Blogs: Crime City
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Tricky Bullets

T ricky bullets beget tricky problems, death-wise, legal-wise and otherwise. The yearly appearance of ammunition new and strange reminds me of the kaleidoscopically colorful fishing lures that change constantly on the merchandise hooks at Walmart. They're designed to catch anglers, not fish.

The new bullet on the block this year is a dazzler. The Multiple Impact™ Bullet (MI™ Bullet) is made by Advanced Ballistic Concepts. When fired, the slug separates into three pieces tethered by cords. The array spins like a propeller and upon impact saws a salad-bowl-sized slice out of the bad guy.

The advertising emphasizes that, because of the array's 14-inch spread, even dithery amateurs (your name goes here) can't miss. The photos show targets zapped impressively at 25 feet. You might infer that, with such ammo, you can shoot attackers from farther away!

Dream on.

When you fire in self-defense, you have two problems: staying alive and staying out of prison. Behind the attacker comes the popo, and behind them the Red Queen, Angela Corey, and her prosecutorial minions. Unless the attacker is a stranger who breaks into your home, and the corpse you create drops conveniently inside the threshold, nothing will be certain. Here's a more likely scenario:

You foolishly drive at night through an ash-can neighborhood like mine, where lowlifes lean on lampposts 24/7. Everybody on the block except you is selling crank, crack, heroin or a combination thereof. At the red light at Market and Union, a guy yells, "Gimme your car," then pulls a pistol and fires. His bullet misses. Yours hits.

Everybody stares at the twitching corpse. Nobody notices a kid who grabs the bad guy's gun as it skitters across the asphalt and then disappears at full gallop into the shadows. You and God know it was a righteous kill, but you're the only ones.

As God will not be your witness, you have only the onlookers. Some will be serving time on probation or free on bail. Some will be …   More


The Red Queen & 
the Knave of Hearts

"Off with his head!" shouted state attorney 
 Angela Corey, the Red Queen, after 
 she declared she'd prosecute Michael Dunn a second time for Murder One. The first jury hung, or choked, on whether the rage triggered by raunchy rap and some "fuck you"s was sufficient to constitute premeditation in the shooting death of Jordan Davis.

"Off with his head!" echoed Seventh Circuit 
State Attorney R.J. Larizza. The Knave of Hearts, he stole Corey's tarts by charging Christopher Fries with Murder One after he shot Paul Crookshank in a beery brawl outside the Giggling Gator, a louche lounge somewhere between St. Augustine's Bridge of Lions and the Road to Perdition.

Corey's prosecution of Dunn was incompetent, as the learned Larizza's will be, because both are overcharging their defendants. Murder One requires premeditation, defined thusly by the Florida Supreme Court: " ‘Killing with premeditation' is killing after consciously deciding to do so. … The law does not fix the exact period of time that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to kill and the killing. The period of time must be long enough to allow reflection by the defendant."

Do prosecutors think enough time elapsed between the "fuck" and the "you" of the Dunn case to constitute premeditation? Do they think, in the Fries case, that the moment between the smack of the haymaker and the splat of butt on asphalt was long enough for any meditation, pre- or non-? In the vapor of law school seminars, where angels dance on pinheads splitting hairs, it's clever to argue the existence of "instantaneous premeditation." Try selling that to a jury.

As annoying as prosecutors' soap-operatic flourishes (weeping relatives, TV-camera indignation) is their practice of presenting a jury with a smorgasbord of frequently unappetizing charges. Corey indicted Dunn for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, attempted manslaughter, launching a deadly missile …   More


Stand Your Wallet

If I hear more twaddle about Stand Your 
 Ground, I'm gonna hurl. It's a single sentence 
 in Florida's self-defense law that says, when attacked, you have no duty to retreat, but can shoot, stab, bludgeon, punch, kick or bite to 
save your life. Many states already have, or are adopting, similar language.

The notoriety of the phrase derives from ignorance, willful and otherwise. Stand Your Ground sets the boundary for the area in which self-defense may lawfully occur. It was not applicable in the Trayvon Martin shooting, since George Zimmerman was not standing but, according to two eyewitnesses, flat on his back. It was equally inapplicable in the prosecution of Michael Dunn, who will spend the rest of his life in prison precisely because he did not stand his ground, but instead charged Jordan Davis, killed him, then fired into a retreating vehicle. Florida law denies self-defense claims to aggressors.

So why the uproar to change the law? A peek behind the political curtain will suffice. During Stand Your Ground appearances in the capitol rotundas of Tallahassee, Columbus, Ohio and Springfield, Ill., the weeping families of the dead stood front and center before the cameras. On either side, however, were the real players, the plaintiff's bar. Conspicuously absent were prosecutors, defense attorneys and police.

Civil attorneys are not parties to prosecutions, so what's their interest? It's the second part of the Stand Your Ground law, which in Florida says: "A person who uses force as permitted … is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action."

In Stand Your Ground states, you can't sue anyone for wrongful death and civil damages who is found to have acted in self-defense. Likewise, it's nearly impossible to sue someone acquitted on the basis of self-defense.

After a loved one is killed, it's customary to call a personal injury lawyer before you call an undertaker. There's no criticism here. It's …   More


Lessons Learned from Louts and Lushes

It's nearly spring, a time when college students 
 tire of N-dimensional geometry puzzles, the 
 raptures of Wordsworth and the difficulties of deciding if Napoleon was a hero or a monster. Soon they will flock to Florida to spend their parents' money and give Anheuser-Busch distributors a second Christmas.

The dummies will go to Daytona Beach to find chill winds, a cold ocean and sharks too sluggish to nip off hands and feet as they do so playfully in summer. The smarties will head south to Key West, where temps will be in the 80s and the hibiscus in bloom.

Even better, Key West cops will have changed procedures. Instead of making misdemeanor arrests, they will issue Notices to Appear for indiscretions such as carrying open booze and beer containers, wee-weeing on historic buildings, ralphing corn dogs and fries into the crystalline waters, indecorous display of magnificent breasts, and the usual scuffling over women, sports teams and manhood.

The miscreants will be processed immediately through ad hoc Spring Break courts, fined $40 and assigned eight hours of picking up beer cans, sandwich wrappers and used condoms from city streets. The punishment is condign and leaves enough credit on Mater and Pater's cards to stoke local merchants, hoteliers and restaurateurs before the next hurricane comes.

Under this mild regime, roisterers are duly restrained and returned to school without criminal records that cause annoying problems with future job interviews and scholarship applications. It's all quite civilized.

These NTAs work in Key West at Spring Break, but they could work everywhere all the time. Consider Jacksonville's petty offenders. They are, alas, less frolicsome than the college kids. They drink, drug and brawl through the Kit-Kat and other noisome clubs. They holler at, pound, bite, scratch and yank out the hair of their spouses and fuck-buddies. They don't use lights on their bicycles at night and — horrors — often walk on streets …   More


Open Season

There's nothing like a marquee murder trial to bring angry litigants, gang hitters, attention-seekers and nut jobs out of the moonshine and into the sunlight. Security was sure to be tight at the Michael Dunn murder trial last week. So, disguised as a doddery senior citizen, I checked it out. I limped through the metal detectors, stumbled upstairs and down, and stuck my nose into offices, jury rooms, courtrooms and bathrooms.

I placed suspicious packages in trash cans and news boxes, carried metal through the magnetometers unchallenged and spent an hour in an ideal sniper hide, ranging targets and pondering how many people a bad guy could kill with a Walmart rifle with a not-so-straight barrel.

I hobbled around the building several times, pushed doors and poked into the unfenced power boxes near Clay Street to figure out how to pop the brass JEA locks, open the doors and blow the juice. Inside, for an hour, I cased the metal detectors from a nearby bench, stared intently at X-ray screens, scrutinized pat-downs and wand scans, and made obvious notes with a bright red pen in a huge black-and-orange folio.

Nobody said squat. To vanish from official scrutiny, it is only necessary to blink frequently and mutter at odd intervals, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"

Several months ago, Folio Weekly published a cover story, "Soft Target" [Sept. 11, 2013], in which I concluded that the $112 million a year the city spends on courthouse security is largely wasted, that security fails to meet the minimum standards set by the National Center for State Courts, and that a non-clever killer could easily place a bomb outside the building or carry a handgun inside to blast whichever juror, witness, attorney or judge had annoyed him.

So, with extra guys laid on for the Dunn trial, was security any better?

Nope. Let's review:

1. Metal detectors. I carry about eight ounces of metal in an artificial knee and always set off the detectors. Not once in the dozens of times …   More


Backyard Blasters

When I was young, shooting rats on rocks was what you did in Neptune Beach in the summer. Before the federal government spent millions to pump sand from offshore to restore our local beaches, there was, at high water, no beach at all. There were rocks and rats.

The rocks were granite boulders; the rats were flossy 5-pounders, fat from eating dead fish, garbage, sea cooties and the occasional oyster. Against gray rocks, gray rats are almost invisible. The key to shooting them is to use bleach. When you pour it into the crannies, the rats boil up with white bulls-eyes on their fur where the Clorox hit.

With bourbon in a Dixie cup and a box of shells, I whiled away many afternoons blasting vermin, yukking it up when the ricochets whizzed overhead, watching the slugs splash into the ocean.


At no time while I was blowing up rats did it occur to me that someone might walk or swim or drive a boat into one of those bullets. I never inquired as to the range of a .22 magnum fired from that rifle. Bourbon, bullets and a hot sun will do that.

No doubt you're thinking, "Those were the bad old days. In this shiny new century, that stuff is strictly illegal." You'd be strictly wrong. Discharging firearms from private property was legal then. It's more legal now.

Back in the day, cities and counties could limit shooting with ordinances for zoning, noise abatement and health and safety. Now they can't. In 1987, the state Legislature passed Florida Statute 790.15, which bans local governments from enforcing any firearms ordinances. In 2005, then-Attorney General Charlie Crist wrote the definitive opinion: "It is well settled that absent a general law stating otherwise, local governments have no authority to regulate firearms in any manner."

There is an exception: Local police can arrest anyone shooting recklessly or negligently. This sounds more important than it is. Any violation is a misdemeanor, subject to the misdemeanor presence rule that requires …   More


Red Becomes Her

At first glance, George Zimmerman's painting of State Attorney Angela Corey, executed in vermilion, carnelian, rhodamine, yellow and orange, is bizarre. With its rough strokes, it resembles the maniac wall daubs that are de rigueur for television serial killers who always have human blood around to paint runes, witchcraft symbols and mysterious messages.

To Duval County Courthouse denizens, however, it's hilarious. Corey is famous for the erubescent rages for which her predecessor, Harry Shorstein, fired her. When she terminated Ben Kruidbos, the IT director who testified that she withheld evidence from Zimmerman's attorneys, the rubor of the ensuing litigation and the uproar in the press were of equal magnitude.

Among criminal defendants, she is the scarlet virago of maximum charges, maximum bail and maximum sentences. To her supporters, she is justice incarnate; to her detractors, outrage incarnadine.

Red becomes her.

Who knew that George was a wit? Not the nattering classes, which pegged him as a loser and cop wannabe, terms repeated endlessly, like echoes in the empty canyon of modern journalism. I suspected otherwise, initially when I listened to him speak Spanish, his best language, and later when he arrived at trial with a quarter-million bucks he'd scored on the Internet for his defense. The sale of his first painting, of an American flag with blue stripes, for $108,000, reinforced this impression.

In exacting some tiny payback on his tormentor, his choice of weapons was interesting. Nearly all prisoners, under a rough blanket in the solitude of a cell, dream of smashing the skulls of the prosecutors who put them there. Zimmerman chose, instead of a club, the paintbrush.

This is insightful. Most elected officials are notably humorless and irony-challenged. When teased with a funny painting or a bon mot that has more than one meaning, they're helpless.

Zimmerman made his artwork by projecting a photograph onto canvas and painting over …   More


Don't Pimp 
Your Kids

You can almost understand how, when Michael Jackson pimped a kid out from under his parents, the mom and dad would fall for it: limos, jets, front-row seats, shopping sprees at Neiman. About those teddy-bear sleepovers? No worries. Gimme my Rolex!

It's more difficult to get why Rayne Perrywinkle and her daughter Cherish jumped into a van at a Dollar General on Lem Turner Road last June with a strange man who offered them a Walmart gift card. She then allowed her 8-year-old daughter go alone with this man, supposedly to a McDonald's inside the Walmart.

Donald James Smith was a four-time loser with jolts for indecent exposure to a child, kidnapping, kiddie porn and burglary. He raped and murdered Cherish, then dumped her body along a muddy bank of Half Branch Creek among the camphor and pine.

He's on trial this week for capital rape and murder one. His only options are life or the needle. Smith himself prefers the slow drip of the death cocktail. Having spent much of his adult life in Florida prisons, he knows that child murderers don't do well. In general population, he could look forward to nightly after-dinner beatings, which prisoners prefer for dessert over the eternal vanilla pudding.

So how do these monsters cozen parents and cozy up to kids? They are extraordinarily insinuating. Child molesters have the intellects of adults but the emotions of children. They can empathize because, deep down, they are children. They know exactly what fascinates kids because it fascinates them. Often they stock their houses with the best candy, the best games, the most fun stuff. There are ice cream bars, toys, stuffed bears, horses and monkeys, and Hello Kitty in every shade of pink. Their houses are one big rock candy mountain.

Molesters take advantage of parents' exhaustion. They're always available — and 
I do mean always — to babysit or run errands. They can be so, so charming. The kids have so much fun. You needn't worry about a thing!

They fixate …   More


The Sheriff and Ashley Mitchem

When properly executed, the political fix is as mysterious as the movements of a conjuror's fingers. The marionettes may prance in full view upon the boards, but the hands that move their limbs and mouths are hidden in the shadows of a black velvet curtain. Before the media can glom onto the goings-on, the illusionist vanishes into the governmental gloom, then tiptoes out the stage door unheard and unseen.

Sheriff John Rutherford, a master of the bureaucratic arts, was uncharacteristically clumsy in his recent voiding of traffic tickets and a Notice to Appear issued to WJXT's Ashley Mitchem. First, the background: Mitchem is an on-air reporter for Channel 4. A beautiful, cheerful scofflaw, she regularly roared along First Coast thoroughfares at speeds prohibited to the lumpen law-abiding. Twice-warned, she was, on strike three, issued a traffic ticket and an NTA — a criminal summons — for the improper display of a Fraternal Order of Police decal, which is a misdemeanor most maleficent in our Sunshiny State.

The lady howled; the sheriff fixed. Usually, this would be a ho-hum exchange of favors among the media and political elite. This time, however, some emails leaked; the Times-Union clamped onto the story like a starving pitbull, and the sheriff, astoundingly, admitted to the fiddle in print.

This surprises. A more deft politician would have whispered a word to the state attorney and presiding judge and the entire matter would've been null-prossed into oblivion with nary a trace leading back to Police Memorial Building.

The moral drawn from this roadside episode was that a bullyboy cop had mistreated the lady, and the issuance of a criminal citation for a bumper decal was an outrage that cried to heaven itself for justice! No ordinary person, etc.

This conclusion is incorrect. The fraternal decal statute is one of those absurdities the Legislature routinely writes into law to pacify clamorous lobbies with no expectation that it will actually be …   More


Santa Popo Comes to the Northside

'Twas the night before Christmas,

And Glocks were on butts,

The knives were in jeans,

And kids texted, "WAZZUP?"

"SCRAP," someone said.

Badass motherfucker


Damn straight, U SUKR!

The cops said the kids who were fighting around the Regal River City Marketplace Stadium 14 theater on Christmas Eve weren't using social media. I don't believe that. New scrappers kept arriving though nobody sent up a flare. When it comes to the Internet, cops are behind the times — circa when Facebook was cool.

The kids know that cops, parents, friends and frenemies can search their phones. Maybe they used apps like SnapChat that let texts pop up on friends' phones and then vanish into the ether seconds later. Cops can retrieve them from the smartphone's flash chip, but that requires a data extractor and a warrant.

Perhaps that's how messages similar to the doggerel at the top of this column flashed across screens in Jacksonville's raggedy Northside, and why 600 teenagers who did not have Christmas Eve dinners to attend showed up ready to rumble. According to the arrest and incident reports I read, and the video I saw, the mob attempted to flash-rush the building but bounced off the locked doors.

Inside the theater itself, off-duty Officer B.R. Smith called it in, and within minutes, 
60 cops came swarming. In the parking lot, 
the popo were on the receiving end of some "fuck-you-cracker" taunts, while girls pulled hair and clawed at boobs and faces and the boys jumped on the roofs and kicked in the body metal of those wretched Impalas local cops use as cruisers.

The police deployed pepper spray to melt hearts and minds, moved the mob away from the theater, separated out the little kids so they wouldn't get hammered, organized a parent pick-up zone for non-combatants and made five arrests — three juveniles and two teenagers over 18. Laurie-Ellen Smith, a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office flack, was dispatched to explain things to …   More