Archive for the ‘True Crime’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Tis The Season For Execution

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In 1993, Marcus Wellons was convicted of raping and killing a 15-year-old girl back in 1989. His punishment…the death penalty.

A witness told officials they’d seen Wellons carrying a large object wrapped in a sheet into a wooded area near his home. Police located the girl’s nude body in that same wooded area. Evidence of the murder was also found in Wellons’ girlfriend’s apartment.

Marcus Wellons entered death row at the age of 34, where he waited to die. In the months and years since he first walked through the prison gates, Wellons’ probably passed time by watching TV, reading, exercising, and eating the meals that were delivered to him. His cell was cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Wellons’ and his attorneys kept the courts busy by filing various appeals, hoping to find someone who could somehow spare the life of the man who brutally raped and murdered a young girl. Even at the end, those same attorneys made a last minute plea to Justice Clarence Thomas, who, by the way, is from Georgia. Justice Thomas passed on the appeal to the full Court, who rejected it.

Last night, twenty-five long years after the crime was committed, Georgia prison officials finally carried out the execution of Marcus Wellons, by lethal injection. He was 59-years-old.

Early this morning, in Missouri, officials there executed John Winfield. Winfield was convicted of shooting three women in the head in 1996, killing two of them. Another execution is scheduled later today, in Florida.

Each time an execution is carried out, my mind takes me back to a night in 1994 when I served as witness to an execution by electrocution/electric chair.

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Since it was my job to arrest murderers for their crimes, I figured I should see what could be the end result of my investigations.

And it was that thinking that brought me to this…

Have you ever sat looking into the eyes of a serial killer, watching for some sign of remorse for his crimes, wondering if he would take back what he’d done, if he could? Have you ever smelled the burning flesh of a condemned killer as 1,800 volts of electricity ripped through his body? No? Well, I have.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

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Timothy W. Spencer

The Southside Strangler

Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.

Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I requested to serve as a witness to his execution. I figured if I had the power to arrest and charge someone with capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.

On the evening of Spencer’s execution, corrections officials met me at the state police area headquarters. I left my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice there and they drove me to the prison. We passed through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside the building where death row inmates await their turn to die.

Once inside, I was led to a room where other witnesses waited for a briefing about what to expect. Then we, in single file, were led to where we’d soon watch a condemned person be put to death.

The room where I and other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room, with the exception of Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.

Death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center

Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair, was built by inmates.

State executions in Virginia are carried out at Greensville Correctional Center.

Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 pm.

The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did. A couple of prison officials entered first, and then Spencer walked into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained corrections officers).

I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own, without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber. I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it.

Spencer was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a brutal serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and was the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration were scattered across his forehead and bare scalp.

Spencer scanned the brightly lit room, looking from side to side, taking in the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims. Perhaps, the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. His arms and legs were securely fixed to the oak chair. He looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing, as if he’d just settled in to watch TV, or a movie.

I was seated directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so. His face was expressionless. No sign of sadness, regret, or fear.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap was lined with a brine-soaked sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.

Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.

Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub and doused it with bleach.

A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”

Yes, I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?

For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.

Was he thinking about what he’d done?

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered. Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, offering no apology and showing no remorse. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.

He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed. All the way to the end, he kept his gaze on me.

Suddenly all eyes were on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor. Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It did not ring.

The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber, out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, then he and the rest of the team left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second burst to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes (I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool down. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it).

The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair, placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest, and listened for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”

That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America was dead, finally.

Strange, but true facts about Spencer’s case:

- Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

- Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

- David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.

- Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

- Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.

PostHeaderIcon When A Police Chief Goes Bad: The Aftermath

Lovett

The city of Savannah, Georgia is a favorite tourist destination. It’s a great place for vacationers to leave the rat race behind and climb into a horse-drawn carriage to clippity-clop their way through the city’s scenic historic squares. From there their carriage winds down to the waterfront, along River Street, where riders are often seen gawking at the shops and inside open-front bars. The slow-moving carriages are passed by groups of squealing and laughing teenagers, with heads and arms hanging out of the windows of old black hearses, as they head for the next stops on ghost tours.

Well into the night, tourists are often out and about, strolling along the downtown sidewalks doing the things all Savannah tourists do—point at old buildings, gaze at civil war relics, and play touchy-feely with the gray-green Spanish Moss that dangles from the crepe myrtles along the waterfront. It’s a fascinating place, for sure.

But residents of Savannah see things a bit differently. They know not to challenge the unwritten rule of crossing the line that separates one gang turf from another. The locals know and understand that just a few blocks away from the hub of tourist activity is a place where gunshots ring out at any time of the day or night. Bodies are sometimes found sprawled on the streets, in front or back yards, and in homes or cars shot up by gang members.

Drug activity is rampant. Prostitution is nearly out of control. Illegal gun sales occur on a regular basis. Assaults. Rapes. Illegal gambling. It’s all there, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of pricey hotels and Paula Deen the Butter Queen’s eatery.

Help! Help! Help! That’s what the residents of Savannah have cried for a long time now. They want relief from the violent crime they’ve endured for so long. They’re tired of seeing people wounded and dying from gunfire, stabbings, and beatings. They’re tired of cowering inside their homes at night. Over five dozen unsolved murders in the past eleven years is certainly enough to make even the strongest person a little weak in the knees.

Savannah residents are also extremely weary of the turmoil within the ranks of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department. Internal trouble, many say, is the reason violent crime is so out of control in their beloved city.

And that, the roiling troubles inside SCMPD, brings us to the real story, and quite possibly the root of the violent crime woes.

First, though, I have to say that the police officers working to keep Savannah’s streets safe are highly-trained professionals. They’re good people who work hard and love what they do. I’ve met several SCMPD officers and, well, they don’t play second fiddle to anyone. But we all know that a chain is only as good as its weakest link. And when that weak link is at the top of the chain, well, when it breaks the rest must fall.

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The troubles within SCMPD first came to the attention of the public when Domestic Violence Detective Trina Mayes filed a sexual harassment suit against Willie Lovett. At the time, Lovett was chief of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department.

Shortly after the claim was filed, Lovett unexpectedly resigned his position as chief, and retired.

Next came the suspension of three officers assigned to a narcotics detail. Without going into the details, this was related to an officer helping to cover up drug sales by a “friend of a friend,” or something like that.

Detective Trina Mayes was fired, and later charged criminally with making false statements. Mayes claims the criminal charges were retaliation because of her lawsuit against the department. In February 2014, she was arrested and booked into the county jail. Turns out she was allegedly romantically involved with convicted felon William Lamont “Rocky” Sellers. Did I mention that Mayes was married to another SCMPD detective, who, by the way, had been placed on paid leave at the time he filed a formal complaint stating Lovett denied him a promotion when his wife ended her affair with their boss (Lovett).

Lovett, a chief who, according to news reports, was indeed having an affair with at least one female detective. A captain was accused of helping Lovett arrange meeting times and places, and helping to cover up his bosses indiscretions.

This he-said/she-said soup continued boil and play out in front of the entire department and population of Savannah, and surrounding areas, and all while violent crime in the city was spiraling out of control.

To add to the confusion, the city manager at the time was dismissed (something about misusing funds and/or using her position as city manager for personal gain).

Anyway, the new city manager and other Savannah leaders put their heads together and appointed a new city manager and an interim police chief, former Major Julie Tolbert. Tolbert immediately began cleaning up the department. Yes, heads rolled, which was a necessary evil. It’s tough to go out into the streets each day when you’re unsure of what’s going on behind closed doors. Even tougher, is to face a public that’s lost its confidence in their police department.

THEN…the bomb dropped.

Former Chief of Police Willie Lovett was indicted in federal court on 7 counts—extortion, participating in an illegal gambling operation, and conspiring to obstruct the enforcement of state criminal laws. The gambling charge is “aiding and abetting commercial gambling in violation of law.”

*Read the actual indictment here.

In other words, Lovett allegedly accepted bribes/money to allow illegal gambling within the city of Savannah. He also used his position and power to provide protection to those in charge of the operations.

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Also indicted were Randall Wayne Roach and Kenny Amos Blount, who were charged with running an illegal gambling business, and with conspiring with Lovett to obstruct the enforcement of Georgia gambling laws.

Lovett faces over 100 years in federal prison if he’s found guilty and sentenced to the maximum sentence allowed. He entered a not guilty plea on all seven charges.

Interestingly, Randall Wayne Roach is expected to withdraw his not-guilty plea and change it to guilty. Sounds like he’s may be working a plea deal with federal prosecutors, which could mean big trouble for Willie Lovett. We’ll see.

Anyway, the dust has finally begun to settle in Savannah. Interim Chief Tolbert has taken control of the department and things are now headed in the right direction. The weak link in the chain is once again strong.

Although, just this past week, a 48-year-old man was gunned down and killed as he was walking along a residential street, a man was cut/stabbed during an altercation on River Street (the cobblestone waterfront street where tourist visit shops, bars, etc.), a man on Wilmington Island (where Paula Deen resides) was arrested and charged with the death of his wife, shots were fired into a vehicle just blocks away from the tourist area, and well, you get the picture. Still, it’s far better than than it was this time a year ago.

The good officers of the Savannah Chatham Metro Police certainly have a tough job and a long road ahead of them.

The police department is healing, slowly.

No thanks to Wille Lovett, a chief gone bad…

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