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The Tale of the Stolen Meteorite

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By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

I was assigned to the FBI’s Ann Arbor, Michigan office for most of my career (referred to as a resident agency or RA in the Bureau) We were primarily responsible for investigating violations of federal  law in five counties which had a total population of about a million people.  Ann Arbor is also the home of the University of Michigan, one of the largest and most prestigious research institutions in the world.

A good thing about working in a RA was there were a variety of cases – some were very unique.

It was August 1998 when I got a call from Detective Kevin McNulty of the UM Department of Public Safety. McNulty and I had worked cases together before, and he told me that they had located a meteorite that had been stolen from the UM Museum of Natural History. McNulty explained that the 60 lb. meteorite, worth about $10,000, had been stolen from the fourth floor of the museum a few days before.

Apparently there was good market for meteorites especially ones from the Diablo (devil in Spanish) Canyon crater, aka Barringer Crater, near Flagstaff, Arizona. That crater has gained a sort of a science fiction cult fascination with the people that believe extraterrestrials have visited earth and may be still among us.  Part of this fascination is probably because the crater is relatively young in earth’s geological history, and it still looks like an impact crater like the ones on the moon. (In the 1984 movie, “Starman,” the ET character played by Jeff Bridges is trying to get to the Barringer crater to rendezvous with a rescue craft from his home planet.)

The meteorite that was stolen from the museum was actually a fragment of a much larger meteor that created the crater in Diablo Canyon when it struck the earth about 50,000 years ago. It is estimated that the meteor weighed about 60,000 tons with a diameter of approximately 100 feet and traveling at 30,000 mph when it hit. Most of the meteor vaporized on impact, but pieces of it were strewn around the crater.  The impact had the explosive power of a ten megaton bomb (1 megaton = 1 million tons of TNT). The crater is almost 600 feet deep and is about 3,900 feet across.

No Witnesses

No humans would have been around to witness the impact. It would be at least 10,000 years before any humans would be in the area. It was the Spanish explorers in the 16th Century who named the canyon Diablo. For reasons that have been lost, the Indians who descended from the earlier inhabitants considered the canyon cursed.

In the early 1900s, Daniel Barringer, a mining engineer who had made millions from silver mining in Arizona, took an interest in the crater. He believed that the crater had been caused by a meteor impact. The prevailing scientific theory at the time was that the crater resulted from some type of volcanic activity and the meteorite fragments around the crater were coincidental.

Because fragments found in the area were composed of iron and nickel, Barringer believed the main mass of the meteor was buried beneath the floor of the crater and that meteor mass would be worth millions. Over the next several years, Barringer drilled numerous exploratory holes in the floor of the crater – some as deep as 1,400 feet.  But he never hit any main mass nor did he discover an alien spacecraft.

Barringer rightly deduced the crater was created by a meteor impact, but he didn’t understand the physics of the tremendous force caused by the impact which resulted in the near total vaporization of the meteor leaving only fragments.  The Barringer family still owns the crater. It is a popular tourist attraction and has been designated a national historical site.

Meanwhile back in Ann Arbor, there had been no witnesses to the theft of the meteorite, and at the time no surveillance cameras were in the area of the theft. After the theft, Det. McNulty had put a photo and description of the meteorite on the internet, a relatively new forum for broadcasting reports of stolen property. The rock dealer, Michael Casper, had been surfing the Internet and came across McNulty’s posting. Casper contacted the UM museum and confirmed the meteorite he had purchased was the one that had been stolen.

McNulty wanted to recover the meteorite, but was concerned Casper, the dealer in NY, might not cooperate and McNulty had no police power in New York.

I agreed to call Casper, and he was very cooperative. He understood that he was in possession of stolen property, and that because it had been transported interstate his continued possession of it was potentially a violation of federal law. He agreed to return it to UM.  Casper also provided the name and address of the person who sold the meteorite to him, Steven Collins.

Collins had called Casper and told him he had a 60lb. Diablo Canyon meteorite for sale. Casper initially agreed to purchase it for $2,300. When Collins delivered the meteorite, they agreed that Casper would pay $1,000 and trade a prehistoric crab fossil and a 200 lb. slab of crystallized purple quartz, amethyst, for the meteorite.

Both McNulty and I assumed that the name and address that had been provided to Casper were false. But it turned out there was a Steven Collins living at the address given to Casper in Pittsfield Township, outside of Ann Arbor. That Steven Collins had been convicted of second-degree murder in Michigan; had served time and was currently on parole which could provide some leverage when dealing with Collins.

McNulty made contact with Collins, and he readily admitted that he had sold the meteorite to the dealer in NY. Collins said he had run into a guy he had met in prison, and the guy had offered to sell him a meteorite that he said he had found in Arizona. He paid the guy a few hundred dollars knowing the meteorite was worth much more. Collins claimed he didn’t know the meteorite was stolen. Collins gave the name of the inmate, but no one by that name could be found in the Michigan Department of Corrections records.

Lacked Evidence

Although McNulty had recovered the meteorite, he didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute Collins for the theft from the museum.

I thought we might be able to prosecute Collins federally for interstate transportation of stolen property (ITSP), but we needed for him to admit that he knew the meteorite was stolen. I believed Collins had stolen the meteorite himself, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to admit to that. However, sometimes a bad denial can be almost as good as a confession.

I wanted to interview Collins again, and I wanted it to be a surprise. I didn’t want to give him time to prepare or worse decide he didn’t want to talk to me.

I decided to try to talk to him where he worked. He was working for a construction company testing a cleared and graded site for the level of compaction of the soil – a good job for a self-described rock hound. I told Collins that we were having some trouble with his original story as there was no inmate by the name he gave us that had ever been in the Michigan prison system.

Collins said that he hadn’t bought the meteorite from a former inmate, but from a guy he met in bar. He said he couldn’t admit to having been in a bar because that was a violation of his parole.  (I didn’t mention that his having left Michigan and traveling to New York without permission was also a parole violation.)

In the bar he struck up a conversation with a guy about rocks. The guy seemed to be pretty knowledgeable, and he said he had a meteorite that he wanted to sell. They went to the guy’s car and in the trunk was a large meteorite that the guy said had come from Diablo Canyon. Collins knew that it was a meteorite, and had some idea of its value. He agreed to buy it for $400. He paid in cash and had no documentation of the sale.

Collins claimed that he didn’t know the guy’s name, nor did have any contact information for him. Collins hadn’t seen him before or since. He hadn’t noticed whether the car’s license was from out-of-state. He was only able to give a very general description of the guy. Collins told me the name of the bar, but said he didn’t know any of the employees or patrons in the bar. He didn’t think there was anyone in the bar who could corroborate any part of his story.

Collins had not only changed his story when it was challenged, he had provided what I thought was a pretty weak new story as to how he acquired the meteorite – a bad denial.

Collins was federally charged with Interstate Transportation of Stolen Property and his parole was violated for having left Michigan. He pleaded guilty and admitted to the judge he knew the meteorite was stolen when he transported it to NY. He was sentenced to nine months incarceration in addition to the about two years he did for parole violation.

We never did learn how he was able to get the meteorite out of the museum without being seen.

“The truth is out there.”

 

Supreme Court to Decide Three Thorny Capital Cases

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin its 2015-2016 term with oral arguments in October on three tough cases on capital punishment from the minority of states which still maintain a de facto death penalty.

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In Kansas v. Carr, Gleason, the issues presented involve the trial judge’s instruction to the jury and the question of joinder and severance for two defendants during the sentencing proceeding. Carr and Gleason were brothers who were convicted of a series of brutal rapes and murders during a crime spree in Wichita, Kansas in 2000. There was little doubt as to the result of the guilt phase of the trial.

During the death penalty hearing the judge denied the defendants’ request for severance of their cases. The defendants’ case of mitigation was in the words of the Kansas Supreme Court, “so weak it would not pull the skin off of rice pudding.” Although the evidence was not openly antagonistic between the two defendants, the appellate court later speculated that some of the evidence may not have been admitted against both defendants if there had been separate proceedings. The jury’s verdict was death.

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed the convictions but reversed the sentences as a violation of the 8th Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The joint proceeding deprived the defendants of an individualized sentence determination. The court went on to hold that the trial judge should have instructed the jury that the defendant need not prove mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, the judge had instructed that each juror should assess and weigh the mitigating circumstances.

Predicting the Court’s decisions in the emotion-packed morass of death penalty cases is never easy but not as difficult as divining the rationales of each Justice to support her/his vote. Separating the ultimate result from the nuance of the legal issue without distorting the evolution of the case law in non-capital cases has been a tortured exercise for decades. The defendants point to little concrete harm that resulted from the joinder, but this seems the better issue for them. The instruction issue seems less persuasive.

Hurst v Florida

The following week, October 13th, the Court will hear the case of Hurst v. Florida on whether its previous case of Ring v. Arizona should be extended to void the Florida practice of making the jury’s sentence verdict as only advisory to the trial judge, who makes the decision on a penalty of death, as well as issues on how the jury goes about deciding the advisory verdict.

Timothy Lee Hurst was convicted of the brutal murder of a co-worker in a Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant in Escambia County Florida in 1998. The psychologists testified that Hurst’s IQ was between 69 and 78 and therefore not ineligible for the death penalty as being “retarded.”

The jury’s advisory verdict to the trial judge did not identify which “aggravators” they found or whether a majority agreed on a single theory. They voted 7-5 to recommend death. This procedure leaves open the possibility that less than a majority agreed on a single aggravating circumstance, which would justify the jury’s recommendation. The trial judge conducted his own hearing on the issue and ultimately sentenced Hurst to death.

The Supreme Court in Ring held that whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the necessary aggravating circumstance warranting a death verdict is an issue of fact finding for the jury to determine. It did not spell out whether that decision had to be binding on the sentencing judge or how the jury was to go about the process. The case left some knotty issues: whether the jury’s role could be in the form of an advisory opinion to the trial judge; whether individual jurors could use different theories of aggravation; and whether the vote of a majority of the jury was a constitutionally adequate verdict.

Florida death penalty litigation has been a fertile ground for death penalty opponents. The state may want to allow Texas to devise the statutory system since Texas has been so much more efficient and successful at imposing and upholding its death verdicts and administering the fatal drug combination.

It is hard to believe that the Supreme Court will uphold a system in which all three of the potential issues left over from Ring have coalesced. Justice Breyer has already made clear his own views that only juries can decide to impose a death verdict. Both he and Justice Ginsburg have called for the Court to accept a case on the issue of the constitutionality of the death penalty itself.

Montgomery v Louisiana 

The third capital sentencing case for October, Montgomery v. Louisiana, did not ultimately result in a death penalty but life without parole imposed on a juvenile. Henry Montgomery was a 17 year old African American 11th grader with an IQ in the 70s who shot and killed a white Sheriff Deputy in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1963. With crosses burning in the neighborhoods and the KKK actively promoting racial tension, Montgomery was convicted and sentenced to death without any opportunity to present mitigating circumstances during a sentencing proceeding.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, he was re-tried, convicted and automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Montgomery is now 69 years old and has been in prison for 52 years.

In 2012 the Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama held that sentences of mandatory life without parole for defendants under the age of 18 violated the 8th Amendment. But the Court has never decided whether Miller should be applied retroactively.

Retroactivity in criminal procedure cases is determined by a 1989 Supreme Court case called Teague v. Lane, whose rule requires the finding either that the decision involves a new substantive rule of criminal constitutional procedure or, if procedural rather than substantive, whether the case implicates fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.

These are slippery concepts and there are those who think that the Justices first decide the end result of the case from a policy perspective and then apply the Teague rule accordingly. The equities of the Montgomery case weigh on both sides of the balance. A law enforcement officer was killed, but a half century has passed since the defendant killed him. For my money, once you decide to make the sentence unavailable for minors (whether you agree with this policy or not), to make it not applicable to cases after 50 plus years seems fundamentally unfair.

Three cases with thorny legal issues to be decided under the rule of law as part of a larger agonizing debate about whether we should have two systems of punishment in this country, one by the vast majority of states which have concluded for various principled and practical reasons to abolish the death penalty, and the other in a handful of states which have concluded that the ultimate penalty of death is necessary for their system of criminal justice. Anomalies will always exist in a federal system but few seem so profoundly perplexing.

The Role of Doctors in the Heroin

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By Ross Parker

With the recent volume of media on the issue of the heroin epidemic, its overdoses and deaths, has come an effort to provide an easy explanation for the cause of and solution to this multifaceted problem. Much of the blame has been directed at doctors, who are charged with being either intentionally or negligently pill-happy with painkiller prescriptions. Their failures, it is charged, have made medical patients into addicts and, when the scrips became unavailable or too expensive, the patients were forced to turn to heroin and other opiates on the streets.

The tragic death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman who went from painkiller to heroin addiction and then to an overdose death is presented as a prime example for this explanation for the increase.

But the reasons for the current heroin upsurge are far more complex than the responsibility of a single group. Factors such as a failure of individual responsibility, insufficient education for kids, inadequate drug treatment resources, the emergence of Mexico as the dangerous big dog in shipping heroin up north, inadequate regulation and, yes, law enforcement, as well as a dozen other reasons contribute to the pandemic.

But doctors and their regulators do play an important role in this analysis and any feasible solution. It is not merely a coincidence that the country is in the midst of both a painkiller and a heroin overdose epidemic. The relationship between the two provide part of the cause.

The number of painkillers prescribed has quadrupled in recent years. Every day 44 people in the U.S. die from an overdose of painkillers. The number of deaths has skyrocketed from 4,000 to 16,000 annually. Experts from the health and law enforcement fields point to prescription drug abuse as a major cause of the epidemic. But they usually fail to add that 70% of these overdoses were by individuals other than the patient who obtained the prescription. Their access was from patients, many of whom legitimately needed the prescription, or from the street traffickers.

Which is not to say that medical profession doesn’t need to get its house in order.  Reforms need to be made even if doctors are not the only or even the primary culprit for the contagion.  It is true that a substantial percentage of physicians fail to find out about a patient’s history with controlled substances or their obtaining multiple scrips, even though this information is readily available. Plus many doctors lack the training and experience to identify opioid abusers and what alternative pain relief regimens could substitute for these drugs for patients at risk.

The February 2015 New England Journal of Medicine bemoans the absence of the use of proven medication treatment strategies both by physicians and drug treatment centers. The lack of insurance coverage, physician training, policy hindrances, and adequate resources are only part of the explanation for this failure.

Researchers of a study presented recently in the Clinical Journal of Pain found that many primary care doctors lacked an adequate knowledge base about opioid treatment and failed to appreciate the danger of diversion to non-patients. These two deficiencies often made the doctors prescribe them more often than necessary.

One part of the formula to battle this rampant epidemic is to work with doctors to strengthen the net that is supposed to limit painkillers to patients for whom there are no effective alternatives. Physicians have to receive training to be able to use an evidence-based pain management program and to be able to identify the dangers of misuse and overdoses. Checking up on drug-seeking patients should be mandatory and, if where it is not required, it should be the choice of every physician before a controlled substance is prescribed.

As was detailed in last week’s column, doctors should have the testicular tissue and foresight to make Naloxone available to family members, friends and first responders so that an addict in the throes of an overdose can get to the emergency room before his or her breathing shuts down.

[Two updates on that column: Kudos to the Macomb County Michigan Sheriffs’ Department who saved an overdosing person’s life last week because a month earlier they had the good sense to give every deputy Naloxone to use when confronted with an overdose. Second, thanks to the reader who posed the question, why isn’t Naloxone over the counter so it is readily available to first responders to provide a supply of this life-saving and harmless drug? Indeed, a good question.]

States have an important and related role in these reforms. As mentioned last week, every state should implement a mandatory Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. So far, although progress has been made in this endeavor, most states still make it voluntary by doctors and, as a result, well less than half utilize this database that tracks prescriptions and dispensing of controlled substances. In states which have recently made the program mandatory, results have been dramatic. In the last two years New York has had a 75% decline in patients seeking multiple scrips. Oregon and Tennessee have both had an immediate drop in overdoses.

There are many other fronts to this perplexing and complex battle to save lives, not the least of which is more study on why a half million people, especially young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, are risking their lives every day for this momentary high even though they create a nightmare for their families.

One thing is clear, we need to stop stigmatizing addicts and looking for an easy fix. Only a broad based solution involving many disciplines and more resources will get the nation through this scourge.

Naloxone and the Surge of Fentanyl-Heroin Overdose Deaths

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

A young woman from Michigan we will call Janice started using heroin in her early 20s. Her family stuck by her and financed several rounds of rehabilitation. Each of these was followed after a short period of time by a relapse and her family or friends rushing Janice to a hospital emergency room when she overdosed. Each time the ER docs were able to stop the overdose and stabilize her.

Then one night Janice shot up with what she thought was heroin but which had such an immediate effect that she went into respiratory arrest with the syringe still in her hand. The people she was with called 911 but could do little else. By the time she got medical help, it was too late and she died during the EMT transport.

Last week this column focused on the deadly effects that fentanyl-heroin combinations were having on opiate addicts in Canada and the United States. Since fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin, dealers are lacing low quality heroin with it to boost the effect without revealing this to their customers. Plus fentanyl is accessible and not expensive. Much of the fentanyl is obtained through prescription drug abuse from patients who are supposed to use the drug to combat serious pain, for example from cancer. The result has been deadly.

There is a drug that could save hundreds of lives of overdosing users. Its use in scattered projects and medical facilities around the country demonstrates that it is safe, effective and easy to administer. The problem is a lack of public education, resources and facilities with access to the life saving drug.

Naloxone Making a Difference

Naloxone blocks opioid receptor sites in the CNS, especially those in the brainstem which affect respiratory effort. It does not cure an overdose. What it does is enable the overdosing person to breathe for long enough to get her/him to medical facilities where their breathing can be secured more permanently. With the latest generation of fentanyl-heroin overdoses, this extra half hour or hour can mean the difference between life and death.

In a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, writer Bridget Kuehn described a project where the Naloxone is making a significant difference. Northwest North Carolina had the third highest death rate for opiate overdoses in the country. Project Lazarus has cut the death rate essentially in half by a program of providing access to Naloxone treatment kits and training on how to administer it to laypersons who are likely to be the first to observe the overdose.

Read more »

Fentanyl-Heroin Overdose Deaths Surge

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By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

Three months ago the mother of an Ypsilanti Township man found her young son slumped over in his bed, dead, with a syringe still in his hand. He was one of the latest victims of the deadly combination of heroin laced with the prescription drug fentanyl.

Zachary Burdette is charged in U.S. District Court in Detroit with causing this death and two others resulting from a growing epidemic of combining heroin with this pharmaceutical drug.

Earlier this year Dennis Sica was convicted in New York with the same crime, again resulting in three deaths. He named the deadly heroin-fentanyl combination “Breaking Bad.”

Outside of law enforcement and medical circles, fentanyl is a little known synthetic opiate, the most potent one available for medical treatment. The rise in the use of heroin, especially by younger and more affluent buyers, has made fentanyl a particularly useful cutting agent to increase the potency of low quality heroin, and occasionally cocaine. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. The deadly problem is that it achieves this purpose only too well, and the result has dramatically increased overdose deaths in the last two years.

Fentanyl is often sold on the street without identifying it, as for example a “fake Oxy” pill or “hybrid smack.” It also has a dozen analogues manufactured in clandestine labs often referred to as “China White.”

In March 2015 DEA issued a nationwide alert on this danger through the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC). The National Forensic Laboratory Information Service reports that the number of lab submissions containing fentanyl increased from 942 in 2013 to 3,344 in 2015. Those numbers are continuing to rise this year.

During the first five months of 2015 there were more than sixty deaths attributed to this combination in southeastern Michigan. California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania report similar numbers. Overdose deaths involving fentanyl in Canada have surged the last year. Deaths from using fentanyl are twice as prevalent in Ontario as heroin deaths and account for one-fourth of the overdose deaths in British Columbia, up from just five per cent in 2012.

The other aspect that makes the drug so desirable to dealers is its accessibility through prescription drug abuse. Fentanyl has been used by doctors since the 1960s as a particularly effective anesthetic and pain reliever. Its rapid onset character is an effective pain reliever for cancer patients. It is prescribed in several forms, including transdermal patches, oral tablets, nasal sprays and lozenges on a stick (referred to as “lollipops”).

A study in the journal Pain found that one-tenth of the users of prescription painkillers end up addicted to them, and one-fourth of the prescribed drugs end up being misused or diverted out of accepted medical use. Some law enforcement officers consider fentanyl to be the new Oxycontin. It’s cheaper, easier to get access to with the recent restrictions on Oxy, and it produces more of the high that becomes so addictive for opiate users.

Dealers can readily use these forms to combine with heroin either for injection, smoking, or snorting. But fentanyl itself cannot be so easily diluted because it has a very quick absorption rate. Even in small quantities of a single dose, it can have a variety of dangerous side effects, including hallucinations, aphasia, and respiratory depression. Under the watchful eye of a physician, the drug can be a life saver. Uncontrolled on the street, it can be a life taker.

The other danger message sent by DEA about fentanyl is that it poses a special risk for law enforcement officers because it absorbs so readily. Exposure to the drug, for example in the execution of a search warrant or undercover, either by inhaling it or by skin contact can be perilous if the officer has an allergy to opiates.

Deadly, accessible, and on the rise, fentanyl poses the latest crisis for law enforcement.

 

Happy Birthday, Magna Carta

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com
Eight hundred years ago today, a group of rebellious English barons met with despotic King John at Runnymede near the Thames River and agreed to a peace treaty , the Magna Carta. Negotiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the charter was meant to settle an aristocratic uprising over the unpopular king’s tax levies. It lasted two months before it was annulled.

The fact that the Magna Carta failed in its initial purpose has not dimmed its eight century luster as an iconic symbol of freedom and the rule of law. Proponents of measures to assure the rights of individuals over the arbitrary authority of the governments have long relied on the document’s mythic status in Anglo American history.

For most of those eight centuries the Magna Carta has stood for the right of free men to a fair and free trial. What women got out of the charter was the right to inherit as widows and to not be compelled to re-marry against their wishes. All in all, not an insignificant step toward gender equality.

However, during the same centuries historians have questioned the authenticity and significance of the document as a basis for all the principles it has come to stand for. Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell referred to it as the “Magna Farta,” a tag that would be considered almost sacrilegious to the constitutionalists in Britain and the United States who reverently consider the document to be the very foundation of our individual liberties.

Nevertheless it remains fashionable to poke holes in the document as having been distorted in order to achieve the ends of centuries of legal reform. They point out that technically the overwhelming majority of its Latin clauses have been repealed, refined, and replaced by subsequent legislation. But these protests are largely ignored by the real world.

Perhaps no groups have relied on the Magna Carta more assiduously than the American colonists and, later, revolutionaries and Constitution drafters. To them the document was the common law basis of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, and trial by jury.

Perhaps its most far reaching provision is the one that promises: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Moreover, whether by myth or historical reality, the document has come to mean much more than its words and original purpose.

Chief Justice Roberts recently quoted the Magna Carta (“To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice.”) in support of the historical basis for the principle of judicial integrity. Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 575 U.S. __ (2015) (upholding a Florida law which prohibited judges from personally soliciting campaign contributions).

In the long journey since the 13th Century, the rule of law has protected us from despotism on one side and anarchy on the other. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors, foot soldiers of the Constitution, can take pride in their important role in building our legal system, case by case, so that all individuals can enjoy fair adjudicative procedures and an equal application of the law. As is carved on the outside of the Justice Department building, “Where law ends, tyranny begins. Law alone can give us freedom.”

Whatever its historical anachronicity, the Magna Carta was a first step in the development of the rule of law, not rule of kings or even men, a process that continues today in every police department, federal law enforcement agency, prosecutor’s and U.S. Attorney’s Offices, in which charges and disputes are considered and resolved.

So if you are searching for a milestone to celebrate this week, you could do no better than to toast the enduring legacy of this ancient document.

 

The Double Steal — The Right and Wrong Way to Steal Trade Secrets

Bill Davidson

By Greg Stejskal
ticklethewire.com

It took about 5,000 years from the discovery of glass until a process was developed to economically mass produce flat glass, and only a few years before the technology was stolen.

Glass is one of the great fundamental inventions – not at the level of the wheel or fire, but up pretty high on the list. Glass is chiefly made from relatively common and inexpensive raw materials: sand, soda ash (sodium carbonate) and lime.

No one knows when glass was first invented or by whom. It does occur in nature when lightning strikes sand or sometimes from volcanic eruptions (obsidian). Its first use seems to have been as a glaze for ceramic vessels in about 3,000 BCE. It wasn’t until about 1,500 BCE that glass vessels were produced in Egypt (ultimately used to hold beer, one of my favorite inventions). The use of a pipe for blowing superheated glass wasn’t invented until circa 30 BCE.

Through the ages uses for glass have multiplied and are as diverse as flat glass to optical lenses which enabled the development of telescopes and microscopes. But this story is about the technology to produce flat glass, and why some people would go to great lengths to steal it.

Flat glass is used primarily for windows and doors on homes, buildings and vehicles. Until relatively recently there wasn’t an economical way to produce large quantities of quality flat glass.

Flat glass was originally made by blowing cylinders of glass that were cut open and flattened then cut into panes. Most window glass up until the early 1800s was made using the cylinder method. The cylinders were limited in size. They were 6-8 feet (2-3m) long and 10-14 inches (~30cm) in diameter, thus limiting the size of the panes that could be cut. Large windows had to be made of multiple panes.

In 1848 Henry Bessemer, an English engineer, designed a system that produced a continuous ribbon of flat glass by forming the ribbon of molten glass between rollers. This was an expensive process as the surface of the glass had to be ground and polished. This did overcome the size limitations of the cylinder method. Beginning in the 1920s, a continuous ribbon of glass was passed through a lengthy series of inline grinders and polishers, reducing glass loss and cost.

The major breakthrough in the production of flat glass didn’t come until the late 1950s. Sir Alastair Pilkington and Kenneth Bickerstaff of Pilkington Brothers, Ltd. in the UK developed the first successful commercial float glass process.

Bill Davidson

Float glass uses common glass-making raw materials. The materials are mixed with cullet (waste glass) in a furnace where it is heated to ~2,800 degrees F (1,500C). When the mixture becomes molten, it is allowed to pour onto a “tin bath,” a bath of molten tin about 2.3 inches (6cm) deep, 3-4 feet (3-4m) wide and 150 feet (45m) long.

The glass enters via a canal. The speed and volume of glass flow is controlled by a gate called a twill. The glass literally floats on top of the tin with uniform thickness. (The molten tin does not adhere to the glass, but an oxygen free atmosphere has to be maintained to keep the tin from oxidizing and adhering to the glass.) As the glass flows along the tin bath, the temperature is gradually reduced. At the end of the bath, the glass has cooled to approximately 1,100F (600C). At that temperature the glass can be lifted from the bath onto rollers. The glass ribbon is pulled by the rollers at a controlled speed. The speed at which the glass is pulled determines its thickness.

As the glass is pulled from the bath, it passes through a lehr (a type of kiln) where it gradually cools so that it anneals and does not crack from more rapid temperature change. After exiting the lehr, the glass is cut by machines.

Read more »

President Obama Talks on NPR about “The Wire” and Crime

By Ross Parker
ticklethewire.com

If you haven’t viewed the NPR video of President Obama’s conversation with David Simon, the creator of the HBO series “The Wire,” on the subjects of drugs, criminal justice policies and law enforcement, it is worth watching. 

The President lauded the series as one of the greatest pieces of art in the last two decades, a view expressed by many in law enforcement of all possible perspectives.  The show follows the lives of drug dealers, school kids, teachers, and police officers in the worst sections of drug infested Baltimore.

Much of the discussion, I thought, had a lot of merit. The nation’s declining rate of violent crime arrests and increasingly long sentences for all levels of drug convictions, causes and effects, posed some insightful discussion. Both men recognized the effectiveness on public safety resulting from a shift in city police resources from street level arrests to more complex investigations of more culpable traffickers. Neither pointed out, however, the contribution and support for this trend from federal law enforcement.

The President did recognize the challenges for law enforcement, the dangers police face, and the need to engage prosecutors and the public, along with law enforcement, in discussions about the “environmental factors,” like the role of schools, counselors, mental health resources, and job availability to change the life directions of convicted drug dealers.

Other topics, however, activated my “squirm” factor.

The President noted the Attorney General’s efforts to convert USAOs away from thinking about effective prosecutions based on the length of the sentences obtained toward achieving justice in cases. He is apparently accomplishing this goal “administratively,” but it needs new legislation to compel this objective of re-orienting federal prosecutors.

Jeez, here I thought that this was what the overwhelming percentage of USAs and AUSAs have long been accomplishing in adherence to, but also sometimes in spite of, the policy dictates and requirements of Washington along with the array of crime and sentence legislation passed by a demagogic Congress to burnish their image as crime fighters.

The other issue was the lack of any mention of the need to support the priorities and resources of federal law enforcement, which has aimed to accomplish many of the exact changes in policy direction highlighted by the discussion.

For my money until the money issue popped up in state and federal governments, the absence of any political and policy discussion of important criminal justice and law enforcement issues has been deafening. As has the absence of political will and leadership to promote ways to evolve and innovate in this area, in tandem with adequately supporting the every-day responsibilities to enforce the law.

This complaint is aimed not only, or perhaps even primarily, at the Executive Branch, but can be shared with the Congress, as well as state governments. Perhaps most of all, the issue has unfortunately simply slid off the public and political wave length in the last decade. Think about how often you heard candidates discuss crime and law enforcement in their campaign speeches.

I know this is preaching to the choir for many ticklethewire.com readers and quibbling and unproductive finger pointing for others. The fact is that there is much to applaud in the President raising these subjects for discussion on the public agenda even in this limited forum. His reasons for optimism for a wider discussion in the future are encouraging for us all.