Saturday, March 06, 2010

aye, there's the rib

Thank goodness for the Internet. Without its streaming video, I would have missed seeing Dr. Bill Bass on "20/20." The founder of the Body Farm was interviewed about his testimony in a 2001 murder trial. Dr. Bass proved that the medical examiner was wrong and that a man accused of killing his cousin was innocent. Here's the segment in which Dr. Bass appears.

I saw Dr. Bass and his co-author Jon Jefferson recently. They came by to record our annual interview about their latest Body Farm novel. The newest one, "The Bone Thief," will be released on March 23. The radio program will air on March 14. As usual, Jefferson and Bass will be devoting a lot of time to book signing appearances where they are ably assisted by the devoted Bone Zones crew. A publicist from HarperCollins just sent me an updated list of appearances. The signings at Sam's Club and Kroger are not yet on their website.

Tuesday, March 23
7:00 PM
202 Morrell Road
Knoxville, TN 37919

Wednesday, March 24
7:00 PM
The Mall at Green Hills
2121 Green Hills Village Drive
Nashville, TN 37215

Thursday, March 25
7:00 PM
310 S Illinois Avenue
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Friday, March 26
6:00 PM
5113A Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919

Saturday, March 27
12:00 PM
8435 Walbrook Drive
Knoxville, TN 37923

Saturday, March 27
3:00 PM
5201 North Broadway
Knoxville, TN 37918

Monday, April 05
6:00 PM
401 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402

Tuesday, April 06
7:00 PM
105 E Main Street
Woodstock, GA 30188

Thursday, April 08
7:00 PM
299 Atlantic Boulevard
Atlantic Beach, FL 32233

Friday, April 09
7:30 PM
3522 Wade Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27607

Saturday, April 10
7:00 PM
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801

Sunday, April 11
7:00 PM
Johnson City Plaza
2116 N Roan Street
Johnson City, TN 37601

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

obliging and dutiful

Richard Lambert, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Knoxville field office, was previously assigned to head up the investigation into the anthrax attacks of 2001. The case was closed this past week, just three days after I had recorded a half hour interview with Mr. Lambert. We only briefly mentioned the case. I was more interested in asking about the window of opportunity to thwart the next terrorist attack on the United States. About halfway into the show, I segued into the topic of Internet crimes.

If you're interested in law enforcement, feel free to right click here and download the podcast of my interview with Rick Lambert or hit the play button below. If you're interested in a job with the FBI, skip ahead to 22 minutes into the program to hear about the Bureau's hiring spree.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

alert and aware

FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Lambert warned of potential terrorist attacks at tonight's Infragard meeting. It was my first time attending a meeting since being invited to join the group upon graduation from the FBI Citizens Academy.

Lambert's presentation included a rundown of increased Al Qaeda activity in the past 12 months, including the attempted Christmas Day attack by the so-called "underwear bomber." The authorities are especially concerned about a terror network based in Yemen and their stronghold on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The underwear bomber tried to use ingredients from antifreeze and a water filtration system to start a chemical fire in his pants. The fire was supposed to ignite explosives known as TATP and PETN. The flames were doused by concerned citizens on the plane, which was the point of the presentation. Average Americans like you and me have a window of opportunity to help identify the terrorists' research and planning before their next attack.

Special Agent Lambert told us about a terrorist plot in England that was thwarted by employees of a storage depot who grew suspicious of some customers storing a large quantity of fertilizer. Any of us can easily report suspicious activity via a phone call or online. He said all we need to remember is that we can do a Google search for the words "Tennessee suspicious activity," which will bring us to a form on the website. Tips can also be phoned in to (877) 250-2333.

Before the serious stuff, we shared a laugh over a video clip from a cable show called "Conspiracy Theory." The host, Jesse Ventura, claimed that Infragard is an organization that spies on regular Americans like him. I immediately recognized the over-the-top voiceover narration by KTTV weatherman Mark Thompson, who is a close friend of my friend Bean.

The "Conspiracy Theory" allegations miss the mark. Infragard is not Big Brother. Instead it is a way to disseminate unclassified information to citizens who take an active interest in crime prevention. In addition to the anti-terrorism talk, we also got a brief update on a local child predator case and "Operation Aurora," the attempted hacking of Google in China.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

jailhouse rock

Not everyone has a wife as understanding as mine. I briefly mentioned that one of the Christmas gifts she gave me was a book about killers called "Human Monsters" by David Everitt. One of the six evildoers whose pictures were chosen for the cover was Ed Gein, who is credited as being the inspiration for the character of Norman Bates in "Psycho." Each nutjob gets about two or three pages in the book. The brief chapter on Gein alludes to the psychological damage inflicted on him by his mother. However Gein's crimes were more reminiscent of Jame Gumb in "Silence of the Lambs."

As I write this, my wife is at a Knoxville Choral Society rehearsal. She also sings with the choir at All Saints Church. In high school, she played Laurey in the student production of "Oklahoma!" I bring up her interest in music because of a news story out of Menasha, Wisconsin. The small town was the location of the debut screenings of "Ed Gein: The Musical." According to the follow-up article, the songs are parodies of well-known tunes. For example, "All Cooked Up" is a spoof of "All Shook Up."

I wonder if there are some Elvis songs they could use in a sequel. It would be great to hear "Love Me Tenderized," "Good Luck Arm" and "You: Suede Shoes."

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

monster of the midway

The Christmas gifts from my daughter made me proud of her ingenuity and thoughtfulness. She gave me a stack of books she knew I would like and paid nothing for them by using PaperBackSwap. When she heard that I had seen a simply wrapped package arrive in the mail last week from a PBS member in Saucier, Mississippi, she sent me the following email:
So, I was just going through your blog, your Facebook, your Twitter and your Amazon wish list. Even if I had never met you in person, I would know a lot about you and your personal tastes. If you love someone and actually take an interest in their life, wouldn't you be willing to take 5 minutes on the Internet to find a simple and cheap gift that they would love?

I know that you were good and did not open the gift that arrived for you, but you will be proud to know that I paid $0 for it. That's right, I paid nothing for the gift, I paid nothing for the shipping and I only had to research for about 5 minutes to figure out that you would enjoy it.
The books from PaperBackSwap turned out the be "Give Me a Break" by John Stossel and "The Last Days of Dead Celebrities" by Mitchell Fink. I had put them on my Amazon wish list when they were new but never got around to buying them.

The book pile grew even higher because my daughter gave me her own gently used copy of "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson. She had mentioned it to me when we visited a bookstore together on Labor Day. My wife also recalled my curiosity about H.H. Holmes that day and gave me a copy of "Human Monsters" by David Everitt, which is billed as an "encyclopedia of the world's most vicious murderers."

In addition to all the free books, my daughter gave me a 2½ ounce bag of Starbucks House Blend. A non-coffee-drinking friend of hers had received it in a gift basket at work. It's a re-gift I look forward to opening and brewing the next time I have a day off from work, so probably Friday during the Tournament of Roses Parade.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

once was lost, now is found

Each December, the news is full of stories about baby Jesus figures that have been stolen from nativity scenes around the world. The phenomenon is so common, it has its own Wikipedia page!

Today I received a phone call from a listener who had discovered a plastic Jesus close to her home. It was abandoned in the Kings Gate subdivision, near the Ingles in Farragut. She said it has a hole in the back for a light bulb. I asked her to send me a picture so I could post it online and perhaps find the rightful owner. You can help by forwarding this blog post to anyone you know in the area.

PS: I did not ask why her bedsheets resemble a Twister board.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

central dark

The campaign for a new camera is going slowly. Rather than wait until I collect $150, I used my cell phone to re-create some of the photos on the memory card that was in the camera I lost.

The parking lot under the James White Parkway is my last resort when looking for a space in the Old City. I prefer to find a metered space on the street close to Patrick Sullivan's. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my wife and daughter and I parked there and noticed something odd.

Over the summer, my wife and I saw broken auto glass in one of the spaces. It was obvious that someone had done a smash and grab burglary on the isolated pavement. Last week we put two and two together when we saw the decorative projectiles rocks that surround the lot.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

end of his soap

The 2009 class of Knoxville's FBI Citizens Academy held its graduation ceremony on Thursday night. I found the 9 sessions to be an amazing experience. Next month I will attend my first meeting of the FBIKCAAA. Use your detective skills to figure out what the initials mean.

The agents made good use of PowerPoint and video during their presentations each week. On the final night, the video was startling to me. Many times we saw actual news footage of a crime to be discussed. On Thursday, Russell Biven's face filled the screen but he used a different name for the dramatization of a terrorist attack. Former WBIR reporter Robin Murdoch also used a fake name while pretending to cover the story. Our class assimilated information from the video and from imaginary agents in the field. We had to decide on a course of action for them to follow.

Some other videos were memorable too. I've already mentioned the Roy Lynn Oakley arrest tape we saw during our third meeting. Just over a week ago, we saw some incredible surveillance footage of Billy Long. The former Hamilton County sheriff was busted with the help of an outrageous personality named C. Eugene Overstreet. The preacher and funeral director convinced Long that they were hiding money and drugs in cremation urns and a child's casket. On one memorable day, Overstreet met with Long while wearing a suit jacket with a slit in the back. We assumed it was intended for a future client.

Next year, I think they should show the class this video I found on YouTube. It's "The Ballad of Billy Long."

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

shiver me timbers

"60 Minutes" had an interesting story on movie piracy on Sunday night. The report shows how the bad guys sneak video cameras into movie theatres, often hiding them in strollers or diaper bags and using their families to help avoid suspicion. Even here in Knoxville, a security team at advance promotional screenings prohibits audience members from bringing cell phones with cameras into the theatre.

The video pirates sit in the back row where their cameras pick up crowd noises and the silhouettes of people in front. Leslie Stahl asked why anyone would buy a DVD with such poor quality. An expert responded that buyers are not quality-conscious and that they want to pay very little for their entertainment.

In addition to bad DVDs, the pirates are distributing movies online via BitTorrent. The Internet file-sharing brings to mind the problems the music industry faced when Napster first came on the scene. Back then, they would overcharge consumers for albums on CD when the fans actually wanted singles. iTunes came along and dropped the price of a hit song to 99¢ and people gladly paid.

For a time, the movie studios got it right. While a music CD had filler songs we didn't want, DVDs were packed with fancy extras that added value. Plus, the price of a cool DVD was about the same as the price of a lame CD. Now they are trying to get us to buy the same movies we already have in a new, Blu-ray Disc format. They also jerk us around by adding or changing the extra features and releasing new "collector's editions" or "director's cuts."

I suspect that the studios and theatres will use piracy as an excuse to raise ticket prices yet again. What would happen if the studios dropped the price of admission to be the same or less than the cost of a pirated DVD? It would put the pirates out of business and have movie fans lined up at the multiplex.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

ert day

Two guests at the Homewood Suites thought there might have been a hazmat spill when they saw the members of the FBI Citizens Academy walk past their hotel room. We were all wearing white Tyvek coveralls for an exercise in evidence recovery. In my best Batman voice, I said "remain calm, citizens" and explained that we were in a class.

Our FBI instructors divided us into four groups and gave us a scenario. They directed each group to a different hotel room where they had placed various pieces of evidence for us to identify and collect. Hana Kim was in my group. Her Tyvek suit highlighted her choice of non-sensible shoes.

Before heading to our fake crime scenes, a special agent from the Evidence Response Team gave us some background on the unit. He showed us a few crime scene photos from a local kidnapping case that I remembered seeing on the news five years ago.

The evening that ended with a practical exercise began with a graphic slide show. Dr. Murray Marks, a forensic anthropology professor from the University of Tennessee, spoke to us about his field of expertise. He mentioned that many bodies are found this time of year by hunters and hikers taking advantage of the cooler weather.

Dr. Marks discussed the links between pathology, anthropology and dentistry. The three fields work together in an effort to determine a victim's identity, perimortem trauma and the time since death. We saw quite a few pictures of teeth on bodies in various states of decay. The teeth will long outlast the flesh and bone of a body.

Dr. Marks doesn't like the term "Body Farm." He prefers to call it "the Facility." The slides he showed us of donated corpses focused mainly on forensic entomology and the life cycle of flies and maggots. I recognized one of the actual crime scene photos from an exhibit that was at the Frank H. McClung Museum in early 2008.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

deadly force

The smell of gunpowder was still in my nose hours after returning home from the firing range at the Phil E. Keith Training Center. The facility, which belongs to the Knoxville Police Department, was the scene for today's meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy.

After a safety lesson from the firearms training agent, I started my day on the range by shooting four different guns. We could visit the four stations in any order. I chose a roughly chronological order, starting with a 1928 model Thompson submachine gun followed by a 38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver. In the years since an infamous Miami shootout, the Bureau switched to the next two guns I tried. I shot a 40 caliber Glock pistol and a Colt M4 Carbine assault rifle. I went back for a second round on the old revolver and showed significant improvement from my first attempt.

While I was with the group shooting real guns, the other half of the class was inside working with a computer simulation of various scenarios. Once we switched places, the first few people in my group were given simulations of domestic disputes. When it was my turn, the scenario was a school shooting. I saw two bloodied students on my right and two uniformed police officers on my left. The students were gesturing behind them to the right. Suddenly there was a spray of blood and all four of them dropped to the ground. I saw gunfire coming from behind a dumpster on the left so I started shooting toward it. Then a second shooter emerged from the woods in the distance but my fake gun stopped working. Apparently the CO2 cartridge in it had emptied. The screen went black, which I assume meant that the second shooter had taken me out. When they played back my scenario, we saw that I killed the first shooter with my second shot.

After lunch, we learned about the Special Weapons and Tactics force. We saw examples of the weapons they use and then went outside to see the Oshkosh Humvee used by local FBI SWAT agents. Prior to this, I thought the only thing Oshkosh made was children's clothes. We each had a chance to climb inside and pose for photos. Hana Kim from WATE-TV asked me to pose with her. She was delayed in getting to the range because she had to anchor the weekend newscast this morning. We've had a chance to chat during breaks from class. I found out that Hana grew up in Northern Virginia and graduated from McLean High School and the University of Maryland.

The day finished with a lecture on explosives and a demonstration out on the range. First the special agent bomb tech blew up a blasting cap in a coffee can. He then blew up a blasting cap in a coffee can filled with shaving cream to show us how the cream absorbed some of the impact. Next he showed the effect of explosions on soft tissue by blowing up a blasting cap inside a chicken from Food City. I don't know why he made a point of telling us that. Maybe he wanted to make sure the bird hadn't been pumped full of sodium.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

we have clearance, Clarence

The third meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy involved pizza and a field trip. We went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory tonight for presentations on super computing, espionage and counter-intelligence. Our FBI instructors knew that no trip to Oak Ridge is complete without Big Ed's Pizza. Either someone at Big Ed's has a security badge that let's them make deliveries past the guard shack or someone at the FBI picked up the food and brought it to the meeting.

The lecture on super computing included high-resolution images shown on a power wall. Imagine 27 rear projection screens seamlessly blended to show 35 million pixels. They told us about the Jaguar, a computer that performs 1.3 quadrillion operations per second. I learned that floating point operations per second are called "flops." They are dealing in kiloflops, megaflops, gigaflops, and teraflops.

A counter-intelligence agent showed us Internet chat transcripts between an ORNL engineer and an alleged woman in China. She, if she was really a she, tried to get him to come to China for a visit. He finally got around to reporting his relationship with a foreign national months later than he should have and ended up losing his job when he tried to rekindle the online romance after being warned by his bosses.

The highlight of the evening for me was the hidden camera footage from operation "Barrier Reef." An FBI agent took us through the case study of Roy Lynn Oakley, a laborer for Bechtel Jacobs, hired to help dismantle the K-25 uranium enrichment plant. He smuggled out pieces of sensitive equipment in his work gloves and tried to sell them to France. His first plan was to contact the French government while traveling to Canada but he couldn't shake his wife and her relatives. Then he bought a Tracfone and tried calling the French consulate using the fake name "Paul Collins." The FBI assigned an undercover agent to run a "false flag operation." Oakley made a dead drop of a CD with photos of the stolen barrier tubes. The photos inadvertently showed part of a mailing label with Oakley's real name and address. The agent met Oakley at McGhee Tyson Airport and videotaped him as he showed the stolen tubes and took $200,000 in cash. They arrested him and got the money back. He pleaded guilty this past January.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

protect and defend

Instead of watching fake FBI agents on "Bones" and "Fringe," I will be spending my Thursday nights through November 12th enrolled in the FBI Citizens Academy. Each of the Bureau's 56 field offices offer the class. I was nominated by Public Affairs Specialist Stacie Bohanan of the Knoxville Division. I must have passed the background check because they let me attend tonight's meeting, which was led by Special Agent in Charge Richard Lambert. Agent Lambert began his presentation by showing a video clip from his favorite TV show.

The first session focused on the history and mission of the FBI. We also tried to learn the names of our 29 classmates. I already knew Hana Kim of WATE-TV and was re-introduced to Capt. D.J. Corcoran, spokesman for the Knoxville Fire Department. D.J. came to my house several years ago when he was working as a cameraman on the DIY show "Ed the Plumber."

In future weeks we will learn about criminal law and polygraphy, international and domestic terrorism, identity theft and Internet crimes, civil rights violations and white collar crimes. One night we will take a field trip to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Another night we will meet at a hotel to study staged crime scenes and to see a slide show from Dr. Murray Marks of the world famous Body Farm. One Saturday in October we will learn about deadly force scenarios and go to the firing range to take target practice. The final session of the class deals with crisis management and disaster scenarios. Before then I need to figure out what they mean by a "command post hot wash."

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

a matter of life and death

Capital punishment has been the main topic of discussion in Knoxville recently. The first of the trials of the accused killers of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom concluded today. The disgusting, horrific crimes have grabbed the attention of East Tennesseeans to such a degree that jurors had to be selected from the Nashville area. Letalvis Cobbins was eligible for the death penalty after being convicted of first degree murder. The jury sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Social networks are buzzing with news updates and opinions on the trial. I couldn't help but notice that many of my Facebook friends were very vocal about their desire to see Cobbins sentenced to death. On more mundane political issues, I usually agree with their views. However I was moved to post the following status update: "My unpopular opinion: glad for the guilty verdicts for Cobbins but still opposed to the death penalty. My FB friends want an execution."

I found out that not all my Facebook friends support capital punishment. While the jury was deliberating the sentence, I received several great comments from both points of view that are worth reading now and re-reading as each of the other defendants face their juries. I will refer to the author of each comment by first initial only. However if any of them contact me and ask that their names be used, I will happily revise the post to identify them.
A: The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly. I don't side with you on this one (well, glad for the guilty verdicts), but I can respect anyone with a different opinion on an execution. That's a touchy subject.

R: The government can't manage to run a car buy back program effectively. Why on earth should we trust them with the power of life and death?

N: The Government does not have the "power" to execute this trash, the jury and judge do. And they are us.
Frank, look at it from another angle, with children and good people going hungry, why waste the thousands upon thousands of dollars, housing this animal? Compassion is not "babysitting" this animal for the next 50 to 60 years, it is taking that needed energy and money and helping victims of them.

J: If a person commits a crime and is caught and convicted they forfeit their liberty. If the crime is truly horrific they forfeit their life. The state may be the instrument of their death but the responsibility lies with the perpetrator of the crime. That's how I see it and I think this crime certainly qualifies for the death penalty.

S: Count me among the FB friends that do NOT want an execution. Do you have a link for the back story on Cobbins? I don't know the case.

Frank: The details of this horrific case will turn your stomach.

R: Do judges and juries get things wrong? Do prosecutors engage in misconduct? Are cases pushed or dropped for political reasons? If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes," then our criminal justice system does not perform to the standard required to allow it to take a life.

N: No, the judge and jury did not get THIS case wrong!

T: Well, the problem with your argument is that it costs far more to exhaust the appeals process than to simply house a convict. Also, it's disingenuous to not recognize the jury and the judge are merely arms of the state.
The US Constitution, however, clearly contemplates the death the penalty ("no person shall be deprived of life ...."). Of course, the US Constitution is a floor, not a ceiling, so each state can decide the issue. Still, the death penalty is an ancient and barbaric practice that provides no deterrence and should be abolished.

S: No offense to N, I don't know you.... But one of the fundamental flaws with humanity is the ability to allow a desire for revenge to cloud judgment. If you didn't sit on the jury and hear all of the evidence in the case, you are making an opinion based judgment rather than a fact based judgment. While he hasn't stated such as yet, I would guess that Frank's opposition to the DP is that only God can truly judge the actions of man. Only God has all the facts and only God can claim the right to judge who should live or die.

R: I supported the death penalty for a long time. I reasoned that if I'm willing to take a life in order to defend my own, then the state should be allowed to do the same, take a life to defend the group.
Then I realized that was a flawed comparison. For example, I have the right to use lethal force to defend myself when attacked, or to defend another who is being attacked. I don't have the right to kill somebody because they attacked me yesterday, or might attack somebody tomorrow. And if I don't have the right, then why should I give it to the state?
Particularly when the state has not demonstrated the level of competence required to handle such an imposing responsibility.

N: Disingenuous? Lets read the rest of the sentence together. "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law". Also, Sometimes the appeals process is used to stop justice from being completed.
S, I am sorry that you think justice is revenge. I assume that like me you are not on this jury, correct? Then your opinion is also not a fact based judgment? That is why it is called a discussion. God? God did not take Channon's life, this man did.
I am not arrogant enough to suggest what Frank believes, I merely suggested another view. Frank is a good friend and I will stand by him.
What is breaking my heart is that there is more disdain for me in my beliefs than the monster that committed this unparalleled crime.
I must now go back to work so I can help feed this trash for the next 20 to 60 years, so I will be unable and unwilling to comment any further, so say what you will.

AB: The only reason I oppose the death penalty is because we cannot guarantee that no innocent life will be lost. As soon as one innocent person is killed, the whole system has/is failed.

S: I didn't say that justice was revenge. I said that the desire for revenge can cloud judgment (clear reasoning). I also didn't make a statement about the outcome of the case, you did. My point was that people who aren't involved intimately with the case don't have enough information to say if the defendant is guilty or innocent. Your statement that the jury didn't make a mistake was an overstatement because you didn't have the same information as they did.
As for Frank, I was merely extrapolating on his previously expressed Catholicism. I would never say that I spoke on his behalf. I was just pointing out that for some people (like PERHAPS Frank) this is a religious issue and should be respected as such.

T: The purpose of the appeals process is to, hopefully, ensure that the law, including procedural issues, is followed and applied correctly. You either agree to adhere to our civil liberties or you don't. I'm unclear why your being pissy with me. While I disagree with the death penalty, clearly, the US Constitution contemplates that someone can be put to death. What you were being disingenuous about was saying the "government can't put someone to death." Of course, the government -- more appropriately the State -- can put someone to death. The Constitution says so.

L: With the exception of self-defense or defense of another, it is not the province of man to mete out decisions of life or death. That said, I think those that perpetrated the horrific torture on those two kids deserve to have the same treatment done to them. But it is not our place to make it so.

Frank: I appreciate and respect all your comments, on both sides of the issue. Obviously my Catholicism is a big factor in my opposition to the death penalty. To me, capital punishment is the Old Testament way of thinking.
However, I used to feel differently. It changed when Ted Bundy was executed. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and realized that his death would do nothing to bring back the victims he killed.
The arguments about the cost of death row legal appeals and the possibility of executing even one innocent man are powerful to me. Ultimately I think killing is wrong, whether done by a criminal or by the government or by a doctor.

AB: The Catholic Church does not consider the death penalty to be intrinsically evil, nor limited to any particular era or dispensation. However, it does not support the death penalty in a society that has other means to effectively suppress the offender. So according to the Church, it isn't a proper option in the vast majority of cases, if not all cases, in the western world.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

nothing but flowers

A week ago I bought milk at the Weigel's on Fox Lonas Road near All Saints Church. Today, the building was a pile of rubble.

The store that is no more gained notoriety in the Johnia Berry murder case. After Johnia and her roommate were both stabbed, the roommate ran to the nearby Weigel's for help. Sadly, it was too late to save Johnia.

I suspected something was up when I noticed the Michael Brady Inc. sign out front a few weeks ago. I hope the architecture firm will build a new Weigel's store with an innovative design. Maybe it will be as nice as the Weigel's on Campbell Station Road. That's one good looking Weigel's.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

focus on the family

The recognizable voice of John Waters was on NPR this afternoon when I got in my car. I knew that I knew the voice but it still took me a minute to identify it. When I tune in to the middle of an interview, I like to play "guess the guest," a game made possible because so many of us in radio are bad about identifying interviewees once the conversation has begun.

In today's case, it was a trifle more challenging because Waters was not talking about himself but about the Tate/LaBianca murders. Apparently he has befriended Leslie Van Houten, a member of the Manson family who was convicted of the murders of Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca. Waters says that Van Houten has been rehabilitated in prison and should be paroled.

The broadcast was timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the murders, which took place August 9 and 10, 1969, a mere three weeks after a much happier event. While looking online for another link, I found a blog that commemorates the murders. It has a lot of recent entries because of the anniversary but was actually started over four years ago.

I remember reading "Helter Skelter" while in grammar school. Years later when I met Vincent Bugliosi at KLOS, I told him that I still had a vivid memory of a crime scene photo in the book. In it, Leno LaBianca's body was whited out but a fork was still visible protruding from his abdomen.

My friend Lisa Burks, who writes "Adventures in Grave Hunting" among other blogs, sent me a DVD titled "The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter." It is hosted by her friend Scott Michaels of Dearly Departed Tours and Scott serves as tour guide and takes the viewer to the crime scenes, the homes of the other victims and more significant locations. The most effective parts of the film are when he retraces the steps of the murderers.

I found Scott's trip to Barker Ranch in Death Valley to be especially creepy. I was also surprised to learn that Sharon Tate and her friends ate their last meal at El Coyote, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants during the time I lived in California. It wasn't until I moved to Tennessee and started watching "The Beverly Hillbillies" reruns that I appreciated Sharon Tate's talent as an actress.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

body snatchers

Why would anyone steal a skull from the Body Farm? Or as the Orlando Homicide Report asks, "what kind of weirdo steals human skulls?" Especially since it's so easy to find a realistic plastic skull. A fallen tree may have made the theft possible. It landed on the two fences surrounding the facility. The bad guys probably crawled along the tree and into the enclosure where they grabbed the body parts. According to the News Sentinel, anthropology researchers at first assumed that an animal had carried the remains away. They got that right.

My ongoing search for Body Farm news resulted in three new items being added to my Amazon Wish List today. British author Simon Beckett has written three novels about a fictional forensic anthropologist named David Hunter who had trained at the famous Body Farm. The third book in the series, "Whispers of the Dead," finds Hunter traveling from his London home back to the Body Farm in Knoxville. While there, he is asked to help investigate a murder in Gatlinburg. I made the mistake of starting Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta novels with "The Body Farm," the fifth book in the series. I'll be sure to read Simon Beckett's books in order, starting with "The Chemistry of Death" and continuing with "Written in Bone." Beckett got the idea for his novels when he came to Knoxville to write an article about the National Forensic Academy for the Daily Telegraph Magazine.

This one last piece of Body Farm news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. There is a Facebook group for fans of the place. As of tonight, it has 776 members.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

could there be a connection?

There were two bottles of Henri's Fat-Free Honey Mustard Salad Dressing on the shelf at the Bearden Food City tonight. As my wife put them in our cart, I realized that they were the same bottles that remained after I bought all but those two last week. One still had their old-style label.

The Food City on Middlebrook Pike put Henri's on a close-out special last week. Does that mean it will be discontinued at all their locations or just that one? Chicken and salad dressing are the two main reasons we switched from Kroger to Food City. I may be looking to switch supermarkets again if I can't continue to get the fat-free Henri's.

Hometown Favorites charges the same price for Henri's as Food City. I have to decide if it's worth paying added cost of shipping and handling. I couldn't find a website for the Henri's brand, just for its parent company, ACH Food Companies in Memphis.

I wish I could buy Henri's dressing as cheaply as the two Chicago-area crooks who got it for only 3¢ a bottle. That wasn't their crime. It was relabeling the bottles to change the expiration date and reselling them to stores. Setting up a toll-free hotline to lie to customers didn't help them either. One of these creative criminal minds is was a movie director.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

most wanted

An arrest has finally been made in the Johnia Berry case. Johnia was murdered and her roommate was injured almost three years ago in a senseless crime. Her family has tirelessly campaigned to keep the case in the news. Blogger Les Jones helped by creating a website and bringing it to the attention of other bloggers and members of the mainstream media.

I found it reassuring that the man they arrested does bear a resemblance to the face in the composite sketch of the suspect. As he did the perp walk, the TV reporters asked him some leading questions:
"Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"I never meant for this to happen. I'm sorry."
"Did you mean to kill her?"
"Why did you do it, was it an accident?"
"It was an accident."
Most of the first half of today's "Oprah Winfrey Show" on bipolar disorder was preempted locally by the sheriff's congratulatory press conference. The sheriff congratulated the TBI and other agencies. Representatives of the other agencies congratulated the sheriff and the detectives. The representatives from Food City received some well deserved praise for putting wanted posters in their store windows and on their trucks. When Johnia's mother spoke, it was truly emotional.

After the local affiliate returned to Oprah, they posted a graphic urging viewers to stay tuned for the 5 o'clock news. Unfortunately, it was the same time as the Oprah crew flashed a graphic promoting tomorrow's show. The local graphic wasn't big enough to completely obliterate Oprah's graphic, resulting in the unfortunate combination pictured below.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

1,020 words

If you drove a truck for the Meth Task Force, where would you park it?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

writ of habanero corpus

The Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles became well known during the O.J. Simpson trial. In 1999, I spent almost two weeks there on jury duty but was never selected for a trial. Before my time ran out, they shipped me off to another courthouse to see if I could spend a day on a less complicated case. Instead I sat around in a different juror waiting room all day without being selected. The courthouse staff changed channels on the TV in the juror room as often as necessary to maintain a constant flow of judge shows. I swore that day that I would never watch another judge show in my life.

The people who work for the Judge Maria Lopez show didn't know about my pledge when they sent me a couple of edible promo items. They must have heard that the best way to get a plug on the radio is to send free food. Corey Dietz calls it CarboHeyThanks or Eatola. I think Carbola or Carbobribe might be good words for it too.

They sent a three ounce bag of nacho chips that contain 424 calories and 24 grams of fat. I won't be eating those but I will try the "Justice Will Be Served Spicy Sauce." The bottle of hot sauce came from a company called PromoShop in Los Angeles. I recognized their address as being on the same little cul-de-sac as the old Comedy World Radio Network.

While we're on the subject of sauces and the legal system, I spotted a product called Chaka's MMM Sauce on a supermarket shelf in Fairfax County. Do you think it's the same Chaka who spray painted his name all over Los Angeles?

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Friday, September 01, 2006

still on their mailing list

Earlier this week, Scott West reached a deal to plead guilty in the case I told you about in July. Here's an excerpt from an email I received today:
Dear friends and family,

As you may already know, Bernadette and I have been charged with a federal offence involving money laundering. Further, I have been charged with marijuana trafficking. Bernadette will and I have entered pleas of guilty to these charges, but we have not been sentenced by the court yet. We ask that you help us in our efforts to tell the Honorable Judge Thomas W. Phillips that there is a great deal more to our characters and our histories than these crimes, so that he might find it in his wisdom be as lenient in his sentencing of each of us as is possible in consideration of our good characters and our contributions to this great community. We have made mistakes which have had tremendous repercussions, but as you may already know, we are committed citizens to Knoxville and the revitalization of its Downtown. We love this community and wish to return to our friends and family as quickly as possible. Will you please help us by writing a letter for Bernadette and/ or Scott West to Honorable Judge Phillips, United States District Court, Eastern District of Tennessee.

In addition, let Judge Phillips know that you are aware that we have been charged with this offence. It will not be appropriate to make any comment about your feelings of either mine or Bernadette's guilt or innocence. Most importantly, you should tell Judge Phillips why you believe we are worthy of receiving leniency. You may wish to emphasize our characters, backgrounds, upbringing, scholastic achievements, contributions and commitment to the community, hard work, devotion to our families, hardship that we and our families have already suffered as a result of this case, or any other factor that you believe to be positive and truthful. You may handwrite this letter.

Thank you,

Bernadette Trent West and Ronald Scott West

PS Feel free to pass this letter on to other friends and supporters

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