Our Mad, Mad Country: Hinckley, a Baby Inside a Toaster Oven, and Marilyn Mosby

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John Hinckley, Jr. is getting out. He, as you may recall, is the man who shot President Ronald Reagan, a police officer, a Secret Service agent, and Press Secretary James Brady. Brady later died as a result of the gunshot wound that struck him in the face just above the left eye. It was in 1981 when Hinckley fired the shots, attempting to assassinate President Reagan as a means of impressing actress Jodi Foster. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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A moment after the assassination attempt of President Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr.

Now, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman feels that Hinckley is well enough to live in the community. Although, had Hinckley been declared sane at the time of the shootings he would most likely have spent the remainder of his life behind bars. But, come August of 2016, Hinkley will be residing with his parents in a gated golf course community in historic Williamsburg, Va., where he says he’d like to fit in and be a good citizen. The man (Hinckley) who once was fixated on the assassination of President Kennedy, fantasized about hijacking an airplane, and stalked President Carter, now enjoys speaking to groups in art galleries and at mental hospitals. He also enjoys playing guitar, painting, and photography. He would like to land a job at Starbucks or Subway.

I wonder what Mr. Brady, had he survived the attack, would have enjoyed had he not been confined to wheelchair by a gunshot wound that left him with slurred speech and partial paralysis and suffering deficits in memory and thinking and the inability to recognize people. I’m sure that the simple act of standing at a counter and placing an order for a sandwich, unassisted, at Subway or any other business would have been high on his “I wish I could” list. Unfortunately, he died because of the actions of a man who speaks to people at art galleries and strums and plucks his six-string while intently watching men and women on the golf course behind his parents’  home.

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James Brady

In fairness to Hinckley, he’s been allowed out for numerous visits with his parents and he’s been driving around and interacting with people in the community for quite some time and all without incident. Of course, he hadn’t attempted to kill a U.S. president until he fired that first round at Reagan. Until that day, he’d been out and about in the community as well. As they say, I’m just saying.

By the way, the Hinckley’s rear deck is just mere feet away from the 13th hole, just in case you decide to play there.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is 40-year-old Melissa Wright of Hillbrook, Alabama. You may recall that Ms. Wright pleaded guilty in 2003 to the attempted murder of her 14-month-old daughter, Ashley Smith. She tried to kill the girl by placing her in a broiler oven. The child has since endured over two dozen operations due to the burns she received.

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Ashley is now 15.

Melissa Wright was recently up for parole. During the hearing Ashley requested that her mother remain in prison. However, her older sister pleaded with the board to release their mother. A prosecutor says he wants Wright to serve every day of her 25 year sentence.

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Ashley Smith at her mother’s parole hearing.

The board denied Wright’s release, for now.

And then there’s the case of the Baltimore Six, the officers on trial for the death of Freddie Gray, a man who died during an incident involving those six officers.

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Today, Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby dropped all charges against the remaining officers accused of killing Gray. Previous trials each resulted in acquittals with the exception of one that ended in a mistrial. During the trials, Judge Barry G. Williams Jr. made it perfectly clear that he did not believe Mosby’s theory of the case, In addition, Judge Williams found that prosecutors deliberately withheld information that would have been beneficial to the defense.

So, a case that received much national attention, one that prompted protestors to riot and loot and burn parts of the city and presented Mosby with opportunities to appear in national TV sows, magazines, and onstage with Prince, has ended without a single conviction after a judge repeatedly said there simply was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

This, after Mosby’s news conference announcing that she planned to bring charges against the Baltimore officers. She said, “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America. I heard your call for “no justice, no peace…To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment, this is your moment…You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.”

After the prosecutor’s fiery press conference and subsequent to when areas of Baltimore were set ablaze and destroyed, Judge Williams issued a gag order preventing all parties from the prosecution and defense from publicly discussing the case. Today, the order was lifted and a still-defiant Mosby once again turned to the media to share her feelings about police when she blamed them, a lack of communal oversight of police, and entire the justice system (the same justice system that’s for everyone, not just her) for her failure to produce guilty verdicts.

Mosby said today, “After much thought and prayer it has become clear to me that without being able to work with an independent investigatory agency from the very start, without having a say in the election of whether our cases proceed in front of a judge or a jury … we can try this case 100 times … and we would still end up with the same results.” 

To respond to Mosey’s comments:

  • She and her team had every opportunity to work with an independent agency of their choosing, but she elected to do conduct her own investigation using her own investigators and the evidence they presented—evidence the judge said did not rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing. Remember, there must be proof of a crime to convict anyone. And it was their own evidence, evidence that favored the officers, that was withheld from the defense.
  • It is the right of ANY and ALL people who’re facing criminal charges as to whether or not they want a bench trial (by a judge) or a trial by jury. This is not something a prosecutor has control over. Not today, not ever before.
  • She’s right, she’d probably not get a conviction in this case in 100 attempts to do so, because the crimes charged were not a reflection of the event. There must be criminal intent.

On the hand, were the officers responsible for the safety of Freddie Gray? Sure they were, but the safety of the officers as well as the safety of everyone at the scene were equally as important. Decisions made that day, during the spur of moment—in mere seconds—are a small example of the decisions that must be made by police officers every single day.

Mosby said she stands by the medical examiner’s report that Gray’s death was a homicide. Well, I can sort of agree with that statement. Remember, homicide and murder are not always the same.

It is Murder that’s the unlawful killing of another person. The judge in this case said there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. None.

“I understand that murder is a crime,” you say, but…what’s the difference between murder and homicide? Don’t they share the same meaning? Is there a difference?

Yes, of course there’s a distinction between the two, and the things that set them apart are extremely important.

Again, murder is the unlawful killing of a person, especially with malice aforethought.

The definition of homicide, however, encompasses ALL killings of human beings by other humans. And certain homicides are absolutely legal.

Anyway, back to the Baltimore Six. I’m all for justice. Had this been a case involving criminal intent, where the officers did something to intentionally injure or kill Mr. Gray, well, they should’ve been found guilty and sent to prison. And I’m a firm believer that when people break the law, including police officers, they should be charged.

However, that was simply not the case this time.

By the way, Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby now faces disbarment charges as well as civil lawsuits from the majority of officers she charged in this case.

*As always, please … no arguments about gun control, police-bashing, protestors, political rants and raves, bashing of political candidates, religion, race, and, well, the usual. Oh, and please do save the bad language for other pages. We have kids who visit this page and I’d like to keep the site as kid-friendly as possible. Besides, I’m extremely weary of seeing and hearing the “F” word. But that’s just me. Thanks!

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Violence in America: Up, Down, or Part of a Manhole Cover?

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Violent crime is down. Events of the past couple of years have had no effect on crime rates. The so-called Ferguson Effect does not exist. The numbers are fabricated by the police and “the right.” Stop and frisks are offensive. “The violence rate today is far lower than it was when Ronald Reagan was president and lower than when I took office,” said President Obama during a press conference in the White House East Room.

Those, the above, are all sentiments I picked up on various media sources. Are the statements correct? Is the U.S. truly experiencing wonderful and extremely welcome downturn of violent crime?

Well, not so much according to a midyear violent crime survey released Monday by the Major Cities Chiefs Association. The MCCA is comprised of 68 of the largest law enforcement departments in the U.S.

Here’s what the study showed.

  • 307 more homicides so far in 2016 (data collected from 51 of the largest U.S. law enforcement agencies).
  • 1,000 more robberies.
  • 2,000 more aggravated assaults.
  • 600 more non-fatal shootings.
  • Chicago has seen a 48% increase in homicides over the same time last year.
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office reports 110 homicides so far this year, as opposed to 85 in 2015.
  • San Jose, California’s murder rate has doubled in the past twelve months. When we lived there, San Jose was listed and advertised as the safest city in America. Apparently, this is no longer the case.
  • In the first three months of 2016, the country saw a 9% increase in homicides.
  • TIME reported – Chicago experienced one of the biggest homicide increases of any city … cities with significant increases included Dallas (45 homicides in 2016 compared with 26), Jacksonville, Fla., (30 in 2016, 18 in 2015), Las Vegas (40 and 22), the city of Los Angeles (73 and 55), Memphis (48 and 31), Nashville (20 and 13), and San Antonio (34 and 23).

In addition, 32 police officers have been shot and killed so far this year, an 88% increase over the same period last year. Keep in mind, this figure does not include the number who were shot but survived. Nor does it include the number of officers who were physically assaulted. According to data collected by the FBI, 49,851 officers were assaulted in 2013. That total is surely much higher in 2016, and the total only reflects the assaults reported. Many are not.

Interestingly, New York reported 68 homicides, a figure that’s slightly down from 85 the year before.

I wonder how low the murder and assault rate would be if guns were out of the hands of criminals? I know for a fact that in the areas where I used to work gun violence went WAY down in the areas where we engaged the criminal element head on. We did so by getting out of our cars and talking to everyone, including gang members, drug dealers, etc., and we regularly conducted stop-and-frisks of suspicious people (Not just any random person walking down the street minding their own business. That’s not how Stop-and-Frisk” works). The tactic caused the bad guys to not carry guns out of fear we’d conduct a quick pat-down and arrest them for weapons and/or probation violations.

I know I felt safer knowing that we’d removed many of the illegal guns from the streets. And it was sort of a joy seeing those sawed-off shotguns, Saturday night specials, guns with serial numbers removed, and other illegal weapons being destroyed. We either had them crushed or melted in a coal-fired furnace that was capable of reaching temperatures of around 2,700 degrees (I think that’s the temperature of the furnaces. My memory of the process is not all that great. I do recall that the melting came quickly and that some of those firearms are now probably part of a manhole cover or other such item. Who knows, some may now be part of the steel bars in a jail or prison. Ironic, huh?).

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Is there any place that’s safe from violent crime? Last year, a woman parked her car at a local mall in my city, and as she walked toward the stores a man approached from behind and used a baseball bat to hit her on the head. It was an extremely violent act. Then the attacker took her purse and fled the scene. The victim–a beloved nurse, mother, and wife—died. A few days earlier, a similar thing happened in the parking lot of a local bank. The attacker in that case used a hammer to hit his victim, another woman. Fortunately she survived the physical attack. Mentally, I’m not so sure.

What about the Ferguson Effect, the idea that police are less proactive in their methods of policing, such as the stop and frisks and even getting out of their cars to talk to people of the streets at all hours of the night? They don’t due to fear of backlash and/or attacks against them by the crowds of people who flock to every scene in order to surround the officers, chant, shout, throw things at the officers, attempt to physically free the people who’re under arrest, and shove cameras in the faces of cops who’re trying to do their jobs.

Well, it depends upon who you talk to as to whether or the FE is real or not. The White House says it is not. That it’s irresponsible and counterproductive for anyone, including FBI Director Jim Comey, to say different. However, the numbers tell a different story. According to a study published this year in the Journal of Criminal Justice, homicides in the 12 months after the Michael Brown shooting (in Ferguson, Missouri) rose significantly in cities with already high rates of violence.

Baltimore by crime analyst Jeff Asher conducted a study of gun violence which showed that when Baltimore police officers stopped making drug arrests last year after the rioting that followed the death of Freddie Gray, shootings in the city ballooned. In Chicago, where pedestrian stops have fallen nearly 90 percent, homicides are up significantly compared with the same period last year.

Point to note: Asher’s study concluded that homicides in Chicago are up 60% in May of 2016 over the same time last year. CNN reports the number as 48%, as per the MCAA study. Either way, the increased numbers of homicide throughout the country are troubling to say the least.

So … what are your thoughts? Do you feel safe these days? Have you found yourself worrying about violence just a bit more than you used to? Does travel to certain cities or areas of your own hometown cause you to feel anxious. Do you avoid traveling to some places in the U.S., or even areas in your town?

*As always, please … no arguments about gun control, police-bashing, protestors, political rants and raves, bashing of political candidates, religion, race, and, well, the usual. Oh, and please do save the bad language for other pages. We have kids who visit this page and I’d like to keep the site as kid-friendly as possible. Besides, I’m extremely weary of seeing and hearing the “F” word. But that’s just me. Thanks!

*Sources – FBI, CNN, US Legal, baltimorecounty.gov, Major Cities Chiefs Association Report, and me.

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Twisting Your Twisted Tales: Twins Have Identical DNA, Except When They Don’t …

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We all know how valuable DNA testing is in the worlds of paternity testing and crime-solving. In fact, DNA testing is so accurate that we’re able to determine, with just a mere microscopic fleck of doubt, the identity of a long-lost father, or mother, a name associated with remains found in areas of disaster, and we’re able to learn the names of perpetrators of crimes of various types. All from a tiny speck of blood, tissue, other body fluids, etc.

Remember, every cell in the human body has DNA except red blood cells. Therefore, almost anything a suspect handled could contain DNA. This is why crime-scene investigators locate and collect items they think a suspect may have touched—cigarette butts, bloody clothing, weapons, paper, drinking glass, etc. The evidence is then turned over for testing to a forensic lab and its scientists.

The first step in the testing process is to extract DNA from the evidence sample. To do so, the scientist adds chemicals to the sample, a process that ruptures cells. When the cells open up DNA is released and is ready for examination.

The rest of the process is pretty straightforward and not all that complicated. DNA is loaded into a genetic analyzer that produces a readout that’s specific to the individual who left the evidence (skin, blood, tissue, semen, saliva, etc.).

This is all well and good EXCEPT when twins are involved, because twins have identical DNA. And, when two people have the same DNA and one of them commits a murder, well, without other evidence to validate the charges it’s difficult to prove which twin was at the scene and which was not. A near perfect crime?

Well, scientists at University of Huddersfield, located in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, England, have devised a means distinguishing slight differences—mutations—between the DNA of identical twins.

DNA methylation, simply put, is the molecular mechanism that switches various genes on and off. Therefore, when one twin is, for example, a lifeguard who spends much of daily life in the sun but her identical twin does not, the difference in lifestyles will cause changes in the methylation status of the DNA. These changes in the DNA methylation status of the sun-loving sibling are the subtle changes that sets the twins apart. The same is true when one twin is a smoker and the other lives a tobacco-free life, and so on.

The technique used—high resolution melt curve analysis—subjects the DNA samples/evidence to increasingly high temperatures until the hydrogen bonds break. This breaking point is known as the “melting temperature.”

Again, to simplify, the difference between the melting temperatures establishes the difference between two identical twins. So, the post-methylated-tested DNA can indeed point investigators to the guilty twin.

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So there you have it, writers, a new twist for your twisted tales.

 

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Voting Rights: Your Opinions, Please

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In April of this year, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons, a move that circumvented the Commonwealth’s Republican-run legislature. Many of those against the order claimed the governor overstepped his legal authority by committing a transparent effort to win votes for Hillary Clinton in the November election, a move that would help sway Virginia in her direction.

Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, struck down the governor’s order, saying McAuliffe did indeed overstep his powers under the state constitution. Chief Justice Donald Lemons wrote in the majority opinion, “The assertion that a Virginia Governor has the power to grant blanket, group pardons is irreconcilable with the specific requirement in Article V, Section 12 that the Governor communicate to the General Assembly the ‘particulars of every case’ and state his ‘reasons’ for each pardon.”

Therefore, according to the state constitution (the law), the governor of Virginia does not have the legal power to issue a blanket order to restore rights to all ex-offenders who are no longer incarcerated or on probation or parole.

McAuliffe’s response? He’s he thumbed his nose at the state’s high court by vowing to sign individual orders to restore voting rights to each of the 200,000 convicted felons, starting with those who’ve already registered.

So my questions to you are:

  • Do you believe that convicted felons should be allowed to vote? Or, should their voting rights be restored after serving their sentences and probation/parole? Or, as in Virginia, should their voting rights be taken away permanently.

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Speaking of the rights of convicted felons, specifically nonviolent offenders, who’ve served their time and have returned to their communities, and have lived and functioned with no problems whatsoever … should all of their rights, or some, be forever withheld … permanently? An example of the rights and privileges withheld are:

  1. Voting
  2. Traveling abroad (some countries deny admission to convicted felons).
  3. The right to own or possess guns
  4. Jury service
  5. Employment in certain fields
  6. Public social benefits and housing – they are are not allowed to apply for federal or state grants, live in public housing, or receive federal cash assistance, SSI or food stamps, etc.
  7. Parental benefits
  8. Financial assistance for college

Heres a point to ponder – How is it possible for former offenders to live and function and survive if they’re denied housing, employment, education, and food? And there’s no dignity when someone’s learned their lesson, paid their debts to society, and is trying their best to work toward goals and to be proud of themselves once again and of their country, all when they’re denied the simple right to vote. Some people make mistakes. Some people are guilty of the same offenses, or worse, but aren’t caught. Yet they still enjoy their basic freedoms and rights. Don’t people (again, I’m speaking of people convicted of non-violent crimes) deserve a second chance?

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What say you, loyal readers?

*Please, no bashing of politicians, religion, race, gender, cops, etc. Let’s discuss this rationally since the topic affects each of us.

I know, Clinton was mentioned in the opening paragraph, but only to set the stage for the information that followed regarding the rights (lack of) of convicted felons. I am not publicly endorsing any candidate. None. Zip. Nada. So please do not read between the lines. Again, the name was mentioned merely for informational purposes.

 

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