Homicide: Life on the Streets

Arrest By Judy Berman

For some people, urban violence is as remote as the Himalayas.

Try explaining that your main objective as a cops reporter is not getting caught in any crossfire. Someone’s bound to question your sanity.

That danger was not confined to some dark alley. It also lurked on a sunny street, during a quiet chat in an apartment, and even back at the office where I worked.

In one neighborhood, rival gangs competed for the drug trade. That the violence claimed one of their own – in broad daylight – was inevitable.

On the TV shows and the movies, it looks so easy. It’s all wrapped up, neat and tidy, at the end. But life is not always well scripted. Like the time I was sent out to follow up on a fatal drive-by shooting in Utica, New York.

Two colleagues went with me in my car. We split up to talk to potential witnesses. We’d agreed on a time to meet back at my car.

I stopped to talk to some teens hanging out on the corner. One came over wearing a towel wrapped around his head. I started to laugh.

“You mocking my religion?” he asked. I could tell he was joking, and we continued the banter until another guy suggested I move on. While he wasn’t menacing, his message was clear.

Where to? I couldn’t leave my co-workers behind. So I walked down the block to my car – which just happened to be parked across the street from where the young man had been gunned down – and waited for them to return.Crime Scene tape - Do Not Cross

A car cruised slowly up to the house and then quickly moved on when a patrol car went by on a side street. Then, another car crawled to the curb. Someone in the house ran out. That car also left moments later.

Great, I thought. I’m betting they’re not well-wishers for the dearly departed.

I was relieved when I saw my colleagues heading my way. The drug dealer, who had asked me to leave the area, walked across the street to talk to us.

He asked my male co-worker, “If someone robbed you, what would you do?”

“I’d call the cops,” the reporter said.

Wrong answer, I thought. Drug dealers don’t look to cops to resolve things. They don’t want the cops messing in their business. No, they settle the score themselves. The drug dealer talked about “street justice.”

That’s the MO (modus operandi) of the drug trade. Keep the “shorties” (those that sell drugs on the streets) and the competition in line thru violence and intimidation. If you met him, you’d see what I saw – a polite young man, easy to talk to. That’s what jurors see. They don’t see the victims, or law-abiding neighbors who live in fear.

In another murder case, I was by myself, going door-to-door in an apartment building looking for someone to comment on the shooting.

A man, who lived across the hall from the victim, invited me in. He seemed pleasant enough.

As we sat across from one another, he confided that he’s been classified as a paranoid-schizophrenic. He told me that “If I’m in a hostile situation, I could kill a person one minute, and, the next minute, not even realize what I’d done.”

My face was a blank canvas. What are you supposed to say after that?

Then, as if to reassure me, he said: “I haven’t killed anybody yet.”

I leaned over, patted his arm and said: “Keep up the good work.”

My response was instinctive. No doubt, it threw him off balance. Then, I changed the subject, and we resumed talking about his neighbor.

I tried not to think about the “What if’s?” Like the man who was unhappy with a story I wrote, believing I was working with detectives to implicate him in the death of his former girlfriend.

It was midday and he looked like he’d been drinking heavily when he came to the paper demanding to see me.

Reporter Bill Farrell went downstairs with me to see the man. He threatened to sue the paper. Then, he nearly knocked a woman down as he stormed out. Farrell saw the man had a sharp, shiny object in his back pocket and offered to walk me to my car after work.

“But,” he joked, “I won’t start your car for you.”

I miss that edgy newsroom humor … and knowing the stories behind the headlines.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original
content.

Video: Homicide: Life on the Street – Luther Mahoney. Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnston) outsmarts Luther Mahoney in the box.  Shows like “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993-1999), based on an award-winning book, “Homicide,” by David Simon did show some of the gritty reality that cops go thru.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZ-k4DQqNic 

Photo: Arrest by Danish police in Copenhagen. Taken Oct. 2007 by Riemann.  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/94/Danish_police_arrest.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene tape – Do Not Cross – Uploaded by Diego Grez, Taken by Yumi Kimura, Yokohama, Japan on March 25, 2009 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/3d/Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg/640px-Do_Not_Cross%2C_Crime_Scene.jpg

Photo: Crime Scene – FBI Evidence Response Team  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/23/FBI_Evidence_Response_Team.jpg/640px-FBI_Evidence_Response_Team.jpg

Hoax: Tried in the Media

A hoax spun out in the media has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show.

A hoax spun out in the media has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show.

By Judy Berman

The Manti Te’o story has more plot twists than the Twin Peaks TV show, and just as many odd characters.

Did a friend dupe Te’o into believing he had a girlfriend named Lennay Kekua who died last September of leukemia? Turns out, there is no girlfriend. Everyone has come under fire in this story, including the reporters who should have been more skeptical and dug deeper.

It is a cautionary tale for reporters who are too close to those they cover. The adage to new reporters is: “If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second source.” That’s not just typical newsroom dark humor talking. It’s experience.

The Te’o story is still unraveling. Not all the facts are in. As the story unfolds, some cringe-worthy moments might emerge and reputations might be tarnished.

But this story needs to be put in perspective with other “tall tales” that have had a devastating impact on those involved.

Rev. Al Sharpton has championed equal justice in crime cases. In this photo in 1989, he's protesting the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in a white neighborhood. Two years earlier, he was criticized for his actions in the Tawana Brawley case - later labeled a hoax.

Rev. Al Sharpton has championed equal justice in crime cases. In this photo in 1989, he’s protesting the murder of Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in a white neighborhood. Two years earlier, he was criticized for his actions in the Tawana Brawley case – later labeled a hoax.

* In November 1987, I was working late at WHEN-AM radio in Liverpool, New York, when a shocking story crossed the wire. A Wappingers Falls’ girl, who had been missing for four days from her home, was found in a trash bag. The 15-year-old girl (Tawana Brawley) was dazed, covered in feces and had racial epithets scrawled across her torso. The Associated Press wire story stated that the teen was reportedly abducted, held captive, and raped by a gang of white men.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and Brawley’s lawyers accused Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones of being one of the men who raped Brawley.

The story quickly became a feeding frenzy for the media – each news outlet intent on being the first in pursuit of “hot news.” Mike Taihbi and Anna Sims-Philips covered the story for WCBS-TV, and their investigative reporting didn’t jibe with the daily press conferences. Their book, “Unholy Alliances: Working the Tawana Brawley Story,” (1989) outlined how the case unfolded.

I interviewed Sims-Philips. She said their findings angered the Brawley advisers and supporters. They received death threats, demonstrators protested outside the station, and pressure was put on the network to remove them from the story.

In 1988, a grand jury found that there had been no rape, that the case was a hoax. Authorities said Brawley’s story was made up to avoid punishment for running away and missing school.

“But, in the end, something changed,” the authors wrote. “Pieces of the truth were forced into the open air, not the whole truth; that’s still hidden. But enough of it emerged, through the efforts of forensic scientists and investigators and, yes, the press, so that there was room and time at last, away from the noise of the headlines and the six o’clock news, for people to measure those bits of truth and privately choose what was worthy of belief. The rhetoric has been silence. The silence, though, remains.”

“In 1998, Pagones won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Brawley and her lawyers. (Alton H.) Maddox was found liable for $97,000, (C. Vernon) Mason for $188,000, and Sharpton was ordered to pony up $66,000,” according to a Dec. 23, 2012, story by the New York Post.

“Brawley was ordered to fork over $190,000 at 9 percent annual interest.” The New York Post reported that all but Brawley paid up.

Once a media darling, New York State Trooper David Harding was later found guilty of framing Shirley Kinge in connection with the 1989 murders of the Harris family - a case that her son, Michael, was the primary suspect in before being killed in a shootout with a New York State Police SWAT team.

Once a media darling, New York State Trooper David Harding was later found guilty of framing Shirley Kinge in connection with the 1989 murders of the Harris family – a case that her son, Michael, was the primary suspect in before being killed in a shootout with a New York State Police SWAT team.

* What the press – and the public – knows in the beginning stages of a news story is often limited. Details are few and everyone is clamoring for answers and – when there’s a crime – an arrest.

Two days before Christmas in 1989, the murders of the Harris family in Dryden, New York, was eerily similar to Truman Capote’s story, “In Cold Blood.” Warren and Dolores Harris, their daughter, Shelby, 15, and their son, Marc, 11, were bound, blindfolded, shot and killed. Before Shelby was killed, she was raped. The primary suspect, Michael Kinge, then doused the house with gasoline and set a fire before he fled.

Credit cards taken from the Harris home, used during a shopping spree, were traced back to Michael Kinge and his mother, Shirley.

“On February 7 (1990), members of the New York State Police SWAT team burst into the duplex apartments where Mr. Kinge and his mother lived. Mr. Kinge, holding a shotgun, according to the police accounts, was shot dead. Mrs. Kinge was first charged as an accessory in the Harris murders,” The New York Times reported.

The drama didn’t end there. In the courtroom, Trooper David L. Harding charmed the press with his stories about the case. He was likable, friendly, and always available for an interview.

Harding bragged about how he befriended Shirley Kinge at her workplace. He had a cast on his arm and asked her to address some letters to be sent to Harrisburg. (This was done to see how she wrote the victim’s name when she used the credit cards.)

Harding also got her fingerprints off a glass of water she brought to him. Kinge’s prints were a match  to those on a gas can found at the Harris family crime scene. Kinge was convicted of burglary and arson. She was sentenced 17 to 44 years in prison.

This was based on Shirley Kinge’s presence at the murder scene.

Only it wasn’t true. About 2 ½ years into her prison sentence, she was released from prison after an investigation found that David Harding planted her fingerprints from the glass at her workplace onto the gas can in the Harris home.

It wasn’t the only time that Harding and a few other troopers took shortcuts to gather “evidence” to convict someone they thought was guilty of a crime.

Harding pleaded guilty to perjury in two of the four cases investigated. He was sentenced Dec. 16, 1992, to 4 to 12 years in prison and fined $20,000 for fabricating evidence in the four documented cases, according to Wikipedia.

In 2009, New York Court of Claims Judge Nicholas Midey Jr.awarded Kinge $250,000 “based on the emotional and mental anguish she suffered and her loss of privacy and liberty while imprisoned,” according to the Ithaca Journal.

“Midey found that Kinge was the victim of malicious prosecution and negligent supervision of a state police investigator who planted phony fingerprint evidence and gave false testimony linking her to the Harris family slayings.”

These cases serve as a reminder that everyone – the media, police, the public – need to be skeptical about the facts and the evidence.

When I wrote “Tried in the Media” for WHEN, a newspaper executive offered this hopeful insight: “The truth will emerge. Not instantly and always, but it will emerge.”

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo: Twin Peaks http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/twin-peaks/images/4244602/title/twin-peaks-wallpaper

Court of Claims case: Shirley Turner Kinge, Claimant v. State of New York, Defendant – filed Dec. 13, 2007 http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-court-of-claims/1427693.html

Photo: David Harding – book cover “Good Cop Bad Cop” by Rebecca H. Cofer with David McElligott http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51T0F0370RL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_SS500_.jpg

Photo: Rev. Al Sharpton – Protest March – 1989 – Brooklyn, NY                                    In another case that drew national attention, the Rev. Al Sharpton led the first of dozens of protest marches after 40 white teenagers murdered Yusuf Hawkins, 16, a black teen in the (then) white neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. He led marchers every week for over a year despite catcalls and threats to his life. In 1991, he was stabbed during another march in Bensonhurst. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/Al_Sharpton%2C_1989_Protest_March%2C_Brooklyn_NY.jpg/640px-Al_Sharpton%2C_1989_Protest_March%2C_Brooklyn_NY.jpg

The Truth Is Out There

By Judy Berman

The haunting theme music, investigations of UFOs, aliens and the paranormal were the staples of “The X-Files.”

FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), whose sister had been abducted by aliens, suspected a government cover-up. But his partner, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), was more skeptical.

Both agents were assigned to investigate unsolved cases referred to as “X-Files.” During the show’s run from 1993 to 2002, the science-fiction TV show moved to the big screen with “The X-Files: Fight the Future” (1998). A sequel followed, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe” (2008).

Now, a third film is being talked about. But the truth is … it’s not certain if it’s out there.

“There is a very active and relentless fan campaign for a last movie. I do feel like it would be a terrible shame if that didn’t happen,” X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz said in an interview with Sciencefiction.com.

Spotnitz said he’s been talking to X-Files creator and executive producer Chris Carter about this possibility for a long time. “It feels wrong not to give it an ending around the alien colonization of Earth. … I have a clear idea of how it would go.”

At times, I could empathize with Mulder. I want to believe. Other times, I’m very much like Scully. I weigh the evidence, am skeptical about “eyewitness sightings.”

Is Earth the only planet in the whole galaxy that contains life? It doesn’t seem logical. We’re trying to contact other galaxies. Could another galaxy be trying to get in touch with us? Have some already visited Earth?

Some scoff at that notion. They dismiss accounts of Unidentified Flying Objects and/or little gray men as coming from yahoos out drinking in a swamp.

Pro-UFO supporters point to the U.S. Air Force’s Project Blue Book, Area 51 and the 1947 Roswell incident as proof of credible UFO sightings and of a government cover-up about research on aliens – extraterrestrials. (Links to these stories are below.)

So it’s no wonder that the show’s slogans, “Trust No One” and “The Truth Is Out There” were embraced by X-Files’ fans. They also were a natural fit for me. I was a reporter during the show’s run. It was a natural instinct for me to question what I was told and not buy into every snake-oil salesman’s smooth-talking pitch.

That’s why I want to reject the idea of the series’ Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis). He’s plotting with extraterrestrials who plan to wipe out human life. He’s evil personified, willing to sell out the public. But at what cost?

If they succeeded, just how safe would his job be? “No cigarettes for you.”

But, whatever the outcome, I do hope there’s a third movie for the rest of us who can’t get enough of the X-Files.

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Do you identify more with Fox Mulder or Dana Scully?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Main photo credit of Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson)

http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-x-files/images/19918135/title/x-files-wallpaper

Photo credit: Fox Mulder’s office in “The X-Files”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_X-Files_Office.jpg

“How Area 51 Works”

http://science.howstuffworks.com/space/aliens-ufos/area-51.htm

“Unidentified Flying Objects – Project Blue Book” and “The Roswell Incident”

http://www.archives.gov/foia/ufos.html