Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why exactly are you here?

"Why exactly are you here? Honest to God..."

Those words were spoken by David Letterman as he greeted Rod Blagojevich on the Late Show last night. Watching Blago repeat his talking points as Letterman told him how guilty he looked was at once compelling, pathetic, embarrassing and hilarious. Blago is relentlessy cheerful and upbeat, even as he is repeatedly the target of Letterman's barbs. He keeps grinning enthusiastically, nodding his head, as the audience laughs at him.

Check out Blago's nervous tics and grooming gestures. Count how many times he pops his cuffs and adjusts his watch, and then touches the button on his jacket. Watch the swallowing and leaning forward, and the awkward fidgeting with his fingers when he doesn't remember to keep his hands folded. All the while repeating "I have two daughters", and talking about calling witnesses.

I thought I'd never seen anything like it. Then I remembered that I have, a couple of times, in people I've arrested. People who were clearly guilty as sin, and yet through some psychological response I don't understand, had apparently convinced themselves that they were innocent.

When I was a new detective I got a case from a woman's clothing store in our town. The district loss prevention agent came in and made the report. An internal audit had identified a series of fraudulent refunds. Someone was writing up refund slips with fictitious names, or names of actual customers, and then pocketing the money from the refunds. They identified an assistant manager as the suspect because each refund had to be entered into the register by a manager, and each manager had a unique code to do so. The same assistant manager's signature appeared on every fake refund. The thefts totaled around $3,000 over a period of several months, and the most recent refund had occurred about one month prior to the report.

This suspect was a chubby, pleasant, nice-looking middle class white girl about 21 or 22 years old. She had no arrest record. At first I thought she was either having financial problems, or had hooked up with a bad boyfriend to whom she was giving the money.

I interrogated her for over 2 hours. She said she never gave her code to anyone else. She said she was the only manager working when the fraudulent refunds occurred, and she identified her signature on each phony refund slip. And she repeatedly denied taking the money. I gave her every possible out, and she simply denied doing it. I took a handwriting exemplar from her and sent it to the lab for comparison to the refund slips to make sure. Felony review would not approve a felony because she did not confess, and there was no video of the transactions.

She was charged with a misdemeanor. She could have gone to court on her first date, pleaded guilty, received supervision and had the whole thing expunged from her record in a couple of years. She got a public defender assigned to her and proceeded to demand a jury trial.

Let's recap the case:

For the state:

  • Only a manager could authorize a refund, and she was the only manager working.
  • Each manager had a unique code to enter for refunds, and her code was the only one used on each transaction.
  • Her signature appeared on every fraudulent refund slip.
  • Handwriting analysis by the crime lab showed it was, in fact, her signature.
  • In instances where a real customer's name was used, those customers said that they had made actual purchases from the suspect an hour or two before the fake refund was made.
  • During her interview, the suspect identified her own signature and code as being used on every fake refund.
For the defense:
  • She said she didn't do it.
  • She denied telling me it was her signature.
She had convinced her public defender she was innocent, merely by the force of her insistence that she was. He believed her, and went along with her demand for a jury trial. Fortunately it didn't work on the jury. After a trial that lasted two days, she was found guilty. It took the jury about 20 minutes. She ended up with a criminal conviction, had to pay restitution and a sizable fine.

The other guy I thought of was a skinny, mopey white kid about 19 years old who we arrested for home invasion and attempted murder. He was dating a girl, a real bad seed, who convinced him that she had been sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend. She got this kid all worked up to the point he felt he had to go to the ex-boyfriend's house to teach him a lesson. Girlfriend thought this was a swell idea. She drove him to the house and pointed him to the door. He took a packing razor with him. When ex-boyfriend victim answered, our bad guy shoved him back inside the door into the kitchen and proceeded to go after him with the razor. The victim received several hundred stitches about his face, hands and neck, and had no idea who his attacker was.

We caught up with both of our offenders later that night. They had stopped at a friend's house claiming to have been in an accident, and dumped his bloody clothes. The friend's father was a cop in another suburb, and when the friend called dad at work to say she thought something was wrong, dad remembered seeing the teletype we put out on the incident.

We read them their rights as we walked them to the car, and both of them started talking immediately. The description I gave of the offense was from the slasher's own statement.

The case took about 2 years to go through court. There were a series of hearings to quash the arrest, exclude evidence and suppress statements. We won every motion. Then came the jury trial. The defense claimed that it was not a home invasion because the victim opened the door, and it was not attempted murder because the slasher only had the razor for self-defense, and used it after the victim attacked him!

You could see the change in the defendant's demeanor as the case progressed. The first few appearances he appeared timid and dazed; his posture was stooped and he didn't make eye contact with anyone. With the passing of each month he grew more confident, and his testimony improved at each stage as he grew more used to repeating his story. By the time the trial ended, you could tell this kid really believed the version of the event he was telling the jury.

Neither the slasher nor his girlfriend had a criminal history. They both looked like typical suburban white kids. The jury bought at least part of their story, probably finding it difficult to believe that two regular kids could do something so heinous. The jury found not guilty on the attempt murder and home invasion, and guilty on multiple counts of aggravated battery. They were sentenced to a few years in prison, and by the time of the trial they had already served most of their sentence. At the time Illinois had day-for-day sentence reduction for good behavior, meaning a 10 year sentence was really a 5 year sentence if you minded your manners in prison. They were both out within a few months of the verdict.

This brings me back to Blago. He's not crazy, nor is he merely trying to influence some future jury pool (like former Governor Ryan did when he let all those murderers off death row.) What Blago is doing is more complex, and far more entertaining. I think his TV appearances are the innocence version of a perpetual motion machine. As a corrupt Illinois politician he already feels entitled, and I'm sure he still feels a certain amount of disbelief that he's actually been arrested and thrown out of office. He has to keep appearing on TV and telling us all that he's innocent, so that he can strengthen the inner voice in his head that's telling him he's innocent. And the more he believes he's innocent, the more he's driven to go on TV and tell us all that he's innocent. Ad infinitum.


SkylersDad said...

I love your take on this Bubs, as somebody who has seen a lot of guilty people over the years.

Randal Graves said...

Personally, I blame the hair. I didn't take the last of the pizza, really I didn't.

Doc said...

I really don't envy your job Bubs, but thank God you do what you do!


Megan said...


Anonymous said...

For some reason everytime I see him I think he should be in Vegas doing a bad "Ronald Reagan" skit. Ugh!

bubbles said...

Bubs - Pathological is the key word, isn't it? I find it frightening. I think there are more people with this "defect" than we realize. I was married to one, and recently I have been frightened by the prospect that there could be a genetic link. I pray, pray, pray that there is not a genetic link - and that proper life leadership can be enough influence to stop such behavior.

Blagojevich is quite an example of what self-centered, pathological liars look like. I'd love to hear what his wife has to say about him someday (if there is one).

Gifted Typist said...

Maybe the Blago (Brilliant nick name) Affair is just reality TV taken one step closer to reality.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Excellent insights sir.

Bubs said...

GT, I think you're on to something there. Clearly, as long as there's any type of freakshow appeal to him, the TV shows seem more than willing to have him on. We'll see if he keeps this up when it gets closer to his trial date.

Bubbles, his wife is right in on it with him, she's just not out in front of the cameras. She had a clout job with a non-profit that she just got fired from, and a real estate office that specialized in setting up special deals for cronies. One way the fix was thought to work was, if someone wanted special treatment they did their real estate deals through Patty. Her father, a Chicago alderman, got Blago started and Blago and Patty both turned on him. Now they barely speak.

Suze, no kidding--imagine him with Ronnie's red hair!

Meg, you want fascinating, read John Kass' columns in the Chicago Tribune.

Doc, thanks. I see a lot of characters, that's for sure!

Randal, everyone blames the hair. As for that pizza...

Skylersdad, thanks.

Bubs said...

Dr MVM, thanks! I do loves me some political corruption stories.

Cormac Brown said...

Honestly and I don't want to insult the citizens of Illinois when I say this, but he has been trying to convince himself all along that he is Bobby Kennedy and those that voted for him, indulged his delusional ass.

He is the political version of that cheesy cover band where the lead singer spends every waking moment believing that he is actually Robert Plant or Jim Morrison. Despite the fact that he couldn't write a song of his own to save his life, nor does he have a fraction of the talent.

Eebie said...

Amazing how people live in their own little minds and it is so real to them.

GETkristiLOVE said...

As a CourtTV junkie, I am kicking myself for not grilling you about all this stuff when we met in person because I find it very interesting. I'm sure you are trained to look for perspiration amounts, jittery mannerisms, etc. during the interviews. What a job, eh? Thanks for making this world a safer place.

BeckEye said...

I also see him as one of those people who revels in being famous, regardless of what he's famous for.

bubbles said...

Wow, Blago and his wife are a match made in heaven - er, or hell, I guess! At least they both know and understand what they got.

Anonymous said...

Bubs... I'm an internal systems auditor for a big life insurer and every now and then we get a chance to talk to our Special Investigations Unit, which looks at internal fraud cases. Man, these stories never get old, and you make a great connection between your examples and Blago. When I saw the Letterman thing, I was thinking Rodney Dangerfield. It was a very funny segment in a train-wrecky sort of way.

Gifted Typist said...

In the 90s, there was a corrupt British politician called Neil HAmilton (google him if you like) who did the same. I forget the exact crime, but he sort of went with the popular culture angle and appeared on all the talk show circuit, sort of making a mockery of himself. His wife Christine got in on the act and became know as a battle axe. Not sure where they are now, but this Blago thing is going in the same direction.

Do you ever use the term "to blag". It fitting for Blago.

Coaster Punchman said...

My brother in law works for the state of Illinois so I've been hearing his tales of woe at the hands of the crazy governors for years. Nutty stuff there.