Archive for August, 2010

Wife Guilty in Murder of Husband, Attempted Murder of Daughter

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

by a 60-year-old former English teacher, finding instead that she is guilty of first-degree murder in the death of her husband.

Mary C. Koontz was also convicted on five additional counts, including attempted first-degree murder and assault. Her lawyers had argued that Koontz suffered from mental illness for most of her life, and that it was this emotional instability, combined with the dissolution of her marriage, which led to the development of a dissociative state—a state in which Koontz fatally shot her husband of 20 years, Ronald G. Koontz.

The couple had been separated since November 2007, after Ronald Koontz obtained a court order to have his wife removed from their home and evaluated by mental health professionals. On June 19, 2009, however, Mary Koontz returned to her former home, where her daughter and estranged husband still lived. Seventeen-year-old Kelsey testified during the trial that she was asleep in her bedroom on June 19, 2009, when the incident occurred. After being awakened by the sound of gunshots, she looked up to see her mother in the doorway, holding a revolver. Kelsey rolled over, avoiding the gunshot that Mary Koontz fired. The teenager managed to shut and lock her bedroom door, then called police, who arrived to find the elder Koontzes, both covered in blood, wrestling to gain control of the gun. Police disarmed and arrested Mary Koontz; Ronald Koontz was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.

“I certainly believe she was not criminally responsible for her actions,” said defense attorney Richard M. Karceski, stating that his client’s borderline personality disorder rendered her incapable of understanding her actions that fatal night.

Mary Koontz, who remained calm and motionless during her trial, displaying virtually no affect, will be sentenced on August 10th. It is likely that she will be sent to a state prison, rather than to a psychiatric facility. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty.

As Kelsey Koontz left the courtroom, she said that she was “relieved.”

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, speaking to the press, said that the guilty verdicts were important for the well-being of the teenager, who “needs to live the rest of her life without having to look over her shoulder.”

Three Life Sentences for Ringleader of Triple Homicide in Newark

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The first sentence has been handed down in the case of three New Jersey students who were lined up against an elementary school, ordered to kneel, and shot execution-style in the head.

Rodolfo Godinez was given three consecutive life sentences by New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Ravin, who called Godinez “a menace” and “a mind diseased.”

A 27-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant, Godinez was convicted in May on 17 counts, including murder, felony murder, robbery and weapons offenses. He was the first of six defendants to be tried in the killings of Terrance Aeriel, Iofemi Hightower and Dashon Harvey, which took place in 2007.

The three victims, along with Terrance’s sister Natasha Aeriel, had gathered to socialize behind Newark’s Mount Vernon Elementary School. All four were either students or future students at Delaware State University, and 18-year-old Terrance Aeriel was an ordained minister. None of them had any criminal background whatsoever.

In addition to being shot in the head, Hightower and Natasha Aeriel were also slashed with a machete, and Aeriel was sexually assaulted. It was her hospital-bed identifications of suspects, as well as ballistic evidence and a fingerprint lifted from a beer bottle at the scene of the slayings, which led to the capture of Godinez and the others. Natasha Aeriel also served as the prosecution’s main witness.

“These kids weren’t into drug, they were minding their own business and these guys came up to them, robbed them, sexually assaulted one woman and then executed them,”said Romero Sukhdeo, the assistant county prosecutor.

Although Godinez maintains his innocence, saying that he was present at the scene but did not take part in the crimes, the prosecutors characterized him as not only a member of and recruiter for the MS-13 gang, but also as the ringleader of the defendants in the execution-style slayings of Aeriel, Hightower and Harvey.

Godinez was not connected with the gun or the machete used in the slaying, but he was convicted under New Jersey’s accomplice liability law.

Under state laws, he would become eligible for parole after serving 216 years in prison, according to the Essex County prosecutor’s office. The other five suspects are still awaiting trial.

Newark, which had experienced a 50 percent spike in murders in the years before the triple homicide, has since passed numerous anti-crime measures and implemented new police department protocols and technologies, including wireless camera surveillance and audio gunshot detection systems. These measures have been credited with lowering Newark’s crime rate.

Manson Acolyte Van Houten’s Parole Hopes Dashed Again

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Convicted murdered and Manson Family cult member Leslie Van Houten has once again been denied parole by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations’s Board of Parole Hearings.

This is the 19th parole hearing for Van Houten, who is incarcerated at the California Institution for Women at Frontera for her role in the 1969 slayings of grocery-chain owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. The pair was stabbed in their home after being tied up by Manson, who then sent Van Houten and several others to kill them. Van Houten confessed during the penalty phase of her trial to stabbing Rosemary LaBianca after she was dead.

The murders, which occurred just one night after those of actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Hollywood home, kept California and the rest of the United States in fear, and then in fascination as details about Manson and his family of devoted followers leaked out.

Van Houten, 60, was just 19 at the time of the murders, for which she has since expressed remorse. She has long been considered the Manson follower most likely to be paroled. Yet the chairman of the parole board, Robert Doyle, said at the end of yesterday’s emotional and lengthy parole hearing that Van Houten was not yet eligible for parole because she has so far failed to gain insight into her crime and motivation.

Along with deputy commissioner Carol Bently, Doyle said that the crimes in which Van Houten participated were so heinous that they must factor into the parole board’s decision. They did, however, commend Van Houten for her adjustment to prison life and her pursuit of education, including a bachelor’s degree. She is currently working on a master’s degree.

Although Van Houten exercised her rights to not be shown on camera, and to not answer questions, she did read a short statement.

“As a rehabilitated woman, I would like to state that the insight I have gained is not meant to excuse any of my acts. Insight is understanding the ‘whys’ of behavior so it won’t be repeated.”

If Van Houten had been granted parole, she nevertheless would not have been immediately released. Both the state parole board and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would have reviewed the case. Schwarzenegger recently rescinded the decision to parole another Manson follower, Bruce Davis, who was convicted of killing

According to prison officials, Van Houten is in good health. She will be up for parole again in three years.

Former Cop Posed As P.I. To Swindle Clients, Colleagues

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

A former California police officer is expected to be arraigned this week on numerous charges relating to an alleged private investigation scam.

Not only did Kevin Sianez, 53, bilk clients out of money, he also ripped off other private investigators whom he hired as subcontractors. Additionally, claim some of his alleged victims, when they tried to air their grievances on the Internet in order to warn others, they found their businesses attacked and their livelihoods threatened.

Sianez, a former Santa Ana and Stanton police officer, has never been a licensed private investigator. Between 2005 and 2010, however, he advertised such services on the Internet, doing business under several names, including KMS Investigations, Fore-Front Investigations and 4Front Investigations, say Orange County prosecutors.

Dave Qualls, who owns a small firm called Qualls Investigations, is one of the reputable, licensed private investigators targeted by Sianez. He worked as a subcontractor for Sianez in 2006, performing a surveillance job, but after turning over the results of his investigation, Qualls says, he spent several weeks trying to get Sianez to pay him what he was due. Sianez even went so far in the scam as to send Qualls an empty overnight envelope, in addition to multiple promises that payment was on the way.

The police told Qualls that since this was a civil matter, it was out of their hands. The P.I. then turned to the Web, but found himself the victim of a vicious attack. Others say that they were similarly defrauded, then harrassed when they attempted to post a complaint online.

Lori Johnson, another licensed P.I., noticed a litany of online complaints about Sianez—dozens of them, some dating back five years—while looking for references to her own business. After some additional research, she began making phone calls to the California Bureai of Security and Investigative Services, the FBI, the postmaster general, and the IRS. Although none of those agencies were able to help her, the Orange County D.A.’s office did investigate the claims against Sianez, leading to his arrest and the charges against him.

“He drew from that skill set as a police officer to do what he was doing,” said Johnson. “He knows where the envelope is and how far he could push the line. He knows when the police will get involved, and he teetered there on the line.”

Sianez is expected to be arraigned this week on 63 counts, including grand theft; second-degree commercial burglary; possession of a firearm by a felon; theft; identity theft; perjury; computer access and fraud; and possession of ammunition by a prohibited person. Moreover, he is additionally accused of engaging in a conspiracy to commit sexual assault of an animal, stemming from charges that he posted ads on Craigslist asking women to engage in bestiality with his dog.

Sianez had previously been convicted of theft and stalking.

66 Year Old Man Arrested in Cold Case Murder

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

A Lakewood, California man who had successfully lived a double life—and gotten away with murder in the process—was recently arrested by sheriff’s deputies.

James Edward Sims, now 66, is accused of the shooting death of Roy Radabaugh, 29, in 1981. The two fought in the parking lot of a Fort Myers, Florida bar over an exotic dancer named LaFonda Dalton, whom Sims was dating. According to officials with the Sheriff’s Department in Los Angeles County, Sims believed that Radabaugh was stalking her, and after an argument ensued, fatally shot Radabaugh in the face.

An arrest warrant was issued two days after the shooting by a Florida court, but Sims eluded capture by taking on the identity of another man, Willis Bronas, who had died in 1973. He left behind a wife, an 8-year-old daughter and an underwater salvage business in Florida, and lived for nearly 30 years before being apprehended.

Although the case had been featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” in 2005, a break didn’t come until about six months ago, when the Lee County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office cold case unit decided to take a second look. According to department spokesperson Tony Schall, they used “good old-fashioned police work” to uncover Sims’s alter ego. One of the pieces of evidence was a thumbprint which Bronas had submitted to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, as part of an application for a driver’s license, in 1997. They were able to match it to a print belonging to Sims which was already on file.

As Bronas, Sims started another underwater salvage company. He also met a woman, Sharon Beard, with whom he lived in a house which she had purchased in 2003. In addition to the salvage business, he also did construction work on boat landings, helped neighbors out with odd jobs and loaned them tools. They said that “Will,” as they knew him, kept to himself but always allowed neighborhood children to come play on the trampoline in his backyard. None of the neighbors had ever heard him mention having lived in Florida.

“This is all news to everybody,” said Steed Coats, who lived nearby and whose sons enjoyed jumping on the trampoline with Beard’s grandchildren.

Sims appeared in a Los Angeles County court earlier this week, waiving his right to fight extradition. He will be sent back to Florida to face trial on a first-degree murder charge. Until then, he remains in Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, held without the possibility of bail.

Off-Duty Deputy Constable Hit Son with Baton, Says Mom’s Lawsuit

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

An off-duty deputy constable who was working security at a Dallas nightclub could face legal action, termination for having beaten a teenager in the face.

Inabinet Saddler, 17, was rapping at The Mansion, a club in the Old East Dallas neighborhood of the city. He became involved in an argument with another man over a girl, but says that the fight had not turned physical. Witnesses corroborate his story, saying that there was no violence had occurred between the two. Nevertheless, Guadalupe Frias, 32, approached the pair and struck Saddler with a baton, causing him to fall to the ground.

Witnesses also said that the second man ran away when he saw Frias coming, but that Saddler’s back was turned, so that the blow came as a shock to him.

“I didn’t say anything to him and he didn’t say anything to me,” Saddler said. “To this day I don’t know his face.”

An off-duty constable, Frias initially told police that “he observed two males fighting and when he attempted to break up the fight, one male fell and hit his head,” according to the police report. During second interview, however, Frias told a different version of events.

“He changed his story, saying that he did hit the complainant, but he struck the complainant in the arm and then he fell to the ground,” said Dallas police Senior Cpl. Janice M. Crowther.

Two other deputy constables were at the scene when the incident occurred. One said that he didn’t see what happened between Saddler and the other man, but that he attempted to protect Frias from an angry crowd that was forming. The other one left the scene before police had a chance to question him.

Saddler was examined at Baylor University Medical Center; doctors said that the injuries “above his right eye were consistent with being struck with an unknown object” while injuries to the left side of his face would indicate that he had fallen down. According to Saddler’s mother, Patricia McMaryion, the teenager’s face is fractured near his right eye and so bruised and swollen that doctors will be unable to determine the full extent and severity of the injuries for at least a week.

“We are definitely pressing charges,” said McMaryion. “This was uncalled for.”

No arrests were made at the time of the incident, but Frias may face charges of aggravated assault, and could also be fired. Dallas police will investigate the incident, and the constable’s office will also conduct a public integrity investigation.

Mother Sues L.A. County for Negligence, Wrongful Death Over Girl’s Disappearance

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The mother of a former beauty pageant contestant has filed suit against Los Angeles County for wrongful death and negligence in the death of her daughter, according to court documents.

Latice Sutton filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, against both the county and several sheriff’s officials, alleging that the department failed to administer psychiatric or medical evaluations after arresting Mitrice Richardson, 24, who suffered from mental health issues.

Richardson was brought into custody after employees and patrons of Geoffrey’s, an upscale restaurant in Malibu, witnessed her acting erratically. Not only had Richardson been drinking and run up an $89 bill, which she refused to pay, she was also “sitting down with strangers and speaking in gibberish,” according to the lawsuit.

“It was not just the money,” said Jeff Peterson, the owner of Geoffrey’s. “Something was wrong with her. And it wasn’t the alcohol, and we didn’t know what to do with her, and we didn’t want to put her in a vehicle.”

Documents filed in connection with the lawsuit say that Richardson, after being taken to the sheriff’s office and detained, can be seen on videotapes “clutching the screen of the holding pen and rocking from side to side” and “pulling at her hair and trying to get into the fetal position face down on a concrete bench.”

Richardson was held for a time and then released, in the early morning hours of September 17, 2009. She was never seen again. Although her body has not been found, a court has declared her dead.

Sutton says that she made several calls to the sheriff’s station that night, trying to determine when her daughter would be released so that she could come pick her up, but that officials released her without notifying Sutton.

Sutton also alleges that her daughter, a former beauty pageant contestant and a college honors graduate, was released from the sheriff’s station “alone in an unfamiliar area without money, a cellular phone or means of transportation” and that this release amounts to negligence on behalf of law enforcement officials.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has denying all wrongdoing, saying that “all indications that night were that Mitrice was doing OK. She took sobriety tests, signed documents, talked to the jailer. She was not in mental distress when we were with her.”

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Manson Family Member’s Parole Hopes Terminated by Schwarzenegger

Friday, August 20th, 2010

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has rejected the recommendation of the parole board that an imprisoned former Charles Manson follower should be set free.

Bruce Davis, 67, is serving two life sentences for his roles in the killing of musician Gary Hinman and former stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea, in 1969. Davis was not involved in the most notorious of the crimes perpetrated by Manson family members, the slaying of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in the Los Angeles area.

In January, the state parole board recommended that Davis be released, citing his participation in all available education, vocation and self-help programs, as well as the fact that he has exhibited exemplary behavior and has remained discipline-free since 1980. Davis had been repeatedly considered for parole, but denied, as had many of the disciples of Charles Manson and Manson himself. In fact, this was the 26th parole suitability hearing for Davis.

Governor Schwarzenegger, however, recently released a letter stating that since Davis’s crimes were “especially heinous,” the elderly man should remain in state custody. Davis is being held at the California Men’s Colony

“I believe his release would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society at this time,” read Schwarzenegger’s letter. He did acknowledge that Davis has made “some credible gains” while incarcerated, but also said that he had repeatedly tried to minimize his involvement in the slayings of Hinman and Shea.

Additionally, Shea’s involvement with the American Nazi Party after he went to prison in 1972, and statements he made to the effect that if released, he would be subservient to his wife, gave the governor pause.

“Davis still exhibits conformist tendencies,” said Schwarzenegger.

While in prison, Davis earned his master’s degree in religion and a doctorate in philosophy of religion. He also married and fathered a daughter, who is now a teenager. He has previously stated that if released from confinement, he plans to live with his family in Grover Beach and look for work as a landscaper, as well as to get involved with a church.

His attorney, Michael Beckman of Santa Monica, said that he will appeal the governor’s decision, which he claims is invalid given the recommendations by the parole board and a board-appointed psychiatrist to release Davis.

“He doesn’t pose a public danger,” said Beckman. “It’s a political calculation rather than an individual consideration.”

Charles Manson, whose followers committed the infamous crimes in the late 1960s, remains incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison in Kings County, California. He is next eligible for parole in 2012.

Grandmother Sues Police Department, Officers After Being Tasered

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

An elderly, disabled woman who was incapacitated and burned by a police officer’s stun gun has filed a lawsuit against the city of El Reno, Oklahoma, as well as against several of its police officers.

Lona M. Varner, now 87, and her grandson, Lonnie D. Tinsley, filed the federal lawsuit in Oklahoma City. In it, they allege that their civil rights were violated, and that the city has failed to adequately train and discipline its officers.

The incident occurred on December 22, 2009. Tinsley had called 911, requesting a paramedic to check on his grandmother, whom he believed may have tried to commit suicide. When police arrived, Varner was brandishing a kitchen knife from her hospital-style bed. According to the police report filed by Officer Thomas Duran, he “tried talking to Varner and calm her down but nothing would work.”

When other officers entered the room, Duran says, Varner took “a more aggressive posture on the bed,” raising the knife above her head and saying, “If you come any closer, you’re getting the knife.” Duran was afraid that she would injure someone, so he attempted to stun her using the Taser. Only one of the prongs made contact, however, so he told a fellow officer that his Taser was not functioning properly.

Officer Joseph Sandberg then deployed his Taser, rendering Varner incapacitated enough that the officers were able to remove the knife from her hand. Varner suffers from numerous health problems, according to her attorney, including using oxygen and an electric cart to get around, and being blind in one eye.

The lawsuit alleges that as many as 10 officers pushed their way into Varner’s bedroom; that one of them stepped on the hose of her oxygen tank, causing her to experience oxygen deprivation; that she suffered burns to her chest from the stun gun; and that the officers ripped the flesh of the then-86 year-old’s arms.

Tinsley was also handcuffed and taken to an officer’s car, although he was later released and allowed to ride in the ambulance with his grandmother, who was taken first to an El Reno hospital and then to a psychiatric ward. She was held there for six days and then released.

A lawyer for Varner and Tinsley said that the policemen’s actions were inappropriate, and that the disabled woman could have been killed by the shock of the Taser. At least one expert in the use of force, however, has called the police officers’ actions justified due to the threat and expressed intent of violence that Varner exhibited.

Inmate Died In Extreme Pain, According to FBI Investigation

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

According to a coroner and a pathologist, an Illinois correctional facility inmate who died while in custody last November was in extreme pain for days or even weeks before his death.

Adam Montoya, 36, was serving time in the federal prison in Pekin, Illinois, for counterfeiting commercial checks, credit cards and gift cards, and for probation violations. He pleaded guilty to the charges in May 2009, and was released pending sentencing. Montoya, who has a history of using methamphetamine, returned to drug use during that time after learning that he was HIV-positive. After failing several court-ordered drug tests, he was put back behind bars, and in October, Montoya was sentenced to two years and three months in the federal prison.

Montoya lived for only 18 days after arriving at the Pekin prison. His fellow inmates said that he spent much of that time begging for help, pressing the panic button in his cell over and over again. Yet he was taken to the medical clinic only once, and only for about 10 minutes.

Coroner Dennis Conover found that Montoya, who suffered not only from HIV but also from cancer and hepatitis, had only a trace of Tylenol in his system—no other medication for what would have been excruciating pain in the last days of his life.

“He shouldn’t have died in agony like that,” said Conover. “He had been out there long enough that he should have at least died in the hospital.”

Results of an investigation by the FBI have been sent to the Justice Department, which will review the case and make a determination as to whether or not the prisoner’s civil rights were violated. Federal prosecutors could take action against the prison, its guards or both.

The coroner and others have said that the symptoms of hepatitis and cancer—yellow eyes, swelling in the abdominal region and rapid weight loss—would have been evident. The pathologist who examined his body said that Montoya’s eyes were yellow.

The last interaction that Montoya had with prison staff occurred at about 10 p.m. on November 12. He complained of breathing trouble and numbness in his fingers. The staff member told the prisoner that he would get help the next day, but Montoya’s body was found in his cell early the next morning. He died when his spleen ruptured, causing internal bleeding. An autopsy found that a massive tumor had engulfed the spleen, and was metastasizing to his liver.

Montoya’s family members have hired attorneys, but have not yet decided whether they will file suit against the Pekin prison.