It's that time again -- the very end of the year. In addition to looking to the future (charting goals and resolutions), this is a chance for us to reflect upon 2009 and learn. Blogs, TV shows, newspapers and magazines are looking at the year: the good and the bad, the trends and the hook-ups, the births and the deaths. From my perspective, this is an opportune time to examine the top crime stories of 2009. After perusing dozens of media outlets, I'd like to remind you specifically of 12 crime stories -- one for every juror on a panel -- from 2009 (plus one for good luck!). Some represent justice and closure; others illustrate injustice and systematic flaws. The summer of 2009 was marked by cases where there were clear "missed opportunities," a term used to define cases where law enforcement, prosecutors, parole, the judicial system, and the criminal justice system as a whole failed society and individual victims. How? By allowing the 'worst of the worst' to be free and to commit heinous acts against numerous unsuspecting, vulnerable victims. You'll read about two of these cases below (Lily Burk and Dae'von Bailey). Let's hope in 2010 we see more cases about justice (like in the cases of Phil Spector and Christopher Thomas Thompson). So here is a crime round-up, in no particular order:
1. Lily Burk: A specific case that gave rise to what I have dubbed "The Summer of Missed Opportunities." And that is the sad case of Lily Burk (a 17-year-old girl who was brutally murdered by a third-striker who was not prosecuted as such, because he was out of custody due to a 'clerical error'). Lily Burk's murder shook my family, my kids' school, and the city of Los Angeles. Sadly, it wasn't reported on widely in the national news media. In July the Los Angeles Times printed an article highlighting the criminal history and the snafus that allowed Charles Samuel, a 50-year-old violent criminal, out on the streets to kill one of our own. I personally was outraged to learn that Samuel had a history of violence but was paroled anyway. Here we see a systematic flaw that is just heartbreaking. Lily had such a promising future, and we all send our deepest condolences to her family for this tremendous loss.
2. Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson's public memorial service cost Los Angeles city $3.4 million. There was a small outcry from city officials looking to recoup some of the fees. But it is very unlikely that will happen. Of course the king of pop's passing rocked the whole world. It seems that Dr. Conrad Murray is now the sideshow to this final Michael Jackson explosive controversy. It seemed like the world stopped for bit when news of Jackson's death hit the airwaves in June. Jackson's Facebook page jumped from 800,000 to 7 million fans in one week. But the controversy over the doctor still rages. I know we will be hearing a lot about this one in 2010. Murray will likely be charged -- but with what? Involuntary manslaughter? And who else will be charged? Will Dr. Arnold Klein Be charged too? Hmmmm... we shall see. But one thing we know for sure... LA wants to do this one right. But don't worry that there might be a mad Propofol killer out on the loose as Dr. Murray is working overtime to pay those child custody arrears.
3. Polanski: This case is about more than just the facts of Polanski's offenses (which are indeed major). Polanski stole time, resources, and energy from the State of California for years, actually, decades. He accepted no responsibility for his actions, nor for the deal he chose to strike. The best case would be for Polanski to come back and face a California judge, take his medicine, and receive the same sentence he bargained for in the first place (assuming the LA District Attorney consented). We are all fascinated by a man who lived freely for three decades, suffering no consequences for leaving the country to escape the law. So, man up, Polanski! Not just privately -- teach your Hollywood buddies a lesson, too! Teach them not to blame the victim, not to minimize the damages caused by sexual assault, and not to deny the realities of the crime. Tell Whoopi that you committed real rape, and you are finally going to take real responsibility! Once you do, we can all move on in 2010.
4. Dae'von Bailey: Poor 6-year-old Dae'von was murdered by his stepfather, Marcas Fisher. Despite a dozen phone warnings to the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS), the boy was not taken away from Fisher. Fisher had prior convictions for sexual battery and was on probation for burglary and drug convictions. He was convicted of gang rape when he was a teenager. Despite all this, the DCFS allowed Dae'von remain in Fisher's care. Dae'von did exactly what a child should do: he reported that he was being abused to officials at school. But the system failed to protect him. The DCFS is a supremely flawed agency and had tremendous blunders in this case in particular: failure to follow up on the abuse complaints, almost non-existent record keeping, management and case worker inaction, and botched investigations, to name a view. The dramatic media exposure following the death -- to uncover this agency's failures -- was only a small consolation. Fisher is now serving a 25-year to life sentence and an investigation at the DCFS is ongoing.
5. Phil Spector: Music producer Phil Spector, 69, was found guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of actress 40-year-old Lana Clarkson. Spector was made famous by his work with the Beatles and other rock bands. Doron Weinberg, Spector's defense attorney, also defended Dr. William Ayres, who was on trial for nine counts of child molestation. Jonathan MacDougall later replaced Weinberg on the Ayres case, after a mistrial was declared in July. Spector's second-degree murder charge was a relief to the Clarkson family. Weinberg had argued in the trial that Clarkson had shot herself, claiming "it is hard to put a gun in someone's mouth." When all the testimony was over -- including five chilling accounts of other women who had been held at gunpoint by Spector -- the jury found that Spector indeed committed the murder. But a big shout out needs to go out to Alan Jackson and Truc Do, whose trial advocacy skills and case preparation ensured justice in this case. When the verdict was announced Jackson said he was "quite simply, relieved: relieved for the family of Lana Clarkson; relieved for her mother Donna, her sister Fawn, and her brother Jeff. I was also relieved for the community. The unlawful taking of an innocent life is a crime against the victim and the community. Justice had been delayed for Lana and for the people for far too long." The case against Phil Spector was the culmination of many long hours and years of preparation for the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office. This case represents true justice and shows that a Los Angeles jury can convict a celebrity!
6. Mandeville Canyon Biker Case: Dr. Christopher Thomas Thompson, a former emergency room doctor, was found guilty of six felonies and one misdemeanor (including reckless driving, assault, battery and mayhem) after slamming into two cyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road. Thompson reportedly told police before he was arrested that he wanted to teach the bicyclists a lesson. Court officials have delayed the sentencing of Thompson, until January 8, 2010. Deputy District Attorney Mary Hanlon Stone prosecuted this highly complicated case with surgical precision. And, hopefully, Judge Scott Millington will come through for the people and sentence the defendant with the prison term he deserves. Though he faces up to 10 years in prison, the judge could exercise his discretion and sentence him to substantially less. While arguing to remand Thompson into custody right after the verdicts were read, Stone told the court, "in terms of public safety, there isn't a cyclist in Los Angeles who would be comfortable if he were out on the streets." Besides being a bang up trial lawyer, Mary Hanlon Stone is a top-notch fiction writer whose book Invisible Girl comes out in May 2010.
7. Chris Brown: Rihanna's battered face hitting TMZ was a huge moment this year. Many people in this country still believe that domestic violence isn't prevalent anymore. Well, this case reminded us all that it's still around and can and does affect everyone. I believe that while Brown got special treatment as a rap-music superstar, he was forthright in taking responsibility for his crime and at least reminded us that we need to pay attention to domestic violence. Brown plead to a felony, and he suffered some public humiliation. I think Brown got a little better deal than what he would have if the case had gone to trial -- but that's the nature of a plea deal. The real big shocker was when Rihanna went back to him! She really let down thousands of female fans who counted on her to behave as a role model after the attack. While the crimes de jour may change from year to year, we must remember that we still have a long way to go to stem violence against our loved ones.
8. LA's Craigslist robbers: There was the Craigslist killer Philip Haynes Markoff. You know the one, the former medical student charged with the armed robbery and murder of Julissa Brisman in a Boston, Massachusetts hotel on April 14. He was also charged with the armed robbery of another woman on April 10 in another Boston hotel. Well, here in LA we had a few cases of Craigslist robbers. 24-year-old Pierre Morris and 22-year-old Aaron O'Connor became LA's Craiglist robbers when answered a Craigslist ad, posing as massage clients to gain access to homes. Morris and O'Connor vandalized two homes before they were caught. The victims had advertised that they provided massage therapy at their residences and had spoken with they men to make arrangements. Morris and O'Connor were both on parole when they committed the crimes. This begs the question: just how many violent criminals does LA let out... ? These guys tied up the victims, covered them with sheets, and proceeded to ransack the residences and removed cash, laptop computers and flat screen televisions, among other things. Luckily, there were no fatalities in these robberies. But this case is an excellent reminder of how dangerous online activities can be and how vigilant we all must be when engaging business or personal contacts directly through online networking sites.
9. Mitrice Richardson: This 24-year-old Cal State Fullerton graduate mysteriously vanished after walking out of the Lost Hills sheriff's station nearly three months ago. According to the Los Angeles Times, authorities believe that Mitrice had gone without sleep for as many as five nights before she was arrested for not paying her bill at a Malibu restaurant. They think she may have had a major mental breakdown (including possibly suffering from bipolar disorder). Which begs the question: why didn't anyone at the Lost Hills sheriff's station notice anything strange about Mitrice's mood and behavior? A woman doesn't just vanish -- something happened to Mitrice. We hope, of course, that she is still alive -- but it is not looking good. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has ordered a homicide investigation associated with her disappearance. Unfortunately, this story represents another flaw in our police systems. How can someone vanish after just being in a law enforcement station? Aren't there procedures/protections in place to make sure individuals released from custody can get home safe? Isn't it the police's job to insure safety? Lots of questions in 2009; hopefully, 2010 will bring answers.
10. LA Bling Ring: How about that gang of four accused of breaking into the homes of celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan... ! I know you must be thinking you are reading OK Magazine or the Enquirer. Nope. This is real. A "gang" out looking for and steal celeb' goods and shwag. So far, all four defendants have plead not guilty to the theft charges, which are based on $3 million worth in jewelry, designer clothes and other items. The suspects include 19-year-olds Nicholas Prugo, Diana Tamayo and Courtney Leigh Ames, and also 27-year-old Roy Lopez. All four are charged with felony burglary and are due back in court on Jan. 21.
11. UCLA Stabber: Damon Thompson is the 20-year old UCLA student who slashed the throat of his chemistry lab classmate, Katherine Rosen. Thompson also stabbed Rosen several times, and then turned himself in. Rosen remained hospitalized weeks after the event but is expected to survive. Witnesses who saw Thompson commit the act say he walked calmly away as Rosen lay bleeding profusely. A professor who taught Thompson said he told a university administrator 10 months ago he was worried about the student's mental health. I wonder if UCLA had taken a closer look at Thompson months earlier if this attack could have been prevented... ? Is this case another missed opportunity, or is this purely a terrible tragedy? Murders at universities were not unique to Los Angeles; this case is eerily reminiscent of the Annie Le killing at Yale University.
12. The Great Pot Debate: Medical marijuana headlines hit Los Angeles papers on a daily basis for the last couple of months of 2009, leaving a raging debate as to whether or not the dispensaries actually increases crime. Is it possible to live 'in harmony' and safety where a city hosts marijuana clinics? Yes, it is. Just look at Oakland or San Francisco. Or look to a city in close proximity to LA: West Hollywood. For an interesting read, check out West Hollywood's medical marijuana success story. The article makes a good point: although at 1.9 square miles and about 36,000 people West Hollywood is a fraction of LA's size, it offers an example of how a city that adopted clear rules and rigorously enforced them has largely eliminated its problems surrounding the dispensaries. This is a huge political issue (federally, not just locally) and we are sure to see a lot more debate in City Council in 2010. I say perhaps it is time that we just got real: get the "medical" part out, and just legalize marijuana already! I plan to write an article detailing my view on this in early 2010. Stay tuned!
13. Arline Mathews: From the Los Angeles Times I learned about Arline Mathews, 82, who should be spending her time in leisurely pursuits, but spends her days in dread that the man who raped her 22 years ago could soon be released from prison. After writing an article about her in Women In Crime Ink, Arline contacted me to help her advocate for justice. How a serial rapist -- who targets seniors -- was allowed to plea-bargain to a sentence short enough to let him re-offend is beyond me! 21 years ago the charge of eight rapes was plea-bargained down to three. You plea-bargain when you have a weak case -- not when you have evidence to send a violent sexual offender away for life. Arline's case is an example of the worst of the worst: it's the worse type of crime, the worst type of predator, with the worst emotional result. Like Arline, I feel it's my duty to make you aware of this case of injustice. While many may not see the injustice in the plea deal, the part of this case that should make you listen up is the part that the defendant was responsible for many other rapes, some known to the police and many not. How can that be? With thousands of rape kits sitting on shelves, collecting dust, it is certainly possible (if not likely) that Lloyd Anthony Roy's DNA is in them. But, with no efforts to test, no efforts to further investigate, Roy will be released. In order for us all to rest in Los Angeles, we must demand that these kits are tested, cold cases examined, so that Lloyd Anthony Roy will stay in prison, where he belongs, for life.