Category Archives: Crime

These Law Enforcement Officers Wield Handguns and Vet Supplies

Health certificates, bovine bullet wounds, viral outbreaks, livestock animal abuse — these are just a few of the issues facing Nevada’s specially trained team for agricultural crime. They’re armed with guns and veterinarian supplies. They cover huge rural areas larger than some eastern states, and they call themselves “cow cops.” Tay Wiles shares their story at High Country News. Will someone make a Netflix series out of them, please?

All these shootings were a reminder of the vulnerability of northern Nevada’s ranches. They are some of the largest in the nation, requiring so much space for forage that there’s no way to strictly monitor where the cows go, what they do and whom they encounter. “Off the top of my head, it’s happened at least once to all of our friends,” Dave Stix Jr., president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said of the shootings. “Shit, you might was well start at the top of the list of all of our members — guarantee they’ve all had one killed or maimed.”

With their proximity to Elko, Jon Griggs and Mitch Heguy’s ranches are particularly vulnerable to mischief. Heguy became increasingly paranoid about who was driving by his property — found himself writing down license plate numbers of vehicles he didn’t recognize. “We leave the access (to BLM land) through our private land open,” he said. “We don’t lock it up, but we could.” Most visitors coming and going are relatively harmless. Griggs once found a group of dirt bikers tearing up a remote area of his rangeland. When he asked if they knew where they were, the bikers said, “Oh, we thought we were just out in the hills.”

But the shootings were different, something menacing. By the summer of 2015, the reward was up to $28,700. Wright and his team had only been able to verify that about 25 of the dead animals had been shot; infection can make it difficult to determine the cause of death, and the spray of a shotgun can make an infected bullet wound hard to differentiate from something like pigeon fever. Wright had told the press his team identified “persons of interest” in the case, but they led nowhere. The case was cold.

Read the story

Kingston’s Little Shop of Horrors

For the past few years, I’ve been fascinated with a bizarre murder case in Kingston, New York, where I live.

A local dentist, Dr. Gilberto Nunez, was charged with the 2011 death of his close friend Thomas Kolman, husband of Linda Kolman, with whom he was was having an affair. Kolman was found dead in his car early one morning in the parking lot of a Planet Fitness. He had the sedative midazolam in his bloodstream  — a drug Nunez not only used in his practice, but which he’d also just read up about on his computer.

In newspaper reports Nunez came off as both a cold-blooded killer and a bumbling amateur straight out of a Coen Brothers movie: failing to cover his digital tracks, faking emails from a CIA agent, as well as inventing emails from his mother begging Linda not to dump her son.

Read more…

Something Unspeakable Happened in Allende, Mexico

In March 2011, gunmen from the Zetas drug cartel descended on the small town of Allende, an hour from the US border, killing dozens, possibly hundreds of people — many of whom had no connection to the cartel — and destroying their homes and businesses. Seven years later, the town still has more questions than answers.

Poor management of confidential information about cartel leaders Miguel Ángel and Omar Treviño had caused a retaliation against their perceived informants that was swift and severe. Allende is a town so thoroughly infiltrated by the powerful cartel, there was little leadership or resistance to the violence. For ProPublica, Ginger Thompson interviews to victims’ families, the informers, and DEA agents in an important, difficult to read investigation.

Officers under my command responded to reports of a fire at one of the Garza ranches. We’re talking about less than three kilometers away from Allende. It appeared that the Garza family was having some kind of gathering. Among the first responders was a group of firefighters with a backup engine. They noticed there were certain people connected to criminal organizations, who told them, in vulgar terms and at gunpoint, to withdraw. They said there were going to be numerous incidents. We were going to get numerous emergency calls about gunshots, fires and things like that. They told us we were not authorized to respond.

In my capacity as fire chief, what I did was to advise my boss, who in this case was the mayor. I told him that we were facing an impossible situation and that the only thing we could do was to stand down, out of fear of the threats we faced. There were too many armed men. We were afraid for our lives. We couldn’t fight bullets with water.

Read the story

Schrödinger’s Convict: Actually Innocent, Actually a Felon

the front of the supreme court of nevada, a large door flanked by stairs and pillars

Megan Rose’s exhaustively researched piece in ProPublica, co-published with Vanity Fair, traced the trial, conviction, and sort-of exoneration of Fred Steese: after a judge declared him innocent of the murder he was alleged to have committed, he signed a little-known (and totally constitutional!) deal called an Alford plea. Rather than submitting to what could have been years of additional hearings to have his conviction formally set aside, the plea got him out of jail immediately — but kept the lid on the prosecutorial misconduct that put him there in the first place, and kept him on the books as a convicted felon.

Though unfamiliar even to some lawyers, the Alford plea has been around since a 1970 U.S. Supreme Court case. Henry Alford, a 35-year-old black man, had said he was innocent of murder but pleaded guilty to avoid an automatic death sentence. He later appealed, claiming that his plea was made under duress, violating due process. The Supreme Court disagreed. The justices ruled that it wasn’t unconstitutional to accept a guilty plea despite protests of innocence, so as long as a defendant had intelligently made the decision and was counseled by a lawyer.

Unlike the better-known no-contest plea, in which a defendant accepts a conviction without admitting guilt, the Alford plea lets a defendant actually assert his innocence for the record. The defendant acknowledges that the state might be able to get a conviction despite his or her innocence. All but three states allow the plea, but the federal government says it should be used only in “the most unusual of circumstances.” The Alford plea is most often used in bargaining before a conviction, like a typical plea deal, and could very well be taken by guilty defendants who simply won’t own up to their crimes. How often it is offered and accepted, and by what sort of defendants, isn’t tracked. Many prominent legal scholars, such as Cornell law professor John Blume, contend that prosecutors are using the plea to quickly and quietly resolve newly challenged convictions. It’s undeniably coercive for a prosecutor to tell someone who has been in prison 5, 10, 20 years that “you don’t have to admit guilt, just sign this plea and we’ll let you go,” Blume said.

Read the story

Treating Our Border As a Battle Zone

At Fusion, Sasha von Oldershausen revisits the story of Esequiel Hernandez, the 18-year old who Marines fatally shot when they were patrolling the border in 1997. They mistook him for a drug smuggler in a part of West Texas that the U.S. Government characterized as the front line of the War on Drugs. But how dangerous is this area? And is militarization the most effective way to reduce the drug trade? Twenty years later, many people here feel less safe. As one longtime resident said, “The moment you employ the rhetoric of war, it becomes a battle zone.”

It was this same wrongful characterization of Redford that would ultimately lead to Esequiel’s death. In some ways, it’s plain to see how the Marines could have mistaken Esequiel for a criminal, given “the fragmentary and sometimes inaccurate picture of local conditions,” as the congressional investigation stated.

JTF-6 was equipped with a cursory understanding of the area gleaned from notes written by their sergeant, recounted in the Marine Corp report, which stated: “Redford is not a friendly town,” and “Connections between town residents and drug traffickers were assumed to be the norm.”

They were not informed that families lived just a stone’s throw from where they were hiding, and that among them were Hernandez and his brothers and sisters, his mother and father, who resided in a small cluster of humble homes below the hill where he was shot. They were not told that Esequiel would herd his goats daily in the very region they were monitoring. They didn’t even know that the Polvo Crossing was a “Class B” entry—a legal route for pedestrian traffic to cross the river—until two days into their mission.

Read the story

The Great, Ongoing California Nut Caper

In California, massive nut heists rattled the state for two years before the industry figured out they were the target of a well-organized theft ring. “Nut theft has ­exploded into a statewide problem. More than 35 loads, worth at least $10 million, have gone missing since 2013.” At Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on these daring nut jobs, which are thought to be linked to a Russian organized-crime ring.

Read more…

These Activists Say Marijuana is a Gift from God

Marijuana Book Cover

With Jeff Sessions banging the drum to bring back the war on drugs, access to marijuana — even for medical use — seems more and more remote for red state users. At BuzzFeed, Alyson Martin meets activists who take a faith-based approach to ending marijuana prohibition.

Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she’s endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”

Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.

Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May.

“People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,’” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

Read the story

Wrestling With the Truth

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich | The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir | Flatiron Books | May 2017 | 22 minutes (6,102 words)

 

Below is an excerpt from the first four chapters of The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s gripping hybrid memoir of a murder case and family secrets. Blending crime reportage with first-person narrative of her own struggles, the braided story wrestles with trauma, violence, and the ways we try to understand the past, especially when those we trust betray us. Our thanks to Marzano-Lesnevich and Flatiron for sharing it with the Longreads community.

Note: This work is not authorized or approved by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center or its clients, and the views expressed by the author do not reflect the views or positions of anyone other than the author. The author’s description of any legal proceedings, including her description of the positions of the parties and the circumstances and events of the crimes charged, are drawn solely from the court record, other publicly available information, and her own research.

One

Louisiana, 1992

The boy wears sweatpants the color of a Louisiana lake. Later, the police report will note them as blue, though in every description his mother gives thereafter she will always insist on calling them aqua or teal. On his feet are the muddy hiking boots every boy wears in this part of the state, perfect for playing in the woods. In one small fist, he grips a BB gun half as tall as he is. The BB gun is the Daisy brand, with a long, brown plastic barrel the boy keeps as shiny as if it were real metal. The only child of a single mother, Jeremy Guillory is used to moving often, sleeping in bedrooms that aren’t his. His mother’s friends all rent houses along the same dead-end street the landlord calls Watson Road whenever he wants to charge higher rent, though it doesn’t really have a name and even the town police department will need directions to find it. Settlers from Iowa named the town after their home state but, wanting a fresh start, pronounced the name Io-way, even as they kept the spelling. The town has always been a place people come for new starts, always been a place they can’t quite leave the past behind. There, the boy and his mother stay with whoever can pay the electricity bill one month, whoever can keep the gas on the next. Wherever the boy lands, he takes his BB gun with him. It is his most prized possession.

Now it is the first week in February. The leaves are green and lush on the trees, but the temperature dips at night. Lorilei, Jeremy’s mother, isn’t working. She rented a home just for the two of them—their first—but the electricity’s been turned off. Her brother Richard lives in a sprawling house up on the hill, but she isn’t staying with Richard. Instead, Lorilei and Jeremy are staying with Lorilei’s friend Melissa, Melissa’s boyfriend, Michael, and their baby. The baby is two years old, old enough that he wants to play with the boy and screams when he doesn’t get his way.

Read more…

How Thieves Are Stealing 6500-Ton Ships Off the Sea Floor

At Outside, Kathryn Miles reports on how pirates are diving down to wrecks on the sea floor in search of scrap and are stealing 6500-ton ships in their entirety, leaving only the imprint of the massive hulls on the sea floor.

What these divers should have found was a 6,440-ton cruiser, complete with tower, turrets, and catapult—a ship long and large enough to launch a seaplane. Instead, they found only the impression of a hull on an empty seafloor. The vessel that had once lain there had first been discovered in 2001. It was surveyed a year later. Since then, recreational divers had visited. And sure, ocean currents can drag debris from a downed plane or even cause a renaissance galleon to resurface. But this was a massive steel ship. The only way it was going to go anywhere was if someone—or lots of someones—had moved it.

The team’s search for other battle casualties in the area was no less haunting. HMAS Perch, a 300-foot-long Australian submarine, was gone. So were two British ships—the 329-foot HMS Encounter and the 574-foot Exeter. Another, the 329-foot HMS Electra, had been gutted. A huge section of the Kortenaer, another 322-foot Dutch warship, was also missing. Seven ships in all—either lost without a trace or grossly scavenged. An eighth, the USS Houston, was mostly intact, but it was clear pirates had begun gutting it as well.

Sunken warships remain the property of their country of origin regardless of where they are found. Laws regarding their stewardship vary a little from nation to nation, but in general, the ships—and everything on or in them—belong to that country’s navy. There are even more specific rules, both stated and understood, for vessels containing human remains. It’s a code of conduct among divers: Let deceased sailors rest undisturbed.

But even for all this disturbance, the vessels and the lost souls they carried remained mostly intact. Until they disappeared altogether.

Read the story

The Unlikely Friendship of Long Ma and Bac Duong

When 71-year-old taxi driver Long Ma answered the phone and agreed to drive Bac Duong and a few friends home, he had no idea he was about to be taken hostage by three escaped inmates. Although one of Ma’s captors was set on killing him, he developed a deep bond with Bac, a fellow Vietnamese immigrant. After almost a week in captivity and thanks to Bac, Ma got away alive and today, visits Bac regularly in prison — the two regard one another as father and son. Paul Kix tells their tale in GQ.

Money had always been tight, which exacerbated the arguments between Ma and his wife. He knew she was losing respect for him and knew that everyone in the family noticed it. Rather than suffer the indignity, Ma moved one day, without explanation, from their home in San Diego. He found a little room in the Garden Grove boarding house and began a solitary existence as a driver—a choice that seemed to have led to this: He was a hostage in a squalid motel room, debating whether an accused killer actually cared for him.

The escapees decided they needed to move north, and on Tuesday morning, they drove 350 tense miles to San Jose, where they found another motel. The journey exhausted Ma. And that night he began snoring so loudly that he woke Duong, lying beside him. But Duong didn’t elbow him awake. Instead, he slowly climbed out of bed, careful not to stir Ma, and curled up on the floor, so Uncle might rest more peacefully.

Read the story