Posts Tagged ‘homicide’
In these decks of cards, all 52 are face cards. Each one bears the face of a victim of an unsolved homicide. The cards are distributed in prisons with the hopes that an inmate will provide a badly needed tip.
While it is the high-tech C.S.I. investigation techniques that are featured on TV shows, it is often the low-tech solutions that solve real-life crimes. The idea of these cards apparently comes from the company Effective Playing Cards and Publications. This Florida company has produced cards in 10 states for distribution to inmates. The company has created thirty different decks and targets the decks to each geographical area. I received a set in the mail last week that were designed for the San Bernardino area of California. The cards are created with the support and encouragement of the surviving family members who are glad that the cases are being kept alive and attention is being drawn to the deceased. No cards exist for Washington State at this time.
In a prison culture where inmates have an abundance of time on their hands, the cards compels attention to the items in ways that a poster could not. The maker of the cards credit the cards with having solved four different cases across the nation. One homicide detective explained that distributing the decks is “like interviewing all 2500 inmates about 52 different homicides all at the same time.”
Despite the fact that this idea seems to be of little costs to investigative agencies, it has been a little slow to catch on, and little seems to be known of these cards. The below youtube video on the subject has been up for over six months, but has received only 68 views.
In addition to the expense of the cards, there is certainly an expense to sorting out the tips when received from inmates. Inmates are, as a whole, not a very reliable group when it comes to tips. Many could be looking to strike a deal to earn an early release, or could be looking for a way to transform themselves from a societal pariah to a local hero for coming forward. Detectives will look to see if the informant has pertinent information on the case that could not simply be gleaned from reading the newspapers.
I have learned, in the homicide cases that I have worked on,that in just about every high-profile case you will find attention seekers of all sorts claiming to have important information. Trying to determine the validity of such claims is not as easy as a person might suspect.
The playing cards in question focus on cold cases. Because crimes such as murder do not have a statute of limitations, police maintain an interest in such cases for decades. When I worked as a prosecutor, I often contemplated the value of police work on cold cases. Detectives in Ferry County made important progress in certain cases, see e.g. here. But there also needs to be accountability up the chain of command for time spent on cold cases. In general terms, not necessarily pertaining to my past position, I have feared that police work on cold cases sometimes consisted of having the case file spread out over several desks while a discouraged detective played solitaire. And such work is discouraging. You only need to review past Spokesman-Review articles with respect to the Spokane Serial Killer Task Force to learn how depressing that line of work can be. Big breaks in such cases are rare, and are usually preceded by years or decades of hard work done out of the spotlight. It is not the stuff of C.S.I. or newspaper headlines, but playing cards could, apparently, be a helpful tool in resolving such cases.
Kino Michael Gomez is accused of first degree murder for shooting Tom Pfaeffle at a motel in Twisp, Washington on July 17th, 2009. Judging by news reports the prosecutor and the defense lawyer agree on the following facts: Gomez checked into room 7 of the motel. Pfaeffle checked into room 8. The two men did not know each other. Later in the evening at 10 p.m., Pfaeffle mistakenly tried to entered room 7. In response, Gomez shot Pfaeffle who died shortly thereafter. The major disputed fact is how far did Pfaeffle go in trying to enter Gomez’s motel room. Was the door open or shut?
According to the July 22nd, 2009 Omak-Chronicle, the Prosecutor stated “the evidence shows the door was not open.” The Seattle Times in a July 21st story quoted police as stating that Pfaeffle was shot “when he apparently put his room key into the wrong door Friday night. He was hit in the chest by a bullet fired through the closed door.” In another story Twisp Police Chief Rick Balam was quoted as saying “There’s absolutely no question the door was closed when the shots were fired.”
Most people I talked to seemed to form a strong opinion as to the guilt of Kino Michael Gomez based on reading these law enforcement statements in the media. Most people asked: “What kind of maniac would shoot through a closed door, just because someone unsuccessfully jiggled the door handle?” The people posting comments on the internet also formed an opinion as to Gomez’s guilt based on the comments of the police that the suspect shot through a closed door.
“Assuming the man that fired the shots had a ‘legal’ right to own a gun, he has no excuse to fire random shots through a hotel door… at ANYONE.” See Link.
“Why did he fire THRU the door-after he barred the door. It isnt like someone broke in- Who the fck fires thru a door because they think they are being robbed?” See Link.
“A man paranoid enough to shoot through a closed door of a motel was probably up to no good to begin with.”
“I realize people make mistakes, but this is inexcuseable. YOU DON’T FIRE A GUN THROUGH A CLOSED DOOR.”
So does the evidence really show that Kino Michael Gomez shot through a closed door? The Methow Valley News sent a reporter to the scene to to take photographs of the door which are posted online here and here.
Hmmmmmm. It is not exactly as Twisp Police Chief Rick Balam described it. He after all stated “There’s absolutely no question the door was closed when the shots were fired.” Based on my experience prosecuting and defending homicide cases, the photographic evidence is more consistent with Kino Michael Gomez’s statement to the police. Kino Michael Gomez was interviewed by Officer Ty Sheehan of the Twisp Police Department, and Gomez stated that “he had been concerned about the lack of a deadbolt on the door and had wedged a chair against the doorknob.” Gomez told the police ” he awoke to the sound of someone trying to get into the room and had seen the door open and ‘a full silhouette’ of someone in his room.” See story in Methow Valley News. Gomez stated that he responded “like it was automatic,” shooting toward the door.
After I looked at the photographs, it appeared that the bullet hit the door frame, and based on the angle of the bullet, the door must have been half way open.
The good reporting of the Methow Valley News has raised a lot of questions in this case. Good for them for doing their own reporting rather than simply repeating what the police said. The defense attorney Michael Haas is doing a thorough job of raising the right questions too, and has apparently sent his own investigators out to the scene of the shooting. They had to act quickly because the motel was attempting to repair everything a.s.a.p.
Under Washington law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense if they believe they were in reasonable fear. If a person claims that they used force against a perceived intruder, it would certainly be relevant how far the perceived intrusion went. Dave Workman, author of Washington State Gun Rights and Responsibilities wrote an opinion piece on this case just after the incident. See Link. Like most of us at first, he understood the incident to involve shooting through a door that was closed. I wonder if he has further insights based on Mr. Gomez’s version of events and the photographs and other recent developments.
It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds in the weeks to come. I don’t envy the defense lawyer or the prosecutor in this case. I have never met the defense lawyer on this case, but I know the prosecutor a little. The best prosecutors on cases like this are tough, but also keep an open mind as to new developing facts that could change their mind. I believes that describes this prosecutor.
What does every one else think about this case? Can Kino Michael Gomez get a fair trial in Okanogan County? Has anyone else noticed the racial overtones about some of the internet news comments out there? I discussed in a blog post last month about friends and family of Amanda Knox who posted a internet site to support the defense of Amanda. Should Kino Michael Gomez’s family also consider a similar campaign? I also wrote in a blog post last month about the bearing of arms in public places. What are the societal costs of an armed populace?