Entries in Murder (7)


Etan Patz Mystery: 99 Percent of Abductors Never Kill Victims

Sketch Courtesy of Andrea Shepard(NEW YORK) -- Thirty-three years after the disappearance of Etan Patz, the only suspect ever arrested is as much an enigma as the missing child case that has baffled investigators for decades.

Unlike psychopaths, who show no remorse, Pedro Hernandez, a 51-year-old New Jersey builder, reportedly broke down emotionally during his confession. And unlike many molesters, Hernandez appeared to have no criminal record.

In addition, police offered no possible motive for the crime, saying only that Hernandez, then a teenaged stock clerk at a Manhattan bodega, confessed to luring the 6-year-old into the bodega for a soda and choking him to death in the basement.

Hernandez has told police he then stuffed Etan's body into a plastic bag that was thrown into trash elsewhere in the neighborhood. The body was never found.

He admitted to family members and friends as early as 1981 that he had "done a bad thing and killed a child in New York," according to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. When confronted, Kelly added, the suspect confessed, expressing "remorse" and "relief."

Police said they had no reason to believe there were signs of sexual abuse, but homicide experts say authorities may be holding back.

"Hernandez certainly doesn't present as an organized killer," said Jack Levin, a professor of criminology from Northeastern University.

"It looks like his crime was spontaneous rather than methodically planned," he said. "Based on statistics concerning abductions by strangers and acquaintances, I would speculate that his motivation involved a sexual assault."

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the recidivism rate among sexual predators is among the lowest, according to Levin.

"It is conceivable that Hernandez never again molested a youngster," he said. "This is particularly likely in light of his confession."

Feelings of remorse and empathy -- not typical in a sociopath -- might have kept Hernandez from repeating his behavior as he matured, he said.

The cold case was reopened in 2010 and, in April, investigators excavated a basement apartment steps away from Patz's home and the bodega where Hernandez said he killed the boy. The new focus on the case led one of Hernandez's family members or a friend to alert police that they suspected Hernandez's involvement.

His neighbors in Maple Shade, N.J., said he led a quiet life and belonged to a Pentacostal Church, according to The New York Times. Though Hernandez doesn't seem to fit the typical profile of a child killer, pegging a suspect into a psychological box can be misleading, according to according to Ken Lanning, a former special agent in the Behavioral Science Unit at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

"It's complex, and no two cases are alike," said Lanning, who said he, too, doesn't know all the facts in the case. "But [police] must have a reason to believe his story."

Both Levin and Lanning warned about "false confessions."

"People come forward to confess because of publicity and notoriety," said Lanning. "Over the years, there have been two or three in-depth scenarios where someone claimed to be involved in the Etan Patz case."

For a decade, the prime suspect in the case was Jose A. Ramos, a former mental patient now imprisoned for molesting a boy in Pennsylvania. But he told police that he never killed the boy and put him on a subway.

"The police don't just believe people," said Lanning. "They must have some kind of standard to give this guy credibility. Most significant in a case like this is when a guy says, 'I can take you to the body.'"

But in Etan's case, police say it's "unlikely, very unlikely," that he would ever be found. Hernandez reportedly told police he put the body in the trash, where it would have ended up in a city landfill.

"That can be a mess -- even a week later -- depending on the garbage and how it's compacted," said Lanning. "Especially 33 years later."

"When you look at these cases, 99 percent are released relatively unharmed," Lanning said. "Most people fall off their chairs when they hear that."

"Typically, they stop a child and lure them into a car, or the woods or backyard, or a basement and do something to the child -- sexual perhaps," he said. "Then, they let them go and the child is home before they knew they were missing."

But in cases of so-called "long-term" abductions such as that of Patz and Adam Walsh, who disappeared in a Florida shopping mall in 1981, "the outcome is not so good," Lanning said.

He added that investigators can't make assumptions based on other similar crimes.

"We don't have a huge number of these cases, and many are unknown," he said. "They have to consider all possibilities and they can't put all their eggs in one basket."

"The key here is consistency," said Lanning. "Is what he says he did consistent with what we know about him? If he says nothing went on sexually and then they find out this guy had been grooming and seducing 6-, 7-, 8-year-old boys, there's an inconsistency."

Police may holding back some of the details of the confession -- even hints of sexual molestation -- to spare Etan's parents, Stan and Julie Patz.

"They might not go into it, especially in a case this old," said Lanning. "Imagine the poor mother and father go through this 33 years later. He could have told them he did something with the boy and the police aren't saying it."

But investigators cannot rule out the possibility that Hernandez molested the boy, according to Lanning.

"It's easier for most of these guys to rationalize killing a child than having sex with a child," he said.

An FBI study of 500 children who were abducted and murdered found that about 75 percent of them had been killed within three hours of abduction. Some abductors kill for sadistic reasons, others for sexual gratification, but there are also those who kill because they "screwed up," according to Lanning.

"One of the least likely things a sexual predator will do is kidnap and murder his victims," he said. "A smart sexual predator doesn't kidnap anyone."

But sometimes things go wrong and the child "starts screaming and yelling and kicking and biting," said Lanning. "Now, he's got to stop the kid."

A certain number worry afterwards that if they release the child, they will tell, and so they go on to suffocate the child. But all this is speculation, according to Lanning.

"What you think happened," he said, "is not so important as what you can prove happened."

On Friday, Hernandez was on a suicide watch at a New York City hospital just hours before he was arraigned on second-degree murder charges.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Maryland Abortion Doctors Accused of Murder

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- Two doctors who performed late term abortions in Maryland have been arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder.

Officials say it's an unusual use of a law that allows for murder charges in the death of a viable fetus. The investigation began in 2010 after what authorities say was a botched procedure at Dr. Steven Brigham's clinic.

This may mark the first case in the United States where an abortion provider has been charged with murder in connection with the death of a fetus.

Prosecutors say that doctors conspired to kill viable fetuses. They say after a botched abortion tipped them off, the search of an abortion clinic yielded a freezer containing numerous late term fetuses.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


1 in 100 Adults Made Suicide Plans in Past Year

Hemera/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- About 1 in every 100 U.S. adults reported making plans to commit suicide in the past year, with suicide attempts more common among Rhode Islanders and serious thoughts of suicide most common among people in Utah.

Because suicide is a preventable problem, the first-ever state-by-state snapshot of how frequently Americans consider, plan or attempt to end their lives suggests there are opportunities to intervene before people succeed in killing themselves, according to a report released today by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nationwide, someone dies by their own hand every 15 minutes, with millions more entertaining thoughts of ending it all.

Suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts are more frequent among young adults 18-29, and women are more prone than men to consider suicide, although men are more likely to succeed in ending their lives, the report found. The enormous regional variations it identified in the thoughts and behavior leading up to suicide suggest that suicide prevention programs need to be tailored to local communities.

“We can identify risks and take action before a suicide attempt takes place,” said Dr. Thomas M. Frieden, director of the CDC in Atlanta. “This is not a problem to shroud in secrecy. We need to work together to raise awareness about suicide and learn more about interventions that work to prevent this public health problem.

Interventions can range from public education campaigns to broadly raise suicide awareness to targeted psychotherapy for people at risk of committing suicide, especially those with a history of suicide attempts.

The report prepared by the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), was based on information from the 2008-2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).  Among its main findings:

  • More than 2.2 million adults reported making suicide plans in the past year. Rates of adults planning to kill themselves ranged from 0.1 percent in Georgia to a high of 2.8 percent in Rhode Island.
  • More than 1 million adults reported attempting suicide in the past year, with rates of attempted suicide lowest in Delaware at 0.1 percent and highest in Georgia at 1.5 percent.
  • Suicide rates have been consistently higher in the West, particularly in the Rocky Mountain states. However, adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to think about killing themselves than those in the Northeast and South. Adults in the Midwest were more likely to have planned to kill themselves than their counterparts in the South.
  • Suicide attemptS didn’t vary by region.

Previous studies have found that for every suicide, there are 25 attempted suicides. Men most frequently use guns to kill themselves. Women most often kill themselves by overdosing on tranquilizers, painkillers, antidepressants and other prescription drugs.

Anyone considering suicide can call 1-800-273-TALK/8255 or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website. The CDC website also contains resources for recognizing and preventing suicide.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Murray Trial: Jackson Suffered from Demerol Withdrawal, Lawyers Argue

PRNewsFoto(LOS ANGELES) -- Lawyers for Dr. Conrad Murray said in opening arguments this week that he was trying to wean Michael Jackson off propofol, the powerful sedative the defense says Jackson gave himself the night he died.

They allege Jackson wanted propofol because he was suffering from insomnia brought on by withdrawal from the painkiller Demerol.

Murray's attorneys plan to call an addiction specialist, Dr. Robert Waldman, co-medical director of the Recovery Unit at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina del Rey, Calif., to testify about the singer's addiction.

"And what he's going to tell you is that Michael Jackson was suffering from the Demerol withdrawal, that his insomnia was as a result -- partly, at least as a result," attorney Ed Chernoff said during the opening statement. Chernoff also told the court Jackson received Demerol three to four times a week from a dermatologist, Dr. Arnold Klein, but Murray knew nothing about these regular doses of Demerol. Klein didn't respond to ABC News' request for comment on the defense's allegations.

Jackson told Murray his insomnia was caused by his creative mind always racing, but it was also the Demerol, Chernoff said.

Medical experts say there are numerous symptoms associated with Demerol withdrawal, and insomnia is one of them.

"Withdrawal is very much like suffering from the flu. You can get nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, tremors, a nervous or anxious feeling and insomnia," said Dr. Michael Schmitz, professor of anesthesiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/College of Medicine.

Chronic use of Demerol generally causes sleepiness, but not everyone experiences that effect.

"There is a sub-population that reports insomnia," said Dr. Keith Candiotti, professor of anesthesiology and internal medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "Probably people who are chronically on drugs would be less susceptible to sedation."

Some experts say there are a number of medications that help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, including propofol, although others argue propofol should never be used for that reason.

"Propofol and benzodiazepines have been used for managing withdrawal, but primarily in intensive care units," said Schmitz. "That's not something that would have been done at home." Benzodiazepines are medications that treat conditions such as anxiety and insomnia.

"Propofol is an intravenous anesthetic, not to be used to treat Michael Jackson's addiction to Demerol or the withdrawal he may have had," said Bruce Goldberger, professor and director of toxicology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Murray told police he gave Jackson only a small dose of propofol, but the defense said Jackson administered the fatal dose himself. Chernoff also said that Murray felt it was his duty to wean Jackson off the propofol and teach him to sleep naturally.

Criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, who is not involved in Murray's trial, said Chernoff's Demerol argument is central to the defense.

"I think it's essential," Geragos said. "My interpretation of his arguments is that Jackson may have become increasingly anxious to fall asleep." His growing restlessness, Geragos added, could have led him to self-medicate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Michael Jackson's Death: What Is Propofol?

ABC News(LOS ANGELES) -- The trial of Conrad Murray, the doctor accused of giving Michael Jackson a lethal dose of propofol, has landed the powerful sedative in the spotlight.

Jackson reportedly used the drug, which he called his "milk," as a sleep aid. Murray administered the drug the day Jackson died.

But defense lawyers are expected to argue that Jackson gave himself an extra dose of propofol when Murray left the room. A trace amount of the drug, typically injected intravenously, was found in the King of Pop's stomach.

What Is Propofol? 
Propofol is a sedative that is usually administered to patients who are undergoing surgery or another medical procedure. It is a fast-acting drug, with most patients receiving it losing consciousness within a matter of seconds.

The potency of propofol as an anesthetic is so widely known that in anesthesiology circles, the drug, a white liquid, is nicknamed "milk of amnesia."

While propofol is most often used to sedate patients before a medical procedure, it is also one that palliative care workers have been known to administer to terminal patients who are in pain or who have weeks or days to live.

What Are the Dangers of Propofol?  Propofol is widely known as a risky drug, and it is generally administered only in a controlled medical setting due to the dangers it poses.

"Propofol is an agent that requires very close monitoring and is often limited only to use by anesthesiologists," said Dr. Richard Page, head of cardiology at the University of Washington Medical Center. "The main issue with this agent is respiratory depression, which in turn could cause cardiac arrest."

"It is a very dangerous drug," said Dr. Brian Olshansky, a cardiologist at the University of Iowa who said he often uses the drug to place patients in deep sedation for certain heart procedures. "It is not for sleep. I cannot imagine anyone would use this outside a very regulated environment such as the availability of emergency respiratory equipment."

One main reason for this, he said, is the speed with which the drug has its effect.

"It rapidly induces unconsciousness and apnea," Olshansky said. "People stop breathing within seconds of being given the drug."

Why Would Anyone Abuse Propofol?  The rapid effect of the drug makes it an exceedingly unusual choice for abuse, said Dr. Jeff Guy of Vanderbilt University, who said such a situation would represent "a quantum leap in the issue of substance abuse."

But despite the effects and risk profile of the drug, some patients who've had the drug describe it as inducing "a very pleasant sleep" that "has the potential to be habit-forming," said Dr. Howard Nearman, chairman of the anesthesiology department at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

And Dr. Bruce Goldberger, chief of forensic pathology at the University of Florida, noted that the drug "also acts as an aphrodisiac in men -- it has been reported that men have very vivid sexual dreams while under propofol anesthesia."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mom Charged After Baby Dies from Morphine in Breast Milk

Comstock/Thinkstock(SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C.) -- A South Carolina mother has been charged with murdering her six-week-old daughter after traces of morphine were discovered in the mother's breast milk.

The six-month investigation concluded that Stephanie Greene had been abusing painkillers prior to her daughter's death, according to police.

"She had been 'doctor shopping,' visiting different doctors, each not knowing about the other," said Master Deputy Tony Ivey of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office. "She was taking those drugs in such high quantities that, as a result, the daughter ingested it."

Greene appeared in court Friday, according to police at the sheriff's office, and has been charged with murder or homicide by child abuse or neglect, as well as 38 counts of violating state drug distribution laws. She was denied bond and Ivey said he expects her to appear in court again Monday or Tuesday in front of a circuit judge.

Police responded to an emergency call on Nov. 13 at a home in northern Spartanburg County where they found a six-week-old child who was pronounced already deceased as law enforcement arrived on the scene.

"We didn't know why at the time," said Ivey, who confirmed that test results revealed the cause of death to be an injection of high levels of prescription drugs which caused the baby to stop breathing.

Investigators spent a number of months tracking down enough evidence to arrest Greene, which Ivey said involved a series of questionings as well as a long wait for toxicology results to be finalized by the state's lab in Columbia, S.C.

Although morphine was the drug found in the infant's system, police discovered during the course of the investigation that Greene was abusing other painkillers as well, including oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Ivey said that the coroner suggested that the lethal dose killing the infant came either through the breast milk or from intentionally placing it in the child's mouth.

"We're assuming it was through breast feeding," he said, adding that this is the first case of its kind he has ever seen.

Diana West, a spokeswoman for La Leche League International, an organization that promotes breastfeeding, said that although it is possible for babies to die from medications taken by their mothers, death is unlikely in most cases if the mother is taking a prescribed amount of a drug.

"It could lead to a baby being sedated and not able to breathe clearly, but is unlikely...It depends how much of the drug she was taking," said West, referring to morphine. "Prescribed amounts of morphine are considered compatible with breastfeeding. Women shouldn't be frightened from this if they are complying with their doctor's prescription."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


More than 200 US Mothers a Year Kill Their Children, Psychiatric Research Says

David Woolley/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Leshanda Armstrong, the 25-year-old who drove her van into the Hudson River Tuesday, drowning herself and three of her four children, is an enigma to psychiatrists who have little idea how mothers become murderers.

New York police have ruled it a murder-suicide. Only her 10-year-old son Leshawn escaped from a window in the sinking vehicle and swam 25 yards in cold waters to the shore.

More than 200 mothers a year kill their children, according to the American Anthropological Association, and little is known about maternal filicide.

In the last quarter of the 20th century among children under age five killed in the United States, about 61 percent died at the hands of parents -- about evenly split between mothers and fathers, according to research by Susan Friedman, a psychiatrist at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western.

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of child homicide compared with other nations -- an estimated eight per 100,000 infants. Canada, for example, has 2.9 per 100,000.

According to Friedman, there are typically five motives which might drive a parent to kill their child. The most common is a result of maltreatment or chronic abuse. Others include altruistic killing, when the parent is mentally ill or believes the child may be suffering. Another motive is seen in murders just after the birth of an unwanted child. Psychosis is another motivator. Rarely, a parent seeks revenge against a partner by killing their child in what is called "Medea syndrome."

Suicide murders are more often seen among fathers than mothers, but about 20 to 25 percent of women commit suicide within 24 hours of killing their children. Methods used by women are also "gentler," according to Friedman. "You are more likely to see strangling or many fatal blows among fathers."

"A good study out of New Zealand interviewed six moms who killed their children, presumably for altruistic or psychotic reasons and all said that being a good mother was important to them and bitterly regretted that the child had died when they were well," she said. "If they come back to their senses and sanity after treatment, it will be horribly traumatic for them, as well."

"I think they love their children, but many are mentally ill at the time," she said.

Police will never know if that was the case with Armstrong, who plunged her car into the water just 10 minutes after one of her relatives called 911 after hearing an argument over the phone at Armstrong's house.

Armstrong took her four children -- ages 10, 5, 2 and 11 months -- and drove the car off a boat ramp at about 7:50 p.m. in Newburgh, N.Y., a riverside town about 60 miles north of New York City.

Investigators call child-killers like Armstrong "family annihilators" for the way they take their own lives and those of their children, too, said Ken Lanning, who is retired from the FBI's science behavioral unit.

"I don't know the facts of the case, but this woman apparently decided to commit suicide and that could have been the result of any number of things -- clinical depression or the reality or perception that life was not worth living," he said. "The second issue is what does she do with her family? If she has young children, she has to decide what to do with them."

The fact that Armstrong had an infant suggests she may have had post-partum depression, according to Lanning.

"The point here is that it's a sad thing when these people kill themselves, but why take three or four kids with you?" he said. "Some mothers think, there is no one else to care for them and we will go to heaven together, if they strongly believe in they will be reunited in the hereafter. But it doesn't justify it or alleviate the fact that three innocent kids died."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio