Archive for June, 2010

Porn Actor Snaps, Stabs Colleagues, Killing One

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A porn actor who is suspected of having killed one fellow performer and injured two others with a prop machete is on the run, say police in Los Angeles.

Steven Hill, 34, is believed to have attacked his colleagues during a party at a production studio where he had been living. According to Los Angeles police detective Joel Price, Hill had been told by the studio, Ultima DVD Inc., to leave the studio by Wednesday.

“There was no indication that things were going to get violent, there was nothing that provoked this attack, but at some point Steven chose to arm himself with what can best be described as a sword,” said Price. “He then used that sword against those three victims.”

Hill, who also went by the name Steve Driver, had appeared in some of Ultima’s movies, but had been fired for “inappropriate conduct.” For at least several months, Hill had been living in a section of the facility that was also used as a set for the adult movies. Another man, who slept in a studio that was furnished as a bedroom, witnessed the attack.

Hill used a weapon that has been described as a “machete-like” or “samarai-style” sword to slash and stab three people during an informal social gathering at the company’s distribution and production center in Van Nuys. A 30-year-old man who tried to intervene in the attack died at a nearby hospital from a stab wound to the torso.

The other two victims, whose names were not released, but who were said not to be established porn stars, were taken to the hospital. Both sustained minor cuts and other injuries but are expected to survive.

Police found a dried pool of blood near one of the building’s doors as well as several drops of blood in the parking lot.

Hill is currently on probation on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, but police said that charge is unrelated to the current case.

After the stabbing incident took place, Hill took the weapon and fled the scene in an SUV. Police are currently seeking Hill, who is African-American and approximately six feet tall, and say they will charge him with first-degree murder.

MMA Fighter To Face Murder, Torture Charges In Death of Friend

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

A mixed-martial arts fighter has been charged with several crimes in the gruesome murder and mutilation of a friend, after a drug-induced hallucination led him to believe that the two were engaged in an epic battle of good versus evil.

Jarrod Wyatt, 26, is being charged with murder, aggravated mayhem and torture after killing his friend and sparring partner Taylor Powell. Police say that Wyatt stabbed Powell, then went on to cut off his face, cut out his tongue and heart, and cook the body parts in a wood stove in order to purge the evil that he believed embodied the 21-year-old Powell.

When the detective from Del Norte County Sheriff’s Department was dispatched to a house in the northern California town of Requa, he found broken glass, dried blood and a body, with most of the face missing and an 18-inch incision in its chest cavity, lying on the couch. Standing near the body was Wyatt, naked and covered in dried blood. According to Sergeant Elwood Lee, Wyatt said “I killed him.”

Wyatt allowed Lee to handcuff him without resisting, and then asked if “we were God, or if we were God coming to save him,” according to Lee’s testimony in Del Norte County Superior Court earlier this week.

Investigators were able to piece together a rough chronology of events by questioning Wyatt, his friend Justin Davis and his ex-girlfriend Billy Jo Bailey—both of whom were in the house at some point during the evening of March 21. The foursome had met at the Requa house and begun drinking tea made from psychedelic mushrooms. After a while, the men became convinced that a tidal wave was imminent, that the end of the world was coming and that there was an epic struggle occurring between God and the devil.

Wyatt and Powell had allegedly fought in the kitchen—Bailey testified that she had heard glass breaking and strange, nearly sexual sounds. At some point Wyatt became preoccupied with the idea that the devil was inside Powell, and eventually killed him, then cut off most of his face. He also cut out the man’s heart and tongue, and burned them in the wood stove.

“Satan was in that dude,” Wyatt told Lee during an interview at the county jail, adding that when he removed and burned Powell’s heart, he did so because he felt that Powell was still alive, and that he needed to “stop the devil.”

Wyatt faces a first-degree murder charge. In order to be convicted, the prosecution will have to prove that his actions were premeditated. At a recent hearing, prosecutors said that the time it took to kill Powell and mutilate his body prove that intent. Defense attorneys argue that Wyatt experienced a psychotic break as a result of the hallucinogens.

Supreme Court Rules That Suspects Must Invoke Miranda ‘Right to Remain Silent’

Monday, June 28th, 2010

According to a new ruling by the United States Supreme Court, a criminal defendant must explicitly invoke his or her right to remain silent by stating their intention to do so. Otherwise, any statements they make during questioning will be allowable in later court proceedings.

The 5-4 ruling, which was divided down ideological lines with the conservatives in the majority, comes in the case of a suspect who remained mostly silent during a three-hour session of questioning during a 2001 murder investigation. Van Chester Thompkins refused to answer most of the detectives’ inquiries, until one detective began asking about his religious beliefs and inquired whether Thompkins prayed forgiveness for “shooting that boy down.” Thompkins said “yes,” and later appealed his conviction on the grounds that he had invoked his Miranda right to silence by actually remaining silent. The Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, and threw out his confession and therefore his conviction.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the decision, said that Thompkins would have had to actually tell police that he didn’t want to talk. By doing so, continued Kennedy, “he would have invoked his ‘right to cut off questioning.’”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a strongly worded, lengthy dissenting opinion, in which she said that this decision “turns Miranda upside down.”

“Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent—which counterintuitively, requires them to speak,” said Sotomayor. “At the same time, suspects will be legally presumed to have waived their rights even if they have given no clear expression of their intent to do so.”

The Miranda rights take their name from a landmark Supreme Court ruling that took place in 1966. Along with the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney is one of the first of the Miranda rights warnings, of which police must inform suspects during arrest and questioning. Suspects must tell the police that they want a lawyer, just as they must now inform police of their intention to remain silent in order to stop the questioning.

Thompkins, 33, will continue serving the life sentence to which he was originally sentenced for a January 10, 2000 murder in Southfield, Michigan. His attorney, Elizabeth Jacobs, called the ruling “very disappointing” and echoed Sotomayor’s opinion by saying that the Supreme Court is “diminishing Miranda rights as we know them.”

Terrorist Sweep Nets Illegal Immigrant Arrests, No Criminal Charges

Friday, June 25th, 2010

A Watertown, Massachusetts man who may have been involved with the failed Times Square bombing attempt was in the country illegally, say authorities. A federal immigration judge has delayed a decision about whether or not to deport the man, however.

Pir Khan, a 43-year-old taxi driver who is originally from Pakistan, has lived in the United States illegally since 1991 and now faces deportation. Khan and his cousin, Aftab Khan, were arrested on May 13 in connection with the investigation into an attempted terrorist attack in New York City.

The May 1 incident, in which Muslim Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad left an SUV filled with explosives in the crowded Times Square district of New York, prompted an investigation which led authorities to the Khan cousins. According to the deputy chief counsel for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Richard D. Neville, Aftab Khan, 27, had Shahzad’s telephone number stored in his cell phone, and written on the back of an envelope that was found in the bedroom of the apartment that Khan shared with his cousin and some other men.

Neither man faces criminal charges in the alleged terrorist attack.

During a recent hearing, United States Immigration Judge Matthew J. D’Angelo said that there was evidence to show that Pir Khan had illegally crossed the Mexico-United States border in August 1991.

“I will find removability is established,” D’Angelo said during the hearing. “The evidence is clear and unequivocal.”

Saher Macarius of Framingham represents both men. In Pir Khan’s case, he plans to argue that the taxi driver’s clean criminal record, as well as his marriage to an American citizen, means that Khan should be allowed to remain in the country instead of being deported to Pakistan.

Khan had sought political asylum, beginning in 1994, but that was denied in September 2007. Khan appealed that decision, and also got married to Rebecca May Barry, then 22, a few months later.

Macarius has denied that either of his clients are acquainted with Faisal Shahzad, and that if ties existed between Aftab Khan and Shahzad, the former would already be facing criminal charges. Instead, Aftab Khan was ordered deported last week.

Pir Khan is being held at the Plymouth County Jail for the alleged immigration violations. During an earlier hearing in his case, Neville questioned whether Khan had two wives, saying that during the political asylum application process, the immigrant had mentioned a wife back in Pakistan. According to Macarius, however, Khan was never legally married to the Pakistani woman, who had died in 2001.

Husband and Gang Member Arrested in Connection with L.A. Cold Case

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Seven years after Virginia Alvarez was murdered, charges have finally been filed against her former husband, an alleged gang member and the gang member’s girlfriend.

According to court documents, Gustavo Alvarez hired a member of the notorious Mexican street gang the Avenues to kill his wife. Virginia Alvarez was shot in the head over the Fourth of July weekend in 2003, after stepping out of the couple’s SUV outside of a restaurant. The assailant then fled in a car driven by an accomplice.

Until recently, the case had been unsolved, but a break came two years ago, when Gustavo Alvarez’s brother, Jimmy, informed police that his brother had paid a gang member to commit the murder. Joseph Luis Sepulveda, who went by the nickname “Pee Wee,” had a history with Jimmy Alvarez; the two had committed a robbery together and been arrested for it.

Corroborating Jimmy Alvarez’s story was an aunt with whom Sepulveda lived. She told police that she overheard a conversation between Sepulveda and another, unknown person, in which he said that Gustavo Alvarez was going to pay between $20,000 and $30,000 for the murder of his wife. Sepulveda said during the telephone call that Alvarez had given him the name and location of the restaurant where the couple would be, and that he wanted his wife killed because they were having marital troubles.

In fact, the Alvarezes were in the process of separating when Virginia Alvarez was murdered, and that separation appeared amicable. They had agreed to divide their assets evenly, and Gustavo Alvarez had signed over ownership of their Pico Rivera home, according to court documents. However, Virginia Alvarez soon discovered that her husband had not only been having an affair, but also had assets that she didn’t know about, including a yacht.

Sepulveda’s uncle, Vincent Hernandez, also told police that Sepulveda had admitted to the killing. Sepulveda, 38, now faces capital murder charges, as does his girlfriend, Jennifer Barreau, 29. Barreau is accused of driving the getaway car after the shooting.

Gustavo Alvarez denied knowing Sepulveda after being shown his photograph by detectives in 2008. He was arrested in January after an accomplice agreed to testify against him, and is currently being held without bail at downtown L.A.’s Twin Towers jail.

The Avenues, also known as the Avenidas or the AVEs, is a notorious Mexican street gang with ties to the Mexican mafia. Some Avenues members have faced prosecution by the Federal government and the city of Los Angeles for hate crimes and other violent crimes. In September 2009, a series of raids across Los Angeles attempted to bring new charges against 88 Avenues members or known associates, after approximately 40 suspects were arrested on unrelated charges.

Authorities Find Head of Murder-for-Hire Victim

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

After searching for several days with the help of cadaver dogs, FBI agents and police officers from the California towns of Costa Mesa and Long Beach believe they have recovered the final body part—the head—belonging to a murder victim.

The severed head was found in El Dorado park, the same place where, on Friday, a severed arm and hand thought to be those of the victim were also recovered. A coroner will determine whether or not the remains match the DNA of Samuel Herr.

Herr’s neighbor, Daniel Wozniak, is accused of shooting and killing Herr in a theater at the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base, and then of dismembering his body and leaving the torso in the attic of the theater, where it was discovered on May 21. Authorities are not clear why the two were on the base, although Herr was an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan.

Wozniak, 26, is also accused of having used Herr’s cell phone to text his friend Juri Kibushi, whom Wozniak then killed at Herr’s apartment. Her body was found there on May 22 by Herr’s father. Both Herr and Kibushi were students at Orange Coast College.

Wozniak, a stage actor, had recently appeared ina production of the musical “Nine” at the Hunger Artists Theater Company in Fullerton, CA. He was engaged to be married to a “Nine” costar, Rachel Buffet, on Saturday—just a day after his arrest.

Police are investigating the possible connection between Wozniak—who, according to friends, had been experiencing financial troubles—and a 17-year-old boy who had withdrawn almost $2,000 from Herr’s bank account. The teen, whose name has not been released because he is a minor, intended to give the money to Wozniak. He is not currently considered an accessory to the murders, but may yet be charged with other crimes.

Wozniak is facing two counts of murder, and will be arraigned by videoconference this week. His father, Daryl Wozniak, said that he had not been able to reach his son in six months. He also said that the younger Wozniak tried to commit suicide after having been arrested, and was treated at Western Medical Center.

Two other men, Wozniak’s brother Timothy Wozniak and Buffet’s brother, Noah Buffet, were arrested for investigation of having been accessories after the fact, but authorities said that neither man was involved in the case, and will therefore not be charged.

Gang Member, Juvenile Detention Escapee on Trial for Murder

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

A teenaged gang member is on trial for stabbing a 23-year-old to death during a street fight in San Mateo County, CA.

Adrian Sedano, 18, is accused of the August 2008 stabbing murder of Ramon Buenrostro—just weeks after having escaped from Camp Glenwood, a low-security county juvenile probation facility. Although juvenile criminal records cannot be released, according to California law, most offenders at that facility are serving time for substance abuse, petty theft or low-level burglaries, rather than assault or battery convictions. According to authorities, Sedano had had several run-ins with the law before being sent to Camp Glenwood.

The fatal incident began when Sedano’s then-19-year-old girlfriend, Anabel Aguilar, got into an altercation with another young woman, Jackie Mendez, at a Redwood City 7-Eleven convenience store. Both girls gathered groups of friends and began searching the neighborhood for one another; when Mendez’s group arrived at Aguilar’s apartment, Sedano came outside holding an eight-inch knife. He was accompanied by several others, but according to prosecutors, no one else on either side of the altercation was armed.

The two young women began to fight again, and when Buenrostro attempted to break them up, he was attacked by two other men, including Sedano’s friend Christian Lopez, who was also charged in the crime.

Sedano then announced that he was a member of the gang called Nortenos, and punched Buenrostro. Their fight continued and moved down the street; just minutes later, the 23-year-old was found by friends bleeding on the sidewalk. He was dead within the hour. Sedano was arrested a few hours later in his apartment.

Sedano is charged with one count of murder and one count of engaging in felony criminal activity in furtherance of a street gang. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in December 2009, after a competency hearing determined that he was competent to stand trial.

Lopez, who had initially been charged with murder, later pleaded no contest to assault with a deadly weapon—he had used a metal object to hit Buenrostro—and released on his own recognizance until his sentencing in July. Lopez faces a maximum of four years in prison.

In the Sedano trial, Judge Barbara Mallach ruled that the teen’s escape from Camp Glenwood could not be presented during the prosecution’s case, although it might be allowed if Sedano testifies. His arrest touched off a civil grand jury report, a temporary freeze on sending juvenile offenders to the remote, dorm-style facility, and tighter screening of those who are sent there in the future.

Sedano faces 27 years to life in prison if he is convicted on both counts.

Former Police Commissioner On Trial For Perjury In Abuse Investigation

Monday, June 21st, 2010

The federal trial of a former Chicago Police commissioner accused of torturing suspects, and later lying about it under oath, has now begun.

Jon Burge, 62, was fired by the police department in 1993 for mistreatment of a suspect, but no criminal charges had been filed against him until recently. However, several civil actions have been taken against him by former suspects, who alleged that they were coerced into confessing to crimes by brutality, which was either perpetrated or condoned by Burge and other police department colleagues.

He is currently being tried on two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury, charges which were brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in October 2008. The charges stem from a 2002 review of the many allegations against him dating back to 1973.

The extensive case against Burge has at one time involved 139 victims; 19 investigators, including several special prosecutors; testimony before a grand jury; various investigations and hearings; and four suits, filed by death row inmates who claim to have been tortured during Burge’s tenure, against the City of Chicago, Cook County, Burge himself, and several current and former State’s Attorneys. The cases against the “city defendants” were settled for $19.8 million in December 2007; the cases against Cook County are ongoing.

Despite the millions of dollars spent on investigating Burge and his colleagues on the charges of torture, no indictments have been handed out because of the elapsed statute of limitations. Although Burge is not now being tried on the abuse and torture claims, Fitzgerald has stated publicly that he believes Burge is guilty of those as well as of the perjury and obstruction charges.

Anthony “Satan” Holmes, the first witness called to the stand by prosecutors, testified that Burge cuffed his wrists and ankles, tried to suffocate him by placing plastic bags over his head, and sent electrical current through his body. He also said that he passed out several times and was revived by Burge; eventually, he confessed to the murder for which he was being questioned in order to stop the brutality. Holmes, a former gang member, served 30 years in prison.

Other former suspects will be called to testify, as will a former detective who allegedly participated in the abuse under Burge. One of the suspects claims that he was threatened with a gun; another, that he had soda poured into his nose.

The trial is being held before U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow. If convicted on all charges, Burge could face a maximum of 45 years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty, and is currently free on bond.

Ex-Mayor Kilpatrick Facing Probation Violations, More Jail Time

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is headed to prison, after a judge’s ruling last month that he violated some of the conditions of his probation.

Wayne County Circuit Judge David said today that the embattled former mayor will get credit for 120 days served, but will spend a minimum of a year and a half, and up to five years, in prison.

Kilpatrick resigned from his mayoral post in 2008 as part of an agreement with prosecutors, after facing ten counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Kilpatrick and his former aide, Christine Beatty, had both testified during a whistle-blower trial that they had not been romantically involved but later, excerpts from over 14,000 romantic and sexually explicit text messages the pair exchanged were leaked to the press.

The plea deal, in which the mayor pleaded guilty to two felony counts of obstruction to justice, required Kilpatrick to resign from his post, give up his law license, and stay out of politics for five years. He was also required to repay the city $1 million, and served 99 days in jail.

After being released from jail, in February 2009, Kilpatrick began working for the medical software company Covisint, a subsidiary of Detroit-based Compuware, as a sales rep. He has been making $3,000 payments each month to the city of Detroit as restitution, but prosecutors say that he has been hiding assets and failing to disclose loans, tax refunds and cash gifts.

Groner ruled last month that these omissions constitute a violation of Kilpatrick’s probation. He found that the former mayor had received $240,000 in loans from prominent businessmen, as well as $23,400 in tax refunds.

Kilpatrick has paid $139,223 of the $1 million restitution to date. His defense attorneys argued that sending him back to jail would impede his employment, and therefore his ability to repay the city; attorney Michael Alan Schwartz also said that Kilpatrick would be able to repay the entire amount of restitution within two years if remains out of jail. Prosecutors, however, argue that failure to abide by the conditions of probation should be punished—with two to three years in state prison.

Kilpatrick’s term as mayor was haunted by various scandals and allegations of wrongdoing. He has been accused of abusing his power; giving preferential treatment to friends and family when making city appointments; assaulting a police officer; corruption involving contracts and kickbacks; funneling state grant money to his wife; slandering the police chief, Ella Bully-Cummings; using civic funds to pay for a family vacation; and even having a hand in the slaying of an exotic dancer with whom his wife had once gotten into an altercation.

China Suffers Spate of Violent Attacks In Recent Months

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

A Chinese man opened fire in a central China court office, killing three judges and wounding three additional people before turning the gun on himself.

According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the assailant was a 46-year-old man who was angry at the court for having ruled against him in a property division dispute. The ruling was made three years ago when Zhu Jun and his wife were going through a divorce.

Zhu, the head of security at the Lingling district post office, told a colleague that he was taking his guns—two pistols and an automatic weapon—to be inspected by city authorities. Instead, however, he went to the District People’s Court, broke into an office on the fourth floor, and began firing.

The judges whom Zhu shot had not been involved in the property dispute, and were discussing a case that was unrelated to him. Three other people were wounded in the shooting but are expected to live. Zhu, who had been living with his elderly parents following his divorce, then took his own life.

This incident is one of several in recent months that have shocked the country of China, which has traditionally seen few acts of violence taking place in the public sphere and against multiple victims. Experts say that the free-market economic reforms of the past few years, as well as looser social controls in the communist nation, have spurred a wave of violent crimes—despite the fact that private gun ownership is banned in China.

Other attackers have used knives, tools, and even vehicles to injure and kill others. A man who wanted to protest the demolition of houses in his village drove his truck into a crowd of workers, killing three and injuring an additional 13. Bystanders described how the man stopped his truck in the middle of the road, then accelerated suddenly and hit the workers. He was identified as Liu Danao, and although he has not been arrested, he is being pursued by police.

Additionally, a woman in her 40s is reported to have attacked nine fellow railways passengers on an overnight train. She stabbed her victims, including a 73-year-old woman, in the arms and legs before being arrested by police. Three of the stabber’s nine victims were treated and released.

Other attacks in China, especially several that killed schoolchildren, have been widely publicized.