Category Archives: Crime

Clara Harris – How dare you leave me?

In 2003 Clara Harris was convicted of the murder of her husband David Harris.  That she killed him was never disputed because it was caught on camera.  Clara, either in a fit of rage, or accidentally, ran her husband over in a hotel parking lot where he had met with his mistress, Gail Bridges.

Clara was born in Bogotá and worked hard to fulfil her dream of working in the United States.  A dentist, she met David Harris, an orthodontist and together they ran half a dozen successful dental offices.

Everybody in their workplace was aware of David’s affair with the office assistant, Gail, who had earlier, during her own divorce proceedings, been implicated in an affair with a woman called Julie Knight.

The jury took into account ‘sudden passion’ before sentencing Clara to twenty years in prison.

Clara Harris was a woman who worked hard at success, in life and in marriage.  The news of David’s affair came as a devastating blow to her and she became intensely insecure.  She went so far as to ask David to make a list of comparisons between her and Gail which she set out to correct immediately.  Such as losing weight, colouring her hair and making an appointment with a plastic surgeon.

On the night of the murder, David had told her that he was meeting with Gail at the hotel to put an end to the affair.  When he did not return home, Clara and Lindsey (David’s daughter) went to the hotel to look for him.  Now I can imagine what state she was in.  How her stomach turned in fear of what she would find.  And what she did find was David and Gail walking in the hotel lobby, hand in hand.  They had spent two hours together in a hotel room.

A scene followed in the hotel lobby with Clara apparently attacking Gail.  David then took Gail to the car park and Clara and Lindsey got into her Mercedes.  At some point, as she spotted David and Gail, Clara put her foot down and tried to run them over.  She says all of that time is a blur to her.  Gail was injured slightly but David was seriously hurt.  Onlookers say that Clara then ran over David again and again.  He died shortly after.

Now I don’t condone what she did, murder is not a solution to any problem.  But I can put myself in Clara’s shoes.  Firstly, she was completely unaware of her husband’s affair although everyone around her knew.  Secondly, when she found out, she did everything in her power to get him back, including more sex.

David’s behaviour is not really shocking, I suppose many men do the same.  But to compare her physical attributes to Gail’s is a bit low.

I will not dwell on Gail Bridges.  Suffice it to say that I cannot have sympathy for any woman who puts herself in a position where she could break up a family and destroy children’s lives.

Clara is not a character that invokes sympathy, but I think thousands of women could empathise with her.  The woman scorned.  Not out for revenge, but suddenly confronted with the fact that her husband does not want her anymore.  Lies, sex and rejection.  And a sudden fit of passion in more than one sense of the word that ended in the death of one, and the misery of more.


My Death Sentence

Hi, my name is Bob.  I grew up in a country and a time where the death penalty was the acceptable punishment for taking a life.  I had no reason to question this law, not even when I saw others do so.  It did not pertain to my life.  Murderers and rapists deserved to be removed from society permanently.  Why give them a cushy, rent free life in prison when we know that they hardly ever serve their full sentences, and that they are very likely to re-offend upon release?  How many stories have we not heard of killers given time off for good behaviour, only to kill again and again?

Well, my opinion changed one evening in 1984.  I was 25 years old.  At 7:15 I answered a knock at the door and found two policemen outside.

“Good evening, are you Bob ******?”

“Yes, I am.  What is going on officer?”

“We would like for you to come down to the station to answer a couple of questions”.

The officer looked stern and I suddenly felt my heart in the grip of icy fingers.

“Questions about what?”  I tried not to sound frightened, I knew those are all signs cops looked for.

“It is in connection with your neighbour, Rachel ******.  But we cannot discuss it here, come down to the station with us and we should have you home in no time.”

I agreed, hurriedly told my wife that I was needed for questioning and tried to ignore the panic in her eyes.  We got in the car and drove off.  That was the last day I spent in my own home in twenty-eight years.

Rachel had moved in next door to us two years previously.  She was a mousey, quiet woman who lived on her own.  My wife and I introduced ourselves to her upon her arrival but only saw her thereafter in greeting over the fence, or when we pulled out of our driveways together.  I knew that she was a kindergarten teacher and guessed her age to be in her mid-thirties.  She had a cat and liked to potter around in her garden, which was lush.  She mentioned to my wife that she also grew herbs and vegetables successfully.  Neither of us had ever seen the inside of her home.

That was the extent of my knowledge about Rachel *****

And here I am on death-row, convicted of her gruesome murder the night before the cops came knocking on my door.  She had been raped, sodomised and beaten.  Death came by strangulation.

The jury decided my case purely on circumstantial evidence.  It was before the scientific breakthrough of DNA.  And anyway, samples of the DNA left behind at the crime scene had been contaminated and lost to the extent that today there is not enough left even for mitochondrial DNA testing.

I have spent all my appeals.  My execution by lethal injection is scheduled for next month.  I will then once again be free, but not to enjoy my family or anything in this world.

I am no longer for the death penalty.  I still feel that it is a just punishment for those who murder, but now know that too many innocent people are found guilty for too many reasons.

And, if just one innocent person is executed, it should be abolished.   Ask my wife, children and grandchildren, for whom I am saddened above all.


What Justice? Where?

It is my opinion that the justice system does not, and will never work.

Take the Stayner brothers for example.  7 year-old Steven Stayner was abducted by Kenneth Parnell, kept in captivity and sexually abused for seven years before he escaped.  The return to his family was fraught with adjustment difficulties.  The family did not receive trauma counselling.  Sadly, Steven died at the age of 24 in a bike accident.

The older brother, Cary Stayner, later landed up on death-row as a convicted serial killer.  He was sexually abused during his childhood but never told.

Kenneth Parnell was a paedophile with previous convictions and sentences.  For the Stayner kidnapping he received a seven-year sentence of which he served only five.  After his release and already quite advanced in age, he tried to buy another little boy.  For this he was sentenced 25 years to life under California’s three strikes law.  This law and not his crimes, finally removed him from society.

A stranger tale cannot be conceived but it serves to highlight some problem areas:

  • The Accused.  How is man with Kenneth Parnell’s background given seven years for the crime he committed against Steven Stayner?  He received equally light sentences for his other offenses.  It is because they only charged him with the kidnappings, never for the sexual offenses.  We must keep in mind though that some things have changed since the 70’s.
  • Defence Liars (exceptions excluded).  Who defends a man like Parnell, and why?  Okay, so the court appoints an attorney to defend the accused because every man has that right, and is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  But to defend him as though you want him back on the street?  As though he is innocent?  Come on!  And if a Liar is highly paid for defending someone like Parnell, his crime is the greatest.
  • Counselling.  Would Cary Stayner have turned into a murderer had he received trauma counselling?  For something as little as an armed robbery my family had to.  It is virtually impossible to deal with trauma, to file away what had happened and to have a healthy mental outlook afterwards without it.  Apparently it was offered to the Stayner family at some point, but rejected.  Again, in the 70’s the importance of counselling was not yet understood.  Of course I do not know if Cary would have killed had he properly dealt with Steven’s disappearance but I do know that if the family had been helped to work through the loss and eventual return of Steven, they would have been better equipped to deal with their emotional losses and wounds.  Cary stated that he felt neglected during the years his parents were grieving for Steven, and this is normal in most households where parents lose a child.  In fact, the disappearance of a child is almost worse than a death because the bereavement never reaches its logical conclusion.  Cary also said that upon Steven’s return they had to share a bedroom and that he resented that.  He was jealous of all the attention and gifts that Steven received.   The child needed help.
  • Evidence.  The business of not entering into evidence ALL known facts about the defendant misleads the jury.  It is impossible for them to fully understand the accused, what drives him and what his habits are if half of the facts are inadmissible.
  • The Jury System.  It is difficult enough to have a husband and wife agree on important issues, how much harder for twelve people?  And ‘a jury of your peers’ is a laugh.  A peer is someone of a similar age, race, education and background.  Someone who can identify with you.  [Definition of Peer: one that is of equal standing with another: equal; especially: one belonging to the same societal group especially based on age, grade, or status].  It therefore stands to reason that in a shoplifting trial, real peerage would mean that the jury is made up of shoplifters.  Who knows?  Perhaps they would actually give a proper and fair verdict.  In a first-world society I believe that a judgement by a judge (????) is far more accurate.  A person with knowledge of the law and hopefully, a good insight into human behaviour.  In third-world countries unfortunately, it opens itself up to abuse like threats and bribery.

So what is the solution to the lack of justice?  I think that after examination it becomes clear that there is none.  We live in an imperfect world, populated by imperfect people who implement imperfect systems based on imperfect ideas.

Because of that we will always have those who are imprisoned innocently as well as the guilty walking free.  The only hope is if everybody, from the lowliest cop right up to the judge, and further onto the lawmaker, strives for the truth.

John 8:32  “…… and the truth shall set you free”.

References:


Criminals-R-Us

We were in Florida during December 2008 and the biggest story on the news was the disappearance and murder of the 3-year-old Caylee Antony.

Her mother Casey was eventually arrested and tried for the murder, but acquitted, apparently due to a lack of evidence. The jurors made known that they did not believe her innocent, but that there was not enough proof to find her guilty and to sentence her. How sad is that?

But for a suspected guilty person to walk free? Hats off to Antony’s lawyers. For those of you who are not aware of the case: Casey Antony’s parents, George and Cindy kept asking Casey where Caylee was. Then George found out that their vehicle (which Casey used) had been impounded. When he collected it, he found that the car smelt of a dead body.

Casey Antony never actually reported her child missing, her mother, Cindy Antony finally phoned and made Casey tell the 911 operator that her child had been missing for 31 days. Cindy told the operator that the car Casey had used smelt like a dead body. A strand of Caylee’s hair was found in the trunk of the car, showing that she had already died. When the body was found, she had duct tape on her skull. Antony first blamed the disappearance on a fictitious baby-sitter, but in court the defence said that Caylee drowned in the pool and that George had molested Casey. They presented no evidence to prove this. Before Caylee’s body was found, Casey was seen partying it up around town, hardly the actions of a distressed, grieving mother many felt.

Antony came across as a hard-core, non-emotional woman who invoked very little sympathy.

And why the surprise because the justice system failed? It does so on a daily basis. We cannot rely on any system to protect us because it is man-made and it will fail us. Just sad that it does so, so often.

In any event, I am not writing this to comment on Casey Antony’s guilt or innocence, I think the evidence speaks for itself. What amazed me was how ready the public was to stone her to death, a public which are all guilty of their own crimes, like I am. I am not justifying Antony, my opinion is that she belongs in jail and considering that she is not, she should be monitored around-the-clock. On the other hand, she was young and foolish, like all of us and perhaps she made a mistake. We don’t know what happened. Therefore, should we not give her the benefit of the doubt? Justice failed but perhaps Casey learnt a very expensive lesson. Her crime might look bigger than the ones we commit, but we do commit crimes. Whether we lie, steal, lust after another man’s wife, or hate. All of it could lead to any of us committing a crime.

There but by the grace of God go I.


Living through a Home Invasion

It was 6:50 pm on a Thursday evening.  I was in my bedroom when my thirteen year old son ran in and shouted:  “They’re breaking in Mommy”.  I had just put my arms around him when I felt the pistol against my head.   Within seconds all four of us where face-down on the bed, having our hands tied behind our backs.  Our 2 1/2 hour ordeal had started.

Five armed robbers had jumped over our wall and entered through the front door.  My Rhodesian Ridgeback, Danni, responded immediately but they got in and they slammed the door in her face.  She ran around the house to the bedroom, barking hysterically before realising that she has to be quiet.  She lay there the whole night, listening, without making another sound.

In the initial confusion there was lot of noise, barking, curtains being drawn and doors slamming.  They closed everything.  I had only a few seconds to say something to my kids, this was not an event I had prepared them for.  With my face turned towards them I whispered:  “Don’t open your mouth or
your eyes, not once!  And remember, whether we live or die tonight, we are in Christ Jesus.”  That was the last time we would say anything to one another for two and a half hours.  Our submissive silence saved our lives.  My kids never uttered a sound.

My kids were thrown down on the floor at the foot-end of the bed and my husband and I to the side.  We couldn’t see one another.  At all times either one or two of the gunmen sat on my kids, hitting them with their pistol butts.  And they kept saying to us:  “Sleep!”  Meaning, play dead.

When they saw that we were going to be still they calmed down a bit.  I realized that they were also extremely nervous.  They immediately started going through our house, taking what they wanted.  They used our cell phones to speak to their superiors and gave information on what types of cars, TV’s etc we had.  They were told what to load.

Every now and again they would untie my husband or I to show them where we kept certain items.  If we tried to say anything, we were smacked.  If they asked a question and we replied, we were smacked.  They asked us to open the safe and they took everything in it.  But this was where the trouble started.  We had no cash in the house, even our wallets were empty that night.  I think we had a total of R800 on us.  It turned out that they declared everything to their “head office” but not the cash, that they divided among themselves.

They started torturing my husband, to such an extent that my children thought he had died.  They dragged him to and from the safe, demanding more money.  His pleas that we had no more just made them hurt him more.  I offered to give them my bank card with the pin but they refused.   I said I would go with them to an ATM but they were not interested.

While this was going on, they were packing up our clothes.  They even dressed in it.  I was then taken to the kitchen where I was told that I would be raped.
I don’t know why but it did not strike fear in my heart.  I never said a thing but I looked him in the eye and said in my mind:  “You can do that, but my husband and children will NEVER know about it!”  He then just gave me a strange look and moved on, never mentioning it again.  I did not even consider AIDS.

Back in the bedroom I could see what they were doing to my husband.  I tried to remove myself from it because I could not help him.  Then at last I thought of something.  I  had a very valuable diamond ring left to me by my grandmother.  I had it set with her diamond, her mother’s and my mother’s.  It was in a different safe which they had not found.  So I told him that I had something he might want for which I got a smack to the head.  But he told me to take him there.

When I took it out, I explained to him the sentimental value of the ring and that it was all I had left to give him.  He listened and must have believed me because he put it on his own finger before telling the others to wrap it up.

They loaded both our vehicles with the loot, including a motorbike and at 9:15, they finally left.  Or so we thought.  But they were still checking on us in between raiding the fridge.  After what felt like hours of listening, they were gone.

By now our hands had lost all circulation and for the first time I felt like panicking.  What if I could not untie our hands, would we lose them?  But we did.  I had fingers without circulation for about a week but my children who were not untied once, battled for weeks.

I phoned my sister-in-law across the road and in no time the cops came.  I had about thirteen of them in my house until two in the morning.  We were told to go for trauma counselling, which we did.  Some of us longer than others.

An incident like this makes you realise that you really are unable to protect the people you love and that is hard, especially for a man.  The worst was that
they took from us our sense of security.  It is as if we each have a little garden of tranquillity inside of our hearts, where only we go.  That night five strangers stormed through our gardens, tearing down the little fences and changing the landscape forever.

I have experience fear before, but nothing like this.  I would call it naked terror.

We are fine now, we are not paranoid nor do we live in fear.  But when the evening draws to a close and hits 6:50, I close my front door.