Wednesday, May 26, 2021

FEEDBACK ON "THE LAST MURDER: THE INVESTIGATION, PROSECUTION, AND EXECUTION OF TED BUNDY"

May 23 was my mumbledy mumbleth birthday, and I got a birthday wish from an unexpected source. Over the past few weeks I have been corresponding with Misha Hajj, a podcast producer who is working on a series of podcasts about Ted Bundy. I helped her obtain a copy of my book on the subject, and she expressed her appreciation with the following letter:


Happy birthday! Thank you so much for all of your hard work during your DECADES as a prosecutor. Thanks to your efforts the world has been saved from the plague of Bundy interviews and books he would have no doubt participated in if still alive. 


Your book, The Last Murder, is hands down my favorite out of the eleven Bundy books I’ve read. Your witty, hilarious and frank account of your role in the Kimberly Leach trial stands no contest to some of the other attempts to cover the case. 

I hope you have an amazing restful day, surrounded by those you love! 

Stay Safe!
Misha Hajj, Host & Executive Producer True Crime Aficionados

Saturday, May 8, 2021

FEEDBACK ON "PRAIRIE DEFENDER: THE MURDER TRIALS OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN"

I recently received a nice email from a relative of one of Abraham Lincoln's clients in a case I wrote about in "Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln." He graciously allowed me to publish the letter, which gives some information on the client's life after Lincoln defended him.

Dear Mr. Dekle,

I've really enjoyed reading your book, Prairie Defender, especially the chapter on the Moses Loe murder trial.  I have always had an interest in Lincoln and the Civil War, and a personal interest in this case since Moses Loe was my great-great grandmother's first cousin.  I was also interested to see that you are a fellow Floridian and associated with UF.  I'm a UF grad (1980) with an MA in History.  At one point I considered writing up the Loe case for submission to a historical journal.  Now, I'm glad I didn't, since your account, with your legal expertise, is far more perceptive than anything I could offer.

I think this case is particularly interesting since Lincoln saved Moses's life from the hangman and Moses eventually gave his life for Lincoln's foremost cause of saving the Union, a cause for which Lincoln himself proved to be the ultimate sacrifice.

I hope to visit Moses's grave the next time I am in the Atlanta area.  Last year, while in Chattanooga, I had the honor of visiting the grave of his older brother, Fielding (Fielden) Loe, a Mexican-American War veteran who was also killed in the Civil War.

Thank you very much for your research and your insights.

Regards,
Rodney Dillon, Jr.

Friday, April 2, 2021

THE ROOT OF AMERICA'S FIREARM PROBLEM

The incident that occurred today (April 2, 2021) at the Capitol was a demonstration that firearms are not the cause of the egregious acts of violence that seem to plague contemporary society. A man rammed his automobile into some Capitol policemen and then got out and began stabbing policemen with a knife. One was killed and another seriously injured before officers armed with firearms put an end to his rampage. In the time immediately after the incident, before anyone involved in the atrocity was identified, the talking heads on a certain 24 hour news station wondered what would cause someone to do something like that. Since only the police deployed firearms, there were no calls to tighten gun control, and I heard no calls for automobile control or knife control. I predicted that the perpetrator would have mental health issues, and as the day wore on, it turned out that his Facebook posts revealed a young man in some form of mental torment who had been spiraling down from bad to worse over a period of years

Which brings us to the failure of gun control. It won't stop violence. England has stringent gun control laws, and those laws didn't stop the random acts of violence. The bad guys switched to knives, and now there is an English movement for knife control. If they get the knives under control, the violence prone can switch to axes. When they ban axes, the next weapon of choice might be the claw hammer. 

What causes gun violence? Not guns. I've been around guns all my life and have shot everything from am M79 grenade launcher (which is fun to shoot) to a single shot, rolling block .22 caliber rook rifle (which is also fun to shoot), and no firearm I have ever handled has inspired me to climb a tower and start shooting random passers by. I have never seen or heard tell of a firearm like the one in Terry Pratchett's science fantasy novel Men at Arms, which took control of its possessor and made him commit murder.

I put my finger on the root cause of gun violence in a blog post that I made in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting back in 2012, SANDY HOOK AND GUN CONTROL. The root cause of gun control is the Supreme Court's decision in O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563, 95 S.Ct. 2486 (U.S.Fla. 1975). O'Connor severely limited the states' ability to involuntarily commit the mentally ill. The gist of this opinion was that mentally ill people cannot be locked up unless they are shown to be dangerous. To put it crudely, just acting weird is not enough for involuntary hospitalization. The Supreme Court put it more delicately, but they were saying the same thing: “May the State fence in the harmless mentally ill solely to save its citizens from exposure to those whose ways are different?” Before 1975 we regularly locked up people who were acting weird but who had never harmed anyone. And I believe at that time we had fewer mass murders. Most of the mass killers of recent vintage ( I’m thinking particularly about the man who ran amok at Virginia Tech) acted weird long before they killed anyone. Under O’Connor, they couldn’t be locked up because they hadn’t harmed anyone, or if they had harmed someone, there was a mental health professional who testified that they were all better now and weren't dangerous any more. I vividly remember one case we had where a man kept committing arsons. He'd get arrested, the doctors would say he was mentally ill, but he didn't need hospitalization, and under O'Connor he'd get put back on the street where--you guessed it, he set something else on fire. He finally "burned out" on his hobby of setting fires, and thankfully he never hurt anyone.

Now, I’m not in favor of locking people up merely because they act weird. Most people who act weird don’t commit mass murders. Just as most people who own guns don’t commit mass murders. 

The relevant Florida standard for involuntary commitment, which is pretty much universal throughout the United States is: 

"There is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or herself or others in the near future, as evidenced by recent behavior." Fla. Stat. 394.463(1)(b)2. 

I was a mental health prosecutor for several years, and here's what happens in a typical involuntary commitment: The patient is held for 72 hours and released. I never felt more like I was spinning my wheels and accomplishing nothing than when handling a case with a a patient who was obviously nutty as a fruitcake and in need of treatment, but was turned loose because there was "[no] substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or herself or others in the near future...." [emphasis supplied].

We had a man once who took off all his clothes in the middle of the night, got a shotgun, marched naked down the hallway of his parents house into their bedroom, announced that his father was the Devil, and shot him to death as he lay beside his wife. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and shipped off to the state mental hospital, and six months later the hospital wanted to turn him loose because he was cured and there was no "substantial likelihood" he would kill his father again. We were able to keep that one locked up.

Time after time these mass shooters turn out to be people with a history of revolving door mental health issues. The Supreme Court needs to readdress their holding in O'Connor and devise some way to allow the authorities to control the mentally ill who are potentially dangerous. The standard of "substantial likelihood [of causing] serious bodily harm ... in the near future" is too stringent a standard, and it allows dangerous people to go untreated and spiral farther and farther down into the abyss of desire to do violence until they act out and we have another tragedy.

The Justices of the Supreme Court are some of the brightest minds in the legal profession. Surely they can devise some means of protecting the rights of the mentally ill while protecting the public from the mentally ill.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

AUTOGRAPHS

For most of my life I have puttered along in relative obscurity, unknown outside my hometown and outside my profession. Back between 1978 and 1980 I had Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame as the lead prosecutor in the Lake City murder prosecution of Ted Bundy. Every once in a great while someone would ask me about the case, and I would gladly share my reminiscences. I even wrote a book about the case, hoping that other lawyers who might someday be confronted with such a case could read the book and learn from the mistakes we made during the prosecution. 

Being a non-celebrity is perfectly fine with me. I get uncomfortable when people start paying attention to me. One of my favorite poems is Emily Dickenson’s “I’m Nobody—Who Are You?” The way I remember the poem is not quite the way she wrote it, but I like my version better: 

I’m nobody, who are you? 
Are you nobody, too? 
How dreary to be somebody, 
How public, like a frog, 
To croak away the livelong day 
To an admiring bog. 

Starting about 18 months ago, there was a spate of documentaries on Ted Bundy, and for some reason many of the documentarians wanted to interview me. I have never turned down an invitation to talk about one of my cases, so I got a good bit of face time on some of the documentaries. This stood in stark contrast to the news coverage of the time and the early documentaries that came out on Bundy in the 1980’s. At that time the Lake City case was virtually ignored by the media. People would ask me if I was in any of those documentaries, and I would tell them that if they paid close attention, they might catch a glimpse of the back of my head in a courtroom scene or two. 

Now, however, things were different. My main agenda for appearing on these documentaries was to counter the pop culture narrative that Ted Bundy was the second coming of Professor Moriarty. I tried hard to spread the news that Ted Bundy was nothing but a garden variety dirtbag who happened to have a pretty face, the gift of gab, and a slightly above average IQ. 

I failed, but there was an unintended consequence of appearing on these documentaries--I had become a movie star! Whoopee! I even had a page on the IMDb! In case you missed the irony, I’m being sarcastic. I mentioned earlier that I get uncomfortable when too much attention is paid to me. I became very uncomfortable with one aspect of this newly acquired attention. People started sending me pictures of Ted Bundy and asking for my autograph on them. 

When I got the first letter, I sat on it for several weeks trying to decide whether to ignore it. I finally decided that the cover letter seemed sincere, so I signed a couple of pictures of wanted posters and booking photos. I stopped short at signing pictures of just Ted Bundy. Answering that letter didn’t open a floodgate of letters seeking autographs, but I’d estimate that I got about one letter per month after that. Always there were booking photos and wanted posters, and always there were photos of just Bundy. I would sign the booking photos and wanted posters and send them back with a cover letter explaining my refusal to sign a photo of just Bundy. One of the photos was a picture of him standing in open court grinning like a mule eating briars. I’d rather have my fingernails ripped out with rusty pliers than sign something like that! 

Feeling guilty for my refusal to sign all the pictures, I began to enclose a 4x6 photo of Bundy taken at the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler the day after he got the death penalty in our case. My father was the Institutional Inspector at RMC back in 1980, and he got the photo for me. I’d sign that photo and explain its significance and say I’d enclosed it to make up for not signing all the proffered photos. Here's the photo:
The "A" at the beginning of his inmate number means this picture was taken on his second trip through RMC for his second conviction in the state of Florida. 

I occasionally run my name on Google, Bing, and a couple of other search engines just to see if anyone out there is libeling me, and that’s how I discovered I was on the IMDb. Over the years I’ve found some incredibly asinine things written about me, most of them knee slappingly funny. Tonight, however, I saw something that made me angry. 

Somebody had sold one of the wanted posters that I autographed on ebay for $499.99. There was a promise that the wanted poster would be accompanied by a certificate of authenticity attesting that I personally signed the poster in front of a representative of the seller. The representative must have been hiding behind the curtain in my home office when I signed it. I’m not sure how he got into the house through the locked door without being detected by our security system. [I’m being sarcastic again.] 

I’m not sure whether I ought to feel sympathy for the person who paid almost $500 for an autograph that he could have gotten for the price of sending me a letter containing a postpaid envelope. I feel like he was hoodwinked worse than I was. But it’s hard to generate sympathy for anybody who could be dumb enough to pay that much money for the signature of a non-celebrity like me on the picture of a dirtbag like Ted Bundy. 

As George W. Bush once tried (and failed) to say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” I am not signing any more wanted posters or booking photos of Ted Bundy. In the future, anyone sending me photos of that nature to be signed will have them returned unsigned. Just in case they really want my autograph for themselves rather than to sell on ebay, I will send them an autographed picture of the visual aid we used during final argument.



Monday, February 15, 2021

REVIEW OF LINCOLN'S LAST TRIAL

The "Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association" just published a review by me of a book entitled "Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case that Propelled Him to the Presidency." Here is a link to that review:"Lincoln's Last Trial: The Murder Case that Propelled Him to the Presidency," by Dan Abrams and David Fisher