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Episode 98: Tara Grinstead Trial Testimony

 Tara Grinstead was a south Georgia beauty queen and high school history teacher who disappeared from her home in Ocilla in Irwin County, Georgia, in 2005. This episode includes testimony from the second day of the trial of Bo Dukes, who stands accused of helping to cover up the crime. The man accused of murdering Tara, Ryan Duke, is set to go to trial later this year.
First on the stand is Grinstead’s Ocilla neighbor, Joe Portier,who recalls how Tara did his granddaughter’s hair for a beauty contest the weekend she went missing. Portier said that he called a police officer and the two men went to search Tara’s house, where they found clothes and jewelry from the beauty show, but no sign of Tara. Next up is John McCullough, who says he met Bo Dukes when they were in basic training. He recalls that Bo told him that Ryan got into a fight with Tara, and ended up accidentally strangling her. McCullough said that according to Bo, Ryan asked if he could borrow his truck to move Tara’s body to a pecan orchard, where Bo helped him to burn it, and bury the remains. McCullough testifies that he tried reporting what Dukes had told him multiple times, but no one would listen.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 97: Six Mayday Calls

(1) The Northern Belle was a 75-foot fishing vessel that went down in the Gulf of Alaska on April 20 2010. Three of her four crew were rescued alive; her captain, Robert Royer, who placed the Mayday call, tried to jump overboard but wasn’t able to get clear of the tangle of gear, hit his head on a large metal pump, and didn’t re-surface. Some time later, his body was seen floating face-up. The captain’s cocker spaniel, Baxter, also went down with the vessel.

(2) On April 7, 1994, a FedEx employee named Auburn Calloway tried to hi-jack Federal Express Flight 705 from Memphis to San Jose. Calloway, who was about to be fired, boarded the flight with several hammers and a speargun concealed in a guitar case. He planned to crash the aircraft hoping that he would appear to be an employee killed in an accident, so his family could collect his life insurance. But the crew fought back, subdued Calloway, and landed safely.

(3) Betty Ong was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first airplane to be hijacked during the September 11 attacks. Shortly after the hijacking, Ong notified  ground crew of the hijacking. She reported that none of the crew could contact the cockpit nor open its door, a passenger and two flight attendants had been stabbed, and someone had sprayed mace in the business class cabin.

(4) On August 10, 2018, a Horizon Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 was stolen from Sea–Tac airport in Washington, by 29-year-old Richard Russell, a Horizon Air ground service agent with no piloting experience. Friends described him as “a quiet guy” who was “well liked by the other workers”. Around one hour and 15 minutes after takeoff, Russell committed suicide by intentionally crashing the aircraft on a lightly-populated island in Puget Sound. No explanation for the incident was found.

(5) On September 27, 2018, crew member Franklin Freddy Meave Vazquez, 27, went berserk on the fishing vessel Billy Haver when about 55 miles off Nantucket, Mass. He assaulted a crew member with a knife in one hand and a hammer in the other, Vazquez then struck a third colleague before he was chased up the mast in an attempt to avoid capture, He was charged with murder and attempted murder. No-one knows what sparked the attacks.

(6) Not actually a Mayday call…. on the taxiway, a German Lufthansa pilot is annoyed that maintenance have left the gas tank door open on his plane. Rather than wait for the ground control crew to come and close it, he gets out of the cockpit to do it himself.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 96: James Scandirito Jr. Trial Testimony

  In 2000, the Honorable James “Skip” Scandirito, a Michigan county court judge, had his judge’s license revoked in 2002 after sexual misconduct allegations. Women had accused him of offering leniency for their charges in return for sexual favors. In the case of a 22-year-old female defendant charged with drunk driving, for example, the judge suggested she meet him at a bar to talk over her case. After his resignation, Scandirito retired to Boca Raton, Fla., where he spent his time quietly playing golf, barbecuing with friends, and taking care of the neighborhood’s stray cats–until, in March 2018, parts of his body were found buried at an abandoned golf course.

The last person to see the former judge was his son, James “Jimmy” Scandirito Jr., who initially claimed his father, 74, was missing after not returning from a kayaking trip with a new lady friend he’d met on the golf course. However, Junior later came clean and admitted he’d cut up his father’s body with a hand saw–although he insists he didn’t kill his father.

On the stand, Scandirito claims he’d been watching TV with his dad while doing cocaine (out of something like an “hors d’oeuvres” dish), although his father had a “good enough buzz” from beer and didn’t want to indulge. Scandirito said he went outside to smoke a cigarette, and returned to find his father dead on the floor, and the cocaine knocked over. He assumed his father had died of an overdose, and cut up the body in a drug-fueled paranoia. Prosecutors said Scandirito killed his father to get the older man’s money, since was bad with finances and had been no longer able to support his desired standard of living.

Scandirito Jr. was found guilty of dismembering his father’s body (which proved negative for cocaine), but not guilty of murder. He faces up to 15 year in prison when he is sentenced in June.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 95: Cory Batey Rape Trial

On August 9, 2013, four Vanderbilt University football players–Brandon Vandenburg, Cory Batey, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie–were caught on video carrying an unconscious girl to Vandenberg’s dorm room. Here, they took it in turns to rape and abuse her, as testified by images captured on cellphone cameras.

The prosecution pointed out that the girl, 21, a friend of Brandon Vandenburg, had been drinking heavily; she had consensual sex with Vandenberg the next morning, and she didn’t know she’d been raped. When her roommates pointed out the vomit in her hair and missing shoes, she was initially reluctant to get a medical exam, and when she learned she’d been raped, she didn’t want to believe her date had been involved.

Th football players were dismissed from football team on June 29, 2013 and banned from campus during the six-week investigation that followed. In this excerpt from the trial of Corey Batey, 24, who–according to prosecutors–urinated on the girl, made a racial slur at the end of the attack, and referred to her as a “bitch” in e-mails, Batey explains that his initial story was a fabrication devised by the team’s coach in order to be sure the players all had their story straight. Batey, who claims he blacked out and has no memory of the incident, received the minimum 15-year sentence, and has requested a new trial.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 94: Austin Harrouff Parents Police Interview

   On August 15, 2016, Mina Harrouff of Stuart, Florida, noticed her son Austin drinking cooking oil mixed with Parmesan cheese. Austin had been acting strangely for a while. He told his parents he needed to guard them, as he felt an evil presence in the house. He also said he’d “hypnotized himself” and was unable to sleep. Some time that day, Austin asked Google the unusual question, “What’s the weakest thing about a centaur?”. Then, after an argument with his father during dinner, the muscular college student stormed out of the family home.

He then walked four miles across town, wearing only his underwear, and attacked a married couple John Stevens, 59, and Michelle Mishcon, 53, who were sitting out on their porch. He stabbed the pair to death with a knife, and, while growling like a dog, got down on all fours and began eating John Stevens’s face. When police arrived, he told them, “Help me, I ate something bad.” When asked what he had eaten, Harrouff replied, “Humans,” and spat out a piece of flesh.

  According an FBI toxicology report, the teenager had no detectable hallucinogenic drugs in his system. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges. The case will go to trial in November 2019. This episode contains the police interview with Austin’s shocked and puzzled parents, Mina and Wade Harrouff, the night of his arrest,

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 93: Chris Watts Prison Interview Part 2

Listen to the episode here (warning: poor sound quality).

Episode 92: Chris Watts Prison Interview Part 1

On February 18, 2019, Chris Watts, 33, was visited in Dodge Correctional Institution, Waupun, Wisconsin, by FBI Special Agent Graham Coder, Frederick Police Department Detective Dave Baumhover, and CBI Agent Tammy Lee, who conducted the original polygraph that Watts failed. Watts was amenable to the interview, which lasted for almost five hours.

In response to Special Agent Coder’s questions, Watts talks about the problems in his marriage and his growing feelings for Nichol Kessenger, and gives more details about the crime.   He describes the argument with his wife, Shannan, that led to him straddling her while she was lying in bed, then choking her in a rage. He then explains how he dragged his wife’s body downstairs, loaded her in the back of his truck, and strapped his daughters into their car seats. After driving for 45 minutes, he smothered his two daughters with a blanket and dropped their bodies, separately, into two wells. Watts grows tearful as he recalls the episode.

The FBI agents are genial and chatty. Special Agent Coder is especially gentle and encouraging, repeatedly reminding Watts they’re not out to judge or condemn him, just to understand. “Chris, you care about others deeply, I can tell,” he says. “You worry about others… You made a two minute mistake in an otherwise good life. You’re not a monster.” Coder sounds convincing enough to put Watts at ease and elicit the details he wants to hear. Chris Watts is serving three consecutive life sentences for the murders. This is part one of a two-part interview.

Listen to the episode here (warning: poor sound quality).

Episode 91: Sabrina Limon Trial Testimony

   After eight years together, blonde housewife Sabrina Limon and her railroad worker husband Robert decided to make suburban life in San Bernadino County more exciting. They “opened up” their marriage, joining the local swingers’ scene, hosting raucous parties taking “adult” vacations. Then, while working at Costco offering free samples to shoppers, Sabrina, 38, met Jonathan Hearn, 27, a firefighter with an impressive vocabulary. Hearn was a devout Christian, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing the older woman, and after a torrid affair, the pair fell seriously in love. Believing Robert would never countenance a divorce, Sabrina and Jonathan decided God’s purpose was for them to be together, and, as Hearn said on the stand, “Bob had to go.”

The couple’s first plan involved poisoning Robert with arsenic laced banana pudding. In July 2104, Hearn tested out the poison by feeding a “pretty obnoxious” neighborhood dog a piece of arsenic-spiked salmon. The dog became quiet, but Sabrina lost her nerve. Instead, a month later, Hearn shot Robert at the railroad in Tehachapi, where he worked. Suspicions were raised when Jonathan moved in with the Sabrina shortly thereafter; a police wiretap uncovered the murder. Hearn took a plea deal, testifying against Limon and pleading guilty to manslaughter to avoid a life sentence. He received 25 years and four months in prison. Sabrina Limon was convicted of murder and several other charges, and received a similar sentence.

This episode contains audio from Day 13 of Limon’s trial, which took place in September 2017. Sabrina is on the stand. Even on direct examination, she isn’t a convincing witness. She’s nervous and hesitant; her responses are short and vague, and she has little to offer in her own defense.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 90: James Holmes Psychiatric Interview

Last month, in response to demands from the press, the psychiatric interviews and evaluations of mass murderer James Holmes were released. In 2012, Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opened fire during a midnight screening of Batman Returns. A dozen people were killed and 58 others wounded.

In this excerpt from 25 hours of interviews, court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. William Reid questions Holmes about his motives and his experiences after his arrest. Holmes is laconic and taciturn, giving nothing away. He doesn’t reveal a motive for the crime.  He seems bored by the questions, and repeats that he feels nothing, and has nothing to say. He expresses no regret, admitting that he replays the shooting in his head from time to time–apparently as a way to stave off boredom.

Holmes was a grad student at the time of the shooting. We learn that he expressed hostility towards his campus psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, sending her half-burned dollar bills when she raised her fees and mistakenly wrote the wrong last name on his prescription, but he made no threats and had no history of violence.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and Dr. Reid’s evaluation was intended to help determine whether or not he was competent to stand trial. He was convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 89: O.J. Simpson Parole Hearing

In 2008, former NFL running back O.J. Simpson was convicted on 10 counts of robbery for his role in an armed heist to retrieve some items of his memorabilia that had been put up for sale. In July 2017, after serving nine years of his 33 year sentence, Simpson appeared before the Nevada Parole Board by video link from Lovelock Correctional Institute in Lovelock, Nevada. He was accompanied by his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, and seemed to be in good spirits.

At 70, Simpson looks healthy and seems to have lost some weight. His voice is deep and resonant. He is not especially remorseful or apologetic–“I’ve done my time,” he repeats– and when asked about the robbery, he goes into unnecessary detail, holding forth for more than 10 minutes. He becomes slightly heated when one of the commissioners presses him on his belief that the memorabilia items were actually his property, but mostly he is relaxed and confident. The Parole Board does confirm that Simpson’s 1994 double murder case, of which he was acquitted, would not be considered to be a factor in their decision.

After their interview with Simpson, the parole board interviewed his daughter Arnelle as well as Bruce Fromong, one of the victims in the case, before deciding that Simpson deserved to be paroled. He was released in October 2017.

Listen to the episode here.