Jennifer Norris, USAF Retired (medical), Onyx, Senator Angus King (Maine), Stephanie Brewer, USMC Retired (medical), and Chinook | December 13, 2017
Military justice policy analyst Jennifer Norris was invited to speak in the Gold Room at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington D.C. on December 12, 2017. The veterans organization she accompanied provided her with fifteen minutes to present and she chose to speak about the current troubling status of the Fort Hood Army post near Killeen, Texas. She also shared the stories of four Fort Hood soldiers. Marine veteran Stephanie Brewer was in attendance and assisted Jennifer with the presentation of the material. Stephanie created a powerpoint presentation to help the audience see these soldier’s faces and remind them that they matter and their families love them. After the presentation, they visited Senator John McCain’s office (Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee), Representative Mac Thornberry’s Office (Chair, House Armed Services Committee), Senator Ted Cruz’s Office (supports the Military Justice Improvement Act), Senator Susan Collin’s Office (supports the MJIA), and finally Senator Angus King’s Office (who has consistently voted against the MJIA). While attending a constituent’s coffee event at Senator King’s office, these veterans inquired about the status of the retaliation laws promised by Senator Claire McCaskill’s office. The response:
I wanted to follow up on our meeting yesterday by forwarding some information about efforts to prevent retaliation against servicemembers who report crimes.
The first important step is gathering data on retaliation so that leadership can best figure out how to address the issue. The DOD includes statistics on retaliation in its annual reports on sexual assault and reporting. They recently changed the way that they gather the data so that they can get a more accurate picture of which servicemembers experience the type of behavior that qualifies legally as retaliation under the UCMJ. As I mentioned yesterday, the data doesn’t go back very far- the DOD has only been collecting this information for a year. As the database grows, so will the DOD’s understanding of the real scope and nature of the problem. This should help target solutions.
A number of lawmakers are really committed to addressing this problem, as well. Senator McCaskill from Missouri introduced a bill last year that aimed to prevent military retaliation. Senator King cosponsored the bill. A summary is available here.
The bill didn’t move out of committee, so Senator McCaskill or another member might try to reintroduce it later. Another possibility is that next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could include similar language.
-Senator Angus King’s Office
These veterans were successful at setting up times to meet with defense fellows at Thornberry, Collins, and King’s offices. They also stopped into Senator McCain’s office to get the scheduling contact information for him because he consistently does not get back to one. They gave the same Fort Hood presentation to the defense fellows as the one they gave in the Gold Room except this time they had more time to discuss each individual. If it was up to these veterans, they would sit there all day and talk about every single soldier because all their lives matter. Overall, they report the active duty fellows they met with were receptive. They illustrated that the common theme with the four soldiers discussed is involvement in the military justice system in one way or another. The following presentation helps you get an understanding of the issues at bases nationwide by telling you the stories of four Fort Hood soldiers and their experiences in the last couple of years. All had mental health issues and three are dead. The other soldier is in federal prison for eighteen months for a threatening phone call he made to Fort Hood. This incident occurred after he was exonerated of a crime and released from a military prison yet stonewalled and dismissed when he asked about his backpay.
Presentation on the Current Status of the Armed Forces at Fort Hood
Last time I was in DC in September 2016, I provided my Senator with military policy recommendations that would benefit families who doubt a cause of death ruling. I highlighted a need for compassionate care for families, independent investigations, and cold case squads in the Army and the Air Force, much like the NCIS Cold Case Squad. Sadly it appears the military has a history of ruling what looks like a homicide as a suicide. One of the most publicized examples is that of Pfc. LaVena Johnson. The Army ruled LaVena’s death a suicide but an independent autopsy revealed she was raped and murdered. To this day, the Army will not cooperate with the family of LaVena Johnson who has begged them to find their daughter’s killer. The alarming stateside death rate at Fort Hood alone only strengthens the resolve to continue asking for mental health and criminal justice reform in the military.
“Simple enough answer, between incompetent leaders, the drugs, the gang bangers, poor units, ghetto neighborhoods, poor quality soldiers, and just being in Texas, this place is where souls go to die… Hood kills you on the inside. The outside follows shortly afterwards..” -Anonymous
Fact: In the last two years, more soldiers at Fort Hood died stateside than overseas. The six non combat deaths that occurred overseas were insider attacks (4) and death ruled suicide by the Army CID (2). The following numbers are the specifics at Fort Hood in Texas since January 2016.
03/06/16: Sean Van Der Wal, 25, US Army (fatal auto collision with truck on I-35; driver & Fort Hood soldier Timothy Corder charged with intoxication manslaughter); 06/11/16: Dougal Mitchell, 32, US Army (driving the wrong way on State Highway 195, vehicle collided with another driven by Mikeshia Ruiz, 23, who died at scene); 11/03/16: Dakota Stump, 19, US Army (missing for 3 weeks, fatal auto accident on post that occurred night he went missing, family wants missing ‘Warrior Alert’ law); 01/07/17: Barron Von Reichelt, 24, US Army (died from injuries suffered in an automobile crash on South Range Road at Fort Hood)
10/12/17: Alva Gwinn, 39, US Army (accused of sex crime; command directed ‘wellness check’ initiated 1 month before trial; shot at by police but died of self inflicted gunshot wound after high speed car chase)
Fort Hood Army Master Sergeant Alva ‘Joe’ Gwinn, 39, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on October 12, 2017 near the Williamson-Bell County line in Texas. Although the exact set of circumstances that led to MSG Gwinn taking his own life are unknown, the media reported that MSG Gwinn took his own life during an exchange of gunfire after leading the Killeen Police Department (KPD) on a high speed chase. Prior to the incident, a concerned family member contacted the Fort Hood chain of command to report that Joe was experiencing a mental health breakdown and may be suicidal. The command contacted the military police who then asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn. According to the KPD, MSG Gwinn was located in his car but took off when approached; they said MSG Gwinn then led police on a high speed car chase. According to reports, Alva fled on foot after pulling over, there was an exchange of gunfire with the KPD, and MSG Gwinn ended his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. An officer involved shooting investigation was launched because gunfire was exchanged. Joe left behind two sons from a previous marriage and a wife and family who loved him very much. He is missed dearly.
On March 21, 2018, the media reported that a “Bell County Grand Jury reviewed the completed investigation done by the Texas Rangers and decided no indictment should be returned to the deputy in connection with the events leading to the death of a Fort Hood soldier.” MSG Gwinn’s home of record was listed as Richwood, West Virginia. MSG Gwinn served in the Army National Guard from 1996-1999 and then enlisted in the active-duty Army in September 1999 as a combat engineer. At the time of his death, MSG Gwinn was assigned to the 20th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood since April 2012. MSG Gwinn served in the military for over twenty years and was eligible for retirement. When the media reported on the death of MSG Gwinn, they also mentioned a sexual assault accusation lodged against him in June 2016. They reported MSG Gwinn was scheduled to go to court in November 2017 as if they were implying there was a connection between the suicide and the court date scheduled the following month. One media source reported MSG Gwinn was a highly decorated combat veteran who was known for being a perfectionist and respected by his peers. MSG Gwinn deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan a total of five times while he served with the U.S. Army.
Areas of Concern:
On October 12, 2017, family informed the chain of command that MSG Gwinn was experiencing a mental health breakdown & may be suicidal; at the request of the chain of command, the military police asked the Killeen Police Department to do a ‘welfare check’ on MSG Gwinn; according to the KPD, they located MSG Gwinn in his car but he took off when approached and then led them on a high speed car chase that ended with an exchange of gunfire and MSG Gwinn taking his own life
How can we prevent a ‘welfare check’ from turning into an officer involved shooting, suicide by cop or suicide? Why was the high speed car chase necessary?
According to media reports, in June 2016, MSG Gwinn was arrested, indicted and charged by civilian authorities with “aggravated sexual assault” of a 12-year-old girl in 2012; the accusations surfaced in the midst of a child support and child custody case; MSG Gwinn maintained his innocence but a potential trial loomed and his military career and child visitation rights were on hold; Joe loved his family
The accusations negatively impacted MSG Gwinn’s military career and ability to spend time with his two sons; this in turn negatively impacted his mental health; the stress of the child custody case & accusations took their toll; up until this point, MSG Gwinn had a stellar military career and had never been accused of any crimes
According to local media, Alva was facing a trial in November 2017 and they made a loose connection between a pending trial date and MSG Gwinn’s suicide
What prompted the media to mire MSG Gwinn’s memory with an accusation when they reported on his death? Is that fair when the accused can’t defend themselves?
Whether guilty or innocent, this is a tragic end for a man accused of a crime
What does the Army do with the accused who are awaiting criminal trial?
Is Fort Hood responsible for the mental health of those accused of crimes?
What is the military’s policy on child visitation when a military member is accused of a crime against a child other than their own?
Fort Hood Army soldier Thomas Chestnut, 28, was freed from a Kansas military prison on December 23, 2016 after an appellate court overturned a guilty verdict on December 14, 2016. The Army Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction finding evidence in the case as “factually insufficient.” The case stems from an accusation by a third party of a sexual assault of a man in August 2012 at Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas. Chestnut was charged and found guilty by a military jury on one count of sexual assault and found not guilty of one specification of assault consummated by a battery. Chestnut testified that the encounter with the other soldier was consensual and the third party was trying to deflect attention from himself. Chestnut was sentenced on July 2, 2014 to three years in prison at Fort Leavenworth, a reduction in rank to private, and forfeiture of all pay. After Thomas Chestnut was exonerated, he was entitled to back pay and an honorable discharge from the military when he completed his time in service. Thomas was honorably discharged from the Army in January 2017 but had not yet been able to get his back pay. Thomas shared his thoughts on his wrongful conviction and his two and a half year imprisonment in mostly solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit.
“How could I respect the authority of such a corrupt system and such a corrupt institution? Not after what they did to me, to us, as I am not alone in this you see. Hundreds of my fellow veterans have also been falsely accused and forced into prison. Obviously, the military leadership lacks the maturity and ethics to handle sexual assault cases in a balanced adult way. They should not have authority in these matters.” via Save Our Heroes
Thomas Chestnut spent 2 1/2 years in prison where he was placed in solitary confinement and allegedly abused by prison guards. Thomas admits the prejudiced military justice system, corruption, and prison experience traumatized him. He most likely suffers from a form of institutional abuse. In December 2016, the appeals court overturned his conviction, he was cleared of all charges, released from prison, and promised back pay. Thomas stated: “I have nothing. No place of my own, no car, and little money. The Army has no plan for someone with a case overturned, so I’ve been more or less thrown out on the street.” Thomas Chestnut most likely has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the betrayal by the military justice system and the abuse he endured in prison marked as a man who rapes other men. In February 2017, Chestnut attempted to get his back pay from the Army as he had nothing, no job, no place to live, no means to take care of himself. The Army didn’t help him or give him the answers he deserved when it came to his backpay.
At this point, Thomas most likely had a post traumatic stress meltdown simply from having to deal with the same institution that wrongfully convicted him of a crime. After he didn’t get the answers he deserved regarding his back pay, he got angry and threatened to harm individuals at Fort Hood. As a result, Chestnut was arrested by FBI agents and charged with making threats to kill individuals at Fort Hood. Thomas has been in federal custody ever since he made the threats and now the life that he may have had a second chance at was taken away from him again. Obviously, Thomas shouldn’t have threatened to kill individuals at Ft Hood but the backpay issue and the fact he has PTSD should have been a mitigating factor in this case. For example, the state of destitution he was in and his legitimate need for money to sustain and take care of himself most likely triggered his post traumatic stress symptoms. He was desperate and the Army’s indifference and stonewalling most likely caused an already emotionally fragile man to disassociate and lash out. If he was within the state’s jurisdiction, chances are he would have access to a veteran’s court that would fight to give him another chance. Instead, Thomas Chestnut is in federal prison for 18 months for one threatening phone call.
Spc. Zachary Moore, 23, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was found unresponsive August 1, 2017 in his barracks room at Camp Hovey in South Korea. Spc. Moore was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital and pronounced deceased on August 2, 2017. Spc. Moore entered active-duty military service in March 2014 as a signal support systems specialist. He was assigned to the 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood in Texas since July 2016. The circumstances surrounding the incident were investigated by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the cause of death was ruled a suicide.
Was Zachary Moore’s Death Preventable?
In May 2017, Fort Hood announced they were deploying 3,500 troops to South Korea over the summer. Twenty-three (23) year old Zachary Moore was one of the soldiers deployed to South Korea. With full knowledge of Zachary’s recent mental health issues, the Chain of Command gave him a mental health waiver against his will, and most likely against medical advice, so they could deploy him to South Korea.
In October 2016, Zachary had a mental health breakdown and went Absent without Leave (AWOL). After a successful intervention, Zachary was found and returned to the custody of his Chain of Command at Fort Hood. Zachary’s command then sent him to an emergency room where he was hospitalized and prescribed medication. After Zachary was discharged from the hospital, he continued to seek treatment for mental health issues. Six months later, Zachary was given a mental health waiver by his command to deploy to South Korea.
About a month after Zachary arrived at Camp Hovey in South Korea, his depression medication was changed. As a matter of fact, his depression medication was changed the day before he was found unresponsive in his barracks room. Zachary attempted to kill himself on August 1st, less than 24 hours after the medication change. It was Zachary who called his Command for help as there is no 911 on the base in South Korea. He was found unresponsive and finally transported to the hospital about 1 ½ to 2 hours later. He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, listed as critical then stable, yet passed away on August 2, 2017.
Why did Zachary Moore go AWOL?
The Chain of Command contacted Jeanette to report Zachary hadn’t been seen since October 18, 2016. They also informed her they were not actively looking for him but would file AWOL status on October 20th. When asked if they filed a missing persons report, Jeanette claims they told her they did but she says she was lead to believe Zachary trashed his room, took his things, and left willingly. She immediately flew to Texas from Florida to find him.
Jeanette contacted the Killeen Police Department as soon as she got to Fort Hood and the local law enforcement found Zachary the same day she arrived. Over the phone, the Command told Jeanette they filed a missing persons report but she learned from the Killeen Police Department that they never did. The Killeen PD noticed recent activity on Facebook so they pinged Zach’s cell phone & found that he was in a remote area of a local state park.
Zachary attempted to flee initially but after negotiations, he surrendered and was returned to the police station where his mom was waiting. Jeanette could tell Zachary was mentally broken and he admitted to her that he wanted to hurt himself. The Killeen PD found Zachary and he had a knife in his possession. Zachary was returned to the custody of his Chain of Command at Fort Hood. Shortly after Zachary informed his mom that his superiors told him to tell her to leave town and stop interfering.
Jeanette reports that Zachary never had any mental health issues prior to this and suspected that Zachary was “singled out by his command and harassed.”
Areas of Concern in Zachary Moore’s Case:
Zachary revealed he was harassed by his Chain of Command. For example, his leave papers to visit family before deploying were denied; he was denied permission to see the Fort Hood Inspector General officer; he was harassed during training exercises; he was given exhausting extra duties; and was accused of taking a radio which was later found on a military officer’s desk. Why was he denied the opportunity to speak to the IG officer?
Zachary was accused of trashing his room and taking his belongings when he went AWOL. Jeanette believes the circumstances surrounding the vandalism of his room and the theft of his property could be evidence of harassment.
During mental health treatment, Zachary was facing the consequences of going AWOL; Zachary was accused of trashing his own room; and Zachary was accused of stealing a secure radio? What are the additional mental health impacts of the way the Chain of Command uses the military justice system?
The circumstances of the mental health waiver and the justifications for sending Zachary to South Korea while he was undergoing treatment for mental health issues and medication management should be investigated.
The effects of the medication change in South Korea should be investigated. Is Command aware that some medications can cause serious negative reactions? (Some depression medication causes suicidal ideation.) Who monitors serious medication changes in deployed locations? Is it safe to deploy soldiers in the early phases of medication management for mental health issues?
Finally, the delay in the Command’s response to Zachary’s call for help in South Korea should be investigated. Why did it take so long to respond to Zachary and why did it take so long to get Zachary to the hospital? Did anyone attempt to administer help while waiting for the ambulance?
If the Command was the cause of the mental health break, where was Zachary supposed to turn? How do we hold the Chain of Command accountable? How do we prevent the Chain of Command from retaliating and using the military justice system or non judicial punishment as a weapon? What was the role of the Commander? What was the role of the Fort Hood Inspector General? How can we prevent a young soldier from feeling like the only way out of their situation is AWOL or suicide? How could we have prevented Zachary’s death?
Soldiers have come forward, given their stories to the family and have offered to testify about what Zachary was put through which may explain why he died. Were these soldiers questioned?
Army Private Paige Fontenot Briles, 21, was found unresponsive in her vehicle at Fort Hood housing in Texas on Christmas eve, December 24, 2016. Private Fontenot Briles is from Kaplin, Louisiana and joined the Army in February 2015. Pvt. Fontenot Briles was assigned to Fort Hood as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. She deployed to Kuwait shortly after completing Advanced Individual Training (AIT). She returned stateside early in December 2015 after she was injured in the line of duty. In November 2016, she was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. Pvt. Fontenot Briles was going to be discharged from the Army in February 2017 and had plans to attend dental hygienist school. Family report that Pvt. Fontenot Briles cause of death was determined a homicide by the Army but the Bell County coroner’s office made a suicide determination. The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) ruled the cause of death as suicide.
Paige joined the U.S. Army in February 2015 & was permanently assigned to Fort Hood as a wheeled vehicle mechanic after Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Paige shared with her family that she was raped by her recruiter before she went to Fort Jackson for basic training but she did not report the incident. Shortly after arriving to Fort Hood, Paige was deployed to Kuwait in October 2015. Although she returned home early in December 2015 after being found unresponsive under a vehicle. She was injured in the line of duty and the only thing she shared with her family was that she “saw things no one should ever have to see.”
Paige met and married another soldier she hadn’t known that long in January 2016 upon her return home from Kuwait. According to Army CID, they learned that the marriage was contractual and the two did in fact share a home up until recently. When Paige met her husband, she had already experienced multiple traumas from the rape and her experience in Kuwait; she was vulnerable. After a few months of marriage, Paige got pregnant but her “husband” did not want a child and convinced her to get an abortion in August 2016. It was at this point, Paige had a mental health breakdown and was hospitalized for 28 days. She was eventually transferred to the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) in November 2016.
The WTU allowed Paige to escape the unhealthy arrangement she was trapped in with her contractual husband and she was starting to feel better after being free of him for a couple months. Family reports that Paige decided to get out of the military, move back in with her sister and parents, and pursue an education as a dental hygienist. Paige was expected to discharge in February 2017. Paige put in leave to go home for Christmas in December 2016 but it was denied. Paige took a picture of herself on SnapChat and sent it to her contacts on Christmas Eve. She wrote “here’s to another Christmas alone.” And the Army wants us to believe that 30 minutes later, Paige would be dead by her own hand.
On the night in question, Paige drove to a friend’s house on post. She was house sitting for them while they were out of town. About an hour later, Paige was found unresponsive in the driver’s seat in her vehicle in the parking lot outside her friend’s home. She had been stabbed. Initially the Army investigated the death as a homicide but in December 2017, the family was informed that the cause of death was ruled a suicide. Less than two years in the Army and Paige was gone. She told her parents she was raped, she saw things in Kuwait no one should ever see, and that she was in an unhealthy relationship with a man she was trying to escape. Paige had been through hell in her short time in the Army but she had hope. She knew she was returning to Louisiana to a loving family and a sister who was her best friend. She didn’t feel so trapped that suicide was the only way out.
Paige had a second chance at life in just a couple months when she was going to be discharged. Paige’s parents want their daughter’s case investigated as a homicide. They provided the Army CID with a person of interest. They had interaction and negative experiences with the person of interest. They shared their first hand interactions (witness testimony) and their concerns with CID but felt their experiences and observations were dismissed. They know their daughter was not suicidal because she was due to get out of the Army in February 2017 and she had plans. When questioned if the Army CID ever investigated the person of interest, Paige’s family responded with “the Army CID never investigated any persons of interest.” As a matter of fact, the Army discharged the soldier these parents suspected was the person of interest.
What happens when the Army discharges a soldier who may be a person of interest? They in effect give up jurisdiction of the soldier once they become a civilian unless they are retired. The soldier who was considered a ‘person of interest’ by the family was discharged for disciplinary reasons. Enter across state line jurisdictional issues and the Federal Bureau of Investigation who appears to want to steer clear of cases on military bases. The parents report that initially Paige’s stabbing death was investigated as a homicide yet in the end, despite the autopsy, forensics, suspicious circumstances in her life, and the parents testimony, Paige’s death was ruled a suicide by the Army CID. Once a death is ruled a suicide, the investigation is over and the US Army never has to investigate again.
A tattooed NCIS agent with a black belt goes undercover to find the killer of a Navy petty officer — can he get what he needs without getting caught? -48 Hours: NCIS
Norma Small was arrested in May 2001 and charged with murder for the death of her husband and Navy sailor Sonny Grotton at his Belfast, Maine home on December 16, 1983. She was accused of hiring someone to murder him, convicted, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Norma felt Sonny was worth more dead than alive. Investigators believed the crime was financially motivated. If Sonny died, Norma would get a death benefit from the Navy, the real estate that she owned with Sonny, and she received a monthly payment from the VA that over 15 or 17 years had amounted to almost $100,000.
“This thing comes up every 15 years. My dad wasn’t an international superstar or politician. Why this case? I haven’t seen a lot of true crime that really portrays the crime in a true life way. And for people who are trying to move on, it’s unfair in a big way.” [says Michael Grotton]. When asked why CBS was interested in the case all these years later, a producer for “48 Hours,” said the network is creating a series that will feature real cases solved by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS. He told the BDN the production team’s reporting “turned up a twist” that may shed doubt on some of the facts that people have believed for the past 15 years. –Bangor Daily News
Objective: Provide support to families who have lost loved ones to non combat death, homicide, and suicide. Prevent non combat death, homicide and suicide by providing an expedited transfer option to whistleblowers and those who feel like their lives may be in danger.
This is a small sample of the many soldiers that have died of non combat deaths, homicide, and suicide. It was hard for me to choose which ones to feature. Given the amount of families who have questioned a ruling of suicide while their loved one was serving in the US military, it’s fair to say that some suicide rulings should have a second look to determine if a homicide was ruled out. It’s important to note that if the cause of death is determined to be suicide, then the military never has to investigate again.
Pinyon Pines – It’s a Triple Homicide Investigation Gone Cold. It’s been six years and still no arrests. Now the family is taking action to find answers. -KMIR (August 6, 2012)
KMIR’s Elizabeth Beaubien investigates an unsolved triple murder case. -KMIR (April 26, 2013)
Elizabeth Beaubien’s EXCLUSIVE reporting on the 7th anniversary of the triple murders at Pinyon Pines in 2006. -KMIR (September 17, 2013)
New Angle in Pinyon Pines Murder Investigation. -KMIR (February 4, 2014)
It’s been over seven years since three people were brutally murdered and set on fire in the community of Pinyon Pines just up Highway 74. Now, the father of the youngest victim, 18 year old Becky Friedli, wants justice. -KMIR (February 4, 2014)
Although, we have uncovered another connection to this triple murder that brings to light many more questions of a possible conflict of interest. That connection is the death of 18 year old Danica Denton. She was killed in a hit and run in Cathedral City February 11, 2009. She was 8 months pregnant at the time and the baby did not survive. -KMIR (February 12, 2014)
KMIR News was the first to report two men have been arrested in the 2006 triple murders in Pinyon Pines. -March 11, 2014)
The latest information on the Pinyon Pines triple murder cold case. -KMIR (March 13, 2014)
Supporters of the suspects and friends and family of the victims are taking to Facebook to post their opposing views of the arrests in the 2006 Pinyon Pines triple murders. -KMIR (March 14, 2014)
DA Paul Zellerbach speaks with Elizabeth Beaubien about the Pinyon Pines triple murder investigation. -KMIR (March 17, 2014)
Opening statements were delivered in a trial for the triple homicide that happened in September 2006 in a Riverside County area known as Pinyon Pines. -ABC7 (April 17, 2018)
A tragic set of horrible circumstances brought jurors to a Riverside County courtroom to hear the grim details of a 12-year-old murder case. -ABC7 (May 22, 2018)
True Crime Daily:
A home burns to the ground high above the Coachella Valley in California. The triple-homicide made headlines, and may finally be solved. But it’s not the first time investigators have thought they had their men. -True Crime Daily (October 19, 2016)
The blazing fire left a cold trail for years — but now a suspect might come to light in the triple-homicide. -True Crime Daily (October 19, 2016)
Over half a decade after the unsolved murders of on Jon Hayward, his girlfriend Vicki Friedli and her daughter Becky Friedli, suspicions turn to Cristin Smith and Becky’s ex-boyfriend, Robert Pape. -True Crime Daily (October 19, 2016)
Seven years after the triple-homicide, Becky’s ex-boyfriend and his friend were arrested for the crime — but not for long. Things get complicated. -True Crime Daily (October 19, 2016)
Becky Friedli, her mom Vicki Friedli, and Vicki’s boyfriend Jon Hayward were living high above California’s Coachella Valley in a secluded neighborhood called Pinyon Pines. -True Crime Daily (June 19, 2019)
48 Hours CBS:
A family murdered in their home. Years later, an arrest but then the two suspects are unexpectedly freed. “48 Hours” Troy Roberts reports. -CBS New York (January 16, 2015)
Drew Friedli recites a poem her sister, Becky, left on Myspace, before her murder in 2006. Drew feels the poem, “If I Knew It was the Last Time,” encompasses who Becky was because she always let people know that she loved them. -48 Hours (January 16, 2015)
Saturday, Aug. 1 starting at 9/8c on CBS: A triple murder, a young woman set afire in a wheelbarrow. Police have suspects until a courtroom twist changes everything. Then at 10/9c: Was an alleged religious cult responsible for a young bride’s death? -48 Hours (July 28, 2015)
The new district attorney for Riverside, California, has promised to look at the Pinyon Pines murder cold case with “an open mind.” “48 Hours” correspondent Troy Roberts discusses the case with CBSN. -CSBN (July 31, 2015)
A triple murder, a young woman set afire in a wheelbarrow. Police have suspects until a courtroom twist changes everything. “48 Hours ” has the latest on the case including an emotional verdict Saturday, July 28 at 10/9c on CBS. -48 Hours (July 27, 2018)
The Friedli family home in Pinyon Pines, California was burned to the ground in 2006. This was no accident. Inside, investigators found the charred remains of Vicki Friedli and her boyfriend, Jon Hayward. Out front, posed grotesquely in a wheelbarrow, were the remains of 18 year old Becky Friedli. She, too, was burned beyond recognition. This terrible crime went unsolved for years even though family and friends of the victims had no doubt who was responsible. Finally, justice may be in sight. -True Crime Brewery (November 6, 2016)
The Pinyon Pines Murders Part 1 -California True Crime (February 14, 2019)
The Pinyon Pines Murders Part 2 -California True Crime (February 21, 2019)
ID Go: 32 year-old paralegal John Ray had everything going for him: great career, a loving family and friends. When his body is found in his Atlanta home in 2004, detectives are stumped. Years later, a hidden message from the victim himself may solve this crime. -Message From the Grave, Dead of Night (S2, E10)
Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.
Navy Petty Officer James Kuenn, 40, was found guilty on February 9, 2000 for the first-degree murder of his teen girlfriend Carol Hutto on December 13, 1976 in Largo, Florida. Carol Hutto’s half-brother found her dead in a pond in the neighborhood; she was weighed down with cement blocks. An autopsy revealed Carol was hit and strangled, lost consciousness, and then thrown in the water alive. Initially, police suspected Carol’s half-brother committed the crime but they did not have enough evidence to charge him so the case went unsolved for nearly two decades. Then in 1994, two Largo Police Department investigators reopened the cold case.
The detective’s determination to find the killer led them to a former Largo resident who by then was an eleven year Navy veteran stationed at U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. In 1996, DNA testing was making it’s way into police departments across the country so the investigators submitted several unknown hairs to the FBI lab. But they needed a sample of Kuenn’s DNA to see if it was a match. Investigator’s obtained a search warrant to get the DNA via a blood sample and used the interrogation to elicit a confession while they waited for the results. Since Kuenn was active duty Navy, detectives brought in the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) in Mayport, Florida to assist with the interrogation.
On July 15, 1998, the NCIS used the interrogation to push Kuenn into a confession. Investigators had no physical evidence linking Kuenn to the scene but that didn’t stop them from bluffing and hoping Kuenn would cave. Kuenn eventually admitted to investigators that the whole thing was an accident and he brought Carol to the lake to cover up the crime. Kuenn claimed that Carol tripped and fell and became unconscious so he took off her clothes to make it look like someone else did it. Despite Kuenn’s tears, detectives believed he was lying because Carol’s injuries did not come from an accidental trip and fall; they came from blunt force trauma and strangulation. Kuenn was charged with murder, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for twenty-five years.
“Kuenn recalled the fateful night when he and Carol met at the house under construction. They kissed but the young woman was reluctant to have sex with him. As she struggled, her screams rang out through the foggy night air. Kuenn, under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, hit her with a 2 by 4 to quiet her. He then dumped her in the pond, where she drowned, according to the autopsy.” –Tampa Bay Times
16-year-old Carol Hutto is a dependable friend, daughter and sister. She’s a good student, loves wrestling and hanging out with friends. So when she misses her curfew one evening, her mother knows something awful has happened. -Swamp Murders
Norma Small was arrested in May 2001 and then charged with murder for the shooting death of her husband US Navy Chief Petty Officer Sonny Grotton, at his home in Belfast, Maine on December 16, 1983. She was accused of hiring someone for $10,000 to murder him, convicted, and sentenced to 60 years in prison. Norma felt Sonny was worth more dead than alive. Investigators believed the crime was financially motivated. If Sonny died, Norma would get a death benefit from the Navy, the real estate that she owned with Sonny, and she received a monthly payment from the VA that over 15 or 17 years had amounted to almost $100,000.
A tattooed NCIS agent with a black belt goes undercover to find the killer of a Navy petty officer — can he get what he needs without getting caught? Watch Tuesday, June 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS. -48 Hours
Army Major Chester Barrett was found murdered in a desert area in east El Paso, Texas on January 4, 1977. Investigators opened a murder investigation but exhausted all leads and the case went cold for over 35 years. In 2006, the case was reopened by the El Paso Police Department and new tips came in. Investigators would learn that Major Garrett’s wife Lisbeth enlisted the help of her son Roger in a plot to kill him. The pair were arrested and charged with Major Garrett’s murder. At trial, Roger confessed that he and his mother asked his step-father to come to their house to fix the dishwasher. As Major Garrett was leaning over the dishwasher, Roger struck him in the head with a baseball bat; he says his mother then stabbed him several times. Prosecutors said the motive to kill Major Garrett was to collect the money from his military survivor benefits.
Major Garrett and Lisbeth were in the midst of a divorce when the homicide occurred; Major Garrett was living in Officer’s Quarters at Fort Bliss. Lisbeth was accused of using her 18 year old child to lure Major Garrett to the marital home because she wanted to kill him. A witness testified at trial that divorcees of active duty Army officers could not get benefits but widows could get survivor benefits from the Army for the rest of their lives. Roger Garrett was convicted of murder for his part in the crime in 2013; he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Former high school teacher Lisbeth Garrett, 76, was found guilty of homicide in 2015; she was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Roger Garrett appealed his murder conviction but the case was denied by the Texas Court of Appeals.
“Maj. Chester Garrett served four tours in Vietnam and, while with the 5th Special Forces Group, earned the U.S. military’s second-highest award for valor. According to officials, Garrett was a Special Forces advisor to a Vietnamese strike force on a search and destroy mission near the Cambodian border.” –The Fayetteville Observer