Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Right to Jury Service

by Katherine Scardino 

As I experience various things in my life, I usually sit down and tell all of you my feelings. This week, I experienced jury duty for the first time in many years. Although I did not get picked to actually sit on a jury, which I would have loved, the mere experience of showing up was something that got me to thinking about women and our right to even be in a jury room with a man.

Did you know that it was not until 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, that women were even allowed to vote? Isn't it amazing, looking back at all the accomplishments women have made over the last 100 years, to think that we were looked down upon as second class citizens. Remember the classic movie Twelve Angry Men, not six men and six women or some combination thereof, but a 100-percent male jury. Can you imagine living in a world where you were looked down upon based solely on the fact that you were unfortunately born female? In today’s world, it is hard to even imagine.

The passage of the 19th Amendment did not solve all the women’s issues of the time. It actually had surprisingly little impact on a women’s citizenship status or on the American constitutional order. Women believed that if they had the right to vote, then they would gain equal citizenship by being allowed to assert their political interests, such as serving on a jury. Jury service is democracy in action. Juries help to protect individual liberty and serve as an institution of self-government in which citizens 
apply the law to members of the community.

The amendment helped to lessen the distinctiveness between male and female citizenship, and gave women some recognition as public persons. But, it did not create equal citizenship for both sexes. The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1848, long before 1920. It was used, unsuccessfully, by women's rights advocates to claim both the right to vote and the right to serve on juries as protected rights of citizenship. Even as early as 1872, Susan B. Anthony and several other women went to their local polling places to attempt to vote. But, just as Rosa Parks was prosecuted for trying to use public transportation, Susan B. Anthony was prosecuted for casting an illegal ballot. At her trial, she was not allowed to testify nor was the all male jury allowed to judge her. Instead, they were directed by the Judge to deliver a verdict of guilty.

The liberal interpretation of the Constitution that Anthony hoped for was one in which voting, jury duty, and professional licensing were all among the privileges and immunities of national citizenship. Unfortunately, during her era, a jury of one’s peers excluded one-half of the population.

There is not enough space for me to outline the hard road that women before us have tread so that we may have the right to sit in a jury room and deliberate the fate of one of our peers in the community. I sat in the large gathering room this week and listened to conversations other people were having about why they were there. One woman was talking about the advice she had been given on how to get out of doing her civic duty. I thought about what Susan B. Anthony and other women would have thought about that conversation. How quickly we forget the struggle to gain the right to vote and to sit on a jury.

We have become such a throw-away society. If it is inconvenient to us, we simply throw it away. No one wants to do it anyway. For just one second, think about what our society would be like without a jury. Who decides the punishment for committing crimes? Who decides which person should to pay in a landlord/tenant dispute? Would we have a Judge Judy sitting around every day to make all the decisions for us? That is a great idea. Let’s give the responsibility of making all the important decisions in our lives to the king, only one person. That did not work so well a few hundred years ago, and, I dare say, it would not work well today.

So, my ending thought is this: When you get that summons to appear for jury duty, look at it, smile and say, “Thank you, Susan! Good job.”

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Dysfunctional, Broken System: California Department of Corrections Parole Operation

by Robin Sax
Co-authored by Caroline Aguirre, retired parole agent

In late August 2009, the arrest of parolee Phillip Garrido exposed just how broken and dysfunctional the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has become. Investigative findings, as published by California State Inspector General David Shaw and the State Attorney's General' office, concluded that a number of parole agents over a period of nine years had failed to do their jobs properly surrounding the parole supervision of Phillip Garrido. A registered sex offender, Garrido has been charged with the kidnapping and rape of Jaycee Dugard. To date, the state of California has paid out a sum of $20 million dollars to Jaycee Dugard. Numerous other law suits are pending in which CDCR is named as defendants.

Then there was John Albert Gardner, also a registered sex offender, who admitted earlier this year to the horrific rape and murder of both Chelsea King and Amber Dubois.

As noted in the Investigative report findings by State Inspector General David Shaw:
"This report concludes that during the department's parole supervision of Gardner, it did not identify Gardner's aberrant behavior, including unlawfully entering the grounds of a state prison, a felony as well as numerous parole violations. Had the department identified Gardner criminal act and parole violations, it could have referred them to the District Attorney's or the Board Of Prison Hearings for appropriate actions. Successful prosecution of Gardner could have sent Gardner back to prison , making it impossible for him to have murdered Amber Dubois and Chelsea King."
Right after the arrest of Phillip Garrido, Matthew Cate, Scot Kernan and Robert Ambroselli, top administrators for the CDCR, openly stated to numerous news media outlets that parole agents had done a good job.

After the arrest of John Albert Gardner, these same administrators told the elected state officials and the news media that all of the parole records on John Albert Gardner (who was a discharged parolee at the time of his arrest for the murders and rapes in San Diego) had been destroyed. After the San Diego Union-Tribune confronted these same administrators about Gardner's prison central file (central files are never destroyed), then they all made public apologies, and the central file records were released to the news media. Multiple civil lawsuits have been filed naming the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as the defendants.

On July 24, 2009, 17-year-old Lily Burk was murdered by parolee Charles Samuel in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Samuel admitted to the murder of Ms. Burk and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. CDCR has failed to address the issue of how parolee Charles Samuel, who on the date and time of the murder of Ms. Burk resided in a residential drug treatment program, was able to be out and about in the community?

A CDCR spokesperson told a news media reporter that Samuel had been given a written pass to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles on the date in question and that the assigned parole agent of the residential drug treatment program had verified all of the information on the request form for the pass. Only after the murder of Lily Burk was it discovered that the DMV was closed on the date in question (Friday) for state mandated work furlough days. Where is the internal affairs investigation on the parole agent?

On July 24, 2010, bride-to-be Chere Osmanhodzic was murdered in her home in the Valley Village area of Los Angeles. Parolee Omar Armando Loera was subsequently identified as the murder suspect as a result of DNA and was arrested in Mexico. Loera has been charged with the murder of Ms. Osmanhodzic. This is yet another case of a dysfunctional parole agency. Region 3 Parole Headquarters failed to verify if Loera had been deported to Mexico, in a timely fashion, upon his release from state prison.

As a result of his documented criminal history, Loera was classified as a high-contr
ol supervision case, and this verification should have been done immediately after his release from prison. Instead, individuals assigned to the Region 3 USINS unit waited three months before doing their job. These individuals also failed to update Loera's parole facesheet. The face sheet in question did not even have a photograph of Loera. If the parole administrators assigned to Region 3 had performed their assigned duties correctly, would Ms. Osmanhodzic be alive today?

CDCR failed to make up wanted parolee-at-large notices to distribute to local law enforcement agencies. As mandated by law, per the California Penal Code, parole agents must submit a request for an arrest warrant when a parolee classified as high-control supervision fails to report to the parole unit office within 24 hours of their release dates. This was not the case with Loera. Parole administrators have said that outside law enforcement can check the parole database and find out which parolees have outstanding warrants.

Now, I ask you, with over 120,000 parolees on active parole status within t
he state of California, do these parole administrators truly believe that police officers have the time to check each parolee's status? Or, do the administrators somehow erroneously believe police officers have a magic crystal ball?

On October 30 , 2010, parolee Christopher Orlando Pinn, armed with a TEC-9, attempted to kill a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. Pinn was subsequently arrested and faces criminal charges of attempted murder of a peace officer and possession of an assault weapon. A documented hard-core gang member, Pinn had as a special condition of his parole a ban on associating with gang members. Pinn was on parole for possession of controlled substance, a low-level, non-violent criminal offense, and was being supervised at one of the lowest levels of parole supervision.

On October 31, 2010, Halloween day, 5-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr. was proudly wearing his new Spider Man costume, dashing about in the backyard of his home located on East 84th Street, when he was gunned down by one or two suspected gang members. On November 5, the Los Angeles Police Department held a press conference where they announced the arrests of two suspects, 18-year-old Marcus Denson and 21-year-old Leonard Hall, both documented Kitchen Crip gang members. Each is to be charged with the murder of little Aaron Shannon Jr.

Let's take a good look at Leonard Hall. On the date and time of the horrific murder of this innocent small child, Hall was on active parole supervision for possession of a controlled substance and disregard for safety. As a result, he was on the next to the lowest level of parole supervision: control service out of the Huntington Park 2 parole unit. Also, as a special condition of parole, Hall could not associate with known Kitchen Crips gang members. That is what is so troubling surrounding his parole supervision level. On October 15, 2010, Hall was arrested for robbery as per parole documentation. No formal criminal charges were filed, and Hall was released from local custody on October 22.

Now, the question is did the assigned parole agent do a case review with the parole unit supervisor after H
all's release date of October 22? Review of Hall's parole face sheet notes that he is a documented hard-core Kitchen Crip gang member. Also noted in the problem area is a history of battery on a police officer. In the past, if someone was arrested on a serious or violent charge, even if no criminal charges were filed, once the parolee was released back into the community, then his supervision level would have been increased to a higher supervision level for at least a three-month period and then reduced once the parolee had remained free of any parole violations or arrests.

Is public safety no longer a concern and a priority for the CDCR? Reading through the complete court transcripts and depositions associated with the trial in the civil case of Hernandez vs. California Department of Corrections and Maria Franco (Maria Franco is the current acting head of Region 3 parole), you might be able to determine the CDCR/DAPO's mindset. It seems that the parolee classification ratings have a correlation to expenditures, namely that overtime costs are an issue, and lower classifications require less supervision.

One parole administrator has gone as far to state that less parole supervision can be a form of positive reinforcement in the long run and only enhance and encourage the parolee to remain free of involvement in new criminal behavior. Really!? As you can see with Parolee Hall, this lax parole supervision idea/policy can only lead to disaster. It allowed Hall to continue to associate with his homeboys, have possession of a loaded firearm, and then take the life of an innocent 5-year-old child.

Where is the public outcry on this parole supervision crisis? Where is the accountability? Why are these parolees not being properly supervised and monitored by parole agents? Where is the governor of the State of California on this? Why do these parole administrators continue to have their jobs? Shouldn't they be held accountable for these resulting disasters? How many more innocent people have to be murdered for the department to make changes? How many more innocent victims have to suffer at the hands of roaming parolees?

Friday, November 26, 2010

'Twas the Day After Thanksgiving...

by Donna Pendergast

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving and all through the land
The shoppers were wide awake, the agenda was planned
The coffee was brewing, the tennis shoes were laced
The stores would soon open, around the house they all raced.

The stores were all decked out with flash holiday flair
with hope that the shoppers would soon buy their fare
And Mom with her coupons and dad with his cash
had compiled a list for the mad morning dash.

When all of a sudden there arose such a clatter
Mall doors were now open, twas all that would matter
The crowd surged ahead in a frenzy quite crazy
Not a place for the weak and worse for the lazy.

Holiday lights in the window of a once simple store
gave the luster of magic to something quite plain before
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a runaway mob propelled from the rear.

Push forward, move faster, don't worry where you tread
Don't look back, don't falter, think bargains ahead
From outside the front door, for the length of the mall
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all.

Like leaves in the middle of a wild tornado fly
run for the shops, many presents to buy
Super special sale and bargains galore
but you need to move quickly and get through the door.

Then in a twinkling, a voice on the mike
"Door buster special, something you'll like
You need to get this deal, you need to buy more
But you better move fast, only five units per store."

So on to the display, shoppers flew in a flash
I'm going to get one and save tons of cash
But I only can do it by fighting off the crowd
I need to be brazen, I musn't be cowed.

As boxes fly off the shelf, into carts full of loot
get out of the way or I'll give you a boot
I need to get this deal, my kid needs this toy
And I'm on a mission to search and destroy.

Don't you know it's Black Friday, only one thing to say?
Survival of the fittest is the order of the day
I'm going for the deals, I want only the best
I can't stop or falter, I can't take a rest.

Up and down the corridors, until plum out of steam
I got all my bargains, my haul is a dream
I'm done hitting stores from morning to night
Merry Christmas to all, you put up a good fight.

Black Friday is one of the most anticipated shopping days of the year for bargain-hunting shoppers. It's a time to hit the stores and officially launch the holiday shopping season. But criminals look forward to the shopping season for a very different reason. Based on experience I can tell you that they are hoping to take advantage and prey on shoppers. Be a smart shopper and heed these safety tips:
  1. Avoid the ATM. Early Friday morning is no time to be hitting the money machine for a dose of cash. If you absolutely need to visit the ATM, be safe about it. Use a well-lit ATM inside an open establishment. Be especially mindful of anyone who appears to be watching you near an ATM. Also be aware of anything that seems unusual about the ATM machine itself. Criminals have become adept at rigging ATM machines to trap your card which they will extract from the rigged machine after you walk away. They can later use it by entering your pin number which they have learned by either watching you punch it in up close or watching from afar with binoculars.
  2. Be Alert. Pay attention to surroundings and keep an eye out for any unusual activity. Park under lights and shop with a buddy. If you have to exit your car in a dark parking lot, wait for a crowd that is heading toward the store or mall as well.
  3. Keep your purse close to your body and tightly shut. I have personally been the victim of a pickpocket who was so adroit that he was able to lift my wallet out of my purse while it was on my shoulder. I never felt a thing. Keep a tight leash on your purse and be alert in crowds and aware of persons bumping up against you. A neat tip for your purse if you are putting it in a shopping cart. Put it in the child seat area and lace the seatbelt straps through the purse handle and lock them. This prevents a thief from running by and grabbing it on the run.
  4. Don't fight. Black Friday can bring out the worst in shoppers. A good deal is not worth a physical altercation.
Be safe out there today, and happy shopping!

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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Forever Storm, and a Thanksgiving Prayer

by Susan Murphy Milano

Last year at this time, Karen Kahler of Columbia, Kansas, was finishing her workday and making plans to head out the next day with her daughter, Emily 18, Lauren, 16, and son, Sean, 10, for Thanksgiving. Their plan was to visit Dorothy Wright, 89, Karen's grandmother, in Burlingame, Kansas, for the holiday weekend. Karen had filed for divorce earlier in the year from her violent and abusive husband, and this was to be the first holiday away from Kraig Kahler since their marriage.

Thanksgiving day was without incident for Karen, 47 (pictured above with her daughters), and it was first real taste of freedom, away from the constant monitoring, via texting, phone calls and following she had endured. Karen and her family planned activities and enjoyed their time together with a great sense of peace. When Saturday rolled around, they spent the day in town and then headed back to Grandma’s to have dinner.

On November 28, 2009, while placing a roast in the oven, the front door swung open and the sound of bullets and screams filled the home. Hours earlier, according to authorities, Kraig Kahler had been outside, waiting for the perfect moment to kill his family. Investigators say Karen was shot first, then Lauren, Grandma Wright and, finally, Emily. In the chaos, Sean managed to escape, unharmed, running to a nearby neighbor for help.

At approximately 6:15 pm, officers were summoned to the home in Burlingame, where Karen was dead and three others were wounded. They were transported to a Topeka hospital, where Lauren and Emily died soon after arriving, and Grandma died a few days later.

For Sean Kahler, this is not only his first Thanksgiving without his mom, sisters and grandmother, it is a holiday he would rather forget. For as long as this young man lives, Thanksgiving and, frankly, his life, will be extremely difficult.

As hard as he tries to simply go on and live his life, something will undoubtedly always remind Sean of the tragedy. It could be something as innocent as the way a door is left open or hearing a mom call out to her son in a park. Perhaps a special song favored by his sisters will come on the radio. It takes so little for a victim of a violent crime to be reminded; the pain is like a permanent tattoo that can't be removed.

Some days will be better than others for Sean. At times, the pain will undoubtedly stalk him like his worst enemy. Only this isn't a presence Sean can simply order to go away. He'll never be able to run from it, in particular, on every Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, his pain will be further magnified by the pending murder trial of his father. Sean Kahler, the lone survivor, is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution. After a handful of hearings, a court date is scheduled in December to determine if Sean can testify outside the courtroom by video camera. In my opinion, there should be no debate; Sean should not be forced to face the person who murdered his entire world.

Today, as you gather with family, my wish is for you to stop for a moment and say a prayer for Sean Kahler. Take a moment to leave words of hope and strength for Sean on this post. This young man has so little left to be thankful for. Pray that he can find peace one day and be thankful that his life was spared.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

America's Dumbest Pedophile vs. The U.S. Constitution

by Stacy Dittrich

We seem to be going backwards in our progress of protecting our children. Within the last two weeks we have seen a vile judge toss out parts of Jessica’s law, and a how-to-guide to victimizing and raping children appear on the internet. What is even more disturbing are the people who are defending this type of behavior, all for the sake of the good old United States Constitution.

Pueblo, Colorado resident Phillip Greaves, 47, created an international outcry when he began selling an e-book on Amazon titled, “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure.” Amazon faced a monstrous boycott from Facebook and Twitter campaigns for allowing the book to be sold. According to Greaves, the book was intended to help children adapt while being molested and that penetration was prohibited; utterly nauseating. Greaves even looks the part of the creeper-next-door.

Understandably, Pueblo law enforcement went on full alert and immediately honed in on Greaves. During an interview with The Smoking Gun, Greaves was asked if he had ever molested a child. While blatantly admitting he had sexual intercourse with young children up until the age of 15, his answer to the question about his current sex life was "could have,” followed by a quick denial when he realized he had just publicly announced committing a heinous crime against children. Some columns are announcing Greaves as harmless because he has never been arrested or convicted of any crimes. Fact check: just because he has never been arrested or convicted does not mean he has never committed a crime, he simply hasn’t been caught. This happens to be the case with many, many pedophiles.

For example, a pedophile I investigated that inspired my book, “The Devil’s Closet,” was in his 50’s and had never gotten so much as a speeding ticket his entire life. However, with one minor slip up, I was able to obtain a search warrant for his home and found what was no less than a house of horrors in the area of child pornography, including modified dolls that he engaged in sex with. Sure, it’s not illegal to have sex with inanimate objects, but he also had a plethora of grossly obscene pornography involving children. Unless Greaves confesses to possessing such material, Pueblo law enforcement is going to have a tough time obtaining a search warrant for his home. But I’d be willing to bet that Greaves has an abundance of child pornography in his home. If so, every time he possesses or views child porn he is committing a crime, he just hasn’t been caught.

I get it that the First Amendment prohibits the United States Congress from prohibiting the right to free speech. But, I missed where it said that a private company like Amazon cannot do whatever the hell they want, including refusing to sell a book. Secondly, in New York vs. Ferber, it was established that child pornography is not considered protected speech even if it is not obscene. Most are making the argument that Phillip Greaves’ book is not child pornography because there are no pictures. The definition of pornography is the depiction of erotic behavior, in picture or words, intended to cause sexual excitement. Yes indeed, it’s a stretch, but I believe that law enforcement could make a strong enough argument to at least obtain a search warrant for Greaves’ home.

Unfortunately, police in Pueblo have to spend equal amounts of time investigating Greaves and protecting him from death threats, etc. Apparently, this imbecile didn’t foresee the uproar his disgusting piece of filth would cause when he began to sell it. Greaves also wrote another revolting “manifesto” titled “Our Gardens of Flesh: From the Seeds of Lust Springs the Harvest of Love.” Gawker posted excerpts of the book on its site and it is truly stomach-churning. However, the title clearly didn’t catch anyone’s eye like “The Pedophile’s Guide…”

Regardless, say what you want about censorship but Amazon undoubtedly took the right action in refusing to sell this garbage.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving and Dads

by Diane Fanning

It's difficult to think about Thanksgiving without thinking about your dad. I can still see him standing at the end of the loaded dining room table, hovering over a golden turkey, a large knife and piercing fork poised in the air. He'd pause as he calculated just the right angle and the perfect place to sink the blade.

He'd slice the breast in consistently thin pieces--I still don't know how he managed that. Then, he'd masterfully separate one drumstick and then the other, passing one to my brother and placing the second leg on his plate.

I also remember the sad Thanksgiving. The one where we had hot dogs and baked beans. My Dad worked at the Baltimore Fisher Body plant of General Motors. Every year in August, he'd be laid off for two or three weeks while they turned over the machines to accommodate that year's new models. During that particular year, his union went on strike the same day he was supposed to return to work. On Thanksgiving, he still was without work, without pay and with three kids to feed. We were lucky to get the hot dogs. It made all of us appreciate the turkey even more when the next Thanksgiving rolled around.

Now, all I have of my Dad are memories. He passed away in 2005. At first, my father-in-law filled in the Dad gap. Then last year, he died, too. Both men suffered through years of progressively worsening dementia. They inspired my fourth Lucinda Pierce mystery, Twisted Reason.

It appears that their inspiration led me in the right direction. Publishers Weekly wrote: "Edgar-finalist Fanning skillfully illuminates the heartbreaking challenges facing Alzheimer’s victims and their families in her fourth mystery featuring Virginia homicide detective Lucinda Pierce."

In Kirkus Reviews: "As usual, Fanning poses Lucinda a quirky mystery, this time providing a thoughtful look at the stress of those caring for loved ones with dementia."

In this week of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the encouragement and inspiration dads give their daughters, and for the special insight that I received from two terrific Dads: Leon Butcher and Bill Fanning.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is TSA Setting A New Legal Precedent On What Defines A Sexual Assault?

by Vicki Polin

Over the last several days, I've been paying close attention to our government's response to the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA's) newest measures of providing security in airports. Why? Because, for the last 26 years, I've been actively involved in educating the public on good touch/bad touch and helping individuals understand what defines a sexual assault. It appears that over the last few weeks, all that work has been thrown out the window by the TSA with its new aggressive and mandatory pat-down body searches.

What concerns me most is that the actions of TSA agents could be legally defined as a sexual assault. I don't care that the TSA supervisors are saying that's not the case. According to the laws of our land, it is. The legal definition of a sexual assault includes: "Any unwanted physical contact to one's genitals." Groping or fondling another persons sexual organs against their will is never OK. When anyone purposely brushes up on an individuals genitals against the intended victims wishes, it is considered a sexual assault. I'll be honest with you; my fear is that a new legal precedent is being set by the TSA. If we stand by and do nothing, this could end up with sexual assault laws being changed.

I am aware that in prisons and in some mental health facilities they do strip searches and force inmates and patients to squat while the individual is naked to ensure the safety of the individual and others in the facilities, which I at times have had an issue with based on the way it's done. Yet to do this randomly to those who are not criminals or declared a danger to themselves or to someone else is ridiculous. What comes next? Pat downs on city streets in gang-infested neighborhoods?

I'm not a lawyer; I am a psychotherapist who has been advocating for the rights of survivors of sex crimes for more than a quarter of a century. If we all sit back and do nothing, and if there is non-action by our legislators and or the rest of our federal government, this becomes very scary. By doing nothing, our government is stating that sexual assault is not a crime, especially if the perpetrator is one of their employees. If we start allowing TSA agents to sexually assault our citizens as well as visitors to our country, how long will it take before judges begin using this legal precedent in cases involving other governmental employees or agencies that receive federal funding, such as law enforcement officials, postal workers and or any other agency that receives federal funding. Think about it; it could also include school employees, camp counselors, hospital employees, religious, other nonprofit organizations, and more.

By sitting back and allowing the TSA to perpetrate sexual assaults against our citizens, what messages are we sending out not only to your children but to the rest of the world? America is a great country, yet we complacently allow our citizens to be assaulted by the government? We are all screwed if we allow that to happen.

Is this necessary for our security. No. The Israeli airline, El Al--which is known to have the tightest security of all airlines--would never allow this type of behavior. Recently on "Countdown with Keith Obermann," in a segment titled "If you touch my junk I'll have you arrested," Isaac Yeffet, the former security director of El Al, said he views TSA's current behavior as outrageous.

Judge for yourself. Here's Yeffet's interview:
Vicki Polin, a licensed clinical professional counselor, is founder and director of The Awareness Center, Inc., an international Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'Tis The Season To Be Anxious

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Anna, age 12, sat in my office twisting her friendship bracelet while listing her fears. "My grandma shops alone and robbers could attack her. My mom lights candles and I'm afraid they'll catch fire and burn us up. If we fly, terrorists might kill us." A gifted, sensitive, well-read child, Anna suffers from anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, heart palpitations, gastro-intestinal disturbances and excessive worry.

Psychologists say that anxious people tend to anticipate negative outcomes. They notice the look of disapproval on a busy clerk's face or the tone of disappointment when a friend opens her gift. This heightened sensitivity can produce inner conflict that fuels toxic anxiety. "Did I get the wrong item? Should I offer to exchange the gift?" The anxious mind buzzes by over-thinking everything, anticipating the worst.

Holiday times require us to change our routines. The increased demands on our schedule to shop, cook, prepare for guests, or make travel arrangements can trigger anger and anxiety. Holidays stress our budgets, stretch our waistlines and strain our relationships. Couples argue about visits with in-laws. Singles battle loneliness. Children fight for attention.

Anxiety around the holidays feels especially bitter because of the expectation of joyous celebration, family harmony and luxurious gifts. Sandwiched between ads for delicious turkey feasts are news reports warning elderly shoppers to watch for pickpockets, purse snatchers and dishonest clerks. Instead of merely worrying about the home invasion burglar or the traditional mugger, we can now fret about:
OK, everyone....breathe in.....breathe out......imagine a quiet, peaceful place. Anxiety takes a toll on the body. Scientists measure this stress, or allostatic load, by looking at blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio, blood cholesterol, glucose metabolism, cortisol and nor-epinephrine levels. If you don't score within normal limits on these measures, it can predict brain deficits two years later. Seriously, two years later. Our physical and mental health depends on our ability to bring anxiety and stress within normal limits. To keep holiday stress manageable:
  • Banish expectations. When we expect courteous, prompt service, thoughtful gifts and well-mannered children we're bound to feel disappointed.
  • Simplify. Do you really need a partridge in a pear tree?
  • Focus on values. Make decisions based on your priorities. Perhaps it's more important to forgo the traditional thanksgiving to spend quality time with an ill relative.
  • Honor the temple of your soul. Your body houses the only life form you've got. It needs nutrients, sleep, exercise. Neglect it at your peril.
  • Practice mindfulness. Focus on the present moment, without evaluating that moment. Mindfulness lowers anxiety by pulling the mind away from worries about the future by focusing on immediate reality. I notice the sound my fingers make on the keyboard, my fidgety legs....
Holidays bring back unhappy memories for many people. Victims of holiday crimes often experience flashbacks and anxiety at the first sign of Santa. It helps to get lots of support from friends and family. A visit to a trusted psychotherapist can help soothe symptoms of anxiety. To avoid becoming a victim of holiday crime follow these tips:
  • Stay aware. Don't talk or text on cell phone while shopping. Distracted shoppers make easy targets.
  • Shop with a cane for self-defense.
  • Watch the fatigue factor. Tired shoppers are accident prone, lose wallets, forget to put the credit card away, etc.
  • Shop with a buddy or only during daylight hours.
  • Don't purchase from online pop-ups. Instead go directly to reputable websites to shop.
Despite the tsunami of worrisome stories on the news, we can still enjoy ourselves this holiday season. Never underestimate the power of fun and a good laugh.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In death, Aileen Wuornos has the fame she craved in life

ay, November 18, 2010, marks the 20th anniversary of serial killer Aileen Wuornos’s final murder. During her bloody killing year, she took the lives of seven men. In the end, she dropped her death row appeals, keen to get on her way to be with God, and was executed in 2002. But, I think she would get a kick out of seeing her face on the opening credits of television’s Criminal Minds amidst the mug shots of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, et al. And, I know she would enjoy still being written about. Her appetite for attention and celebrity was so huge that even before her murderous year, she actively tried to find someone to write a book about her life.

She scared off one would-be ghost writer. During their meeting, she hit him up to lend her money and turned ugly when he refused. She promised a great story and hinted at having information about some unsolved murders. But, he got out of there fast and never looked back. I’ve always thought Aileen perhaps witnessed, if not participated in, an act of violence or murder earlier in her life. (I don’t have the space to explain, but you can find out why in my book, Lethal Intent.)

Aileen definitely craved celebrity. She often mentioned her wish to “be like Bonnie and Clyde,” even asking her partner's close friend if she wanted in on her plan. Later, in jail, Wuornos boasted to other inmates, “Don’t you know who I am? I’m Aileen Wuornos of television!” To her partner, Tyria, Wuornos bragged that she'd go down in history.

Her final victim was Walter “Gino” Antonio. On November 17, 1990, Tyria flew out of state to join her family for Thanksgiving. The next day, Mr. Antonio, driving to Alabama to see his fiancée, Aleen, made the deadly mistake of picking up Aileen Wuornos, who was working the interstates as a prostitute. Men on the road, Aileen knew, generally had a good stash of cash. Antonio wore a diamond and gold nugget ring--a special gift from his fiancée.

Aileen later claimed Antonio pulled a badge and, claiming to be a cop, demanded sex for free or he’d arrest her. He was a former reserve cop and did carry a badge, handcuffs, and a police-style billy club in his vehicle. She suspected the badge was a fake, bought through a private detective magazine. She was angry, and they argued.

Even with handcuffs and a billy club in the car, I doubt Antonio ever had the upper hand on her physically. When they argued alongside his car, she said, she reached into her bag for her gun, and they struggled. He fell, got back on his feet and, naked save for his tube socks, fled. Aileen, also naked, shot him in the back as he ran. She couldn’t recall how many shots she fired because she had drunk so much beer. Well, three bullets hit him in the back, a fourth in the back of the head. She regularly used empty beer cans for target practice and was a good shot.

Aileen said Antonio was still alive when she took his prized ring off his finger. If he was, he was likely drawing his last breaths because that year she was leaving behind no witnesses. Cursing, she tossed aside a set of false teeth he kept in the glove compartment, but she grabbed everything of value. She drove away naked, pulled over to get dressed, and threw out more of his personal items. Back at her motel, she parked his Pontiac Grand Prix, removed a suitcase from the trunk, and went inside her room.

When Tyria returned from her trip, Aileen slipped Mr. Antonio’s diamond and gold nugget ring on her finger.

His body was found a day later, and he was identified by his fingerprints. By then, the net was tightening. Sketches of Aileen and Tyria were aired on TV on November 29. Aileen’s longed-for fame was about to explode. That’s when Tyria left her, afraid she would be implicated in the murders.

After her arrest, Aileen confessed to killing seven men, and her conviction seemed inevitable. Even so, speaking to her the night before the verdict, she was so upbeat I knew she fully expected to hear “not guilty.” She was outraged by her conviction. She’d imagined herself being viewed as a hero. What was this serial killer stuff? Knowing how sure she had been that she’d be set free, when Judge Uriel Blount sentenced her to death the next day, my legs felt a little wobbly. She has been gone eight years, but it’s a moment I’ll always remember.

Aileen Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in October 2002, after a decade on Death Row. Award-winning journalist and author Sue Russell’s fact crime book, Lethal Intent, is being re-issued in November 2010 as a Kensington Books'True Crime Classic.” Follow her on Twitter or Facebook

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Doctors Who Do Harm: Beware the Ghost of Anna Nicole

by Diane Dimond

You may not give a darn about the late buxom sex-pot Anna Nicole Smith, but the recent verdict in a Los Angeles criminal case stemming from her drug-overdose death has certainly captured the attention of doctors nationwide. I’ll bet insurance companies specializing in malpractice medical coverage have snapped to attention as well.

After Anna Nicole Smith died in February 2007, three of the people closest to her--her attorney and lover Howard K. Stern, her psychiatrist, Dr. Khristine Eroshevich, and her personal physician, Dr. Sandeep Kapoor were criminally charged. Among the most serious of the original 23 charges was “providing controlled substances to a known addict.”

Interestingly, the trio was never accused of actually causing Smith’s death, and along the way some of the other charges were dismissed. It came down to a trial about whether they’d engaged in a conspiracy to help the 39-year-old former Playboy cover girl and TV personality obtain prescription drugs through the use of false names and misrepresentation.

During nine weeks, the jury testimony boiled down to this:

Stern, Eroshevich and Kapoor finagled prescriptions using both real and fictitious names to get mountains of drugs for Smith. She had recently given birth to a baby girl and a few days later she suffered through the overdose death at her hospital bedside of her 20-year-old son, Daniel. So, as the defense team presented it at trial, no wonder the poor woman needed drugs to get her through the ordeal! The prosecution argued this threesome of so-called professionals--an attorney and two doctors--acted not only unethically but that they each also crossed the line sexually with Anna Nicole Smith.

The 11 drugs found in Smith’s systems ranged from methadone (10 pills a day as prescribed by Dr. Kapoor and taken even while Smith was pregnant), to powerful sleep aids like chloral hydrate, and a long list of narcotic painkillers like Vicodin (prescribed by Dr. Eroshevich). The name found most often on her prescription bottles was Howard K. Stern but the doctors also used Jane Brown, Susie Wong and Vickie Lynn Marshall, which just happens to be Anna Nicole’s real name. Dr. Eroshevich was warned by two different pharmacists that the type and amount of prescriptions she was writing for her patient amounted to “pharmaceutical suicide.” Still, the state said, Eroshevich personally transported massive amounts of prescription drugs to Smith in both Florida and the Bahamas.

The jury ultimately acquitted Dr. Kapoor but found Stern and Dr. Eroshevich guilty of the false name conspiracy. While the dead starlet’s supporters moaned that it wasn’t enough of a conviction, the verdict still sent an earthquake sized shock through Hollywood’s celebrity, medical and legal communities.

California defense lawyer Harlan Braun told the Associated Press that writing bogus prescriptions in today’s paparazzi inspired media atmosphere is routine. “It’s absolutely necessary for survival in Hollywood. If … keeping these people anonymous is a criminal act, a lot of doctors will have to refuse to take celebrity patients.”

Do famous people deserve privacy about their medical conditions? You bet. Do their doctors get to break the law while attempting to facilitate their privacy? No way. I, for one, hope we’re witnessing the beginning of a trend where over-prescribing doctors are charged with serious crimes and lose their medical licenses permanently if convicted.

Prescription drug abuse is at epidemic levels. We spend millions on campaigns against street drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin but we say little about the scourge of desperation and crime left behind by those drugs that come via a prescription pad or an illicit internet “pharmacy.” I quoted studies in this space last year saying a total of 34 million Americans are currently taking painkillers or anti-depressants. Our kids watch us do it and many mimic the behavior.

L.A.-based attorney and addiction intervention specialist Darren Kavinoky agrees: “The fact is that we, as a nation, love our drugs. Pharmaceuticals appeal to a broader (and sadly, younger) audience, because they don’t have the stigma associated with street drugs, and are readily available … pills are now number two behind marijuana for young people, and we are seeing more addiction and more overdose deaths because of it.”

On the verdict in the Anna Nicole case Kavinoky says there’s one upcoming defendant who should be shaking in his boots. He is Dr. Conrad Murray who was tending to Michael Jackson when the entertainer died last June and who is set to go on trial soon on charges of involuntary manslaughter. Kavinoky explains that to reach their guilty finding the Smith jury had to have dismissed the expert medical testimony, “We’re all taught to believe doctors, to trust their judgment as being superior to our own. Those jurors had to disregard this notion in order to get to a conviction. This willingness to disregard the judgment, wisdom and experience of a medical professional should make Dr. Murray righteously nervous.”

Frankly, I hope it makes over-prescribing doctors everywhere mighty nervous.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On the Horizon: What Are Bacterial Fingerprints?

by Andrea Campbell

“Messieurs, c’est les microbes qui auront le dernier mot.”
Translation: “Gentlemen, it is the microbes who will have the last word.” —Louis Pasteur, (see: photo at left)

Microbes Are Us

You know the National Geographic documentaries you’ve seen that show a rhino with birds sitting on its back? According to the African Wildlife Federation, his feathered friends are called "oxpeckers," also known as tick birds. The oxpeckers are ac
tually nibbling on all sorts of bugs. They also feast on the blood from sores and, even though they obstruct sores from healing, they also help to warn the rhino of danger. This is what is referred to as a symbiotic relationship.

Humans also have their own riders. They are organisms called “microbes.” Microbes live on us by the billions. Scientists have examined six different people’s forearms and found more than 240 distinct microbes hanging on. The skin’s ecosystem, for want of a better term, is as unique as a person's wardrobe. While there is some overlap in microbe types between people, in the study, microbe types are still thought of as being distinct and unique to each individual. (As an aside, what is interesting is that a change in soap, laundry detergent, or even the fabric we wear has an affect on the “skin flora,” which is what scientists really call the microbes.)

Skin Flora and Forensic Science

This past spring, there were some reports about how this phenomenon could be used for identification purposes through a process called bacterial fingerprinting. Scientists in Colorado are surmising that one day, bacteria fingerprinting may find itself in the courtroom. Noah Fierer of the University of Colorado, in Boulder, is one of the scientists who studies the bacteria that live on skin, and he says, "We leave this trail of bacteria everywhere we go, and the idea was could we use this trail to identify who had touched a given object or surface.”

Testing It Out

As a test, Fierer and his colleagues swabbed bacterial DNA from the individual keys of three personal computer keyboards, "and then matched those keys to the bacteria on the fingertips of the owners of the keyboard. And we showed that we could basically identify whose keyboard it was pretty well."

According to U.S. News and World Report, the team used powerful gene sequencing techniques to conduct the analysis. The process involved examining a specific bacterial gene from each sample. The gene, called the 16S ribosomal RNA gene, is a useful tool for identifying bacterial species. All cells carry a 16S gene, but the gene changes just enough over time to distinguish one species from another. Each bacterial sample is capable of generating a unique “signature” of all the bacteria that are present. Comparing those signatures, which derived from algorithms developed by Rob Knight, another member of the Boulder team, can identify two microbial communities as being closely related. In this case, the 16S profiles from the fingers of the keyboard users closely matched the 16S profiles from each user’s keyboard.

For the Future

Right now law enforcement relies heavily on fingerprints, blood, saliva or other tissue evidence. DNA is still difficult to locate and often there is not enough sufficient material for identification. And, let’s face it, without standardization between evidence collection and processing, all identification is an uneven process, and prohibitive both money and time-wise. But still, it is an interesting concept since bacterial cells are always being shed. You can wash your hands, but the microbes, but your "native community" will still come back. And this immature study bore results that seem to be about 70- to 90-percent accurate.

Legal Restrictions

Getting this science to pass a legal hurtle, however, is doubtful to arrive soon. “While there are legal restrictions on th e use of DNA and fingerprints, which are ‘personally-identifying,’ there currently are no restrictions on the use of human-associated bacteria to identify individuals,” Fierer said. “This is an issue we think needs to be considered.”

Nathaniel Burney, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer in New York, is not getting excited. He says, "...the media took this modest finding and blew it way out of proportion. The study’s authors insist that the project 'is still in its preliminary stages.' The media make it sound like we’ll be seeing this stuff in court before we know it. The fact is that using microbial DNA to link a suspect to a crime scene is not going to be a reality any time soon, if ever." Burney says the uniqueness of your bacteria being truly singular is very much an open question. And he points out that bacteria is functionally different on different parts of the body, so coming up with isolated bacterium would be a nightmare for comparison.

Still, it’s an interesting idea considering the possibility; because like that rhino, we all have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria riding on our own skins.

Next in Forensics: Bacterial 'Fingerprints' US News and World Report

For more information: The findings appear in an issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences