Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Self-Defense Files

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Tables turned on home intruders
by Robert A. Waters

Having lived in Florida for much of my life, I’ve become friends with many folks who’ve moved here from New York City. There are numerous reasons they move to the Sunshine State: the climate; no state income tax; and the open spaces in many sections of the state. Another reason is that, unlike the Big Apple, Florida has liberal gun policies. Most of the former New York City dwellers that I know are now the proud owners of shotguns, rifles, and/or handguns. Self-preservation is a human right--people will always flee or rebel against governments that outlaw the means for citizens to protect their own lives.

Here are a few recent stories of people who used guns in self-defense:

In Mountain Home, Arkansas, a would-be intruder attempted to break a window that led into the room of a sleeping four-year-old. Jeremy Ealey, the child’s father, heard the racket and grabbed his gun. He yelled that he was armed, but, instead of leaving, the stranger hurled a cement block through a glass door. When the man stuck his head through the opening and tried to enter the home, Ealey fired five shots, severely wounding the invader. Police stated that the shooting was self-defense, and Ealey won’t be charged. The same can’t be said for Larry Copas--if he recovers, he’ll face numerous charges.

In San Antonio, a house-sitter shot and killed an intruder. The home had been burglarized twice before, and a Lexus stolen. On the night he was killed, the thief drove the Lexus back to the home, evidently intent on continuing to pillage the residence. However, the owners had left their armed son at home to guard the place. When the thief entered the house, he was shot. Neighbors said there had been a recent outbreak of burglaries and thefts in the normally-quiet neighborhood. They were surprised to learn that the dead man lived down the street. Police said the shooter would not be charged.

In Michigan, an intruder carrying a knife broke into a rural residence. The homeowner, armed with a shotgun, confronted the stranger. Needless to say, the resident’s gun trumped the dagger and the intruder soon lay dead. Cops will not charge the shooter. William Cataldo, homicide investigator, said: “[The burglar] was armed, inside the house, and face to face with the homeowner and the homeowner has every right to protect himself and his home. Macomb County juries have been very clear and the law is clear. He does not have to retreat in his own house.”

In Coos Bay, Oregon, a resident shot and killed a persistent home invader. Late one night, Allen Wayne Saunders began banging on the front door, awakening the homeowner. Told to leave, Saunders attempted to kick in the door. The homeowner fired two warning shots into the air but the stranger wasn’t deterred. He began throwing rocks at the front windows. With broken glass littering the floors inside the home, Saunders eventually broke through the front door and rushed inside where he was shot. Toxicology tests showed that he had high levels of methamphetamine in his system. The resident will not be charged. District Attorney Paul Frasier said: "It is my conclusion that Mr. Saunders was intoxicated and acting delusional as a result of methamphetamine use. It is clear his behavior was threatening and unlawful."

In Tacoma, Washington, a resident shot two burglars. At about 4:40 a.m., the homeowner heard noises inside his house. He took a handgun and went to investigate. The resident found two men in his garage. As he attempted to hold them for police, the men charged him. Anthony Len McDougald was killed, and the second intruder wounded. Both had long criminal histories. The homeowner will not be charged.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: The Killer of Little Shepherds

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The Killer of Little Shepherds: A True Crime Story and the Birth of Forensic Science
by Douglas Starr
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010.

Review by Robert A. Waters

On December 31, 1898, when Joseph Vacher’s head tumbled from the guillotine into a waiting bucket, scientists were fighting to claim it. One of France’s most hated killers had plied his trade at exactly the same time that forensic science, a new field of criminology, was being developed and there seemed to be a need to study this sadistic killer. Were there abnormalities of his skull that would cause the violent attacks that took the lives of at least eleven victims? Did his skull fit the then well-known pattern of the “born criminal”? Was his brain diseased? Were there lesions that sent Vacher into uncontrollable rages? Or was he merely an evil sexual psychopath?

The Killer of Little Shepherds juxtaposes the murders committed by Vacher against the fast-growing field of forensics. On one side was Vacher, 23, a former soldier who shot the girl he’d unsuccessfully pursued, then himself. He survived, but the bullet left a permanent facial scar and an odorous puss that drained from his ear. After the attempted murder, he was committed to a mental institution. He later was transferred to a more “modern” institution where he resided until he was “cured.”

Almost immediately after leaving the institution, Vacher spotted twenty-one-year-old Eugenie Delhomme, a millworker, as she took a break. He quickly murdered her. Starr writes: “Eugenie’s body, only two hundred yards from the factory door, looked like it had been attacked by a wild beast.” She’d been strangled, stomped, and stabbed numerous times. Although there was no sign of sexual assault, her right nipple had been cut off and carried away.

Vacher quickly fled into the countryside. For the next three years, he would wander through France, begging and stealing for a living while raping and murdering young girls and boys. He was finally caught when he assaulted a housewife, Marie-Eugenie Heraud—her husband heard her screams and attacked Vacher, pinning him down until the police arrived.

At that point, Investigative Magistrate Emile Fourquet interviewed Vacher and determined that he had committed multiple crimes, including several unsolved rape/murders of shepherd boys who lived alone in remote forests with their flocks.

While Vacher was committing his crimes, a scientist named Dr. Alexandre Lacassagne was helping to develop modern forensics in areas such as criminal profiling, blood-spatter analysis, and modernizing the autopsy. Lacassagne’s methods helped solve several sensational cases, and publicized the need for new scientifically-based forensics.

As the trial of Vacher neared, Fourquet contacted Lacassagne in an effort to determine whether Vacher was legally insane. After numerous interviews, the scientist concluded that Vacher was a cold-blooded killer, manipulative and sociopathic, but not insane. While other scientists disagreed, Lacassagne’s view was accepted by the court. Vacher was found guilty of the one murder for which he was being tried, and sentenced to die.

After his death, several scientists received portions of his brain.

No abnormalities were found.

This is the kind of book I love to read. It is full of historical information that I didn’t know, and it was written in a terse, dramatic, true crime format.

I highly recommend The Killer of Little Shepherds.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Craigslist Murder in Washington

Kiyoshi Higashi

Killer Convicted and Sentenced to Life
by Robert A. Waters

For a year, career criminal Kiyoshi Higashi, 22, lay in jail brooding about his fate. At first, he was optimistic—he thought he might escape with only a charge of manslaughter and get maybe seven years. But the charges kept piling up. Robbery. Burglary. Assault. First degree murder. Finally, in March, 2011, Higashi was convicted and sentenced to 109 years in prison.

Higashi learned the hard way that when you murder a hard-working father for no reason, there’s little forgiveness in the justice system. But still he should consider himself lucky--had he lived in many states, he would have been sentenced to death.

The murder went down on the night of April 28, 2010.

James and Charlene Sanders of Edgewood, Washington, had a diamond ring they wanted to sell. James placed an ad in Craigslist, asking $1,050. According to police reports and court testimony, Amanda Knight, 21, called James and asked if she and her husband could come over and look at the ring. Charlene said Knight “disarmed” James by stating that she wanted to purchase it for her mother-in-law for Mother’s Day.

Knight, Higashi, Joshua Nathan Reese, 20, and Clabon Terrel Berniard, 23, arrived at the Sanders home shortly after 9:00 p.m. Knight and Higashi knocked on the door while the others hid outside. James, who had been upstairs with his family, let the couple in to show them the ring and called Charlene downstairs. After a brief discussion, James asked: “Do you want the ring?” Knight said yes. Higashi pulled out a wad of cash and asked, “How’s this?” “Fine,” James said. “Well, how about this?” Higashi said, and pulled out a handgun.

In the chaos that followed, Reese and Berniard rushed into the house and raced upstairs where they found the Sanders’ two sons, Jimmy, 14, and Chandler, 10. Forcing the children to join their parents downstairs, each member of the family was restrained with zip-ties.

In an interview with Today’s host Meredith Vieira, Charlene said, “I could feel rushing around. My husband and I were looking at each other, panicking, saying, ‘Just take it, take it, take anything you want.’ We just kept chanting it: ‘Take it.’ Then all of a sudden we’re getting zip-tied and put down on the floor in the kitchen. I could tell that people had been rushing in.”

Court documents describe what happened next: one gunman began pistol-whipping James while another intruder kicked Charlene in the head. Fourteen-year-old Jimmy jumped on the back of the man beating James, but was tossed to the floor and pistol-whipped himself. In a monumental act of courage, James broke free of his restraints and rushed to aid his son, but was shot three times—in the knee, the back and the right shoulder. According to the documents, while the violent confrontation was taking place in the living room, Amanda Knight calmly ransacked the home, stealing cell phones, a laptop computer, and jewelry. In fact, the invaders even took Charlene’s wedding rings off her fingers.

She later told reporters: "I had a gun to the back of my head with a countdown - three, two - and I'm just screaming and my kids are standing there, and I'm saying, please, God, don't let them kill me, don't let them kill my kids."

After her husband was shot, she held him and prayed that he would live. She said, “I just kept saying, ‘Honey, stay with me. Stay with us. Stay with us. Don’t go. Don’t go.’ And he was just barely gasping for air, and he was all white. He was starting to get white. I saw that half his ear was shot off and I thought maybe he’s just in shock. That’s why he’s white.”

Cops didn’t have far to look for suspects. Except for Knight, the three had spent most of their young lives committing crimes and being arrested. Each had spent time in prison. Higashi was on community supervision by the state Department of Corrections when he committed the crime. His record included arrests for assault, arson, theft, burglary, robbery—in fact, he’d been a regular in the criminal justice system since he was 11. Reese had convictions for felony auto theft and first-degree theft. Berniard had 20 convictions for assault, criminal trespass, burglary, and theft.

The crime struck a chord in the Tacoma, Washington area. While many reporters focused on the Craigslist angle, some residents considered those involved. The suspects seemed to have no direction in life except for a continued search for thrills and money. None seemed remorseful. Many residents wondered how these three thugs could still be on the streets with all the crimes they’d committed over the years.

On the other hand, Jim Sanders was a decent hard-working family man. He attended church, taught a Bible class, and spent time teaching his children to live peaceably with others. In the past, like millions of others, he’d sold items on Craigslist.

Amanda Knight was also convicted in April, 2011, and sentenced to 71 years in prison. The trials of the other suspects will take place later this year. But nothing can replace the husband and father lost in a senseless act of violence.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meeker, Colorado Bank Robbery

Citizens outgun bandits

I've been battling a stubborn case of bronchitis for a couple of weeks. My writing and everything else has slowed to a crawl. Hopefully the antibiotics will kick in and I'll be up and at 'em again shortly. This is a news article from the 1890s in which three robbers attempted to rob a bank in Meeker, Colorado and were gunned down by citizens. Note the difference in reporting in those days.

Waterloo Daily Courier
October 16, 1896
Colorado Citizens Decline to Tolerate the Thug. Rather Slow Getting in Action, But Do Good Work When They Open Fire—The Sudden Death at Meeker of Three Would-Be Bank Robbers Who Were Daring to the Point of Recklessness—Only Mistake of the Citizens Was in Calling for Surrender.

Denver, Oct. 16.—According to the later [advances] from Meeker, Colo., which is ninety miles from the nearest telegraph office, the three men who were killed there after robbing the bank have not been identified. The one who lived two hours after being shot gave names which are believed to be fictitious.

It is believed that one of the robbers is Thomas McCarthy, who aided in robbing banks at Telluride and Delta. Those killed and wounded in the battle between the citizens and the robbers follow: The dead are: Charles Jones, leader of the bandits, aged 45, shot through the lungs and chest; William Smith, robber, aged 21, riddled through the lungs and chest, shot through the heart and a number of other wounds, any of which would have been mortal; George Harris, robber, aged 35, shot through the lungs and chest. The wounded are: W. H. Clark, game warden, bullet in the right breast, not fatal; Victor Dikeman, shot through the arm; C. A. Booth, scalp wound; W. P. Herrick, finger shot off.

Thugs Were Reckless to Foolishness.

The robbery was one of the most daring ever perpetrated in the west, occurring as it did in broad daylight and at a time when there were twenty or more people in plain sight. George Rooney, clerk of the Meeker hotel, had stepped into the bank, which is located in the general mercantile store of J. W. Hugus, to make a deposit, and stood talking to Assistant Cashier David Smith. As he turned to leave he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder, and glancing up was looking into the muzzle of a revolver. The man with the revolver commanded "Hands up!" At the same instant two shots rang out, and two bullets whizzed by the head of the assistant cashier—David Smith—who threw up his hands. In the meantime the two other robbers had covered the crowd in the store, compelling them to assemble in the centre of the room, and guarding both doorways.

Then Cashier Moulton was called, and one of the men said to him: "Open the safe and be quick about it." At the point of his gun he was conducted to the safe, which he opened, and the contents of the drawer, $700, were emptied into a sack the robbers had brought with them. Not a word was spoken, the robbers going about their business with a deliberation that was astounding under the circumstances.

After getting the money in the till they quietly gathered in all of the firearms in the place, helped themselves to the Cartridges, and then the leader addressed the crowd, bank officials, employes (sic) of the store, and customers who happened to be in the place, saying their horses were standing hitched outside the rear door, which opens on a side street, and that for their own sake they would request all to go outside with them. The crowd filed through the doorway, followed by the robbers.

Something Was Going on Outside.

The robbers were not aware that the place was surrounded until all were out. The crowd that they had driven from the store broke and ran for cover. The citizens of the town had been warned by the two shots fired in the store, and arming themselves to the teeth surrounded the bank and quietly awaited the appearance of the robbers.

Deputy Game Warden W. H. Clark noticed that the three horses were fastened at the rear door and surmising that the robbers would leave by that route, took up his station a short distance from the back door, and centered more men at this place than any other, not neglecting, however, to keep the front door just as well watched. When the robbers saw that they were cornered Charles Jones raised a rifle he had taken from the store and fired at Clark. The bandits were commanded to hold up their hands, but answered with a fusillade of shots in a dozen different directions.

Tardy, but They Got 'Em.

Jones and Smith fell to the ground, literally riddled with bullets. They had been killed in the act of firing. Harris, mortally wounded, and still staggering, continued the battle until he fell. The dead men were removed to an undertaking establishment, where an inquest was held, rendering a verdict of justifiable homicide. The money was all recovered.

A description of the robbers follows: Jones, would weigh 160; black hair, slightly bald in front, right leg about one and a half inches shorter than left; about 5 feet 8 inches in height. Harris had a fine physique, weight 180, light hair, sandy beard and mustache. Smith, smooth face, height 5 feet 7 inches.

McCarthys Are a Bad Gang.

It is believed here that the robbers were members of the McCarthy gang that committed several daring train and bank robberies in Montana, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. It is also supposed that the man who robbed David H. Moffat, president of the First National bank of this city, of $21,000 in 1889, was a member of this gang. The McCarthys formerly lived in an out-of-the-way place in Oregon, where they were regarded as wealthy ranchmen. In an attempt to rob the bank at Delta, Colo., about a year ago, John McCarthy and his son were killed, but Tom McCarthy escaped.