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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Abner Twins Face Triple Murder Charges After Arson Investigation

Abner Twins Face Triple Murder Charges After Arson Investigation
By Elaine Hirsch

After three Alabama toddlers died in a fire last Wednesday, police arrested their mothers. The twin sisters Akeevia Lajoseia Abner and Tekeevia Lajoseialan Abner face three counts each of reckless murder. The case is yet another that has master's degree pundits and online commentators up in arms about motherly murder.

The fatal blaze occurred Wednesday night after the Abner twins left their three children alone in their home. The parents were allegedly visiting a home several blocks away. Firefighters located the children around 8:00 PM and reported finding an open oven. The oven is suspected to be the cause of the blaze, according to the fire marshal's preliminary report. Two of the children were in the hallway while one was in the bedroom. Firefighters removed the children from the home and took them to Atmore Community Hospital, where they all died from smoke inhalation and burns.

After investigating the fire and its cause, the fire marshal arrested the mothers on Monday. The Abner twins are currently held while they await trial for the three counts of murder. At their hearing today, bail was set at $300,000 each. It's unlikely this amount will be met, so the sisters will probably remain in custody.

The Abner twins are eighteen years old, and accordingly will be tried as adults rather than as juveniles. The Alabama Penal Code states that murder occurring as a result of arson is a capital offense, which means the state of Alabama could ask juries to consider the death penalty for the twins if they are convicted.

The district attorney's office hasn't released any statement regarding whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty at this point. If the state doesn't choose to pursue the death penalty, the twins still face the possibility of three life sentences, as they are each charged with three separate counts of reckless murder.

The charge is reckless murder rather than the less severe manslaughter because district attorney Steve Billy believes the twins showed "grave indifference" toward their children's lives. The children's funerals were held this past Thursday.

It remains unclear whether evidence suggests the twins deliberately meant to kill their three children, but the charges of reckless murder indicate that will be prosecutors' argument.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Amanda Knox Acquittal

The Amanda Knox Acquittal
Elaine Hirsch

Amanda Knox is an American woman arrested and later convicted of slander, murder, and sexual assault in Italy in 2007. The story made headlines when it first broke, but died down after the trial. It resurfaced after two of her sentences were overturned in 2011. A number of debates among PhDs and other experts online have cropped up as people try to determine whether she actually committed sexual assault and murder.

The Knox family was jubilant when the new verdict was read. Knox spent four years in prison for a crime she says she didn't commit. The question many people want answered is why the conviction was overturned. There are many variables, but the most central reason is the questionable physical evidence presented in court.

Amanda Knox and two others were convicted of the murder of Knox's roommate, Meredith Kercher, based on testimony and physical evidence. Knox claimed she was not at the flat when Kercher was attacked. She said she was with her boyfriend, Raffaele Sallecito, who was also convicted of murder and sexual assault in this case. However, Knox had incriminated herself when she lied to police during an initial interrogation, stating that another man had committed the murder.

Knox first said she wasn't there but then said she knew who the killer was. She was either in the apartment when it happened or she didn't actually see the murder. In other words, she lied in either case. That led to greater suspicion by police. She later stated she lied because she'd been under stiff questioning for well over forty hours and wasn't thinking straight. She also claims to have been struck on the head during the interrogation.

The key piece of evidence against Knox for the slaying was a knife bearing Knox’s fingerprints. Police claimed that particular knife must have been the murder weapon, though the fingerprint was the only thing found on the knife. Though prosecutors presented the knife as the murder weapon, it had no blood on it. Though it seemed to be simply a knife Knox had used at some point in the apartment, the prosecution presented DNA evidence to play up its role as a murder weapon.

The decision to overturn the conviction was finalized by the testimony of experts who said this evidence was contaminated when it was handled by police. Police also admitted they made the decision that Knox was guilty because of her demeanor at the scene after the body was found. There were simply too many discrepancies in the case which caused enough doubt to overturn Knox's conviction, as well as Sallecito’s.

Amanda Knox has returned to the United States, hoping to resume her life after four years imprisoned in Italy. She has been offered a million-dollar movie deal for her story, but has made it clear that the most important thing to her at the moment is spending time with a family from which she has been separated for far too long. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Tips On How To Report A Loved One Who Has Gone Missing

Tips On How To Report A Loved One Who Has Gone Missing
By Marie Owens

You’ve checked at all their friend’s houses. Nobody has answered the phone or was able to tell you where your child is. You’re praying that your child will be home soon just so that you can simply be angry with them for being two hours late; rather that than face the alternative of them being kidnapped. Then, before you know it, the two hours worth of time progresses into three hours, and then time starts to tick slowly forward. By the time it is 10 p.m. and you don’t know where your child is you may be ready to pick up the phone and dial 911, which could be wise idea at this point. It is important that you never go to bed without knowing where your children are.

So many people think that they would never experience the horrific feeling of losing a child. You may even agree with that statement. After all, you live in a safe neighborhood, you’ve taken all the necessary precautions, and your child would never talk to strangers, right? Unfortunately, even in the best of situations, child abductions do happen and they can happen to anyone. Even having a criminal justice degree or have a job at the local police station, can't prevent this horrific crime from occurring. It could even happen to your child. Each year, 2,185 children are filed as missing. Additionally 797,000 children, all under the age of 18, are abducted. However, only about 58,000 of these children were kidnapped by strangers. Yet this does not mean that you should not teach your children the basic principles of the dangers of conversing with strangers.

Kidnapping isn’t just child’s play, though; adults can and have also been kidnapped. In fact,  CNN reports about 50,000 adults are kidnapped each year. Thus, if someone you love has been the victim of a kidnapping, how can you report it and what information is relevant while reporting a missing loved one?

One of the most frequently asked questions about child abductions is how long a person should wait before they file a missing persons report. The answer lies in many different places, and across all different time spans. Reporting your child missing ultimately depends on the situation at hand. However, according to Nanny McBride, who is the National Safety Director and runs the center for Missing and Exploited Children, “If someone is going to harm a child, they usually will do it in about the first three hours of the abduction.” That means you should report your child as soon as you know something is wrong or if you have a strong sense that something has happened.

When you’re certain that any sort of abduction or foul play has occurred, be sure to call the police immediately. In fact, you should bypass calling your local police number and simply dial 911. If you witness what you think is a child abduction, call 911 immediately as well. Other resources you can use to report a missing child include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Their phone number is toll free and they can be reached at 1-800-The-Lost.

Many parents also use another resource: the Amber alert system. This system allows adults to broadcast information across town. An Amber alert is defined as a “child abduction emergency,” when there is fear of immediate harm to a child and the child’s life may be in danger. Whether or not one will be used for your child will vary case to case. If you want to use one, speak with your local police department about whether it would be the right option for you.

In order to compile a proper report, it is important to keep these tips in mind:

I.     Always have a basic description of the child ready and a picture of the child available for local police to view. For example: “he’s 5 feet 2 inches tall, he has blond hair, and he was last seen wearing a blue t-shirt with a baseball cap that said ‘International Rescue.’” If you were not there that morning or you cannot remember what the child was wearing the morning of the abduction, ask someone to provide you with a recent description of what the victim was wearing. Police experts recommend photographing anyone older the age of two at least once a year. Infants under two, they say, should be photographed at least four times a year.

II.   Know where you saw the child last. Or, if possible, know where the scene of abduction was, as police will be able to get the most information from that scene.  For example: “I last saw John Smith at 7:30 this morning when I dropped him up for school. He went to a friends’ house after school, Jane Doe, and now I can’t find him anywhere.”

III.  If the child has any sort of photo identification card, make sure to give that to the police. Also other proper forms of identification such as the child’s birth certificate or a social security number tare very useful.

IV.  If your child has any identifying marks, be sure to give this information to the police. If possible, have a complete medical history ready to give to police as well.

V.    Lastly, most police officials recommend having your child fingerprinted.

Knowing this information can assist the police in bringing your child home safely.

It is also important to know how to report an adult loved one who is missing. Often, adults don’t get reported missing until the 72 hour mark has passed. This myth has been around for ages, but as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police reports, there is no “mandatory” missing time for any adult. However, if you can prove that foul play is involved in an adult’s missing police report, you should report that immediately.

It is important to note that not all adults are kidnapped by someone who is intending to harm them. There are many reasons why adults may disappear, which range from chemical dependency issues to marital discord, and surpass thousands of other reasons as well. On occasion, police will not search for a person until after the 72 hour mark, but the report should be made as soon as possible.

The information that should be given to the police for a missing adult is very much the same as the information that should be given to the police for a missing child. Proper photo identification, whether it is a state ID or a driver’s ID. It may also be wise to have the adult fingerprinted in the event that they go missing.

While it's important to read up on how to report someone missing, it's also important to stay well informed on how to prevent someone from being kidnapped as well. Following safety precautions is essential to preventing yourself or someone you love being abducted. It is wise to gather your pictures or any identifying information about your children or loved one and always try to keep track of where your children are at all times. Following through with these steps will help you be able to make an accurate report in the event that you have to.

Monday, August 22, 2011

missing persons investigation is now being treated as a homicide

Bill and Kay wood have been missing for nearly 3 weeks. Their home was burned to the ground and there wasn't much for investigators to go on, until the autopsy report was released Friday morning.

After weeks of searching and countless unanswered questions, family members finally have some answers.

“We are, I believe making progress on the case,” said Agent Mike Motsinger with the Division of Criminal Investigation.

But it’s not the progress the Wood family had hoped for. The body found in the remains of Bill and Kay’s home has been identified as 79-year old Bill Wood. The cause of death is multiple gun shot wounds.

The shooting death changes the investigation for police, from a missing person to a homicide.

"Whenever u have a case like this more than likely the person had some type of association with the woods they knew this person. Is there a person running around shooting people and setting fires to houses? No,” said Motsinger.

But other than a few tangible leads, investigators still have more questions than answers.

“What theory do we have? There could be several theories. There could be one person responsible, there could be two, we just don't now, At this point we are keeping any option open and following up on the leads as they come in,” said Motsinger.

What they do know: 72 years old Kay Wood is still missing. Investigators say they are keeping all of their options open, all except the possibility she was also in the fire.

“My understanding is it has to burn very hot for a very long time to totally consume a body,” said Motsinger.

So now the search continues. And family members say as difficult as this news has been, they won't give up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Police search for missing schizophrenic patients

Police search for missing schizophrenic patients
Chicago police this evening were searching for two missing schizophrenic adults who are without their medication in separate missing persons cases.

Efrem Lewis, 49, was last seen Saturday in the 11600 block of South Yale Avenue, according to a community alert.

He is described as an African-American man, is about 6-foot-2-inches tall and weighing about 235 pounds, police said. Lewis has brown eyes and graying black hair.

Police are also looking for Colleen Donahue, 51. Friends of the missing woman told police that she may have been traveling to Minnesota to visit her parents, but her parents said they hadn't seen her, according to the alert.

She is described as a white woman, about 5-foot-3-inches tall and weighing about 188 pounds. She has brown eyes and blond hair and was last seen in the 2000 block of North Clark Street.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

US Tourist Disappears in Aruba

Authorities Question Man After Maryland Woman Disappears in Aruba

A Maryland woman vacationing in Aruba has disappeared from the same resort town where Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway was last seen six years ago.

Robyn Gardner, 35, of Frederick, Md., disappeared Aug. 2 from the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino in Oranjestad, reports.

Gardner was visiting the island with a man named Gary Giordano, whom authorities have since detained for questioning, according to the station.

Giordano told investigators that Gardner never made it back to shore after the pair went snorkeling, and has allegedly changed his story several times, the station reports.

Gardner's boyfriend, Richard Forester, said he doesn't believe Giordano's account and pleaded for the public to help find her.

"I want to let people know this is going on," Forester told the station. "She's been missing six days, and every day she's gone raises fear that she won't be coming back."

Gardner's case comes six years after 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared in May 2005 during a high school senior trip to the island. Her body has never been found.

Gardner is described as 5-foot-5, weighing 120 pounds, with blond hair and brown eyes. She has tattoos on her left arm, rib cage, and right bicep.

Anyone with information on her whereabouts is being urged to contact Fred Panneflek with the Aruban authorities at 011-297-597-5201.

Click here for more on the disappearance of Robyn Gardner from
Robyn Gardner

After 27 Years, a Break in Murder Case

UPDATE: Former Foothill High Student Arrested in Slaying of Tina Faelz
A former Pleasanton resident has been arrested in the killing of Tina Faelz, a 14-year-old who was stabbed to death while she was walking home from Foothill High School in 1984.
By Tanya Rose and David Mills

PLEASANTON, CALIF. — The Pleasanton Police Department announced Monday morning that a former classmate of Foothill High student Tina Faelz has been arrested in her killing — 27 years later.
Police said at a press conference that a 43-year-old former Pleasanton resident with an "extensive criminal history" was arrested Sunday in Santa Cruz.
The man, whom police didn't want to name until the case is cleared through the juvenile court system, is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon.
According to the Alameda County Inmate Locator, a man named Steven J. Carlson, 43, was arrested in Santa Cruz on Sunday on a murder charge. A Santa Cruz sheriff's spokesman told Patch on Monday that Pleasanton police picked up Carlson from their jail on Sunday.
Several former classmates of Faelz report going to Foothill High School with a youth named Steve Carlson.
Faelz, 14, was stabbed to death in a culvert that once crossed beneath Interstate 680 on April 5, 1984, while she was walking home from school about 2:30 p.m. Fellow students discovered her body shortly afterward.
Pleasanton police said the suspect was in custody on unrelated drug charges and was about to be released when he was arrested. New biological evidence discovered in October 2010, coupled with fresh police interviews, led to the arrest.
Police said the suspect, who at one point had been a person of interest in the investigation, did not seem surprised by the arrest.
According to Santa Cruz authorities, Carlson has been arrested multiple times in Santa Cruz County on nonviolent offenses and most recently had been in jail for six months on charges including possession of methamphetamines and being under the influence of alcohol and opiates. He is registered as a sex offender in the Megan's Law database for lewd acts with a child under the age of 14.
Pleasanton police detective Keith Batt told Patch a motive has been identified, but he wouldn't say what it was.
He said the killing was not random and Faelz was the killer's intended victim. He said the suspect and Faelz had contact before the murder, but he would not elaborate.
Batt said the suspect lived close to the path on which Faelz was killed, a popular shortcut that passed east of the school underneath the freeway to the Valley Trails neighborhood. He said it would have been easy for the suspect to know which students used that route to walk home. (For a map showing the school area, click here.)
"He had a clear opportunity to commit a crime," said Batt.
Monday's news that the suspect walked the halls of Foothill High has shaken former students.
"That absolutely shocks me. It really shocks me" said Tony Trifiletti, 42, who was a sophomore at Foothill at the time of the slaying. "That means we went to school with him for the rest of the year. I'd know him for sure."
Faelz was one of four young girls killed in Alameda County during a one-year period from December 1983 to November 1984, according to online news reports, raising fears that a serial killer was on the loose.
"This made the people of Pleasanton look at the world very differently," Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller said Monday at a news conference. 
Trifiletti, now a Livermore resident, vividly recalls the creek and the concrete tunnel near Lemonwood Way that throngs of teens used daily to cut under the freeway on their route to and from school.
"I used to walk through that same tunnel. It was a huge shortcut for everybody. Back then, kids walked everywhere. And all the kids would walk through that to save time," he said.
After the slaying, a new uneasiness enveloped the culvert area, which has since been developed into a housing community. The culvert is no longer there.
"Everybody kind of walked through it as a group after that," Trifiletti said. "The murder was shocking to everybody. And everybody wondered who did it," he said.
A Longtime Mystery
Throughout the years police investigated lead after lead in the Faelz case, looking at everyone from two imprisoned murderers convicted in the killings of two other East Bay girls, a San Leandro resident and a San Lorenzo resident, to fellow Foothill students, as Faelz apparently had experienced some bullying.
In late 2007 they again reviewed the physical evidence that was
collected in 1984, taking into consideration strides in DNA technology that might not have been available at the time of the murder. Items were submitted to two different laboratories for evaluation.
Last October, the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., provided information to Pleasanton police that led to the suspect's identification, and police began re-interviewing witnesses.
Pleasanton Police Capt. Craig Eicher was a senior at Foothill High at the time of the killing.
He said he didn't know the suspect or victim, but that the slaying certainly sent a chill through the campus and the town.
"The case created a void in the community," said Eicher.
He said he's relieved it has been solved.
"Today is a very good day for the community," said Eicher.
Lt. Jim Knox was a 20-year-old Explorer for Pleasanton Police when Faelz was killed. He went to the crime scene, described in various newspaper reports as extremely bloody, that day.
"It means a lot to me personally, not only because the case has been solved but because I was at the scene that day," said Knox. "To have the opportunity to solve the case and then being able to deliver the news to (the victim's) mother creates a lot of joy for me."
Patch will continue updating this story today and throughout the week.
Click here to read Tuesday's follow-up story.
Sign up for our free daily newsletter by clicking the link at the bottom of the home page or "like" ourFacebook page for the latest news.
Patch freelance writers Susan Schena and Corrine Speckert contributed to this report.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Maryland Murder-Suicide

Maryland Murder-Suicide: Police Say Kelly Brian Thompson Killed Family, Self

BROOKLYN PARK, Md. — The mother of a man police say shot his wife, her twin teenage children and himself to death called police after receiving a disturbing text message from him and feared for their safety, authorities said on Sunday.
As officers arrived at the home in a neighborhood south of Baltimore to check on the family, they heard a single gunshot. Anne Arundel County Police investigators said 33-year-old Kelly Brian Thompson killed Nina Thompson, 34, and her 15-year-old children, Taishawn Pugh and Treshawn Pugh at the home.
The single shot officers heard was Kelly Thompson killing himself, said Lt. J.D. Batten.
The despondent tone of the text message made the man's mother concerned for her son's well-being and his family's safety, Batten said.
Residents of Brooklyn Park, a neighborhood of brick townhouses, gathered on their porches and yards to discuss the morning shooting, noting that times might be tough, but they couldn't believe that the man they had met would harm his family. Kelly Thompson was not the biological father of the twin boy and girl.
Jody Eckmeyer says that Kelly Thompson was a truck driver, had a good sense of humor and often visited with neighbors. Nina Thompson was a nurse and the twins often spent time hanging out with friends on the porch and stayed out of trouble, she said.
"They were very well-respected," Eckmeyer said.
Another neighbor, Thomas Slade, said Kelly Thompson rode a Suzuki motorcycle. He would often come over to Slade's garage to have a couple of beers and work on his motorcycle while Slade worked on his Harley-Davidson.
"We were good friends, but we didn't ride together," he said. Slade never heard him talk about problems at home but he had recently mentioned that he had landed a new job with a trucking firm.

Friday, August 5, 2011

What the 'Voices' Told Him to Do

Levi Aron, Suspect In Death Of 8-Year-Old Leiby Kletzky, Deemed Competent To Stand Trial

NEW YORK — The man accused in the kidnapping and dismemberment killing of an 8-year-old New York City boy told detectives his victim put up a struggle and that afterward he was hearing voices telling him "to take his own life for what he did," according to court papers made public Thursday.
Police say Levi Aron made the remarks last month around the time he directed them to a trash bin where he dumped a red suitcase containing body parts. As the interrogation wore on, Aron told them, "I'm famous," the papers say.
The 35-year-old defendant also was asked if he knew anything about past sex crimes against children. The papers say he recounted how a man groped him on a subway train when he was a teenager.
"But I never did that to a child because I don't swing that way," he said.
The alleged statements, including a written confession, were turned over to the defense on Thursday at an arraignment where Aron pleaded not guilty. His lawyers also learned that a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation had found him competent to stand trial.
The lawyers – who claim Aron has complained of hearing voices – said they still plan to conduct their own exams to determine whether to pursue an insanity defense.
Outraged members of the victim's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community "should allow the judicial process to take its course," one of the attorneys, Pierre Bazile, said outside court.
Bazile entered the not guilty plea for his Jewish client, who did not speak at a brief arraignment in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The defendant appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him.
"Now that Mr. Aron has been found fit to proceed we will move forward expeditiously to bring his case to trial," District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a statement. "I want to reaffirm that this case will go to trial and that there are absolutely no circumstances which would lead me to accept a plea bargain."
Leiby Kletzky got lost on his walk home from a religious day camp on July 11 and asked Aron, whom he met on the street, for help, prosecutors said. It was the first time the little boy was allowed to walk alone, and he was supposed to travel about seven blocks to meet his mother but missed a turn.
The boy first asked for a ride to a book store. But "on the way, he changed his mind and wasn't sure he wanted to go," Aron wrote in his confession, according to the court papers.
The defendant, a hardware supply store clerk, described his decision to take the boy to a wedding upstate. He said when they returned, they watched television before the boy fell asleep. He remained there the next day while Aron went to work.
By that time, the disappearance had sparked a major search effort in his insular community in Borough Park. The boy's picture was plastered on light posts around the area.
"When I saw the fliers, I was panicky and afraid," police say Aron wrote. Once home, he added: "I went for a towel to smother him. He fought back a little until he eventually stopped breathing."
The detectives' notes also outline alleged statement by Aron about how he carved up the body with knives and disposed of body parts, including the severed feet found wrapped in plastic his freezer. A cutting board and three bloody carving knives were found in the refrigerator.
The rest of the boy's body was discovered in bags inside a red suitcase in a trash bin. His legs had been cut from his torso.
Despite the alleged confession, police and prosecutors say they are continuing to work on verifying Aron's horrific and bizarre explanation for the boy's death. It remains unclear why Aron would have taken the child in the first place.
The medical examiner's office said the boy was given a cocktail of prescription drugs. But Aron's confession didn't mention that, and he denied ever tying up the boy.
The suspect was asked if he wanted a kosher meal. "No, I'll eat anything," he replied, according to the documents. They considered McDonald's before settling on Chinese food.
Before the arraignment, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind told reporters that the victim's family and community were still coming to grips with the gruesome slaying.
"The idea of an insanity defense is just not acceptable," Hikind said. "He planned and plotted this entire horror that he committed."
A pretrial hearing was set for Oct. 14.

Jail Deputy Accused Of Creating 'Orgy'-Like Atmosphere At Women's Prison

Mason Chibnick, Jail Deputy, Accused Of Creating 'Orgy'-Like Atmosphere At Fla. Women's Prison

A Florida corrections officer didn't just lust for power, he used his power for lust, according to former co-workers and inmates under his watch.
A Pompano detention center took on an "orgy"-like atmosphere with female inmates dancing topless and performing sex acts on one another as deputy Mason Chibnick looked on, The Orlando Sentinelreported. Games of "Truth or Dare" were common when Chibnick was on duty. Accusers said he had sex with one inmate.
Chibnick, who's been transferred to work in a men's jail, also allegedly sent a picture of his penis to a former inmate's sister and was seen with an inmate entering a closet, the paper reported.
The allegations sparked an investigation that concluded he broke the code of ethics. He was given a counseling slip that outlined department policies, but has faced no other discipline.
Five colleagues testified against him, along with four inmates, although two other prisoners defended him, The Sentinel reported.
Chibnick asked for a transfer in April, because he didn't feel "comfortable" working with female inmates, according to the Orlando paper. He closed his Facebook account, which he'd allegedly used to track down ex-inmates, but didn't share his cellphone records with investigators who were exploring charges he'd sent an explicit picture to an inmate's sister.
Officials from the Broward County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to repeated inquiries from The Huffington Post.

Earlier in the year, AOL Weird New reported on another Florida prison guard who was also found in violation of ethics guidelines (as well as the law). Master corrections officer Joseph Jones, 31, was accused of trying to smuggle drugs into a Marion County jail inside of a hoagie.