Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Murder at Snappy Food Store

Michael Yacob

A Tale of Two Lives
by Robert A. Waters

At eight o'clock on the morning of May 4, 2008, nineteen-year-old Moussa Maida opened up the Snappy Food Store on Trollie Lane in Jacksonville, Florida. As he entered through the front door, Michael Yacob rushed in behind him. Masked and armed with a handgun, he forced Maida into the cashier's booth and made him open the safe.

With a bag full of cash, Yacob turned to flee. Maida, however, pressed a button that locked the the robber in the store. The clerk then locked himself inside the booth in what he thought was a bulletproof glass enclosure.

Yacob came back to the window and shot at Maida. He missed with the first round, but fired again. This time the bullet pierced the glass and hit Maida in the chest.

A surveillance video-camera in the store recorded Maida's final moments of life. After being shot, he fell to the floor. He moaned several times in an apparent attempt to breathe, then died.

In the meantime, Yacob ran to the locked door and tried to break the glass so he could escape. The diminutive robber (five-feet three inches tall and 139 pounds) fired several shots into the glass--eventually he pried open a hole and crawled out.

But during his struggle to get away, he cut himself. Investigators collected blood and developed a DNA profile. Two years later, while in prison for aggravated assault, Jacksonville cops got a cold hit. A match was obtained from the blood Yacob left behind at the Snappy Food Store.

In 2011, Michael Mulugetta Yacob, 24, was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud was visibly shaken while watching the video of a cold-blooded murder in his courtroom. Addressing the killer, he said: “This is not a case of a robbery gone bad. This is not a case of things going out of control. This is the case of a man who made a conscious decision to end the life of a 19-year-old boy.”

Moussa Maida
Moussa Maida had immigrated from Syria when he was a teenager. He worked hard to learn English, and while attending Englewood High School, mastered the language. In fact, he later became an interpreter to other Syrian students at the school. According to the Times-Union, his younger sister, Cristen Maida, testified in court "that because he spoke English much better than his parents, he took on more responsibilities than an average teen at the store and at home."

"Moussa took me under his wing and helped me adjust to life in the United States," Cristen said. "I could ask him things I couldn't ask my parents. I can remember riding around with him, listening to music and singing to the top of our lungs."

All the while, the teen worked tirelessly in his father’s convenience store. Maida’s dream was to become a doctor and, after high school, he enrolled at Jacksonville Community College. He went out of his way to avoid trouble, concentrating instead on working to achieve his future dreams.

Maida's family was devastated by the senseless murder. “Most of the people can't believe it, especially my mom,” Cristen said. “It's a big loss for her to lose her son. She can't believe it. She's having a really hard time.”

Maida’s uncle, Fysal Taazieh, said: “Somebody took his future away...Since he got here, he's been working and going to school--that's been eliminated for no sense.”

Michael Yacob had a lengthy record filled with arrests for drug offenses, burglary, and robbery.

During Yacob’s sentencing, Judge Soud said: “This murder...is forever memorialized in full color on the video and audio security recordings of Snappy Food Store.”

Two lifestyles: one, a despicable life of violence and murder; the other, a productive life filled with dreams.

The wrong man died that morning.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: A Season of Darkness

A Season of Darkness
by Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbell
Berkley Books, New York, 2011

Review by Robert A. Waters

From 1969 to 1974, I lived in a small town just south of Nashville. I found my lovely wife there and got my undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. After moving to my home state of Florida, my wife and I spent Spring Break, 1975 back in Tennessee and it was there I first read about the Marcia Trimble case. I was mesmerized by the mystery: how can a nine-year-old selling Girl Scout cookies in a busy middle class neighborhood simply vanish? The answer came decades later and was almost beyond belief.

A Season of Darkness describes the story of Marcia Trimble’s abduction and murder in Nashville. It chronicles the three-decade hunt for her killer, the near-framing of an innocent teenager, and advances in DNA that finally brought a serial rapist and double murderer to some measure of justice.

Marcia Trimble was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced angel. Her passions were Girl Scouts, playing with her friends, and going to church. She’d highlighted passages in her Bible and had deep discussions with her mother about religion.

Then, on February 25, 1975, at 5:30 in the afternoon, while going about her neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies, Marcia vanished. There were children out riding bicycles and playing basketball, mothers watching their kids from windows, and fathers driving home from work. In the middle of it all, the young girl simply disappeared.

The Nashville Police Department wasn't equipped to handle such a case. They made numerous mistakes: first, by allowing searchers to trample all over the crime scene; second, by immediately focusing on a strange teenager who had an almost unbreakable alibi; but worst of all, by searching a neighbor’s shed more than a dozen times and somehow missing the girl’s body lying beneath a tarp. And, as happens more times than they’ll admit, an FBI profiler got it 100% wrong, misleading investigators.

Thirty-three days after she disappeared, on Easter Sunday, Marcia was found two hundred yards from her home. The child had been strangled and sexually assaulted.

Shortly after Marcia was killed, several rapes and a murder near Vanderbilt University resulted in the arrest and conviction of a sexual predator named Jerome Barrett. He’d spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes against women and children. He was never considered a suspect in Marcia’s murder until DNA linked him to the crime. A Season of Darkness describes his murderous past, and how he was caught and convicted.

Many years after the crime that shocked Nashville, police captain Mickey Miller said: “In that moment, Nashville lost its innocence. Our city has never been, and never will be, the same again. Every man, woman, and child knew that if something horrific could happen to that little girl, it could happen to anybody.”

In A Season of Darkness, Douglas Jones and Phyllis Gobbel have done a masterful job bringing the case to life. Their attention to detail takes the reader back to Nashville in the 1970s, and they pull no punches in critiquing a flawed investigation.

This is one of the best true crime books I’ve read in quite a while. I highly recommend it.

Jerome Barrett

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Football Mayhem
by Robert A. Waters

Is it any wonder that many football fans pull for Tim Tebow? His persona is the exact opposite of what we’ve come to expect from college and NFL players. It seems that a guy like Tebow who combines good works with a Bible-based lifestyle would be praised, not condemned. Yet many sports analysts, who seem to minimize every misdemeanor and felony committed by star athletes, routinely ridicule Tebow’s convictions.

Listed below are snapshots from the lives of a few Tebow contemporaries:

Donte Stallworth. In 2009, Stallworth killed a man. At the time, he was a less-than-stellar wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns. After signing a thirty-five million dollar contract, Stallworth repaid his team by catching only seventeen passes. On March 14, he spent all night at a bar celebrating the multi-million dollar bonus he'd just received. That morning, Stallworth sped away in his expensive Bentley and ran down Mario Reyes, a Miami Beach construction worker who was walking home from work. Stallworth’s blood alcohol content was 0.12, above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08. Pleading guilty to manslaughter, the underachieving wide receiver was sentenced to miniscule jail time (30 days), along with community service, house arrest, and probation. Stallworth currently plays for the Washington Redskins.

Cam Newton. While a student and backup to Tebow at the University of Florida, Newton stole a laptop from another student. When police arrived to search for the computer, he tossed it out the window of his dorm. After being arrested, Cam was suspended from the team. He completed a court-approved diversion program, and the charges were dropped. Cam then transferred to little Blinn College where his father allegedly shopped him around in a “pay-for-play” scheme. Cecil Newton’s asking price was more than a hundred thousand dollars. Even though Cam denied knowing of the illegal contact with big-name universities, it was inconceivable to many fans that he could be ignorant of the plan. Cam settled on Auburn and led the Tigers to a national title. He won the 2010 Heisman Trophy and now plays with the Carolina Panthers.

Reggie Bush. The Miami Dolphins running back received hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal payments while at the University of Southern California. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2005 but was shamed into returning it after the NCAA spotlighted his rule-breaking proclivities. Bush left the USC athletic program in shambles. Because of his actions, the Trojan football team was struck with severe sanctions. The team can’t play in a bowl game for two years. In addition, the university lost football scholarships and was forced to revoke all its wins in the 2004-05 championship season. But even with the wreck of a USC program floundering in the maelstrom of adversity, Bush still has his apologists.

Sam Hurd. A few days after Hurd and the Chicago Bears lost to Tim Tebow and the Broncos, the wide receiver was arrested. He allegedly purchased a bag containing one kilogram of cocaine from an undercover ICE agent. According to documents, Hurd indcated that he wanted to become a major player in the Chicago drug world. He also told agents he hoped to buy Mexican cell phones, which he claimed were “untraceable” in America. On December 16, he was released from custody after paying a $100,000 cash bond. Then he was released by the Bears. Allegations that Hurd dealt drugs to other NFL players were denied by his attorney. He has not been convicted of any charges and is legally presumed to be innocent.

Jonny Jolly. In 2011, Jolly was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for possession of narcotics. In 2008, the former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle was arrested in Texas for possessing 200 grams of codeine. This year, while awaiting trial, he was arrested again after police found 600 grams of codeine in his car. He was also driving with a suspended license. Jolly is currently serving out his sentence.

Albert Haynesworth. In 2009, the defensive tackle signed a seven-year deal with the Washington Redskins. His take? A cool one-hundred million dollars. Nicknamed the “Head Stomper” because of an incident in which he purposely stomped on the head of Dallas Cowboy center Andre Gurode, Haynesworth has a history of violent attacks on others. After several arrests for traffic violations in his home state of Tennessee, Haynesworth was driving his car more than 100 miles per hour when he attempted to pass a vehicle driven by Cory Edmonson. Haynesworth’s car clipped that of Edmondson, causing it to crash into a guard rail. Edmondson was partially paralyzed and is unable walk. Haynesworth got probation. He was let go by the Redskins after refusing to practice. Now he plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Maybe Tim Tebow should renounce his faith and become like these guys.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

“You Can’t Lead a Double Life and be Happy”

The Short Story
by Robert A. Waters

The nondescript garage kept its secret for more than six years. Then sheriff's investigators arrived, lugging shovels and a body bag. It took just a few minutes of digging to unearth the bones of a murdered child. The story of his death and discovery is almost beyond belief. But even more amazing is that the killer walked free.

Christine Sturm, 27, of Clovis, New Mexico, and her former husband, Dan, had recently divorced. It was 1953 and she worked as a practical nurse at Clovis Memorial Hospital. Christine was known as a reliable employee who never missed a day. As a hobby, she enjoyed writing mystery stories.

After having been married for six years, Christine and Dan were in the middle of a nasty battle for custody of their three-year-old son. As evidence of his wife’s alleged mental instability, Dan gave his attorney a short story she had written. It made him afraid for his son, the worried father said. After reading it, his lawyer was alarmed and personally delivered the narrative to Curry County Sheriff Val Baumgart.

According to the Clovis News Journal, the nine-page manuscript “went into detail in telling the story of the birth of [a] child, the alleged crime, and the burying of the body in a shallow grave in the garage. The manuscript then went on to relate how Mrs. Sturm, who had written the detailed statement in her own handwriting, returned to her duties as a nurse at the Clovis Memorial Hospital, became sick, and was administered a half-grain of codeine.”

Sheriff Baumgart later said he thought the story was too realistic to be fiction and deserved to be investigated. After the little boy's remains were found, Christine was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. She quickly posted bond and was released pending trial.

The sheriff met with reporters. “It was an unsolved crime the way she wrote it,” he said, “and would have remained...an unsolved crime if it hadn't been written. It was a pretty good story for an amateur writer.” The narrative used the names of real people that Christine knew, the sheriff said. The final sentence read: “You can’t lead a double life and be happy.”

To strengthen his case, Baumgart sent his detectives to the hospital. There they dug through old files in an attempt to obtain a record of the medicine Sturm said she took on the day after she disposed of the child. They found nothing.

The suspect denied the charges, but gave no explanation as to how the remains ended up in her garage. Acting on the advice of her attorney, she refused to take a polygraph.

Sheriff Baumgart was sure he could get a conviction based on the circumstantial evidence. The sheriff said Christine would have been seven months pregnant when she married Dan, a carpenter, on December 24, 1946. Her former husband stated that he never knew she was pregnant. “Boy, I sure was dumb,” he said.

On September 22, 1953, a hearing was held. District Judge George T. Harris stunned everyone when he dismissed the case. He informed prosecutors that the statute of limitations had expired. Judge Harris ruled that the date on a prescription for codeine found by her attorneys (after the failed attempt by sheriff's investigators) proved that the infant had been born in February, 1947. He stated that “charges were not filed by the prosecutor within the six year time limit allowed by law.” The judge ordered the short story sealed, never to be made public.

Christine Sturm, an attractive blonde, walked from the courtroom and disappeared into the mists of history. Dan and their son followed in her steps.

The young boy found in the garage never even had a name. He never had justice, either.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Quarterback Who Couldn't Throw Straight

Tebowing the critics
by Robert A. Waters

There once was a left-handed running quarterback who couldn’t throw straight. After his first two years in the NFL, the talking heads in the media labeled him a “bust.” Nobody believed he could pilot a team to a league championship, much less a national title. After his first two years, he’d thrown 11 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

A columnist for the Boston Globe wrote: “[He] probably has gotten more publicity for doing less than just about anyone in the history of pro football.” In one game, he threw for only 39 yards, in another, 83.

In 1987, that quarterback, Steve Young, was traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the San Francisco 49ers. The rest is history. Over the next 12 years, he guided his team to three Super Bowl championships. Young, now a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, won a record six passing titles and still has one of the highest overall passer ratings ever recorded.

The new whipping boy for the sports media is a running left-handed quarterback named Tim Tebow. Fans love him, but pundits have mercilessly savaged his “awkward” passing delivery. During his four years at the University of Florida, he threw for 9,286 yards, 88 touchdowns, and only 15 interceptions, but those getting paid to tell America what to think about sports have convinced many that he can't throw.

After the Denver Broncos took Tebow in the first round of the NFL draft, ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd said, “You go out and get a college rah rah quarterback who will play for a year and a half at best.” Uh, it's going on two years and Tebow's performing at white-hot heat.

Before he was promoted to Denver's starting quarterback, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said, “It’s embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!” The lefty immediately won six out of seven games, which would be an embarrassment to most prognosticators but evidently not to Hoge. After Tebow took his Broncos from 1-4 to 7-5, the great talking heads changed their mantra from “he can’t win” to “he can’t have a successful long-term career.”

ESPN The Magazine columnist Howard Bryant wrote: “The public won't be able to ignore Tebow's failings forever. Wait until the NFL has a season's worth of game film on him. My suspicion is that merit will return Tebow to the bench, where his season started.” Bryant forgot to mention that after Tebow and his coaches study film for another year, they may figure out some new ways to confound defenses.

Before the New York Jets game, each of the NFL Network analysts predicted the Broncos would lose. The Jets defense was just too good, they said. Not only that, coach Rex Ryan wrote the book on how to stop the read option, which is what Tebow sometimes runs. After the kid led his team 95 yards for the winning score, the talking heads whose predictions were wrong interviewed him. They flatly told him that it was his "will, not skill," that won the game. Tebow ignored their condescending attitudes and replied with good humor and apparent honesty.

In the Broncos game with the Minnesota Vikings, Tebow threw for two touchdown passes, surprising the pundits but not the fans. Denver won 35-32.

Although they deny it, many fans suspect some analysts have a cultural dislike of Tebow. In a league filled with thugs and convicted felons, the young quarterback is quick to proclaim his Christian beliefs. But what really cranks the critics is that he seems to actually try to live by his faith. Jake Plummer, a former Broncos quarterback, took umbrage with Tebow's prayerful pose during football games. "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ," Plummer said, "then I think I'll like him a little better." Plummer is the same guy who once pled no contest to groping three women in a bar.

Unlike many who represent the NFL "brand," Tebow is probably not going to get arrested for snorting coke, starting barroom brawls, or shooting himself. While in college, he was never convicted of stealing a laptop or accused of selling his football skills to the highest bidder. The fact is, as Roger Goodell recognizes, many football fans are fed up with the behavior of some NFL players.

Whether Tim Tebow can continue to be successful at the professional level depends on many factors, including luck, avoiding injury, continuing to improve on his weaknesses, spending his career with an organization that will let him play to his strengths while he “grows” to professional maturity, etc.

But as the analysts critique Tim Tebow, they might do well to remember Steve Young. In his first two years, he compiled dismal stats. On September 21, 1986, in a loss to the Detroit Lions, Bucs quarterback Young completed six passes out of fifteen attempts for only 39 yards.

On October 5, 1986, against the Los Angeles Rams, the future Hall of Famer put up some woeful numbers. In the first half, he completed only two out of seven passes for 19 yards. He ended up connecting on only eight passes for 83 yards.

I have no crystal ball into the future. Tim Tebow may flop like many before him. But in a few years, it wouldn't surprise me to see the unorthodox lefty lead his team to a Super Bowl championship.