Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Accused Killers Catch a Break

Reprinted from Women In Crime Ink.

by Cathy Scott

Two murder cases with women as the accused killers have taken similar -- and unusual -- turns. Each was instantly labeled the “Black Widow.” And both women stood to gain millions should their husbands die.

In the first case, San Juan and Manhattan socialite 
Barbara Koganwas indicted late last year for the 1990 murder of her millionaire husband George. She stood accused of convincing her attorney to hire a hitman to kill George. Kogan’s estranged husband, with whom she was in the middle of a nasty divorce, was shot to death in broad daylight while George was walking from a neighborhood market to his live-in girlfriend’s high-rise apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Joel Seidemann, the Manhattan assistant district attorney who has been on the case for nearly two decades, is expected to refile a fresh charge against Kogan by the end of this year. During Kogan's arraignment in November 2008, Seidemann described the suspect as "a very angry woman."

"But when that anger became so overwhelming," he told the judge, "she decided to litigate the divorce through the bullets of a gun."

The second defendant is 
Margaret Rudin, charged and convicted of killing her husband, wealthy real estate investor Ronald Rudin, then driving the body to a remote area on the shore of Lake Mojave 45 miles outside of Las Vegas, stuffing him inside an antique truck and setting it on fire.

The commonalities with the two women, both of whom are now 65 years old, are many. Rudin, who was convicted of murder, has been granted a new trial. Rudin’s conviction was overturned in December 2008 by Clark County District Court 
Judge Sally Loehrer, who ruled that Rudin, who has spent the last nine years in a Nevada state prison, had “ineffective counsel” during her first trial.

And Barbara Kogan, accused of second-degree murder in the contract killing of her estranged husband, has had the charge dismissed on a technicality. In July, State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus ruled that because another grand jury had failed to indict Kogan in the 1990s, prosecutors needed judicial permission to empanel a new grand jury that handed down the indictment against Kogan last year. The prosecution, he said, failed to get that permission.

Both women are expected to be in their respective courtrooms on opposite ends of the country sometime next year. Rudin’s first trial, which was much publicized and lasted 10 weeks, was one of Las Vegas's highest profile murder cases. For Kogan, “48 Hours” and “Dateline” have already made arrangements to be in the courtroom for the trial, which is expected to last eight weeks.

While prosecutors in both crimes claim greed as the motive, in the Kogan case, the only evidence against her is circumstantial at best -- unless, by trial time, the prosecution comes up with more.

As for Rudin, it's mostly circumstantial as well, with hard evidence against her shaky. Her husband was missing in 1994, his car found at a strip club. Later, a boy and his father, out fishing together, discovered the burnt trunk and body near the shore of Lake Mojave on the Nevada side of the water. A gun, said to be the murder weapon, found months later in the lake, was not registered to Rudin or her husband, so that connection was never made, just conjectured.

After Rudin was granted a new trial, her new attorney, Christopher Oram, told reporters, "Obviously, we're very happy with the judge's ruling and look forward to going to trial.”

Kogan’s new counsel, high-profile criminal defense lawyer Barry Levin, said he’s looking forward to going to trial as well. “I intend to represent her zealously. I think she will be acquitted,” Levin said.

It all will unfold in their respective courtrooms. For the prosecution, both cases at this juncture appear to be uphill battles. But you never know what might happen as both sides sides duke it out in court.

Photo of Barbara Kogan in court (top) courtesy of the New York Daily News and photo of Margaret Rudin courtesy of TruTV.



Cathy Scott is writing a true crime book (St. Martin's Press) about the Barbara Kogan case.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Real or Rumor? Tupac's Killer Charged?








Reprinted from Women in Ink Crime Blog
By Cathy Scott
It always amazes me when I see a rumor picked up by a media outlet, regardless of how small that outlet is. So I was once again surprised a couple weeks ago when I got an e-mail from a TV producer asking about an arrest in the 13-year-old murder case of platinum-selling rapper Tupac Shakur. I put on my sleuth cap and started digging. This is what was first reported, from Backseat Cuddler, a gossip site that got Tupac fans and the hip hop world hyped up: BREAKING NEWS - Tupac Shakur Killer Has Been Arrested In Las Vegas I just received a message from my source in Las Vegas that Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tupac died on September 13, 1996. On the night of September 7, 1996, Shakur was shot four times in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas. He died six days later of respiratory failure and cardiac arrest at the University Medical Center. Tupac Shakur was a rapper, actor, and social activist. Story developing…..

That prompted “Gossip Headlines” to print this reaction, which, in turn, prompted three pages of comments from readers:





Arrest Made? OMG, OMG, O-M-G, if this is true, hip-hop is about to go into a tailspin!!! According to BackSeatCuddler, Tupac Shakur’s killer has been arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada!!! It was there in Sin City 13 years ago (September 13 marked the 13th anniversary) where the legendary rapper was shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger seat of Suge Knight’s BMW after leaving a Mike Tyson fight at the MGM Grand Hotel. Tupac died six days later from respiratory failure and cardiopulmonary arrest caused by multiple gunshot wounds. See Original Story For More.

Wow, I thought to myself, how could I have missed that one? Maybe it had to do with Notorious B.I.G.’s case, I thought. And that was odd too, because Las Vegas reporters would have been all over the Tupac story. A source wasn’t listed in the postings. So I checked TV and print sites and there were no mentions of an arrest. Then I reached out to my law enforcement contacts in Las Vegas and Nevada. “No,” said a source in the Los Angeles area, “there haven't been any arrests in the Tupac and Biggie cases here.” Then I called the homicide unit of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and talked with a spokesperson. “There haven’t been any arrests in that case,” she said. I put out a few more feelers. I came up empty.


The only news involving Tupac, who, besides being a rapper, was an actor and poet, is that the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, runs, is partnering with Woodruff Library to prepare Tupac’s writings and papers for scholarly research. The Tupac Shakur Collection is currently housed within the Woodruff Library's Archives and Special Collections Department. It features Tupac’s handwritten lyrics, personal notes and fan correspondence, among other items. Meanwhile, the rumor about an arrest in Tupac's case coincided with the 13th anniversary of his murder. As a result of the anniversary and the rumor, record sales for Tupac’s music went through the roof. And sales for books about Tupac took off too. The warehouse manager at Huntington Press, my publisher for The Killing of Tupac Shakur, said sales had jumped and orders from Amazon.com were especially high. Other than that, it's been fairly quiet on the Tupac front. So much for a “developing story.”

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Settlement Law Justice Clipart
I've been thinking a lot lately about when and how I first became interested in criminal cases. My personal initiation was during my second year of college. It was quite an induction -- and one I shared with three others.


As a teenager, I regularly followed crime stories in the local newspaper and I was always interested in TV reports, although during that era growing up in San Diego County, there wasn’t much crime. I watched "Perry Mason" because it was one of my mother's favorite TV shows.

I lived in La Mesa, a suburb east of San Diego known as the “Jewel of the Hills” with its near-perfect weather and safe neighborhoods, which still have walkable, tree-lined streets. It was a quiet, middle-class, crime-free 'burb – and a good place to raise children.

And so it was shocking in the spring of 1969 when, in that same neighborhood, I became a victim, along with my twin sister Cordelia Mendoza and friends and neighbors Vickie Pynchon and Sharon Lawrence. And while we were victimized, it was so absurd that we laughed -- mostly out of embarrassment -- about it at the time.
 
We were jogging to prepare for a 30-mile benefit walk for hunger, plus my sister and I were getting swimsuit-ready for spring break in Palm Springs with college friends. So we took a week-night run like we had dozens of times before. We never felt at risk -- until that night.

We started out running from the end of our block, from the cul-de-sac on 71st Street. About two blocks later, a man sitting in a dark-colored Volkswagen bug stepped out of his car as we jogged by. The four of us were chatting it up as usual, but I remember it creeped us out enough to step up our pace.

Our route was to run a few blocks before turning right onto Colony Road then jog three blocks east to Harbinson Avenue. We typically ran seven blocks down Harbinson until we got to the La Mesa Presbyterian Church, then we’d hang a right onto Stanford Avenue and head up the hill for home.


But halfway up the hill, the same man we had seen blocks earlier stepped out of the darkness and under the light of a street lamp. He was naked from the waist down with his trousers around his ankles.

It was startling. But we moved so quickly that the man was as shocked as we were. He started running too, away from us, but stumbling because his pants were still wrapped around his ankles. He hobbled away while we crossed the street to the home of a neighbor, Mrs. Harris, to call the police. Sharon, in the meantime, screamed at the top of her lungs.

“I recall us making a mad dash up the hill toward LouJean Harris' house in the dark and, as we got farther away from the man, I remember laughing our heads off because Sharon was screaming and waving her arms hysterically a la Blanche in Bonnie and Clyde,” Cordelia said.

“The three of us, Sharon excluded, were together pretty fearless -- until it sank in later as to what the heck the guy was doing,” she continued.


Mrs. Harris made the call to police. When a police unit arrived, an officer had us describe where we had first seen the man and where we had seen him after he dropped his pants. We also described for the officer the man’s car. Then we all went home.

Probably 30 minutes later, an officer telephoned and said they had located the car in a driveway around the corner from our homes. Police needed the four of us to meet the officer on the street in front of the man’s house. So we drove there. Standing outside with the officer was the same man we had earlier seen on the street. The officer asked us to identify the man as the perpetrator. We did. Then he explained that because he hadn’t personally witnessed the crime, one of us would have to make a citizen’s arrest.

“Which one of you wants to do it?” the officer asked as he looked at each of us.

Without hesitation and almost in unison, Cordelia, Vickie and Sharon told him, “Cathy will do it.”

And so, reluctantly, I did.

The officer asked me to stand in front of the suspect and identify him. I remember I was trembling; I was just a few feet away from him. The guy was probably in his late 20s, maybe early 30s, and short. I tried not to look at him. I remember hearing nervous giggling in the background from my sister and friends as I repeated what the officer said as I made the citizen’s arrest.

In the ensuing days, Cordelia recalled, I remember how angry our older brother Michael was. I also remember being shocked, possibly a little fearful, that the man had a family and lived a block and a half away from us. I remember Mother feeling sorry for his wife.”

A while later, we all were summoned to a hearing at the El Cajon Superior Courthouse on East Main Street. Our mothers accompanied us. Outside the courtroom, we met the deputy district attorney who was prosecuting the case. He informed us that the suspect had just pleaded guilty. He was charged with a misdemeanor for lewd conduct. I recall our mothers were vocal about it being a lesser charge than they had expected. But, as Vickie, now an attorney, said, “Having him flash us was just ridiculous and embarrassing; I didn't feel let down by the justice system.”

And so ended my first involvement with a criminal case. It was, to say the least, an odd experience. I’ve been fascinated with criminal law ever since.

Vintage photos, top, of Cathy Scott, center, Vickie Pynchon, and, bottom, Cordelia Mendoza.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Tupac Shakur Case Revisited


Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink

By Cathy Scott

As the 13th anniversary approaches of rapper Tupac Shakur’s murder in a drive-by shooting near the Las Vegas Strip at age 25, the media come out in droves to cover it. TV news magazines started weeks ago on their pieces. All want to help solve the crime.

In the mix is the third edition of my book, The Killing of Tupac ShakurIn it, I’ve included new interviews and never-before-released information on the case, including a new interview with a detective. Also new to this edition is an exclusive interview, with first-hand background and information, with Reggie Wright, owner of Wright Way Security, the firm that provided security for Tupac’s record distributor, Death Row Records (renamed Tha Row).
Wright and his security team were on duty the night of the killing. Also interviewed for the new edition were Kevin Hackie, a cop-turned-bodyguard for Wright Way who once worked for the Compton Police Department, and Leila Steinberg, a one-time manager for Tupac.
As each anniversary rolls by, reporters invariably ask me the same question. “Will Tupac’s murder ever be solved?” And my answer has typically been, “I don’t think so.”
Now, however, new information is surfacing from law enforcement indicating that they’re looking at new information about two South Side Crips members. It appears it may be the break everyone has been looking for in the case--considered the highest-profile murder investigation in the history of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The latest details in the investigation are also in the upcoming third edition of my book, due to drop soon.
In the many years since Tupac’s murder, much has happened. To wit, Notorious B.I.G. (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls) was killed six months later. Biggie’s murder, like Tupac’s, has not been solved. In the aftermath, others have died as well. Orlando Anderson, a Southside Crips gang member out of Compton, long believed to be the shooter in the Tupac case, was cut down in a shootout. Also dead are Jerry Bonds and Bobby Finch, who were named by Compton police as the gang members riding inside the white Cadillac with Anderson when Tupac was shot.
A fourth man, Davion Brooks--also a person of interest and widely believed to be a passenger in the Cadillac--co-ran a studio in Las Vegas called A & D Records, short for Armed and Dangerous, until 2003, when he was arrested for the federal offense of trafficking drugs to local street gang members. Brooks now sits in the Terminal Island federal penitentiary in California with a scheduled release date of July 2013. A fifth man, Terrence Brown, known as T-Brown, was named early on in a Compton Police affidavit as having been in the Cadillac with Tupac’s assailant. None has yet to be officially linked to Tupac’s murder. The book’s third edition breaks down that night in a minute-by-minute time line, supplying the information needed for readers to decide how the murder went down.
To some, Shakur was not just another ghetto kid who had made it big in the rap industry. He was much more than that. He continues to be an inspiration, 13 years after his death, not only because of his music, but also for his ability to reach youth of all races. Whatever Shakur was, it’s indisputable that in both life and death, he took the rap industry by storm.
And now, with a team in place taking a fresh look at the case, the killers may very well be brought to justice and the questions surrounding Tupac’s murder, including untold conspiracy theories, may finally be answered.
For Las Vegas record producer David Wallace, who met Tupac at a party hosted by Death Row, Tupac's record distributor, about a year before the killing, Tupac’s music will live on, regardless of whether his murder is ever solved. “He was an artist,” Wallace said. “You can’t just sing tosomebody. You have to sing through them. Man, when Pac sang, he was real about it.”


The latest edition of The Killing of Tupac Shakur  is expected before Christmas. Stay turned for updates.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

New True Crime Book Review

Reprinted from True Crime Book Reviews

The Rough Guide to True Crime  is the complete compilation of crime's most notorious villains, heinous acts and shocking misdemeanors. The Rough Guide to True Crime provides an unusually wide coverage of crime's most preposterous occurrences and heinous acts; combining in-depth accounts of the most infamous to the lesser known crimes, from conmen to cybercrime, with "at-a-glance" fact files throughout. From the Moors murders and Harold Shipman, to the murder of 2pac, this guide illuminates the psychology in play behind the most intriguing crimes in history, from the absurd to the appalling.
Written by award-winning journalist and author Cathy Scott, it features include extensive black-and-white still photographs, featuring profile boxes by forensic expert Professor Louis B Schlesinger explaining the psychology of serial killers, hit men, burglars and various types of murderers. Lesser violations provide a lighter touch, including Paris Hilton's traffic transgressions and Winona Ryder's shoplifting fetish. The Rough Guide to True Crime explores the best of the haunting genre of True Crime, thrilling the armchair voyeur and amateur criminologist alike.
The Rough Guide to True Crime (Rough Guide Reference)
Country: US & UK
Format: Softcover
Author: Rough Guides; Cathy Scott
Publisher: Rough Guides Limited
ISBN: 9781858283852
Publication date: August 31, 2009
Pages: 336

Friday, September 04, 2009

Murder in Oklahoma

Reprinted from Women In Crime Ink blog:
by Cathy Scott

With this week's release of my latest book, The Rough Guide to True Crime, it seems only appropriate to present on Women in Crime Ink an excerpt about Bertha Pippin, an elderly woman who was murdered by neighborhood teenagers for no apparent motive.

I know Bertha's son, Jerry Pippin, a veteran radio broadcaster who has had me on his show several times. The story of his mother's murder was barely touched on by local media, then forgotten. So I decided to give Bertha a voice and include her story in my homicide chapter in The Rough Guide to True Crime. Here it is, in part.

BERTHA LEE PIPPIN

On a rainy day in November 2000, Bertha Pippin, 85, was fatally beaten with a baseball bat inside the Muskogee, Oklahoma, home where she lived alone. Frail Bertha was utterly incapable of defending herself against her teenage attackers, one of whom was a local girl, Amanda K. Lane. Bertha paid an appalling price for taking an interest in the welfare of this troubled teen.

Bertha was a mother and grandmother. Bertha talked about Amanda and how she regularly called her the “old lady.” Despite that, Bertha expressed high hopes that by being kind to the teen, she could reform her. Bertha empathized with Amanda, because Bertha too had gone through a lot when she was young. She understood.

Her mother had died giving birth to Bertha.Her sharecropper father told her she wasn’t wanted. He shipped her off to her grandparents, simple farmers who had little money.

A few years later, Bertha went to live with an uncle she had never met. She attended a small protestant church and met her future husband, the son of a Baptist preacher. They married and had four children. They lived a quiet life while her husband made a meager living.

Bertha felt Amanda deserved a chance, but she didn’t like the boys Amanda hung out with. She thought they were a bad influence, especially after Bertha learned they abused a pit bull that lived across the street. But Bertha insisted her son Jerry not report the abuse to authorities. Bertha was afraid the boys would find out and retaliate against her. She had a good sense about people, and it turned out her feeling about the boys was right.

Bertha was comfortable living alone; only a narrow alleyway separated her from her daughter Beverly Robertson’s home. Bertha was involved in her neighborhood. Between 9 and 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, Amanda and two of her friends – Gary Rightsell and Travis Phillips – carried a baseball bat to Bertha’s house. Amanda knocked on the door, telling Bertha she was locked out of her house and needed to use a phone.

While Amanda pretended to call someone on the phone, Bertha went into the kitchen to get a glass of water for one of the boys. As Bertha walked back to her living room, Gary hit her over the head with the bat. Bertha reeled and landed on the sofa. They asked her for money. She told them to hang on because her head hurt, that she would get the money for them and she wouldn’t tell anyone. That’s when Gary began hitting her repeatedly.

Then the other teen took the bat and continued. Amanda later testifiedthat she was ordered to hit Bertha too. Otherwise, the boys might kill Amanda’s three-year-old daughter. So Amanda too took her turn. Bertha’s body was discovered after Beverly sounded the alarm and called her husband and brother. There was blood everywhere. In Bertha’s wallet, untouched, was $300 in cash.

One of the teens, Gary Rightsell, who weighed 200 pounds, admitted to helping kill Bertha using a baseball bat they had gotten from a friend’s house. He pleaded guilty in Muskogee District Court to two counts of accessory after the fact. Rightsell cooperated with prosecutors as part of a plea bargain, and he helped in the arrest of Amanda Lane. She was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery by force or fear. She is incarcerated at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma, where is she serving out her life sentence.

Two months later, Judge James E. Edmondson sentenced Rightsell to 30 years in prison on both counts, 10 of which were suspended. Rightsell could have gotten 45 years of hard time in a maximum-security prison instead. He is serving time at the Howard McLeod Correctional Center in Atoka, Oklahoma.

According to the prison’s website, Rightsell is eligible for parole and scheduled to appear before the prison board in March 2009. If he's not paroled, his release date is June 2016.

Travis Phillips, owner of the baseball bat used to bludgeon Bertha, received a year’s probation after pleading guilty to a charge of obstructing a police officer in the investigation. He has been in and out of jail and prison ever since, mostly for substance abuse charges, according to the Department of Corrections in Okalahoma. Today, Travis is a free man.

A subpoena to testify was about to be served on the fourth suspect, Randy Hughart, when he was killed in 2001 during a street fight with a drug dealer. Hughart died from blunt trauma to his head, the same fate suffered by Bertha Pippin.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

R.I.P., Dale Hudson

Body of writer positively identified
We received very sad news today about fellow true crime author Dale Hudson, missing since Wednesday, Aug. 13. A body found near Hudson's abandoned car, left in a wooded area in Marion County, South Carolina, has been identified by the Horry County coroner's office as Dale's. The body was found in the Pee Dee River. The cause of death was pending toxicology tests. The Sun News reported that foul play has been ruled out.
After Hudson's car was located last Friday, detectives with the Horry County Police Department's violent crimes unit and crime scene investigators went to the scene where his car was found and began investigating the case.
According to CarolineLive news, a father and son fishing along the Pee Dee River about two miles south of the U.S. Highway 76 bridge discovered the body in the water about 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. 
It's ironic -- and at the same time eerie -- that Hudson's last whereabouts has become a crime scene. Detectives looking into Hudson's disappearance all no doubt had met him personally over the years as Hudson conducted his own investigations into various cases. The Sun News, based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, reported that Hudson, who was 56, "has profiled some of the area’s most infamous homicides."

It's true. Hudson was the author of Dance of Death, the story of Kimberly Renee Poole, a North Carolina woman who was convicted of getting her boyfriend, John Frazier, to shoot her husband in 1998 while the couple walked on the beach in celebration of their third wedding anniversary.

Hudson also wrote Die, Grandpa, Die about Christopher Pittman, a 12-year-old boy convicted of murdering his grandparents in 2001.  His last two books, released in 2007 and 2008, include All I Want To Do is Kill about the Holly Harvey case where she and boyfriend killed her grandparents because they ordered her to stop seeing him. The second was Kiss and Kill, about Rick Pulley, a highly a youth pastor and music director at his River of Life Church in Virginia, and the mysterious disappearance of his wife.

Hudson authored two more books with writer Billy Hills. They were An Hour To Kill, about the 1991 rape and murder of a Conway teenager Crystal Todd, considered at the time Horry County's most gruesome crime, and A Reason To Live, the story of Pawleys Island resident Wanda Summers, who survived the killing spree of two men in February 1979.

Hudson was a member of a true-crime online forum, of which I'm a member, but he had not been active since 2007. I never met him, but I feel like I knew him. We were, after all, fellow crime sleuths.

Rest in peace, William Dale Hudson. You and your investigative work will be missed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

More Ink: Blogger Outs Fictional Twitter Lawyers



Reprinted from ABAJournal



True crime author Cathy Scott solved her own mystery when she investigated two tweeting lawyers from the law firm "Bitcher & Prickman."
Lawyers "Beatrice Bitcher" and "Richard Prickman" may have raised some eyebrows in their posts on Twitter, but nothing they said was “exceedingly outrageous,” according to Legal Blog Watch. There was this post, for example, from Bitcher: "I'm giving Edward, an associate, choice. 1. Work on brief all weekend. 2. Be my weekend servant. He's thinking."
Scott noticed that some commenters, including some lawyers, took the posts seriously. But Scott became suspicious and checked out the Bitcher & Prickman law firm. She learned it was the creation of Texas cartoonist and lawyer Charles Pugsley Fincher.
“A funny thing just happened in the world of Twitter,” Scott wrote on her CathyScott blog. “Reality and fantasy crossed over.”


http://www.abajournal.com/news/blogger_outs_fictional_twitter_lawyers/

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Scott Included in Legal News Blog: 'Made-Up Lawyers Try Real World Networking'

Reprinted, courtesy of Law.com Legal Blog Watch (Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 31, 2009 at 11:29 AM) Among the lawyers flocking to contribute their tweets to the microblogging site Twitter are the two name partners in the law firm Bitcher & Prickman, Beatrice Bitcher and Richard Prickman. Those who follow their tweets may well have raised an eyebrow or two over some of what they say there. Bitcher posted this, for example: "I'm giving Edward, an associate, choice. 1. Work on brief all weekend. 2. Be my weekend servant. He's thinking." Soon after came this: "Associate chose being my servant over working on brief. Damn. Knows how to get partnership track, after all." As for Prickman, here is a recent tweet of his: "Law and morality go hand in hand. And money? Morality...Money. Both begin 'Mo' and end with 'y.'" Frankly, given what some lawyers post on Twitter, neither Bitcher nor Prickman stood out as exceedingly outrageous. In fact, Bitcher's tweets prompted another tweeter to invite her to join an online networking site, the Professional Women's Network of Southern California, which she readily did. As for Prickman, he found himself in an exchange of tweets with none other than lawyer-turned-celebrity Star Jones. But something seemed not right about these two Twittering lawyers to journalist and true crime author Cathy Scott. When she first started to follow Bitcher, Scott wrote on her blog, "I thought her name was a little odd, but that was about it. She had a lively banter going on with her tweets. Her avatar looked like a cartoon rendition of her photo." The more Scott followed Bitcher, however, the more suspicious she became. When she also found out about Prickman, she looked into this firm of Bitcher & Prickman. What she found was a cartoon, Bitcher & Prickman, drawn by lawyer and cartoonist Charles Pugsley Fincher. "Now, it seems, they'd jumped off the cartoon page and into Twitterland, where they were -- and still are -- being taken seriously some of the time," Scott wrote. "I'd been snookered, at least for a tweet or two." So Scott outed the lawyers for the cartoons they were, posting a tweet, "Meet & enjoy comic characters @BeatriceBitcher, her law partner @RichardPrickman & their creator @LawComix." When that was seen by legal blogger Victoria Pynchon, who had exchanged tweets with Bitcher, she tweeted, "I'm tweeting 2 a cartoon character -- someone slap a 72 hour hold on me!" Bitcher tweeted back, "Sometimes, dear Victoria, fantasy is more real. 24-hour hold...DENIED." One blogger who caught on to the comic nature of these two twitterers was Lynne Devenny of Practical Paralegalism. Devenny particularly likes Prickman's pandering to his paralegal, at least since the paralegal discovered romantic e-mails between him and Sarah Palin.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Twittering Fantasy Fiction

A funny thing just happened in the world of Twitter. Reality and fantasy crossed over. I was watching the tweets of new twitterer BeatriceBitcher, whose profile says she's a lawyer. I thought her name was a little odd, but that was about it. She had a lively banter going on with her tweets. Her avatar looked like a cartoon rendition of her photo. So I followed her. I follow a variety of people, including authors, writers, freelancers, agents and lots of animal rights people (yup, I love animals, keep up with the issues and try to help in any way I can). And I also follow some attorneys.

Beatrice got into a legal discussion with Victoria Pynchon (@vpynchon on Twitter), an attorney mediator-arbitrator. They were short discussion topics, of course, because the tweets are only allowed a maximum length of 140 characters. I looked to see who was followed by this Beatrice Bitcher person (notice I used the word "person"). One was Richard Prickman, listed as Beatrice's law partner at Prickman & Bitcher.

OK, it has to be a hoax, I thought to myself. But what was it, really? I went to what I thought was the Web site for the law firm Prickman & Bitcher and this is what I read, in part "Bitcher & Prickman is a weekly law comic strip. These female and male partners are from the dark side of law. They rag on associates about billing and make plans to buy city commissioners." Now, it seems, they'd jumped off the cartoon page and into Twitterland, where they were--and still are--being taken seriously some of the time. I'd been snookered, at least for a tweet or two. I tweeted something to the pair about being "comic characters." Beatrice responded with, "Ha. I'd expect a crime writer to come down on the side of truth and justice. You have exposed Beatrice's denial. Caution." I responded, ""It's the skeptic in me -- and the reporter." Beatrice added, "And I thought women stuck together." My answer? "We do. Do fictional cartoon characters stick together too? (Or are you based on a true character?)"

And so, Beatrice Bitcher was outed and exposed on Twitter for the cartoon character she is. A little while later, I wrote a post that said, "Meet & enjoy comic characters @BeatriceBitcher, her law partner @RichardPrickman & their creator @LawComix."

When Victoria Pynchon also realized Beatrice wasn't real, this is what Vickie posted on Twitter: "I'm tweeting 2 a cartoon character - someone slap a 72 hour hold on me!" Beatrice responded with this: "Sometimes, dear Victoria, fantasy is more real. 24-hour hold...DENIED."

It's a novel idea, taking a comic strip to Twitter and passing off the characters as real-life lawyers. And it's no doubt a first for Twitter. Clearly, Charles Fincher, Esq., the person behind Beatrice and Richard (or "Dick," as Beatrice fondly refers to him), is enjoying himself. He not only pulled it off; he's gaining a wide readership for his already-popular LawComix cartoons, bringing his characters to life on the pages of Twitter. In this case, Beatrice is right; fantasy sometimes does seem more real.

Cartoons of Beatrice Bitcher and Richard Prickman by LawComix.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

What Really Killed Michael Jackson?

What killed Michael Jackson? That’s the $500 million question. Somewhere in between news reports, statements by Michael Jackson’s cardiologist and witness accounts lies the truth of what caused the singer’s sudden cardiac arrest inside his rented Bel Air estate more than a week ago. If 50-year-old Jackson had taken the powerful anesthetic Diprivan, which was found in his home, then someone had to have given it to him. It’s a drip drug, typically administered intravenously in a hospital setting and closely monitored by anesthesiologists. When dripping, the patient immediately goes into unconsciousness. When it’s not dripping, the patient wakes up. But because it doesn’t take much to put a patient to sleep and to prevent overdoses, someone has to be there to monitor heart rate, oxygen intake, that sort of thing. Pay close attention to the statements made by both Dr. Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson in his mansion at the time of his death, and Murray’s attorney, Edward Chernoff. First, Murray denied injecting or prescribing Jackson with the powerful painkiller Demerol, a sedative reported as being at Jackson’s home at the time of his death. “Dr. Murray has never prescribed nor administered Demerol to Michael Jackson," Chernoff told The Associated Press. "Not ever. Not that day. ... Not Oxycontin [either] for that matter." He didn't say anything about Diprivan. Chernoff said that 20 to 25 minutes had elapsed before Murray, a live-in cardiologist for Jackson, ran downstairs to notify staff to call 911. On June 29, the Los Angeles Police Department released this statement to ET about their interview with Dr. Murray: But Rev. Jesse Jackson has said publicly that it was more like 50 minutes. "Dr. Conrad Murray, the physician who was with Michael Jackson at the time of his collapse, voluntarily contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. Detectives assigned to Robbery-Homicide Division met with Dr. Murray and conducted an extensive interview. Dr. Murray was cooperative and provided information which will aid the investigation." Something killed Jackson, who was shown on videotape 48 hours before his death singing, dancing, and looking strong. And while the coroner’s office has yet to determine the cause of death, the evidence now known appears to point to an overdose. Diprivan was found in Jackson’s home and removed by investigators as evidence. "Numerous bottles" of Diprivan without labels were found at the mansion, the Los Angeles Times reported. The narcotic is widely used in operating rooms to induce unconsciousness. Is that what also happened this time with Jackson? The American Society of Anesthesiologists said in a statement, after Jackson’s death, that Diprivan "should never be used outside of a controlled and monitored medical setting," Also, the statement said, the drug is “meant only for use in a medical setting by professionals trained in the provision of general anesthesia.” Jackson was last seen at a rehearsal the night before at 12:30 a.m. Sometime between then and 12:30 p.m. the next day--over a 12-hour period--something happened. Jesse Jackson, who spent time at the Jackson family home in Encino, Calif., made another good point, telling reporters, "There is a concern about what happened the last 12 hours of Michael's life.” Three months earlier, as relayed to the media by registered nurse Cherilyn Lee, said that Jackson, who suffered from insomnia, asked her in a phone conversation how he could get the drug and who he could get to administer it. She told Jackson it was dangerous and could kill him. He told her no, that he’d had it before and it was safe. It was the only thing, he told her, that worked for him. In fact, Jackson suffered from such a severe case of insomnia that in the mid-1990s, during the pop icon’s HIStory tour, Jackson traveled with private anesthesiologist Dr. Neil Ratner, who regularly helped “take down” Jackson and “bring him back up” during the pop icon's HIStory tour, CNN reported. As previously reported and by his own admission, the then-personal doctor for Jackson intraveneously gave Jackson an anesthetic. The doctor reportedly said, “I’d take him down at night and bring him out of it in the morning.” Four days before Jackson's death, Lee received what she described to The Associated Press as a “frantic” phone call from a member of Jackson's staff. "He called and was very frantic and said, 'Michael needs to see you right away,' " Lee told the AP. "I said, 'What's wrong?' And I could hear Michael in the background [saying], 'One side of my body is hot, it's hot, and one side of my body is cold, it's very cold.'” "At that point, I knew that somebody had given him something that hit the central nervous system," she continued. "He was in trouble Sunday and he was crying out." The 911 emergency call made while Murray, who had a practice in Las Vegas, Nevada, prior to taking on Jackson as his sole patient, was performing CPR contradicts what Michael Jackson’s doctor said on TV and in print. First, the doctor's attorney said CPR was administred while Jackson was lying on his bed. In a taped conversation released to the public, the 911 operator told a security guard at the house to get Jackson on the floor after the guard told the operator that Jackson was being administered CPR on a bed and that it wasn't working. Later, however, Murray’s attorney, speaking on behalf of the doctor, changed what he’d said earlier and instead said Dr. Murray had adminsitered CPR while Jackson was on the floor. Dr. Murray’s car, a silver BMW registered in Murray’s sister’s name, was towed from outside Jackson's Los Angeles home. "The car was impounded," Amanda Betat, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department, told ABC News. "One reason it was impounded was because it may contain medication or evidence that could assist the coroner in determining the cause of death." Law enforcement sources also told ABC that Jackson was addicted to Oxycontin and received it and Demerol in daily doses. The cause of death might not be known for a few weeks, pending additional toxicology, neuropathology and pulmonary tests ordered by the Los Angeles medical examiner, who performed the first autopsy, with an outside examiner performing a second autopsy for the Jackson family. Now that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is involved in the investigation, we should all know soon enough what caused Jackson's sudden death on June 25 and if anyone will be held accountable. In the meantime, law enforcement officials continue to comb through medical records to learn who supplied and administered the anesthesia Probofol and other drugs to Michael Jackson. Photos, by AFP, of Michael Jackson's Hollywood Star on Sunset Boulevard and Craig Harvey, Chief Investigator from the Department of the Coroner for Los Angeles County, as he arrives at the Holmby Hills home of music legend Michael Jackson. Photo of ambulance an exclusive by TMZ staff.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New Turn in a Death in the Desert Case

By Cathy Scott An interesting twist in a sensational but aging Las Vegas criminal case has reared its ugly head. And I, for one, am not buying it. Rick Tabish, who was twice tried (convicted, then acquitted) for the 1998 overdose death of casino mogul Ted Binion, is in prison serving time for three related charges in the case. The prosecutors couldn’t nab Tabish for murder. (Binion had died of a self-induced drug overdose after buying 12 pieces of tar heroin and also filling a prescription for Xanax, then drug binging for a couple of days; six months after Binion’s death Tabish and Binion’s live-in girlfriend, Sandy Murphy, were charged with murder.) Tabish, along with co-defendant Murphy, while acquitted of murder in 2004, after the Nevada Supreme Court earlier overturned the conviction, was found guilty in connection with unearthing a fortune of Binion’s silver from a vault in the desert floor in nearby Pahrump, Nev. Murphy was released and given time served. But Tabish was handed down consecutive sentences and is still in a Nevada prison after serving close to nine years. Since the second trial, Tabish has gone before the parole board three times but was denied each time--until last January when, after his fourth appearance, the parole board changed one of Tabish's convictions to a concurrent sentence, meaning he could released as early as mid-2010. It was rumored that because the legal and law enforcement communities in Southern Nevada couldn’t get Tabish on murder charges, they’d keep him in prison as long as they could. So far, it’s been working--until the recent parole board hearing. Now, coincidentally and seemingly out of the blue, a prison inmate--a member, no less, of the Aryan Warrior white supremacist gang--on May 20 testified in exchange for a lighter sentence during a trial (unrelated to Rick Tabish) that Tabish provided him with information about new inmates and with personal information, including home addresses, for law enforcement officers. And Tabish's reward for allegedly providing the information? The gang member claimed that he provided Tabish with protection inside the medium-security prison. Now, call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe in coincidences. And I don’t trust inmates who deliver salacious details for prosecutors in exchange for less prison time. Tabish has access to the Internet for his job inside the walls of the prison 30 miles north of Las Vegas, where he was incarcerated until he recently was relocated to northern Nevada. But it’s near impossible to get home addresses of cops, and certainly not via the Internet, let alone difficult to then hand them over to gang members without prison corrections officers knowing what’s going on. It’s even harder to believe that the computers used by inmates are not monitored to see what sites are being accessed. It’s all an enormous pill to swallow. Still, before you know it, the district attorney’s office might be handing down charges based solely on rewarded testimony of a prison gang member against Tabish, who, according to the prison, has a clean inmate record. To be certain, this latest twist is definitely worthy of following.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Latest True Crime Book

My latest book--The Rough Guide to True Crime--has hit the Internet stands--but not yet the physical book shelves. It always catches my breath for a sec when I see one of my books for the first time ('course, when I hold an actual copy in my hand--the real thing--that's a feeling that's tough to put into words). It's "a complete compilation of crime's most notorious villains, heinous acts and shocking misdemeanors" (to use the publisher's words). Penguin Books did an excellent job on the cover. Thus far, it's the lengthiest book I've written--a whopping 135,000 words--and it took a while to get it done. I write books in my spare time, so I didn't get a lot of sleep toward the end as the deadline hit. But I'm happy with the end product. It will be sold in the U.K. in supermarkets and book stores and in the U.S. at book sellers and also in airports. It's scheduled for release on Aug. 31. It's being presold here on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Somalia -- A World Away

Somali refugee women and children watch as a pool of reporters and photojournalists arrives at their village. (Photos by Cathy Scott) As the images taken off the Indian coast of Mogadishu, Somalia, and Mombasa, Kenya, streamed across the TV screen after pirates took Capt. Richard Phillips hostage, I couldn't help but think back on my 16 days in country. I stood on the beach near the Mogadishu airport, looking out on the vast Indian Ocean before me. It seemed so peaceful -- until I heard the gunfire coming from the city behind me from warlords and their armies fighting for their turf. I was instantly reminded that I was there to cover the U.S. miltary's efforts to quell the violence. I re-read several articles I wrote that were published in The Vista Press in North San Diego County. I looked at the journal I'd kept while I was there, and I thumbed through photos I'd taken. For 17 years, my stint covering the military's Operation Restore Hope campaign seemed a lifetime ago. Now that the captain has been freed, it feels like the clan fighting in Somalia has just happened, and my days spent in the Horn of Africa came flooding back to me. The Air Force misplaced my luggage at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during an 11-hour layover there, so I literally had the clothes on my back. (Thank goodness, before we deplaned, I'd pulled my canvas shoulder bag that included a TRS-80 portable computer, and, nearly as important, at least to me, my make-up bag. My luggage was never located.) 1st Marines in Mogadishu pose for photos. A private first-class Marine, with the 1st Marines out of Camp Pendleton, generously offered me two military-issue chocolate brown T-shirts (I still have them). Then, in Mombasa, Kenya, where we flew in to cover Somalis fleeing for safety to the Somali-Kenya border, I went into a small military exchange store and bought men's under briefs. Then, once at the Fleet Hotel, I bought a safari top and cargo pants and I was set. I happily removed the clothes I'd been wearing for four days and threw them out. Below is an op-ed piece published in the San Diego Union-Tribune a week or so after I returned from deployment with the military to Somalia and Kenya to cover Operation Restore Hope. It details my observations as I moved around the war-torn cities of Mogadishu, Mombasa and the primitive village of Waijir, Kenya. I read the column and remembered the children. Given today's pirates stalking ships on the waters surrounding Somalia, the lawlessness I witnessed 17 years ago doesn't seem much different. And that's a sad commentary to the selfless efforts made nearly two decades ago by so many humane volunteers and military personnel. THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE Friday, January 8, 1993 A visit to ‘the city of death’ Following are the impressions of Somalia and its people as related by a local reporter who traveled there with March Air Force Base troops to observe Operation Restore Hope. By CATHY SCOTT As I landed in the capital city of Mogadishu on Dec. 14, I could see the locals around the airport, lined up behind a fence. It was as if the landlord had moved out, leaving the tenants behind. The stench of the country, the smell of death and disease, hit me the second I stepped onto Somali soil. I was soon to find myself where some of the worst famine is found – in the inland city of Baidoa, aptly called “the city of death.” Josie Clevenger, director of the International Medical Center Corps (IMC) and a former Peace Corps volunteer, couldn’t speak of the daily atrocities committed in the name of feuding warlords without crying. “I’ve never seen so much death and violence,” she said. No anasthesia for surgeries At the Balboa hospital in Baidoa, pain medication wasn’t available, so muscle relaxants were used instead. Surgeries, including double amputations, were done without anesthesia. “Someone ought to do a story on the Somalis’ tolerance of pain,” Clevenger said. “They never cry out ... It’s unbelievable.” Also unbelievable is the dedication of these relief workers who have been in Somalia since summer. I watched as Dr. Raymond Pollack, a 28-year-old medical student from Arizona, removed a wire from a 10-year-old’s jaw, shattered the week before from a gunshot blast. The boy simply braced himself by grabbing the arm of an attendant. He shed no tears. The strain, though, is taking its toll on health care workers. Despite inoculations, they suffer from bouts of meningitis and dysentery. To see people living like cattle would upset anyone, but to witness it daily without improvement, while also putting themselves at risk, is unbelievably tough. Many journalists who have been in Somalia for more than a few weeks also complain of sickness, especially those staying in the hotel (if you can call it that) in Baidoa adjacent to square huts made of mud, sticks and stones, immediately next to stagnant street water. Reporters who already were in Somalia before the United States intervened came without military escort and therefore were not entitled to military rations or bottled water. However, in Mombasa, Kenya, the Air Force generously shared its water with the press. Because my group -- made up of Los Angeles-based KCBS co-anchor Bree Walker and her cameraman, a reporter from a Japanese TV station, and me -- had an Air Force escort, we were lucky enough to eat mostly military-issued meals and drink bottled water. Flies are everywhere We flew with both the Royal and U.S. air forces on a C-5 and C-130s. Crew members were curious about what we had seen on our travels. One asked, “Did you see any stick people?” At first I thought he said “sick people,” but he repeated it: “stick people, the starving ones.” Yes, we saw “stick people.” In the hospital, in the feeding centers and in the same orphanage President George H.W. Bush visited on New Year’s Day. And we saw flies. The flies are visible on TV, although the stench is not. Even the cargo planes we boarded quickly filled up with flies. So, like a religious ritual, out came a canister of insecticide and, in the sauna-like heat inside the cargo planes, the flies dropped around us as the poison took effect. Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Mikolajcik, during an interview, invited me to sit down inside an airport office in Mogadishu, where I was earlier warned the furniture was lice-infested. “No offense, General,’ I said, “but I was told these chairs have lice.” “No problem,” he replied, “Let’s go outside.” When we had arrived in Mogadishu, we had learned that the Joint Information Bureau’s public affairs officers hadn’t showered in eight days – not since securing the capital. These Air Force and Marine officers later were able to get relief by flying to Mombasa, Kenya, where they were bused to the Fleet Hotel. At the Fleet, where I spent my last three nights, I took what Air Force guys referred to as “brown water” showers. They asked if I had the brown-water rash yet. (I did get it, but it quickly went away.) After our depressing visit to the Baidoa hospital, our group stood outside near the dirt road I called “Baidoa Boulevard” that runs through the city. As I walked to a feeding center next door, all around me were human feces ripening in the humid 90-degree heat. There were no flushing toilets. No sinks. No kitchens. “Every time it rains, it washes the feces into the water and they (Somalis) get dysentery all over again,” Clevenger explained. In the feeding center, the people -- mostly women and children – waited for their next meals. Most couldn’t walk because they were too sick. Yet they were not shy. They reached out to welcome us and smiled. I constantly was being tugged at or pulled – by my hands, arms, clothing or the I.D. tags hanging from a chain around my neck. People were so eager to touch us, especially the children in the orphanage. The Somalis seen on TV walking and milling about are the healthy ones. The sickly ones lie by the road or shoulder-to-shoulder in a center. The suffering isn’t confined to the people of Somalia. In Wajir, Kenya, we were greeted at an abandoned airstrip by Somalis who helped unload the Royal Air Force’s pallets of a soy, rice and milk meal. We were driven by an armed Somali translator to a Kenyan village housing, in small huts, 5,000 starving Somali refugees. Along the red-sand road were three giraffes, who stopped to stare at us as the group, sitting in the back of a pickup, drove by on the dusty, bumpy road. Cry for help is heard One Somali woman, Habib, who lived in a mud hut near the make-shift feeding center on the plains of Kenya, appeared to be in her 50s. I was surprised to learn that she was only 25. Through the translator she told me she only recently had been able to walk to the center. She didn’t appear capable of such a feat. “We don’t have food. We don’t have clothes. We don’t have a place to live. Tell them we need help. Tell them we need help,” she repeated. The cry for help from this tragic Third World nation has been heard. But the stark reality is that the future of the Somali people lies with its children. They are the heartbeat of Somalia – the ones still with life in their eyes, the hundreds of orphans who eagerly hold out their hands in friendship, laughing and smiling. They may be the only generation strong enough to survive. So feeding them may very well breath life back into this nation and Operation Restore Hope will have been worth the effort.
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