Archive for May, 2011

Va. state trooper shot; deputy sheriff is suspect

Posted in News, Police Behaving Badly with tags , , on May 31, 2011 by punauni

A Virginia State Police sergeant was shot and wounded Monday by an off duty Franklin County deputy sheriff, and the deputy then was shot by officers who had come to the aid of the wounded trooper, authorities said.

Sgt. M.K. Brannock’s injuries were not considered life-threatening, police said.

The deputy, Jonathan A. Agee, 32, of Boones Mill, had been sought as a suspect in an earlier shooting when Brannock stopped him. Police said Agee shot Brannock just before noon. Agee then sustained life-threatening injuries after being shot by two state police officers who arrived to aid Brannock, police said.

Both men were taken to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. No other injuries were reported at the scene of the Interstate 81 shooting, which is being investigated by the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and a police shootings investigation team.

“The focus of investigators right now is piecing together the exact sequence of events leading up to both shootings,” said Col. W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police superintendent. “This is a difficult day, needless to say, for Virginia’s law enforcement community.”

Media reports said traffic on Interstate 81 was backed up for 14 miles as vehicles were forced to detour off the freeway.

Brannock was shot after he stopped Agee’s patrol car on Interstate 81 near Roanoke, police said. Agee was being sought in connection with the fatal shooting of his ex-wife, Jennifer Louise Agee, 30, of Salem, minutes earlier at a Roanoke convenience store, Roanoke Police said.

The convenience store shooting happened about 11:30 Monday morning at a Sheetz store near the Civic Center, Roanoke police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson said.

Agee followed his ex-wife’s vehicle in the parking lot and shot her multiple times with a rifle, Johnson said. She said Jennifer Agee died at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.A murder warrant has been issued for her ex-husband, but has not been served, Johnson said.

The two officers involved in the freeway shooting have been placed on leave.Brannock, 35, is a 13-year veteran of the state police

Autistic 10-year-old Arvada girl missing from her home

Posted in Autism, News with tags , , on May 31, 2011 by punauni

Arvada police and volunteers are looking for an autistic 10-year-old girl who went missing on Monday afternoon.

Kristina Vlassenko has been missing since about 3:30 p.m. in the area of West 58th Avenue and Miller Street, according to an Arvada Police Department media release.

Arvada police and the Arvada Search Team canvassed the area Monday but did not find the girl.

The missing child is described as a white girl, about 3 3 feet, 8 inches tall and 40 pounds. She has hazel eyes and brown hair.

Kristina was wearing a red, Mickey Mouse t-shirt, with a white t-shirt underneath, blue jeans and pink sandals.

The girl, who has limited speaking ability, carries a Life Trak system but the device has not

helped searchers locate her. Life Trak is a low-frequency radio tracking device.

Police said there were no immediate indications of foul play.

Anyone with information on the missing girl is asked to call the Arvada Police Department at 720-898-6900.

Scientists Find Molecular Similarities in Brains of Those with Autism

Posted in Autism, Medicine, News with tags on May 31, 2011 by punauni

The symptoms and severity of autism vary widely, but new research shows remarkable similarities at the molecular level in the brains of people with the disorder.

Researchers from Los Angeles, Toronto and London analyzed post-mortem brain tissue samples from 19 people with autism and 17 without.

In the healthy brains, researchers saw distinct differences in the gene expression in the frontal lobe vs. the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex — differences that help determine the structure and function of the two brain regions.

Specifically, between the frontal and temporal lobes in the healthy brains, more than 500 genes were expressed at different levels. Gene expression is the process by which a gene’s DNA sequence is copied into RNA to produce proteins, which perform specific tasks within the cell.

But researchers didn’t find those same patterns in autistic brains. Instead, researchers found only eight differences in the gene expression in the frontal and temporal lobes.

“In a healthy brain, the frontal and temporal lobes can be differentiated,” said principal investigator Dr. Daniel Geschwind, a distinguished professor of neurology, psychiatry and human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “But in autism we didn’t see that. Instead, the frontal lobe closely resembles the temporal lobe.”

Many of those regional differences in the cerebral cortex are established during fetal development, researchers added.

The study is published in the May 25 online issue of Nature.

Over the past decade, researchers have discovered lots of gene variants that seem to play a role in some cases of autism, but none of the mutations were present in a large percentage of people with the disorder.

Prior research has also implicated regions of the cerebral cortex, which is highly developed in humans, in autism. The frontal lobe is involved with judgment, language, planning, social cognition and personality, while the temporal lobe is important for language and emotions, Geschwind said.

But this is the first study to show differences in the patterns of gene expression between brain regions. It’s those patterns of gene expression that enable the brain to function normally and to communicate properly with other regions of the brain, explained Robert Ring, vice president for translational research for Autism Speaks.

“This study allows us to look at the complexity of what’s going on at a molecular level in the brain, a step up from the gene,” Ring said. “Here we have the opportunity to really see that the development of normal brain physiology requires differences in the regional activity of gene networks. This report provides evidence that the expected pattern of these differences is absent in autism.”

Researchers say the findings may help in the development of medications that target the pathways. “The fact that it’s shared says there is some hope of beginning to unwind this and develop some treatments that would target those pathways,” Geschwind said.

Compared to the healthy brains, autistic brains had less activity in the genes responsible for neuron function and communication, and a heightened level of gene expression in genes involved in immune function and inflammatory response.

Some of those genes have also previously been implicated in autism, researchers noted.

An estimated one in 110 U.S. children — including one in 70 boys — has an autism spectrum disorder, according to background information in the study. Autism affects behavior and impairs the ability to communicate and establish social relationships. Diagnoses have increased tenfold in the past decade.

‘Don’t say gay’ bill passes in Tennessee Senate, would ban teachers from discussing homosexuality

Posted in News, People Behaving Badly, Sad on May 23, 2011 by punauni

The Tennessee Senatepassed a bill on Friday that would bar teachers from discussing homosexuality with elementary and middle school students.

Under the legislation, dubbed by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill, any instruction in public classrooms will be “limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproduction science.”

Republican Stacey Campfield, the bill’s sponsor, says “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce” and has argued families should decide when its appropriate to talk with their children about homosexuality.

But gay rights activists are blasting the legislation, which passed 6-3, as a form of discrimination.

It “limits what teachers and students are able to discuss in the classroom,” Ben Byers of the Tennessee Equality Project told LBGTQ Nation. “It means they can’t talk about gay issues or sexuality even with students who may be gay or have gay family.”

It’s unlikely that the bill will be taken up by the House before lawmakers adjourn this spring, but Campfield said he would push it forward in 2012.

The bill, which was approved 19-11, passed the same day as Gallup released a poll revealing that American attitudes towards homosexuality are changing.

For the first time in Gallup polling history, the majority of Americans—53% believe same-sex marriage should be legal.

Passage of the bill would make Tennessee the first state to enact such legislation.

Initially, the bill read that no students will “provide any instruction or material that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.” Campfield said some of his colleagues were uncomfortable the language.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Campfield said after the legislation passed. “I got what I wanted.”

Dad, stepmom charged in murder of boy found under concrete slab

Posted in News, Parents Behaving Badly, Sad on May 20, 2011 by punauni

Locked in a dog cage naked or chained to a bed frame, 13-year-old Christian Choate wouldn’t make much noise because if he did, the beatings would get worse.

The boy, found buried in a shallow grave near his former mobile home one week ago, had been abused for two to three years, police said.

Murder, battery, neglect of a dependent and criminal confinement charges were filed in Lake County, Ind. Tuesday against the boy’s father, Riley Lowell Choate, 39, of Hammond, and stepmother, Kimberly Leona Kubina, 45, of the Black Oak section of Gary. They will appear for initial hearings Wednesday morning.

Witnesses told police that Choate would slap Christian in the face after family members alleged Christian had molested a male relative. The beatings, which were witnessed by other children, grew more severe as Choate and his now ex-wife argued and Choate took it out on Christian, court records state.

When the family lived in the 7200 block of Polk Street in Merrillville, Choate and Kubina would lock Christian in a room in the basement. After the family moved to the Colfax Mobile Home Park in Black Oak, Riley put Christian in a dog cage bought from a neighbor and secured with seven locks. A witness told police Christian lived in the dog cage at their home in the 5900 block of West 36th Avenue every day for more than a year, until his death on April 5, 2009.

During that time, the boy’s parents would have his 17-year-old sister chain him to a bed frame that was leaning up against a dresser. The girl told police she was responsible for feeding Christian, taking him to the bathroom, forcing him to exercise or physically punishing him for failing to follow orders. She told police Choate would abuse her if she didn’t perform her duties properly.

“He needs to be locked up. He’s a dog,” Kubina told the other children, court records state.

Some beatings videotaped

As the beatings escalated, Christian would be denied food and confined naked except for a diaper, sometimes gagged with a sock and duct tape. The other children would try to sneak him food. Ice-cold baths twice a week would prompt his screams. The boy’s hands and feet began to turn purple from being tied to the bed frame.

The girl said she would strike the boy and once choked him until he turned blue, and used her stepmother’s video camera at Kubina’s direction to record the beatings. Those recordings were later recorded over, the girl said, but police searched Kubina’s home in Kentucky and recovered several computers, digital cameras, cell phones and other electronic storage devices.

On the day before Christian died, he refused to eat. His father became enraged and punched him in his head with full force several times before throwing him back in the cage, authorities said. On April 5, 2009, the girl told police she woke up and tried to feed her brother some cereal, but he refused, so she slapped him across the face twice and put him in the cage. She continued to check on him and eventually noticed he wasn’t breathing and called her stepmother and aunt, who had gone to pick up one of the other children who got in trouble at school. The girl said she attempted CPR on Christian with an air mattress pump.

At Kubina’s direction, the girl told police, she wrapped Christian in a yellow blanket, put him inside two black plastic bags and secured them in duct tape. Authorities alleged that Kubina and Choate buried the boy under a shed across the street from his former home in Black Oak. Police found the body under a layer of concrete, covered with lime and a Bible resting on his chest.

Cage meant for a dog

After the boy died, Kubina told the children Christian had run away, but a witness recalled Kubina asking Choate if he thought they would get caught. “What are you talking about?” Choate responded as he played racing games on the computer. “You know, the thing about Christian,” Kubina is quoted as saying.

Kubina told the children that Christian running away “is a family thing and we’re going to work through it. This goes to the grave,” court documents said.

Christian’s mother, Aimee Estrada, said she left Choate after he began abusing her. Choate had custody of their two children in July 2005, and Estrada said she was not allowed to visit her children after last seeing Christian in 2005. She contacted police May 1 after learning from her daughter that Christian had died.

Lori Wingard, the Choates’ former neighbor at Colfax Mobile Home Park, said Kubina approached her about buying the dog cage for $15. Wingard had sold her Alaskan malamute and the new owners weren’t taking the cage with them. When she learned the cage was used to confine Christian, Wingard said she cried and cried. “I had no idea,” she said.

On Tuesday, Choate pleaded not guilty to earlier charges of removal of a body from a death scene, failure to notify authorities of the discovery of a dead body and failure to report a dead body.

Mother accused of murder has history of problems

Posted in New Hampshire, News, Parents Behaving Badly with tags , on May 20, 2011 by punauni

The demons finally caught up to the Texas mom charged with murdering her tow-headed kindergartner and dumping his body on a quiet Maine road, according to friends and family who described a loving woman with a dark history of suicide attempts, drug and prostitution arrests, short-lived jobs and unhappy relationships.

“My son’s dead,” Julianne McCrery said after her arrest in Massachusetts, according to lawyer George Murphy. “I want to go to heaven and be with him.”

Authorities say the 42-year-old Irving, Texas, mom killed her son, 6-year-old Camden Hughes, in Hampton, by asphyxiating him using “physical force” on Saturday. His body was dumped in Maine later the same day.

Murphy – who represented McCrery at a brief Massachusetts extradition hearing – believes she traveled thousands of miles from home to take her son’s life and commit suicide.

“I believe she was up here to bring both herself and her son to heaven,” Murphy said.

On Thursday, McCrery was arraigned in Portsmouth on second-degree murder charges. She silently wept in the courtroom and was held without bail.

The charges marked the horrific end to the life of a boy born to a deeply troubled woman.

Murphy said his client tried to kill herself at least once while traveling in New England and “several times” in 2004.

“Julie had a lot of problems,” said McCrery’s former boyfriend in Irving, Robert Miller. “We always thought maybe she should be on medication.”

McCrery, a native of San Jose, Calif., had lived in Texas for about 25 years, Miller said. A high school dropout with a GED, she lived in a modest mobile home bought for $5,000 –  but she had ambitions. She self-published “Good Night, Sleep Tight,” a book about insomnia. She sought training as a dental hygienist and a court reporter, and held fleeting jobs as a cement mixer driver and at an auto parts truck company. But her ventures seemed doomed to failure and Texas records show she was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs.

McCrery’s love life was no happier. She was married to her ex-husband for more than 15 years, and they had an older son who is in the Navy.

But the marriage disintegrated when she became “obsessed” with a married man who she claimed was Camden’s father. When the affair ended, she attempted suicide, Miller said.

“She would say she basically lost her mind over this man,” Miller said.

McCrery and Miller split up three months ago. A month ago, she was fired from her most recent job. She and Camden had both been ill recently, and she didn’t have money to pay a doctor, Miller said.

But as dismal as her life had become, no one could believe she would kill.

“She loved Camden dearly, practically worshipped the ground he walked on,” said Miller, recalling how McCrery wept with joy when she learned she was pregnant. “There’s no way she could have intentionally done this.”

“I didn’t notice anything leading up to what happened, absolutely nothing,” said McCrery’s mother, LuRae McCrery. “Everything seemed normal.”

And Camden was “a wonderful little boy” who could read and write when he entered kindergarten, Miller said. “We used to wonder how far he’d go. He’d just do great in life, that’s what everyone figured.”

The 6-year-old was a “gifted and talented” student, said Pat Lamb of W.T. Hanes Elementary School.

“His teachers described him as a sponge who loved to learn,” Lamb said.

For days after the body of her son was discovered, McCrery reported him sick to school, telling a secretary thousands of miles away that he had appendicitis but would be healthy enough to return next week.

“I know that speaks to a troubled mind and a troubled soul,” Lamb said.

On Thursday, McCrery’s loved ones mourned two destroyed lives.

“I know Camden is there in heaven with God, so there’s nothing to worry about with him,” Miller said. “It’s just her I’m worried about,”

The fear is warranted, her lawyer said.

Murphy recalled when he was first introduced to McCrery, he said, “Hi, I’m George Murphy.”

She responded: “Hi. How are you doing. I want to die.”

Teacher Accused Of Sexual Relationship With Teenager

Posted in News, People Behaving Badly, Teachers behaving badly with tags , , , on May 18, 2011 by punauni

A science teacher in Wallingford, accused of having a sexual relationship with a teenager appeared in court Wednesday.  Police said 35-year-old Mario Fusco, of Middlebury, turned himself in to police Tuesday after police issued a warrant for his arrest.Investigators said a 19-year-old came to them and admitted to having a relationship with Fusco beginning when she was 14-years-old.Police said they served a search warrant on Sunday and seized several items from the home that may be related to the case.Police said to the best of their knowledge the victim was not a student in the Wallingford School District where Fusco has worked since 2000 or the Wallingford Alternative High School where he teaches science.  “Obviously, we recognize the fact he is a teacher in our district.   And were trying to reach out to him to have a conversation and take the appropriate actions that are necessary,” said School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo.