The Disappearance of MH370
The Perils of Premature Conclusions
Crash investigations and criminal investigations have common enemies: The desire for a quick resolution, the fear by investigators of being perceived as ineffective or incompetent, and the resultant danger of premature conclusions. Beautiful downtown Leadville, Colorado.
I have been asked by CNN and friends to add my voice to the discussions of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). I feel well qualified to do so: I supervised Al Qaeda investigations for the Los Angeles FBI after 9/11, and these investigations obviously involved plots to down and/or hijack airliners. I have also been an active pilot (and for several years a professional pilot) since age 16. I have been involved in the investigation of two airline crashes suspected of being the result of terrorist acts (PSA 1771, December 1987) and TWA 800 (July, 1996). On FBI SWAT, I was extensively trained in retaking airliners from hijackers. Even growing up, I was steeped in airlines and airline security. My father (also a pilot and former FBI agent) was Manager of Security for United Airlines, authored two textbooks on aircraft and airline security, and sat on several FAA security committees.
One thing I have learned in the investigation of terrorism, violent crime and airplane crashes is that there is almost never a scenario which will answer all outstanding questions about a particular incident, nor will the correct scenario explain every circumstance you know to be true. There will always be mystery. That is why people still debate the Kennedy assassination, and why some still refuse to believe the obvious truth of the attacks against the U.S. on 9/11 by al Qaeda. Even if we had the flight recorder results in front of us, they would not answer all of our questions regarding MH370. This is because regardless of what happened on the ill-fated plane, people were afraid, people were confused, and people did not act logically at all times—and logical actions are the stuff on which we base all of our assumptions. So regardless of whether this was a hijacking, an airplane crash or anything in between, no scenario will explain every eventuality. But we are in no danger of running out of scenarios; some of them ludicrous.
One particularly silly assertion is that persons unknown flew the aircraft above its certified ceiling of 43,000 feet to the height of 45,000 feet in order to incapacitate the passengers due to lack of oxygen.
This shows a profound misunderstanding of modern aircraft. A Boeing 777’s cabin altitude at 43,000 is between 6,000 and 8,000 feet. Climbing to 45,000 (2,000 feet above its rated ceiling) would bring the cabin altitude no higher than 10,000 feet. For comparison, Leadville, Colorado is a town of 2,602 people situated at 10,152 feet above sea level. It is likely that the inhabitants do not consider themselves incapacitated. If one wanted to incapacitate passengers, they could simply depressurize the airplane at any altitude above, say, 25,000. No need to climb.
In all the speculation that I have heard on the fate of MH370, I have seen authorities in Malaysia making the same crucial investigative error over and over and over: They are making conclusory statements rather than observational statements. Here’s what I mean by that:
If I walk into a dark room in my house and the lights are off, there are dozens of different possibilities which would explain the lack of light from the bulb. These range from the light simply being switched off at the wall, to a bad bulb, to an overdue electric bill. All I can say with certainty (without further investigation) is that the bulb is not illuminated. If I flip the wall switch ‘on’ and the bulb doesn't go on, I have only eliminated one or two possibilities. If I state conclusively at that moment that the bulb is burned out, I am, in actuality, only guessing.
The Malaysian authorities are taking observations and making conclusory statements which are not supported by known fact. Instead of stating that “…at some point the transponder signal was no longer received by air traffic control,” they make the jump to say that “..one or the other of the pilots manually turned the transponder off,” and then provide no evidence to support that claim. There could be a dozen different reasons why the transponder signal was no longer received by air traffic control. Even if a transponder lost part of its function, such as altitude reporting, (something a pilot could switch off in the cockpit), it does not indicate that the pilot did so. Just because a pilot could do something does not mean he actually did. It could mean that the altitude-indicating functions of the transponder were interrupted—by electrical problems, for instance.
As an aside, I have spent many weeks in Indonesia and that part of Asia investigating terrorism and terrorist attacks. What I found was a reluctance on the part of host nations to cooperate fully in investigative tasks and a strong fear, bordering on paranoia about sharing investigative results. Our investigations were hampered, and the number of FBI agents allowed in-country to investigate attacks against Americans or American assets were greatly limited. This does not bode well for the investigation of MH370.
Another conclusory statement I have heard was that “..the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) has not been triggered.” This is not necessarily true. An ELT is like any other transmitter—including your cell phone—in that it relies on an antenna to broadcast a signal. If you disconnect any transmitter or receiver (such as your car radio) from its antenna, even though everything else might be completely functional, you would receive no stations. If the antenna of the ELT was disconnected for any reason, such as the aircraft coming apart, or an onboard fire, the device itself might transmit beautifully, but would have no antenna with which to broadcast more than a few feet from the aircraft. This type of scenario has occurred with enough regularity that the FAA is concerned about it. Most notably Sen. Ted Stevens’ plane crashed in 2010 killing everyone on board. No emergency locator transmitter signal was received. It was later determined that the emergency locator transmitter worked flawlessly, but during the crash, the antenna wire was severed. Certainly airliner antennas are more robust and better able to survive a crash, but they are not immune to fire or damage.
Fire inside airliners not as unusual as people would like to believe. In August, 1980, a Saudia Airline Lockheed 1011 suffered a cabin fire soon after takeoff, which many people still attribute to a passenger attempting to cook on an open fire; (not unheard of among religious pilgrims which made up the bulk of the flight’s passengers). When notified of the fire, the pilots donned their smoke masks and attempted to make it back to Riyadh Airport. They touched down safely and were even able to turn off the runway before being overcome by smoke. Tragically, and possibly because of the fire, they did not—or could not— depressurize the aircraft and firemen were not able to enter the aircraft. There were no survivors among the 287 passengers on board even though the aircraft landed safely.
In 1996, a ValuJet DC-9 experienced a fire which was caused by cargo in the forward hold near the nose of the aircraft. The pilot immediately turned back to the airport after takeoff, but the fire spread rapidly, progressively interrupting electrical power to the aircraft one system at a time, before it affected the pilot's ability to control the aircraft, likely burning through hydraulic lines and or cables. The DC-9 crashed without further radio communication and again there were no survivors. Both of these fires caused the death of everyone on board within minutes of the fire breaking out. Sometimes, the very first indication of an electrical problem is the inability to communicate outside of the aircraft. A less-stressful flying day
MY OWN EXPERIENCE
As a pilot, I have experienced an inflight fire in the cockpit. Ironically, this occurred 25 years ago this month, but the memories will never leave me. In March of 1989, I was the pilot of an FBI aircraft operating as “Ross 75,” in the process of a rendezvous with another FBI aircraft, “Ross 32” over the coast of Southern California. As I was communicating with Ross 32 and sliding into position well below him, a high-pitched, painfully-loud squeal erupted in my earphones and the earphones of my copilot. I instinctively looked at my gauges, and noticed that the electrical charge in the aircraft was pegged on the high side, well into the red zone. This was a very serious problem. It indicated that the alternator was putting out power wildly in excess of the aircraft’s needs, and I knew that the excess power would be routed directly into the battery, which would heat up, and had a high likelihood of exploding. I didn’t know how long I had to remedy the situation.
I keyed the microphone button and transmitted to the other aircraft, “Ross 32, ‘75’ is going to be off the air for just a second or two.”
No time for an explanation, no time for discussion, no time for anything other than the notification. Seconds after this transmission, a smoky fire erupted violently in my cockpit. I remember vividly the realization that I had only a few seconds to get the airplane safely on the ground—or into the ocean below me. The cockpit was filling rapidly with black smoke and I was having difficulty seeing out the windshield. A yellow glow under the instrument panel above my legs added urgency—this is an area shared by my legs and the fuel lines. The engine—ironically on the other side of the firewall—was running perfectly well.
I remember my first two steps—turn toward the nearest airport and lose altitude! Fires will burn into your fuel lines, into you, and sever control lines or cause major structural failure. We were fortunate. We were able to extinguish the fire by the time we reached 500 feet. But then, we had to deal with the fact that we had no electrical power, no communications, no transponder, flaps or landing gear, and were unable to even call for help. But we were fortunate. Had the battery exploded, no clue to our demise would have existed except my brief radio call “I’ll be off the air for a second.”
Recently, several friends (independently) forwarded to me the same article on the disappearance of MH370, written by a Canadian pilot by the name of Chris Goodfellow who had a startlingly simple and logical explanation to what might have happened aboard the ill-fated plane. Goodfellow’s article postulates that upon deviating from its intended course, MH370 did not turn to a random heading; it turned to a heading that, according to Mr. Goodfellow, led directly to the nearest runway large enough to accommodate a Boeing 777. If that is true, it speaks volumes to me. When I experienced my fire, I had one goal in life however short I felt that life might be: Get was my aircraft on the ground or in the water as soon as possible. I turned directly towards the nearest airport which would accommodate my aircraft.
The investigation of crimes and crashes share a truism: The most logical, simple scenario is usually the actual
scenario. The facts we have regarding MH370 are consistent with a cascading loss or deactivation of electrical and electronic componentry in the aircraft. That is generally not consistent with the takeover of an aircraft where the hijackers don't want to be seen by radar. If a hijacker has trained well enough to take over an aircraft and hijack it, he knows to turn off all the instruments all at once. He doesn’t have any reason to turn off one instrument right away, and then turn off another 15 minutes later. That makes no sense. However, a cascading failure of electronics is not only consistent with a fire or other malfunction in an aircraft, it is a leading indicator of that scenario.
I believe that it is entirely possible,
and consistent with the vast majority of known facts, that a fire of unknown origin aboard MH370 disabled its ability to communicate and eventually caused the incapacitation of the crew. The aircraft was likely “trimmed” for controlled flight, which would cause it to tend to remain in stable flight. If the crew and passengers were subsequently overcome by smoke, I believe all further flight occurred autonomously by the aircraft much as Payne Stewart's plane flew from Florida to South Dakota after its occupants were incapacitated. In that incident, the plane, destined for Dallas, flew north and continued for four hours before running out of fuel.
I believe that it is unlikely that we will ever find the crash site of MH370. But any search should likely begin at a location where the aircraft would have run out of fuel (considering the different fuel burns at the same power settings at lower altitudes.)
If the aircraft was below its cruising altitude, it would use an immensely higher amount of fuel per hour. HIJACKING?
There is abundant reasonable and mostly responsible speculation that the aircraft might be on the ground somewhere and that the passengers were kidnapped and may be alive. As a terrorism investigator, I do not find the logic of that scenario compelling. First, no ransom demand nor claim of responsibility has been made by anybody credible. Secondarily, the logistics required for such an undertaking are immense. The aircraft would have been on the ground now for well more than 10 days, and food and water for 239 passengers would be required (as well as dozens of guards to keep them in custody—remember, you have to have guards 24 hours a day, so assuming 8 hour shifts, triple the number of guards it would take to control the passengers at any given time.)
The other logical leap required is that nobody has noticed or reported a Boeing 777 in a place one has never been seen before.
Also, it takes at least five or six thugs to keep the passengers on an entire airliner passive in flight. And as the terrorists learned with United 93, sometimes even that isn’t enough. So they would likely need 10 or more thugs to control the passengers on a 777; and not one single individual meeting that definition has come to the surface.
Do I think that a hijacking scenario is impossible? No. Do I think it's likely? Not at all.
Also, “stealing” the aircraft to use as a weapon later
makes little sense. To use it, one would have to fill it up with jet fuel (approximately 45,000 gallons),
then, take off towards a target city thousands of miles and many hours of flight time away—all without a flight plan. It would be incredibly easy to identify, intercept and interdict an aircraft with a radar signature the size of the moon. As soon as it got within 1,000 miles of a major city, it would simply glow. As we saw with 9/11, the reason that terrorists must
use the aircraft immediately after acquisition is to take advantage of the temporary passivity of the passengers, the confusion of air traffic controllers, and the authorities’ reluctance to down an airliner full of innocent hostages. Once an airplane like MH370 is on the ground, there is no reason to believe that these hostages are onboard the aircraft anymore, so no reason to keep from shooting it down.
It is too early at this point to establish a proximate cause of the disappearance of MH370. But at this moment, I believe that Mr. Goodfellow’s scenario of a cabin fire (regardless of its source) is likeliest scenario. http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/
I have been encouraged of late by the outpouring of support for Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito by a particularly important group, at least to me: Brits.
As a proud Welshman by heritage (my grandmother was born in the Rhondda Valley, the daughter of a coal miner), I have always considered my British heritage a source of great pride and an important part of my identity, which I have attempted to pass on to my children.
So it has not been without some emotional pain that the Knox/Sollecito case has seemed to cleave along national lines (notwithstanding a few Americans of dubious motive) creating a ‘gap’ between myself and some British citizens. That people with whom I would otherwise likely enjoy spending a pub evening are capable of such vitriol, especially directed and my wife and me, is more disappointing than the vitriol itself.
The thought that I (or my wife) would decide such an important matter on national pride and not facts is an anathema to me—especially if the allegation is that I am prejudiced against the British. Michelle’s grandfather was a B-24D pilot stationed at Hardwick near Norwich in 1942. He flew 10 missions before being shot down over Cologne, Germany. (Or as he liked to say, “10 takeoffs and 9 landings.”) We visit Britain often and plan to be back soon. (We’ll likely see some of you then.) Tragically, the painful disconnect seems to result not from a difference of opinion, but a large “gap” between fact and fiction.
Ironically, I am accused of siding with Amanda because she is an American, and a woman. Interesting fact: More than 90% of all the people I ever arrested were American. I am completely comfortable with the fact that Americans can be criminals. Are American criminals to be favored above non-American criminals? It makes no sense. I have also arrested American women—some of them very attractive. In fact, I’ve never arrested a woman who was not an American.
I want the killer of Meredith Kercher to be punished to the full extent of the law. The problem is that the evidence clearly establishes that the killer of Meredith Kercher was a lone attacker, Rudy Guede. And because of the tragic mistakes of the Italian investigators and prosecutors, Rudy Guede will leave jail after serving a sentence unworthy of Meredith’s suffering and the Kercher’s loss.
Certainly, even if another irrational verdict is handed down, no rational person believes that America, or any other civilized country would extradite one of their own citizens to the host of such a witch trial. Certainly Britain would not, and I would support Her in that decision.
Of more significance is a historical look at what happened after the first, tragic "guilty" verdict for Knox and Sollecito in December, 2009. Almost immediately, there was a worldwide outcry from rational people over the injustice. This cry of "foul" rose in strength and volume, and it took only two years to reverse the travesty.
If this appeals court acquiesces to the outrageous demands of the Court of Cazzione, history shows us that a chorus of indignant cries will soon be heard and justice will not be denied. It will strengthen pro-justicve groups for years to come--at the potential (albeit temporary) cost of the freedom of one fine, innocent man.
Lately, however, I have enjoyed some encouragement.
More and more, a large group of British nationals are concluding that the evidence certainly clears Knox and Sollecito of any crime, and are becoming more involved in their defense. It does my heart good to know that Scots, Welsh, Irish and English, are joining the cause, as well as Australians, Canadians and Europeans from more countries than I can quickly call to mind. It is a great relief to realize that for every angry, misinformed Brit that I have encountered, I am finding even more who display the characteristic British fairness, civility and sober judgment.
It’s my hope that I too, can counterbalance certain misguided, hateful Americans, and that these articles help to close the gap between fact and fiction regarding the Kercher murder.
The protection from double jeopardy is one of the oldest and most important legal tenets in western civilization. According to some sources, the Athenians initiated the concept 1,700 years ago, and ironically, the Romans first codified the principle in 533 A.D. Britain considers the protections against double-jeopardy to be a “universal maxim of the common law.”
The need for such a prohibition is obviously to prevent governments (who are able to fund prosecutions ad infinitum) from simply wearing down the defendant’s financial, psychological or social ability to defend themselves, or at worst, keep a defendant in prison until their death.
The protection is important enough that it is included within the first five amendments to the Constitution. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “No person shall be…subjected for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.”
Double Jeopardy is defined by legal dictionaries as:
“A second [criminal] prosecution for the same offense after acquittal…or multiple punishments for same offense.”
Absent protections against double jeopardy, governments would be able prosecute over and over and over until they attain the verdict they are seeking, and then call the trial concluded and fair. Imagine in soccer (“football” outside the U.S.) a rule that would allow the home team to add as much time to the game clock as they like when their team is behind. Home teams would rarely lose.
WHAT IS “JEOPARDY,” AND WHEN DOES IT ATTACH?
"Jeopardy" is simply the legal term for danger or "risk."
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, jeopardy attaches any time a person’s “life or limb” (freedom or physical life) are in play as a result of a trial. The exact moment this occurs in a jury trial is the moment the jury is sworn-in or “empaneled.”
In Benton v. Maryland, (1969), the U.S. Supreme Court strengthened the double jeopardy provisions of the United States government by ruling that no state could hold double jeopardy protections less than those mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Remember that point.
WHEN DOES JEOPARDY TERMINATE?
Jeopardy terminates if and when The defendant is acquitted at any time.
Obviously, once they are acquitted, they are no longer at risk, and jeopardy terminates. However, if you then put them "at risk" once again for the very same charge for which they have already been acquitted, you have subjected them to "double jeopardy." This is true no matter how you couch it, what you name the proceeding, or how you camouflage it. A rose by any other name...would still stink.
This protection against double jeopardy attaches regardless of any and all post-trial evidence, even jury tampering found post-acquittal. Under U.S. law, an acquitted defendant could theoretically confess to the crime and not be subject to retrial on the main charge (though you might get them for perjury at that point). The reason for this severe restriction of a prosecutor’s power is the result of the excesses of King George III in the immediate pre-Revolution years in which he retried those who had been judicially exonerated.
This protection of the sanctity of a not guilty verdict is specifically designed to ensure that a jury, any jury, enjoys the power to nullify malicious prosecutions, judicial misconduct, and egregious behavior by the police.
WHY ARE U.S. APPEALS NOT DOUBLE-JEOPARDY?
Appeals in U.S. courts do not trigger double jeopardy for several reasons. First and foremost, no verdict of "not guilty" can be appealed. Ever. U.S. appeals are not retrials, and the person requesting the appeal is the defendant, never the prosecution. It is a protection from governmental power, not a protection of governmental power.
Secondarily, U.S. appeals deal only with procedural propriety of the previous court, and not the facts of the case. Sentencing is only involved if improper procedures were used by the previous court in the determination of penalty. In short, it is a procedural review of the previous court’s actions, and not a re-weighing of the evidence.
WHEN IS AN APPEAL NOT AN APPEAL?
I. An appeal becomes a retrial when the person "on appeal” has already been declared innocent or not guilty.
II. An appeal is a retrial when a second jury, (or third) is empaneled.
III. An appeal is a retrial when evidence is re-entered, and/or witnesses testify to facts of the case that deal with guilt or innocence, and not judicial procedure.
IV. Finally, a retrial exists when added penalties are requested by the prosecution.
Every one of these definitions of "retrial" have occurred in the involuntary "appeal" of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.
“MAY I HAVE HYPOCRISY FOR $800, ALEX?”
The great irony in all of this is that the founders and proponents of the prohibitions against double jeopardy are the judicial ancestors of modern day England and Italy, the two countries from which so many jackals currently yelp for Amanda Knox’s head and advocate for her extradition should the current third trial court convict her and her former boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito.
It is obviously in the best interests of Italy, the Kercher family, and Amanda and Raffaele for the witch trials end. But should they not, Amanda is not in danger of extradition. Tragically, Raffaele has no such protection.
“THE DAILY DOUBLE!”
Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were decisively exonerated (given a verdict of “innocent," a stronger vindication than “not guilty” under Italian law) in October 2011.
Under U.S. law, it’s over. Period. Or as the British say, “full stop.”
However, the Italians argue that this appeal of her innocent verdict has not triggered jeopardy a second time. This, they say, is because her case is simply winding its way through the “established Italian appeals process.” That it is winding it’s way through such a process may be true, but simply because something is an “established Italian process,” doesn’t make it legal in the U.S. or create a defense to U.S. laws. “Established legal procedures” in some countries include stoning, the cutting off of limbs, and double jeopardy.
Some who root for the Italians to imprison two innocents like to point out that the Italian Supreme Court allegedly "annulled" the decision of the appellate court which exonerated Knox and Sollecito. They can say what they want, call it what they want, but labels do not change the fact that the trial happened. And that is what matters. They may disagree with the court's findings, but they cannot pretend the trial didn't occur. The court might as well annul a rape and pretend that it didn't happen. (An judicial act which they have, tragically, gotten away with twice in the last five years.)
THE "DUCK TEST"
Poet James Whitcomb Riley coined a useful phrase at the turn of the 20th century. He observed wisely;
“When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck."
Italian Supreme Court "Sparrow."
The Italians can call their procedure whatever they like, but American courts know a duck when they see one. And American law will define Italian actions in light of the U.S. Constitution, not questionable Italian legal procedures and the ramblings of malicious, anonymous trolls. What Knox and Sollecito are enduring is in no uncertain terms a second trial on a charge for which they have already been adjudicated "innocent." End of story.
The current appeals trial of Knox and Sollecito in Florence is a second (illegal) trial under U.S. law because:
1. It follows an innocent verdict
2. It is rehearing evidence not related to procedural issues
3. It empaneled a new jury
4. The prosecutors will ask for an increased sentence
a. Second time in jeopardy for “life and limb”
The Italian argument (and that of some British Internet trolls) is that Knox's earlier conviction/exoneration have no permanent legal bearing because nothing in Italy is finalized until the terminal verdict of the Supreme Court.
Sounds like an interesting argument until you consider that after the first verdict, Amanda and Raffaele were held in prison for two years (in addition to the two they had already served). Sounds like the verdict held some legal weight separate from any appeal.
When Knox and Sollecito were exonerated on appeal, they were released. If the exoneration and innocent verdict were simply procedural pieces on the way to a final verdict, then their custodial status would not have changed. Their imprisonment then release is prima facie evidence that the verdicts of previous trials were valid in and of themselves. The fact that after release, Italy now attempts to put them back in prison is the absolute definition of double jeopardy. Jeopardy is risk. They were put under risk of prison in the first trial, lost their freedom, and were then released after being found innocent. Now, they are at risk of returning to prison. Second jeopardy--same alleged crime. This is not rocket science. But it is apparently beyond the comprehension of some Italian prosecutors and British Internet trolls.
Ironically, for double-jeopardy not to attach in this case, Knox would have had to remain in prison. Her release validates that the court's innocence decision was a final decision of at least one court—which could be (against all U.S. law) appealed.
The point that is apparently lost on so many is this: What might be legal to subject an American citizen to in Italy--will not necessarily be seen as legally valid once they are in the United States. While the U.S. will not interfere with "established Italian legal procedures" involving an American in Italy, when that same American returns home, it will adjudicate all matters relating to them in accordance with American law. Even if the case is an Italian case.
More succinctly: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do. But in America, you'll do it their way." The reason American double jeopardy laws were created were for situations exactly like this.
The Knox haters frequently assert that she has been “convicted” of murder and is appealing that “guilty” verdict. Such a statement is actually a helpful admission of the attachment of double jeopardy. For the Italian system not to violate double jeopardy, each and every lower-court decision would have to be called “provisional” and not result in any incarceration or punishment until the final verdict of the Supreme Court, or until the prosecutors gave up. The assertion of a "guilty" status is evidence of the opposite.
Italy is a wonderful country populated by wonderful people. But their judicial system has fallen back to the days of the Inquisition, and it is they, not foreigners who are paying the price. There are several Italians still on trial after at least two "not guilty" verdicts.
Happily, the chances of Amanda Knox being extradited to Italy (if corrupt Italian courts ultimately have their way) are zero. Or less. Even absent the double jeopardy problem, it is doubtful that a single piece of the prosecution’s imagined “evidence” would be admissible in U.S. federal courts, which would make extradition even more of a pipe dream. It's one thing to extradite after double jeopardy for a real crime, it's quite another to extradite the victim of a kangaroo court following double jeopardy.
Secondarily, once false or contrived evidence is entered by Italian prosecutors into U.S. court, they bear responsibility under U.S. civil authority for any misstatements, misrepresentations and/or actions they make/take. They (individually) and the Italian government would bear civil monetary liability for any damages incurred by Knox as a result. I suspect that there will be few volunteers among the Italian prosecutors to come to America.
It is a different story for Raffaele Sollecito. Raff is a fine, gentle, intelligent man who lived with my family for a short time. We consider him a close friend. He lived across the hall from my teenage daughter, and I had no fear for her safety. It is Raff who is in danger from the Italians, for in order to save face in their obsessive quest to convict the innocent, the prosecutors must ultimately imprison the one person who has no U.S. legal protections, which means once again, the Italians—no one else—will suffer at the hands of their government. would behoove the Italian judiciary to cut their losses and do justice at this point, while the chorus of embarrassing jeers is still at a manageable level. If the Italians push this point and bring their “evidence” and their legal system into a U.S. federal court for examination, nothing but national shame (and civil liability) will result. Their judicial "stock" will fall in value to frightening levels in the western world.
In the earlier soccer game analogy where the time can be extended by the home team, it’s possible that the other team will just keep scoring and further humiliate the home team. Sometimes it’s smart to take the first loss and walk away with dignity.
I asked you earlier to note the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that ordered all U.S. states to provide at least the same protection against double jeopardy as does the federal government. It therefore implies that no definition of double jeopardy, domestic or foreign, is valid if it does not match the U.S. federal definition of double jeopardy. If that is the protection the Supreme Court requires of its own states, how much more will the Supreme Court provide protection for an innocent American against an overreaching, byzantine foreign prosecution. Even if Amanda Knox is convicted by a corrupt or incompetent Italian appellate court, and it is ratified by the quaint but archaic Italian Supreme Court, Amanda Knox will never be extradited, and will therefore never be a "fugitive," except in the mind of those who see demons in the flesh walking the streets of Perugia.
As we have said, double jeopardy protection in the U.S. Constitution is specifically designed to ensure that any jury can nullify the malicious prosecutions, judicial misconduct and egregious behavior by the police. The appellate court of Judge Hellman did just that in October, 2011. Sadly, the Italian Supreme Court appears bent on snuffing that very spark of nobility so bravely struck in Perugia just two years ago.
THE COURT OF INSANITY
We expect a verdict this month in the court-ordered proceeding in the Kercher murder appeal in Italy. (Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito were fully exonerated over two years ago. But in May 2013, the Italian Supreme Court inexplicably ordered the case back to an appellate court in Florence, ostensibly to answer questions which somehow vexed them.)
Most court observers agree that if the case is decided on the merits of the “evidence,” then Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito will be exonerated—again. But if evidence really mattered, this case would never have gone to trial in the first place.
That the Italian Supreme Court would question the Appellate Court’s strong exoneration of Amanda and Raffaele should not have come as such a surprise. A year ago, before the Kercher decision, the Supreme Court ruled in a case that an 18-year-old woman could not have been raped by her instructor, because she was wearing tight jeans, which can’t be removed without her assistance. She was therefore, according to the court, a willing participant in the sex—much the same as a bank teller with a gun in her face is an accessory to bank robbery.
“But,” you think, “Surely that was an aberration.” Oh, if only. The Supreme Court’s decision regarding Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito was the meat-in-the-sandwich decision between the “jeans prevent rape” decision, and an even more stupid (if that were possible) decision by the same court last month. In this newest atrocity, the high court overturned the conviction of a 60-year-old pedophile social worker for having sex with an 11-year-old girl—because, they said, “the girl was in love.” You can’t make this stuff up—and you wouldn’t want to.
There was no denial by the defendant that sex between the two had occurred. Never mind that the age of consent in Italy is 16 when the assailant is in a position of authority (and 14 years old otherwise.) The 11-year-old was in love! This is not some country bumpkin outlying court, this is a central, Supreme bumpkin court. This is the court with whom rests a sober decision on the verdict in the Knox/Sollecito appeals court. Perhaps the court considers an 11-year-old girl an adult because she and the court share the same level of maturity and reasoning power. I am stunned that this court is not burning witches.
Certainly, all informed, unbiased people have discovered that the Kercher murder is no longer about facts and evidence; it is about Italy’s legal system “saving face.” (Spoiler alert: It’s too late.) Unless the appellate judge in this instance has the strength of character possessed by the last appellate judge, Pratillo Hellmann, then anything is possible. But know this; anything but a complete exoneration is a political expediency, not a judicial finding.
While I hope that Amanda will not have to deal with a false conviction and the travel restrictions an unjust conviction might impose on her, I do not fear that she will ever spend another day in prison—anywhere. Even if we ignore the obvious problem of double-jeopardy (regardless of what the Italian judicial system calls it), no civilized country would extradite one of its own citizens on the basis of such contrived, illegitimate evidence, or at the behest of a such a backwards legal system—even if it derives from a country as modern, sophisticated and wonderful as Italy. My fear is for Raffaele Sollecito, an Italian citizen. As usual, the main people to suffer when a legal system goes bad are the innocent people in that country.
In the words of “The Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln, “With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.”
There has always been a certain negativity about those who misguidedly believe Knox and Sollecito are guilty. Okay, let’s be real; with few exceptions, the group is malicious and hateful. They have promised violence, they have threatened lives, they have attempted to wreck careers and libel good people. They run the gamut from mean-spirited to simply psychotic. One attacked and tried to strangle his psychiatrist. Another is an accused stalker. Yet another claims to be Jesus Christ. These people wouldn’t be seated on juries, so why are we listening to them about evidence in the Kercher murder?
Recently, however, their actions fell to a new low. Deducing Amanda Knox’s love of animals by her website, some individual in need of psychiatric care posted a photo of a man holding the severed head of a cat. Threat? Maybe. Sick? Certainly. No wonder few of them will admit to their identity.
THE STRAW MAN
I am always curious about how my website articles will be viewed by people around the World Wide Web. My recent article on investigations and dealing with the families of murder victims has opened to very polarized reviews, to say the least.
The article had over 1,000 individual visits in 12 hours, and I have received not a single comment critical of the article. In fact, it is likely the most well received article (judging by comments on the site) that I have ever written.
However, my wife has received many hateful comments as a direct result of the article. My curiosity knows no bounds—why are those people afraid to comment to me? I wrote it, not Michelle, and she does not relay their comments to me unless I ask. What is the fear in pushing the “reply” button on my site? I suspect that they are terrified of me having their IP information and E-mail address.
(Until recently, my wife believed that she could influence people of good faith by discussing and debating the “evidence” of the Italian courts. It is because of that belief and desire that she can be easily found on the Internet—where she is hit by the vilest and perverse comments I have seen. I admire her for her optimism, but I believe that now she agrees with me that her efforts conclusively prove the truth of Matthew 7:6.)
Typically, in the responses to the article (second hand, as they were) the opposition had created a straw man argument to the piece. That is, they argued against and criticized me for saying something I never did. They claim I criticized a member of the family of murder victim Meredith Kercher, and that I positively linked that family member with a prolific, mean-spirited blogger, “Harry Rag.”
Of course, I did nothing of the kind. I was careful to take no position on the true identity of the blogger, though I did criticize him. In my defense, the opposition has steadfastly maintained that this blogger is not a Kercher. Therefore, I could not have been criticizing a member of the victim’s family. I have not accused any member of the Kercher family of any wrongdoing. In fact, I stated that if they had, they should be afforded great latitude and mercy due to their pain.
Possibly, what I said that so infuriated the anti-Knox faithful is to point out that even those who have sustained great, unjust and grievous pain, are not excused from responsibility for their actions. This is not an opinion, this is not intended to be hurtful, this is simply truth against which no one of good will could argue. And once again, truth has caused a great disturbance in the anti-Knox ‘force.’
The love of truth of those dedicated to the destruction of Amanda and Raffaele apparently knows no bounds. Unable to find truth in facts and actual websites, they have created their own truth. They have built a false “clone” of a Wikipedia page. Their knockoff deals with the Kercher murder case and is a fascinating read, if you’re into fiction.
The Wikipedia fake they created bears as much similarity to a real Wikipedia page as a $5 Rolex does to the real thing. Consequently many people will not notice that it is worse than valueless, and useless for even determining the time of day.
Conveniently, the site doesn’t have to stand up to any scrutiny but the authors.' He or she can say anything they want and not have pesky “editors” asking for attributions or proof. In short, it’s a great cancerous cyst of lies masquerading as a healthy organ. The authors then worked the system so that when “Amanda Knox” or similar topics are queried on the Internet, their site appears on as a response. It’s like a credit card number ‘phishing’ scam, except that they are attempting to steal two lives, not money.
Unsatisfied that this article was just sitting passively like a land mine, the group, (including that blogger I spoke of earlier, “Harry Rag,” who is not John Kercher, Jr. according to all these ‘truthies’) have forwarded this Wiki-knockoff to dozens if not hundreds of journalists around the world, attempting to influence…..truth.
No wonder the Knox-haters love the Italian Supreme Court so much.
There is a curious, loud and incessant drumbeat echoing from the villages of those who—for whatever reason—cannot or will not conceive that a burglar killed Meredith Kercher. This drumbeat has as its central theme the talking point that those who publicly argue the innocence of Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox are nothing more than paid mouthpieces for a multi-million dollar publicity “machine,” (or as one person has christened it, a “P.R. Supertanker.”)
This PR “machine” is, of course, is a complete fantasy fueled by insecurity, wishful thinking, xenophobia and misplaced hatred. The theory’s paranoid ideation is reminiscent of primitive cultures struggling to explain earthquakes or volcano eruptions and learn how to protect themselves from them. Ultimately, this or that all-powerful entity was created and young women sacrificed. How little things have changed.
In truth, there is no world-wide-web of paid “shills” for the Knox/Sollecito defense. It’s a silly construct which ignores the very first obvious question, “Where’s the money coming from?” (But if someone can create a "P.R. Supertanker" myth, they can surely create a "P.R. Supertanker Funding Source" myth, too.) However, the obsessive need to portray people who disagree with them as “paid to lie,” begs the question of why it is of such importance to those who are so convinced of Raffaele and Amanda's guilt.
As one of those who have spoken in the press as much as anybody outside the families on behalf of the innocence of Knox and Sollecito, I can say with absolute certainty and without fear of contradiction: I’m not paid and never have been.
For one thing, I will not sell my opinion. For another, I am not desperate for money. Despite the earlier fallout from my involvement in the case, I have (contrary to the statements and hopes of the other side) been gainfully, even well employed for more than a year in a position I love and in an industry which has nothing to do with the Kercher case or any investigative matter.
There is no evidence to prove that a public relations “machine” (of any kind, and by any definition, official or unofficial, paid or unpaid, small or large) has paid me, or any other experts like me to say anything, do anything or assert anything regarding this case. Period. The reason I can be sure is this: There can be no evidence of something that never happened. (Sadly, a common theme in this case.)
Ironically, the “P.R. Supertanker” is actually essential to only one side in the debate over the Kercher case. It is essential to those who have bought into the guilt of Sollecito and Knox, not the other way around. It is essential because it creates a "boogey-man" on whom they can blame anything which they cannot otherwise explain.
Anyone who believes that there is such a “machine" chooses to believe a myth, decides to believe a myth, and does so in the absence any evidence whatsoever. And they do so, apparently, because it somehow resolves a conflict in their minds and provides some sort of temporary (but completely false) relief. You can pretend all you want that the growling outside your tent isn’t a bear, but ultimately he can prove you wrong.
Such behavior is tantamount to whistling in the dark. As Freud said in 'The Problem of Anxiety,’
“When the wayfarer whistles in the dark, he may be disavowing his timidity, but he does not see any the more clearer for doing so.”
So why is it so crucial that I, and people like me are branded as paid shills? Why is it so essential that people who disagree with our conclusions must convince themselves that we are part of a high-speed, well-oiled, mercenary Death Star?
Simply because if we’re not paid hypocrites, then the truth is that there are experts in science, forensics and investigations who have absolutely no reason to side with the (wrongly) accused—yet have. It means that people with authoritative knowledge on criminal cases and DNA who did not previously know the (wrongly) accused or their families, looked at the case carefully, were convinced by the evidence and believe in the innocence of Raffaele and Amanda strongly enough to spend their own time and money to see them exonerated.
It strikes at the heart of their confidence in their own understanding. People like those who advocate for Amanda and Raffaele, who believe that strongly and put so much of their own unpaid effort into the cause have no ulterior motive, and therefore can’t be easily ignored. But they can be vilified. It becomes essential to have the Supertanker. Then, it’s not logic or ideas or truth that’s beating them at the grass roots level, it’s an evil empire. Supertankers are essential in order to fuel -----
Convincing one’s self that we are mercenary shills is as futile and ultimately self-destructive as those on the Titanic who refused lifeboats, vehemently denying that the foundering ship could sink—because the real truth was too painful to consider. In the end, however, reality always overcomes delusion. We are who we say we are, individuals united only by a common cause, and history will bear this out.
So, in reality, it's not the "P.R. Supertanker" the 'other side' fears. That's simply the 'god' they have carved from wood and at which they kneel to explain a phenomenon beyond their understanding. Their greatest fear is unbiased experts coming to rational conclusions and becoming personally motivated to see truth revealed and true justice done. Truth and justice which contradict their bias.
They have met their worst nightmare--and it is us.
AND THE FAMILIES OF VICTIMS:
A DELICATE BALANCE
With the recent discovery of evidence of the possible identity of vehement, frequently malicious, and obsessive anti-Amanda Knox blogger “Harry Rag,” I think it is prudent to discuss, with great respect and care, the issue of ‘victim families.’ This article, however, will not take sides on the claims and counter-claims of the identity of Harry Rag.
In the FBI cases that I investigated, supervised, or on which I assisted, the family members of dozens upon dozens upon dozens of victims had to deal with the tragic and unfathomable loss of their children, their brothers and sisters and/or other relatives. I dealt personally with many of those grievously wounded souls and my heart still goes out to them for their bravery, their strength and the sheer will it took for them just to get out of bed every day.
However, regardless of any law enforcement officer’s empathy for the victim’s family, absent their role as potential witnesses, family members should never, ever be allowed to become actively involved in the investigation and prosecution of suspects. Why? For the same reason a doctor should never operate on his own child: Potential lack of both perspective and emotional detachment.
The American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) Code of Medical Ethics states that physicians should not treat themselves, “or members of their immediate families.” The American College of Physicians Ethics Manual states; “Physicians should avoid treating….close friends or members of their own family.”
Why? Is there any doubt that the doctor would give his or her best effort? Do they fear that the doctor in such a situation would scrimp on care? Cut corners? Obviously not. Then why the prohibition? That answer is found in the dichotomous relationship between reason and emotion. In short, emotion can lead to mistakes; tragic and irreversible mistakes. Emotion may arise from the consideration of logic, but logic rarely, if ever, derives from emotion.
As a teenager, I worked at a store with a fine man named Joe Perez. Joe had three children he adored. One Saturday afternoon, Joe and his wife took the kids to the lake. All three kids went swimming, but one of them began to have trouble getting back to shore. Joe saw the child in difficulty and streaked into the water to save him. But Joe couldn’t swim. A lifeguard pulled the child to safety then went back for Joe, but he had already drowned. Joe is my hero for his emotion, his bravery and love of his child. But his lack of detachment kept him from waiting for a lifeguard, and doomed that very same son to grow up without the awesome father that Joe was. Joe’s best intentions hurt everyone he loved.
The only thing that can give a victim’s family any measure of comfort—even if tiny in comparison to their overwhelming loss—is a kind of closure; the finding and the punishing of the person who hurt their loved one. And this is where involvement in an investigation by a victim family is the most problematic. Their need for closure is sometimes as urgent as our need for the next lungful of air. It frequently causes them to fixate on the first suspect and be reluctant to accept evidence that might clear that suspect. Why is that?
Anybody who has raised ducks know that upon hatching, new ducklings will bond to the first biological entity they see, believing it is their mother—unless immediate and forceful action is taken. This phenomenon is called “imprinting.” They will choose humans, dogs, cats, or even (in lab tests) inanimate objects, as their “mother.”
People imprint, also. Many men and women imprint on their “first love.” If that first love was a thin, redheaded young woman, a man may find himself dating a lot of slight, redheaded women throughout his life. A recent study even postulates that many people even “imprint” on the type of computer they first used. Mac users stay Mac, and PC users are PC people—and discount or ignore evidence which might prove them wrong.
According to unimpeachable source Wikipedia:
"Imprinting is the term used in psychology and ethology to describe any kind of phase-sensitive learning (learning occurring at a particular age or a particular life stage) that is rapid and apparently independent of the consequences of behavior."
Family members who learn that their loved one has been murdered have entered “phase-sensitive learning” much the same way as newly diagnosed cancer patients. Both are going to learn a lot about subjects they never hoped to. It is in this type of critical phase that “rapid” imprint occurs, frequently “independent of the consequences of behavior.”
In some cancer patients, you see this in steadfast refusal to undergo standard, “best-chances” treatment in favor of unsubstantiated “cure” claims of holistic medicine or quack cures.
The families of murder victims frequently “imprint” on the first suspect in their loved-one’s killing. They immediately foist all of their loathing, their vengeance and as much pain as they can on that suspect, and I can tell you from experience, they hold on to that “suspect as the killer” with all their might. They do so because changing their minds means giving up the closure they had obtained, and taking back some of their cruel pain, their loathing and their vengeance. And if the investigator was the one who leaked the name of the first (now discredited) suspect, he or she owns some of the family’s pain. It is simply cruel to allow the family to live through the ups and downs of a typical investigation.
Do all victim families imprint or lack detachment? Obviously not. Sometimes the duckling is right. But the duckling will never know for sure, and the consequences of being wrong are deadly serious.
There have been many, many instances in which the police have leaked the identity of the suspected killer to victim family members, who then found and killed the suspect. In 1984, a man named Gary Plauche gunned down (as TV cameras rolled) the accused molester of his 11-year-old son as he was returned to Louisiana to stand trial. Once again, emotion trumped reason. Loss certainly does not authorize vigilantism.
It’s not impossible for the once-imprinted to change their beliefs. Carol Dodge, the mother of murder victim Angie Dodge, initially believed that the man that the police arrested for the crime, Christopher Tapp, was guilty of the murder. She spoke of how just looking at Tapp filled her with revulsion and loathing. But now, years later, after further evidence has surfaced, Carol no longer believes that Tapp is guilty. It’s not because she suddenly established a relationship with Tapp and felt sorry for him, it's because she knows that as long as Christopher Tapp is in prison for a murder he did not commit, her daughter’s murderer has gotten away with it.
Another problematic phenomenon of involving the victim’s family is their sudden “expertise” in forensics and criminal investigations. In an attempt to feel less helpless and even come to grips with the investigation, they study, they learn and they frequently attempt to insert themselves into the case. I can empathize. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, I learned more about medicine in the first six months than I have learned in the rest of my life combined. As much as I felt like an expert—and could even give myself injections, etc.—I was fooling myself if I believed that I was a doctor. I realized my mistake when I began arguing with my oncologist about treatment after I had studied on the Internet. His response brought me back to reality: “A doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.”
But why does all this matter today? It matters in light of the possible identity of angry blogger “Harry Rag,” and the resultant (potential) involvement of at least one member of the family of murder victim Meredith Kercher in the repeated trials of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.
First, such involvement might explain why in a murder case where three individuals were brought forward by the Italians as suspects, two are hated and one ignored, and the one who is ignored is the only one who admits (literally) that he had Meredith’s blood on his hands. Why is the hate for the suspected killers aimed at the most unlikely suspect, Amanda Knox, while the most obvious suspect, Rudy Guede is ignored? Because Amanda was the first arrested, the first publicly humiliated, and the imprinting was fait accompli by the time Rudy was arrested weeks later. By the time the evidence of Amanda and Raffaele’s innocence surfaced, the damage had been done.
As Mark Twain famously said, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Secondarily, it matters because of an anonymous individual who calls ‘himself’ (if we are to believe his claims of being male) “Harry Rag.” After years of literally obsessive and hateful rants (interspersed with rare moments of civility and debate), I discussed Harry’s posts with a psychologist friend of mine who opined that he had never seen someone “not directly related to the victim” who maintained such a vociferous and personal interest in the crime.
Recent revelations do apparently give credence, if not proof, to the belief of many that Harry Rag is in reality a member of the immediate family of Meredith Kercher; namely, her brother John Kercher, Jr., an employee of the BBC. ‘Harry’ has done nothing to disprove the allegations except to offer denials entirely unsupported by evidence. His refusal to end such speculation by simply identifying himself is particularly perplexing, and if he is not John Kercher, Jr., equally damaging to the people he attempts to defend.
However, if Harry Rag is indeed a member of the Kercher family, it would very well illustrate the validity of ensuring detachment between victim families and the legal system. If Harry Rag is a Kercher, then he has been attempting to influence public opinion without the ethical obligation of disclosing his very personal emotional involvement and potential bias regarding the case. He has claimed investigative and scientific prowess above and beyond career investigators and forensic scientists.
If he is not a Kercher, then “Harry Rag” owes it to that family to end the speculation and spare the family the embarrassment of being linked to his boorish ramblings.
Harry Rag has not been a spectator, nor do his actions meet any definition of “dignified silence.” Indeed, he has tried to professionally harm those who believe Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito innocent by—among other actions—contacting their employers and making malicious claims. He has engaged in some of the most obscene, hateful and undignified communications I have had the displeasure of witnessing on the Internet—much of it addressed to my family.
If it is ultimately proven that Harry Rag is a member of Meredith’s family, then he should be afforded sympathy, understanding and forgiveness for his actions. He has sustained a loss none of us can fathom and would wish on no person.
But loss is not license to engage in any behavior a person wishes.
Douglas MacArthur receiving the Thayer Award for living the West Point Code of Duty, Honor, Country.
I offer this simply as one of the great speeches of all time. It inspires and it teaches.
"General Westmoreland, General Grove, distinguished guests, and gentlemen of the Corps!
As I was leaving the hotel this morning, a doorman asked me, "Where are you bound for, General?" And when I replied, "West Point," he remarked, "Beautiful place. Have you ever been there before?"
No human being could fail to be deeply moved by such a tribute as this [Thayer Award]. Coming from a profession I have served so long, and a people I have loved so well, it fills me with an emotion I cannot express. But this award is not intended primarily to honor a personality, but to symbolize a great moral code -- the code of conduct and chivalry of those who guard this beloved land of culture and ancient descent. That is the animation of this medallion. For all eyes and for all time, it is an expression of the ethics of the American soldier. That I should be integrated in this way with so noble an ideal arouses a sense of pride and yet of humility which will be with me always
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Unhappily, I possess neither that eloquence of diction, that poetry of imagination, nor that brilliance of metaphor to tell you all that they mean.
The unbelievers will say they are but words, but a slogan, but a flamboyant phrase. Every pedant, every demagogue, every cynic, every hypocrite, every troublemaker, and I am sorry to say, some others of an entirely different character, will try to downgrade them even to the extent of mockery and ridicule.
But these are some of the things they do: They build your basic character. They mold you for your future roles as the custodians of the nation's defense. They make you strong enough to know when you are weak, and brave enough to face yourself when you are afraid. They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength. They give you a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.
And what sort of soldiers are those you are to lead? Are they reliable? Are they brave? Are they capable of victory? Their story is known to all of you. It is the story of the American man-at-arms. My estimate of him was formed on the battlefield many, many years ago, and has never changed. I regarded him then as I regard him now -- as one of the world's noblest figures, not only as one of the finest military characters, but also as one of the most stainless. His name and fame are the birthright of every American citizen. In his youth and strength, his love and loyalty, he gave all that mortality can give.
He needs no eulogy from me or from any other man. He has written his own history and written it in red on his enemy's breast. But when I think of his patience under adversity, of his courage under fire, and of his modesty in victory, I am filled with an emotion of admiration I cannot put into words. He belongs to history as furnishing one of the greatest examples of successful patriotism. He belongs to posterity as the instructor of future generations in the principles of liberty and freedom. He belongs to the present, to us, by his virtues and by his achievements. In 20 campaigns, on a hundred battlefields, around a thousand campfires, I have witnessed that enduring fortitude, that patriotic self-abnegation, and that invincible determination which have carved his statue in the hearts of his people. From one end of the world to the other he has drained deep the chalice of courage.
As I listened to those songs [of the glee club], in memory's eye I could see those staggering columns of the First World War, bending under soggy packs, on many a weary march from dripping dusk to drizzling dawn, slogging ankle-deep through the mire of shell-shocked roads, to form grimly for the attack, blue-lipped, covered with sludge and mud, chilled by the wind and rain, driving home to their objective, and for many, to the judgment seat of God.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.
And 20 years after, on the other side of the globe, again the filth of murky foxholes, the stench of ghostly trenches, the slime of dripping dugouts; those boiling suns of relentless heat, those torrential rains of devastating storms; the loneliness and utter desolation of jungle trails; the bitterness of long separation from those they loved and cherished; the deadly pestilence of tropical disease; the horror of stricken areas of war; their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory -- always victory. Always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men reverently following your password of: Duty, Honor, Country.
The code which those words perpetuate embraces the highest moral laws and will stand the test of any ethics or philosophies ever promulgated for the uplift of mankind. Its requirements are for the things that are right, and its restraints are from the things that are wrong.
The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.
In battle and in the face of danger and death, he discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when he created man in his own image. No physical courage and no brute instinct can take the place of the Divine help which alone can sustain him.
However horrible the incidents of war may be, the soldier who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind.
You now face a new world -- a world of change. The thrust into outer space of the satellite, spheres, and missiles mark the beginning of another epoch in the long story of mankind. In the five or more billions of years the scientists tell us it has taken to form the earth, in the three or more billion years of development of the human race, there has never been a more abrupt or staggering evolution. We deal now not with things of this world alone, but with the illimitable distances and as yet unfathomed mysteries of the universe. We are reaching out for a new and boundless frontier.
We speak in strange terms: of harnessing the cosmic energy; of making winds and tides work for us; of creating unheard synthetic materials to supplement or even replace our old standard basics; to purify sea water for our drink; of mining ocean floors for new fields of wealth and food; of disease preventatives to expand life into the hundreds of years; of controlling the weather for a more equitable distribution of heat and cold, of rain and shine; of space ships to the moon; of the primary target in war, no longer limited to the armed forces of an enemy, but instead to include his civil populations; of ultimate conflict between a united human race and the sinister forces of some other planetary galaxy; of such dreams and fantasies as to make life the most exciting of all time.
And through all this welter of change and development, your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable: it is to win our wars.
Everything else in your professional career is but corollary to this vital dedication. All other public purposes, all other public projects, all other public needs, great or small, will find others for their accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight. Yours is the profession of arms, the will to win, the sure knowledge that in war there is no substitute for victory; that if you lose, the nation will be destroyed; that the very obsession of your public service must be: Duty, Honor, Country.
Others will debate the controversial issues, national and international, which divide men's minds; but serene, calm, aloof, you stand as the Nation's war-guardian, as its lifeguard from the raging tides of international conflict, as its gladiator in the arena of battle. For a century and a half you have defended, guarded, and protected its hallowed traditions of liberty and freedom, of right and justice.
Let civilian voices argue the merits or demerits of our processes of government; whether our strength is being sapped by deficit financing, indulged in too long, by federal paternalism grown too mighty, by power groups grown too arrogant, by politics grown too corrupt, by crime grown too rampant, by morals grown too low, by taxes grown too high, by extremists grown too violent; whether our personal liberties are as thorough and complete as they should be. These great national problems are not for your professional participation or military solution. Your guidepost stands out like a ten-fold beacon in the night: Duty, Honor, Country.
You are the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our national system of defense. From your ranks come the great captains who hold the nation's destiny in their hands the moment the war tocsin sounds. The Long Gray Line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: Duty, Honor, Country.
This does not mean that you are war mongers.
On the contrary, the soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.
But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."1
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield.
But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point.
Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
Today marks my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps.
I bid you farewell."
Mr. Holland's Opus
"A man's gotta know his limitations."
Many of you may be familiar with the wildly popular Discovery Channel reality show, “MythBusters.” It’s a show in which two very clever guys, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, and their very clever 'build team' take on myths, urban legends, rumors and old-wives tales and endeavor to prove them true, possible or false; or as they say, “Confirmed,” “Plausible” or “Busted.” Using elements of scientific method, they empirically test well-known urban legends to determine their validity.
For instance, in one episode they disproved the myth that Benjamin Franklin ‘discovered’ electricity by tying a key to the string of a kite flown in a thunderstorm to facilitate it being hit by lightning.
Using medical and electrical instrumentation, they determined that if the key on a kite was indeed hit by
lightning, the wet string would impart to the holder of the string an electrical charge 6 times the strength necessary to kill a man.
In another, they disproved a myth with which I was familiar. When I lived in New York City as a child, my parents took me up to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building to see the view, and of course I wanted to throw a penny off the building. I was warned by my mother, “If a penny falling from the top of this building hit somebody in the head, it would kill them.” I had never thought of that. Not being an ace at physics when I was 5, I took mom’s word for it. Shaken at my brush with manslaughter, I pocked the penny with great relief. Imagine my surprise when “MythBusters” were able to prove that the terminal velocity of a penny falling from that exact distance was incapable of causing more than a bruise.
It's hard to give up pre-conceived notions and myths you have bought into. So hard that many people simply refuse to accept evidence that proves they were wrong, rather than admit their mistake and go on with life. This kind of denial is sad when it has to do with something as simple as the old wives tale of the fatal falling penny. When the denial results in hatred, threats, and attempts to punish the innocent, it borders on criminal. Apparently, like ‘The Force’ in Luke Skywalker, this type of denial is strong in the Amanda Knox hate groups.
As an example; I know a little bit about surgery. I’ve seen it on TV. I’ve read about it in books. I’ve even had surgery performed on me. But I don’t do surgery and I never will. That’s because I have learned enough about it to know that it is a vast, complicated undertaking and even as a fairly intelligent guy, I know I don’t know enough about surgery to keep from killing anybody I operate on. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know.
I’m guessing that the members of the Amanda Knox hate groups on the Internet would have no qualms about trying surgery. (On someone else). These malicious groups—and I can only assume that Mr. Holland is a member based on his statement—don’t know what they don’t know. It appears that because they have watched “CSI” or any number of “Sherlock Holmes” films, they feel that they have the knowledge and skill to be investigators. In the words of the immortal Jeremy Clarkson, “What could go wrong?” A lot.
"What could go wrong?"
"WHAT COULD GO WRONG?"
Forensics is not as easy as it seems. After graduating from the FBI Academy 30 some years ago, I felt I was a pretty good investigator. I was wrong. It was not until I had been investigating for a decade that I felt I that my experience was adequately rounded. In contrast, dozens of arm-chair Kercher murder investigators who have likely never missed a “Murder, She Wrote,” are dismissing the conclusions of dozens of DNA experts, forensic scientists, FBI agents, judges and pathologists, and damning two innocent young people based on their own amateur read of “evidence,” of which they have no understanding.
It reminds me of MythBuster Adam Savage’s catchphrase: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”
Recently, I was provided with evidence of exactly this type of denial; a couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on my April 13, 2013 article “(Another) Unpredicted Italian Earthquake.” This comment was so important and so illustrative of the problems involved in Amanda’s case that I felt it deserved not simply an answer, but an article.
The article in question outlined the fallacies of the Italian Supreme Court (famous for their recent ruling that women in tight jeans cannot be raped, as men cannot remove their pants without their consent), which failed to ratify the appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox. A Mr. Wayne Holland differed with me and wrote:
“Amanda’s DNA was found in 5 spots mixed with murdered woman’s blood. Bloody footprints were found using Luminol.
How soon you forget. Philomena’s floor had a mixture of Knox’s blood and Meredith’s [victim’s] blood. Even if Knox had innocent drips from pierced ears, it’s almost mathematically impossible that her blood or DNA would be mixing with a murder victim’s blood in so many locations, yet Knox claims she wasn’t even there.”
This might appear to a casual reader as innocent discussion. Except for the fact that every single assertion of Mr. Holland’s Wild Opus is an absolute lie or a complete misunderstanding of the truth—and was proven to be so several years ago. I would call the allegations simply false, except that when one utters or writes something they know (or should know) to be completely and utterly false or intentionally misleading, it is a lie. It is possible that Mr. Holland is simply grossly ignorant of the facts. But it is hard to dismiss this without comment, because Holland claims no expertise in the science of forensics, yet feels the right to make conclusions based on (particularly bad) forensic science.
An acquaintance of mine was one of the small team that turned-around The Walt Disney Company in the early 1980’s. He became president of one of the Disney companies and I am fortunate enough to call him a friend and reap the benefit from his wisdom from time to time. He once passed on to me an adage I try to live by, “It’s important to know what you know. But it’s more important to know what you don’t know.”
MR. HOLLAND'S ACCUSATIONS
So what was it about Mr. Holland’s statement that was so wrong? Let’s break it down for simplicity into your individual statements. To adequately respond to these statements, I’ll have to provide some background on forensics to the reader (and hopefully to Mr. Holland.)
THE MYTH OF THE MIXED BLOOD/DNA
Amanda and Meredith's sink.
1. “Amanda’s DNA was found in 5 spots mixed with murdered woman’s blood."
This statement is akin to the question, “Do you still beat your wife?” It sounds very sinister, but means absolutely nothing.
· The victim in the murder was the roommate of Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher.
· Amanda and Meredith shared a bathroom.
· It is a scientific certainty that the DNA of Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox were coating the sink, sink handles, shower, toilet, bidet, etc., of their own bathroom.
· The person who sexually assaulted Meredith and slashed her throat cleaned Meredith’s blood off their hands in the bathroom shared by Meredith and Amanda—this is undisputed. (The DNA of a local burglar was found inside Meredith’s body)
· That Amanda’s DNA would be in the sink and every part of that bathroom is an inescapable scientific fact.
· That the two would be mixed would be unavoidable.
To find blood in that sink, bidet, etc., NOT mixed with Amanda’s DNA would be highly suspicious. If, God forbid, Mr. Holland, a neighbor was murdered in your neighborhood while you were out for the evening and they broke into your home to wash the blood off in your sink, the police would find the victim’s blood mingled with the DNA of Wayne Holland. Is that evidence that you murdered anybody? Of course not. Sadly, you do not know what you do not know.
THE MYTH OF THE 'BLOODY FOOTPRINT'
2. "Bloody footprints were found using Luminol." [For the sake of conjecture, I’ll assume Mr. Holland mean that footprints of Amanda, in Meredith’s blood, were found at the murder scene—otherwise, his statement has no relevance.]
Footprints alleged to be Knox's
Regardless, in no place in that house were the footprints of Amanda Knox found in anybody’s blood. That’s a lie, and I suspect you know it, Holland. A significant problem with Holland’s statement is that even the prosecution disagrees with him. The chief forensic investigator and prosecutor Giuliano Mignini’s accomplice, Patricia Stefanoni, stated in court that bare footprints which appeared to match Amanda Knox’s were found by Luminol, insinuating that the prints were made in blood. And she perjured herself to do it. At first, Stefanoni asserted under oath that no testing had been done to determine whether the footprints had traces of blood in them. Then, months later, documents surfaced in court which showed that testing had been done for blood, and the tests were negative. No blood. Perjury certainly, but no blood.
So what we have are Amanda Knox’s barefoot prints in her own apartment. Not a very astounding find. The revelation of “no blood” occurred in July, 2009. It is astounding that almost four years ago, Holland is unaware of the truth.
Here, Mr. Holland, is the reason it couldn’t have been blood on the feet which made the footprints:
As this photo demonstrates, when very distinct shapes and lines are erased from a chalkboard; they become completely indistinct and unreadable. While you may not know what the erased shapes, numbers or letters on a chalkboard were, you can certainly tell that they were there at one time. An erased chalkboard is not devoid of chalk, it is simply devoid of chalk arranged in any readable pattern. The chalk is easy to detect.
This is a perfect analogy to what a latent blood cleanup looks like. When blood is cleaned up, it does not disappear (at least as as far as invisible irons and copper compounds are concerned.) Though not visible to the human eye, it is still detectable by Luminol. If not cleaned up, the blood is visible and in a detectable shape, much like writing on a chalkboard. When cleaned, the blood, like chalk, "disappears," but does not go away. The only thing that is irretreviably erased is the pattern of the previous imprinting, whether it be writing (chalk) or a footprint/handprint (blood). Follow so far?
Here's a test: Which of the following chalkboards have been erased, A or B?
Of course. "B" has been erased. We know that because we can't see any lettering or recognizable shapes on it. Though what might be chalk is still visible.
· Had the footprints been made in blood, (especially as clear and complete as they were) they would not have been ‘latent,’ that is—invisible to the naked eye. Blood does not dry to invisible. Dried, bloody footprints are visible with the naked eye—as were all of the shoe-prints of Rudy Guede (the known burglar) throughout the house. But the footprints were not visible. That’s why it took Luminol to find them.
Amanda's alleged footprint under ambient light.
Dried blood on the same tile floor several feet away.
As you can see from the photo on the left above, the footprint which the prosecution believes was Amanda's was absolutely invisible except under Luminol examination. The bloody floor on the right is the exact same tile with dried blood on it the same day, only a few feet away. So, if 'Amanda's' footprint had been made in blood, it would have had the appearance of the photo on the right, and would not have dried invisible--even in Italy.
The prosecution, and Mr. Holland, want you to believe that it was Amanda's footprint--in blood--but cleaned with bleach to make it invisible. Certainly, there are times when a cleaned bloody footprint or handprint will be visible in their original shape after cleaning--but only on completely porous surfaces such as carpet, cloth or wall paint.
What would it look like on glazed tile or porcelain? Check out the Luminol photograph of a cleaned crime scene below.Then, look again at the chalkboard. Mr. Holland's allegation is simply silly. But that's not because he is unintelligent, it is because he doesn't understand forensic science or investigations.
· If the footprint was not made in blood, what caused the Luminol reaction? Easy. Bleach. Bleach reacts so similarly to blood under Luminol examination that it is used to train forensic investigators. The bare foot prints in question are coming from the direction of Amanda’s shower, which was stocked with bathroom cleaners which contain—wait for it---bleach! Again, if Amanda Knox showered in that bathroom, then walked out barefoot to her room and NO bare footprints were discoverable by Luminol, then THAT would be suspicious. Ultimately, Mr. Holland’s statements prove only one thing: That he is terrifically naïve of forensic science. Sadly, this is a naiveté endemic to the anti-Knox groups.
How would the victim's blood get from one room to the other? Talk about your unsolvable mysteries!
THE MYTH OF THE 'MIXED BLOOD'
3. “Philomena’s [sic] floor had a mixture of Knox’s blood and Meredith’s [victim] blood. Even if Knox had innocent drips from pierced ears, it’s almost mathematically impossible that her blood or DNA would be mixing with a murder victim’s blood in so many locations, yet Knox claims she wasn’t even there.”
This one’s a ‘whopper.’ Holland is alleging that Knox’s blood and the victim’s blood were found intermixed in the room of Filomena (not “Philomena”, Mr. Holland), another roommate. This is simply a lie. At no point in the trial was anybody ever able to provide a single piece of evidence to suggest that Amanda’s blood was in Filomena’s room. Never. Didn’t happen.
It is, however, Meredith’s blood in Filomena’s room. How did Meredith’s blood get into Filomena’s room? Check out the photo. This is an actual photograph of one of the police forensic “investigators” standing in Meredith’s blood. I personally watched two hours of unedited videotape of the forensic investigators collecting samples throughout the house. I repeatedly saw police officers in Tyvek ‘bubble suits’ step INTO the victim’s wet blood, then walk throughout the house, outside the house, then back into the house. It’s amazing that Meredith’s blood wasn’t found in the homes of the investigating officers. Had they checked, I believe they might have found it there. I should have called this, "The Myth of Polizia Scientifica Competence."
The allegation that Amanda’s blood was anywhere in any quantity is also problematic, as Amanda’s entire body was examined several days after Meredith’s murder for cuts and injuries and not a single one; cut, scrape or injury—or even a healing wound—was found which would have released blood. So…..if it was Amanda’s blood, where did it come from? This is a question that has been debunked so many times its almost laughable. Yet, like the Loch Ness monster photo, some people still believe it to be authentic.
There is also, sadly, another way that the blood from the victim could have found itself to anywhere in the house--especially to places where the "Polizia Scientifica" felt evidence might be: Their tools. Follow the travels of this ruler from place to place to place. It starts in the victim's blood, then travels to alleged footprints of Amanda, then to every room in the house and to every piece of evidence. And no, there is not a shred of visual or testimonial evidence that the photographer used more than one photographic ruler of that shape and size. He brought one, and by God, he used it.
I did not challenge the accuser’s statements to embarrass Mr. Holland or to simply expose his naiveté about investigation, forensics, evidence or the actual facts of the case. I did it to illustrate to readers the reckless, irresponsible and completely ignorant propaganda being spewed by people motivated by innuendo, hate, and mob rule. This is the type of forensics and evidence evaluation which were handy to those burning witches. It boggles the mind why they so hate Amanda Knox—and not the man who raped and murdered Meredith Kercher; Rudy Guede.
The irony here is that one of the old saws the Knox-haters keep trotting out is the one about Amanda “accusing” an innocent man of the murder. The story, like the rest, is apocryphal at best, but what actually happened was that Amanda, a 20 year old girl in Italy for only a few weeks, was interrogated by Italian police for 53 hours over five days. The last 6-8 hours occurred overnight, from 10 pm until 6 am, during which time she was refused food, water, coffee or bathroom breaks.
They screamed at Amanda, verbally abused her, threatened her, slapped her in the head when she didn’t give the correct answers, terrified her, and told her she would never see freedom or America again. So finally, after enduring this all night, at the insistence of the police, she wrote a confused, contradictory and inadmissible statement about a ‘dreamlike’ vision of a man killing Meredith. A specific, innocent man the police had 'suggested' to Amanda--by name. So yes, Amanda accused an innocent man. She did so with all the evil intent of a frightened bank teller handing a wad of the bank's cash--to a man who holds a gun to her head. She did so with all the evil intent of American fighter pilots, who after similar treatment in North Korea and North Vietnam, signed "confessions" admitting to intentionally bombing innocent women and babies.
So what of Mr. Holland and his ilk? They wax pedantic on Amanda’s accusation of an innocent man; all the while doing the same thing: Accusing innocent persons of murder. Ironically the very same murder.
Amanda’s accusation came at the end of a week of terror from a confused, abused, frightened, and coerced girl. That’s why she did what she did. The people who accuse her? They do so because of ignorance, hatred, xenophobia, pride and malice.
In conclusion, Mr. Holland, I offer you only the advice of a great American; Mark Twain:
“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.”
"Mayors Against Airbags?"
Michael Bloomberg strangely silent on killer airbags.
On a hot August Friday afternoon in 2003, I climbed into my FBI vehicle (we called them “Bū-cars”) at about 5:40 pm to head home from my office near Van Nuys, California. But before I had gone two miles, a radio call from FBI dispatch alerted my squad to a criminal situation in progress. Turning on the lights and siren, I sped down Balboa Boulevard and turned onto the onramp for the 101 north—toward the crime scene—as I had done so many times before.
Four miles after merging onto the 101, traveling at a relatively high rate of speed, en-route to what I believed was a life or death situation, traffic abruptly stopped in front of me and cars swerved, clogging the shoulder where emergency vehicles drive. I had nowhere to go. I remember thinking how hard the impact was going to be. I also have a vivid memory of my head bouncing back off of the airbag, confused as to why I was still conscious. The paramedic attending to me told me that even wearing seatbelts as I was, absent airbags I would have put my head through the windshield.
That night, sitting gingerly in my bed in Thousand Oaks, I mused about the events of the day. If you had asked me when I started the car that afternoon what the chances were of me needing either the seatbelts or airbag on the way home, I would have though them about zero. About the same as I would have placed the odds of random gang fugitives fleeing through my yard. I have lived in Thousand Oaks for years. It’s a safe, wonderful place to live. Annual FBI statistics consistently rate the city of Thousand Oaks, California as one of the 10 safest cities with a population of over 100,000 in the nation. For several years it was THE safest. Thousand Oaks is a place where people have to remind themselves to lock their doors. As safe as it is, Thousand Oaks’ large tax base (one of the wealthiest cities of its size in the nation) gives it a police to citizen ratio second to none.
But an interesting phenomenon is occurring now in places like Thousand Oaks. Gang members from South Central Los Angeles, 40 miles away, have found that businesses in cities like Thousand Oaks have more money and less security than those in South Central. In Thousand Oaks, homes and businesses generally do not have, and do not need bars on the windows and elaborate security alarms, so gangs are ‘heading west.’
Last Sunday morning, just after 4 a.m., something happened in our little neighborhood. We live on a street several blocks from anything one would consider a ‘main’ street, and with the exception of the sound of a horse or goat snorting or whinnying, I was confident that I would be able to enjoy the luxury of sleeping in. It didn’t work out, though. My wife was woken by the sound of sirens and looked out the front window to see not a police car, but a dozen police cars on our tiny, narrow street. She then woke me.
Our neighborhood visitors
Walking barefoot down our street early in the morning, I noticed police tape, a car protruding through a neighbor’s picket fence and wrecked on his lawn. All four doors were open and it was already surrounded by yellow police tape. One of the officers on the scene, carrying a shotgun, advised me that burglars had been discovered a few miles away, and a car chase with police ensued. They drove down my little street, lost control and crashed into the neighbor’s yard. They then “un-assed” their car and four of them fled—into my neighborhood. They were still ‘at large’ I was told. Wonderful. I thought it wise to go back to my house to protect my family.
“So they could be anywhere?” I asked.
“They might be watching us right now,” the deputy responded.
On the way back to my house, I bumped into a neighbor who had been up with a baby at the time of the excitement. He told me that he had witnessed the crash, and one of the escapees had hopped the fence between my house and my next-door neighbor’s house. Great. Then I noticed that my garage door was open, and the lights inside of the garage were ‘on.’ Super! I advised the police of this development and returned to the house where my children slept and my wife stood waiting for me. I had been advised by the police that they were searching from house to house and that they would get to my house “in about 20 minutes or so.”
The actions of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department to the incident were some of the most robust and encouraging I have ever seen. They are pros, and their response was truly huge and awesome. But realities are realities; even a department as exceptional as VCSD has only so many officers. The fugitives could be in any one of a hundred houses in the neighborhood (and in fact WERE); and regardless of how big a response the department made, or how well trained their deputies were, they couldn’t search every house simultaneously.
At that moment, for better or for worse, every homeowner and occupant in every house was responsible for their own safety until VCSD could clear their homes for them. As I learned later, one of the fugitives—a member of an L.A. street gang--burst into the back door of the residence behind my house, entering the hallways between the bedroom and the kitchen, where he bumped into the owner of the house investigating the noise.
I cannot express to you the relief it was to know that I had weapons in my home with which to defend it. Obviously, due to my background, I have training and weapons others might not have. But it made me immensely grateful to have the right to possess those weapons. As a matter of course, I keep a high-caliber pistol with “night sights” within arm’s reach at night. It is loaded and ‘chambered’ (a bullet ready to fire) with a mechanical safety engaged so that it will not fire if someone besides me or my wife or children—also pretty good with firearms--were to (God forbid) pick it up. I also keep a “Joe Biden” tactical shotgun secured but available in my bedroom, loaded but not chambered—because frankly, Joe is right to a point. In many situations, a shotgun is better. In some, it’s not. (Note that no SWAT teams carry shotguns as their primary weapons.)
Upon returning to my house, I felt it necessary to clear the garage—something I had done with SWAT dozens and dozens and dozens of times. Ironically, the majority of my experience in clearing garages was from operations in South Central. I advised the police of what I was going to do and where I was going to do it, and with what weapon. I uncased a rifle similar to the assault rifles carried by police on my street that morning, and spent the next 10 minutes clearing my back yard, my attic, and my garages with that rifle and a flashlight. By the time the police arrived, I could tell them with confidence that no fugitives were likely on my property, (but gladly accepted the offer of a K9 search.)
Thanks, guys! Very proud of VCSD.
Can guns save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can guns be dangerous to keep in a house? Yes, if stored and used incorrectly and/or illegally.
Can airbags save lives? Without a doubt. I’m a witness. Can airbags be dangerous to occupants of a car? Certainly, even when used legally and correctly.
Between September 1, 1998, when airbags were mandated for new cars and light trucks, through the end of 2004, an estimated 10,000 lives were saved by airbags. One of those lives was mine. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) between 1999 and 2002, 238 people had been killed by airbags in accidental or extreme low-speed impacts. (An average of 59.5 per year or 390 for the period 9/98 – 12/04.) A concurrent study by the University of Georgia postulated that dozens if not hundreds more (mainly children) were killed by the bags in high-speed crashes in which the deaths were attributed to the collision forces. Still, only the NHTSA figures are used in airbag death figures. But the net fatality rate per lives saved with airbags is at least 3.9%.
What about accidental gun deaths?
On July 7, 2010, the Chicago Tribune published an article by a prosecutor with 30 years of experience which stated in part;
“In actuality, multiple studies done by criminologists over the past three decades show that guns are used defensively--to thwart violent crimes--about 2.5 million times per year in the United States. Only one in every thousand (0.1 percent) of those defensive uses results in the death of the predator.
In a nutshell, while accidental deaths of household members do occur, these tragedies happen very seldom; one is far more likely to die in a car, by drowning, or even as a result of a medical error, than by being shot. Conversely, the number of lives saved by the defensive use of guns far outweighs the (almost nonexistent) number of accidental deaths of children.”
Everybody throws around their own figures about gun deaths and ‘saves.’ Some of the NRA figures seem a little suspect at times, and it was recently found that anti-gun-lobby figures for “accidental” gun deaths in homes included intentional suicides (83% or so of the deaths) and drug deals gone wrong! So, I’ll limit my figures to groups who don’t have motive to shade their figures.
According to the FBI, approximately 205 million privately owned guns (and guns of law enforcement officers brought home) are in private homes on a daily basis. Guns are used statistically 2.5 million times (displayed, fired in the air, fired at attackers) annually to defend home or life or both. On an average year accidental gun deaths (not counting suicides or violence due to drug deals) in homes total approximately 590. Simply stated, that results in the following statistics:
Annual uses of guns to defend life or property: 2.5 million
Annual accidental gun deaths: 590
Accidental gun fatalities per lives defended: .02%
Lives saved by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004: 10,000
Lives taken by airbag deployments 9/1/98 – 12/31/2004: 390
Fatalities per lives saved: 3.9%
Statistically then, airbags are 195 times more dangerous to have in your possession than a loaded gun. Airbags, however, are mandated by law. If some legislators had their way, guns would be legislated out of existence along with the right to possess them. Why?
I believe that a main reason is perception. Seatbelts every year trap several people in burning cars or vehicles sinking in water when panicked occupants can’t undo the belts. Surveys show that a substantial portion (as much as 30%) of the populace report that their reluctance to wear seatbelts involves a fear of being trapped in a sinking or burning car. However, a 1980’s University of Michigan study revealed that an infinitesimally small number of persons die in post-crash fires or immersions due to seatbelt use. That study is 30 years old, but it has not impacted the perception of a large group of people who drive or ride in cars—and their failure to understand the accurate statistics potentially puts their lives at risk.
Since retiring from the FBI, I have buckled my seatbelts every day—without fail. But not once in those five years have I needed them to protect my life or health. But in those same five years, I know that at least once, having a gun in the house has made my family infinitely safer. In the 30 years since I first brought a gun home from the FBI, only once do I feel like I did not properly secure a firearm—to no one’s harm. During the same time, there have been dozens of times on and off duty when the gun made me or my family safer.
I have dear friends on both sides of this issue, and I admire their reasons for believing the way they do. I just believe that the information upon which they are basing their personal decisions is flawed. They disagree with me on that. By and large, the people on “the other side,” at least the ones with whom I personally deal, are honorable, good people, who have sometimes had to bear the unfair brunt of a tirade from me—and for this I sincerely apologize. To my close friends, I say that I respect you as people and as people whose opinion differs from mine. I think we both know of people on each side of the issue whose opinions or though-processes are not as honorable.
Before you think I am a naive gun-lobby shill, I need to tell you of my background. I am not unaware of the damage people do with guns.
I have been the first responder to and the agent in charge of investigating a school shooting—5 year olds machine-gunned with an illegal Uzi. I’ve seen the blood, I’ve seen the wounded children. I’ve heard the parents sob, I’ve been with grieving family, I’ve spent hours with the actual shooter the day of his arrest, learning of the sick details. His gun was illegal in the U.S., the shooter was not only a violent felon (knife assault), but had just been released from a mental institution just weeks prior despite his self-confessed inability to control his homicidal ideations. But released he was. He broke so many existing laws we lost track.
1. (Violent) Felon in possession of a firearm
2. Possession of a machine gun
3. Illegal modification of a weapon
4. Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm
5. Interstate transportation of an illegal firearm
And these are only the FEDERAL laws he violated. He also violated several dozen state laws.
The shooter had obtained his weapon through a second source who illegally imported the gun from China. (You know how you can buy "knock-off" Louis Vuitton purses in Asia? You can also buy "knock-off" Uzi's.)
I identified the mentally-ill Nazi-sympathizer who provided the illegal gun to the murderer—knowing that he intended to shoot people, and got a confession from him. I and my bosses begged the United States Attorney’s Office in Seattle to prosecute him, but even a personal appeal to Attorney General Janet Reno by an FBI Assistant Director failed to get us a prosecution. I still don’t understand why.
I would suggest to the reader that I have had more guns pointed at me than you have at you. I have seen the emotional damage done to FBI agents who had to take lives with firearms. I have experienced the shock at FBI agent deaths to gunfire. Even members of my family have been the victims of violent crime. I am not insensitive or naïve to the potential violence of firearms. I believe that the right to a firearm is absolute only until a person gives any indication they cannot be trusted—such as (but not limited to) a felony conviction or mental health issues. I believe the average citizen does not need bazookas, mortars or smart-bombs. But I’m not so sure that mentally stable, law-abiding persons can’t be trusted with a semi-automatic rifle, regardless of whether the handle is a pistol grip or a stock. Reasonable people know that the firepower difference between an evil AR-15 “assault rifle” and a California-legal Ruger Mini-14 is exactly zero.
10 round magazines? Okay, but I was trained to swap magazines in less than a second. Many private shooters can beat that. Short magazines laws are nothing but an annoyance to law-abiding citizens protecting their homes, and yet another law potential murderers will ignore. A determined head-case will simply buy illegal magazines via mail order from overseas—or bring a couple dozen 10 round magazines. NOT ONCE IN ANY SCHOOL or MALL or THEATER or OTHER MASS SHOOTING HAS THE SHOOTER RUN OUT OF AMMO. He'll bring all the magazines he needs. Several times, I have recovered high-capacity murder weapons jammed and discarded. Frankly, very large magazines are more likely to jam and make a firearm useless. Making nut-cases use small-cap magazines would actually make their weapons more reliable. Low capacity magazines are a red-herring to make politicians look like they’re doing something. Only the law-abiding citizens will be handicapped
I am continually astounded that well-meaning people believe that criminals intent on violence will be influenced by realizing that their plans or their tools are "against the law."
One has only to examine prohibition or the last few decades of the "War on Drugs" to see the mechanism of failure which will occur if and when guns are outlawed. Certainly, just because a law is unenforceable does not mean--in and of itself--that the law should not be enacted. But sometimes it does. In both prohibition and the war on drugs, what the nation accomplished is the creation of massively powerful organized crime groups (La Cosa Nostra, the Mafia, and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.) Tens of thousands have died in the "wars" and territorial fighting among the gangs, our prisons have filled with otherwise law-abiding citizens, and the U.S. has spent billions of dollars to do all that. Had the U.S. legalized most of the drugs (I still think the drugs are horrible), taxed them significantly, and used the proceeds for awareness and treatment, our prisons would be less crowded, the drug cartels could not topple governments, and our deficit would be more manageable.
And that's a discussion regarding a truly evil substance with no socially redeeming value. Guns protect people.
If one were to significantly limit or ban private ownership of legitimate guns, there would be a MUCH larger explosion of organized crime, because more Americans (by a factor of tens) own guns than use drugs. The criminals would not be impacted, as possession of guns by them is already prohibited. Only those who want firearms to protect their families will be negatively impacted, and a whole new class of criminal--those who want to protect their families--would be created. And not one violent psychotic would ever be prevented from killing. Oh, we might modify their method, their timing, or the money they have to spend, but killers will kill. Period. In the whole of human history, nobody has found a way to 'de-violence' a society with law enforcement.
With the track record of prohibition and the war on drugs, I am constantly amazed that anybody would believe that laws would influence a criminal to obey laws.
I remember vividly the debate when California proposed mandating motorcycle helmet use. I remember understanding both sides of the argument and agreeing with both sides. I think anybody who rides without a helmet (and I once rode motorcycles) is a fool. But I believe they have the right to be a fool. I consider not wearing a helmet on a motorcycle a kind of Darwinian method of improving the species. If you’re too dumb to wear a motorcycle helmet, it’s just as well you’re not around to breed. I can understand the debate. But honestly, can you imagine the debate you would have if California proposed a law BANNING motorcycle helmets?
Those advocating banning of self-defense weapons don’t see their crusade that way. Those who believe as I do, that the right to possess personal firearms is crucial—do see it that way. I see it as the right to protect my family, which I take more seriously than I can express. And always will.
The debate needs to be civilized, the debate needs to be respectful, and the debate needs to be lawful. But the events of last week have reinforced my belief that absent any individual reason to the contrary, the right to keep and bear arms must not be abridged. Even in the safest community in the nation.
The criminal case of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito is, for all intents and purposes over.
The political circus is just beginning.
April 6, 2009, 3:32 a.m.: The quaint Italian town of L’Aquila, just 114 miles from Perugia, was struck by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. 297 people died.
October 22, 2012: In an event which sent shock waves around the world, the earth moved in Italy yet again when six Italian seismologists were arrested and charged with manslaughter for not predicting the L’Aquila earthquake. Incredulous experts from around the world testified that earthquakes are scientifically unpredictable at this point in the history of mankind—a fact disputed nowhere on earth, except one Italian courtroom. The scientists were convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison—each. The main damage in this quake was to six innocent seismologists and the justice system of Italy.
The courts in L'aquila were devastated. In more ways than one.
Certainly, Italian ‘justice’ has a history of preying on its own good people. The Italian Inquisitions of the 1500’s and 1600’s are infamous for the persecution of people propounding scientific truth. The legendary scientist and astronomer Galileo, for example, fell afoul of the inquisition for espousing certain theories of Copernicus; in particular, the theory that the earth rotated around the sun—which it did and still does. A lot of people are unaware that Galileo died under house arrest in Italy. 1,250 other people are alleged to have been executed for similar “heresy” during this time. One would hope that nearly 600 years later, Italian justice would have improved. One would be wrong.
Tragically, on March 26, 2013, another feudal judicial decision was handed down when the Italian Court of Cassation, the Italian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to formally affirm the full appellate exoneration of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, regardless of the fact that their innocence is almost as widely accepted and scientificlly proven as Copernicus’ theory.
Sadly, this is not an isolated anomaly. Italy is displaying with frightening regularity a type of vendetta-based ‘justice’ many are calling ‘medieval.’ In 1999, the very same Court of Cassation which failed to accept Knox and Sollecito’s proven innocence, ruled in a rape case that women wearing tight jeans cannot be raped. This was not the decision of a little back-water town judge remember, this was the Italian Supreme Court. The logic was based on the apparently inescapable conclusion that tight jeans could not be removed from a woman by an attacker. I suppose their conclusion is that man can predict earthquakes, but it is a physical impossibility for him to remove a woman’s jeans. The court ruled tight jeans could not be removed “…without the collaboration of the person wearing them.” I’m not making this up.
However, just this last summer, the Court of Cassation outdid themselves; they ruled that it is a crime to tell someone “You don’t have the balls.” Seriously. That this case even got to the supreme court in Italy is mind-boggling and indicative of the juvenile/macho mentality of most of the judiciary there. Their decision is incomprehensible. The court found that the phrase inherently implied “…a lack of determination, competence and consistency – virtues which, rightly or wrongly, continue to be regarded as suggestive of the male gender.” This raises a question I’m sure it would take a legal scholar and a Ouija board to answer: Would it be a crime to tell a woman “You don’t have the balls?” One could only assume it would depend on whether she was wearing tight jeans or not.
In the Knox/Sollecito case, a prosecutor (Giuliano Mignini) under indictment (ultimately convicted and sentenced to 16 months in prison) created an incredibly complex, imagination-based case against two innocent kids in order to, according to many experts, shield himself from conviction or even further prosecution. During the Italian Inquisition of the 15th and 16th centuries, the main charges besides heresy were sorcery, immorality and witchcraft. And Mignini’s allegations against Knox? She was a “strega” (witch) and she engaged in “satanic sex rituals.” Sounds vaguely familiar, no? Also familiar is the fact that no evidence existed to support the claims of either the inquisition or Mignini. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Mignini lied about evidence in public, violated any rule of evidence which did not support his case (in reality, nothing supported his case) and got a conviction he apparently hoped would raise no eyebrows. He was wrong.
When the case was appealed--almost automatic in Italy, where half of all cases are reversed on appeal--the first action of the appeals court was to order that Mignini’s “evidence” be reviewed by independent experts. Italy is not completely devoid of honorable justices; they are simply in the minority. The judge in this appeal had to be imported from northern Italy near Austria in the hopes that he would be free of bias. He was. He not only allowed modern science into the courtroom, he ordered it there.
DNA which prosecutor Mignini had claimed implicated Knox and Sollecito was found to have never existed, was intentionally or incompetently attributed, or so badly read that Mignini’s ‘experts’ couldn’t even tell gender by reading DNA. The police forensic investigation in this case made the Keystone Kops look like CSI New York. In a stinging rebuke, the appellate judge and jury not only exonerated Knox and Sollecito, but declared that the evidence didn’t simply fail to prove their guilt, but that it actually proved their innocence. The two kids were released after four years of unjust imprisonment. And that is where it should have ended.
But in Italy, as opposed to most democracies, a prosecutor can appeal even a “not guilty” verdict. In Italy, a prosecutor can keep re-trying a case until he gets a conviction. This ‘2 out of 3’ jurisprudence results in a kind of “rock, paper, scissors” legal system, where even evidence as solid as a rock can be rendered moot by a single sheet of paper. Mignini appealed the ‘innocente’ verdict, and the Court of Cassation rendered a verdict as stunning in its ignorance as the failure to predict the earthquake decision.
At this moment, news outlets are providing incomplete or inaccurate information on the case. To set the record straight, I would like to point out certain facts which are true at this moment:
Amanda and Raffaele’s exonerations have not been vacated. By Italian law, they are still adjudicated innocent persons.
No retrial has yet been ordered.
Not until the Court of Cassation releases their “Motivations” document in approximately 70 days or so will any decision have the affect of law. Retrial is a possibility, of course, but so is limited re-examination of certain pieces of evidence not already reviewed by the independent authority. There is no indication that the court has in any way challenged the validity of the independent authority’s review of the main pieces of discredited ‘evidence’ which led to the exoneration in the first place.
There is no indication that the court rejected any of the findings of the appellate court, their questions actually centering on why more of Mignini’s supposed “evidence” was not reviewed by independent sources. Still, the decision reminds me very much of the 1972 Olympic Basketball gold-medal game in which the Americans, leading the Russian team by 3 at the end of regulation, twice had the clock reset to 3 seconds by the Russian referees, until the Russians “won” on a miracle shot. 40 years later, nobody but the Russian team and referees believe that they won
The Americans celebrate after they had won the game the second time. (They lost after the third time Russian referees inexplicably put time back on the clock.)
Absent more interference, however, any retrial would still favor Knox and Sollecito because:
A retrial would be removed from the feudal, Mignini-controlled town of Perugia, and placed in Florence. Perugia has the judicial integrity of 1963 Selma, Alabama. Knox and Sollecito's exonerations on appeal were only possible because a judge and jury were brought in from out of town due to the bias of the locals.
The city of Florence knows Mignini. They are the city that indicted him and convicted him of malfeasance, sentencing him to 16 months in prison.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, however, not a soul seriously believes that Amanda Knox will ever spend another day in an Italian prison. Double jeopardy, corrupt prosecutors, absence of witnesses or credible evidence, perjury by the police, and the requirement that Giuliano Mignini present his case in an American federal court (which actually requires evidence, truth, and fairness) make the prospect of extradition at the request of a kangaroo court the stuff of Mignini’s dreams.
Pratillo Hellman, the judge in the Knox/Sollecito appeal stands by his and the jury's unanimous decision to exonerate Knox and Sollecito, saying that there was absolutely no evidence of the involvement of the two in the crime. He also stated that he expected that the court of cassation would overturn his verdict, due to its close ties with the prosecutor.
Ultimately, regardless of the results of this modern inquisition, Amanda will never serve another unfair day in an Italian prison. The case, therefore has significance only to certain people:
1. Prosecutor Mignini, still trying valiantly to clear his name of malfeasance and false prosecution charges while waiting on his retrial decision.
2. The sadly deceived family of the innocent victim who have put their faith in a crooked prosecutor and a carnivorous Italian lawyer desperate for a share of a settlement from the wealthy Sollecito family.
3. The sadly imbalanced, anonymous, basement-dwelling anti-Knox bloggers in Great Britain and America who have drunk the Kool-Aid of the prosecutor to the dregs and are focused more on hate than justice. This case will, for several more years give imagined purpose to their otherwise sad existence.
4. Raffaele Sollecito, who is at this writing still a citizen of Italy and vulnerable to the whims of a judiciary largely based on innuendo.
In case the reader perceives this article as an indictment of Italy or the Italian people, let me assure you that is not the case. Since the appalling ruling came down, I have received texts, phone calls, E-mails and social media communications from prominent, published Italian forensic scientists, professors, DNA specialists, criminal profilers and lawyers, decrying the decision and offering their pro-bono assistance to the Knox family. Indeed, after the exoneration of Knox in October, 2011, I spent two days with Amanda in Italy and witnessed an almost non-stop stream of Italian citizens apologizing (sometimes tearfully) for what happened to her. They hugged, they kissed and they smiled. They know what its like to live under that system. The Italian people deserve a better justice system. They deserve more Judge Hellmans.
While Amanda is in no real danger of ever being forced to submit to the corrupt Italian justice system again, (it’s a different story for Italian citizen Raffaele Sollecito), she can’t just do what the 1972 Olympic Men’s basketball team did and simply boycott a corrupt proceeding. They refused their silver medals and did not attend the medal ceremony.
Amanda can't do that. She has to spend money to defend her name. It’s just a shame that two innocent kids got robbed. Again. It took the Russian referees three tries to steal the honest victory from the Americans in Munich. It may take even longer for the Italians to steal Amanda and Raffaele’s “innocence.” That’s the sad part. Nobody but the Russians doubt that the Americans won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, and nobody but Italians, the ignorant and the malignant doubt that Amanda and Raffaele are innocent.
Why then didn’t the Court of Cassation do the honorable and right thing and affirm the appellate decision? Why didn’t they act bravely and decisively? Why didn’t they exonerate two good kids in the face of overwhelming evidence of their innocence? Why didn’t they display the --in their own words--“determination, competence and consistency” which are suggestive of their own male gender?
Are they corrupt?
It seems to me that they just didn't have the balls.