Friday, February 24, 2017

A Blood-Soaked Patch of Asphalt

Defending the Law
by Robert A. Waters

At 4:15 in the morning, on Interstate 19 near Tonopah, Thomas Yoxall pulled up to a horrific scene. Arizona highway patrolman Edward Andersson lay on his back with Leonard Penuelas-Escobar on top of him, pounding the trooper's head into the asphalt. To make the scene even more surreal, Anderson's patrol car sat beside the road with its emergency lights pulsing.

AZCentral reported that “Penuelas-Escobar and 23-year-old Vanessa Monique Lopez-Ruiz had been involved in a rollover accident just before the attack. Andersson, a 27-year veteran of the department, had stopped to assist when Penuelas-Escobar ambushed him, shooting him in the right shoulder and chest.” Because of his wounds, the trooper was unable to pull his gun to defend himself.

Yoxall stopped his car, grabbed his handgun, and rushed to help. He yelled for Penuelas-Escobar, a former Mexican police officer, to stop, but the assailant continued his his bloody assault.

Yoxall opened fire, hitting Penuelas-Escobar twice.  After the assailant fell to the ground, Yoxall began to assist Andersson. But Penuelas-Escobar got up and came back to continue his violent assault.  It was then that Yoxall shot Penuelas-Escobar in the head, killing him.

During the chaos, a second passerby used Andersson's radio to call for help.

What prompted Penuelas-Escobar to attack the trooper?  When Andersson approached, Penuelas-Escobar was holding the fatally injured Lopez-Ruiz in his arms.  He had crossed the border illegally, and was allegedly addicted to methamphetamine.  Each of those factors may have played a part in the gunman's mind.

Andersson survived the attack, but must undergo additional surgeries to repair his gunshot wounds. 

Twenty years before, Yoxall had been convicted of a misdemeanor theft charge, but was able to get the conviction vacated. He later successfully petitioned the court to reinstate his right to own a firearm, which had been revoked because of the conviction.

At a press conference, Department of Public Safety Director Frank Milsted said, “I'm humbled to have met [Yoxall], to know what he did, because we're having this conversation about a hero and not an on-duty death.”

Yoxall said he does not consider himself a hero. “I'm an ordinary person,” he said. “I go to work, I do photography, I hang out with my friends and family, I read.”  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Great Treasure Hunt

What Happened to the Ark of the Covenant?
by Robert A. Waters

The Ark of the Covenant is the most sought-after lost “treasure” in history. Treasure seekers as diverse as the Nazis and the fictional character of Indiana Jones have tried to hunt down this priceless artifact. A church in Ethiopia claims to own the Ark but won't let anyone see it. What really happened to it is unknown—however, some intriguing clues about the Ark's whereabouts dot the Biblical landscape.

In Exodus, God commanded Moses to build a physical manifestation of Himself (God) to be carried by the Israelites as they searched for a permanent homeland. The Ark held the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Constructed of acacia wood, and overlaid on the outside and inside with gold, it had two gold-plated cherubim on the top. There were also four rings of gold to hold wooden staves (also covered in gold) so the Ark could be safely transported from place to place.

As related in Joshua 6, the Ark was sometimes taken into battle. When attempting to capture the heavily walled city of Jericho, the Israelites carried the Ark as they marched around its walls. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times, holding the Ark and blowing trumpets. The walls collapsed, allowing Hebrew fighters to enter and capture the city.

In 1st Samuel 5-6, the Ark was captured by the Philistines. This turned out to be a disaster for these enemies of God. As soon as they brought the Ark back to their territory, the Philistines suffered a series of calamities similar to the plagues of Egypt. Finally, they had enough and placed the Ark on two mules and sent it back to the Israelites.

Lea Speyer, in Israel News, writes: “Eventually, the Ark came to rest in the First Temple, which was built by King Solomon. The Ark was placed in a special inner room known as the Holy of Holies, where the High Priest would enter once a year on Yom Kippur. The Ark was last seen in 586 BCE when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple. What happened to the Ark remains unknown until today.”

The Babylonian Empire may have captured the Ark after the death of Solomon. 2nd Kings 24: 13 states that “As the Lord declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal place, and cut up the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord.”

Did Nebuchadnezzar take the Ark? Was it among the “gold articles” he captured and cut up? (Solomon did not make the Ark, and the scripture is clear that the articles taken by Nebuchadnezzar were “made” by Solomon.)

Could the Ark have been spirited away to keep the Babylonians from capturing it? It wouldn't be the first time the Israelites hid sacred objects from approaching armies. (The Dead Sea scrolls are just one example.) A book of Jewish history, the 2nd Maccabees, claims the Ark was moved to Mount Nebo by the prophet Jeremiah. There he placed it in a cave and walled up the entrance. When a group of Israelites attempted to find it, he informed them it would stay sealed up until the end of time.

Another theory asserts that the Ark was buried beneath the temple where it lies to this day. A writer in National Geographic magazine wrote: “[One] claim is that the Ark was hidden in a warren of passages beneath the First Temple in Jerusalem before the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 B.C. But that theory can't be tested...because the site is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, sacred in Islam. Digging beneath it simply isn't an option.”

If the Babylonians took the Ark, why didn't it work its supernatural powers on them like it did on the Philistines? Did God, fed up with the continual transgressions of His people, allow the Ark to be destroyed?

Endless theories abound. One thing is certain: if the Ark of the Covenant is ever discovered, it will surpass even the tomb of Tutankhamen as the greatest archaeological find ever.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Rene Robert Murder

Should a Merciless Killer be Spared the Death Penalty?
by Robert A. Waters

Throughout history, many cultures practiced “an eye for an eye,” meaning that if an individual was murdered, the victim's family exacted revenge. Blood feuds from these original murders sometimes lasted for centuries. Once cultures developed civilized legal systems, the state became the arbiter of justice for victims of violent crimes. The death penalty was developed as kind of a social contract between citizens and the state, whereby an eye for an eye still applied, but was carried out by the state. In the following case, that social contract has been turned on its head, because the victim signed a document asking the state not to execute his killer.

If anybody loves Father Rene, they'll forgive me because he was a man of God, and forgiveness is forgiveness,” Steven Murray, 28, told reporters after leading police to the bullet-riddled body of Catholic Priest Rene Robert. Murray admitted slaying Robert, but blamed it on “mental problems.”

On April 12, Father Rene had been scheduled to perform a funeral service in St. Augustine, Florida, but never showed up. Since this was out of character, church officials contacted the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office and reported him missing. During the investigation, a neighbor informed detectives that he last saw Father Rene on Sunday, April 10. Robert's car, a 2012 blue Toyota with a Florida Special Olympics tag, was also missing.

Police soon spotted the vehicle and began pursuing the suspect. After a high-speed chase, deputies lost sight of the car on I-95 near Jacksonville. Murray, identified as the driver, appeared to be heading north, so the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office alerted agencies in Georgia and South Carolina to be on the lookout for the car. Late on the afternoon of April 13, the blue Toyota was discovered in Aiken, South Carolina.

The next day, St. Johns County Sheriff's spokesman Chuck Mulligan announced that Murray had been arrested. Mulligan told reporters that Murray's family had been friends with Father Rene, and “we believe Murray took advantage of [Father Rene's] kindness” as the priest attempted to counsel Murray. After being interviewed, the suspect led detectives to Robert's remains in rural Burke County, Georgia. An autopsy confirmed that the priest had died of several gunshot wounds.

The Daily Beast reported that Father Rene's fellow clergy described him as having been “intensely dedicated. His life's work was with people struggling with drug addictions and criminal histories. He would give money to recovering addicts and even lend them his car.” Like many Catholics, Father Rene adamantly opposed the death penalty. 

On the other hand, Steven Murray had a long history of petty crime. Over a ten-year period, he was arrested for offenses such as larceny, selling stolen property, giving false information to a pawn shop, firearms violations, and violation of probation. He had been out of prison for less than a month when he is alleged to have murdered Father Rene.

Sheriff David Shoar, a friend of the priest, issued the following statement: “I join many others within our community who were touched by Father Rene over the years and extend my condolences to his family and friends. He will be sorely missed. I am confident that all of the investigators will continue their hard work in seeking a successful prosecution of this heinous act.”

It was at this point that detectives located a document that ignited a fierce debate about whether Murray should receive the ultimate punishment, if convicted.

A Declaration of Life, signed by Father Rene, read: “Should I die as a result of violent crime, I request that the person or persons found guilty of homicide for my killing not be subject to or put in jeopardy of the death penalty under any circumstance, no matter how heinous the crime or how much I have suffered.”

In the coming trial, will the priest's wishes be upheld? While the prosecutor has already stated her intention of seeking capital punishment, Father Rene's family has publicly stated that they oppose execution.

When Father Rene signed the Declaration of Life form years ago, he likely never had an inkling that he would be murdered. But he let his wishes be known, and never changed his mind. Despite the brutality of the crime and the outrage of citizens in St. Augustine, it is probable that Steven Murray will never die from the prick of a needle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Clark Elmore
Suspending Death
by Robert A. Waters

During my term, we will not be executing people.” Washington Democratic governor Jay Inslee.

On April 17, 1995, middle school student Kristy Lynn Ohnstad disappeared. The fourteen-year-old resided with her mother, Sue Ohnstad, and Sue's live-in boyfriend, Clark Elmore (AKA James Dickey) in Bellingham, Washington. At the time, Elmore had lived with Sue for ten years, and they'd had a child, Kayla, together.

Kristy's mother reported her missing when she didn't return home from school. The day after she vanished, a passer-by found Kristy's backpack in a ditch near Samish Way.

When questioned by investigators, Elmore denied knowing what happened to his stepdaughter. He stated that he dropped her off in front of a convenience store near her school on the morning she disappeared. Elmore stated that several “kids” were there waiting for school to start. (When interviewed, the students denied seeing Kristy that morning.) Elmore told investigators that he and his common-law wife had been having problems with the “rebellious” teen and that he thought she had been seeing boys behind their backs.

Detectives observed that Elmore was extremely “pale and shaky” during much of the interview, but after searching his van, they found no incriminating evidence and let him go.

Late on the evening of April 21, searchers located Kristy's body south of Lake Samish. Court documents state that “at 7:30 a.m., on Saturday, April 22, 1995, investigators from the Sheriff's Office and the Bellingham Police Department met to process the crime scene. They found Kristy's body laying face down on the ground beneath a plastic tarp. Her shirt was pulled over one shoulder and she had a plastic bag over her head. Other than the shirt and socks, she was naked. When investigators removed the bag, they found a black belt around her neck and a metal spike protruding from her ear. Animals had removed portions of her ears. Two red flecks of paint were recovered from the body. The flecks were eventually traced back to a red toolbox Elmore kept in his van.”

When Elmore was informed that Kristy's remains had been discovered, he fled to Oregon.

Two days later, Elmore returned to Bellingham and confessed to the rape and murder of Kristy Lynn Ohnstad.

Washington Supreme Court briefs described Elmore's confession: “Elmore explained that on Monday morning, April 17, he stopped Kayla off at daycare and returned home about 8:20 a.m. Kristy was complaining about going to school and had missed her bus. When Elmore told Kristy she was 'grounded forever,' she commented about Elmore molesting her. When detectives pursued the subject, Elmore acknowledged molesting Kristy when she was 5 years old. He said that after the incident, whenever he tried to discipline Kristy, she threatened to turn him in for molestation....

When Kristy mentioned the subject on this day, Elmore told her to 'shut up.' They got in the van and drove toward Kristy's school. Along the way, Elmore snapped. Instead of dropping Kristy off at school, he continued driving. Some 20 minutes later, he reached the far end of Lake Samish, where he pulled the van onto a secluded dirt road and parked. Elmore unbuckled Kristy's seat belt and warned her it was time she learned to do as he told her 'or she'd get seriously hurt.' Elmore grabbed Kristy by the shirt and pulled her to the back of the van. He told her to take off her clothes or she was going to get hurt. She refused and Elmore forcibly removed them. Kristy cried and pleaded but Elmore raped her...

After raping Kristy, Elmore placed his hands around her neck and manually choked her.  He then wrapped Kristy's belt around her neck and cinched it tightly. Afterward, he took a nine-inch metal, needle-like tool and forced it into Kristy's left ear approximately five-and-a-half inches, piercing Kristy's brain. Elmore thought Kristy was still making noises so he covered her head with a plastic bag and repeatedly bludgeoned her skull with with a sledgehammer until he was sure she was dead. Elmore then dragged Kristy's nude body into the woods, covered her with a plastic drop cloth, got back into his van and drove away.”

Elmore later pleaded guilty to aggravated first degree murder and rape. He was sentenced to death.

After 30 years, his appeals finally ran out.

But instead of an execution, Elmore received “leniency” from the governor.  For at least four more years, he can breathe safely.

Whatcom County prosecutor Dave McEachern met with Inslee in an attempt to get him to change his mind. The Washington Spokesman-Review reported that McEachern “implored the governor to focus on how the girl suffered.”

In the end, justice doesn't matter when philosophical ideology overrules the legal system.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Creating "How Great Thou Art"

How Great Thou Art
by Robert A. Waters

The song, "How Great Thou Art," is one of the most loved hymns of all time. Describing the majestic power of God, and the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as our Saviour, the song has touched millions of lives since it was written in 1859 by a Swedish poet named Carl Boberg. The lyrics were later set to the music of a Swedish folk song.

Boberg explained how he came to write the song.  "It was that time of year," he said, "when everything seemed to be in its richest colouring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon there was thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared."

The first verse of "How Great Thou Art" describes the above scene:

"Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds thy hands have made,

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder

Thy power throughout the universe displayed." 

In 1949, British missionary Stuart K. Hine translated the song into English, updated the lyrics, and added two verses. It was published in the 1973 edition of The Covenant Hymnbook. "How Great Thou Art" was popularized in America by George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham Crusades of the 1950s.

As Christian faith wanes in modern society, "How Great Thou Art" remains a musical lighthouse for many. Atheism, many of whose adherents view faith as a "poison," threatens to become the new religion. Richard Dawkins wrote: "[Christian] faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument."

Yet faith is the stone on which atheists use to hammer out their own theories of the origins of the universe. After trillions of years, they allege, a great explosion rocked the void of nothingness and the universe suddenly formed.  Scientists tell us that never before or after has something come from nothing, but here we are.

Atheists have faith that after the big bang, or whatever generated the universe, complexity arose out of chaos and the vast network of solar systems, stars, and planets formed. It seems almost miraculous.

Patrick Buchanan once wrote that atheists believe "reason came from irrationality, that a complex universe and natural order came out of randomness and chaos, that consciousness came from non-consciousness and that life emerged from non-life."

On Planet Earth, everything developed exactly as needed to form life.  Scientists estimate that every human being is made up of about 37.2 trillion cells. It takes a great deal of faith to believe that the human body formed by itself, out of the blue.

"How Great Thou Art" reminds Christians of the Creator who formed us.

As for atheists, they're free to believe whatever they wish.

"How Great Thou Art" has been sung by hundreds of artists. This version is by Alan Jackson.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Snake vs. Wolf

Chip Jacobs has published several books, mostly about crime in the Los Angeles area.  This excerpt from a story in the recently published book, LA in the 1970s, describes one of the most bizarre cases you'll ever read.  "Snake vs. Wolf" chronicles the true story of crusading lawyer, Paul Morantz, whose efforts to bring down the drug recovery cult Synanon nearly led to his murder at the venom-tipped fangs of a mailbox-dwelling rattlesnake.  I highly recommend this book and have included a link at the end of the this excerpt.

by Chip Jacobs

Everybody, it seems, was watching the little white house on Bollinger Drive: pretty divorcĂ©es and kids on bikes, electronics whizzes and the Westside LAPD. Everybody was keeping a lookout for suspicious activity at the request of the owner, a feather-haired lawyer sleeping with a shotgun by his bed after the creepy sect he helped expose threatened to pay him a visit. Sure, it sounded melodramatic—killers skulking about a coastal town of rustic stores and quiet streets. And still there was that lurking, green Plymouth carrying two men up front and three friends in the trunk.

A real estate appraiser, who’d just stopped at a nearby corner market for a frosty drink, was the first to be flummoxed by it. Here he was, idling behind the sedan at a Pacific Palisades red light, unable to decipher its newfangled vanity license plate: 27 IVC. What narcissistic gloat could that represent? At twenty-seven I varoomed to California? Something about Ventura County? His puzzle-solving brain worked the variations. Then, by looking closer, Les Rahymer knew.

This wasn’t cutesy, aluminum-engraved conceit. This was deception. Lamely applied blue tape—tape the same ubiquitous hue as the plates’ background—concealed a “4” before the “27” and blurred the “G” into a “C”. Rahymer, a dark-haired thirty-something, sat in his black Datsun 280Z, prickled with goose bumps. What was he supposed to do when the Plymouth motored nonchalantly down Baylor Avenue: tail it like a real-life Jim Rockford (whose series filmed blocks away)? No, he was supposed to glimpse into his rearview mirror, where, by sheer happenstance, a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car was whipping left onto Sunset Boulevard like him.

“Did you see that car with the altered license plates?” Rahymer blurted, after waving the officer over. “Write down these numbers before I forget them.” David Ybarro jotted as told and even sketched passengers’ likenesses from the good samaritan’s account. It was a wickedly hot October afternoon, a day before the World Series opened at Dodger Stadium amid bunting and beer commercials.

Wait! Did he say a drab, early-seventies-model Plymouth Executive? If so, Ybarro himself had noticed the car earlier while serving an unrelated subpoena, figuring it for an undercover narcotics vehicle pursuing stoners and snow-white tans. Dispatch reported the car was registered to the group Synanon at its Marin County outpost.

Shazbot, as the kids said: not good. Especially after the dude in the Japanese import took off before Ybarro learned the driver’s name.

Ybarro, who walked a beat in this sun-glistened suburb a few minutes from Will Rogers State Beach, whistled for backup. Two LAPD colleagues, who arrived to hear him out, left, apparently unconcerned. Another pair drove past the lawyer’s range-style home on Bollinger with bougainvillea out back, observing nothing afoul. But Ybarro couldn’t shake the eerie butterflies. A few minutes later he was on Bollinger, telling a bike-riding boy to holler if he spotted the Plymouth. At shift’s end, he logged his experience.

Only the next day would the report surface—in a department trash can, ignored.