Old arson cases reviewed in Texas
Is Douglas Boyington an innocent man?
HUNTSVILLE, Texas — The fire started in the apartment
building’s utility shaft. The space was narrow, wood-framed
and as tall as a chimney. Water pipes and electric lines snaked through
it, then out, into the three-story brick building. By the time the
first fire investigator arrived, at 7:05 p.m. on August 16th, 1988,
bright yellow flames had burst through the roof. Black smoke billowed
With hundreds of hours of training, investigators
combat arson with science
PASADENA, Texas —
Inside a fluorescent-lit training room in a squat office building
in Pasadena, a city of 150,000 southeast of Houston, Robert Brown
pointed his Nikon camera at two crime scene markers on a table in
front of him. Brown, a local fire investigator, clicked, then leaned
back and explained. “To get real blunt about it,” said
Brown, 50, “When you take a picture of a burned body, to the
untrained eye, you'd never see the body in there.”
California's Great Prison Experiment
On February 22, 1998, Pete Gallagher arrived at Building
13 at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California. It was Gallagher’s
thirteenth year behind bars, and he’d already done time in
Chino, Folsom, San Quentin and, most recently, the Richard J. Donovan
Correctional Facility outside San Diego. Building 13 was large,
open, fluorescent-lit and crammed with double bunks. Inmates were
everywhere. It reminded Gallagher of a warehouse or a military barracks.
He took one look, then found a corrections officer. “I’m
not going to live like this,” he told him. “Take me
to the hole.”
one state discovered a simple way to combat domestic violence?
Jo’Anna Bird arrived at her family’s two-story, wood-frame
house at about 11 p.m. on a winter night three years ago. The house
sits on a quiet street in one of the poorer corners of one of America’s
richest counties: New Cassel, in Nassau, on Western Long Island. Bird,
24, was a mother of two who often wore her long brown hair in a ponytail.
She had worked as a school bus monitor, a medical assistant, a Walmart
cashier, a supervisor at BJ’s Wholesale Club, and she now hoped
to be a corrections officer. She had come to stay with her mother
and stepfather because the possessiveness of her ex-boyfriend—the
father of her young son—had evolved into something much more
frightening, and she did not want to be alone.
Texas-Size Reparations for the Wrongfully
In 2006, after serving 19 years and 11 months in a
Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit, Billy Smith was exonerated
of all charges and set free. He was 54. Despite clearing his name,
he’s never been able to find a job. “Who wants to hire
someone who’s 61 years old and who’s an ex-convict?”
Smith says. “Even though I’m exonerated, people don’t
consider that because I was in prison for 20 years.”
Texas is well known for its prodigious use of the death penalty—on
Halloween, it carried out its 250th execution under Republican Governor
Rick Perry’s 12-year tenure. It’s also the most generous
state in the nation when it comes to showing remorse for locking up
the wrong man. Under a law Perry signed in 2009, Texas will pay Smith
about $80,000 a year for the rest of his life. He’s also eligible
for the same health-care insurance as employees of the Texas Department
of Criminal Justice. Money can’t replace his lost years, Smith
says, but he’s now married and owns a home. The activists who
persuaded Perry to support the cash settlements are lobbying Texas
lawmakers to expand the law to include health coverage for ex-prisoners’
Quite a Reporter, but Raking the Muck and Reaping the Wrath
Daniel Cavanagh was nervous.
He paced the living room of his duplex apartment collecting his things:
a large digital camera, an iPhone, a black leather jacket.
“I’m about to get crushed,” he said, running his
hands through his hair.
Then Mr. Cavanagh, 26, drove the three blocks to St. James Evangelical
Lutheran Church — the meeting place of the Gerritsen Beach Property
Owners Association. It was early this month, and it was the first
time Mr. Cavanagh had been back to the church’s large meeting
room since November, when his simmering relationship with the small,
isolated neighborhood in South Brooklyn had exploded.
Know When to Kill Them
Dope, guns and Republican blood lust in Mendocino
The village of Westport is the last outpost before Mendocino
County's northern coast disappears into a roadless swath of rugged
shoreline and redwood-carpeted hills. It is spread across roughly
one mile by one-half mile of coast, and has one store, two gas pumps
and 47 registered voters. Retirees are Westport’s dominant demographic,
and 15 miles of coiling coastal highway separate it from the closest
In this very small village, there is one political entity —
the five-member Westport County Water District, which oversees the
local volunteer fire department and provides sewage treatment and
water to several dozen homes. In this very small district, there have
been many fiery debates over the years between board members: Sheriff’s
deputies were called to intervene at a meeting. Recalls have been
organized. And in one now infamous case in 2005, Alan Simon, the board
chairman at the time, was nearly killed in the doorway of his home
by nine shots from a semi-automatic .22 Ruger pistol.
Hunting a Suspect on His Own Tough Turf
In the ominous photograph, Aaron Bassler’s pants appear ripped
and soiled. With his left hand, he is reaching through a window; in
his right hand is a black semiautomatic assault rifle.
The image, recently snapped by a surveillance camera at a cabin that
the police believe was burglarized, is the latest sighting of Mr.
Bassler, 35, a local man wanted in connection with two murders here.
For the last month, Mr. Bassler, whom relatives describe as mentally
ill, has eluded the police by nimbly traversing a large swath of forestland
in Mendocino County, an isolated area three hours north of San Francisco.
It is the most intensive manhunt ever undertaken by the sheriff’s
office, Sheriff Tom Allman said.
Dispatch From The Weed Wars
Oaky Joe & The Pot Police
Volume is the first thing you notice about Joe Munson: He doesn’t
seem to have much control over it. The hearing aids stuffed in his
ears are next. They’re the result of being an alcoholic. More
specifically, they’re the result of going on a bender in Pontiac,
Illinois, of talking shit to a very large man, of receiving an asskicking
so severe his jaw broke in three places and his hearing vanished.
That was more than 20 years ago—before Munson, 46, met his
wife, Atsuko. It was before he quit the juice and had two kids. It
was before he became known as “Oaky Joe”—a name
that’s derived, depending on the day you ask, from a firewood
business he once ran or because he says “OK” to everything.
It was before he became one of the area’s most combative—and,
literally, one of its loudest—disgruntled medical pot growers.
Press For Change
Q&A With Salvadoran presidential candidate Mauricio
Mauricio Funes has given up his career as a TV journalist
in a bid to become president of El Salvador. Ahead in the polls, he's
the new face of the FMLN, the former left-wing guerrilla group. Would
victory see him join the Chavez camp?