Upset With Judge, Litigant Sends Threatening Email

It’s not unusual to see divorce litigants upset with the family justice system. Whether it’s unhappiness with the court’s decision or frustration over the delay and expense of family law proceedings, the courtroom is typically not a happy place to be.

A divorce litigant in Connecticut was particularly incensed with the way his contentious divorce matter unfolded and in a moment of anger sent an email to a number of friends that targeted the judge in his divorce proceedings. The email said that he knew where  Hartford Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto lived with her boys and nanny and that there is “245 yards between her master bedroom and a cemetery that provides cover and concealment…they can steal my kids from my cold dead bleeding cordite filled fists….as my 60 round mag falls to the floor and I’m dying as I change out to the next 30 rd.”

While Judge Bozzuto was not a recipient of the email, one person who received a copy sent it to his lawyer who contacted the courthouse and advised them of its content. Edward (Ted) Taupier, age 50, described as a hard-working, loving father and a committed community volunteer was charged with first-degree threatening, disorderly conduct and breach of the peace.

Mr. Taupier’s lawyer argued that his client’s missive was protected free speech. Criminal court Judge David P. Gold did not agree, saying that threats of violence are “punishable” speech not protected by the First Amendment. She also suggested that the prosecution had not proven that Mr. Taupier was the author of the email.  That too was rejected and Mr. Taupier was sentenced to prison for five years, with all but 18 months suspended. The Court also made a finding that Mr. Taupier had four guns that were capable of a long-distance shot.

Judge Bozzuto spoke briefly at Mr. Taupier’s criminal trial expressing her dismay and telling the judge that Mr. Taupier also referred in his email to court officials as “evil, self-appointed devils” who will only want to change the system once they “figure out they are not protected from bad things, when their families are taken from them.”

It is beyond sad that Mr. Taupier’s pent-up rage over the perceived mistreatment from the family courts has ruined his life and along with it, his children’s well-being. Eighteen months is a long time to think about one’s missteps.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

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Murder, Mayhem, and Matrimony

GeorgiaLeeLang009Yesterday I finished reading an intriguing true crime book called “Guilt by Matrimony” A Memoir of Love, Madness, and the Murder of Nancy Pfister”. The story involved the 2014 murder of wealthy, Aspen Colorado socialite Nancy Pfister, age 57, and was written by Nancy Styler. Both Nancy Styler and her husband Dr. William Styler were arrested for the capital murder of Ms. Pfister. Colorado is a death penalty state.

Nancy Styler was a prominent scientist and her husband a highly esteemed anesthesiologist in Denver, before bad luck reversed their fortunes. Dr. Styler was diagnosed with a degenerative illness and could no longer practice medicine. His lawsuit against the hospital that fired him came to an unsuccessful end after they exhausted their last savings on legal fees. They sold their opulent Denver home for far less than they expected, and were looking to start over, now in their early 60’s.

They ended up in Aspen hoping to open a spa, and met Ms. Pfister, an eccentric member of the “lucky sperm” club, who was looking for a tenant for her home while she was away on an extended vacation in Australia. She seemed like a fun-loving, sophisticated woman, and she said she was interested in investing in their new spa.  The Stylers didn’t hesitate to rent the home.

They moved in immediately, sharing the home with Ms. Pfister until she was ready to leave. They quickly became disillusioned with their landlady who was not what they thought. She was manipulative, mercurial, and had a penchant for pink champagne, in vast quantities. The Stylers met Ms. Pfister’s close friend, Kathy, a bank teller, who did her bidding without question. Sharing Ms. Pfister’s limelight appeared to be sufficient compensation for Kathy.

All was well, until the Styler’s received a brusque message from Ms. Pfister who was returning to Aspen earlier than expected. She rudely told them to get out and accused them of failing to pay the rent. They scrambled to move their furnishings and vacate the home, moving into a local motel.

During the move-out they were grateful their landlady was not home, but became alarmed when they saw her dog was alone in the home and had made a mess all over the house. They called Kathy, who fetched the dog.

Early the next morning, the police barged into the Styler’s motel room, ordered them to strip, took photos, and handcuffed them. They had no idea what was going on as they were driven to the local lockup. After hours of questioning without a lawyer present, Nancy Styler and Dr. Styler were charged with capital murder. Both denied any knowledge of Nancy Pfister’s death. Ms. Styler suspected she had overdosed on pills and alcohol. She later was told that Ms. Pfister received hammer blows to her head and was stuffed in her bedroom closet.  Ms. Styler was gobsmacked, without bail, and with no funds to retain a lawyer a public defender was appointed to represent her. Her husband had separate counsel.

She languished in jail for three months while her lawyers investigated the state’s case and concluded they had insufficient evidence to hold Nancy. But Nancy’s release only came when her husband made a startling admission. He said he had gone to the Pfister home early one morning to discuss Nancy Pfister’s allegations, which had enraged him, lost control of himself, and killed her. Nancy Styler didn’t believe him, thinking he was taking the blame in order that she be freed and exonerated. But she was wrong. He had done it. His illness had also affected his mind and the anger and resentment he had carried since losing his medical position exploded that morning. She immediately filed for divorce.

Dr. Styler was convicted of second degree murder, later committing  suicide in his prison cell. He had a one million dollar life insurance policy that was paid to his wife.

Yesterday the Aspen Daily News reported that Nancy Pfister’s daughter, Juliana Pfister, has brought a wrongful death suit against Nancy Styler alleging she assisted her husband in her mother’s murder, suggesting that Dr. Styler did not have the physical capacity to hide the body, as he did. Ms. Pfister is seeking financial compensation from the life insurance funds and the profits of Ms. Styler’s intriguing book.

This story is an enlightening example of how life can change so quickly, from the upper echelons of Denver society to a jail cell in Aspen…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Tragedy of Munchausen By Proxy

GeorgiaLeeLang025Many years ago I acted for a single mom who had an 8-year-old daughter. She retained me when her ex-husband filed an application seeking a change of custody from my client to him…not so unusual, right?

Wrong! This case was my first introduction to the mental illness called “Munchausen by proxy”, an insidious syndrome that experts say causes mothers, rarely fathers, to exaggerate or fake their child’s health problems, or in the worst cases, deliberately harm or cause injury to their child.

The signs and signals that Munchausen may be present include:

• A child who is often hospitalized with unusual and unexplained symptoms that seem to go away when mother is not present, or a child who is moved by her caregiver from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital.

• Symptoms that don’t match the child’s test results.

• Symptoms that worsen at home but improve while the child is under medical care.

• Drugs or chemicals in the child’s blood or urine.

• Siblings who died under strange circumstances.

• A mother who is overattentive to the child and overly willing to comply with health care workers.

• A mother who is a nurse or who works in the health care field.

Unfortunately, many friends, family, and medical experts who observe such symptoms have difficulty imagining that the child’s mother, who is overly protective, indeed, sacrificial in her care for her child, could intentionally harm her child.

Psychologists explain that the pay-off for the Munchausen mother is the fulfillment of her pathological need for attention and sympathy, something that the growth of social media exploits, with Facebook postings and mommy-blogs.

In a case from White Plains, New York, Lacey Spears, age 29, was charged with the murder. She was accused of poisoning her son, 5-year-old Garnett-Paul Spears with sodium….that’s right, every day table salt.

Garnett-Paul’s sodium levels escalated, confounding his doctors at Westchester Medical Centre who tried desperately to control his brain swelling and seizures, and prevent his eventual death.

Meanwhile his mother used social media to regale her readers with details of Garnett-Paul’s tortuous medical journey, all the while preening and accepting accolades for her unstinting dedication to her sick son.

Ms. Spears was bedside at the hospital with her son, sleeping with him overnight, until he died. Prosecutors allege  she was continually depositing salt in his feeding tube.

Video cameras caught Ms. Spears on two occasions taking her son into a hospital bathroom with a feeding tube. A search of her apartment also turned up two feeding bags contaminated with salt. One of the bags had the equivalent of 69 salt packets.

His death is a terrible tragedy and one that experts say is rare, because Munchausen mothers don’t intend to kill their children, they simply want them to stay sick to feed their uncontrollable need for attention.

She was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

As for my client, her ex-husband was unable to prove his daughter was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, although the circumstances were admittedly suspicious. I often wondered how that little girl fared and thought about her for years after.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Merry Christmas for Two Innocent Men Set Free in December 2015

BarristerAs Franz Kafka wrote in “The Trial”:

“It’s only because of their stupidity that they’re able to be so sure of themselves.”

While Vancouver’s wrongly convicted Ivan Henry spent weeks in court this year seeking compensation due to a disturbingly flawed police investigation; a prosecutor whose focus was on winning, not achieving justice; and an arrogant jurist, more innocent men around North America were set free from prison after decades of wrongful imprisonment. The numbers are staggering, but their stories are similar. Here are two tragic examples.

Native American Marvin Roberts of Anchorage, Alaska was 19 years old in 1997 when after eleven hours of police interrogation he admitted killing 15-year old John Hartman who died after being beaten, kicked, and sexually assaulted on a lonely Anchorage street. Three other companions were also arrested, charged, and all were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. They were nicknamed the “Fairbanks Four”. Mr. Roberts received a 33-year sentence.

Alaska’s Innocent Project was eventually able to prove they were wrongfully convicted resulting in their release from prison on December 18, 2015. But in exchange for their freedom, the prosecutor’s office extracted an unconscionable concession from each of them, namely, that none of them could bring claims for compensation for the decades they spent in jail. Factors leading to their convictions included mistaken witness identification; later recanted, false forensic evidence; perjury; false accusations; and the misconduct of officials.

Floyd Bledsoe, age 23, of Oskaloosa, Kansas also lived the nightmare of a wrongful conviction for the murder, rape, and kidnapping of 14-year old Zetta Camille Arfmann, his wife’s younger sister, who lived with Floyd, his wife, Heidi and their two children.

After a neighbourhood search for Zetta, Floyd’s brother, Tom Bledsoe, discovered her body and produced the murder weapon. He then called his pastor and admitted to the crime, begging for forgiveness. He also admitted his guilt to the local police, before recanting and accusing his brother Floyd of the horrendous crime, explaining that his initial confession was in response to Floyd’s threats that he would release embarrassing information about Tom to his family and friends.

Floyd and Tom’s father, Floyd Bledsoe Sr., provided an airtight alibi for Tom, as did witnesses for Floyd. Astoundingly, Floyd was convicted of all charges and given a life sentence plus 16 years, despite a complete lack of forensic evidence against him. The prosecutor proffered evidence at trial that the rape kit did not produce any DNA results.

Floyd’s multiple appeals were unsuccessful until one appellate court ruled that mistakes made at trial by the prosecution, that went unchallenged by Floyd’s lawyer, were grounds for vacating the conviction. He was released from prison, but after the prosecutor’s successful appeal, he was returned to complete his prison sentence.

To the rescue was Kansas University’s School of Law Innocence Project who in the course of their investigation discovered an agreement between the prosecutor, the county sheriff, and a representative of the FBI, that no DNA testing  on the rape kit would be performed, calling into question the prosecutor’s statement that the rape kit was negative for DNA.

Once Floyd’s lawyers were able to obtain DNA testing on a vaginal swab and the rape kit,  it was determined these items contained the DNA of Tom Bledsoe and excluded Floyd Bledsoe. DNA on Zetta’s socks from Floyd Bledsoe Sr. indicated he had likely assisted Tom to pull the body to its final resting spot.

A month before Floyd’s conviction was vacated, Tom Bledsoe committed suicide, leaving notes admitting he raped and murdered Zetta and apologizing for betraying his innocent brother.

Floyd spent 15 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Again, prosecutorial misconduct together with ineffective legal counsel, and perjured testimony played a role in the injustice that befell Floyd.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Mysterious Phenomenon of Human Chimeras

GeorgiaLeeLang016Perhaps one of the most shocking parental discoveries is when a father finds out that contrary to what he has been told and believed, he is not the biological parent of a child he is raising. Many devastated fathers have terminated their spousal relationships unable to cope with such fundamental deceit.

Recently a father in Washington State was flummoxed when he learned he had no biological connection with his infant son. Since he and his wife had undergone in vitro fertilization he immediately contacted the fertility clinic to let them know of their gross error: they must have mixed up his sperm with another client. When the clinic denied the allegation, the couple went to Dr. Barry Starr, a geneticist at California’s Stanford University.

Dr. Starr’s testing determined that while he was not the child’s father, he was the child’s uncle. More confused than ever, he listened as the doctor described a rare genetic phenomenon know as chimerism. Most people have two sets of DNA, one from their father and the other from their mother. However, human chimeras have extra DNA, typically from an unborn twin, called a “vanishing twin”, whose DNA they absorbed in their mother’s womb.There are also cases where extra DNA is absorbed as a result of a blood transfusion or organ transplant.

The adoption of the name “chimeras” derives from Greek mythology, where the chimera was a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of the parts of more than one animal. It was usually depicted as a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that might end with a snake’s head.

Reported cases of chimerism are rare as many people are not aware of this anomaly, however, Lydia Fairchild almost lost her two children when she was required to take a blood test as part of her application for public assistance. The DNA test confirmed the children’s biological father, but revealed she had no biological connection with the children. She was accused of illegal surrogacy and welfare fraud.

Fortunately, around the time of the criminal investigation, an article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine describing the case of another chimeric woman, named Karen Keegan. When Karen’s doctor suggested her three sons be tested to determine if one of them could donate a kidney to her, she learned she was not the children’s biological mother, despite carrying them to term and giving birth to them.

Ms. Fairchild’s lawyer arranged additional screening for his client and it was determined that Ms. Fairchild was a tetragametic chimera, meaning she carried two strands of DNA, the result of two sperm implanting with two eggs.

There is no question that the human body is “fearfully and wonderfully” made with all its complexities, including the mysterious phenomenon of vanishing twins.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Brainwashed and Alienated Teens Found on “Underground” Farm

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0In April 2015 I wrote about the deception and lies that Sandra Rucki engaged in when she divorced her husband David Rucki in 2013. It began with a fraudulent one-sided consent order that she alleged her husband had agreed to. Once the order was overturned by the  Minnesota Court it escalated into despicable false allegations that father, David Rucki had sexually abused his two daughters, Gianni and Samantha, ages 13 and 14, and the spin-off of parental alienation.

The Court ruled there was no credible evidence to support Ms. Rucki’s claims and the girls were removed from their mother’s custody. David Rucki received custody  of them, but as the girls refused to see him, other family members would provide residential care.

The Court’s order provided a measure of hope to Mr. Rucki that his daughters could be de-programmed once they were removed from their mother’s influence. Instead what happened is that the girls, with their mother’s assistance, fled their new home,  although Sandra Rucki denied any involvement in her daughters’ disappearance.

In the summer of 2015, with the girls on the lam for over two years, the police arrested Ms. Rucki who was extradited from Florida to Minnesota after witness, Dale Nathan, a suspended attorney and longtime critic of the family courts, provided information that placed Ms. Rucki with her daughters at the time of their escape.

She has been charged with three felony counts of deprivation of parental rights and is being held  in Ramsey County workhouse on one million dollars bail.

Police advised the media that evidence seized from the home of  Dede Evavold led them to White Horse Ranch in Minnesota, where the teens were found. Ms. Evavold is a supporter of an organization called “Protective Parent”, a movement that  supports the notion that the family courts are broken and frequently award custody of children to abusive parents. It is believed to be part of an underground network of family court critics.

The website for White Horse Ranch describes it as a non-profit Christian organization that helps abused children heal with equine therapy.

Interestingly, Ms. Rucki’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald,  recently campaigned for election as a Minnesota Supreme Court judge. Her campaign manager? Oh, that was none other than Dede Evavold. Ms. MacDonald said she had no knowledge of Ms. Evavold being involved in the Rucki girls’  disappearance. Attorney MacDonald was also quoted in the media saying:

“I am in disbelief,  I hope [the girls] are reunited with their mother and brothers and sister, and even their father.”

Funny how she adds “their father”, almost as an afterthought, yet he is the custodial parent. I have said it before and I will say it again: parental alienation is the worst kind of child abuse.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

Junk Science Strikes Again: Flawed Arson Evidence

GeorgiaLeeLang016My regular readers will know that I am disgusted and disappointed with the vast number of men (and women) who have been imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, and for wrongful convictions based on junk science. I have tackled the now discredited theory that hair found at the scene of a crime is foolproof evidence of guilt, if it can be linked to a suspect, and the notion that bite marks can provide reliable evidence upon which a conviction can be founded.

To add to the list of flawed scientific conclusions is evidence of arson that we now know to be false. There are far too many examples of wrongful convictions based on testimony that a fire was not accidental but a deliberate criminal act.

One of the more recent cases involves the conviction of Han Tak Lee who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Pennsylvania for the 1989 arson murder of his 20-year-old mentally ill daughter, Ji Yun Lee. Mr. Lee was released from prison in 2014 after the report and recommendations of Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson of Harrisburg Pennsylvania was handed down.

Judge Carlson held that the arson evidence proffered by the prosecution some 25 years ago, while readily accepted in 1990, had been thoroughly debunked after two decades of research in the cause and origin of fires. What is as troubling as the wrongful conviction was the Crown’s decision to appeal Mr. Lee’s release, although they were not successful. It concerns me that prosecutors in these cases rarely accept judicial findings that the evidence they presented was flawed. These prosecutors seem to forget their role is to seek justice, not merely to convict.

Mr. Lee finally caught a break when renowned fire scientist, John Lentini, a 40-year veteran of fire science, heard about his case and offered to assist his lawyers for free, although Mr. Lentini received appropriate compensation for his expert testimony as the local American-Korean community had raised enough funds to cover Mr. Lee’s costs. Lentini said that prosecutors submitted every fire science myth that was available, calling it the worst case of junk arson science he had ever seen.

The tragedy of junk science is the wrongful imprisonment of innocent people.  The American National Registry of Exonerations reports that since 1989 31 people in the United States have been exonerated for arson crimes. But the Registry does not record all of the travesties. For example, Louis Taylor served 42-years in prison for allegedly setting a hotel fire in Tucson Arizona that killed 29 people. And James Hugney was set free this year after 36-years of imprisonment for a 1978 house fire that killed his 16-year-old son.

But if it could get worse, it does. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas in 2004 for the alleged arson murder in 1991 of this three young daughters. Eight experts have now concluded that the house fire was probably accidental. It wasn’t a crime at all.

 

Photo by Tom Salyer.

John Lentini. Photo by Tom Salyer.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang