Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flights of Fancy at the Airport Baggage Claim

by Pat Brown

On the way home today, I was stuck in airport hell in Philadelphia which led to my purchase of a new book by Alan Alda called Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. Alda, after suffering a near fatal life threatening emergency while traveling in Chile, thinks back over his life and the meaning of it all, recapping speeches he gave to college students on their graduation day. He reviews the thoughts he shared with each group of students from decade to decade, the issues the young people faced as they went out into the world, and how they would make their mark on society and the future. Alda shared how he had studied existentialism and found it oddly comforting. He discerned that life is basically meaningless and that for life to have any meaning at all, one must create that meaning for oneself, take paint to the canvas of life and express oneself. I totally agree with him. Unfortunatelly, such a conclusion also has a down side. If one can and must express oneself in life, one can do so negatively as well as positively.

I read Alda's thoughts as I was waiting for my luggage to find its way to the baggage claim at the airport in Baltimore, Maryland. Looking up, I noticed a number of forlorn suitcases waiting patiently for someone to come for them. There were about twenty in all, big and small, strewn about, unattended. Over the loudspeaker came the familiar warning to notify airport authorities if there were any unattended items left about. I looked over at the unclaimed suitcases and I thought, well, yes, there are twenty of them. Being a criminal profiler, I often evaluate a situation from from a criminal's point of view and I found it rather ironic that when we arrive at the airport we watch carefully for suspicious people - at the ticket counter, in the security line, or shopping in the stores - and we become immediately concerned if they suddenly walk away from their luggage, yet when we go down a level to the baggage claim, we don't pay a bit of attention to anyone or what they do with their stuff. How easy it would be for someone to stroll into that area with a bag, casually add it to the twenty-suitcases-in-waiting, and walk away. The question then came to my mind, how could someone walk into such a place - see wives kissing their husbands goodbye, honeymooners holding hands excited about their vacations, little children toddling about, and mothers embracing their sons arriving safely from their tour of duty in Iraq - and then leave a bomb to blow all those innocent people to bits?

Since 9/11, I have been in four locations in the world that have been bombed six months to a year after I visited them. I don't mean I was just in the country or a city that was attacked; I mean I was physically present at the exact spot where the bombs exploded. I was in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt walking along the Red Sea boardwalk six months before bombs exploded there. I was in London before the tube attacks, I was in Hyderabad, India nine months before explosions rocked the very place I had visited, and, just recently, bomb blasts killed dozens in Delhi, India, striking a number of sites in the city including Connaught Place, a shopping area which I had visited the night before I left the country. My son, who was with me, went on to Jaipur where, three days later, seven bombs exploded in the downtown area. Luckily, my son was unhurt but too many others were not so fortunate.

These bombings hit home for me because I had been there, seen the beauty of those places, seen the faces of the people who worked in the shops, watched the comings and goings and the interactions of the locals and tourists. I had been a part of that landscape. 9/11 no doubt was similar for those in New York City and Washington DC. We ask how anyone could destroy these beautiful places and the people in them?

I sat at BWI airport and stared at those suitcases and thought about Alda's statement. The bomber is doing just what Alan Alda said we need to do to make life meaningful. We must create meaning. We must paint a picture or destroy a picture. We must do something.

The terrorist, the bomber, and the school shooter do what we all do, but they do it as the antihero. A child gets a kick out of building a tower of blocks but he may also get a kick out of smashing it. One can paint a picture or one can douse a canvas in kerosene and light it on fire. Either way, there is a result. If one cannot build or cannot think of a reason to build, then destroying what others build is expressing oneself and effecting change in the world. The school shooter who can't fit in, who sees no future, and feels he cannot "paint a picture" that won't be laughed at, can, on the other hand, shoot down ten classmates and know that the depth of horror over his actions will win him "best in show." The Delhi bombers who don't see themselves as future businessmen can visit Connaught Place after the blasts and feel the thrill of having "beaten their competition."

My luggage finally came toward me on the conveyor belt. I grabbed my two bags and walked out into the fresh air. I looked back at the crowd inside and hoped that I wouldn't read a headline about that location half a year from now. Unless we find a way for young people to believe they can make a positive impact in the world or at least their small part of it, we will continue to see a number of them become the kind of artists whose work we would prefer to never experience.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Failure to Act a Capital Crime?

by Diane Fanning

Guilty by omission. In other words, the defendant is found responsible for another person’s death by not acting quickly enough to save that life.

A fair enough charge. If someone sits by and watches while another person is clearly in medical distress, there should be a penalty.

But capital murder? Capital murder convictions, we’ve been told, are reserved for the worst of the worst—for the crimes that we all find inconceivable and horrendous. In Texas, a capital conviction means the defendant receives the death penalty or life without parole. These ultimate penalties are intended to be used for the most heinous crimes.

But a jury in
Corpus Christi found Hannah Overton , the biological mother of five, guilty of capital murder for failing to act quickly enough to get medical attention for an ailing child.

That’s right, according to an in-depth
investigative piece written by stellar journalist John MacCormack in the San Antonio Express News, the jury did not believe, as the prosecution alleged, that Hannah intended to harm or kill Andrew—they simply believed she took too long to get him help. The judge’s instructions led the jurors to believe they had no other choice. They did not know that their guilt by omission conviction would result in the ultimate punishment under the law.

Hannah and her husband Larry were fostering Andrew Burd and working toward his adoption.
Child Protective Services claimed Andrew was a perfectly healthy child when they placed him in their home. But it simply was not true: Andrew had an unhealthy obsession with food. Not only did he gorge on foods in the refrigerator, he also ate inappropriate items.

If they left a bar of soap in the bathroom, Andrew took a bite out of it. He’d eat any food left behind in the cat’s dish. He ate toothpaste. He once broke a glow-stick and tried to eat it. Hannah and her adoption counselor were seeking help for his condition, known as

The day of Andrew’s death, Hannah made Cajun stew seasoned with
Zatarain’s spice. Andrew loved the hot flavoring and his insatiable appetite did not diminish after eating. In order to soothe him, Hannah sprinkled Zatarain’s into water in his sippy cup.

Soon after, Andrew exhibited symptoms of
hypernatremia, sometimes caused by salt poisoning. Typically, victims are not recognized as being critically ill for an hour and a half. On the outer edge of that window of time, Hannah and Larry entered the emergency room with Andrew. They drove him in their car because they thought there was not enough time to call 9-1-1 and wait for the arrival of an ambulance.

The jury’s rejection of the prosecution’s belief in intentional poisoning made sense to Dr. Michael Moritz, an expert on salt poisoning. He arrived in Corpus Christi to testify for the defense but he was never called. He told John MacCormack, “There is no evidence of force. No salt on the body. No lacerations to his mouth. No salt crystals in his mouth or nose. . . . If you go into the literature, in every single case of alleged salt poisoning, they were kids just like him… There’s nothing to say he didn’t dump the whole damn thing of Zatarain
or the salt shaker into his drink. A normal kid won’t eat it because it’s unpalatable. But this is not a normal kid. He’s having a highly stressful day. He’s a gorger. He’s got pica. And boom. He gorges it and ten minutes later, his brain is starting to shrink.”

So how did
Hannah end up in such a mess?

At one point after Hannah’s arrest, Child Protective Services submitted an affidavit with a long list of
child abuse allegations in the household. But that could have been a cover-up for their failure to act when Hannah requested a referral for Andrew’s pica problem. Every point was proven to have no basis in fact—all twenty accusations were shown to be false and CPS dropped the case. The employee who wrote the affidavit, no longer works for the agency.

On the forensic front, the autopsy was flawed. Although the pathologist ruled the death a homicide, he admitted on the stand that he could not be certain of his own determination. In addition, he never analyzed the contents of Andrew’s stomach or examined the microscopic sections of key organs that could have shown his underlying condition.

Further, in the trial itself, the prosecutors never called one of the witnesses on their list, including the doctor who treated Andrew, and they never disclosed to the defense the opinions they received from this doctor.

It seems as if law enforcement and the prosecution lost their way in an extreme cas
e of tunnel vision. They could only see one possibility and refused to look at any others. The judge appeared to aid and abet their prosecutorial misconduct by instructing the jury in a way that led to a mandatory sentence of life without parole for a crime that the jury believed was committed without premeditation, without intention to harm or murder, and without malice.

Even the jury’s decision of negligence is considered unrealistic by medical experts. But even if you do agree with the jury, how could any reasonable person believe that a faulty judgment call merits total banishment from society for life?

The case is under appeal at the
Texas 13th Court of Appeals—I fervently hope that common sense and justice will prevail.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Life Body Fluid: Serology

by Andrea Campbell

Our bodies have their own little rivers of fluid—namely, blood, saliva, semen, sweat, or fecal matter. Forensic serology is the study of these bodily fluids as related to legal matters. Under the umbrella of this biological body of knowledge, forensic serology scientists detect the presence of blood and study the enzymes and antigens present in red blood cells, or what could commonly be called “blood typing.” You may even know your own blood type whether it is A, B, O or AB in type. (There are also people with Rh-factor blood, another important antigen, and, another story.) Blood from different individuals may differ in the type of antigen on the surface of its red blood cells and the type of antibody in its plasma. Consequently, in a blood transfusion, if the blood groups of the donor and recipient are incompatible, a dangerous reaction occurs involving aggregation or the clumping of red cells of the donor in the recipient’s circulation.

We have about ten pints of blood (or up to six quarts of blood, half plasma and half blood cells) being circulated through our bodies by the circulatory system. The blood is pumped by and through the heart into vessels and veins and transports materials—nutrients such as glucose— and oxygen, to vital organs and tissues for growth and repair. It also carries carbon dioxide and waste products from the tissues for excretion. And hormones are taken to various tissues and organs for chemical signaling, all the while moving digested food from the gut to the liver, and within, too, are immune bodies that are hanging out for the prevention of infection, and which possess clotting factors to help stop bleeding to all parts of the body.

In some crime labs, forensic serologists also take on another hat and become expert in “blood pattern analysis,”—also referred to as
blood spatter—which is used to recreate the violent scenarios involved in a crime scene according to the patterns displayed on surfaces around the room.

Crime scene blood is important to real life detectives (and also to mystery writers), because it is often found as the result of homicide, assault and sexual assault. Since blood can be found at different time stages, it can be present as fresh liquid pools, coagulated blood, (meaning the blood has turned to a semi-solid state), dried blood, small drops, or even swiped stains.

When any dark substance is found at the scene it is carefully collected because many things can contaminate blood and it can act as a biohazard to the criminalist collecting it. That is why crime scene technicians will often suit-up wearing latex gloves, surgical masks, eye-cove
rings and sometimes full coverage gowns. (Yes, the CSI people on TV all have hepatitis according to the way they dress!) And although they might not wear as much PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) as shown in the picture at the right, they will surely wear booties, gloves and maybe even a mask.

The determination of blood is best made by using a preliminary color test and for years, the most commonly used was the benzidine color test. (Benzidine was labeled a carcinogen, so it has generally been discontinued.) The Kastle-Meyer color test was used in its place and basically, the tests are based on the fact that blood
hemoglobin possesses peroxidase-like activity. To simplify, these are enzymes that when tested with a reagent will cause the sample to turn a deep pink color. It’s not an absolute however, because potatoes and horseradish will also turn it pink.

Sometimes a powerful light moved across the surface of a crime scene is all that is needed for visual inspection. But if blood is suspected and not readily seen, luminol is sprayed and after about five seconds it will fluoresce in a darkened room. Luminol is prohibitive though, because it will destroy many important blood factors necessary for the forensic characterization of blood.

Microcrystalline tests can be performed on material and there are several tests available but the two most popular are the Takayama and Teichmann tests. These depend on the addition of specific chemicals to the blood so that characteristic crystals with hemoglobin derivatives will be formed. They will also react to other materials that may be present in a bloodstain.

After the blood is in the lab a test is used to find out
whether it is human or animal blood. It has to do with a rabbit and chicken egg proteins and it forms a cloudy substance called a precipitin. Another test can be done using a “gel diffusion” test. The sample’s antibodies and antigens will diffuse or move toward one another on an agar gel-coated plate. The extracted bloodstain and the human antiserum are placed in separate holes opposite each other on the gel. This will then be subjected to an electrical field and a specific reaction will be expressed by a line of precipitation formed between the two. The blood is then typed. In 1925, a special percentage of the human population were found to be “secretors,” which means that certain antigens, proteins, antibodies and enzyme traits can be found in other bodily fluids such as saliva, urine, or teardrops.

Today, DNA has replaced the tests for specific enzymes and proteins and while they are more accurate, they are also more expensive, timely, and require an updated crime lab facility. Sometimes it is about expertise, resources, and budget that determines how much bodily fluids are taken into consideration.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

O.J. + Witnesses on the Rocks = Recipe for Reasonable Doubt?

by Katherine Scardino

One of the neatest things about being a defense attorney is cross examination. The defense lawyer gets to do almost anything in cross and there is always a surprise somewhere. You can get in the witness’s face; you can confront him with telling a different story prior to his testimony in trial. You know the famous question: “Were you lying then, or are you lying now? . . .”

I can’t imagine anyone who has been to law school not wanting to be a defense lawyer—just to be able to cross examine lying cops or lying witnesses. The most fun of cross examination is the witness who just is not sure what he wants to say—i.e., "Who are you really testifying for, sir? . . ."

I was reminded of this while watching the O.J. Simpson trial unfold in Las Vegas. O.J.’s co-defendant Charles Ehrlich was back on the witness stand yesterday to face cross-examination from defense attorney Yale Galanter about exactly what O.J. knew about the use of guns.

I would have loved to have been the lawyer to cross Ehrlich (mugshot left). The issue of what O.J. knew about the guns is critical to his case, since pulling a gun while committing a crime enhances the amount of time a defendant may have to serve. In response to Galanter’s question as to whether it was the understanding that nothing illegal was going to occur, Ehrlich said, “Correct.”

Galanter then asked, “This was nothing but a recovery of stolen property, correct?”

"Correct," Ehrlich said.

But there was one hitch. On Monday, Ehrlich testified in response to questioning by the prosecutor that he saw two people with guns during the alleged armed robbery and kidnapping at the Palace Station Casino Hotel. Ehrlich said that one of the people waved around a black gun. Supposedly, the person who was brandishing this black gun was another co-defendant, Michael McClinton, who has already taken a plea deal from the State.

Ehrlich also testified that he heard someone shouting “Put the gun away” and he thought this person doing the shouting was Simpson. That would have meant that Simpson knew that during this offense, there was a weapon out and being used. Ehrlich did not say anything about whether Simpson knew before the confrontation that a gun was in McClinton’s pocket.

So after cross examination by Galanter, this witness’s testimony became almost irrelevant for the State. Now, the jury has two versions to consider—one good for Simpson and one not so good for Simpson.

Monday, the jury heard testimony from another State witness, Thomas Riccio, who admitted that he had received $210,000 from the media deals he had made after secretly recording the incident. Riccio supported O.J.’s contention that Simpson had been insistent that the purpose of this incident was only to recover personal items that had previously been stolen from him. He further stated that Simpson was not aware of the use of any guns. But just the fact that he recorded the eight-minute incident—and that he profited substantially by his recording—is enough, at least for me, to be suspicious as to his motives and intent in putting together the whole shenanigan.

So . . . the bottom line so far is that we have a spider web of stories—all intertwined, all similar, but not quite. Does that mean “reasonable doubt” to the jury? It should, but will it? Let’s keep watching. . . .

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ex-FBI Agent John J. Connolly, Jr. on Trial for Murder

by Donna Weaver

There are no surprises, so far, in the Miami murder trial of former Boston FBI agent, John J. "Zip" Connolly, Jr. The 68-year-old Connolly's life hangs in the balance as he stands trial for the May 2005 indictment on one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder— charges stemming from his association with his former high-echelon confidential informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. In 2002,
Zip was sentenced to ten years for racketeering and obstruction of justice.

The Victim

In May 2005, John Connolly was charged in the 1982 murder of John B. Callahan, an accountant for World Jai Alai in Miami. Connolly allegedly supplied information to Bulger regarding Callahan being questioned in the 1981 murder of World Jai Alai's recently deceased owner, Roger Wheeler. Callahan was shot to death, his body, with a dime placed face up on his chest, was found in the trunk of his car parked in a Miami parking lot. As part of Whitey’s plan to branch out in Florida, Callahan had been skimming profits from World Jai Alai. Wheeler suspected Callahan was cooking the books and ordered an audit in 1981. Before the audit was completed, Wheeler was shot and killed. Another retired Boston FBI supervisor and boyhood friend of Whitey Bulger, H. Paul Rico was employed by World Jai Alai as a security consultant at the time. Rico was alleged to have set up the hit on Wheeler, but in Jan. 2004, soon after his indictment for Wheeler’s murder, Rico died in prison just days before his trial.

The Witnesses

It's going to be a tough case to make for Assistant District Attorney Michael Von Zamft and Boston federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak who say they plan to call approximately 30 witnesses to testify against Connolly. Among them is a veritable Who's Who of the infamous Boston underworld with a total of at least 45 murders committed between them. The trigger man employed by Bulger in the Callahan and Wheeler murders, Winter Hill Gang hit man, John Martorano has already testified, describing the murders in detail. Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi testified yesterday that Connolly accepted approximately $235,000 in bribes over the years. Connolly's former boss, John Morris (pictured above), has not yet taken the stand. Morris also admitted to accepting bribes from Bulger and Flemmi at Connolly's 2002 trial, but was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Where's Whitey?

A week before Connolly's trial began, the FBI increased the reward for the capture of James "Whitey" Bulger from $1 million to $2 million. Bulger made the FBI's Most Wanted List in 1999 thanks to his FBI handler. Part of Connolly's 2002 racketeering conviction was for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning them to flee in 1995 before their indictment.

Unanswered Questions

While Connolly steadfastly proclaims his innocence, I seriously doubt he will take the stand in his own defense, but these are some questions I would like the answers to:

1. How can you claim you had no clue that your CIs were murdering people? If other FBI agents and supervisors were, in fact, also aware of the homicidal tendencies of your CIs as you claim, isn’t that conspiracy to commit murder?

2. If John Callahan’s murder was a result of information you provided to your CIs in order to protect them, why are you then not guilty of murder? Did you think your CIs would send Mr. Callahan on an all-expense paid vacation to the South Pacific?

3. Why did you dismiss Mr. Halloran’s information for “lack of evidence”? After Halloran was murdered, and with the addition of the murders of Callahan and Wheeler did you consider this still to be a lack of evidence?

4. Why did so many missing person and homicide cases (despite the best efforts of the real cops), including the Callahan murder, remain unsolved for so many years? As these missing and murdered victims were all involved in some manner with your CIs, did you not see a pattern there?

5. Are you incredibly stupid, or are you incredibly arrogant?

6. Did your former FBI boss, the bribe-taking John Morris, become involved with the Callahan murder investigation while he was in Miami in 1984, when he was supervising an internal FBI probe into the criminal activities of former FBI agent and drug smuggler Dan Mitrione? Why hasn’t Morris also been indicted for John Callahan’s murder?

And last, but not least . . .

7. How many people would still be alive if you had not betrayed the public’s trust?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bloody "Blue" Note

by Susan Murphy-Milano

Nearly a year ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tera Chavez, a 26-year-old mother of two, was found in the marital home—dead with a single gunshot wound to her face. A blood-stained suicide note was present, but, according to investigators, it was not written by Tera.

The weapon found at the scene—a service revolver issued to her husband, Albuquerque Police Department (APD) Officer Levi Chavez.

Initially, Tera's death was ruled a suicide. Several months later, that ruling was changed to Homicide.

In August of this year, lawyers for the family hired attorney Brad Hall and filed a lawsuit against the police department for tampering with a crime scene, destroying evidence, and for interfering with another department's investigation out of their jurisdiction. According to the lawsuit, officers flushed evidence down the toilet, removed blood-stained bedding, and tore out specific sections of the mattress where Tera's body had been discovered.

Why would nine officers from a different county care about this particular crime scene? . . .

They have reason to be concerned. Numerous APD officers were allegedly involved in an insurance fraud scheme. Somehow Tera was brought into the scheme by her husband Levi Chavez in a plot to rip off insurance companies. Because Tera refused to go along with her husband's "blue buddies" she was a liability to the nine officers.

Just three days prior to Tera'a mysterious death, she contacted investigators from the State informing them of the insurance fraud scam. According to family members, her husband Levi Chavez was livid.

It should also be no surprise that Tera Chavez told friends and family members that "if something happens to me it was no accident, Levi is responsible."

In addition, Levi Chavez is a person of interest and is currently on paid leave.

Levi Chavez also painted a picture to co-workers, family, and friends that Tera was depressed and he was worried she could hurt herself. The same orchestra is playing the familiar "abuser" song. With a few too many sour, blood-stained notes.

Officer-related crimes within the home have reached epidemic proportions. Women like Tera Chavez have no place to turn. Even in death, the code of blue silence remains constant.

Women involved in a "Violent Blue" relationship ending in their deaths have been denied justice: Natalie Wagner, Milwaukee WI; Valarie Fiorenza, Saugus, MA; and Melanies McCraken, Albuquerque, NM. The families of these women—who were either dating or married to someone in law enforcement when their lives were cut short—fought to see those responsible behind bars and were unsuccessful.

Breaking the code and holding those responsible is a long journey.

But I am confident justice will prevail in the death of Tera Chavez. (State of New Mexico_Tera_Chavez_Lawsuit_8-1802998.docx)

Friday, September 19, 2008

The O.J. Simpson Trial - Disorder in the Court

by Katherine Scardino

I have been watching CNN's live coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial and I am amazed at a few issues. First of all, this judge is worse than Judge Ito. And she is female, which is more distressing for me, as a woman who relishes seeing and knowing successful women who have made it in a man’s world.

I can only imagine what this jury is thinking about this entire fiasco. . . . Speaking of the jury—it is composed of 9 women and 3 men, all white. During jury selection, the defense objected to the State’s exclusion of all blacks, but the judge ruled that the State had made a racially neutral explanation for such exclusion, and overruled the defense objection.

This judge is not very “judicial.” She is having a hard time controlling Simpson's defense lawyer, Yale Galanter. I have been watching his demeanor with this judge, and he is not letting her intimidate him at all. I like that. There is a fine line between standing your ground and facing the “chief” in the courtroom in situations where you believe you are procedurally correct and putting your tail between your legs and sitting down and “obeying” orders, like a good little pup. That fine line could result in the defense attorney being held in contempt of court and possibly jailed. One of our cohorts in Women in Crime Ink, Vanessa Leggett, is well aware of this possibility after she refused to divulge the source of her information about a case, and consequently spent several months in the Federal Detention Center in Houston, Texas. I admire her for that. Not many people will stand up to a judge.

But, getting back to the subject . . . the State's first witness was Bruce Fromong, the sports memorabilia dealer O. J. is accused of robbing. Fromong testified that money was not an objective of this sordid incident. But then under cross examination, Mr. Galanter and the defense attorney for co-defendant C. J. Stewart, got Fromong to admit that he had threatened to call “First Edition” and had demanded a large sum of money. I could not tell for certain, but I believe that he did receive a sum of cash for a copy of the audiotapes. This witness looks sleazy, unethical and the perfect idiot who could be convinced by the State or by a conniving cop to tape some stupid deal like this one and make it look like O. J. Simpson was committing an aggravated robbery.

Yesterday, the lead detective was on the stand. I watched his testimony for a while and it was obvious to me that when he was being questioned by the defense attorneys, he was slow to respond, did not answer the question asked, and attempted to avoid answering questions. But, when the State’s attorney asked him questions, he sat up in his chair, responded properly, looked at the jury, and was generally a responsive, interesting witness.

This has happened to me on many occasions, and I can tell you, it is very frustrating. Sometimes, I just want to jump up out of my chair and run to the desultory detective or cop and shake him! This detective did not even run a background check on the complainants. If he had, it was apparent from the line of questioning that he would have found criminal backgrounds. Nor did this detective ask for any proof that the property that O. J. Simpson was attempting to get back belonged to these complainants. He did not ask for any receipts or any evidence at all that they, in fact, did “own” this property which obviously belonged to Simpson.

Anyway, it is interesting. I’ll keep watching. . . .

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Economy and Crime Go Together Like Peas and Carrots

by Robin Sax

November 4 is creeping up on us, and in 47 days voters will elect the next leader of the United States. Who will it be? Barack Obama or John McCain?

Both candidates say they offer change, both tickets recognize our country is need of a serious overhaul, both think they are the one to run our country. When you look through elections past, crime, abortion, gun control was a key issue, along with the economy. Now according to the latest Gallup Poll (September 17), the “Top voter issue this year is the economy, gas prices, Iraq, healthcare, and terrorism.” So, what does this have to do with crime?

As I mentioned in my previous post, neither candidate is going to say he is soft on crime. And the true differences that
we can glean from voting records may be minor in the grand scheme of things, with the major differences (based on their prior voting records) between the candidates being:

Gun Laws

John McCain: No gun restrictions for law-abiding citizens

Barack Obama: Some restrictions on certain guns

Death Penalty

John McCain: Keep death penalty as it exists

Barack Obama: Supports death penalty in certain circumstances

Drug Laws

John McCain: Tough drug sentencing, except for first-time offenders; no medical marijuana

Barack Obama: Ease some drug sentencing requirements; undecided on medical marijuana

National Security

John McCain: Increase border security before other reforms

Barack Obama: Increase border security, including fencing


John McCain: Increased penalties and stiffer sentencing

Barack Obama: No extra punishment for gang association

The bigger difference, however, the bigger unknown and potentially the most significant way crime can be affected is in how the candidates will “change” the economy. Face it, people, the economy is in trouble! It’s been a gloomy week here in the United States and it’s only going to get gloomier until one of our change-minded future leaders can actually do something about it!

Crime is affected by the economy. In 2002, according to a report in
USA TODAY, “major crimes increased slightly in the first half of 2002, with modest spikes in murder, burglary and car theft.” At the time, the numbers represented the second consecutive year in which crime rose. Analysts believe the trend is being driven primarily by a faltering economy.

So how does a faltering economy contribute to crime?

1. Financial desperation and unemployment lead people to turn to illegal ways to make money, including burglary, robbery, and other theft-related crimes.

2. Unemployed people have more time to commit crime.

3. People have less means to purchase medications (like anti-psychotics or anti-depressants) that may help control behavior.

4. People who lose their homes and are already being supervised by courts or similar government agencies are less likely to stay in touch with probation, police departments, and social services departments to ensure that they are maintaining their responsibilities and obligations. Less supervision = less accountability.

5. City and county budgets are affected, as there are increased layoffs and hiring freezes of law enforcement personnel.

6. Drug use increases in tough economic times, thus leading to more violent crimes as people become more desperate to get drugs and money.

7. Poor economic times lead to more family strife, thus increasing incidents of domestic abuse and child abuse.

8. Neighborhoods decline, and with lack of upkeep fewer people take pride in where they live, thus bringing crime into their own neighborhoods.

9. Teen pregnancies increase when the economy is weak. This leads to more children growing up in poverty.

Though economists and social scientists may take issue as to what effect the economy truly has on crime, the statistics are very telling. The bottom line is that a sustained weak economy leads to unemployment, loss of homes, and greater crime. And if you don’t believe me, look at the decreased crime that occurred during the economic surge that occurred for almost a decade in the 1990’s—the Clinton years.

So in order to really evaluate the nominees on crime, you need to take a peek at their stances on the economy. There’s no better time to see what the candidates have in store for us than this week when the financial markets have wrought havoc, caused chaos, and have many people wondering if their money is really safe.

So what did the candidates say? Both said that we are in crisis. We need to do something. We need change. And what exactly is that I ask, Senators? I have been trying to figure that out all week, as neither White House hopeful offered any fresh ideas for turning things around. Instead each relied on the same vague, though vastly different, pitches they have offered over the past few months for fixing what ails the country.

Probably the best summary of their positions was written by Liz Sodti of the Associated Press in noting the key differences between the candidates: “In line with historical positions of Democrats and Republicans, Obama generally supports stronger consumer protections, better regulatory oversight and more government intervention, while McCain broadly prefers a market system of less federal involvement and red tape."

Both advocate tax cuts, though to different degrees and toward different ends. Obama seeks to cut into inequality between rich and poor by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and giving breaks to the middle class and lower-income people. McCain wants to spur the economy and create jobs by keeping tax rates low for higher-income taxpayers and slashing rates for corporations.

Which approach do you prefer? That’s one thing to ask yourself when you’re contemplating who you want to see in the White House.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Squeezing O.J. - Will Round II Get the Juice?

by Katherine Scardino

I am not sure whether I want to write something about O.J. Simpson. After the criminal trial in 1994, we all probably said something to the effect of "I hope I never hear this man's name again for the rest of my life."

I know there were people who watched every minute of that murder trial in California over a decade ago—you know, the one that lasted almost a year! And with an equally startling verdict.

During that trial, I remember being called by a member of the press in Houston, Texas, where I live, and asked to basically "guess" what the jury was going to do.

This phone call came during jury deliberations and—in all fairness to the newspaper reporter—he was thinking that because I had been practicing criminal law in Houston for a while, and had tried more than a few criminal cases, I might have some insight or clue as to what the jury would do.

Well, in my most J.D.-educated tone, I told him I thought that surely this jury would find Mr. Simpson guilty of murdering his wife and Mr. Goldman.

I had watched enough of the trial to feel that he was guilty. But I also recog
nized that Barry Scheck, Johnny Cochran, and the other members of his defense team did a fantastic job of "smoke and mirrors" and that the two prosecutors were totally outclassed and outlawyered by that so-called Dream Team. That is not supposed to matter . . . but in the glare of that circus, it was obvious.

All the same, I still felt that the State had put on enough evidence for the jury to legitimately find this man guilty.

Now we are in the midst of criminal trial number two for O.J. Simpson. This one is a crummy sequel to the first case. He is currently on trial in Las Vegas, Nevada for armed robbery and kidnapping. I have been following the newspaper about as much as you probably have—and with about as much interest.

Then I started thinking, which is a dangerous thing for me to do . . . but here are my thoughts. First, don't be mislead by the fact that he is accused of "armed robbery." He is not being charged with robbing these people of the property that he maintains was his.

No, O.J. Simpson is being tried for robbery because when he and his cohorts stormed into that hotel room, he snatched a cell phone, hat, and sunglasses (which probably actually fell off the man's face) from one of the people in the room.

Second, the "kidnapping" charge arose from a statement Simpson made on the eight-minute audiotape of this incident: "No one leaves. Do not let anyone leave this room." So that is the kidnapping part of his felony charge that could mean a life sentence for O.J.

Then, as if this is not enough, in the opening statement by the prosecutor, he told the jury to let this be the "true verdict."

Of course, the judge had instructed the jury that the California criminal trial was not to have any impact on their consideration of the facts in this case. Right! And, the prosecution was not to mention that trial. So, this prosecutor simply implied to the jury that regardless of the verdict in California, this verdict should be the "true verdict."

And he also mentioned in his opening statement that the jury will hear the "true O.J. Simpson" as opposed to O.J.'s public persona.

While not mentioning the murder trial, he alluded to it in the words he chose to use in front of this Las Vegas jury.

So where is this going? I am tending to believe more and more that this is a set up by O. J.'s alleged "friends." Otherwise, why the
full audiotape of this entire incident?

And we have to remember, that "rant" of O.J. Simpson may just be that. He is not being charged with using profane language or with losing his temper because he wanted his "s----" back.

There is always the possibility of a jury finding him guilty because of his history, the language he used, the anger he exhibited, the fact that many people around the world, not just the United States, believe that O.J. is guilty of murder and got away with it.

And this trial may be the last chance a wrong can be made right.

O.J. Simpson might get life in prison for knocking a man's sunglasses and cap off his head, and by saying that no one could leave the room. (Lord, I hope we have not resorted to revenge verdicts.)

Let's keep watching. I'll write more as the case progresses. . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The "No Body" Murder Case - A Prosecutor's Perspective

by Donna Pendergast

Corpus Delicti rule mandates that a prosecutor prove that a crime has been committed before a person can be convicted of committing a crime.

A dead body is a critical component and establishes the corpus delicti of a murder case. However, successful prosecutions have occurred where there is no body and sometimes no physical evidence linking a suspect to the crime.

I have successfully prosecuted two "
no body" murder cases and sent away five defendants on murder charges where there was no body to substantiate the crime. Having tried over 200 cases to a jury with 97 of those cases being murder trials, I can vouch from experience that the "no body" murder trial is the most difficult and complex prosecution of all. It is a difficult feat to convince jurors of a murder without the body as a key piece of evidence. With careful and tenacious planning it is an obstacle that can be overcome.

The ABC's of a "No Body" Prosecution

Prosecuting a murder case without a body is an uphill climb for a prosecutor. Without a body,
circumstantial evidence becomes the key to the prosecution. The prosecutor must use every shred of available evidence to prove to the jury circumstantially that murder is the only logical explanation of what happened. The prosecutor must also disprove all innocent explanations for the disappearance.

The first thing that a prosecutor must do in a "no body" murder case is make a critical assessment of all available evidence to determine if there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to convince a jury that a murder occurred. Before charging a "no body" murder case, the prosecutor must be ready to rule out reasonable explanations for the disappearance through the process of elimination.

The prosecutor must prove not only that death is the reason for a disappearance, but that the means of death was at the hands of another. The prosecutor needs to use circumstantial evidence prove that the death was a murder as opposed to an accident or by natural causes. The defense will capitalize on any uncertainty in the case arguing that there may be another explanation.

The Missing Hunters

A case that I prosecuted in 2003 is a classic example of a "no body" murder case. On Friday November 22, 1985,
Brian Ognjan (pictured below) and David Tyll (at right) left their suburban Detroit homes for a weekend hunting trip and disappeared off the face of the earth. When they failed to return home as planned on Sunday night, the families and later police authorities began a massive search. Their bodies and vehicle were never recovered.

In October 2003, J.R. Duvall (pictured below)
and his brother Coco Duvall went to trial for the murder of the missing hunters. I had oone witness who came forward after 18 years to admit that she had observed the Duvall brothers savagely beat the hunters to death with a baseball bat outside a local bar. It was widely rumored, but never proven, that the bodies of the hunters were then cut up in a wood chipper and fed to pigs. A more detailed account of the nuances of the case can be found in Tom Henderson's book Darker Than Night which gives an eerily accurate description of the case and trial.

The lack of bodies in the case was complicated by other difficult problems. My key witness in the case, Barb Boudro, had issues that I also needed to overcome with circumstantial evidence to prove a murder. Barb admitted to having at least nine drinks the night of the murder, she didn't know what had happened to the bodies after the beating and she had delayed telling the police what she knew for 18 years. I also had a concern, which did in fact materialize at trial, that Barb would be portrayed as a media attention seeker because of the high-profile nature of the trial.

To corroborate Barb's story, I needed to elicit every favorable shred of circumstantial evidence available to bolster her version of events. To prove the death of the two hunters was fairly easy. Both David Tyll's and Brian Ongjan's bank accounts and credit cards had never been accessed after their disappearance. This evidence was presented at trial to refute claims made by the defense that perhaps the two hunters had ran away to start new lives.

I also presented testimony from David Tyll's wife that he had asked her to come along on the trip. This circumstantial evidence seemingly ruled out the likelihood that the two hunters willingly set the stage to disappear and start new lives. I also put in evidence to show that there had been no medical insurance claims presented nor processed over the past 18 years for either of the two. This circumstantial evidence supported my witness's claim that the hunters were in fact dead.

Proving that the deaths were due to murder was more problematic. Barb's testimony still for the most part needed to stand on its own to prove death by murder as opposed to accident or natural causes. The defense argued that even if the hunters were dead, the prosecution couldn't prove murder but for the testimony of one shaky and drunk witness. The defense further argued that the hunters who were last seen in an extremely intoxicated state may have driven off the road and ended up in a lake or quarry. As the defense repeatedly argued, the prosecution had the burden of proving that something like that hadn't happened.

Luckily I had snippets of statements made by the Duvall brothers over the ensuing 18 years that corroborated Barb's version of events to a certain extent. It was only a few small snippets but it was enough. After a two week trial the
jury came back guilty of First Degree Murder in less than two hours.

My other "no body" case was considerably easier than the first. In
Detroit Michigan, in early 2001, three men working on a house renovation ambushed, tortured, and robbed the owner of the house when he stopped in to check on their progress. They then stuffed his body in a trash can and took it out to the curb where it was picked up in the normal trash collection the next morning. By the time the police learned of the murder and got to the city dump the body was presumably completely buried under massive mounds of trash. Multiple search attempts were made to sift through the trash piles with a bulldozer to no avail. That set the stage for a "no body" prosecution utilizing circumstantial evidence.

The victim had been stabbed multiple times at the house so there was
DNA evidence at the crime scene to compare to the victim's DNA taken from his toothbrush. This proved that at the very least the victim had been bleeding in the house. I also put into evidence pictures of the city dump so that the jury could understand the futility of the search and see for themselves why the body was never found.

The three defendants later all individually made statements exculpating themselves but implicating the others in the murder. This further proved a murder even if the respective defendants were blaming it on each other. Since these types of statements are only admissible in trial against a defendant himself and not against other defendants I was required to do a triple jury trial when prosecuting the case.

The trial was a circus to say the least. We had three separate juries in court at the same time. I was required to do three separate opening and three closing arguments back to back to back. That made for one exhausted prosecutor.

For much of the testimony all three juries could be in court simultaneously. However, certain witnesses only pertained to one jury and when the defendant's respective statements were introduced into evidence only the jury for that defendant was allowed to be in the court to hear the statement. All three juries ultimately convicted the defendants of murder after a three-week trial.

My personal experience has proven that the conventional wisdom of "no body, no murder" is a thing of the past. The "no body" murder case makes for a difficult prosecution but more and more frequently these case are being prosecuted and won despite the lack of a body. What used to be the perfect crime for those cunning enough to dispose of their victims has become a little less perfect. For that we can all be grateful.

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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does O.J. Deserve an Unbiased Jury?

by Tina Dirmann

O.J. Simpson may not get a fair trial. That's what a lot of people are saying, right? That jurors will be stinging, still, from that February 5, 1997 verdict that allowed him to walk away from a double homicide charge. And jurors will be so outraged, apparently, that they will not be able to weigh the facts objectively now that he stands trial for kidnapping and armed robbery in Las Vegas.

My take? The talk is right. And, beyond that, my guess is that few people care if Simpson's right to a fair trial is violated.

As a career crime reporter, I know only too well that no matter what we think of Simpson—and I do think he brutally slashed to death ex-wife Nicole Brown and friend Ron Goldman—he still deserves an unbiased jury.

You know, the kind he didn't get the first time—only that worked out in his favor. But this time? Eh, my gut says probably not so much. Oh, forget my gut. Listen to the potential jurors directly.

"I feel the case down in Los Angeles—if someone got away with that," a male juror angrily reasoned, "you would keep yourself clean and you wouldn't come back and commit another crime."

That one led the defense attorney to try to have all potential jurors who even heard the comment dismissed. The judge refused. After all, it's taken all week to find 12 unbiased jurors. She wasn't about to allow such a setback. But she did allow others who agreed with him to raise their hands. A few did. All were sent home.

Another juror admitted on his questionnaire that he couldn't get over his anger about the 1995 acquittal (though he later said under examination that he had a "change of heart" about that). Right.

I can't help but wonder, in fact, if there are some folks out there who are so upset over that long-ago injustice, that they'll gloss over their feelings publicly just to get a seat on that jury and somehow finally seek justice for those old murders. It could happen. And we'd probably never know. No more than we knew the jurors in California all those years ago were incapable of setting aside feelings of bitterness over police injustice to the minority community and seek their retribution by letting an obviously guilty man go.

But all that aside, what I'd really love to know is . . . What is O.J. thinking as he sits there, listening to people call him a murderer. Unlike the last time, when he would roll his eyes at comments in court and famously proclaim himself "100% not guilty," Simpson remains passive, with not a flicker of emotion crossing his face as each day's proceedings roll on.

But I bet he is scared. He's 61 years old and once again facing life in prison, this time for kidnapping, armed robbery, and assault in connection to stealing items from two sports memorabilia dealers in a Vegas hotel room last year—memorabilia he claims were his. Such a dumb crime. And this time, he's alone, pretty much. No gavel-to-gavel coverage by all the media networks. No outraged black community. No Cochran and crew (a.k.a., Dream Team). No lenient Judge Lance Ito allowing the circus to dance on and on.

And I think Simpson knows the chances of getting 12 jurors and 6 alternates with absolutely no opinion, with no ax to grind against him, are pretty slim. I'm not saying it's right. Or fair. That's just the way it is.

And if I were O.J., I'd be plenty scared.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Murder of Lauren Lofquist

by Susan Murphy-Milano

It was Sunday morning, March 26, 2006. For Neil and Lisa Lofquist and their children, 8-year-old Lauren and 6-year-old Lars, it was their usual weekend routine. The family enjoyed Sunday breakfast together before heading off to church. Neil taught Sunday School and Lisa was active in church activities. The couple had been married for sixteen years and raised their family in an upscale suburb of Illinois.

The Lofquists had deep roots in the Clarendon Hills community. They were educated—Lisa was an occupational therapist and Neil had his MBA and was in business for himself. Lauren was a great student, active in Girl Scouts and in swimming. Lars loved baseball, digging in the dirt for worms, and pulling his sister's hair. As far as anyone knew, the family was close and loving.

That evening, around 8 p.m., Neil Lofquist had offered to put the kids to bed while his wife remained downstairs. Lisa was still in the family room watching television when Neil returned from putting the kids down for the night. He had a deep, unexplained wound to this hand.

Neil Lofquist, his son, and Lisa headed to the hospital. Using their cell phone, they called next door and asked a neighbor to check on Lauren who was sleep while Neil sought medical attention for his hand. Oddly, they left Lauren upstairs, asleep.

When the neighbor went upstairs to check on 8-year-old Lauren, the little girl was on her knees on the cold bathroom tile floor, her lifeless head was slumped down into the toilet bowl.

Around 10 p.m. police responded to a 911 call in the 100 block of Chicago Avenue.

The following morning, media were camped out in front of the Loftquist home and
reporters canvassed the coffee shops and surrounding area for any tidbits on the family and reaction to Lauren's murder.

The front page news: "Neil Loftquist sexually abused, stabbed, strangled and drowned his daughter inside the family home, claiming he believed Lauren was the devil."

Neil Lofquist was
charged with murder. The Chicago Tribune reported he strangled and stabbed his own daughter. He took her into the bathroom and, according to reports, drowned her in the toilet bowl.

That weekend the murder of Loren Lofquist did not make
national news. Had it been a slower news day, more than likely the story would have received the attention it deserved.

Over the next several days, people pointed fingers as they often do in these cases. The town Web site was filled with residents demanding answers as to why a mother would leave her child alone to take her husband to the hospital in the first place. Why didn't Lisa go upstairs and check on Lauren's well being? Why did Lisa take the one child and not the other? Why didn't Lisa know their daughter was being sexually assaulted? Why didn't she help her daughter?

Answers do not come easily in
tragedies where a parent has been arrested or is a suspect in the murder of their child. And only skilled and trained professionals can evaluate and determine what happened in each case. And sometimes their conclusions are wrong. I suspect we will never know "why" Neil Lofquist murdered his daughter.

Last month, Lofquist appeared before a judge in DuPage County, along with his three public defenders, to argue whether or not psychological interviews can be taped. It will be some time before a trial date is set in the case. And it is likely you will not see this case covered on FOX News or CNN.

Lauren's death was, in my opinion, a great loss to the world. She was one of those kids whose eyes sparkled like stars when she spoke. Loren talked of being a nurse when she grew up.

Lauren could have been your neighbor or your child's school mate or someone you bought Girls Scout cookies from at church. Lauren is a reminder to each of us that life is precious.

In memory of Lauren's death, let us all remember to make time and give our kids extra hugs and kisses. Let them know how important they are each and every day.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Freedom Behind Bars

by Vanessa Leggett

We all remember where we were on 9/11. I’ve often wished I could forget. I was in jail—Day 53 of an open-ended incarceration. That summer, a federal judge had found me in contempt of court for my refusal to give a grand jury confidential source material gathered for a book. Surrendering my research would have meant burning sources. I could not do it. And so the judge ordered me jailed for as long as the grand jury was in session. That turned into a 168-day stay at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Houston. When I rejoined society a few months after September eleventh, we were a nation at war and the world I had known was not the same place.

The morning the world changed, I was in my cell, nursing a cold and reading Omerta by Mario Puzo. It was my third day back in general population after a night in solitary. I had made the mistake of questioning the enforceability of a jail policy. Guards made sure I understood what enforcement was all about. The Bureau of Prisons calls segregation blocks the Special Housing Unit, or "SHU" (pronounced shew), fedspeak for what inmates know as "The Hole."

The day I emerged from The Hole was the freest I’d felt during my incarceration. A night in solitary showed me that I'd taken for granted simple freedoms allowed the general population in jail.

For example, outside of SHU, I was free to roam the common area during designated hours. From the dayroom and library, I had several windows with views to the streets below. I considered this privilege a kind of glass-partition visitation with the outside world.

Every day until 9/11, I had watched Houstonians talk on their cell phones, check their watches and PDAs, and sip coffee from Starbucks. (I could spot the cardboard-sleeved cups from blocks away.) By day's end on 9/11, there was little sign of life in downtown Houston, the fourth largest city in the nation.

Another window to the world unavailable to those in solitary was the television. The morning of 9/11, a fellow inmate summoned me to the lower recreation room minutes before the second jet hit the World Trade Center. The north tower was smoking from the impact of the first aircraft. We watched in stunned silence.

Later, I held hands with a group of women in a circle as a chaplain led us in prayer. I remember the inmate to my right squeezing my hand and not letting go immediately. Her home was in another country.

I did not need to speak her language to understand. Each of us wanted to connect with family, with those we loved, and with the people who loved us, to make sure they were safe, and to tell them we were okay. But visitation would be out of the question. For security, the entire detention center went into lockdown mode. My world shrunk to the size of my cell.

I've often thought of how my day on 9/11 would have been no different from my day on the tenth had I remained in solitary confinement. I would not have had access to television. Guards who checked on me would have had no obligation to tell me America was under attack. For my own safety, jail staff might have been ordered not to inform segregated inmates of the national disaster; it didn't take much to lose it in solitary.

Though I was in jail, separated from the world, at least I had been released from The Hole, and was able to see, however horrific, history unfold in real time. My only conduit to the outside world that day was the TV screen, which gave me a sense of connection to other Americans.

That connection was broken once the detention center went into lockdown. All I knew of what was going on in the world was what I had seen through the celluloid window that day: The World Trade Center, our twin trophies of commerce, had disintegrated. Our seat of military might, the Pentagon, had been hit. And another aircraft appeared to have been headed for the Capitol. When I saw members of Congress join hands and sing "God Bless America,” I must admit I feared the end was near.

It wasn't. My incarceration felt like it would never come to an end . . . but it did, eventually, when the grand jury disbanded in early January. For months I'd lived under fluorescent lights, without a single trip outside. As I emerged from the jail, the transition felt as disorienting as walking out of a matinée.

Over the next few weeks, I saw evidence of how the world had changed: metal detectors and pat-downs, building barricades, Middle Eastern cabbies whose well-worn taxis sported crisp, new American flags. Fear was everywhere.

It did not take long for me to realize I was about as free as I had been when I rejoined general population from solitary. Though I was part of the free world again, among my fellow Americans, none of us was truly free. Not like we used to be.