Archive | February, 2013

Murder under my nose: How I made an innocent man look guilty

26 Feb

Justice

One afternoon last week a coworker sat down next to me and I focused on his shirt.

“Were you wearing that this morning?” I asked.

“I was,” he said.

This innocuous exchange revived in me a memory of murder. It brought back a decades-old crime and thoughts of an innocent man I wanted to put behind bars because someone said he changed his pants at lunch.

Circumstance, no matter how incriminating, should never be mistaken for truth. This I have learned.

The incident occurred at a newspaper where I was an editor. Our building was adjacent a large parking lot. At the far end of the lot, away from the building, was a patch of grass and some picnic tables.

No one but Janice used them.

Janice was a 26-year-old secretary who would sunbathe at lunch, lying on one of the tables.  Her meal would be a salad from the Burger King across the street. She’d drive over there, get the salad, then come back and park her car near the picnic tables.  The keys were left in the car and the sound system was turned up so she could hear it while taking in the sun.

A guy she was dating worked in the advertising department of the newspaper, but word was their relationship was coming undone. Janice planned to head north that weekend to visit a Canadian football player friend. But on Friday, before she left, she planned to talk with the old boyfriend and explain things.

She never did because she went missing. After a few days her body was found in the woods near a river. She had been stabbed about 40 times. Bloodstains were found on the parking lot near the picnic tables.

When word got out, everyone at work huddle together to cry, grieve, commiserate and ask why. I was the editor on the story and had to put aside personal feelings. I informed my coworkers that reporters would be interviewing them to find out if they had witnessed anything odd in the past few days and to learn what they knew about Janice.

The boyfriend was there. He looked terrible. He hadn’t slept or shaved for days. He seemed a wreck. Normally, his hair was perfectly coiffed in what could be called “disco” style. Now it was all mussed.

He took me aside and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t talk to you about Janice. I just can’t.” He shook as he spoke.

I told him it was his decision to talk or not talk, but I asked him what he meant by “can’t talk.”

He was quiet for a moment then said, “Let’s go into an office.”

We did, and he shut the door.

“The thing is,” he said nervously. “The thing is . . . if I talk about Janice, if I tell you the story of Janice … the real story … she’ll come off looking like” – and he paused – “the devil.”

At that exact moment I decided I was alone in a locked room with a murderer.

Over the next few days, the reporters and editors worked feverishly to find Janice’s killer. The boyfriend is always a suspect and much of our findings were pushing us toward him.

The jealousy motive was clearly present. But there was more. A colleague told us that on the day of the murder the boyfriend had been wearing a pair of brown pants in the morning and in the afternoon had change to black.

Witnesses from outside the paper were coming forward. One was a hairdresser who said she had been driving past our building around the time of the murder and saw a man and a woman at the end of the parking lot. The man was raising and lowering his arm in the direction of the woman, she said. Being a hairdresser, she said she couldn’t help notice the man’s hair. She said it was neat and styled, like the hair of men who frequented discos.

When we spoke to the police, they suggested we could be onto something. It was odd, however, that they never wrote down anything we said.

Meanwhile, the boyfriend found it difficult to come to work. Janice had been well liked. This was not true of him. Now, popularity was a moot issue. He was being looked upon as the most horrid of creatures.

That did not change, although it should have.

Everyone at the paper, me more than anyone, was stunned when police arrested a 16-year-old high school dropout and charged him with the murder.

The boy, who hung out at the Burger King, recently got his driver’s license and wanted his parents to buy him a car. They refused. He liked Janice’s car, a hot black number that he’d see when she drove in to buy her salads. He decided he wanted it and followed her on foot to the newspaper parking lot across the street.

While she was on the table sunning, he got in the open car and was preparing to take it. She challenged him. He pulled the knife and stabbed her repeatedly. He put the body in the trunk and drove away with his prize.

All this happened in broad daylight, on a heavily traveled road, outside a building that employed hundreds of people, including journalists trained to observe and photograph news.

I don’t think any of us ever apologized to the boyfriend. In the face of rock solid evidence to the contrary, a few continued to believe he committed the crime.

Not long after the arrest, the largest fire in the area’s history broke out. A Kmart warehouse the size of several football fields was fully engulfed in flames and smoke. It was massive. The scene looked like World War II. The newspaper sent someone up in an airplane to shoot the fire, and the dramatic photo ran across six columns in the paper.

A copy of that day’s paper with the huge fire picture was on my desk when I arrived at work. There was a note attached. It was note I’ll never forget; a very short note that was very long on black humor; a note full of hurt.  Somewhere I must have it in my archives, but I’m not sure where. It was from the boyfriend, and this is what it said:

“Honest to God. I didn’t do this.”

The boyfriend eventually resigned from the newspaper. Years later, on Valentine’s Day, the murderer hanged himself in prison.

The whole episode is something I think about from time to time, especially when a colleague has innocently and maybe for no good reason changed an article of clothing in the middle of the day, or at least I or someone else thought he did.

 By Lanny Morgnanesi

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Something I recently learned

20 Feb

Library of Congress 12

The Library of Congress, the keeper of everything, is in the process of archiving more than 170 billion tweets. Some of them may be yours.

The lucrative tunnels of Gaza

18 Feb

gaza-tunnels

 

For those without it, money always seems to end up in the wrong hands.

A fool and his money are soon parted because there never will be a shortage of disreputable types willing to fleece the weak and unknowing. Writer Dorothy Parker said if you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to. And the Bible itself, in Matthew 19-24, plainly and poetically states that heaven is not for the rich.

But while money has caused great misery in the world, it also has the remarkable, almost magical power of solving problems. It can literally break down barriers.

In the Middle East, in Gaza, there is a wall. On one side are people who need things they can’t get. One the other side are those things.

Due to the force and power of money, the wall and all its associated political obstructions have been circumvented.

They’ve been circumvented by tunnels, which in Gaza can make millions for their owners.

These outlaw entrepreneurs find the means to acquire the wood, concrete and excavation equipment needed to create 700-meter corridors of commerce. Some might even dig a tunnel by hand, even though it could be destroyed by Israeli bombs.

These tunnels are in the town of Rafah, which is split down the middle. Egypt controls one side; Israel the other. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Gaza has 1.6 million people, with 40 percent living below the United Nations poverty line. Unemployment is at 31 percent.

Yet the tunnels can cause the economy to boom. Businessweek says that the tunnel system employs almost 15,000 and carries 75 percent of the good sold in the area.

One successful tunnel owner, Emad Shaaer, has family members on both side of the barrier, which greatly facilitates his business. Payment for his services vary. “Sometimes you got $200,000, and sometimes you got nothing,” he said.

Tunnel construction can cost about $200,000, but you only need $50,000 to get started. You don’t have to pay the labors and tunnel experts until the flow of goods starts.

Things became really good for the smugglers in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority. To punish Hamas and Gaza residents for taking a more radical stance, Israel closed the borders even tighter. If anything can make a smuggler rich it’s a tight border. But as success and profits grew, they attracted attention.

When Hamas realized how much money the tunnel owners were making, it began to tax the operations, raising an estimated $188 million annually. (Hamas denies this.) The local Gaza government also regulates the good that can be transported, outlawing all the things that make the most money. (Further outlawing what is already outlawed.)

Even so, it is doubtful the tunnels will go away. Taxes and regulations can be skirted. Or, maybe there is enough for both the tunnel owners and Hamas.

The only thing that can truly destroy the tunnel system is peace, a highly unlikely prospect. Still, it is possible that the day may come when there will be enough profit in peace that the power and force of money will have succeeded in making us civil.

In such a case, I would argue that the time has finally arrived to allow the rich into heaven.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

If the Republican Party were a person, Dorothy Parker would slap his face, both of them.

10 Feb

 

latino-obama-sign

Consider the case of the young man who hates his uncle and has always treated him dastardly. One day the uncle reveals that by living poor he was able to accumulated a small fortune. The young nephew then begins to shower the old man with kindness and attention.

For the uncle, it is easy to see that the nephew is a disingenuous louse. The real insult, however, is that the young man thought the uncle could be fooled.

The young man reminds me of the Republican Party.

Here is a party that, for the most part, staked out a very tough position against amnesty or general kindness for 11 million people living and mostly working in the United States without the legal right to do. It was a legitimate position, although it is one I considered unwise.

When President Obama was re-elected after winning 80 percent of the minority and ethnic vote, the Republican Party realized that the poor uncle they didn’t care much for was actually rich.

Now they want to be friends. Now they want legislation to assist the 11 million. Now they want those votes.

And, I guess, they don’t think the Hispanic population is intelligent enough or aware enough to see the hypocrisy.

That’s the real zinger.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican from Virginia, thinks the GOP can get those votes if it just changes its tone. That’s what reporter Thomas Fitzgerald wrote today in the Inquirer. Tone, rather than the choice of whom you truly represent in Congress, is what’s important.

Reality is always second to image.

When someone says, “People want to know we’re like them”  (which Republican Congressman Scott Perry said this weekend) it usually means “We’re not like them.” When someone says, “We can win the presidency. … We don’t need to fix the laws to make that happen (which Pennsylvania party chairman Rob Gleason said), it usually means they ARE trying to win the presidency by rigging the system.

A good rule in politics is to exercise caution and maintain skepticism.

I’m very curious to see if the GOP efforts to gain Hispanic support will work. Woody Allen once said that the lion will one day lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get any sleep. That’s the kind of alliance this speaks of.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Israel Loves Iran — and so can you!

2 Feb

 

Chuck Hagel, nominated for secretary of defense, was treated roughly this week by his former colleagues in the Senate. In part, it was because he appears not to be in complete lockstep with Israel and also because he has shown moderation in his position on Iran.

In the U.S. we hold a compendium of complex and diverse political views. Oddly, we are expected to be monolithic in our support of Israel. In some way, Hagel was treated like a traitor. I’m not sure why a single, blindly supportive position is required on Israel. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because the Israeli lobby is smart, strong and well-funded, and because a large part of the American Christian community regularly muscles Congress on Israel because it wants to protect and maintain that country until it can be converted en masse.

If I’m wrong about that I apologize.

What I’m probably not wrong about is this: Opinion on Israeli policy is more divergent in Israel than in America.

Can you image buses traversing major American cities covered with the message: “Iranians we love you.”

People would probably go to jail for that.

There are, however, such buses in Israel, funded by Israelis who don’t feel hostile to Iran and believe the current talk of war is dangerous bombast.

While the buses are highly visible, the campaign for peace is mainly online. There are thousands of Facebook followers, and related Facebook sites from various people and countries pop up each day in support. It is something of a movement, a movement for peace in the face of impending war.

Its leader, graphic designer Ronny Edri, has told the people of Iran, “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you.”

His movement involves individual people creating posters of themselves with variations on the message: Israel loves Iran.

The posters are then placed on the Internet.

After a time, Iranians were creating their own posters saying: We love Israel.

Please hear the story straight from Edri’s mouth in a TEDs talk he gave. At the end of this 15-minute video you can see many of the wonderful posters of peace that people have made. Also, at the top of this page is a Youtube video from Edri.

Coverage of Edri, who served in the Israeli army, and the thousands of resulting posters has been on ABC and CNN, in the New York Daily News and the New Yorker magazine and in many, many international publications.

Consider becoming a part of this movement, or at least learning about it.

It seems people may not hate each other as much as their governments would like them to.

Maybe Chuck Hagel wouldn’t be such a bad secretary of defense after all.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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