Infrared Image of Boston Marathon Bomber Hiding in Boat

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This Day in History (February 27)

Feb 27, 1991: Video recreates the crime

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Artie Mitchell is shot to death by his brother Jim in his Corte Madera, California, house. When police responding to a 911 call by Artie’s girlfriend arrived at the house they found Jim wandering aimlessly outside carrying a rifle. Artie had been shot multiple times in the chest and head and was already dead.

The Mitchell brothers had made a fortune in the pornography business. They also owned a popular strip club in San Francisco and had wild lifestyles to match their profession. Despite their success, the brothers were constantly fighting, often in violent physical encounters. Jim Mitchell claimed that his brother’s death resulted from one of these fights.

However, based on the 911 call, the prosecution argued that it was first-degree, premeditated murder. Five out of the eight total shots from the rifle could be heard in the background of the 911 call with a 30-second gap between two of the shots. Thus, authorities maintained that Jim had shot the already-wounded Artie to death in cold blood.

At the trial in 1992, prosecutors sought to introduce an animated video that reconstructed the events of February 27, 1991. This video showed Jim shooting Artie with a final shot to the head. The defense attorneys vehemently objected to this evidence, maintaining that it was impossible to know which shots came at what time. Despite this major problem with the re-creation, the judge admitted the video.

Although the video was shown to the jury, the defense attacked the prosecution’s forensic experts and forced them to admit that pure speculation was at the heart of the video presentation. In the end, the jury only convicted Jim Mitchell of manslaughter. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Computer-generated video re-creations of crime scenes are being used more often today. The public got a taste of their quality during the O.J. Simpson trial, when several were presented on television news shows. However, they remain controversial. With so much left to interpretation, courts are sometimes hesitant to admit re-creations as evidence.

This Day in History (February 6)

Feb 6, 1998: Infamous school teacher goes back to prison

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A judge reinstates the suspended sentence of school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and sends her back to prison for seven years after she is caught violating a no-contact order with her former student Vili Fualaau, when she is found in a vehicle with the boy. Letourneau first met Fualaau when she was a teacher at Shorewood Elementary School, in the Seattle suburb of Burien, Washington, and he was a second-grader. During the summer of 1996, Letourneau, then 34 and a married mother of four, began a sexual relationship with her former sixth-grade student, then 12.

The relationship was eventually discovered and in February 1997, Letourneau was arrested for rape. In May of that year, the former teacher, who was born Mary Katherine Schmitz in California in 1962, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Audrey. That August, Letourneau pled guilty to two counts of second-degree child rape. Judge Linda Lau of King County Superior Court showed Letourneau leniency by suspending her 89-month sentence and the former school teacher was ordered to serve six months in jail, attend a treatment program and have no contact with Fualaau. Her case sparked a tabloid frenzy as well as a national debate over whether female sex offenders are treated differently than men who commit similar crimes.

On February 3, 1998, after being released from jail, Letourneau was discovered in a parked car with Fualaau and arrested for violating the conditions of her suspended sentence. Investigators found a large amount of cash in the vehicle, along with a passport and some baby clothes, indicating the couple might have been planning to flee the area with their young daughter. Three days later, on February 6, Judge Lau reinstated Letourneau’s original sentence and sent her back to prison. In October of that year, Letourneau gave birth to her second child with Fualaau, a daughter named Georgia. The children were raised by Fualaau’s mother while Letourneau remained in prison. Fualaau and his mother, Soona, later sued the Highline School District and city of Des Moines, Washington, for over $2 million, claiming police and school officials didn’t do enough to protect Vili. In May 2002, a jury ruled the Fualaaus were not entitled to any money.

In August 2004, Letourneau was released from prison after serving seven and a half years. A judge also lifted a ban prohibiting her from contacting Fualaau, by then an adult. On May 20, 2005, Letourneau, then 43, and Fualaau, then 22, wed in a ceremony with tight security at a winery in Woodinville, Washington. The couple’s two daughters served as flower girls and Letourneau’s daughter from her first marriage, which lasted from 1984 to 1999, was the maid of honor. The television show Entertainment Tonight negotiated exclusive rights to film the ceremony.

This Day in History (December 8)

Dec 8, 1980: John Lennon is murdered

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Singer John Lennon is shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside his apartment building in New York City. After committing the murder, Chapman waited calmly outside, reading a copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

Chapman was a troubled individual who was obsessed with Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of J. D. Salinger’s novel about a disaffected youth, and with various celebrities. While working as a security guard in Hawaii, he decided that Lennon was a phony and, while listening to Beatles tapes, Chapman decided to plan his murder.

Chapman purchased a gun in Hawaii and then traveled to New York. Although he called his wife to tell her that he was in New York to shoot Lennon, she ignored his threats. Unable to buy bullets in New York due to strict laws, Chapman flew to Atlanta and purchased hollow-nosed rounds to bring back.

On the day of the murder, Chapman bought an extra copy of The Catcher in the Rye and joined fans waiting outside The Dakota, Lennon’s apartment building. That evening, as Lennon walked by on his way into the building, Chapman shot him in the back and then fired two additional bullets into his shoulder as the singer wrenched around in pain.

On June 8, 1980, just two weeks before he was scheduled to present an insanity defense at trial, Chapman pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 20 years-to-life. Ironically, Chapman was sent to Attica prison, where–10 years earlier–rioting had inspired Lennon and wife, Yoko Ono, to record a benefit song to “free all prisoners everywhere.” In prison, Chapman became a born-again Christian and spent his time writing evangelical tracts for publication.

This Day in History (December 4)

Dec 4, 2009: Amanda Knox convicted of murder in Italy

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On this day in 2009, 22-year-old American exchange student Amanda Knox is convicted of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in 2007 in Perugia, Italy. Knox received a 26-year prison sentence, while her 25-year-old Italian ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito, who also was convicted in the slaying, was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. The sensational, high-profile case raised questions in the United States about whether Knox, who always maintained her innocence, received a fair trial. Then, in October 2011, in a decision that made international headlines, an Italian court reversed the murder convictions of both Knox and Sollecito and they were freed from prison.

On November 2, 2007, 21-year-old Kercher of Coulsdon, England, was found fatally stabbed in the bedroom of the home she shared with Knox and two other women in Perugia, the capital city of the Umbria region in central Italy. Investigators said the British exchange student had been slain the previous night. After questioning by police, Knox, a Seattle native and University of Washington student doing her junior year abroad in Italy, was arrested. She denied any wrongdoing, saying she was at computer science student Sollecito’s house the night the killing occurred. Police claimed Knox later gave them conflicting statements about her whereabouts at the time of the crime, and said she also accused her boss at a bar where she worked, who turned out to have a solid alibi, of Kercher’s murder. The American student, who was first questioned without an attorney or professional interpreter, said police coerced her into making the accusation as well as other incriminating statements. (The false accusation would later result in an extra year tacked on to Knox’s prison sentence.)

During the nearly yearlong trial that followed in 2009, Italian prosecutors charged that Knox, along with Sollecito and a third person, Rudy Guede, an Ivory Coast native, had viciously attacked Kercher in a sex game gone wrong. (Guede was convicted for his role in Kercher’s death in a separate, fast-track trial in 2008. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced to 16 years on appeal.) The prosecution’s main evidence against Knox included tiny traces of her DNA and that of Kercher’s on a knife discovered at Sollecito’s home. Traces of Knox’s DNA were also found on a bra clasp belonging to Kercher. Knox’s attorneys argued the bra clasp was found over a month after the murder at a contaminated crime scene, and that the knife blade couldn’t have made the wounds on the victim.

The case received extensive media coverage in the U.S. and Europe, where the attractive Knox was dubbed “Angel Face” and “Foxy Knoxy” by the tabloids. In the Italian and British press, Knox was painted as a promiscuous party girl. However, in America, she was often portrayed in the media as an innocent abroad, a young woman who had worked several jobs to earn money to study in Perugia, where she had been railroaded by an overzealous prosecutor.

Knox and Sollecito appealed their convictions, and at their subsequent trial court-appointed experts testified the original DNA evidence was unreliable and did not definitively link the young American and her former boyfriend to the crime. On October 3, 2011, a court in Perugia acquitted the two defendants of murder. The 24-year-old Knox, who been jailed in Italy since her 2007 arrest, flew home to the U.S. the following day.

This Day in History (November 12)

Nov 12, 2004: Scott Peterson convicted

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On this day in 2004, Scott Peterson is convicted of murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son. A jury of six men and six women delivered the verdict 23 months after Laci Peterson, who was pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve from Modesto, California. The case captivated millions across America and saturated national media coverage for almost two years.

When initially questioned about his wife’s whereabouts, Peterson claimed that Laci had disappeared sometime after leaving the house to walk their dog and after he left on a fishing trip to nearby San Francisco Bay. About one month later, Amber Frey, a 28-year-old massage therapist from Fresno, California, came forward to tell police that she’d had an affair with Scott Peterson, shattering his image as a devoted husband to his pretty and pregnant wife. As police continued to search for Laci and clues that might explain her disappearance, Scott Peterson sold her sports-utility vehicle, leading to suspicions that he might be trying to get rid of evidence.

The bodies of Laci and her baby were found washed up on shore near the marina where Scott Peterson kept his boat on April 13 and 14, 2003. Within a week, Scott Peterson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, with the special circumstance of double homicide, which opened the door for prosecutors to seek the death penalty. He was arrested in San Diego carrying large amounts of cash and his brother’s passport, and with a new hair color and cut, seemingly on the verge of running from police.

Soon after pleading not guilty to the charges, Peterson retained the legal services of well-known celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. His trial began on June 1, 2004. Over the course of the next 19 weeks, prosecutors introduced 174 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence designed to paint Scott Peterson as a cold and heartless man who continued to lie and cheat on his wife even as he appeared on television feigning despair over her disappearance. They pointed out how he referred to himself as a widower even before his wife’s body had been found. The prosecution’s case was hampered, however, by the fact that they had no eyewitness to the crime and had not found a weapon. Meanwhile, Geragos worked to convince the jury of an alternate scenario in which someone else had murdered Laci while she was walking the dog, then framed Scott after learning of his alibi from the news. Peterson did not take the stand.

Finally on this day in 2004, after seven days of deliberation that involved the replacement of two jurors, Scott Peterson was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife and the second-degree murder of his unborn son. He was unemotional during the reading of the verdict, which was greeted with cheers and celebration by Laci’s friends in the audience and the hundreds of supporters waiting outside the courthouse.

On March 16, 2005, Scott Peterson was formally sentenced to death by lethal injection.

This Day in History (October 27)

Oct 27, 1940: Mafia boss John Gotti is born

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John Joseph Gotti, Jr., the future head of the Gambino crime family and a man later nicknamed “the Dapper Don” due to his polished appearance and expensive suits, is born in the Bronx, New York. Gotti, the grandson of Italian immigrants, was raised in a poor family with 13 children. Growing up, he did errands for mobsters in his East New York neighborhood, joined a gang called the Fulton-Rockaway Boys and quit school at age 16. He racked up a series of arrests for petty crimes, but escaped real jail time until 1968, when he pled guilty to hijacking trucks near New York’s Kennedy International Airport (then called Idlewild Airport). He served three years in prison.

In 1974, Gotti was arrested for the revenge slaying of a man who had kidnapped and killed the nephew of crime family boss Carlo Gambino. Gotti was sentenced to four years; however, as a result of bribes to prison officials, he was allowed out to visit his family and associates. After Gotti was officially released from prison in 1977, he was promoted to captain in the Bergin crew of the Gambino family, the nation’s biggest and most powerful organized crime group. In December 1985, Gotti grabbed control of the Gambino family after ordering the murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steak house.

In 1985, the federal government, which had been wiretapping Gotti and his associates, accumulated enough evidence to indict him on federal racketeering charges. The subsequent trial, in 1986, resulted in an acquittal for Gotti, who the media dubbed “the Teflon Don” for his ability to avoid conviction. The jury foreman in the case was later convicted of accepting a large bribe to vote for the mob boss’s acquittal.

As head of the Gambino family, Gotti’s swagger and colorful style made him a tabloid press favorite and he raked in millions of dollars from criminal activities, all the while claiming to be a hard-working plumbing salesman. Government wiretaps revealed that behind the showy public image, he was a ruthless figure who wouldn’t tolerate disrespect from anyone. In December 1990, Gotti and several co-horts were arrested on a variety of charges at the Ravenite Social Club in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood. Mobster Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano eventually made a deal with the government to testify against his boss and in April 1992, a jury found Gotti guilty of 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. He was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where he was locked in a cell 23 hours a day.

On June 10, 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer at age 61 at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.