So, about competency for trial

After I shared an article on Charley’s Facebook page about how after years of psychiatric treatment and a second opinion, Catherine Hoggle is STILL mentally incompetent to stand trial in the murders of her children Sarah and Jacob, someone was asking questions about what it meant to be competent or incompetent to stand trial, so I thought I’d talk about that cause probably more than one person doesn’t know.

Basically, in order to face a criminal trial in the U.S. you have to be mentally capable of defending yourself. The barrier to this is not very high; you can have low intelligence and be severely mentally ill and still be competent to stand trial.

You have to know the basics of what a trial is, and the roles of everyone involved: the state says you broke X Law, the prosecutor is against you, the defense attorney is for you, the judge makes sure the trial is fair and legal, the witnesses tell what they know and the jury decides if you are in fact guilty of breaking X Law. A child could be made to understand these things.

You also have to be capable of working with your defense, and this part is what causes problems for people like Catherine Hoggle, who is incompetent to stand trial because of her mental illness.

Now, Catherine has schizophrenia and every psychiatrist who has tested her competency over the last few years, including the one the government recently hired for a second opinion on the matter, agrees she is not competent to stand trial but with treatment could become competent in the future. (She has recently been prescribed Clozapine, the last-resort Holy Grail of antipsychotic drugs which can work wonders for treatment-resistant schizophrenia.)

Speaking hypothetically here, if you are very intelligent and understand the mechanics of a trial and the roles of everyone involved, but you have a severe schizophrenic delusion that your defense attorney is actually an alien from the Planet Zog who only wants your brain for the Zog beings’ Museum of Humanoid Anatomy and will suck out your brain through your esophagus if you so much as part your lips in the attorney’s presence, obviously this is going to present severe problems in building your defense. If you genuinely believe your defense attorney is not actually on your side and only wants to steal your brain for alien naturalists to gawk at in a museum, you’re not going to be able to work with your attorney to come up with a defense in your upcoming murder trial. And the Constitution says the government can’t put you on trial if you are incapable of defending yourself.

So in order to make you competent, the government puts you in a secure psychiatric facility and has psychiatrists and therapists and other mental health clinicians treat you in hopes that you will eventually become well enough to cast aside the whole “Planet Zog wants my brain” delusion at least in part. The goal is just to get you to be able to talk to your defense and assist them in whatever strategy they’re going to use to defend you, and to know what’s going on with the trial and potential consequences.

So that’s my TED Talk on mental fitness for trial. Hope you found it illuminating.

Stumbled across some info on Telethia Good’s disappearance

So I was reading David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets aka “the book that inspired the TV show The Wire” and discovered Telethia Good is mentioned in it, although not by name.

David Simon shadowed the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit for a year, from January to December in 1988, and wrote about the cases they solved, and didn’t solve. One of the most prominent homicides was that of Latonya Kim Wallace, an eleven-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted, stabbed and strangled.

The prime suspect is identified in the book only as “The Fish Man” (because he was a fishmonger). He knew Latonya Wallace and had a history of sexual assault and was just generally creepy, and there was some physical evidence that indicated he might have been involved. Obviously they didn’t have the kind of DNA testing thirty years ago that they have now, though.

The cops looked to see if they could connect the Fish Man to any other cases and at this point the book says that a nine-year-old girl who lived on Montpelier Street disappeared in 1979 and was never found, and she was “a dead ringer” for Latonya Wallace. The cops learn that the Fish Man’s business partner at that time lived on Montpelier Street and the Fish Man visited him there often. When they show the suspect a photo of the missing girl, he initially says he recognizes it, then backtracks and says he doesn’t.

In spite of the police’s best efforts, the Fish Man never confessed to Latonya’s murder, never mind Telethia’s case, and they couldn’t find enough evidence to prosecute him. According to the afterword in the book, he’s dead now.

I immediately checked on Charley to find a girl who matched the particulars of the missing child case in the book. Telethia disappeared in 1978, not 1979, and she was seven, not nine, but she did live on Montpelier Street and she does look quite a lot like Latonya Wallace.

I suppose I’ll add this info to her casefile. Shame I don’t know the Fish Man’s name. Now that he’s dead there’s no harm in releasing that info, I should think.

Black History Month: Stephen Beard

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Stephen Christopher Beard, a fourteen-year-old boy who disappeared from Baltimore, Maryland on June 2, 2001.

He had a guardian at the time of his disappearance, and I wonder how well he was being guarded, since it says he liked to go to local nightclubs.

I wonder if he is still alive. It sounds like he knew how to take care of himself, so I’m hoping. It’s been close to twenty years now.

Thoughts on today’s updates

It’s 11:47 p.m. as I type this, so perhaps by the time it’s finished, “today” will be “yesterday.”

For all the updated cases today, except Jahi Turner and Donna Mezo, you can thank Mion, who kindly gathered together a bunch of old newspaper articles about cases I had and emailed them to me.

Regarding my Donna Mezo update, I hope it clarifies the situation with her boyfriend’s death. Earlier I had said there was a suicide note and his death was ruled a suicide in spite of the fact that the gun used was found in “a nearby lake.” Well, I have since learned that “nearby” was more like “a few feet away.” I think what probably happened is that Jeffrie either threw or dropped his weapon into the water during or after firing it.

I found quite a lot on Newspapers.com for Marcell Byers‘s case. His NamUs profile includes a clipping about how the people charged with kidnapping him disappeared and their lawyer had been threatened and maybe it was foul play.

Well, the two suspects did disappear, leaving a van shot full of holes, but I guess it was all just an attempt to evade prosecution because they were alive, back in custody and well enough to cop a plea less than a year later.

It’s disturbing that Marcell was never found. All this over a gold chain. The Zuppos pleaded no contest to kidnapping, meaning they didn’t even admit they were guilty. They’d be out of prison by now and I’m not sure what they’re up to these days. I think Gerald Sr. may be dead; someone with the same name and birth year died in North Carolina in 2003.

Tejin‘s case is just sad. (Also, NamUs has him listed as a girl? I admit you can’t really tell from the pictures. If I hadn’t found some articles on his disappearance I’d have been none the wiser.) I found his Facebook page and one picture was of him holding a little turtle, whom Tejin called “my son.” This was just a few months before his presumed death.

Julie Davis‘s case is sad too. Judging from the Facebook page created for her, she was lost for awhile before she disappeared. They only have the one not very good quality and out-of-date photo of her, and from the Facebook page her family apparently wasn’t really clear on when they’d last heard from her. They mentioned getting a letter from her “around 1985 or 1986.” (I’m not sure where NamUs’s date of disappearance comes from.)

She was just sixteen years old and already out on her own, almost four hours from her hometown.  I know things were a bit different back in the eighties, but that’s still pretty unusual. I wonder if she was in foster care. Obviously her family cares about her or they wouldn’t be trying to find her. I hope she’s alive out there and doesn’t even know anyone is looking, and isn’t a Jane Doe somewhere, or worse, dead and never found.

For this case, normally I’d have listed her as just regular “Missing” but then I saw the detail about the track marks and thought “drugs” and upgraded her case to “Endangered Missing.” Question: do track marks ALWAYS mean drugs? There are some medical conditions that require a person to get frequent injections; do those people get similar scars?

Ashley Lynn Thomas has such striking eyes, so big and dark against her pale skin and hair. I hope she’s okay. I hope she and the baby are both healthy and being looked after.

Stuart Owen Collins got a big update today. (Thanks again, Mion!) It does sound like something bad happened to him, and one inevitably wonders about the woman he was with, and even more so about her husband.

With Paul Egan (another big update there) the whole rendering theory is just awful to contemplate. The police seemed to suspect Paul’s friend. They said his friend was not a suspect, but they also made a point of saying they couldn’t confirm the friend’s story.

It could have happened something like this: Paul and his friend got into some kind of argument at the plant after hours — his friend was a foreman, Paul a technician — and things got out of hand something went horribly wrong, and his friend is panicking and thinks “well, there’s this rendering machine, if I just chuck him in and keep my mouth shut, no one will ever know.” I doubt such places had security cameras in 1975. The rendering machine was designed to grind up horses; a human corpse would be easy.

Of course that’s all supposition. I did look up the friend in the Florida DOC database and on Facebook and couldn’t find anyone by that name. I did find a Newspapers.com mention of a person by that name (and a photo of that person) from 1970, five years before Paul disappeared. Nothing since then. I wonder if I’ve got the spelling of his surname right.

As far as the note Elsie Elsinga left behind — and her daughter’s poo-pooing the significance of that note — I don’t know. Her daughter said something like “How could someone of that age have done anything to mess up their life?” But perhaps Elsie’s “possible mild depression” was more significant than her daughter thought.

For Helen Robinson, I wonder if she decided to take a plane to visit one of those CB radio friends she had, and maybe something happened that prevented her from coming back. It was two solid years before her van turned up; by then, the weeds might have grown over the flight records. Robinson is definitely dead now; I don’t think she would have lived long in any case, because of her emphysema.

I added 27 updates and I’m very pleased with my work output today. I hope y’all have noticed how much more productive I’ve been ever since the site got redesigned. It takes less time to add/update stuff, since I don’t have to write all the code by hand, or hand-add case names to the lists.

Black History Month: Ramona Catherine Redd

In honor of Black History Month I’m profiling one African-American MP every day on this blog for the month of February. Today’s case is Ramona Catherine Redd, who disappeared from Baltimore, Maryland on March 7, 2002. She was 19 years old at the time.

I don’t have much on Ramona’s disappearance. She left home in the wee hours and was planning to walk to her sister’s house. The last sign of her was at a 7-11 on Orleans Street. She called a friend from a pay phone and said she was lost. Other than that, nothing seemed to be wrong. Ramona was never seen again.

Her family has suffered greatly, and not just because of her disappearance — the month after Ramona vanished, her mother was murdered.

If Ramona is still alive, she’d be 35 years old today.

Strike that, reverse it: murder-without-a-body cases

It has been brought to my attention that Walter Shannon Stevenson, whose case I resolved yesterday, has not been found after all. This article, from which I got the original information, has issued a retraction. A suspect, Jeffrey May, has been charged with his murder, but Walter’s case is currently a no-body homicide.

I hope the body turns up soon. In the meantime, I’ll remove the resolved notice and put up Walter’s casefile again with the next update (probably today).

And speaking of murder-without-a-body cases, it looks like the only indicted suspect in Katherine and Sheila Lyon‘s 1975 disappearances is about to plead guilty. Some articles:

This isn’t the end of the story — there’s another suspect who is also believed to have been involved — but it might be the beginning of the end.

As of this writing, the Corpus Delicti section of Charley — my three lists of murder-without-a-body cases currently on the website — has approximately 615 names. (I saw “approximately” because a few names are on more than one list due to multiple defendants and multiple outcomes. I wish I could find the outcomes for more of those cases on List Three, which surely must have been resolved by now.)

For more details about murder-without-a-body cases, I highly recommend you check out Tad DiBiase’s website (particularly this PDF) and book.

Let’s talk about it: Juanita Oxenrider

Charley Project Irregular Katherine B. suggested I do a “let’s talk” feature where I post some of the most bizarre Charley Project cases there are to offer, and let people have free rein speculating about them in the comments. I don’t think I have enough super-bizarre cases to make a regular weekly go of this, but here’s the first one anyway:

Juanita Marie Oxenrider, a pregnant 29-year-old who disappeared after she, her husband Donald, and a friend, Thomas Maynard, took a ride out on the Oxenriders’ boat on the Patapsco River in central Maryland in 1976. The boat mysteriously exploded and sank in broad daylight in only fifteen feet of water, but no bodies were immediately recoverable.

Six months later, in the river about a mile downstream from where the boat sank, Donald Oxenrider’s body turned up. They were too severely decomposed to determine the cause of death. In an even more crazy detail of this case, the other passenger, Thomas Maynard, turned up a decade after that, alive and well — the guy was facing serious criminal charges at the time of his disappearance, and he’d jumped the country and had been in Canada all that time.

But what happened to Juanita? You decide. It’s worth noting that she has been declared legally dead. But if she’s still alive she’d be about 69 today, and her baby would be 41 39.

Let’s hear it from the comment crowd. All theories are welcomed.