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Friday, December 28, 2012

Top Ten Crime Stories In 2012


10. ‘Cocaine Queen’ Griselda Blanco Murdered


Griselda Blanco, 70, was known as La Madrina, the godmother—and for all the bad reasons. Blanco, who was gunned down in her hometown of Medellin, Colombia, will go down as one of the architects of the illegal drug industry. She began her career in New York City during the 1970s with her husband—whom she later killed. Eventually, she would build the supply line that stretched all the way from the U.S. to Colombia, effectively bypassing mafia middlemen. She became fabulously wealthy, establishing a foundation in Miami at about the same time the city’s violent drug wars were underway in the early 80s. Blanco likely had a hand in the carnage.
Miami law enforcement authorities believe at least 40 killings were connected to her. She became legendary for ordering assassinations for her own amusement. Her preferred method of execution was to send her henchmen to kill her enemies via motorcycle drive-by shooting: as one henchman drove, another on the bike opened fire.
She was convicted of federal drug charges in 1985, and after serving her 10-year sentence, was sent to Florida to stand trial for the capital murder of a rival’s child. But a blunder in the Miami-Dade District Attorney’s office allowed her to cut a deal to get a 20-year sentence and be deported back to Colombia in 2004. There she lived her life quietly, saying that she had sworn-off her old narco-chieftain lifestyle, instead earning income off of rental properties. But the enemies she had apparently did not forget or forgive her.
In September, while entering a market with an ex-daughter-in-law, a motorcycle pulled up with two riders on it. The assassin got off the bike, aimed and shot her twice in the head, then rode off without being followed. Her ex-daughter-in-law was unharmed. A witness who knew of Blanco and her deeds simply said: “He was a professional, it was vengeance from the past.

9. Drew Peterson Convicted

The big mystery is why women found Drew Peterson charming enough to marry. From his matrimonial record, he was several hundred miles of bad road. The former police sergeant from Bolingbrook, Illinois already had two marriages that had ended in divorce when he met his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Six months after a nasty divorce, she died on March 1, 2004 of what was then ruled an accidental drowning. Three years later, Peterson would be married for a fourth time, to Stacey Ann Cales, 30 years his junior. After Stacey Peterson vanished in October 2007, authorities reopened the case of Kathleen Savio.
Savio’s body was exhumed and her death was eventually declared to be “homicide staged to look like an accident.” In 2009, Peterson was put on trial for murder. During the proceedings, his defense lawyer said there was no proof he was even in Savio’s house when she died; even as prosecution witnesses described being taken to the house by Peterson only to “discover” Savio’s body. Peterson’s defense countered that he couldn’t have forcibly drowned her because the house was virtually undisturbed. Jurors took a day to return with a verdict: Peterson was found guilty of first-degree murder.
Defense lawyers have vowed to appeal the conviction, saying that the evidence could not hold up in a new trial. His sentencing date was scheduled for late November and he is facing a minimum sentence of 20 years to life. He is scheduled for sentencing on Jan 10, 2013. Meanwhile, Stacey Peterson is still missing.

8. Anders Breivik Sentenced

For an eerily long time, Anders Behring Breivik seemed to enjoy being on trial for one of the worst single-handedly executed mass murders in history. The court proceedings became a platform to repeat his stances on the infiltration of Muslims and non-Christians into “white” Europe. There was no question of his guilt: after detonating a car bomb in Oslo that killed eight people he drove to nearby Utoya island and shot 69 others. The question was: would the sentence fit the crime—especially if he was deemed insane? If he were mentally ill, liberal Norway’s laws would have remanded him to medical care until he was considered well enough to be released into society. The thought of such a possibility horrified the country.
At the beginning of his trial, Breivik e read a statement in which he claimed to be a member of a “Norwegian resistance movement” and demanded that “our ethnic rights not be taken away from us.”  He called his attack one of self-defense saying it was “the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack in Europe since the Second World War.” “I did this out of goodness, not evil,” he said. “I would do it again.”  He even told the parents of his victims that the teenagers bore the blame for their own deaths, that they were not innocent, nonpolitical children but rather young people who worked to actively uphold what he said were unforgivable, multicultural positions.
Nevertheless, after some controversy, judges sided with a panel of psychiatrists who deemed Breivik, 33, bad but not mad. And in time, during his trial, the boastful killer’s self confidence was visibly shaken. While the rest of the world would be stunned at what seemed to be a brief sentence—21 years in prison—Norway was satisfied. If he is still considered a danger to society at the end of that spell in jail, the courts can extend his sentence in five-year increments for the rest of his life.
“Although the court finds it improbable that the defendant will be released. Our democracy will still exist, it will still have different cultures and different religions,” said Judge Arne Lyng, reading from a 90-page judgment. “After having served his sentence, the perpetrator will probably still have the desire and the will to carry out violence and murder.”

7. The Saga of Kim Dotcom

Kim Dotcom just had to be bigger than life. His filesharing website Megaupload once held 50 petabytes (50,000,000,000,000,000) of data; all of his assets were worth $175 million; and you could not ignore his physical presence: he is 6-foot-7 inches tall and weighs 300 lbs.
All that size may not matter, however, if he is sentenced to as many as 20 years by an American court. U.S. Justice Department officials are now awaiting his extradition from New Zealand on charges that his website was a front for an illegal operation that pirated movies, TV programs and software. The wheels of justice are however turning slowly in his case. Legal complications have moved his extradition hearings from August 2012 to March 2013.
Technicalities are holding up the hearing, including a high court judge invalidating the warrants used to raid his home and the judge stating that the FBI’s shipping of copied hard drive images was illegal. Dotcom and his associates are currently free on bail.
Dotcom, 38, born Kim Schmitz in Kiel, Germany, came out of a difficult and troubled childhood to become one of the most proficient, richest and flamboyant hackers in the world. After several bouts of legal trouble as a young adult (he beat the rap on all of them), Dotcom and a partner came up with a way to share files that were too big to e-mail.
At some point, his site’s users began to take advantage of Megaupload’s capacity to pirate copyrighted material. Dotcom says his company took down the data when they were asked, but the Justice Department says he chose what to take down and what to leave up. In January, authorities raided Dotcom’s megamansion in Coatesville, New Zealand after a two-year investigation led by the FBI. Jail hasn’t stopped his digital dexterity. He and his partners have since come up with another cloud-based scheme to share files, allowing user-manipulated uploading and encryption that they called simply: Mega. Launch is slated for Jan. 19, 2013, precisely one year after his arrest. However, the DOJ has hinted that a launch of a new filesharing site could jeopardize him because the agency says he has already pledged not to launch anything new while free on bail.

6. Trial of Jerry Sandusky

The grand jury statement indicting Jerry Sandusky of 52 counts of child sexual abuse was so stomach-turning that many people found some closure in the fact that the former assistant coach of the powerhouse Penn State football team was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison in October, after a trial that lasted two weeks.
But the scandal involving Sandusky, 68, second in command to the legendary coach Joe Paterno, remains troubling. It not only turned the university upside down but led to the dismissal in disgrace of Paterno (Sandusky had been one of the coach’s longest serving assistants). Why was Sandusky not stopped in the first place?
Sandusky insisted throughout his trial that he was innocent of the charges against him, despite victim after victim describing in detail the flagrant behavior they experienced under his tutelage in the Second Mile program — a non-profit focused on helping underprivileged youth, which has since disbanded. He showed little remorse and was even defiant, insisting that a “veteran accuser” conspired against him. But nothing could shake the testimony of the eight victims who came forward—all of whom are young men now. And even as Sandusky received his verdict and looked at a prison term that he is unlikely to emerge from alive, they were unrelenting in their pursuit of justice. “I don’t forgive you, and I don’t know if I ever will forgive you,” one victim said at the sentencing. “I grew up in a bad situation, and you only made it worse.”

5. The Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting

On Aug. 5, as worshippers at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, a Milwaukee suburb, gathered for Sunday morning services, Wade Michael Page walked into the complex and opened fire, killing six people and wounding four others. He might have killed more had not the temple president Santwat Singh Kaleka, 65, tried to disarm the gunman by slashing him with a knife, possibly giving others time to get to safety. But it also meant that he was an easy target for the attacker, who killed Kaleka without hesitation.
Police rushed in and engaged him in a firefight. During the melee, Lt. Brian Murphy, 51, a Brooklyn-born 21-year veteran of the Oak Creek police took nine bullets including one to the neck. Page had ambushed him as the policeman was to trying to help a victim. Heroically, Murphy still waved his fellow officers on to tend others Page had already hurt in the temple. Officer Sam Lenda fired at Page, hitting him in the stomach. Page’s wound left him unable to escape, so he turned his 9 millimeter semiautomatic, a weapon he legally purchased, on his own head and squeezed the trigger.
Authorities later linked Page to several radical far right groups, saying he was an active neo-Nazi who had played in a white supremacist punk band. No motive for the shooting was discovered. Little else is known about him other than his U.S. Army service from 1992 to 1998. It is not known why he chose to target this particular temple, or Sikhs in general.
The Sikh community, rather than shutting their temple down decided to clean and repair the building and continue worshipping there. Wade Michael Page may have staged his attack to shine a spotlight on himself and his racist ideology but, in spite of the carnage, the incident became an example of how ordinary heroism could shine in the face of a sudden onslaught of evil.
4. The Worst Possible Way to Lose Face
People are still puzzled as to what exactly possessed Rudy Eugene to gnaw on a man until he chewed his face off—so much so that some have concluded that it could only have been demonic possession. He began the morning of May 26 driving to his friend’s house in Miami. But then his car broke down and he chose to walk back home over the MacArthur Causeway. Temperatures were in the 90s, and the 31-year-old began to strip off his clothes until he was completely naked. At the end of the bridge was Ronald Poppo, 65, a homeless man who was sleeping under the Metromover tracks. Eugene then jumped on Poppo, first trying to strip off his clothes and then literally eating him, attacking Poppo’s eyes, nose and mouth. The assault was captured on a surveillance camera and witnessed by passing cyclists who called police. Unable to stop Eugene, they shot him to death.
More than 75% of Poppo’s face was ripped off and he has been undergoing extensive surgeries ever since. He later said Eugene “ripped me to ribbons.”
“He apparently didn’t have a good day at the Beach,” Poppo told the Miami Herald “and he – he was coming back. And I guess he took it out, took it out on me or something. I don’t know.”
Eugene had a record of petty crime and drug offenses. He had also once been taken in by the police after threatening to kill his mother. Toxicology tests on his corpse showed he only had marijuana in his system.
Eugene’s family is of Haitian descent and the community feared that vodou played a role in Eugene’s attack on Poppo. His mother could not find a church that would hold his funeral. It would take two weeks before a funeral home agreed to hold the service. “What happened to Rudy had to be supernatural, something humans cannot explain, something that leaves us with a lot of questions,” his girlfriend Rikkia Cross later told the Herald. “I just wish he would come to me in a dream and answer all the questions. I wish he would tell me what happened that day.”
3. Solved at Last? The Murder of Etan Patz
Back before Manhattan’s SoHo district was posh, the neighborhood south of Houston street was a working-class area populated by calloused workers, poor artists and young dreamers. And on May 25, 1979, a six-year old boy named Etan Patz was allowed by his parents to catch the bus to school by himself. His parents never saw him again.
The case became the archetypal urban nightmare for American parents. A desperate Stan Patz plastered his son’s photo all over the neighborhood, and then the city. Etan became the “milk carton kid,” symbolizing missing children all over the country. A judge later found that a convicted molester was the child’s killer—but that alleged perpetrator was by then already dead. Etan’s body has never been found.
And then this year, Pablo Hernandez, 51, said he was the murderer. Hernandez worked in a bodega in SoHo that Etan passed by daily. Wracked by guilt, Hernandez told the New York Police Department that he used a can of soda to lure the child inside, strangled him to death and later disposed of the body in the store’s garbage. Hernandez has been charged with second-degree murder. But without a body or much evidence otherwise, prosecutors must now figure out how they will convict him simply based on his confession alone. To further complicate the case, Hernandez’s lawyer has already indicated that his client has a history of mental illness.

2. The Dark Knight Rises Massacre

Millions of theater goers packed movie houses all over the country on July 20 for the opening night screenings of The Dark Knight Rises. But in Aurora, Col., before the opening credits even rolled, deadly and uncinematic terror was visited on the audience when James Eagan Holmes, a 24-year-old University of Colorado dropout, allegedly walked into the Century 16 multiplex from an emergency exit. He reportedly threw a noxious gas bomb into the auditorium, then brandishing a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle, a Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun and two Glock 22 handguns, opened fire, killed 12 people and wounded 58.
Holmes gave himself up to police just minutes after the shooting. He was found wearing military-style attack gear including a gas mask, a tactical vest, bullet-proof leggings and a ballistic helmet. Fearful that he may have had other weaponry, authorities searched his nearby apartment and discovered it was booby-trapped to explode the moment people entered it.
The shooting sent shockwaves through a community that still remembered the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton just 15 miles away. But unlike Columbine and its shooters’ anarchist writings, there seemed to be no motive behind the carnage in Aurora. On July 30, prosecutors charged Holmes on 24 counts of first-degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder.

1. The Trayvon Martin Shooting

The Feb. 26 shooting within a Sanford, Fla. gated community did not seem likely to make news outside of Central Florida. But social media would take the factors of race and class inherent in the case and transform the death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin into a full-fledged phenomenon, dominating 24-hour newscasts as well as tabloid headlines.
On that night in late February, the Miami high schooler was visiting his father and watching the NBA All-Star game with relatives. During halftime, he left his father’s home and went to a convenience store to purchase a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea. Within a few minutes he would be dead, apparently shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
How the two men collided is at the heart of the controversy Martin, who is black, and Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, were said to have scuffled.  Zimmerman was allegedly suspicious that the teen was casing the neighborhood; Martin may have confronted the neighborhood watch volunteer because he was suspicious that a stranger was following him.
But the case did not make it to national headlines until March 8, after a petition calling for Zimmerman’s prosecution by Howard University law student Kevin Cunningham on Change.org went viral on social media. He later transferred the petition to Martin’s parents Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, which to date has more than 2 million signatures. The controversy achieved even greater heights on March 23 when President Obama said “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” In cultural terms many from the Miami Heat to ex-Michigan governor Jennnifer Granholm donned a hoodie similar to the one Trayvon was wearing when he died as a form of protest.
Zimmerman has since been charged with second-degree murder. Defense lawyers say Zimmerman was being pummeled by Martin and had no choice but to wield his handgun and open fire. If the defense team does not convince a judge that Zimmerman was within his rights to open fire based on the “Stand Your Ground” statute—which allows for such “justified” killing—then a jury will be convened on June 10 to try him for murder.
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