Meet Joel Rifkin.

On 28 June 1993, Joel was driving a 1984 Mazda pickup truck on the Long Island Southern State Parkway in New York. A New York State Police officer noted that the truck was missing its required numbered license plate. The trooper attempted to stop Joel, but Joel had other plans.

Joel led the coppers on a slow speed chase off the freeway, weaving down city side streets until he crashed his Mazda into a power pole at the county courthouse. The troopers found the body of a deceased missing female in Joel’s truck.

The subsequent investigation discovered that Joel Rifkin had murdered nine women. Joel corrected the Judge, confessing to 17 murders he had committed over the past few years. Rifkin is currently serving a 200-year prison term at the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.

Meet Theodore Robert ‘Ted’ Bundy.

A Utah Highway Patrol Officer saw a suspicious vehicle in a residential subdivision before dawn. The trooper attempted a traffic stop on the VW bug’s driver. That driver, Ted Bundy, led the officer on a high-speed pursuit. After catching and arresting Bundy, the trooper (Bob Hayward) discovered that he has apprehended a serial killer. After a series of close calls with law enforcement, Bundy escapes and was on the run again. Still killing.

On 15 February 1977 just after midnight, a Pensacola Police Officer observed a suspicious VW Beetle driving near the Alabama | Florida State Line. That officer, David Lee ran the plate and the VW came back as a stolen vehicle. Officer Lee “lit up” Bundy and his suspicious vehicle, and the race was on. At the end of the pursuit, while attempting to handcuff Ted Bundy, Bundy resisted actively and took Lee to the ground, fighting for the officer’s gun. Lee managed to overpower Bundy. Inside the stolen vehicle officers and investigators find evidence linking Bundy to even more homicides.

Bundy later confessed to more than two dozen murders. He was put to death in an electric chair in a Florida State Prison in 1989. 

Meet Randy Steven Kraft.

Randy Kraft crossed the county during the late 1970s and early 1980s killing what is estimated at 60 people. He was convicted of 16 of the crimes and linked to at least 29 more nationally. Randy’s MO was to pick up hitchhikers and then murder them in various manners, dumping their bodies along the way.

On 14 May 1983, a California Highway Patrol Officer saw a vehicle weaving in traffic. The officer pulled a traffic stop on Randy and found that Randy Kraft had a dead body sitting next to him in his vehicle. 

Randy is currently awaiting execution at San Quentin State Prison on California’s Death Row.

Meet Wayne Williams.

On 22 May 1981, local police officers stopped a suspicious vehicle on a bridge over the Chattahoochee River. The driver was Wayne Williams. Having no evidence of criminality at that time, police let Williams go. Two days after that traffic stop, police discovered the dead body of 27-year-old Nathan Carter below the same bridge and just downstream from where Williams had been stopped.

While police detectives were working on what was to become known as The Atlanta Child Murders, local police were asked to stake out bridges over the Chattahoochee River based on the fact that many of the bodies had been recovered in the river leading police to speculate that they were dumped from bridges in the area.

Williams was stopped again later, near another body dump, this time near where 21-year-old Jimmy Payne’s deceased remains were recovered. Investigators would later link Williams to both homicides through transfer evidence and fibers from Wayne Williams’s car and his pet dogs – fibers that were found on and in his victims. The Atlanta Child Murders stopped after Wayne was arrested. A current, fledgling documentary suggests that Wayne Williams was a convenient police ‘scapegoat’.

I’ll try and make two simple points. First; most great capers start with a situationally aware copper on the road conducting what is normally referred to as ‘routine patrol’ but proves often to be anything but routine. Next; that America seems fascinated with re-trying convicted criminals on television and in the movies.  

Street coppers make great cases; not the courts, not the news, not a documentary and not the criminal profiler. The same law enforcement professionals that patrol your streets and highways each day are the first and sometimes the last line of defense against chaos and anarchy.

History reimagined.

Modern Americans love re-writing history. Conspiracy television shows and ‘documentaries’ abound, each challenging the artifacts, evidence and factual history to cause us to re-think these cases. None provide new or compelling evidence, but the show’s presence alone seems to provide some sort of validity to the question of the convicted suspect’s guilt or innocence. 

For example; HBO would have us believe that they air True Crime documentaries. Further, that the murder of Wisconsin resident Teresa Halbach perpetrated by Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey is still unsolved. Dassey and Avery are still in jail and the ‘new, exonerating evidence’ failed to materialize and what did come up in a written challenge failed to sway an appeals court judge.

The same is true in the infamous West Memphis Three case from Arkansas in 1993. Three eight-year-old boys had been brutally murdered and three suspects were soon rounded up, one confessed fully, the other partially, and the third denied any involvement.

Anyone familiar with the case will agree that the prosecutors and police (much the same as in the Avery/Dassey investigation) had made significant mistakes during their investigation. None of the mistakes affected the guilt or innocence of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin.

How do these conspiracies begin?

In the case of Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin it begins with spurious writing and reporting. For example, in the Wikipedia link under subsection 29 the sentence appears; “although DNA exonerated them, they agreed to an Alford plea to get Echols off death row”. That information isn’t factual. Exonerate means to absolve someone of their guilt. Absolve means to pardon them.

The DNA ‘evidence’ that was brought forward was found to be inconclusive while other evidence items (all of which were brought up years after the legal convictions) were found to be “not inconsistent” with one of the victim’s parents. The problem is that the parent was never considered a suspect, there were no similar murders since the three were arrested and all of the evidence that did exist didn’t convince the appellate judges to absolve Echols, Misskelley or Baldwin of anything.

Hollywood and some high-priced mouthpieces continued for 18 years to berate the Arkansas legal system until a plea deal was struck. An Alford plea deal. More on that in a minute.

 Later in that same article, the author states that criminal profiler (famous retired FBI Agent and Author John Douglas) provided evidence that Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin weren’t guilty and, makes the comment, “Douglas was consulted by the defense in 2006-7, by which time there was new evidence of the three’s innocence”. There was no “new evidence”, further, because DNA evidence is found to be ‘inconclusive’ doesn’t mean your client isn’t guilty.

The information presented in the article also alludes to the fact that the three convicted murderers, “maintain that they are innocent and will continue with their investigations on looking for the real killer and clear their names”.

How convenient.

Former FBI profiler John Douglas is a legend and literally wrote the book(s) about criminal profiling. As FBI Unit Chief, Douglas led the Investigative Support Unit of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime for over 25 years. I appreciate his service.

The problem with conjecture and theories not founded or based in science is that they are just that, theories. Like speculation. Like an assumption. And you know what they teach about the word ASSUME.

As much as a hero and legend as John Douglas is, he sometimes plays softball with his theories. For example; making the connection that the person that killed Carter and Payne so many years ago in Atlanta was a black male wasn’t a stretch – its common knowledge that most homicides and serial killers kill within their race and ethnicity.

Further, well after the fact, John wrote about Amanda Knox’s innocence and the innocence of Jon Benet Ramsey’s parents and brother. Softball. No new evidence or suspects exist, Knox was released and the Ramsey’s weren’t charged. In other words, the speculations made aren’t supported in science or evidence – had they been, the outcome of the cases would have been different.

It’s like the shows that PROVE the existence of UFOs or Big Foot. A lot of fluff and questions, low on substance. 

Nothing against John, his theories are great reads and he is a patriot and incredible LE asset. He’s had a successful career as an expert witness and writer, in fact, the TV show Criminal Minds and the Netflix series Mindhunter are fiction based on John Douglas’s work with the FBI. I’m just saying picking evidence based on yesterday’s convictions is softball and unscientific.

Now to the Alford plea.

The author with Damien Echols

I wrote briefly about the Alford plea, soon after I interviewed Damien Echols from the West Memphis Three. An Alford plea is when a defendant admits that the evidence presented by the prosecution against them is more than enough to persuade a judge or jury of his or her peers to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore will accept the guilty plea without admitting guilt.

In the original eponymous case, Alford committed a homicide and feared being given the death sentence in a jury trial. Alford pleaded guilty on the nose to a lesser charge and received a 30-year sentence rather than risk the death penalty.

In a Supreme Court case, Alford later argued that he was forced into a guilty plea for any charge because he was afraid of receiving a death sentence if he went to trial. The SCOTUS ruled that Alford could plead guilty when his interests require a guilty plea and the record strongly indicates guilt. The US Supreme Court added that the courts should allow Alford to plea guilty and continue to profess his innocence based on the fact that there, “was enough evidence to show that the prosecution had a strong case for a conviction and the defendant was entering such a plea to avoid this (death sentence) possible sentencing”.

Because a large body of evidence existed supporting Alford’s conviction on the original murder charge, the Supreme Court held that Alford’s guilty plea was reasonable even though he continued to maintain his innocence. Alford died in prison.

A judge’s instruction in an Alford plea caper is simple. First, the judge asks the defendant whether they consider pleading guilty is in their best interest. If the defendant answers, “Yes”, the judge asks the second question. “Do you understand that by entering an Alford Plea that you will be treated as being guilty whether or not you admit that you are in fact guilty?” If the defendant answers “Yes” again, then they are sentenced just as if they had entered a straight-up guilty plea.

This is what happened in the case of the West Memphis Three. They pled Alford knowing that they were guilty so that they could get out of prison after serving 18 years. Arkansas didn’t object because they could close the books on a case that had been haunting them in the press and on television (based on shoddy investigative and prosecution work) for almost 20 years.

The two main reasons that defendants choose an Alford plea is (a) to avoid damages from a Civil Suit because they maintain their innocence even after being convicted and (b) so that they can tell people that even though they pleaded guilty in court, they are innocent and accepted the plea just to be done with the court proceedings.

If that seems incongruent, read on.

Famous Alford plea uses are actor Scott Bairstow from TVs Party of Five who in 2003 entered an Alford plea after being charged with raping a 12-year-old. One half of the DC Beltway sniper team Lee Boyd Malvo resorted to an Alford plea in 2004 to avoid the death penalty. Country crooner John Michael Montgomery used an Alford plea in 2006 for a drunk driving caper. Actor Vince Vaughn used an Alford plea for a bar fight in North Caroling.

It seems that the unspoken third reason people would Plea Alford is that they are, in fact, guilty.

How does Alford differ from a plea of No Contest?

No Contest or in legal terms Nolo Contendere is a plea entered by a defendant telling the judge that they will not contest the charges against them. Technically while not an admission of guilt, the judge will treat all nolo contendere pleas as an admission of guilt.

The basic difference is in an Alford plea, the defendant is allowed to continue to profess their innocence where a nolo contendere defendant says nothing in their defense. The most common use of a no contest plea comes in capers that will end up being involved in a civil lawsuit where the defendant’s plea bargain cannot be used as an admission of fault or guilt.

So What?

Pleas are made and accepted every day because courts are packed and justice must be dispensed in a reasonable time and manner. The courts would be clogged and unable to function without them.

Just because someone enters a plea and it is accepted doesn’t mean that the person is any less guilty, they have merely agreed upon what likely sentence they will accept. Many times, plea deals aren’t in the best interest of society, just expediency.   

I can prove that assertion with the true story of a man I’ll call Murray that was just sentenced to 9 years in prison. At sentencing, the judge was besieged with in-person and written statements of Murray’s work for the local schools and his impeccable character and dedication to education.

They cited that Murray was an elementary school employee, accomplished basketball coach, and a student safety advocate who helped monitor at-risk students and supervise certain non-compliant students while supporting teachers and on and on.

Murray’s glowing reputation wasn’t on trial.

Murray, a married man with six kids had just been convicted of raping a child. From 2016 through 2017 Murray raped a 12-year-old student at that same elementary school numerous times. A person charged with her safety and security took her innocence.

Even though Murray was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, he entered a plea of No Contest and yesterday was sentenced to a minimum of nine years with a 30-year max. That means Murray LNU will be out of jail (unless he offends in prison) in 2029.

Murray’s nightmare will be ending just as his victim is old enough to take her first legal drink of alcohol. His conviction ends a couple of years of trauma for a number of families, yet the victim’s life post-conviction is just beginning.  

Murray took something that can never be returned, yet the No Contest plea will allow him to be a free man in less than a decade.

I suggest that you do two things today. First, thank a member of your local law enforcement community for their dedication to your continued safety and security. Next, learn about the power of a plea deal and how often they are being used in your community.

Training changes behavior.

  • Greg

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