No Good Piracy Goes Punished

Wired Magazine’s most-recent print edition has an article entitled “Cutthroat Capitalism,” by Scott Carney. Carney’s discussion of Somali piracy is the best I’ve come across. The bottom line is that piracy on the high seas is not a problem for anyone. What is a problem is: 50% of the proceeds go to Islamic militant groups at war with us. In fact, pirates are the new suicide bombers—without the risk of death.

Carney took the time to examine statistics from the ICC International Maritime Bureau (check out the Live Piracy Report Center)and the Suez Canal Authority. From these sources he learned that:

  • Only 7.5 % of world shipping goes through the Suez Canal into the Gulf of Aden (the pirate’s waters).
  • Of the ships sailing in Somali waters, only 2/10ths of a percent are successfully attacked by pirates.
  • Because the problem is so insignificant, insurance companies find it less costly to pay ransoms than to insure armed guard forces on ships in the area.

According to Carney, the pirates are funded and armed by “financiers” (wealthy radical Islamists) through Somali tribal elders and land-based commanders and security guards. A mother ship launches the pirate attack squads. Once a ransom is taken, 50% of the proceeds goes to the financiers, 30% to the mother ship and pirates, 10% to the land-based security, and 10% to the elders.

There’s little risk to anyone involved—pirates and kidnap victims alike. In the year from April 2008 to April 2009, only 9 pirates died (5 killed by national navies and 4 by accident). More victims died (19), although the cause of death of 14 of those is unknown (they’re missing, presumed drowned, I suppose); 1 died as a result of a naval attack; 4 were killed by pirates. In addition, apparently the pirates are only able to extort ransom from Western shippers, so they automatically release African and Indian crews.

If Carney is correct, I have to wonder what the fuss was all about when the Maersk Alabama was captured earlier this year. Why didn’t the insurance company want to the pay the ransom? Is it possible that the American Navy need not really have gotten involved? Or was there something about the ship’s cargo and crew that made it unique?

At about the same time, a French boat was captured, and the French Navy attacked the pirates aboard it, too. The Tanit, though, was apparently a private yacht, and the pirates apparently didn’t understand the risk/benefit ratio. The French Navy killed them, along with the yacht’s owner (he may have been killed by the pirates—not sure about this) and skipper.

Now, however, the New York courts will be treated to the trial of one of the Somali pirates who attacked the Maersk Alabama unsuccessfully. Obviously, he and his crew were not good pirates. Good pirates tend to get away with it.

No one knows whether or not he’s really over 18, although the New York Daily News says the pirate’s father was contacted by the judge. The father apparently lied to the judge, but one has to assume the Somali father spoke English or had a good translator and that he was sufficiently proficient with numbers to be able to say exactly when his son was born (Somalia is not the world’s most literate or educated country—they don’t even have a native script—he didn’t have a birth certificate to check).

There’s hardly a presumption of innocence in this case. To claim a Somali youth who committed a crime on an American vessel is subject to American law and American rights seems a bit far-fetched to me. He will surely be found guilty by a jury who are not his peers and then be sent to prison for life at American taxpayer expense. (This is another jury I wouldn’t want to have to serve on.)

I must be missing something here. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights do not apply outside the U.S. Am I wrong? Yet the pirate was arrested by the F.B.I., not the Navy. And the F.B.I.’s charter is strictly American—they don’t police the rest of the world.

The U.S. Navy is charged with keeping the waterways safe for American vessels. And that’s what they did when the Maersk Alabama was captured. But it seems to me it’s the insurance companies that benefited, not American shipping, because all it meant was the insurers didn’t have to pay a ransom, which they wouldn’t have minded paying. And the arrest of the Somali pirate will not serve as a warning to other pirates: piracy is still the best way to make a living in Somalia.

A side note on Carney’s interesting article: He claims that private security contractors serve primarily as liaisons between the shippers and the pirates. Their role is not to protect ships but to see to it that no one is killed during a pirate attack and that the pirates or crew don’t destroy the ship in the process. (Of course, all I know about this comes from a Wired Magazine article. Who knows where the truth lies in this case?)

Sounds like a plot from John Le Carre, doesn’t it?

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Fake Bonds Mystery: The Hung Juror Speculates

A few days ago I wrote about the cause of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the American journalists detained in Pyongyang, and noted the dirty tricks the North Koreans continually play on South Korea and America. Recently, another strange “trick” against this country has begun to make the news: the smuggling into Italy of $134 billion in U.S. bonds by two supposed Japanese businessmen.

Gregory Dail summarizes the twists and turns of the mystery in the www.Examiner.com. Dail may be a bit of a conspiracy theorist—he’s puzzled by the Feds’ dismissal of the incident as irrelevant. But the fact is that this is the stuff that mystery novels are made of: incompetent counterfeiters and smugglers, international financial fraud, political finger-pointing.

I have a suggestion. If I were a thriller writer, I would plot the mystery in this way: maybe the Japanese smugglers are agents of the North Koreans. Japanese Communists immigrated into North Korea after World War II.  (See The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which begins with a concise history of the relationship between Japan and North Korea. I hope the Feds have read this book. Japan is no longer our enemy, although I’m not sure Mr. Dail knows this.)

A Reuters story hints that my idea isn’t entirely absurd, the idle speculations of a fiction-writer’s mind.

First gavel-to-gavel coverage?

According to the Madison, WI, Capital Times, the first-ever gavel-to-gavel TV coverage of a criminal trial was the Hoffman murder trial (1980), although Goldfarb’s TV or Not TV doesn’t refer to it. However, the newspaper article is a very interesting account of the high-profile trial of a gorgeous, young woman—the sort of criminal defendant that has since become de rigueur in tabloid news (think Casey Anthony).

I came across this long-forgotten case when searching for information about the effects of pretrial publicity, a topic that seems to have fallen by the wayside since the O.J. Simpson murder-trial circus. In his case, while pretrial publicity was enormous, we seem only to remember the televised trial itself. (You might also remember that the trial was broadcast on radio, too, so we wouldn’t miss a word while commuting to work.)

Apparently, a Madison reporter named Karl Harter wrote a true-crime account of the Hoffman murders and trial: Winter of Frozen Dreams, which might make interesting reading (though now out of print, it rates five stars on Amazon). The book was recently fictionalized and made into a movie of the same name—not well reviewed. The trailer rather says it all: I can’t figure out why the actress (Thora Birch) who plays Barbara Hoffman appears to be wearing a wig.

The trial verdict is interesting. Of the two murders charged, Hoffman was only convicted of one, presumably because of “reasonable doubt” about the way the second victim died. I suspect the jury was confused by the prosecution’s presentation.

Hoffman was accused of poisoning a man named Berge with cyanide and then asking a man named Davies to help her dispose of the body. Davies went to the police, but before the trial he was found dead in his bathtub, himself the victim of cyanide. However, he left behind letters recanting his testimony against Hoffman. The jury found her guilty of the first murder (Berge) but not the second (Davies).

Does this make sense? They must have felt that Davies’ death was suicide and his “deathbed” recantation of his accusations was false; therefore his accusations must have been true. But who commits suicide with cyanide? Besides, Hoffman was a biochemistry student at the UW-Madison—a student of chemicals like cyanide.

The Juror Investigates eCrime

I’m going to be very circumspect in what I say in this blog post, because I risk being de-ranked by various search engines and targeted by some legal eagles. But if you’re an artist of any kind and maintain a web presence, you need to be very careful. Everyone will suspect you of piracy—when you are the one who is likely to have your work pirated, not vice versa.


Certain entities in the U.S. are in their death throes because they don’t understand new media. They prowl the web in search of people to sue for the slightest apparent copyright infringement. Why? Because they aren’t selling enough movies, books, and music; their revenues are dwindling. They’ll soon be out of jobs if they don’t take draconian measures now.


They hate DRM-free art (Digital Rights Management), especially unprotected video, music, and books. These lawyers don’t work for artists—they work for producers and publishers, who are themselves dependent on artists to whom they pay puny royalties (on a $7.99 paperback, the author gets from $0.68 to $1.20—not exactly a living wage, is it, since it takes a least a year or two to write one? A bestseller sells as few as 5,000 copies.).


So, it appears that because I publish DRM-free ebooks, use iStockPhoto.com’s royalty-free images (after paying the fees to iStockPhoto.com), and occasionally link to YouTube or other online images, they are running this blog through their meat-grinder—even to the extent of scouring un-posted files that I might have stored online, files that are mine–my copyrighted material.


There are lawyers out there who will swamp your web pages with an intrusive spider that increases your band width charges and can cost you a ton of money. It can also cause your sites and blogs to be flagged improperly as a spam site by legitimate search-engine crawlers. In addition, this intrusive spider invades your privacy by searching through everything you have posted on your server, even confidential files that you have not posted publicly. (Think Picasa family albums that have password protection.)


Please read this article by North Yorkshire UK artist Ken Beyer: http://www.nyart.co.uk/index.php?subaction=showfull&id=1239732649&archive=&start_from=&ucat=1&


How Do You Know If You’re A Victim?


Check your site stats. If you don’t have a good site stat program installed, I recommend www.statcounter.com, because it’s free and detailed. Embed their code in every web page or in the blog template, as I have done. The stats reports will identify the IP addresses listed in Mr. Beyer’s article.


If you fear it’s too late—that you’ve already been de-ranked by a search engine because of unknown causes or have had to pay excess bandwidth charges recently—you still need to take action.


What Do You Do?


Ban the malicious IP addresses from visiting your site. To do this, you will need to use a program that permits you to list and block specific IP addresses. Check with your ISP for advice. You may be able to upload a file named htaccess to your hosted server, or you may be able to embed a Java script.


Copyrights


I am a staunch supporter of copyrights. I would never intentionally violate anyone’s copyrights or pirate any material. I don’t particularly want my material to be pirated either—but I give away much of my work for free, because I would rather have people read my stories than let a third-party publisher control readers’ access to it.


Juror privacy rights?

I’ve said before that lawyers fear jurors (and it’s clearly because they know they can’t control jurors and aren’t even sure they can persuade them). Surfing the web, I’ve come across several lawyer blogs with a “teach-em-to-heel” theme. One that’s very interesting is a WI lawyer’s blog (she seems to want to remain nameless) called “Deliberations.”

  • Caveat: Turn off your speakers before you click the link, because you’ll get a Starbuck’s ad and then a loud TV voice.

But, if you’re on your way to jury duty, I urge you to study this site. Among the most interesting items there is a “Voir Dire Resources” link. Included are real jury questionnaires. They will shock you if you think jurors have a right to privacy.

Take a look at People v. Juan Luna (Brown’s Chicken Massacre, a case that took decades to solve). I note that the document is labeled “proposed,” so I don’t know that it was actually used in the trial. Let’s hope not.

Why? First, a prospective juror’s responses to the questions are public. They are provided to both the defense and the prosecution in advance of voir dire so the lawyers can ask further questions. Voir dire is conducted in open court, in front of not only the accused, his friends, family, and gang, but also the public, which may include bloggers and journalists.

Once a juror is selected to serve, the questionnaires and the voir dire become part of the official trial records. These records are available to the public after the trial. If the losing side in a trial wishes, it can pursue legal action against a juror based on the questionnaire and voir dire responses (perjury charges, for example).

Now I’m all for honest jurors without an ax to grind. And I appreciate lawyers’ fears that a lying, bitter, prejudiced citizen might end up on a jury. But the vast majority of people who serve on juries aren’t like that—but they give up their privacy anyway.

In the People v. Juan Luna questionnaire, note that right up front they want your Social Security Number. (I guess they never heard of identity theft or at least don’t care if jurors end up with ruined credit when the defendant’s deadbeat brother gets hold of the questionnaire.)

On page 3, the questionnaire asks not only for your complete, current address but also all prior addresses since the crime occurred. Why? Because the lawyers plan to do a complete credit search and background search and they want you to make it easy for them. All they really need to know legally is that you are a citizen residing in the court’s jurisdiction and there’s no reason to believe you can’t be objective. How does your residential history figure into that?

Questions 9 and 10 (smallest and largest communities in which the juror ever resided) are a trick to get the juror to reveal addresses before the crime occurred—completely irrelevant but useful for impugning a juror.

Then it gets really personal. I’ll let you read that for yourself, but I would like to point out that it asks for personal information about everyone in your extended family, your employers, and your friends and acquaintances. In other words, they want prospective jurors to expose private matters of everyone in their social network, not only themselves. In the two voir dire sessions I sat through, the judge asked everyone about family members prior involvement in trials—that’s all. I felt this was intrusive, foolish me.

The only question they forgot to ask was: What is your Facebook login ID and password?

If I ever receive a summons with a questionnaire like this attached, I plan to consult a lawyer before I respond.

North Korea: The Aquariums of Pyonyang

I’m sure most Americans don’t know that travel into North Korea isn’t forbidden. If you visit South Korea’s capital, Seoul, you can take day trips into the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and even further. Not that any sane person (IMHO) would want to travel north of Seoul.

Last year I spent several days in Seoul. It was a poignant experience after reading Chol-hwan Kang’s The Aquariums of Pyonyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag. The contrast between Seoul and Pyonyang is unimaginable until you’ve been there. I thought about writing a review of the book for Amazon—and I don’t know why I didn’t; maybe it’s too gut-wrenching. I’m not sure I can explain the experience.

  • Sidebar: During my visit to Seoul, North Korean agitators were stirring up anti-American feeling by spreading rumors about imported American beef. Everyone in South Korea knows that the North Koreans have special ops throughout the South.

The detention of Laura Ling and Euna Lee in Pyonyang, though, seems to make the discussion essential now.

The Story of Laura Ling and Euna Lee

This is a very strange story. I haven’t heard a logical presentation of it anywhere. The women weren’tcaptured” by the North Koreans. They didn’t have to sneak across the border. It’s done every day, especially by Asians. Chinese are welcomed there. Japanese Communists were once a large minority group in North Korea.

The State Department’s response, too, seems inappropriate, especially given the obvious fact that the North Koreans only detained the two women because they want America’s attention. Why not just give it to them? The North Korean government is behaving like an infant strangling a kitten because Mommy isn’t in the room. The multilateral talks were working during the Bush Administration; but now a new President has chosen simply to ignore North Korea. (Ignoring is very different from acknowledging that the problem is largely an Asian problem.)

Americans don’t understand that North Korea is frozen in time: it’s 1952 there. The population is kept completely isolated from the rest of the world. They have no idea that the war is over, even though a treaty hasn’t been signed. They are at war with America.

North Korea has NO economy, NO industry, NO farming—nothing. There’s a perpetual famine. They have no oil or gas and need little, because they have few vehicles with internal combustion engines other than trucks left over from the Korean War era. They have no trains to speak of outside Pyonyang. So, even if they had goods to transport inside the country, they couldn’t transport them.

Pyonyang is like the Emerald City, and Kim Jung-Il is the Wizard of Oz. Only special, privileged people are permitted to live in the Emerald City. If you utter a single “discouraging word,” you’re spirited away in the middle of the night (as was Chol-hwan Kong at age 10) to a “work camp” so monstrous it makes some of the Nazi concentration camps seem tenable. I say this advisedly: the North Koreans aren’t engaged in genocide; they don’t want their detainees to die—they want them to suffer unimaginably for as long as possible so that eventually they will join the sing-along.

So, the threat of ten years in a work camp for Laura Ling and Euna Lee is a promise of ten years’ torture.

Current TV

Then there’s the peculiar fact that Laura Ling and Euna Lee were sent to North Korea by a cable TV channel startup called Current TV owned by former VP Al Gore.

Given that the Clinton-Gore Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, had such a good relationship with Kim Jung-Il, wouldn’t you expect Mr. Gore to try to establish personal contact with the North Koreans on his employees’ behalf? Maybe that’s all the attention the North Koreans need from America. Maybe they would release the two women as a personal favor to their old friend.

Kim Jung-Il, Movie Mogul

I have another theory, and as ludicrous as it sounds I’m quite serious. Kim Jung-Il’s dream is to become an international movie producer and recognized director. He even kidnapped a director once and forced him to make a film with him. Both North and South Korea have large film industries.

It seems to me that Kim Jung Il may be detaining these beautiful women for their on-camera potential.

It also seems to me that all America would need to do—to gain the women’s release AND to end the nuclear standoff—is offer to build a massive movie studio in North Korea with all the latest technology.

I’m quite serious. Give North Korea Universal Studios.

Chalk Ghost

I’ve finally finished the novella Chalk Ghost and organized it with a “Table of Contents.” If you visit http://chalk-ghost.blogspot.com, you should find a list of the chapters. Click on “Chapter 1: Out of Time” and begin.

I’ve had some difficulty promoting the story. People who have read it have responded positively. I would be very grateful if you would take a look. It’s about 15,000 words. You can print it out. If you do read and if you do like it, please comment on this blog or email me.


This story explores the world of Hmong immigrants to the U.S.—not all of whom are willing. In 2005 you may remember the trial of a Hmong man in Wisconsin for mass murder. He took over a hunting blind belonging to other hunters and ended up killing six people and wounding two others. It was a bizarre and tragic incident.


It’s my opinion that many cultures, such as the Hmong, are not compatible with American culture. It isn’t that I think other cultures aren’t valuable; it isn’t that I think America should be exclusionary. But culture runs very deep. Cultures are different. Immigrants aren’t always better off here. Of course, the Hmong are exiles from their homeland. They have few places to go.


The story also explores the ways our laws encourage the exploitation of certain vulnerable people.


The events I fictionalize in Chalk Ghost are plausible. For example, in 2006 an elderly Wisconsin man was discovered dead in his house. His legal guardian lived next door—he had done nothing to care for the man. The guardian was put on trial.


When I was a kid, we knew our neighbors. Now we “respect our neighbors’ privacy.”

Illinois Puffer Fish Indictment: Ed Bachner, financier

Chicago’s ABC News has posted online the full indictment of Ed Bachner, the financial consultant charged with murdering his wife with puffer-fish toxin. The indictment makes fascinating reading. My question is: Are indictments in the public record?

One of the aspects of the trial in which I was a juror that most surprised me was that the jury did not receive a copy of the indictment. Instead, the judge read it very rapidly before the opening statements. This particularly confused me, because it seemed to me that our job as jurors was to decide whether the state proved the charges in the indictment.

In the end, because of the way the judge handled the trial and then instructed us, I’ve concluded that the judge simply didn’t like the charges in the indictment. She rewrote them in our jury instructions. In fact, I looked up the statutes involved after the trial: the judge reworded the kidnapping statute in the written jury forms.

I know a judge has the right to dismiss inappropriate charges after the prosecution rests and to add “lesser and included charges.” I also know that a judge can overturn a guilty verdict at the end of a trial. But I don’t think a judge has the right to add charges to an indictment or to rewrite a state’s statutes.

It seems to me that if an indictment is public in advance of a trial, then the jury in the trial ought to be able to see it in writing.

But, as I’ve said many times: I am not a lawyer.

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Enough Is Too Much: Child Rapist Gets Almost 4 Months in Jail

According to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, a prosecutor and judge in Oklahoma conspired to permit a 64 year old man to cop a plea for child rape that netted him less than 4 months in jail, because he’s been held already for about 8 months (time served). The usual sentence in OK is 20 years.


And it wasn’t a single act of rape of a minor. This was multiple rapes of a 5 year old. In addition, a 6 year old boy was caused to engage in sex with the 5 year old—all while the single mother of the two victims permitted this monster to babysit for them. The mother agreed to the plea bargain, supposedly to prevent her daughter from having to testify (as if 5 year olds are put on the stand in open court these days).


Ever hear of videotaped testimony? Ever hear of surveillance cameras in the home to watch “caregivers”?


Names to remember:


David Harold Earls, child rapist, pedophile, sexual predator


Tim Mills, defense attorney


Assistant D.A., Lisa Birdwell


Assistant D.A., Mike Miller


District Judge Tom Bartheld


Names we should know: the mother of these poor little kids—why is she allowed to retain custody of them?



  • According to the MacAlester News-Capital: “Earls told McAlester police in September that he was a ‘grandpa-type figure’ who had baby-sat the girl and her young brother several times while their mother was at work. He also told police that mothers near his home would allow their daughters to come sleep with him, according to the court affidavit filed in the case by McAlester police Det. Frankie McClendon.

It sounds to me as if Detective McClendon is the hero in this tragedy.


More Evidence for 3-Strikes-And-You’re-Out


According to the above newspaper:



  • “The charge against Earls had been filed with the prior conviction enhancement for a 1992 burglary in Pushmataha County that resulted in a five-year sentence, and a 1996 conviction in Hughes County for assault with a dangerous weapon that resulted in a 20-year sentence.”

I guess they have a problem with big numbers in Oklahoma. 1992 + 5 = 1997 and 1996 + 20 = 2016.


 


Freedom of Speech Is Not Freedom to Threaten

I’ve been thinking a lot about threats and juries lately.

Going over the page proofs for my novel Verdict Déjà vu yesterday, I came across this passage on the topic of threats and juries, which I’d forgotten I’d written :

  • “Iris [my juror character] wondered [ . . . ] if she should report the anonymous call to the judge, but finally decided against it, because he might use it as an excuse to dismiss her. Nor did she wish to be accused of being a typical, helpless, frightened female, especially when she could not even prove she had really been threatened.”

A female juror character in the BBC series “The Jury” (2002) has almost exactly the same experience and same reaction.

I suspect most people don’t know it’s a crime to make a threat. (I also suspect most people don’t know that jurors’ identities are in the public records—at least in this country. If “The Jury” is to be believed, in Britain jurors’ identities are kept secret. I’ve written before that I think this would be a good policy.)

During the Brandon Craig trial I temporarily closed comments on this blog, because some comments on blog posts about the trial contained threats. It isn’t pleasant—to say the least—to have this happen, but my online experience is that people say stupid, cruel things online all the time, so I didn’t really take it seriously. That was a mistake. Threats are crimes.

When novelist June Shaw recently wrote a guest blog, she mentioned that she served on a jury in an armed robbery case in which there was no gun, only the threat of a gun. I did a little research and discovered that in many jurisdictions armed robbery is defined as robbery with a gun or with the threat of a gun. At the time that struck me as strange—as so many legalities do—but now on reflection I realize the wisdom of this.

Threats are a form of terrorism (and terrorism is injurious to us all, regardless of the Feds’ desire to eradicate the term from our vocabulary). Threats are often the precursor to physical acts of violence.

We’re all taught as children that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I wonder why. That jingle isn’t true. Words do hurt, and we all know it. In fact, it was apparently the words of one of my Craig-trial posts that impacted some people enough to cause them to respond with threats (and I’m not referring to the friend of one of the murder victims who chastised me for being callous to the suffering of the victims’ families—I think he misread what I had written, but he was certainly entitled to express his opinion).

Schools seem to be a hotbed of threats these days. Grade-school, middle-school, and high-school children threaten their classmates and teachers. Some follow through with violent, bloody attacks. Growing up doesn’t seem to help the situation, either. College students make threats; college students go on shooting rampages.

College students use the Internet to threaten classmates, teachers, and even public officials. I doubt there’s a college in the country that hasn’t been contacted by the FBI about threats emanating from their servers or a college teacher in this country who hasn’t been threatened by at least one student. I thought colleges used to be “the ivory tower”—”the alma mater.” But that must have been a very long time ago. I’ve been involved in academe for more decades than I like to admit. And the whole time I felt threatened.

Someone needs to educate young people about threats. The problem is out of hand.

If anyone under thirty is reading this blog post, please pay attention to what I have to say:

Freedom of speech is a precious gift from our Founding Fathers. Freedom of speech is granted to Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is not one of the “god-given human rights” that everyone seems to cite as justification for their bad behavior. American law gives us the right to speak our minds about politics, religion, ethics, and facts and to use words, music, and art to express ourselves as well.

The law expressly prohibits some forms of speech, though: libel, slander, “hate speech,” incitement, and speech that shows gross disregard for human life, such as crying “Fire” in a crowded place or urging someone to commit suicide—and the law prohibits threats of many kinds, not only threats of violence. Advertisers can’t make fraudulent claims about their products and services. Creditors are prohibited from making threats or even from nuisance dunning to collect debts. Blackmail is a form of threat, even when the threat is only to expose secrets or otherwise embarrass someone, hold him up to ridicule, or “turn him in” for some crime.

You can’t say everything you want to and claim you’re exercising your “freedom of speech.” You can’t say truly hurtful things, even when the person to whom or about whom you say them may well deserve to be hurt. You can’t make false or idle threats, because there’s no such thing. You can’t threaten people, even if they’re criminals. If you do, it makes you a criminal, too.

And you can’t say everything you want to on the Internet and in email just because you think you’re anonymous online. First of all, there is no such thing as anonymity or privacy online—and it’s about time young people figured this out, because acting as if the truth is otherwise is stupid.

Even if you were anonymous, you still could not legally threaten anyone. For speech to be a threat, there’s no requirement that the speaker’s name must be known. Terrorists rarely put return addresses on their threats. Blackmailers don’t put return addresses on their threats. Ransom notes bear no return addresses.

Threats are threats, no matter who makes them.

If you think about the Brandon Craig murder trial, you realize that the brutal massacre of three high-school students in 1999 apparently started with threats—it was all about threats, according to prosecution witnesses.

Caveat: I am not a lawyer. I know nothing about this case but what I’ve heard on TV and read online. Mr. Craig was found not proven guilty. What I’m about to say is pure speculation of my part (as a fiction writer) and is based only on what little trial testimony I heard.

From what I’ve heard of the testimony, the problem allegedly started when a teenage girl allegedly distributed drugs to Craig. On the witness stand she said she gave Craig $500’s worth of cocaine to sell “on credit” (my words). If so, she was incredibly stupid. The last person I would give credit to would be a drug dealer. But that’s what I heard her say she had done.

Then, according to this same witness, one night she nagged Craig to pay her back. Craig, allegedly, claimed he couldn’t pay her back because he had not been paid for the dope he sold.

I’m uncertain about who this “deadbeat” buyer was. Perhaps Craig is alleged to have named one of the victims. Perhaps the teenage girl was too stoned to know who Craig claimed owed him the money. But, if I heard her testimony correctly (and I may not have), she was essentially threatening Craig in some way to get him to cough up the money she thought he owed her.

Then she and Craig and two others got stoned, allegedly, got in a car (Craig in the driver’s seat), allegedly, and went out “gunning” for the deadbeat, allegedly. I suppose the idea wasn’t to go kill someone—that wouldn’t have made any sense if they really wanted their money. The idea must have been
to threaten people with the gun so they would pay up. Right? Or am I missing a lot here?

Threats. Kids thinking threats are cool. Kids making threats to make themselves feel important and powerful.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve heard alleged by the prosecution in the trial. Threats, followed by violence.

  • Even as I write this, I wonder about issues of freedom of speech related to discussing a past trial in which the defendant was found not guilty. I agree with the jury that the prosecution did not prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” although I also believed the substance of the accusers’ testimony, if not every detail. Clearly, someone “out there” murdered three innocent teenagers. The prosecution witnesses’ testimony alleged that threats and drugs were at the root of the crime.