Archive: May 2009

Suspect in custody in Tiller case 5/31/09

A suspect has been arrested for shooting Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas earlier today (see previous post).

I’ve been asked for reaction to today’s events, so I’ll give that here, but it has to be on two levels:  legal and emotional. First, the legal:  as an attorney who believes in the rule of law, the shooter must be held accountable under the law for his actions, and I would never advise anyone who believes that abortion should be illegal to attempt to effectuate that belief in the manner that this individual chose.  Now for my emotional reaction:  I can feel sorry for Tiller’s family, but how sorry can I really feel for Tiller himself, a guy who seemed to take pride in the number of Americans who aren’t here today because he prevented them from ever being born?  When I think back on my own brushes with Tiller, from helping Bill O’Reilly to expose Tiller’s bogus mental health excuses for performing late-term abortions, to testifying (twice) before Kansas legislators about how the law here in Kansas should be tightened to prevent what he was doing (there’s a photo of that among the photos archived on this site), to representing a key figure in the scandal that toppled the attorney general here in Kansas in 2008 after a bitter electoral battle over whether to charge Tiller criminally, to representing that same client in the unsuccessful criminal case that ultimately was filed against Tiller (there’s also a photo of that among the photos archived on this site), all the way up to today, it’s hard to believe that it’s over.  What puzzles me most about today’s events is probably the fact that Tiller did what he did for a living while apparently attending a Christian church.  It would’ve been fascinating to hear how he reconciled those seemingly irreconcilable activities.  As I said in a previous post, far be it from me to speculate about what happens after death to people who certainly possessed the intellect to know better yet chose to harm others in this life for self-gratification or self-enrichment impenitently, but whatever it is, I believe Tiller found out today.

Weekend update 5/31/09

Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, known as “the baby killer,” is dead.  I’ve been involved with the O’Reilly Factor’s coverage of Tiller in recent years, and I represented a witness in Tiller’s criminal trial earlier this year, when he faced misdemeanor charges of performing late-term abortions without getting independent second opinions that the procedures were necessary, as required by Kansas law (he was acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, but his medical license has since been under review).  Initial reports are saying that Tiller was shot as he walked into church in Wichita, Kansas this morning by a white male aged 50’s-60’s who fled the scene.  No arrest and no other injuries have been reported.


There’s been another apparent family murder/suicide, this time in Oregon, where a father, apparently distraught over a recent divorce and finances, shot his two children and himself on a hiking trail.  This one looks like it falls into the delusional, “I’m going to escape this world to a better place with my kids,” category, which means there likely will have been signs that he was mentally-disturbed and shouldn’t have been allowed to have been alone in the woods with kids and a gun.


Study this: New research indicates that certain, but not all, anti-depressants seem to inhibit the effect of the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen, so if you’re taking Tamoxifen and an anti-depressant, you may want to discuss the latest findings in detail with your doctor.


Wrapping up the week 5/29/09

Friday’s Prime News was my 100th national show.  On it, we discussed a case in which a married Atlanta woman claims to have been abducted and raped — she says that she was out jogging when an acquaintance, also married, pulled up in a car, asked her to check out his new car, tied her into the car with ropes pre-attached to one of the seats, drove her to Tennessee, took her out of the car and into a rental cabin, tied her to a couch, raped her, ordered a pizza, and transacted business with the pizza delivery guy in plain view of the alleged victim, who asked the pizza delivery guy to call 911, which he did, which resulted in the cops showing up, for whom the alleged kidnapper and rapist readily opened the door, again with the alleged victim in plain view.  The guy’s now in custody, charged with rape and kidnapping, and the woman’s back home in Atlanta.  Whatever happened, props to the pizza delivery guy who did everything right.  Maybe it’s because we just covered an abduction hoax yesterday, but I have major questions about the rest of the story.  How did he know where she’d be jogging?  How did he pre-attach ropes to the seat of his car without having them be visible to anyone entering the car?  Why would someone who planned an elaborate kidnapping conduct business with a pizza delivery guy in plain view of a victim capable of calling for help?  As I said on t.v., I don’t want any female viewers or readers to misunderstand me here.  Any sex that happened when this woman had expressed unwillingness or was incapacitated was rape.  The question in my mind is, if she became an unwilling participant at some point, when was that, and what happened after that?  This guy may be a kidnapper and a rapist.  On the other hand, this could be a case in which the woman decided after the fact that she wished she hadn’t been a willing participant and so decided to claim that she had in fact not been a willing participant.  If it’s the former, the guy should go away forever.  If it’s the latter though, then the woman should be the one who’s prosecuted.


Wacky music producer Phil Spector, found guilty last month of murdering actress Lana Clarkson after two trials, has been sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.


There’s a new lawyer on the Casey Anthony defense team, a woman whose claim to fame is that she has secured life prison sentences for a number of defendants who’ve faced the death penalty, in part by making dramatic — tearful and tear-jerking — appeals to jurors’ sympathies.


Video posted on YouTube of a brutal beating that occurred in an Atlanta high school hallway last December has led to the arrest of the 15-year-old attacker.  If you’ve seen this video — in which the attacker knocks the victim to the ground, pummels the victim with punches, kicks the victim repeatedly, and then jumps, yes jumps, up and down on the victim — I think it warrants adult felony charges, aggravated battery at least and maybe even attempted murder.  This attacker behaved like a crazed animal, but he wasn’t crazed — he planned it out with a couple of friends who recorded it on a cell phone camera and then posted it on YouTube.  That’s a dangerous individual ladies and gentlemen, an individual who’s likely to get more and more dangerous unless the punishment that he receives is severe enough to incentivize him to restrain himself in the future.  But he’s not the only one who needs to be punished here.  The “friends” should be charged with conspiracy to commit the crime(s) charged against the attacker.  In addition, the victim’s parents should sue the school (I’d be happy to hear from them) — there is no way in the world that what happened to their son should have been able to happen in a school hallway!  Now, when we’re talking about adult college students, I don’t believe in the doctrine of “in loco parentis” — the idea that school officials have a quasi-parental duty to look out for students outside of the classroom, e.g. report underage drinking to a student’s actual parents (and I’d advise colleges not to “open the door” to that argument, as I think the University of Kansas has done by announcing that it will start notifying students’ parents of their adult students’ underage drinking following a recent alcohol-poisoning death in which there apparently was a history of underage drinking incidents).  But when we’re talking about minors at elementary, middle, and high schools, school officials are absolutely “in loco parentis” and as such, responsible for making sure that students are not assaulted and battered in their schools!

And then there’s this:  “P-Harmony”?  Guess how the Michigan woman who reportedly, knowingly, dated the sex offender who’s now a “person of interest” in her little daughter’s disappearance apparently met him?  They apparently shared the same…parole officer.  That’s what I mean by “P-Harmony” — what better place to find a compatible mate than at the parole office?  Unbelievable!

I don’t like to see people suffer financially, but I actually think that what’s happening in California could be good for that state and for the country.  The state is beyond bankrupt, and its citizens are finally having to make some tough choices about what they really want their government to do for them.  So far, they don’t want to raise taxes on themselves, so they’re actually having to consider whether to let people out of prisons, lay off state workers, close state parks, cut public assistance benefits, etc.  Good, it’s about time, just ass backwards.  Governments should make a list of priorities, and when the money runs out, that’s it, nothing else gets funded.  If California (and the United States) had done that in the first place, it wouldn’t be in unbearable debt right now.

Finally tonight, as both a lawyer and a psychologist, I have to say that Republicans are missing the boat on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.  Some are calling her a “racist” because she once said that, as a Latina, she thought she could make a better decision than a Caucasian man.  Whether she’s a “racist” or not – and I’d need to hear a lot more racially-charged comments from her before I’d conclude that – misses the point, and the point is this:  The job of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret federal law, and that should be a purely intellectual exercise, completely devoid of an emotional component.  In fact, given the difficulty experienced by human beings in attempting to detach themselves from their own emotions and from the emotions of others around them, the best Supreme Court justice would be a robot, but we’re nowhere close to developing that kind of intelligence artificially (and the Constitution requires a human being).  So, we all should evaluate Supreme Court nominees based on their apparent abilities to divorce reason from emotion and to make decisions that are as purely intellectual as is humanly possible.  A nominee’s race and gender and “compelling life story” would be relevant qualifications only if the job required empathy, and in the days since Sotomayor was nominated, supporters of her nomination, from the President on down, have repeatedly noted “empathy” among her eminent qualifications.  That’s the problem, the “boat” that Republicans are missing as they get caught up in largely-gratuitous dockside discussion about whether she’s a “racist.”  The job does not require empathy.  It requires the opposite of empathy – detachment – that decisions be made with regard to the emotions of neither the justice nor the parties involved.  Supreme Court justices can express empathy toward litigants during oral arguments before the Court and in explaining decisions that will be profoundly disappointing to the losing litigants (as Justice Samuel Alito indicated during his confirmation hearings), but when it comes to actually making decisions, empathy should play no role whatsoever.  Any nominee, therefore, who believes that her race and gender will somehow enhance her ability to make decisions as a Supreme Court justice is sub-optimally qualified for the position, not because she’s a “racist,” but because she fundamentally misunderstands the job.


Have a great weekend!


Body neither Peterson nor Stebic 5/28/09

The body found in an Illinois river last week has been determined to be neither Stacy Peterson nor Lisa Stebic, so those mysteries continue!  (The body has been determined to be that of an as-yet-unidentified man.)


You heard it here first! 5/28/09

You heard it here first — the reported abduction of a Philadelphia woman and her nine-year-old daughter from the scene of a car accident was a hoax!  After calling police and claiming to be in the trunk of the kidnappers’ car, surveillance cameras at the Philadelphia airport captured mother and daughter boarding a flight to Florida.  The FBI caught up with them at, of all places, Disney World.  The daughter was unharmed and is on her way to her father’s home.  The mother, on the other hand, is on her way to the slammer back in Philadelphia, where she currently faces charges of filing a false report and identity theft, but additional charges are expected because she also allegedly absconded with $300,000 of her employer’s money.  (And by the way, I’ve gotten upset with media outlets like the Kansas City Star for putting political correctness above public safety in not publishing/broadcasting full descriptions — including the races — of potentially dangerous fugitives at large on the streets.  Well, I want people to know that I’m also upset when someone like this woman, or Susan Smith — the woman who drowned her two children years ago but claimed initially that they’d been abducted — falsely report that people of a particular race were involved in crimes.)

Another child abduction case isn’t looking as good for the missing child and also involves heinous behavior on her mother’s part.  The five-year-old girl was taken Sunday night from the street in front of her home where she was playing, apparently unsupervised.  She remains missing, but there’s a “person of interest” in custody, a registered sex offender, who’s also…a “friend” (some news outlets are reporting “boyfriend”) of the little girl’s mother!  A search of the motel room where this guy had been staying reportedly yielded, among other foreboding evidence, a blade with human blood on it, a bloody pair of shorts, and some suspicious hairs.  Of course I never want to give up hope that a missing child could still be alive, but you can see why I’m saying it’s not looking good here.  And if you’re a regular reader or viewer, I don’t even have to tell you what I think of the low-life mother (if you’re not a regular reader or viewer, you won’t have to look very far back in the archives to find out what I think of parents who put their children at risk).


Strange abduction case in Philadelphia 5/27/09

There’s been a report of a strange mother/daughter abduction in Philadelphia.  The story goes like this:  A mother calls police to report that she’s been rear-ended at an intersection.  The police arrive, and no one is there.  The mother calls again to report that two black men had gotten out of the other vehicle involved in the collision, a Cadillac, forced her and her nine-year-old daughter into the trunk, and took off with them.  The mother’s vehicle has been found abandoned, and a Cadillac with front-end damage has been found, also abandoned, in the area from which the mother’s second call originated.  Now there have been cases in which robbers and rapists have used rear-ending as a way to get victims to pull off of the road and get out of their cars in isolated, low-traffic areas, usually at night (Lesson:  If you get rear-ended, summon the police, and then stop/exit the vehicle only when/where it’s safe to do so).  But this reportedly happened in broad daylight in a relatively well-traveled area.  The police and FBI are proceeding, as they should, under the assumptions that the mother and daughter are kidnapping victims and hostages and that the clock is ticking on their safe recovery.  That could be exactly the case, but something about this seems like it could be a little too strange.  Some media outlets have referenced “inconsistencies” in the mother’s reports, which authorities have yet to confirm.  Also, it sounds like the mother has at least two other kids with a different father or fathers, and as you know, when I see stuff like that in a case like this, I wonder whether the cast of characters in the current drama may be the same cast from a past drama.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that there’s more to this story, but I certainly could be wrong, and either way, the little girl’s not responsible for any of it, so locating her is the top priority.

Recapping the weekend 5/26/09

Lots happened over the Memorial Day weekend.  Here’s a rundown:

The Minnesota boy whose mother fled with him after a judge ordered him to receive chemotherapy is back home.  After a week on the run amid constant news reports of a nationwide manhunt for them, the mother decided to bring him back voluntarily.  His parents have agreed to cooperate with the chemotherapy, and he’ll therefore stay in his parents’ custody, at least for now.  Fine, the child’s health is the most important thing, but charges against the mother have been dropped, and I totally disagree with that.  We can’t be allowing people to take off with children, do nothing to those people when they’re caught, and then expect fewer people to take off with children.

Also, the shooter in an attempted school shooting in Louisiana last week reportedly invoked the name of “musician” Marilyn Manson, whose “music,” if you can call it that, is about as vile as it gets.  The 15-year-old shooter apparently brought his father’s gun to school, fired one shot at a teacher but missed, then went into a bathroom and shot himself dead.  Writings found and interviews conducted after the fact reportedly indicate that he had planned to shoot some other students in addition to the teacher and that the teacher was targeted because she was non-complimentary of Manson.  Of course it’s very sad — this kid apparently had some serious mental problems, and I do feel for his family — but here comes the part that will make some people bristle:  Parents, if your child enjoys listening to Marilyn Manson, draws anarchist symbols on his school work, and is particularly enamored with the KKK and Hitler, as the Louisiana shooter reportedly did/was, you have a crisis on your hands in my opinion.  As I see it, your kid is alarmingly weird at best and quite possibly psychologically disturbed.  I recommend that you have his/her mental situation evaluated and carefully monitored and that you absolutely NOT give him/her access to a gun.  I know, some will say I’m horrible for “blaming the parents,” but as usual, there are lessons to be learned here that could save future lives, so I can’t really worry about people’s sensitivities.

And here’s another one that some aren’t going to like for much the same reasons.  An 18-year-old who was on a cruise with his family and friends to celebrate his high school graduation “fell overboard” this weekend, and a massive Coast Guard search is underway for him.  First of all, it’s very sad, I feel bad for him and his family, and I hope he’s found alive.  Secondly though (this is the part that some won’t like), people don’t just fall overboard from cruise ships.  If they didn’t intend to go overboard (i.e. commit suicide), of which there’s no indication in this case, and if they weren’t pushed or thrown overboard (i.e. foul play), of which there’s also no indication in this case, then they generally did something stupid (i.e. alcohol was almost certainly involved).  Let’s not let our sympathy for the man overboard and his family cause us to gloss over the reason why it happened.  A high school student once told me that he had been in Mexico during spring break when another 18-year-old got drunk, tried to climb from one hotel balcony to another, and fell to his death, also with his parents present (not in either of the hotel rooms at the time, but on the premises).  When classes resumed at their school after spring break, teachers discussed the incident in class, and I was shocked to hear that they allowed students to talk only about what a great kid the deceased had been and how much he would be missed.  The student who related the story to me had actually been threatened with discipline by a teacher when he tried to interject the fact that the deceased would not have been deceased had he not gotten incredibly intoxicated and behaved in an incredibly risky manner.  I was appalled by the teacher’s behavior in that case because, once again, the only good to come out of these things generally are lessons that might save lives in the future.

Some kind of a pop-bottle bomb went off in the middle of the night outside a New York Starbucks over the weekend.  No one was hurt, but windows were damaged.  Two teenagers were seen fleeing the scene.  Given that and the timing of the explosion, this looks more like mischief than terrorism at this point, but it could certainly be terrorism of the type that we’ve seen in Colorado and California and elsewhere, in which the perpetrators have attacked corporate institutions (e.g. ski resorts, Hummer dealerships) that they believe harm the environment, etc.  When the perpetrators are caught, the strongest possible case against them should be made — none of this “let’s not ruin the lives of teenagers” crap.  It’s like the case of the mom who fled Minnesota with her cancer-stricken son — we can’t go soft on these people and then expect fewer such incidents to happen.

Then there’s this:  Remember “Clark Rockefeller,” the con man who’s not really a Rockefeller at all, who allegedly kidnapped his daughter during a supervised visit last summer?  Well, jury selection in his trial began today, and an insanity defense is expected.  What?  Remember this case?  Remember all of the planning and evasion that took place before father and daughter were found?  I don’t see any possible way for this creep’s lawyer to convince a jury that his client was incapable of knowing what he was doing.  I also don’t see any way to really convince a jury that the guy was incapable of knowing it was wrong.  (Keep in mind, it doesn’t matter if the guy thought it was “right” to take the girl, like if he thinks that divorced fathers should always get full custody of their kids — what matters is whether he was capable of knowing that it was wrong by society’s standards, i.e. that it was illegal, “consciousness of guilt,” which an elaborate attempt to evade authorities clearly proves.

It’s been a while since we’ve had an O.J. update:  O.J. Simpson is appealing his convictions and sentence in connection with that 2007 hold-up in Nevada which landed him in prison in 2008 for what’s supposed to be the next several years at least.  He’s alleging that errors were made in the trial, and in the jury instructions, and in the sentencing, but I don’t expect to see him on the golf course anytime soon.

Lastly, former boxer Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter reportedly has died after her neck was trapped in a treadmill cord.  It’s very sad, and no matter how accidental, the guilt feelings that a parent might experience in such a case can be overwhelming, so I hope that Mr. Tyson particularly, given his erratic behavior in the past, has people looking out for him as he grieves.

OK, I think that brings us up to date, and I’ll be back on the cases, here and/or on t.v., as they develop the rest of the week.

Falling through the weekend 5/24/09

Ok, this really will (probably) be this weekend’s last update, but after the jumping suicide of South Korea’s former leader yesterday, there have been two more cases in which people have fallen from significant heights — these ones with help apparently.

In China, a man who was suicidal over finances perched himself on a major bridge and stopped traffic for five hours while contemplating jumping.  Well, another man who was apparently caught in the traffic jam got fed up with the situation and pushed the suicidal man off of the bridge.  The suicidal man landed on a partially-inflated safety cushion that cops were deploying below at the time, and he lived, although he apparently broke some bones.  The pusher reportedly was taken into custody and is claiming or believed to be mentally ill himself.

Here in the U.S., a mother has been arrested after her two children fell from a bridge over a river in Oregon.  Like the suicidal man in China, cops believe these children had help falling from the bridge — in this case, from the mother!  One child drowned, but the other, thankfully, was rescued.  Ironically, the mother was apprehended in a parking garage, and before being taken into custody, she reportedly threatened to jump from the ninth floor of the garage.  Was this woman distraught over finances like the Chinese man was?  Don’t think so (she drove an Audi by the way).  Was she guilt-ridden because the children had fallen accidentally from the bridge due to her poor supervision of them?  Don’t think so (the children were reported missing, by the way, not by her but by some people who live near the river and heard the children’s screams).  Was/is she psychotic?  Doubt it, but possible.  Sounds to me like this woman “falls” into the Anthony/Toribio category.

A weekend update, already 5/23/09

Well, we didn’t make it a full hour into the Memorial Day weekend before something happened that necessitates a weekend update.  The AP is reporting that the former president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, jumped to his death from a cliff.  He reportedly left a suicide note for his family, and while the contents of that note have not been made public, it’s widely assumed that his suicide is related to a corruption investigation.  Late last month, he was questioned about $6 million in potential bribes taken during his presidency.  The last jumping suicide that I wrote about here took place in China during last summer’s Olympics — a man killed an American tourist, who was also a family member of an American Olympic coach, and then jumped to his death from at tower in downtown Beijing.  At that time, I mentioned research indicating that people who commit suicide by jumping tend to be more psychotic than people who commit suicide by other means.  In this case, however, it sounds like Moo-hyun’s actions were calculated, deliberate, and rooted more in shame than psychosis.

Wrapping up the week 5/22/09 Lots to cover in this weekly wrap-up:

Those who’ve followed our Casey Anthony coverage and are still in disbelief that a mother could be selfish enough to kill her child so she could party need look no farther than the case of Tiffany Toribio.  Her three-year-old son was found dead a week ago, buried in the sand on a playground in New Mexico.  Cops spent the better part of this week trying to figure out who he was and how he got there, but as soon as I heard that a child was dead and no one had reported him missing, it was clear that one of his parents did it (shades of the Anthony case).  Well, the mother, 23-year-old Tiffany Toribio, is now in custody, and she reportedly has confessed to suffocating her son, changing her mind, reviving him with CPR, and then changing her mind again, suffocating him to death.  The motive isn’t 100% clear yet, but as details about Ms. Toribio come out, she sounds more and more like a selfish, irresponsible woman who was far more interested in partying than in parenting (again, shades of the Anthony case).

A Washington woman suffering from pancreatic cancer has become the first person to commit suicide with medical assistance under that state’s assisted suicide law.  While I hate to see anyone suffer, and I’m not opposed to the withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment, I’m against assisted suicide (the administration of death-hastening agents).  Here’s an illustration of why:  A clinic in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, is reportedly now assisting the depressed — yes, you read that correctly, depressed, not cancer-stricken, not on life-support, depressed — in committing suicide, having done so in at least one case.  The Swiss government is investigating that case because Swiss law requires that a patient suffer from a “terminal” illness, which depression certainly is not, to be eligible for suicide “assistance.”  If you’re interested in this topic, I last wrote about it back on 10/10/08, discussing an apparent lack of adequate mental competency screenings of patients seeking suicide “assistance” under that state’s assisted suicide law.  Basically, regardless of what patients want, I want to keep health care professionals in the healing business, not the killing business.  When I’m in charge, if a patient’s going to attempt to check out permanently, he or she will have to do it without involving a health care professional.

NFL player James Harrison’s toddler has reportedly been attacked by Harrison’s pit bull.  As I’ve written here before, I don’t understand why anyone would want to live under the same roof with a ticking time bomb, which is what I think pit bulls are, but exposing a child to that kind of danger should land Harrison in jail and get child protective services involved in determining whether remaining in Harrison’s custody is in the child’s best interests.  I hope the kid’s OK.

Remember Mary Kay Latourneau, the teacher who spent years in jail for having sex repeatedly with her very underage student but is now married to the student and the mother of his two children?  Well, guess what this classy couple’s doing now?  They’re reportedly hosting “Hot For Teacher” nights at a Seattle-area night club.  Mary Kay is apparently the m.c. while husband Vinnie is the d.j.

People have asked why I haven’t talked about the allegations of marital infidelity swirling around the namesakes of the reality show Jon & Kate Plus 8.  That’s easy.  They’re celebritrash, and I couldn’t care less about them.  I do care of course about the effects of selfish, celebritrashy adults’ behavior on their children, and I hope this will make it less likely that we’ll see a similar show starring Octomommy.

As the “Craigslist Killer” awaits trial in Boston and a man who used Craigslist to target women for rape here in Kansas was sentenced this week to 30 years in prison, Craigslist has announced that it will eliminate the “erotic services” category on its web site, which a number of states’ attorneys general have equated with facilitating prostitution.

As we wait to hear whether the body found in an Illinois river this week is that of Stacy Peterson, Drew Peterson’s fourth wife, prosecutors reportedly are making new allegations against Peterson in the death of his third wife.  They’re reportedly saying they have evidence that Peterson tried to hire a hit man to kill Kathleen Savio before she was found dead in her bathtub under mysterious circumstances.  If the judge in the case believes that, then the $20 million bail figure is more understandable.  In any case, the noose seems to be tightening around Peterson.

Lastly tonight, there’s a radio commercial running here in Kansas that I think is running nationally, sponsored by some federal health agency, about helping mentally-ill friends.  In the commercial, a woman tells a friend that she’s been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and the friend tries to cheer her up by asking her if she wants to go shopping.  A narrator then chastises the friend for apparently not being supportive enough, which I guess means that the friend was supposed to sit there and be an untrained therapist.  The commercial even claims that the bipolar woman will be “less likely to recover” because of the friends’ lack of support.  Personally, I think the commercial’s bogus.  Of course social support is helpful in recovery from virtually any illness, but let’s not make everyday people who don’t want to be armchair psychologists feel responsible for other people’s recoveries, or lack thereof, from mental illness.

Thanks for reading, have a great Memorial Day weekend, and please remember the men and women of the U.S. armed forces who’ve secured our freedom to do so!

Obama gets it wrong on Gitmo 5/21/09

I’ve written about the detention and interrogation of terrorists at the United States’ Guantanamo Bay facility (“Gitmo”) before, but after listening to both President Obama and former Vice President Cheney talk about it today, I have to add this:  the President said that Gitmo has been a “recruiting tool” for terrorist groups and, as such, has “created” more terrorists than it has detained.  Now as you know, I don’t usually tell you with 100% certainty what’s going on in another individual’s head, especially if I haven’t examined that individual personally, and when I speculate, I say that I’m speculating.  But in this case, I feel totally comfortable telling you, with 100% certainty, that nobody — not one person in the entire world — has ever become a terrorist because of Gitmo.  There is not one person, out of the entire six-plus billion on the planet, who was just living life peacefully, heard about Gitmo, and because of that, decided to start committing or attempting mass murder.

And while I’m on the subject of today’s speeches, CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller wrote that the debate between Obama and Cheney was settled last November.  I don’t think that’s right either.  Last November, a majority of voters wanted Obama to be right.  They wanted to believe that the use of force to get life-saving information out of people is no longer necessary in today’s world.  They wanted to believe that coercive interrogation techniques don’t work.  They wanted to believe that the same or better information can always be obtained through friendly persuasion.  I think we all want to believe those things to be true, Cheney included.  But that doesn’t mean most of us really do believe it.  In fact, research that I’ve discussed here before indicates otherwise — that most Americans (and even most Europeans believe it or not) actually believe, as Cheney does, that coercive interrogation works and is morally acceptable (as a last resort) in certain cases.

As I watched Obama and Cheney today, it reminded me of an idealistic teenager stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that his father’s life experience might actually be worth something.  At least Obama showed the capacity to change course in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence when it came to (thankfully, not) releasing photographs of terrorists purportedly being “abused” in U.S. custody, so maybe he’ll come around on the broader issue as well.  I won’t hold my breath though.

(And before I go, a possible development in the Drew Peterson case:  A badly-decomposed but apparently female body was found today in a river roughly 20 miles from the Peterson home, and not far from the body was a blue barrel, similar to the one Peterson’s stepbrother said he helped Peterson remove from the home shortly after Stacy, Peterson’s fourth wife, disappeared.  Thanks to DNA testing, we should know within a couple of weeks if this is Stacy Peterson, and if it isn’t, there’s also a possibility that it could be Lisa Stebic, another woman who went missing at about the same time and about the same distance from where the body was found.  Stebic apparently was preparing to divorce her husband at the time, and the husband is a “person of interest” in her disappearance.)

Illinois husband and father arrested for murdering family 5/20/09

An Illinois man has been arrested for killing his wife and two children back on May 5th.  This isn’t one of those “father kills family then self to escape financial ruin” stories in which the father just “lost the nerve” to follow the family into the afterlife.  No, it looks like this guy wanted to just get rid of the family.  He apparently strangled his wife and kids, made it look like a home invasion, called the cops from a gym asking them to check on his family (because he had supposedly phoned home with no answer and the family had supposedly received “threats”), and arrived back at the murder scene to perform an award-worthy act of hysterical despair.  Of course he’s innocent until proven guilty, but if it happened as the cops think it did, this doesn’t sound like a guy who was delusional — this sounds like a stone-cold, Peterson-like (I’m thinking Scott here, but Drew might also fit) sociopath.  And guess what?  He apparently had been having an affair with a woman in Florida who actually knew his wife.  Again, shades of Scott Peterson.  Assuming this guy did it, one last touch apparently designed to “paint” him as a victim in the eyes of the cops — and probably also in the eyes of his lover — may be part of his undoing:  the murderer reportedly spray-painted “I told you this would happen” at the crime scene.  The manner of death, ligature strangulation (strangulation using some kind of a rope or cord), indicates that the murderer wanted to minimize both detectability (noise) and trace evidence (blood spatter, gunpowder residue, etc.) as he killed each victim, probably as they slept, but it strikes me as surprisingly inconsistent for a stranger who wanted to murder this woman and her children in such a deliberate and calculated manner to turn around and be spray-painting a message at the crime scene.  Seems far more likely to me that the murderer thought he had to take the added risk of painting the message to divert anticipated suspicion from himself and make the murders appear related to those prior “threats” that the family supposedly had received.  In addition to the psychological inconsistency of the painting part of this, if you’ve ever spray-painted anything, you know that there has to be clothing somewhere that got spray-paint mist on it, and it sounds like one such article of clothing, a glove, has already been recovered from the driving route between the family home and this guy’s gym.

Imagine how cold and calculating a person would have to be to plan all of the above out and then literally squeeze the life out of his two children and wife.  This might be a good time for a reminder that a sociopath may or may not also be mentally ill, but a hallmark of the sociopath is deliberately harming others for self-gratification — in other words, hurting people in ways that can’t be explained by a lack of knowledge, due to mental illness, either of what’s being done or that it’s wrong.  “Sociopathic” and “psychopathic” and “antisocial” do not describe the kinds of mental disorders that deprive a criminal of the ability to know what he or she is doing or that it’s wrong.  Rather, those terms really just describe a personality characterized by patterns of deliberately and gratuitously destructive thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.  As such, they’re about as close as the secular field of psychology comes to having synonyms for “evil.”  I recently explained on television that a certain rapist’s actions weren’t indicative of mental illness but instead were indicative of evil.  When I got home, someone had looked me up on the web and emailed me to ask if I got my psychology training in church.  Apparently that person was put off by my use of the term “evil” because he or she (I don’t recall which it was, and I deleted the email) wants to believe that there are no bad people in the world, only mentally-ill people who do bad things.  I doubt that it would’ve done any good to try to explain it to that person (so I didn’t), but the truth is that there are people in the world who have no diagnosable mental disorders of the types that would render them unable to understand the nature and wrongfulness of their behavior, and yet they choose (consciously — they plan it out, sometimes elaborately) to hurt others anyway.  They may not be able to control all of their desires (e.g. an involuntary desire to harm others may be the product of a mental disorder such as pedophilia, but when people harm others just to steal money or property, there’s generally no such identifiable disorder), but either way, they can absolutely control their behaviors, yet they choose to satisfy their desires to harm others even though they know that it’s wrong (at least by society’s standards, i.e. that it’s illegal).  I don’t know what you call such behavior, but I call it evil, and like every other professional opinion that I offer here, I come to that conclusion after extensive training, experience, and thought (it has nothing to do with religious beliefs).  I know there are those who don’t want to believe in it because they’d feel safer if every dangerous person out there were an easily-identifiable stark raving lunatic, but that’s a voluntary self-delusion.

Updates and a “study this” you can sleep through 5/19/09

Two days ago, I told you about a Minnesota boy suffering from cancer whose parents wanted to refuse chemotherapy for their son for religious reasons but were ordered by a judge to obtain it for him anyway.  The judge made exactly the right call, as I explained in my previous post.  Well, guess what’s happened since then?  The mother has apparently fled with her son.  Both mother and son are missing, and the father reportedly claims not to know where they went.  When they’re caught, and they will be, the boy needs to go straight to the hospital (in protective custody unfortunately), and the mother needs to go straight to jail — no “get-out-of-jail-free,” no passing “go”…

Also tonight, the judge presiding over the defamation suit against Casey Anthony (filed by a woman bearing the name Anthony gave as the “nanny” who supposedly kidnapped little Caylee) has ruled that the suit can proceed even as Anthony’s criminal case proceeds.  Some in the media are making a bigger deal of this development than it is with respect to its impact on the criminal case, thinking that Anthony will be forced to testify in the civil case before the criminal case is resolved.  While other evidence gathered in the civil case, like depositions of Anthony’s parents, could be admitted into evidence in the criminal case, Anthony herself won’t be forced to testify in the civil case until she’s no longer in criminal jeopardy.  In a related story, Anthony’s parents reportedly are continuing to involve themselves in the search for little Haleigh Cummings, the five-year-old Florida girl who disappeared approximately 60 miles from the Anthony home and remains missing.  The benign interpretation is that the Anthonys just want to help another family enduring an ordeal similar to theirs.  An alternative interpretation is that the Anthonys want to keep Floridians focused on the Cummings case in the hope that at least one juror will believe perhaps the same kidnapper, still at large, is responsible for abducting both the Anthony and Cummings children.

There has been at least one arrest in the home invasion abduction of that little three-year-old boy found in Mexico over the weekend.  As I have all along, I predict that some connection will now be found between the abductors and the family, proving that the family and that specific child was targeted, not chosen randomly.  This is pure speculation, but who knows, maybe the boy who was abducted has a different father than the other children in the family, and maybe the noncustodial father was involved somehow in his abduction.  Stay tuned.

Study this:  New research suggests that psychotherapy is better than prescription drugs, which can have serious side effects and be addictive, for the long-term treatment of insomnia.  The study participants who experienced the best results received a relatively short course of a prescription sleep medication combined with psychotherapy, after which the drug was discontinued in favor of psychotherapy only.  One of my colleagues, Dr. Anne Owen, is an expert in the psychotherapeutic treatment of insomnia in Lawrence, Kansas, and she actually conceptualizes healthy sleeping as a skill that can be successfully taught and learned in therapy.  Many chronic insomnia sufferers engage in self-defeating behaviors such as reading, eating, or watching television in bed or staying in bed for extended periods of time without sleeping.  If you’re having trouble sleeping, I recommend seeking out a psychologist in your area who has expertise in treating insomnia.  You may learn that you’ve developed some bad sleep habits and be able to develop some healthier “sleep skills” of your own, which this latest research suggests may help you more than pills, at least in the long run.  (And as always, both starting and stopping a prescription drug regimen should be done under a doctor’s supervision.)

Two Drews in the news 5/19/09

Lori Drew, the “Monstrous MySpace Mom,” was supposed to have been sentenced on Monday, but her sentencing was postponed until July 2.  If you’re a regular reader, then you’ve followed this case here, but just to bring others up to date, she was convicted of three federal misdemeanors following the death of a Missouri teenage girl who committed suicide after being taunted by Drew and an employee of Drew using a fake MySpace profile of a teenage boy.  The MMM faces up to three years in the federal pen, and I hope she gets every bit of that.

Another Drew made news again on Monday as well, Drew Peterson.  This time, the former Illinois cop who seems to keep losing wives was in court pleading not-guilty to the murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, the one who was found dead in her bathtub in 2004 while divorcing Peterson and originally was believed to have drowned.  Members of the Savio family reported that Peterson, ever the class act, made taunting gestures toward them during Monday’s proceeding.

Kicking off the week 5/18/09

Thankfully, for the first time in two weeks, we’re not kicking this week off with a mass shooting.  Unfortunately, we do have the sad case of a Minnesota boy, age 13, diagnosed with cancer in January, whose parents don’t want him to receive the recommended course of chemotherapy for religious reasons.  A Minnesota judge has ordered the chemo to be administered anyway, and that’s exactly the right call.  If competent adults want to refuse medical treatment on religious grounds, fine.  But a 13-year-old is not competent, in my opinion, to make all of the complex judgments necessary to decide to practice a particular religion so devoutly that he or she is willing to lose his or her life to uphold its tenets.  The parents then are obligated to act in the child’s best interests, which in this case means to preserve as many options for the child when he reaches competency (i.e. adulthood) as possible, which means keeping him alive to reach adulthood in the first place.  If the parents won’t do that, then the state has to act to protect the child.

Also, President Obama’s graduation speech at Notre Dame over the weekend addressed the abortion issue in a way that I think was an intellectual cop-out.  He said that the difference of opinion between people on the either side of the issue is simply irreconcilable, essentially that the two sides should just respectfully agree to disagree.  No, the difference of opinion on abortion is not irreconcilable.  In fact, it’s far too serious an issue for public policy to be based on opinion at all.  Our public policy on abortion should be based on fact.  We should not be content to just have a difference of opinion about whether or not murders are happening.  As I said in my column aimed at college graduates two years ago (and referenced here just yesterday), we should all be interested not just in understanding both sides of an argument but in getting to the truth, determining which side is correct.  That’s where I think Americans have become dangerously intellectually lazy.  When it comes to the abortion issue, either murders are happening, or they aren’t.  One side of the issue is right, and the other is wrong.  Once the development of a unique human being has begun, intentionally ending that development would be murdering that person, and nothing would justify that, regardless of how the development got started, where it’s occurring, or whom it might hurt.  Therefore, instead of sitting back and pretending like it’s just a matter of opinion, we all need to do the intellectual work necessary to determine when the development of a unique human being begins.

Weekend update 5/17/09

Another happy ending to a child abduction story — the California three-year-old who was kidnapped at gunpoint during a home invasion two weeks ago has been found alive wandering the streets of a Mexican border town.  Of course the boy’s safe return is the most important thing, and again, the law enforcement professionals who made it happen on both sides of the border deserve huge props, but as I did two weeks ago, I guarantee you that there’s more to this story.  In the coming days, I’ll bet we learn just how (not) random this home invasion/kidnapping really was.

While I’m here, the physician who prescribed drugs to the late pro wrestler Chris Benoit, (who killed his entire family and himself), has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally distributing prescription drugs.

An estimated nine million people watched a documentary about actress Farah Fawcett’s desperate battle with cancer.  Some have criticized the actress for exposing private physical and emotional suffering — her own and her family’s — to the world.  I think she was doing what we call “benefit finding” — trying to find or create meaning in suffering — and I don’t really feel strongly about whether people should’ve watched it or not.  If people thought they got something out of it great, and if they didn’t want to watch it, as I didn’t, I think that’s fine too.

Lastly this morning, congratulations to all of the graduates I know here at the University of Kansas and elsewhere!  About two years ago, I wrote a piece called “Intellectual Nudity” about what I hoped people would take away from their college experiences, and if anyone’s interested, you can find it here in the archives, dated April 4, 2007.

Wrapping up the week 5/16/09

There was a child abduction story out of Texas mid-week this week that ended so quickly — happily — I didn’t really have a chance to write about it, but there’s an important aspect of it that confirms something I’ve said over and over.  Some little girls were playing outside of their house when a man pulled up in a pickup truck, got out, grabbed one of the girls, hit the girl’s older sister in the head when she tried to help, put the younger girl in the back of the truck, and took off with her.  An Amber Alert was issued, and authorities found the girl, apparently unharmed, and her abductor, who’s now in custody, within hours on a farm not far from the scene of the kidnapping.  Witnesses say the abductor’s truck had been seen driving around the neighborhood where the little girls live several days in a row prior to the kidnapping.  Of course it’s great that I finally get to report a good result in a child abduction case.  Seems like those are few and far between, and we have to give props to the law enforcement professionals who made it happen in this case.  But here’s the thing:  The alleged abductor is reportedly a 23-year-old itinerant carnival worker who has a history of sex crimes against children.  Now how in the hell is someone who has abused children before, and is only 23 years old, out of prison already?  That’s my issue as you probably know — we’re letting these people out after months and years instead of decades (if ever), and it’s exposing children to severe, known, and unnecessary risks.  It’s insane.

Having effectively legalized marijuana already by making “medical” marijuana available to just about anyone who claims to have a headache, the State of California, is considering taking it a step further and pushing for all-out legalization of the drug.  As you know if you’re a regular here, that’s a horrible idea for numerous reasons (e.g. it’s brain-damaging, it’s absolutely addictive, it’s absolutely a “gateway drug”) that I won’t repeat in detail today so as not to be overly redundant.  I’ll summarize my rundown of past objections this way:  For a wide variety of reasons ranging from public health to economic productivity to crime, you don’t want to live in a state or a country where the vast majority of people start smoking pot at some point early in their lives.  (Yeah, I know, the vast majority of people across the U.S.A. start drinking alcoholic beverages at some point in their lives — that’s not great either in some ways, but it’s also distinctly different, and if you can’t think of why on your own for some reason, long-term pot smoking perhaps, see my previous posts about illegal drug use/legalization).  What I’d just like to add today is another counter to the myth of “medical” marijuana.  I’ve written about that before and explained how the analgesic (pain-relieving) effects of THC can be obtained through the prescription drug Marinol, which does not give the user a “high.”  In addition though, the therapeutic dose range for THC (the blood concentration required to get an analgesic effect) is extremely narrow (too little or too much and you lose the analgesia) and almost impossible to administer effectively by inhalation (smoking).  Therefore, as I’ve said before, anyone who says that he/she “needs” to smoke marijuana for pain reduction, in my opinion, really just wants to get high — perhaps to “escape” pain, perhaps for pure recreational purposes, perhaps both, but it’s about getting high, not about pain reduction.

Study this:  On the subject of pain relief, new research has revealed that poking people non-invasively with toothpicks is about equally effective as acupuncture in treating pain.  That could mean one or a combination of two things:  1) acupuncture’s effect is pure placebo (i.e. it’s all psychological — people think it’ll help them, so they perceive that it does), and/or 2) it’s not really about the “puncture” of the skin; it’s about stimulating certain nerve endings at the skin’s surface that somehow dulls or dilutes other (pain) nerve responses.

Another new study revealed a brief questionnaire that’s supposed to be extremely accurate at identifying people who are at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s early in the disease process.  In the reported study, the questionnaire correctly identified 88% of the participants who went on to develop full-blown Alzheimer’s, but that brings up an important issue about psychological (or any diagnostic) testing.  “Sensitivity” refers to a test’s ability to identify people who are positive for some trait, in this case, Alzheimer’s risk.  Identifying 88% of the people who had that trait in the reported study is fairly good sensitivity, but for the test to be really useful, it must also have “specificity,” and I haven’t heard about it’s specificity yet.  “Specificity” refers to the test’s ability to exclude people who are negative for the trait.  See, I could easily make a test that would assess Alzheimer’s risk with 100% sensitivity by simply asking the person, “Are you a human being?” and if he/she says yes, then he/she gets flagged as “positive” for high Alzheimer’s risk.  That way, 100% of the people who went on to develop Alzheimer’s would’ve had a “positive” result on my test.  Of course the test would be meaningless though because it would also flag many people who really were not at elevated risk for Alzheimers.  In other words, it would have no specificity whatsoever.  Assuming that this new test has both good senstivity and good specificity, it’s a good development in Alzheimer’s research, but it’s one that will become much more useful when more effective early interventions are available.

Have a good weekend.

Kicking off the week 5/11/09

For the second week in a row, we kick off the week tragically with a mass shooting, this time at a U.S. base in Iraq.  A U.S. serviceman shot and killed five people at a mental health clinic on the base.  Many are jumping to the conclusion that the shooter must have “PTSD.”  Not necessarily.  As you know if you’re a regular, the mental health of active-duty military personnel and veterans is very important to me.  As the grandson, son, and brother of veterans, I spent a year of my doctoral training working in the psychiatric ward of a veterans’ hospital and on multiple occasions, I’ve written specifically about PTSD and the importance of diagnosing it accurately and treating it effectively.  While it’s certainly possible for people suffering from PTSD to become psychotic, particularly when it comes to paranoid delusions, PTSD is certainly not the only, or even the most common, source of psychosis.  It’s important to keep in mind that servicemen and women are susceptible to all of the same mental phenomena that exist in the general population.  It’s important to keep in mind also that military personnel serving overseas are subject to many and profound stressors that are not trauma-related, like relationship and family stressors that come with being so far from home for so long.  Even deep depression can lead to psychosis.  Of course the vast majority of U.S. servicemen and women are patriots, but we can’t automatically rule out the possibility that this was an act of treason either.  We’ve seen that before in this war, when a soldier who apparently sympathized with the enemy killed several fellow soldiers in their barracks.  We also don’t know whether the victims in this case were randomly chosen or specifically targeted (i.e. we don’t know whether there could’ve been relationship issues involved).  Only military police are allowed to carry loaded firearms on the base where today’s shooting occurred, so it seems like there must’ve been at least some level of premeditation involved.  We just don’t have enough information yet for people to be concluding that combat trauma made this soldier go crazy.  Unlike most other mass shootings in recent memory, the shooter in this case did not commit suicide (if I had to bet, I’d bet he intended to but was taken down before he could kill any more people, including himself).  He’s in custody at this hour, so hopefully we’ll eventually find out what was going on in his head, and hopefully we can then use that information to prevent similar incidents in the future.

I may shock you with this one.  Drew Peterson’s bail has been set at $20 million, and his lawyer is protesting that it’s way too high.  I actually agree.  People are presumed innocent in this country, but even a “speedy” trial takes time to put together, so we have a societal quandary about what to do with criminal defendants awaiting trial.  The purpose of bail is to create enough of an incentive for defendants to show back up in court for trial so they can be released from custody until trial.  In setting bail, judges have to consider the danger that the individual defendant potentially poses to the community if released (in some cases, the evidence is so strong and the charged offenses so dangerous that judges have discretion to hold those defendants, even though they’re presumed innocent, without bail), and the defendant’s risk of flight (the likelihood that the defendant will go on the run if released).  In Peterson’s case, the $20 million amount is tantamount to no bail at all, and while murder is a serious charge, the evidence (as far as I know) against him in the death of his third wife is not strong (one coroner said her death was accidental; another says it was murder; but as far as I know, the only evidence connecting Peterson to her death are the facts that they were divorcing at the time and that she said she was afraid of him).  In addition, the danger posed to the community by Peterson is low at this point, as he can’t step outside of his house without a cadre of reporters mobbing him.  For that same reason, and because he’s the single parent of two minor children, his risk of flight seems low as well.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m no Peterson fan! — I think he’s a creep, and I’m highly suspicious of his guilt.  But as a matter of law, I think this $20 million bail won’t hold up under the circumstances.

The case of American college student Amanda Knox, accused of complicity in the murder of her British roommate while studying abroad in Italy, has been a little tough to follow here because of the way cases are tried in Italy — not on consecutive days like here, but with weeks between trial days.  By way of a quick update, we’re finally getting a sense of the strength of the Italian cops’ evidence against Knox, and it sounds like there are some weaknesses in it.  For example, it sounds like they’re not really sure that they have the murder weapon.  Their expert reportedly said that the knife they recovered is “not inconsistent” with the cut on the victim’s throat, which means to me that it could be the murder weapon but not that it is.  Analysis of a footprint photographed at the crime scene that was supposed to place Knox there between the murder and the discovery of the body seems to be inconclusive as well.  It sounds like they’re not really sure that the footprint was Knox’s, nor does it sound like they’re sure that it wasn’t there before the murder.  Knox reportedly says she was at her boyfriend’s home on the night of the murder, and the boyfriend has already been convicted of murdering Knox’s roommate, so whether she was complicit or sitting around his home while he was out committing murder remains to be proven.

Finally tonight, a famous Miami-area Catholic priest (I guess he’s known as the “Oprah priest” for his engaging and inspiring presentation) has apparently been busted after having a multi-year sexual relationship with a woman.  Now here again, don’t get me wrong — I’m glad my job doesn’t require a vow of celibacy — but I think many people are too quick to be giving this guy a pass.  He voluntarily joined an organization that requires its members, particularly its public representatives, to live by certain rules.  When he decided not to live by one of those rules anymore, he should’ve resigned from the organization and joined a different organization, like the Episcopal Church, that doesn’t have the rule.  While this isn’t an issue that I’m going to lose any sleep over, I think this guy’s decision to keep enjoying the benefits that he got as a prominent representative of an organization while disregarding what that organization stands for (whether I agree with it or not) is selfish enough — Specteresque really — that I won’t be recommending him to anyone as an authority on how to live life.

Wrapping up the week 5/9/09

The day after news broke of Drew Peterson, the former Illinois cop who keeps losing wives, possibly starring in a reality show (by the way, if there’s seriously an audience for a reality show starring Drew Peterson, we should all be in agreement that our culture is in serious, serious trouble), he was arrested on suspicion of murdering the third of his four wives (she was found dead in a bathtub as they were divorcing back in 2004, and although her death was ruled an accidental drowning at the time, a second look has revealed signs that force was used).  As you know if you’re a regular reader and/or viewer, I’m generally very pro-cop, but I do have an interesting observation to make here.  Having evaluated police recruits’ fitness for duty, I can tell you that on occasion, a cop’s psychological profile doesn’t look much different from the profiles of the people he (I’m mainly talking about guys here) will be arresting.  In other words, there are some people who would probably be in handcuffs if they weren’t the ones cuffing others.  Sometimes these people make good cops because they’re able to anticipate how criminals will think and behave, and they’re tough for criminals to fool.  On the other hand, if they don’t keep the antisocial parts of their personalities in check, they can become overly aggressive to the point of being abusive of their power or even corrupt.  I’ll bet that’s the kind of cop, now ex-cop, we’re seeing in Peterson.  Having said that, I hope the DA has more evidence that Peterson murdered his third wife that what’s been revealed publicly.  Otherwise, the case seems somewhat shaky to me, and if he’s acquitted, it might make a later prosecution in connection with the disappearance of his fourth wife more difficult (by creating the appearance that he’s being persecuted with flimsy evidence).

Actor David Hasselhoff allegedly was found in a drunken stupor — yes, again — by his teenage daughter.  Apparently the judge in Hasselhoff’s divorce/custody case didn’t impress upon him the importance of maintaining sobriety in exchange for time with his children as I advised on The O’Reilly Factor the last time this happened.

Elizabeth Edwards is talking publicly about her husband’s — former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards’ — affair.  She’s hawking a book about it on Oprah and elsewhere.  I’ve written about this before, so here’s all I have to add tonight:  No way in the world do I believe that she doesn’t know whether the mistress’ baby is Edwards’.  Would that not be any spouse’s very next question after learning that there was a baby involved?  Sure it would, and as far as I know, Mrs. Edwards seems like a good mother, so as angry and resentful as she would likely have felt, she seems like the kind of woman who would nonetheless tell Edwards to take responsibility for the baby (pay support, be involved in its life, etc.).  I’ll bet she knows exactly who both of that baby’s parents are.

A young woman was shot and killed at a book store this week near a small Connecticut college, Wesleyan University.  Her alleged murderer is in custody, and while details are still a bit fuzzy, it sounds like he was an anti-Semitic nut-job — which as you know does NOT mean that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, just that he was nutty enough that there were plenty of signs that he was dangerous well before he killed this poor young woman.  He had apparently stalked her for over two years, and she had even reported the stalking to the cops but then declined to press charges.  Now I’m not blaming the victim in any way — she didn’t murder anybody — but I have to point out for lesson-learning purposes that if either she, or the police on behalf of the State of Connecticut, had pressed charges, she might be alive today (of course we can’t know for sure — he might have served six months in jail and come out even more committed to kill her, which is why we have to take stalking much more seriously).

Remember the Georgia professor who shot his wife and two other people and then disappeared a couple of weeks ago?  Remember what I wrote about the possibility that he hadn’t used his credit cards or cell phone because he had already killed himself at some other location?  You heard it here first.  He’s been found…dead…in a wooded area in north Georgia.  I feel sorry for his kids, now without either parent.  As I said after the family murder-suicide in Florida last weekend from which one child escaped, I hope there are decent relatives who will step up and take these children in.  Their chances of turning out OK are far better in my opinion if they don’t end up in the foster system on top of the tragic events that they’ve had to live through already.

Have a good weekend.

Study this 5/6/09

Two new studies of interest this Wednesday:

1) Study this:  Autism researchers have found enlarged brain structures in autistic children relative to non-autistic children, particularly a structure called the amygdala, found in the central part of the brain and involved in the activation of responses to external stimuli.  This could represent yet another step toward better understanding and more accurate diagnosis (using brain imaging to measure the size of amygdala for example) of the disorder and may even open up new treatment avenues.

2) Study this:  Another new study confirmed a dramatic increase since 1996 in the number of American adults (up 76%), and more alarmingly children (up 50%), who are taking psychotropic medications.  Is it because a lot more Americans are mentally ill these days?  Don’t think so.  Is it because we’re so much better at diagnosing mental illness these days that we’re catching disorders we used to miss?  I think not.  As I’ve said and written many times, I think it’s because our culture is increasingly looking for success and happiness and parenting in pill form, which plays right into the hands of the pharmaceutical companies who sell such unrealistic expectations.  It’s a scary thought — America’s kids, the “psychotropic medication generation” — wonder what kind of adults, workers, spouses, and parents they’ll be.

Amber Alert, Anthony Alert, and Advertising Alert 5/4/09 An Amber Alert has been issued for a three-year-old boy (although if you see photos, you’ll swear it’s a girl — his hair hangs well below his shoulders, which of course isn’t his fault but suggests to me that his parents are weird) in California.  Here’s what supposedly happened:  Two gunmen invaded the family home while the father was at work, tied up the mother and the other kids but not this three-year-old, ransacked the house, grabbed some cash and a few other items, and left, taking the little boy with them.  So far, cops haven’t found any reported connection between the kidnappers and the family, but that particular m.o. would be so incredibly rare (e.g. robbers usually aren’t interested in taking kids with them, and molesters usually don’t travel in pairs and aren’t interested in taking cash and property) that I’m predicting there’s more, much more, to this story.  (One particularly scary thought is that molesters commonly have a gender preference in their choices of victims, so if these kidnappers are molesters, and if they thought they were kidnapping a girl who turns out to be a boy, cops may have even less time to find him than they might have had — which still wouldn’t be long — if a sexual assault on a little girl had been the motive.)  While the boy’s safe return is, of course, the most important thing regardless of motive, this case is reminding me of a Nevada case a year or two ago in which a young boy was kidnapped by drug thugs who were owed money by the boy’s father.  That boy was ultimately found unharmed, so hopefully this one will be as well.

Casey Anthony’s defense attorneys are formally requesting a change of venue in the case, claiming that Anthony can’t get an impartial jury (i.e. a fair trial) in Orlando.  As my friend Mark Eiglarsh said on Monday’s Prime News, the question in making that determination is not whether jurors can be found who’ve never heard of the case — it’s whether jurors can be found who can put aside what, if anything, they’ve heard about the case and be objective in considering the evidence on both sides.  I think that can probably be accomplished without a change of venue, but I won’t be surprised if the judge ultimately grants the motion, erring on the side of eliminating potential grounds for the appeal of a conviction (and as I’ve opined here and on t.v., I also won’t be surprised if there’s never a trial in any venue, i.e. if she ultimately makes a plea deal).  One of the things that’s likely to happen now is a community attitudes study conducted by a litigation consultant (someone like me, possibly/probably one on both sides of the case) — a survey of a sample of the Orlando population, demographically matched to the community, asking respondents what they’ve heard and what they think about the case, from which the likely attitudes of a potential Orlando jury pool will be statistically extrapolated.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors will then use that data to argue for and against the venue change.

Lastly tonight, I’m not an epidemiologist, so I could be wrong, but for what it’s worth, I think the media and public hysteria over a potential “swine flu” pandemic is getting really — majorly — incredibly — overblown.  Remember the “SARS” and “Hoof & Mouth Disease” and “Bird Flu” pandemics?  Yeah, me neither.  And while we’re on the subject, are you as sick as I am (figuratively) of seeing the same commercials multiple times an hour from pharmaceutical companies advising you to ask your doctor if you may have this or that condition (“e.d.” or “i.b.s.” or “p.a.d.” or “r.l.s.” or whatever the latest alphabet soup disorder is) and if their drugs might be “right for you”?  Now before I get myself in trouble (because those commercials help pay the bills for the shows that I’m on), I’m not just looking out for myself here — I’m looking out for the networks too.  I personally switch the channel more often when the more annoying and repetitive commercials come on, and I often don’t end up returning to the program that I had been watching.  And I don’t think I’m alone, which means that I think the networks would be wise to space commercials out better, for the benefit of all advertisers, including the ones with the annoying, repetitive ads.  But there’s something even more insidious going on I think.  I don’t believe that the makers of the “e.d.” drugs, for example, really believe that they need to show those ads five and six times an hour just to make sure that the people who might need them know that they’re available.  (To me, those are some of the stupidest, most annoying ads running, and I think the old dudes who may need those pills know they’re available, so I see no need for the rest of us — especially younger guys like me who’d prefer never to even think about that topic! — to be bombarded with it multiple times an hour.  Think about it — it’s pretty sad that you could probably ask most American 10-year-olds how long a guy can have an erection before needing to see a doctor, and they’d probably know the answer!)  No, I think that the pharmaceutical companies are doing more than just trying to inform people about disorders and drugs.  I think they’re actively trying to alarm people — not unlike people are alarmed about “swine flu” — making them afraid that they might have the latest alphabet soup disorder so they’ll go to their doctors and ask whether specific drugs could be “right for” them.  They’re taking advantage of a common psychological phenomenon whereby as soon as some people learn about a new disease or disorder, they’ll worry about whether they might have it.  I think it sucks, and I say don’t fall for it!  If you ever do feel like there might be something wrong with you, see a doctor and let him/her tell you if there is, what your treatment options, are and what he/she recommends.  In the meantime, just have a good, healthy night.

Kicking off the week 5/4/09

Nothing like yet another tragic family murder/suicide to kick off the week.  This time it was in Florida.  A father, in a “domestic dispute” with his children’s mother, shot and killed the mother, shot and killed two of their children, chased and shot at a third child who escaped to a neighbor’s house, and then shot and killed himself.  And guess what?  The father had at least two prior arrests, at least one of them for aggravated assault, and I can virtually guarantee you that wasn’t the only violence in his past.  Looks like another preventable tragedy.  See why I’m always saying we need to get tougher on violent people sooner than we do?  Once again, if you’re a parent, you have an absolute parental duty to get your kids away from a violent individual, even if that violent individual is your significant other, because this is what can happen.  I’m glad that one of the three children escaped in this case, but he didn’t escape unharmed.  Even if none of the bullets that his father fired hit him, the psychological trauma of watching his entire family get killed and being chased by his father trying to kill him will be with him for life.  While it’s definitely still possible that he’ll end up living a normal, productive life in the long term, he’s likely to suffer through some pronounced and prolonged post-traumatic stress symptoms in the near term.

Also, former Sen. John Edwards is now facing a federal investigation to determine whether campaign funds from the last election were funneled to his mistress.  This news comes as his wife, who suffers from cancer, is about to release a book about the experience of learning that her presidential-candidate husband had cheated on her.  We discussed this in detail on Prime News back when it first came out last summer, and at that time, I largely gave Mrs. Edwards a pass as the victim of a potentially-terminal disease and a despicable husband.  I still feel sorry for her, and I still think her husband’s a creep, but now that she’s putting the topic back out there for discussion, I have these two things to add:  1) I don’t believe she was totally surprised by the news of her husband’s philandering as advance blurbs from her book seem to suggest (those who spend decades with fundamentally dishonest people usually have seen inklings if not direct evidence of dishonesty in that time), and 2) Once she knew about her husband’s dishonesty, whenever that was, she shouldn’t have continued to go around the country asking voters to trust him, especially with the highest office in the land (and think about having a president be as vulnerable to blackmail as Edwards would’ve been — wonder what he would’ve been willing to do, if he’d been President when the story broke, to keep the news of his affair from coming out).

Wrapping up the week 5/1/09

There were two blasts from the past in forensic news this week.  First, a woman is claiming that her late father was the notorious “Zodiac Killer.”  I don’t believe her.  Second, cops in California are claiming that they have the notorious “Westside” rapist and murderer in custody.  I do believe them.  I also believe they’ll be able to tie the man they have in custody to more, perhaps many more, rapes and murders.  The m.o.’s in several unsolved cases in that same area are similar (elderly women — choice of victims may have something to do with the reported fact that he was raised by an older aunt and “godmother”), and this guy seems like the kind of psychopath who would not stop hurting people until stopped, permanently, which should’ve happened decades ago!  He went into prison for one sex offense, then got parole, then violated his parole, then went back in, then got back out, then went back in for a second sex offense (the second one that he was convicted of anyway, probably more like his tenth), then got back out, then got a state government job (how?, how does that happen?, a twice-convicted sex offender gets a government job?, we are seriously living in Wonderland here folks), and now appears to be headed back in, hopefully for good (but who knows?).  It was good old-fashioned police work (matching DNA collected as part of California’s sex offender registry to DNA evidence in “cold” case files) that caught this guy, and as I give props to the cops, I’m furious about how we keep making them catch the same guys over and over again!

While we’re on the subject of matching DNA from rape kits to DNA in the sex offender registry, I have to mention that there are rape kits all over the country that have been sitting in evidence lockers for years, decades even, and still haven’t been run through that system.  Police departments and crime labs say it’s because they don’t have the funds and personnel to run the tests.  That’s something we have to fix — we can’t have rape victims waiting years and decades for justice while the rapists go free to victimize more people.  Let’s not do any more ridiculous “photo-op flyovers” with Air Force One spend the money instead on testing some rape kits, catch a bunch more guys like the “Westside” rapist, and put them away — forever!

And while we’re on the subject of rapists, you may remember that back in March, I wrote about the investigation of a string of rapes that have occurred over the past several years right here in Lawrence, Kansas, home of the University of Kansas, and in Manhattan, Kansas, home of Kansas State University (about an hour away), that cops think are related.  I can’t share what I’ve learned since then yet, but I do want to warn women in those two cities and universities to be very, very careful (about locking doors and windows, looking around before entering and exiting residences to make sure no one is waiting by doors, going places in groups, making sure friends made it home safely, watching drinks and friends’ drinks, calling police immediately if anything alarming or suspicious happens, etc.).  It’s clear that there’s at least one very dangerous individual loose in these communities, but I think the level of psychopathy and danger associated with this individual goes beyond what’s been communicated thus far and cannot be overstated.

On Thursday’s Prime News, in addition to the “Westside” rapist, we discussed the case of a 12-year-old girl who’s in custody in Texas after (allegedly) murdering her father by shooting him in the head while he was sleeping (no one was reported to have been in the home at the time other than the girl and the father).  Three possibilities come immediately to mind:  1) that she’d been abused and killed the father to end it, 2) that she got angry with the father and killed him in a rage, and 3) that she’s mentally ill.  Homicides perpetrated by kids this young are extremely rare, but when they do happen, the second most common victim is the father (the most common is another kid).  It sounds like there are some rumblings about there having been a volatile, if not abusive, relationship between the girl and the father, but those are really just rumors at this point.  Clearly something was amiss in that household though because a 12-year-old apparently had access to a handgun.  The ultimate answer to the question of motive will play a role in determining whether to charge the girl as an adult or as a juvenile.  If she just got angry and killed the father in a rage, she may be more likely to be tried in adult court, whereas if she had been abused, she may be more likely to be tried in juvenile court (and as we saw in the case of Mary Winkler, “the preacher’s wife,” who shot her husband in his sleep and convinced her jury that she’d been “emotionally abused,” juries tend to be sympathetic toward female killers whom they perceive to have been victimized by their victims — Winkler got almost no punishment).  The determination whether to charge a juvenile as an adult hinges on a factors such as the severity of the crime, the appropriateness of expecting the juvenile to have exercised an adult level of control over his/her actions, the possibility that the juvenile can be rehabilitated, and the adequacy of a juvenile facility to protect the public from further criminal behavior.

A man drove his car through a crowd of onlookers at a parade in the Netherlands on Thursday in an apparent failed attempt to assassinate members of the Dutch royal family who were riding in the parade.  The Dutch press is chalking it up to financial frustration — the killer had apparently been laid off and couldn’t afford to keep paying his rent.  Unfortunately, as we’ve seen several times recently here in the U.S.A., he took several innocent people with him as checked out of this world.

Finally this afternoon, amid the panic over Chrysler’s bankruptcy and GM’s impending bankruptcy and amid calls for more and more taxpayer dollars to be poured into prolonging the lives of dying auto-industry dinosaurs, it struck me this week how utterly disillusioned Henry Ford would surely be if he were alive to see this.  I mean, he founded the Ford Motor Company over 100 years ago, and after all of the consolidation in the U.S. auto industry in the past century, his company is the only one of the remaining “big three” that’s solvent (not doing well but still in business, without taxpayer dollars).  Henry Ford (and his heirs and shareholders) won.  His competitors are bankrupt, or effectively bankrupt, and his company is not.  That’s supposed to mean that his competitors go out of business, and Ford’s the proverbial “last man standing,” the lone American auto giant.  Those were the rules that Ford started playing by at the beginning of the last century, but after over a century of playing by those rules, now that Ford’s won, the rules are being changed so that his competitors can stay in the game.  Imagine how he’d feel.  Imagine how you’d feel, if you were running a race, and your competitors tired out and had to stop running, and as you were approaching the finish line, race officials stopped the race, gave your competitors — but not you — nourishment and a chance to rest, brought your competitors up to the point where they were even with you, and then restarted the race.  That’s what we’re doing, and while I sympathize with all of the Americans whose jobs depend on the auto industry, I believe that the long-term damage we’re doing to our country by changing the rules is far greater than the relatively short-term damage that would be done by letting the best man — Ford in this case — win.

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