Court Orders New Sentencing for D.C. Sniper Malvo

A federal appeals court threw out the four life sentences that Lee Boyd Malvo received for his role in the 2002 Beltway sniper shootings that occurred in Virginia when he was 17. The ruling cites the 2012 Supreme Court decision that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles.

A federal appeals court threw out the four life sentences that Lee Boyd Malvo received for his role in the 2002 Beltway sniper shootings that occurred in Virginia when he was 17, reports the Washington Post. The unanimous ruling from the three-judge panel cites the 2012 Supreme Court decision that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles. The court later made that decision retroactive. Malvo would face new sentencing hearings in two jurisdictions in Virginia. He pleaded guilty in Spotsylvania County and agreed to two life sentences without parole, and was convicted by a jury in Chesapeake and given the same punishment. The convictions still stand. Under Virginia law, the jury in Chesapeake had only two possible sentences to weigh for the capital murder convictions: death or life in prison without parole.

Virginia’s attorney general can ask the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit to rehear the case, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or move forward with new sentencing hearings. Malvo, 33, and John Allen Muhammad also killed six people in the Maryland suburbs of Washington during a three-week period that terrorized the region. Muhammad was executed in Virginia in 2009. Thursday’s ruling does not apply to the six life sentences Malvo received in Maryland after he pleaded guilty to six murder charges. A judge upheld the sentences, saying there was not a requirement to impose a sentence of life without parole. In the Virginia case, three judges wrote that their conclusions were made “not with any satisfaction but to sustain the law.” The judges called the shootings “the most heinous, random acts of premeditated violence conceivable, destroying lives and families and terrorizing the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for over six weeks, instilling mortal fear daily in the citizens of that community.”


One Dead, 22 Hospitalized in New Jersey Shooting

A 24-hour celebration that showcases local artists in Trenton, N.J., became the Wild West early Sunday amidst a fight inside a warehouse. One person was killed and numerous others were injured in a shootout at the Art All Night celebration. The violence was predicted in a Facebook post on Saturday morning

A 24-hour celebration that showcases local artists in Trenton, N.J., became the Wild West early Sunday amidst a fight inside a warehouse. One person was killed and numerous others were injured in a shootout at the Art All Night (AAN) celebration. Officials say about 1,000 people were at the event, with many hanging outside the warehouse, The Trentonian reports. “When we got here around 2:30, it didn’t look like we were coming to Art All Night,” city resident Franco Roberts said. “It looked like we were outside of a Philadelphia club after the bar closes and people who don’t want to leave are standing around their cars smoking and drinking.”

Officials say that before the shooting there were physical altercations both inside and outside the warehouse prompted police to shut down the event. Authorities say off- and on-duty police in the area fired their service weapons as the suspects fled the building while shooting at each other. Tahaij Wells, 32, died at the hospital after suffering gunshot wounds. Officials say he was one of the suspects exchanging gunfire with others inside the warehouse before running outside. Investigators believe he was shot by a cop after police saw him engaged in the shootout. At least 17 people were struck by gunfire, including a 13-year-old boy. A total of 22 people were taken to the hospital to treat injuries. There was chatter about the shooting more than 15 hours before it happened. A Facebook post at 11:25 a.m. Saturday said: “Please please DO NOT GO TO ART ALL NIGHT! THEY WILL BE SHOOTING IT UP!”


Chicago Braces as Summer–and Shooting Season–Arrives

While shootings have declined in Chicago, violence continues to acutely impact a handful of neighborhoods. Both residents and the police know that Memorial Day weekend often brings a spike in gunplay.

When 80-degree temperatures roll into Chicago in time for Memorial Day weekend, Solomon Johnson knows just where he’ll be: Safely inside his centrally cooled home in the Austin neighborhood, maybe slipping out for a barbecue dinner at his grandmother’s home in a safer neighborhood. There have been too many shootings around his home, and there’ll be even more as the weather finally turns. While shootings are down across the city, they have been concentrated in three West Side police districts that border each other: Harrison, Austin and Ogden. The districts rank first, second and third in the number of people shot this year, data shows. In the first week of May, nearly half the shootings in the city occurred there.

The Chicago Police Department plans to deploy more than 1,000 extra officers to contain violence over the weekend and, as in years past, hundreds of them will be sent to the West Side. Just how many, the department will not say. Two years ago, 27 of the 69 people hit by gunfire over the Memorial Day weekend were shot in or near the Harrison District. So many were shot there that patrols were beefed up. Nine more people were shot over the next two days. Last year, more officers were sent into the district and no shootings were reported there, though violence continued in the other West Side districts. This year, Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson would only say that a “large police presence” will be added to the lakefront, parks, the CTA, as well as neighborhoods.


Gunman Ranting About Trump in Shootout at Resort

Jonathan Oddi removed a flag from the back of the Trump National Doral Miami resort and entered the lobby shouting “anti-Trump rhetoric,” later shooting into the ceiling and chandeliers as officer rushed in. Five officers fired and Oddi suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the legs.

A gunman ranting about President Trump walked into the lobby of Trump National Doral Miami resort early Friday morning, draped an American flag on the counter and began firing, the Miami Herald reports. The man — identified as Jonathan Oddi, 42, who was not a guest at the resort — waited in the lobby for police officers to arrive before luring them into a gunfight, authorities said. During the gunfight, the man was struck several times in the lower body. No workers at the resort or guests were injured.

Miami-Dade’s police director said Oddi removed a flag from the back of the property and entered the lobby shouting “anti-Trump rhetoric,” later shooting into the ceiling and chandeliers as officer rushed in. Five officers fired and Oddi suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the legs. Doral mayor J.C. Bermudez said authorities do not believe the shooting was terrorism related. The shooting unfolded at the sprawling West Miami-Dade resort, which was bought by the Trump Organization in 2012 and used to host the popular World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. The President’s son, Eric Trump, tweeted his appreciation to the police departments involved in the shootout.


Records Show TX Shooter Was ‘Ticking Time Bomb’

Newly released records on Devin Kelley, who killed 26 in a Texas church, depict him as an incompetent airman who tried to project an image as a God-fearing, aspiring family man even as his ferocious temper and a compulsion toward brutality were apparent to the Air Force.

Five years before Air Force veteran Devin Kelley burst into a church in Sutherland Springs, Tx., last fall with a legally purchased semiautomatic rifle and gunned down 26 people, he recorded a tearful confession. “I am making this documentary, so everybody knows,” Kelley said in 2012, describing how he pushed and struck his toddler stepson so hard, he fractured the child’s collarbone and caused bleeding on the brain. “This is not the last mistake, and there’s probably plenty to come, unfortunately,” said Kelley, who died after being pursued following the November shooting, the Wall Street Journal reports.  The shocking massacre raised questions about how a man with such a publicly known troubled past was able to buy deadly weapons. The transcript of the confession, among court-martial records newly released by the Justice Department, paint an even more frightening portrait of Kelley, showing an incompetent airman who tried to project an image as a God-fearing, aspiring family man even as his ferocious temper and a compulsion toward brutality were apparent to the Air Force.

In 2012, Kelley pleaded guilty at his court martial, received a bad-conduct discharge and spent a year behind bars. Air Force officials have admitted failing to notify the FBI’s firearm-screening database about Kelley’s conviction for domestic violence, which should have automatically banned him from possessing weapons. The lapse allowed him to purchase a Ruger AR-556 rifle that he used during his rampage. The Air Force has been reviewing court martial records going back to 2002 in search of other domestic abuse cases that weren’t properly reported to the FBI. Records show that Kelley’s superiors saw him as a ticking bomb who needed to be locked up to prevent bloodshed. “I am convinced that he is dangerous and likely to harm someone if released,” wrote Maj. Nathan McLeod-Hughes in 2012.


Most of 177 Cases Dismissed in Waco Biker Shootout

Nearly three years ago, nine people were killed in a shootout involving bikers in Waco, Tx. Only one trial has been held, and that ended in a hung jury. Now, prosecutors say they are dismissing all but 25 to 30 cases.

After a shootout involving bikers near a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Tx. nearly three years ago in which nine people were killed, 177 participants were arrested and 154 were indicted. In the almost three years since the shootout, only one defendant, Jacob Carrizal, has gone to trial. His trial ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. Since then, prosecutors have dismissed 28 other cases and refused to file charges against 32 other people who were not indicted. A prosecutor says that all but 25 to 30 cases will be dismissed, reports the Waco Tribune-Herald. 

In one case dismissed last Friday, a special prosecutor said, “There was just no evidence to show [the biker] was involved in anything that happened there, other than being present, and that ain’t enough.” “What a mess!” says Scott Henson in the Grits for Breakfast blog. He says that local officials “should get ready for a wave of civil litigation and start socking away money for a fat settlement.” Henson praises the Tribune-Herald for tracking the story, saying most state and national media have neglected it.


Are Gunshot Injuries Becoming More Lethal?

Gunshot victims are four times more likely to die before reaching a hospital than they were a decade ago, finds a new nationwide analysis from Johns Hopkins University. The study followed up a series by the Baltimore Sun on the odds of survival for shooting victims.

Gunshot victims are four times more likely to die before reaching a hospital than they were a decade ago, finds a new nationwide analysis from Johns Hopkins University. The findings suggest that gunshot injuries may be growing more lethal, The Trace reports. The study’s lead author, Dr. Joseph Sakran, said he was partly inspired by a Baltimore Sun investigation called “Shoot to Kill.” That series revealed that the odds of survival for gunshot victims “worsened in at least 10 of the nation’s largest cities,” and that people who were shot were more likely to die compared to gunshot victims just 10 or 15 years earlier. Sakran, director of emergency general surgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, sought to examine the issue from a national and more scientific perspective. “We wanted to look at pre-hospital mortality — death that happens before patients are taken care of in the hospital — and in-hospital mortality, death after patients arrive to the hospital,” Sakran said.

Sakran partnered with other researchers from Johns Hopkins, the University of Toronto, and the University of Arizona to analyze statistics from the National Trauma Data Bank. They focused on patients ages 15 or older who experienced gunshot or stab wounds between 2007 and 2014. When they looked at where patients died, they discovered a striking trend: The rate of pre-hospital death rose significantly, while the rate of in-hospital death decreased. Specifically, the odds of a gunshot victim dying before reaching a trauma center increased fourfold, while the odds of a stabbing victim dying increased by eight.The authors are not sure how to explain the uptick in pre-hospital mortality, but they offer a few ideas. One is that the “intensity” of gunshot injuries has increased — that people are being shot by more rounds, or at closer proximity. They also say that some victims may live too far from a trauma center. The study appeared this month in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.


Woman Angry at YouTube Shoots Workers, Kills Self

Nasim Aghdam was angry that YouTube stopped paying her for content she posted. She wounded several people at the company’s California headquarters before killing herself.

A woman with an apparent grudge against YouTube for what she claimed was censoring and de-monetizing her videos opened fire at the video-sharing service’s San Bruno, Ca., headquarters, wounding several people before fatally shooting herself, NPR reports. Police Chief Ed Barberini said the attack was carried out with a handgun. The police department said “there is no evidence that the shooter knew the victims of this shooting or that individuals were specifically targeted.” The suspect was identified as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, 39.

Officers arrived at a chaotic scene as people were fleeing the YouTube building. Zachary Voorhies, a senior software engineer at YouTube, said he was preparing for lunch when a fire alarm went off. He and his team left the building and heard a commotion. “I heard a man yelling out, ‘Do you want to shoot me?’ and about 25 feet away from him was somebody on the ground with an apparent gunshot wound in his stomach and he was bleeding out of his shirt and he wasn’t moving,” said Voorhies. Aghdam’s father quoted her as saying that YouTube had stopped paying her for the content she posted to the site. YouTubers can receive payment for advertisements accompanying their videos, but the company ‘de-monetizes’ some channels for various reasons, meaning ads don’t run with them,” said the San Jose Mercury News.


Court Again Throws Out Border Patrol Shooting Case

A federal appeals court for the second time held that a U..S. Border Patrol agent who fatally wounded a teeenager across the Mexican border in 2010 cannot be sued by the teen’s family. The case had been sent back by the Supreme Court for a rehearing.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired his gun in Texas and fatally wounded a teenager across the Mexican border in 2010 cannot be sued by the teen’s family, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.  The ruling cited diplomatic and national security concerns. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in the case of Sergio Adrian Hernandez, who was 15 when he was killed by agent Jesus Mesa. Justice Department has said Mesa was trying to stop illegal border crossings and fired after he came under a barrage of rocks.

The appeals court voted 13-2 to uphold a judge’s dismissal of the family’s claims. The case involved questions of whether and when constitutional rights afforded American citizens extend to non-citizens outside the nation’s boundaries. The Supreme Court had ordered the case to be re-heard in light of its decision that Muslim men detained in harsh conditions in a Brooklyn jail after the Sept. 11 attacks can’t sue top U.S. law enforcement officials. Tuesday’s majority opinion said the case raises national security concerns in that border agents might hesitate to make split-second decisions in dangerous situations if they believe they might face lawsuits. Extending the right to sue in the Hernandez case “would interfere with the political branches’ oversight of national security and foreign affairs,” Judge Edith Jones wrote for the majority. “It would flout Congress’s consistent and explicit refusals to provide damage remedies for aliens injured abroad. And it would create a remedy with uncertain limits.”


Gun Crazy? No Easy Explanations for Mass Shootings

Opponents of gun control argue that better attention to mentally troubled individuals will do more to prevent mass shootings than restricting access to firearms to the general population. But our columnist argues that there is little evidence supporting mental illness as a critical factor in acts of tragic violence.

To the rest of the world and even to many US citizens, gun ownership in America seems to be out of hand. About one-third of Americans own a gun, with another 10 percent reporting they live in a home with guns. It’s believed that there are enough guns for every American to have one, so that means many own more than one.

How many guns do you need? One to protect your home, maybe one to carry with you for self-defense. If you’re a hunter or sports shooter, two or three long guns might seem reasonable, especially if they are suited for different purposes.

According to a Pew Research survey in 2017, two-thirds of American gun-owners have at least two firearms, and 29 percent own five or more. Three percent own 17 apiece, according to one analysis of an unpublished study by Harvard and Northeastern University researchers.

The Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock had even more, two dozen or so, with a dozen bump stocks. Half of those he amassed in a year. Do you need a gun a month? Should that be a red flag?

Not in the United States, home of the Second Amendment to the Constitution: the right to bear arms.

When a mass shooting takes place, Second Amendment defenders such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) say it’s not a problem of guns, but of mental illness. Psychologists point out that mental illness is a far better predictor of self-harm or victimization, not harm against others.

But what if the gun ownership, the gun love, is a sign of mental illness itself?

Is the multiple-gun owner a compulsive collector, a hoarder? Probably not.

One difference between a collector and a hoarder is that collectors are choosy. They take care of their collection, display it attractively, and take pride in showing it to others. A hoarder is less or not at all selective; he or she just crams the items into whatever cubbyhole is available, and piles them in sinks, bathtubs and other spaces that serve another purpose but can no longer be used for that purpose. (One example: a book collector displays his books in a bookcase; a book hoarder piles them in his bathtub.)

By this definition, most firearm collectors are not hoarders. I don’t know of any gun enthusiasts who throw their weapons in a pile or in a sink. Most keep them clean, oiled, polished and either displayed on a rack or kept in a gun safe.

What if they have enough ammunition for an army? Not necessarily.

Some of these people do seem paranoid, afraid of jack-booted government thugs or a civilization-ending natural disaster. One site —that says you need at least 2,000 rounds of ammunition per caliber of firearm: 1,000 with which to practice, and 1,000 for when (not if) the national power grid goes down—warns that 200 million Americans will die when (not if) the nationwide power grid goes down.

But the nonpartisan firearm information site The Trace, no great fan of the NRA, explains that there can be perfectly reasonable reasons to “hoard” ammo for reasons of supply and price, not because it’s preparation for a mass shooting or rebellion.

Are gun enthusiasts actually mentally ill? Not according to Psychiatry Online, which says the idea that gun violence and mental illness are closely linked is a myth.

“It should be noted that there is no established causality between mental illness and gun violence,” DJ Schuette, a self-described “responsible gun owner “who admits to suffering from depression and anxiety, told The Marshal Project.

Schuette keeps his gun in a gun safe to which only his wife has access. He’s not worried that he’ll harm others so much as that he might take his own life, which is a far more common outcome. Of the approximately 37,000 US gun deaths in 2016, 22,000 were suicides. Fewer guns would make those deaths less likely because suicide attempts by other means—drowning, hanging, poison, wrist-cutting—are not as often successful.

Despite the lobbying by the NRA, other “Second Amendment Firsters” and politicians, mental illness is not a good predictor of whether someone will engage in violence with guns. It happens, but is rare. To the extent that modern psychiatry and neurology can determine (often post-mortem), most shooters—even mass shooters—are not mentally ill.

“The large majority of people with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression are not inclined to be violent,” according to a study by Jeffrey W. Swanson. Even when they do commit acts of violence, it is is more likely to the result of some other factor such as substance abuse.

Take Stephen Paddock. A thorough autopsy found nothing to suggest he was mentally ill due to a brain tumor or stroke or early onset dementia, although “an abnormally high number of tiny deposits” that are sometimes associated with neurological disease were found scattered on the surface of his brain.

However, in an article earlier this month (at least in part hawking his own 2007 book on the subject), Grant Duwe wrote, “peer-reviewed research has shown that individuals with major mental disorders (those that substantially interfere with life activities) are more likely to commit violent acts, especially if they abuse drugs. … [At] least 59 percent  of the 185 public mass shootings that took place in the United States from 1900 through 2017 were carried out by people who had either been diagnosed with a mental disorder or demonstrated signs of serious mental illness prior to the attack.”

Maybe the difference in the two opinions is that Duwe qualifies his conclusion to include “demonstrated signs” of mental illness, which seems a little vague. The results of at least one survey concluded that “half of all Americans will qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives, while a quarter of them do in any given year.”

Not even all gun enthusiasts like the idea of blanket mental illness restrictions on gun ownership. These are better predictors, according to Dr. Renee Binder, former president of the American Psychiatric Association. A history of drug or alcohol abuse is “stronger indicator of risk” than mental illness, he said. Though he added that, like mental illness, substance abuse is more associated with being a victim of gun violence than a perpetrator.

In an essay, Brandon Smith questions ” WHO gets to decide who is mentally ill and why they are mentally ill? Will this be done by a jury of our peers? Or, by an unaccountable and faceless bureaucracy? Will the guidelines for mental illness be strict and specific, or will they be broad and wide open to interpretation?

“Once a person has been labeled mentally defective, will they have the ability to appeal the decision, or will the label haunt them for the rest of their lives?”

At the same time, Smith suggests that psychotropic pharmaceuticals are the cause of mass shootings, because “at least 35 school shootings and/or school-related acts of violence have been committed by those taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs” and “psychotropic drugs are proven to influence violent and even homicidal behavior in people.”

Without case studies detailing the shooters’ pre-drug-use behavior, it is just as likely that an underlying mental illness that was inadequately medicated led to the shootings.

Paddock was “withdrawing” from the anti-anxiety medicine Valium at the time of the shootings. His physician suspected he might have a bipolar disorder, but he refused to take antidepressants for it. More meds might have prevented this mass shooting.

If mental illness isn’t the cause, maybe it’s substance abuse? Alcohol, yes. Drugs, maybe a little, if the abuser also has a mental illness.

“Alcohol was a more important predictor of future violence than prior violence was,” according to Garen Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, who conducted a longitudinal study which found that a gun owner convicted of a crime involving alcohol, most often driving under the influence,was almost 33 percent more likely to commit a violent or firearm-related crime.

If we deny guns to people with a mental illness, should we deny gun ownership to anyone with a DUI, too?

Of people who abuse alcohol or drugs, 39.1 percent also have a co-occurring or comorbid mental illness. Sometimes they may be trying to self-medicate the mental illness with alcohol or drugs. When that’s the case, rehab for substance abuse or mental illness alone is not sufficient, and treatment at dual diagnosis treatment centers is required.

The National Comorbidity Survey Replication survey estimated that more than 25 percent of a representative sample of 9,000 adults had a mental illness in one year. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School cited an even more alarming survey sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health between 2001 and 2003 that found 46 percent fit the American Psychiatric Association profile of at least one mental illness at some point in their lives.

Even if gun ownership isn’t a mental illness, gun ownership may correlate with tendencies towards anger and impulsivity. However, just over 10 percent of people who have guns in the home also have any pathological anger traits, as do 1.5 percent of those who carry guns.

The American Psychiatric Association’s Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy states that “Firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups — domestic violence offenders, persons convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes, and individuals with mental illness who have been adjudicated as being a threat to themselves or to others — have been shown to reduce violence.”

Stephen Bitsoli

Stephen Bitsoli

Even that might be a bridge too far for Americans. While other nations—Australia, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom—have had some success with gun control, their solutions likely wouldn’t work in the US because of the Second Amendment, and the strong American belief that guns keep us safe and free.

If it’s not mental illness, drugs or the number of guns we possess, what is it? There are no easy answers. The cause of America’s gun violence problem may be in the American character. In some ways we still think we’re in the Wild West.

Stephen Bitsoli, a Michigan-based freelancer, writes about addiction, politics and related matters for several blogs. He welcomes readers’ comments.