obstruction of justice

Obstruction of Justice (aka perverting the course of justice) is a broad term that simply boils down to charging an individual for knowingly lying to law enforcement in order to change to course/outcome of a case, or lying to protect another person. The charge may also be brought against the person who destroys, hides, or alters evidence.

Penalties for obstruction of justice vary from state to state, and the federal government. For example, in Virginia, Obstruction of Justice is a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

Misdemeanor Classes in Virginia

§ 18.2-11. Punishment for conviction of a misdemeanor.

The authorized punishments for conviction of a misdemeanor are:

(a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.

(b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.

(c) For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.

(d) For Class 4 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $250.

The federal government sees the crime of obstruction in a different light. In their eyes, obstruction is a felony that carries a stiff penalty. For example, in 2010, a Georgia deputy sheriff, Mitnee Jones, was convicted of Obstruction for lying to the FBI and providing false statements as part of an investigation into the death of a Fulton County jail inmate.

The jury convicted Jones of filing a false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation, making a false material statement about the incident to a Special Agent of the FBI, and obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury investigating the death of the inmate.

Jones faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for filing the false incident report with the intent to hinder the federal investigation; five years for making a false material statement about the incident to the FBI, and 10 years for obstruction of justice by making false statements to a federal grand jury. However, at sentencing, Jones received a much lighter sentence of one year and three months in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release. She was also ordered to perform 120 hours of community service.

Not all obstruction of justice cases are simple, with paper trails to follow. Remember Martha Stewart? The government’s criminal case against Stewart was based solely on the fact that she made false and misleading statements to the SEC, and those accusations led to Stewart’s conviction for obstruction of justice, and the charge of lying to federal investigators.

By the way, the feds love to add obstruction charges to their cases (every suspect lies to the police at some point, right?).

federal bureau investigation

They do so because the threat of the additional 5-year sentence for obstruction is a great bargaining tool when offering a plea deal (We’ll drop the obstruction charge if you plead guilty to possession of the cocaine).

Here’s the obstruction section from the Code of Virginia:

Obstruction of Justice – Code of Virginia

§ 18.2-460. Obstructing justice; penalty.

A. If any person without just cause knowingly obstructs a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 in the performance of his duties as such or fails or refuses without just cause to cease such obstruction when requested to do so by such judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, law-enforcement officer, or animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555, he shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

B. Except as provided in subsection C, any person who, by threats or force, knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 lawfully engaged in his duties as such, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court, is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

C. If any person by threats of bodily harm or force knowingly attempts to intimidate or impede a judge, magistrate, justice, juror, attorney for the Commonwealth, witness, any law-enforcement officer, lawfully engaged in the discharge of his duty, or to obstruct or impede the administration of justice in any court relating to a violation of or conspiracy to violate § 18.2-248 or subdivision (a) (3), (b) or (c) of § 18.2-248.1, or § 18.2-46.2 or § 18.2-46.3, or relating to the violation of or conspiracy to violate any violent felony offense listed in subsection C of § 17.1-805, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.

D. Any person who knowingly and willfully makes any materially false statement or representation to a law-enforcement officer or an animal control officer employed pursuant to § 3.2-6555 who is in the course of conducting an investigation of a crime by another is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

* Not everyone who lies to local and state police is charged with obstruction. If so, nearly every person who’s been questioned by officers would be in jail, because, based on my experiences, approximately 9 out of 10 suspects lie when they’re in the “hot seat.”

When it comes to charging someone with obstruction, well, you’ve got to carefully pick your battles, and then fight them wisely.


“Don’t Tell Me No Lies” ~ The Golliwogs

In large cities law enforcement officers typically become highly specialized in their areas of expertise. Patrol officers there are often assigned to specific sections of the city—precincts—and they know their assigned areas like the backs of their hands. They’re on a first name basis with every drug dealer, hooker, petty thief, and peeping Tom.

Detectives in large departments are normally assigned to a particular duty, such as homicide investigations, narcotics investigations, or cyber crimes. Their training and experience is quite specific. There are full-time units in place to handle CSI, cold cases, SWAT, canines, bicycle patrol, and community policing, to name just a few.

However, in smaller jurisdictions—mid-size to small—where manpower and funding are precious commodities, officers sometimes have to serve double or even triple duty. They wear many hats.

Patrol officers everywhere are the front line defense against crime. They’re the men and women who answer the never-ending stream of calls that range from brutal homicides to people who think they’ve seem aliens landing in their back yards.

But in small agencies a patrol officer may also be a member of the SWAT team. This officer would probably keep his/her SWAT gear in the trunk of their patrol car, ready to suit up on a moment’s notice. They may also serve as a member of the high-risk entry team, or as a bike patrol officer who swaps their cruiser for a bicycle during a portion of their shift.

Some detectives also serve as members of scuba dive teams. Many do their own evidence collection and crime scene photography. There are no CSI units in many, many departments across the country. In fact, many departments don’t have detectives. Patrol officers in those departments investigate criminal cases from beginning to end. Needless to say, this stretches manpower to the breaking point.

In even smaller police departments, where there are three or four officers (maybe the chief is the only officer) duties may branch out further still. For example, a small town of a few hundred citizens may expect their officers to read the town water meters as part of their regular patrol (yes, I do know of a town where this system is still in place).

Another town police chief has an office inside a country store. The “office” is a simple metal desk in the corner near the lottery ticket machine. The town’s highest ranking law enforcement officer only has access to his desk during the store’s normal business hours. He is also required to handle the town’s animal control duties.

So if you’re ever worried that your story seems a little off where police procedures are concerned, never fear. The truth about law enforcement is much more farfetched. In fact, the only thing consistent about police work is its inconsistencies.

Detective I. Will Gitterdone had a spotless attendance record, never missing a day for sickness in his entire thirty-three years with the department. In fact, in all of his years of wearing a badge and toting a sidearm he refused to soil that record even though on this particular day his fever hovered at 102, and coughing and sneezing fits forced him to spend the majority of the morning with his mouth and nose buried deep into a crumpled and quite yucky handkerchief. His arms and legs felt heavy and his muscles felt as if he’d been trampled by a hundred stampeding wild pigs.

In spite of the aches, fever, chills, and perspiring like a Savannah ditch digger working in August midday sunshine, Gitterdone was busy collecting suspected blood samples (brownish-red stains for the official record) at a particularly brutal homicide scene. He was also spewing misty spittle via alternating coughs and sneezes. His partner, Al Lergictowork, told him he looked worse than bad and asked if he needed a break. Gitterdone promptly turned his head away from Lergictowork to fired off a round of lung-clearing ah-choo’s directly into the large paper bag of already-collected evidence. “No,” he said. “I’ll be okay. Besides, I’m almost done here.”

So, did you notice anything particularly wrong with Gitterdone’s method of evidence collection? Was there anything he should have done differently?

Well, I think it’s safe to say that it might be a good idea to have both Gitterdone and Lergictowork study this list of Crime Scene Do Nots. It would also be wise to have your protagonist take a peek, just in case.

Crime Scene DO NOT’S

1. Do Not blow away excess fingerprint powder! Doing so adds your DNA to the surface.

2. Do Not use Styrofoam to package electronic devices (computer parts, etc.) because it can cause static charges. Instead, use foam padding or bubble-wrap.

3. Do Not alter or add anything to a crime scene sketch after leaving the scene. Memories are not quite as accurate as we may think.

4. Do NOT place bloodstained evidence in plastic bags. Plastic bags and containers can serve as incubators for bacteria, which can destroy, alter, or deteriorate DNA. Rule of thumb—paper bags/containers for wet evidence (blood, semen, saliva, etc.) and plastic for dry evidence.

5. DO NOT collect DNA evidence samples (saliva, blood, etc.) from a criminal suspect without a court order, the suspect’s consent, or under exigent (emergency) circumstances.

Hapci-fr
6. Do NOT cough, sneeze, exhale, etc. over any evidence sample. This includes talking over a sample. With each word spoken comes your DNA that’s instantly transferred to the evidence.

7. Do NOT fold wet documents. Leave that to the professionals in the lab.

8. Do NOT use fingerprint tape or lifters to collect bits of trace evidence. The adhesion on print-lifting tape is typically insufficient for picking up tiny bits of evidence.

9. Do NOT use dirty digging tools when collecting soil samples. Always clean tools thoroughly after each use to avoid cross contamination.

10. Do NOT use fingerprint lifters in lieu of gunshot residue (GSR) collection materials. (see number 8 above)

11. Do NOT allow shooting suspects, victims, witnesses, etc. to wash their hands or rub them against other surfaces until after GSR tests/collection have been completed.

Finally, number twelve is one that writers should do, and that’s …

12. Attend the 2020 Writers’ Police Academy/MurderCon. We have an unbelievably cool and over-the-moon exciting lineup in store for you. This is an event you will not want to miss!!

Honestly, we’ve outdone ourselves this year. We’ve been sitting on a few exciting secrets about the 2020 event and it’s almost time for the big reveal. So stay tuned, because we’ll soon be releasing the details.


MurderCon is moving forward as planned. We have carefully detailed plans in place for proper social distancing, and we’re furnishing masks. Hand sanitizer will be readily available.

Sirchie, our host, is in the loop with state and local health officials since they’re in the business of making PPE equipment, including hand sanitizer and masks, for 1st responders. Between Sirchie officials and our in-house microbiologist, Denene, we’re closely monitoring the situation and making preparations. Your safety, as always, is our priority.

Sign up today to reserve your spot!

MurderCon 2020

What does MOM have to do with catching bad guys? We all know our moms have super powers. They can see through walls, hear a whisper at 100 paces, and they have the unique ability to silence us with a mere glance. But could those unique qualities help nab a serial killer?

In the world of cops and robbers, to learn who committed a crime and why, investigators must first find MOM – the acronym for Motive, Opportunity, and Means. Normally, the suspect who possesses all three is indeed the true bad guy.

The Investigation

I’ve always felt it best to approach a crime scene in a systematic method, in four very basic steps: the initial evaluation, develop and expand the case, narrow the leads (witnesses and evidence), and present the case to the prosecutor and court.

The first two steps in the investigation—initial evaluation and developing the case—are where MOM first begins to appear. In a detective’s initial approach, they should look at the scene as a whole, taking in everything they see, not just a dead body, or an open safe.

Many clues are quite obvious but are often missed because the inexperienced investigator immediately begins collecting the trace, hoping forensics will solve the case for them. Trace and other forensic evidence is actually icing on the cake. Most crimes are still solved the old fashioned way, by knocking on doors, talking to people, and listening. In fact, the best investigators are really good listeners.

When investigating a murder I first looked to see who had:

Motive – The person who would benefit the most from the crime (life insurance beneficiary, jealous spouse, etc.)

Opportunity – The person who had no alibi for every single moment during the commission of the crime and its subsequent acts, including the planning stages of the crime. This stage of the investigation takes an enormous amount of time, lots of leg work, tons of phone calls, door-knocking, and many cups of coffee and hours of thinking. Again, be a good listener is key.

Means – The suspect must have had access to the murder weapon (includes a killer for hire) and all evidence in the crime.

Remember, complex criminal cases are most often solved by eliminating the people who could not have committed the crime, which eventually leads to the last man standing – the perpetrator.


The compound

This blog is coming to you today from our secure compound where we’ve been hunkered down now for eight weeks. All groceries and other supplies are delivered and sanitized and then stored in the garage for a period of time prior to bringing them inside. Then they’re washed with soap and water. We don’t touch mail with our bare hands. This is a process that’s necessary due to my suppressed immune system and the fact that Denene (my wife) is a microbiologist who’s very protective of me and takes no chances with my health.

Speaking of sanitizing items and the reasons for doing so, per request, we’ve added a new session to the 2020 MurderCon lineup. It’s called “A Microbiologist’s Perspective of Covid 19 and the Spread of Disease.” Denene will present this Thursday evening session. The presentation serves two purposes. One, to address covid-19 from its beginning through vaccine. Two, attendees will learn details necessary when writing about bioterrorism and the spread of diseases.You will not want to miss this incredibly important session.

Denene Lofland, PhD, FACSc, is an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology. She’s managed hospital laboratories and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery. She and her team members, for example, produced successful results that included drugs prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs were approved by the FDA and are now on the market.

Calling on her vast expertise in microbiology, Denene then focused on bioterrorism. With a secret security clearance, she managed a team of scientists who worked in an undisclosed location, in a plain red-brick building that contained several laboratories. Hidden in plain sight, her work there was for the U.S. military.

She’s written numerous peer reviewed articles, contributed to and edited chapters in Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology, a textbook used by universities and medical schools, and she taught microbiology to medical students at a medical school. She’s currently the director of the medical diagnostics program at a major university, where she was recently interviewed for a video about covid-19.

Denene is a regular featured speaker at the annual Clinical Laboratory Educators Conference, and she’s part of the faulty for the National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners.


MurderCon is moving forward as planned. We have carefully detailed plans in place for proper social distancing and we’re furnishing masks and hand sanitizer will be readily available. Sirchie, our host, is in the loop with state and local health officials since they’re in the business of making PPE equipment, including hand sanitizer and masks, for 1st responders. Between Sirchie officials and our in-house microbiologist, Denene, we’re closely monitoring the situation and making preparations. Your safety, as always, is our priority.

Sign up today to reserve your spot!

MurderCon 2020

Police officers are trained to protect lives and property. They’re skilled drivers, shooters, and fighters. They know how to arrest, how to testify in court, and how to collect evidence. They’re calm and cool when facing danger, and they’re protective of other officers.

But how about after transitioning from wearing a uniform to plainclothes? How do detectives, both real and fictional, prepare for and react to danger? After all, they don’t have the luxury of wearing all that fancy, shiny gear that’s worn by patrol officers.

In the fictional world, investigators have the luxury of their creators handing them whatever they need to survive. Real life detectives don’t have that advantage, therefore, they should follow a few simple unwritten guidelines. If you, as a writer, would like to add a bit of extra realism to your tall tales, then you should have your characters follow in the footsteps of living, breathing detectives. And, speaking of shoes …

1. Footwear

We’ve all heard the old saying, “Never bring a knife to a gun fight,” right? Well, the same is true for shoes. Detectives should never, ever wear fancy, expensive shoes to that same battle. Why not? Because shoes such as the $1,665 leather-soled, perforated Amedeo Testoni Derby shoes pictured below offer practically zero traction during a fight.

The same when running after a criminal suspect whose feet are clad in a pair of Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans, which, by the way, are the world’s most expensive sneaker with a price tag of $2,000,000.

Remember, sometimes it’s necessary to retreat in a hurry, and you certainly want the hero of your story to make it to page 325, so practical footwear is a must. Detectives should always wear lace-up shoes, not loafers that could easily slip off the feet just when you need them the most. No leather soles, if possible. And female detectives should never, ever wear heels.

2. Handcuffs

TV investigators are often seen with handcuffs looping over their waistbands, with one cuff inside the rear of the pants and the other flopping around the outside. This is not an acceptable method for carrying handcuffs. They should always be secured in a holster of some type, such as the one pictured above. Carrying them improperly is an invitation for a bad guy to grab them and use the cuffs as a weapon against the officer.

The ratchet end of the cuff (above) makes for an excellent weapon. Imagine an offender swinging the cuff, catching an officers cheek and ripping the flesh away. It’s happened.

3. Pistols

Carrying a loaded firearm tucked into the rear waistband without a holster is a definite no. For starters, the weapon is not secure and could easily slip down inside the pants, which could be difficult to retrieve during an emergency. Imagine being on the receiving end of gunfire while pawing around inside your pants, desperately trying untangle your pistol from your Wednesday pair of tighty-whiteys. It’s not a pretty picture.

Besides, an unsecured weapon is easily taken by an offender during a scuffle. But even worse, it would be downright embarrassing to have to fish your gun out of your pants while standing in line at the bank. So wear a holster. There are several designs specifically for plainclothes and undercover officers. For example, Galls’ BLACKHAWK! Leather Inside Pants Holster.

4. Vests

I know this like beating a dead horse, but ALL officers, including detectives, should wear their ballistic vests. Wearing a suit and tie does not prevent an investigator from encountering dangerous people with guns. Suit jackets and shirts can be cut to allow a vest underneath (male and female). I know, they’re hot and uncomfortable, and I’m the perfect example of someone who’s been involved in a shootout and was not wearing a vest. I’m lucky the bad guy was a poor shot and I wasn’t. However, all it takes is one round to start the sound of Bob Dylan’s voice inside your head, singing …

“Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”

Oh, and do tuck the tail of the vest inside the pants, like a shirt tail. It’s there for a reason! Never roll it up under the vest. Doing so allows the vest to ride up, exposing vital organs.

5. Badges

It’s a good tactic for Plainclothes officers to use their non-gun hand to hold and display their badges near the shooting hand while their weapons are drawn. You want it visible because people have a tendency to focus on a gun instead of the ID that’s attached to a belt. If an officer’s badge is not clearly visible the suspect may not realize the man/woman who’s aiming a pistol at them is indeed a cop no matter how many times or how loud you shout, “POLEEECE!. This includes other officers who may think the good guy is one of the bad guys and then shoots one of their own before realizing their little boo boo. #displaythebadge

Writers, you conduct an incredible amount of research about cops, forensics, and more, and your readers deeply appreciate your efforts. Therefore, to assist with your hard work, here are six tidbits to add to your gatherings of vital information.

1. There’s been a ton of media coverage devoted to anti-police protestors and activists, and in those vivid live reports we sometimes see people expressing their anger by assaulting innocent inanimate objects, such as garbage cans, dumpsters, streetlight poles, and even police vehicles.

This type of behavior is not new. Not at all. Modern day cop-car-turner-overers are not at all a new species. For example, way back in 1899, the Akron, Ohio police department introduced their first police car, an electric buggy equipped with lights, a stretcher, and a gong used as a warning device (sirens eventually and wisely replaced the gong-banging).

Well, soon after the fancy police car was put into use, a group of angry citizens who were demanding justice for the assault of a six-year-old girl by a man named Louis Peck. Police had arrested Peck the previous day but the mob wasn’t satisfied with just an arrest. They wanted to lynch him right then and there, without a trial (he confessed to the police). So the mob attacked the police department/city building with bricks and dynamite, and they set fire to the Akron fire station and burned it to the ground. They also attacked the firefighters and prevented them from putting out the fires. The group finally tossed the city’s only police car into a canal, which was no small feat considering the car weighed 2.5 tons.

2. Today, police officers and sheriff’s deputies typically drive department cars such as the Dodge Durango Pursuit or the powerful Dodge Charger with the 5.7L HEMI® V8 Engine, and even Ford’s Defender Police Interceptor Utility. Back in the 1930’s, however, it was the Deuce Coupe that reigned supreme with police agencies. Of course, the car was so popular and powerful that the bad guys drove them as well.

Speaking of the Deuce Coupe, let’s take moment to brighten what is a cloudy and cool day here in Delaware.

3. In the days before GPS and 911 calling, police officers and dispatchers relied on a caller’s directions to their locations. It was not pretty. For example:

Dispatcher – “Police department.”

Caller – “My daddy’s stuck in a tree ’cause our bull chased him up there.” Please hurry!”

Dispatcher – “What’s your address?”

Caller – “Don’t got one. We get our mail at Billy Buck’s General Store.”

Dispatcher. “What is the location of your house?”

Caller – “Well, you go down Corn Meal Road till you pass the spot where the old mill burnt down, and then you turn to your right at the oak tree that was split clean open by lightnin’ back in ’53—“

The sound of the caller spitting—probably tobacco “juice”—is heard at the other end of the line.

Caller continues. “You remember that gulley-washer of a storm, don’cha’? It was a doozy, weren’t it. Anyways, you go on till you pass eight telephone poles—count ’em good ’cause nine is too many—and turn into the first dirt path to your right. You can’t miss it. Cross the creek—it ain’t deep—and you’ll soon see daddy up in the tree. He’ll be easy to spot ’cause it’s the only tree with a bull standing under it. Hurry, ’cause I don’t know how much longer daddy can hang on. He turned 94 his last birthday and he says startin’ to lose the strength in his arms. Arthritis done ’bout got him”

4. People offer all sorts of wild excuses for doing the things they did. A few of my favorites are …

  • – It’s not my fault. I was drunk.
  • – I lost control of the car when I dropped a lit joint in my lap.
  • I didn’t mean to kill her. She stepped in front of my gun when I shot at her lover. I was trying to kill him.
  • I have no idea how that bag of drugs got into my underwear.
  • If you find my DNA inside that woman it’s because somebody planted it there. I’m not well-liked, you know.
  • You mean this isn’t my house? My mistake. I’ll be going now. Can I have my tools back?

5. You know about Miranda (you have the right to remain silent, etc.), right? Well, the same strategy can work to an investigator’s advantage. Like the suspected killer sitting across the desk from a detective who chose the “silent approach” to interrogation.

Detective – “You know why you’re here, right?”

Suspect – “You’ve got the wrong guy.”

Detective – I sat there staring at the guy, saying nothing for a full minute, then …

Suspect – “Well, maybe I was there when she fell and hit her head on that hammer. But I didn’t hit her.” 

A pause …

“You might find my fingerprints on the hammer because I borrowed it last weekend to fix my kitchen door.”

Another pause …

“Okay, she might’ve run into the hammer when I was swinging it to drive a nail.”

 A long pause, then …

” Dammit, yes. Yes, I killed the nagging b***h.”

6. Searching people for weapons and other items is not high on a cop’s list of things they enjoy, and suspects definitely do not make the task any easier. Sometimes it becomes downright embarrassing, such as time I arrested a guy on a warrant for assault. I’d chased him on foot for a block or so before catching and handcuffing him. Of course, by that time a crowd had gathered and were taunting me.

I was in the midst of a quick pat down, checking for weapons when, while running my hands up one of his legs, my hands made contact with … well, you know. I glanced up and saw him smiling a cheesy ear-to-ear grin. Then he said. “You go any higher or faster and I’m going to need a cigarette when you’re done.”

The crowd around us burst in laughter, and so did I. His comment definitely lightened the mood of the angry crowd, and I credit it for unintentionally preventing a difficult time getting him back to my car without trouble from the mob.

Still … yuck.


ATTENTION!! ATTENTION!! ATTENTION!!

This year at MurderCon, Dr. Denene Lofland, will present a new and extremely detailed and eye-opening session about Covid-19 and the spread of disease. *Session title and description coming soon.

Those of you who’ve attended Dr. Lofland’s classes on bioterrorism at Writers’ Police Academy events will remember her detailed sessions regarding the spread of diseases. In fact, her class just last year, ironically, was called “Biological and Chemical Weapons: Is the End of Humankind Near?”

Denene, an expert on bioterrorism and microbiology, has managed hospital laboratories, and for many years worked as a senior director at biotech companies specializing in new drug discovery, such as medications prescribed to treat cystic fibrosis and bacterial pneumonia. She and her team members produced successful results and Denene, along with other top company officials, traveled to the FDA to present those findings. As a result, those drugs are now on the market.

Calling on her vast expertise in microbiology, Denene then focused on bioterrorism. With a secret security clearance, she managed a team of scientists who worked in an undisclosed location, in a plain red-brick building that contained several laboratories. Hidden in plain sight, her work was for the U.S. military.

Sign up today to reserve your spot at MurderCon 2020! It’s a one of a kind experience!

2020 Guest of Honor – David Baldacci

https://writerspoliceacademy.com

Have you ever wondered what real-life investigators think about your detective characters? Well…

1. On their days off, fictional detectives enjoy … wait, those guys never have any down time. None. Sure, I remember working a murder case where I left home one morning at the normal time and didn’t return until 36 hours later. When the trail is hot you have to follow it. But that’s not the norm.

In the world, the one on the outside of your book covers, all cops have regularly scheduled days off. Sure, they’re sometimes forced to work during their weekends, especially when emergency situations arise, but not for 300 straight pages days.

2. Make-believe investigators are suspended from duty at least once per story, yet they continue to work their cases. Is there a writer anywhere in this world who truly understands the definition of suspension? I’m kidding, of course. However, just in case … Suspension: to force someone to leave their job temporarily as a form of punishment. A police officer may not carry out/perform the duties of a police officer while on suspension.

The punishment (suspension) is typically ordered because the detective did something severely wrong, which, by the way, is a rare occurrence. Therefore, continuing to work a case while suspended certainly will not win him/her any favors with the higher-ups. In fact, to do so is the equivalent of disobeying a direct order, a cause for termination.

3. Imaginary detectives and pretend bad guys have the remarkable ability to render someone unconscious by striking them on the back of the head with any handy object, such as books, candlesticks, sticks, rocks, heel of the hand, fists, pillows, marshmallows, feathers, and/or guns of any type.

Writers, writers, writers (I’m slowly shaking my head from side to side), it’s time to come up with a new tactic, because this one is old, stale, and dusty. Besides, a “hit to the back of the head” rarely works in real life. I’ve seen people, me included, struck with baseball bats and they never lost consciousness. And, to add insult to injury (pun intended), the blow often does no more than to make those folks as mad as wet hens (whatever that means). If the whack is hard enough to get the job done the injury it caused would truly be a serious one. Therefore your hero won’t be popping back up right away to handcuff anyone. Instead, a visit to the hospital would be in order.

4. Marriage is practically taboo in crime fiction. Rarely do fictional law enforcement officers enjoy the company of spouses or serious relationships. Yes, some are haunted by the tormented spirits of dead husbands or wives, but not living, breathing people. I suppose it’s easier to write a tale about a person who’s single, but cops in the real world do indeed marry, and some do so four or five times since the job truly can wreak havoc on married life. For the most part, though, family life is important.

5. Pretend cops are the straightest shootin’ folks on the planet. They’re so good, in fact, that they’re able to use their sidearms to part the hair on a gnat’s far left hind leg from a distance of a hundred yards, or more.

The embarrassing reality, however, is that many cops barely shoot well enough to earn a qualifying score on the range. And the business of shooting a gun or knife from the hands of bad guys? Forget it. Doesn’t happen. Not today and not tomorrow. Even if the officer could hit such a small target, especially while it’s moving, it’s not what they’re trained to do, which is to shoot center mass.

6. A popular theme in Fictionland is to have a detective going off on his own to do something that’s totally against the orders of the chief or sheriff. In reality? Nope. To do disobey the orders of a chief or sheriff (especially a sheriff), well, the detective would quickly find himself filling out job applications for a new line of work. Simply put, cops follow the orders of their superiors. If not, they become carpenters, cab drivers, appliance or auto salespeople, etc.

7. After a quick look at the body of a murder victim the pretend gumshoe is often able to determine the caliber of bullet that ended the poor guy’s life. No. It is not possible to know the bullet size based on a glance at a wound. Many factors could affect the wound size and shape—angle of impact, velocity, etc. Even when spent casings are found nearby it’s still not safe to assume those were the rounds that killed the victim. A really good guess, yes. Without a doubt, no.

8. Fictional detective I. M. Thebest decides to change jobs and he sees a job opening listed in the local paper. So he makes an appointment to have drinks with the chief of police in a city 300 miles away, where the action is greater and the liquor is cheaper, to discuss the opportunity. The two agree on the move and Det. Thebest is immediately scheduled start work as top detective in the new city. Two weeks later he begins his new career and fits in perfectly. Magically, he knows the area and all the usual suspects and their hangouts, and the detectives who’ve worked in the department for 20 years all welcome him with open arms.

Stop. This is just too silly. No, this sort of thing does not happen in the real world. As a rule, detectives do not transfer as detectives to another department, especially as the head investigator in charge. Instead, if, for some reason they elect to switch departments they’d need to start over again as patrol officers. And, in most places they’d need to attend at least some training, including a brief field training program, before hitting the streets. To vary from this would be unfair to the officers who’ve paid their dues and have been waiting for the promotion or move to the detective division.


There you go, eight pet peeves of many cops who read used to read your books. Remember, though, you’re writing fiction and that means you can make up all kinds of cool stuff. However, when deviating from the reality of police work and the real world, it’s a must that you give the reader a proper reason to suspend what they know is the truth. This is especially so if you want cops to enjoy your work along with your other fans.

So, if you want your make-believe specially-skilled detective to transfer from one department to another as their chief of detectives, then a quick meeting of city council to approve the move would be all that’s needed to make it so. See how easy it is? Still, the other officers and detectives wouldn’t approve. Not at all.

Oh yeah … NO cordite, unless you’re writing historical fiction.

 

Command Presence

Command Presence is all about being at the top of the game. Taking a few minutes to be sure your shoes, badge, and brass are all polished definitely goes a long way toward projecting a positive image. So does wearing a clean and neatly pressed uniform. And let’s don’t forget regular trips to the folks who cut hair for a living. All these things make an officer look sharp. Think about it … who would you have more confidence in, the officer with the dirty, wrinkled clothing and shaggy hair, or the officer who looks fresh and sharp, and projects a solid air of authority?

The two professionals in the above image, Cold Case and Bloodstain Pattern expert Dave Pauly and The Mayberry Deputy (David Browning) are two shining examples of people who display a natural confidence. The Deputy also reminds us that Barney Fife even went as far as polishing his one bullet.

Crooks size-up officers the same way officers examine the mannerisms of the bad guys. Criminals carefully study officers, looking for the weak ones, because they are the officers who’ll most likely be on the receiving end of escape attempts, lies, assaults, and/or other criminal tricks and tactics.

Officer tips for a better command presence

Captain Randy Shepherd is a textbook example of Command Presence

  • Be professional at all times. And that includes updated training. A cop who knows his job inside out projects more confidence. The same is true with physical training. Stay in shape and know and trust your defensive tactics. Remember, cocky and obnoxious are not good traits.
  • Good posture is important. Someone standing straight and tall has an advantage over the officer who slouches. Poor posture sometimes comes across as a weakness, especially when confronting an aggressive suspect. So heads up, shoulders back, and eyes intent and focused.

Colleen Belongea – NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy instructor, Green Bay PD (ret.), and current co-owner of Assured Private Investigations, a PI firm based in Appleton, Wi. Colleen’s partner,Jill Goffin, is also a NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy instructor. Their 2020 joint session at WPA’s special event, MurderCon,, is “Under the Trench Coat” is a journey into the real world of private investigators.

  • Always make and maintain eye contact when speaking to someone.
  • Maintain control of your speaking voice, even during emergency situations. A large man whose voice tone, when involved in a frightening situation, raises to an octave similar to Mickey Mouse’s squeaky voice does not come across as someone who’s in charge of the situation. I call this the Mickey Mouse Syndrome.
  • Honesty and consistency are vital traits. Bad guys will quickly learn that what you say is what you mean, each and every time. Treat everyone fairly and consistently. If you talk the talk , then you absolutely must walk the walk.
  • First impressions only come around once, so make it your best. If a suspect’s first impression of you is that you’re weak, well, expect to have a very rough day.
  • Walk with confidence and with purpose. You know where you’re going and why you’re going there.

Catherine Netter, GTCC and Writers’ Police Academy instructor – Women in Law Enforcement and Jail Operations and Searches

  • Size up everyone. Always be aware of who and what you’re dealing with
  • Stay one step ahead of the person standing before you. Remember, that person may want to kill you, so be prepared to do what it takes to survive. And I mean to do this each and every time you come into contact with someone. You never know which person is the one who plans to do you harm. Sometimes it’s the meek and mild who are quick to pull the trigger.

Most importantly, believe in yourself. Have confidence in what you do and who you are. All the shoe-shining and training in the world will not help you if the image you project is one of weakness.

So have the hero in your story wear the badge proudly, stand tall, and do what it takes to go home safely each and every night.

NWTC Public Safety Academy and Writers’ Police Academy firearms instructor

By the way, civilians in authoritative positions should also exhibit a command presence, and many do so instinctively. Command presence also applies to public speakers, including writers when appearing at conferences and book signings and readings. One of the best in the business at the command presence game is author Lee Child. The moment Child enters a room you know he’s confident, poised, and in full control of each word spoken. He looks sharp, acts sharp, and, well, he is sharp. And it shows.

Lee Child – Writers’ Police Academy

Another fantastic example of someone with fantastic command presence is author/former prosecutor Marcia Clark (yes, that Marcia Clark). Clark comes across as a take charge person, always in control no matter the situation.

Marcia Clark addressing the entire group at the Writers’ Police Academy

Both Lee Child and Marcia Clark are confident in what they do, and it shows, but their personalities are also warm enough to transform even the largest iceberg to a puddle, even at a homicide scene (shallow grave workshop at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy).

Lee Child and Marcia Clark – shallow grave workshop at the 2012 Writers’ Police Academy

So, you see, having command presence does not necessarily mean a person has to be tough and gruff, but can be when the situation calls for it.

After all, even the toughest of the tough have their tender moments.

GTCC/WPA instructors Stan Lawhorne and Jerry Cooper – Writers’ Police Academy

Perpetrator v. percolator

Police jargon, or slang, is truly a language of its own. It’s a collection of words that can and do vary greatly from one area of the country to another. Even neighboring counties and cities sometime have their own special slang terms that are unique.

If a writer’s goal is realism, I strongly urge the storyteller to do a little homework to avoid dialogue and terminology that doesn’t ring true, especially within a specific location or agency. A quick phone call to a police department’s public affairs office will normally provide you with the needed information.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak with police officers all across the country about this very topic. Athough, my focus was on the use of three specific terms/words that I often see used in works of fiction—Perp, Vic, and Juvie. I wanted to see if cops truly used those slang terms. I already knew the answer but, as always, it’s best to do our homework if we’re aiming for facts (hint).

Here’s what I learned.

1) Perp – Not many police officers use the shortened form of the word perpetrator. Instead, they use the more common terms, suspect, actor, or ***hole. Listen to police scanners and you’ll rarely, if ever, hear an officer say, “We apprehended the perp at 0100 hours.” Typically, it’s, “We apprehended the suspect at 0100 hours.”

Perp is generally a specific, regional term. I’ve heard it used more in the New York and Boston areas more than any other location. Still, it’s not used by all officers.

FYI – the term perpetrator is NOT to be confused with the closely-sounding “percolator.” Confusing the two could prove to be quite embarrassing.

Yes, I once saw the perpetrator/percolator faux pas in a manuscript. Imagine reading a book written by your favorite author and you see this on page 47 – “10-4, Captain, the percolator who robbed the hot dog stand was short and stocky, and a witness said he had a tattoo on his forehead that she believed spelled the words ‘Ken’ and ‘More.’  Could be his name—Ken More.”

New Picture

By the way, you’ll probably not hear the other, more colorful term “a**hole” used on the police radio. It and other profanity are not supposed to be spoken on the air, but when the adrenaline is high and the bullets are flying, well, you just might hear anything.

“The a**hole just fired two rounds at me! Send &*%@ing backup. NOW!!”

2) Vic – This is another one I’ve seen in books countless times. Again, not all cops use Vic, if any, when referring to the victim of a crime. Well, TV cops do, but not all real-life cops. Actually, some real-life cops refer to their police cars as a Vic, if they’re driving a Ford Crown Victoria.

New Picture (1)

To hear a fictional officer misuse the term can be a bit humorous. And, when a reader is thinking one thing but reading another, like – “I really put the Vic to the test. Put my foot in ‘er and drove ‘er hard, first up the mountain and then back down. Wide open all the way. Didn’t let up for a minute. I finally backed off because she started to spit and sputter. Overall, it was a good ride and I’d like to try it again.”

It’s probably a great idea to provide a lead-in so readers will know your hero is referring to a car, not the unfortunate murder victim from chapter three. Ouch!

What word do cops use when referring to a victim? That’s an easy one—victim! Or … dead guy, DB (dead body), maggot snack, etc.

3) Juvie – This is a nickname given to a place of detention for juvenile offenders, or as a generic word for kids.

Again, not all members of law enforcement use this term.

Most simply say “juvenile” to describe those innocent little darlins’ who are always on their best behavior.

New Picture (1)

 

I looked into the eyes of a serial killer

Have you ever sat in a room designed especially for killing people, looking into the eyes of a serial murderer, watching and waiting for some sign of remorse for his crimes, wondering if he would take back what he’d done, if he could?

Have you ever smelled the searing flesh of a condemned killer as 1,800 volts of electricity ripped through his body, nonstop, for thirty seconds?

Have you ever witnessed a legal homicide carried out by a “man behind the curtain” who, during his career, caused the death of 62 humans who were convicted of their crimes and then received the ultimate punishment, execution. No? Well, twenty-six years ago this month, I sat in a chair just a few feet away from a serial killer and I watched him die a gruesome death. Here are the details.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

spencer.jpg

Timothy W. Spencer, the Southside Strangler

Other women in the area were killed by someone who committed those murders in a very similar manner. Was there a copycat killer who was never caught? Or, did Spencer kill those women too? We’ll probably never learn the truth.

Spencer was, however, later tried, convicted, and sentenced to die for the aforementioned murders. I was selected to serve as a witness to his execution. I accepted, figuring that if I had the power to investigate and arrest someone for capital murder, then I needed to see a death penalty case through to the end.

On the evening of Spencer’s execution, a corrections official met me at the state police area headquarters where I’d parked my unmarked Chevrolet Caprice. It was around 8 p.m. when I climbed into his van, a vehicle typically used for transporting inmates. It had been freshly washed and waxed and the interior was immaculate. The light scent of pine cleaner lingered in the air.

My driver du jour was an always-smiling, short and portly, white-shirt-wearing lieutenant whose skin was the color of caramel. His round head was bare and slick, with the exception of a few small tufts of white hair that brought to mind the fluffy clouds of a summertime sky. He was a friend and sometimes colleague who headed up the prison’s “death squad.” I’d known him for several years and enjoyed his company since his sense of humor was a great match for my own … quirky.

I’d worked with the lieutenant in the past when he approved my request for the loan of several prison K-9s, the nasty, snarling ones that enjoy biting, and their handlers, to assist with a large drug and weapon eradication operation in the city.

During the ride to the prison we occupied our time with small talk and banter about the usual—cop and corrections stuff, and our lives dealing with the worst of the worst. I put them away and he babysat them for the next one to 100 years, or, until the end, which was soon to be for Timothy Spencer.

The lieutenant eventually turned the van onto the long and straight paved road that led to the maximum security compound. The van’s headlamps illuminated a few yards of swampland that flanked the road on both sides. Beyond that … eerie and inky blackness as far as imaginations allowed.

During the approach we passed two groups of people, those who supported the death penalty and those who did not. Many of them carried signs. Some held candles. On the “against” side, a man played a guitar while others swayed from side to side while singing. Some prayed. A minister held both hands above his head while addressing four or five young people, possibly teenagers.

Numerous media vans lined the roadway, with the telescopic antenna standing tall, with cables winding around the poles. Network reporters faced cameras and bright lights while speaking into handheld microphones. One reporter interviewed a visibly angry woman.

A few members of the anti death penalty protestors approached our van and shouted and shook their fists toward it. Others aimed middle fingers at the dark tinted windows. Deputy sheriffs and state troopers, all of whom I knew personally, herded the agitated folks back to their “For” and “Against” roped-off areas.

Finally, after traveling a mile from the main road, bright lights appeared in the sky above the tree line. It was like approaching a sports stadium at night. Then, as if out of nowhere, the prison came into view. It was massive. More inmates lived there than the number of residents in the nearest town.

What looked like miles of a double row of very tall, razor-wire-topped fencing surrounded  individual concrete pods designed to house over 500 inmates each. Each housing unit is separated from the others by its own set of fencing. Six 52-foot guard towers were positioned around the perimeter, with heavily-armed officers standing ready as the last means of stopping an escape attempt. The officer in tower one, the nearest to the front gate, stood out on the catwalk holding a rifle, a mini-14/.223, i assumed. It was execution night and everyone was on high alert.

We entered the prison’s interior grounds through the sally port and then through a couple of interior gates, stopping outside a building where I then was escorted to a briefing room where the other execution witnesses sat waiting. The Virginia Department of Corrections’ eastern regional manager stood at the front of the room. Once I was seated he began to explain to our small group what it was we were about to see.

When he was done, we, in single file, were taken to “L” Building, nicknamed “Hellsville” by the inmates. Building “L,” is where death row inmates are brought from death row to await their hour to die. It’s  the building where the electric chair and the lethal injection gurney sit quietly until their next time in the spotlight rolls around.

We were seated in a small theater-style room, and much like waiting for a famous play to begin, we all knew the name of the leading man. He was a solo performer who would be dead when the curtain finally closed at the end of the evening.

The room was packed full, a small group consisting of members of the press, two or three attorneys, a few others who’ll remain nameless to respect their privacy, and me, the only cop in the place.

The room where I and the other witnesses sat waiting was inside the death house at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center. At the time, the execution chamber was pretty much a bare room made of concrete blocks painted a bright white. Sitting center stage was Old Sparky, the state’s electric chair, an instrument of death that, ironically, was built by prison inmates.

Old Sparky, Virginia’s electric chair, was built by inmates.

As part of our duties as official witnesses, we observed a test of the chair which indicated that the chair was in proper working order. To do so, officials placed a resistor across the arms arms of the chair and then connected it to the two electrical cables that would soon be attached to the condemned prisoner. When they switched on the system for the test, a light on the resistor resistor emitted a bright orange glow, then gradually a duller glow. Satisfied that the system was working, we waited.

Timothy Spencer was put to death on April 27, 1994 at 11:13 p.m.

The atmosphere that night was nothing short of surreal. No one spoke. No one coughed. Nothing. Not a sound as we waited for the door at the rear of “the chamber” to open. After an eternity passed, it did, revealing the handful of prison officials who entered first, and then Spencer who walked calmly into the chamber surrounded by members of the prison’s death squad (specially trained, uniformed corrections officers).

I later learned that Spencer had walked the eight short steps to the chamber from a death watch cell, and he’d done so on his own, without assistance from members of the squad. Sometimes the squad is forced to physically deliver the condemned prisoner to the execution chamber.

I cannot fathom what sort mindset it takes to make that short and very final walk. Spencer, though, seemed prepared for what was to come, and he’d made his peace with it. His face was absent emotion. No frown. No tears. No smile. Nothing. He was a man who seemed more like a robot than a human with a beating heart, a thinking brain, and a conscience.

The man who’d brutally and killed so many women, was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration were scattered across his forehead and bare scalp like raindrops on a freshly-waxed car.

Spencer looked around the room and the area where we sat. His eyes moved slowly from side to side and up and down, taking in the surroundings and the faces of the witnesses. I wondered if the blonde woman beside me reminded him of either of his victims.

Perhaps the lady in the back row who sat glaring at the condemned killer was the mother of one of the women Spencer had so brutally raped and murdered.

Spencer blinked a bit when looking at the bright overhead lights. Other than that tiny movement his actions were totally and absolutely unremarkable. Had I not know what was about to take place, I’d have assumed he was settling into an easy chair to watch a bit of television before retiring for the evening after a long day at work.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. As they secured his arms and legs tightly to the oak chair, he looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing.

I sat directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so.  Not even a remote sign of sadness, regret, or fear. Either he was brave, heavily sedated, or stark-raving mad.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap, like the leg connection, was lined with a brine-soaked sea sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

I wondered if Spencer felt the presence of the former killers who’d died in the chair before him—Morris Mason, Michael Smith, Ricky Boggs, Alton Wayne, Albert Clozza, Derrick Peterson, Willie Jones, Wilbert Evans, Charles Stamper, and Roger Coleman, to name a few.

Morris Mason had raped his 71-year-old neighbor. Then he’d hit her in the head with an ax, nailed her to a chair, set her house on fire, and then left her to die.

Alton Wayne stabbed an elderly woman with a butcher knife, bit her repeatedly, and then dragged her nude body to a bathtub and doused it with bleach.

A prison chaplain once described Wilbert Evans’ execution as brutal. “Blood was pouring down onto his shirt and his body was making the sound of a pressure cooker ready to blow.” The preacher had also said, “I detest what goes on here.”

Yes, I wondered if Spencer felt any of those vibes coming from the chair. And I wondered if he’d heard that his muscles would contract, causing his body to lunge forward. That the heat would literally make his blood boil. That the electrode contact points were going to burn his skin. Did he know that his joints were going to fuse, leaving him in a sitting position? Had anyone told him that later someone would have to use sandbags to straighten out his body? Had he wondered why they’d replaced the metal buttons buttons on his clothes with Velcro? Did they tell him that the buttons would have melted?

For the previous twenty-four hours, Spencer had seen the flurry of activity inside the death house. He’d heard the death squad practicing and testing the chair. He’d seen them rehearsing their take-down techniques in case he decided to resist while they escorted him to the chamber. He watched them swing their batons at a make-believe prisoner. He saw their glances and he heard their mutterings.

Was he thinking about what he’d done?

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

The warden asked Spencer if he cared to say any final words—a time when many condemned murderers ask for forgiveness and offer an apology to family members of the people they’d murdered. Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but stopped, offering no apology and showing no remorse. Whatever he’d been about to say, well, he took it with him to his grave.

He made eye contact with me again. And believe me, this time it was a chilling experience to look into the eyes of a serial killer just mere seconds before he himself was killed. He kept his gaze on me, all the way to the end.

Some of the people in the room focused on the red telephone hanging on the wall at the rear of the chamber—the direct line to the governor—Spencer’s last hope to live beyond the next few seconds. It remained silent.

The warden nodded to the executioner, who, by the way, remained behind a wall inside the chamber, out of our view. Spencer must have sensed what was coming and, while looking directly into my eyes, turned both thumbs upward. A last second display of his arrogance. A death squad member placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face, a mask with only a tiny opening for his nose. Then he and the other team members left the room. The remaining officials stepped back, away from the chair.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, the executioner sent a second jolt to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

It was over and an eerie calm filled the chamber. The woman beside me cried softly. I realized that I’d been holding my breath and exhaled, slowly. No one moved for five long minutes. I later learned that this wait-time was to allow the body to cool down. The hot flesh would have burned anyone who touched it.

The prison doctor slowly walked to the chair where he placed a stethoscope against Spencer’s chest and listened for a heartbeat. A few seconds passed before the doctor looked up and said, “Warden, this man has expired.”

That was it. Timothy Spencer, one of the worse serial killers in America’s history was dead, finally.


Strange, but true facts about Spencer’s case:

– Spencer raped and killed all five of his victims while living at a Richmond, Virginia halfway house after his release from a three-year prison sentence for burglary. He committed the murders on the weekends during times when he had signed out of the facility.

– Spencer was the first person in the U.S. executed for a conviction based on DNA evidence.

– David Vasquez, a mentally handicapped man, falsely confessed to murdering one of the victims in the Spencer case after intense interrogation by police detectives. He was later convicted of the crime and served five years in prison before DNA testing proved his innocence. It was learned that Vasquez didn’t understand the questions he’d been asked and merely told the officers what he thought they wanted to hear.

– Spencer used neck ligatures to strangle each of the victims to death, fashioning them in such a way that the more the victims struggled, the more they choked.

– Patricia Cornwell’s first book, Post Mortem, was based on the Spencer murders.


Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia—the man who executed Timothy Spencer—described his opinion of the death penalty when he said, “If I execute an innocent person, I’m no better than the people on death row.”

Givens, after executing 62 people, now strongly opposes the death penalty.

And then there are the cases of the men and women on death row who’ve been exonerated based on evidence that proved that didn’t or couldn’t have committed the crime of which they were accused and convicted. Such as Ray Krone, a friend of this site who spent nearly a decade on death row before DNA evidence proved his innocence.

Ray detailed the experience in an article for this blog. To read his story please click here.

Ray Krone is scheduled to tell his incredible story at the 2020 MurderCon.  Sign up today to reserve your spot!