September 28th, 2012
By Kaitlyn Richards
Ohio inmate Ronald Post, who is appealing his death sentence on the premise that his weight would make it cruel and unusual punishment.
Ronald Post, an Ohio inmate sentenced to the death penalty, claims that he is “too obese” to be executed. Post shot and killed a hotel clerk, Helen Vantz, in Ohio almost thirty years ago, and is scheduled to be executed on January 16, 2013. The condemned inmate argues that his weight, vein access, and other medical problems would give executioners problems during the procedure. Post, weighing 480 pounds, argues that his history of difficulty losing weight would put him through a “torturous and lingering death”; his lawyers claim additionally that his current physical and medical conditions would put him at immense risk for serious physical and psychological pain.
Ronald Post’s case is similar to several other death penalty issues regarding the weight of condemned inmates. In 2008, a convicted double murderer, Richard Cooey, was sentenced to the death penalty, but his lawyers argued that he was too obese to be executed by lethal injection. They claimed that due to Cooey’s previously limited access to food and limited opportunities to exercise, it would be difficult for executioners to find a vein for lethal injection. Despite his lawyers’ objections, the 5′ 7″ and 267 lbs Cooey was put to death on October 14, 2008. In a 1994 case from Washington, Mitchell Rupe, previously sentenced to death by hanging, appealed his sentence, arguing that his weight would put him at risk for decapitation, which would constitute as cruel and unusual punishment. Rupe was ultimately sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2006.
American obesity numbers have skyrocketed over the past three decades, threatening to pose even more problems like these in the future.
Helen Vantz was working in the motel Ronald Post was robbing and was killed after he shot her in the back of the head twice. Vantz’s son, still seeking justice for his mother’s murder 30 years later said in response to Post’s request: “I don’t care if they have to wheel him in on a tractor-trailer; 30 years is too long…This is just an excuse to get out of the execution.”
According the Post’s lawyers, medical personnel at Ohio State University had difficulty inserting IVs into Post’s arms, needing three attempts to correctly place the IV. Post has struggled with his weight for years, but knee and back problems make it difficult for him to exercise in prison.
Post’s unusual case raises questions about the circumstances under which the death penalty should or should not be used. Currently, the death penalty is in use in 37 states, while the 13 states and jurisdictions without it claim the death penalty violates their state constitutions, or is just too costly. This particular case shows the number of ethical problems that capital punishment has encountered for years, like who should be put to death, what circumstances would allow a person to not be put on death row, and what are the costs and time it takes for an inmate to be executed?
August 27th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
In one month it will be the ten year anniversary of the D.C. Sniper shootings.
John Allen Muhammad, the primary organizer behind the Beltway sniper attack
For three weeks in October, 2002, John Allen Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, terrorized the Washington Metropolitan community. The pair used a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic .223 caliber rifle to take shots through the trunk of their car, which had a small hole drilled in it. Altogether, the pair killed eleven people and wounded six in both the D.C. area spree and their previous shooting spree in Louisiana and Alabama.
The Washington Area shootings started on October 2, 2002, when the snipers fired a shot into a Michaels Craft store in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Thankfully no one was hit, but only an hour later the snipers struck again, shooting and killing 55-year-old James Martin outside of a grocery store in Wheaton, MD. The reign of terror had begun. Five more people of varying ages were shot and killed the following day. Over the next two weeks, four more people were shot and killed, and several more were wounded.The Washington Metropolitan area was in a state of terror, as people were afraid to fill up their cars and pick their children up from school. Several districts canceled school altogether.
A drawing made by Muhammad while in jail
On October 24, police found Muhammad and Malvo sleeping in their car and arrested them on federal weapons charges. They were later able to link the gun to eleven of the fourteen shootings. The consequent trial attempted to understand the motive of the random shootings. Before the trial, the prosecutors had theorized that Muhammad’s intended target was in fact his ex-wife Mildred, who had estranged him from his children. They believed that he had tried to use the other shootings to cover up her intended murder, making it look like the work of a serial killer instead and throwing the blame from him. During the course of the trial, testimony from Muhammad about Jihad suggested terrorist leanings, but his nonsensical rants proved any terrorist connections to be immaterial. When he took the stand against Muhammad, Malvo confessed that their plan had been to extort money from the government and “set up a camp to train children how to terrorize cities” and “shut things down” all across America. As an act of terror against the state, Muhammad’s actions merited the death penalty, and he was executed by lethal injection in 2009. Malvo is currently serving out six life-sentences without the possibility of parole.
For more on Washington Area crimes, visit our D.C. Cases page!
August 13th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
As often happens in the aftermath of a national shooting tragedy, we, as a nation, are finding ourselves re-evaluating our gun control laws. Or at least re-evaluating whether we need to re-evaluate them.
Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein has assembled several graphs on the topic, showing that gun violence is decreasing and that states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun related violence.
A graph showing America’s heightened violence in comparison to other countries, as well as America’s decreasing violence over the past fifty years.
A graph depicting the negative correlation between stricter gun laws and firearms deaths.
Although there have been many cries not to “politicize” the massacre, political candidates (especially in an election year) cannot help but take some sort of (hesitant) stance. Obama and Romney have offered up some tentative viewpoints in a pseudo, media-driven debate.
Romney, in an interview with NBC:
Well, this person shouldn’t have had any kind of weapons and bombs and other devices, and it was illegal for him to have many of those things already. But he had them. And so we can sometimes hope that just changing the law will make all bad things go away. It won’t. Changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential, to improve the lots of the American people.
Obama, speaking to the National Urban League in New Orleans:
I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms. And we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation — that hunting and shooting are part of a cherished national heritage. But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals — that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities. I believe the majority of gun owners would agree that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; that we should check someone’s criminal record before they can check out a gun seller; that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn’t be controversial. They should be common sense.
Despite their good intentions, both of these statements are factually inaccurate. Romney implies that the Aurora shooter, Holmes, acquired his weapons illegally, which doesn’t seem to be the case. Obama implies that a firmer background check on criminal and mental health history check would have prevented Holmes from purchasing the guns, but Holmes had neither history.
What do you think?
To read our coverage of the Aurora massacre, click here.
August 7th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
Worried that antisocial kid in school might grow up to be a cold-blooded murderer? Here’s a handy guide for recognizing the most common serial killer traits. Remember, however, these signs are just a guideline. Think twice before crying “serial killer” on your weird neighbor.
Ed Gein circa 1957
Psychopaths have a strong tendency towards antisocial behavior, so watch for extremely antisocial children. That being said, some children develop more slowly, and this is not a definitive sign. Pay attention if a child regresses from being extremely social to extremely anti-social.
Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho’s Norman Bates and Silence of the Lamb’s Buffalo Bill, had no social connections besides his extremely religious and abusive mother, who punished him whenever he tried to make friends. After she died in 1945, Gein began to murder and dig up graves, collecting body parts of women who looked like his mother and trying to make a “woman suit.”
Many serial killers start as arsonists. Arson is psychologically attractive because it involves manipulating power and control, something that serial killing also offers.
David Berkowitz, the “Son of Sam” killer, was infatuated with pyromania as a child, to the point that other children called him “Pyro.” After being arrested, he took responsibility for dozens of New York arsons. Some sources indicate that he might have been responsible for up to 1,400 fires.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s mugshot from 1982
Torturing Small Animals
This is one of the strongest warning signs. Children who torture or kill small animals like squirrels, birds, cats, and dogs without showing remorse are highly likely to be sociopaths. Many serial killers kill to control others’ lives, and as children, small animals are the only lives they have the power to control.
Cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer would bike around the woods as a child, collecting dead animals to dissect. Dahmer even killed and dismembered his own puppy, mounting its head on a stake when he was done.
Poor Family Life
Many serial killers come from unstable families with criminal, psychiatric, or alcoholic histories. These killers often have terrible relationships with their families, and often use them as their first victims.
When he was only fifteen, Ed Kemper, “the Co-ed Killer,” killed his grandparents. After being released at age twenty-one, Kemper killed six female college students. The police finally caught him when Kemper killed his violent, alcoholic mother. He treated his mother’s corpse particularly brutally, decapitating her, using her head as a dart board, and throwing her vocal cords down the garbage disposal.
Highway prostitute Aileen Wuornos would pick up men, shoot them, and rob them.
Many serial killers are abused – physically, psychologically, sexually – as children by a close family member. This behavior instills in the child feelings of humiliation and helpless, feelings which they will later seek to instill in their victims.
Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute serial killer portrayed by Charlize Theron in Monster, was abandoned by her mother when she was four and never met her father, who was serving time in prison for raping a seven-year-old girl when Aileen was born. Aileen’s grandfather, who took over care of Aileen when her mother left, physically and sexually abused her until she ran away at age fifteen.
Many serial killers struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
Jeffrey Dahmer began drinking in his teens and was an alcoholic by his high school graduation. His alcoholism resulted in both his expulsion from college and his discharge from the military.
Ted Bundy was notoriously charismatic, which helped him disarm his female victims’ suspicions.
From a young age, many serial killers are interested in voyeurism, sado-masochistic pornography, and fetishism.
Ted Bundy claimed that, as an adolescent, he would get drunk and stalk around his community at night, looking for undressing women or other titillating sights.
Many serial killers have IQs in the “bright normal” range. Organized serial killers who kill methodically, like John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy, have an average I.Q. of 113, while disorganized serial killers have an average I.Q. of 93.
Ed Kemper had an I.Q. of 136 (140 is often used as the genius mark in I.Q. tests). He used his intelligence to convince psychiatrists to release him after serving only five years for his grandparents’ murders, claiming to have reformed. He hadn’t, and he killed eight more women before being caught again.
Despite higher than normal intelligence, many serial killers have trouble keeping jobs or work in unskilled labor.
After leaving the military, David Berkowitz, who reportedly was of “above-average intelligence,” held several blue-collar jobs before he was captured, including his last one as a postman.
For more information on serial killers, check out our page on John Wayne Gacy, the “Killer-Clown,” as well as our new exhibit on him at the museum!
July 30th, 2012
By Virginia Farrell
What price would you pay for cyber security?
The London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) is putting up $750 million in technology to protect the games from hacking attempts, but will it be enough?
The first electronic attacks on the Olympics can be traced back to 1980, but as years have passed and the internet has grown more and more complex, so have the attacks. In 2008 Beijing received nearly 12 million cyber attack attempts every day.
Since 2002, the Olympic Games have used the Paris-based company Atos as their lead-technology company, who predict up to 14 million possible attacks every day during the London Olympics. Executive Vice President of Atos Patrick Adiba cautions that, although their security is very high, “it can never be 100 percent.” That doesn’t mean they’re aren’t prepared, though. Atos has spent nearly 200,000 hours of testing, even inviting so-called “ethical hackers” to test out their system. Still, because of the ever-changing nature of the internet, security systems that worked eighteen months ago may now be obsolete, forcing technology security companies to constantly be on the cutting edge.
If potential hackers succeed, London and its visitors could be vulnerable to serious financial troubles. As the first “cashless” Olympics, the London Olympics have partnered with Visa to expand the use of credit in the complex by creating a phone that can pay for small purchases wirelessly. Visa also has a monopoly on all credit and cash-dispensing machines near the park. Should a hacker gain access to the Visa network, they have the potential to cost the Games millions of dollars in revenue.
Usain Bolt, celebrating winning the men’s 100m dash in 2008, a prime target for hacktivists
Another security worry is the presence of “hacktivists,” hackers who infiltrate high-profile companies to spread a political or social message. While security experts do not expect state-based hacking, citing other nations’ fears of being blackballed from future Olympics, experts do expect independent hacking groups like Lulzsec and Anonymous to attempt to hack the games. The worldwide reach of the Olympics is enticing for groups that want an immediate and far-reaching platform for their messages. Potential targets include results screens for high-profile events, like the men’s 100 m dash.
5 Ways to Avoid Being Scammed
Not all cybercriminals think big. Protect yourself from cybercrime in the next few weeks by following these five simple rules.
- Only use official websites to watch the Games.
Unauthorized websites may use Olympic coverage to scam people and download malware. Although unprotected PCs are more at risk, Macs aren’t entirely safe either.
- Think twice when buying or “winning” tickets.
This late in the game, most Olympic tickets are sold. If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t give out personal information to ticket lotteries, they’re probably scams. If you’re still looking for tickets, the Olympics Committee has provided potential visitors with a handy guide to legitimate Olympics websites.
- Use official apps.
NBC and BBC have provided official apps with which to watch the Games on smartphones and tablets. Unauthorized apps may download harmful viruses on your devices.
- Be skeptical of your texts.
Scammers may send out text message with links that infect your mobile device. Think carefully before you click on any links, and distrust unknown phone numbers.
- Beware of anti-social media
Don’t click on links that you don’t trust, even if they are posted by your friends. Also, be especially skeptical of disguised links that are tweeted, and of fake Olympics twitter accounts.
For more information on cybercrime, check out our post on the Wikileaks scandal.