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Monday, March 19, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Twentieth Century

I was born and will probably die in the Twentieth Century. That span of just one-hundred years will be known as the century of accelerated, world-changing technological progress. It will also be remembered as the century of violent death through wars, oppressive governments, and genocide. I shudder to think what the next century will bring, but fortunately will not be around to experience it. [Dr. Knowles died in 1998.]

Thornton P. Knowles

Two Stalkers, Different Sentences

The Mercedes Driving Tire Slasher

     In January 2010, Jessica (not the victim's real name) broke up with Dieter Heinz Werner, her 68-year-old boyfriend. Shortly after that, someone slashed her tires in the parking lot of a Houston, Texas movie complex. A month later, Jessica found a GPS tracking device attached to the undercarriage of her car. She suspected Werner, who had been bothering her with text messages and phone calls, of slashing her tires and using the GPS device to keep track of her whereabouts.

     That spring, the ex-boyfriend continued his harassment by sending Jessica hundreds of text messages. On April 3, 2010, he sent her a text which read: "Should have answered the phone and not ignored me again. Pissed me off. Now I show you." That day, after following her to a grocery store, Werner texted: "Pissed me off when I saw you at Krogers and you turned your head. I would never treat you like that."

     On April 15, 2010, a witness at the same movie complex parking lot saw an elderly white man slashing someone's car tires with a pocketknife. The witness jotted down the license number to the vandal's Mercedes convertible. The vehicle was registered to Dieter Heinz Werner. A couple of weeks later, a Harris County prosecutor charged Werner with stalking, a third degree felony. Werner was held without bond for a few days until a judge issued a protection order against the accused stalker. After being served with the restraining order, Werner paid his $75,000 bond and was released.

     In late 2011, Dieter Werner was found guilty of the stalking offense. A few months later the judge sentenced him to ten years in prison, the maximum penalty for a third degree felony. But in 2012, before Werner was transferred out of the Harris County Jail into the state prison system, he was paroled. After serving about a year behind bars, the convicted stalker walked free.

     According to Texas corrections authorities, Werner had benefited from a so-called "parole in absentia." (Texas parole boards in the 1980s had issued these get-out-of prison passes when the state prison system couldn't handle all of the convicted felons.)

     Victims' rights activists, as well as Werner's stalking victim, were outraged. The parole authorities had not even bothered to notify Jessica of her stalker's parole hearing. In Texas and other places it was a fact that parole boards often did not inform victims when criminals were released on parole.

The Taco Bell Handcuff Case

     In 2011, in the northern Georgia town of Ringgold, 25-year-old Jason Earl Dean and the 18-year-old girl he had become obsessed with, worked at the local Taco Bell. After Joan (not her real name) told Dean she did not want to go out with him, he continued asking her out for a date. This had gone on for a month. The harassment became so intense she changed shifts at work to get away from him. Undeterred, Dean continued to bother her.

     On the night of August 8, 2011, Dean waited outside Taco Bell until Joan's shift ended. As she walked to her car he came up to her with a pair of handcuffs which he slapped around her wrist, binding them arm to arm. She screamed for help which brought other employees out of the Taco Bell. Her fellow employees talked Dean into turning Joan free. The police rolled up to the scene shortly thereafter, but Dean had left. A few days later, police officers arrested him on a college campus in nearby Dalton, Georgia. A local prosecutor charged him with stalking and felonious restraint.

     In January 2013, Jason Earl Dean entered a so-called "blind guilty plea" before Judge Ralph Van Pelt. (A blind plea means that no sentencing agreement had been reached between the prosecutor and the defense attorney. The defendant was essentially throwing himself on the mercy of the court.) Judge Van Pelt, showing no mercy for this stalker, sentenced him to four years in prison followed by six years of probation.

    On its face, Judge Van Pelt's sentence seemed excessive. Whether or not it was excessive depended upon what kind of person Jason Dean was. Without knowing this stalker's background there was no way to evaluate his sentence. But in any case, it appeared that this judge considered stalking a serious crime. I wish more judges did.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On One True Thing About Journalists

In speaking to her fellow journalists, Janet Malcolm famously said the ugly truth about their profession: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse." This pronouncement is so devastatingly true, I'm sure it's not taught in journalism school. No one wants to get a degree in confidence game artistry. But that's what they get.

Thornton P. Knowles

Susan Cole: Prospective Juror to Perjury Defendant

     More than 90 percent of the criminal cases in American are not tried before a jury. Bargained guilty pleas have essentially replaced the cumbersome and costly trial process. Still, tens of millions of Americans receive jury duty summonses every year. (Our criminal justice system would collapse if just 20 percent of defendants demanded a jury trial. The entire system is set up for guilty pleas based on negotiated sentencing deals. Legislators make maximum sentences for even minor crimes extremely high to give prosecutors more bargaining power.)

     In high-profile criminal trials, the outcome of the case is pretty much determined by which side does the best job of jury selection. O. J. Simpson got off because his attorneys won the jury selection battle. To a certain degree, these trials are over before the first witness takes the stand. Wealthy defendants often hire juror picking consultants who help design a defense-friendly jury. These psychological profilers match jurors to defendants by analyzing such factors as body language, hair styles, clothing, gender, marital status, age, race, education, and occupation. In high-profile cases, the jury selection process, called voir dire, can go on for months.

     Juries, in general, do not represent a cross-section of American society. Entire categories of people never see the jury box. For various reasons, juries rarely include professors, cops, physicians, nurses, small business owners, employees of small companies, college students, young mothers, and lawyers. Most juries are made up of retirees, government workers, employees of large corporations, and people who are unemployed. As a law graduate, criminal justice professor, small business owner, and former FBI agent, I couldn't buy my way onto a jury. I've never made it from the big room full of prospective jurors to the courtroom where lawyers from each side choose the final twelve.

     There are all kinds of reasons and ways for a prospective juror to get out of jury duty. People can be excused for poor health, a criminal record, an upcoming wedding, family demands, mental illness, various economic hardships, and the stated inability to render an unbiased decision. In Michigan, lawmakers recently approved a bill that exempts breast-feeding mothers from jury duty. While prospective jurors are not above telling lies to get out of sitting on a jury, prosecutions for this form of lying under oath are extremely rare. That makes the following case so unusual.

Susan Cole

     In June 2011, Susan Cole, a 57-year-old beautician and Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswoman, received a summons for jury duty. She arrived at the court house in Denver with her hair in curlers and dressed according to her idea of how mentally ill people present themselves. She wore too much lipstick, reindeer socks (I have no idea what they are), and mismatched sneakers. She had put on a tee-shirt that read: "Ask Me About My Bestseller." (In 2007 Cole, under the pen name Char Cole, had self-published a relationship, self-help book/memoir  called "Seven Institutions With El-Way Secrets." My advice to this author: next time you publish a book, select a title that makes sense.)

     When Judge Anne Mansfield asked Cole if she had a history of mental illness, the prospective juror said, "Yeah, I have some mental issues....I broke out of domestic violence in the military [after her divorce she joined the Army] and have a lot of repercussions. I get very confused in the morning when I try to get ready." (Like forgetting to take out her curlers.) The prospective juror said that as a result of the domestic violence, she suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Cole also told the judge she was homeless and living on the street. Judge Mansfield asked if anyone objected to the dismissal of this woman. No one did, and Cole went home.

     On October 17, 2011, on Denver's "Dave Logan Show," a radio call-in program, callers were telling stories about how they had avoided jury duty. Susan Cole joined in the fun by calling the show and telling how she had recently gotten out of jury duty by impersonating a mentally ill person. Obviously aware that she was admitting to a crime, Cole called in under her pen name, Char.

     In justifying her jury avoiding ploy, Cole told the radio audience that she was simply too busy for jury duty. Rather than being ashamed of having lied under oath to avoid a basic civic responsibility, Cole seemed quite proud of herself: "I put black eyebrows on. I put red lipstick on. I left my hair in my curlers, and I put on a tee-shirt that said, 'Ask Me About My Bestseller.' [When did mentally ill homeless women start putting up their hair?] For about two weeks after, when my roommate and I would think about it, or I would tell my clients about it, we would cry we would laugh so hard."

     One of the "Dave Logan Show" listeners, Anne Mansfield, the judge Susan Cole had lied to, didn't find her story so funny. The judge knew exactly who this caller was and notified the prosecutor's office. The prosecutor initiated a criminal investigation.

     Detectives looking into the case found no mention of spousal abuse or PTSD in Cole's divorce records. Moreover, her military file contained no documentation supporting such a diagnosis. On March 22, 2012, police arrested Cole on charges of first-degree perjury and attempt to influence a public servant (the judge). If convicted, she faced a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison, on each count.

     Before being hauled off to jail, Cole told detectives that the military had lost her medical records. And the only person who had diagnosed her with PTSD, a Jefferson County court counselor, had since died. Cole said that in her book she writes of being imprisoned five days in a military mental institution. She also claimed that on the night before her jury duty appearance, she had been traumatized by news that her cousin had been killed in a motorcycle accident. As it turned out, her cousin hadn't been involved in a crash.

     In November 2012, Cole pleaded guilty to the felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. According to the plea deal, the judge deferred her punishment. (A deferred judgment is a no-contest type of plea. Once the guilty party meets court-ordered requirements, there is no formal conviction on record.) Cole also pleaded guilty to second-degree perjury. For this misdemeanor the judge sentenced her to two years probation and forty hours of community service.

     Had Cole gone to trial for lying under oath, her fate would have been in the hands of people who had not lied to get off the jury. Now, with a criminal record involving dishonesty, she was not fit for jury duty.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On Climbing Trees

As a kid I climbed a lot of trees. I climbed in the winter, you know, for the view. I hoped that if I got high enough, my world would look different. It didn't. I kept climbing though, and never blamed the trees.

Thornton P. Knowles

Fredrick Brennan: A Theft Victim's Ordeal

     Fredrick Brennan, a 19-year-old with a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta commonly known as brittle bone disease, while confined to a motorized wheelchair that operates by a joystick, lives on his own in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He makes his living working at home creating code for new websites.

     Late in 2013, an acquaintance withdrew money from Brennan's account by using, without authorization, his debit card.

      Brennan, before traveling to Atlantic City, New Jersey to visit his mother on December 1, 2013, pulled $4,850 out of his account before the possibility of a second unauthorized withdrawal. When he boarded the bus for Atlantic City, the cash was in his wallet packed inside his luggage.

     On January 1, 2014, at the conclusion of his New Jersey visit, Brennan headed home to Brooklyn. Upon arrival at the Port Authority transportation complex in mid-town Manhattan, Mr. Brennan wheeled himself toward a MetroCard machine. It was there he encountered a homeless man who offered to help him find his way through the massive Port Authority building. The man immediately followed-up the offer by asking Brennan for a dollar. When Brennan removed a dollar bill from his wallet, the man said, "Come on, I can't even buy a hotdog with this." Brennan handed the panhandler another buck. The man took the money and walked off.

     With his cash-filled wallet sitting on his lap, Brennan started the process of buying a MetroCard. The homeless guy, having returned to the scene, grabbed Brennan's wallet and fled. "He took my wallet," the victim screamed.

     A bystander who heard Brennan, ran after the thief who bolted up the stairs that led to Eighth Avenue. A short time later the good samaritan, accompanied by a police officer, returned to the victim. The thief had escaped into the hubbub of Eighth Avenue. The police officer, however, had retrieved Brennan's wallet. The cash was gone.

     Although Brennan's description of the thief was vague, the crime had been caught on a Port Authority surveillance camera. The next day, January 2, a New York City detective called Mr. Brennan with the news that officers had made an arrest in the case. Could the victim come back to Manhattan and pick the suspect out of a line-up at the police station?

     On January 2 Brennan traveled by bus and subway to the police station in Greenwich Village. The fact the city was expecting a massive show storm that day caused Brennan to worry about how he would get back to his home in Brooklyn.

     At the police station, Brennan had no trouble identifying the man who had stolen his wallet. The man he picked out of the line-up was Chris Sanchez. The 49-year-old suspect had been arrested near the Port Authority earlier that morning with $4,073 in his pocket. Police also found, on his person, small quantities of crack and marijuana.

    A Manhattan assistant prosecutor charged Chris Sanchez with grand larceny. Until the matter was resolved in the slow-moving criminal justice system, the authorities would have to hold onto the victim's stolen cash.

     Following the line-up identification, Brennan was asked to spend some time at the station filling out police forms and writing up a statement of the crime. By the time he left the police building it was late in the evening and snowing heavily. Worried that his wheelchair--he had been saving up for a new one--would short out in the snow, the cooperating crime victim asked a police officer if he could arrange for a ride back to Brooklyn. The officer said the station didn't have access to a van with a wheelchair lift. The theft victim would have to find his own way home.

      A detective pushed Brennan through the snow to the Union Square subway station, then left. It was eleven o'clock at night and snowing hard.

      Frederick Brennan boarded a subway train en route to the Atlantic Avenue Station where he got on another train that took him to 86th Street and Bay Parkway in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There he waited for the bus that would take him on the final leg of his trip home. Problem was, the bus didn't come and the snow kept falling.

     After waiting at the bus stop for more than an hour, Brennan's hands and feet were starting to numb. Since his wheelchair couldn't plow through the snow, he used his cellphone to call 911 for help. A short time later an ambulance pulled up and carried him to a nearby medical center. The next day the hospital discharged him.

     A few days after Mr. Brennan's ordeal, he returned to Manhattan to testified before the grand jury considering the case. Based on the surveillance video and the victim's testimony, Mr. Sanchez was indicted on the charge of grand larceny. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. Mr. Brennan was told he would not have his money returned until the case was resolved.

     Following public outrage over the way the criminal justice system treated this victim, things got better for Mr. Brennan. The authorities returned his stolen money, and detectives went to his home several times with take-out food and N.Y.P.D. sweatshirts. Detectives also built him a home entertainment center for his new, donated flat screen TV. The public also donated to Mr. Brennan more than $20,000, and the Ocean Home Health Company gave him an expensive, new motorized wheelchair.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On The Secrets Of The Catholic Confession Chamber

In one of my novels I have several scenes featuring the back-and-forth between a priest and a sinner inside the confessional. I'm not Catholic, but have long been fascinated in what is said inside that dark little chamber. My interest traces back to a Catholic kid I knew in high school who said he dated girls who spent the most time in that secret-inducing box. He'd actually sit outside the confessional with a stopwatch. That kid, interestingly enough, grew up to become a priest. I sent him a signed copy of my novel, thanking him for sparking my interest in church-secured confessions. He didn't get back to me. If I were ever priest-grilled inside that box, I'd confess this was not my best novel.

Thornton P. Knowles

The Steve Nunn Murder Case

     If you think all, or even most, politicians are above average spouses and parents, think again. Although they pretend to be better than the rest of us, some of these hypocrites and thieves turn out to be dangerous criminals. Take Steve Nunn, a state legislator from Kentucky who was a lousy husband, a raging hypocrite, and dangerous.

     Steven Nunn was 15 when his father, Louie B. Nunn, became Kentucky's 52nd governor in 1967. A Republican, Nunn was re-elected to a second term, but in 1973, lost his bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate. Six years later, he ran for governor again, but lost. His career in elected politics was over.

     In 1974, Steve, hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, enrolled in law school, but dropped out. He got married, and over the next five years, had three children. In 1990, at age 38, Nunn ran for the Kentucky state house of representatives, and won.

     Steve's father, a hard-driven narcissist and BS artist who enjoyed subjecting his kid to ridicule, refused to be impressed with his son's election to state office. Like his father, Steve was a lousy husband who regularly cheated on his wife. In 1994, she divorced him. (In state politics, being a rotten husband is not usually a liability because most people have no idea who represents them locally.) Two years later, Steve's mother Beula, after 42 years of marriage to Louie B., sought a restraining order against the abusive ex-governor. Steve confronted his father over this, and the two men came to blows. After that, they stopped speaking to each other. Shortly after the father and son stopped talking to each other, Beula divorced Louie B. Nunn.

     Steve Nunn, in his third term as a state legislator, married Tracey Damron, a former flight attendant and daughter of a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate. A social butterfly who sparkled at fundraisers and social events, Tracey became the perfect politician's wife. Two years later, in 1998, Steve co-sponsored a bill that imposed the death sentence on convicted killers who murdered women who had taken out restraining orders against them. The bill became Kentucky law.  

       In 2002, after Tracey Nunn engineered a father-son reconciliation, she and Steve moved into the ex-governor's Pin Oak Farms mansion near Versailles, Kentucky. But a year later, the 51-year-old's political career took a bad turn. In a bid for the governorship, Steve lost badly in the Republican primary. And on January 29, 2004, his father, at age 81, died of a heart attack. Although Steve didn't have a healthy relationship with his father, the old man's death devastated him. The wheels of Steve's political career came off in 2006 when he lost his legislative seat to an unknown challenger.

     Following the death of his father, Steve started drinking heavily, patronizing prostitutes, and behaving irrationally. He also became, like his father, an abusive husband. Tracey divorced him in 2006. The following year, the 55-year-old political has-been met 20-year-old Amanda Ross, the daughter of a recently deceased public financier. After two months of dating, Steve moved into her Lexington, Kentucky apartment. In 2008, they were engaged to be married.

     Through his engagement to Amanda Ross, Steve landed the cabinet-level job of heading up a state agency that oversaw a variety of welfare programs, include those dealing with spousal abuse.

     Although Steve was back on his feet career-wise, he was still emotionally unstable, and drinking too much. His paranoia led him to suspect that Amanda was cheating on him. On February 17, 2009, in the midst of an argument in Ross' apartment, Nunn hit her. The next day, she petitioned the court for an emergency protection order, which a judge quickly granted. Under the restraining order, Nunn could have no contact with Ross for a period of a year. Within 48 hours of the judge's ruling, Nunn had no choice but to resign his cushy, high-paid government job.

     Convinced that Amanda Ross had intentionally sabotaged his career, Nunn became obsessed with revenge. To embarrass and humiliate his former fiancee, he showed his friends nude photographs he had taken of her. He began to stalk her.

     On September 11, 2009, as Amanda Ross left her apartment on her way to work, Nunn shot her to death. While no one witnessed the murder, homicide investigators immediately suspected Steve Nunn. Later that day, police found him hiding in a cemetery. He had scratched his wrists in a phony suicide attempt.

     Charged with first-degree murder, Nunn, to avoid the death penalty mandated by his own legislation, pleaded guilty in 2011 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

     Members of Amanda Ross' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Steven Nunn in 2012. Two years later, the civil case jury found him responsible for Ross' death and awarded the plaintiffs $24 million.

     In February 2014, Steve Nunn petitioned Fayette County Judge Pamula Goodwine to have his guilty plea withdrawn. Nunn said his defense attorney, Warren Scoville, had given him bad advice. Following the October 2014 hearing on the motion, Judge Goodwine denied Nunn's plea withdrawal request.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thornton P. Knowles On How The Media Promotes Magical Thinking

In an era of magical thinking and stupid beliefs, millions of people buy into a lot of paranormal nonsense. The media, particularly television, with supposedly serious shows about ghosts, Big Foot, fortune tellers, alien abductions, spontaneous human combustion, psychic detectives, and Lock Ness, lends credibility to this kind of hogwash. Print and TV journalists, people who know better, pretend to take this stuff seriously because they are popular subjects that attract readers and viewers. These media hacks are part of the problem. Americans are losing the ability to think critically and reason clearly. For many, it's no longer what they know that counts, it's all about what they believe. In this world of fantasy, O. J. Simpson can be innocent, and Elvis Presley can be alive. We are losing our ability to think straight and recognize reality. This is dangerous because it opens the door to politicians who can manipulate the gullible into giving up their freedoms in exchange for promises the politicians know they can't keep. The blind trust of elected officials can destroy a country. Democracy requires a population of clear-eyed citizens smart enough to recognize the charlatans and the crypto-fascists. (Lower and higher education is worthless if it can't give students the intellectual tools to do this.) As long as most Americans continue to distrust the politician, there is hope.

Thornton P. Knowles

The David Wise Spousal Rape Case

     In 2008, Mandy Wise kicked her husband, David Wise, out of their home in Indianapolis, Indiana. She then filed for divorce. After eleven years of marriage, she had discovered, on his cell phone, video recordings of him having sex with her. She was unconscious. The tapes revealed to Mandy that she had been surreptitiously drugged and raped by her husband.

     When confronted with the tapes, David responded with the following email: "I was taking advantage of you in your sleep and you kept coming to me and telling me it was not okay. I needed to stop." He did not admit to drugging her, and they never, according to Mandy, discussed the matter prior to her discovery of the videotapes.

     In January 2010, not long after the finalization of the divorce, Mandy, now going by her maiden name Boardman, complained to the police that her ex-husband had been harassing her with repeated phone calls and text messages. She also claimed that David Wise had threatened to kill the man she was then engaged to. A judge granted her a protection order, but Wise was not charged with any crime.

     In 2011, two years after the divorce, Mandy reported the rapes to the police. As evidence, she submitted a DVD copy of the sex tapes. When asked to explain the delay in reporting the rapes and submitting the evidence, Mandy said she didn't want their two children to grow up without a father.

     A Marion County prosecutor charged David Wise with one count of rape, and five felony counts of criminal deviate conduct. If convicted as charged, he faced a maximum sentence of forty years in prison. After spending 24 days in the county detention center, David Wise made bail and was released to await his trial.

     The David Wise spousal rape trial began in April 2014 in Indianapolis. Mandy Boardman's testimony for the prosecution comprised the principal evidence in the three-day proceeding. She took the stand and told the jury that on numerous occasions she had awaken with the feeling that her body had been "messed with." One time she woke up with a pill still dissolving in her mouth. She had also discovered, in the bedroom, eyedroppers that were not hers.

     Following two days of testimony, the case went to the jury. After a brief deliberation, the jurors returned a verdict of guilty on all counts. The judge set May 16, 2014 as the sentencing date. On that day, the prosecutor asked the judge to sentence Wise to twenty years in prison. The convicted man's attorney argued for two years of house detention.

     Marion County Superior Court Judge Kurt Eisgruber, on May 16, 2014, sentenced the 52-year-old rapist to twenty years, with twelve of those years suspended. David Wise would serve the remaining eight years wearing a GPS monitoring device in his home. Following the house detention, he would serve two years of probation.

    Following the sentencing hearing, Wise's attorney, Elizabeth Milliken, told reporters that she planned to appeal her client's conviction.

     On Monday, May 19, 2014, Mandy Boardman, in speaking to a reporter with the Indianapolis Star, said, "I was very pleased with the conviction. The sentencing was a punch in the gut by the justice system. During the reading of the sentence the judge looked at me before he gave the final decision. I was told that I needed to forgive my attacker and move on. I received zero justice on Friday."

     Boardman, to a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, added: "I never thought he [Wise] would be at home, being able to have the same rights and privileges that I do."

    On July 24, 2014, Judge Eisgruber put David Wise behind bars for five years after the rapist violated the terms of his house arrest by letting his GPS tracking device's battery go dead. He also failed to maintain contact with correction authorities. Mandy Boardman responded to her ex-husband's incarceration with the following statement to a local reporter: "Now that I know that he will be in prison for the next five years, I think I can finally get some peace"