to be a partner through life with you and your children. Someone who wants to see you grow, and who will nurture that growth.

KC: What about the children?

JJ: You have the right to have fun, to learn exciting new things, to choose your friends, to have a mother and a father who love you more than life itself and are there daily for you. You have the right to have shoes to wear when its snowing outside, and to explore the world and make mistakes without fear of spiritual retribution being dictated by someone who does not have your best interests at heart.


This Friday night at 10:00 EDT don't miss a Dateline NBC special featuring a landmark cold case prosecuted by WCI's Donna Pendergast (pictured left, making her closing arguments). Last fall, Donna achieved justice for college student Janet Chandler (pictured below), who was brutally gang raped and murdered in 1979.

Though local, state, and federal authorities investigated the slaying, the Chandler case went unsolved for decades. Interest was revived in 2003, when a documentary professor at Janet's alma mater, Michigan's Hope College, interviewed a detective from the Holland Police Department. According to Delayed Justice, the instructor was gathering information for a production "focused on how reporters can best work with the police to get the facts to the public without harming an investigation." At the end of the interview, the professor asked the detective for the case that still haunted him. Without hesitating, he said, "Janet Chandler."

"He might as well have carved that on my heart,” the instructor said. “The idea of looking at a 25-year-old unsolved homicide - and this one in particular - called to me."

The case also called to Assistant Attorney General Donna Pendergast. Authorities involved Donna after the aptly described "Hope students" had stirred public interest in the murder with their documentary. "Who Killed Janet Chandler?" became the impetus for a Cold Case task force formed by Michigan State Police and the Holland Police Department.

On resurrecting the case after all those years, Donna said, "We had to let the victim's screams out of the boxes and binders that had contained them for so many years, because justice is a concept that never gets old even though a case gets cold."

The killers had gotten away with murder for twenty-eight years, longer than Janet lived on the planet. Even with a case that cold, Donna managed to secure six murder convictions. All in a day's work for our Donna Pendergast, who's been called Michigan's top murder prosecutor. Watch her in action this Friday on Dateline, which airs at 10:00 p.m. EDT on May 23rd. (Listen for soundbites from Donna's closing arguments here.)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Victoria's Secret

by Diane Fanning

“There are two people in there and one of them is kind. But once a person commits a crime, the world doesn’t want to give them a chance.”

That’s what
Victoria Zubcic, a bail bondswoman from Missouri, told an Associated Press reporter about the serial killers she has known.

Oh, please. Tell
Katy Harris’ family about the kind side of Tommy Lynn Sells (above left), the man who slit their 14-year-old daughter’s throat. Tell the parents of 10-year-old Jack Blake that they should give Arthur Shawcross (pictured right) another chance.

Victoria is promoting her self-published book, 13½, about serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells. She says that she and Sells are friends but she hides her true identity behind the pseudonym
Tori Rivers. But I know Victoria’s secret—the fact she neglects to mention during interviews.

On November 3, 2006, Victoria walked into the courthouse in Polk County, Texas and purchased a marriage license naming Tommy Lynn Sells, Death Row resident, as her future husband. (At left, the happy couple have their first barrier-free visit at the Val Verde County Jail in February 2006.)

Although Victoria wrote a couple of chapters in this short book, most of it is a prolonged rant from Tommy Lynn Sells. She corrected his grammar and spelling but she let his potty mouth run free across every page. She allowed him to rewrite history in a disgusting manner that is inconsistent with crime-scene reports, witness statements, and forensic analysis.

She enabled Sells to spout self-serving lies that vilify his victims and blame them for his crimes. He distorted facts and twisted the truth. He used the book as a forum for petty revenge. When not imprisoned, he killed to get even for perceived slights. Now that he can’t physically attack those who angered him, he fights with the only weapon he has—lies.

He related an incident where he lost his temper with an FBI agent. He changed the story, though, making the agent an ignorant jailer who made less money than “a kid flipping burgers.” In his version, Sells battered the man until he “screamed like a bitch.” In reality, Sells was brought up short before he could do much more than bluster.

He also insulted the woman who fought back when he attacked her. She put him in the hospital for two weeks before he went to jail for five years. He claimed that the rape was consensual sex. He made derogatory remarks about her personal hygiene. He insisted he was being a nice guy when she attacked him as he emerged sparkling clean from the shower. He then said he fought for his life, slamming her head into the wall before he ran away. He doesn’t bother to mention the bloodied piano stool he broke in two when he bashed her in the head or the stab wounds he inflicted on her body.

He often bragged about having sex with women, painting himself as quite the cocksman. He claimed that even when he was sexually assaulting victims, he was giving them pleasure. Experts, however, feel that Sells had problems with performance—that he was often sexually incompetent—explaining why he often brutally raped women with objects like baseball bats and tools.

But, according to him, most of his victims enjoyed his attentions and had no moral character at all. Since they are dead, they cannot contradict him. How convenient for Tommy.

He also used this opportunity to attack the justice system, claiming that although he did murder his last victim, he did not sexually assault her and, therefore, should not have gotten the death penalty. He argued, too, that he is mentally retarded and it is illegal to execute him. He repeated many of his silly, oft-told lies about people in law enforcement, the courts, the legal profession, writers, television producers—anyone he’d encountered who didn’t present his story the way he wanted it told.

Victoria said she changed the names of the victims to protect them from further pain. She did that in all but one case—the murder of Katy Harris. Oddly, it was the only homicide story she told that actually bore a resemblance to reality. And in that case, she used everyone’s real name. I don’t think she was trying to protect victims. I think she was trying to hide the lies. Did Sells manipulate her into believing his version of reality? Or was she a willing accomplice in perpetuating his falsehoods? We may never know.

We may also never know anything about the financial arrangements between Vicki and Tommy. But what are the odds that every book sold puts money into Sells’ prison bank account?

In fact, I hesitated to write this blog because I was concerned that the publicity might encourage some people to buy the book. But then I realized, there are more of you out there who would not make a purchase if you knew of this special relationship between the brutal killer and the author.

And just for the record, I did not buy a new copy of this book. I bought a used copy and made sure it was not being shipped from Missouri. I wanted to make sure that not one penny of the price I paid went to Tommy Lynn Sells.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

P.I.'s High-profile Clients Got Off Easy

by Tina Dirmann

Here in California, one of the splashiest cases to hit this state’s court just wrapped up. Anthony Pellicano, private investigator to the rich and famous, was found guilty on 76 counts of wire fraud, computer fraud, wiretapping, and racketeering.

Despite the number of counts, he’ll likely do just about 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced later this summer.

Although the case is long and involved, the gist is that Pellicano used mobster-like methods to spy on people for his high-powered clients. And the client list is a glitzy one. CAA talent agency co-founder Michael Ovitz and Paramount Pictures chief Brad Grey used Pellicano’s talents to get dirt on their enemies. Comedian Chris Rock hired Pellicano to investigate a woman claiming, erroneously, that she was carrying the comedian’s baby. And Sylvester Stallone was on the other end, a victim, wiretapped by Pellicano when the actor’s former business manager hired him to get dirt on Stallone that might help in a nasty court case between the two. Garry Shandling was a victim, too.

I don’t think anyone is sad to see a man like Pellicano go down. How low did it get? This self-described wanna-be Tony Soprano even dropped a dead fish onto the hood of a car belonging to reporter Anita Busch, hoping to intimidate her enough, she’d stop the negative articles she was writing about his clients (specifically, Michael Ovitz) for the New York Times.

But here’s what I’m wondering as Pellicano fades from the headlines.

How is it that Pellicano is going down – but none of the clients who hired this man for his below the belt information gathering tactics aren’t going down with him?

In the early stages of the six-year investigation, journalists following the case speculated that it could involve trials against Hollywood’s power elite. The highest rollers on Tinsel Town would be shown that they aren’t above the law.

But alas, the Hollywooders and moneyed types would go unscathed. Again. We didn’t even see most of these folks in the courtroom. Not even Bert Fields, THE de facto attorney to the stars. Witnesses described Fields as Pellicano’s mentor. And, later, his frequent employer. And though his name was mentioned repeatedly in court testimony, was he ever called to take the stand? No. He was not. Though I suspect if he was called, he may have stood up there and pleaded the 5th, for fear of implicating himself with each and every word.

It reminds me of the headline-grabbing profile madam cases, which typically end with the prosecution of the ladies. And who goes free? All of those high-power, high-dollar clients. I never see justice in that, either.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


by Michele McPhee

It’s official. The New England Mafia sleeps with the fishes. This week, the man whom federal prosecutors call the underboss for the Boston underworld–Carmen “The Cheese Man” DiNunzio–begged a judge to grant him access to a bigger toilet after he was locked up for trying to bribe Big Dig officials into giving him a lucrative contract to sell the highway department dirt.

For those of you unfamiliar with the $15 billion boondoggle that was Boston’s Big Dig, that was the most expensive roadway project in the history of the United States paid for with your tax dollars. In 1982, Massachusetts politicians swore the Big Dig would only cost us $3 billion and take a few years to complete. Well, it’s 2008, the job has swelled to the $15 billion-range and reputed wiseguys are still trying to get a piece of the massive swindle. That tells you roughly all you need to know.

Anyway, why the bigger toilet for the New England Mafia underboss? DiNunzio, 50, who earned his nickname from the cheese shop he owns in Boston’s Little Italy, the North End, weighs 400 pounds and can only relieve himself on a super-sized toilet. At least that’s what his lawyer argued in front of a federal judge this week.

Out loud. In public.

What is the underworld coming to when its bosses complain that their toilets are too small and continue to bloviate about themselves within earshot of wiretaps like DiNunzio did when he declared to an undercover informant posing as a dirty Massachusetts highway official: “I’m the Cheeseman."

The undercover replied: “You’re the Cheeseman?"

To which DiNunzio replied, “Ask anyone about me."

Oh boy.

But there is no one in law enforcement under the illusion that the Mafia anywhere in this country is intact. In New York City, Joseph Massino of the Bonanno crime family was the only Mafia boss not in prison. Shortly after I wrote a front page New York Daily News story dubbing him "The Last Don," Massino was arrested. He quickly rolled and became a government informant, ratting out his underlings.

Before Massino “went bad,” as underworld associates refer to government witnesses, Vincent “Vinny Ocean” Palermo, the boss of the New Jersey crime family the hit TV series The Sopranos was based on, rolled on his family. Since then, dozens of made guys have joined the witness protection program rather than serve time.

Now the feds are scraping the bottom of the barrel to sweep up wiseguys to garner those headline-grabbing arrests. In New Jersey this month, twenty-one Gambino associates were arrested in a sweep.

So as Boston’s underboss undertakes his battle for a bigger throne in prison, Brooklyn crime boss John “Jackie the Nose” D’Amico is arguing that he should be allowed to leave jail to resume his $700-a-week no-show job at a water-bottling plant. Only problem with that is that Jackie the Nose was caught bragging that he paid the company $700 a week to put his name on the payroll books to evade investigators. A judge is taking his request under consideration.

Covering the Mafia used to be so much fun. There was the crime family that plotted to kill Rudolph Giuliani and the Gotti son that wanted to kill the founder of the Guardian Angels Curtis Sliwa. Then there was Vincent “The Chin” Gigante and his famous wanderings through Greenwich Village, Manhattan in a bathrobe to shake the cops. It worked . . . for a while. What about Joey Gallo, the gangster who was shot dead in Umbertos, dying in a plate of pasta or Carmine Galante, who died with a lit stogie in his mouth.

My first book, Mob Over Miami, covered La Cosa Nostra in its glory years and exposed how South Beach, Miami was revitalized in the 1990s by gangsters' money. St. Martin’s Press announced this week it will republish the 2002 title in anticipation of a feature film, UnMade Man, based on my book.

Now, the mobsters in my book were wiseguys. This generation being chased around by the government is earning the reputation that they are the not-so-wise guys.

Monday, May 19, 2008

“Joe Cool” Murder at Sea Update

by Andrea Campbell

federal judge is scheduled to decide on whether to toss out statements made by two jailhouse informants. The cellmates were to provide testimony about suspects, Guillermo Zarabozo, 20, and Kirby Logan Archer, 36, who are accused of murdering four people on the Joe Cool charter fishing boat. Zarabozo and Archer could face the death penalty if convicted of murder. Both have pleaded innocent.

Prosecutors say they hired the boat for a trip to Bimini and tried to divert it to Cuba, fatally shooting the captain of the “Joe Cool” charter fishing boat, his wife and two deckhands.

Here is some backstory on the case as reported by WIC writers: Vanessa Leggett, Donna Pendergast, Pat Brown and myself, in November of last year.

Kirby Logan Archer, a one-time Military Police officer from Arkansas, told others he did “undercover” work. Upon his capture, Archer was a fugitive from justice, wanted for molesting boys, and for stealing close to a hundred grand from his most recent employer, Wal-Mart.

Archer’s Beginnings

Born to Betty and Sam Archer in
Stuttgart, Arkansas, Kirby never stayed in one place for long. The Archers lived in Kansas and Oklahoma before settling in Oro Valley, Arizona. In high school, Kirby applied to the National Guard and was a member of the ROTC’s Color Guard at Canyon del Oro High School. In the early 1990s, the Archers returned to Arkansas. Kirby, by then an adult, had gotten into some trouble in Tucson; he was sentenced to probation for “contributing to the delinquency or dependency of a minor,” a misdemeanor. Mid-1990s Kirby joined the Army, becoming a Military Police investigator. He was stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the Cuban Rafter Crisis , when tens of thousands of Cubans fled the island on rafts. It was during this time that Kirby met Guillermo Zarabozo.

About Guillermo Zarabozo

Zarabozo's family was intercepted at sea and brought to the base where Archer was stationed. Kirby, then 23, took an interest in the eight-year-old Zarabozo boy. Zarabozo and his mother, Francisca Alonso Zarabozo, legally immigrated to the United States and settled in Hialeah, Florida, living with family in an apartment.

Kirby kept up with the Cuban boy and appeared to have had an impact on Zarabozo's life. At Hialeah High School, Guillermo was in ROTC and told classmates he wanted to be in the Army.

A Man with Nothing Left to Lose

Though his life seemed fine on the surface, Kirby had an unstable relationship with his wife and two young sons and his marriage began to unravel according to divorce records. As an investigator, Kirby was often away from home. His wife, Michelle, claimed that when he was around, he could be physically abusive. Kirby denied abuse although his wife fell into depression and reportedly attempted suicide. The boys lived with Kirby and even though his relatives were nearby to help, it was not enough. Archer claims he had to leave the military—in the best interest of his boys—and received an “other-than-honorable” discharge.

Michelle Archer filed for divorce, and the court awarded Kirby custody of his boys, primarily because he had family in Arkansas. Kirby appeared to have moved on. He married again, settled in Strawberry, Arkansas, and took a job as customer service manager at a Wal-Mart in neighboring Batesville.

But soon Archer's past caught up with him. He was under investigation in Arkansas and in Missouri for allegations that he had sexually abused minor boys. Then his ex-wife appealed the custody decision. Within the span of a few days, Kirby was in danger of losing his reputation, his children, and, if arrested, his freedom. To make matters worse, he'd also recently lost his dog.

“He knew we were turning the information over to pursue charges,” said the investigator who'd interviewed the complaining children. “A couple of days later he took off.”

But not before leaving Wal-Mart’s for the last time. From the cashier's office, Kirby is suspected of stashing over $92,000 in cash and checks in a microwave he purchased with his employee discount and walking out, and away from the life he had known.

“I really messed up this time,” Kirby reportedly text-messaged his current wife. She claimed it was likely he would be going to Miami or Cuba, because that's where his closest friends were.

A Man on the Run

Within days, Kirby was in Florida. According to sources at the Miami Herald, he died his blonde hair brown and used an alias. Soon he connected with Guillermo Alfonso Zarabozo, now a buff 19-year-old gun enthusiast, who had graduated and was working in private security. Zarabozo was licensed to carry handguns and living in Hialeah.

By summer's end, Archer had been on the lam for eight months. A couple of weeks before his capture at sea, Kirby told the Cuban family he had to leave town for an investigation.

A Man with a Plan

Kirby had planned that they would both go to Cuba, which has no extradition treaty with the United States. Zarabozo appears to have been willing to help Archer find freedom. Both men spoke Spanish.

Zarabozo told the security agency he was to work for that he was leaving town. Cameras in the Miami area captured images of Archer and Zarabozo at a gun store and a local hotel. A cell phone was purchased with what authorities believe is a fictitious subscriber's name. How to get out of the country? Archer was wanted on an unlawful flight prosecution warrant out of Arkansas. Flying anywhere was out. Late September, an idea occurred to them.

The men were at
Monty's restaurant, overlooking the Miami Beach Marina when Archer and Zarabozo approached the Joe Cool. A crewmember was on board the 47-foot yacht, a sportfishing charter boat with two staterooms and bathrooms. The men inquired about chartering the boat; said they wanted a ride to the Big Game Resort and Yacht Club in Bimini, where they were planning to meet “girlfriends.” The crewman gave the pair a business card to make a reservation.

An Unsuspecting Crew

On September 22, the passengers presented themselves with six pieces of luggage. One owner, Jeff Branam, greeted them and helped them with their bags, unaware of the contents, which included various weapons. Kirby paid the $4,000 fee. For fishing charters, the Joe Cool routinely carried a crew of four men. Because this was simply a boat ride—the first to the Bahamas—the captain's wife, Kelley, 30, decided to go along, leaving the couple's two small children with family. Rounding out the crew was Captain Jake Branam's half-brother, Scott Gamble, 35, and First Mate Sammy Kairy, 27. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Jon Branam, the captain’s cousin, said that Archer seemed friendly, and spoke in a Southern accent. Riding a Jet Ski, Jon even followed the boat out of the harbor. Everyone seemed happy. The crew's objective was to make sure their passengers had a blast.

The trip stopped about halfway into the fifty-mile ride. According to GPS, the boat, heading east toward Bimini, veered south toward Cuba, then drifted. The Joe Cool was due back Sunday, and had another charter scheduled for Monday. So when Branam saw no return and hadn't heard from the crew, he alerted the Coast Guard.

The Coast Gua
rd found the Joe Cool empty and the interior was in "disarray." Officials found shell casings and blood around the steps that led up from the stateroom. More blood was discovered on the stern and a fourth shell casing was located outside. A small key, which turned out to be a handcuff key, was on the bow. The life raft was missing.

Men in Dire Straits

In the Florida Straits, a Coast Guard helicopter spotted two men on an orange life raft about 12 miles from the Joe Cool. Kirby and Guillermo and their luggage were lifted from the raft to the chopper for transport to a Coast Guard cutter. It was immediately apparent that the castaways were not happy to be rescued. Archer and Zarabozo were “calm, stoic, emotionless and failed to make eye contact with their rescuers,” according to the criminal complaint. They claimed the boat they’d been on had been hijacked by three Cuban pirates and all four members of the Joe Cool were shot to death and thrown overboard. (The bodies have never been recovered.)

A search of the men's belongings found $2,200 in hundred dollar bills, the cell phone of a bogus subscriber, a blowgun, darts, several knives, a handcuff key, and a receipt for a gun.

Men with Fishy Tales

The men were separated and interviewed. Numerous inconsistencies in their statements came up beginning with how the two men knew each other and their history together. They also stuck to their "babes in Bimini" storyline.

Zarabozo said that the Joe Cool was cruising when a distress signal came over the radio. The captain steered the boat toward another vessel and a pirate came on board and commandeered the Joe Cool. Two other armed hijackers followed. They shot Jake Branam, and the captain's wife “became hysterical,” and she was also shot. The other two crewmembers were gunned down when they refused to dump the bodies overboard. Guillermo said the pirates told him that if he refused to cooperate, he would meet the same fate so he threw the crew overboard and complied with orders to clean up the blood.

The suspects both maintained that Archer was forced to drive the Joe Cool. After several hours, the boat ran out of gas. At this point the pirates radioed for help and a third vessel came and carried the hijackers away. The suspects would have authorities believe that after witnessing four murders and getting a good look at the killers Archer and Zarabozo were left behind, with luggage and $2,200 in cash. And that Joe Cool's navigational equipment and pricey fishing gear was of no interest to the “pirates.”

Authorities recovered three casings from the interior of the boat, and later confirmed that all four shell casings were fired by a single weapon, a Glock 9 millimeter.

Federal authorities searched Zarabozo's home. They didn’t find a weapon but discovered an empty lock box for a gun, an empty handcuff case, and also a receipt for a Glock 9 and ammunition.

Men with Everything to Lose

Though there are no bodies, no weapons, and no witnesses, Kirby Archer and Guillermo Zarabozo were each charged with four counts of murder, robbery, and kidnapping. The prosecution's theory is simple. "This was a one-way trip out of the country that resulted in the elimination of witnesses to that flight by way of murder," federal prosecutor Michael Gilfarb said to the judge.

So, in question are:

—Is there such a thing as a reliable and credible jail informant? Defense attorneys want to know whether the informant was an assigned jail house snitch and, if so, they say it would violate their client’s right to counsel if he’s allowed to testify at trial.
—If the statements are thrown out, what will that do to the prosecution’s case?
—Defense also filed a motion to suppress evidence taken from Zarabozo’s apartment.

What do you think?