A Risky World: A Look Ahead for 2022

-Ben Keller

Hello all,

As a brief reminder, my day job includes monitoring intelligence from around the world to advise global businesses and other organizations on actual and emerging risks, focusing on risks to physical security. As they travel and conduct business internationally, my job is to help keep everyone safe. Nobody can predict the future, but trends do tend to repeat themselves, and there are usually early warning signs to be found if one knows where and how to look.

One of the leaders in this field is a company I’ve worked with for years named Control Risks. Annually, they identify what they believe will be the top risks of the coming year. As I’ve done in the past, I thought I’d share their predictions here. The broad categories are theirs, the commentary is mine, so give them all the credit and direct any criticism to me! Though it should be pointed out that you can already see some of their predictions coming true. For those wishing to learn more and for the sake of proper attribution, you can visit controlrisks.com.

My goal in sharing this is to offer a glimpse into my world and to hopefully spark some thought into the world around us. Also, considering this blog is aimed toward the mystery/thriller writing community, may of these risks would make for a good story!

  1. The Grand Geopolitical Repositioning

Control Risks’ Summary: In 2022, the world will start to spin differently. Countries and companies will begin to form – and be formed by – a new global geopolitical order. This transition will take time, but will drive considerable disruption as countries, blocs and hemispheres begin to interact differently. The uncertainty to which we have uneasily adjusted in recent years will persist as we leave the geopolitical comfort zone – and we use that phrase cautiously – of decades past.

My thoughts: Clearly, we see this playing out as I type this, most notably in Ukraine. One of the risks identified in the past was the rise of volatile, idiosyncratic leaders around the world – Duterte, Bolsanaro, Trump, just to name a few. As some of those leaders have (or soon will) exited, power vacuums are created. National systems wobbly from their recent, em, non-traditional treatment are seeking to re-establish their footing. And none of this happens in isolation, so each nation state redefining itself does so with sometimes unpredictable results on their neighbors, trade partners, and even rivals. Old rules may not apply, and uncertainty breeds further uncertainty. A few examples of this volatility include:

• Ongoing trade and travel restrictions from COVID
• The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan (this will appear later in this blog – it’s hard to overstate the impact this withdrawal may have on the global stage)
• Continuing uncertainty regarding BREXIT

Several observers note a decline in the U.S.’ role as an influencer in the world, focusing more on domestic matters. Naturally, much has been written about China’s ambitions on the global stage, and how they might capitalize on this moment. Most observers say that China is focused on the Olympics for now, but their actions after the Olympics cease will be worth watching very closely.

  1. The Rise of Dysfunctional, Fragile, and Vulnerable States

Control Risks’ Summary: The rising number of dysfunctional, vulnerable, and fragile states across the globe is the overarching security risk for business in 2022. The critical driver of this risk has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further diminished these states’ capacity to absorb and manage external shocks and internal challenges.

My thoughts: I think it’s less a matter of COVID creating fragility and vulnerability than it is that COVID has exacerbated and/or revealed them. For instance, economic turmoil in Venezuela was well underway before the virus hit, but there’s no question it was amped up dramatically over the last two years. Similarly, the post-Gaddafi government in Libya never enjoyed solid footing, but the age of COVID dealt it even harsher blows. The bottom line is that now that these various political and economic vulnerabilities are laid bare, it leads to an unfortunate vicious cycle. Just as ambiguity breeds more ambiguity, so goes vulnerability, making such states more susceptible to the bad actors predicted in the first risk listed above.

  1. COVID and the Taliban Drive Diverse Terrorist Threats

Control Risks’ Summary: Terrorism in 2022 and beyond will be shaped by two major developments: the COVID pandemic and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. These two developments pose different kinds of threats, but both are contributing to an increasingly diverse threat landscape.

My thoughts: Imagine the world as a giant can of soda. From my professional perspective, one the lasting impacts of COVID will be to have shaken up that can right before handing it over to an unsuspecting person. Globally, people are hurting, frustrated, pent up, and angry. Many of the countries most impacted by terrorism historically were also the ones least able to mount effective public health responses, exacerbating the impacts of both violent acts and disease. An angry population is more receptive to terror recruiters. One dubious benefit of lockdowns and other social restrictions has been a reduction of mass casualty targets for potential terrorist. However, as reopening stutter-steps around the globe, the pent up “demand” for terrorist acts may find an increasing “supply” of potential targets.

Here again, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will have lasting impact. The Taliban is resurgent and emboldened, and would-be partner nations have reason to doubt the American resolve to act on their behalf. There has already been a domino effect, and we will continue to see greater terror risk in places like Mali, Libya, Syria, Somalia and Yemen. Simultaneously, we should expect further actions from perpetual member of any risk prediction Iran, and many observers note Iran’s ongoing search for nuclear capabilities. Well organized terror cells will continue to operate throughout eastern Africa and the Middle East, but smaller cells or lone wolf attacks could occur anywhere, any time.

  1. Business Versus A World of Unchecked Cyber Threats

Control Risks’ Summary: In 2022, escalating cyber threats globally are set to become a matter of survival for organisations. States are failing to deter aggressive behaviour, as offensive cyber capabilities proliferate among rising numbers of state and non-state actors. Insurers are questioning the viability of offering coverage for disruptive cyber events. Where does this all end? Almost inevitably with the private sector defending itself – alone – against cyber threats that are spinning out of control.

My Thoughts: I am happily focused on the world of physical threats, leaving cyber security to other colleagues. However, the trend is escalating in such a way as nobody in the world of protecting others can afford to compartmentalize. The bad guys don’t stay in one lane anymore, and neither can we. Also, the motive of cyber attacks has changed. No longer are the primary aims fraud or general mischief, cyber attacks are now routinely aimed at critical infrastructure, which create significant risks to both the virtual and physical worlds. The lack of enforcement against cyber criminals, whether through the host nations’ lack of ability or willingness, only encourages further actions.

  1. Brace For the Cutting Edge of Climate Change

Control Risks’ Summary: Climate change and its associated impacts are the number one operational risk to business in 2022. While COVID-19 continues to pressure business operations globally, extreme weather events and natural disasters will take centre stage by disproportionally influencing politics, economic policy, urbanisation, infrastructure and capital investments – to say nothing of the compounding impacts on business continuity, global supply chains and duty of care considerations. 

My Thoughts: I know the topic of climate change is controversial to some, and I believe thinking people can have reasonable debate about how anthropogenic aspects of changing climate are, and how much of an existential threat it poses to humanity at large. It’s also equally plain to me that when one considers risks in 2022, it’s a certainty that natural disasters will occur around the world with devastating impacts to property and human life. A native of southern Louisiana, I know all too well the destructive power of hurricanes. People in Colorado saw recent wildfires blaze. Heatwaves, flooding, droughts, famine… significant threats all. Some, we can see coming and track. Others can happen in the blink of an eye without any warning at all. But we know they’re coming, and myriad global government sources report they’re coming at an increased rate.

This is not a comprehensive list, nor did I explain any of these risks in great detail. As I said at the beginning, I simply wanted to offer a glimpse. And in case some of you found this to be a bit of a bummer, let me offer a thought. I’ve heard it said that “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Just so, when a bunch of risk people look around, you can be sure they will find things to be concerned about. But what I try to share with the people I work with, and now you too dear reader, is that identifying risks shouldn’t lead us to fear and despair. Instead, we should have a serious and honest look around, make prudent steps toward mitigation, then go forward with confidence. We’ll always have danger. We’ll always have bad guys (all my writer friends say “thank goodness”). But I skipped ahead to the end of the book… I’m pretty sure the good guys win!

Free at last…or not so fast!

by Isabella Maldonado 

We all love a good crime story that ends with justice being served and the culprits caught and locked up. But what happens when the wrong person ends up behind bars? I was recently asked about this situation and consulted with retired attorney Martin Richards, who has become my go-to legal eagle for tricky law questions. As Martin notes later, the information here is provided for general use and is not legal advice.

Isabella: Thank you for sharing your expertise, Martin. When convicted people are later thought to be innocent, it’s usually because new evidence has come to light. How does this happen?

Martin: It often involves DNA, but new evidence of any kind can form the basis for relief to a prisoner. Examples of new non-DNA evidence would be a previously unknown eyewitness to the crime coming forward, the discovery after conviction of information that can definitively prove the defendant’s alibi, or even the recanting of a key prosecution witness.

Isabella: How can prisoners use new information to free themselves?

Martin: In general terms, there are two different ways to seek relief for the prisoner based on new evidence. First, the prisoner and his counsel may request a new trial. Second, the prisoner and his counsel (possibly together with Innocence Advocacy Projects that operate nationwide) may seek clemency, meaning usually a pardon or a commutation of sentence (typically from the governor). 

Isabella: Which is better for the prisoner?

Martin: Clemency is often used for older cases because a new trial may be barred by the statute of limitations or may be impractical because too many witnesses are no longer available. If a new trial is granted, the process is typically slow since the procedure is the same as the original trial. On the other hand, an acquittal in a new trial is a finding of innocence. Afterward, the criminal record will be expunged.

Isabella: So, clemency will free the prisoner faster, right?

Martin: A pardon or commutation can occur more quickly (although often this too takes some time), since a governor can essentially accomplish it with a signature and minimal paperwork, acting in his or her discretion. On the other hand, with a pardon or commutation, often the original conviction remains on the books. The prisoner’s sentence is terminated but the original guilt finding remains. In some cases, however, the governor’s act may also eliminate the finding of guilt. State and federal laws vary widely on the effect of a pardon on the prisoner’s guilt, criminal record, subsequent right to own firearms, and other rights and privileges of citizenship. It is important that the prisoner’s counsel check the relevant statute carefully. Also, a governor can often issue a “full” pardon or a “conditional” pardon or something similar. The type of pardon can have a significant impact on the prisoner’s later rights.

Isabella: How difficult is it to get a new trial?

Martin: New trials are rare. The prosecutor and judge often view a completed trial as just that- completed- and will resist a new trial based on time and expense considerations. Thus, there are significant requirements to be met before a new trial is granted. The new evidence must not only have been unknown to the defense at trial, but it must also not have been discoverable with reasonable efforts. Also, the new evidence must be significant enough to allow the new jury to find the defendant not guilty. Mere “add-on” of “cumulative” evidence, which only repeats other evidence that was introduced at the trial, is not enough. Nor is new evidence that could not reasonably change the original verdict.

Isabella: The bar is clearly high, and backlogged courts don’t help the situation. What constitutes “new” evidence that would meet such standards?

Martin: A few examples of new evidence are provided above. These days, much new evidence is new DNA evidence. Many prisoners were convicted before the advent of DNA testing. In these cases, if the DNA evidence is still in existence, the prisoner may seek to have it tested. Or, evidence may have been tested using an outdated methodology. Or DNA testing may have taken place but neither introduced in trial nor shared by the prosecution team with the defense team. In other cases, DNA evidence may arise from a later crime tying a later suspect (such as a serial murderer) to an earlier crime of which the prisoner was mistakenly convicted.

Isabella: What happens once evidence that meets the standards is discovered?

Martin: In most cases involving new DNA evidence, the prisoner, acting through his or her counsel, will have to be proactive in bringing the evidence to light. In some extraordinary cases, they may be able to obtain the assistance and notoriety of one of the many “Innocence Projects” around the country. Frequently, the prisoner, acting through counsel, will have to file a Motion to Secure DNA Testing to establish the existence of the new DNA evidence. 

Isabella: What’s the next hurdle?

Martin: Once new DNA evidence is established, the prisoner and his counsel may file a Motion for a New Trial or seek executive clemency. In any court proceeding (like a Motion to Secure DNA Testing or A Motion for a New Trial), there is likely to be a “statute of limitations” stating that no court relief at all can be granted after a certain number of years. On the other hand, executive clemency generally does not have time limits since it is essentially at the executive’s discretion.

Isabella: Even after all that, I understand that the prisoner would not be released right away.

Martin:  If the prisoner is granted a new trial, the new trial must be docketed and then the trial itself must be conducted. Of course, there is no assurance that a new trial will yield a favorable result for the prisoner. In the case of clemency, often whether and when it occurs will depend on non-legal factors, such as the perceived fairness of the prisoner’s case, media and public pressure, the possible effect of granting clemency on the governor’s political future, the skill of the prisoner’s counsel in making arguments for the prisoner, and even the governor’s schedule, workload and other priorities.

Isabella: Based on what I’ve seen and heard, factors influencing innocent prisoner relief can include:

  • Jurisdiction – some rural areas might move slowly, OR some urban settings might have a massively overcrowded docket that would slow down the process of scheduling hearings.
  • What has been going on in prison – did the incarcerated person have disciplinary action against them in prison (perhaps they got into a fight), which tacked time onto their sentence? Also, is the prisoner in prison for more than one crime, not all of which are covered by a claim of innocence?
  • The people in play – is there a prosecutor who would not want to publicly admit they wrongly prosecuted someone (perhaps running for office) and therefore would drag their feet? Or could the same thing be said about the judge who ruled in the case who may be up for a slot on a federal bench? On the other hand, a prosecutor running for office may not want to be associated with an unjust prior conviction.
  • The victim’s family – are they so convinced this is the guilty party that they would get an attorney to file injunctions in an effort to delay the process of what they see as freeing a guilty man?
  • Media – is the case making headlines? If so, a full court press on the part of the media, possibly with the prisoner’s family, might expedite the situation.
  • New negative information – will some previously unknown witness, partner, or other person who never testified before suddenly appear because it makes the news that the suspect is slated to be freed?

Martin: All this said, it’s safe to assume it would take an absolute bare minimum of a couple of months to get someone out of prison IF everyone works at top speed AND there are no impediments, holidays, or delays. Sadly, it sometimes takes months or even years.

Thank you, Isabella, for the opportunity to comment on these matters. I am hopeful that some of this information may allow readers to understand some aspects of your books more clearly and enjoy them more. As you noted, I need to remind readers of this Q and A that the information here is not legal advice but is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact a duly licensed and experienced attorney to obtain advice with respect to a particular legal matter.

Ricky Jackson, upon learning he would be FREE AT LAST

 Isabella: And I am very grateful to you, Martin, for taking the time to answer these questions. Thankfully, the number of cases of wrongful imprisonment in the United States is relatively small, but it does happen. Ricky Jackson was released from an Ohio prison in 2014 after serving 39 years for a murder he did not commit. Jackson served the longest prison term of anyone in the United States who was later exonerated. The witness (who was 12 at the time of the murder) upon whose testimony Jackson’s conviction was based recanted his testimony.

Interview with novelist, short story author and former newspaper editor Richard McGonegal

Please join me in welcoming Richard McGonegal to the blog, today, where he gives us some insights into his approach to writing, the origins of his intriguing series character, and he delves into his newest mystery novel, Ghoul Duty, the second in his Sheriff Francis Hood series. Richard is a graduate of Rutgers University and the University of Virginia, a retired newspaper editor, and the author of twenty-four published short stories, nine of which have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. In 2021, he received second runner-up honors for Killer Nashville Claymore Award.

MB: Tell us where your main character, Sheriff Francis Hood, came from.

RM: My fiction is a blend of my experience and imagination. Sheriff Hood combines qualities of people I know, who I am, and who I’d like to be. As an alcoholic in early recovery, Hood is undergoing transformation. He is trying to embrace principles—courtesy, understanding, humility, honesty—and to apply them to all aspects of his life, including his job as sheriff. His efforts, however, are not always successful. When he encounters people who insist on playing rough, he has the capacity to adapt to the situation.

I chose a Missouri county sheriff as my protagonist because I was attracted by the scope of duties. A sheriff is an elected official, an administrator who deals with budgets and schedules, and a law enforcement officer who, in a single day, may deal with crimes ranging from misdemeanor trespassing to a multiple homicide. 

MB: Your latest book, Ghoul Duty, is clearly crime fiction, but it’s also a compelling story about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to handle life in a small town. What led you to approach your story and your characters this way?

RM: Ghoul Duty takes place during an extraordinary event, Missouri River flooding. As a journalist, I reported on the Flood of ’93 in Central Missouri—which disinterred graves from the Hardin cemetery—and always thought the event would make an interesting backdrop for a mystery. I tried it first as a short story but couldn’t contain it in the smaller format.

As the story evolved—as invariably happens in my stories and in life—each character faces an “extraordinary” personal situation, choice, and/or conflict. The sheriff encounters a puzzle, an ex-convict confronts freedom, a barmaid examines the motivation behind an offer of companionship, a deputy re-examines his relationship with a brother, and so on.

I’ve heard it said sculptors of clay add material until they have the desired result and stone sculptors chip away material to reveal the form within. “Ghoul Duty,” for me, was a work of clay. I kept adding and molding until I created what I hope is a compelling story peopled by interesting characters.

MB: Tell us a bit about your writing journey.

RM: Where to begin? It seems I’ve always been doing this—even as a child, writing stories based on motifs from comic books, or the Tom Swift and Hardy Boys series. In college and graduate school, I studied literature and creative writing—including a class taught by writer Peter Taylor at University of Virginia. Afterward, I moved to Missouri and began a 41-year journalism career, married, and started a family.

Following the birth of my first daughter in 1986, I began writing and submitting short stories. My breakthrough came two years later, with publication of “Mysterious Ways” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the first of my 24 published stories. In retirement, I’ve turned my attention to writing novels.

MB: Knowing what you know about the path to publication, what would you do different if you were starting out today?

RM: I believe things happen in their time, so I wouldn’t do things differently. Now, at age 70, I feel some temptation to berate myself for not writing my first novel decades ago, but I realize that wasn’t meant to be. My books are products of who I am, what I’ve experienced, and the beta readers and editors who helped shape them. They came to life at the end of their natural gestation periods—July 2020 for Sense of Grace and January for Ghoul Duty.

I consider myself very fortunate, even blessed. I have enjoyed working with my Cave Hollow Press editors, who have helped immensely to improve my work. The publishing industry appears to be experiencing many vagaries at this time. At a time when few seats are available at the published authors’ table, I’m delighted to have one.

MB: Which authors have influenced your writing? If certain authors have had a particular influence on particular elements of your writing, please feel free to elaborate.

RM: My schooling focused on the classics and I have always been attracted to the misfits and outcasts in literature, including characters created by Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Charles Dickens.

That said, my favorite living American author is Joyce Carol Oates. The choices she makes to blend story and storytelling—language, narration, imagery, tone, etc.—strike me as simultaneously perfect and slightly unnerving. I find the content and writing style both satisfying and thought-provoking.

I enjoy new voices in mystery fiction and eagerly await Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar nominations, particularly for Best First Novel. And my always-dependable, fallback group of authors includes Michael Connelly, J.T. Ellison, and fellow Missourian Laura McHugh.

MB: What can readers expect next from the pen of Richard McGonegal?

RM: I believe my series protagonist Francis Hood has more to say so readers may expect to hear more from him. In addition, I’ve become intrigued with some of the neurological conditions I’ve explored—synesthesia in “Sense of Grace” and hyperthymesia in my unpublished third novel, “The Forget-Me-Knot.” I’m now drafting a fourth Francis Hood mystery and researching another relatively rare condition.

MB: Thank you for taking the time to be on the MurderBooks blog, today. Best of luck with your writing endeavors, and Happy New Year.


Be on the lookout for, Ghoul Duty, Richard’s latest Sheriff Francis Hood novel, coming out this February, by clicking here: Richard’s Facebook Page.


Richard McGonegal was interviewed for MurderBooks by Roger Johns.

A Cop’s Take on Ringing in a New Year

by Micki Browning

Cops like to joke that nothing good ever happens after midnight, but on New Year’s Eve, you can shift that back an hour or two as people warm up for the countdown.

For most people, New Year’s Eve is a night of expectations. A clean slate. New beginnings. Another drink. 

For officers on patrol, it means running from call to call. Or trying to find a bridge to park under for the ten minutes before and after midnight when some revelers grab their guns and crank rounds into the air heedless of where the bullets fall. Occasionally, officers are able to wish their partners a happy new year when the ball drops, but more often than not, the moment passes unmarked.

During my career, some New Year shifts were notable for events that had nothing to do with the holiday. In 1995, Santa Barbara — dubbed the American Riviera for its near-perfect weather and breathtaking position between the mountains and sea — bore the brunt of Sundowner winds that raced through the canyons in hurricane strength gusts. The wind felled hundreds of trees which blocked roadways, tore down power lines, and crashed into houses, buildings, and cars. I was struggling to pull a small tree out of the street when a jaguar pulled up next to me and a man wearing a tuxedo stepped out and braving the weather helped me clear the roadway. 

In 1999, officers held a collective breath until the calendar rolled over and the world (and computers) continued turning.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve now that I’m retired is a completely different experience. As a writer, it’s easy to overdo resolutions. Word count should be higher, distractions should be lower, pajamas should only be used for sleeping. Blah, blah, blah. And while I don’t necessarily embrace resolutions, I do take this time every year to reflect on the blessings large and small that allow me to enter another year. And if my wordcount goes up, well, that’s just a bonus.

Happy New Year! May 2022 be safe, healthy, and full of joy.

Police Family During Christmas

When the holidays roll around, most people think about time off from work filled with festive gatherings with family. But newly hired police officers soon learn they will end up spending most Christmases working with their law enforcement family.

I spent my first Christmas away from home with the Army. I was stationed at Camp Casey, Korea and dined on a fantastic Christmas dinner with all the trimmings alongside fellow soldiers in the mess hall (that was before the Army insisted they be called dining facilities).  

I spent the next three years with military police units in California, and like law enforcement officers everywhere, our job didn’t stop during the holidays. We junior officers in the MPs didn’t get leave during the holidays, so I spent the day with members of my Army family.

Things changed little during the 25 years I worked for Oakland PD. If I wasn’t on duty, I was often on call. It seemed there was always a murder on Christmas when I worked Homicide, and all too often a hostage situation or some other critical incident when I was a tactical commander (SWAT).

Christmas mornings in Oakland were normally slow. Citizens were doing what people were supposed to do on Christmas—attending church, opening presents, gathering with family, or sleeping in. But as the day went on, so did calls for service. They often began with family fights. I guess it’s natural to have arguments when you combine extended families and alcohol, but in Oakland, the arguments all too often turned out violent.

 While perusing a news site on my computer this year, I saw a headline, “From shootings to armed robberies, OPD to address crime-filled Christmas Eve.” The rest of the article mentions a homicide, armed robberies, carjackings, and multiple shootings occurring on Christmas Eve in Oakland, as well as an armed assailant that assaulted an officer with a gun (the officer is okay). In a city of 400,000 people, it only takes a few to cause havoc and destroy the Christmas spirit of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men.”

If it sounds like I have bah-humbug memories of Christmas, that’s not so. Christmas is a time of giving, and I had the honor of giving to the community I served. It’s also a time to spend with family, and I spent many Christmases with my police family—men and women who supported and cared about each other more deeply than the members of many blood families.

Along with the stories of crime I saw when I cruised the news sites on my computer, I noticed stories of the lighter and more joyful side of policing in Oakland during the holidays—members of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association serving breakfast to those who worked that day, and officers, some dressed as Santa, delivering toys and food to needy families.

Although I’ve been retired for 16 years, I hope the many officers across the country who are away from their families and working during the holidays see it not as a burden, but rather as an honor to serve the people of their communities on those special days.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

Brian Thiem

Facts are Stubborn Things

During my October Trial of the Month post, I wrote about Rex v. Preston, the prosecution of Captain Thomas Preston, the commander of the redcoats in the Boston Massacre. He and his troops were charged with murdering civilians outside the Customs House in Boston. Prior to trial, Captain Preston’s case was severed from his troops. Preston was acquitted on October 30th, 1770. The men under his command went to trial four weeks later for their roles in the shooting. Although history lumps the two trials together, I think that several aspects of the second case are worth a look. Let us consider Rex v. Weems.

            To recap the facts. On March 5th, 1770, Hugh White, a British soldier standing guard in the cold Boston night engaged in an argument with Edward Garrick, a wigmaker’s apprentice. The argument drew spectators. More Bostonians spilled outside from their homes and pubs. The hostile crowd surrounded White.

            The lone soldier shouted for reinforcements. Captain Thomas Preston marched seven soldiers to White’s position. The British troops pushed through the crowd and rescued their comrade. The expanding crowd, however, blocked their retreat. The troops formed a defensive semi-circle. The crowd pummeled them with snowballs, sticks and oyster shells. Crispus Attucks, a Bostonian, grabbed the rifle of one soldier, Hugh Montgomery, and knocked him to the ground. Montgomery arose, allegedly shouting, “Damn you, fire,” and discharged his musket. Other shots rang out from the British troops. Five civilians lay dead on the snowy street.

            The acting governor, Thomas Hutchison, appealed for calm. Speaking from a balcony above the bloody snow of the crime scene, he asked the crowd to “Let the law have its course.” Captain Preston and the eight soldiers were hastily charged. A conviction would likely mean the death penalty. John Adams, the future president, accepted representation for the officer and his men.

            Captain Preston’s trial was severed from the case against the troops. Several of the soldiers objected. Strategically, it is easy to see why they did not want him to go first and alone. Preston would be able to claim that he did not order the men to shoot. He could argue they acted independently and outside of his orders. This would exonerate him. It would, however, make their subsequent trial more difficult. Within the close Boston community, any potential juror would know why the captain had been exonerated. The well would be poisoned. Their request for a joint trial was denied without explanation.

            Adams and his team represented both groups of defendants. Although not prohibited at the time, representing co-defendants who held inconsistent defenses would not ethically be permitted today. The model rules of ethics require a lawyer’s relationship to his or her client to be marked by loyalty and independent judgment. Loyalty to a current client prohibits undertaking representation directly adverse to that client without the client’s informed consent.

            Adams had two sets of clients with two inconsistent defenses. Preston’s best defense was that the men acted independently and without orders. The men would be best served by arguing that they only followed the instructions of the commanding officer. In the modern world, Adams should not have represented both.

            The trial of the soldiers began on November 27th and concluded on December 5th. As noted, their defense was complicated by Preston’s acquittal. If the crime was bad enough, someone must be held responsible. The defense team focused, therefore, on the actions of the crowd.

            The strategy shouldn’t be surprising. Media accounts of modern trials describe the defense “trying the victim.” It is necessary if the accused relies upon self-defense. The modern parlance asks the question of the jury, “Would a reasonable person from the perspective of the defendant feel that force was immediately necessary to prevent imminent bodily harm?” The jury must believe that the accused feared for their lives and safety if they did not respond with force.

            “And why we should scruple to call such a set of people a mob, I can’t conceive, unless the name is too respectable for them.”  (John Adams)

            The defense team carefully worked to avoid generalizing about Bostonians but rather focused their language on the crowd who had gathered that night. Typically in a criminal trial, the government wants to create an us-vs.-them dichotomy. The jurors and victims united as good citizens standing together against a bad defendant. Part of the problem in driving while intoxicated trials is that the offense is an “every-(wo)man” crime. The jurors may well see themselves in the defendant and sympathize with his/her predicament. Adams and the defense team created a third option. They made the citizens a mob or rabble.

            Candor requires that we be concerned about why Adams focused attention on the victim, Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race former slave. In doing so he distinguished the crowd of victims from the 18th century Boston jury. Another ethical conversation arises if we pause to consider whether there are limits to zealous representation?

            The defense testimony presented evidence of the crowd pelting the soldiers with chunks of ice and other objects. Attucks knocked down Private Montgomery with a large wooden stick. The prosecution, meanwhile, sought to show that the soldiers had been looking for a reason to settle scores with the Boston citizenry for their perceived maltreatment.

            Adams stood before the jury and summed up the defense. He argued that the case was one of self-defense.

           “I will enlarge no more on the evidence, but submit it to you.-Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes,… they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their own defence; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was a  provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter, in consideration of those passions in our nature, which cannot be eradicated. To your candor and justice I submit the prisoners and their cause.” 

            After less than three hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted six of the soldiers. Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Killroy, the only two soldiers proved to have fired shots, were convicted of manslaughter.

            Here, as in the previous blog, I’ve noted areas where the 18th century trial aligned with a contemporary prosecution. During Montgomery and Killroy’s punishment hearing, the trial departed from anything resembling modernity. Asked if there was any reason a death sentence should not be passed, the two soldiers invoked “the benefit of clergy.”

            The benefit of clergy was a provision in English law dating to the 12th century, allowing clergymen to claim that they were outside the jurisdiction of secular courts and must be tried in ecclesiastical courts under canon law. Over time, the benefit of clergy became a legal fiction, a tool allowing first-time offenders to receive leniency. The thumbs of individuals claiming the benefit were branded so that they could only claim to be first-time offenders once. No additional punishment was ordered.

            As Adams looked on, the Sheriff branded the right thumbs of both men with an “M”.

            For its elements of the ancient world and the modern world, its ethical questions and its place in American history, Rex v. Weems is my December Trial of the Month.

Mark Thielman

The Bat Computer

by Isabella Maldonado

During a recent guest appearance on a Rogue Women Writers virtual event, I was asked about my background as a commander of special investigations and forensics in my former police agency. The question regarded public misconceptions about criminal investigations—especially as they pertain to forensic science.

I immediately had a recollection from back in my days as a rookie cop. A homeowner had called the police to report that his house had been egged. He told me he expected me to make an arrest shortly.

Had he caught the crime in progress on video? No.

Had he taken down a license plate as the getaway car screeched away? No.

Had the perpetrators left a note containing a confession? No.

How did he expect me to rush right out and slap cuffs on the offenders? Simple. He had preserved trace evidence for me to collect and send to the lab.

He escorted me around to the side of the house, where he had cordoned off the crime scene with traffic cones and string. I glanced down to see a cluster of broken eggshells lying in the grass. He had cleaned up the other residue but had made sure to leave this section undisturbed. His theory was that I would perform a two-phase analysis. First, I would dust some of the shells for latent fingerprints. Then, I would send the remaining fragments to the forensic lab to extract residual DNA, garnering a match from our database.

I had to explain to him that (1) there was no reason to believe any bodily fluids or hairs containing DNA would be present on the eggs; (2) the kit I had available at the time for latent evidence collection would likely destroy the prints. This would necessitate sending the broken bits to the lab, where more sophisticated equipment—like an electrostatic lifter—could be used. (3) With the backlog in cases, only felonies were being examined by overworked lab techs. And finally, (4) even if we managed to obtain a print or DNA, the perpetrators were almost certainly kids and police were prohibited from maintaining a database of juvenile fingerprints unless they had been charged with—and convicted of—a felony. In other words, the eggshells were not going to lead to the immediate arrest.

This public mindset was to play itself out on a larger scale during the infamous Beltway Sniper case several years later. One of the victims was killed in my department’s jurisdiction, and our agency joined the task force. At that point in my career, I oversaw the public information office, and fielded questions about how we were conducting our investigation.

Some were baffled we couldn’t make an arrest in short order. Surely, between trace evidence left at each scene, taunting messages left for the police, and databases maintained by law enforcement containing scads of information about various known criminals, we should have been able to put a name to the perpetrator within a day or two.

This is what I refer to as the “Bat Computer Phenomenon.” I will date myself by revisiting the original vintage Batman TV show starring Adam West. When the baddie du jour was terrorizing Gotham, Batman would enter data collected by police into the Bat Computer. After a few flashing lights and buzzes, the computer would spit out a strip of paper. As his sidekick Robin looked on in breathless anticipation, Batman would snatch the readout and announce the name of the perpetrator.

“Mr. Freeze is at it again!”

“The Riddler is up to his old tricks!”

Sometimes, the Bat Computer would offer even more information, including where and when the villain would likely strike next. Batman and Robin would then jump in the Batmobile and race to the spot to interrupt the crime in progress.

Nostalgic reflections and occasional frustrations aside, it turns out the creators of the iconic TV show were onto something. Their futuristic notions of crime fighting were somewhat prescient. The Bat Computer was the conceptual forerunner of three current modalities used in law enforcement:

  • Behavioral profiling – The famous mind hunters at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit focus on MO (Modus Operandi) and signature (characteristics of the crime unique to the perpetrator) to help them link a series together and to understand the mind behind the behavior. The Penguin had a different MO and signature than the Riddler, Black Widow, or King Tut. The Bat Computer took this into account when calculating which archnemesis was committing the crime at hand.
  • Forensic analysis – There are times when the types of materials used can be traced back to a unique source. The FBI maintains a massive database of samples for comparison. This has on occasion led to the identity of the person who purchased the equipment or material. If Commissioner Gordon and his officers found dusty particles at a scene, and later analysis by medical personnel determined that the victims were subdued with a blast of sneezing powder, the computer would tell them this was the work of Catwoman, who was known to use it.
  • Predictive analysis – This is often described as the future of law enforcement. When I was a precinct captain, I worked with my crime analyst to survey data from various sectors in my area (my station served about 170,000 residents). To deploy resources appropriately, I had to stay on top of crime trends and anticipate spikes using algorithms. The Bat Computer did something similar on a micro level. Once a likely suspect was identified, the computer would suggest a likely next target. For example, if the suspect was the Joker, the computer would note any upcoming large bank deposits scheduled. Sure enough, Batman and Robin would learn that a shipment of gold would arrive at Gotham National Bank within the hour and head in that direction to intercept the Joker.

Similar to the advanced technology in the original Star Trek TV show, reality eventually caught up with science fiction—sort of (remember Captain Kirk’s flip-phone-like communicator?). We still don’t have a Bat Computer, but law enforcement has some amazing tools that help us zero in on a suspect from what at first can seem like little to no evidence. Maybe one day, we can stand by a computer, breathless with anticipation, and have it spit out the name of the villain. Until then, we’ll have to make do without the buzzers and flashing lights.

Author Interview with Carmen Amato

Please join me in welcoming Carmen Amato to the blog, today. Her 30-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency has inspired a growing body of crime fiction filled with intrigue and deception. She is a recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal, and she is the author of the award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series which was awarded the Poison Cup for Outstanding Series from CrimeMasters of America in both 2019 and 2020, and has been optioned for television. In this series, she pits Acapulco’s first female police detective against Mexico’s drug cartels, government corruption, and social inequality.

MB: Carmen, thanks for being on the blog, today. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a crime fiction writer?

CA: Writing crime fiction is my second career, something that I planned very meticulously, and I’m loving every minute of it. I was an intelligence officer for the Central Intelligence Agency for 30 years, unconsciously tucking away the situations and personalities I encountered. Now they form the backbone of the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series, in which the first female police detective in Acapulco confronts Mexico’s drug cartels, official corruption and culture of machismo.

Originally from New York, my love of travel and adventure began when I spent a year in France, studying at the Sorbonne and the French university of political sciences known as Sciences Po. But my experiences in Mexico and Central America really ignited my crime fiction career. I wanted to illustrate what I saw there, everything from a rich history and culture to a stratified social system and rising drug violence. My writing skills let me do that.

MB: You are eight books into your Detective Emilia Cruz series. Please tell us about this character and how you discovered her.

CA: Detective Emilia Cruz was “born” one Christmas in Mexico, when an armed and addled junkie interrupted midnight Mass at my church on Christmas Eve. No one was hurt, but we were all shaken. It was a sober realization for me just how much damage US drug consumption is wreaking on Mexican society. Eroding civil authority is unable to compete with the huge amounts of money from the US that fuel the drug trade. Cartels and gangs are easily able to co-opt or intimidate police, judges, mayors, etc. That is why thousands of Mexicans go missing every year and even more Americans die from drug overdoses.

After writing the political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY, in which a drug cartel tries to buy the Mexican presidency, I scribbled a short story about a female Mexican cop in Acapulco, the city that for me epitomizes the highs and lows of Mexican life today. I wanted to make the story authentic, to immerse the reader in the Mexico that I experienced.

One source of inspiration for the tale was the Mexican saying, “Poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.”

I brought the story to a critique group and the response from my fellow writers was favorable enough to expand it into the first Detective Emilia Cruz novel, CLIFF DIVER. The turning point came shortly before HAT DANCE, the second book was released, and Huffpost published prequel short story “The Beast” in its Fiction50 showcase curated by actress Rita Wilson. That really helped me find my readership.

MB: How do you keep your main character fresh, as the series lengthens?

CA: I use strong backstories, authentic details, and atmospherics from my intelligence career to keep the reader turning the pages. This means that every Detective Emilia Cruz novel is a real crime cocktail.

The first ingredient is the main mystery, which is often prompted by something in the news. It always hinges on something uniquely Mexican; these plots could not happen elsewhere.

The second ingredient is the enduing subplot of Emilia trying to find women who have gone missing in the Acapulco area. She keeps records of their disappearances, compiled into a binder she calls Las Perdidas (The Lost Ones.)

The third ingredient is Emilia’s personal life. In CLIFF DIVER, the first novel in the series, the reader is introduced to Emilia’s mother, who had a nervous breakdown when Emilia was a toddler and never recovered. The reason for that nervous breakdown is a multi-layered and tragic family secret that unwinds across several books. Just when you think the issue is over, there’s another surprise element.

Emilia’s personal life also involves Kurt Rucker, manager of the most luxurious hotel in Acapulco. Sparks fly between Emilia and Kurt, but she is very good at avoiding commitment. Nonetheless, Kurt won’t be shunted aside and their relationship waxes and wanes throughout the series.

Throw in Franco Silvio, Emilia’s perpetually grumpy partner, plus her corrupt cousin who runs the police department’s evidence locker and a squad room full of detectives who want to throw her out.

With so many diverse and evolving elements to work with, it’s easy to keep the series fresh.

Did I mention that I love complexity?

MB: You have also written short stories, involving your main character, Det. Cruz. How do you know when a story idea about her is big enough to sustain a book-length narrative, or will work better as a short story?

CA: I was thrilled to win Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion in 2019 for the short story “The Artist,” inspired by Mexico’s rallies to raise awareness of the crisis of missing persons. It is available in a bilingual English and Spanish volume entitled THE ARTIST/EL ARTISTA.

One of my writing mantras is “Begin with the end in mind.” I struggle to find short story concepts that have a clean finish.

For a short story, I’m looking for plots that wrap with a clever twist. I have a big box of clippings and printouts, plus links that I post under the hashtag #research on the Detective Emilia Cruz Facebook page.

Novellas are a nice middle ground. The Kindle Single THE LISTMAKER OF ACAPULCO was inspired by a contest sponsored by Moleskine notebooks. I didn’t enter the contest, but the whole plot came together like magic. Readers were excited to get a new Detective Emilia Cruz tale, but I constantly get emails asking when the next full-length novel will come out.

Most readers want to know if Emilia and Kurt will get married. When they broke up at the end of PACIFIC REAPER, I got an avalanche of upset emails!

MB: What books or authors have influenced your writing?

CA: Throughout high school, I read Big Heavy Novels by Leon Uris, Ken Follett, and Herman Wouk. Sweeping reads with historic context, drama-building prose, and characters who evolve. In fact, Ken Follett’s THE KEY TO REBECCA was my role model for THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.

I also love P.G. Wodehouse and Leonard Wibberly, humor writers whose books are funny, frothy, and wholly unrealistic, albeit with fantastic dialogue and quick-step tempo. At the same time, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series was my introduction to the mystery genre.

After being told that books with Mexican main characters would never get an agent/be published/sell, I found an unlikely hero in Leighton Gage’s Inspector Silva books set in Brazil. Gage proved that readers were ready to embrace authentic cultural details from other parts of the Western Hemisphere, which gave me the courage to go forward with the Detective Emilia Cruz series.

MB: What’s next from the pen of Carmen Amato?

CA: There is more Detective Emilia Cruz coming, but in 2022 I’m detouring to upstate New York in 1926 with the new Galliano Club thriller series. In part based on my grandfather’s stories of when he was a deputy sheriff of Oneida County during Prohibition, the series takes the reader to the fictional town of Lido, New York, based on my hometown of Rome, New York.

On the banks of the Mohawk River, Lido is a mill town with big immigrant populations from Italy and Poland that forge the copper and brass to build America’s trains, telephone lines, and electrical grid. When the whistle blows, the Italian workers head to the Galliano Club to play cards and buy bootleg beer from barman Luca Lombardo, who fled Italy after killing the man who murdered his parents.

Lido heats up when Chicago gangster Benny Rotolo swaggers into town, vowing to build a bootlegging empire big enough to challenge enemy Al Capone. Turning the Galliano Club into his private speakeasy is at the top of his list.

Titles of the 3-book series give you a taste of what’s ahead: MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, BLACKMAIL AT THE GALLIANO CLUB, and REVENGE AT THE GALLIANO CLUB.

MB: Carmen, thanks, again, for visiting MurderBooks, today.

Every other Sunday, Carmen’s Mystery Ahead newsletter delivers mystery reviews, book news, and exclusive excerpts from her new Galliano Club thriller series. You can subscribe at: MYSTERY AHEAD NEWSLETTER.

Carmen Amato was interviewed by Roger Johns.

The Value of Mental Health Crisis Intervention Teams

By Micki Browning

It’s unrealistic to think that something as complex as the human brain can function all the time at optimum capacity. We don’t expect it of our bodies, but if our mental health suffers, all too often we try to hide it. And while the conversation surrounding mental health issues is getting louder, it’s still barely above a whisper. Too many people —cops included —are uncomfortable or don’t know how to interact with someone with a mental health disorder. In 1988, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) sought to change that.

The concept of a Crisis Intervention Team of first responders originated with the Memphis Police Department, who in partnership with the Memphis Chapter of NAMI, local mental health providers, and two local universities, devised a specialized response unit to assist mental health consumers. In 2003, the Durango Police Department and the La Plata County Sheriff were the first agencies to institute this type of program in a rural community.

By the time I participated in the week-long Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, I had been an officer for sixteen years—many of them as a hostage negotiator. I’d received a bit of mandated training in my basic police academy, much more as a negotiator, and the rest was made up of experience gained on the street. I felt well-prepared for the class. I was wrong. More on that in a bit.

While the exact training is tailored to individual agency needs, I received training that covered active listening and de-escalation techniques; mental illness basics; specific information on various conditions such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more; suicide detection and prevention, suicide by cop, and police officer suicides; excited delirium; and local resources. Role playing cemented the lessons. 

During the class, my mornings were spent moving from scenario to scenario dealing with crisis actors specifically trained to mimic specific mental health disorders and realistically respond to the officer’s approach and actions. The scenario would escalate or de-escalate accordingly. I learned to slow down. To simplify my requests. To listen while not compromising my own safety. Not every scenario ended well. 

Which brings me back to the incident that left me personally gutted. 

Unlike the mornings, the afternoon training sessions included lectures, conversations, and panels. A quiet woman sat on one panel. When she spoke, her voice quivered and she admitted it was difficult to address a room full of cops. Then she told her story—a story of the night she woke up to find her agitated adult child standing over her bed with a knife. It was a night she didn’t call the police because she feared her son would refuse to put down his knife and the responding officer would kill her child. Those quiet words broke my heart. They also gave me new insight into the harrowing choices caregivers face and how desperate a parent would have to be to request help from a person carrying a gun. 

Police officers deal with people in crisis all the time, and at any hour they are called upon to be a protector, enforcer, social worker, medic, counselor, and Jack (or Jill) of all trades. (I once responded to an elderly woman’s house in the wee hours of the morning because she didn’t know how to light her heater’s pilot light.) Patrol officers are accustomed to viewing solutions through the lens of the criminal justice system, and disordered behavior often crosses the line into an arrestable offense. Sometimes, the appropriate response is an arrest. But members of Crisis Intervention Teams have the skills to identify when a person would be better served with mental health services than a trip to jail. The result is a marked decline of arrests in those same communities. 

The CIT program was the most difficult class I’d ever taken, and I graduated knowing that it was probably the most valuable training I’d ever received. The skills I learned were not only germane to patrol, but in life as well.  

According to NAMI, one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness. One in twenty U.S. adults experience serious mental illness. Seventeen percent of youth between the age of six and seventeen years old experience a mental health disorder. I was fortunate that I belonged to a rural police agency that recognized the need for a Crisis Intervention Team in order to effectively protect and serve all the diverse populations that comprised our community. That training made me a better cop.

For Additional information, assistance, or support contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

You are not alone.     

Micki Browning         

Two Rules of Writing

By Brian Thiem:  I was working on a cop-related blog post today, but it kept veering into the “political” realm. It’s hard to avoid that these days since it seems nearly every discussion about policing can be controversial, and since we at MurderBooks try to avoid things “political,” I’ll instead talk about writing.

I’m in the middle of revising (sometimes called rewriting or editing) the first draft of a thriller WIP (work in progress). It’s a slog and I was wishing I had made a tee time at the local golf course today.

One of my students at WCSU (where I’m an adjunct in the MFA program) recently wrote a book response on Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, which took me back to my two favorite rules of writing that Leonard laid out:

  • Leave out the part that readers tend to skip
  • If it sounds like writing, rewrite it

Like many authors, I had read a great many books before I ever tried my hand at writing one and sat through many English literature and creative writing classes. I read and studied the masters: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlotte Bronte, John Steinbeck, Pat Conroy, and many others. I listened as teachers and fellow students oohed and aahed over long, vivid descriptions of characters and settings and spoke adoringly over their use of metaphors, similes, and other literary devices.

For a while, I thought to be a great writer I needed to write like them. Although I still admire the classics, the truth is few readers want to read books like that today. Fiction readers want good stories about interesting characters. While readers of past generations may have relished multiple pages of character’s internal dialogue—inner thoughts about how their feelings, the conditions of the human experience, or deep philosophical issues—readers today tend to skip over those parts to get to what’s happening in the story.

Likewise, readers were entranced when reading page after page describing Paris or California farm country. But today, readers have been to those places or seen them in films. When I’m reading a book, I find my attention begins to wander if a description of a place or a character extends much more than a paragraph.

As I go through my own manuscript, I try to keep a critical eye toward long, drawn out descriptions or excessive character “naval gazing,” where the character is looking inward and reflecting too much. When my manuscript is ready to be seen and I send it out to my beta readers, I ask them to note any places where their mind wandered and wanted to skip forward.

I often warn writing students about overwriting. Sometimes they say the same thing several times because they don’t trust their readers to get what they’re saying, often because the first sentence was not clear and concise. Other times, they throw in awkward metaphors because they’ve been conditioned that good writing requires literary language. Or they write long, beautiful sentences full of five-syllable words that readers must reread several times to figure out the meaning.

I still sometimes write longer sentences than necessary, so my agent has suggested I carefully look at any sentence longer than two lines to see if I can cut it or make it into two sentences. I believe most readers today prefer clear and concise language. When I try to write pretty sentences to impress readers of my writing ability, I often end up sacrificing clarity.

Therefore, along with the myriad other things I try to address in my rewrite, I strive to focus on cutting out the boring parts and to write in a style that does not sound like writing.