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.


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.